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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:

"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."

"You want the throne," he said.

I nicked him and the blood flowed.

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

"I guess so," he said, with a sigh. "It's true, that uneasy-lies-the-head bit. I don't know why we are driven to strive so for this ridiculous position. But you must recall that I've defeated you twice, mercifully granting you your life on a Shadow world the last occasion."

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

"You want the throne," he said.

"This is true," said I. "More than one of us are assembled against you."

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.

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.

Now don't get the wrong idea. I'm damn good. It's just that he seemed better.

"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."

"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."

I parried his attack, and he mine. Then I lunged, was parried, was attacked, and parried again myself.

"I guess so," he said, with a sigh. "It's true, that uneasy-lies-the-head bit. I don't know why we are driven to strive so for this ridiculous position. But you must recall that I've defeated you twice, mercifully granting you your life on a Shadow world the last occasion."

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

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

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

There was blood dripping from his right wrist. His hand was still steady but I had the feeling then that under other circumstances, by fighting a defensive fight, I just might be able to wear him down with that wrist injury going against him, and perhaps I could get through his guard at the proper moment when he began to slow.

"This is true," said I. "More than one of us are assembled against you."

Now don't get the wrong idea. I'm damn good. It's just that he seemed better.

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

"You want the throne," he said.

"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."

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