Ogre, Ogre (Xanth 5)

Ogre, Ogre (Xanth 5) by Piers Anthony

Book: Ogre, Ogre (Xanth 5) by Piers Anthony Read Free Book Online
Authors: Piers Anthony
Tags: Fiction, General, Fantasy, Epic
luscious, bouncy, juicy soul."
    Smash considered again. He decided, with an un-ogrish precision of ethics, that he could not make any commitments on behalf of the Siren. "Not her soul. And not mine."
    "Then the girl's soul must remain."
    Smash got another whiff of the stench from the coffin and knew that Tandy's soul could not be allowed to rot there. He still did not consider the deal by which the coffin had gotten Tandy's soul to be valid. He stooped to pick up the battered coffin again.
    "Wait!" the voice cried. "There is one other option. You could accede to a lien."
    The ogre paused. "Explain."
    "A lien is a claim on the property of another as security for a debt," the coffin explained. "A lien on your soul would mean that you agree to replace the girl's soul with another soul--and if you don't, then your own soul is forfeit. But you keep your soul in the interim, or most of it."
    It did seem to make sense. "How long an interim?"
    "Shall we say thirty days?"
    "Six months," Smash said. "You think I'm stupid?"
    "I did think that," the coffin confessed. "After all, you are an ogre, and it is well known that the brains of ogres are mostly in their muscles. In fact, their brains are mostly muscles."
    "Not true," Smash said. "An ogre's skull is filled with bone, not muscle."
    "I stand corrected. My skull is filled with necrosis. How about sixty days?"
    "Four months."
    "Split the difference: ninety days."
    "Okay," Smash agreed. "But I don't agree you are entitled to keep any soul, just because you tricked an innocent girl into trading it off for nothing."
    "Are you sure you're an ogre? You don't sound like one."
    "I'm an ogre," Smash affirmed. "Would you like me to throw you around some more to prove it?"
    "That won't be necessary," the coffin said quickly. "If you disagree with the assessment, you must deal with the boss: the Night Stallion. He makes decisions of policy."
    "The Dark Horse?"
    "Close enough; some do call him that. He governs the herd of nightmares."
    It began to fall into place. "This is where the nightmares live? By day, when they're not out delivering bad dreams to sleepers?"
    "Exactly. All the bad dreams are generated here in the gourd, from the raw material of people's fundamental fears--loss, pain, death, shame, and the unknown. The Stallion decides where the dreams go, and the mares take them there. Your girlfriend abused a mare, so it took a lien on her soul, and when she came here, that lien was called due. So her soul is forfeit, and now we have it, and only the Night Stallion can change that. Why don't we set you up for an appointment with the Stallion, and you can settle this directly with him?"
    "An appointment? When?"
    "Well, he has a full calendar. Bad dreams aren't light fancies, you know. There's a lot of evil in the world that needs recognition. It's a lot of work to craft each dream correctly and designate it for exactly the right person at the right time. So the Stallion is quite busy. The first opening is six months hence."
    "But my lien expires in three months!"
    "You're smarter than the average ogre, for sure! You might force an earlier audience, but you'd have to find the Stallion first. He certainly won't come to you within three months. I really wouldn't recommend the effort of locating him."
    Smash considered again. It seemed to him that this coffin protested too profusely. Something was being concealed here. Time for the ogre act again. "Perhaps so," he said. "There is therefore no point in restraining my natural inclination for violence." He picked up a rock and crumpled it to chips and sand with one hand. He eyed the coffin.
    "But I'm sure you can find him!" the box said quickly. "All you have to do is seek the path of most resistance. That's all I can tell you, honest!"
    Smash decided that he had gotten as much as he could from the coffin. "Good enough. Give me the girl's soul, and I'll leave my three-month lien and meet the Stallion when I find him."
    "Do you think a soul is

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