Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
They ran before the gusts that grew in intensity as the sky darkened overhead and the waves grew rougher and wilder. The vessel was lifted by those waves and hurled forward, half out of the water at some places, as Olvia clung to the moldboards with both hands and whispered words under her breath that the wind blew away.
Only Kyrik seemed unmoved by the approaching storm. Occasionally his eyes would go to the sail where it strained against the slides and gaskets. His hand was steady on the tiller, always he kept the bow pointed away from the full force of the gale.
Olvia was a little green. When he noticed that she was swallowing hard, he called, “Lie down. Cover yourself with the spare sail you’ll find in the locker. This won’t be pleasant for you, what’s coming.”
She shook her head. “I can stand it.” He merely shrugged. The winds were blowing full force now, and the shallop was bucking and pitching as if it had become demented. Olvia made a mewling sound deep in her throat.
“Heave up, girl,” Kyrik shouted. “But mind you do it away from the wind.”
She gave a brief nod, coughed. Next moment she was hung over the edge of the boat, retching. The seawater came up to drench her wetly, so that from moment to moment she was almost out of sight beneath the waves. But in time she sat back, swallowing hard, though her features still seemed faintly greenish.
“Lie down,” he urged. “Try to rest.” She sank onto the cockpit boards and lay her head against the sack of food. She moaned, drawing up her legs, and turned on her side.
“Still want to find that treasure?” Kyrik sang Out.
She did not answer him. Kyrik lifted his face, feeling the drops of rain slam into him as the black sky opened. The wind was even fiercer, out on the open sea, and the salt spume stung where it lashed his face.
But he grinned, loving every moment of it, even when a cross-wave, wind-driven, threatened to overturn the boat. He righted it by a prodigious feat of strength, pitting his massive muscles against the pull of the waves, keeping the rudder to its proper position, whispering prayers to Illis that the sail would not blow away.
He had estimated the shallop correctly. It was a good sailor. It flew before that gale, skimming lightly through the waves, shaking them to one side or the other in masses of foaming water.
The hours went by and still he sat like a graven image, unmoving as he fought the elements. There was darkness all around him now. It was hard even to make out the sleeping shape of Olvia on the floorboards. But the storm was about to blow itself out, he could sense this in the lessening of the wind, in the ease of wave-tension against the rudder.
It would not come yet, though. These storms on the Sunless Sea were famous from Antherak to Parthanor They took days, sometimes, before they lost their fury. It made no difference to Kyrik. He did not care whether Ammalauth-Vul were alive or dead. Only Olvia cared about that.
As the darkness faded slowly and the surging of the waves lessened, the girl sat up. Her eyes went to Kyrik, then upward toward the sky.
“Is it over?” she asked weakly. “Almost. Can’t you feel it?” She nodded, raised up and put her rump on a thwart. “You must be tired. Let me take that big stick you have.”
“It’s called a tiller. It moves the rudder to make the boat go where the helmsman wants. But I don’t think you could steer it, just yet.”
“You’re no good if you’re half asleep. I’m rested, my stomach’s at ease. Let me.”
Weariness was an ache in his body, he admitted grudgingly. He had sat here—how long?—fifteen or twenty hours, at least. He nodded, held the tiller until she came to take it, then moved forward to spread himself full length at her feet. In moments, he was asleep.
The shallop drove on. Kyrik woke with sunlight hot on his eyelids. He stretched a moment, then stared at the girl who sat by the tiller, clasping it, a faint smile on her full mouth.
“Have you held to her course?” he wondered as he rose to stand swaying to the lift and fall of the waves. The sea was calm now, the shallop cut through the waters with an ease that made him nod. He could see no shoreline, but a glance at the sun told him Olvia had kept the rudder aimed as he had placed it.
“I’ll take over now. Why don’t you get us some food out of that sack?”
They ate, their appetite increased by the bite of wind and the small of salt in their nostrils. The ale was particularly tasty, thought Kyrik, only there was not enough of it.
He said, “We’ll raise Obarium sometime tomorrow morning. This wizard you seek—Ammalauth-Vul. Is he in that city?”
“He has been imprisoned in the caverns of Zandol.”
Kyrik grunted, scowling. The caverns of Zandol were massive caves, reputedly haunted by some strange being that ate its victims, hair, bones and flesh. He had never gone into the myth very much, but he had spoken with travelers in Pthesk and in Domilok who had sworn that what they said was truth.
Still, if they were being used by some wizard—this rival of Ammalauth-Vul who had imprisoned him—they could scarcely be as dangerous as he had heard.
They took turns at the tiller by daylight and then by starlight. The boat drove on, for the winds blew strongly and were favoring. And in the middle of the next morning, as the shallop was making good headway into the wind, they sighted the lone watchtower that rose upward from the houses that comprised the port city of Obarium.
Kyrik brought the boat in among the bigger merchant vessels that traded here for Karanyan wine, for the draperies and cloths that came from the looms of Inisfal, for Ocarian copper. He made for a tiny quay that seemed not so clustered as the others,
And when they were docked, and he was helping Olvia onto the stonework of the wharf, Kyrik asked suddenly, “This rival wizard who imprisoned the one we’re after. Where does he dwell?”
Olvia glanced up into his face, startled. “In Obarium. Why do you ask?”
He jerked his head sideways. Following his eyes, the girl saw a man with a black beard, clad in flowing purple garments who came walking out upon the quay toward them. He was very big, he had the body of a warrior, and his black eyes were fastened on them both.
Kyrik turned to face him, putting his hand on the hilt of his dagger. If danger threatened, he would be ready.
When he was a dozen paces away, the man came to a halt. The wind off the Sunless Sea ruffled his beard, blew the folds of his purple cloak about thick legs.
He said in a booming voice, “You are strangers in Obarium?” When the Tantagolian nodded, the man smiled thinly, murmuring, “I have no feeling toward strangers, one way or the other, but there are men in Obarium who do not like them. Much of the city is forbidden them. Only the dockside area is permitted to their feet.”
Olvia smiled. “We are not long in the city. We are for Klasthoron.”
Not by a blink of his eyelids did Kyrik react to that baldfaced lie. He nodded, saying, “Klasthoron, yes. We’ve docked here only to replenish our supplies.”
The bearded man considered them, nodded. “I am one who would befriend you, if I might. Come with me and I’ll see to it you’re given everything you wish.”
Kyrik shrugged but Olvia would have held back. Under her breath as the man turned away and walked toward the other end of the pier, she muttered, “I mistrust that man. I think he’s Nokthon himself, the warlock who imprisoned Ammalauth-Vul.”
“What harm can he do us? Besides, if he shows he isn’t to be trusted, I’ll slip my dagger-blade between his ribs.”
Olvia shook her head. “I’m not sure that you’ll be able to. Nokthon is reputed to be a great wizard. Probably he saw us coming, suspected what we intend. I don’t like this, Kyrik.”
But she went with him, not fighting the hand that caught her arm. The wizard had waited for them, standing alone on the quay. He smiled as they came up to him.
“Walk beside me,” he urged. “In that way, no one will bother you.”
He took them from the quay along a narrow street where the houses almost touched, where the streets were paved, when they were, by cobblestones. Olvia shrank closer to Kyrik at every step, for she did not like the neighborhood through which they were moving.
The wizard seemed to notice this. He said, “Do not fear, girl. No one would dare touch anyone who walked with Nokthon.”
Kyrik rumbled something under his breath. He felt his skin crawl, the hairs on the back of his neck rise up. He did not trust this wizard. There was something about him that roused his animal instincts. And where his safety was concerned, the Tantagolian was as alert and wary as a wolf. The mage turned into a narrow alleyway. If Kyrik had not been as alert, he would have died at that instant, for out of the recess formed by a doorway two men sprang for him, daggers naked in their fists.
They made no sound, but Kyrik was using his eyes. He saw the motion of their bodies even before they came at him.
Kyrik put out his hand, caught the purple robe of the wizard even as Nokthon was whirling to flee.
“Stay, my lord wizard,” he growled, and swung the man in front of him.
Nokthon screamed, struggling. He was as a child in Kyrik’s big hands. He flapped his hands and sought vainly to slide out of his purple cloak.
Then the cutthroats were on him. They could not stay their dagger-hands. They drove steel blades into his back, and Nokthon stiffened. His mouth opened, wild eyes rolled up in his head.
Kyrik let go of him, reaching beyond him to tighten fingers in a hairy throat. As a dog shakes a rat, he shook the man, then thrust him savagely against his companion.
Instantly he was after them, his own dagger out. He fleshed it in the belly of the man nearest him and did not even look as the man fell away. He stepped over him, caught the second cutthroat, and drove his steel into his chest. The man sagged against the wall and slid to the cobbles.
Olvia stood watching with wide eyes. When Kyrik turned to her she said, “You should not have let the wizard be harmed.”
Kyrik glared. “Would you have rather had him be the cause of our death? He set up the trap, you know that. By his enchantments he learned—how, I can’t say—that we were interested in Ammalauth-Vul. He wanted to prevent our reaching him.”
Olvia shrugged. “But by letting him die, you removed the one man who could have helped us. If he put a spell on Ammalauth-Vul, only he could remove it.”
Kyrik moved his vast shoulders restlessly. “I’d rather have him dead than me. Those men would have buried their steel in me if I hadn’t shoved Nokthon in front of them.”
“It’s done and over with. Now we must look for an inn and something to eat.”
“And horses to take us to the caverns.”
They found the inn without too much difficulty. A wooden sign in the shape of a boar, with faded lettering, announced that this was the Boar’s Tooth Inn. Kyrik led the girl to it, stepped with her into thick, humid air that bore the smells of roasting meat and stale wine.
There were men and women at the tables. The men were clad in rough woolen jerkins, some with swords at their sides, some with war-axes. The women were blowsy, half-naked. Evidently slatterns off the street, Kyrik decided.
He guided Olvia to an empty table, saw a girl whose breasts were in danger of falling out of her low bodice, hip-waggle a path to them. Kyrik told her to bring hot lamb and cheese, with two big flagons of ale. Then he turned his eyes to the other diners.
They were farmers in off their furrowed fields, for the most part, with a sprinkling of city merchants. Only one man interested him, a middle-aged, rather quiet man who waved aside a woman who came to share his food and drink, whose face was clean-shaven, his nails clean. “A traveler,” Kyrik guessed. Olvia raised her eyebrows. “He might be able to tell us where to find horses. And the way to the caverns of Zandol. Neither of us knows the way.”
“Why share our secret with anyone?”
“We must share with someone, unless we can find a map-maker.”
After they had eaten, and before the quiet man was finished with his own meal, Kyrik told the girl to bring the other man a flagon of wine, at his expense.
The man looked at Kyrik when the wine was brought to him, nodded his head, poured a glass and sipped at it. He seemed to be considering.
Then he rose and came toward their table. He pulled an empty chair toward him and sat down. “My thanks for the wine. But I have found no gift is ever given without some recompense in mind. What may I do for you?”
“You have the air of a man who has traveled to far places. We are new in Obarium. We want horses and equipment for a journey inland. I was hoping you might advise us.”
The man said, “A journey. Now where might you be bound? I’ll need to know the quality of the mounts you’ll be needing. For a long trip, good horses. And my name is Borrade. Borrade of Pthesk.”
“You’re a long way from home.” Borrade shrugged. “I come and go where I will. I have no family. But this trip of yours, where is it that you travel?”
“Into Zandol.” Olvia stirred as Kyrik spoke. It seemed to her that he might lie a little, particularly when this man had such keen, intelligent eyes.
“Zandol. It’s a barren land, that. Only vultures live there.” His eyes sharpened. “Of course, there are the caves. Rumor says they’re thick with stolen wealth. Are you after that?”
Kyrik grinned. “If there is, I’ll be happy to share it with you.”
The other man waved a carefully manicured hand. “No need for that. My advice is given willingly and freely. Go you to the hostelry of the King and Trident. Close beside it is a stable. They will sell you horses there. Tell them Borrade sent you. It will get you better service.”
Borrade smiled slyly, as though at a secret joke. Olvia saw that smile and mistrusted it. But Kyrik seemed not to have noticed.
“I’ll do just that,” the Tantagolian said. “And my gratitude for your help.”
Borrade waved a hand and rose to his feet. “I’ll go now and finish the wine you sent. Have a good ride.”
When he was gone, Olvia whispered, “He plans something against us. I could read it in his eyes.”
“Now what would he be planning? It’s plain to tell we aren’t rich, so why should a man like that robust for the few gold griffs I carry in my purse?”
“It may not be robbery he has in mind.” Kyrik grinned. “Not robbery? Then what? Or do you think he was smitten with such lust for your body that he’s about to have me killed so he can abduct you?”
She shook her head. “No, none of those. But I didn’t like that sly grin of his. He’s planning something.”
“A fig for your fears. Come, drink up and let’s go find this King and Trident tavern. My bones tell me a feather-bed might not be such a bad idea after spending all that time in the shallop.”
They went to arrange for docking space for the boat, then moved through the narrow city streets and the darkness that shrouded them until they came to the King and Trident. A few coins changed hands, and they were in a small room that held a single bed and a washbasin.
“It’s not luxurious,” Kyrik grunted, “but the bed seems clean enough.”
They slept quietly, undisturbed by the occasional fight in the tavern below them that swirled out onto the street where blows and hard words were exchanged without regard for anyone who might see or overhear.
In the morning, there was no sign of the late carousers, other than an occasional bit of dried blood that Kyrik espied on the cobblestones as he went with Olvia to the stables next door to the tavern.
The stable owner was a blacksmith, wide of shoulder and with thick, ropy muscles on his arms. He wore a sooty leather apron, and was engaged in shoeing a stallion as they came into the smithy part.
“Borrade sent you, did he?” the smith asked with a grin. “In that case, it means you’re friends of his, and entitled to the best.”
He led them into the depths of the stable, brought out a big gray horse and a roan. Kyrik walked around them, vaguely puzzled. They were beautiful animals, strong as oxen, and yet they looked fast.
He asked, “Perhaps their price is too much for us? Those are good animals.”
The smith shrugged. “Nothing’s too good for Borrade’s friends. Ten golden griffs for both of them.”
In Tantagol, such mounts would fetch at least fifty griffs. Kyrik was more than puzzled, he was alarmed. The smith was practically giving these horses away. But why? What could he hope to get out of this deal, except a loss?
And why was Borrade so interested in them? It made no sense to his suspicious mind.