“We cannot be sure what he was thinking. But it seems that he meant to take the Sword somewhere where it could do no harm.”
“A goal with which I can feel some sympathy,” said Prince Mark. “In fact I can remember trying to do something like that once myself. When I was very young.”
The two boats moved on steadily toward the south shore, where Mark and his friends were determined to find the hermit Gelimer.
HISSARLIK, sitting on his high chair in his great hall and enjoying a solitary meal, suddenly gave a great shriek, and tumbled writhing to the floor.
Three servants, who were the only people in the room with the clan chief at the moment, became aware at that same moment of the return of a terrible visitor: the same Sword that a month ago had well-nigh depopulated the house of its owners and masters.
This time the onlookers’ first glimpse of the weapon came as it fell clashing on the floor beside their wounded Tyrant. Hissarlik’s clothes and the floor around him were being drenched in a steady outpouring of his blood.
Two of the servants rushed immediately to the assistance of the Tyrant. In moving the Sword out of the way, they saw that it held, impaled near its tip, a rather peculiar-looking leather wallet. The wallet was heavily spattered with Hissarlik’s blood; and it was not immediately recognizable as leather, having curled up into a dry and lifeless-looking scrap of what looked like parchment.
Hissarlik was not yet dead. In fact he was not even completely disabled, though his side had been deeply gashed and blood poured from his wound. Ashen-faced, he demanded to be helped to rise. With a servant’s help he got himself up on his shaky knees, and then by dint of grasping another servant’s arm, hauled himself to his feet. Then, almost falling again, he bent over with difficulty to grasp the deadly Sword by its black hilt and pick it up.
The third of the servants present, who for some days now had been secretly in the pay of Tigris, had already dashed out of the room to tell her newest employer what had happened.
Meanwhile, Hissarlik, even though his eyes were glazing, had shaken free of the arms that supported him. He was holding the Sword’s hilt with two hands now, and doing his staggering best to spin around.
He muttered a name, and threw the Sword, which vanished in a flash through the stone walls of the room, as magically as it had come in through them. A moment later, the latest wielder of the Sword of Vengeance had fallen again, to lie at full length on the floor. Hissarlik’s eyes were glazing more rapidly now.
A door banged open. Tigris, who had been unable to stay with him at every moment, came rushing in angrily from two rooms away. She was moments too late to witness Farslayer’s latest departure.
“Where is the Sword? What have you done with it? You fool, you’ve thrown it away, haven’t you!” In a controlled rage, she knelt beside the fallen man. “Did I hear you cry out a name? That of the target, it must have been!”
The dying Hissarlik, his side still spouting blood, was trying to focus his eyes on the face of Tigris as she bent over him. He was trying to tell her something that seemed to him to be of great importance.
But she gave no indication that she was interested, or that she was about to practice any of her healing arts on him. “What’s this? The demon’s life, well skewered, just as I thought it might be!” In her rage she hurled the scrap of leather down. Then she gripped the dying Tyrant, and shook him angrily. “I thought the Sword might be coming to you but why did you throw it away? Why? I needed that Sword, you fool!” But she received no answer.
Chilperic had left the Senones manor surreptitiously before dawn, and made his way quietly to the camp of Koszalin’s mercenaries. He found the captain and his men ready and waiting. Chilperic’s objective today was to lead this small force against the Malolo stronghold in what he hoped was going to be a surprise attack.
They managed to cross the river under cover of darkness, but experienced some trouble with the boats, which the mercenaries handled awkwardly. As a result, the expedition landed on the south shore a great deal farther downstream than its leader had planned, and the day was well advanced before they got back within striking distance of the place he wanted to attack.
Koszalin and Chilperic had some desultory conversation en route, not all of it acrimonious. Chilperic at least felt that they had come to understand each other on several levels. But there were still problems between them.
Chilperic, checking the leather wallet in his inner pocket at frequent intervals, thought that the ten men he was leading, with a demon to back them up, had every chance of seizing the undermanned enemy fortress in a surprise attack.
Koszalin also discounted the Malolo defenses, except for those that the strange visitors might be able to provide, as consisting of no more than a handful of frightened servants.
Having seen something of the Malolo manor and its defenders firsthand, Chilperic was inclined to agree with this assessment but not to trust it with his life.
At last, wanting to make sure that Rabisu was going to be available this time when he was needed, Chilperic overcame his distaste for the creature and tried to call it up. As on the previous day, his first attempt got no response at all.
Chilperic muttered to himself: “What now, has the damned thing got itself banished to the orbit of the Moon again?”
But this time things were subtly worse than yesterday. Today there was not even the proper feeling of power in the leather wallet when he stroked it.
Looking carefully at the mottled, folded leather, he realized that though it was as glossy and rich-looking as usual, it was not the same wallet he had been carrying yesterday. There were subtle differences in appearance.
Looking back across the river, he swore, viciously and quietly. He could remember all too well his nighttime visit from the damned enchantress Tigris.
Swapping passengers from one boat to another in midstream was a little chancy, but Bonar and Gesner insisted on taking over one of the boats for family affairs as soon as they had convinced themselves in discussion that the Sword had again begun to bear the deadly traffic of the feud. The mermaid had thrown it against Cosmo, alive or dead, and it had whirred off somewhere.
Just where, was a question. Mark and Ben, who had had some previous experience with the Sword of Vengeance, were not surprised that it was difficult to gauge the point of impact from a glimpse of the Sword in flight. But Cosmo alive or dead had probably not been very far away, and Farslayer would most likely be picked up again by someone involved in the affairs of the valley.
Bonar in particular was determined to reach the stronghold of his family manor as rapidly as possible, now that Farslayer had begun to fly again.
“If it is my fate now to be struck down by Farslayer,” said Bonar with considerable dignity, “then I must fall where someone of my own house will be on hand to avenge me.”
Mark had no wish to argue with him. But he detailed Ben of Purkinje to accompany the head of the clan and his magician back to the manor. Mark himself, with Zoltan and Yambu accompanying him, still intended to find the hermit Gelimer and search the upland where the hermit lived. That seemed to them to be the area in which the Sword had most recently come down.
The boat carrying Ben, Bonar, and Gesner pulled away, riding swiftly downstream with the current augmenting the rowers’ efforts. The remaining craft, on the prince’s orders, pulled straight toward the south shore. On landing, Mark detailed the four armed oarsmen to guard the boat, while Mark, Zoltan, and Yambu started uphill intending to find Gelimer.
Lady Megara climbed along with them, saying that she wished to confirm Cosmo’s death and see his body. It seemed that a spot of uncertainty regarding his fate still lingered in her mind.
Aging and tired as she looked, she somehow found the energy to keep up with the other three, and the ascent went fairly swiftly. The four had not spent much time on the trail paralleling the little watercourse before they came upon the hermit.
It was Zoltan, climbing in the lead, who saw and recognized Gelimer first. The hermit was crouched over two dead bodies, one dripping wet, that were laid out side by side on the bank of the stream. When the young man got a little closer he could see that the dead men were armed and had probably been mercenaries; judging by the green scarves they both wore, they had been members of the same company that had invested Malolo manor.