The knights took their places at opposing ends of the list to await the clarion's call. Negare hurled a final curse toward Affirmare before sliding on his demon's helmet. With shields buckled and lances couched the combatants were ready. At the trumpet's blast Affirmare spurred his charger and galloped forward, his lance leveled at Negare. The crowd roared its approval as the two knights ran together hard, clashing with all their might. Affirmare's lance struck home. His horse recoiled and his arm tingled under the force of the blow. With a deafening CRACK Negare's lance shattered and the troll heaved backward in the saddle. Affirmare drew to a halt at the far end of the course, his heart thumping.
Hearing loud clapping and shouting from the gallery, he wheeled about to see Negare through a settling cloud of dust at the other end of the list still seated, still cursing, and already grabbing a fresh lance from his lackey.
“The Devil!” Affirmare couldn't believe his eyes. Hastily he urged his mount forward, dressed his shield, and set his lance. Once again they hurtled together, meeting full force. Both lances broke apart this time, rocking each knight soundly and drawing clamorous cheers from all quarters. The result, however, was unchanged. Affirmare and Negare reached the end course still seated and sound, and ready for the next run.
“The troll's bewitched, Sire,” yelled Max, handing up a new lance. “You've dealt a pair of telling hits to center, yet he's still up.”
“As am I, Max.” Affirmare's words faded as the knight quickly gave spur and thundered down the course for the final pass. When they met both lances hit the mark, but at this tangle cheers gave way to gasps, and above the din came an agonizing scream. In midfield Affirmare sat slumped and bleeding in his saddle, a lance tip lodged in his shoulder. And at the far end of the list was Negare, saddled and snickering—and clutching a bare lance.
From the sideline Max cried out, “Sire, the knave has removed the coronal! FOUL!” If only he was allowed onto the course to aid his gallant. The judges restrained the slack-jawed youth, who implored the marshals to act. Similar outcries echoed from the gallery. Yet the Archduke's Favorite was disciplined with only a reprimand for his misconduct.
The judges stood by as Affiremare struggled to square himself in the saddle, his tunic's white fleury cross stained in red. He tightened Lady Rosalind's silken scarf over his wound. He then drew sword and dressed his shield for the next match.