Lines of Fire by Janet Lane Walters
The challenge match had lasted longer than Alric thought possible. His opponent, one of the desert riders, had been chosen by his clan for the duel. Only one man could win. If Alric bested the other fighter, the local farmers would be spared raids on their crops and herds by the nomad band comprised of rebels against the laws of Investia. If he lost the raids would continue until another patrol arrived. Alric concentrated on the lines of fire flowing over the other man’s skin.
The younger man was agile and talented with the sword and knife. His hair, bleached by the sun, shone red-gold in the morning light. The lines flowed in changing scarlet patterns over his arms and bare chest.
Alric’s opponent’s quick responses to each move made him believe the young man read the lines, too. Someone had to make a mistake before they collapsed.
Sweat coated Alric’s skin. An occasional droplet stung his eyes and blurred his vision. The desert rider showed the same physical reactions. Exhaustion threatened Alric’s control. Then he found an opening. The lines of fire on the younger man’s sword hand faltered.
Alric lunged and caught the other sword sending the blade sailing through the air. He followed with a sweep of his leg. The desert rider sprawled on the ground. Alric pressed his knife against the man’s pulsing neck vein.
“Yield,” he demanded.
“Yielded.” The young man grinned. “Good fight. I’m Jens.”