The hoof dug at the ground, splashing mud as the great horse tensed, eager to commence its charge. Ahead stood the official, holding a pennant on high, ready to signal the start. The flag came down, spurs dug in, and sixteen hundred pounds of warhorse sprang forward, pushing its rider back in the saddle. Hooves thundered as the beast tore down the field, throwing clumps of dirt and grass into the air in its wake.
The knight lowered his lance, placing it to the left of his horse's head, straining to keep it level as he closed in on his enemy. Then came the moment of impact, a shattering of wood as lance struck shield and splinters exploded.
The knight felt himself driven backward with the force, but his saddle held him in place, preventing a fall. His opponent, however, was knocked from his horse and crashed to the ground where he lay, unmoving. Men rushed forward, huddling around the unfortunate soul, the crowd falling into a hush. Moments later, the unhorsed knight was hoisted onto a litter and managed a wave, eliciting a cheer from the onlookers.
His warhorse, free of its rider's weight, galloped away, only slowing as it approached the end of the lists.
Ludwig Altenburg watched as the great horse come to a halt, its breath steaming in the chilly morning air. “Magnificent, isn’t it?”
“Magnificent?” said Kurt. “A man was nearly killed! I’d hardly call that something to celebrate.”
Ludwig frowned. The swordmaster seemed particularly gloomy this morning. “Come now,” the younger man continued, “you must admit it’s a test of courage if nothing else.”
“Courage? More like stupidity.”
“Nevertheless, it’s the very reason we came to Torburg.”
“We came here to seek employment with the duke," admonished Kurt, "not to watch men almost kill each other.”
“How better to gain his attention than by winning the joust?”
“Winning? You’ve never jousted in your life.”
Ludwig summoned up all the bravado his twenty-six years could muster. “How hard can it be?"