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his full strength. They hadn't taken enough to make them much less dangerous.
In fact, now that both had knives, both would be deadly at close range.
The brief pause gave Blade plenty of time to snatch up the fallen staff. He
raised it and whirled it over his head. It was light, supple, almost graceful.
If he'd been choosing something for cracking skulls or ribs, he'd have chosen
something a good deal heavier. Here he wasn't doing the choosing, and if the
staff lasted long enough to take out one opponent, that would be enough.
Now Blade had the advantage in reach. He decided it was time to go over to the
attack himself. He shifted swiftly to the right, then closed as the two men
turned to face him. He whirled the staff end for end, thrusting out savagely
with the weighted butt.
The staff struck when the two men were sure they were still out of range. The
butt smacked into one man's knife arm. Blade saw his mouth clamp shut, and he
sprang back. Blade whipped the staff up and shortened his second thrust. The
second man grabbed the staff and shoved it to one side as he slashed at
Blade with his knife.
Blade let go of the staff, sidestepped the slash, and clamped both hands down
on the man's knife arm.
He jerked hard, and the man screamed uncontrollably and horribly as both elbow
and shoulder joints gave under the impossible strain. Blade whirled, turning
his back on the man and crouching as he heaved with all his strength. The man
flew over Blade's head and crashed to the ground. It didn't matter how much
punishment he could take or how much pain he could endure--for him this fight
was over.
Blade spun around, to see the second man charging him, one hand dangling
uselessly but the knife raised in the other. The second staff was also cracked
and useless. Blade decided it was time to use his surprise weapon.
By nimble footwork he avoided three furious rushes in the few seconds it took
him to untie his sash. It was five feet long, and one end dangled as if
weighted. It was. Into a pocket at one end Blade had sewn a number of pebbles
and bits of scrap metal. Only a few ounces, but it should be enough. Blade
began whirling the sash around his head.
His opponent hesitated for a moment, then decided he still had a chance. He
ran at Blade, and this time his knife was raised even higher, to cut the sash
apart and deprive Blade of his last weapon.
Blade whipped the sash forward, and with a hiss the weighted end wound itself
three times around the man's upraised arm. Blade heaved with all his strength,
and the man flew forward to meet Blade's foot slamming up into his groin. He
folded in midair and struck the ground already doubled up and writhing.
He did not cry out, but after a moment he choked and started vomiting.
Blade turned the man's head to one side so he would not choke on his own
vomit. Then he examined the other man. He also was alive, although probably
with a concussion and certainly with an arm he'd never be able to use again.
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Blade rather hoped there was a place among the Hashomi for the one-armed or
the castrated, and that he hadn't condemned these men to death by defeating
and crippling them. To be sure, they had put his life in considerable danger,
but they'd hardly done this of their own free will.
Blade rewound his sash and retrieved both knives. Then he turned toward the
watchers outside the tent.
From the first moment of the fight they had ceased to exist as far as he was
concerned. Yet it still lay with
the Master to decide what Blade had won by defeating two picked Hashomi in a
matter of minutes. The sun was no higher in the sky than it had been when the
fight began, so it had to have been a matter of minutes, even though it felt
like several hours.
The Master had risen and was walking slowly toward Blade, carrying his staff
in one hand, his other thrust inside his robe: His face was blank, but the
subtle quivering of his body told Blade that the Master was not as calm as he
was pretending to be.
"So it is done," the Master said quietly. "You have been tested and found-more
than adequate." His face twisted for a moment with some emotion Blade could
not read-fear, rage, surprise, uncertainty? "In fact, you have made the
testing as we conceived it a thing for children to laugh at!"
"I am sorry if I have done the Hashomi an injury by this," said Blade, with an
elaborate politeness he was far from feeling.
"Do not fear that," said the Master. "It is not the way of the Hashomi to
believe that we know everything merely because we are the Hashomi. There are
those who know what we do not, and from whom we may learn if they are willing
to teach us.
"As for your two opponents--" The Master broke off, and raised his staff.
Blade's hands dropped to within inches of his knife hilts, fingers curling
ready to grip. Then he forced himself to relax. The internal discipline of the
Hashomi was not his affair, particularly when the price of trying to make it
so could easily be death.
The Master's hands moved in a delicate pattern along his staff. A glossy red
needle thrust itself out of the silver ball on the striking end. The Master
walked over to the vomiting man, raised the staff, and brought it down. The
needle drove deep into the man's neck. He straightened out, throwing his arms
wide, his eyes rolling up in his head until only the whites were visible. Then
he arched his back so violently and so far that Blade heard the spine crack,
and went limp, blood trickling from his mouth, ears, and nose. The man with
the disabled arm was still mercifully unconscious, and he died more
peacefully.
Blade was waiting, arms crossed on his chest, when the Master came back to
him. "Certainly you seem to have told the truth about what you learned as a
British agent. It seems to be a strong and wise Order.
Will you teach us as much of the agents' skills as we may need?"
"I do not know how much you may need. I can certainly teach you as much as I
know. I trust that will be enough."
"Of course," said the Master, smiling with everything except his eyes.
"And in return," said Blade, "I trust you will agree that I learn the ways of
the Hashomi, without submitting to the drugs or being caged like an animal."
He made the words a flat statement, not a question. He would be polite to the
Master if necessary, but never humble.
"You may trust me in that," said the Master. "My word is law in the Valley of
the Hashomi, and my word will be that the British agent Blade is to call the
Valley of the Hashomi his home from this time onward."
The Master turned away, indicating that Blade should follow him.
Blade did so, his smile masking thoughts the Master might not have found
agreeable. The Master could be trusted-to do anything that his own power or
the power of the Hashomi might demand. For the moment, both demanded that he
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leave Blade alive and free. That moment would not last forever, and by
the time it ended, Blade knew he would do well to be somewhere far from the
valley, where the Master's word was not law and the hands of the Hashomi could
not reach him easily.
Chapter 7
The Master of the Hashomi kept his promise. Blade still lived in his room in
the hospital, but now he could come and go when he pleased, and go very nearly
anywhere in the whole Valley of the Hashomi.
That covered a good deal of territory. The valley was ten miles wide and
stretched over fifty miles from end to end. It was well-watered, the soil was
fertile, and the crops were luxuriant. There were easily accessible deposits
of iron, gold, silver, and copper in the nearby mountains. There were several
large stretches of forest, and a number of places where good building stone
could be quarried. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]