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 (54 page)

"From this furrow, let there rise A wall unseen, invisible But proof against the foeman's cries And weapons, but divisible By all my allies, who may pass When outward bound. Be as mica, Or a sheet of one-way glass, Hard but clear to light, or like a Membrane semipermeable, Warding stench and halitosis, Admitting none, though unseeable.

Let objects out, though, like osmosis!"

I didn't like working magic myself, mind you, hallucination or not-but these were concepts Frisson just didn't have. He was helping with the weaving, though, so I didn't have to admit it was all my doing.

"I see naught." Gilbert was peering anxiously into the darkness.

"Of a certainty," Frisson said, grinning. "He said it would be invisible, did he not? But look yonder!" He pointed up at the stars.

"See you not how they twinkle?"

Stars do ever twinkle! They forever have!"

"Aye, but growing larger and smaller? Surely there is something between them, like to the haze that rises from a hot rock in midsummet!

Well, he had the concept, anyway. Call it what you will, a force field is a force field.

"Now comes the tricky part." I put my hands together and dropped the cat's cradle. "Gilbert, send men out to charge the wall and see if it's still there."

Suddenly, the squire looked scared. He turned to the peasants.

"Ho, Willem! Kurt! Baden! Take you each a band of men, and set out for the furrow!"

They did, not asking.

I turned to Frisson. "When did he learn their names?" As soon as they came in," Frisson answered. "I do not think he knows them all by name, but he has picked out the leaders, and certainly knows each of them."

l decided the Father-General had sent me a live one. Not bad, for an eighteen-year-old kid.

The peasants went out-and came back real fast, looking spooked. They conferred with Gilbert in low voices. He nodded, satisfied, and came back to me. "The wall holds. Kurt was able to leave it, but not to come back."

"Good," I said. "Send him a hundred men and tell him to send them up into the trees to either side of the road. They'll have to go around behind, of course-the invisible wall is rooted all along the furrow, and if they try to climb in from the road, they'll just bounce back. Get another fifty men in the trees on this side of the crosshar, ready to pick off anybody who gets through. Not that I think anybody will, you understand-but just in case. Keep another fifty ready to charge out between us and them, and the rest hidden in the forest ready to pounce."

"And what of the sorcerer, Master Saul?" Frisson asked.

"You saw that sculpture I was just making with the string?"

"Aye, though I would not term it art." Frisson frowned.

"Make up your mind whether you're an artist or a critic, will you?

Okay, we'll call it a model. Have you ever played the two-person version? " "Aye, when I was a child."

"Well then, let's get childish." I picked up the string and started weaving. "Here's how it goes

The army came marching down the road, singing a deep baritone chant that somehow reeked of menace. We sat in the road ahead of them, our hearts in our mouths, Frisson taking the cat's cradle from me with trembling fingers. Gilbert stood behind us, ostensibly watching the road, actually ready to signal his stingers. He was netvous, too, but he had said he was more worried about some hothead striking too early than about his own safety.

The vanguard saw us, raised a shout, and came running. Gilbert waited until they were only fifty feet away from the furrow lowed across the road, the pounding of their boots filling the night,

p before he signaled.

A hail of stones shot out of the trees to each side of the road. Then fifty peasants pounded out into the road between us and the oncoming soldiers, and started slinging.

Howls of anger and pain erupted from the army, but the soldiers in front bellowed in rage and charged down on our bodyguard. Their halberds swung down ...

... and bounced off a surface they couldn't sec.

They bounced hard; most of the weapons struck their owners, or the men behind. They bellowed again, but this time, there was as much fear as anger in the sound.

Their mates, back along the road, loosed a volley of arrows at the trees along each shoulder. The arrows darted up ...

... and bounced.

They fell back, but they fell hard, with almost as much velocity as

they'd had when they hit; it was a resilient invisible wall. So the points scratched and pierced soldiers, not peasants. The soldiers howled in surprise and alarm-and another hail of sling-stones fell on them, striking on foreheads and temples, denting helmets and breaking collarbones. Soldiers fell with shouts of pain. More of them fell in total silence, out cold.

The sorcerer reared up in their middle, shouting a chant and making passes.

I took the cat's cradle from Frisson. He stuck his thumb up in the middle, and I chanted,

"Blest be the tie that binds That man who'd work us ill, By sore'rous spells unkind.

Now, let his tongue be still!"

As I finished the last line, I pulled the strings tight, imprisoning Frisson's thumb.

The sorcerer's chant ended in a frantic yell, as something invisible pinned his arms to his sides. He struggled to free himself, tripped over a fallen soldier, and rolled on the ground, squalling and bellowing, inarticulate.

"Why can he not chant?" Frisson asked, huge-eyed.

"Because I paralyzed his tongue," I answered. "Hear how his yelling keeps making vowels sounds? He's trying to chant a spell, but he just can't form the consonants."

I kept the pressure on Frisson's thumb, only letting up a little when it started turning blue. I waited, grinding my teeth, till the yelling and rattle and clatter had diminished and turned into groaning.

"They are all down," Gilbert told me. "Shall I send men among them to kill those who still live?"

Still live! I hadn't stopped to think that those sling-stones had probably killed a fair number, not just knocked them out. "No," I said, then cleared my throat to stop my voice shaking. '/No, it's more important that we get to the capital. Besides, most of them are just peasant boys who were pressed into the army against their wills. They will probably be more than glad to run on home if they have the chance."

"Like enough," Gilbert agreed, "but to have that chance, the sorcerer must die."

The words hit my stomach hard enough to make it sink to my boots, but I knew he was right. Leave the man alive, and he'd just rally the remains of his army to strike at our backs. "Couldn't we give him a chance to repent,"' "Aye, but even so, we must kill him then. If we do not, he will likely renew his bargain with Satan as soon as we are out of sight."

I knew he was right, but I still hated to give the go-ahead. "If we kill in cold blood, we've started selling our own souls to Satan."

"That is true of slaying the peasant soldiers," Gilbert said inexorably, "but it is not true of their master. The knight and the sorcerer must die, or they may find a way to murder us all."

"Yeah, I know you're right." I sighed. "Take Friar Ignatius and a dozen men to guard him. And pass the word when you've got the sorcerer hog-tied, so I can let up on Frisson's thumb." Gilbert stared at the imprisoned digit, then said, "You are truly amazing, Master Saul, and Master Frisson, too."

"Only because we don't do things the way we're supposed to," I told him. "It throws everybody off stride-and makes 'em madder 'n Hell when it works. Go send somebody to Purgatory, Gilbert." He did.

That wasn't the last army we faced, of course, but it was the easiest.

The next army got crafty and surrounded us on all four sides before it marched in chopping. But we had the best intelligence in the country-a couple of dozen local peasants I who knew the terrain as well as they knew their dinner bowls. They came in unbidden, with exact details of troop placement and strength-so when the army swooped in on our camp, all they hit were a couple of hundred simulacra that turned back into sticks of wood at the first sword-stroke.

Then our tree-top peasants cut loose with their stings, and the archers barely got off one volley before they were all felled by flying pebbles. Of course, their sorcerers had dispelled my invisible shield before they even charged, so we did lose a dozen men-but they lost two thousand.

The third army tried to draw us into a trap by having a dozen pretty maidens doing a fertility dance involving taking off their clothes in the moonlight, but Friar Ignatius and his fellow monks went through the camp quickly, telling the peasants in no uncertain terms that in this case, at least, feminine pulchritude really was a wile of the Devil. Our men kept ranks and marched on by, to the great indignation of the young ladies, who yelled catcalls and insults after them-until Frisson and I finally managed a spell that showed them as they really were, without the demonic cosmetic spells.

When our peasant boys got a sight of the naked, withered old hags and young but very ugly girls they really were, they all shuddered, looked away, and praised Friar Ignatius at the tops of their voices. The army charged out in pursuit, of course, but they weren't really trying-they knew they didn't have a chance. They were right, tooFrisson and I changed the ground in front of them to bog, and they all floundered down in the mire. Their sorcerers firmed the ground up fast, of course, but they forgot to pull their men out first, and most of them were trapped hip-deep in hardpan. A few unlucky ones were completely underground, but I think their mates dug them out. They didn't have anything better to do, after all-our army was long gone. Besides, we were two thousand strong by that time, with more coming in every night-and older peasants constantly bringing in baskets of provisions. I was having nightmares, remembering the peasants of the First Crusade and all the burglaries they had committed on the way to Constantinople, trying to keep themselves fed. I talked to Gilbert about it, and he understood immediately. He set up a system of command ranks, making each officer or NCO responsible for the conduct of his men. Then he appointed a few MPs, to patrol the perimeter of the vast mob and check to see if anyone was getting out of line. A few did; he expelled them from the troop and left them to the tender mercies of the peasants they'd robbed.

Because a mob it was, even with Gilbert's impromptu chain of command. There wasn't time to drill them, but he did manage to get across the idea of marching in order, teaching his officers a few marching songs to help. Frisson grew very thoughtful, was seized with inspiration, and dashed off a few poems that he then proceeded to sing to Gilbert. Gilbert loved them, gave them to the officers, and we marched along singing. They could hear us a mile away, but we weren't exactly any big secret, anyway.

After the second day of orderly marching, Gilbert was beginning to look worried. I took him aside and asked why.

"They have not attacked again," he told me. "Surely the Army of Evil does not intend to let us pass unchallenged!"

"Haven't you heard what your men are singing?" I asked. He frowned. "Aye, but what has that . . ." There he broke off, turning to stare out at his army as they marched past, singing:

"Sons of Might and Magic, Will you let this tragic Moment pass from history?

Hearts that know uniqueness, Will you let this weakness Daunt you with its mystery?

onward, onward! Never shall the foe Dare come near, as in serried ranks we go!

All step as one, unbending!

Strength wells up, unending!

Enemies shall distant be!

Never shall we tire Until this sovereign dire Shall be hanging from a tree!"

,Why, they dispel attack!" Gilbert cried.

I nodded. "it would take an awful lot of black magic to squelch that much enthusiastic spell casting. On top of which, they're giving themselves constant energy input, and keeping themselves in order."

"Amazing, Wizard!"

"Yes, isn't he?" I nodded at Frisson. "But don't try to convince him of it; he thinks he's just writing what comes to him." Still, I worried. Two thousand enthusiastic peasants were good protection on the march and could be very useful for general brawlingbut they weren't going to stand a chance against disciplined, professional troops.

Which was exactly what we saw, when we came up to the top of the ridge that overlooked the capital. There it lay, a half-mile-wide town with a river flowing through it and a huge castle on the hill in its center. It had a high, thick wall all around it, and between the wall and us, a solid band of troops a hundred yards thick.

We stared, appalled, and I whispered, "How are we going to get through this?

Chapter Thirty

"Surely we have strong enough numbers to force a passage." But Frisson didn't sound too sure.

"We have not," Gilbert assured him. "They outnumber us by five soldiers of theirs for every one of ours, at the least-and theirs are trained and seasoned veterans, whiles ours are boys who have come straight from the plow. "But our men believe in our cause!"

"And these soldiers believe in the profit they shall gain by victory," Gilbert returned.

"Surely the love of money is not so strong as the will to be free!"

"Perhaps not-but when 'tis coupled with skill and strength, it will suffice." Gilbert turned a grim face to me. " 'Tis for you to say, Master Saul. What may we do?"

"Why," I said slowly, "we'll just have to find some soldiers who are even better than they are."

Gilbert smiled bleakly. "Well thought, if we could find such so quickly. Yet even if we could, we would need very many, for greater skill and strength mean little, in the end, 'gainst such numbers."

"Not entirely true." I was thinking of Crecy and Agincourt.

"Besides, we don't have to wipe out the whole army-just force our way through to the gates and knock them open."

"And how shall we do that?"

"It was one of the first verses Frisson wrote, and I've been saving it for just such an occasion."

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