Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
Men went down before his blade. It struck like a bolt of golden lightning from the sky, and where it touched, men died. They came at him in waves, but he was never still, moving from oar-bench to oar-bench and then up onto the walkway.
Always his sword swung or darted, and where it touched, blood flowed. His thickly muscled arm seemed tireless, and his lips were drawn back in a battle snarl. Around him men screamed in agony or shouted warnings, and tumbled over one another to get at him.
Steel cut his flesh, he bled in a dozen places, but these were only flesh wounds and did not sap his strength. From the runway he fought his way to the tented gavon, that small compartment on the poop deck that was the captain’s sleeping quarters, and always as he moved, men died.
He saw Olyxus staring at him, black eyes wide. If he could reach that pirate captain and slay him, he might induce the other pirates to take him as their chief. Always the finest fighter was the captain. Once let him do that and he would have a crew of hard-bitten fighters to do his bidding.
Yet even as he lunged toward Olyxus, someone hurled a battle-mace. Kyrik had no chance to avoid it, he was lunging for the pirate captain, sword up and swinging, even as that mace caught the back of his skull.
He saw his blade go into Olyxus—Everything swam about him as that mace thudded home. He stumbled a few feet, tried to catch his balance. The pirates roared with triumph and sprang for him. One man caught hold of his arm.
His knees struck the low rail about the poop deck. Off balance, he lunged sideways. His body lost its balance and he saw the water coming up to meet him.
He went down into cold blueness, felt the tug of the current. His right hand still held Bluefang, and despite its weight he would not let it go. The cold water shocked his senses.
Though he was half out from the blow of the hurled mace, he still retained enough of his wits to know that once he showed his head above water, he would be the target for thrown spears and bowstring-driven arrows. He went down and down, and turned underwater to see the hull of the galleon right above him.
He swam upward to that hull, caught its slick wood, and lifted his head into the air directly below the poop that jutted out above the water. No one could see him there, unless they leaned far out above the rail.
He heard them discussing him, and grinned wryly at the names they called him. After a time they decided that he must be dead, and so they turned their attentions to Adorla Mathandis and the horses.
They brought the girl onto the galleon, screaming and fighting every foot of the way. Kyrik snarled when he heard her, he came close to clambering up the side of the galleon, but at his first movement, his head exploded.
He sank back into the cold water and the pain went away.
Above him, the pirates were gathered about Adorla. He heard cloth rip and knew they were stripping her lone garment from her body. She would be naked now, and prey to their animal lusts.
But then the voice Olyxus ripped out. “Hands off, you foul scum. This one is worth gold in the marketplace at Tizone.”
Protests were heard, but Olyxus was not to be questioned. “You have your bawds, and we’ll be home soon enough. This one goes for sale. By Absothoth. She’s a rare piece.”
Kyrik clung to the slimy slide of the galleon and fought for his strength. He was in no shape to clamber up the slippery wall and fight for Adorla. Not now. He needed rest and an end to that ache in his skull.
The oars dug in, the galleon moved forward and Kyrik felt the ship sliding away from him. He sank into the water and swam. He would never catch the galleon, he understood that, but he must reach the shore and rest.
He clambered out onto the low, shelving shoreline and stood a moment, staring at the undergrowth. He must rest, first of all. He needed sleep. more than he needed anything else.
He sank down beneath a bush and closed his eyes.
Kyrik woke to the twitter of birds after dawn. The pain in his head was gone, but when he felt of it, he discovered caked blood on his thick yellow hair. He went to the river’s edge and washed the caked blood away.
As he lay there he saw fish moving about, darting this way and that. Very carefully he loosed his dagger from its scabbard and waited.
In time a fish came nosing in close to the bank. Kyrik poised the dagger, stabbed downward, then drew up that fish, wriggling crazily, on the blade. With a swift blow he killed it.
He made a small fire and cooked his meal, then ate it, his eyes going up and down the river seeking for the shallop. It was nowhere to be seen, and he grunted. Apparently the fisher-folk had seen what had happened and had come in the night to reclaim their vessel.
No matter. He would walk southward on this eastern bank of the Hister and would come, sooner or later, to the pirate stronghold. What he would do there, how he would win Adorla Mathandis from their grip, he did not know. Yet he would—or he would die.
He began his walk along the riverbank, moving with the easy stride of a man who rarely tires. His dagger hung close to his right hand, his sword near his left, and the clanking of the sword-chains made a faint music for his muscles.
All that day he walked, and another, and yet another, before he saw the tumbled stones that ran across the ground and upward to form the shape of houses and temples. Sunlight touched those stones, turned them golden.
Kyrik halted, staring. He turned over in his mind what he knew of this land that lay between the rivers Hister and Thrumm. They were barren lands, cursed by forgotten gods, or so the legend went. No men lived here, the land was desolate, empty of all life.
Yet once there had been a city here, beside the river men had named the Xixith. There was no river now, only a deep depression in the ground where once water had flowed and gurgled. Kyrik did not recall the name of that city. He believed it was so old it had been forgotten by the race of men.
He moved a dry tongue around in his mouth. It night be that there was water in that city, and possibly food. He had been angling his walk inland, seeking to discover a farm where he might buy a horse.
He knew now that he would find no farm. He knew now where he was. In disgust, he turned and moved toward that city, almost as though a voice called out to him. It might be that rabbits lived in the ruins of that unknown city, and that there might be wells from which all the water had not gone.
The sun moved across the sky as he walked. It began setting when he came to the first of the tumbled stones. The stones of this dead city were no longer golden, but blood red. Was there a warning in that color, a hint that any who walked into this city might not leave it?
He shook himself. He was not a man easily frightened by omens, nor by the bleatings of priests who warned always of deadly dangers to be found in empty cities. His hand loosed Bluefang in its scabbard and he strode forward even as the sun lowered behind him.
The sky darkened as he walked, and by the time he moved in between those tumbled stones, the first stars were glittering in the heavens. A cool wind came across the stones, chilling him faintly.
His eyes went from a shattered obelisk with writing on it no man could interpret, to a wall where ivy clung. Ahead of his war-boots was a paved street. At least, once it had been paved, but now the stone blocks were uprooted and lay awry so that he had to step carefully to keep from stumbling.
The sound of flowing water touched his ears, and he angled his stridings toward a narrower street angling amid deep shadows. It seemed to him that he could hear breathing, as though an animal crouched and waited.
Yet he saw no one, though once or twice, from the corners of his eyes, he saw movement. Kyrik grinned coldly. If any lay here to entrap strangers —why, let them. He was angry at having been accosted by pirates, more angry at the fact that Adorla Mathandis had been taken from him, and he was in a mood to sink steel into human flesh.
Up ahead. Yes, he could hear it now: the faint tinkle that flowing water makes when it runs over loose stones. Kyrik increased his pace.
He came to the edge of a great square and in the middle of that square was a fountain. There was no fountain any longer, no water rose upward in graceful curves to fall splashing back into the wide marble basin that
“By Illis,” Kyrik rumbled. There was water in that basin. He could see it now, catch the reflection of the first stars on its surface. He moved more swiftly, began to run. He came to that fountain’s edge and he could see the water in it.
Warily he cupped some of that water, lifted it to his lips. He sipped. The water was sweet and cold.
Kyrik needed no more than that hint. He bent and drank greedily, lifted his head to breathe, then lowered it again. He was still drinking when he heard the sound of a pebble rolling.
Kyrik swung to one side, his hand going to his dagger-hilt.
Three men were racing for him—or what he assumed were men. They were gaunt scarecrows, so thin he could see all their bones pressing into their flesh. They held weapons in their hands, curved swords and straight swords, and they aimed their points at his heart.
Bluefang came out, parried the first of those blades that reached out to drink his blood. His steel brushed those blades aside, then he swept Bluefang forward.
A man died with that sword deep in his chest, coughing and spitting blood. Kyrik shook his blade and the dead body tumbled to sprawl on the cobbles.
Again he swung his sword, and yet again, and now three men lay dying at his feet. Kyrik stared down at their twitching bodies, wondering how such things as these managed to survive in a dead city.
He wished he had only wounded one of them, so he could get him to talk, to tell him what city this had been, and where it was located. He bent above each of them, but Bluefang had done its work well. Even now they were stiffening in death.
And yet, where men such as these had eaten, he could too.
His war-boots took him down empty avenues where only the wind and his own echoes made any sound. He wandered into buildings and out of them, but it was only when he came to the great square building with the ornamental carvings on its stones, that he began to understand.
The door of the building stood open, and from that opening came a charnel stench. Kyrik made a gesture of disgust.
Were those men ghouls, then, who fed upon the dead?
Yet this city was old. There would be nothing left of its inhabitants, even those who were dead and buried, but dry bones, after all these ages. And then he began to remember.
This was Fildereth, the city of the dead. Here came funeral barges from Tizone, from Kulath and from Uthapor, and here those barges were emptied of the dead bodies they contained, to be put to rest amid the dry stones of this forgotten city. City? Nay, it was more like a gigantic tomb.
He was turning away from the huge building when he saw the hare. It was nibbling at some leaves, less than twenty feet away. Very silently, Kyrik drew his dagger.
As silently, he threw it. The big hare died transfixed, Apparently those ghouls did not bother with what hares and rabbits might live in these ruins. It had not feared him, it had gone on eating.
Kyrik chuckled. He skinned the hare and made a fire of dried sticks of wood and he roasted the hare by starlight and ate it slowly. When he was thirsty he walked to the fountain and drank once more from its waters.
After that, he lay down to sleep.
He did not sleep long. He had barely begun to dream when the voice whispered across the dead city like a wandering breeze, half sobbing, half laughing.
“Kyrik… Kyrik of the Victories Hear me, Kyrik.
Hear me call to you….”
He turned in his sleep, restless. Again the voice cried out to him, saying, “Up, sluggard Up, Kyrik who is king in Tantagol yet chooses to roam the land in search of a pretty gypsy Rise up, sleepy one….”
He came out of sleep with his hand on the hilt of Bluefang, and his senses alert. Quietly he rose and stood erect, his gaze taking in the moon-whitened stones, the bulking bigness of the buildings.
Once again that eerie call came wailing. “Kyrik… Kyrik of the Victories….” His skin crawled and the hairs at the base of his thick neck stood up. Who called to him in this city of the dead? Who knew his name?
It had been no dream, then. Someone—or something—cried out to him, in this city where only the dead could claim a home. A ghoul? Something such as those sub-human things he had slain earlier? Na, na. Such as they did not know his name.
It smelled of necromancy. Then he heard the laughter. Girlish, sweet laughter. And now Kyrik drew his sword. There was magic here, and he was not at all certain that cold steel, no matter how hard, would be of any use against it.
He moved toward the sound of that elfin voice: “Yes, Kyrik. Come to me!”” It seemed he knew that voice. From long ago, and from more recently. It was not the voice of Myrnis, nor of Adorla Mathandis. Yet he knew it.
He walked carefully between the buildings, alert to the slightest sound or sight of danger. He had drawn Bluefang, its blade glittered in the moonlight. Overhead the sky was black, spotted only here and there with a distant star. Suddenly, as he walked, the two moons swung above him and shed their reflected light downward into the , narrow street where he walked.
Ahead was the black opening into a low building. His eyes studied that entryway, and then the cold white stones of the building itself. There was something strange-alien about that structure. It was as if its builders had adhered to no known laws of nature.
And yet he knew that the summons had come from there.
Warily he advanced, his right hand tight about the hilt of Bluefang. From time to time he paused as he crossed that open square, to listen. There was no sound in this dead city except for the moaning wind as it came across the barrens to whisper between the tumbled building blocks.
He moved into the darkness of that doorway and stepped forward. Once inside the structure, he could see moonlight entering between spaces in the damaged roof. That moonlight showed him marble walls in which niches were set, and in those niches were statues of an unearthly beauty.
Kyrik froze. He knew those statues Or rather, he knew the woman those statues represented. And suddenly, his heart began to pound.
“Illis,” he whispered. Illis was a demon-goddess to whose love Kyrik had dedicated his life, long ago. From time to time she came to him in human guise, and when he needed her help, she was often there, in one form or another. By her help he had overthrown Devadonides and Jokaline his sorcerer, she had taken over the body of Myrnis when he had brought the bells of Salmalinda to recreate the forgotten city of Surrillione. By her help, he had been able to destroy that accursed city.
He walked forward toward the remnants of an altar, where shattered bits of marble lay tossed upon the paving-stones, where once a statue of Illis herself had stood. There was no statue now, only debris and spiderwebs caught his eye as he advanced.
Moonlight touched his sword blade, made it glow whitely.
In that moonlight, he seemed to see a woman. A naked woman with languorous limbs and high breasts, a woman whose eyes gleamed with love, whose long golden hair drifted about as though blown by a breeze.
“Kyrik of the Victories. Once again we join forces.”
Her voice was a mere whisper of sound, so faint that he could scarcely hear it. Yet her words were imprinted on his mind. He moved toward her but she withdrew, laughing softly, as though walking on silken-soft feet.
Away from that shattered altar she led him, toward a corner of the building wall where a niche stood, and in that niche a marble representation of the goddess. Wavering and unsubstantial, as though she were formed of drifting smoke, Illis stood pointing.
“Destroy that statue, Kyrik.” He scowled dubiously, but she stamped her foot, though he heard no sound. “Do as I say, lover.”
His hands went out, caught that statue, shattered it on the paving-stones. Something rolled free, something colorless, yet—glittering as though with hoarfrost on a winter night.
It was a crystal ball. Kyrik knew it was more than this, even as he reached for it. He took it in his hand, felt it warm —like living flesh—to his fingers. In the heart of that round ball was a face, the face of Illis of the Soft Breasts.
That tiny image laughed happily. As if from far away he heard that laughter, faint and impish.
“We meet again, my darling,” that voice whispered.
“Little good you’ll do me, wrapped in this stuff.”
Her eyes softened. “Would you have me flesh and blood? To throw upon cold stones and take as you might a newly-bought slave-girl? Na, na, Kyrik. I love my comforts too much to wander about with you as once I did inside Myrnis.”
“Myrnis is a prisoner in Alkinoor.” The ethereal voice hooted with scorn. “A prisoner, the man says. She is its queen.”
“Well, no. I suppose the little fool would rather be with you.”
There was tartness in that voice, and jealousy. Kyrik grinned. “Little fool or not, you’re going to help me get her.”
The gray eyes laughed at him. “I ought not. I ought to let her die.” The voice began to wheedle. “I could give you Adorla Mathandis in her place.”
“That cold wench The laughter rang out again. “She is not co—cold, Kyrik. Not—to you, at least.”
He snorted, and the tiny face inside the ball grimaced at him. Her voice went on, “Wed her and be king in Alkinoor, with my help.
“I am king of Tantagol. Almorak and Aryalla rule there in my name.”
“While you wander the earth seeking only for excitement. Is that your goal in life, Kyrik?”
He grinned, showing his big teeth. “And to worship you while I do.”
The gray eyes softened. “There is that, I suppose. Still, it seems to me that you might aspire to something better than a gypsy girl.”
“Are you going to keep this up? Because if you are, I’ll just tuck you into my wallet.”
Elfin laughter hooted at him. “You’re going to have to do that anyhow, because you can’t walk around with this ball in your hand and fight. And you’re going to have to fight, Kyrik.”
He grunted. “All right. What’s to do, then?”
“There is a place in these barren lands, accursed and nearly forgotten. A place of evil. You will go there.”
“Oh? And what about Adorla Mathandis?”
“Do you always think of women?”
“I feel I owe it to the girl. After all, she is—or was —a queen. She isn’t able to care for herself the way some street women could.”
The gray eyes grew sly. “And when you steal Myrnis, you’ll have to have Adorla to put in her place, won’t you?”
“Something like that, yes.”
“Well, then, stop talking and be on your way.” The crystal ball went blank. No longer could he see that lovely face imprisoned, in its thickness. With a sigh, he slid the ball into his pouch and moved out of the ancient temple into the moon-drenched streets.
He walked until he came to the crumbled stones to the south of the dead city, when tiredness came upon him. He found a building block, settled his back to it, and slept.
Next morning he found another hare, killed and ate it, and drank long of the cold, sweet water in the marble basin. He drank his fill, slowly and carefully. He rubbed his mouth with his thick arm and stared southward at the empty land.
He would have to cross that emptiness before he could hope to find Adorla. The sun beat down, touched his bronzed skin where the mail and his kilt did not protect it. Kyrik shrugged. The sooner at his task, the sooner it would be over.
He began his walk. All—day he walked, with the sun beating pitilessly upon him. Once he found a little stream of water and lay there to drink, but he saw no food, and he understood grimly that there might be no food in this wasteland at all.
When night tinted the world around him with its darkness, he lay down and slept. Hunger was alive in his middle, but he had been hungry before. When he found food, he would eat, and not before. Toward noon of the next day, he came to the broadly flowing river Thrumm. His belly tightened at the sight of that water, and he almost ran to its bank, where he lay and peered down into its crystal depths.
He caught three fish and ate them, and lying in the shade of a pillar this tree which grew close to the river, he reached into his pouch and drew out the crystal ball.
“Well? Where is she? Where can I find Adorla?” The crystal lost its cloudiness and the face of Illis peered out at him, frowning.
“Have you no faith in me? I’ve guided your steps here, haven’t I? The pirate lair is only a few miles away, downstream. You can reach it tomorrow.”
“Stay and talk with me,” he urged. The gray eyes laughed at him. “Once you would 1have asked me to assume my mortal form so you
could make love to me.”
“That, too, of course,” he nodded. “Save your strength, you’ll have need of it.” With that, the face was gone. Kyrik scowled and shoved the crystal ball back into his pouch. Women! Aye, and goddesses, too. They were all alike. He growled in his throat and rolled over to sleep.
For three hours he walked next morning before he saw the grim walls of the tiny citadel that was the pirates’ stronghold. Kyrik stood on the edge of an embankment and studied the quays that ran out into the river, the high walls and parapets.
Somewhere in that mass of stone was Adorla Mathandis.
The problem was, how was he going to get in? And once he got inside those brooding walls, how was he going to get the girl out? His hand fell to the hilt of Bluefang. He lifted the sword, then dropped it back into its scabbard.
He walked all around that citadel, searching for some spot over which he might clamber once night came to hide him. His experienced eyes went here and there, but he saw no opening other than for the gate which faced the river. He could scarcely walk in there.
Not until the two moons were in the night sky did he move, and then he came down out of the low hills like an animal seeking its prey. He walked swiftly, he ran at times, until he was right beneath the wall.
If worst came to worst, he would pretend to be a wandering man-at-arms seeking employment.
“Fool!” a gentle voice whispered. His hand clawed at his pouch, brought out the crystal ball. It glowed faintly, and in that glow he could make out Illis” elfin features. In a soft voice, he asked, “The wall’s too high to climb without being seen. I can scarcely force my way in through that gate.”
“There is the water,” the voice replied. Kyrik turned his eyes from the ball to the gently lapping waters of the river. It looked cold and forbidding in the light of the twin moons.
“Would you have me drown?” he growled. “There is a way in through that water. An old way, long forgotten by men—but not by me. Olyxus and his men do not know of it. Slide into the water. I shall guide you.”
He replaced the ball in his pouch and moved through the moon-cast shadows to the water’s edge. He paused only a moment, then dove. The water closed around him, hid him.
His eyes were open, but it was too dark to see. Yet he swam for the cold, slimy stonework of the quay, and eased his way along it until he was sheltered by an overhang of rock. He surfaced then, and drew in deep breaths of the night air.
Swim, Kyrik of the Victories! He did what that inner voice required, and then he saw a darker opening before him. Into that he went and it was like being wrapped in cold wet velvet. His eyes were open, but were blind as those of any mole. Yet always, he swam on.
In time he came to round metal. His fingers felt that metallic rim, made out the mouth of a forgotten tunnel, half filled with water. Kyrik moved into that opening, crawled along the damp metal until he came at last to a pipe that rose upward.
His questing fingers found a rusted metal ladder. Testing it for strength, he worked his way up that ladder, listening to it groan protestingly under his weight. Yet it held, it accepted him and firmed slightly when he was away from the river water that had come into the pipe below it.
Upward he went, until an opening yawned before him. That opening held a warmth to it that felt good to his chilled flesh. He clambered into the opening and discovered, after feeling about with his fingers, that he was on a tiny landing, and that the wall before him had been bricked over at one time. Warmth came from between those bricks, where the clay had loosened and fallen. Kyrik lifted his dagger into his hand and began to pick at that ancient clay.
Slowly he loosed it, slowly he drew the chunks out from between the bricks and placed them on the stone landing where he knelt. When he had loosened enough clay, it was a simple matter to reach out to a brick and draw it forth from where it rested.
He put his eyes to the opening he had made and peered through.