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"I know a way," he said, and then he glared at Dik, who promptly departed and closed the door behind him. I heard it snick shut.

I kept backing away, and the fear and the knowledge came upon me: I knew I still couldn't take him. He was a better man than I was, when it came to the blade. I cursed this, but I couldn't get around it. I tried three more elaborate attacks and was defeated on each occasion. He parried me and made me retreat before his own attacks.

He parried this and kicked a small stool between us. I set it aside, hopefully in the direction of his face, with my right toe, but it missed and he had at me again.

"You want the throne," he said.

"Well, when it comes to things, Corwin. Poorly, on other counts, however."

"It wasn't that merciful," I said. "You know where you left me, to die of the plague. The first time, as I remember, it was pretty much a draw."

And his eyes were wide with amaze and his voice heavy with that which men call sarcasm, and I can't think of a better word, as he replied:

"You want the throne," he said.

"Then it is between the two of us now, Corwin," he said. "I am your elder and your better. If you wish to try me at arms, I find myself suitably attired. Slay me, and the throne will probably be yours. Try it. I don't think you can succeed, however. And I'd like to quit your claim right now. So come at me. Let's see what you learned on the Shadow Earth."

And his blade was in his hand and mine in mine.

"What an enormous chutzpah you possess," I told him. "What makes you better than the rest of us, and more fit to rule?"

Eric loosened his blade in its scabbard.

"Well, when it comes to things, Corwin. Poorly, on other counts, however."

"Oh, damnable brother" he said, retreating. "Report has it Random accompanies thee."

"Oh, damnable brother" he said, retreating. "Report has it Random accompanies thee."

"The fact that I was able to occupy the throne," he replied. "Try and take it."

"Oh, damnable brother" he said, retreating. "Report has it Random accompanies thee."

And his eyes were wide with amaze and his voice heavy with that which men call sarcasm, and I can't think of a better word, as he replied:

I kept backing away, and the fear and the knowledge came upon me: I knew I still couldn't take him. He was a better man than I was, when it came to the blade. I cursed this, but I couldn't get around it. I tried three more elaborate attacks and was defeated on each occasion. He parried me and made me retreat before his own attacks.

Then there were some alarms and excursions in the hall outside. Eric's retainers were coming, and if he didn't kill me before they arrived, then I was confident that they'd do the job - probably with a bolt from a crossbow.

I tried a headcut, which he parried; and I parried his riposte to my heart and cut at his wrist.

And he lunged then and beat me back, and I felt suddenly that for all my work he was still my master. He was perhaps one of the greatest swordsmen I had ever faced. I suddenly had the feeling that I couldn't take him, and I parried like mad and retreated in the same fashion as he beat me back, step by step. We'd both had centuries under the greatest masters of the blade in business. The greatest alive, I knew, was brother Benedict, and he wasn't around to help, one way or the other. So I snatched things off the desk with my left hand and threw them at Eric. But he dodged everything and came on strong, and I circled to his left and all like that, but I couldn't draw the point of his blade from my left eye. And I was afraid. The man was magnificent. If I didn't hate him so, I would have applauded his performance.

"What an enormous chutzpah you possess," I told him. "What makes you better than the rest of us, and more fit to rule?"

And his blade was in his hand and mine in mine.

I tried a very fancy attack I'd learned in France, which involved a beat, a feint in quarte, a feint in sixte, and a lunge veering off into an attack on his wrist.

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