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Jimmy the Hand
Men cursed as they grappled.
Jimmy the Hand slipped eel-like between knots of fighting men on the darkened quayside. Steel glittered in torch- and lantern-light, shining in ruddy-red arcs as horsemen slashed at the elusive Mockers who strove to hold them back. Only seconds more were needed for Prince Arutha and Princess Anita to make their escape, and the fight had reached the frenzied violence of desperation. Screams of rage and pain split the night, accompanied by the iron hammering of shod hooves throwing up sparks as they smashed down on stone, to the counterpoint of the clangour of steel on steel.
Bravos and street-toughs struggled against trained soldiers, but the soldiers' horses slipped and slithered on the slick boards and stones of the docks and the flickering light was even more uncertain than the footing. Knives stabbed upward and horses shied as hands gripped booted feet and heaved Bas-Tyran men-at-arms out of the saddle. The harsh iron-and-salt smell of blood was strong even against the garbage stink of the harbour, and a horse screamed piteously as it collapsed, hamstrung. The rider's leg was caught in the stirrup, crushed beneath his mount, and he screamed as the horse thrashed, then fell silent as ragged figures swarmed over him.
Jimmy fell flat under the slash of a sword, rolled unscathed between the flailing hooves of a war-horse scrabbling to find better footing, tripped one of the men-at-arms who was fighting dismounted against three Mockers, then dashed down the length of the dock, his feet light on the boards.
At the end of the quay he threw himself flaton the rough splintery wood to hail the longboat below:
'Farewell!' he called to the Princess Anita.
She turned toward his voice, her lovely face little more than a pale blur in the pre-dawn light. But he knew that her sea-green eyes would be wide with astonishment.
I'm glad I came to say goodbye, he thought, an unfamiliar sensation squeezing at his chest below the breastbone. It's worth a little risk to life and limb.
He grinned at her, but nervously; the fight with Jocko Radburn's men was heating up and his back felt very exposed. It wouldn't be long before the Mockers broke and ran; standup fights weren't their style.
Another, taller figure stood in the longboat. 'Here,' Prince Arutha called. 'Use it in good health!'
A rapier in its scabbard flew up to his hand. He snatched it out of the air and rolled over, just in time to avoid a kick from one of Radburn's bully-boys. Jimmy rolled again as the man pursued him, heavy-booted foot raised to stamp on him like an insect. Letting the sword go he reached up and grabbed toe and heel with crossed hands, giving it a vicious twist that set the bully roaring and twisting to keep it from being broken. That put him off-balance, and a kick placed with vicious precision toppled him screaming into the water. His gear dragged him under before the echoes of his scream could die.
'Time to go!' Jimmy panted.
Rolling up to his feet, Jimmy yanked the rapier from its scab-bard and looked about for a worthy target—preferably one blocking the best escape route. Below, he could just make out the rhythmic splashing of the oars counterpoint the chaos of the battle all around him. Farewell, he said again in his heart. Then, as a pile of baled cloth blazed up: Ooops!
Lanterns began to appear on the boats around them, and watchmen from the surrounding warehouses came running, while from all around men called out: 'What passes?' and 'Who goes there?' And a growing shout: 'Fire! Fire!'
A man in the black and gold of Bas-Tyra snatched a lantern from one of the watchmen and marched toward the end of the dock, giving Jimmy an idea of whom to attack. The soldier grinned at the sight of the thin, ragged boy before him.
'Brought me a new sword, have you?' he said. 'Looks like a good one. Too good for gutter-scum whose whiskers haven't yet seen a razor. My thanks.'
He swung a backhand cut at Jimmy, a lazy stroke with more strength than style. No doubt he imagined that he could easily smash the rapier from the young thief's hand and then hack him down.
The finely-made blade was alive in Jimmy's hand; heavy, but perfectly balanced, limber as a striking snake. It flashed up almost of itself and turned the clumsy stroke away with a long scringgg of metal on metal. The guardsman grunted in astonishment as the redirected force of his own stroke spun him around, then shouted in pain as Jimmy danced nimbly aside and slashed at him.
More by luck than skill, the sharp steel caught the guardsman on the wrist, parting the tough leather of his gauntlet and cutting a shallow groove in the flesh beneath. With a gasp, the man shook his wrist and took a step back, disbelief visible on his coarse features even in the darkness.
Jimmy laughed in delighted surprise. Clearly not everyone had Arutha's skill with the blade. The hours he'd spent training with the Prince while waiting for Trevor Hull's smugglers to find a ship for Arutha and that old pirate, Amos Trask, to steal for their escape had paid off. Jimmy felt as if the soldier moved at half Prince Arutha's speed. He laughed again.
That laugh galvanized the soldier into action and he struck out at the young thief with blow after powerful blow.
Like a peasant threshing grain, Jimmy thought—he had little experience of matters rural, but a deep contempt for rubes.
The blows were hard and fast, but each was a copy of the one before. Instinct led him to raise the rapier, and the cuts flowed off steel blade and intricate swept guard; he had to put his left palm on his right wrist more than once, lest sheer force knock the weapon out of his hand. But he knew he was moments away from dodging to his left, thrusting hard and taking the soldier in the stomach. Arutha had always cautioned patience in judging an opponent. Jimmy the Hand
. Copyright © by Raymond Feist. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.