7 - Victory and Defeat

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Close your mouth, you gawking slush-brain! Xander snapped at himself as he took in the sight of her. Fye and her imposing steed trotted into the Luntberg's outer courtyard. She had tied her hair back from her face, but—as if it had a will of its own—it fought to escape from the sloppy ponytail in which she had imprisoned it. Loose tendrils framed a well-proportioned face that glowed with exhilaration.

Her face, hair, and horse, though, were nothing compared to what she wore. Armor. Blood-red armor that glinted with its own sinister glow under the morning sunlight. It had obviously been custom-crafted to fit her well-endowed feminine form, and she wore it as if nothing could be more natural. Most knights Xander had met grumbled about wearing armor because it weighed so much. Fye bore it like it weighed less than air. And...trousers. She wore trousers. Of course she had to for the armor to do its work, but...Xander had never seen a woman dressed so scandalously before. He loved it.

He wasn't the only one to stare. Everyone else in the courtyard, from the guards to the servants to the rodents and the spiders, froze to admire her gleaming figure.

"Don't look at her like that," a voice next to Xander growled.

"Like what, sir?"

"Like you want to get her out of that armor and into your bed."

Xander knew he ought to keep his mouth shut. He was the squire, and Sir Reuben was the knight. Squires obeyed knights and said "yes, sir" more than they said anything else. But he couldn't help it. "Sir, what would you think of me if I wasn't attracted to her?"

Reuben frowned. "I would think you were dead, interested in men, or stupid."

"So, I should be attracted to her, but you don't want me looking at her like I'm attracted to her?"

"Not unless you want my sword through your gut."

Xander chuckled.

Reuben turned on him and for half a second, and Xander knew that the knight was trying to intimidate him with his six feet and seven inches of muscular bulk. It wouldn't work, though. It hadn't worked the first gazillion times Reuben had tried it. The knight kept seeming to forget that Xander was the same height as him and of roughly the same build. Thus far, the only intimidating thing about Sir Reuben that Xander had witnessed was his talent for using foul language. That, and the way his glare could sometimes turn grown men into frightened little girls.

Yet, Xander was a little afraid of him—but not because he was the red knight.

"You think I'm not serious?" Reuben growled.

"Sir, I think you care too much about Lady Ayla's good opinion to arbitrarily run your squire through."

Reuben grumbled something indistinct, then said, "You're right. First I'll have to convince her that you're a spy from a lord who wants to conquer her fiefdom. Then I might be able to talk her into letting me torture you."

"I don't know. Lady Ayla doesn't speak too highly of torture."

"Then she won't find out."

"Won't she?"

The color rising in Reuben's cheeks made Xander want to shout in triumph. Xander said, "But all of your empty threats aside, I'm sure Fye can fight her own battles. She doesn't need you to do it for her. Isn't that why you got permission for her to fight in the tournament?"

Reuben frowned and opened his mouth—and nothing came out except, "But I can't let her have all the fun. Go put on your armor and run ten laps around the outer wall. No, twenty. And you should be wearing your armor anyway. Make it twenty-five. If you want to please me, fall off the wall and hit your head really hard."

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