A Sample from Chapter 5 of Kothar and the Demon Queen

Sword & Sorcery

Chapter 5

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One moment, she was walking and the next she was sinking down into the water, crying out sharply. Kothar waded toward her, reached down, caught her by the hand, and yanked her up. She dripped wetly, her gown was plastered to her body but she laughed happily.

“It’s there, some sort of hole, an opening in the rock. I went down into it. But—but it’s dark down there.”

“I’ll go. You stay here. If it leads me beyond Urgal, I’ll come back for you.”

They heard the sound of footsteps on the distant stone staircase. Philisia shook her head. “No time for that. We go together. I’m not staying here to be caught by Tor Domnus’s soldiers.

Kothar nodded. Shifting his grip on Xixthur, he stepped forward and sank downward like a stone, vaguely aware that the woman was following after him. For fifteen-feet he went straight-down, then saw dim light through the water ahead. He swam as best he could with the great weight of the metal god in his arms, but the water shallowed ahead and he was soon standing up to his middle thighs in water, inside a huge stones walled sea cave. Philisia gripped his sword-belt, yanked herself to her feet beside him.

“Where are we?” he wondered. “Somewhere on the shoreline of Urgon-lake, where there are many cliffs.” She put her head to one side, gathering her brown hair in her hands and wringing out the droplets of water. “The lake is bordered by cliffs. This cave must be inside one of them, completely hidden from view.”

“There’s an opening of sorts up ahead. Come on.” They waded across the cave to a strip of pale water lightened by shafts of moonlight. Kothar put Xixthur down on a stone ledge and dove. He came up in lake water with the moon low in the sky and a gigantic stone cliff rising behind him. He went back for Xixthur, and told Philisa what he had seen. She nodded, “Yes, the face of the cliff must reach underwater a few feet, just enough to hide the entrance into this cave. This is the path by which Azthamur came and went. It will serve to—let us get away.”

She bent, tore the long sodden skirt of her gown until she was naked below her upper thighs. Her brown eyes flashed at him. “It makes swimming easier, with less of this thing to encumber me.” Then she turned in the water and dove. They came up alongside the cliff face, kicking to buoy themselves in the deeper water. Xixthur was so heavy, Kothar was forced to grip a jutting section of rock to keep his head in the air.

“Certainly I can’t swim with this thing,” he growled. His eyes raked the sheer face of the cliff. “And that bluff doesn’t afford any hand grips or toeholds to let me climb it.”

He began to inch his way along the base of the cliff, holding Xixthur under an arm and using his free hand to find and cling to jutting parts of the cliff. A cool wind was blowing across the lake, from the forest on the other side. It was a lonely, desolate spot, considering the fact that it was so close to the city of Urgal, which raised its walls on the other side of the cliff.

“If Azthamur used the lake for his comings and goings,” panted Philisia, “no man or woman in the city would use it. Perhaps, long ago, they did come here to swim—until the demon caught and ate a few.”

“It helps us, that fact,” Kothar admitted.

He found a narrow trail where the cliff-side ended, and lifted out of the water, putting the ray-machine on the ground and turning to lend a hand to Philisia, She sank down on solid ground at his feet, shivering. The water had been icy cold, the wind from the forests just as chilling. The myriad stars in the sky were fading from view before the first shafts of red sunlight coming from beyond distant Sybaros, which beached upon the salt waters of the Outer Sea.

“Let me rest,” she begged. “There’s no time for that. This early hour of the morning is the best time to travel, for there won’t be many folk about to see and report us to Tor Domnus.”

He bent, caught her hand, yanked her to her feet. She shivered, wet and miserable, against him. Kothar grinned, slapped her haunch.

“The sun will dry you off in the barrens between Urgal and Kor. But first we’ve got to find a stable and steal two horses.”

She nodded, sniffling. “Tor Domnus keeps horses not far from here that are used by his couriers to travel with messages to the lords of Phalkar and Sybaros.”

Kothar heaved Xixthur to a shoulder and planted his feet where Philisia walked. She went sure footedly through these woods, and there was an aliveness about her that made the barbarian realize that, for the first time in her life, she felt truly free. From time to time, she turned to flash a smile at him.

She slowed her steps as they came to the edge of the woods that bordered on a wide-road running between Urgal and Phalkar to the north. As he stood within the leafy boskage of leaves and bushes, Kothar could make out the big barns and stables, he caught the smell of horseflesh, he heard a man rattling tools about inside a large shed.

“There will be guards here and there,” she whispered.

The barbarian grunted. Alone and without Xixthur, he might have risked as direct attack, simply going into the stables, snatching a horse and galloping off. With Philisia to consider, he must use caution.

He said, “There’s a low roof there,” nodding at a thatched section of the stable roof. “I’m going up to have a look.”

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A sample from Chapter 2 of Kyrik Fights the Demon World

Sword & Sorcery

A sample from Chapter 2
Kyrik fights the demon world gardner f fox sword and sorcery kurt brugel

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Five days later they rode to the top of a high hill and drew rein; thick mists covered the land below. Here and there a wind tossed about and the fogs parted to show black waters and breeze swayed reeds. Strange vegetation grew beside the reeds, pulpy flowers and thin stalks that waved oddly even when the wind died down.

These were the Doom-day Swamps, vast stretches of water and soft earth where strange beasts were reputed to dwell, and where men had been lost and never seen again unless some wayfarer chanced upon their skeletons.

They could not discover the island of Ikthoros, it was too well hidden by gray mists lying close above the waters. Kyrik rumbled a curse deep in his chest.

“We’ll have to find a boat, our horses can never cross that morass. They’d drown, and we along with them.”

He heeled the black stallion forward. He did not glance at Myrnis, and so did not see her body stiffen or her eyes change slowly to a brilliant emerald. Verdant with godlike life were those eyes, as though carved from the heart of a living jewel. Brilliant were those eyes, shining with iridescent lights for an instant; then their radiance dimmed, and Myrnis looked out of her ordinary green pupils again.

The girl shook herself, opened her lips to call to the warlock-warrior ahead of her, but did not. She rode with a puzzled frown on her pretty face, down to the water’s edge.

The banks of these swamp lands were soft loam, half water. The horses’ hooves sank into mushy grass and they snorted and drew back. The mists were thicker here, blowing about as if filled with avid mouths seeking to devour.

“By Illis of the soft breasts. This is a gloomy place,” muttered Kyrik as he came down out of the kak. “We’ll have to unsaddle and let them run free while we go on.”

“Without a boat?”

“There must be one somewhere near. The men of Kilgol sometimes fish these waters, those which are shallow where no big reptiles come. I’ll go look.”

“No need for that.” Myrnis stood up in the stirrups. Her arm rose; she pointed. “There to the north, beneath a tree.”

Kyrik gave her a curious glance, but he walked in that direction and came upon a shallow dugout fashioned from a log of kinna wood. His muscles bulged as he lifted and pushed it toward the water. Beneath it had been hidden two paddles.

The gypsy girl was at his side, stepping daintily into the dugout so it only swayed a little and soon was still. The warrior eased it out between the reeds, and swung himself into its bow. Myrnis crouched in the prow, dipping a paddle from time to time, her eyes scanning the mists ahead.

“To the left,” she called once, and again: “More to westward.”

Kyrik did not trouble his head about her directions. His keen eyes went between the tiny gaps in the mist even faster than hers. Yet when a certain note crept into her voice he followed her suggestions, and wondered at himself.

All about them were high swamp grasses, rustling against the keel and sides of the dugout. Rearing up out of the gray clouds they could make out a fen-tree, covered with foliage so dark a green it seemed almost black. It was a dismal place, this swamp, and the Tantagolian, who liked open spaces and a cool wind, moved uneasily as though he sensed evil lurking in the mists.

“What manner of man would build a temple in a place like this?” he wondered aloud, and Myrnis laughed softly.

“Once this swamp was lush land where good feeding grasses grew, part of the ancient kingdom of Surrillione, where Moforgon was worshiped. They held strange rites in his temple, they sacrificed beautiful virgins to the demon god. It was not a nice land, Surrillione, in those forgotten days.”

Her eyes were bright as starlight again, but Kyrik did not notice, for her face was turned from him as she watched the waterways ahead. She spoke softly, in a voice more melodious than Myrnis’ own, and it was the voice that stiffened his spine.

“You sound like . . . He shook himself against the notion that had come into his head. He knew that voice, its inflections; he had heard it often enough. In his long ago life, before the spell had been put upon him, he had worshiped the goddess Illis. And short months ago she had come to life for him, to help him defeat Devadonides and slay the demon Absothoth.

His hand reached out, caught the girl, swung her about. Myrnis turned a surprised face to him, eyebrows arched questioningly.

“What is it?” she asked. He was dreaming. It was not Illis who sat in this dugout with him, but a Romany girl. He said, “A notion I had. It’s nothing. I wondered how you knew about Surrillione.”

Myrnis frowned. “It was something I heard, I don’t remember where or when. But it’s true enough.”

She turned back to her paddling, and from time to time the warlock-warrior cast dubious looks at her. He was not satisfied with her answer; no mere gypsy knows the ancient history of this land, he told himself. But what he was beginning to suspect was—nonsense.

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A Sample from Chapter 3 of Kothar of the Magic Sword

Sword & Sorcery

A Sample from Chapter 3

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He stood on a flat rock, above a rolling grassland that stretched away toward low hills and a forested slope in the distance. Closer, where he stood with the cloak flapping in the warm wind, rocks were piled high as though a giant hand had flung them together in a playful mood.

The sky was yellow here, and the wind seemed to whisper as with many soft voices. Almost, it seemed he could understand those voices. They warned him, they counseled him, but he could not understand their words, only the mood they wrote across his mind with their faint suspirations. A shadow moved along the ground. Looking up, he saw a giant eagle soaring along on the wind currents, with widespread wings.

Kothar shook himself.

There was a black tower in the distance, and a narrow roadway leading to it, past the rock pile where the barbarian stood. He moved down, walked along to the road. There would be someone in the tower, he hoped, who could tell him where he was and how to get back into the room with the helix.

It seemed he had walked for only a little while, then the tower loomed before him, squat and low, with the mark of ineffable age on its dark stones. There were no windows in the tower, none that he could see, at least.

Only a great oaken door, hung with an iron knocker, showed that there was any way in or out of that tower.

Kothar gripped the knocker, banged it hard. The door opened soundlessly. A woman in a tight black kirtle stood there, her face white as chalk, her lips the color of fresh red blood, her eyes behind long black lashes and thin brows like burning black coals. She did not seemed surprised to see him, her lips curled into a faint smile.

“Whom seek you, stranger?”

“The emperor of Avalonia, Kyros. He has my sword Frostfire. I would win it back from him.”

The woman stood back, nodding. “Enter, then. I am Leithe, of this land Nirvalla. I know of Kyros and his golden galley, where he keeps the helix.”

Kothar moved into the hall, his bare feet touching the curious stones that formed the tower floor. Though they appeared cold, the flaggings, each one marked with a magical sign, were quite warm and comfortable. The walls were draped in thick brocades of scarlet and black, with the signs of the Seven Sisters of Salathus worked into their materials. An iron torchere on the wall held a length of glowing wood that gave off a surprising amount of bluish light.

The woman walked ahead of him, her round haunches swaying with catlike grace as she led the way into a room beyond the hall. Here was set a long banqueting table, with crystal goblets and platters of earthenware.

“Eat, stranger. While you dine, I will tell you a little tale,” Leithe murmured, moving to the table, lifting the cover from a platter and revealing steaming meat, gesturing at a salver piled with bread, removing the top of a plate that held several cheeses.

She poured red wine into a crystal goblet for him as Kothar seated himself on a bench. Her black eyes studied his great body, nodding from time to time as she mentally assayed the strength in his rolling muscles. “You may be the one,” she told him as he reached for meat and bread. “Long have I waited for you to come walking down that road.”

“The one for what?” the Cumberian asked, between bites.

“The man to break the spell of Thaladomis.” Kothar blinked, head lifting with surprise. “The emperor’s magician? What’s he got to do with Nirvilla?”

The woman seated herself at the table, reached for a crystal goblet and sipped at the red wine it contained; Her eyes brooded as she looked back into the past.

“This world of Nirvalla was created by the archmage Phronalom.

“Phronalom was the greatest wizard of his time. Only the almost mythical Afgorkon was his better, it is said. Phromalom lived in the kingdom of Althasia, long and long ago, perhaps forty thousand of your years.”

The barbarian nodded, wiping his wine-wet lips with the back of his hairy forearm. “I’ve heard of Althasia and of Phronalom. They tell fairy tales about them in Vandacia.”

The woman began to talk. Althasia in those days was a world of tyrants and warlords, of armies marching to conquest, of soldiers in little bands breaking into the homes of citizens, carrying them off with their wives and children to serve the desires, of King Drongol. To King Drongol, his people existed only to pleasure his royal whims and fulfill the needs of his kingdom.

He established breeding farms where his most valiant warriors acted as studs to the healthiest and loveliest women of the kingdom. Children and more children, demanded the king. Male children, to train as warriors, female children to bear more future warriors.

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A sample from the first story in Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman

Sword & Sorcery

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The blood lay red upon his dented mail shirt and spotted his yellow hair in ghastly fashion. It ran wetly, redly, from the worn sleeve of his leather hacqueton to drop upon his big hand and ooze across the pommel of his shattered sword. It stained his fur kilt and riding boots and dripped steadily with every step he took.

Kothar staggered from the field of battle where men lay staring sightlessly up at the darkening sky, rigid now in death, and where other men were gasping out their lives. He alone of the loyal Foreign Guard was still alive, he alone still held a sword in his hand, though it was a broken one. And behind him, men were coming fast to finish of the youthful guards commander.

He was a big, brawny youth. His shock of yellow hair framed a face burned brown by desert suns and polar winds. Under his smooth hide giant muscles rippled, and normally he walked with the springy gait of a man whose body was in perfect fighting trim. A broad leather belt fitted his lean waist, from which hung an empty scabbard. Now that belt was red with blood.

Kothar was a barbarian out of the northern world of Cumberia. He was a sellsword, a mercenary whose life was given over to the god of war, that he might have food for his belly and a pillow at times for his head. There was no fear in him as he jogged along, he was afraid of no living man—or woman, for that matter—though he did admit to a kind of queasiness when magic, witches and warlocks were involved.

And a witch had given Lord Markoth the victory this day.

Rage was a rumble in his thickly thewed throat. Red Lori, the witch! Aie, she was lovely, with her long red hair and slanted green eyes, her body all white flesh and perfumed skin. Kothar had never seen a woman who made him know he was a man as Red Lori did, with her slim white legs and swinging hips.

But she was a witch! Gossip said she would be queen in Commoral when Elfa died. Her sorceries had given Markoth the victory this day and as a reward she would ascend the throne.

He toyed with the idea of walking into the royal palace in some sort of disguise and throwing Red Lori over a broad shoulder and making off with her. His large white teeth showed themselves as his lips drew back in an amused grin. Hai, but that would put a bee in her thick red hair!

Suddenly he staggered, recovering his balance with an effort. His wounds had become an agony, of a sudden.

In his eyes, sky reeled dizzily with ground, and death swooped low above the corpses cluttering the wide Plain of Dead Trees, reaching out invisible talons to sink them in his flesh. His throat was dry—gods of Thuum—what he would give for one lone sip of water—and the pain of his wounds made him shudder, every now and again.

He was angling his feeble steps toward a corner of the forest, the great dark weald that stretched from Phalkarr as far as distant Abathor, for in between those boles and beneath those low hanging branches was his only hope of hiding. The mercenaries of Lord Markoth should have spotted him by this time, they should have raised the howl of pursuit. No doubt they were running for hounds to follow the trail of his riding boots. He tried to stop the flow of blood, for the drops were arrows beckoning all to follow, but the task was too great for his reddened hands and fingers.

He leaned against a tree, breathing deeply. I must run like the wounded deer from the hunters, or else I too shall be stretched out flat upon the ground, my wrists and ankles fettered, and I shall be flayed, as is the custom of the Lord Markoth with his enemies.

The thought was a goad in his ribs, urging him forward. A red hand-print, the spill of bloody drops, were the signposts which would show the way. Ah, well, it could not be helped. He was wounded. He had fought hard and long this day to bring victory to the cause of Queen Elfa, and where men fought so desperately, men knew the bite of steel.

The agony of his flesh, the uneasiness in him at the thought of torture, drove him staggering through the underbrush, ducking to avoid a leafy branch, reeling aside from a thick tree trunk directly in his path. In the distance he heard a voice cry out halloo. They had found his red blood trail

They were coming fast, fresh with renewed vigor, unwounded and eager to win the silver deniers Lord Markoth would pay for his body so his skinners could flay the skin from it. He could imagine their hard faces and their bulging muscles as they loped along the trail of blooddrops from his body.

Kothar ran on and on. Above his yellow poll the trees made a green canopy that hid everything from his eyes but a patch of white cloud and a bit of blue sky. Would that the leaves might also hide his tracks! He blundered on, head down and gasping, blind to everything but the pain and the voices growing louder and more confident behind him.

He ran for a long time; there was still strength left in his big, muscular body with the broken sword gripped in his fingers. He would sell his life as dearly as possible; these men of the southlands would never forget his dying battle. Aie! He would make the name of Kothar long remembered in this kingdom of Commoral.

Finally he slid to a halt and leaned a bloody hand against a tree bole. He shook his head like an animal brought to bay. His glaring eyes peered around him in the dense forest at a spray of red and white flowers hanging from a gigantic rock like a colored waterfall.

Kothar blinked in disbelief. Was he delirious with loss of blood and the pain of his wounds—or was that an iron door behind those vine flowers? He licked his lips with a swollen tongue, aware that hope was surging up into his huge chest. An iron door in solid rock? It could not be. It was a mere trick of his failing senses, of his blurring eyes with the blood dripping into them from a scalp wound.

And yet—

Kothar straightened his body slowly, daring to hope. There was a door there, rusted and disused for centuries, perhaps—but still a door. The youthful giant pushed away from the tree. Yes, the fading sunlight made it dimly visible; it was almost unseeable behind its vine and flower curtain, but it was there.

“Thanks to Dwalka,” he gasped, and ran. His arm in its leather hacqueton and mailed sleeve brushed the flower vines away. He could see the ancient metal door more clearly now and could read the forgotten sigils on its rusted surface. He could not understand them; they were written in a language dead for more than a hundred centuries, but his barbarian senses were aware of awesome magic in their twistings.

Kothar shook his wide shoulders. He did not care for magic, but he cared even less for the baying hounds and the huntsmen loping along his bloody back trail. He lurched forward, a quivering hand stretched out to touch the rusted metal and seek across it for a ring or handle to open that ancient adit. The vines and flowers closed in behind him, leaving him in a cool, faintly hushed sanctuary.

What was this door? Where did it lead? No matter what! No matter where! Anywhere was better than out here with the mercenaries and their yapping dogs following his footprints. His huge brown hand caught hold of an iron bolt, slid it back with a wrench of muscles so painful as to make him groan. It had been long years since anyone had walked this way. Unused metal screeched in protest to his tug, but the bolt yielded and the door swung inward onto blackness.

Kothar stumbled into that welcoming dark. The sole of his war-boot touched a hard dirt floor. It was cool in the gloom, and his eyes could see nothing at all. He stood swaying like a giant tree about to topple, his fingers loosing their grip on his broken sword.

Slowly the darkness died away before a pallid green radiance that seemed to fill the chamber. The light came from nowhere and everywhere. It did not ease the chill bite of the air, it was like the coldness of the grave, that air. It made Kothar shiver, accustomed as he was to the snow-cold of the northern wastes.

An angry growl rose into his throat. He found himself staring at a flat slab of stone that rested on marble amphoras. It was a crypt, this place in hollow rock. And that dead thing wrapped in funereal garments, brown with age, was what lay buried in it. He had blundered into a tomb.

His lips twisted in a grin. Let the dead shelter him who sought life in this sanctuary. He was about to turn and close the iron door when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

The withered brown body on the slab—he could make out bits of whitened bone and grisly fragments of flesh and hair protruding from the rotted cloth—was moving. It sighed, as if it breathed immeasurable distances away. Its chest lifted and fell in a slow pulsing.

Dwallka of the War Hammer! What was this thing? The corpse turned its head so that it could look at Kothar out of its empty eye-sockets. The barbarian felt the touch of eyes, even though there were no eyes to see or be seen. He stiffened, his flesh crawled, his long fingers took a firmer grip on his sword-haft. Even as he stared, the lich sat up.

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A Sample from Chapter 1 of Kyrik Warrior Warlock

Sword & Sorcery

Chapter One

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Aryalla the sorceress walked the streets of the bazaar, hunting for that which had no name, which might not even exist. She felt inside her that she would know that which her black eyes hunted, when she touched those eyes to it.

Yet she might be wrong.

Has a legend any shape?

The street vendors hawked their wares, a flashing carpet from Thakispan made a potpourri of color where a dark-faced man waved it; a bronze vase enameled by a craftsman of Ivareen caught the rays of the dying sun and sparkled; a curving sword from the distant south-lands was displayed beside a shield in which rare gems glimmered. Yet she had eyes for none of these.

She walked with firm steps, her feet bare in black sandals that matched the ebon of her cloak. Her long black hair fell free, like that of a harlot from the traveling fairs, but it was banded by silver links; and her face, aristocratic and touched by the refinement of royal blood, was cold and almost lifeless. Only her fine eyes lived, stabbing at a copper pot or a set of carved warriors with which to play the game called oganal.

Long had she walked the avenues and the bazaars of her world, from the frozen barrens of Isthulia to the sun-baked deserts of Arazalla, shivering in one clime and cooking in another, drawing her strength from the hate and the need for vengeance that ran with her blood in her veins. From time to time she had used the thin poniard hanging at her belt to defend her life; she had offered gifts at strange altars to even stranger gods, that her quest might find an ending. Yet with every step her spirit lagged and her head hung a little lower.

“So long. It has been so long,” she whispered into the hood of her dark cloak. “Almost I begin to think that the legend is a false one.”

What is a legend? A whispered word in the night, a tale spun by a storyteller in a bazaar, a hint of something long desired and put into words for another to hear. Men said Kyrik lived, men said the spell was still potent. Somewhere in the world he knew a life that was also a death, but that he waited. Waited, hoping. Waited

“I shall find him,” she snarled between red lips, making a fist of her right hand. “I shall. No matter how long it takes me.”

Aryalla had conjured up demons to aid her, yet the demons had been powerless in the face of that ancient necromancy that had doomed Kyrik. They had told her so, regretfully, in the darkest hours of the night, whispering that they might not be heard except by her own ears. Kilthin, Abakkan, Rogrod, their names were many, their powers vast. Yet they could not help her.

A horseman in the gray and silver of the rulers of Pthesk went by her at a gallop, a hoof splattering her feet with slops. She shrank back into shadows, muttering against the filth staining her flesh.

Yet she had endured worse than this, and would endure even more, if need be. She must find Kyrik! There was a desperate need in her to look upon his face, to listen to his voice. Aye! As great a need as he himself must feel, if legend spoke truth.

Her feet carried her from one end of the bazaar to the other, and she turned back, despair rounding her shoulders. Her belly ached, it had been a full day since she had eaten, but she cared naught for that. She would feed through her eyes, could she but behold that which she sought, that which she would know upon first sighting, though it had no name, though it was unknown. Her nostrils pinched at their corners, her eyes sunken slightly in her lovely face, she searched on.

Her feet took her into shop after shop, stall after stall. She was offered the silver lamps of Karalon, and the golden bells of Amanoy, raiment of rare workmanship from the looms of Inisfall. To each of these she shook her head and the shopkeepers, the sellers of wares, could sense her despair that was close to tears.

“What is it you seek, mistress?” they would ask. “I shall know it, I shall!” They looked upon her and their eyes knew sympathy, for she was a shapely woman and lovely, and they thought she would be better off in a bed with a strong man than wearing out her feet and those thin black sandals hunting something to which she could not put a name. Always, she walked on.

The sun was setting when she came at last to a little shop at the very end of the bazaar. Its proprietor was a tiny man, very thin and very old, with eyes rheumy from near blindness, and he fussed over a chest that was beyond his power to move.

The sorceress watched him a moment, eyes misting with pity, and then she went to help him, putting her white hands with the red fingernails to a corner of the chest and shoving. When the coffer was tight against the wall of the shop, the old man bobbed his head in gratitude.

“My thanks, gracious lady. I am an old man, I have lived too many years. It is not right that I must earn my bread in such a fashion.”

“All life is a problem, old one,” she smiled. “That thrice—cursed boy I hired has gone off with a girl.”

“Youth calls to youth.”

“Leaving me with this old thing from Tantagol. It is very heavy, I haven’t even examined it. I’ll wait until the morrow.”

The woman stared at him, scarcely breathing. “From Tantagol? You say—it comes from Tantagol?”

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A Sample from Chapter 2 of Rebel Wench

Historical Romance

Chapter Two
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The six white pillars of the Hall beckoned Stafford from three miles away, The rows of tall, shutter-hung windows, dimly seen in the shadows of the columned portico, were shy eyes peering out as if in disbelief at the sight of the master riding home at last. Sunlight glinted on the gambrel roof with its three great red-brick chimneys. Fresh paint gave the building an elegance that touched something deep inside him.

He let the stallion run along the graveled drive that curved by the outbuildings and the long white stables with their sweep of cypress shingles neat and spotless. Reining in with a scrape of gravel scratching sparks under iron horseshoes, he came out of the saddle with a call for the stables.

A black face framed in white hair was thrust above the half door of a stall. The eyes opened very wide and the mouth fell open. For a long instant Old Gem stared. Then his shaking hand was pushing aside the lower part of the door, and he was running forward, weeping in his delight:

“Master Billy! Master Billy!”

Stafford opened his arms wide and pulled the old slave into his hug. Then with his hands on the bowed shoulders he pushed the old man back and ran his eyes over him. “You look well fed, Gem! Something tells me that we aren’t exactly starving at Stafford Hall these days.”

A curious look touched the old slave’s features. His eyes dropped as he said, “We eat good, Master Billy. We work hard, too. The mistress stands for no nonsense, ‘cepting from—”

He broke off and fear showed in his old eyes. For a moment he hesitated, then straightened his shoulders. Old Gem knew what an angry master could do to a slave, but he was an old man, soon to die anyhow. For sixty years he had lived within sight of the Dan. He had seen the Hall grow from a little cabin to its present elegance. His hands had taught two generations of Staffords how to ride a horse. Besides, this young giant before him loved him like a son his father.

“They’s British officers always at the house, Master Billy. They bring gold for the wheat and vegetables we grow. The mistress has made you rich.”

“On British gold,” said Stafford, and he frowned. Old Gem licked his lips. He said with a strange inflection in his voice, “One gennelman in particular. He’s most always here Right now, even.”

He winced as powerful fingers dug deep into his arm. A hellish light began to glow in his master’s eyes, a light that flared once and then died out to a still more frightening blankness.

Then Stafford was whirling and moving away, tall and powerful and somehow magnificent to the old slave even in the old blue velvet frock coat and breeches that were too tight for him. Old Gem reached for the reins of the big stallion. His hard hands patted the sleek nose gently, but his eyes watched his master mount the stone steps of the portico and disappear between two tall white pillars. “Never see the Stafford hell light in the young master’s eyes before,” he whispered to the horse. “Only in his daddy’s eyes and in his granddaddy’s eyes, when they were bent on killing a man.”

Old Gem sighed and moved away, with the horse patiently trailing in answer to his tug on the rein.

The hall of the house was cool and white, with a high sheen on its mahogany butterfly table aid matching chairs, as Stafford came through the doors. A gilt scroll-top mirror reflected the peacock design in the wallpaper and the glass base of the chandelier hanging on its chains from the high white ceiling.

Directly ahead was the wide, white door that led out to the herb garden. A spiral stairway twisted upward to the second story. Where the wide treads began, an open door spilled the sound of a teacup clinking against a saucer.

The thick hall carpeting caught the sound of his boots as Stafford moved toward the long parlor. He stood framed in the open doorway, seeing a tall Englishman in the red uniform jacket of a colonel of the Thirty-third Foot bowing before his wife, who sat with shoulders bared in the fashionable French cut of her gown, smiling up at him.

Laura Lee did not see him. The dark magnificence of a Chippendale highboy set between the garden windows framed her, flushed face and its spirals of coiling brown hair. Moisture lay on her full red lips.

Remembrance of the hours they had spent in this room, and in the herb garden beyond the far windows, swept in a flood of weakness through Stafford. Laura Lee had come to Stafford Hall as a bride, young and ardent and curious, seven years ago. Time had matured her, put a gloss and a confidence in her manner, as it had added curving flesh to the body that the British officer was surveying as he sipped his tea.

“I vow and protest, Laury,” he giggled, “you put a fever in my blood with your eternal teasings and cajolings. Promise me every dance this night. Promise me that.”

With her ivory fan she touched his chin as he bent low above her. “La, sir. Such a fire in the man! I’ll promise only the first and the last, to cool your fever.”

“But later, when the ball is over? Ah, what then? Shall we—“

He broke, off and straightened. Laura Lee was staring beyond him at the door, and there was something in her wide eyes that brought him around on a boot heel. The big man in the ill-fitting riding suit standing like a frozen giant in the doorway was staring at him with eyes that were strangely disturbing.

“Billy Joe! Oh, it can’t be!” Laura Lee whispered, and put a trembling hand to the upholstered arm of the settee to rise to her slippered feet.

She swayed a little, and the Colonel took advantage of the fact to steady her by an arm about her waist. He growled, “Impertinent trespasser! Shall I throw him out on his ear, Laury”

Her eyes touched his face a moment. “This is my husband, Colonel. Billy Joe Stafford, of Stafford Hall. Colonel Edmund Emerson.”

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A Sample from Chapter 5 of Thief of Llarn

Sword & Planet


Thief of llarn gardner f fox edgar rice burroughs sword and planet kurt brugel

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WE BEGAN our walk across the icy flatland. Our breaths frosted in the air and the wind whipped us with the power of a gale, but we put our heads down and trudged steadily ahead. According to the last reading of the instruments on the flier, we were a few hundred miles north of the magnetic pole. So we continued in that northerly direction along a line of travel that might correspond roughly to 160° longitude. We walked without speaking for what seemed a long time, each of us occupied with his thoughts. I thought of Tuarra, wondering if I would ever see her again. I was remembering our hours together—which seemed so short now, and so far away in another lifetime. I yearned to see her smile flash up at me, to feel the touch of her lips on mine.

The horizon was white and far away, across miles of frozen icecap. Here and there stretches of damp fog crept with silent feet across the snow barrens on which we were the only living things.

The cold ate into us. Our legs were moving now in plodding fashion. Fortunately, a Llarnian compass was standard equipment with each of the hooded jackets, so we were relieved of the danger of walking in a circle. Our course was more or less straight as far as we could determine, northward across the frozen wastes.

How long had we traveled? An hour? Ten hours? We did not know. How far had we walked? We did not know this, either. We moved like robots across the empty white flatlands and in our hearts we knew we were going to die.

After a time Marga stumbled and would have fallen except that I put an arm about her middle and held her up. Her face was very white. A faint coating of frost covered her lips and nostrils. Ghan Karr came up to lend his strength on her other side. “This can’t go on,” he said. “We must go on. To stop is to die.”

“I want to die,” Marga whispered. We staggered through the snow spray tossed into our faces by the arctic gales, past jagged ice carvings shaped by the winds, over stretches of ice so smooth they seemed polished by some giant hand. Ghan Karr fell once, lying quietly without moving, so that I had to drop Marga and go back and lift him to his feet.

“Keep walking. Keep walking!” I told him. He stumbled on with Marga and myself at his heels. He was babbling, singing snatches of a nursery rhyme that was old when Llarn had been a young planet. After a time, Marga joined him.

I was delirious myself, I realized. Ahead of me, locked inside a great ice floe, was a city. I stared at streets, at buildings, at rooftops and tall spires. I giggled; I laughed. I was seeing visions. A city, here in the polar lands? A city locked in ice?

Forgetting the others, I ran up to the massive wall of ice that sheathed the dwellings. The ice was transparent, like clear water frozen solid. I could make out a man standing rigid before a doorway, hand extended toward the latch as if to open it. Beyond him a woman in a fur coat was in mid-stride, balanced to a nicety.

I called to them. I shouted. I waved. Only the echoes of my own voice echoed across the wastes. Then I remembered my grawn. I fumbled off my glove, lifted the weapon in my hand, fired it. The red beam heated the ice to a melting point until it ran down all around the snow where I stood. After a few seconds, there was a tunnel open before me.

I walked into that strange city, stood beside the man about to enter his home. I looked at the woman, saw her face pale and white under a fur cap. They were dead, of course. Dead for uncounted centuries. I had never seen their type of garments before, not even in the ancient history books I had looked at in Kharthol. I turned and stared back through the tunnel. Marga and Ghan Karr lay where they had fallen. I ran to rouse them, to bring them into the warmer air of the ice city.

I shook Ghan Karr to a mumbling wakefulness. He sat up, staring at me like a man demented, “Go away, Uthian. Let me sleep.” He fell over on his face and by sheer force I wrestled him to his feet.

“We’re saved, Ghan Karr. There’s a city!” He began to laugh, looking where I pointed. “I am asleep, after all. My apologies, Prince of Thieves. I thought you were trying to wake me.” He began to stumble toward the great ice sheath behind which he could see buildings now, and people.

I lifted Marga into my arms and carried her at a shuffling trot toward the warmer air not far ahead. She moaned as we went into the tunnel, and her arms came up about my neck. Her eyelashes were frozen to her cheeks, and as she woke, she wept softly.

“I’m dead—and locked in the dark pit of Chorakor!”

“Hush, Marga. You’re as alive as I am.” I put my lips to her eyes, felt the tiny ice flakes moisten and fall away under their heat. Marga opened eyes that glistened tenderly as they regarded my anxious face. I squirmed uncomfortably, not daring to think what she might say. Quickly, to avoid speech, I set her on her booted feet and waved an arm at the city.

“Wha—what is this place, Uthian? A city all in ice? It’s people—oh, I see a man and a woman and . . .”

She turned her pale face toward me. “They’re dead. What killed them—so suddenly?”

My shoulders shrugged. “I do not know, Marga—but I do know that we must find food somewhere, or we too will die.”

“I would not mind dying with you, Uthian,” she said softly, and reached for my hand.

Fortunately, Ghan Karr came out of a building at that moment, waving what looked like a roast of bork steak in his hands. His voice came clearly to us in the warm air. “A food store, you two. Down here—come on. Plenty to eat; frozen stuff that’s been kept in cold storage for Astarra knows how long!”

Marga and I ran into the shop. There were two men and a woman in the store, a man behind one of the counters. Marga sent a swift look about, then turned to me.

“There isn’t much food here. I don’t know what this place is—or what it was—but the people were having a hard time of it. There’s very little to eat on the shelves. Thank the gods there are only three of us.”

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