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overstepped her authority."
"We know it wasn't yc'ir fault," said Clothahump reassur-
ingly. Pog seemed about to add something but kept his mouth
shut at a warning glance from the wizard.
Before long they had retraced their ignominious descent and stood before the
high, arching doorway flanked by the two immense guards. A small blue spider
met them there. He was full of apologies and anxiety.
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When he'd finished bobbing and weaving, he beckoned them to follow.
The chamber they entered was high and dark. A few narrow windows were set in
the rear wall. Only a couple of lamps burned uncertainly in their wall
holders, shedding reluctant amber light on vast lounges and pillows of richly
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THE HOUR Or THE GATE
colored silk. It did not occur to anyone to wonder what they were stuffed
with.
More surprising was the large quantity of decorative art.
There were sculptures in metal and wood, in stone anc embalmed spider silk.
Gravity-defying mobiles stretched frorr ceiling to floor. Some were cleverly
lit from within by tin;
lamps or candles. Some of the sculpture was representational but a surprising
amount was abstract. Silken parallelograms vied with stress patterns for floor
space. The colors of both sculptures and furniture were subdued in shade but
bright of hue: orange, crimson, black and purple, deep blues and deeper
greens. There were no pastels.
"the grand webmistress Oil bids you welcome, strangers from a far land," the
little spider piped, "i leave you now."
He turned and scurried quickly out the doorway.
"i must go also," said Ananthos. He hesitated, then added, "some of your ideas
mark you almost akin to the eternal weave, perhaps we shall meet again some
day."
"I hope so," said Jon-Tom, whispering without knowing why. He watched as the
spider followed the tiny herald in
retreat.
They walked farther into the chamber. Clothahump put hands on nonexistent
hips, murmured impatiently, "Well, where are you, madam?"
"up here!" The voice was hardly stentorian, but it was a
good deal richer than the breathy weaver whispers they'd had to contend with
thus far; chocolate mousse compared to chocolate pudding. It seemed the voice
had slight but definite feminine overtones, but Jon-Tom decided he might be
anthropomorphosizing as he stood there in the near darkness.
"here," said the voice once more. The eyes of the visitors traveled up, up,
and across the ceiling. High in the right-hand comer of the chamber was a
vast, sparkling mass of the finest silk. It had been inlaid with jewels and
bits of metal in
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Alan Dean Poster
delicate mosaic until it sucked all the light out of the two feeble lamps and
threw it back in the gaze of any fortunate onlookers. The silk itself had been
arranged in tiny abstract geometric forms that fit together as neatly as the
pieces of a silver puzzle.
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A vast black globe slid over the side of the silken bower.
On a thin thread it fell slowly toward the chamber floor, like a huge drop of
petroleum. It was not as large as the massive tarantulas guarding the
entryway, but it was far bulkier than
Ananthos and most of the other arachnid inhabitants of
Gossameringue. The bulbous abdomen was nearly three feet
across. Save for a brilliant and all too familiar orange-red hourglass
splashed across the underside of the abdomen, the body appeared to be encased
in black steel.
Multiple black eyes studied the visitors expressionlessly.
The spinnerets daintily snipped the abdomen free from the trailing silk cable.
Settling down on tiptoe, the eight legs folded neatly beneath the body. Then
the enormous black widow was resting comfortably on a sprawling red cushion,
preening one fang with a leg tip.
"i am the grand webmistress OU," the polite horror informed them. "you must
excuse the impoliteness of cleaning my mouth, but my husband was in for
breakfast and we have only just now finished."
Jon-Tom knew something of the habits of black widows.
He eyed the jeweled boudoir above and shuddered.
Clothahump, unfazed by the Grand Webmistress' appear-
ance, stepped briskly to the fore. Once again he laid out the reason for their
extraordinary journey. He detailed their expe-
riences on the Swordsward, in the Earth's Throat, related the magical crossing
of Helldrink. Even in his dry, mechanical voice the retelling was impressive.
The Grand Webmistress Oil listened intently, occasionally permitting herself a
whispered expression of awe or apprecia-
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THE HOUR OF THE GATE
tion. Clothahump rambled on, telling of the peculiar new evil raised by the
Plated Folk and their imminent invasion of the
wannlands.
Finally he finished the tale. It was silent in the chamber for
several minutes.
011's first reaction was not expected, "you! come a little nearer." She
finally had to raise a leg and point, since it was impossible to tell exactly [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]