Andre Rasputin had always thought that if he ever got around to seeing South America, it would be on holiday. White sands, scorching sun, half-naked women in thong bikinis, these were the things that had always been associated in Andre's mind with that most mythical of places, the South American continent. And yet there he stood, less than thirty miles off the coast of Argentina wearing a cold weather parka in driving mist-like rain and freezing his balls off.
This was not how Andre wanted to die.
"You almost ready, Commander?"
Andre turned. Colonel H. Jones was the commander of 2 Para--the second battalion of the famed Parachute Regiment of the Royal Army’s Third Commando Brigade.
"Almost, sir. This won't take long." Almost without thinking, Andre looked down at the sword in his hand, scabbarded safely away in a sheath of polished brass and red lacquered wood. It was his finest work, the culmination of a long and, truth be told, a rather storied career as a combat sorcerer for the Crown.
"You, uh... you really think that there’s some ancient mystical boogeyman out there?" Jones asked.
Andre looked out over the barren bog-like stretches of peat and rock that were the mainstay of the Falklands' landscape. The mist had grown to a drizzle, driven hard by perhaps as much as seven knots of wind. The weather played Hell with visibility, but still both men knew that somewhere out there was Boca House. For both, the place would mark a rendezvous with destiny.
Andre turned back, looked Jones in the eye. "If you want to know the truth, sir, I think that this is why we're here." Andre held up the sword. “This is what this war’s really about.”
Jones shrugged. "If you say so. In any event, you'd best get going. We step off in a little more than an hour, and it’s going to be rather a long walk, I'm afraid."
"Yes sir. I won't miss the LD."
"No," Jones said, "I don't suppose you will." He patted Andre on the shoulder and forced a smile. "I won't pretend to understand what you're about, Commander, but whatever it is, I wish you the best of luck."
"Thank you, sir. God willing, luck won't factor into it."
It didn't take Andre long to get out away from the headquarters tents. The Falklands weren't big, but they were big enough, and barely anybody lived there. This left the Parachute Regiment with plenty of room to spread out as they staged for the coming campaign. That there would be a campaign—a real one, with real fighting—had become unavoidable. The Royal Navy had already exchanged salvos with the Argentine Air Force with casualties on both sides, and now 2 Para was moving up to begin the ground fighting. That night's raid—on Boca House, an Argentine infantry strongpoint on the southeastern side of the main island—was merely the first step in the larger sequence of battles intended to recapture the islands and drive the Argentine invaders out. But while the regular forces expected only light resistance at Boca House, Andre Rasputin knew that Boca House itself would be where his own war was decided once and for all. The wars of wizards often coincided with the wars of men, but they were rarely decided at the same times and places. This was why Andre had walked off into the Falklands hinterlands, away from the relative safety of Colonel H. Jones and the men of 2 Para.
With the tents far behind and twilight falling around him, Andre noticed that the quality of the air changed. The rain gave way to something that was only a little more than drizzle, and the wind settled appreciably. Soon, a low ground fog began coming up off the turf. This thickened quickly until Andre felt almost that he'd entered a cloud bank. He would have been worried about losing his way had he not other means of finding it again.
“Right then,” he said aloud. “We can do this the hard way if we must.”
Despite the fact that he held a full, magnificent longsword in the scabbard in his left hand, Andre reached into his field jacket and drew forth his athame with his right. The athame’s blade was much smaller than the sword’s—it was little more than a field knife, really—but it served to allow Andre to begin gathering the ambient energies of the universe into himself, and in any event, he had reasons for wanting to leave the sword untouched.
With the energies around him, Andre closed his eyes and cocked his head to listen.
“Это не нужно, командующий.”
Andre slid the athame back into his jacket slowly. When he opened his eyes, a tiny woman stood in front of him, ancient and bent with age—and holding a long wooden spoon. Wisps of white hair escaped from under a loose knit cap on her head, and her sweater, though warm-looking, was dirty and beginning to unravel in places. Behind her stood what looked for all the world like a small hut on stilts made of palm trees, save that these trees ended in giant chicken feet.
Despite having grown up in a Russian-speaking household, Andre spoke the language seldom, and so it was work to compose his reply. “Здравствуйте, заслуженный бабушки.”
The woman shook the spoon at him. “Pfah! Your Russian grates on my ears, boy. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“With respect, honored grandmother, I do not think that we are here so that you may criticize my command of the mother tongue.”
“Mother tongue? You’ve become an Englishman, Rasputin.”
Andre bowed. “And that is why I’m here.”
“Are you so eager then? To face your death?”
Andre shook his head. “The world has changed, grandmother. I think you—and the old man—will find that English bullets are far more potent than once they were.”
“You are a fool if you believe that,” the old woman replied. Andre opened his mouth to argue, but she cut him off. “No. Do not bother explaining it to me. Whatever will be, will be. It is not my concern. Do you have that which you wished me to hold for you?”
Andre held out the sword. “I have. You will see that he gets it?”
The old woman took a step forward and glared at Andre. “You do understand the price of my aid? And you will pay it? No tricks?”
Andre wanted to be strong, but in this moment, he felt anything but. He stared down at his feet, but after all, the decision was already made. There was only one course of action, and this was it. They both knew it.
“I will,” he said. “God forgive me, but if this bargain protects the Sword of Kings, then I will pay, and gladly.”
The old woman sighed. Andre held out the sword, and she took it. Though she had mocked him, Andre could see that there was little joy for her in this victory.
“You are a fool, young Rasputin. You cannot possibly hope to win without this sword. The progenitor of your house is a far greater sorcerer than you can ever hope to be.”
“I know that, grandmother. That is why you must take the sword. I can only hope that my son will do better with it than I have.”