Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
The streets were empty at this late hour. Only distantly could they hear the voices of revelers, drunken men and women frequenting the ale taverns and the wine-shops in this lower corner of the city. The air was fragrant with salt from the sea that rolled its waves in among the piles and seawalls of the waterfront. Their feet made hollow echoes on the cobbles of the streets as Aryalla guided the big man toward those faintly lighted taverns.
“I would eat,” she explained. “I have not fed all day, and it has been a long one.”
Kyrik chuckled thickly. “Ah, to eat. To drink I have not washed my throat with midland ale for the space of a thousand years, woman. Nor have I tasted the wines of Karanya, or bitten into a steak or the meats and vegetables of a stew.” He drew his hand across his lips. “I drool at the thought. But—have you money?”
She smiled, “More than enough.”
Always his eyes moved from house-front to eaves, upward toward the sky where the twin moons of Terra circled lazily. He scanned the darker shadows, watched where sleeping beggar lay, or drunk man staggered. It was, she thought, as though he were drawing sight and sound inside himself as a thirsting man swallows cool water on the desert sands.
“You love life,” she whispered once. “More than you can know. Gods. To be imprisoned for ten times a hundred years inside cold metal, in darkness, living and yet not living. Illis of the soft breasts. It’s like coming back from the grave.”
They came to the street of wine-shops and ale taverns and now they smelled the cooking foods, the grape odors of spilled wines. Kyrik licked his lips, hastened his steps, his hand under her elbow keeping her at a half run.
“What of the soldiers seeking us?” she asked. “Pah! When Kyrik hungers, Kyrik eats. None shall stop us. Besides, would you have me fight on an empty belly?”
He needed food, if he were to fight. She could understand this, and so she tugged at him to enter the nearest of the many inns and taverns that abounded in the lower town. Yet he pulled back, he seemed always to be searching, searching.
At length, beneath a wooden sign in the shape of a bear, Kyrik halted, held the woman motionless. His eyes touched the sign, creaking lazily on a rusting chain where the waterfront breezes swayed it.
“Long ago, in my other life, there was a basilisk on chains like those. This is an old tavern, woman. Very old! I remember the way it used to be. It will not be a strange place to my eyes, and this I like.”
He looked down at her, smiled. “Since I live again, I find I love life even more than I did—long ago. Mead will taste better, so will wine. And the kisses of a mouth such as yours. . .”
“I didn’t bring you back to make love to me!”
“Na, na. Don’t be angry. Yet—can you blame me?”
Aryalla searched his green eyes, found them hot with lust. I must remember, he has slept for a thousand years! I must be patient with his animal nature. Yet she admitted to herself that there was an attractiveness about him, he might make a good bedfellow. She shook her head slowly.
“No, I don’t blame you. But you have more important things to do than think about a woman.”
“Then let’s get to it,” he growled and pushed open the tavern door.
They walked into heat and half a hundred tables where men and women sat, watching a naked woman on a wine-wet tabletop. Fists and leather jacks pounded the tables in accompaniment to the stringed instruments of the musicians crouched in an alcove.
“Illis,” breathed Kyrik, sniffing old, familiar smells.
His eyes were on the woman, devouring the large breasts and shimmying thighs. Aryalla felt jealousy bite within her. This giant was a man of primal emotions; she felt that in the old days he might have gone up to the woman and dragged her off the table and into a room where he might have her in privacy and at his leisure. Her tongue touched her lips.
Then he was half carrying her toward an empty table and gesturing a maidservant to attend them.
Aryalla he plumped down on a bench, sat beside her.
“Wine, first,” he told the girl. “Chilled Kalerian. And stew. And bring a steak off the coals after that, with greens mixed together in a bowl with condiments.”
The girl frowned. “Kalerian? We have no wine such as that. We have—”
“Bring it,” Kyrik laughed. “And cold mead, as well. I’ve a thirst, I find.”
He rested his elbows on the table and stared at the dancer. Aryalla feeling abandoned, shrank slightly within her cloak. Had she raised some sort of devil-man who would think more of his belly and his lusts than he would of vengeance? She had counted on his pride, his need for revenge. From what she had been able to learn of Kyrik from dusty old scrolls, he was a warrior who would not let another take that which was his own.
She stirred, put a hand to his hairy arm. “Remember, Devadonides sends soldiers.” Without looking away from the naked woman who was bending backwards with her pale thighs spread far apart, he said, “I know. I want them to come, to find us.”
“But to sit here. . .”
“Do you think Kyrik does not remember? Be assured I do, also that there is a want inside me. I must let the soldiers come to us, I won’t waste time hunting for them.”
“Hunting for them?” she gasped, appalled. “It’s better if we flee from them, that we hide.”
Now he turned his head and she shuddered at what she read in his green eyes. “Kyrik runs from no man. He who seeks out Kyrik with steel in his hand must face Kyrik’s steel.” His hand fell almost with affection on the hilt of his great sword. “As there is a need in Kyrik, so there is a need in Bluefang his blade. Bluefang is thirsty for the blood of Kyrik’s enemies. It has been a thousand years since Bluefang drank.”
What sort of monster had she raised from the dead? Aryalla shrank even deeper into her shrouding cloak. Her hand shook as she rested it on the tabletop. Instantly his huge paw covered it, squeezed. She felt the strength of his grip, though he did not exert his muscles. It was comforting, in a way, and she realized that it was Kyrik who was the leader, not she. He had taken over the role as easily, as naturally, as he wore his habergeon. In a way, Aryalla thought dazedly, she seemed no more than a child beside him.
The maidservant came with the chilled wine. Kyrik poured some into a leather beaker, shoved it toward her. His own jack he filled to the brim and lifted it to his lips. The woman watched him, half in awe. When he took away the beaker from his mouth, only the lees were left. He refilled the tankard.
Now other servants were bringing bowls of stew and bread still hot from the brick ovens, and wooden platters with steaks coal-grilled on them. The barbarian drew his dagger, slashed at the steak, stuffed a big chunk inside his mouth. He chewed, eyes half closed.
Then he lifted the wooden spoon, dipped it into the stew. Though she was hungry herself, the sorceress watched him in awe as he ate. Well, he hasn’t tasted anything like that for ten centuries, she thought; it was enough to excuse him. She dipped a spoon into her own bowl.
When they were done, Kyrik sat back, grinning faintly.
“One more thing remains,” he growled under his breath.
“And what’s that?”
“There’s a room upstairs, or used to be. Long ago I left a certain—something—inside it.”
Aryalla widened her eyes. “After a thousand years, do you think it’s still there?”
“I do. It was well hidden beneath a floor board, sorceress.”
Two naked women were now writhing, twisting together upon the tabletop. A hushed audience watched them. One of the women was the dancer, the other had risen from among the watchers to join her. Almost regretfully, Kyrik took his eyes from their nudity, rose from the bench. The sorceress fumbled at her girdle, tossed down coins.
Then Aryalla went like a black shadow in her cloak, at his side. Through a hanging curtain they passed, in a narrow hall that ran almost the length of the old house. Kyrik paused, they could hear rats scurrying between the walls.
“Up yonder is a door,” he breathed. They went softly, without sound, through that door and up a walled staircase to the upper story. The barbarian counted doors, paused at the fifth one from the hidden staircase. His hand turned the brass knob, slowly.
The room was dark. Kyrik pushed her inside, came to stand beside her. They waited until their eyes grew used to the dark. Through the grimy windows a gleam of moonlight splashed silver on the floor. It was enough to see by, Aryalla knew. Her eyes touched the room, finding it empty save for an unmade bed, a cracked chair and a table with a pitcher and a washbasin on it.
Kyrik moved catlike across the room toward the farther wall. He knelt down, fumbled a moment at a floorboard. The wide wooden length came upward and his hand went out of sight. An instant later it reappeared with something wrapped in shrouding red linen that molded and fell apart to his touch. Kyrik opened his palm. A red jewel lay there, glinting in the moonlight.
The sorceress caught her breath, took a step, than two. She bent, eyes wide to take in the sheer size, the brilliance of that jewel.
“What is it?” she breathed. “It must be worth a fortune!”
He chuckled. “Men have named it the Pleasure of the World, or the Red Daughter of Desire. Take your choice. My own name for it is the Lust-stone! Here Gaze into it, woman.”
She looked, her full red lips fell apart. Deep in those red deeps, a flame glowed. It leaped and danced as though to evil, unheard music. It was the shape of a naked woman, then a naked man, yet ever it danced on, to become a mere tongue of light that quested, pleaded, sought freedom from the facets of the gem.
And as she stared, Aryalla felt her blood pound hotter, knew the disturbing slamming of her heart, was aware that her breath came quicker, that her nipples grew rigid in desire. Yet still she could not look away, could not draw her eyes from that red temptation.
Big fingers closed about the ruby, hid it. The sorceress shook herself, the aftermath of passion still inside her flesh. Almost fearfully, she stared at the barbarian. “What is it? Where did you get that thing? With it. . .”
“Aye. With it, I can have any woman who stares into its depths.” He waited a moment, then barked, “Can’t I?”
She nodded silently, could not help risking a swift glance at the unmade bed. She wanted this big giant to throw her down on that rumpled mattress, to tear the clothes off her body, to possess her. Her breasts rose and fell. There was no need to tell him of her heat.
He laughed almost tenderly. “A rare thing, this. Once it belonged to Illis of the sterile kisses. It was made in some demon hell and given to an ancestor of mine who worshiped Illis, as I did. Illis—wants it back. She says—said—it was too powerful for a man to own.”
“It is. Just the same. . . ” Do you want to look into it a second time?” She almost nodded, she could not help it, the appeal of the red jewel was as wine to a toss-pot, as food to a starving man. She fought to quell the risings and falling of her breasts, the quiver of her thighs. A woman with lesser will power than hers would happily be a slave to the man who carried that jewel.
Then, out of the jealousy in her heart, she asked, “How do you intend to use it? Just to get yourself a bedfellow for a few hours pleasure?”
“Na, na. I have a greater need than that.”
“You’ll learn, in time.” He replaced the loose plank, fitted it carefully into place. As carefully, he gathered up the loose bits of dust that were all that remained of the linen cloth that had shrouded the jewel, slipped them into the leather purse at his sword-belt.
“I leave no traces behind me, you’ll notice,” he grinned.
His huge hands placed the jewel in his almoner, wrapped about with a kerchief. Time had not aged his body nor the things upon it, that had been turned into necromantic metal when the spell had been laid upon him. Then he gripped Aryalla, hurried her out of the little chamber into the hell.
“We’ll need horses.”
“There are stables open at all hours of the night.” They went swiftly from the upper hallway, down the walled staircase and through the tavern common room. Dawn was in the sky as they came out upon the cobbled street, splashing a pearly tint to the eastward where the lands of Tantagol and Ivareen lay, just waking. They hurried along the street, Aryalla half running to keep pace with his long legs.
At the stables, where a sleepy boy came running at their call, the sorceress handed over a golden griff and the boy returned with a big black stallion and a bay mare. They mounted up into worn but serviceable saddles and walked the horses along the streets. Kyrik rode easily in the saddle, as though long used to it. His head turned left and right, his eyes scanned the mean little houses past which they moved. The woman watched him slyly, her lips curving in a smile.
She said suddenly, watching his deep chest lift as he breathed in the salt air, “You seem like a man who never saw a building, never smelled stale fish and the tangy stinks of a waterfront.”
“I haven’t—for a thousand years. Can you understand my eagerness? I was dead for ten centuries, woman. I’m like a newborn babe.”
“Aye, that I can understand. I’ve seen too much of the world, I’m almost tired of it.”
His gaze sharpened. “You’ve told me nothing of yourself, of why you want Devadonides in his grave. I haven’t asked, respecting your silence.”
For perhaps a dozen paces, Aryalla rode with bowed head. Then she lifted her face, its lovely lines set in grim resolve.
“You should know, Kyrik. Your own history is written in the scrolls of Tantagol, of half our world. All know who care to read, of your victories, of that grim sword you name Bluefang and your repute with its use. Why should you not know of me?
“I was born to a magician named Gorsifal, who practiced his magicks in the city of Antherak. I grew up like any other girl of my times, except that from time to time my father instructed me in the ways of wizards and warlocks, witches and sorceresses. I was fascinated by the lore of demonology, of those nether lands and spaces where dwell such beings as Kilithin and Abakkon. By day and by night I stared at the scrolls, dusty and dry, written in half legible inkings. I scanned the stars, I read the prophetic sticks, the entrails of animals. I did well, before I was twenty.
“Twenty! How long ago that age seems. Yet I am not—too much older, even now.” Her black eyes glanced side-wise at the big man almost flirtatiously, and he grinned at her. “Then came a summons from Devadonides, king in Tantagol. He would have my father, who held a certain renown in the necromantic arts from Antherak westward to the sea, labor for him. He offered much gold, so that visions of great wealth danced in my sire’s heart and head. We must pack and leave at once, he told me. My mother was dead, we had no other relatives. And love had not touched my heart. What was there to keep me in Antherak?”
“We sold our land, our properties, converting them into griffs. His magical equipment, his alembics and grimoires, his dusty scrolls, his eidolons and thuribles, he packed on our mules. Many and varied were the thaumaturgical utensils of my father, much of them he had inherited from his ancestors who were also great mages.”
They were at the city gates now, open before the first incoming wagons and market carts from the outlying farmlands, hurrying to the great square before the housewives and the stewards from the rich houses would arrive to make their selections. Kyrik waved a hand at the guards’ captain who grinned back, Aryalla rode with her cloak’s hood covering her face, sunk deep in memory.
Between the wagons and the carts, they went at a walk, but when the open road beckoned, dusty and long before them, they touched heels to their mounts’ sides and urged them to a canter. The great forests began beyond the farmlands, that lay neat and broad across the vast meadow-lands surrounding the seacoast city. All around them was the rustle and whisper of tall grass and growing crops, the smell of the lush loam and manure, and Kyrik laughed full-throatily as he let the stallion canter.
“Life is sweet, woman,” he shouted. He stood in the leather stirrups, nostrils dilating as he drew in every smell, as his eyes touched the roof of a barn, the stone circle of a well. It seemed to Aryalla that he could not experience enough, that he reached out with all his senses for the reassurance that he was alive.
Yet in time, and as the dark forest grew closer, he looked at her. “Tell me more, Aryalla who is a sorceress. You went to Tantagol where Devadonides is king. And there?”
“For a time, my father served Devadonides well. He cast the runes, he searched the stars in the sky, which are said to speak of the future to those who possess the knowledge to understand the astrological wisdoms. Oh, he was well versed in all phases of the black arts. He conjured up demons, commanded them to obey the whims of Devadonides. And the king was well pleased—for a time.
“Oh, the king had other wizards, other warlocks. But none possessed the range of power of my father. He and I would together summon the spirits of the dead to rise from their graves and hold converse with us and with Devadonides.”
Well she remembered those nights, with the blustery wind beating rain against the tall tower which Devadonides had given to her father. A howling of the winds, a slashing yellow streaking as lightnings played across the sky—unnatural and alien, as though a part of it were opened to the hell-lands where the demon-gods lived. All this, outside the black stones of the tower; and inside: an evil incantation.
The deep voice of her father, her own clear tones, and the king half crouching in shadows, safe within a pentagram. A gradual smokiness in the air, as of graves pouring out a thick, fetid mist of the charnal regions and in those miasmal fogs, faint figures. Wraith-like they were, swaying as did the mists when a rainy gust would blow between the windows or shrill through a crack in the ancient stones.
Yet they lived, in a fashion. And—they spoke. They told of forgotten treasures, of battles long ago, won or lost. They told Devadonides the secrets of life beyond the grave until he gibbered and wept. And one night they whispered of—Kyrik of the Victories.
“Did they now?” asked the barbarian who had been king of Tantagol.
They were on the forest road, they moved along it at a gallop, their horses’ hooves drumming up echoes from the woodland deeps. Wildflowers at the edge of the dusty thoroughfare nodded in the wind of their passing, filling the air with scents that whispered of long, leafy byways and paths in the wild-wood where a man and a maid might linger to kiss and cuddle.
The riders paid these hints no heed, each was immersed in his or her thoughts. It was Kyrik, who stirred, who looked at her and asked, “Why would he wish to speak with Kyrik?”
“His very name is reason enough. Kyrik—of the Victories! No man since his time has so ordered his van, his cavalry, his pikes and bowmen, to achieve the stunning successes he did. A master of the war arts was Kyrik.”
“Yet surely his victories are written in the history scrolls?”
“Of course. But they contain so little, nothing of the keen brain that could assess a battle confrontation and make the right moves to snatch stunning victory from apparent defeat. Under Kyrik, the gold and black banners of Tantagol marched where they would—took what they would. As Kyrik had done so would Devadonides do.”
“They were empty, all those triumphs,” he growled in surly fashion. “They brought a curse on me, a curse that turned me into a six inch high statue for a thousand years.”
“Yet now Kyrik is free again. Alive!”
“I am that. But I find no need for kingdoms in me. I want to experience life and what it has to offer, witch-woman! No throne will hold my frame.” His huge hand slapped the worn saddle. “This shall be my throne, from now on.”
She reached to touch his arm as they galloped, eyes worried. “You will not help me, after I found you and made you live?”
“Oh, aye—I’ll help you.” Bitterness twisted his lips. “But you don’t know the whole tale of my cursing. You see, that other Devadonides made sure I could never unseat him or any of his descendants from the throne that is rightfully mine!”
She stared at him in horror. “What are you saying?” she gasped, after a long moment.
She drew in on her reins, he did the same; they confronted each other beneath the overhanging branches.
His lips twisted in a grim smile. “Your labor’s wasted witch-woman I can never do what you ask of me.”
“But why? Why?” He shrugged and let his eyes touch the boles of the trees where they framed the roadbed, where they marched in serried ranks deep within the forest, to disappear in a tangle of underbrush and shadows. There was pain in his green eyes, an agony of spirit. Her stare mirrored the despair inside herself as she read the truth of what he said in those eyes.
Her laughter rang out, scornful and mocking. “Two long years I’ve spent wandering the world to find you in that statue. Time wasted! Time tossed aside as I might throw away a ragged garment.”
“Still, we can try,” he muttered.
“So that I might die as my father did?”
He let sympathy show on his bronzed face. “Tell me how your father died, Aryalla—and why. It will serve to pass the time.” When he saw her shoulders slump, he reached out, caught her arm and shook it. “Oh, there may be a way—even yet. I said I’d take service with you, and I will.”
“I’ve fought before against odds—almost as great.”
As though hope revived her, she nodded faintly. “So be it. Try your best, it’s all I can ask. If instead of victory we achieve only defeat, then it was not meant to be.”
They rode on, but more slowly, and now Kyrik studied the woodlands on either side of them more carefully, as though he expected danger to confront them in those sunny glades.
Aryalla sighed. “Devadonides asked my father to raise the shade of Kyrik of the Victories, as I’ve said. No ghost, no phantom, made its appearance. There was only the dark shadows of the tower room, and we three.
“Kyrik is not dead,” said my father. “Kyrik lives!” And the king was angry with him, for he believed my father lied, that my father intended to rouse the shade of Kyrik to his own advantage.
“The king went to his other wizards and they raised what they said was the ghost of the former barbarian-king of Tantagol. Aye, they made that phantom talk, caused it to say what Devadonides would hear from its withered lips. And the king sent men to arrest my father.”
Before those pike butts pounded on the street level door, however, Gorsifal and Aryalla his daughter had made certain spells and learned from demons who gathered knowledge and wisdom to them as men did riches, that Kyrik had never died, that a conjuration had turned him into a bronze statue and that the statue had been lost from the sight of men for ten times ten centuries of Time. No man, no demon, knew where it was, except that it existed.
The men of King Devadonides had come in the night and taken Gorsifal, dragged him from his warm bed and his sleep, and carried him across the city to the royal gaol. They had tossed him into a cold cell and there they let him lay.
“I was away, that night, visiting a friend,” the sorceress whispered. “I heard of what happened and so I hid. King Devadonides did not search for me very long; it was my father who was the wizard, with all the theurgic powers. He did not know that what my sire knew, he had taught me also.
“Disguised, I frequented the taverns, seeking word of my father. I learned,” and here her voice broke and she wept a little, “that they had tortured him, long and with sustained cruelty, until he became almost a mindless thing. For weeks the cloak-shrouded executioners of the king worked on his poor body with hot coals and pincers, with flaying knives and metal-barbed whips. They could not break his spirit, they could learn nothing of Kyrik nor of me from his slashed lips.
“And on a day they took him to the high ground called Golgorra in Tantagol City, and there they hung him between four strong horses. The horses pulled off his arms and his legs and the stump of his body fell to the ground and lay there, still quivering with life, until it bled to death.”
Aryalla bowed her head, gnawed with strong teeth at her knuckles.
“Devadonides shall pay,” Kyrik muttered. “Ah, but how? If you cannot help—you on whom I counted so much—what can anyone do?”
“There is always hope.” They went on in silence, but from time to time Aryalla clenched her white hands into fists and sometimes she pounded one on the pommel of her wooden saddle. Kyrik did not look at her, his eyes were on the forest and the road ahead. His sun-bronzed face was set in grim lines, his lips were a thin slash, but his green eyes glowed.
The woman eyed him from time to time, black brows drawn together. To her way of thinking, he seemed to have forgotten her and her tale. He was more interested in the swaying of the branches about them, sniffing the wind that came between the hazel thickets and the tree-boles. It seemed to her brooding eyes that he had no thought save for the wild-wood that encircled them.
Aryalla opened her mouth to protest his indifference.
His upraised hand held her speechless. Kyrik whispered, “Do not show alarm, but we are watched. There are men in these woods. They creep closer, closer. . .”
They rode on, questions quivering on her mouth. “Are they mere bandits?” the barbarian asked. “Or do they come from Devadonides? He has wizards serving him, you say. Can they have sniffed out the magic that brought me back to life?”
Sunlight winked on an arrowhead. Aryalla shivered.