Mountains could have crumbled in the time it took Percival to step out onto the field of battle. He came helmetless, but dressed in full plate armour, like the self-serving aristocratic fool he was. The plate may have been stronger than my leather armour, but it would slow him down. Perhaps he just wanted me to kill him faster. As if I were going to oblige him.
“Your Highness,” I bowed in as ridiculous a fashion as my armour would allow, and high on the wall my people laughed. Percival glared at me with what he must have thought was an un-nerving anger. It only made my own laughter harder to contain.
“Mirkyn Vadrini,” he said to me, halting about ten paces from where I stood, “I come here to face you in the single combat we agreed upon the week past.”
No you didn’t. You came here to die. I cocked my head to one side, “How courteous of you. Dare I ask where your weapon is?”
Percival raised a gauntleted hand, and a young man came sprinting up with a huge scabbard in hand. A hand-and-a-half hilt, by the look of it, the blade was thicker and a little longer than my own, and the gold on the hilt glittered as Percival drew a wide circle over his head. I had to fight down the urge to laugh again. That pretty trinket would do him no good.
“A fine blade,” I said, fighting hard to keep the sarcasm out of my voice, “but I do wonder how well you know its use.”
Percival made no response. I shrugged and raised my own blade, slipping easily into the battle stance that had become so natural to me these past years. Percival made to follow, but scarcely had he moved than I sprang at him. His blade met mine with a satisfying ring of steel, and a feral smile crept onto my lips. This was the moment I had been waiting for.
Just as I predicted, the plate armour made the weakling king slow, and I knew I held the upper hand. He had obviously been trained well, but if he had ever fought in a battle I would swallow my own sword. This boy knew nothing more strenuous than the restrained blows of sycophantic sparring partners – I had fought and killed more times than I could remember. His pretty parrying and footwork did him little good as my sword crashed time and time again against his own. Neither of us carried a shield, and more than once I felt a satisfying scrape as my sword met his plate armour.
Perhaps I was too confident in my skill, because it was all too soon when I made my first mistake. As Percival raised his sword for a swing at my left side, I danced to the right, blade poised to stab. Too late, I realised he was feinting, and a flash of fire shot across my ribs as the princeling’s blade bit through my armour. I snarled and darted out of range. Fool! I could not let this mewling prat get the better of me so easily. Unless…
I pressed my free hand against the wound, gasping and limping, pretending the wound was deeper than it was. Percival paused, sword swinging wide, as if contemplating his next move. I tensed, readying myself for his next swing, edging a little closer, looking for weak spots through which I might slip my dagger.
My second mistake. With a roar, Percival raised his sword over his head and charged me head-on. I wheeled and tried to flee, but the sword crashed down on my shoulder and I heard the bone crack. I screamed and fell, dragging Percival with me. Blood sprayed everywhere, covering us both. We rolled and tussled in the mud like a pair of wild beasts, snarling and kicking, swords forgotten, each doing his best to gain a hold on the other.
The dagger slid under his arm like a viper into a hole. Percival grunted, but in the heat of the fray he didn’t seem to notice the wound. I hissed, and with an immense effort, summoned my magic into my hands and sent him crashing off me to land in a heap of man and metal at the feet of his followers. I lurched to my feet and glared at him. My vision was swimming with pain, and I could feel the ground weaving drunkenly beneath my feet. The blood loss would soon render me unconscious, but I paid the wound no need. I had done what I needed to do. The little dagger slipped back up my sleeve as easily as it had come. Percival would be dead within the hour.
I threw back my head and laughed.