Ch. 224 Do You Have A Handkerchief? (1)
The final rounds of mounted combat were the biggest draws of the tournament. Although the previous three games were enjoyable to watch, it was never as tense as the final battles fought between the ten most skilled fighters of the empire. The stands were filled with cheers as the crowd called out the names of their favorite knights.
“Lord Derek, look here!”
“Come on, Joel!”
“Lord Wickley, go win!”
Since the start, the crowds had heavily cheered for Wickley, Joel and Derek. Now that all three had moved on from the first round and only five knights remained, it was time to find out who was the strongest.
The host spread his arms wide and addressed the stands with a sonorous voice.
“The next match will be fought by two knights who are favored to win. Lord Joel and Lord Wickley!”
As if it were a trick of fate, Wickley and Joel were chosen to fight each other in the next round. The crowd looked excitedly amongst themselves, saying “It’s like a final game.”
Elena allowed herself to relax somewhat. The competition would be much easier if either Joel or Wickley were taken out.
Wickley brushed past Elena, and then looked back at her.
“You managed to make it. Does it annoy you that you’re only here because you’re the princess’ older brother?”
Now that Wickley had spoken to her, she was able to make a rough guess of what happened before.
‘Did my brother not want to give up because of something Wickley said?’
Her face hardened behind her visor, knowing the hidden truth. Weekly continued to smile maliciously at her.
“You hold false courage, but just wait. I’ll knock Joel down first, and then I’ll crush you.”
Wickley left her with those mocking words and headed for the arena. Elena, who had been tight-lipped up until this point, finally spoke.
“…It remains to be seen who will be crushed. Don’t lose if you want to fight me.”
She deepened her voice as much as she could, but it wasn’t a convincing imitation of Derek. However, Wickley didn’t notice and cackled derisively.
“Isn’t that what you told me earlier?”
Elena didn’t know it, but Derek had said something similar.
— Don’t get eliminated. I’ll end you myself.
Wickley recalled Derek’s words and laughed once more.
“Just go back to the princess and cry at her knee. It will be a lot faster than beating me. Hahaha.”
Wickley turned and headed back to the area. He would never know that the person wearing Derek’s helmet was Elena herself.
She smiled as her eyes blazed fiercely.
“Yes. Maybe I’ll deal with you quickly.”
Everyone watched the match with heightened enthusiasm, but Elena’s head was far cooler and calculated. She had simply aimed to win the tournament, but Wickley’s words made her more serious and determined than before.
Wickley’s lance shot towards Joel, but Joel dodged and made his own swift counterattack. This was a spectacular match to anyone who watched, but uncertainty stirred in Elena’s mind.
‘They fight with remarkable skill.’
Objectively, it was undeniable that Joel and Wickley were both excellent knights. However, while Wickley appeared to be fighting as hard as he could, Joel didn’t seem to be responding with relatively strong attacks. It was as if he had no intention of winning against Wickley in the first place.
‘Surely not…does Paveluc want to hide his power even in the competition?’
Elena’s gaze traveled to the seats where the imperial family members were sitting. She saw Sullivan, whose face looked noticeably pale and gaunt in the daytime, and Ophelia, who wore a strange smile. Elena shifted her eyes, and she saw Paveluc looking down at the arena with a blank-faced expression.
‘If Lord Joel from Lunen wins, then the Emperor would have even more reason to keep an eye on Paveluc.’
Sullivan would not be able to overlook the fact that a knight from Lunen would be the strongest in the Empire. From the very beginning, Paveluc had allowed his knight to do well enough to compete, but not to win.
Elena forced a humorless laugh. Paveluc was indeed a clever man.
The match between Joel and Wickley began to flow just as Elena expected.
Wickley’s lance flew towards Joel. It was a fully avoidable attack when taking into account Joel’s skills, and Elena had a brief moment of certainty that he would not allow himself to be seriously injured in this tournament. However, Joel did not avoid the attack and was struck by Wickley’s weapon.
The lance punched through the armor, and blood spurted from Joel’s lips. He slightly tilted his head to look towards the imperial seats. Paveluc gave him the slightest nod, as if in approval.
Elena watched them secretly exchange glances, then turned away as if she didn’t want to see anymore.
“Lord Wickley is the greatest!”
The spectators cheered and stamped their feet, completely unaware that the match had been thrown. Joel had controlled the flow of the fight so that it would still look exciting to the common people, and it was likely that most of the knights were unaware of the manipulation as well. Only Elena, who knew of Paveluc’s secret ambition, could see that the outcome of the match had long been decided before it even began.
‘As for who touched Derek’s armor…the likely culprit is the Empress.’
By most accounts, the winner of the tournament was likely to be either Wickley, Joel or Derek. If Joel didn’t plan to win in the first place, then the saboteur had to come from the Anita family, who supported Lord Wickley. Elena looked up towards Empress Ophelia with bright red eyes.
‘Did the Anita family win the last tournament?’
The Anita family had a reputation for producing great knights and outstanding generals for the Ruford Empire. However, the current head of the family, Cesare, did not have the same military and combat skills, and the same was true of Second Prince Redfield. Perhaps it was for this reason that Ophelia was trying to compensate the Anita family’s power by winning the tournament.
A faint smile crossed Elena’s lips.
‘I’ll have to interrupt.’
The more Elena watched the competition, the more determined she was to win. She suspected it was Ophelia who sent the assassins to ambush Carlisle.
This would be Elena’s opportunity to pay back the massive debt.