Heart’s Ease burned the whole night through. Far into the bleak wintermorning sudden tongues of flame leapt from the ruins as the rubble shifted andthe embers found fresh fuel. The walls stood, black and grim, but a littlebefore dawn the roof crashed in, carrying with it what was left of the floors.There was nothing to do but stand aside and watch the flames. There was no helpfor Heart’s Ease.Ease.
Shiara buried Ugo, refusing Wiz’s offer of aid. Wiz didn’t press. He satalone, wrapped in Shiara’s smoke-stained blue velvet cloak, utterly filled withpain and misery. Not even the chill of the stone beneath him penetrated.d.
It was mid-morning when Bal-Simba arrived. He came upon the Wizard’s Way,accompanied by a party of armed and armored guardsmen who quickly spread out tosearch for any of the League’s servants who might remain. The wizard closetedhimself with Shiara for the rest of the day.ay.
Wiz barely noticed. About noon he got up from his rock and returned to thetiny stable workroom in the clearing outside the palisade. It was almostevening when Bal-Simba found him there.e.
“You will be leaving Heart’s Ease,” he told Wiz gently.”There is nothing left worth staying for. The Lady Shiara has agreed toaccept accommodation closer to the Capital and you will live in the Wizard’sKeep itself. There is no longer any point in trying to hide you, itseems.”ms.”
Wiz just nodded mutely.
“Shiara has told me what happened yesterday,” he went on. “Ihope you learned from it.” He paused. “I am sorry the lesson had tobe taught at such great cost,” he said more gently.y.
Wiz said nothing. There was nothing to say. Bal-Simba waited, as ifexpecting some reply..
“What about Moira?” Wiz asked at last.
“Most likely she was stolen away for questioning in the City of Night.The raid here was masked by a whole series of attacks all along our southernperimeter. It seems the League has a powerful interest in your kind of magic soI would expect she will be taken to their citadel for interrogation.”n.”
“Shiara said it was me they were after,” Wiz said miserably.
“Most likely. The League has been tearing the North apart seekingknowledge of you ever since you were Summoned. When your actions drew theirattention here they came looking for a magician and Moira was the only one theycould find.”d.”
“What will they do with Moira?”
Bal-Simba hesitated. “For now, nothing. The Shadow Warriors are fierceand cruel, but they are disciplined. Doubtless their orders are to bring heralive and unhurt to their master.”.”
Bal-Simba looked grave and sad. “Then they will find out what theywish to know. You do not want the details.””
“We’ve got to get her back!”
“We are searching,” Bal-Simba said. “The Watchers have beenscouring the plenum for trace of her. Our dragon riders patrol as far south asthey dare. We have sent word to all the villages of the North and searchershave gone out.”t.”
“Can they find her?”
Bal-Simba hesitated. “I will not lie to you, Sparrow. It will bedifficult. The Shadow Warriors use little magic and they are masters ofstealth. We are doing everything we can.”.”
“But you don’t think they’ll find her.” It was a statement not aquestion..
“I said it would be difficult,” Bal-Simba sighed. “TheShadow Warriors may already be upon the Freshened Sea, or even back in the Cityof Night itself. If that is so, she is lost. We only know they did nottransport her magically.”y.”
“We’ll have to go get her! We can’t let them have her.”
Bal-Simba sighed again and for the first time since Wiz had known him heappeared mortal—tired and defeated..
“I’m sorry Sparrow. Even if she is already upon the sea there isnothing we can do.””
Rage rose up in Wiz, burning away the guilt and grief. “Maybe there’snothing you can do, but there’s something
“What is that?”
Wiz interlaced his fingers and cracked his knuckles. “I’m gonna hackthe system,” he said smiling in a manner that was not at all pleasant..
“Those sons-of-bitches want magic? All right. I’ll
“It is a little late to start your apprenticeship, Sparrow,”Bal-Simba said gravely..
“Apprenticeship be damned!” Said Wiz, taking slight satisfactionat the way the wizard started at the blasphemy. “I’ve spent the last fivemonths building tools. I’ve got an interpreter, an editor, a cross-referencegenerator and even a syntax checker. They’re kludgier than shit, but I can makethem do what I need. The didn’t call me Wiz for nothing!”ng!”
“Remember what happened the last time you tried.”
Wiz’s face twisted. “You think I’m likely to forget?” He shookhis head. “No, I know now what I did wrong. I knew it then, really. Thenext time I call up a hurricane it will be on purpose.”.”
“Will you then compound your folly?” Bal-Simba asked sternly.”Will you add fresh scars to the land just to satisfy your anger?””
“Will you get Moira back any other way?” Wiz countered.
The Wizard was silent and Wiz turned back to the wooden tablets scatteredover the rude table..
“Hurting us further would be an ill way to repay our hospitality toyou,” Bal-Simba said..
Wiz whirled to face him. “Look,” he snapped. “So far your’hospitality’ has consisted of kidnapping me, making me fall in love withsomeone who hates me, getting me chased by more damn monsters than I everimagined and nearly getting me killed I don’t know how many times. When you getright down to it I don’t see that I owe you much of anything.”ng.”
He glared at Bal-Simba, challenging him to deny it. But the giant blackWizard said nothing..
“There’s another thing,” he went on. “You’re so damn worriedabout the effects of magic on your world. Well, your world is dying! Every yearyou’re pushed further back. It’s not just the League. There’s Wild Wood too.How long do you think you have before the whole North is gone? Do you reallyhave anything to lose?ose?
“All right, maybe I’ll screw it up again.” He blinked back thetears that were welling up in his eyes. “I’ve done nothing but screwthings up since I got here. Maybe I’ll make that scar on the land you keeptalking about. But Dammit! At least I’ll go out trying.”g.”
“There’s no maybe about it,” Bal-Simba said sharply. “Youwill ’screw it up.’ You have no magical aptitude and no training. At best youcan destroy uncontrolled.”.”
“Patrius didn’t think so,” Wiz shot back. He turned to histablets again..
“I could forbid you,” Bal-Simba said in a measuring tone.
“You could,” Wiz said neutrally. “But you’d have to enforceit.””
Bal-Simba looked at him and Wiz stayed hunched over the tablets.
“I will do this much,” he said finally. “I will not forbidyou. I will not commit the resources of the North to this madness but I willsend word to watch and be ready. If by some chance you do discomfit the League,we will make what use of it seems appropriate.”e.”
Wiz didn’t turn around. “Okay. Thanks.”
“I will arrange for some protection for you in case the ShadowWarriors return. I will also pass word for everyone to avoid this place. Ithink you will scar the land and kill yourself unpleasantly in theprocess.”s.”
Bal-Simba sighed. “Losing a loved one is a terrible thing.”
Wiz grinned mirthlessly, not looking up. “Even that wasn’t a freechoice.””
“Love is always a free choice, Sparrow. Even where there’smagic.””
Wiz shrugged and Bal-Simba strode to the door of the hut. The black giantpaused with his hand on the doorjamb..
“You’ve changed, Sparrow,”
“Yeah. Well, that happens.”
Wiz did not see Bal-Simba leave. He stayed in the hut most of the day,scrawling on wooden tablets with bits of charcoal. Twice he had to go out tosplit logs into shingles for more tablets.s.
The second time he went to the woodpile Shiara approached him.
“They tell me you will make magic against the League,” Shiarasaid..
Wiz selected a length of log and stood it upright on the chopping stump.”Yep.””
“It is lunacy. You will only bring your ruin.”
Wiz said nothing. He raised the axe and brought it down hard. The logcleaved smoothly under the blade’s bite..
“Where will you work?”
Wiz rested the axe and turned to her. “Here, Lady. I figure it’s safeenough and it seems appropriate.””
“You will need help.”
He hefted the axe and turned to the billet. “I can manage alone.”
He raised the axe above his head and Shiara spoke again. “Would it gobetter if I were here for—ah—a core dump?””
Wiz started, the axe wobbled and the log went flying. “You’d do that?After what happened?””
“Why? I mean, uh…”
“Why? Simple. You mean to strike at the League for what they did herewhen even Bal-Simba himself tells us we can do nothing. I owe the League much,and I would hazard much to repay a small part of that debt.”.”
“It will be dangerous, Lady. Most of what you said about this thing istrue. It’s a kludge and it’s full of bugs. I could kill us both.””
For the first time since Wiz had known her, Shiara the Silver laughed. Nota smile or a chuckle, but a rich full-throated laugh, as bright and shining asher name.e.
“My innocent, I died a long time ago. My life passed with my magic, mysight and Cormac. The chance of dying against the chance of striking at theLeague is no hazard at all.”.”
She glowed as bright and bold as the full moon on Mid-Sumemr Eve and heldout her hand to Wiz. “Come Sparrow. We go to war.””
Donal and Kenneth entered Bal-Simba’s study quietly, respectfully and withnot a little trepidation. It was not every day that the Mightiest of the Northsummoned two ordinary guardsmen and even Donal’s naturally sanguine dispositiondidn’t lead him to believe that the wizard wanted to discuss the weather.er.
“I have a service it would please me to have done,” Bal-Simbarumbled..
“Command us, Lord,” said Kenneth, mentally bracing for it.
“That I cannot do,” Bal-Simba told them. “This servicecarries a risk I would not order assumed.””
“May we ask the nature of this service?”
“There is a Sparrow whose nest needs guarding,” Bal-Simba toldthem..
“Have you got any tea?” Wiz asked Shiara. They were sitting bythe fire in the hut which had been the kitchen and was now their home. Both ofthem were hoarse from talking and Wiz was surrounded by a litter of woodenshingles with marks scrawled on them in charcoal.al.
“Herbs steeped in hot water? Are you ill?”
“No, I mean a drink that give you a lift, helps you stay awake.”
Shiara’s brow furrowed. “There is blackmoss tea. I used to use it whenI was standing vigil. But it is vile stuff.””
“Do you have any?”
“In the larder, if it was not burned,” she told him.
The tea was in a round birchbark box which had been scorched but notconsumed. Wiz put a pot to boil on the hearth and watched as Shiara skillfullymeasured several spoonsful of the dried mixture into the hot water. The stufflooked like stable sweepings but he said nothing.ng.
Shiara proferred the cup and Wiz took a gulp. It was brown as swamp water,so pungent it stung the nose and bitter enough to curl the tongue even with thehoney Shiara had added.d.
“Gaaahhh” Wiz said, squinching his eyes tight shut and shakinghis head..
“I told you it was vile,” Shiara said sympathetically.
Wiz shook his head again, opened his eyes and exhaled a long breath.”Whooo! Now that’s programmer fuel! Lady, if we could get this stuff backto my world, we’d make a fortune. Jolt Cola’s for woosies!”!”
“That is what you wanted?” Shiara said in surprise.
“That’s exactly what I wanted. Now let’s let it steep some more andget back to work.””
Bal-Simba’s guardsmen showed up the next day. They were a matched set:Dark-haired, blue eyed and tough enough to bite the heads off nails forbreakfast. Kenneth, the taller of the pair, carried a six-foot bow everywherehe went and Donal, the shorter, less morose one, was never far from histwo-handed sword. In another world Wiz would have crossed the street to avoideither of them, but here they were very comforting to have around.ound.
With their help Wiz moved his things out of the old stable and into one ofthe buildings in the compound. The accommodations were not much of animprovement, but it was closer to the huts where they now lived and Shiaracould come to it more easily to advise him.im.
“What do you think of this Sparrow?” Donal asked Kenneth onenight in the hut they shared. Kenneth looked up from the boot knife he waswhetting. “I think he’s going to get us all killed or worse.”.”
“The Lady trusts him.”
“The Lady, honor to her name, hasn’t been right in the head sinceCormac died,” Kenneth said. “That’s why she’s been living out here.Even for a magician she’s odd.”.”
“Not half as odd as the sparrow,” said Donal. “I don’t thinkhe’s slept in three days. He sits in there swilling that foul brew andmuttering to himself.”.”
“He’s a wizard,” pronounced Kenneth as if that explainedeverything. “All wizards are cracked.””
“They say he’s not a wizard,” said Donal. “They say he’ssomething else.””
“That’s all the world needs,” Kenneth said. “Something elsethat works magic. I say he’s a wizard and I’ll be damned surprised if we comeout of this one whole.”.”
“Well,” said Donal as he stretched out on the straw tick. “Atleast he keeps things interesting.””
“So does plague, pox and an infestation of trolls,” said Kenneth,replacing the knife in his boot..
Toth-Set-Ra sat on his raised seat in the League’s chantry and heard thereports of his underlings. The great mullioned windows let in the weak winter’slight to puddle on the floor. Magical lanterns hung from the walls providedmost of the light that glinted off apparatus on the workbenches. Seated at along table at his feet were the dozen most powerful sorcerers of the DarkLeague. Atros sat at his right. The Keeper of the Sea of Scrying was justfinishing his report.eport.
“And what else?” asked Toth-Set-Ra.
“Lord, there are signs of magical activity at Heart’s Ease. It ispossible the Shadow Warriors missed the magician.””
Atros scowled at the man. The Shadow Warriors were his special preserve.
“Our magic detectors are excellent,” Toth-Set-Ra said. “Ifthere was another magician there, we would have found him.””
“As you will, Lord. But we still show signs of magic in what was oncea dead zone.””
“Strong magic? Like before?”
The black robe shrugged. “Not strong, Lord, but the taste is much likebefore. The magician is… odd.””
A thrill went down Toth-Set-Ra’s spine as he remembered the demon’s words.
“Perhaps our magician had an apprentice who was absent when the attackcame,” Atros suggested..
“You say not as strong as before?” Toth-Set-Ra asked. Theblack-robed one nodded. “Then watch closely,” he ordered. “Iwish to know all which happens at that place.”.”
“Thy will, Lord,” the black robe replied. “But it will notbe easy. The northerners are screening it and we cannot get clearreadings.”.”
“Keep trying,” he snapped.
“Thy will, Lord. Perhaps however the Shadow Warriors shouldreturn.””
Toth-Set-Ra shook his head. “No, that is a trick which only worksonce. Bal-Simba—may the fat melt from his miserable bones!—will not be caughtnapping again.” He frowned and sunk his head to his chest for a moment.”But I am not without resources in this matter. I will see what my otherservants can do.”do.”
Night and day, Wiz drove himself mercilessly. Writing, thinking, rewritingand conducting occasional experiments—usually in the forest with only Donal orKenneth for company. He slept little and only when exhaustion forced him to.Twice he nearly slipped because of fatigue. After that he made a point ofgetting a little rest before trying an experiment.ent.
The blackmoss tea numbed his tongue and made his bowels run, but it kepthim awake, so he kept drinking it by the mugful..
Wiz wasn’t the only one getting little or no sleep. Shiara wasn’t sleepingmuch either and there was no blackmoss tea to ease her. Wiz passed her hut lateat night and heard her sobbing softly from pain. The lines in her face etchedthemselves deep around her mouth and down her forehead, but she nevercomplained.ned.
“Lady, you are suffering from all this magic,” Wiz said to herone afternoon as they waited for a spell to finish setting up..
“I have suffered for years, Sparrow.”
“Do you need a rest?”
A haggard ghost of a smile flitted across her face. “Would
“You know the answer to that, Lady.”
“Well then,” she said and returned to her work.
And the work seemed to go so slowly. Often Wiz would get well into a spellonly to have to divert to build a new tool or modify the interpreter. It waslike writing a C compiler from scratch, libraries and all, when all you wantedwas an application. Once he had to stop work on the spells entirely for threeprecious days while he tore apart a goodly chunk of the interpreter and rewroteit from the ground up. He knew the result would be more efficient and faster,but he gritted his teeth and swore at the delay.delay.
Wiz took to talking to the guards, one of whom was with him constantly whenhe worked. Neither Kenneth or Donal said much as he favored them with hisstream of chatter. Donal just leaned on his two-handed sword and watched andKenneth simply watched.ed.
Worst of all, he had to be painstakingly careful in constructing hisspells. A bug here wouldn’t just crash a program, it could kill him..
There was no one to help him. Shiara had no aptitude for the sort ofthinking programming demanded and there was no time to teach her. Besides, evenbeing around this much magic was an agony for her. Actually trying to worksome, even second-hand might kill her.er.
But somehow, slowly, agonizingly, the work got done.
* * *
“Behold, my first project,” Wiz said with a flourish. He had beenwithout sleep so long he was giddy and the effects of the tea had his eyespropped open and his brain wired. Consciously he knew that he desperatelyneeded sleep, but his body was reinforcing the tea with an adrenaline rush andit would be some time before he could make himself crash.ash.
Shiara held out her hand toward the silky transparent thing on the table.It moved uneasily like a very fine handkerchief on a zephyr..
“What is it?”
“It’s a detector. You can send it over an area and it will detectmagic and report back what it, uh, senses. ’Sees’ would be too strong a word.It doesn’t really see, it just senses and it sends back a signal.” Herealized he was speed-rapping and shut up.up.
Shiara moved her fingers through the thing’s substance, feeling for themagic. The detector continued to flutter undisturbed by the intrusion in to itsbody. “That is not much use,” she said doubtfully. “It sees solittle and can tell so little of what it sees.” She drew her hand backsharply and the gesture reminded Wiz how much it cost her to have anything todo with magic.agic.
“One of them is almost no good at all. But I’m going to produce themby the hundreds. I’ll flood the Freshened Sea with them. I’ll even send themover the League lands—who knows?—perhaps the City of Night itself.”.”
Shiara frowned even more deeply. “How long did it take you to producethis ’detector’?””
“Separate from the tools? I don’t know. Maybe three days.”
“And you will make hundreds of them? In your spare time, perhaps.Impractical, Sparrow. Or do you plan to teach the craft to a corps ofapprentices?”?”
“Oh, no. When I say three days, I mean the time it took me to writethe program to make them. Once I run some tests and make sure it’s up to spec,I’ll start cranking them out automatically.”.”
“You will not need to watch them made? Isn’t that dangerous?”
Wiz shook his head. “Not if I do it right. That’s the whole point ofthe interpreter, you see. It lets you spawn child processes and controls theiroutput.”.”
It was Shiara’s turn to shake her head. “Magic without a magician. Atrue wonder, Sparrow.””
“Yeah,” said Wiz uncomfortably, “well, let’s make sure itworks.””
Silent, dumb and near invisible as a smear of smoke, the thing floatedabove the Freshened Sea. Sunlight poured down upon it. Waves glittered anddanced below. Occasionally birds and other flying creatures wheeled or doveabove the tops of the waves within its view. Once a splash bloomed white as asea creature leaped to snare a skimming seabird.ird.
A human might have been entranced by the beauty, oppressed by the bleaknessor bored to inattention by the unchanging panorama below. The wisp ofnear-nothingness was none of these things. It saw all and understood nothing.It soaked in the impressions and sent them to a bigger and more solid thingriding the air currents further north. That thing, a dirty brown blanketperhaps large enough for a child, flapped and quivered in the sea winds as itsucked up sense messages from the wisp and hundreds of its fellows. Mindlesslyit concentrated them, sorted them by content and squirted them back to a cragoverlooking the Freshened Sea where three gargoyles crouched, staring constantlysouth.ly
The gargoyles too soaked in the messages. But unlike the things lower inthe hierarchy and further south, they understood what they saw. Or at leastthey were capable of interpreting the images, sounds and smells, sortingaccording to the criteria they had been given and acting on the results.ts.
Most of what came their way, the sun on the waves, the fish-and-mud smellof the sea, the wheel of the seabirds, they simply discarded. Some, such as thesplash and foam of a leaping predator, they stored for further correlation. Avery few events they forwarded immediately to a glittering thing atop a ruinedtower in a charred stockade deep in the Wild Wood.ood.
Thus it was that a certain small fishing boat seemed bound to pass beneaththe cloud of wisps which was gradually blanketing the Freshened Sea. But no netis perfect and no weave is perfectly fine. Scant hours before the last of theinsubstantial detectors wafted into position in that area, the boat sailedplacidly through the unseen gap in the unsensed net.net.
Her name was the
On the deck of the
His orders were strict. Bring the captured magician back at all costs. Donot fly. Use no magic which might attract attention, not even the sort ofsimple weather spells a fisherman with a mite of magical ability could bereasonably expected to possess.ss.
When the flying beasts brought the raiders back to their seashore camp, hehad bundled his captive aboard the waiting boat and set out at once for theLeague’s citadel in the City of Night. The other raiders had rested the day andthen flown off on their great gray steeds after sunset. They had been back atthe City of Night for days now, while the Shadow Captain and his crew ofdisguised fishermen faced more days of sailing to reach the same destination.It was much safer to sneak his prize south like this at the pace of anarthritic snail, but it tried even the legendary patience of a Shadow Warrior.arrior.
The sea was against them. That was to be expected at this time of the year,when what winds there were blew up from the south and the frequent storms camefrom the south as well. It was not a time for swift travel upon the FreshenedSea.ea.
The Shadow Captain knew too that the Council was searching strongly for himand his prisoner. Several patrols of dragon riders had flapped overhead,gliding down to mast-top height to check him and his boat. The Shadow Captainhad stood on the poop and waved to them as any good Northerner would, neverhinting that what the dragon riders sought lay in a secret cubby in the bow ofhis vessel.ssel.
For two days his ship had been trailed by an albatross which floated lazilyjust off the wavetops as if searching for fish in the
While the albatross was with them, the Shadow Warriors had acted the partof fishermen, casting their nets and pulling in a reasonable catch, which theygutted and salted down on the deck. Thus they kept their cover, but it slowedthem even more.re.
* * *
The object quivered gossamer and insubstantial in the magic field whichheld it, fluttering weakly against the invisible walls..
“What is it?” Atros asked.
“We do not know, Lord,” the apprentice told him. “One of ourfliers found it in the air above the city.””
“What does it do?”
“We do not know.”
“Well, what do you know?” the magician snapped.
“Only that we have never seen its like before,” the apprenticesaid hastily..
“Hmmm,” Atros rubbed his chin. “Might it be neutral?”
The apprentice shrugged. “Quite possibly, Lord. Or perhaps the work ofa hedge magician. No wizard would waste his substance making such abagatelle.”.”
The magician regarded the caged thing on the table again. He extended hissenses and found only a slight magic—passive magic at that. “Very well.Return to your watch. Inform me if any more of these are found.”.”
“Thy will, Lord. But they are very hard to find or see.”
“Wretch! If I need instruction from apprentices I will ask for it. Nowbegone before I give you duty in the dung pits.””
“What does this do?” Shiara asked, tracing the slick surface ofWiz’s latest creation dubiously..
“It’s a Rapid Reconnaissance Directional Demon—R-squared D-squared forshort.” He grinned..
“It’s an automatic searcher. It transports to a place, searches forobjects which match the pattern it’s been given and if it doesn’t find such anobject, it transports again. When it does find the object, it reports back. Ithas a tree-traversing algorithm to find the most efficient searchpattern.”rn.”
“I doubt you’ll find what you want in a tree,” Shiara saiddoubtfully..
“No, that’s just an expression. It’s a way of searching. You see, youpick a point as the root and…””
“Enough, Sparrow, enough,” said Shiara holding up her hand.”I will trust you in this.” She frowned. “But why did you makeit in this shape?”?”
“To match its name,” Wiz grinned.
“You see, Kenneth, names are very important,” Wiz said seriously.”Picking the right ones is vital.””
Wiz sucked another lungful of cold clear air and exhaled a breath that wasalmost visible. Overhead the sun shone wanly in a cloudless pale blue sky. Theweak winter’s light gave the unsullied snow a golden tinge.e.
“Yes, Lord,” replied Kenneth noncomittally from where he loungedagainst a tree, his long bow beside him..
Wiz paid no heed to the response. He continued to pace the little clearingas he talked, not really looking at Kenneth at all. The crusted snow crunchedunder his boots as he circled the open space among the leafless trees yetagain.in.
“The wizards are right,” Wiz went on. “Names are critical.You need a name that you can remember, that you can pronounce easily and thatyou aren’t likely to use in conversation.” He smiled. “It wouldn’t doto ask someone to pass the salt and summon up a demon, would it?”t?”
“No, Lord,” said Kenneth tonelessly
Wiz never stopped talking, even though Kenneth was behind him now.”And most importantly, Kenneth, most importantly I need names that easilydistinguish the named routine, uh, demon. I can’t afford to get mixed up.”.”
“It’s a common problem in programming. There’s a trick to namingroutines meaningfully without violating the conventions for the language orgetting things confused.” Wiz altered his stride slightly to avoid a spotwhere a dark rock had melted the snow into a dirty brown puddle. “Here I’musing a mixture of names of Unix utilities for routines that have cognates inUnix and made-up names for the entities that aren’t similar to anything. So Ihave to pick the names carefully.”ully.”
“Yes Lord.” Kenneth shifted slightly against the tree andsquinted at the pale sun, which was almost touching the treetops. Fingers ofshadow were reaching into the clearing, throwing a tangled net of blue acrossthe golden snow and dirty slush alike.ke.
“It’s especially important that I keep the difference in the similarroutines straight,” Wiz said. “I have to remember that “find”doesn’t work like “find” in Unix. In Unix…”
“Lord…” said Kenneth craning his neck toward the lowering sun.
“… the way you search a file is completely different. You . ..””
A harsh metallic screech stopped Wiz in his tracks. He looked over hisshoulder and glimpsed something huge and spiky outlined against the sun..
Open-mouthed, he looked up from the freezing mud in time to see a scalybat-winged form of glittering gold zooming up from the clearing, one wingdipping to turn again even as its momentum carried it upward.d.
From across the clearing Kenneth’s bowstring sang and a tiny patch of paleblue daylight appeared in the membrane of the thing’s left wing close to thebody. The creature craned its snaky golden neck over its shoulder and hissedgape-fanged at its tormentor.or.
Then it was diving on them again.
Wiz rolled and rolled toward the edge of the clearing, heedless of the snowand mud. Kenneth’s bow thrummed again and Wiz heard the whine of the arrow asit passed close to his right. Then the beast shrieked and there was a heavythud as it struck earth. Wiz looked up to see the golden dragon-thing on theground not five yards from him. The wings were still spread and the animal wasusing a wickedly-taloned hind leg to claw at the arrow protruding from itsbreast. There was a spreading scarlet stain on the glowing golden scales andthe creature roared again in rage and pain.d pain.
Suddenly a second arrow sprouted a hand’s span from the first. The animalstopped pawing at the arrow in its chest and brought its head up to look acrossthe clearing. There was a disquieting intelligence in its eyes. Its head snakedaround and it caught sight of Wiz. Without hesitating the beast dropped its legand started toward him.him.
Kenneth’s great bow sang yet again and another arrow appeared in the thing,in the shoulder this time. But the beast paid it no heed. It advanced on Wizwith a terrible evil hunger in its eyes.s.
Wiz whimpered and scrambled backward, but his heavy cloak had wrappeditself around his legs and it tripped him as he tried to rise..
The creature craned its neck forward eagerly and the huge fanged mouthgaped shocking red against the golden body. The arrows in the chest wobbled intime with its labored breathing and the dark red blood ran in rivulets down itsbody to stain the snow carmine.ne.
Again an arrow planted itself in the thing’s body and again it jerkedconvulsively. But still it came on, neck craning forward and jaws slaveringopen as it struggled to reach Wiz.z.
The great eyes were golden, Wiz saw, with slit pupils closed down to merelines. The fangs were white as fresh bone, so close Wiz could have reached outand touched them could he have freed an arm from the cloak.k.
Suddenly the beast’s head jerked up and away from its prey and it screameda high wavering note like a steamwhistle gone berserk..
Wiz looked up and saw Kenneth, legs wide apart and his broadsword claspedin both hands as he raised it high for the second stroke against the long neck.The guardsman brought the blade down again and then again, slicing through theneck scales and into the corded muscle beneath with a meat ax thunk.nk.
The beast twisted its neck almost into a loop, shuddered convulsively, aswas suddenly still..
The silence of the clearing was absolute, save for the breathing of the twomen, one of them panting in terror and the other breathing hard from exertion..
“Lord, are you all right?”
“Ye… yes,” Wiz told him shakily. “I’ll be…”He drew a deep breath of cold air and went into a coughing fit. “What wasthat thing?”?”
“One of the League’s creatures,” Kenneth said somberly. “Nowyou see why you must not walk alone, Lord.””
Wiz goggled at the golden corpse pouring steaming scarlet blood from therents in the neck. “That was for me?””
“I doubt it came here by accident,” Kenneth said drily.
Wiz tried to stand, but the cloak still tangled him. He settled for rollingover onto his hands and knees and then working the entangling folds of cloth outof the way before rising.g.
“You saved my life. Thank you.”
The guardsman shrugged. “It was Bal-Simba’s command that you beprotected,” he said simply. “Can you walk, Lord?””
“Yes. I can walk.”
“Then we had best get you back to the compound. You’ll catch cold, wetas you are.””
Wiz looked down at his soaked and muddy cloak and for the first time feltthe icy chill of his wet garments. He shivered reflexively..
“Besides,” Kenneth said thoughtfully, “it is beginning toget dark and mayhap there are more of the League’s creatures about.””
Wiz shivered again and this time it had nothing to do with the cold.
Back at the compound, Shiara was concerned but not surprised at the attack.
“We could hardly expect to keep ourselves secret forever,” shesighed. “Still, it will be inconvenient to have to be much on our guard. Ithink it would be best if you discontinued your walks in the Woods,Sparrow.”w.”
“I was thinking the same thing myself, Lady,” Wiz said ferventlyfrom the stool in front of the fire where he huddled. Save for a clean cloak hewas naked and the fire beat ruddy and hot on his pale skin as he held thegarment open to catch as much warmth as possible.le.
“Uh, Lady… I thought we were supposed to be protected againstattacks like that.””
Shiara frowned. “Sparrow, in the Wild Wood there is no absolutesafety. Even with all the powers of the North arrayed about us we would not becompletely safe. With Bal-Simba’s protection we are fairly immune to magicattack and the forest folk will warn of any large non-magical party thatapproaches. But a single non-magical creature can slip through our watchers andwards all too easily.”ily.”
“What about a single magical creature?” Wiz asked.
Shiara smiled thinly, her lips pressed together in a tight line.”Believe me, Sparrow, I would know instantly of the approach of anymagic.”.”
From the corner where he had been listening, Kenneth snorted. “If allthey can send against us are single non-magical beings then they stand a poorchance of getting either of you.” He tugged the string of his great bowsignificantly. “Lady, I own the fault today was mine. I was not properlyalert. But rest assured it will not happen again!”in!”
“It would be well if it were so,” Shiara said. “But I am notcertain they expected to get anyone in today’s attack.””
“They came darned close,” Wiz said.
“Oh, had they killed or injured one of us the League would have beenhappy indeed, but I think they had little real expectation of it.””
“Then what is the point?” asked Kenneth.
“In a duel of magics you seek at first to unbalance your opponent. Tobreak his concentration and unsettle his mind and so lay him open to failure. Ithink the League’s purpose in such attacks is to upset us and hinder ourwork.”k.”
“Then they failed twice over,” Wiz said firmly and stood up.”I’m dry enough and I’ve got work to do tonight. Kenneth, will you hand memy tunic?”?”
Another day, near evening this time, and Wiz had another creation todemonstrate to Shiara..
“Here, let me show you.” Wiz made a quick pass and a foot-tallhomunculus popped into existence. It eyed Wiz speculatively and then started togabble in a high, squeaky voice.e.
“ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ1234567890,”the creature got out before Wiz could raise his hand again. At the secondgesture it froze, mouth open.n.
“What good is that thing?” Shiara asked.
“You told me wizards protect their inner secrets with passwords? Well,this is a password guesser. When it gets up to speed it can run throughthousands of combinations a second.” He frowned. “I’m going to haveto do some code tweaking to get the speed up, I think.”k.”
“What makes you think you can guess a password even with such a thingas that?” Shiara said..
Wiz grinned. “Because humans are creatures of habit. That includeswizards. The thing doesn’t guess at random. It uses the most likely words andsyllables.”.”
“Ricidulous,” Shiara snorted. “A competent wizard choosespasswords to be hard to guess.””
“I’ll bet even good wizards get careless. You remember I told you weused passwords on computer accounts back home? There was a list of about 100 ofthem which were so common they could get you into nearly any computer and thechances were at least one person had used one of them.em.
“Look, a password has to be remembered. I mean no one but an idiotwrites one down, right?” Shiara nodded reluctantly. “And you have tobe able to say them, don’t you?” Again Shiara nodded.d.
“Well then, those are major limits right there. You need combinationsof consonants and vowels that are pronounceable and easy to remember. You alsocan’t make them too long and you probably don’t want to make them too short.Right? Okay, this little baby,” he gestured to the demon on the table,”has been given a bunch of rules that help guess passwords. It’s not arandom search.”rch.”
“But even so, Sparrow, there are so many possible combinations.”
“That’s why he talks so fast, Lady.”
They brought Moira on deck the day the
With no one at her oars and no wind behind her, the
Everywhere the southland was bleak and blasted. The earth had been rippedopen repeatedly by magic and nature and had bled great flows of lava. Now itwas dark and scabbed over as if the wounds had festered rather than healed. Thesky was dark and lowering, lead gray and filled with a fine gritty ash thatsettled on everything. In the distance dull red glows reflected off the cloudswhere still-active volcanoes rumbled and belched. The chill south wind broughtthe stink of sulfur with it. Nothing lived in this land save by magic.magic.
Moira was hustled off the ship and hurried up the street by a dozen of thefalse fishermen. After days in the cramped cubby it was agony for her to walk.But her captors forced the pace cruelly even when she cried into her gag inpain.in.
The street ended suddenly in a great wall composed of massive blocks ofdark red lava. The party turned right at the wall and there, in a shallowdead-end alley, was a tiny door sheathed in black iron. The Shadow Captainknocked a signal on the door and a peephole slid back, revealing a hideouslytusked unhuman face. Quickly the door opened and Moira was thrust through intothe midst of a group of heavily armored goblins. The goblins closed in and boreher off without a word or backward glance.lance.
“Only one magician, you say?” Toth-Set-Ra asked the ShadowCaptain harshly..
“Only the woman, Dread Master. There were two other humans within thewalls, the former witch they call Shiara and a man called Sparrow. She calledhim Wiz.”.”
“And they were not magicians?”
“I would stake my soul upon it.”
Toth-Set-Ra eyed him. “You have, captain. Oh, you have.”
The Shadow Captain blanched under the wizard’s gaze. “I found no othersign of a magician there,” he repeated as firmly as he could manage..
“There should have been at least one other magician, a man. You’resure this Wiz or Sparrow was not a magician?””
“He had not the faintest trace of magic about him,” said theShadow Captain. He was not about to tell Toth-Set-Ra there had been somethingstrange about that man.n.
“We shall see,” Toth-Set-Ra said and waved dismissal. “Nowreturn to your ship and await my pleasure.” The Shadow Captain abasedhimself and backed from the room.m.
Toth-Set-Ra watched him go and drummed his fingers on the inlaid table. Hewas frantically anxious to know what this new prisoner could tell him, but hewas skilled enough in the ways of interrogation to know that a day or two ofisolation in his dungeons would do much to break her spirit. Question amagician too soon and she was likely to resist to the point of death. First youmust shake her, wear away her confidence. Then she would be more pliable tomagical assaults and more susceptible to pain. pain.
Tomorrow would be soon enough. Let her lie a while in the dungeons. Thenlet five or six of the goblins use her. And then, then it would be easy to findout what she knew.w.
He smiled and his face looked more like a skull than ever. Yes, it wouldtake a little time. But then, he had the time..
“(defun replace—variables (demon))” Wiz muttered,sketching on a clean plank with a bit of charcoal. “((let((!bindingsnill)))”
Wiz turned from the spell he was constructing to see Donal standing in thedoor, near blocking out the light..
“You made me lose my place,” he said accusingly.
“Sorry Lord, but it’s Kenneth. He’s asked for you and the Lady.”
Reluctantly Wiz put down the stick of charcoal and stood up, feeling hisback creak and his thighs ache from sitting in one position on the hard benchtoo long. “What is it?” he asked. “More trouble?”?”
Donal regarded Wiz seriously. “I think he wants to sing a song,”he said..
“A song?” Wiz asked incredulously. “He takes me away from mywork to sing a song?””
Donal’s face did not change. “Please, Lord. It is important.”
As they stepped out of the hut, Wiz realized it was mid-morning. The airwas still chill, but no longer iron-hard. The sun was warm even as the earthwas cold. Spring was on its way, Wiz thought idly as Donal led him to thecourtyard. Shiara was already there, sitting on the stump used to chopfirewood, her stained and worn blue cloak wrapped firm around her, but the hoodthrown back and her hair falling like a silver waterfall down her back.back.
Kenneth stood facing her. He was holding a small iron-stringed harp Wiz hadnever seen before. From time to time he would pick a string and listendistractedly to the tone.e.
Shiara reached a hand out of her cloak and clasped Wiz’s hand briefly.
“You may begin Kenneth,” she said.
Kenneth’s expression did not change. He struck a chord and a silvery pealfloated across the court and up to the smokestained peak of Heart’s Ease..
“Now Heart’s Ease it is fallen
for all the North to weep
And the hedge witch with the copper curls
lies fast in prison deep”
His voice was a clear pure tenor and the sound sent chills down Wiz’sspine. There was loss and sadness in the music and the pain Wiz had felt sincethat terrible night Heart’s Ease fell came rushing back with full vigor.Instinctively he moved closer to Shiara.ra.
“And none can find or follow
for there’s none to show the way
and magic might and wizards ranked
stand fast in grim array
There’s neither hope nor succor
for the witch with copper hair
for the Mighty may not aid her plight
deep in the Dark League’s lair
Where the Mighty dare not venture
the meek must go instead
for shattered hearth and stolen love
and companion’s blood run red.
There’s the Lady called Shiara
with blue, unseeing eyes
whose magic’s but a memory
but still among the wise.
There’s a Sparrow who’s left nestless now
bereft by loss of love
whose land lies far beyond his reach
past even dreaming of
With neither might nor magic
their wit must serve in place
and wizard’s lore and foreign forms
twine in a strange embrace
But the fruit of that embracing
is nothing to be scorned
and the hedge witch with the copper curls
may yet be kept from harm
And if there’s no returning
the witch with flame-bright hair
the price of a Sparrow’s mourning
be more than the League can bear.”
Kenneth’s voice belled up over the harp and the song was strong off theruined stone walls behind..
“For there will be a weregeld
for life and hearth and love
though worlds may shake and wizards quake
and skies crash down above.
Aye, there will be a ransom
and the ransom will be high
for the blood-debt to a Sparrow
the League cannot deny.”
He stopped then, lowered the harp and bowed his head.
“Thank you, Kenneth,” said Shiara. And Wiz stepped forward toembrace the soldier roughly..
“The mood was upon me, Lady,” Kenneth said simply. “When themood is upon me, I must.””
“And well done,” said Shiara, standing up. “Thank you forthe omen.””
“So, Sparrow,” she sighed. “We go soon. Do we gotomorrow?””
“I don’t know Lady,” Wiz protested. “I’ve still got somespells to tune and…” Unbidden a quotation from his other life rose inhis mind. .
“Tomorrow, Lady. Tomorrow we strike.”