The stands were full. More people arrived to witness the joust to the death than any of the jousts before. Dionna, Aledon, and I struggled to find a seat, but eventually gave up. We were left to stand near the Noble Court.
“I don’t understand why you want to watch this.” Dionna commented for the hundredth time. “Neither of them listened to you, so we should be protesting this by not attending at all! Better we just swing by the tavern for good food then go back to the woods.”
Aledon leaned forward on his cane. “Aren’t you curious who will triumph, Dionna?”
Dionna huffed. “I’m not at all interested in seeing a man die, Aledon.”
“I hold hope one of the knights will reconsider.” I cut into the conversation, but my main focus was trying to see through the crowd. I wanted a good window to view the lists. “Maybe they thought over what I said?” I didn’t even have to look to know Aledon and Dionna exchanged doubtful looks.
The Noble Court was filing in to the fanfare of horns. Yet, to my surprise, the King was absent. I figured he would be here to support his most trusted knight, but in his stead was the Fairy Queen of the Southern Woods and her maidens.
“That’s something you don’t see everyday.” Aledon followed my gaze and intrigue filled his tone. “I thought the Fairy Queen never left her kingdom. Why is she here for a joust?”
“They say Sir Duncan saved their lands,” I commented quietly. “Maybe that’s why she’s here?”
Dionna shook her head. “She chose a terrible event to leave her kingdom for.”
The fanfare of trumpets sounded again and the Knight Marshal returned to the lists. He had to wait several moments for the cheering crowd to die down. “Good people! Welcome back to this field of noble sport! Earlier today, during the King’s Tournament, Sir Gavin displayed dishonorable conduct upon this very field! His opponent, the noble Sir Duncan, thus threw down the gauntlet in a challenge of honor! Sir Gavin has accepted, but the stakes have been raised! Upon this very field, Sir Duncan and Sir Gavin shall joust to the death!”
The crowd went into an uproar and I had a hard time not rolling my eyes. Blood would be spilled over pride. “This is wrong,” I muttered bitterly.
“Do not try to do anything stupid.” Aledon shot me a warning look. “We have quite the life slaying monsters in the wood. I’d rather prison for any of us not ruin that!”
“I agree with Aledon.” Dionna laid her hand on my shoulder. “Let things play out. We can save more lives in the woods than we can here.”
I hated that they had a point, but I kept my mouth shut.
“Swear to us that you’ll not intervene!” Aledon said suddenly.
I stared at him. “What?!”
“Swear it!” Dionna repeated. “And we’ll believe you. Neither of those knights’ lives are worth ruining what we have.”
Aledon tapped his cane. “I can always charm your boots to the ground to keep you put, Naviro.”
I frowned at both of them. Of course they would do this! They wanted me to swear because I never go back on my word. I didn’t know if I should be angry that they didn’t have my back on this or honored that they enjoyed what we had enough to stand against me for it. It just proves we’re the only friends we have.
“Fine,” I relented. “I swear I won’t intervene.” Intervening would just insult Sir Gavin, Sir Duncan, and the Fairy Court anyway…
My companions exchanged satisfied glances. We looked back toward the lists.
“Allow me to introduce your champions, my good people!” The Knight Marshal moved to the middle of the field. “Riding in green and gold, a hero to this very city! I give you, Sir Duncan!”
A trumpeting fanfare blazed and Sir Duncan came riding out on his black stallion. He raised his lance high and the roars of the crowd raised with it. Sir Duncan circled the lists once and stilled on the far right side. He held his head high as if he already won the day.
“And now, riding in black and purple, whose dishonor as tainted this very field, I give you: Sir Gavin!”
The amount of protests and sounds of disapproval that came from the crowd surprised me. Sir Gavin rode out much like Sir Duncan, but the good people withheld their favor. I searched the crowd for the ruffians and thugs who supported Sir Gavin in the tourney, but if they supported him now, they kept themselves hidden. Sir Gavin looped the lists once. He kept this head high as he rode past and I wondered if he’d spot me in the thick of it. He didn’t.
“Sir Duncan! Sir Gavin!” The Knight Marshal continued. “The two of you have met this day after an offense of honor. You’ve agreed to settle this dispute by a joust to the death! Does this still stand?”
“Aye!” Sir Duncan dashed my hopes of reconsideration in a millisecond. He sat forward on his horse, staring down Sir Gavin as if an ogre stood in his path. “Sir Gavin has defiled the Code of Chivalry and acted with disgrace upon this field. As punishment for his sins, I shall prove to the world once and for all that honor, dignity, truth, and grace of the Code of Chivalry shall stand triumph over evil every time!”
The crowed roared with their support, but Sir Gavin simply rolled his eyes. “You are all talk, Sir Duncan!” The tone of Sir Gavin’s voice soured my lips. I’m pretty sure he was feeling the wine. “This day’s end will see your blood spilt! The whole kingdom will know that your code and your God have forsaken you!”
“You’ve both made your choice.” The Knight Marshal quieted at the proclamations of the knights. I began to suspect that perhaps he didn’t agree with this as well? “Brave knights, bare your arms. Good people, this is no match for innocent eyes. Upon this field, a man will die.” He faced the court. “Fairy Queen, shall we commence?”
The Queen didn’t say a word, but she had been eyeing the knights through the introductions. I suspected her favor laid with Sir Duncan. She nodded.
“Knights, seek out your favors.” The Knight Marshal continued. “For one of you, these shall be your last. May they grant you the luck you need to win the day.”
Sir Duncan received favors from multiple ladies in the court, but it was Sir Gavin that I was watching. He scanned the crowds and walked the length of the lists, but there was no one to offer him favor. When he came back down, I caught his eye. A smirk curled his lip. I looked away.
“Knights, ride forward!” The Knight Marshal raised his hands to summon the two riders to the heart of the lists. “Salute each other.”
Sir Duncan offered a salute out of duty; yet, Sir Gavin remained straight on his horse and denied Sir Duncan that respect. The crowd hissed in protest.
“Salute the court!”
Both knights offered a salute to the Fairy Queen then rode to opposite ends of the lists. I felt like a stone was lodged in my stomach. Dionna had pulled out her dragon book to read and Aledon was picking muck off his cane out of boredom. The crowd was cheering. They wanted to see unbridled action. My heart pounded. I wanted to run out and stop this, but I gave my word to Dionna and Aledon and I felt nothing would come of me getting in the way. They’d just haul me off to jail and continue the joust. I sent out a prayer as the knights fell into position. Let mercy win the day.
Sir Duncan and Sir Gavin rode at each other at full gallops. The smack of lances on shields had many in the crowd wincing, but neither knight was moved from the saddle. I bit my lip when they reached opposite ends. The moment they locked eyes, they charged again.
Sir Gavin’s lance shattered against Sir Duncan’s shield and the older knight faltered, but did not fall. He lost his own lance from hand and had to collect another from his squire. As soon as he had it, he turned his steed and galloped at Sir Gavin again. I slowly shook my head. There was no pause between the two men. No hints of doubt or hesitation. After each pass, they turned and passed again. A couple more broken lances and I determined that sheer willpower was keeping the two knights in their saddles. I flickered my gaze to the Fairy Queen and the Knight Marshal, but my hope that they would intervene was all in vain. They simply watched the fight for any signs of dishonorable acts.
The shattering of another lance echoed the lists. Sir Gavin’s shield arm buckled under the force of Sir Duncan’s blow and the younger knight was thrown off his saddle. I caught my breath. Sir Gavin appeared dazed by the fall. He struggled back to his hands and knees. To my relief, the Knight Marshal ran onto the field to separate the two knights.
“Sir Gavin is downed!” The Knight Marshal called to Sir Duncan before the older knight could pass again. “Sir Duncan, you have the option to continue facing Sir Gavin from horseback or face him on foot.”
Sir Duncan tore his helmet off. “I shall face him on ground of equal footing. It is the only honorable way!” He dismounted and exchanged his horse for a sword. The Knight Marshal remained in between the two knights until Sir Gavin was back on his feet with sword in hand. All three men appeared pretty battered to me.
Swords rang the moment the Knight Marshal removed himself from the field. There was anger in Sir Gavin’s eyes and fury within Sir Duncan’s. Sir Duncan made good use of his shield until Sir Gavin managed to rip it from his arm. Sir Gavin then threw down his own shield and the two men danced a deadly waltz. The two knights appeared equal in their skills, but what I noticed first was Sir Gavin. His form was strong, and his footwork secured. It surprised me not that he was knighted for his skills, but what did surprise me was that he fought honorably. He didn’t throw dirt or play other tricks like earlier in the day. He faced Sir Duncan head-on and equally. For some reason, that gave me hope.
The knights’ swords rang again then Sir Gavin nimbly dodged back when Sir Duncan lashed out. Sir Gavin lunged forward with a jab, but Sir Duncan deflected. The whole arena was fastened on the edge of its seats. When Sir Duncan ill-timed strike was caught in hand by Sir Gavin, many lungs sucked in a breath. Sir Gavin hauled Sir Duncan over his shoulder and onto the ground. He would’ve pierced him through had Sir Duncan not rolled away fast enough. When both knights were on their feet, they clashed again. Their swords sparked like sharpening metal and with a move too fast for my eye to register, Sir Duncan twisted Sir Gavin around and sank his sword deep into Sir Gavin’s gut.
Whether the crowd cheered or gasped, I could not say. Horror paled my face the moment the blade made contact. Sir Gavin failed to register what occurred until his blood seeped into his own hands. He dropped his sword and when he looked up, he found me in the crowd. I shoved forward to reach him, but Aledon and Dionna caught my wrists before I could breach the lists fencing. The whole city supported his death, I hope he saw that I didn’t.
I hoped that if I held his gaze, he would be fine. He would recover like many knights had after a battle. Yet, Sir Duncan sliced his sword out of Sir Gavin and I think I screamed his name when Sir Gavin fell to the ground.
To Be Continued…