Matholch lay motionless now. Beyond his body Medea was rising to her feet, her dark hair disordered. Facing me stood Lorryn, a stone man, only his eyes alive in his set, white face.
He was staring at Edeyrn, whose sleek dark head I saw. Her back was toward me. The cowl had been flung back upon her shoulders.
Lorryn sagged down, the life going out of him. Bonelessly as water he collapsed.
He lay dead.
Then slowly, slowly, Edeym turned.
She was tiny as a child, and her face was like a child's too, in its immature roundness. But I did not see her face, for even through the Crystal Mask burned the Gorgon's glare.
The blood stilled within me. A slow tide of ice crept with iron lethargy into my brain and cold wariness engulfed me.
Only in the eyes of the Gorgon fire burned: Deadly radiations were there, what Earth-scientists call ectogenetic rays, but limited till now to the plant-world. Only the mad mutation that had created Edeyrn could have brought from hell such a nightmare trick of biology.
But I did not fall. I did not die. The radiations were filtered, made harmless, by the vibration-warping properties of the Mask I wore.
I lifted the Wand of Power.
Red fires blasted from it. Scarlet, licking tongues seared out toward Edeyrn.
Lashes of flame tore at her, like crimson whips that burned and left bloody weals on that calm child-face.
She drew back, the lance of her stare driving at me.
With her, step by step, retreated Medea. Toward the foot of the great stairway that led to Llyr's Window.
The whips of fire seared across her eyes.
She turned and, stumbling, began to run up the stairway. Medea paused, her arms lifted in an uncompleted gesture. But in my face she read no softening.
She, too, turned, and followed Edeyrn.
I dropped the useless sword of steel. Wand in left hand, the Sword Called Llyr in my right, I followed them.
As my foot touched the first step, a trembling vibration shook the violet air about me. Now almost I regretted having called upon Llyr to break Medea's spell. For Llyr was awake, watching, and warned.
The pulse of Llyr muttered through the huge Caer. The golden lightnings flamed from the Window high above.
Briefly two black small silhouettes showed against that amber glow. They were Edeyrn and Medea, climbing.
After them I went. And at each step the way grew harder. I seemed to walk through a thickening, invisible torrent dot was like a wind or a wave flowing down from that shining window, striving to tear me from my foothold, to rip the crystal sword from my grip.
Up and up I went. Now the Window was a glaring blaze of yellow fires. The lightnings crackled out incessantly, while rocking crashes of thunder reverberated along the vaulted abysses of the Caer. I leaned forward as though against a gale. Doggedly I fought my way up the stair.
There was someone behind me.
I did not turn. I dared not, for fear the torrent would sweep me from my place. I crawled up the last few steps, and came out on a level platform of stone, a disc-shaped dais, on which stood a ten-foot cube. Three of its sides were of black rock. The side that faced me was a glaring blaze of amber brilliance.
Far below, dizzyingly far, was the floor of the Caer. Behind me the stairway ran down to those incredible depths, and the tremendous wind still blew upon me, pouring out from the Window, seeking to whirl me to my death.
To the Window's left stood Edeyrn, to its right, Medea. And in the Window -- The blazing golden clouds whirled, thickened, tossed like storm-mists, while still the blinding flashes spurted from them. The thunder never ceased now. But it pulsed. It rose and fell in steady cadence, in unison with the heart-beat of Llyr.
Monster or mutation -- human once, or half-human -- Llyr had grown in power since then. Ghast Rhymi had warned me.
Part machine and part pure energy and part something unthinkable, the power of Llyr blasted through the golden clouds upon me!
The Wand of Power dropped from my hand. I lifted the crystal sword and managed one forward step. Then the helltide caught me, and I could advance no further. I could only fight, with every bit of my strength, against the avalanche that strove to thrust me toward the edge of the hanging platform.
Louder grew the thunders. Brighter the lightnings flamed.
The cold stare of Edeyrn chilled me. Medea's face was inhuman now. Yellow clouds boiled out from the Window and caught Edeyrn and Medea in their embrace.
Then they rolled toward me and overwhelmed me.
Dimly I could see the brighter glow that marked Llyr's Window. And two vague silhouettes, Edeyrn and Medea.
I strove to step forward. Instead I was borne back toward the edge -- back and back.
Great arms caught me about the waist. A braid of white hair tossed by my eyes. The giant strength of Freydis stood like a wall of iron between me and the abyss.
From the corner of my eye I saw that she had wound a scrap torn from her white robe about her head, shielding her from the Gorgon's stare. Blindly, guided by some strange instinct, the Valkyrie thrust me forward.
Against us the golden clouds rolled, sentient, palpable, veined with white lightnings and shaking with deep thunders.
Freydis strove silently. I bent forward like a bow, battering against the torrent.
Step by step I won forward, Freydis to aid me. Ever she stood as a bulwark against my back. I could hear her panting breath, great gasps that ripped from her throat as she linked her strength with mine.
My chest felt as though a white-hot core of iron was driven through it. Yet I went on. Nothing existed now but that golden brightening amid the clouds, clouds of creation, sentient with the shaking tumult of breaking universes, worlds beyond worlds crashing into ruin under the power of Llyr....
I stood before the Window.
Without volition my arm swept up. I brought the Sword Called Llyr smashing down upon Llyr's Window.
In my hand the sword broke.
It fell to tinkling fragments at my feet. The veined blue glimmers writhed and coiled about the broken blade.
Were sucked into the Window.
Back rushed the cloud-masses. A tremendous, nearly unbearable vibration ripped through the Caer, shaking it like a sapling. The golden clouds were drawn through the Window.
With them went Edeyrn and Medea!
One glimpse I had of them, the brand of my fire like a red mask across Edeyrn's eyes, Medea's face despairing and filled with a horror beyond life, her gaze fixed on me with an imploring plea that was infinitely terrible. Then they vanished!
For one instant I saw through the Window. I saw something beyond space and time and dimension, a writhing, ravening chaos that bore down upon Medea and Edeyrn and a golden core of light that I knew for Llyr.
Once almost human, Llyr, at the end, bore no relation to anything remotely human.
The grinding millstones of Chaos crushed the three!
The thunder died.
Before me stood the altar of Llyr. But it held no Window, now. All four sides were of black, dead stone!
XVI. Self Against Self blackness and black stones were the last things I saw, before dark oblivion closed down over me like folding wings. It was as if Llyr's terrible resistance was all that had held me upright in the last fierce stages of our struggle. As he fell, so fell Ganelon at the foot of the Windowless altar.
How long I lay there I do not know. But slowly, slowly Caer Llyr came back around me, and I knew I was lying prostrate upon the altar. I sat up painfully, the dregs of exhaustion still stiffening my body, though I knew-I must have slept, for that exhaustion was no longer the overwhelming tide that had flooded me as I fell.
Beyond me, at the head of the great steep of stairs, Freydis lay, half stretched upon the steps as if she had striven to return to her people in the moment before collapsing. Her eyes were still bound, and her mighty arms lay flung out upon the platform, all strength drained from them by the fierceness of our battle. Strangely, as she lay there, she brought back to my double-minded memories the thought of a figure from Earth -- another mighty woman in white robes, with bandaged eyes and upraised arms, blind Justice holding her eternal scales.
Faintly I smiled at the thought. In the Dark World -- my world, now -- Justice was Ganelon, and not blind.
Freydis stirred. One hand lifted uncertainly to the cloth across her eyes. I let her waken. Presently we must struggle again together, Justice and I. But I did not doubt who would prevail.
I rose to my knees, and heard a silvery tinkling as something slid in fragments from my shoulder. The Mask, broken when I fell. Its crystal shards lay among those other shards which had blasted Llyr from the Dark World when the Sword broke. I thought of the strange blue lightnings which had wrought at last what no other thing in the Dark World could accomplish -- Llyr's destruction. And I thought I understood.
He had passed too far beyond this world ever to touch it except in the ceremonies of the Golden Window. Man, demon, god, mutation into namelessness -- whatever he had been, he had kept but one link with the Dark World which spawned him. A link enshrined in the Sword Called Llyr. By that talisman he could return for the sacrifices which fed him, return for the great ceremonies of the Sealing that had made me half his own. But only by that talisman.
So it must be safely hidden to be his bridge for the returning. And safely hidden it was. Without Ghast Rhymi's knowledge, who could have found it? Without the strength of the great Lord Ganelon -- well, yes, and the strength of Freydis too -- who could have won close enough to the window to shatter the Sword upon the only thing in the Dark World that could break it? Yes, Llyr had guarded his talisman as strongly as any guard could. But vulnerable he was, to the one man who could wield that Sword.
So the Sword broke, and the bridge between worlds broke, and Llyr was gone into a chaos from which there could never be a returning.
Medea, too -- red witch of Colchis, lost love, drinker of life, gone beyond recalling....
For a moment I closed my eyes.
I looked up. Freydis was smiling grimly at me from beneath the uplifted blindfold. I rose to my feet and watched in silence while she got to hers. Triumph flooded through me in great waves of intoxicating warmth. The world I had just wakened to was wholly mine now, and not this woman nor any other human should balk me of my destiny. Had I not vanquished Llyr and slain the last of the Coven? And was I not stronger in magic than any man or woman now who walked the Dark World? I laughed, the deep sound echoing from the high vaults about us and rolling back in reverberant exultation until that which had been Caer Llyr was alive with the noise of my mirth. But Llyr was here no longer.
"Let this be Caer Ganelon!" I said, hearing the echo of my own name come rolling back as if the castle itself replied.
"Ganelon!" I shouted. "Caer Ganelon!" I laughed to hear the whole vast hollow repeating my name. While the echoes still rolled I spoke to Freydis.
"You have a new master now, you forest people! Because you helped me you shall be rewarded, old woman, but I am master of the Dark World -- I Ganelon!" And the walls roared back to me, "Ganelon -- Ganelon!"
"Not so fast, Covenanter," she said calmly. "Did you think I trusted you?"
I gave her a scornful smile, "What can you do to me now? Only one thing could slay me before today -- Llyr Himself. Now Llyr is gone, and Ganelon is immortal! You have no power to touch me, sorceress!"
She straightened on the step, her ageless face a little below mine. There was a sureness in her eyes that sent the first twinge of uneasiness into my mind. Yet what I had said was true for no one in the Dark World could harm me, now. Yet Freydis' smile did not waver.
"Once I sent you through limbo into the Earth World," she said. "Could you stop me if I sent you there again?"
Relief quieted my tremor of unease.
"Tomorrow or the next day -- yes, I could stop you. Today, no. But I am Ganelon now, and I know the way back. I am Ganelon, and forewarned, and I think you could not so easily send me Earthward again, naked of memories and clothed in another man's past. I remember and I could return. You would waste your time and mine, Freydis. Yet try it, if you will and I warn you, I should be back again before your spell was finished."
Her quiet smile did not falter. She folded her arms, hiding her hands in the flowing sleeves. She was very sure of herself.
"You think you are a godling, Ganelon," she said. "You think no mortal power can touch you now. You have forgotten one thing. As Llyr had his weakness, as Edeyrn did, and Medea and Matholch so have you, Covenanter. In this world there is no man to match you. But in the Earth World there is, Lord Ganelon! In that world your equal lives, and I mean to call him out to fight one last battle for the freedom of the Dark World. Edward Bond could slay you, Ganelon!"
I felt the blood leave my face, a little wind of chill like Edeyrn's glance breathed over me. I had forgotten. Even Llyr, by his own unimaginable hand, could have died. And I could die by my own hand too, or by the hand of that other self who was Edward Bond.
"Fool!" I said. "Dotard! Have you forgotten that Bond and I can never stand in the same world? When I came, he vanished out of this land, just as I must vanish if you bring him here. How can a man and his reflection ever come hand to hand? How could he touch me, old woman?"
"Easily," she smiled. "Very easily. He cannot fight you here, nor in the Earth World. That is true. But limbo, Ganelon? Have you forgotten limbo?"
Her hands came out of her sleeves. There was a rod of blinding silver in each. Before I could stir she had brought the rods together, crossing them before her smiling face. At the intersection forces of tremendous power blazed into an instant's being, forces that streamed from the poles of the world and could touch only for the beat of a second if that world were not to be shaken into fragments. I felt the building reel below me.
I felt the gateway open.
Here was grayness, nothing but oblivion made visible all around me. I staggered with the suddenness of it, the shock, and the terrible tide of anger that came surging up through my whole body at the knowledge of Freydis' trickery. It was not to be endured, this magicking of the Dark World's lord! I would fight my way back and the vengeance I would wreak upon Freydis would be a lesson to all.
Out of the grayness a mirror loomed before me. A mirror? I saw my own face, bewildered, uncomprehending, staring back into my eyes. But I was not wearing the ragged blue garments of sacrifice which I had donned so many aeons ago in the Castle of the Coven. I seemed to wear Earth garments, and I seemed not quite myself, not quite Ganelon. I seemed -- "Edward Bond!" said the voice of Freydis behind me.
The reflection of myself glanced across my shoulder, and a look of recognition and unutterable relief came over it.
"Freydis!" he cried, in my own voice. "Freydis, thank God! I've tried so hard --"
"Wait," Freydis stopped him. "Listen. There is one last trial before you. This man is Ganelon. He has undone all your work among the forest people. He has slain Llyr and the Coven. There is none in the Dark World to stay his hand if he wins his way back to it. Only you can stop him, Edward Bond. Only you."
I did not wait for her to say anything more. I knew what must be done. I lunged forward before he could speak or stir, and drove a heavy blow into the face that might have been my own. It was a strange thing to do. It was a hard thing. At the last moment my muscles almost refused me, for it was as if I struck myself.
I saw him reel back, and my own head reeled in imagination, so that the first blow rocked us both.
He caught himself a dozen feet away and stood for a moment, unsteady on his feet, looking at me with a confusion that might have been the mirror of my own face, for I knew there was confusion there too.
Then anger flushed those bewildering, familiar features, and I saw blood break from the corner of his mouth and trickle across his chin. I laughed savagely. That blood, somehow, made him my enemy. I had seen the blood of enemies, springing out in the wake of my blows, too often to mistake him now for anything but what he was. Myself -- and my deadliest foe.
He dropped into a half-crouch and came for me, stooping to protect his body from my fists. I wished fervently for a sword or a gun. I have never cared for an equal fight, as Ganelon does not fight for sport, but to win. But this fight must be terribly, unbelievably equal.
He dodged beneath my blow, and I felt the rocking jar of what seemed to be my own fist jolting against my cheekbone. He danced back, light-footed, out of range.
Rage came snarling up in my throat. I wanted nothing of his boxing, this game fought by rules. Ganelon fought to win! I roared at him from the full depth of my lungs and hurled myself forward in a crushing embrace that carried us both heavily to the gray sponginess that was limbo's floor. My fingers sank delightfully in his throat. I groped savagely for his eyes. He grunted with effort and I felt his fist thud into my ribs, and felt the sharp white pain of breaking bone.
So wholly was he myself, and I he, that for an instant I was not sure whose rib had snapped beneath whose blow. Then I drew a deep breath and sobbed it out again half finished as pain like bright light flashed through my body, and I knew it was my own rib.
The knowledge maddened me. Careless of pain or caution, I drove my fists savagely into him at blind random, feeling exultantly the crackle of bone beneath my knuckles, the spurt of blood over my hard-clenched hands. We strove together in a terrible locked embrace, there upon the floor of limbo, in a nightmare that had no real being, except for the pain shooting through me after each breath.
But in a moment or two, I knew somehow, very surely, that I was his master. And this is how I knew. He rolled half over to jab a hard blow into my face, and before the blow began, I had blocked it. I had known. He squirmed from beneath me and braced himself to strike me again in the ribs, and before he could strike, I had twisted sidewise away. Again I had known.
For I had been Edward Bond once, in every way that matters. I had lived in his memory and his world. And I knew Edward Bond as I knew myself. Instinct seemed to tell me what he would do next. He could not out-think me, and so he could not hope to out-tight me, to whom his every thought was revealed in the moment before he could act upon it.