The Long Dark Road to Wizardry
by Richard K. Lyon
|Table of Contents|
Book I: Wolves at the Wedding Feast
Episode 3: Satisfying Honor With Blood
part 2 of 2
Though the recognition of what the true situation was struck the young aristocrat with unnerving force, he still managed to keep his face a blank.
Sith, in baffled suspicion, demanded harshly, “Where’s this fabled treasure?”
For a moment Druin was overwhelmed by horror and he could not answer. Then strength returned. He’d vowed to use whatever means were necessary, no matter how foul they might be and by all of Drodd’s Thousand Arms he would. To Sith, he snapped, “I told you before, the treasure’s behind a false wall, which we’ll have to break down.”
“In the meantime,” Gardragon put in, “I see many kegs which, though they be not treasure, are still very interesting.” A cheerful rumbling from the other raiders showed that they were as thirsty as their warchief.
Realizing that argument was futile, Sith shrugged his shoulders and started to descend the stairway into the wine cellar. The other Norgemen followed him. Like lambs to the slaughter, Druin thought with savage exaltation. They’d murdered his family and now they’d receive the payment they so richly deserved. While Druin would probably share their grim fate, that was small matter, but...
Theba, No! They’re bringing Sathryn down here with them!
That he had to prevent, no matter what the cost.
“My Lord Gardragon,” he said hastily, “’twill only take a half dozen men or so to break the wall and, as you can see, this room is too crowded for you and all your followers to drink in comfort. Why not have Sith and a few others stay here and the rest of you go back? You can carry with you all the wine you desire and the Lady Sathryn there may act as your serving maid.”
After looking at Druin with narrow and suspicious eyes for a moment, the old warchief nodded. Soon he and most of the raiders had departed, heavily laden with wine, leaving Druin alone with Sith and a few others.
“Now that the old bear is gone,” Sith said, gesturing with his sword in casual menace, “you can drop the pretense.”
“Why, whatever do you mean?” Druin asked blandly.
“We both know,” the other snapped back, “that there is no treasure! What devilish game you’re playing I can’t guess but—”
“Over there,” Druin pointed to a place where the wall held an archway filled in with crudely mortared stones, “you see what’s obviously a false wall. Aren’t you curious what’s behind it?”
Sith’s instincts told him to beware, that he was in some sort of monstrous trap, and he racked his brain for some way that he could order a retreat without later being accused of cowardice.
There wasn’t any. That damnable aristocrat in his clothes fine as a peacock had created a situation that left the warrior no choice.
“Dunark,” he ordered, “you and the others go to work on that wall with your hammers.” As he spoke, he lifted the point of his sword to within a hand’s breadth of Druin’s neck. “If,” he continued, “anything untoward happens, our guest here will be the first to die.”
As the five raiders began smashing the stonework, Druin said mildly, “I won’t want you to be surprised while you’re holding that sword at my throat, so perhaps I’d better tell you something: in addition to the treasure you’ll also find my uncle behind that wall.”
“What?” Sith demanded.
“Well, you see,” the aristocrat answered, “shortly after I was born, both my grandparents died. That made my father the Duke and left him with a very awkward problem: what to do with my uncle. For reasons that needn’t concern you, it wouldn’t have been practical to kill him, so my father brought my uncle down here and walled him up.”
The warrior snorted his contempt at this story, and gestured for Druin to move a bit to the right. Sith wanted the aristocrat where he could see both him and the wall at the same time.
Though the Norgemen hammered furiously, their progress against the stonework was but little. Why common stone should be so hard to break Sith couldn’t understand, and this minor mystery added to his unease. When the men paused from their labors, his ears pricked and he gestured them to silence.
After a moment old humpback Zabbod shouted, “I hear it!”
That, Sith decided, wasn’t quite true. One didn’t so much hear this sound as feel it, a deep sub-audible force like the breathing of some unnaturally powerful giant. The torches quivered back and forth with it.
“Only the wind,” Druin declared amiably. “When the wind stands on the southwest corner of the castle, we quite often get this sort of thing.” Favoring Sith with a broad smile, he added, “I hope it doesn’t make you nervous.”
“No, damn you!” the warrior snapped back, then to his men he growled: “Back to work! We don’t want to spend all night at this.”
Despite earnest effort, however, they did little more than mar the surface of the stonework. When next they paused for breath, Druin stepped forward, saying, “There’s a bit of a trick, to this sort of thing; let me show you.” Before Sith could object, the aristocrat had a hammer and was swinging.
The stone broke under the first blow like chalk and each following stroke edged the wall closer to destruction. Between blows that sent rock fragments spinning wildly in all directions, Druin cheerfully declared, “It’s all in the wrist action.”
That, Sith thought, is as much a lie as everything else you’ve said. The unnatural ease with which the stone crumbled added to his mounting fears and the warrior had decided to take no unnecessary risks: as soon as Druin breached the wall, he’d slit his throat.
His eyes wandered nervously about the room and abruptly he noticed something he’d previously overlooked. There, in that dark corner, there was a pile of... something... perhaps furs. Whatever they were, they had no logical reason for being here. Stepping to the pile, he bent down and discovered that ’twas a heap of dead rabbits, their corpses dry as mummies.
Lifting one and tossing it toward Druin, he shouted, “What’s the meaning of this?”
With a pleasantly patronizing smile, Druin answered, “My Uncle-behind-the-wall is still alive. That’s what my father fed him.”
“But these rabbits weren’t eaten! They were drained of their blood!”
“Yes,” the aristocrat replied mildly, “but you’ve got to remember that my uncle has been behind this wall,” he paused as he struck another stone-shattering blow, “for a good many years. In the circumstances some dietary peculiarities are to be expected.”
I’m going, Sith resolved, to kill him now, while I still have the chance.
As he raised his sword and strode toward Druin, he glanced at the wall. It was composed of two layers of stone and now with the outer layer largely removed, he could see that a pattern had been carefully inscribed on the inner layer of stone: a pentagram.
Dimly he knew that such figures had some occult significance and he screamed, “Stop!” even as Druin’s sledge hammer sped down to smash a corner from the mystic figure.
Abruptly all the torches in the room quivered and the ominous breathing became much louder. “Get out of here, men!” Sith yelled at his followers. “I”ll kill this dog and follow!”
His sword swung in a whistling arc at Druin only to crash ringingly against the hammer. The impact numbed his arm and he realized that another such exchange could break his weapon. Before he’d recovered, the hammer came thrusting at his head and he had to leap back.
His men were screaming in terror for, as they rushed toward the exit, the ponderous oak door had suddenly slammed itself shut in their faces.
Behind Sith was the wall with its broken pentagram and from the far side of that wall came a scratching sound, some creature with great claws digging.
“I take you to Drodd with me,” the warrior screamed and thrust his blade at Druin’s heart. The sword met the hammer in ringing crash and snapped in twain. As steel fragments went flying through the air, Druin finished his stroke, ramming the hammer full into his foe’s stomach.
Though protected by his armor, Sith was taken off balance and knocked sprawling. As he lay flat, he saw Druin standing above him, hammer poised for a death blow.
It didn’t come.
“Come on!” he shouted. “Finish it.”
“No, thank you,” the aristocrat replied, smiling with venomed hatred. “You came upon my family as monsters out of the darkness and now I’m letting my uncle return the kindness.”
The stone wall was dissolving, great patches as though eaten by the darkness behind the wall. Soon there was no wall, only an archway that opened onto utter blackness. For an instant Sith thought he glimpsed something unspeakable stepping out of that darkness, then all the lights in the cellar went out and he saw no more.
Copyright © 2009 by Richard K. Lyon