The day of the tournament dawned clear, bright and warm. Brenna looked out her window to see the castle grounds completely transformed once again. This time, several large pavilions were set up around an open rectangular space in the center, and colorful pennants and banners fluttered in the breeze.
Brenna met Alamara in the hallway and they headed down to the tournament field below. Brenna had never been to a Grand Tournament before, and was looking forward to seeing it. She knew from the letters she and Alamara had exchanged over the years that knights and challengers from all over the kingdom would come to challenge each other in mock combat with blunted weapons in memory of the king. Honor, chivalry and courtesy were the themes of the day, rather than victory at all costs. As one who normally shunned violence, Brenna found the idea of a contest celebrating chivalry rather than vanquishing one’s foe to be particularly appealing.
The royal pavilion was filled with gaily decorated tables covered with platters and pitchers of food and drink, and chairs had been arranged toward the front to allow courtiers to watch the tournament. The Queen’s throne had been moved from the Great Hall as well, and Brenna could see that many members of the court were already present. Alamara greeted those assembled warmly, looking radiant in a ruby-red gown bedecked with multi-colored ribbons, and when she turned to address the populace she shined like jewel.
“Good gentles, I welcome you. This tournament is held in the memory of King Alfonse. I know it seems too soon for such happy entertainments, but as you know, His Majesty dearly loved both participating in and observing these contests, and he made it clear to me as he neared his end of days that he wanted us to do this in celebration of his life and in memory of happier times.” She paused to allow a smattering of applause to die down before continuing. “I look forward to greeting all the challengers and their consorts, with the winner being named Champion of our fair kingdom, answering all challenges that are brought to it. May honor and chivalry carry the day!”
A herald stepped forward to address the populace. “Let all who would enter the field of combat present themselves and their consorts to Her Majesty at this time.” Soon, armored knights and consorts began to file toward the throne. Alamara greeted each one, often by name, and bestowed a small token to each. The line stretched nearly to the back of the tournament field, and Brenna was pleased to see that so many had turned out to honor the late king.
About halfway through the line of challengers, Brenna saw Sir Briance. He was standing alone and as he approached the Queen, Alamara smiled at him with a puzzled expression on her face. “Sir Briance,” she said, “I am glad to see that you have entered the lists, but where is your consort? Surely a brave knight such as yourself has ladies falling over themselves for a chance to inspire you today.” The crowd tittered and Sir Briance smiled.
“Your Majesty, my only consort, my good lady wife, has been gone many years now, may the Goddess bless her. However, I see that you are unchampioned this day, and as my former squire has not presented himself to reclaim the title, I humbly ask to take the field in your honor.”
“My good knight and good friend, I would please me greatly to be your inspiration on the field today,” Alamara said. She reached up and unlaced one of the sleeves of her gown, removing it and tucking it neatly into the knight’s belt as a murmur of approval rippled through the crowd.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” he said, bowing low over her outstretched hand and kissing it gently.
“It is my pleasure, Sir Briance,” she replied.
More knights and consorts filed toward the front, each receiving a warm greeting and token from the queen. Brenna wondered if there would be so many challengers that the tournament would have to last a week to accommodate them all. Finally, the last knight and consort passed to the front. Alamara turned to resume her seat as the herald called out, “If there are no further challengers to the field this day …”
A lone knight strode from the back of the field toward the throne. “I would enter the lists,” he said. Brenna’s heart leapt as she recognized Garan walking toward them. She wanted to rush out from her place behind Alamara’s throne and throw herself into his arms, but she resisted. Alamara turned toward him and a flash of shock passed across her face before she composed herself.
As Garan reached the front, his eyes locked with Brenna’s. A million unspoken words passed between them in a glance before Garan dropped to his knees in front of Alamara. “Was it possible that he could have gotten even more handsome during their time apart?” Brenna thought. Her heart was pounding and she found it hard to breathe suddenly.
“Your Majesty, I have returned as the king has commanded,” he said, “and ask to fight for your honor this day, as your champion and protector.” There was a gasp from the crowd.
“I’m afraid you’re too late, Sir Garan,” Sir Briance said, stepping forward. “Her Majesty has already bestowed her favor upon me this day.” He lifted the edge of Alamara’s sleeve, tucked safely in his belt. Although his words were stern, there was a twinkle in his eye as he faced Garan.
“Ah, so she has, and her honor will be well-protected by you, old friend,” Garan said. They clasped hands warmly before Garan turned to look at Brenna once more. “In that case, I ask to fight for the honor of the priestess, unless she, too, has been spoken for.”
There was another ripple of conversation from the crowd as all eyes turned to look at Brenna. She moved from behind the throne to stand in front of Garan. “I am unchampioned this day, sir knight,” she said, “and would be honored if you would bear my favor upon the field.” She reached behind and quickly unlaced her girdle, the only thing she had to offer him, and tied it around his arm. As she finished, he took her hands in his, kissing them reverently and looking up into her eyes.
As the familiar tingle of recognition passed through them, the crowds, the tournament field, the queen, the castle and all else seemed to fade away. There was only the two of them, gazing into each other’s eyes, lost in the moment of their reunion. Brenna caressed Garan’s head gently, murmuring, “I knew you’d come.” Then, more loudly, she said, “May the Goddess bless you on the field this day.”
“Thank you, priestess,” Garan replied, standing and bowing to Alamara before moving off to the side with Briance. They were soon surrounded by a throng of well-wishers and curious onlookers as they made their way back to Briance’s pavilion.
Alamara turned to Brenna. “You seem to have made an impression, my friend,” she said. Her curious smile told Brenna that she wanted to say more, but chose not to in front of the others in the pavilion.
“Evidently so, Your Majesty,” Brenna agreed, taking her place behind the throne once again. Her thoughts were filled with Garan as the tournament began.
The field was divided into several arenas in order to move the tournament along quickly. As the combatants were called to the field, their consorts would stand at the edge, the better to observe the combat and to provide inspiration to their champions. Alamara smiled and chatted with the other consorts and non-combatants throughout the day, clearly in her element and enjoying herself. Brenna, too, watched Garan’s rounds from the sidelines, maintaining the perfect picture of grace and courtesy but desperately longing to go to him, to embrace him, to ask him a thousand questions.
As the day progressed, combatants were eliminated from the lists until only four remained – Garan, Briance, and two knights Brenna had never seen before. The first was a ruddy, jovial knight who clasped Garan into a great bear hug before their round began, and spent a good portion of their combat laughing heartily before being bested by Garan. When the round was over, the knight dropped to his knees before Brenna, taking her hand. “My lady,” he said, “your knight has well and truly defeated me, and in doing so has done you great honor this day. If I am to be eliminated, I can think of no other knight I should rather lose to than Sir Garan.” He kissed her hand with gusto and she blushed.
“Sir knight, you do your lady great honor as well,” she said. “I have never seen a combatant enjoy themselves so much as you. It was a joy to watch you upon the field.”
He beamed at that, turning to Garan and grabbing him up in another great bear hug. “Gods, I have missed you, my friend. Promise me you’ll come for a visit soon. And bring your lady along with you!” He winked at Brenna as he returned across the field into the waiting arms of his consort.
Garan watched his friend go, then turned back to Brenna. “My lady, it seems I have made it to the final round,” he said. His face was sweaty and smudged with dirt, but to Brenna he was the most glorious sight she had ever seen. She caressed his head again and leaned down to kiss his forehead gently, not caring who was watching. He closed his eyes at the touch of her lips against his skin, then opened them again to look into hers.
“Make way, you two,” Sir Briance called, entering the field. Garan stood and clasped her hand one final time before turning away to head back to Sir Briance’s pavilion. Brenna wanted to follow him, but turned to head back to the royal pavilion when Sir Briance’s voice stopped her. “My lord, will you not process with your lady to the final round?” he asked. Brenna turned back to see Garan offering her his arm. “Of course, if she will accompany me,” he said.
Brenna slipped her arm in his, thrilling at the touch. “I am unfamiliar with the ritual of this tournament,” she said, “but I will gladly accompany you, sir knight.” They started across the field toward Sir Briance’s pavilion.
When they arrived there, Garan offered her a chair, sinking into the one next to her and accepting a proffered goblet of water from an attendant. Brenna offered him her handkerchief, which he took and wiped the sweat from his face. When he’d finished, he reached over and took her hand, leaning close. “You are a sight for sore eyes, my love,” he said.
Every fiber of her being screamed at her to embrace him, to kiss him, to hold him tightly and never let him go, but instead she caressed his face. “Oh, Garan, it is so good to see you. I have missed you terribly.”
He caught her hand and pressed her palm against his lips, sending a tingle of pleasure through her. “And I, you, love,” he said, inhaling the scent of her skin.
“I thought you might return yesterday, for the funeral and burial,” Brenna said.
“I … was delayed,” he said, looking away briefly before turning back to look into her eyes, “but I am here now.”
“Where are you staying? I think it best if you return to the castle, but Alamara has moved me into your old rooms.”
“Oh, really? Well, perhaps we can work out an arrangement,” he said, the familiar bemused smile playing across his features as he placed his finger under her chin, tilting her face toward him as he leaned in to kiss her.
Just then, a gasp rose up from the crowd and Garan stopped, turning toward the field. Brenna followed his gaze, but couldn’t see anything through the throng of onlookers blocking her view. Garan stood and strained to see the field, but after a few moments, the crowd parted and they could see Sir Briance making his way back across the field toward them. Garan started toward the knight and Brenna hurried toward him as well, worried that something was wrong.
As Brenna reached them she heard Briance say, “No, I’m fine, just not as young as I used to be.” Seeing Brenna’s worried look, he smiled to reassure her. “My lady, I had hoped to be your knight’s final challenger, but it is not to be. Sir Victice has proved the better man today.”
“I doubt that,” Garan said, reaching to take Briance’s sword and helm from him and carry them back to the pavilion.
“Well, I am not willing to sacrifice the Queen’s honor or mine for victory,” he said. “Victice seems determined to win, at all costs. I would take care, my friend, if I were you.”
Briance sat in his chair with a groan. Brenna handed him a goblet of water, which he downed in one gulp and handed back to her gratefully. Attendants scurried about, unlacing his armor as a young herald hurried across the field toward them.
“Sir Garan, you are called to the field for the final round,” he said.
“Sir Victice has just finished his round with Sir Briance,” he said. “I will give him a few minutes to catch his breath and prepare himself for the final round.”
“Sir Victice wants to begin immediately,” the herald said, looking slightly uncomfortable. “He seems anxious to finish the tournament.”
Garan arched one eyebrow into a wry smile. “Perhaps he has a more pressing engagement this evening. Very well. My lady, will you walk with me?” He offered her his arm once more and she took it as servants and attendants, carrying banners and spears, fell into line around them. Sir Briance joined them as well as they made their way back across the field toward the royal pavilion, where Alamara already stood at the edge of the field with Victice and his attendants. As they drew closer, she could see Baron Machieve hovering near the queen and Father Leonard as well. Why was she not surprised to see them here, in the middle of this, she thought. They stopped in front of Alamara. Garan moved to take a knee once again, but Alamara stopped him.
“Your Majesty, honored nobles and good gentles assembled here today,” the herald began. “This is the final round of the Grand Tournament in honor of His Late Majesty, Alfonse. Sir Garan will do honorable combat with Sir Victice, with the victor being made Champion of the Realm and Defender of the Kingdom. My lords, will you salute our Queen?” Both knights bowed deeply to Alamara, who smiled and nodded her approval. “Honor you now the one whose favor you bear and who inspires you this day,” the herald continued.
Garan turned to Brenna, dropping to one knee and taking her hand. “My lady Brenna,” he said, “whatever happens during this final round, thank you for allowing me the honor of fighting for you this day.” His eyes shone up at her with unmasked love and admiration and Brenna leaned down, kissing him gently on the cheek and not caring that the entire populace was watching.
“It has been my pleasure, sir knight,” she said simply.
Next, Garan turned to his opponent. “Sir Victice, may I address your consort as well?” Victice stepped to the side, and a lady moved toward Garan, her ample cleavage barely constrained within the low-cut, bright purple bodice of her gown. With shock and horror, Brenna recognized Yvette, the girl from the inn at Streestown, who shot her a triumphant glance and leaned over, the better to thrust her breasts directly into Garan’s line of vision. Garan leaned back slightly to avoid the onslaught to quivering flesh and took the girl’s hand. “Ah yes, Lady …”
“Yvette,” she said, flashing him her most seductive smile.
“Lady Yvette. What a surprise! I can see that you have been quite an inspiration for your champion.”
“Yes, I have,” she cooed, licking her lips. “Good luck out there.”
“Thank you, lady,” he replied and stood again. He gave Brenna a knowing smile and then turned to Sir Briance, who helped him into his helm and handed him his sword and shield.
Brenna watched Yvette sashay back to Victice’s side. He pulled her roughly into his embrace, kissing her passionately before releasing her and turning back to Brenna. He nodded stiffly in her direction and then turned his back on her to put on his own helm. Yvette smirked at her as Alamara motioned for the two of them to stand on either side of her so that they would have an unobstructed view of the final round of combat.
The herald signaled for the combat to begin and both knights circled one another warily. Brenna silently chanted a spell of protection for Garan and wondered what on earth Yvette was doing in Locallen. How had she gotten here and why had she come? Surely she wasn’t still mad about their altercation at the inn. And why had she fallen in with Machieve and his contingent? Brenna felt a growing suspicion that something terrible was afoot, but was distracted by the clash of sword on shield and turned her attention back to the field.
According to the rules of combat, Garan and Victice used blunted swords and were honor-bound to call out if their opponent landed a blow that would maim or kill them in a real combat scenario. Time and again, the two knights crashed together and rained blows down upon one another, only to separate, panting, and circling before attacking again. As they fought, Brenna could see Garan’s smile growing wider and wider under his helm, while Victice seemed to be growing angrier and more desperate in his attacks. He’s enjoying this, she thought, just like when he fought the tribe’s champion in the desert, a lifetime ago. Brenna wasn’t very knowledgeable in armed combat, but it seemed to her that Garan was the better fighter in the conflict, while Victice seemed to launch ferocious assaults hoping to win the day by sheer force of will. Alamara and the crowd of onlookers gasped and cheered, and Yvette called encouragement to Victice, but Brenna watched silently, for the most part, praying that the contest would be over soon and that Garan would be safe.
Again, Victice charged at Garan, but as his sword deflected off of Garan’s shield, he spun his arm around and swept the pointed end of his sword hilt under Garan’s chin. Garan’s head snapped back and he grunted, blood spouting from a deep gash. Brenna shrieked and lunged for the field, but Alamara held her back. Victice smiled triumphantly and pressed his attack, driving Garan backwards. Garan stumbled, backpedaling to keep from falling, and sidestepped, tripping Victice and sending him sprawling face first into the grass. Victice cursed and rolled over, but Garan was already on him, pressing his foot into Victice’s chest to keep him from rising and resting the blunted tip of his sword against Victice’s throat. “Do you yield, my lord?” Garan asked, the smile now gone from his face and replaced with steely intensity.
“No, I do not!” Victice shouted. He was seething with rage and struggled to get up, but Garan held him fast.
“Are you sure? It seems I have the advantage, and even blunted weapons can do great damage, as you well know.” Garan’s words were punctuated by several drops of blood from the wound under his chin that dripped onto Victice’s chest.
“I’ll not yield to the likes of you!” Victice shouted again.
“Very well, then,” Garan said and pulled his sword back slightly, the better to thrust it into his foe.
“Stop!” Alamara commanded, and the scene froze. All eyes turned to look at the Queen, who had drawn herself up in all her regal glory. “This is a contest of honor and chivalry, not a duel to the death. The round is over. Sir Garan has won the day.”
A great cheer rose up from the crowd and Brenna exhaled deeply. Garan stepped back from Victice and offered him his hand, but Victice brushed it aside and rose under his own power. Both knights kneeled before the queen and their consorts. Brenna was desperate to tend to Garan’s wound, but she restrained herself.
Alamara turned to Victice first. “Sir Victice, you have fought well today. Will you and your lady join me at the head table for tonight’s feast?”
“As you wish, Your Majesty,” he said. His manner was polite and civil, but it was clear to Brenna that he was not satisfied with the outcome of the match.
Next, Alamara turned to Garan. “Sir Garan, my erstwhile champion, you have certainly proved yourself on the field this day. You have brought great honor to me, to the memory of King Alfonse, and to your consort. I declare you our Kingdom Champion and hope that you and Brenna will join me at the head table for tonight’s feast.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty. It would be my pleasure,” Garan said.
As both knights rose to face the populace, the herald stepped forward. “A cheer for Sir Garan, Champion of the Kingdom. Hip hip …”
The crowd roared, “Huzzah” and Brenna beamed proudly at her love as he basked in the admiration of those assembled. As the crowd began to disperse, she started to move to Garan’s side, but he was quickly surrounded by well-wishers. She turned back to Alamara but found her engrossed in conversation with several attendants and courtiers, evidently giving some final instructions for the evening’s activities. She found herself alone in the crowd, when someone touched her arm and she turned to see Yvette standing next to her.
“I’ll see you at the party tonight, priestess,” she said with a smirk, then turned on her heel and strode off to Victice’s side. Brenna watched her go, wondering again why she had turned up at Locallen castle and how she had become connected with Machieve and his ilk.
Finally, the group surrounding Garan parted a bit and she could see him scanning the crowds. Their eyes met and he started toward her. She moved toward him too and it took all her fortitude not to break into a run. When they came together, he caught her up in his arms, spinning her around, as she protested half-heartedly. “Garan, you’re injured! Put me down so I can take a look at it!”
“It’s nothing, priestess. It’s stopped bleeding already.” He set her down gently, but kept her close.
“At least let me put some ointment on it so it won’t get infected and scar badly.”
“Alright, alright, but none of your witchery. I thought the lasses liked scars,” he said, his eyes twinkling.
“That may be true, but the lasses won’t like it if you’re sick with the fever,” she countered.
“Ah, but if I get sick with the fever, you can nurse me back to health,” he said, pulling her to him again.
“Well, there is that,” she said, smiling up at him.
Sir Briance cleared his throat, interrupting the moment. “Sorry to intrude, but I suggest you get cleaned up before the feast begins, my friend. The lady isn’t going to want to spend the evening in the company of a knight still wearing his unwashed gambeson.”
Once again, you prove the smarter of the two of us, old friend,” Garan laughed and released Brenna from his embrace. They moved together across the field to get ready for the evening’s festivities.