Read Witch Doctor - Wiz in Rhyme-3 Online

Authors: Christopher Stasheff

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction, #Fiction - Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Fantasy - General, #Fantastic Fiction, #Wizards, #Fantasy - Series

Witch Doctor - Wiz in Rhyme-3 (10 page)

"I'm not planning to," I assured him. "What's a nice kid like you doing in the military, anyway?"

"Why, for that good folk need protecting!" He was mildly scandalized that I even asked.

Well, that made sense. "But why as a monk?"

"I felt the call," he said simply. "I have a vocation." I'd always wondered about that. "What's it feel like-the call?

Did you have a dream? A sudden moment of enlightenment?"

"I have heard of such," he said slowly, "yet in my case, 'twas simply that there was a famine when I was so small that all I can remember is the great gnawing in my belly, and the kindly face of the monk who came at last to give my family a loaf of bread. In the rush of gratitude that came then, I wished to be like him-and that wish never left me."

"Just a good example." I frowned. "Didn't it bother you, when you were old enough to know what was going on, to find out that some monks were greedy and lustful?"

His face hardened. "I did hear of such, aye, though we only knew of one, ourselves-but we did learn of a whole abbey full of them, miles away, and heard that other abbeys did visit grinding rents upon their tenants, the whiles their monks did live in luxury. Yet the monks who dwelt nearby us lived in a cloister they had built with their own hands and which they themselves had enlarged and repaired. They farmed, even as we did, and would not accept gifts of any more land than they themselves could till."

"Sounds like the Franciscans," I said.

He frowned. "I know none of that name. Their example has shone down the years of my life, though. I cannot condemn all clergy for the mistakes of a few, aye, or even of many, when those I have met myself are good and godly men."

I nodded. "Then why didn't you join their order?"

"Alas! As I grew older, I found that I was fond of fighting. The good monks did rebuke me, and I strove hard to contain my anger at others' taunts; but when they struck at me, I felt outrage at their injustice and smote them down. Then did I come near to despair, thinking myself fit only for the plow and never for the cloister-but the monk who came to say Mass for us, every Sunday, did learn of this and told me of the order of Saint Moncaire. 'If you must needs strike a blow,' quoth he, 'let it be the minions of Satan that you smite, so that you may protect the poor and weak.' Thereupon my heart did thrill, and I gave my poor parents no rest till they agreed to let me try my vocation, and I went to the monastery as a squire." I nodded. "So you like fighting, but you wanted to be a monk, and the Moncaireans let you combine the two. Very neat. And you wanted to be a knight?"

"What lad does not? Yet I knew I could not, for I was baseborn; I wished only to be a squire, and never thought I could be more."

"Oh." I frowned. "So that's how it goes here, is it' You have to be born a knight in order to become one?"

"'Tis possible that a lowborn squire may be knighted for great courage and prowess," he pointed out, "yet 'tis rare."

"A battlefield commission, huh? And of course, he'll never really be accepted by the other officers."

"Your terms are strange-yet 'tis so. His children, though, will be ranked with any, for they will have grown with other knights. Natheless, 'tis otherwise, in my order-any lad may become a knight of Saint Moncaire, if he proves his vocation. Yet it will take great deeds to win my spurs." He flashed me a grin. "Therefore, lead me into danger, Wizard Saul! For I would prove my worth!"

"I'll try not to arrange it," I assured him, but I had this secret, nagging dread that he was going to get his wish. Maybe right now. We came to the top of a rise and saw a huge crack in the ground right in front of us. It was a gorge, and it stretched away out of sight to the right and left.

But there was a bridge over it. Very narrow, but it was a bridge.

"Well, at least there's a way over." As we came up to it, though, I developed doubts-it looked kind of flimsy.

"Looks like single file," I told Gilbert. "Think it'll take your horse's weight?"

He scanned it with a practiced eye-I guessed he'd been trained in military engineering. "Aye, if I dismount."

"Good enough." I started out across.

"Nay, Wizard Saul!" he yelped. "First we must test for-" "Ho!

Ho!" something tumbled.

I stopped and glanced at the sky. "Thunder?"

"Worse!" Gilbert cried. "Flee, Wizard!" Hands as wide as bread boxes slapped onto the railing. Something huge and smelly swung itself up in an arc and landed with a shock that made the bridge sway. I held tight to the railing and stared, totally dumfounded.

It was about eight feet tall and shaped like a turnip, with legs as thick as kegs coming out of the narrow end. The wide end tapered down into two tentacles with the huge hands on the ends, and two eyes the size of dinner plates stared down at me from its chest. Beneath them, a knob of nose twitched over a vast slice of mouth, which opened in a grin set with shark's teeth.

"What the hell is that?" I yelped.

"'Tis a troll!" Gilbert howled. "Not from Hell, but vile enough!

Stand aside, Wizard Saul, and let me have at him!"

"How?" I looked frantically to left and right, but there was no place to jump to. Then I remembered that I knew how to swim. I turned to dive over the rail, but Gilbert called, "Nay! He'll leap in after you and catch you in a trice! " I wondered crazily if a trice was anything like a net, as I turned back to watch the troll slobbering toward me. I backed away, blurting, "But you can't be real-you're a fugitive from a fairy tale! So I can't be your meal!

The monster jerked to a halt and glanced about him, and I could have sworn he was looking nervous. So help me, one huge finger came up over his mouth, looking for all the world as if he were trying to shush me!

"I will not be silenced!" I cried. "The word is my weapon!" The troll shrank back, hands coming up to fend me off, and Gilbert cried, "A deft stroke! oh, bravely done! Smite him again, Wizard!"

"How?" I cried.

The troll relaxed, straightening up with a slobbering grin, and came slavering toward me again.

I backed away fast, wondering what had spooked it. "What's a matter, big guy? You worried about fairies?"

The troll jerked to a stop again, making frantic shushing motions and glancing about him.

il You are!" I cried in triumph. "You're afraid of the word itself!

Okay, Gruesome, try this one on for size!

'Rushing down the mountain And trooping through the glen, We dare not go a-hunting For fear of little men!'

The troll gave a moan of fear and jumped.

He landed on top of me, and I slammed a punch in sheer reflexand howled; it had felt like hitting rock. The howl was a mistake, because then I had to inhale, just as that huge midriff slammed me back against the wood, Something cracked under me; I saw stars, and my w o e universe was filled with the incredible stench of that monster. I couldn't believe it-that close to water, and he didn't bathe?

Dimly, I beard Gilbert yelling, and beard something that sounded like ringing.

Then, suddenly, there was light, and the hideous smell was gone. I gasped, pushing myself up as quickly as I could-and there, so help me, were a dozen little guys scarcely as tall as my knee, in red caps and brown outfits, kicking at that troll and pinching him, How their pinches could make any progress against that granite skin, I didn't know-but I wasn't about to object.

"You have summoned them!" Gilbert shouted. "Oh, bravely done, Master Wizard!"

Master? I wasn't even a journeyman!

The yelping troll was caught between two packs of little men now. He couldn't even jump off the bridge, because there was a batch of them on each side, pinching and kicking if he came near them. He huddled down into a miserable, wailing bundle, tentacle-arms curled to protect his face. Somehow, I almost felt sorry for him, "Your charity does you credit, but is sadly misplaced."

"Hub?" I looked up to see a bigger-than-average elf standing on the railing by my shoulder. instead of a red cap, this one wore a coronetyour basic, minimal crown.

"Yet 'tis foolishness, also," the little guy went on, "for this monster has no mercy within his flinten skin, no heart, no compassion; he would have devoured you as soon as looked at you."

"I believe it." I glanced at the huddled, moaning granite turnip, then back to the guy with the crown. "Lucky for me you were in the neighborhood. Thanks for the save, Your Majesty."

"Highness," he corrected. "I am a prince of Wee Folk, not a king. And 'tis a hobnailed jest to speak of luck, when 'twas your spell that summoned us."

He glanced at his corps, while I stared. Spell?

Then he turned back with a severe frown. "'Twas unwise of you to venture to cross a bridge without having taken precaution 'gainst that which might dwell beneath it. You know the signs of bridges that were built by trolls to tempt mortals to their doom."

"Uh-no, to tell you the truth, I don't. I'm, uh, kinda new in this country, you see."

"New?" He stared at me. "Have you no trolls whence you come?"

"Not like this," I assured him. "I admit I know some people who could qualify, but they're really human underneath it all."

"This one is not!" He turned on Gilbert, who had come onto the bridge behind me. "You, squire! Assuredly you must know this land-you wear the badge of the Moncaireans! Did you not warn him of his danger?"

"I did not speak quickly enough," Gilbert said contritely.

"Did you not know he was a stranger?"

"I confess I did not realize the depth of his strangeness." I'd heard that before, from other jocks-but I decided not to take offense, this time.

The elfin prince turned back to me. "Do you henceforth survey most closely every bridge that you may come to! If 'tis rudely made, and the ends of the logs show the marks of teeth, not axes, be sure to recite a spell for the banishing of trolls ere you cross." I looked and, sure enough, the ends of the logs did look as if they'd been chewed through. "I didn't think to look," I admitted.

"Even if I had, though, I probably wouldn't have thought anything of it."

"Not thought!" the elf prince and Gilbert cried together.

"Yeah," I admitted ruefully. "I probably would have just thought somebody had used logs that beavers had cut down." The prince and the squire exchanged a glance, then turned back to me. "What are beavers?"

Then I remembered that the flat-tailed rodents with the buck teeth were American fauna only. "Uh, small animals, where I come from, who like to chew on things."

"Most amazing," Gilbert muttered. The elf prince said firmly, "I would not offend you, squire, but you alone are not protection enough for this ignorant man."

"Hey," I objected.

"Not a word!" The prince held up a hand, then turned to snap his fingers at his retinue. "Stand back, and let him rise!" They looked up, startled. "But, Highness "Do as I bid!" Reluctantly, they stepped back.

"Rise, troll," the elf prince said, with a tone that hinted at dire tortotes.

Slowly, the troll uncurled itself and stood up to a shaky eight feet, whining at the back of its throat.

"What is thy name?"

The troll shrank back, but a hail of kicks and pinches made it straighten up with a howl, "Your name," the prince intoned, in a pitch that wavered like the pattern on a Damascus blade.

The troll croaked some incomprehensible pattern of gutturals and rachetings-but it was unmistakably language, if one I couldn't understand.

I stared, amazed that the monster could talk, but the elf prince held up both hands and began to chant something dire. I could tell it rhymed and had meter, but I couldn't have made the first guess as to what the words meant. I only know that it made the troll cower away, hands up to fend off the words, and I caught the grinding and grating of his name in there a couple of times. Then I got a real shock, because the verse ended in my name, "Saul!"

The elf prince clapped his hands, and the troll straightened up, moaning, his huge mitts dropping to his sides.

The prince nodded, satisfied, and turned back to me, fists on his hips. "He is tamed now. I have laid a geas upon him, binding him to go wherever you go and protect you from any thing, beast or man or spirit, that does seek to hurt you."

My mouth dropped open; I stared at the troll, appalled. Then I turned back to the prince to protest that I didn't really want such a gruesome traveling companion, but the prince only held up'a hand, palm out. "Nay, do not thank me, I know you wish to protest that I am too kind, but it is our great amusement to protect good mortal folk from such depraved creatures as this."

I wanted to protest, all right, but not about his kindness.

"Your Highness is exceedingly gracious," Gilbert said gravely. I turned to ask him if he was out of his mind, but he was bowing his head to the prince, and I realized anything else might get me in worse trouble than I was in already. No matter what, I didn't want these little guys for enemies. I swallowed my protest and turned around to bow, too-after all, we could always find a way to lose the monster when the elves were out of sight. He didn't look to have too high an IQ. In fact, he didn't look to have an IQ at all.

The prince pointed off toward the cast. "The gorge will narrow a league or so farther on, and you will find there has been a rock slide that will provide a bridge for you."

Something rumbled in the distance, in the direction he was pointing. I wondered how long that rock slide had been there. No, I definitely didn't want these little guys to take a dislike to me.

"Henceforth," he said, with a very severe stare at me, "if you realize that you shall need our help, summon us at once. There is an aura about you that tells me that you shall be vital to the casting out of the rule of evil which we so hate for the trouble and grief it has caused my people; so summon if you so much as think you may have need of us; and be sure, we shall come."

"I'm not really that important." Why did everybody here think I was the solution to all their troubles? I admit I was used to that attitude from the women I met, but supernatural beings were another matter.

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