Cage Match 2013 Finals! Round 5: Gandalf vs. Inigo Montoya



The Contestants



J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
Age: At least 20,000 years
Race: Maiar (wizard)
Weapons / Artifacts: Glamdring, a staff, and fireworks
Arriving precisely when he means to

Inigo Montoya
William Goldman’s The Princess Bride
Age: 31
Race: Spaniard
Weapons / Artifacts: A sword made for a six-fingered man
He’s not left-handed

The Breakdown


  • Seemingly immortal
  • Has beaten a Balrog
  • Good at shifting big responsibilities to small hobbits

  • Sexy, Skinny Spaniard
  • Wizard at Fencing

  • Love of the halfling’s weed

  • Gentle Heart from a Remote Village
  • Serious Drunk


  • Medea – More like Med-Die-Ya

How we think the fight will go

All around the street, people were fleeing from their homes, or running from house to house to warn of the fire. A bell alarm rang, bouncing off what walls remained, and people were shouting for water, for directions, for loved ones.

It struck Inigo, for a moment, that he had no one to look for in the event of inferno. And no one who would scour the ash in search of him when it was done.

“There goes the neighborhood,” Inigo grumbled at Gandalf.

* * *

The leather of the sword’s hilt rippled under his fingertips, like some god stroking the Earth. It was greasy from use, and worn as well. The metal of the blade was thin enough to be serpent-quick, yet thick enough to be stone-strong. Twisting silver, gold, and bronze spun around the black braided leather of the hilt, occasionally stinging with cold where Inigo’s knuckles came into contact with it. It swirled like a tornado around his hand, and when he flashed the metal he could lift leaves and hair and coats with the force of its wind alone.

There was not a foe this sword could not beat, in his hand. Not a parry it could not make; not a song it could not sing as it sliced through clothing and flesh alike. He remembered in a vivid flash the first blood that had slid down the flat, shining steel; the way the sword stuck, as if embedded in a tree.

He’d had to put his foot to the man, to get the leverage to wrench the blade free.

The sword swung at his side, sheathed edge tapping against his thigh as he approached the pub’s dark, oak doors. They were carved but old, so the designs were near impossible to see in the years that had worn them down. Light spilled into the eave’s alcove from a single lamp, casting the contours in bright or black, with slanted hash marks of glowing orange. The old brick building stood a stout sort of inviting, its mortar uneven and its windows framed by wood smeared in forest green paint. But it was not chipping: it was well-kept.

The soft leather of the sword belt jerked across his stomach. He kicked the door open.

Sound rushed to greet him: clinking glasses, merry songs, jovial voices. The occasional curse and roar of triumph. Men of all sizes and shapes sat around, some at the bar and some at the tables. It was dim inside, to say the least, but it was warm. The smell of roast and stew made his stomach growl. It also, perhaps, wildly impaired his judgement.

Inigo pushed the door shut and strode into the pub’s main dining room. Heads turned; whispers lifted as shouts died down. He nodded to the nearest few whose eyes lingered too long, and strode toward his prize: a seat at the bar. He dropped down onto a stool between a very short man and a very thick man, and it was wonderfully warm in that spot from lamps and body heat, even if it didn’t smell the best. The big man gave him an up-down, which Inigo ignored. He put his elbows on the rich, polished oak of the bar and ordered:

“Your best stew, and even better brandy.”

The serving youth nodded and shouted the order. The cocktail mixer scoffed. Inigo ignored it. He would be getting food. He could let go a lot of slights for good food.

He let the sounds of the crowd filter into his mind for a while, eyes closed and chin in hand. A snippet of conversation here, a bit of anger there. Cajoling, business discussions, hopes and dreams, and wallowing despair. When it became nothing more than noise, he opened his black eyes, and gave a gaze back at the big man who had set his sights in his direction. “Know anyone around here who likes a good fight? Or better yet, likes to bet on one?”

The burly man, round as a sow and probably hairy as a bear under his leather, frowned. He’d been caught staring, and Inigo wasn’t about to let him get away with it. So Inigo smiled, a bit delicate, a bit enticing, and all predatory.

“Who’s your biggest brawler in here?” Inigo tipped his chin to several about the room. “Him? Or Him? Maybe that one?” His hand walked out over the bar, and lingered halfway between them. “There’s a pretty penny in it if you can point me to a swordsman who’d like to test his skill.”

The stranger raised an eyebrow, and spoke only after a moment. “You’re looking to test your sword skill? Well, there are plenty here who’ll help you do that.”

Inigo made his lips pucker like a soft kiss, more than he had to, to get the words out. “Go on.”

“But if you want a master for your sword. To control your sword …”

“Are you looking for a prostitute, a date, or a guy who can actually use a sword?” interjected the man to his right. He had his face screwed up with his eyebrows pinched together. Sandy hair fell into his eyes, and the ale mug that he swung around was nearly empty. That was a lot of ale for a person who was the size of a ten-year-old, or who might have been a ten-year-old. “Cuz I hope ya noticed the name of this place.”

Merry,” interjected a man of similar height, who occupied the stool two seats away from Inigo. His head was a puff of blond curls, and his face was one giant smile, scarily intent. “Why not one and then the other?” They elbowed each other, and laughed.

“They can fight me with whatever ‘sword’ they want; they just better know I’ll be coming at them with metal,” Inigo chuckled.

The two little men laughed even louder.

“Excuse my colleagues here,” said a third man. On the other side of the pair sat an old man with a long, white beard. At least, Inigo guessed it was white, given that everything in the dimness of the bar was either vaguely orange or a shade of black. He was wearing traveling robes of a scholarly sort, and had a tall, pointed hat sitting next to him. The brim was wide, and the top crooked. A white walking staff leaned against the counter too. The old man reached over the heads of the two, as if to usher children away. But then he merely clonked their heads together, to tandem shouts of “ow!”

“The gentleman here wants a meal and a fight. Or perhaps to bet on one. Best leave him be.”

The inflection of that voice. The graceful hand that lulled a false sense of security, only to do damage. The easiness of all the accoutrements strung about his person. Inigo’s eyes narrowed.


“Me?” the old man said, feigning innocence.

“You.” Inigo nodded. “You know a thing or two about fighting.”

“A thing or two, a long time ago. No more. I assure you.” The old man shook his head, and hid behind his glass. He was smiling, just a little bit.

The soup arrived at Inigo’s elbow. The innkeeper paused, to survey the scene, but then, apparently satisfied, moved on.

“I am in need of coin,” Inigo said to his new friends, as he drew the steaming bowl of sustenance toward him. “And a fight or two will do that. Public of course. With bets. This the type of place to try?”

“Oh, certainly,” said Merry. He took a quaff of his ale, and set down the empty tankard. He shouted for more. “Though they might just kill you soon as pay you.”

“Well then I best eat first,” Inigo answered.

“You any good?” The other one, the smiley one, piped up.

“I am a master, in fact,” Inigo said. He glanced over at the big guy on his other side, just before he put the old iron spoon in his mouth. He caught the man staring again and winked, then downed his stew.

It was delicious. Scrumptious. Rich and decadent and greasy, with the meat just the right balance between chewy and tender. The Prancing Pony was a good place for food, like everyone said.

Merry whistled. “Haven’t seen a good show fight in ages.”

“I’d pay to see that,” the other little one agreed. He hopped off his seat and disappeared into the crowd.

“Peregrine Took! Where are you going in such haste?” hissed the old man.

“So do you want a planned match, with rules and stuff, or a real fight?” Merry asked, putting his head in his hand. Orange sat around his hair like a halo, and the part of his face that was not lost in shadow gleamed with clever mischief.

“Only fools would let themselves get caged into a match in a pub,” Inigo said, scooping up a helping of potatoes and carrots. They were mushy, just the way he liked them. “Depends on which would get more money, I suppose. Would need a good bookie, if it were a dirty brawl. I can’t be held liable for death in that event though. Want to do it?”

“Sure why not. Ten per cent.”

The old man rolled his eyes.

“Sounds good,” Inigo said. “You ever done it before?”

“Have I done it – psht.” Merry waved his hand. “I started a war, once.”

They both laughed. The brandy arrived. An entire tankard of it that, he realized five minutes into it, had more straight alcohol in it than brandy.

The second little man reappeared, taking his seat and hiding behind his glass. Inigo thought it was odd, until everything in front of him blurred. He was hauled off his seat by fists at the back of his shirt.

“No man says he’s better than me at sword fighting and gets away with it, not in my own tavern!”

And that, as the bards say, is how it began.

“ … And my sister’s not a whore!”

* * *

Two swordsman, a brawler, six friends, and a pile of groaning drunks on the floor later, Inigo stood on the bar, top drunk to rule them all. His sword held steady in the air above the crowd, glimmering like liquid fire. He held one gloved hand at the rafters, and tried not to give into the urge to cut down the glasses hung in front of him just for fun and cheers.

“Dance, dance!” shouted someone from the side.

“Prance, prance!” said another, and then it was a chant that filled the hall.

He did some fancy footwork, to please them. They cheered. Merry was scurrying around, collecting moneys.

“All right, all right, who’s next!” Inigo shouted. The brandy had made him fearless; the stew had made him strong; and the workout had flooded him with warmth against the lonely darkness that awaited him outside.

But no names came. “A real master!” he shouted above the claps. “There’s gotta be one among you ladies!”

Not that ladies were anything to scoff at; the last one had just about cut him in half. But still. There had to be a better fight than this, backwater as it was.

The old man was still sitting in his seat, nursing a drink of some dark variety. He was gazing at Inigo’s feet, perhaps a drunken haze that aimed at the glistening of brass rivets up to his knees. But, Inigo thought, it was the look of a calculating man who was long-practiced at hiding his interest.

“You!” He announced, swinging the sword around to point at him. “I know you’ve got something to you. Show me it!”

The old man raised both eyebrows, and took his time sitting back. He gestured to the roadblock of men passed out from bruises, who lay on the floor behind him.

“You would do this to an old man? Surely, stranger, you are not so brash as that.”

“Fight me with that.” Inigo gestured to the white staff that leaned against the bar on the man’s far side. “Just until one of us cries uncle.”

“I am just a man, no one’s uncle.”

“Gandalf, you’re the best fighter in here, you took down a Balrog and lived to tell about it! And that was just a few years ago.”

“Peregrine Took!” Gandalf bopped him on the head with his glass.

The noise died almost instantly. Inigo glanced around at their faces, to gauge whether it was fear or awe, or both, that took them. The old man grumbled and went back to the tabletop, as if he had some business there. He set down his glass and took up a match, lighting a smoking pipe. The little man rubbed his head.

Inigo smiled. “Who wants to see the dirty foreigner fight this Gandalf!?”

There was a moment of silence, and then a roar.

“So it is!” Merry began collecting bets.

“I will not fight you,” Gandalf said, even though his far hand curled around the staff.

In two steps, Inigo had his sword at the man’s shoulder. He hadn’t even moved. “Yes you will.”

“Oh, don’t do that, now.” Gandalf quipped. “To put an old man in such danger.”

“Oh shut up,” Inigo said. He took a step back and bowed. “Dear, esteemed, elder gentleman.”

Gandalf snorted at that. “Will you fight me or not?” Inigo persisted. The lace of his sleeve cuff shivered in the light when he flicked his wrist, angling the sword point toward Gandalf’s pipe. The blade tip dipped into the bulb, pulled it from his mouth, and with a flick flung it across the bar and into the amphitheater of bottles. A low hiss went through the crowd, goading.

“Certainly, age has come to claim you,” Inigo said, to the annoyed eyes that finally stared at him with their full force. And eyes of a man who’d seen death, they were. He could feel it, through and through. “You see on the horizon more days behind than ahead. You inhabit a body that at this very moment aches, but it’s more for its old conquests than for its frailty. You don’t need glory, no, not a man as accomplished as you. Everyone will already remember your name. But that’s not what you’re thinking right now; that’s not what this is about. You think no man can possibly be worth raising your sword, let alone raising out of your seat, with what you’ve done and seen in this life.”

Inigo leaned near, the upside-down glasses clinking at his back. His balance was off, but it didn’t matter. He kept his feet together, his legs locked, a mockery of a bow. “Don’t leave glory for the next life, old man. See if this strange whelp is worth something, like he says he is. If nothing else, put him in his place to shut him up.”

Inigo closed the gap between them: He leaned down, sword arm folded against his back. He came to the old man’s ear and whispered, black hair falling over his shoulder to curtain them from the crowd. Inigo grinned. “I am, after all, a Wizard.”

The old man took a deep breath, his shoulders pushing back. He raised his nearer hand, empty, as if to pontificate. Then he took Inigo’s head in hand and slammed the side of it into the bar.

There was a great series of crashes as Inigo tumbled behind the counter into the stash of tankards and bottles, silverware and bowls. He disappeared from view entirely, sword and all. A groan came, and no sound or movement. The crowd stood silent, and then erupted in laughter and jeers.

“You are a ridiculous excuse for an inebriated turnip.” Gandalf rose to his feet, collecting his staff and his robes about him. “I’ll be outside.”

“Wait, wait, that’s not the fight, promise! Your bets are still on!” Merry shouted to the assembled.

A tug came at Gandalf’s robe. Attached to the fabric was a black-gloved hand, gripping it like it was life-saving. Over the counter hung the swordsman, panting for breath and covered in shining liquid. Crystal shards of broken glass peppered his hair, too. He squeezed his eyes shut momentarily; his breathing grew haggard, more growling than gasping. “That was a low trick.” He’d almost fallen on his sword.

“Oh?” Gandalf said, coy. “It seems it is you who does not know the tricks of battle.” Two-handed, Gandalf brought around the butt of his staff, shattering the necks of each glass in the row that hung above the bar. Inigo yelped and covered his head as they all came crashing down.

“Get out of my tavern!” yelled the nearest bartender. He threw a towel at Gandalf.

Inigo let out a great cry of frustration and bounded over the counter, windmilling his long legs to propel him to his feet and spin him around once he’d hit the floor. The galley between the bar stools and the tables was maybe three feet wide, but it was enough. A fencer could be as thin as a reed if he had to, and there were yards and yards to the length of the hall. Breathing heavily, Inigo raised his sword. “I’m not letting you walk out of here with your back to me,” Inigo growled, feral.

“I’m afraid you’ve had too much to dr—”

“I haven’t had enough!” Inigo snapped. “Not nearly enough to deal with this miserable little burg full of happy little people!”

“Does he mean us?” Pippin asked Merry. They were crunched up against men of normal height, stuck against the leather and linens of their knees and waists. Merry was fettering away the coins into all the hidden pockets he and Pip had.

“Maybe?” he asked, shrugging. “I’m just wondering if Gandalf’s ever eviscerated someone.”


“You know, like when you go like this” — Merry laid a slash mark across his throat with his finger — “but like this.” His finger descended down his sternum, and then mimed ripped open his stomach.

“You think he really would?” Pippin whispered. The two men were both shouting at each other now, each trying to be louder than the other. It reminded Pip of the way some of the ill-mannered hobbits of Brandywine liked to vie for dominance when they were at a party and thought they were right.

“Oh he looks placid, but he’s pissed, like alcohol on fire.”

Pippin thought about that for a moment, raising one eyebrow. Then he raised the other. “You think we could get a margin bet for evisceration?”

Merry’s happy head turned to him, slow and steady. “Pip, you’re a genius.”

“Aye aye, cap’n!”

The tall stranger stood sideways, and moved toward Gandalf with quick steps. His sword wrist flicked, sending the blade point round and round in a tight circle. It caught the light and glimmered, only to disappear in shadow. It was hard to follow, and it would momentarily blind as just the right angle came around again and again. His right hand was held out behind him, balancing. It almost floated in the air.

“What kind of fighting style is that? ” someone muttered.

“What a fruitcake.”

“They’re both missing some marbles, but eh. Most interesting thing to happen ’round here in some whiles.”

Murmurs went on. Inigo almost had Gandalf at the door, and the crowd that stood by it. The old man had both hands on his staff, his eyes intent; and then — yes, there! — he moved to block the sword aside. But Inigo was quicker; he flicked the sword around half a circle, and got the tip on the staff’s other side. Once, twice, this trick occurred, as they tested each other’s speed.

And then the old man let go one hand. The white staff spun out toward Inigo, reaching six feet in just a few seconds. It slid along his own blade, and forced the Spaniard to dodge backward. The crystal bulb on the end passed just under his chin; it took some of his hair with it.

The staff withdrew, only to surge forward again, this time on the other side. Inigo dodged again. But another jab, and then another, quick quick quick. Inigo’s feet danced back; his sword swung at his side, not yet ready to parry. Suddenly, the crystal was glowing light.

It hit Inigo. It was warm, right on his chest, and sent a jolt of electricity through him. Every muscle in his body tightened, and held that way for just a moment.

The old man stood up straight, and leaned on his staff, putting on an air of wisdom. “Still think you want to pursue this, young man?”

It was then, for the first time since the fight began, that Inigo smiled. “Oh, yes.” He lowered into a defensive stance. “How much money we got yet?” he called to Merry.

“Uh …” came the reply.

“Enough to cover the lost drinks?”

“Enough to buy the place, I’d figure.”

Good. ” The grin widened. Cheers went up. Inigo could feel it thrumming through the floor. He hummed, and without taking his eyes from Gandalf, he reached out with his left hand to the lantern that hung, via an iron rung, from a hook on the nearest support pillar. Balancing it near the end of the sword, Inigo held out his blade toward Gandalf. “Ready?”



Inigo lunged. His sword darted through the rung, and then back, moving faster than it took the lamp to fall. It hovered in the air in a single spot, while his blade flashed out and back and out again, looking for flesh to taste. The old man’s eyes widened, and he backed up, almost into a chair. He swept the butt of his staff out, over the floor. Inigo jumped; it went harmlessly by under his feet. It came back; he did the same, all the while keeping the burning oil lamp afloat.

Inigo laughed. The crowd stood awed; some clapped and whistled. The bartender was mopping up spilled alcohol, weeping over it and cursing them all the while.

Inigo dove forward, before the staff could strike at his feet again. He thrust, twisted around to disguise his movements, sidestepped, and thrust again. The point came to the old man’s chest, but went no farther.

“One for one,” Inigo breathed, the light of the lantern casting his dark-skinned face in flickering amber.

Quickly he stepped back to the pile of passed-out foes, to the reset the space between them. He placed the lantern back on the hook with a gentle ka-link. It swung lazily, making the shadows dance. “Was that magic?” Inigo asked, as he beckoned the old man forward. He tapped at his chest, where he’d been hit. “Or some parlor trick? Because that was neat. I fought a witch not too long ag—”

Silence! ” Gandalf roared, stabbing his staff into the ground. It burst light into the room, and everyone groaned, coiling away. Even Inigo was momentarily blinded. He dropped down, one foot before the other, weight on his back leg — ready to retreat if need be, nimble steps over human flesh.

The creak of feet on the floor, step step step, until it was just in front of him —

— he leaned left, since the attack would come from his right. His wrist flicked, sent the blade to meet the staff. It impacted in the air; because he could not see, the compliance was off, and the staff almost hit Inigo’s head regardless. But Inigo grabbed it with his free hand and lunged.

He hit nothing but robe; he could feel it from the way the sword tangled but did not embed. He cursed, turned. They were on opposite sides from where they were a moment ago.

“Of course it was magic, you fool. I’m a wizard, and you should know that should you be one, but of course you are not, for our numbers are few and far and I know not you.”

“I’m a wizard of fencing,” Inigo grumbled, blinking the light away, “not magic.” He took a step forward, even though he could not see well. “But truly, I can fight as if I were.” He stabbed, and heard the man move backward; he followed the sweep of his robe, and sliced; Inigo heard the creek of a foot nearing the corner, and saw the light of the old man’s staff. He slashed will all the force of his arm, and got — broken glass?

Heat. Heat, and light.

He waved his sword in front of himself, stupidly. It made a trial of glitter in the air.

Orange spread up the wall in the same fashion, and then in front of his feet.

Oh, he thought, suddenly smelling smoke. It was the oil from the lamp.

As screams peppered the air, and then filled it, it really hit Inigo that his sword was on fire. And so was the building.

He still could not see perfectly; it was a blurry crush that pushed him back, painfully, into the hard angles of heavy tables. He was near the back of the room already, but bodies whipped around him, pushing him, spinning him. He vaguely thought he heard the barkeep yell, “I’ll get you for this!”

His eyes were clearing just in time to see the fire leave his sword, and take over the ceiling.

“Oh dear.”

It was time to get out. The door was a mess of people, and the windows were too small to escape through. But the stairs: they were clear, and only a few feet away. Inigo took one step for them, but the old man and his white staff barred the way.

“I would like to not die here today,” Inigo shouted over the screams. “By sword perhaps, but not by fire!”

“That’s your own fault,” the old man yelled back. He had his hat. He pushed Inigo back, and took to the stairs himself.

When Inigo tried to follow, the old man turned and jabbed the butt of the staff into his diaphragm. Inigo gasped; fell to his knees. It was cooler down at the floor, and the smoke was thinner. He chanced a glance at the door. He couldn’t see it, the smoke was too thick. This fire was moving fast.

“Two,” the old man said.

Inigo growled, and charged up the stairs. He stabbed at the old man’s feet — one, two, three; one-two! With great satisfaction he got the man to shout, alarmed, but the old man was more nimble than he let on. Inigo’s stabs were met with the unsatisfying clonk of wood, until finally, on the last blow, he caught the boot. The man’s foot pulled right out of it, but he kept going, up the stairs. At the top, minus one boot, he stabbed down again, and swept, then circled the staff, striking for Inigo’s head. He leaned back, then dodged by hitting the deck. The staff was gone, but fire raced up the railing next to him.

Alarmed, Inigo ran. The smoke was roiling, thick as night, through the hallway and out the back: the press of black bloomed into an open door. He ran out, ever watchful for attack, into gratefully fresh, cold air.

It led onto a balcony, no more than two feet wide, and with a waist-high wooden railing. There were buildings nearby, so close he could climb on them. The ground seemed farther away: no convenient crates or trees to climb down. The old man was nowhere to be seen. So, heat at his back and orange dancing devilishly along the bricks of the alley, Inigo climbed the railing, just another shadow to the dim, and jumped.

The roof of the next building over was only a few feet above the balcony, and thatch. It held his weight, but it was already catching fire. The wind was stiff, and carried embers along like cottonwood seeds in the summer. Inigo held his breath, stamping out the nearest one.

All that good brandy, gone. He better get the money from that pair of little half-men, because he was going to have to lie low for a long while after this. Assuming he could even get out of town alive.

The tavern exploded.

The scent of alcohol wafted up along with a great boom and arching flames. The warmth came first, and then light: hands of flame with curling, greedy fingers reached upward to encase him. Inigo ducked at the sound, instinctive, and then bolted.

He didn’t realize he’d done it, until his feet were already taking him away. Into cold, only to have heat catch up with him. Flying bits of straw and glass and wood shot past him; a fork tangled in the hand guard of his sword, and half a jagged board of wood slammed into his back. He stumbled, but had no time to fall: there were already patches of orange a foot high as he ran across the roof. With a great leap, he jumped the five foot gap to the next building, and, feeling a blast of cool as he cleared the fire cloud, looked for a quick way down. There wasn’t one. He just seemed to be going higher, ever looking for a tree or latticed set of eaves.

His spinning gave him a chance to see the pub: its roof was gone, its nicely painted windows bowed out and broken. This pony would not be prancing for a while, assuming there was even a town left to rebuild when all was done. Even the houses across the road were catching: they were only about eight feet away; he could have jumped to them and clung, if he had to.

When he got to the fourth story of the fifth house on the block, the old man was there, waiting.

“You really think I’d let you go so easily?” His lips tweaked into a smile, in the light of burning buildings. “After burning down the town?”

“I didn’t burn down the town, the fire is burning down the town. And it is coming to get us both, so if you don’t mind….” It crackled in Inigo’s ears; it was moving as fast as he was, and if the wind went right, it would take away his exit of clean houses across the street as well. It had already reached the roof behind him.

All around the street, people were fleeing from their homes, or running from house to house to warn of the fire. A bell alarm rang, bouncing off what walls remained, and people were shouting for water, for directions, for loved ones.

It struck Inigo, for a moment, that he had no one to look for in the event of inferno. And no one who would scour the ash in search of him when it was done.

“Well there goes the neighborhood,” Inigo grumbled. “You won’t budge, will you.”

The old man’s staff glowed, and out from it poured a whip of fire.

“Fire? First is was ice from her, then lightning and now it’s fire from you! The next person I fight is going to be able to make earthquakes and summon tides! What is this?” Inigo squawked, ducking from the lash. It glowed easily enough to see, white-hot at the ends and flowing liquid orange and red toward the staff. But the old man didn’t need to move to use it; he was controlling it with his mind, it seemed.

“I have some good weed to share with you, if you want to forfeit,” Gandalf said. “We could smoke together, a peace pact. I do, after all, have to flee this town now too. Probably for decades.”

Inigo had to watch carefully to predict the moves of the magic; he ducked, and ducked again into flame, ever trying to move forward, ever careful to mark how it could move, and how fast. He made a few paces, only to be forced back. He wasn’t sure if it would melt through the sword, so he didn’t want to chance a parry with it. It’d be damn hard to stab his father’s killer with a broken sword, and not so much as sweet.

“Thank you, but I’m already a drunk, I don’t need to be stoned, too.” The whip slashed a gash into his shirt; the edges glowed for a moment, melted. All around him, the night was growing hot, and the stars were growing dim.

The whip was only playing with him, that he knew. But he didn’t have time for this: the heat at his back would soon grow blistering; he was already sweating freely. The edges of his vision were becoming nothing but red and yellow. The next time the whip twisted toward him, he sidestepped, and then was pushed back. He ran several steps forward as it recoiled, only to wonder why his foot was hot.

He’d stepped in flames, and left a trail of burning footprints.

With a yelp, Inigo tossed off his boot, instantly mourning its loss as his foot set down on brittle, slanted hay.

“One for one,” the old man smiled.

I’m going to need that boot back. The whip retreated. Inigo frowned, checking the flames. They were as high as prairie grass, even in front of him now; a small tunnel stood between the old man and him, and the rest was walls of fire. Yet still the old man smiled. Where was he planning on going? There was probably an easy descent off the edge of the roof he guarded, but which Inigo could not see; it was the edge of the block, and the next building was not within jumping distance. It was the only possibility. Hell, though, the old man could probably fly, at this rate.

“How do I know you wouldn’t just open me up when I’m too high to care?” Inigo demanded of the truce, shouting across the gutter of the fire. He swept up his boot just as the main body of flame dared to lick it. He dusted off the last of the little flames melting it, and threw it into the street, over the picket fence of dancing red and orange that hemmed in to this roof. He’d get his boot once he was down. Judging by the sound, it might have hit someone on the way down, though.

“I’m a wizard,” Gandalf said. “I’m not allowed to do that.”

He winked, but Inigo was already running — toward him. There was the screech of an eagle, and then the old man jumped straight back off the building.

Inigo jumped too.

But instead of a roof, or a broken leg on cobblestones, Inigo landed on the pile of feathers that was the back of a massive bird, with a very surprised wizard staring down at him.

The eagle swung around over the flames; it banked so far Inigo almost fell off its back. But he swung his legs around when it righted itself, and got himself over its tail feathers. The old man had to hang on to its shoulders, and could only look back. He gripped his staff in one hand, but looked unable to use it; Inigo could barely see though, his hair was whipping around his face so furiously.

The bird continued to circle, and lift. The town was at least forty feet down.

It was like a boat, a boat where there was no water to catch you should you fall. Wind stinging his face, lashing darkness into his eyes, bringing up the smell of ash and the sounds of screams, one-shoed Inigo took his sword and stood. His world was nothing but wind and listing and praying he could stay afloat. And then he walked.

“What are you doing, you fool?” the old man shouted over his shoulder. The wind carried his voice as he looked back; it rattled in Inigo’s ears, along with the sound of flames.

“Three!” Inigo shouted back. Up the bird’s back, he stabbed at the man’s arm. It hit, drew blood. “Four!” He slapped the flat of the blade on his back, as the bird rolled. “Five!” The staff came up to block his strike to the face. But it was a feint: instead Inigo retracted the blade, quicksilver, and stabbed at the gut. It hit, though it did not tear the clothing. “I win the match!”

“You’re insane!” Gandalf’s staff jammed upward, and hit Inigo in the stomach. “Get off my eagle!”

Inigo stumbled, and the feathers made his feet sink rather than hit hard purchase. He could not breathe, and the wind went by too fast to gasp it back in. He doubled over, clutching his stomach. He had no air, and soon, he had not sight but fire: the eagle did a barrel roll, and into the sky Inigo fell.

* * *

Someone’s roof, a very large tree, and a pile of hay later, Inigo stood in the town square, watching the world around him burn. It smelled of ash and charcoal, burning hay and even scorched stone, though he had never had the privilege of tasting that before. Sparks, crackling, lifted into the night sky, as if they could reach the few remaining stars that twinkled above.

People were crammed into the square, because the walls of the town had hemmed them in, and the main gate was near the source of the fire. As he sat at the fountain’s edge, the wind carried swirls of heat that lifted his hair and caressed his neck, only to bring with it in the next gust a breath of cool air from above. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes, trying not to listen to the raging destruction and the crying.

Well, that was the first time I’ve ever accidentally burned down an entire town. As he held it between his knees, his blade reflected the houses on fire: the livelihoods and lives, he dared think, being lost. It flashed dully, orange and red, sometimes white and blue and green. It gets malevolent with blood, this sword.

“Ah, um.” On the other side of his sword, the little half-man stood, Inigo’s boot clutched to his chest. He took it with a muttered thanks.

“You have my money?” Inigo asked, as he checked out the shoe. It only seemed a little melted, though there were a few hairs stuck in the tread, where it’d beaned some hapless soul.

“Y-yeah, it’s here.” The little man held out a large sack, made of some floral print. It looked like some sweet girl had made it for him, to hold his dinners. It reminded Inigo momentarily of the White Witch, and the absurd notion of her packing him a meal appeared, unbidden. It almost made him smile, though it made the scars on his stomach twinge more.

“Thanks.” Inigo reached in and pulled out a handful of coins. The man cringed. Inigo checked to make sure his grab had a sufficient amount of golden coinage, then tucked it into his pocket.

“That’s all you want?” The little man hesitated, biting his lip.

He shrugged. They’d need the rest to rebuild, or at least buy food for the next little while. “You’re Pippin, right? Where’d Merry go?”

“He always runs away to smarter places to hide than I,” Pippin said. He looked back at the flames, the way he had come. Some of them were starting to die down, but they picked up again each time the wind came through the alley. His face was smudged with black, his eyebrows knit. The flames reflected in his eyes.

“I’m sure he’s fine,” Inigo said. “In fact, I’m sure they’re both fine.”

He tipped his head back, just to feel the movement of his skin, whole, functionable. Breath that did not sear or sting. A bolt of lightning crawled across the clouds. Clouds that had not been there a few minutes before.

The fire had caused it? Or the wizard ….

A drop of water splashed onto his cheek, and ran down the scar along the side of his face. Another drop, caressing his eyelid. One to his lips. He licked it in. It tasted like ash.

“The fire has brought the rain,” he said. Pippin gazed up as well.

“You know, you’re going to have to lie low for a while. We’ve got a lot of wine in the Shire, and not a lot of travelers. You could stay there for a bit. Be our bodyguard.”

“No.” Inigo shook his head, gentle. “I must keep going.”

Soon, the sound of a rain against stone filled the square, and the air was bright with scattered rainbows, fire flashing through the raindrops.

Inigo smiled, and let the rain pour down. “Wash it clean.”

Until the next battle, anyway.

Predicted Winner: Gandalf

NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON Tuesday, April 9th, 2013, AT 5 PM, EST


Check out all the Cage Match 2013 posts!

Check out the round 1 recap and Cage Match 2013 Bracket!

Check out the round 2 recap and Cage Match 2013 Bracket!

Check out the round 3 recap and Cage Match 2013 Bracket!

Check out the round 4 recap and Cage Match 2013 Bracket!

Gandalf is a character from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; Inigo Montoya is a character from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride.

Gandalf image courtesy of MGM/Warner Bros. Inigo Montoya image courtesy of MGM.

Cage Match fans: We are looking forward to hearing your responses! If possible, please abstain from including potential spoilers about the books in your comments (and if you need spoilers to make your case, start your comments with: “SPOILER ALERT!”