Sweat was stinging Lord Erin's eyes. The action was hot, and it never let up. He was gaining a grudging respect for the Count's strength and stamina, if nothing else.
In his ear, there whispered: "Bend your left knee." "Aim for the chest." "Expect a low cut." "Aim for the ear." Normally, the voice in his ear was like his own thoughts, but this was becoming a very strange battle. More and more of the attacks against him were aimed at his head, and his own aim had been directed to the Count's copper-hued helmet far more often than was usual. There could be only one reason. While the silver medal had been awarded posthumously more than once this last decade, it was never because of a head wound. The helms were very strong. All that would be accomplished by a strike there would be damage to the sensors or the computer.
HELM TO SHIELD: Don't give me that noise. We need to take out the opponent's sensors before they take me out. I need support here.
SWORD TO HELM: Shield is right: the opponent is too fast. These attacks against his sensors are both futile and dangerous. They know very well what we are up to, and they can read our actions quickly enough to avoid head attacks. A head attack is very difficult. And your own data is telling us that the opponent is much better at it than we are. Your only chance is to go along with our plan.
TUNIC TO HELM: This is wrong.
SWORD TO TUNIC: I wouldn't worry. My plan works for a lower limb cut on our primary. You shouldn't even be harmed.
HELM TO SWORD: Feed me this sequence. I'd like to look at it.
Lord Erin was feeling the strain. His sword arm shook from fatigue, and his shield was slower to block after each strike. How could the big Russian keep it up? At least by now the swords no longer have a razor edge. Erin shook that thought away; it was defeatist.
"Aim for the chest." "Block high." "Try for the chest again." "Block high."
No! Lord Erin rejected the whispers. The Count was cutting low! Erin blocked low. The field rang with the sound of the deflected blow.
He backpedaled almost to the rope. There were more whispers in his ears, but he ignored them. He had expected this, and his fears had proved true. He must not listen any more.
The Count was puzzled by his retreat; there seemed no sense in it, but he advanced. In the free seconds Lord Erin gained, he fumbled with his chin strap and pulled his helm free. The crowd gave a collective gasp of puzzlement as his blond hair shook free in the sunlight. It was suicidal to be in the broadsword ring without head protection.
He dropped his shield and took the helm in the freed hand. The count was almost in striking range. Erin tossed the helm directly at the Count's face.
The gamble worked. The Count's sword struck the helm in midair. Erin marveled at the man's speed, even as he used his own sword to cut deep into his opponent's thigh.
That was the end. In short order, Lord Erin had his swordpoint at the man's chest. The Count cried yield. The King granted his life. And the crowd went wild. The Marshall summoned them from the circle, and Lord Erin stabbed his sword into the soil and stooped to help his fallen opponent.
Healers arrived on a run with medical kits. As they worked on the leg, Erin spoke to the Count, "You are very fast. I am not sure I would care to face you again."
The man's smile was pained, "But the best man won. And it is not you who is bleeding into the grass."
Lord Erin frowned and shook his head, "I am not sure of that. I will speak to my president, requesting an association ruling that forbids augmentation in our sport."
"But you were augmented. My tactical assured me of that!"
"Yes, I was," he glanced over to where the helm lay, split nearly in two by the Count's last stroke. "And I listened to their voices until they turned against me. They had no honor. Did you not see how the battle turned from being a contest between two men to a war between my tacticals and yours? I gambled that yours would attack my helm rather than me if given the chance, and it worked. Your tacticals betrayed you as surely as mine betrayed me. We must rid ourselves of them if this is to remain a field of honor."
"Can you move?" The Count nodded, and Lord Erin helped him to stand on his good leg. The crowd went wild as the two men moved, slowly, to face the King.
SWORD TO SHIELD: We won. We survived.
SHIELD TO SWORD: Yes.
SWORD TO SHIELD: I wish the primary wouldn't leave me stuck in the dirt like this. I'll rust.