Gelimer struggled to find disbelief, but was unable to achieve it. He swayed on his feet, staring helplessly at the horror above him. The noise coming from Geelong’s throat swelled up again into a ghastly howl.
At last able to break free of his paralysis, the hermit ran forward. As Gelimer ran he pulled from his belt the hatchet he had lately taken to carrying with him everywhere. If he could only chop free some of those small branches, the ones whose thorns were . ..
A nearby presence, which until now had managed to conceal itself, now swelled up palpably around him. It was a smothering sickness, and a physical force as well. Gelimer’s hatchet fell from his hand. He fell staggering back from his first foothold on a tree, to stand choking and almost blinded.
“What do you seek here among the thorntrees, little man?” The voice, sounding like nothing so much as a deafening chorus of insects, came blasting into the hermit’s ears. It surrounded him and forced its way into his mind. “You must be careful with that weapon! Otherwise you might do harm to your faithful pet.”
And now Gelimer was seized by a presence that seemed to have become as material as his own body, and vastly stronger. Forces grabbed him by an arm, whirled him about effortlessly, and sent him tumbling over rocks and down a slope. Oblivious to minor damage, he stumbled to his feet, and faced uphill again.
Some force like a great wind was shaking the thorntrees now, swaying them out of phase, so that the bloody living body pinned aloft in them was wracked anew. The wound in the belly stretched and oozed and gaped. Once more the horrible noise went up from Geelong’s throat, louder than before.
Dazed and blinking, Gelimer looked carefully around him, trying to recognize this world in which he found himself. He turned slowly, making a full circle on uncertain feet, questioning all the corners of the universe as to how such things could be.
He held his fingers in his ears, but that was no more effective than closing his eyes.
“Do you not like the music that your pet makes, little man?” There was no shutting that music out, or the voice of the demon, either. The question was followed by a great hideous rush of what must have been its laughter.
“Do you not like the song?”
Stumbling and choking and weeping, still trying uselessly to shut out the sounds of Geelong’s agony, the man went staggering away. Now his feet, without any conscious planning on his part, were bearing him at an angle downhill, toward the place where a month ago he had concealed the Sword.
When Gelimer encountered the rushing mountain stream he tumbled into it, landing on all fours. But he lurched to his feet and went on again at once, following the stream bed downhill, unaware of the cold water and the rocks that hurt him when he fell again.
Something in him knew that the Sword was already gone, even before he looked in the place where he had hidden it. He knew, he felt the truth of the missing Sword at his first sight of the dead man. The corpse, armed and costumed like a poor mercenary, lay some ten meters downstream from the deep pool, crumpled on his side in the shallows, with his body jammed against some rocks by the rush of current.
Something in Gelimer already knew that the Sword was gone. But still he plunged heedlessly into the pool to look for Farslayer, driving his head and shoulders underwater in the deep pool, groping with both hands for the bottom-
A grip that felt like the clawed forepaws of a large dragon seized Gelimer from behind. The man was wrenched from the water, tossed rolling over and over on the hard path along the bank. Even before he stopped rolling, the demon’s quasimaterial presence had let him go, had gone plunging past him into the stream. A fountain of water, a geyser of rocks and sand and mud, erupted out of the pool that had been the hiding place. But no Sword. No Sword came flying out, because Farslayer was already gone.
Gelimer was just trying to get back onto his feet when the demon like a foul wind came rushing back to once more give him its full attention. It raged and struck at him, knocked him once more spinning on the ground, so that his head rang with the impact, his arms and legs were newly bruised and bloody.
Its voice of a thousand insects shrieked at him. “What have you done with it, treacherous human? You pretended to have hidden Farslayer in this little pool, pretended to be trying to get it now, but it is not here. What have you really done with it?”
Gelimer was no longer capable of thinking clearly. Even had he wanted to answer the demon’s stupid shrieking, he would hardly have been able to speak. He could only cower down and wait for what might happen to him next.
Unexpectedly, the demon shrieking stopped. There was a silent swelling of the cheated rage surrounding the man. But before the storm of this renewed wrath could break upon him, there came a pause. A break, a distraction, as if the demon’s attention had been abruptly drawn from Gelimer to something or someone else.
And in the next moment, the ghastly thing was gone.
Gone completely, to what distance or for what period of time the hermit could not have guessed. He only knew that it had let him go. Sobbing, Gelimer collapsed.
ON the day of Black Pearl’s visit to Gelimer, and at the very time when she reached a decision on where to hide the Sword, five men were riding in a fishing boat out near the middle of the Tungri. The boat was making progress steadily upstream. The two who worked the oars were fishermen, enlisted today as rowers by the new chief of the manor above their village, Bonar Malolo. That chief, young Bonar himself, was sitting in the stern of the boat, beside his new guest and acquaintance Prince Mark of Tasavalta. Up in the prow perched Zoltan, who talked and sang almost continuously, hoping that his voice would be heard and recognized below the surface, and that he thus would be successful in calling up a certain mermaid from the stream.
Yesterday not much had been accomplished, besides finishing the repair of the hole carved in the manor’s wall by Stonecutter. The prince and Ben, weary from a long journey and a night’s vigil, had slept and eaten and enjoyed the manor’s hospitality.
Today the strong man Ben, along with the magician Gesner, the Lady Yambu, and Bonar’s two sisters, had remained in the Malolo manor. It was by no means certain that the mercenaries had departed the area for good; and Mark had wanted to leave someone he trusted in case another winged messenger should seek him there with news.
Bonar had listened doubtfully to the explanation given him early this morning by his powerful guests, as to why it was necessary to come out here and hunt mermaids today, but at last he had accepted it. It was something to do with finding the Sword again, and he was all in favor of that.
A point that had come up for discussion earlier was the question of who was going to get the Sword if and when they did manage to recover it. Prince Mark had already explained that he had a deep interest in retaining possession of Farslayer, in fact, that he had no intention of accepting anything less. Mark’s princely rank, his firmness even tempered as it was with courtesy, and the one Sword he already wore combined to give force to his expressed wishes. The effect was augmented by the presence at the prince’s side of Ben, who when he chose to do so could look as formidable as a whole squad of mercenaries.
Bonar in fact was overwhelmed by his new allies. He pined in silence to possess the Sword again for himself, but somehow when he opened his mouth he found himself agreeing to the terms which the prince outlined for him in return for giving up all Malolo claims upon the Sword of Vengeance, he and the remainder of his clan would receive (at some future time) wealth, prestige in the association of his house with that of Tasavalta, and perhaps, at a later date, some military aid as well.
The deal had been effectively concluded on shore some time ago, but still it rankled. Sitting in the boat Bonar took courage and began to murmur: “Still all that may be very well, but still I think that my family and I ought to rightfully be able to retain some rights in that
Sword for ourselves. Even if we allow it to go with you for now. When we have succeeded in finding it, that is.”