Nov 23 2010 9:30am
To honor the magnificent career of Jack Vance, one unparalleled in acheivement and impact on the fantasy genre, George R.R. Martin and Garner Dozois, with the full cooperation of Jack Vance, his family, and his agents, created the tribute anthology Songs of the Dying Earth. The best of today's fantasy writers were invited to work in the unique and evocative millieu of the Dying Earth, wfrom which they and so many others have drawn so much inspiration, to create their own brand-new adventures in the world of Jack Vance's latest creation.
We hope you enjoy this complete story from Songs of the Dying Earth, about, in author Kage Baker's words, “a liar and thief in a doomed world of liars and thieves.”
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It amused Justice Rhabdion of Kaiin to dispose of malefactors by dropping them down a certain chasm located at the edge of his palace gardens.
Deep and steep-sided the chasm was, bottomed with soft sand, so that more often than not the objects of Justice Rhabdion’s displeasure survived the fall. This was all to the good, as far as Rhabdion was concerned, since it provided him with further subject for mirth. On claret-colored summer afternoons, he used to have his Chair of Office moved out on the balcony that overlooked his garden pleasaunce, and which, incidentally, gave him an excellent view into the chasm as well. There he would smile to watch the antics of the enchasmates, as they fruitlessly sought to escape or quarreled with one another.
To further tease those unfortunates who had been so consigned, Justice Rhabdion had had vines of Saskervoy planted all along the chasm’s rim, prodigious black creepers, with scarlet leaves in shape and function like razors, save for their motility and the small voracious mouths set just above each stem. Each enchasmed newcomer attempted to depart by means of seizing and scrambling up the vines, generally at the cost of a finger or nose and never farther than the first third of the way before having to let go and fall.
Rhabdion’s gardeners stinted the vines’ feeding, to keep them keen; and this in time diminished their effect, for the enchasmates quickly learned better than to grasp at the vines. Therefore in their impatience to feed, the vines took to hunting for themselves, snapping out to catch any bird or bat so unwise as to fly within their reach.
The enchasmates, having made slings out of sandal-laces, would then fire small stones, striking the vines and causing them to drop their prey, upon which the slingers themselves would then gladly fasten, bearing the small tattered flesh back to the shelters built under the more concave angles of the chasm’s walls. So were they provided with sustenance. Then it chanced that a mining engineer from Erze Damath displeased Justice Rhabdion in some wise, and was inadequately searched before being thrown down the chasm. Certain tools he had concealed in his boots, and, once resigned to his misfortune, he retreated under the most acute of the leaning walls and there excavated, patiently chipping away at strata of porous aggregate to make yet deeper shelter from winter hail and the melancholy red light of the sun.
In time, his work provided the enchasmates with water, for he broke into a subterranean spring, relieving them thereby of the need to collect the bloody dewfall that dripped from the vines in early mornings—and with currency, for he struck upon a vein of purest gold, which was pounded into roundels and traded amongst them all in exchange for certain favors.
So a kind of society grew up at the bottom of the chasm, with its own customs and pleasures, all unnoticed by Justice Rhabdion, whose eyesight had waned as he grew older. Still he sat on his balcony through the fine purple evenings, chuckling at the occasional howls of despair that rose to his hearing from below.