"It is difficult, difficult," Medea said. "Help me, Edeyrn. Lord Matholch."
The fires died. Around us was not the moonlit wilderness of the Limberlost, but empty grayness, a featureless grayness that stretched to infinity. Not even stars showed against that blank.
And now there was fear in the voice of Edeyrn.
"Medea. I have not the -- power. I stayed too long in the Earth-world."
"Open the gate!" Medea cried. "Thrust it open but a little way, or we stay here between the worlds forever!"
The wolf crouched, snarling. I felt energy pouring out of his beast-body. His brain that was not the brain of a beast.
Around us the golden clouds were dissipating.
The grayness stole in.
"Ganelon," Medea said. "Ganelon! Help me!"
A door in my mind opened. A formless darkness stole in.
I felt that deadly, evil shadow creep through me, and submerge my mind under ebon waves.
"He has the power," Edeyrn murmured. "He was sealed to Llyr. Let him call on -- Llyr."
"No. No. I dare not. Llyr?" But Medea's face was turned to me questioningly.
At my feet the wolf snarled and strained, as though by sheer brute strength it might wrench open a gateway between locked worlds.
Now the black sea submerged me utterly. My thought reached out and was repulsed by the dark horror of sheer infinity, stretched forth again and -- Touched -- something!
"The gateway opens," Edeyrn said.
The gray emptiness was gone. Golden clouds thinned and vanished. Around me, white pillars rose to a vault far, far above. We stood on a raised dais upon which curious designs were emblazoned.
The tide of evil which had flowed through me had vanished.
But, sick with horror and self-loathing, I dropped to my knees, one arm shielding my eyes.
I had called on -- Llyr!
III. Locked Worlds ACHING IN every muscle, I woke and lay motionless, staring at the low ceiling. Memory flooded back. I turned my head, realizing that I lay on a soft couch padded with silks and pillows. Across the bare, simply furnished room was a recessed window, translucent, for it admitted light, but I could see only vague blurs through it.
Seated beside me, on a three-legged stool, was the dwarfed, robed figure I knew was Edeym.
Not even now could I see the face; the shadows within the cowl were too deep. I felt the keen glint of a watchful gaze, though, and a breath of something unfamiliar -- cold and deadly. The robes were saffron, an ugly hue that held nothing of life in the harsh folds. Staring, I saw that the creature was less than four feet tall, or would have been had it stood upright.
Again I heard that sweet, childish, sexless voice.
"Will you drink, Lord Ganelon? Or eat?"
I threw back the gossamer robe covering me and sat up. I was wearing a thin tunic of silvery softness, and trunks of the same material. Edeyrn apparently had not moved, but a drapery swung apart in the wall, and a man came silently in, bearing a covered tray.
Sight of him was reassuring. He was a big man, sturdily muscled, and under a plumed Etruscan-styled helmet his face was tanned and strong. I thought so till I met his eyes. They were blue pools in which horror had drowned. And ancient fear, so familiar that it was almost submerged, lay deep in his gaze.
Silently he served me and in silence withdrew.
Edeyrn nodded toward the tray.
"Eat and drink. You will be stronger, Lord Ganelon."
There were meats and bread, of a sort, and a glass of colorless liquid that was not water, as I found on sampling it. I took a sip, set down the chalice, and scowled at Edeyrn.
"I gather that I'm not insane," I said.
"You are not. Your soul has been elsewhere -- you have been in exile -- but you are home again now."
"In Caer Llyr?" I asked, without quite knowing why.
Edeyrn shook the saffron robes.
"No. But you must remember?"
"I remember nothing. Who are you? What's happened to me?"
"You know that you are Ganelon?"
"My name's Edward Bond."
"Yet you almost remembered -- at the Need-fire," Edeym said. "This will take time. And there is danger always. Who am I? I am Edeyrn -- who serves the Coven."
"Are you --"
"A woman," she said, in that childish, sweet voice, laughing a little. "A very old woman, the oldest of the Coven, it has shrunk from its original thirteen. There is Medea, of course, Lord Matholch -- " I remembered the wolf -- "Ghast Rhymi, who has more power than any of us, but is too old to use it. And you, Lord Ganelon, or Edward Bond, as you name yourself. Five of us in all now. Once there were hundreds, but even I cannot remember that time, though Ghast Rhymi can, if he would."
I put my head in my hands.
"Good heavens, I don't know! Your words mean nothing to me. I don't even know where I am!"
"Listen," she said, and I felt a soft touch on my shoulder. "You must understand this. You have lost your memories."
"That's not true."
"It is true, Lord Ganelon. Your true memories were erased, and you were given artificial ones. All you think you recall now, of your life on the Earth-world -- all that is false. It did not happen. At least, not to you."
"The Earth-world? I'm not on Earth?"
"This is a different world," she said. "But it is your own world. You came from here originally. The Rebels, our enemies, exiled you and changed your memories."
"Come here," Edeyrn said, and went to the window. She touched something, and the pane grew transparent. I looked over her shrouded head at a landscape I have never seen before.
Or had I?
Under a dull, crimson sun the rolling forest below lay bathed in bloody light. I was looking down from a considerable height, and could not make out details, but it seemed to me that the trees were oddly shaped and that they were moving. A river ran toward distant hills. A few white towers rose from the forest. That was all. Yet the scarlet, huge sun had told me enough. This was not the Earth I knew.
"More than that," she said. "Few in the Dark World know this. But I know -- and there are some others who have learned, unluckily for you. There are worlds of probability, divergent in the stream of time, but identical almost, until the branches diverge too far."
"I don't understand that."
"Worlds coexistent in time and space -- but separated by another dimension, the variant of probability. This is the world that might have been yours had something not happened, long ago. Originally the Dark World and the Earth-world were one, in space and time. Then a decision was made -- a very vital decision, though I am not sure what it was. From that point the time-stream branched, and two variant worlds existed where there had been only one before.
"They were utterly identical at first, except that in one of them the key decision had not been made. The results were very different. It happened hundreds of years ago, but the two variant worlds are still close together in the time stream. Eventually they will drift farther apart, and grow less like each other. Meanwhile, they are similar, so much so that a man on the Earth-world may have his twin in the Dark World."
"The man he might have been, had the key decision not been made ages ago in his world. Yes, twins, Ganelon -- Edward Bond. Do you understand now?"
I returned to the couch and sat there, frowning.
'Two worlds, coexistent. I can understand that, yes. But I think you mean more -- that a double for me exists somewhere."
"You were born in the Dark World. Your double, the true Edward Bond, was born on Earth. But we have enemies here, woods-runners, rebels, and they have stolen enough knowledge to bridge the gulf between time-variants. We ourselves learned the method only lately, though once it was well-known here, among the Coven.
"The rebels reached out across the gulf and sent you -- sent Ganelon -- into the Earth-world so that Edward Bond could come here, among them. They --"
"But why?" I interrupted. "What reason could they have for that?"
Edeyrn turned her hooded head toward me, and I felt, not for the first time, remote chill as she fixed her unseen gaze upon my face.
"What reason?" she echoed in her sweet, cool voice. "Think, Ganelon. See if you remember."
I thought, I closed my eyes and tried to submerge my conscious mind, to let the memories of Ganelon rise up to the surface if they were there at all. I could not yet accept this preposterous thought in its entirety, but certainly it would explain a great deal if it were true. It would even explain -- I realized suddenly -- that strange blanking out in the plane over the Sumatra jungle, that moment from which everything had seemed so wrong.
Perhaps that was the moment when Edward Bond left Earth, and Ganelon took his place -- both twins too stunned and helpless at the change to know what had happened, or to understand.
But this was impossible!
"I don't remember!" I said harshly. "It can't have happened. I know who I am! I know everything that ever happened to Edward Bond. You can't tell me that all this is only illusion. It's too clear, too real!"
"Ganelon, Ganelon," Edeyrn crooned to me, a smile in her voice. "Think of the rebel tribes. Try, Ganelon. Try to remember why they did what they did to you. The woods-runners, Ganelon -- the disobedient little men in green. The hateful men who threatened us. Ganelon, surely you remember!"
It may have been a form of hypnotism. I thought of that later. But at that moment, a picture did swim into my mind. I could see the green-clad swarms moving through the woods, and the sight of them made me hot with sudden anger. For that instant I was Ganelon, and a great and powerful lord, defied by these underlings not fit to tie my shoe.
"Of course you hated them," murmured Edeyrn. She may have seen the look on my face. I felt the stiffness of an unfamiliar twist of feature as she spoke. I had straightened where I sat, and my shoulders had gone back arrogantly, my lip curling a feeling of scorn. So perhaps she did not read my mind at all. What I thought was plain in my face and bearing.
"Of course you punished them when you could," she went on. "It was your right and duty. But they duped you, Ganelon. They were cleverer than you. They found a door that would turn on a temporal axis and thrust you into another world. On the far side of the door was Edward Bond who did not hate them. So they opened the door."
Edeyrn's voice rose slightly and in it I detected a note of mockery.
"False memories, false memories, Ganelon. You put on Edward Bond's past when you put on his identity. But he came into our world as he was, free of any knowledge of Ganelon. He has given us much trouble, my friend, and much bewilderment. At first we did not guess what had gone wrong. It seemed to us that as Ganelon vanished from our Coven, a strange new Ganelon appeared among the rebels, organizing them to fight against his own people." She laughed softly. "We had to rouse Ghast Rhymi from his sleep to aid us. But in the end, learning the method of door-opening, we came to Earth and searched for you, and found you. And brought you back. This is your world, Lord Ganelon! Will you accept it?"
I shook my head dizzily.
"It isn't real. I'm still Edward Bond."
"We can bring back your true memories. And we will. They came to the surface for a moment, I think, just now. But it will take time. Meanwhile, you are one of the Coven, and Edward Bond is back upon Earth in his old place. Remembering -- " She laughed softly. "Remembering, I am sure, all he left undone here. But helpless to return, or meddle again in what does not concern him. But we have needed you, Ganelon. How badly we have needed you!"
"What can I do? I'm Edward Bond."
"Ganelon can do much -- when he remembers. The Coven has fallen upon evil days. Once we were thirteen. Once there were other Covens to join us in our Sabbats. Once we ruled this whole world, under Great Llyr. But Llyr is falling asleep now. He draws farther and farther away from his worshippers. By degrees the Dark World has fallen into savagery. And, of all the Covens, only we remain, a broken circle, dwelling close to Caer Llyr where the Great One sleeps beyond his Golden Window."
She fell silent for a moment.
"Sometimes I think that Llyr does not sleep at all," she said. "I think he is withdrawing, little by little, into some farther world, losing his interest in us whom he created. But he returns!" She laughed. "Yes, he returns when the sacrifices stand before his Window. And so long as he comes back, the Coven has power to force its will upon the Dark World.
"But day by day the forest rebels grow stronger, Ganelon. With our help, you were gathering power to oppose them -- when you vanished. We needed you then, and we need you more man ever now. You are one of the Coven, perhaps the greatest of us all. With Matholch you were --"
"Wait a minute," I said. "I'm still confused. Matholch? Was he the wolf I saw?"
"You spoke of him as though he were a man."
"He is a man -- at times. He is lycanthropic. A shape-changer."
"A werewolf? That's impossible. It's a myth, a bit of crazy folklore."
"What started the myth?" Edeyrn asked. "Long ago, there were many gateways opened between the Dark World and Earth. On Earth, memories of those days survive as superstitious tales. Folklore. But with roots in reality."
"It's superstition, nothing else," I said flatly. "You actually mean that werewolves, vampires and all that, exist."
"Ghast Rhymi could tell you more of this than I can. But we cannot wake him for such a matter. Perhaps I -- well, listen. The body is composed of cells. These are adaptable to some extent. When they are made even more adaptable, when metabolism is accelerated sporadically, werewolves come into being."
The sweet, sexless child's voice spoke on from the shadow of the hood. I began to understand a little. On Earth, college biology had showed me instances of cells run wild -- malignant tumors and the like. And there were many cases of "wolf-men," with thick hair growing like a pelt over them. If the cells could adapt themselves quickly, strange things might occur.
But the bones? Specialized osseous tissue, not the rigidly brittle bones of the normal man. A physiological structure that could, theoretically, so alter itself that it would be wolf instead of man, was an astounding theory!
"Part of it is illusion, of course," Edeyrn said. "Matholch is not as bestial in form as he seems. Yet he is a shape-changer, and his form does alter."
"But how?" I asked. "How did he get this power?"
For the first time Edeyrn seemed to hesitate. "He is -- a mutation. There are many mutations among us, here in the Dark World. Some are in the Coven, but others are elsewhere."
"Are you a mutation?" I asked her.