Again Black Pearl went through the ghastly process of trying to extract Farslayer from a corpse. This time not only bone but armor, a light cuirass, gripped the blade. Her lack of feet and legs with which to brace herself while pulling added considerably to the difficulty of the job; but at least this time the face was turned away. At last the ugly job was done. There was nothing Black Pearl could do about concealing this body, or the other one upstream; they would simply have to lie where they had fallen.
The god-forged blade rinsed clean at once in the swift stream. Carrying the Sword ahead of her, gripping the hilt in both hands most of the time, Black Pearl started once more for deep water.
She wondered, now that she had a chance to think again, just how the Sword might have come to be hidden in the stream where she had found it. Might Cosmo himself have brought it there? Or could it have been the hermit’s own doing? Had Gelimer known that Farslayer was concealed in the stream she sat in, even while he was talking to her?
In any case, the hermit had offered her little help. But give him credit for honesty at least. It was up to her to help herself. So she was not going to hand this thing of power over to anyone now, except in exchange for the assistance she needed.
Zoltan would be the one to deal with. Bring him the Sword, and let him think that she was madly in love with him, let him believe whatever he already believed. Obviously it was going to take time to conclude any such arrangement. Her immediate need was to hide the
Sword somewhere. Black Pearl proceeded back downstream, moving carefully. Sometimes she had to use her amulet and murmur the secret words, and stand and walk with the naked Sword held awkwardly before her naked body, both of her smallish hands grasping the black hilt. Walking, she held the weapon very carefully, that she might not fall upon it when the sudden shape change overtook her and she fell.
As she descended the long slope she pondered furiously on the question of where to hide the Sword for the time being. Immediately there came to her mind the islands, and the riverbottom. But she did not wish ever to go to Magicians’ Island again if she could help it. Unless Cosmo .. .
And Mermaids’ Island was generally populated by other mermaids. They, her mermaid sisters, were also forever searching the riverbottom hoping to discover things of value.
Where to hide it, then?
Now Black Pearl remembered passing, on her way uphill, a certain hollow tree, a leaning trunk all twisted and decayed but not yet fallen, that curved almost over this roaring stream down near its mouth. But a moment later she rejected the idea inside that tree Farslayer would be far more easily accessible to walking people than to her.
When she came to the tree, however, Black Pearl had been able to think of no better place, and changed her mind again. Here the dancing brook that she was following plunged through its own miniature gorge, between high walls of rugged rock. Few people would come walking here, and none could ride.
The spot was almost gloomy even at midday. Yet another struggle was necessary for her to heave her body out of the water, getting the rounded thickness of her fishtail onto a rock, bracing herself there in a sitting position while she lifted the Sword toward the dark cavity of the gnarled bole.
Just as she did so she paused, listening intently. Someone or something was approaching. With the sound of a great wind.
WHEN the hermit had concluded his talk with the mermaid, and Black Pearl had begun her struggling return downstream, Gelimer, his forehead set in wrinkles and his mind engaged with problems, trudged back uphill toward his house. The poor ensorcelled lass on her way back to her deepwater home was going to pass right over the place where he’d hidden the Sword. Well, when he’d chosen the place in which to conceal Farslayer, he couldn’t possibly have foreseen that mermaids were going to come crawling up the stream bed. This one must have passed over the Sword once already on her way upstream, and without noticing anything. Gelimer considered that he had hidden the Sword well, and he hadn’t been back to look at the place since doing so. For anyone to see him taking an interest in that spot now might result in Farslayer’s discovery. So, the Sword was going to have to stay where it was.
Ah, but the poor innocent child! What a terrible situation to be in. What could he do for her?
Not until after he had climbed three quarters of the way back to his house, trudging slowly, did it occur to the hermit that he might have escorted Black Pearl back down to the river. Well, too late now to think of that. She had managed the uphill struggle somehow, and doubtless she could manage going down.
Since he was no magician, it appeared to Gelimer that there was not much he could do for the mermaid’s benefit, except to offer her some probably foolish hope, and let her know at least that she had a friend in the world.
As he was approaching his door, the hermit felt the demon’s presence somewhere in the air, and thought that this time it was passing closer than before.
Gelimer had not been back in his house for more than a quarter of an hour when something occurred that drew him out of doors again.
The hermit had left both the inner and outer doors of his entrance standing open to the mild day, and it was a peculiar wisp of sound that entered through the doorway to draw him out. The sound was almost too faint to be heard at all, but there was a strangeness about it that caught at his attention.
Listening, waiting for the sound to come again, Gelimer stood in the doorway of his small house. He tasted the air, rubbed a hand over his bald head, and scanned the sky. A few times in his life, a very few times and long ago, he had been able to see moving across the firmament some of the powers that served the great magicians. But today he was able to see nothing magical in the sky, nothing at all but a few clouds. He called for Geelong, thinking that if there were strange sounds to be tracked down, the watchbeast would be very useful. But there was no response to the hermit’s call.
He was still loitering in his doorway when the strange sound came again, a high-pitched, briefly sustained squealing. Something mechanical, the hermit thought now, a cartwheel needing grease perhaps. Of course that couldn’t be right, there were never any carts on these rough trails. But-
His concern, persistent and automatic, for the Sword drew him in the general direction of that weapon’s hiding place when he left the house. Gelimer called again for Geelong as he walked, and he continued to listen for the strange noise to come again.
He had not walked forty meters from his door when a shift in the direction of the wind brought the mysterious squealing sound to him more distinctly. It was a high-pitched whining, only superficially mechanical. At bottom it was much more like the cry of some great animal in agony. And at the same time he heard it, the hermit detected a new whiff of the demon’s presence, which reached him through none of the usual channels of the senses.
Ignoring the deep command of instinct that urged him to run away from that presence, Gelimer began instead to run toward it. Toward the place from which the sound came also.
A hundred meters of running, moving horizontally along the great slope of the mountain, were enough to bring him to a small patch or grove of stunted thorntrees. Trotting around to the far side of this tall thicket, Gelimer came suddenly in sight of Geelong. The watchbeast had somehow been nightmarishly elevated to twice or three times Gelimer’s height above the ground, and all four of his limbs were spread out and pinned on tough thorny branches. Geelong’s head was twisted to one side, whether voluntarily or not, so that he looked in the direction from which his master now approached. From the animal’s open mouth drooled whitish foam all mixed with blood. The creature’s lolling tongue was bitten halfway through. Geelong’s eyes were open, and watched Gelimer. His lower belly had been opened also, as if with a dull blade in the beginning of a disembowelment. More blood, much more, dripped from his belly, and a slender rope of gut was hanging halfway to the ground.