The time allotted after each tournament for the women to dress for the evening ball was far too much for the men. Detlef found himself stiff and starched for the night and with half an hour to spare. He strolled out into the gardens, losing himself in his thoughts.
Left to their own devices, his legs carried him toward the swing. When it was only one bend away, he quickened his steps.
But as the bend in the path brought him face to face with the swing, it revealed the coveted spot to be already occupied…by Emil. The blonde-headed young man lounged across the swing without respect toward its owner. His winners laurel hung casually over one foot. He lifted his head at Detlef’s approach, and a smirk covered his face.
“How is your leg?” His voice carried the sound of suppressed laughter, and his eyes mocked Detlef.
Detlef ran his eyes over Emil, measuring him. “I have something to say to you, and I may as well say it now than later.”
Emil lifted one eyebrow cockily. “You want to be invited to my wedding?”
“There is no wedding for you, not to Ilona.” Detlef let the words fall like a ruling on a condemned prisoner.
“And you say this because…?” Emil left the sentence hanging while apparently searching his mind for any sign of Detlef’s eligibility.
“I promised her. I swore to her, right here in this swing, that I would take care of her forever. Whether she remembers it or not, I will never break my word.” Detlef curled his lips as he surveyed the elegant figure reposed on his swing. “And I will never let her marry a scoundrel like you.”
“Adorable story.” Emil settled back against the swing and closed his eyes. “Listen, foreign boy. I don’t care about your infantile oaths. I’ve probably made and broken a dozen such oaths in my life. But what matters is that I’ve found the girl for me. She has everything a woman should: beauty, wealth, and the keys to the throne. She’s mine, and I’m not budging.”
“Is that what she is to you? A pretty set of keys to power?” The words exploded out of his mouth. “Does she know what a heartless wretch you are?”
“No, and she won’t. I certainly won’t tell her – and anyone else who tries to will be discounted as a jealous suitor.” Emil sat up to bask in his plan. “A lordship has never been quite enough for me. And now I am on my way to a kingdom. My irresistible charms win the girl, and my success in the tournaments wins the father.” He kicked his laurel into the air and caught it, flashing a smile at Detlef.
“You forget we are tied. I won the archery and you the fencing.” Detlef’s tone was quiet and piercing.
Emil shrugged his shoulders carelessly, a smug expression on his face. “Then we shall settle this tomorrow with the horses.”
(by Esther Brooksmith)