Canto 37 – Dance of the Two Spiders
Naylund Smith was dressed in a formal silk jacket with an embroidered Japanese-style phoenix raising its wings across the chest and turning to flaming ashes on the back. A white chord ran down the left leg of the blue silk pants and ended in an embroidered white spider, the first time Ged was to see the White Spider’s personal logo on anything.
Ged couldn’t help but admire the strong-looking, erect posture of this amazing man. He wore a gold earring in his left ear; his head was shaved and hairless except for white eyebrows, a white bun at the very back of the head, and a white goatee. The man’s iron-gray eyes glared like the stare of an eagle. Only the golden walking stick hinted at any weakness in the man, and he never seemed to lean upon it.
“The web of space is locked in an ever-expanding spiral dance,” said Naylund as ceremonial armor was strapped to Ged’s arms and chest. “The spiders that move from strand to strand are merely a counterpoint to the great dancing flow of the web itself. When spiders contend for space on the web, then the dance reaches its most violent and most beautiful point. I cannot help you with the next few steps of the dance. The prophecy says that you will be victorious, but no prophecy is ever absolute unless it can be proven to come from God himself.”
“You sound like I am about to have some kind of duel,” said Ged cautiously. “I thought this was just a welcoming ceremony.”
“It is that. It is also deadly serious.”
Little Ham Aero Junior was brought to Ged dressed in a milk-white kimono, and an embroidered white spider picked out in light blue covered the heart. The female attendants left him with Ged.
“I am to stand with you, Ged-sensei,” the boy said.
“Did Frieda teach you to speak so well?” Ged asked the little Nebulon.
“No. I learned your language long ago by telepathy.”
“Why didn’t you ever teach it to your mother?”
“She hardly ever spoke to me. I was nothing but a reminder to her of the shame of her servitude.”
“I’m so sorry for you, Junior.”
“Don’t be. Now I belong to you and you belong to me. I will stand at your side and die rather than leave you.”
“A very handsome and noble child,” said Naylund. “He deserves to be treated well by you, Ged.”
“Don’t worry, Naylund-sensei. I am learning to love my nephew too.” Ged smiled at Junior.
Naylund motioned to Ged to leave the tent where he had been dressed in armor. He was now done up in the armor of a Japanese daimyo or feudal lord, a samurai. He had everything but the demon mask on him.
As Ged, Naylund and Junior stepped out into the arena, 40,000 people cheered. Ged was stunned to see so many people. Being a spacer meant being alone more often than with other people. He’d never in his life been with so many at once.
“Behold! The so-called White Spider,” said a man across from Ged in the arena. He gestured with a silver katana sword to Ged and his two companions. “What do you say that I test this gaijin? Do you really believe he is the white spider?”
The crowd roared that they did believe.
“Well, we shall see,” said the man, drawing his katana in front of him.
“He will now try to kill you, Ged,” said Naylund. “If he succeeds, he will kill the boy and me as well.”
“But, wait!” said Ged. “I am unarmed!” He sounded panicky.
“According to prophecy,” said Naylund, “that’s not supposed to be a problem.”
“I am the Black Spider,” shouted the man. Ged noticed his black silk robes bore a red spider-symbol on the chest. “I will kill you now, Ged Aero!”
The man charged at Ged with lightning speed. He was obviously martial-arts trained, and knew precisely what to do. Ged tried to dodge, but the katana came down on his right shoulder in a perfect arc. Ged’s right arm was neatly severed at the shoulder.
The crowd gasped. Ged fell to his knees gasping also. Junior tried to run to him, but Naylund grabbed him and firmly held him.
“Patience, little one. Ged must pass this test himself.”
Ged’s mind swirled, but fixed on an image from his mind implanted there when Tara helped him return to his rightful form. His inner eye sharpened and fixed the image with crystal clarity. Immediately the arm grew back into place. The crowd was silent with shock.
“So!” said the Black Spider. “You are a magician! It will help you not! I have killed many magicians before you.”
Ged didn’t bother to listen. Power was surging through him. He could feel the rightness of each shape as it came to him.
“Tara?” said Junior, amazed at what he saw. Ged had changed first into the lithe figure of Tara Salongi so that the bulky clothing and armor would fall away. Then, as the nude female Ged stepped free of the binding clothing, he was already turning into the fearsome raptor dinosaur from Don’t Go Here.
“Try this!” cried the Black Spider as he leaped onto Ged’s scaly back and tried to sever the saurian head. Ged’s clawed foot nimbly came up and swept the attacker off, as easily as a horse knocks flies off his flanks with a twitching tail. The other clawed foot found the Black Spider as he hit the ground, the wicked hook slicing into the flesh of his stomach.
The Black Spider wobbled to his feet again, defiant and angry. His intestines began to droop out of his wound. “Good trick, spider, but I’m not beaten yet!”
Even as the Black Spider was bragging, Ged remembered one other beast he had been forced to kill and eat. He morphed almost immediately into a Samothracian Shadowcat, one of the most difficult creatures he had ever hunted. On the colorful planet of Samothrace, with its many xeno-flowers, shadowcats had developed the ability to change color so masterfully; they could practically disappear from view. As soon as the first paw touched the sand of the arena floor, Ged shimmered and disappeared.
“What? Where…?” cried the Black Spider, swinging his sword wildly. Attacks battered him from three sides. Ged it seemed, had turned into the wind. It looked like puffs of air were slashing the Black Spider; until finally, the sword fell from his hand and the Black Spider fell dead and thoroughly bloodied. Ged remained invisible so as not to disgust the crowd as he replenished himself by feeding on the flesh of the enemy. He also ate his own severed arm before he finally reappeared in his own form.
Naked, he quickly dressed in the samurai armor once again, though not bothering with the many straps and ties. The crowd was utterly silent, which left Ged wondering what it meant.
Shen Ming approached solemnly, holding two sheathed swords in his hands.
“You have done well, my son. Take your swords of office.”
Ged humbly received the swords from Shen-sensei. He bowed. There was a beautiful silver katana with a white ivory pommel and a smaller golden wakizashi with a blue woven pommel. The crowd now began to cheer riotously.
“I have defeated the Black Spider?” asked Ged of Naylund.
“You have defeated the first of many Black Spiders, Ged-sama. We will never be at a loss for villains.”