Hugh Cook: The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster

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Hugh Cook The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster
  • Название:
    The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster
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    Фэнтези / на английском языке
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So it was that the odds were even when the imperial party met the bandits by the riverside.

Then fear fell away from the Witchlord. So he was to die, was he? Well, then it would be over soon, and quickly. The worst thing was the waiting, and the waiting was over.

"Pelagius, my good man," said the Witchlord Onosh, seeing that his master chef had kept pace with the leaders of the hunting party. "It is a good day to die."

Pelagius laughed.

"It is a good day, my lord," said Pelagius. "And I do not think either of us dead before the end of it."

Then Pelagius Zozimus unhooded the falcon which was bound to his wrist, kissed the bird, then loosed it, and laughed again as it rose to the blinding brightness of the sun. Lord Onosh laughed likewise, then the pair spurred their horses and charged, for both of these warriors had been seized of a sudden by a mad intoxication, the exhilaration of an all-or-nothing gamble.

"Hold, Eljuk!" cried Morsh Bataar, as Eljuk Zala spurred his own horse, grimly bent on following his father.

But Eljuk Zala paid no heed, for he was determined to go wherever his father did. So Morsh slashed the rope which restrained the one surviving spare horse which trailed along behind him, then rode in pursuit.

The leading riders went crashing into the ranks of the bandits. Horses fell and men screamed.

"The river!" screamed someone. "He's in the river!"

Who was in the river? Guest Gulkan heard the cry, and remembered his visionary certainty. His father was going to drown.

And suddenly Guest knew:

He did not want to see his father dead.

But it was fated. It would happen whether Guest wanted it to happen or not.

"Then the hell with fate!" said Guest.

And, setting himself against fate, destiny and the course of history, Guest Gulkan spurred his horse. Which reared, and received in its flesh an arrow which had been aimed at its master.

Down went the horse, down, a mountain falling, an avalanche of bloody mortality, and Guest was thrown, sent sprawling. Guest Gulkan groped to his feet, mud in his eyes, the world a whirl of watering confusion. A bandit was charging him.

"Ga!" screamed Guest.

The bandit hacked at him with a woodcutter's axe. But an arrow took the man in the throat, and Guest hacked off his head as he died. No time to take a scalp! Lord Onosh was in the river, was drowning, and Guest had to save him. Had to! Panting heavily, Guest charged wildly through the floundering mud, bracing his way through the confusion of battle.

All around was chaos, as knots of disordered men fought each other with screams and curses. Guest tried to blink the mud from his watering eyes, and caught a bleary glimpse of the bright- flashing armor of Pelagius Zozimus. Heard Rolf Thelemite screaming in fear-flushed panic as he tried to hold a brace of bandits at bay single-handed.

Rolf saw Guest.

And screamed:

"Help me!"

Then Guest had to choose.

His friend or his father? Guest chose his father.

Ignoring Rolf Thelemite's plight, Guest struggled through the mud to the banks of the Yolantarath River. Down in the water was a horse, a floundering animal wild-eyed in panic, its body rent with wounds, its blood staining the brown murk of the river. Struggling in the water was a man.

"Blood!" said Guest.

He was bent on saving his father, but – he could not swim!

"Blood of a billion zombies!" said Guest.

Then the Weaponmaster took his sword in a two-handed grip and struck a mighty blow, driving the blade deep into the mud of his father's empire.

"Death or victory!" said Guest.

Then he slithered down the bank and plunged into the water, even as the man in the river's grip lost his hold on his horse and slid beneath the waters.

The waters mobbed around the Weaponmaster. The terror- stricken horse rolled its eyes and did its best to bite him. Guest whacked it with his fist, then waded into the river, first waist- deep then neck-deep, feeling for his father with his feet. Guest stubbed his toe on his father's flesh, grabbed a mouthful of air, then ducked down and seized the man by the hair.

Gods, he was heavy! Guest hauled, pulled, floundered, tried for purchase in the mud, got the man under the armpits – armor his flanks, and heavy, yes! – and boosted the man to the air. Guest gasped for air.

"Father," he said.

The man was safe, had been saved, was safe in Guest Gulkan's grip. But he was starting to struggle! He was screaming, and struggling convulsively. Guest felt his boots slipping. He was up to his neck in the river. A river-wave slapped his face. If his father was not quieted, he would have them both drowned and dead. Guest slipped deeper yet, and panic claimed him.

He screamed, incoherent in the agony of his panic.

The struggling pair were seen by Thodric Jarl, some thirty paces down the riverbank. Since Jarl was faced by imminent battle, he might as well have been distant by infinity. But Jarl summed the situation in a glimpse and found time enough to roar:

"Guest! Guest! Slam him! You must!"

The command came to Guest Gulkan as if from far off, like something shouted through a huge and fumbling thickness of fog.

But once said -

Blam! Guest slammed his father, crunched the screaming face with a fist, crunched it hard. Then dragged the man closer inshore. A monstrous weight he made, but Guest dragged him successfully. Then they slipped into a hole.

Water buried them. Guest slogged along underwater, one pace, two, a third, and up, up out of the hole and into the slash of the sun.

And the man in his arms screamed and thrashed, and clawed at him, and tried to bite off his nose. And suddenly Guest realized it was Eljuk, his brother Eljuk. He had risked his life, and risked it for Eljuk! Eljuk, of all people! And now Eljuk was fighting him in the frenzy of his panic!

"Blue bread and marmalade!" said Guest, enraged.

Then slammed Eljuk in the face with his fist.

Then slammed him again.

Eljuk boggled, and went limp.

Then Guest acknowledged his deep and pressing jealousy of his brother, and slammed him one last time for luck, and was amazed to find how good that made him feel.

Then came the hard and brutal slog-work, the dragging of the semi-conscious Eljuk from the waters and the hauling of the semiconscious Eljuk up the steep and muddy bank of the Yolantarath.

Swearing with every step, Guest encompassed the task. At the top of the riverbank, he dropped the whimpering Eljuk in the mud, kicked him once for luck, then looked around for his sword.

His sword!

Where was his sword? Guest Gulkan was weaponless, and a battle was in progress.

The sword? It was twenty paces distant, for the Yolantarath had carried the two brothers downstream as they struggled in the water. Guest went for his sword and won it. No sooner had he won the weapon than a man was upon him.

"Ahyak Rovac!" screamed the man.

"Rolf!" cried Guest, recognizing that battle-cry.

It was indeed Rolf Thelemite, so bloody from a gash in his forehead that he was unrecognizable, and was fighting blind. He fell into Guest's arms, and, with the battle dying down, Guest began to search his friend for wounds.

Apart from minor gashes (bloody, spectacular, but no immediate threat to life) Rolf Thelemite appeared to be in one piece. By the time Guest had assured himself of that, the battle was over – with all the bandits dead, for none had been given quarter.

"Your brother," said Rolf, recovering himself somewhat. "Your brother. He's dead."

"Eljuk?" said Guest. "But I just pulled him out of the river!"

"Not Eljuk!" said Rolf. "Morsh!"

Then Guest helped Rolf Thelemite to his feet, and the two went in search of Morsh Bataar. Rolf had seen Morsh go down and his horse fall on top of him, so presumed the young man to be dead. But when they found the body it opened its eyes then spoke to them.

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