"Nor is it the work of one man," Lorryn said doubtfully. "With us to aid you, victory will fly at your elbow."
"I know the weapon against Llyr," I said. "One man can wield it. But keep the guardsmen back, and the Covenanters too. Give me time!"
"There will be no difficulty about that," Lorryn said, a flash of excitement lighting his eyes. "For look!"
Angling across the hills, riding one by one into view, hotly pursuing the armored rout, came green-clad figures, spurring their horses forward.
Those figures were woodsmen's women whom we had left behind in the valley. They were armed now, for I saw the glitter of swords. Nor were swords their only weapons. A spiteful crack echoed, a puff of smoke arose, and one of the guardsmen flung up his hands and toppled from his mount.
Edward Bond had known how to make rifles! And the woodsfolk had learned how to use them!
At the head of the woods women I noted two lithe forms, one a slim, supple girl whose ashy-blond hair streamed behind her like a banner. Aries.
And at her side, on a great white steed, rode one whose giant form I could not mistake even from this distance. Freydis spurred forward like a Valkyrie galloping into battle.
Freydis and Aries, and the women of the forest!
Lorryn's laugh held exultation.
"We have them, Bond!" he cried, his fist tightening on the rein. "Our women at their heels, and we to strike from the flank -- we'll catch and crush them between hammer and anvil. Gods grant the shape-changer rides there!"
"Then ride," I snapped. "No more talk! Ride and crush them. Hold them back from the Caer!"
With that I raced my steed forward, lying low on the horse's mane, driving like a thunderbolt toward the black mountain ahead. Did Lorryn know how suicidal might be the mission on which I had sent him? Matholch he might slay, and even Medea. But if Edeyrn rode with the Coven guards, if ever she dropped the hood from her face, neither sword nor bullet could save the woodsmen!
Still they would give me time. And if the woodsmen's ranks were thinned, so much the better for me later. I would deal with Edeyrn in my own way when the time came.
Ahead the black columns stood. Behind me a shouting rose, and a crackle of rifle-fire. I looked back, but a fold of the hills hid the combat from my eyes.
I sprang from the horse's back and stood before the pillars -- between them. The coruscating veil sparkled and ran like milky water before me. Above, towering monstrously, stood the Caer, the focus of the evil that had spread across the Dark World.
And in it reposed Llyr, my enemy!
I still had the sword I had taken from one of the woodsmen, but I doubted if ordinary steel would be much good within the Caer. Nevertheless I made sure the weapon was at my side as I walked forward.
I stepped through the veil.
For twenty paces I moved forward in utter darkness. Then light came.
But it was the light that beats upon a snow plain, so bright, so glittering, that it blinds. I stood motionless, waiting. Presently the dazzle resolved itself into flickering atoms of brightness, weaving and darting in arabesque patterns. Not cold, no!
Tropical warmth beat upon me.
The shining atoms drove at me. They tingled upon my face and hands. They sank like intangible things through my garments and were absorbed by my skin. They did not lull me. Instead, my body greedily drank that weird snowstorm of -- energy? -- and was in turn energized by it.
Tide of life sang ever stronger in my veins.
I saw three gray shadows against the white. Two tall and one slight and small as a child's shadow.
I knew them. I knew who cast them.
I heard Matholch's voice.
"Kill him. Kill him now."
And Medea's answer.
"No. He need not die. He must not."
"But he must!" Matholch snarled, and Edeyrn's sexless, thin voice echoed his.
"He is dangerous, Medea. He must die, and only on Llyr's altar can he be slain. For he is the Sealed of Llyr."
"He need not die," Medea said stubbornly. "If he is made harmless -- weaponless -- he may live."
"How?" Edeym asked, and for answer the red witch stepped forward out of the dazzling white shimmer.
No longer a shadow. No longer a two-dimensional grayness. She stood before me -- Medea, witch of Colchis.
Her dark hair fell to her knees. Her dark gaze slanted at me. Evil she was, and alluring as Lilith.
I dropped my hand to sword-hilt.
I did not. I could not move. Faster swirled the darting bright atoms, whirling about me, sinking into my body to betray me.
I could not move.
Beyond Medea the twin shadows bent forward.
"The power of Llyr holds him," Edeyrn whispered. "But Ganelon is strong, Medea. If he breaks his fetters, we are lost."
"By then he will have no weapons," Medea said, and smiled at me.
Now indeed I knew my danger. Very easily my steel could have bitten through Medea's soft throat, and heartily I wished it had done so long ago. For I remembered Medea's power. The mutation that set her apart from others. That which had caused her to be named -- vampire.
I remembered victims of hers that I had seen. The dead-eyed guardsmen, the Castle slaves, hollow shells of men, the walking dead, all soul drained from them, and most of their life-forms as well.
Her arms stole around my neck. Her mouth lifted to mine.
In one hand she held her black wand. It touched my head, and a gentle shock, not unpleasant, crawled along my scalp. The -- the conductor, I knew, and a gust of insane laughter shook me at the incongruity of the weapon.
But there was no magic here. There was science, of a high order, a science made possible only for those who were trained to it, or for those who were mutants. Medea drank energy, but not through sorcery. I had seen that wand used too often to believe that.
The wand opened the closed circuits of the mind and its energies. It tapped the brain, as a copper wire can tap a generated current.
Diverting the life-force to Medea!
The shining mist-motes swirled faster. They closed in around us, bathing us in a swirling cloak. The gray shadowiness fell away from Edeym and Matholch. Dun-cloaked, cowled dwarf and lean, grinning wolfling stood there, watching.
Edeyrn's face I could not see, though the deadly cold crept from beneath the cowl like an icy wind. Matholch's tongue crept out and circled his lips. His eyes were bright with triumph and excitement.
A numbing, lethargic languor was stealing over me. Against my mouth as Medea's lips grew hotter, more ardent, as my own lips chilled. Desperately I tried to move, to grasp my sword-hilt. I could not.
Now the bright veil thinned again. Beyond Matholch and Edeyrn I could see a vast space, so enormous that my gaze failed to pierce its violet depths. A stairway led up to infinite heights.
A golden glow burned high above.
But behind Matholch and Edeyrn, a little to one side, stood a curiously-carved pedestal whose front was a single pane of transparent glass. It shone steadily with a cool blue light. What lay within I did not know, but I recognized that crystal pane.
Ghast Rhymi had spoken of it. Behind it must lie the Sword Called Llyr.
Faintly now -- faintly -- I heard Matholch's satisfied chuckle.
"Ganelon, my love, do not struggle against me," Medea whispered. "Only I can save you. When your madness passes, we will return to the Castle."
Yes, for I would be no menace then. Matholch would not bother to harm me. As a mindless, soulless thing I would return to the Castle of the Coven as Medea's slave.
I, Ganelon, hereditary Lord of the Coven and the Sealed of Llyr!
The golden glow high above brightened. Crooked lightnings rushed out from it and were lost in the violet dimness.
My eyes found that golden light that was the Window of Llyr.
My mind reached out toward it.
My soul strained to it!
Witch and vampire-mutation Medea might be -- or sorceress -- but she had never been sealed to Llyr. No dark power beat latently in her blood as it beat in mine. Well I knew now that, no matter how I might renounce my allegiance to Llyr, there yet had been a bond. Llyr had power over me, but I could draw upon his power as well!
I drew on that power now!
The golden window brightened. Again forked lightnings ran out from it and were gone. A muffled, heavy drum-beat muttered from somewhere, like the pulse of Llyr.
Like the heart of Llyr, stirring from sleep to waking.
Through me power rushed, quickening my flesh from its lethargy. I drew on Llyr's power without measuring the cost. I saw fear flash across Matholch's face, and Edeyrn made a quick gesture.
"Medea," she said.
But Medea had already sensed that quickening. I felt her body quiver convulsively against mine. Avidly she pressed against me, faster and faster she drank the energy that made me alive.
But the energy of Llyr poured into me! Hollow thunders roared in the vast spaces above. The golden window blazed with dazzling brightness. And around us now the sparkling motes of light paled, shrank, and were gone.
"Kill him!" Matholch howled. "He holds Llyr!"
He sprang forward.
From somewhere a bloody figure in dented armor stumbled. I saw Lorryn's scarred face twist in amazement as he blinked at the tableau. His sword, red to the hilt, was bare in his hand.
He saw me with Medea's arms about my neck.
He saw Edeyrn.
And he saw Matholch!
A wordless, inarticulate sound ripped through Lorryn's throat. He lifted high the sword.
As I tore myself free from Medea's grip, as I sent her reeling away, I saw Matholch's wand come up. I reached for my own wand, but there was no need.
Lorryn's blade sang. Matholch's hand, still gripping the wand, was severed at the wrist. Blood spurted from cut arteries.
Howling, the shape-changer dropped forward. The lycanthropic change came upon him. Hypnotism, mutation, dark sorcery -- I could not tell. But the thing that sprang at Lorryn's throat was not human.
Lorryn laughed. He sent his sword spinning away.
He met the wolfling's charge, bracing himself strongly and caught the thing by throat and leg. Fanged jaws snapped viciously at him.
Lorryn heaved the monster above his head. His joints cracked with the inhuman strain. One instant Lorryn stood there, holding his enemy high, while the wolf-jaws snarled and strove to rend him.
He dashed the wolf down upon the stones!
I heard bones snap like rotten twigs. I heard a scream of dying, terrible agony from a gaping muzzle from which blood poured.
Then Matholch, in his own shape, broken, dying, lay writhing at our feet!
XV. Lair of Power MIRACULOUSLY the weakness that had chained me was, gone. Llyr's strength poured through me. I unsheathed my sword and ran past Matholch's body, ignoring Lorryn who stood motionless, staring down. I ran to the pedestal with its blue-litten pane.
I gripped the sword's blade and sent the heavy hilt crashing against the glass.
There was a tinkling of pizzicato notes, a singing of thin goblin laughter. The shards fell clashing at my feet.
At my feet also dropped a sword. A sword of crystal, nearly five feet long -- pommel and guard and blade all of clearest glass.
It had been part of the window. For within the hollow pedestal was nothing at all. The sword had been part of the pane, so that my breaking the crystal had released the weapon from its camouflaged hiding-place.
Along the sleek blade blue light ran. Within the crystal blue fires burned wanly. I bent and picked up the sword. The hilt was warm and alive.
The Sword Called Llyr in my left hand, the sword with blade of steel in my right, I stood upright.
Paralyzing cold breathed past me.
I knew that cold.
So I did not turn. I swung the steel sword under my arm, snatched the Crystal Mask from my belt, and donned it. I drew the Wand of Power.
Only then did I turn.
Through the Mask queer glimmers and shiftings ran, distorting what I saw. The properties of light were oddly altered by the Mask. But it had its purpose. It was a filter.