The bells signifying the eighth hour had finished their mournful toiling as Elissa joined the rest of her class in the courtyard. The tests in antique, history, law, and heraldry had already been taken over the last few days, and all that remained now was the trial by combat. Loosely organized, the purpose of the trial was simply to see how the new applicants to the knighthood ranked in combat prowess. No lots were drawn, and no system was set for whom could challenge whom in the match-ups, and the simple rules were that no challenge could be refused – not for any reason.
It was up to the students to choose their own matches, and who they choose to challenge themselves against would also become part of their grade. Challenge one whom you knew is much weaker than yourself, and the judges would look negatively upon you – the spirit of a knight was not in bullying the weak. Challenging one whom you knew was much stronger than yourself, would be judged depending upon your result. Win, and you were daring and pushing yourself and your limits. Lose, and you were foolhardy and overconfident. Who the students challenged, and how they paired off, was also an integral part of the trial.
Knowing this, and also knowing that there was no real pressure on her in this contest, Elissa decided to simply not challenge anyone; to wait until someone would challenge her before doing battle. She was tired, she hadn’t eaten neither supper nor breakfast, and she was the top-ranked squire in the class. There was no reason for her to go seeking opponents; she knew before long one would seek her out -- and, she was right. No more than a few moments after the eighth bell quit tolling, a young male in similar plate armor to hers walked up and saluted.
“Lady Elissa, allow me the honor of being your first opponent.” Lean and wiry, the young man before her was the Lord Tristan Starre. A lesser child from one of the many houses of petty nobility, it was obvious that he was out to enhance his title and reputation. Defeating her would raise his rank considerably amongst the placings, and he knew it – as did Elissa.
“Are you certain you wish to challenge me,” Elissa asked, while trying to stifle a yawn. Tristan was definitely below her standards in fighting, but yawning in his act would be an almost unforgivable act of rudeness – and one she didn’t even intend! Admonishing herself, she promised to accept his first blow squarely for the affront she’d almost allowed herself to commit.
“I do,” he nodded, lifting his blade high in salute.
“Then I accept.” Elissa raised her blade in salute as well, signifying that she was prepared and willing to accept the duel.
Within moments, Tristan brought his sword down in an arcing sweep and leapt forward. Bracing her legs and gritting her teeth, Elissa stood stoically and accepted the ringing blow to her midsection. Air gushed out of her lungs and a burning pain knocked the sleep and weariness from her in a sudden burst of adrenaline. Eyes widening in surprise, Tristam hesitated, never expecting his first blow to strike home so soundly. Taking advantage of the momentary pause in her opponent’s reactions, Elissa brought her own blade down, swift as a falcon’s strike; ringing it soundly across the top of Tristam’s helm.
Though the blades had been purposefully dulled for the contest this morning, the sound of solid steel crashing against solid steel echoed and intermingled with the sound of other blows of combat in the courtyard. Blinking twice, Tristam’s grip on his blade grew weak and he first dropped it, and then he himself dropped with a resounding crash onto the cold ground.
Stepping back, Elissa lifted her blade once in swift salute and then called out, “Healers! We have a man down here!” Turning her back on the situation now – live or die, Tristam’s fate was now out of her control – Elissa slowly walked off and awaited her next challenger.