Carnivores of Darkness and Light: Journeys of the Catechist, Book 1 by Alan Dean Foster

“Who said anything about digging?” Simna was smirking now, virtually strutting in place. “We just waited for it to make ready to step, and when it rose up, we ran under.”

The initial questioner dropped his finger from his lips. “Such a thing is possible, of course.” He nodded once, curtly. “Very well. I, Setsealer Agrath, accept your explanation. You are courageous half-wits.”

“This is not our fight,” Ehomba told him somberly. “I personally have no quarrel with the Chlengguu and no affection for the Queppa. This lasting strife is your own. Let us go.”

Turning slightly away, Agrath chose a long, thin knife, very much an oversized stiletto, from the assortment of cutlery lying on the table behind him. “Why should we?”

“I have business in the west.”

“The west?” Agrath snickered slightly to his associates. “I thought you told us your destination lies to the north.”

“I have to go north,” Ehomba informed him, patient as he would have been with a child, “in order to find a ship willing to take me west.”

“Across the Semordria?” The Chlengg did not laugh so much as hiss breathily. “Now you try my intelligence.”

“It’s true.” Simna jerked his head sharply in his friend’s direction. “He’s deranged, he is.”

“Yet you follow him?”

The swordsman dropped his gaze and his voice. “What can I say? I have perverse tastes. Who can explain it?”

“Who indeed? When we are finished here we will remand you to the custody of specialists whose work is famed even among the Chlengguu. Perhaps they will get the real explanation out of you.”

“Hoy, now wait a minute, you—”

The mace that descended struck only a glancing blow to the back of the swordsman’s skull or he surely would have died on the spot. As it was, he only crumpled to the carpeted floor, where he lay motionless and bleeding. Ehomba glanced wordlessly in the direction of his friend’s unmoving body, then returned his attention to the three Chlengguu nobles. They were watching him expectantly.

“You are not angry at this treatment meted out to your friend?”

Ehomba’s voice was entirely unchanged. “Of what use would it be? You want to test us. You might as well have struck me to provoke him. It makes no difference.”

“None whatsoever,” Agrath agreed, “except that you are standing and he is unconscious.” The noble shrugged. “As you say, it could as easily have been done the other way. But I am more curious about you than him. Contrariety is a welcome diversion from the boredom of our inexorable advance.”

“We were told it was not always so.”

“No.” The other male’s voice darkened. “Before the Wall it was very different. Now”—he did not grin so much as sneer—“after the Wall, it will be more different still.”

“I really don’t care whether our specialists work on you or not.” Agrath ran the edge of the stiletto along his elongated palm, drawing a thin line of his own blood. His expression never changed. “But I do so enjoy the occasional uncommon curiosity.” Removing the blade from his skin, he flicked the point to indicate something behind Ehomba.

Moments later, two soldiers came forward. They were carrying the weapons confiscated from the travelers. These they placed on the already crowded table. After genuflecting twice to the nobles, they carefully backed away and rejoined their comrades.

While the skeletal oldsters continued to bicker and squabble in the background, the nobles proceeded to inspect the outwardly unimpressive weapons. The woman hefted Ehomba’s spear, sniffed contemptuously, and dumped it back on the table. Agrath picked up the tooth-studded bone sword, having to use both hands to finesse the weight, and whipped it back and forth a few times. One swipe passed very close to the herdsman’s face, but Ehomba did not flinch. If his captors were struck by his stoicism, none of them remarked upon it.

“Bone and teeth.” Agrath was singularly unimpressed. “A suitable device for a primitive tribesman.”

Sliding the pale white weapon back into its goatskin sheath, Agrath then drew the sky-metal blade from its protective covering. His angled eyes could not widen, but he nodded appreciatively. As he had with its weighty predecessor, he required the use of both strong but thin wrists to support the weapon parallel to the floor. Maintaining this grip, he swung it slowly back and forth. Diffuse sunlight filtering through the fine material of the tent glinted off the exotically forged iron.

“This is more like it.” Bringing the flat side of the blade up to his face, he eyed the peculiar lines etched into the metal. “Whoever worked this design into the blade is a master armorer.”

“The design was not worked,” Ehomba told him. “The lines are inherent in the metal, but must be brought out by dipping the finished blade in acid.”

The noble’s face squinched up tight as a snake trying to slip into a too-small hole in pursuit of prey. “Nonsense. No such metal shows such lines naturally.” Using both hands, he held the sword high, admiring the play of light on the internal crystalline structure. “Perhaps when we have conquered the south I will bring this marvelous armorer into my own service.” Lowering the point abruptly, he swung it around until it was dimpling the reawakened Simna’s chest. The swordsman tensed, but held his ground.

“Tell me, southerner. How sharp is the edge? How strong the alloy? What could one do with such a blade?”

Ehomba deliberately avoided his companion’s face lest the look frozen there cause him to hurry his response. “It can cut through any bone, even that of an elephant or mastodon. The point will penetrate most armors, be they metal or fabric. Striking it with a flint will make a quick fire. And,” he concluded, “if held high enough for long enough, I am told by the old women of the Naumkib that it will draw down the moon.”


THE SOFTLY CONVULSED MODULATED EXHALATION THAT PASSED for laughter among the Chlengguu filled the tent. “Does he take us for idiots?” the other male declared sharply. “Or does he think to play with our minds and thereby somehow deflect his unavoidable fate?”

“If he says it’s so, then you’d better watch out.” Simna struggled with his restraints. “He’s a mighty sorcerer.”

Plainly amused, Agrath turned back to the stolid herdsman. “Well, southerner? Does your friend speak true? Are you a ‘mighty sorcerer’?”

“Note his clothing,” opined the female disdainfully. “He doesn’t even look like a mighty breeder of rabbits.”

Keeping an eye on Ehomba, Agrath raised the sword high, as high as he could manage, aiming the point at the ceiling. Straining with the effort it required, he let go with one palm and maintained the difficult pose, balancing the weapon in a one-handed grip. A couple of the guards commented approvingly.

“There!” The wicked slash of a mouth parted to reveal white teeth. “What now, southerner?” Still holding the blade aloft, he turned toward the command tent’s entrance. “It is early enough and the sky clear enough that I can still see a bit of the moon. Though it is more difficult to tell during the day, it looks unchanged to me, and certainly unmoved. Behgron! Please be so good as to check on the position of the moon for me.”

One of the officers among the company that had brought in the three prisoners executed a quick, sharp half bow, whirled, and darted outside. His voice came back to those inside clear and crisp.

“It looks the same to me, Your Overlordship. The same color, and it surely has not moved.”

“There now.” Still holding the weapon aloft, greatly pleased with himself, Agrath eyed his tallest prisoner coldly. “What have you say to that, ‘sorcerer’?”

“I did not say that it would bring down the moon,” Ehomba responded humbly. “I repeat only what the old women of the village have told me.”

The Chlengguu noble gave a curt nod. “Well then, it would appear that we have proof that the old women of your village are a bunch of prating, ignorant whores.” He waited for the herdsman to say something, but Ehomba kept silent.

“Your pardon, Overlordship.” It was the voice of the officer who had gone to stand just outside the entrance to the tent.

“Yes, what is it?” Agrath snapped off the response impatiently. The officer was interrupting his fun.

“It is true that the moon is unchanged, noble Agrath—but there is something else.”

“Something else?” The Chlengg’s expression twisted uncertainly. “What ‘something else’? Explain yourself, soldier.”

“I can’t, Overlordship. Perhaps you should come and see for yourself.”

“We’ll do that, and if there is no good reason for this interruption …” He left the promise of unpleasantness hanging in the air.

Accompanied by Ehomba and the groaning, recently awakened Simna, the three Chlengguu nobles strode to the entrance of the tent. The senior officer Behgron proceeded to indicate a point in the sky. An irritated Agrath followed the line formed by the slim arm.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster