Born to the Blade (1.04): Gauntlet

Banner: Born to the Blade, a Serial Box Original

Come the hour, come the bladecrafter. Kris came to Twaa Fei to win Rumika a seat at the Warders’ Table. But have they won enough support to gain the votes they need? And if not, can they win enough duels to win the seat by default? Or will Lavinia cut them to ribbons?

There’s an awful lot riding on this episode: Rumika’s future, Quloo’s security and Michiko’s standing with the Empire. So needless to say, Kris bounds into it with their usual exuberant overconfidence, certain that a seat is just within their grasp. After all, they “only” have to defeat four of the six Warders – and with two wins under their belt, they still hadn’t given up on the idea that one of those might be Lavinia, although they admit the others are ‘more likely’.


Seriously, Kris.

Needless to say, things don’t go entirely as planned. This whole episode is structured around what becomes a three-day epic event, giving us further glimpses into the world-building (did I really read it right that the Tsukiseni are effectively immortal? Because my brain added that to Bellona’s tidbit from the baby shower about birthrights being conveyed by birthplace not parentage and you can see where that’s going, right? I have to assume they are also devastatingly kick-ass, based on all those years of practice fending ships off shore. I should close this parenthesis now. It’s got away from me. Where were we? Right).

Gauntlet is a masterclass in what you can do with bladecrafting. It’s not just dramatic swishing of swords, it’s full-on magical practice through the art of carving sigils in the air with a blade. We see the combatants buff up their speed and strength, cast offensive and defensive spells (pushing their opponent back, reducing their mobility, fouling their footing) and go full battle-mage and summon lightning and monsters. The only limits appear to be the bladecrafter’s ability to cleanly carve the sigil (today is not the day we see the consequences of mis-carving).

Obviously that’s a heck of a lot of fun – and needless to say, yes, Lavinia goes all out to bend the rules of the event to suit herself and punish Kris as much as possible for the presumption of trying to elevate their nation’s status.

…which I find politically unwise, if entirely in character. Lavinia hasn’t come across as a clever politician; the Gauntlet is another example of her trying to get her way through brute force. But it’s an interesting choice. She either thinks very highly of Michiko’s skills (never for a moment permitting the thought that the junior Kakutan might lose) or she’s given no thought to the political consequences of her actions. Or both. Both seem likely.

She certainly hasn’t given thought to the fact that in a 7-seat table, Mertika might one day need Kris’s vote to win on an issue. She’s had far too long being able to force her point by beating her fellow Warders in combat (oh my, when Ojo and the Penelope admitted how often they’d won against her!)

Because – wise or not (and antagonising the Empire is clearly not) – if I were Kris, and had just had seven bells beaten out of me by Lavinia, I’d be so inclined – as a new Warder – to play nice with the Empire. Oh wait. No, I wouldn’t. While I don’t think Kris was particularly inclined towards Mertika in the first place, I don’t think they’re any better a politician than Lavinia.

I also wonder for the first time whether it’s this lack of political ability which will ultimately be Lavinia’s undoing. While I’m casting my wonky 8-ball at the future: I also predict a duel between Lavinia and Michiko one day. And is something special going to develop between Kris and Takeshi? (yes, I admit I was side-eyeing Takeshi, wondering whether the poultice was actually poisoned or designed to weaken Kris in advance of their final duel)

All of which is a lot of words about Lavinia for an episode that should really be about Kris!  …and Michiko. It’s our fast-growing girl who is ever more aware of the extremes she is caught between: Lavinia and the Golden Lord; loyalty to the Empire and loyalty to friends. She must choose where her heart lies, and the consequences either way will surely be devastating.

I don’t want to spoil it – so go read for yourself. Such theatre.