ONE HUNDRED FOURTEEN
Let me go out trying. I was praying that the black sword’s first stroke would kill me outright: I didn’t like pain, and I didn’t want to know what kind of a mess I’d been left in while I finished bleeding to death. But as I swung sword and bracelet in front of me, Silverheart’s blade blazed and Glosinda flared like one of Wonder Woman’s bracelets doing its lightning-bolt trick, although I didn’t remember that Wonder Woman had ever had a red-rose era, did she?, and where the two dazzles crossed, there the black sword fell and . . .
It was still like being hit with a sledgehammer. Or a mountain. I fell down, the breath knocked out of me, briefly blind, feeling like a fly that’s been hit by a flyswatter, wondering if any of me was leaking. As my eyes cleared the grey landscape looked greyer than ever. . . .
Except for the black thing looming over me, raising its sword for a second blow.
I couldn’t get up in time. I rolled, feeling Silverheart glance off my leg—cutting myself with my own sword, that sounded like a me-ish sort of thing to do. I was still dizzy and squashed and disoriented: I was on my back now, and clumsily raised sword (bracing Silverheart’s hilt against the ground) and bracelet again, but there was nowhere for the force of the blow to go. I screamed as it struck, and while Silverheart and Glosinda held against it this second time, I blacked out. When I came back to consciousness I hurt so much I thought I’d entered the dying part of this experience. I lay taking tiny shallow painful gasps, not trying to move, not at all sure I could move, what there was left of my mind fascinated that my lungs were working, that the alveoli were apparently still doing the whole oxygen-exchange business. The colorless fuzz over my vision thinned and disappeared more slowly this time. I blinked and blinked, willing the grey landscape to differentiate itself from. . . . The black thing had reverted to its earlier stillness, standing motionless with its sword raised. The blade was only barely raised from the vertical this time, but then I was lying on the ground. A sort of sweeping gesture would do for me.
I shut my eyes briefly, and felt tears slither out between my lids and slide down the sides of my face. There was a hot sticky sensation along the corner of my jaw and down my neck; I thought perhaps my ears were bleeding. I cleared my throat and discovered that my vocal chords were still responding to requests from headquarters. “Thanks, you two,” I said hoarsely to my sword and arm guard. I sounded both rough and tinny, as if I were speaking from somewhere else rather than this supine body. I briefly wondered what had been damaged besides my hearing. But it wasn’t likely to matter much longer. “I appreciate it. But this isn’t working, you know? You needed a bigger hero. Heroine. And one who knew what she was doing.” I looked up at the black thing, which didn’t seem to be reacting to the sound of my voice. “And preferably a sizeable army.
“Go on,” I croaked at the black thing. “Get it over with, will you?” But it still wouldn’t move. And as I lay there it began to occur to me that since I wasn’t a hundred and twenty and lying in a comfortable bed I’d really rather not die lying down. Lying here probably didn’t count as going out trying either.
If I concentrated I could feel my arms and legs. Maybe when I moved the black thing would finally nail me.
But it didn’t. Slowly, painfully, I rolled over on my side. Even more slowly and more painfully I knelt, ready to lurch to my feet. The bits of me I could see were striped with scratches and purple with bruises. Never mind. I had to use Silverheart as a cane again, to get to my feet. I kept looking up at the black thing. It had raised its sword a little but that was all.
I turned to face it. I balanced Silverheart across my legs, her tip in the dirt again, my hand against my belly as I held her hilt. My other arm I crossed against my chest, rose medallion facing out. I didn’t have the strength to lift either of them against a third stroke by the black sword.
We stood there, the black thing and I. Maybe we were looking at each other. I took as deep a breath as I could manage. “By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair,” I said, “you shall have neither the Ring nor me.” And with an effort that felt like it was breaking my bones, I managed to raise Silverheart an inch or two off the ground.
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