"Well, Aries?" I said.
Her lips quivered.
"It can't be. I know, but Lorryn is right. You know that; we can take no risks. To have the devil Ganelon back, after all that's happened, would be disastrous."
Devil, I thought. The devil Ganelon. Ganelon had hated the woodsfolk, yes. But now he had another, greater hatred. In his hour of weakness, the Coven had betrayed him. The woods-folk could wait. Vengeance could not. It would be the devil Ganelon who would bring Caer Secaire and the Castle crashing down about the ears of the Coven!
Which would mean playing a careful game!
"Yes, Lorryn is right," I said. "You've no way of knowing I'm not Ganelon. Perhaps you know it, Aries -- " I smiled at her " -- but there must be no chances taken. Let Lorryn test me."
"Well?" Lorryn said, looking at Aries.
Doubtfully she glanced from me to the bearded man.
"I -- very well, I suppose."
Lorryn barked laughter.
"My tests might fail. But there is one who can see the truth. Freydis."
"Let Freydis test me," I said quickly, and was rewarded by seeing Lorryn hesitate.
"Very well," he said at last. "If I'm wrong, I'll apologize now. But if I'm right, I'll kill you, or try to. There's only one other life I'd enjoy taking the more, and the shape-changer isn't in my reach -- yet."
Again Lorryn touched his scarred cheek. At the thought of Lord Matholch, warmth came into his gray eyes; a distant ember burned for an instant there. I had seen hatred before. But not often had I seen such hatred as Lorryn held for -- the wolfing?
Well, let him kill Matholch, if he could! There was another, softer throat in which I wanted to sink my fingers. Nor could all her magic protect the red witch when Ganelon came back to Caer Secaire, and broke the Coven like rotten twigs in his hands!
Again the black rage thundered up like a deluging tide. That fury had wiped out Edward Bond -- but it had not wiped out Ganelon's cunning.
"As you like, Lorryn," I said quietly. "Let's go to Freydis now."
He nodded shortly. Lorryn on one side of me, Aries, puzzled and troubled, on the other, we moved up the valley, surrounded by the woodsfolk. The dazed slaves surged ahead.
The canyon walls closed in. A cave-mouth showed in the granite ahead.
We drew up in a rough semi-circle facing that cavern. Silence fell, broken by the whispering of leaves in the wind. The red sun was rising over the mountain wall.
Out of the darkness came a voice, deep, resonant, powerful.
"I am awake," it said. "What is your need?"
"Mother Freydis, we have helots captured from the Coven," Aries said quickly. "The sleep is on them."
"Send them in to me."
Lorryn gave Aries an angry look. He pushed forward.
"Mother Freydis!" he called.
"We need your sight. This man, Edward Bond -- I think he is Ganelon, came back from the Earth-world where you sent him."
There was a long pause.
"Send him into me," the deep voice finally said. "But first the helots."
At a signal from Lorryn the woodsfolk began herding the slaves toward the cavemouth. They made no resistance. Empty-eyed, they trooped toward that cryptic darkness, and one by one, vanished.
Lorryn looked at me and jerked his head toward the cavern. I smiled.
"When I come out, we shall be friends again as before." I said.
His eyes did not soften.
"Freydis must decide that."
I turned to Aries.
"Freydis shall decide," I said. "But there is nothing to fear, Aries. Remember that. I am not Ganelon."
She watched me, afraid, unsure, as I stepped back a pace or two.
The silent throng of woodsfolk stared, waiting warily. They had their weapons ready. I laughed softly and turned. I walked toward the cave-mouth. The blackness swallowed me.
VIII. Freydis STRANGE to relate, I felt sure of myself as I walked up the sloping ramp in the darkness. Ahead of me, around a bend, I could see the glimmer of firelight, and I smiled. It had been difficult to speak with these upstart woodsrunners as if they were my equals, as if I were still Edward Bond. It would be difficult to talk to their witchwoman as if she had as much knowledge as a Lord of the Coven. Some she must have, or she could never have managed the transfer which had sent me into the Earth-world and brought out Edward Bond. But I thought I could deceive her or anyone these rebels had to offer me.
The small cave at the turn of the corridor was empty except for Freydis. Her back was to me. She crouched on her knees before a small fire that burned, apparently without fuel, in a dish of crystal. She wore a white robe, and her white hair lay in two heavy braids along her back. I stopped, trying to feel like Edward Bond again, to determine what he would have said in this moment. Then Freydis turned and rose.
She rose tremendously. Few in the Dark World can look me in the eye, but Freydis' clear blue gaze was level with my own. Her great shoulders and great, smooth arms were as powerful as a man's, and if age was upon her, it did not show in her easy motions or in the timeless face she turned to me. Only in the eyes was knowledge mirrored, and I knew as I met them that she was old indeed.
"Good morning, Ganelon," she said in her deep, serene voice.
I gaped. She knew me as surely as if she read my mind.
Yet I was sure, or nearly sure, that no one in the Dark World could do that. For a moment I almost stammered. Then pride came to my rescue.
"Good day, old woman," I said. "I come to offer you a chance for your life, if you obey me. We have a score to settle, you and I."
"Sit down, Covenanter," she said. "The last time we matched strength, you traded worlds. Would you like to visit Earth again, Lord Ganelon?"
It was my turn to laugh.
"You could not. And if you could, you wouldn't, after you hear me."
Her blue eyes searched mine. -- "You want something desperately," she said in a slow voice. "Your very presence here, offering me terms, proves that. I never thought to see the Lord Ganelon face to face unless he was in chains or in a berserker battle-mood. Your need of me, Lord Ganelon, serves as chains for you now. You are fettered by your need, and helpless."
She turned back to the fire and sat down with graceful smoothness, her huge body under perfect control. Across the flame in its crystal bowl she faced me.
"Sit down, Ganelon," she said again, "and we will bargain, you and I. One thing first -- do not waste my time with lies. I shall know if you tell the truth, Covenanter. Remember it."
"Why should I bother with lies for such as you?" I said. "I have nothing to hide from you. The more of truth you know, the stronger you'll see my case is. First, though -- those slaves who came in before me?
She nodded toward the back of the cave.
"I sent them into the inner mountain. They sleep. You know the heavy sleep that comes upon those loosed from the Spell, Lord Ganelon."
I sat down, shaking my head.
"No -- no, that I can not quite remember. I -- you asked for the truth, old woman. Listen to it, then. I am Ganelon, but the false memories of Edward Bond still blur my mind. As Edward Bond I came here -- but Aries told me one thing that brought Ganelon back. She told me that the Coven, in my hour of weakness, had dressed me in the blue cloak of the sacrifice and I was riding for Caer Secaire when the woodsmen attacked us. Must I tell you now what my first wish in life is, witch-woman?"
"Revenge on the Coven." She said it hollowly, her eyes burning into mine through the fire. "This is the truth you speak, Covenanter. You want my help in getting your vengeance. What can you offer the woodsfolk in return, save fire and sword? Why should we trust you, Ganelon?"
Her ageless eyes burned into mine.
"Because of what you want. My desire is vengeance. Yours is -- what?"
"The end of Llyr -- the ruin of the Coven!" Her voice was resonant and her whole ageless face lighted as she spoke.
"So. I too desire the ruin of the Coven and the end -- the end of Llyr." My tongue stumbled a little when I said that. I was not sure why. True, I had been sealed to Llyr in a great and terrible ceremony once -- I could recall that much. But Llyr and I were not one. We might have been, had events run differently. I shuddered now at the thought of it.
Yes, it was Llyr's end I desired now -- must desire, if I hoped to live.
Freydis looked at me keenly. She nodded.
"Yes -- perhaps you do. Perhaps you do. What do you want of us then, Ganelon?"
I spoke hastily: "I want you to swear to your people that I am Edward Bond. No -- wait! I can do more for them now than Edward Bond could do. Give thanks that I am Ganelon again, old woman! For only he can help you. Listen to me. Your foresters could not kill me. I know that. Ganelon is deathless, except on Llyr's altar. But they could fetter me and keep me prisoner here until you could work your spells again and bring Edward Bond back. And that would be foolish for your sake and for mine.
"Edward Bond has done all he knows for you. Now it's Ganelon's turn. Who else could tell you how Llyr is vulnerable, or where Matholch keeps his secret weapons, or how one can vanquish Edeyrn? These things I know -- or I once knew. You must help me win my memories back, Freydis. After that -- " I grinned fiercely.
She nodded. Then she sat quiet for awhile.
"What do you want me to do, then, Ganelon?" she asked, at last.
"Tell me first about the bridging of the worlds," I said eagerly. "How did you change Edward Bond and me?"
Freydis smiled grimly.
"Not so fast, Covenanter!" she answered. "I have my secrets too! I will answer only a part of that question. We wrought the change, as you must guess, simply to rid ourselves of you. You must remember how fiercely you were pressing us in your raids for slaves, in your hatred of our freedom. We are a proud people, Ganelon, and we would not be oppressed forever. But we knew there was no death for you except in a way we could not use.
"I knew of the twin world of Earth. I searched, and found Edward Bond. And after much striving, much effort, I wrought a certain transition that put you in the other world, with memories of Edward Bond blotting out your own.
"We were rid of you. True, we had Edward Bond with us, and we did not trust him either. He was too like you. But him we could kill if we must. We did not. He is a strong man, Covenanter. We came to trust him and rely upon him. He brought us new ideas of warfare. He was a good leader. It was he who planned the attack upon the next Coven sacrifice --"
"An attack that failed," I said. "Or would have failed, had I not swung my weight into the balance. Edward Bond had Earth-knowledge, yes. But his weapons and defenses could only have breached the outer walls of the Coven. You know there are powers, seldom used, but powers that do not fail!"
"I know," she said. "Yes, I know, Ganelon. Yet we had to try, at least. And the Coven had been weakened by losing you. Without you, none of the others would have dared call on Llyr, except perhaps Ghast Rhymi." She stared deeply into the fire. "I know you Ganelon. I know the pride that burns in your soul. And I know, too, that vengeance, now, would be very dear to your heart. Yet you were sealed to Llyr, once, and you have been Covenanter since your birth. How do I know you can be trusted?"
I did not answer that. And, after a moment, Freydis turned toward the smoke-blackened wall. She twitched aside a curtain I had not seen. There, in an alcove, was a Symbol, a very ancient Sign, older than civilization, older than human speech.
Yes, Freydis would be one of the few who knew what that Symbol meant. As I knew.
"Now will you swear that you speak with a straight tongue?" she said.
I moved my hand in the ritual gesture that bound me irrevocably. This was an oath I could not break without being damned and doubly damned, in this world and the next. But I had no hesitation. I spoke truth!
"I will destroy the Coven!" I said.
"I will bring an end to Llyr!"
But sweat stood out on my forehead as I said that. It was not easy.
Freydis twitched the curtain back into place. She seemed satisfied.
"I have less doubt now," she said. "Well, Ganelon, the Norns weave strange threads together to make warp and woof of destiny. Yet there is a pattern, though sometimes we cannot see it. I did not ask you to swear fealty to the forest-folk."
"I realize that."
"You would not have sworn it," she said. "Nor is it necessary. After the Coven is broken, after an end is made to Llyr, I can guard the people of the woods against even you, Ganelon. And we may meet in battle then. But until then we are allies. I will name you -- Edward Bond."
"I'll need more than that," I told her. "If the masquerade is to pass unchallenged."
"No one will doubt my word," Freydis said. Firelight flickered on her great frame, her smooth, ageless face.
"I cannot fight the Coven till I get back my memories. The memories of Ganelon. All of them."
She shook her head.
"Well," she said slowly, "I cannot do too much on that score. Something, yes. But writing on the mind is touchy work, and memories, once erased, are not easily brought back. You still have Edward Bond's memories?"
"But my own, no. They're fragmentary. I know, for example, that I was sealed to Llyr, but the details I don't remember."
"It would be as well, perhaps, to let that memory stay lost,"
Freydis said somberly. "But you are right. A dulled tool is no use. So listen."