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HOME > Classical Novels > Men of Iron > CHAPTER 33
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There was a little while of restless, rustling silence, during which the Constable took his place in the seat appointed for him directly in front of and below the King's throne. A moment or two when even the restlessness and the rustling were quieted, and then the King leaned forward and spoke to the Constable, who immediately called out, in a loud, clear voice.
“Let them go!” Then again, “Let them go!” Then, for the third and last time, “Let them go and do their endeavor, in God's name!”
At this third command the combatants, each of whom had till that moment been sitting as motionless as a statue of iron, tightened rein, and rode slowly and deliberately forward without haste, yet without hesitation, until they met in the very middle of the lists.
In the battle which followed, Myles fought with the long sword, the Earl with the hand-gisarm for which he had asked. The moment they met, the combat was opened, and for a time nothing was heard but the thunderous clashing and clamor of blows, now and then beating intermittently, now and then pausing. Occasionally, as the combatants spurred together, checked, wheeled, and recovered, they would be hidden for a moment in a misty veil of dust, which, again drifting down the wind, perhaps revealed them drawn a little apart, resting their panting horses. Then, again, they would spur together, striking as they passed, wheeling and striking again.
Upon the scaffolding all was still, only now and then for the buzz of muffled exclamations or applause of those who looked on. Mostly the applause was from Myles's friends, for from the very first he showed and steadily maintained his advantage over the older man. “Hah! well struck! well recovered!” “Look ye! the sword bit that time!” “Nay, look, saw ye him pass the point of the gisarm?” Then, “Falworth! Falworth!” as some more than usually skilful stroke or parry occurred.
Meantime Myles's father sat straining his sightless eyeballs, as though to pierce his body's darkness with one ray of light that would show him how his boy held his own in the fight, and Lord Mackworth, leaning with his lips close to the blind man's ear, told him point by point how the battle stood.
“Fear not, Gilbert,” said he at each pause in the fight. “He holdeth his own right well.” Then, after a while: “God is with us, Gilbert. Alban is twice wounded and his horse faileth. One little while longer and the victory is ours!”
A longer and more continuous interval of combat followed this last assurance, during which Myles drove the assault fiercely and unrelentingly as though to overbear his enemy by the very power and violence of the blows he delivered. The Earl defended himself desperately, but was borne back, back, back, farther and farther. Every nerve of those who looked on was stretched to breathless tensity, when, almost as his enemy was against the barriers, Myles paused and rested.
“Out upon it!” exclaimed the Earl of Mackworth, almost shrilly in his excitement, as the sudden lull followed the crashing of blows. “Why doth the boy spare him? That is thrice he hath given him grace to recover; an he had pushed the battle that time he had driven him back against the barriers.”
It was as the Earl had said; Myles had three times given his enemy grace when victory was almost in his very grasp. He had three times spared him, in spite of all he and those dear to him must suffer should his cruel and merciless enemy gain the victory. It was a false and foolish generosity, partly the fault of his impulsive youth—more largely of his romantic training in the artificial code of French chivalry. He felt that the battle was his, and so he gave his enemy these three chances to recover, as some chevalier or knight-errant of romance might have done, instead of pushing the combat to a mercifully speedy end—and his foolish generosity cost him dear.
In the momentary pause that had thus stirred the Earl of Mackworth to a sudden outbreak, the Earl of Alban sat upon his panting, sweating war-horse, facing his powerful young enemy at about twelve paces distant. He sat as still as a rock, holding his gisarm poised in front of him. He had, as the Earl of Mackworth had said, been wounded twice, and each time with the point of the sword, so much more dangerous than a direct cut with the weapon. One wound was beneath his armor, and no one but he knew how serious it might be; the other was under the overlapping of the epauhere, and from it a finger's-breadth of blood ran straight down his side and over the housings of his horse. From without, the still motionless iron figure appeared calm and expressionless; within, who knows what consuming blasts of hate, rage, and despair swept his heart as with a fiery whirlwind.
As Myles looked at the motionless, bleeding figure, his breast swelled with pity. “My Lord,” said he, “thou art sore wounded and the fight is against thee; wilt thou not yield thee?”
No one but that other heard the speech, and no one but Myles heard the answer that came back, hollow, cavernous, “Never, thou dog! Never!”
Then in an instant, as quick as a flash, his enemy spurred straight upon Myles, and as he spurred he struck a last desperate, swinging blow, in which he threw in one final effort all the strength of hate, of fury, and of despair. Myles whirled his horse backward, warding the blow with his shield as he did so. The blade glanced from the smooth face of the shield, and, whether by mistake or not, fell straight and true, and with almost undiminished force, upon the neck of Myles's war-hor............
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