"At least now I'll have something concrete to show the Detective," Sam said with grim satisfaction.
Just then the apartment door creaked slowly open ...
Later that day, Crane was refreshing himself in a pure, unpolluted pool when he thought he heard sweet music. As the surface of the water stilled, a face came into view.
A face that was not his own.
"Or-Tikva!" he whispered, glancing over his shoulder at the hunched, unmoving form of Hench.
"I have told you," her fond voice sounded softly in his head, "that you are not alone, my darling."
Ignoring the way his heart hammered at this endearment, Crane noticed that his friend did not appear to be addressing him from her tower room in Susa. He thought he saw leafy boughs beyond her visage.
"Do you wander the woods to make this magic, my lady?" he inquired.
"Indeed, I am in the woods, and closer than you may imagine," she answered. "Your brave comrade Lero summoned me when you were kidnapped. I have tried to locate and contact you ere this but with no success; I can only surmise that you have freed yourself - no great surprise there, of course! - and that this circumstance is what has unblocked the channel of our communication."
"It is so! Free, and close approaching the precincts of Malmort."
"We are not far behind - we lately left the abandoned cave where you were held hostage. We should be able to reconnoiter with you soon - we can see the palace spires in the distance, from our current location - and we have a way of countering Merwa's confoundments, but you must take care. I shall be greatly relieved when our two parties become one again ... You are unharmed then? You certainly look fine."
For the first time in his life Crane considered his physical appearance. He knew that his eyes were an odd light shade of blue and his hair was still thick and dark, but his skin was worn and weathered and marked by the passion with which he'd pursued his adventures.
Yet the lady said he looked fine! That pleased him.
"You - you look most wondrous fair yourself, Lady Or-Tikva," he managed. The words were sincere, though they felt awkward.
But she did not respond, and her image faded, resolving into silken ripples.
Regretfully Crane dipped his hand into the pool to take a final draught - and found that the water caressed his lips in a most sensuous way, laying sweetly on his tongue and then infusing him with energy and inspiration the likes of which he hadn't known for many years.
"Hench!" he bellowed. "Rouse your sorry self! We shall see Malmort before sundown!"
"My block seems to have lifted," Or-Tikva announced as she rejoined the others.
"You have spoken with Crane?" Lero cried.
"Yes, my dear one - he is marvellous well and will undoubtedly be there to meet us when we reach the environs of Malmort," Or-Tikva assured her.
"Which will be soon," Shira added, rolling up the map-scroll she had been studying.
Ayelet spun in joy, almost turning her clinging rat into a projectile, as the others bowed their heads to say a prayer of thanks.
... and the two men looked up from Sam's computer to see who was coming in the door.
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...