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Elaine Cunningham

The Stories of Elaine Cunningham

CONTENTS

THE KNIGHTS OF SAMULAR

THE BARGAIN

ELMINSTER'S JEST

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE

THE DIRECT APPROACH

SECRETS OF BLOOD, SPIRITS OF THE SEA

THE GREAT HUNT

SPEAKING WITH THE DEAD

STOLEN DREAMS

FIRE IS FIRE

POSSESSIONS

A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE

GAMES OF CHANCE

TRIBUTE

ANSWERED PRAYERS

THE KNIGHTS OF SAMULAR

17 Flamerule, the Year of the Enchanted Trail (925 DR) Griffenwing Keep, a mountain fortress near Ascalhorn

The demon was not at all what Renwick Caradoon had expected.

Massive bat wings, scales the color of molten lava, terror and evil incarnate-the grimoire had hinted darkly of such things. Renwick, given his admittedly small talent for magic, would have been content with a whiff of brimstone and a tentacle or two. To his surprise, the creature standing in a circle of painstakingly drawn symbols looked more like a mildly disgruntled scholar than an agent of evil.

'Have I the honor of addressing the great incubus Yamarral, Lord of Chaos and Carnality?' Renwick inquired cautiously.

In response, the demon held up the book he'd been perusing, displaying the scene vividly painted on night- black parchment. The illustration was moving, and a glance at the writhing figures was all the answer Renwick required.

'You cannot summon a demon without speaking his true name,' Yamarral observed as he tucked the book into his plain brown tunic. 'Do you doubt the laws of magic, or is this your notion of polite conversation?'

Common enough words, and the clipped cadence indicated a very human state of annoyance, but ah, the voice! Music lurked in those deep, rounded tones, and the accent, both charming and elusive, seemed strangely enhanced by the demon's nondescript human appearance. Renwick had heard it said that men were seduced by their eyes and women by their ears. By that measure, innocent and impressionable little Nimra was all but damned.

No, Renwick told himself sternly. Nimra was descended from the Guardians of Ascalhorn. She was a true scion of her illustrious forebears, and a paladin's daughter. She had grown up at her grandsire's knee, her eyes shining with wonder as Maerstar spun tales of magical treasures the Caradoon family had collected for generations. The old bard had staggered out of the ruins of Ascalhorn with a single precious book, but his stories of the family legacy had set Nimra's soul aflame. Renwick had trained her for the coming task. She was resolved to see it through; she would survive with her virtue intact.

'I wish to strike a bargain,' Renwick began.

Yamarral smirked. 'And what boon do you offer me, little wizard? Perhaps you would teach me the art of patience? Clearly you have learned it well; while you labored over the summoning spell, Selune's crescent belly swelled with light three times, and three times did she give birth to moondark.'

Actually, Renwick had been working toward this moment for much longer than three months. Only through long, difficult striving could he cast spells other wizards tossed about with ease. Summoning demons was a tricky business for anyone, and he was justly proud of this accomplishment. Still, the demon's mockery stung.

Renwick reached for the framed miniature on a nearby table and thrust it toward Yamarral's sneering face. 'Save your insults for those who wish you ill, and save your pretty words for this.'

'This' was Nimra, a slender, doe-eyed beauty in the first bloom of maidenhood. Thick braids of glossy brown hair framed a sweet, sun-browned face, and her simple green gown bared her arms and clung to budding curves. The little smile curving her lips gave her the look of a dryad caught in the midst of some small mischief. The portrait was a true and skillfully rendered likeness, and it had the desired effect.

Dark hunger flared in the demon's eyes. For one soul-staining moment, Renwick glimpsed the true nature of the summoned creature. He managed with difficulty to suppress a shudder.

'My brother's daughter, the child of his dissolute youth,' he said. To his relief, his voice did not shake too badly. 'My brother is the paladin Samular Caradoon. His duties often take him far from home, so the girl looks to me for direction. She wishes to learn Mystra's Art. I have promised to find her a suitable teacher.'

'Ah.' Yamarral nodded sagely. 'And you would release me into your world so that I might… school her, in exchange for magic that would set your thoughts in proper order and place the mastery of magic within your grasp.'

As summaries went, the demon's was flawless.

Renwick simply did not see things as other men did. To his eyes, symbols turned this way and that upon the page, rearranging themselves into unintelligible patterns that required long study to decrypt. His mind demanded that certain runes be written in certain colored inks or they would be perceived as something altogether different. There was nothing wrong with his memory, but his spells, once learned, were still unreliable, for he was likely to invert words and gestures. None of these troubles, however, lessened his ambition or dimmed his conviction that he was destined for great things. The notion of gaining mastery over his malady through a demon's magic pained him, as did the role he must play to convince Yamarral that he was a 'worthy' ally, but some paths toward the greater good must needs pass through dark and dangerous places.

'A fair exchange, for you will not soon tire of the girl,' Renwick promised. 'She is as quick-witted as she is fair. Under your tutelage, she could become a wizard of great power. Through her, your dominion over these parts would be assured for many years to come.'

'This has possibilities,' Yamarral admitted. 'And what form would your payment take?'

'A blood token.'

The demon's brows flew upward. 'Long years have passed since a mortal bound himself and his bloodline to my service! I had thought this knowledge lost since before the Ilythiiri took to tunneling into the dirt like badgers and calling themselves drow. But since you know something of my history, I assume you also know what befell those who treated with me?'

'Of course.'

'Of course,' Yamarral echoed with mock gravity. 'And you hope to avoid this… how?'

'I am twin-born.'

For long moments, demon and wizard regarded each other in silence. 'Either you are not quite the fool you appear,' Yamarral said softly, 'or your folly exceeds all boundaries previously known to me.'

A frisson of unease ran up Renwick's spine, but he refused to entertain doubt. Some mystical force bound the twin-born, inclining them toward a shared purpose. This was common knowledge; the demon assumed, as Renwick had intended him to, that Renwick meant to transfer any ill effects of this magic, as well as the legacy of demonic

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