Having established that there would be no easy victory at optimum range, I dashed in close. Our next few strikes were off-beat, both of us trying to adjust to the new balance of power; but no, our blades were equally clumsy – slow and predictable.
I riposted smartly and disengaged, moving back to our dusty circle. We were tiring, and rightly so. Most duels ended quickly, but it seemed fair that this one, of ideologies and culture rather than honour and chivalry, would not be so easily decided.
He moved first, an adder-quick series of jabs and thrusts. I kept my weapon steady and centred, a textbook defence against a determined attacker. We sped up, each daring the other to strike harder, move faster, block more efficiently.
So it was a great surprise when he took a step backwards, met my sword at midpoint with his own, and nodded smartly.
“Enough. You are as certain of your position as I am of mine. You are a fine swordsman and a credit to your empire, and that is all I have to say.”