Chilperic in rage pointed at the woman in the air. “Bring her down from that beast!” he bellowed. “Kill her, if need be!”
Koszalin shouted and gestured to his men. A ragged volley of stones and arrows combed the air around the griffin; it was hit, and perhaps hurt Chilperic knew that the creatures were not invulnerable, though neither were they easily killed.
The rider appeared to escape injury. Spurring her flying mount into a burst of speed, Tigris escaped for the moment beyond the range of missiles.
Mark, Zoltan, and Yambu, landed at last and moving inland toward the manor, heard military sounding voices somewhere ahead of them, and saw a griffin flying low.
After a brief conference with Mark, Yambu chose not to run into a fight, but rather to make her way around it. She would seek to reach Malolo manor and try to exert some favorable influence upon events there.
Uncle and nephew, with their weapons drawn and ready, ran on into the area where Koszalin’s men had just beaten off the griffin. Mark was wielding Stonecutter like most of the Twelve it was an impressive physical weapon, even with all magical considerations left aside.
Ben had moved a little distance toward the fishing village when he was ambushed.
Movement in a nearby thicket drew his attention and he looked closely, to behold a familiar face, altered by death. Gesner’s face. Head twisted to one side, cheeks pale, eyes fixed and staring. It was a shock to see. Then the pale hands of the standing corpse curved and moved, and a wave of heat, or something akin to heat, came washing out at Ben . ..
Not to be beaten that easily, he grunted and thrust into the thicket with his sword. Gesner toppled out. Evidently there was one trick that the little wizard could do properly, and it had not worked for him.
Ben thrust again, and once more, into the body at his feet, making as sure as possible that he was going to leave Gesner dead for certain this time.
Ben had caught one glimpse of Chilperic’s people already, and he was sure that they were still after him, and were likely to catch up with him again. To gain support from his friends, Ben thought he had better continue to make his way back in the direction of the river, reasoning that Mark ought soon to be approaching from that way.
If he, Ben, could establish himself near the fishing village, find a hiding place from which he could watch the path or road leading from the village to Malolo manor, he thought he would be in good shape.
He would have to be careful about his route; the open road would not do. If matters ever came to a chase in the open, he was lost; he knew he would never be able to outrun a swift pursuer. On the other hand, few if any of these ragtag mercenaries, even if they were better armed, would be anxious to challenge him one-on-one.
Yambu, meanwhile, had reached the manor, where she was recognized and admitted. Next she exchanged a few words with the sisters there, who were anxious to get her report of events on the outside.
It had proven impossible for them to get any kind of a force together to go out in aid of Bonar. All of their able-bodied servants had disappeared.
The women talked and waited. Yambu was satisfied in her own mind that for the moment there was nothing better for her to do.
As it happened, some of Koszalin’s men caught up with Ben again before Mark came into sight.
Fortunately Ben had thus far sustained no wounds. Still, he had no hope of being able to outrun the enemy, much less their missiles; the only way to protect himself from their stones and arrows was by getting deep into the densest thicket he could find, which involved doing himself some damage on thorntrees.
When his breathing had quieted somewhat, Ben was able to hear his enemies on all sides of him again. Now that he was sure they knew where he was, he gave out a loud rallying cry. He had nothing to lose now by being heard.
Ben had to call three times, before he heard a distant but very welcome answer.
Zoltan and Mark, now running forward yelling, trying to sound like a whole squad of infantry, had to drive away one or two people before they came within sight of Ben.
Ben, at the moment his friends sighted him, was engaged in a one-on-one struggle, near the edge of the thicket, with powerful Sergeant Shotoku. The sergeant, a young man looking for a challenge, was the only one of the mercenaries who had been eager to go into the tangle of thorny brush after Ben.
Resistance from two or three other mercenaries prevented Mark and Zoltan from actually reaching Ben’s side, and they were still some thirty or forty meters away from his position in the thicket, and only able to catch an occasional glimpse of him.
The captain himself was coming to join this skirmish.
Several of Koszalin’s men had deserted him as soon as the fighting actually started. Only five or six were still obeying his orders. But these remaining men were fighters, and they still outnumbered the opposition.
Tigris chose this moment to reenter the action, daringly hovering on her griffin.
This time she chose to approach Koszalin, arguing with him, trying to get him to ally with her instead of Chilperic. She complained that the thornbushes were protecting Ben too well from above, for her to be able to fly at him with her griffin.
“What gain is there to me, sorceress, if I do switch my allegiance to your cause?”
“Name your price, soldier, if you can get me Farslayer.”
Koszalin shook his head. “I think you would not pay it.”
“Between my master Wood and myself we can pay much. And we will, if you bring me the Sword.”
“Yonder prince has one of the Twelve, too. What about that one instead?”
“The same pay for that. And my help to you against whatever others are here. My spells are weak, now that blades are out and blood has flowed. But this is a fighting creature that I ride.”
There came another small volley of missiles aimed at the griffin, on the orders of Chilperic.
Tigris’s next move was a counterattack on her former partner who was trying to kill her now. First an approach as if to parley again, then a charge, striking him down, using her griffin’s powerful, lionlike forepaws as her directed weapons.
Chilperic, too crafty ever to be taken by surprise, got home on the griffin with a good swordsman’s thrust in the instant before he perished.
The beast reeled in midair, and almost plunged to earth; Tigris wondered if Chilperic’s own sword might have had some touch of magic in its steel, to let him strike like that at a creature of such magic.
But the griffin bore the victorious Tigris up again, just before they would have crashed into a tree. Certainly, at least, something of speed and maneuverability had been lost.
In another moment or two Tigris had to admit that the situation was worse than that. The animal was going to have to land somewhere, at least until she was able to work some of her healing arts upon it. Gently she urged it down, at the same time muttering curses upon Chilperic’s magically poisoned steel.
During this part of the fighting, Mark was beset by two or three opponents, and he fell, dazed by a slung stone. One of the mercenaries closed in for the kill.
Zoltan was near his uncle, but fully occupied at the moment in his own fight, unable to come to Mark’s assistance.
Ben, near the edge of the thicket thirty or forty meters distant, had just overcome Sergeant Shotoku with a stranglehold. Now Ben had to throw the Sword of Vengeance at the mercenary threatening Mark if the life of the fallen prince was to be saved.
The flying Sword skewered the mercenary and knocked him down.
Koszalin bravely charged in Mark’s direction.
But not to strike the helpless prince. Instead the captain seized the Sword, wrenching it free from the torso of its latest victim. Then Koszalin ran off, dodging among bushes, to get the few moments of privacy he needed.
Tigris, still on the ground tending to her griffin, was unable to keep the captain from doing what he wanted with Farslayer in the next few moments, though she probably saw him take the Sword, and guessed, and feared what he was about to do.
Some of Koszalin’s men, having overheard the lady’s dazzling promise of riches and other rewards, were quite ready to dispute this point with him; and Koszalin needed to kill one of them with the Sword, never letting go of its black hilt, to make his own point perfectly clear.