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The Black Knight

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The day of the sword competition dawned fresh and clear. Regina strode through the dawning day inhaling deeply. This was her favorite time of day before the sun burned off the morning dew and the day turned hot once again. Her hand fell to her sword. Today was the day. This was the make or break day. She took another deep breath of damp morning air and the corners of her mouth twitched up. It was a perfect day for it.

She made her way to the arena. The stands were already filling with people despite the early hour. This was the day everyone was excited about. Jousting was exciting, archery a little less so, but sword fighting, especially the life or death sort, that was what drew the biggest crowds. The competitors were all there, warming up all around the main area in light tunics already soaked with sweat with their armor nearby for later. Regina critiqued everyone’s form as she walked by, heading for a wide open area where she herself could limber up. Most everyone had exceptional form, to be expected of noble men. They all learned sword play from an early age. The Chief from the Kingdom of Isles didn’t look to be wholly comfortable with the weapon in his hands, but he looked to be a natural born fighter, adapting quickly. No one was going to be extremely easy to take down, but that was just fine with her. She could always use practice with her sword skills. The guards around the yard were good, but not exceptional for the most part.

She reached the wide open area she’d been heading for and started to stretch out her arms and shoulders. Next came her thighs and calves. Her sword came out of its scabbard a minute later and she heard a few people gasp at the sight of it. The pure white blade caught the light was so bright it practically glowed. She smiled. It would only be more dazzling as the day went on.

 She practiced a few forms, feeling her muscles warm and loosen as she went through the movements that they’d gone through a hundred times. She worked lightly until the King and Queen showed up. With their appearance she sheathed her sword and looked on. The competition would start soon now.

Regina’s breath caught at the sight of the Princess. She had been dressed up for the last two days since the competition was in her honor, but today she was stunning. There were no words for her. Her golden curls were hanging loose around her bare shoulders, tickling the top of her bodice with its off the shoulder sleeves. A swan pendant hung around her neck, catching the light from its place nestled between her breasts. The dress she was wearing was bright white with gold stitching. Regina saw clearly what the King and Queen were trying to say by making Emma wear such a dress, marriage was close at hand, but that didn’t matter. The dress hugged all the right places, flared out in the rest. It was the perfect Princess dress, truly. Emma’s make up was even more stunning than usual, lightly applied to make her look young and fresh. Everything together made it hard to catch her breath.

But when she looked into the Princess’s eyes she finally caught her breath once again. There was sadness there, well masked to anyone who hadn’t spent so much of the last month and half with the girl, but it was enough to bring her out of her reverie of how beautiful she looked. An image of herself in a pale blue dress, beautifully made up, with the same exact look in her eyes flashed up behind her lids as she blinked. Beauty often hid the truth. She knew that.

She was going to put the smile back in those eyes, though. A few sword fights were between her and her goal. She wasn’t about to stop now. That look only steeled her resolve further.

The Princess stepped forward, calling out to the competitors who were strapping on their armor now with the help of the page boys they’d been assigned. “Today is the final day of the competition, at the end of the bouts one of you will today be proclaimed my husband, having won my hand in this grand competition. I look forward to the end and wish each and every one of you the best of luck today.”

She stepped back again and her parent’s stepped forward together. A slight sneer graced Regina’s lips. Couldn’t they see what they were doing to their daughter? The girl had barely gotten through that speech with any poise. Regina had spotted the girl’s hands trembling just slightly by her side. How could her parents not care? It seemed she had been asking herself that same question for quite a few years now.

“The sword fighting portion of this competition will work much like the jousting competition. There will be brackets and the winners advance, while the losers duel for the lower places. The first bout will be between the Black Knight versus Earl Tudor. The rest of the brackets are posted where the jousting brackets were posted the day before. This is a no holds barred competition. Lethal force is allowed, though not encouraged. With that, good luck to you all and let us get the first bout started.”

Regina took a deep breath and made her way to the center of the arena. One of the other men who had done moderately well in both parts of the competition so far joined her. He had good technique from what she had seen, but she was about to get a much more intimate feel of just how good he was. Her magic hummed in her veins, making her feel alive and more alert than she had in ages. Every end was a live wire. She felt ready for anything.

The Earl stepped forward, hand extended. Regina stepped forward and grabbed his hand, shaking it a few times.

“May the best man win,” the Earl said.

Regina nodded.

They both stepped back and drew their swords. Both barely heard the King call the official start to their fight. It had truly started as soon as swords were drawn. They watched the other’s every single twitch. The Earl started to circle and Regina followed suit. They were both skilled, much would be determined by the first move of this fight, perhaps even the whole fight. So Regina waited patiently. She had learned early on that waiting for the opponent to come to her was always better, and men almost always lost patience eventually and made the first move.

She didn’t have to wait long. One seemingly false move on her part and he was lunging towards her. Regina smiled widely as she quickly turned what seemed like a misstep into an easy block of his lunge. She threw up her hands, sword coming up, grinding against the other man’s, sending sparks everywhere. He stumbled back, but quickly regained his footing enough to block Regina’s next offensive attack.

As soon as his sword was free of hers once more he swung towards her once again, this time aiming towards the side of her non-dominant hand. Regina easily blocked it once again. That was an easy, predictable move. He was testing her now, trying to ferret out her weakness. He wanted a long drawn out fight then, testing her and testing her until he found the right place to strike and biding his time until then.

Regina lunged forward, suddenly much closer to the man than she as before. The man took a step back, not landing in the correct, stable fighting stance. Being a woman meant having to have a great bit of speed to make up for the difference in strength.  She swung quickly towards the man shoulder. He managed to block her once again, but it was shaky. Regina pressed in harder, their swords coming close to both of their faces. The Earl had to take another step back, unsteadying his stance further. Regina saw him try to correct, but she wouldn’t let him, attacking once again quickly.

She kept attacking in rapid succession, each time her opponent took another step back, never managing to get back into the proper balanced stance. Regina knew that she only had to wait for one little slip up. His stance wouldn’t leave him with the leverage to block her attack, he would unbalance, something. So she kept attacking, never letting him regain the upper hand.

For his part, the Earl defended himself admirably. Regina could tell he was skilled, but this fight had not fallen in his favor and that was sometimes hard to come back from. One attack more, two, they were almost at the border of the arena now. Three more steps and his back was against the wall. There was nowhere left to go.

Regina smiled and lunged forward yet again, twisting her blade to the left. Her opponent tried valiantly, but he couldn’t maintain his grip on his sword. It went flying, landing several feet away. He glanced over at it, but Regina’s sword was already at his throat. He stared hard at her for a long moment.

“I concede,” he finally said.

Regina nodded and stepped back. The Earl slunk off, retrieved his sword and exited the arena. Regina turned to the King and Queen, nodded once at them, before following. She looked down at her sword as she sheathed it. The faint flicker of black flames surrounded it. The effect was hardly noticeable now, but as she advanced it would become quite striking. When she’d played around with enchantments and had found this particular one that would intensify upon every win she’d been quite happy. She put a little more magic into the blade just to see the black flames flash before she fully sheathed her sword and made her way to the box where all the noncompeting contestants were watching the fights. The next pair were already walking to the center when she sat down. She settled into wait. For coming in first in the last competition she had earned a bye to the semi-finals. She didn’t know what she preferred, the automatic advancement or fighting an extra round. At least then she’d be moving.

She looked across the arena to where Emma sat. But no, the automatic advancement was better. She crossed her arms and watched as the two men battled, taking in weaknesses she could exploit later and waiting.

 

The semi-finals rolled around and Regina lucked into having the easiest opponent of the three. She finished him with little more effort than she had expended in the first round. But as she watched the other match play out a feeling of dread formed in her stomach. Laird McKinley was huge, with muscles that rippled as he swung his great broad sword. Normally, Regina wouldn’t worry about such a large man, counting on her speed to overtake him, but the man’s size did not slow him. He was a great deal faster than his smaller, lighter opponent. She was sure that he was going to win and that he was going to be the one to face her. Regina searched frantically for some sort of weakness, but the man was well aware of where his guard was weak and was able to close the openings he left too quickly for them to be used.

It was going to take a gods damned miracle for her to get out of this one. If he swung at her with full force she wasn’t quite sure that she would be able to block it. She would need to finish the fight quickly, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. The other option was to wear him out, but that meant that she herself had to keep going and somehow keep enough strength in her arms after blocking blow after blow to keep swinging.

Regina’s eyes tracked over to the Princess. She actually looked interested in these fights unlike the other parts of the competition. She’d noticed the Princess’s habit of watching the guards practicing. She had just taken it for a young girl staring and swooning at half naked men with fine musculature, but perhaps she actually was interested in the sword play. After all, there were no half naked men here. The girl was so full of contradictions and surprises.

Her eyes fell back to the Laird. She had to find a way to win for the girl with bright green eyes that reflected the same color as the leaves one second but the next second were so light they looked like jade, who followed every single sword stroke with vested interest. It was plain and simple. Points wise she was first in the competition right now. She took first here and she won with no question. One more fight and she had it.

She went back to watching the Laird and hoped that she would see something she could use.  

 

He’d won. The other man had put up a good fight, but it wasn’t near enough. After a twenty minute break she walked into the ring. The Laird was already standing in the middle, just grinning at her. Regina was slightly unsettled by the display, but she never broke stride. He wouldn’t get her that easily.

She walked right up to him and stuck out her hand, the other resting firmly on the hilt of her sword. He extended his meaty hand and grabbed hers, squeezing and shaking her hand much harder than necessary. She didn’t let out the hiss of pain that wanted to escape. The man was playing for keeps and she wasn’t going to let him have any points without a fight.

Regina stepped back after he released her hand and she drew her sword. The black flames were darker now. The crowd had almost lost it at the end of her last battle as what could have been considered a trick of the imagination intensified into real looking black flames. She hoped it might come in advantage here. Perhaps as a distraction to her opponent. She glanced up at him, but she highly doubted that.

The King yelled out for them to start. The man charged ahead without so much as a blink. There was no need to wait around and feel out an opponent when you were planning to overpower them with brute strength. Regina stepped aside, just barely managing to dodge the man. She lunged at his back, but he was expecting the move and ducked. Regina pulled back quickly. Expected moves weren’t going to cut it in this fight, but her fighting style was all by the books. Improvising was only something she did in the direst of times.

As the huge man swung around, almost catching Regina in the side before she managed to jump back, she thought that this could probably qualify as the direst of times, if not now then soon. Regina was tired of the defense game. She stepped forward and started to test the man’s guard, but he repelled each and every thrust of hers like he was swatting away an annoying fly.

She saw it a second before he moved. His arm twitched up and back, high enough that the blow, if it landed, would be the end of her. It left his body open, though, for a long time. She stared up at the sword that would be her certain loss for a millisecond that felt like an hour before she made a decision. Instead of stepping backward and dodging the blow she stepped forward. She brought her sword up quickly and slammed the blade into the joint of the man’s armor. Small shards of chain mail flew everywhere. The Laird grunted and dropped his sword arm to his side, taking an involuntary step back. Blood started to drip down his armor from his armpit.

Regina smiled to herself. She’d managed to wound him, that could only work in her favor. A breath came easier to her. Until he looked back up at her from his free hand, covered in blood. A smile that bordered on insane covered his face. Regina’s eyes widened. The urge to step back overwhelmed her, but she didn’t give in.

The man’s grip on his sword tightened and he lunged forward again. This time he was even faster than before. His injury hadn’t deterred him, only set him off. Regina jumped out of the way, hitting the ground and rolling until she was on her feet again. This was not good. This was so not good.

He turned around, that creepy smile still on his face. Regina gasped in a breath. One long lunge was all it took. Her sword went flying through the air. She watched as it made a slow arc and hit the arena floor ten feet away. There was no way she’d get there in time, not with how fast her opponent moved. She was royally screwed.

A sweep of his legs and she was on the ground. She stared up at him. Her skin crawled as he hovered over her, smiling, always smiling. He shot her a look that said she had no choice but to surrender now. And she didn’t have a choice.

Anger flowed through her veins. She couldn’t let Emma end up with a man like this. If he ever ended up angry at the girl she shivered to think what he would do. The smile did not comfort her in the slightest. It spoke of a man who had no limits for hurting others.

His sword was coming to her neck to force her surrender. She shot up before he could place the tip at her throat. She slammed into his legs, throwing him off balance. He took a step backwards. That was all Regina needed. She kicked a leg up as hard as she could into his crotch, shoving his armor painfully into him. The man went down on one knee, sword clattering to the ground. Regina lunged to pick it up. It was heavy, much too heavy for her liking, but she swung it quickly and put the tip under his chin.

The smile finally dropped from his face as he looked up to Regina. The look in his eyes said that he didn’t quite understand how they had gotten here. Then it shifted to he wasn’t going to accept that he was the loser. He started to reached for her. Regina had the sword through his throat before he could get halfway.

His body dropped heavily to the ground, gurgling as the man lived his last moments. Regina dropped his sword beside his body, nodded to him respectfully, and went to fetch her own sword. She sheathed it, the flames around it now a light eating black around the bright white blade, before turning around to face the King and Queen.

They were looking at the Laird’s body, still bleeding out onto the dirt. They glanced up to her after a few seconds. The King had to clear his throat before he spoke.

“The Black Knight is the winner of the sword fighting portion of this competition. We shall quickly add the results of this part of the competition and return with the verdict of who has won our daughter’s hand.”

Regina took a truly deep breath for what felt like days as she looked over at the Princess. At Emma. She knew she was in the lead. She had to be, she’d won two out of three of the rounds. She had managed to save Emma from all of the other vile men in this competition. She had done it. She felt like jumping up and down as the adrenaline from the fight and winning coursed through her. But she kept her feet firmly planted on the ground. It wouldn’t do to celebrate early. After all, she still had an image to maintain, even if it wasn’t for that much longer.

It took them ten minutes to come back into the arena. The King and Queen resumed their positions and Emma came to stand with them. The King handed Emma the scroll with the names on them. She looked out at Regina, still in the ring, and the other competitors who had filed in in the interim.

“In third place and receiving a cash prize, Lord Gwaine, and in second Laird McKinley whose prize shall be gifted to his family,” Emma paused and swallowed. “And in first, the Black Knight.”

Regina stepped forward and bowed deeply.

“If my future husband could remove his helmet, I’d quite like to see your face.”

Regina clenched and unclenched her fists. Now was the moment she’d been dreading. She’d sign her own death warrant with the removal of her helmet. But that was ok. It would only be after Emma had picked her own husband. Emma’s happiness was what mattered, not her own life.

She lifted her hands to her helmet and pulled it off. The crowd gasped as everyone took in her appearance, even more gasped as they recognized her.

“Regina?” Emma asked, not believing her eyes.