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Michael Moorcock

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Fiction and Excerpts [6]

The Whispering Swarm (Excerpt)

|| The Whispering Swarm, Michael Moorcock's first independent novel in nine years, is a tale both fantastical and autobiographical, and a celebration of London and what it meant to be young there in the years after World War II. The Whispering Swarm is the first in a trilogy that will follow a young man named Michael as he simultaneously discovers himself and a secret realm hidden deep in the heart of London.

The Mad God’s Amulet (Excerpt)

, || In Michael Moorcock's vast and imaginative multiverse, Law and Chaos wage war in a never-ending struggling over the fundamental rules of existence. Here in this universe, Dorian Hawkmoon traverses a world of antique cities, scientific sorcery, and crystalline machines as he pulled unwillingly into a war that pits him against the ruthless and dominating armies of Granbretan. After withstanding the power of the Black Jewel and saving the city of Hamadan from the conquest of the Dark Empire of Granbretan, Hawkmoon set off for Kamarang, where friendship and love await him. But the journey is beyond treacherous.

The Whispering Swarm (Excerpt)

Almost anyone who has read or written Science Fiction or fantasy has been inspired by the work of Michael Moorcock. His literary flair and grand sense of adventure have been evident since his controversial first novel Behold the Man, through the stories and novels featuring his most famous character, Elric of Melniboné, to his fantasy masterpiece, Gloriana, winner of both the Campbell Memorial and World Fantasy, awards for best novel. As editor of New Worlds magazine, Moorcock also helped launch the careers of many of his contemporaries, including Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, and J. G. Ballard.

Tor Books now proudly presents Moorcock’s first independent novel in nine years, a tale both fantastical and autobiographical, a celebration of London and what it meant to be young there in the years after World War II. The Whispering Swarm is the first in a trilogy that will follow a young man named Michael as he simultaneously discovers himself and a secret realm hidden deep in the heart of London.

[Read an excerpt]

The Mad God’s Amulet (Excerpt)

Chapter One
Soryandum

The city was old, begrimed by time. A place of wind-worn stones and tumbled masonry, its towers tilting and its walls crumbling. Wild sheep cropped the grass that grew between cracked paving stones, bright-plumed birds nested among columns of faded mosaic. The city had once been splendid and terrible; now it was beautiful and tranquil. The two travelers came to it in the mellow haze of the morning, when a melancholy wind blew through the silence of the ancient streets. The hoofs of the horses were hushed as the travelers led them between towers that were green with age, passed by ruins bright with blossoms of orange, ochre and purple. And this was Soryandum, deserted by its folk.

The men and their horses were turned all one colour by the dust that caked them, making them resemble statues that had come to life. They moved slowly, looking wonderingly about them at the beauty of the dead city.

The first man was tall and lean, and although weary he moved with the graceful stride of the trained warrior. His long fair hair had been bleached near white by the sun, and his pale blue eyes had a hint of madness in them. But the thing most remarkable about his appearance was the dull black jewel sunk into his forehead just above and between the eyes, a stigmata he owed to the perverted miracle workings of the sorcerer-scientists of Granbretan. His name was Dorian Hawkmoon, Duke von Köln, driven from his hereditary lands by the conquests of the Dark Empire, which schemed to rule the world. Dorian Hawkmoon, who had sworn vengeance against the most powerful nation on his war-tormented planet.

The creature who followed Hawkmoon bore a large bone bow and a quiver of arrows on his back. He was clad only in a pair of britches and boots of soft, floppy leather, but the whole of his body, including his face, was covered in red, wiry hair. His head came to just below Hawkmoon’s shoulder. This was Oladahn, cross-bred offspring of a sorcerer and a Mountain Giantess from the Bulgar Mountains.

Oladahn patted sand from his fur and looked perplexed. “Never have I seen a city so fair. Why is it deserted? Who could leave such a place?”

Hawkmoon, as was his habit when puzzled, rubbed at the dull black jewel in his forehead. “Perhaps disease—who knows? Let’s hope that if it was disease, none of it lingers on. I’ll speculate later, but not now. I’m sure I hear water somewhere—and that’s my first requirement. Food’s my second, sleep’s my third—and thought, friend Oladahn, a very distant fourth…”

In one of the city’s plazas they found a wall of blue-grey rock that had been carved with flowing figures. From the eyes of one stone maiden fell pure spring water that splashed into a hollow fashioned below. Hawkmoon stooped and drank, wiping wet hands over his dusty face. He stepped back for Oladahn to drink, then led the horses forward to slake their thirst.

Hawkmoon reached into one of his saddlebags and took out the cracked and crumpled map that had been given him in Hamadan. His finger crept across the map until it came to rest on the word ‘Soryandum’. He smiled with relief. “We are not too far off our original route,” he said. “Beyond these hills the Euphrates flows and Tarabulus lies beyond it by about a week’s journey. We’ll rest here for today and tonight, then continue on our way. Refreshed, we will travel more rapidly.”

Oladahn grinned. “Aye, and you’d explore the city before we leave, I fancy.” He splashed water on his fur, then bent to pick up his bow and quiver. “Now to attend to your second requirement—food. I’ll not be gone long. I saw a wild ram in the hills. Tonight we’ll dine off roast mutton.” He remounted his horse and was away, riding for the broken gates of the city while Hawkmoon stripped off his clothes and plunged his hands into the cool spring water, gasping with a sense of utter luxury as he poured the water over his head and body. Then he took fresh clothing from the saddlebag, pulling on a silk shirt given him by Queen Frawbra of Hamadan and a pair of blue cotton britches with flaring bottoms. Glad to be out of the heavier leather and iron he had worn for protection’s sake while crossing the desert in case any of the Dark Empire’s men were following them, Hawkmoon donned a pair of sandals to complete his outfit. His only concession to his earlier fears was the sword he buckled about him.

It was scarcely possible that he could have been followed here, and besides, the city was so peaceful that he could not believe any kind of danger threatened.

Hawkmoon went to his horse and unsaddled it, then crossed to the shade of a ruined tower to lie with his back against it and await Oladahn and the mutton.

Noon came and went, and Hawkmoon began to wonder what had become of his friend. He dozed for another hour before real trepidation began to stir in him and he rose to resaddle his horse.

It was highly unlikely, Hawkmoon knew, that an archer as skilled as Oladahn would take so long in pursuit of one wild sheep. Yet there seemed to be no possible danger here. Perhaps Oladahn had grown weary and decided to sleep for an hour or two before hauling the carcass back. Even if that were all that was delaying him, Hawkmoon decided, he might need assistance.

He mounted his horse and rode through the streets to the crumbling outer wall of the city and to the hills beyond. The horse seemed to recover much of its former energy as its hoofs touched grass, and Hawkmoon had to shorten the rein, riding into the hills at a light canter.

Ahead was a herd of wild sheep led by a large, wise looking ram, perhaps the one Oladahn had mentioned, but there was no sign at all of the little beast-man.

“Oladahn!” Hawkmoon yelled, peering about him. “Oladahn!” But only muffled echoes answered him.

Hawkmoon frowned, then urged his horse into a gallop, riding up a hill taller than the rest in the hope that from this vantage point he would be able to see his friend. Wild sheep scattered before him as the horse raced over the springy grass. He reached the top of the hill and shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun. He stared in every direction, but there was no sign of Oladahn.

For some moments he continued to look around him, hoping to see some trace of his friend; then, as he gazed toward the city, he saw a movement near the plaza of the spring. Had his eyes tricked him, or had he seen a man entering the shadows of the streets that led off the eastern side of the plaza? Could Oladahn have returned by another route? If so, why hadn’t he answered Hawkmoon’s call?

Hawkmoon had a nagging sense of terror in the back of his mind now, but he still could not believe that the city itself offered any menace.

He spurred his horse back down the hillside and leaped it over a section of ruined wall.

Muffled by the dust, the horse’s hoofs thudded through the streets as Hawkmoon headed toward the plaza, crying Oladahn’s name. But again he was answered only by echoes. In the plaza there was no sign of the little mountain man.

Hawkmoon frowned, almost certain now that he and Oladahn had not, after all, been alone in the city. Yet there was no sign of inhabitants.

He turned his horse toward the streets. As he did so his ears caught a faint sound from above. He looked upward, his eyes searching the sky, certain that he recognized the sound. At last he saw it—a distant black shape in the air overhead. Then sunlight flashed on metal, and the sound became distinct, a clanking and whirring of giant bronze wings. Hawkmoon’s heart sank.

The thing descending from the sky was unmistakably an ornate ornithopter, wrought in the shape of a gigantic condor, enameled in blue, scarlet, and green. No other nation on Earth possessed such vessels. It was a flying machine of the Dark Empire of Granbretan.

Now Oladahn’s disappearance was fully explained. The warriors of the Dark Empire were present in Soryandum. It was more than likely, too, that they had recognized Oladahn and knew that Hawkmoon could not be far away. And Hawkmoon was the Dark Empire’s most hated opponent.


Chapter Two
Huillam D’Averc

Hawkmoon made for the shadows of the street, hoping that he had not been seen by the ornithopter.

Could the Granbretanians have followed him all the way across the desert? It was unlikely. Yet what else explained their presence in this remote place?

Hawkmoon drew his great battle-blade from its scabbard and then dismounted. In his clothes of thin silk and cotton he felt more than ordinarily vulnerable as he ran through the streets seeking cover.

Now the ornithopter flew only a few feet above the tallest towers of Soryandum, almost certainly searching for Hawkmoon, the man whom the King-Emperor Huon had sworn must be revenged upon for his ‘betrayal’ of the Dark Empire. Hawkmoon might have slain Baron Meliadus at the battle of Hamadan, but without doubt King Huon had swiftly dispatched a new emissary upon the task of hunting down the hated Hawkmoon.

The young Duke of Köln had not expected to journey without danger, but he had not believed that he would be found so soon.

He came to a dark building, half in ruins, whose cool doorway offered shelter. He entered the building and found himself in a hallway with walls of pale, carved stone partly overgrown with soft mosses and blooming lichens. A stairway ran up one side of the hall, and Hawkmoon, blade in hand, climbed the winding, moss-carpeted steps for several flights until he found himself in a small room into which sunlight streamed through a gap in the wall where the stones had fallen away. Flattening himself against the wall and peering around the broken section, Hawkmoon saw a large part of the city, saw the ornithopter wheeling and dipping as its vulture-masked pilot searched the streets.

There was a tower of faded green granite not too distant. It stood roughly in the centre of Soryandum, dominating the city. The ornithopter circled this for some time, and at first Hawkmoon guessed that the pilot believed him to be hidden there, but then the flying machine settled on the flat, battlement-surrounded roof of the tower. From somewhere below other figures emerged to join the pilot.

These men were evidently of Granbretan also. They were all clad in heavy armour and cloaks, with huge metal masks covering their heads, in spite of the heat. Such was the twisted nature of Dark Empire men that they could not rid themselves of their masks whatever the circumstances. They seemed to have a deep-rooted psychological reliance on them.

The masks were of rust-red and murky yellow, fashioned to resemble rampant wild boars, with fierce, jeweled eyes that blazed in the sunlight and great ivory tusks curling from the flaring snouts.

These, then, were men of the Order of the Boar, infamous in Europe for its savagery. There were six of them standing by their leader, a tall, slender man whose mask was of gold and bronze and much more delicately wrought—almost to the point of caricaturing the mask of the Order. The man leaned on the arms of two of his companions—one squat and bulky, the other virtually a giant, with naked arms and legs of almost inhuman hairiness. Was the leader ill or wounded? wondered Hawkmoon. There seemed to be something theatrical about the way he leaned on his men. Hawkmoon thought then that he knew who the Boar leader was. It was almost certainly the renegade Frenchman Huillam D’Averc, once a brilliant painter and architect, who had joined the cause of Granbretan long before they had conquered France. An enigma, D’Averc, but a dangerous man for all that he affected illness.

Now the Boar leader spoke to the vulture-masked pilot, who shook his head. Evidently he had not seen Hawkmoon, but he pointed toward the spot where Hawkmoon had abandoned his horse. D’Averc—if it was D’Averc—languidly signed to one of his men, who disappeared below, to re-emerge almost at once with a struggling, snarling Oladahn.

Relieved, Hawkmoon watched as two of the boar-masked warriors dragged Oladahn close to the battlements. At least his friend was alive.

Then the Boar leader signed again, and the vulture pilot leaned into the cockpit of his flying machine and withdrew a bell-shaped megaphone, which he handed to the giant on whose arm the leader still rested. The giant placed this close to the snout of his master’s mask.

Suddenly the quiet air of the city was filled with the bored, world-weary voice of the Boar leader.

“Duke von Köln, we know that you are present in this city, for we have captured your servant. In an hour the sun will set. If you have not delivered yourself to us by that time, we must begin to kill the little fellow…”

Now Hawkmoon knew for certain that it was D’Averc. No other man alive could both look and sound like that. Hawkmoon saw the giant hand the megaphone back to the pilot and then, with the help of his squat companion, help his master to the partially ruined battlement so that D’Averc could lean against it and look down into the streets.

Hawkmoon controlled his fury and studied the distance between his building and the tower. By jumping through the gap in the wall he could reach a series of flat roofs that would take him close to a pile of fallen masonry heaped against one wall of the tower. From there he saw that he could easily climb to the battlements. But he would be seen as soon as he left his cover. It would be possible to take that route only at night—and by nightfall they would have begun torturing Oladahn.

Perplexed, Hawkmoon fingered the Black Jewel, sign of his former slavery to Granbretan. He knew that if he gave himself up he would be killed instantly or be taken back to Granbretan and there killed with terrible slowness for the pleasure of the perverted Lords of the Dark Empire. He thought of Yisselda, to whom he had sworn to return, of Count Brass, whom he had sworn to aid in the struggle against Granbretan—and he thought of Oladahn, with whom he had sworn friendship after the little beast-man had saved his life.

Could he sacrifice his friend? Could he justify such an action, even if logic told him that his own life was of greater worth in the fight against the Dark Empire? Hawkmoon knew that logic was of no use here. But he knew, too, that his sacrifice might be useless, for there was no guarantee that the Boar leader would let Oladahn go once Hawkmoon had delivered himself up.

Hawkmoon bit his lips, gripping his sword tightly; then he came to a decision, squeezed his body through the gap in the wall, clung to the stonework with one hand, and waved his bright blade at the tower. D’Averc looked up slowly.

“You must release Oladahn before I come to you,” Hawkmoon called. “For I know that all men of Granbretan are liars. You have my word, however, that if you release Oladahn I will deliver myself into your hands.”

“Liars we may be,” came the languid voice, barely audible, “but we are not fools. How may I trust your word?”

“I am a Duke of Köln,” said Hawkmoon simply. “We do not lie.”

A light, ironic laugh came from within the boar mask. “You may be naïve, Duke of Köln, but Sir Huillam D’Averc is not. However, may I suggest a compromise?”

“What is that?” Hawkmoon asked warily.

“I would suggest you come halfway toward us so that you are well within the range of our ornithopter’s flame-lance, and then I shall release your servant.” D’Averc coughed ostentatiously and leaned heavily on the battlement. “What say you to that?”

“Hardly a compromise,” called Hawkmoon. “For then you could kill us both with little effort or danger to yourself.”

“My dear Duke, the King-Emperor would much prefer you alive. Surely you know that? My own interest is at stake. Killing you now would only earn me a baronetcy at most—delivering you alive for the King-Emperor’s pleasure would almost certainly gain me a princedom. Have you not heard of me, Duke Dorian? I am the ambitious Huillam D’Averc.”

D’Averc’s argument was convincing, but Hawkmoon could not forget the Frenchman’s reputation for deviousness. Although it was true that he was worth more to D’Averc alive, the renegade might well decide it expedient not to risk his gains and might therefore kill Hawkmoon as soon as he came into certain range of the flame-lance.

Hawkmoon deliberated for a moment, then sighed. “I will do as you suggest, Sir Huillam.” He poised himself to leap across the narrow street separating him from the rooftops below.

Then Oladahn cried, “No, Duke Dorian! Let them kill me! My life is worthless!”

Hawkmoon acted as if he had not heard his friend and sprang out and down, to land on the balls of his feet on the roof. The old masonry shuddered at the impact, and for a moment Hawkmoon thought he would fall as the roof threatened to crack. But it held, and he began to walk gingerly toward the tower.

Again Oladahn called out and began to struggle in the hands of his captors.

Hawkmoon ignored him, walking steadily on, sword still in one hand but held loosely, virtually forgotten.

Now Oladahn broke free altogether and darted across the tower, pursued by two cursing warriors. Hawkmoon saw him dash to the far edge, pause for a moment, and then fling himself over the parapet.

For a moment Hawkmoon stood frozen in horror, hardly understanding the nature of his friend’s sacrifice.

Then he tightened his grip on his sword and raised his head to glare at D’Averc and his men. Bending low, he made for the edge of the roof as the flame cannon began to turn in his direction. There was a great whoosh of heat over his head as they sought his range; then he had swung himself over the edge and hung by his hands, peering down into the street far below.

There was a series of stone carvings quite close to him on his left. He inched along until he could grasp the nearest. They ran down the side of the house at an angle, almost to street level. But the stone was plainly rotten. Would the carvings support his weight?

Hawkmoon did not pause. He swung himself down on the first carving. It began to creak and crumble, like a bad tooth. Quickly Hawkmoon dropped to the next and then the next, bits of stone clattering down the sides of the building, to crash in the distant street.

Then at last Hawkmoon was able to leap to the cobbles and land easily in the soft dust that covered them. Now he began to run, not away from the tower—but toward it. He had nothing in his mind but vengeance on D’Averc for driving Oladahn to suicide.

He found the entrance to the tower and entered in time to hear the clatter of metal-shod feet as D’Averc and his warriors descended. He chose a spot on the staircase (which was enclosed) where he would be able to take the Granbretanians one at a time. D’Averc was the first to appear, stopping suddenly as he saw the glowering Hawkmoon, then reaching with gauntleted hand for his long blade.

“You were foolish not to take the chance of escape your friend’s silly sacrifice gave you,” said the boar-masked mercenary contemptuously. “Now, like it or not, I suppose we shall have to kill you…” He began to cough, doubling up in apparent agony, leaning weakly against the wall. He signed limply to the squat man behind him—one of those Hawkmoon had seen helping D’Averc across the battlements. “Oh, my dear Duke Dorian, I must apologize… my infirmity is liable to seize me at the most inconvenient moments. Ecardo—would you…?”

The powerfully built Ecardo sprang forward grunting and pulling a short-hafted battle-axe from his belt. He tugged out his sword with his free hand and chuckled with pleasure. “Thanks, master. Now let’s see how the no-mask prances.” He moved like a cat to the attack.

Hawkmoon poised himself, ready to meet Ecardo’s first blow.

Then the man sprang with a great feral howl, the battle-axe splashing the air to clang against Hawkmoon’s blade. Then Ecardo’s short sword ripped upward, and Hawkmoon, already weak from exposure and hunger, barely managed to turn his body in time. Even so, the sword slashed through the cotton of his britches and he felt its cold edge against his flesh.

Hawkmoon’s own blade slid from beneath the axe and crashed down on Ecardo’s grinning boar mask, wrenching one tusk loose and badly denting the snout. Ecardo cursed, his sword stabbing again, but Hawkmoon leaned against the man’s sword arm, trapping it beneath his body and the wall. Then he let go of his own sword so that it hung by its wrist thong, grasped Ecardo’s arm, and tried to twist the axe from his hand.

Ecardo’s armoured knee drove into Hawkmoon’s groin, but Hawkmoon held his position in spite of the pain, tugged Ecardo down the stairs, pushed, and let him fall to the floor under his own momentum.

Ecardo hit the paving stones with a thud that shook the whole tower. He did not move.

Hawkmoon looked up at D’Averc. “Well, sir, are you recovered?”

D’Averc pushed back his ornate mask, to reveal the pale face and pale eyes of an invalid. His mouth twisted in a little smile. “I will do my best,” he said. And when he advanced it was swiftly, with the movements of a man more than ordinarily fit.

This time Hawkmoon claimed the initiative, darting a thrust at his enemy that almost took him by surprise but that he parried with amazing speed. His languid tone belied his reflexes.

Hawkmoon realized that D’Averc was quite as dangerous, in his own way, as the powerful Ecardo. He realized, too, that if Ecardo were merely stunned, he himself might soon be trapped between two opponents.

The swordplay was so swift that the two blades seemed a single blur of metal as both men held their ground. With his great mask flung back, D’Averc was smiling, with an expression of quiet pleasure in his eyes. He looked for all the world like a man enjoying a musical performance or some other passive pastime.

Wearied by his journey through the desert, needing food, Hawkmoon knew that he could not long sustain the fight in this way. Desperately he sought an opening in D’Averc’s splendid defense. Once, his opponent stumbled slightly on a broken stair. Hawkmoon thrust swiftly but was parried and had his forearm nicked into the bargain.

Behind D’Averc the warriors of the Boar waited eagerly with swords ready to finish Hawkmoon off once the opportunity was presented to them.

Hawkmoon was tiring rapidly. Soon he was fighting a purely defensive style, barely managing to turn the thrusting steel that drove for his eye, his throat, his heart, or his belly. He took one step backward, then another.

As he took the second step, he heard a groan behind him and knew that Ecardo’s senses were returning. It would not be long before the boars butchered him.

Yet he scarcely cared, now that Oladahn was dead. Hawkmoon’s swordplay became wilder, and D’Averc’s smile grew broader as he sensed his victory coming closer.

Rather than have Ecardo at his back, Hawkmoon sprang suddenly down the steps without turning around. His shoulder bumped against another, and he whirled, prepared to face the brutish Ecardo.

Then his sword almost dropped from his hand in astonishment.

“Oladahn!”

The little beast-man was in the act of raising a sword—the boar warrior’s own sword—over the stirring Ecardo’s head.

“Aye—I live. But do not ask me how. It’s a mystery to me.” And he brought the flat of the blade down on Ecardo’s helmet with a great clang. Ecardo collapsed again.

There was no more time for talk. Hawkmoon barely managed to block D’Averc’s next thrust. There was a look of astonishment in D’Averc’s eyes too as he saw the living Oladahn.

Hawkmoon managed to break through the Frenchman’s guard, piercing his shoulder armour. Again D’Averc swept the blade aside and resumed the attack. Hawkmoon had lost the advantage of his position. The savage boar mask grinned at him as warriors poured down the stairs.

Hawkmoon and Oladahn backed toward the door, hoping to regain the advantage, but there was little chance of that. For another ten minutes they held their own against the overwhelming odds, killing two Granbretanians, wounding three more. They were wearying rapidly. Hawkmoon could barely hold his sword.

His glazed eyes tried to focus on his opponents as they closed in like brutes for the kill. He heard D’Averc’s triumphant “Take them alive!” and then he went down beneath a tide of metal.


Chapter Three
The Wraith-Folk

Wrapped in chains so that they could barely breathe, Hawkmoon and Oladahn were borne down innumerable flights of stairs into the depths of the great tower, which seemed to stretch as far below ground as it did above.

At length the boar warriors reached a chamber that had evidently been a storeroom but which now served as an effective dungeon.

There they were flung face down on the coarse rock. They lay there until a booted foot turned them over to blink into the light of a guttering torch held by the squat Ecardo, whose battered mask seemed to snarl in glee. D’Averc, mask still pushed back to expose his face, stood between Ecardo and the huge, hairy warrior Hawkmoon had seen earlier. D’Averc had a brocade scarf to his lips, and he leaned heavily on the giant’s arm.

D’Averc coughed musically and smiled down at his prisoners. “I fear I must leave you soon, gentlemen. This subterranean air is not good for me. However, it should do little harm to two such robust young fellows as yourselves. You will not have to stay here more than a day, I assure you. I have sent a request for a larger ornithopter that will be able to bear the two of you back to Sicilia, where my main force is now encamped.”

“You have taken Sicilia already?” Hawkmoon asked tonelessly. “You have conquered the isle?”

“Aye. The Dark Empire wastes little time. I, in fact”—D’Averc coughed with mock modesty into his scarf—“am the hero of Sicilia. It was my leadership that subjugated the island so swiftly. But that triumph was no special one, for the Dark Empire has many capable captains like myself. We have made excellent gains in Europe these past few months—and in the East, too.”

“But Kamarg still stands,” Hawkmoon said. “That must irritate the King-Emperor.”

“Oh, Kamarg cannot last long besieged,” said D’Averc airily. “We are concentrating our particular attention on that little province. Why, it may have fallen already…”

“Not while Count Brass lives,” Hawkmoon smiled.

“Just so,” D’Averc said. “I heard he was badly wounded and his lieutenant von Villach slain in a recent battle.”

Hawkmoon could not tell whether D’Averc was lying. He let no emotion show on his face, but the news had shocked him. Was Kamarg ready to fall—and if so, what would become of Yisselda?

“Plainly that news disturbs you,” D’Averc murmured. “But fear not, Duke, for when Kamarg falls it will be in my safekeeping if all goes well. I plan to claim the province as my reward for capturing you. And these, my boon companions,” he continued, indicating his brutish servants, “I will elevate to rule Kamarg when I cannot. They share all aspects of my life—my secrets, my pleasures. It is only fair that they should share my triumph. Ecardo I will make steward of my estates, and I think I shall make Peter here a count.”

From within the giant’s mask came an animal grunt. D’Averc smiled. “Peter has few brains, but his strength and his loyalty are without question. Perhaps I’ll replace Count Brass with him.”

Hawkmoon stirred angrily in his chains. “You are a wily beast, D’Averc, but I will not let you goad me to an outburst, if that’s what you desire. I’ll bide my time. Perhaps I’ll escape you yet. And if I do—you may live in terror for the day when our roles are reversed and you are in my power.”

“I fear you are too optimistic, Duke. Rest here, enjoy the peace, for you’ll know none when you get to Granbretan.”

With a mocking bow, D’Averc left, his men following. The torchlight faded, and Hawkmoon and Oladahn were left in darkness.

“Ah,” came Oladahn’s voice after a while. “I find it difficult to take my position seriously after all that has happened today. I am still not even sure whether this be dream, death, or reality.”

“What did happen to you, Oladahn?” Hawkmoon asked. “How could you survive the great leap? I had imagined you dashed to death beneath the tower.”

“By rights I should have been,” Oladahn agreed. “If I had not been arrested by ghosts in midfall.”

“Ghosts? You jest.”

“Nay. These things—like ghosts—appeared from windows in the tower and bore me gently to earth. They were the size and shape of men but barely tangible…”

“You fell and knocked your head and dreamed this stuff!”

“You could be right.” Suddenly Oladahn paused. “But if so, I am dreaming still. Look to your left.”

Hawkmoon turned his head, gasping in astonishment at what he saw. There, quite plainly, he could see the figure of a man. Yet, as if through a pool of milk, he could see beyond the man and make out the wall behind him.

“A ghost of a classic sort,” Hawkmoon said. “Strange to share a dream…”

Faint, musical laughter came from the figure standing over them. “You do not dream, strangers. We are men like you. The mass of our bodies is merely altered a little, that is all. We do not exist in quite the same dimensions as you. But we are real enough. We are the men of Soryandum.”

“So you have not deserted your city,” Oladahn said. “But how did you attain this… peculiar state of existence?”

The wraith-man laughed again. “By control of the mind, scientific experiment, by a certain mastery of time and space. I regret that it would be impossible to describe how we came to this condition, for we reached it, among other ways, by the creation of an entirely new vocabulary, and the language I would use would mean nothing to you. However, be assured of one thing—we are still able to judge human characters well enough and recognize you as potential friends and those others as actual enemies.”

“Enemies of yours? How so?” Hawkmoon asked.

“I will explain later.” The wraith-man glided forward until he was leaning over Hawkmoon. The young Duke of Köln felt a strange pressure on his body, and then he was lifted up. The man might have looked intangible, but he seemed far stronger than an ordinary mortal. From the shadows two more of the wraith-people drifted, one to pick up Oladahn and the other to raise his hand and somehow produce a radiance in the dungeon that was mellow yet adequate to illuminate the whole place. Hawkmoon saw that the wraith-men were tall and slender, with thin, handsome faces and blind-seeming eyes.

Hawkmoon had supposed at first that the people of Soryandum were able to pass through solid walls, but now he saw that they had entered from above, for there was a large tunnel about halfway up the wall. Perhaps in the distant past this tunnel has been some kind of chute down which sacks of stores had been rolled.

Now the wraith-people rose into the air toward the tunnel and entered it, drifting up it until light could be seen far ahead—the light of moon and stars.

“Where are you taking us?” Hawkmoon whispered.

“To a safer place where we shall be able to free you of your chains,” the man who carried him answered.

When they reached the top of the tunnel and felt the chill of the night air, they paused while the one who had no burden went ahead to make sure that there were no Granbretanian warriors about. He signed to the others to follow, and they drifted out into the ruined streets of the silent city until they came to a simple three-storeyed house that was in better condition than the rest but seemed to have no means of entrance at ground level.

The wraith-folk bore Hawkmoon and Oladahn upward again, to the second level, and passed through a wide window into the house.

In a room bare of any ornamentation they came to rest, setting the pair down gently.

“What is this place?” Hawkmoon asked, still unable to trust his senses.

“This is where we live,” the wraith-man replied. “There are not many of us. Though we live for centuries, we are incapable of reproducing ourselves. That is what we lost when we became as we are.”

Now through the door came other figures, several of them female. All were of the same beautiful and graceful appearance, all had bodies of milky opaqueness; none wore clothes. The faces and bodies were ageless, scarcely human, but they radiated such a sense of tranquility that Hawkmoon immediately felt relaxed and secure.

One of the newcomers had brought with him a small instrument, scarcely larger than Hawkmoon’s index finger, which he now applied to the several padlocks on the chains. One by one the locks sprang open, until at last Hawkmoon and then Oladahn were free.

Hawkmoon sat up, rubbing at his aching muscles. “I thank you,” he said. “You have saved me from an unpleasant fate.”

“We are happy to have been of use,” replied one of their number, slightly shorter than the rest. “I am Rinal, once Chief Councilor of Soryandum.” He came forward smiling. “And we wonder if it would interest you that you could be of help to us, also.”

“I would be glad to perform any service in repayment of what you have done for me,” Hawkmoon said earnestly. “What is it?”

“We, too, are in great danger from those strange warriors with their grotesque beast-masks,” Rinal told him. “For they plan to raze Soryandum.”

“Raze it? But why? This city offers no threat to them—and it is too remote to be worth their annexing.”

“Not so,” Rinal said. “For we have listened to their conversations and know that Soryandum is of value to them. They wish to build a great structure here that will house scores and hundreds of their flying machines. The machines can then be sent out to all the surrounding lands to threaten and defeat them.”

“I understand,” Hawkmoon murmured. “It makes sense. And that is why D’Averc, the ex-architect, was chosen for this particular mission. Building materials already exist here and could be remodeled to form one of their ornithopter bases, and the spot is so remote that few, if any, would note the activity. The Dark Empire would have surprise on their side right up to the moment they wished to launch an attack. They must be stopped!”

“They must be, if only for our sake,” Rinal continued. “You see, we are part of this city perhaps more than you can understand. It and we exist as the same thing. If the city were destroyed, we should perish also.”

“But how can we stop them?” Hawkmoon said. “And how can I be of use? You must have the resources of a sophisticated science at your disposal. I have only a sword—and even that is in the hands of D’Averc!”

“I told you that we are linked to the city,” Rinal said patiently. “And that is exactly the case. We cannot move away from the city. Long ago we rid ourselves of such unsubtle things as machines. They were buried under a hillside many miles from Soryandum. Now we have need for one particular machine, and we cannot ourselves obtain it. You, however, with your mortal mobility, could get it for us.”

“Willingly,” said Hawkmoon. “If you give us the exact location of the machine we shall bring it to you. Best if we left soon, before D’Averc realizes we have escaped.”

“I agree that the thing should be accomplished as soon as possible,” Rinal nodded, “but I have omitted to tell you one thing. The machines were placed there by us while we were still able to make short journeys away from Soryandum. To make sure that they were not disturbed, we protected them with a beast-machine—a dreadful contraption designed to frighten off whoever should discover the store. But the metal creature can also kill—will kill any not of our race who dares enter the cavern.”

“Then how may we nullify this beast?” Oladahn asked.

“There is but one way for you,” Rinal said with a sigh. “You must fight it—and destroy it.”

“I see.” Hawkmoon smiled. “So I escaped from one predicament to face another scarcely less dangerous.”

Rinal raised his hand. “No. We make no demands on you, If you feel that your life would be more useful in the service of some other cause, forget us at once and go your way.”

“I owe you my life,” Hawkmoon said. “And my conscience would not be clear if I rode away from Soryandum knowing that your city would be destroyed, your race exterminated, and the Dark Empire given the opportunity to wreak even more havoc in the East than it has already. No—I will do what I can, though without weapons it will not be an easy task.”

Rinal signed to one of the wraith-folk, who drifted from the room, to return at length with Hawkmoon’s battered battle-blade and Oladahn’s bow, arrows, and sword. “We found it an easy matter to recover these,” smiled Rinal. “And we have another weapon, of sorts, for you.” He handed Hawkmoon the tiny device they had used earlier to open the padlocks. “This we retained when we put most of our other machines in store. It is capable of opening any lock—all you must do is point at it. It will help you gain entrance to the main storeroom where the mechanical beast guards the old machines of Soryandum.”

“And what is the machine you desire us to find?” Oladahn asked.

“It is a small device, about the size of a man’s head. Its colours are those of the rainbow, and it shines. It looks like crystal but feels like metal. It has a base of onyx, and from this projects an octagonal object. There may be two in the storeroom. If you can, bring both.”

“What does it do?” Hawkmoon inquired.

“That you will see when you return with it.”

“If we return with it,” said Oladahn in a tone of philosophical gloom.


Chapter Four
The Mechanical Beast

Having refreshed themselves on food and wine stolen from D’Averc’s men by the wraith-folk, Hawkmoon and Oladahn strapped on their weapons and prepared to leave the house.

With two of the men of Soryandum supporting them, they were borne gently down to the ground.

“May the Runestaff protect you,” whispered one, as the pair made for the city wall, “for we have heard that you serve it.”

Hawkmoon turned to ask him how he had heard this. It was the second time he had been told that he served the Runestaff; yet he had no knowledge that he did. But before he could speak the wraith-man had vanished.

Frowning, Hawkmoon led the way from the city.

Deep in the hills several miles from Soryandum, Hawkmoon paused to get his bearings. Rinal had told him to look for a cairn made out of cut granite, left there centuries before by Rinal’s ancestors. At last he saw it, old stone turned to silver by the moonlight.

“Now we go north,” he said, “and look for the hill from which the granite was cut.”

Another half hour and they made out the hill. It looked as if at some time a giant sword had sliced its face sheer. Since that time grass had grown over it again so that the characteristic seemed a natural one.

Hawkmoon and Oladahn crossed springy turf to a place where thick shrubs grew against the side of the hill. Parting these, they discerned a narrow opening in the cliffside. This was the secret entrance to the machine stores of the people of Soryandum.

Squeezing through the entrance, the two men found themselves in a large cave. Oladahn lit the brand they had brought for the purpose, and the flickering light revealed a great, square cavern that had evidently been hewn artificially.

Remembering his instructions, Hawkmoon crossed to the far wall of the cave and looked for a tiny mark at shoulder height. At last he saw it—a sign written in unfamiliar characters, and beneath it a tiny hole. Hawkmoon took from his shirt the instrument they had been given and pointed it at the hole.

He felt a tingling sensation in his hand as he applied slight pressure to the instrument. The rock before him began to tremble. A powerful gust of air made the brand flames stream, threatening to blow them out. The wall began to glow, become transparent, and then disappear altogether. “It will still be there,” Rinal had told them, “but temporarily removed to another dimension.”

Cautiously, swords in hand, they passed through into a great tunnel full of cool, green light from walls like fused glass.

Ahead of them lay another wall. On it glowed a single red spot, and it was at this that Hawkmoon now pointed the instrument.

Again there was a sudden rush of air. This time it nearly blew them over. Then the wall glowed white, turning to a milky blue before vanishing altogether.

This section of the tunnel was the same milky-blue colour, but the wall ahead of them was black. When it, too, had faded, they entered a tunnel of yellow stone and knew that the main store chamber and its guardian lay ahead of them.

Hawkmoon paused before applying the instrument to the white wall they faced.

“We must be cunning and move swiftly,” he told Oladahn, “for the creature beyond this wall will come alive the moment it senses our presence —”

He broke off as a muffled sound reached their ears—a fantastic clashing and clattering. The white wall shuddered as if something on the other side had flung a huge weight against it.

Oladahn looked dubiously at the wall. “Perhaps we should reconsider. After all, if we wasted our lives uselessly we…”

But Hawkmoon was already activating the instrument, and the protecting wall had begun to change colour as the strange, cold wind struck their faces. From behind the wall came an awesome wail of pain and bewilderment. The walls turned to pink, faded—and revealed the machine-beast.

The wall’s disappearance seemed to have disturbed it for an instant, for it made no move toward them. It crouched on metal feet, towering over them, its multicoloured scales half-blinding them. The length of its back, save for its neck, was a mass of knife-sharp horns. It had a body fashioned somewhat like an ape’s, with short hind legs and long forelegs ending in hands of taloned metal. Its eyes were multifaceted like a fly’s, glowing with shifting colours, and its snout was full of razor-sharp metal teeth.

Beyond the mechanical beast they could see great heaps of machinery, stacked in orderly rows about the walls. The room was vast. Somewhere in the middle of it, on his left, Hawkmoon saw the two crystalline devices Rinal had described. Silently, he pointed to them, then made to dash past the monster, into the storeroom.

Their movements as they ran stirred the beast from its daze. It screamed and lumbered after them, exuding a repulsive metallic smell.

From the corner of his eye Hawkmoon saw a gigantic taloned hand clutching at him. He swerved aside, knocking into a delicate machine that toppled and smashed to the floor, scattering bits of glass and broken metal parts. The hand plucked at air an inch from his face, then grabbed again, but Hawkmoon had already sidestepped.

An arrow suddenly struck the beast’s snout with a clatter of metal on metal, but it did not scratch the yellow-and-black scales.

With a roar, the beast sought its other enemy, saw Oladahn, and pounced toward him.

Oladahn scampered backward but not fast enough, for the creature seized him in its paw and drew him towards its gaping mouth. Hawkmoon yelled and struck his sword at the thing’s groin. It snorted and flung its prisoner aside. Oladahn lay supine in a corner by the door, either stunned or slain.

Hawkmoon backed away as the creature advanced; then he suddenly changed tactics, ducked, and dashed between the surprised beast’s legs. As it began to turn, Hawkmoon dashed back again.

The metal monster snorted in fury, its claws thrashing about it. It leaped into the air and came down with an earsplitting crash, rushing across the floor of the gallery at Hawkmoon, who squeezed down between two machines and, using them for cover, crept closer to the machines he had come to take.

Now the monster began to wrench machines aside in its insensate search for its enemy. Hawkmoon came to a stop by a machine with a bell-shaped nozzle. At the end of its nozzle was a lever. The machine seemed to be some kind of weapon. Without pausing to think, Hawkmoon pulled the lever. A faint noise came from the thing, but nothing else seemed to result.

Now the beast was almost upon him again.

Hawkmoon prepared to make a stand, deciding that he would fling his sword at one of the eyes, since they seemed to be the creature’s most vulnerable feature. Rinal had told him that the mechanical beast could not be killed in any ordinary sense; but if it were blinded, he might stand a chance.

But now, as the beast came into direct line of the machine, it staggered and grunted. Evidently some invisible ray was attacking it, possibly interfering with its complicated mechanism. It staggered, and Hawkmoon felt triumphant for an instant, judging the beast defeated. But the creature shook its body and began to advance again with slow, painful movements.

Hawkmoon saw that it was slowly regaining its strength. He must strike now if he was to have any chance at all. He ran toward the beast. It turned its head slowly. But then Hawkmoon had leaped at its squat neck and was climbing up the scales to seat himself on the mechanical beast’s shoulders. With a growl it raised its arm to tear Hawkmoon away.

Desperately Hawkmoon leaned forward and with the pommel of his sword struck first at one eye and then at the other. With a sharp, splintering sound, both eyes were dashed to fragments.

The beast screamed, its paws going not to Hawkmoon but to its injured eyes, giving the young duke time to leap from the creature’s back and dash for the two boxes he sought.

He pulled a sack from where it was looped over his belt and dropped the two boxes into it.

The mechanical monster was flailing around. Metal buckled and snapped wherever it struck. Blind it might now be, but it had lost none of its strength.

Skipping around the screaming beast, Hawkmoon ran to where Oladahn lay, bundled the little man over his shoulder, and ran for the exit.

Behind him the metal beast had caught the sound of his footsteps and had begun to turn in pursuit. Hawkmoon increased his pace, his heart seeming about to burst from his ribcage with the effort.

Down the corridors he raced, one after the other, until he reached the cave and the narrow opening that led to the outside world. The metal monster would not be able to follow him through such a tiny crack.

As soon as he squeezed through the opening and felt the night air in his lungs, he relaxed and studied Oladahn’s face. The little beast-man was breathing well enough, and there seemed to be nothing broken. Only a livid bruise on his head seemed serious, explaining why he was unconscious. Even as he inspected Oladahn’s body for worse injuries, the beast-man’s eyes began to flutter open. A faint sound came from his lips.

“Oladahn, are you all right?” Hawkmoon asked anxiously.

“Ugh—my head’s on fire,” Oladahn grunted. “Where are we?”

“Safe. Now try to rise. Dawn is almost here, and we must get back to Soryandum before morning, or D’Averc’s men will see us.”

Painfully Oladahn pulled himself to his feet. From within the cave came a wild howling and thundering as the mechanical beast sought to reach them.

“Safe?” Oladahn said, pointing to the hillside behind Hawkmoon. “Possibly—but for how long?”

Hawkmoon turned. A great fissure had appeared in the cliff face as the mechanical beast strove to free itself and follow its enemies.

“All the more need for speed,” said Hawkmoon, picking up his bundle and beginning to run back in the direction of Soryandum.

They had not gone half a mile before they heard an enormous crash behind them. Looking back, they saw the face of the hill split open and the metal beast emerge, its howling echoing through the hills, threatening to reach all the way to Soryandum.

“The beast is blind,” Hawkmoon explained, “so it may not follow us at once. Perhaps if we can reach the city we will be safe from it.”

They increased their pace and were soon on the outskirts of Soryandum.

Not much later, as dawn came, they were creeping through the streets seeking the house of the wraith-folk.

The Genesis of Hawkmoon

I’m not even sure what the year was. I’d had the outline for the series for a year or two, together with a couple of chapters, I think, when Larry Shaw of Lancer asked me for a new fantasy series to follow the first two Elric books and the Blades of Mars series. This would have been in 1965 or 6, I think. I had not actually planned to write any more, but I can rarely resist a request!

My old method of writing fantasy novels was to go to bed for a few days, getting up only to take the kids to school and pick them up, while the book germinated, making a few notes, then I’d jump out of bed and start, writing around 15-20,000 words a day (I was a superfast typist) for three days, rarely for more than normal working hours—say 9 to 6—get my friend Jim Cawthorn to read the manuscript for any errors of typing or spelling etc. then send it straight to the editor unread by me. I have still to read more than a few pages of the Hawkmoon books. The odd thing is that I’ve actually read almost none of my own books but I seem to remember the events as if I’d lived them. Some scenes are better remembered than others, of course. Similarly, I’ve reread almost nothing of the Elric, Corum or Eternal Champion novels.

[Read more…]

Series: Celebrating Michael Moorcock

The Jewel in the Skull Part Four: Chapters Five and Six

Chapter Five

The Awakening of Hawkmoon

Count Brass passed Dorian Hawkmoon a fresh cup of wine and murmured, “Please continue, my lord Duke,” as Hawkmoon told his story for the second time. In the hall of Castle Brass sat Yisselda, in all her beauty, Bowgentle, thoughtful of countenance, and von Villach, who stroked his moustache and stared at the fire.

Hawkmoon finished the tale. “And so I sought help in Kamarg, Count Brass, knowing that only this land is secure from the power of the Dark Empire.”

“You are welcome here,” Count Brass said, frowning. “If refuge is all you seek.”

“That is all.”

“You do not come to ask us take arms against Granbretan?” It was Bowgentle who spoke, half-hopefully.

“I have suffered enough from doing so myself—for the time being—and would not wish to encourage others to risk meeting a fate I only narrowly missed myself,” replied Hawkmoon.

Yisselda looked almost disappointed. It was plain that all in the room, save wise Count Brass, wanted war with Granbretan. For different reasons, perhaps—Yisselda to revenge herself against Meliadus, Bowgentle because he believed such evil must be countered, von Villach simply because he wished to exercise his sword again.

“Good,” said Count Brass, “for I’m tired of resisting arguments that I should help this faction or that. Now—you seem exhausted, my lord Duke. Indeed, I have rarely seen a man so tired. We have kept you up too long. I will personally show you to your chambers.”

Hawkmoon felt no triumph in having accomplished his deception. He told the lies because he had agreed with Meliadus that he would tell such lies. When the time came for kidnapping Yisselda, he would pursue the task in the same spirit.

Count Brass showed him into a suite consisting of bed-chamber, washing room, and a small study. “I hope it is to your taste, my lord Duke?”

“Completely,” Hawkmoon replied.

Count Brass paused by the door. “The jewel,” he said, “the one in your forehead—you say that Meliadus was unsuccessful in his experiment?”

“That is so, Count.”

“Aha…” Count Brass looked at the floor, then, after a moment, glanced up again. “For I might know some sorcery that could remove it, if it troubles you…”

“It does not trouble me,” said Hawkmoon.

“Aha,” said the count again, and left the room.

That night, Hawkmoon awoke suddenly, as he had awakened in the inn a few nights since, and thought he saw a figure in the room—an armoured man in jet and gold. His heavy lids fell shut for a moment or two, and when he opened them again the figure was gone.

A conflict was beginning to develop in Hawkmoon’s breast—perhaps a conflict between humanity and the lack of it, perhaps a conflict between conscience and the lack of conscience, if such conflicts were possible.

Whatever the exact nature of the conflict, there was no doubt that Hawkmoon’s character was changing for a second time. It was not the character he had had on the battlefield at Köln, nor the strange apathetic mood into which he had fallen since the battle, but a new character altogether, as if Hawkmoon were being born again in a thoroughly different mould.

But the indications of this birth were still faint, and a catalyst was needed, as well as a climate in which the birth would be possible.

Meanwhile, Hawkmoon woke up in the morning thinking how he might most speedily accomplish the capture of Yisselda and return to Granbretan to be rid of the Black Jewel and sent back to the land of his youth.

Bowgentle met him as he left his chambers.

The philosopher-poet took his arm. “Ah, my lord Duke, perhaps you could tell me something of Londra. I was never there, though I traveled a great deal when I was younger.”

Hawkmoon turned to look at Bowgentle, knowing that the face he saw would be the same as the nobles of Granbretan would see by means of the Black Jewel. There was an expression of frank interest in Bowgentle’s eyes, and Hawkmoon decided that the man did not suspect him.

“It is vast and high and dark,” Hawkmoon replied. “The architecture is involved, and the decoration complex and various.”

“And its spirit? What is the spirit of Londra—what was your impression?”

“Power,” said Hawkmoon. “Confidence…”

“Insanity?”

“I am incapable of knowing what is sane and what is not, Sir Bowgentle. You find me a strange man, perhaps? My manner is awkward? My attitudes unlike those of other men?”

Surprised by this turn of the conversation, Bowgentle looked carefully at Hawkmoon. “Why, yes… but what is your reason for asking?”

“Because I find your questions all but meaningless. I say that without—without wishing to insult…” Hawkmoon rubbed his chin. “I find them meaningless, you see.”

They began to descend the steps toward the main hall, where breakfast had been laid and where old von Villach was already serving himself to a large steak from a salver held by a servant.

“Meaning,” murmured Bowgentle. “You wonder what insanity is—I wonder what meaning is.”

“I do not know,” Hawkmoon answered. “I only know what I do.”

“Your ordeal has driven you into yourself—abolished morality and conscience?” Bowgentle said with sympathy. “It is not an unfamiliar circumstance. Reading ancient texts, one learns of many who under duress lost the same senses. Good food and affectionate company should restore them to you. It was lucky you should come to Castle Brass. Perhaps an inner voice sent you to us.”

Hawkmoon listened without interest, watching Yisselda descend the opposite staircase and smile at himself and Bowgentle across the hall.

“Are you well rested, my lord Duke?” she asked.

Before Hawkmoon could reply, Bowgentle said, “He has suffered more than we guessed. It will take our guest a week or two, I should think, before he is fully recovered.”

“Perhaps you would like to accompany me this morning, my lord?” Yisselda suggested graciously. “I will show you our gardens. Even in winter they are beautiful.”

“Yes,” replied Hawkmoon, “I should like to see them.”

Bowgentle smiled, realizing that Yisselda’s warm heart had been touched by Hawkmoon’s plight. There could be no-one better, he thought, than the girl to restore the duke’s injured spirit.

They walked through the terraces of the castle gardens. Here were evergreens, there winter-blooming flowers and vegetables. The sky was clear and the sun shone down, and they did not suffer much discomfort from the wind, muffled as they were in heavy cloaks. They looked down on the roofs of the town, and all was at peace. Yisselda’s arm was linked in Hawkmoon’s, and she conversed lightly, expecting no reply from the sad-faced man at her side. The black jewel in his forehead had disturbed her a little at first, until she had decided that it was scarcely different from a jeweled circlet such as she sometimes wore to keep her long hair from her eyes.

She had much warmth and affection in her young heart. It was this affection that had turned to passion for Baron Meliadus, for it needed as many outlets as it could have. She was content to offer it to this strange, stiff hero of Köln and hope that it might heal the wounds of his spirit.

She soon noticed that a hint of expression only came into his eyes when she mentioned his homeland.

“Tell me of Köln,” she said. “Not as it is now, but at it was—as one day it might be again.”

Her words reminded Hawkmoon of Meliadus’s promise to restore his lands. He looked away from the girl and up at the wind-blown sky, folding his arms across his chest.

“Köln,” she said softly. “Was it like Kamarg?”

“No…” He turned to stare down at the rooftops far below. “No… for Kamarg is wild and as it has always been since the beginning of time. Köln bore the mark of Man everywhere—in its hedged fields and its straight watercourses—its little winding roads and its farms and villages. It was only a small province, with fat cows and well-fed sheep, with hayricks and meadows of soft grass that sheltered rabbits and fieldmice. It had yellow fences and cool woods, and the smoke from a chimney was never far from sight. Its people were simple and friendly and kind to small children. Its buildings were old and quaint and as simple as the people who lived in them. There was nothing dark in Köln till Granbretan came, a flood of harsh metal and fierce fire from across the Rhine. And Granbretan also put the mark of Man upon the countryside… the mark of the sword and the torch…”

He sighed, an increasing trace of emotion entering his tone. “The mark of the sword and the torch, replacing the mark of the plough and the harrow…” He turned to look at her. “And the cross and gibbet were made from the timber of the yellow fences, and the carcasses of the cows and sheep clogged the watercourses and poisoned the land, and the stones of the farmhouses became ammunition for the catapults, and the people became corpses or soldiers—there was no other choice.”

She put her soft hand on his leathern arm. “You speak as if the memory were very distant,” she said.

The expression faded from his eyes, and they became cold again. “So it is, so it is—like an old dream. It means little to me now.”

But Yisselda looked at him thoughtfully as she led him through the gardens, thinking that she had found a way to reach him and help him.

For his part, Hawkmoon had been reminded of what he would lose if he did not carry the girl to the Dark Lords, and he welcomed her attention for reasons other than she guessed.

Count Brass met them in the courtyard. He was inspecting a large old warhorse and talking to a groom. “Put him out to graze,” Count Brass said. “His service is over.” Then he came toward Hawkmoon and his daughter. “Sir Bowgentle tells me you are wearier than we thought,” he said to Hawkmoon. “But you are welcome to stay at Castle Brass for as long as you like. I hope Yisselda is not tiring you with her conversation.”

“No. I find it… restful…”

“Good! Tonight we have an entertainment. I have asked Bowgentle to read to us from his latest work. He’s promised to give us something light and witty. I hope you will enjoy it.”

Hawkmoon noticed that Count Brass’s eyes looked at him acutely, though his manner was hearty enough. Could Count Brass suspect his mission? The count was renowned for his wisdom and judgment of character. But surely if his character had baffled Baron Kalan, then it must also confuse the count. Hawkmoon decided that there was nothing to fear. He allowed Yisselda to lead him into the castle.

That night there was a banquet, with all Castle Brass’s best laid out on the large board. Around the table sat several leading citizens of Kamarg, several bull breeders of repute, and several bullfighters, including the now-recovered Mahtan Just, whose life Count Brass had saved a year before. Fish and fowl, red meat and white, vegetables of every kind, wine of a dozen varieties, ale, and many delicious sauces and garnishes were heaped upon the long table. On Count Brass’s right sat Dorian Hawkmoon, and on his left sat Mahtan Just, who had become that season’s champion. Just plainly adored the count and treated him with a respect that the count seemed to find a trifle uncomfortable. Beside Hawkmoon sat Yisselda, and opposite her, Bowgentle. At the other end of the table was seated old Zhonzhac Ekare, greatest of the famous bull breeders, clad in heavy furs and with his face hidden by his huge beard and thick head of hair, laughing often and eating mightily. Beside him sat von Villach, and the two men seemed to enjoy each other’s company a great deal.

When the feast was almost complete and pastries and sweetmeats and rich Kamarg cheese had been cleared, each guest had placed before him three flagons of wine of different kinds, a short barrel of ale, and a great drinking cup. Yisselda, alone, was given a single bottle and a smaller cup, though she had matched the men for drinking earlier and it seemed to be her choice, rather than the form, to drink less.

The wine had clouded Hawkmoon’s mind a little and given him what was perhaps a spurious appearance of normal humanity. He smiled once or twice, and if he did not answer his companions jest for jest, at least he did not offend them with a sour expression.

Bowgentle’s name was roared by Count Brass. “Bowgentle! The ballad you promised us!”

Bowgentle rose smiling, his face flushed, like the others’, with the wine and the good food.

“I call this ballad ‘The Emperor Glaucoma’ and hope it will amuse you,” he said, and began to speak the words.

The Emperor Glaucoma

passed the formal

guardsmen at the far arcade

and entered the bazaar

where the ornamental

remnants of the last war,

Knights Templar

and the Ottoman,

hosts of Alcazar

and mighty Khan,

lay in the shade

of temple palms

and called for alms.

But the Emperor Glaucoma

passed the lazar

undismayed

while pipes and tabor

played

in honour

of the Emperor’s parade.

Count Brass was looking carefully at Bowgentle’s grave face, a wry smile on his own lips. Meanwhile the poet spoke with wit and many graceful flourishes the complex rhyme. Hawkmoon looked about the board and saw some smiling, some looking puzzled, fuddled as they were by the drink. Hawkmoon neither smiled nor frowned. Yisselda bent toward him and murmured something, but he did not hear it.

The regatta

in the harbour

set off a cannonade

when the Emperor

displayed

stigmata

to the Vatican Ambassador

“What does he speak of?” grumbled von Villach.

“Ancient things,” nodded old Zhonzhac Ekare, “before the Tragic Millennium.”

“I’d rather hear a battle song.”

Zhonzhac Ekare put a finger to his bearded lips and silenced his friend while Bowgentle continued.

who made

gifts of alabaster,

Damascus-blade,

and Paris plaster

from the tomb

of Zoroaster

where the nightshade

and the oleaster

bloom.

Hawkmoon hardly heard the words, but the rhythms seemed to have a peculiar effect on him. At first he thought it was the wine, but then he realized that at certain points in the recitation his mind would seem to shudder and forgotten sensations would well up in his breast. He swayed in his chair.

Bowgentle looked hard at Hawkmoon as he continued his poem, gesticulating in an exaggerated way.

The poet laureate in laurel

and orange brocade

chased with topaz

and opal

and lucent jade,

fragrant of pomander,

redolent to myrrh

and lavender,

the treasure

of Samarcand and Thrace,

fell prostrate

in the marketplace,

“Are you well, my lord?” asked Yisselda, leaning toward Hawkmoon and speaking with concern.

Hawkmoon shook his head. “I am well enough, thanks.” He was wondering if in some way he had offended the Lords of Granbretan and they were even now giving the Black Jewel its full life. His head was swimming.

insensate,

and while choral

anthems told

his glory,

the Emperor,

majestical,

in slippers of gold

and ivory,

upon him trod

and throngs applaud

the mortal god.

Now all Hawkmoon saw was the figure and face of Bowgentle, heard nothing but the rhythms and the vowel rhymes, and wondered about enchantment. And if Bowgentle were seeking to enchant him, what was his reason?

From windows and towers

gaily arrayed

with garlands of flowers

and fresh bouquets

the children sprayed

showers

of meadow-rue,

roses and nosegays

of hyacinth into

the crossways

where Glaucoma passed.

Down to the causeways

from steeples and parapets

children threw

violets,

plum blossoms, lilies

and peonies,

and, last,

themselves

when Glaucoma passed.

Hawkmoon took a long draft of wine and breathed deeply, staring at Bowgentle as the poet continued with his verse.

The moon

shone dim,

the hot sun swayed

and still delayed

the noon,

the stars bestrewn

with seraphim

upraised

a hymn,

for soon

the Emperor

would stand before the sacred ruin

sublime

and lay his hand upon that door

unknown to time

that he alone

of mortal man may countermand.

Hawkmoon gasped as a man might when plunged into icy water. Yisselda’s hand was on his sweat-wet brow, and her sweet eyes were troubled. “My lord…?”

Hawkmoon stared at Bowgentle as the poet went relentlessly on.

Glaucoma passed

with eyes downcast

the grave ancestral portal

inlaid with precious stone

and pearl and bone

and ruby. He passed

the portal and the colonnade while trombone

sounds and trumpets blast

and earth trembles

and above

a host assembles

and the scent of ambergris is

burning in the air.

Dimly, Hawkmoon glimpsed Yisselda’s hand touching his face, but he did not hear what she said. His eyes were fixed on Bowgentle, his ears were concentrated on listening to the verse. A goblet had fallen from his hand. He was plainly ill, but Count Brass made no move to help. Count Brass, instead, looked from Hawkmoon to Bowgentle, his face half-hidden behind his wine-cup, an ironic expression in his eyes.

Now the Emperor releases

a snow-white dove!

O, a dove

as fair

as peace is,

so rare

that love increases

everywhere.

Hawkmoon groaned. At the far end of the table von Villach banged his wine-cup on the table. “I’d agree with that. Why not ‘The Mountain Bloodletting’? It’s a good…”

The Emperor released

that snow-white dove

and it flew

till none could sight

it, flew through the bright

air, flew through fire,

flew still higher,

still flew higher,

right

into the sun

to die for

the Emperor Glaucoma

Hawkmoon staggered to his feet, tried to speak to Bowgentle, fell across the table, spilling wine in all directions.

“Is he drunk?” von Villach asked in a tone of disgust.

“He is ill!” called Yisselda. “Oh, he is ill!”

“He is not drunk, I think,” Count Brass said, leaning over Hawkmoon’s body and raising an eyelid. “But he is certainly insensible.” He looked up at Bowgentle and smiled. Bowgentle smiled back and then shrugged.

“I hope you are sure of that, Count Brass,” he said.

Hawkmoon lay all night in a deep coma and awoke the next morning to find Bowgentle, who acted as physician to the castle, bending over him. Whether what had happened had been caused by drink, the Black Jewel, or Bowgentle, he still could not be sure. Now he felt hot and weak.

“A fever, my lord Duke,” Bowgentle said softly. “But we shall cure you, never fear.”

Then Yisselda was there, seating herself beside his bed. She smiled at him. “Bowgentle says it is not serious,” she told him. “I will nurse you. Soon you will be in good health again.”

Hawkmoon looked into her face and felt a great flood of emotion fill him. “Lady Yisselda…”

“Yes, my lord?”

“I… thank you…”

He looked about the room in bewilderment. From behind him he heard a voice speak urgently. It was Count Brass’s voice. “Say nothing more. Rest. Control your thoughts. Sleep if you can.”

Hawkmoon had not realized Count Brass was in the room. Now Yisselda put a glass to his lips. He drank the cool liquid and was soon asleep again.

The next day the fever was gone, and rather than an absence of emotion, Dorian Hawkmoon felt as if he were numbed physically and spiritually. He wondered if he had been drugged.

Yisselda came to him as he was finishing breakfast and asked if he were ready to accompany her on a walk through the gardens, since the day was fine for the season.

He rubbed his head, feeling the strange warmth of the Black Jewel beneath his hand. With some alarm, he dropped his hand.

“Do you still feel ill, my lord?” asked Yisselda.

“No… I…” Hawkmoon sighed. “I don’t know. I feel odd—it’s unfamiliar…”

“Some fresh air, perhaps, will clear your head.”

Passively, Hawkmoon got up to go with her into the gardens. The gardens were scented with all kinds of pleasant smells, and the sun was bright, making the shrubs and trees stand out sharply in the clear winter air.

The touch of Yisselda’s arm linked in his stirred Hawkmoon’s feelings further. It was a pleasant sensation, as was the bite of the wind in his face and the sight of the terraced gardens and the houses below. As well as these, he felt fear and distrust—fear of the Black Jewel, for he was sure that it would destroy him if he betrayed any sign of what he was now going through; and distrust of Count Brass and the rest, for he felt that they were in some way deceiving him and had more than an inkling of his purpose in coming to Castle Brass. He could seize the girl now, steal a horse, and perhaps stand a good chance of escaping. He looked at her suddenly.

Sweetly, she smiled up at him. “Has the air made you feel better, my lord Duke?”

He stared down into her face while many emotions conflicted within him. “Better?” he said hoarsely. “Better? I am not sure…”

“Are you tired?”

“No.” His head had begun to ache, and again he felt afraid of the Black Jewel. He reached out and grasped the girl.

Thinking that he was falling from weakness, she took his arms and tried to support him. His hands went limp and he could do nothing. “You are very kind,” he said.

“You are a strange man,” she replied, half to herself. “You are an unhappy man.”

“Aye…” He pulled away from her and began to walk over the turf to the edge of the terrace. Could the Lords of Granbretan know what was going on within him? It was unlikely. It was likely, on the other hand, that they were suspicious and might give the Black Jewel its life at any moment. He took a deep breath of the cold air and straightened his shoulders, remembering the voice of Count Brass from the night before. “Control your thoughts,” he had said.

The pain in his head was increasing. He turned. “I think we had better return to the castle,” he told Yisselda. She nodded and took his arm again, and they walked back the way they had come.

In the main hall, Count Brass met them. His expression was one of kindly concern, and there was nothing in his face to confirm the urgency of tone Hawkmoon had heard last night. Hawkmoon wondered if he had dreamed that or if Count Brass had guessed the nature of the Black Jewel and was acting to deceive it and the Dark Lords who even now watched this scene from the palace laboratories in Londra.

“The Duke von Köln is feeling unwell,” Yisselda said.

“I am distressed to hear it,” Count Brass answered. “Is there anything you need, my lord?”

“No,” Hawkmoon replied thickly. “No—I thank you.” He walked as steadily as he could toward the stairs. Yisselda went with him, supporting one arm, until they reached his rooms. At the door he paused and looked down at her. Her eyes were wide and full of sympathy; she lifted a soft hand to touch his cheek for an instant. The touch sent a shudder through him and he gasped. Then she had turned and half-run down the passage.

Hawkmoon entered the room and flung himself on his bed, his breathing shallow, his body tense, desperately trying to understand what was happening to him and what was the source of the pain in his head. At length he slept again.

He awoke in the afternoon, feeling weak. The pain had nearly gone, and Bowgentle was beside the bed, placing a bowl of fruit on a nearby table. “I was mistaken in believing the fever had left you,” he said.

“What is happening to me?” Hawkmoon murmured.

“As far as I can tell, a mild fever brought about by the hardships you have suffered and, I am afraid, by our hospitality. Doubtless it was too soon for you to eat rich food and drink so much wine. We should have realized that. You will be well enough in a short time, however, my lord.”

Privately, Hawkmoon knew this diagnosis to be wrong, but he said nothing. He heard a cough to his left and turned his head but saw only the open door leading to the dressing room. Someone was within that room. He looked questioningly back at Bowgentle, but the man’s face was blank as he pretended an interest in Hawkmoon’s pulse.

“You must not fear,” said the voice from the next room. “We wish to help you.” The voice was Count Brass’s. “We understand the nature of the jewel in your forehead. When you feel rested, rise and go to the main hall, where Bowgentle will engage you in some sort of trivial conversation. Do not be surprised if his actions seem a little strange.”

Bowgentle pursed his lips and straightened up. “You will soon be fit again, my lord. I take my leave of you now.”

Hawkmoon watched him leave the room and heard another door close also—Count Brass leaving. How could they have discovered the truth? And how would it affect him? Even now the Dark Lords must be wondering about the odd turn of events and suspecting something. They might release the full life of the Black Jewel at any moment. For some reason, this knowledge disturbed him more.

Hawkmoon decided that there was nothing he could do but obey Count Brass’s command, though it was just as likely that the count, if he had discovered the purpose of Hawkmoon’s presence here, would be as vengeful as the Lords of Granbretan. Hawkmoon’s situation was an unpleasant one in all its possibilities.

When the room darkened and evening came, Hawkmoon got up and walked down to the main hall. It was empty. He looked around him in the flickering firelight, wondering if he had not been induced to enter some sort of trap.

Then Bowgentle came through the far door and smiled at him. He saw Bowgentle’s lips move, but no sound came from them. Bowgentle then pretended to pause as if listening to Hawkmoon’s reply, and Hawkmoon realized then that this was a deception for the benefit of those who watched through the power of the Black Jewel.

When he heard a footfall behind him, he did not turn, but instead pretended to reply to Bowgentle’s conversation.

Then Count Brass spoke from behind him. “We know what the Black Jewel is, my lord Duke. We understand that you were induced by those of Granbretan to come here, and we believe we know the purpose of your visit. I will explain…”

Hawkmoon was struck by the oddness of the situation as Bowgentle mimed speech and the count’s deep voice came as if from nowhere.

“When you first arrived here at Castle Brass,” Count Brass continued, “I realized that the Black Jewel was something more than you said it was—even if you did not yourself realize it. I am afraid that those of the Dark Empire do me little credit, for I have studied quite as much sorcery and science as they, and I have a grimoire in which the machine of the Black Jewel is described. However, I did not know whether you were a knowing or unknowing victim of the Jewel, and I had to discover this without the Granbretanians realizing it.

“Thus on the night of the banquet I asked Sir Bowgentle there to disguise a rune as a pretty set of verses. The purpose of this rune would be to rob you of consciousness—and thus rob the Jewel also—so that we could study you without the Lords of the Dark Empire realizing it. We hoped that they would think you drunk and not connect Bowgentle’s pretty rhymes with your own sudden infirmity.

“The rune speaking began, with its special rhythms and cadences designed for your ears. It served its purpose, and you passed into a deep coma. While you slept, Bowgentle and I managed to reach through to your inner mind, which was buried deeply—like a frightened animal that digs a burrow so far underground that it begins to stifle to death. Already certain events had brought your inner mind a little closer to the surface than it had been in Granbretan, and we were able to question it. We discovered most of what had happened to you in Londra, and when I learned of your mission here I almost dispatched you. But then I realized that there was a conflict in you—which even you were scarcely aware of. If this conflict had not been evident, I would have killed you myself or let the Black Jewel do its work.”

Hawkmoon, pretending to reply to Bowgentle’s non-existent conversation, shuddered in spite of himself.

“However,” Count Brass went on, “I realized that you were not to blame for what had occurred and that in killing you I might destroy a potentially powerful enemy of Granbretan. Though I remain neutral, Granbretan has done too much to offend me for me to let such a man die. Thus, we worked out this scheme in order to inform you of what we know and also to say that there is hope. I have the means of temporarily nullifying the power of the Black Jewel. When I have finished, you will accompany Bowgentle down to my chambers, where I will do what must be done. We have little time before the Lords of Granbretan lose patience and release the Jewel’s full life into your skull.”

Hawkmoon heard Count Brass’s footfalls leave the hall, and then Bowgentle smiled and said aloud, “So if you would care to accompany me, my lord, I will show you some parts of the castle you have not as yet visited. Few guests have seen Count Brass’s private chambers.”

Hawkmoon realized that these words were spoken for the benefit of the watchers in Granbretan. Doubtless Bowgentle was hoping to whet their curiosity and thus gain time.

Bowgentle led the way out of the main hall and into a passage that ended at what appeared to be a solid wall hung with tapestries. Pushing the tapestries aside, Bowgentle touched a small stud set in the stone of the wall, and immediately a section of it began to glow brightly and then faded, to reveal a portal through which, by stooping, a man could pass. Hawkmoon went through, followed by Bowgentle, and found himself in a small room, the walls hung with old charts and diagrams. This room was left and another entered, larger than the first. It contained a great mass of alchemical apparatus and was lined with bookshelves full of huge old volumes of chemistry, sorcery and philosophy.

“This way,” murmured Bowgentle, drawing aside a curtain to reveal a dark passage.

Hawkmoon’s eyes strained as he tried to peer through the darkness, but it was impossible. He stepped cautiously along the passage, and then it was suddenly alive with blinding white light.

Revealed in silhouette was the looming figure of Count Brass, a strangely wrought weapon in his hands pointed at Hawkmoon’s head.

Hawkmoon gasped and tried to leap aside, but the passage was too narrow. There was a crack that seemed to burst his eardrums, a weird, melodious humming sound, and he fell back, losing consciousness.

Awakening in golden half light, Hawkmoon had a sense of astonishing physical well-being. His whole mind and body felt alive as if it had never been alive before. He smiled and stretched. He was lying on a metal bench, alone. He reached up and touched his forehead. The Black Jewel was still there, but its texture had changed. No longer did it feel like flesh; no longer did it possess an unnatural warmth. Instead it felt like any ordinary jewel, hard and smooth and cold.

A door opened, and Count Brass entered, looking down at him with an expression of satisfaction.

“I am sorry if I alarmed you yesterday evening,” he said, “but I had to work rapidly, paralyzing the Black Jewel and capturing the life force in it. I now possess that life force, imprisoned by means both physical and sorcerous, but I cannot hold it for ever. It is too strong. At some time, it will escape and flow back into the jewel in your forehead, no matter where you are.”

“So I am reprieved but not saved,” Hawkmoon said. “How long does the reprieve last?”

“I am not sure. Six months, almost certainly—perhaps a year—perhaps two. But then again, it could be a matter of hours. I cannot deceive you, Dorian Hawkmoon, but I can give you extra hope. There is a sorcerer in the East who could remove the Black Jewel from your head. He is opposed to the Dark Empire and might help you if you could ever find him.”

“What is his name?”

“Malagigi of Hamadan.”

“Of Persia, then, this sorcerer?”

“Aye,” nodded Count Brass. “So far away as to be almost out of your reach.”

Hawkmoon sighed and sat up. “Well, then, I must hope your sorcery lasts long enough to sustain me for just a little while. I will leave your lands, Count Brass, and go to Valence to join the army there. It gathers against Granbretan and cannot win, but at least I will take a few of the King-Emperor’s dogs with me, by way of vengeance for all they did to me.”

Count Brass smiled wryly. “I give you back your life and you immediately decide to sacrifice it. I would suggest that you think for a while before you take any action of any kind. How do you feel, my lord Duke?”

Dorian Hawkmoon swung his legs off the bench and stretched again. “Awake,” he said, “a new man…” He frowned. “Aye—a new man…” he murmured thoughtfully. “And I agree with you, Count Brass. Vengeance can wait until a subtler scheme presents itself.”

“In saving you,” Count Brass said almost sadly, “I took away your youth. You will never know it again.”

Chapter Six

The Battle of Kamarg

“They spread neither to east nor west,” said Bowgentle one morning some two months later, “but carve their way directly south. There is no doubt, Count Brass, that they realize the truth and plan revenge upon you.”

“Perhaps their vengeance is directed at me,” Hawkmoon said from where he sat in a deep armchair on one side of the fire. “If I were to go to meet them, they might be satisfied. No doubt they think of me as a traitor.”

Count Brass shook his head. “If I know Baron Meliadus, he wants the blood of all of us now. He and his wolves lead the armies. They will not stop until they reach our boundaries.”

Von Villach turned from the window where he had been looking out over the town. “Let them come. We will blow them away as the mistral blows the leaves from the trees.”

“Let us hope so,” said Bowgentle doubtfully. “They have massed their forces. For the first time they seem to have ignored their usual tactics.”

“Aye, the fools,” muttered Count Brass. “I admired them for the way they spread out in a widening semi-circle. That way they could always strengthen their rear before advancing. Now they have unconquered territory on both flanks and enemy armies capable of closing off their rear. If we beat them, they’ll have a hard time retreating. Baron Meliadus’s vendetta against us robs him of his good sense.”

“But if they win,” Hawkmoon said softly, “they will have built a road from ocean to ocean, and their conquering will be the easier for that.”

“Possibly that is how Meliadus justifies his action,” Bowgentle agreed. “I fear he could be right in anticipating such an outcome.”

“Nonsense!” von Villach grumbled. “Our towers will resist Granbretan.”

“They were designed to withstand an attack from land,” Bowgentle pointed out. “We did not reckon for the aerial navies of the Dark Empire.”

“We have our own army of the air,” Count Brass said.

“The flamingoes are not made of metal,” Bowgentle replied.

Hawkmoon rose. He still wore the black leather doublet and breeches given him by Meliadus. The leather creaked as he moved. “Within a few weeks at most, the Dark Empire will be at our door,” he said. “What preparations must be made?”

Bowgentle tapped the large map he had rolled under his arm. “First, we should study this.”

Count Brass pointed. “Spread it on yonder table.”

As Bowgentle spread the map, using wine-cups to keep the edges down, Count Brass, von Villach, and Hawkmoon gathered round. The map showed Kamarg and the land surrounding it for some hundred miles.

“They are more or less following the river along its eastern bank,” Count Brass said, indicating the Rhone. “From what the messenger said, they should be here —” his finger touched the foothills of the Cevennes—“within a week. We must send out scouts and make sure we know their movements from moment to moment. Then, when they reach our borders, we must have our main force grouped at exactly the right position.”

“They might send in their ornithopters ahead,” Hawkmoon said. “What then?”

“We’ll have our own air scouts circling and be able to anticipate them,” von Villach growled. “And the towers will be able to deal with them if the air riders cannot.”

“Your actual forces are small,” Hawkmoon put in, “so you will be depending heavily on these towers, fighting an almost entirely defensive action.”

“That is all we shall need to do,” Count Brass told him. “We shall wait at our own borders, with ranks of infantry filling in the spaces between the towers, using heliographers and other signalers to direct the towers to where their power will be most needed.”

“We seek only to stop their attack on us,” Bowgentle said with a hint of sarcasm. “We have no intention of doing more than withstand them.”

Count Brass glanced at him and frowned. “Just so, Bowgentle. We should be fools to press an attack—our few against their many. Our only hope of survival is to depend on the towers and show the King-Emperor and his minions that Kamarg can resist anything he cares to try—whether open battle or long siege—attack from land, sea, or air. To expend men on warfare beyond our borders would be senseless.”

“And what say you, friend Hawkmoon?” Bowgentle asked. “You have had experience of battle with the Dark Empire.”

Hawkmoon paused, consulting the map. “I see the sense of Count Brass’s tactics. I have learned to my cost that any formal battle with Granbretan is out of the question. But it occurs to me that we could weigh the odds further to our advantage if we could pick our own battleground. Where are the defenses strongest?”

Von Villach pointed to an area south-east of the Rhone. “Here, where the towers are thickest and there is high ground where our men could group. At the same time, the ground over which the enemy would have to come is marshy in this season and would cause them some difficulty.” He shrugged. “But what point is there in such wishful discussion? They will pick the point of attack, not we.”

“Unless they could be driven there,” Hawkmoon said.

“What would drive them? A storm of knives?” Count Brass smiled.

“I would,” Hawkmoon told him. “With the aid of a couple of hundred mounted warriors—never engaging them in open battle, but constantly nibbling at their flanks, we could guide them, with luck, to that spot as your dogs drive your bulls. At the same time, we should have them always in sight and be able to send messages to you so that you would know at all times exactly where they were.”

Count Brass rubbed at his moustache and looked at Hawkmoon with some respect. “A tactician after my own heart. Perhaps I’m becoming overcautious, after all, in my old age. If I were younger, I might have conceived a similar scheme. It could work, Hawkmoon, with a great deal of luck.”

Von Villach cleared his throat. “Aye—luck and endurance. D’you realize what you’re taking on, lad? There’d be scant time for sleeping, you’d have to be on your guard at all hours. It’s a grueling task you’re considering. Would you be man enough for it? And could the soldiers you take stand it? Then there’s the flying machines to consider…”

“We’d only need to keep watch for their scouts,” Hawkmoon said, “for we’d strike and run before they could get their main force into the air. Your men know the terrain—know where to hide.”

Bowgentle pursed his lips. “There’s another consideration. The reason they’re following the river is to be near their water-carried supplies. They’re using the river to bear provisions, spare mounts, war engines, ornithopters—which is why they move so rapidly. How could they be induced to part company with their barges?”

Hawkmoon thought for a moment, then grinned. “Not too difficult a question to answer. Listen…”

Next day, Dorian Hawkmoon went riding across the wild marshland, the lady Yisselda at his side. They had spent much time together since his recovery, and he was deeply attached to her, though he seemed to show her little attention. Content enough to be near him, she was yet sometimes piqued that he made no demonstration of affection. She did not know that he wanted nothing more than to do so but that he felt a responsibility toward her that made him control his natural desire to court her. For he knew that at any moment of the night or day he might become in the space of a few minutes a mindless, shambling creature bereft of his humanity. He lived constantly in the knowledge that the Black Jewel’s power could burst the bonds Count Brass had cast around it and that shortly afterwards the Lords of Granbretan would give the Jewel its full life and it would eat his mind.

So he did not tell her that he loved her and that this love had first stirred his inner mind from its slumber and that because he saw this, Count Brass had spared his life. And she was, for her part, too shy to tell him of her love.

They rode together over the marshes, feeling the wind in their faces, tugging at their cloaks, galloping faster than was wise through the winding, hidden causeways through the lagoons and swamps, disturbing quail and duck, sending them squawking into the skies, coming upon herds of wild horses and stampeding them, alarming the white bulls and their wives, galloping to the long, lonely beaches where the cold surf spread, splashing through the spray, beneath the shadows of the watchful guard towers, laughing up at the lowering clouds, horses’ hoofs beating on the sand, and at length bringing their steeds to a halt to stare out to sea and shout above the song of the mistral.

“You leave tomorrow, Bowgentle tells me,” she called, and the wind dropped for a moment and all was suddenly still.

“Aye. Tomorrow.” He turned his sad face to her, then quickly turned away again. “Tomorrow. It will not be long before I return.”

“Do not be killed, Dorian.”

He laughed reassuringly. “It’s not my fate, I think, to be killed by Granbretan. If it were—I’d be dead several times over.”

She began to reply, but then the wind came roaring in again, catching her hair and curling it about her face. He leaned over to disentangle it, feeling her soft skin and wishing with all his heart that he could hold her face cupped in his hands and touch her lips with his. She reached up to grasp his wrist and keep his hand where it was, but he withdrew it gently, wheeled his horse, and began to ride inland, toward Castle Brass.

The clouds streamed across the sky, above the flattened reeds and the rippling water of the lagoons. A little rain fell, but hardly enough to dampen their shoulders. They rode back slowly, both lost in their own thoughts.

Clad in chain mail from throat to feet, a steel helm with nasals to protect head and face, a long, tapering broadsword at his side, a shield without insignia, Dorian Hawkmoon raised his hand to bring his men to a halt. The men bristled with weapons—bows, slings, some flame-lances, throwing axes, spears—anything that could be hurled from a distance. They were slung across their backs, over their pommels, tied to the sides of their horses, carried in their hands and at their belts. Hawkmoon dismounted and followed his outrider toward the crest of the hill, bending low and moving cautiously.

Reaching the top, he lay on his belly and looked down into the valley where the river wound. It was his first sight of the full might of Granbretan.

It was like a vast legion out of hell, moving slowly southward, battalion upon battalion of marching infantry, squadron after squadron of cavalry, every man masked so that it seemed that the entire animal kingdom marched against Kamarg. Tall banners sprouted from this throng, and metal standards swayed on long poles. There was the banner of Asrovak Mikosevaar, with its grinning, sword-wielding corpse on whose shoulder a vulture perched; beneath it were stitched the words DEATH TO LIFE! The tiny figure swaggering in his saddle close to this standard must be Asrovak Mikosevaar himself. Next to Baron Meliadus, he was the most ruthless of all the Warlords of Granbretan. Nearby was the cat standard of Duke Vendel, Grand Constable of that Order, the fly banner of Lord Jerek Nankenseen, and a hundred other similar flags of a hundred other Orders. Even the mantis banner was there, though the Grand Constable was absent—he was the King-Emperor Huon. But in the forefront rode the wolf-masked figure of Meliadus, carrying his own standard, the snarling figure of a rampant wolf; even his horse was caparisoned all in armour with fancifully wrought chamfron resembling the head of a gigantic wolf.

The ground shook, even at this distance, as the army moved on, and through the air came the jingle and clatter of its arms, the stench of sweat and of animals.

Hawkmoon did not look for long at the army proper. He concentrated on the river beyond, noting the vast numbers of heavily laden barges that lay side by side, so thick that they almost hid the water. He smiled and whispered to the scout at his side, “It suits our plan, you see? All their watercraft bunched together. Come, we must circle their army and get a good distance behind it.

They ran back down the hill. Hawkmoon climbed into his saddle and waved for his men to move on. Following him, they rode at speed, knowing there was little time to spare.

They rode for the best part of that day until the army of Granbretan was merely a cloud of dust to the south and the river was free of the Dark Empire’s ships. Here the Rhone narrowed and became shallow, running through an artificial watercourse of ancient stone, with a low stone bridge spanning it. The ground on one side was flat, and on the other it sloped gently down to form a valley.

Wading through this part of the river as evening came, Hawkmoon looked carefully at the stone banks, looked up at the bridge, and tested the nature of the river bed itself while water rushed around his legs, chilling them as it crept between the links of his mail stockings. The watercourse was in poor condition. It had been built before the Tragic Millennium and hardly repaired since. It had been used to divert the river for some reason. Now Hawkmoon intended to put it to a new use.

On the bank, waiting for his signal, were grouped his flame-lancers, holding their long, unwieldy weapons carefully. Hawkmoon climbed back to the bank and began pointing out certain spots on the bridge and the banks. The flame-lancers saluted and began to move in the directions he had indicated, raising their weapons. Hawkmoon stretched his arm toward the west, where the ground fell away, and called to them. They nodded.

As the sky darkened, red flame began to roar from the tapering snouts of the weapons, cut its way into stone, turned water into boiling steam, until all was heat and tumbling chaos.

Through the night, the flame-lances did their work; then suddenly there was a great groan and the bridge collapsed into the river in a great cloud of spray, sending scalding water in all directions. Now the flame-lancers turned their attention to the western bank, carving out blocks that tumbled down into the dammed river, which was beginning to spread out around the bridge that blocked it.

By morning, water rushed down a new course into the valley, and only a small stream flowed along the original bed.

Tired but satisfied, Hawkmoon and his men grinned at one another and mounted their horses, turning away in the direction whence they had come. They had struck their first blow against Granbretan. And it was an effective blow.

Hawkmoon and his soldiers rested in the hills for a few hours and then went to look at the Dark Empire’s army again.

Hawkmoon smiled as he lay beneath the cover of a bush and looked down into the valley at the scene of confusion there.

The river was now a morass of dark mud, and in it, like so many stranded whales, lay the battle barges of Granbretan, some with prows jutting high and sterns buried deep in the stuff of the river bed, some on their sides, some bow-first in the mud, some upside-down, war engines scattered, livestock in panic, provisions ruined. And wading among all this the soldiers attempted to haul the mud-encrusted cargoes to land, free horses from their entangling ropes and straps, and rescue sheep, pigs, and cows that struggled wildly in the morass.

There was a great noise of bellowing animals and shouting men. The uniform ranks that Hawkmoon had seen earlier were now broken. On the banks, proud cavalrymen were being forced to use their horses like dray animals to haul barges closer to firm ground. Elsewhere, camps had been erected as Meliadus had realized the impossibility of moving on until the cargoes were rescued. Although guards had been posted around the camps, their attention was on the river and not on the hills where Hawkmoon and his men waited.

It was coming close to dark, and since the ornithopters could not fly at night, Baron Meliadus would not know the exact reason for the river’s sudden drying up until the next day. Then, Hawkmoon reasoned, he would dispatch engineers upriver to try to put right the damage; but Hawkmoon was prepared for this.

Now it was time to ready his men. He crept back down to the depression in the hillside where his soldiers were bivouacked and began to confer with his captains. He had a particular objective in view, one he hoped might help demoralize the warriors of Granbretan.

Nightfall, and by the light of brands the men in the valley continued their work, manhandling the heavy war engines to the bank, dragging cases of provisions up the steep sides of the river bed. Meliadus, whose impatience to reach Kamarg allowed his men no rest, rode among the weary, sweating soldiers urging them on. Behind him, each great circle of tents surrounded the particular standard of its Order, but few of the tents were fully occupied since most of the forces were still at work.

No-one saw the approaching shapes of the mounted warriors whose horses walked softly down from the hills, each man swathed in a dark cloak.

Hawkmoon drew his horse to a halt, and his right hand went to his left side, where the fine sword Meliadus had given him was scabbarded. He swept the sword out, raised it for a moment, then pointed it forward. It was the signal to charge.

Without warcries, their only sound the thunder of their horses’ hoofs and the clank of their accoutrements, the Kamargians plunged forward, led by Hawkmoon, who leaned across his horse’s neck and made straight for a surprised guard. His sword took the man in the throat, and with a gurgling murmur the guard collapsed. Through the first of the tents they went, slashing at guy ropes, cutting down the few armed men who tried to stop them, and still the Granbretanians had no idea who attacked them. Hawkmoon reached the centre of the first circle, and his sword swung in a great arc as he chopped at the standard that stood there—the standard of the Order of the Hound. The pole cracked, groaned, and fell into a cooking fire, sending up a great shower of sparks.

Hawkmoon did not pause; he urged his horse on into the heart of the huge camp. On the riverbank there was no alarm, for the invaders could not be heard over the din the Granbretanians themselves made.

Three half-armoured swordsmen ran toward Hawkmoon. He yanked his horse sideways and swung his broadsword left and right, meeting their blades and striking one from its owner’s hand. The other two pressed in, but Hawkmoon chopped at a wrist, severing it. The remaining warrior backed away, and Hawkmoon lunged at him, his sword piercing the man’s breast.

The horse reared, and Hawkmoon fought to control it, forcing it through another line of tents, his men following. He broke out across an open space, to see his way blocked by a group of warriors dressed only in nightshirts and armed with swords and bucklers. Hawkmoon shouted an order to his horsemen, and they spread out to charge full tilt at the line, their swords held straight before them. Almost in a single movement they killed or knocked flying the line of warriors and were through into the next circle of tents, guy ropes twisting in the air as they were cut, tents collapsing upon their occupants.

At last, his sword glistening with blood, Hawkmoon fought his way to the centre of this circle, and there stood what he sought—the proud mantis banner of the Order of which the King-Emperor himself was Grand Constable. A band of warriors stood round it, pulling on helmets and adjusting their shields on their arms. Without waiting to see if his men followed, Hawkmoon thundered toward them with a wild yell. A shiver ran up his arm as his sword clanged against the shield of the nearest warrior, but he lifted it again, and the sword split the shield, gashing the face of the man behind it so that he reeled back, spitting blood from his ruined mouth. Another Hawkmoon took in the side, and another’s head was shorn off clean. His blade rose and fell like some relentless machine, and now his men joined him, pressing the warriors farther and farther back into a tighter and tighter ring about the mantis banner.

Hawkmoon’s mail was ripped by a sword-stroke, his shield was struck from his arm, but he fought on until only one man stood by the banner.

Hawkmoon grinned, leaned forward, tipped the man’s helmet off his head with a movement of his sword, and clove the skull in twain. Then he reached out and yanked the mantis banner from the earth, raised it high to display it to his cheering men, and turned his horse about, riding for the hills again, the steed leaping corpses and tangled tents with ease.

He heard a wounded warrior yell from behind him, “Did you see him? He has a black jewel embedded in his skull!”—and he knew that before long Baron Meliadus would understand who had raided his camp and stolen his army’s most precious standard.

Hawkmoon turned in the direction of the shout, shook the banner triumphantly, and laughed a wild, mocking laugh.

“Hawkmoon!” he cried. “Hawkmoon!” It was the age-old battleshout of his forefathers. It sprang unconsciously to his lips now, bidden by his will to let his great enemy Meliadus, the slayer of his kin, know who opposed him.

The coal-black stallion on which he rode reared up, red nostrils flaring, eyes glaring, was wheeled around on its hindlegs, and plunged through the confusion of the camp.

Behind them came mounted warriors, hastily riding in pursuit, goaded on by Hawkmoon’s infuriating laughter.

Hawkmoon and his men soon reached the hills again and headed for the secret encampment they had already prepared. Behind them blundered Meliadus’s men. Looking back, Hawkmoon saw that the scene on the dried-up riverbank had turned into even greater confusion. Torches moved hurriedly toward the camp.

Knowing the country as they did, Hawkmoon’s men had soon outdistanced their pursuers and at length come to a rocky hillside where they had camouflaged a cave entrance the previous day. Into this cave they now rode, dismounting and replacing the camouflage. The cave was large, and there were even larger caverns beyond it, big enough to take their whole force and stable their horses. A small stream ran through the farthest cave, which held provisions for several days. Other secret camps had been prepared all the way back to Kamarg.

Someone lit brands, and Hawkmoon dismounted, hefting the mantis standard and flinging it into a corner. He grinned at round-faced Pelaire, his chief lieutenant.

“Tomorrow Meliadus will send engineers back to our dam, once his ornithopters have reported. We must make sure they do not destroy our handiwork.”

Pelaire nodded. “Aye, but even if we slay one party, he’ll send another…”

Hawkmoon shrugged. “And another, doubtless—but I rely upon his impatience to reach Kamarg. At length he should realize the pointlessness in wasting time and men in trying to redivert the river. Then he will press on—and with luck, if we survive, we should be able to drive him south-east to our borders.”

Pelaire had begun to count the numbers of the returning warriors. Hawkmoon waited until he had finished, then asked, “What losses?”

Pelaire’s face was a mixture of elation and disbelief. “None, master—we have not lost a man!”

“A good omen,” Hawkmoon said, slapping Pelaire on the back. “Now we must rest, for we have a long ride in the morning.”

At dawn, the guard they had left at the entrance came back to report bad news.

“A flying machine,” he told Hawkmoon as the duke washed himself in the stream. “It has been circling above for the last ten minutes.”

“Do you think the pilot has guessed something—made out our tracks, perhaps?” Pelaire put in.

“Impossible,” Hawkmoon said, drying his face. “The rock would show nothing even to someone on the ground. We must bide our time—those ornithopters cannot remain airborne for long without returning to re-power.”

But an hour later the guard returned to say that a second ornithopter had arrived to replace the first. Hawkmoon bit his lip, then reached a decision. “Time is running out. Before the engineers can begin work we must get to the dam. We shall have to resort to a riskier plan than I’d hoped to use…”

Swiftly he drew one of his men aside and spoke to him; then he gave orders for two flame-lancers to come forward, and, last, he told the rest of his men to saddle their horses and be prepared to leave the cavern.

A little later, a single horseman rode out of the cavern entrance and began slowly to ride down the gentle, rocky slope.

Watching from the cave. Hawkmoon saw the sun glance off the body of the great, brazen flying machine as its mechanical wings flapped noisily in the air and it began to descend toward the lone man. Hawkmoon had counted on the pilot’s curiosity. Now he made a gesture with his hand, and the flame-lancers brought their long, unwieldy weapons up, their ruby coils already beginning to glow in readiness. The disadvantages of the flame-lance were that it could not be operated instantly and it often grew too hot to hold easily.

Now the ornithopter was circling lower and lower. The hidden flame-lancers raised their weapons. The pilot could be seen, leaning over his cockpit, crow-mask peering downward.

“Now,” murmured Hawkmoon.

As one, the red lines of flame left the tips of the lances. The first splashed against the side of the ornithopter and merely heated the armour a little. But the second struck the pilot’s body, which almost instantly began to flare. The pilot beat at his burning garments, and his hands left the delicate controls of the machine. The wings flapped erratically, and the ornithopter twisted in the air, keeled to one side, and plunged earthward with the pilot trying to bring the flying machine out of its dive. It struck a nearby hillside and crumpled to pieces, the wings still beating for an instant, the pilot’s broken body flung some yards away; then it burst apart with a strange smacking sound. It did not catch fire, but the pieces were scattered widely over the hillside. Hawkmoon did not understand the peculiarities of the power unit used for the ornithopters, but one of them was the manner in which it exploded.

Hawkmoon mounted the black stallion and signaled his men to follow him. Within moments they were galloping down the rocky slope of the hill, heading for the dam they had made the day before.

The winter’s day was bright and clear, and the air was exhilarating. They rode with some confidence, cheered by their success of last night. They slowed down, eventually, when the dam was close, saw the river flowing on its new course, watched from the top of the hill as a detachment of warriors and engineers inspected the broken bridge that successfully blocked the water from its earlier course, and then charged down, the mounted flame-lancers in the lead, leaning back in their stirrups while they operated their temperamental weapons.

Ten lines of fire poured toward the surprised Granbretanians, turning men into living brands that ran screaming for the water. Fire swept across the ranks of men in the masks of mole and badger and the protecting force in their vulture masks—Asrovak Mikosevaar’s mercenaries. Then Hawkmoon’s men had clashed with them, and the air rang with the clangour of their weapons. Bloody axes swung in the air, swords swept back and forth, men screamed in death agonies, horses snorted and whinnied with hoofs flailing.

Hawkmoon’s horse, protected by chain armour, staggered as a huge man swung a great double-bladed war-axe at it. The horse fell, dragging Hawkmoon down, its body trapping him. The vulture-masked axeman moved in, raising the weapon over Hawkmoon’s face. Hawkmoon pulled his arm from beneath the horse, and there was a sword in his hand that swept up just in time to take the main force of the blow. The horse was clambering to its feet again. Hawkmoon sprang up and grabbed its reins while at the same time protecting himself from the swinging axe.

Once, twice, thrice, the weapons met, until Hawkmoon’s sword arm ached. Then he slid his blade down the shaft and struck the axeman’s fists. Hawkmoon’s adversary let go of the weapon with one hand, a muffled oath coming from within the mask. Hawkmoon smashed his sword against the metal mask, denting it. The man groaned and staggered. Hawkmoon got both hands on the grip of the broadsword and brought the blade around to chop deep into the head again. The vulture mask split, and a bloodied face was revealed, the bearded mouth screaming for mercy. Hawkmoon’s eyes narrowed, for he loathed the mercenaries more than he loathed the Granbretanians. He delivered a third blow to the head, staving in all of one side so that the man waltzed backward, already dead, and crumpled against one of his fellows who was engaged with a Kamargian horseman.

Hawkmoon remounted and led his men against the last of the Vulture Legion, hacking and thrusting in a fever of bloodletting, until only the engineers, armed with short swords, remained. These presented little opposition and were shortly all slain, their bodies strewn across the dam and drifting down the river they had sought to redivert.

Pelaire glanced at Hawkmoon as they rode away toward the hills. “You have no mercy in you, captain!”

“Aye,” Hawkmoon replied distantly, “none. Man, woman, or child, if they be of or for Granbretan, they are my enemies to be slain.”

Eight of their number were dead. Considering the strength of the force they had destroyed, they had again known great luck. The Granbretanians were used to massacring their enemies, they were not used to being attacked in this manner. Perhaps this explained the few losses the men of Kamarg had suffered so far.

Four more expeditions Meliadus sent to destroy the dam, each expedition of increasing numbers. Each was destroyed in turn by sudden attacks from the horsemen of Kamarg, and of the original two hundred riders who followed Dorian Hawkmoon, nearly a hundred and fifty remained to carry out the second part of his plan and harry the armies of Granbretan so that they turned slowly, encumbered as they were by their land-borne war engines and supplies, toward the south-east.

Hawkmoon never afterward attacked by day, when the ornithopters circled the skies, but would creep in by night. His flame-lances burned scores of tents and their occupants, his arrows cut down dozen upon dozen of the men assigned to guard the tents and the warriors who went out by day to seek for the Kamargians’ secret camps. Swords scarcely dried before they were wetted again, axes became blunt with their deadly work, and heavy Kamarg spears were in short supply among their original owners. Hawkmoon and his men became haggard and red-eyed, hardly able to keep their saddles at times, often coming within a hairsbreadth of discovery by the ornithopters or search parties. They ensured that the road from the river was lined with Granbretanian corpses—and that that road was the one they chose for the Dark Empire forces to tread.

As Hawkmoon had guessed, Meliadus did not spend the time he should trying to seek out the guerilla riders. His impatience to reach Kamarg dominated even his great hatred for Hawkmoon, and doubtless he reasoned that once he had vanquished Kamarg there would be time enough to deal with Hawkmoon.

Once and only once they came close to confronting one another, as Hawkmoon and his riders moved among the tents and cooking fires, stabbing at random and preparing to leave, since dawn was close. Meliadus, mounted, came up with a group of his wolf cavalry, saw Hawkmoon butchering a couple of men entangled in a fallen tent, and charged toward him.

Hawkmoon looked up, raised his sword to meet Meliadus’s, and smiled grimly, pushing the sword gradually backward.

Meliadus grunted as Hawkmoon forced his arm farther and farther back.

“My thanks, Baron Meliadus,” said Hawkmoon. “The nurturing you gave me in Londra seems to have improved my strength…”

“Oh, Hawkmoon,” Meliadus replied, his voice soft but shaking with rage, “I know not how you escaped the power of the Black Jewel, but you will suffer a fate many thousand times greater than the one you have avoided when I take Kamarg and once again make you my prisoner.”

Suddenly Hawkmoon moved his blade in under the brass quillons of Meliadus’s sword, turned the point, and sent the other’s weapon spinning away. He raised the broadsword to strike, then realized that too many Granbretanians were coming up.

“Time to be away, Baron, I regret. I’ll remember your promise—when you’re my prisoner!”

He wheeled his horse about and, laughing, was away, leading his men out of the chaos that was the camp. With an angry motion of his hand, Meliadus dismounted to retrieve his sword. “Upstart!” he swore. “He’ll crawl at my feet before the month is past.”

The day came when Hawkmoon and his riders made no further attacks on Meliadus’s forces but galloped swiftly through the marshy ground that lay below the line of hills where Count Brass, Leopold von Villach, and their army awaited them. The tall, dark towers, almost as ancient as Kamarg itself, loomed over the scene, packed now with more than one guardian, snouts of bizarre weapons jutting from almost every slit.

Hawkmoon’s horse climbed the hill, approaching the solitary figure of Count Brass, who smiled with great warmth and relief when he recognized the young nobleman.

“I am glad I decided to let you live, Duke von Köln,” he said humorously. “You have done everything you planned—and kept the best part of your force alive. I’m not sure I could have done better myself, in my prime.”

“Thank you, Count Brass. Now we must prepare. Baron Meliadus is hardly half a day’s march behind us.”

Below him now, on the far side of the hill, he could see the Kamargian force, primarily infantry, drawn up.

At most a thousand men, they looked pitifully few compared with the vast weight of warriors marching to meet them. The Kamargians were outnumbered at least twenty to one, probably by twice that amount.

Count Brass saw Hawkmoon’s expression.

“Do not fear, lad. We have better weapons than swords with which to resist this invasion.”

Hawkmoon had been mistaken in thinking Granbretan would reach the borders in half a day. They had decided to camp before marching on, and it was not until noon of the following day that the Kamargians saw the force approach, moving over the flat plain in a spread-out formation. Each square of infantry and cavalry was made up of a particular Order, each member of the Order pledged to defend every other member whether that member was alive or dead. This system was part of Granbretan’s great strength, for it meant that no man ever retreated unless specifically ordered to do so by his Grand Constable.

Count Brass sat on his horse and watched the enemy approach. On one side of him was Dorian Hawkmoon, on the other Leopold von Villach. Here, it was Count Brass who would give the orders. Now the battle begins in earnest, thought Hawkmoon, and it was hard to see how they could win. Was Count Brass overconfident?

The mighty concourse of fighting men and machines came eventually to a halt about half a mile away; then two figures broke from the main body and began to ride toward the hill. As they came closer, Hawkmoon recognized the standard as that of Baron Meliadus and realized a moment later that one of the figures was Meliadus himself, riding with his herald. He held a bronze megaphone, symbolizing the wish for a peaceful parley.

“Surely he can’t wish to surrender—or expect us to,” von Villach said in a tone of disgruntlement.

“I would think not,” smiled Hawkmoon. “Doubtless this is one of his tricks. He is famous for them.”

Noting the quality of Hawkmoon’s smile, Count Brass counseled, “Be wary of that hatred, Dorian Hawkmoon. Do not let it possess your reason the way it possesses Meliadus’s.”

Hawkmoon stared straight in front of him and did not reply.

Now the herald lifted the heavy megaphone to his lips.

“I speak for Baron Meliadus, Grand Constable of the Order of the Wolf, First Chieftain of the Armies under the most noble King-Emperor Huon, ruler of Granbretan and destined ruler of all Europe.”

“Tell your master to lift his mask and speak for himself,” Count Brass called back.

“My master offers you honourable peace. If you surrender now, he promises that he will slay nobody and will merely appoint himself as Governor of your province in King Huon’s name, to see justice done and order brought to this unruly land. We offer you mercy. If you refuse, all Kamarg will be laid waste, everything shall be burned and the sea let in to flood what remains. The Baron Meliadus says that you well know it is in his power to do all this and that your resistance will be the cause of the deaths of your kin as well as yourselves.”

“Tell Baron Meliadus, who hides behind his mask, too abashed to speak since he knows that he is a graceless cur who has abused my hospitality and been beaten by me in a fair fight—tell your master that we may well be the death of him and all his kind. Tell him that he is a cowardly dog and a thousand of his ilk could not bring down one of our Kamarg bulls. Tell him that we sneer at his offer of peace as a trick—a deception that could be seen for what it is by a child. Tell him that we need no governor, that we govern ourselves to our own satisfaction. Tell him…”

Count Brass broke into a jeering laugh as Baron Meliadus angrily turned his horse about and, with the herald at his heels, galloped back toward his men.

They waited for a quarter of an hour, and then they saw the ornithopters rise into the air. Hawkmoon sighed. He had been defeated once by the flying machines. Would he be defeated for a second time?

Count Brass raised his sword in a signal, and there was a great flapping and snapping sound. Looking behind him, Hawkmoon saw the scarlet flamingoes sweeping upward, their graceful flight exceedingly beautiful in comparison with the clumsy motions of the metal ornithopters that parodied them. Soaring into the sky, the scarlet flamingoes, with their riders in their high saddles, each man armed with a flame-lance, wheeled toward the brazen ornithopters.

Gaining height, the flamingoes were in the better position, but it was hard to believe that they would be a match for the machines of metal, however clumsy. Red streamers of flame, hardly visible from this distance, struck the sides of the ornithopters, and one pilot was hit, killed almost instantly and falling from his machine. The pilotless ornithopter flapped on; then its wings folded behind it and it plunged downward, to land, birdlike, prow first, in the swamp below the hill. Hawkmoon saw an ornithopter fire its twin flame cannon at a flamingo and its rider, and the scarlet bird leaped in the air, somersaulted, and crashed to earth in a great shower of feathers. The air was hot and the flying machines noisy, but Count Brass’s attention was now on the Granbretanian cavalry, which was advancing toward the hill at a charge.

Count Brass made no movement at first; he merely watched the huge press of horsemen as they came nearer and nearer. Then he lifted his sword again, yelling: “Towers—open fire!”

The nozzles of some of the unfamiliar weapons turned toward the enemy riders, and there came a shrieking sound that Hawkmoon thought would split his head, but he saw nothing come from the weapons. Then he saw that the horses were rearing, just as they reached the swampland. Every one was bucking now, eyes rolling and foam flecking its lips. Riders were flung off until half the cavalry was crawling in the swamp, slipping on the treacherous mud, trying to control their animals.

Count Brass turned to Hawkmoon. “A weapon that emits an invisible beam down which sound travels. You heard a little of it—the horses experienced its full intensity.”

“Shall we charge them now?” Hawkmoon asked.

“No—no need. Wait, curb your impatience.”

The horses were falling, stiff and senseless. “It kills them, unfortunately, in the end,” Count Brass said.

Soon all the horses lay in the mud while their riders cursed and waded back to firm ground, standing there uncertainly.

Above them, flamingoes dived and circled around the ornithopters, making up in grace for what they lacked in power and strength. But many of the giant birds were falling—more than the ornithopters, with their clanking wings and whirring engines.

Great stones began to crash down near the towers.

“The war machines—they’re using their catapults,” von Villach growled. “Can’t we…?”

“Patience,” said Count Brass, apparently unperturbed.

Then a great wave of heat struck them, and they saw a huge funnel of crimson fire splash against the nearest tower. Hawkmoon pointed. “A fire cannon—the largest I’ve ever seen. It will destroy us all!”

Count Brass was riding for the tower under attack. They saw him leap from his horse and enter the building, which seemed doomed. Moments later the tower began to spin faster and faster, and Hawkmoon realized in astonishment that it was disappearing below the ground, the flame passing harmlessly over it. The cannon turned its attention to the next tower, and as it did so, this tower began to spin and retreat into the ground while the first tower whirled upward again, came to a halt, and let fire at the flame cannon with a weapon mounted on the battlements. This weapon shone green and purple and had a bell-shaped mouth. A series of round white objects flew from it and landed near the flame cannon. Hawkmoon could see them bouncing amongst the engineers who manned the weapon. Then his attention was diverted as an ornithopter crashed close by and he was forced to turn his horse and gallop along the crest of the hill until he was out of range of the exploding power unit. Von Villach joined him. “What are those things?” Hawkmoon asked, but von Villach shook his head, as puzzled as his comrade.

Then Hawkmoon saw that the white spheres had stopped bouncing and that the flame cannon no longer gouted fire. Also the hundred or so people near the cannon were no longer moving. Hawkmoon realized with a shock that they were frozen. More of the white spheres shot from the bell-shaped mouth of the weapon and bounced near the catapults and other war engines of Granbretan. Shortly, the crews of these were also frozen and rocks ceased to fall near the towers.

Count Brass left the tower he had entered and rode back to join them. He was grinning. “We have still other weapons to display to these fools,” he said.

“But can they fight such a weight of men?” Hawkmoon asked, for the infantry were now moving forward, their numbers so vast that it seemed not even the mightiest weapons could stop their advance.

“We shall see,” Count Brass replied, signaling to a lookout on a nearby tower. The air above them was black with fighting birds and machines, red traceries of fire criss-crossing the sky, pieces of metal and bloody feathers falling all around them. It was impossible to tell which side was winning.

The infantry was almost upon them when Count Brass waved his sword to the lookout and the tower turned wide-muzzled weapons toward the armies of Granbretan. Glass spheres, shimmering blue in the light, hurtled toward the advancing warriors and fell among them. Hawkmoon saw them break formation, begin to run about wildly, flailing at the air and ripping off the masks of their respective Orders.

“What has happened?” he asked Count Brass in amazement.

“The spheres contain a hallucinatory gas,” Count Brass told him. “It makes the men see dreadful visions,” Now he turned in his saddle and waved his sword to the waiting men below. They began to advance. “The time has come to meet Granbretan with ordinary weapons,” he said.

From the remaining ranks of infantry, arrows flew thickly toward them and flame-lances sent searing fire. Count Brass’s archers retaliated, and his flame-lancers also returned the attack. Arrows clattered on their armour. Several men fell. Others were struck down by the flame-lances. Through the chaos of fire and flying arrows, the infantry of Granbretan steadily advanced, in spite of depleted numbers. They paused when they came to the swampy ground, choked as it was with the bodies of their horses, and their officers furiously urged them on.

Count Brass ordered his herald forward, and the man approached, bearing the simple flag of his master—a red gauntlet on a white field.

The three men waited as the infantry broke ranks and began to clamber through the mud and over the corpses of the horses, struggling to reach the hill where the forces of Kamarg waited to meet them.

Hawkmoon saw Meliadus some distance in the rear and recognized the barbaric vulture-mask of Asrovak Mikosevaar as the Muskovian led his Vulture Legion on foot and was one of the first to cross the swamp and reach the slopes of the hill.

Hawkmoon trotted his horse forward a little so that he would be directly in the path of Mikosevaar when he approached.

He heard a bellow, and the vulture-mask glared at him with eyes of ruby. “Aha! Hawkmoon! The dog that has worried at us for so long! Now let’s see how you conduct yourself in a fair fight, traitor!”

“Call me not ‘traitor’,” Hawkmoon said angrily. “You sniffer of corpses!”

Mikosevaar hefted his great war axe in his armoured hands, bellowed again, and began to run toward Hawkmoon, who jumped from his horse and, with shield and broadsword, prepared to defend himself.

The axe, shod all in metal, thundered against the shield and sent Hawkmoon staggering back a pace. Another blow followed and split the top edge of the shield. Hawkmoon swung his sword around, and it struck Mikosevaar’s heavily armoured shoulder with a great ringing sound, sending up a shower of sparks. Both men held their ground, giving blow for blow as the battle raged around them. Hawkmoon glanced at von Villach and saw him engaged with Mygel Holst, Archduke of Londra, well-matched in age and strength, and Count Brass was ploughing through the lesser warriors, trying to seek out Meliadus, who had plainly decided to supervise the battle from a distance.

From their advantageous position, the Kamargians withstood the Dark Empire warriors, holding their line firm.

Hawkmoon’s shield was a ruin of jagged metal and useless. He flung it from his arm and seized his sword in both hands, swinging it to meet the blow Mikosevaar aimed at his head. The two men grunted with exertion as they manoeuvred about in the slippery earth of the hill, now jabbing to try to make the other lose his footing, now slashing suddenly at the legs or torso or battering from above or the side.

Hawkmoon was sweating heavily in his armour, and he grunted with effort. Then suddenly his foot slid from under him and he fell to one knee, Mikosevaar lumbering forward to raise his axe and decapitate his enemy. Hawkmoon flung himself flat, toward Mikosevaar, and grabbed at the man’s legs, pulling him down so that both men rolled over and over toward the swamp and the mounds of dead horses.

Punching and cursing, they came to a halt in the filth. Neither had lost his weapon, and now they stumbled to their feet, preparing to continue the fight. Hawkmoon braced himself against the body of a warhorse and swung at the Muskovian. The swing would have broken Mikosevaar’s neck had not he ducked, but it knocked the vulture helm from his head, revealing the white, bushy beard and glaring, insane eyes of the Muskovian, who brought his axe upward toward Hawkmoon’s belly and had the blow blocked by the sword whistling down.

Releasing his grip on the sword, Hawkmoon pushed with both hands at Mikosevaar’s chest, and the man fell backward. As he tried to scramble up, Hawkmoon took a fresh hold of his broadsword, raised it high, and plunged it at the Muskovian’s face. The man yelled. The blade rose and descended again. Asrovak Mikosevaar shrieked, and then the sound was suddenly cut off. Hawkmoon lost interest in the groaning thing at his feet and turned to see how the battle went.

It was hard to tell. Everywhere men were falling, and it seemed that the great majority were Granbretanians. The fight in the air was almost over, and only a few ornithopters circled the sky, while there seemed to be many more flamingoes.

Was it possible that Kamarg was winning?

Hawkmoon turned as two warriors of the Vulture Legion ran toward him. Recklessly he stooped to drag up the bloodied mask of Mikosevaar. He laughed at them. “Look! Your Grand Constable is slain—your warlord is destroyed!” The warriors hesitated, then backed away from Hawkmoon and began to run the way they had come. The Vulture Legion did not have the discipline of the other Orders.

Hawkmoon began to clamber wearily over the bodies of the dead horses, which were now liberally heaped with human corpses. The battle was thin in this area, but he could see von Villach on the hill, kicking the wounded body of Mygel Holst and roaring in triumph as he turned to deal with a group of Holst’s warriors who ran at him with spears. Von Villach seemed to need no aid. Hawkmoon began to run as best he could up to the top of the hill, to get a better idea of how the battle turned.

His broadsword was blooded thrice before he could reach his objective and look at the field. The huge army that Meliadus had brought against them was now scarcely a sixth of its former size, while the line of Kamagian warriors still held fast.

Half the banners of the warlords were down, and others were sorely beset. The tight formations of the Granbretanian infantry were largely broken, and Hawkmoon saw that the unprecedented was happening and that the Orders were becoming mixed together, thus throwing their members in confusion, since they were used to fighting side by side with their own brothers.

Hawkmoon saw Count Brass, still mounted, engaged with several swordsmen down the hill. He saw the standard of Meliadus some distance away. It was surrounded by men of the Order of the Wolf. Meliadus had protected himself well. Now Hawkmoon saw several of the commanders—Adaz Promp and Jerek Nankenseen among them—ride toward Meliadus. Evidently they wanted to retreat but must wait for Meliadus’s order to do so.

He could guess what the commanders told Meliadus—that the flower of their warriors was being destroyed, that such destruction was not worth suffering for the sake of one tiny province.

But no call came from the trumpets of the heralds who waited nearby. Meliadus was evidently resisting their pleas.

Von Villach came up, riding a borrowed horse. He pushed back his helm and grinned at Hawkmoon. “We’re beating them, I think,” he said. “Where is Count Brass?”

Hawkmoon pointed. “He is making good account,” he smiled. “Should we hold steady or begin to advance—we could if we wished it. I think the Granbretanian warlords are faltering and want to retreat. A push now, and it might make up their minds for them.”

Von Villach nodded. “I’ll send a messenger down to the count. He must decide.”

He turned to a horseman and muttered a few words to him. The man began to race down the hillside, through the confusion of embattled warriors.

Hawkmoon saw him reach the count, saw Count Brass glance up and wave to them, wheel his horse, and begin to return.

Within ten minutes, Count Brass had managed to regain the hill. “Five warlords I slew,” he said with a satisfied air. “But Meliadus slunk away.”

Hawkmoon repeated what he had said to von Villach, Count Brass agreed with the sense of the plan, and soon the Kamarg infantry began to advance steadily, pushing the Granbretanians down the hill before them.

Hawkmoon found a fresh horse and led the advance, yelling wildly as he chopped about him, striking heads from necks, limbs from torsos, like apples from the bough. His body was covered from head to foot in the blood of the slain. His mail was ragged and threatening to fall from him. His whole chest was a mass of bruises and minor cuts, his arm bled, and his leg ached horribly, but he ignored it all as the bloodlust seized him and he killed man after man.

Riding beside him, von Villach said in a moment of comparative peace, “You seem decided to kill more of the dogs than the rest of our army put together.”

“I would not cease if the blood of Granbretan filled this whole plain,” Hawkmoon replied grimly. “I would not cease until everything that lived of Granbretan was destroyed.”

“Your bloodlust matches theirs,” von Villach said ironically.

“Mine is greater,” Hawkmoon called, driving forward, “for half theirs is sport.”

And, butchering, on he rode.

At last it seemed that his commanders convinced him, for Meliadus’s trumpets shouted the retreat and the survivors broke away from the Kamargians and began to run.

Hawkmoon struck down several who threw away their weapons in attitudes of surrender. “I do not care for living Granbretanians,” he said once as he stabbed a man who had ripped his mask from his young face and begged for mercy.

But at length even Hawkmoon’s bitterness was satiated for a while, and he drew up his horse beside those of Count Brass and von Villach and watched as the Granbretanians re-formed their ranks and began to march away.

Hawkmoon thought he heard a great scream of rage rise from the retreating army, thought he recognized the vengeful sound as that of Meliadus, and he smiled.

“We shall see Meliadus again,” he said.

Count Brass nodded agreement. “He has found Kamarg invincible to attack by his armies, and he knows that we are too clever to be deceived by his treachery, but he will find some other way. Soon all the lands about Kamarg will belong to the Dark Empire and we shall have to be on our guard the whole time.”

When they returned to Castle Brass that night, Bowgentle spoke to the count. “Now do you realize that Granbretan is insane—a cancer that will infect history and will set it on a course that will not only lead to the destruction of the entire human race, but will ultimately result in the destruction of every intelligent or potentially intelligent creature in the universe?”

Count Brass smiled. “You are exaggerating, Bowgentle. How could you know so much?”

“Because it is my calling to understand the forces that go to work to make up what we call destiny. I tell you again, Count Brass, the Dark Empire will infect the universe unless it is checked on this planet—and preferably on this continent.”

Hawkmoon sat with his legs stretched out before him, doing his best to work the ache from his muscles. “I have no understanding of the philosophical principles you base your beliefs upon, Sir Bowgentle,” he said, “but instinctively I know you to be right. All we think we see is an implacable enemy that means to rule the world—there have been other races like them in the past—but there is something different about the Dark Empire. Forget you not, Count Brass, that I spent time in Londra and was witness to many of their more excessive insanities. You have seen only their armies, which, like most armies, fight fiercely and to win, using conventional tactics because they are the best. But there is little conventional about the King-Emperor, immortal corpse that he is, in his Throne Globe; little conventional about the secret way they have with one another, the sense of insanity that underlies the mood of the entire city…”

“You think we have not, then, witnessed the worst of what they can do?” Count Brass asked seriously.

“That is what I think,” Hawkmoon said. “It is not only the need for vengeance that makes me slay them as I do—it is a deeper thing within me that sees them as a threat to the forces of Life itself.”

Count Brass sighed. “Perhaps you are right, I do not know. Only the Runestaff could prove you right or wrong.”

Hawkmoon got up stiffly. “I have not seen Yisselda since we returned,” he said.

“She went to her bed early, I think,” Bowgentle told him.

Hawkmoon was disappointed. He had looked forward to her welcome. Had wanted to tell her personally of his victories. It surprised him that she had not been there to greet him.

He shrugged. “Well, I think I’ll to mine,” he said. “Good night, gentlemen.”

They had spoken little of their triumph since returning. Now they were experiencing the reaction of their day’s work, and it all seemed a trifle remote, though tomorrow, doubtless, they would celebrate.

When he reached his room it was in darkness, but Hawkmoon sensed something odd and drew his sword before fumbling his way to a table and turning up the lamp that stood there.

Someone lay on his bed, smiling at him. It was Yisselda.

“I heard of your exploits,” said she, “and wanted to give you a private welcome. You are a great hero, Dorian.”

Hawkmoon felt his breathing become more rapid, felt his heart begin to pound. “Oh, Yisselda…”

Slowly, step by step, he advanced toward the prone girl, his conscience in conflict with his desire.

“You love me, Dorian, I know,” she said softly. “Do you deny it?”

He could not. He spoke thickly. “You… are… very… bold…” he said, trying to smile.

“Aye—for you seem extraordinarily shy. I am not immodest.”

“I—I am not shy, Yisselda. But no good could come of this. I am doomed—the Black Jewel…”

“What is the Jewel?”

Hesitantly, he told her everything, told her that he did not know how many months Count Brass’s sorcerous chains could hold the life force of the Jewel, told her that when its power was released, the Lords of the Dark Empire would be able to destroy his mind.

“So you see—you must not become attached to me… It would be worse if you did.”

“But this Malagigi—why do you not seek his aid?”

“The journey would take months. I might waste my remaining time on a fruitless quest.”

“If you loved me,” she said as he sat down on the bed beside her and took her hand, “you would risk that.”

“Aye,” he said thoughtfully. “I would. Perhaps you are right…”

She reached up and drew his face toward hers, kissing his lips. The gesture was artless but full of sweetness.

Now he could not restrain himself. He kissed her passionately, held her close. “I will go to Persia,” he said at length, “though the way will be perilous, for once I leave the safety of Kamarg, Meliadus’s forces will seek me out…”

“You will come back,” she said with conviction. “I know you will come back. My love will draw you to me.”

“And mine to you?” He stroked her face gently. “Aye—that could be so.”

“Tomorrow,” she said. “Leave tomorrow and waste no time. Tonight…”

She kissed him again, and he returned her passion fiercely.

Series: Celebrating Michael Moorcock

The Jewel in the Skull, Chapters Three and Four

Chapter Three

The Black Jewel

Next morning, Dorian Hawkmoon was taken to see Baron Kalan again. The serpent mask seemed to bear an almost cynical expression as it regarded him, but the baron said hardly a word, merely led him through a series of rooms and halls until they reached a room with a door of plain steel. This was opened, to reveal a similar door that, when opened, revealed a third door. This led into a small, blindingly lighted chamber of white metal that contained a machine of intense beauty. It consisted almost entirely of delicate red, gold, and silver webs, strands of which brushed Hawkmoon’s face and had the warmth and vitality of human skin. Faint music came from the webs, which moved as if in a breeze.

“It seems alive,” said Hawkmoon.

“It is alive,” Baron Kalan whispered proudly. “It is alive.”

[“Is it a beast?”]

Series: Celebrating Michael Moorcock

The Jewel in the Skull, Part Two: Chapters One and Two

Those who dare swear by the Runestaff must then benefit or suffer from the consequences of the fixed pattern of destiny that they set in motion. Some several such oaths have been sworn in the history of the Runestaff’s existence, but none with such vast and terrible results as the mighty oath of vengeance sworn by the Baron Meliadus of Kroiden the year before that aspect of the Champion Eternal, Dorian Hawkmoon von Köln, entered into the pages of this ancient narrative.

— The High History of the Runestaff

Chapter One

Dorian Hawkmoon

Baron Meliadus returned to Londra, gloomy-towered capital of the Dark Empire, and brooded for almost a year before he settled on his plan. Other affairs of Granbretan occupied him in that time. There were rebellions to put down, examples to be made of newly conquered towns, fresh battles to be planned and fought, puppet governors to be interviewed and placed in power.

Baron Meliadus fulfilled all these responsibilities faithfully and with imagination, but his passion for Yisselda and his hatred of Count Brass were never far from his thoughts. Although he had suffered no ignominy for his failure to win the count to Granbretan’s cause, he still felt thwarted. Besides, he was constantly finding problems in which the count could have helped him easily. Whenever such a problem arose, Baron Meliadus’s brain became clogged with a dozen different schemes of revenge, but none seemed suited to do everything he required. He must have Yisselda, he must get the count’s aid in the affairs of Europe, he must destroy Kamarg as he had sworn. They were incompatible ambitions.

In his tall tower of obsidian, overlooking the blood-red River Tayme where barges of bronze and ebony carried cargo from the coast, Baron Meliadus paced his cluttered study with its tapestries of time-faded browns, blacks, and blues, its orreries of precious metal and gemstones, its globes and astrolabes of beaten iron and brass and silver, its furniture of dark, polished wood, and its carpets of deep pile the colours of leaves in autumn.

Around him, on all the walls, on every shelf, in every angle, were his clocks. All were in perfect synchronization, and all struck on the quarter, half, and full hour, many with musical effects. They were of various shapes and sizes, in cases of metal, wood, or certain other, less recognizable substances. They were ornately carved, to the extent, sometimes, that it was virtually impossible to tell the time from them. They had been collected from many parts of Europe and the Near East, the spoils of a score of conquered provinces. They were what Baron Meliadus loved most among his many possessions. Not only this study, but every room in the great tower, was full of clocks. There was a huge four-faced clock in bronze, onyx, gold, silver, and platinum at the very top of the tower, and when its great bells were struck by life-size figures of naked girls holding hammers, all Londra echoed with the din. The clocks rivaled in variety those of Meliadus’s brother-in-law, Taragorm, Master of the Palace of Time, whom Meliadus loathed with a deep attachment as rival for his strange sister’s perverse and whimful affections.

Baron Meliadus ceased his pacing and picked up a piece of parchment from his desk. It contained the latest information from the province of Köln, a province that, nearly two years previously, Meliadus had made an example of. It seemed now that too much had been done, for the son of the old Duke of Köln (whom Meliadus had personally disemboweled in the public square of the capital) had raised an army of rebellion and almost succeeded in crushing the occupying forces of Granbretan. Had not speedy reinforcements, in the shape of ornithopters armed with long-range flame-lances, been sent, Köln might have been temporarily taken from the Dark Empire.

But the ornithopters had demolished the forces of the young duke, and he had been made prisoner. He was due soon to arrive in Londra to pleasure the nobles of Granbretan with his sufferings. Here again was a situation where Count Brass might have helped, for before he showed himself in open rebellion, the Duke of Köln had offered himself as a mercenary commander to the Dark Empire and had been accepted, had fought well in the service of Granbretan, at Nürnberg and Ulm, winning the confidence of the empire, gaining command of a force comprised mainly of soldiers who had once served his father, then turning with them and marching back to Köln to attack the province.

Baron Meliadus frowned, for the young duke had provided an example that others might now follow. Already he was a hero in the German provinces, by all accounts. Few dared oppose the Dark Empire as he had done.

If only Count Brass had agreed…

Suddenly Baron Meliadus began to smile, a scheme seeming to spring instantly and complete into his mind. Perhaps the young Duke of Köln could be used in some way, other than in the entertainment of his peers.

Baron Meliadus put down the parchment and pulled at a bellrope. A girl-slave entered, her naked body rouged all over, and fell on her knees to receive his instructions. (All the baron’s slaves were female; he allowed no men into his tower for fear of treachery.) “Take a message to the master of the prison catacombs,” he told the girl. “Tell him that Baron Meliadus would interview the prisoner Dorian Hawkmoon von Köln as soon as he arrives there.”

“Yes, master.” The girl rose and backed from the room, leaving Baron Meliadus staring from his window at the river, a faint smile on his full lips.

Dorian Hawkmoon, bound in chains of gilded iron (as befitted his station in the eyes of the Granbretanians), stumbled down the gangplank from barge to quay, blinking in the evening light and staring around him at the huge, menacing towers of Londra. If he had never before needed proof of the congenital insanity of the inhabitants of the Dark Island, he had, to his mind, full evidence now. There was something unnatural about every line of the architecture, every choice of colour and carving. And yet there was also a sense of great strength about it, of purpose and intelligence. No wonder, he thought, it was hard to fathom the psychology of the people of the Dark Empire, when so much of them was paradox.

A guard, in white leather and wearing the white metal death’s-head mask that was uniform to the Order he served, pushed him gently forward. Hawkmoon staggered in spite of the lightness of the pressure, for he had not eaten for almost a week. His brain was at once clouded and abstracted; he was hardly aware of the significance of his circumstances. Since his capture at the Battle of Köln, no-one had spoken to him. He had lain most of the time in the darkness of the ship’s bilges, drinking occasionally from the trough of dirty water that had been fixed beside him. He was unshaven, his eyes were glazed, his long, fair hair was matted, and his torn mail and breeches were covered in filth. The chains had chafed his skin so that red sores were prominent on his neck and wrists, but he felt no pain. Indeed, he felt little of anything, moved like a sleepwalker, saw everything as if in a dream.

He took two steps along the quartz quay, staggered, and fell to one knee. The guards, now on either side of him, pulled him up and supported him as he approached a black wall that loomed over the quay. There was a small barred door in the wall, and two soldiers, in ruby-coloured pig masks, stood on either side of it. The Order of the Pig controlled the prisons of Londra. The guards spoke a few words to each other in the grunting secret language of their Order, and one of them laughed, grabbing Hawkmoon’s arm, saying nothing to the prisoner but pushing him forward as the other guard swung the barred door inward.

The interior was dark. The door closed behind Hawkmoon, and for a few moments he was alone. Then, in the dim light from the door, he saw a mask; a pig mask, but more elaborate than those of the guards outside. Another similar mask appeared, and then another. Hawkmoon was seized and led through the foul-smelling darkness, led down into the prison catacombs of the Dark Empire, knowing, with little emotion, that his life was over.

At last he heard another door open. He was pushed into a tiny chamber; then he heard the door close and a beam fall into place.

The air in the dungeon was foetid, and there was a film of foulness on flagstones and wall. Hawkmoon lay against the wall and then slid gradually to the floor. Whether he fainted or fell asleep, he could not tell, but his eyes closed and oblivion came.

A week before, he had been the Hero of Köln, a champion against the aggressors, a man of grace and sardonic wit, a warrior of skill. Now, as a matter of course, the men of Granbretan had turned him into an animal — an animal with little will to live. A lesser man might have clung grimly to his humanity, fed from his hatred, schemed escape; but Hawkmoon, having lost all, wanted nothing.

Perhaps he would awake from his trance. If he did, he would be a different man from the one who had fought with such insolent courage at the Battle of Köln.

Chapter Two

The Bargain

Torchlight and the glinting of beast-masks; sneering pig and snarling wolf, red metal and black; mocking eyes, diamond white and sapphire blue. The heavy rustle of cloaks and the sound of whispered conversation.

Hawkmoon sighed weakly and closed his eyes, then opened them again as footsteps came nearer and the wolf bent over him, holding the torch close to his face. The heat was uncomfortable, but Hawkmoon made no effort to move away from it.

Wolf straightened and spoke to pig.

“Pointless speaking to him now. Feed him, wash him. Restore his intelligence a little.”

Pig and wolf left, closing the door. Hawkmoon closed his eyes.

When he next awoke, he was being carried through corridors by the light of brands. He was taken into a room lighted by lamps. There was a bed covered in rich furs and silks, food laid out on a carved table, a bath of some shimmering orange metal, full of steaming water, two girl-slaves in attendance.

The chains were stripped from him, then the clothes; then he was picked up again and lowered into the water. It stung his skin as the slaves began to lave him, while a man entered with a razor and began to trim his hair and shave his beard. All this Hawkmoon took passively, staring at the mosaic ceiling with blank eyes. He allowed himself to be dressed in fine, soft linen, with a shirt of silk and breeches of velvet, and gradually, a dim feeling of well-being overcame him. But when they first sat him at the table and pushed fruit into his mouth, his stomach contracted and he retched. So they gave him a little drugged milk, then put him on the bed and left him, save for one slave at the door, watching over him.

Some days passed, and gradually Hawkmoon began to eat, began to appreciate the luxury of his existence. There were books in the room, and the women were his, but he still had little inclination to sample either.

Hawkmoon, whose mind had gone to sleep so soon after his capture, took a long time to awaken, and when at length he did, it was to remember his past life as a dream. He opened a book one day, and the letters looked strange, though he could read them well enough. It was simply that he saw no point in them, no importance in the words and sentences they formed, though the book had been written by a scholar once his favourite philosopher. He shrugged and dropped the book onto a table. One of the girl-slaves, seeing this action, pressed herself against his body and stroked his cheek. Gently, he pushed her aside and went to the bed, lying down with his hands behind his head.

At length, he said, “Why am I here?”

They were the first words he had spoken.

“Oh, my lord Duke, I know not — save that you seem an honoured prisoner.”

“A game, I suppose, before the Lords of Granbretan have their sport with me?” Hawkmoon spoke without emotion. His voice was flat but deep. Even the words seemed strange to him as he spoke them. He looked out from his inward-turned eyes at the girl, and she trembled. She had long, blonde hair and was well-shaped; a girl from Scandia by her accent.

“I know nothing, my lord, only that I must please you in any way you desire.”

Hawkmoon nodded slightly and glanced about the room. “They prepare me for some torture or display, I would guess,” he said to himself.

The room had no windows, but by the quality of the air Hawkmoon judged that they were still underground, probably in the prison catacombs somewhere. He measured the passing of time by the lamps; they seemed to be filled about once a day. He stayed in the room for a fortnight or so before he again saw the wolf who had visited him in his cell.

The door opened without ceremony, and in stepped the tall figure, dressed in black leather from head to foot, with a long sword (black-hilted) in a black leather scabbard. The black wolf mask hid the whole head. From it issued the rich, musical voice he had only half-heard before.

“So, our prisoner seems restored to his former wit and fitness.”

The two girl-slaves bowed and withdrew. Hawkmoon rose from the bed on which he had lain most of the time since his arrival. He swung his body off the bed and got to his feet.

“Good. Quite fit, Duke von Köln?”

“Aye.” Hawkmoon’s voice contained no inflection. He yawned unselfconsciously, decided there was little point in standing after all, and resumed his former position on the bed.

“I take it that you know me,” said the wolf, a hint of impatience in his voice.

“No.”

“You have not guessed?”

Hawkmoon made no reply.

The wolf moved across the room and stood by the table, which had a huge crystal bowl of fruit on it. His gloved hand picked up a pomegranate, and the wolf-mask bent as if inspecting it. “You are fully recovered, my lord?”

“It would seem so,” answered Hawkmoon. “I have a great sense of well-being. All my needs are attended to, as, I believe, you ordered. And now, I presume, you intend to make some sport with me?”

“That does not seem to disturb you.”

Hawkmoon shrugged. “It will end eventually.”

“It could last a lifetime. We of Granbretan are inventive.”

“A lifetime is not so long.”

“As it happens,” the wolf told him, tossing the fruit from hand to hand, “we were thinking of sparing you the discomfort.”

Hawkmoon’s face showed no expression.

“You are very self-contained, my lord Duke,” the wolf continued. “Strangely so, since you live only because of the whim of your enemies — those same enemies who slew your father so disgracefully.”

Hawkmoon’s brows contracted as if in faint recollection. “I remember that,” he said vaguely. “My father. The old Duke.”

The wolf threw the pomegranate to the floor and raised the mask. The handsome, black-bearded features were revealed. “It was I, Baron Meliadus of Kroiden, who slew him.” There was a goading smile on the full lips.

“Baron Meliadus…? Ah… who slew him?”

“All the manliness has gone from you, my lord,” Baron Meliadus murmured. “Or do you seek to deceive us in the hope that you may turn traitor upon us again?”

Hawkmoon pursed his lips. “I am tired,” he said.

Meliadus’s eyes were puzzled and almost angry. “I killed your father!”

“So you said.”

“Well!” Disconcerted, Meliadus turned away and paced toward the door, then wheeled around again. “That is not what I came here to discuss. It seems, however, strange that you should profess no hatred or wish for vengeance against me.”

Hawkmoon himself began to feel bored, wishing that Meliadus would leave him in peace. The man’s tense manner and his half-hysterical expressions discomfited him rather as the buzzing of a mosquito could be distracting to a man wishing to sleep.

“I feel nothing,” Hawkmoon replied, hoping that this would satisfy the intruder.

“You have no spirit left!” Meliadus exclaimed angrily. “No spirit! Defeat and capture have robbed you of it!”

“Perhaps. Now, I am tired…”

“I came to offer you the return of your lands,” Meliadus went on. “An entirely autonomous state within our empire. More than we have ever offered a conquered land before.”

Now just a trace of curiosity stirred in Hawkmoon. “Why is that?” he said.

“We wish to strike a bargain with you — to our mutual benefit. We need a man who is crafty and war skilled, as you are —” Baron Meliadus frowned in doubt — “or seemed to be. And we need someone who would be trusted by those who do not trust Granbretan.” This was not at all the way Meliadus had intended to present the bargain, but Hawkmoon’s strange lack of emotion had disconcerted him. “We wish you to perform an errand for us. In return — your lands.”

“I would like to go home,” Hawkmoon nodded. “The meadows of my childhood…” He smiled in reminiscence.

Shocked by a display of what he mistook for sentimentality, Baron Meliadus snapped, “What you do when you return — whether you make daisy chains or build castles — is of no interest to us. You will return, however, only if you perform your mission faithfully.”

Hawkmoon’s introverted eyes glanced up at Meliadus. “You think I have lost my reason, perhaps, my lord?”

“I’m not sure. We have means of discovering that. Our sorcerer-scientists will make certain tests…”

“I am sane, Baron Meliadus. Saner, maybe, than I ever was. You have nothing to fear from me.”

Baron Meliadus raised his eyes to the ceiling. “By the Runestaff, will no-one take sides?” He opened the door. “We will find out about you, Duke von Köln. You will be sent for later today!”

After Baron Meliadus had left, Hawkmoon continued to lie on the bed. The interview was quickly gone from his mind and only half-remembered when, in two or three hours, pig-masked guards entered the chamber and told him to accompany them.

Hawkmoon was led through many passages, marching steadily upward until they reached a great iron door. One of the guards banged on it with the butt of his flame-lance, and it creaked open to admit fresh air and daylight. Waiting beyond the door was a detachment of guards in purple armour and cloaks, with the purple masks of the Order of the Bull covering their faces. Hawkmoon was handed over to them and, looking about him, saw that he stood in a wide courtyard that but for a gravel path was covered by a fine lawn. A high wall, in which was set a narrow gate, surrounded the lawn, and on it paced guards of the Order of the Pig. Behind the wall jutted the gloomy towers of the city.

Hawkmoon was guided along the path to the gate, through the gate, and into a narrow street where a carriage of gilded ebony, fashioned in the shape of a two-headed horse, awaited him. Into this he climbed, accompanied by two silent guards. The carriage began to move. Through a chink in its curtains, Hawkmoon saw the towers as they passed. It was sunset, and a lurid light suffused the city.

Eventually the carriage stopped. Hawkmoon passively allowed the guards to lead him out of it and saw at once that he had come to the palace of the King-Emperor Huon.

The palace rose, tier upon tier, almost out of sight. Four great towers surmounted it, and these towers glowed with a deep golden light. The palace was decorated with bas-reliefs depicting strange rites, battle scenes, famous episodes in Granbretan’s long history, gargoyles, figurines, abstract shapes — the whole a grotesque and fantastic structure that had been built over centuries. Every kind of building material had been used in its construction and then coloured, so that the building shone with a mixture of shades covering the entire spectrum. And there was no order to the placing of the colour, no attempt to match or contrast. One colour flowed into the next, straining the eye, offending the brain. The palace of a madman, overshadowing, in its impression of insanity, the rest of the city.

At its gates yet another set of guards awaited Hawkmoon. These were garbed in the masks and armour of the Order of the Mantis, the Order to which King Huon himself belonged. Their elaborate insect masks were covered in jewels, with antennae of platinum wire and eyes faceted with a score or more of different gemstones. The men had long, thin legs and arms and slender bodies encased in insectlike plate armour of black, gold, and green. When they spoke their secret language to each other, it was the rustle and click of insect voices.

For the first time, Hawkmoon felt disturbed as these guards led him into the lower passages of the palace, the walls of which were of deep scarlet metal that reflected distorted images as they moved.

At last they entered a large, high-ceilinged hall whose dark walls were veined, like marble, with white, green, and pink. But these veins moved constantly, flickering and changing course the length and breadth of the walls and ceiling.

The floor of the hall, which was the best part of a quarter of a mile long and almost as wide, was filled at intervals by devices that Hawkmoon took to be machines of some description, though he could not understand their function. Like everything he had seen since arriving in Londra, these machines were ornate, much decorated, built from precious metals and semiprecious stones. There were instruments set into them unlike anything he knew, and many of the instruments were active, registering, counting, measuring, tended by men who wore the serpent masks of the Order of the Snake — the Order that consisted solely of sorcerers and scientists in the service of the King-Emperor. They were shrouded in mottled cloaks with cowls half-drawn over their heads.

Down the central aisle a figure paced toward Hawkmoon, waving to the guards to dismiss.

Hawkmoon judged this man high in the Order, for his serpent mask was much more ornate than those of the others. He might even be the Grand Constable, by his bearing and general demeanour.

“My lord Duke, greetings.”

Hawkmoon acknowledged the bow with a slight one of his own, many of the habits of his former life still being with him.

“I am Baron Kalan of Vitall, Chief Scientist to the King-Emperor. You are to be my guest for a day or so, I understand. Welcome to my apartments and laboratories.”

“Thank you. What do you wish me to do?” Hawkmoon asked abstractedly.

“First, I hope you will dine with me.”

Baron Kalan signaled graciously for Hawkmoon to precede him, and they walked the length of the hall, passing many peculiar constructions, until they arrived at a door that led to what were obviously the baron’s private apartments. A meal was already laid. It was comparatively simple, judged against what Hawkmoon had been eating over the past fortnight, but it was well cooked and tasty. When they had finished, Baron Kalan, who had already removed his mask to reveal a pale, middle-aged face with a wispy white beard and thinning hair, poured wine for them both. They had scarcely spoken during the meal.

Hawkmoon tasted the wine. It was excellent.

“My own invention, the wine,” said Kalan, and smirked.

“It is unfamiliar,” Hawkmoon admitted. “What grape…?”

“No grape — but grain. A somewhat different process.”

“It is strong.”

“Stronger than most wines,” agreed the baron. “Now, Duke, you know that I have been commissioned to establish your sanity, judge your temperament, and decide whether you are fit to serve His Majesty the King-Emperor Huon.”

“I believe that is what Baron Meliadus told me.” Hawkmoon smiled faintly. “I will be interested in learning your observations.”

“Hmm…” Baron Kalan looked closely at Hawkmoon. “I can see why I was asked to entertain you. I must say that you appear to be rational.”

“Thank you.” Under the influence of the strange wine, Hawkmoon was rediscovering some of his former irony.

Baron Kalan rubbed at his face and coughed a dry, barely heard cough for some several moments. His manner had contained a certain nervousness since he removed the mask. Hawkmoon had already noticed how the people of Granbretan preferred to keep their masks on most of the time. Now Kalan reached toward the extravagant snake mask and placed it over his head. The coughing stopped immediately, and the man’s body relaxed visibly. Although Hawkmoon had heard that it was a breach of Granbretanian etiquette to retain one’s mask when entertaining a guest of noble station, he affected to show no surprise at the baron’s action.

“Ah, my lord Duke,” came the whisper from within the mask, “who am I to judge what sanity is? There are those who judge us of Granbretan insane…”

“Surely not.”

“It is true. Those with blunted perceptions, who cannot see the grand plan, are not convinced of the nobility of our great crusade. They say, you know, that we are mad, ha, ha!” Baron Kalan rose. “But now, if you will accompany me, we will begin our preliminary investigations.”

Back through the hall of machines they went, entering another hall, only slightly smaller than the first. This had the same dark walls, but these pulsed with an energy that gradually shifted along the spectrum from violet to black and back again. There was only a single machine in the hall, a thing of gleaming blue-and-red metal, with projections, arms, and attachments, a great bell-like object suspended from an intricate scaffold affair that was part of the machine. On one side was a console, attended by a dozen men in the uniform of the Order of the Snake, their metal masks partially reflecting the pulsing light from the walls. A noise filled the hall, emanating from the machine, a faintly heard clatter, a moan, a series of hissings as if it breathed like a beast.

“This is our mentality machine,” Baron Kalan said proudly. “This is what will test you.”

“It is very large,” said Hawkmoon, stepping toward it.

“One of our largest. It has to be. It must perform complex tasks. This is the result of scientific sorcery, my lord Duke, none of your hit-and-miss spell singing you find on the Continent. It is our science that gives us our chief advantage over lesser nations.”

As the effect of the drink wore off, Hawkmoon became increasingly the man he had been in the prison catacombs. His sense of detachment grew, and when he was led forward and made to stand under the bell when it was lowered, he felt little anxiety or curiosity.

At last the bell completely covered him, and its fleshy sides moved in to mould themselves around his body. It was an obscene embrace and would have horrified the Dorian Hawkmoon who had fought the Battle of Köln, but this new Hawkmoon felt only a vague impatience and discomfort. He began to feel a crawling sensation in his skull, as if incredibly fine wires were entering his head and probing at his brain. Hallucinations began to manifest themselves. He saw bright oceans of colour, distorted faces, buildings and flora of unnatural perspective. It rained jewels for a hundred years, and then black winds blew across his eyes and were torn apart to reveal oceans that were at once frozen and in motion, beasts of infinite sympathy and goodness, women of monstrous tenderness. Interspersed with these visions came clear memories of his childhood, of his life up until the moment he had entered the machine. Piece by piece, the memories built up until the whole of his life had been recalled and presented to him. But still he felt no other emotion save the remembrance of the emotion he had had in that past time. When at last the sides of the bell moved back and the bell itself began to rise, Hawkmoon stood impassively, feeling as if he had witnessed the experience of another.

Kalan was there and took his arm, leading him away from the mentality machine. “The preliminary investigations show you to be rather more than normally sane, my lord Duke — if I read the instruments correctly. The mentality machine will report in detail in a few hours. Now you must rest, and we shall continue our tests in the morning.”

The next day Hawkmoon was again given over to the embrace of the mentality machine, and this time he lay full-length within its belly, looking upward while picture after picture was flashed before his eyes and the pictures that they first reminded him of were then flashed onto a screen. Hawkmoon’s face hardly altered its expression while all this went on. He experienced a series of hallucinations where he was thrown into highly dangerous situations — an ocean ghoul attacking him, an avalanche, three swordsmen as opponents, the need to leap from the third storey of a building or be burned to death — and in every case he rescued himself with courage and skill, though his reflexes were mechanical, uninspired by any particular sense of fear. Many such tests were made, and he passed through them all without ever once showing any strong emotion of any kind. Even when he was induced by the mentality machine to laugh, weep, hate, love, and so on, the reactions were chiefly physical in expression.

At length Hawkmoon was released by the machine and faced Baron Kalan’s snake mask.

“It would seem that you are, in some peculiar way, too sane, my lord Duke,” whispered the baron. “A paradox, eh? Aye, too sane. It is as if some part of your brain has disappeared altogether or has been cut off from the rest. However, I can only report to Baron Meliadus that you seem eminently suited to his purpose, so long as certain sensible precautions are taken.”

“What purpose is that?” Hawkmoon asked with no real interest.

“That is for him to say.”

Shortly afterward, Baron Kalan took his leave of Hawkmoon, who was escorted through a labyrinth of corridors by two guards of the Order of the Mantis. At length they arrived outside a door of burnished silver that opened to reveal a sparsely furnished room entirely lined with mirrors on walls, floor, and ceiling, save for a single large window at the far end that opened onto a balcony overlooking the city. Near the window stood a figure in a black wolf mask who could only be Baron Meliadus.

Baron Meliadus turned and motioned for the guards to leave. Then he pulled a cord, and tapestries rippled down the walls to hide the mirrors. Hawkmoon could still look up or down and see his own reflection if he desired. Instead he looked out of the window.

A thick fog covered the city, swirling green-black about the towers, obscuring the river. It was evening, with the sun almost completely set, and the towers looked like strange, unnatural rock formations, jutting from a primordial sea. If a great reptile had risen from it and pressed an eye to the grimy moisture-streaked window it would not have been surprising.

Without the wall mirrors, the room became even gloomier, for there was no artificial source of light. The baron, framed against the window, hummed to himself, ignoring Hawkmoon.

From somewhere in the depths of the city a faint distorted cry echoed through the fog and then faded. Baron Meliadus lifted his wolf mask and looked carefully at Hawkmoon, whom he could now barely see. “Come nearer to the window, my lord,” he said. Hawkmoon moved forward, his feet slipping once or twice on the rugs that partially covered the glass floor.

“Well,” Meliadus began, “I have spoken to Baron Kalan, and he reports an enigma, a psyche he can hardly interpret. He said it seemed that some part of it had died. What did it die of? I wonder. Of grief? Of humiliation? Of fear? I had not expected such complications. I had expected to bargain with you man to man, trading something you desired for a service I required of you. While I see no reason not to continue to obtain this service, I am not altogether sure, now, how to go about it. Would you consider a bargain, my lord Duke?”

“What do you propose?” Hawkmoon stared beyond the baron, through the window at the darkening sky.

“You have heard of Count Brass, the old hero?”

“Yes.”

“He is now Lord Guardian, Protector of the Province of Kamarg.”

“I have heard that.”

“He has proved stubborn in opposing the will of the King-Emperor, he has insulted Granbretan. We wish to encourage wisdom in him. The way to do this will be to capture his daughter, who is dear to him, and bring her to Granbretan as a hostage. However, he would trust no emissary that we sent nor any common stranger — but he must have heard of your exploits at the Battle of Köln and doubtless sympathizes with you. If you were to go to Kamarg seeking sanctuary from the Empire of Granbretan, he would almost certainly welcome you. Once within his walls, it would not be too difficult for a man of your resourcefulness to pick the right moment, abduct the girl, bring her back to us. Beyond the borders of Kamarg we should, naturally, be able to give you plenty of support. Kamarg is a small territory. You could easily escape.”

“That is what you desire of me?”

“Just so. In return we give you back your estates to rule as you please so long as you take no part against the Dark Empire, whether in word or deed.”

“My people live in misery under Granbretan,” Hawkmoon said suddenly, as if in revelation. He spoke without passion but rather like one making an abstract moral decision. “It would be better for them if I ruled them.”

“Ah!” Baron Meliadus smiled. “So my bargain does seem reasonable!”

“Yes, though I do not believe you will keep your part of it.”

“Why not? It is essentially to our advantage if a troublesome state can be ruled by someone whom it trusts — and whom we may trust also.”

“I will go to Kamarg. I will tell them the tale you suggest. I will capture the girl and bring her to Granbretan.” Hawkmoon sighed and looked at Baron Meliadus. “Why not?”

Discomfited by the strangeness of Hawkmoon’s manner, unused to dealing with such a personality, Meliadus frowned. “We cannot be absolutely sure that you are not indulging in some complex form of deceit to trick us into releasing you. Although the mentality machine is infallible in the case of all other subjects who have been tested by it, it could be that you are aware of some secret sorcery that confuses it.”

“I know nothing of sorcery.”

“So I believe — almost.” Baron Meliadus’s tone became somewhat cheerful. “But we have no need to fear — there is an excellent precaution we can take against any treachery from you. A precaution that will bring you back to us or kill you if we have reason no longer to trust you. It is a device recently discovered by Baron Kalan, though I understand it is not his original invention. It is called the Black Jewel. You will be supplied with it tomorrow. Tonight you will sleep in apartments prepared for you in the palace. Before you leave you will have the honour of being presented to His Majesty the King-Emperor. Few foreigners are granted so much.”

With that, Meliadus called to the insect-masked guards and ordered them to escort Hawkmoon to his quarters.


Cover art and interior illustrations by Vance Kovacs

Series: Celebrating Michael Moorcock

The Jewel in the Skull (Excerpt)

Book One

Then the Earth grew old, its landscapes mellowing and showing
signs of age, its ways becoming whimsical and strange in the manner
of a man in his last years…
—The High History of the Runestaff

Chapter One

Count Brass

Count Brass, Lord Guardian of Kamarg, rode out on a horned horse one morning to inspect his territories. He rode until he came to a little hill, on the top of which stood a ruin of immense age. It was the ruin of a Gothic church whose walls of thick stone were smooth with the passing of winds and rains. Ivy clad much of it, and the ivy was of the flowering sort so that at this season purple and amber blossoms filled the dark windows, in place of the stained glass that had once decorated them.

His rides always brought Count Brass to the ruin. He felt a kind of fellowship with it, for, like him, it was old; like him, it had survived much turmoil, and, like him, it seemed to have been strengthened rather than weakened by the ravages of time. The hill on which the ruin stood was a waving sea of tall, tough grass, moved by the wind. The hill was surrounded by the rich, seemingly infinite marshlands of Kamarg—a lonely landscape populated by wild white bulls, horned horses, and giant scarlet flamingoes so large they could easily lift a grown man.

The sky was a light grey, carrying rain, and from it shone sunlight of watery gold, touching the count’s armour of burnished brass and making it flame. The count wore a huge broadsword at his hip, and a plain helmet, also of brass, was on his head. His whole body was sheathed in heavy brass, and even his gloves and boots were of brass links sewn upon leather. The count’s body was broad, sturdy and tall, and he had a great, strong head whose tanned face might also have been moulded of brass. From this head stared two steady eyes of golden brown. His hair was red as his heavy moustache. In Kamarg and beyond, it was not unusual to hear the legend that the count was not a true man at all but a living statue in brass, a Titan, invincible, indestructible, immortal.

But those who knew Count Brass knew well enough that he was a man in every sense—a loyal friend, a terrible foe, given much to laughter yet capable of ferocious anger, a drinker of enormous capacity, a trencherman of not indiscriminate tastes, a swordsman and a horseman without peer, a sage in the ways of men and history, a lover at once tender and savage. Count Brass, with his rolling, warm voice and his rich vitality, could not help but be a legend, for if the man was exceptional, then so were his deeds.

* * *

Hawkmoon: The Jewel in the Skull, art by Vance Kovacs

Count Brass stroked the head of his horse, rubbing his gauntlet between the animal’s sharp, spiral horns and looking to the south, where the sea and sky met far away. The horse grunted with pleasure, and Count Brass smiled, leaned back in his saddle, and flicked the reins to make the horse descend the hill and head along the secret marsh path toward the northern towers beyond the horizon.

The sky was darkening when he reached the first tower and saw its guardian, an armoured silhouette against the skyline, keeping his vigil. Though no attack had been made on Kamarg since Count Brass had come to replace the former, corrupt Lord Guardian, there was now some slight danger that roaming armies (those whom the Dark Empire of the west had defeated) might wander into the domain looking for towns and villages to loot. The guardian, like all his fellows, was equipped with a flame-lance of baroque design, a sword four feet long, a tamed riding flamingo tethered to one side of the battlements, and a heliograph device to signal information to nearby towers. There were other weapons in the towers, weapons the count himself had had built and installed, but the guardians knew only their method of operation; they had never seen them in action. Count Brass had said that they were more powerful than any weapons possessed even by the Dark Empire of Granbretan, and his men believed him and were a little wary of the strange machines.

The guardian turned as Count Brass approached the tower. The man’s face was almost hidden by his black iron helmet, which curved around his cheeks and over his nose. His body was swathed in a heavy leather cloak. He saluted, raising his arm high.

Count Brass raised his own arm. “Is all well, guardian?”

“All well, my lord.” The guardian shifted his grip on his flame-lance and turned up the cowl of his cloak as the first drops of rain began to fall. “Save for the weather.”

Count Brass laughed. “Wait for the mistral and then complain.” He guided his horse away from the tower, making for the next.

The mistral was the cold, fierce wind that whipped across Kamarg for months on end, its wild keening a continuous sound until spring. Count Brass loved to ride through it when it was at its height, the force of it lashing at his face and turning his bronze tan to a glowing red.

Now the rain splashed down on his armour, and he reached behind his saddle for his cloak, tugging it about his shoulders and raising the hood. Everywhere through the darkening day reeds bent in the breeze-borne rain, and there was a patter of water on water as the heavy drops splashed into the lagoons, sending out ceaseless ripples. Above, the clouds banked blacker, threatening to release a considerable weight, and Count Brass decided he would forego the rest of his inspection until the next day and instead return to his castle at Aigues-Mortes, a good four hours’ ride through the twisting marsh paths.

He urged the horse back the way they had come, knowing that the beast would find the paths by instinct. As he rode, the rain fell faster, making his cloak sodden. The night closed in rapidly until all that could be seen was a solid wall of blackness broken only by the silver traceries of rain. The horse moved more slowly but did not pause. Count Brass could smell its wet hide and promised it special treatment by the grooms when they reached Aigues-Mortes. He brushed water from its mane with his gloved hand and tried to peer ahead, but could see only the reeds immediately around him, hear only the occasional maniacal cackle of a mallard, flapping across a lagoon pursued by a water-fox or an otter. Sometimes he thought he saw a dark shape overhead and felt the swish of a swooping flamingo making for its communal nest or recognized the squawk of a moorhen battling for its life with an owl. Once, he caught a flash of white in the darkness and listened to the blundering passage of a nearby herd of white bulls as they made for firmer land to sleep; and he noticed the sound, a little later, of a marsh-bear stalking the herd, his breath whiffling, his feet making only the slightest noise as he carefully padded across the quaking surface of the mud. All these sounds were familiar to Count Brass and did not alarm him.

Even when he heard the high-pitched whinny of frightened horses and heard their hoofbeats in the distance he was not unduly perturbed until his own horse stopped dead and moved uncertainly. The horses were coming directly toward him, charging down the narrow causeway in panic. Now Count Brass could see the leading stallion, its eyes rolling in fear, its nostrils flaring and snorting.

Count Brass yelled and waved his arms, hoping to divert the stallion, but it was too panic-stricken to heed him. There was nothing else to do. Count Brass yanked at the reins of his mount and sent it into the marsh, hoping desperately that the ground would be firm enough to hold them at least until the herd had passed. The horse stumbled into the reeds, its hoofs seeking purchase in the soft mud; then it had plunged into water and Count Brass saw spray fly and felt a wave hit his face, and the horse was swimming as best it could through the cold lagoon, bravely carrying its armoured burden.

The herd had soon thundered past. Count Brass puzzled over what had panicked them so, for the wild horned horses of Kamarg were not easily disturbed. Then, as he guided his horse back toward the path, there came a sound that immediately explained the commotion and sent his hand to the hilt of his sword.

It was a slithering sound, a slobbering sound; the sound of a baragoon—the marsh gibberer. Few of the monsters were left now. They had been the creations of the former Guardian, who had used them to terrorize the people of Kamarg before Count Brass came. Count Brass and his men had all but destroyed the race, but those which remained had learned to hunt by night and avoid large numbers of men at all costs.

The baragoon had once been men themselves, before they had been taken as slaves to the former Guardian’s sorcerous laboratories and there transformed. Now they were monsters eight feet high and enormously broad, bile-coloured and slithering on their bellies through the marshlands; they rose only to leap upon and rend their prey with their steel-hard talons. When they did, on occasion, have the good fortune to find a man alone they would take slow vengeance, delighting in eating a man’s limbs before his eyes.

As his horse regained the marsh path, Count Brass saw the baragoon ahead, smelled its stench, and coughed on the odour. His huge broadsword was now in his hand.

The baragoon had heard him and paused.

Count Brass dismounted and stood between his horse and the monster. He gripped his broadsword in both hands and walked, stiff-legged in his armour of brass, toward the baragoon.

Instantly it began to gibber in a shrill, repulsive voice, raising itself up and flailing with its talons in an effort to terrify the count. To Count Brass the apparition was not unduly horrific; he had seen much worse in his time. But he knew that his chances against the beast were slim, since the baragoon could see in the dark and the marsh was its natural environment. Count Brass would have to use cunning.

“You ill-smelling foulness!” (He spoke in an almost jocular tone.) “I am Count Brass, the enemy of your race. It was I who destroyed your evil kin and it is thanks to me that you have so few brothers and sisters these days. Do you miss them? Would you join them?”

The baragoon’s gibbering shout of rage was loud but not without a hint of uncertainty. It shuffled its bulk but did not move toward the count.

Count Brass laughed. “Well, cowardly creation of sorcery—what’s your answer?”

The monster opened its mouth and tried to frame a few words with its misshapen lips, but little emerged that could be recognized as human speech. Its eyes now did not meet Count Brass’s.

Casually, Count Brass dug his great sword into the ground and rested his gauntleted hands upon the cross-piece. “I see you are ashamed of terrorizing the horses I protect, and I am in good humour, so I will pity you. Go now and I’ll let you live a few more days. Stay, and you die this hour.”

He spoke with such assurance that the beast dropped back to the ground, though it did not retreat. The count lifted up his sword and walked impatiently forward. He wrinkled his nose against the stench of the monster, paused, and waved the thing away from him. “Into the swamp, into the slime where you belong! I am in a merciful mood tonight.”

The baragoon’s wet mouth snarled, but still he hesitated.

Count Brass frowned a little, judging his moment, for he had known the baragoon would not retreat so easily. He lifted his sword. “Will this be your fate?”

The baragoon began to rise on its hind legs, but Count Brass’s timing was exactly right. He was already swinging the heavy blade into the monster’s neck.

The thing struck out with both taloned hands, its gibbering cry a mixture of hatred and terror. There was a metallic squeal as the talons scored gashes in the count’s armour, sending him staggering backward. The monster’s mouth opened and closed an inch from the count’s face, its huge black eyes seeming to consume him with their rage. He staggered back, taking his sword with him. It came free. He regained his footing and struck again.

Black blood pumped from the wound, drenching him. There was another terrible cry from the beast, and its hands went to its head, trying desperately to hold it in place. Then the baragoon’s head flopped half off its shoulders, blood pumped again, and the body fell.

Count Brass stood stock still, panting heavily, staring with grim satisfaction at the corpse. He wiped the creature’s blood fastidiously from him, smoothed his heavy moustache with the back of his hand, and congratulated himself that he appeared to have lost none of his guile or his skill. He had planned every moment of the encounter, intending from the first to kill the baragoon. He had kept the creature bewildered until he could strike. He saw no wrong in deceiving it. If he had given the monster a fair fight, it was likely that he, and not the baragoon, would now be lying headless in the mud.

Count Brass took a deep breath of the cold air and moved forward. With some effort he managed to dislodge the dead baragoon with his booted foot, sending it slithering into the marsh.

Then Count Brass remounted his horned horse and rode back to Aigues-Mortes without further incident.


Cover art and interior illustrations by Vance Kovacs

Series: Celebrating Michael Moorcock