Five days later they rode to the top of a high hill and drew rein; thick mists covered the land below. Here and there a wind tossed about and the fogs parted to show black waters and breeze swayed reeds. Strange vegetation grew beside the reeds, pulpy flowers and thin stalks that waved oddly even when the wind died down.
These were the Doom-day Swamps, vast stretches of water and soft earth where strange beasts were reputed to dwell, and where men had been lost and never seen again unless some wayfarer chanced upon their skeletons.
They could not discover the island of Ikthoros, it was too well hidden by gray mists lying close above the waters. Kyrik rumbled a curse deep in his chest.
“We’ll have to find a boat, our horses can never cross that morass. They’d drown, and we along with them.”
He heeled the black stallion forward. He did not glance at Myrnis, and so did not see her body stiffen or her eyes change slowly to a brilliant emerald. Verdant with godlike life were those eyes, as though carved from the heart of a living jewel. Brilliant were those eyes, shining with iridescent lights for an instant; then their radiance dimmed, and Myrnis looked out of her ordinary green pupils again.
The girl shook herself, opened her lips to call to the warlock-warrior ahead of her, but did not. She rode with a puzzled frown on her pretty face, down to the water’s edge.
The banks of these swamp lands were soft loam, half water. The horses’ hooves sank into mushy grass and they snorted and drew back. The mists were thicker here, blowing about as if filled with avid mouths seeking to devour.
“By Illis of the soft breasts. This is a gloomy place,” muttered Kyrik as he came down out of the kak. “We’ll have to unsaddle and let them run free while we go on.”
“Without a boat?”
“There must be one somewhere near. The men of Kilgol sometimes fish these waters, those which are shallow where no big reptiles come. I’ll go look.”
“No need for that.” Myrnis stood up in the stirrups. Her arm rose; she pointed. “There to the north, beneath a tree.”
Kyrik gave her a curious glance, but he walked in that direction and came upon a shallow dugout fashioned from a log of kinna wood. His muscles bulged as he lifted and pushed it toward the water. Beneath it had been hidden two paddles.
The gypsy girl was at his side, stepping daintily into the dugout so it only swayed a little and soon was still. The warrior eased it out between the reeds, and swung himself into its bow. Myrnis crouched in the prow, dipping a paddle from time to time, her eyes scanning the mists ahead.
“To the left,” she called once, and again: “More to westward.”
Kyrik did not trouble his head about her directions. His keen eyes went between the tiny gaps in the mist even faster than hers. Yet when a certain note crept into her voice he followed her suggestions, and wondered at himself.
All about them were high swamp grasses, rustling against the keel and sides of the dugout. Rearing up out of the gray clouds they could make out a fen-tree, covered with foliage so dark a green it seemed almost black. It was a dismal place, this swamp, and the Tantagolian, who liked open spaces and a cool wind, moved uneasily as though he sensed evil lurking in the mists.
“What manner of man would build a temple in a place like this?” he wondered aloud, and Myrnis laughed softly.
“Once this swamp was lush land where good feeding grasses grew, part of the ancient kingdom of Surrillione, where Moforgon was worshiped. They held strange rites in his temple, they sacrificed beautiful virgins to the demon god. It was not a nice land, Surrillione, in those forgotten days.”
Her eyes were bright as starlight again, but Kyrik did not notice, for her face was turned from him as she watched the waterways ahead. She spoke softly, in a voice more melodious than Myrnis’ own, and it was the voice that stiffened his spine.
“You sound like . . . He shook himself against the notion that had come into his head. He knew that voice, its inflections; he had heard it often enough. In his long ago life, before the spell had been put upon him, he had worshiped the goddess Illis. And short months ago she had come to life for him, to help him defeat Devadonides and slay the demon Absothoth.
His hand reached out, caught the girl, swung her about. Myrnis turned a surprised face to him, eyebrows arched questioningly.
“What is it?” she asked. He was dreaming. It was not Illis who sat in this dugout with him, but a Romany girl. He said, “A notion I had. It’s nothing. I wondered how you knew about Surrillione.”
Myrnis frowned. “It was something I heard, I don’t remember where or when. But it’s true enough.”
She turned back to her paddling, and from time to time the warlock-warrior cast dubious looks at her. He was not satisfied with her answer; no mere gypsy knows the ancient history of this land, he told himself. But what he was beginning to suspect was—nonsense.