THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
THE REBEL PRINCE
The Terrillan Series
THE WARRIOR WITHIN
THE WARRIOR ENCHAINED
THE WARRIOR REARMED
THE WARRIOR CHALLENGED
The Jalav: Amazon Warrior Series
THE CRYSTALS OF MIDA
AN OATH TO MIDA
CHOSEN OF MIDA
THE WILL OF THE GODS
TO BATTLE THE GODS
The Diana Santee Series
GATEWAY TO XANADU
THE FHR SIDE
DAW BOOKS. INC.
DONALD A. WOLLHEIM, PUBLISHER
1633 Broadway. New York, NY 10019
For Paty Cockrum—and not only for being
a good friend. It took more than a friend to
Copyright © 1987 by Sharoo Green.
All Rights Reserved.
Caver an by Ken W. Ketly.
DAW Book. Collectors No. 717.
First Printing, August, 1987
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.
The room was colder than a small room should be, but not
in front of the blazing fire where she sat. The fire jumped
and crackled, trying to get the attention of the uncaring
gray stone all around it, but didn't even succeed in getting
the girl's attention. She sat in the overstuffedtirown leather
armchair, relaxed but intent on something she seemed able
to see in the air in front of thtf'fire and hearth, something
mat seemed to excite her. Her violet eyes glowed in the
firelight and one lock of her platinum blond hair had fallen
over her right shoulder, but other than that she sat unmov~
ing and unspeaking.
Beside her chair, to the left, the dim, warm air stirred
and began to thicken and darken, increasing until it was
deep black and palpable, beating and pulsing with obvious
life- In the midst of the living cloud were two red eyes,
blazing as hot as the fire, intelligent and aware and con-
scious of power in a way most beings never achieved. The
eyes looked around, saw the girt and the way she stared,
narrowed very briefly with disturbance, then widened again.
The black cloud immediately began stirring a second time,
and in five heartbeats it had assumed a form that was
definitely feline in nature, four legs, large body, long tail,
big head and pointed ears. All black but for the two red,
burning eyes, which fastened themselves on the motion-
less. oblivious girl.
6 SHARON GREEN
"If you try it, you're a fool." the black beast-cloud said
to her, its voice low and nearly all snarling growl. "More
minds are lost on that plane than ever make it back, usually
because they try it before they're ready. You're doing the
"I think 1'hear someone calling you, InThig," the girl
answered with faint annoyance, her eyes still on whatever
she saw. "Why don't you go home and see what they
"You're scarcely amusing, girl," the beast InThig
growled, stretching its big body out on the stone beside the
girl's chair. "I'm aware of the fact that you don't care to
have people express concern for you, but I'm not people.
And I'm only thinking of your safety."
"Demons aren't supposed to be concerned," the giri
observed, still not looking at me being she addressed.
"They're also not supposed to think of people's safety.
You're a disgrace to the legends, InThig, and should be
ashamed of yourself. If I'd been the one to summon you,
"Happily, your foster mother has more sense than that,"
InThig replied, the growl turning dry as the blaze in the
eyes sharpened. "If I could have reached her where she's
traveling and brought her back with me, she would be
telling you the same thing. Going to explore that plane BOW
is reckless madness."
"If I were ten years old, it would be reckless madness,"
the girl came back, her annoyance rising so high that she
shifted in the chair. "Since I'm twenty-two and have been
a full sorceress for me last five years, it's nothing more
than necessary research. One must expand with one's
growth, otherwise one ceases growing."
"The witch apprentice Nedra did not achieve the plane
on her own," InThig persisted, the claws on its front feet
curiing into (he stone with a chill-making scrape. "Borinthin
the wizard sent her in and out, taking a simple payment
both before and afterward. Borinthin has always been
attracted to you; if you're determined to go through with
this insanity, why not approach him as Nedra did and. . ."
The demon's voice went on and on, but the giri had
stopped listening. She knew what Nedra had done to achieve
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 7
me plane, but she wasn't about to do the same. The next
time she saw mat prancing, preening Nedra, she'd have
achieved the plane herself, without having had to buy any
favors. Then it would be her turn to crow.
Her eyes were still on the point of space in front of the
hearth. Seeing there not empty space, but the entry she'd
called into existence- Some entries occurred naturally and
only had to be found, and those were called gates; some,
however, needed to be created before they were available
for use, and those were the most dangerous. They gave
access to planes that had no relation to human beings in
any way, places in which humans could not long survive.
For the unSighted to go to many of those places would be
instant death, to remain there permanently in safety impos-
sible even for wizards. All the Sighted could do was visit
for a while, and that was all Laciel was going to do. She
rose from the chair in one fluid motion, stepped two
spaces forward, and was gone from me room.
Her determination carried her another three paces past
the entry into the plane on the other side, and then she
stopped in startlement and awe to look around. Everyone
had always said that that plane was indescribably beauti-
ful. but the words they'd used yere pale and flat in the face
of the actual thing. Rather than feeling dangerous the place
chimed with lovely welcome, crystal song adorning crystal
lace, colors such as she'd never seen before, shapes that
caught the eye and held it. It was filled with the breathy
whispers of lovers, the delight of small children, the inno-
cence of a wholesome heart, the dearest hopes ever to be
dreamt of; she was instantly entranced as she looked around,
her mind no longer alert for what danger there might be.
Danger was unknown in a place like that, always had been
and always would be.
The time rate of her own dimension was unknown in
that other place, but after a thousand heartbeats she was
distracted from her stroll through the overwhelming beauty
by the awareness that her lungs were beginning to labor.
The golden rose that had been bom through her desire to
see it still lay fragrantly on her palm, but its perfume was
no longer reaching her as easily as it had. She knew then
that it was time to return through the entry, and turned to
her left to find the shadowy gate only two steps away.
Slowly and with great reluctance she took those two steps
and then the necessary third—but found her surroundings
unchanged. Chiming loveliness still lay everywhere, laugh-
ing softly in shared'happiness, and the gate shadow was
now three steps to the right. Her heart began to pound with
effort as this time she moved to the right, but once again
stepping through the gate took her nowhere but four steps
over along the singing plane. She had gone twice through
the entry and still hadn't left, and then, as fear began to
rise to accompany shortness of breath, she finally understood.
The plane was not only endlessly beautiful, it also cre-
ated its visitors* fondest wishes; it would create an image
of the entry anywhere Laciel wanted it, but none of those
images would be the real thing. It had taken two days for
the giri to See through to the actual entry, two days in her
own world. From that side a new entry would take at least
as long, but the air she had brought through with her
would last no longer than another pair of minutes.
In desperation the young sorceress began to really look
at the nearest curtain of crystal lace, fully intending to
change it into the air she needed to breathe, but under her
stare the curtain shifted, dissolved, and left behind it—
nothing. She blinked in shock, withdrawing her stare—and
me curtain glimmered back to life, resuming its place
among the other curtains and veils and trailing leaves and
tall, delicate pastel fountains. None of it was real. none of
it had substance, and she was already gasping; there was
nothing in reach with which to make the air she needed,
and the pounding in her head increased and expanded. She
was close to blacking out, she knew, close to the end with
no hope of finding her way back, and then the hand
appeared in front of her. . . .
// — Rikkan Addis
It was heavily overcast that night, and even darker in
the forests all. around them, but none of that was helping.
The small group of men had already split up and melted
away from each other in me humid dark, trying to confuse
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 9
their pursuers, but that wasn't going to help either. They
were being tracked by the soul-leeches that had picked
them up at the castle, and soul-leeches couldn't be shaken
off- He had told them that just before he had left them,
wanting them to know just what their lies had bought them
all, and then he had slipped off into the dark, ignoring
their hissed demands that he return. A moment later they,
too, had chosen separate directions, all except the two who
had been so badly wounded they needed help to keep
moving. If they hadn't kept moving, they would have died
that much sooner.
He was a shadow among shadows as he made his way
deeper into the woods, but one that cursed silently even as
he sharpened his senses to their limit. He had been a fool
to believe those people when they'd told him they were
fighting for their freedom, a fool to let their idealistic
lectures keep him from looking around a bit more care-
iully. They'd begged him to lead them in their revolt, had
pressed their gold on him even before the attack just to
demonstrate their faith and good will, they'd wined him
and dined him and then had insisted he choose from that
group of very willing and very eager females. The time
with the girls had been pleasant enough, but if he hadn't
really believed the men needed him to help them find their
dignity as men, he never would have gotten involved. The
baron was an evil usurper, they had told him, one who
stole their young men for his army and their young girls
for his bed. He had to be stopped for the sake of every
villager in every village in the district, otherwise they were
all doomed to endless depravity.
Just before they had attacked the castle, he had accidentally
come across the real reason they wanted the baron attacked.
The night sounds of the forest had long since resumed
all around him, but suddenly a distant scream rang out,
silencing the daik-dwellers who had no desire to bring
attention to themselves. Immediately he went motionless,
his ears straining for sounds of the pursuit that had just
caught the first of his former comrades, his head up as he
tasted me messages borne upon the faint breeze, his eyes
blazing even in the smothering dark. Bronze-colored those
eyes were, dominating all of his tall, broad form, filled
10 SHARON GREEN
now with self-recrimination and self-disgust. He'd seen the
popinjay just before they'd left their camp to attack the
castle, the silk-covered fop clearly having no intention of
going with them, and had heard one of the men make
some ribald comment about die former baron's nephew.
He'd been too busy shifting the men into position to think
about what he'd seen and heard, but once the attack started
and it was too late to call it off, the truth had finally come
home to him.
He began moving soundlessly through the forest again,
this time cursing the men who had lied to him. Rather man
being a usurper the current baron was the rightful heir,
something made completely clear the moment me castle's
defenses had activated, it was the popinjay who was the
attempted usurper, and he had failed to tetl his greedy
followers that the castle itself would protect its rightful
inhabitant. The old baron's nephew had probably known
mat if the attacking force was targe enough and determined
enough at least a few of them would break through, and
had therefore decided not to mention anything else. Like
the defense that had made men go up in pretty-colored
smoke in me middle of their screaming charge. Like the
defense that made the ground open to swallow up others.
Like the ghost shapes that had flowed through the castle
walls to drink the life from any man they touched. Like me
soul-leeches that had picked up the trail of the few survi-
vors, following them away from the castle and into the
woods. No man had stayed to break into the castle, so the
popinjay had outsmarted himself. Faced with the horrify-
ingly unexpected, his surviving followers had cut and run,
leaving none to assassinate the baron for him.
A second scream came then, this time comprised of two
voices, increasing his pace rather than halting it. If he
could stay far enough ahead of the leeches to make it out
of the district, they would no longer be a danger. They
couldn't live beyond the boundaries of their own district
and they knew it, so once he was out they would not
pursue him. His night vision showed him the faint trail he
was following, helping him to move soundlessly even in
his hurry, but it simply wasn't enough. Those behind him
were moving even faster, and didn't care about how much
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER II
noise they made. They had quarry to catch, and weren't
about to be denied.
When he heard the crashing in the underbrush he knew
he'd lost the race, but it wasn't in him to simply give up.
He stopped and spun about, knowing they'd be on him in
another minute, but he still had the time to compose
himself for a final stand. Ignoring the heavy sword hung
scabbarded at his side he stood staring back up the trail
with his eyes blazing, a blaze that quickly began to spread
to the rest of him. As the blaze spread his body changed,
his form glowing and shifting and melting, until a giant
bronze beast with dripping fangs and eager claws stood in his
place. That was another reason they'd wanted him so
badly, telling him his link-shape was the only thing that
could breech the baron's final defenses, and he'd had no
reason men to disbelieve them. His link-shape could do
quite a lot that was beyond most ordinary mortals, but it
had never before faced soul-leeches. If it had any power
over them, he would soon know.
The crashing through the underbrush turned abruptly
into forms charging at him out of the darkness, too many
to count, too many to avoid. The soul-leeches were small,
but their mouths gaped wide "with needle-pointed teeth,
their claws dripped paralyzing venom, and me pads at the
bottoms of their feet were suckers, designed to hold to
their victim until he was dead and drained. Their victim
snarled, swiped across with the claws of one giant paw and
men leaped aside, but the effort had done no more man
delay the inevitable. More than half a dozen of the bone-
white leeches lay twitching and dying, but the rest were
gathering themselves to fly at him again. He snarled his
frustrated fury and backed a step, knowing that this time
some of them would have him, knowing that the end of his
days had now been found, but just as they began to throw
themselves in his direction a hand appeared before him. . . .
/// — Targa Emmen Su Daylath
The sun was not simply hot, and was no longer far, far
above the land. She knew it had lowered itself to only a
12 SHARON GREEN
few feet above her head, and now tried determinedly to
melt her into a pool of broiled, greasy flesh. She was still
up on her feet and still moving, but her eyes had taken to
closing even as her feet trudged on, and her mind was
beginning to wander.
"Fool woman," she croaked, speaking to herself aloud
again in an effort to recapture her attention. "Found the
tracks and followed them, made sure you didn't lose them,
but didn't realize until much too late how far they'd led
you. Middle of the desert they took you,'too far out to
walk back, then killed your mount. Too smart for animals,
those animals, and now you're the one who's dead. Tribe
will starve for sure if the other hunters are the same kind
of fools, but you won't know it. Another day at least to
any kind of water, and you won't make it."
She grunted agreement with herself as her feet dragged
across the flat, sandy barren, the pain of those steps just
another thing to add to all the rest. The flaming sun bumed
down on die sand as well as herself, and walking through
it barefoot, had become agony. She could close her eyes
against the blinding glare all about, but wrapping her feet
had proven impossible. Her leather shirt had cut into wrap-
pings easily enough, but they hadn't stayed where they'd
been put. They'd fallen off when her attention had wan-
dered, and by the time she'd noticed they were far behind
her. Lack of water was doing that to her, and the heat and
the trail that she couldn't afford to lose. As long as she
kept her attention on the trail, it didn't matter whether or
not she could see it; she could feel its proper place and
therefore follow it. If once she lost that trail, though, she
knew she would never be able to find it again.
"Damn fool woman," she muttered almost silently, her
sand-dry mouth and tongue and throat refusing to produce
any more in the way of sound. "Why don't you just fall
down and give it up?"
She considered that suggestion for a minute, liking the
way it sounded, but for some reason couldn't do it. When
she fell for the final time it would be soon enough to just
lie there, so she didn't have to bother about doing it now.
Also she was a hunter, and hunters didn't do things like
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
She had been a tall, strongly-built, attractive woman
when she'd started the return trek, light brown hair and
dark brown eyes, but that had been days ago. Right then
she was fire-skinned and blistered, bent and limping as
though old, eyes closed in voluntary blindness and lips
cracked like dried-out clay. Her hair was lank and greasy
from sweat and her limbs had begun to tremble, and
suddenly she knew she hadn't been lying just to keep
herself moving- She wasn't going to make it and she was
going to die, probably right that minute. Her shuffling
advance had stopped and she couldn't get it going again,
not even if she tried forever. That was it, she knew, the
final step, and just before she fell for the last time she
opened her eyes—to see the hand. . . .
IV — Kadrim Harra
He'd spent a long time that morning just standing and
staring out a window of his palace, and no one had dared
to disturb him. The king had been moody, they knew, and
it wasn't wise to intrude on a moody king, most especially
not one who had taken his kingdom by the strength of his
sword. That sword had been hanging on the wall above his
throne for more than twenty years now, but it hadn't been
neglected or allowed to rust. When he took it down and
buckled it on there was still no one to question his actions,
not even when he got a mount and rode away from me
palace alone toward the mountains. He had never been the
sort of king who bowed to the will of others just because
they were there to advise him; his advisors offered advice
only when it was asked for, and at other times kept their
mouths prudently shut.
He was into the mountains in no time. moving quickly
through the foothills and then upward toward his favorite
thinking place, his refuge from the demands of kingship. It
took more than an hour of steady riding and climbing to
reach it, and once he did he dismounted slowly and left the
beast untethered, then walked out as far as he could. His
favorite place was a widened platform of a plateau on the far
side of the mountain, and when he stood at the edge and
looked over, he could see a thousand feet and more down
to the slope below, with nothing in the way to mar the
view. He had always loved that place, which made this
particular visit no more than fitting.
"I have come for a final time, old friend," he said to
the view, letting his eyes move slowly from one side to the
other- "1 am no longer able to bear this life, and no longer
young enough to seek another. How foolish a man is to
survive all his battles, for then he becomes that most
pitiful of things, an aged warrior."
He stood silently with his gaze turned inward, remem-
bering the streaks of gray he had seen in his hair and beard
that very morning. Until then he had seen no more than the
bright red of the time of his youth, but after bending down
and having trouble straightening again, he had gone in
shock to study his reflection. The face that looked out at
him still had bright, hard blue eyes, but it was the face of a
man who hadn't seen battle for the length of his oldest
son's lifetime, for long enough for him to have grown old
without his having noticed. He had been discontented for a
long while, and had found it more and more difficult
remembering that he had conquered every foot of land he
could see from horizon to horizon, had taken it and held it
and made it his own; in the beginning the accomplishment
had been very satisfying, but after a time the satisfaction
had palled. Every year he had promised himself that the
very next year he would ride beyond what was his and
claim what others thought was theirs, but ruling his own
was chore enough, and more than enough for a man who
preferred the taking to the ruling. If he took more he
would have more to rule, and more to keep him from any
He sighed as he thought about it and shook his head, a
big man now emptied of what had made him larger than
life. Not one city in his entire kingdom had been able to
stand against his forces when he'd first ridden in attack,
not one that could anticipate his strategy and defend against
it. That, too, had kept him from riding out again, for this
had been the largest and best defended kingdom on the
entire continent before it had fallen to him; after that, what
sport would the others be?
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
Now even the thought of sport made him wince, espe-
cially the sport a man should find interest in till his body
was no longer filled with breath. As he had stood gazing at
himself in the glass that morning, that devil-kitten Sheldis
had come up behind him and circled his body with her
amis, then had begun to stroke him- Rather than respond
to her as he always did, he had for the first time in his life
felt unable, the horror of which had made him send her
away. He was old, and useless, and no longer even a man;
as a king he had lately left running his kingdom to his
eldest five sons, who saw to the thing better man he ever
had. There was nothing left to do but end it entirely,
before he became a burden rather than a king.
"And before word spreads of my vanished manhood,"
be muttered, knowing he would never be able to bear the
shame of that. To need to live with shame would slay a
man, to live with shame and boredom both, far worse than
death. It was better that he end it at once, right there, in
me place he had always loved. He stood at the very edge
of the plateau, his once-strong left hand resting on the hilt
of the sword that had been his only close companion for
many long years, his eyes taking a final pleasure from the
scene he would soon become ,a part of. One last time he
sighed, a wordless farewell to all those he left behind, and
men he raised his foot for the longest stride he had ever
taken. Raised the foot and set the body to following—and
men there was a hand before him. . . .
V — Soffann Dra
The lock was so simple she scarcely paid attention to it,
getting through the door faster than she would have with a
key. It was darker inside than she had expected it to be,
but she couldn't take the time to worry about that. She
slipped inside quickly and silently and shut the door be-
hind her, then groped around trying to find something to
sit on. The man who had paid her me advance had said she
might get there before him, and if she did she was to wait.
She exclaimed in a low voice as she bruised her shin on
something hard, then discovered that the something was a
wooden stool. Beside the stool was a low wooden table,
one to match the height of the seat. She smoothed her
skirts down and sat on the stool, wondering how long she
would have to wait, knowing she would wait as long as
necessary. She had agreed to meet the man in that deserted
part of the city in the dead of night for only one reason,
the same reason that would keep her there until he showed
up- The money he'd given her for the work he wanted
done was only a small part of the ultimate total, more than
she'd ever seen at one time in all her life. With tastes as
expensive as hers, she needed all the money she could get.
She sat on the stool in me absolute blackness, one hand
unconsciously patting her dark, well-kept hair. thinking
about how much danger the job was likely to have. She'd
been told not to let anyone see her getting to the meeting
place, advice that was meant for her sake rather man his.
Whatever he needed opened had to be important, then,
probably something that didn't belong to him. She would
protect herself in the usual way before she started the job,
so if what needed to be opened happened to have the ducal
seal on it, she would not lose her life rather man getting
paid once it was done. There wasn't anyone in the city
better at opening things than she was, and maybe no one
better even on the entire continent; if anything happened to
her, uncounted numbers of things would just have to stay
She chuckled at the thought, knowing exactly how at-
tractive most men found that chuckle. It went perfectly
with her large green eyes and oval, innocent face. her
small but very well-shaped body, her throaty and ex-
tremely intimate voice. All in all her attributes had added
gold pieces to her fee more than a few times, and often
they'd even found her diversions. Some of her male clients
had been rather attractive, and those she had allowed to
buy her certain things in exchange for her favors. The
others she refused no matter what they showered her with,
also refusing to lower her standards for mere gold and
jewels. As long as there were things that needed to be
opened, she could find the necessary gold that way.
And thinking of things that needed to be opened, what
could be keeping her newest client? She shifted on the
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
hard stool in discomfort, really quite surprised that he had
kept her waiting that long. It had been clear that he'd
found her as compelling as most men did. and shouldn't be
that late meeting her. She wouldn't be opening anything
that night, of course, only after they'd come to a firm
agreement and had arranged a rendezvous with which they
both felt safe and comfortable, but first he had to get
She jumped up from the stool with a low gasp when she
heard the faint scrape and loud thump on the other side of
the table. Someone was there in the room with her, some-
one she hadn't even heard breathing in the dark, someone
she hadn't seen when she'd first opened me door and come
in. Unsteadily she considered saying the name he'd given
her, then simply backed slowly away toward the wall
behind her. If it had been her client he would have greeted
her as soon as she appeared, so it had to be someone else.
The fact that the sounds hadn't been repeated wasn't any-
tiling like reassuring, and she couldn't keep from shuddering.
Just as she had decided to break and run for the door, a
dim light began glowing in the middle of the low wooden
table. It wasn't a natural light such as a candle or lamp,
and it froze her in place with ifs eerie pink glow. She knew
it couldn't be anything but magic, but couldn't imagine
why magic was being used against her. She hadn't done
anything to anyone—lately—so there was really no reason—
"Girl," a soft female voice said from the strengthening
glow, a voice she had never heard before. "Did you enjoy
me gold you were given? I know you were expecting
more, but unfortunately there won't be any more. One of
the reasons is on the other side of this table."
Gingerly she edged around the glow to peer at the filthy
floor on the other side of the table, then jumped back with
a gasp. The man who had arranged to meet her there had
gotten there first—but he was dead. He lay sprawled gro-
tesquely on the floor beside a second stool, and the sounds
she'd heard must have been the sounds of his body falling
from the stool.
"He was the only one who knew of my involvement in
this," the voice continued, sounding sleek and pleased.
"In my position I can't afford to become involved, but I
118 SHARON GREEN
never fail to pay the debts I owe. Some months ago, you
opened a cream-colored leather box for a gentleman who
never gave his name. Inside the box were certain letters
and documents that shoutd have been seen by no one but
myself, and now they're in the possessidn of my husband.
You're incapable, I think, of understanding the incredible
difficulty I now have because of that, and I consider it
only fair that you be given some difficulty of your own.
To teach you. in the best way possible, not to meddle in
affairs mat don't concern you."
"But I didn't—!" she began, much more frightened
than she had been, most especially as the voice belonged
to a woman. She couldn't deal with women as easily as
she did with men, and the situation looked far from
"Ah, but you did," the woman's voice interrupted, still
calm and faintly amused. "At this time, however, I think
we can safely assume that you won't do it again. I under-
stand that you've boasted there isn't anything you can't
unlock; if yoa find yourself able to unlock yourself from
that room, I'll consider us quits. Good-bye."
The glow immediately began to die, leaving her with a
hand clutched round her heart. She would separate herself
from that room, all right, and without wasting another
minute! She turned to run toward the door, wanting noth-
ing more than to get as far away from that place as possible—
and at that moment all four walls burst into flame. She
screamed and stumbled back from the roaring sheets of
fire, fell to the floor and tried to crawl away, but there was
no place to crawl to. The heat was terrible and her lungs
already felt burned, and as she heard the faint sound of
female laughter she knew that that was one manner of binding
she never would unlock. She began coughing, knowing it
was only a matter of seconds, feeling her clothing already
beginning to smolder, and then there was a hand. . . .
VI — ZaU T'Zannu
He stood in the shadows doing more than simply listen-
ing, not only in the shadows but actually a part of them.
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
Much of his adult and near-adult life had been spent as a
shadow, and that fact pleased him enormously. People
guarded against other people, but it was impossible to
guard against shadows.
Some parts of the castle were new, but the part he stood
m men was older than most could remember. The square
gray stone blocks all around him were covered with the
green of age and damp, and very few torches burned that
far below ground. He could hear water dripping some-
where, and a steady, distant scraping of some sort, but felt
nothing in the way of human presence near him- The level
was as deserted as he'd been told it would be, which
wasn't surprising. The earl's strongroom was three levels
up from that place, and the guard mounted on it was heavy
enough to stop a troop of cavalry. Well, they could guard
the strongroom all they liked; he was after bigger fish.
The shadows extended all the way to the old, splintered
wooden door he had been looking for, and once he'd
shouldered me thing open he paused to light a small torch
of his own. Dark was good to move through, but a man
needed light when there was delicate work to be done. He
entered the bare, stone room, closed the door behind him
and set his torch in the wall^ then began pacing out the
exact center of the room. That would be his starting point,
and it had to be as accurate as possible.
Quite a lot of time went by in pacing and measuring, but
he was far too absorbed to notice it. What he was engaging
in men was a passion inherited from his father, passed on
as undeniably as the lands and gold would be, but far less
publicly. For four generations his family had been collect-
ing legendary and/or fabulous items produced down through
me centuries, which were not readily available to the
general public. If securing them required only gold, then
gold was supplied; if securing them required more effort
man mere wealth, his family had always been willing to
supply mat as well. To say they stole would be reducing a
grand, irresistible passion to the prosaic, and he and his
family had never been that. Passion and practicality had
dictated their efforts, until me latest of their line had
proven that there was nothing he could not take, no matter
how well guarded it was.
20 SHARON GREEN
Or how intricately unguarded it was. The wall stone he
stopped in front of looked no different from any of the
others, and his gray eyes inspected it carefully before his
long-fingered hand reached out to touch it. Cautious, gen-
tle fingertips proved it also felt the same, but that meant
nothing. If the priceless relic was there, it had been there
long enough for an entire castle of stones to match up.
What he had to do next was try the combination.
After gently marking the key stone with a piece of
chalk, he backed away from the wall until he'd reached a
distance of about eight feet, then withdrew a rod from
beneath his cape. The rod was no more than a foot in
length until he began pulling on it, and then it obligingly
extended and extended and extended, until he was able to
reach the wall again without moving toward it. The rod
was light and stiff enough to produce a minimum of
waving at the far end, and he'd practiced with it so often
over the years that his touch with it was more deft than
many people were with their own hands.
"Never trust an enemy, even when he's dying,*' he
muttered, leveling the pole and beginning to press the
stone with it in a precise pattern. If a relic or a work of art
was in some contemporary's possession, it simply had to
be fiberated from whatever safeguards had been contrived
for it; if it was still where it had been originally secreted,
however, there were traps and Fiendishly deadly snares to
avoid if the searcher wanted to survive to enjoy his find.
Ramil had intended going after it himself, but their duel
had come first and had ended all of Ramil's intentions.
The dying man had told him where to find the parchment
detailing the location of me relic, and had sworn with his
last breath that there were no traps. Ramil had parted with
the information—or so he had said—because he wanted
someone with a desire equaling his own to have it; in full
truth Zail didn't believe that for a minute. Ramil had
wanted him dead, and probably had had another parchment
which detailed the traps. If he had believed there weren't any,
he would have deserved whatever happened to him.
With the last touch of the rod the stone began to sink
downward with a grinding scrape—and at the same time a
full five foot by five foot section of the stone of the floor
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 21
dropped a good deal more quickly. Anyone standing on
(hat stone to touch the wall would have gone through the
floor, but he'd come across that kind of trap before and
had the rod to take care of it. If that was the only snare
guarding it, he would thank the gods later when he got
The floor stone rose again and clicked into place, but he
was no longer paying attention to it. Even as his hands
compressed the rod back into a more manageable and
concealable size. his gaze was captured by what the sink-
tog wall stone revealed. Resting comfortably on a stone
cushion in the niche now opened to view was a scepter, one
that seemed to be made of solid gallium. The blue-white
metal gleamed even in the dim light of the single, under-
sized torch, but not quite as brightly as the huge heartfire
gem set at its end. Color flared and glowed from the
exquisitely faceted jewel in a way that hadn't been seen or
matched in centuries, and there could be no doubt as to
what relic he'd found.
"The Living Flame, scepter of Prassa the Unconquer-
able!" he breathed, hardly daring to believe it. The glori-
ous tiling had been sought for so long\ Wait until his father
saw it! ^
Despite his excitement he proceeded carefully, testing
(he floor before trusting it with his weight, and then study-
ing the scepter before attempting to touch it. There had to
be other traps, he knew it for a certainty, but the only
possibility occurring to him involved me stone cushion the
.scepter lay on. He had put the collapsed rod back into his
cape, but now he drew it out again with a different purpose
;ai mind. Using the rod to tap gently at the scepter, he
discovered that there were no hidden knives waiting to cut
the hand from anyone reaching into the niche. With that
routine taken care of, he held the rod behind the scepter.
reached in with his free hand for the relic, then immedi-
ately put the rod on the stone cushion in its place. His
heart pounded with elation and excitement as he stood
mere with the scepter in his hands, the relic now free of
me niche with no further traps sprung! He wanted nothing
more than to stand mere and drink in the sight of it, but
22 SHARON GREEN
that could be done once he got home. He still had to get
out of die castle undetected, and that would take time.
Once the scepter was wrapped and comfortably nestled
into his cape in the place the rod had previously been, he
took his torch from the wall and went to the door. As soon
as he had the door open he would put the torch out, and
then he would go back the same way he'd—
A heavy click came from the door when he pulled on it,
a sound he hadn't heard the first time he'd opened it.
Quick as a startled bird he jumped to one side, but nothing
else seemed to be happening. He approached the door
again being careful of the floor and ceiling stones while
also watching all around, and this time pulled harder on
the metal grip. The old wooden door should have opened
then, even if it moved no more than slowly, but it didn't
budge. He pulled again and again, his heart beginning to
hammer from something other than elation, but it was a
waste of effort. The door refused to open, and he had
nothing to force it with even if it were possible.
He turned away from the door in disgust, but more with
himself than anything else. He should have anticipated die
possibility of being locked in, and left the door open a
crack. Now he would have to wait until his father realized
that something had gone wrong, and came looking for
him. If he hadn't taken me precaution of speaking with his
father before starting out, he would have undoubtedly died
down there, with none knowing what had happened to
hmi. That level was never—
His thoughts slowed to instant stillness as he realized
he'd been hearing a sound of some sort, and it seemed to
be coming from the niche. Slowly he carried his torch back
to the wall, and saw that the stone cushion the scepter had
been resting on was sinking into the bottom of the niche.
He knew then that substituting the rod hadn't done any
good, that the difference in weight had triggered another
trap, and that was probably what had locked the door. But
if that was all it was meant to do, why was the cushion
still sinking downward—?
The answer to his question came with a loud click as the
cushion sank flush with the bottom of the niche—^and
stones on three of the four walls slid aside to reveal pipes.
THE PAR SIDE OF FOREVER
A few seconds of scraping and gurgling passed, and then
water began spewing out of the pipes, heavy streams of
water mat seemed pure and clear. An underground river
had to be feeding those pipes if mere was still water after
all those centuries, and he could see that the river in-
tended emptying itself into the room. He ran back to the
door and tried pulling on it again, then kicked it hard
before turning away. There was no way out of that room,
none at all, and me water was already up to his ankles.
His jaw tightened when he understood how few minutes he
had left, but even then he could only regret that he hadn't
taken greater precautions; as far as finding the scepter
went, he had no regrets at all.
The water quickly rose higher, and he did nothing more
than begin to swim once he could no longer stand. There
was always the chance that the level would stop before it
rose all the way to me ceiling, and even a slim chance was
worth grasping. He held the torch clear as long as he
could, until his head was being pressed into the ceiling,
and just as water slopped into his mouth and nose and
quenched the torch, he saw a hand. . . .
The room was larger in all dimensions than it needed to
be, giving me, at least, the impression that I sat in the
house of a rustic giant. Wood paneling, decorative beams,
immense stone fireplace and upholstered log furniture sup-
plied the rustic, and a twenty-foot ceiling on a forty by
forty foot room made the giant. 1 wasn't quite sure what he
was up to, except that he seemed to want us to be relaxed
but impressed; if the others felt the way I did, he'd missed
his mark by quite a lot,
1 shifted in the chair I'd claimed in order to sit with one
leg under me, wondering again who all those people
were. I'd looked at each of them and had found that they
were real, but their life forces were resonating in a way
that said they weren't native to that world-dimension in
which they found themselves. I was native to it, but that
didn't mean I knew any more than they did.
All five of them seemed to be more wrapped up in their
own thoughts than interested in starting conversations, and
that despite the cozy circle of chairs we sat in. The chairs
stood on a large shaggy rug that was probably supposed to
look like an animal hide, and a round log table stood in the
middle of our chair-circle with two bowls of assorted fruit
on it. The main conversation-stopper seemed to be the
seventh chair in our circle, the empty, larger chair that
none of them had been able to claim. The spell on the
chair kept it reserved for whoever was coming, and al-
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
though I could have negated the spell and taken it myself,
it didn't seem worth the trouble. The others would have
begun throwing questions at me, questions I couldn't an-
swer. 1 was feeling stupid just then for a number of
reasons, and not having those answers simply added to
it—and to my mounting annoyance. We'd been shifting
uncomfortably in those chairs for at least twenty minutes,
which in my current mood was seventeen minutes too
long- I'd waited with as much patience as I could muster,
but now the patience was all used up.
"Right now strikes me as a good time to make an
appearance," I observed to the air in the empty seventh
chair, drawing three pairs of startled male eyes and two
pairs of equally startled female ones. "If you don't agree,
I'll go home to do my waiting."
The air in the seventh chair started shimmering then,
and a figure began forming and filling to occupy the space.
To the accompaniment of a single gasp our host at long
last showed himself, and also showed mat he was still
reaching for specific reactions from us. It was hardly likely
that any of us doubted he would prove to be a wizard, so
the shape he took was unnecessary for the purpose of
supporting the point. We weie now being inspected by a
robust man who carried his many-years easily, his hair and
beard very long and dazzlingly white, his light eyes spar-
kling with gentle understanding and amusement, his long-
sleeved. electric-blue robe covering a body mat seemed
two feet taller and a foot wider than even the redheaded
boy who was one of our six. I could feel how powerful he
was without even trying, but that was no excuse for theat-
rics designed to impress the backward.
"The ever-impatient Laciel," he remarked when his
inspection moved itself to me, his smile apparently strug-
gling to keep from becoming a grin. "Since you knew it
when I came in and seated myself, I'm surprised you were
able to wait even this long. What's the matter, child?
Don't you approve of my appearance?"
"You know I don't," I answered, aware of the stir of
discomfort among the others. "1 may owe my life to you,
but that doesn't give you the right to patronize me. It's
26 SHARON GREEN
obvious I was brought here for a reason; how about getting
around to mentioning what it is?"
"Don't be upset by her abruptness of manner,'* he said
to the others, most of whom seemed embarrassed and
dismayed and flinching as well as upset. "Sorceresses tend
to be difficult to impress, especially when they have the
potential power that she does. And, of course, when they
have her impatience."
"When a king fails to find waiting beneath him. a girl
should have far less difficulty," the redheaded boy put in,
the comment half-disapproving and half-amused. He seemed
to be no more than seventeen, if that old, but his very
large body was fully developed, muscles bulging out of
arms and shoulders, thick neck corded with strength, chest
deep and wide and covered with red hair. He was bare to
his trim waist except for a wide gold band around each of
his upper arms, and from the waist down he wore supple
leather pants and boots in gray, with a wide belt of woven
gold cinching me pants. The red hair on his head was
rather long, straight and thick, but his broad face looked
too pink-cheeked to ever have been shaved. His deep voice
made it all fit together rather neatly—except for his unself-
conscious bearing and straightforward blue eyes. Some-
how, those eyes would have been more suited to a man
three times his age.
"Please believe that I appreciate your patience, Kadrim
Harra," the wizard said to the boy, sounding as though he
were speaking to an adult his own age. "All of you have
been more than patient, especially in view of the fact that
you don't know what's happened to you. The truth of the
matter is I need you six, to help with a serious problem 1
have. In return for what 1 have done for each of you, there
is a service I would like you all to perform. A dangerous
service, but no more dangerous than what you left behind."
The expressions on me faces of the others gave me the
distinct impression that I wasn't the only one who had
been about to pay for stupidity in a rather permanent way
when rescued, and me next one to speak confirmed mat.
"What I left behind me was certain death," the second
of the three men said, drawing agreeing nods from the
third man and the smaller of the two women. "If what
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
you're about to ask us to do means the same, what benefit
will there have been for us in being rescued?"
"A fair question, Rikkan Addis," the wizard allowed,
looking at the man with benevolent understanding, his
hand stroking his long white beard. The man he spoke to
was not as large as the redheaded boy, but by any other
standards he was far from small. His bronze-colored eyes
were his most outstanding feature, set off by a tanned face
and dark black hair, supported by a wide, broad-shouldered
body dressed in rust-colored leather. Shirt, pants and even
boots were rust-colored, and an intricately linked belt of
silver circled his waist. "If I were sending you on a
hopeless mission, there would have been no benefit in
your having been rescued at all," the wizard said to him,
' 'but the mission 1 have is no more than extremely danger-
ous. There's a great deal of difference between extremely
dangerous and hopeless."
"I'm really very grateful to have been given my life
back," the smaller woman interjected before the man with
the strange eyes could say anything else, drawing the
wizard's gaze to her. "I would have no objections at all to
showing how grateful, but as far as this—extremely dan-
gerous mission goes, I'm afraid I'm just not cut out for it.
Don't you think it would be much better if I stayed here,
rather man going along to be nothing but a burden?"
Her smiled warmed with the end of her question, adding
to the overall sense of extreme and eager willingness she
was projecting—along with the delicate appeal of helpless-
ness, She was smaller than the other woman and myself,
her long black hair arranged into curls and twists that
framed her angelic face. Dark lashes made her big green
eyes very visible, and her mouth was generous with pout-
ing lips of bright red. Her skin was too light for her to
have spent much time outdoors, and the delicate, long-
skirted gown of green she wore not only set off her small
but lush figure, it also matched her eyes. She seemed to
know that the wizard wasn't as old as his appearance
suggested, and she had leaned somewhat toward him as
she spoke, adding to the effect of her throaty suggestion. If
the wizard had fallen for it 1 would have walked out
in disgust no matter how powerful he was, but all he did
was look at her with a sobriety she wasn't expecting.
"My dear Soffann Dra, I really do wish I could oblige
you," he said, the gentle but implacable words taking the
smile from her. "I hadn't meant to go into this now, but
since you've raised the point I might as well explain it. 1
need six people with six individual talents for my mission,
and expended a certain amount .of energy bringing mem
and keeping them here. The energy needed was greater
than you know, and I haven't any to spare above that
certain amount. If one of you isn't suited to the mission,
that one will have to be replaced with someone of equal
talent—which can be done, I'm sorry to say, only after me
original candidate has been returned to where he—or she—
The small woman's light skin paled visibly and a good
deal of fear came into her eyes, but strangely enough she
was me only one to react that way. The other woman and
me three men seemed to consider me arrangement no more
than fair, indicating mat they'd probably already decided
to pay off their life-debt in whatever way they had to. As
far as I was concerned I would have been long gone if I
hadn't also decided the same, which left the smalt woman
the only one among us who had tried to renege. She
looked around quickly to see how everyone else was tak-
ing the news, then leaned back in her chair in defeat.
"Well, if you put it like that, of course I'll go," she
said, then deliberately raised those eyes to the wizard with
another smile meant to devastate. "After all, there is no
one eke of equal talent you could replace me with."
The wizard chuckled at the woman's audacity, his reac-
tion matched with smites from the three men, but for some
reason the other woman and I weren't amused. Possibly we
weren't built right to appreciate her—wit. The general
enjoyment continued being expressed for a short while,
and then the man with me bronze eyes, Rikkan Addis,
turned to the wizard again.
"Now that we know your mission isn't hopeless and
that we'll all be going," he said, "I, at least, will appreci-
ate a few more details. Where will we be going, and for
THE F^R SIDE OF FOREVER
He sat back in his chair and crossed his long legs, both
actions signs of relaxation, but I had the feeling that
something in the questions he'd asked had more impor-
tance for him than he was letting on. Before answering,
the wizard's hand went again to his beard, which I began
to believe was a sign that he was handling something of a
delicate nature. I now knew that Rikkan Addis had to be
handled, but didn't yet know why.
"Your ultimate destination is a place whose name I
know as well as the approximate position where it lies,"
the wizard answered at last, his hand still slowly stroking
his beard. "Something of great importance was stolen
from this world and taken there, and if it isn't recovered
our world here will die- 1 tried going after it myself, but
me safeguards along the trail were set with me in mind,
negating my strengths and taking advantage of my weak-
nesses- You six will have to do the task for me, and if you
succeed your rewards will be greater than you ever dreamed
possible; if you fail, a world dies with you."
"I find it best to consider only success, and let failure
worry about itself," the third man said in an easy way,
sharing nothing of the frowning silence which had taken
the others. "Will part of my^own reward be the return of
the Living Flame?"
His gray eyes rested easily on the wizard, a faint smile
making his handsome face even more attractive. He seemed
to be as tall as the man with bronze eyes who sat two
chairs away from him, but his body was a bit more slender
and graceful, and his dark brown hair curlier rather than
mane-thick. He wore a wide-sleeved shirt of white, closed
at the wrists and open to the middle of his chest, black
trousers and short black boots, with a small golden medal-
lion hung from around his neck. He looked as though
being relaxed was the only state of living he had ever
learned, and the wizard smiled as his hand stopped
"The Living Bame is, of course, yours, Zail T'Zannis,"
he acknowledged, his tone making the words a sworn
oath. "Even if you don't return for it yourself, I'll make
sure it reaches your father. Will that satisfy you?"
"Very much so," the man said with the flash of a wider
smile, for some reason amused. "I'd prefer unveiling it
myself for him, but if that becomes impossible it helps to
know he'll have it anyway. Please go on with what you
were saying before I interrupted."
"What 1 was saying was mat this world is in danger of
dying,'* the wizard resumed, losing his smile again. "I
think you should know that except for Laciel, none of you
are native to this world-dimension. If this one dies your
own worlds will, for the most part, be untouched, except
for the unavoidable ripples that the dying will send through
the dimensions. The ripples can cause storms or earth-
quakes or eruptions or, in certain instances, political unrest
or out-and-out war, but nothing that your worlds won't be
able to survive. It's the people of mis world who will die if
"I don't understand," I said slowly into the newest
silence, which was something of an understatement. He
had just lessened everyone's motivation for success but
mine, and I couldn't figure out what he was up to. "How
could this world possibly be in that much danger without
anyone knowing about it? And what could have been
stolen that would make that much of a—"
I stopped in midsentence as a chill washed over me, me
answer to my question coming even as I'd asked it. There
was only one thing that could have been taken, but I'd
always thought it was impossible!
*'I believe you understand now," the wizard said, com-
passion on his face for the stunned expression on mine.
"What was stolen was the balance stone of the Tears of
"And you're Graymor," I said, no longer wondering
why he'd disguised himelf in a way that kept me from
looking through. He'd needed time to build up to me
shock he'd known it would be for me, and maybe he'd
been right. But as I put one hand to my head, 1 wasn't sure
years would have been long enough.
"And I'm Graythor," he agreed gently, men sent his
gaze to the others. "Laciel knows me not only because
we're long-time acquaintances, but because she knows mat
I'm the Protector of the Tears, just as everyone on this
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
world does. Every century a Protector is chosen from
among the most powerful wizards then alive, and he or she
serves until the next Protector is chosen. My term of office
was nearly up when this happened, and maybe that fact
caused me to be careless; if it did, I'm more than paying
He paused a moment to look away from everyone, his
face and eyes briefly ages older than they had been, and I
doubt if anyone in the room thought the change had been
caused by magic. Most of them shifted in place with sym-
pathy or embarrassment, and their movement brought his
attention back to them.
"The Tears of the Mist keep this world stable," he said
with a sigh, straightening in his own chair. "Aeons ago
the Tears were set in place by the EverNameless to make
the world habitable and safe, and to remove them all from
their resting frame would cause its immediate destruction,
Removal of the balance stone alone, however, delays that
destruction and stretches it out, so that the breakup begins
slowly and builds toward the final destruction. For that
reason alone is there time enough to search for the balance
stone and time enough—maybe—to return it to its place.
As long as the breakup basnet gone beyond the point of no
return, it will still be able to be-stopped."
"That seems somewhat odd," the gray-eyed man called
Zail TZannis remarked, one finger rubbing thoughtfully at
his face. "If I wanted to destroy & world, I'd do it in the
fastest way possible, not in a way that would give some-
one the chance to stop me. And why would anyone want
to destroy a world anyway? Maybe the stone was simply
taken to embarrass you."
"Your objections are valid, sir," Graythor acknowl-
edged, a wry look appearing on his face under the beard.
"Right now only we in this room know the balance stone
is gone, but soon everyone will know it and wilt also know
that its loss is due to my negligence. If the matter weren't
so serious, everyone would laugh." The wry look disap-
peared to be replaced with bleakness, and Graythor shook
his head. "But me matter is indeed that serious, and once
the world begins to break up, no one will have the time or
die heart to laugh. They'll all know they're facing death,
and only those with the power will be able to escape it.''
"But if you have time before it happens, why can't you
just move everyone somewhere else?" the small woman,
Soffann Dra, asked, her pretty brow creased in thought.
"That way it won't matter what happens to this world."
"My dear young woman, there are uncounted millions
of people living on this world," the wizard answered,
trying not to show how ridiculous the question was. "There
aren't wizards enough to move even a quarter of them,
which means there would have to be those who were left
behind. Would you want to be the one to decide who will
live and who will die? Without knowing good from evil,
kind from vicious, intelligent from retarded, industrious
from hanger-on? Would you take them at random, first
come first served, encouraging them to trample each other
in their desperation to get to safety? Would you have them
first fight and kill each other, and then take only the
survivors? The decision would be one many would find
fascinating, but I'm not quite up to fascination of that
"Then the thing was done by an enemy of yours, rather
than of this world's," said Kadrim Harra, the red-haired
boy who continued to sound so unboylike. "As Zail
T'Zannis has said, one who desired the destruction of a
world would see to mat destruction with the utmost possi-
ble speed. As the choice of speed was possible yet disre-
garded, agonizing anticipation must be the true reason for
the act. To know of the coming destruction and yet be
powerless to halt it, must truly cause unbearable pain for
"No more unbearable than the rending of my soul,"
Graythor said, his face now expressionless, his gaze aimed
inward, his hands curled in silent fury around the arms of
the chair. "Yes, the one who did this is an enemy of mine,
one who knew how I would take it. Millions of people,
knowing me responsible for the safety of the Tears, will
die cursing my name with their last breath. Those who are
able to breech the dimensions will do so, taking knowl-
edge of my infamy with them and spreading it as far as
there are ears to hear, eyes to read, fingers to sign, minds
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
to merge. If that was simply the payment demanded for the
survival of this world I would gladly make it, but mat
simple an expiation will not be allowed me. I have no
choice other man to die with those people whose death I
caused, or live on in safety in another dimension, remem-
bering what it was I left behind me. Death, of course,
would be the far better choice, but there are those else-
where who also depend on my survival for their own-
Most likely I'll find that I've been given no other choice
than to live on and remember."
"Or to end the horror before it begins," said the bronze-
eyed man, Rikkan Addis, in the hardest voice I'd ever
heard, his eyes glowing with fury. "I don't need to know
what sort of monster would kill a world full of people just
to hurt a single individual; all 1 need to know is where that
monster is so that I can find it. What do we have to do?"
Graythor looked around at the circle then, his face
lightening with the beginnings of hope, and every face
looking back at him reflected Rikkan Addis* statement of
challenge. They were all pledging themselves to him with-
out reservation, and from that pledge the strength flowed
back into him as though it had never left. His hands slowly
uncurled from the chair arms, and a smile of silent thanks
creased his face as he nodded again.
"The first part of what you must do is simple," he
said, his voice now filled with relief and enthusiasm.
"You all must follow the trail of the balance stone across
the dimensions, to the place where it was taken and is now
being kept. The stone leaves a—a—spoor, I suppose you
could call it, wherever it happens to pass, one that Targa
Emmen Su Daylath won't have any trouble following. The
rest of you will simply follow her."
All eyes suddenly went to the only one of us who hadn't
yet spoken, the big woman who sat next to me. Targa
Emmen Su Daylath smiled a faint, unself-conscious smile
di the attention, but still didn't say anything. She had dark,
calm eyes in a face mat was pleasant rather man pretty,
very long, light brown hair worn straight back and held
high in a flowing tail by a ring of bone, a yellow leather
shirt that was fringed all over, and a wide, yellow leather
breech that was held close to her body by the thin string of
leather knotted around her waist. Her legs and feet were
entirely bare, but she didn't seem to be self-conscious
about that, either.
"Once you reach your destination, the best way in will
either be found or devised by Kadrim Harra," Graythor
continued, now sending everyone's eyes to the redheaded
boy. "It will also be his job, with others of you, to guard
against unexpected physical attack with weapons. Once
inside, you will find many locks and closings which will
require the talent of Soffann Dra to open; when she does,
Zail T'Zannis will then be able to take the stone from its
remaining safeguards. Laciel will take you all through the
dimensions to reach your destination, as well as guard you
against magic. Rikkan Addis will be in charge of the
expedition, and will organize the efforts of the group as a
whole. Tonight, after dinner, I'll give you what few details
I've been able to gather, and you'll leave in the morning.
Are there any questions?"
With the promise of details to be given later, no one felt
me urge to ask questions that might prove to be unneces-
sary. Graythor nodded with satisfaction, then rose from his
"I'm sure you could all use some time to rest and
refresh yourselves before dinner," he said, raising one
hand. "As each of you passes me, I'll attach a thread
which you may follow to the room assigned to you. Just
go through that doorway to the right, and up the stairs
you'll find beyond it. If you need anything, ring for a
They filed past him one at a time to get their threads,
then trailed out of the room in the same individual way
they'd sat in it. I followed them with the Sight until they
were all upstairs, then turned back to look at Graythor.
The wizard was sitting in his chair again, both hands over
his face and eyes, and I couldn't keep quiet any longer.
"Now that they're gone, I want the truth," I said, the
words as harsh as I could make them. "I want to know
what happened, and why you can't go after the stone
"You've grown since the last time I saw you, Laciel,"
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
he said with a sigh. dropping his hands to send a benign,
light-eyed gaze toward me. "You're much larger and pret-
tier now, but not a millimeter more tolerant. I suppose
tolerance comes with greater age than you've yet achieved."
"Tolerance my—foot!" I snapped, running thin on pa-
tience that hadn't been very thick to begin with, letting my
fists find my hips. "It isn't possible for anyone to have
stolen mat balance stone, and even more impossible for
anyone to keep you from following to take it back. You're
the strongest wizard alive, Graythor, except for those who
were Protectors before you, and they don't count. Protec-
tors are made incapable by the Tears themselves of touch-
ing the Tears to do harm! There is no one who could keep
you from reclaiming the stone, so why haven't you gone
"I can't tell you," he said, and the way he looked
directly at me showed a hint of the strength he was capable
of. "There are things you're not yet ready to leam, young
lady, and that's one of them. Since 1 know without a
single doubt that if/ go I'll fail, you six will have to do me
job for me. Are you afraid you won't be able to succeed?"
"This is too important not to succeed," I answered with
me scorn I felt, folding my arms in annoyance. "Unlike
you, I'm convinced 1 could do it alone, which wouldn't be
a bad idea. I have the sort of motivation you made sure to
remove from the others. While I'll be picturing all the
untalented people I know dying slowly in terror, they'll be
picturing the same thing happening to nothing but a bunch
"You think I could have made them believe they were
striving for their home dimensions?" he asked, those eyes
still locked to me. "That might have been possible for a
short time, but what would have happened once they
began talking to each other and exchanging information?
They all come from the same continent in their respective
dimensions; what do you think would have happened when
they found that the geography matched but nothing else did?
They're not stupid, Laciel, and it wouldn't have taken
them long to discover that they all came from different
places. Once that happened, they'd begin to wonder what
36 SHARON GREEN
else I'd lied to them about, and the expedition would start
falling apart. Getting the stone back will take all of you—
despite your own opinion to the contrary—and that means
keeping you all together."
"You're still hiding something, I can feel it," 1 mut-
tered, trying to match the look 1 was getting. "And that
goes beyond the questions you've flatly refused to answer.
And what's this nonsense about that Rikkan Addis being
leader of our expedition? Magic users lead expeditions,
and you know it."
"Not this time," he denied, shaking his head with just
the hint of amusement behind his eyes- "There are too
many components of that group who would refuse to
follow you no matter how strong a sorceress you are, and I
can't repeat often enough how important it is that the
group stay together. Rikkan Addis is more than just a
natural leader; I know you couldn't feel that part of his
talent working because it didn't affect you, but it was his
belief that the task needed doing that swayed the others.
He doesn't just lead, he makes people follow, and that's
why he's so valuable."
"So that's why you were handling him so carefully," I
said, my eyes narrowing as I thought about it. "You
knew if you were able to convince him, die others would
follow along. And if he thought you were lying, the others
would believe the same. But that doesn't explain the mas-
querade. If he finds out what you really look like, won't
he consider that the same as lying?"
"Laciel, girl, the—masquerade, as you call it, wasn't
done for him," Graythor said with a sigh as he leaned
back in his chair, but whether the sigh was one of weari-
ness or exasperation, I couldn't tell. "It so happens that as
soon as you stop pestering me, I'll be calling on Rikkan
Addis to chat—and incidentally show him what I really look
like. He already knows from your earlier comments that
this isn't my true form, and I don't want him to begin
"If you didn't want him to begin wondering, you
shouldn't have gotten involved with silly dress-up to begin
with," 1 said, now knowing what his sigh had meant. "I
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
know people have certain prejudices about wizards, but
that doesn't mean you have to cater to them."
"If you're asking them to risk their lives for you, mat's
exactly what you do have to do," he said, the snap in his
voice and sharpness in his eyes clear indications of how
close to anger he was. He looked to his right and my left,
spoke the words that were necessary, then joined me in
watching the chairs that stood there change immediately
into a tall, wide mirror in an intricate frame of gold. The
mirror showed me just as I was, tall and slender, tanned
and violet-eyed with long platinum hair, my pale rose shirt
and light gold slacks loose enough to keep from emphasiz-
ing my figure, my short, soft leather boots of gold more
for comfort than durability. The image of me was clear
and accurate, but so was the image of a still-seated
Graythor—which didn't match the form in the chair. Beard-
less, dark of hair and eye, sallow complexion, short, nar-
row, bent just a little but still extremely competent-looking—
that was the Graythor I knew, and the one I would have
"Try to imagine yourself one of the others, child," he
said with less of the anger showing, the mirror-gesture 1
saw reflecting me movement only just visible from me
corner of my eye- "Your life has just been saved by
someone who is a very powerful wizard, and in return for
saving your life, he's asking you to risk it again on his
behalf. People are strange, Laciel, and after you've lived
among them for as long as I have, you'll leam that their
gratitude for an important favor can quicldy turn to resent-
ment over being forced into a position to need to return
that favor. One of die most important points in that is just
exactly who you owe the favor to—and now you're one of
mem and looking at me as I really am. What do you see?"
"I see—you," 1 answered, having no idea what he was
getting at. "What else is there to see?"
"What there is to see is that you've known me too
long," he said, for some reason with a pleased chuckle,
his true image smiling the crooked smile I'd so enjoyed as
a child. "What the others would see would be a mis-
shapen, ugly little man who really shouldn't have been
accorded the privilege of saving their lives, one who wasn't
38 SHARON GREEN
at all up to deserving their gratitude. Consciously they
would never want to feel that way, but deep inside, where
emotion rules in place of thought, they would have no
choice. My altered shape gave them nobility and wisdom
to admire, size and strength to respect, power and age to
be in awe of—and a tragic figure to sympathize with and
help. My saving their lives is now incidental; what matters
most to them at this point is that they have it within (heir
power to help someone who would normally need no help,
but who now requires their help. They're motivated, some-
thing even an enslavement spell could not accomplish, and
they'll see the job through to the end. All we have to take
care of now is that single, important question buzzing
around in your head."
"What question?" I asked at once, looking at him
sharply—but at the real him, the one in the mirror. "What
other question do you think 1 have?"
"Laciel, I've known you since you were a very little
giri," he said, the dark eyes in the mirror staring at me
with a sober calm. "You did something foolish and nearly
died for it, and now you're wondering if mat's the real
reason you're not leading the expedition. You're also
wondering what you'll, have to do to prove how capable of
leadership you are after all, and that most likely before you
all leave tomorrow. I'm telling you now that there's noth-
ing you can—or had better—do to change the arrange-
ments of this expedition as they stand, or you'll find
yourself tied so fast and deep into an obedience spell that it
will take you a year to See your way out of it. I need you
badly for this task, but you cannot do it akme, and you
cannot be me leader. Do you understand what I'm saying
"Of course I understand," I answered with exasperated
impatience, making no effort to avoid his eyes. If I couldn't
do anything before we left then it would have to be after,
but one way or another it had to be done. Magic users
were the leaders of expeditions, and it would be stupid to
allow any other precedent to be set. Besides, I knew I
would make a better leader than that Rikkan Addis, espe-
cially for so important an objective.
"Good," he said with a nod of satisfaction, raising one
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
hand in a vanishing gesture to get rid of the mirror before
rising from me seat. Without the mirror there was nothing
but his altered form, which I had to look way up at. "I can
see now there's a good deal of truth to the saying about
clouds and silver linings," he observed with a smile as he
put one giant but gentle hand to my face. "If I hadn't been
scanning around in my search for members of the expedi-
tion, I never would have come across your entry onto the
Plane of Dreams—or known what was happening. If you'd
died I would have missed you, Laciel; after all, who would
be left then who would criticize me as you do?"
"Don't worry. Uncle Graythor, I'll always be around to
criticize you," 1 assured him pleasantly, recognizing the
teasing even if the face and form weren't familiar. "Since
everyone else is too afraid of you to do it, the job has to
"So it does," he agreed with a chuckle, turning to lead
the way out of the room. "Your accommodations are
marked with a blue door, and you'll have no trouble
finding mem. While you're resting you might consider
cutting down some on all that courage you're so filled
with. Where you're going, a bit of prudent cowardice will
likely serve you better."
"That's right, you did say you knew our ultimate desti-
nation," I realized aloud, looking'up at him again as we
walked. "You make it sound like we have no chance
against it, but if we had no chance at all, you'd be wasting
your time and our lives by sending us. What's me name of
this deadly-dangerous repository of stolen articles?"
"The place you have to find an entrance into is called
Cloud's Heart," he answered, bending a much less-benign
gaze on me than he had a moment earlier. "Despite its
name it is deadly dangerous, probably as much so as the
journey you'll have getting there. I've never made me trip
myself, but I've spoken to one or two who have, and
nothing conceivable would ever get them to try it again. I
wish I could send someone in your place, Laciel, but I
can't. Just remember that, if—when you get there."
"But where is it?" I asked, disturbed by the haunted
look in the eyes that had left me. Graythor had stopped to
stare straight ahead, and that bothered me more than any-
thing he had said. He hesitated so long I thought he wasn't
going to answer, and then he sighed with his gaze still held
by the distance.
"It's on the Far Side of Forever," he said in a whisper,
then strode away so fast that I had no hope of catching up.
Not that I felt like catching up. I just stood there for a
minute staring at the giant mstic dining room he'd disap-
peared through, then went looking for the accommodations
I suddenly felt a lot of need for.
The sun wasn't up very high when I went outside the next
morning, but there's something about sunlight after hours
and hours of candlelight that makes you want to squint and
go back indoors. Much as I would have enjoyed it I had no
time for going back indoors, so 1 went instead to the group
of hprses and people who waited in the middle of the
squarish, rustic yard. Giant-sized, squarish, rustic yard.
Leave it to Graythor to be consistent even outdoors.
' "You look as though you had little in the way of rest,
girl," the redheaded Kadrim Harra remarked as I reached
for the only unclaimed set of reins in sight, which tied a
big gray to the hitching post the boy stood beside. His own
mount was an even bigger golden palamino, and the stal-
lion danced with excess energy and an eagerness to be
away. The other four were involved in a discussion which
seemed to be centered around Soffann Dra, which some-
how wasn't very surprising.
"1 had no rest at all," I told the boy without looking at
him, getting more enjoyment out of the sight of the beauti-
ful gray horse that was to be mine for a while. He snorted
softly with pleasure when he saw he wasn't to go un-
claimed after all, and lowered his nose so that I might
stroke it. "I'll catch up on what I need when we stop
"When we left one another after the discussion last
darkness, we were all bidden to rest ourselves well," the
boy said from my left, his deep voice beginning to fill with
disapproval again. "Though you gave the wizard little of
the respect due him with your words, surely you were not
so foolish as to disobey his commands as well? We mean
to ride far and hard this day, and one who is weary will
have difficulty in keeping up."
"You're worrying about my being able to keep up?" I
asked with a snort of ridicule, finally turning my head to
look at him. "If I were you, little boy, I'd spend my time
worrying about myself instead of the adults around me,
especially an adult who also happens to be a sorceress.
And if I'd wasted my time sleeping instead of learning the
spells Graythor wanted me to leam, there might have come
a time when you and the others had trouble keeping up
with life. Aren't we ready to leave yet?"
By the end of my speech he was blinking at me with
surprise and a very becoming silence, then turned to see,
as I already had, mat our four companions had ended their
discussion in favor of mounting. Before he could turn back
to me I walked the few steps to the gray's side, got my left
foot into the stirrup, then pulled myself up to the saddle.
The gray waited until I was firmly seated with both feet in
the closed stirrups before beginning to dance like me
palamino, and that left only the boy who wasn't ready to
go. For some reason he grinned up at me with a lot of
amusement before turning to his own mount and leaping
onto the giant beast without using the stirrups at all. The
only thing he'd used to help him had been his hands on the
pommel, but before he could start bragging about how
athletic he was. a different voice came to us across the
"It's true!" Soffann Dra exclaimed in delight from
where she cantered slowly around us, left hand on reins,
back straight but easy, wide-skirted green gown spread out
over the saddle of her beautiful white horse. "He's really
done it! I've never so much as been on a horse before, but
I can ride as though I've done it all my life! The wizard
has given me the ability to ride!"
Zail T'Zannis and Rikkan Addis grinned at the girl's
delight and enthusiasm, but Targa Emmen Su Daylath was
too distracted to do more than smile. The big woman's
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
attention kept being drawn to the road leading out of the
yard, and a minute later she was following that road on the
big paint horse she sat with accustomed ease. Soffann Dra
quickly followed after her with the clear intention of catch-
ing up, which drew the two men in her wake. Since it was
clear Graythor wasn't going to be coming out for any last
good-byes I took my own turn at following, and the red-
headed boy brought up the rear.
The gray's gait was smooth and easy, his response
immediate to the lightest touch of my heel, the least
movement of the reins. We moved up the road in ground-
eating strides, the early morning sparkling around us,
Graythor's giant-house shrinking into the distance. To ei-
ther side of the road were green and flowered fields for at
least a mile, with nothing but trees rising in the near and
far distance, nothing of houses even of normal size. The
air was still comfortably cool that early in the day, but I
could feel that once the sun rose higher the heat would do
the same. The road was heading us toward woods which
would surely help for a while, but the woods were unlikely
to last forever.
"You must forgive me, lady, for having spoken to you
as I did," a voice came fronnny right, deep and smooth
and at least trying to be conciliatory. "I had not realized
that your weariness came from laboring on our behalf, and
I would offer my apologies for having given you insult."
The red-haired Kadrim Harra had brought his palamino
up beside my gray, and he really did seem to be sorry for
what he'd said. I glanced over at him where he sat his
mount looking down at me, and simply shook my head.
"I wasn't insulted," I grudged, wishing I could find
more pleasure in the beautiful day all around us. "It's just
that this quest is so important to me, so important to
everyone of this world—I'll do anything I have to to see
that it turns out right, and losing a night's sleep is so
unimportant an anything—1 didn't mean to imply that you
weren't one of us because you're not as old as we are—
You're not really all that young—"
My stumbling explanation finally ran out of steam, just
as it usually did when I tried to tell people why I'd done as
I had. I couldn't quite understand why 1 was bothering to
explain things to a boy who was probably too young to
comprehend what I was saying, but rather than looking
blank, another glance showed him smiling.
"Your concern is natural and understandable," he said
in a way that was supposed to be soothing, his tone
brushing aside any insult on his part. "Were it my people
who were in jeopardy, I, too, would be difficult to speak
with. Have you any further knowledge of the worlds to be
traveled through than that which was given us by the
"Unfortunately, no," I answered, watching a small flight
of birds lazing through the early morning air. "There are
too many gates and too many choices at each gate for any
one person to know them all, even if they've lived as long
as Graythor has. I haven't lived nearly as long, and don't
even know me two worlds he was sure of. I can see I
should have traveled more."
"Even should one attempt to live one's life anticipating
difficulties, one would still be caught by the surprise of the
unanticipated," he said, those steady blue eyes putting
surprising weight behind the statement. "Your power is
meant to guard and assist us through these worlds, a thing
we are sure to find of great benefit, yet are those of my
own world largely unfamiliar with me doings of magic.
What are these—spells—which were taught you through
the darkness, and in what manner will they be of aid to
"What I learned was a special group of protective spells
designed to guard us from magical attack," I explained,
privately wondering how anyone anywhere could be unfa-
miliar with magic. "One of the spells creates a large.
invisible sphere around us which will keep anything of a
magical nature out. Another of the spells builds a wall of
the same kind, a third a platform which will also raise us
into the air, and the rest are of the same sort. For anything
nonmagical in nature, I already have the necessary de-
fenses. What took so long was memorizing the details of
spells mat work against other spells, which means I'm
practically working without the Sight. I won't be able to
See if I'm constructing them properly against what's com-
ing at us, so I can't afford to forget the least little—"
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
The frown on his face made me break off the explana-
tion, telling me it wasn't explaining anything at all to him.
Just what part he wasn't getting was another question,
though, as I found out when he shook his head.
"1 have no knowledge of what sight you speak of, nor
do I understand what difference there might be between
spells," he said, looking as though not understanding
annoyed him- "Are you able to say in what manner /
would need to labor in order to leam what you have?"
"But you couldn't leam it, not unless you had the
Sight," I protested with a laugh, then understood how
much he was actually missing. "Maybe I'd better start
from the very beginning, and explain it to you that way.
People are born either with the Sight or without it, and if
they're without it they can never learn to do magic no
matter how hard they try. You can't have just a little bit of
the Sight, you either have it or you don't. Are you with me
His nod was definite despite his silence, and for some
reason I had the feeling that he was keeping himself from
making a comment. That unwavering blue gaze seemed to
be just a little put out, but I couldn't imagine why.
"Now, if you have the Sigh^you have the ability to do
magic, but the keys to real power are how much strength
you can bring to bear, and how complete your control is of
the things around you. If we were standing together some-
where and you began to walk away when I didn't want you
to, I could reach out a hand to grab your sleeve to stop you
physically. How well I did stopping you would depend on
how good a grip I had on your sleeve; a light or badly
placed grip would be one you could pull away from, but a
strong, full, sure grip would keep you from getting very
far. Have you got that?"
"indeed," he said with a faint smile, and then the smile
widened. "And yet do I believe that my halting would
require one with hands less slender and considerably more
powerful than yours. Even had I a sleeve which might be
"That was just an example," I told him patiently, half
expecting his remark. Boys always have to be so—ignorant—
about everything. "With magic, the way to get a firm,
46 SHARON GREEN
sure grip on something is to See it clearly and in detail, the
more detail, the better the grip. At the same time you must
describe what you're Seeing, since it's that description and
the strength you exert mat gives you power over what you
See. If someone has a red hat, people without the Sight
will see nothing but a red hat; people with the Sight,
however, will See the exact shade of that color, me exact
shape of die hat itself, the thickness of the material the
thing was made from, the strands or layers involved, all
the way down to the smallest mote mat's a part of that hat.
Seeing it lets them describe it, and describing it gives
mem power over it. Spells are the verbal description of
what someone with the Sight Sees."
"These spells, then, must be complex indeed," he said,
back to frowning in an attempt to understand. "Even to
describe what / am able to see of a thing would be
complex, and never have I been able to see to the core of
"Not all spells are that complex," 1 corrected, pleas-
antly surprised that he seemed to be following my explana-
tion. "If the details needing to be described had to be
spoken in this language, it would take hours simply to
describe enough of that red hat just to lift it in the air. The
language used for spells is sort of a—short-cut code, I
suppose you might say—that lets you describe hours' worth
of detail in only one or two words. If I wanted to change
that hat instead of simply lifting it, my description of it
would have to be a lot more detailed so that I had more
power over it. A spell like that could run five or six words,
depending on just what change I wanted to make. And, of
course, some descriptions can be added to with gestures
rather than words. There are a lot of different getures, all
standing for different things, and that's where the old
saying comes from. You know. the one that goes, 'One
gesture is worth a thousand words.' "
"That adage is more familiar to me in another form,"
he muttered, clearly trying to decide whether or not to be
impressed. His big hand rubbed at his face as his mind
worked behind distracted eyes, and men his attention was
mine again. "Then all those with the—the Sight—have
power over that which is about them. Why is it, then, that
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
some have more power than others? For what reason was it
necessary that you leam—spells—from the wizard which
your own—Sight—should have found it possible to give
"I think I'll answer the first part of your question
first," I said with a smile, really pleased with how bright
he was. He was having trouble with unfamiliar phrases,
but he wasn't using them wrong. "Some with the Sight
have more power than others for a variety of reasons, one
of which is how long they've lived. The longer you study
it, the easier the language of spells becomes, and the easier
it becomes, the more power you can exert over what
happens to be around you. Also, you've learned to See
things in greater and greater detail, which gives you more
to describe, which in turn gives you more power over
them. You have to leam how to look at things, you know.
in magic as well as in anything else. To someone who
didn't know about hats, our red hat would be nothing but a
red hat. To a maker of hats, though, it would be of such
and such a style, that color and this shape, individually
dyed or batch dyed, stitched or woven, made by someone
with skill or without, old and well worn or new and
unfaded- There's so much to know about things that the
amount is incredible, and some people with the Sight are
too lazy to leam it all. That's where a lot of them run into
"I do believe I would dislike trouble of that sort," he
said, a reluctant but definite admission. "Of what does
their dereliction consist?"
"Well, some of them tend to be the sort to believe that
any hold at all on a sleeve is enough to stop the person
wearing the sleeve," I said. "They describe as little of the
thing they're looking at as possible, exerting only a tenu-
ous hold over it, then try to make it do what they want.
Sometimes they're successful, usually they're only half
successful, and sometimes it doesn't work at all. They're
the ones who are too lazy to really leam me language of
spells, but mere are some who don't have the brains for it.
All the stupid ones can do is leam one or two very simple
spells, and then spend the rest of their lives coasting on the
reputation of being a witch or a magician. The real trouble
48 SHARON GREEN
comes when one of the stupid or lazy tries to do something
beyond them. They establish a weak or useless hold on
some dangerous entry, for example, then either get sucked
into it or let out things that don't get along with our kind
of life. It's pure hell getting a mess like that straightened
out again, especially if they happen to get sucked in and
leave the entry behind them. People without the Sight
can't See the entry, and end up getting sucked in right
behind the bungler."
"To disappear forever from the world they know," he
said with a shudder he made no attempt to hide. "Truly is
there a dark side to this thing called magic."
"Only if you go at it stupidly," I said, looking around
at the cool, green woods we were just entering. "There are
some people, without the Sight, who make a wrong dis-
tinction between white magic and black magic. They don't
understand that the Sighted arc otherwise no different from
me unSighted, some bright, some stupid, some decent and
some warped by something inside them. What the warped
try to do is use magic to advance themselves according to
their own peculiar values, but they try to do it in a way
that doesn't match reality. They See what me rest of us
See, but the vision doesn't suit them so they try to tell
themselves they're Seeing something else. When they be-
gin describing that something else in a spell, the spell and
me reality don't quite match up, but they're using very
precise language that brings them a lot of power. We've
discovered that that power—changes—the reality of what
the warped one is looking at, but not the way normal magic
changes things. To change something into something else
is easy, but only if you have a sure grasp of what that
something is to begin with; you're accepting its reality and
working from there. To alter that reality to begin with is
not black magic but something else entirely, and the sub-
stance for the change has to come from somewhere other
than thin air. The only place for the substance to come
from is the warped one's own body, and that's where it
does come from. They force reality to change to their view
of it, but pay a terrible price for the accomplishment.
Every use of that kind of power diminishes them, but most
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
of them won't admit it until mere isn't enough left of them
We were both silent for a while after that, the darker
woods a fitting backdrop for the dark subject we'd been
discussing, the happy chirps and squawks and chitterings
all around both incongruous and at the same time warm-
ing. Physical dark can never be as bad as the dark of the
mind, and after the while passed Kadrim Harra took a deep
breath of the sweet air we rode through.
"And the spells which you spent me darkness learn-
ing?" he said, bringing his attention back to me. "As
spells are merely descriptions of that which you see, for
what reason did you need to leam of what is not yet before
"The purpose of speaking a spelt is to gather power
over the thing you're describing," I said slowly, trying to
keep from confusing him. "If I can See something I can
describe it in the language of spells, and if I speak the
spell I have power over it. The problem is, although I can
feel the power someone has or has used by speaking a
spell, I can't See the spell itself—at least, not most spells.
If I can't See a spell sent to attack us, I can't defend
against it, nor can even the strongest wizard alive. The
only thing i can do is leam certain general defensive
spells, which describe conditions rather than solid objects.
Developing those spells took a lot of time and a lot of
dangerous work by very powerful wizards, and they must
be learned exactly right or they won't work—or, worse
than that, they'll work wrong. I could build us a house in
the middle of these woods right now without any trouble at
all, but I've Seen houses and can speak the spell without
the least danger. UnSeen spheres and platforms and things
are another matter entirely, so you can be sure I won't use
those spells unless I absolutely have to."
"A wise precaution," he agreed with a distracted nod,
again thinking about what he'd been told. "No man of
sense will use an untried and undependable weapon, save
that his life hinges upon that use. These spells of protec-
tion which were taught you—the wizard spoke them to you
so that you would know them? Over and over till they
"Of course not," I answered with a laugh, seeing it
would take some time before he absorbed all the details of
what magic was about. "If Graythor had spoken the spells
he would have invoked them, and then we would have
spent the night surrounded by invisible spheres and walls
and platforms. He had me leam them from his red
The blank look I got then made me feel annoyed with
myself, mainly for forgetting how little he knew about
magic, but also for the tiredness that was weighing me
down. I'd need to gather strength and alertness before the
morning was even half over, something I hadn't thought
would be necessary quite so soon. Maybe I was getting to
be older than I thought.
"A Grimoire is a book of spells, and each wizard puts
together his or her own," I explained, tossing my head to
get the hair back over my shoulders. "Some of them are
like Graythor's, simply written in the language of spells to
be used by anyone with the Sight, but some are more
involved- Spells that are written down deal with things that
can't be Seen, and not all wizards are willing to share the
work of decades with anyone who comes along. Those
wizards disguise their spells to look like this language
rather man the language of spells, and need a key before
they can be read as spells. Those are usually also red
Grimoires, but sometimes the same is done for safety
purposes with black Grimoires."
Again the blank look, but this time I was expecting it.
Maybe it was lack of sleep rather than age after all.
"There are two kinds of spells concerning the unSeen,"
I said, this time consciously noticing that the two men
ahead of us were glancing back to make sure we were still
with the group. Rikkan Addis had done that a few times
before, but then he did still consider himself leader of our
expedition. "The first set of spells are like the ones I've
learned, ones that have been developed and made reason-
ably safe by wizards of power, spells that will work right
if they're spoken right. The second kind of written spells
are ones that aren't safe at all, ones that are speculation
and have never been tried, ones that are tried but for some
reason don't always do what they're supposed to, and ones
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
that seem absolutely simple and safe, but will kill or erase
anyone who uses mem. Spells like that are black magic,
and are kept in black Grimoires, to let everyone know
what they are, and to be in a handy place where they can
be studied and tinkered with by any wizard who's grown
tired of living. I don't ever expect to get that tired of
"Nor I,*' he said with a chuckle, also having noticed
the attention from ahead, but making no effort to hurry us
into closing the gap we'd let grow. "Life, I believe, is
meant to be filled with enjoyment till it ends of its own
self. At dinner last darkness, the wizard disallowed discus-
sion upon the point of our former lives. Think you he
meant the ban to continue for all of this journey?"
"If that's what he'd wanted, he would have said so," I
answered with a shrug, wondering why he would ask that,
"Or he would have used a spell to be sure no one could
talk about themselves. Is there something about yourself
that you wanted to say?"
"At the moment, no more man that 1 am a king in my
own world," he said, his smile faint beneath those steady
blue eyes. "It was you I wished to speak of, to learn what 1
might of one who deals so easily with that which others
are unable to touch. Surely the power comes to you more
swiftly and easily than to others."
"The power only comes to those who work hard for it,"
I said with just a small sound of ridicule, remembering he
didn't really know about magic. "I've spent the last ten
years slaving away studying with my foster mother, who
was a wizard long before she ever found me. A wizard and
a slavedriver, but if there's one particular reason I'm a
sorceress now, she's it. She didn't have to take me time
away from her own studies but she did, and always let me
know how much she enjoyed it and how proud she was of
me. I owe her more than I'll ever be able to repay."
"She must truly be a great woman," he said, somehow
sounding as though he, a boy, was giving her, a wizard,
an approval she might not ordinarily be entitled to. "You
say that she is your foster mother, and that you were a
foundling? Who, then, are the people of your blood?"
*'It would be interesting to know," I muttered, moving
my eyes to the long gray mane bobbing in front of my
hands. "My earliest memory is of the streets of Geddenburg,
sleeping in deserted shacks, eating garbage, and begging
coppers with me rest of the kids who lived in the alley-
ways with me. I spent years among the street folk, eventu-
ally moving up, like all the others in our pack, to stealing,
but I wasn't very good at it. Morgiana caught me with a
hand in her purse, tripped me with a spell before I could
run far enough to lose myself in the crowds or alleys, then
dragged me home with her. She'd known immediately
that I was one of the Sighted, and wasn't about to let me
disappear back into the gutter. As close as she could tell I
was about twelve years old then, tall and thin and raggedy
and filthy, and stubborn as a brick wall. I've always
wondered where she found the patience to put up with
"Clearly she was able to see the woman you would
become," he said in a way mat let me know those eyes
were still on me. "Tall and slender, well-shaped and
lovely, strong as well as powerful. Had 1 a sleeve, perhaps
I would not escape as easily as 1 had thought."
"Oh, sure, lovely," I repeated sourly, reaching a hand
out to stroke the gray mane I still stared at. "With straw-
white hair and stupid-colored eyes and taller than almost
any other woman except Targa Emmen Su Daylath. That
was one of the reasons 1 was such a failure as a thief. A
good thief is more like a ghost, never noticed by the target
or mark, but how could anyone miss someone who looks
the way I do? If I weren't so stubborn 1 would have
changed myself years ago to something more normal, but I
don't want to do that. Looking like something else wouldn't
"And we must each of us be ourselves," he agreed, his
voice now a murmur. "I am honored that you would speak
to me so, sharing things which surely continue to give you
pain. Perhaps later I, too, will share a thing which is not
easily put into words."
"Only if you want to," I said, finally looking at him
again. "You're very easy to talk to, but 1 don't happen to
have that talent and I know it. And I'm also very tired and
probably have talked too much. All my closest friends in
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
the pack were male, but I haven't had a male friend since.
You don't mind being friends with someone older than
you, do you?"
"No, it would please me if we were friends," he said
with a sigh and the oddest smile, one mat made me think
that for some reason he was laughing at himself. "One is
never able to have too many friends." He paused a mo-
ment then said, "What of suitors? You have said naught of
them, yet surely there are many men who came to pay you
court? You speak of yourself with odd disapproval, yet a
man would need to be blind to see you as anything other
"You sound like Morgiana," I told him, making a face
at the nonsense he was trying to get me to believe. "If you
mink you like me way 1 look, it's only because we've
decided to be friends- She says it because she loves me,
and love does weird things even to the Sight. And no, our
doors haven't been broken down by droves of love-crazed
men coming to beg for my hand. Oh, I guess a few
sorcerers and one or two wizards have come calling the
last few years, but Morgiana didn't like them any more
than 1 did, and there must have been something wrong
with them if they were coming after me. But what about
you? You must have had hundreds of girlfriends back in
your own world, especially if you're a king."
"Indeed, I have had all the women I could desire," he
said, his smile widening to a grin. "Few as friends, yet
did 1 nevertheless find the time most pleasant. Many fe-
males seem to desire a king no matter the other qualities he
may or may not possess. Afterward, they, too, were
"Well, I know what's going to please me," I said,
glancing ahead to make sure we were still far enough back
before looking straight at him. "If I tell you something,
will you keep it just between us?"
"You would now share a secret," he said with another
sigh, the grin having gone elsewhere- "Perhaps, after that,
/ would do well to speak more plainly- For the moment,
you have my word that I will not repeat whatever is told
me. What is it you would have me know?"
"Just mis," 1 said, deciding 1 didn't have the time to
figure out whatever he was talking about. "I've already
mentioned how important this quest is to me, so when I
say I've decided to make sure it's run right, you won't be
surprised. As soon as we pass through the first gate I'm
going to take over as leader, and I want you to be my
second in command.''
"You?" he said, blinking at me with the sort of incom-
prehension he hadn't shown even when 1 was explaining
about magic. "Our leader? Has the wizard not said that the
man with glowing eyes is to be our leader? How do you
mean to convince ..."
"Convince nothing," 1 interrupted, gesturing aside his
objections- "Once I announce the change, he can either go
along with it or go back where he came from. Even if he
didn't agree, how could he stop me? Besides, I have
experience leading, and who knows how much he has? I
was leader of our street pack for almost two years before
Morgiana found me, and I made a damned good leader.
And wouldn't you rather be second in command instead of
just another member of the expedition?"
"At various times in his life, a man fmds me offer of
position tempting," he allowed with a nod and a very
bland look that somehow seemed to be covering amuse-
ment. "There is still, however, the matter of the wishes of
a wizard to consider. And this Rikkan Addis himself.
Should he leave us, we would be lacking his abilities when
we arrived at our destination. Would you see our quest
jeopardized through the lack of some necessary talent?"
"But that's just the point," I urged, determined to get
him off the fence. "All of us have specific talents but him;
he isn't supposed to do anything but lead- Under normal
circumstances / would have been the natural choice for
leader, but Graythor was given reason to doubt me. i don't
blame him for that doubt, but 1 also don't have the time to
prove to him how wrong he is. All 1 can do is what I know
"But what of the physical defense of our group?*' he
asked, the supposedly neutral question still keeping him
seated firmly where he had been. "Zail T'Zannis, Rikkan
Addis and I have been made responsible for our physical
defense, with Targa Emmen Su Daylath to assist us should
THE PAR SIDE OF FOREVER
it become necessary. It would not benefit us to lose one of
I looked ahead to see again the swords worn by the two
men and the big woman, not to mention the wide slab of
edged metal hanging sheathed between Kadrim Harra and
myself. They all wore the weapons as if they were a part
of them, but that couldn't be as important as the boy
thought it was.
"Magic is better than a sword any day," I assured him,
speaking with all the confidence I felt. "And there's al-
ways the chance that he won't leave the group once he's
replaced anyway. Now, what do you say? Are you with
"1—must have some time to consider the thing," he
hedged, me mind behind those blue eyes working fast. "I
shall come to you when we have halted for the darkness,
and we may continue the discussion then. Is this accept-
able to you, lady?"
"1 suppose so," I grudged with a sigh, knowing 1
wasn't about to get a commitment out of him right then
even if we kept talking for the rest of the morning. "And
you don't have to call me 'lady'. My name is Laciel."
"A lovely name for a lovely woman," he said, really in
a hurry to change subjects. "It would please me to have
you call me Kadrim. Have you no other names to go with
the one, Laciel? A woman such as you should have many
names for a man to put his lips upon."
"Those with the Sight usually use only one name," 1
explained with no more than partial attention to what I was
saying, already being distracted by the consideration of
what time would be best for the takeover. "There's a
heavy link between people and their names, so if you
know their real names you have considerably more power
over them. The Sighted all have use names, chosen for
them by someone else to cut down on possible affinity-
choices, and those are the names they're known by.
Morgiana chose Lay-see-el, and I can't think of a name I'd
"Yes, it would definitely be wisest waiting for the
darkness," he muttered, for some reason back to sighing. 1
56 SHARON GREEN
couldn't imagine why he kept making such strange com-
ments, but at that point I had other things to think about.
The woods we rode through lasted until the sun had
climbed a good deal higher in the sky, and then they
deserted us. Beyond was a wider road leading between
broad, cultivated fields, and by that time Kadrim and I
were riding considerably closer to the rest of the group.
Targa Emmen Su Daylath was still in the lead with Soffann
Dra half a length behind her, Zail T'Zannis beside Soffann
Dra, and Rikkan Addis alone just behind them. He'd
looked over his shoulder one last time when Kadrim and I
had finally caught up, a curious expression in those bronze
eyes when they touched the redheaded boy, and after that
he hadn't bothered looking back again. It occurred to me
that he might be considering Kadrim a possible rival for
his new position, which just goes to show how wrong you
can be if you really work at it.
It wasn't quite noon when we reached the town, in the
middle of lots of other traffic, both vehicular and foot.
Wagons and people on horseback and even more people on
shank's mare were converging on the meadow that stretched
wide and crowded in front of the town, and everyone was
laughing and joking in the true holiday spirit. Tents and
booths and wagons were spread out all over the meadow,
tinny-sounding bands were playing, conversation, barter-
ing and come-ons sounded everywhere from the growing
crowds, and the previously fresh air was heavy with the
smells of animals, people, food, leather goods, newly
worked metal, you name it. The town was having a fair,
and everyone from fifty miles around or more must have
come to enjoy it.
"Oh, I wonder what jewelry and silks they're show-
ing," Soffann Dra exclaimed, leaning up in her stirrups to
see if anything was visible from where we'd stopped be-
side the road. From the fact that those hours of riding
hadn't affected her any more than it had the rest of us, I
could see that Graythor had given her more than simple
"We'll just be stopping for a meal and a short rest."
Rikkan Addis said as he looked around, his tone distracted
and very faintly unsure. "We might even be best off
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
continuing on to the inn on the other side of this town that
the wizard told me about. Wandering around in a crowd
this size doesn't strike me as a very good idea."
"But the people at the inn are probably all here,"
Soffann Dra protested with a pretty pout, moving her
white horse closer to the man's roan. "Please, Rik, just
for a little while, it won't hurt anything. Won't you say
yes for me?"
When she batted her long, dark lashes his way she was
almost close enough to knock him off his horse, and
probably would have if he hadn't been that much bigger
than she. When he didn't answer immediately it was most
likely concussion that kept him silent, and that gave Zail
T'Zannis a chance to jump in.
"It might be a good idea at that, Rik," he urged, faint
amusement in his gray eyes. "I don't know about the rest
of you, but I think I'd like to get a closer look at the
people we'll be trying to help. Bring it away from the
idealistic and down to the personal, so to speak."
"We don't have that much time, but I suppose it'll be
all right," Rikkan Addis gave in with a sigh, opting for
reasonable instead of stubborn. "Let's find a place to
leave the horses." ^
He and the others began looking around for a good spot
that would be out of the way, but they weren't likely to
find one unless they went into the town itself. At first I
hadn't wanted to take the lime to stop at the fair, but Zail
T'Zannis' request had given me an urge of my own. Just
in case the unthinkable happened, I needed one last happy
time among the people of my world-
"Everyone bring their horses over to that tree," I said,
pointing to a tall, lonesome specimen that stood about fifty
feet to the right of the road, on the side opposite the fair
meadow. "We can leave the horses right there."
"All tied to that one tree?" Zail T'Zannis asked with a
laugh, mis time giving me those gray eyes. "Right where
anyone coming by can walk off with them? If we leave
them there, one of us will have to stay to guard them."
"Don't worry, Zail, I'll stay with them," Rikkan Addis
said, finally giving up on looking around. "There isn't any
58 SHARON GREEN
place better, not unless we go into the town. Just remem-
ber to bring something back for me to eat."
"What noble sacrifice," I commented, backing my gray
out of the press of other horse bodies before turning to-
ward the tree. "If you'll all quit criticizing, complaining
or volunteering and just follow me, you'll fmd mat no one
has to stay behind."
A puzzled silence followed along with them, especially
when I told them not to tie their mounts in what would
have proved to be a very restricted area for such big
horses. Once we were all dismounted I had them move
back, then looked at the area surrounding the tree and
horses. As soon as I decided what size I wanted it to be, I
raised my right hand and spoke the two words necessary to
get it done. The silence behind me was suddenly filled
with startled exclamations, and when I turned to my five
companions they were dividing their stare between me and
"They're gone!" Soffann Dra exclaimed, looking less
than pleased with that. "I loved that horse, and now he's
gone! What have you done with him?"
"He's right mere behind the fence," I answered with a
good deal less excitement, glancing over at her. "Would
you prefer being inside with him to visiting me fair?"
"I don't see a fence," she protested, this time without
the exclamation points, her hands flat to the middle of her
pretty green gown, her eyes wider than they had been.
"And neither will anyone else," Rikkan Addis said
with satisfaction, his bronze-colored eyes glowing very
faintly. "I can see your magic is going to come in handier
than I'd expected, giri."
"There is something here I do not grasp," Kadrim said
thoughtfully, just in time to keep me from putting another
fence around Rikkan Addis. My magic was likely to come
in handier than he had expected?
"1 can't imagine what you could be missing, my friend,"
Zail T'Zannis said to Kadrim with a grin while I glared at
Rikkan Addis, who never noticed a damned thing. "First
the horses are there, and now they've disappeared. Noth-
"The horses haven't disappeared," I said for what felt
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
like the thirtieth time, moving part of my glare to the
curly-haired Zail T'Zannis. "I just put a fence around
them, to keep mem in and other people out. You're not
really seeing the tree through the fence, only an image of
it, and I've added a 'Keep Out' sign that will make people
walk around it rather than blunder into it. Don't any of you
know anything about magic?"
"You know how meager my own knowledge upon the
subject is," Kadrim said smoothly while Zail T'Zannis at
least had the grace to look uncomfortable. "I had thought I
now possessed a partial understanding of me thing, yet is
this cleariy not so. You had said, I thought, that you
would hesitate to use spells for the unseen, yet now you
have done so with no difficulty and less reluctance. I
would know from where my confusion arises."
"It arises from your definition of 'unSeen'," I told him,
looking up into those steady blue eyes instead of into all
the rest of the eyes on me. "Invisible and unSeen are two
different things, and what you're looking at now—or,
rather, not looking at—is simply invisible. My spell built a
fence just like any other fence, except for the fact that it
can't be seen. Ail I did was leave the outer physical
appearance of 'fence' out of4ny description, so everything
appeared but its appearance. I hww what the fence looks
like, so it isn't 'unSeen'. 'UnSeen' has no physical appear-
ance to begin with, which is what makes it so hard to
Kadrim was frowning while his mind wrestled with
what he'd been told, but his expression was the mildest of
the five. Soffann Dra looked totally bewildered and lost,
Targa Emmen Su Daylath was sighing and shaking her
head, Zail T'Zannis was hitting his temple with the heel of
his hand—as though he thought something had gone wrong
with his hearing—and Rikkan Addis was looking around
impatiently. Our fearless leader didn't seem to be very
impressed, and his next words proved it.
"I think we'd better get on to finding some food," he
said, garnering everyone along with a gesture as he turned
back toward the road. "The horses will be safe until we
come back for them, and the lectures can wait until we're
on our way again. All of you stay as close as possible to
6o SHARON GREEN
me, we don't want to get separated in the crowds. The
wizard gave me enough gold to feed us on a regular basis,
so let's start using some of it."
"So let's start using some of it," 1 mimicked softly at
their retreating backs, watching them all heading toward
the road and the fair excitement beyond. "Lectures can
wait until later. Stay as close to me as possible." He
wasn't the expedition leader he was the Daddy, and even
Kadrim was old enough to get along without that. When I
took over, we'd all be even better off than I'd thought.
I trailed along after them into the eager, jostling crowds,
but after a minute or two made no effort to keep up. When
I wanted to find them I'd have no trouble doing it, and
they certainly couldn't ride off and leave me. The sun was
high and hot enough to be uncomfortable, the crowds were
thick enough and close enough to compound that, and
despite the strength I'd gathered to me with a revitalizing
spell, I could still feel a shadow of tiredness; none of that
made any difference, however, in the face of the holiday
feeling I was catching from everyone around me. It had to
be more than two years since I'd last been to a fair, and I'd
loved them even when I was little and couldn't afford to
buy anything. Everyone was always so happy there, and it
felt as if all the people in the world were gathered in that
one place to have fun.
The rush of the crowd carried me with it for a little way,
and then people began moving off in different directions,
men pointing things out to the women with them, kids
tugging at their parents in an effort to make them hurry,
women entranced by the sight of things they'd love to have
and towing chuckling men behind by the hand. Food
smells competed with one another in the heavy air, and
hawkers shouted at the crowds to get mem over to the
booths and buying. Clowns ran in and out of the thinner
crowds, fighting with one another and making people laugh,
urging them to come to their show later and then skipping
off. I was doing no more than strolling around, drinking it
all in, and then I saw one exhibition that drew me to it.
Outside a big black tent with silver stars and moons on
it stood a tall man with a black beard, wearing a long,
wide-sleeved dark blue robe and a tall, pointed hat, both
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 61
decorated like the tent. The man was holding a wand and
talking to the people who had paused in front of his tent,
watching them as they watched the three-legged brazier
standing to his right. A thick bed of coats glowed red in
the brazier, and just above me coals lazed a wide flame
with two very black eyes. The eyes looked up at the
people staring down at them, and when they shifted from
one face to the next, people gasped.
"Don't understand what that's supposed to be," a quiet
voice said from beside me, surprising me into looking
around. Targa Emmen Su Daylath stood at my right elbow
a short distance back from the people in front of the tent,
her eyes on the brazier and the flame, her arms folded
across her chest. None of the others seemed to be with her,
and then it came to me that she'd asked a question.
"That's a salamander," 1 supplied, studying her as she
studied the two black eyes. "The magician is telling the
crowd that his arts captured it and keep it in forced service
to him, but that's just a come-on to get them into the tent
and pay to see the rest of the show. The salamander isn't
bound, it's just here visiting and seeing the sights. When it
gets bored it will simply move on, and he'll have to find
another one to make a deal w^h. They're not master and
slave, they're business partners." .
"Thought the thing might need freeing," she said, bring-
ing her attention away from the attraction and back to me.
"Don't know more about magic than that it is, and don't
really want to know. Shouldn't have wandered away from
us in a place like this, too easy to get lost. Rik said we
should stay together.' *
"I'm sure Rik says a lot of things," I commented,
bringing a flash of amusement to her calm, dark brown
eyes. "If you're so worried about what Daddy will think,
what are you doing away from the nest? I can always use
magic to find them, but you can't."
"Wizard said my tracking ability is some kind of magic,"
she informed me, the words as easy and unimpressive as
the rest of what she'd said had been. "He fixed it so I
could see any trail 1 want to see, and if I can see it I can
follow it. That's how I'm following our trail."
"So if you want to go back, you'll just follow your own
62 SHARON GREEN
trail to where you left them. then theirs to wherever they
went," 1 acknowledged with a nod, still looking up at her.
"That says how you'll get back, but not why you came
away in the first place."
"When there's a group, don't like seeing one all alone
out of it," she said, a faint smite appearing to add to the
calm. "In the tribe, we don't let it happen. You don't like
Rik, but he's got the gold and you have to be as hungry as
I studied her in silence for a moment, her big body more
man half a head taller than mine and proportionately wider,
her long, light brown hair supported in a high tail by its
bone holder, the yellow leather and swordbelt she wore
doing more to add to her air of competence than detract
from it. She seemed to really enjoy going barefoot, so she
simply did it. Just the way she seemed prepared to do
anything else she felt needed doing. Straight out with no
"No, I don't like Rik," I said after me moment, giving
her the sort of smile she was giving me. "But he's not the
only one with coins in his hand, so there's no reason to go
back right away. Let's get something to eat first."
I hadn't needed to use a word, only a gesture, which
meant that she blinked in surprise when I opened my hand
to show the silver. Gold is fine for inns and cities, but at
country fairs silver does better. Less change to get when
you buy something, and less of a stir when you produce it.
There was a food stall not far from the magician's tent, so
we headed for it.
"Your tribe must be a really good place to live,1* I
remarked as we walked, privately hoping that the lines at
the food stall would move quickly. "If everyone's as
friendly as you say, you must miss it quite a lot."
"Would miss it more if my man was still alive," she
answered, also eying me lines we were nearing. "He was
me one who made me feel a part of it all, without him I
don't much care. Hunted for the tribe because they were
good people, because they needed all the hunters they
could get, but my being gone won't make much differ-
ence. A thousand hunters won't keep them alive in those
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 63
empty lands they ran to, and they're too afraid to go back
to where the game is."
"Why?" I asked with a frown, stopping behind the
crowd of food buyers to look up at her. "Why should they
go to a place to starve, and what happened to your man?"
"Died in the fight with the Wolf tribe," she said, her
shrug putting the whole thing beyond anyone's ability to
change. "Wolf tribe wanted everybody else's land, so they
started a war. We were the third they fought with, and we
didn't do any better than the rest. Our men died where
they stood, and the rest of the tribe ran till they got to the
empty land. Nothing left but women and kids and old
ones, nothing that could face me Wolf tribe. If they went
back the Wolves would take the women and kids and kill
off the old, and they don't want that. Without men to fight
for them, they have no choice- Wanted to go with my man
to stand against me Wolves, but he said no. Didn't want
me dead, he said. Dead wouldn't have been as bad as he
Her dark eyes were still calm as she merely stated facts,
but / could feel the hurt she wasn't showing. People still
enjoyed themselves all around us, but a little of the warm
brightness was gone from the^day. I looked down at the
piece of silver in my hand, then back up to the big hunter.
"After this quest is over, maybe you'd care to join me
on another trip," I suggested, weighing the coin in my
hand. "I think I'd like to meet that Wolf tribe."
"Won't like meeting you," was all she said, but the
grin she suddenly showed was full of anticipation, not to
mention the first of its kind to be seen on her. The big
woman didn't seem to be the sort to grin much, and I
could understand that. Apparently I'd found something she
could grin at, which I could understand even better. No,
the Wolf tribe would definitely not enjoy meeting me.
The lines in front of us finally thinned enough for us to
reach the stall, and the wait turned out to be worth it. The
stall people were selling meat pies, vegetable pies and fruit
pies, all of them composed of the lightest, most delicious
crust I'd ever tasted. AH the fillings were just as special,
and I was glad I'd bought one of each for each of us. We
stood at the side of me stall eating the delights one after
64 SHARON GREEN
the other, trying not to burn our mouths but making no
effort to wait until they cooled, and it didn't take long to
realize what we were missing. I licked up the last of the
crumbs on my hand, then glanced over at my companion.
"After that, Targa Emma Su Daylath, we need some-
thing cold and wet," I announced, already beginning to
look around at the other stalls and tents. "If you'U tell me
what you'd like, we'll go and find it."
"Always been partial to ale," she answered, brushing
her hands together to get rid of her own crumbs. "Passed
an ale tent on my way here, should be in that direction.
And you can call me Su. My man was Targa Emmen Vad
Areth, Vad and Su the hunters, for the Hawk tribe."
"Su, then," I said with a nod and a smile. "I'm Laciel,
and ale it is in that direction."
We left the stall and headed toward where me ale tent
would be, happily filled and looking forward to quenching
our thrist before rejoining me others. People moved every-
where and in every direction, making us thread our way
through them until we reached a reasonably uncrowded
alley between two lines of tents and stalls. With gambling
going on inside some of the tents and dancers putting on
their shows in others, most of the foot traffic was already
under canvas. Su and I, able to breathe again, strolled up
me alley looking at what could be seen of the doings in
the tents, and were surprised when three men suddenly
materialized in front of us. They wore old and dirty leather—
high, scuffed boots, plain, worn swordbelts—and two of
them had beards. The two with beards were straight-faced,
but the shaven one was grinning.
"You girls looking for a good time?" he asked, letting
his eyes move back and forth between Su and myself, his
book-end friends standing slightly behind him. "You just
come along with us, and we'll show you the best time you
"We're not looking for anything you could help us
with," I told him coldly, letting him see I wasn't joking.
"Just get out of our way and find someone else to show a
good time to."
"Now, that's not being very friendly," the beardless
man complained, his dark eyes finally settling for me, his
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
grin undisturbed. "You're the only one at this whole fair
who interests me, and 1 won't take no for an answer."
He moved one step toward me, raising his hand to take
my arm, but before he could touch me or the step was
completed, he was stopped by a big hand in the middle of
his chest. The man was barely an inch taller than me,
which made it necessary for him to look up at Su, the one
whose hand had stopped him.
"Wouldn't do that if I were you," she said in her calm,
easy voice, unimpressed by the way the man's grin faded to
a scowl. "Better find somebody else, the way she said."
"And I said I didn't want anybody else," he contradicted
with a matching evenness, then without warning dropped
a wide shoulder to knock Su away from me. The next
instant he and his friends were close and grabbing for me,
and that got me almost as angry as what he'd done to Su. 1
snapped out a word of power meant to drop them in their
tracks—then felt my jaw drop when they did no more man
shiver before closing in to grab me. They were under the
protection of some sort of warding spell, which probably
meant they did that kind of thing on a regular basis. I
could have countered their warding spell if I'd known its
details, but I didn't know and didn't have the time to find
out. They all had their hands or anus on me, and despite
me way I was kicking and struggling, they were beginning
to force me back up me alleyway.
And then a sound came that no one could miss, the
sound of a sword being freed of its scabbard. The beard-
less man and one of his helpers whirled away from me as
they drew their own weapons, paying no attention to the
small clumps of people who had appeared from some-
where to stare and point and ask each other what was
going on. The only one they looked at was Su, her sword
in her fist as she stood waiting for them. The third one
still had his left arm around my waist and his right hand
clamped to my right arm, my kicking doing nothing more
than making him curse. I twisted in his grip but couldn't
get loose—and then the other two had closed with Su:
The sound of metal on metal turned me more desperate
man I had been, especially when I saw that Su was good
enough with a sword to hold her own against the two men
for a while, but probably wouldn't be able to best them
both. They would wear her down and kill her before
dragging me off for the ransom or whatever they'd decided
they could get, and I couldn't let that happen. They were
protected against my magic just then, but there's more
than one way to use magic.
The proper gesture and word put the long, heavy piece
of squared wood into my left hand, and I lost no time in
bringing it up and back with alt my strength, catching the
man who held me in the side of the head. He grunted at
the blow and immediately began falling, nearly taking me
down with him before his grip relaxed enough for me to
free myself- As soon as I had pulled loose I ran over to the
three who were swinging away at each other with swords
and did a little swinging of my own, directly at the head of
the second bearded man. Su had been swiping toward his
middle just then, and when his guard dropped she opened
him from side to side. He went straight down to the
ground without making any sound, first unconscious and
The beardless man was left to face Su, and that didn't
make him very happy. She had been able to hold off
two swords against her own, and once the odds had been
evened she went on the offensive. He suddenly found
himself defending frantically against an attack that had
almost as much strength behind it as his own, and didn't
seem quite able to match the speed of it. Su drove him
back step by step, and when he tried to disengage and run
she didn't allow it. One quick, strong lunge put her point
in his chest, and when she jerked it out again he never felt
it. He dropped his sword, then folded to the ground, and
that was the end of that.
"That was really nice," I began, moving forward with
the block of wood still in my hand, but was interrupted by
a commotion coming from the other end of the alley. Su
and I both immediately turned that way, sword and wood
coming up together, but all it turned out to be was three
familiar male figures rushing up with swords in their hands,
one small female figure hurrying along behind them. In-
stead of us finding the group, me group had done the
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
"What's going on here?" Rikkan Addis demanded as
the three stopped beside us, all of them looking around at
the mess Su had made. "What happened?"
"Didn't listen when we said to move on," Su told him.
bending to wipe her weapon on her second opponent.
"Tried to take Laciel along with them, didn't think I'd
draw on numbers. Some men are damn fools. Good swing
with mat wood, girl."
"My pleasure," I told her with a smile, gesturing the
wood back to the air it had come from. "Most especially
with the one who was still holding me."
I turned my head to look at my first victim, but all that
was left of him was a mark in the scuffed dirt where he'd
fallen. He'd probably come around soon enough to find
himself outnumbered, and had faded back into the wood-
work where his kind came from.
"Did they harm you?" Kadrim demanded from my
right elbow, and when I looked back saw that he was
talking only to me, a scowl on his smooth, handsome face.
"You must surely be greatly upset from so harrowing an
"Why would I be upset?" I asked, amused at me way he
slammed his sword back into ite scabbard as though disap-
pointed that he had no one to use k on. "It's been a good
number of years, but when I lived on the streets this sort of
tiling happened all the time- Not to me, of course, but I
wasn't worth ransoming back then. And no, they didn't
hurt me, just mussed me a little."
"This wouldn't have happened if you two had stayed
with tile rest of us as you were told to do," Rikkan Addis
interrupted with a growl, moving nearer to glare at Su and
myself. His weapon had also been returned to its scab-
bard, but his bronze eyes glowed with the sharpness of a
sword edge. "Do you know where we'd be if Su had been
badly wounded or killed? We'd be without anyone to find
the trail for us, and therefore stopped even before we
started! We'd be able to turn this expedition around and go
crawling back to the wizard on our bellies, beaten by our
own stupidity. Didn't that even occur to you?"
By the end of his speech / was me only one those eyes
were accusing, his broad face adding to their anger, tight
fists set on hips. Su had been endangered because of me,
because I had disobeyed our great, bronze-eyed leader,
and that could have meant the end of our quest. Rikkan
Addis was a little taller than Su, but that wasn't the reason
he was looking down at me. I'd been a bad little girl, and
now was being scolded for it.
"Since I didn't set out to get Su hurt, it certainly did not
occur to me what might happen," I came back at him,
finding that I'd straightened to my full height, somewhat
aware of the absolute silence holding the rest of our group.
"For your information Su's safety is more important to me
than just in relation to this quest, and if it came right down
to it, I would not have let her get hurt. And even if she
was, for one reason or another, unable to follow the trail
for us, there would still be nothing to stop me from doing
it. Or didn't you know that if I had to, I could bring her
abilities under my control? It would not be particularly
easy, but I could do it."
For someone who had had so many words eariier, he
seemed to have no immediate response to that. I was
standing there and glaring up at him with my own fists on
my hips, furious that he'd lecture me like a child, and in
front of a crowd of people at that. If it hadn't been possible
that Graythor was watching us I would have taken the
leadership from him then and there, but knowing Graythor
he probably was watching. Once we passed through the
first gate, though, he would no longer be able to watch,
and that's when I would make my move. Our fearless
leader absorbed my justifiable truculence with no more
than a thoughtful blink of those bronze eyes, and then he
had brushed it all aside.
"What you can or can't do is completely beside the
point," he said in a flat-voiced growl, making the only
kind of judgment his sort was capable of, "We were
brought together for a purpose, and wandering around
separately, getting into trouble, isn't it. From now on no
one leaves this group without my permission, or the worst
trouble they'll find will come from my direction. Now,
let's get to the horses and back on the road."
He moved one step away and just waited, as though
expecting me to jump to it as fast as I could, desperate to
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
keep from finding the awftu, hovering doom he'd prom-
ised for disobedience. I let my eyes move down his rust-
colored leather to his boots and then back up to his thick
black hair, then deliberately turned to look at Su.
"We haven't had our ale yet, have we?" I remembered
aloud, seeing the instant amusement in her brown eyes
before she lowered her gaze to inspect the back of her left
hand. "I think we'd better get to it fast, to keep the others
from being impatient. I'm sure they're eager to be back on
Rikkan Addis seemed to have forgotten that / was the
only one who could get behind me fence to the horses, but
apparently me others hadn't. They stirred where they stood
and exchanged quick glances, and for the most part looked
everywhere but at the man who was playing leader. In
actual fact I was even more anxious than he was to take up
the trail again, but considering what we had ahead of us,
ten minutes wasn't likely to make that much of a differ-
ence, and the man had to be taught where he stood with
me. Su hesitated, not quite sure what to say, but good old
Rik took care of that for her,
"You can either walk back to the horses now on your
own, or get carried there over my shoulder," he stated, me
words surprisingly mild in view of his previous anger. "If
I'm leader of this expedition I'm leader over everyone,
which includes you, girl. I don't know why the wizard
wants you in on something as important as this, but if he
thinks we'll need a bad-tempered, ill-mannered trouble-
maker, it's my job to see that she goes with us. You have
your choice, now make it."
The flat challenge hung in the air behind my left shoul-
der, just about where mat stupid man stood, and everyone
was silent again, waiting to see what I'd do. What I
wanted to do was something classical but tacky, like turn-
ing him into a toad or making him three inches high and
then doing a stomp-dance around him, but I couldn't
afford to forget about Graythor and that obedience spell
he'd promised to use. Challenge-answering would have to
wait until we passed through the first gate, but that didn't
mean I had to put up with nonsense. Without even glanc-
ing at me man I put both hands out between Su and
70 SHARON GREEN
myself, palms upward and fingers slightly bent, then said
the proper word. When the two pewter mugs of ale
appeared I handed one to a startled Su, then took the other
by the grip and turned part way back to Rikkan Addis.
"At your service, master, anything you say, master,
yessir, boss," I acknowledged, raising my mug to him in
salute before taking a good swallow from it. The ale was
delicious, dark and cold and just right for the heat of the
day, and after I'd had my swallow I began leading the way
out of the alley- The rest of them came after me without
comment, a silence that lasted all the way back to the
horses. Rikkan Addis should have been thrilled that he'd
gotten his way, but from the last glimpse I'd had of his
expression, I didn't think he was.
Beyond the town there were more fields, and beyond the
fields there were stands of woods, some open grassland,
one stretch of flats, and occasional solitary farms with neat
rows of plantings and fenced in pastures right in the mid-
dle of nothing else. The horses had been satisfied with the
rest and me grass they'd found inside their fence, and
moved along as strongly and evenly as they had that
morning. It took at least an hour before the general silence
was broken, and then only to a certain degree. Su rode out
ahead again with Rikkan Addis not far behind her, Kadrim
had begun a conversation with Soffann Dra, and that left
Zail T'Zannis with something of a problem. He clearly
wanted to talk to somebody, but Su was busy studying the
road, Soffann Dra was exchanging low-voiced chatter with
an absorbed, redheaded boy, and as far as our still-silent
leader went, if the expression on his face meant anything
he probably would have shredded anyone who dared to
approach him. That left only me, but it took the curly-
haired man a minute or two to decide to chance it. The
way he made an effort to ease back without bringing
himself to Rikkan Addis' attention showed he knew how
popular anyone in my company was likely to be with our
leader. Bravely and deftly he did it anyway, though, and
men his black was moving beside my gray where 1 brought
up the rear of our company.
"I wanted to tell you that that ale looked better than
what we had," he offered, grinning widely with an amuse-
ment he didn't seem able to hold down any longer. "I
must say, though, that you giris deserved it. There wasn't
anything left for us men to do."
"It was a lucky thing Su is that good with a sword," I
said, unbending a little at his attitude. "That was just
about the worst time for something like that to happen, but
kidnappers don't usually stop to make convenient appoint-
ments. It also would have been easier if they hadn't been
warded against spells."
"Well, they certainly had good taste when it came to
picking victims," he said, his gray eyes laughing, and
then a more sobering thought came to him. "What do you
mean, they were warded against spells? Does that mean
you couldn't use magic against them?"
"Exactly," I answered with a nod, wondering why they
all seemed to know so little about magic. "If you're going
into the kidnapping business, your best bet is to get some
gold accumulated first, and then go to an apprentice sor-
cerer or sorceress and have a warding spell put on you.
Most apprentices can't yet see gold or silver in fine enough
detail to reproduce it, but warding is simple enough for
just about anybody to do. And a lot of honest people, like
those who deal in jewels or precious metals, pay to be
warded against dishonest magic. If you can manage to
look upright enough, the apprentice will pay more atten-
tion to the fee than the reason you want to be warded, and
you're in business."
"The kidnapping business," he said, distaste briefly
wrinkling his expression. "What makes these warding
spells so simple?"
"The fact that they're nothing more than invisible re-
flecting surfaces," 1 said, this time wondering if I ought to
set up a general lecture series. "What the speH does is put
a thin, undetectable mirror bubble around the person, one
specifically designed to reflect back magic, but the minor
details make it hard to crack. The bubble doesn't necessar-
ily have to be round, and its thickness can also vaiy.
which means no one who doesn't know its exact shape and
thickness can dissolve it. In order to have power over it
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
.you have to describe it in detail; without the detail, you're
wasting your time trying."
"Maybe they weren't trying to kidnap you," he sug-
gested after shaking his head, a grin beginning to grow
again. "Maybe they just couldn't get a woman any other
way, and were desperate. Once or twice I've considered
trying that method myself."
"But you're not warded," I pointed out with a chuckle,
enjoying the comment he'd made. "If you try it on the
wrong woman, you could end up a living two-dimensional
cut-out, hung on a wall for decoration or rolled up and put
away on a shelf. Which is what I intend doing to that third
one who disappeared, if I ever come across him unwarded.
1 don't like being strong-armed."
"I don't blame you a bit," he agreed, his left hand
coming across the space between us to close gently over
one of mine, his pretty gray eyes filled with understand-
ing. "Men who try to force themselves on women deserve
anything they get. Women arc there to be appreciated, and
taken care of, and handled gently, like the priceless works
of art they are. Don't you think so?"
"I—never really thought about it," I stumbled, sud-
denly very aware of his hand on mine, wishing his eyes
would let mine go. The saddle was harder than it had been
and the day abruptly hotter, and if my mount hadn't been
watching the road we probably would have found our-
selves off it.
"It's the best and only way," he assured me, his smile
very warming in spite of its softness, "From the moment I
first saw you I knew you were a woman who was born to
be treated like that, and myself as the man born to do it.
I'm Zail and you're Laciel, and when we stop at an inn
tonight we'll have dinner together, just you and me. If
young Kadrim tries to join us, we'll just tell him we'd
prefer being alone It's about time someone starting treat-
ing you the right way, not shouting at you the way Rik
did, and you'll have a wonderful time. I guarantee it."
At that point I couldn't think of anything to say, not in
any language ever created. No man had ever spoken to me
like that before, especially not one as good-looking at Zail,
and I couldn't decide if 1 wanted to drop my eyes away
from his or keep on noticing how beautiful his were. I
have no idea how long the dilemma lasted, but suddenly it
was solved in a way that should have been predictable.
"Zail!" Rikkan Addis called, looking back over his
shoulder at us, his expression only a little lighter than it
had been. "I could use a few minutes of your time."
"Right with you, Rik," Zait acknowledged with a wave,
then his attention was briefly mine again. "I have to go
now, but I'll probably be useless if he wants to discuss
anything in the way of planning for the quest. My mind
will be too full of thoughts about tonight. Until then ..."
He took my hand and raised it briefly to his lips, then he
was urging his black horse forward toward where Rikkan
Addis rode in our procession, up front where a leader
belonged. I looked down at the hand Zail had kissed.
wondering why it tingled that way, wondering if I should
curse fearless leader for breaking things up just then, or
thank him for doing it. Zait was unlike any man I had ever
known, and somehow I couldn't decide how I should feel
about what he'd said. Dinner together, just the two of us,
him and me. I'd occasionally had dinner with men before,
but they'd been magic users and couldn't seem to talk
about anything but that. Not to mention how nervous
they'd been. Zail wouldn't be nervous, and somehow I
knew he wouldn't be talking about magic, and I found
myself wanting to hear what he would be talking about. I
shifted in the saddle, knowing I'd be thinking about him
even after the dinner was over and I'd gone to bed, and
discovered that I liked that idea. We'd be spending a lot of
time together until the quest was finished, and I liked that
idea even more. Maybe having companions along wasn't
going to be so bad after all.
The rest of the afternoon drifted by without bringing
itself to my attention, most of my thoughts involved with
the quest and where it would take us. That particular line
of consideration was enough to distract me even from
thoughts of Zail and dinner, and no matter how hard I tried
pushing it away, it continued to insist on coming back and
hopping around in front of me. Graythor had told everyone
the night before that the quest would take us an unbe-
lievably far distance from that world-dimension, but he
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
hadn't gone into details about what we would find there.
He hadn't lied when he'd said he didn't know what we
would find, but he hadn't mentioned any of the stories
we'd both heard about the place, either. . . .
"Oh, thank goodness we're finally here," Soffann Dra's
voice came, drawing me back to the world-dimension we
hadn't yet left. "I don't think I could have ridden one foot
The "it" she was talking about was the inn we'd been
looking for, one that wasn't supposed to be very far from
the first gate. We'd spend our last night on that world in
comfort, and after that take accommodations as they came.
If nothing turned up that was suitable I'd produce tents and
things for us with magic, which kept us from having to
drag along pack horses and tons of equipment, which in
turn would make things easier for me at the gates. It took a
lot of power and strength to move things without power of
their own through a gate, and five people and six horses
were going to be hard enough.
The inn was bright in the darkness that had descended
on everything around it, standing in the middle of a large
cleared space in me woods to the right of the road. Wel-
coming light spilled out of windows on each of its two
floors, and lanterns had been set on the outside of both
house and stable. It promised a comfortable haven in the
middle of nothing but trees and road. and yet even as we
rode into the yard and slowed to a stop. something about it
began bothering me. It was cheerful and friendly and we
could hear the sounds of conversation coming from inside,
but there was something. . . .
"Rub them all down and give them oats, boy," Rikkan
Addis was saying to me gangling teenager who had hurried
out of the stable, followed by two younger assistants.
"We'll be staying the night, but we'll want them early
"Yes, sir!" the boy acknowledged, snatching the coin
tossed to him out of the air and pocketing it quickly before
taking the reins being held out. Then he gestured hurriedly
to his assistants to do the same with the rest of our horses,
which meant it was time to dismount. I was almost as tired
as Soffann Dra claimed to be, which was probably why I
76 SHARON GREEN
was seeing strangeness where there wasn't any. The fresh,
dewy night air was beginning to make me sleepy, and I
hoped getting back on my own two feet would wake me up
a little. I started to dismount—and suddenly felt an arm
around my waist.
"Here, let me help you," Zail said, lifting me down
against his chest before slowly lowering me to the ground.
There was more than enough light to see those gray eyes
by, and they were looking at me again as they had that
afternoon. His arms didn't leave my waist immediately,
die hand firm against my ribs, and once again I felt as
though I'd lost the ability to speak. It was stupid for a
grown woman to be acting that way, as though she'd never
met or spoken to a man in her life before, but there was
something about that particular man. . . .
"Let's get inside and settled," Zail said, letting me go
as though reluctant to do it, then taking the single rein I
held to give it to the boy waiting for it. "As soon as we've
arranged for rooms, we can get to that dinner."
The dinner for just the two of us. We stood and waited
while the horses were led out of the way toward the stable,
then joined the others in walking toward the house. Zail
wasn't touching me at all right then, and I felt the loss of
his hand and arm more than I would have thought possi-
ble. Normally I didn't like being touched, usually I avoided
it even if I had to be downright rude; I couldn't really
imagine why Zail would want to touch me, but also found
that I didn't have the urge to laugh, or wonder aloud about
his desperation, or do anything that would keep him from
wanting to do it again. That was probably why I'd been
finding it so hard to speak, afraid I'd say something stupid
or clumsy and drive him away. . . .
Rikkan Addis opened the inn door and led the way
inside, Kadrim right behind him, then Soffann Dra and Su,
then me with Zail bringing up the rear. The big room we
walked into already had ten or twelve people in it, seated
at the long rectangular tables with food or drink or both m
front of them, the lamps on the walls casting odd shadows.
At the back of the room opposite the door was a long bar,
with a heavyset man in a once-white apron behind it, just
then handing over two mugs of ale to a slender young
THE PAR SIDE OF FOREVER
thing who was obviously a serving girl. The girl was the
only female in the room aside from those of us who had
just arrived, and when she turned away from the bar the
man behind it beamed at us.
"Welcome, travelers'" he called in a rough voice trying
to be professionally jolly, gesturing us toward him. "Are
you here for the night, or just for a meal?"
"For the night and for a meal," Rikkan Addis told him,
starting over toward the bar. "We'U want two of your
bigger rooms and breakfast in the morning as well, early
enough to let us be on our way at first light."
"Rik, I've had a thought about those rooms," Zail said,
moving past the rest of us fast to catch up to fearless
leader. "Since this is probably the last night the girls will
be able to have any privacy, why not . . ."
His voice lowered as he reached the other man's side,
causing Kadrim and Soffann Dra to step closer to hear
what he was saying, also making Su curious enough to do
the same thing. As a matter of fact I was more than a little
interested myself, especiallly since 1 had no intention of
sharing a room for the night. Over the years I'd learned to
enjoy having a place all to myself rather than having to
share it with others, and if Rikkan Addis wanted to be
thrifty with Graythor's gold that was his business. He
could sleep in the house's back corridor for all I cared, but
/ was not going to be packed into a cheap, communal stall.
I started to move forward to make my position as clear as
possible—and that's when everything began happening at
Very casually three of the inn's previous guests sud-
denly stepped between me and the others, big men dressed
in rough homespun undecorated with swordbelts. For a
moment 1 thought they were just going past so I stopped to
let them get by. but continuing in their original direction
wasn't what they had in mind. Without any warning all
three were abruptly around me the way the three at the fair
had been, rough hands grabbing for me and heavy bodies
already pushing me toward the door. A deep male voice
shouted wordlessly, possibly Kadrim although I couldn't
be sure, and then the other "guests" were streaming from
their tables with swords in their fists, the sound of metal
78 SHARON GREEN
striking metal coming when they reached the others. The
inn was a trap, and my suspicions about it had been right.
It's been said that be who hesitates is lost, but some-
times a little forethought can outbalance the hesitation of
shock. Attack was the last thing I'd been expecting at the
inn, but part of my thinking during the afternoon had been
about the warding the three kidnappers had had that had
kept me from defending myself with magic. I hadn't en-
joyed being helpless, and when 1 dislike something that
strongly I usually try to think of a way to keep it from
happening again. I had thought of something that might be
a way, and there would never be a better time to try it.
The three men were having only minor trouble forcing
me toward me door over my struggles, and none of them
were making the least effort to silence me. That told me
they had to be warded me way me others had been, so I
closed one fist tight in anger and spoke the two-word spell
I'd prepared only a few hours earlier. Instantly the light-
nings blazed high and all three of mem screamed and
threw themselves away from me, me agony they'd brought
on themselves dropping them to the plank floor to roll
them about moaning. With their thick bodies out of the
way I could see that the "serving girl" had been making
her way over to us, but had frozen still in fear and shock
when her friends had gone down. Just then she stood
staring at me wide-eyed, the back of her hand to her
mouth, and when I met her stare she simply turned and
The noise of fighting and cursing was rather loud even
in a room that size, and a quick look around showed me
two more bodies on the floor, both of them "guests." One
had a shirt that was soaked in blood and the other only half
a head, but our side was still outnumbered about two to
one. Soffann Dra was the only one without a swinging
sword in her fist, and she stood cringing behind a wildly
fighting Kadrim. trying her best not to be noticed. The
attackers were fighting back as though they didn't care
whether they lived or died as long as they took us with
them, and that was another clue that told me even more
than my not having been silenced had.
Moving to the right, away from the three on the floor,
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
let me see past the fighting to the bar. Just as I'd hoped the
"innkeeper" was simply standing where he had been, his
face calm, his attention on the fight. I drew myself up and
spoke me word of power, and all outside sounds faded as
me cylinder formed between and around us, locking us
together in a private world that was nevertheless still in the
middle of that inn. He started in surprise, obviously not
expecting anything like that, and then he laughed in a way
that was supposed to sound superior, rather than the way it
did sound—which was frightened.
"You can't seriously be challenging me, Laciel," he
said after the laugh, trying to straighten up a bit more.
"My power is years stronger man yours."
"If that's true, then I'll lose," I told him, Seeing that he
wasn't disguised. "You seem to know me, but I can't
remember when we met. Who are you?"
"That's something you have no need to know," he
answered, finding a little more courage somewhere. "It's
enough that I know who you are. Surrender to me now and
you'll live, resist me and you'll die; those are the only two
things we have to talk about- Which will it be?"
"Neither," I said with all the disgust I was feeling, and
then I raised my arm to signal the start of the combat and
fling out the raging, ravening sphere of Hellfire toward
him. He gasped and paled just the way I'd thought he
would, gesturing frantically in an attempt to send the thing
back to me, but Hellfire takes confidence as well as skill to
handle, which is why so few of the Sighted become adept
at it. You become adept by entering the Lists at Conclaves
and formally challenging those stronger man you, accept-
ing the minor burns of a controlled exhibition in order to
add to your confidence and skill. Whoever my current
opponent was, he wasn't adept, otherwise I would have
known him; I was adept, supposedly at a younger age than
anyone had managed in centuries, and it didn't take long
to prove it.
The man in the combat cylinder with me sweated and
ducked as he gestured, trying to avoid the Hellfire even as
he fought to force it away from him, frantically trying to
spread his fingers into the best and most widely used
repelling mode that had been developed. My right hand
was already set that way. urging the terrifying ball of
annihilation closer and closer to him, playing it to give
him the least amount of room for the return. The blazing
colors of the Hellfire were blindingly beautiful, the searing
jump of its numberless fingers a raging hunger reaching
out to consume, and the man's fear grew greater with
every inch closer it came to him. He fought to control it,
struggled to keep it from him, and when he crossed the
line from trying to send it back to trying to keep it away,
the fight was lost. The crackling of the ball of flame rose
to a roar that nearly drowned out the man's scream of
ten-or, and the blast was so bright that it really did blind
me for a minute. The scream seemed to go on and on,
making me press my hands to my ears as well as squeeze
my eyes closed, and then mere was absolute silence and
darkness, both thick enough to be felt rather than sensed.
"Laciel! Laciel, where are you?" a voice shoiiied, a
voice that I finally recognized as Zail's. I forced my eyes
open to see the dark all around, shivered even though I
understood, then whispered a word. A small sun blazed up
over our heads under the trees, lighting up me scene so
that it was almost day bright.
The three men of our group and Su all still stood with
swords in their hands, but they no longer had targets for
their weapons. Their former opponents littered the ground,
and only some of them showed visible wounds. Soffann
Dra still trembled behind Kadrim with one hand to his bare
back as though seeking comfort from contact with another
human being, and nothing at all remained of the man I'd
stood in combat with, not even the cylinder. When I
realized that I shivered again, and then Zail was beside
me, holding me close to his chest with his arms wrapped
"What happened?" he asked, his voice faintly bewil-
dered and the least bit unsteady. "Are you all right? What
happened to the inn, and those men, and the one you were
standing and facing? That fire, that blinding explosion—
What was it?"
"It was—combat with Hellfire," I answered, wonder-
ing why I couldn't do anything but hold to Zail and shiver.
"We do it all the time at Conclaves, those of us who can.
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
It's the way me Sighted fence with their power, bringing
me Hellfire through a simple entry and then seeing who
can control it best. At the Conclaves there are wizards who
keep me Hellfire from really touching the loser, from
doing more than singeing him or her a little— I've never
before fought a real battle with it— It—it—ate him—
I was trembling so hard that I wanted to be sick,
finding a real win nothing like a Conclave win. There
hadn't been a wizard handy to control the Hellfire and send
it back when the combat was over, so it had been free
to—eat—the man before me entry drew it back! I held to
Zail with all my strength and buried my face in his shirt,
trying to control my shuddering but finding it impossible. I
hadn't simply killed mat man, I'd fed him to something,
and I'd never once, during all those combats, thought to
consider just exactly what mat meant.
"They're all dead," Rikkan Addis' voice came from
behind me, calm and quiet and almost even. "Do you
know why they're dead, girl? Or what happened to the
"They're dead because—he's dead," I answered, trying
to find something else to think about besides— "He had
them under a spell of compulsion, and they would have
fought until you were all dead or they themselves bumed
out. The abrupt release—their systems couldn't take it—"
"It's all right, you're doing just fine," he said in a
soothing murmur, as though afraid that speaking any louder
would really set me off. "And me inn? What happened to
"The same thing, in effect, because it wasn't the real
inn," 1 said, finally calming down enough to simply put
my cheek to Zail's shirt. His arms were still tight around
me, which helped more than he probably knew, and I was
able to look at the black trees and darkness beyond the
glow from my small sun. "As a matter of fact I Saw the
gaps and lapses as soon as we rode in, but I was too tired
to really understand what I was Seeing. He was the one
maintaining the image, and when he died the spell went
with him. He—wasn't as good as he thought he was,
otherwise the inn would have been an exact replica of the
real one instead of a sloppy copy. And anyone truly com-
petent also wouldn't have protected their henchmen with
nothing but simple warding.'*
"You mean those three who went after you were warded
like the ones this afternoon?" Zail asked, this time sound-
ing surprised. "But if they were protected from your
magic, how did you get away from them?"
"With magic," I answered with a sigh, finally making
the effort to push back from him and stand alone. "It
came to me this afternoon that warding was defensive
magic, designed to protect people from attack from others.
Those kidnappers used the warding to let them do the
attacking which, if you think about it, is using something
defensive for offense. Magic has a kind of balance, and
you can't use something meant for one purpose in an
entirely opposite manner without paying a price. I used a
beefed-up warding spell to protect myself, adding a lot of
insulation on the inside, working on the theory that their
attack would—blow the circuits—on their own spell when
they tried using it against its nature. As soon as their
warding touched mine, they were nearly knocked across
"What did you mean, those three this afternoon were
warded like the ones tonight?" Rikkan Addis asked, his
tone fractionally sharper. "1 didn't know there was any-
thing magical about this afternoon's attack."
I'd put my hands over my face to let my fingers rub at
my eyes, but something in the man's voice made me take
them away again. When the pretty -colored spots had all
faded I saw those bronze eyes looking down at me, and
they were glowing faintly.
"There wasn't anything magical about this afternoon's
attack," I said, wondering if I were being gently accused
of hiding things. "Those kidnappers were warded like the
three attackers tonight, but that can't be anything but
"Like the coincidence that the three tonight were head-
ing you toward the door?" he came back immediately,
annoyance growing in both eyes and voice. "You and Su
agreed that it was you they wanted this afternoon, and
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 83
tonight they almost had you again. Who would want you
so badly, and why?"
"But—no one!" 1 protested, certain he couldn't possi-
bly be right, but still beginning to get confused. "And it
can't be just me they were after. They had fighters under a
compulsion ready, and sent them after the rest of you."
"But not until drey already had their hands on you," he
countered, those eyes glowing brighter now, one big hand
running distractedly through thick black hair. "Once they
had you they felt free to attack the rest of us, but first they
took you. Why would that be?"
"Perhaps they feared what magic she would use," Kadrim
suggested from where he stood with Su and Soffann Dra,
only a couple of feet away. "Did the wizard not say her
power was great?''
"But they found out this afternoon that her magic couldn't
get through their warding," Zail disagreed from behind
me, sounding as confused as Kadrim had and I felt. "If
they really are all the same group, the one who got away
would have told them what happened. And if they aren't
all the same group, what's bringing so many of them out
from under their rocks all at the same time?"
"That part's not hard," Soffann Dra said, moving just a
little closer to Kadrim after a glance at the darkness all
around. "We're after something that was stolen, aren't
we? Anyone who keeps us from getting it back, can
probably ask for and get all the gold he wants from the
"Couldn't ask if he didn't know about it," Su put in,
surprising just about everyone, "The wizard said no one
knows but us and him, so how could they know."
"There is someone else who knows," Rikkan Addis
said suddenly, staring at Su where she stood under the
low-gauge glare of the miniature sun. "The one who took
the balance stone knows, and is also obviously in a posi-
tion to set up ambushes along the trail we have to follow.
Knowing that much, I also now know why they've been
trying for you first, girl."
Those eyes were back to looking at me, but for once
they couldn't distract me. He claimed to know something,
but for the life of me 1 couldn't see it.
"You totd me the reason yourself," he pressed when he
saw that I wasn't following him, seemingly oblivious to all
the rest of the eyes on him. "You said that if you had to,
you could make Su's talent your talent, and I'm now
willing to bet you could do me same with me rest of us. If
one of us didn't make it all the way, you could substitute
for that one."
"As a matter of fact, I could," I admitted, still not
seeing where the line of logic was leading. "As long as I
know what the necessary talent is, I can reproduce it. If I
tried to match all of you I'd probably be good for nothing
more than counting my fingers afterward, but if I had to I
could do it. What has that got to do with kidnap attempts?
With all of you still around, 1 don't have to reproduce your
"That's why they're trying for you first," he said with
the sort of slow patience that forces home a point, folding
his arms across his rust-colored leather shirt- "There's no
sense in their trying to stop us if you're still around, not
when they can kill every one of us and still lose the game
to you. If they manage to get you out of me way, then they
can try for one or two of us. Without your particular
talent, mat would be enough to stop me rest of us."
Put that way, the idea was very hard to argue against. 1
just stood and stared at him without being able to say
anything, then discovered that I was also being stared at.
Five pairs of eyes were reflecting me digestion of the fact
that as long as I stayed alive and a part of the group, they
were as safe as a quest like that was likely to let mem be. I
didn't care for that thought, and wasn't even sure I agreed
with all of it, but for me third time that day the words just
"I think we'd better get on to me real inn now," Rikkan
Addis said, unfolding his arms to look around. "It's prob-
ably the safest thing we can do, considering that they tried
to trap us here. Using the real inn would have been easier,
if they could have managed it. Maybe there's a reason they
couldn't. Kadrim, Su, see if you can find the horses. The
rest of us will stay with the girl."
Kadrim and Su nodded before going off, and Soffann
Dra lost no time in replacing the red-haired boy with
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 85
Rikkan Addis as someone to stand close to. A minute later
there was an arm around my shoulders, and Zail was
standing to my left, tall and concerned and protective. It
was all I could do to keep from pushing that arm away, an
arm 1 would have been delighted to have around me just a
few minutes earlier. They were now all going to be look-
ing out for "the girl," and "the girl" didn't like it one
The horses hadn't been taken very far, and once we
were back on the road with my miniature sun doused, I
discovered that the line of march had been shifted without
anyone saying a word. Su was still out front with a ner-
vous, tired Soffann Dra beside her, but the men had
rearranged themselves so that Zail rode to my right, Kadrim
behind me. and fearless leader to my left. I didn't like the
new arrangement and tried to talk mem out of it, but they
were all too busy looking in seven directions at once to
listen to me. Even Su had muttered something about al-
most losing me because she hadn't been bright enough to
follow the trail to the inn rather than the trail that was
taking us to the balance stone; the two were supposed to
have been the same, and would have been if we'd gone on
to the, real inn. At that point I discovered I was too tired to
continue me argument for that day, and simply saved my
strength for any further emergencies.
Happily, all emergencies proved to have retired for the
night. Another half hour^s riding brought us to the place
we should have reached the first time, and my companions
were faintly upset to see that it looked exactly like the inn
mat had been reproduced for us back in the woods, right
down to the three boys who came running out to see to our
horses. I, myself, took a good long look at the place
before dismounting, and immediately Saw why the trap
had been set at the duplicate.
"Take it slow until we've checked this place out, Laciel,"
Zail fussed at me as I handed over me reins of my gray
men turned toward the house. "We don't know what can
be waiting for us inside."
"There's nothing to worry about here, Zail," I said
with a sigh, stopping because of the hand on my shoulder.
"They couldn't set the trap here because Graythor warded
this place, with a spell to keep out anyone with evil
intentions. Considering some of the people who usually
ride this road on a regular basis, we might even find the
That seemed to settle them down a bit, but it was still
Kadrim and fearless leader who walked into the house
first, their right hands loose and ready. The big room held
about five people aside from the serving girl and the
innkeeper, and none of them looked familiar including the
last two. The girl was small and blond and tired-looking,
and the innkeeper was tall and lean with a long, unhappy
face. Our sudden, group appearance made him uneasy, but
mat disappeared quickly enough when Rikkan Addis stepped
forward and threw three gold coins on the bar.
"We need meals and lodgings for the night," he told
the suddenly happier innkeeper, watching as the man made
me coins disappear with a single movement of his hand.
"For the food we'll take the best you have, but for sleep-
ing we want one of your dormitory rooms. Our group will
be staying together, but alone; if there's anybody already
in the room, clear them out."
"Just a minute," I said as the innkeeper began nodding
in surprised but nevertheless eager agreement, moving past
Kadriro to get to the bar. "I don't care what the rest of you
do, but 1*11 be sleeping in a private room tonight. Crowds
tend to keep me awake."
"You can't be guarded as easily in a private room as
you can be in a dormitory," Rikkan Addis said with a
touch of annoyance, looking down at me with those eyes
again. "As long as I'm me one with the gold, we'll do
things my way."
"Then isn't it lucky for me that I can afford to pay my
own way?" I remarked, opening my hand to show the
three gold coins I'd just produced before handing them
over to the innkeeper. "As far as being guarded goes, I've
already told you that this place is safe. If you're in the
mood to ruin what will probably be everyone's last decent
night's sleep just to play fearless leader, don't try to count
me in on it. Tonight I make up for what I missed last
night. Give me my key."
The last of my words were for the innkeeper, who had a
THE FAR SIDE Of FOREVER
key in my outstretched hand before the final syllable died
away. He hadn't missed the fact that there hadn't been any
gold in my hand when I'd first walked over, and knew
exactly what that meant. If his odd new guest was about to
get into an argument with a sorceress, he wanted no part of
But his odd new guest apparently decided against an
argument with a sorceress; I was able to leave the main
room with nothing but silence following me, find the stairs
leading upward, then locate the room that matched the
number on my key. The room was dark when I opened the
door, but a snap of my fingers brought the lamp to life,
dimly illuminating a small, not particularly neat and clean
box that had a bed and a chair and one window, and
nothing else. The patch-quilt on the bed was faded, the
linen was more yellow than white, and the greasy brown
chair had one leg snorter than the others; nevertheless I
closed and locked the door behind me, threw the key on
the chair, then sat down on the bed.
"You still haven't learned to follow orders very well,
have you?" a voice asked, a voice I'd been half expect-
ing to hear. I looked up to see Graythor's image sitting on
the chair, paying no mind, of^course, to the key it wasn't
really sitting on. It was his true image that he had sent,
and his dark eyes were staring straight at me.
"I had the feeling you were watching, checking to see
how well we could take care of ourselves," I said, making
no attempt to avoid his gaze. "Did we pass?"
"You've had no real opposition yet and you know it,"
he came back, his voice as even and undisturbed as it had
been. "We'll find out what you're all made of once you
get a little farther down the trail."
"Why didn't you stop it?" I demanded, too tired to play
any more word games. "You were there at the replicate
inn, 1 know you were! Why didn't you stop the Hellfire?"
"Laciel, child, it wasn't a friendly competition," he
said, his eyes commiserating but his tone cold and im-
placable. "If Draffan had gotten control of the sphere, it
would have been you who was devoured So far they've
underestimated you, but that can change at any time.
Now, I think, you can understand why your being leader
of this expedition would have been impractical."
"Because they're after my head first?" 1 asked with a
sound of ridicule, not terribly happy with his answer con-
cerning the Hellfire, but needing to discuss this other point
as well. "Most leaders are targets, so what difference
would it make? At least if I was leader I could keep them
from suffocating me, which is what I intend seeing to first
thing in the morning. With the number of personal de-
fenses I have, their attempts at protection are ludicrous."
"Their attempts are necessary, not ludicrous," he said
very sternly, his anger enhancing the heavy flow of power
from his twisted image-body as he straightened in the chair
as best he could. "You still have no idea what you're
fighting against, and if you were leader you would under-
estimate the enemy just as they're doing with you! You
need to be protected for more reasons than you know, and
Rikkan Addis is the one to do it! He will remain leader,
and you will stop bedeviling him!"
It had been a long time since Graythor had last spoken
to me like that, showing so much of his enormous power,
and it wasn't something I'd be able to argue against for a
long, long time—if ever. There was no question about
how much stronger he was—but Acre was also no ques-
tion about my own opinions on the points. Rather than try
to argue I simply stretched out across the creaking bed on
my right side, busily inspecting the faded patch-quilt under
me, saying not a word.
"I'm tempted to have a few words with Morgiana when
she returns, but I have the distinct feeling it's already too
late," he growled at my silence, less angry but more
annoyed. "Once you make up that mind about something.
it's just about impossible to sway you. Try to understand
that Rikkan Addis is the best leader for the expedition,
otherwise 1 wouldn't have chosen him. Just as you're the
best Sighted for it. You can't let your personal feelings get
in the way of what has to be done."
"What personal feelings?" I asked with a snort, looking
up at him over the foot of the bed. "Knowing you can do
a better job than someone else isn't opinion if you can
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
prove it—which I can. Don't you want the balance stone
"Your attitude toward Rikkan Addis has nothing to do
with the balance stone," he said, back to staring at me and
almost back to calm. "Laciel, the man is different, almost
in the same away you're different, and you're blaming him
for that. Also, everyone is accepting him without question
despite his difference, and you're blaming him for that as
well. It all has to do with why you've never even tried to
find the people you come from,"
"That's ridiculous," I said after forcing the words over
a pause, finding that the patch-quilt was a much better thing (o
look at than the image of Graythor- "What could fearless
leader possibly have to do with whoever my people were?"
"He has nothing to do with them," me gentle but
persistent answer came as I picked at the stitching of the
quilt. "You seem to have come to the conclusion that your
people didn't want you because of your differences, and
that's why you were abandoned to grow up on the streets
like a homeless animal. You equate different with wrong,
which is why you feel so strongly that Rikkan Addis is the
wrong one to lead the expedition- You've also learned
some small measure of personaLself-esteem over the years
with Morgiana, and that's why you feel that if anyone
different is to be leader, that one should be you. You're
going to have to take my word for me fact that everything
is already as it should be, and be satisfied with that."
"I'm rarely satisfied with second best or blind specula-
tion," I muttered to the quilt, certain that what he'd said
was absolutely untrue, but much too tired to go looking for
me logic flaws. "Would you mind very much letting me
go to bed now? Fearless leader will be chasing us out early
in me morning, and I'd hate to oversleep."
"Very well, then, we'll do it your way," he said, and
all the compassion in his voice was gone behind the return
of sternness. "I've devised a spell I'd hoped would be
unnecessary, but your stubbornness leaves me no choice.
From now on Rikkan Addis will be warded, but not in the
usual way. If you make any attempt at all to use magic
against him, your spells will bounce back changed into the
strongest obedience spell I could find, leaving you needing
permission to so much as blink- You'll still be able to do
what's needed on me expedition, but then you'll have to
be allowed to do it—by Rikkan Addis. 1 know exactly how
much you'll enjoy something like that.11 '_•
I sat up fast to glare at him furiously, but that was about [
the only thing I could do. Most people struggled simply to
leam to use spells, but Graythor was experienced enough ^
to devise them. Experimentation always fell into the dan- "'
gerous black area, but if you managed to survive you were .^
powerful enough to do just about anything you pleased. I'd |-
never be able to find a way around his spell, and he knew , ^
"And you'd better stop trying to antagonize him," the g-
most powerful wizard of our time said, his image rising ^
from the chair with no more than slight difficulty. "What- ^
ever patience he had with you is just about gone now, and
if you continue to push him you'll certainly regret it. And
one more thing—''
"What now?" 1 asked when he paused, for some reason
looking as though he were searching for the right words-
"Have you decided the way 1 breathe in and out bothers
"That's closer to the truth than you know," he said, his
crooked smile bending his face and warming the dark of
his eyes. "Laciel, child, you've spent too much of the last
years locked away with Morgiana in her house, studying
and practicing and associating with very few people who
weren't of the Sighted. Morgiana is a wizard of great
power, and your potential is nothing short of enormous;
mat combination of factors tends to turn people, especially
men, somewhat diffident and circumspect. In the full mea-
sure of things, I'm afraid you're a good deal more inno-
cent than girls who are years your junior."
"Is all that supposed to mean something?" 1 asked,
having not the least idea what he was talking about. "And
I'm not at all innocent. I'm a full grown woman."
"You most certainly are a full grown woman," he
agreed with a sigh, beginning to look frustrated. "That,
specifically, is the reason for the problem. Your self-
image, however, hasn't been given me chance to change
from the scruffy waif Morgiana brought home with her, to
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
what you've now grown to become. The men of this
expedition aren't Sighted, child, which makes your poten-
tial meaningless to them, and they've never even heard of
Morgiana. All they have is their own sight, and you
mustn't believe everything they tell you. Morgiana will be
cross enough with me as it is; I certainly don't want to add
"Uncle Graythor, I haven't the faintest idea of what
you're talking about," I said. giving in to the need to
stretch out across the bed again. "Whatever this is, can we
discuss it some other time? I really am very tired."
"Possibly I should be the one to be cross with Morgiana,"
he muttered, shaking his head in annoyance and what
seemed like defeat. "She should have explained these
things to you long ago, not left them to a man who has
never had daughters of his own to caution. I think I'll have
to look for another way. You sleep now, and remember
what I said: the trail will grow progressively more danger-
ous, and you need to be protected so mat you can protect
everyone else. Know mat my blessing and hope is with
you every step of the way."
He raised one hand, more in benediction and farewell
than for magical purpose, and then his image was abruptly
gone. Probably to set that warding on Rikkan Addis, I
thought sourly, forcing myself to my feet in order to get
out of my clothes. Well, I might not be able to use magic
to take over leadership, but if there were some other way
I'd find it- I used the Sight to make sure there was nothing
living in my bed before crawling under the covers, vaguely
wondering what it was that I wasn't supposed to believe
when told by my male companions, men stopped wasting
my time. Graythor was very old, and sometimes old age
affects even wizards with strength like his. I snapped my
fingers to turn the lamp out, then snuggled down to think
about Zail and the dinner we still had ahead of us to share.
The bloodcurdling scream snapped me out of sleep and
bolt upright, my eyes opening quickly enough to see Soffann
Dra just disappearing from the now-open door to my room.
I still wasn't awake enough to know what was happening,
but if we were under attack again the attacker had to be
"She really should have knocked louder instead of sim-
ply walking in." a very familiar voice said from the floor
to the left of my bed, not five paces away from the door.
"That way she wouldn't have nearly stepped on me."
"InThig," I groaned, lying back down as the big, black,
feline head with blazing red eyes rose above the side of my
bed, it now being in a sitting position instead of stretched
out along the floor. "What are you doing here?"
"Graythor felt that my presence on this expedition will
be very helpful," it purred, enormously pleased with it-
self, red eyes unblinking in the small amount of lamplight
coming in from me hall. "Was that one of our companions?"
"Our companions," I muttered, hanging a forearm over
my eyes, still too jangled to make a more appropriate
comment. There were some people, I knew, who disliked
being awakened abruptly in the dark by the crowing of a
rooster greeting the approach of dawn; right then I wouldn't
have minded a batallion of roosters.
"Listen to all those running feet," InThig remarked, its
growl sounding interested and delighted. "Almost all booted,
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
I think, and definitely coming this way. This should be
"Fun!" I exclaimed, suddenly realizing what had to be
happening, pulling my arm from my eyes and sitting up
fast again. Those stampeding-herd sounds had to be com-
ing from the other members of the quest, rushing in to
save me from the horrible danger that had so frightened
Soffann Dra. I doubt if any of them truly believed 1
couldn't be in danger there, and that little incident was
about to make things ten times worse in the way of smoth-
ering protection than—
"There it is!" Rikkan Addis' voice came from the hall,
harder than it usually was and filled with command. "I'll
take it, and you two back me up."
"Wait a minute!" I yelped as his heavy, broad-bladed
sword came through the doorway with him right behind it,
snapping my fingers to light the room lamp. "You don't
understand! This isn't what—"
"Don't worry, girl, we won't let it hurt you," he
interrupted, his eyes narrowed against the sudden light, but
all his attention still on InThig. The demon gazed back at
him calmly, a grin of amusement bringing to sight the two
rows of sharp, dangerous teeth, its mouth was filled with,
and a hiss of caution came from the doorway just behind
the slowly advancing man.
"See how it snarls in preparation for attack," Kadrim
pointed out, his own sword low to keep from stabbing
fearless leader in the back, but alertly ready for all of that.
"We ought to get Laciel out of there first, just in case it
turns suddenly and attacks her," Zail put in from where he
stood beside Kadrim in the doorway, his sword held the
way the boy's was. "Even a dying beast can cause a lot of
"You may be right," fearless leader agreed without turning
to look at Zail, stopping where his very slow advance had
brought him. "Any movement on her part might cause the
thing to attack, but it seems to be centering on me right
now. See if you can slip out of the other side of that bed,
girl, and if it doesn't go after you, try to work your way
around until you're behind me."
"This is ridiculous," I announced while InThig chuck-
led, the sound of it causing the three men to bring their
swords up a little more. "If you think I'm getting out of
this bed stalk naked, you're out of your mind. If you'll
just listen to me for a minute ..."
"Saving your modesty at the expense of your life would
be stupid," fearless leader interrupted again, annoyance
tmgeing the low growl in his voice. ' 'Get out of that bed,
and I mean now."
InThig's chuckling turned to low, chill-making laughter,
enough to cause Rikkan Addis to look as though he wanted
to take one step back, and I'd absolutely had it. Everyone
was having a grand old time at my expense, but party time
was over. I continued to hold me patch-quilt to me as I sat
straighter in the bed, and glared around at everyone
"1 am going to say this only once in this language, and
if 1 have to repeat myself it will be in words none of you
will like," I said through my teeth. "I am not getting out
of this bed because 1 am n^r in any danger. InThig is
getting a real kick out of mis, but I am not. I don't need
your protection and I don't want it, so you can all go back
to wherever you were."
"InThig?" Rikkan Addis echoed with a frown, his eyes
still on die laughing demon. "Who or what is InThig?"
"That's hiThig," I said with a gesture and a lot of
disgust, wishing it were possible to touch demons with
magic. "Graythor decided we needed it with us, and it
decided to have some innocent fun with its new compan-
ions. It has that son of a sense of humor."
"I merely wished to see how well they would take my
presence," InThig protested mildly, completely phony in-
jured innocence in its tone. "They certainly are a coura-
geous lot, to be prepared so quickly and completely to
confront the unknown."
"You might not have thought our courage that admira-
ble if we'd simply attacked," Rikkan Addis pointed out
with increased annoyance as he sheathed his sword, Zail
shaking his head with a sigh while Kadrim stood blinking
and staring. "Once you put a sword in someone, all you
can do afterward is apologize while the blood flows out."
"But I don't have any blood," InThig answered with
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
another chuckle, still enjoying itself. "Your weapons aren't
capable of hurting me, so it wouldn't have mattered even
if you had attacked. Laciel knows that, but I do believe it
slipped her mind for a moment."
The big, black head turned and those two blazing red
eyes were on me, but I pretended to ignore them. I had
forgotten for a moment that InThig couldn't be hurt, but I
didn't want it reading things into a temporary memory
"Well, now that the crisis is over, maybe Laciel will do
us the favor of getting dressed and joining us at break-
fast," Rikkan Addis said, already heading for the door,
"It's more than time we were on our way."
Zail and Kadrim retreated before his striding advance,
and an instant later the door was pulled closed behind
them, leaving nothing in his wake but thick silence. InThig
was still staring at me, however, as demons never can
leave their points unmade.
"I'm flattered that you were worried about me," it said,
the previous smugness back in its voice, its purr making it
seem like an overgrown housecat "Not many people can
be bothered with being concerned over a demon, so you
must like me no matter how^often you try to get rid of
"Being used to having someone around is not the same
as liking them," I pointed out in an effort to dent the
smugness, throwing me quilt aside so that 1 might get up.
"Besides, if anything happened to you, Morgiana would
"Of course," InThig murmured, grinning to match the
increased blaze in its eyes, its purr of contentment un-
changed even as I turned my back on it. "How silly of me
to be so mistaken."
I suppose I was waiting for it to continue bothering me,
but happily it seemed to have said everything it wanted to.
I was able to get back into my clothes in the midst of
pleasing quiet, admiring (he way Graythor's refreshing
spell had turned my clothes beautifully clean and new
overnight. The others would have found me same thing
done to their clothes, which meant no one needed to carry
any changes. We'd get very tired of those outfits long
before the quest was finished, but it cut down on the need
for extra baggage—not to mention the possibility that I
might have to disguise us in some of the worlds we'd be
going to. Disguising one outfit each would be no big deal,
but six wardrobes full . . .
As soon as I was dressed I took the room key and left,
snapping out the light before closing and locking the door.
InThig padded silently beside me, its movement more flow
than walk, the red eyes taking in everything, its big head
beside my right elbow. I could remember a time when
InThig had been almost my size. but that hadn't lasted
very long. Morgiana had originally summoned it as a
companion for herself, but that hadn't lasted very long
either. . . .
Everyone was downstairs in the inn's main room around
one of the plank tables, the serving girl having just brought
another two heaping platters of something hot to add to
what was already there. When I paused at me bar to return
the room key the innkeeper paled and closed his eyes. his
lips moving soundlessly in what was probably a prayer,
and the serving girl gasped, put one hand to her head, then
immediately fled the room. I couldn't help sighing as ljust
left the key on the bar and headed for the table, beginning
to be annoyed with Graythor for having sent InThig to the
inn instead of having it meet us at the gate. I'd almost
forgotten how untalented people reacted to the sight of a
demon, but I had a feeling I would soon be well reminded.
"Good morning, Laciel," Zail greeted me, rising from
his chair at the big, round table and gesturing toward the
empty place to his right, his attitude saying nothing at all
unusual had happened that morning. "Did you sleep well?"
"Very well, thank you," I answered pleasantly—if the
least bit softly, taking the chair he held for me. To my
right was Kadrim, to his right Su, to Zail's left Soffann
Dra, and between the two women Rikkan Addis. Kadrim
smiled at me as I sat, ignoring InThig the way Zail was
doing, but Su inspected my new companion with curiosity,
and Soffann Dra did the same with wariness. Only Rikkan
Addis continued to fill his plate from the platters of food
standing around, ignoring my arrival as though 1 were
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
invisible or unSeen. If I hadn't been so hungry, I might
have spent some time being thoroughly annoyed.
"You really must have been exhausted last night," Zail
said as he sat again and reached for a platter of steaks to
pass to me. "When dinner was ready I came to your door
and knocked, but there was no answer and the light was
"I, too, came to your door, to continue the discussion
we had not completed on the road," Kadrim said, ready to
take the platter of steaks and replace it with one piled high
with eggs. "Although I knocked as well, I also found no
"1 don't remember hearing either one of you," I said,
giving Zail the eggs and reaching myself for the fried
potatoes. "I feel fine now, though, so sleeping like the
dead obviously helped. Now all I have to do is replace the
meal I missed."
With which comment I immediately began to dig in,
pausing after a moment to take a slab of bread and butter. I
felt hollow all the way through, and the men on either side
of me took the hint and left conversation for another time.
We all worked silently at fueling ourselves for the upcom-
ing day's travels, and it wasn't ^ntil almost everything was
gone and the last of me coffee .had been poured that
Soffann Dra broke mat silence.
"Doesn't your—friend—need anything to eat?" she
asked, moving her head a little to look at InThig where it
lay stretched out on the floor behind my chair, "I hope
you don't take this wrong, but I really dislike the thought
of him being hungry."
"InThig's an it, not a him," I corrected, letting another
swallow of coffee push the food I'd eaten down where it
belonged. "And it doesn't eat, at least not the way we do,
so you don't have to worry. When it's hungry, it goes
home to eat."
"Oh," she said, her tone wavering between relief and
disbelief, not quite sure which way to go. She wanted to
think I was telling the truth, but was still too uneasy to put
complete trust in something that might not be so. If that
was the worst difficulty InThig's presence caused among
me six of us, though, I would be very, very happy.
By mutual consent, we didn't do much dawdling over
the coffee. The first rays of the new day were just begin-
ning to light and brighten the landscape when we went out
to get the horses, and 1 had my first job of the day. Our
mounts reacted to InThig the way the innkeeper and the
serving girl had, but with more volume and violence; I had
to speak a spell to keep them from bolting and leaving us
afoot. After that they were no longer aware of InThig's
presence, but InThig got a lot of fun out of the incident.
Demons are always amused when people and animals
panic at the sight of them, which accounts for some of the
legends concerning them. The reason they're that amused
is something no one knows for sure, but I suspect it has to
do with their life-places in their own world-dimension.
Sort of like, "Are they really afraid of me?" As humans
would find it impossible to survive in their world, the
matter continues to be one for speculation.
We followed the road through the woods for less than an
hour, and then Su turned off it to lead the way through the
trees. There wasn't the least sign of a trail or path or
anything to show we were heading in the right direction,
but none of us had any doubt. Until then Kadrim and Zail
had ridden to either side of me, their conversation light
and their attention to our surroundings heavy, but once we
were off the road it was strictly single file. Su led the way
with Rikkan Addis behind her, Soffann Dra following
him, then Zail in front of me and Kadrim bringing up the
rear. InThig ranged through the trees on its own to our
right, a silent, blackly flowing shadow, and somehow the
woods felt friendlier having it there.
No more than fifteen or twenty minutes later Su stopped,
at a place that seemed to the naked eye no different from
any other spot in the forest. The early-morning sun was
slanting down through the leaves above and birds sang in
the upper reaches, but closer to the ground there was no
forest life, nothing to disturb the bright, pulsating slit I
could See between two of the trees. No human or animal
could have gone through that slit without the help of a
Sighted, but the woods-dwellers still avoided the spot;
sometimes I have the feeling that all animals are Sighted,
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
and those unSighted who feel the greatest affinity for
them are closest to the state themselves.
"Can't see the trail any more," Su was saying to Rikkan
Addis, who had ridden up to halt his roan beside her paint.
"Stops right mere between those trees, and doesn't start
"Then this must be it," he said, glancing around a little
before turning to look at me over his shoulder. "Is this
where the gate is, girl?"
"Just ahead of you, between those two trees," I an-
swered, urging my gray past Zail and Soffann Dra to join
the head of the column. "I'll have to help Su go through
first, so that we transfer to the proper world. Everyone
dismount and get ready; this might take some doing."
"You're expecting problems?" Rikkan Addis asked, his
frown making itself known in his voice since we were all
too busy climbing off our mounts to look at him. "I
thought you were good enough to handle this easily."
"If I were alone, I could handle it easily," I answered,
annoyed but too deep in juggling possibilities for him to
distract me. I dropped my reins to keep my gray standing
where 1 left him and walked closer to the gate, aware of
the way ^—folded—on the inside, each fold going in a
different direction. Choosing "among the folds was not
difficult at all; moving others to one of those folds without
going through myself was going to be the hard part. 1 had
to be on this side of the gate to help the others in and on
the other side of the gate to help them out again, both at
the same time. Either I would have to escort each one of
them through separately, the end of which would leave me
needing two nights' worth of sleep-like-the-dead, or I could—
"All right, here's how we'll do it," I announced as
soon as the decision was made, turning to look at them.
"The fastest and easiest thing we can do is form a chain
through the gate, with Su on the left, one of you men on
the right, and me as the central link. That way the rest of
you can just pass right through with the horses, and I
won't have to go back and forth half a dozen times. With
me right in the middle of the gate, it will stay open."
"Why do you need a chain?" Rikkan Addis asked, those
100 SHARON GREEN
bronze eyes glowing faintly with curiosity. "Why can't you
simply stand in the gate alone?"
"Gates aren't made for standing in," I answered, im-
patient to get on with it but seeing that the others had the
same question. "They tend to draw you through once
you've entered them, so I have to be anchored. Is every-
"Just a minute," old fearless leader balked, part of his
frown back. "I can see why Su has to go through first, but
what happens if there's a welcoming committee on the
other side? How can she defend herself if she has to help
"The answer to that is, she can't," I said, speaking
slowly and carefully so the man would have no trouble
understanding what would have been obvious to any real
leader. "That's why InThig will be going through right
behind her,, on its own, to stand protection until the rest of
us make it. Did you think Graythor added it to this expedi-
tion just to give it new victims for its sense of humor?"
My adversary's head came up, as though he didn't quite
care for something I'd said, but that wasn't the time or the
place to continue the discussion and he seemed to know it.
Rather than giving voice to whatever was bothering him,
he opted instead for giving orders.
"Kadrim, I think you'd better be the anchor on this
side," he told the red-haired boy without looking at him,
that bronze stare still all mine. "Zail, you'll go through
behind InThig, Soffann Dra after you, and then me, we mice
leading all the horses. As soon as we clear the gate, Kadrim,
get yourself and the girl through as fast as possible."
"Also shall I be on the alert for any who might appear
behind us," Kadrim said with full agreement, ignoring the
near-growl with which he'd been addressed. "At the mo-
ment it appears that we are alone, therefore does it seem
best that we hurry."
"Couldn't have said it better myself," I commented to
Kadrim with a smile, then gestured to Su and the boy to join
me very near the gate. Su stopped no more than half a pace
back from it, probably guided by where the trail she was
following ended, and when I reached her 1 put my left
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 101
"Su, you take my hand and we'll move into the gate
together, but I'll be edging in sideways," I told her,
looking up at her calm brown eyes. "When you know
which world we want simply move toward it, but don't let
go of my hand. That way I'll be able to open the gate for
you on the other side without passing through it myself,
and Kadrim will keep me from being drawn through. Once
you're on the other side, hold tight to make sure I don't
get drawn back."
"Don't have to worry I'll let go," she answered, flash-
ing me a quick, faintly amused grin. "Don't want to be
left over there all by myself. Let's get to it."
She took my left hand with her left, waited until Kadrim
had my right hand in his left, then all of us moved
cautiously forward. The gate sensed my presence and ex-
panded sideways, the slit becoming a glowing curtain that
stretched between the two trees, even me ground beneath it
beginning to glow. The horses snorted and moved behind
us, clearly startled by the unexpected happening but not
really afraid, their reactions reinforcing my belief concern-
ing animals and magic. The gate was open and ready, and
the horses, at least, knew it.
Su, however, had no idea of what was happening until
we actually stepped through the gate-. She gasped then and
tightened her grip on my hand, most likely dizzied by all
the folds and choices among worlds. Gates glowed much
more brightly on the inside, and once in you didn't have to
be Sighted to perceive the brightness. Universes seemed to
be rushing by in that glow, and it took a while even for the
Sighted to get used to it.
"Just concentrate on the trail," I told Su gently, my
voice sounding odd in the silent rushing of the glow.
"You should be able to see it again now, and then all we
have to do is follow it."
"Yes . . . there!" she gasped, still strangling my hand,
and then she was stumbling toward one particular fold. I
made sure to See which fold it was just in case, and then
Su was through it into the next world-dimension, my hand,
arm and shoulder through with her. I felt the pull of the
fold trying to draw the rest of me along with the first, but
Kadrim's big hand held to mine behind, and Su's grip kept
102 SHARON GREEN
that part of me from snapping back. I was anchored in the
gate, and InThig bounded through so fast all I caught was
a glimpse of black.
A moment later Zail appeared, leading his horse and
Su's, his eyes widening as he became aware of the inner
gate. The dizziness didn't take him as badly as it had Su,
most likely because the chain was stabilizing a good part
of the confusion, but the central link of that chain wasn't
taking her position as easily as she thought she would. My
body had begun hurting from being pulled in two opposite
directions, my head was starting to throb in time to the
pulse of the glow. and I was getting queasy. When Zau
glanced at me, some of the awe left his expression.
"Are you all right?" he demanded, his flattened voice
full of his frown. He seemed to want to say more than
that, but talking in a gate isn't very—comfortable.
"Yes," I answered, speaking more in general than
specifically, but had to add, "Hurry."
Zail wasted no further time on questions, for which I
was grateful. He led the horses straight through into the
fold, and then it was Soffann Dra entering, followed by
her horse and mine. The small, dark-haired woman gasped
and paled, and she, at least, didn't have to be hurried. She
moved through the gate as fast as it's possible to go while
leading two horses, her head down, her eyes nearly closed,
and then it was Rikkan Addis' turn. Fearless leader entered
the gate in front of his horse and Kadrim's, his bronze
eyes narrowing at what he saw, and then his gaze found
me. A peculiar expression crossed his face and his left
hand came up, as though he were going to touch me, but
men he -stopped himself, turned away, and pulled the
horses through the fold behind him.
I could now hear sounds of some sort, soft and very
distant, as though coming from the other folds all around.
It was neither warm nor cold in the gate but 1 could feel
beads of sweat on my forehead, and something was inter-
fering with my vision. I kept getting flashes of scenes mat
weren't there before me, scenes of landscape and sea-
scape, mountains and valleys, hot sunshine and shivery
snows. People and animals of all sorts inhabited the scenes,
and each one seemed to be calling and pulling at me. I
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 103
gasped for air, finding it almost as hard to breathe as it had
been in the Plane of Dreams, and me whirling in my head
began turning even faster. I gasped again, feeling my
knees begin to buckle—and then it was all gone and ! was
being carried in two muscular arms, my body no longer
being torn apart, my hands now free. For an instant I
thought me chain had broken and 1 struggled, but then I
was being put down in thick, soft grass and my eyes
opened to see that everyone was there.
"Just take it slow for a minute," Rikkan Addis said
from where he half-knelt beside me, the glow in those eyes
looking as strange as his expression in the gate had. "We're
all through and everything's all right, so you can rest as
long as you have to."
I closed my eyes again and simply breathed, knowing it
wasn't rest mat I needed. Standing in the gate hadn't been
as draining as going back and forth through it would have
been, but it also wasn't the most pleasurable of experiences.
After three or four breaths I became aware of the thick
grass on which I lay, the heavy, woodsy smell in the air all
around, the sparkling warmth of sunshine, the sound of
birds singing; by then the visions and sounds of the gate
had begun to recede into faint memories.
"I hadn't expected that, but I suppose it's logical," I
muttered, putting one hand to my head as I opened my eyes
again. "If the folds can't simply draw you into one of
them, they start trying harder in other ways. I wonder if
it'll be easier next time, now that I know what's coming."
"Perhaps, next time, it would be best if 1 were to stand
beside you within the gate," Kadrim said, crouching down
to my right to take my hand again, a faint smile on his
handsome young face. "When I came through you were
nearly in a swoon, and I found it necessary to support you
me few steps to the far side. I would not wish to see you in
such difficulty again."
"Unfortunately, my friend, you're needed as one of the
anchors," Zail said to the boy before I could answer, his
own crouch to my left putting him close enough to take my
other hand. "It looks like I'll have to be the one to stand
with her, lending her support until everyone has passed
Zail had smiled at Kadrim before bringing those pretty
gray eyes to me while helping me to a seated position, and
Kadrim's eyes had hardened in response, as though he
blamed Zait for speaking nothing but the truth. I didn't
know what was going on between them, but before I could
ask, InThig was suddenly sitting at my feet.
"It would be interesting to see one of you attempt
that," it said to both men, looking between them and
grinning its amusement. "Laciel, being Sighted and hav-
ing power to call on, was able to maintain her position
inside the gate. Were one of you others to try the same,
you would be swept away nearly at once—and unable to
exit from any other gate. She can hold you going through,
but not if you stand around sightseeing or keeping her
company. That's what makes taking the unSighted through
a gate so difficult. If the Sighted doesn't hold on tight, the
gate takes its turn."
Kadrim and Zail were now staring at InThig, their ex-
pressions peculiar, but that seemed to be the day for odd
expressions. I hadn't wanted to break the news to them
quite that abruptly, not after they were nice enough to
volunteer their help, but tact isn't a word often found in a
demon's vocabulary. Instead of letting them down gently he
had dropped them off a mountainside, and there was noth-
ing I could do about it right then but change the subject.
"I think it's time we got back on the road," I said,
retrieving my hands easily from the two loosened grips
before getting to my feet. "We still have a long way to
"There is no road," Rikkan Addis pointed out, back to
looking all around himself. We seemed to be in a wide
clearing, almost a meadow, and all around were very big,
very old trees. "This is the world without any people, isn't
it? The one the wizard told us to be very alert in?"
"I can sense animal and plant life," InThig told him,
padding over to where the man stood and glancing at him
before joining in the looking around. "If there's human
life as well, it's out of my sensing range."
"Don't waste any time letting me know if that changes,"
Rikkan Addis said, fearless leader instructing one of his
followers without a second thought, glancing down at
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
InThig as though he'd known the demon all his life.
"Aside from us, anything human on this world will have
only one reason for being here. Let's get mounted and
Everyone began moving toward the horses at mat, re-
sponding to his orders as enthusiastically as they'd ignored
mine, something that set me thinking even as automatic
annoyance flared. Now that we'd gone through the gate it
was time to start doing something about taking over lead-
ership of the expedition, but just as Graythor had sug-
gested, few of the others seemed ready to accept my orders
unless magic was involved—and magic was something 1
couldn't use against ol' feariess leader. I didn't yet know
how I could manage the takeover, but it was clear I'd have
to do it ^st before everyone got too used to having that
impossible man directing us. Habit was a hard creature to
best, and as 1 moved toward my gray I glared at InThig; if
even demons were subject to it 1 really did have to hurry.
but somehow I had the feeling it had ranged itself with
Rikkan Addis for another reason. With Graythor having
sent it, I didn't have to wonder long as to what that other
reason could be-
Even without a road, the trail continued to be clear to
Su. We followed her out of the'meadow and in among the
trees, everyone probably wondering privately why we had
to be so alert in so pleasant a place. There was nothing to
show that humans had ever before passed where we rode,
and that sense of being all alone in a lovely, green, virgin
wilderness was soothing as well as exhilarating. Graythor
had refused to be specific about what we were supposed" to
be alert against, saying that expecting one particular type
of attack would leave us open to the unexpected sort. If we
were alert against everything and anything, it should be
that much harder to surprise us. I could see the logic in
that line of reasoning, but the look of the landscape was
working against it; if there had been a specific threat we
could brace against, it would have kept us from getting too
"Laciel, girl. how do you fare?" a deep voice asked
from my right, drawing me out of introspection. Kadrim
had been riding behind me and Zail was deep in conversa-
tion with Rikkan Addis up ahead, but now the red-haired
boy had moved up to ride beside me.
"Now that I'm out of that gate, I'm fine," I told him
with a smile, seeing how those blue eyes examined me to
be sure I was telling the truth. "I never got the chance to
thank you for carrying me out of there."
"Merely did I assist you out, and for so little a thing
there is no need of thanks," he answered, matching my
smile as he looked down at me. "Once out it was Rik who
took you, for he had anticipated your need and waited just
beside the gate. As you are happily no longer in distress, I
will come to you once we have made darkness camp, and
we shall be able to continue our dis—"
"What do you mean, it was Rik who took me?" I
interrupted, feeling sudden outrage cover me like a cape.
"What gave him the right to come anywhere near me, let
alone touch me? How did he dare. . . !"
"It is surely a leader's right to see to those who follow
him," the boy interrupted in turn, for some reason show-
ing amusement .in those steady blue eyes. "As you con-
tinue to follow him much like the rest of us, there was no
call for him to refrain from doing as he wished. Perhaps,
should we seek for it this darkness, we will discover a
means to . . ."
"Change that state of affairs," 1 finished in what was
nearly a growl, nodding my head as I turned it to glare at
fearless leader's back. "Even if it takes all night."
"Even should it take the entire darkness," Kadrim agreed
in a murmur, a smile behind the smoothness of his tone.
"1 would, however, refrain from speaking of this to the
others, most particularly Zail. That one spends a good deal
of time with Rik, and should he inadvertently let slip a
premature hint of what you intend— To me they appear to
be quite close."
"Oh, but Zail would never take Rik's side against me,"
I protested, looking again at me very large boy. "He's
already said he doesn't like the way fearless leader treats
me, and he has no choice about conferring with him in
relation to the quest. If I don't tell him, he'll mink I don't
"Should he fail to be told of me discussion we intend,
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 107
the question of trust will not arise," the boy pointed out,
that very faint smile back on his face. "Should you speak
of the matter now, you will only cause him to realize that
there were previous discussions of which he was not a
part. And also do ! wish to speak of another matter this
darkness, the matter I previously referred to. It will bring
you as great a delight as it brings to me, I feel, yet would I
prefer that you alone be told of it at this time. Will you
agree to have it so?"
I bit my lip at the question and looked in Zait's direction
again, but everything Kadrim had said was true, and I had
already agreed to listen to his secret any time he was ready
to tell it. I don't believe in going back on promises to
friends, but I had been so looking forward to that
dinner. . . .
"Tonight it will be just the two of us," I conceded with
as much of a smile as I could manage, forcing my eyes
away from Zail and back to my big, young friend. "You
have my word on it."
"You seem to wish it were otherwise, yet shall I take
the sadness from you with what I will say." he assured
me, seeing what I hadn't wanted him to see. "You will
find that the men of other worlds are not so blind as those
of your own, nor so backward. Have I told you that the
first woman to take my heart was much like yourself?"
"Why—no," I answered, surprise coming to cover me
confusion I felt over the rest of what he'd said. "You
sound as though you really have had dozens of women—if
not hundreds. You also make it sound as though you met
your first woman a very long time ago."
"A lifetime has passed in the interim," he said very
softly, his face now expressionless, his sight turned inward
with loss. "Her appearance was not like yours, for she
was small with hair as red as my own, yet was she bright
and alive and filled with the fire of a woman of pride—yet
also innocent and in need of great gentleness. I loved her
as a drowning man loves solid ground, as a suffocating
man me breath of life; had I been called upon to give my
life for hers, it would have been my pleasure and joy to do
so. It was she, however, who gave her life for mine, and
never will 1 forget the moment of it- It gave her great joy
108 SHARON GREEN
to know I was unharmed, yet when she died in my arms
the joy of the world died with her."
"How did it happen?" I asked in a very unsteady voice,
my throat tightening in echo to his whisper. Those hard
blue eyes were completely dry, but only because he was
the sort to keep tears strictly on the inside. "Was there an
accident of some sort?"
"More stupidity than accident," he said with a sharp
shake of his head, old anger fighting to free itself. "My
enemies were not many for they seldom survived our
meeting to continue as enemies, yet was mere one who
lacked the stomach to face me. Had I been wise I would
have sought him out and slain him, yet did I feel then that
such a doing would be dishonorable. I allowed him to live
so long as he kept from me and mine—which lasted till he
approached unseen, with a bow. The shaft was meant for
my back—and took her, instead, between the breasts
when she threw herself in its path. My enemy's death,
when I tracked him down at last, was neither swift nor
easy, yet does revenge fall short as a means to replace that
which has been lost. A lifetime of loneliness had already
passed by then. and each day thereafter brought more of
He was back to looking straight at me by then, a steady,
unwavering blue gaze that left me with nothing to say. It
hurt to know that someone so young had had so terrible a
loss, and right then I felt very close to Kadrim. I reached
over to touch his arm, trying to make him know without
words that I understood how he felt, and a faint smile
returned to his face.
"She, too, would have shared my loss in such a way,'*
he said, his voice still soft. "I was not mistaken in seeing
me similarity between you."
"The similarity between who?" another voice asked, a
much more open and friendly voice. We both looked
around to see that Zail now rode to my left, and his smite
warmed when I quickly withdrew my hand from Kadrim's
"Kadrim was just telling me about someone he once
knew," I said rather quickly, half to keep the boy from
being hurt by having the subject rehashed once again, and
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 109
half to reassure Zait that my touching Kadrim hadn't meant
anything. "He and 1 are friends, you know."
"Friends," Zail said with even more of a smile, glanc-
ing with what seemed like amusement at Kadrim. "When
you're young it's important to have friends you can count
on, and I'm sure Kadrim knows he can count on you—and
the rest of us as well. Even though our own friendship has
become a good deal more special. We'll make up tonight
for that dinner we missed last night, just we two special
"Zait," I began, trying to think of some way to tell him
that I couldn't have dinner with him that night even though
1 really wanted to, without sounding as though I were
making excuses. I looked ahead to where Soffann Dra now
rode with Rikkan Addis, both of them chuckling over
something, without finding any inspiration, and then Kadrim
decided to save me the trouble.
"Laciel will be in my company this darkness, friend
Zail." he said, the smoothness of his voice somehow
taking the amusement that had abruptly left the other man-
*'0ur friendship may not yet be as special as yours with
her, but perhaps the darkness will bring about a change—
for the better. I hope. She ha& given her word on the
"You made her give you her word?" Zail asked, his
gray eyes more than annoyed as they rested on Kadrim.
"You took advantage of her, and now you're crowing
about it? When it comes to dealing properly with women,
my young friend, you still have a lot to learn."
"It is scarcely I who means to take advantage," Kadrim
came back. his head high and his blue eyes a good deal
colder, his voice losing quite a lot of friendliness. "Never
have I forced myself on innocence with overwhelming
words meant to dazzle and blind, with no more than one
end in mind. A few words of honest praise indicating
sincere interest, perhaps, and then ..."
"And then on to the next name on the list," Zail cut in
with a snort of scorn, his eyes and voice also growing
colder. "Any one of those names will do, and they're
forgotten as soon as they're checked off. But some of us
are capable of having a vision of perfection, an ideal
which raises one name far above all others, the culmina-
tion of all he's ever searched for in one single, slender
form. That's me one worth striving for, the one to win no
matter what has to be done to . . ."
"To achieve one's own purpose?" Kadrim took his turn
at interrupting, a distant, regal sneer in his stiffened atti-
tude. "Even should it not be best for the one striven for?
And once that one is achieved, then what? A short time of
pleasure and self-indulgence, and then the realization that
the ideal is no longer quite as ideal, perhaps? A true man
advances his cause with a view toward sharing, of himself
as well as all things which are ..."
I was getting dizzy looking back and forth between
them, but the next interruption became me last. An ear-
piercing scream sounded that even startled the horses, and
then we were all in the middle of what had caused the
scream, a vocalization of the understandable terror felt by
Soffann Dra. A vine from one of the trees had whipped
down to wrap around her where she rode next to Rikkan
Addis, trying (o unseat her, trying to draw her back into
the trees with it. The man had drawn his sword and
slashed the vine through, but we'd all automatically reined
in and now there were other vines after us! It was too late
to try riding away from the attack, and even the horses
were being threatened.
Zail, Kadrim and Su had their blades unsheathed only
an instant behind Rik's, and the flurry of whispering swings
was almost lost behind the high-pitched whining coming
from the trees all around us. The forest world was still as
bright and beautiful and peaceful as it had been, which
made it all a good deal worse than dank, threatening dark
would have been. Kadrim grunted as he swung his weapon
and Zail cursed in a low, furious voice; me horses were
snorting and shivering, picking up the fear so thick around
And then a vine wrapped itself around me from behind,
sticky sap dripping from it onto my clothes and flesh, tiny
suckers searching for skin to attach to, strong as the arm of
a well-muscled man. I gasped and shuddered as it began
tightening around my arms, knowing it was ready to pull me
back into the forest to whatever was waiting, and horror
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER III
and disgust finally forced me out of shock and into action.
For some reason revulsion had frozen me till then, but that
wasn't the time to be fastidious.
A single word caused the vine around me to shrivel to
black dust, faintly increasing the whine in the trees all
around, and that told me what 1 needed to know. The trees
and vines feared something too, and that was the best
weapon with which to fight them. I composed a three word
spell and then spoke it. Seeing me blazing swords as they
flamed to life all around us, watching their flickering
edges sever and shrivel every vine in their reach, following
them as they darted around searching for more antagonists
to touch. The presence of edged steel hadn't bothered the
vines, but my swords were made of fire that burned hotter
and hotter. The vines withdrew from the attack with a
whining shriek that could be felt in your bones, panic-
stricken at the thought of what could happen if even one
sap-covered vine stayed too long in contact with those
fiery weapons. In minutes the entire forest would be ablaze,
and the trees had a lot more to worry about on that score
than we did. We could always retreat to the gate, and wait
until sheets of flame cleared the way for us.
"Let's get out of here fast'",Rikkan Addis called from
up ahead, his sword still in his fist, and that was an idea
none of us cared to dispute. The horses leaped ahead when
we put our heels to their flanks, needing urging from
nothing but recent memory.
After a while we reined in the horses from a gallop, but
we didn't dawdle and I kept the swords of fire whirling
around over our heads. Some of the forest we rode through
seemed to—draw away—from the circling swords, but it
was difficult telling if those parts were merely withdrawing
from the heat, or would have attacked if we were unpro-
tected. To be perfectly honest, I had no interest in finding
out; the thought of hostile vegetation has always been able
to make me shudder, and I preferred the drain on my
strength due to keeping the swords above us, to the consid-
eration of what might come at us if I sent them back to
It seemed to be only a little past noon when we found a
place to stop for lunch. Fearless leader had already turned
112 SHARON GREEN
thumbs down on three previous places, ones he said looked
a little too pleasant and inviting, but we were all hungry
and the horses needed to rest and graze. With a great deal
of reluctance he let us stop in what wasn't really a clear-
ing, only a place where there were fewer bushes and no
low-hanging trees, and after he had looked around we
were allowed to dismount—with strict orders not to wan-
der off alone for any reason at all. Someone else might
have felt stupid saying something like that in a place like
the one we were in, but not ol' fearless leader; looking or
sounding stupid never seemed to bother him.
It was time to put a fence around the horses and conjure
us some food, so I reluctantly let the swords of fire go. 1
could have maintained mem while doing the rest, but mat
would have been an even greater drain on strength that was
more than adequate but still limited. We still had a lot of
hours left to spend on that world, and no way of knowing
what was ahead of us.
"I hope the grass doesn't do them any harm," Rikkan
Addis muttered^ staring at the horses through the fence I'd
put up as everyone else gathered around me. This time I'd
erected a normal fence with a gate that anyone could get
through—just in case we needed to get to the horses fast
and I was too occupied with other things to open or banish
a magical fence. "I don't like or trust anything on this
"That's why I put my own grass inside the fence," I
said without more than a glance for him, shaking my head
just a little as I rubbed at the knots in my shoulder. "Fear
not, fearless leader, I'm not about to let us get left afoot.
Okay, now everybody step back a little."
They all did as I'd instructed, so I spoke the spell that
produced the nicely stuffed picnic baskets, then gestured to
them to help themselves. It wasn't exactly a picnic outing
we were on, but the suggestion couldn't hurt and might
even help soothe everyone's digestion. The four went to
the two big baskets and began looking through them, but
there wasn't anything in the way of joking or light
converation while they were doing it. There hadn't been
conversation at alt since me attack, and all of them spent
as much time looking around as looking at the food.
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
We all found places in the grass around the baskets, and
once InThig came-out of the brush to pace silently all
around us, even Rikkan Addis was able to force himself to
relax enough to eat something. The vines had gone after
all of us but me demon, which was, at least to me,
perfectly understandable. InThig liked its cat-shape and
used it most of the time, but that didn't mean it was made
of the same thing real cats were. InThig wasn't usable prey
to the vines, and they had left it strictly alone. We worked
our way silently through the sandwiches and ale from the
baskets, most of us moving from automatic swallowing to
some small appreciation of what it was we were eating,
and then InThig stopped beside Rikkan Addis.
"I would recommend against too lengthy a halt here,"
it growled, putting those blazing red eyes on the man very
briefly before letting them go back to random searching.
"There's something odd about this place I can't quite
pinpoint, and the feeling grows stronger with each passing
moment. Perhaps I can't identify it because it's no threat
to a life form like myself.''
"But it is a threat to us," Rikkan Addis said at once,
throwing away what was left of his latest sandwich and
abandoning his ale as he rose immediately to his feet.
"We'd be stupid to wait around until it was ready to jump
on us. Let's get out of here."
Again no one argued with the suggestion, but even as
we all climbed to our feet and I banished what was left of
the food with a gesture, we discovered we were too late.
Su's breath sucked in with surprise and then she made a
sound of pain, one which quickly became a scream of
desperation. She was the only one among us who was
barefoot and bare-legged, which meant that the things
didn't have to pass boots and clothing before they reached
flesh. They came up out of the ground, pale white slugs
that appeared in the grass then immediately began climb-
ing us, a squishing sound accompanying them rather than
whining, an eagerness to cover us in their squirming,
slithering advance. Soffan Dra screamed too, but not be-
cause the slugs had reached the tops of her high boots
under her gown. The scream was just part of the general
reaction to the swarming things, an equivalent to the sick-
ened, cursing shouts of the men as they frantically brushed
I might have been on the slow side with the other
attacks, but slugs and maggots had shared a tot of my food
while I was growing up, before Morgiana found me. They
were more familiar to me than they were to most people,
which meant I didn't waste any time being horrified or
disgusted. Two words banished the slugs already crawling
on us, and a word of power forced the ones on the ground
to freeze where they were. That didn't slop newcomers
from squeezing up through the grass all around the frozen
ones, but at least it gave us something of a break. I looked
quickly around at everyone, seeing how Kadrim had hur-
ried over to Su and had lifted her quickly off the ground to
keep her from being covered again, and shouted the single
This time 1 was obeyed almost before the word was out
of my mouth, and if we didn't all go at top speed, that was
only because of what our feet were coming down on. I
banished the gate to the fence as we struggled through the
mess, saving us from having to stop and open it or climb
over, and once inside the fence we found naming but
vegetation beneath our feet. Whether it was the grass I'd
substituted for what had originally grown there, or the fact
that all of us had been outside the fence that had made the
slugs appear there alone, I didn't know; none of us knew,
but mat didn't keep us from mounting as fast as we could
and getting ourselves out of there. I froze the slugs one
more time before our horses galloped through them, which
kept us from taking any unwanted company along with us.
We slowed the horses sooner this time, trying to save
what was left of their stamina after too short a rest and not
enough grazing, and it wasn't long before we were glad
we did- The insect swarms made them bolt even though 1
was able to screen us from being stung much, and once
we'd managed to slow them down, they were set off again
by the fruit suddenly dropped on us as though it were
being aimed. It's impossible to know how long we went
on like that, five minutes of peace and twenty of attack,
but I do remember a lull of sorts, between the birds diving
and the rootlets reaching for our horses' hooves, of nearly
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
an hour. Our four sword-wielders spent almost as much
time and energy defending us as 1 did with magic, but the
one who seemed to be taking it all the worst was Soffann
Dra. She had thrown up once we were away from the
slugs, and continued to look like a powder-pale ghost from
At long, long last the forest opened onto a beautiful
meadow containing manicured grass and a really lovely
stream, and we six sat our horses staring at it in silence. It
was late afternoon and we were hot and sweaty from the
heat of the day, covered in filth from the vines, slugs, fruit
and so on, bitten and stung, and not far from dropping
from exhaustion. Aside from that, we didn't trust the look
of the meadow one little bit; it was too pretty and inviting,
and we were all remembering the lovely little glade we
would have ridden through if not for InThig. I shuddered
at the thought of what the grass in the glade had been
resting on, and my gray snorted, either in echo or in
*'Su, do we have any choice about going through it?"
Rikkan Addis asked after a minute, unfairly sounding as
though he wasn't tired at all- "We might be better off if
we went around." *-
"Can't," Su answered, sounding more like I felt. "Don't
see the trail any farther ahead than around to the left of
that stream. Could be it ends there."
"At the next gate," Rikkan Addis said, causing some-
thing of a stir in the rest of us. The second world, accord-
ing to Graythor, had people, and I'd discovered that I'd
rather be attacked by people than things any day. Appar-
ently the others felt the same, but rather than start forward
at once, Rikkan Addis called softly, "InThig!"
The demon had been ranging out ahead of us again, but
it came gliding back at the sound of its name, a big, black
shadow flowing silently over the grass. InThig wasn't tired
at all, of course, and it knew exactly why it had been
"I haven't been able to detect anything of particular
danger," it told Rikkan Addis, sitting cat-like as it looked
up at the man. "Our next gate is not far from that stream,
but for some reason it seems odd."
"Odd in what way?" the man asked, joining everyone
else in glancing in my direction- I. on the other hand, was
looking at InThig, dreading what its answer would be but
already half anticipating it.
"The gate didn't flare open when I approached it,"
InThig replied with a puzzled tone in its growl, turning
those red eyes to meet my gaze. "Gates always open for
me, and I don't understand what it means."
"It probably means the gate is timed," I supplied with a
groan, slumping in my saddle. "We'll have to wait a
certain amount of time until I can open it, but 1 won't
know how much time before I See the thing. Graythor
once told me it has something to do with the positioning of
me worlds it leads to, when those worlds are more man
usually far from the world you're leaving. This seems to
be a giant-step gate, and we can only hope its period is
hours rather than weeks or months."
That caused another stir among my companions, this
time accompanied by echoes of my original groan. We all
wanted to be off that world, but when we left was no
longer our choice:
"It looks like the best thing we can do is get over
there," Rikkan Addis decided aloud, his eyes already set
in that direction. "We'll worry about what to do next if
me period turns out to be unreasonably long. Before that,
worrying is a waste of time."
A touch of his heel sent his roan into a steady lope
toward the distant gate, InThig stretching just a little to
move out ahead of him, Su and Soffann Dra following just
behind. Zail and Kadrim kept to their places to either side
of me, but there was more of a grimness to them than what
had been holding them most of the day. They both now
seemed to consider it a personal insult that we would not
be leaving that world right away, and I didn't understand
Riding across the meadow turned out to be totally un-
eventful, a pleasant change from the way the day had gone
until then. The stream was beautifully blue and sparkling
with fluffy bushes of various sizes here and there around
it, but none of us looked at it too closely as we rode by.
Everyone was just then more interested in the gate, and
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
most of mem acted as though they expected to be able to
See it. Su knew where it was from where the trail ended,
but Rikkan Addis would have ridden right through the
glowing slit without knowing it if his roan hadn't slid
sideways when he tried. He looked around then to see
InThig stopped in front of the gate and me already begin-
ning to dismount, and finally got the message.
"How long before you'll know what its period is?" he
asked me, backing his roan before starting to dismount. "I
don't like me way this place feels."
"I'm afraid you'll just have to live with it for a while,"
I answered, putting my fists on my hips as I stared at the
glowing slit. "Its pulse is clearly declining, but it seems to
be on a short cycle. My guess is it's openable only in the
morning, so it looks like we'll be spending the night
"Your guess," he echoed over a few moans and groans
from the others, his tone dissatisfied. "Is guessing the best
you can do? Can't you tell me something a little more
"If you think you can do any better yourself, go right
ahead," I offered, waving a hand at the slit with only
some of the annoyance I was reeling, aiming my head to
look directly at him. "It so happens 1 wasn't telling you
anything, just informing the group as a whole, so don't
take the disappointment so personally. And you don't have
to be that nervous about spending the night here. Once I
have our campsite warded, we'll be just fine."
His head went high as his eyes began to blaze, but 1 was
too hot and tired to wait for him to come up with words in
response to what I'd said. I'd used the opportunity to show
the others how little he had going for him as a leader, but I
wanted to get our camp set up and provisioned while I still
believed I had the strength to do it.
For that reason I turned immediately and walked away
from all of them, getting straight in my mind how much
room we would need for me camp, what we wanted to be
in it, where to put the horses and in what, dozens of items
and specifics that would then all have to be warded. It was
like juggling a giant puzzle in my head, all the clues and
answers in place, all the pieces locking tight, every hint
and suggestion picked up and fitted into the pattern; it
wasn't impossible, only difficult, the sort of difficulty that
had fascinated and delighted me from the moment I first
began learning about it. I closed my eyes for a moment,
wishing there was even a small breeze to cool the air, then
raised my arms and spoke the spells one after the other-
*'0h, look!" Soffann Dra gasped, delight in her voice
for the first time that day. "Look at those beautiful pavil-
ions! We'll be able to be comfortable tonight!"
There were murmurs of agreement and approval keeping
her observations company, and I wondered again why she
always had to speak in exclamation points. Right then I
was finding it just short of painful, but that wasn't the
woman's fault- I sat down in the grass and closed my eyes
again, but this time so that I could rub them with my
"You all right?" Su's voice asked from above me just
before her hand touched my shoulder. "Didn't know you
had enough left to do all that after the kind of day we
"Nothing to it," I answered, dropping my hands so that
I could look up at her where she bent over me. "I'll bet I
even have enough left right now to keep my eyes open
until I've washed in the stream and maybe had a bite or
two to eat. How about you?"
"Didn't think it was worth hoping we could wash," she
said with a tired grin, crouching so that she could rub at
her leg more easily. I'd neutralized as much of the slug
venom in her as I could after we'd ridden away from them,
but her legs were still marked with painful-looking sores
under the slime that had been left on her from the slugs*
upward progress. There hadn't been a word of complaint
out of her, though, and if 1 hadn't been able to clear and
ward the stream as well as our camp, she still probably
wouldn't have said anything.
"It's always worth hoping you can wash," I told her,
deciding I really ought to try getting back to my feet. "It
helps to remind you that stinking and filthy isn't the only
way of life. Let's get me horses into their pasture, and
then we can get on with it."
Su nodded and straightened slowly while I forced my-
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 119
self back to a standing position, and then we went to take
care of our mounts. If we'd earned the right to spend the
night in comfortable pavilions, our horses had also earned
me right to something special. I'd given mem a fenced-in
pasture with safe grass and their own piece of stream, a
covered-over area to sleep in if they wanted to, and a wide
trough of oats. The pasture had taken more effort than the
pavilions had, but only because I'm less familiar with
pastures. Putting up a castle would have been easier, but
horses aren't known for being partial to castles.
Once we had the saddles and bridles off our mounts, we
left them alone to enjoy themselves and went to take care
of ourselves. The others had spent some time looking into
the targe silk pavilions before leading their mounts to the
pasture, and the only one still in hers was Soffann Dra.
Good old fearless leader was taking care of her horse for
her so that she could continue inspecting to her heart's
delight, which was exactly what she was doing. None of
them had had any trouble figuring out which pavilion
belonged to whom, not when I'd matched them to the
color of the horse each rode, and the small woman seemed
as pleased with her white tent as she was with her white
My own gray pavilion stood between Su's brown and
white one and Kadrim's golden one, all segments of the
large circle the six tents were formed into. On Su's other
side was Soffann Dra in white, on Kadrim's Zail in black,
and between Zail and the small woman, Rikkan Addis in
red. If I'd been even a little less tired the red tent would
have come equipped with several special features, but
fearless leader had gotten lucky with the sort of day we'd
had. Maybe next time the luck would be on my side.
Considering the state of my clothes and boots, I walked
no farther onto the carpeting of my pavilion than was
necessary to reach the soap and drying cloth, and then I
hurried back out. Su took only a moment longer to get her
own things, but she didn't turn immediately toward the
stream with me; she hesitated very briefly, then without a
backward glance walked over to Soffan Dra's tent.
"Thought you might like to come with us to the stream
to wash," she said, looking through the open fold in the
120 SHARON GREEN
silk without taking her bedraggled condition inside.'' Lacici
made it safe for us, so we might as weH all Jump in."
*'0h, I'd love to," the small woman's voice came, and
then she was hurrying out with her drying cloth and soap
in her hands, a warmer, truer smile on her face man I'd
ever seen before. The smile, though, turned out to be for
Su; when she saw me watching her it faltered, and then it
was gone entirely. "On second thought, maybe I'll rest a
while first and go to the stream later," she said, quickly
moving those pretty green eyes back to Su while trying to
revive at least a portion of the smile. "Thanks anyway for
"Wait," I said as she began to turn back to me tent,
speaking before 1 could stop myself. "If you fall asleep
and don't make it to the stream, you'll wake up in the
morning with clean, new clothes and nothing but a body
covered with half of what we went through today to put
into them. I think you'd better—come with us now, and
leave the resting for later."
She looked at. me in silence for a moment, her pretty
face sober, and it was almost as though she knew how
embarrassed I felt. Then a good part of the warm smile
came back, and she nodded once as her arm tightened
around the drying cloth.
"Thank ^ou," she said, turning to share the smile and
words with Su as well. "I'd be very pleased to go to the
stream with you."
With that settled we moved off between two of the
pavilions and headed for the stream, but not the section
immediately behind the silk tents. I directed my two com-
panions to the left, more toward the gate, where I'd thick-
ened the bushes into a screen that would even let us swim
a little without being seen. We all walked along in silence,
theirs probably a good deal more comfortable than mine,
and just as we reached the opening in the bushes, Soffann
Dra put her hand on my arm.
"I know you don't like me and didn't really want me
along,'' she said, looking up at me with what seemed to be
difficulty. "I wanted you to know how much I appreciate
your asking me anyway. It was a very nice thing to do."
"1 don't dislike you." I protested, feeling my cheeks
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 121
go warm, especially when I saw the faint smile Su wore
where she stood behind the smaller woman. "I just don't—
make friends with women very easily, and we haven't
really had much of a chance to get acquainted. I didn't
mean to make you feel—unwelcome."
"Well, at least I wasn't feeling as unwelcome as Rik,"
she said with more of a smile, one hand going up to pat at
her hair. "I'm more or less used to cool receptions from
women, but I don't think he is. You two really got off on
the wrong foot, didn't you?"
"If you're going to talk about 'Rik*, I withdraw my
invitation," I said, suddenly feeling more annoyed man
embarrassed. Su had changed her smile to chuckling, which
made it even worse. "If I knew for sure it was going to
rain, I would have put up only five pavilions—or given his
a leaky roof. And speaking of water, do you think we can
get a little closer to the stream? Washing from this distance
without magic won't accomplish very much."
"But I'm really curious about why you don't like him,"
she said with a laugh, turning to keep me in sight as I
walked around her, then hurrying after me through the
opening in the bushes. "You get along well enough with
Kadrim and Zail; why not Rik^"
"Kadrim is a friend, and Zail is nice," I said over my
shoulder without slowing, knowing beyond doubt that Su
was also following—and still chuckling. "Our fearless
leader Rik is neither, and now I'd like to talk about
"Oh, this is wonderful," Soffann Dra said, diverted at
last by the large area I'd screened off. "There must be
enough room here for at least fifty people, and you made
the grass softer all the way to the stream. I don't know
how you do it, but I'm certainly glad you do. And in case
you didn't know, he hates that name."
I had stopped not far from the stream bank and was just
beginning to try stretching some of the aches and tiredness
out of my body, which probably accounted for the reason I
spoke without first stopping to think.
"Who hates what name?" I asked, reaching wide toward
the hot, late afternoon sun. "I know I'm tired, Soffann
Dra, but I'm not following you at all,"
"You don't have to be that formal," she said with a
dimpled smile, sitting down to my left and raising the
bottom of her gown to reach her boot laces. "You can
both call me Dranna, the way my family did. And the
name I'm talking about is 'fearless leader*. Rik knows you
call him that, and he hates it."
"Oh, isn't that too bad," 1 said in a very sympathetic
way, feeling considerably better as I joined—Dranna—on
the grass to get rid of my own boots. "But doesn't he
realize he ought to be happy with what he has? There are a
lot worse things to call someone, which he may yet find
"Wouldn't push it too far without thinking about it, if I
were you," Su put in, standing to Dranna's left and loos-
ening her hair. "You jump on a man's dignity too hard
and too often, and he just might decide to jump back."
"And then Zail and Kadrim will probably get involved,"
Dranna added while I frowned at Su, the small woman's
voice more sober than it had been. "Normally, I don't
think either one would challenge Rik, but if you get him
mad enough to come down on you, they might be forced
"That's idiotic," I said after me briefest hesitation,
addressing both of mem. "No one is stupid enough to get
into an argument with a sorceress, not even Rik. And as
far as Kadrim and Zail go, there's no reason for them to
get involved. They both know I can take care of myself, so
why would they bother?"
They both looked at me then. Su with a faint smile of
amusement, Dranna with a searching stare, and then the
small woman shook her head with a sigh.
"You really don't know, do you?" she said, green eyes
still searching my face. "I'm not all that much older than
you, but suddenly I feel ancient. Don't you know anything
"How much is there to know about them?" I came
back, enough of the discomfort returning so that I got to
my feet to begin taking off my clothes. "They're people
just like everyone else, and some you like and some you
don't. What's so complicated about that?"
"I think I understand now why they find you so fasci-
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
nating," she said with another sigh, pushing her boots to
one side and rising to her feet. "I'm just glad you don't
get along with Rik. Taking another woman's leavings isn't
what I'm used to, but at this point I can't afford to be
critical. Not that I'd be critical of Rik under any circum-
stances. I happen to like him and find him very attractive,
and he even understands."
"Understands what?" I asked automatically, wondering
why she kept talking in circles and changing subjects.
"And you haven't said why you think Kadrim and Zail
would involve themselves in my argument with fearless
"Rik understands how horribly helpless I feel," she
said with another dimpled smile, glancing up at me as her
hands reached to her gown front and began opening it. "I
knew from the start that I didn't really belong on this
quest, but I had no choice about going. I'm the only one of
us who's absolutely helpless, the only one who can't do
more than shiver through an attack and pray we survive.
It's terrible not being able to fight back, but 1 don't know
how to, and haven't the courage for it in any event. Rik
understands that 1 wasn't meant for a life like this, and
he's patient rather than criticaL Something like that means
a lot to someone like me."
"Men do more, sometimes, from feeling than they do
from thinking," Su put in, some of her words muffled in
the folds of her yellow leather shirt as she pulled it off
over her head. "Lot of the time the doing is nice, like the
way Rik is with Dranna, but sometimes it's dumb, like the
way Zait and Kadrim would be if they thought Rik might
hurt you. They don't want you getting hurt, girl, and they
won't take the chance it might happen. That's why they'd
step into the argument."
"That really would be stupid," I said, growing annoyed
again under her calm stare. "What's wrong with those
two? Don't they understand I can take care of myself?"
"I don't think you'll find a man alive anywhere who's
willing to consider a woman built the way you are, as able
to take care of herself," Dranna said with an amused
laugh, tossing her gown aside as she glanced at me. "Well,
come on! Let's get to the washing."
She ran forward with small, graceful steps to the edge of
the stream bank, Su following at a more leisurely pace,
both of them ignoring the tinge of red I was sure they
could see all over me. What did what I looked like have to
do with whether or not I could take care of myself? If
being Sighted and powerful depended on what you looked
like, half the wizards in the world would be too untalented
to so much as light a match—and that included Morgiana-
As small as she was, she'd never even be able to—
I cut off the internal debate with a kick at the pile of my
dirty clothes, forced to admit that if I'd said any of that
arguing aloud, I would have been wasting the breath.
Although I couldn't imagine why, 1 wasn't so dense that 1
didn't know Zail and Kadrim had been fighting over me
just before the first attack. They were behaving the way
warlock apprentices and sorcerers—and even a few male
wizards—behaved around me witch apprentice Nedra, and
I didn't know how to cope with that. It was something that
had never happened to me before, and wasn't as enjoyable
as Nedra seemed to find it. I was very glad that Zail had
found a reason to be attracted, but Kadrim, although very
handsome, was only a boy, and I didn't want them fight-
ing, especially not against fearless leader—
"Damn," I said under my breath, adding a few street
words inside my head, where I'd learned to keep them
because of Morgiana. None of it was working out right,
not the way it did in books. The quest wasn't a lark or a
fun adventure, it was a race to save a world and its people;
the most attractive man around there was too busy being
alert against attack to pay any real attention to me, and me
first assignation I'd ever had was with a boy I wanted
nothing more from than friendship—but who seemed to
want more from me. On top of that, I still hadn't figured
out a way to take over leadership of the expedition, and
that alone was enough to make me depressed. Su and
Dranna were already splashing around in the water, so I
took my jar of soap and went morosely to join them. If I
was going to mope, 1 might just as well do it clean.
The stream water was blue-green and delicious, so cool
and refreshing that I spent some time swimming in the
light current rather than immediately beginning to bathe.
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
Because of that, Su and Dranna were already back on the
bank and drying by the time 1 got to washing. They
offered to wait until I was finished, but that would have
left mem standing in their drying cloths while I hurried to
get clean, and we were all too tired for standing or hurry-
ing. I told them I would be perfectly fine and that there
were soft lounging robes waiting for them in their pavil-
ions, and those two items of assurance and information
helped make up their minds. They carefully gathered up
their filthy clothes—keeping them well away from their
now-clean bodies—and their soap jars, and left the wash-
ing area to the one who had formed it.
I took my time with the washing, delighting, as always,
in the feeling of being really clean, and then I left the
stream to take up my drying cloth. It was getting a good
deal closer to sundown by then, and I stood all alone in the
middle of the large, bush-screened area, the very soft grass
cradling my feet, looking out over the stream toward the
far bank and the forest there, the long, thick drying cloth
held in front of me while I patted at my face with it. The
sun was just above the trees and flaming out its anger over
being forced to abandon its realm to darkness, the sullen
red painful to the eyes but forcing a soothing, quiet calm
on everything that would soon become part of the silence
of night. 1 loved the look of sundown and the view of it
from that spot was magnificent, a view of peace that that
world more than owed us. It was . . .
"That's not fair," a voice said suddenly from behind
me, unexpectedly close behind me. "The scenery in this
part of the stream is much nicer than in ours."
I whirled immediately to see Zail, standing no more
man five feet away, his drying cloth wrapped around his
middle, his smooth chest bare except for that small, golden
medallion, his arms folded easily and comfortably before
him. Strands of wet, dark hair fell on his forehead over
those pretty gray eyes, and when I realized his faintly
amused stare was resting on me rather than on the sunset,
it came to me with a shock that the entire back of me was
"Zail, you're not supposed to be here!" I blurted.
feeling my cheeks going red as fluster covered me a lot
126 SHARON GREEN
more thoroughly than the drying cloth did. "You have to
leave. . . !"
"But why?" he interrupted to ask, his faint grin amused
as he unfolded his arms and began to move slowly toward
me. "You don't think I'd hurt you, do you?"
"Well, no, of course not," I stumbled, still blushing
and horribly upset, my hands clutching the drying cloth to
my throat, my feet desperate to back away from his ad-
vance. "But I really don't. . ."
"The water has made your hair a little darker," he
observed, stopping in front of me to raise one hand to the
dripping strands. "I like it better when it's dry, pale and
soft as silk, draping your shoulders like a priceless fur.
And your eyes are the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen,
light and very deep, drawing me closer like twin, exqui-
sitely matched jewels. I could never hurt anything as
perfect as you, Laciel. You believe mat, don't you?"
He was looking down into my eyes, his body no more
than a breath away from mine, his hand still touching my
hair, and once again I found that the ability to speak had
abandoned me. Of course I knew he wasn't going to hurt
me, but my heart still hammered inside my chest, setting
all of me to trembling with the heavy thud of it, and 1
couldn't fight my way through me shivering confusion his
nearness caused. I wanted to ask him to turn his back until
I got the drying cloth wrapped completely around me, but
I just couldn't do it.
"Of course you believe me," he murmured, sending a
glow through all of me with his warm, beautiful smile.
"You know I'd never lie to someone who obviously sun-
bathes rather often with no clothes on."
His smile turned to a grin and laughter when my face
flamed to an even hotter red and 1 looked down with a
horribly embarrassed, "Oh!" but his amusement wasn't
mocking. It was a clear attempt to share something inti-
mate, and when his hand came gently to my chin, I found
out what that something was.
"Close, personal friends never have to be shy with one
another, lovely girl," he said, making me look up to see
that the warm smile was back. "And besides, you have
nothing to be embarrassed about." •
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER 127
His head lowered toward mine then, and until it hap-
pened I didn't understand that he was going to kiss me. 1
wasn't innocent, not at all, not even if I had never been
kissed like that before; it was just that 1 hadn't expected
him to kiss me while I was soaking wet and practically
naked. With his warm, gentle lips on mine it came to me
that his arms were also around me, holding me tight to his
body, my own arms a flimsy and ignored barrier between
us. I should have been struggling to push him away,
telling him how improper that was, but all I could do was
stand there and begin to really taste the kiss he was giving
"You know something?" he said very softly when he
finally let the kiss end, his strong arms still firmly around
me. "You're delicious as well as delightful, and I'm very
glad you made this place so private. It's perfect for giving
each other a very special gift, one mat can be exchanged
again and again and again, and be more precious each time
it is. We're going to give each other that gift now, aren't
He had asked me another question, but I knew without
doubt that he was going to answer it for me just the way he
had done with the other. One of his hands was on the bare
flesh of my back, moving slowly, in soft circles, and I
found that I really did want him to answer the question for
me. I felt terribly odd, and my breathing was more uneven
than it had been at any time that day, and 1 couldn't bear
the thought of his letting me go. . . .
"Sony to interrupt, but I'm afraid I have something
rattier important to discuss," a voice came suddenly, star-
tling Zail as well as me. "I would have waited, but this
has waited too long already."
"Come on, Rik, give me a break!" Zail protested,
running a hand through his still-wet hair as he looked at
the other man in exasperation. "Another hour or so won't
make that much of a difference, and I promise I'll come
straight to your tent after ..."
"Sorry, Zail," the miserable, low intruder said again,
his bronze eyes looking as though they were struggling to
keep from being amused. "The discussion I have sched-
uled isn't with you, it's with her. I'm sure you understand."
Zail hesitated at that, his body stiffening slightly, his
expression going neutral but faintly guarded. He stared at
Rik in silence for a moment, then shrugged in an off-hand
"Well, if it's that important, 1 suppose I can wait a little
while," he grudged, really trying to sound unconcerned.
"Go ahead and get it done."
"Zail, privately," Rikkan Addis said, his voice soft and
unexcited, his body tall and shoulders straight. He was
wrapped in a drying cloth just the way Zail was, but
somehow he gave the impression of being fully clothed
and well armed. Zail stiffened even more at the two calm
words, and suddenly 1 realized what Su and Dranna had
said was true.
"Zail, it's all right," I said quickly, reaching one hand
to his arm before remembering about the cloth I held and
bringing it hurriedly back. "I'm sure mis will only take a
minute, and then you can come back. I'll send a bird to
He looked startled as he glanced at me, obviously hav-
ing forgotten that I was a sorceress, but the reminder
reassured him just the way I'd intended it to. He nodded
once, as though to something he was thinking, men turned
back to kiss me lightly -
"1*11 be waiting and listening for the flutter of wings,"
he murmured, touching one hand to my face. "Try not to
be too hard on him."
He seemed to find a lot of amusement in mat comment,
so much mat he actually nodded pleasantly to his good
friend Rik as he headed for the exit through the bushes.
Said good friend nodded back and waited until he was out
of sight and the sound of footsteps had faded, and then his
attention was all mine.
"Okay. now that we're alone I have a question," he
began, his voice and stare equally direct. "How long do
"If you don't mind, I'd like to get just a little more
comfortable before we start this discussion," I said, find-
ing a lot less satisfaction in interrupting him than he had
undoubtedly gotten from interrupting Zail and me. "If
you'll turn your back, it will only take a moment." .
THE PAR SIDE OF FOREVER 129
"It's hard to see how you can get more comfortable
man that," he observed dryly, for an instant looking as
though he were about to refuse, those eyes moving slowly
over me. Then he turned himself around, his back and
shoulders to me rather than his face, and I lost no time
wrapping the drying cloth firmly around me. I hadn't liked
the way he'd looked at me, and decided not to let it go by
"AH right, you can turn around again," I said, ready,
now, to give him a piece of my mind. "And before we go
any further, let me tell you a thing or two ..."
"Hold it!" he snapped, raising a finger to point at me
even before he was fully turned, those bronze-colored eyes
filled with a new expression. "Since this discussion was
my idea, we'll start with what / have to say. As I was
about to ask you before, how long do you expect to keep
"Keep what up?" I demanded with a frown, having no
idea what he was talking about. "You are the rudest, most
insolent man 1 have ever ..."
"I also happen to be the leader of this expedition," he
cut in, still angry. "That's the part you seem to be having
no trouble overlooking, and I've had enough of it. The
wizard told me to give you time to get used to the idea, but
he didn't say 1 had to put up with your nonsense until the
quest was over. Now: are you going to back off and
behave yourself, or do we have to settle this another
He had moved slowly forward toward me until he stood
no more than five feet away, the same distance Zail had
started from a few moments earlier. Despite my fluster I
hadn't really minded having Zail that close, but the feeling
wasn't the same with this man. His shoulders were too
broad, and his upper body and arms were too well-muscled,
and he was looking down at me with a directness that
made me want to bare my teeth. He was trying to take
something that was mine with words instead of ability, and
he'd never live to see the day I'd let him get away with that.
"Settling this shouldn't be hard at all," I told him,
folding my arms over the drying cloth as I looked up to
meet his gaze, "All you have to do is step down to the
place you belong in, and there'll never be another harsh
word exchanged between us. I'm the proper leader of this
expedition, and there's nothing you can do to aiter that."
He stared at me in surprised silence for a moment, his
fingers on his hips near the top of his drying cloth, quite a
lot of his anger having disappeared, and then he shook his
head with what seemed like confusion.
"You sound like you didn't hear a word the wizard
said," he observed, those eyes now studying rather than
staring. "We were all given our places on this expedition,
and yours wasn't leader. I've spent the last ten years leading
men into battle from one side of my world to the other: it's
what I was born to do, what i was raised and trained to do.
What makes you think you could do it better?"
There was nothing but mildly curious questioning to his
words, nothing of anger, nothing defensive. His self-
assurance was as thick as a stone wall, presented to the
world without chink or crack, so uncaring about belief that
belief was the first thing it engendered. He thought he
knew where he. stood and thought he was weil-rooted, but
that was not going to turn me defensive.
*'I don't think I can do better, 1 know it," I came back,
raising my chin just a little. "Magic users are traditional
leaders of expeditions, because of the very fact that they
are magic users. Are you silly enough to think that having
hordes of people following you around makes you special?
Only special abilities can do that, and you don't have any.
This quest means a lot to me, and I'm not about to see it
fail because of inadequate leadership. Don't you think our
objective is a little more important than your puffed-up
pride? Wouldn't it be better to step aside now, to make
sure we don't fail, than to keep a death-grip on what
Graythor mistakenly ordered? He may be a very powerful
wizard but he's also very old, and age has a way of
making you do things you would never do in more clear-
headed moments. The best thing you can do now, for
everyone's sake, is step quietly and gracefully aside."
"I see," he murmured, folding his arms the way mine
were folded, what seemed like real amusement beginning
to show in his eyes. "You have more special talent than I
do, so you should be leader. But as I see it, your special
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
talents are already being put to use for the good of the
group; do you mean to say you're holding something back,
something you'll use only if everyone lets you be leader?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying!" I protested, shocked
that he'd suggest I'd do something like that. "1 told you
how important this quest is to me! Holding back would be
nothing less than sabotage against everything we're trying
to accomplish! I could never ..."
"And what about handling the natures of our compan-
ions?" he asked, giving me no chance to finish what I'd
been saying. "In what way do your special talents give
you the ability to calm Kadrim's urge to take on every
attacker single-handedly, to hold down Zail's penchant for
looking for trouble just for the sake of the lift it gives him,
to keep Su from sacrificing herself on behalf of someone
she considers a friend, or to let Dranna know she's a full,
accepted and acceptable member of this expedition? Would
you put a restraining spell on them, limiting the abilities
we so desperately need from them?"
"No, 1 wouldn't put a restraining spell on them," I
said, beginning to feel confused from everything he was
throwing at me. "And how do you know about restraining
spells? The others know almostJiothing about ..."
"Then how would you handle them?" he asked, and I
suddenly noticed that there was more—firmness—now in
his whole attitude. "What would you do if Kadrim and
Zail started a fight over you? Wall them off from one
another? When they might have to fight to save each
other's lives at any given moment? And how would you
keep Su from standing in front of you again, the way she
did at the fair, without hurting her by saying you don't
need her protection? Dranna doesn't trust other women,
not after all the times they've turned on her, and she's had
a bad experience with magic. How do you plan on putting
her at ease? How will you ..."
"Stop it!" I shouted, furious at the way he kept ham-
mering at me, refusing to let me think. "You're just trying
to confuse me! You know [ can do a better job than you're
doing, but stubbornness won't let you admit it! You're
trying to talk me out of it , . ."
"And how will you handle me?" he asked, plowing
132 SHARON GREEN
calmly on as though I hadn't said a word. "What if I call
you cute names, and insult you, and flatly refuse to ac-
knowledge your orders, just the way you've been doing
with me? How will that make you look in front of the
"You'd do that just to make me look bad?" I de-
manded, feeling my hands cur! up into fists at my sides.
"Of all the low, vile, cowardly things to. . . !"
"But that is what you've been doing with me, isn't it?'
he pursued, still held by that maddening calm. "If you can
do it, why can't I? All I'd have to do would be to
comment on the truth. I could let your nickname be 'lovely
legs' or 'cute round-bottom', for instance, and mention
that following you is a pleasure, since following is usually
done from behind. That sort of disrespect is guaranteed to
make trouble at the worst possible time; when one person
in a group does it and gets away with it, the others can't
help but wonder how far they can go. Wondering usually
leads to trying, and the next attack can find everyone
doing something different, something that could turn out to
be fatally foolish. The wizard said that under no circum-
stances were you to be leader; how would you feel if
someone died because you tried it anyway?"
"No!" I whispered, shaking my head, so horribly upset I
didn't know what to say or do. How could he say that / would
be responsible for the death of one of the others? Just
because I'd been calling him fearless leader? Just because
I'd— "You're lying! Nothing like that could happen!"
"Couldn't it?" he asked, now more steady and grim
man calm. "Five minutes ago, Zail was closer to challeng-
ing me than he would have even considered being when
this quest first began. He's not only feeling possessive
about you, he's starting to lose respect for me, and Kadrim's
not far behind him. That's your doing, and one way or
another it's going to stop now. I don't want to have to hurt
one of them just because it's been too long since the last
time somebody took the trouble to teach you about the
right and wrong ways of doing things. Sniping from be-
hind is not the way to make yourself a leader, especially
when you're not qualified for the position. From now on
you'll behave yourself, or you'll be very sorry you didn't."
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
"Not qualified!" I breathed in true fury as he turned
away from me, obviously ending the discussion because
he'd said all he wanted to! Everything he'd thrown at me
had had the purpose of rattling and distracting me, to push
me off balance and keep me from demanding what was
mine by right! Old fearless leader certainly did have a way
with words, but unfortunately for him some of them had
really been the wrong ones. It so happened I did know
how to challenge for me leadership of a group, and the
proper time had just presented itself.
I really had very little strength left for magical effort,
but I couldn't use magic against Rikkan Addis and didn't
even want to. What I wanted was to get a little more
personal, not to mention physical, and a single word took
care of the requirements for that. I tightened my grip about
the hard round stick I'd called into being, seeing my
opponent stop short when the second one appeared directly
in front of him in the grass at his feet, then began moving
"In the packs, that's the weapon used during a chal-
lenge," I told his back, starting to feel again the way I had
all those long years ago. "1 got to be pretty good at it, but
don't let that frighten you. Justpick it up and turn around
"What do you think I am?" he asked with a snort,
starting to turn back to me without even trying to reach for
the stick. "I don't fight females, and especially not with
The air whooshed out of him when I jabbed him side-
ways, hard, right in the middle, even before he was com-
pletely turned around. He bent over with the pain and
surprise of it, wrapping his arms around himself, doing no
better than I'd thought he would.
"What I think you are is a fool," I said, remembering
how good the taste of victory was. "You don't talk when
you're supposed to be fighting, and you don't simply
dismiss a challenge. Pick up the stick, fearless leader, or
I'll knock you sillier than you are naturally."
He raised his head so those bronze eyes could find me
again, his expression full of more mad than had been in it
back at the fair. I was certain he would go for the stick
then. but some people are incapable of doing things right.
Something very like a growl came from his throat, and
then he was launching himself directly at me.
When I'd been leader of our pack, no one had ever
come at me without the challenge stick. I hesitated no
more than a very brief time, but that was more than long
enough for that miserable man to reach me- He threw his
arms around me and pulled me down to the ground even as
1 beat at his back with the stick, but he ignored the blows in
a way no one had ever done before. The grass was very
soft but the weight of his body wasn't, and 1 was gasping
for the breath knocked out of me even as I struggled to get
loose. I brought up the stick and fried for his head despite
being mostly pinned under him, but he ducked that dark-
haired head aside and grunted as he took the blow on his
shoulder, and then his hands were on my wrist. I cried out
as his fingers began twisting my arm, finding it hard to
believe he seemed to be using only a fraction of his
strength. None of the boys in the pack had been that much
stronger than me, not any of them, and 1 couldn't keep my
hand from opening and letting the stick slide out of my
grip. Once it had slipped to the grass he took it and threw
it away. and then those blazing bronze eyes were looking
straight down at me.
"I think you can consider this challenge as having been
answered." he said, his voice still very angry despite its
evenness, his big hands clamped to my arms to keep me
from beating at him with fists- "If you ever raise a weapon
like that to me again 1 will answer in kind, no matter what
it does to that overblown ego of yours. I'm not a child,
I'm a man, and having bested boys doesn't mean you can
do the same with me. And you should have listened when
1 told you to behave yourself; now you're going to get
what you've been begging for."
"What do you mink you're going to do to me?" I
demanded, struggling against the impossible strength in
those hands as he began to get up and pull me with him.
"Do you think I've never been beaten up before, that I'll
start sniveling and crawling once it's done? If you're smart
you'll let me go now, or next time it'll be my turn."
"You've already had all the turns you're going to get,"
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
he said, yanking me to my feet by the wrists as though I
weighed nothing at all. "And I'm not in the habit of
beating up women, no matter how obviously they seem to
expect it of me. What I'm going to do is take the wizard's
advice and do what he did to civilize you, when you were
fresh from the life of a gutter rat. That ought to serve the
1 don't really know if the blood drained from my cheeks
or rushed to them at that, but 1 do know how shocked and
embarrassed I felt. Graythor had told him that, an absolute
stranger and one I hated? As he began drawing me closer I
kicked at him and fought to get loose, but I had never had
to fight against strength like this, and the kicking didn't
seem to bother him. He was going to do it, he was really
going to do it, but if he did I'd die of mortification! ! had
to stop him, even if it meant using magic, but I couldn't
use magic without activating Graythor's spelt! One of his
arms went around my waist as I fought harder and even
more wildly—and then suddenly he was standing com-
"What in hell is that?" he demanded in a low, disbe-
lieving voice, one that compelled me to look up. The
breath caught in my throat when 1 saw what he had, and I
felt a sudden chill in the pleasant warmth of the early
evening. We'd been interrupted at the best possible time,
but it wasn't likely to turn out to be in the best possible
The thing stood in front of the bushes farthest away
from us, what would have been to the left as you entered
the area and faced the water. Some of the bushes were still
vibrating where it had pushed itself through them, under-
standable in view of the*size of the thing. Every inch of it
was a pure, sparkling white, its skin and fur both, the
space around its madly glaring yellow eyes, the rows of
long, sharp teeth showing in its snarling mouth, the needle-
pointed talons at the ends of its four feet. It had no tail to
speak of but it did have leg spurs, big yellow ones that
complimented its claws/and they moved just a little as it
flexed its talons into the grass while staring at Rikkan
Addis and me.
"It doesn't matter what it is," I answered after swal-
136 SHARON GREEN
lowing just a little, staring back at the thing. "What does
matter is where it could have come from. If it had been
here when I warded this place, it would have been pushed
out by the warding spell. How could it have gotten back
"That's an even better question," he agreed, letting go
of my wrists and beginning to slide his arm from around
my waist. "And the next one has to be—Look out!"
The thing launched itself at us with such speed that !
was frozen in place by shock, but the attack didn't affect
Rikkan Addis in quite the same way. His hand came up
and shoved me violently to the right, so hard that 1 went
stumbling and sprawling to the grass, and then he was
diving to the left, getting himself out of the way just as he
had already done with me. The white intruder raged through
the space where we'd been standing and finally stopped to
whirl about with a snarl, furious that its claws hadn't been
able to find flesh and blood, its mad yellow eyes glaring
all around. It looked at me, and then it looked to where
Rikkan Addis had rolled in the grass and up to one knee,
and then it made up its mind. With another snarl of
kill-lust, it went after the man.
My heart was hammering and my hip hurt from the way
I'd fallen, but that didn^ keep me from speaking a spelt
designed to smash the thing instantly. The gesture capping
the spell threw the beast to one side with a scream of pain,
but as far as being smashed goes, it wasn't. I'd been afraid
it was that kind of life form, the kind that needs immense
power to destroy it, and suddenly 1 felt like trembling- I
didn't have that sort of power left, and Rikksn Addis was
unarmed. We were helpless before it, and it was going to
"I can't stop it!" I called to the man in a voice that
wasn't as steady as it should have been, starting to gel to
my feet as the white beast shook itself to throw off the
pain I'd given it. "All I can do is hold it off for a while,
but that should give you time to get the others. Hurry!"
The white beast glared malevolent hatred at me, as
though it knew that 1 was the one who had given it pain,
but it didn't come for me as I'd expected it to do when I'd
stood up. Its look of hatred had a sense of patience to it, as
THE FAR SIDE OF FOREVER
though it knew it would have no trouble taking me later,
when it had the time, but just then it had a more pressing
objective. It bared its fangs in a silent snarl of vengeance
promised—and then turned again toward its first choice in
I'd expected Rikkan Addis to do as I'd said and go after
the others, but when I turned to look where the beast was
looking I saw that he hadn't moved except to stand straight.
! moaned inwardly to see him still there, not knowing how
long 1 could hold off the white beast if it kept attacking,
and then I noticed that something strange was happening.
The man's bronze eyes were glowing brighter and brighter,
so bright that the glow was beginning to spread to all of
him, and in the glow he was—changing' One instant a
man stood there and the next there was a giant bronze
beast in his place, with nothing left to show that the man
had been there except for a discarded drying cloth lying in
the grass. The bronze beast was almost as large as the
white one, and this time when the intruder attacked, there
was no attempt made to get out of its way.
The two beasts came together with a thud and the sort of
snarling growls I'd never heard before in all my life, true
challenge given and answered inlhe most basic way possi-
ble. Claws raked and fangs stashed,'the grass tore out by
the roots under their churning feet, and then they were
rolling over and over, first one on top and then the other.
Any other two beasts fighting like that would have been
shredded to ribbons instantly by the terrible violence and
ferocity, but although there were streaks and lines of red
on both white fur and bronze, neither beast seemed to
notice it. They were engaged in a fight to the death, and
wounds could be worried about by the one to survive.
I had heard about people with link-shapes, but I had
never before seen the transition and results, nor had I ever
seen one of those link-shapes engaged in that kind of a
fight. From the way it had started I'd expected the meeting
to be noisy, but aside from panting and grunting and heavy
thrashing around, the fight was nearly silent. Each was
trying to bite the throat out of the other, or claw its way
through to a vital organ, and they had no time or energy
for sound effects. The only time I had ever seen savagery
like theirs had been during my time in the streets, a part of
a very small number of those who haunted the alleys and
gutters. That sort either went on to make their presence felt
by the entire city, or died by the same savagery they,
themselves, produced; but whichever way it went, no one
ever entirely forgot them.
The white beast howled suddenly and threw itself away
from the bronze, and in its hurry to back off I could see it
was limping badly. Its right foreleg was torn and bleeding,
possibly even broken, and the beast knew exactly what
that meant. Only in perfect condition did it have a hope of
besting the bronze link-beast, and it was no longer in that
kind of condition; it was now only a matter of time before
it died. With that realization blazing full in its yellow eyes,
it turned with the sort of speed it had shown at first, and
launched itself directly at me.
I can't say I wasn't expecting the attack, but expecting
something doesn't make you able to stop it. I spoke me
smashing spell a second time, but this time the capping
gesture did no more than make it scream, nothing to stop
its racing advance. The bronze beast was right behind it,
easily matching its speed, but he had been caught by
surprise when the white beast had turned from him, and
there was no way he could reach it and stop it before it got
to me. I stood in what felt like a dream as the two rushed
toward me in slow motion, the white form out ahead and
certain to stay that way. the bronze straining every muscle
in its body in useless effort, no time to throw myself aside
and out of the way. All I could do was stand there and
silently curse myself for letting my strength and power
drain so far, and then the white form leaped, triumph in its
yellow eyes. If 1 had been capable of it 1 would have
screamed as I fell backward and would have closed my
eyes—but then I would have missed the savage streak of
black hurtling in front of me.