The Cloud Castle – Page 34


“I will fight the Winter Wolves,” says Jack. “I have always fancied a cloak made of their fine fur.”

Ghal-lul the Great laughs at Jack’s answer. “Such cloaks are rare comforts indeed, particularly if you wander the frozen North. Very well, warrior – let us see what you can do.”

The Ogre Mage snarls again at his pets, and the Winter Wolves advance, their icy breath steaming, even in the chill air of the upper atmosphere. The first leaps at him, exhaling a gout of magically cold breath that would ordinarily sear the flesh from a man – but the white scales on Jack’s shield soak up the ice magic, and the red scales begin to shine with hellish fervor. The Wolf is drawn up short by this unexpected twist of events, and snarls in frustration at the cherry-red scales. The others leap into the fray as well, and thus begins a circular dance. The Wolves exhale with all the force and fury of the North Wind, trying like some wolf of fairy tale to blow him down, but again and again the Dragon Scale Shield drinks their icy power and reflects it back as burning heat. Confused, frustrated, and more than a little afraid of his heat-magic, the Wolves offer sorry resistance to the thrusts and slashes of Jack’s blade, particularly when he leads each rush with his burning shield held aloft.

In moments, the last of the Winter Wolves has fallen, and now Jack returns his gaze to the Ogre Mage, who squats on his haunches looking pensively down at the warrior. Jack half-expects the Ogre to erupt into a furious magical assault, to avenge his fallen pets, but Ghal-lul’s thoughts seem miles away. At last, the Ogre Mage stirs.

“Give me that shield, warrior, and I’ll tell you a secret,” the Ogre says.

Jack laughs. “Do you think me a great fool?”

“No. A common fool only. But I speak in earnest. That shield for a secret, and you’ll find the bargain to your advantage.”

Now it is Jack’s turn to consider soberly. The Ogre Mage has no glint of duplicity in his eyes, and Jack has learned through experience that unlike the lesser races of Ogre, the Magi have a code of honor, and a healthy respect for the subtle ways the Gods have of enforcing oaths uttered by mortals. It is quite possible that the Ogre is telling the truth.

If you think Jack should give the Dragon Scale Shield to the Ogre Mage, turn to 12.

If you think he should refuse, turn to 30.