Jesse collapsed, groaning. Sir Lynn laughed mockingly, circling the fallen knight. "You haven't fully grown into your armor, boy."
"I am no boy," Jesse snapped, looking up at his opponent. "I am a knight of Huntstead." Forcing himself to his feet, Jesse swung his sword at Sir Lynn's back.
The older knight spun around, blocking his blow. He then parried and thrust. Jesse screamed as the blade cut through a chink in the armor, stabbing straight through his right shoulder. Sir Lynn pulled out his sword with a snarl, and again, the young man fell to the ground.
The crowd roared in Sir Lynn's favor. Jesse blinked, eyesight blurred from the pain, and stabbed his sword awkwardly into the earth. Using it as a support, Jesse pulled himself to his knees, and watched Sir Lynn circle him like a cat playing with its prey.
"What's the matter, Sir Lynn?" Jesse spat. "Cannot win a battle without taking a life? Get it over with, then." The older knight stopped dead, and stared at his younger opponent, face blank. "Or perhaps you are conflicted." Jesse smiled without jest, with teeth stained with blood. "Will it seem to cowardly to kill a boy?"
Sir Lynn snarled. He pointed his sword at Jesse's face. "It is not under my power to take your life, boy." He looked up.
Turning his head, Jesse could see where Lynn was setting his sights. Princess Talia stood with her father the king, her smile cold and cruel. And when her eyes met Jesse's, her smile become colder and crueler still.
Standing up, Princess Talia leaned out, and blew a kiss toward Jesse. "Sir Lynn, thou art the winner," she declared. "As for Sir Jesse… Kill him." She drew back, a combination of approval and shock in the shouts of the crowd.
Jesse had expected as much, but that did not prevent a feeling of panic and shock. The practice of a lady allowing the winning knight to kill his opponent was a practice that was hardly used, for it seemed dishonorable. After all, it was but a game. To die or purposely kill during these games was seen as a dishonorable death or act. It was also a cruel practice, and it tempted fate, begging for the possibility of a war sparked by a vengeful lord, brother or father.
But today, spite and hate had overwhelmed sense and honorable tradition.
Jesse looked up at Sir Lynn, who was breathing heavily with tiredness and anticipation as he raised his sword. "Goodbye, knight of Huntstead. Give my regards to the devil."
"I will tell him to wait for you," Jesse whispered. He tightened his grip on his sword and breathed in deeply, determined to face his death with dignity.
With a shout, Sir Lynn brought down his sword. "Wait!"
It took Jesse a few moments. But he then realized that he was not dead. His eyes opened. Sir Lynn's sword was hovering inches above his head. The knight's eyes were no longer on his defeated opponent, but again on Princess Talia. Jesse again turned his head. Talia was talking with her sister and mother, and looking rather annoyed, before looking down at the two stunned and confused knights.
"No knight deserves to die by the hand of he who is an ally," Talia said, her face betraying her true thoughts. "For it is a great sin for ally to murder ally, friend to turn on friend. Sir Lynn, thou art still the winner. Sir Jesse… You fought a good fight." Her eyes flashed with hostility as she said this. "But all you own now belongs to our winner, Sir Lynn. Congratulations, Sir Lynn!"
The people cheered. Jesse looked back at Sir Lynn, who looked stunned and angry. A flame ignited in his eyes as he looked at Jesse.
"Next time, boy," he spat.
A sharp sting slashed across Jesse's cheek. Sir Lynn had drawn back his sword, but not without leaving one last mark.
"Sir Lynn," Talia called. "Bring Sir Jesse to the healing tent."
As Sir Lynn smirked, Jesse realized Talia's play. Though she did not receive the satisfaction of dishonoring him in death, the least she could do was literally drag him off the field, like an injured dog. Before Jesse could get his feet under himself, Sir Lynn gripped the straps around his shoulder, and dragged him away.
Jesse bit his lip, determined not to scream. "Come, my injured ally," Sir Lynn said mockingly. "You have much to do for me once you're through licking your wounds."
"Wait," Jesse said hoarsely. "My sword…!"
"No longer, knight of Huntstead," said Sir Lynn. "No longer."
Jesse watched his sword get farther and farther away. The next fighters prepared their round, and Talia watched Sir Lynn and the disgraced Sir Jesse with an even crueler glint in her smile. "Curse you, Talia," Jesse muttered. "God forgive me for cursing a woman, but you are a cruel wench."