"And that was --?"
"The end of the Coven," Ghast Rhymi said. "If you lived. I foresaw the arms of Llyr reaching into the Dark World, and Matholch lying dead in a shadowed place, and doom upon Edeyrn and Medea. For time is fluid, Ganelon. It changes as men change. The probabilities alter. When you went into Earth-world, you Were Ganelon. But you came back with a double mind. You have the memories of Edward Bond, which you can use as tools. Medea should have left you in Earth-world. But she loved you."
"Yet she agreed to let them kill me," I said.
"Do you know what was in her thoughts?" Ghast Rhymi asked. "In Caer Secaire, at the time of sacrifice, Llyr would come. And you have been sealed to Llyr. Did Medea think you could be killed, then?"
A doubt grew within me. But Medea had led me, like a sheep to slaughter, in the procession to the Caer. If she could justify herself, let her. I knew that Edeyrn and Matholch could not.
"I may let Medea live, then," I said. "But not the wolfling. I have already promised his life. And as for Edeyrn, she must perish."
I showed Ghast Rhymi the Crystal Mask. He nodded.
"I was sealed to Him as Ganelon," I said. "Now you say I have two minds. Or, at least, an extra set of memories, even though they are artificial. I am not willing to be liege to Llyr! I learned many things in the-Earth-world. Llyr is no god!"
The ancient head bent. A transparent hand rose and touched the ringlets of the beard. Then Ghast Rhymi looked at me, and he smiled.
"So you know that, do you?" he asked. "I will tell you something, Ganelon, that no one else has guessed. You are not the first to come from Earth-world to the Dark World. I was the first."
I stared at him with unconcealed amazement.
"And you were born in the Dark World; I was not," he said. "My flesh sprang from the dust of Earth. It has been very long since I crossed, and I can never return now, for my span is long outlived. Only here can I keep the life-spark burning within me, though I do not much care about that either. Yet I am Earth-born, and I knew Vortigern and the kings of Wales. I had my own holdings at Caer-Merdin, and a different sun from this red ember in the Dark World's sky shone upon Caer-Merdin! Blue sky, blue sea of Britain, the gray stones of the Druid altars under the oak forests. That is my home, Ganelon. Was my home. Until my science, that men in those days called magic, brought me here, with a woman's aid. A Dark-World woman named Viviane."
"You are Earth-born?" I said.
"Once -- yes. As I grew older here, very, very old, I regretted my exile. I had acquired enough of wisdom. I would have changed it all for one breath of the cool, sweet air that blew in from the Irish Sea when I was a boy. But never could I return. My body would fall to dust in the Earth-world. So I lost myself in dreams -- dreams of Earth, Ganelon."
His blue eyes brightened with memories.
His voice deepened.
"In my dreams I brought back the old days. I stood again on the crags of Wales, watching the salmon leaping in the waters of gray Usk. I saw Artorius again, and his father Uther, and I smelled the old smells of Britain in her youth. But they were dreams!
"And dreams are not enough. For the sake of the love I bore the dust from which I sprang, for the sake of a wind that blew from ancient Ireland, I will help you now, Ganelon. I had never thought that life would matter to me any more. But that these abominations should lead a man of Earth to slaughter -- no! And man of Earth you are now, though born on this world of sorcery!"
He leaned forward, compelling me with his gaze.
"You are right. Llyr is no god. He is -- a monster. No more than that. And he can be slain."
"With the Sword Called Llyr?"
"Listen. Put these legends out of your mind. That is Llyr's power, and the power of the Dark World. All is veiled in mystic symbols of terror. But behind the veil lies simple truth. Vampire, werewolf, upas-tree -- they all are biological freaks, mutations run wild! And the First mutation was Llyr. His birth split the one time-world into two, each spinning along its line of probability. He was a key factor in the temporal pattern of entropy.
"Listen again. At birth, Llyr was human. But his mind was not as the minds of others. He had certain natural powers, latent powers, which ordinarily would not have developed in the race for a million years. Because they did develop in him too soon, they were warped and distorted, and put to evil ends. In the future world of logic and science, his mental powers would have fitted. In the dark times of superstition, they did not fit too well. So he developed, with the science at his command and the mental strength he had, into a monster.
"Human once. Less human as he grew older and wiser in his alien knowledge. In Caer Llyr are machines which send out certain radiations necessary to the existence of Llyr. Those radiations permeate the Dark World. They have caused other mutations, such as Matholch and Edeyrn and Medea.
"Kill Llyr and his machines will stop. The curse of abnormal mutations will be lifted. The shadow over this planet will be gone."
"How may I kill Him?" I asked.
"With the Sword Called Llyr. His life is bound up with that Sword, as a machine is dependent on its parts. I am not certain of the reason for this, Ganelon, but Llyr is not human -- now. He is part machine and part pure energy and part something unimaginable. But he was born of flesh, and he must maintain his contact with the Dark World, or die. The Sword is his contact."
"Where is the Sword?"
"At Caer Llyr," Ghast Rhymi said. "Go there. By the altar, there is a crystal pane. Don't you remember?"
"Break that pane. Then you will find the Sword Called Llyr."
He sank back. His eyes closed, then opened again.
I knelt before him and he made the Ancient Sign above me.
"Strange," he murmured, half to himself. "Strange that I should send a man to battle again, as I sent so many, long ago."
The white head bent forward. Snowy beard lay upon the snowy robe.
"For the sake of a wind that blew from Ireland," the old man whispered.
Through the open windows a breath of air drifted, gently ruffling the white ringlets of hair and beard....
The winds of the Dark World stirred in the silent room, paused -- and were gone!
Now, indeed, I stood alone....
From Ghast Rhymi's chamber I went down the tower steps and into the courtyard.
The battle was nearly over. Scarcely a score of the Castle's defenders were still on their feet. Around them Lorryn's pack ravened and yelled. Back to back, grimly silent, the dead-eyed guardsmen wove their blades in a steel mesh that momentarily held at bay their attackers.
There was no time to be wasted here. I caught sight of Lorryn's scarred face and made for him. He showed me his teeth in a triumphant grin.
"We have them, Bond."
"It took you long enough," I said. "These dogs must be slain quickly!" I caught a sword from a nearby woodsman.
Power flowed up the blade and into the hilt -- into me.
I plunged into the thick of the battle. The foresters made way for me. Beside me Lorryn laughed quietly.
Then I came face to face with a guardsman. His blade swung up in thrust and parry, and I twisted aside, so that his steel sang harmlessly through the air. My sword-point leaped like a striking snake for his throat. The shock of metal grating on bone jarred my wrist.
I tore the weapon free and glimpsed Lorryn, still grinning, engaging another of the guardsmen.
"Kill them!" I shouted. "Kill them!"
I did not wait for response. I went forward against the blind-eyed soldiers of Medea, slashing, striking, thrusting, as though these men were the Coven, my enemies! I hated each blankly staring face. Red tides of rage began to surge up, narrowing my vision and clouding my mind with hot mists.
For a few moments, I was drunk with the lust for killing.
Lorryn's hands gripped my shoulders. His voice came.
The fogs were swept away. I stared around. Not one of the guardsmen was left alive. Bloody, hacked corpses lay sprawled on the gray flagstone of the courtyard. The woodsmen, panting hard, were wiping their blades clean.
"Did any escape to carry warning to Caer Secaire?" I asked.
Despite his perpetual scarred grin, Lorryn looked troubled.
"I'm not sure. I don't think so, but the place is a rabbit-warren."
"The harm's done then," I said. "We hadn't enough men to throw a cordon around the Castle."
He grimaced. "Warned or not, what's the odds? We can slay the Covenanters as we killed their guards."
"We ride to Caer Llyr," I said, watching him.
I saw the shadow of fear in the cold gray eyes. Lorryn rubbed his grizzled beard and scowled.
"I don't understand. Why?"
"To kill Llyr."
Amazement battled with ancient superstitious terror in his face. His gaze searched mine and apparently read the answer he wanted.
"To kill -- that!"
I nodded. "I've seen Ghast Rhymi. He told me the way."
The men around us were watching and listening. Lorryn hesitated.
"We didn't bargain for this," he said. "Yet by the gods! To kill Llyr!
Suddenly he sprang into action, shouting orders. Swords were sheathed. Men ran to untether the mounts. Within minutes we were in our saddles, riding out from the courtyard, the shadow of the Castle falling heavily upon us till the moon lifted above the tallest tower.
I rose in my stirrups and looked back. Up there, dead, sat Ghasti Rhymi, first of the coven to die by my hand. I had killed him as surely as if I had plunged steel into his heart.
I dropped back into the saddle, pressing heels into my horse's flanks. He bolted forward. Lorryn urged his steed level with me. Behind us the woodsmen strung out in a long uneven line as we galloped across the low hills toward the distant mountains. It would be dawn before we could reach Caer Llyr. And there was no time to waste.
Medea and Edeyrn and Matholch! The names of the three beat like muffled drums in my brain. Traitors to me, Medea no less than the others, for had she not bent before the wills of Edeyrn and Matholch, had she not been willing to sacrifice me? Death I would give Edeyrn and the wolfling. Medea I might let live, but only as my slave, nothing more.
With Ghast Rhymi dead, I was leader of the Coven! In the old man's tower, sentimental weakness had nearly betrayed me. The weakness of Edward Bond, I thought. His memories had watered my will and diluted my power.
Now I no longer needed his memories. At my side swung the Crystal Mask and the Wand of Power. I knew how to get the Sword Called Llyr. It was Ganelon and not the weakling Edward Bond, who would make himself master of the Dark World.
Briefly I wondered where Bond was now. When Medea had brought me through the Need-fire to the Dark World, Edward Bond, at that same moment, must have returned to Earth. I smiled ironically, imagining the surprise that must have been his. Perhaps he had tried, and was still trying, to get back to the Dark World. But without Freydis to aid him, his attempts would be useless. Freydis was helping me now, not Bond.
And Bond would stay on Earth! The substitution would not occur again if I could help it. And I could help it. Strong Freydis might be, but could she stand against the man who had killed Llyr? I did not think so.
I sent a sly sidewise glance at Lorryn. Fool! Aries too was another of the same breed. Only Freydis had sense enough not to trust me.
The strongest of my enemies must die first -- Llyr. Then the Coven. After that, the woodsmen would taste my power. They would learn, that I was Ganelon, not the Earth weakling, Edward Bond!
I thrust the memories of Bond out of my mind. I drove them away. I banished them utterly.
As Ganelon I would battle Llyr.
And as Ganelon I would rule the Dark World!
Rule -- with iron and fire!
XIV. Fire of Life HOURS BEFORE we came to Caer Llyr we saw it, at first a blacker blackness against the night sky, and slowly, gradually, deepening into an ebon mountain as the rose-gray dawn spread behind us.
Our cantering shadows fell before us, to be trodden under the horses' hoofs. Cool, fresh winds whispered -- whispered of the sacrifice at Caer Secaire, of the seeking minds of the Coven that spied across the land.
But Caer Llyr loomed on the edge of darkness ahead -- guarding the night!
Huge the Caer was, and alien. It seemed shapeless, a Titan mound of jumbled black rock thrown almost casually together. Yet I knew that there was design in its strange geometry.
Two jet pillars, each fifty feet tall, stood like the legs of a colossus, and between them was an unguarded portal. Only there was mere any touch of color about the Caer.
A veil of flickering rainbows played lambently, like a veil across the threshold. Opalescent and faintly glowing, the shadow-curtain swung and quivered as though gentle winds drifted through gossamer folds of silk.
Fifty feet high was that curtain and twenty feet broad. Straddling it the ebon pillars rose. And above and beyond, towering breathtakingly to the dawn-clouded sky, squatted the Caer, a mountain-like structure that had never been built by man.
From Caer Llyr a breath of fear came coldly, scattering the woodsmen like leaves before a gale. They broke ranks, deployed out and drew together again as I raised my hand and Lorryn called a command.
I stared around at the low hills surrounding us.
"Never in my memory or my father's memory have men come this close to Caer Llyr," Lorryn said. "Except for Covenanters, of course. Nor would the foresters follow me now, Bond. They follow you."
How far would they follow? My wondering thought was cut off as a woodsman shouted warning. He rose in his stirrups and pointed south.
Over the hills, riding like demons in a dusty cloud, came horsemen, their armor glittering in the red sunlight!
"So someone did escape from the Castle," I said between my teeth. "And the Coven have been warned, after all!"
Lorryn grinned and shrugged. "Not many."
"Enough to delay us." I frowned, trying to make the best plan. "Lorryn, stop them. If the Coven ride with then- guards, kill them too. But hold them back from the Caer until --"
"I don't know. I'll need time. How much time I can't say. Battling and conquering Llyr won't be the work of a moment."