Hunt the Space-Witch!

Hunt the Space-Witch! by Robert Silverberg

Book: Hunt the Space-Witch! by Robert Silverberg Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robert Silverberg
concrete, and huddled together in a puzzled clump. Finally Morgrun said, “This is some joke of Gowyn’s. He seeks to humble us by sending this runaway boy.”
    Dovirr spat. “I should have you hurled to the sea for that, Morgrun. Gowyn lies dead off the edge of Harald’s sea; Harald lies beside him. I rule both Thalassarchies!”
    The Councilman stared at him, sneering at first, then, seeing the unquestionable authority in his eyes, sinking to their knees, jaws working without producing speech. Dovirr smiled broadly, relishing the moment. “Into the dinghy with the money,” he ordered. “No—wait. Open the nearest coffer.”
    A coffer was opened. Dovirr snatched an ingot, looked at it, sardonically sniffed it. “Morgrun, is the gold pure?”
    â€œOf course, Dov—sire.”
    â€œGood.” Dovirr stepped forward and lifted Morgrun’s bowed head gently with the tip of his boot. “Tell me, Councilman—how goes it in Vythain? I have been somewhat out of touch, this past year. What of old Lackthan, the spyman?”
    â€œDead, sire.”
    â€œDead, at last? Too bad; I would have enjoyed watching him discover who had succeeded Gowyn. Has the dredging gone well this year?”
    â€œPoorly. You have taken nearly all our gold in the tribute, sire.”
    â€œA pity. You’ll have to squeeze some unfortunate neighbor-city of yours to make up the loss, won’t you?”
    A chill wind swept over the pier suddenly. Dovirr gathered his cloak about him. It was time to return to the ship, he thought; the fun here had been about wrung dry.
    Morgrun glanced up. “Sire?”
    â€œWhat is it, Morgrun?”
    â€œSire, have you heard aught out of Vostrok?”
    Dovirr frowned. Vostrok was a northern city, one of the largest on the sea’s surface. Vythain depended on it for its wood; Vostrok had Terra’s finest forest, and from its trees had come most of the planet’s ships.
    â€œWe were expecting wood from Vostrok,” Morgrun continued. “It has not come. We pay our tribute, sire, and—”
    â€œWe do our job,” Dovirr said coldly. “But there have been no distress signals coming from Vostroki vessels. Have you called them?”
    â€œWe have.” Alien sub-radio channels still were in operation between the floating cities. “Sire, there is no answer. There is no answer! ”
    Dovirr glanced at Kubril, his first officer. “This is strange. Perhaps Vostrok is planning rebellion, Kubril. It might bear investigation.”
    To Morgrun, he said: “We will go to Vostrok, old one. Don’t fear for your wood.”
    Vostrok was the northernmost city of those Dovirr had inherited from Gowyn; it floated in high, choppy seas almost a week’s journey from Vythain.
    The course called for the Garyun to make another tribute call, but Dovirr decided to make for Vostrok at once, and ordered the Ithamil , one of his second-line ships which he encountered en route, to make the tribute pickup instead. The Garyun proceeded steadily northward, through increasingly rough waters. Crowds of the Seaborn attended the ship; moodily, Dovirr watched the flukes of the once-men churning in the dark waters.
    On the fourth day an off-duty deckhand harpooned a Seaborn. Dovirr angrily ordered the man microflayed, then relented and merely put him on half-rations for a week. There was, it seemed, an instinctive hatred alive between the men of the Garyun and the Seaborn.
    Dovirr felt none of it himself; he had been unable to share in the merriment over the predicament of the tortured creature on the deck, feeling only sympathy. He realized that, for all his dominion, he was actually still a landman at heart. By sheer strength, he had bulled his way to the eminence of a Sea-Lord’s standing, but yet the men of the Garyun sometimes seemed as alien to him in way and thought as the flashing creatures of the deep.
    The sea grew

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