The restaurant where they had lunch was downtown, with plate-glass windows facing a tree-lined side-street. There was a buffet with a variety of hot and cold savouries and a separate table of desserts.
They did what they always did: got different things and then ate off each other's plates.
When they were settled at a sunny table with a view of the pedestrian traffic, Tova returned the conversation to an earlier topic.
"Maybe it's because we were talking about my dad, but it occurs to me that some of your readers may think that Crane's imprisonment by Merwa is a metaphor for marriage."
"Sonofabitch!" Sam spat, rising to his feet.
Tova was about to be offended until she saw what he's been looking at out the window.
"That couldn't be," she said. "It's not - Monty?"
Sam leaned down and kissed her lips, saying, "Don't eat all my dinner, now, 'cause I'm coming right back," and raced out the door.
As Tova watched, he ran across the street and ducked down the alleyway that ran between two old houses which had been converted to restaurants. Two minutes later he re-emerged, his pace now slow and deliberate, and walked to the corner to cross at the stoplight.
When he finally sat back down at their table his breathing had slowed down to normal but his face was still red.
"You scarfed down all my cheesy cauliflower," he observed.
"Um. I left you some mushroom lasagne. Was it him?"
"I couldn't catch up but I'd say, from the way he took off when he saw me, that it may very well have been."
"We should call the police. Aren't you scared?"
"No," Sam answered, biting the head off an asparagus spear, "I'm just royally pissed off. You were right, what you said the other night – I do need to deal with this whole Monty thing. Especially if he's gonna be coming sniffing around us again. Damn! I didn't realize how angry I was.
"But you'd think a man who writes heroic literature wouldn't just lie down and die when he's attacked. You know what Nicky said when she read my latest draft? She said Crane couldn't be the hero of the story because he ain't actually done nothing."
"That's not true! Wait a minute, is that the real reason you got into the boxing ring with her?"
"What? No, it is not. I got into the ring with her because she needed some real sparring practice and George is too old. Ain't it time for dessert?"
It was time for action.
He had no way of knowing if or when his bat-message would reach his comrades, but Crane had had enough. He needed to recall who he was – Crane the Undeafeated.
He would do as he had always done – outwit his opponent. He would use the weapons to hand, such as they were – the only parts of him that Merwa could not or would not render useless with her freezing paralysis spell – namely, his wits and his mouth.
Each time he had irritated her, he had felt her hold on him loosen slightly. Could it be that disrupting her emotional control could disrupt her arcane power? What damage could he do if he really infuriated her?
He reasoned that if he could but slightly disable the sorcerer and thus weaken her magical strangle-hold then his titanic strength would overcome such threads as remained.
There was but one strategy he could think to use for the first part of his attack. It was an inelegant one, but one she would surely not anticipate; the element of surprise should increase its efficacy.
Summoning all the power remaining in his body – which, despite his arcane imprisonment, was still not inconsiderable – he bellowed "Merwa! A word!"
In an instant the darkness subsided above his face and her sickly, pale one appeared with her long yellow hair hanging lank around it.
"Crane, you've come to your senses! Oh, do let's have a real conversation – let us open our hearts! And in your case," she added, holding up her hand with its long, sharp fingernails, "we might just mean that in the literal sense. You've no idea of the intimate bond that can be produced between two heroes by the sharing of one's blood. What have you to say, my strong protagonist?" she purred.
"Only this," he answered amiably, "but you must come closer to hear. Whispering is also an intimate act."
"Oooh!" Merwa squealed in delight. She leaned her face close to Crane's and hissed, "Vashti will be so jealous."
A moment passed, and Crane kept his mouth closed while Merwa waited with her head bent over his. After another moment, she whispered, "Come now, where's my Crane?"
In answer, he pursed his lips and spat mightily in her eye, then quickly grabbed a hank of her hair in his teeth so that when she reared back, outraged and discomfited, the hair was yanked out at the roots.
With one hand over her offended eye and one held to her wounded scalp, Merwa stumbled from side to side, gasping and cursing in a language which Crane did not recognize.
He took a deep breath to loosen his muscles, and then he heaved himself up to a sitting position, thundering, "Her name is Or-Tikva!"
Leaping out of the coffin where he'd been confined, he added, "Do you dare call yourself a hero! You debase the very word by your use of it. Now," he muttered to himself, "where would she have secreted my sword?"
As he said the last word, there was a soft "clang" as of the vibration of metal. It sounded nearby.
"Sword?" he repeated, his ears quivering for a response. He was rewarded with a louder metallic BANG.
"SWORD!" he commanded at the top of his lungs.
Above his head, there was a grating sound along the rocky ledge where the bats had lately slept, and his gleaming weapon plummeted down and landed with its hilt in his hand.
YOU ARE READING
Once upon a time there was a warrior queen who loved peace ... Mild-mannered writer Samuel J. Burnside is working on his latest adventure story, set in ancient Susa, where Queen Esther is teaching former harem slaves how to fight! But can Sam's new...