Conan the Avenger Part 13

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"Then came a cry of triumph, for some of us had jumped down among the galley slaves, slain the overseers, and struck the chains from the rowers' ankles. The slaves surged up on the deck like a horde of lost souls. They s.n.a.t.c.hed whatever weapons they could find from the corpses.

Their hatred of their masters must have run deep. Heedless of their own lives, they drove into the Turanian ranks, shouldering us aside. Some flung themselves forward to be spitted upon Hyrkanian swords and spears, while others climbed over their corpses to strangle Turanians with their bare hands. I saw a giant galley slave use a Hyrkanian's body as a club, knocking his foes to the deck, before sinking down with a dozen arrows in his body.

"Confusion reigned. The glittering ranks wavered. Conan yelled a weird battle cry and flung himself into the press. We followed, determined to win or die.

"After that, red h.e.l.l reigned. In a b.l.o.o.d.y tidal wave we swept the s.h.i.+p from stem to stern with steel. We scattered the foe like chaff before the wind of our swords, and the scuppers were choked with blood.

"Conan was terrible as a tiger. His broadsword struck like a thunderbolt. Corpses were scattered about him like wheat stalks before the sickle. He plunged in where the fighting was thickest, and always his advent spelled doom for the Hyrkanians, With all his savage pa.s.sion, he moved toward the p.o.o.p where Yezdigerd himself stood bellowing orders, surrounded by his picked men.

"Conan smote their ranks like a charging elephant. Men went down beneath his sword like dolls. Then a cry of rage came from Yezdigerd, and the king himself rushed to meet him. I think Yezdigerd must have missed him before then, as his surprise was patent to all. Savage curses streamed from his lips as they engaged.

"'I saw your hand in this, Cimmerian cur!' he screamed. 'By Erlik, now you shall reap your deserts! Die, barbarian dog!'

"He aimed a terrific stroke at Conan's head. No ordinary man could have avoided or stopped that swift and powerful blow, but Conan is superior to a dozen ordinary men. With a jarring impact, he parried it in a flas.h.i.+ng movement too quick for the eye to follow."

"'Die yourself, jackal of Turan!' he thundered. For an instant they struck and parried like lightning, while the rest of us stopped fighting to watch. Then a mighty blow shattered Yezdigerd's s.h.i.+eld and made him drop his s.h.i.+eld arm. In one lightning sweep, Conan smote the bearded head from the king's giant body, which crumpled to the deck."

"After that, the Turanians surrendered meekly enough. We did not get many prisoners, for the swords had taken too heavy a toll. A bare half of our original two hundred were left standing, but we had captured or slain three hundred of the Hyrkanian dogs."

He gulped down more wine and held out his cup for a refill. During the pause, a hearer asked: "What about the Turanian yedka? What became of her?"

Amis' brows clouded and he gave a visible shudder. "That was the strangest event of that memorable day. We were binding up wounds and herding prisoners, when the sun seemed to cloud over and a chill of doom fell upon us. The water swirled blackly about our s.h.i.+ps. Wind moaned in the rigging like the lament of a lost soul, though we were under the lee of a cliff.

"Someone cried and pointed up. In the sky appeared a black dot, growing swiftly larger. At first it looked like a bird or bat. Then it grew to a fantastic, horrible shape, manlike but winged. With a rush of vast leathery wings it swooped to the p.o.o.p deck, uttering a shrill cry that smote our hearts like death.

"At that cry, the woman of Maypur stepped from the p.o.o.p cabin, which none of us had yet entered. In the wink of an eye, the monster s.n.a.t.c.hed her up and bore her off, flapping heavily over the oily waters of the channel. In a few seconds both were out of sight, and the sun shone once again.

"We stared at one another, white-faced. Everybody asked his neighbor what had happened. Had the fiend stayed, I am sure we should have all leaped into the sea to escape it, though it was gone so quickly that we had no time for panic. Even Conan looked shaken and pale.

"I have seen that thing before," he muttered, but he would not explain.

Some of us surmised that the devil had come to drag Thanara off to the h.e.l.l of Erlik's wors.h.i.+pers. But others, who had been standing close to her when the creature swooped upon us, said that she showed no fear of it, but rather eagerness, as if she had summoned it herself.

"At last Conan shook himself like one coming out of a daze and bellowed orders to strip the slain of valuables and pitch the corpses over the side, even the body of the king. All he would say of the abduction of Thanara was:

"'Let the d.a.m.ned hussy escape with her bogeyman. I do not war upon women, though I would have striped her hide for her treachery.'

"And that was the end of the matter. We burned the grounded galley and sailed the other one hither."

"And where is Conan? " cried another listener. "Why is he not here to tell us tales of his adventures himself? Will he return as our leader to sweep the Turanians from the sea?"

"Alas, no! The Cimmerian ordered the s.h.i.+ps to make straight for the eastern sh.o.r.e. He said he was on a vital mission. He had paused here only to settle his old score with Yezdigerd. One of the slaves we freed was a Khitan. Conan remained with him for hours, squatting in conversation. They talked of far lands beyond the Himelias. If Khitai be his goal, he must seek some really fabulous treasure. Otherwise, who would be so mad as to try for those lands beyond the sunrise?"

"Why took he not a score of sea rovers with him?"

"That is another mystery. He swore he had taken an oath to journey alone, and that his goal would be unattainable otherwise.

"We landed him on the eastern sh.o.r.e, and the farewell between him and Rolf the northerner was short and manly. The crew in their sorrow began chanting a sea dirge, until he lifted his mighty voice to curse us to silence. We watched him disappear behind a sand dune on his way to unknown perils.

"Rolf is our captain now, and an abler one is not to be found barring Conan. For Conan will always remain the greatest captain of them all, even when Vilayet Sea has become a desert waste and the stars have fallen from the heavens. I drink his health, and may his quest be successful!"

The toast was drunk in a silence oddly out of place in a pirates'

tavern.

6. Treason in the East ----------------------.

"And how fares Her Royal Highness, the Devi?" Conan asked the fat taverner as he sat guzzling a goblet of the scented s.h.i.+rakman wine of Vendhya. Trusting to the disguise of his Kshatriyan garb, he had ventured within its doors to slake his thirst not only for drink but also for knowledge of this alluring woman, whose empire he had saved.

Old memories rushed into his mind. There was a faraway look in his icy blue eyes as he listened.

Although the tavern was almost empty, the rasping voice of its owner took on a cautious note as he bent forward to whisper into the Cimmerian's ear.

"Ah, the Devi rules with a wise and firm hand, though she has no consort to stand by her side and uphold her. But the n.o.bility say the throne needs a warlike spirit. It is even whispered that her cousin Chengir Khan has an eye for the supreme power and also for herself.

Hitherto she has repulsed his wooing, but public sentiment will soon force her to decide. The dynasty must be carried on, and Yasmina must do her duty to the realm."

The stout Vendhyan cast a swift glance through the, open door. Heavy steps and the clank of weapons were heard as a troop swung by, bucklers on their arms and spears on their mailed shoulders. With professional discipline; the soldiers halted at their officer's command. Their scarred old ghebra stepped into the tavern. His swift glance took in everybody, halting for an instant on Conan, then completing its circle back to the host.

Stepping up to the counter, the officer spoke in a whisper with the taverner. A couple of dusty bottles pa.s.sed over the worn boards into the silken sack in his hand. His business concluded, he stepped out with long strides and barked a command. His detachment took up their measured step again.

Conan cast an indifferent glance after the troop as their steps receded. His head was full of Yasmina, alone in her palace, ruling the realm without the support of a consort. He shrugged. The internal affairs of Vendhya were not his present business.'

He had, rather, better look to his own problems. Tomorrow he would be on his way east, toward the farther reaches of the Himelians, and for that long trek he should be well rested. His colossal frame could endure hards.h.i.+ps unimaginable to a civilized man, but on dangerous missions his instincts prompted him to rest when he could, like a carnivore on a long hunt.

"Taverner!" rumbled Conan. "Have you a room for the night? I am near done with fatigue. These desert trips take the sap out of a man."

The Eastern night lay like a hot, caressing, silken blanket over the city of Ayodhya. Stars glittered in diamond splendor against the black sky, and the sickle of the waning moon rode in the west. Torches and candles flared. From bright-lit palaces sounded laughter and music and the patter of dancing girls' feet, while out of dimly illuminated temples rang the austere tones of golden cymbals and the soft ma.s.sed voices of wors.h.i.+pers' choirs.

Conan awoke suddenly, with muscles poised like springs for instant action. He had heard a fumbling at the door of his room. He had lain stretched full-length upon the bed, naked but for his silken breeks, spurning bedclothes in the sultry night. Now he rose noiselessly, sword in hand, alert as a wolf.

The latch was slowly and cautiously depressed. As the door began to open, Conan hid himself behind it. A veiled and robed figure of small stature, dim in the starlight, furtively entered. It halted uncertainly as if astonished to find the room empty.

Conan listened with sensitive ears. He could hear no sound outside.

Clearly, the mysterious visitor had come alone. His purpose was unknown to Conan. Any Vendhyan recognizing Conan would have brought the whole munic.i.p.al guard with him. Many Kshatriyas had not forgotten the marauding hill chief of Ghor, though it had been year? since he had led his hairy hordes down from the hills to pillage. Conan did not intend this situation to remain enigmatic any longer than necessary. Swinging the door silently to with a push of his big hand, he took a stealthy step forward. Like a flash, his hand was over the mouth of the intruder, who was borne down upon the bed like a child despite desperate resistance. Two frightened eyes looked up into Conan's as he hissed:

"Why are you here in my room? Talk, you! But hush your voice!"

He removed his hand from the mouth of the captive and tore away the veil over the face. To his glance was revealed the full lips and straight, narrow nose of a Vendhyan woman. In a voice like the silver chimes of a temple gong, she spoke:

"I came to fetch you to my mistress. She has learned of your coming and is anxious to see you. Don your clothes and we will be on our way. Make haste!"

Oman's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "Why this cursed haste, girl!

Can't your lady let a man sleep in peace? Why not meet me tomorrow?"

"In the day, many people at my mistress' palace would know Conan of Ghor. She does not wish you torn in twain between wild elephants."

Conan was instantly on guard. "Conan of Ghor, eh? Who knows me here?

Who is she? What does she want."

"I cannot tell you. But this she said re I left the palace: 'If he hesitates, tell him the Galzai girl of Mount Yimsha would repay him for the clothes he once gave her.'"

Yimsha! Oman's thoughts wandered back thirteen years, to the momentous days when he had a.s.saulted the evil wizards of the Black Circle, and how he had once provided a girl with clothes bought (at sword's point, true, but still with coin) from a Galzai girl on her way to the well.

Conan the Avenger Part 13

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Conan the Avenger Part 13 summary

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