Chapter ONE

Kyrik came riding into Domilok in the glowing sunset, a big man on a big horse, a scarlet cape flung casually about his massive shoulders, his tawny hair blowing in the winds that whipped eastward from the ocean sea and the Doomsday Swamps. There was a hunger in Kyrik of the Victories: too long had he been away from Myrnis, the gypsy girl he loved.

His mind dwelt on her body and the pleasures she could bring to him. Since she had gone away because of a death in her gypsy family, he had been alone. Well, almost alone. There had been that adventure with Olvia who had been the demon-god Kamartha, but all that was behind him now and he wanted to rest his eyes on little Myrnis.

He came into the city at a slow walk, his eyes touching the bazaars, the street sellers, the wine merchants. His throat was dry, it needed the touch of cool Karanyan wine, his stomach cried for hot meats and freshly baked breads. All that would come, in time. Right now, he wanted sight of Myrnis.

He walked the big Ocarian stallion across the cobblestones, pausing where a street urchin did somersaults to get his hands on a copper bit. It was good to be back among people after his long traveling.

When he came to the tavern of the Spotted Dog, he walked the big stallion into the yard and swung down from the saddle. He stretched his big frame, then, seizing the reins, led the horse into a stable. A boy came running, to whom he tossed a copper piece.

"Rub him down and feed him, then give him the best stall you have. Do all this, and tomorrow I'll give you a rhodanthe."

He moved away then, entering the inn. There were other travelers here, men from distant Thakispan and Parthanor, merchants out of Samakkan and Obarium. Kyrik walked amid the smells of cooking meat and fish, ignoring men and food, until he came to a long counter.

"There is a girl here, a gypsy wench named Myrnis. She waits for me."

The man to whom he spoke looked harried, almost frightened. He stared at Kyrik, touched his lips with a tongue, then let his eyes slide away.

"There was a girl—two days ago."

"And now?" The innkeeper shook his head. He whispered, "She went out of a morning and—never came back."

Kyrik stood motionless. Two days ago. It was unlike Myrnis not to be here when he came. She would be as anxious to be folded in his muscled arms as he was to hold her. Kyrik did not like what he was hearing; it put cold fear deep in his gut.

"Had she any enemies?" he asked. "None. At least, none I know." Nobody bothered a Romanoy. They went where the wind went, in their wagons and on their horses.

They roved the world, and while men might not be glad to see them—for they stole horses and took whatever their thieving fingers might itch to hold—they were willing to barter with them. The gypsies had rare objects for sale, and the greedy souls of men ached to own them.

Yet Myrnis would not stay away from the inn for so long a time unless something had happened to her. Anger touched the barbarian, together with the fear. He swung on a heel and moved toward the door.

Forgotten was his hunger and his thirst. He must find Myrnis, or learn what had happened to her. His big hand lifted his sword Bluefang on its chains and hitched it about closer to his hand. If Myrnis had met with trouble, he wanted to be able to handle it.

Through the gathering dusk he walked the streets of Domilik. His eyes were alert, suspicious, as he scanned the faces of the men and women whom he passed, and more than once he stood motionless to let the ebb and flow of people move past him.

Once he thought he saw her, and went swiftly to where a woman walked. But it was not Myrnis, though she looked like her and made eyes at him.

Kyrik muttered, "If I can't find her I'm seeking, I'll come back for you, girl."

She would have held him to her by opening her garment and showing her bare breasts beneath it, but the warlock-warrior was too worried to be gripped by the fever of desire. He pressed a coin into her soft palm and moved away with a long stride.

Night came into Domilik like blue velvet, warm and soft. High above the stars glittered, and the two moons swung lazily overhead. Now the smells of wine and hot meats came from the taverns that lined the streets, and there was laughter and the music of plucked strings.

Yet always Kyrik Searched. In his heart, he knew he would not find her. Not after two days. She was either dead by now or had been abducted by some rich merchant to grace his harem. Fury grew in Kyrik until his great bod trembled.

He would find her. He would devote his life to learning what had happened to her, here in Domilik. He would not rest until he learned that, and had taken his vengeance, if vengeance were called for.

His belly rumbled, and he knew that he needed food.

He was far from the Spotted Dog Inn here at the edge of the great marketplace. He would have stepped into any of the taverns, the doors of which were open invitingly, except that he felt Myrnis might possibly return to the Spotted Dog, having gone about some business of her own.

Kyrik moved back the way had had come, through the bazaar and the streets and alleyways leading off it. He walked swiftly, yet always using his eyes to scan the faces of the people where they were to be seen. At this hour, the streets were almost empty. Only an occasional harlot wandered here, looking for a man.

And then, along a narrow lane, he saw her. She was in rags, and her feet were bare, but he knew that body, that brown hair that fell almost to her pert buttocks. She was pressed against the rock wall and she was gasping, looking fearfully around her.

Kyrik grinned and moved forward. At the same time, four men came into the narrow passageway from the other side. They were big men and they carried swords and daggers. When they saw Myrnis, they began to run.

She whirled from the wall against which she had been leaning and fled. She ran straight at Kyrik, gasping and sobbing. She saw him but she did not recognize him, apparently, for she went to run past him.

The warrior-warlock thrust out an arm, gathered her in. "Easy now, Myrnis. I'm here."

She tried to fight him, but she was weak as a kitten beside his bulk and massive muscles. He tucked her in against him with his left arm to keep his right arm free to use his sword.

For those men slowed and came at him at a walk, and as they walked, they drew their blades. Kyrik grinned, but it was not a nice grin, there was in it the savagery of the hungry wolf and the fury of a starving tiger.

“Na, na,” he said to those men. “This woman is mine."

“The woman must die,” a man said.

"And who's to kill her?" They came at him then, confident in their numbers. But Kyrik fought not as other men fight but as a wounded bear might battle, crazed in its fury and with a disregard for anything but bringing death to its enemies.

In the narrow alley there was no room to swing a sword. It was cut and thrust and parry, but Kyrik was a master swordsman, and Bluefang was so carefully balanced that it seemed no heavier to his hand than a bamboo wand.

He drove in, warding off a sword, cut sideways at a nick, seeing his steel bite into flesh and draw blood. Almost instantly, he was jerking back his blade and parrying a blow. With Myrnis in one arm, he was inhuman, cold. He fought to kill and to kill as swiftly as he knew how.

Bluefang darted in the pale light, drove into a chest. It was whipped aside to fend off the attacks of the two remaining swords, and with them it seemed almost to toy.

He heard Myrnis whimpering, which vaguely surprised him. Myrnis knew how he could fight. She should have been beside him, urging him on. The thought of what men like these may have done to her so to change her angered him still further.

He drove those remaining men against a wall and his sword appeared almost to mesmerize them, so swiftly did it move here and there, forcing them to guard themselves and forget about trying to reach her.

Kyrik parried a blade, then with the swiftness of thought he brought Bluefang in under an opposing sword and ran its cold steel through a man's chest. In that same moment, he wrenched the sword out and turned it on the last man.

That man fought with the desperation of the cornered rat. He parried, he retreated, he sought to distract Kyrik by filling a hand full of coins and hurling them at him even as he stepped into a thrusting movement.

The warrior-warlock beat against that blade, turned it.

His left hand shot out, closed its fingers about the throat of the lone remaining man. Eyes bulged in the face that stared back at him. The mouth opened, gasping for air that could not get down into his windpipe.

Slowly those iron fingers closed, gripping and holding. The man who hung in their clutch raised

his hands, dropping his blade, as he sought to pry

them loose. For long moments they stood like that, with Kyrik pressing his opponent against the stone wall.

When he let him go, the man was dead. His body crumpled and lay upon the cobblestones, inert and lifeless.

Kyrik knelt to wipe his blade on that dead man until it was clean. Then he looked up at Myrnis.

She had her back to the wall and she was breathing fitfully. Her brown eyes stared down at him, wide with terror.

"What's the matter with you?" he asked. "You're safe enough, now." At a thought, he scowled blackly. "What did they do to you?"

She did not answer him, just went on staring down at him. When he rose to his feet to put out an arm to her, she struck it aside.

"Don't touch me! Let me alone." Kyrik rose to his feet, vaguely puzzled. "What's wrong with you? I came as fast as I could. You were early. I wasn't late.

They eyed each other, and Kyrik read abysmal terror in the girl. She was trembling, whimpering, her eyes slid this way and that, as though searching for something she knew would not appear.

After a moment, the girl seemed to steady. She drew deep breaths, and her trembling legs steadied. She looked down at the dead men, then at Kyrik. Her tongue came out to moisten her tips.

"I am grateful to you for—for what you did. Those men would have—killed me."

Kyrik hooted. “They'd have raped you, maybe, but they wouldn't have killed you. They might have sold you as a slave—you'd fetch a good price at the bazaar — but kill you? Nonsense."

She lifted her head proudly and stared at him. “They wouldn't have dared let me live to talk."

"Talk About what?"

"About who I am." Kyrik scratched his golden poll. There was amusement in him, but there was worry, too. This wasn't at all like Myrnis. She was a sensible girl. This girl before him seemed frightened out of her wits.

“What happened?" he asked gently. “What did they do to you?"

Her tongue slid around her lips. "I can't trust you. I—I can't trust anybody."

Kyrik scowled. "Look, Myrnis. I don't know what game you're playing, but it's time to stop it. I'm hungry, I haven't eaten all day, so come along with me and we'll talk about it."

He put his hand on her arm. She would have shaken it off, but his fingers were like iron bands, so great was his strength, and she could only pant and quiver in his grip.

He urged her along beside him, and after a brief struggle she fell into step with him. Her eyes went all around them as if seeking out new enemies, but Kyrik walked with only his empty belly in mind, and paid little heed to what few passersby they might meet.

In time they came to the Inn of the Spotted Dog. Kyrik still held the girl, and pushed her between the tables until he found one that was empty. He pushed her down onto the bench against the wall and raised a hand to call to the tavern maid.

“Chilled wine," he ordered, “a lot of it. And a stew, with bread. Fruit also, girl."

From the maidservant to the girl beside him he turned his stare. Slowly his eyes went over her, from the pale face and brown eyes to the dark brown hair that tumbled across her shoulders. Her breasts, pushing into the thin stuff of the ragged garment that did its best to cover her nakedness, were full and heavy.

He said slowly, “Now what's this trouble you're in, that makes you so afraid to admit who you are?"

She sat quietly, her eyes darting back and forth from one table to another. Almost under her breath she murmured, "I was kidnapped from my palace and brought here. I know no more than that."

Kyrik hunched his shoulders, exasperated. "You play games with me, Myrnis. You're safe enough here with me." His huge hand lifted, gestured. “Every man and woman in this room has some secret or another that they don't want the law to learn about. They would die rather than betray one another."

The girl stared up at him with woebegone eyes, in which tears were starting to form. Her lips quivered, she whispered. “My n—name is Adorla Mathandis. Until today —or perhaps yesterday, I was q—queen in Alkinoor.”

Her eyes were fastened on his face. They pleaded for belief. There was an intensity about her, a quiet regality which seemed as natural to her as breathing. Kyrik scowled.

This was Myrnis. He was confident of that. No two women could be so much alike and not be the same person. Someone— or something—had interfered with her memory, that was all.

He rumbled, “You'll remember soon enough." He grinned, showing his big white teeth. "I'll help you remember."

His hand sought out her soft thigh, slid along its smoothness. Instantly her hand came down to knock his palm aside and she sat up straight, angry and resentful.

"I'm no street wench for your handling," she hissed.

Kyrik blinked. What he might have said then, he did not know, for the serving wench was at the table with platters heaped with stew, with breads, with fruit. The girl eyed that food with longing, Kyrik saw. He pushed one of the platters toward her.

"Eat," he told her gruffly. “We can talk later." She ate, but very daintily, without the gusto for food which Myrnis always possessed. As he swallowed the stew and broke the big loaves of bread, he watched her from the corners of his eyes, and grew the more puzzled.

She did not eat like Myrnis, nor did she have any of her mannerisms. Yet she was the same girl. She was too like the Romanoy gypsy to be anyone else. And yet, her skin seemed milkier than Myrnis, untouched by sun and wind.

Kyrik drank deeply of the wine, and not until every last scrap of food was gone did he push away from the wooden table and heave a sigh.

"I have a room upstairs, he told her. “We can talk there. Nobody'll overhear us."

As though fearful she might run away, he closed his hand on her wrist and drew her with him to the counter, where he paid for their meal with a gold piece. Then he drew her with him up a flight of narrow steps and along a hall.

He pushed the door inward and shoved her inside. He came after her, closing the door and leaning his bulk against it. The girl gave one look about the room, seeing the bed and the chair and washstand, and moved toward the lone window.

"Jump out, if you want," Kyrik told her. "But I'll come after you.”

She nodded dumbly, and moved to sit on the edge of the bed. Her eyes looked around the room as might those of a wild animal seeking escape.

Kyrik growled, "We're alone. We can talk. Now what's this nonsense about you being somebody named Adorla Mathandis?"

“I am," she whispered. Her hands slid up to her temples under her thick brown hair. "At least—I think I am. Maybe I'm mad."

Tears formed in her eyes, ran down her cheeks. Kyrik rumbled sympathy and moved to sit beside her. His arm reached out to hold her but she sprang aside and leaped from the bed. She ran for the door, caught hold of its lock and tried to open it.

Kyrik muttered, "You won't find any friends out there. Nobody will listen to you the way I will. They'll have their sport with you and then throw you in the gutter."

The girl began to sob, dry sobs that shook her body, even as her head bent and her knees weakened so that she slid to the floor. Crumpled in a ball of soft skin and torn cloth, she fainted.

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