Koszalin was ignoring the fact that the griffin and rider had managed to become airborne again. He was ignoring his other opponents, including some who had been his own men. All of them were coming to kill him now in an effort to get Farslayer for themselves. But they were all going to be too late. The captain spun around and chanted, and launched the Sword of Vengeance on a new mission.
The recovering Mark, and others closing in on Koszalin, were able to obtain only a brief glimpse of the Sword’s trajectory on this occasion. From what they could see, the indication was that the Sword of Vengeance was departing on a very long flight, headed somewhere in the general direction of the southern horizon.
Exactly who or what had been Koszalin’s target was something that no one else present then understood. If any of them had heard the captain’s last shouted word, which might be assumed to be the name of his chosen victim, that name had meant nothing at all to them.
But Koszalin, dying after being cut down too late to stop the Sword’s departure was heard by several people to mutter something about a promise at last fulfilled.
Sergeant Shotoku, having survived the stranglehold, and coming to make sure that the fight was really over, had a comment to the effect that now at last his captain would be able to sleep. And indeed there was a look of peace upon Koszalin’s face.
THE fighting and dying in the thickets and on the hillside; along the road to Malolo manor had come to an end in early afternoon. Now, just a few hours later, all was quiet in the valley of the Tungri just below the Second Cataract.
With Bonar and Gesner dead, Prince Mark and his companions had no desire to try what sort of welcome they might receive from the two sisters who still occupied the manor. Lady Yambu, coming out from that house before anyone could begin to worry about her, advised against it. So when the last live mercenary had disappeared from the scene of fighting, the four instead made their way warily back to the fishing village, with whose inhabitants they considered themselves likely to be still on good terms.
At the village they were received cautiously but without open hostility. And they found Soft Ripple there, drifting in the water beside a dock, talking to some on the land who had once been her own people. Several other mermaids were gathered not far offshore, holding position effortlessly there against the current, as if they might be waiting to hear news of the day’s events.
Lady Megara was nowhere to be seen, and Zoltan supposed it likely that she was still upstream somewhere with the hermit, perhaps beside Cosmo’s grave.
Zoltan, feeling exhausted, stood on the bank, looking across the river to the north. What might be going on now over there, in and around the stronghold of the doomed and decimated Senones clan, was impossible to tell from this distance. But, to most of the people who were still alive on the south bank, that no longer mattered.
Yambu came up beside him. “If you wish,” she said, “I will release you from any pledge of service you have made to me.”
Zoltan picked up a pebble and threw it into the river. “Are you still going on downstream as a pilgrim, my lady?”
“I am. If I can find a way.”
“Then I’ll go with you, if you’ll have me.”
“Indeed, I’ll have you with me, Zoltan, if I can.”
“That’s good, Lady Yambu. I feel an urge to see the place where this great river pours into the sea. Also I think my uncle will not mind my scouting the land downstream, and bringing him a report someday in Tasavalta.”
It was the hour before sunset. Zoltan and Yambu, being still minded to continue their pilgrimage, were trying to negotiate a boat ride downstream in the morning, when a small winged messenger arrived, spiraling down out of the northern sky. The creature bore a communication for Mark, for it was able to recognize the prince among others, and settled on a branch beside him.
After exchanging greetings with the creature, the prince carefully lifted off the message pouch it had been carrying. He opened the pouch, and from among the few small items inside took out a rolled-up strip of thin and almost weightless paper.
Unrolling the message, Mark read the fine printing that it bore. Zoltan could see but not interpret the change in his uncle’s weary face.
“From the Emperor?” asked Zoltan at last, unwilling to be patient.
“No, not this time. This is from home.” The prince handed the parchment over to Ben, whose heavy-featured face remained expressionless while he studied the message.
“A day or two ago,” said Mark, “being concerned about mermaids and what might be done to help them, I sent a message off to old Karel.” That was the name of Tasavalta’s wisest wizard, and a relative of Princess Kristin and family counselor as well. “Now Karel has replied, with commendable promptness. From what he has to say, it seems that mermaidism produced by magic ought to be a very easy thing to cure.”
Ben suddenly began to read aloud: “‘Indeed’, says Karel, ‘the problem would seem to me to lie rather in sustaining such a spell than in curing it. Surely any wizard of even moderate competence ought to be able to effect a permanent cure in a reasonably short time.’ Bah.” And Ben, after passing the message on to Lady Yambu, turned his head away from the others and spat.
“Then,” said Zoltan, woodenly, “Cosmo could have cured them all, permanently. If he had really been trying to do so.”
“Or Megara could have,” said his princely uncle. “Or any of the magicians in either clan, down through the years. At any time. If any of them had ever really tried.”
No one said anything for a time.
“Where has Soft Ripple gone?” Mark asked at last. “Karel encloses in this pouch certain magical materials that he says ought to do the job quickly and easily.”
But Zoltan was now looking at the note, where Karel had also written: “I should think that achieving a temporary cure would be actually harder than finding a permanent one.” He crumpled up the note unconsciously, and let it fall from his hand. He wondered if Black Pearl’s body was under the earth yet. He hoped it was. He wanted to think of her resting high on a hill and far from water.
“Where is Soft Ripple?” the prince repeated. “She must know about this. And these things must be given to the mermaids.”
“She’s there in the water,” said Yambu. She sighed. “Give me the things, and I will talk to her. To all of them.”
There was a distraction. Violet, the tough one of the Malolo sisters, with a very modest armed escort actually it consisted of no more than one very nervous footman came exploring, or perhaps wandering, down to the village from the manor to talk to the victors and to see what was going on.
Tough Violet did her best to put in a last claim for the Sword, saying that no agreement made with Bonar was any longer valid. She would not believe that the Sword of Vengeance was gone.
“Believe it or not, then,” said Prince Mark. “As you choose.”
Zoltan tried to imagine what the future would be like, here. Each of the two rival clans had now been reduced to a minimum of survivors. Perhaps the older sister was now going to inherit the manor after all, but perhaps she, Rose, still had no wish to own it. Perhaps there was no longer really anything to inherit.
Violet complained: “Anselm and Alicia are still alive over there. And they will still want to kill us.”
To Zoltan it now seemed certain that at least one person, on each side, was going to try to go on with the feud, as best he or she could.
Violet had plans for the future, too. She said something about young children, distant relatives now living in distant places, who could be brought here and prepared to carry on the feud when the present generation had been totally exhausted.
Zoltan did not wish to hear any more, and walked away.
People still scanned the sky from time to time, but Tigris and her griffin were no longer to be seen. They had departed shortly after Farslayer’s final disappearance. Whether Wood’s lovely sorceress had gone in direct pursuit of the Sword or not was hard to say, but there seemed reason to hope that she knew no more than anyone else here of its latest destination.
At dusk, Zoltan, having heard what words of comfort could be offered him by Lady Yambu and others, went to lie down in the bachelor’s quarters again, where he tried to get some rest.