A little setup: Etienne (my hero) and Mathilde (my heroine) met the previous night in the castle of a young widow who is holding a tournament so that she can choose a new husband. Etienne persuaded Mathilde to give him the white ribbon in her hair to wear as a favor in the tournament, but when her brother finds out, he becomes angry and insists Mathilde get the ribbon back. This scene takes place the next morning on the field of tents where the knights are preparing for the tournament.
Mathilde’s violet eyes turned misty again. Etienne imagined she longed for some man to be thus stricken over her. No doubt it was of Therri she dreamed. What had she called him? The Vision? Etienne’s mouth quirked up in rare envy of his friend.
She sighed and forced her gaze—reluctantly, he thought—to refocus on his face.
“Pray, sir, it is most unchivalrous of you to tease me this way. If you are a true knight, you will honor my request and give me back the ribbon.”
Etienne hesitated. He wanted to wear her favor, but he realized it was equally important to him that she should think well of him. If he continued to refuse her request, she would think him a churlish brute.
Before he could decide how to answer, Hermaline swept through her half-circle of mounted attendants, apparently tired of waiting for her would-be champion to return. She bore down upon Etienne and Mathilde with sparkling eyes, her veil fluttering in her hand like a banner of war. If he were to surrender Mathilde’s ribbon, he told himself, then he must at least arm himself with some other shield in its place.
“If I give it back to you,” he said quickly to Mathilde, “what will you give me in exchange?”
“You agreed last night to grant me your favor for the tournament today. If you insist that I behave as a ‘true knight’ and return the ribbon you gave me, then I demand you keep your word as a ‘lady’ and grant me some other favor in its stead.”
“But I told you last night that I have nothing else to give you.”
Hermaline was nearly upon them.
“Then,” he murmured to Mathilde, “I hope you will forgive me, for I am about to behave most unchivalrously.”
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