ONE TWENTY SIX
My feeling exactly. But I couldn’t open my mouth to say so and I had a small timorous thought that this guy might not go for modern throwaway humor and silence, involuntary or not, might be my best choice.
He turned on Murac like a firing squad and spat out some words like streaking bullets. Or arrows, possibly, if I wanted to keep the contemporary feel. I didn’t hear either azogging or giztimi but I didn’t think what I was hearing was the local version of ‘good job, well done’ either.
“She holds Silverheart,” said Murac—slowly. As if making sure I’d understand him.
Thanks, friend, I thought, I know named swords are bad news—at least for anyone who doesn’t find the death-and-glory route appealing. It was freaky enough when Mr WS addressed by name the large shining pointy thing that had suddenly appeared in Rose Manor’s hallway. A lot had happened since then, very little of it desirable, and I was willing to bet a full suit of armor against a tattered pink nightgown that it was seriously worse than bad news that the name of my sword was known by a scruffy adventurer. Possibly a scruffy azogging, giztimi-type adventurer. Trying to find a bright side to look on I thought okay, wielding, or trying not to wield, something called Silverheart is a little less discouraging than finding oneself lumbered with something named Doomblade that has a curse on it and hates you.
At least Flowerhair was still alive. Yes. I was keeping her alive. What—or who—was keeping me alive? Hello?
Mr Torpedo Shoulders turned back to me. He brought his horse alongside and I did not flinch, although Monster had turned to stone—and a very handsome statue he would have made with some other rider—and I wasn’t sure he’d’ve moved even if I’d asked. Mr TS pointed peremptorily at my scabbard and said, “See.”
Assuming this meant he wanted to see her, I fumbled for the hilt to draw her out. My hand was shaking so badly it took me a couple of tries but once I had my fingers wrapped around the handle shaft they stopped trembling and I drew her almost smoothly. The torch-bearer moved closer and . . . Silverheart blazed up like a torch herself. Eeeek. There was a collective sigh from the retinue. I briefly closed my eyes. No, my hand was not burning up. I opened my eyes again. I could see rows and rows of grim, grubby, worn-looking people staring at my presently flaming-gold sword, which was throwing some major lumens into the surrounding murk. Most of the people I could see were on horseback, but not all of them. I hoped a few of the beardless ones were women.
The scene could have been the subject of a Pre-Raphaelite painting: the Revelation of the Whatsit. Only the babe holding the sword should be more authoritatively attired. Also I wasn’t sure how long my unaccustomed arm muscles were going to be able to hold the Whatsit up and at this romantic if impractical angle. I hoped Millais or Burne-Jones or whoever was painting fast.
But as if in response to some stray beam of Silverheart’s light, the Gate now blazed up too, the side pillars falling away like curtains being yanked aside, the lintel exploding upward, the carving seeming to organise itself into tiers or sequences of what looked like runes. . . It’s a spell, I thought, and for one terrifying fragment of a moment I felt that I could read it, that I almost knew what it said. . . . But the lava-lamp bubbles, now as bright as tiny teardrop-shaped suns, streamed upwards as if the lintel had been a lid that they had shoved aside like floodwater bursting up through a broken storm-drain—and the runes crumbled and disappeared.
The confusion at the sill heaved wildly, throwing off splashes of streaky darkness like storm-seas on a moonless night crashing over a rocky shore. I could almost hear it as a distant broken roar . . . although it was probably just the horses around me restlessly snorting and stamping and their riders murmuring to them and each other. Did I hear someone say Silverheart? The wildness at the Gate’s threshold steadied . . . settled . . . solidified. My eyes tried to turn it into landscape: were those trees? A ridge of bumpy hills? . . . Fence posts? Steles? Monoliths? It was impossible to guess size or perspective. They could have been thumb sized, garbage-can sized, Empire-State-Building sized. I was pretty sure they weren’t thumb sized. It wasn’t that kind of story.
The Gate had now swallowed up most of the horizon; you could still just about see—or imagine—the demarcation between there and here, a shadowy suggestion of upright jambs—which made me feel sick and dizzy if I let my eyes rest on one or the other—aggravated by the upright lurching things in the Gateway.
Which became . . . rank upon rank of . . . figures, growing taller and taller as if they were walking up a slope toward the Gate . . . and then walking through it. . . .
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