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 (7 page)

Or even on Terra?

I shelved that thought, but it shook me enough so that I stopped contemplating the sunset, I turned back to the pass, saw its huge granite walls towering to either side, and decided I wanted to be through it before the light completely failed. I hurried, with a wary

eye above me, glancing from side to side-I'd heard that mountain eers, historically, tended to be rather territorial. I'd also heard that they had reasons. But if they were watching, I guess they figured I was no threat, or was too small a fly to swat, because nothing happened. in fact, the only living creature I saw was a kind of mountain goat, who watched me for a while, then jumped into a shadow and disappeared. He was beautiful, but the experiences of the day made it seem rather spooky.

So, as I came to the other end of the pass, I was wondering what I was going to do about being alone in a strange country, in what was promising to be an extremely dark night.

I was very glad to see the camp fires below me.

Not very far below, and I could tell they were camp fires, because of the tents. But the hallucination was still on-the men between the tents and the fires were wearing armor covered by long white tabards, and leading Percherons.

l sighed, squared my weary shoulders, and started the downhill hike.

One of the younger ones looked up, saw me, and called out,

"Stranger!" He lugged out a sword the size of the Eiffel Tower and brandished it as he came toward me, demanding, "Friend or foe?"

"Either one," I snapped-that sword got my back up. "Take your choice."

He frowned at me-it wasn't one of the expected answers. But his buddies dropped what they were doing and came clustering around; I hadn't seen that much steel in one place since I'd crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. "Declare yourself," one of the older ones demanded. That was exactly what I had been trying not to do. "Saul Delacroix Bremener," I told them, and nothing more.

"Saul Delacroix?" He frowned at his companions. "Named for the king or the apostle, and one of the cross."

"But Paul was not of the cross," one of the others objected. "He never knew the Savior, in life."

"Still, 'tis a goodly name," another said, then moved aside quickly as a tall, broad-bodied man with grizzled hair stepped through. He had a face like tanned leather and a jaw like a vise. The commander, at a guess.

He looked me up and down and pronounced, "His attire is odd, but he has no horse or arms. He cannot be a gentleman; he must be a peasant." Then he turned away, dismissing me with a gesture. "Let him stay; but he must draw water and fetch wood for the fire." He glanced back at me. "See to it, fellow."

The command did it. "Peasant" got to me, and the bit about menial labor made it worse-but the command made my anger turn cold and active.

"Fetch it yourself," I snapped. "I may be a commoner, but I'm no serf-and I am a gentleman." Which was true, on a technicality-I was a scholar, after all. By their standards.

"Oho!" A glint came into the commander's eye. "If you are a gentleman, then you are a gentleman-at-arms-for there is no other sort!

" Great. To be a gentle man, you had to be capable of violence. oddly, the idea appealed to me; it fit into my configurational pattern of contradictory concepts. Hypocrite? Who, me? I just calls

'em as I sees 'em.

"Yet he is clearly not a knight, or he would wear a sword. Ho, Gilbert! You aspire to knighthood-prove yourself! Test this stranger for Me! I1

A kid with only a small sword grinned and stepped up to me, dropping into a wrestler's crouch and beckoning.

I was appalled. He was at least six years younger than me, certainly still a teenager, and the top of his head was bald. "You've got a tonsure!" I said.

"All monks do," he agreed.

"But you're a knight!"

"Only a squire." His lip curled at my ignorance. "I am not yet worthy of my final vows. Will you fight, or talk?

Well. Monks were obviously different here than they were at home. I dropped into karate stance, circling my hands and coming up ready to catch or chop. "Ready."

He stared at my actions, then frowned and lunged.

He telegraphed the move-I saw the half step forward on the leftbut I resisted the urge to dodge, staying in to test the waters, so to speak.

He hit, and he hit hard. it was like slamming into an opening door.

He grabbed me in a bear hug and hoisted-it had to be the crudest move I'd run into since grade school.

But effective-he was very strong. I found myself rising high, then slamming down at the ground, while all around me, those monkscum-knights were cheering.

I twisted, landing on my side, and rolling back up to my feet to see

the kid grinning as he came back in for more. But this time, I sidestepped at the last second. "That was your freebie," I told him.

"Now I get my turn."

He didn't like that; he turned with a bellow and charged. I grabbed his arm and turned, put a hip against his, and flipped him. He swung up and down like a Ferris wheel. I figured he wouldn't know how to fall, so I held on to his arm and pulled up, to make sure he landed on his side, without too much force. The knights rumbled at that-they didn't like the look of it. I let go, and the kid scrambled to his feet again, face red, boiling mad.

Good. Angry, he'd make mistakes.

But he didn't charge again; he was smart enough not to make the same error twice. He shuffled in, hands circling, hunched over, watching for an opening.

I decided to give him one. I dropped my guard and put my hands on my hips, looking exasperated.

Sure enough, he bit. He went for my knees. I shoved against his shoulders, pushing myself back, That made him madder; he charged forward, trying to catch my knee like a donkey going after the carrot that's hanging from the pole. But he only took a couple of steps before he went for my crotch and arm, trying to hoist me. That meant he was coming up; I stepped back just long enough for his momentum to take him up far enough so that I could grab his tunic, lifting him a little bit as I hooked a leg behind his, and pushed as I kicked back. He fell-harder this time, since I wasn't trying to break his fall for him. He scrambled up, eyes blazing, and sent a fist shooting toward my face.

Oh, so he wanted to box. I blocked, and the blow went wide as I counterpunched. He hit my shoulder, and pain jolted the joint, but nothing big. On my other hand, his head rocked back, and I brought the left down, fingers stiffened, and jabbed him in the solar plexus. That took the fight out of him, along with the breath and the legs.

He folded around a center of agony, fighting for breath. I relaxed with a sigh of distaste-I really didn't like doing this to anybody, but especially not to a guy who really hadn't had a chance to fight back. Then I stepped around behind him, massaging his back and sides right opposite where I'd hit. The ring of men let out a shout of outrage, but the biggest guy held up a hand. "Nay. He but seeks to give aid to a fallen foe." He turned to me. "Yet give over, good man-let us tend to him."

"No," I said, "I don't think you know the technique. I broke it, I'll fix it." I heard a hiss of breath below me and looked down at Gilbert.

"You okay now?"

"I will mend," he gasped. "You are a doughty fighter."

"Just had a little training," I assured him. "You're very strong, did you know that?"

"Strength is not enough," he groaned.

"True." I grasped his arm and pulled. He followed and came to his feet. From the heft of that biceps, I knew I'd done right to try to stay away from him. It was a good thing he had used that bear hug to throw me; if he'd just kept squeezing, I'd have been out like a light.

"You have fought bravely," the commander assured him, and beckoned a couple of other squires. "See to him."

They took him away, one on either side, and the ring of men began to break up as they turned back to their tasks, eagerly discussing the bout-what there had been of it. I noticed several guarded glances in my direction, but none of them seemed contemptuous.

I sighed. It was the same old story all over again. just win a few fights, and they'll accept you. Wasn't there anything more to a man than his fists?

"You are welcome among us now," the commander assured me. Of course.

But he was still watching me warily.

"Thanks for your hospitality," I said wryly. "I assure you, I won't start attacking without an invitation."

He shrugged the comment away. "We have swords enough. As to this wrestling, 'tis a peasant's sport-yet you do it well."

"Maybe too well?" I hazarded, from the look on his face.

"Mayhap." He turned, glowering. " 'Tis a most strange manner of wrestling. Where did you learn it?"

"In the East," I said. Okay, so America was west of here, assuming I was in Europe; but Japan was west of America, wasn't it?

And it was the East. So I had learned it in America, but it was Japanese, and America was east of Japan, so I had learned it in the East.

"All." His face cleared; he nodded grimly. "The land of the paynim. Any rarities might come thence."

He meant the Near East, I was pretty sure-but Muslim culture was just different enough from his that, for all he knew, anything, but anything, might be there. It struck me with sudden inspiration-an excellent means of explaining any way in which I didn't fit in. "I lived in the distant land for many years," I said. "I'm a scholar, and not terribly interested in the things of this world-but their wise men taught me that training of the body has to come before any really advanced training of the mind."

"There is truth in that," he allowed. "With what weapons were you trained?"

"Only the staff," I said. "They drew their scholarship from holy men, who taught that it was wrong to use edged weapons."

"As do ours." The commander nodded. "Save for we few who are sworn to defend the True Faith by force of arms."

"I was wondering about that," I said. "You have tonsures. Are you monks, or knights?"

He frowned more closely at me. "How long have you been away from Christian lands?"

"Since I was very young," I admitted. After all, the American public schools fit that description, these days.

His face cleared. "Small wonder, then. Know that we are knights of the Order of Saint Moncaire-yet monks, also."

Well, now, that rocked me. I mean, I'd learned about the Knights Templars in school and read about them in Ivanhoe, and been thoroughly scandalized by the mere notion that a man who is purportedly dedicated to God could also be dedicating himself to smashing up his fellow human beings with a Clydesdale and a mace. But I tried to be tactful. "Uh

... isn't that kind of a contradiction in terms?"

Instantly, the frown was back. "Why, how mean you?"

"Why," I said, "a monk is dedicated to love of his fellow human beings, and to upholding the Commandments-including 'Thou shalt not kill,' and 'Love one another.' But a knight is dedicated to hurting those same people."

"Assuredly, you cannot mean it!" He paled, and I could have sworn he was genuinely shocked. "Do you truly know so little of your own faith?"

"Of my own civilization, you mean." I frowned up at him. "You forget I've spent most of my life in a foreign land."

"Aye, I had forgot." He gathered composure around him, but still seemed rather shaken. "Know, then, young man, that we, as knights, are dedicated to the protecting of God's people from those who worship evil. And they who are dedicated to evil, scruple not to kill and maim in their lust to capture all that they can. It is therefore necessary to take arms against the minions of Satan; only major force can stay them."

I braced myself and tried to smile. I was hearing the rationalization that had allowed medieval Christians to mount a crusade against their own countrymen, for no better reason than that they had come up with a different version of Christianity.

The commander turned away and began to stroll through the camp, glancing around him to see all was in order-but he was still talking, so I tagged along. "Know, too," he said, "that in these lands of Christendom, many folk have fallen under the sway of Satan and his minions. Allustria, where we are now, is sunk in the bog of corruption; it is ruled by a sorcerer-queen. lbile is only lately freed from a similar fate, and Merovence is free only because a most powerful wizard came to the aid of the heir, Queen Alisande, and fought off the evil spells of the usurper's sorcerer, so that her armies might cleanse the land of the false king Astaulf and his twisted knights." Well, usurpation I could understand, even if it was saturated with superstition. "I take it you come from this, uh, Merovence?"

"In truth, we have."

"Ibile"-that had a familiar ring. The Iberian peninsula? if so, the "reign of evil" would probably have been nothing more than the Moorish Empire-to medieval Spaniards, the Muslim Moors seemed like pagans, therefore worshipping false gods. So I took the rest of it with a grain of salt. "Allustria" sounded like "Austria" with a couple f Is thrown in-maybe "Allemagne," which was Germany, combined with Austria? I knew of a pretty demonic figure in recent history who had tried to do just that-but he wasn't medieval. So I decided to reserve judgment on the evilness of Allustria's queen. But Merovence-would that be France, or Italy? Or maybe Poland or Russia? At a guess it was the land of the Merovingians, which would have been France. Why not ask? "I'm kind of turned around," I said. "Which way is

Merovence? " "Why, ahead of you," said the commander, surprised.

"You are near its border. Did you not know you had come out of Allustria?"

Suddenly, the business about Allustria being under the reign of an evil queen gained credence-at least, judging by the reception I'd had there, and the things Sobaka had said. "I hadn't known," I said.

"Wherever it was, though, I was trying to get out of it."

"In that, you succeeded. Know that you have come into the mountains, and even though the queen of Allustria claims them, her writ

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