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lightly, as lightly as Carolinus had carried his staff. The monster opened its
mouth.
 He! it went. He!He!
The sound was fantastic. It was a bass titter, if such a thing could be
imagined. Though the tone of it was as low as the lowest note of a good
operatic basso, it clearly came from the creature s upper throat and head. Nor
was there any real humor in it. It was an utterance with a nervous, habitual
air about it, like a man clearing his throat. Having sounded, it fell silent,
watching the advance of the great slug with its round, light blue eyes.
Smrgol exhaled slowly.
 Yes, he rumbled, almost sadly, almost as if to himself.  What I was afraid
of.An ogre.
In the silence that followed, Nevile-Smythe got down from his horse and began
to tighten the girths of its saddle.
 So, so, Clarivaux, he crooned to the trembling horse. So ho, boy.
The rest of them were looking all at Carolinus. The magician leaned on his
staff, seeming very old indeed, with the deep lines carven in the ancient skin
of his face. He had been watching the ogre, but now he turned back to Jim and
the other two dragons.
 I had hoped all along, he said,  that it needn t come to this. However, he
crackled sourly, and waved his hand at the approaching Worm, the silent Anark
and the watching ogre,  as you see& The world goes never the way we want it by
itself, but must be haltered and led. He winced, produced his flask and cup,
and took a drink of milk. Putting the utensils back, he looked over at
Nevile-Smythe, who was now checking his weapons.  I d suggest,Knight, that you
take the Worm. It s a poor chance, but your best. I know you d prefer that
renegade dragon, but the Worm is the greater danger.
 Difficult to slay, I imagine? queried the knight.
 It svital organs are hidden deep inside it, said Carolinus,  and being
mindless, it will fight on long after being mortally wounded. Cut off those
eye-stalks and blind it first, if you can 
 Wait! cried Jim, suddenly. He had been listening bewilderedly. Now the word
seemed to jump out of his mouth.  What re we going to do?
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 Do? said Carolinus, looking at him.  Why, fight, of course.
 But, stammered Jim,  wouldn t it be better to go get some help?I mean 
 Blast it, boy! boomed Smrgol.  We can t wait for that! Who knows what ll
happen if we take time for something like that? Hell s bell s, Gorbash, lad,
you got to fight your foes when you meet them, not the next day, or the day
after that.
 Quite right, Smrgol, said Carolinus, dryly.  Gorbash, you don t understand
this situation. Every time you retreat from something like this, it gains and
you lose. The next time the odds would be even worse against us.
They were all looking at him. Jim felt the impact of their curious glances.
He did not know what to say. He wanted to tell them that he was not a fighter,
that he did not know the first thing to do in this sort of battle, that it was
none of his business anyway and that he would not be here at all, if it were
not for Angie. He was, in fact, quite humanly scared, and floundered
desperately for some sort of strength to lean on.
 What what am I supposed to do? he said.
 Why, fight the ogre, boy! Fight the ogre! thundered Smrgol and the inhuman
giant up on the slope, hearing him, shifted his gaze suddenly from the Worm to
fasten it on Jim.  And I ll take on that louse of an Anark. Thegeorge here ll
chop up the Worm, the Mage ll hold back the bad influences and there we are.
 Fight the ogre&  If Jim had still been possessed of his ordinary two legs,
they would have buckled underneath him. Luckily his dragon-body knew no such
weakness. He looked at the overwhelming bulk of his expected opponent,
contrasted the ogre with himself, the armored, ox-heavy body of the Worm with
Nevile-Smythe, the deep-chested over-size Anark with the crippled old dragon
beside him and a cry of protest rose from the very depths of his being.  But
we can t win!
He turned furiously on Carolinus, who, however, looked at him calmly. In
desperation he turned back to the only normal human he could find in the
group.
 Nevile-Smythe, he said.  You don t need to do this.
 Lord, yes, replied the knight, busy with his equipment.  Worms, ogres one
fights them when one runs into them, you know. He considered his spear and
put it aside.  Believe I ll face it on foot, he murmured to himself.
 Smrgol! said Jim.  Don t you see can t you understand? Anark is a lot
younger than you. And you re not well 
 Er&  said Secoh, hesitantly.
 Speak up, boy! rumbled Smrgol.
 Well, stammered Secoh,  it s just& what I mean is, I couldn t bring myself
to fight that Worm or that ogre I really couldn t. I just sort of go to pieces
when I think of them getting close to me. But Icould  well, fight another
dragon. It wouldn t be quite so bad, if you know what I mean, if that dragon
up there breaks my neck  Hebroke down and stammered incoherently.  I know I
sound awfully silly 
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 Nonsense!Good lad! bellowed Smrgol.  Glad to have you. I er can t quite get
into the air myself at the moment still a bit stiff. But if you could fly over
and work him down this way where I can get a grip on him, we ll stretch him
out for the buzzards. And he dealt the mere-dragon a tremendous thwack with
his tail by way of congratulation, almost knocking Secoh off his feet.
In desperation, Jim turned back to Carolinus.
 There is no retreat, said Carolinus, calmly, before Jim could speak.  This [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]