Zoltan halted on the path, while Prince Mark came up silently behind his nephew and stood looking over his shoulder.
“Gelimer,” Zoltan whispered.
“I surmised as much,” Mark said in a low voice. “But how do two of Koszalin’s people come to be lying here?”
The hermit, at last becoming aware that he had company, raised his head and stared at his visitors. Gelimer looked worn out, thought Zoltan, and perhaps a little mad. As the company of four once more approached him, he stared at them without seeming to notice whether they were friends or strangers.
“The Sword again,” said Gelimer in a cracked voice. “It kills and kills, you see. You can see its mark on each of these. How many more funerals,” he asked the world in general, “am I going to be required to conduct?”
“I cannot tell you that, old man,” said the prince. And indeed Gelimer did seem to have aged considerably since Zoltan had seen him last.
The hermit, for his part, now at last indicated that he recognized Zoltan and Yambu as the two pilgrims who had dropped in on him only a few days ago.
The hermit was introduced to Mark and Lady Megara. It was impossible to tell from Gelimer’s demeanor whether he had ever heard of the Prince of Tasavalta, or whether Megara’s name meant anything to him or not.
“I suppose that you are after it, too,” he said to the prince.
No need to ask the old man what he was talking about. “I admit that I am,” said Mark. “I want it for a good reason.”
“It was here, you know. Only a little while ago. I held it in these hands.” And Gelimer spread his work-worn hands and held them out for inspection, as if they might be considered trustworthy evidence.
“Where is it now?”
“Gone again. Across the river I think that’s where it went. I sent it after the life of the demon, and now I think that creature will trouble the world no more.” The hermit spoke with a kind of dreamy satisfaction.
“Where was the demon’s life concealed, good hermit?” Mark had to take the old man by the arm and shake him gently before he would respond.
Gelimer blinked at him sadly. “Where was its life hidden? I don’t know. I don’t understand demons. But I expect we can be sure of one thing, that one’s now dead. As dead as my Geelong.”
“Geelong? Who’s that?”
Yambu said: “That was the name of his pet watchbeast, I believe.”
Megara, looking physically frail again after the burst of energy that had let her climb, was growing impatient with all this talk of demons. “Old man,” she demanded. “What can you tell me of Cosmo Malolo?”
She had to repeat the question before Gelimer truly heard it. Then he said: “Cosmo Malolo? I am sorry, my lady, but that man is dead.”
“Dead?” Megara smiled gently. Zoltan, watching, thought that in the space of a few moments the lady came to look older than the hermit. “Yes. Yes, I thought that he was dead.”
Prince Mark persisted in coming back to the subject of Rabisu. “Tell me about the demon, Gelimer. I wonder where his life was hidden?” He gazed intently at the hermit. “Did you say that the Sword went across the river?”
Gelimer looked toward the north side of the river and gestured vaguely. “It went through him, right through him. And then, yes it came down somewhere over there.”
Mark muttered: “It can dart back and forth across the river faster than we can ever hope to follow it. And it probably will, assuming that the feud’s still on.”
Lady Yambu nodded. “I think we must assume that.”
Zoltan said: “Then, if Farslayer last came down somewhere in Senones-land, the chances are its next target will be somewhere on this bank.”
“In or near the Malolo manor,” Yambu added.
“That seems likely to me,” said Mark. “Well, our quickest way of getting downstream will be by boat.”
“You are returning to the river?” asked the hermit. It seemed that for the moment he had forgotten completely about the two dead bodies at his feet. “I shall come down to the bank with you, if I may. I want to talk to a mermaid, you see. Black Pearl is her name.”
The other two men were already moving down the trail again, and neither turned back to answer him. Yambu, falling into step beside Gelimer, explained to him that Black Pearl was dead. He heard the news without any real surprise.
While the five people were descending the hill, Gelimer told his companions a more detailed story of what Cosmo had done, and what had happened to Cosmo, on that night of many killings about a month ago.
The Lady Megara listened carefully to the story of that strange visitor, his stranger death, his burial, and his bizarre second “killing” today, by the same Sword; but it was as if these events had happened to someone she did not know.
When the party had regained the riverbank, they found the boat, which Mark had feared might be gone, still waiting for them. The oarsmen, thought Zoltan, had probably not yet had quite enough time to convince themselves that they had better desert their clients and return to their own village.
Soft Ripple was nearby in the water, and swam closer to shore at once when Gelimer began to talk to her. In turn, Gelimer heard from her the details of Black Pearl’s death, and saw the mermaid’s body, which was still aboard the boat.
Soft Ripple listened quietly when she was told that Cosmo had been already a month dead when she had thrown the Sword at him. Her only comment was: “I wish it could have followed him into hell!”
If Lady Megara heard this, she had nothing to say in reply. She had reached a state of imperturbable calm, and the additional confirmation of her lover’s death meant nothing.
Eventually Yambu asked her friends: “But who killed Cosmo? Who actually used the Sword on him the first time? He wouldn’t have carried it all the way over here from the manor, simply to throw it at one of the Senones. And even if he had, why would the Senones finally decide at that point to kill Cosmo, after having ignored him all night?”
Gelimer nodded sadly. “I have thought much about those questions. And it seems to me that that sad young man must have killed himself.”
“No,” said Lady Megara, softly but decisively. She had, it seemed, been listening after all.
Mark scowled. “He stabbed himself in the back, with a weapon more than a meter long? That would take some doing.”
“No, he did not stab himself. I think he went outside my house, where there was more room to dance and spin. And he hurled the blade, willing his own death-vengeance on himself, for the disaster he had caused that night, including his treacherous killing of the Lady Megara’s father.”
And Gelimer went on to expound further on the behavior of Cosmo Malolo on that last night of his life. “Things might have gone differently, had he not fallen from his riding-beast and injured his head. Or the outcome might have been the same who can say, now?”
“I still think,” said Mark, “that Cosmo’s goal when he left his manor that night must have been simply to take the Sword of Vengeance out into an empty land somewhere such as these mountains might provide and lose it there.”
“Or perhaps,” said Yambu, “to kill himself with it out there, where neither his body nor the Sword might ever be discovered.”
“We’ll never know.”
Gelimer was pointing up into the sky.
The others squinted, shading their eyes against the sun and peering.
“Some truly giant bird.”
“No. No, surely that’s a griffin, carrying someone.”
Wood was known for using griffins. And now one of the bizarre creatures, bearing on its back a single human figure, was swiftly crossing the river from north to south, heading in the direction of Malolo manor.
MARK and his companions embarked again, leaving Gelimer and Lady Megara behind them on the bank. At the last moment the hermit had asked to be allowed to bury Black Pearl’s body. This wish was readily granted, and the body unloaded from the boat. Zoltan made no protest; with every minute that passed, the horrible thing under the wet canvas seemed to have less and less connection with the girl he had begun to know three years ago. And in any case, he felt that duty now compelled him to go on with his uncle Mark without delay.
Lady Megara, though saying very little, had conveyed to the others that she wanted to stay with Gelimer, and to climb with him to the cemetery where Cosmo lay.
The remainder of the party got into the boat and pushed off. The prince, seated amidships, urged on his four rowers in a princely way. And those men, finding themselves now on a direct course for home, complied to the best of their ability. The boat sped downstream, headed straight for the fishing village in which Yambu and Zoltan had spent their first night in this country.