On most days, Alexander would have been the stronger of the two. But today, despite his injury, Adrian had a glint in his eyes that let Alexander know he wouldn't go down without a fight.
Clearly having met his match on that particular day, Alexander smiled and said, "It's good you're finally putting your mind to your knightliness. I haven't ever seen you filled with so much determination before." Alexander knew that at Adrian's level of learning, it was still difficult to speak and exchange blows simultaneously, so he knew it frustrated Adrian when his adversary could banter and swing a sword at the same time.
"Was that a disguised jab?" Adrian asked, raising his eyebrows banteringly.
"I don't know," Alexander said dismissively, though he couldn't keep the smile from his lips.
"You know, Alexander," Adrian said between grunts, "you can be quite unfair when you want to be."
Even though he had a strong advantage, Alexander couldn't deny his being distracted. His mind loomed on other things, which was dangerous, considering the situation at hand. He'd given Adrian the only key to the wine cellar, but now, he was rethinking his actions.
Concentrating again on the match, Alexander glanced over to see Sara watching with an intent gleam in her eyes. She was rooting for Adrian; she'd made that much very clear. Yet Alexander wondered if she was rooting for Adrian because she liked him...or because she didn't like Alexander. Probably both.
A footman appeared at the arena, jerking Alexander from his thoughts.
"Your Highness," the footman announced.
Never pausing, Alexander inwardly cursed the footman for arriving at so inconvenient a time. "What is it?" he asked, unable to keep the edge from his voice.
"My liege, I have a message from the town of Kléo."
Alexander turned to see Adrian studying him, though their fencing match hadn't once paused. In one instant, flashbacks from Alexander's past paraded through his mind. A message from Kléo. Immediately, memories from his own amoral past caused Alexander to break into a sweat that wasn't just from the effort he was exerting in the swordfighting. One word, and his mind was filled with unbearable remembrances. The need for alcohol frayed Alexander's nerves, and it was fruitless to try to ignore it.
The prince's guard was let down for one moment, and he parried - too late. Within moments, Adrian disarmed Alexander, the sword flying through the air and landing a few yards behind him.
But there was no victory in Adrian's tone when he clasped his friend's hand. "Good match," he said, his voice devoid of triumph.
No, they both knew why Alexander had been distracted enough to lose the game that would normally have been second nature for him.
Behind Alexander and Adrian, Sara rose to her feet. "I knew you'd win, Adrian," she said, as though the turn of events had been entirely expected.
Alexander could only watch as his pride was crushed.
"And to think that Adrian even is wounded...perhaps your claims to know everything there is to know about swordfighting were true, Knight-to-be!" Sara laughed.
But if there was anything Alexander was not, it was a poor loser. Holding his head high, he nodded in Sara's direction. "He's really something, eh?" he asked, then turned to the footman. "I'll have the letter," he said.
Alexander was wholly unprepared for what he'd read.