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At Swords' Point
By Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1982 Andre Norton
All rights reserved.
ARRIVAL OF A TROJAN HORSE
Quinn Anders shivered as he limped up a moss-greened walk to the square New England house and raised his hand to the polished brass eagle doing bored duty as a knocker. A briefcase swung, a dead weight, from his cramped fingers. He had been holding that tightly since yesterday — or was it more than twenty-four hours now since he had started away on impulse? Now as he waited on the doorstep he began to worry again. Perhaps he'd better just turn and go — Perhaps this was all wild melodrama — Crazy — !
But it was too late to go. A woman stood in the doorway.
"Mr. van Norreys?" Quinn's voice was husky, and he had to swallow before he could add, "I've come up from New York to see him on business —"
"Well, now — I don't know. Mr. van Norreys took a bad tumble on the ski slope last week, cracked his ankle bone. He hasn't been working. But if you've come all the way from New York — maybe. Step in and we'll see —"
Quinn blinked owlishly at the light in the hall. "I'm Quinn Anders, brother of Capt. Stark Anders. Mr. van Norreys once worked with him in Europe."
She went away, and he was left to stare at a wall patterned with old picture paper. Maybe this van Norreys had forgotten Stark, maybe he had been a fool to come. His familiar feeling of inadequacy humbled him again as it did every time he thought of Stark. But his brother had said to come to van Norreys, and in his whole life Stark had never suggested a useless action. So Quinn was going to see him now, even if he had to argue with more than one housekeeper and batter down doors to do so.
But such drastic action was not necessary after all.
He was ushered into a room where the lights were not yet turned on, and the dusk was thick. As he hesitated just inside someone spoke.
"If you will be so kind as to snap on the light, sir — The switch you will find on the wall to your left. I am somewhat incapacitated just at present —"
Quinn pressed the switch. He was in a combination study-library and one which was well used. The man who limped toward him, using a cane as a support, was probably no older than Stark, close to thirty. His fair hair stood roughly on end as if he had been digging absent-minded fingers through it, but his eyes were alert, almost wary, and they studied Quinn as if trying to trace in him some resemblance to Stark.
Which he wasn't going to find — if that was what he was looking for.
Quinn faced up to the searching measurement with his disciplined patience. Just beyond van Norreys' shoulder was a wall mirror. Probably as old as the house, for the glass seemed misty. But it was not too misty to reflect Quinn's short, almost thick body, topped with that very ordinary and commonplace face. He was in no conceivable way a counterpart of Stark's dashing person.
Then he realized van Norreys was speaking.
"And how is the Gladiator? That was, you know, our name for him."
"Stark is dead."
There — he had said it at last. Said it to someone who had known Stark well enough to maybe care a little. He had said it aloud for the fifth time since he had received the cable. He could remember perfectly each and every time he had had to make that statement of a fact he had to force himself to believe.
"When and how?"
Quinn set the briefcase on the edge of the desk. Those words had steadied him. He found in the question something he had been searching for for days, recognition that there was trouble, and a suggestion that here he might find assistance.
"I had a cable — almost six weeks ago now." He answered slowly, trying to think back through a stretch of time which seemed very long, very long and mostly a blur. "His body was found on a street in Maastricht. He had apparently been the victim of a hit and run accident."
"Apparently?" Van Norreys had caught that modifying word instantly.
Quinn sat down on the nearest chair. A little of the strain oozed out of his too taut body and mind.
"Apparently." But he put no more emphasis on the word. He wondered if his voice sounded as colorless to the other as it did in his own ears. "I have come to you because last Monday I received a delayed letter from him. This letter suggested that I see you —"
"You have it with you?"
Quinn shook his head. "I destroyed it at once after reading. But I can repeat it to you word for word. I have" — he pulled the briefcase down on his knees again — "what they call a photographic memory."
Van Norreys chose a cigarette from a box by his elbow and lit it after Quinn had refused one. "That is a very useful ability," was his only comment.
Quinn moistened his lips. "This is what Stark said.
Great news! Dordrecht it is then. Though I may be doomed now to go down the river and all around the oaks first.
Have been remembering a lot lately about Dad's old Trojans and all their fun and games. We must plan to pay a visit to their own private stamping ground while you are over here. Are you game to take your big brother's hand and guide him through the maze?
I picked up a souvenir of that siege the other day. Will send it along with this. It may be a little too modern for your refined taste. But sometimes there is more in this type of art than you think. So don't dismiss it hastily.
When you pass through New York you might look up Lorens van Norreys. He is a big shot in the jewel trade now. But we worked together back in '45 and '46 when we were trying to trace and restore Nazi loot. He will be amused by this souvenir. Be sure and show it to him.
Hope to see you by the twenty-fifth. We can make the rest of our plans then.
"That," Quinn continued almost hesitatingly, "was a kind of code."
He was trying not to babble. But the sheer relief of being able to make such a statement was tearing down his usual reserve.
"First, he calls me Odo — my middle name is Odocar, after one of Dad's medieval heroes. But practically no one knows it, and certainly no one ever calls me that. Stark never did. You know of Dad's work — ?"
"Yes. Your father was Dr. Wilson Anders, one of the greatest authorities on the military orders of the Middle Ages. I heard him lecture once at Leyden years ago."
"Well, he was writing a book about the Prince-Bishop Odocar of Sternsberg when he died. And Odocar was one of his favorite heroes. But" — Quinn got back to the main subject — "Stark never called me Odo in his life!"
"And so to do that would direct your attention more closely than ordinarily to what followed?"
Quinn almost sighed with relief. Van Norreys wasn't going to think that he had lost his mind; this Netherlander grasped the importance of little things right away!
"Then there is that bit about 'down the river and all around the oaks.' It is a family saying we always used to explain our being away longer than we had planned — it really means that we might be unavoidably detained.
"And the Trojans — Dad had no interest in Greece or Homer at all. The stories he told us were about Bishop Odocar and the Crusaders. So 'the old stamping ground' which Stark writes about must be the Duchy of Sternsberg. But that has been part of Belgium for about a hundred years now. And Stark was never very much interested in Dad's work anyway. He left college back in 1940 to join the army. And when the war was over he remained in the service —"
"As a member of the Military Intelligence —" van Norreys put in. "Yes, I know of that, my friend. Just as I also know that he operated under cover as an officer attached to Special Services."
Van Norreys knew that! Quinn opened the briefcase and took out the paper-wrapped package it contained. He put it down on the desk carefully.
"The one incident of the Siege of Troy which most people remember is the story of the wooden horse." He pulled at the wrappings of the package. "This is Stark's souvenir."
The paper shredded away from a hideous ceramic figure which certainly possessed four legs and a tail and might, very remotely, be considered to resemble a horse.
"I brought it to you as he suggested."
But now that he was looking again at the monstrosity, Quinn began to doubt his own reasoning. The thing simply couldn't be valuable. But Stark was dead, he had written that letter and had sent this. It must be important — it must!
Van Norreys picked up the horse. "Modern it is." He made a little grimace of distaste. "The Trojan Horse." He turned it upside down. Then he looked up with excitement in both eyes and voice as he said, "You might fetch me the poker —"
Quinn automatically obeyed. And, as he saw the iron raised over the back of the grotesque figure, he understood. Of course! The Trojan Horse was traditionally a hiding place. It had been important, not for itself, but for what it had carried inside its body.
Van Norreys brought the poker down smartly. Bits of pottery skipped and flew wide. And on the blotter among the ruins lay a small roll of dingy cotton wool. With delicate care van Norreys began to pluck this apart, tuft by tuft.
When he finished they both stared with an emotion approaching awe at the treasure of the Trojan Horse. For the desk light was reflected from a figure about three and a half inches tall. Quinn sucked in his breath as he stretched his fingers toward it. And then he jerked back his hand, not quite daring to touch.
It was a knight in full armor, with an emblazoned surcoat from shoulder to mid-thigh. And the manikin was posed in a dramatic battle posture, left arm holding high a shield, a bared broadsword in the tiny right fist. Only the helmet was missing and shoulder-length hair blew free as if a wind had whipped it back. The face had been molded with such perfection of feature and expression as to suggest that it had been intended as a portrait of some once famous warrior. The heraldic device on the small shield copied the brilliant enameled and inlaid pattern of the surcoat, and pinpoint gems flashed from sword belt and hilt.
Quinn was still staring, thoroughly entranced, when van Norreys pulled the telephone across the desk.
"New York, if you please." His voice was different, clipped, almost cold. "Connect me with Lexington 4-5757. Yes, thank you."
"The Bishop's Menie." Quinn repeated his thought aloud.
But he was startled at the effect of his words on the other. One of van Norreys' slender hands shot out and clamped about his wrist in a grip which was almost as numbing as that of a trap's steel teeth.
"What do you know of the Bishop's Menie?"
Quinn did not struggle to free himself from that hold. Instead he recalled to the last flourish of his father's precise script that note he had seen over a year ago.
"'The Bishop's Menie,' "he recited," 'consists, or once consisted, of thirteen separate figures varying in height and weight. These represented the twelve faithful followers of Prince-Bishop Odocar — the thirteenth being that of the Prince-Bishop himself — who participated in the First Crusade. They were made at a much later period to the order of Prince-Bishop Mangus, later Duke of Sternsberg, and they formed the core of the Sternsberg treasure. At various times in the past they have been the object of search on the part of looters. Napoleon himself is said to have been one of the disappointed hunters. The collection disappeared during the middle of the nineteenth century when Sternsberg was absorbed by Belgium. Since the Sternlitz family is now extinct, all clues to its existence or hiding place are lost. The collection, should it be found intact, would be literally priceless because of its great historic value.' That is what Dad knew about it."
The phone's shrill ring interrupted. Quinn sat rubbing the wrist van Norreys released and listened to a one-sided conversation.
"You, Sam? This is luck, finding you at the house. I have something of the utmost importance. Go down to the record room as soon as you can and take out the book left by my grandfather. Look up any reference to the Bishop's Menie — m-e-n-i-e — that's right. Or, if you find nothing about that, see what we know about the Duchy of Sternsberg or the Sternlitz family." Carefully he spelled out each name. "Then call me back. Thank you very much — I shall be waiting —" He put up the phone and turned back to Quinn. "Stark speaks of your meeting in Dordrecht. You were, then, planning a trip to Europe?"
"Yes. You see, when Dad died last spring he left his book almost finished. There was some checking of sources to be done, and the last two chapters to be put in shape from his notes. That book was Dad's dream. He had a publisher interested, too. I don't know how much Stark told you about our family —"
"Very little. Stark was one of those who seemed to live very much in the here and now. I knew that his father was Dr. Anders and that he did have a younger brother."
"I'm his half-brother really — I'm quite a bit younger than Stark. My mother was Dad's second wife, and she died when I was five. Stark was good to me, better than most brothers usually are to little kids who tag along.
Dad was kind, and he was the best teacher I ever knew. But he was, well — remote. He lived more in the eleventh and twelfth centuries than he did in this. Stark was impatient at home — we lived in a small college town and it was dull, if you were like Stark. When he went into the army he was really happy. We didn't hear from him very often until I was ill. You see, I had polio, and for about two years I was pretty much of an invalid. Stark began writing to me then, and he sent home things he picked up overseas — books, prints, once a brace of old dueling pistols —"
Quinn's gaze dropped to the shattered bits of pottery.
And once a Trojan horse which might have meant his life, his imagination prompted. Quinn tried to forget that and concentrate on his story.
"He wrote whenever he could. On some jobs he had to disappear for months at a time, but we understood. He never said very much about what he was doing. I guess you just keep quiet about it when you have a position such as that —"
"You do or you do not continue to keep it," van Norreys returned.
"Well, while I was sick I read a lot and then I started working with Dad, doing some research for him, typing and proofreading. I went ahead of my school classes, too. So I was able to graduate from college last June. But I'm only nineteen, and apparently that is too young to start teaching. The army won't take me because I still have a weak leg. So I thought I would try to finish Dad's book. I wrote Stark about my plan for going overseas to check source material, and he said that he was due for leave and had a chance to get a car so that we could go around together. I was to meet him in Dordrecht and then we were going to head for Limburg and cross the border there into the Sternsberg territory. Part of the castle which Odocar built is still standing."
"Then Stark wasn't working on anything when he was killed?"
Quinn picked up one of the clay chips and turned it slowly between thumb and forefinger.
"Officially, no. Or, at least, his section in Washington won't admit it. I flew down there as soon as I got the cable about his death. There's a Col. Thurston, Stark once mentioned. I had to wait three days before I could get an appointment with him. And then all he would say was that Stark was on leave when it happened —"
"But you believe that his death was not an accident?"
"Yes. Well, maybe at first — and after I listened to that colonel I did. But I don't now — I haven't since I read that letter. And this seems to me like proof." He jerked a thumb toward the knight. "In the first place there's the letter — and I don't think Stark would try to bring me into an army case. On the other hand if he were playing a lone hand at something and —"
Excerpted from At Swords' Point by Andre Norton. Copyright © 1982 Andre Norton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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