‘Lili,’ Helena hissed, signaling the arrival of our father. I quickly hid the note in the pocket of my dress, standing at the same time as everyone else when my father entered the arena. He climbed up the steps to the raised platform where his throne was seated, next to mine and stood in front of it, facing the crowd.
‘My lords, ladies and gentlemen. I welcome you to this most wonderful and exciting occasion, the second challenge to determine which of the suitors you see before is worthy of the hand of our most beloved daughter and princess, Lady Liliana.’ There was a round of applause and cheering at that and I smiled, nodding to the crowd. But with a gesture of his hand my father silenced them.
‘Yes it is indeed a very exciting prospect. Each man has chosen his own weapon, the one he feels strongest using, be it sword, spear or axe. Every man will fight to defend himself against his opponents as every man will fight simultaneously.’
There was a gasp at this. There hadn’t been a fight like this in many years. Tournaments were usually conducted in a series of stages, the losers being knocked out of the tournament until the two best fighters were left. But this type of fighting had no rules, it was every man for himself.
‘The last man standing will gain an advantage in the next challenge. My lords,’ he said, addressing the line of men that had assembled in the arena when I hadn’t been watching. ‘Are you ready?’
‘There was a low mumbling of ‘yes your majesty’. I could see Lucian, standing with a beautiful long sword in his left hand, his face impassive. In front of him stood Markus, an intimidating figure in his armour, a broad sword sheathed at his waist. Our eyes met and the Prince inclined his head towards me, showing his respect.
‘Then let the tournament begin!’
There was an enormous cheer from the crowd as metal clashed against metal as the fighting began. My heart was pounding in my chest as I watched the fighting, my eyes focusing on Lucian. He was as elegant a fighter as he was a dancer, moving as one with his blade, dodging every blow aimed at him and taking down his opponents.
The older contestants and those who were less physically able were removed from the tournament early on, holding their hands up in surrender and dropping their weapons. Although there were no set rules to this style of fighting the combatants in front of me were gentlemen and respected their opponents as equals.
It took about five minutes to get down to the last six contestants. Markus was beating every man who came up against him with amazing ease, swiping them out of the way with a swing of his sword. Meanwhile Lucian was locked in a struggle with two other opponents, the sons of Lord Filix from Marira. As Lucian ducked under the swing of the axe of one brother, he lashed out with his sword at the other, knocking him off balance so he fell to the floor, dropping his sword.
The brother still standing was enraged by this attacking Lucian with more force than before.
‘Ow Lili, your hurting me,’ Helena whispered. I loosened my grip on her hand, unaware until this point that our hands were touching.
I only just stopped myself from cheering along with the rest of the crowd when Lucian disarmed the second brother, leaving only him and Markus in the arena.
I felt sick as the two men approached each other, their eyes not leaving their opponent. Lucian wasn’t a short man, but next to Markus he looked like a dwarf. Markus was physically more muscular and had more brute strength, but Lucian was agile and quick on his feet.
The whole crowd held its breath, waiting to see who would make the first move. The two men circled each other, the tension building until Markus lunged at Lucian who staggered backwards, only just dodging the Prince’s attack. Markus’s attack was relentless, making Lucian dodge first left the right then left again, not allowing him to change defence into attack. He drove Lucian back until he was trapped against the wooden bar marking the edge of the arena.
Markus swung at Lucian and their blades locked. I could see Lucian was tired, his arms were shaking under the pressure Markus was putting on them.
Without warning the two men broke away from each other, Lucian staggering away from Markus, his sword arm hanging, exhausted at his side. Markus swung at Lucian again, forcing him to raise his arm to block the rain of blows coming down on him. They locked blades again and this time I could see the fire in Markus’s eyes, he knew he was closing in for the kill.
Markus’s fist collided with Lucian’s face to exclamations of shock from the audience, knocking Lucian backwards and onto the ground, his sword clattering onto the ground next to him. Markus’s sword was held so the point was grazing Lucian’s neck. One swift movement and Lucian could be dead.
But to my relief Markus sheathed his sword, holding out his hand to help Lucian up as the crowd erupted into delayed cheers.
‘My lords, ladies and gentlemen,’ my father announced. ‘The winner of the second challenge is Prince Markus of Basedow.’