14 - Welcome to the Family

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When Fye last visited Winterhaven, it was an idyllic castle set against a backdrop of luscious green. Now it was a castle at the center of a pop-up city. People, horses, and tents stretched across the verdant landscape, bustling as they prepared for the impending tournament. A wooden arena had been erected in the middle of all the chaos.

Seeing it made Fye's palms sweat and her heart do funny things. She gripped Titan's reins tighter, causing him to fidget. "Sorry," she mumbled as she patted his neck.

She stared, her eyes drinking in every detail.

Since the party from Luntberg had begun its journey several days ago, Fye had concentrated on the open door in front of her. The tournament was that door. But now she was about to step through it.

What if she failed?

What if she succeeded?

She glanced around her at the other travelers from Luntberg. Sir Reuben rode next to her, Arabella on the saddle in front of him. Lady Ayla and Alys were on the other side of Sir Reuben. Behind them, Xander rode with Kaylin—Kaylin had insisted on riding with Xander for the entire journey, and that had produced more than a fair amount of glares from Sir Reuben, but Fye had caught the way Reuben looked at Kaylin and Xander when he thought no one was watching. Even Sir Reuben saw the cuteness in Kaylin's attachment to Xander.

Others had come from Luntberg, too—a handful of servants, some men-at-arms, and... Margaret, Fye's mother.

Fye tried to ignore Margaret's presence. Margaret had become increasingly disagreeable over the past several days. "Fye, forget this nonsense and marry Xander." "Fye, you're going to humiliate yourself and your family." "Fye, I'm surprised Father Jon hasn't tried to exorcise whatever demons are making you do this." "Fye, Xander is a nice young man. Why hasn't he proposed to you yet?" "Fye, please tell me you've changed your mind about this tournament silliness." Blah, blah, blah.

All of Margaret's harping made it difficult for Fye to remember why she had wanted to make her happy in the first place. Sir Reuben had offered some creative solutions to get Margaret to shut up, but all of them were a tad too permanent for Fye's taste. She doubted God would look with much favor on a young woman who cut her own mother's tongue out.

As Fye eyed the mass of people in front of her, she heard Margaret's complaints in her head. Fye was a seventeen-year-old girl, and she would be facing battle-hardened knights. There might be a speck of validity in Margaret's concerns.

She would be competing against Sir Reuben. He knew she couldn't win the tournament. Why had he even arranged this? He would dominate the competition. She looked at him now, taking in his perfect posture and blood-red armor. Even with the blond little angel sitting in front of him, he exuded strength. He exuded danger.

He turned around in his saddle and ordered Xander, "Find Reynolds and ask him where we should set up our tents. Take all our supplies and get everything set up."

"Yes, sir," Xander said. He gestured to the servants and the men-at-arms, who made to follow him into the expansive tournament grounds.

"Go with them," Reuben said to Arabella as he plucked the girl from the horse and put her on the ground. Then he leaned over and kissed Lady Ayla. "I'll be down there soon. Fye and I have one more thing to take care of."

Fye's insides began to squirm. Reuben had never made her nervous before. He was her Sir Reuben, after all. Her mentor. Her friend. Her hero. On occasion, the most annoying person she knew. But now he was also her opponent. And that made her feel small and... like a girl. A girl who ought to be sewing things and cooking all day long.

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