The red moon was far down the sky when I came back to Lorryn, still crouching beside the castle wall and half mad with impatience. There was an eager stir among the unseen soldiers as I came running down the road, a forward surge as if they had waited to the very limit of endurance and would attack now whether I gave the word or no.
I waved to Lorryn while I was still twenty feet away. I was careless now of the Castle guardsmen. Let them see me. Let them hear.
"Give the signal!" I shouted to Lorryn. "Attack!"
I saw him start up beside the road, and the moonlight glinted upon the silver horn he lifted to his lips. Its blare of signal notes ripped the night to tatters. It ripped away the last of my lethargy too.
I heard the long yell that swept the forest as the woodsmen surged forward to the attack, and my own voice roared unbidden in reply, an ecstasy of battle-hunger that matched the ecstasy I had just shared with Llyr.
The rattle of rifle-fire drowned out our voices. The first explosions of grenades shook the Castle, outlining the outer walls in livid detail. There were shouts from within, wild trumpetings of signal horns, the cries of confused guardsmen, leaderless and afraid. But I knew they would rally. They had been trained well enough by Matholch and by myself. And they had weapons that could give the woodsmen a stiff fight.
When they recovered from this panic there would be much blood spilled around the outer walls.
I did not wait to see it. The first explosions had breached the barriers close beside me, and I scrambled recklessly through the gap, careless of the rifle fire that spattered against the stones. The Morns were with me tonight. I bore a charmed life, and I knew I could not fail.
Somewhere above me in the besieged towers Ghast Rhymi sat wrapped in his chill indifference, aloof as a god above the struggle around Coven Castle. I had a rendezvous with Ghast Rhymi, though he did not know it yet.
I plunged into the gateway of the Castle, heedless of the milling guards. They did not know me in the darkness and the confusion, but they knew by my tunic I was not a forester, and they let me shoulder them aside.
Three steps at a time, I ran up the great stairway.
XII. Harp of Satan CASTLE of the Coven! How strange it looked to me as I went striding through its halls. Familiar, yet curiously unknown, as though I saw it through the veil of Edward Bond's transplanted memories.
So long as I went rapidly, I seemed to know the way. But if I hesitated, my conscious mind took over control, and that mind was still clouded with artificial memories, so that I became confused in the halls and corridors which were familiar to me when I did not think directly of them.
It was as if whatever I focused on sharply receded into unfamiliarity while everything else remained clear, until I thought of it.
I strode down hallways arched overhead and paved underfoot in bright, intricate mosaics that told legendary tales half-familiar to me. I walked upon centaurs and satyrs whose very faces were well known to the Ganelon half of my mind, while the Edward Bond half wondered in vain whether such people had really lived in this distorted world of mutations.
This double mind at times was a source of strength to me, and at others a source of devouring weakness. Just now I hoped fervently that I might meet no delays for once I lost this rushing thread of memory which was leading me toward Ghast Rhymi, I might never find it again. Any interruption might be fatal to my plans.
Ghast Rhymi, my memories told me, would be somewhere in the highest tower of the castle. There too would be the treasure-room where the Mask and Wand lay hidden, and hidden deeper in the serene, untouchable thoughts of Ghast Rhymi, lay the secret of Llyr's vulnerability.
These three things I must have, and the getting would not be easy. For I knew -- without clearly remembering how or by what -- that the treasure-room was guarded by Ghast Rhymi. The Coven would not have left open to all comers that secret place where the things that could end them lay hidden.
Even I, even Ganelon, had a secret thing locked in that treasury. For no Covenanter, no warlock, no sorceress can deal in the dark powers without creating, himself, the one instrument that can destroy him. That is the Law.
There are secrets behind it which I may not speak of, but the common one is clear. All Earth's folklore is rife with the same legend. Powerful men and women must focus their power in an object detached from themselves.
The myth of the external soul is common to all Earth races, but the reason for it lies deep in the lore of the Dark World. This much I can say -- that there must be a balance in all things. For every negative, a positive. We of the Coven could not build up our power without creating a corresponding weakness somewhere, somehow, and we must hide that weakness so cunningly that no enemy could find it.
Not even the Coven knew wherein my own secret lay. I knew Medea's, and I knew Edeyrn's only partially, and as for Matholch -- well, against him I needed only my own Covenanter strength. Ghast Rhymi did not matter. He would not bother to fight.
But Llyr? Ah!
Somewhere the Sword lay hidden, and he who could find and use it in that unknown way for which it was fashioned, he held the existence of Llyr in his own hand. But there was danger. For as Llyr's power in the Dark World was beyond imagination, so too must be that balancing power hidden in the Sword. Even to go near it might be fatally dangerous. To hold it in the hand -- well, hold it I must, and there was no profit in thinking about danger.
I went up and up, on and on.
I could not hear the sounds of battle. But I knew that at the gate the Coven guards and slaves were fighting and falling, as Lorryn's men, too, were falling. I had warned Lorryn that none must break through his lines to warn those at Caer Secaire. I knew that he would follow that order, despite his anxiety to come to grips with Matholch. For the rest, there was one in the Castle who could, without stirring, send a message to Medea. One person!
He had not sent that message. I knew that as I thrust through the white curtain and came out into the tower room. The little chamber was semicircular, walls, floor and ceiling were ivory pale. The casement windows were shut, but Ghast Rhymi had never needed sight to send out his vision.
He sat there, an old, old man, relaxed amid the cushions of his seat, snowy hair and beard falling in curled ringlets that blended with his white, plain robe. His hands lay upon the chair-arms, pale as wax, so transparent that I could almost trace the course of the thinned blood that stirred so feebly in those old veins.
Wick and wax had burned down. The flame of life flickered softly, and a wind might send that flame into eternal darkness. So sat the Ancient of Days, his blind blue gaze not seeing me, but turned upon inward things.
Ganelon's memories flooded back. Ganelon had learned much from Ghast Rhymi. Even then, the Covenanter had been old. Now the tides of time had worn him, as the tides of the sea wear a stone till nothing is left but a thin shell, translucent as clouded glass.
Within Ghast Rhymi I could see the life-fires dwindling, sunk to embers, almost ash.
He did not see me. Not easily can Ghast Rhymi be drawn back from, the deeps where his thoughts move.
I spoke to him, but he did not answer.
I went past him then, warily, toward the wall that divided the tower-top into two halves. There was no sign of a door, but I knew the combination. I moved my palms in an intricate pattern on the cool surface, and a gap widened before me.
I crossed the threshold.
Here were kept the holy things of the Coven.
I looked upon that treasure-vault with new eyes, clearer because of Edward Bond's memories. That lens, burning with dull amber lights there in its hollowed place in the wall -- I had never wondered much about it before. It killed. But memories of Earth-science told me why. It was not magic, but an instantaneous drainage of the electrical energy of the brain. And that conical black device -- that, killed, too. It could shake a man to pieces, by shuttling his life-force back and forth so rapidly between artificial cathode and anode that living flesh could not stand the strain. Alternating current, with variations!
But these weapons did not interest me now. I sought other loot. There was no death-traps to beware of, for none but the Coven knew the way to enter this treasure-room, or its location, or even that it existed, save in legends. And no slave or guard would have dared to enter Ghast Rhymi's tower.
My gaze passed over a sword, but not the one I needed; a burnished shield; a harp, set with an intricate array of manual controls. I knew that harp. Earth has legends of it -- the harp of Orpheus, that could bring back the dead from Hades. Human hands could not play it. But I was not quite ready for the harp, yet.
What I wanted lay on a shelf, sealed in its cylindrical case. I broke open the seals and took out the thin black rod with its hand-grip.
The Wand of Power. The Wand that could tap the electromagnetic force of a planet. So could other wands of this type -- but this was the only one without the safety-device that limited its power. It was dangerous to use.
In another case I found the Crystal Mask -- a curved, transparent plate that shielded my eyes like a domino mask of glass. This mask would shield one from Edeyrn.
I searched further. But of the Sword of Llyr I could find no trace.
Time did not lag. I heard nothing of the noise of battle, but I knew that the battle went on, and I knew, too, that sooner or later the Coven would return to the Castle. Well, I could fight the Coven now, but I could not fight Llyr. I dared not risk the issue till I had made sure.
In the door of the vault I stood, staring at Ghast Rhymi's silvery head. Whatever guardian thought he kept here, knew I had a right to the treasure room. He made no motion. His thoughts moved far out in unimaginable abysses, nor could they be easily drawn back. And it was impossible to put pressure on Ghast Rhymi. He had the perfect answer. He could die.
Well, I too had an answer!
I went back to the vault and lifted the harp. I carried it out and set it down before the old man. No life showed in his blue stare.
I went to the windows and flung them open. Then I returned, dropping to the cushions beside the harp, and lightly touched its intricate controls.
That harp had been in the Earth-world, or others like it. Legends know its singing strings, as legends tell of mystic swords. There was the lyre of Orpheus, strong with power, that Jupiter placed amid the stars. There was the harp of Gwydion of Britain, that charmed the souls of men. And the harp of Alfred, that helped to crush Daneland. There was David's harp that he played before Saul.
Power rests in music. No man today can say what sound broke the walls of Jericho, but once men knew.
Here in the Dark World this harp had its legends among the common folk. Men said that a demon played it, that the airy fingers of elemental spirits plucked at its strings. Well, in a way they were right.
For an incredible perfection of science had created this harp. It was a machine. Sonic, sub-sonic, and pure vibration to match the thought-waves emitted by the brain blended into a whole that was part hypnosis and part electric magnetism. The brain is a colloid, a machine, and any machine can be controlled.
And the harp of power could find the key to a mind, and lay bonds upon that mind.
Through the open windows, faintly from below, I heard the clash of swords and the dim shouts of fighting men. But these sounds did not touch Ghast Rhymi. He was lost on the plane of pure abstraction, thinking his ancient, deep thoughts.
My fingers touched the controls of the harp, awkwardly at first, then with more ease as manual dexterity came back with memory.
The sigh of a plucked string whispered through the white room. The murmuring of minor notes, in a low, dreamily distant key. And as the machine found the patterns of Ghast Rhymi's mind, under my hands the harp quickened into breathing life.
The soul of Ghast Rhymi -- translated into terms of pure music!
Shrill and ear-piercing a single note sang.' Higher and higher it mounted, fading into inaudibility. Deep down a roaring, windy noise began, rising and swelling into the demon-haunted shout of a gale. Rivers of air poured their music into the threnody.
High -- high -- cold and pure and white as the snowy summit of a great mountain, that single thin note sang and sang again.
Louder grew the great winds. Rippling arpeggios raced through the rising torrent of the sorcerous music.
Thunder of riven rocks -- shrill screaming of earthquake-shaken lands -- yelling of a deluge that poured down upon tossing forests.
A heavy humming note, hollow and unearthly, and I saw the gulfs between the worlds where the empty night of space makes a trackless desert.
And suddenly, incongruously, a gay lilting tune, with an infectious rocking rhythm, that brought to my mind bright colors and sunlit streams and fields.
Ghast Rhymi stirred.
For an instant awareness came back into his blue eyes. He saw me.
And I saw the life-fires sink within that frail, ancient body.
I knew that he was dying -- that I had troubled his long peace -- that he had relinquished his casual hold upon life.
I drew the harp toward me. I touched the controls.
Ghast Rhymi sat before me, dead, the faintest possible spark fading within that old brain.
I sent the sorcerous spell of the harp blowing like a mighty wind upon the dying embers of Ghast Rhymi's life.
As Orpheus drew back the dead Eurydice from Pluto's realm, so I cast my net of music, snared the soul of Ghast Rhymi, drew him back from death!
He straggled at first, I felt his mind turn and writhe, trying to escape, but the harp had already found the key to his mind, and it would not let him go. Inexorably it drew him.
The ember flickered -- faded -- brightened again.
Louder sang the strings. Deeper roared the tumult of shaking waters.
Higher the white, shrill note, pure as a star's icy light, leaped and ever rose.
Roaring, racing, sweet with honey-musk, perfumed with flower-scent and ambergris, blazing with color, opal and blood-ruby and amethyst-blue, that mighty tapestry of color rippled and shook like a visible web of magic through the room.
The web reached out.
Swept around Ghast Rhymi like a fowler's snare!
Back in those faded blue eyes the light of awareness grew. He had stopped struggling. He had given up the fight. It was easier to come back to life -- to let me question him -- than to battle the singing strings that could cage a man's very soul.
Under the white beard the old man's lips moved.
"Ganelon," he said. "I knew -- when the harp sang -- who played it. Well, ask your questions. And then let me die. I would not live in the days that are coming now. But you will live, Ganelon -- and yet you will die too. That much I have read in the future."
The hoary head bent slowly. For an instant Ghast Rhymi listened -- and I listened too.
The last, achingly sweet notes of the harp died upon the trembling air.
Through the open windows came the muted clash of sword and the wordless shriek of a dying man.
XIII. War -- Red War!
PITY FLOODED me. The shadow of greatness that had cloaked Ghast Rhymi was gone. He sat there, a shrunken, fragile old man, and I felt a momentary unreasoning impulse to turn on my heel and leave him to drift back into his peaceful abyss of thought. Once, I remembered, Ghast Rhymi had seemed a tall, huge figure -- though he had never been that in my lifetime. But in my childhood I had sat at the feet of this Covenanter and looked up with awe at that majestic, bearded face with reverence.
Perhaps there had been more life in that face then, more warmth and humanity. It was remote now. It was like the face of a god, or of one who had looked upon too many gods.
My tongue stumbled.
"Master," I said. "I am sorry!"
No light came into the distant blue gaze, yet I sensed a stirring.
"You name me master?" he said. "You -- Ganelon? It has been a long time since you humbled yourself to anyone."
The taste of my triumph was ashes. I bowed my head. Yes, I had conquered Ghast Rhymi, and I did not like the savor of that conquest.
"In the end the circle completes itself," the old man said quietly. "We are more kin than the others. Both you and I are human, Ganelon, not mutants. Because I am Leader of the Coven I let Medea and the others use my wisdom. But -- but -- " He hesitated.
"For two decades my mind has dwelt in shadow," he went on. "Beyond good and evil, beyond life and the figures that move like puppets on the stream of life. When I was wakened, I would give the answers I knew. It did not matter. I had thought that I had lost all touch with reality. And that if death swept over every man and woman in the Dark World, it would not matter."
I could not speak. I knew that I had done Ghast Rhymi a very great wrong in wakening him from his deep peace.
The blue stars dwelt on me.
"And I find that it does matter, after all. No blood of mine runs in your veins, Ganelon. Yet we are kin. I taught you, as I would have taught my own son. I trained you for your task -- to rule the Coven in my place. And now, I think I regret many things. Most of all the answer I gave the Covenanters after Medea brought you back from Earth-world."
"You told them to kill me," I said.
"Matholch was afraid. Edeyrn sided with him. They made Medea agree. Matholch said, 'Ganelon is changed. There is danger. Let the old man read the future and see what it holds.' So they came to me, and I let my mind ride the winds of time and see what lay ahead."