Despite the demon’s promise of a swift return, many hours had passed and night had fallen before Rabisu’s voice was close and clear enough for Chilperic to be able to understand it reasonably well.
But this understanding, when he managed it, did nothing to alleviate Chilperic’s growing sense of alarm. Quite the contrary.
Rabisu reported having been forced, by some overwhelming magic, to abandon his place of duty.
“Your place of duty? And where was that? I don’t recall assigning you to any particular place.”
“I was patrolling in the valley, lord. Trying to look out for your interests as best I could.” The demon went on to report that he had been hurled away, to an almost inconceivable distance, by one of a party of men he had discovered in a fishing boat upon the Tungri.
“By a fisherman?”
“No, Lord Chilperic, no. Not by a fisherman at all. This man was much more than that.”
“I should think he must have been. Proceed with your explanation, then. Tell me what happened.”
Rabisu, in a subservient voice, continued his report. The fishing boat had come out, he thought, from the Malolo side of the river, and it had been heading for the islands. The description given by the demon of two of the boat’s five passengers matched well with Koszalin’s account of two of the impressive visitors who seemed to have attached themselves to the Malolo cause.
And one of these two men had been wearing a Sword.
Chilperic sighed deeply. “Was it Farslayer?”
“I do not believe that it was that Sword, sir.”
“Then which was it? You are certain it was one of the Twelve?”
“To the second question I answer yes. As for the first, I regret that I do not know.”
Rabisu related how he had caused himself to materialize directly in front of the boat, and had challenged those aboard. To his first cursory inspection, none of the men aboard the boat had seemed to be magicians at all and Chilperic, listening to the story, knew that demons were unlikely to be wrong in such matters. But then, when Rabisu materialized, the man who wore the Sword had answered him with what seemed fearless confidence.
“And then, master, it fell on me as if from nowhere a stroke that Ardneh himself might have delivered! I could do nothing to resist it, nothing!”
“What kind of a stroke?” Chilperic was still mystified.
“It hurled me to a vast distance. I am at a loss to give any more detailed description.”
“Well, can I take it that you are successfully recovering from it now?”
“I am returning to you as fast as I am able, master. As far as I can tell, my powers are unimpaired. If I were to tell you how far that one blow hurled me if I were to mention to you the orbit of the Moon then you might accuse me of lying.”
If the demon were a man, thought Chilperic, then he might accuse him of being drunk. As matters stood, that suspicion did not apply. He let the point pass for the time being. “And how soon will you be here again, ready to act upon my orders?”
“Within the hour, master. What will my orders be?”
“I’ll make a final decision on that when you get here. Let your arrival in my room be as unobtrusive as possible.”
Was it possible, Chilperic wondered, that the creature was lying to him? Wood had warned him that insubordination of that kind was a possibility with a demon, no matter what threats or punishment were used.
Probably, thought Chilperic, only Wood himself, or one of his high magical lieutenants, would be able to determine with certainty whether such a creature was telling the truth or not.
Would Tigris qualify? Perhaps.
But suppose that the tale told by the demon, however improbable it sounded, was true. That meant that he, Chilperic, now found himself facing powers that were capable of kicking Rabisu off to the end of the earth, or perhaps farther, like some troublesome puppy. Chilperic knew there were some demons in the world stronger and more powerful than Rabisu. But not very many. So any power that could do that. . .
So Chilperic now felt that whatever Wood might think, he, Chilperic, must decline to enter the lists in such a contest. Unless of course he were given substantial help. It would have to be very substantial indeed.
Frowning thoughtfully, he paced about in his little room until the demon at last arrived.
This time the demonic manifestation was quite modest: only a grinning head that might have belonged to something between a wolf and a snake, which appeared to grow out of the chamber’s outer wall.
Speaking forcefully to this apparition, while he held the leather wallet in his hand for it to see, Chilperic gave orders. Rabisu was to fly to Wood, as swiftly as possible, taking word to the master of what had happened to it here. Then it was to return to Chilperic as quickly as it might, bringing whatever orders the master Wood might have for him, as well as whatever help the master might be willing to send.
Chilperic once more closed himself in his room, feeling weary, stretched out on his bed. But before he had gone to sleep, Tigris reappeared, closing the door softly behind her as usual. From the way she smiled at him, this time she was in a seductive mood.
He was not really surprised, and her evident decision to share his bed for the night was welcome, though he thought they had better keep Hissarlik from finding out.
He cautioned his companion on this subject. “The way he looked at you, he’s certain to be jealous. And that certainly wouldn’t help matters.”
Tigris laughed her distinctive laugh. “He is only a boy, and you can manage him without trouble,” she assured him.
“No doubt I can.”
“Oh, by the way, I thought I should mention to you that I have very recently been in contact with our master.”
“Have you indeed? Telling him what?”
“Nothing to your detriment, I assure you, dear Chilperic.” Tigris had now begun to undress. “I have described our difficulties to the magnificent Wood, and he assured me that help would soon be on the way.”
“Oh, in what form?”
“That he did not specify.” She removed the last garment, and bounced cheerfully onto the bed. “And now, dear Chilperic, if you would like to help me with a certain personal problem, kindly place your own clothing on a chair.”
On awakening, some hours later, Chilperic found his room still dark, but sensed that Tigris was up and moving about. “What are you doing?”
“I must go and check on my patient again. Go back to sleep.”
“Quite a sense of duty you have.” Half-consciously he felt in the darkness to make sure that the wallet holding the demon’s life, and one or two other things of considerable value, were still where he wanted them to be. Then he let himself drift back to sleep.
Hissarlik, having been awakened by a light tap on his door, felt something in the center of his being hesitate for a beat when he saw the identity of his visitor. Still he was not really surprised. He was the clan leader, was he not? Still a very important person, even in these days when the clan was so sadly diminished.
“Indeed, it is I, my lord.” She smiled at him winsomely. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
MARK and Zoltan’s first search for Black Pearl had been brief and unavailing. It was broken off without a landing being made on either of the islands. The small party in their boat observed a gathering of people, including what looked like a small force of militia, on the northern, Senones side of the river. There several comparatively large boats could be seen drawn up on shore in position for launching. When Bonar beheld this demonstration of enemy force he insisted on retreating, and in the circumstances Mark had to agree that might well be the wisest thing to do. Zoltan, worried about Black Pearl, reluctantly went along.
The remainder of the day and the following night passed virtually without incident at Malolo manor. The visitors divided the hours of darkness into shifts among themselves, and with the aid of Bonar and some of his servants, kept watch through the night. But neither the mercenaries nor anyone else appeared to cause trouble.
In the morning, Mark was more determined than ever to locate the mermaid who had said she knew something of the Sword’s hiding place; and Zoltan was growing increasingly concerned about Black Pearl. Today therefore a stronger expedition was organized.
This morning the augmented force hiked to the fishing village in the predawn grayness. Shortly after dawn the expedition was ready, and took to the river in two boats. Ben, Lady Yambu, and the magician Gesner accompanied Mark, Zoltan, and Bonar, while Violet and Rose were left in charge of the manor.