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?”
The old man chuckled, nodding. "Aye, from that land where Devadonides rules. Devadonides the Accursed, the Cruel, the Unfeeling. Magician and king in one! I went through Tantagol very swiftly, lady, I had no wish to linger, though my trade was brisk. I sold and I bought, I bartered as I have not done for a long time, until the guards came and assaulted me, and made me pack my goods in the middle of the night, and leave."
"From Tantagol," she whispered, and stared at the chest with wide eyes. "You say you have not looked inside it? And this chest holds those things you bought and bartered for in those lands of Devadonides?”
His voice sharpened. "Might you be interested in goods from Tantagol? If so, I will show them to you on the morrow when my lad returns, having gotten his bellyful of girl-flesh. But for now, I am an old man. I am tired. I would close my stall and eat, and sleep. Ah, sleep.”
"No," said Aryalla. “I will look now." The old man gasped. “It is dark, almost."
"Then light a lamp. Fah! I'll pay you for the oil. But I must see, I must."
She sank on her knees beside the chest and ran palms over it as if it were the skin of a lover. The chest was old, black with centuries, and its iron hasps were rusted. Yet the coffer was from Tantagol, and it had been in Tantagol that Kyrik. . .
“Open it!" she cried imperiously. “Yes, lady—yes. But let me light this lamp first, since you pay for its oil. I can barely see in the dark, but with a light, I'll better be able to show you what I brought from Devadonides' lands."
“No need," she panted, her hands on the lid of the chest, pushing it up. Shadows lay long and black along the chest and in it, where daggers nestled beside folds of cloth, was here and there a bit of jewelry.
Her hands went into the chest, in among the bits of cloth and metal and gems, and her fingers searched like blind mice in the darkness. Then the lamp was overhead and the old man held it so she could see to lift out and examine that which might most please her.
A wind came down the avenues of the sellers; in it was the tang of rare perfumes out of Arazalla and spices from Parthanor. It ruffled the black cloak where the woman knelt, and stirred the rough brown homespun which the old man wore. It made the lamp-flame flicker so that shadows danced on the chest and its contents.
Aryalla gave a faint cry. Her fingers tightened about a length of cotton that held something hard sheathed inside it. Her hands felt of that object, went over it wonderingly while her heart slammed and thudded and her breath came swift and short in her throat.
"This is it," she whispered, even now scarcely believing.
She brought out the cotton and unrolled it. A six inch tall statue of a man carved out of solid bronze was in her cupped hands. There was paint on the statue, possibly enamel, it showed long yellow hair carved as if blowing free to an ocean breeze and a black and yellow fur kaunake about chest and shoulders, covering a shirt of chain-mail
“This shall I buy, old man," she declared. Her eyes could not leave the thing, it was so real. A sword hung in a tiny scabbard beside the broad leather belt studded with bronze bosses, there was a dagger on its other side. The face was dark with much sunlight, and the eyes of the statue were green.
"It is very valuable," he quavered. "It was sold to me by an old woman who discovered it in an attic of her home under a bit of broken planking. No telling how long it lay there. Years, probably. It's the work of a master hand, you can see that."
"A silver rhodanthe," she said. "A golden griff," he argued. She turned her head to look up at him and the old man cried out at what he saw written in her face and glowing in her eyes. Step by step he backed away from her until his buttocks wedged in a bolt of Inisfalian velvet, somewhat worn.
"Take it, as my gift," he quavered. The fury went out of Aryalla and she smiled, shaking her head. "Nay, now. You're right. This is worth good money. I've traveled great distances to put eyes to it and—shall I dishonor my search by niggardliness? Ten griffs, old one. Ten golden griffs, I give."
The old man shook as she rose to her feet. "Ten griffs?" he whispered.
"Aye, ten! What are ten griffs against what I seek?"
She counted them out into his palm, making a clinking sound with each coin, while he stared down at this new—found wealth with eyes that disbelieved. Beads of sweat came out on his forehead and now that he was rich, he must lift his head suddenly and look up and down the street, fearing robbery.
When she was done, the lady tucked the statue in its cotton batting inside her cloak, very tenderly. The old man licked his thin lips.
"Lady, answer me a question, I beg!"
“What question, then?"
“What's so valuable about that statue?"
"I've bought a legend this night, old man. And the name of the legend is—Kyrik!"
"Kyrik? Kyrik has been dead ten centuries"
"Say you so, old man? Then—he shall live again." The old man shrank back further against the velvet of Inisfall. "You're mad, lady. As my name is Prenn, you’re witless. Kyrik died a thousand years ago. And you say he shall live again?"
"So goes the legend. And with my gold I've bought a legend, as I told you."
She brushed past him, stepped out onto the street. It was dark now, the two moons of this planet circled lazily overhead, beaming silver radiance down onto the bazaar, onto the white brickwork of the houses and the spires of this trade city of Joralegon. Hands clasped about the statue, she moved swiftly, walking purposefully and without her former tiredness, through the night with an occasional stab of lamplight from a shop or stall where men sorted out their wares or haggled with latecomers over prices.
Her heart sang within herself. She had known. As soon as her hands had gone around the statue, she had been aware that her quest was at an end. One part of the legend had come true. The statue was hers, and now she would make it live and carry out the balance of the prophecy.
Her sandaled feet took her into a quiet neighborhood, where little stone houses showed oil lamps at their narrow windows and roof eaves leaned above narrow streets. There were walled gardens to these houses, and here and there a tavern where wayfarers might quench their thirsts and put up for the night in a feather-bed
On silent feet she entered a tall house and crept up a narrow stairway lighted only by an oil cresset, the rustle of her cloak making the only sound around her. To the top floor of the building she went, and removing a large key from her leathern girdle-bag, inserted it into the lock of a narrow, tiny door. The door swung inward on oiled hinges.
The woman removed a tinder box from a tabletop, struck steel to flint and blew upon the spark as it fell on the tinder. A tiny flame glowed. She touched lamp-wick to flame and now the room could be seen in the bright flare of that lamp, to be wide and generous, sparsely fitted out with regard to furniture. There was only a table and a small chair, though there were many chests; and on the floor, which was bare wood, could be seen drawn in chalks of varying colors the great pentagram and then, a smaller one.
Aryalla sighed, let her cloak slip to the floor. Breathing fitfully, she ran to the smaller pentagram, put it standing in the center. She knelt a moment, studying the sturdy bronze figure, nodding to herself. Then she was up and moving, crossing to lift a worn wooden casket with tarnished silver fittings, putting it inside the great pentagram and throwing back the lid. Then she glanced about the room, sprang to the windows and drew the thick cloth drapes so that none might see into this garret chamber, so that no light might escape from it.
She stood then, loosed the clasp of her cloak, let it slip to the floor, revealing a shapely body clad in a tattered gown of Inisfalian silk that showed the flesh tints of her otherwise naked body beneath it. She was younger in the lamp light than she had seemed on the street, her black hair was thick and glossy, held by Karalonian silver pins and chains. Her cheeks were flushed, her black eyes glittered triumphantly.
A moment she paused, glancing about the room. Then her hand loosened clasps, the garment fell away and she stood proudly nude in the lamp-flames! Drawing air into her lungs, she then stepped into the center of the pentagram.
From the casket with the silver clasps she drew powders, rare and tinted with the hues of the rainbow, and of these she made piles, here and there, and touched them with the flame from the lamp-wick A blaze of colors lifted like pillars from the pentagram, went upward toward the beamed ceiling, hid amid the shadows.
A faint perfume came into the room. She raised bare arms.
“Demons of the worlds beyond our ken! You who dwell where no man's eyes may see, where no man's limbs may go except that it be your will—heed me Open wide your senses, hear my words!”
Aryalla paused to draw breath. "Kilthin of the frozen weald of Arathissthia. Rogrod of the red fire—lands of Kule! Abakkan the ancient, bent with the wisdoms of ten thousand times ten thousand nether worlds. I appeal, I cry out my needs, I summon you to this plane, this land, where I wait your coming."
There was a silence, aching to the ears. A coldness breathed across the room. Hoarfrost glimmered on tabletop and metal torches in the walls. The wooden paneling itself grew white with rime. And a voice that crackled with the icy weight of a hundred glaciers spoke in the air.
“Kilthin hears! Kilthin comes!" Heat swept like a blast off the southern deserts, baking, drawing the water from human skin. Gone were the rime glitters, except where a frostiness hung in the air beyond the pentagram. Now a red haze of heat lay between the floor and beamed ceiling and it breathed and its breath was that of living fire.
"I come," said a voice in which the beating and the roaring of hot flames lay hidden. "I listen, Aryalla of the ebon hai!"
Even as that whisper floated through the chamber, a leathery rustle was heard and a darkness came, shot with brownish gleamings, where something—crouched low to the floor and two baleful green eyes glittered.
“You called, Aryalla. I am here." Two tears crept down the cheeks of the girl who stood naked inside the great pentagram. She shivered slightly, then forced a smile to her full mouth.
"You have my thanks. I have been abandoned by all save you three old-friends. Once each of you said that not alone could I overthrow wicked Devadonides. I would need help from a legend. These were your words."
"I remember," whispered a leathery voice. "Aye, as do I," said the hoarfrost. Aryalla smiled. “And so I went in search of that legend named Kyrik, that warrior who was a warlock and lived a thousand years ago and was made into a statue by a wicked spell—or so goes the legend. I found that statuette this night.
"Behold—Kyrik!" Three breaths gusted in the chamber. Eyes—and that which passed for eyes—glinted where the lamplight caught them. The woman stirred, head turning as she scanned each feature, each movement, of these demons. The seconds passed, and a glow came about the tiny statuette so that it seemed there was a brilliance inside the bronze.
A hard voice whispered: “Who are you who touch Kyrik?”
The glow faded. Abakkon chuckled. "It's Kyrik, all right. Still the hard-nosed adventurer, king of Tantagol though he was. Many's the time I've come to his call, to help him out of one bit of trouble or another."
Aryalla clasped her hands between her breasts. “Can he aid me? Can he?"
Kilthin rasped icy laughter in which were the sounds of great bergs meeting and crunching together in the northernmost seas. “Aye, tis Kyrik, damn his eyes!"
“Why do you say that?" asked the woman, worried.
"Because he's a hard, proud man. A wencher of sorts, I remember. Beware of him, little sister of the pentagram. He'll have you on a bed, as soon as look at you."
"And what's so wrong with that?" asked fiery Rogrod. "Kyrik's still little more than a youth, for all his—age. And our daughter is very fair, eh?"
Aryalla flushed and attempted to hide her nudity from those demon eyes that searched it. But she was a beautiful woman, she knew it and gloried in it, and perhaps it was pride in that loveliness that made her stand so straight, so unashamed.
"Will he help me?" she asked softly.
“Who can answer that but—Kyrik?" Aryalla bent a little, craning toward the iciness, the heat, the leathery darkness on the floor. “Will you help me raise him? Will you cast off that bronze sheathing from his spirit, that prison which shackles the very soul of him?"
They agreed softly, in the black shadows where they hid.
And now the sorceress knelt, mixed other powders, red with yellow and blue with green, until she had other piles to set afire. And all this while, under her breath, she chanted words of a language that had been old when the reptilian people of Karsatheen had dug their first burrows.
The words went into the darkness lighted only dimly by the single oil lamp, and though Aryalla stumbled over their pronunciations now and again, there came a pale greenness into that darkness, flecked with vivid bolts of necromantic power.
And now the sorceress flung high her bare arms, chanted ever louder, so that those green beams glittered and hissed as though in torment, yet coalescing always into a ball of lightnings that danced upon the air currents. It hung there, quivering, denying itself to the service of the woman; as if it were alive, sparkling and scintillant with anger, with rebellion.
And now the leathery thing stirred. “Obey the command!" said Abakkon. “Aye—obey," breathed Rogrod. “You have no choice,” whispered cold Kilthin. The green ball fell lower, lower. It hovered above the statuette, still raging, its whispers of hate for mankind and its service to them a gnawing in its vitals. It danced in the air over the bronze carving.
“Cantha fthnagen! Absothoth fertith!" cried Aryalla.
With a sigh the green ball dropped, enveloped the statuette.
"By the gods!" a bull voice roared. The greenness grew, bloated. It still hissed and sizzled, but now that hissing and that sizzling was muted, as though the ball muttered only. Inside as it swelled, a man could be seen; the statue expanding outward swiftly, growing upward. Still the verdant globe clung to that manlike thing, filling its flesh and pores, its veins and neurons, with the life it had sapped from it a thousand years before. "He lives," breathed the greenness. “Then begone,” cried Aryalla. The globe faded. A man stood before the sorceress, giant in stature, his bronzed flesh rippling with massive muscles, his tawny hair long uncut, yet lending his craggily handsome face a hint of savage animality. The lamplight touched the plates of his mail habergeon, glinted on the buckle of his sword-belt, on the hilt of the great blade in its scabbard by his side.
His green eyes touched the woman, ran over her nakedness. A smile came upon his lips and grew. "By Illis and her brood! You are a woman!”
For the second time, Aryalla knew modesty. Those green eyes that searched her body were those of a wencher, of a king long used to the sensuous caresses of many women. Yet he did not move toward her, he let his eyes speak, and then he placed a big hand on his left arm, rubbed and massaged the flesh.
"I've been a long time without moving," he growled. "My flesh was turned to bronze, my insides to metal. It takes a while to—learn the art of moving.”
The green—eyes saw Abakkon, a leatheriness crouching in the darkness, wings folded about its shoulders. The eyes widened. His head turned slowly, as though it ached, and now he saw the redness of Rogrod, the icy pallidity of Kilthin.
Kyrik nodded. "My thanks to all of you." He raised his arms, let the muscles bulge. He shook himself as might a great bear awakening from a long winter hibernation. Under the mail jacket, the habergeon, he wore a quilted gambeson. A black and yellow kilt of tiger fur encased his loins and a broad leather belt held sword and dagger scabbards. On his feet he wore short leather war-boots, with tiger-skin trimmings at their tops.
He stepped forward, moved out of the pentagram. Never did he take his eyes from the naked sorceress, it was as if she were the only living thing in the world. Before her he stood, brawny arms folded. "Now tell me why," he rumbled, with a smile upon his mouth. "There was a reason why you hunted down Kyrik of the Victories, why you sought to bring him back to life and—did so."
Her head went back, her pride answering his own. "Aye, there was a reason. I—hate. I would have you slay for me!"
“What man would you have die by Kyrik’s hand?"
Kyrik started, scowling. “Lives the devil yet? I thought by this time he would be dust in his coffin. Devadonides!”
"Aye, you know the forefather. Not his—descendant.”
"And does the descendant still rule from the throne where I once sat? In Tantagol? Yes, yes. I see it in your eyes. So then, we are partners. And yet—I sense a disturbance in you, a worry."
"You are something more than I bargained for," the sorceress whispered. She could not control a human animal such as this, a giant of a man who towered above others of his kind, with a savagery in his eyes.
Perhaps he saw this in her face, for he rumbled laughter. "Na, na. I'm not the barbarian your eyes make me out to be. I have a sentiment in me of gratitude. And because of this, until I kill Devadonides for you, I am your servant."
She gave him a dubious look out of her faintly slanted eyes.
And then a voice cut across her own. “She has good cause to worry, Kyrik—and you have, as well."
The big barbarian swung about, stared at the leathery thing. "Abakkon. What croaking of danger is this I hear?"
"Devadonides is well served by sorcerers as able as the woman. Even now, those wizards sense your life. They run with warnings to King Devadonides. Soon a band of strong warriors will be setting out to slay you both."
Kyrik laughed. "By all the gods of Tantagol! It's good to be alive again, to know men hunt me with cold steel. Aye, by Illis I find a need in me for a good fight, after being a statue for so long."
His eyes touched Aryalla, ran lightly over her thrusting breasts. A fire came to life in his green eyes. "It's good to look upon a woman again, too! By Illis of the sterile caresses, it is. Na, na, girl. Don’t cover yourself up. Indulge a man who's been cold metal for a thousand years."
"Best you leave this place," breathed a coldness. "Those wizards of Tantagol can find you easily enough by the traces of the potent magicks Aryalla had to work to bring you back to life."
Kyrik nodded. He moved to her fallen garment, lifted it and tossed it to the woman. She slithered her nakedness inside its worn thinness. Kyrik raised the cloak, held it for her.
"So no other eyes but mine can see how lovely you really are,” he grinned, and kissed her soft throat.
"You have no time for wantonness," said the red thing known as Rogrod. “They come, these men of Devadonides, mounted on swift horses. They will be here before morning."
“And then they will slay you both," rasped Abakkon.
Kyrik growled, but nodded. His hand went to his sword, lifted it and let it fall back inside the scabbard. Aryalla was kneeling, gathering up the vials of powder, replacing them in the little coffer with the worn silver hasps. Kyrik moved toward her, sensing that Kilthin, Abakkon and Rogrod were disappearing into emptiness behind him.
“What else do you have to carry?" he asked. "Only this," she murmured, raising the coffer to show him.
His huge hand lifted her, brought her with him toward the door. Together, they went out into the black midnight hours.