Before that chance came, he and the lady were led into a kind of waiting room, grimly furnished, and the door closed behind them. Lady Ninazu, trying to open the door again to shout some demand at the men, discovered that it had been not only closed but locked. Immediately she was outraged; but her shouts and her pounding on the wooden panels went unheeded.
ARNFINN, having as he did the powers of the Sword of Stealth at his command, had experienced no difficulty in obtaining Lady Yambu’s release from her comfortable confinement. He had not even found it necessary to speak to the guards who flanked her door. The moment he appeared in the corridor before them they had bowed themselves out of his way.
Stepping forward, he reached for the handle on the door, found that it was unlocked, and went on in. The lady, wearing her pilgrim’s gray, was standing in the middle of the room looking at him with an air of confident expectation. And there was something stranger than that in her expression. Arnfinn thought it was almost the same look she had worn at their first encounter, when she and her two friends had taken away his Sword.
Gripping Sightblinder’s hilt tighter than ever, Arnfinn moved backward a step to stand against the door as he closed it behind him. He thought to himself: If those other two are here now, and they try to do that again, I’ll kill them. I’ll hack them to bits. Even his untrained hands could feel that, apart from magic, this weapon had just the edge and weight needed to do that kind of work. And no one was going to take it away from him again.
But no men came rushing at him from concealment among the draperies, or leaped up from behind the furniture in ambush. Instead there was only the old lady, who stood alone in the middle of the floor and faced him calmly. Still looking at Arnfinn rather oddly, as he thought, she repeated her earlier question: “Is it Zoltan, or Ben?”
By now, Arnfinn thought he could guess who Zoltan and Ben must be. He said: “I am neither one of them. They are not here to help you now.”
For a moment the lady’s calm wavered, and she almost stuttered: “If it is-if you are-”
“I am a friend of Lady Ninazu, and also of her imprisoned brother. Who are you?”
The lady seemed to find the question reassuring. Her face assumed a sort of friendly blankness, and for a short time she was busy with her thoughts. Then she said: “I am Lady Yambu. I do not know the lady you speak of, or her brother either. What is his name?”
“His name is Kunderu, and they are twins, the daughter and son of Honan-Fu the wizard. Tell me where Kunderu is being held, and nothing bad will happen to you.” Gripping the great Sword with both hands, Arnfinn swung the blade a little, suggestively. But the old woman’s eyes did not follow it; as like as not, he supposed, the image she saw of him would not be bearing a weapon.
If she was aware of the Sword in Arnfinn’s hands she was managing to ignore it. All she said was: “I have not heard of either of them.”
“I tell you Kunderu and Ninazu are the old wizard’s children.” Arnfinn could not escape the sudden feeling that this woman was making a fool of him again, or at least there was great likelihood of her doing so.
“That may well be,” she replied calmly, “but I am only a sojourner in this country, a pilgrim, and their names mean nothing to me. Now tell me, who are you?”
With the sullen conviction that he was somehow losing all the advantage that the Sword ought to have given him, Arnfinn grumbled: “What image do you see when you look at me?”
The lady looked him up and down. “My eyes tell me that you are the magician who is called the Ancient One, who is now lord of this castle and of much else besides. And I hear your voice as his. But by your words and your behavior I am quite sure that you are someone else, and that you have with you the Sword of Stealth, although I cannot see it. Besides that, when you were out on the balcony a few moments ago I saw your image change before my eyes-that often happens when one is holding that Sword. Sightblinder is powerful, but like the rest of the Twelve it has its limitations.”
“I suppose so,” said Arnfinn, trying his best to sound like an expert in these matters. He hesitated, then took a plunge. “Lady Yambu, I mean you no harm. Have those guards been set outside your door to keep you in, or to keep others away?”
“To keep me in. The one whose image you now wear has so far treated me with courtesy, but…” With a small gesture, as if to appeal to fate, the lady left the sentence unfinished.
“Then I can set you free. But in return you must help me find Kunderu, and free him too. That is all I want.”
“I accept your offer,” the lady replied with very little hesitation. “With Sightblinder to help us we ought to be able to do that much if we use a little cleverness. I don’t suppose you would be willing to let me carry it for a while-? No, I thought not. But still I believe an alliance between us will benefit us both. You see, I am interested in the welfare of another man who is a prisoner here.”
“All right.” Arnfinn slowly sheathed the heavy Sword. “You and I have an alliance, then. I would be willing to bet that you know more about castles than I do. What do we do first?”
“I think, Your Ancient Lordship, that we must begin by exploring and finding things out. If everyone here in the castle sees in you the same image that I do, which I suppose is quite likely, then that part should be easy enough. If not, we improvise. Out into the corridor, then I suggest turning right. I believe that will lead us into more interesting territory. You go first, I’ll walk half a step behind, as would be appropriate if you were really the one you look like. You turn to me if we meet someone and you wish advice on any point. Or I’ll whisper in your ear if and when I think it necessary.”
Arnfinn was willing to accept this plan, and said as much. Opening the door, he led the way.
The two guards had returned to their posts beside the door, but again they backed away making obeisances as soon as he appeared.
Ignoring them, Arnfinn turned to the right and strode on. As soon as they had rounded the first corner, the lady whispered in his ear: “Above all, we must do our best to avoid the real master of this stronghold. And if we-but wait.”
She laid her fingers on Arnfinn’s arm. Just beyond the next turn of the short hallway, someone was approaching.
It was a young man, walking alone, who came into sight. Arnfinn, with some surprise, recognized him as the one he had struck down to regain the Sword. Now the youth was wearing a disreputable servant’s smock, and he recoiled instantly as soon as he saw Arnfinn.
At once the lady, looking over Arnfinn’s shoulder, said to the other: “Zoltan, you need not be afraid. This is not who you think.”
The youth in the smock let himself sag against the wall. “Ben?” he inquired softly.
Arnfinn shook his head. “I am not Ben.”
“Who are you, then?”
But again Arnfinn would answer that question only with stubborn silence.
The lady interceded. “Zoltan, we can discuss that matter later. Right now we are on our way to release a couple of prisoners-including the one in whom you and I are interested. And as soon as we’ve accomplished that, we can all start on our way back to the mainland. Our anonymous ally here should have no trouble in arranging passage for us all aboard a boat.”
Zoltan brightened quickly at this news. “And just where are these prisoners to be found?”
“I know where to start, at least,” the lady answered, somewhat to Arnfinn’s surprise. “At ground level, just off a certain courtyard. Come along, both of you, I’ll show you.”
Under Lady Yambu’s unobtrusive guidance, and with Zoltan following two steps behind in his role of humble servant, they proceeded down some stairs and out into the open night. Small gatherings of people, almost entirely male and military, were in the various courtyards, and parted silently to give the three room to pass. Arnfinn rejoiced; apparently there were times, as Lady Yambu had suggested, when all onlookers saw the one who carried the Sword as the same person. There were salutes and deep bows directed at Arnfinn, and a few heads turned to look after him and his two companions, as if in wonder as to where the Ancient Master was going with the lady and the wretched-looking servant; but no one asked a question. He acknowledged the salutes with a vague gesture, and did his best to look as if he knew where he was going.