26 - Crash and Fall

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Fye could run for miles without stopping. She could battle Sir Reuben and come out of it with a smile on her face. She could even withstand her mother's incessant nagging.

But this... She wondered if this was what poor Gertrude from Luntberg felt when she was trying to control her eight children. The woman got this look on her face—something that bordered between homicide and suicide. That was what Fye felt now. Homicide, because it would be easier to win the tournament if Sir Arken were dead. Suicide, because she had never been so drained.

Somehow, she had survived her first two jousts of the day. She didn't remember much, only that she had held onto her lance with all her might, and she was downright determined to unhorse the other guy because the prospect of flying off Titan and letting her battered body land in a heap on the ground—in front of hundreds of pairs of watching eyes—did not appeal to her in the least.

It had come down to this. In a few minutes, she would clamber onto Titan's back once again and face Lord Arken.

The handsome-ish lord approached her now, his stride easy and relaxed. The only thing that consoled Fye about his apparent lack of exhaustion was that no one had tried to kill him yesterday morning. Plus, he hadn't just gotten married to the most distracting men in the history of forever. She stole a glance at Xander, who stood next to Sir Reuben a few dozen feet away.

"Miss Fye," Lord Arken said with that cold, tight smile of his.

"Did you come to trade insults?" Fye asked as she dragged herself from her bench to her feet. A dash of dizziness touched her, but she ignored it. One more match, and then she could sleep for the next decade. Hopefully, she would wake up as a knight. "Because if you did, I assure you that I have been trained by the master of insults, you boil-brained scut."

His smile changed, taking on a bit of warmth. "I came only to warn you, Miss Fye. I know you are injured. I will not let your injury motivate me to hold back. This is your last chance to forfeit."

For a second, she forgot about the ache in her marrow and the fuzziness of her mind. "Forfeit?" she echoed as her blood began to boil. "You think that after everything I've been through, I'm going to forfeit? What special kind of stupid are you? Do you know what I've been through? I have had to deal with an insane mother, rigorous training, constant ridicule, a surprise marriage, and now you. If you're not flat on your back by the time our match is over, I'm going to eat my armor."

He laughed—actually laughed.

And... Fye supposed... it was kind of funny. She smiled.

"Miss Fye, I admit against my own good judgment that you have drastically changed my opinion about women on the battlefield. After this tournament is over, regardless of who wins, I would like to invite you to be part of my team for next year's tournament in Palermo. I believe we could make quite the showing."

She blinked. Palermo? Reuben hated Palermo. He had never told her why, but she did know that it was the site of one of the biggest annual tournaments in the Empire. And Lord Arken was inviting her? "I would have to be a knight to compete," she said. "Are you saying you would be willing to knight me?"

"Me? Not a daisy's chance in hell, Miss Fye. I could not stand the stigma. Besides, I believe your own liege lady wishes to bestow that honor on you." He nodded at Lady Ayla, who shared a sweet smile with Fye.

Yes, Reuben had said that Lady Ayla would be willing to knight her—if she deserved it. But did she deserve it? All she had done was fight in a tournament. She hadn't rescued a helpless fiefdom from an evil army or snatched any damsels in distress from the jaws of a dragon. Then again, some incredibly useless people were born into knighthood, and she certainly deserved it more than them.

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