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Johann advanced, thrusting and slashing wildly. Elaina backpedaled using her cloak and blade to deflect his blows. Each step brought her closer to the rear boundary line of the piste. After she parried one last thrust to the left of her face, he retreated out of range. He panted loudly.

Tired? Too bad.

She slapped his blade aside and stepped in. The point of her sword angled toward his chest. His dagger came for her. She aborted the attack and popped her blade out to the side to parry the shorter weapon. A sweep of the cloak hindered the riposte of his main blade.

As he flicked his left wrist downward, he redirected her sword away from him. Elaina continued the circle and snapped her cloak to the side to guard against the sword. Johann opened the distance between them. Elaina held her ground this time. Sweat trickled down the side of her nose, and her breathing was oddly hollow within the face mask.

Johann’s sword point dipped slightly. She tapped his dagger aside and stepped in. Johann drove the sword’s point straight out in a stop thrust. Elaina took a step to her right. She dropped to her knees to avoid the blade and slid forward on the polished, wooden floor. She swung her cloak at her opponent’s primary weapon and drove her cork-bated tip into Johann’s padded doublet.

“Good!” He stepped back.

“Victory to Johann von Ambersham,” the marshal said.

Elaina looked up at the marshal. “What?”

“Your pardon, Your Highness, but you’ve slipped out of bounds.”

Elaina looked down at the painted stripe marking the edge of the piste. Her right knee was half on the wrong side of the line.

She frowned. Stupid rule.

Johann shook his head. “No, it was a killing blow, and she’s merely on the line. I insist Her Highness be credited with the win.”

“You won fairly, sir. I was out of bounds. The victory is rightly yours.” After unwrapping her cloak and freeing her sword hand, she offered him a handshake.

Johann clasped her fingers and mimed kissing the back of her hand. “You are very gracious, Your Highness. Thank you.”

“Well fought.”