When you lead from the front…

When you lead from the front…

Posted on June 11, 2024 at 2:35 am by Evan Ward

As they say, a closing door is just an opportunity to make a new one.I guess with a sledgehammer or something. I always thought the saying was a bit weird, but then again a lot of sayings were like that. I mean, the “whole teach a man to fish” thing? Yeah, by the time he’s learnt and caught one, figured out how to prepare it and all that nonsense he’ll be dead from hunger. Just give him a bloody fish then you can teach him. It’s not one or the other, you selfish twat! You just want all the fish to yourself, don’t you?

Anyway, I lost the LSD Championship. That was the metaphorical door closing in my face. Just a tiny drop of blood, just an unintentional accident. This is becoming a running theme. No, not losing titles on the first defence, that’s par for the course at this point. I mean losing important matches on a fluke, nothing but a stroke of luck. Bad luck, but luck nonetheless. While my opponents certainly left nothing on the table, these losses were by no means my opponents proving their dominance over me, establishing themselves as the superior competitors, the better champions… If anything, it was a result of myself getting the better of me. Losing concentration and getting carried away. It was something to work on, I guess. I’ve heard that getting carried away with things was a major character flaw of mine. I’d always dismissed it, but I’m starting to see what they mean. Once I get something in my mind I tend to go all in without thinking through the consequences or how realistic it may be. More than anything, I had to make sure not to fall into that trap at Ward Games. Knowing my luck, I’ll get down to just me and Mike, have him out cold, ready to be pinned, and then the cage ceiling will come down on me because earlier in the match I got obsessed with trying to knock it down on someone else. Can you imagine? Crushed by my own trap. Typical.

This year’s Ward Games will be particularly difficult to prepare for. So many unknowns. So many questions. Sure, I know I’m the captain on one team, Mike’s the captain on the other, and we all know it’s being held up in Scotland, but beyond that anything could happen. It’s not just the entrance order which is random, but the teams themselves. Hell, no one even knows who exactly will show up for the match. You can guess from the current active roster, for sure, but it’s open season. Literally anyone could show up at Edinburgh Castle with no warning. Given it’s the last ever Ward Games, with all that history coming to an end and going full circle, unexpected entrants should be totally expected.

It looks likely Jatt might be striking up an appearance. Six months of retirement, sitting on the sidelines watching Hugo Scorpio make a pigs ear of it, was too much for him I guess. And the ICON Championship might be on the line too? That’ll be something. Who knows, someone (in other words, me) could even walk out with the triple crown of LSD, ICON and World Championships in hand. If the HOTv Championship is on the line then it could even be the Grand Slam. I imagine the odds against that would be low, though. There’s no doubt going to be  some convoluted rules about when the lower titles are able to be claimed. Something like you can only win them by being the first to pin the champ who started the match with them, after beating them in a break dance competition and singing the Scottish national anthem during the first 20 minutes of the match. I have no idea where Lee comes up with these rules, they’re ridiculous, who on earth knows the Scottish national anthem? Not even the Scottish know it!

Anyway, I digress… The point is, there’s too many unknowns. I have no idea who will be on my team, so I can’t prepare a solid battle plan. I will have to captain on the fly and make do with what soldiers I have at my disposal on the night. Most of them are just peons anyway, pawns who will be out there, happily laying down their careers, their very lives, to forge a path for their glorious leader to take the World Championship throne of HOW from Mike Best. In the words of Dick Solomon, many of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. The worst case would be if my darling Nettie and best buddy Christopher America ended up on Mike’s team. Facing would pain me to my very soul, but a leader sometimes has to execute traitors when they defect to the other side… No, wait, the worst case would be if those absolute ferret todgers, Solex and Sektor, ended up on my team. That would be sooooo bad. I couldn’t trust them to have my back. It would probably be best to eliminate them myself before they can sabotage my plans. We all know they’ll surely try.

After what happened last year I can’t take any chances of manipulative pubic lice like Solex coercing my teammates into stabbing me in the back. Last year was a travesty, a conspiracy against the rightful winner. There was absolutely no reason why everyone would turn on me like that, I was beloved by all my team? My inspirational speeches really unified the team, just like back in 2012 it brought everyone together and it would have spurred us all on to my victory if those snakes in the alliance hadn’t back stabbed me!

And that’s what makes this whole random team bullshit such a handicap for me.Without knowing who’s in my team, how on earth am I going to give them a tailored inspirational speech?! A generic speech which could apply to anyone, with no specifics, is all well and good, but it won’t have the impact… the vavavoom of one pushing my teammates individual strengths. The conspiracy against me winning Ward Games goes deep!

Either way, I had to stay focussed and not get side tracked. The match was everything and victory came before anything else. That was why my travels had taken me to the hills north of Edinburgh, somewhere between the capital and Inverness, with my trusty squire by my side. The thick, dark clouds had swept in on a mighty storm and we were soaked to the bone as we trudged through the grim darkness, black as night even in the early afternoon of early June. Up in these parts of Scotland, the weather up here tended to exist in its own unique pocket dimensions.

We entered a nameless rural village, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a TV show set in the middle ages. Thatched cottages lined the single, mud-tracked street, not a street lamp was in sight, even a wooden cart full of horse manure was pitched up there. If you took a photo of this village and a set photo from Game Of Thrones, no one would be able to tell which was the show and which was a real location. Obviously the Tesla plugged in beside one of the houses was just a production gaff.

“Dude, why the fuck are we up here?” Trent grouched. “I fucking told you we need to go visit fucking Wales before the show, I’ve arranged to a fucking get together for you. At this rate we won’t have fucking time to get down there. I mean, fuck, it takes less bloody time to fly across the fucking Atlantic than it does to bloody drive across this fucking shit hole of a country… and speaking of fucking driving, why are we fucking walking? I’d be drier if I jumped in a fucking spinning pool!”

“Quit your bitching, Trent.” I commanded. “We’re on a quest! Since when do dudes on a quest pull up in a bloody car? Anyway, there ain’t any way we’d have gotten an Uber to bring us all the way out here, they’d have gotten stuck half a mile ago. Look, there’s an inn up ahead,” I pointed towards the blazing lights of the inn down the end of the road, whose sign read The Winch & Horses. “We can go dry off in there, have a drink and question the NPCs… I mean the locals for information about our quest.”

“Urgh, this is such fucking bullshit.” Trent groaned as they trudged through the muddy path, his boots sticking in the slop. I couldn’t blame him for being slightly grumpy, we had been walking in the pissing rain for the last hour or so.

As we neared the Winch & Horses it became apparent that I might need to visit the opticians because the sign actually read “The Wench & Whores”. Hooray for accidentally finding a brothel! I shoved the door open with a grin on my face and was created by the lovely sight of many buxom ladies in corsets in a lavishly furnished, brightly lit brothel the sort out only heard about in stories.

But then the fantasy vision wore off as my eyes adjusted to the gloom and it turned out to just be a provocatively named, dingy local inn, dimly lit by candle light and a furious open fire in the corner. Indeed, judging by the glares of the grisled old codgers and world weary land workers casting an eye in my direction, it was very much a local pub for local people. They’ll be having none of our kind here. Seriously, it’s what the giant, bald, one-eyed barman growled at us.

“We’ll be having none of your kind here in our local bar!” He growled at us, through his thick Scottish accent. “You English toffs can go back to where you came from!”

“Hey, Rab, don’t you be judging so quick.” Said a bearded man nursing a pint at the bar. “How’d you know these be English folk?”

“Yeah, how the fuck would you even fucking know, you bunch of fucking kilt munchers.” Trent said, sounding as English as they come. Everyone glared at him with two eyes, except the one-eyed barman who glared at him with three: his and the metaphorical two of his double barreled shotgun.

“Woah, woah, woah!” I said, raising my hands up. “There’s no need for that, I’m Welsh!” I lied as I approached the bar

“Yeah? Then prove it.” Rab the barman demanded, his shotgun steady on Trent.

“Ti’n credyd yn dwp chŵn yn fy marn, ddall cwtshwr dywell dywyll.” I said fluently using all the half remembered language I could muster from my Welsh education.

“Och, aye.” Said the patron at the bar. “That’s as Welsh as I ever did hear.”

“You speak Welsh, Fergus?” Rab shot him a quizzical look.

“Oh, no, not at all.” Fergus admitted as he pulled out a handkerchief. “But I assure you, only a true Welshman could say such a lengthy sentence with so few vowels and cover me in spit yet still sound as musical as Tom Jones himself.”

It was for the best that they never found out I had said, roughly translated:“You’re a stupid dog in my opinion, a blind hugger of a dark blanket.” I breathed a sigh of relief as Rab lowered the shotgun and beckoned me over.

“Well, I can’t turn away my Celtic brethren on a night like this one, can I? Have a drink on the house, my apology for making assumptions.” He started pulling a pint but turned a scowl towards Trent. “But he ain’t welcome.”

“Aww, don’t be like that.” I said soothingly. “He’s just my squire, my pageboy, you know, my, uh…..”

“Your indentured servant?” Suggested Fergus.

“Yeah, that’s it.” I snapped my fingers towards Fegus. “He doesn’t do anything without my say so.”

“Well, as much as I hate the English, I love seeing them getting their just rewards.” Rab grinned. “Come on over, boy. But he’s paying for his own beer.”

“I fucking hate you.” Trent muttered at me under his breath then slapped a tenner down on the counter.  “Gimme one of your biggest fucking pints.”

“It’s a pint.” I frowned. “It’s literally a description of volume.”

“Fuck yeah, and I want the biggest fucking one.” Trent retorted it, staring at Rab, their singular eyes meeting.

“Nice fookin’ eye-patch.” Rab commented, taking in the eyepatch’s skull-and-crossbones motif.

“Yours fucking too.” Trent replied, admiring Rab’s family tartan one.

“Fookin’ aye.” Acknowledged Rab.

“Fucking aye.” Agreed Trent.

Honestly, if Trent was a Scottish barman at a local inn for local people, he’d be Rab. They were the spitting image of each other. Despite being natural enemies, as the English and Scottish are, they seemed to be bonding over their mutual similarity.

“So, what brings you up to our little hovel?” Fergus asked.

“Well, we’re on a quest for a couple of items, you see, and I heard tales that your quaint little village was the last known location of one of them.” I explained casually. “Have you ever heard of the Legendary Claymore of Angus Mac… Mac… What was it again?”

The room burst into laughter, and so did the people in it. Rab quietened the room.  “You ain’t one of these hapless Highlander fans thinking you’re gonna come up here and find Angus MacLeod’s sword and become immortal are ye?”

“What? No! Isn’t it Connor MacLeod who’s the immortal one anyway?” I replied.

“Och, aye.” Fergus nodded. “He’s the main character, but he hardly got it from nowhere. Angus was the clan chief and twas immortal first. It’s a little known fact most fans don’t know.”

“Oh… Well that’s not it. What was it… Oh yeah!” I drummed my hands on the bar out of excitement. “The Legendary Claymore of Angus MacGuffin! That’s it. Heard of it?”

Everyone in the room went silent, though the room creaked and groaned as if protesting at the mention of the weapon.

“The… Legendary Claymore of Angus MacGuffin?” Rab said in a hushed tone, as if they were dangerous words of power. Lightning struck outside as he did and the candles illuminating the bar flickered forebodingly.

“Yes, the Legendary Claymore of Angus MacGuffin.” I replied in the loud tones of a tourist asking for a powerless souvenir.

“What do you want with the… Legendary Claymore of Angus MacGuffin?” Rab asked and a boom of thunder clapped as the candle flickered again. “Fookin’ thing.” Rab said, and tool the bulb out of the candle, replacing it with the new one. It illuminated the bar a lot better.

“You see, Rab, Robert, Roberto… I’m going to war down in Edinburgh.” I explained, leaning closer over the bar.  “I’m going to fight my way through a horde of invading Americans and a couple those vile English toffs you despise. If I want any chance of winning, I’m going to need a weapon as awesome as I am and I need a steed as equally epic. And that brought me here, because I heard of that Claymore and I just had to have it. It’s perfect. The jagged, sawtoothed blade, able to rip and tear flesh from the bones of my vic… my opponents. So, Rab, do you know where it is?” I asked with a grin.

Rab leaned forward and raised an index finger, pointing directly up. Both the barman and myself slowly turned up heads to follow the finger’s target and there it was, hanging right above my head over the bar. The Legendary Claymore of Angus MacGuffin. Fully illuminated thanks to the new lightbulb in the candle.

“Holy shit!” I exclaimed, in awe of the majesty of the almost 5 foot long, centuries old blade, gleaming in all its grand glory. “That’s even more amazing than I had ever imagined! Can I have it?”

“That fookin’ sword, right there,” Rab pointed at the Claymore. “Has been handed down from generation to generation of the clan MacGuffin since before the birth of Christ, reforged time and time again from a raw Celtic blade to the flamberged behemoth you see up there. This sword has struck down kings and tyrants, slain beasts and demons. This is one of the most important artefacts of Scottish history, irreplaceable and unique… and you’re asking if you can have it?”

“Yeah, so how much?” I grinned.

Rab looked at Fergus, who shrugged. “Eh, gimme a grand and it’s yours.”

“Sold!” I pulled out my wallet and relieved a load of fifty pound notes from it. “Have two! And the rest of the night’s drinks are on me!”  I slapped the surprisingly small bundle of cash on the bar. It would have been much more impressive if they were fivers, but I’m not the sort of asshole who’d pay that much with such small denominations.

The whole bar cheered and the drink started to flow freely as Trent lifted the sword from it’s mounts and handed it to me.

“Woah!” I stumbled, trying to keep my balance holding the massive two-handed sword. “This thing is heavy!”

“Dude, that thing’ll fuck shit up at War Games.” Trent was in awe of the weapon, just as I was. I slipped it into its sheath, which Trent had also pulled down, and the giant slung it on his back like a good old square. I turned to Rab and Fergus.

“Thank you so much, I can’t believe I have the real Legendary Claymore of Angus MacGuffin.” I gushed at them. “Now, I’ve got one last favour to ask. It’s only a little one and I don’t want to trouble you too much, but I’m sure local men of your stature will answer it with ease…” I grinned excitedly at them, eyes burning with the feverish anticipation of hipsters queuing for the launch of a new iPhone made from Steve Jobs’ ashes. “ Do you fine folk know where I might be able to find a unicorn?”