Extract – The Contest
The fight hung in the balance. Attack from either side was followed promptly by counter-attack, both defended ably.
Hassan was beginning to tire. The muscles of his arms ached and his right palm was raw and stinging from contact with the sabre hilt. His bruised left elbow was stiff and it throbbed with pain. His feet were less willing to move in the direction he willed them. But he noticed too a change come over the features of his opponent. Always boyish, though grimly set in concentration, his face glowed with effort. In the watchful, darting eyes were signs of weariness that Hassan knew must be apparent in his own.
‘We are indeed well matched,’ said the other youth suddenly, stepping back well out of range, planting the point of his scimitar in the earth and wiping his forehead with the sleeve of his lorica.
‘You are right, Captain of Bandits,’ panted Hassan, wiping his face in turn.
‘Then you will yield to me?’
‘I will yield to no one. If Master Sabbah wishes to have his sword back you will have to take it by force.’
‘And I might well do so,’ rejoined the young captain. He gathered up his sabre and cut so quickly he almost caught Hassan off guard.
At the last moment, Hassan deflected the intended blow away from his flank. Then, as his gaze flitted to the right he saw the gap he was seeking, a narrow wedge of arm and shoulder just peeping out beyond the rim of his opponent’s shield. He lunged. His blade flicked out with delicate precision towards its target, and withdrew.
He was not nimble enough. The outlaw youth recovered from his momentary disadvantage. His scimitar flashed upwards and Hassan caught just a gleam of the steel as it descended again in an unerring sweep across his breast. At first, he felt only the shock of humiliation and the pervading fear of death. These emotions were followed by a burning pain in his abdomen and the overwhelming desire to vomit. The outlaw captain was on his knees a few paces away. Although he still grasped the hilt of his sabre, he had let his shield fall. His left arm hung loose and bright red blood ran freely from the sleeve of his corslet, through his fingers into the dry stony ground.