Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine presents

Blood of the Lynx

A four-part tale of swordplay and sorcery
by
Fred Blosser



PREVIOUSLY: Rebel leader Zhangi, of the Lynx clan, is offered terms of peace from an agent of the local tyrant...provided he goes undercover to Iochus, a local pirate king, pretending to seek an alliance. But his real task is to rescue a kidnapped princess...


CHAPTER II

He sang the song of the thief of the world,
And the gods that love the thief;
And he yelled aloud at the cloister-yards,
Where men go gathering grief.
~ Chesterton

“Do you like our festivities, envoy?” As he asked the question, Iochus, the pirate king of Crius, had to lean close to his guest to make his voice heard above the clamor of the feasting hall. He was a hulking man with big shoulders and a thick neck, but he could speak in little more than a strained whisper. A stab in the throat from a dagger in a long-ago battle had whittled his once-robust voice.

“The food is good,” Zhangi answered. “But the noise makes it difficult to discuss business.”

Iochus laughed agreement. His table was set on a raised dais at the end of the hall. By virtue of the gold and the proposition that he had brought to Crius, Zhangi shared the bench with the king. Iochus’ wives sat to the visitor’s right, and nearby hovered two other men. One was a tall, red-haired rogue who kept a watchful gaze on Zhangi. This was Iochus’ deputy Haukon, whose reputation as a fighter was nearly as great as the king’s. The other was the pirate king’s councilor Barang-Pesh, whose smooth, handsome face seemed to give lie to the rumor that he was a master of dark sorcery – until one looked more closely into the fathomless depths of his eyes.

The hall was long and high-ceilinged, crowded with tables and guests below the dais. Chief among the company were the pirate lords of Crius whom Iochus ruled with a ready fist, their wives and mistresses, and the captains who commanded the pirate fleet. Also in the throng were renegades from a score of nations who had fled the gallows and the headman’s block to find refuge in Crius. Among the latter were fugitives from civilized Melgwen and Khoreshi, but also men from wilder lands. Zhangi marked the dark, fierce faces of the Hatorasq whose tribal folk lived on the farther shores of Crius, and the feathered garb of their even wilder cousins, the horse-herding Ohkalas.

Drunken laughter and snatches of song in a dozen languages rang from the walls and echoed to the high rafters. Torches and lanterns exuded black smoke that hung in a pall above, hardly stirred by the gusts of wind that blew in through the high windows.

“Yes, you are right, it is not seemly to shout above the crowd,” Iochus said to Zhangi’s comment, his tone slurred from hours of drinking. He banged his goblet on the table, sloshing mead. “Delicate affairs of state must be considered in quieter surroundings. Besides, the hour grows late. I’ll leave my people to their carousals, and you and I will talk.”

He rose, steady on his feet despite the quantities of mead he had consumed. He was nearly a head taller than Zhangi. His unkempt, graying hair and beard gave him the look of a desperado, unsoftened by the rich fabric of his gold-worked, crimson surcoat. He gestured for Zhangi to follow as he lumbered off the dais and proceeded to a doorway that led into a wide, torch-lit corridor. The deputy Haukon fell into step behind Zhangi unbidden, hand on sword-hilt.

“This offer of alliance against our common enemy Edobik tempts me,” the pirate king said after awhile, as he and Zhangi walked and conversed. “But I have always heard that the tribesmen of the Lynx, you warriors of Nuh, were a solitary folk, inclined to fight your own battles.”

“We can stay in our mountain fastnesses and ward off the swords and spears of the Yorl, probably forever. But we are galled by the loss of our ancestral lands. Day by day Edobik consolidates his power, and soon our fathers’ steadings will be lost to us without hope of repossession.” Zhangi’s voice was grim. “Only by striking back do we have a chance to regain our heritage, but we are too few to prevail against Melgwen. We need others to join with us.”

“Let me consider it, and we’ll talk further in the morning, after I’ve slept off the mead. Haukon will show you to your chamber.” The wavering torchlight accentuated the gray in his beard, the deep grooves in his face. He clapped Zhangi on the back and started down a side corridor with heavy tread of his booted feet, two guardsmen falling in behind him.

Zhangi glanced at the deputy and wondered if the mission to Crius had been in vain. So far, no one had approached him as the spy in Iochus’ court, none had displayed the kraken ring that Ruom had described. In truth, from the moment of his arrival, he had been attended closely by men who held Iochus’ greatest trust. There had been little opportunity for someone with secret designs to reveal himself.

And now that he was to be ushered to his room by Iochus’ deputy, it seemed unlikely that his mission would be furthered tonight. He would have to maintain his deception for at least another day –

Haukon, standing beside him, glanced quickly along the corridor as if to make sure that the two men were alone. From his tunic he drew a ring that he showed Zhangi. It was golden, beautifully made, bearing the design of a many-tentacled kraken, the sea-deity of the Olden Ones who had ruled the Sea of Crius and adjacent lands in long ages past.

“Put yourself at ease, Lynx,” the deputy said in a low, reassuring voice, as though he had sensed the other’s misgivings. He returned the ring to his clothing. “I am he who was pledged to meet you. I’ve had no chance till now to speak. Iochus never fully trusts strangers, and so he assented gladly when I suggested that I escort you after the feast. He wanted to be sure that you did not roam the castle unattended.”

“Ha! Why would you, the second man to Iochus, wish to betray him?”

“Iochus will not live forever. You marked the heaviness of his tread? An illness advances on the king, and already it has begun to drain his strength. A year ago, he would have drunk through the night, and remained standing when all others had fallen senseless. Now, he grows more weary. In another year, or two, he will no longer have the strength to keep his lords in check, and all will scramble to exert leadership. I mean to hold the upper hand, and to do so, I will need friends from outside.”

“Your king would be surprised if he knew that you –“

Haukon’s hand touched his sword. “Peace,” Zhangi interjected. “If I am to trust you, ye must trust me. We are both best served if we conclude this business quickly. Tell me – where may I find Cimele, and how do I get her out of this den of wolves?”

“Come with me.” Haukon started off down the hallway, plucking a torch from a bracket, and Zhangi walked close behind him. They followed a series of branching ways that became progressively narrower and darker, finally entering one corridor that was unlighted except for Haukon’s torch. The man of the Lynx thought they must have entered an older, virtually unfrequented wing of the palace. Here, the mortared stones of the walls had a ruder, unfinished look, and the flagstones underfoot were equally rough-hewn. Under the pungent odor of smoke from the Haukon’s brand, Zhangi smelled a dank reek of age and neglect.

“Your lord houses his captive in rude quarters,” he remarked.

“Iochus prefers to keep her away from the common traffic, lest her presence remind folk that she is here. Besides,” the deputy’s tone was enigmatic, “whether she resides in the royal suite or in a forgotten cloakroom, whether she abides for an hour or a decade, little does it matter to the princess.”

They came presently to a door made of massive slabs of oak, nailed together with primitive brass studs. “Here is her prison,” Haukon said. “Cimele waits within.”

A wave of uneasiness crept over Zhangi. It was something he could not explain, only that he felt an odd sense of foreboding from that locked door. “Where are the guards?”

“No guards are needed, thanks to the magic of Barang-Pesh,” said Haukon. “When Cimele was brought here many months ago, the sorcerer put into the room one of his keepsakes from his nameless vaults of necromancy. He called it the Jewel of the Waking Dream. Ask not how it exerts its power: only the wizard knows its secret. In its immediate presence, time has no meaning. A person lives as in a dream, heedless of the passing hours, never hungry, never aging, unaware that days and years have merged one into the next in the outside world.

“There is only other precaution, for only one other is needed. A lock secures the door from outside, that no passerby, wandering by curiosity into this wing, may open the door unintentionally. Here” – Haukon produced a clumsy, antique key, fitted it into the lock of the door, turned it, then handed it to Zhangi. “I will leave the door unlatched now, and ye may take the key if ye fear that I mean to betray you, once you are inside. When you emerge – if you emerge – I will be waiting to take you and Cimele to safety.”

“What mean you: if I emerge?”

“Only that, in a dream, nothing is ever tangible or permanent,” Haukon murmured uneasily. “Barang-Pesh said those same words when he placed Cimele in the room, with the Jewel to keep her company. It is bound with the spell that keeps her in thrall. I can say no more than that, because I know no more than that.”

“Ruom didn’t tell me that this quest involved sorcery, but perhaps he didn’t know himself,” Zhangi mused, laughing a short, bitter laugh. “Did you mention that part to your informants in Melgwen, reaver? Well, no matter. I would have ventured it anyway. If it were an easy task, someone else would have done it before now. I will return with Cimele. Be sure you are here when I do.”

He opened the door and slipped through, freeing his tulwar in readiness for whatever might lie beyond.

on to Chapter III

back to Chapter I


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Blood of the Lynx is copyright by Fred Blosser. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)