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"F-father?" Kelvin gasped.
Then, suddenly, he and his father were hugging each other. "I thought you were dead!" Kelvin said.
"It's a long story," John Knight said. "A long, long story. But we have plenty of time. Tell me how you
come to be here. All we know is that you've been unconscious from the drug for two days; we were
concerned that you would suffer amnesia or something."
Kelvin did not have amnesia. He told them everything. It took some time.
His father listened to all his adventures without comment. He did flinch when told of his wife's
remarriage, but relaxed when reassured that Hal Hackleberry was a good man who'had taken excellent
care of all members of the family. He swore briefly and colorfully when told of Cheeky Jack's stealing
the gold and kidnaping Jon. He was skeptical about the magic gauntlet at first, but then seemed to accept
it. He was interested to leam of Hein, the female roundear. The forming of the Knights of the Roundear,
and the subsequent battles, fascinated him.
John Knight asked many questions when Kelvin was done. Kelvin answered patiently. Finally his father
began to talk himself, and then it was Kelvin's turn to be fascinated.
"Son, I've long hoped to talk to you this way, but I thought it unlikely that the chance would ever come.
It's high time! You see, I was bom in another I suppose you could call it another existence. Things are
different there. Not better, necessarily, just different. Many of the things that are here regarded as make-
believe are normal there. Flying machines, horseless carriages, talking boxes, moving pictures, thinking
machines, nuclear bombs. Fantasy here, but reality there. And in my world much of what is taken for
granted here is regarded as fantasy. Magicians, prophecies, magic gauntlets, astral separation I never
believed in these things until too late. I suppose there's a leakage between the universes, somehow, so
that the visions, if not the reality, cross over. People in this world imagine horseless carriages, while
people in my original world imagine magic gauntlets."
The man paused, rubbing his eyes. "It is better in my world in some ways; many of us have
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conveniences that you can only dream about, literally. But it is also worse in some ways. We have
pollution, crime, inflation these become complex to explain, but they are nevertheless pervasive evils.
So when I came here, I thought this world a paradise. It seemed so peaceful, so safe from such things as
bombs "
Kelvin could keep silent no longer. "How did you get here?" he asked. "To this world. Zatanas claims he
brought the roundears here "
"Zatanas! That old fraud? He had nothing to do with it! He just pretends he did, so that others will think
him more powerful than he is. He's strictly a magic man, not an alternate-worlds man."
"I thought as much," Kelvin said. "But if it wasn't him, then "
"How?" His father seemed to look backward into time, sorting it all out behind his suddenly closed
eyelids. "They called it a 'clean atomic artillery shell,' " he said. "They said we were in no danger. Just
testing, as they'd tested other weapons on other human sacrifices. We were soldiers, but not one of us
wanted to be there, any more than the boys and girls sold at the Marts want to be there. I was a platoon
leader. There were twelve men in my squad, counting Mary Limbeck and Jeanne Donovan. The girls
were the only ones who tried to pretend it was a lark. The shells were supposed to whiz overhead, but
one of them didn't. I saw it coming in, yelled 'Hit the dirt!' and then... I suppose the other squad escaped,
but us, we were right under. Somehow, someway, we ended up "
"In Rud?" Kelvin asked excitedly. Now at last he was getting answers to questions he had had all his
life, and he could hardly contain himself. The miseries of his bruised head and body, and his
confinement in this dungeon, were for the moment forgotten.
"In Throod. At the lip of what you call The Flaw  that big, incredible tear right through the center of...
existence. Anyway, we were there, wearing combat equipment. All twelve of us. We had on our
uniforms. We each had a laser pistol and hand grenades. Four of us had jet-propulsion backpacks. None
of us had radiation sickness, though at first we feared "
"Radiation sickness?"
"Forget it. Or think of it as a hostile type of magic that causes people to bleed from unbroken skin and
waste away and die, with no cure. Just let me tell you that we were all right. All right! That was our
miracle, perhaps our first taste of magic. We set about living, and we found that we were in the one land
where mercenaries were commonly recruited. We heard of some fighting in Rud. The two women,
wouldn't you know, married locals and settled in Throod "
"Heln's mother!" Kelvin exclaimed.
"I don't think so," John Knight said. "Every one of their children I know of had pointed ears. Round ears
seems to be a patrilineal trait, here."
"But "
"What was her mother's name?"
"Helen."
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He nodded. "I may have an alternative explanation for you, in a moment. To continue: we brave ten men
were out to get our fortunes."
"Fortune came a-callin'," Kelvin said.
"Right! Fortune came a-calling, and only the women hid we thought. We ten went to Rud and to Rud's
contemptible would-be Queen. Queen Zoanna, she calls herself, and I can well believe her father is the
legendary sorcerer. She bewitched us, I tell you. Every one of us, but especially me."
"What did you do. Father?" Kelvin was breathless.
"What did I do? What weak men have ever done when confronted with the likes of her. She convinced
me that the King here" he jerked a finger at Rufurt  "was dead. I didn't know different. I fought for
her, with my nine men. She got her kingdom and four of the men got their deaths, pierced by arrows or
spears or lances. The six of us roundears who survived the campaign thought we'd lead rich and idle
lives."
He shook his head. "Ha! We were fools. She distrusted us too much. She was devilishly clever in the
manner she first divided us, then eliminated us. Me, she married; the others she imprisoned one by one.
I, befuddled by her wiles, didn't catch on until it was too late, and I realized that I alone remained free
and I was in fact captive in the palace. I tried to leave, and could not. Then I knew what I should have
known at the outset. I stormed at her, threatened to kill her. But I was a fool even then, for she had
deprived me of my weapons. Before I knew it, guards had hold of me and were dragging me to the
dungeon on her orders." [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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