Nieneve and her brother had been sitting in those seats since the beginning of the joust, and both were bored. Nieneve had been looking out for Leopold since she had heard of his 'illness'; she hoped that this was a sign that he had accepted her challenge and that he was taking part. So far she had not seen him, and now another pair of knights were lined up, neither of them high enough in status to be someone Leopold would choose to disguise himself as.
"This is excruciating." Her brother groaned as the announcement began to introduce the competitors.
"Calm yourself brother. I told you the Prince will be taking part."
"And what do I care for the Prince?"
"If I spot him and give him my token, he will know I recognise him in disguise. It will make him think I care. Or that I'm attracted to him."
"And? You think I care? As long as you marry him and give him what he needs I don't care whether he thinks you love him or not."
"Don't caution me sister, I hate having to wait."
"The wedding is set for a month from now brother. A month is all you will have to wait."
"Wrong. I have to wait until you have fulfilled your role."
"Do not worry. I know. Nothing will stop this."
"Good. They are starting. Is one of these your Prince?" Nieneve looked back to the arena and saw the first collide. One man was knocked clean off his horse, an immediate win for the other competitor. "Let us hope that is not the Prince." He chuckled as the man was dragged, unconscious, from the floor.
"No. But that may be." Nieneve leaned on the side of the seats, looking at the knight who had unseated the other rider. It had been the most impressive act of the whole tournament so far, and to say that he was supposed to be a lower knight meant that he probably should not be skilled enough to do that. The Prince might have been bragging, but she supposed that given the opportunity to train as he had, he might actually be as good as he had implied.
"You are sure?" Her brother seemed more interested in her plan now she had explained it to him.
"Not completely. But he may give some sign. Let us watch his matches carefully."
Have you seen another who may be him?"
"Not so far. But they have only been low knights. That is what makes him different."
"Excellent. I trained you well."
Nieneve smiled at her brother who was grinning. She was used to his attitude towards her when she did something to please him; it tended to be about his own accomplishments.
For the next half an hour they watched the jousting and saw that the winner of that bout, 'Arfur Swornsby', had continued to win and climb higher up the board. Nieneve was now convinced that he was the Prince; the last match was announced and the last competitors were riding around the arena, accepting tokens. As 'Arfur' rode near, Nieneve stood, holding out her handkerchief. He stopped and held out his hand to accept it.
"For the knight worthy of royal celebration." She smiled. His hand stilled briefly before he took the handkerchief from her.
"Thank you, my lady. I shall win this tournament for you."
"Thank you. Good luck sir knight. Do not let my token be disgraced."
"Of course Lady Nieneve."
He rode off then and she sat back, smiling.
"Him?" Her brother asked.
The horn blew, and the riders rode to their positions to start the joust. Horses snickered, kicking the dust up in to the air with their hooves. The competitors tightened their grips on the reigns of their steeds, and the servants passed them their lances. A flag master marched to the centre of the arena and stood, patiently, waiting until both knights were ready. They raised their lances sharply, as a signal that they were, and then the flagmaster flapped the flag once before running out of the way. The horses reared and they were off. Galloping towards each other, bringing their lances down to point at each other, ready to unseat a rider if the opportunity presented itself. Nieneve found herself drawn in; she leant forward anxiously watching the Prince as he got his lance in to the holder. Then, with a splintering crunch, the lances hit, both of them, each in to the breast plate of the opponent. Both riders continued to ride to the end, unharmed. Their broken lances were tossed to the side and their servants ran to present them with new ones. Both competitors seemed agitated, as if they had expected to cause more damage. They both yelled at their servants, hurrying them with wild gestures. Then it all began again. This time, the Prince hit his opponent in the head, earning him two points, while the other knight was so shocked at the blow that he was thrown off a hit. The Prince rode away untouched.
"Another shot like that and he will win." Nieneve heard a noble man comment behind her. "As long as Lothick doesn't unhorse him."
Now Nieneve grasped the edge of her seat and leaned forward once more, anxious to see whether the winner would be the Prince. Part of her wished that he would lose, and be humiliated. The other part realised that he would more than likely blame her for suggesting he entered, and that would mean he might cause problems at the thought of their marriage. That would mess with her brother's plans.
The riders started forward, their lances already being lowered in to the harness. She watched with bated breath as the lances hit. The opponent, Lothick, took a hit to the chest and looked winded. The Prince took a hit to the head and rolled back a little on to his horse. The horse had reached the end of the run before he sat up, shaking his head slightly. He was alright. Nieneve let out a breath she didn't realise she had been holding and focussed on keeping her composure. The danger of him losing was closer now. The riders returned to their position, ready with another lance. They rode towards each other, clearly set on finishing this once and for all. The Prince's lance hit Lothick squarely in the middle, knocking him back so that he rolled from his horse on to the ground, and was then pulled along by his stirrups for a while. Nieneve leapt to her feet with the rest of the crowd and cheered the Prince, who had won. He cantered round and she noticed that the last lance had dented his breastplate. Something like that would have winded him, perhaps even bruised him badly. Nieneve cheered, both for his win and the smug feeling she had that being winded might have knocked some of the bravado out of him.
Vyper was to present the knights with their winnings, and he strode towards her.
"Come Lady Nieneve, you may help present the knights with their trophies."
She smiled graciously and followed him down. The knights who had won titles lined up and Vyper began with the lowest honour. She passed the man a small bag of gold and congratulated him.
The runner up graciously accepted his reward and thanked her for her concern when she mentioned that she hoped he had not been injured in his fall. Then they approached the winner.
"Here is the winner of our match! Take off your helmet so that the city may know your face Arfur of House Swornsby." The man reached up and removed his helmet. The crowd gasped as the head of the Prince emerged from the helmet. Nieneve smiled at him, but Vyper was first startled and then furious beside her. He covered it hurriedly, but she imagined that the Prince would be in serious trouble later.
"I am Prince Leopold, your tournament champion!" He announced, raising his helmet to the sky. The crowd roared in approval and Nieneve stepped forward to present him with the gold horse that was his prize.
"Congratulations your highness." She smiled as though she were proud of him. He bowed, accepting the prize.
"My pleasure. Here is your token. I stayed true to my word."
"Thank you. But you may keep it as a reminder of this day, and that your betrothed believed in you and your ability." She replied, curtseying to him.
"Thank you my lady." He paused slightly before pocketing the handkerchief and bowing in return.
"The tournament is over!" Vyper called, and then motioned to his nephew to follow him from the field. Nieneve moved aside so he could and waited till they had gone before glancing up at her brother in the stands and giving him a slight nod and smile to let him know that everything was going according to plan.