The Black Prince: Part II
enough until one began using it against resistance.
    And for hours on end.
    A competent fighting man trained his muscles to exhaustion, over and over, in the practice yard for just this purpose. But no amount of play matched the real thing. However serious.
    He pivoted again, raising his sword at an angle to block what should have been a disemboweling stroke.
    He had to get through that door.
    And then Rudolph was beside him, waving his own sword about like a madman and yelling something about death before dishonor. That Rudolph’s house had a battle cry shouldn’t have surprised him; only that any of them had lived long enough to use it. He managed to score a glancing blow and was so shocked that he almost got a score to the head, which Hart blocked. If he had to fight for two and against two, they would neither of them survive.
    But he didn’t tell Rudolph to go.
    The third man, holding his innards in, struggled to rise.
    A rhythmic pounding had begun on the other side of the door, the door itself shaking in unison. “There’s got to be all of them out there!” a Southron cried.
    “Hold the gate.” The command came through gritted teeth.
    Rudolph paused for a fraction of a second and then, evidently reaching some kind of internal decision, bent down and ran the prone man through at the throat. He gurgled, convulsed, and died. Which he would have, regardless; as his hand slipped from his stomach, his innards poured out.
    He would have, regardless—but not, potentially, before taking them all with him. As Bjorn had nearly done. A man’s secure knowledge of his own death gave him strength. Sometimes to rival the Gods’.
    Hart had seen that strength in women, determined to give birth before the act killed them.
    An arrow struck the ground, just missing his foot. “Gods, they’re above us!”
    More arrows, several striking home. One fatally. Hart renewed his push.
    Who was firing on them? How many men were guarding the castle? They had no way of knowing.
    Hart pressed forward, bring his sword down in a series of angled sweeps. Beside him, Rudolph did the same. He seemed to be finding his own. And at last, the defenders began to give ground.
    One of them missed a parry and Hart’s blade drove home, steel screeching against steel. He stepped back a half step, ripping his sword free as Rudolph blocked the other man. Blocked and parried, blocked and parried. Then they were taking him on together, pressing him into the wall until he had no more room to maneuver and Hart was inside his guard. He dispatched the man with his dagger, hot blood flowing over his skin.
    The door stood, waiting.
    Roaring his rage, Hart kicked it in.
    The door fairly burst off its hinges. Closed but not barred, Hart supposed in the event that the defenders had had to retreat. He ran in, searching frantically for the levers that would release both drawbridge and portcullis. But at first he saw nothing. He cursed himself. There had to be something. There was always something. A drawbridge was no mean thing to operate, relying as it did on a system of winch and pulley to cope with such enormous weight.
    For a few terrifying seconds he thought he’d been lied to.
    And then he looked up.
    The inner wall of the second tower ended at the height of the ceiling, opening into a gallery. Directly above where he’d just been. There was, Hart saw, accessible by a ladder bolted to the wall. And there, he could just see, was the winch. A long, barrel-like thing supporting two massive twists of chain. One for either side of the drawbridge. Placed so high, Hart suspected, to make use of natural force. The lever he needed, he knew, was up there.
    Up there, just waiting for him.
    Along with whoever had been firing down on them through the murder holes.
    “We can’t hold them!” someone cried from the hall.
    Almost simultaneously, the door gave with a thundering crash.
    “Go!” Rudolph gestured. “I’ll hold them.”
    “For how long?”

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