“Yes sir. That’s a good idea.”
Chilperic started to say something sharp, then bit the words back. After a moment of thoughtful silence, he extracted a small flask from a pocket, helped himself to a swig, and passed it over without comment.
Koszalin sniffed the flask, and then drank, politely limiting himself to a couple of swallows. “Ah,” he said in tones of reverence. “That’s something good, I’d say.”
“I’d say so, too. Now understand me, Captain. You can tell what stories you want to that boy up in the big house, and his relatives. You can claim to have a hundred heavy cavalry at your command, and they might even believe it. But when you deal with me, I expect to hear the truth, and I can usually tell the difference. Got that?”
‘”Sir,” acknowledged Koszalin, and passed the flask back with evident reluctance. He belched, almost silently. He looked at Chilperic, evidently reassessing him.
At last he said: “All right, sir. What I’ve really got is ten men now. Yesterday morning I had twelve, but two of ’em disappeared somewhere.”
“Ten men I can believe. Understand me, now. You should do what the Tyrant Hissarlik says, unless I tell you to do something different. But between you and me, I’m the one who’s really going to be giving you orders.”
Koszalin demurred. “There’s a certain matter of payment, sir. The payment I received did come from the Tyrant, as far as I know.”
“You mean that trifle they gave you? I’ll double that for you right now.” And Chilperic pulled out his purse. After a quick glance around, making sure they were not observed, he handed over a small amount of gold.
Koszalin, expressionless, received the bribe and evaluated it as quickly and neatly as it was given. When it had vanished into one of his inner pockets, he assumed a position of attention. “Standing by for orders, sir,” he announced. Suddenly military formality and intelligence had appeared.
“Good. Come, take a little walk with me.”
Bawling an order to his sergeant to take charge of the camp for the time being, the captain readily enough joined Chilperic for a stroll through the misty woods, where it seemed probable that they could converse without being heard.
In the course of this talk Chilperic soon heard about the four strange people who had recently arrived at Malolo Manor and established themselves there as unexpected but welcome guests. This was news to Chilperic, and he pricked up his ears at once.
“Two of them are pilgrims, or at least they’re wearing gray,” Koszalin amplified. “A young man, who’s a good shot with a bow, and an old lady. Never heard her name, but she knows how to give orders.”
“Oh?” This sounded very much to Chilperic like the pair he had heard described by the hermit. And the time assigned by Koszalin for their arrival at Malolo Manor fit with that identity.
“Then, the next day, or night rather, two more men showed up. I don’t know just how they got into the house. I thought we were watching both doors at the time.”
“Yes sir. Two more new arrivals who obviously know the first two. Both of them look like real fighters probably some kind of officers, I’d say. And, you should know this, one of them is wearing a Sword.”
Chilperic, surprised, frowned at the captain. “What do you mean, a sword?”
“What I mean is he’s got one of the Twelve strapped on. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.”
“Do you know what you’re saying? Which Sword?”
“You can rely on it that I know what I’m saying sir. I’ve seen them before. Which Sword this is I don’t know, except it can’t be Farslayer that everybody’s already looking for. Because everybody over there still thinks that one’s over here.”
Chilperic conversed with the strange young soldier a little longer, then gave him orders to stand by with his men, and turned his own steps back toward the house. Already Chilperic was turning over furiously in his own mind the feasibility of a raid on the Malolo manor that would at least offer him a chance of getting his hands on this new Sword that seemed to have appeared on the scene. And obtaining that weapon, in turn, might very well placate the dark power that Chilperic served, in the event he failed to find Farslayer.
Before they parted, Koszalin had another suggestion. “The two strange officers who have appeared over there may be scouting in advance of their army. Commanders, high-ranking people, have been known to do such things. But if that’s who they are, you can bet that their army, or its advance guard at least, isn’t far behind.”
When Chilperic returned from his outdoor conference with the mercenary captain, he found the Lady Megara talking with someone in the great hall. Megara was moving about the house slowly and somewhat weakly, not yet ready to go out. But obviously she was no longer going to spend most of her time confined to her room.
Megara turned at Chilperic’s entrance, and asked: “Where have you been?” The question was almost a demand.
“Inspecting the defenses, my lady. It’s good to see you up and about, and looking well.” That was something of an exaggeration. In fact, though she was now more active, the lady indeed looked older than she had when Chilperic had first seen her. He would now estimate her age at about thirty.
“The defenses? You mean those mercenaries we hired last night. I mean to go out and talk to them myself. Later I shall when I feel stronger.”
Chilperic said nothing to discourage this plan, thinking that by doing so he would only guarantee it.
He went on to his breakfast, and managed to enjoy it. Hissarlik did not appear at the table. Soon Chilperic, this time accompanied by both Megara and Tigris was once more closeted in his room, trying again to call his demon.
Again he drew out the leather wallet from his bosom, rubbed it, and carefully recited the words of the incantation.
This time, to his immense relief, Rabisu did respond to his summoning. Not with a physical presence, but at least the insect chittering of the demonic voice sounded in Chilperic’s mind. He thought it could probably be heard in the air around him as well.
The women could indeed hear the voice. Megara appeared largely indifferent, but Tigris frowned at Chilperic, puzzled by what she heard.
Rabisu’s first response reached Chilperic in the form of an extremely attenuated whisper, as if the hideous creature were trying to make contact with him from some enormous distance. Indeed, to begin with the signal was so very faint that Chilperic could not make out what was being said.
But he persisted in his efforts at summoning, and within half an hour the voice of the demon was definitely louder, and marginally more clear. Now and then a word or two came through distinctly, but the man still found it impossible to do more than guess at the meaning of the message as a whole.
Tigris murmured to Lady Megara: “It is almost enough to make one envious, is it not?”
Megara recalled herself from some mental distance. “Envious?”
“Of the power that Wood has granted our friend here. That such a vastly inferior wizard as our friend Chilperic, no wizard at all really, should have such a superior tool as a demon placed at his command.”
“I have seen demons,” said Megara, still distantly. “I have felt them, too.”
“My dear, I suppose we have all seen them at some time all of us who are acquainted with the art. But to know the luxury of being able to command one …” Tigris let her words trail away.
Chilperic naturally had heard the conversation, though he wasn’t sure what Tigris was trying to accomplish by it. Now he bowed lightly in Lady Megara’s direction. “Should you ever decide to serve my master, lady, I am sure that you would be favored, too.”
“Your master? I have little interest in serving any master now.”
“When you are fully recovered, my lady, perhaps it will be time to speak of an alliance.”
“An alliance? But why never mind.”
Chilperic went back to trying to communicate with his living tool; he was still having only very limited success in that endeavor.
He maintained his calm as well as he was able. But he had to admit to the healer sorceress Tigris that something was still seriously wrong.
She offered to help.
But Chilperic did not know what the demon was trying to tell him, and thought that the message might well be one he wouldn’t want any outsider to hear. He tried to convey this objection to Megara as delicately as possible.
“Of course. I understand perfectly.”
Tigris went out with her, for which Chilperic was grateful. He supposed that she would expect a full report later.