Test of the Sword: Two
In her rooms Laura took a nervous breath as she adjusted her riding leathers, the tough clothing clinging to her slim form. It wasn't armor, such things couldn't be worn in a challenge, but it should provide her some protection in battle. She strode out into the halls, calmly making her way to the courtyard.
"Good luck, m'lady," one of the maids on duty nodded respectfully, her skirts swirling as she curtsied. As she walked more and more servants sought her out to wish her well, their friendliness a pleasant counter to her father's cold disdain.
'Time to go,' taking a deeper breath Laura Moore strode out into the noisy courtyard, the black haired lady feeling all the eyes on the bystanders resting on her as her bastard sword thumped against her side.
Across the way she saw Matthew, still dressed in his garish court garb, his maroon shirt and tight breeches hugging his thin, almost bony body. The dirty blonde haired man gave her a deadly glare, his band of cronies hovering around him as they whispered and talked. Obviously he didn't take a woman with a sword seriously, likely thinking she wouldn't land a blow on him. At his side he carried a slim rapier, a stylish weapon chosen to suit his foppish garb.
"Daughter," Gregory said disapprovingly as she walked up to where her father and old Lord Eddings stood talking.
"Father," Laura nodded to him respectfully as she asked him with false cheerfullness, "a lovely day, isn't it?"
Completely ignoring that attempt at civility Gregory growled out, "You know that you can still withdrawal the challenge..."
"And after all of the name calling I did so that'd he'd accept rather than scurry away?" Laura raised her eyebrows in mock surprise.
Lord Eddings laughed suddenly, the silver haired man shaking his head in admiration as another facet of her plan became clear to him. "You want a public duel," he realized, "to frighten off any other ambitious wastrels."
"Indeed," Laura nodded to him respectfully.
Gregory looked at her with an expression of dismay, "I never dreamed you could be so calculating, daughter."
"Then you don't know me very well," Laura said dryly.
Recovering his composure Lord Eddings said, "I had best go see to our Mr. Brown, find out if he's ready to begin." With a pace remarkably brisk for one his age Eddings was off, his step that of a man who was clearly enjoying his work.
"Do you truly intend to be a spinster to the end of your days?" Gregory sighed as he looked warily at the swelling crowd.
"I have told you before of my... preferences, Father," Laura said to him patiently, "and even you warned me of how my relationship with the Lady Sala would look."
"Is it all because of that outlander bitch you're doing this...?" Gregory started to ask, his face reddening in rage.
SLAP! Laura's hand was fast and hard, the power and suddenness of the blow to his cheek rocking her father backwards in shock. "If you ever refer to her that was again," her voice was deadly, "I will challenge you too, family bonds be damned."
Holding his hand up to his cheek Gregory studied her, almost as if he was seeing her for the very first time. "Of course," there was now some respect in his voice as he continued on mildly, "even if I was upset, I should not have spoken of a lady in that way." He bowed a bit from the waist as he said, "I do apologize for that."
Watching him walk away Laura felt a bit of confusion. 'He almost spoke to me as one lord to another, not father to daughter...,' she thought wonderingly.
"I think Matthew is as ready as he's ever going be," Eddings briskly reported as he returned to Laura's side at a fast trot.
"Oh?' Laura looked curious, hearing the contempt in the other man's tone and wondering what brought that on. 'Beyond the obvious,' she smiled.
Dropping his voice Eddings said, "I suspect that if his friends weren't egging him on the fool would flee, insult or no."
"Well, let's get started before he decides to run away," Laura said as they walked towards the area cleared in the center of the courtyard.
"Wait," a familiar voice called out.
Turning her head Laura saw Sala D'artanian hurrying to her side, the dusky skinned woman dressed in a fine gown, her brown hair as lovely as ever. "I didn't want you here to see this," Laura murmured to her.
"You're fighting for me as much as yourself," Sala answered softly. From her bodice she drew a red cloth, heady with her sweet scent, then tied it around Laura's arm. "You have my favor," she said softly then kissed her quickly, "for luck."
There was a ripple of shock in the crowd as the bystanders watched, then a murmur of conversation. Matthew's face seemed to go dark with anger as he realized exactly why he had been refused, her eyes narrowed in rage. Oddly Gregory seemed the least effected, in fact he was nodding slightly in satisfaction.
Blushing faintly Lord Eddings cleared his throat, "We should go."
"Thank you," Laura reluctantly let Sala go and they continued on to the arena. She kept her voice polite as she greeted Matthew, "Good morrow, sir."
"Deviant bitch," Matthew choked out, his face so red he looked like he was going to pop as he continued, "how dare you..."
"Anything else you want to say to me," Laura cut him off with a wave of her hand, "say it with your blade." She looked to Lord Eddings annd asked, "Sir?"
Clearing his throat Lord Eddings loudly declared to the crowd, "This is the test of blades, and by the old laws will not end until one fighter or the other yields. If the Lady Moore wins the betrothal will be set aside, while if Mr. Brown wins she will be compelled by law to carry through with the wedding." He looked to each fighter, "Do you understand?"
"Yes," Laura nodded.
"And when I win my prize I'll drag you to the marriage bed an' take you, willing or no..." Matthew hissed.
"Begin!" Eddings declared, clearly unwilling to hear more from him.
Both fighters drew their blades, the hiss of steel shockingly loud in the sudden silence. Laura held her sword two handed, crouched a bit in guard position as she saw Matthew wave his sword back and forth, the silvery blade flashing brightly. He lunged and she batted his sword aside, once then twice as he probed her defences.
It took a great deal of skill to wield a slim blade like Matthew carried, to turn aside a enemy's blow delicately then attack with a flick of the wrist, and it was quite clear to Laura he didn't have it. He struck wildly, straight on, with no tactics or talent at all.
Boldly Laura closed with him, her heavier sword easily batting his weapon aside like a toy as she pressed her attack home. "Yield, boy," she commanded, sword poised to strike.
"Never," Matthew hissed as he flicked his other wrist, a concealed blade dropping down into his hand from under the wide, puffy fabric. He plunged the knife into her thigh and twisted it visciously, sending her reeling backward with a cry.
"That dishonorable little," Gregory growled as he saw the second blade strike, nearly having to be restrained by Eddings from rushing right into the arena himself. All around them the crowd grumbled angrily, clearly displeased by the man's treacherous move.
"Custom frowns on such a thing," Eddings reminded him forcefully as he looked up at the taller man, "but it's not against the rules." He softly added, "And no matter how this battle ends, his reputation is gone. All now know him to lack any shred of honor."
"Bastard," Gregory growled, his expression unforgiving, "if Laura loses I will challenge that dishonable wretch myself."
Laura limped a bit, blood running down her leg as she watched him warily. "I underestimated you," she conceded as they circled, "I never saw that coming."
"I'm sorry I had to mark you," Matthew sneered, holding a weapon in each hand, "I'd rather have you pretty on our wedding night."
"I'd sooner die," Laura said coldly.
"So be it," Matthew rushed forward, feeling confident in drawing first blood.
Slipping aside, firey pain bursting in her leg Laura swept down with her sword with all her might. The heavier blade cut through skin and muscle easily, only the bone slowing it a moment before the weapon went right though.
"Aaah!" Matthew screamed in shock and pain as he dropped his light sword, clutching at the wrist of his knife arm... the hand itself now laying on the dusty ground between them, knife still firmly clutched in fingers.
"Yield," Laura said to him commandingly as she stood akwardly, her own red blood pooling at her feet from her leg wound, "now."
Matthew looked up at her wide eyed and bleated out, "Don't kill me!"
"I'd say that counts as a surrender," Eddings said as he rushed forward to separate the two of them. He turned to where Gregory was hurrying up to them and commanded, "Summon the healing mages, the hand might yet be saved."
A sobbing Matthew was helped to his feet by his friends, then the hand was scooped up to be carried to where the healers waited. The crowd was clearly disaproving, glaring down at Matthew even as a few approached Laura to offer their congradulations.
"You're hurt!' Sala burst through to Laura's side, kneeling to look at the wound in alarm. She leapt to her feet and glared around, "Bring her a healer, damn you!"
"It's all right," Laura grit her teeth through the pain in her leg, just glad to have Sala there at her side. For a moment when Matthew had used the trick blade she had thought that she might have lost Sala forever...
"M'lady," one of the healers knelt at her feet respectfully, his soft chanting bringing about a soft glow around the injury. After a moment the pain was gone, though the leather breeches themselves were still sticky with blood.
Laura saw her father standing nearby, his whole posture screaming he wanted to say something. Keeping a arm around Sala she asked, "Yes?"
"I had not realized the depth of your feeling for the lady," Gregory said more than a bit awkwardly, "I will not oppose your wishes in this any longer."
A bit suspiciously Laura ask, "What prompted this change of heart?"
"Your anger at me when I offered a disrespect," Gregory confessed, "it reminded me of how I once was, when my own father spoke ill of my future bride."
"I'm glad you're accepted us," Sala looked up at him impishly as she offered Laura her support, "father-in-law."
Gregory had a mildly stunned look even as Laura burst into laughter at the expression on his face. "That," he said wryly, "may take some getting used to."
As her father left to deal with several of his fellow lords Laura murmured to Sala, "Thank you for your favor, m'lady. When you gave it to me I knew I could not lose."
"And the luck?" Sala asked curiously.
"Let me return it to you," and Laura drew her into another kiss.
Notes: Eddings is named for David Eddings, who has written several fantasy series I like, while the last name of Moore is derived from Alan Moore, a british writer who is maybe best known for creating V for Vendetta. This owes a bit to the British traditions of Chivalry, and a degree of older trial by combat customs, mixed with my own fantasy concepts. May or may not be added to later....