Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
He could see very little, just the suggestion of a hall, and that only by a very faint light that flickered from time to time as though it were blown about by a breeze. He listened, but he heard no sound.
Once again he went to work on that old clay and the bricks, until he had hollowed out a section of wall large enough for him to slide through. Then he stood in the dark hall and let his eyes slide up and down it.
Far off, a torch waved its flame in the faint breeze. Other than that, he saw nothing in that long corridor. He turned his eyes to the hole he had made.
Yes, he saw it now, where ages ago someone had walled up that opening to the metal tube. He wondered why there had been an opening in the first place? Had some monarch used this stronghold as a summer palace, and kept this opening to fling out the bodies of men of women for whom he had no further use? It might well be.
On his war-boots he went silently down that corridor, moving toward that cresset where the flame burned. There was an intersecting corridor there, which was also empty.
“Where now?” he wondered in a whisper.
Straight ahead, my lover. Kyrik chuckled. Trust Illis to be with him in spirit, at least. He did not wonder how she was able to guide him. She was a goddess, she could do such things from her lair in some other world. All she needed was an object to make contact with, like that crystal ball. Or as she had once used Myrnis.
He went swiftly, but quietly. When he came to an open door out of which bright light was flowing, he paused to stare inside it. He looked into a room, the floor of which was covered over with rare and costly carpets, while the walls were shrouded in gaily tinted strips of silk.
Silver chains dangled from the ceiling, which was also draped in silk, colored with all the shades of the rainbow. It was a sybaritic room, arranged to please the fancy of a sensualist. From those chains, a naked woman hung so that her toes could barely reach the carpeted floor.
The woman was Adorla Mathandis. The breath caught in his throat as he stared at her loveliness. Oh, he knew that body: it was the twin of that of Myrnis, the Romanoy gypsy girl. Yet there was a difference.
Where Myrnis was slim and brown, Adorla Mathandis was somewhat more plumply curved, and her skin was the color of mare’s milk. Her breasts were slightly heavier, her nipples even larger. There was an added roundness to her hips and her buttocks were somewhat fuller. Her legs were just as shapely, though a trifle more full.
She hung in those silver chains, head lowered, eyes closed. Traces of dried tears could be seen on her cheeks.
Kyrik growled in his throat and moved into the room. Not until he was closer did he see the platters of food that had been placed close to her, just out of her reach. He also saw that the key to the silver manacles that held her lay on the silken floor.
He came into that room like a hunting leopard, quiet but dangerous. He caught up that key, slid it into the manacle lock. As he did so, the faint grate of metal on metal made the girl open her eyes.
“Kyrik,” she breathed. There was welcome in those brown eyes, in the faint smile that twisted her soft red mouth. She whispered, “I thought you—dead.”
He unlocked one manacle, then caught her as she sagged weakly. “Don’t talk,” he told her. “I’ll
have you out of those things in a moment.”
He undid the other manacle and now he held the all but fainting Adorla tight to his body. She whispered, “I starve, Kyrik. I have not eaten since—they took me.”
Gently he lowered her to the silken floor. “Then we’ll eat, the two of us.” There were joints of beef, hot and smoking, and
whole hams, surrounded by platters heaped high
with vegetables, with fruits, with leafy salads. There were also loaves of bread, still warm from the ovens.
They sat on the silk-shrouded floor and ate, Kyrik passing over his dagger to the girl so she could slice the meats she wanted. He was not so . dainty, his big hands went out and lifted up a haunch of venison and he sank his strong teeth into that dripping meat.
She whispered after she had swallowed a few mouthfuls, “They change the food every so often, so that the aroma will torture me. Olyxus is a demon. In a little while—I would have given in to him.”
She flushed when she saw his upraised eyebrows. Her chin tilted proudly.
“He—wanted me. Oh, he could have taken me. Raped me, I mean. But he wanted more than that. He wanted me to come to him filled with lust. He hoped to break my spirit with the food.”
She sighed. “I suppose if I did not yield in the end, he would have raped and then killed me. Or maybe he would have sold me to some merchant, down in Tizone or in Uthapor.”
“Well, you’re safe enough now.” She shook her head at him. “No. Neither of us is safe. Olyxus is the law, here in this pirate stronghold. Me he will rape and you—”
Tears welled into her eyes. “You he will torture to death, Kyrik. He has two hundred men here in this stronghold. Even you cannot kill that many.”
Kyrik was a warrior, and a king in Tantagol, but behind him were countless generations of barbarians, used to danger in all its forms. He had long ago learned not to fret about that which had not yet happened. He merely put his hand on his sword-hilt and grunted.
They ate until the food was gone. Kyrik stood, then, and put a hand to the girl. “We’ll go now. I know a secret way.”
Adorla looked down at herself and flushed faintly, seeing her nakedness. She had forgotten in her pain and in the hunger which racked her body that she was unclad. Now she turned and ran to a far corner of the room and bent to tear the silks which formed a decoration there.
She took long strips of silk and used it to fashion a garment of sorts from it. Kyrik thought that the silk was worse, almost, than sheer nakedness, for its thin stuff hinted at her flesh tints, revealed even as it hid.
“It’s better than nothing,” she muttered defiantly.
It was as she walked back toward him that he heard the footsteps along the outer hall. With a quick gesture of reassurance to the girl, he leaped for the silken panels that hid the walls and slid behind them.
A man came into the doorway and stood there, staring at Adorla. He was a big man, fully as big as Kyrik, but he had let his body run a little to fat. There were still big muscles under that layer of fat, but easy living had softened them. His hard eyes went around the room swiftly, uneasily.
He saw only Adorla standing in her stolen silks, close beside the empty food platters. His gaze went to the silver manacles, then to the girl.
“Are you a witch-woman? A demon?” he asked hoarsely.
She shrugged and smiled. “And if I am?”
He seemed uneasy, unsure of himself. His hard black eyes roamed the room even as his hand slid to the hilt of his long-sword. He moved backward two steps, toward the doorway, and his lips lifted from his teeth in a slight snarl.
“Wizardry,” he whispered, and turned to flee. It was then that Kyrik leaped. Like a cat upon a mouse he bounded from behind those silken hangings, his thickly thewed arms reaching, his iron fingers widespread. Those fingers closed about the throat of Olyxus.
Olyxus was a strong man. He had not risen from the rank of oar-swinger to become a captain of pirates by will alone. Now, as those fingers tightened on his windpipe, his right hand fell to his dagger’s hilt.
He lifted out that dagger and poised to slide its point into the body of the man that held him so mercilessly. But even as he sought to do this, Kyrik shook him as a terrier might shake a wharf rat
Olyxus tried to breathe, and could not. His eyes, were dimming over, it grew harder to see. Every time he raised that dagger to drive it into the body of this man who held him, those iron fingers dug tighter and the massively muscled arms shook him so fiercely that he drove that cold steel at empty all.
His legs sagged. If this man with the hard brown face and long yellow hair did not hold him so tightly, he would have fallen. In a little while he would be dead.
Olyxus thought of all the loot he had taken in . the course of his lifetime. Gladly would he have given that gold, those jewels, to this beast of a man who held him so easily, were he but to ease the pressure of those fingers ever so slightly.
Hard thumbs dug in, and Olyxus lost his senses. Kyrik lowered him to the floor, but he did not remove his hands. This man must die, lest he alarm his fellows. His life and the life of Adorla Mathandis depended on that.
When Kyrik rose, Olyxus lay lifeless. He shook himself, growled, then glanced at the girl. She was crouched down, quivering, but her eyes were enormous, and they showed no pit in
them. Now that the pirate chieftain was dead, she rose to her feet and stretched out a hand.
“His men will find us,” she whispered. “Na, na. I know a way. Come along.”
They were moving down the corridor when they heard the sound of feet and the faint clank of metal. Kyrik cursed softly, swung Adorla behind him. His eyes ran up and down that long hall, and in his heart he knew there was nowhere to hide.
They came around the corner, ten men in all, and they halted at sight of him. Directly before them, a sword naked in his hand, was a tall man, lean almost to the point of emaciation.
The lean man halted, stretching out an arm to stop his attendants. Lank black hair hung down around his thin face in which black eyes burned. He wore a maroon cloak, and his chain-mail was silvered, ornate with golden pendants.
“Now this is a strange thing. I see that woman whom Olyxus lusted after, standing free beside the man from whom she was taken.” He raised his . voice. “What have you done with Olyxus, stranger?”
Kyrik rumbled, lifting his hands. “I slew him with these, choking the life out of him.”
The lean man nodded thoughtfully. “We were coming to kill him, ourselves. Too long have we served Olyxus. It is time we took matters into our own hands.” He shook his head. “But to have a stranger do it….”
He lifted his hand. The men with him ran past him with their swords out.
Kyrik grinned. His own blade came into the faint torchlight, and he ran to meet those men who hungered for his death. With sweeping sword-blade and darting dagger, he met them.
Bluefang slashed deeply into a man’s throat. His dagger rammed its blade into the belly of another. Instantly he freed both weapons, jerking them from the hot flesh in which they were buried, and again he swung and jabbed.
Men shouted in dismay. They had foreseen an easy victim, a man terrified by their numbers, but in this corridor numbers did them little good. Only two men could face this giant in the flickering torchlight. And two men were of little use against that long sword-blade—and slashing dagger.
The lean man shouted encouragement, then turned and ran. Kyrik saw him go, knew he was going for reinforcements. Unless he finished this fight soon, men would take him front and rear, and he would die.
He hurled himself forward, stabbing and slashing so swiftly that men went down before him, caught in the mesh of their amazement that one man should attack so many. He gave them no chance to use their own blades, other than to stab futilely at air where he had been. He thrust and clove with his steel, and men died gurgling on their own blood.
In moments, the corridor was empty save for himself and Adorla. She stood with her back against the stone wall, eyes wide and fixed on him.
“What’s the matter?” he asked as he came toward her, shaking the blood-drops from his blade.
“You—you slew them all,” she whispered. “If I hadn’t, that man who ran would have come back with more men than I could handle.”
His hand on her arm turned her, brought her with him at a run toward the broken wall through which he had entered. He kept looking up and down that corridor, listening for sounds which would tell him when those reinforcements were about to arrive.
Adorla cried out at sight of the opening. “Into it,”” Kyrik rasped.
When she hesitated, he picked her up and pushed her feet first into that jagged aperture. Adorla squealed in terror, but her knees found the stones that formed a little platform above the shaft, and she quieted.
“There’s a ladder. Go down it.”
She backed toward the black abyss, peering fearfully over her shoulder. At the last moment, even as her leg poised above the shaft, Adorla hesitated.
“I’m afraid, she whispered. “There’s a ladder there. It’s how I came up. Go on, girl. The longer you wait, the sooner that lean man will bring up reinforcements. I can’t battle them in that shaft.”
She closed her eyes and leaned backward, further over that dark emptiness. When her toe touched a rung, she gave a sigh, and then began to go down that ladder as swiftly as she could.
Kyrik came after her, almost stepping on her fingers.
He could hear the sound of running men, faintly muted, and the cries of outrage when the runners saw the dead bodies in the corridor. Those men would search the hallway, and would discover soon enough the opening through which they had crawled.
“Hurry!” he called. “Hurry!”
They were halfway down when the aperture was discovered. Voices shouted, then quieted. Kyrik could imagine one of them slipping through that aperture and trying to peer into the shaft down which they were traveling.
“Arrows,” someone said. “If they’re in that shaft, we can put steel into them.”
There was no defense against arrows. Had he a shield, Kyrik would not have worried. He would have held it over his head so that those arrows would glance off it, and no harm would be done.
Something went past him, faintly whirring in the blackness. Someone had shot an arrow but it had missed them. Kyrik stared upward into the gloom. He could see nothing, it was too dark to see. Yet more of those arrows would be fired down here. It was a simple matter for an archer to stand on that flat platform and send his shafts whistling downward.
They shrank closer to the ladder as they fled down. Another arrow went past them, and then a third.
Kyrik realized that the very slight current of air moving up through the shaft might be deflecting those arrows, sending them outward and away from the inner wall. He whispered a prayer to Illis, and wondered if the goddess in the crystal ball could hear it.
I hear it, Kyrik. I hear and I—respond1 A man shrieked above them and next moment Kyrik felt a rush of air as a falling body went shrieking past them. There was a dull thud below them, and then silence.
“They won’t be so anxious to set foot on that stone ledge now,” Kyrik chuckled. “He must have lost his balance in the dark.”
Aided by a slight shove from behind! “Now how could you do that, being in that crystal?”
A tiny chuckle was his answer. “I have my ways, doubting one. A slight nudge to the man behind him, that man slips forward and hits the archer….”
Adorla was in the crosswise pipe, now, looking oddly at where she fancied Kyrik might be in that
Stygian gloom. “Are you talking to me?” she—wondered.
“To myself, girl. Now get down and crawl. We’ll be out of this yet.”
When they had come to the lapping waters of the river harbor, Kyrik said, “I forgot to ask, girl. Can you swim?”
She shook her head dolefully. “They never taught me. They felt it was undignified in a queen to do anything but be beautiful.”
The warlock-warrior grunted. “Then clasp my neck. I’ll swim for the both of us.”
Her soft arms came about his throat. He felt the touch of her breasts and loins against his back. As her arms tightened, he slid into those dark, cold waters, and began his swim. He wanted to be well away from those high walls before he raised his head, for he realized that an archer might put an arrow into him if he showed himself too soon.
He angled his swim toward the high bank north of the citadel. When his lungs began to strain, he rose to the surface. Above and behind him, he could hear Adorla Mathandis gulping at the cold night air.
It was then that a giant claw closed about his right leg and began to drag him downward.