Rock-still, boulder-huge, she stood across the fire from me. Her voice deepened.
"I sent you into the Earth-World. I brought your double, Edward Bond, here. He helped us, and -- Aries loved him, after a while. Even Lorryn, who does not trust many, grew to trust Edward Bond."
"Who is Lorryn?"
"One of us now. Not always. Years ago he had his cottage in the forest; he hunted, and few were as cunning as Lorryn in the chase. His wife was very young. Well, she died. Lorryn came back to this cottage one night and found death there, and blood, and a wolf that snarled at him from a bloody muzzle. He fought the wolf; he did not kill it. You saw Lorryn's cheek. His whole body is like that, scarred and wealed from wolf-fangs."
"A wolf?" I said. "Not --"
"A wolfling," Freydis said. "Lycanthrope, shape-changer. Matholch. Some day Lorryn will kill Matholch. He lives only for that."
"Let him have the red dog," I said contemptuously. "If he likes, I'll give him Matholch flayed!"
"Aries and Lorryn and Edward Bond have planned their campaign," Freydis said. "They swore that the last Sabbat had been celebrated in the Dark World. Edward Bond showed them new weapons he remembered from Earth. Such weapons have been built and are in the arsenal, ready. No Sabbats have been held since Medea and her followers went searching to Earth; the woodsfolk held their hands. There was nothing to strike at except old Ghast Rhymi. Now Medea and the rest of the Coven are back, they're ready. If you lead against them Ganelon, the Coven can be smashed, I think."
"The Coven has its own weapons," I muttered. "My memory fails -- but I think Edeym has a power that -- that -- " I shook my head. "No, it's gone."
"How can Llyr be destroyed?" Freydis asked.
"I -- I may have known once. Not now."
"Look at me," she said. And leaned forward, so that it seemed as though her ageless face was bathed in the fires.
Through the flames her gaze caught mine. Some ancient power kindled her clear blue eyes. Like pools of cool water under a bright sky -- pools deep and unstirring, where one could sink into an azure silence forever and ever....
As I looked the blue waters clouded, grew dark. I saw a great black dome against a black sky. I saw the thing that dwells deepest and most strongly in the mind of Ganelon -- Caer Llyr!
The dome swam closer. It loomed above me. Its walls parted like dark water, and I moved in memory down the great smooth, shining corridor that leads to Llyr Himself.
IX. Realm of the Superconscious ONWARD I moved. Faces flickered before me -- Matholch's fierce grin, Edeyrn's cowled head with its glance that chilled, Medea's savage beauty that no man could ever forget, even in his hatred. They looked at me, mistrustfully. Their lips moved in soundless question. Curiously, I knew these were real faces I saw.
In the magic of Freydis' spell I was drifting through some dimensionless place where only the mind ventures, and I was meeting here the thoughts of the questing Coven, meeting the eyes of their minds. They knew me. They asked me fiercely a question I could not hear.
Death was in the face Matholch's mind turned to mine. All his hatred of me boiled furiously in his yellow wolf-eyes. His lips moved -- almost I could hear him. Medea's features swam up before me, blotting out the shape-changer. Her red mouth framed a question -- over and over.
"Ganelon, where are you? Ganelon, my lover, where are you? You must come back to us. Ganelon!"
Edeyrn's faceless head moved between Medea and me, and very distantly I heard her cool, small voice echoing the same thought.
"You must return to us, Ganelon. Return to us and die!"
Anger drew a red curtain between those faces and myself.
Traitors, betrayers, false to the Coven oath! How dared they threaten Ganelon, the strongest of them all? How dared they -- and why?
My brain reeled with the query. And then I realized there was one face missing from the Coven. These three had been searching the thought-planes for me, but what of Ghast Rhymi?
Deliberately I groped for the contact of his mind.
I could not touch him. But I remembered. I remembered Ghast Rhymi, whose face Edward Bond had never seen. Old, old, old, beyond good and evil, beyond fear and hatred, this was Ghast Rhymi, the wisest of the Coven. If he willed, he would answer my groping thought. If he willed not, nothing could force him. Nothing could harm the Eldest, for he lived on only by force of his own will.
He could end himself instantly, by the power of a thought. And he is like a candle flame, flickering away as one grasps at him. Life holds nothing more for him. He does not cling to it. If I had tried to seize him he could slip like fire or water from my grasp. He would as soon be dead as alive. But unless he must, he would not break his deep calm to think the thought that would change him into clay.
His mind and the image of his face remained hidden from my quest. He would not answer. The rest of the Coven still kept calling to me with a strange desperation in their minds -- return and die, Lord Ganelon! But Ghast Rhymi did not care.
So I knew that it was at his command the death-sentence had been passed. And I knew I must seek him out and somehow force an answer from him -- from Ghast Rhymi, upon whom all force was strengthless. Yet force him I must!
All this while my mind had been drifting effortlessly down the great hallway of Caer Llyr, borne upon that tide that flows deepest in the mind of Ganelon, the Chosen of Llyr -- Ganelon, who must one day return to Him Who Waits.... As I was returning now.
A golden window glowed before me. I knew it for the window through which great Llyr looks out upon his world, the window through which he reaches for his sacrifices. And Llyr was hungry. I felt his hunger. Llyr was roaming the thought-planes too, and in the moment that I realized again where my mind was drifting, I felt suddenly the stir of a great reaching, a tentacular groping through the golden window.
Llyr had sensed my presence in the planes of his mind. He knew his Chosen. He stretched out his godlike grasp to fold me into that embrace from which there is no returning.
I heard the soundless cry of Medea, vanishing like a puff of smoke out of the thought-plane as she blanked her mind defensively from the terror. I heard Matholch's voiceless howl of pure fear as he closed his own mind. There was no sound from Edeyrn, but she was gone as utterly as if she had never thought a thought. I knew the three of them sat somewhere in their castle, eyes and minds closed tightly, willing themselves to blankness as Llyr roamed the thought-lanes seeking the food he had been denied so long.
A part of me shared the terror of the Coven. But a part of me remembered Llyr. For an instant, almost I recaptured the dark ecstasy of that moment when Llyr and I were one, and the memory of horror and of dreadful joy came back, the memory of a power transcending all earthly things.
This was mine for the taking, if I opened ray mind to Llyr. Only one man in a generation is sealed to Llyr, sharing in his godhead, exulting with him in the ecstasy of human sacrifice -- and I was that one man if I chose to complete the ceremony that would make me Llyr's. If I chose, if I dared -- ah!
The memory of anger came back. I must not release myself into that promised joy. I had sworn to put an end to Llyr. I had sworn by the Sign to finish the Coven and Llyr. Slowly, reluctantly, my mind pulled itself back from the fringing contact of those tentacles.
The moment that tentative contact was broken, a full tide of horror washed over me. Almost I had touched -- him. Almost I had let myself be defiled beyond all human understanding by the terrible touch of -- of -- There is no word in any language for the thing that was Llyr. But I understood what had been in my mind as Edward Bond when I realized that to dwell on the same soil as Llyr, share the same life, was a defilement that made earth and life too terrible to endure -- if one knew Llyr.
I must put an end to him. In that moment, I knew I must stand up and face the being we knew as Llyr and fight him to his end. No human creature had ever fully faced him -- not even his sacrifices, not even his Chosen. But his slayer would have to face him, and I had sworn to be his slayer.
Shuddering, I drew back from the black depths of Caer Llyr, struggled to the surface of that still blue pool of thought which had been Freydis' eyes. The darkness ebbed around me and by degrees the walls of the cave came back, the fuelless flame, the great smooth-limbed sorceress who held my mind in the motionless deeps of her spell.
As I returned to awareness, slowly, slowly, knowledge darted through my mind in lightning-flashes, too swiftly to shape into words.
I knew, I remembered.
Ganelon's life came back in pictures that went vividly by and were printed forever on my brain. I knew his powers; I knew his secret strengths, his hidden weaknesses. I knew his sins. I exulted in his power and pride. I returned to my own identity and was fully Ganelon again. Or almost fully.
But there were still hidden things. Too much had been erased from my memory to come back in one full tide. There were gaps, and important gaps, in what I could recall.
The blue darkness cleared. I looked in Freydis' clear gaze across the fire. I smiled, feeling a cold and arrogant confidence welling up in-me.
"You have done well, witch-woman," I told her.
"Enough. Yes, enough." I laughed. "There are two trials before me, and the first is the easier of the two, and it is impossible. But I shall accomplish it."
"Ghast Rhymi?" she asked in a quiet voice.
"How do you know that?"
"I know the Coven. And I think, but I am not sure, that in Ghast Rhymi's hands lie the secrets of the Coven and of Llyr. But no man can force Ghast Rhymi to do his bidding."
"I'll find the way. Yes, I will even tell you what my next task is. You shall have the truth as I just learned it, witch. Do you know of the Mask and the Wand?"
Her eyes on mine, she shook her head. "Tell me. Perhaps I can help."
I laughed again. It was so fantastically implausible that she and I should stand here, sworn enemies of enemy clans, planning a single purpose together! Yet there was only a little I hid from her that day, and I think not very much that Freydis hid from me.
"In the palace of Medea, is a crystal mask and the silver Wand of Power," I told her. "What that Wand is I do not quite remember -- yet. But when I find it, my hands will know. And with it I can overcome Medea and Matholch and all their powers. As for Edeyrn -- well, this much I know. The Mask will save me from her."
Medea I knew now. I knew the strange hungers and the stranger thirsts that drove the beautiful red and white witch to her trystings. I knew now, and shuddered a little to think of it, why she took her captives with those arrows of fire that did not kill at all, but only stunned them.
In the Dark World, my world, mutation has played strange changes upon flesh that began as human. Medea was one of the strangest of all. There is no word in Earth-tongues for it, because no creature such as Medea ever walked Earth. But there is an approximation. In reality perhaps, and certainly in legend, beings a little like her have been known on Earth. The name they give them is Vampire.
But Edeyrn, no. I could not remember. It may be that not even Ganelon had ever known. I only knew that in time of need, Edeyrn would uncover her face.
"Freydis," I said, and hesitated again. "What is Edeyrn?"
She shook her massive head, the white braids stirring on her shoulders.
"I have never known. I have only probed at her mind now and then, when we met as you met her today, on the thought-lanes. I have much power, Ganelon, but I have always drawn back from the chill I sensed beneath Edeyrn's hood. No, I cannot tell you what she is."
I laughed again. Recklessness was upon me now.
"Forget Edeyrn," I said. "When I have forced Ghast Rhymi to my bidding, and faced Llyr with the weapon that will end him, what shall I fear of Edeyrn? The Crystal Mask is a talisman against her. That much I know. Let her be whatever monstrous thing she wills -- Ganelon has no fear of her.
"There is a weapon, then against Llyr too?"
"There is a sword," I said. "A sword that is -- is not quite a sword as we think of weapons. My mind is cloudy there still. But I know that Ghast Rhymi can tell me where it is. A weapon, yet not a weapon. The Sword Called Llyr."
For an instant, as I spoke that name, it seemed to me that the fire between us flickered as if a shadow had passed across its brightness. I should not have called the name aloud. An echo of it had gone ringing across the realms of thought, and in Caer Llyr perhaps Llyr Himself had stirred behind the golden window -- stirred, and looked out.
Even here, I felt a faint flicker of hunger from that far-away domed place. And suddenly, I knew what I had done, Llyr was awake!
I stared at Freydis with widened eyes, meeting her blue gaze that was widening too. She must have felt the stir as it ran formlessly all through the Dark World. In the Castle of the Coven I knew they had felt it too, perhaps that they looked at one another with the same instant dread which flashed between Freydis and me here.
Llyr was awake!
And I had wakened him. I had gone drifting in thought down that shining corridor and stood in thought before the very window itself, Llyr's Chosen, facing Llyr's living window. No wonder he had stirred at last to full awakening.
Exultation bubbled up in my mind.
"Now they must move!" I told Freydis joyfully. "You wrought better than you knew when you set my mind free to rove its old track. Llyr wakens and is hungrier man the Coven ever dared let him grow before. For overlong there has been no Sabbat, and Llyr ravens for his sacrifice. Have you spies watching the Castle now, witch-woman?"
"Good. Then we will know when the slaves are gathered again for a Sabbat meeting. It will be soon. It must be soon! And Edward Bond will lead an assault upon the Castle while the Coven are at Sabbat in Caer Secaire. There will be the Mask and the Wand, old woman!" My voice deepened to a chant of triumph. "The Mask and the Wand for Ganelon, and Ghast Rhymi alone in the Castle to answer me if he can! The Norns fight on our side, Freydis!"
She looked at me long and without speaking.
Then a grim smile broke across her face and stooping, she spread her bare hand, palm down, upon the fuelless flame. I saw the fire lick up around her fingers. Deliberately she crushed it out beneath her hand, not flinching at all.
The fire flared and died away. The crystal dish stood empty upon its pedestal, and dimness closed around us. In that twilight the woman was a great figure of marble, towering beside me.
I heard her deep voice.
"The Norns are with us, Ganelon," she echoed. "See that you fight upon our side too, as far as your oath will take you. Or you must answer to the gods and to me. And by the gods -- " she laughed harshly " -- by the gods, if you betray me, I swear I'll smash you with no other power than this!''
In the dimness I saw her lift her great arms. We looked one another in the eye, this mighty sorceress and I, and I was not sure but that she could overcome me in single combat if the need arose. By magic and by sheer muscle, I recognized an equal. I bent my head.
"So be it, Sorceress," I said, and we clasped hands there in the darkness. And almost I hoped I need not have to betray her.
Side by side, we went down the corridor to the cave mouth.
The half-circle of foresters still awaited us. Aries and the scarred Lorryn stood a little forward, lifting their heads eagerly as we emerged. I paused, catching the quiver of motion as calloused hands slipped stealthily toward hilt and bowstring. Panic, subdued and breathless, swept around the arc of woods-folk.
I stood there savoring the moment of terror among them, knowing myself Ganelon and the nemesis that would bring harsh justice upon them all, in my own time. In my own good time.
But first I needed their help.
At my shoulder the deep voice of Freydis boomed through the glade.
"I have looked upon this man," she said. "I name him -- Edward Bond."
Distrust of me fell away from them; Freydis' words reassured them.
X. Swords for the Coven NOW the sap that runs through Ygdrasill-root stirred from its wintry sluggishness, and the inhuman guardians of the fate-tree roused to serve me. The three Norns -- the Destiny-weavers -- I prayed to them!
Urdur who rules the past!
She whispered of the Covenanters, and their powers and their weaknesses; of Matholch, the wolfling, whose berserk rages were his great flaw, the gap in his armor through which I could strike, when fury had drowned his wary cunning; of the red witch and of Edeyrn -- and of old Ghast Rhymi. My enemies. Enemies whom I could destroy, with the aid of certain talismans that I had remembered now. Whom I would destroy!
Verdandi who rules the present!
Edward Bond had done his best. In the caves the rebels had showed me were weapons, crude rifles and grenades, gas-bombs and even a few makeshift flame-throwers. They would be useful against the Coven's slaves. How useless they would be against the Covenanters I alone knew. Though Freydis may have known too.
Yet Aries and Lorryn and their reckless followers were ready to use those Earth-weapons, very strange to them, in a desperate attack on the Castle. And I would give them that chance, as soon as our spies brought word of Sabbat-preparations. It would be soon. It would have to be soon. For Llyr was awake now -- hungry, thirsting -- beyond the Golden Window that is his door into the worlds of mankind.
Skuld who rules the future!
To Skuld I prayed most of all. I thought that the Coven would ride again to Caer Secaire before another dawn came. By then I wanted the rebels ready.
Edward Bond had trained them well. There was military discipline, after a fashion. Each man knew his equipment thoroughly, and all were expert woodsmen. We laid our plans, Aries and Lorryn and I -- though I did not tell them everything I intended -- and group by group, the rebels slipped away into the forest, bound for the Castle.
They would not attack. They would not reveal themselves until the signal was given. Meantime, they would wait, concealed in the gulleys and scrub-woods around the Castle. But they would be ready. When the time came, they would ride down to the great gates. Their grenades would be helpful there.
Nor did it seem fantastic that we should battle magic with grenades and rifle. For I was beginning to realize more and more, as my memory slowly returned, that the Dark World was not ruled by laws of pure sorcery. To an Earth-mind such creatures as Matholch and Medea would have seemed supernatural, but I had a double mind, for as Ganelon I could use the memories of Edward Bond as a workman uses tools.