Part of the Acres of Ink 52 Week Writing Challenge >>
What a perfect time for a sports post! By sheer happenstance, this week’s question coincides with England facing down Croatia for a place in the 2018 World Cup Final, so what better time to embrace the topic?
(**whispers** It’s coming home…) [Update: It did not, in fact, come home.]
The Seelie Court, like any society, has its own sports and entertainment, uniquely tailored to the abilities of its Fae inhabitants. The games range from the small, day-to-day sports, played by Fae children: catch; various races – on foot, by wing; to the seasonal: ice skating, snow battles etc., which are enjoyed by the community.
There is also a renowned tri-annual competition called the Solstice Games – featuring something called the Gauntlet – that I will be focusing on today.
WHAT ARE THE SOLSTICE GAMES?
The Solstice Games is a sporting event that occurs every three years in the Seelie Court, and is countered (in times of peace) by the Winter Solstice Games in the UnSeelie Court. It is essentially a giant competition that features a myriad of sports such as:
- Archery (no magic allowed; Air Mages will be disqualified if caught cheating)
- Foot Racing (categories according to number of legs of participants: one-legged; two-legged; three-legged… up to eight-legged racing)
- Swimming (in a lake filled with obstacles set up by Naiads and Sirens)
- Aero-acrobatics (categories include: solo performance; couples performance and group performance)
- Sword-fighting (Three blood-touches for a win; last Fae standing; no magic allowed)
- Elemental duelling (Categories are Water, Fire, Earth and Air. Any spells or curses are permissable as long as they only use one element. No physical touching.).
- Cross-elemental duelling (For faeries who have mastered more than one element to duelling standard. No physical touching).
- The Gauntlet (more on this later)
The Winter Solstice Games features similar but seasonal sports, thanks to the UnSeelie Court’s unpleasant weather, such as:
- Skate Racing (on ice of questionable thickness)
- Ice Polo (riding bareback on yetis)
- Avalanche-baiting (climbing an unstable mountain of snow; quickest finish that doesn’t result in injury or death wins)
- Group Avalanche-baiting (keep your entire team alive and conscious at the finish line, or be disqualified)
- Navigation (group task, maximum of four per group; participants are left in an abandoned area of the UnSeelie Court without weapons or a map, and must navigate all team members safely back to the UnSeelie barracks before their ration of food runs out).
- Mixed-arts fighting (the aim is to incapacitate your opponent by any means necessary – physically or magically)
- Changeling Hunting (group competition. In groups of 20, one is named Commander, one is named Changeling. The rest are Warriors. The aim is to steal the other team’s ‘Changeling’ before they steal yours).
WHO CAN PLAY?
There are no professional sportsfae.
They simply don’t exist. No one in the Seelie Court earns a living by playing sport; it is something done purely for the joy of the game and a faery’s personal achievement.
As such, anyone who wants to play a certain sport, or take part in a competition, is eligible to showcase their talents – as long as they have passed their W.In.G.S. (Ward of International Guard of Seelie) exams. An exception is made for UnSeelie children (who do not take these exams, being from a different Court) but typically the rule for them is that no child under the age of 14 may take part.
This also means that no real (Seelie) Changeling can take part in the Games, no matter how old they are, because they are not allowed to take their W.In.G.S. exams.
Although every faery of age is eligible to take part in the Solstice Games, there is a pattern to the background of the actual participants.
THE NINE CIRCLES OF SEELIE
The societal structure of the Seelie Court – which echoes throughout the entire Seelie kingdom – is summed up with the Nine Circles. These are professional departments that help with the running of the Seelie civilisation:
- Grower (Agriculture)
- Warrior (Military Defence)
- Royal (Government)
- Law (Criminal Justice)
- Healing (Medicine)
- Knowledge (Education)
- Craft (Industry)
- Binding (Religious observances, Business and Marital Law)
- Culture (History; Current Events)
Every Circle takes part in the Games in some respect. Culture organises and maintains the tradition of the Games and participants are welcome from all Circles, including Craft, who build the obstacles faced by contestants (including those of the Gauntlet). However, the most common participants of the Games come from the Warrior Circle.
Not only are the Seelie Warriors better placed to face the challenges of the Games, but there is an unspoken tradition – some might call it a superstition – among them. During the entire record of Seelie history, there has not been a Seelie Commander who was not crowned winner of the Gauntlet at least once. It is not a requirement of the post, but it is understandably believed that if a Warrior wants to be promoted to Commander one day, they must compete in and win the Gauntlet.
The Gauntlet is a monstrous moving obstacle course that spans the multiple outer fields of the Seelie Court. To get through it successfully, a contestant must demonstrate weapons’ skill, agility, speed, strategic thought, strength and determination on a level that not many Warriors are capable of.
Some of the obstacles found in the Gauntlet are:
- Giant rolling boulders (get crushed, be disqualified)
- Lakes of tar (get stuck, be disqualified)
- Storm clouds with motion activated lightning strikes (get struck, be disqualified)
- Mountain climbing walls that are impossible to get over on your own (requiring temporary teamwork during a competitive individual race)
- Walls of arrows (gets shot, be disqualified)
- Surprise ditches
- Fire hoops
- Flash floods
- Gale force winds
Basically, imagine Tough Mudderhad a medieval grandfather who was the type to just tell you to “walk it off” if you’d broken your leg. That’s the Gauntlet.
Notable participants of the Gauntlet who did not win in their year of competing are:
Both were favoured contenders to win the Gauntlet until Cathal failed to notice a boulder rolling towards him and leapt belatedly to one side – accidentally knocking Blossom and himself into one of the tar pits. This simple mistake set off a chain of events that resulted in a serious amount of war crimes, a marriage, a half-blooded faery child and a vendetta that might be the death of them. Or, one of them, at least…