Knight of the Demon Queen

Knight of the Demon Queen by Barbara Hambly Read Free Book Online

Book: Knight of the Demon Queen by Barbara Hambly Read Free Book Online
Authors: Barbara Hambly
I’m doin’ there?”
    “Naturally,” she crooned, “I will not send you on your errantry naked. You will know the way from the place where the gate is to the spring in the mountains. And you will have a helper to advise you.”
    “I can hardly wait,” he said.
    And a wind blew the candles out.
    Dreams opened, windows into windows in his mind. In his dream he had been walking for hours and days, weeks maybe, in a bleak stony country where nothing grew but tufts of herbage in crevices. The rock was carved and twisted into waves, caverns, combers, dragons, and razor-edged ridges as if by violent winds, but he felt no wind. Sun hammered on its silver-threaded rusty glassiness. In pools he saw asphalt bubble and drip, but he felt no heat, nor did the steam that rose from the deep clefts have any smell. He came down out of the rock mountains to a maze of dry gullies, sandy flats, and knots of black, wasted trees among gouged walls of rock and earth. He saw the dust scamper, the black trees bend and shake.
    He was a naturalist and a tracker. He could call to mind every foot of the Winterlands, every root and rock and trail. That was what it took to stay alive in his land. Looking around him now he made note of the shape of the land—the notches and ridges that would let him climb to the higher red-and-silver peaks where, he knew, the spring would lie.
    Later still he was beside water and made note there, too, of the windings and changes of the riverbed. Lake flats lay near, speckled with humped gray silent plants barely poking their heads above the surface.
    In this place he saw no life, but something told him that life was there.
    In one hand he held the onyx ink bottle on its long red ribbon. In the other, three flax seeds, like little black beads in his ink-stained palm. The ink bottle was un-stoppered and empty, though he had the stopper with him, too. Holding both was awkward, so he put the flax seeds in the bottle.
    At once smoke began to coalesce from the dry air around him. He heard a voice cursing him, foul and furious. The smoke poured into the bottle, and he felt the onyx turn hot in his hand. He stoppered the bottle. The cursing stopped—or, in the ensuing silence, could still be heard muffled and tiny from within the bottle—but the bottle itself was warm, like bread new-taken from the oven.
    You will have a helper to advise you
, he heard the Demon Queen’s voice say again. Looking down, he saw a little puddle of blood on the dark rock at his feet. The words came out of that. He shivered, knowing what kind of a helper it would be.
    Let him who has trafficked with demons, and bought and sold whatever of money or goods to them, for any reason whatever, be burned alive on a pyre of dry wood soaked with oil, and all those goods with them
, Polyborus had said.
    Let him who has summoned demons through a gate into this world be cut into pieces alive, and those pieces afterward burnt, not leaving so much as a finger unconsumed by the fire.
    Let him who has willingly taken a demon into his body be cut to pieces and burnt, and the ashes mixed with salt and silver and cast into the sea, that nothing of his substance may afterward be used by the Hellspawnedkind.
    Let him who has gone through the gates into Hell be burned, upon dry wood and a hot fire, and bound with chains rune-warded to hold demonkind, for it must be assumed that any man who goes into Hell comes back changed in his body and his soul, if indeed it is the same man, and not merely a semblance of him, who emerges.
    For there is no lawful reason for humankind to touch, or speak to, or have traffic with the Hellspawnedkind. Rather should that man perish, and suffer his wife, or his son, or his goods all to perish utterly, than that demons be given a gate into this world.
    John knew the words. He’d read them a dozen times over fifteen howling winters, back when he’d only sought knowledge for knowledge’s own sake. He’d read them a hundred times since

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