Sample Chapter: Rebel Wench

Historical Romance

Chapter Two

The six white pillars of the Hall beckoned Stafford from three miles away, The rows of tall, shutter-hung windows, dimly seen in the shadows of the columned portico, were shy eyes peering out as if in disbelief at the sight of the master riding home at last. Sunlight glinted on the gambrel roof with its three great red-brick chimneys. Fresh paint gave the building an elegance that touched something deep inside him.

He let the stallion run along the graveled drive that curved by the outbuildings and the long white stables with their sweep of cypress shingles neat and spotless. Reining in with a scrape of gravel scratching sparks under iron horseshoes, he came out of the saddle with a call for the stables.

A black face framed in white hair was thrust above the half door of a stall. The eyes opened very wide and the mouth fell open. For a long instant Old Gem stared. Then his shaking hand was pushing aside the lower part of the door, and he was running forward, weeping in his delight:

“Master Billy! Master Billy!”

Stafford opened his arms wide and pulled the old slave into his hug. Then with his hands on the bowed shoulders he pushed the old man back and ran his eyes over him. “You look well fed, Gem! Something tells me that we aren’t exactly starving at Stafford Hall these days.”

A curious look touched the old slave’s features. His eyes dropped as he said, “We eat good, Master Billy. We work hard, too. The mistress stands for no nonsense, ‘cepting from—”

He broke off and fear showed in his old eyes. For a moment he hesitated, then straightened his shoulders. Old Gem knew what an angry master could do to a slave, but he was an old man, soon to die anyhow. For sixty years he had lived within sight of the Dan. He had seen the Hall grow from a little cabin to its present elegance. His hands had taught two generations of Staffords how to ride a horse. Besides, this young giant before him loved him like a son his father.

“They’s British officers always at the house, Master Billy. They bring gold for the wheat and vegetables we grow. The mistress has made you rich.”

“On British gold,” said Stafford, and he frowned. Old Gem licked his lips. He said with a strange inflection in his voice, “One gennelman in particular. He’s most always here Right now, even.”

He winced as powerful fingers dug deep into his arm. A hellish light began to glow in his master’s eyes, a light that flared once and then died out to a still more frightening blankness.

Then Stafford was whirling and moving away, tall and powerful and somehow magnificent to the old slave even in the old blue velvet frock coat and breeches that were too tight for him. Old Gem reached for the reins of the big stallion. His hard hands patted the sleek nose gently, but his eyes watched his master mount the stone steps of the portico and disappear between two tall white pillars. “Never see the Stafford hell light in the young master’s eyes before,” he whispered to the horse. “Only in his daddy’s eyes and in his granddaddy’s eyes, when they were bent on killing a man.”

Old Gem sighed and moved away, with the horse patiently trailing in answer to his tug on the rein.

The hall of the house was cool and white, with a high sheen on its mahogany butterfly table aid matching chairs, as Stafford came through the doors. A gilt scroll-top mirror reflected the peacock design in the wallpaper and the glass base of the chandelier hanging on its chains from the high white ceiling.

Directly ahead was the wide, white door that led out to the herb garden. A spiral stairway twisted upward to the second story. Where the wide treads began, an open door spilled the sound of a teacup clinking against a saucer.

The thick hall carpeting caught the sound of his boots as Stafford moved toward the long parlor. He stood framed in the open doorway, seeing a tall Englishman in the red uniform jacket of a colonel of the Thirty-third Foot bowing before his wife, who sat with shoulders bared in the fashionable French cut of her gown, smiling up at him.

Laura Lee did not see him. The dark magnificence of a Chippendale highboy set between the garden windows framed her, flushed face and its spirals of coiling brown hair. Moisture lay on her full red lips.

Remembrance of the hours they had spent in this room, and in the herb garden beyond the far windows, swept in a flood of weakness through Stafford. Laura Lee had come to Stafford Hall as a bride, young and ardent and curious, seven years ago. Time had matured her, put a gloss and a confidence in her manner, as it had added curving flesh to the body that the British officer was surveying as he sipped his tea.

“I vow and protest, Laury,” he giggled, “you put a fever in my blood with your eternal teasings and cajolings. Promise me every dance this night. Promise me that.”

With her ivory fan she touched his chin as he bent low above her. “La, sir. Such a fire in the man! I’ll promise only the first and the last, to cool your fever.”

“But later, when the ball is over? Ah, what then? Shall we—“

He broke, off and straightened. Laura Lee was staring beyond him at the door, and there was something in her wide eyes that brought him around on a boot heel. The big man in the ill-fitting riding suit standing like a frozen giant in the doorway was staring at him with eyes that were strangely disturbing.

“Billy Joe! Oh, it can’t be!” Laura Lee whispered, and put a trembling hand to the upholstered arm of the settee to rise to her slippered feet.

She swayed a little, and the Colonel took advantage of the fact to steady her by an arm about her waist. He growled, “Impertinent trespasser! Shall I throw him out on his ear, Laury”

Her eyes touched his face a moment. “This is my husband, Colonel. Billy Joe Stafford, of Stafford Hall. Colonel Edmund Emerson.”

“God’s love!” Emerson whispered. Stafford came forward to bow stiffly, a grim smile on his lips. Golden epaulets and a sword dangling from leather straps made Emerson seem a fine figure of a soldier to Stafford, who was used to the ragged Continentals and the buck-skinned Marylanders and Virginians.

“I’ve been rude, Colonel,” Stafford said. “I should have come with bugles blowing and heralds before me. Then I wouldn’t have found you at such a loss.” He swung to Laura Lee. “Four years is a long time, Laura. I can understand your state of shock. Shall we adjourn to the upstairs parlor?”

He was deliberately cold, almost aloof, but inside him he was fighting the same sort of seething madness that had taken his grandfather to his death on a dueling plot and sent his father racing off to two wars.

Laura Lee Stafford stared from the white lips of her husband to the florid countenance of the Colonel. Her smile was forced as she said, “Of course, darling! You’ll excuse us, Colonel?”

The Colonel was profuse in his protestations of delight at being left alone. Stafford eyed the thin film of sweat on his forehead and smiled mirthlessly. He gave his elbow to Laura Lee, and noticed that the hand she rested on it trembled faintly.

With her painted satin skirts swishing crisply beside him, with her fragrance all around him, he led her to the doorway. As he turned, he saw the Colonel dabbling at his flushed face with a kerchief. Stafford bowed and closed the door.

Laura Lee took him up the spiraling staircase, wide hips swaying to each stride, past the paintings by Benjamin West and Sir Joshua Reynolds in their carved, gilded frames. Then the poplar planks of the upper floor were under their feet and she was pushing open the door to the upstairs parlor and moving into it.

Stafford followed, closing the door and putting his back to it. His eyes touched the smooth skin of her shoulders and strayed to the cleft of her bosom.

He sighed and said, “You’ve no idea how I looked forward to this home-coming, Laura. I pictured it to myself so many times. Each time it was different. Yet in all the different ways I pictured it, none mirrored the reality of your conduct with that lobsterback!”

Her ringed fingers clasped her little fan until the knuckles showed white. “Am I to be denied friends, even if they don’t wear your precious Continental rags? You ran away, Billy. You left me all alone. I was never sure you’d come back.”

His laughter was harsh. “Old Gem was sure. But then, Old Gem loves me.”

She came forward three steps, until she stood close to him. Her eyes were dark and glowing beneath their long lashes. “You didn’t run out on Old Gem! Ah, I waited. Waited and yearned for you to come back! But was I to bury myself like a nun in your absence? Don mourning clothes? I managed the plantation. I made new friends.”

“The time must have gone very swiftly, in your amusements with His Majesty’s officers!’ He spoke out of the bitterness and the jealousy welling up inside him, born of the years of campfire dreams and the endless marches and retreats.

She came nearer, swaying easily, the smile on her moist red lips an intimate thing. Her body was soft and yielding as she pressed herself against him where he stood with his back to the white door. Tenderly she kissed his chin, standing on her toes. From his chin her mouth slid to the corner of his lips.

“Have you seen the house and outbuildings, the fields beyond them, dearest Billy? We have twenty more slaves and half a hundred more horses. And a fine new carriage. In the deepest part of the ice-house there are two chests buried. Each chest is filled with gold. I’ve been a good overseer in your absence.”

Despite his anger and his hurt, she was a temptation to a man. Her breath was honey, and her stayless gown permitted him to feel the softness of her thighs and middle. She laughed and writhed lazily, lifting her bared arms to coil them about his neck.

“Are you supposing I’ve been unfaithful to you, Billy Joe? Do you accuse me in your mind of bundling with every officer in a red jacket that comes with payment for the goods I sell him? Is that what eats in your heart when it should be filled only with love for me?”

“Laura, Laura,” he whispered, and moved his head so that her lips were grazing his. He shivered to their teasing while she whispered.

“We’ve a new bedroom suite,” she told him, “done in mahogany by Thomas Chippendale of London town. You’ve never seen it, Billy Joe.”

His palms were sliding up over her arms to her satiny shoulders, and down her back to the lacings of her French gown. Almost unconscious his fingers worked at those laces, until the gown fell apart to the small of her back. Dimly he was aware that she was choosing this method of making him her slave again, as she had done those years before, when she had come as a bride to the Hall. She had come a virgin to his big canopied bed, but she had brought her library with her, and such wisdom as she had culled from the pages of Ovid and Jean de la Fontaine and Restif de la Bretonne. Her desire to test that wisdom was as fierce as his anxiety, to share it. With languor and with hungry sensuality they had learned together the arts of the flesh.

Her thin silken shift parted as he ripped it. Now her entire back was like creamy satin under his hands and fingers, as far down as her rounded hips. Moaning softly, she arched to him. A single movement of his hands would bring gown and panniers, modesty bit and Medici collar from her body, leaving her naked to his eyes.

“Billy Joe! It’s been so long, so long!”

“Too long, Laura. Too long!” What thought had he for the fact that she was a Tory and he a rebel? She was his wife, and he had not seen her for four years. She was in his arms now and quivering against him, pleading a little, with her wet lips to his ear, her own hands like hungry talons. Of this pressure of lips to lips and hands moving easily on soft flesh he had dreamed in camps from Quebec to Valley Forge. Now the opportunity was with him to turn those dreams to reality.

His cry was harsh and frantic as he brought his arms down, his hands filled with lace and satin. For an instant he paused, staring at the white body that was even more intoxicating than he remembered, and then he was lifting her and moving toward the bedroom suite that he had never seen.

 

The sweetish scent of bayberry candles, the clink of Stourbridge glassware, and the muted drone of conversation made Stafford drowsy. He lolled against the high back of his Elfe chair, aware that the officers of His Majesty’s Thirty-third Foot, Thirty-seventh Foot, and Royal Welsh Fusileers were drinking his health and the health of his beautiful wife in rich red port. His buff and purple coat and breeches, hurriedly altered and refitted by a tailoress in from the slave, cabins on the Dan, fitted him exactly, so that he seemed a very Beau Nash for elegance.

The war was far away. It was good to sit here, with the candles guttering softly, with the wild turkey he had just eaten and the varieties of wines he had quaffed in pleasant toasts to the standards of the several British regiments warm within him. He looked at Laura Lee, and smiled contentedly. In the upper bedroom that long afternoon, she had made his every dream a reality, draining him of the hungers that had run in him for a seeming eternity. He put his thoughts of the war behind him and reached for the goblet that Old Gem was filling.

Over the rim of the goblet he caught Colonel Edmund Emerson staring at him with savage intentness. He had seen men who looked at him like that before, over the muskets that King George III issued to his soldiers. Then Emerson was glancing aside, and Stafford put the look he imagined down to the jealousy that had burned in him that afternoon.

A chair scraped. A scabbard clanked on its chains. Golden epaulets caught the gleam of the table candles. They were rising, these British officers and the women they had brought with them from Winnsboro and from Charles Town, to adjourn to the large ballroom across the hall. The cadence of strings and spinnets was summoning them to the dancing.

“The first dance belongs to me, Laura Lee,” he whispered.

“To no one else, my darling.” She smiled, and the pressure of her fingers on his handmade his heart leap.

He went with her across the hall, the British officers drawing back courteously. He did not see Colonel Emerson staring after him with slitted eyes, did not see him turn on a heel and move toward the tall French windows that opened onto the terrace and to the herb garden beyond.

 

The nights were cool in November. Colonel Emerson moved to the stone rail of the terrace and stared out over the fall herbs and flowers in their patterned beds, biting hard at his full lower lip.

“Milord!”

It was only a whisper in the night from the darkness below him, but it made the Colonel freeze. He put a hand to his belt, where his service pistol hung, as he leaned over the balustrade.

“Who’s there? Eh? Who is it?”

“Ssssst! Not so loud, mi-lord!” A big man came out of the shadows, a bulky package in a hand. He was heavy-set, with uncut black hair and small, glittering eyes.

Emerson surveyed him, faint disdain curling his lips, “You want me, my man?”

“You’re a Britisher, ain’t you? A Britisher interested in capturin’ a rebel posing as a loyalist and a man of property?”

There was something in the tone of the big man that caused the Colonel to glance at the French windows off the terrace. He went and closed them, then came back to the wide stone steps that ran down to the garden. A vague hope was blooming in him as he saw the big man kneeling and undoing the green sash with which he had tied his bundle.

Ezra Whipple spread the buckskin hunting shirt wide and laid the green sash on top of it. He held a powder horn carved almost to transparency in his hands, turning it over and over as his eyes caught at the Colonel.

Emerson gasped. “A rebel uniform. One of Morgan’s sharpshooters!”

“Aye! The fringes mark it for a colonel’s shirt, mi-lord.” Colonel Emerson lowered his voice. “Who owns the thing, man?”

Cunning lay deep in Whipple’s eyes. He shifted restlessly, and sighed. The beating he had taken that afternoon had put the thirst for vengeance in him, but not to such an extent that it removed the greed that was a perpetual fever in his blood.

Putting a hand to his pocket, Emerson drew out a velvet purse. As he hunkered down, he unfastened it and poured a flood of round golden sovereigns into his palm. Silently Ezra Whipple eyed that small fortune, licking dry lips with his tongue. Impulsively he held out his hand for the gold.

Colonel Emerson laughed softly. “Not so fast, not so fast. How do I know it’s worth my gold, this uniform you bring?”

Whipple scowled. His narrowed eyes studied the face of the British officer, reading the sensuality that lay in his too-full mouth, in his flushed cheeks and glittering eyes. For an hour he had lain on the flagging of the terrace, staring in at the diners. He had seen the manner in which this man’s eyes roved the figure of the woman who sat at Stafford’s elbow.

“Ye mind the man in the high splat-backed chair? The man who’s wed to the dark beauty?”

Emerson gasped and hunched closer. “Stafford? God’s my life! Can you mean Stafford?”

“Aye. Billy Joe Stafford. One of Dan Morgan’s colonels!”

Emerson came to his feet. He stood rigid, letting triumph sweep across him. Stafford a rebel Stafford, now in gentleman garb, out of uniform. He could hang him out of hand, now, to the nearest tree!

As a man might savor old wine, so Colonel Emerson savored the thoughts he held. Now he would not be a trespasser in that big canopied bed above the ballroom. Now he could wed with Laura Lee, and own the plantation she governed. All these fine buildings the slaves and horses, the meadows rich with wheat and cotton would be his when the war was over, he would stay on in the colonies, perhaps helping to administer this rich territory of Virginia for the crown.

It was a magnificent prospect to a man who had been born out of wedlock to an English earl, to a man who had been trained for war at a military academy, who expected nothing other than his officer’s pay and an occasional chance to loot a Southern plantation in return for his service.

He swept the gold and the purse into Whipple’s hands. “Tell me how you came by them. Tell me what proof you have that they belong to him.”

Ezra Whipple told him of the fight that afternoon, and of the blonde girl, and of the little room in the Black Thistle ordinary and the chest it held. Then he showed him the powder horn with its scrolled Stafford crest.

“It will be enough.” Emerson laughed, and there was cruelty in the sound.

Whipple stood up and put the gold in a pocket. He said hoarsely, “Your worship may have need of me in later times. I’ll not be far away.”

Emerson looked at his grossness, at the pig eyes and hulking shoulders. He smiled faintly. “It may be as you say. Don’t go far away.” Then he swept up the green sash and the hunting shirt and the powder horn and paced lazily toward the deserted dining room.

They were moving in the stately steps of a minuet as he came through the archway bf the ballroom, its glass chandeliers and candles blazing, the music washing across the officers in their scarlet jackets faced in blue and silver, and over the women with their arms and shoulders bared. The paneled walls were rich with pine wainscoting, and the dark, polished, flooring was so bright that it caught and held the reflections of officers’ boots and swinging panniered skirts.

He stood with the hunting shirt and sash in a hand, savoring the moment. Laura Lee moved easily with Stafford, laughing up at him, cajoling him as she was wont to cajole himself. A few moments from now those lovely brown eyes would be wide in terror. Stafford would be wrestling against the grip of a score of hands, being dragged outward to the nearest tree!

Laura Lee Stafford would be a widow soon. He would remain behind to comfort her, after the others were gone. The anticipation of that comforting was in him as he made his way to the musicians’ dais.

The music ceased abruptly at the wave of his hand. In the silence, men and women turned toward him Curiously. Colonel Emerson spread out the hunting shirt and sash on the spinnet.

“Colonel Stafford, I’ve just been handed your uniform. It marks you as an officer in Morgan’s Rifles. I find you out of uniform at the moment.” The Colonel paused, savoring the stunned shock on Stafford’s face, the dismay in Laura Lee’s white cheeks. He said lazily, “I presume you know the rules of war, and what happens to a spy when his enemy catches him?”

The gloating was clear in his voice. His hand lifted the powder horn and held it high above his head for all to see.

“Gentlemen: his powder horn, with the Stafford crest worked into it! I ask your aid in hanging this man for a spy!”

There were some who cried out against such a return for Stafford hospitality, but the majority of officers had seen those expert riflemen of Dan Morgan’s cut more than one command to pieces behind them, and so they surged forward now, crying out harshly, dragging at their swords with eager hands.

 

Stafford stood still, the shock of discovery paralyzing his muscles.

Laura Lee gasped beside him, her hand working tensely at his forearm, “Deny it, Billy Joe. Deny it! You can save yourself that way!”

He could not save himself. Something in the face of Colonel Edmund Emerson whispered that he would listen to no argument. Something also told Stafford that it was not because he was a rebel that the Colonel was so eager to hang him.

Stafford was aware that everything in his life was crystallizing at this moment. Like his father before him, he had been born on this side of the Atlantic, and the vast freedom of the pine forests and the distant blue mountains was in his blood. Against that love of liberty was balanced the love he gave his wife. Not to embarrass her, Not to extend into a perpetual bitterness their sometimes angry quarrels over a supposed duty to George III, he had run away four years ago. Now his absence was explained; now all the world knew him for a rebel.

He was not ashamed of the truth. It was only that he hoped to protect Laura Lee. It came to Stafford in this instant of his exposure that he was somewhat symbolical of the entire South. The Southern colonies were torn with inner dissension between loyalty to the crown and rebellion. Father and son, nephew and uncle, cousin and cousin were on opposite sides. Even as his own family was being torn apart now, so other families, from the Georgia settlements to the Piedmont uplands of Virginia, were being sundered by this war.

The scrape of a sword blade coming out of its scabbard called him to his senses. Men were pressing forward. Hands came reaching out to grasp him.

Stafford moved like a panther.

His years of fighting and starving with Morgan had made a steel spring of his big body. One moment he was standing motionless, as if dazed with despair, then he was five feet away, gripping the arm of a captain and whirling him sideways off his feet, flinging him against the men who ringed him in.

He needed no weapon in his hand. There were too many men around him to swing a sword, even if he should yank one from a scabbard, and too many men for any of them to fire a pistol, for fear of dropping a fellow officer.

Women were screaming, fainting into the arms of their escorts, unconsciously aiding him as he drove for the garden windows. Majors and captains must pause and attend to the women who fell into their open arms. More than half the others were in aware of what was taking place until after Stafford hit the tall, glass-set doors and was through them and out onto the terrace flaggings.

The night air was cool on his face. He put a hand to the rail and vaulted it, and angled his run toward the big white stables. He did not see Ezra Whipple come up out of the shadows with a musket at his shoulder and take aim.

Stafford was diving for the darkness of the stables as the musket blazed. The ball caught his jacket at the shoulder and tore a hole in it. If the light had been more even, and Stafford a little slower of foot, the ball would have caught him in the forehead, where it had, been aimed.

Old Gem came out of a stall, leading a big black gelding.

“Here, Master Billy! The fastest thing on four legs we own!”

“Good, Gem! How’d you know?” Old Gem Smiled, showing glistening white teeth. “I hear the noise. I see you come out the door. I can saddle a horse in the dark, real quick.”

The stirrup was underfoot, taking his weight, and then his leg was going over the saddle and he came down hard into the saddle. The other end of the stable was open to the meadow. Gem cried out, and Stafford heard his old palm hit the gelding as his own toes rammed its sleek black sides.

The gelding erupted into full gallop. Head bent, Stafford went out the west door, riding low. Behind him were the hoarse yells and outcries of angry men. A voice was shouting into the stable, but Old Gem would be fading to invisibility, through the roofed arcade that joined the stable with the carriage barn. In a few minutes the old slave would be tucked in his bed, stupid with sleep when they came to question him.

Stafford rode at breakneck speed for a mile, then swung the gelding southward into the pine barrens that ranged for miles beside the Dan. No man living could find him in these barrens. Stumbling Bear, a Cherokee brave who had met his death with Cornstalk in the Ohio country in ’77, had taught him woodlore in his youth. Sometimes a group of Carolinians, on their way to Boonesboro and the blue-grass country of Kentucky, stopped overnight at the big Stafford plantation. Those men had added their own wisdom to the canny teachings of the Cherokee. Finding a branch tipped with foliage, Stafford broke it off close to the bole and used it as a drag along the ground behind him. Switching it back and forth, making it seem some grotesque tail that waggled as the horse walked, he obliterated his hoof-prints in the sandy soil.

The rhythmic sway of the horse as he walked put a bemusement in Stafford. Behind him, a part of his life was ending. No longer would he chase a giggling, teasing Laura Lee through the upper rooms of the Hall, to catch and subdue her breathless with kisses. Never again would they ride side by side across the meadows to survey the ripening wheat and the little white puffs of budding cotton. The disunity between them, which they had tried to ignore as long as it was secret, was now an open sore.

Laura Lee was a loyalist. He was a rebel. From the agony of spirit inside him, he knew at last the wrenching fury, that was splitting his Southland. For his country, because of this wild hope for freedom that was inside him, he was giving up his wife and all his wealth.

When he was five miles into the barrens, he dismounted beside a little stream and sat a while, brooding at the water as it gurgled over the pebbles and between fallen pine branches. The scent of forest underbrush was strong around him, and somewhere a wolf howled its hunger.

“It isn’t the wealth I mind losing,” he told the brook, “but Laura Lee.”

Yet Laura Lee was as determined in her way as he was in his own. She had called him traitor aid turncoat when he first broached the idea that she go North, as so many Southern women were doing, at the start of the revolution. Fiercely she had challenged him, using tears and sobs to distract him from his beliefs. Finally, almost in desperation that last night, she had used her body.

A wry grin twisted his mouth as he remembered that night. He groaned and struck a fist to his knee. “If only I could convince her I was right! If only I could change her mind She could live like a queen on those little chests of gold in the ice-house. She wouldn’t want for a thing! Just so I could get her North, in Philadelphia or Boston, away from these British officers who bedazzle her eyes with visions of society!”

And what sort of man could he call himself, an inner voice asked, if he gave up now, and rode off like a beaten creature? One last try, one last and final argument. He was her husband. Once she loved him deeply. Perhaps she loved him still. He came to his feet eagerly, a pulse of excitement making him shiver. She had been wanton with him short hours ago, welcoming home her husband as a loving wife should do. Were those sighs and soft moans only acting? If she loved him as much as it seemed, she might be willing to listen to him at last.

“No, by God!” he breathed through his teeth. “She couldn’t have been play-acting! She loves me! She told me as much today! Since she loves me so, she’ll do as I say, to please me!”

He laughed, and there was no memory of their former quarrels in that laughter. Like a boy he went to the gelding, talking in careless fashion to the big black horse, rising easily into the saddle, Sweep her off her feet! Give her no chance to refuse! Make her agree! Then bring her with him, stirrup to stirrup at a mad gallop for Charlotte Town, where Dan Morgan was gathering his men.

She can go North under the protection of Old Gem and some younger slaves, he thought. I’ll hire rifles to go with her, if need be.

As he rode he hypnotized himself with delusions that were born of his desperate need for affection and belief after the years of starvation and loneliness. He rode flushed and confident in his eagerness.

It was long after midnight when he came in sight of the Hall and its six towering white columns. The gigs and carriages were gone from the drive. Only the moonlight on white columns and Flemish brickwork relieved the darkness of the house. Quietly he walked the black across the grasses of the yard, until, by mounting onto the saddle, he could reach up and grasp the lowest crossbar of the latticework bordering the west wall. There was no sign that there were British soldiers still about, but he took no chances.

He pulled himself upward, foot by foot. The house was silent, dark, seemingly deserted. Now the middle bar was under his shoes, now the topmost.

A hand fumbled to find the window open against the autumn air. Then his leg swung over the white sill and he was halfway into the bedroom when he heard a voice cry out hoarsely.

A man and woman sat up in the bed where he had lain that afternoon. The woman was Laura Lee, with the moonlight silvering her body. She came out of the bed to stand staring at him.

“You fool!” she cried out hoarsely. “You poor, misguided fool!”

Then she was turning and running for the door, reaching out for its iron knob. The man who had been with her in the bed stood up now, and Stafford saw that it was Colonel Emerson. His right hand held a pistol that he had snatched from a little bedside table and he trained it on Stafford, an inch above his belt buckle. The Colonel said triumphantly, “I told you he’d be back, Laury! I win our little bet! Now unbolt the door and summon the guards I posted below.”

“Laura Lee! As you love me, leave the door alone!” He was not aware that he cried out so with the bitterness alive in him and the numb shock and disbelief raging. Behind him his hand fumbled, and his fingers closed on a covered compote glass. Even as his grip hefted it, he remembered the day he and Laura Lee had bought it in a Charles Town chinaware shop.

Then he was darting sideways and hurling the glass, seeing the cover fly off as it hurtled across the room. Startled, Colonel Emerson fired. A spit of flame ran at Stafford. He heard the ball whistle past and shatter a window glass behind him. Then he was lunging forward, following the glass, taking Emerson about the knees and hurling him backward onto the bed.

Stafford was a madman for a few minutes. The hell light in his eyes was alive and leaping, and the frenzy rose up into his throat, shaking him with its power.

His fists thudded home on jaw and belly. He rode then man’s middle, hunting for his throat with hard hands. As his fingers tightened on that throat, the door opened and a shaft of yellow candlelight from a wall sconce came in and showed him the purpling face, the bulging eyes and protruding tongue.

Laura Lee was screaming at the doorway.

Heavy feet were pounding up the spiral staircase. Men were shouting, and the noise of their shouting was growing louder.

Remembering her nakedness, Laura Lee ran to a chest of drawers, snatched up a thin night robe, and slipped her arms into it. As if that were a signal, red-jacketed soldiers of the Thirty-third Foot came swarming through the door and raced for the men grappling on the bed.

Stafford whirled back to sanity as a rifle butt came stabbing through the pool of yellow candlelight at him. He rolled from the musket, taking the man who held it in the middle with a hard fist. As the man fell, Stafford shoved him sideways and dived for the open window.

Beyond the window was a big cypress. He bunched his legs under him and aimed for the branches. Then the air was cold on his face and the tree was coming nearer and there was nothing between him and the ground, thirty feet below. His hands went out and closed on bark. He slipped and slid, and then his hands caught purchase.

A musket spat at him from the bedroom window. Another musket joined it. He heard the balls bury themselves in the tree bole.

A numbness of spirit made him cling there, with his back offering a splendid target for the British soldiers. In this moment of stark heartbreak and agonized despair, he did not care whether he lived or died. What he had seen in that big bed as he came through the window, the contorted positions of Laura Lee and the British colonel, had put a disease in his brain.

He wanted to die, hanging here, with a branch under a leg and bark cutting into his palms. What reason had he to fight for life? What did life hold out to him now? His former love for Laura Lee, which was, all that had been left to him after the earlier happenings of the night, was a bitter taste in his mouth. Let her have her British colonel, if she wanted him so badly. By dying here, he could give her that much.

The thought of the Colonel did what nothing else could do. It turned the bitterness in him to anger, and the anger into a need for vengeance, Live! his mind cried out to him. Live so that you can make them pay for this moment! As another musket-ball grazed his cheek, he swung down and to the far side of the great tree bole. Feet feeling for branch crotches, he went down. Ten feet from the ground, he jumped.

The gelding sidled nervously as he came at him. Scorning the stirrups, he went up over his rump in a hand-propelled leap. As his weight settled hard-in the saddle, the big black lunged forward into full gallop. For the second time that night, Billy Joe Stafford rode away from his family home with death only half a step behind him, with musket balls whistling in the air and a curious deadness settling in his middle.

Sample Chapter: Thief of Llarn

Sword & Planet

Sample Chapter

CHAPTER FIVE

WE BEGAN our walk across the icy flatland. Our breaths frosted in the air and the wind whipped us with the power of a gale, but we put our heads down and trudged steadily ahead. According to the last reading of the instruments on the flier, we were a few hundred miles north of the magnetic pole. So we continued in that northerly direction along a line of travel that might correspond roughly to 160° longitude. We walked without speaking for what seemed a long time, each of us occupied with his thoughts. I thought of Tuarra, wondering if I would ever see her again. I was remembering our hours together—which seemed so short now, and so far away in another lifetime. I yearned to see her smile flash up at me, to feel the touch of her lips on mine.

The horizon was white and far away, across miles of frozen icecap. Here and there stretches of damp fog crept with silent feet across the snow barrens on which we were the only living things.

The cold ate into us. Our legs were moving now in plodding fashion. Fortunately, a Llarnian compass was standard equipment with each of the hooded jackets, so we were relieved of the danger of walking in a circle. Our course was more or less straight as far as we could determine, northward across the frozen wastes.

How long had we traveled? An hour? Ten hours? We did not know. How far had we walked? We did not know this, either. We moved like robots across the empty white flatlands and in our hearts we knew we were going to die.

After a time Marga stumbled and would have fallen except that I put an arm about her middle and held her up. Her face was very white. A faint coating of frost covered her lips and nostrils. Ghan Karr came up to lend his strength on her other side. “This can’t go on,” he said. “We must go on. To stop is to die.”

“I want to die,” Marga whispered. We staggered through the snow spray tossed into our faces by the arctic gales, past jagged ice carvings shaped by the winds, over stretches of ice so smooth they seemed polished by some giant hand. Ghan Karr fell once, lying quietly without moving, so that I had to drop Marga and go back and lift him to his feet.

“Keep walking. Keep walking!” I told him. He stumbled on with Marga and myself at his heels. He was babbling, singing snatches of a nursery rhyme that was old when Llarn had been a young planet. After a time, Marga joined him.

I was delirious myself, I realized. Ahead of me, locked inside a great ice floe, was a city. I stared at streets, at buildings, at rooftops and tall spires. I giggled; I laughed. I was seeing visions. A city, here in the polar lands? A city locked in ice?

Forgetting the others, I ran up to the massive wall of ice that sheathed the dwellings. The ice was transparent, like clear water frozen solid. I could make out a man standing rigid before a doorway, hand extended toward the latch as if to open it. Beyond him a woman in a fur coat was in mid-stride, balanced to a nicety.

I called to them. I shouted. I waved. Only the echoes of my own voice echoed across the wastes. Then I remembered my grawn. I fumbled off my glove, lifted the weapon in my hand, fired it. The red beam heated the ice to a melting point until it ran down all around the snow where I stood. After a few seconds, there was a tunnel open before me.

I walked into that strange city, stood beside the man about to enter his home. I looked at the woman, saw her face pale and white under a fur cap. They were dead, of course. Dead for uncounted centuries. I had never seen their type of garments before, not even in the ancient history books I had looked at in Kharthol. I turned and stared back through the tunnel. Marga and Ghan Karr lay where they had fallen. I ran to rouse them, to bring them into the warmer air of the ice city.

I shook Ghan Karr to a mumbling wakefulness. He sat up, staring at me like a man demented, “Go away, Uthian. Let me sleep.” He fell over on his face and by sheer force I wrestled him to his feet.

“We’re saved, Ghan Karr. There’s a city!” He began to laugh, looking where I pointed. “I am asleep, after all. My apologies, Prince of Thieves. I thought you were trying to wake me.” He began to stumble toward the great ice sheath behind which he could see buildings now, and people.

I lifted Marga into my arms and carried her at a shuffling trot toward the warmer air not far ahead. She moaned as we went into the tunnel, and her arms came up about my neck. Her eyelashes were frozen to her cheeks, and as she woke, she wept softly.

“I’m dead—and locked in the dark pit of Chorakor!”

“Hush, Marga. You’re as alive as I am.” I put my lips to her eyes, felt the tiny ice flakes moisten and fall away under their heat. Marga opened eyes that glistened tenderly as they regarded my anxious face. I squirmed uncomfortably, not daring to think what she might say. Quickly, to avoid speech, I set her on her booted feet and waved an arm at the city.

“Wha—what is this place, Uthian? A city all in ice? It’s people—oh, I see a man and a woman and . . .”

She turned her pale face toward me. “They’re dead. What killed them—so suddenly?”

My shoulders shrugged. “I do not know, Marga—but I do know that we must find food somewhere, or we too will die.”

“I would not mind dying with you, Uthian,” she said softly, and reached for my hand.

Fortunately, Ghan Karr came out of a building at that moment, waving what looked like a roast of bork steak in his hands. His voice came clearly to us in the warm air. “A food store, you two. Down here—come on. Plenty to eat; frozen stuff that’s been kept in cold storage for Astarra knows how long!”

Marga and I ran into the shop. There were two men and a woman in the store, a man behind one of the counters. Marga sent a swift look about, then turned to me.

“There isn’t much food here. I don’t know what this place is—or what it was—but the people were having a hard time of it. There’s very little to eat on the shelves. Thank the gods there are only three of us.”

She walked ahead of me to the door of a frozen food compartment, ducked to enter, and came out with a length of meat. She paused, glancing around until her gaze settled on two small tins of food. These she tossed to me, then beckoned me to follow.

Ghan Karr shouted to us from the upper window of a house.

“This is a house with a thermal unit. Bring up the food. We’ll have a feast.”

Marga nodded, then went back into the store for more cans. When she had my arms well filled, she led me up the stairs of the house where Ghan Karr was already thawing his own food.

“What is this city?” I asked while the meat was cooking. Ghan Karr shrugged. “Who knows—or cares?” Marga said wistfully, “I can’t say, but I do feel sorry for its people. They had a hard time of it before they died. And they died suddenly, without warning, apparently.”

“After we get to Korok, I’m coming back here and learn what its secret is.” They looked at me as if I had lost my mind. Marga pointed out that we could live quite comfortably in the ice city. There was little food, but we were only three people and it would last us a long time. We could make a new life here.

“You’d die of boredom in a month,” I laughed. “Master thieves—content to stagnate forever? No, no. We’ll leave as soon as we’ve slept.”

“Without me,” Ghan Karr muttered. “I won’t walk another foot on that barren waste outside.”

“I don’t think we’ll have to walk.” I explained that in a city with such an advanced technology there would be vehicles to carry its people across the icecap. We would find those sleds, use them as they had not been used in centuries. Marga frowned thoughtfully. “What you say may be true, but to venture out again on that snow—” Her words broke off as she shivered.

The food was almost ready. She rose and fussed over it, finding wooden platters and filling them. The meat and the doughballs might be ages old, but they tasted sweet and filled my belly, giving me a warmth that seemed foreign to my chilled body.

Ghan Karr leaned back, smiling, patting his middle. “A few minutes ago I would have thought you mad, Uthian. Now I am not so sure. This place is filled with death, and the living have no liking for the dead as everyday companions. I’ll go with you—if we can find a sled and some way to make it move.”

Marga came around to sit on the arm of the massive wooden chair that was my seat, resting her arm about my shoulders. We had discarded our clumsy outer garments so that I now wore the black leather belt and woolen kilt, the black leather sandals of Uthian the Unmatched. Since the women upon Llarn wear little more than do the men, I found that the contact of her bare arm and side upon me reminded me that Marga was a woman, and an attractive woman, at that.

“Where Uthian goes, I go,” she whispered. She bent her head to press her warm, soft lips to mine. As Alan Morgan, I loved Tuarra of Kharthol; but I was not Alan Morgan at the moment—I was Uthian, the thief. And so I kissed Marga as she kissed me, and with honest enjoyment though I doubted that Tuarra would think very highly of my reasoning.

Still, I was playing a part. If by kissing Marga I could hasten my reunion with Tuarra, I was all for it. However, I decided to say nothing of this to Tuarra, should I ever see her again. Sometimes women fail to understand explanations which seem perfectly obvious to menfolk.

Ghan Karr rose to his feet, stretching. “I’m not tired. I think I’ll go find one of those sleds you seem to think will be somewhere close at hand.”

I said hurriedly, for Marga was still draped about me, “I am tired. While you two slept outside, I was busy.”

Marga nodded, eyes bright. “Yes, Uthian. Sleep! I too shall search for a sled with Ghan Karr.” She whispered in my ear, “I am very anxious to reach Korok and get my reward from Pthorok Tok. As a rich woman I can give up my queen-ship and become a respectable woman. I might even get married.”

I held up a hand. “Uthian has never married,” I said, hoping it was true.

Her mischievous face reassured me as she giggled, “Uthian has waited for Marga.”

I could see a bedchamber through a partly opened door. The bed seemed newly made, its coverlet firm and smooth. I gave Marga a little pat, then moved through the doorway to fling myself on the covers. Instantly, I was asleep.

My body, for all its size and strength, was utterly exhausted. Later Marga told me I slept like a dead man for close to fifteen hours while she and Ghan Karr explored the city in the ice.

Its name, they learned from certain manuscripts they located in a library, was Jakanda. It had been built in the polar ice ages by a dagan who had ordered certain scientific polar experiments to be made. For safety, Jakanda had been located far from his home city. There was no record of these experiments kept in the library, and Marga had not had time to search for laboratories.

Naturally, there was no record of the tragedy which destroyed all life in the city. Yet the automatic machines still maintained the proper temperatures and kept the food fresh. In a large building on the outskirts of the city were more than a dozen sleds, each in excellent condition.

We ate slowly, then packed food in containers to carry with us. I was amused to note that Marga assumed toward me that air of ownership which women always adopt toward the men they have selected to be theirs. It is the habit of Tuarra; it became the habit of the Queen of Thieves.

Carrying our sacks and once again wearing our outer garments, we hurried through the streets. Hope ran high in our veins. A sled to carry us to the edge of the ice field, and after that—well, at least we would be able to eat as we traveled, and Korok was not so far away that we might not reach it in due time.

The sled was a slim length of steel and wood, gently curved to reduce air drafts. It consisted of four seats, one behind the other, with a control panel and steering rod set before the foremost seat. A thin jet jutted out from its rear. I saw old flame marks on the circular exhaust mouth. Ghan Karr settled himself as driver. Marga sprang to the next seat whild I fetched up the rear, placing our sacks in the empty fourth seat. The sled was close to the ice sheath surrounding the city. Between that great ice barrier and the open doors of the sled hanger, there was a thin sheet of ice, kept perpetually frozen by lower temperatures.

The motor turned over, sputtered and died. “It may be difficult to start,” Ghan Karr growled, “after being idle so long. Maybe it won’t even run.”

He made three more attempts with the starter stud before the motor coughed—then kicked to throbbing life. Ghan Karr let it purr for a while, warming, before he ran it out onto the ice.

The ancient scientists who had lived in the ice city had built well. The jet sled was a slim length of lightning as it streaked through the tunnel my grawn made ahead of it. We ran forward until we emerged from the frozen city. The frozen waste was smooth, with only a few snow dunes raised by the etermal winds that swept across its surface. The runners scraped softly; the air was a gale in our faces, and the sled ran without more than its motor hum and the slither of steel runners on ice to mark its passing. We had no idea how long this journey would take, nor where our departure point from the icecap would be, but with the aid of our compasses, we knew we were heading north.

Twice the dimness of the polar night descended on us, but we ignored it to travel on. Four times we ate, until our small supply of food had given out. To judge by outward appearances, we were no nearer the edge of the icecap than before we started.

Then Marga cried out, pointing into the sky where a widewinged bird was gliding on the wind currents. It was a torgal, she said, one of those scavenger birds that preyed on the dead and rotting carcasses of such tundra animals as the hairy musk borks and the voldors. The tundra between the icecap and the great meadowlands of Llarn was not far away. We came to the tundra as the star-sun Alfan was sinking to the west. Ghan Karr suggested we sleep the night here, because to meet a pack of hungry voldors while on foot in the thick grasses of the vast Llarnian tundra would be unpleasant. Though we were armed with swords and grawns, the voldors hunt in packs of fifty to a hundred at times. They were so ferocious they would hurl themselves upon us regardless of the deaths we caused. In the end we would go down as so many other wanderers on this savage planet have gone down, never to be seen again.

As the sky darkened far to the north, we could see the great band of crushed debris that forms a mighty belt high above the surfaces of the planet. Long ago, Llarn had possessed a score of moons. Khartholian scientists had informed me that they varied in size from that of a small asteroid to a great sphere, hundreds of miles wide. They had been drawn together, no man knew how, crashing in the upper atmosphere with a sound that echoed all across the planet.

Those fragments had been caught in perpetual orbit, battering together, breaking apart, until they had destroyed themselves into small chunks of matter that swept eternally around Llarn. By day the band gleamed a pale gold so that it was almost invisible. But when darkness lay upon the land, that bracelet of crushed moon fragments caught the sunlight and reflected it down upon all the other chunks of matter, making them glow silver. It was a magnificent sight, Usually I never tire of seeing those tiny matter motes revolve slowly and brilliantly overhead, but I was exhausted from our struggles. I lay my head back against the seat top and was instantly asleep. It was morning when I woke.

Ghan Karr had been out, hunting. Two small tundra hares were cooking over a fire built from dried musk bork droppings. The smell of roasting meat snapped me wide awake. It was time to eat and then set off across the tundra—toward Korok.

I had no idea how far away that city was, nor did my companions. Ghan Karr had a rough notion, being a native of Larangg, which was not far from Korok. Perhaps a thousand erns, perhaps fifteen hundred; his answer was vague because he did not know just where on the edge of the polar icecap we were standing.

“It makes no difference. A thousand erns or ten thousand, someday well come to Korok.” My fist tightened. “And when we do—Evran Dekk dies.”

It was easy to say. Yet as we walked across the barren world that was the Llarnian tundra, doubt came to me. A thousand erns was a little more than a thousand earth miles, miles of rough ground filled with dangers at which I could only guess. The voldors and the hairy musk borks of the tundra, if we survived them, would give way to the sporads that roamed the meadowlands and the low mountains that comprised most parts of Llarn. Then too, there were the humans,

Llarn, though smaller than Earth, is a very large planet. Its oceans, except for Ytal and Okyl to the north, have dried up. Those ancient sea bottoms are meadowlands now or deserts. And these vast stretches of ground are inhabited by races of men made strange and altered by the radioactive results of The War.

Many of these humanoids are no longer men, as we know men. They are—different. The blue men of Azorra had evolved from the blue apes of Llarn; the yuul had been altered from no man knows what. There are others, I suppose, unknown even to the great cities of Kharthol and Moorm.

The immensity of the Llarnian tundras is breathtaking to a man who has never known them. The stretch across thousands of erns, flat and wide and covered over with sparse grasses. The sun is a hot ball in the sky in the middle of the day, and the nights are freezing. It was not a pleasant prospect which stretched before us.

Three days we walked before we shot our first food, a fat grass deer, and roasted it over a meager fire. Fortunately, there were water seeps here and there, for much of this section of the land was marshy, and the water is cold and sweet.

Even if we traveled close to thirty erns a day, it was slow going. Despair etched itself on Marga’s face. Even Ghan Karr, buoyed as he was by hope of revenge on Evran Dekk, was glum.

“It will take us more than twice a Llarn month before we reach the end,” he muttered as we settled down to sleep. “What else is there to do?” I asked, and he was silent. Next day, a little after noon, Marga cried out and pointed at something moving through the air. It looked like a flier at a distance, but the more I watched, the more confident I became it was just some great bird wheeling and dipping far away. Its movements were too erratic to be those of a mechanical machine.

“A bird? No, no,” Ghan Karr said. “Look now! See, it comes straight toward us. It has seen us.”

Behind the thing were others of its kind, perhaps twenty in all. As they neared us, I found that I was right. They were birds, giant Oomfors, and each one carried a man riding on its back. Each man had a rope of some sort coiled over a shoulder. At sight of us, the bird riders uncoiled those ropes and began to swing them.

My grawn was in my hand. “Do we kill them? Or do we let them capture us and fly us across these miles of tundra?” I asked.

“They may be friendly,” Marga breathed. She smiled wryly as she said it. There are few friendly races on Llarn. Ever since The War, its people have fought to live, to stay alive, until fighting has become their way of life. I do not mind fighting—in fact, I relish it when the odds are anywhere close to being even. Odds of twenty to three are not to my liking, especially when one of the three is a girl.

Even less to my liking, however, was the prospect of victory unless we could capture three of those birds. I would rather risk escape from the bird-men than face the thousand and more miles of barren tundra which lay before us. And so I made the peace sign.

The leading rider ignored it to hurl his noose at me. I dodged it easily enough, but two other ropes were in the air at the same time. One of them settled about my chest, yanking my arms to my sides. At the same time, Ghan Karr went down to be dragged a dozen feet. Marga lifted her hands helplessly.

The oomfors settled to the ground with a vast flapping of huge white wings. The foremost rider, who by his trappings I judged to be a korbar, or captain of troops, swung down and strode toward us.

He was thin and walked with a peculiar gliding gait I was later to learn is common to his kind, the Avokooms. He was handsome and tall, and apparently friendly, for he asked us politely where we were from and why we were violating the lands of his people.

“We had no intention of violating your territorial rights,” I assured him. “We were abandoned on the icecap and are struggling to reach some city where we might hire a flier to return home.”

“You will have to come with us,” the officer told me. We were drawn up onto the backs of two of the largest oomfors. A moment later we were in the air. Sitting a flying, oomfor is not as easy as the Avokooms make it seem. I came close to sliding off three times before the korbar whose passenger I was, told me to clasp his middle and hang on. From babyhood, the Avokooms are trained to ride oomfors, and as a result the gripping muscles of their thighs are very powerfully developed.

I noted that the oomfors carrying Marga, Ghan Karr and myself were laboring heavily under their double burdens. When I commented on this, Avu Uvram, for such was the name of the officer, laughed lightly.

“Add to that the fact that our bones are hollow as are those of the birds, and you may understand it. I, for instance, with hollow bones and little flesh upon my body, weigh only about eighty puls. You must go close to two hundred.”

I saw where the oomfor would get tired. As a matter of fact, the korbar ordered his troop to land and switch mounts three times before we came at last to his home city of Avuvava.

From our height and at a distance, the city looked like a pile of rocks, colored white and red in varying shades. From the cruising height of a flier, a man would judge that city to be no more than an accumulation of boulders, gigantic though some of them might be. In this manner, Avu Uvram assured me, his kind had remained in seclusion, safe from attack by enemies for more than a thousand years.

We landed and were marched to the nearest boulder, a section of which opened to admit us into a pleasant room with a polished marble floor in the exact center of which was set a large black circle rimmed with a high railing. Avu Uvram ted a section of the railing, invited us to step in with him.

The black circle began to sink. Past the floor level we went, down a shaft of smooth glass into a vast chamber where dozens of oomfors were stabled. The false boulders, I was given to understand, are no more than a disguise for many such elevators which lead into a vast system of caves or homes for the Avokooms.

We were escorted through an intricate system of cavetunnels, past rooms fitted out luxuriously. I was hopelessly confused by the time we finally entered a cave larger and more richly furnished than any we had seen.

An officer in white harness fitted with the device of Ulmu Avga, Dagan of Avuvava, accepted us into his charge. Courteously enough, he asked that we disarm ourselves, since it was forbidden to carry weapons into the presence of the dagan.

I hesitated. Without weapons on Llarn, a man is peculiarly helpless, since his sword and his grawn go everywhere a man goes. Nevertheless, there was little I could do about it. We disarmed ourselves meekly and followed the man in the white harness through a curtained doorway into a room hung from ceiling to floor along its walls by gossamer veils of varying colors. The floor itself was pearl, and the ceiling was hung with the same gossamer veiling that shrouded the walls. The room possessed the appearance of floating in air.

On a golden stool at the far end of the room sat a man whose white leather belt and white kilt were hung with jewels. Jewels flashed too on his sandals, and his scabbard was a veritable treasure house of scarlet rubies and bluewhite diamonds. As Uthian, I would have thrilled to see that wealth. As Uthian, I would have laid plans to steal them.

And so, under my breath I said to Marga, “The scabbard Queen of Thieves, I shall steal that thing before we leave for Korok.”

“We shall never leave for Korok,” she whispered dully. The dagan lifted his arm, gestured us to approach. His eyes, as we came near, never left the shape of the girl who walked beside me. Disheveled she was, her thick red hair falling about her smooth white shoulders, her kilt ripped and stained, her boots torn. There was a smudge of dirt on her chin, and again on her arm. But I must admit she was lovely, and could well inspire the sudden brightness in the eyes of Ulmu Avga.

“The woman I shall accept,” the dagan said suddenly, nodding. For the first time he looked at Ghan Karr and at me. “The men may go to the atmosphere cave.”

Marga whirled and threw herself into my arms. “Uthian no! Save me,” she cried. Under her breath she added, “I shall get the scabbard for you, Uthian—if you can figure out how we can escape from this place”

The officer was at my elbow, yanking us apart. It would have been a simple matter to fell him with a blow, but the instincts of the fighting man told me it would not, could not be that simple. The dagan sat alone and seemingly unprotected on his golden stool. There were no soldiers in view. Fell the officer, grab Ulmu Avga as a hostage, and I read the eyes of the officer, and relaxed. He was too confident, too sure of the situation. Then my eyes fell on the lengths of gossamer that veiled much of the great throne room. An army might be hiding behind those curtains. I let Marga be pulled away, drawn toward the golden stool where . Ulmu Avga sat.

Then the officer motioned Ghan Karr and me to follow him. At the doorway I cast a last glance back at Marga where she stood obediently before the Dagan of Avuvava. Then I looked at the gossamer veils. A trick of the light showed the shadows of armed men behind those draperies. Had I yielded to my first impulse and fought, I might now be a dead man.

Ghan Karr and I followed the officer meekly.

Get your copy from the GFF Library…

LUST, be a Lady Tonight: The Lady of L.U.S.T. (Swinging Sexy Spy Gal Book 1)

Sexy Lady Spy

This book is #1 of 23. They were published in the late 1960’s using the James Bond super spy model.

BLOW YOUR MIND
My name is Eve Drum—The Lady From L.U.S.T.—the sexiest spy in the world. Anything you do I can do better. They call me Double Oh Sex, because sex is my favorite weapon, but I’m just as good at Karate, safe-cracking, knife throwing, scuba diving—you name it. Don’t tangle with me: I have a license to kill and I don’t care if I use my body—or a Beretta. Swing along as I go into action against a super-villain who wants to wreck N.A.T.O. and heat up the Cold War to the flash point. It will blow your mind.

SECRET AGENT Double Oh Sex
A fair exchange can be robbery-sometimes. Count Guido della Faziola wanted my body. I wanted the pictures that were hidden in the stateroom of his luxury yacht, I would give him the flesh fest he wanted. But the Count was not likely to hand over the negatives even in exchange for little old me, I was going to have to steal them. My skin tight evening gown with its low, low-cut bodice was an open invitation. The Count’s hand accepted the invitation. Oh, well, I, was in the service of my country. Vive la patriotism!
“Come into my stateroom, cara mia,” he breathed into my ear.
“Yes, let’s,” I breathed back. “I’m going to love you to death.”
Little did he know….

Sample Chapter: Warrior of Llarn

Sample Chapter

CHAPTER THREE

MY FIRST thought was for Tuarra. I turned my face to see the girl on her feet, shivering in the coldness of the dawn, rubbing her arms and speaking swiftly to the blue man standing over me. There was a hopelessness in the slope of her smooth shoulders that told me better than any words the trouble we were in. Something of loathing touched her face when she looked at our captors. Blue hands reached for me, yanked me to my feet.
I found myself facing the big blue man who had first stood over me and glared. He was a handsome man in a kilt of spotted fur and broad red belt from which hung two handguns and two swords. A thin fillet of gold about his head indicated his high rank above the gilded horns at his temples. Long black hair hung down to his shoulders where the strands were gathered together and twisted into what looked to be heavy gold nuggets.
As I was held upright before him, the man drew back his lips in a savage snarl and drove the back of his hand full against my mouth. Since my ankles were tied, I went over backward into what was left of our fire. One touch of those coals on my naked flesh sent me rolling sideways out of them, after a moment of agonizing pain. I rolled into the ankles of the man who had hit me, driving his legs out from under him, sending him flying. Sharp exclamations of surprise rose up from the others. The blue man lay where I had felled him, oddly limp. Then I saw a trickle of blood at his temple where his head had hit the well wall.
His followers ran to him, bent over him, probing his injury. One of them looked at me where I had risen to my knees and his lips drew back in a silent snarl. He made a motion with his hands and I was lifted bodily into the air and carried to a horned dral. My ankle thongs were cut; I was dumped unceremoniously onto its saddle, with my wrists still bound tightly behind my back.
Tuarra walked to another beast and mounted, urging her dral close to mine. There was fear in her eyes as she watched the unconscious blue man lifted and placed on a sort of stretcher between two drals. From his trappings, I assumed the man I had felled was an important one among the blue men. How important he was I would learn along the route of march, after Tuarra taught me her language.
As I was watching the other blue men mount up, Tuarra toed her dral close to me; reaching out, she caught the bridle of my animal and urged it to a canter beside her own. One of our captors glanced at her and grunted, then turned away. Evidently she was to be my companion on the ride ahead.
The blue men moved out of the ancient ruins and along an unmarked path across the red desert. They went in double file, with the stretcher carrying their unconscious chieftain in the rearguard. There were fifty or more blue men in the cortege. They rode easily, without obvious interest in their surroundings; apparently they were in home country here, with little to fear.
As we rode, Tuarra pointed a finger at the blue men. “Azunn,” she said, and looked at me. I repeated the word dutifully and pointed in turn to our captors.
This was the beginning. All the long day she talked to me, pointing at various objects, at other times making me understand what she meant by gestures. It is not too difficult to learn a language when all you can speak is that language. Besides, I had an intense desire to be able to converse with this girl who cantered so close to me that her leg touched mine from time to time. Her closeness, her interest in teaching as well as my own in learning, made me a good pupil.
The language of Llarn is fluid, filled with soft vowels and few harsh consonants, so that it is a pleasure to hear and, once mastered, a joy to speak. I had no similar Earth speech on which to form a base. I was as an infant; I must learn to talk all over again. Yet Tuarra made my lessons a constant delight with her soft laughter, her gentle teasings at my hesitancy, her soft applause—which she registered by a purring sound deep in her throat—at my few successes.
We stopped for the night camp near a stretch of hardened ground, an oasis of sorts without shrubbery or vegetation of any kind, yet containing water below, which the Azunn reached by sinking a pipe fitted with a boring device. All Azunn expeditions carry a number of these drilling devices, powered by a turn—screw handle; in a matter of minutes they have clear water flowing from an outlet valve into cooking pots and flasks. The water was sweet and cold, a liquid happiness to the throat after a day of riding across barren desert sands.
Tuarra was my maid and my teacher at the evening halt. She roasted my steak and baked a fluffy sort of biscuit that actually melted when held in the mouth. It had a honey taste to it. She kept up her teaching all through the meal; occasionally a curious blue man would come and stand over us listening, make a laughing comment and walk away.
Tuarra paid no attention to the Azunn. It seemed to me that she did not quite consider them her equals. I was to discover that she was intensely proud, that her rank in her home city of Kharthol was that of daganna, or princess, since she was the daughter of Drakol Tu, dagan-overlord of Kharthol.
To augment her spoken instructions, she began after the meal to scratch numbers and symbols in the hard packed dirt of our campsite. These she also assigned names to, with little sighs of exasperation that she could not make clearer to me the ideas which she had in mind. Infinity to an Earth-man is represented by the figure eight lying on its side. The Llarn conception of infinity is a wavy line. Idea, too, is a word with which we had a little difficulty, as was the verb to love.
Naturally, we did not cover all this ground the first night. The Azunn were many miles from the heart of their homeland. This expedition was a stab into the more northerly territory, desert lands which belonged to no one race on Llarn, but that were looked upon as a badlands, where nothing grew except the dry thoril shrubs and few dwarf plants. They were several days’ ride from home.
My lessons went on, day after day, as my body toughened to the hot red sun and grew used to the scorching heat that rose from the red sands. As my muscles hardened to the feel of the dral between my thighs, I began to feel more at ease on this alien planet. Earth and its memories receded in my mind, became like a dream existence known long ago.
We were on the trail close to twenty days when we sighted a distant city. We had come to the edge of the desert and left it behind us, three marches ago; now we rode through a countryside of undulating hills covered with a coarse green grass and here and there sparse groves of trees. A cool wind blew across this ancient land and soothed skins burned dark by the desert sun.
Tuarra lifted her arm, pointing. “Azorra, the home city of the Azunn,” she told me. “Here rules Morlan Az, the man you hit so hard he has not yet recovered consciousness.”
There was pride in her voice, pride that made me flush with pleasure, though I hastened to point out that Morlan Az had cracked his skull on a well wall. She shrugged idly, as if to say that this was a mere formality; what mattered most was that I had done it.
“I’m surprised they’re treating me so well. If Morlan Az is their dagan, I should think they’d have buried their swords in my hide for what I did to him.”
Her faintly slanted eyes studied me. “It is a custom on Llarn among all its people that when a ruler has been harmed, he himself must set the punishment, if he lives.” She made a wry face. “I do not like to think about your punishment, Alan Morgan. It will be a very painful one. Morlan Az is chieftain of all the Azunn. He is a cruel man, hard and overbearing. He had only one weakness, I am given to understand by traders who have come among the Azunn with their wares.”
“And what might that be?” I asked.
I did not understand the word Tuarra spoke then, and apparently she found if difficult to convey any idea of its meaning to me. Even as she was trying to explain, the blue men increased the speed of their canter to a gallop, all except those guarding the stretcher on which Morlan Az lay in a coma. They brought up the rear, moving slowly and sedately. If it had not been for the fact that Morlan Az lay unconscious, we would have made far better time to Azorra. Our fastest pace had been a slow trot and even that had proven too much for the injured man to stand. And so a week long journey had been made into a march that had occupied close to a month.
The Azunn did not separate Tuarra and me, a fact for which I was grateful, as we neared the great gate of the city. There were high walls about the metropolis and people stood upon them, staring and pointing. A few scarves waved; an arm or two was uplifted and moved back and forth; otherwise our progress was awaited without excitement.
It was only when Tuarra came closer that a wave of sound went among the blue people staring over the battlements. They called her name and pointed, and many laughed in delight, as though she were a rare prize for the Azunn to take.
“Azorra is a very old city,” Tuarra told me, riding with her chin high and staring straight ahead. “Some historians among my own people claim it is the oldest city on all Llarn, having been built more than a million years ago, when a great ocean rolled up to its very gates.
Its occupants seem to know you,” I pointed out. She frowned at that, as if puzzled. Her pride did not quite stretch so far as to imagine that her face and figure was known to the crowds on the walls of Azorra. After a moment, she shook her head, admitting that she could not understand it.
Outside the ruins of Paloranis, this was the first Llarn city I had ever seen. It was built of colored stone, pink and red and brown in alternating slabs that blended together in a pleasing whole. The stone was so old it flaked and crumbled at times so that a fine dust lay upon the streets. Its avenues were wide, paved with stone of varying shades of gray, with Some black streaks running through it. From the walls of the buildings projected solar-grass bubbles that formed viewing screens for the people inside—which afforded glances into their interiors. These solars were crowded with staring men and women.
It was almost as though we were expected. Crowds lined the sides of the wide thoroughfares, silent for the most part, except for that buzz of excitement at first sight of Tuarra. I might also add that I attracted a good bit of notice myself. I was not a dolthos, that much was evident from the heavily tanned state of my skin, and my yellow hair. Every dolthos the people of Azorra had seen, and these were few and far between, had skin the color of a flat white and hair to match. These dolthoin are sea people, dwelling in and about the deepest parts of the twin oceans. They live beneath the sea, they skim the surface of their water world in fleet boats driven by rockets. They want no truck with land people and slay every Azunn or golden skin who falls into their clutches. And so the people stared, first at Tuarra, then at me, all the way to a great building of black marble that Tuarra told me was the palace of Moltan Az. We dismounted, then Tuarra and I were led into this great edifice, side by side, my wrists still manacled by heavy chains.
Through a long corridor set with painted pillars we were conducted into a vast audience hall and toward a massive golden throne on which a blue woman sat. She was in the full ripeness of maturity and her skin was a pastel shade the women of the Azunn have not the darker skins of their men—that might have presented a pleasing sight to my eyes if I had not read the cold hate and bitter anger on her patrician features.
Golden ornaments contained her breasts. About her slim middle was a belt of heavy golden plates from which hung a thin kilt of red silk. Golden sandals, reaching up almost to her calves, completed her garb. The contrast of the gold and the red silk against her pale blue skin was exotic and barbaric in the extreme, an effect added to by her high coiffure in which golden balls were set here and there in thick black hair. The tiny horns projecting from her temples were heavily gilded.
These horns are tiny things, no bigger than the last joint of the forefinger, of white bone and not as ugly to the eye as they might sound. The Azunn often decorate them with bright paints. They are black for mourning, in red and white stripes on festive occasions. Gold is the symbol of royalty among the Azunn, which is why the horns of Morlan Az and his sister, Ulazza, were gilded.
Ulazza was a beautiful woman, for all her pale blue skin, and those golden horns were the touch that added most to her appearance as a barbarian. She was a devil woman, roundly curved and enchanting, despite her inner fury.
In that anger her right fist was taut and hard, beating upon the great golden arm of the throne with monotonous regularity. It was a form of relief for the tension in her, that made her sit upright and glare at us with her emotions clear to read.
“Tuarra of Kharthol,” she said harshly, looking down at the girl to my left. “It was a good day for the Azunn when you were turned over to us.”
Tuarra frowned. “Turned over?”
The woman Smiled. “By the express orders of Gorlun Duv, Overlord of Kharthol.”
“My father, Drakol Tu, is dagan of Khartholl”
The blue woman laughed musically. “You know better than that, daganna. The same coup that pulled your father off the throne and pushed Gorlun Duv onto it will bring better times to my people.”
I could feel Tuarra quivering beside me with curiosity and anger, but it was now my turn to confront this woman of the Azunn. She had been cold toward Tuarra with disdain and dislike. To me she was all hot rage and bitterness. If she could have had her way, I would have been thrown to the torture at once. She leaned forward, thin nostrils faring to her deep breathing. Then she lashed out at me with words. “Decadent child of aporad parents Khorl Son of a thousand dolthoin decayed offspring of a mad ephelos!”
She went on like that for a while. I assume her insults grew more deadly, but I was unable to understand them, my knowledge of the Llarn tongue being still a little vague. I understood enough, however, to know that it would be her pleasure to superintend my dying if Morlan Az failed to recover at the hands of the Azunn surgeons, and that it would take a long time, possibly an entire tarn. The only thing that prevented her from throwing me on the floor and beginning right now was custom. Morlan Az himself must speak the punishment I was to face.
I stood and listened, marveling that such a beautiful woman could be so deadly. After a while she ran out of words and sat there, panting. Then she spoke crisply to an officer at her elbow.
“They are to be confined in the Hall of Dead Things,” the woman snapped. “Neither is to be mistreated. The woman, because she is a state hostage, the man because I want him fit to endure the death my brother assigns for him.” She stared hard at me, then added, “It had been reported that yours was the hand that killed my nephew, the son of my brother, before the domed dwelling of the pink mists.”
I remembered the blue man who had roped me and come at me before I fell through the transparent walls that had held the pink mists. I told her it was not I who killed her nephew but that his death was a matter of his own doing. “Had he not thrown a rope about me, he would be alive this day, I ended, and no sooner were the words past my lips than Ulazza was off the golden throne and striking my face with the flat of her palm.
She was a blue fury, I give her that; and she was strong, too, for her palm stung when it landed. She was panting heavily in her excess of rage. When she paused in her attack, I smiled down at her.
“You are safe from me because you are a woman, Ulazza,” I told her. “Already the only two Azunn men who have attacked me your nephew and your brother—have paid the penalty for doing so.”
It was sheer bravado. I heard gasps rise from the throats of the blue men and women crowding the throne room. Evidently few of their captives dared to defy the Azunn. Well, I was marked for a long death anyhow. What I said now would neither add to nor subtract from my ultimate end.
Ulazza opened her eyes wide at my words. I saw grudging respect deep in their black depths; respect and—something else to which I could not put a name. She went on looking at me as if her interest had been awakened in me as an individual, rather than as an instrument of vengeance.
“Where are you from?” As I had done with Tuarra, I pointed upward. Ulazza shook her head and her penciled brows puckered. I tried to say, “I come from another world, far away from Llarn,” but I am sure I made a mess of it. She gestured with her hand. Armed men came and took us out of the audience hall. Before the great wooden doors closed behind us, I turned and stared back at the massive golden throne. Ulazza still stood before it, looking after me. It was then that I felt my side pinched, viciously.
Tuarra flushed as she said, “Just because she likes you, don’t think to find mercy in Ulazza, Alan Morgan. She is crueler even than her brother. She takes delight in the tortures she dreams up for captives taken in war. You will curse her name ten times, ten thousand times before she lets you die, if Morlan Az allows her the privilege of acting as your executioner.
“I wasn’t aware that she liked me.” Tuarra scowled darkly. Her full red lips pouted and her eyes seemed to catch fire. She drew herself to her full height and lashed out at me with her hand. She did not have quite the hitting power of the blue woman, but my ears rang with her blow even as she turned and stalked away, head held high.
One of my captors grinned. “This one has the rare ability to make all women mad at him, it seems. Well, rather him than me.”
A hand pushed me forward. I followed Tuarra quietly. The Hall of Dead Things was a museum, a magnificent structure not far from the palace. The blue people did their best to maintain it as it had been a thousand years before, when they had moved in off the grasslands of Llarn to become city dwellers. Originally, the Azunn had been nomads, living in tents and making their livelihood from the vast herds of beef animals they maintained. They sold meat and hides to the gold-skins, together with horns and hooves, accepting in exchange metal with which to make their weapons and loom-woven silks and brocades.
Now the blue people, though still savage, were emerging from their nomadic state to something approaching civilization. As a corollary of that desired culture, they sought to keep alive the knowledge which the ancient ones of Azorra had placed inside the Hall of Learning.
On the floors above the mezzanine, there were many small rooms. Tuarra and I were to be assigned one of these. Guards would be placed outside the building, front and rear, at the oily doors giving entrance and exit from the Hall. Otherwise, we were free to roam the building where and when we would.
The mezzanine itself was part of the museum. As we paced through it, I found my gaze being drawn to the walls which were recessed to form dioramas and tri-dimensional Scenes out of the forgotten past of Llarn. I caught glimpses of strange boats with triangular sails and high, curving rows, of painted oceans with towering mountains in the background. There were no mountains like that on Llarn today, I felt sure, and could only guess at the incalculable age of this world I was on. I gazed on scenes where men and women whose skins were like my own laughed and played at games and walked under three great moons.
There were no moons on Llarn now, only that great band of brilliant matter always circling the ancient planet. I made a mental note to ask Tuarra about this when she got around to acknowledging my existence again. At the moment she was too engrossed in haughtily tossing her head to speak to me. She went into the room assigned to us and lay down on a pile of sleeping silks spread close to one wall. She put a forearm over her face and appeared to sleep. I was too excited, too filled with the spirit of my adventure to doze in the middle of the day.
“Why not walk through the Hall with me?” I asked her. She made no reply, but I saw her lips stiffen. “This is a marvelous opportunity for me to learn more about your world,” I went on. Still there was no reaction. “I’m sorry if I offended you by turning back to look at Ulazza. After all, she’s the first blue woman I’ve ever seen.”
When she remained silent, I said gently. “I’ll leave you alone then, for the spoiled little child you are.” Ah, she quivered to that remark! The forearm came down and she half rose to an elbow. Her lips parted as if to speak, but she thought better of it. Instead she lay down, turning on her side so that her face was to the wall.
I sighed. She was so lovely and so small, so helpless, a captive to the barbaric might of the Azunn, that I wanted to hold her in my arms, comfortingly. Words of apology trembled on my tongue, but I did not speak them.
Instead I turned on my heel and went out in the dimly lighted corridor, closing the door gently behind me. The fact: that I had the run of the building roused a faint glimmer of hope in my chest. Somehow, I had to escape from Azorra. How I could get away from the blue people was a question that seemed impossible of solution. I could not go on foot; the Azunn would soon overtake me on their fleet drals. I could steal a dral, I suppose, but search parties would follow its tracks and recapture me. And there were no fliers among the seven cities that comprised the world of the Azunn.
Nevertheless, I ascended to the rooftops of the Hall, finding them flat in many places, steeply ridged in others. I possessed a clear view of the city and the grasslands that lay in green richness on all sides of its high walls, but found no inspiration in them. Those oceans of grass, where once flowed the waves of a true ocean, were far too vast to be crossed with any hope of success except in a flier.
It was with a heavy heart that I turned back inside the building. I walked more slowly now, for I had no desire to sit back to back with an insulted Tuarra. I moved along corridors fitted out with display cases in which were the ancient costumes, on lifelike dummies, of the people who had lived long ago in Azorra. At one time Llarn must have been a colder world than it was now, for the men and women both wore bulkier garments, of fur and cloth. They were a handsome people, too. I was unable to read the dusty plaques attached to the cases, but the displays themselves were more or less explanatory.
I found a science room and studied the machines and engines which had powered the boats and aircraft of the Ancient Ones, the motors that had lighted and heated their cities and their homes. Some of these I found vaguely familiar, for they were constructed in fairly similar fashion to their Earth counterparts. Others I did not understand at all, for many operated on scientific principles of which I was totally ignorant.
I found paintings and splendid groups of statuary, and an exhibit that held the stuffed remains of what at one time must have been ferocious beasts. Felines with horns, horses with horns, birds with horns, I found in great abundance. All animal life, even the blue people, had horns growing from their skulls. It was the reason Tuarra did not consider them quite human.
In one corner I came upon a family of blue apes. Horns protruded from their foreheads as they did from those of the Azunn and I began to wonder if the blue people had evolved from them. I had no way of knowing. When Tuarra was talking to me again, I would ask her.
One thing alone eluded me in the museum. Usually at least on Earth there is always a wing or a section of a museum devoted to weaponry and armor, to swords and firearms. I found no such display, no matter how hard I looked. Knowing that I could not begin to think of escape until I possessed some means of defense and attack, I searched more carefully.
Here and there in my wanderings I discovered doors, some bolted and some open to the touch. These doors led into other wings of the vast building, in some of which I found models of early Llarn cities, steles and artifacts which related the story of the planet when it was young. Someday I would learn to read those carved surfaces, but at the moment I was infinitely more concerned about a weapons room.
I was positive that one existed. The people of Llarn were too warlike not to have a past that was studded with militarism. Somewhere in this great stone pile was a wing that held such weapons.
I wandered far and long. As I walked I noted that the rooms never grew any darker though their windows showed it to be dusk outside. Gradually it was borne in upon me that the metallic strips running about the base of the walls and the edges of the ceilings were emitting a blue glow. The glow was a gradual thing, attuned as it was to the band of brilliant matter eternally circling the planet, which fed the strips with a radioactive form of luminescence. As the day brightened, this radiance died out. As the day darkened, it grew in power so that there was no visible moment when the bands began their glow. Inside the museum, it seemed always to be daylight, even though the windows turned black with night.
Then I chanced upon a corridor I had not as yet been in. At its far end were two great double doors, strongly bolted. The bolts looked as if they had been added long after the doors had been standing. To guard against some terror that lay behind them? To keep out a menace which had no other way of gaining admittance into the building? I had no way of knowing but I was too anxious to find the weapons wing to worry about new dangers.
I slid back the bolts with a creak of metal long unused. I yanked hard at one of the doors and it opened slowly. I stepped into a galleried room, almost as wide as it was long, and pulled the door shut behind me.
The glowing metal strips made this room as bright as the others. My heart lurched in delight. Along every wall were great wooden racks fronted by sliding glass panels. Behind these transparent doors were swords, pole-arms, spears, of every make and variety. My palm itched to open a case and lift out a sword and its scabbard, to hang it to the chains riveted to my wide leather belt.
I merely paced along the walls, studying the weapons hanging in their racks. Finally, when I could resist the urge no longer, I opened a small case and drew out a long dagger with an ornate hilt and crosspiece. The braiding on the hilt crumbled to powder as my hand went around it, leaving only the thin metal tang. This metal was strong, unharmed by time, as I proved by rapping it hard on the marble floor. I thrust the dagger into my belt and moved on.
At the far end of the weapons chamber I came upon another door. It resisted my every effort to open it. Yet it had a lock of sorts and so, thrusting the tip of my dagger into it, I wriggled and rotated the point to such good effect that I heard a protesting creak and the lock slid back. My palm on the door thrust it open.
Ahead of me lay a staircase leading into blackness. The metal strips did not go into the museum cellars. Well, no matter. It was a simple matter to pry a small strip loose and carry it down into those dark subterranean depths.
I found myself in a maze of tunnels. Everywhere there was dust that seemed to have been undisturbed since before the blue men had come to dwell in Azorra.
The metal strip I held gave off its weird blue glow, lighting the way ahead of me for more than fifty feet. There were jars here, laden with gray dust, heavy cases and trunks along the walls. I wondered what strange objects I might find were I to open the lid of one. I did not pause for idle curiosity, however. I was too concerned with finding my way through this underground labyrinth.
Hope was a strong flame in my chest, now. If I could find a way out of these cellars into open country, beyond the walls of Azorra it might be possible to escape. Our captors would not know we were gone until long after the event. Tuarra and I would be on foot, true, but we could still walk the five hundred ern between Azorra and the ruins of Paloranis. I put out of my mind the awful trek across those burning red sands. No need to think of them until we were safely out of this city.
There was a faint blue glow ahead of me. My heart began pounding in my rib case. Had I been walking in a fool’s paradise? If there was a light up ahead, it meant human habitation. I wondered what kind of man would live this far below the metropolis, content with stale air and dust for his only companions. But I was forgetting. These metal strips that afforded light in Azorra were automatic things. They worked with the radiation they received from the band of minute moons that circled Llarn. They could have been operating silently and unseen for half a million years.
I thrust my own metal strip into my belt and drew my dagger. As well go armed into that chamber up ahead as blunder in unprotected. I walked on silent feet. I turned a corner.
An old man lay asleep on rotting rags. He must be asleep, but he did not breathe; at least, his chest was motionless, nor did his nostrils quiver to undrawn breaths. He was naked except for a black and silver kilt and a weapons belt that carried nothing on it besides two black leather purses. I came closer and with my dagger poised to strike, put a hand on his chest beneath which his heart should be.
He was cold and still. Dead, then. I breathed easier, wondering how many centuries might have passed since he had lain down to sleep. In this dry cellar air his corpse would remain unrotted until Llarn fell into its sun.
From the body I turned to look about the chamber. On the walls were scrawled odd words and stranger numerals. It was as if the man had spent all his days in calculating abstruse mathematical problems, then had lain down to die. I found a jar or two that held the remnants of what once might have been a liquid. All the jar contained now was a dark, sticky substance with a sweetish odor.
I was sniffing at the stuff when I heard a sound. The dagger came into my hand as I whirled. The body had not moved. Ah! Again. I heard the sound, coming from the tunnel up which I had walked. An Azunn search party, hunting for me? I stepped into the shadows cast by a recessed door and waited.
The sounds were coming faster now, as if someone or something were trotting more swiftly. My hand tightened on the bare metal of my dagger’s tang.
I froze.
I was bent forward in a crouch, staring straight into the most hideous face I had ever seen. The face was that of a beast—a blind beast to judge by the white eyes that stared at me without moving. There was no iris, no pupil, only that cloudy opalescence. Two great fangs like tusks jutted from a thin mouth that gaped to show big white teeth. I have no comparison by which to measure it with Earth animals. It was a rodent of some sort, as big as a tiger, with a straight hairless tail and sharp talons thrusting from its mighty paws. Its head lifted as it sniffed me out.
Its mouth opened and a high-pitched wail of indescribable malevolence almost shattered my eardrums. At the same moment, the thing charged.
Without the dagger I would have been a dead man almost instantly. I leaped sideways, striking at the paw that came ripping toward my chest even while the beast was in midair. Blade and paw met and the sharp metal of the dagger cut into the flesh of the animal. The rodent screamed in mixed pain and rage. It fell lightly, turned.
Long used only to the narrow tunnels in which it hunted its prey—what prey could there be in these labyrinthine ways for such a meat-eater as this?—the animal was slow in maneuvering. It had counted too heavily on that first piercing scream to paralyze its prey. When its paws failed to sink into living meat, it was baffled.
As it swung about I was moving sideways, dagger at the ready. The thing was fully a hundred pounds in weight and stood close to three feet at his shoulders. It was a mean antagonist, one which I would sooner have given a wide berth, but it was allowing me no choice.
The brute turned, but slowly. Again I danced to one side, knowing now it could not see but that its actions were governed solely by its keen ears. I saw those ears twitching, moving this way and that like antennae.
With a hand that made no sound I lifted one of the dark jars filled with a sticky substance. I tossed it across the room. Instantly as it crashed the beast whirled, its ears vibrating as it gathered muscles to leap.
I hurled myself onto it, stabbing deep behind the left foreleg. Three times I struck before the rodent humped its back and flung me from it. The thing was immensely strong, amazingly fast. I was flying through the air and seeing it whirling and leaping for me—huge pads outstretched, razor sharp claws extended to rip before I knew what was happening.
I thudded into the far wall with the wind knocked from my lungs. The brute dropped on top of me. My every muscle was strutted against the excruciating pain of disembowelment; I had seen it lifting its hindquarters for the movement even as it flew through the air.
The momentum of its body drove me into the wall a second time. My head snapped back against solid stone and I was out only a few seconds. When I came to, I found myself smothering under the weight of the heavy rodent. It was dead—it must have died in mid leap.
I thrust the loathsome thing from me and got to my feet. And the hair lifted on the nape of my neck. The dead man was gone.

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Kothar and the Wizard Slayer Book #5

Sword & Sorcery

THE DEATH OF MAGIC
Someone—or something—was systematically killing all the world’s magicians. Kothar, the blond barbarian, had to link up with his enemy, the she-devil temptress Red Lori, to find and vanquish the slayer. Beautiful Lori was his partner but Kothar’s best friend was still his magic sword Frostfire.

Wizard’s Revenge . . .
A great hand—a thing of stone and rock, hideously carved and with strange spells and incantations limned on its rock surface—reached in the opening it had made, and stabbed forward. Blunt fingers closed around the squirming, screaming necromancer.
“Dread Omorphon! Awful being of the nether hells—aid me!
He tried to fight it, but his hands could do nothing against the solid rock out of which that other hand was formed. The fingers tightened, and now the magician began to swell curiously at chest and legs, as if other parts of his body were being forced into them by that frightful grip. His face became purple with congested blood. His eyes bulged hideously. A trickle of blood ran from his open mouth.

Kothar and the Conjurer’s Curse Book #4

Sword & Sorcery

This is Gardner F Fox’s fourth classic Sword & Sorcery story for paperbacks. There are 5 books in this series. Mr. Fox’s was heavily inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Sword & Sorcery stories: Conan, Kull & Bran Mak Mor. The Kothar books are listed in Gary Gygax’s Appendix N as one of the few books that inspired the creation of Dungeons & Dragons.

THE MAGIC AMULET
Kothar rescued the beautiful gypsy girl Stefanya, helper to the wizard Zoqquanor, and carried her off on a journey filled with danger and mystery. His mission was to deliver a magic amulet to Herklar, the Regent of Phalkar. But Herklar was held a prisoner in his own dungeon. When Kothar found him, he learned the secret of the true ruler of Phalkar . . . .

BATTLECRY
The five warriors moved forward toward Kothar, separating slightly and drawing their swords. They planned to attack him from five sides at once. He had fought with such men before, and he felt no fear of their kind—only contempt,
Yet their steel could cut. He shouted to his warhorse Greyling to surge forward. To the left and right, Kothar savagely laid his sword, and two men quickly went down with cloven skulls erupting-blood and brains.
The gray warhorse reared high, and Kothar brought the singing blade downward through flesh and blood into the shoulder of a third man. As he pulled his red-stained steel free, the blond barbarian saw that the remaining two warriors were backing away from him, glancing at one another in amazement . . .

Kothar and the Demon Queen – 3rd book in the series

Sword & Sorcery

This is Gardner F Fox’s third classic Sword & Sorcery story for paperbacks. There are 5 books in this series. Mr. Fox’s was heavily inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Sword & Sorcery stories: Conan, Kull & Bran Mak Mor. The Kothar books are listed in Gary Gygax’s Appendix N as one of the few books that inspired the creation of Dungeons & Dragons.

SHE STALKS IN BEAUTY
As a boy, Kothar had been cast upon the desolate shores of Grondel Bay. Since that time, he had grown to lusty manhood, to become the greatest Swordsman in the World. He had well earned the name of Magnificent Barbarian. Nothing daunted him, not demons, not sorcerers, nothing Creeping or Crawling or flying; even the cunning White Worm had been slashed by his magic blade, the enchanted Frostfire. Yet now Kothar was challenged by the Demon-Queen, a beautiful she-devil of limitless cunning and unspeakable passions. For the Mighty Swordsman, it was his greatest trial.

Kothar of the Magic Sword – 2nd book in the series

Sword & Sorcery

This is Gardner F Fox’s second classic Sword & Sorcery story for paperbacks. There are 5 books in this series. Mr. Fox’s was heavily inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Sword & Sorcery stories: Conan, Kull & Bran Mak Mor. The Kothar books are listed in Gary Gygax’s Appendix N as one of the few books that inspired the creation of Dungeons & Dragons.

Four illustrations from Johnny Hazard Artist; Frank Robbins

The enchanted sword Frostfire
Kothar stole the helix from the fat Emperor of Avalonia. It was the only way he could hope to recover his magic Sword Frostfire from the belly of the Great Eagle of Nirvalla. But the original theft of the helix was to embroil Kothar in even more uncanny adventures. An ‘ice being’, an eerie creature even in Kothar’s World, used the helix for his own dark purpose.
Trying to forget the beautiful Laella – driven away by the Witch Red Lori — Kothar agreed to deliver another lovely girl from the Sinister followers of the god Polthoom. Even with the Magic Sword flashing in his powerful hands, it was the bloodiest, Weirdest, most blood-Chilling adventure of his life.

Includes the stories:

The Helix from Beyond
A Plague of Demons

Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman – his first Sword & Sorcery story

Sword & Sorcery

This is Gardner F Fox’s first paperback attempt at writing a Sword & Sorcery story. There are 5 books in this series. Mr. Fox’s was heavily inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Sword & Sorcery stories: Conan, Kull & Bran Mak Mor. From the world beyond–or past–time Kothar comes. His Sword & Sorcery books read like Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. All they need is a great Game Master to orchestrate the adventure.
From out of the deepest, most violent recesses of mankind’s collective memory, Kothar the gigantic barbarian strides, the enchanted sword Frostfire glittering in his mighty hand. Lusty, hot-blooded, masterful, unafraid of things real or unreal, Kothar dominates the misty, bloody world before recorded time. Yet, though Kothar’s world existed in another age–perhaps another dimension–it springs vividly to life. Mapped, charted, chronicled, Kothar’s fantastic world suddenly becomes real–the sorcerers, dragons, witches, evil potions, unspeakable monsters. And Kothar, an epic hero for any age, overshadows everything.

Includes the stories:

“The Sword of the Sorcerer”
“The Treasure in the Labyrinth”
“The Woman in the Witch-Wood”
with an introduction by Donald MacIvers, Ph.D.