that gladly, men who were fortified with every spell the learning here could summon for their arming. And there has come back out of Sippar — nothing! For these Kolder are not as other men and we know nothing of their devices of detection, save that they appear to be infallible. At last the Guardian forbade any further such ventures, since the drain of Power was too great to have only failure always as an answer. I, myself, have tried to go, but they had set a boundary spell which I cannot break. To land on Gorm would mean my death, and I can serve Estcarp better alive. No, we shall not tear out this sore until Sippar falls, and not yet have we any hopes of bringing that about.”

“But if Sulcarkeep is threatened?”

Koris reached for his helm. “Then, friend Simon, we ride! For this is the strangeness of the Kolder: when they fight upon their own land or their own ships, the victory is always theirs. But when they assail clean territory where their shadow has not yet fallen, then there is still a chance to blood them, to swing swords which bite deep. And with the Sulcarmen the war ravens feed well. I would mark my Kolders when and while I can.”

“I ride with you.” That was a statement more than a question. Simon had been content to wait, to learn. He had set himself to school with the patience he had so painfully learned in the past seven years, knowing that until he mastered the skills which meant life or death here he could not hope for independence. And once or twice in the night watches he wondered whether the vaunted Power of Estcarp had not been used to bring about his acceptance of the status quo without question or rebellion. If so, that spell was wearing thin now; he was determined to see more of this world than just the city, and he knew that either he rode now with the Guard or he would go alone.

The Captain studied him. “We go for no quick foray.”

Simon remained seated, knowing the other’s dislike of being towered over and willing to propitiate him by that costless courtesy.

“When have I seemed to you one who expects only easy victories?” he got a caustic bite into that.

“See that you depend upon the darts then. As a swordsman you are still scarcely better than a stall keeper of Karsten!”

Simon did not fire at that jibe, knowing that it was only too true. As a marksman with the dart guns he could match the best in the hold and come off a shade the winner. Wrestling and unarmed combat, to which he brought the tricks of Judo, had given him a reputation with the men now reaching to the border forts. But in sword use he was still hardly better than the gawky recruits with only boy-down to be scrubbed from their cheeks. And he swung a mace which Koris handled with cat-ease as if it were a shoulder-breaking burden.

“Dart gun it is,” he returned readily. “But still I ride.”

“So be it. But first we see whether or no any of us are to take the road.”

That was decided in the conclave into which the officers under Koris, the witches on duty in the hold, were summoned. Though Simon had no official standing in that company, he ventured to follow the Captain and was not refused entrance, taking his place on the ledge of one of the window embrasures to study the company with speculation.

The Guardian who ruled the keep and Estcarp beyond, the woman without a name who had questioned him on his first coming, presided. And behind her chair stood that witch who had fled before the hounds of Alizon. There were five more of the covenanted ones, ageless — in a way sexless — but all keen-eyed and watchful. He would far rather fight with them behind him than standing in opposition, Simon decided. Never had he known any like them, or seen such power of personality.

Yet facing them now was a man who tended to dwarf his surroundings. In any other company he might well have dominated the scene. The men of Estcarp were lean and tall, but this was a bronze bull of a man beside whom they were boys not yet come to their full growth. The armor plate which hooped his chest could have furnished close to two shields for the Guard, his shoulders and arms were a match for Koris’ but the rest of his body was in keeping.

His chin was shaven, but on his broad upper lip a mustache bristled, stretching out across his weathered cheeks. And eyebrows furnished a second bar of hair on the upper part of his face. The helm on his head was surmounted with the skillfully modeled head of a bear, its muzzle wrinkled in a warning snarl. And a huge bearhide, tanned and lined with saffron yellow cloth, formed his cloak, gold-clawed forepaws clasped together under his square chin.

“We of Sulcarkeep keep traders’ peace.” Manifestly he was trying to tutor his voice to a tone more in keeping with the small chamber, but it boomed through the room. “And we keep it with our blades, if the need arises. But against wizards of the night of what use is good steel? I do not quarrel with the old learning,” he addressed the Guardian directly, as if they faced each other across a trading counter. “To each man his own gods and powers, and never has Estcarp pushed upon others their own beliefs. But Kolder does not so. It laps out and its enemies are gone! I tell you, lady, our world dies, unless we rise to stem a tide together.”

“And have you, Master Trader,” asked the woman, “ever seen a man born of woman who can control the tides?”

“Control them, no, ride them, yes! That is my magic.” He thumped his corselet with a gesture which might have been theatrical, save that for him it was right. “But there is no riding with Kolder, and now they plan to strike at Sulcarkeep! Let the stupid wits of Alizon think to hold aloof, they shall be served in turn as Gorm was. But Sulcarmen man their walls — they fight! And when our port goes, those sea tides sweep close to you, lady. Rumor says that you have the magic of wind and storm, as well as those spells which twist a man’s shape and wits. Can your magic stand against Kolder?”

Her hands went to the jewel on her breast and she smoothed it.

“It is the truth I speak now, Magnis Osberic — I do not know. Kolder is unknown, we have not been able to breach its walls. For the rest — I agree. The time has come when we must take a stand. Captain,” she hailed Koris, “what is your thought upon the matter?”

His handsome face did not lose its bitter shadow, but his eyes were alight.

“I say that while we can use swords, then let us! With your permission, Estcarp will ride to Sulcarkeep.”

“The swords of Estcarp shall ride, if that is your decision, Captain, for yours is the way of arms and you speak accordingly. But also shall that other Power ride in company, so what force we have shall be given.”

She made no summoning gesture, but the witch who had spied in Alizon moved from behind the chair to stand upon the Guardian’s right hand. And her dark, slanted eyes moved over the company until they found Simon sitting apart. Had a shadow of a smile, gone in an instant, spread from her eyes to her lips? He could not have sworn to it, but he thought that was so. He did not understand why, but in that moment Simon was aware of a very fragile thread spun between them, and he did not know whether he chafed against the thinnest of bonds or not.

When they rode out of the city in the midafternoon Simon discovered by some chance his mount matched pace with hers. As the men of the Guard she wore mail, the scarfed helmet. There was no outward difference between her and the rest, for a sword hung at her hip, and the same sidearm at her belt as Simon carried.

“So, man of war from another world,” her voice was low and he thought it for his hearing alone, “we travel the same train once again.”

Something in her serene composure irked him. “Let us hope this time to hunt instead of being hunted.”

“To each his day,” she sounded indifferent. “I was betrayed in Alizon, and unarmed.”

“And now you ride with sword and gun.”

She glanced down at her own equipment and laughed. “Yes, Simon Tregarth, with sword and gun — and other things. But you are right in one thought, we hasten to a dark meeting.”

“Foretelling, lady?” His impatience ripened. For that moment he was an unbeliever. It was far easier to trust in steel which fitted into the hand than in hints, looks, feelings.

“Foretelling, Simon.” Her narrow eyes regarded him still with that shadow smile somewhere in their depths. “I am laying no geas, nor quest upon you, outland man. But this I know: our two strands of life stuff have been caught up together by the Hand of the Over Guardian. What we wish and what will come of it may be two very different things. This I shall say, not only to you, but to all this company — beware the place where rocks arch high and the scream of the sea eagle sounds!”

Simon forced an answering smile. “Believe me, lady, in this land I watch as if I had eyes set around my head

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