Aunt Megara looked a different woman from the last time Chilperic had seen her. Although he understood she must be over thirty, she now appeared hardly more than a girl. She was also much more alert than when he had seen her before, and sitting up in bed. The whole sickroom if you could still call it that had become a much more cheerful place. Materials used in the treatments Tigris had administered, some of them apparently intended to work on a very high plane of magic, lay scattered about.
“Aunt Meg how are you? We were all greatly concerned.” Hissarlik stepped forward to the bed.
“Better much better.” The voice of the patient still lacked life, but she raised a pale hand, readily enough, to take that of her nephew. “And you,” Megara murmured.
“I see that you are still alive, Hissarlik.” Perhaps the discovery pleased her, but it was not doing much to cheer her up. Their hands were already separated again.
Chilperic, confident now that he would be interrupting no very fond reunion, took the opportunity of stepping forward. “Do you recognize me, Lady Megara?”
The eyes of the tired and grieving woman turned toward him. “No, I think not. Should I?”
The visitor bowed. “I am Chilperic, an associate of the physician Tigris who has so skillfully restored you. And I too have come here to be of what service to you I may.”
The faded eyes fixed on him were more anxious than accusatory. “Why should you wish to do me service? You tell me your name, but who are you?”
Chilperic bowed again. “The master I have the honor to represent as does Tigris here wishes to establish an alliance with the worthy house of Senones. His name is Wood, and he is a wizard of some renown.”
“Ah.” The lady’s eyes moved to those of her nephew, and back again to Chilperic.
The latter said smoothly: “You will of course want to have a family discussion about our proposal. There’s no hurry. But there is one matter I fear that I must question you about at once something about which we must be fully informed before your restoration to health can be considered complete.”
Tigris was looking at him now, and Hissarlik too, but Chilperic ignored them both. He said: “I am speaking about the Sword of Vengeance, Lady Megara, the weapon that killed your father. Where did that weapon first come from, on that terrible night? Who used it against him? Above all, where is it now? Your own future, and that of your family, depends on that.”
Mention of Farslayer brought renewed horror into the lady’s eyes, and there was a pause. At last she shook her head. “I don’t know the answer to either question. I don’t remember much about that night. I was busy, practicing certain rituals in the cave out on Magicians’ Island. My father came to visit me in his youth he had practiced a great deal of magic himself. And then-”
“All I know is that the Sword was suddenly there-in my father’s back.” The lady closed her eyes. “As if it had come out of nowhere, through the grotto’s wall somehow. And in that instant my father let out a cry, and fell of course he was killed instantly.”
Lady Megara opened her eyes again and stared at the wall. When her silence had lasted for a few moments Chilperic prodded her, gently but insistently: “What happened next?”
“Next?” Her blank gaze turned on him. “I I don’t know. I saw Father dead, and after that I can remember nothing more.” Suddenly Megara burst out: “Who else was slain that night?”
“We’ve talked about that before, Aunt Meg. Don’t you remember?”
“Not really. Tell me again.”
Hissarlik, somewhat reluctantly, began to run through the roll call of defunct relatives. To Megara, who listened to the list as if she were mesmerized, the extended roster of casualties seemed to present a generalized horror, though for some reason not a particularly acute one. Chilperic got the impression that she was listening for some name and had not heard it.
When the listing was over, she commented simply: “So many on our side were killed, then.”
“I fear that is so,” said her nephew calmly. Whatever grief and horror he might have felt on that night had evidently been exchanged over the past month for fear and worry. Only his craving for revenge had been retained unaltered.
“And what of the enemy?” Megara’s voice grew cold and implacable. “Who among them have we killed?”
Hissarlik, taking turns with Anselm and Alicia who had now come to join the others in the sickroom, recited the names of those they had personally called on Farslayer to strike down, and the other enemy names they had heard called out by relatives who were now dead themselves. The listing sounded quite as long as that of the Senones casualties. When it was over, Megara seemed to relax a bit, apparently slumping back toward unconsciousness.
“Now leave me.” It sounded very much like an order, though her voice was weak. “Now I would sleep.”
In a moment, Tigris, turned physician again, was ushering Chilperic and the others out.
Chilperic had to admit that he had learned almost nothing of any value in the sickroom. And now there was nothing left for him to do, except to take the decisive step he had been vainly trying to put off. Back in his room alone he went through the few simple steps required to summon the demon.
From an inner pocket of his clothing he drew out the demon’s life, caught and trapped in leather by some tricks of wizardry that were as far, or farther, beyond him as the healing skills of the physician. But to use the thing that Wood had given him was simple enough. Stroking the little wallet with his fingers, Chilperic muttered the short formula of summoning.
Then he waited, standing with his eyes almost closed, for the unspeakable presence to approach once more and establish itself inside his room.
He waited, but nothing happened.
The summoning was finished. He was sure that he had done it properly. Time stretched on, one breath after another, and still the demon did not appear.
Presently Tigris, her healing chores evidently completed for the time being, tapped at his door and came in as silently as she had done before, closing the door immediately behind her. When she saw Chilperic standing with the leather wallet in his hand, she had no need to ask what he was doing.
With Tigris watching him expressionlessly, Chilperic frowned, and rubbed again at his leather wallet, and once more uttered the proper words. He took great care to get the incantation right, rounding each syllable of it distinctly.
But still there came no response from Rabisu.
Something was definitely wrong.
Fortunately for himself, Chilperic was not a man who panicked easily. To the best of his quite limited ability, he scanned the air and earth and water around him, seeking evidence of the demon’s presence, or of any interfering magic. He could find neither.
“I sense no opposition,” murmured Tigris, who was evidently doing the same thing, at a level of skill doubtless much higher than his.
Chilperic sighed and nodded. So, he thought to himself, what game was this? Perhaps the creature had been called away by some direct command from Wood. Chilperic thought that unlikely, but what other explanation could there be?
In a little while Tigris, having made no comment, left him, saying that she wanted to look in again on her patient. Chilperic was still sitting alone in his room, wondering when to try the summoning again, unable to think of anything else to try, when a servant came to his door bearing a message from Hissarlik.
“My master’s compliments, sir, and would you care to attend him in the great hall? Some men have arrived, claiming to be mercenaries looking for employment, and the Tyrant Hissarlik would like to consult with you on how best to deal with them.”
Descending to what was optimistically called the great hall, Chilperic found lamps being lighted against the gathering dusk. Hissarlik was established in a tall chair that evidently served him as a seat of state. Two men, both strangers to Chilperic, were facing the clan chief. One of these visitors, a powerful looking brute, was standing almost at attention, while the other, taller and much leaner, had seated himself on a table with one foot on the floor, a disrespectful position to say the least. Signs of the military profession were much in evidence in the dress and attitude of both.
The taller stranger stood up from the table when Chilperic entered, and in a moment had introduced himself as Captain Koszalin, commander, as he said, of his own free and honorable company of adventurers. Koszalin was youthful, certainly well under thirty years of age; lean, almost emaciated, with a haggard look as if perhaps he did not sleep well. His stocky comrade was his sergeant.