The Younger Gods / Page 41

Page 41

Ekial laughed. "The young man was nice enough to give me the recipe for that candy, so if I don't eat it all myself, I'll be able to get on the good side of just about every horse in the Land of Malavi." Then his scarred face grew more serious. "Have the bug-people made any attacks yet?"

Narasan shook his head. "Longbow says that they'll probably wait until all of their relatives join them. I was talking with Ariga, and he advised me that the Malavi had come up with a scheme to disrupt the advance of our enemies."

"Lances, most likely," Ekial said.

Then Lord Dahlaine and Lady Zelana came out of the back side of Gunda's fort and joined them. "What did Sorgan say about our sister, Keselo?" Lady Zelana asked.

Keselo told them Aracia had finally come to her senses, thanks to Veltan's images of assorted varieties of bug-people, and then she came down on her priests—hard—and on the little priestess Alcevan.

"A priestess?" Narasan said in astonishment. "I didn't even know that Aracia has female priests."

"I gathered that Alcevan's entry into the priesthood was fairly recent. Fat Bersla orates his adoration, but tiny Alcevan whispers hers—continuously, even while Bersla's performing. She sounds a lot like an ordinary priest trying to get Aracia's undivided attention—but she was recently involved in an attempt to murder Aracia's Dreamer, Lillabeth."

"She's trying to kill Lillabeth?" Dahlaine exclaimed.

"That's what Sorgan told me, sir," Keselo replied. "He said that she'd already bribed a young priest to kill the little girl, but the priest showed up in Lillabeth's play-room when several other people—Sorgan included—were there. The priest reported back to Alcevan that the time wasn't right yet, but that he'd take care of it when there was nobody about. Alcevan told him that was a wonderful idea, and then she cut the young man's throat from ear to ear. Sorgan's fairly sure that she doesn't want anybody who knows what she's doing to stay alive for very long. Veltan believes that Alcevan has her eye on Aracia's throne and she'll routinely kill any accomplice after they've either done what she wanted them to do—or failed, for that matter. I'd say that the life expectancy of anybody who goes to work for little Alcevan will be just about one day. After that, he'll be dead meat."

"That's terrible!"

"Look on the bright side, Lord Dahlaine. Every priest she kills now will be one less that we'll have to kill when this is over." He looked over at Ekial. "That's called 'thinning the herd' down in Malavi-land, isn't it?"

It was late that afternoon when Red-Beard, riding the horse he called Seven, led the archers of Longbow's tribe—or the Old-Bear tribe—down to the upper end of Gunda's fort. Longbow, of course, went out to greet them, and Narasan, as a courtesy, went with his tall, somber friend.

"Ho, Longbow," a lean archer with steely eyes greeted his friend.

"Tracker," Longbow replied with a nod. "What took you so long?"

"We ran into some of the Creatures of the Wasteland," the one Longbow had called Tracker replied. "Red-Beard here told us that there had been several encounters with them along that worn-out old mountain range. I think that the Vlagh doesn't really want too many archers standing in the path of her children when she sends them up here. Evidently she's learned that we can eliminate her children without much difficulty, so she'd rather not have us to come up against. It took us a little while, but we cleaned them out of our way. Oh, Chief Old-Bear told us to give you his regards."

"How's he doing?"

"The same as always, Longbow. You should know that by now. He can still bend his bow, and his arrows always go just where he wants them to go."

"Is One-Who-Heals feeling any better?" Longbow asked. "Word reached us that he was quite ill a month or so ago."

"We thought that the bad news had reached you by now. We lost him, Longbow. He died a few days before the Maag called Skell sailed into our bay."

Longbow sighed. "We're all made less by that," he said mournfully. "He was one of the wisest men in all the Land of Dhrall. Was he ever able to identify the disease that took him from us?"

"I don't think it was really a disease, Longbow. Old age would probably come closer. He was at least ninety years old, and not too many people live much longer than that."

"That's true, I suppose. I think that out of respect for him we should exterminate all the servants of the Vlagh and leave her sitting alone on that hive of hers."

"She'll just lay more eggs, Longbow."

"Maybe—but then again, maybe not. Oh, this is Commander Narasan of the Trogite Empire. You probably met him during the war in the Domains of Zelana and Veltan."

Tracker nodded. "He's been very helpful."

"We try," Narasan replied. "What is it that gave you the name 'Tracker'?" he asked.

"It's what he does, friend Narasan," Longbow explained. "Tracker can follow any animal—or man—just about anyplace they go. He can find tracks laid down on solid rock—or so I've been told—and I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that he can track fish as well."

"Only if the water isn't too deep, friend Longbow," Tracker said. "I don't really swim very well, so fish can usually get away from me. The little rascals can move very fast when they need to."

"Let's go on back to Gunda's fort, gentlemen," Narasan suggested. "It's a bit chilly out here, and I'm sure your men would be very happy to get something to eat along about now."

"What a great idea," Longbow said without cracking a smile.

The arrival of the members of Longbow's tribe seemed to have changed their friend quite a bit. Longbow had always seemed to be a solitary sort of man, but now that he had his friends here, he even smiled on occasion.

The next morning, just after sunrise, the bug-people began a steady march toward the steep slope that led up to Gunda's fort at the upper end of Long-Pass.

Ekial's horsemen savaged them as they advanced, but it didn't seem to Narasan that the bug-people were slowing their pace very much.

During the previous night, however, the men from the main army had reached Gunda's fort and had delivered the barrels of naphtha, pitch, and tar. Gunda had then moved his catapults into position and the catapult crews were carefully mixing the three elements in preparation for launching fire missiles.

"Did you speak with Ekial, Gunda?" Narasan asked. "We don't want to start throwing fire at our friends, you know."

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