|The assault had been swift. One moment Conan was walking down the hallway,
the next he had been yanked into a doorway. But his reaction was just a
swift. The two men stood nose to nose, the point of Conan's knife between
"There's no need for that," the man said, the dark eyes visible beneath
his hood fixed on the blade, "we just need to talk. Privately."
"Then take your hand off me," Conan replied. The man let him go and
spread his open hands before him obsequiously.
"You have a strange way of starting a conversation," Conan continued,
returning his weapon to its sheath, "who are you?"
"I am Sir Allan of Aspartame," the other replied. When Conan made no
immediate response, he pointed to the emblem of a hammer smashing a tower
on his tunic, "Also know as Sir Allen the Hyper, of the Knights of the
The name was well known on the lists and Conan studied him closely.
He was shorter than Conan and the fit of his belt suggested a love of good
food. He lowered his hood, revealing a high forehead from which dark brown
hair seemed to be receding, but, to Conan's relief, no horns.
"And what do you want of me?" Conan asked.
"The news of your defeat of the Sorceress Meta at the OCLC has traveled
widely. But your adventures must have made put you out of touch with news
from the lists. We also seek to destroy a tyranny that limits the free
use of information: the Monolith of the West. The Order of the Key and
the evil wizards they serve hold the spells of internal pagination. Surely
you have heard how the Knights of the Key can turn themselves into demons
in battle. And the wizards have the power to cloud the minds of the important
and powerful with consulting contracts and magical trips to lands of sun
and sand. But it is said that Conan the Librarian would never be offered
such temptations. And so, we need to know--will you stand with us, or has
your way here been paid by the Monolith?"
"For a man recruiting allies, you take an oddly insulting tone."
"We face a rich and powerful foe, well connected both here at court
and in the temples."
"And what will you gain by defeating it?"
"The spells of internal pagination. The judges of the assizes require
these magic numbers and now all must pay tribute to the Monolith to obtain
"But they are freely obtainable at the temples."
"But the temples pay the Monolith for them."
"So, you would rather we pay you?"
Sir Allan's face grew bright as his scarf and he shook his finger at
Conan. "These are important issues of Public Access," he sputtered.
"Then I am sure this Conference will decide them," Conan replied, and
he continued on his way.
The air in the courtyard was thick with the moist summer heat and the
smells of cooking. The day that had started warm was now oppressively hot.
Children splashed in the fountain in the middle of the yard, dogs barking
around them. Chickens scratched half-heartedly or sat in the shade, panting.
Between the Summer kitchen and the guest wing, a great tent had been set
up. Its sides were rolled up to reveal banquet tables laden with barbecued
ribs and chicken, steaming ears of sweet corn, and freshly baked apple
pies. Ale barrels were set behind them and large steins at every place.
Within the tent men and women wearing Conference badges jostled each other
while balancing laden plates among the tables. Conan wondered what delegation
would host a private reception, then looked up and saw the insignia of
a key on the banners atop the tent.
Just then a friendly hand clapped him on the shoulder. He turned to
see the round, smiling face of Sir Vancealot.
"Conan! So good to see you again. Here, have you gotten one of our insulated
© 1995, by Hadley V. Baxendale