Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
A lighted candle quivered in the breeze through the open window when Adorla Mathandis opened her eyes. She was lying on a bed, and there was an arm about her, a body against her own.
She tried to sit up but the arm tightened, holding her still. Desperately she put her hands to that arm, sought to break free of it. She struggled, she panted, and when she could not budge that arm she began to weep again.
Kyrik said gently, “You come from Alkinoor, do you? And you’re its queen?”
She nodded, staring at him through tear—wet eyes. “Yes! I am Adorla Mathandis—and I am—queen of Alkinoor.”
“Alkinoor’s quite a far distance from Domilok.”
“I know. They wanted to kill me. I escaped and ran away, and then—you found me.”
The warrior-warlock scowled. “Now why would anyone want to do that?”
“They—they want to worship Marrassa, who is an evil god. I was opposed to it. I think they decided I was better off dead.”
“Na, na. There’s more to it than that.” Kyrik eyed her grimly. “If you’re telling the truth, that is.”
“I am. I am,” she panted.
He shook his head. “I wish I could believe you. Because….”
She did not struggle against his arm any more. Adorla decided she liked the feel of his body against her own. And this was strange, for she was a virgin. She had never met a man who could stir the animal appetites of her flesh.
Almost subconsciously, she let her body soften and move against him. “Because—what? What is it you have in mind?”
“I’m having crazy thoughts. They make no sense.”
“What thought?” she whispered. “Those men tried to kill you. Suppose they—or men like them —have stolen Myrnis to put her in your place?”
Adorla gasped and sat up, and this time the arm did not hold her. “Make this woman queen of Alkinoor—in my place?”
“They’d steal her mind from her with certain Eastern poisons. They’d put her on the throne as queen. In that way, they’d have a puppet queen to rule in your place. But that’s ridiculous.”
Adorla sank down into his arm, almost cuddling her body against that of the warlock-warrior. “It makes sense, what you suggest. Those men who tried to kill me earlier would have been well paid to do it. Without a living Adorla Mathandis, there would be no trouble.”
“But you still live.” Her brown eyes stared down into his. “But I am an outcast, now. Alone and helpless.”
he grinned at her, then let his eyes assess the smoothness of her skin where it showed through the rents of her lone garment. Her breasts were half tumbling out of the low bodice, and where her torn skirt gaped, he could make out the shapeliness of her leg.
She was like a twin of Myrnis, he thought. The face and the body were the same, though she was slightly more plump than the gypsy girl. This one would be soft, almost melting in a man’s arms. .
The itch of desire stirred his loins. He said, “We could do it, you and I. If I wanted to.””
Her brown eyes widened. “Do—what?”
“Take you back to Alkinoor and put you on its throne.”
Adorla was shocked. She forgot that she was a woman and that Kyrik was a man. She leaned closer to him, so that her breasts pressed their nipples against his chest.
“You could—do that?” He grinned and his right hand went about her middle, holding her to him. “I could. But I have no heart to attempt such a project.” He shrugged. “I’ve just come back from the Desolate Lands where I found Nath’s tomb and —what was in it. I have a need in me to rest and to enjoy life.”
She seemed to grow aware that his arm was about her, that her breasts were nudging his rib-cage and that he was taking an interest in her as a woman. Adorla sought to free herself, but could not.
Then she relaxed her body and sank upon him. “If you could do what you boast of so easily, there would be great rewards,” she whispered.
He shrugged. “My pouch is filled with gold. I have all I need. Though, to be quite honest about it, I suppose I should go after Myrnis.”
Fury clouded her eyes. “Who is this Myrnis who means so much to you?”
“She’s a gypsy wench, a Romanoy.
“Why, yes. If she were here—if you were she, for instance—I’d do something like this.”
His arm was a steel band against which she could not fight. It crushed her against his chest so that her breasts hardened and her nipples stood up and her loins tingled to his touch.
Her soft mouth was drawn to his and then he kissed her, long and hungrily.
Adorla Mathandis tried to fight, but he was far too strong. Push as she might, she could not free herself from the arm that held her. And his lips! They were like living flames that burned her flesh, that made her limp as flax, that lit a fire deep in her soft belly.
His big hand moved to cup her buttocks, to fondle that soft flesh. Adorla Mathandis whimpered, deep in her throat. She could not fight this man. He was like no other man she had ever known. If he wanted her, if this was the price she must pay to regain her throne, then she was willing.
Her mouth loosened, she felt his tongue slide between her lips. No other man had ever kissed her so. No other man had ever stirred the fluids of her loins, had made her want to part her thighs and accept his manhood.
Then he let her go and chuckled. “That is what I could do, were you Myrnis.” Adorla Mathandis felt herself abandoned. She lay there, her face in the pillow, and felt the blood pounding all through her flesh. Nothing had ever stirred her so much as that kiss, as that hand roving her body.
She was too proud to tell him so. Yet she murmured, “I will make you a noble in
Alkinoor, if you will make me queen again.”
Kyrik stretched lazily. “I could be king in Tantagol, if I were minded to be. Two others hold my kingship for me while I roam the world, Aryalla the witch-woman and Almorak who was an outlaw at one time.”
She stared at him. “You—a king?”
“I was a thousand years ago.” He told her of the nearly forgotten years so many centuries ago when he had ruled in Tantagol, of his grandfather, Kornak, of his father Kyron. Of how he had been turned into a six-inch-high statue and had been brought back to life by Aryalla. For a thousand years he had lived in that statue, and now he felt the need to enjoy life.
“That need takes me to all corners of my world,” he growled. “I fight, I make love, I do what pleases me.”
She inched herself forward until her soft body rested on his. He could see her breasts, half out of her torn tunic, and their shapeliness. He could smell the natural perfume of her flesh.
Never before had Adorla Mathandis wanted to seduce a man. Never had the blood churned so in her body. Yet she was a woman, she knew instinctively those things which would please a man. Her palm ran up and down his chest.
“Take me,” she whispered. “Take me as a woman, then take me to Alkinoor as a queen.”
“Go to sleep,” he told her, and rolled over on his side.
Adorla stared at him with wide eyes, not believing what he had said. Her hands balled into little fists, which she beat upon his back and shoulders.
“You dare? You dare refuse me?” She panted, she sobbed. She was so furious, she could not speak. No one had ever denied her anything. Not even Ulmaran Dho, her high councilor, not even Lyrrin Odanyor the high priest. This—this barbarian—was turning down the gift of her royal body.
After a time she fell asleep, still sobbing weakly. She woke to the slap of a big hand on her bare behind. She came off the bed screeching, putting her hands to her rump, exposed during her sleep when the torn tunic had risen upward, and stared from under her tumbled brown hair at a grinning Kyrik.
“You sleep too much,” he told her. “Now cover yourself up, you’re mighty tempting that way. We have things to do.”
Flushing, she tried to pull down the tunic to cover her nakedness. Kyrik was unrolling a parchment, she saw, and her curiosity was aroused.
“What’s that?” she asked sullenly. “I’ve been to a mapmaker and paid him good coins to draw me a map of the Barren Lands that lie beyond the river Hister.”
She came off the bed to stand beside him, watching him unroll the map. Her eyes studied the ink markings on the parchment, and here and there she saw names that she knew.
“Alkinoor lies north of those barrens,” he said. “To get there we have to go over the river and through those barrens. Men say they are haunted, that no one lives who travels through them.”
Adorla muttered, “There is a safer way. There is a caravan road from Domilok to Alkinoor.”
Kyrik hooted. “And those roads will be filled with men who may know the queen of Alkinoor.”
She licked her dry lips. “Then you’ll take me to Alkinoor?”
“I want to get Myrnis back.” Adorla Mathandis breathed deeply. She had never been confronted by anyone who did not drop to his knees in terror at her royal fury. She began to understand that this warlock-warrior was not as other men. In her mind, she thought about this woman who looked so mu like her that she could pass as her double.
They were not nice thoughts. If she had had the power, she would have ordered that other woman killed. And not prettily, either. Her eyes ran over the shoulders and deep chest of this man beside her. He would make a good king, if he could ever win back her throne.
She said sweetly, “Of course. I want you to get back that girl. But she is queen now, in my place.”
“Then we’ll put a crown on your head.” He moved toward the door and Adorla followed. To her surprise, she was not quite as eager to have that crown put on her head as she had been. Right now, she was more eager to learn about Kyrik, to have him beside her on a bed as he had been last night.
Next time, she told herself, he would not turn his back.
They ate in the tavern, feasting on eggs and meat and cold milk. Kyrik had hired a horse for her, a dainty Ocarian mare, and a pack-horse to carry what food and equipment they might need. He himself still rode the big stallion.
They set out in the early morning sunlight, riding easily across the grasslands that moved lazily in the winds that swept southward out of the Doravian Hills. Kyrik was in a hurry, but he knew well enough that he could not push his beasts beyond a certain limit.
Myrnis would be safe enough in Alkinoor, if what he suspected were true. She would be guarded and pampered as befitted a queen, though she would have no power. This too, he knew, for neither Ulmaran Dho nor Lyrrin Odanyor wanted anything but a puppet woman to rule beneath their thumbs. Time, then, was not so important.
He scanned the plains across which they rode, distant enough from the caravan routes to be an almost empty land. No curious eyes would see them here, or if they did, would pay them little attention. Certainly Adorla Mathandis looked more like a hired strumpet than a queen.
Kyrik let his eyes run over her as she rode beside him. That torn tunic showed off her bare legs, naked to the curve of her hips, and those breasts of hers were almost bouncing out of the neckline as her horse cantered. Kyrik grinned. It was almost like having Myrnis riding with him.
Except that Adorla was a cold thing, without blood in her veins. If he attempted to caress her, she would probably rake his face with her nails. Still, last night, for a moment, he almost fancied that she wanted him to make love to her. But he must have been mistaken.
All that day they rode, and in the cool of the sunset hour they camped at a little stream where the water was cold and sweet and there they ate the meat and bread from one of the sacks on the pack-horse. Adorla was saddle-sore. Kyrik stifled a grin when he watched her hobble about, legs stiff.
When they were finished eating, the girl asked, “How do you intend to go about this? You can’t just ride in and swing that big sword of yours and hope to conquer Alkinoor.”
“I’ll think of a way.” He chuckled and glanced sideways at her. “I can always climb up your palace wall and take Myrnis out, you know. All I’m really interested in is getting Myrnis back.”
“And what about me?” He shrugged. “You’re queen, there must be somebody in that city of yours who wants to see you back on your throne.”
“Ulmaran Dho is very powerful. So is Lyrrin Odanyor.”
She sounded so woeful that Kyrik felt like taking her in his arms to console her. But he decided against that. She was a regular spitfire and he had enough trouble with the men of his world to risk fighting with a woman.
So he said, “I’ve never met a man yet I couldn’t kill. One way or the other, with Bluefang or without it, I’ve managed to slay those who needed death.”
Adorla brooded at him from under her long brown lashes. He was more of a man than anyone she had ever known; bigger, too, with shoulders covered with muscles and a yard wide, and arms bulging with power. In that chain-mail shirt and his tattered kilt, he seemed like the elemental male.
She caught up her sleeping blanket and walked away, saying over her shoulder, “You can’t fight an army. No man can.”
Well, that was true enough, he decided. Alone, he could do little. But Fate had a way of intervening when you forced it. He sat staring into those flames for a long time, just thinking.
At the first red rays of dawn they were up an riding, moving across the grasslands at a steady trot that ate the miles. They had a far way to travel, from Domilok to the river Hister. If it had been Myrnis with him instead of Adorla Mathandis, Kyrik would have enjoyed it more.
Four days it took them to cross that vast plain east of Domilok. Only occasionally did they see a human, and these were the outriders who attended the great flocks of grazing sheep and cattie which belonged to the merchants of Domilok or Sokarjis.
They skirted those herds, when they saw them in the distance they rode far round them. Kyrik wanted no news of their traveling to reach a city where spies of Ulmaran Dho or Lyrrin Odanyor might learn about them. The sun beat down by day, tinting Adorla a dark golden hue, and adding to the bronze of Kyrik’s skin. By night, beneath the two moons, a wind swept cool and fragrant past their blankets.
When they came to the river Hister, they drew rein to stare across its gently flowing waters. A mile in width, it was deep in the middle, and their horses could never swim against that tide. Kyrik turned the Karanyan stallion and walked him steadily southward.
In time, they came to a collection of huts that formed a fishing village. Wharfs jutted out into the river, and a number of small fishing boats swung lazily at anchor.
Kyrik rode into the village and dismounted. Men and women came out of the huts to stare at him and at Adorla. Few travelers ever came this way, and none by land. There was suspicion and unease in their eyes, and they seemed poised to flee at the slightest movement.
The warrior-wizard reached into his belt pouch and produced a golden griff. This he tossed into the air so that the sunlight caught its metal and made it gleam.
“I need a ship,” he said.
A graybeard who leaned on a cane came tottering forward, eyes sharp. “There are pirates on the river these days,” he said, gesturing at the ships. “We keep close to the shore. We have nothing for them to steal but our catches, and since we do not fish, there is nothing we have that they want.”
“I’ll risk pirates.” The old man eyed him up and down. “One man has no chance against Olyxus.” The sharp eyes touched Adorla where she sat in her saddle. “That one would fetch good money in the slave market at Tizone.”
Kyrik grinned coldly. “Let me worry about the woman.” In sharper tones he asked, “Well, what about it? Do I get a boat or don’t I?”
He put his hand into the leather sack and brought out two more griffs. The old man’s eyes widened. To these fisher-folk three gold pieces represented a small fortune. The aged shoulders shrugged.
“I have a boat. I’ll sell it to you for those coins.”
They walked out onto the quay, and the old man pointed a quavering finger toward a lean shallop. Its sail was furled on the boom attached to the upright mast. It looked like a fast sailer, Kyrik thought.
He handed the gold pieces to the old man, saying, “If the pirates catch us, they won’t need that shallop. You’ll find it drifting somewhere on the river and you can have it back.”
The old man chuckled slyly. “That was in my mind, stranger.”
He accepted the coins and made a hand motion to a young man standing close by. Instantly the youth dove into the water and swam to the shallop, clambering aboard and raising the anchor.
With a long pole, the youth brought the shallop in close to the wharf. Adorla leaped nimbly aboard, took the sacks that Kyrik handed her. Then, one by one, their horses were brought on board, where they shifted their feet uneasily until Kyrik calmed them.
He ran up the sail under the watching eyes of the fisher-folk, and he did it neatly and quickly. Long years before, Kyrik had sailed the waters of the Nameless Ocean in boats such as this. It had been a thousand years ago, when he had been king in Tantagol, but the memory was still as sharp as though it had been yesterday.
Wind filled the sail, the shallop moved outward, and when it was in the middle of the river, Kyrik swung the rudder so that the prow pointed northward. He sat at the bow and his eyes scanned the river waters, and the little fishing village receded from view.
The air was sweet around them, the sun was warm. At any other time, Kyrik might have enjoyed this sail. But that talk of river pirates and the trouble that lay ahead of him in Alkinoor put an uneasiness in his middle.
All the rest of that day they sailed, and when it grew toward nightfall, Kyrik put his eyes along the shore, seeking out a place to camp. He would fish for food, he would cook that fish over hastily built fires, but when they had eaten, he would put out that fire lest it draw unfriendly stares.
He was about to say something of this to Adorla when he saw her stiffen. His eyes followed hers.
Out from a little promontory came a low, fast galley, its oars manned by big men whose weapons were at their belts. Those oars flashed red in the dying sunlight as they dipped and raised, lowered to dig once again into the water.
Kyrik muttered, “ Illis of the soft breasts ! Let the wind freshen.”
The breeze blew and the little shallop fled across the water, but the galley was rowed by sixty men, and its own sail was raised, so that it seemed to skim across the little waves. Kyrik watched it coming, and his face was dark.
He could never overcome that galley and those pirates. Not alone, unaided. Yet he could not surrender to them. He must fight as best he could and let Rogrod of the Fire-flames take the hindmost.
He swung the shallop in an arc, drove straight for the oar-bank. Adorla Mathandis screamed, but Kyrik only shouted, “Brace yourself, girl!”
The prow hit those oars, snapped them. Instantly Kyrik yanked out his sword, caught hold of an ornamentation of gilded wood on the galley, and swung himself upward. He faced close to a hundred river pirates—and on the poop he could see their captain, that man whom the fisher-folk named Olyxus, a big man with a black beard and long black hair who was shouting profanities—but he had never before met defeat with a sword in his hand.
He leaped in among the pirates. Bluefang hummed as he swung it.