Chapter Thirty-Five

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Deep in the bowels of the palace, the madman named Mr. Crawson rocked to and fro on his stool. He had barred the door, but the water was still seeping in. The weight of it made the thick wooden door groan in its frame.

Water lapped gently at Crawson's feet as he rocked, muttering broken patches of speech to himself. His work lay abandoned on the table before him, small metal parts scattered and glinting like broken glass in the flickering torchlight. The water was coming. It would come for the work. The work. The work would be lost...

Crawson cried out and clutched his pounding skull. Strange sounds and images crowded his brain, jostling for space, an angry mob with murder growling in their throats. They wanted to rip him apart. Had already begun. Every day, it grew worse. The more the demon man asked him to look into the chaos that was his mind, to pull knowledge he was never meant to have from the maelstrom like small, glittering fish--the more Crawson did this, the faster he fell apart.

He looked up at the wall, at the dissected charts and rough blueprints he had produced with frenzied hands. He looked at the rows and rows of boxes neatly stacked on shelves, each containing a dozen or more killing machines--some large enough to rival a longbow, others so small and compact they could be hidden in a lady's bodice. All, shaped by his hands.

The work. The work. The work.

Crawson clutched his head tighter and moaned.

Then, as if from nowhere and yet everywhere at once, he heard a voice. It wasn't like the other voices, that growled and jibbered and screamed. This voice was low, gentle--a lullaby.

Row, row, row your boat...

Slowly, Crawson lowered his gnarled hands from his head. He blinked, then rubbed his eyes. The voice was still there, sweet and clear in his mind. It eased his panic and fear like a gentle hand smoothing creases from a troubled brow.

Gently down the stream....

And he thought suddenly of his daughter, Ephelle. Of his wife, Cynra. He thought of the vast, calm sea at dawn, and the warmth of his home. He remembered, for the first time in many weeks, who he was--and who he had been.

Merrily, merrily, merrily...

Crawson looked around again, only this time, he did not gaze upon the boxes, or the blueprints. What he did look at was the door. It had sprung several leaks, and was bloating inward--a belly swollen with water.

Life is but a dream...

The madman named Mr. Crawson, fisherman and father and husband, stood up. He combed his wild hair back from his forehead with one hand. He walked slowly across the room, measuring each step.

In the instant before cast aside the bars, unfastened the bolts, and opened the door, he thought, If this life has been a dream, mayhap I'll waken to a better one.

_____

Thesul clawed his way up a final flight of steep, narrow stairs until he reached level ground, then collapsed face-first on the flagstones. The water was still rising behind him, but, for the time being, he had outrun it.

Thesul lay perfectly still for some minutes, enjoying the cool solidity of stone and the caress of air on his damp skin. All of these things reassure him that he had truly escaped unscathed. He could only presume Mordel had been torn apart and devoured, but that made his own escape taste all the sweeter.

He was alive, he was whole--and now, he had urgent business to attend to.

Thesul got nimbly to his feet. The action made him stagger slightly. He steadied himself against the wall for a moment, then began walking down the dim, narrow passage.

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