One moment, she was walking and the next she was sinking down into the water, crying out sharply. Kothar waded toward her, reached down, caught her by the hand, and yanked her up. She dripped wetly, her gown was plastered to her body but she laughed happily.
“It’s there, some sort of hole, an opening in the rock. I went down into it. But—but it’s dark down there.”
“I’ll go. You stay here. If it leads me beyond Urgal, I’ll come back for you.”
They heard the sound of footsteps on the distant stone staircase. Philisia shook her head. “No time for that. We go together. I’m not staying here to be caught by Tor Domnus’s soldiers.
Kothar nodded. Shifting his grip on Xixthur, he stepped forward and sank downward like a stone, vaguely aware that the woman was following after him. For fifteen-feet he went straight-down, then saw dim light through the water ahead. He swam as best he could with the great weight of the metal god in his arms, but the water shallowed ahead and he was soon standing up to his middle thighs in water, inside a huge stones walled sea cave. Philisia gripped his sword-belt, yanked herself to her feet beside him.
“Where are we?” he wondered. “Somewhere on the shoreline of Urgon-lake, where there are many cliffs.” She put her head to one side, gathering her brown hair in her hands and wringing out the droplets of water. “The lake is bordered by cliffs. This cave must be inside one of them, completely hidden from view.”
“There’s an opening of sorts up ahead. Come on.” They waded across the cave to a strip of pale water lightened by shafts of moonlight. Kothar put Xixthur down on a stone ledge and dove. He came up in lake water with the moon low in the sky and a gigantic stone cliff rising behind him. He went back for Xixthur, and told Philisa what he had seen. She nodded, “Yes, the face of the cliff must reach underwater a few feet, just enough to hide the entrance into this cave. This is the path by which Azthamur came and went. It will serve to—let us get away.”
She bent, tore the long sodden skirt of her gown until she was naked below her upper thighs. Her brown eyes flashed at him. “It makes swimming easier, with less of this thing to encumber me.” Then she turned in the water and dove. They came up alongside the cliff face, kicking to buoy themselves in the deeper water. Xixthur was so heavy, Kothar was forced to grip a jutting section of rock to keep his head in the air.
“Certainly I can’t swim with this thing,” he growled. His eyes raked the sheer face of the cliff. “And that bluff doesn’t afford any hand grips or toeholds to let me climb it.”
He began to inch his way along the base of the cliff, holding Xixthur under an arm and using his free hand to find and cling to jutting parts of the cliff. A cool wind was blowing across the lake, from the forest on the other side. It was a lonely, desolate spot, considering the fact that it was so close to the city of Urgal, which raised its walls on the other side of the cliff.
“If Azthamur used the lake for his comings and goings,” panted Philisia, “no man or woman in the city would use it. Perhaps, long ago, they did come here to swim—until the demon caught and ate a few.”
“It helps us, that fact,” Kothar admitted.
He found a narrow trail where the cliff-side ended, and lifted out of the water, putting the ray-machine on the ground and turning to lend a hand to Philisia, She sank down on solid ground at his feet, shivering. The water had been icy cold, the wind from the forests just as chilling. The myriad stars in the sky were fading from view before the first shafts of red sunlight coming from beyond distant Sybaros, which beached upon the salt waters of the Outer Sea.
“Let me rest,” she begged. “There’s no time for that. This early hour of the morning is the best time to travel, for there won’t be many folk about to see and report us to Tor Domnus.”
He bent, caught her hand, yanked her to her feet. She shivered, wet and miserable, against him. Kothar grinned, slapped her haunch.
“The sun will dry you off in the barrens between Urgal and Kor. But first we’ve got to find a stable and steal two horses.”
She nodded, sniffling. “Tor Domnus keeps horses not far from here that are used by his couriers to travel with messages to the lords of Phalkar and Sybaros.”
Kothar heaved Xixthur to a shoulder and planted his feet where Philisia walked. She went sure footedly through these woods, and there was an aliveness about her that made the barbarian realize that, for the first time in her life, she felt truly free. From time to time, she turned to flash a smile at him.
She slowed her steps as they came to the edge of the woods that bordered on a wide-road running between Urgal and Phalkar to the north. As he stood within the leafy boskage of leaves and bushes, Kothar could make out the big barns and stables, he caught the smell of horseflesh, he heard a man rattling tools about inside a large shed.
“There will be guards here and there,” she whispered.
The barbarian grunted. Alone and without Xixthur, he might have risked as direct attack, simply going into the stables, snatching a horse and galloping off. With Philisia to consider, he must use caution.
He said, “There’s a low roof there,” nodding at a thatched section of the stable roof. “I’m going up to have a look.”