All Things Are Lights – Day 63 of 200

He flung his shield wide when Amalric’s lance struck, driving the point off to one side. His own lance hit the purple shield square in the middle. Roland’s lance shrieked and splintered. Yard-long slivers of wood flew past Roland’s head. So hard was the blow, Roland was amazed to see Amalric still in the saddle — amazed but pleased, because he wanted him there.

He was holding a seemingly useless stump the length of a two-handed sword. Spurring Alezan again, he gave him the bridle. He aimed the broken end of the lance directly at Amalric’s face.

A red-brown wall of horseflesh rose up before Roland, and the splintered lance thudded into it. A hoof as hard and heavy as a mace crashed against Roland’s helm. He heard a horrible scream of agony from the rearing horse before him.

He felt himself falling from the saddle and, as the Templars had trained him, pulled himself into a ball. He landed on his left side, the breath knocked out of him. He hit the ground with the impact of a rock from a stone-caster. He saw glittering lights inside his tilting helm and felt a shocking pain in his arms and ribs. Terror seized him. A blow might strike from anywhere.

Driven by desperation, he shoved himself to his feet and saw at once what had happened. Instead of using his shield, Amalric had saved himself by jerking back on the rein of his horse. The horse had reared up and caught the full force of Roland’s broken lance in its throat. One of the flailing hooves had hit Roland’s head. Amalric’s charger lay dying, its side heaving, blood spurting from its mouth.

The spectators murmured in pity.

I failed, Roland thought. I did not kill him. And now he is going to kill me.

Amalric, on foot, had his sword out and was coming through the wicket for Roland. Roland drew his own sword and stooped to pick up his shield.

Amalric’s blade struck him across the back, and a searing pain shot through his body. He heard cries of protest from the gallery. But he knew that did not matter. Unfair the blow might be, but it was legal.

He brought his shield up with all his strength, smashing it into Amalric’s chest, throwing him backward. He could feel blood soaking the quilted linen jacket under his chain mail hauberk.

His heart froze. Instead of the edgeless sword prescribed by tournament rules, Amalric was using a deadly sharp blade.

It was an old tournament trick, even more common than trying to kill your opponent with a broken lance. Afterward, when Roland was dead, Amalric could always claim he had taken up the wrong sword by mistake.

Pain spread like a fire over his back. Saint Michel, that sword must be sharp and heavy, to cut through chain mail like that!

Amalric kept circling to Roland’s right.

He was so close, Roland could see the blue eyes flashing through the slits in Amalric’s helm. He stepped backward, parrying the blows of Amalric’s sword.

Should I try to stop the fight? he asked himself. The heralds would declare him the winner if they saw Amalric’s illegal sword.

Hatred stiffened his resolve. No! I do not want to end it that way.

But can I fight with this much pain?

Gradually Roland realized that Amalric’s strokes were all aimed at his right arm. He was trying to slash away the scarf.

Jealousy has maddened him, Roland thought. He should be trying his best to kill me, and he is wasting his efforts on a love token. If his mind is not clear, I have a chance. He tried to stop thinking about the throbbing wound, the blood running down his back, but the pain was spreading through his body, and he was feeling weaker.

Amalric swung again at Roland’s arm. Roland lifted his shield high, pivoted on the balls of his feet, and, with all his strength, brought the pointed bottom of the shield down on Amalric’s wrist. The blow knocked the sword out of Amalric’s hand, and it flew through the air.

Roland whirled and ran in the direction of the sword’s flight. When the weapon hit the dusty ground, he let go of his own sword and scrambled for Amalric’s. Amalric’s weight crashed into him, and the broad back was in front of him. Roland sidestepped and threw himself earthward. Exultation gave him new strength as his mailed fingers closed around the haft of the deadly sword. As quickly as he could, he straightened and whirled to face Amalric. Amalric swooped down on Roland’s discarded sword and leaped back, lifting the blunted sword high. Roland rushed at him.

Now I have the sword that can kill.

Roland struck with all his power at Amalric’s head, neck, and chest. Amalric fought back ferociously, his counterblows driving Roland backward.

The blood thundering in Roland’s ears almost drowned out the shouts of the crowd.

Amalric could save himself, Roland knew, by calling a halt to the fight, but that would mean admitting that he had knowingly used a forbidden weapon. Instead, he kept up his attack on Roland. Blow after furious blow rang on Roland’s shield, on his helmet, on his shoulders and arms. Even though it was against the rules, Amalric stabbed with the point of the blunted sword at the eye slits in Roland’s tilting helm. Roland was forced to cover his face with his shield and could not see to strike back at Amalric.

Roland used his shield to throw Amalric back. He stepped away to gather his strength, and over the top of the shield he saw glistening red streams on Amalric’s mailed arms and red stains on the purple surcoat’s shoulders. I have hurt him. I have given him more wounds than he has given me.

He swung the sharpened sword at Amalric’s head, but it clanged harmlessly on his shield.

If he lets his guard down just once, I shall have him.

A high, shrill series of trumpet blasts cut into his consciousness. The call to stop fighting.

“No!” Roland roared. His fury burned white-hot.

He struck one last, unlawful blow at Amalric’s neck.

Amalric’s sword stopped his blade with a clang that rang like a church bell.

“Messires!” a voice called.

Roland and Amalric looked toward the gallery. King Louis was standing before his chair of state.

“Each of you has won high honor this day. Do not, I beg you, tarnish the pleasure we feel in your strength and skill by giving each other grievous wounds. Desist, Messires, your King commands you.”

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