“Both sides!” Charmian cried out. A man was sliding down toward them on each side of their almost cavelike shelter. But each attacker had to think first of his own footing. Chup put the first one over easily before the man could do more than wave his arms for balance, then turned quickly enough to catch the other still at a disadvantage. This one, going over, dropped his sword and managed to catch himself by his hands. Only his fingers showed, clinging stubbornly to the ledge, until Charmian, screaming, pounded and shattered them with a rock.
Chup sat down once more resting while he could. As Charmian knelt beside him, he said: “They’ll have a hard time getting at us here. So they may just wait us out.” He leaned out for a quick glance at the slope below them, it was worse than that above. “I don’t suppose you got out by this route the last time you were here.”
“I -don’t know.” Somewhat to Chup’s surprise, she lost herself again for a time in silent thought. “I was only a child then. Twelve years old, perhaps. My father led us – ” Her face turned up, wide-eyed with another shock of memory. “My sister and I. My sister. Carlotta. I have not thought of her from that day till this. Carlotta. I had forgotten that she ever lived!”
“So. But how did you get out? Not down this cliff somehow?”
“Wait. Let me think. How very strange, so many memories wiped out… she was six years younger than I. Now it comes back. My father took us both down the long spiral path. Into the demon chambers at the bottom. There… he pushed us both forward, so we fell, and he turned and ran away. I saw his flying robes, while Carlotta lay beside me, crying. Ah, yes. That would have, been my father’s initiation, his pledging to the East. Ah, yes, I understand it now.” “What happened?”
Almost calmly now, Charmian stared into the depth of time. “We lay there, frightened. And before we could get up, he came for us.”
“Lord Zapranoth. For his initiation, our father, had to give us to the Demon-Lord.” Charmian’s eyes now turned on Chup, but still her mind was in the past. “Lord Zapranoth reached for us, and I jumped to my feet and took Carlotta and pushed her in front of me, and I cried out: ‘Take her! I am yours already. Already I serve the East’!” Charmian giggled, a pearly ripple of pure music, yet it made Chup draw back slightly. “I cried: ‘Now take Carlotta as my pledging!’ And Zapranoth stayed his hand, that had been reaching for us.” Charmian’s merriment faded suddenly. “And then he… laughed. That was a thing most horrible to hear. Then he put out his hand again, and stroked my h -”
Breaking off with a little shriek, Charmian clutched at the golden hair, that hung disheveled before her eyes, as if it were some alien creature settled on her head. Then she recovered herself somewhat, brushed back her hair and let it go. “Yes, Zapranoth stroked my hair. And later, when Elslood tried to make a love-charm from it – ” She stopped.
“All Elslood’s magic was confounded and reversed,” Chup finished. “And he and every man who carried the charm was drawn to you by it. But never mind that now.” He put out his hand slowly, not quite far enough to touch the gold that he had handled with rough carelessness not long ago. He said: “Do you suppose, that on that day -the Demon-Lord-might have left his life in this?”
The thought was no surprise to Charmian. “No, Chup. No. Hann examined my hair closely, when we were planning how best to use the charm, trying to find the source of its unusual power. Hann would have found a demon’s life if it were there. We could have made the Demon-Lord our servant.” She smiletl. “No, Zapranoth would not have been fool enough to give his life into my keeping. He understood me far too well. When he had touched my hair, he said to me: ‘Go freely from this cave, and serve the East. It has great need of such as you.’ Yes. Now all the memories come back. My father was much amazed when I caught up with him. Much amazed to see me, and not entirely pleased. Oh, he looked back hopefully enough to see if my sister had also been released. She was the one he favored, truly cared for. But her the demon kept.
“And I think my father also was made to forget what happened here; at least he never spoke of it, or of Carlotta-Chup, what is it?”
He had got to his feet as if to face the enemy again, but he did not raise his weapon, only stared down fixedly at Charmian. Without taking his eyes from her he sheathed his sword and gripped her hands and pulled her to her feet. She twisted as if expecting another blow. But he only held her fast, demanding: “Tell me this. What was his aspect, when you saw him then?”
“Zapranoth’s.” Chup’s voice was not much louder than a whisper. “What did he look like then, what form did he take?” His eyes still bored relentlessly at her.
“Why, the form of a tall man, a giant, in dark armor. It matters little what form a demon takes. I knew him today, even at a distance, because the feeling he brought with him, the sickness, was the same – ”
“Yes, yes!” He let her go. Caught by a powerful thought, he turned away, then turned right back. “You said that your sister was six years old, when the demon took her?”
“I don’t know. About that, yes.”
“And was she fair of face?”
“Some thought so. Yes.”
“That could be changed-a small thing for the Demon-Lord,” he murmured, staring past her into space. “What was the season of the year?”
“Chup, I-what does it matter now?”
“I tell you it does matter now!” He glared at Charmian again.
She closed her eyes and lined her perfect forehead with a frown. “It must have been six years ago. I think -no, it was in spring. Six and a halfyears ago, to this very season. I do not think I can calculate it any more closely – ”
“Enough!” Chup slapped his hands together, rough triumph in his face and voice. “It must be so. It must be. The young fool said she came to them in springtime.”
“What are you babbling of?” Charmain’s temper edged her voice. “How can this help us now?”
“I don’t knowyet. What happened to your sister?”
Before Chup could finish the question there came a faint sound behind him and he had turned, sword drawn and ready. But the shape that dropped now to the narrow ledge was only a small brown furry creature, half the length of a sword from head to tail.
“Chupchupchupchup.” Stretched as if in supplication on the ground, just outside of thrusting range, it opened a harmless-looking, flat-toothed mouth to make a noise between repeated gasps and hiccups. It took Chup a moment to understand this was a repetition of his name.
“Chupchupchup, the High Lord Draffut bids you come.” The creature’s speech was almost one long word, like something memorized and all but meaningless to the speaker. A beast as small as this one could not have much intelligence.
“I should come to the Lord Draffut?” Chup demanded. “Where? How?”
“Chup come, Chup come. Tell man Chup, now he is hunted, the High Lord Draffut bids him come to sanc-tu-ar-y. Haste and tell man Chupchupchup.”
“How am I to come to him? Where? Show me the way.”
As if to show Chup how, the little four-footed animal spun around and bounded off, going up the side of the cliff again with ease, darting between rocks where a man could not easily have thrust an arm. Chup took one step, and then could only stare after it, hoping it might realize he could not follow.
He turned to Charmian. “How doyou reckon that? If it’s a trap, the bait’s being kept safely out of reach, so distant I can’t grab for it.”
She shook her head, and seemed both envious and mystified. “It seems that you are genuinely offered sanctuary. I’ve heard that the small animals run the Beast-Lord’s errands now and then. Does Draffut know you as an enemy of demons? That might account for it.”
Before he could reply there came again the whis-pery slide of men trying to get at them from both sides. Perhaps they had seen the little messenger run past, and feared their prey was plotting an escape. As before, Chup smote the foe upon his right before the man could get his weapons up. This time the man on the left side was impeded by Charmian’s falling at his feet. She had ducked for safety and lost her footing, and now she was clutching at her enemy’s ankles while he was forced to concentrate on Chup. Much good his concentration did him with his feet immobilized; Chup’s swordpoint tore him open and he toppled. Charmian let go his ankles quickly as his weight cleared the edge.
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