Swordmistress of Chaos

Free Swordmistress of Chaos by Robert Holdstock, Angus Wells Page B

Book: Swordmistress of Chaos by Robert Holdstock, Angus Wells Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robert Holdstock, Angus Wells
Tags: Fantasy, Adult
minds, but I know not what was said.’
    ‘What other minds? Kharwhan? The sorcerer-priests?’
    ‘Perhaps,’ said Spellbinder carefully, ‘for those minds exert the greatest force upon this world. What were you told?’
    Briefly—for she could not remember all of it, nor understand all of what she remembered—Raven told him.
    Spellbinder nodded slowly. ‘The Skull of Quez. Aye that’s long been the ambition of the M’yrstal Altans though the finding of it has proved harder than most men think.’
    ‘Yet, if the stone spoke the truth,’ said Raven, ‘I must find It. But where? How?’
    ‘We must travel to Kharwhan.’ Spellbinder seemed almost to regret the prospect. ‘If the Skull is not there, at least they will know of its placement.’
    ‘Kharwhan!’ Raven’s voice was awed. ‘No man travels to the Isles of Ghosts. At least, not to return. Be you, as men say, ghost-born, then you may survive the journey, but how may I?’
    A smile lifted the thoughtfulness from Spellbinder’s features, and he crossed the chamber to rest his hands upon her shoulders.
    ‘What is, must be. If the Skull of Quez rests in the ghost country, then we must go there to find it. And bring it to the Altan. If that is the only way you can reach Karl ir Donwayne, will you be thwarted by stories of fantasy?’
    Reluctantly, Raven shook her head, the tumble of blonde tresses sparking light from the glowing air. ‘No,’ she said. ‘If it be on the Isle of Ghosts, then there we must go, even though I like it not.’
    Spellbinder said nothing more, simply took her hand in his to lead her from the chamber. It was as though he knew his way around the Temple of the Stone, for he strode through the sightless passages as does a man familiar with his ground, who needs no guide, nor light, to traverse the paths to his objective.
    They reached the great outer chamber without seeing another being, though Raven was curiously aware of activity all around her, and when they came into the chamber, there were priests waiting with their horses and fresh food.
    Spellbinder mounted without a word, and Raven followed suit, swinging into her saddle with thoughtful, far-seeing eyes. A priest handed them both a skin of water, moving his hands in mystic symbols before preceding them to the mist-shrouded egress.
    They rode away from the Temple of the Stone without a rearward look.
    Three days later they were on the coast. The desert had given way to fertile sea-plain, and the grass their hungry horses cropped led down to a small port. Barst, it was called, a tiny, wood-walled enclave of fishermen and migrant sailors, its walls containing a cluster of houses and shops, sprinkled with taverns. One of the latter provided accommodation and information, both. It was a clean place, and the food was good after the sparse rations of the desert travelling. It held a bath-house in which they both spent long hours, soaking off the desert’s miasma, and when they emerged, they resumed their bed-companionship.
    For two cheerful days they lingered there, enjoying the careless happiness of the place. Then Spellbinder found a boat and the faint-remembered words of the Stone message were brought back to Raven. She unwrapped her armour from its foldings and decked herself as though for war. Mail shirt covered the lissome contours of her body, sword and knife and throwing stars girded her slender waist. Spellbinder, too, wore his armour of black and silver, though the war-helm was slung from his shoulder.
    When they boarded the little boat, the master looked askance at their dress, choking down his second thoughts as Spellbinder tossed him a sack of coin.
    ‘Sail west,’ said the warrior. ‘The Ghost Isle will show when it chooses.’

Six
‘Forethought and careful planning allied to a knowledge of the protagonists will usually result in a clear pattern. But there are always pitfalls.’
    The Books of Kharwhan
    To most men on that world Kharwhan was an unknown—and

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