The four duellists entered the centre of the hall with all eyes on them. "Martel, let me have your knife. I will subdue Guillaume and we can handle the battlemage together. You just distract her until then."
Having no better plan in mind, Martel silently gave his knife to Eleanor. Opposite them, Cheval drew his dagger with a smirk, clearly relishing the situation. The battlemage simply looked angry, her hands already glowing red with magic.
"Begin!" Lord Fontaine called out.
To the side, Martel saw Eleanor and Cheval throw themselves against each other. He only had time to spare a single glance before a sudden burst of heat warned him to look towards his own enemy. A bolt of fire flew across the hall towards him; thankfully, his innate ability with fire had given him enough warning to dodge out of the way.
Another followed, and another. He felt grudging respect for his opponent's ability to continue the barrage, knowing his own magical power would have been long depleted by all the magic performed tonight. He wondered if he could simply wait out his adversary until she became exhausted; her constant attacks did not suggest that would happen anytime soon. She did not appear the least bit hindered or slowed in her assault.
Martel needed to go on the offensive. Yet he could not rely on his strongest talent and fight fire with fire in front of a legate; like with his so-called sparring match against Cheval, he needed to find another way.
The same tactic would not work; they were indoors, and neither rain nor muddy ground could aid him. Martel's eyes ran across the edges of the hall, desperately looking for resources to use. Nearby, Eleanor defended herself, unable to do much else. While undoubtedly a better mage than Cheval, her dress constricted her movements, and her knife allowed for few opportunities to attack against his longer dagger; his magic might be weak, but Cheval had trained in weaponry since childhood, and he knew how to press his advantage.
A burst of fire flew straight at him. Distracted, Martel did not evade in time. On instinct, he threw up his hand to protect himself, and the flames smashed against him, burning his skin. He grimaced at the pain, but it served as a strong motivator to get his head back in the fight.
Scrambling to avoid further hits, Martel's eyes fell upon a cask. Using his magic, he pulled the tap out to let the contents spill. Ale poured onto the floor. With a swift gesture, he moved the small pool underneath the battlemage's feet. She looked down at her shoes getting wet, frowning, even as her hands prepared another blast of fire.
Martel knew how to make things warmer, especially when the object was already hotter than its surroundings. It was like seeing a lit candle and gently blowing air to feed the flame. The reverse came less naturally to him, but his magic obeyed. Drawing all the heat from the pool of liquid on the floor, he froze it into ice. The battlemage barely had time to look up before her shoes lost friction and she slipped.
To the side, Cheval advanced on Eleanor, looking ready to slash his blade to wound her. Swiftly, Martel sent a small flame of his own against the mageknight. Rather than hot, he made it bright, guiding it right in front of Cheval's eyes. Blinded, the acolyte staggered backwards while trying to shield himself from the sudden light.
Seeing his distraction had worked, Martel dispelled the light immediately. Eleanor, less affected and swifter to react, leapt forward to kick Cheval on the knee. He fell to the ground, his dagger clattering against the floor, and Eleanor sent it over to Martel with another kick.
Meanwhile, the battlemage had recollected her wits. Placing her hands against the frost-covered floor, she poured heat through her fingers to melt the ice. This done, she got back on her feet – only for Martel to reach her side, raising Cheval's dagger against her chest.
A moment passed before the crowd cheered and applauded. "My daughter," Legate Fontaine declared, entering the space to grab her hand and raise it triumphantly.
The entertainment quickly continued with musicians, and Eleanor pulled Martel aside, returning his knife. "You were brilliant," she exclaimed. "But that should not be a surprise. I know what you can do."
"Thanks." He gave a relieved smile. "You fought well, given how everything was stacked against you. I don't understand why your father would do this."
She rolled her eyes. "He is always looking for some way for me to prove myself, especially in the eyes of his peers. I am so sorry you got dragged into this. I dislike how you were treated at Maximilian's." Her expression turned from impressed to one of sympathy.
That was not how Martel wanted her to look at him. "It doesn't matter. That was child's play. This, here, that was us fighting together, mage to mage."
"Yes, it was." Eleanor beamed with a smile that faded as she looked over his shoulder. "You should keep your distance to Cheval."
"I am not afraid of him," Martel declared. "I beat him before, and he didn't dare to do anything. Not to my face, anyway."
"Not the son. The father. Stay away from him for the rest of the evening."
Martel turned his head to follow her gaze. He saw Cheval, the acolyte, standing next to a nobleman. At first glance, he seemed like any other guest. His clothes looked to be of the finest cut and fabric. He wore gold jewellery set with large gems, and a black horse reared on his chest as his house insignia. But while others laughed and conversed, the duke of Cheval wore a blank expression on his face. His cold eyes surveyed the room without revealing anything of his thoughts, whether he was disappointed, angry, or indifferent. As those eyes fell upon Martel, the novice hurried to look away.
"Nordmark! I was worried for the briefest of moments, but I bet you have more combat experience than all the battlemages at school put together." Maximilian appeared with a cup in each hand. "To the victor go the spoils!" He handed one to Martel. "To the weathermage!" he called out as a toast.
Martel laughed, accepting the drink. As he raised the cup, he glanced over the hall. Whether by coincidence, Martel could not say, but his eyes met those of the duke's again, and it made the mirth of his company feel hollow.