The two men circled each other for what seemed an eternity, Tialla’s fingers digging into Cadell’s arms until he unfurled them and took her hand in his. She jumped as Garel made the first move, lunging at Zandria, he sidestepping just in time, his arm raised as he brought the grip of his sword down onto his father’s back. Garel however, seemed to hardly notice the blow and quickly recovering, swung around, his fist arching around to deliver a blow to Zandria which saw him fly backwards, hitting the ground hard.
As Garel sneered and moved closer, his sword raised once more, Zandria quickly raised his feet and slammed them into the oncoming man, now it Garel’s turn to fly backwards. Without even needing to use his hands, Zandria flipped back onto his feet, he waiting for the other man to get back onto his. For the first time there was surprise in his father’s eyes, Zandria smiling. “I learnt a few things since I left your palace”, his eyes flicking briefly to Cadell. “Amazing what you can do when you have a good teacher.”
This time Garel charged at him, a roar leaving the man, Zandria not able to move out of the way this time as he raised his swords to fend off the ferocity of the attack, the swords making a loud noise in the clearing, the warriors surrounding the two starting to cheer, they losing themselves in the fight going on.
And it was a fight worthy of watching, Tialla stunned to see just how well Zandria fought, she crying out when after several minutes, one of Garel’s thrusts winged Zandria on the arm, a thin line of blood now flowing down his sleeve. But he seemed hardly to notice, though she could also tell that he struggled to hold the sword in that arm.
As though sensing victory Garel charged once more, his swords stretched out for a body blow. However, Zandria was ready for him, rolling to the side and quickly rising onto his feet as he spun around, his own sword thrust out as the cruel father who had tried to have him killed on many occasions ran right into the tip. As the sword sliced into him, he seemed to freeze, disbelief in his eyes that Zandria had brought him down, his lips curling into a hateful growl before he fell to his knees.
The assembled men hushed instantly as their leader pitched forward, dead. Now Zandria too seemed to crumple, his legs giving out as he fell to his knees, leaning on the other sword, exhaustion taking over as the adrenalin seemed to leave him.
His turned as one of the warriors, rushed him with a blood-curdling scream, his sword in hand, he trying to push himself back to his feet, just as another stepped in halting the new challenger. Cadell dragged Tialla with him, thrusting her towards Zandria and away from the circle of men as he stood between Zandria and the newcomer. With a single swing of his sword the other man fell to the ground, Cadell moving to help Zandria back to his feet. However, the other man refused the hand, standing himself, knowing the importance of looking strong in front of the other warriors.
Now his look moved around the men, he raising his sword high, his voice coming out strong. “As is our tradition, I have challenged the leader and won. Is there any other here who would seek to challenge me?” His eyes scoured the men as he continued. “Speak now or on your knees and accept your new leader.”
For a second there was silence, before one by one the men fell onto one knee, their one hand covering their breast as their head bowed with respect. It seemed that Zandria was now leader. Beside him Cadell also made to move to one knee, Zandria’s hand stalling him, his head shaking. “No my friend. You will never bow to me. You are a great leader and friend.”
Tialla felt her lips curve at the way the two men smiled at each other, those smiles full of love for the other. The sound of running feet saw the three turn their heads as Nadia came running from the trees. Zandria moved to meet her, the men clearing a path for him as she threw herself into his arms, he lifting her from the ground as he kissed her soundly, before leading her back to the middle of the circle to join her princess and Cadell.
Now he lifted his hand in a motion for the men to stand, many looking at the newcomer with surprise, their eyes fixed on Zandria. Raising a hand to silence the soft murmurs he regarded them proudly. “We have been at war for years – for what! The need for a cruel man to wreak havoc on his own people and others. Our province needs to make changes, and that begins with ending this war.” Turning to Cadell, he gave him a large smile. “My friend, it is my intention to broker a peace deal between our peoples. Are you with me?”
Nodding his head, Cadell offered his arm, Zandria gripping it tightly as the two men shook, Cadell’s voice warm. “Be assured of my every support my friend. As you say, this war is long overdue ending and I believe that our provinces can live peacefully side by side with you as its leader.”
Now the men stood around all seemed to be smiling, the thought of returning to their families no doubt a great motivator. Turning to Tialla, Zandria gave her a grin, his head bowed respectfully. “Princess, it comes to me to ask that you consider finding yourself another handmaiden”, his eyes sliding to Nadia, Tialla feeling tears rise to her own eyes as understanding came on her, her head nodding.
“It will be with pleasure Lord Zandria”, she rushing forward to give Nadia a quick hug before Zandria took Nadia’s hand and pulled her to his side, his voice raised once more.
“Behold your new queen”, his hand entwined with Nadia’s raised high, the handmaiden standing tall as she smiled at Zandria, the love for him shining from her. Around them the warriors cheered.
Cadell pulled Tialla into his arms, his wrapped around her waist as her back fit against his chest, his chin on her shoulder. “I love you Tialla of Leando.”
Her head fell backwards as she nuzzled his cheek with hers. “And I love you too, Cadell of Karok and Leando”, his arms tightening around her at this perfect moment. Who could have foreseen such a perfect ending, made possible by the woman in his arms. Looking at Nadia and Zandria he chuckled, “So, do we have a double wedding now?”