In Draven's cave home, Togura played a little light music, but Alish and Draven scarcely listened. They were talking business. It was Alish who took the initiatives.
Togura, listening, was amazed at the range of subjects they covered. Alish discussed the rule of the Greater Teeth, the appointment of a judge to resolve any disputes between Rovac warriors and pirates, a revised ration scale, a programme of weapons training, the provisioning of Runcorn...
In the end, Togura listened no more, but played; Alish's bodyguards dozed. Draven served a little wine. Togura was not offered any. The bodyguards refused; they had their orders from Alish. Draven himself did not drink, saying he had enough.
But Alish drank.
And, having drunk, grew sleepy.
We'll talk on tomorrow," he said.
Then tried to stand, and stumbled.
"Strike!" roared Draven, in a bellow so loud it hurt Togura's ears.
Alish's bodyguards were instantly on the alert. They drew weapons, preparing to fight to the death. One of them made as if to attack Draven.
"No, no," said the pirate, making a warding gesture with his hands. "There's nothing wrong. I was only calling my slave, Strike. That's his name. Strike. Understand?"
One of the Rovac warriors checked the tunnel leading from Draven's cave home.
"It's all clear," he said.
Yet Draven's shout had made the bodyguards suspicious, hostile, aggressive. In this foreign place they were quick to take alarm, and slow to relax.
"Please," said Togura, wishing to avoid an incident in which his head might get lopped off by accident. "He's drunk. I've seen him like this before. His brain's half-rotted. Waking nightmares attack him, then he screams."
The bodyguards, mollified, withdrew, taking Alish - who was now totally insensible - with them. Once they were well and truly gone, Draven began to swear, viciously. His anger needed an audience, and he poured out his heart to Togura. Despite his speech at the banquet, Draven wanted nothing more to do with the mad adventures planned by Elkor Alish.
" ... so I arranged for twenty of the best to be here tonight," said Draven. "On the word 'Strike!' they were to do just that. Alish should be dead by now, by rights. We should have this death-stone which gives him his power. We should have his magic bottles, too, and the rings which command them."
Thus spoke Draven. And, after enlarging for some time on the habits, appearance and ancestry of the twenty cowards who had broken their word to him, he turned on Togura:
"So now you'll have to do the job."
"Yes, you. Get into his sleeping quarters. Kill him. Steal the death-stone. While you're about it, steal the rings and the magic bottles. There's one red, one green."
"Green and red rings?"
"No, fool! Green and red bottles. The rings are on his fingers. You'd have seen them tonight, if you'd been watching."
"This is madness," said Togura.
"Twenty men have let me down tonight," said Draven. "How do I knwo who they're talking to now? Any of the twenty might betray us to the Rovac."
"Yes, us. You and me. You're known as my associated. Do you think they'll think you're innocent? Take your harp. Bluff your way to Alish's bedside. Then knife him. Take what we need."
"This," said Togura, "is crazy."
"It's our only hope!"
And, shortly, Togura was on his way to Alish's quarters. Draven halted at the last tunnel-turning.
"I'll wait here," said Draven. "Be swift. Be sure. Be certain."
"But he might wake and kill me!"
"He won't wake. Not tonight. That last wine I fed him was drugged. You're safe, I guarantee it."
Trembling, Togura set off down the tunnel, harp in one hand, and oil lamp in the other. Eight guards were on duty outside Alsih's quarters. When he drew near, they challenged him in their own native tongue, which he did not understand.
"Peace," said Togura, speaking in a low, even tone; he didn't want anyone getting over-excited and attacking him. "My name's Togura Poulaan. I'm here to tell you about a plot to kill Elkor Alish. It's Draven who wants to kill him. Draven's waiting close at hand. You can grab him now. Chop his head off - that's what I'd do. Do you understand?"
The Rovac warriors didn't seem to. The bodyguards who had carried Alish away from Draven's cave house had gone off duty; this was a new set of guards, and it seemed none of them spoke Galish.
"This is very important," said Togura, speaking urgently. "Elkor Alish, understand? Killing. Chop chop!"
The guards looked at each other, and conferred in their alien tongue. They saw the harp; a couple of them recognised Togura from the banquet. Finally one of them gestured: he was free to enter Alish's quarters.
"No, no," said Togura. "That's not what I want! I want - "
The guard grew impatient, and gave him a push.
He went sprawling, losing his grip on harp and oil lamp. The lamp went out. One of the guards, a bit of a bully, gave him a kick in the backside. Togura snatched up his harp and went bundling through some heavy door hangings, entering Alish's quarters.
The first room, a windowless cube hewn out of solid rock, was lit by a single long-burning candle. It was a living room; there were some sheepskin rugs on the floor, a couple of leather-padded chairs, a couch, some cushions, a couple of low-slung tables, and, set in niches around the walls, a collection of tobacco-coloured shrunken heads.
More heavy door hangings barred the way into the next room. Togura, breathing heavily, made his mind up. He would wake Elkor Alish. If Alish was too heavily drugged to wake, then he would sit up - all night, if necessary - until Alish did wake. Alish spoke Galish. Alish would have Draven's head chopped off.
That was the only reasonable thing to do. Togura, after his near-drownings, his illnesses, his bone breakages, his captivities and his throat-shaving escapes, was acutely aware of the fragility of his own existence. The Rovac warriors frightened him from nerve ends to bone marrow; the very last thing he wanted was to bring down the wrath of the Rovac nation on his own head.
Boldly, he went into the inner chamber.
Elkor Alish was sleeping in a narrow bed, his body covered with a wolf skin.
"Alish," said Togura, trembling, stepping toward him.
Then someone touched him from behind. Shocked, he whirled, slamming an uppercut into his assailant's jaw. His attacker fell, knocked unconscious. It was a she! And she was naked!
Now what had he done?
He had over-reacted, knocking out Alish's bedtime playmate.
There was a grunt from the bed.
Togura turned to see Alish throwing aside the wolf skin. He had been put to bed armed and fully dressed. He started lugging his sword out of its sheath.
Togura smatched up a small table. As Alish lurched toward him, he threw it. Smashed by the table, the Rovac warrior went down.
Togura felt sick.
What a mess!
Was Alish dead?
No - despite the drug Draven had fed him, and a heavy blow from the table, he was still breathing. But he had taken a hard crack on the head. Exploring the warrior's skull, Togura's fingers detected a massive bruise already forming.
He was horrified.
Should he wait and see if Alish recovered consciousness? A nice idea indeed - one of the guards outside might come in to check on his leader. And then what would happen? It would be head-in-lap time for Togura Poulaan.
He had to get away.
He had to get out of here. And off the island. He would have to ask Draven to help him. But Draven would be after his blood if he came back without the death-stone. And the rings. And the bottles.
Togura looked around, desperately. He saw a small bottle decorated with green glaze. That must be one of the magic bottles which people spoke about - bottles in which an army could hide. Now - the rings. He looked at Alish's hands. Finding one ring only. Where was the other one? Where was the red bottle? And where was the death-stone?
He searched, swiftly, but did not find what he sought. One ring, then. He took it off Alish's hand, with difficulty, for it was a tight fit. A ring and a bottle. How was he going to get them out of here?
He stuffed the bottle under his clothing, but it made an obscene, bulbous lump. There was no way to crush it down so it would lie flat and inconspicuous. In the end he hid it under his clohtes, but jammed up into his armpit. That was where it was least conspicuous, though he had to keep an arm in close to his body to hold it in place. Now - the ring. Simple! He popped it into his mouth for safe keeping.
Then left, harp in hand, bottle under arm.
From the inner chamber he went to the outer chamber, and from the outer chamber he went to the tunnel beyond. There, the guards grabbed him. He was so startled that he swallowed the ring.
One of the Rovac guards, speaking incomprehensible foreign words, asked him something.
"Do you want me to explain myself all over again?" said Togura, catching the note of interrogation in the man's words. "Well, the long and the short of it is that I've raided Elkor Alish's quarters. I've taken a bash at his resident sex toy. I've smashed the man himself - he'll possibly die tonight. I've taken his green bottle, which is this goiterous lump under my arm which I hope none of you are looking at. And I've just swallowed the magic ring which commands that bottle. That was your fault. You startled me. Now let me go!"
And he pulled himself free.
One of the guards grunted, and gave him a kic, and he set off down the tunnel at a sedate walk.
Draven met him.
"Did you get the goodies?"
"One bottle only," said Togura. "No death-stone. No rings."
"Did you search his clothing? His bedding?"
"No, but - "
"Fool! He'll have them in bed with him, or next to his skin. Give me that bottle! Give it! That's better. Now go back for the rest. Now! This instant!"
"But - "
"No buts, or my slice will unsplice you. Back! Back!"
Togura took a few hesitant steps back the way he had come. Then he heard shouts of anger, rage and alarm coming from the direction of Alish's chamber.
"Draven," he said, "I think we're in trouble."
And they fled.