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unwanted Queen?"
"They flew," Kelvin said. "According to legend."
"And Mouvar dropped his gauntlets. When they are found, Zatanas will be properly vanquished."
Now Kelvin remembered. There had been such a story in another section of the fable Chariain had read
to him. He had not made the connection before. Could this really be one of those fabled gauntlets?
"According to legend," he said weakly.
"Right. What else?"
" 'And the gauntlet great shall the tyrant take,' " he quoted. It seemed impossible that this could be one of
those! His father, John Knight, had always pooh-poohed such legend, despite his mother's belief, even
though the legend was the reason his Chariain had married him. Could she be right, after all?
"That's the scripture, lad!"
"The gauntlets are supposed to contain the souls of brave and powerful knights."
"Right! With them, you cannot be defeated."
"But " Belief was starting to seep in. "But I have only one."
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"A detail," Crumb said. "Maybe both gauntlets were seeking you, and this is the one that found you.
Now is the time for you to take command. To lead your people. To excise the sore on this our gentle
land."
"I, uh "
"To start with, what are you going to do about this?" Crumb lightly touched the sergeant with his foot.
Kelvin looked at the man groveling before him. So this was what it was like to be a hero and a puppet of
prophecy!
"I I give him his life." It was what any hero would have done in any old storybook.
"You what?"
"I g-give him his life, if he "
"Hackleberry, hero or no hero, you've got rocks in your fool head!" Crumb took back his sword with a
sudden grab. Then, as the sergeant made a triumphant half-leap with an extended knife. Crumb swiftly
and expertly deprived him of his head. He gave a quick signal and the men holding the other two
guardsmen used daggers on their charges in silent unison.
"You," Crumb said to Kelvin, "have an awful lot to leam about being a hero."
Looking at the two dead men oozing blood, and at the headless, spurting body of Sergeant Kluff, Kelvin
felt a sudden great illness.
The beenuts he had so avidly consumed chose this moment to erupt from his mouth.
A moment later, Kelvin stood clutching his aching stomach. The park and the men and the body were
whirling round and round and round.
Learn to be a hero. Learn to be a hero.
If he could. If only he could!
Chapter 8 Boy Mart
Jon looked around at the circle of boys. Some were older than she was, and some were her own age. But
she looked younger, because she was not a boy. How long could she maintain her masquerade? Here
there seemed to be no private place for natural functions, and if they required the boys to strip...
The boys clustered around her the moment the guards closed the door and departed. She had only a
moment to look around, noting the small barred windows. There were three pails in the comers; one
seemed to contain water for drinking, and the other two
Oh, no! They were what served for elimination! Right out in public. That was certain disaster for her.
So this was the Franklin Boy Mart, she thought as she wondered what she was going to say to the
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crowding boys. At least, this was one of the holding pens. The odor was bad; the boys were all dressed
in rags, and seemed not to have bathed for weeks. Still, she hadn't had a bath either, since Mockery
rolled in the river. Her dirt was now excellent protective costuming; she did look like one of these boys.
"You," the biggest, meanest-looking boy said, poking her in the stomach with a thumb. "You know
who's boss?"
"Not me," Jon said. It would do her no good to fight here. If she fought anyone, it would be whoever
purchased her. If she couldn't manage to escape first.
Her answer seemed to puzzle the boy. "You new? This your first time?"
"Yeah," Jon said, trying to get some masculine husk into her voice. "I've never been here before."
"Newly pressed?" another boy asked. This one was a bit shorter than the first, but looked just about as
mean.
"Newly brought by a highwayman," Jon said. "I've always been free. Never bound."
"Lucky!" the big boy said.
Jon examined the faces. Most, underneath their dirt, seemed unnaturally hard. Village boys didn't
usually look as though they never laughed.
"I'm Bustskin," the big boy said. "I'm boss until somebody knocks me down."
"Boss of what?" Jon asked.
"Here."
"Here? This room?"
"Yeah."
"That's not much."
"You want to challenge it?"
"No. You're the boss."
"You sure, Newskin?"
"Newskin? What's that?"
"You. When you're new, just ready to be bound. Newskin."
"Oh. Yeah, I don't want to fight anyone. I had enough fights before I got here."
"Yeah? Who with?"
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"The highwayman. And a dragon."
"Dragon?" Bustskin was incredulous. "You?"
"And my brother. We both fought it."
"Liar."
Jon considered. She didn't like being called a liar. She might have to fight this fellow, lest the boys take
her retreat as a sign of unboyishness, but she didn't want to. She was older than he took her for, and she
did know a trick or two that she had taken pains to learn after being so ineffective when trying to help
her brother in the past; she just might be able to surprise him and knock him down. But her risk was
much greater than just victory or defeat. If she won the fight, but her clothing got torn and revealed her
nature, she would be a worse loser than he. What was the course of least danger?
"You going to let me call you a liar, Newskin?" Jon shrugged. "You could lick anyone here," she said,
hoping he wouldn't notice the change of subject.
"Yeah. And don't you forget it, Newskin." The big boy half turned, as though to leave, then suddenly
slammed a rock-hard fist into her stomach. Jon doubled over, gasping.
"That's just for being a liar. For being a Newskin." "Fight! Fight! Fight!" several of the boys chanted.
Jon found tears in her eyes. That fellow could really hit! At the same time, she was thankful he hadn't
struck her in the chest. How awful it would be to be bound with him on the same plantation! Judging by
Bustskin's darkened skin and ruddy complexion, he had never been in a mine, and he didn't look as if he
had ever rowed a galley. Chances were he would get a foreman's job bossing field workers, and just
possibly he would survive to reach twenty-five. If someone didn't slay him first. "You going to fight,
Newskin?" the bully asked.
"Don't do it, Jon! Don't!"
Jon blinked. It was a red-haired lad she remembered from the village. He was a decent sort, but had been [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]