All Things Are Lights – Day 194 of 200

“Get back to the shelter, Nicolette,” Roland said softly. “Hurry,” he urged her through clenched teeth. He dared not take his eyes from Amalric, who advanced a step even as Roland heard Nicolette run back to the mosque. Left-handed, he slid the scimitar for the first time from its sheath. He remembered Baibars praising it as Damascus steel, but even that would not cut through Amalric’s chain mail.

“No doubt it pleases her to dishonor me by embracing you in public,” Amalric growled. “But thus she gives me the right to kill her publicly, when I have done with you.”

While you live, you will never be done with me, Roland thought.

Amalric took another step toward him. “Tell me, mincing troubadour, do you really claim, as she tells me, to be my father’s wayside brat?”

“No offspring of the wayside,” said Roland, “but the son of a lady of good family whom your father — my father — took by force. He was as cruel and dishonorable as you are.”

From the open grave came the agonized shrieks of the wounded horse and the thumping of its hooves and body against the earthen walls of the pit.

“It is a lie,” declared Amalric, baring his teeth in a grin. “You do not favor my father in any way. And for slandering my father, I am going to make you suffer before you die.”

“Yes, there is little resemblance,” Roland retorted. “And in my heart I am in no way like Stephen de Gobignon. The man who reared me was a better man. He was your father’s slayer. If you still doubt me, then think — why would I speak of such shame? Only because I must, because it is the hateful truth. My having the same blood as yours makes me despise part of myself.”

Amalric shook the battle-ax. “Taunt me as you will. Soon enough you will be rotting in that pit. It will be as if you had never lived — my father’s son or not.”

Roland waited warily for the attack that must come. He could see the lust to kill in the set of the face under the wolf’s-head helmet.

Amalric moved slowly toward him, one step, then another. He hefted the double-bladed battle-ax, still streaked red from Maurice.

The scimitar felt heavy in his hand, awkward. It had been a month since he had held a sword of any kind, and he had lost much of his strength. Could I even swing that battle-ax of Amalric’s?

He felt the tension mount inside himself like a bow bent to its limit. He watched Amalric come closer with a delicate, almost gliding movement. His mail and his spurs clinked faintly in a vast silence that had fallen over the plaza. Roland waited.

Until his enemy sprang.

As Amalric sent the huge battle-ax whistling through the air in a horizontal arc, Roland jumped back. He could almost feel the heavy blade slicing into his belly.

As the ax reached the end of its swing, Roland gathered all his strength and brought the scimitar down on Amalric’s right arm. Amalric grunted. The blade would have gone right through the bone had not the arm been protected by mail. The blow had hurt him.

Amalric grasped the ax with both hands and swung it again at Roland’s waist.

Roland leaped backward, then struck with the scimitar at Amalric’s hands, but missed.

Amalric swung again, driving Roland farther back.

Roland glanced over his shoulder. The plaza was ringed with spectators. He could see Nicolette in her dark silk mantle in the mosque doorway.

He danced back, away from another whistling slash of the battle-ax. Amalric caught the counter-stroke of the scimitar on his forearm but seemed unhurt by it. Was Roland fighting a man of iron?

Roland’s thighs and calves ached. His feet felt heavy. His left arm throbbed from wrist to shoulder.

They had come to the end of the mass grave now, and Roland turned as he backed away from the ax so that Amalric’s back was to the mosque and they were circling around the east end of the pit.

He had to put all his remaining strength into one last attempt.

He watched for his chance.

Amalric swung the battle-ax again, his blue eyes, on either side of the nasal bar of his helmet, fixed on Roland. But his arms were stretched far to his left by the weight of his mighty weapon.

Roland leaped.

He launched himself with all the power left in his legs and threw his arms around Amalric. For a moment the battle-ax was immobilized, and Amalric seemed to be losing his balance. Roland felt the steely mass of his enemy toppling backward. Suddenly, there was no ground beneath his feet. Clinging to Amalric, he felt himself falling into the pit. His left hand was clenched achingly tight around the haft of his scimitar.

They crashed together into the sodden earth at the bottom. Amalric landed under Roland, on his neck and shoulders. Amalric’s mailed weight came down like a boulder on Roland’s arms and hands.

To his horror, Roland felt his grip on his scimitar broken. The impact of the fall dizzied Roland in his weakened state, and Amalric twisted himself under him and rolled over on top of him. Empty-handed, Roland lay on his back as Amalric knelt astride him and raised the ax.

I am dead, Roland thought.

The hilt of Amalric’s dagger, hung at Amalric’s right side, caught his eye. His left hand shot out and seized it. Amalric let go of the ax with one hand and tried to grab Roland’s wrist, but not quickly enough.

Gripping the handle of the three-edged spike in both hands, Roland drove it upward, the point penetrating just where the mail around Amalric’s throat stopped, under his chin. Roland felt the basilard pierce flesh and bone. He pushed upward with all his strength, driving the dagger deeper and deeper into the head.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)