Zandru's Forge

Free Zandru's Forge by Marion Zimmer Bradley

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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley
who can risk himself at his pleasure!”
    “I will risk myself as I please!” Dom Felix cried, “How can I sit by my own fireplace like a useless old woman? My son is lost in those hills, perhaps dying!”
    You have another son, Varzil thought, who stands before you now. But he could not bring himself to say it.
    They glared at one another, barely able to see each other’s features in the gloom. “A Ridenow of his own blood should go after him,” Dom Felix said in a thick voice.
    Varzil leaped into the opening. “Then let me go!” When his father hesitated, he pushed on. “You are always urging me to take my place here, to be responsible—so let me! Give me the command of these men and let me lead the rescue. I swear that whether Harald still lives or not, I will bring him back to you!”
    He felt the slight sagging of the old man’s body in his grasp, the burst of quickly-suppressed relief.
    If only Varzil could become such a son to me, a credit to his house! But he is a green boy, weak, and given to moony dreams. These men are used to hardened leaders. I have ruled them with an iron hand. They will not follow a weakling.
    There was only one way to find out. Varzil released his father, calling to Eiric. “Take my father back to the house and see him properly cared for, then return. You others, bring the horses and torches. We will ride for the hills!”
    “You men,” Felix said, his voice roughened by emotion and fatigue, “you heard the words of my son. Obey him as you would me.”
    Varzil mounted up and in short order selected the men who were to come with him. One of the shepherds had been summoned to lead them into the hills. His hardy little chervine was almost as shaggy as its master. The beast trotted along the thread of a path, as surefooted as if it had been a wide road at midday.
    After they were well beyond the outer buildings, Eiric spoke to Varzil as they rode side by side. Eiric held his torch high, to cast a flickering light over the next few feet of trail and the bobbing form of the shepherd’s white fleece jacket.
    “Master Varzil,” Eiric said, “this is madness, and cruel besides to get the old man’s hopes up. Yon shepherd can take us to the place, right enough. It’s said that they can see in the dark as well as their beasts. But what then? We cannot summon a track out of nothing. For all we know, this quest is for naught and the young master is already perished.”
    Darkness. Harsh breathing. The dull sick throbbing of a wound turning bad.
    “He is still alive,” Varzil said with a sureness that surprised him. He could not see in the dark any better now than before, yet other, newer senses awoke in him, ignited by the intense contact with the folks at Arilinn. He had no words for his knowledge, only the absolute certainty of its truth.
    “We must find him soon,” Varzil said, half to himself. “He is hurt, and the catmen are still on his trail. For the moment, though, he is safe.”
    “Now, how could you be knowing that?” Eiric’s voice raised in pitch. Then he fell silent and Varzil touched his thoughts. From the time he were a laddie, he had the Gift. The old lord tried to hush it up, but you cannot ignore such a thing forever. ‘ And he’s been to Arilinn, that nest of sorcery. Something happened to him there, it’s plain to see. Don’t know if it were good or bad. Time alone will tell. But if he can find our young lord and spare the old man’s heart, it’s worth the chance.
    They rode on, more slowly now as the land rose and turned rocky. The last rust-tinged light left the sky. With the luck of Aldones, three of the four moons were shining in the cloudless night sky.
    The land sloped sharply away. Granite boulders shimmered in the multihued light. Iridescent flecks gleamed in the rock. Some were as large as cart horses, others fist-sized. Between them the shadows lay dark and darker.
    Years ago, Varzil had explored the area when he was supposed to be rounding up

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