Chapter 15: The Golden Dragon
A phantom monstrous in the gloom,
He rose out of the waves to stand
Before the awesome Lamp of Doom,
And naked steel was in his hand.
- Thongor's Saga, Stanza XIX
Thongor was upon the first guard in an instant. He bore him to the deck before his rush, like a charging lion. Before hte corsair had time to utter a single cry, the iron hands of the Barbarian had crushed him to silence. And even in the same instant Thongor sprang upon the first guard, Charn Thovis hurled himself upon the second. Bright steel flashed and red blood spurted, and hte second watchman sank to the deck without a groan.
Guards dispatched already? Nothing to stop them from destroying the machine? Sadly not. As befits a clumsy sidekick, Charn Thovis's victim had a sword which accidentally struck the base of the lamp as he fell, and made a noise like an alarm bell. (?) Pirates start to swarm up the stairs - the fight is on!
Thongor tells CT to get destroying the machine while he holds the stairs, and promptly starts hacking his way through a bunch of pirates.
Little there was in life the great Valkarthan loved more than a good fight - and this was one of the best! His broadsword rose and fell tirelessly, and soon with every sweep the blade left a curve of crimson droplets traced upon the air. Blocking the head of the stair as he did, the Barbarian had the great advantage of height - and a second, in that the maddened pirates could only come at him one at a time. For a short while he killed and killed, sustaining no more than a sabre-cut on his bare thigh and a scratch or two on chest and shoulder.
But! A mysterious silence at his back tells him that all is not well with CT's machine-destroying duties. He glances back - and Belshathla taps him with a paralysing wand!
His arm goes numb and he drops the sword, and the pirates crush him to the deck, though he manages to break a few jaws and ribs as they do so. Belshathla got a better shot on CT, who is totally unconscious, but Thongor is only half-paralysed and is otherwise in possession of his faculties. Kashtar comes out to see what's going on, a mirthless smile on his lips.
"Shall we slay him, Lord?" the Gray Magicial asked. "It is dangerous to permit him to live, even though a captive. For, although many men have held the Barbarian prisoner ere now, none of them are now alive. He has a way of eluding captivity..."
Kashtar shook his head.
"Wizard you may be, but you are also a great fool, you grey dog," he said. "For you would throw away the key that Fate has set within our very grasp! Aye, here's the key that will unlock the gates of Patanga before us... think you they will dare oppose us, when we hold a knife at the heart of their Lord and King?"
Belshathla is still dubious, but can't really do much about it as Thongor is shackled and dragged across the deck, where they plan to bind him to the prow. But! Even as the hand of one burly rogue went forth to lock the shackles, they are interrupted by... Charn Thovis, who has evidently gotten over his paralysis and is now at the controls of the Lamp of Madness!
The pirates all withdraw in horror, and Thongor grabs the keys and unshackles himself, then picks up his broadsword from where it lay in a welter of gore. But there's someone else we'd forgotten about - Duranga Thool! He grabs CT from behind just as Thongor starts hacking away with his sword again, battling like a trapped tiger amidst the howling mob. All was howling pandemonium at the next instant! To be fair to Mr Carter, there are actually 8 lines between the two uses of "howling".
Grinning, Duranga Thool beat Charn Thovis back with lusty blows from his cutlass. The pirate chieftain was the taller and the heavier man, and his burly shoulders drove the blade against the youth with telling force. Step by step, Charn Thovis was driven back until at length he stood against the rail and could retreat no further. With every ounce of skill and strength within him, the young warrior strove to keep the edge of that flying blade from his throat.
It's not looking good for Thongor either, so much so that Carter even loses his masterful grasp of the simile - T's latest victims lie heaped about him "like a wall of gory corpses". Exactly like a wall of gory corpses, in fact. But he's now surrounded, and knows that within moments he will be struck down from behind...
Duranga Thool finally manages to beat CT's weapon aside, and is but a split second from plunging his sword into the young warrior's heart... but then something happens!
Then, even as he watched, a miraculous change came over the face of Duranga Thool. From a snarling mask of murderous fury it was transformed to blank astonishment. The eyes goggled unbelievingly and the sword, drawn back for the final lunge, went wavering aside.
Chran Thovis knew not the cause of the gap-jawed amazement that had struck the other, but his hand flew to seize this momentary advantage. And in the next instant, with the last dregs of his strength, he had thrust his own sharp rapier through the hairy breast before him.
But what could this distraction be?
For looming out of the phantasmal mists, the contorted face of a dragon towered above the rail. Light glinted gold from its burnished beak and frowning brow.
In the next instant the deck shuddered under their feet as the brass-beaked dragon prow of the Scimitar drove full against the hull of the Red Wolf.
It's Barim and his crew, to save the day!