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Balefires

David Drake
Balefires: 2007 by David Drake
This edition of Balefires 2007 by Night Shade Books
Jacket art 2007 by Richard Peegrino
Jacket design by !a"dia Nobe
#nterior ayo"t and design by Jere$y %assen
&Denkirch& '()7 by David Drake* first +"bished in Travelers by Night.
&%ord of the De+ths& '(7' by David Drake* first +"bished in Dark Things.
&,rcight& '(7- by David Drake* first +"bished in The Magazine of Fantasy and
Science Fiction, ,+ri '(7-.
&The Song of the Bone& '(7- by David Drake* first +"bished in Whispers, Dece$ber
'(7-.
&The Shortest /ay& '(70 by David Drake* first +"bished in Whispers, 1arch '(70.
&So$ething 2ad to Be Done& '(73 by David Drake* first +"bished in The Magazine
of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 4ebr"ary '(73.
&The 1aster of De$ons& '(73 by David Drake* first +"bished in Dark orizons !"",
/inter5S+ring '(73.
&The Barro6 Tro& '(73 by David Drake* first +"bished in Whispers, Dece$ber
'(73.
&,6akening& '(73 by David Drake* first +"bished in Na#eless $laces.
&Back #ron& '(73 by David Drake* first +"bished in Na#eless $laces.
&4irefight& '(7) by David Drake* first +"bished in Frights.
&Bood Debt& '(7) by David Drake* first +"bished in The %th Mayflo&er Book of
Black Magic Stories.
&The 2"nting 7ro"nd& '(7) by David Drake* first +"bished in S'perhorror.
&!hidren of the 4orest& '(7) by David Drake* first +"bished in The Magazine of
Fantasy and Science Fiction, Nove$ber '(7).
&S$okie Joe& '(77 by David Drake* first +"bished in More Devil(s )isses.
&Best of %"ck& '(78 by David Drake* first +"bished in The *ear(s Best orror
Stories+ Series ,-.
&The Red %eer& '(7( by David Drake* first +"bished in Whispers --.
&1en %ike 9s& '(80 by David Drake* first +"bished in .#ni, 1ay '(80.
&Than !"rse the Darkness& '(80 by David Drake* first +"bished in Ne& Tales of the
/th'lh' Mythos.
&The ,"to$atic Rife$an& '(80 by David Drake* first +"bished in Destinies v0, !%,
4a '(80.
&The Dancer in the 4a$es& '(82 by David Drake* first +"bished in Whispers, ,"g"st
'(82.
&The 4ase Pro+het& '(8( by David Drake* first +"bished in ,etti's and Friends.
&The :f 2o"se& 2000 by David Drake* first +"bished in Masters of Fantasy.
&, %and of Ro$ance& 2003 by David Drake* first +"bished in The 1nchanter
/o#pleted.
4irst :dition
#SBN: (78;';3(780;07';) Trade 2ardcover
#SBN: (78;';3(780;070;( %i$ited 2ardcover
Night Shade Books
Pease visit "s on the 6eb at htt+:55666.nightshadebooks.co$
For Dwayne Olson
Whose idea it was
Other books by David Drake:
a##er(s Sla##ers
The Dragon 2ord
Ti#e Safari
Fro# the eart of Darkness
Skyripper
/ross the Stars
Birds of $rey
The Forlorn ope
3t 3ny $rice )iller 4With )arl 1d&ard Wagner5
3ctive Meas'res
Bridgehead
6anks of Bronze
2acey and is Friends
/o'nting the /ost
)ill 6atio 4With 7anet Morris5
Fortress
Dagger
The Sea ag
Target 4With 7anet Morris5
18plorers in ell 4With 7anet Morris5
,etti's and is Friends
6olling ot
North&orld
S'rface 3ction
The 'nter 6et'rns4With 7i# )9elgaard5
,engeance
The Military Di#ension
The Warrior
.ld Nathan
The 7'ngle
7'stice
Starliner
The S:'are Deal
The Sharp 1nd
-gniting the 6eaches
The ,oyage
3rc 6iders 4With 7anet Morris5
Thro'gh the Breach
The Fo'rth 6o#e 4With 7anet Morris5
3ll the Way to the ;allo&s
Fireships
6edliners
$atriots
2ord of the -sles
With the 2ightnings
<'een of De#ons
Servant of the Dragon
2t. 2eary, /o##anding
Mistress of the /ataco#bs
$aying the $iper
;ri##er Than ell
;oddess of the -ce 6eal#
The Far Side of the Stars
Master of the /a'ldron
The Way to ;lory
The Fortress of ;lass
So#e ;olden arbor
The Red Leer

- &as born in D'b':'e, -o&a, and at age ten #oved &ith #y fa#ily to
/linton, fifty #iles so'th along the Mississippi 6iver. .'tsiders tend to
think of -o&a as flat. M'ch of the state is, b't &here - co#e fro# the bl'ffs
rise straight 'p o't of the river. D'b':'e has an operating cable car
4f'nic'lar rail&ay5 that a &ealthy banker b'ilt to carry hi# fro# his office
in the floodplain to his ho#e on the bl'ffs =>> feet above. The vie& o't
over the river into -llinois is spectac'lar.

.thers tho'ght so too. 3ll over the area are 3#erind grave #o'nds
looking do&n fro# the bl'ffs. .ne of the#(s on the far# that belonged to
#y father?in?la&.

My dad &as an electrician, b't nobody in -o&a is very far fro# a far#.
Fa#ily friends had far#s &hen - &as a boy@ #y &ife(s fa#ily &ere and are
dairy far#ers. -(ve spent eno'gh ti#e on and aro'nd so#e of the #ost
prod'ctive fa#ily far#s in the &orld to have a feeling for the life.

Which is very, very hard. The &ork has to be done every day, no #atter
ho& yo' feel or &hat the &eather(s doing+ yo' can(t call in sick and tell
the co&s that they &on(t be #ilked this #orning. The #achinery is
dangero's beyond the i#agination of a #odern factory &orker@ the
organo?phosphate insecticides &ere invented 9'st in ti#e for World War --,
&here they provided the Nazis &ith the first nerve gases@ and even city?
d&ellers kno& that if anybody gets rich fro# agric'lt're, it isn(t the fa#ily
far#er.

The characters in this story are #odeled on real people b't they(re not #y
in?la&s. The far# is one #y in?la&s o&ned, incl'ding details like the c'rio
cabinet and the h'nting rifle.

- fre:'ently 'se a story that has greatly i#pressed #e as a #odel for one
of #y o&n. This isn(t :'ite so direct a case as so#e, b't - &ant to #ention
the si#ilarities to Theodore St'rgeon(s A)illdozer.A The title 4&hich &as
the genesis of the story5 co#es fro# 6obert Bro&ning(s A/hilde 6oland to
the Dark To&er /a#e.A

,s he s6"ng the tractor for a fina +ass across Sac Ridge 4ied< Deehater sa6 that dirt
had been t"rned on the side of the #ndian $o"nd. The big $an thre6 in the hand c"tch of
the ,is;!ha$ers and throtted the diese back to ide as he gared at the ne6 trench
thro"gh the barbed 6ire. &That godda$ =ernes<& he 6his+ered. &#f #>ve got to 6ork 6ith
hi$ $"ch onger . . . .&
2e revved the engine and sa$$ed the tractor back in gear. The far$er>s sco6 6as as
back as the hair c"ring "+ his ar$s fro$ the backs of his hands to the shirtseeves roed
at his bice+s.
,t the so"th end of the fied< Deehater raised the c"tivator and drove the ,is do6n the
ong< oo+ing trai back to the far$ b"idings. There 6as a 6ay of sorts straight 6est fro$
the to+ of the ridge< b"t it 6as too stee+ for the tractor. The $ore grad"a so+e took
Deehater thro"gh haf a do?en gates and event"ay back to the b"idings fro$ the
so"th6est. To the eft oo$ed the barn and the three concrete sios +eering over its roof at
hi$. The $iking +aror 6as a one;story addition to the barn>s east side< facing the
e@"i+$ent shed and the gas +"$+. ,nd at the +"$+ 6as To$ =ernes 6ith his ten;year
od son< Deehater>s ne+he6< +"tting gas in the Aee+.
Deehater +"ed "+ beside the$ and et the diese catter for a $o$ent before he sh"t it
off. =ernes< a short< ginger;headed $an< ooked "+. 2is ar$s 6ere not tan b"t a dee+ red<
6ith brighter sashes 6here the stra+s of his "ndershirt had interr"+ted +art of the
s"night. =ernes 6as thirty;five< five years yo"nger than his brother;in;a6< b"t his
crinky< s"nb"rned face 6o"d have +assed for any age. &4inish Sac Ridge aready< DeeB&
he asked in his +easant< throaty voice. The tension in his $"sces sho6ed that he had
correcty read Deehater>s anger.
&=ernes< 6hat>ve yo" been doing 6ith the #ndian $o"ndB& the bigger $an de$anded
fro$ the tractor seat. &Co" kno6 to eave that the he aoneD& , +ick and shove ay in the
back of the Aee+. Deehater noticed the$ and a back f"sh $oved across his face.
=ernes> skin 6as too red to sho6 the bood< b"t his voice rose to the chaenge. &/hen
Ed John o6ned the far$< he co"d say 6hat he +eased* b"t he>s dead no6. #>$ da$ned if
#>$ not going to get an #ndian sk" ike yo"rs.& 7est"ring east6ard at the ridge< the itte
$an added< &# o6n haf this godda$ +ace and #>$ going to get a sk".&
The c"rio cabinet in Deehater>s +aror had been asse$bed by his grandfather before the
first 6ord 6ar. ,$ong its agates and arro6heads< s6ord;cane and ostrich +"$es< 6as a
bro6n h"$an sk". The fa$iy had a6ays ass"$ed the sk" ca$e fro$ a $o"nd
so$e6here< b"t not even Ed John had been s"re. #t fascinated =ernes< +erha+s ony
beca"se Deehater had ref"sed to give it to hi$. The $ain ho"se and its f"rnishings<
inc"ding the cabinet< had gone to Deehater "nder his father>s 6iFA"st as the ne6
ho"se in 6hich his sister ,ice ived 6ith =ernes and their chidren had gone to her. The
rest of the siG;h"ndred;acre far$ 6as 6ied to Deehater and ,ice Aointy< 6ith the
+rovision that if either of the$ tried to +artition the +ro+erty< the 6hoe of it 6ent to the
other. Deehater had taked to a a6yer and he 6as s"re =ernes had done the sa$e. The
6orst ne6s either of the $en had heard in a ong ti$e 6as that the 6i 6o"d +robaby
stand "+ in co"rt.
&There>s a a6 against digging "+ $o"nds<& Deehater $"ttered.
&There>s a a6 against kee+ing an #ndian sk" on dis+ay<& the shorter $an ba?ed back.
&Co" going to bring the a6 in here< DeeB&
&/e< &Deehater said a$ey< &yo" don>t get everything in the $o"nd. Co">ve no right to
that.&
=ernes stood< ar$s aki$bo< s6eat fro$ the J"ne s"n gittering on his face. &#f # do a the
godda$ digging< # do<& he said. &,nd anyho6< # get the sk" o"t first.&
Deehater 6i+ed his face 6ith his h"ge< cao"sed +a$. 2e didn>t ike to foo 6ith the
$o"nd. Ed John had 6haed hi$ 6ithin an inch of his ife thirty years ago< 6hen he had
ca"ght his son +oking into the s$ooth so+e 6ith a +osthoe digger. B"t Deehater
re$e$bered aso the night$are that had a6akened hi$ for $onths after that afternoon<
and that drea$ 6as of nothing so co$$on as a beating by his father. Sti< to et =ernes
take everything . . . .&, right<& Deehater said< &#> he+ yo" dig. B"t # get $y +ick
of anything besides a sk". /o"dn>t be s"r+rised if there 6as god in 6ith a
chief.&,ct"ay< Deehater kne6 eno"gh abo"t $o"nds to do"bt there 6o"d be anything
that 6o"d interest a non;archeoogistFoften the $o"nds hadn>t even been b"it over a
body. B"t that 6asn>t anything the big far$er 6as going to say to his brother;in;a6.
&Dad<& said the =ernes boy "neG+ectedy.&#f 9nce Dee he+s yo"< yo" don>t need $e< do
yo"B&
=ernes ooked at the chid as tho"gh he 6anted to hit hi$. &7o on< then<& he sna++ed.
&B"t # 6ant that godda$ tooshed +ainted 6hen # get back. , of itD&
The boy took off r"nning for the ho"se. /iener< the far$>s +art;coie< chased after hi$
barking. &=id>s been istening to his $other<& =ernes gr"$bed. &4ro$ the 6ay ,ice>s
been carrying on< yo">d think Ed John 6as going to co$e o"t of his grave if # d"g "+
that $o"nd. 2e $"st>ve knocked that into her head 6ith a $a".&
&2e 6as strong on it<& Deehater agreed absenty.&# kno6 6hen he 6as a boy< there 6as
sti a co"+e Sac #ndians on the far$. 1aybe they taked to hi$. B"t he 6as strong abo"t
a ot of things.&
&/e< yo" ready to goB& =ernes de$anded. 2e had h"ng "+ the +"$+ no??e and no6
re$e$bered to ca+ the Aee+>s tank.
Deehater gri$aced.&#> +"t the c"tivator in the shed<& he said. &Then 6e> go.&

=ernes drove< taking the direct trai thro"gh the east +ast"re. There 6as a riv"et to ford
and a +air of g"ies that had to be skirted< b"t the hard going didn>t start "nti they
reached the foot of the ridge. They had bo"ght the Aee+ ten years before fro$ ,r$y
s"r+"s< and the shar+ grades of the ridge so+e $ade the $otor 6hee?e even in the
granny gear. !edars st"dded the so+e< inters+ersed 6ith b" thistes 6hose +"r+e bracts
6ere ready to b"rst o+en. There 6as a fina s6itch;back A"st before the trai reached the
s"$$it. ,s =ernes ha"ed the 6hee hard to the eft< the $otor s+"ttered and died.
Deehater s6"ng o"t of the Aee+ and 6aked the ast thirty yards 6hie the s$aer $an
c"rsed and trod on the starter.
The $o"nd 6as b"it on the north end of the ridge. That +art had never been o+ened as a
fied beca"se the soi 6as too thiny s+read above the bedrock. The $o"nd 6as ova<
abo"t fifteen feet ong on the east;6est aGis and three or fo"r feet high. Tho"gh s$a< it
6as ceary artificia< a 6et of earth on the s$ooth tabe of the ridge. =ernes> trench 6as
in the center of the so"th side< haf6ay in and do6n to the eve of the s"rro"nding soi.
Deehater 6as eGa$ining the digging 6hen the Aee+ heaved itsef "+ behind hi$ and 6as
c"t off again.
&/e A"st ke+t hitting rocks<& the s$aer $an eG+ained. &/e didn>t get near as far as #>d
fig"red before 6e started.&
Deehater s@"atted on his ha"nches and +oked into the eGcavation 6ith a finger ike a
corncob. &Co" didn>t hit rocks<& he said< &yo" hit a rock. Ene god;da$ sab. There>s no
6ay 6e>re going to cear that dirt off it 6itho"t a 6eek of 6ork or renting a b"do?er.
,nd even if 6e ceared do6n to the rock< that sab>s a foot thick and $"st 6eigh tons.
/e>re A"st 6asting o"r ti$e hereFor 6e 6o"d be if 6e didn>t go on back right no6.&
=ernes s6ore. &/e co"d hook a chain to the ,isF& he began.
Deehater c"t hi$ off. &/e>d have to get the dirt off the to+ first< and that>d take a
godda$ s"$$er. This 6as a bad idea to start< and it got 6orse @"ick. !o$e on< et>s go
back.& 2e straightened.
&/hat abo"t dyna$iteB& b"rted =ernes.
Deehater stared at his brother;in;a6. The s$aer $an 6o"d not $eet his ga?e b"t
contin"ed< &There>s sti a stick "nder the seat fro$ 6hen yo" be6 "+ the beaver da$.
/e co"d "se it.&
&=ernes<& Deehater said< &yo">re so afraid of that dyna$ite that yo">d rather eave it in
the Aee+ than to"ch it to get it o"t. Besides< it> bo6 the shit o"t of anything "nder that
sabFif there is anything and the sab>s not fat on bedrock a the 6ay across. /hat>re
yo" trying to +roveB&
=ernes> red face gre6 even brighter 6ith e$barrass$ent< oranger.&%ook<& he said< &#>$
gonna get into this godda$ thing if # got to hire a contractor. # said # 6o"d and # 6i.
Co" don>t 6ant to he+< that>s yo"r godda$ b"siness.&
Deehater eyed hi$ a $o$ent onger. &Eh< #> do $y +art<& he said. 2e gest"red to the
+ick and added< &Co" see if yo" can c"t a sot an inch dee+ and $aybe eight inches ong
in the sea$ bet6een the to+ sab and the bedrock. #> get the dyna$ite ready.& 2e
grinned. &9ness yo" 6ant to do that insteadB&
=ernes> ony res+onse 6as to heft the too 6ith a choked gri+ and begin cho++ing at the
stone.
Deehater fi++ed the Aee+>s seat for6ard and ifted o"t the corr"gated cardboard boG
beneath it. There 6as< as =ernes had said< sti one stick of dyna$ite eft aong 6ith a ro
of 6ire and a s$aer boG of basting ca+s. The eG+osive terrified =ernes in the 6ay
snakes or s+iders do other $en. Deehater had deiberatey ref"sed to take the stick o"t of
the Aee+ des+ite his brother;in;a6>s fre@"ent re@"ests. 4inay =ernes had ceased to
$ention itF"nti no6. =ernes 6as so st"bborny deter$ined to have an #ndian sk" that
he had overridden his fear of the eG+osive. #t occ"rred to Deehater that he 6as doing the
sa$e thing hi$sef 6ith his fear of the $o"nd.
The big far$er eaned against the Aee+ as he d"g a f"?e +ocket in the dyna$ite 6ith a
+enci st"b. =ernes 6as chi++ing the soft rock effectivey< even in the confined s+ace.
&Not too 6ide<& Deehater 6arned as he t6isted the eads fro$ the basting ca+ onto the
eGtension 6ire.
2e didn>t ike 6hat they 6ere doing. Sha+es fro$ ong;ago night$ares 6ere hovering
over his $ind< "ncear b"t no ess "n+easant for that. 2e>d never heard of #ndians "sing
stone in their $o"nds< and that bothered hi$ too. Sti< 6hy notB The 1ississi++i Basin
6as rich in soft yeo6 i$estone< aready ayered by its foodings and strandings in the
shao6 seas of its de+osition. So it 6asn>t the stone or anything ese rationa 6hich 6as
eating at Deehater* it 6as A"st that so$ething fet cod and very 6rong inside hi$.
&That eno"gh< DeeB& =ernes asked< +anting. 2is seeveess "ndershirt 6as gray 6ith
s6eat.
Deehater eaned for6ard.&#t> do<& he ackno6edged. =ernes 6as shrinking back fro$
the eG+osive in Deehater>s hand.&R"n the Aee+ over the crest of the ridge and get the
hood o+en. There>s eno"gh 6ire to reach to there.&
/hie his brother;in;a6 scra$bed to obey< Deehater knet in the trench and $ade his
o6n +re+arations. 4irst he set the basting ca+ in the hoe in the end of the dyna$ite.
Then he caref"y kneaded the eG+osive into the sot =ernes had c"t in the rock. The
heavy 6aGed +a+er and its fiings of sa6d"st< a$$oni"$ nitrate< and nitrogycerin 6ere
hot and defor$ed easiy. , ot of +eo+e didn>t kno6 ho6 to "se dyna$ite* they 6asted
the force of the bast. Deehater didn>t 6ant to bo6 the $o"nd o+en< b"t he>d be da$ned
if he 6o"dn>t do it right if he did it at a.
/hen the dyna$ite had been $oded into the rock< the big $an shoveed dirt do6n on
to+ of it and "sed his boots to fir$y ta$+ the +ie. The thin 6ire oo+ed o"t of the earth
ike the shado6 of a grass bade. Deehater h"ng the coi on the +ick hande< "sing it as a
oose s+inde fro$ 6hich to "n6ind the 6ire as he 6aked to the Aee+.
&This far eno"gh a6ayB& =ernes asked< eying the $o"nd a++rehensivey.
&9ness a reay big ch"nk co$es straight do6n<& Deehater said< sienty +eased at the
other $an>s nervo"sness. &!hrist< it>s A"st one stick< even if it is siGty;+ercent e@"ivaent.&
=ernes bent do6n behind the Aee+. Deehater s@"atted at the front< +rotected fro$ the
bast by the bro6 of the hi. 2e hed the bare end of one 6ire to the negative +ost of the
battery< then to"ched the other ead to the +ositive side. Nothing ha++ened. &7od
da$$it<& he said< +rodding the 6ire to c"t thro"gh the 6hite corrosion on the +ost.
The dyna$ite eG+oded 6ith a o"d th"$+.
&Jes"sD& =ernes sho"ted as he bo"nced to his feet. Deehater< $ore eG+erienced< h"nched
"nder his baseba ca+ 6hie dirt and tiny rock frag$ents rained over hi$ and the Aee+.
Then at ast he stood and foo6ed his brother;in;a6. The s$aer $an 6as no6 c"rsing
and trying to br"sh dirt fro$ his head and sho"ders 6ith his eft hand* in his right he
carried a battery s+otight.
,crid back s$oke c"red in the +it ike a knot of snakes. The sod 6as of the trench
ooked as they had before the eG+osion< b"t the earth co$+acted over the charge 6as
gone and the eG+osed edge of the rock sab had shattered. Beca"se the i$estone co"d
neither $ove nor co$+ress< the shock had broken it as thoro"ghy as a t6enty;foot fa
co"d have.
=ernes bent do6n over the o+ening and gras+ed a ch"nk of stone to toss o"t of the 6ay.
The dyna$ite f"$es oo+ed a tendri over his face. =ernes co"ghed and @"ivered< and for
an instant Deehater tho"ght the other $an ost foc"s. Then =ernes 6as on his feet again<
fanning the shove bade to cear the s$oke faster and crying< &By 7od< Dee< there>s
reay so$ething in thereD By 7odD&
Deehater 6aited< fro6ning< as =ernes shoveed at the r"bbe. , itte +rying 6ith the
bade 6as eno"gh to cr"$be the edge of the sab into fist;si?ed +ieces ike a three;
di$ensiona Aigsa6 +"??e. 1ore dirt fe in< b"t that 6as easiy scoo+ed a6ay. The act"a
o+ening stayed s$a beca"se the ony cavity in the bedrock 6as a shao6< 6ater;c"t
basin. #t so+ed so grad"ay that even after a t6o;foot scao+ had been nibbed fro$ the
overying sab there 6as barey eno"gh roo$ to reach an ar$ into the hoo6.
The f"$es had dissi+ated. =ernes scattered a ast shovef" of dirt and grave< then tossed
the too aside as 6e. =neeing do6n 6ith his face as cose to the o+ening as he co"d get
it and sti eave roo$ for the s+otight< he began to search the cavity. &7od da$n<&
=ernes said s"ddeny. &7od da#nBA 2e tried to reach in eft;handed< fo"nd there 6as too
itte roo$< and shoved the ight back o"t of the 6ay since he had aready ocated the
obAect in his head. The s+otight bea$ to"ched grass bades shaded fro$ the s"n< a coor
rather than an i"$ination.
&%ook at this< DeehaterD& cried =ernes as he scrabbed back6ard. &By 7odD&
&#>ve seen sk"s before<& the back;haired $an said so"ry< eyeing the discoored bone
6hich his brother;in;a6 hed hooked thro"gh the eye sockets. The o6er Aa6 6as
$issing< b"t the eG+osion see$ed to have done itte da$age. 9ness the front teeth . .
. .
&There>s other st"ff in there too<& =ernes b"bbed.
&Then it>s $ine<& said Deehater shar+y.
&Did # godda$n say it 6asn>tB& =ernes de$anded. &,nd yo" can get it o"t for yo"rsef<
too<& he added< ooking do6n at his shirt< $"ddied by dirt and +ers+iration.
Deehater said nothing f"rther. 2e ay do6n caref"y in the fresh earth and directed the
s+otight +ast his head. 2e co"d see other bones in the shao6 cavity. The eG+osion had
shaken the$< b"t their order 6as too +recise for any arge ani$as to have stri++ed a6ay
the fesh. #ndeed< the b"ndes of skin and tendon sti cinging to the thighs indicated that
not even $ice had entered the to$b. The stone;to;stone sea $"st have been s"r+risingy
cose.
1eta gittered beyond the bones. Deehater $arked its +ace and reached in< edging
hi$sef for6ard so that his sho"der +ressed hard against the ragged i+ of the sab. 2e
eG+ected to fee rev"sion or the s"dden fear of his chidhood< b"t the cavity 6as dry and
e$+ty even of death. 2is 6rist br"shed over rib bones and he tho"ght the obAect beyond
the$ 6as too far* then his fingerti+s to"ched it< to"ched the$< and he ifted the$
caref"y o"t.
=ernes sto++ed st"dying the sk" in the s"night fro$ different anges. &/hat the he
yo" got there. DeeB& he asked 6ariy.
Deehater 6asn>t s"re hi$sef< so he said nothing. 2e hed the t6o haves of a hoo6
$eta teardro+< siG inches ong. En the o"tside it 6as back and b"bbed;ooking* 6ithin<
the s+herica cavity 6as no arger than a hickory n"t. The $ating s"rfaces and the cavity
itsef 6ere a rich siver coor< "ntarnished and as s$ooth as the enses of a ca$era.
&Ene of the$>s $ine<& said =ernes abr"+ty.&The sk" and haf the rest.&2e reached for
one of the +ieces.
&%ike he<& said Deehater< $idy beca"se he 6as concentrating on the ch"nks of $eta.
2is big sho"der bocked =ernes a6ay 6itho"t effort.&Besides< it>s a one thing<& he
added< hoding the sections so that the +oished s"rfaces $ated. Then< 6hen he tried to
+art the$< the haves did not rese+arate.
&,6<& =ernes said in disbeief and again +"t a hand o"t for the obAect. This ti$e
Deehater et hi$ take it. Des+ite a the ginger;haired $an>s t"gging and +"shing< the
teardro+ hed together. #t 6as ony after =ernes< s6eating and angry< had handed back the
obAect that Deehater fo"nd the trick of it. Co" had to rotate the haves aong the +ane of
the se+arationF6hich< since there 6as no visibe ine< 6as +"rey a $atter of "ck the
first ti$e it 6orked.
&%et>s get on ho$e<& Deehater said. 2e nodded 6est6ard to6ard the s"n. S"nset 6as sti
an ho"r a6ay< b"t it 6o"d take the$ a 6hie to drive back. The ridge 6as aready casting
its broad shado6 across the high gro"nd to the east. &Besides<& Deehater added< a$ost
"nder his breath< &# don>t ike the feeing # get "+ here so$eti$es.&
B"t it 6as a$ost t6o 6eeks before Deehater had any reason for his "neasiness . . . .
* * *
Des+ite the f" $oon o6 in the 6est and the ight of the big $erc"ry va+or a$+ above
the co6 yard to the north of the barn< the +"$+ bonde st"$bed t6ice on the graveed
+ath to the car. The second ti$e she ca"ght Deehater>s ar$ and c"ng there gigging.
1ore to be sh"t of her than for chivary< the far$er o+ened the +assenger door of the
!hryser and handed her in. Nat"ray< she fo++ed across his a+ 6hen he got in on the
driver>s side. 2e +"shed her "+right in disg"st.
#t 6as - a.$. and there 6ere no ights yet in ,ice and her h"sband>s ho"se. Deehater
kne6 they had seen hi$ bring /endy ho$e in the evening< kne6 aso that /iener 6o"d
a6aken the$ as he chased the car. =ernes had once co$+ained to Deehater< red;faced<
abo"t the eGa$+e he set for his ne+he6 and nieces by bringing 6hores ho$e to their
grandfather>s ho"se. Deehater had tod hi$ that "nder the 6i it 6as his ho"se< and that
6hen =ernes and ,ice @"it f"cking in their ho"se< he>d consider @"itting it in his. The
s$aer $an hadn>t @"ite taken a s6ing as Deehater had ho+ed he $ight.
/hen the car began to scr"nch do6n the drive +ast the ne6 ho"se< /iener ca$e o+ing
to6ard the$ fro$ the barn. 2e barked once every other ti$e his forefeet to"ched the
gro"nd. The noise 6as $ore irritating than even a @"ick staccato 6o"d have been. The
car 6indo6s 6ere cosed against the night>s da$+ chi. Deehater>s finger 6as +oised on
the s6itch to ro the gass do6n and sho"t at the $ongre< 6hen /endy>s screa$ sna++ed
his head aro"nd.
The bank to the eft so+ed "+ fro$ the drive< so the thing standing there 6as ony in the
edge of the ights. #t 6as 6ire thin and taFt6ice the height of a $an at a feeting
gance< tho"gh a +art of Deehater kne6 that 6as the effect of the bank and the ange. ,
fat i?ard;sno"t of teeth gittered shar+y. Then the beast t"rned and the big car ea+ed
for6ard do6n the drive as Dee;hater foored the acceerator. /endy 6as sti screa$ing<
her face b"ried in her hands< 6hen the car banged over the sotted catte;g"ard and
fishtaied onto the grave co"nty road.
Deehater ke+t his s+eedo$eter dangero"sy above siGty for the first three $ies< "nti
they reached the tavern and gas station at 4ive Points. There he braked to a sto+ and
t"rned on the do$e ight. The gir 6hi$+ered. Deehater>s big hands gri++ed her
sho"ders and ha"ed her "+right. &Sh"t "+<& he said tighty.
&/;6hat 6as itB& she b"bbered.
&Sh"t "+< for !hrist>s sakeD& Deehater sho"ted. &#t 6asn>t a godda$ned thingD& 2e
bro"ght his face cose to /endy>s. The gir>s eyes 6ere as fearf" as they had been
$in"tes before at the sight of the creat"re. &Co" sa6 a cat in the headights< that>s a.
Co">re not going to get everybody and his brother tra$+ing over $y far$ shooting $y
$iking herd. Co">re going to kee+ yo"r godda$n $o"th sh"t< do yo" hearB&
The bonde 6as nodding to the rhyth$ of Deehater>s 6ords. Tears strea$ed fro$ her
eyes< and 6hen she tried to 6i+e the$ she s$eared the re$ains of her eye shado6 across
her cheeks.
Deehater reeased her s"ddeny and +"t the car in gear. Neither of the$ s+oke d"ring the
rest of the ride to to6n. /hen the big far$er sto++ed in front of the gir>s a+art$ent< she
st"$bed o"t and ran "+ the ste+s 6itho"t bothering to cose the car door. Deehater
ocked it after he sa$$ed it sh"t.
2e drove back to the far$ at a $oderate +ace that so6ed a++reciaby as he ca$e nearer.
The night had ony its "s"a $otions and noises no6. Deehater 6as 6aiting in his ocked
car an ho"r ater< aone 6ith nothing b"t a $e$ory to dist"rb hi$< 6hen =ernes ca$e o"t
of his ho"se to start $iking.
* * *
,fter "nchFa f" $ea of fried steak and +otatoes* Deehater had cooked for hi$sef
and his father as 6e before Ed John diedFthe big $an 6aked do6n the drive and
began searching the grassy bank to the eft of it. Ence 6hen he ooked "+< he sa6 his
sister 6atching hi$ intenty fro$ the =ernes> kitchen 6indo6. 2e 6aved b"t she d"cked
a6ay. To6ard three o>cock< =ernes hi$sef ca$e back in the Aee+ fro$ ins+ecting the
fences aro"nd the north6est +ast"re. Deehater haied hi$. ,fter a $o$ent>s hesitation<
the ginger;haired $an s6"ng the vehice "+ the bank and sto++ed.
&!o$e ook at this<& Deehater said. The t"rf 6as $arked f"??iy 6here he +ointed.
&Doesn>t it ook ike three ca6 +rintsB& he asked.
=ernes ooked at hi$ strangey. &!a6 +rintsB /hat do yo" $ean< DeeB&
&#tFoh< !hrist< # don>t kno6<& said the big $an< straightening and ifting his ca+ to r"n
his hand thro"gh his hair. 2e ooked g"$y back +ast the barn to the ong b"k of Sac
Ridge.
&2aven>t seen /iener today< have yo"B& =ernes asked "neG+ectedy.
&Not since # took /endy ho$e this $orning<& re+ied Deehater< his o6n eG+ression odd.
&Barked at the car as "s"a. Co" $"st>ve heard hi$.&
&%earned to see+ thro"gh it< # g"ess<& said =ernes< and the 6ords did not @"ite ring
tr"e . . . tho"gh that $ight have been the b"rred +rint on the gro"nd and Deehater>s
b"rred $e$ory of 6hat had $ade the +rint. =ernes got into the Aee+. &9s"ay he chases
a rabbit< he gets back for breakfast. =ids>ve abo"t 6orried $e to death abo"t that da$n
dog.&
&#> ride to the barn 6ith yo"<& Deehater said. They did not s+eak abo"t the dogFor the
+rintFfor the rest of the afternoon.
* * *
#n the evening< after Deehater had finished his t"rn at $iking< ,ice ca$e o"t to the barn
to he+ 6ash do6n the e@"i+$ent. ,ice =ernes 6as ten years yo"nger than her brother.
Tho"gh they had never been cose< there 6as a thread of $"t"a affection des+ite
Deehater>s reci+rocated hatred for his brother;in;a6. ,ice h"$$ed as she +oished the
gass t"bing and stainess stee* a short 6o$an 6ith her back hair tied back by a kerchief
and a $an>s shirt fa++ing over the 6aistband of her gray skirt.
&/iener been back yetB& Deehater asked 6ith feigned disinterest.
&No< have yo" seen hi$B&,ice said< +a"sing to catch the shake of Deehater>s head.
&S"sie>s been crying a day. To$ 6ent o"t to @"iet the dog do6n this $orning and # think
he scared hi$ off. B"t he> be back tonight< # fig"re.&
Deehater fi++ed the s6itch that 6o"d drain the 6ater no6 being cyced thro"gh the
transfer +i+ing. &=ernes got "+ to chase hi$B&
&9h;h"h. Did yo" get the big tankB&
&Ceah< 6e can ca it a night<& Deehater said. Boodstains are hard to identify in heavy
grass< harder even than foot+rints in the sod beneath< so he $ade no $ention of the
s+otches he had fo"nd thirty yards fro$ the drive that afternoon. There had been no
body< not even a s6atch of dog f"r torn off in a str"gge.
B"t des+ite that< Deehater g"essed that the $ongre 6o"d not be co$ing ho$e that
night.
H H H
, co6 a6akened Deehater 6ith a bat ike a c"t;off kaGon horn. 2is Re$ington .-0;0)
eaned against the 6indo6 fra$e< bathed in $oonight. Deehater stri++ed a she into the
a"tooader>s cha$ber fro$ the f" $aga?ine before he +"ed on his d"ngarees and boots.
Shirtess< his baggy tro"sers 6eighted do6n by the rest of the boG of a$$"nition<
Deehater "nocked the front door and began r"nning across the yard.
There 6ere one h"ndred and siGty catte in the barn< and fro$ the noise they had a gone
6id. Ever their beo6s ca$e catters and s+intering as the frantic tons of beef s$ashed
the fittings of the barn. Nor$ay in the s"$$er< the co6s 6ere free to 6ander in and o"t
of the yard and to the +ast"re beyond< b"t tonight Deehater had +enned the$ for safety.
2e 6as a h"ndred feet fro$ the eectric fence of the yard< c"rsing his $istake in having
concentrated the herd and then eft it "n+rotected< 6hen one of the back;and;6hite
2osteins s$ashed fro$ the barn into the co6 yard thro"gh both haves of the D"tch
door.
There 6as so$ething behind it.
The thing>s tong"e and the bood on its Aa6s 6ere back in the $erc"ry foodight. :rect
against the side of the barn it 6as a$ost eight feet ta< tho"gh ony the shado6s gave
$ass to its s+indy i$bs. #t sa6 Deehater and skidded on the si++ery concrete< its ca6s
ras+ing thro"gh the si$e. Deehater thre6 his rife to his sho"der. #t 6as as if he 6ere
ai$ing at a skeeton $ade of coat hangers< the thing 6as so thin. Deehater>s hands
shook. The creat"re bent for6ard< cocking its hi+s back for baance. #t o+ened its Aa6s so
6ide that every neede tooth see$ed +ointed at the far$er. Then it screa$ed ike a
+"nging she as Deehater fired. 2is b"et +"nched neaty thro"gh the side of the barn
ten feet above the gro"nd.
/ith a singe stride< the creat"re disa++eared back 6ithin the b"iding. Deehater
sa$$ed another shot thro"gh the e$+ty door6ay.
Panting< the big $an knet and f"$bed o"t the boG of a$$"nition 6itho"t etting go of
the rife. 2is sho"der ached. The e$+ty cases shone siver +ae on the grass to his right.
/hen Deehater had reoaded< he sh"ffed for6ard again. 2e hed his rife o"t as if he
6ere thr"sting it thro"gh f"id. The yard 6as fied 6ith $iing co6s. Deehater $oved
+ast the$ to the o6 $iking +aror and tried in vain to +eer thro"gh the d"sty 6indo6s.
Then< hoding the rife a6k6ardy ike a h"ge +isto< he "natched the door and fi++ed on
the ight. There 6as nothing in the +aror< and its $eta gates to the barn 6ere sti cosed.
Deehater t"rned on the ights in the $ain b"iding. There 6as ony a score of frightened
co6s sti 6ithin. The haf;oft eight feet above the bare foor had ony a itte stra6 in it.
The oft door in the so"th 6a h"ng aske6. There 6ere dee+ scratches aro"nd its broken
atch. 4ro$ the eft< Deehater gri$y s"rveyed the barn. The interior 6as 6ere s+attered
6ith bood. , heifer 6as dead in her sta* ong go"ges reddened the hides of severa
others of the herd.
#t 6as a$ost da6n. The back;haired far$er stood at the oft door< c"rsing and staring
o"t into the red s"nrise< 6hich +"ed the shado6 of the ridge ike a ong c"rtain over the
+ast"re.
The door to the $iking +aror banged. Deehater s6"ng aro"nd and raised the $"??e of
his rife. #t 6as =ernes barefooted and in torn +aAa$as 6ith ,ice< 6ide;eyed< behind
hi$. Seeing the bood and the dead heifer< she sho"ted at her h"sband< &1y 7od< To$<
have yo" and 7eorge been shooting co6sB&
=ernes ga+ed. Deehater co"dn>t "nderstand 6hy the @"estion 6as directed at his
brother;in;a6.&No< it 6as a< aF&Deehater began and st"ttered to a hat< "ncertain both
of the tr"th and 6hat he sho"d say abo"t it. To change the s"bAect he said< &/e got to
+hone Doc Je+son. So$e of the co6s> beenFc"t.&
&Phone the vetB& ba?ed ,iceF=ernes sti had not s+oken. She reached back into the
+aror for the eGtension 6hich h"ng on the 6a higher than a co6 carries its head. &/e>
ca the Sheriff< 6e> caF&
&P"t do6n that godda$n +honeD& Deehater said< not o"dy b"t too o"dy to be ignored
by anyone 6ho kne6 hi$ 6e.
,ice 6as in a rage hersef< b"t she ste++ed back fro$ the +hone and 6atched her brother
descend caref"y fro$ the oft. &/hat did it< 7eorgeB& she asked.
&# didn>t get a good ook.&
&7od da##it, 7eorge<& ,ice said< etting go of her anger no6 that Deehater had cooed
eno"gh not to shoot her dead in a f"ry< &6hy 6on>t yo" et $e get he+B&
&Beca"se 6e>re in the $ik b"siness<& the big $an said< sagging against the adder in
$enta eGha"stion. =ernes 6asn>t reay istening* ,ice>s face 6as bank. &Beca"se if 6e
go te +eo+e there>s an eight;foot i?ard on o"r far$F&
=ernes s6ore. Deehater sho"ted< &, right< # sa6 it< 6hat the he>s the differenceB
So$ething kied the co6< didn>t itB& 2e gared at the others< then 6ent on< &4irst they>
think 6e>re cra?y. ,nd then 6hen they earn it>s tr"e< they> say< >Stronti"$ (0<> or
>/hat>re they s+raying their fieds 6ith to do thatB> or >There>s so$ething in their 6ater.>
,nd 6e> never se another +int of $ik fro$ here as ong as 6e ive. Co" kno& 6hat the
dairy b"siness is ikeD&
,ice nodded shar+y.&Then 6e> A"st raise hogs<& she said< &or cornFor 6e> se the
far$ and a get Aobs 6ith P"rina< for 7od>s sake. S+ring 2i Dairies isn>t the 6hoeF&
&,iceD&
=ernes> eyes 6ere ficking fro$ one sibing to the other< a s+ectator rather than a referee.
,ice gared at hi$< then said to her brother< &, right< 7eorge. B"t #>$ taking the kids
into to6n to stay 6ith #ris "nti yo" co$e to yo"r senses.& Then< to her h"sband< she
added< &To$< are yo" co$ing tooB&
&#f yo" eave here< =ernes<& said Deehater @"iety< &yo"> never co$e back. # don>t give a
shit 6hat the a6 says.&
The $en stared at each other. &#> stay<& =ernes said. ,ice banged thro"gh the gate and
into the $iking +aror 6itho"t a ook behind her.&#>d have stayed any6ay< ,iceD& the
s$aer $an sho"ted.
&!a Doc Je+son<& Deehater re+eated 6eariy. &/e can te hi$ it 6as dogs or
so$ethingF& the tooth $arks 6ere too high and broad for that to be other than a
trans+arent ieF&and ho+e 6e can scotch this thing before 6orse ha++ens.&
N"$by< =ernes $ade the ca. ,s the itte $an h"ng "+< they heard the ras+ing starter of
the od station 6agon. , $o$ent ater< grave s+attered as ,ice rocketed do6n the drive.
,$ost as fast as he hi$sef had driven the night before< Deehater tho"ght.
&#t>s beca"se of 6hat 6e took o"t of that $o"nd<& =ernes said in a s$a voice.
Deehater shook his head in irritation. &This thing didn>t co$e fro$ a sk" or a itte bit
of iron<& he sna++ed. &#t>s big< big eno"gh to ki a 2ostein.&
&#t 6as there A"st the sa$e<& =ernes re+ied. &/e>ve got to cose that grave "+ 6ith
everything in it again. Then $aybe 6e> be okay.&
&Co">re n"ts<& Deehater said. B"t he re$e$bered the thing>s eyes and the ga+e of its
Aa6s* and he kne6 that so$eti$e that day he 6o"d he+ =ernes b"ry the obAects again.
* * *
Deehater 6aked to the $o"nd and the +arked Aee+ 6itho"t s+eaking. #n the fied behind
hi$< the cro6s setted noisiy on the carrion again.
=ernes had ifted o"t a +air of shoves and the g"nny sack hoding the obAects. &/eB& he
asked.
&Ceah<& said Deehater 6ith a shr"g< &it 6as /iener.&
=ernes began to "ndo the knot 6hich cosed the sack>s throat. /itho"t ooking "+< he
said< &# think it>s the $oon. That>s 6hy it didn>t co$e o"t 6hen 6e o+ened the $o"nd. #t
needed the f" $oon to bring it o"t.&
&B"shit<& said Deehater.&# sa& the thing and it>s not $oonight< it>s as soid as yo" or
$e. Da$n sight soider than od /iener there<& he added 6ith a gri$ t6ist of his head.
&1oonight>s A"st ight< any6ay.&
&4"orescent ight>s A"st ight too<& =ernes retorted< &b"t it $akes +ants gro6 ike they
don>t 6ith a reg"ar ight b"b. !hrist< Dee< don>t yo" feel the $oon on yo" at nightB&
Deehater did< b"t he 6asn>t abo"t to ad$it that 6eakness even in the noon s"n. =ernes
had +a"sed after o+ening the bag< "n6iing either to d"$+ the contents back into the
hoe 6itho"t cere$ony or to to"ch the$ again barehanded. The big $an hesitated aso.
Then he ganced at the g"ns in easy reach< bet6een the front seats of the Aee+< and ifted
o"t the sk".
The bone fet 6ar$. Beca"se Deehater had not reay taken a ook at it before< he did so
no6 at this ast o++ort"nity. The teeth 6ere da$aged in a 6ay that at first he co"d not
eG+ain. Then the far$er c"rsed< set the sk" do6n on the gro"nd< and stretched o"t in
the o+en trench. The ange 6as too fat for Deehater to have been abe to see anything
even if he had bro"ght a fashight this tri+< b"t his fingerti+s fo"nd the shao6 grooves
he eG+ected in the "nder;s"rface of the sab.
&!hrist<& he $"ttered< standing "+ again. &That +oor s"cker 6as aive 6hen they covered
hi$ "+ in there. 2e didn>t have a da$ned thing to dig 6ith< so he tried to scra+e thro"gh
the stone 6ith his teeth.&
=ernes stared at the sk" and ooked a itte sicker than he had before. 2is finger traced
b"t did not to"ch the front teeth. , fo"r of the incisors 6ere 6orn across the fats as if
by a fie. They had been gro"nd do6n 6e into the nerve canas. Ene of the front +air
had cracked abo"t haf6ay fro$ the root. &Ceah< #>d seen that b"t # didn>t think . . . &
he said. &Jes"s< 6hat a 6ay to go. 2e s"rey $"st>ve kno6n he co"dn>t che6 his 6ay
thro"gh a foot of rock.&
&1aybe he didn>t kno6 there 6as a foot of it<& Deehater said. &Besides< he didn>t have a
ot of choice.&
!aref"y< the big $an set the sk" as far back into the $o"nd as his ar$ 6o"d reach.
The itter of bone and rock chi+s 6ithin scr"nched "nder his shirtseeve.
The ri++ed< iron teardro+ 6as sti cosed. Deehater ooked at it for a $o$ent< then
t6isted it to s+it the haves beca"se they had been se+arate 6hen he fo"nd the$. The
$eta divided 6ith a soft gas+ ike a cod Aar being o+ened. Deehater set the haves "nder
the sab as caref"y as he had the discoored sk".
,$ost before he roed o"t of the 6ay< his brother;in;a6 6as tossing a shovef" of
earth into the hoe. =ernes 6orked feverishy at the soi +ie he and his son had thro6n "+
in digging the +it. By the ti$e Deehater had br"shed hi$sef off and +icked "+ a shove<
the bast;cr"$bed edge of the sab had been b"ried again.
They finished their 6ork before noon< eaving on the $o"nd>s side a back scar that
seaed off the greater backness 6ithin.
* * *
The barn 6indo6s 6ere green fibergass 6hich the 6estern $oonight o"tined shar+y
against the 6as. The diff"sed i"$ination 6as 6eak and 6itho"t distinct shado6s< #t
$ade the oft foor an overay of grays on grays 6hich 6obbed softy as Deehater +aced
aong it. The catte +enned beo6 $"r$"red< occasionay batting o"dy at their
"nfa$iiar restraint. ,t each o"tb"rst< Deehater 6o"d +a"se and ean over the oft rai
6ith his rife for6ard* b"t the beo6ing 6as never for any reason that had to do 6ith
6hy t6o ar$ed $en 6ere 6atching the barn tonight.
,t the north end of the oft< Deehater sto++ed and ooked o"t the o+en oading door. The
co6 yard beo6 6as scra+ed and hosed off daiy< b"t ani$a 6aste had stained the
concrete an indeibe bro6n 6hich beca$e +"r+e in the $erc"ry ight.
To the eft< 6ithin the fence of the co6 yard and in the corner it for$ed 6ith the barn<
h"nched =ernes 6ith a shotg"n oaded 6ith deer s"gs. 4ro$ Deehater>s ange< the
s$aer $an 6as foreshortened into a st"$+ gro6ing fro$ the concrete. Nothing $oved
in the night< tho"gh the a"to$atic feeder in the hog +ens fa++ed severa ti$es. ,s
Deehater 6atched sienty< =ernes ooked "+ at the $oon. Des+ite the cooness of the
night and the bree?e fro$ the 6est< =ernes +"ed o"t a handkerchief and 6i+ed his
forehead.
Deehater t"rned and began +acing back to the so"th end of the barn. 2e had finished his
ther$os of coffee ho"rs ago< and it 6as ony by staying in $otion that he 6as abe to
kee+ a6ake. 2e co"dn>t "nderstand ho6 =ernes co"d h"dde in the sa$e corner since
ten o>cock and sti be aert* b"t then< =ernes 6asn>t a +erson Deehater &anted to
"nderstand.
Deehater +eered o"t the so"th door. Nothing< nothing< of co"rse nothing. , foG barked in
the invisibe distance and the big $an>s gri+ tightened on his rife stock. 2e ca"ght
hi$sef before he thre6 a b"et o"t into the night in fr"stration* then he began to +ace
back.
B"t each ti$e the creat"re had co$e< it 6as in the near da6n. ,s if it 6ere striding to the
far$ fro$ far a6ay< or beca"se it got a ate start. The notch he and =ernes had basted in
the #ndian $o"nd faced so"th6est. 1oonight 6o"d not have entered it "nti neary
$orning. B"t there 6as no iving thing in that narro6 rock basin< ony a itter of bones
and 6hat 6as +robaby a $eteorite.
/hy had that #ndian been seaed "+ aiveB
Nothing b"t bones and iron in the $o"nd. Briefy< Deehater>s $ind t"rned over a
$e$ory of a6akening to sei?e his rife in the +attern of $oonight etched across his roo$
by the Ienetian binds. No6 he hed the 6ea+on cose and bent for6ard to ook at his
brother;in;a6.
=ernes had $oved sighty< o"t aong the eectric fence. The yard ight coored his shirt
b"e b"t co"d not thro6 a shado6 for6ard into the gare of the f" $oon. =ernes 6as
staring 6est at that $otted orb. 2is shotg"n barre traced nervo"s arcs< rising and
si++ing back to a high +ort. #t 6as a$ost as if the s$aer $an 6ere 6ishing he co"d
fire at the $oon< b"t catching hi$sef a $o$ent before he did anything that . . .
cra?y.
=ernes> body slithered.
&=ernesD& Deehater screa$ed.
The $an beo6 t"rned and 6as a $an again. The shotg"n had faen to the concrete.
=ernes> cothing 6as a6ry fro$ having so$ething $onstro"sy thin start to ca$ber o"t
of it. Part of Deehater>s $ind 6ondered 6hat =ernes had tho"ght in the $ornings 6hen
he fo"nd hi$sef naked in the +ast"re< his tanged +aAa$as o"tside his ho"se.
No6 the s$a far$er 6as ooking "+ at Deehater< his face as dead and horrified as that
of the stat"e of %aocoon. Then he changed again< and the ong Aa6s s+read to hiss at the
$an above. Deehater aid his o+en sights in the $idde of the thing>s breastbone and
s@"ee?ed off the shot.
The b"et fe6 high beca"se of the ange< b"t the big $an 6as h"nter eno"gh to have
ao6ed for that. The soft;nose s+iked thro"gh the o6er $andibe and into the throat<
eGiting at ast thro"gh the creat"re>s back. The Aacketed ead< +arty eG+anded b"t 6ith
ony a fraction of its energy gone< sa++ed the concrete beyond and s+ashed a6ay in a
sho6er of s+arks and a riven ho6.
The thing that had been =ernes h"rted back6ards and sid "nti it str"ck the fence. #ts
stick;thin i$bs thrashed< shredding re$nants of its cothing 6ith ca6s and the strength
of a gri??y. #ts Aa6s sna++ed. The hoe in its throat 6as s$a< b"t Deehater kne6 that
the s"+ersonic b"et 6o"d have eft a 6o"nd cavity ike a +ie tin in the back.
The entrance 6o"nd had cosed. The beast 6as scrabbing to its feet.
Deehater screa$ed and shot it thro"gh the chest< an off;center i$+act that s+"n the
creat"re again to the concrete. This ti$e Deehater co"d see the +astic fesh cosing on
the scae;d"sted torso. 2e re$e$bered /iener and the g"ied throat of the 2ostein.
/ith ony that instant>s hesitation< the big $an braced his rife in front of hi$ and ea+ed
thro"gh the 6indo6 to his right. The fibergass +ane s+rang o"t in a +iece as the fra$e
tore. Deehater st"$bed headong onto the o6 roof of the $iking +aror< roed< and
A"$+ed to the gro"nd. The Aee+ 6as ony t6enty feet a6ay and he ran for it.
There 6as no ignition ock. Deehater fi++ed the +o6er on and stabbed at the starter
b"tton "nder the c"tch +eda. The engine gro"nd b"t did not catch. There 6as a tearing
noise behind hi$< and des+ite hi$sef the big $an t"rned to ook. The creat"re 6as in the
co6 yard fence. The to+ strand 6as eectrified. B"e s+arks cracked abo"t the thing>s
foreca6s. #ts sha+e 6as in a state of f"G so s6ift as to be a$ost s"bi$ina. #t 6as as if
s"+eri$+osed hoogra$s of =ernes and the creat"re he had beco$e 6ere being +roAected
onto the fence. Then the hot 6ire sna++ed and the thing>s egs c"t the re$aining strands
ike sickes thro"gh fog.
Deehater fired one;handed and $issed. 2e steadied the rife< ocking his eft ebo6 on
the t"b"ar seat;fra$e< and knocked the creat"re back into the co6 yard 6ith no to+ to its
sk". Then the engine ch"gged and the big far$er thre6 the Aee+ into second gear at
higher revs than the 6orn c"tch 6as "sed to. S+e6ing grave b"t 6itho"t the +o6er to
sidesi+< the vehice ch"rned for6ard.
4or choice< Deehater 6o"d have r"n 6est for the co"nty road as he had t6o nights
before in his !hryser. That 6o"d have $eant t"rning and trying to race +ast the co6
yard< 6here the creat"re 6as aready on its feet again and striding to6ard hi$. Deehater
had s$a need of his i$agination to +ict"re that scene: the ong;ca6ed ar$s hooking
over the steering 6hee and +"cking hi$ o"t ike the $eat fro$ a 6an"t haf< eaving
the e$+ty Aee+ to careen into a ditch. 2e 6as headed instead to6ard Sac Ridge and the
$o"nd fro$ 6hich the horror $"st have co$e.
Deehater had the headights on< b"t they 6ere $o"nted too o6 to sho6 "+ +othoes in
ti$e even at $oderate s+eedFand his +resent s+eed 6as anything b"t $oderate. The Aee+
Ao"nced so bady that ony the big $an>s gri+ on the steering 6hee ke+t hi$ in the
vehice. The shoves in the back did s+in o"t into the night. #t occ"rred to Deehater that
the rife 6hich he had 6edged b"tt;do6n6ard beneath the back seat $ight fire and end
hi$ +er$anenty as it had been "nabe to do to the thing +"rs"ing. 2e did not care. 2e
ony kne6 that he had ooked do6n the creat"re>s ga+ing Aa6s and 6o"d rather anything
than die bet6een the$.
Des+ite his +anic< Deehater shifted into co$+o"nd o6 to cross the strea$< kno6ing that
any atte$+t to $o"nt the si++ery bank in a higher gear 6o"d have $eant siding back
into certain death. En the r"tted +ast"re beyond< he revved and sa$;shifted. 2e 6as
+ro"d of his ski ony for the instant before the o6 $oon ficked a ea+ing shado6
across the corner of his eye. 4ear 6ashed a6ay +ride and everything ese.
Des+ite the r"ts the Aee+ $ade good ti$e in the +ast"re< b"t as the od vehice began to
ci$b the side of the ridge Deehater kne6 the creat"re $"st be gaining. There 6as no
choice< no6here ese to r"n. #f he t"rned either north or so"th< the thing>s ong shanks
6o"d c"t it across the sant of his right ange.
/here had the creat"re co$e fro$ originayB Perha+s the #ndians had kno6n* b"t even
if the teardro+ 6as the so"rce< it co"d as easiy have faen a $iion years before and a
tho"sand $ies a6ay< carried so"th on a gacier. Deehater co"d +ict"re a nervo"s band
of Sacs dragging one of their n"$ber to the rock basin< bo"nd or "nconscio"s. Er 6o"d
it have been a tribe fro$ the +re;!o"$bian +astB There 6as nothing in the $o"nd to
date it. So$ething had co$e fro$ the cocoon of iron and been tra++ed again bet6een
ayers of rock. Tra++ed "nti he and =ernes had freed it in a va+or 6hich $erged 6ith the
back tendris of the dyna$ite.
,s Deehater neared the to+ of the ridge< he ganced side6ays. The creat"re 6as a foot
behind hi$ and a foot to the eft< its right eg +oised to stride and its yard;ong right ar$
+oised to ri+ the far$er>s throat o+en. Deehater sa$$ed on the brakes< acting by refeG.
#t 6as the +ro+er refeG< even tho"gh the Aee+ staed. The beast>s ca6s s6e+t 6here
Deehater>s head sho"d have been< and its body beed and rebo"nded fro$ the
"nyieding fender. 4or a $o$ent< the thing s+ra6ed back6ards on the hiside* then it
t6isted "+right< i?ard;@"ick< and "nged.
Deehater to"ched the $"??e of his Re$ington to the scay ribs and be6 the creat"re a
do?en yards do6n the hi. The cartridge case saied a6ay in a high arc< the $o"th of it
eroded by the eGcessive +ress"res fro$ the bocked $"??e.
,nd tho"gh Deehater sti had the +art boG in his +ocket< that had been the ast ro"nd in
the 6ea+on.
#n staing< Deehater had fooded the Aee+>s engine. 2e ea+ed o"t< 6inded aready 6ith
fear< and to++ed the ridge 6ith t6o ong strides. The headights 6ere 6aning yeo6
behind hi$< 6here he co"d aready hear the creat"re $oving. The sky to the east 6as the
coor of bood. Deehater ran for the $o"nd as if its gente conto"rs co"d +rotect hi$. 2e
tried to A"$+ to its to+< b"t his foot sank in the soft earth of the diggings. The big $an
6ind$ied for6ard onto his face in the grass beyond. 2is gri+ on the e$+ty rife had
fayed his right kn"ckes against the gro"nd. 2is t6isted anke gave a t6inge* it $ight or
$ight not bear his 6eight again.
Deehater t"rned< trying to f"$be another cartridge into the breech of the rife. #t 6as too
ate. 2issing ike a cat in a etha rage< the creat"re ea+ed deicatey to the to+ of the
$o"nd.
#t 6as even thinner than it had ooked 6hen fickering shado6s had b"ked its i$bs. #t
had to be thin< of co"rse< 6ith ony =ernes> h"ndred and thirty +o"nds to cothe its fra$e.
The c"rve of the $o"nd $ade the creat"re>s height $onstro"s< even tho"gh its egs 6ere
+oised to "nge and it carried its fat sk" for6ard ike that of a near;sighted $antis. The
narro6 i+s dre6 a+art in a $o$entary grin< gray;6hite and then cri$son as the first rays
of the s"n to"ched the creat"re over the ri$ of the neGt hi.
4or a $o$ent the eer h"ng there. Deehater< on his back< stared at it ike a rabbit s+itted
by the ga?e of a h"nting ser+ent. Then the thing 6as gone and the fear 6as gone< and
Deehater>s +racticed fingers sid a ive ro"nd into the cha$ber of the o"ght;siG.
&/h;6hat>s the $atter< DeeB& =ernes 6hi$+ered. 2e 6as +itif" in his nakedness< $ore
+itif" in his st"nned s"r+rise at 6here he fo"nd hi$sef. =ernes reay hadn>t kno6n
6hat 6as ha++ening< Deehater reai?ed. Perha+s ,ice had beg"n to g"ess 6here her
h"sband had been going in the night. That $ay have been 6hy she had been so @"ick to
r"n< before s"s+icion co"d beco$e certainty.
&Dee< 6hy>re yo" ooking at $e ike thatB& =ernes begged.
Deehater stood. 2is anke ony throbbed. #f his first b"et had kied the creat"re as it
sho"d have< he 6o"d have b"ried the body and cai$ed that so$ething had dragged
=ernes a6ay. Perha+s he 6o"d have b"ried it here in the $o"nd fro$ 6hich the creat"re
had esca+ed to begin 6ith. ,ice and Dr. Je+son co"d testify to the catte>s +revio"s
inA"ries< 6hatever they $ight s"r$ise had ca"sed the$.
The sa$e story 6o"d be s"fficient no6.
&7oodbye< yo" son of a bitch<& Deehater said< and he raised his rife. 2e fired +oint
bank into the s$aer $an>s chest.
=ernes &h'ffed back6ards as if a giant had kicked hi$. There 6as a ook of a$a?e$ent
on his face and nothing $ore* b"t $o$entariy< so$ething h"ng in the air bet6een the
dead $an and the iving< so$ething as i$+a+abe as the $"??e bast that rocked the
hisideFand as rea.
Deehater>s fesh gave and for a started second he5it kne6 6hy the #ndians had b"ried
their +ossessed brother aive< to tra+ the contagion 6ith hi$ in the rock instead of $erey
+assing it on to raven and say again . . . .
Then the s"n 6as bright on Deehater>s back< casting his shado6 across the body of the
$an he had $"rdered. 2e recaed nothing of the $o$ent A"st +ast.
:Gce+t that 6hen he re$e$bered the creat"re>s ast red eer< he see$ed to be seeing the
i$age in a $irror.
A Land Of Romance

2. Sprag'e de /a#p had greater infl'ence on #e as an SF reader and
&riter than anyone else. 3fter World War --, a n'#ber of fans beca#e
p'blishers, 9oining 3'g'st Derleth of 3rkha# o'se in reprinting &orks
fro# ;olden 3ge and earlier p'lps. The /linton 4-o&a5 $'blic 2ibrary in
"CDE had a large collection of these books. 4The entrance of #a9or
p'blishers, partic'larly Do'bleday, into the SF #arket in the early (D>s
cr'shed the niche co#panies &ith the e8ception of 3rkha# o'se itself.5

T&o of the s#all presses, Fantasy $ress and Fantasy $'blishing
/o#pany, -nc, collected a good deal of Sprag'e(s fiction fro# 3sto'nding
and Fnkno&n 4Worlds5. 1ither his rigor, intelligence, and foc's on plot
for#ed #y opinion of &hat SF and fantasy sho'ld be, or they perfectly
#atched the #odel l'rking so#e&here in #y childish s'bconscio's.

-n later years - got to kno& Sprag'e on ter#s of friendship, tho'gh &e
&eren(t as close as - &as &ith Manly Wade Well#an, his conte#porary
and friend fro# the (=>s and (%>s. - enco'raged 7i# Baen to reprint the
stories of Sprag'e(s &hich - #ost liked. - did introd'ctions for the vol'#es
and stories in the style of Sprag'e(s &ork as part of that enco'rage#ent.

arry T'rtledove, &ho like #e &as greatly infl'enced by Sprag'e,
proposed a de /a#p Festschrift to Baen Books. - happily &rote A3 2and
of 6o#anceA for it, trying to create a story that Sprag'e #ight(ve &ritten
for Fnkno&n.

-(ll add t&o #inor notes abo't the story itself. The f'll na#e of the for#er
Secretary of Defense is 6obert Strange McNa#ara, and the greatest
b'ffalo #eat entreprene'r in the co'ntry is Ted T'rner 4at the ti#e - &rote
the story, Mr. 7ane Fonda5. Both of those facts have bearing on the te8t.

The $arketing b"+en at Strangeco 2ead@"arters hed seventy;five desks. 2o6ard Jones
6as the ony +erson in the h"ge roo$ 6hen the +hone began ringing. 2e ignored the
so"nd and 6ent on 6ith 6hat he 6as doing. #t 6as a 6rong n"$berFit had to be.
Nobody>d be caing serio"sy on a S"nday $orning.
Dyna$ic t6enty;five;year;od eGec"tive . . . . 2o6ard s"cked in his g"t as he ty+ed<
not that there 6as $"ch g"t to 6orry abo"t. Ready to take on advent"ro"s ne6 chaenges
. . . .
The +hone contin"ed to ring. #t co"d be the $anager of one of the 1idde :astern o"tets
6here they ke+t a 4riday;Sat"rday 6eekend< 6ith a +robe$ that ony a bodFa
s&ashb'cklingF$arketing +rofessiona ike 2o6ard Jones co"d take on. Did Strangeco
have a branch in the !asbah of ,giersB
The co$+any sogan circed the ceiing in shi$$ering neon etters: #t>s not a sand6ichF
it>s a Strange6ichD Sices of kangaroo< casso6ary< and ek in a secret dressingD
Strange6ichFthe heathy aternativeD
The +hone still rang. 2o6ard>s i$age staring fro$ the res"$e on the screen had a stern
ook. /as he $issing his big chanceB The caer co"d be a headh"nter 6ho needed the
hard;charging deter$ination of a $an 6iing to 6ork a the ho"rs on the cock.
2o6ard grabbed the +hone and +"nched ine one. &Strangeco #ncD& he said in 6hat he
ho+ed 6as a sta6art tone. &2o6ard Jones< ,ssistant 1arketing ,ssociate s+eaking. 2o6
$ay # he+ yo"B&
&EhD& said the $ae voice on the other end of the ine. &Eh< #>$ very sorry< # didn>t $ean
to dist"rb anybody i$+ortant.&
S"re< a 6rong n"$ber. /e< 2o6ard had kno6n that there 6o"dn>t reay be a s"$$ons
to a ife of di??ying advent"re 6hen heF
&#>$ at 1r. Strange>s ho"se<& the voice contin"ed< &and # 6as ho+ing so$ebody co"d
co$e over to he+ $e 6ord an advertise$ent. #>$ sorry to haveF&
&/aitD& 2o6ard said. 2e kne6 the ca co"dn>t be 6hat it so"nded ike< b"t it 6as s"re
the $ost interesting thing going this S"nday $orning. #t so'nded ike the $ost interesting
thing of a ifeti$e for 2o6ard ,bing Jones.
&,h< sir<& he contin"ed< ho+ing that the feo6 6asn>t offended that 2o6ard had beo6ed
at hi$ a $o$ent ago.&Co" say yo">re caing fro$ 1r. Strange>s ho"se. That 6o"d be<
ah< 6hich ho"seB&
&Eh< dear< he +robaby does have a ot of the$< doesn>t heB& the voice said. &# $ean the
one right neGt door< tho"gh. Do yo" think that yo" co"d send so$ebody not too
i$+ortant over to he+ $e< sirB&
2o6ard ceared his throat.&/e< as a $atter of fact< # 6o"dn>t $ind visiting the Strange
1ansion $ysef. B"t< ah< Strangeco staff isn>t ordinariy ao6ed across the sky6ay< yo"
kno6.&
&Eh< that>s a right<& the voice said in obvio"s reief. &1r. Strange said # co"d ca on any
of his +eo+e for 6hatever # 6ished. B"t # reay don>t ike to dist"rb yo"< 1r. Jones.&
&J"ite a right< 1ister . . . & 2o6ard said. &,h< #>$ afraid # didn>t catch yo"r na$eB&
&Eh< #>$ /ay Po++e<& the voice said. &J"st co$e over 6henever yo">re ready to< 1r.
Jones. #> te the g"ards to send yo" do6n.&
2e h"ng "+. 2o6ard re+aced his handset and stared at the res"$e +hotogra+h. That
2o6ard Jones ooked very +rofessiona in b"e s"it< b"e shirt< and a tie 6ith an
inso"ciant sash of red. /hereas todayFS"ndayF,ssistant 1arketing ,ssociate Jones
6ore Aeans and a 4"@"a Schoo of B"siness s6eatshirt.
2o6ard rose to his feet. Daring< s6ashb"cking 2o6ard Jones 6as going to risk entering
the Strange 1ansion in cas"a cothes.
* * *
, trans+arent t"be arched bet6een the third foors of the Strange 1ansion and Strangeco
2ead@"arters to connect the t6o s+ra6ing b"idings. /hen Strange occasionay caed
an eGec"tive to the $ansion< the rest of the staff ined the 6indo6s to 6atch the chosen
+erson sh"ffe thro"gh o+en air in fear of 6hat 6aited on the other side.
Shorty thereafter< so$eti$es ony $in"tes ater< the s"$$oned +arties ret"rned. , fe6 of
the$ $oved at once to arger offices* $ost began to cean o"t their desks.
Eny eGec"tives 6ere kno6n to "se the sky6ay< tho"gh r"$or had it that so$eti$es
Robert Strange hi$sef crossed over at $idnight to +ace the has of his head@"arters
sienty as a bat. No6 it 6as 2o6ard Jones 6ho ooked o"t over cornfieds and 6oodand
in one direction and the vast staff +arking ot in the other.
The sky6ay 6as hot and $"sty. That $ade sense 6hen 2o6ard tho"ght abo"t it: a cear
+astic t"be 6as going to heat "+ in the bright s"n< and the arch $eant the hottest air
6o"d hang in the $idde ike the b"bbe in a eve. 2o6ard had never before considered
+hysics 6hen he daydrea$ed of receiving Robert Strange>s s"$$ons.
The 6ro"ght;iron gri at the far end 6as deicate b"t sti a rea barrier< even 6itho"t the
t6o g"ards on the other side 6atching as 2o6ard a++roached. They 6ere aert< very big<
and not in the east friendy.
1"sce;bo"nd< 2o6ard tod hi$sef. # co"d sice the$ into "nch$eat 6ith $y ra+ierD
2e kne6 he 6as ying< and it didn>t even $ake hi$ fee better. J"ite a+art fro$ big $en
not necessariy being so6< this +air hed shotg"ns.
&7ood $orningD& 2o6ard said< trying for &brighty& and hitting &britte& instead. &# have
an "rgent s"$$ons fro$ 1r. Po++eD&
!hrist on a cr"tchD /hat if this 6as so$e kid>s +ractica AokeB %et>s see if 6e can sca$
so$e s"cker into b"sting into the Strange 1ansionD 1aybe they> shoot hi$ right 6here
6e can 6atchD
2o6ard ganced do6n< 6hich +robaby 6asn>t the s$artest thing to do no6 that he 6asn>t
+rotected by the eGcite$ent of the thing. ,t east he didn>t see kids 6ith a ce +hone and
geef" eG+ressions +eering "+ eG+ectanty.
Ene of the g"ards said< &/ho>re yo"B& 2is tone 6o"d have been a itte too gri$ for a
A"dge +assing a death sentence.
2o6ard>s $ind 6ent bank. , he co"d think of 6as the acc"sing gare of his res"$e
+ict"reFb"t 6aitD Beside the +ict"re 6as a na$eD
&2o6ard ,bing JonesD& he said tri"$+hanty.
&Nothing here abo"t >,bing<> & said the other g"ard. 
The first g"ard shr"gged. &%ook< it>s S"nday<& he said to his +artner. 4iGing 2o6ard 6ith
a gare that co"d>ve set rivets< he said< &/e>re etting yo" in< b"ddy. B"t as 2o6ard
Jones< that>s a. That>s ho6 yo" sign the book.&
&, right<& said 2o6ard. &#>$ 6iing to be feGibe.&
Ene g"ard "nocked the grating* the other nodded 2o6ard to6ard a foio bo"nd in so$e
"nfa$iiar for$ of eather< 6aiting o+en on a stand in the door6ay. The ast na$e above
2o6ard>s 6as that of a regiona $anager 6ho>d been sobbing as he tr"dged into the
+arking ot for the ast ti$e.
The first g"ard +inned a bank $eta badge on 2o6ard>s s6eatshirt< right in the center of
4"@"a. &=ee+ it on<& he said. &See the yeo6 stri+B&
2e gest"red 6ith his shotg"n< then ret"rned the $"??e to +oint A"st "nder 6here the
badge rested.
,n a$ber track ighted "+ in the center of the ha6ay beyond. The go6 6as so faint that
it i"$inated ony itsef. 4oc"sing his eyes on it $eant that 2o6ard didn>t have to stare at
the shotg"n.
&Right<& he said. &RightD&
&Co" foo6 it<& said the g"ard. &#t> take yo" 6here yo">re s"++osed to go. ,nd yo"
don(t ste+ off it< yo" "nderstandB&
&Right<& said 2o6ard< afraid that he so"nded britte again.&# certainy don>t 6ant yo"
gente$en co$ing after $e.&
The other g"ard a"ghed. &Eh< 6e 6o"dn>t do that<& he said. &Pete and $e 6atchF& he
nodded to the bank of TI $onitors< banked d"ring 2o6ard>s +resence &Fb"t 6e ain>t
ceared to go 6andering aro"nd the $ansion. Beieve $e< b"ddy< 6e>re not ready to die.&
2o6ard 6aked do6n the ha 6ith a fiGed s$ie "nti the a$ber stri+ ed hi$ aro"nd a
corner. 2e risked a gance back6ards then and sa6 that the ight 6as fading behind hi$.
2e s"++osed it>d rea++ear 6hen it 6as ti$e for hi$ to eave.
2e s"++osed so.
2o6ard hadn>t had any idea of 6hat the inside of the Strange 1ansion 6o"d be ike.
There 6ere a tho"sand r"$ors abo"t the /i?ard of 4ast 4ood b"t a$ost no facts.
2o6ard hi$sef had envisioned cathedra;va"ted ceiings and s6aying chandeiers fro$
6hich a bod $an co"d s6ing one;handed 6hie the bade of his ra+ier +arried the
thr"sts of a score of $inions.
There $ight be chandeiers< stone edges< and high baconies on the other side of the
bank gray 6as b"t that no onger see$ed ikey. The corridor s"rfaces 6ere eGtr"ded
fro$ so$e dense +astic< and the doors fitted ike airocks 6ith no eGterna atches.
The a$ber stri+ ed thro"gh branching corridors< occasionay going do6n6ard by ra$+s.
The b"iding sighed and $"r$"red ike a see+ing beast.
2o6ard tried to i$agine the Thief of Baghdad dancing a6ay fro$ foes in this feat"reess
6arren< b"t he @"icky gave it "+ as a bad Aob. #t 6as ike trying to i$agine =ing =ong on
the set of 0>>".
The stri+ of ight sto++ed at a cosed door. 2o6ard eyed the bank +ane< then tried
knocking. #t 6as ike ra++ing his kn"ckes on a bank va"t< so"ndess and rather +ainf".
&2eoB& he said diffidenty. &2eoD&
The corridor stretched to right and eft< e$+ty and sient. The a$ber go6 had $eted into
the s"rro"nding gray< eaving ony a vag"e $e$ory of itsef. /hat 6o"d Robin 2ood
have doneB
&elloB& 2o6ard sho"ted. &Mister $oppleB&
&2eo<& said the +easant voice of the gir 6ho>d co$e "+ behind hi$.
2o6ard eGec"ted a ea+ and +iro"ette that 6o"d have done RobinFor for that $atter< a
Boshoi +ri$a baerinaF+ro"d. &/haB& he said.
The gir 6as of $idde height 6ith short back hair and a +erky eG+ression that i$+ied
her +ae skin 6as hereditary rather than a ook.&#>$ afraid /ay gets distracted<& she said
6ith a s$ie.&!o$e aro"nd thro"gh $y roo$s and #> et yo" in fro$ the side. The
aboratory started o"t as a garage< yo" kno6.&
&,h< # 6as tod not to eave . . . & 2o6ard said< titing for6ard sighty 6itho"t
act"ay $oving his feet fro$ the +oint at 6hich the g"ide stri+ had de+osited hi$. ,fter
the g"ards> cas"a threats< he no onger beieved that the 6orst thing that co"d ha++en to
hi$ in the Strange 1ansion 6as that he>d ose his Aob.
&Eh< give $e that<& the gir said. She defty "n+inned the badge fro$ 2o6ard>s s6eatshirt
and +ressed her th"$b in the $idde of its bankness< then handed it back to hi$. &There<
#>ve t"rned it off.&
She 6aked to6ard the door she>d co$e o"t of< bringing 2o6ard 6ith her by her bree?y
nonchaance. 2e said< &,h< yo" 6ork here< $issB&
&,ct"ay< the ony +eo+e 6ho 6ork here are /ay and the ceaning cre6s<& the gir
said. &,nd $y father< of co"rse. #>$ 7enie Strange.&
She ed 2o6ard into a roo$ 6ith o6< Ja+anese;stye f"rnit"re and trans"cent 6as of
+aste b"e. #t 6as ike 6aking aong the botto$ of a shao6 sea.
&2ave yo" kno6n /ay ongB& 7enie said< a++arenty "na6are that she>d n"$bed
2o6ard by teing hi$ she 6as Robert Strange>s da"ghter.&2e>s s"ch a s6eetheart< don>t
yo" thinkB Ef co"rse< # don>t get to $eet $any +eo+e. Robert says that>s for $y safety<
b"t . . . &
&#>ve enAoyed $y contact 6ith 1r. Po++e so far<& 2o6ard said. 2e didn>t see any reason
to a$+ify the tr"thf" co$$ent. /e< the $ore or ess tr"thf" co$$ent.
7enie o+ened another door at the end of the short ha6ay at the back of the s"ite.
&/ayB& she caed. &# bro"ght yo"r visitor.&
The aboratory b"??ed ike a $eado6 f" of bees. The ighting 6as that of an ordinary
office* 2o6ard>s eyes had ada+ted to the corridors> $"ted i"$ination< so he snee?ed. #f
the roo$ had been a garage< then it 6as intended for +eo+e 6ho drove se$is.
Back sik hangings conceaed the 6as. Tho"gh benches f" of e@"i+$ent fied $"ch
of the interior< the foor 6as incongr"o"sy covered in T"rkish r"gsFr"nners a $eter
6ide and fo"r $eters ongFeGce+t for a +atch of bare concrete aro"nd a foor drain in an
o"tside corner.
&Eh< $y goodness< 1r. JonesD&said the 6is+y itte $an 6ho>d been bent over a circ"it
board 6hen they entered. 2e b"sted to6ard the$< raising his gasses to his forehead.&#>d
$eant to eave the door o+en b"t # forgot co$+etey. Eh< # #+higenia< yo" $"st think #>$
the greatest foo on :arthD&
&/hat # think is that yo">re the s6eetest +erson # kno6< /ay<& the gir said< +atting his
bad head. 2e b"shed cri$son. &B"t A"st a itte absent$inded< +erha+s.&
&1r. Jones is going to he+ $e advertise for a vo"nteer<& /ay said to the gir. &# don>t
see ho6 6e can get anybody< and 6e reay #'st have so$eone< yo" kno6.&
&Peased to $eet yo"< 1r. Jones<& 7enie said< offering her hand 6ith $ock for$aity.
&,h< 2o6ard< +ease<& 2o6ard said. &,h< # have a +osition 6ith Strangeco. , very o6y
one at +resent.&
&That>s 6hat $y father ikes in e$+oyees<& 7enie said in a haf;Aoking tone. &%o6iness.
1y ste+father< # sho"d say. 1other b"ried t6o h"sbands< b"t Robert b"ried her.&
2o6ard shook her hand< a6are that he 6as earning things abo"t the /i?ard of 4ast 4ood
that the taboids 6o"d +ay good $oney for. Re$e$bering the "neasiness he>d fet 6hie
6aking thro"gh the $ansion< he aso reai?ed that the $oney he>d get for invading
Strange>s +rivacy co"dn>t +ossiby be good eno"gh.
,n area t6enty feet s@"are in the center of the ab 6as e$+ty of e@"i+$ent. ,cross it<
beyond /ay as 2o6ard faced hi$< 6as 6hat ooked ike an irreg"ar< ra?or;thin sheet of
gass on 6hich bright i$ages fickered. #f that 6as reay the fat;+ate co$+"ter dis+ay
it ooked ike< it 6as $ore advanced than anything 2o6ard had heard of on the $arket.
&/e< 1r. Po++e . . . & 2o6ard said. #f the conversation contin"ed in the direction
7enie 6as taking it< 2o6ard 6o"d earn things he didn>t think he>d be safe kno6ing. &#f
yo" co"d te $e A"st 6hat yo" need fro$ $eB&
&Eh< +ease ca $e /ay<& the itte $an said< taking 2o6ard>s hand and eading hi$
to6ard the thin dis+ay. &Co" see< this +iece of $ica is a< 6e< a 6indo6 yo" co"d ca
it.&
/ay ganced over his sho"der< then averted his eyes 6ith another bright b"sh. ,s he>d
obvio"sy ho+ed< 7enie 6as foo6ing the$.
&# noticed that shado6s see$ed to $ove in it<& /ay said< +eering intenty at 6hat indeed
6as a +iece of $ica rather than a high;tech constr"ction. 2air;fine 6ires fro$ a b"ss at
the back to"ched the sheet>s ragged circ"$ference at +erha+s a h"ndred +aces. &That 6as
siG years ago. By $od"ating the c"rrent to each sheet se+arateyFit>s not one crysta<
yo" kno6< it>s a series of sheets ike a stack of +a+er and there>s a dieectric bet6een each
+airF# 6as abe to shar+en the i$ages to< 6e< 6hat yo" see no6.&
2o6ard eyed the dis+ay. , gro"+ of brighty dressed +eo+e 6aked thro"gh a for$a
garden. The 6o$en 6ore dresses 6hose ong trains 6ere hed by +age boys< and the $en
6ere in tights and t"nics 6ith +"ffed seeves. They carried s6ords as 6e< ong;baded
ra+iers 6ith Ae6eed hits.
&2o6 do yo" generate the i$ages< /ayB&2o6ard said.&This isn>t fed fro$ a broadcast
signa< is itB&
&They aren>t generated at a<& 7enie said. &They>re rea. Sho6 2o6ard ho6 yo" can
$ove the +oint of vie6< /ay.&
Ebedienty the itte $an ste++ed to the co$+"ter ter$ina on the bench beside the sab of
$ica. En the $onitor 6as a gra+h 6ith abo"t thirty bars in each of t6o s"+eri$+osed
ro6s.
/ay to"ched keys< 6atching the $ica. , bar shrank or increased at each stroke< and the
+ict"re shifted 6ith the Aerking carity of a rotated kaeidosco+e.
&2eyD& said 2o6ard as 6hat he tho"ght 6as a ion t"rned and raised its feathered head.
#ts hooked beak o+ened and the ong forked tong"e vibrated in a cry 6hich the $ica
didn>t trans$it. &That>s a chi$eraD&
&# tho"ght so at first<& said 7enie< &b"t they>re s"++osed to be +art goat too.&
&# don>t think it>s anything that has a na$e in o"r 6ord<& /ay said< $aking f"rther
s$a adA"st$ents. &Ef co"rse the +eo+e see$ to be< 6e< nor$a.&
&Not nor$a 6here # co$e fro$D& 2o6ard said. :Gce+t $aybe in his drea$s. &,nd 6hat
do yo" $ean abo"t o'r 6ordB /here>s thatB&
2e +ointed. The i$age t"$bed into a scene of vividy dressed gaants fencing 6hie a
se$icirce of 6o$en and other $en 6atched. The d"eists 6ere good< da#ned good< and
they didn>t have b"ttons on their s6ords.
&Robert thinks it>s fairyand<& 7enie said. 2er tone 6as ne"tra< b"t 2o6ard heard
e$otion A"st beneath the s"rface of the 6ords. &2e thinks /ay>s a 6i?ard. Robert aso
thinks he>s a 6i?ard hi$sef.&
&Co"r father has been very genero"s in s"++orting $y researches< #+higenia<& the itte
$an said< gancing to6ard b"t not @"ite at 7enie. &# 6ish # co"d convince hi$ that these
effects are ordinary scienceF&
2e +a"sed and added sef;conscio"sy< &Erdinary +hysics< at any rate. #>$ afraid $y
researches have been too e$+irica to @"aify as +ro+er science. B"t the "nderying a6s
are +hysica< not $agic.&
The $ica sho6ed the di$ interior of a great ha< the sort of +ace that 2o6ard had
i$agined the Strange 1ansion $ight be. , tro"+e of acrobats ca+ered on the r"sh;stre6n
fagstones< eGec"ting re$arkabe A"$+s 6hie A"gging ighted torches.
S+endid $en and gorgeo"s 6o$en 6atched fro$ tabes aro"nd the $argins of the ha<
and over the bacony raiings +eered chidren and sobery dressed servants. ,t the center
of the high tabe 6as a grave< bearded $an 6earing a cro6n. 2e hed a crysta staff in
6hich vioet s+arks danced.
Beside the king< occasionay r"bbing its scay head on the back of his carved throne< 6as
a dragon the si?e of a rhinoceros. #t didn>t ook eGacty "nfriendy< b"t its eyes had the
trick of constanty scanning in every direction.
&# . . . &said 2o6ard. &/ay< this is 6onderf"< A"st co$+etey a$a?ing< b"t # don>t
"nderstand 6hat yo" 6ant $e for. Co">ve aready s"cceededD&
The i$age shifted again. #nstead of ans6ering< /ay ga?ed 6ith ra+t attention at the ne6
scene. , s+ring shot fro$ a 6ooded hiside to s+ash over rocks into a +oo t6enty feet
beo6. B"tterfies hovered in the fo6ery gade* in the s"rro"nding forest 6ere vine;
6oven bo6ers.
&/ay b"it the 6indo6 on his o6n<& 7enie said in a o6 voice.&/hat Robert is
interested in is o+ening a door into . . . that.&
She nodded to6ard the $ica. , co"+e< hand in hand< 6aked to6ard the +oo. The $an
knet< di++ed a siver gobet into the i$+id 6ater< and offered it to the ovey 6o$an at
his side. She si++ed< then ret"rned the c"+ for hi$ to drink in t"rn.
/ay sh"ddered as tho"gh he>d been dro++ed into the +oo. 2e ta++ed his keyboard
severa ti$es at rando$< b"rring the i$age into a c"rtain of eectronic sno6.
2e t"rned to 2o6ard and said< s+eaking very @"icky to foc"s his $ind so$e6here other
than 6here it 6anted to go< &1r. Strange fet that if 6e co"d see the other +ace< 6e
co"d enter it. , +erson co"d enter it. 2e>s correctF# sent a rabbit thro"gh the +orta ast
6eekFb"t # don>t think anyone 6i be 6iing to go 6hen they reai?e ho6 dangero"s it
is. That>s 6hy # need yo" to he+ $e 6rite the advertise$ent for the vo"nteer< 1r.
Jones.&
This 6as going to 6ork better if the itte g"y 6as reaGed . . . 6hich +robaby
6o"dn>t ha++en as ong as 7enie Strange 6as in the sa$e roo$< that 6as obvio"s< b"t
2o6ard at east had to try to ca$ hi$ do6n.
&2o6ard< /ay<& 2o6ard said< +atting /ay on the sho"der. &Pease ca $e 2o6ard.
No6< 6hat>s dangero"s abo"t the tri+B Do yo" 6ind "+ 6earing a fy>s head if things go
6rongB&
&No< it 6asn>t that< 1isterFah< 2o6ard<& /ay said< +"rsing his i+s. &The +robe$
occ"rred ater.&
2e adA"sted the va"es on his dis+ay again< bringing the i$age of the roya entertain$ent
back onto the $ica. , yo"ng gir danced on the back of a horse 6hich c"rveted so6y< its
hooves striking occasiona s+arks fro$ the fagstones. #t 6as +retty ordinary;ooking
eGce+t for the straight horn in the center of its forehead.
Seeing that /ay 6asn>t going to say $ore< 2o6ard raised an eyebro6 to 7enie. She
shr"gged and said< &# didn>t see it $ysefFRobert 6on>t et $e in here 6hie the tests are
going on. B"t a that reay ha++ened is that the rabbit ho++ed o"t< +erfecty a right< and
a i?ard ate it. The sa$e thing co"d have ha++ened any6here.&
&The i?ard stared at the +oor rabbit and dre6 it straight into its Aa6s< ste+ by ste+<& /ay
said 6itho"t ooking at the others.&#t kne6 it 6as doo$ed b"t it 6ent any6ay. #>ve never
in $y ife seen anything so horribe.&
Then yo' don(t &atch the T, ne&s a lot< 2o6ard tho"ght. ,o"d he said< &#t 6as a
basiisk< yo" $eanB Not A"st a i?ardB&
&#t 6as a i?ard<& /ay insisted st"bborny.&B"t it 6asn>t a i?ard fro$< 6e< this 6ord.
#t 6as horribe< and there are any n"$ber of other horribe things over there. #t>s reay
too dangero"s to send so$ebody into that 6ord< b"t that>s the ony 6ay 6e can
get . . . things.&
&/e< an assa"t rife o"ght to take care of any basiisks that co$e by<& 2o6ard said
reasonaby. &Er dragons either< 6hich is $ore to the +oint. Basiisks aren>t s"++osed to be
big eno"gh to eat +eo+e.&
2e sighed.&# hate to say this< /ay< b"t science a6ays see$s to 6in o"t over ro$ance. #
really hate to say it.&
&B"t that>s A"st 6hat # $ean< 2o6ard<& /ay said des+airingy.&# had a eash on the
b"nny so # co"d +" it back< b"t it didn>t +ass thro"gh the +orta. The eash 6as sti
ying on the foor 6hen the b"nny disa++eared. The vo"nteer 6on>t be abe to take a g"n
or even cothes< and # reay don>t beieve he> be abe to bring the sce+ter back for 1r.
Strange.&
&Robert thinks that +"r+e sce+ter gives the fairy king his +o6er<& 7enie said< her hands
cas+ed behind her back as if to "nderscore the restraint in her voice. &Robert 6ants
so$eone to go thro"gh /ay>s +orta and stea the sce+ter.&
/ith abso"tey no feeing she added< &Robert sacrificed a back hen the night /ay sent
the rabbit thro"gh. 2e did it over the drain thereF&
She nodded to6ard the bare concrete.
&Fb"t yo" can sti s$e the bood ca"ght in the +i+e. !an>t yo"B&
&No6< #+higenia<& /ay said< b"shing again. &Co"r father has his 6ays< b"t he>s been
very genero"s 6ith $e.&
2o6ard>s nose 6rinked. 2e>d noticed a faint $"sty odor< b"t the roo$ 6as so ri+e 6ith
the s$es of eectronics 6orkingFo?one< hot ins"ation< and f"GFthat he hadn>t given
any tho"ght to it. 2e sti 6asn>t s"re that 6hat he s$eed 6as rotting bood rather than
$ide6 or 6et 6oo< b"t no6 that 7enie>d s+oken he 6o"dn>t be abe to get the other
notion o"t of his $ind.
&/ay< yo">re a geni"sD& the gir said so forcef"y as to so"nd hostie. &Co" co"d go
any6here and find so$ebody to f"nd yo"r 6orkD # ony 6ish yo" had.&
/ay t"rned and ooked her in the face for the first ti$e. &Thank yo" for saying that<
#+higenia<& he said< &b"t it isn>t tr"e. # 6ent $any +aces after # first sa6 6hat the $ica
co"d do< and they a sent $e a6ay. Co"r father thinks #>$ a $agician and he>s 6rong*
b"t he doesn>t ca $e cra?y or a charatan.&
, doorFthe door that the ight had ed 2o6ard toFo+ened. Robert Strange< identifiabe
fro$ the rare +hotos that a++eared in ne6s feat"res b"t $"ch craggier and harsher in
+erson< ste++ed thro"gh. 2e 6ore a ong;seeved back robe e$broidered 6ith sy$bos
2o6ard didn>t recogni?e< and thro"gh the sash at his 6aist he>d thr"st a c"rved dagger of
,rab stye. 2it and scabbard both 6ere siver b"t decorated 6ith r"nes fied 6ith back
nieo.
&/ho are yo"B& Strange de$anded< his eyes fiGed on 2o6ard. 2is voice 6as ike scaes
scra+ing on stone< and his back +"+is had a re+tiian gitter.
The ne6s +hotogra+hs hadn>t sho6n the ong scar do6n Strange>s eft cheekbone. There
6ere $any 6ays he co"d>ve been c"t< b"t ony one reason 2o6ard co"d i$agine that a
$an 6ith Strange>s $oney 6o"dn>t have had the scar re$oved by +astic s"rgery: +ride.
#t 6as a schaeger scar< a vestige of the styi?ed d"es 6ith heavy sabers that sti 6ent on
secrety at the od 7er$an "niversities. The +"r+ose of a schaeger bo"t 6asn>t to defeat
one>s foe b"t rather to get the scar as +roof of co"rage and disregard for the a6s 6hich
banned the +ractice.
1ind yo"< 2o6ard 6as +retty s"re that Strange>s o++onent had eft his share of bood on
the ha>s foor as 6e.
&2e>s aF& said 7enie before either 2o6ard or /ay co"d s+eak.
&#+higenia< go to yo"r @"arters at once<& Strange said in the sa$e r"sting tone as before.
2e didn>t s+eak o"dy< b"t his voice c"t thro"gh the b"?? of eectronics as s"rey as a
$o6er 6o"d the fo6ery $eado6 that 2o6ard tho"ght of 6hen entering the roo$. &Co"
dist"rb 1aster Po++e. #>ve 6arned yo" abo"t this.&
&B"t there>s nobody ese to talk toD&7enie said. Tho"gh she co$+ained< she 6aked
@"icky to6ard the door of her s"ite.
Strange ret"rned his attention to 2o6ard. &# said<& he re+eated< &6ho are yo"B&
&1r. Strange< # asked 1Fthat is< 2o6ard to he+ $eF& /ay said.
&#>$ the vo"nteer yo" re@"ested for yo"r eG+eri$ent< sir<& 2o6ard said 6itho"t the east
s"ggestion of a @"aver in his voice. &/ay hereF1r. Po++eFnoted that the agent 6on>t
be abe to carry a g"n into the other rea$< so $y ski 6ith a ra+ier is cr"cia.&
&Co" kno6 ho6 to "se a s6ordB& Strange sna++ed.
&Ces< sir<& 2o6ard said< standing very straight and kee+ing his eyes on the tycoon>s<
ho+ing that 6o"d $ake hi$ ook o+en and honest. :ven tho"gh 2o6ard 6as teing the
tr"th abo"t the fencing< Strange>s 6hoe tone and $anner $ade it see$ that everything he
6as being tod 6as a ie.
Besides considering that Strange $ight have hi$ shot as a s+y< there 6as the +ossibiity
that the /i?ard of 4ast 4ood 6o"d de$and 2o6ard d"e hi$ to +rove his ski. Beating
Strange 6o"d be dangero"sFrich $en 6ere sef;6ied and eG+osive if they didn>t get
6hat they 6anted. %osing to Strange $ight be even 6orse< es+eciay since 2o6ard didn>t
i$agine he>d have b"ttons on his s6ords any $ore than the fok on the other side of the
$ica 6indo6 did.
&Since #>$ an e$+oyee of Strangeco<& 2o6ard contin"ed< vis"ai?ing the Thief of
Baghdad dancing over +aace 6as 6hie $onsters snared beneath< &$y devotion to yo"
is aready ass"red.&
&Co" 6ork for $eB& Strange said. Then< as if he co"d re$e$ber each of the thirty
tho"sand Strangeco e$+oyees 6ord6ide< he said< &/hat>s yo"r na$eB&
The door s6"ng al#ost sh"t behind 7enie. &2o6ard ,bing Jones< sir<& 2o6ard said.
&,ssistant 1arketing ,ssociate in the ho$e office<& Strange said. My ;od, #aybe he did
kno& all thirty tho'sandB &Devoted< are yo"B P" the other eg< boyD B"t that doesn>t
$atter if yo">ve got the g"ts for the Aob.&
&Ces< sir< # do<& 2o6ard said. 2e ceared his throat and 6ent on< &# think # co"d honesty
say #>ve been training a $y ife for this o++ort"nity.&
&Co" +ractice the ,rt aso< JonesB& Strange de$anded< the hectoring do"bt back in his
voice. &The Back ,rts< # $ean. That>s 6hat they ca it< the +ig$ies 6ho ade+ts ike $e
cr"sh "nder o"r heesD&
&,h< # can>t cai$ to be an ade+t< sir<& 2o6ard said. 2e co"dn>t honestly cai$ to be
anything b"t a g"y 6ho occasionay 6atched horror $ovies. ,s far as that 6ent< he kne6
$ore abo"t being a va$+ire than being a $agician.
&NoB& said Strange. &/e< # a$< Jones. That>s ho6 # b"it Strangeco fro$ a corner hot
dog stand into 6hat it is no6. ,nd by 2is #nferna 1aAestyD that>s ho6 #> r"e the 6ord
6hen # have the staff of +o6er for $ysef. Nothing 6i sto+ $e< Jones. NothingD&
&1r. Strange< #>$ yo"r $anD& 2o6ard said. 2e s+oke enth"siasticay des+ite his concern
that Strange $ight re+y so$ething aong the ines of< &4ine< #> take yo"r kidneys no6 to
feed $y +et ferrets.&
&#f yo" serve $e 6e< yo" 6on>t regret it<& Strange said. 9ns+oken b"t $"ch o"der in
2o6ard>s $ind 6as the coroary: B't if yo' fail, - &on(t leave eno'gh of yo' to b'ryD
&1aster Po++e< can yo" be ready to +roceed in t6o ho"rsB& Strange asked. /hen he
taked to /ay< there 6as a res+ect in his tone that certainy hadn>t been +resent 6hen he
s+oke to 2o6ard or 7enie.
&/e< # s"++ose . . . &/ay said. 2e fro6ned in concentration< then shr"gged and
said< &# don>t see 6hy not< if 2o6ard is 6iing. # s"++ose 6e co"d start right no6< 1r.
Strange.&
&#t> take $e the t6o ho"rs to $ake $y o6n +re+arations<& Strange said 6ith a c"rt shake
of his head. &# res+ect yo"r art< 1aster Po++e< b"t # 6on>t de+end on it aone.&
,s he strode to6ard the door< Strange added 6itho"t t"rning his head< &#> have a back
e6e sent over. ,nd if that>s not eno"ghF6e> seeD&
* * *
&No6 hod yo"r ar$s o"t fro$ yo"r sho"ders< +ease< 2o6ard<& /ay said as he
changed va"es on his dis+ay. 2o6ard obeyed the 6ay he 6o"d if a barber tod hi$ to
tit his head.
/aiting as the itte $an $ade adA"st$ents gave 2o6ard eno"gh ti$e to ook over the
roo$. 1"ch of the racked e@"i+$ent $eant nothing to hi$< b"t his eyes ke+t co$ing
back to a back cabinet that ooked ike a refrigerator;si?ed t"be $ating 6ith a ro"nd sofa.
&/ayB& he said< his ar$s sti o"t. &/hat>s that in the northeast cornerB #s it an air
conditionerB&
&Eh< that>s the co$+"ter that does the $od"ations<& /ay said. &Co" can +"t yo"r ar$s
do6n no6 if yo" ike. # "sed a S"n 6orkstation to contro the 6indo6< b"t the +orta
re@"ires greaty $ore ca+acity. #>d tho"ght 6e>d A"st co"+e a net6ork of cac"ation
servers to the 6orkstation< b"t 1r. Strange +rovided a !ray instead to si$+ify the set"+
for the corrections.&
&Eh<& said 2o6ard< 6ondering 6hat a s"+erco$+"ter cost. Pocket change to the /i?ard
of 4ast 4ood< he s"++osed.
&No6 if yo"> t"rn co"ntercock6ise< +ease . . . & /ay said. &,bo"t fifteen
degrees.&
2o6ard 6ore a cotton caftan that ca$e fro$ 7enie>s s"ite. She>d bro"ght it in 6hen
2o6ard +rotested at standing b"ck naked in the $idde of the foor 6ith sec"rity ca$eras
6atching. 2o6ard 6as 6iing to acce+t that the cothes 6o"dn>t go thro"gh the +orta
6ith hi$< b"t 6aiting 6hie Pete and his +artner ch"cked abo"t his $asc"ine
endo6$ents 6as a different $atter.
Not that there 6as anything 6rong 6ith his $asc"ine endo6$ents.
7enie didn>t stay< b"t 2o6ard kne6 she 6as kee+ing abreast of 6hat 6ent on thro"gh the
+art;o+en door. 2e 6asn>t s"re 6hether he 6as gad of that or not.
The $ica 6indo6 ooked onto the gade 6here 2o6ard 6o"d enter the other 6ord if
everything 6ent right. Eccasionay a s$a ani$a a++eared briefyFonce 2o6ard sa6
6hat ooked very $"ch ike a +ink bass s6i$$ing thro"gh the airFb"t /ay had
chosen the site beca"se it 6as isoated. There 6as ony so $"ch yo" co"d get fro$
eaves @"ivering< even if they did see$ to be soid god.
The car+ets< ayered ike roof shinges over the concrete< 6eren>t the ne"tray eGotic
designs yo" nor$ay sa6 on Erienta r"gs. So$e of these had styi?ed ca$es and birds<
s"re* b"t one had tanks< Aets< and bright eG+osions< 6hie +eacock;6inged devis ca+ered
as they tort"red +eo+e against the back backgro"nd of the ne6er;ooking r"gs.
,ro"nd 6here 2o6ard stood 6as a siG;+ointed star dra6n in i$e ike the $arkings of a
footba fied. 2o6ard 6o"d>ve eG+ected a +entace< b"t he didn>t do"bt Strange kne6
6hat he 6as doing.
, 2o6ard hi$sef 6as s"re of 6as that he 6as taking a chance at advent"re 6hen it
a++eared. #f that 6as a bad idea< then he ho+ed he 6o"dn>t have ong to regret his
decision.
#t $ight be a very bad idea.
&There<& said /ay. &There>s nothing $ore # can do "nti 6e act"ay begin b"iding the
charge. Then # $ay have toF&
Robert Strange entered thro"gh a +edestrian door set in one of the siG vehice doors aong
the o"tside 6a. The back shee+ he ed ooked +"??ed< a feeing 6hich 2o6ard hi$sef
echoed.
&Co">re ready< 1aster Po++eB& he asked.
A1y?eh?he?e<& said the shee+. Strange Aerked the eash vicio"sy. The cord ooked ike
siver< b"t it 6as f"nctiona eno"gh to choke the shee+ to sience 6hen Strange ifted his
ar$.
&Ces< 1r. Strange<& /ay said. &#>$ a itte 6orried abo"t 2o6ard>s $ass< tho"gh.
:ighty;seven kios $ay be too $"ch.&
&Too $"chB& sna++ed Strange. &#f yo" needed $ore transfor$ers< yo" sho"d have said
soD&
&Too $"ch for the fabric of the "niverse< 1r. Strange<& said /ay< as $id as ever b"t
co$+etey "nda"nted at the anger of a $an 6ho scared the iving cra+ o"t of 2o6ard
Jones. &# reay don>t 6ant to go to $ore than thirty kio6atts.&
Strange sniffed. &The s"bAect>s readyB& he said. &Co"< Jones* yo">re readyB&
&1y?eh?heG& the shee+ re+eated< roing its eyes. 2er eyes< 2o6ard ass"$ed< since
Strange said he 6as fetching a e6e. The tycoon>s dagger hit 6inked in the bright
aboratory ighting.
&Ces< sirD& 2o6ard said.
Strange gri$aced< then bent and tied the eash aro"nd a ring set in the drain. 2e t"rned
his head to 2o6ard and said< &Co" kno6 6hat yo">re going to doB&
&Sir< #>$ going to enter the other and<& 2o6ard said. &#> take the sce+ter fro$ the king
of that and and ret"rn here to yo" 6ith it.&
,s a state$ent of intent it 6as concise and acc"rate. ,s a +an of action it acked detai<
b"t there 6asn>t eno"gh infor$ation on this side of the +orta to for$ a rea +an. 2o6ard
6as "neasiy a6are that his foray< even if he 6o"nd "+ in a dragon>s g"et< 6o"d
+rovide infor$ation so that the neGt agent co"d do better.
&, right<& Strange said. &7ive $e a $o$ent and then +roceed.&
There 6ere dra+es b"nched a$ong the 6a hangings. ,s Strange s+oke< he dre6 the$
aong a track in the ceiing to se+arate his corner of the roo$ fro$ 2o6ard and /ay.
The e6e beated again.
&Co" $ay begin< 1aster Po++e<& Strange caed< his voice $"ffed by the thick fabric.
2e broke into a $"sica chant. The so"nds fro$ his throat 6eren>t 6ords< or at east
6ords in :ngish.
&Co">re ready< 2o6ardB& /ay said.
2o6ard nodded. 2is throat 6as dry and he didn>t 6ant to e$barrass hi$sef by having
his voice crack in the $idde of a si$+e 6ord ike< &Ces.&
/ay rotated a s6itch< c"tting the ceiing ights to red beads a$ong the di$$ing ghosts
of the f"orescent fiGt"res. The sheet of $ica< bright 6ith the dayight of another 6ord<
shone ike a antern beside the itte $an as he ty+ed co$$ands.
There 6as a re+tiian vicio"sness to Strange>s voice< and the shee+ 6as $anaging to
6hi$+er ike a frightened baby. The hair on 2o6ard>s ar$s and the back of his neck
began to rise. 4or a $o$ent he tho"ght that 6as his reaction to the so"nds co$ing fro$
beyond the dra+es< b"t as the f"orescents cooed to abso"te back 2o6ard sa6 a faint
vioet a"ra cinging to three racks of e@"i+$ent.
/ay 6as generating very high fre@"ency c"rrent at a considerabe votage. 2o6ard
decided he didn>t 6ant to think abo"t ho& high the votage 6as.
/ay $"ttered as he 6orked. Tho"gh 2o6ard co"d see his i+s $ove< the 6ords 6eren>t
a"dibe over the h"$ of five transfor$ers aong the o"tside 6a. The o+ening bet6een
7enie>s door and the Aa$b 6as fainty visibe.
The air s+"ttered. 2o6ard fet a directioness +"< "n+easant 6itho"t being reay
+ainf". Iioet ight fickered thro"gh the $ica< a $o$entary +"se fro$ the 6ord across
the barrier.
Strange sho"ted a fina 6ord. The shee+ beated on a rising note ending in so a6f" a
g"rge that 2o6ard +ressed his hands to his ears before he re$e$bered that $oving
$ight affect /ay>s cac"ations. The e6e>s hooves ratted on the concrete* the c"rtain
bio6ed as the ani$a thrashed.
2o6ard 6o"d>ve covered his ears even if he had tho"ght abo"t /ay. The so"nd 6as
horrible.
/ay ty+ed< his eyes on the co$+"ter dis+ay. 2e>d s"cked his o6er i+ bet6een his
teeth to che6 as he concentrated. The transfor$ers h"$$ed o"der b"t didn>t change
tone.
2o6ard fet the indescribabe +" again. #n the other 6ord the vioet ha?e for$ed again<
this ti$e in the sha+e of a h"$an being.
, b"e fash and a B3N;B ike a cannon shot eng"fed the ab< st"nning 2o6ard into a
6ordess sho"t. 2e ca++ed his hands< a refeG to +rove that he 6as sti aive.
The air stank of b"rning tar. Dirty red fa$es icked fro$ one of the transfor$ers on the
o"tside 6a. 2o6ard dre6 in a dee+ breath of reief. 2e i$$ediatey regretted it 6hen
acrid s$oke bro"ght on a fit of co"ghing.
Strange snatched o+en the c"rtains< his face a $ask of cod f"ry. The e6e ay over the
drain< her egs s+ayed ike those of a s@"ashed insect. 2er eyes sti had a +"??ed ook<
b"t they 6ere aready beginning to ga?e.
/ay changed va"es at his keyboard 6ith a resigned eG+ression. 2o6ard ooked for a
fire eGting"isher. 2e didn>t see one< b"t he 6aked +ast /ay and t"rned the $ain ights
back on. The transfor$er 6as s$odering itsef o"t< tho"gh an occasiona si??e $ade
2o6ard thankf" that the foor 6as covered 6ith non;cond"ctive 6oo.
&/hat 6ent 6rongB& Strange said. &# kno6 that the transfor$er faied* &hy did it faiB&
&The oad 6as too great<& /ay said si$+y. &/e very neary s"cceeded. #f 6e re+ace
the transfor$erF&
&/e> do"be the ca+acity<& Strange said. &/e> $ake another atte$+t tonight< at
$idnight this ti$e. # never tho"ght yo" 6ere caref" eno"gh 6ith yo"r ti$ing< 1aster
Po++e.&
&Sir< # don>t think it 6o"d be safe to increase o"t+"t beyondF& /ay said.
&/e> do"be itD& Strange said< his tone a ras+ ike stee grating on rib bones. &#f 6e don>t
need the eGtra 6attage< then 6e 6on>t "se it< b"t 6e> "se as $"ch as it re@"iresD&
2e ooked disg"stedy at the dagger in his hand< then 6i+ed the bade on the c"rtain and
sheathed the 6ea+on. 2e strode +ast 2o6ard and /ay to the ha door* 2o6ard 6atched
hi$ 6ith a fiGed s$ie< "nco$fortaby a6are that instinct tensed hi$ to r"n in case
Strange ea+ed for his throat.
The Thief of Baghdad $ight>ve had a better idea. En the other hand< 2o6ard didn>t
re$e$ber the Thief of Baghdad facing anything @"ite ike Robert Strange.
Strange th"$+ed the ha door cosed* it 6as too heavy to bang. ,t the so"nd< 7enie>s
door o+ened a itte 6ider and the si$ gir ret"rned. She gri$aced 6hen she sa6 the e6e.
#t>d voided its bo6es 6hen it died< so that odor $inged 6ith the fresh bood and b"rned
ins"ation.
&,re yo" a right< /ayB& she asked. &,nd yo"< 2o6ard. #>$ not "sed to there being
anybody b"t /ay here.&
&#>$ sorry yo" had to see that< #+higenia<& /ay said 6ith a +ert"rbed gance to6ard the
e6e. &Co" reay sho"dn>t have co$e in "nti the cre6 has ceaned things "+.&
&/ay< #>ve ived 6ith Robert for fifteen years<& 7enie said b"nty.&There>ve been 6orse
things than the occasiona dead ani$a. # 6as 6orried abo"t yo" and 2o6ard.&
&#t A"st ticked a itte<& 2o6ard said. #f he et hi$sef think abo"t events in the right 6ay<
he 6as +retty s"re he co"d $ake the ast ten $in"tes or so so"nd $ore heroic than they>d
see$ed 6hie they 6ere ha++ening.
&There 6asn>t any risk< #+higenia<& /ay said. ,t first he didn>t ook directy at her< b"t
then he raised his eyes 6ith an effort of 6i. &,hF# reay a++reciate yo"r concern< b"t
right no6 # have so$ething i$+ortant to disc"ss 6ith 1r.F6ith 2o6ard< that is. !an
yo"< # $ean 6o"d yo" . . . B&
&, right< /ay<& the gir said< so"nding +"??ed and a itte h"rt. She nodded to 2o6ard
and 6aked to her roo$ 6ith s6ift< cean strides. This ti$e the door sh"t fir$y.
Ene of the vehic"ar doors in the o"tside 6a started "+ 6ith a r"$be of heavy gears. ,
tea$ of s6arthy $en< beardess b"t heaviy $"stached< stood beside a fatbed tr"ck. They
entered< +aying no attention to 2o6ard and /ay. Ene ifted the shee+ over his sho"der
and 6aked back to the tr"ck 6ith it* his three feo6s started disconnecting the 6recked
transfor$er. They taked a$ong the$seves in g"tt"ra singsongs.
&/i yo" co$e here +ease< 2o6ardB&/ay said< sho6ing no $ore interest in the
6ork$en than they did in hi$. 2e adA"sted the $ica screen to sho6 the s+ring again. &#<
ah< have a favor to ask yo".&
, co"+eFnot the sa$e ones as beforeFsat on the +oo>s $ossy co+ing< interacing the
fingers of one hand as they +assed a c"+ back and forth 6ith the other. /ay tightened
the foc"s so that their $"t"ay oving eG+ressions 6ere "n$istakabe.
&Ces< /ayB& 2o6ard +rodded.
&The 6ater of this s+ring a++ears to have certain +ro+erties<& /ay said. 2e ooked
fiGedy at 2o6ard to avoid 6atching the co"+e 6ho>d beg"n to fonde one another. The
stat"es@"e bonde ay back on the s6ard and t"gged her +artner over her 6itho"t
bothering to 6ak to the +rivacy of the nearby bo6ers. &Co"> have noticed that.&
&# s"re notice so$ething<& 2o6ard said. 2e 6asn>t s"re ho6 he fet abo"t the sho6: it
6as rea +eo+e< not actors. /e< actors 6ere rea +eo+e too b"t they kne6 they 6ere
going to be 6atched.
The 6ork$en hoisted the transfor$er by hand instead of bringing in a derrick for the Aob.
#t $"st 6eigh cose to haf a ton. They 6aked o"t and sid it onto the tr"ck bed< forcing a
s@"ea fro$ the s+rings.
/ay gri$aced and b"rred the i$age to bright s+arkes 6ithin the $ica sheet.&#f #
s"cceed in o+ening the +orta to the other 6ord< 2o6ard<& he said< &yo"> have a very
diffic"t Aob to gain the king>s sce+ter. # don>t beieve in $agic< not here or there either
one< b"t the ani$a g"arding the king a++ears for$idabe.&
&The dragon<& 2o6ard said. &Ceah< it does.&
#f 2o6ard et hi$sef consider the detais of ho6 he 6as going to get the sce+ter< it>d
scare the s+it o"t of hi$. By i$iting his tho"ghts to vag"e s6oo+s across the ha on a
handy ro+e< foo6ed by a $ighty ea+ fro$ a bacony;eve 6indo6< he 6as $anaging to
kee+ his a+o$b.
&,nd of co"rse 6e>re not s"re it> be +ossibe to bring inani$ate obAects thro"gh the
+orta in this direction< since 6e can>t do it 6hie going the other 6ay<& /ay contin"ed
6ith a soe$n nod. 2e started to refoc"s on the s+ring< then snatched his hand back fro$
the keyboard 6ith a b"sh.
&# "nderstand a the diffic"ties and dangers yo"> face< 2o6ard<& /ay said. 2e stared
in the direction of 7enie>s cosed door* he ooked as if he 6as abo"t to cry. &Regardess<
#>d ike yo" to do $e a favor if yo" can. #>d ike yo" to bring $e a +hia of 6ater fro$ the
s+ring 6e A"st ooked at. # . . . #>d be very gratef".&
*o' poor little g'yB 2o6ard tho"ght. ,o"d he said< &,h< /ayB #> do 6hat # canF&
/hich $ight not be a heck of a ot. -f 2o6ard arrived< he>d be bare;assed naked and in
the $idde of a b"nch of g"ys 6ith s6ords they kne6 ho6 to "se. Not to $ention the
occasiona dragon.
&Fb"t yo" kno6< it isn>t that hard to< ah< $eet girs.&2e +a"sed to choose the neGt 6ords
caref"y.&%ots of ti$es A"st being aro"nd one for a 6hie is eno"gh to< yo" kno6< bring
the t6o of yo" together. #f yo" +ay yo"r cards right.&
The tr"ck drove off 6ith a snort of diese eGha"st as the garage door began to r"$be
do6n. The cor+ses of the shee+ and transfor$er ay together in the bed of the vehice.
&#>ve never +ayed cards at a< 2o6ard<& the itte $an said 6ith a sad s$ie.&# g"ess this
is hard for a handso$e yo"ng $an ike yo" to "nderstand< b"t . . . &
2e t"rned his head a6ay and 6i+ed his eyes fiercey.
&2ey< that>s a right< /ay<& 2o6ard said< +atting hi$ on the back.&S"re< #> take care of
that if there>s< yo" kno6< any 6ay to do it. No +robe$.&
!o$+ared to the rest of the assign$ent< that 6as the gos+e tr"th.
&Thank yo"< 2o6ard<& /ay said thro"gh a racking sn"ffe. &#>$< 6e< #>$ "cky to have
$et a rea hero ike yo" in $y ti$e of need.&
Eny fainty a"dibe thro"gh the heavy doors< another big tr"ck 6as +"ing "+ o"tside. ,
reay cicked and the $achinery began to r"$be again.
&# fee s"re 6e>re going to s"cceed<& /ay added. &#f 6e have to do"be the fied
strength< 6e< that>s A"st 6hat 6e>re going to do. No $atter 6hatD&
/ay so"nded a ot $ore cheerf" 6hen he $ade that +ro$ise than 2o6ard 6as to hear
it.
* * *
/ith the siG ne6 transfor$ers in +ace< the ine a$ost fied the o"tside 6a. En that
side ony the c"rtained;off cornerFthey 6ere aready dra6nFdidn>t have $achinery
s@"atting on it. 2o6ard co"d sti s$e b"rned ins"ation. 2e>d never tho"ght he>d be
thankf" for a stink ike that< b"t it covered other +ossibe re$inders of the afternoon>s
eG+eri$ent.
/ay ooked at 2o6ard and tried to force a grin. 2is eG+ression 6o"d>ve been $ore
a++ro+riate for so$ebody being ra+ed by a !hrist$as tree.
&2ey< b"ck "+< b"ddy<& 2o6ard said. &/e>re going to be fineD&
4"nny< b"t teing the ie $ade 2o6ard fee that the 6ords $ight +ossiby be tr"e.
%ogicay he kne6 a ot better.
The door hidden behind the c"rtain o+ened. 2o6ard heard a clink over the h"$ of
$achinery as so$ething hard br"shed against the raised inte. 2e 6ondered 6hat ani$a
Strange 6as bringing in to sacrifice this ti$e. 2o6ard had eG+ected a heifer or $aybe an
ee+hant< b"t Strange 6o"d>ve had to raise the vehic"ar door to bring in ani$as that
big.
Strange st"ck his head o"t bet6een t6o c"rtain +anes. &,re yo" ready to +roceed<
1aster Po++eB& he asked. 2e hed the c"rtains together so that a 2o6ard co"d see 6as
the throat of his gar$ents. 2e see$ed to be 6earing the sa$e siver;$arked back satin
as in the afternoon.
&# beieveF&/ay said. 2e ca"ght 2o6ard>s terse nod and contin"ed< &Ces< 6e>re ready<
1r. Strange. #t> take ninety seconds fro$ 6henever 6e start to b"id the fied.&
&Start no6< then<& Strange said c"rty. 2e dre6 the c"rtains tight behind hi$ and began to
chant. 2is 6ords had considerabe $"sica +o6er des+ite being co$+ete gibberish. That
6as aso tr"e of o+era< of co"rse< so far as 2o6ard 6as concerned.
/ay tried to s$ie again< then b"sied hi$sef 6ith his keyboard. The $ica 6indo6
ooked onto the gade< e$+ty save for trees and the fitting +assage of a bird 6hose
+"$age 6as as +"rey b"e as the s"$$er sky. 2o6ard 6atched the scientist< and he
6atched i$ages on the $ica* b"t $ore co$+eing than those< he istened thro"gh the
c"rtains at his back to the so"nd of Robert Strange>s voice chanting.
2o6ard fet the hairs ift fro$ his body. /here those of his chest to"ched the oose caftan
they ticked ike the feeing at the back of a dry throat that yo" can>t see$ to s6ao6
a6ay. Iioet ha?e b"rred the air beyond the $ica.
7enie Strange screa$ed.
2o6ard t"rned. The door to 7enie>s roo$ 6as cosedFcosed and atched. The dra+es
aro"nd Strange and his activities b"ged o"t6ard.
7enie ho++ed thro"gh and fe< dragging a section of the vevet do6n. The scarf "sed to
gag her had si++ed o"t of her $o"th* it 6as the ony gar$ent she 6as 6earing. 2er
6rists and ankes 6ere tied together behind her back< b"t she>d $anaged to "ndo the cord
that>d bo"nd her to the drain.
Robert Strange< his face as hard and contorted as that of a $arbe de$on< ste++ed o"t
behind her. 2e grabbed a handf" of 7enie>s back hair 6ith his free hand.
&2eyD& 2o6ard said. There 6as a bank of e@"i+$ent bet6een hi$ and the Stranges. ,s
gracef"y as if he>d been +racticing a his ife< 2o6ard took t6o r"nning ste+s< +anted
his right +a$ on the rack< and ea+ed over 6ith his egs s6"ng off to his eft side. :ven
the Thief of Baghdad 6o"d be i$+ressedF
9nti the caftan>s bio6ing he$ ca"ght the chassis f" of +"g;in circ"its on to+ of the
rack. ,s 2o6ard>s egs straightened< the tightening coth s+ied hi$ ike a assoed steer.
Strange ooked at hi$ 6itho"t eG+ression.
2o6ard s+rang "+. The torn caftan< b"nched no6 aro"nd his ankes< tri++ed hi$ again.
Strange ifted 7enie>s head< avoiding her atte$+ts to bite hi$. 2e +oised the c"rved
dagger in his right hand over her throat. 2o6ard grabbed the sides of the r"g on 6hich
he>d faen and Aerked 6ith a his strength< snatching Strange>s feet o"t fro$ "nder hi$.
&Co" . . . D& sho"ted Strange as he to++ed back6ard. 7enie>d tossed her short hair
free of his gri+< b"t he didn>t ose the dagger in his other hand. #t 6as "nderneath 6hen
the /i?ard of 4ast 4ood hit the concrete.
The chassis that 2o6ard>d dragged to the foor 6ith hi$ 6as +o++ing and s+"ttering< b"t
he 6asn>t +re+ared for the fash of vioet ight that fied the interior of the ab. #t 6as so
intense that 2o6ard ony vag"ey noticed the acco$+anying th"nderca+. 2e heard /ay
cry o"t and t"rned.
/ay 6asn>t there. 2is cothing< fro$ bro6n shoes to the +air of reading gasses he 6ore
tited "+ on his forehead< ay in the $idde of the heGagra$. The h"ndred and t6enty;
three +o"nds of /ay Po++e had vanished.
:Gce+t for an i$age in the $ica 6indo6.
2o6ard ifted 7enie before he re$e$bered that her ste+father and the dagger $ight be of
$ore i$$ediate concern. 2e ooked back.
2e>d been right the first ti$e. Strange>s face 6as t"rned to6ard 2o6ard. 2e ooked
abso"tey f"rio"s. 2e>d $anaged to thrash into a +rone +osition 6hie dying< b"t the
siver hit +roAecting fro$ the $idde of his back sho6ed that dying 6as certainy 6hat
he>d done.
The transfor$er on the far eft of the ine shorted o"t. The one neGt to it 6ent a heartbeat
ater< and 6hen the third faied it sho6ered the roo$ 6ith bobs of fa$ing tar. Ene of
the$ sa++ed the $ica 6indo6< and shattered it ike a bo$b.
&!an yo" +ease "ntie $e< 2o6ardB& asked the gir in his ar$s. &Tho"gh the 6ay things
are starting to ha++en in here< $aybe that co"d 6ait ti 6e>re o"tside.&
&RightD& said 2o6ard. &RightD&
2e +a"sed to shr"g off 6hat 6as eft of the caftan* it had started to b"rn as 6e.
So$eho6 he co"dn>t get concerned abo"t 6hat the g"ards tho"ght of hi$ no6.
* * *
Beca"se he and 7enie 6ere going to be gone for at east three 6eeks and a fo"rth besides
if the !hinese a"thorities agreed to o+en Tibet to StrangecoF 6hich they 6o"d* 2o6ard
Jones 6asn>t caed the S6ashb"cker of 4ast 4ood for nothingF2o6ard sto++ed by the
$ansion>s for$er garage for a $o$ent. 2e iked to< 6e< kee+ an eye on ho6 things 6ere
going.
2e>d had the big roo$ ceaned and neary :$+tied i$$ediatey after the 6edding< b"t he
sti s$eed the bitterness of b"rned ins"ation. 2e s"++osed it 6as $osty in his $ind by
no6.
7enie>d 6anted to tear the garage do6n co$+etey since it hed nothing b"t bad
$e$ories for her< b"t she>d agreed to et 2o6ard kee+ the roo$ so ong as he>d had the
door into her od s"ite 6eded sh"t. She 6asn>t the sort of gir to obAect to the 6hi$ of the
$an 6ho>d saved her ife* besides< she oved her h"sband.
2o6ard 6ent to the skeeta a++arat"s on the one rack re$aining in the roo$. Three hair;
fine fia$ents 6ere sti attached to the to+ edge of a +iece of $ica no bigger than a
@"arter.
2o6ard bent to +eer into it. #f yo" ooked caref"y at the right ti$es< yo" co"d see
i$ages in the $ica.
The foc"s 6andered. 2o6ard hadn>t tried to adA"st the a++arat"s hi$sef or et anybody
ese take a ook at it. 1osty a there 6as to see 6as sno6< b"t this ti$e he 6as in "ck.
The +ee+hoe ooked o"t at the s+ring 6here co"+es "sed to cavort. /ay 6as there 6ith
his ento"rage< checking the generating t"rbine he>d b"it to +o6er the first eectric ights
in his ne6 ho$e. #f 2o6ard "nderstood the +re+arations he>d seen going on in the roya
+aace ast 6eek< tee+hones 6ere abo"t to foo6.
/hen /ay t"rned 6ith a satisfied eG+ression< 2o6ard 6aved. 2e kne6 the itte feo6
co"dn>t see hi$< b"t it $ade 2o6ard fee he 6as sort of kee+ing in to"ch. /ay 6aked
o"t of the i$age area s"rro"nded by co"rtiers.
2o6ard checked his 6atch and sighed* he needed to get $oving. 2e>d +ro$ised the
co$+any fencing tea$ that he and 7enie 6o"d at east dro+ in on their $atch 6ith
Princeton. ,fter 2o6ard instit"ted $orning "nity;b"iding fencing eGercises thro"gho"t
Strangeco< a n"$ber of the e$+oyees had beco$e fencing enth"siasts.
2o6ard took a ast ook at the +oo in the other 6ord. 2e>d never seen /ay take a si+
of the 6ater< and it didn>t see$ ikey that he ever 6o"d.
,fter a< a +o6erf" 6i?ard ike 1aster Po++e had to beat off bea"tif" 6o$en 6ith a
stick.
Smokie oe

-(ve recently beg'n &riting big?b'dget fantasy novels. The first :'estion
intervie&ers ask #e is al#ost invariably, AWhy did yo' s&itch fro#
#ilitary SF to fantasyGA

The tr'thHas this vol'#e provesHis that - started o't &riting fantasy.
3fter - got back fro# So'theast 3sia in "CE" - had first?hand kno&ledge of
&ar and the #ilitary. - 'sed that backgro'nd in science fiction stories
&hich event'ally 4and - #ean event'ally5 got #e a na#e for &riting
#ilitary SF@ b't - love fantasy, and -(ve never stopped &riting it.

3 British &riter and editor, Michel $arry, edited a n'#ber of interesting
original 4or partly original5 horror and fantasy anthologies in the "CE>s.
These didn(t pay a lotH- believe everything - sold Michel &as at a penny a
&ordHb't they &ere sales 4and to real p'blishers like Mayflo&er and
Star5 at a ti#e &hen there &ere very fe& o'tlets in the FS for fantasy.
4More places in the FS &o'ld b'y SF. For the #ost part - got re9ections
fro# the#, b't there &ere at least #agazines to &hich - co'ld send #y
stories.5

.ne of Michel(s odder endeavors &as to edit Devil(s )isses and More
Devil(s )isses, anthologies of erotic horror stories, 'nder the na#e 2inda
2ovecraftHthe trade#ark of a chain of British se8 shops. My
'nderstanding is that 2inda 2ovecraft, like 7'an ,aldez, &as the fig#ent
of a #arketing &easel(s i#agination@ - recall Michel saying that he(d
&ondered if he &as going to have to appear in co'rt in drag and a blond
&ig after the raid.

We(ll get to the raid later.

Michel asked #e to s'b#it to the second vol'#e@ - &rote AS#okie 7oe.A
4The idiosyncratic spelling As#okieA see#ed right for the character. -
don(t kno& &hy.5 There(s se8 in it, b't - don(t &ant to #eet the person &ho
gets an erotic thrill fro# this one.

AS#okie 7oeA is a deal?&ith?the?Devil story 4set in 7oliet, -llinois, tho'gh
the setting isn(t cr'cial to the plot5. My proble# &ith #ost of the genre is
that the Devil doesn(t co#e thro'gh as really evil. My Devil is evil@ and -
don(t trivialize evil, especially since - ca#e back fro# ,iet Na#.

Michel sent #e a copy of More Devil(s )isses hot off the presses. That &as
a good thing, beca'se no sooner had the book hit the ne&sstands than the
police i#po'nded all copies on an obscenity co#plaint and briefly locked
'p the in?ho'se editor. The charges &ere dropped &hen the p'blisher
4/orgi5 p'lped the &hole edition.

Beca'se the #atter didn(t go to trial, there(s no certainty as to &hich
precise #atters &ere the s'b9ect of the co#plaint. The best bet is that the
/hris Miller piece had ca'sed the proble#, b't that &as a reprint fro# a
#agazine &hich had been sold in Britain &itho't ob9ection. The only
other evidence is that &hen the book &as bro'ght o't in ;er#any, t&o
stories &ere dropped@ Miller(s and AS#okie 7oe.A

-(ve not only been banned in Britain, -(ve been banned in ;er#any too.
#t 6as Sat"rday night b"t To$ 1"ens> n"$bers +aror 6as as sti as the $org"e Big
To$ eG+ected to grace the neGt day. 2e 6as s6eating. 2e +retended not to< thinking that
it 6o"d be read as fear by the three sets of eyes trained on hi$ across the co"nting tabe*
b"t the dro+s r"nneed o"t of his sti;dark c"rs and do6n his beefy face. 2e had a6ays
bragged that his t6o knobby fists $ade hi$ a $atch for any chea+ g"n$an. T"io>s boys
didn>t 6ork chea+< and Big To$>s throat had cogged 6ith the od boast 6hen he sa6 the
cratered offa their 9?is had eft of seven of his r"nners.
%od 1ahoney co"dn>t have cared ess abo"t 1"ens> s6eat: his eyes 6ere bind and
staring 6ith his o6n fear. %od 6as a +a"nchy< bading fifty;five< the ar$+its and ong
seeves of his 6hite shirt $oist b"t his bo6 tie sti a neat dark band of res+ectabiity. 2e
had stayed this fina< terribe 6eek 6ith Big To$ not o"t of oyaty b"t beca"se he 6as
ony the bookkee+er he a++eared to be. !ri$ina in his associations< not his instincts< %od
did not kno6 ho6 to r"n.
#f Big To$ ooked a boar at bay< his son Danny had the s"ky nervo"sness of a 6e;
6hi++ed dog. 2is eyes darted back and forth a$ong the others in the roo$< eGcited to be
6here he had never before been ao6ed< b"t +ettish to kno6 that it 6as ony beca"se his
father did not tr"st hi$ oose. Danny>s adoescent face 6as an ar$at"re for the conficting
e$otions his $ind thre6 on it. En 1onday g"nshots had caed hi$ to a 6indo6.
1e$ory of 6hat he had seen in the street no6 doo+ed occasiona terror onto his
eG+ression.
,cross fro$ Big To$< his hands deicate b"t a$ost as dark as the scarred $a+e on
6hich they ay< s$ied S$okie Joe. 2is goatee bobbed in a h"$or that no one 6ith hi$
in the roo$ co"d see. &# can find a co"+e hard boys<& he said in a honey;goden voice<
&6ho can get yo" o"t of this yet< Big To$.&
&/hatB& 1"ens snared< cenching a fist to 6i+e a6ay the s$irk he 6as s"re "nderay
the 6ords. B"t S$okie Joe>s ca$ beied a Aoke. The back eyes 6ere +acid< the +erfect
feat"res co$+osed beneath the sick back hair.&#ce$an<& Big To$ $"ttered< b"t ao"d he
de$anded< &, right< 6hat>s the hitchB /hat does anybody o"t of a f"nny far$ 6ant to
get $iGed "+ 6ith $e no6B&
&Eh< 6e<& his si$ ie"tenant said 6ith the sa$e s"ave ease that had taken hi$ to the to+
of 1"ens> organi?ation in the brief $onths since he had a++eared. 2e s+read his +a$s
"+6ard. &They> 6ant a +iece of the action< s"re. 2af of anything they generate after
things get straightened aro"nd.&
&That>s nothingD& Big To$ said< asto"nded.
&To$< they> be SyndicateF& b"rted 1ahoney< a ne6 fear sta$+ing itsef across his
face.
&Do yo" think # careB& 1"ens sho"ted. 2e stood< his eyes ficking to the binds dra6n
across 6indo6s in 6hich b"et;+roof %eGan had re+aced the gass. 2e roed his ar$s as
if ifting a h"ge 6eight to his chest. &# 6on>t ook at 6here he+ co$es fro$ no6 if it>
take o"t T"io<& he said. &1y grand$other a6ays said she 6as a 6itch< yo" kno6B
/hen # sa6 this co$ing siG $onths ago # o+ened her s+e;book and +rayed to the Devi
he sho"d he+ $e. ,nd # $eant it< by 7od.&
&Tho"ght it 6as that si$+eB& s$ied S$okie Joe as he< too< rose to his feet. &Ene thing<
tho"gh<& he added< eaning for6ard a itte so that his kn"ckes rested on the tabe.&Co">ve
got a choice< Big To$. B"t after yo" choose< there>s no going back . . . Do yo"
"nderstandB&
&# 6on>t go back on $y 6ord<& 1"ens said. 2e took a dee+ breath beca"se S$okie Joe
see$ed to have gro6n< to b"k h"ge in the artificia ight. &# s6ear on $y $other>s
grave.&
&En yo"r so"< To$ 1"ens<& de$anded the honeyed voice.
&# s6ear on $y so".&
&/hat the 2e do yo" thinkF& Danny 1"ens began< b"t S$okie Joe>s conte$+t fro?e
hi$ at his father>s side.
&2od yo"r tong"e 6hen $en tak< boy<& Joe sneered. Then< to the entrance;6ay door that
sho"d have been g"arded by sack;faced R"dy %"scher< he caed< &!o$e on in< boys.&
The door o+ened. Both the fig"res standing there 6ere ta and dressed 6ith the greasy
cas"aness of back;yard $echanics. Ene 6as thin and +ae< the other a s@"at giant 6hose
st"$+y egs gave hi$ the b"id of a d6arf t6ice $agnified. &Nick< ,ngeo* $eet Big
To$ 1"ens< yo"r ne6 e$+oyer<& said Joe< his hand indicating the ne6co$ers 6ith the
grace of an e$cee bringing on the star t"rn.
&/here the f"ck is R"dyB& Big To$ asked. &Dr"nk< asee+ . . . & the giant shr"gged.
&#f yo"r+eo+e6ereanygood<yo"6o"dn>tneed"s.&2isvoice6asincongr"o"sy as s6eet as
a cha+e be. &Co" 6ant "s to take o"t T"io< 1r. 1"ensB&
&7odda$ned right<& 1"ens agreed 6ith an angry nod. &,ny 6ay yo" can.&
&,nd 6e>re +art of yo"r organi?ation after6ards<& the cor+se;+ae ne6co$er added.
Neither of the$ had any eG+ression in their eyes.&/e get haf of anything 6e bring in<
and yo" give "s a free hand.&
&# aready said soD&Big To$ ba?ed.&No6< do yo" stand here a night 6aiting for T"io
to set "+ one ast hitB&
S$okie Joe broke in 6ith a a"gh that chied the roo$.&Eh< don>t 6orry abo"t T"io.
Not after to$orro6 $orning.&2e 6as sti a"ghing 6hen Nick and ,ngeo t"rned and
eft the roo$. They cosed the door very genty behind the$.
* * *
The back !adiac got a fina dab before T"io>s cha"ffe"r foded the cha$ois and
ste++ed back. :very S"nday $orning he +arked s@"arey in front of St #renae"s to et o"t
t6o bodyg"ards and his e$+oyer: T"io had not $issed $ass or $ade confession in
thirty;seven years. By no6 +eo+e kne6 not to take T"io>s +ace at the c"rb. Peo+e
kne6For they earned< ike the o6ner of the red I/ 6as going to earn. The cha"ffe"r
s+at a gobbet that dribbed do6n the s"itcase ashed ike a dorsa fin to the Ioks6agen>s
roof.
The s$a bo$b behind the atar of St #renae"s ratted the S"nday @"iet and shivered the
rose 6indo6 on the street side. The cha"ffe"r>s Aa6 tre$bed. 2e dro++ed the coth and
A"$+ed in to crank the big< sient engine of the !adiac. The ch"rch doors sa$$ed back<
the bodyg"ards fanning to right and eft 6ith +istos in their hands. T"io st"$bed o"t
behind the$< his thin face yeo6 eGce+t 6here s+atters of the +riest>s bood had $arked
it. The trio sc"tted do6n the ste+s< their eyes darting abo"t the street ike i?ards>
tong"es. R"thess ebo6s and g"n b"tts had ri++ed the gangsters thro"gh shocked
ch"rchgoers< b"t no6 the doors s+ied o"t net;veied 6o$en and $en in dark s"its.
The directiona $ine on the Ioks6agen>s roof sa6ed the$ do6n 6ith over a tho"sand
stee +eets.
T"io>s cha"ffe"r ha$$ered at his door< 6edged by the force of the eG+osion. The fo"r;
inch gass of the 6indshied 6as fogged 6ith shatter $arks. The ch"rch facade 6as a
ha?e of +o6dered stone* fresh s+inters raised a h"ndred rosettes against the dark 6ood of
the doors.
The ste+s of the ch"rch 6ere an abattoir. #n the $idde of it sat :nrico T"io< screa$ing
ike one of the da$ned. 1"ch of the bood s+ashing hi$ no6 6as his o6n.
* * *
&Seventeen f"cking bodies<& screa$ed Big To$ 1"ens< &and yo" didn>t get T"ioD 2e>
"se an 2;bo$b on "s no6 if he has toD&
&T"io 6on>t "se anything<& Nick said "nconcernedy. 2e o+ened his back eyes and
stared f" at 1"ens. The heavy gang;boss fet the i$+act. 2is sto$ach s"cked in and he
"sed the back of his right fist to 6i+e s+itte fro$ his $o"th.
&T"io ost his g"ts thro"gh the hoes that !ay$ore +"t in hi$<& a$+ified S$okie Joe
fro$ the chair he had eaned back against the 6a. &S"re< he> ive. 2e> set "+
so$e6here ese< $aybe go back to !hi and cra6 to the boys 6ho backed hi$ for the
takeover here. B"t yo'(ve seen the ast of hi$< Big To$. :very ti$e he hears yo"r na$e
he> re$e$ber the bast and the bood +o"ring do6n the stone beside hi$. /hen yo"
+ay for kee+s< yo" +ay the $an* and T"io kno6s no6 he can>t +ay as hard as yo".&
The +hone rang< o"d and terribe in the sient roo$. Danny 1"ens bit bood fro$ his
o6er i+ and backed against the 6a. Big To$ stared at the +hone as if it 6ere a cobra
ca$+ed on his eg.
&7o ahead< Big To$<& roed S$okie Joe>s s$ooth voice.&#t can>t be 6orse than yo">re
aready thinking< can itB&
1"ens shot hi$ a gance f" of vioence. 2e had no one to back a +ay< tho"gh< beyond
a terrified siGteen;year;od and a bookkee+er shock;stoned to i$$obiity. 2e t"rned his
anger on the caer instead< snaring< &2eoD& into the receiver. 2is red #rish face changed
as he istened< $oving thro"gh ne"tra bankness to bea$ing< incred"o"s tri"$+h.
&S"re<& he boo$ed< &b"t yo" got one ho"r. #f yo" can>t get thro"gh the hos+ita b"shit by
then< then 7od have $ercy on yo"< T"ioFbeca"se # s"re as 2e 6on>t.&
/hoo+ing< Big To$ sa$$ed do6n the receiver and s6"ng over the tabe as if it 6ere a
va"ting horse. 2is ar$s e$braced the t6o tor+edoes. #n his b"bbing ha++iness he did
not notice that they 6ere sti as cody aoof as 6hen he tho"ght he had been tong"e;
ashing the$ for fai"re.
&Ti$e to tak abo"t +ay$ent< isn>t it< Big To$B& s"ggested S$okie Joe easiy.
&PayB Eh< !hrist< yeah<& 1"ens said 6ith started generosity.&%ook< 6hat do yo" g"ys
reay 6ant for 6hat yo" doneB&
&/hat yo" +ro$ised<& said bone;+ae ,ngeo. &2af the take $y girs +" in.&
&,nd haf of 6hat # t"rn fro$ skag<& Nick added. &That> be +enty 6hen a fe6 kids get
str"ng o"t and start +"shing it to their friends.&
&2"hB& Big To$ said. &Jes"s< nobody co"d get hooked on the shit that gets o"t here. #t>s
aready been c"t fifteen to one.&
&#>ve got contacts in ,sia<& Nick grinned. &/hat # $ove> be +"re as #vory Soa+.&
2is 6ords Aogged a scra+ of ne6sree in Big To$>s $e$ory.&Co" 6ere in Iiet Na$<
6eren>t yo"B&he asked.&That>s 6here yo" earned to "se one bo$b to set "+ the rea one
o"t in front.&
&/e 6ere in Na$<& ,ngeo agreed 6ith a s$ie that 6o"d have $ade a shark finch. &/e
6ere sort of instr"cting there.&
%od 1ahoney ste++ed to 1"ens> side and ca"ght hi$ by the 6rist.&To$<& he +eaded<
&for the ove of 7od< yo" don>t $ean to go into heroinB There>s $oney< there>s a the
$oney 6e need in n"$bers. Co" kno6 the +eo+e yo" got to dea 6ith in dr"gs and
6hores.&
&1oneyB&sneered S$okie Joe fro$ the other side.&Pean"tsD #f yo" stick 6ith that< yo">
be a set;"+ for so$ebody ese ike T"io 6ho kno6s 6hat can be done by a g"y 6ho>s
6iing to. ,nd if yo" 6esh on "s no6< Big To$< yo" 6on>t have o"r he+ the neGt ti$e it
ha++ens. /hat> it beB&
1"ens tong"ed both corners of his i+s< ooking fro$ 1ahoney to the eG+ectant
vioence of the t6o tor+edoes.&# gave $y 6ord<& he said at ast.&#> back anything yo"
need to set "+.&
Their s$ies dreadf" refections of one another< Nick and ,ngeo ste++ed to either side
of the 6hi$+ering bookkee+er. &S$art cookie<& said S$okie Joe. Nick>s fist s$ashed %od
beneath the breastbone. ,s 1ahoney do"bed over< ,ngeo +"nched hi$ in the back 6ith
eno"gh +o6er to +o+ a rib a"diby. The +"$+ $an 6rithed on the foor ike a cr"shed
dog.
&2e ain>t dead<& Nick said.&2e ain>t even "nconscio"s. B"t his s+een>s b"sted and he>
beed o"t in ten< t6enty $in"tes.&
Danny 1"ens t"rned his face to the 6a and vo$ited.
&7et rid of the $eat< boys<& S$okie Joe ordered. &Never tr"st so$ebody 6ho gets
reigion<& he added earnesty to Big To$ as Nick and ,ngeo carried 1ahoney o"t the
door.&They>re 6orse than the ones 6ho>ve been goody;goody a the ti$e. They think
they>ve got so$ething to $ake "+ for< and they don>t $ind +"tting yo"r ass in the hot seat
if they decide it>s the >right> thing to do.&
The foreegs of Joe>s chair th"$+ed the foor as he stood. 2e ta++ed Big To$ +ayf"y
on the sho"der. &!o$e on< give "s a s$ie. /e>re going +aces.& Big To$ shook hi$sef<
a great b" of a $an tearing oose the Aa6s of an e$otion that tro"bed hi$. 2e forced a
boodess s$ie. &Ceah< "+.& &#n a $anner of s+eaking<& said S$okie Joe.
&# can>t beieve this<& said Big To$ 1"ens< shoving the acco"nt book across the scarred
tabe.
&Co" think #>$ cheating yo"B&asked S$okie Joe 6itho"t rancor.&#>$ not. ,nd Nick and
,ngeo 6i kee+ their +art of the bargain.&
&#t>s not that # think yo">re dragging $e do6n<& 1"ens ad$itted< fro6ning +er+eGedy
at the si$ fig"re. S$okie Joe had +roven as +erfect an acco"ntant as he had been an
o+erations $an before %od>sFdeath. &#t>sF6e< 2e< Joe* # don>t see ho6 Nick co"d
bring in this #'ch, starting fro$ scratch 6ith no street organi?ation. ,nd ,ngeo r"nning
a cat;ho"se in a coege to6nF!hrist< he co"d se ice to :ski$os.&
Joe a"ghed in a satisfied 6ay< a father +re+aring to eG+ain to his son ho6 he has gotten
the staed a6n$o6er to 6ork.&There>s no secret abo"t Nick<& he said. &S"re< +eo+e
+"sh skag for $oney* b"t the best +"shers are the ones 6ho>ve A"st been t"rned on to it
the$seves. They>re riding the crest< they>re ha++y< and they 6ant a their friends to be "+
there 6ith the$. 7od>s a 6hite +o6der to the$< and they>ve got A"st as $"ch enth"sias$
as Pa" the ,+oste did.&
S$okie Joe>s a"ghter as he stood 6as s"ddeny a terribe thing. 2e faced the 6indo6 for
a ri++ing b"t "nshaded vie6 thro"gh the %eGan +anes.&,nd these kids< they>re so s$art.
They >kno6> they can>t get hooked if they ony snort the st"ff< it doesn>t +"t eno"gh in
their boodstrea$. Eny they don>t kno6 that 6hat 6e se is (7K +"re heroinFnot "nti
it>s too ate for the$ to care.&
Big To$ +ressed his te$+es. The 6eath that had tricked< then +o"red in over the +ast
$onths had not i$+roved his a++earance. 2is s"its 6ere taiored sik< b"t his bey had
beg"n to so+ over his bet and s6eat @"icky $arked 6hatever he 6ore. Perha+s his hair
had not reay thinned and it 6as ony the heightened r"ddiness of his face that $ade it
see$ so. &/hat abo"t ,ngeo< thenB& he asked.
S$okie Joe t"rned. &Co" se a c"sto$er 6hat no one 6i give hi$<& he said @"iety.&#
think a to"r 6i do better than any 6ords # co"d "se to eG+ain. !o$e on< et>s take a
ride do6n to Third Street.&
&,t three in the afternoonB&
Joe cocked a thin ine of eyebro6.&,t ten in the $orning< Big To$. :ven bankers have
started staying o+en the ho"rs c"sto$ers 6antFand 6e>re seing 6hat they can>t get free<
re$e$berB&
The drive 6as short and 6itho"t f"rther disc"ssion. Big To$>s head@"arters 6ere in the
od ind"stria section< near the rairoad station and the car sho+s. ,ngeo had set "+ in a
h"ge fra$e ho"se< a Iictorian eftover on the o"tskirts of the b"siness district. The
+revio"s o6ner had once ref"sed to se< 1"ens re$e$bered< +referring to hod the
+ro+erty against f"t"re re?oning to co$$ercia or a+art$ent "se. 9nti no6< Big To$ had
not 6ondered 6hy the od feo6 had decided to se to ,ngeo.
S$okie Joe s6"ng the car thro"gh the aey entrance to the fenced co"rtyard behind the
ho"se. There 6ere aready three cars 6ithin: a B"ick< a !hryser< and a r"sted gray Nash.
&The staff doesn>t +ark here<& Joe said. &Ef co"rse the girs don>t eave at a.&
The door o+ened before either of the visitors rang. ,ngeo gave S$okie Joe a brief nod
that co"d have been either recognition or obeisance.&7ood yo" co"d co$e< 1r.
1"ens<& he said.&# think yo"> be i$+ressed by o"r o+erationFyo"r o+eration< that is.&
/ithin< the ho"se a++eared to have been itte $odified fro$ its origina design. Do6n
the rear stairs ca$e a +air of a"ghing $en< a h"ge back 6ith boots< a oincoth< and a
6hi+* and a $idde;aged 6hite $an 6ho "sed the bri$ of his hat to shied his face 6hen
he sa6 Big To$. 1"ens had aready recogni?ed J"dge 4irbairn.
4irbairn sc"rried o"t the door. The back nodded to ,ngeo< eyed Joe and 1"ens 6ith
$id interest before he s6aggered do6n the front ha and into a roo$ to the side.
So$ething had dri++ed fro$ his @"irt onto Big To$>s 6rist. #t see$ed to be bood.
&That>s Prince R"+ert<& ,ngeo vo"nteered. &So$e of o"r c"sto$ers +refer 6atching to
doing. R"+ert does rea nice for the$. ,nd 6e "se hi$ for other things too< of co"rse.&
&/hy does he +ad his crotch that 6ayB& Big To$ asked< disg"sted b"t "n6iing to ad$it
it.
&#t>s not +added<& S$okie Joe c"t in< heading his e$+oyer do6n the high;ceiinged ha.
&2e has y$+hogran"o$a< and the scarring in his case has ed to ee+hantiasis.&
&Jes"s 7odD& 1"ens gr"nted. &# don>t kno6 ho6 yo" co"d +ay a 6o$an eno"gh for
that.&
&/e co"dn>t<& agreed ,ngeo 6ith a s$ie. 2e "nocked the first door6ay to the eft.
&Not $oney< at east. , the girs are str"ng o"t. So ong as they get their fo"r Aots a day<
they don>t careFthey don>t even kno&H6ho does 6hat to the$.&
2e thre6 o+en the door. Big To$ gagged as he took in the bed< the eGtensive +ro+s< and
the $e6ing 6o$an 6ho ay in the $idst of the$. 2e +"ed the door cosed hi$sef.
&She>s ony eighteenD& he said.
,ngeo s+read his +a$s. &They age @"icker than yo">d think<& he re+ied. &Then 6e got
to se the$ so"th or to ,sia.&
&They co$e to "s< Big To$<& said S$okie Joe. 2is eyes 6ere as intense as dia$ond
needes. &Re$e$ber that. :veryone of the $asks< "ses the 6ords< for everything that>s
done to her. #f they change their $inds ater< that>s too bad.&
1"ens shook na"sea fro$ his $ind.&2o6 in 2e are yo" r"nning thisB No fiG on earth
6o"d cover "+ a dea ikeF& 2e 6aved his hands to save 6ords he did not 6ant to
s+eak.
&Think J"dge 4irbairn 6o"d sign a search 6arrant for this +aceB& S$okie Joe gibed.
&There>s other A"dges in the district. They haven>t a been here.&
&Co">d be s"r+rised<& said ,ngeo. &,nd even so$e 6ho don>t. . . . &
2is voice traied off b"t S$okie Joe had aready o+ened the door of a converted broo$
coset and "nocked a dra6er of the fiing cabinet 6ithin. &S"++ose yo" 6ere abo"t to
a"nch a +"sh againstF6e< yo">d ca the$ >the forces of cri$e and decay> 6hen yo"
hed yo"r +ress conferences< # s"++ose. Then yo"r da"ghter got dr"nk eno"gh to take a
dare fro$ so$e girfriendsFgirs she>d gro6n "+ 6ith< tho"gh $aybe if yo">d +aid $ore
attention yo" 6o"dn>t have cared for so$e of the co$+any they>d been kee+ing recenty.
Took a dare and got in a itte dee+er than she eG+ected.
&So the neGt $orning<& S$okie Joe contin"ed< snaking o"t a +acket of +hotogra+hs< &a
$essenger brings yo" a ro of S"+er;8 $ovie fi$. /hat do yo" do then< 1ayor
%a6renceB&
Big To$ 1"ens riffed thro"gh the +hotogra+hs. &Jes"s !hrist< yo" did get Betty Jane
%a6renceD Jes"s !hristD She goes to schoo 6ith $y son< he>s dated herD&
&Sti think Prince R"+ert 6ears +addingB& ,ngeo asked.
&That>sF7od< # 6ant to +"ke<& Big To$ groaned< handing the stis back to his s$iing
ie"tenant. &2is cock< it ooks ike it>s rotting.A
&/e< %7I is an inc"rabe disease< yo" kno6<& S$okie Joe agreed. &Not so very bad for
a 6hie< if yo" have the +ersonaity Prince R"+ert does. ,nd if yo" have an e$+oyer
6ho gives yo" so$e fringe benefits.
&/ant to see $oreB&he asked< 6aving at the scores of fie foders. /hen Big To$ shook
his head sicky< Joe sa$$ed the dra6er and contin"ed< &Bet6een +ayoffs and this kind
of +ress"re< ,ngeo here isn>t in any danger. Nick>s o+eration is a itte different< tho"gh<
since the heat on hi$ is $osty state and 6e don>t have the sa$e kind of ocks on that.&
&/hat>s the $atterB& Big To$ asked< t"rning to6ard the o"tside door as if it 6ere the gate
of his +rison. &!o"dn>t yo" get a +ict"re of the 6hoe Dr"g :nforce$ent Division having
a circe AerkB&
&Eh< anything is +ossibe<& S$okie Joe said agreeaby< foo6ing the big racketeer do6n
the ha. &/e> have better "ck if 6e give the state boys so$ething to go after besides "s<
tho"gh. Sha Nick arrange a itte diversion for the$< Big To$B&
&,rrange 6hatever yo" 6ant<& 1"ens said. &#>$ not s"re # give a godda$n abo"t
anything. :Gce+t that # don>t 6ant to see yo" any $ore today< and # don>t 6ant to see
,ngeo ever.A
2e sa$$ed the door behind hi$< 6ithin inches of S$okie Joe>s s$ie. 4ro$ the front of
the ho"se ca$e a screa$< then another and another in rhyth$ic +"ses. The s$ie gre6
broader.
* * *
Big To$ 1"ens sa++ed foded ne6s+a+er do6n in front of S$okie Joe 6ho 6aited for
hi$ 6ith a stack of acco"nt books. &#>$ getting godda$ sick and tired of +eo+e +aying
godda$ ga$es 6ith $e<& he snared. &# get a ca fro$ Shioh ,cade$y saying Danny
hasn>t sho6ed "+ for casses in a $onth and a haf. # get here and Nick hands $e this
+a+er< asking ho6 # ike the Aob he did for $e. What AobB&
Joe ca$y "nfoded the +a+er.&#t>s not "n"s"a for boys yo"r son>s age to dro+ o"t of
schoo< yo" kno6<& he said.
&#>$ not s+ending eight f"cking grand a year for that kid to dro+ o"tD&Big To$ said.&2e>s
getting chances # never had to reay $ake it by going straight< $iGing 6ith a the kids
6hose foks had $oney 6itho"t having to scra$be for it. #f Danny thinks he>s going to
thro6 that a6ay< #> bo6 his f"cking head offD&
&The $oney doesn>t $atter. Big To$<& said S$okie Joe. &Co">ve got $ore $oney no6
than yo" co"d have drea$ed of a year ago.& 2e s$oothed the front +age and rotated it
back to 1"ens. &Nick +robaby $eans the headine<& he said.
Big To$ $i$ed the 6ords 6ith his i+s< then read ao"d< & >%SD Poisons Boo$ington
Reservoir* 2i++ie Terror;Pot Says Scores* !ity Paray?ed.> /hat the 2eB&
&#t>s the diversion yo" tod "s to $ake<& S$okie Joe eG+ained 6ith a s$ie. &,cid goes
thro"gh the treat$ent +ant 6itho"t being fitered o"t. /e backed it "+ 6ith a etter to the
Daily Ne&s saying that "ness $ariA"ana 6as egai?ed and the ar$y 6as disbanded in
three days< 6e>d do the sa$e to every other city in the co"ntry. So no6 the dr"g boysF
and A"st abo"t everybody eseFare not ony in Boo$ington and o"t of o"r hair< they>ve
A"st abo"t dro++ed hard dr"gs state6ide to hasse hi++ies abo"t +ot. Sick< isn>t itB&
Big To$>s $o"th 6as o+en b"t no so"nds 6ere co$ing fro$ it. 2is +a$s 6ere fat on
the tabe to s"++ort his 6eight< b"t his forear$s 6ere tre$bing.
The door o+ened. Big To$ s+"n aro"nd.&DannyD& he cried. Then< &2ey< 6hat in 2e
ha++ened to yo"B&
The boy 6ore a greasy s+ort coat and a +air of coordinated sacks fro$ 6hich $ost of the
right c"ff had been torn. /hie his father had gone to fesh in the +ast year< Danny 6as
no6 a$ost as cadavero"s as ,ngeo. 2e ooked do6n at hi$sef in $id s"r+rise.
&2adn>t +aid $"ch attention to ho6 # ook<& he said. &Not since # 6ent to the doctor.& 2is
hand cenched a sheet of sick +a+er 6hich he thr"st at his father. &Does this $ean
anything to yo"B& he de$anded.
Big To$ sco6ed at the sheet< a +age torn fro$ a $edica teGt. &# can>t even read this
cra+<& he said. &No< it don>t $ean anything.&
&Then $aybe this does.&The tone 6o"d have sna++ed Big To$>s head aro"nd even if the
$ove$ent of Danny>s hand fro$ beneath his coat had not. S$okie Joe 6as 6atching the
boy 6ith an eG+ression of bored resignation< that re$ained "nchanged at the sight of a .
03 a"to$atic 6avering in the thin fist.
&The $en have b"siness to take care of< boy<& S$okie Joe dra6ed. 2is fingers dr"$$ed
absenty a$ong the acco"nt books. &/hy don>t yo" take yo"r itte +ay toy o"t and cose
the door behind yo"B&
&Co" bastard,A the boy said< s6inging the +isto f" on the si$< seated fig"re.
&Co">re the rea ca"se< aren>t yo"B # o"ght to "se this on yo".&
&S"re< kid<& S$okie Joe agreed< titing his chair back a itte< &b"t yo" don>t have the g"ts.
Co" +robaby don>t even have the g"ts to "se it on yo"rsef.&
&Don>t #B& Danny asked. 2e ooked at the baffed rage in his father>s eyes< then back to
S$okie Joe>s cod scorn. The +isto see$ed to socket itsef in his right ear of its o6n
voition.
&/ait< DannyD& Big To$ cried. 2e thre6 his hands o"t as the g"n basted. The 6indo6s
sh"ddered. Danny>s eyebas b"ged and the r"in of his head s@"ished side6ays 6ith the
shot before his body s"$+ed to the foor.
Big To$ $ore st"$bed than knet beside his son. S$okie Joe scoo+ed "+ the torn +age
fro$ 6here it had faen. &S"re<& he said< &he +robaby tried c"ring it hi$sef 6ith 6hat
his roo$$ate had eftover fro$ a dose of ca+ ast year. /hen the doctor tod hi$ 6hat
he had and 6hat his chances 6ere of getting rid of it no6< Danny 6o"dn>t 6ant to
beieve hi$F6ho 6o"dBFand +icked "+ a book to check it o"t. (2y#phogran'lo#a
venere'# is a disease of vira origin< "s"ay trans$itted by seG"a interco"rse.> /e< the
ony i$+ortant thing abo"t %7I is that it>s ike freckesFit 6on>t ki yo"< b"t yo">
carry it ti yo" die.&
1"ens 6as s@"ee?ing his son>s faccid hands. &Nor$ay A"st backs get it<& S$okie Joe
6ent on. 2e s@"atted beside the 6aG;faced racketeer. &That isn>t . . . sha 6e say< a
a6 of 7odB 7ive her a chance and a 6hite gir can catch it. ,nd given a chance< she can
+ass it on to . . . .& Joe>s hand reached +ast 1"ens to "nhook Danny>s bet.&4"nny
thingFyo" 6o"dn>t have eG+ected Betty Jane to have been interested in a $an for a
long ti$e after Prince R"+ert 6as done 6ith her. 1aybe she 6as too stoned to care< or
$aybe Danny;boy "sed a +rettyFdirectFa++roach. There>s no rea har$ done by
scre6ing a gir< is thereB& 2e Aerked do6n Danny>s sacks.
The boy 6ore no "nder+ants. 2is +enis 6as distorted by three knotted sores si$ed 6ith
yeo6 +"s.
Big To$ choked and staggered "+right. 2is right hand had 6ra++ed itsef aro"nd the b"tt
of the a"to$atic. S$okie Joe raised an eyebro6 at it. &That>s a $istake< Big To$. Don>t
yo" hear that sirenB /hen the +oice arrive< they>re going to think yo" shot yo"r o6n son.
Better et $e take care of itFA"st te $e to and #> fiG it so yo" 6on>t be bothered. Co"
don>t care ho& # take care of it< do yo"B& 2e stretched o"t his hand to6ard the +isto.
&#> see yo" in 2e firstD& Big To$ grated.
&S"re< Big To$<& said S$okie Joe. &#f that>s ho6 yo" 6ant it.&
Big To$ crashed o"t the siG shots sti in the +isto>s $aga?ine. ,$id the $"??e basts
roed the +eas of S$okie Joe>s Satanic a"ghter.
Awakenin!

Many of the SF &riters of the "C=>s and (%>s &ere fascinated by /harles
Fort(s collections of 'ne8plained pheno#ena. My friend Manly Wade
Well#an told #e that F. .rlin Tre#aine, the editor of 3sto'nding fro#
"C== till 7ohn W. /a#pbell took over at the end of "C=I, had bo'ght the
rights to Fort(s collection 2oB to #ine for story ideas. -(# not s're that(s
tr'e, b't Tre#aine certainly did serialize the book. - didn(t see a p'lp
#agazine 'ntil one of #y high school teachers loaned #e a co'ple iss'es
of Weird Tales, b't as a teenager - read lots of SF fro# the period in
anthologies.

Fort(s techni:'e &as to go thro'gh scientific 9o'rnals and note oddities
&hich he then retailed in fo'r vol'#es beginning &ith The Book of the
Da#ned. e thre& o't a n'#ber of spec'lations on &hat ca'sed the data
he reported+ A- think &e(re property,(( or A$erhaps so#ebody is collecting
3#broses,(( &hich are fa#iliar even to people &ho don(t have the faintest
notion of &here the phrases co#e fro#. $ersonally, -(# convinced that
Fort &as 9okingHthat is, that he believed the ite#s &ere as tr'e as
anything else yo'(d find reported in, say, Nat're, b't that he 'nderstood
the ca'ses of the pheno#ena he reported &ere 'nkno&able on the
available data.

Then again, #aybe he &as a h'#orless &acko &ho believed in &ild
conspiracies. ;oodness kno&s, a lot of the people &ho(ve follo&ed in his
footsteps fit that category.

SF stories led #e to /harles Fort, b't then - read hi# for his o&n sake. 3s
for &hat - #yself believe+ - believe that the &orld is a very strange place,
certainly stranger than - can e8plain.

- haven(t 'sed #'ch Fortean #aterial in #y fiction beca'se - find
atte#pting to e8plain the pheno#ena leads to very silly res'lts. This is as
tr'e of fiction like Donald Wandrei(s ASo#ething fro# 3boveA as it is of
$hilip )lass( AscientificA e8planations of all FF.s as plas#a effects 4a
notion that plas#a physicists find l'dicro's5. .nce in a &hile - tried,
tho'gh. A3&akeningA is an e8a#ple.

-(# not s're that -(d bother to incl'de this little #ood piece in Balefires
&ere it not for one thing+ this is the only story - sold &hile - &as in ,iet
Na#. - &rote it in longhand and typed 'p a second draft on the orderly
roo# type&riter one S'nday #orning in Di 3n. While - sat typing the
story, there &as a bang behind #e. - looked back over #y sho'lder and
&atched the a##o d'#p destroy itself in a series of increasingly lo'd
e8plosions. Never a d'll #o#ent . . . .

- sent #y typescript to #y &ife 7o, at ho#e in /hapel ill. She retyped it
and #ailed it to Mr. 3'g'st Derleth, the proprietor of 3rkha# o'se,
&ho(d bo'ght t&o previo's stories fro# #e. e took A3&akeningA for J0D.
That(s one of the fe& good things that happened to #e in So'theast 3sia.
They re$ained so$e ti$e in sience in the shado6ed +aror< aternatey si++ing their tea
and staring idy at the di$ trees to be seen beyond the ga"?e c"rtains. ,t ast 1ab ceared
her throat< a itte co"ghing so"nd. The $an ooked "+. &1abB& &4rank< # think it>s ti$e
6e try. /e> never see 1issy>s e@"a< yo" kno6.&
4rank set do6n his c"+ and sa"cer on the od 6an"t tabe. 2e ran his eft hand thro"gh
the $ane of iron;gray hair he c"tivated< a$ost a that 6as eft of the s+endid $an he
had ooked in his yo"th. &# s"++ose yo">re right<& he finay ad$itted.&1y . . .
as+irations aren>t 6hat they 6ere< # s"++ose. ,nd 1ab< #>$ very $"ch afraid the gir isn>t
ready yet. She sti doesn>t think of hersef as one of "s.&
&1issy has had a year in this ho"se< 4rank.&
&She had t6eve in the aey and the or+hanage< earning that 6itches are hags that ive in
dark corners< earning to a"gh 6hen one is +"shed into the oven. 2er first
reaction . . . 6e< 1issy isn>t a s"bte chid.&
1ab< $atrony in a +rint of +aste roses< d"cked disa++rova. &Nor is she st"+id. The ti$e
1issy s+ent here 6as $ore than eno"gh for her to reai?e 6hat she is< and 6hat 6e are.
#t>s o"r d"ty as her eders to kee+ her fro$ 6asting hersef.&
4rank bit absenty on the setting of his ring.&She can>t be forcedFno< # don>t $ean
+hysica force< of co"rse not. B"t 6e can>t $ake her beieve 6hat she doesn>t 6ant to
beieve* 6hat she>s been conditioned not to beieve. #t 6on>t he+ even to +rove to her that
she has the Po6er. That 6o"d ony $ean to her that she hersef is evi< and she>d hate
yo" for it. ,t best she>d not Aoin "s* at 6orst< 6ith her Po6er . . . &
1ab s$ied.&No6 4rank< it>s the gir>s strength that 6orries yo". B"t it>s ti$e and +ast
ti$e that # ste++ed do6n. # 6as never a very good 1aidFno6 # kno6 6hat yo" 6ant to
say< # 6as very 6e trained. Co" ta"ght $e everything that co"d be ta"ght* yo" 6ere
6onderf"y +atient. B"t # never had the Po6er* that can>t be earned.&
&Cet she can>t even read %atin<& said 4rank< sady shaking his head.
&No<& agreed 1ab in a fir$ tone< &and +erha+s she never 6i. E"r 1issy isn>t a schoar.
B"t she has an "nderstanding of things that yo" and # can hardy i$agine.&
She reached over to the tabe and rang a shar+ +ing fro$ the be.
&1ada$B&
The gir in the door6ay 6ore a $aid>s "nifor$ 6ith a ca+ and a+ron. Dark hair and arge
eyes accented her triang"ar face.
&1ada$B& she re+eated.
&1issy< 1r. Birney and #F&
&Eh< 1ab<& c"t in 4rank< ifting his cor+"ence fro$ the overst"ffed chair< &+erha+s #>
eave yo" and 1issy to disc"ss $atters by yo"rseves.&
&4rank< yo"> 6ait< 6on>t yo"B&
&#n the ha6ay.& 4rank nodded to the t6o 6o$en and cosed the ha door behind hi$.
&/e< 1issy<& 1ab contin"ed< &#Fb"t do sit do6n< Dearest* this isn>t b"siness.&
She 6aved to the seat 4rank had vacated< b"t the gir took a sat;back chair farther fro$
her $istress.
&Co">ve been 6ith $e so$e ti$e no6< and yo" have gotten to kno6 $ysef and the gro"+
of friends that $eet here. /e>d ike yo" to Aoin "s tonight.&
The gir f"ttered her hands.&1a>a$< that 6o"dn>t be right< not $e. #>$ not yo"r sort.&
&B"t yo" are o"r sort<& 1ab insisted ca$y. &The $irror in yo"r roo$< for instanceF&
Panic fashed across 1issy>s face and 1ab @"icky added< &Eh< don>t 6orry< Dearest<
that>s 6hy 6e +"t it there. #t 6as an od gass and rather diffic"t to find< b"t 6e kne6 it
6as $eant for yo".&
&#> not do 6rong things<& the gir insisted s"eny.
There 6as a ight s@"aing o"tside the kitchen door< a scratch of ca6s and a dark;ti++ed
Sia$ese cat si++ed into the +aror. #t c"red sienty "nder the gir>s chair b"t ke+t its eyes
on 1ab.
&/e 6o"dn>t have yo" do 6rong< &1ab contin"ed 6ith a toss of her gray hair< &b"t
everything +roves that it>s right for yo" to Aoin "s. :ven the 6ay ani$as treat yo"Fit
isn>t ony =ai$ah< is it< DearestB&
The gir said nothing< ony s@"ir$ed a itte on her seat.
&They aren>t ike that 6ith $e<& 1ab said< &b"t # don>t reay have the Po6er. B"t yo" do<
1issy. To an a$a?ing degree.&
&No< 1a>a$<& 1issy 6his+ered. &# haven>t nothing. # shan>t have it.&
1ab a++eared not to have heard.&4rank 6as disa++ointed 6hen yo" ignored the books
6e eft abo"t< b"t # "nderstand. Perha+s yo"> 6ant the$ after yo">ve been 6ith "s
a6hie.&
&1a>a$< 1a>a$<& breathed the gir< t6isting her a+ron bet6een narro6 hands< &# don>t
6ant to be 6ith yo"< # 6ant to go . . . &
&Beca"se 6e>re 6itchesB& 1ab @"estioned genty. &There>s nothing 6rong in being a
6itch< Daring.&
&# don>t 6ant to be a 6itch<& cried 1issy< si++ing fro$ her chair and $oving behind it as
if the 6ooden back 6ere a shied. The cat retreated bet6een her egs< not hissing< b"t
stiff;egged and its backbone edged 6ith a high co$b of f"r.
&B"t Dearest<& +ressed 1ab ineGoraby< &yo">re aready a 6itchF&
&Eh< noD&
&Fthe $ost +o6erf" 6itch # have ever $et.&
&NED& the gir screa$ed< and a gabbing cry b"rst fro$ the oder 6o$an as the first bast
of searing heat str"ck her. 1ab haf rose fro$ her chair< cocooned in 6hite fa$e that
$eted fesh and shrank her very bones in its hissing roar.
&1abD 1abD& 4rank sho"ted< b"rsting into the roo$.
There 6as no ans6er. The roo$ 6as e$+ty save for a shr"nken $"$$y faen back on
the scorched "+hostery of the chair. That< and the thick ayer of soot that covered
everything.
The o+en door to the kitchen @"ivered in the draft.
Denkirch

This is &here - started. 1verybody has to start so#e&here, b't -(ve got to
ad#it that a lot of &riters have done so #ore a'spicio'sly.

-n "CK" - borro&ed a fe& iss'es of Weird Tales fro# #y high school
teacher. .ne had a bo8 ad for Sk'll?Face and .thers by 6obert 1.
o&ard, &ho(d &ritten the /onan stories. -(d read /onan the /on:'eror
as half of an 3ce Do'ble and loved it. 1ven tho'gh the ad &as over ten
years old, - took a chance and &rote the p'blisher, 3rkha# o'se, to see
if the book &as still available.

Mr. 3'g'st Derleth &rote back, saying Sk'll?Face &as o't of print b't
enclosed a catalog of available titles. - began b'ying 3rkha# o'se
books, getting an introd'ction to p'lp fantasy and horror as Mr. Derleth
selected it. 4-ncidentally, a fe& years later he sold #e a copy of Sk'll?
Face, &hich &asn(t :'ite as o't of print to a good c'sto#er as it had been
to a stranger.5

-n the S'##er of "CKD #y fiancLe 7o 4since "CKE #y &ife 7o5 and - drove
fro# D'b':'e to Sa'k /ity to see 3rkha# o'se. We #et Mr. Derleth and
his children, sa& 3rkha# o'se, $'blishers 4&hich he &as r'nning o't of
his ho'se5, and bo'ght books.

.ne of those books had 9'st co#e in@ The -nhabitant of the 2ake+ a
collection of horror stories by a yo'ng Briton, 7. 6a#sey /a#pbell. There
&as a flap photo of the a'thor. *o'ng &as rightH6a#sey looked no #ore
than fifteen and in fact &as only eighteen. e(d sold Mr. Derleth his first
story t&o years earlier for an 3rkha# o'se anthology.

- &as nineteen. The teacher &ho(d loaned #e the Weird Tales, Mr. 1'gene
.lson, had sold fiction hi#self@ indeed, the year after - grad'ated, he
beca#e a f'll?ti#e &riter 'nder &hat(s no& his legal na#e, Brad Steiger.
Beca'se of Mr. .lson - kne& it &as possible to &rite professionally, and
-(d told #yself for a n'#ber of years that &hen - got old eno'gh - &as
going to sell a story.

A.ld eno'ghA &as obvio'sly si8teen. - &as &ell past that already.

- &ent ho#e 4&ith the pile of books -(d bo'ght5 and sent Mr. Derleth a
letter asking &hether he #ight be &illing to b'y a story if - &rote one
good eno'gh to p'blish. e gr'dgingly said yes.

- &rote &hat - tho'ght &as a story and sent it to hi#. -t &as ",K>> &ords
long and titled A$ost Morte#.A 4- &as a 2atin #a9or and tho'ght a 2atin
p'n &as a great idea for a title. 6eally.5 Mr. Derleth sent the story back
&ith the note that it &as a good o'tline, no& - sho'ld e8pand it into a
story@ and by the &ay, the title &as terrible. - &ent b'sily to &ork and
e#erged &ith a piece abo't %,>>> &ords long and titled 4as - best - can
re#e#ber5 AThe Stars 3re ell.A

Mr. Derleth sent it back again, saying that - &as close. - 9'st needed to
take o't the p'rple passages. - didn(t kno& &hat a p'rple passage &as,
b't - did #y best. Since - &as #odeling the &riting style on that of Mr.
Derleth(s o&n &orst copies of bad .$. 2ovecraft prose, there &as a lot of
florid &riting in the story. - sent it off again.

This ti#e - got back a check for J=D and a note fro# Mr. Derleth saying
that the story still &asn(t right. e(d edit it hi#self@ - sho'ld co#pare the
p'blished version &ith #y carbon 4this &as in the days before copy
#achines &ere every&here5 to learn ho& not to &rite a story the ne8t ti#e.

- hadn(t even kno&n - &as s'pposed to keep a carbon.

- don(t think the edit &as very e8tensive, b't Mr. Derleth changed the title
to the na#e of the central character. - don(t like that style of title 4&hich
Mr. Derleth 'sed fre:'ently in his o&n &ork5, b't it &as better than any of
#ine.

- recently reread ADenkirchA for the first ti#e in forty years and realized it
&as a good pastiche of #inor Weird Tales stories fro# abo't "C=I. That(s
a positive co##ent on #y crafts#anship, b't it &as a very silly thing to
do in "CKK.

So that &as #y first sale. *o' co'ld call it a re#arkable s'ccess story+ -
sold the first story - s'b#itted to the first editor - sent it to. B'tH

-(ve heard of &o'ld?be &riters being cr'shed by re9ection letters. - &as so
devastated by #y first acceptance that it &as si8 #onths before - even
tried to &rite another story.

No6 # see+ ony by day or 6hen the sky is co"dy< and 6hen the stars gea$ bright in the
heavens # 6ak itte back streets< avoiding other +eo+e< for # do not care to be re$inded
of $y h"$anity and $y inevitabe fate. 1y ac@"aintances think $e odd< b"t they 6o"d
not "nderstand if # tod the$ that on dear nights the stars s+eak to $e< and that if # did not
6ak # 6o"d go $ad. So # 6ak the oney streets< and the echoing cadence of $y stride
he+s to $"ffe the rhyth$ic 6his+ers< b"t sti $y $ind is forced back to Denkirch< 6ho
+roved 1an>s "ni@"e +ace in the "niverse.
# $et Denkirch at coege 6hen< at the end of o"r first se$ester< each of o"r roo$$ates
re@"ested transfers and 6e fo"nd o"rseves shifted together. ,tho"gh he 6as a +hysics
and eectronics engineering $aAor< and # 6as +rea6 in history< 6e fo"nd 6e had a
s"r+rising a$o"nt in co$$on. E"r genera o"tooks 6ere very si$iar< both of "s
va"nting +"re kno6edge and ref"sing to acce+t anything sacred or +rofane< as being
beyond the gras+ of h"$an inteigence.
# 6as as bored by Denkirch>s $aAors as he 6as conte$+t"o"s Labeit sientyM of $ine< b"t
# had a tre$endo"s res+ect for the 6ork he 6as doing. Not ony did he take staggering
co"rse oads by s+ecia +er$ission so that he co"d co$+ete both $aAors in fo"r years<
b"t he ta"ght hi$sef a vast assort$ent of foreign ang"ages as 6e. These inc"ded
Erienta and Eceanic diaects in addition to the nor$a :"ro+ean and cassica ang"ages<
there 6ere a fe6 tong"es of 6hich # had never heard before. Ence in +artic"ar #
re$e$ber seeing an aged< oddy "n+easant;ooking book bo"nd in faded snakeskin ying
on Denkirch>s desk. /hen # asked hi$ 6hat it 6as< he had ans6ered< &, treatise on
certain anti@"ities< in R>yehan.&
# a$ a reasonaby inteigent $an< b"t Denkirch 6as beyond a do"bt one of the $ost
briiant $en of this or any age. 2e had a s"+erb< baanced inteectFfar ess co$$on
than geni"sFand it 6as this that gave hi$ the drive and the abiity to t"rn o"r ide
disc"ssions into so$ething very tangibe.
1osty 6e arg"ed abo"t the +ace of the individ"a $an in the 9niverse< both fro$
interest and beca"se it 6as e@"ay o"tside o"r dissi$iar $aAors. /e 6ere both
ro$antics< beieving the "niverse 6as +"r+osef"< b"t # arg"ed that each $an 6as ony a
ste++ingstone to that +"r+ose< 6hie Denkirch insisted that the individ"a 6as i$$orta. #
based $y arg"$ent on the eGtre$e rarity of even +ossibe s+irit"a $anifestations and
Denkirch took the other tack< +ointing o"t the eGce+tions for 6hich no other eG+anation
6as satisfactory. #t 6as an ineGha"stibe to+ic since neither of "s had concrete +roof< b"t
the @"estion ca"ght Denkirch>s fancy and even in coege he began to go dee+er into the
s"bAect than # co"d foo6.
,fter grad"ation # entered a !hicago a6 fir$ 6hie Denkirch had no tro"be getting an
eGceent teaching +osition at !a Tech. /e ke+t in to"ch< and in the $o"nting eGcite$ent
of $y friend>s etters # sa6 that the $ateria he 6as "ncovering on his fancy 6as ra+idy
t"rning it into an obsession< ,fter a fe6 years he eft !a Tech for 1#T< si$+y beca"se it
6o"d bring hi$ nearer to the great eastern ibraries he 6anted to cons"t and< 6hen he
sto++ed $entioning his +roAect a itte ater< # reai?ed that it 6as a res"t of s"ccess< not
fai"re. 2e 6as on the brink of a great discovery b"t feared< ike a schoars< to b"rt o"t
his s"s+icions "nti he 6as abso"tey s"re. Then one day he resigned his teaching +ost
and $oved to so"thern #inois< and even 6itho"t his etter # 6o"d have kno6n that he
6as searching for +rivacy to +"t his theories into +ractice.
4or siG $onths # heard no $ore fro$ Denkirch. Then a short etter ca$e< asking $e to
Aoin hi$ and giving directions on ho6 to reach hi$. # noticed that he 6as not act"ay
iving in any to6n b"t 6as severa $ies o"tside the nearest one< a tiny +ace caed
1erria$< of ony three h"ndred so"s.
#t 6as fooish for $e to eave then. # 6as a A"nior +artner 6ith great things ahead of $e if
# 6ere s"ccessf" in a $aAor case to be tried 6ithin the $onth< b"t des+ite this # had no
tho"ght of ref"sa. Denkirch 6as $y friend and to "s 6ho have fe6< that is no itte thing<
b"t even $ore convincing 6as the sense of over6he$ing i$+ortance 6hich c"ng to
even that +rosaic etter. #t 6as not A"st that # kne6 the ans6er to a great +hioso+hica
@"estion $ight be cose at hand< it 6as $ore* and if # had kno6n ho6 $"ch $ore< #
6o"d have hidden $ysef in a +ace so re$ote that # never again 6o"d have heard of
Denkirch or he of $e.
#n the ate afternoon of the neGt day # reached 1erria$< 6hich 6as A"st a stragge of
ho"ses on the high6ay< and then t"rned eft on to a narro6< r"tted grave road $arked by
a big co"ntry;ty+e $aiboG 6ith &Sa$"e Denkirch& stencied on it. En the right side of
the ane the gro"nd 6as c"t a6ay in a high bank to a eve above the to+ of the car and
cro6ned 6ith a 6obbing barbed 6ire fence siho"etted against the o6 s"n. The +ast"re
to the eft ooked rocky and "n+ro$ising< an occasiona c"$+ of 6id s"$ac standing
o"t a$ong the ta thistes and rank grass as a dee+ red botch in the 6aning ight and
giving a frightf"< bood;s+attered a++earance to an other6ise $erey "gy andsca+e. The
road 6as in as "ncared;for a condition as the +ast"re and fences b"t had obvio"sy been
"sed $"ch $ore recenty. 2eavy tr"cks see$ed to have driven over it shorty after a rain<
and the res"tant r"ts 6ere neary siG inches dee+ eGce+t in +aces 6here a sab of rock
"nderay the s+rinking of grave and Aarred $y teeth< even tho"gh # 6as +roceeding in
second gear.
D"e to $y so6 +rogress the road see$ed $"ch onger than it +robaby 6as< and # began
to 6onder 6hether # had $ade the correct t"rn after a< des+ite the $aiboG. #t 6o"d
have been @"ite i$+ractica to try to t"rn aro"nd since the road itsef 6as far too narro6
and 6as he$$ed in by the high bank and< on the eft< a drainage ditch< b"t the feeing of
+ortento"sness that had been 6ith $e ever since # had received Denkirch>s invitation 6as
gro6ing steadiy and beginning to take on a distincty sinister cast. The car>s Ao"ncings
and scra+ings 6ere an a$ost 6eco$e diversion fro$ the for$ess de+ression that 6as
setting over $y $ind< a de+ression not 6hoy to be eG+ained by $y 6orry that # had
taken the 6rong t"rn or even by the f"nerea scenery. 2o6ever< A"st as # had decided to
ret"rn to the high6ay even if # had to back o"t to avoid being ost at night a$id a $a?e of
"nfa$iiar co"ntry roads< # ca$e to the to+ of a genty rising hi and sa6 6hat had to be
Denkirch>s ho"se ony a haf $ie beyond.
That it had to be $y friend>s ho"se 6as @"ite cear fro$ the forest of antennas s+ro"ting
fro$ and aro"nd it. The area aro"nd the ho"se had +robaby been thicky 6ooded before
Denkirch had bo"ght the far$* no6 a$ost a score of thick st"$+s ringed the 6orn b"t
other6ise nor$a ooking t6o;story ho"se< the boes having been dragged into a great
+ie in a nearby fied 6here< +res"$aby< they co"d no onger interfere 6ith the antennas
6hich had "s"r+ed the gro"nds. #ndeed< the antennas 6ere a that ke+t the ho"se fro$
see$ing as deserted as the +ast"res aro"nd it. The roof of the ho"se sagged and the 6hite
+aint had cracked and bistered in those +aces in 6hich it had not +eeed off co$+etey.
The barn and sheds had been +"ed do6n or had si$+y coa+sed by the$seves< and the
grass on the a6n 6as high and 6eed;choked<
The antennas< see$ing to have a ife of their o6n< +resided over this so6y decaying
r"in: a hori?onta grid on the roof< a ten;foot dish A"st 6est of the ho"se< and at east a
score of +oes and bea$s and cois $o"nted on st"$+s< chi$ney< roof< and side6asF
so$e static and so$e in constant Aerky $otion< s+inning or nodding ike cro6s on a
fence. B"t the o6ering r"er of the scene 6as a great< co++er;$esh cone 6hose 6ide
$o"th o+ened to the sky $ore than t6enty feet above the gro"nd. ,s # 6atched< it ca"ght
a ast ray fro$ the setting s"n and< its coor dee+ened ike that of the s"$ac< oo$ed over
the ho"se ike a $onster cobra. 4or a $o$ent # fet a t6inge of ineG+icabe +anic 6hich<
atho"gh it @"icky +assed< sti f"rther heightened $y feeing of back foreboding.
# sto++ed in front of the ho"se 6here< in fact< the road ended. #t 6as a 6ar$ ,"g"st
evening< A"st at that ti$e 6hen nor$ay everything see$s to be at its $ost serene* b"t
tonight there 6as a sinister difference. Perha+s it 6as the o6 h"$ of the antenna rotors<
so o"t of +ace a$ong the cicadas and oney bird cas. :ven the stars see$ed evi<
atho"gh they 6ere "n"s"ay s+endid against the dark b"e evening sky. They gared
back as # ganced at the$< and # @"icky ooked do6n again to see Denkirch A"st o+ening
the screen door of the +orch.
&# 6as afraid yo">d broken do6n on this $iserabe road<& he said as 6e shook hands< and
# too had been 6orried by the tho"ght. B"t so$eho6 the 6eeds and rocks 6ere at east
nat"ra< 6hie the antennas< es+eciay the cone< had a very strange a"ra abo"t the$ that
increased $y nervo"sness even $ore.
Denkirch a+oogi?ed for the a++earance of the ho"se and the "nb"rnt +ie of trees.&#>ve
been $eaning to get so$eone in to reay cean "+ the +ace< b"t # A"st haven>t gotten
aro"nd to it<& he said. &Besides< # have tro"be getting any kind of he+ o"t here. # even
have to +ick "+ $y o6n groceries in 1erria$.&
&#s the +ace s"++osed to be ha"ntedB& # asked< ga?ing thro"gh the screen at the dark;
$"ffed r"ins of the far$yard.
&No< nothing ike that. The far$ A"st ran do6n as its ast o6ner gre6 oder< and by the
ti$e he died the b"idings 6ere even $ore 6orthess than the and< 6hich never had been
good. No<& he re+eated< &the +robe$ is $e and $y gear. The to6nsfok see$ to be afraid
of it. # s"++ose so$e ignorant foo has been s+reading the story that # have everything
here fro$ an ato$ic +ie to a death ray. B"t et>s not stand here takingFco$e in and see
the sho+.&
# 6atched Denkirch hi$sef 6ith as $"ch interest as # did the tre$endo"s $ass of
instr"$entation and +rinted $ateria 6hich he sho6ed $e. 2e had changed a great dea
since # had ast seen hi$. 2e had been thin and active* no6 he 6as cadavero"s and
A"$+y. /orse and yet $ore s"bte 6as the change in his attit"de to6ard his +roAect< his
dee+ interest having beco$e a b"rning fanaticis$ that 6o"d carry thro"gh at any cost.
, these things co"d be easiy eG+ained as nor$a res"ts of over6ork 6hich 6o"d
+ass 6ith the co$+etion of the eG+eri$ent< b"t dee+ 6ithin $e # kne6 that Denkirch<
too< fet the shado6y terror that so6y a++roached.
The conversion of the ra$shacke far$ into a $odern eG+eri$enta station $"st have
been a tre$endo"s Aob in itsef. 1ore fascinating to $e than the instr"$ents 6as the
roo$ fied 6ith tho"sands of books< $osty technica handbooks and circ"it diagra$s<
b"t a s"r+rising n"$ber of very ancient $an"scri+ts or facsi$ies of $an"scri+ts in
ang"ages # co"d not identify< $"ch ess read. These 6ere the +re;scientific 6orks
deaing 6ith s+irit"a esca+e fro$ the te$+ora she 6hich Denkirch had considered
$ost acc"rate and infor$ative.
&There>s a tendency a$ong $oderns 6ho "se the ancient teGts at a< &he said< &to abide
by the$ stricty< $"ttering the +recise gibberish and "sing a $anner of abo$inations in
the rit"a< "s"ay so$ething +ertaining to a cor+se. No6 this is both fooish< since the
tr"e s+es 6ere a for$ of sef;hy+nosis< $ost "nikey to 6ork identicay on t6o
different +eo+e< and dangero"s as 6eFor at east iabe to be disconcertingFbeca"se it
A"st $ight 6ork. These 6orks te of a great n"$ber of seers 6ho 6ent into trances b"t
instead of a6akening 6ith 6onderf" stories of far;distant +aces< A"st didn>t a6aken at
a. Sti< their $isha+s gave $e the c"e # needed and no6 # can +roceed 6ith eectronic
he+ 6here a direct atte$+t 6as so often fina.&
The other roo$s 6ere fied 6ith e@"i+$ent 6hich< atho"gh i$+ressive to $e< did not
hod the $arves that it do"btess 6o"d have had for another engineer. J"ite a ot of the
instr"$entation 6as search radar< fairy basic and ony "n"s"a in its a$ost co$+etey
a"to$atic f"nctioning. #t not ony ran itsef b"t co"d even check itsef in case of fai"re<
$aking an o+erator necessary ony to re+ace the fa"ty +arts. Denkirch had fo"nd that
iron tended to distort so$e of his instr"$ents< and the radar 6as to give 6arning if a
+ane 6ere cose overhead Lthe ho"se 6as not far fro$ the !hicago;St. %o"is air ro"teM so
that he 6o"d not atte$+t to ret"rn then. ,t the ti$e # did not "nderstand A"st 6hat
Denkirch $eant< b"t< as 6ith other things< # soon earned.
:ven 6ith a si$iar high degree of a"to$ation< the re$aining instr"$entsFeverything
fro$ a radio;teesco+e to devices for registering the +recise rotationa s+eed of the :arth
at any given instantFsee$ed to be $ore than one $an co"d reasonaby hande< and #
asked Denkirch 6hy he did not have at east a ab assistant.
&# did<& he said 6ith a fro6n< &t6o of the$< as a $atter of fact. They had been st"dents of
$ine at 1#T and sho"d have been +erfect for the Aob< b"t # g"ess neither one of the$
iked the co"ntry. T6o 6eeks after they had he+ed $e to set "+ here they said that they
co"dn>t take the at$os+here any onger and eft.& Then he shivered sighty< and 6hen he
s+oke again his eyes shone 6ith so$ething of the fear that he $"st have been feeing for
the ast siG $onths< +erha+s even onger. &Co" kno6< Johnnie<& he said< &# can>t reay
ba$e the$. # s"++ose it>s the isoation of this god;forsaken +ace. Do yo" fee it tooB&
# ad$itted # did fee so$e6hat "neasy< b"t as # s+oke the backness # had +"shed to the
back of $y $ind fooded over $e again< an inky codness of fear that 6as a the 6orse
for being "nreasonabe. 2o6 even Denkirch>s rigid 6i had ke+t hi$ fro$ insanity for a
the ti$e he $"st have been s"bAected to the sa$e thing< # do not kno6.
4inay< having to"red the 6hoe of the "++er foors< Denkirch ed $e do6n a stee+ fight
of ste+s to 6hat had been the cear and 6as no6< he said< the heart of his +roAect. ,t the
botto$ he fi++ed a bank of ight s6itches and # sa6 that a arge diese generator stood
near the stairs< 6hie the rest of the cear 6as se+arated by a recent;ooking +artition 6ith
a c"rtained door6ay to6ards 6hich Denkirch $otioned $e. /hen # entered< shoving
aside the c"rtains< a terriby fa$iiar sheen of co++er $et $e. ,nother cone< a d"+icate
of the one o"tside< h"ng fro$ its a+eG 6ithin.
Taking a coser ook as Denkirch entered behind $e< # sa6 the considerabe a$o"nt of
abor that had been eG+ended to $o"nt the great antenna. Both "++er foors had been
+ierced on acco"nt of its height and the 6e cosed in< eG+aining 6hy # had seen no
indication of it "+stairs. The deicate co++er cob6ebbing 6as streaked 6ith the shado6s
of the a"$in"$ fra$e6ork by 6hich it 6as s"++orted< and at the +oint at 6hich it 6as
attached so$e t6enty feet above $y head a arge crysta gittered in the f"orescent ight.
#t 6as tr"y a6e;ins+iring< yet sti a sense of active $aignity h"ng over it.
,nother dis@"ieting obAect intr"ded on $y a6areness 6hen # ganced do6n fro$ the
cone< for directy beneath it and co$+etey covered by its 6ide o+ening 6as a nor$a
singe bed and $attress< b"t one e@"i++ed 6ith 6ide canvas stra+s and 6ith its egs
boted to the foor. En three sides of the bed and "nderneath it 6ere instr"$ent racks< and
on one of the$ rested a arge he$et to 6hich 6ere attached do?ens of eads.
Denkirch then gave $e $y first rea kno6edge of 6hat he intended to do and ho6 he
6o"d acco$+ish it as he eG+ained the vario"s +ieces of a++arat"s. 2e began by
+"gging a set of ear+hones into the +ane at the head of the bed and teing $e to +"t
the$ on. ,s # did so< he seated hi$sef at an instr"$ent conso aong one 6a and set
severa s6itches on it. The ights di$$ed sighty as the s"rro"nding $achinery began to
h"$< and then a faint cracking began to co$e thro"gh the ear+hones. ,fter a $in"te or
so individ"a 6ords stood o"t fro$ the b"?? in the backgro"nd< and then a s"dden<
constant strea$ of na$es and occ"+ations +o"red o"t< one after another 6itho"t +a"se or
sto+. So$e 6ere in ang"ages that # kne6 and so$e # co"d not even g"ess at< b"t a
6ere deivered in the sa$e fat< eG+ressioness $onotone of a congregation reading a
"nison +rayer. &1aria Iarrones< de+endiente. . . . Danie 1"vihi< soicitor. . . .
2a"+t$ann 7erhard =e++e< %eibstandarte ,do+h 2iter . . . .&
&/hat is thisB& # gas+ed as # took off the ear+hones. &They so"nd ike taking cor+ses.&
&The $inds of the dead<& Denkirch corrected $e< &not their bodies. ,nd they>re not even
dead in the "s"a sense< of co"rse. # a6ays tod yo" that the h"$an $ind 6as too
6onderf" an instr"$ent to be thro6n a6ay after one "sing< Johnnie. There>s $y +roof<
o"t a$ong the stars.&
Then he 6ent on to te $e the 6hoe story< the story of the $aster+iece of the $ost
taented $an of o"r generation. 4irst he read everything he co"d on earier atte$+ts to
+enetrate the afterife* the :iAahs and Bridey 1"r+hies< the !agiostros and B"ddhas< and
$any eG+orers $ore ancient and terribe than they< hinted at on itte;kno6n +arch$ents
and inscri+tions 6hich $"st in the$seves have raised a dark shado6 over Denkirch>s
$ind. This +rodigio"s abor 6as foo6ed by yet a greater one< the correation of this data
and the ei$ination of the ess +ro$ising areas of endeavor.
#n the end Denkirch had co$e to starting yet 6e;b"ttressed conc"sions regarding
h"$an $inds and bodies. ,s he had beieved fro$ the start< the $ind did have an eterna
eGistence a+art fro$ that of any one body< b"t it beca$e cear that at no ti$e co"d the
$ind be totay free* in other 6ords< if it eft one body it 6o"d be forced to instanty
enter another.
# did not then "nderstand 6hy $y +a$s began to s6eat at those 6ords* no6 it is ony too
cear 6hat $y s"bconscio"s $ind reai?ed and $y conscio"s did not< b"t # $erey 6i+ed
$y hands on $y thighs as # istened.
The obvio"s inference to be dra6n fro$ the sit"ation Denkirch had A"st eG+ained 6as
that $inds 6ere transferred fro$ the dead to the ne6bornFreincarnation or
trans$igration of so"s. This 6as sed"ctivey si$+e b"t co"d not be a++ied to the
h"$an race aone since births and deaths 6o"d a$ost never baance +recisey. ,n
eGcess of $inds $ight +ossiby be acco$$odated by ho"sing t6o or $ore in one body<
and this 6as the +robabe eG+anation of the trance visions of so$e of the greater
6i?ards. They had si$+y s"++ressed the origina $ind of another body and ooked
thro"gh its eyes for a ti$e< and the body>s nor$a o6ner shorty drove the intr"der back.
Sti< the arge s"r+"s of births over deaths $eant that at east so$e $inds had to be
created afresh 6ith their bodies< and the great rarity of +rovabe cases of reincarnationF
in h"$an bodies< at eastFindicated that this 6as tr"e in a b"t a handf" of cases.
/here then did the $inds of $ost dead $en goB To the stars< Denkirch decided< and set
abo"t to +rove it.
2is first atte$+ts 6ere based on radio;teesco+es and 6ere co$+ete fai"res. Then he
began to 6ork fro$ the o++osite end< $odifying an ence+haogra+h< and 6ith this
reativey cr"de instr"$ent he ca"ght the first hints of those terribe 6his+ers fro$ the
stars< and that night he hed a the kno6edge of this +ri$a $ystery that he ater ony
reinforced. ,< that is< b"t its "nderying $eaning.
%ater i$+rove$ents had foo6ed< far si$+er than that fina res"t that h"ng above the
bed on 6hich # sat< b"t A"st as effective for istening to the $inds of o"r ancestors.
Denkirch had earier noted that different historica +eriods 6ere gro"+ed in recogni?abe
+arts of the sky< atho"gh there 6as considerabe overa++ing. 1eaningf" na$es 6ere
rare< of co"rse< b"t $any occ"+ations gave keys to deter$ine their dating. 4or instance<
an a"to $echanic had to be fairy recent< and a +rivate of the #ron Brigade 6as A"st as
"sef" as ,braha$ %incon. #n genera the $ost recent na$es 6ere c"stered on or in the
direction of Deneb in Erion< 6hie those of the +eriod aro"nd /ord /ar Ene co"d be
eG+ected to be heard 6hen the antenna 6as directed to6ard the Peiades< and so on. #t
see$ed +robabe that 6ith the death of each occ"+ied body< the h"$an $ind $arched
one $ore ste+ in a so6< $aAestic +rocession aro"nd the "niverse.
This kno6edge< this +roof of his contentions< 6as soon not eno"gh for Denkirch. 2e had
a ist of na$es< b"t 6hat he no6 6anted 6as first;hand kno6edge of the "niverse.
# can sti re$e$ber ho6 Denkirch ooked that night as he taked< "nconscio"sy +acing
the roo$ and 6aving his ar$s< the gitter in his eyes far brighter than that the soft
f"orescents co"d give the$. &Johnnie< yo" "sed to te $e that death 6o"d be obivion.
No6 # can +rove to yo" that it>s not obivion< it>s the "niverse in a its 6onder and goryD
Think of it< JohnnieFth"ndering nitrogen cataracts "nder a +ae green s"n. Night in the
da??ing center of a gob"ar c"sterD /hat have yo" ever 6anted to seeB Co" 6iFA"st
6ait for it. ,nd no6 6ith this&Fhe 6aved to6ard the great cone 6aiting sienty above
$eF&6e 6on>t even have to 6ait.&
/ith that ast sentenceFhis decaration of tri"$+hF$y s+irits< 6hich had been ca"ght
"+ des+ite the$seves by his 6id enth"sias$< sagged again into bind des+air. # kne6
there 6as so$ething 6rong. Not in the theories< for they had been confir$ed by the
instr"$ents* not in the instr"$ents< for Denkirch 6as far too ogica even in his
fanaticis$ to acce+t his res"ts 6itho"t d"+icating the$ in n"$ero"s cross;checks* sti<
so$e6here . . . .
&Do yo" $ean the cones are $atter trans$ittersB& # asked as the f" significance of
Denkirch>s 6ords sank in.
&/e< not trans$itters< at east<& he ans6ered< &and # ony designed the$ to receive
$inds< b"t # dare say they>d 6ork @"ite 6e for $atter too< if it co"d so$eho6 be sent to
the$. Basicay< tho"gh< they>re designed to do a Aob si$iar to that of $y earier +assive
receivers and they 6i do everything the earier ones 6o"d< as yo" heard. They go A"st
one ste+ farther. Not thro6ing a body across the "niverse< b"t +"ing a $ind back< and
that>s a that>s necessary.&
,s Denkirch 6ent on to eG+ain his $aster+iece # fet the sa$e a6e at its $agnit"de of
conce+tion as # had 6hen he reco"nted the ste+s eading "+ to it< b"t "nder the soft
c"shion of $arve ay the sa$e rending ca6s of fear< and $y sto$ach knotted as #
istened.
The difference bet6een the cones and their forer"nners ay in their abiity to activey
snatch a $ind back fro$ 6herever it had gone 6hen it eft its origina body. %ack of this
feat"re< Denkirch tho"ght< had +re$at"rey eGied $any ancient $ystics to far 6ords. #f
they< by sheer force of 6i< directed their s+irits to another aready occ"+ied body< they
6o"d @"icky be forced back into their o6n again. #f instead they freed their $inds
6itho"t giving the$ any basic direction< as 6as +robaby the $ore co$$on occ"rrence<
they 6o"d be +"ed irresistiby to Deneb A"st as tho"gh their bodies had died< "nabe to
ret"rn 6itho"t the sa$e s+irit"a disci+ine by $eans of 6hich they had co$e and 6hich
the aien environ$ent $ight 6e $ake i$+ossibe "nti after their terran bodies had
si++ed into a $indess death.
The cones< keyed to Denkirch>s $ind 6hen it 6as reeased fro$ his body Laso an
eectronic +rocess< since Denkirch 6as a scientist rather than a $ysticM< 6o"d +" it back
fro$ Deneb 6hen they 6ere activated. Bet6een the ti$e his $ind 6as severed fro$ his
brain by 6hat he described as an interference fied and the ti$e # t"rned on the cones<
Denkirch 6o"d have as $"ch freedo$ on so$e strange +anet as his ne6;born body
6o"d give hi$* freedo$ to r"n or b"rro6 or fy or +erha+s A"st to sit and absorb the
ne6ness of his s"rro"ndings.
,t this +oint he sto++ed +acing and ret"rned to the contro conso< $otioning $e to Aoin
hi$. 1ost of its eight;foot ength 6as covered 6ith dias< b"t to one end a he$et $"ch
ike the one on the bed 6as connected. There 6ere ony t6o other things b"it into the
three feet of the conso nearest the he$et< a arge three;+osition s6itch and a s$a red
indicator ight si$iar to the generator ights of $ost ne6 cars.
&Co"> 6ear this he$et<& Denkirch said. &/ith it on yo"> be in +erfect contact 6ith a
$y senses as ong as the s6itch is in the second +osition. That is< as ong as #>$ on Deneb
everything # eG+erience in any 6ay 6i be as cear to yo" as if it 6ere yo" 6ho 6ere
"ndergoing it. The ony difference is that yo" 6on>t be abe to contro the ne6 body< as #
6i. #n ten $in"tes or soFyo"> be abe to "se yo"r o6n eyes 6hen they>re o+en< tho"gh
things $ay ook ike a do"be eG+os"reF$ake s"re the red ight isn>t on and +" the
s6itch to the third +osition to t"rn on the cones. The ight is connected to the radar< and if
it>s on< a +ane is neary overhead. J"st 6ait ti it binks o"t before +"ing the s6itch.&
Then< a6ays a scientist< his $ind +icked "+ the +"??ing thread it had br"shed and he
asked a si$+e< $"sing @"estion that ca"sed $e to break o"t into a s6eat again:&# 6onder
6hy # can ony +ick "+ the identities of the deadB Co">d think that either a the s"rface
tho"ghts 6o"d co$e thro"gh< or none at a. S"rey $e$bers of other races don>t s+end
a their ti$e re+eating their h"$an na$es< do theyB&
B"t this see$ed ony a $inor $atter< soon to be carified aong 6ith $"ch greater
$ysteries< and Denkirch ret"rned to the b"siness at hand.
&, yo" have to do<& he re+eated< &is +"t yo"r he$et on< $ove the s6itch to the second
Aog to free $y $ind< and then to the third in ten $in"tes to bring $e back.&
# 6aited a $o$ent< ocking $y hands across $y knees to kee+ the$ fro$ shaking< and
asked the @"estion 6hose ans6er # aready feared: &/hen do yo" +an to try it o"tB&
&/henB&he echoed< s"r+rised. &/hy tonight< of co"rse. The sky is cear< the static eve is
o6F6hat $ore co"d 6e askB&
4or the neGt forty;five $in"tes # 6aited in sient resignation as Denkirch gave his
e@"i+$ent a fina check< "nti at ast he ste++ed back< and regarded it for a $o$ent< ar$s
aki$bo< and said< &/e< # g"ess a that re$ains is to t"rn it on and et it 6ar$ "+.&
2e to"ched a s6itch on the far end of the conso and the roo$ shook as the nearby
generator +icked "+ s+eed. The shaking died a6ay again to a o6 +"rr after a fe6 $in"tes
and Denkirch eG+ained< &That 6as A"st the ca+acitors charging. The cones 6i soak "+ a
ot of +o6er 6hen they kick in. There>s a ight s6itch above the conso that yo" o"ght to
fi+ before yo" t"rn on the a++arat"s. #t t"rns off everything b"t the necessary
instr"$ents< to kee+ the oad do6n 6hen yo" t"rn on the cones. The dia ights 6i be
eno"gh for yo" to see by 6hen yo"r eyes adA"st< and besides< $ost of 6hat yo"> see 6i
be thro"gh $y eyes.&
/ith that Denkirch sat do6n on the bed< si++ed on the he$et there< and ay do6n f"
ength 6ith his ar$s at his sides.&/o"d yo" stra+ $e in< JohnnieB& he said 6ith his
6ords so$e6hat $"ffed by the chinstra+ of the he$et. &# do"bt that it $akes $"ch
difference< b"t there is a si$ chance that $y body $ight $ove a itte after $y $ind is
disconnected< and # 6o"dn>t 6ant to da$age $y he$et and kee+ yo" fro$ seeing 6hat
is going on< yo" kno6.&
The cas+ cicked sh"t and # 6aked fro$ the bed to the cons" trying to think of 6ords to
eG+ain to Denkirch 6hat # feared. B"t it 6asn>t a fear that co"d be eG+ained* it 6as too
basic for that.
The he$et eads 6ere too short for $e to reach the ight s6itch 6ith the he$et on< so #
t"rned o"t the ights and then sat do6n to 6ait "nti # co"d see again before atte$+ting to
+"t the c"$berso$e thing on . . . +erha+s $ore< and in a 6ay that $in"te 6as the
$ost horribe thing # "nder6ent that night. #t 6as as if # had a6akened an instant before
$y aar$ 6ent off in the $orning< sti co$fortaby co$+osed in bed b"t kno6ing the
strident ca$or 6o"d b"rst o"t at any $o$ent. This and $ore< for it 6as the "ti$ate
bissf" drea$ that 6as abo"t to be shattered< and $y s"bconscio"s kne6 it tho"gh it
co"d not s+eak.
Denkirch caed o"t fro$ the darkness behind $e< &,re yo" readyB&
The ho"rs of fear # had been feeing finay broke thro"gh $y dignity and # cried<
&
Denny<
this is 6rongD 4or 7od>s sake forget abo"t this and A"st +"bish the rest of yo"r findings.
Those aone are eno"gh to $ake yo" as rich and fa$o"s as yo" co"d 6ant.&
&
No<& he ans6ered< &# aready a$ as rich and fa$o"s as # 6ant to be. # A"st 6ant tr"th. #>$
not taking a 6id risk< b"t even if # 6ere it 6o"d be 6orth it for the chance of advancing
h"$an "nderstanding as $"ch as this 6i. P" the s6itch< Johnnie.&
J"st as he finished< the red aircraft;6arning ight 6inked on in front of $e.
&There>s a +ane overhead<& # said eagery< certain no6 of at east a short deay. #f 6e had
deayed . . . . B"t it $ight have $ade no difference.
&That doesn>t $atter for the first stage and it 6i be gone before # co$e back. P" the
s6itch.&
,nd< 7od he+ $e< # did. B"t there is no god< is thereB No god< no heaven< ony the hes
that gitter do6n on "s every cear night. #t 6as obvio"s as soon as # cosed the s6itch
that Denkirch had been +erfecty correct. /hat neither of "s had reai?ed "nti then 6as
ho6 co$+etey +o6eress the terran ego 6o"d be in the ne6 body. # had not even beg"n
to $ove $y hand before it yanked do6n the s6itch a$ost of its o6n accord and # sat<
@"ivering in the darkness 6ith $y o6n and Denkirch>s screa$s sti echoing thro"gh $y
$ind.
!an yo" i$agineFcan yo" begin to i$agineDF6hat it is to be totay aienB Co"r body<
yo"r 6ord< even yo"r $ind eGce+t for that tiny< i$+otent s+eck of ego that screa$s<
&This is not #<& and screa$s the o"der for kno6ing that it is and it 6i be forever< body
after body< eon after eon< "nti s+ace and ti$e are no $oreD ,nd that is 6hy # no onger
see+ on co"dess nights< for the stars in their $yriads greet $e in $y drea$s
6his+ering< &Soon yo" 6i be 6ith "s< every one of "s<& and a high< thin screa$ fro$ the
Peiades tes $e 6here Denkirch is no6.
,n "nikey story< # kno6< and # $ysef $ight have tho"ght it a drea$ had # not t"rned
and seen in the green 6itchight of the go6ing dias the ast earthy re$ains of Sa$"e
Denkirch. Then # h"red $y he$et into the conso and fed fro$ the cear that ba?ed
behind $e as s+"ttering arcs fro$ the shattered instr"$ents ignited the fra$e 6as* nor
do # re$e$ber anything after6ards b"t $y o6n screa$s "nti a high6ay +atro car
sto++ed $e in #ndiana. Perha+s the ret"rn itsef had been fata< b"t # rather think it 6as
the at$os+here* for Denkirch had ret"rned to :arth as the tentaced abo$ination he had
beco$e on Deneb . . . .
The False "ro#het

2atin has been #y so'l(s anchor ever since #y second se#ester of college.
- don(t kno& &hy that sho'ld be, b't - can tell yo' ho& it happened.

- took t&o years of 2atin in high school beca'se it &as that or Spanish.
Neither option appealed to #e, b't - had to take so#e foreign lang'age.
My grades &ere ade:'ate b't nobody &as going to #istake #e for a 2atin
scholar, and - don(t recall getting any partic'lar pleas're fro# the classes.

My plan in college 4the Fniversity of -o&a5 &as to #a9or in che#istry, go
to la& school, and beco#e a patent attorney. /he#istry re:'ired ;er#an,
so - started ;er#an &ith the e8pectation that -(d never read another line
of 2atin.

- pretty :'ickly realized that - &asn(t c't o't to be a che# #a9or 4or, -
s'spected, a patent attorney5, so - s&itched to history. - contin'ed &ith
;er#an 4&hich - didn(t actively dislike5, beca'se - didn(t believe that -
co'ld ever get back into 2atin after a year a&ay fro# the lang'age.

That(s &hen things get kind of odd. /ollege &as a co#plete disr'ption of
#y life. 1verything had changed. - don(t #ean everything &as badH
-o&a(s h'ge library in partic'lar &as a &onderf'l reso'rce for so#ebody
like #e &ho can get interested in a &ide range of s'b9ectsHb't everything
&as different. - fo'nd #yself thinking of 2atin as the one part - #ight
reclai# of the, &ell, yo'th &hich -(d s'rrendered &hen - left ho#e.

- borro&ed an old copy of the 2atin book -(d 'sed in high school and
st'died it on #y o&n. St'died it for the first ti#e, really+ in high school -(d
sho&n a flair for sight translations b't - hadn(t bothered #'ch abo't
gra##ar. - started reg'lar co'rse &ork in #y third se#ester and took
abo't all the 2atin co'rses offered at -o&a before - grad'ated. 4- &o'nd
'p &ith thirty se#ester ho'rs and asked if - co'ld call 2atin a do'ble
#a9or &ith #y history. The ad#inistration agreed.5

- entered D'ke 2a& School in "CKE. That &as stressf'l too@ - took 2atin
co'rses in the #ain 'niversity to settle #e. 4They(d never had anybody do
that before, b't there &ere no r'les against it.5
When - &as drafted o't of la& school - co'ldn(t take co'rses, b't - carried
#y .8ford /lassical Te8t of orace thro'gh basic training and as #'ch of
So'theast 3sia as - sa&. - contin'e to read 2atin for pleas're. - also read
e8tensively on classical s'b9ects, beca'se they interest #e and -(ve got a
good for#al gro'nding fro# #y 'ndergrad'ate days.

Nat'rally -(ve 'sed a lot of classical backgro'nds in #y fiction, SF as &ell
as fantasy and horror. - &rote AThe False $rophetA to fill o't a collection
of previo'sly &ritten stories in a classical #ilie'.
So#ething -(ve co#e to realize is that #any readers think they kno& things
abo't ancient 6o#e. When they read a contrary state#ent in a story of
#ine, so#e ass'#e -(ve #ade a st'pid #istake. Well, - do #ake st'pid
#istakes 4for e8a#ple, the ti#e - nearly severed a tendon &hile
sharpening a knife5, b't &hen the s'b9ect is 6o#an history or c'lt're, the
s#art #oney is going to bet on #e.

3 'niversal case is that ed'cated people don(t &ant to believe that 6o#an
shields &ere #ade of ply&ood. - had a stranger call #e fro# /alifornia to
tell #e that ply&ood hadn(t been invented 'ntil the nineteenth cent'ry.
6o#an shields &ere #ade of three plies of 4generally5 birch, gl'ed
together. The grain on the front and back layers ran cross&ise, b't it &as
vertical on the central ply. 3rcheologists call the #aterial ply&ood 4What
on 1arth else &o'ld they call itG5@ the ed'cated #an in the street finds that
tr'th ridic'lo's.

- once co#plained that - sho'ld feel l'cky that - don(t get si#ilar
ob9ections &hen - #ention that #ost 6o#an b'ildings &ere concrete. The
ne8t day - got a :'ery fro# an editor &ho &anted to kno& &hether #y
#ention of A6o#an concreteA &as a #istake.

3 si#ilar proble# involves readers &ho believe that collo:'ial 2atin
sho'ld be translated into so#ething closer to Willia# Morris than to
nor#al 1nglish. There(s a place for high style, b't it doesn(t get #'ch 'se
a#ong soldiers or ordinary people in general, no& or t&o tho'sand years
ago. My dialog'e 4like that of Martial, /at'll's, $etroni's, and a very
long list of other 2atin &riters5 tends to be collo:'ial in for#.
3 lot of reading and research &ent into these stories@ b't #y heart &ent
into the# too.

The big yo"ng $an< grinning at Da$a thro"gh the door6ay of the !ity Prefect>s +rivate
office< had the ook of a kier. Da$a kne6 the feo6>s na$e< %"ci"s Ietti"sFand kne6
that he 6as an officer in the i$+eria g"ard< tho"gh at the $o$ent he 6ore a civiian
toga. Da$a s$ied back. &The virt"o"s 1arc"s %icini"s Da$aD& beo6ed the
no$encator in a strong Syrian accent. /hy co"dn>t 7ai"s R"tii"s R"tiian"sF6ho
6as< by 1ithra< !ity Prefect of Ro$eFb"y servants 6ho at east +rono"nced %atin
+ro+eryB
&2e didn>t $ention that yo">re ony a $erchantD& 1enea"s 6his+ered to
Da$a in a$a?e$ent. &No< he didn>t<& Da$a agreed 6itho"t a$+ifying his res+onse. The
no$encator 6as 6earing a ne6 t"nic. So 6as the doorkee+er 6ho>d et
Da$a and his oder co$+anion into R"tiian"s>s rece+tion roo$ 6ith a cro6d of over a
h"ndred other favor;seekers. The t"nics 6ere best;@"aity :gy+tian inen and re+resented
a hefty o"tayF
:ven to Da$a< 6ho i$+orted the$ aong 6ith the siks 6hich 6ere his +ri$ary stock in
trade. &2is co$+anion<& cried the no$encator< &the earned 4a"st"s Po$+ei"s
1enea"sD& The no$encator +a"sed. &=no6n as The /ise.>> 1enea"s s"ddeny ooked
ten years yo"nger. 2e straightened to his f" height and f"ffed his ong gray beard.
Tho"gh Da$a said nothing as the +air of the$ ste++ed into R"tiian"s>s +rivate office< the
no$encator had earned hi$sef a bon"s by the degree to 6hich his ad;ibbed co$$ent
had brightened the od $an>s face.
1enea"s and Da$a>s father had re$ained friends thro"gho"t the atter>s ife. Da$a
sto++ed visiting his +arent 6hen disease and +ain so 6racked the oder $an that every
conversation beca$e a itany of ins"t and co$+aint* b"t 1enea"s contin"ed to co$e< to
read ao"d and to bear bitter ins"ts beca"se to do so 6as a +hioso+her>s d"tyFand a
friend>s.
&/e< he s"re ooks the +art< doesn>t heB& @"i++ed !aei"s< one of the fo"r civiians
standing aro"nd the Prefect>s co"ch. &7ot any o6s nesting in that beard< od $anB&
&%ooking the +art>s easy eno"gh<& co"ntered I"co.&#f yo" 6ant a +hioso+her of real
earning< tho"gh< yo"> hire Pactoides.&
&# think it>s "nchristian to be hiring any sort of +agan +hioso+her<& said 1acer.
&Severiana 6on>t ike it a bit.&
&1y 6ife doesn>t $ake the decisions in this ho"se<& the Prefect said so forcef"y that
everyone istening kne6 that R"tiian"s 6as as $"ch voicing a 6ish as stating a fact.
The Prefect shifted his heavy body on the co"ch and scratched hi$sef. Tho"gh the
$orning air 6as co$fortabe by $ost standards< R"tiian"s 6as s6eating des+ite having
dis+ensed 6ith the for$aity of his toga 6hie handing this +rivate intervie6.
The $en 6ere the Prefect>s friends< advisors< and e$+oyeesFand 6ore a those se+arate
$asks at the sa$e ti$e. :Gce+t for Ietti"s L6ho 6as abo"t Da$a>s ageM< they>d
acco$+anied R"tiian"s d"ring his governorshi+s in S+ain and North ,frica. They carried
o"t i$+ortant co$$issions< gave confidentia adviceFand +icked "+ the bits and scra+s
6hich for$ the +er@"isites of those having the ear of high office.
&,ny6ay<& offered Sosi"s< &# don>t think that there>s anything sinf" abo"t hearing advice
on iving a good ife< even if it does co$e fro$ a +agan.&
4or 6hat Da$a had +aid Sosi"s< he>d eG+ected $ore enth"siastic s"++ort. Pactoides 6as
getting $"ch better va"e for his bribe to I"co.
&/e< et>s hear 6hat he says for hi$sef<& the Prefect said< sti +eevish at the $ention of
his 6ife. 2e nodded to6ard 1enea"s. &Co" can s+eak< can>t yo"B& he de$anded. &Not
$"ch "se in having a +ersona +hioso+her 6ho can>t< is thereB&
&Pactoides can s+eak ike an ange<& $"ttered I"co. &Ioice ike a choirboy< that $an
has . . . .&
Da$a +ro$+ted his friend 6ith a ta+ on the sho"der. 1enea"s ste++ed for6ard and
bo6ed. &#f ever there 6as a $an 6ho 6as righty afraid 6hen caed to s+eak in yo"r
+resence< nobe R"tiian"s<& the od +hioso+her boo$ed< &it is #* and # senseF& he $ade
a ight< s6ee+ing bo6 to the Prefect>s co$+anions &Fthat those 6ho +artici+ate in yo"r
co"nses are 6e abe to see $y distress.&
1enea"s 6as a different $an as soon as he began his set orationFconfident<
co$$anding* his tones and vo"$e +itched to bast thro"gh the chatter fiing a rain;
cro6ded basiica 6hen he addressed his st"dents in one corner. Da$a had 6orried that
the od $an>s des+erate need for a Aob 6o"d ca"se hi$ to free?e "+ 6hen the o++ort"nity
6as offered. 2e sho"d have kno6n better.
&Ffor $y heart is fied 6ith the a6areness of the 6ay yo"< ar$ed ike 1ars hi$sef<
+reserved the iberty of this Re+"bic* and no6< 6earing the toga< increase its civi gory.
4orF&
The sodier< Ietti"s< crooked a finger to6ard Da$a and nodded in the direction of the
garden behind the office.
R"tiian"s>s other co"nciors ooked boredFI"co 6as ya6ning ostentatio"syFb"t the
Prefect hi$sef istened to the +anegyric 6ith +eas"re. 2e nodded 6ith "nconscio"s
agree$ent 6hie 1enea"s contin"ed< &F6hie a those 6ho have borne the b"rden of
yo"r eGated +refect"re are to be +raised< to yo" es+eciay is honor d"e.&
Ietti"s< 6aiting at the door into the garden< crooked his finger again. Da$a +"rsed his
i+s and foo6ed< 6aking 6ith s$a ste+s to dist"rb the gathering as itte as +ossibeF
tho"gh 1enea"s in f" cry co"dn>t have been +"t off his stride by so$eone sho"ting
FireB and the Prefect 6as ra+t at the $eif"o"s descri+tion of his virt"es.
The garden behind R"tiian"s>s ho"se had a covered 6ak on three sides< +roviding shade
at a ti$es of the day. The o+en area 6as arge eno"gh to hod a do?en fr"it trees as 6e
as a s$a gra+e arbor and a variety of roses< eGotic +eonies< and other fo6ers.
1iitary e@"i+$ent 6as stacked beside the door: a bron?e he$et and body ar$or
$odeed 6ith ideai?ed $"sces over 6hich a +air of naiads cavorted* a s6ordbet
s"++orting the sheathed dagger and ong< straight;baded s+atha of a cavary$an* and a
arge< circ"ar shied in its canvas cover.
Ietti"s foo6ed Da$a>s eyes to6ard the gear and vo"nteered< &#>$ ar$yF seconded to
the !ity Prefect for the ti$e being.&
There 6ere t6o 6ays for Da$a to hande his res+onse. 2e $ade the sna+ decision that
conceaing his kno6edge fro$ this big< hard;eyed sodier co"dn>t bring any dividends
e@"a to getting the $an>s res+ect fro$ the start.
&Ces<& he said. &, dec"rion in the s@"adron of Do$estic 2orse.&
Ietti"s 6as s"r+rised eno"gh to gance side6ays to $ake s"re that canvas sti covered
the git s+ikes and hearts against the b"e backgro"nd of his shiedface. &Right< that>s
$e<& he agreed $idy. &The Prefect>s bodyg"ard< $ore or ess. The na$e>s %"ci"s Ietti"s
Fas # s"++ose yo" kne6.&
There 6as no @"estion in the fina ca"se< b"t Da$a nodded his agree$ent any6ay. 2e>d
done his ho$e6orkFas he a6ays did his ho$e6ork before a $aAor sae.
This b"siness< beca"se it 6as +ersona and not $erey a $atter of $oney< 6as the $ost
$aAor sae of his ife . . . .
&%et $e ho+e<& roed 1enea"s>s voice thro"gh the o+en door and 6indo6 of the office<
&that $y 6ords today can be to"ched by a fraction of the feicity 6ith 6hich a Ro$e
greeted the ne6s that yo" had been a++ointed her he$s$an.&
&# 6as 6ondering<& Ietti"s said< &A"st ho6 $"ch yo">d +aid Sosi"sB&
Da$a +rodded the inside of his cheek 6ith his tong"e.
&The reason #>$ 6ondering<& the sodier contin"ed< &is that he>s taking $oney fro$
Pactoides too.& 2e a"ghed. &I"co>s an "n"s"ay virt"o"s co"ncior< yo" kno6.&
Da$a gri$aced bittery. &Ceah<& he agreed. &I"co stays bo"ght.&
&1y 6ords are driven o"t "nder the co$+"sion of the virt"e and benignity 6hich # see
before $e . . . & 1enea"s contin"ed in an orot"nd voice.
&# hadn>t tho"ght<& contin"ed Da$a< choosing his 6ords caref"y< &that a dec"rion 6as
6orth bribing. 9nti no6 that #>ve $et yo".&
&#>d have taken yo"r $oney<& Ietti"s said 6ith the sa$e cod s$ie as before. &B"t it
6o"dn>t>ve gained yo" anything. /hat #>d reay ike fro$ yo"< !iti?en Da$a . . . &
Da$a nodded his head "+6ard in agree$ent. &7o ahead<& he said.
#f not $oney< then a 6o$anB , partic'lar 6o$an to 6ho$ a sik $erchant $ight have
access . . . B
& . . . is infor$ation.& The fat certainty 6ith 6hich the 6ords ca$e o"t of Ietti"s>s
$o"th e$+hasi?ed the si?e and strength of the $an s+eaking. 2e had back hair and
s+oke 6ith a sight tang of the #yrian frontier.
&7o ahead<& Da$a re+eated 6ith o"t6ard ca$.
4ro$ the office ca$e & . . . tho"gh # fear that by $entioning any +artic"ar eGceence
first< # 6i see$ to deva"e . . . .&
&# can see 6hy the od $an 6ants to be R"tiian"s>s ta$e +hioso+her<& Ietti"s said. &#t>s
getting harder and harder to scra+e "+ eno"gh +"+is freeance to kee+ hi$ in bread<
onions< and a so+ of 6ine . . . .&
Da$a nodded.
&Thing is< #>$ not @"ite cear 6hat yo'r +art in the b"siness $ight be< !iti?en.&
This ti$e the sodier>s s$ie $ade Da$a $eas"re in his $ind the distance bet6een hi$
and the hit of the s6ord resting against the 6a. Too far< a$ost certainy.
,nd "nnecessary. ,$ost certainy.
&1enea"s 6as a friend of $y father>s<& Da$a said. &, good friend. To6ard the ast< $y
father>s ony friend. 1enea"s is too +ro"d to take charity fro$ $e directyFb"t he 6as
gad to have $e stand beside hi$ 6hie he so"ght this +osition in the Prefect>s
ho"sehod.&
Ietti"s ch"cked. &Stand beside hi$<& he re+eated ironicay. &/ith a +"rse f" of siver
yo" hand o"t to anybody 6ho $ight ease yo"r b"ddy>s road.&
& . . . s+eak of the River Tag"s< red 6ith the bood of the bandits yo" as 7overnor
sa"ghtered thereB&
&2e doesn>t kno6 that<& sna++ed Da$a.
&B"t yo" do< $erchant<& the sodier said.&Co" take yo"r fa$iy d"ties +retty serio"sy<
don>t yo"B&
&Ceah< # do<& agreed Da$a as si$+y as if he didn>t kno6 he 6as being $ocked . . .
and +erha+s he 6as not being $ocked. &1enea"s is $y friend as 6e as $y d"ty< b"tF#
take a $y d"ties serio"sy.&
The big $an s$ied* this ti$e< for a change< it gave his face a +easant cast. &Ceah<& he
said. &So do #.&
&# can see that<& Da$a agreed< feeing his body reaG for the first ti$e since his intervie6
6ith this big< deady $an began. &,nd it>s yo"r d"ty to g"ard R"tiian"s.&
&1ore a $atter of kee+ing things fro$ hitting the Prefect fro$ so$e6here he>s not
ooking<& Ietti"s said 6ith a shr"g.&So # ike to kno6 the +eo+e 6ho>re getting cose to
hi$.&
2e grinned. &9s"ay # don>t $"ch ike 6hat # earn. 9s"ay.&
Da$a nodded to6ard the office< 6here 1enea"s>s $eas"red +eriods had broken "+ into
the genera babbe of a those in the roo$.&# think 6e>d better get back<& he said. &#>$
gad to have $et yo"< %"ci"s Ietti"s.&
,nd $eant it.
The Prefect caed< &,h< Ietti"s<& craning his neck to see over his sho"der as Da$a and
the sodier reentered the roo$. &/e rather ike 1enea"s here< don>t 6e< gente$enB&
*es yesMWell?spoken indeedMSee#s solid for a paganF
&/e< being abe to s+o"t a set s+eech doesn>t $ake hi$ earned< sir<& crabbed I"co.
2e fiGed 1enea"s 6ith a gare $eant to be steey. I"co>s head 6as offset so that ony
one eye bore< $aking hi$ ook rather ike an angry cro6.
&Te $e< sirrah<& he de$anded< &6ho 6as it that Thersites fed his sons toB J"ick< no6F
no r"nning aro"nd to sort thro"gh yo"r books.&
The +hioso+her binked in conf"sion. Da$a tho"ght for a $o$ent that his friend had
been ca"ght o"t< b"t 1enea"s said< &7ood sir< ,tre"s it 6as 6ho $"rdered the sons of
his brother Thyestes and cooked the$ for their father.&
Da$a s"++ressed a a"gh. 1enea"s had +a"sed in order to find a 6ay to ans6er the
@"estion 6itho"t $aking his @"estioner ook too $"ch of a foo.
I"co binked. &/e< that see$s a right<& he $"ttered< fiGing his eyes on his hands and
see$ing to eGa$ine his $anic"re.
&Ces< 6e<& R"tiian"s agreed. &B"t yo"< %"ci"s Ietti"s. /hat infor$ation do yo' have
for "sB&
:veryone ese in the roo$ ooked at the ta sodier: 1enea"s in s"r+rise< the Prefect and
his co$+anions 6ith a +artiay conceaed avidity for scanda* Da$a 6ith a
+rofessionay bank eG+ression< 6aiting to hear 6hat 6as said before he decided ho6 to
dea 6ith anything that needed to be co"ntered.
Ietti"s ganced at Da$a. &#>d s"ggested to 2is :Gceency<& he said< &that he et $e see
6hat # co"d earn abo"t the earned 1enea"s.&
&Ef co"rse<& R"tiian"s agreed< raising his eyebro6s. &,fter a< 6e need to be s"re of the
$an 6ho>s going to be res+onsibe for the $ora training of $y chidren.&
2is co$+anions bobbed and $"ttered a++rova.
Ietti"s took a bi;fod notebook of 6aGed boards fro$ the 6aet in the boso$ of his toga<
b"t he didn>t bother to o+en the doc"$ent before he said< &1enea"s co$es fro$
!aesarea in !a++adocia 6here his father 6as one of the city co"nciors.&
%ike Da$a>s father.
&/as schooed in 7a?a< then ,thens. Ret"rned ho$e and ta"ght there for $ost of his ife.
1oved to Ro$e abo"t five years ago. 7ives essons in oratory and +hioso+hyF&
&:+ic"rean +hioso+hy<& the s"bAect of the disc"ssion broke in< before Da$a co"d sh"sh
hi$.
&:+ic"rean +hioso+hy<& Ietti"s contin"ed< giving Da$aFrather than 1enea"sFa grin
that 6as not entirey friendy. &#n the 4or"$ of TraAan* to abo"t a do?en +"+is at any one
ti$e. Doesn>t get aong +artic"ary 6e 6ith the other teachers 6ho>ve set "+ in the sa$e
area. 4or the +ast three $onths< he>s been attacking one Pyrrh"s the Pro+het in his
ect"res< b"t the t6o haven>t $et face to face.&
Da$a 6as ready this ti$e. 2is finger ta++ed 1enea"s>s sho"der fir$y< even as the
oder $an o+ened his $o"th to vioentyFand needessyFstate his o+inion of Pyrrh"s.
&/e< 6e kno& he>s a +hioso+herD& !aei"s said. &/hat abo"t his +ersona ifeB&
&2e doesn>t have $"ch +ersona ife<& Ietti"s said. 2e betrayed his annoyance 6ith a
thinning of tone so sight that ony Da$a< of those in the office< heard and "nderstood it.
&/hen he>s a itte ahead< he b"ys "sed books. /hen he>s behindF&
1enea"s 6inced and eGa$ined the foor.
&F6hich is "s"ay< and no6< he +a6ns the$. Stays o"t of 6inesho+s. :very fe6 $onths
or so he visits a 6hore na$ed Dro$e 6ho 6orks the aeys behind the Beef 1arket.
&These aren>t<& Ietti"s added dryy< &eG+ensive transactions.&
Da$a ooked at the +hioso+her in a$a?e$ent. 1enea"s $et his ga?e sideong and
$"ttered< &,h< Da$a< #Ftho"ght that 6hen # gre6 oder< so$e i$+edi$ents to a ca$
$ind 6o"d cease to intr"de on $y ife. B"t #>$ not as od as that yet. #>$ asha$ed to
ad$it.&
1acer o+ened his $o"th as if abo"t to say so$ething. %"ci"s Ietti"s t"rned to6ard the
$an andFta++ed his notebook< Da$a tho"ght< 6ith the indeG finger of his eft hand.
Da$a tho"ght the sodier>s gest"re $ight be ony an ide tic* b"t 1acer "nderstood
so$ething by it. The co"ncior>s eyes b"ged< and his $o"th sh"t 6ith an a"dibe co+.
&%ast year<& Ietti"s contin"ed ca$y< &1enea"s $oved o"t of his garret a+art$ent at
night< stiffing his andord for the eight;days> rent.&
&SirD& the +hioso+her b"rted in o"trage des+ite Da$a>s restraining hand. &/hen # $oved
there in the s+ring< # 6as tod the roof ties 6o"d be re+aced in a fe6 days. Nothing had
been done by 6interFand $y books 6ere drenched by the first heavy rainsD&
&The +air of 1oors sharing the roo$ no6F& said Ietti"s.
&#f yo" 6ant to beieveF& I"co began.
&Fsay the andord tod the$ 6hen they $oved in that the roof ties 6o"d be re+aced in
a fe6 days<& Ietti"s contin"ed< sicing across the interr"+tion ike a s6ord c"tting ro+e.
&That 6as three $onths ago.&
2e t"rned to the +hioso+her and said cody< &Do yo" have anything to add to that,
4a"st"s 1enea"sB&
1enea"s binked.
Da$a bo6ed o6 to the sodier and said< &1y co$+anion and # beg yo"r +ardon< sir. 2e
did not reai?e that the ife of an eGce+tionay decent and honorabe $an $ight contain<
on cose eGa$ination . . . incidents 6hich ook regrettabe o"t of conteGt.&
&/e< sti . . . & R"tiian"s said< fro6ning as he shifted on his co"ch. &/hat do yo"
feo6s thinkB&
, fo"r of his civiian co$+anions o+ened their $o"ths to s+eak. 1acer 6as fractionay
ahead of the others< b"rting< &/e< Severiana certainy 6on>t be +eased if an o++onent
of Pyrrh"s the Pro+het enters yo"r ho"sehodD&
&Didn>t # te yo" to eave $y 6ife o"t of thisB& R"tiian"s snared.
1acer @"aied as tho"gh he>d been sa++ed. The other civiians fro?e< "n6iing to offer
6hat $ight not be the 6ords the aro"sed Prefect 6anted to hear.
Ietti"s ooked at the$ 6ith coo a$"se$ent< then back to R"tiian"s. &#f # $ay s+eak<
sirB& he said.
&Ef co"rse< of co"rse< %"ci"s<& R"tiian"s said< 6i+ing his forehead 6ith a na+kin. &/hat
do yo" think # sho"d doB&
Da$a s@"ee?ed 1enea"s>s sho"der very fir$y< est the od +hioso+her interr"+t again
F6hich Da$a 6as @"ite s"re 6o"d $ean disaster. The sodier 6asn>t the sort of $an
6hose 6arnings< voiced or i$+ied< 6ere to be ignored 6itho"t cost.
&# can>t s+eak to the feo6>s +hioso+hy<& Ietti"s said.
2e +a"sed a haf;beat< to see if 1enea"s 6o"d break in on hi$* and s$ied 6hen the
+hioso+her hed his +eace. &B"t for his ifeF!iti?en Da$a stated the sit"ation correcty.
The earned 1enea"s is an eGce+tionay decent and honorabe $an< fit to enter yo"r
ho"sehod< sirF&
I"co started to say so$ething. Before the 6ords ca$e o"t< the sodier had t"rned and
added< in a voice "ttery 6itho"t e$otion< &For yo"r co"nci. 4ro$ a $ora stand+oint.&
I"co banched into sience.
Da$a eG+ressionessy 6atched theFa$ostFeGchange. This Ietti"s co"d go far in the
i$+eria b"rea"cracy< 6ith his abiity to gather infor$ation and his r"thess 6iingness to
"se 6hat he had. B"t the 6ay the sodier $oved< his ti$ingFthr"sting before his target
6as eG+ecting it< ending a controversy before it beca$e t6o;sidedFthose 6ere a
s6ords$an>s virt"es< not a b"rea"crat>s.
Da$a>s right +a$ tinged< re$e$bering the fee of a s6ordhit. #n five years< he>d t"rned
his father>s $odest egacy into rea 6eath by a 6iingness to go 6here the +rofits 6ere
as high as the risks. 2e kne6 s6ords$en< kne6 kiers . . . .
&:ven 6ith the . . . B& the Prefect 6as saying. 2is eyes ooked in6ard for a $o$ent.
&B"t yes< # can see that anyone>s ife eGa$ined cosey $ight ookF&
R"tiian"s broke off abr"+ty as if in fear that his $"sings 6ere abo"t to enter territory he
didn>t care to eG+ore.
&/e< any6ay< 1enea"s<& he res"$ed< &# think 6e> give yo"F&
&7ai"s< dearie<& caed a sik;cad yo"th +ast the sco6ing no$encator< &there>s
so$ebody here yo" A"st have to see.&
R"tiian"s ooked "+ 6ith a fro6n that softened 6hen he sa6 the yo"thFthe boy< reay
F6ho 6as s+eaking. &#>$ b"sy< no6< 7any$ede. !an>t it 6ait . . . B&
&Not an eentsy $in"te<& 7any$ede said fir$y< ifting his +ert nose so that he ooked
do6n at the Prefect +ast ch"bby cheeks.
&Eh< send hi$ in< then<& R"tiian"s agreed 6ith a sigh.
The no$encator< his voice +itched a haf;ste+ "+ 6ith scanda and o"trage< anno"nced<
&The honorabe 7nae"s ,ei"s ,cer . . . &he +a"sed & . . . e$issary of Pyrrh"s the
Pro+het.&
AThat charatanD& 1enea"s sna++ed.
&#t i behooves a +agan to critici?e a !hristian< yo"D& 1acer retorted.
&Pyrrh"s is no !hristianD& said 1enea"s. &That>s as $"ch a sha$ as his cai$ to kno6
the f"t"re andF&
Da$a aid a finger across his friend>s i+s.
, yo"ng $an 6hose dress and bearing $arked his good fa$iy 6as being "shered in by
the no$encator.
R"tiian"s ganced fro$ the ne6co$er to 1enea"s and re$arked in a distant tone< &,
6ord of advice< good +hioso+her: $y 6ife beieves Pyrrh"s to be a !hristian. , beief in
6hich # choose to conc"r.&
2e t"rned to the ne6co$er and said< &7reetings< 7nae"s ,cer. #t>s been too ong since
yo" or yo"r father have graced "s 6ith yo"r co$+any.&
#nstead of res+onding 6ith a $o$ent of s$a tak< ,cer said< &Pyrrh"s to 7ai"s
R"tiian"s< greetings. There isF&
There 6as a ga?e over the yo"ng $an>s eyes and his voice see$ed eaden. 2e did not
ook at the Prefect as his tong"e broke into singsong to contin"e:
&Fone before yo"
&/ith 6hose beard he coaks for boys his "st.
&!ast hi$ fro$ yo" hastiy
&,nd s+"rn hi$ in the d"st.&
Pyrrh"s>s $essenger fe sient. &# think there>s a $istakeF& Da$a began 6hie his $ind
raced< searching for a di+o$atic 6ay to deny the abs"rd acc"sation.
1enea"s 6as neither interested in nor ca+abe of di+o$acy. &That>s doggere<& he said<
s+eaking directy to the Prefect. &,nd it>s t6adde. #>ve never to"ched a boy carnay in
$y ife.&
,fter a +a"se A"st too short for anyone ese to interAect a co$$ent< the +hioso+her added<
&# can>t cai$ that as a virt"e. Beca"se franky< #>ve never been te$+ted in that direction.&
&Ietti"sB& the Prefect asked< his eyes narro6ing 6ith s"++osition.
The sodier shr"gged. &# can>t +rove an absence<& he saidFhis tone denying the
+ossibiity i$+icit in the 6ords.&B"t if the earned 1enea"s had tastes in that direction<
so#e neighbor or save 6o"d s"rey have $entioned it.&
&#n his 6aetF& ,cer broke in "neG+ectedy.
&Fthe deba"cher kee+s
&, etter to the boy 6ith 6ho$ he see+s.&
&That<& sho"ted 1enea"s< &is a ie as fase and back as the heart of the charatan 6hose
6ords this +oor de"ded ad is s+eakingD&
Ietti"s reached to6ard the boso$ of the +hioso+her>s toga.
1enea"s raised a hand to fend off 6hat he sa6 as an assa"t on his sense of +ro+riety.
Da$a ca"ght the +hioso+her>s ar$ and said< &%et hi$ search yo" no6. That 6i
de$onstrate the ie to a these gente$en.&
Ietti"s re$oved a cracked eather +"rse 6hose corners had been restitched so often that
its ca+acity 6as red"ced by a third. 2e th"$bed "+ the fa+Fthe tie;strings had rotted off
a decade beforeFand e$+tied it< ite$ by ite$< into his eft +a$.
, sty"s. , +air of onions.
&#< ah<& 1enea"s $"ttered< &kee+ $y "nch . . . .&
Da$a +atted hi$ to sience.
, haf;cr"st of bread< che6ed rather than torn fro$ a arger +iece. The i+s of R"tiian"s
and his co$+anions c"red.
, tabet< cosed so that the t6o boards +rotected the 6riting on their 6aGed inner sides.
, eyes t"rned to the +hioso+her.
, eyes save those of 7nae"s ,cer< 6ho stood as @"iety as a resting shee+.
&1y notebook<& eG+ained 1enea"s.&# Aot do6n ideas for $y ect"res. ,nd so$eti$es
a++oint$ents.&
Ietti"s d"$+ed back the re$ainder of the 6aet>s contents and o+ened the tabet.
&#t>s in 7reek<& he co$$ented. 2e shifted so that ight fro$ the garden door thre6
shado6s across the $arks scored into the 6aG and $ade the$ egibe.
&Ces< # take $y notesF& the +hioso+her began.
& >1enea"s to his beoved ="rnos<> & Ietti"s said< transating the ines rather than reading
the$ in their origina. & >="rnos< don>t drive $e "nder the yoke against $y 6iFdon>t
goad $y ove too $"ch.> &
&/hatD& said Da$a.
A.h . . . D& $"r$"red severa of the others in the roo$.
& ># 6on>t invite yo" to the +arty<> & the sodier contin"ed< raising his voice to a eve
s"fficient to bark co$$ands across the battefied<& >nor forbid yo". /hen yo">re +resent<
#>$ distressedFb"t 6hen yo" go a6ay< # sti ove yo".> &
&/hy< that>s not $y notebookD& 1enea"s cried. &Nor $y 6ords. /hy< it>s A"st a
@"otation fro$ the ancient +oet TheognisD&
Da$a started to eGtend a hand to the notebook. 2e ca"ght hi$sef before he tho"ght the
gest"re 6as visibe< b"t the sodier had seen and "nderstood. Ietti"s handed the tabet to
Da$a o+en.
Pyrrh"s>s $essenger sho"d have been s$iingFsho"d have sho6n so#e eG+ression.
7nae"s ,cer>s face re$ained as soft and band as b"tter. 2e t"rned to eave the office as
e$otionessy as he>d arrived.
1enea"s reached for ,cer>s ar$. Da$a bocked the oder $an 6ith his body. &!ontro
yo"rsefD& he snared "nder his breath.
The $essage on the tabet co"dn>t have been 6ritten by the od +hioso+her . . . b"t
the forgery 6as very good.
Too good for Da$a to see any difference bet6een 1enea"s>s hand and that of the forger.
&%ies don>t change the tr"thD&1enea"s sho"ted to the back of 7nae"s ,cer. &Te yo"r
$asterD The tr"th 6i find hi$ yetD&
&!iti?en 1enea"s<& the Prefect said thro"gh +"rsed i+s< &yo">d betterF& his $ind
fashed hi$ a series of +ict"res: 1enea"s bra6ing 6ith Pyrrh"s>s $essenger in the
6aiting roo$ &Fste+ into the garden for a $o$ent 6hie 6e disc"ss $atters. ,nd yo"r
friendF&
&Sir<& Ietti"s interAected< &# think it $ight be desirabe to have !iti?en Da$a +resent to
hear the disc"ssions.&
&/e don>t o6e an eG+anation to so$e itinerant +ederast< s"reyB& said !aei"s.
R"tiian"s ooked at hi$.&No<& he said.&# don>t o6e anyone an eG+anation< !aei"s. B"t
$y friend %"ci"s is correct that so$eti$es giving an eG+anation can save ater
a6k6ardnessFeven in $atters as trivia as these.&
4or the first ti$e< Da$a co"d see that R"tiian"s had reached high office for better
reason than the fact that he had the right ancestors.
, $o$entary tre$or shook 1enea"s>s body. The +hioso+her straightened< ca$ b"t
ooking oder than Da$a had ever seen hi$ before.
2e bo6ed to the Prefect and said< &Nobe R"tiian"s< yo"r gracio"sness 6i overook $y
o"tb"rst* b"t # ass"re yo" # 6i never forgive $y o6n cond"ct< 6hich 6as so "n6orthy
of a +hioso+her and a g"est in yo"r ho"se.&
1enea"s strode o"t the door to the garden< hoding his head high as tho"gh he 6ere
"na6are of !aei"s>s gigges and the s$"g certainty in the eyes of I"co.
&!iti?en Da$a< do yo" have anything to addB& the Prefect saidFa A"dge no6< rather than
the head of a 6eathy ho"sehod.
&There is no +ossibiity that the acc"sation is tr"e<& Da$a said< choosing his 6ords and
kno6ing that there 6ere no 6ords in any ang"age that 6o"d achieve his ai$. &# say that
as a $an 6ho has kno6n 1enea"s since # 6as od eno"gh to have $e$ory.&
&,nd the etter he>d 6rittenB& 1acer de$anded. &# s"++ose that(s innocentB&
Da$a ooked at his acc"ser. &# can>t eG+ain the etter<& he said. &:Gce+t to +oint o"t that
Pyrrh"s kne6 abo"t it< even tho"gh 1enea"s hi$sef obvio"sy had no idea 6hat 6as
6ritten on the tabet.&
!aei"s snickered again.
&%"ci"s Ietti"s< 6hat do yo" sayB& R"tiian"s asked fro$ his co"ch. 2e 6i+ed his face
6ith a na+kin< dabbing +recisey instead of s6ee+ing the coth +ro$isc"o"sy over his
skin.
&#n $y o+inion<& the sodier said< &the od $an didn>t kno6 6hat 6as on the tabet. ,nd
he isn>t interested in boys. #n $y o+inion.&
&So yo" 6o"d reco$$end that # e$+oy the earned 1enea"s to teach $y sons +ro+er
$oraityB& R"tiian"s said.
4or a $o$ent< Da$a tho"ghtFho+edF+rayedF
The big sodier ooked at Da$a< not the Prefect< and said< &No< # can>t reco$$end that.
There>re scores of +hioso+hers in Ro$e 6ho>d be gad of the +osition. There>s no reason
at a for yo" to take a needess risk.&
,nd of co"rse< Ietti"s 6as @"ite right. , $erchant ike Da$a co"d 6e a++reciate the
baance of risk against ret"rn.
Pyrrh"s the Pro+het "nderstood the +rinci+es aso.
&Ces< too bad<& R"tiian"s said. &/e;s+oken od feo6< too. B"tF& his eyes traced +ast
the no$encator as if ho+ing for another gi$+se of the boy 7any$ede &Fso$e of those
+erverts are A"st too good at conceaing it. !an>t take the risk< can 6eB&
2e ooked aro"nd the roo$ as his s$iing civiian advisors chor"sed agree$ent. Ietti"s
6atched Da$a 6ith an eG+ression of regret< b"t he had no reason to be asha$ed of 6hat
he>d said. :ven Da$a agreed 6ith the assess$ent.
The 6hee?ing gas+ fro$ the garden 6as o"d eno"gh for everyone in the office to hear<
b"t ony Ietti"s and Da$a "nderstood 6hat it $eant.
Sosi"s 6as bet6een Ietti"s and the garden door for an instant. The sodier stiff;ar$ed
hi$ into a 6a< beca"se that 6as faster than 6ords and there 6asn>t a ot of ti$e 6henF
Ietti"s and Da$a crashed into the garden together. The $erchant had +icked "+ a haf
ste+ by not having to cear his o6n +ath.
F$en 6ere dying.
#t ooked for a $o$ent as tho"gh the od +hioso+her 6as trying to ean his forehead
against the 6a of the ho"se. 2e>d rested the +o$$e of Ietti"s>s s6ord at an ange
against the st"cco and 6as thr"sting his body against it. The gas+ had co$e 6henF
1enea"s vo$ited bood and to++ed side6ays before Da$a co"d catch hi$.
Fthe s6ord+oint broke the resisting skin beneath 1enea"s>s breastbone and sid s6ifty
"+6ard thro"gh the od $an>s "ngs< sto$ach< and heart.
Ietti"s grabbed 1enea"s>s i$+ 6rist to +revent the $an fro$ fo++ing on his back. The
s6ord+oint st"ck a finger>s breadth o"t fro$ bet6een 1enea"s>s sho"der bades. #t
6o"d grate on the stone if he 6ere ao6ed to ie nat"ray.
Da$a reached beneath the od $an>s neck and took the 6eight of his torso. Ietti"s
ganced across at hi$< then eased backF+"tting his o6n big for$ bet6een the scene and
the eGcited civiians s+iing fro$ the office to ga+e at it.
&Co" didn>t have to do that< od friend<& Da$a 6his+ered.&There 6ere other ho"sehods .
. . &
B"t no ho"sehods 6ho 6o"dn>t have heard the story of 6hat had ha++ened hereFor a
si$iar story< si$iary tod by an e$issary of Pyrrh"s the Pro+het. 1enea"s had kno6n
that . . . and 1enea"s hadn>t been 6iing to acce+t o+en charity fro$ his friend.
The od $an did not s+eak. , trai of s"ggish bood dribbed fro$ the corner of his
$o"th. 2is eyes binked once in the s"night< t6iceF
Then they stayed o+en and began to ga?e.
Da$a gri++ed the s+atha>s hit. Ene edge of the bade 6as e$bedded in 1enea"s>s
vertebrae. 2e evered the 6ea+on< hearing bone crack as the stee ca$e free.
&7et backD& the $erchant snared to 6hoever it 6as 6hose $otion b"rred coser thro"gh
the fi$ of tears. 2e dre6 the bade o"t< feeing his friend>s body s+as$ beneath his
s"++orting ar$.
2e s$eed the 6astes that the cor+se voided after $ind and so" 6ere gone. 1enea"s
6ore a ne6 toga. Da$a>d +rovided it &as a oan for the intervie6 6ith R"tiian"s.&
Da$a stood "+. 2e ca"ght a fod of his o6n gar$ent in his eft hand and scr"bbed the
stee 6ith it< tr"sting the thickness of the 6oo to +rotect his fesh fro$ the edge that had
A"st kied the $an he had kno6n and res+ected as ong as he had $e$ory.
=no6n and res+ected and oved.
,nd 6hen the bade 6as cean< he handed the s6ord< +o$$e;first< to %"ci"s Ietti"s.
There 6ere seats and tabes in the side;roo$ of the tavern< b"t Ietti"s fo"nd the $erchant
h"nched over the $asonry bar in the front. The bartender< ading so"+ fro$ one of the
kettes ce$ented into the co"nter< 6atched ho+ef"y 6hen the sodier s"rveyed the roo$
fro$ the door6ay< then strode over to Da$a.
The itte fea had been there for a co"+e ho"rs. Not $aking tro"be. Not even drinking
that heavy . . .
B"t there 6as a ook in his eyes that the bartender had seen in other @"iet $en at the start
of a rea bad night.
&# tho"ght yo" $ight>ve gone ho$e<& Ietti"s said as he eaned his broad eft +a$ on the
bar bet6een his torso and Da$a>s.
&# didn>t<& the $erchant said. &7o a6ay.&
2e s6igged do6n the ast of his 6ine and thr"st the bron?e c"+< chained to the co"nter<
to6ard the bartender. &,nother.&
The tavern 6as na$ed 3t the Sign of ,en's. /hie he 6aited for the bartender to fi the
c"+Fand 6hie he +ointedy ignored Da$a>s c"rt de$and to hi#FIetti"s eGa$ined the
stat"e on the street;end of the co"nter.
The t6o;foot;high terracotta +iece had given the +ace its na$e. #t sho6ed Ien"s tying
her sanda< 6hie her free hand rested on the head of Pria+"s>s cock to baance her.
Pria+"s>s body had been eft the nat"ra r"sset coor of the coarse +ottery< b"t Ien"s 6as
+ainted 6hite< 6ith b"e for her Ae6ery and the string bra and briefs she 6ore. The coor
6as 6orn off her right breast< the one nearer the street.
Da$a took a drink fro$ the refied c"+. &1enea"s had been staying 6ith $e the +ast
fe6 days<& he said into the 6ine. &So # didn>t go back to $y a+art$ent.&
The bartender 6as kee+ing do6n at the other end of the co"nter< 6hich 6as A"st as it
sho"d be. &Ene for $e<& Ietti"s caed. The $an nodded and aded 6ine into another
c"+< then $iGed it 6ith t6ice the vo"$e of heated 6ater before handing it to the sodier.
&Sorry abo"t yo"r friend<& Ietti"s said in 6hat co"d have been $istaken for a ight tone.
&Sorry abo"t yo"r s6ord<& Da$a $"ttered< then took a ong drink fro$ his c"+.
The sodier shr"gged.&#t>s had bood on it before<& he said. ,fter a $o$ent< he added<
&,ny ideas abo"t ho6 Pyrrh"s s6itched the notebook in yo"r friend>s +"rseB&
%ike everyone ese in the tavern< the t6o $en 6ore ony t"nics and sandas. 4or
cent"ries< togas had been reegated to for$a 6ear: for co"rt a++earances< say* or for
dancing attendance on a 6eathy +atron ike 7ai"s R"tii"s R"tiian"s.
Da$a $"st have sent his toga ho$e 6ith the saves 6ho>d acco$+anied hi$ and
1enea"s to the intervie6. The gar$ent 6o"d have to be 6ashed before it co"d be 6orn
again< of co"rse . . . .
&#t 6o"dn>t have been hard<& the $erchant said< +"tting his c"+ do6n and $eeting
Ietti"s>s eyes for the first ti$e since 6aking behind his friend>s cor+se +ast the ga6+ing
servants and favor;seekers in the rece+tion ha.&#n the street< easiy eno"gh. Er +erha+s a
servant.&
2e ooked do6n at the 6ine< then drank again. &, servant of $ine< that 6o"d +robaby
$ake it.&
Ietti"s drank aso. &Co" kno6<& he said< as if idy< &# don>t $"ch ike being $ade a foo of
6ith the Prefect.&
A*o'(re sti aive<& Da$a sna++ed.
Ietti"s ooked at the s$aer $an 6itho"t eG+ression. The bartender< 6ho>d seen that sort
of ook before aso< signaed "rgenty to6ard a +air of h"sky 6aiters* b"t the sodier said
ony< &Ceah. /e are aive< aren>t 6eB&
Da$a $et the sodier>s eyes. &Sorry<& he said. &That 6as o"t of ine.&
&Been a ro"gh day for a ot of +eo+e<& said Ietti"s 6ith a dis$issive shr"g. &4or . . .
A"st abo"t everybody eGce+t Pyrrh"s< #>d say. =no6 anything abo"t that gente$anB&
The $erchant ch"cked. &# kno6 6hat #>ve heard fro$ 1enea"s<& he said. &1osty that
Pyrrh"s isn>t a gente$an. 2e>s a +riest fro$ so$e6here in the :astF#>ve heard :dessa<
b"t #>ve heard other +aces. !a$e here to Ro$e< fo"nd an od te$+e that 6as faing
do6n and $ade it his ch"rch.&
Da$a si++ed 6ine and roed it aro"nd his $o"th as if trying to cear a6ay the taste of
so$ething. 1aybe he 6as. 2e>d fet no t6inge at $entioning 1enea"s>s na$e< even
tho"gh his friend>s body 6as sti in the +rocess of being aid o"t.
1enea"s had a6ays 6anted to be cre$ated. 2e said that the ne6er fashion of
inh"$ation ca$e fro$Fhe>d gance aro"nd< to $ake s"re he 6asn>t being overheard by
those 6ho $ight take vioent offenseF$ystica nonsense abo"t res"rrection of the body.
Ietti"s ooked +ast Da$a to6ard the bartender.&Co" there<& he caed< fishing siver fro$
his 6aet. &Sa"sage ros for $e and $y friend.&
To the $erchant he added< as bandy as tho"gh they &ere od friends< &There>s so$ething
abo"t a snakeB&
&Ces . . . &Da$a said< $arshaing his recoections.&2e cai$s to have one of the
bron?e ser+ents that !hrist set "+ in the 6iderness to drive a6ay a +ag"e. So$ething
ike that. 2e cai$s it taks< gives +ro+hecies.&
&Does itB&
Da$a snorted.&# can $ake a snake takFto foosFif there>s eno"gh $oney in it. ,nd
there>s $oney in this one< beieve $e.&
2e bit into a stea$ing sa"sage ro. #t 6as A"icy* good $aterias 6e;+re+ared< and the
6ine 6as better than decent as 6e. #t 6as a nice tavern< a reasonabe +ace to sto+.
Besides being the +ace nearest to the Prefect>s door6ay 6here Da$a co"d get a drink.
2e +o"red a itte 6ine onto the terra??o foor. The dro+s fet coo 6hen they s+ashed his
sandaed feet. Ietti"s cocked an eyebro6 at hi$.
&,n offering to a friend<& Da$a said c"rty.
&Ene kind of offering<& the sodier ans6ered. &Not necessariy the kind that does the $ost
good.&
Da$a had been thinking the sa$e thing. That 6as 6hy he didn>t $ind taking abo"t his
friend after a . . . .
4or a $o$ent< the t6o $en eyed one another cody. Then Ietti"s 6ent on< &2a++en to
kno6 6here this te$+e Pyrrh"s ives in $ight beB&
Da$a hadn>t $entioned that Pyrrh"s ived in his ch"rch. #t didn>t s"r+rise hi$ that the
sodier aready kne6< nor that %"ci"s Ietti"s +robaby kne6 other things abo"t the
Pro+het.
&,s it ha++ens<& the $erchant said ao"d< &# do. #t>s in the Ninth District< +retty near the
Portico of Po$+ey. ,ndF&
2e +o++ed the re$ainder of his sa"sage ro into his $o"th and che6ed it so6y 6hie
Ietti"s 6aited for the conc"sion of the sentence.
,n o+en investigation of Pyrrh"s 6o"d g"arantee the sodier an i$$ediate +osting to
6hichever frontier ooked $ost $iserabe on the day R"tiian"s>s 6ife earned 6hat he
6as doing to her daring.
*o' kno&, - don(t #'ch like being #ade a fool of &ith the $refect.
Ietti"s 6asn>t going to get s"++ort thro"gh his nor$a channes* b"t it $ight be that he
co"d find so$eone "sef" 6ho took a +ersona interest in the $atter . . . .
Da$a 6ashed do6n the ro 6ith the ast of his 6ine. &,nd since it>s a S"nday<& he
res"$ed< &they> be having an o+en cere$ony.& 2e s@"inted +ast Ien"s and the s$irking
Pria+"s to observe the s"n>s ange. &/e> have +enty of ti$e to get there< # sho"d think.&
2e bro"ght a siver coin fro$ his +"rse< checked the 6eight of it 6ith his finger< and
added a bron?e +iece before sa++ing the $oney onto the co"nter.&To cover the 6ine<&
Da$a caed to the bartender. &1ine and $y friend>s both.&
The t6o $en sho"dered their 6ay into the cro6ded street< $oving together as tho"gh
they 6ere a +racticed tea$.
* * *
They heard the dr"$ even before they t"rned the corner and sa6 the edges of a cro6d
6hich Ietti"s>s trained eye esti$ated to contain over a tho"sand so"s. D"sk 6o"d inger
for another haf;ho"r< b"t torches 6ere aready faring in the hands of attendants on the
raised base of a s$a te$+e fanked by three;story a+art$ent b"idings.
&,re 6e ateB& the sodier asked.
Da$a di++ed his chin in negation. &They 6ant +aces near the front< and a ot of the$
can>t afford to b"y their 6ay "+.&
2is eyes narro6ed as he s"rveyed the eG+ensivey dyed coaks and the Ae6ery 6inking
in ears and coiff"res of $atrons 6aiting cose to the te$+eFthe ch"rchFste+s. &En the
other hand<& he added< &a ot of the$ can afford to +ay.&
The cro6d co$+etey bocked the street< b"t that didn>t a++ear to concern either the civic
a"thorities or the oca inhabitants. Ietti"s foo6ed the $erchant>s eyes and $"ttered<
&Pyrrh"s hi$sef o6ns the b"iding across the street. 2e "ses it to ho"se his staff and +"t
"+ 6eathy +igri$s.&
, f"tist< +aying a co"nter+oint on the do"be t"bes of his instr"$ent< Aoined the
dr"$$er and torch;bearers on the +orch. T6o of the attendants at the back of the cro6d<
identifiabe by their beached t"nics and batons of to"gh root6ood< $oved +"r+osef"y
to6ard Ietti"s and Da$a.
The $erchant had t6o siver denarii foded in his +a$. &/e>ve co$e to 6orshi+ 6ith the
hoy Pyrrh"s<& he eG+ained< $oving his hand over that of one of the attendants. The
eGchange 6as eG+ert< a $ane"ver both +arties had +racticed often in the +ast.
&Ces<& said the attendant. &#f yo" have a re@"est for g"idance fro$ the hoy Pyrrh"s< give
it on a seaed tabet to the servants at the front.&
Da$a nodded and reached for another coin. &Not no6<& said the attendant. &Co" 6i be
granted an o++ort"nity to $ake a gift directy to the divinity.&
&,h . . . & said Ietti"s. &# don>t have a tabet of $y o6n. !o"dF&
The other attendant< the sient one< 6as aready handing Ietti"s an ordinary tabet of
6aGed boards. 2e carried a do?en si$iar ones in a arge scri+.
&!o$e<& saidForderedFthe first attendant. 2is baton< a dangero"s 6ea+on as 6e as a
staff of office< thr"st thro"gh the cro6d ike the bron?e ra$ of a 6arshi+ ceaving cho++y
6aves.
There 6ere o"d co$+aints fro$ earierFand +oorerF6orshi++ers< b"t no one
atte$+ted +hysica o++osition to the Pro+het>s servant. Ietti"s gri++ed Da$a>s sho"der
fro$ behind as they foo6ed< est the +ress"re of the cro6d se+arate the$ beyond any
c"re short of o+en vioence.
&Pyrrh"s>s boys aren>t very takative<>> Ietti"s 6his+ered in the s$aer $an>s ear. &Dr"gs<
+erha+sB&
Da$a shr"gged. Tho"gh the attendant before the$ had a c"t"red accent< he 6as as
devoid of s$a;tak and e$otion as the $essenger 6ho bro"ght deady ies abo"t
1enea"s to the Prefect. Dr"gs 6ere a +ossibe ca"se* b"t the $erchant aready kne6 a
n"$ber of $enFand a greater n"$ber of 6o$enFfor 6ho$ reigio"s ecstasy of one
sort or another had "ttery dis+aced a other +assions.
Pyrrh"s>s converted te$+e 6as "ni$+osing. , b"iding< t6enty feet 6ide and +ossiby
thirty feet high to the roof;+eak< stood on a ste++ed base of coarse vocanic rock. T6o
+iars< and +iasters for$ed by eGtensions of the side6as< s"++orted the +edi$ent. That
triang"ar area 6as orna$ented 6ith a +ainting on boards sho6ing a h"$an;faced ser+ent
t6ined aro"nd a ta" cross.
The te$+e had originay been dedicated to ,ske+ios< the heaing god 6ho>d ived +art
of his ife as a snake. The c"rrent decoration 6as @"ite in kee+ing 6ith the b"iding>s
+agan "se.
There 6ere siG attendants on the te$+e +orch no6. The ne6co$ersFone of the$ 6as
7nae"s ,cerFcashed bron?e rattes at a consistent rhyth$* not the sa$e rhyth$ for
both $en< nor in either case @"ite the rhyth$ that the staring;eyed dr"$$er stroked fro$
his o6n instr"$ent.
The g"ide sid Ietti"s and Da$a to 6ithin a ro6 of the front of the cro6d. 1ost of the
6orshi+ers sti ahead of the$ 6ere 6eathy $atrons< b"t a fe6 6ere co"ntry fok. Ietti"s
tho"ght he aso sa6 the fash of a toga carrying a senator>s broad r"sset stri+e. 1ore
attendants< so$e of the$ carrying horn;ensed anterns rather than batons< for$ed a ine
at the base of the ste+s.
Da$a had +aid siver for a second;rank ocation. The first rank a$ost certainy 6ent for
god.
The $erchant had o+ened a bank notebook and 6as h"nching to 6rite 6ithin the strait
confines of the cro6d. The tabet Ietti"s had been given ooked nor$a eno"gh at a
gance: a +air of fo"r;by five;inch boards hinged so that they co"d cover one another.
Ene of the boards 6as 6aGed 6ithin a raised $argin of 6ood that< 6hen the tabet 6as
cosed< +rotected 6ords 6ritten on the soft s"rface. , cord attached to the back co"d be
tied or seaed to the front board to hod the tabet sh"t.
Da$a finished 6hat he 6as doing< grinned< and took the tabet fro$ Ietti"s. &Shied $e<&
he 6his+ered.
Ietti"s obedienty shifted his body< tho"gh the t6o of the$ 6ere +robaby the ony
$e$bers of the cro6d 6ho 6eren>t foc"sed entirey on their o6n affairs.
Da$a had been scribbing 6ith a bone sty"s. No6< "sing the sty"s ti+< he +ressed on
6hat see$ed to be a tiny knot thro"gh the 6ooden edge of the tabet s"++ied to Ietti"s.
The knot si++ed o"t into his 6aiting +a$. , @"ick t"g started the 6aGed 6ooden back
siding a6ay fro$ the $argin of 6hat had see$ed a soid +iece.
&Pyrrh"s the Pro+het has strange +o6ers indeed<& Ietti"s said as he fitted the tabet back
together again. &%et $e borro6 yo"r sty"s.&
2e 6rote @"icky< c"tting the 6aG 6ith arge< s@"are etters* not a caigra+her>s hand< b"t
one 6hich co"d 6rite battefied orders that 6ere +erfecty cear.
&/hat are yo" askingB& Da$a 6his+ered.
&/hether ,$asi"s 6i die so that # get +ro$oted to %egate of the Do$estic 2orse<& the
sodier re+ied. 2e sa++ed that tabet cosed. &# s"++ose the attendants sea these for "sB&
&,h . . . & said Da$a 6ith a 6orried eG+ression. &That $ight not be a tactf" @"estion
to have asked . . . ah< if the infor$ation gets into the 6rong hands< yo" kno6.&
&S"re 6o"dn>t be<& Ietti"s agreed< &if #>d signed >Dec"rion Ietti"s> instead of >Section
%eader %ycorides.> &
2e ch"cked. &Co" kno6<& he added< &%ycorides is abo"t d"$b eno"gh not to fig"re ho6
a @"estion ike that o+ens yo" "+ to back$ai.&
2e grinned at the +edi$ent of the ch"rch and said< &Pyrrh"s 6o"d fig"re it o"t< tho"gh.
/o"dn>t heB&
Da$a 6atched a heavy;set 6o$an in the front rank 6ave her ivory tabet at an attendant.
She 6ore a heavy cross on a god chain< and the sik band 6hich bo"nd her hair 6as
e$broidered 6ith the !hi;Rho sy$bo. 1enea"s $ay not have tho"ght Pyrrh"s 6as a
!hristian* b"t< as the Prefect had retorted< there 6ere !hristians 6ho fet other6ise.
&2erc"esD&Ietti"s s6ore "nder his breath.&That>s SeverianaFthe Prefect>s 6ifeD&
2e snorted. &,nd 7any$ede. That boy gets aro"nd.&
&/ant to d"ck back no6 and et $e coverB& the $erchant offered.
Ietti"s gri$aced. &They 6on>t recogni?e $e<& he said in the tone of one +raying as 6e
as assessing the sit"ation.
,n attendant eaned to6ard Da$a< +ast the veied $atron and her da"ghter in the front
rank 6ho 6ere reciting +rayers ao"d in 1assiiot 7reek.
&#f yo" have +etitions for advice fro$ the Pro+het<& the $an said< &hand the$ in no6.&
,s the attendant s+oke< he roed a "$+ of 6aG bet6een his th"$b and forefinger<
hoding it over the +eak of the antern he carried in his other hand. Prayers chir+ed to a
hat as the 6o$en edged back fro$ the antern>s hissing $eta fra$e.
Da$a hed o"t his cosed notebook 6ith the cord oo+ed over the front board. The
attendant covered the oo+ 6ith 6aG< into 6hich Da$a then fir$y +ressed his carneian
sea ring. The +rocess of seaing Ietti"s>s tabet 6as identica< eGce+t that the sodier 6ore
a signet of git bron?e.
&/hat>re yo" askingB&Ietti"s 6his+ered "nder cover of the $"sic fro$ the +orch and the
+rayers 6hich the 6o$en res"$ed as soon as the attendant $ade his 6ay into the ch"rch
6ith the tabets.
&#>$ asking abo"t the heath of $y 6ife and three chidren back in 7ades.&
&Co">re not fro$ S+ain< are yo"B& the sodier askedFrefeGivey checking the fie of data
in his $ind.
&Never been there<& Da$a agreed. &Never $arried< either.&
The door of the ch"rch o+ened to +ass an attendant 6ith s$a cy$bas. 2e raised the$
b"t didn>t $ove "nti the door sh"t behind hi$.
The $"sic sto++ed. The cro6d>s $"r$"ring stied to a coective intake of breath.
The cy$bas crashed together. , ta< ean $an stood on the +orch in front of the
attendants.
&1ithraD& the $erchant b"rtedFtoo @"iety to be overheard< b"t sti a st"+id thing to
say here.
Da$a "nderstood abo"t taking snakes and 6ays to read seaed tabets* b"t he didn>t have
the faintest notion of ho6 Pyrrh"s had a++eared o"t of thin air that 6ay.
&# 6eco$e yo"<& Pyrrh"s cried in a voice that +ierced 6itho"t see$ing es+eciay o"d<
&in the na$e of !hrist and of 7a"kon< the Servant of 7od.&
Ietti"s narro6ed his eyes.
Da$a< tho"gh he 6as "ncertain 6hether the sodier>s ignorance 6as rea or A"st +retense<
eaned even coser than the +ress de$anded and 6his+ered< &That>s the na$e of his
snake. The bron?e one.&
&/eco$e Pyrrh"sD& the cro6d boo$ed. &Pro+het of 7odD&
, do"be crackB started both $en b"t dist"rbed fe6 if any of the other 6orshi+ers. The
torch;bearing attendants had "ncoied short 6hi+s 6ith +o++ers. They ashed the air to
+"t an e$+hatic +eriod to the se@"ence of state$ent and res+onse.
Pyrrh"s s+read his ar$s as tho"gh thr"sting o+en a do"be door. &1ay a ene$ies of 7od
and his servants be far fro$ these +roceedings<& he cried.
&1ay a ene$ies of Pyrrh"s and 7a"kon be far fro$ these +roceedingsD& res+onded the
cro6d.
/rack crackB
&7od bess the :$+erors and their servants on :arth<& Pyrrh"s said. Pyrrh"s ordered, it
see$ed to Ietti"s* tho"gh the obAect of the order 6as a deity.
&Not taking any chances 6ith a treason tria< is heB& the sodier $"ttered.
&7od bess Pyrrh"s and 7a"kon< his servantsD& res+onded the cro6d Aoyo"sy.
The $erchant nodded. Those aro"nd the$ 6ere too ost in the @"ivering a$biance of the
event to notice the car+ing. &/hat # 6ant to kno6<& he 6his+ered back< &is ho6 ong does
this go onB&
&Pyrrh"sD %iarD& a $an screa$ed fro$ near the front of the gathering. The cro6d recoied
as tho"gh the cry 6ere a stone f"ng in their $idst.
&T6o $onths ago< yo" tod $e $y brother>d been dro6ned in a shi+6reckD& the $an
sho"ted into the +a"se his acc"sation be6 in the +roceedings.
The acc"ser 6as short and aready bading< des+ite being 6ithin a fe6 years of Ietti"s>s
t6enty;five* b"t his feat"res 6ere +robaby handso$e eno"gh at ti$es 6hen rage didn>t
distort the$.
&Bas+he$erD& so$ebody cried* b"t $ost of the cro6d +oised< 6aiting for Pyrrh"s to
res+ond. The attendants 6ere as $otioness as stat"es.
&2is shi+ 6as driven ashore in 1ata< b"t he>s fineD& the $an contin"ed des+eratey. &2e>s
ho$e again< and #>ve $arried his &ido&B /hat a$ # s"++osed to do< yo" ying bastardD&
Pyrrh"s bro"ght his hands together. Da$a eG+ected a ca+ of so"nd< b"t there 6as none<
ony the Pro+het>s +iercing voice crying< &:vi are they 6ho evi s+eak of 7odD !ast the$
fro$ yo"r $idst 6ith stone and rodD&
WhatH
&Co">ve r"ined $yF& the $an began.
Fdoggerel, Da$a tho"ght< and then a +orty $atron neGt to the acc"ser sashed a ine of
bood across his forehead 6ith the +in of the god;and;garnet cas+ fastening her coak.
The victi$ screa$ed and st"$bed back< into the c"$sy +"nch of a frai;ooking $an
t6ice his age.
The cro6d gave a coective snar ike that of dogs ringing a boar< then s"rged for6ard
together.
The +aving stones 6ere soidy set in concrete< b"t severa of the inf"riated 6orshi+ers
fo"nd ch"nks of b"iding $ateria of a si?e to s6ing and h"r. Those cr"de 6ea+ons 6ere
$ore danger to the rest of the cro6d than to the intended victi$Fknocked onto a fo"rs
and cra6ing +ast e$broidered sandas< ceated boots< and bare soes< a kicking at hi$
6ith $"rdero"s intent.
Ietti"s started to $ove to6ard the core of vioence 6ith a +"r+osef" ook in his eye. The
$erchant< to 6ho$ +"bic order 6as a benefit rather than a d"ty< gri++ed the bigger $an>s
ar$. Ietti"s Aerked his ar$ oose.
Tried to Aerk his ar$ oose. Da$a>s s$a fra$e beied his strength* b"t $"ch $ore
s"r+rising 6as his 6iingness to o++ose the sodier 6ho$ he kne6 6as sti $"ch
strongerFas 6e as being on the edge of a kiing rage.
The shock bro"ght Ietti"s back to +resent a6areness. The acc"ser 6o"d +robaby
s"rvive the ine+t battering* and one $anFeven a $an as strong and deter$ined as %"ci"s
Ietti"sFco"d do itte to change the +resent odds.
The $ob Aosted the$ as if they 6ere rocks in a s"rf of anger. &T6o $onths ago<& Da$a
said< 6ith his i+s cose to the sodier>s ear< &he>d have been one of those kicking. That>s
not 6hy 6e>re here.&
The victi$ reached the back of the cro6d and staggered to his feet again. , fe6 eager
fanatics foo6ed so$e 6ay into the darkness* b"t Pyrrh"s s+read his ar$s on the +orch
of the ch"rch< ca$ing the cro6d the 6ay a teacher can a++ear and @"iet a schooroo$.
/hi+s cracked the 6orshi+ers to attention.
&Brothers and sisters in 7od<& the Pro+het caed< ceary a"dibe des+ite the +anting and
foot;sh"ffing that fied the street even after the $"rdero"s cries had abated.&Pray no6
for the Re+"bic and the :$+erors. 1ay they seek +ro+er g"idance in the ti$e of testing
that is on the$D&
&/hat>s that $eanB& Da$a 6his+ered.
The sodier shr"gged. &There>s nothing s+ecia - kno6 abo"t<& he $"ttered. &Ef co"rse<
it>s the sort of thing yo" co"d say anyti$e in the +ast co"+e cent"ries and be $ore right
than 6rong.&
Pyrrh"s>s ong +rayer gave no $ore infor$ation as to the nat"re of the &testing& than had
been offered at the start< b"t the sentences ra$bed thro"gh shado6y threats and
+ro+hetic thickets barbed 6ith 6ords in "nkno6n ang"ages. En occasionFrando$
occasions< it see$ed to Ietti"sFthe Pro+het o6ered his ar$s and the cro6d sho"ted<
&,$enD& ,fter the first ti$e< the sodier and $erchant Aoined in 6ith feigned enth"sias$.
Des+ite his intention to isten caref"yFand his abso"te need to stay a6ake if he 6ere
to s"rvive the nightFIetti"s 6as started o"t of a fog 6hen Pyrrh"s cried< &De+art no6<
in the ove of 7od and his servants Pyrrh"s and 7a"konD&
&7od bess Pyrrh"s< the servant of 7odD& boo$ed the cro6d< as tho"gh the $eaningess<
$eandering +rayer had bro"ght the 6orshi+ers to so$e sort of Aoyo"s e+i+hany.
/hi+s cracked. The $"sicians behind Pyrrh"s cashed o"t a concent"s ike that 6ith
6hich they had heraded the Pro+het>s a++earanceF
Pyrrh"s 6as gone< as s"ddeny and ineG+icaby as he>d a++eared.
The cro6d shook itsef aro"nd the binking a$a?e$ent of Ietti"s and Da$a. &# don>t
see . . . & the $erchant $"ttered. The torches traied s+arks and +itchy s$oke "+ +ast
the +edi$ent< b"t there 6as no fog or ha?e s"fficient to hide a $an vanishing fro$ a fe6
feet a6ay.
&#s this aF& Ietti"s began.
&Patience<& said Da$a.
The attendantsF6ho hadn>t $oved d"ring the near riotFfor$ed a do"be ine "+ the
ste++ed base of the b"iding to 6here the dr"$$er o+ened the door. /orshi+ers fro$ the
front of the cro6d< those 6ho>d +aid for their +aces and co"d afford to +ay $ore for a
+ersona +ro+hecy< advanced bet6een the g"iding ines.
Ietti"s>s face t6isted in a $o"e as he and Da$a Aoined the ine. e sho"dn>t have to be
co"nseed in +atience by a sik $erchant . . . .
The +rivate 6orshi+ers +assed one by one thro"gh the door< 6atched by the attendants. ,
$an a co"+e +aces in front of Ietti"s 6ore an eG+ensive brocade coak< b"t his cheeks
6ere scarred and one ear had been che6ed do6n to a n"b. ,s he ste++ed for6ard< one of
the attendants +"t o"t a hand in bar and said< &No 6ea+ons. Co" have aF&
&2eyD& the $an snared. &Co" eave $eF&
The attendant on the other side reached "nder the coak and +"cked o"t a dagger 6ith a
6icked +oint and a ong< do"be;edged bade.
The +air of 6o$en nearest the incident s@"eaed in horror< 6hie Ietti"s +oised to react if
necessary. The $an grabbed the hand of the attendant hoding his dagger and said< &2eyD
That>s for +ersona reasons< seeB&
The first attendant c"bbed the oaded b"tt of his 6hi+ across the back of the $an>s neck.
The feo6 s"$+ed ike an e$+ty 6ineskin. T6o of the $"sicians aid do6n their
instr"$ents and dragged hi$ to6ard the side of the b"iding. T6ittering< the 6o$en
ste++ed +ast 6here he>d faen.
Ietti"s ganced at Da$a.
&#>$ cean<& the $erchant $"r$"red +ast the ghost of a h"$oress s$ie. 2e kne6< as
Ietti"s did< that the $an being dragged a6ay 6as as ikey dead as $erey "nconscio"s.
That< aong 6ith 6hat ha++ened to the feo6 6ho>d $arried his brother>s 6ife< +rovided
the night>s second de$onstration of ho6 Pyrrh"s ke+t hi$sef safe. The Pro+het $ight
so"nd ike a di$6itted charatan< and his attendants $ight ook as tho"gh they 6ere
see+6aking $ost of the ti$e* b"t he and they 6ere r"thessy co$+etent 6here it
co"nted.
,s he +assed inside the ch"rch< Da$a ganced at the door eaves. 2e ho+ed to see so$e
signFa fase +ane* a sheet of $irror;+oished $eta* so#ethingFto s"ggest the i"sion
by 6hich Pyrrh"s ca$e and eft the +orch. The o"ter s"rface of the 6ooden eaves had
been covered 6ith ver$iion eather< b"t the inside sho6ed the cracks and 6ar+ing of
age.
These 6ere the sa$e doors that had been in +ace 6hen the b"iding 6as an abandoned
te$+e. There 6ere no tricks in the$.
, cross6a divided the interior of the ch"rch into t6o s@"are roo$s. The broad door6ay
bet6een the$ 6as o+en< b"t the seect gro"+ of 6orshi+ers hated in the first< the
anteroo$.
!ross6ise in the center of the inner roo$< Pyrrh"s the Pro+het ay on a stone dais as
tho"gh he 6ere a cor+se +re+ared for b"ria. 2is head rested on a raised +ortion of the
stone< cr"dey carved to the sha+e of an o+en;Aa6ed snake.
Behind the Pro+het< against the back 6a 6here the c"t stat"e of ,ske+ios once stood<
6as a ta" cross aro"nd 6hich t6ined a $eta;scaed ser+ent. The creat"re>s h"$anoid
head dra+ed artisticay over the crossbar.
Pairs of tri+e;6ick a$+s rested on stands in both roo$s< b"t their ight 6as $"ted to
shado6 by the high< back bea$s s"++orting the roof. , ro6 of o"vered cerestory
6indo6s had been added A"st beneath the eaves 6hen the b"iding 6as ref"rbished< b"t
even d"ring dayight they 6o"d have affected ventiation $ore than ighting.
Ietti"s esti$ated that forty or fifty +eo+e 6ere ao6ed to enter before attendants cosed
the doors again and barred the$. The anteroo$ 6as co$fortaby arge eno"gh to hod
that n"$ber< b"t the 6orshi+ersFhe and Da$a as s"rey as the restFa cro6ded to6ard
the center 6here they co"d ook thro"gh the door6ay into the sanct"$.
Bron?e scaes Ainged a soft s"s"rr"s as the ser+ent ifted its head fro$ the bar. &7od bess
Pyrrh"s his servantD& ras+ed the creat"re in a voice ike a 6ind;s6"ng gate.
Ietti"s grabbed for the s6ord he 6asn>t carrying tonight. 2e noticed 6ith s"r+rise that
Da$a>s ar$ had c"rved in a si$iar $otion. Not the sort of refeG he>d have eG+ected in a
$erchant . . . b"t Ietti"s had aready decided that the itte !a++adocian 6asn>t the
sort of $erchant one "s"ay $et.
&7od bess 7a"kon and Pyrrh"s< his servants<& res+onded the cro6d< the 6ords $"??ed
by a harshy echoing s+ace intended for vis"a rather than aco"stic 6orshi+.
&1ithraD& Da$a said sienty< a hand covering his i+s as they $i$ed the +agan syabes.
2e kne6 the ser+ent 6as $oved by threads invisibe in the goo$. 2e kne6 one of
Pyrrh"s>s confederates s+oke the greeting thro"gh a hoe in the back 6a 6hich the
bron?e si$"acr"$ covered.
B"t the ser+ent>s creaking< ras+ing voice frightened hi$ ike nothing had sinceF
%ike nothing ever had before.
7oods of vario"s ty+es 6ere dis+osed aro"nd the 6as of the anteroo$. Seaed a$+horas
Fshar+;ended Aars that $ight contain anything fro$ 6ine to +icked fishFeaned in
c"sters against three of the fo"r corners. 4ro$ 6ooden racks aong the side6ak h"ng
b"nches of eeks< t"rni+s< radishesFand a +air of dead chickens. #n the fo"rth corner 6as
a stack of fig"red drinking;bo6s Lhigh;@"aity 6are sti +acked in scra+ +a+yr"s to
+rotect the designs fro$ chi++ing d"ring transitM and a 6icker basket of ne6 inen t"nics.
4or a $o$ent< Ietti"s co"dn>t i$agine 6hy the ch"rch 6as "sed for storage of this sort.
Then he noticed that each ite$ 6as tagged: they 6ere 6orshi+ers> gifts in kind< being
consecrated by the Pro+het>s +resence before they 6ere distrib"ted. 7iven the n"$ber of
attendants Pyrrh"s e$+oyed in his o+eration< s"ch gifts 6o"d be i$$ediatey "sef".
Pyrrh"s sat "+ so6y on the co"ch< deiberatey e$+hasi?ing his rese$bance to a cor+se
rising fro$ its bier. 2is feat"res had a 6aGy stiness< and the ony coor on his skin 6as
the yeo6 tinge cast by the a$+ fa$es.
&7reetings< brothers and sisters in 7od<& he said. 2is @"iet< +iercing voice see$ed not to
be refected by the stone.
&7reetings< Pyrrh"s< Pro+het of 7od<& the cro6d and echoes ya$$ered.
, +ie of tabets stood beside the co"ch< ske6ed and coorf" 6ith the 6aG that seaed
each one. Pyrrh"s took the notebook on to+ and hed it for a $o$ent in both hands. 2is
fingers 6ere thin and eGce+tionay ong< at variance 6ith his sighty +"dgy face.
&=ea< da"ghter of 1enandros<& he said. The eder of the t6o +raying 6o$en 6ho>d stood
in front of Ietti"s d"ring the o+en service gas+ed 6ith deight. She ste++ed thro"gh the
door6ay< knet< and took the tabet fro$ the Pro+het>s hands.&Re$arriage<& Pyrrh"s said
in the singsong 6ith 6hich he deivered his Ierses< &is not for yo" b"t faith. Co" $ay
take the vei for $e in death.&
&Eh< Pro+het<& the 6o$an $"$bed as she got to her feet. 4or a $o$ent it ooked as
tho"gh she 6ere going to atte$+t to kiss Pyrrh"s.
&7od has ooked 6ith favor on yo"< da"ghter<& the Pro+het said in a distant< c"tting voice
that bro"ght the s"++iant back to a sense of +ro+riety. &2e 6i acce+t yo"r sacrifice.&
4ro$ the boso$ of the stoa she 6ore< =ea took a +"rse and thr"st it dee+ 6ithin the
$a6 of the stone ser+ent;head 6hich had served Pyrrh"s as a +io6. The coins cinkedF
god< Da$a tho"ght* certainy not $ere bron?eFbeneath the foor. The bench served as a
id for Pyrrh"s>s treas"ry< +robaby a design feat"re eft fro$ the days the b"iding 6as a
te$+e.
&Eh< 1aster<& the 6o$an said as she 6aked back to her +ace in the anteroo$.
Tears ran do6n her cheeks< b"t even Ietti"s>s eG+erience at si?ing "+ 6o$en>s e$otions
didn>t +er$it hi$ to be s"re of the reason. Perha+s =ea cried beca"se she>d been denied
re$arriage d"ring ife . . . b"t it 6as e@"ay ikey that she>d been overco$e 6ith Aoy
at the +ros+ect of Aoining Pyrrh"s after death.
The Pro+het took another fro$ the stack of tabets. &2estiaia< da"ghter of 1i$ner$os<&
he caed< and the yo"nger of the +air of 6o$en ste++ed for6ard to receive her +ro+hecy.
Pyrrh"s 6orked thro"gh the series of re@"ests tabet by tabet. , fe6 of the res+onses
6ere in abso"te gibberishF6hich a++eared to a6e and i$+ress the reci+ientsFand even
6hen the doggere co"d be "nderstood< it 6as generay s"sce+tibe to a variety of
$eanings. Da$a began to s"s+ect that the $an 6ho>d been stoned and kicked fro$ the
gathering o"tside had chosen the inter+retation he hi$sef desired to an a$big"o"s
ans6er abo"t his brother>s fate.
, $an 6as tod that his 6ife 6as "nfaithf". No one b"t the 6o$an hersef co"d kno6
6ith certainty if the orace 6ere fase.
, 6o$an 6as tod that the thief 6ho took her neckace 6as the save she tr"sted
abso"tey. She 6o"d go thro"gh her ho"sehod 6ith sco"rge and th"$bscre6 . . .
and if she fo"nd nothing< then 6asn>t her s"s+icion of this one or that +roof her tr"st
hadn>t been co$+ete after aB
&Severiana< da"ghter of 1arc"s Severian"s<& the Pro+het caed. Ietti"s stiffened as the
Prefect>s si$+ering 6ife Aoined Pyrrh"s in the sanct"$.
&Da"ghter<& said Pyrrh"s in his canging verse< &bessed of 7od art thee. Thy rank and
+o6er increased sha be. Thy h"sband>s 6orks gro6 anyho6. ,nd $orro6 night #> dine
6ith tho".&
Da$a tho"ght: Pyrrh"s>s accent 6as fa6ess< "nike that of the Prefect>s no$encator*
b"t in his verse he b"tchered %atin 6orse than ever an #rish beggar did . . . .
Ietti"s tho"ght: !astor and Po"GD Bad eno"gh that the Prefect>s 6ife 6as invoved 6ith
this vicio"s +hony. B"t if Pyrrh"s got cose to R"tiian"s hi$sef< he co"d do rea har$
to the 6hoe Re+"bic . . . .
&Eh beoved Pro+hetD& Severiana g"rged as she fed the stone ser+ent a +"rse that hit 6ith
a heavier clankB than $ost of the +revio"s offerings. &Eh< 6e> be so honored by yo"r
+resenceD&
&Section %eader %ycoridesD& Pyrrh"s caed. Ietti"s ste++ed for6ard< h"nching sighty
and averting his face as he +assed Severiana. The ti$ing 6as terribeFb"t the Prefect>s
6ife 6as so ost in Aoy at the ne6s that she 6o"dn>t have recogni?ed her h"sband< $"ch
ess one of his f"nkies. Tho"gh Pyrrh"s>s thin fig"re to6ered over the +revio"s
s"++iants 6ho faced hi$ one;on;one< Ietti"s 6as "sed to being the biggest $an in any
roo$. #t hadn>t occ"rred to hi$ that he too 6o"d have to tit his head "+ to $eet the
Pro+het>s eyes.
Pyrrh"s>s irises 6ere a back so dee+ they co"d scarcey be disting"ished fro$ his +"+is*
the 6eight of their stare go"ged at Ietti"s ike ceated boots.
4or a $o$ent the sodier fro?e. 2e kne& that 6hat he faced 6as no charatan< no $ere
trickster +reying on the reigio"sy g"ibe. The +o6er of Pyrrh"s>s eyes< the inh"$an
+erfection of his bearded< +atriarcha faceF
Pyrrh"s 6as not $erey a +ro+het* he 6as a god.
Pyrrh"s o+ened his $o"th and said< &:vi done re@"ited is to $en. :ach and every bao
nhie" tien.&
The i"sion vanished in the bath of nonsense syabes. Ietti"s faced a ta charatan 6ho
had designs on the officia 6ho$ it 6as Ietti"s>s d"ty to +rotect.
R"tiian"s 6o"d be +rotected. Never fear.
&7od has ooked 6ith favor on yo"< son<& Pyrrh"s +rodded. &2e 6i acce+t yo"r
sacrifice.&
Ietti"s shr"gged hi$sef to f" aertness and fet 6ithin his +"rse. 2e hadn>t tho"ght to
b"nde a fe6 coins in a t6ist of +a+yr"s beforehand< so no6 he had to fig"re des+eratey
as he eaned to6ard the o+ening to the treas"ry. 2e didn>t see any 6ay that Pyrrh"s co"d
te if he f"ng in a co"+e bits of bron?e instead of rea +ay$ent< b"t . . . .
Ietti"s dro++ed three denarii and a Tra+e?"ntine obo< a siver< into the stone $a6. 2e
co"dn>t take the chance that Pyrrh"s or a confederate &o'ld kno6 6hat he had doneF
and at best eG+ose hi$ in front of Severiana.
2e ste++ed back into +ace.
&1arc"s Da$aD&the Pro+het caed< to the s"r+rise of Ietti"s 6ho>d eG+ected Da$a to "se
a fase na$e. Diffidenty o6ering his eyes< the itte $an took the notebook Pyrrh"s
ret"rned to hi$.
&7od grants "s tro"bing things to earn<& the Pro+het singsonged.&Sorro6s both and Aoys
6ait yo"r ret"rn.&
, safe eno"gh ans6erFif the +etitioner tod yo" he>d eft his 6ife and three $inor
chidren behind in S+ain $onths before. Da$a ke+t his eyes o6 as he +aid his offering
and +attered back to Ietti"s>s side.
There 6ere haf a do?en f"rther res+onses before Pyrrh"s raised his ar$s as he had before
$aking an "tterance fro$ the +orch. &The bessings of 7od "+on yo"D& he cried.
, singe tabet re$ained on the foor beside the stone bench. Ietti"s re$e$bered the
6e;dressed th"g 6ho>d tried to carry in a dagger . . . .
&7od>s bessings on his servants Pyrrh"s and 7a"konD& res+onded that $aAority of the
cro6d 6hich kne6 the it"rgy.
&De+art in +eace . . . & ras+ed the bron?e ser+ent fro$ its cross< dra6ing o"t the %atin
sibiants and chiing Da$a>s bones again.
The doors creaked o+en and the 6orshi+ers began to eave. 1ost of the$ a++eared to be
in a state of so$noent ecstasy. , +air of attendants coected the tabets 6hich had been
s"++ied to +etitioners 6ho didn>t bring their o6n* 6ith eno"gh eis"re< even the $ost
devo"t beiever $ight have noticed the 6ay the 6aGed s"rface co"d be sid fro$ beneath
the seaed cover +ane.
The air o"tside 6as thick 6ith d"st and the odors of s"$ tene$ents. Da$a had never
s$eed anything so refreshing as the first breath that fied his "ngs beyond the 6as of
Pyrrh"s>s ch"rch.
* * *
,$ost a of those 6ho>d attended the +rivate service eft in sedan chairs.
Ietti"s and Da$a instead 6aked a bock in sience to a set of boards +rotecting an
entrance to the J"ian 1a. They +a"sed< each ost for a $o$ent in a andsca+e of
$e$ories. No one "rked nearby in the $oonight< and the r"$be of goods 6agons and
constr"ction vehicesFbanned fro$ the streets by dayFke+t their 6ords fro$ being
overheard at any distance.
&, sick o+eration<& Ietti"s said.
The $erchant ifted his chin in agree$ent b"t then added< &2is cientee $akes it easy<
tho"gh. They co$e 6anting to be fooed.&
&#>$ not s"re ho6 . . . & Ietti"s said.
4or a $o$ent< his tong"e +a"sed over conc"ding the @"estion the 6ay he>d started it: -(#
not s're ho& $yrrh's #anaged to appear and disappear that &ay. B"t tho"gh he kne6
that 6as A"st a trick< the 6ay so$e sort of trick ins+ired a6e 6hen Pyrrh"s stared into the
sodier>s eyes . . . neither of those 6ere things that Ietti"s 6anted to disc"ss A"st no6.
& . . . he kne6 6hat yo"r @"estion 6as<& Ietti"s>s tong"e conc"ded. &#s the tabet sti
seaedB&
&Seaed again< # sho"d g"ess<& Da$a said $idy as he hed the doc"$ent "+ to the f"
$oon. &They co"d>ve co+ied $y sea i$+ression in @"ick;drying +aster< b"t # s"s+ectF
yes< there.&
2is fingerti+ traced a sight irreg"arity in the sea>s edge. &They "sed a hot neede to c"t
the 6aG and then resea it after they>d read the $essage.&
2e ooked at his co$+anion 6ith an eG+ression the bigger $an co"dn>t read. &Pyrrh"s
has an eGce+tiona $e$ory<& he said< &to kee+ the tabets and res+onses in +ro+er order.
2e doesn>t give hi$sef $"ch ti$e to st"dy.&
Ietti"s gest"red absenty in agree$ent. The sodier>s $ind considered vario"s 6ays< $ore
or ess dangero"s< to broach the neGt s"bAect.
Three 6agons carrying co"$n bases crashed and r"$bed +ast< dra6n by tea$s of $"es
6ith c"rsing drivers. The oads $ight be headed to6ard a constr"ction site 6ithin the city
Fb"t $ore ikey they 6ere going to the harbor and a shi+ that 6o"d carry the$ to
!onstantino+e or 1ian.
Ro$e 6as no onger a +ri$ary ca+ita of the e$+ire. #t 6as easier to trans+ort art than to
create it< so Ro$e>s ne6 i$+eria offs+ring 6ere devo"ring the city 6hich gave the$
birth. , things die< even cities.
:ven e$+ires . . . b"t %"ci"s Ietti"s didn>t +er$it hi$sef to think abo"t that.
&#t doesn>t a++ear that he>s doing anything iega<& the sodier said caref"y. &There>s no
a6 against ying to +eo+e< even if they decide to give yo" $oney for nothing.&
&Er ying abo"t +eo+e<& Da$a saidF&agreed& 6o"d i$+y there 6as so$e e$otion in
his voice< and there 6as none. &%ying abo"t +hioso+hers 6ho te +eo+e yo">re a
charatan< for instance.&
&# tho"ght he $ight skirt treason<& Ietti"s 6ent on< ooking o"t over the street beyond.
&#t>s easy to say the 6rong thing< yo" kno6 . . . . B"t if Pyrrh"s tod any iesF& 6ith
the neGt 6ords< Ietti"s 6o"d co$e dangero"sy cose to treason hi$sef* b"t +erha+s his
risk 6o"d dra6 the res+onse he 6anted fro$ the $erchant &Fit 6as in the 6ay he
+raised everything to do 6ith the govern$ent.&
&There 6as theFriot< # s"++ose yo" co"d ca it<& Da$a s"ggested as his fingers +ayed
idy 6ith the sea of his tabet.
&#ncited by the victi$<& the sodier said faty. &,nd so$e of those taking +art 6ereFvery
inf"entia fok< #>d esti$ate. There 6on>t be a +rosec"tion on that basis.&
&Ceah<& the $erchant agreed. &That>s the 6ay # see it too. So # s"++ose 6e>d better go
ho$e.&
Ietti"s nodded "+6ard in agree$ent.
2e>d have to go the neGt ste+ aone. Too bad< b"t the civiian had aready invoved
hi$sef $ore than co"d have been eG+ected. Da$a 6o"d go back and $ake sti $ore
$oney< 6hie %"ci"s Ietti"s carried o"t 6hat he sa6 as a d"tyF
=no6ing that he faced co"rt $artia and eGec"tion if his s"+eriors earned of it.
&7ood to have $et yo"< 1arc"s Da$a<& he $"ttered as he strode a6ay thro"gh a break in
traffic.
There 6as a cracke of so"nd behind hi$. 2e ganced over his sho"der. Da$a 6as
6aking to6ard his a+art$ent in the o++osite direction.
B"t at the base of the stone board ay the s+intered frag$ents of the tabet the $erchant
had been hoding.
* * *
The cre6s of t6o sedan chairs 6ere dicing noisiyFand iegayFbeside the bench on
6hich Ietti"s 6aited< 6atching the entrance to Pyrrh"s>s ch"rch thro"gh sitted eyes.
B"siness in the s$a neighborhood bath ho"se 6as sack eno"gh this evening that the
doorkee+er eft his kiosk and seated hi$sef beside the sodier.
&2aven>t seen yo" aro"nd here before<& the doorkee+er o+ened.
Ietti"s o+ened his eyes 6ide eno"gh to fro6n at the $an. &Co" ikey 6on>t see $e
again<& he said. &/hich is too bad for yo"< given 6hat #>ve +aid yo" to $ind yo"r o6n
b"siness.&
9nabashed< the doorkee+er che6ed one b"b fro$ the b"nch of shaots he 6as hoding<
then offered the b"nch to the sodier. 2is teeth 6ere yeo6 and irreg"ar< b"t they ooked
as strong as a $"e>s.
&Ien"sD& cried one of the chair$en as his dice ca$e "+ a siGes.&2o6>s that, yo"
1oorish f"??brainB&
&No thanks<& said Ietti"s< t"rning his ga?e back do6n the street.
The 6e;dressed< heaviy veied 6o$an 6ho>d arrived at the ch"rch abo"t an ho"r before
6as eaving again. She 6as the second +erson to be ad$itted for a +rivate cons"tation<
b"t a do?en otherFobvio"sy ess 6eathyFs"++iants had been t"rned a6ay d"ring the
ti$e the sodier had been 6atching.
2e>d been 6atching< fro$ one ocation or another in the neighborhood< since da6n.
&# ike to kee+ track of 6hat>s going on aro"nd here<& the doorkee+er contin"ed. 2e ate
another shaot and beched. &1aybe # co"d he+ yo" 6ith 6hat yo">re ooking forB&
Ietti"s cenched his great< cao"sed hands< ony +arty as a conscio"s atte$+t on his +art
to 6arn this n"isance a6ay. &Right no6<& he said in a h"sky voice< &#>$ ooking for a itte
+eace andF&
&2ey thereD& one of the chair$en sho"ted in 7reek as the +ayers s+rang a+art. Ene
reached for the stakes< another kicked hi$< and a third si++ed a short< singe;edged knife
fro$ its hiding +ace in the sash that bo"nd his t"nic.
Ietti"s and the doorkee+er both ea+ed to their feet. The sodier didn>t 6ant to get
invoved< b"t if a bra6 broke o"t< it 6as ikey to eG+ode into hi$.
,t the very best< that 6o"d discose the fact that he 6as hiding his ong cavary$an>s
s6ord beneath his coak.
The +air of +"$+ sho+o6ners 6ho>d hired the sedan chairs ca$e o"t the door< rosy fro$
the stea$ roo$ and their $assages. The chair$en sorted the$seves at once into gro"+s
beside the +oes of their vehices. The fore$an of one chair ganced at the other< nodded<
and scoo+ed "+ the stakes for division ater.
Ietti"s setted back on the bench. Do6n the street< a @"artet of +orters 6ere carrying a
heavy chest "+ the ste+s of the ch"rch. ,ttendants o+ened the doors for the $en.
:ary in the $orning< the goods Ietti"s had seen in the b"iding>s anteroo$ had been
dis+ersed< $osty across the street to the a+art$ent ho"se 6hich Pyrrh"s o6ned. Since
then< there had been a constant strea$ of offerings. , eGce+t the brace of ive shee+
6ere taken inside.
Pyrrh"s had not co$e o"t a day.
&, bad ot< those chair$en<& the doorkee+er res"$ed< d"sting his hands together as
tho"gh he>d setted the s@"abbe hi$sef. The hoo6 ste$s of his shaots fo++ed ike an
"nco"th decoration fro$ the boso$ of his t"nic.&#>$ a6ays 6orried thatF&
Ietti"s took the coar of the $an>s gar$ent bet6een the th"$b and forefinger of his eft
hand. 2e ifted the coth sighty. &#f yo" do not eave $e aone<& he said in a o6 voice<
&yo" 6i have so$ething to 6orry abo"t. 4or a short ti$e.&
2af a do?en $en< ho"sehoders and saves< eft the bath caroing an obscene ro"nd. Ene
of the$ 6as trying to bo"nce a hard eather ba as he 6aked< b"t it caro$ed 6idy
across the street.
The doorkee+er sc"rried back to his kiosk as soon as Ietti"s reeased hi$.
Three attendants< the f" n"$ber of those 6ho>d been in the ch"rch 6ith Pyrrh"s< ca$e
o"t and stood on the +orch. Ietti"s hed very sti. #t 6as neary d"skFti$e and +ast ti$e
that the Pro+het go to dinner.
#f he 6as going.
Pyrrh"s co"d ie and bik and sander for the neGt fifty years "nti he died on a +innace
of 6eath and sin< and that>d sti be fine 6ith %"ci"s Ietti"s. There 6ere too $any
crooked bastards in the 6ord for Ietti"s to 6orry abo"t one $ore or ess of >e$ . . . .
Er so he>d earned to te hi$sef< 6hen anger threatened to b"id into a $"rdero"s rage
that 6as safe to reease ony on a battefied.
Ietti"s 6asn>t A"st a sodier any$ore: he 6as an agent of the civi govern$ent 6hose
d"ties re@"ired hi$ to +rotect and advise the !ity Prefect. #f Pyrrh"s ke+t cear of
R"tiian"s< then Pyrrh"s had nothing to fear fro$ %"ci"s Ietti"s.
B"t if Pyrrh"s chose to $ake R"tiian"s his b"siness< then . . . .
, sedan chair carried by fo"r of Pyrrh"s>s attendants trotted to the ch"rch ste+s fro$ the
a+art$ent across the street. , do?en $ore of the Pro+het>s $en in gea$ing t"nics
acco$+anied the vehice. Severa of the$ carried anterns for the 6ak back< tho"gh the
tao6 candes 6ithin 6ere "nighted at the $o$ent.
Pyrrh"s strode fro$ the ch"rch and entered the sedan chair. 2e ooked inh"$any ta and
thin< even 6ra++ed in the for$a b"k of a toga. #t 6as a conA"ring trick itsef to 6atch the
Pro+het fod his ength and fit it 6ithin the sedan< then disa++ear behind back c"rtains
e$broidered 6ith a ser+ent on a cross.
Three attendants re$ained on the +orch. The re$ainder acco$+anied the sedan chair as it
headed northeast< in the direction of the Prefect>s d6eing. The attendants> batons
g"aranteed the vehice cear +assage< no $atter ho6 congested the streets nearer the city
center beca$e.
Ietti"s sighed. /e< he had his eGc"se< no6. B"t the neGtFho"rs< days< years* he didn>t
kno6 ho6 ong it>d take hi$ to find so$ething on this &Pro+het& that>d stick . . . .
The re$ainder of the sodier>s ife $ight be si$+er if he didn>t start at a. B"t he 6as
going to start< by b"rgari?ing Pyrrh"s>s ch"rch and +rivate d6eing 6hie the Pro+het
6as at dinner. ,nd if that didn>t t"rn "+ evidence of a cri$e against the State< there 6ere
other things to try . . . .
, h"nter earns to 6ait. #t 6o"d be dead;dark soon< 6hen the s"n set and the $oon 6as
sti t6o ho"rs beneath the hori?on. Ti$e then to $ove to the back of the ch"rch 6hich
he>d reconnoitered by the first ight of da6n.
1en eft the bath ho"se< a"ghing and chatting as they headed for their dinners. Ietti"s
6atched the three attendants< as $otioness as stat"es on the ch"rch +orch* as $otioness
as he 6as hi$sef.
,nd he 6aited.
* * *
/hen Ietti"s 6as haf6ay "+ the back 6a of the ch"rch< a +atro of the /atch sa"ntered
by in the street fronting the b"iding.
/atch +atros 6ere +ri$ariy fire 6ardens< b"t the State e@"i++ed the$ 6ith he$ets and
s+ears to dea 6ith any other tro"bes they $ight co$e across. This gro"+ 6as dragging
the fer"es of its s+ears aong the +ave$ent 6ith a tre$endo"s racket< $aking s"re it
didn(t co$e across s"ch tro"bes . . . b"t Ietti"s sti +a"sed and 6aited for the catter
to trai off in the direction of the Theater of Bab"s.
Back here< nobody>d bothered to cover the b"iding>s brick fabric 6ith $arbe< and the
$ortar bet6een co"rses +robaby hadn>t been rene6ed in the cent"ries since the str"ct"re
6as raised as a te$+e. The 6areho"se 6hose bind side6a adAoined the back of the
ch"rch t6o feet a6ay 6as aso brick. #t +rovided a si$iary easy gri+ for the ceats of
Ietti"s>s tight;aced boots.
Ste+ by ste+< steadying hi$sef 6ith his fingerti+s< the sodier $o"nted to the cerestory
6indo6s beneath the transo$ of the ch"rch. :ach 6as abo"t three feet ong b"t ony
eight inches high< and their 6ooden sashes 6ere ony ighty +inned to the bricks.
Ietti"s oosened a 6indo6 6ith the +oint of his s6ord< then t6isted the sash o"t6ard so
that the brick6ork contin"ed to gri+ one end. #f $atters 6ent 6e< he>d be abe to hide a
signs of his entry 6hen he eft.
2e h"ng his coak over the end of the 6indo6 he>d s6"ng cear. 2e>d need the gar$ent to
concea his s6ord on the 6ay back.
The ong s+atha 6as a terribe too for the +resent "se. 2e>d bro"ght it rather than a st"rdy
dagger or si$+y a +rybar beca"seF
Beca"se he 6as sti afraid of 6hatever he tho"ght he>d seen in Pyrrh"s>s eyes the night
before. The s6ord co"dn>t he+ that< b"t it $ade Ietti"s feel $ore co$fortabe.
There 6as a faint go6 fro$ 6ithin the b"iding* one a$+ 6ick had been eft b"rning to
ight the Pro+het>s ret"rn ho$e.
Ietti"s "ncoied his siken ine. 2e>d tho"ght he $ight need the s$a gra+ne on one end
to ci$b to the 6indo6< b"t the condition of the adAoining 6as $ade the hooks as
"nnecessary as the dark antern he>d carried in case the ch"rch 6as "nighted. %oo+ing
the cord aro"nd an end;fra$e of the 6indo6 neGt to the one he>d re$oved< he dro++ed
both ends so that they danged to the foor of Pyrrh"s>s sanct"$.
2e had no rea choice b"t to side head;first thro"gh the tight o+ening. 2e gri++ed the
do"bed cord in both hands to kee+ fro$ +"nging thirty feet to the stone foor.
2is right hand contin"ed to hod the hit of his naked s6ord as 6e. Scabbarded< the
6ea+on $ight>ve si++ed o"t 6hen he t6isted thro"gh the 6indo6* or so he tod hi$sef.
Pyrrh"s>s bron?e ser+ent ga+ed ony a fe6 feet fro$ Ietti"s as he descended the cord<
hand over hand. The da$ned thing 6as arger than it had ooked fro$ beo6< eighteenF
no< +robaby t6enty feet ong 6hen yo" considered the 6ay its cois 6ra++ed the cross.
Shado6s fro$ the a$+ight beo6 dre6 the creat"re>s faring nostris into de$onic
horns.
,t cose vie6< the bron?e head ooked $"ch ess h"$an than it had fro$ the anteroo$.
There 6ere siG vertica t"bes in each eye. They ighted red and green in aternation.
Ietti"s>s hobnais s+arked as he dro++ed the ast yard to the foor. The i$+act fet good.
:Gce+t for Pyrrh"s>s absence< the sanct"$ ooked A"st as it had 6hen the sodier sa6 it
the night before. 2e 6ent first to the co"ch that covered the Pro+het>s strongboG. #t 6as
soid $arbe< attached to the foor by bron?e +ivots. Ietti"s eG+ected a ock of so$e sort<
b"t ony 6eight +revented the stone fro$ being ifted. So . . . .
2e sheathed his s6ord and gri++ed the edge of the co"ch 6ith both hands. Raising the
stone 6o"d re@"ire the strength of three or fo"r nor$a $en< b"tF
The $arbe +ivoted "+6ard< gro6ing ike a see+ing dog.
The cavity beneath 6as e$+ty.
Ietti"s vented his breath eG+osivey. 2e a$ost et the id crash back in disg"st< b"t the
stone $ight have broken and the noise 6o"d +robaby aert the attendants.
7r"ntingFangry and 6itho"t the ho+e of i$$ediate tri"$+h to drive hi$FIetti"s
o6ered by $ain strength the 6eight that enth"sias$ had ifted.
2e breathed heaviy and $assaged his +a$s against his thigh $"sces for a $in"te
thereafter. Score one for the Pro+het.
Ietti"s didn>t kno6 +recisey 6hat he>d eG+ected to find in the cry+t< b"t there had to be
so$e dark secret 6ithin this b"iding or Pyrrh"s 6o"dn>t have ived in it aone.
So$ething so secret that Pyrrh"s didn>t dare tr"st it even to his attendants . . . .
Perha+s there 6as a ist of high govern$ent +ersonne 6ho 6ere cients of Pyrrh"sFor
6ho s"++ied hi$ 6ith secret infor$ation. The e$+erors 6ereFrightyFterrified of
cons+iracies. , ist ike that< bro"ght to the attention of the right +arties< 6o"d g"arantee
$ass arrests and conde$nations.
/ith< very +robaby< a +ro$otion for the dec"rion 6ho "ncovered the +ot.
#f necessary< Ietti"s co"d create s"ch a doc"$ent hi$sef* b"t he>d rather find the rea
one< since so$ething of the sort #'st eGist.
The bron?e a$+ had been $an"fact"red es+eciay for Pyrrh"s. !o"nter6eighting the
s+o"ts hoding the three 6icks 6as a hande sha+ed ike a cross. , h"$an;headed ser+ent
coied abo"t it.
Ietti"s gri$aced at the fee of the obAect as he took it fro$ its stand. 2e +ro6ed the
sanct"$< hoding the ight cose to the 6as.
#f there 6as a hiding +ace conceaed 6ithin the bricks< Ietti"s certainy co"dn>t find it.
The roo$ 6as arge and cean< b"t it 6as as barren as a +rison ce.
There 6as a faint odor that the sodier didn>t $"ch ike< no6 that he>d setted do6n
eno"gh to notice it.
2e ooked "+ at the ser+ent< 7a"kon. %a$+ight broke the creat"re>s cois into bron?e
highights that s6e+t fro$ +oos of shado6 ike great fish s"rfacing. Pyrrh"s $ight have
hidden a +a+yr"s scro in the creat"re>s hoo6 interior< b"tF
Ietti"s 6aked thro"gh the interna door6ay< ste++ing caref"y so that the cick of his
hobnais 6o"dn>t aar$ the attendants o"tside. 2e>d check the other roo$ before deaing
6ith 7a"kon.
2e didn>t $"ch ike snakes.
The anteroo$ had a $ore co$fortabe fee than the sanct"$< +erha+s beca"se the goods
stored aro"nd the 6as gave it the ook of a arge ho"sehod>s +antry. Ietti"s s6e+t the
a$+ cose to the to+ of each a$+hora< checking the tags scratched on the cay seas.
Thasian 6ine fro$ the shi+o6ner 7iri"s. %"canian 6ine fro$ the %ady ,ntonia. Dates
fro$FIetti"s ch"cked gri$y: $y< a Senator. 7ai"s !ornei"s 1ete"s %ibo.
, brace of rabbits* a 6icker basket of thr"shes sent ive< 6arbing ho+ef"y 6hen Ietti"s
bro"ght the a$+ cose.
#n the corner 6here the stacks of fig"red bo6s had been< Ietti"s fo"nd the arge chest
he>d 6atched the +orters stagger in 6ith that evening. The abe read: 3 gift of $. Severi's
3'ct's, p'rveyor of fine &oolens.
, s$a +ot of dor$ice +reserved in honey. B"nches and baskets of fresh vegetabes.
The sa$e sort of goods as had been here the night before. No strongboG< no sign of a
c"bbyhoe hidden in the 6as.
/hich eft Ietti"s 6ith no better choice than to try that da$ned bron?e ser+ent afterF
E"tside the front doors< the +ins of a key scra+ed the ock>s face+ate.
Bloody b'ggering Ne'sB $yrrh's sho'ld(ve been gone for ho'rs yetB
Ietti"s set do6n the a$+ 6ith refeGive care and ran for the sanct"$. Behind hi$< the
key s@"eaed as it evered the iron dead;bots fro$ their sockets in both doorfra$es.
2e>d be abe to get o"t of the b"iding safey eno"gh< tho"gh a fe6 of the attendants
6o"d +robaby fing their c"dges at hi$ 6hie he s@"ir$ed thro"gh the 6indo6. The
narro6 aey 6o"d be s"icide< tho"gh. They>d>ve bocked both ends by the ti$e he got to
the gro"nd< and there 6asn>t roo$ eno"gh to s6ing his s+atha. 2e>d go "+ instead< over
the tri+e;va"ted roof of the 6areho"se and do6nF
The door o+ened. &/ait here<& caed the +enetrating< echoess voice of Pyrrh"s to his
attendants.
Ietti"s>s siken ro+e ay on the foor in a tange of oose cois. #t co"dn>t have si++ed
fro$ the 6indo6 by itsef< b"t . . . .
The door cosed* the bots screeched ho$e again.
Ietti"s s+"n< dra6ing his s6ord.
&Be6are< Pyrrh"sD& cried the bron?e ser+ent. &#ntr"derD #ntr"derD&
Ietti"s shifted his 6eight ike a dancer. 4aint a$+ight shi$$ered on the bade of his
s+atha arcing "+6ard. 7a"kon s@"ir$ed higher on the cross. #ts so$e6hat;h"$an face
6aved at the ti+ of the bar< inches fro$ 6here the ro+e had h"ng. The creat"re>s teeth
gittered in 6icked gee.
, chi+ of 6ood fe6 fro$ the cross as Ietti"s>s s6ord bit as high as he co"d reach* a
hand>s breadth beneath 7a"kon>s @"ivering tai.
&!o$e to $e< Dec"rion %"ci"s Ietti"s<& Pyrrh"s co$$anded fro$ the anteroo$.
e co'ldn(t kno&.
The fickering a$+ight in the other roo$ 6as scarcey eno"gh to i"$inate the
Pro+het>s toga and the soft sheen of his beard. Ietti"s 6as a fig"re in shado6< ony a di$
threat 6ith a s6ord even 6hen he s+"n again to confront Pyrrh"s.
Pyrrh"s co"dn>t kno6. B"t he kne6.
&P"t yo"r s6ord do6n< %"ci"s Ietti"s<& the Pro+het said. 4or a $o$ent< neither $an
$oved* then Pyrrh"s ste++ed for6ardF
No< that 6asn>t 6hat ha++ened. Pyrrh"s ste++ed a&ay fro$ hi$sef< one Pyrrh"s 6aking
and the other standing rigid at the door. There 6as so$ething 6rong abo"t the $otioness
fig"re* b"t the ight 6as di$< the coser for$ hid the f"rther . . .
,nd Ietti"s co"dn>t foc"s on anything b"t the eyes of the $an 6aking to6ard hi$. They
6ere red< go6ing brighter 6ith every ste+< and they 6ere dra6ing Ietti"s>s so" fro$ his
tre$bing body.
&Co" are the +erfect catch< %"ci"s Ietti"s<& Pyrrh"s said. 2is i+s didn>t $ove. &Better
than yo" can i$agine. #n ten years< in t6enty . . . there 6i be no one in this e$+ire
6ho$ yo" 6i not kno6 if yo" 6ish to< 6ho$ yo" cannot s6ay if yo" 6ish to. En
behaf of Pyrrh"s the Pro+het. Er 6hatever # ca $ysef then.
&P"t yo"r s6ord do6n< %"ci"s Ietti"s.&
The hit of Ietti"s>s s6ord 6as hot< as hot and go6ing as the eyes of the a++roaching
Pyrrh"s. 2e co"dn>t hod the bade steady* ight tre$bed aong its shar+ do"be edges
ike raindro+s on a 6io6 eaf.
B"t it didn>t fa fro$ his hand.
Pyrrh"s ste++ed thro"gh the door6ay bet6een the roo$s. 2is sho"der br"shed the Aa$b<
br"shed thro"gh itFfor$ and st"ccoed brick6ork $erging< se+arating* the fig"re
ste++ing on6ard.
&# 6i have this e$+ire<& Pyrrh"s said. &,nd # 6i have this 6ord.&
Ietti"s stared do6n a back t"nne. ,t the end of the t"nne gared Pyrrh"s>s eyes< orange;
hot and the si?e of the "niverse. They ca$e nearer yet.
&,nd 6hen # ret"rn to those 6ho drove $e o"t< 6hen # ret"rn to those 6ho 6o"d have
slain $e< %"ci"s Ietti"s<& said the voice that echoed 6ithin the sodier>s sk"< &they 6i
bo6D 4or $ine 6i be the +o6er of a 6hoe 6ord forged to $y design . . . .
A$'t do&n yo'r s&ordBA
Ietti"s screa$ed and s6"ng his bade in a Aerky< a"tono$ic $otion 6ith nothing of his
ski or years of +ractice to g"ide it. Stee c"t the go6ing eyes ike ightning basting the
6hite heart of a s6ord;s$ith>s forgeF
The eyes gri++ed Ietti"s>s eyes again. The Pro+het>s a"ghter hissed and b"bbed thro"gh
the sodier>s $ind.
&Co" are $ine< %"ci"s Ietti"s<& the voice said caressingy. &Co" have been $ine since
yo" $et $y ga?e ast night. Did yo" think yo" co"d hide yo"r heart fro$ $eB&
Ietti"s>s egs took a 6ooden< st"$bing ste+ for6ard* another ste+< foo6ing the eyes as
they retreated to6ard the fig"re standing by the o"ter door. The fig"re of Pyrrh"s also, or
+erha+s the ony fig"re that 6as reay Pyrrh"s. The sodier no6 "nderstood ho6 the
Pro+het had a++eared and vanished on the ch"rch +orch the night before< b"t that no
onger $attered.
Nothing $attered b"t the eyes.
&# bro"ght yo" here tonight<& said the voice.
&No . . . & Ietti"s 6his+ered< b"t he 6asn>t s"re either that he s+oke the 6ord or that
it 6as tr"e. 2e had no +o6er over his tho"ghts or his $ove$ents.
&Co" 6i be $y e$+eror<& the voice said. &#n ti$e. #n no ti$e at a< for $e. /ith $y
kno6edge< and 6ith the 6ea+ons # teach yo" to b"id< yo" 6i con@"er yo"r 6ord for
$e.&
The go6ing eyes shrank to nor$a si?e in the sockets of the thing that caed itsef
Pyrrh"s. The bearded +hantas$ $oved back6ard one ste+ $ore and $erged 6ith the
fig"re that had not $oved since entering the ch"rch.
&,nd then . . . & said the fig"re as a se$bance of Pyrrh"s drained a6ay ike frost in
the s"nshine< & . . . # 6i ret"rn ho$e.&
The toga 6as gone* the beard< the +"dgy h"$an cheeks. /hat re$ained 6as naked< bone;
thin< and scay. 1e$branes fickered across the sit;+"+ied eyes< ceaning their s"rfaces*
then the re+tiian eyes began to carve their +ath into Ietti"s>s $ind 6ith s"rgica
+recision.
2e heard the creak of hinges< a id rising< b"t the so"nd 6as as feint and $eaningess as a
seag">s cry against the th"nder of s"rf.
&Pyrrh"sD& shrieked the bron?e ser+ent. &#ntr"derD 7"ardsD 7"ardsD ;'ardsBA
Ietti"s a6akened< gas+ing and shaking hi$sef. 2e fet as tho"gh he>d been b"ried in
sand< a 6eight that b"rned and cr"shed every fiber of his body.
B"t it hadn>t been his body that 6as being s@"ee?ed o"t of eGistence.
The chestF3 gift of $. Severi's 3'ct's, p'rveyor of fine &oolensF6as o+en. Da$a 6as
ci$bing o"t of it< as stiff as 6as to be eG+ected 6hen even a s$a $an cosed hi$sef in
so strait a co$+ass. 2e>d shr"gged aside the bot of coth that covered hi$ 6ithin the
chest< and he hed the scabbard of an infantry s6ord in his eft hand.
2is right dre6 the short< heavy bade 6ith a $"sica sringB
&7"ardsD& 7a"kon sho"ted again.
The ser+ent had eft its +erch. #t 6as sithering in ong c"rves to6ard Da$a.
Pyrrh"s reached for the door;atch 6ith one re+tiian hand* Ietti"s s6"ng at hi$ off;
baance. 2e $issed< b"t the s+atha>s ti+ str"ck A"st above the ock +ate and s+intered its
6ay dee+ into the age;cracked 6ood.
Pyrrh"s hissed ike tao6 on a gri. 2e ea+ed to6ard the center of the roo$ as the
sodier t"gged his 6ea+on free and t"rned to finish the $atter.
7a"kon str"ck ike a cobra at Da$a. The $erchant< $oving 6ith a refeGive ski that
6o"d have i$+ressed Ietti"s if he>d had ti$e to think< bocked the bron?e fangs 6ith the
scabbard in his eft hand. #nstead of a cack as the teeth $et< ight cracked ike $iniat"re
ightning.
Da$a s6ore in 7reek and thr"st 6ith his s6ord at the creat"re>s head. 7a"kon recoied
in a s$ooth c"rve. The ser+ent>s teeth had b"rned dee+ go"ges into the scabbard>s iron
cha+e.
Ietti"s +ivoted on the ba of his eft foot< bringing his bade aro"nd in a 6histing arc
that 6o"dF
Pyrrh"s>s eyes ba?ed into the sodier>s. &P"t do6n yo"r s6ord< %"ci"s Ietti"s<& rang the
voice in his $ind. Ietti"s hed as rigid as a gnat in a$ber.
There 6ere sho"ts fro$ o"tside. So$eone knocked< then ha$$ered the b"tt of his baton
on the 6eakened +ane. S+inters of gray 6ood began to crack off the inside.
7a"kon 6as t6enty feet of shi$$ering cois< 6ith death in its h"$anoid Aa6s. Da$a
feinted. 7a"kon @"ivered< then str"ck in earnest as the $erchant shifted in the direction
of Pyrrh"s 6ho 6as +oising in the center of the anteroo$ as his eyes gri++ed Ietti"s.
Da$a A"$+ed back< a$ost st"$bing over the chest in 6hich he>d hidden. 2e 6as safe<
b"t the he$ of his t"nic s$odered 6here the teeth had ca"ght it.
$'tH
Severa batons 6ere +o"nding together on the door. The "++er haf of a board fe6 into
the roo$. ,n attendant reached thro"gh the eather facing and f"$bed 6ith the ock
$echanis$.
Fdo&n yo'r s&ord, 2'ci's ,etti's.
Da$a>s s6ord di++ed< snagged the bot of coth that had covered hi$< and fi++ed it over
the head of the bron?e ser+ent. /oo screa$ed and h"$+ed as 7a"kon tried to 6ithdra6
fro$ it.
Da$a s$ied 6ith cod ass"rance and stabbed 6here the coth +eaked< eGtending his
6hoe body in ine 6ith the bo6. The shar+ 6edge of stee sheared coth< bron?e< and
6hatever fied the s+ace 6ithin 7a"kon>s $eta sk".
The door b"rst in6ard. Pyrrh"s s+rang to6ard the o+ening ike a chariot 6hen the bars
co$e do6n at the !irc"s. Ietti"s< freed by the eyes and a deady instinct< sashed the
s+ay;i$bed fig"re as it ea+ed +ast.
The s+atha siced in above the chin< shattering +ointed< re+tiian teeth. Do&n thro"gh the
sin"o"s neck. .'t, breaking the coar bone on the 6ay.
The bood that s+rayed fro$ the screa$ing $onster 6as green in the a$+;ight.
,ttendants h"red the$seves o"t of the door6ay 6ith ba6s of fear as the creat"re that
had r"ed the$ boted thro"gh. Pyrrh"s>s do$ination drained 6ith every s+"rt fro$ his5its
severed arteries. 1enF$en once $ore< not the Pro+het>s a"to$atonsFh"red a6ay their
c"dges and anterns in their haste to fee. So$e of the r"nning for$s 6ere stri++ing off
s+attered t"nics.
The +oint of Da$a>s s6ord 6as 6ar+ed and backened. The $erchant f"ng his r"ined
6ea+on a6ay as he and Ietti"s si++ed +ast the s+intered re$nants of the door. Behind
the$< in the center of a $at of charred 6oo< the ser+ent 7a"kon vo$ited green fa$es
and gobbets of bron?e.
Pyrrh"s ay s+ra6ed in a green +oo at the botto$ of the ste+s. The thin< scay i$bs
t6itched "nti Ietti"s< r"nning +ast< drove his s+atha thro"gh the base of the creat"re>s
do$ed sk".
The sodier 6as +anting< $ore fro$ reief than eGertion. &/here did he co$e fro$B& he
$"ttered.
&Doesn>t $atter.& Da$a 6as +anting aso. Ae didn>t eG+ect $ore of his kind to sho6 "+.&
&# tho"ght he 6as a +hony. The tabetsF&
They s6"ng +ast the boards 6here they>d taked the +revio"s evening. Da$a so6ed to
a 6ak< since they 6ere cear of the i$$ediate incident. &2e 6as a charatan 6here it 6as
easier to be a charatan. That>s a.&
Ietti"s +"t his hand on the s$aer $an>s sho"der and g"ided hi$ to the shado6 of a
sh"ttered booth. &/hy didn>t yo" te $e yo" 6ere co$ing back tonightB& the sodier
de$anded.
Da$a ooked at hi$.&#t 6as +ersona<& he said. Their faces 6ere eG+ressioness b"rs. &#
didn>t think so$ebody in the Prefect>s office o"ght to be invoved.&
Ietti"s sheathed his bade and sid the scabbard +arae to his eft eg. #f the gods 6ere
good< the 6ea+on $ight +ass "nnoticed on his 6ay ho$e in the co"d;s6e+t $oonight.
&# 6as aready invoved<& he said.
The $erchant t"rned and $et Ietti"s>s eyes. &1enea"s 6as $y friend<& he re+ied<
a$ost too softy to be heard. &%"ci"s Ietti"s< # didn>t co$e here 6ith a s6ord tonight to
talk to $y friend>s kier.&
#n the near distance< the night rang 6ith cries of horror. The /atch had discovered the
cor+se of Pyrrh"s the Pro+het.
Black $ron

3##ian's Marcellin's &as the last great 2atin historian and in fact the
only great 2atin historian to follo& Tacit's, his predecessor by so#e three
h'ndred years. 4There &ere #a9or historians of the second and third
cent'ries 3DHand afterHb't they &rote in ;reek.5 e had an enor#o's
i#pact on #e, and one s#all aspect of his infl'ence is ABlack -ron.A

3##ian's &as an officer in the i#perial bodyg'ard d'ring the #iddle of
the fo'rth cent'ry 3D, the period covered by the s'rviving books of his
history. 1#perors 'sed their bodyg'ards as co'riers and for other special
#issions. 3##ian's &as not only in a position to talk to virt'ally anyone
in the e#pire, he &as personally present at so#e of the #ost i#portant
events of his ti#e. Tho'gh 3##ian's isn(t as good a &riter as Tacit's
4&ho(s one of the finest prose stylists in 2atin or any other lang'age5, he
paints a vivid pict're of his &orld.

That &orld &as sliding into blood and chaos. -t &o'ld not e#erge fro#
darkness for cent'ries.

The ti#ing #ay be i#portant here. - read 3##ian's &hile - &as in
,ietna#ese lang'age school and d'ring interrogation training after&ards.
The f't're - sa& before #e &as one of blood, chaos, and darkness, so -
co'ld identifyHindeed had to identifyH&ith the ancient soldier and
historian as - read his &ork.

- co#e back to the World, reentered la& school, and res'#ed &riting
fiction. ABlack -ronA is the first story - &rote after #y ret'rn. -t(s also the
first story - &rote after getting to kno& t&o /hapel ill fantasy &riters,
Manly Wade Well#an and )arl 1d&ard Wagner.

)arl had 9'st dropped o't of FN/ #edical school to &rite f'll ti#e 4he
later co#pleted his schooling and got his MD5. Manly &as a giant of SF
and fantasy@ he(d been #aking virt'ally his &hole living fro# freelance
&riting since the late (=>s. Neither )arl nor - &as ever a st'dent of
Manly(s, b't &e &ere his 9'nior colleag'es and friends. We got together
reg'larly for fa#ily #eals and to read to one another the fiction &e &ere
&orking on.

This &as the first thing - read to Manly and )arl. There &o'ld be #any
other stories over the years.

3##ian's &as in 3#ida &hen the $ersians besieged and capt'red that
city. -t &asn(t a critically i#portant event in the #illennia?long str'ggle
bet&een Mesopota#ia and the Mediterranean Basin, b't 3##ian's
prod'ced a bleak, brilliant piece of first?hand reporting. When - visited
T'rkey #any years later, - stood on the enor#o's &alls of 3#ida 4#odern
Diyarbakir5 and tho'ght of 3##ian's.

.ne f'rther thing abo't ABlack -ronA is &orth #entioning. - sent the story
to Mr. Derleth, &ho(d bo'ght three previo's stories fro# #e. e &rote #e
a letter of acceptance in 7'ne "CE", and follo&ed it &ith an 3rkha#
o'se check dated 7'ly =.

The ne8t #orning Mr. Derleth died of a heart attack. This &as not only the
last story - &as to sell hi#, it &as the last story he bo'ght fro# anyone.

Ietti"s> $arkers 6ere of green to"r$aine that ginted cr"ey in the a$+ight. The +ieces
had been carven by a Persian. Tho"gh as s$oothy finished as anything Da$a had seen in
the /est< the heads had a r"deness< a fierceness of ine that he disiked. %iving near the
frontier had shaken hi$< he tho"ght 6ith a sigh.
The sodier $oved< taking one of Da$a>s +ieces. The si$ !a++adocian co"ntered 6ith a
neat do"be ca+t"re.
&7od rot yo"r eyesD&Ietti"s eG+oded< banging his big hand do6n on the ga$e board.&#
sho"d kno6 better than to +ay robbers 6ith a $erchant. By the B">s bood< yo">re a
thieves any6ay. Doris< bring "s so$e c"+sD&
The itte save +attered in 6ith a +air of chaices. ,s she eft the roo$ Ietti"s sa++ed her
on the fank and said< &Don>t co$e back ti yo">re caed for.&
The gir s$ied 6itho"t t"rning aro"nd.
&%itte s"t<& the sodier said affectionatey. Then< to Da$a< &2o6 do yo" 6ant yo"r
6ineB&
&Ene to three< as a6ays<& the bond $erchant re+ied.
&# tho"ght $aybe yo"r bas had co$e do6n since # sa6 yo" ast<& Ietti"s said< shaking
his head. &/e< here>s yo"r 6ine* 6ater it yo"rsef.&
2e fied his o6n c"+ 6ith the resin;thickened 6ine and s"r+ed haf of it. &Co" kno6<&
he said refectivey< &6hen # 6as on NaGos three years ago # $ade a s+ecia tri+ to a
vineyard to get a drink of this before they added the +itch to +reserve it in trans+ort.&
Ietti"s +a"sed. &/e<& Da$a +ressed hi$< &ho6 6as itB&
&Thin<& the sodier ad$itted. &#>d rather drink :gy+tian beer.&
2e began to a"gh and Da$a Aoined hi$ hafheartedy. ,t ast Ietti"s 6i+ed the tears
fro$ his eyes and g"+ed the rest of his 6ine. /hen he had refied his c"+ he rocked
back on his stoo and ga?ed shre6dy at his friend. &Co" bro"ght a bot of coth 6ith yo"
tonight<& he said.
&That>s right<& Da$a agreed 6ith a thin s$ie. &#t>s a +iece of sik brocade< $"ch heavier
than 6hat 6e "s"ay see here.&
Ietti"s s$ied back at hi$< sho6ing his teeth ike a bear snaring.&So #>$ a sik fancier
no6B& he asked.&!o$e on< nobody 6i co$e "nti # ca the$. /hat do yo" have "nder
the sik that yo" didn>t 6ant $y servants to seeB&
Da$a "nroed the sik 6itho"t ans6ering. The "stro"s coth had been 6o"nd aro"nd a
s6ord 6hose hit gea$ed richy above a +air of aths bo"nd over the bade. 2e t"gged at
the hit and the aths fe a6ay to revea a si$ bade< onger than that of a $iitary s6ord.
The gray stee 6as $arked ike 6ind;ri++ed 6ater.
&Do yo" beieve that $eta can be enchantedB& Da$a asked.
&Stick to yo"r sik< $erchant<& the sodier re+ied 6ith a ch"cke< and took the s6ord
fro$ Da$a. 2e 6hi++ed the bade t6ice thro"gh the air.
&Eh< yes<& he 6ent on< &it>s been a ong ti$e since # sa6 one of these.&
Setting the +oint against the 6a< the big sodier eaned his 6eight against it. The bade
bo6ed a$ost do"be. The +oint shifted very sighty and the stee s+rang straight<
skidding aong the stone. The s6ord b"rred< h"$$ing a o6 note that $ade both $en>s
bo6es @"iver.
&Tho"ght the 6ay it bends 6as $agica< heyB&
Da$a nodded. &# tho"ght it $ight be.&
&/e< that>s reasonabe<& Ietti"s said.&#t doesn>t act $"ch ike a +iece of stee< does itB
J"st the 6ay it>s te$+ered< tho"gh. Co" kno6 abo"t thatB&
&# think # kno6 ho6 this bade 6as te$+ered<& the $erchant ans6ered.
&Ceah< r"n it thro"gh a +"$+ save>s b"tt a fe6 ti$es to @"ench it<& Ietti"s said off;
handedy. 2is fierce s$ie ret"rned. &Not very . . . civii?ed< sha 6e sayB B"t not
$agic.&
&Not $agicB& Da$a re+eated 6ith an odd infeGion.&Then et $e te yo" the rest of the
story.&
Ietti"s raised his c"+ in sient consent.
&# 6as in ,$ida . . . & the $erchant began< and his $ind drifted back to the fear and
$"d;brick ho"ses overooking the Tigris.
&/e kne6 that Sha+"r 6as co$ing< of co"rse* that s+ring< neGt s+ringFsoon at east.
2e>d $ade +eace 6ith the !hionitae and they>d Aoined hi$ as aies against Ro$e. Sti< #
had a caravan d"e any day and # didn>t tr"st anyone ese to bring it ho$e to ,ntioch. #t
6as a ga$be and at the ti$e it see$ed 6orth it.&
Da$a snorted to hi$sef< &/e< # g"ess it co"d have been 6orse.
&,side fro$ 6aiting to see 6hether $y +eo+e 6o"d arrive before the Persians did< there
6as nothing to do in ,$ida b"t bake in the d"st. #t had never been a big +ace and no6<
6ith the shanties o"tside the 6a abandoned and the 6hoe co"ntryside s@"ee?ed in on
to+ of the garrison< there 6asn>t roo$ to s+it.&
The $erchant took a dee+ dra"ght of his 6ine as he re$e$bered. Ietti"s +o"red hi$
$ore straight fro$ the Aar. &1ithraD There 6ere t6o regi$ents of 7a"ish foot there< haf;
dead 6ith the heat and cra?y fro$ being coo+ed "+. That 6as ater< tho"gh< after the gates
6ere sh"t.
&/eath has its advantages and #>d gotten a 6hoe ho"se for $y cre6. # +"t ani$as on the
gro"nd foor and the $en on the second* that eft $e the roof to $ysef. There 6as a
bree?e "+ there so$eti$es.
&The +ace neGt door 6as o6ned by a s$ith na$ed =h"sra6 and # co"d see over his 6a
into the co"rtyard 6here his forge 6as set "+. 2e cai$ed to be ,r$enian b"t there 6as
tak of hi$ reay being a Persian hi$sef. #t didn>t $atter< not 6hie he 6as t"rning
6ea+ons o"t and 6e needed the$ so bad.&
&2e $ade thisB&Ietti"s asked< ta++ing the s6ord 6ith his fingernai. The stee $oaned
softy.
Da$a nodded absenty< his eyes fiGed on a scene in the +ast. &# 6atched hi$ 6hie he
6orked at night* the ha$$er ringing 6o"d have ke+t $e a6ake any6ay. ,t night he
sang. 2e>d stand there singing 6ith the hearth garing off hi$< ta and stringy and as od
as the 6ord. 2e had a itte save to he+ hi$< +"$+ing on the beo6s. Co">ve seen a
charcoa hearth go6 "nder a beo6sB&
Ietti"s nodded. &%ike a dro+ of s"n.&
Da$a raised his eyebro6s.&Perha+s<& he said< si++ing at his thick 6ine< &b"t # don>t find it
a cean ight. #t $ade everything ook so strange< so fat< that it 6as ho"rs before #
reai?ed that the +ate =h"sra6 6as forging $"st have 6eighed as $"ch as # did.&
&Siege ar$orB& the sodier s"ggested.
&Not siege ar$or<& Da$a re+ied.&There 6ere other +ates too< so$e of the$ that he
6eded into t"bes< singing a the ti$e.&
The bond !a++adocian +a"sed to finish his 6ine. 2e hed o"t the c"+ to his host 6ith a
6an s$ie. &Co" $ay as 6e fi it again. #>$ s6eating it o"t faster than # drink it.&
2e 6i+ed his bro6 6ith a na+kin and contin"ed. &#t 6as a f"nny ho"sehod in other
6ays. =h"sra6< his 6ife< and his sonFa boy abo"t eight or ten. Co" can>t reay say 6ith
Persians. Those three and one save boy # never heard to s+eak. No other servants in the
ho"se even tho"gh the 6o$an ooked ike she 6as abo"t to dro+ @"ints.
&# sa6 her cose one day< trying to b"y a s6ord for $y fore$an< seeing the 6ay things
6ere tending. 2er bey ooked 6rong. #t didn>t shift ike it o"ght to 6hen she $oved and
she didn>t see$ to be carrying as $"ch 6eight as if she 6ere reay +regnant. Padded or
not< there 6as so$ething strange abo"t her.
&,s for $y o6n +robe$< that 6as decided the $orning the Persians a++eared. Eh< #
kno6< yo">ve fo"ght the$* b"t %"ci"s< yo" can>t i$agine 6hat they ooked ike stretched
a across the hori?on 6ith the s"n da??ing on their s+ear+oints and ar$or. 1ithraD :ven
so< it didn>t see$ too bad at first. The 6as 6ere strong and 6e 6ere s"re 6e co"d hod
o"t "nti 9rsicini"s reieved "s.&
Ietti"s $ade a g"tt"ra so"nd and stared at the tabe. Da$a aid his hand on the big
sodier>s forear$ and said< &%"ci"s< yo" kno6 # $eant nothing against yo" or the ar$y.&
Ietti"s ooked "+ 6ith a ghost of his od s$ie< &Ceah< # kno6 yo" didn>t. No reason for
$e to be sensitive< anyho6. # didn>t give the orders.
&Er ref"se to give the$<& he added bittery after a $o$ent>s refection. &2ave so$e $ore
6ine and go on 6ith yo"r story.&
Da$a drank and set his c"+ do6n e$+ty. &9nti things got reay serio"s # s+ent $ost
nights on $y roof. =h"sra6 6as 6orking on a s6ord< no6< and # forgot abo"t the other
st"ff he had been forging. B"t everyti$e he had the $eta beaten o"t into a fat bade he
foded it back in on itsef and started over.&
The sodier nodded in "nderstanding< r"nning his finger aong the 6ater$arked bade.
The $erchant shr"gged.
&Iery ate one night # a6akened. =h"sra6 stood beside the forge and that evi 6hite ight
fared over the co"rtyard every ti$e the beo6s +"sed. Tied to the anvi 6as a haf;fied
grain sack. The ony noise< tho"gh< 6as the th"$+ of the beo6s and +erha+s a 6his+er
of the 6ords =h"sra6 6as chanting< and # co"dn>t fig"re o"t 6hat had a6akened $e.
Then another $oan ca$e fro$ the ho"se. That so"nd # kne6F=h"sra6>s 6ife 6as in
abor and # tho"ght #>d been 6rong abo"t her bey being +added.
&E"t in the co"rtyard the s$ith aid one hand on the grain sack. /ith the other< a
6ra++ed in hides< he took the bade o"t of the hearth. The save et the beo6s sto+ and
for an instant # co"d see both +airs of eyes refecting the orange stee of the s6ord. Then
=h"sra6 stabbed it thro"gh the sack. There 6as a terribe screa$F&
&#> bet there 6asD& Ietti"s interAected< his eyes gittering ike citrines.
&Fand inside the ho"se the 6o$an screa$ed too. =h"sra6 dre6 the bade o"t< haf;
@"enched and barey visibe< then +"nged it back in. There 6as no screa$ b"t his 6ife>s<
this ti$e. The save had faen to his knees and 6as $aking gabbing noises. /hen the
s$ith drove the s6ord into the sack a third ti$e< the 6o$an ba6ed in the ast agony of
birthing and there 6as a crash of $eta so o"d # tho"ght a Persian cata+"t had hit
=h"sra6>s ho"se. 2e ran inside sho"ting< >1y sonD 1y sonD> eaving the s6ord to ie
cross6ays thro"gh that sack.&
Da$a +a"sed. Ietti"s tossed hi$ a fresh na+kin and +o"red o"t $ore 6ine. &2is o6n
son<& the sodier $"sed.&Strange. 1aybe Ro$""s reay did sacrifice his brother to $ake
his city great the 6ay the od egends say.&
The $erchant gave hi$ a strange s$ie and contin"ed.&That 6as the ast night # s+ent in
the ho"se. E"r garrison 6as too 6orn do6n to hod o"t any onger and every abe $an in
the city had to he+ on the 6as.
&Seventy;three days<& Da$a said< shaking his head.&#t doesn>t so"nd ike $"ch to hod
o"t< does itB Not in so strong a city. B"t there 6ere so $any Persians . . .
&No $atter. The end ca$e 6hen a section of 6a coa+sed. The Persians didn>t bring it
do6n< 6e did o"rsevesFb"it it too high and it to++ed. /e tried to $ass in the breach
as the Persians +o"red thro"gh.&
Da$a +a"sed 6ith a 6ry grin. &Eh< yo" 6o"d have iked that< %"ci"s* the d"st 6as
sticky 6ith bood. The ar$ory had been b"ried 6hen the 6a fe and beca"se the
Persians 6ere +"shing "s back< 6henever a $an ost his 6ea+on he 6as o"t of the fight. #
dodged o"t of the $eee 6hen $y s6ord shattered on a shied boss. Then< 6hen # had
ca"ght $y breath # ran to =h"sra6>s sho+< thinking he $ight sti have so$e 6ea+ons #
co"d carry back to the fighting.
&The front of the sho+ 6as e$+ty< so # b"rst into the back. The s$ith 6as aone< hoding a
sender boG o+en on his a+. /hen he sa6 $e he sa$$ed the id sh"t< b"t #>d aready
ca"ght the gint of stee inside. >7ive $e the s6ordD> # said. >NoD> he cried< >it>s for $y son
to carry to =ing Sha+"r.> # grabbed the boG< then< and knocked hi$ do6n 6ith $y free
hand. There 6as no ti$e to tak and godsD b"t # 6as afraid.
&# tore the boG o+en and dre6 this s6ord 6hie =h"sra6 sho"ted so$ething # didn>t
"nderstand. So$ething canged in the inner roo$. # t"rned to see the door s6ing o+en<
and then # kne6 6hat the s$ith had $ade of his forgings.
&#t 6as abo"t a $an>s height< b"t fro$ the 6ay the gro"nd shook there $"st have been
t6enty $anoads of iron in it. # took a ste+ back and the thing foo6ed $e. :ven 6ith the
6eight # $ight have tho"ght it 6as a $an in ar$or< b"t the eyesD They 6ere itte bas of
co"dy orange. No one co"d have seen o"t thro"gh the$< b"t they s6iveed as # $oved.
&# c"t at the head of the . . . the iron $an. The s6ord bo"nced off.
,s shar+ as the bade 6as< it ony scratched the thing. =h"sra6 6as backed against the
6a to $y eft. 2e began to cacke< b"t # co"dn>t take $y eyes off his creation ong
eno"gh to dea 6ith hi$.
&# thr"st at the thing>s throat. The +oint ca"ght 6here the neck Aoined that back iron sk"<
b"t # didn>t have eno"gh strength to ra$ it ho$e. Before # co"d recover< the iron $an
cosed its hand over the bade. # yanked back and the s6ord shrieked o"t of its gri+<
sicing the $eta fingers as neaty as it 6o"d have fesh.&
Da$a a"ghed gri$y and tossed do6n his 6ine.&#>ve $entioned ho6 =h"sra6 6as
gigging at $eB /e< he sto++ed then. 2e sho"ted< >SonD> and A"$+ed at $e< A"st as his
toy tried to s$ash $e 6ith its fist. # d"cked and the stee hand ca"ght =h"sra6 on the
te$+e and sa$$ed hi$ into the 6a. # tried to dodge thro"gh the door then< b"t $y
boot si++ed in the bood. # scra$bed cear of the thing>s foot< b"t it had $e backed
against the 6a.
&# thr"st again< at the face this ti$e. The ti+ skidded into an eye socket 6itho"t
+enetrating< and the 6eight of the iron drove the hit against the 6a behind $e. The
bade bent b"t the very 6eight on it hed the hit fir$. Then< as the thing reached for $y
head< the s6ord+oint shifted and the bade s+rang straight< driving itsef thro"gh the sk".
The re$aining eye 6ent back and the thing crashed to the foor.
&There 6asn>t ti$e to think then. # t"gged the s6ord free and ran into the street to find the
Persians had . . . 6e< the rest doesn>t $atter< # s"++ose. # 6as one of the "cky ones
6ho si++ed o"t of the city that night.&
The sodier sighted do6n the ength of the bade.&So yo"r s$ith +"t his o6n son>s so" in
the s6ord and it 6recked his $achine for hi$<& he said at ast.
The sender $erchant ran a hand thro"gh his bond hair< the tension gone fro$ hi$ no6
that he had finished his story. &No< # don>t think so<& he said @"iety. &Co">re forgetting
=h"sra6>s 6ife.&
&2er +regnancyB& the sodier asked in be6ider$ent.
&She 6asn>t +regnant<& Da$a eG+ained< &she 6as A"st a vehice. The s$ith had his
$aterias< a so" and a body. So$eho6 his 6ife>s +retence of abor ao6ed hi$ to Aoin
the$. The thing 6as aive< an a"to$aton.&
Ietti"s shook his head.&/hat yo">re caing an a"to$atonFthere $"st have been a d6arf
inside 6ith so$e very cever $achinery.&
Da$a s$ied genty. &There 6as no $an inside. %"ci"s< 6hen # +"ed that s6ord free it
6as as cean as yo" see it no6* no bood< no brains sticking to it.&
The sodier ooked fro$ his friend to the s6ord. The bade had a faint green cast to it no6
as it ca"ght the refection of the ga$ing +ieces so finey carven by so$e Persian
crafts$an.
The Shortest Way

Before - sent off #y first story, - told #yself that so#eday a story of #ine
&o'ld be p'blished. 3fter that first sale, - decided -(d like to sell another
so that - &o'ldn(t be a one?shot a'thor.

2et #e tell yo', selling stories is an addiction. The need 9'st gets &orse.

- did &ell eno'gh in la& school that - &as offered a place on the D'ke
2a& 7o'rnal at the beginning of #y second year. The 'pperclass#an
describing the 9o'rnal told #e that if - &as really l'cky, in #y third year -
#ight be able to p'blish a one?paragraph Note 'nder #y o&n na#e. A-t(s
a real thrill to see yo'r na#e in printB(( he said.

3nd - tho'ght, A*o' t&it. $eople pay to p't #y na#e in printB((

B't that &asn(t tr'e+ 3'g'st Derleth had paid to p't #y na#e in print, and
he &as dead. - &as going to have to find another #arket if - hoped ever to
sell again.

T&o professional #agazines in "CE" p'blished so#e fantasy. - sent
Fantastic a story &hich vanished 'tterly, an event perhaps concerned &ith
the proble#s that later got the editor a felony conviction for dr'g dealing.
3fter that e8perience, Fantastic &as no longer a potential #arket for #e.

3nd there &as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, an e8cellent
periodical &hich at abo't that ti#e p'blished a heroic fantasy novella by
a &riter &ith a high literary rep'tation. 4-t &asn(t a very good story per
se, &hich sho'ld have &arned #e.5

- &rote AThe Shortest WayA and s'b#itted it to FOSF &ith a covering
letter that said, A- kno& yo' don(t p'blish #'ch heroic fantasy . . . .((
-t ca#e back &ith a nice personal re9ection fro# the editor, Mr. Fer#an,
agreeing that they didn(t p'blish #'ch heroic fantasy tho'gh this &as a
good story.

/lose only co'nts in horseshoes and hand grenades. 3nd indeed, #y
friend )arl had an even closer br'sh+ one of his heroic fantasies 4AThe
Dark M'seA5 ca#e back fro# FOSF already copyedited. Mr. Fer#an had
decided very late in the ga#e not to p'blish.

AThe Shortest WayA is based on the Sa&ney Beane legend. -(d heard of
Sa&ney Beane #any years before, b't - first got the details &hen - read
The /o#plete Ne&gate /alendar in the D'ke 2a& School library. 4- didn(t
like la& school, b't there &ere co#pensations.5 The road itself is a real
one in Dal#atia, torn 'p in the third cent'ry B/ for reasons archeology
can(t deter#ine. 3nd - 'sed the sa#e t&o characters for the story as - had
in ABlack -ronA+ -(d started &riting a series.

St' SchiffHSt'art David Schiff, DDSHstarted Whispers #agazine in "CE0
&ith the stated intention of replacing the 3rkha# /ollector 4&hich had
died &ith Mr. Derleth5 as a ho#e for ne& fantasy?the#ed fiction, poetry,
and articles. 4St' &o'ld(ve 'sed the title Whispers fro# 3rkha# if 3rkha#
o'se had agreed. They didn(t.5 e bo'ght the story and p'blished it in
the third iss'e of the #agazine, &ith a &onderf'l 2ee Bro&n /oye cover
illo.

3t the ti#e - &rote AThe Shortest Way,A - &asn(t s're ABlack -ronA &o'ld
ever be printed. 4-t finally ca#e o't in "CED as part of an anthology ;erry
$age p't together for 3rkha# o'se, 'sing all the #aterial Mr. Derleth
had ac:'ired before his death, filled o't by the considerable a#o'nt
;erry hi#self bo'ght for the vol'#e.5 The stories don(t have to be read in
any partic'lar order@ they(re 9'st part of the sa#e &orld.

1ven so, the decision to &rite these stories in series probably had
so#ething to do &ith #e a little later &riting a second story abo't a gro'p
of f't're #ercenaries called a##er(s Sla##ers. That &as the choice
that got #e started on a real career &riting, tho'gh - didn(t kno& it at the
ti#e.

The dingy reay station s@"atted beside the road. #t had a cast;off< abandoned ook abo"t
it tho"gh ight see+ed thro"gh chinks in the stone 6here $ortar had cr"$bed. Broken
roof sates sho6ed dark in the $oonight ike $issing teeth. To the rear b"ked the stabes
6here reays for the +ost riders sta$+ed and nickered in their fithy stas< and the odor of
horse dro++ings thickened the $"ggy night.
The three riders so6ed as they a++roached.
&2od "+<& Ietti"s ordered. &/e> get a $ea here and ask directions.&
2ar+ago cantered a itte f"rther before hating. 2e 6as aristocrat eno"gh to arg"e 6ith a
s"+erior officer and yo"ng eno"gh to think it 6orth6hie. &#f 6e don>t kee+ $oving< sir<
6e> never get to ,"reia before daybreak.&
&/e> never get there at a if 6e kee+ 6andering in these da$ned Da$atian his<&
Ietti"s retorted as he dis$o"nted. 2is side h"rt. Perha+s he had gotten too od for this
b"siness. ,t s"n"+ he had stra++ed his ro"nd shied tighty to his back to kee+ it fro$
sa$$ing d"ring the ong ride. , day it had r"bbed against his c"irass< and by no6 it
had eft a sore the si?e of his hand.
The shied itsef gaed hi$ ess than 6hat it re+resented. , s"nb"rst 6hose rays divided
ten hearts s+aced aro"nd the ri$ had been nieoed onto the thin bron?e facing: the ar$s
of the 2o"sehod !avary. %eading a troo+ of the e$+eror>s bodyg"ard sho"d have
ci$aGed Ietti"s>s career< b"t he had @"icky discovered his Aob 6as reay that of s+ecia
staff 6ith itte o++ort"nity for fighting. 2e 6as sent to gather infor$ation for the
e$+eror 6here the stakes 6ere high and the secret +oice "ntr"st6orthy. There 6as
danger in +robing the "cers of a dying e$+ire< b"t Ietti"s fo"nd no eGcite$ent in it* ony
disg"st.
Da$a ch"cked 6ith reief to be o"t of his sadde again. 2e "sed his t"nic to fan the
s6eat fro$ his egs< ooking inconse@"entia beside the t6o +o6erf" sodiers. Tho"gh he
6as a civiian< a s6ord sa++ed against his thigh. #n the backco"ntry< 6ea+ons 6ere the
$ark of ca"tion rather than beigerence. 2e nodded to6ard the sti;sient b"iding< his
bond hair gea$ing as bright in the $oonight as the bron?e he$ets of his t6o
co$+anions. &#f it 6eren>t for the ight< #>d say the +ace 6as e$+ty.&
The door of the station creaked o+en< $aking ans6er needess. The $an 6ho stood on the
threshod 6as as od and gnared as the +ines that stragged "+ the so+es of the vaey. 2e
faced the$ 6ith 6ordess hostiity. The ast reg"ar co"rier had +assed< and he had been
do?ing off 6hen this ne6 +arty arrived. %ike $any +etty officehoders< the station$aster
reveed in his a"thorityFb"t did not care to be re$inded of the d"ties that 6ent 6ith his
+osition.
Ietti"s strode for6ard hoding o"t a scro of +arch$ent. &4ood for "s<& he directed< &and
yo" can give o"r horses so$e grain 6hie 6e eat.&
&, right for yo" and the other<& the station$aster ras+ed. &The civiian finds his o6n
$ea.&
&7overn$ent service<& 2ar+ago $"ttered. 2e s+at.
Ietti"s began kneading one 6rist 6ith his other hand. The itte $erchant to"ched his
friend>s ebo6< b"t Ietti"s shook hi$ a6ay. &#> take care of it $y o6n 6ay<& he said. 2is
te$+er had 6orn thin on the gr"eing ride< and the station$aster>s sneering soveniness
go"ged at his nerves.
&Ed $an<& he contin"ed in a restrained voice< &$y a"thority is for food and
acco$$odations for $e and $y staff. The civiian is 6ith $e as +art of $y staff. Do yo"
dis+"te the e$+eror>s a"thorityB&
The station$aster reared back his head to ook the sodier in the eyes.&:ven the e$+eror
can>t afford to feed every starving thief 6ho co$es aong<& he began.
Ietti"s sa++ed hi$ to the gro"nd. &/i yo" ca $y friend a thief againB& he grated.
The od $an>s eyes narro6ed in hatred as he s"eny dabbed at his beeding i+< b"t he
shook his head< co6ering before the sodier. &# didn>t $ean it that 6ay.&
&Then take care of those horsesFand be thankf" # don>t have yo" r"b the$ do6n 6ith
yo"r tong"e.& Ietti"s sta$+ed angriy into the station< 2ar+ago and Da$a behind hi$.
&4oodD& Ietti"s sna++ed. , d"$+y +easant 6o$an sc"rried to o+en a c"+board.
&# co"d have +aid so$ething< %"ci"s<& the $erchant s"ggested as they seated the$seves
at the treste tabe. &,fter a< # ca$e beca"se # tho"ght # co"d set "+ so$e b"siness of
$y o6n here.&
&,nd # bro"ght yo" beca"se # need yo"r contacts<& his friend re+ied. &The traders here
6on>t te $e if they think the governor reay is trying to raise $oney for a rebeion.&
2e +a"sed< $assaging the inside of his thighs 6here they ached fro$ hoding hi$ into his
stirr"+ess sadde since eary da6n. &Besides<& he added @"iety< &it>s been a ong dayF
too ong to be +"t "+on by of so$e a?y b"rea"crat.&
Da$a sighed as the serving 6o$an set do6n barey bread and cheese.&Not $"ch of a
$ea any6ay< is itB&he said.&# tho"ght the e$+ire fed its +ost co"riers better than this<
even in the back co"ntry.&
&,nd # tho"ght 6e 6ere going to get directions here<& 2ar+ago co$+ained. &#f 6e don>t
get to ,"reia before the fair ends 6e> find a the $erchants scatteredFand then ho6
are 6e going to earn anythingB&
&/e> find a 6ay<& Ietti"s ass"red hi$ so"ry. 2e took a g"+ of the 6ine the 6o$an had
+o"red hi$< then sa$$ed the 6ooden c"+ back on the tabe. &7odsD That>s bad.&
&%oca vintage<& Da$a agreed.&1aybe # sho"d try to se so$e decent 6ine here instead
of sik.&
The oder sodier s6igged so$e $ore 6ine and gri$aced 6ryy.&Ed $anD& he sho"ted.
,fter a $o$ent the station$aster ca$e to the door. 2e i$+ed sighty and his s6oen i+
6as a botch of coor against his tight face.
The sodier ignored the anger in the od $an>s eyes.&2o6 far is it to ,"reiaB& he
de$anded.
&By 6hich roadB& the other gro6ed.
Ietti"s to"ched the +o$$e of his s+atha so that the ong straight bade ratted against the
bench. &By the shortest 6ay<& he said testiy.
&Co" have to . . . &the station$aster began< then +a"sed. 2e see$ed to consider the
$atter caref"y before he started again. &The shortest 6ay< yo" say. /e< there>s a road
A"st +ast the station. #f yo" t"rn north on it< it>s ony abo"t t6enty $ies. B"t yo"> have to
ook 6e< beca"se nobody>s been over that road for fifty years and the beginning is a
gro6n over 6ith trees.&
The serving 6o$an s"ddeny chattered so$ething in her o6n ang"age. The $an snared
back at her and she fe sient.
&!o"d yo" catch any of thatB& Ietti"s asked Da$a "nder his breath.
The itte !a++adocian shr"gged.&She said so$ething abo"t bandits. 2e tod her to be
@"iet. B"t # don>t reay kno6 the ang"age< yo" kno6.&
&Bandits 6e can take care of<& 2ar+ago $"ttered< one finger tracing a dent in the he$et
he had rested on the tabe.
&2o6 ese can 6e get to ,"reiaB& Ietti"s @"estioned< haf;s@"inting as if to $eas"re the
station$aster for a cross.
&Co" can kee+ on into Pasini< then t"rn back 6est on the Savi"$ road<& the other re+ied
6itho"t $eeting the officer>s eyes. &#t>s severa ti$es as ong.&
&Then 6e go by the straight ro"teB&Ietti"s said< ooking at his co$+anions @"estioningy.
2ar+ago rose and res"ng his shied.
&/hy notB& Da$a agreed.
The station$aster 6atched the$ $o"nt and ride off. 2is gnared face 6rithed in terribe
gee.
H H H
&/hat did they do< tear the 6hoe road "+B& 2ar+ago asked. :ven 6ith the
station$aster>s 6arning they had a$ost ridden +ast the A"nction. The s"rfacing fags and
concrete certainy had been taken "+. Seeds had odged in the road $eta beneath. They
had gro6n to si?abe trees by no6< so that the ony sign of the narro6 road 6as a reative
absence of "ndergro6th.
&The ocas $"st have torn "+ this branch beca"se it 6asn>t "sed $"ch and they 6ere
tired of the abor taGes to re+air it<& Ietti"s s"r$ised.&They +robaby "sed the stone to fi
hoes on one of the $ain roads.&
&B"t if this eads to the district $arket to6n< it sho"d have gotten @"ite a ot of "se<&
Da$a arg"ed.
&,t east it> g"ide "s to 6here 6e>re going<& 2ar+ago +"t in< +"nging into the trees.
The +ines gre6 cose together and their branches fre@"enty interocked* riding thro"gh
the$ 6as diffic"t. Ietti"s began to 6onder if they sho"d sto+ and t"rn back< b"t after a
h"ndred yards or so the torn "+ section gave 6ay to reg"ar road.
Da$a +a"sed< ooking back in +"??e$ent as his fingers co$bed +ine stra6 o"t of his
hair. &Co" kno6<& he said< &# think they +anted those trees on the roadbed 6hen they tore
"+ the s"rface.&
&/hy sho"d they do thatB& Ietti"s snorted.
&/e< ook aro"nd<& his friend +ointed o"t. &The road is cracked here< too< b"t there
aren>t any trees gro6ing in it. Besides< the trees don>t gro6 as thicky any6here ese
aro"nd here as they do on that +atch of road. So$ebody +anted the$ to bock it off
co$+etey.&
The sodier snorted again< b"t he t"rned in his sadde. Da$a had a +oint< he reai?ed. #n
fact< the +ines $ight even be gro6ing in cr"de ro6s. &Edd<& he ad$itted at ast.
&SirD& caed 2ar+ago< 6ho had ridden far ahead. &,re yo" co$ingB&
Ietti"s raised an eyebro6. Da$a a"ghed and sa++ed his horse>s fank.&2e>s yo"ng* he>
earn.&
&Sorry if # see$ to +"sh<& the adA"tant a+oogi?ed as they trotted on6ard< &b"t # don>t ike
6asting ti$e on this stretch of road. #t>s too dark for $e.&
&DarkB&Ietti"s echoed in a$a?e$ent. 4or the first ti$e he took $ore than c"rsory notice
of their s"rro"ndings. The s6a$+y g"y to the eft of the road had once been a drainage
ditch. %ong abandon$ent had eft it choked 6ith reeds< 6hie occasiona 6io6s
s+ro"ted ang"idy fro$ its edge. En the right< ragged forest ci$bed the so+e of the
vaey. Scr"b +ine str"gged thro"gh densey inter6oven "nderbr"sh to for$ a stark<
desoate andsca+e.
B"t darkB The $oonight 6ashed the broken +ave$ent into a $eta ser+ent t6isting
thro"gh the forest. The trees 6ere too st"nted to overshado6 the road< and the +aving
stones gea$ed against the contrast of fre@"ent cracks and +othoes. :ven the scabbed
boes of the +ines sho6ed siver scaes 6here the $oon to"ched the$.
&# 6o"dn>t ca it dark<& Ietti"s conc"ded ao"d< &tho"gh yo" co"d hide a regi$ent in
those thickets.&
&No< he>s right<& Da$a disagreed "neG+ectedy. &#t does see$ dark< and # can>t fig"re o"t
6hy.&
&Don>t te $e both of yo" are getting nervo"s of shado6s<& Aeered Ietti"s.
&# A"st 6onder 6hy they bocked off this road<& the $erchant re+ied vag"ey. &4ro$ the
ook of the Aob it $"st have taken $ost of the district. /onder 6hat that station$aster
sent "s into . . . .&
H H H
1ies cattered goo$iy by "nder their horses> hooves. #t 6as fe< 6asteand< a 6retched
+aradig$ for $"ch of the e$+ire in these atter days. This t6isting vaey co"d never
have been $"ch different< tho"gh. The h"$id botto$s had never been tied* +erha+s a
fe6 h"nters had taken deer a$ong its droo+ing +ines. 4or the others 6ho had co$e this
6ayFone traveers< donkey caravans< troo+s in gittering ar$orFthe vaey 6as ony an
incident of +assage.
No6 even the road 6as cr"$bing. ,tho"gh ony a short distance had been
syste$aticay destroyed< nat"re and ti$e had taken a hand 6ith the re$ainder. The fags
had h"$+ed and s+it as 6ater see+age fro?e in the 6inter< and one great section had
faen into the g"y 6hose s+ring torrents had "nderc"t it. They ed their horses over the
r"bbe 6hie the +ines drank their c"rses.
The "s"a nightbirds 6ere h"shed or absent.
:ven Ietti"s began to fee "neasy. The $oonight 6eighed on his sho"ders ike a
+a+abe force< cr"shing hi$ do6n in his sadde. The $oon 6as straight overhead no6.
Eccasiona streaks of ight +ierced the gro+ing branches to +aint the dark tr"nks 6ith
s6ordbades.
#t &as dark no6. No 6hite face 6o"d gea$ fro$ the forest edge to 6arn of the bandit
arro6 to foo6 in an instant. /as it fear of bandits that $ade hi$ so tenseB #n t6enty
years> service he had ridden +oint in tighter +acesD
%etting his horse +ick its o6n 6ay over the broken road< Ietti"s scanned the forest. 2e
took off his he$et and the tight eather ca+ that c"shioned it. The air fet good< a +ricky
cooness that +ersisted even after he +"t the he$et back on< b"t there 6as no reief fro$
the o$ino"s tension. 7r"nting< he tried to hike his shied a itte higher on his back.
Da$a ch"cked in vindication. &Nervo"s< %"ci"sB& he asked.
Ietti"s shr"gged. &The 6o$an at the station said there 6ere bandits.&
&En an abandoned +iece of road ike thisB& Da$a a"ghed bittery. &# 6ish she 6ere here
no6. #>d find o"t for s"re 6hat she did say. Do yo" s"++ose she kne6 any 7reek besides
>food> and >6ine>B&
&No< she 6as too "gy for other refresh$ent<& Ietti"s said. 2is forced a"ghter beo6ed
thro"gh the trees.
,fter a short sience< 2ar+ago said< &/e< at east 6e sho"d be a$ost to ,"reia by
no6.&
&%ook 6here the $oon is< boy<& Ietti"s scoffed. &/e>ve ony been riding for t6o ho"rs or
so.&
&Eh< s"rey it>s been onger than that<& the yo"nger $an insisted< ooking at the sky in
a$a?e$ent.
&/e< it hasn>t<& his co$$ander stated faty.
&Sha 6e rest the horses for a $o$entB&Da$a s"ggested.&That +oo see$s to be s+ring
fed< and #>$ a itte thirsty.&
&7ood idea<& Ietti"s agreed.&#>d ike to 6ash that fo" 6ine o"t of $y $o"th too.&
&%ook<& 2ar+ago +"t in< &,"reia $"st be A"st aro"nd the neGt bend. /hy don>t 6e ride
on a itte f"rther and seeF&
&Ride yo"rsef if yo" 6ant to be a da$ned foo<& sna++ed Ietti"s. 2e didn>t ike to be
+"shed< es+eciay 6hen he 6as right.
2ar+ago f"shed. 2e sa"ted for$ay. /hen Ietti"s ignored hi$< he 6heeed and rode
off.
Ietti"s "nstra++ed his shied and ooked aro"nd 6hie the !a++adocian s"r+ed 6ater
fro$ his c"++ed hand. The adA"tant 6as o"t of sight no6< b"t the s6ift cinking of his
horse>s hooves reached the$ ceary.
&#f that yo"ng Aackass doesn>t earn $anners< so$ebody>s going to break his neck before
he gets $"ch oder<& Ietti"s gr"$bed. &1ight even be $e.&
Da$a dried his face on his seeve and began fiing the 6ater bottes. &#t>s so$ething in
the air here<& he eG+ained. &/e>re a tight.&
The sodier began sc"ffing at a st"$+ fiGed beside the road6ay. Decayed 6ood faked
a6ay "nder his hobnais and the 6asted re$nants of a bron?e nai cinked on the
+ave$ent. &They cr"cified so$ebody here<& he said.
&9rnB&
&These +osts aong the road<& Ietti"s eG+ained. &There 6ere severa others back a 6ays.
They>re 6hat>s eft of crosses 6hen the to+ rots a6ay.&
,ro"nd the bend the hoofbeats fatered and a horse neighed in terror. Ietti"s s6ore and
si++ed his eft ar$ thro"gh the stra+s of his shied. 1eta crashed on stone.
So$eone screa$ed horriby.
The big sodier va"ted into his sadde. /ith one s6ift Aerk Da$a oosed the coak tied to
his +o$$e< sna++ed it s6ifty thro"gh the air to 6ra+ +rotection aro"nd his eft ar$. 2e
scra$bed astride his horse.
&/aitD& Ietti"s said. &Co" aren>t dressed for tro"be. Ride back and get he+.&
&# don>t think # 6i<& the $erchant re$arked< dra6ing the short infantry s6ord that 6as
beted over his t"nic. &ReadyB&
&Ces<& Ietti"s said. 2is s+atha shi$$ered in his hand.
They ro"nded the bend at a gao+. /ind ca"ght at their gar$ents. The !a++adocian>s
t"nic b"ked o"t into a s@"at tro sha+e 6hie Ietti"s>s short red officer>s ca+e fe6
straight back fro$ his sho"ders. /hen a $an ooked "+ at their a++roach< the sodier et
o"t the terribe banshee ho6 he had earned fro$ his first co$$and< a s@"adron of #rish
$ercenaries< as they sa"ghtered +irates on the SaGon Shore.
Ene of the $en in the road ho6ed back.
2ar+ago>s horse +itched 6idy as t6o fithy< skin;cad $en sa6ed at its reins. Started by
Ietti"s>s ho6< a do?en si$iar sha+es in the $idde of the road +arted to discose the
adA"tant hi$sef. 2e ay on his back 6ith his eyes 6ide o+en to the $oon. Ene of the
sayers 6as sti a++ing at the bood draining fro$ 2ar+ago>s torn throat.
The bandits s"rged to $eet the$. , yo"ngster 6ith $atted hair and a 6oo t"nic too dirty
to sho6 its origina coor s6"ng a c"b at Ietti"s. #t boo$ed d"y on his shied< and the
bandit snared in f"ry. Ietti"s str"ck back 6ith +racticed grace< feing the c"b 6ieder
6ith an overar$ cho+< then stabbing another o++onent over his o6n back as he recovered
his bade. Dro++ing the reins< he s$ashed his shied do6n into the face of a third 6ho
6as hacking at his thigh beo6 his st"dded eather a+ron. 2er ro"gh coak fe a6ay fro$
her torso as she +itched back6ards.
Da$a had ridden do6n one of the bandits. 2e 6as trading f"rio"s strokes 6ith a second<
a +"r+e;garbed +atriarch 6ith a s6ord< 6hen a third $an cra6ed "nder his horse>s bey
and stabbed "+6ard 6ith a fire;hardened s+ear. The beast screa$ed in agony and thre6
the !a++adocian into the g"y. 2e str"gged "+right barey in ti$e to bock the bo6 of a
h"$an thighbone "sed as a b"dgeon< then thr"st his assaiant thro"gh the neck.
&7et 2ar+ago>s horseD& Ietti"s sho"ted as he c"t thro"gh the $eee to reieve his friend.
Da$a ca"ght at the beast>s reins. , bandit< his $o"th s$eared 6ith gore< c"bbed hi$
across the sho"ders and he dro++ed the$ again. St"nned< he staggered into the horse.
Before his o++onent co"d raise his 6ea+on for another bo6< Ietti"s had sashed thro"gh
his s+ine. Dro+s of bood saied off the ti+ of the sodier>s s6ord as each bo6 arced
ho$e.
Da$a thre6 hi$sef onto the sadde. ,s he str"gged to s6ing a eg astride< the +"r+e;
cad s6ords$an 6ho had engaged hi$ earier si++ed behind Ietti"s>s horse and c"t at
the bond $erchant>s face. Ietti"s 6heeed eG+erty and o++ed off the bandit>s right ar$.
The handf" of s"rviving bandits fe back in $e6ing horror. Then a baby ba6ed fro$
the darkness as his $other tore hi$ fro$ her breast and dro++ed hi$ to the gro"nd. The
6oodine cracked 6ith frantic $ove$ent. Savage for$s r"shed fro$ the back +inesF
chidren scarcey abe to 6ak and fera 6o$en. #n the h"sh their bare feet scratched on
the stone. Their $en< braced by their n"$bers< $oved for6ard +"r+osef"y.
, ooked bestiay aike.
Ietti"s took the reeing bandit chief by the hair and thr"st his bade against his bony
throat. The gho"ish horde $oaned in baffed rage< b"t hesitated.
Then one of the 6o$en snared dee+ in her throat and r"shed at the riders aone. Da$a<
reeing in his sadde< sashed at her. She d"cked "nder his s6ord and raked the $erchant>s
eg 6ith teeth and horny nais. Da$a hacked a6k6ardy at her back. The 6o$an cried
shriy each ti$e the heavy bade str"ck her< b"t ony at the fo"rth bo6 did she sag to the
+ave$ent.
&%et>s get o"t of hereD& Da$a cried< gest"ring at the cot of savage for$s. 2e co"d face
their cr"de 6ea+ons< b"t the bood"st in their eyes 6as terrifying.
Ietti"s 6as cho++ing at the bandit>s neck 6ith short strokes. ,t ast the s+ine +arted and
the sodier ho6ed again< fa"nting his tro+hy as he kicked his horse into a gao+.
,s they ro"nded the neGt bend< Da$a ganced over his sho"der. 2ar+ago>s body 6as
again covered by 6rithing $en. Er things sha+ed ike $en.
H H H
, $ie do6n the road they hated for a $o$ent< ooking to their 6o"nds and g"+ing air.
The $erchant h"ng his head o6 to cear it. 2is face 6as sti +ae 6hen he straightened.
Ietti"s had dro++ed his tro+hy into a saddebag< so that he co"d gri+ the reins again 6ith
his eft hand. 2e contin"ed to rest the s+atha on his saddebo6 instead of sheathing it.
&/e>d better be going<& he said c"rty.
H H H
The eastern sky 6as +erce+tiby brighter 6hen their foa$;s+attered horses staggered into
another stretch of dis$anted road6ay. The riders> skin cra6ed as they forced their 6ay
bet6een the fies of trees< b"t the +assage 6as 6itho"t incident. Beyond ay ,"reia< a
h"dde of $ean ho"ses s"rro"nded by the tents of the $erchants co$e for the fair.
%ight bobbed as a 6atch$an raised his antern to6ard the$.&Co"D&he caed< &/here did
yo" co$e fro$B&
&So"th of here<& Ietti"s re+ied beaky.
&7ods<& the 6atch$an began< &nobody>s co$e that 6ay inF& The riders had co$e 6ithin
the circe of antern ight and his started eyes took in their torn cothes and boody
6ea+ons. &7odsD& he b"rted again< &Then the story is tr"e.&
&/hat storyB& Da$a croaked< his ga?e fiGed on the 6atch$an. ,bsenty< he 6i+ed his
s6ord on his r"ined t"nic.
&There 6as a fa$iy of banditsFcannibas< reayFiving on that stretchF&
&Co" kne6 of that and did nothingB&Ietti"s roared< his face reddening 6ith f"ry. &By the
bood of the B"< #> have another head for thisD&
&NoD&the 6atch$an s@"eaed< cringing fro$ the "+raised s6ord.&# te yo" it>s been fifty
yearsD 4or a ong ti$e they kied everybody they attacked< so it 6ent on for years and
years 6itho"t anyone kno6ing 6hat 6as ha++ening. B"t 6hen so$ebody got a6ay< the
governor bro"ght in a s@"adron of cavary. 2e cr"cified the$ a "+ and do6n the road
and eft the$ hanging there to rot.&
Ietti"s shook his head in fr"stration. &B"t they>re sti thereD& he insisted.
The 6atch$an g"+ed.&That>s 6hat $y grandfather said. That>s 6hy they had to cose that
road fifty years ago. Beca"se they 6ere sti thereFeven tho"gh a of the$ 6ere dead.&
&%"ci"s<& the $erchant said softy. 2e had o+ened his friend>s saddebag. , $o$ent ater
the severed head th"$+ed to the gro"nd.
Rosy ight refected fro$ eyes that 6ere s"ddeny vacant sockets. Skin backened<
so"ghed< and disa++eared. The sk" re$ained< grinning at so$e secret Aest the dead
$ight "nderstand.
Lord Of The De#ths

A2ord of the DepthsA is a #ore or less conscio's copy of A<'een of the
Black /oast,A one of the best of 6obert 1. o&ard(s /onan stories. The
details of #y story gre& o't of classical #odels, ho&ever.

- have a 2atin edition of $liny(s Nat'ral istory, and d'ring #y
honey#oon - read ch'nks of it. .ne interesting bit &as that 3le8ander the
;reat sent a s:'adron 'nder Nearchos fro# the -nd's to Babylon by sea
&hile 3le8ander hi#self #arched back overland &ith his ar#y. $liny
noted that en ro'te the sailors fo'nd very large, aggressive s:'id. -
ass'#ed that Nearchos had been on an e8ploring voyage &ith a fe& ships.

The other classical infl'ence &as 7'venal(s "%th satire. -n it he rails
against the #ad l'st for &ealth that ca'ses ships( captains to load their
vessels to the g'n&ales, risking death for a fraction #ore profit.

7'venal is a brilliant and evocative &riter. /ritics al&ays talk abo't his
bitterness and invective, b't - find far #ore interesting his re#arkable
ability to dra& character &ith a line or t&o. - hope -(ve been able to learn
so#ething fro# his crafts#anship in general, b't the scene 9'st #entioned
certainly shaped the present story.

- didn(t specifically reference 3le8ander in A2ord of the Depths,A and -
deliberately didn(t learn any #ore abo't Nearchos( voyage than &hat -(d
fo'nd in $liny(s passing #ention in a disc'ssion of s:'ids. - didn(t &ant to
s'lly #y fiction &ith reality. 4-f this see#s very silly to yo', it see#s even
sillier to #e no&. - can(t i#agine &hy - felt that &ay, b't - kno& that -
did.5

-n fact Nearchos &as in co##and of a fleet of tho'sands of ships &hich
&ere intended to s'pply 3le8ander and the ar#y on the #arch. They failed
to do so beca'se the ;reeks didn(t learn abo't the So'th 3sian #onsoon
'ntil so#e t&o cent'ries later. - co'ld have t'rned the real event into a
story@ b't it &o'ld(ve been very different.

- &rote A2ord of the DepthsA d'ring #y first year in la& school and sent it
to Mr. Derleth. e re:'ested that - c't a scene &hich he said didn(t fit+ the
vie&point characters are chased by a giant lizard &hich is killed by an
arro& fro# the catap'lt on the deck of one of the vessels. 4Mr. Derleth
&asn(t e8actly &rongHthe scene &as 'nnecessary. - don(t think it h'rt the
story, tho'gh. e liked to fiddle &ith things.5 When - #ade that change, he
bo'ght the story for JD>, the #ost he ever paid #e.

This &as #y second sale. Those of yo' &ho(ve already read ADenkirchA
&ill note that - #ade an entirely different set of #istakes in this one. - like
to think of that as the story of #y life+ an 'nending :'est to find ne&
fashions in &hich to scre& 'p.

There 6ere five of the shi+s. #< deck 6atch on the eader< the kerko"ros Flyer, t"rned fro$
the invariance of sea and $oonit A"nge to gance back aong o"r 6ake. Behind "s
stretched o"r sisters Foresight and /rane, dragged ike "s over a tho"sand eag"es of
+ain and desert to reach their ee$ent at ast in the 7reat River and thence to the sea. 4or
a their $ishanding< the ight craft 6ere far $ore sea6orthy than the trieres Service or
the Do#inator, a great fiver 6ao6ing far astern. B"it on the River< the arger shi+s had
s"ffered for ack of kno6edgeabe crafts$en and seasoned 6ood. Both had eaked fro$
the start and the Do#inator had 6ar+ed to the +oint that a do?en cre6$en choked in the
biges to kee+ the eve do6n.
/e 6ere r"nning by night< for the heat of the days 6as too great to ive< $"ch ess ro6<
on the gancing oven of the 6ater. ,t da6n 6e 6o"d beach o"r craft< cook 6hat had
been ca"ght d"ring the night or foraged on the shore< and +ray to find fresh 6aterFa
b"t a handf" of o"r casks had been of green 6ood aso. Then 6e 6o"d seek shade and
rest< c"rsing a the 6hie the $adness of o"r eader to order the voyage< and o"r o6n to
obey hi$.
The bree?e 6as gente and 6e sc"dded before it< easiy distancing the heavier vesses
tho"gh their sides cra6ed 6ith oars. Their ca+tains had for$ed the cre6s into shifts to
6ork so$e of the oars at a ti$es in a vain effort to kee+ abreast of their ni$ber
kins$en< b"t ony in ro"gh seas 6here 6eight tod and 6e needs $"st red"ce sai did
they s"cceed. The arger shi+s had been a $istake. /hereas 6e had cre6s of ony
eighteen and the beaks stri++ed off for ease on the ong +ortage< the decked shi+s had
been sent off in f" fighting tri$. The Do#inator bore three h"ndred $en< artiery fore
and aft< and a bron?e ra$ of ten taents< cast fro$ o"r eader>s s+ois and fit ony to 6ar+
the sea$s 6orse on s"ch a voyage as o"rs.
4ar back fro$ the sivery darkness ca$e the tri+e so"ghing of the Do#inator>s co$$and
horn: !ose "+D #t $eant< as a6ays< reef sais and a6ait the s"ggards. # sighed in
veGation< for 6e 6ere $any $onths fro$ ho$e as 6as and 6ith the +enteres eaking ike
the +ais of the Beides the sit"ation co"d ony get 6orse. , fash fro$ starboard and
shore recaed $y attention as # eaned over to ro"st 2i++orion< o"r bos"n* the $oon 6as
ginting fro$ so$ething s$ooth in the A"nge< $eta or +oished $arbe.
&%ay yo"r drea$;6ench aside< 2yas<& # said< for 6ith s"ch a nickna$e 6e $ocked the
gri??ed od bos"n. &There>s so$ething to be seen.&
2e ony gr"nted as he a6oke< b"t his eye foo6ed $y gest"re right eno"gh.
&# s"++ose 6e>re to b"gger o"rseves 6hie the Fornicator coses "+ againB& he gro6ed<
and at $y nod roared< &Eff and on< adies< it>s ti$e to +retend 6e>re saiors again.
Begging yo"r +ardon< sir.&
This ast to ,ntio+as< a brave $an and o"r ca+tain< b"t a better horse$an than saior. 2e
sna++ed a6ake< +a6ing for the ong cavary s6ord no6 sto6ed beo6 as too a6k6ard
even for dignity. &/hat>s the $atter< 2yasB& he co$+ained. &/hat co"dn>t a detai
hande that 6e a $"st be "+ forB&
&Nenias has fo"nd so$ething of interest< sir<& the bos"n ans6ered and +ointed to6ard the
shore. 1ore 6as visibe no6< stone6ork and 6hat see$ed the re$ains of a +ier A"tting
fro$ the A"nge.
&/o"d it be a diffic"t andfaB& ,ntio+as @"estioned.
&/ith a +ier for ho+e and a eads$an for certainty< # don>t see any +robe$<& the bos"n
decided< and # took the ead 6hie he sho"ted orders to the rest of the cre6. The
Foresight, foo6ing or +erha+s antici+ating o"r action< traied "s in 6hie the /rane>s
ess advent"ro"s ca+tain hed +osition offshore.
# s6ore as # retrieved the third cast and 6e stood b"t a bo6;shot fro$ the shore.
&/hat botto$B& 2yas @"eried.
&None at a<& # ans6ered< 6e a6are of the foo # so"nded. The bos"n< s"r+rised< took
the ine 6itho"t co$$ent and cast it hi$sef. The t6enty fatho$s shot thro"gh his hands
b"tter s$ooth.&2orns of Tanit< there is no botto$D& he snared. &Take it gente<& he
6arned the fo"r $en on s6ee+s. &/e>ve a strange coast here and #>ve no desire to earn of
f"rther oddities the hard 6ay.&
# contin"ed to so"nd as 6e cra6ed to6ard the shore. 4inay< 6ithin a shi+>s ength of the
+ier< # fo"nd botto$ at siGty feet. There 6as no rise to s+eak of after that< even 6hen the
cr"$bing stone 6as aongside.
The ci$ate had ong since devo"red the boards< b"t an orna$enta stone bench at the
end of the +ier and +arae to the shore 6as sti st"rdy eno"gh to hod "s by a co"+e
t"rns of ha6ser. The +ier 6as a$ost the ony bare stone visibe. The b"idings< not
bathed in sat< 6ere co$+etey overgro6n save 6here a $assive +edi$ent had been
+ried oose by @"esting tendris recenty eno"gh to eave the s"bstr"ct"re bare. /itho"t
that there 6o"d have been itte to catch $y eye< for the +ier 6as o6 a$ong the 6aves.
&#>$ going to take o"t a +arty<& the ca+tain re$arked to 2yas. &Co">d better be ready to
get "s o"t of here fast if 6e $"st.&
,ntio+as took five others 6ith hi$< carrying Aaveins and staying 6ithin sight of the shi+
for the $ost +art. The Foresight docked across fro$ "s b"t her ca+tain ke+t a on board
to 6ait for ,ntio+as to re+ort. The ar$s chests had been o+ened and that< $ore than the
r"ins the$seves< $ade "s "neasy. J"st as the Do#inator signaed again one of the $en
on shore +icked so$ething fro$ the gro"nd and caed to his $ates. The siG of the$
gathered b"t distance and the "ncertain ight hid the obAect they 6ere disc"ssing. Then
they began to Aog back in evident eGcite$ent. &Sir<& caed 2yas as the ca+tain
a++roached< &the fagshi+ is signaing.&
&!a >e$ inD&,ntio+as sho"ted back.&/e>re not eaving here ti 6e>ve done a $ite $ore
searching.&
2e raised his hands and the heavy tor@"e he carried shone softy in the $oonight. !oors
6ere 6ashed o"t< b"t the +erfect ack of corrosion eft no do"bt of 6hat the orna$ent 6as
$ade. #f a singe +iece of Ae6ery contained severa +o"nds of god< a f"rther search 6as
indeed 6orth6hie.
4or the night 6e dragged the esser shi+s inc"ding the Service ashore stern first. There
6as a sand beach and it a++eared that the botto$ so+ed rather genty in $ost +aces. ,
channe of so$e sort< far too great not to be nat"ra< ed straight sea6ard fro$ the +ier.
The fiver< too $assive for "s to beach it< 6as ashed to the +ier 6ith so$e diffic"ty as it
see$ed that there never had been any boards or other +rovision for docking shi+s.
Bet6een the bench and anchors the Do#inator 6as ade@"atey hed< b"t it see$ed a
@"eer thing to so$e.
, fe6 $en s+ent the night searching< b"t for $y o6n +art # fet that s"nshine and a cear
head 6ere better co$rades than enth"sias$ and stretched o"t on the beach. :vents
+roved $e right for da6n and the third ho"r had co$e before $ore god 6as fo"nd.
/hen the discovery ca$e it $ade "+ for the deay by its sheer $agnit"de. /hie # ed a
+arty thro"gh a r"in on the 6est of the city< 6hich 6as aid o"t as a se$icirce 6ith
streets raying o"t fro$ the +ier< so$eone in the far @"adrant t"gged on a bron?e ring and
raised a sho"t that soon had a$ost everyone $iing aro"nd hi$.
/hen # finay got cose eno"gh to see 6hat had been fo"ndFit 6asn>t "nti cre6$en
had beg"n to e$+ty itF# sa6 a h"ge "ndergro"nd roo$< bare b"t for the tons of god
Ae6ery scattered over its foor. #t 6as circ"ar and reached by eight staircases aro"nd the
ri$< the ony integra $arring of its e$+tiness. , $an 6rithed in $osaic at the botto$ of
the stairs at 6hich # stood. The design 6as contin"ed in a 6idening 6avy ine eading
to6ard the center. #t 6as too far and too dark to see 6hat ay there or at the other
entrances< and # did not care to re$ain in the roo$. Perha+s it 6as a theatre of so$e sort<
tho"gh there see$ed no +rovision for ventiation* certainy the Ae6ery had not been
stored there. Cet 6hy 6o"d tho"sands of +eo+e have +acked the great roo$< then cosed
the doors and died so $any years ago that not even bones re$ainedB 4or th"s it $"st
have ha++ened. # a$ not a +hioso+her* say ony that 6e $et stranger sights before 6e
6ere cear of the +ort.
D"ring the day three $ore cha$bers 6ere fo"nd* it 6as easier 6hen 6e kne6 6hat to
ook for. There 6as god a+enty* in fact< there 6as $ore than +erha+s the shi+s co"d
safey hod. The saiing $aster of the Do#inator hed severa angry concaves 6ith high
officers b"t to no avai: god contin"ed to strea$ into the fiver>s hod.
/e had the Flyer oaded before the evening $ea. This 6as +oor eno"gh< dried fish and
bitter fr"it< b"t the god gave it the savor of a$brosia. /e had not been abe to fish as
nor$ay and the h"nting +arties fo"nd nothing b"t a fe6 birds that graced the ,d$ira>s
tabe. Perha+s they had s+ent $ore ti$e ooking for god than for food* sti< the A"nge
a++eared $ore barren than eG+ected.
/ork contin"ed for $ost of the neGt day* the ,d$ira see$ed bo"nd to eave no scra+ of
va"e behind hi$ tho"gh it $eant he $"st foo6 it to the sea botto$. ,ntio+as 6as a
sensibe $an for a his "bberiness< and 6hen the bos"n +rono"nced "s oaded to the
i$its of safety he ref"sed to have $ore aboard "s. There 6as no s$a s+arking of
te$+ers at his anno"nce$ent< b"t beca"se ,ntio+as had high connections indeed< no one
cared to overr"e hi$ on a +oint bearing on his o6n co$$and>s safety. Not< at east<
6hen he 6as so obvio"sy correct.
,s a res"t< 6e of the Flyer>s cre6 6ere free 6hie others ha"ed $eta aboard. # +ro+osed
a gen"ine eG+oring Aa"ntFnot A"st a search for $ore god. The ca+tain gave +er$ission
to any 6ho cared to go tho"gh he 6as of t6o $inds hi$sef< fearing the shi+ $ight be
overoaded in his absence. #n the end he decided that he co"d easiy eno"gh d"$+ s"ch
eGcess over the side if it ca$e to that and Aoined "s.
/e 6ere siG atogether< ,ntio+as and the bos"n< and fo"r of "s cre6$en< $ore
advent"ro"s or $ore bored. /e foo6ed the centra street< heading 6ith "ns+oken
agree$ent for the h"ge do$ed str"ct"re on the edge of the A"nge. !eary it 6as a te$+e
or +aace< $ore ikey the for$er< and 6hen a +eo+e dies as this one had< one 6onders
6hat 7ods it had 6orshi++ed. The A"nge had recovered everything and the state of the
road $ade $e 6ish # had bro"ght aong a cho++er. #n so$e s+ots sa+ings had dis+aced
+aving bocks and had gro6n into trees< and vines covered +racticay everything.
The distance 6as greater than eG+ected as 6e as being fatig"ing* the enor$o"s si?e of
the do$e had $ade it see$ dece+tivey cose. /hen at ast 6e reached the trebe base of
the str"ct"re 6e a 6ere s+ent and rested a 6hie in the shade of the do$e.
/itho"t any +artic"ar intent # r"bbed a +atch of stone cear of vegetation. The res"t 6as
dis@"ieting: a ro"nd< sit;+"+ied eye gared at $e fro$ the center of a nest of carven
s6irs. , cat< # $"sed< b"t didn>t care to ook at the decoration again. To avoid it # started
ci$bing the ste+s to the ya6ning +orta and the others foo6ed.
There 6as itte eft of the bron?e doors< b"t the b"iding itsef< 6hich 6as back and not
of $arbe< had been very 6e +reserved. The A"nge had $ade fe6 inroads on the
interior< +erha+s beca"se reativey itte ight ca$e thro"gh the to+ of the do$e 6hich
6as o+en save for a fat ei+se that s+anned it. #t co"d have been for str"ct"ra reasonsF
# kno6 itte of do$es< barbaric< in6ard straining things that they areFb"t the effect 6as
"n+easanty si$iar to the carven eye o"tside. /e co"d see 6e eno"gh 6hen o"r eyes
adA"sted< ho6ever. 1"ch of the foor had been c"t a6ay in a +attern of s6irs ike that
s"rro"nding the eye graven on the +inth. The centra +ortion< directy "nder the do$e>s
center< had a s$a +atfor$ raised ike an atar b"t the foor aro"nd it 6as s"nken aso.
&, s"nb"rst< do yo" s"++oseB& the ca+tain asked.
&# sa6 a carving o"tside<& # re+ied. &#t ooked ike so$e kind of eye.&
&#f this isn>t the da$nedest thing<& 2yas said. &2o6 do yo" get to the atarB&
# 6aked a fe6 ste+s aro"nd the ha to get a different vie6. #t 6as A"st as the bos"n said:
The atar 6as co$+etey se+arated fro$ the 6ak6ay aro"nd the edge of the b"iding by
a s"nken area so$e ten feet dee+. Then a saior A"$+ed do6n and $ade another
discovery.
&%ook< a drain<& he caed. &This 6hoe thing $"st >a been a +oo.&
/e a ooked 6here he stood beside a stone grating in the s"nken +art.
&1aybe for sacrificesB& so$eone s"ggested< thinking of the Er+hic rites in 6hich the
co$$"nicants knet beneath a grate 6hie the victi$s 6ere sa"ghtered above the$.
&Oe"s< no<& the discoverer disagreed< +eering thro"gh the grate.&# can>t even see botto$.&
&Say< there>s so$ething on the atar<& so$ebody caed.
, shaft of s"night 6as s+ashing fro$ a green ge$ of so$e sort on the atar. None of "s
co"d see A"st 6hat it 6as beca"se of the da??e b"t 6e a had ho+es of a h"ge e$erad.
&Did anybody bring a ro+eB& # asked< and bank ooks ans6ered $e. &/e< 6ho> give
$e a boost< thenB&
%eon< a bra6ny feo6 and A"st the $an for the Aob< 6as 6iing and 6e A"$+ed do6n
into the e$+ty +oo 6ith the others foo6ing "s. The centra orb 6as s"rfaced and
drained A"st as the ta+ered< rec"rved ar$s had been* neither gave any c"e to its +"r+ose.
The atar 6as on a foor;height +edesta< ro"nd and abo"t fo"r feet in dia$eter. Since the
atar itsef 6as rectang"ar there 6o"d be no tro"be standing if # co"d $o"nt to begin
6ith. ,fter a $o$ent>s disc"ssion %eon braced hi$sef against the +edesta 6ith one hi+
A"tting. # took a short r"n and A"$+ed fro$ his hi+ to sho"der< then s6"ng $ysef "+ in
front of the atar. There 6as an a6k6ard +iece of baancing for a $o$ent since the edge
6as ony a foot and a haf 6ide at $ost< b"t there 6as no need of a second atte$+t.
1y first feeings on seeing the stone 6ere $erey of disa++oint$ent. #t 6as a deicate
+iece of carving abo"t the si?e of $y fist< b"t the $ateria 6as ony so$e sort of gass. ,
second gance changed $y disa++oint$ent to horror* # finay recogni?ed the te$+e>s
$otif. Dro++ing the itte fig"rine into $y t"nic # ea+ed do6n beside %eon again.
&/hat>s it 6orthB& he @"estioned eagery.
&Da$n itte<& # said. &%et>s get o"t of here.&
/e +added across the s$ooth foor to the others 6ho had $anaged to +ry "+ a grating
6ith their s+ears.
&/e< et>s see it<& ,ntio+as de$anded. # dro++ed the itte stone in his +a$.
&By !astorD& he s6ore< &a gass octo+"s.&
&2e of a thing for a te$+e<& so$ebody $"ttered.&Do yo" s>+ose it beongs hereB&
&Take another ook at the +oo<& # said< &or these eye designs a over. :ight ar$s and a
cat sitted eye* that>s 6hat they 6orshi++ed< a right.&
&,nd that eG+ains 6hat this +oo 6as for<& the ca+tain added.
%eon binked and ooked shocked. 2e>d been a 2ighander raised and # don>t think he
$"ch cared to be in an octo+"s +oo< even after the beasts 6ere ong gone. /e< # 6asn>t
too ha++y abo"t it< either.
&!a+tainD& one of the $en caed. &There>s noises do6n here.&
/e a gathered aro"nd the drain< "neasiy a6are that 6e had to ci$b a ten;foot 6a to
eave.
&J"st 6ater soshing do6n there<& 2yas said. &#t>s 6hat yo">d eG+ect "nder a drain.&
&, ong 6ay do6n<& ,ntio+as said tho"ghtf"y.
There 6as a ficker of yeo6 in the de+ths.
&Oe"s 4ather and SaviorD& cried ,ntio+as< ea+ing back as 6e a did.
Then< 6hie the rest of "s stood in tre$bing +anic< his face ceared and he began to
a"gh< +ointing at the to+ of the do$e.
&The refection<& # gas+ed in s"dden "nderstanding.&#t 6asn>t an eye< it 6as A"st a
refection of the skyight in the 6ater.&
No one 6as @"ite s"re 6hat ha++ened then beca"se 6e a 6ere ooking "+ 6hen 2yas
screa$ed and +itched thro"gh the o+ening. There 6as a s+ash< or +erha+s that had co$e
before* 6hen # instinctivey +eered over the edge there 6as nothing beo6 b"t a roi of
b"bbes.
/e ifted each other o"t in tense sience< a b"t %eon< that is< 6ho babbed to hi$sef of
6hat he had seen at the corner of his eye. 2e screa$ed d"ring the night and $y o6n
drea$s 6ere boody and $are;6racked "nti a gray da6n a6oke $e.
The ca+tain 6as 6aiting 6hen # o+ened $y eyes. &See+ 6eB& he asked.
# 6inced. &,nd yo"rsefB&
2e t"rned his +a$s "+.&#t 6as bad eno"gh 6hen # ony drea$ed of dro6ning. Tho"gh it
ooks as if that too $ay co$e today.&
# ganced at the sky. #t $arched soidy 6ith back c"$"i tho"gh the 6ind 6as sti for
the nonce.
&/e> not set o"t today<& # said.
&ReayB Co">re bos"n no6< yo" kno6< and #> take yo"r 6ord for itFb"t the Do#inator
see$s to be $aking ready.&
# nodded.&The ,d$ira 6ants so$e sea roo$<& # g"essed.&Re$e$ber< 6e>ve no +ro+er
harbor here and the fiver can>t be beached. 2e> try to kee+ her bo6 to the stor$ 6ith the
oars and take no chance of her being +o"nded to +ieces against the shore. Tho"gh for $y
o6n +art< #>d 6orry $ore that the 6ao6ing s"t>s kee 6o"d s+it and s+i $e in the
$idde of it.&
, $essenger bore o"t $y +rediction 6ithin the ho"r and the Do#inator +"t o"t aone.
The stor$ ref"sed to break< ho6ever< and she rode a haf;$ie o"t on a s$ooth sea 6hie
the s"try heat gre6 $ore and $ore o++ressive. The 6ater 6as so ca$ that ,ntio+as and
#< sitting in the bo6s of the Flyer, co"d see the channe in the sea botto$ as a straight
dark streak in the green.
&/here do yo" s"++ose it eadsB& he asked.
&/here does a $o"ntain eadB& # re+ied 6ith a shr"g.
,ntio+as +ersisted. &This end eads to the +ier<& he said. &,t east that far* the other end .
. . .&
2e 6as voicing tho"ghts that had occ"rred to $e aso. &The drains<& # said. &# s"++ose
they have to ead so$e6here.&
Neither of "s s+oke for a 6hie. /hen # did< # deiberatey avoided 6hat both of "s 6ere
thinking of.
&Pity the baggars beo6 decks on her<& # said< th"$bing to6ard the +enteres.
&Pity the a of "s< da$ned to this voyage<& ,ntio+as re+ied and f"$bed in his
+o"ch.&Do yo" s"++ose there is any va"e to thisB&he contin"ed< bringing o"t the octo+"s
fig"re.
# took a coser ook at the itte ido< hefting it in $y hand. &J"st gass<& # ans6ered. &Not
very +retty< the 7ods kno6. Besides< # don>t $"ch ike the idea of carrying other +eo+e>s
7ods aro"nd. /hy don>t 6e A"st dro+ it over the side and be doneB&
&#$ages of 7ods<& ,ntio+as corrected $e. &, stone is not the 7od b"t the sy$bo of the
7od.&
Then 6hy go to te$+es if the 7ods aren>t thereB # tho"ght b"t said nothing and 6atched
the +ay of ight 6ithin the fig"rine. The gass 6as so s$ooth that it si++ed in $y gras+
and a tiny dro+ of bood for$ed 6here one of the ar$s +ricked $e.
&!astorD&,ntio+as s6ore< &The Do#inator>s $oving* she>s heading in. No6 6hat "nder
heaven forB&
# ooked "+ fro$ the ido. The s"rface had been roied by the fiver>s oars and there 6as
another +atch of foa$ far beyond her< a$ost on the hori?on fro$ 6here 6e sat tho"gh
$"ch nearer the +enteres. # rose and +ointed to it 6itho"t s+eaking.
,ntio+as stood too< and his face had gone 6hite. Ene +art of $y $ind re$e$bered the
itte bro6n $en teing "s ho6 these seas co"d rise in $in"tes< hori?on to hori?on< and
s6ee+ everything beneath the$. Sti # fet no fear< neither of that nor of 6hat # kne6 in
tr"th 6as a++roaching. The ido b"rned in $y +a$.
, aong the shore $en 6ere staring in conf"sion at the Do#inator, 6hose batte;gong
6as canging. ,s 6e 6atched< the sea darkened in front of the +enteres and there 6as
another s+ash of foa$.
&That>s no 6aveF& ,ntio+as began and broke off in horror to stare at the fig"rine in $y
hand. &2erakes 6ho +"rged the 6ord<& he 6his+ered< &be 6ith "s no6.&
So$e started to r"n then b"t # think ony the t6o of "s reai?ed 6hat 6as co$ing. The
cre6 of the Service 6as readying the cata+"t on her forecaste. ,tho"gh the ,d$ira
$"st have reai?ed by then that the Do#inator 6as not the @"arry< the great fiver
contin"ed to c"t thro"gh the sea +"rs"ing no6 instead of feeing.
The third ti$e it arose it 6as haf the distance bet6een the shore and the s6ifty
a++roaching Do#inator. The sackike body s@"ir$edF7ods< it 6as h"geDFto bring one
sit;+"+ied eye aro"nd to gare at "s. Then it dived 6ith another s+"rt of foa$.
So$eone had fired the Service(s cata+"t before Aoining the ro"t. The bot ganced off the
6aves< +robaby "seess even if better ai$ed. 1en 6ere strea$ing a6ay fro$ the shore<
their sho"ts dro6ning the th"nder of the +enteres> dr"$$er ha$$ering o"t the strokes as
the bron?e +ro6 boied thro"gh the gassy sea. There 6ere ony t6o $en on her deck
no6< the he$s$an and the ,d$ira hi$sef. :ven as # 6atched the he$s$an dived
overboard and the ,d$ira took the 6hee. Probaby the cre6 had no idea of 6hat 6as
ha++ening* their ony vie6 6as thro"gh the oarsots and ventiator gratings.
&R"n< yo" fooD& so$eone sho"ted in $y ear and it 6as ,ntio+as< $y ca+tain. B"t # co"d
not $ove for it 6as not yet ti$e< tho"gh the 7od 6as as fire in $y hand.
&The bench<& # 6his+ered< &# sho"d be on the bench.&
&R"nD&
,n ar$ snaked over the side and 6ra++ed abo"t the rai. The Flyer sh"ddered as she sid
off the beach and contin"ed to sant into the 6ater to6ard the great 6eight that 6as
dragging her do6n. # stared into the 6ater as the shi+ "rched again and t6o $ore ar$s
ri++ed "+< t6o ar$s and a chak;6hite beak arger than # 6as.
,ntio+as screa$ed and sashed 6ith his s6ord< not at the tentace that c"red to6ard hi$
b"t the 7od in $y hand. Then o"r bo6 heaved "+ and disintegrated< h"ring "s
shore6ard< as the Do#inator>s oak and god and great bron?e ra$ s$ashed thro"gh the
Flyer and gro"nd 6hat 6as beneath her into the $"d of the botto$ forever.
/e b"ried o"r deadFand there 6ere $any< for the +enteres had cr"$+ed to the $ast
ste+Fbeneath an honest $o"nd 6ith none of the decaying $arbe to defie the$. The
god 6e gave to the sea< $ay it ie there forever. Cet sti there is that 6hich rots "nb"ried
in $y $ind< and $y drea$s are i drea$s for a saior.
%hildren Of The Forest

Many years ago - #entioned that - &as a Fortean to a caref'l reporter
&ho &as taping the intervie&. My several psychiatrist friends &ere h'gely
a#'sed &hen the printed version stated that - &as a Fre'dian. Since then
-(ve been caref'l to give an e8planation of &hat - #ean by the &ord.

/harles Fort collected reports of ano#alo's events fro# periodicals
4largely fro# scientific 9o'rnals5 and p'blished the# in fo'r vol'#es fro#
"C"C to "C=0. These incl'de reports of things &hich are no& accepted as
tr'e 4for instance, giant s:'id and ball lightning5 b't &hich orthodo8
science at the ti#e re9ected as observer errors@ #atters &hich are
'ne8plained b't aren(t especially controversial 4for instance, 'nconfir#ed
sightings of astrono#ical bodies by respectable observers5@ and 'tterly
bizarre things like a rain of frogs in 1ngland or a rain of shaved #eat in
)ent'cky. Fort didn(t &rite abo't FF.s, b't they(re part of #odern
Fortean interests.

No&Hthe fact that -(# interested in s'ch things doesn(t #ean - believe in
all of the#. There are people &ho do, 9'st as there are people &ho believe
that disproving a report of spontaneo's h'#an co#b'stion disproves all
s'ch reports. - consider both gro'ps del'sional 4and - consider people
&ho think yo' get real science or real history fro# a T, sho& to be deeply
ignorant, b't that(s a slightly different #atter5.

.ne of the #ost entertaining &riters on Forteana 4and on nat'ral history
generally5 &as

-van T. Sanderson. e &as capable of #odifying his data to i#prove a
story, b't he &as a fine &riter and a #an of great c'lt're and intelligence.

.ne of Sanderson(s essays &as on &'de&asas, &oodho'ses 4yes, that(s
&hat the na#e of the h'#orist $.;. Wodeho'se co#es fro#5+ the dra&ings
of &ild #en fo'nd in the #argins of #edieval #an'scripts. e spec'lated
that there(d been a 1'ropean version of the Sas:'atch, b't that it &as
#an?sized rather than a giant like the &ild #an of the North&est Fnited
States.

The likelihood that this is tr'e 4or for that #atter, the likelihood that
Bigfoot is r'nning aro'nd Northern /alifornia5 didn(t #atter for #y
p'rposes. - tho'ght the notion &o'ld &ork for a story, so - &rote
A/hildren of the Forest.A

The for# goes back to the fairy tales &hich - loved of #ine even - co'ld
read. -t(s beco#e fashionable to give fairy tales a #odern slant or to t&ist
the#. - &asn(t trying to be clever, b't - did try to treat the realities of
#edieval life and its class str'ct're &ith the sa#e sort of realis# that -(d
bring to a story set in ,iet Na#.

When A/hildren . . . A &as first p'blished in FOSF, it bro'ght #e t&o
angry letters. 4.nly one other story of #ine fro# the (E>s aro'sed any
co##ent at all.5 -(# not s're &hat that #eans, as the letter &riters &ere
incensed abo't co#pletely different aspects of the story 4and both &ere
&rong5. -t #ay si#ply indicate that &hen -(# on, #y fiction aro'ses an
e#otional reaction in readers.

-f so, &ell, that(s &hat -(# trying to do.

/hen Teer ca$e in fro$ the fied< gnared as his hoe;hande and ooking t6ice his forty
years< his 6ife said< &The co6 has gone dry< $an.& Teer sco6ed. She had sa++ed o"t
her 6ords ike bots fro$ a crossbo6. 2e "nderstood the$< "nderstood aso 6hy she 6as
6hetting the back iron bade of their ony knife. 4ro$ his 6ife< 6ar+ed and ti$e;
backened by the sa$e years that had destroyed hi$< Teer t"rned to his da"ghter %ena.
,nd %ena 6as a da??e of s"night in the darkened h"t.
She 6as siG< tho"gh neither of her +arents co"d have tod a stranger that 6itho"t an
interva of $"$bing and dabbing fingers to cracked i+s. B"t there 6ere no strangers. #n
the do?en years since the Back Death had s6e+t so"thern 7er$any< the track that once
ed to the high road and thence to St"ttgart had $erged back into the 4orest. The h"t 6as
a of civii?ation< a beehive 6ith t6o o+enings in its thatch. Teer no6 stoo+ed in the
door6ay* above hi$ 6as the roof hoe that served as chi$ney for the o+en fire in the
center of the roo$. By that fire sat %ena< easing another ba"k of 6ood "nder the +orridge
+ot before ooking at her father. 2er s$ie 6as ti$id< b"t the Aoy "nderying it 6as as rea
as the bond of her sooty hair. She dared not sho6 Teer the 6ets beneath her shift< b"t
she kne6 that her $other 6o"d not beat her in his +resence.
&# said< the co6 has gone dry<& the 6o$an re+eated.
The ras+ of iron on stone echoed her 6ords.&Co" kno6 6e can>t go on "nti the harvest
6ith three $o"ths and no $ik.&
&/o$an< #> b"tcherF&
&Co" 6i not.& She sid to the foor and faced hi$< bandy;egged and shorter on her o6n
egs than 6hen sitting on the stoo.&The $eat 6i rot in a $onth< 6e have no sat. Three
$o"ths 6i not ast the s"$$er on the co6>s $eat< $an.
&Three $o"ths 6i not ast the s"$$er.&
She 6as an iron 6o$an< back;faced and backhearted. She did not ook at %ena< 6ho
co6ered as her $other ste++ed for6ard and hed o"t the 6ood;hafted knife to Teer. 2e
took it< his eyes as bank as the +it of his $o"th o+ening and cosing in his beard.
&Perha+s . . . # can h"nt $ore . . . B&
&2oo< co6ardD&$ocked the 6o$an.&Co">re afraid to eave the cearing no6 for the
6oods devis< afraid to go o"t the door to +iss in the nightD& The reek of the 6a across
fro$ the +ine;stra6 bedding +roved her state$ent. &Co"> not go h"nting< $an.&
&B"tF&
&=i her. )ill herB& she shrieked< and %ena>s cear voice 6aied ho+eessy as a
backgro"nd to the ra"co"s cries. Teer stared at the 6ea+on as tho"gh it 6ere a vi+er
6hich had cra6ed into his hand in the night. 2e f"ng it fro$ hi$ in a f"ry of des+air<
not hearing it cack against the 6hetstone or the pingB of the bade as it +arted.
The 6o$an>s brief sience 6as as co$+ete as if the knife had +ierced her heart instead of
shattering. She +icked "+ the ongest shard< a hand>s breadth of iron 6hose edge sti
oo?ed ight< and craded it in her +a$s. 2er voice crooned 6itho"t $eaning< 6hie Teer
6atched and %ena b"rro6ed her face into the +ine needes.
&/e can>t a three eat and ive to the harvest< $an<& the 6o$an said ca$y. ,nd Teer
kne6 that she 6as right.
&%ena<& he said< not ooking at the gir b"t instead at his coak cr"$+ed on the earthen
foor. #t 6as steerhide< 6orn +atchiy hairess d"ring the years since he had bartered eggs
for it fro$ a +assing +edder. That one had been the ast of the +edders< nor 6ere there
chickens any$ore since the 6oods de$ons had beco$e boder.
&!hid<& he said again< a itte o"der b"t 6ith ony kindness in his voice. 2e ifted the
coak 6ith his eft hand< stroked his da"ghter bet6een the sho"der bades 6ith his right.
&!o$e< 6e $"st go for a itte Ao"rney< yo" and #.&
The 6o$an backed against the h"t 6a again. 2er eyes and the knife edge had the sa$e
hard gitter.
%ena raised her face to her father>s knee* his ar$< strong for a its stringiness< ifted her
against his chest. The coak enveo+ed her and she thrashed her head free. &#>$ hot<
Pa+a.&
&No< 6e> +ay a ga$e<& Teer said. 2e ha6ked and s+at crackingy on the fire before he
co"d contin"e. &Co" 6on>t ook at the 6ay 6e go< yo"> hide yo"r head. , right< itte
oneB&
&Ces< Pa+a.& 2er c"rs< s$ooth as god s$eared 6ith river $"d< bobbed as she
obedienty faced his chest and et hi$ dra6 the eather abo"t her again.
&The bo6< 6o$an<& Teer said. Sienty she t"rned and handed it to hi$: a short< s+ringy
+rod"ct of his o6n crafts$anshi+. /ith it 6ere the three re$aining arro6s< straight;
shafted 6ith iron heads< b"t 6ith ony t"fts re$aining of the fetching. 2is Aa6 $"sces
began to 6ork in f"ry. 2e thr"st the bo6 back to her< knots of anger di$+ing the s"rface
of his bare eft ar$. &String itD String it< yo" bitch< orF&
She ste++ed a6ay fro$ his rage and @"icky obeyed hi$< tensing the cord 6itho"t
diffic"ty. The 6ood 6as too s"++e to $ake a good bo6< b"t a stiffer bo6shaft 6o"d
have sna++ed the bark string. Teer strode fro$ the h"t< not deigning to s+eak again to
his 6ife.
There 6as no g"ide b"t the s"n< and that 6as a +oor< feebe t6inking thro"gh the ranked
+ines and s+r"ces. #t 6as od gro6th< save in sashes 6here age or ightning had bro"ght
do6n a giant and given o++ort"nity to esser gro6th. 1an had not $ade serio"s inroads
on this +ortion of the 4orest even before the Pag"e had stri++ed a6ay a third of the
continent>s +o+"ation. 4ear had driven Teer and his 6ife to fee 6ith their first chid<
eaving their viage for a oney cearing free fro$ conta$ination. B"t there 6ere other
fears than that of the Back Death< things ony hinted at in a b"sting ha$et. #n the 4orest
they beca$e a dee+er backness in the shado6s and a heavy +adding on $ooness nights.
They 6ere near hi$ no6.
Teer engthened his stride< ref"sing to ook to the sides or behind hi$. 2e 6as not an
inteigent $an< b"t he kne6 instinctivey that if he ackno6edged 6hat he fet< he 6o"d
be ost. 2e 6o"d be "nabe to $ove at a< 6o"d re$ain h"nched against a tree tr"nk
"nti either starvation or the de$ons ca$e for hi$.
%ena began h"$$ing a itte t"ne. Tho"gh off;key< it 6as recogni?abe as a "aby.
Teer>s 6ife had never bothered to rock %ena to see+< b"t their eder da"ghter< born
before the +anicked fight into the 6iderness< had absorbed eno"gh of the $e$ories of
her babyhood to +ass the$ on to her sister. #t 6as not the Pag"e that had taken the gir<
nor yet the de$ons. Rather< there had been a genera $aaise< a 6asting fed by seven
years in an environ$ent that s"++orted ife b"t did nothing to $ake ife s"++ortabe. #n
the end she had died< +erha+s saving Teer the earier agony of a Ao"rney ike the one he
$ade no6.
4ar eno"gh< he decided. , s+r"ce sa+ing thr"st "+ fro$ a$ong three ad"t trees. Tho"gh
its boe 6as ony a hand>s breadth in dia$eter< the first branches 6ere a f" ten feet in the
air. #t for$ed a +ost fir$er than that on 6hich Sebastian 6as $artyred.
&No6< %ena<& Teer said as he +"t the gir do6n< &yo"> 6ait here by this tree for a
6hie.&
She o+ened her eyes for the first ti$e since she had eft the ho"se 6ith her father. The
conifers aro"nd her 6ere s+ear+oints thr"st thro"gh the earth. Back;green branches
sh"ddered in a breath of 6ind. The gir screa$ed< +a"sed< and screa$ed again.
Teer +anicked at the so"nd and the o+en terror of her bright b"e ga?e. 2e sto++ed
f"$bing at the cord knotted abo"t his 6aist and str"ck o+en;handed< his +a$ s$"dging
the soot on her cheek. %ena bo"nced back against the s+r"ce tr"nk< st"nned $entay
rather than +hysicay by the bo6. She cosed her $o"th "nbinking< then s+"n to her feet
and ran. Teer g"+ed fear and re$orse as he snatched "+ his bo6 to foo6.
%ena ran ike a started fa6n. She sho"d not have been abe to esca+e a gro6n $an< b"t
the fearso$e shado6s ca$e to her aid. /hen %ena dodged aro"nd the scay boe of a
he$ock< Teer< foo6ing< 6as knocked s+ra6ing by a branch. 2e +icked hi$sef "+<
+icked "+ aso the arro6s he had scattered as he fe. 2e nocked the one 6ith the $ost
fetching< tho"gh he co"d not have eG+ained to a @"estioner 6hat he $eant to do 6ith it.
&%enaB& he caed. The trees drank his voice.
, r"ste and a st"tter of ight ca"ght his attention< b"t it 6as a s@"irre>s fag tai Aerking
on a s+r"ce ti+. Teer eased the tension on his bo6string.
There 6as another so"nd behind hi$< and he t"rned very @"icky.
%ena< tre$bing in the crease of a giant that had faen so ong ago that the trees gro6ing
aro"nd it 6ere of neary e@"a girth< heard her father b"ndering nearby. 2er frightened
6hi$+er 6as a$ost a sience itsef< no $ore than the b"rr of a $ii+ede>s feet thro"gh
the eaf $o"d in front of her nose. She heard Teer ca< then a ghasty do"be cry that
$erged 6ith the t6ang of a bo6. No $ore voices< then< b"t a gr"nt and the chockB of
so$ething hoo6 cr"shing against a tree tr"nk.
4or a $o$ent< then< there 6as rea sience.
&!oo;oB&tried a voice too dee+ to be birdike.&!oo;o;oB&it re+eated< coser no6 to %ena
tho"gh "nacco$+anied by the cracking br"sh that had heraded her father>s
+rogress.&!ooB&and it 6as directy above her. ,$ost $ore afraid to ook "+ than not to<
%ena so6y t"rned her head.
#t 6as eaning over the og to +eer do6n at her< a broad face set 6ith shar+ back eyes and
a +"g nose. The grinning i+s 6ere back< the skin +ink 6here it co"d be gi$+sed
beneath the fine< r"sset f"r. %ena>s hands s6"ng to her $o"th and she bit do6n hard on
her kn"ckes. The creat"re va"ted so"ndessy over the og. #t 6as abo"t the height of
%ena>s father< b"t 6as $"ch dee+er in the chest. Pa$s and soes 6ere bare of the f"r that
cothed the rest of it. #ts right hand reached o"t and +"cked a6ay the arro6 that fo++ed
fro$ its eft sho"der. , Ae6e of bood $arked the f"r at that +oint< b"t the creat"re>s
torso and ong ar$s 6ere aready sticky 6ith bood not its o6n.
The hands reached do6n for %ena. She 6o"d have screa$ed again< b"t her $ind 6as
foding "+ 6ithin her as a 6hite b"r.
H H H
&!oo;reeB& @"estioned a i@"id voice in %ena>s ear< and she binked a6ake. , gir 6ith a
shy grin 6as 6atching her< a chid so innocent that %ena forgot to be afraid. :ven tho"gh
the chid 6as as f"rry as the ad"t 6ho $"st have bro"ght %ena to the grassy hoo6 in
6hich she no6 ay. , s$ie that bared s@"are< yeo6ed teeth s+it the f"r and the itteF
shorter even than %ena tho"gh $ore co$+acty b"itFcreat"re hed o"t a do"be handf"
of he$ock nod"es< +ainstakingy knocked cean of dirt. The skin of her hands 6as a rich
onyG back in contrast to the broken< co++er;coored fingernais.
,s shyy as her benefactress< %ena took the roots and cr"nched one bet6een her teeth.
The nod"e had a rich< a$ost $eaty< favor and a teGt"re +easant to her g"$s. She
s$ied back. , t6ittering at the crest of the hoo6 ca"sed her to s+in abo"t and ga+e at
the broad;chested $ae creat"re she had $et in the 6oods< no6 6ith a s$aer co$+anion
to either side. En the right 6as a fo"r;d"gged fe$ae< si$$er than the $ae and sighty
h"nched. The re$aining 6oods $anFb"t %ena>s $ind sti shrieked de$on< troF6as
another chid< obvio"sy $ae and of ighter cooration than his +arents. 2is c"bike
ro"ndness had not yet given 6ay to ro+y ad"t $"sc"at"re< and his nervo"s s$ie 6as a
refection of his sister>s.
%ena stood. 2er body had gone cod and the bright s"night see$ed s"ddeny to gance
a6ay as fro$ a bock of ice. The ad"t $ae had 6ashed since she first sa6 hi$: his +et
6as s$ooth and cean save for the s$"dged eft sho"der. ,nother dro+ of bood oo?ed to
the s"rface and the fe$ae< seeing it< cooed in veGation and n"??ed the 6o"nd. 2er teeth
cho++ed as she ceaned it. The $ae +"shed her genty a6ay< his eyes ocked 6ith %ena>s.
Tre$bing 6ith co"rage she had not kno6n 6as hers< %ena bit off another he$ock
nod"e< then eGtended the re$ainder of the b"nch to6ard the 6atching 6oods fok. The
three before her began to ca+er 6ith Aoy< and a 6ar$< f"rry ar$ encirced %ena>s 6aist
fro$ behind.
They 6ere foragers and therefore by necessity 6anderers< the fa$iy of 6hich %ena 6as
no6 a +art. ,fter a $onth in the bo6 6hich chance or ancient v"canis$ had +ocked into
the J"ra 1o"ntains< they s+ent a +air of 6eeks co$bing a strea$ 6ith a different see+ing
+ace every night. 4ood 6as +entif" in that s+ring and the s"$$er it 6ore into: roots
and berries< s+r"ce ti+s and the tender shoots of other vegetation* birds> eggs 6hie they
asted< b"t never the birds the$seves. %ena 6as a$ost too yo"ng to re$e$ber the ast
of her +arents> hens. Sti< earning that they had s"cc"$bed to nest raiding< not sa"ghter<
ca$ed a re$aining briste of "nease.
She tried not to think of Teer at a.
=ort 6as the father of the fa$iy< even;te$+ered b"t a6eso$ey strong. Rather than
ci$b a hard6ood to +ick n"ts before the s@"irres had co$bed the$< he 6o"d find a
bo"der or the argest faen i$b in the neighborhood and s$ash it against the tree tr"nk<
sho6ering hi$sef and the gro"nd 6ith the ri+e offerings. #t 6as =ort< too< 6ho tr"dged
off on day;ong Ao"rneys to the cave in 6hich the fa$iy 6intered< carrying in a bark;
coth basket the dried eGcess of their geaning. The 6inter stores 6ere ke+t beneath a
stone too tight;fitting for a $o"se to side aro"nd and too $assive for a bear>s a6k6ard
i$bs to thr"st aside.
B"t if =ort>s strength 6as the shaft 6hich s"++orted the fa$iy>s eGistence< it 6as the
@"ick $ind of ="e;$eh< his $ate< 6hich +rovided directing force. 2er fingers 6ove the
stri+s of ca$bi"$ into fabric as s$ooth and as s"++e as the 6oo and inen of the
viages beyond the 4orest. The 6oods fok "sed the coth for carrying b"ky goods< not
as cothing< tho"gh %ena once ine+ty 6ove a crossbet for hersef 6hen her shift
disintegrated. ="e;$eh g"ided the foraging< A"dging its +rogress and deter$ining 6hen
and 6here the fa$iy 6o"d $ove. She co"d te at a gance 6hich hickory n"t 6as
so"nd and s6eet< 6hich had been e$+tied in its she by a 6or$.
,t first the chidren 6ere never 6hoy aone< for there 6ere dangers in the 4orest. Not
the bears< so $"ch< for their strength and "gy te$+ers 6ere o"t6eighed by c"$siness
and their +reference for other food. :ven %ena 6as soon abe to scra$be "+ a tree before
a +eevish gr"nt gave 6ay to a charge. %ynGes 6ere $ore of a +otentia threat< for they
6ere s6ift and had the bood;"st co$$on to a cats. Sti !hi< the fe$ae 6oods chid
and s$aest of the three< 6eighed forty fo"nds by no6 and 6as too strong and active to
be a co$fortabe victi$.
The 6oves< tho"gh< the 6oves . . . .
They feared nothing very greaty< those ean gray kiers. 4ire< +erha+s* b"t the 6oods
fok feared it $ore and %ena earned to avoid the fa$es after being c"ffed fiercey a6ay
fro$ a ightning;sashed tree. 4ro$ s+ring thro"gh fa the 6oves +added thro"gh the
4orest aone and in +airs< tracking a +"$+ doe or a heathy fa6n to ri+ do6n and devo"r.
%ike $ost +o6erf" carnivores< the 6oves chose their +rey not for its 6eakness b"t for
its tasteFand after years of chaos and the Pag"e< so$e of the$ had fo"nd a taste for
$en.
%ena>s ong egs< and the ne6 sense of freedo$ bro"ght by roa$ing the 4orest 6ith fok
6ho tho"ght it ho$e< not eGie< took her and 4aa< the yo"ng $ae< a$ost into ong;
toothed Aa6s. They 6ere digging root nod"es< "sing shar+ened stakes and coth bags
6hie ="e;$eh 6ove. 4aa 6ent aro"nd one side of a h"ge he$ock< %ena the otherFthe
far side. The e$+ty 6oods< a chor"s of backs and greens and bro6ns< s+oke to her
s"ddeny. Dro++ing her e@"i+$ent 6ith a sient gigge< %ena darted off a$ong the aises
of trees.
4aa heard the +ad of her feetF$onths in the 6id had trained %ena>s ste+< b"t not
beyond notice of ears that had been born there. 2e foo6ed her 6itho"t caing or even
thinking. 4aa 6as s6ifty gaining his father>s dee+ chest< b"t he sho6ed signs of being in
=ort>s $enta i$age as 6e. The t6o chidren 6ere gone a $in"te or onger before ="e;
$eh ooked "+ fro$ her o6n 6ork and !hi to notice that her other charges 6ere gone.
She hooted in anger< b"t 4aa 6as aready beyond earshot and %ena 6as ahead of hi$.
She 6as a sh"tte racing over a oo$ of needes and s+r"ce t6igs. 4aa 6as stronger and
his "ngs $ight have bro"ght hi$ abreast of her in ti$e< b"t %ena>s egs 6o"d have been
the envy of a doe. 4aa on his st"$+y i$bs co"d not o"ts+rint the gir. B"t the t6o
6oves 6hich converged on %ena in a grove of beeches 6ere @"icker yet.
%ena sto++ed< too started at first to be frightened. 4aa had ai$ed a +ayf" tacke at her
before he sa6 the reason for her hat. 2e fo++ed to the eaf $o"d instead and skidded.
The nearer of the red;tong"ed 6oves o6ered its tai and h"nched.
%ena ste++ed 6itho"t tho"ght bet6een 4aa and the gray kier. The 6of dre6 back. #t
6as $ore than the scent of a tr"e $an< the reivers 6ith iron and fire< 6here ony 6oods
fok had been eG+ected. There 6as so$ething 6ithin %ena hersef that ao6ed her< a si$
siG;year;od< to face do6n a +air of 6oves. They stood for an instant< each of the$ haf
again the gir>s si?e* then they boted. Eny their fresh s+oor 6as visibe a $o$ent ater
6hen ="e;$eh raced into the gade< !hi "nder her eft ar$ and a siG;foot +ine knot in her
right hand. %ena and 4aa 6ere +"$$eed heaviy for the r"n< b"t ="e;$eh s+ent the rest
of the afternoon in tho"ght. ,fter6ards she et a three chidren stray< so ong as her o6n
t6o ke+t cose to %ena.
:ary h"nger and a vegetarian diet sho"d have st"nted %ena>s gro6th. #nstead she gained
6io6y inches to @"icky overto+ 4aa and !hi. The 6oods fok 6ere a ceany +eo+e
and the gri$e that had disfig"red %ena>s first siG years disa++eared in the ice;fed strea$
nearest the hoo6 in 6hich she Aoined the fa$iy. #t never ret"rned. 2er skin 6as cear
and did not< even bare to the s"n and the 6ind< take on the s6arthy cast of her +arents>. #n
the s"$$er she 6as a 6ar$ bro6n< traced 6ith the thin scabs of bra$be c"ts* in the
6inter her co$+eGion co"nterfeited the crea$y yeo6ness of od ivory +oished by
oving hands.
4or a the bea"ty of her body and skin< %ena>s hair 6as her cro6n. #t had never been c"t<
a res"t of her $other>s a+athy rather than any interest in the gir>s adorn$ent. /ashed o"t
and aborio"sy carded 6ith t6igs by a fo"r of the 6oods fok< it fo6ed do6n her back
ike i@"id god. %oose< it 6as a bright food behind her as she ranFb"t then it snagged
and ca"ght and di$inished. 4aa began to +ait it in the evening i$itating ="e;$eh>s bark
6eavings. Si$+e at first< the +atterns gre6 increasingy co$+eG and changed nighty.
The hair 6as 4aa>s deight. D"ring the ong 6inter evenings he s+ent ho"rs braiding and
reo+ening her tresses< then braiding the$ again. %ena bore the attention< b"t her $ind
strayed beyond the boy>s gente fingers.
There 6as another +redator in the 4orest< tho"gh %ena 6as t6eve before she enco"ntered
it. She 6as $ies fro$ the high crag the fa$iy then occ"+ied< foo6ing =ort to the
6inter cave< 6hen a horn 6o"nd in the near distance. =ort>s reaction 6as to +anic. 2e
danced in a itte circe of indecision< then began scra$bing "+ a +rincey fir tree. The
bag of stores Aerked 6ith every h"nch of his back< scattering b"nches of he$ock nod"es.
=ort>s feet and ong right ar$Fhis eft hed the bag and< in any case< 6o"d not ift above
sho"der height since the arro6 6o"nd had heaedFhad shot hi$ haf6ay "+ the tr"nk
before he reai?ed that %ena>s +rogress 6as $"ch so6er than his o6n. There 6as $ore
than a difference in strength. Tho"gh the 6oods fok did not have o++osed big toes either<
their contro of their foot $"sces 6as $"ch greater than that of %ena>s s"bs+ecies.
=ort scrabbed do6n again< chattering haste in an angry voice. %ena< terrified by the
"ncertain sit"ation< tried to obey and ost her gri+< si++ing ten feet to the gro"nd. =ort>s
nervo"s rage b"rst o"t in a catter of syabes. 4inay the stocky $ae thre6 hi$sef "+
the boe in ea+s that 6o"d have been i$+ressive even if hori?onta. 2e ca"ght the bag
of +rovisions in the crotch of a h"ge i$b eighty feet in the air< then dro++ed back to
%ena>s eve in fo"r incredibe stages. Singing the gir 6ith as itte cere$ony as he had
the bag< he re$o"nted the tree 6ith e@"a s+eed. Sh"ddering 6ith fear< +ressed bet6een
the boe and =ort>s great gas+ing breaths< %ena stared at the gro"nd so far beo6 that it
tre$bed in the bree?e. The horn be6 again< very nearby.
, stag 6obbed o"t of a c"$+ of firs< its tong"e grayish and drooing fro$ the corner of
its Aa6. T6enty yards fro$ the tree in 6hich =ort and %ena shetered< the deer fe "nder
the 6hi+sa6 i$+act of a +air of $astiffs. :ach dog ooked as arge as the victi$. The stag
cart6heeed. Ene of the great brinded dogs ca$+ed on the deer>s throat< the other ca"ght
the right foreeg. There 6as a f"rry of h"$"s. The stag>s s+ine sna++ed ike the first
crack that foo6s the ightning.
There 6ere a do?en dogs s6iring on the forest foor no6< ho"nds trained to back off after
g"iding the kier $astiffs to their +rey. They beed and ea+ed for gobbets of the deer
sti thrashing in its death throes. The riders 6ere on the$ then< t6o green;garbed
h"nts$en 6ith f" beards and ong 6hi+s 6ith 6hich they c"t at the $iing +ack . . .
and a third $an< a yo"th 6hose hair gea$ed a$ost 6hite in a stray bea$ of s"n. 2e
rocked back in the sadde of his great gray staion and a"ghed to the sky. %ena fro?e to
see his face ifting< b"t he 6as not searching the treeto+s< he 6as ony b"bbing over 6ith
the Aoy of the ki.
2e 6as s+endid< +erfect in her eyes.
There 6ere $ore riders< scores of $en on foot inc"ding dog handers as shaggy and gri$
as the beasts they dragged off the $anged stag. , h"nts$an>s broad knife fashed and he
raised the deer>s ears and tai to the a"ghing yo"th. ,n "neG+ected 6ar$th had driven
the fear fro$ %ena>s $ind. She 6atched< e$+ty even of 6onder at the scene beneath her
F$ore $en by ten ti$es than she had ever before seenF6hie her eyes drank in every
$otion< every n"ance of the yo"ng rider in red and god.
J"ick knives "naced the deer< s+iing the entrais to the re6ard of the ho"nds. The
$astiffs sat aoof on their ha"nches< neary the height of the foot$en 6ho skirted the$
6ith nervo"s eyes. Those kiers 6ere fed once daiy and scorned to sho6 interest in the
ga$e they bro"ght do6n. Eny their tong"es . . . they fashed and roed< infinitey
feGibe as they 6i+ed cean the boody Ao6s.
The babbe thinned as did the cro6d beo6. The ho"nds 6ere tired and sated. They
6hined 6hen the handers chained the$ in +airs< b"t they ao6ed the $en to ead the$
back the 6ay they had co$e. T6o bra6ny retainers s"ng the g"tted deer on a +oe and
trotted off behind the yo"th on horseback. Riders drifted after the$< taking and a"ghing
as they +assed o"t of earshot. Nothing re$ained b"t a ragged circe tra$+ed back on the
eaf $o"d. The horn 6as +aying a caraco that see$ed to hang in the air even after it
6as act"ay ina"dibe.
&The Ritter =ar<& %ena 6as 6his+ering to hersef. She s"rred into the heavy S6abish of
her +arents the na$e +"rred by the retainers. &=ar von ,rnhei$ . . . .&
=ort< aready resinging the oad of food< +aid her no attention. B"t %ena contin"ed to ro
the syabes "nder her tong"e.
1onths +assed. Eccasionay there 6ere tr"e $en in the 4orest: a +air of nervo"s
traveers 6ith +acks and staves< 6histing into the shado6s* a vagabond 6hose rags 6ere
streaked 6ith +"s fro$ the "cers they covered* once a do?en $en together< ar$ed and as
ean as the 6oves . . . these 6ore $is$ated finery and as $any as a do?en rings on
each hand.
The von ,rnhei$ h"nt did not +ass cose eno"gh for %ena to hear and r"n to it.
The 6oods fok traveed< b"t they did not roa$. %ena>s 6anderings< at first for ho"rs and
then for days< 6ere a ca"se of great concern to the fa$iy. ="e$eh +eaded 6ith her< b"t
the soft< cooing ang"age of the fok had no 6ords for the e$otions that 6ere driving the
gir. The +eading sto++ed in ti$e< for none of the fa$iy co"d catch %ena no6 if she
ran. , foraging +eo+e earn not to 6aste effort. So$e "sef" kno6edge ca$e fro$ the
tri+s: food so"rces that the fa$iy co"d eG+oit no6 or in the f"t"re< caves that o+ened
into s+acio"s cha$bers fro$ throats too narro6 for a bear to enter. B"t $ore and $ore<
%ena>s traves 6ere to the edge of the fieds of $en* and this she did not eG+ain to the
6oods fok< kno6ing instinctivey that if she had< nothing 6o"d have ke+t ="e;$eh
fro$ ordering an i$$ediate $ove scores of $ies dee+er into the 4orest.
,nd aready the tri+s 6ere considerabe endeavors. Sette$ents had shr"nk back fro$ the
trees< save for scattered ho"sehods as Teer>s had been. There 6ere $ore of those than
%ena 6o"d have g"essed in the days 6hen the 4orest 6as a +rison 6a< b"t rarey did
the inhabitants atte$+t to far$ the thin soi as had her +arents. 1ost 6ere charcoa
b"rners< backened $en or co"+es too bent to dis+ay seG"a distinctions< hiking ever
f"rther to find the hard6oods that stoked their greedy kins. Their h"ts 6ere ragged
sha$bes< so$eti$es ean;tos s+ra6ed against so$e 4orest giant* b"t the kins 6ere
anchors< too so6 and de$anding of constr"ction to be abandoned for ne6 sites nearer
the f"e. The increasing Ao"rneys to find an oak in the evergreen forest< then to fe it and
aborio"sy drag back engths 6ith a sho"der harness< eft no ti$e for the necessary
eis"re of b"iding another kin.
S+read by the Pag"e< the oney far$ers 6ere $en 6ho had tried to esca+e Death by
r"nning and had deayed his a++roach by a score of $iserabe years. The charcoa b"rners
6ere ca"ght bet6een the "++er and nether $istones of shr"nken $arkets and scarcer
ra6 $aterias< the far$ers bet6een decining fertiity and i$+overish$ent of toos. The
third gro"+< the $eat h"nters< had shr"nk aso tho"gh they $ight have been eG+ected to
increase. 7a$e had ret"rned to the fringe ands 6hen $en had $eted a6ay in the back
oo?e of the Pag"e< b"t the 4orest had gro6n darker. :ven those 6ho had $ade their
iving in it for decades began to edge o"t into the s"night.
The de$ons that ha"nted the $inds of h"$ans in the 4orest 6ere not the 6oods fok. #n
a her ra$bings< %ena fo"nd no sign of hairy $en other than =ort and his fa$iy.
She searched farther< into the ands 6here far$s sti s+ra6ed in the o+en and $en
+o6ed behind ani$as< instead of +rodding the soi 6ith a stick. #n the d"sk she eeed
aong hedgero6s so sienty that the hens nesting in the$ did not stir. /here there 6ere
dogs< they rose and staked stiff;egged over to %ena. ,fter they sniffed at her< they
6hined and 6aked a6ay. Eccasionay a +ersistent br"te 6o"d n"??e the gir "nti her
fingers stroked a r"$bing +"rr fro$ its rib cage. None of the beasts barked or attacked
her.
The do$estic ani$as 6ere ne6 to her< b"t she +aid the$ itte attention. %ena had co$e
to the ands of $en to find a $an.
The far$ers> h"ts 6ere 6indo6ess< occasionay stone or +ro+er 6ood b"t $ore often
6atte and da"b. The gir>s eyes fo"nd chinks 6hen the b"idings 6ere ighted< raked the
faces of see+y residents 6hen they st"$bed o"t to reieve the$seves on the gro"nd.
B"t the $an she so"ght 6o"d not be fo"nd in a hove. #t 6as ong $onths before she
ca$e to "nderstand that< ho6ever< since her "+bringing had been sient abo"t the 2erren<
the 1asters.
,s the seasons +assed< as a $onth of searching beca$e t6eve< %ena>s ife 6as sti
a$ost 6hoy 6ithin the 4orest. The tri+s beyond 6ere 6indo6s of eGcite$ent that
s+arked to set off 6e;oved +anes of 6ood. The ta chid had beco$e a ta gir<
$"sced ike a deer b"t 6ith the sa$e ithe si$ness she had borne fro$ the first. The
6oods fok did $ost things 6ith grace< b"t they co"d not r"n. 4aa 6atched %ena>s
s"dden fits of eG"berance< her fashing s+"rts across a cearing or thro"gh a briar thicket
6itho"t $isste+. 2is eyes go6ed 6ith the 6onder and deight of a +ro+het to 6ho$ an
ange 6as descending.
,t night his co++er nais ginted as they +aited her hair in 6ondro"s fashion.
#n a h"$an 6ord 6ith itte ro$ance< the goden 6raith beca$e a egend before she 6as
tr"y a r"$or. !ottagers nodded and s6ied thin beer as one of their n"$ber e$beished
an instant>s vision. So$eti$es %ena beca$e a $essenger fro$ 7od or a 2e;s+rite<
searching for an infant>s so" to stea. 1ore often the stories 6ere rooted dee+er in the
so";earth of the +easants than !hrist 6o"d ever be< and o6ered voices s+oke of 4orest
shado6s and s+irits of the :arth.
1arve in $ost isteners beca$e +rofessiona c"riosity in gray Ra"sch the h"nts$an. 2is
bet knife< honed to a 6ire edge on a strea$;t"$bed egg of granite< had siver $o"ntings
and the ra$+ant 6yvern crest of the von ,rnhei$s. The ate Ritter< =ar>s father Etto< had
+resented it to Ra"sch t6enty;one years before to re+ace the knife his A"nior h"nts$an
had broken on a boar>s sca+"a. Barehanded< ignoring the bood;sick t"sks< Ra"sch had
6rested the beast to the dirt at the feet of the Ritter>s +regnant 6ife. 4ro$ that day he
rode at Etto>s right stirr"+ and that of =ar after hi$. 2e 6o"d not have eGchanged that
bade for the :$+eror>s sce+tre.
Save for 6hen von ,rnhei$ h"nted< Ra"sch>s ti$e 6as his o6n. #f he chose to eGa$ine a
hedgero6 on his knees< sn"ffing ike a gray;Ao6ed ho"nd< 6ho 6as there to gainsay
hi$B So Ra"sch istened and he 6atched< 6hie as caref"y as a cathedra $ason his
$ind 6as constr"cting the h"nt that 6o"d cro6n hi$ and his $aster.
/hen the first ho"nd beed< %ena ignored it. She kne6 no6 fro$ ong eG+erience that
the dogs 6ere not her ene$ies. She had been a6ay fro$ the fa$iy the +ast three days<
s+ending the dayit ho"rs in the 4orest fringe and the nights dee+er into the o+en ands
than she had ever gone before. The caste sitting gray on a detached +atea" had dra6n
her eyes $onths earier< b"t antici+ation itsef had deayed her a++roach to it. No6 at ast
she had si++ed to the very edge of its stragging c"rtain 6as< et her fingers caress the
ro"gh stone. #t co"d easiy be ci$bed< b"t its hidden interior $ade the act not a
$o$ent>s b"t a thing for ong +ondering in the 4orest de+ths. That in her $ind< %ena had
started back< her co"rse across the fieds $ore hasty than deiberate since she had et the
da6n stride too nearby as she st"died the 6a.
The second Aoyo"s b"ging 6o"d have been a s"rface i$+ression as 6e< eGce+t for the
+ro$+t echo of the h"nting horn.
%ena 6as aready a$ong the trees. 2er first reaction 6as that of her foster father< to
choose the highest and secrete hersef in the "++er branches. , +re$onition that this h"nt
6as no chance crossing of her +ath drove her instead to headong fight. Panic rode her< a
br"ta Aockey 6hose vioence s+e6ed o"t the strength that $ight other6ise have carried
her free.
4or a $ie she s+rinted< ea+ing obstaces and dreading at every instant that the ho"nds
6o"d give tong"e again. They did not. She haf t"rned< then< her nerves begging for the
obAect of their fear< and her right sho"der br"shed an oak sa+ing. #t 6as no $ore than a
gancing bo6< b"t it s"fficed to break her stride and ao6 reaction to her $asteress
effort thro6 her to the gro"nd.
,nd as she ay sobbing on the neede;stre6n earth< the ho"nds and the horn so"nded
again. She had gained on her +"rs"ers* b"t they kne6< dogs and $en< that a h"nt 6as
decided in its ast $o$ents< not the first. They s"ited their +ace to that certainty. /ith
+ro+er governance< %ena co"d have r"n a day. #n the darkness< 6hen the $en 6ere
bind and the dogs nervo"sy "n6iing to range ahead< she 6o"d have disa++eared. ,
night of see+ess eGcite$ent and the disastro"s s+rint had g"tted her. 4ear drove %ena
back to her feet< b"t she had ost the abiity to force the +ace.
/ith eis"re to choose the co"rse< %ena $ight have ed the h"nt into e$+ty stretches of
the 4orest 6here ony s@"irres 6o"d have been dist"rbed by its +assage. Terror
ei$inated a chance of s"ch foretho"ght and she +"nged straight as a +"$b ine for the
distant cedar co+se in 6hich she had ast h"dded 6ith the 6oods fok. Perha+s she 6o"d
have done the sa$e in any event: %ena had never before been h"nted< and she acked the
instincts of the 6id;born.
The s"n 6as 6e "+ before a bright goose@"i signaed the nearest of the h"nters to
%ena>s back6ard gance. The feather bobbed< visibe 6hen the green hat and $an and
charger beneath it 6ere not. She t"rned as if "nfeeing< her face an ivory ca$eo< her egs
scissors of bron?e. She did not +"$+ her ar$s as she ran< avoiding a +ractice that co"d
stitch a r"nner>s torso 6ith cra$+s 6hie the great veins of his egs sti baanced oGygen
and +oisons in the 6orking $"sces.
The ho"nds 6ere cose behind her. The $en $ay not have kno6n ho6 cose< for eGce+t
in that instant>s fash do6n an aise of trees they had been beyond sight. Ra"sch eft itte
to chance< and t6o of the riders 6ere horse handers eading +icked re$"das. B"t ti$e
6as ost changing fro$ fo"ndered $o"nts to fresh ones< and the strings co"d not foo6
6ith the ease of the "nhindered riders thro"gh br"sh that c"tched at eadro+es. The dogs<
o+ing 6ith their $"??es high and @"ivering 6ith the fresh scent< ye+ed $ady b"t did
not atte$+t to cose the t6enty yards se+arating the$ fro$ their @"arry. They 6ere the
fingers of Death< b"t not his Aa6s.
#n a noon;bright cearing dee+ in the 4orest< %ena st"$bed a second ti$e. She roed
s$oothy to her feet and coa+sed< her refeGes 6hoe b"t her body 6itho"t the strength
to effect the$. The ho"nds 6ere in a ya++ing< ye+ing circe aro"nd her. /hen she tried
to rise again the foa$;s$eared breast of a great staion sa$$ed her do6n.
%ena>s "ngs 6ere bas of yeo6 fire. ,bove her beo6ed the green;s"ited h"nter< a
itte $an 6ho had "ns"ng his cocked arbaest to 6ave it as a signa of tri"$+h.
The knobbed end of a ten;foot tree i$b dashed his brains o"t 6ith the effectiveness of a
treb"chet.
="e;$eh< bandy;egged and sight< had darted thro"gh the +ack. #f her strength 6as
inferior to that of =ort< it 6as sti beyond the standards of tr"e $enFand the fe$ae had
the cod 6i to overco$e +anic and act in the face of catastro+he. The ho"nds gave back<
snaring. The rideress horse "rched a6ay fro$ the dragging 6eight sti ca"ght in the
reins. T6o $ore $en< =ar in red sik and coth;of;god and Ra"sch beside hi$< his gri$
face a fortress in the $idst of chaos< b"rst into the cearing in 6hich their victi$ ay:
="e;$eh hissed at the$ and 6agged her brain;s+attered c"b.
Ra"sch reined "+ and his eft hand ca"ght his $aster>s bride as 6e< +reventing the
yo"th fro$ thr"sting into the deady circe of the c"b. Then he 6histed and fro$ behind
his horse< stark as 4"ries< o+ed a +air of $astiffs.
There 6as neither choice nor ho+e. ="e;$eh strode for6ard as body as if her death
6ere not certain. She s6"ng at the nearer of the $astiffs< $issing her ai$ as it reared
back. =ort beo6ed fro$ the edge of the cearing< b"t his rage 6as too ate. The second
$astiff >s ea+ ended 6ith its fangs grinding on the bones of ="e;$eh>s right sho"der.
She cried o"t des+airingy as the first dog>s Aa6s cosed on her head.
2er neck +o++ed o"dy.
The s$ack of a h"nting crossbo6 6as si$"taneo"s.
2af6ay bet6een the br"sh and the kier dogs< =ort>s body Aerked back6ards. The fo"rth
h"nter had ridden into the cearing< having +a"sed first to ay a s@"are;headed @"arre in
the a"nching groove of his 6ea+on. The great iron bot ifted =ort< carrying +art of his
breastbone 6ith it thro"gh the back of his ribs.
The $astiffs staked a6ay as the +ack began to sc"ffe for its tro+hies. The archer s"ng
his arbaest fro$ the sadde of his bo6ing horse and dis$o"nted to 6hi+ the dogs a6ay
fro$ =ort. Ra"sch< too< si++ed to the gro"nd< a +"r+osef" th"$b on the edge of his
bade as he 6aked to6ard ="e;$eh.
&No< theseFcreat"resFare "ncean<& the Ritter said< tri"$+h vibrant thro"gh the
6eariness of his voice. &/e 6on>t carry those back. %et the dogs eat.& 2e ifted hi$sef
o"t of the sadde. 2is eyes re$ained fiGed on %ena>s< hoding her fir$ as a snake 6o"d a
rabbit. 2is breeches and t"nic 6ere shot 6ith god no brighter than his "nbo"nd hair.
4roth fro$ the s"ccession of horses he had ridden to death backened his caves and
thighs< and his t"nic 6as dark 6ith his o6n s6eat. Sti his broad sho"ders did not droo+
and there 6as a"ghter on his tong"e after he s+ashed it 6ith 6ine fro$ the skin Ra"sch
offered. &So . . . . She gave "s a r"n< did she not< $y Ra"schkinB B"t # think she 6as
6orth a fe6 horses< no . . . B ,nd even +oor 2er$ann< he rode 6e< b"t it 6as his
o6n fa"t if he et a tro brain hi$.&
#n a $ore b"sinessike voice he added to Ra"sch< &Be ready to hod her ar$s.&
%ena>s eyes 6ere o+en< staring. B"t even if the fact registered on her $ind< she 6o"d not
at first have "nderstood 6hy von ,rnhei$ 6as "nacing his breeches.
H H H
:vent"ay< a6areness ret"rned. They had tied her for the ride back to the caste< her
6rists to the saddehorn and her ankes ashed to one another beneath the horse>s bey.
That +ain she had esca+ed as d"ring the gri$< so6 Aogging she ay s"$+ed over the
cor+se of 2er$ann 6ho h"ng cross6ise in front of her. 2er bond hair 6as $atted over a
+air of transverse 6ets. Ra"sch had finay "sed the oaded end of his 6hi+ to @"iet the
gir for his $aster.
2er thighs 6ere sticky 6ith bood< so$e of it fro$ the bra$bes.
She 6as in a tiny roo$ 6hen she a6akened. E"tside< a $astiff gro6ed. #t had a o6
r"$be< +enetrating 6itho"t being o"d< that co"d terrify in a 6ay that the fren?ied
barking of esser beasts co"d not. The ho"r 6as ong +ast s"ndo6n< b"t odor aone tod
%ena that she had been thr"st into an e$+ty kenne 6ith the $astiffs on g"ard at the
o+ening. 9nike =ar>s h"$an retainers< the great dogs co"d be de+ended on to kee+ a
others a6ay fro$ 6hat 6as< for no6< the Ritter>s +ro+erty aone.
%ena s@"ir$ed to the door6ay. , horse;h"ge $astiff ay across it. The beast>s head 6as
raised and one of the dog handers< 6e a6are of the br"te>s ca+abiities< 6as sc"tting
a6ay across the $"ddy co"rtyard. Eny the casks of strong ae< broached for the Ritter>s
tri"$+h< had given the $an co"rage to a++roach as cosey as he had.
,6akened by the intr"der< the brinded dog t"rned to ick its o6n fanks. %ena fro?e< b"t
$oonight on her hair dre6 the broad $"??e into the o+ening. The eyes 6ere ca$ and
dark;+"+ied< arger than a $an>s. The $astiff >s tong"e fa++ed against %ena>s te$+e ike
a soft rag< s+onging at the bood caked there.
4earf"yFno +resent kindness 6o"d erase $e$ory of ="e;$eh>s ast $o$ent of ifeF
%ena br"shed her fingers across the dog>s forehead< then caressed the "+thr"st ears.
Po6er b"rred again in the dog>s thoraG< b"t it no6 6as rich 6ith deight. The head gave
back< directed by the gir>s +roddings 6here it co"d not have been forced< and et her
6or$ o"t into the o+en.
The co"rtyard 6as e$+ty of a b"t the t6o dogs and a s@"aor 6hich even the gente
$oon i$ned ceary. The second< fa6n;coored< $astiff 6hined and n"??ed %ena 6ety.
There 6as a faint $"r$"ring fro$ the other kennes< 6atted do$es itte different in
design fro$ the h"ts of the +easants. No $an or other dog a++eared to try the 6rath of
the kier 6ho no6 s"++orted the gir on either side.
2er hands absorbing strength fro$ the skin foded over the dogs> 6ithers< %ena $ade her
6ay to the 6a. Behind her< the to6er of the kee+ ci$bed seventy feet fro$ the gro"nd.
No ights gea$ed thro"gh its arro6;sits. The drink that had ens+irited one $an had
cr"$+ed a his feo6s. :ven +erfect s"ccess co"d ony briefy have co"nteracted the
eGertion re@"ired to gain it< and the Ritter>s ae;sodden feast had done for the stay;at;
ho$es as 6e. Three crossbo6$en snored a6ay their g"ard on the to6er< and the
occasiona so"nds fro$ beyond the o6 6a to the inner co"rt ca$e fro$ the fo6 arid
+igs of the h"$ans @"artered there. The snorts of the horses sharing the o"ter co"rtyard
6ith %ena and the dogs 6ere $"ted. Seven had been ridden to death d"ring the $orning
or had been s6ao6ed in the 4orest beyond ater reca by the eGha"sted h"nters.
%ena to"ched the stones of the c"rtain 6a< $assive gray bocks $ore of nat"re than of
$an. She 6as beyond strength or 6eakness no6< as inani$ate as the i$estone in 6hich
her hands fo"nd nat"ra hods. The arger< brinded $astiff raised itsef to its f" height
on the 6a and icked the soe of her foot. Then she 6as over< siding do6n the face of
the 6a and beginning to r"n the instant she to"ched the rocky soi beo6. This ti$e there
6as no +"rs"it.
She foo6ed the trai broken by the day>s ong h"nt< kno6ing the conf"sed scents 6o"d
hinder the dogs if they 6ere oosed on her. ,s she +assed the$< her hands +"cked off
berries and the +ae< tender shoots of b"dding s+r"ce. Ence< in s+ashing across a ri< she
+a"sed for three @"ick g"+s and a $o"thf" that she absorbed over the neGt $in"tes
rather than s6ao6ing. 2er +ace 6as not +artic"ary s6ift< b"t it 6as as reg"ar as a
$achine>s.
The forest foor +aid itte $ind to da6n or darkness< b"t the needes of s"night +iercing
to the oa$ 6ere neary vertica 6hen %ena reached the scene of death and ca+t"re. =ort
ay h"dded< fies back on the ra6 6o"nds 6hich cro6s had aready enarged. Three of
the birds croaked angriy fro$ the i$b to 6hich %ena>s intr"sion had sent the$< +acing
fro$ side to side and h"nching their +inions.
="e;$eh>s face< "ndist"rbed by the fangs of the +ack< bore a ook of +ec"iar kindiness
and +eace. #t 6as the face 6ith 6hich she had greeted %ena seven years before< ess
resigned than 6iing to acce+t. %ena ooked a6ay. #t 6as not that for 6hich she had
ret"rned.
&!oo;eeB& she caed softy.
The 4orest gre6 very sient. :ven the cro6s eft off their gr"$bings.
&!oo;eeB& the gir re+eated. The b"shes +arted as she kne6 they $"st< and !hi< then 4aa<
stood ti$idy before her. 7"rging so"nds that 6ere +arty tears and +arty 6ords of a
ang"age even oder than that of the 6oods fok< %ena thre6 hersef into their ar$s. She
h"gged their s$ooth< f"rred bodies ike the shades of her ost innocence. ,t ast she thr"st
the$ back to ar$>s ength. /i+ing her face free of the $inged tears< she said< &/e $"st
go no6< very @"icky. There are +aces in the 4orest so far a6ay fro$ here that the Ethers
6i never co$e. They 6i never find "s again.&
She s+oke and ed the 6ay into the 4orest 6itho"t a gance behind her. !hi foo6ed at
once. 4aa< a +ict"re of his father no6 in a b"t the gray that had tinged =ort>s f"r<
hesitated. ,s yet he acked the conscio"sness of strength that 6o"d et hi$
"nconcernedy foo6 into the "nkno6n. B"t in a $o$ent he ran to catch the fe$aes
and< as he sha$bed on at %ena>s side< his fingers began caressing the ta6ny god of her
hair.
The Barrow Troll

When - &as very yo'ng #y fa#ily &as given a r'n of a "C=I children(s
#agazine called 7ack and 7ill. The last feat're in each iss'e &as a serial,
and one of those serials &as an adaptation of ABeo&'lf.A
- have no idea &ho did that version 4-(# not even s're that - &as able to
read #yself at the ti#e@ it #ay have been so#ething #y parents read to
#e5, b't it &as really e8cellent. - didn(t appreciate ho& good it &as 'ntil
#'ch later. -n the adaptation there(s reference to the &arriors( shields of
yello& linden, a vividly realistic detail that -(ve re#e#bered all #y life
since.

T&enty?odd years ago &hile - &as plotting &hat beca#e #y first novel, -
did a close reading of ABeo&'lfA in a literal translation. The shields of
yello& linden &eren(t there. They #'st have been added by the adaptor to
anchor the story in physical realityH&hich doesn(t #ean fa#iliar reality,
b't rather so#ething concrete that the reader can p't his #ental hands
aro'nd even if he doesn(t precisely 'nderstand its p'rpose. That &as an
i#portant lesson for #e.

3nd for those of yo' &ho &onder 4as - did5, AlindenA is the co##on
continental na#e for trees 3#ericans call bass&ood. They(re generally
called li#e trees in Britain.

Besides ABeo&'lfA - read and reread The 3ge of Fable, B'lfinch(s retelling
of Norse #yth in a series of connected stories. 4- had no idea ho& hard it
&o'ld be to do that 'ntil - tried the sa#e thing #any years later in the
North&orld trilogy.5 Then - read translations of the A1ddas,A the -celandic
originals fro# &hich B'lfinch had &orkedH

3nd finally - ca#e to the -celandic sagas the#selves. - fo'nd their style
and o'tlook very si#ilar to #y o&n. The narration is terse. 3ltho'gh the
tales are fiction or at least fictionalized, there(s a real atte#pt to keep the
action realistic+ even s'pernat'ral events are described in a realistic
fashion.

3lso the sagas contain a great deal of h'#or, b't it(s 'nderstated and
fre:'ently black beyond #odern i#agination. 4For e8a#ple, the posse
h'nting ;'nnar arrives at his ho'se. .ne of their n'#ber goes to the door
to sco't the sit'ation. ;'nnar stabs hi# &ith a spear. The sco't &alks
back to his fello&s &ho ask, A-s ;'nnar ho#eGA A- don(t kno&,A the sco't
replies, Ab't his spear is.A 3nd drops dead.5

-ncidentally, #y taste for that sort of 9oke is one of the reasons folks often
think there(s no h'#or at all in #y fiction. They(re &rong, b't they(re
probably happier people for not 'nderstanding.

AThe Barro& TrollA &as an atte#pt to t'rn the ele#ents - fo'nd in saga
narration into a #odern fantasy short story. Michel $arry bo'ght it for a
British collection titled Savage eroes, b't St' Schiff bro'ght the story
o't in Whispers #agazine before its British p'blication.

- think AThe Barro& TrollA s'cceeds at &hat it atte#pts abo't as &ell as
anything that -(ve &ritten.

Payf"y< 9f /o$ansayer t6itched the cord bo"nd to his saddehorn.&,6ake< +riestB
Soon yo" can get to 6ork.& &1y 6ork is saving so"s< not being dragged into the
6iderness by $ad$en<& Johann $"ttered "nder his breath. The other end of the cord 6as
aro"nd his neck< not that of his horse. , tricke of bood oo?ed into his cassock fro$ the
reo+ened scab< b"t he 6as afraid to oosen the knot. 9f $ight ook back. Johann had
aready seen his ca+tor go into a berserk rage. Ever the Northerner>s right sho"der rode
his aGe< a heavy hooked bade on a fo"r;foot shaft. 9f had s6"ng it ike a 6io6;6and
6hen three !hristian traders in Sches6ig had seen the +riest and tried to free hi$. The
$e$ory of the ast $an in three +ieces as head and s6ord ar$ s+rang fro$ his s+o"ting
torso 6as sti eno"gh to roi Johann>s sto$ach.
&/e> have a cear night 6ith a $oon< +riest* a good night for o"r b"siness.& 9f
stretched and a"ghed ao"d< setting a raven on a fir knot to s@"a6king back at hi$. The
berserker 6as foo6ing a ridge ine that divided 6ooded so+es 6ith a s+ine too thin;
soied to bear trees. The fanking forests sti oo$ed above the riders. #n three days< no6<
Johann had seen no $an b"t his ca+tor< nor even a tendri of s$oke fro$ a one cabin.
:ven the ro"te they 6ere taking to Par$avae 6as no $antrack b"t an accident of nat"re.
&So oney<& the +riest said ao"d.
9f h"nched h"gey in his bearskin and re+ied< &Co" soft fok in the so"th< yo" ive too
cose any6ay. #s it yo"r !hrist;god< do yo" thinkB&
&2edeby>s a city<& the 7er$an +riest +rotested< his fingers toying 6ith his torn robe< &and
$y brother trades to 9++saa . . . . B"t 6hy bring $e to this $aness 6asteB&
&Eh< there 6ere $en once< so the tae goes<& 9f said. 2ere in the e$+ty forest he 6as
$ore 6iing for conversation than he had been the first fe6 days of their ride north.
&4e6 eno"gh< and ong eno"gh ago. B"t there 6ere far$s in Par$avae< and a ording of
sorts 6ho 6ent a;viking against the #rish. B"t then the tro ca$e and the $en 6ent< and
there 6as nothing eft to dra6 others. So they tho"ght.&
&Co" Northerners beieve in tros< so $y brother tes $e<& said the +riest.
&,ye< ong before the god #>d heard of the Par$a tro<& the berserker agreed. &EG broad
and stronger than ten $en< shaggy as a denned bear.&
&%ike yo"<& Johann said< in a voice $ore nor$a than ca"tion 6o"d have dictated.
Bood f"ry gared in 9f>s eyes and he gave a savage Aerk on the cord.&Co"> think $e a
tro< +riesting< if yo" don>t do A"st as # say. #> drink yo"r bood hot if yo" cross $e.&
Johann< gagging< co"d not s+eak nor 6ished to.
/ith the $ies the sky beca$e a darker b"e< the trees a backer green. 9f again broke
the hoof;+"$$eed sience< saying< &No< # kne6 nothing of the god "nti Thora tod $e.&
The +riest co"ghed to cear his throat. &Thora is yo"r 6ifeB& he asked.
&/ifeB 2oD&9f brayed< his ra"co"s a"ghter ringing ike a de$on>s.&/ifeB She 6as
2astein>s 6ife< and # kied her 6ith a her ho"se abo"t herD B"t before that< she tod $e
of the tro>s horde< indeed she did. /o"d yo" hear that storyB&
Johann nodded< his s$ie fiGed. 2e 6as earning to recogni?e death as it bantered "nder
the aGehead.
&So<& the h"ge Northerner began. &There 6as a bonder< 2astein =ari>s son< 6ho
foo6ed the king to 6ar b"t eft his 6ife< that 6as Thora< behind to $anage the stead.
The first day # ca$e by and took a shee+ fro$ the herds$an. # tod hi$ if he $isiked it
to send his $aster to $e.&
&/hy did yo" do thatB& the fat +riest asked in s"r+rise.
&/hyB Beca"se #>$ 9f< beca"se # 6anted the shee+. , 6o$an acting a $an>s +art< it>s
"nnat"ra any6ay.
&The neGt day # 6ent back to 2astein>s stead< and the focks had aready been driven in.
# 6ent into the garth aro"nd the b"idings and caed for the $aster to co$e o"t and fetch
$e a shee+.& The berserker>s teeth gro"nd a"diby as he re$e$bered. Johann sa6 his
kn"ckes 6hiten on the aGe heve and stiffened in terror.
&2oD& 9f sho"ted< bringing his eft hand do6n on the shied s"ng at his horse>s fank.
The co++er boss rang ike th"nder in the co"ds. &She ca$e o"t<& 9f grated< &and her hair
6as red. >, o"r shee+ are +enned<> says she< >b"t yo">re in good ti$e for the b"tchering.>
,nd fro$ o"t the ha ca$e her three brothers and the $en of the stead< ten in a. They
6ere in f" ar$or and their s6ords 6ere in their hands. ,nd they 6o"d have sain $e<
9f Etgeir>s son< #e, at a 6o$an>s 6ord. 4orced $e to r"n fro$ a 6o$anD&
The berserker 6as snaring his 6ords to the forest. Johann kne6 he 6atched a scene that
had been +ayed a score of ti$es 6ith ony the trees to 6itness. The rage of disgrace
b"rned in 9f ike +itch in a +ine faggot< and his $ind 6as ost to everything eGce+t the
+ast.
&B"t # ca$e back<& he contin"ed< &in the darkness< 6hen a feasted 6ithin the ha and
drank their ae to victory. Behind the ha b"rned a og fire to roast a shee+. # kied the
t6o there< and # thr"st one of the ogs haf;b"rnt "+ "nder the eaves. Then at the door #
6aited "nti those 6ithin noticed the heat and Thora ooked o"tside.
&>7reetings< Thora<> # said. >Co" 6o"d not give $e $"tton< so # $"st roast $en tonight.>
She asked $e for s+eech. # kne6 she 6as fey< so # istened to her. ,nd she tod $e of the
Par$a ord and the treas"re he bro"ght back fro$ #reand< god and ge$s. ,nd she said it
6as c"rsed that a tro sho"d g"ard it< and that # $"st needs have a $ass +riest< for the
tro co"d not cross a !hristian>s fire and # sho"d say hi$ then.&
&Didn>t yo" s+are her for thatB& Johann @"avered< $ore fearf" of sience than he 6as of
$iss+eaking.
&S+are herB No< nor any of her ho"se<& 9f th"ndered back.&She $ight better have asked
the fa$es for $ercy< as she kne6. The fire 6as at her hair. # str"ck her< and never 6as
6o$an better $ade for an aGe to biteFshe ceft ike a 6aGen do< and # thre6 the +ieces
back. 2er brothers ca$e then< b"t one and one and one thro"gh the door6ay< and # kied
each in his t"rn. No $ore ca$e. /hen the roof fe< # eft the$ 6ith the ash for a
headstone and 6ent $y 6ay to find a $ass +riestFto find yo"< +riesting.& 9f< restored
to good h"$or by the ci$aG of his o6n tae< t6eaked the ead cord again.
Johann choked onto his horse>s neck< na"seated as $"ch by the story as by the noose. ,t
ast he said< thick;voiced< &/hy do yo" tr"st her tae if she kne6 yo" 6o"d ki her 6ith
it or notB&
&She 6as fey<& 9f ch"cked< as if that eG+ained everything. &/ho kno6s 6hat a $an
6i do 6hen his death is "+on hi$B Er a 6o$an<& he added $ore tho"ghtf"y.
They rode on in gro6ing darkness. /ith no breath of 6ind to stir the$< the trees stood as
dead as the rocks "nderfoot.
&/i yo" kno6 the +aceB& the 7er$an asked s"ddeny. &Sho"dn>t 6e ca$+ no6 and go
on in the $orningB&
&#> kno6 it<& 9f gr"nted. &/e>re not far no6F6e>re going do6nhi< can>t yo" feeB& 2e
tossed his bare haystack of hair< sivered into a fase sheen of age by the $oon. 2e
contin"ed< &The Par$a ord sacked a do?en ch"rches< so they say< and then one $ore 6ith
$ore of god than the t6eve besides< b"t aso the c"rse. ,nd he bro"ght it back 6ith hi$
to Par$a< and there it rests in his barro6< the tro g"arding it. That # have on Thora>s
6ord.&
&B"t she hated yo"D&
&She 6as fey.&
They 6ere into the trees< and ooking to either side Johann co"d see hi so+es rising
a6ay fro$ the$. They 6ere in a vaey< Par$a or another. Scra+s of 6atte and da"b< the
re$ains of a ho"se or a garth fence< thr"st "+ to the right. The firs that had gro6n thro"gh
it 6ere generations od. Johann>s st"bbed tons"re cra6ed in the night air.
&She said there 6as a cearing<& the berserker $"ttered< $ore to hi$sef than his
co$+anion. Johann>s horse st"$bed. The +riest c"tched the cord refeGivey as it
tightened. /hen he ooked "+ at his ca+tor< he sa6 the h"ge Northerner f"$bing at his
shied>s fastenings. 4or the first ti$e that evening< a bree?e stirred. #t stank of death.
&Ethers have been here before "s<& said 9f needessy.
, ro6 of sk"s< at east a score of the$< stared bank;eyed fro$ ato+ stakes ra$$ed
thro"gh their s+ina o+enings. To one< dried sine6 sti hed the o6er Aa6 in a ghasty
rict"s* the others had faen a6ay into the genera scatter of bones 6hitening the gro"nd.
, of the$ 6ere h"$an or co"d have been. They 6ere $iGed 6ith occasiona gi$$ers
of b"ttons and r"st s$ears. The freshest of the grisy tro+hies 6as very od< +erha+s
decades od. Too od to eG+ain the reek of decay.
9f 6ra++ed his eft fist aro"nd the t6in handes of his shied. #t 6as a heavy circe of
inden 6ood< faced 6ith eather. #ts ri$ and centra boss 6ere of co++er< and rivets of
bron?e and co++er decorated the face in a ser+ent +attern.
&7ood that the $oon is f"<& 9f said< gancing at the bright orb sti tanged in the fir
branches. &# fight best in the $oonight. /e> et her rise the rest of the 6ay< # think.&
Johann 6as tre$bing. 2e Aoined his hands abo"t his sadde horn to kee+ fro$ faing off
the horse. 2e kne6 9f $ight et hi$ Aerk and strange there< even after dragging hi$
across haf the northands. The h"$or of the idea $ight strike hi$. Johann>s rosary< his
cr"cifiGFeverything he had bro"ght fro$ 7er$any or +"rchased in Sches6ig save his
robeFhad been eft behind in 2edeby 6hen the berserker a6akened hi$ in his bed. 9f
had Aerked a noose to near;etha ta"tness and 6his+ered that he needed a +riest< that this
one 6o"d do< b"t that there 6ere others sho"d this one +refer to feed cro6s. The
disinterested bood"st in 9f>s tone had been $ore terrifying than the threat itsef. Johann
had foo6ed in sience to the 6aiting horses. #n des+air< he 6ondered again if a @"ick
death 6o"d not have been better than this ingering one that had ridden for 6eeks a
$ood a6ay fro$ hi$.
&#t ooks ike a +aisade for a ho"se<& the +riest said ao"d in 6hat he +retended 6as a
nor$a voice.
&That>s right<& 9f re+ied< giving his aGe an eG+oratory heft that sent shivers of
$oonight across the bade.&There 6as a ha here< a big one. Did it b"rn< do yo" thinkB&
2is knees sent his roan geding for6ard in a sha$bing 6ak +ast the ine of sk"s.
Johann foo6ed of necessity.
&No< rotted a6ay<& the berserker said< bending over to st"dy the +ost hoes.
&Co" said it 6as deserted a ong ti$e<& the +riest co$$ented. 2is eyes 6ere fiGed
straight for6ard. Ene of the sk"s 6as eve 6ith his 6aist and cose eno"gh to bite hi$<
co"d it t"rn on its stake.
&There 6as ti$e for the ho"se to fa in< the gro"nd is da$+<& 9f agreed. &B"t the stakes<
then< have been re+aced. E"r tro kee+s his front fence ne6< +riesting.&
Johann s6ao6ed< said nothing.
9f gest"red briefy.&!o$e on< yo" have to get yo"r fire ready. # 6ant it reay hoy.&
&B"t 6e don>t sacrifice 6ith fires. # don>t kno6 ho6F&
&Then earnD& the berserker snared 6ith a vicio"s yank that dre6 bood and a gas+ fro$
the 7er$an. &#>ve seen ho6 yo" !hrist;sho"ters ove to bess things. Co"> bess $e a
fire< that>s a. ,nd if anything goes 6rong and the tro s+ares yo"F# 6on>t< +riesting.
#> rive yo" a+art if # have to co$e off a stake to do itD&
The horses 6aked so6y for6ard thro"gh br"sh and soggy r"bbe that had been a ha.
The odor of decay gre6 stronger. The +riest hi$sef tried to ignore it< b"t his horse began
to bak. The second ti$e he 6as too so6 6ith a hee to its ribs< and the cord neary
deca+itated hi$. &/aitD& he 6hee?ed. &%et $e get do6n.&
9f ooked back at hi$< fat;eyed. ,t ast he gave a brief cro6;+eck nod and s6"ng
hi$sef o"t of the sadde. 2e oo+ed both sets of reins on a s$a fir. Then< 6hie Johann
dis$o"nted c"$siy< he oosed the cord fro$ his sadde and took it in his aGe hand. The
$en 6aked for6ard 6itho"t s+eaking.
&There . . . & 9f breathed.
The barro6 6as ony a back;$o"thed s6e in the gro"nd< its si?e denied by its ack of
feat"res. S"ch trees as had tried to gro6 on it had been broken off short over a +eriod of
years. So$e of the st"$+s had 6asted into cr"$bing de+ressions< 6hie fro$ others the
6ood fibers sti t6isted raggedy. Eny 6hen Johann $atched the trees on the other side
of the to$b to those beside hi$ did he reai?e the scae on 6hich the barro6 6as b"it: its
entrance t"nne 6o"d +ass a $an 6aking "+right< even a $an 9f>s height.
&%ay yo"r fire at the t"nne $o"th<& the berserker said< his voice s"bd"ed. &2e> be
inside.&
&Co"> have to et $e goF&
&#> have to nothingD&9f 6as breathing hard.&/e> go coser< yo" and #< and yo"> $ake
a fire of the dead trees fro$ the gro"nd. Ces. . . . &
The Northerner sid for6ard in a +ace that 6as cat soft and never eft the gro"nd a
finger>s breadth. Stre6n abo"t the$ as if f"ng idy fro$ the barro6 $o"th 6ere scra+s
and gobbets of ani$as< the so"rce of the fetid reek that fied the cearing. ,s his ca+tor
+a"sed for a $o$ent< Johann toed one of the bits over 6ith his sanda. #t 6as the hide and
+a6s of so$ething chise;toothed< 6hether rabbit or other 6as i$+ossibe to say in the
$oonight and state of decay. The skin 6as in tendris< and the sk" had been o+ened to
e$+ty the brains. 1ost of the other bits see$ed of the sa$e sort< itte beasts< atho"gh a
rank botch on the $o"nd>s so+e co"d have been a 6of hide. /hatever kied and
feasted here 6as not fastidio"s.
&2e stays cose to h"nt<& 9f r"$bed. Then he added< &The ong bones by the fence* they
6ere cracked.&
&9$$B&
&4or $arro6.&
J"ivering< the +riest began gathering broken;off trees< none of the$ over a fe6 feet high.
They had been t6isted off near the gro"nd< save for a fe6 6hose roots ay bare in
6i?ened fists. The cris+ scaes c"t Johann>s hands. 2e did not $ind the +ain. 9nder his
breath he 6as +raying that 7od 6o"d +"nish hi$< 6o"d tort"re hi$< b"t at east 6o"d
save hi$ free of this horrid de$on that had snatched hi$ a6ay.
&Pie it there<& 9f directed< his aGehead nodding to6ard the stone i+ of the barro6. The
entrance 6as corbeed o"t of heavy stones< then covered over 6ith dirt and sods. %ike
the beast frag$ents aro"nd it< the o+ening 6as dead and stinking. Biting his tong"e<
Johann d"$+ed his +ie of br"sh and sc"rried back.
&There>s ight back do6n there<& he 6his+ered.
&4ireB&
&No< ookFit>s +ae< it>s $oonight. There>s a hoe in the roof of the to$b.&
&%ight for $e to ki by<& 9f said 6ith a stark grin. 2e ooked over the o6 fireset< then
knet. 2is stee s+arked into a nest of dry $oss. /hen the tinder 6as +ro+ery aight< he
to"ched a +itchy faggot to it. 2e dro++ed his end of the cord. The torchight ginted fro$
his face< 6hite and coarse;+ored 6here the tanges of hair and beard did not cover it.
&Bess the fire< $ass;+riest<& the berserker ordered in a @"iet< terribe voice.
Stiff;feat"red and "nbinking< Johann crossed the br"sh6ood and said< &#n no$ine Patris<
et 4iii< et S+irit"s Sancti< ,$en.&
&Don>t ight it yet<& 9f said. 2e handed Johann the torch. &#t $ay be<& the berserker
added< &that yo" think to r"n if yo" get the chance. There is no 2e so dee+ that # 6i not
co$e for yo" fro$ it.&
The +riest nodded< 6hite;i++ed.
9f shr"gged his sho"ders to oosen his $"sces and the bear hide that cothed the$. ,Ge
and shied rose and di++ed ike shi+s in a high sea.
&2oD TroD Barro6 fo"erD !or+se ickerD !o$e and fight $e< troD&
There 6as no so"nd fro$ the to$b.
9f>s eyes began to ga?e. 2e sashed his aGe t6ice across the e$+ty air and sho"ted
again< &TroD #> s+it on yo"r cor+se< #> ay 6ith yo"r dog $other. !o$e and fight $e<
tro< or #> 6a yo" "+ ike a rat 6ith yo"r fithD&
Johann stood fro?en< obivio"s even to the dro+ of +itch that si??ed on the 6eb of his
hand. The berserker beo6ed again< 6ordessy< gnashing at the ri$ of his shied so that
the so"nd b"bbed and boo$ed in the night.
,nd the to$b roared back to the chaenge< a th"ndero"s B,R B,R B,R even dee+er
than 9f>s.
Berserk< the Northerner ea+ed the br"sh +ie and ran do6n the t"nne< his aGe thr"st o"t
in front of hi$ to cear the stone arches.
The t"nne so+ed for a do?en +aces into a ti$ber;va"ted cha$ber too broad to ea+
across. 1oonight s+ied thro"gh a circ"ar o+ening onto fags si$y 6ith da$+ and
i@"escence. 9f< $addened< cho++ed high at the ight. The aGe b"rred inaney beneath
the ti$bers.
S6inging a +air of s6ords< the tro ea+t at 9f. #t 6as the si?e of a bear< gri??ed in the
$oonight. #ts eyes b"rned red.
&2iD& sho"ted 9f and bocked the first s6ord in a sho6er of s+arks on his aGehead. The
second bade bit into the shied ri$< shaving a hand>s ength of co++er and a c"r of
yeo6 inden fro$ beneath it. 9f thr"st straight;ar$ed< a bo6 that 6o"d have s$ashed
ike a battering ra$ had the tro not darted back. Both the co$batants 6ere sho"ting*
their voices 6ere dreadf" in the circ"ar cha$ber.
The tro A"$+ed back6ard again. 9f s+rang to6ard hi$ and ony the song of the bades
scissoring fro$ either side 6arned hi$. The berserker thre6 hi$sef do6n. The tro had
ea+ed onto a rotting chest aong the 6a of the to$b and c"t "neG+ectedy fro$ above
9f>s shied. The big $an>s boots fe6 o"t fro$ "nder hi$ and he str"ck the foor on his
back. 2is shied sti covered his body.
The tro h"rted do6n s+ay;egged 6ith a cry of tri"$+h. Both bare feet sa$$ed on
9f>s shied. The tro 6as even heavier than 9f. Shrieking< the berserker +istoned his
shied ar$ "+6ard. The $onster fe6 off< s$ashing against the ti$bered ceiing and
caro$ing do6n into another of the chests. The rotted 6ood eG+oded "nder the 6eight in
a fash of shi$$ering god. The berserker roed to his feet and str"ck overar$ in the
sa$e $otion. 2is "nge carried the aGehead too far< into the rock 6a in a fo6er of b"e
s+arks.
The tro 6as "+. The t6o kiers eyed each other< edging side6ays in the di$ness. 9f>s
right ar$ 6as n"$b to the sho"der. 2e did not reai?e it. The shaggy $onster ea+ed
6ith another do"be fashing and the aGe $oved too so6y to co"nter. Both edges s+at
ch"nks of inden as they 6ithdre6. 9f fro6ned< backed a ste+. 2is boot trod on a e6er
that s+"n a6ay fro$ hi$. ,s he cried o"t< the tro grinned and hacked again ike Death
the Rea+er. The shied;orb fattened as the to+ third of it s+it a6ay. 9f snared and
cho++ed at the tro>s knees. #t ea+ed above the stee and c"t eft;handed< its bade
nocking the shaft an inch fro$ 9f>s hand.
The berserker f"ng the "seess re$ainder of his shied in the tro>s face and ran. Johann>s
torch 6as an orange +"se in the triang"ar o+ening. Behind 9f< a s6ordedge 6ent sringB
as it danced on the corbes. 9f A"$+ed the br"sh and 6hired. &No6D& he cried to the
+riest< and Johann h"red his torch into the resin;Ae6eed 6ood.
The needes cracked "+ in the tro>s face ike a net of orange sik. The fa$es beied o"t
at the creat"re>s r"sh b"t icked back caressingy over its $ats of hair. The tro>s s6ords
c"t at the fire. , sho6er of coas s+it and cracked and $ade the beast ho6.
&B"rn< dog;s+e6D& 9f sho"ted. &B"rn< fish;g"tsD&
The tro>s bades rang together< once and again. 4or a $o$ent it stood< a hiock of
stained gray< as broad as the t"nne arches. Then it strode for6ard into the 6hite heart of
the ba?e. The fire boo$ed "+< its roar ea+ing over the tro>s shriek of agony. 9f
ste++ed for6ard. 2e hed his aGe 6ith both hands. The fa$es s"cked do6n fro$ the
$otioness tro< and as they did the shi$$ering arc of the aGehead cho++ed into the
beast>s coarbone. Ene s6ord dro++ed and the eft ar$ s"$+ed oose.
The berserker>s aGe 6as b"ried to the heve in the tro>s sho"der. The faggots 6ere
scattered< b"t the tro>s hair 6as b"rning a over its body. 9f +"ed at his aGe. The tro
staggered< $oaning. #ts re$aining s6ord +ointed do6n at the gro"nd. 9f yanked again at
his 6ea+on and it s"r+ed free. , thick vevet c"rtain of bood foo6ed it. 9f raised his
dri++ing aGe for another bo6< b"t the tro tited to6ard the 6ithdra6n 6ea+on< eaning
for6ard< a s$odering rock. The body hit the gro"nd< then fo++ed so that it ay on its
back. The right ar$ 6as f"ng o"t at an ange.
&#t 6as a $an<& Johann 6as 6his+ering. 2e ca"ght "+ a brand and hed it cose to the
tro>s face. &%ook< ookD& he de$anded eGcitedy. &#t>s A"st an od $an in bearskin. J"st a
$an.&
9f sagged over his aGe as if it 6ere a stake i$+aing hi$. 2is fra$e sh"ddered as he
dragged air into it. Neither of the tro>s s6ords had to"ched hi$< b"t reaction had eft
hi$ 6eak as one death;6o"nded. &7o in<& he 6hee?ed. &7et a torch and ead $e in.&
&B"t . . . 6hyF& the +riest said in s"dden fear. 2is eyes $et the berserker>s and he
s6ao6ed back the rest of his +rotest. The torch thre6 highights on the 6as and fags
as he trotted do6n the t"nne. 9f>s boots 6ere o$ino"s behind hi$.
The centra cha$ber 6as a"sterey si$+e and f"rnished ony 6ith the siG chests ining
the back of it. There 6as no cor+se< nor even a sab for one. The foor 6as geatino"s
6ith decades> acc"$"ation of fo"ness. The skidding tracks eft by the recent co$bat
$arked +aving ong "ndist"rbed. Eny fro$ the entrance to the chests 6as a +ath< back
against the si$e of decay< 6orn. #t 6as to6ard the broken container and the obAects
6hich had s+ied fro$ it that the +riest>s eyes arro6ed.
&7od<& he $"r$"red. Then< &7odD There $"stFthe othersFin 7od>s na$e< there are
five $ore and +erha+s a of the$F&
&7od<& 9f grated terriby.
Johann ran to the nearest chest and o+ened it one;handed. The id sagged 6ety< b"t
fre@"ent "se had ke+t it fro$ s6eing tight to the side +anes. &%ook at this cr"cifiGD& the
+riest $arveed. &,nd the tor@"e< it $"st 6eigh +o"nds. ,nd %ord in heaven< thisF&
&7od<& the berserker re+eated.
Johann sa6 the aGe as it started to s6ing. 2e 6as t"rning 6ith a chaice orna$ented in
ena$e and +ink god. #t h"ng in the air as he darted for safety. 2is screa$ and the d"
being of the c"+ as the aGe divided it 6ere si$"taneo"s< b"t the +riest 6as cear and 9f
6as off baance. The berserker backhanded 6ith force eno"gh to drive the +een of his
aGehead thro"gh a sa+ing. 2is strength 6as too great for his footing. 2is feet skidded<
and this ti$e his head rang on the 6a of the to$b.
7roggy< the h"ge berserker staggered "+right. The +riest 6as a sc"rrying b"r against the
t"nne entrance.&PriestD& 9f sho"ted at the s"ddeny e$+ty $oonight. 2e th"dded "+
the fags of the t"nne. &PriestD& he sho"ted again.
The cearing 6as e$+ty eGce+t for the cor+se. Nearby< 9f heard his roan 6hicker. 2e
started for it< then +a"sed. The +riestFhe co"d sti be hiding in the darkness. /hie 9f
searched for hi$< he co"d be rifing the barro6< carrying off the god behind his back.
&7od<& 9f said again. No one $"st take his god. No one ever $"st find it "ng"arded.
&#> ki yo"D& he screa$ed into the night. &#> ki yo" aD&
2e t"rned back to his barro6. ,t the entrance< sti s$oking< 6aited the body of 6hat had
been the tro.
Than %&rse the Darkness

-(# an $2 fan and started #y career &riting for 3rkha# o'se, the
p'blisher fo'nded to preserve 2ovecraft(s stories in book for#, b't AThan
/'rse the DarknessA is #y only /th'lh' Mythos story. 4ADenkirchA is
2ovecraftian, b't its #odel &as $2(S earlyHpre?MythosHstory
A$olaris.A5 6a#sey /a#pbell, the 'n&itting sp'r to #e &riting #y first
story for p'blication, co##issioned this one for an anthology he &as
editing for 3rkha# o'se, Ne& Tales of the /th'lh' Mythos.

So#ething that(d al&ays p'zzled #e abo't the Mythos is &hy the ;reat
.ld .nes had h'#an #inions, since it &as e8plicitly stated that if the
;reat .ld .nes ret'rned to 1arth they &o'ld blast a&ay all present life.
Why &o'ld h'#ans serve so#ething that in h'#an ter#s &as absol'te
evilG

Writing a story is a very good &ay to foc's logically on a :'estion. - fo'nd
an ans&er that satisfied #e in h'#an history. - set #y story in the /ongo
Free State &hile it &as still the personal possession of )ing 2eopold --,
b't - co'ld have picked any n'#ber of ti#es or places. 4)no&ledge of
history isn(t an altogether cheerf'l acco#plish#ent.5 Things got a little
better in the /ongo after 2eopold defa'lted on a loan and the Belgian
govern#ent took over the r'nning of the colony, b't only a little better.

3t abo't the ti#e this story &as set, #y friend Manly Wade Well#an &as
born in $ort'g'ese West 3frica 4no& 3ngola5, 9'st so'th of the /ongo.
4is parents &ere #edical #issionaries.5 Manly retained a deep interest in
3frica all his life, and his library contained #any vol'#es abo't the
continent.

istories looking back at a period can e8plain &hat happened at a ti#e
and place, b't conte#porary &orks do so#ething even #ore val'able 4at
least for a fiction &riter5+ they e8plain &hat people at the ti#e tho'ght
&as happening. For the story(s backgro'nd - 'sed books fro# Manly(s
library like 3ct'al 3fricaHThe /o#ing /ontinent, as &ell the &orks of
#issionaries protesting Belgian atrocities and #odern overvie&s of the
Adevelop#entA of the /ongo Basin.

Does that so'nd like a lot of research for a fantasy storyG Well, #aybe, b't
it(s a habit -(ve kept thro'gho't #y career. - think it(s stood #e in good
stead.

.ne &riterly diffic'lty - had &ith the story &as in deciding on the
vie&point character. - &rote abo't half the piece, stopped, and thre& o't
the &hole b'siness to start again &ith a fe#ale scholar instead of a #ale
advent'rer as #y #ain protagonist. Things fell into place then.

The title, by the &ay, is fro# the #otto of The /hristophers, a religio's
society+ -t is better to light one candle than to c'rse the darkness.

What &ith the research, the re&riting, and the fact that - &as &orking a
f'll?ti#e 9ob as 3ssistant To&n 3ttorney for /hapel ill at the ti#e, AThan
/'rse the DarknessA took #e five #onths to co#plete. This had an
'ne8pected b't very beneficial side?effect.

.ne night shortly after -(d sent the story to 6a#sey, the phone rang. By
Anight,A - #ean #y &ife and - &ere asleep. The caller introd'ced hi#self
as 6oger 1l&ood 4&ho# - kne& of as an indefatigable SFMfantasyMhorror
anthologist b't had never #et or dealt &ith5. e told #e that he &as no&
editing a line of novels, and he(d been given #y na#e. Wo'ld - like to
&rite novelsG

- &as absol'tely d'#bfo'nded. 3t the ti#e -(d only sold abo't ten stories
and not all those had appeared in print. - bl'rted that - appreciated his
call, b't - co'ldn(t possibly &rite a novel+ -(d 9'st taken five #onths to
&rite a novelette. Mr. 1l&ood said he regretted that, beca'se he &as
prepared to offer #e a t&o?book contract right no& on the phone, if -
co'ld t'rn the first one in si8 #onths. - repeated #y ref'sal, and he &ent
else&here.

That(s ho& - avoided the 2aser Books debacle, &hich blighted 4and in
so#e cases destroyed5 the careers of so #any of those &ho took si#ilar
offers.

- think -(d have ref'sed the offer 'nder any circ'#stances, b't #y recent
str'ggle to do a good 9ob on AThan /'rse the DarknessA ar#ored #e
against the tho'ght of Aeasy #oney.A Writing isn(t easy if yo' care abo't
the res'lt. 2aser Books ta'ght a lot of people not to care abo't their &ork.
-f there(s a &orse lesson to learn early in yo'r career, - don(t kno& &hat it
is.

- had to &ait several #ore years to sell a novel. - don(t regret that delay.


&/hat of "nkno6n ,fricaB& F2. P. %ovecraft
The trees of the rain forest o6ered h"ge and back above the viage< d6arfing it and the
gro"+ of $en in its center. The $an being tied to the 6hi++ing +ost there 6as gray;
skinned and "nderfed< +anting 6ith his str"gges b"t no $atch for the +air of b"ry 4orest
7"ards 6ho hed hi$. Ten $ore 7"ards< Baenga cannibas fro$ far to the 6est near the
$o"th of the !ongo< stood by 6ith s+ears or ,bini rifes. They Aoked and chattered and
6atched the h"ts ho+ing the viagers 6o"d b"rst o"t to try to free their feo6. Then
kiing 6o"d be a right . . . .
There 6as itte chance of that. , the $en heathy eno"gh to 6ork 6ere in the forest<
searching for $ore trees to sash in a +arody of r"bber gathering. The %a6 said that each
ad"t $ae 6o"d bring fo"r kiogra$s of ateG a 6eek to the agents of =ing %eo+od* the
%a6 did not say that the agents 6o"d teach the natives ho6 to drain the sa+ 6itho"t
kiing the trees it ca$e fro$. /hen the trees died< the viagers 6o"d $iss their @"otas
and die the$seves< beca"se that too 6as the %a6Ftho"gh an "n6ritten one.
There 6ere sti $any "nto"ched viages f"rther "+ the river.
&#f yo" cannot earn to be o"t in the forest 6orking<& said a Baenga 6ho finished knotting
the victi$ to the +ost 6ith a Aerk that itsef c"t fesh< &6e can teach yo" not to ie do6n
for $any 6eeks.&
The 4orest 7"ards 6ore no "nifor$s< b"t in the !ongo Basin their good heath and
sneering +ride $arked the$ $ore s"rey than cothing co"d have. The +air 6ho had tied
the victi$ ste++ed back< nodding to their co$+anion 6ith the chicotte. That one grinned<
t6itching the 6ooden hande to "nf"r the ten;foot ash of s@"are;c"t hi++o+ota$"s hide.
2e had aready $eas"red the distance.
, naked seven;year;od si++ed fro$ the nearest h"t. The askaris 6ere t"rned to catch the
eG+ression on the victi$>s face at the first bite of the chicotte< so they did not see the boy.
2is father Aerked "+right at the 6hi++ing +ost and screa$ed< &Sa$baD& A"st as the
feathery hiss?crackB of the 6hi+ o+ened an eight;inch c"t beneath his sho"der bades.
Sa$ba screa$ed aso. 2e 6as s$a even for a forest chid< s+indy and $onkey;faced.
2e 6as $onkey @"ick< too< darting a$ong the 7"ards as they s+"n. Before anyone co"d
grab hi$ he had 6ra++ed hi$sef aro"nd the 6aist of the $an 6ith the 6hi+.
&/a"D& sho"ted the 7"ard in s"r+rise and cho++ed do6n 6ith the teak 6hi+ hande. The
ange 6as a6k6ard. Ene of his co$+anions he+ed 6ith a ro"ndho"se s6ing of his
,bini. The stee b"tt;+ate th"dded ike a $aet on a tent stake< ri++ing off the boy>s eft
ear and defor$ing the 6hoe side of his sk". #t did not tear hi$ oose fro$ the $an he
hed. T6o 4orest 7"ards edged coser< hoding their s+ears near the heads so as not to hit
their feo6 6hen they thr"st.
The 6hi++ed $an gr"nted. Ene of the ch"cking rife$en t"rned in ti$e to see hi$ break
a6ay fro$ the +ost. The ro"gh cord had c"t his 6rists before it +arted. Bood s+attered as
he took t6o ste+s and c"bbed his hands against the 6hi+;6ieder>s neck.
The rife$an shot hi$ thro"gh the body.
The ,bini b"et 6as big and so6 and had the +"nch of a $edicine ba. The father s+"n
back6ard and knocked one of the Baengas do6n 6ith hi$. Des+ite the 6o"nd he stood
again and staggered for6ard to6ard Sa$ba. , +ink coi of intestine 6as 6agging behind
hi$ fro$ the b"et>s eGit hoe. Both the re$aining rifes 6ent off. This ti$e< 6hen the
shots had sedged hi$ do6n< five of the s+ear$en ran to the body and began stabbing.
The Baenga 6ith the 6hi+ got "+< eaving Sa$ba on the gro"nd. The boy>s eyes 6ere
o+en and "ttery e$+ty. %t. Tro"vie ste++ed over hi$ to sho"t< &!ease< yo" idiotsD& at
the beo6ing knot of s+ear$en. They +arted i$$ediatey. Tro"vie 6ore a 6aGed
$o"stache and a 6hite inen s"it that ooked cris+ save for the s6eat stains "nder his
ar$s< b"t the revover at his bet 6as not for sho6. 2e had once +istoed a 7"ard 6ho<
dr"nk 6ith arrogance and +a$ 6ine< had started to b"rn a viage 6hich 6as sti
+rod"cing r"bber.
No6 the si$ Begian stared at the cor+se and gri$aced.&#diots<& he re+eated to the
sha$e;faced Baengas. &Three b"ets to acco"nt for< 6hen there 6as no need at a to fire.
Does the J"arter$aster charge "s for s+ear;thr"sts as 6e as b"etsB&
The askaris ooked at the gro"nd< +retending to be soey concerned 6ith the sient h"ts or
6ith scratching their insect bites. The $an 6ith the chicotte coied it and knet 6ith his
dagger to c"t off the dead $an>s right ear. , thong aro"nd his neck carried a do?en others
aready< bro6n and crinked. They 6o"d be t"rned in at Bo$a to A"stify the tay of
eG+ended cartridges.
&Take the boy>s too<& Tro"vie sna++ed. &2e started it< after a. ,nd 6e> sti be one
short.&
The +atro $arched off< s"bd"ed in the face of their ie"tenant>s 6rath. Tro"vie 6as
$"ttering< &%ike chidren. No sense at a.&,fter they 6ere gone< a 6o$an stoe fro$ the
nearest h"t and craded her son. Both of the$ $oaned softy.
Ti$e +assed< and in the forest a dr"$ began to beat.
#n %ondon< Da$e ,ice =irea bent over a desk in her ibrary and o+ened the book a
$essenger had A"st bro"ght her fro$ Iienna. 2er hair 6as gathered in a $o"sy b"n fro$
6hich $idde age had stri++ed a b"t a hint of a"b"rn. She t"gged abstractedy at an
esca+ed ock of it as she t"rned +ages< s@"inting do6n her +ro$inent nose.
#n the $idde of the vo"$e she +a"sed. The 7er$an heading gave instr"ctions< stating
that the for$"a there given 6as a $eans of se+arating death fro$ the se$bance of ife.
The re$ainder of the +age and the three that foo6ed it 6ere in +honetic transiteration
fro$ a ang"age fe6 schoars 6o"d have recogni?ed. Da$e ,ice did not $o"th any of
those +hrases. , +re$onition of great trees and a thing greater than the trees shado6ed
her conscio"sness as she read sienty do6n the +age.
#t 6o"d be eighteen years before she s+oke any +art of the for$"a ao"d.
Sergeant Ester$an drank +a$ 6ine in the shade of a baobab as "s"a 6hie Baoko
oversa6 the 6eighing of the viage>s r"bber. This ti$e the Baenga had ordered 1>fini<
the chief< to 6ait for a the other $aes to be taken first. There 6as an o$ino"s sience
a$ong the viagers as the 6iry od $an ca$e for6ard to the tabe at 6hich Baoko sat<
fanked by his feo6 4orest 7"ards.
&2o< 1>fini<& Baoko said Aoviay< &6hat do yo" bring "sB&
/itho"t s+eaking< the chief handed over his gray;6hite sheets of ateG. They 6ere
ayered 6ith +antain eaves. Baoko set the r"bber on one +an of his scaes< 6atched it
easiy overbaance the fo"r;kiogra$ 6eight in the other +an. #nstead of setting the r"bber
on the +ie gathered by the other viagers and +aying 1>fini in brass 6ire< Baoko
s$ied.&Do yo" re$e$ber< 1>fini<& the Baenga asked< &6hat # tod yo" ast 6eek 6hen
yo" said to $e that yo"r third 6ife T>sini 6o"d never see+ 6ith another $an 6hie yo"
ivedB&
The chief 6as tre$bing. Baoko stood and 6ith his forefinger ficked 1>fini>s ateG o"t
of the 6eighing +an to the gro"nd.&Bad r"bber<& he said< and grinned. &Stones< trash
hidden in it to bring it to the 6eight. ,n od $an ike yo"< 1>fini< $"st s+end too $"ch
ti$e trying to satisfy yo"r 6ives 6hen yo" sho"d be finding r"bber for the =ing.&
&# s6ear< # s6ear by the god #6a 6ho is death<& cried 1>fini< on his knees and c"tching
the fa++ing b"k of r"bber as tho"gh it 6ere his firstborn< &it is good r"bber< a s$ooth
and cean as $ik itsefD&
T6o of the askaris sei?ed 1>fini by the ebo6s and dre6 hi$ "+right. Baoko ste++ed
aro"nd the 6eighing tabe< dra6ing his iron;baded knife as he did so. &# 6i he+ yo"<
1>fini< so that yo" 6i have $ore ti$e to find good r"bber for =ing %eo+od.&
Sergeant Ester$an ignored the first of the screa$s< b"t 6hen they 6ent on and on he
s6igged do6n the ast of his caabash and sa"ntered over to the gro"+ aro"nd the scaes.
2e 6as a big $an< s6arthy and scarred across the forehead by a T"areg ance 6hie
serving 6ith the 4rench in ,geria.
Baoko antici+ated the @"estion by grinning and +ointing to 1>fini. The chief 6rithed on
the gro"nd< his eyes scre6ed sh"t and both hands c"tched to his groin. Bood 6eing
fro$ bet6een his fingers streaked back the d"st he thrashed over. &2i$ big $an< bring
no;good r"bber<& Baoko said. Ester$an kne6 itte Bant"< so co$$"nication bet6een
hi$ and the 7"ards 6as generay in +idgin. &1e $ake hi$ no;good $an< bring big
r"bber no6.&
The b"ry 4e$ing a"ghed. Baoko $oved coser< n"dged hi$ in the ribs.&2i$ 6ife
T>sini< hi$ no need $ore<& the Baenga said.&Co"< $e< a aong 7"ardsF6e $ake T>sini
ha++y 6ife< yesB&
Ester$an scanned the encircing viagers 6ho$ c"riosity had forced to 6atch and fear
no6 ke+t fro$ dis+ersing. #n the ine< a gir staggered and her neighbors edged a6ay
@"icky as if her to"ch $ight be etha. 2er hair 6as 6o"nd high 6ith brass 6ire in the
fashion of a dignitary>s 6ife< and her body had the si$ deight of a 6io6 shoot. :ven in
the "sh heat of the e@"ator< t6eve;year;ods ook to be girs rather than 6o$en.
Ester$an< sti ch"cking< $oved to6ard T>sini. Baoko 6as at his side.
Ti$e +assed. 4ro$ dee+ in the forest ca$e r"$bings that 6ere neither of $an or of
:arth.
#n a %ondon st"dy< the bay 6indo6 6as c"rtained against frost and the gray s"sh
@"ivering over the streets. The coa fire hissed as Da$e ,ice =irea< fingers tented<
dictated to her $ae a$an"ensis. 2er dress 6as of good inen b"t t6o b"ttons 6ere
$issing< "nnoticed< fro$ the +acket< and the ace front sho6ed signs of "nch boted in
the ibrary . . . . &and< thanks to yo"r intervention< the c"rator of the S+ecia Reading
Roo$ ao6ed $e to hande ,ha?red $ysef instead of having a ste6ard t"rn the +ages
at $y re@"est. # o+ened the vo"$e three ti$es at rando$ and read the +assage on 6hich
$y indeG finger fe.
&Before< # had been concerned* no6 # a$ certain and terrified. , the ots 6ere
congr"ent< referring to as+ects of the 1essenger.& She ooked do6n at the a$an"ensis
and said< &!a+ita on >1essenger>< John.& 2e nodded.
&Co"r s"++ort has been of "ntod he+* no6 $y need for it is do"bed. So$e6here in the
A"nges of that dark continent the cra6ing chaos gro6s and gathers strength. # a$ ar$ed
against it 6ith the for$"as that S+iede fo"nd in the ibrary of =oster;Ne"b"rg A"st
before his death* b"t that 6i do "s no good "ness they can be a++ied in ti$e. Co"
kno6< as # do< that ony the $ost eGated inf"ence 6i +ass $e into the ?one of
disr"+tion at the cr"cia ti$e. That ti$e $ay yet be years to co$e< b"t they are years of
the "t$ost significance to 1ankind. Th"s # beg yo"r "nstinting s"++ort not in $y na$e
or that of o"r kinshi+< b"t on behaf of ife itsef.
&Paragra+h< John. ,s for the rest< # a$ ready to act as others have acted in the +ast.
Persona risk has ever been the coin +aid for kno6edge of the tr"th.&
The a$an"ensis 6rote 6ith @"ick< fir$ strokes. 2e 6as angry both 6ith hi$sef and 6ith
Da$e ,ice. 2er etter had driven o"t of his $ind tho"ghts of the boy 6ho$ he intended
to sed"ce that evening in =ettners. 2e had kno6n for so$e ti$e that he 6o"d have to
find another sit"ation. The +robe$ 6as not that Da$e ,ice 6as $ad. , 6o$en 6ere
$ad< after a. B"t her $adness had s"ch an insidio"s +a"sibiity that he 6as starting to
beieve it hi$sef.
,s +res"$aby her +resent corres+ondent did. ,nd the etter to hi$ 6o"d be addressed
to &2is Roya 2ighness. . . . &
#n $ost +aces the trees gre6 do6n to the 6ater edge< denser for being abe to take
s"night fro$ the side as 6e as fro$ above. The $argins of the shao6 back6aters
s+read after each rain into sheets thick 6ith vegetabe richness and as back as the skins
of those 6ho ived aong the$. #n drier ho"rs there 6ere sand banks and easy eG+anses
on 6hich to trade 6ith the forest fok.
7o$es> d"go"t had aready sid back into the so"gh< eaving in the sand the straight
go"ge of its kee centered in the b"r of bare foot+rints. , score of natives sti c"stered
aro"nd =a$inski>s si$iar craft< fonding his bots of bright;+atterned coth or chatting
6ith his +adders. Then the stea$shi+ s6"ng into sight aro"nd the 6ooded headand.
The trees had acted as a +erfect $"ffer for the ch"ffing engine. /ith a haste itte short
of +anic< the forest d6eers $eted back into concea$ent. The s6arthy Port"g"ese gave
an angry order and his cre6 shi++ed their +addes. :$+tied of its cargo< the d"go"t dre6
ony a fe6 inches of 6ater and co"d< had there been eno"gh 6arning< have sid "+
a$ong the tree roots 6here the t6o;decked stea$er co"d never have foo6ed.
Throtted do6n to the +oint its stern 6hee $ade ony an occasiona sa++ing< the
govern$ent craft edged coser to 7o$es. En the 9++er =asai it 6as a batteshi+<
atho"gh its bea$y t6enty;fo"r $eters 6o"d have aro"sed itte interest in a $ore
civii?ed +art of the 6ord. ,6nings +rotected the h"ndreds of askaris overb"rdening the
side rais. The ca+tain 6as :"ro+ean< a bond< soft;ooking $an in a Begian ar$y
"nifor$. The ony other 6hite $an visibe 6as the nonco$ behind the 2otchkiss s6ive;
$o"nted at the bo6.
&1essie"rs 7o$es and =a$inski< +erha+sB&caed the officer as the stea$shi+ s6"ng to<
a do?en yards fro$ the canoe. 2e 6as s$iing< "sing his fingerti+s to baance his 6eight
on the starboard bridge rai.
&Co" kno6 6ho 6e are< de IrinyFda$n yo"<& 7o$es shot back. &/e have o"r +atent to
trade and 6e +ay o"r +ortion to yo"r Societe /os#polite. No6 eave "sD&
&Pay yo"r +ortion< yes<& deIriny +"rred.&7od d"st and god n"ggets. /here do yo" get
s"ch god< $y fine $ongre friendsB&
&!aros< it>s a right<& caed =a$inski< standing in his gro"nded boat. &Don>t beco$e
angryFthe gente$an is doing his d"ty to +rotect trade< that is a.& Beneath the so$brero
6hich he had earned to 6ear in the ,$erican So"th6est< s6eat 6as boiing off
=a$inski. 2e kne6 his friend>s vocanic te$+er< kne6 aso the re+"tation of the bond
$an 6ho 6as goading the$. Not no6D Not on the brink of the s"ccess that 6o"d gain
the$ entree to any society in the 6ordD
&TradeB& 7o$es 6as sho"ting. &/hat do they kno6 abo"t tradeB& 2e shook his fist at de
Iriny and $ade the canoe rock nervo"sy< so that the +"$+ ,ngoan 6o$an he had
$arried a do?en years before +"t a ca$ing hand on his eg. &Co" hod a rife to the head
of so$e +oor back< +ay hi$ a ha>+enny for r"bber yo" se in Paris for a shiing
fo"r+ence. TradeB There 6o"d be no god co$ing o"t of this forest if the tribes didn>t
tr"st "s and get a fair va"e for the d"st they bringD&
&/e< 6e> have to eG+ore that<& grinned the Begian.&Co" see< yo"r +atent to trade 6as
iss"ed in errorFit see$s it 6as $eant for so$e 7o$e? 6ho s+eed his na$e 6ith a (z(H
and # have orders to escort yo" both back to Bo$a "nti the $atter can be resoved.&
7o$es> broad face 6ent saffron. 2e began to s"$+ ike a sno6 fig"re on a s"nny day.
&They co"dn>t take a6ay o"r +atent beca"se of a s+eing $istake their o6n cerks
$adeB& he 6hined< b"t his 6ords 6ere $ore of a sick a+ostro+he than a rea @"estion.
The Begian ans6ered it any6ay. &Co" think notB Don>t yo" kno6 6ho a++oints the
A"dges of o"r !ongo oh;so;4ree StateB Not Je6s or nigger;6enching Port";gees< # ass"re
yo".&
7o$es 6as +robaby bracing his sagging b"k against the th6art< tho"gh he co"d indeed
have been reaching for the 1a"ser ying across the +ack in front of hi$. Pres"$aby that
6as 6hat the Baenga tho"ght 6hen he fired the first shot and be6 7o$es into the 6ater.
:very 4orest 7"ard 6ith a rife foo6ed in a ragged voey that t"rned the canoe into a
chi+ dancing on an orna$enta fo"ntain. Jets of 6ood and 6ater and bood s+o"ted
"+6ard.
&!hrist>s bood< yo" foosD& de Iriny cried. Then< &/e< get the rest of the$ tooD&
=a$inski screa$ed and tried to foo6 his +adders in a race for the tree ine< b"t he 6as
a cor+"ent $an 6hose boots +"nched anke;dee+ into the soft sand. The natives had no
chance either. The 2otchkiss st"ttered< knocking do6n a +air of the$ as the g"nner
checked his range. Then< s+e6ing e$+ty cases that hissed as they bo"nced into the 6ater<
the $achine g"n hosed b"ets across the other r"nning $en. =a$inski haf t"rned as the
back in front of hi$ +itched for6ard he$orrhaging bright bood fro$ $o"th and nose.
That desire to see his death co$ing +reserved the trader fro$ it: the b"et that 6o"d
other6ise have eGited thro"gh his forehead instead dried thro"gh both "++er $aGiary
bones. =a$inski>s eyes +o++ed o"t as neaty as oysters into a go"r$et>s siver s+oon. 2is
body sa++ed hard eno"gh to ri++e the sand in 6hich it ca$e to rest face "+.
The firing sto++ed. !a+si?ed and sinking< 7o$es> shattered d"go"t 6as drifting +ast the
bo6 of the stea$er.&# 6ant their +acks raised<& deIriny ordered. &:ven if yo" have to
dive for the$ a day. The sa$e 6ith the +acks on shoreFthen b"rn the canoes.&
&,nd the bodies< $asterB& asked his Baenga head$an.
&4a"gh<& s+at the Begian. &/hy ese did the good %ord +"t crocodies in this riverB&
They did not take =a$inski>s ear beca"se it 6as 6hite and that 6o"d attract co$$ent.
:ven in Bo$a.
Ti$e +assed. Dee+ in the forest the gro"nd s+"rted "+6ard ike a gra+efr"it hit by a rife
b"et. So$ething thicker than a tree boe s"rged< ca"ght at a nearby h"$an and f"ng the
body< no onger disting"ishabe as to seG or race< a @"arter $ie thro"gh the cano+y of
trees. The earth s"bsided then< b"t in +aces the s"rface contin"ed to b"bbe as if $ade of
heated tar.
4ive tho"sand $ies a6ay< Da$e ,ice =irea ste++ed brisky o"t of her soicitors> office<
having eGec"ted her 6i< and ordered her driver on to the Nord De"tscher;%oyd Dock.
Traveing 6ith her in the carriage 6as a vaise containing one ancient book and a b"nde
of doc"$ents thick 6ith 6aG< ribbons< and god foiFthose tra++ings and the roya
signat"res beneath. En the seat across fro$ her 6as the ,$erican servant she had
engaged ony the 6eek before as she cosed her %ondon ho"se and discharged the
re$ainder of her estabish$ent. The servant< S+arro6< 6as a 6easey $an 6ith tanned
skin and eyes the frosty coor of ead cast in too hot a $od. 2e said itte b"t ganced
aro"nd fre@"enty* and his fingers 6rithed as if 6ith se+arate ife.
Eccasionay chance 6o"d $erge the rhyth$ of $a"s and aGes s+itting 6ood in a
do?en +arts of the forest. Then the th"nk;th"nk;T29N= 6o"d boo$ o"t ike a beast
a++roaching fro$ the darkness. ,ro"nd their fire the officers 6o"d +a"se. The Baengas
6o"d ch"cke at the Aoke of it and et the +o"nding die a6ay. %itte by itte it 6o"d
rea++ear at each se+arate gro"+ of 6oods$en< finay to re+eat its crescendo.
&%ike chidren<& !oone Tro"vie said to Da$e ,ice. The engineer and t6o sergeants
6ere sti aboard the 3rchid'chesse Stephanie, dining a+art fro$ the other 6hites. !oor
6as not the ony $eas"re of cass< even in the !ongo Basin. &They> be c"tting 6oodF
and drinking their $aafo"< 6retched st"ff< to ca it +a$ 6ine is to ins"t the 6ord
>6ine>Fthey> be at it a$ost ti da6n. ,fter a ti$e yo"> get "sed to it. There>s nothing<
reay< to be done< since 6e can ony carry a day>s s"++y of f"e on the stea$er. /hie
they of co"rse co'ld find and c"t eno"gh dry 6ood by a reasonabe ho"r each night<
6hen one is deaing 6ith the native >$ind>. . . . &
De Iriny and Ester$an Aoined in their !oone>s de+recating a"ghter. Da$e ,ice
$anaged ony a +reocc"+ied s$ie. D"ring the day< stea$ing "+river fro$ the Staney
Poo< she had stared at the terrain in 6hich her batte 6o"d be Aoined: heavy forest< here
$osty a narro6 bet fringing the 6aterco"rse b"t ater to beco$e a s+ra6ing< barey
+enetrabe eG+anse. The trees ci$bed to the edge of the 6ater and $"shroo$ed over the
banks. Da$e ,ice co"d i$agine that 6here the strea$ 6as ess than the !ongo>s +resent
$ie breadth the branches 6o"d $eet above in aced backness.
No6 at night< backness 6as co$+ete even on the o6er river. #t chied her so". The
e@"atoria s"nset 6as not a c"rtain of ever;thickening ga"?e b"t a knifebade that
se+arated the he$is+heres. En this side 6as death< and neither the a"ghter of the Baenga
askaris nor the gobets of Port"g"ese 6ine being dr"nk aro"nd Tro"vie>s ca$+fire co"d
change that.
!a+tain de Iriny s6igged and eyed the circe. 2e 6as a $an of $idde height 6ith the
ro"ndedness of a bear< a see$ing softness 6hich tended to $ask the cr"ety beneath.
,cross fro$ hi$< S+arro6 dragged on the cigarette he had roed and it his face orange.
The ca+tain s$ied. Eny beca"se his $istress< the $ad nobe6o$an< had de$anded it<
did S+arro6 sit 6ith the officers. 2e 6ore a chea+ b"e;cotton shirt< b"ttoned at the c"ffs<
and deni$ tro"sers hed "+ by s"s+enders. Short and narro6;chested< S+arro6 6o"d
have ooked fooish even 6itho"t the 6aist bet and the +air of h"ge do"be;action
revovers hanging fro$ it.
Da$e ,ice 6as "nar$ed by contrast. %ike the $en she 6ore tro"sers< hers t"cked into
o6;heeed boots. De Iriny ooked at her and< sha+ing his $ocking s$ie into an
eG+ression of friendy interest< said< &#t s"r+rises $e< Da$e ,ice< that a 6o$an as 6e;
born and< # a$ s"re< deicate as yo"rsef 6o"d 6ant to acco$+any an eG+edition against
so$e of the $ost vicio"s s"b;$en on the gobe.&
Da$e ,ice ifted the fainty b"bo"s ti+ of her nose and said< &#t>s no $atter of 6anting<
!a+tain.&She eyed deIriny 6ith $id distaste.&# don>t s"++ose yo" 6ant to co$e yo"rsef
F"ness yo" ike to shoot niggers for ack of better s+ortB Ene does "n+easant things
beca"se so$eone $"st. Ene has a d"ty.&
&/hat the !a+tain is s"ggesting<& +"t in Tro"vie< &is that there are no ines of batte
fiGed in this A"nge. , s+ear$an $ay ste+ fro$ aro"nd the neGt tree and snick< end a
yo"r +ansFearned tho"gh 6e are s"re they $"st be.&
&J"ite<& agreed Da$e ,ice< &and so # bro"ght S+arro6 hereF& she nodded to her
servantF&instead of tr"sting to chance.&
, heads t"rned again to6ard the itte ,$erican.
#n 4rench< tho"gh the conversation had +revio"sy been in :ngish to inc"de S+arro6<
deIriny said< &# ho+e he never fas overboard. The oad of iron;$ongery he carries 6i
sink hi$ t6enty $eters thro"gh the botto$ $"ck before anyone kno6s he>s gone.&
,gain the Begians a"ghed. #n a voice as fat and hard as the botto$ of a skiet. S+arro6
said< &!a+tain< #>d s"rey a++reciate a ook at yo"r nice +isto there.&
De Iriny binked< "ncertain 6hether the @"estion 6as chance or if the ,$erican had
"nderstood the Aoke of 6hich he had been $ade the b"tt. Deiberatey< his co$+os"re
never $ore than dented< the Begian "nhooked the fa+ of his +atent;eather hoster and
handed over the Bro6ning +isto. #t 6as s$a and obong< its b"ed finish gea$ing ike
6et seaskin in the fireight.
S+arro6 rotated the 6ea+on< giving its eGterior a brief scr"tiny. 2e th"$bed the catch in
the gri+ and stri++ed o"t the $aga?ine< hoding it so that the ight fe on the "++er$ost of
its stack of s$a brass cartridges.
&Co" are fa$iiar 6ith a"to$atic +istos< thenB& asked Tro"vie in so$e s"r+rise at the
,$erican>s @"ick "nderstanding of a 6ea+on rarey enco"ntered on his native continent.
&Na6<& S+arro6 said< si++ing the $aga?ine back ho$e. 2is fingers $oved ike those of
a +ianist doing scaes. &#t>s a g"n< tho"gh. # can generay fig"re ho6 a g"n 6orks.&
&Co" sho"d get one ike it<& de Iriny said< s$iing as he took the 6ea+on back fro$
S+arro6. &Co" 6o"d find it far $ore co$fortabe to carry than thoseFyo"rs.&
&!arry a toy ike thatB& the g"n$an asked. 2is voice +arodied a$a?e$ent. &Not $e<
!a+tain. /hen # shoot a $an< # 6ant hi$ dead. # 6ant a g"n 6hat> do the Aob if # do
$ine< and these .03s do $e Aist fine< every ti$e # "se>"$.& S+arro6 grinned then< for the
first ti$e. De Iriny fet his o6n hands f"$be as they tried to rehoster the Bro6ning.
S"ddeny he kne6 6hy the askaris gave S+arro6 so 6ide a berth.
Da$e ,ice co"ghed. The so"nd shattered the ice that had been setting over the $en.
/itho"t $oving< S+arro6 faded into the backgro"nd to beco$e an insignificant $an 6ith
narro6 sho"ders and +istos too heavy for his fra$e.
&Te $e 6hat yo" kno6 abo"t the rebeion<& the #rish6o$an asked @"iety in a i@"id<
attractive voice. 2er feat"res ed one to eG+ect a nasa 6hinny. ,cross the fire ca$e
snores fro$ Ester$an< a ie"tenant by co"rtesy b"t in no other res+ect an officer. 2e had
ignored the 6ine for the natives> o6n $aafo". The third caabash had si++ed fro$ his
n"$b fingers< dribbing ony a stain onto the gro"nd as the bearded 4e$ing oed back
in his ca$+ chair.
Tro"vie eGchanged gances 6ith de Iriny< then shr"gged and said< &/hat is there ever
to kno6 abo"t a native rebeionB :very once in a 6hie a fe6 of the$ shoot at o"r
stea$ers< +erha+s cho+ a concessionaire or t6o 6hen he co$es to coect the r"bber and
ivory. Then 6e get the ca&Fthe !oone>s gest"re e$braced the invisibe 3rchid'chesse
Stephanie and the do?en Baenga canoes dra6n "+ on the bank beside her. &/e s"rro"nd
the viage< shoot the niggers 6e catch< and b"rn the h"ts. :nd of rebeion.&
&,nd 6hat abo"t their godsB& Da$e ,ice +ressed< bobbing her head ike a ong;necked
diving bird.
The !oone a"ghed. De Iriny +atted his hoster and said< AWe are 7od in the 1aranga
!oncession.&
They a"ghed again and Da$e ,ice shivered. Ester$an snorted a6ake< be6 his nose
o"dy on the b"e seeve of his "nifor$ coat. &There>s a ne6 god back in the b"sh< yes<&
the 4e$ing $"ttered.
The others stared at hi$ as if he 6ere a frog decai$ing Shakes+eare. &2o6 6o"d yo"
kno6B&de Iriny de$anded in irritation.&The ony Bant" 6ords yo" kno6 are >drink> and
>6o$an>.&
&# can tak to B>oko< can>t #B& the ie"tenant retorted in a voice that $anaged to be
offended des+ite its s"rring.&7ood o>Baoko< 6e been together ong ti$e< ong ti$e.
Better fea than so$e 6hite bastards # co"d na$e. . . . &
Da$e ,ice eaned for6ard< the fireight bright in her eyes.&Te $e abo"t the ne6 god<&
she de$anded. &Te $e its na$e.&
&Don> re$e$ber the na$e<& Ester$an $"ttered< shaking his head. 2e 6as 6aking "+
no6< s"r+rised and a itte concerned to find hi$sef center of the attention not ony of his
s"+eriors b"t aso of the foreigner 6ho had co$e to the$ in Bo$a as they readied their
troo+s. Tro"vie had tried to shr"g Da$e ,ice aside< b"t the #rish6o$an had dis+ayed a
+atent signed by =ing %eo+od hi$sef . . . .&Baoko said it b"t # forget<& he
contin"ed< &and he 6as dr"nk too< or # don> think he 6o"d have said. 2e>s afraid of that
one.&
&/hat>s thatB&Tro"vie interr"+ted. 2e 6as a +ractica $an< 6iing to acce+t and "se the
a++arent fact that Ester$an>s +iggish habits had $ade hi$ a confidant of the askaris.
&Ene of o"r Baenga head$en is afraid of a Bakongo godB&
Ester$an shook his graying head again. #ncreasingy e$barrassed b"t deter$ined to
eG+ain< he said< &Not their god< not ike that. The Bakongos< they ive aong the river<
they got their fetishes A"st ike any niggers. B"t back in the b"sh< there>s another viage.
Not a tribe* a fe6 $en fro$ here< a fe6 6o$en fro$ there. Been getting together one at a
ti$e< a co"+e a year< for !hrist . . . $aybe t6enty years. They got the ne6 god<
they>re the ones 6ho started the tro"be.
&They say yo" don> have to +ay yo"r r"bber to the 6hite $en< yo" don> have to +ray to
any fetish. Their god gonna co$e aong and eat "+ everything. ,ny day no6.&
Ester$an r"bbed his eyes beariy< then sho"ted< &BoyD 1aafo"D&
, =roo$an in breeches and s6ao6;taied coat sc"rried over 6ith another caabash.
Ester$an s"r+ed do6n the s6eet< brain;st"nning f"id in three great g"+s. 2e began
h"$$ing so$ething $eaningess to hi$sef. The e$+ty container fe< and after a ti$e
the 4e$ing began to snore again.
The other $en ooked at one another.&Do yo" s"++ose he>s rightB&the !a+tain asked
Tro"vie.
&2e co"d be< &the si$ !oone ad$itted 6ith a shr"g.&They $ight 6e have tod hi$ a
that. 2e>s not $"ch better than a nigger hi$sef des+ite the coor of his skin.&
&2e>s right<& said Da$e ,ice< ooking at the fire and not at her co$+anions. ,sh
cr"$bed in its heart and a knot of s+arks ca6ed to6ard the forest cano+y. &:Gce+t for
one thing. Their god isn>t ne6< it isn>t ne6 at a. Back 6hen the 6ord 6as fresh and
stea$ing and the re+ties fe6 above the s6a$+s< it 6asn>t ne6 either. The Bakongo
na$e for it is ,ht". ,ha?red caed it Nyarathote+ 6hen he 6rote t6eve h"ndred years
ago.& She +a"sed< staring do6n at her hands tented above the thin yeo6 6ine eft in her
gobet.
&Eh< then yo" are a $issionary<& de Iriny eGcai$ed< gad to find a category for the
+"??ing 6o$an. 2er disg"sted gance 6as her re+y. &Er a st"dent of reigionsB& de
Iriny tried again.
&# st"dy reigions ony as a doctor st"dies diseases<& Da$e ,ice said. She ooked at her
co$+anions. Their eyes 6ere "nco$+rehending.&# . . . & she began< b"t ho6 did she
eG+ain her ife to $en 6ho had no conce+tion of devotion to an ideaB 2er chidhood had
been t"rned in6ard to drea$s and the books ining the cod ibrary of the 7range. #n6ard<
beca"se her o"t6ard body 6as that of an "gy d"cking 6ho$ everyone kne6 had no
chance of beco$ing a s6an. ,nd fro$ her drea$s and a fe6 of the very odest books had
co$e hints of 6hat it is that nibbes at the $inds of a $en in the darkness. 2er father
co"d not ans6er or even "nderstand her @"estions< nor co"d the Iicar. She had gro6n
fro$ a +ersistent chid into an iron;6ied 6o$an 6ho avished on her fancy energies
6hich her reatives fet 6o"d have been better s+ent on the !h"rch . . . or< +erha+s<
on breeding s+anies.
,nd as she had gro6n< she had $et others 6ho fet and kne& 6hat she did.
She ooked aro"nd again. &!a+tain<& she said si$+y< &# have been st"dying certainF
$ythsFfor $ost of $y ife. #>ve co$e to beieve that so$e of the$ contain tr"ths or hints
of tr"ths. There are +o6ers in the "niverse. /hen yo" kno6 the tr"th of those +o6ers<
yo" have the choice of Aoining the$ and 6orking to bring abo"t their co$ingFfor they
are "nsto++abeFor yo" can fight< kno6ing there is no "ti$ate ho+e for yo"r ca"se and
going ahead any6ay. 1ine 6as the second choice.& Dra6ing hersef even $ore rigidy
straight< she added< &So$eone has a6ays been 6iing to stand bet6een $ankind and
!haos. ,s ong as there have been $en.&
De Iriny snickered a"diby. Tro"vie gave hi$ a dreadf" sco6 and said to Da$e ,ice<
&,nd yo" are searching for the god these rebes +ray toB&
&Ces. The one they ca ,ht".&
* * *
4ro$ the score of fireit gades aro"nd the$ ca$e the th"nk;th"nk;T29N= of aGe and
6edge< then the boo$ing native a"ghter.
&Ester$an and de Iriny sho"d have their $en in +osition by no6<& said the !oone<
+attering his fingerti+s on the bridge rai as he scanned the 6ooded shore ine. &#t>s abo"t
ti$e for $e to and< too.&
&9s to and<& Da$e ,ice said. She s@"inted< straining for6ard to see the viage the
Begian force 6as +re+aring to assa"t.&/here are the h"tsB&she finay asked.
&Eh< they>re set back fro$ the shore so$e h"ndreds of $eters<& Tro"vie eG+ained
offhandedy.&The trees hide the$< b"t the fish 6eirsF&he +ointed o"t the ines of "+right
sticks ri++ing foa$ tracks do6n the c"rrentF &are a good eno"gh g"ide. /e>ve stayed
anchored here in the strea$ so that the viagers 6o"d be 6atching "s 6hie the forces
fro$ the canoes do6nriver s"rro"nded the$.&
1"ffed b"t "n$istakabe< a shot th"dded in the forest. , voey foo6ed< dra6ing 6ith
it faint screa$s.
&Bring "s in<& ordered the !oone< t"gging at the eft haf of his $o"stache in his ony
sign of nervo"sness.
The 3rchid'chesse grated as her bo6 n"??ed into the trees< b"t there 6as no ti$e no6
for deicacy. 4orest 7"ards strea$ed +ast the 2otchkiss and do6n the gang+ank into the
A"nge. The g"nner 6as cro"ched behind the $eta shied that +rotected hi$ ony fro$
the front. Tree boes and their shado6s no6 encirced hi$ on three sides.
&# s"++ose it 6i be safe eno"gh on the shore<& said Tro"vie< adA"sting his harness as if
for +arade instead of batte.&Co" can acco$+any $e if yo" 6ishFand if yo" stay cose
by.&
&, right<& said Da$e ,ice as if she 6o"d not have co$e 6itho"t his +er$ission. 2er
hand c"tched not a +isto b"t an od back;bo"nd book. &#f 6e>re 6here yo" think<
tho"gh< yo"> need $e very bady before yo">re thro"gh here. :s+eciay if it takes ti
s"nset.& She s6"ng do6n the co$+anion6ay behind Tro"vie. %ast of a fro$ the bridge
ca$e S+arro6< gri$y and s$a and deady as a shark.
The track that 6o"nd a$ong the tr"nks 6as a narro6 ine ha$$ered into the oa$ by
horny feet. #t differed fro$ a ga$e trai ony in that sho"ders had ceared the foiage to
greater height. The Baengas strode it 6ith so$e disco$fortFthey 6ere a %o6er !ongo
tribe< never @"ite at ho$e in the "+river A"nges. Tro"vie>s ste+ 6as deiberatey
nonchaant< 6hie Da$e ,ice tra$+ed graceessy and gave an acc"rate i$+ression of
disinterest in her +hysica s"rro"ndings. S+arro6>s eyes t6itched aro"nd hi$ as they
a6ays did. 2e carried his hands 6aist;high and over his beted revovers.
The cearing 6as an antici$aG. The score of h"ts in the center had been +rotected by a
+aisade of sorts< b"t the first r"sh of the encircing Baengas had s$ashed great ga+s in it.
Three bodies< a of the$ 6o$en< ay s+ied in the $iet fieds o"tside. /ithin the
+aisade 6ere $ore bodies< one of the$ a naskari 6ith a ong iron s+earhead cross6ise
thro"gh his rib cage. ,bo"t a h"ndred viagers< @"avering b"t aive< had been forced
together in the co$+o"nd in front of the chief>s beehive h"t by the ti$e the force fro$ the
stea$er arrived. Severa h"ts 6ere aready b"rning< sending "+ sh"ddering co"$ns of
back s$oke.
Tro"vie stared at the $ass of +risoners< soidified by fear into the terribe< stinking
a+athy of shee+ in the sa"ghtering ch"te.&Ces . . . &he $"r$"red a++reciativey. 2is
eyes had aready taken in the fact that the fetishes 6hich nor$ay stood to the right or
eft of a 6e;to;do fa$iy>s door6ay 6ere absent in this viage. &No6<& he asked< &6ho
6i te $e abo"t the ne6 god yo" 6orshi+B&
,s back against a darkness< so the ne6 fear ri++ing across faces aready terrified. Near
the Begian stood an od $an< face knobbed by a +attern of rit"a scarring. 2e 6as
certainy a +riest< tho"gh 6itho"t a +riest>s "s"a tra++ings of feathers and co6rie shes.
2atingy he said< &%ord< ;ord< 6e have no ne6 gods.&
&Co" ieD& cried Tro"vie. 2is goved fingerti+ s+rang o"t ike a fang. &Co" 6orshi+
,ht"< yo" o6er;than;the;a+es< and he is a +oor 6eak god 6ho$ o"r $edicine 6i break
ike a stickD&
The cro6d $oaned and s"rged back6ards fro$ the !oone. The od +riest $ade no
so"nd at a< ony began to tre$be vioenty. Tro"vie ooked at the sky.&%ie"tenant
Ester$an<& he caed to his b"ry s"bordinate< &6e have an ho"r or so ti s"nset. # tr"st
yo" can get this carrionF& he +ointed to the +riestF &to tak by then. 2e see$s to kno6
so$ething. ,s for the rest . . . de Iriny< take charge of getting the irons on the$.
/e> decide 6hat to do 6ith the$ ater.&
The grinning 4e$ing sa++ed Baoko on the back. :ach sei?ed one of the +riest>s ar$s
and began to drag hi$ to6ard the shade of a baobab tree. Ester$an started to detai the
ite$s he needed fro$ the stea$er and Baoko< enth"siastic as a chid he+ing his father to
fiG a $achine< ratted the ist off in transation to a nearby askari.
The evening bree?e bro"ght a hint of reief fro$ the heat and the odors< the oiy scent of
fear and the others $ore easiy identified. Ester$an had set an overt"rned b"cket over
the +ate of b"rning s"+h"r to s$other it o"t 6hen it 6as no onger needed. Re$inded by
Tro"vie< he had aso covered the br"sh of t6igs he had been "sing to s+read the g"ey
fa$es over the +riest>s genitas. Then< his 6ork done< he and Baoko had stroed a6ay to
add a bo6 of $aafo" to the chi. &Thank yo"< %ie"tenant<& 6hich 6as a the +raise
Tro"vie had offered for their s"ccess.
The s"bAect of their $inistrationsFeyes cosed< 6rists and ankes staked to the gro"ndF
6as taking. &They co$e< 6e et the$<& he said< so softy and @"icky that Tro"vie had
to strain to $"tter o"t a cr"de transation for Da$e ,ice. &They ive in forest< they not
bother o"r fish. 4orest here evi< 6e think. /e fee god there< 6e not "nderstand< not
kno6 hi$. , right that anybody 6ant< 6ants to ive in forest.&
The native +a"sed< t"rning his head to ha6k +heg$ into the vo$it aready +ooed beside
hi$. Da$e ,ice s@"atted on the gro"nd and riffed the +ages of her book "nconscio"sy.
She had ref"sed to "se the do6n;t"rned b"cket for a stoo. S+arro6 +aid ony scant
attention to the +risoner. 2is eyes ke+t +icking across the cearing< thick and ra"co"s no6
6ith Baengas and their eg;shacked +risoners* the $en and the trees beyond the$.
S+arro6>s face shone 6ith the fr"strated intensity of a $an certain of an a$b"sh b"t
"nabe to foresta it. Shado6s 6ere beginning to t"rn the d"st the coor of the noses of
his b"ets.
The +riest contin"ed. The rhyth$s of his o6n ang"age 6ere rich and fir$< re$inding
Da$e ,ice that behind Tro"vie>s cho++y 4rench 6ere the 6ords of a $an of dignity
and +o6erFbefore they had bro"ght hi$ do6n. &, of the$ are c"t $en. 4irst co$e
boy< no have ears. 2is head ook $e< ike $eon that is dro++ed. 2i$< he hear god ,ht"
caing do 6hat god te hi$.
&Ene $an< he not have< "h< $anhood. 7od orders< boy tes hi$ . . . he< "h< he
@"ickens the gro"nd 6here ,ht" see+s.
&Ene $an< he ony haf face< no eyes . . . hi$ sees< he sees ,ht"< he tes 6hat
beco$ing< "h< is co$ing. 2eF&
The +riest>s voice rose into a shri tirade that dro6ned o"t the transation. Tro"vie
dis+assionatey sa++ed hi$ to sience< then "sed a rag of bark coth in his goved hand to
6i+e bood and s+itte fro$ the feo6s $o"th. &There are ony three rebes in the
forestB& he asked. #f he reai?ed that the +riest had cai$ed the third $an 6as 6hite< he
6as ignoring it co$+etey.
&No< no . . . $any $en< a ten of tens< $aybe $ore. Before 6e not see< not see c"t
$en ony no6 and no6< "h< again< in the forest. No6 god is ri+e and< "h< his
$essengers . . . . &
Eny a knife edge of s"n co"d have ain across the hori?on< for the 6hoe cearing 6as
darkening to b"rnt "$ber 6here it had coor at a. The gro"nd sh"ddered. The native
+egged to it began to screa$.
&:arth@"akeB&Tro"vie b"rted in s"r+rise and concern. Rain forest trees have no dee+
ta+ roots to kee+ the$ "+right< so a strong 6ind or an earth tre$or 6i scatter giants ike
stra6 in the threshing yard.
Da$e ,ice>s face sho6ed concern not far fro$ +anic< b"t she 6hoy ignored the baobab
tottering above the$. 2er book 6as o+en and she 6as roing o"t syabes fro$ it. She
+a"sed< t"rned so that the +ages o+ened to the fading s"n* b"t her voice st"$bed again<
and the earth +itched. #t 6as s"cking in "nder the +riest 6hose fear so gri++ed hi$ that<
having screa$ed o"t his breath< he 6as "nabe to dra6 another one.
&%ightD&Da$e ,ice cried.&4or Jes"s> sake< ightD&#f Tro"vie heard the de$and against
the itany of fear rising fro$ the backs< g"ards and +risoners aike< he did not "nderstand.
S+arro6< his face a bone $ask< di++ed into his shirt +ocket and ca$e o"t 6ith a $atch
6hich he str"ck aight 6ith the th"$b of the hand that hed it. The b"e fa$e +"sed
above the +age< steady as the gro"nd>s $otion 6o"d et the g"n$an kee+ it. #ts ight
+ainted Da$e ,ice>s tight b"n as she began again to cry 6ords of no $eaning to any of
her h"$an a"dience.
The gro"nd gathered itsef into a tentace that s+e6ed "+ fro$ beneath the +risoner and
h"red hi$ sky6ard in its e$brace. Ene hand and 6rist< sti tied to a dee+ stake<
re$ained behind.
T6o h"ndred feet above the heads of the others< the tentace sto++ed and eG+oded as if it
had str"ck a +ate of ightning. Da$e ,ice had faen back6ard 6hen the gro"nd s"rged<
b"t tho"gh the book dro++ed fro$ her hands she had been abe to sho"t o"t the ast 6ords
of 6hat 6as necessary. The bast that str"ck the i$b of earth shattered aso the baobab.
S+arro6< the ony $an abe to stand on the b"cking earth< 6as knocked off his feet by the
shock 6ave. 2e hit and roed< sti gri++ing the t6o handg"ns he had eveed at the
afteri$age of the ight;shot tentace.
,fter6ards they decided that the b"rned;$eat odor $"st have been the +riest< beca"se no
one ese 6as inA"red or $issing. Nothing b"t a track of sandy oa$ re$ained of the
tentace< s+ied abo"t the ro+e of green gass for$ed of it by the fase ightning>s heat.
!oone Tro"vie rose< co"ghing at the stench of o?one as shar+ as that of the s"+h"r it
had dis+aced. &De IrinyD& he caed. &7et "s one of these devi;bred s6ine 6ho can
g"ide "s to the rebe sette$entD&
&,nd 6ho> yo" be finding to g"ide yo"< having seen thisB& de$anded the #rish6o$an<
kneeing no6 and br"shing dirt fro$ the faen vo"$e as if $ore than ife de+ended on
her care.
&SeenB& re+eated Tro"vie. &,nd 6hat have they seenB& The f"ry in his voice briefy
stied the nightbirds. &They 6i not g"ide "s beca"se one of the$ 6as cr"shed< +"ed
a+art< b"rnedB ,nd have # not done as $"ch $ysef a h"ndred ti$esB #f 6e need to feed
t6enty of the$ their o6n ivers< fa'ghB the t6enty;first 6i ead "sFor the one after hi$
6i. This rebeion $"st endD&
&So it $"st<& 6his+ered Da$e ,ice< rising ike a cha$+ion 6ho has 6on a skir$ish b"t
kno6s the rea test is cose at hand. She no onger a++eared frai. &So it $"st< if there>s to
be $en on this earth in a $onth>s ti$e.&
The gro"nd sh"ddered a itte.
Nothing $oved in the forest b"t the shado6s f"ng by the dancers aro"nd the fire. The
fa$es s+read the$ ca+ering across the eaves and tree tr"nks< distorted and $issha+en
by the fickering.
They 6ere no $ore $issha+en than the dancers the$seves as the ight dis+ayed the$.
4ro$ a high< @"ivering scaffod of nAogicane< three $en overooked the dance. They 6ere
naked so that their varied $"tiations 6ere "ttery a++arent. De Iriny started at the sight
of the one 6hose +ae body gea$ed red and orange in the fireight* b"t he 6as a faceess
thing< "nrecogni?abe. Besides< he 6as $"ch thinner than the +"$+ trader the Begian
had once kno6n.
The cearing 6as a @"arter;$ie de+ression in the A"nge. 2"ts< $ere shanties of 6ithe;
fra$ed eaves rather than the beehives of a nor$a viage< h"dded against one edge of it.
#f a had gone 6e< Tro"vie>s askaris 6ere de+oyed beyond the h"t 6ith Ester$an>s
gro"+ cosing the third seg$ent of the ring. , sho"d be ready to charge at the signa.
There 6o"d not even be a fence to deay the s+ear$en.
Nor 6ere there cro+s of any kind. The foor of the cearing 6as s$ooth and hard<
tra$+ed into that consistency by tho"sands of rit"a +atterns ike the one no6 being
6oven aro"nd the fire. #n< o"t< and aro"ndFcro+;i$bed $en and 6o$en 6ho hobbed if
they had b"t one foot* 6ho staggered< h"nched and t6isted fro$ the 6hi++ings that had
eft bones garing o"t of knots of scar tiss"e* 6ho foo6ed by to"ch the $otions of the
dancers ahead of the$ if their o6n eye;sockets 6ere bank hoes.
There 6as no $"sic< b"t the voices of those 6ho had tong"es dr"$$ed in a ceaseess
chant: &,ht"D ,ht"D&
&The sc"$ of the earth<& 6his+ered deIriny.&%o6 foreheads< thick Aa6s* skin the coor of
a $onkey>s "nder its hair. Co"r 1r. Dar6in 6as right abo"t 1an>s descent fro$ the a+es<
Da$e ,iceFif these br"tes are< in fact< kin to 1an.&
&Not #y 1r. Dar6in<& the #rish6o$an re+ied.
The =roo$an ste6ard< in oincoth no6 instead of taicoat< 6as behind the three 6hites
6ith a hissing b">s;eye antern. Da$e ,ice feared to raise its sh"tter yet< tho"gh< and
instead ran her fingers nervo"sy aong the $argins of her o+en book. Three other backs<
ar$ed ony 6ith knives< stood by de Iriny as co"riers in case the 6histe signas 6ere not
eno"gh. The rest of the !a+tain>s force 6as invisibe< s+read to either side of hi$ aong
the $argin of the trees.
&Don>t ike this<& S+arro6 said< shifting his revovers a $ii$eter in their hosters to
$ake s"re they 6ere free in the eather. &Too $any niggers aro"nd. So$e of >e$ are a+t
to be +art of the $ob do6n there< co$ing back ate fro$ a h"nt or so$ething. ,ny nigger
co$es r"nning "+ in the dark and #>$ gonna et >i$ hod one.&
&Co"> shoot no one 6itho"t $y order<& deIriny sna++ed.&The !oone $ay be sending
orders< Ester$an $ay need he+Fthis b"siness is going to be dangero"s eno"gh 6itho"t
so$e foo kiing o"r o6n $essengers. Do yo" hear $eB&
&# hear yo" taking.&, stray gi$$er of fireight ca"ght the throbbing vein in S+arro6>s
te$+e.
Rather than retort< the Begian t"rned back to the cearing. ,fter a $o$ent he said< &#
don>t see this god yo">re ooking for.&
Da$e ,ice>s $o"th @"irked.&Co" $ean yo" don>t see a fetish<& she said. &Co" 6on>t.
,ht" isn>t a fetish.&
&/e< 6hat kind of da$ned god is he thenB& de Iriny asked in irritation.
The #rish6o$an considered the @"estion serio"sy< then said< &1aybe they aren>t gods at
a< hi$ and the others . . . it and the others ,ha?red 6rote of. !a the$ cancers<
s+e6ed do6n on :arth ages ago. Not ife< s"rey< not even thingsHb"t abe to sha+e< to
$issha+e things into a se$bance of ife and to gro6 and to gro6 and to gro6.&
&B"t gro6 into &hat, $ada$eB& de Iriny +ressed.
&#nto 6hatB& Da$e ,ice echoed shar+y. 2er eyes fashed 6ith the s"dden arrogance of
her bandit ancestors< s"re of the$seves if of nothing ese in the 6ord. &#nto this earth<
this very +anet< if "nchecked. ,nd 6e here 6i kno6 tonight 6hether they can be
checked yet again.&
&Then yo" serio"sy beieve<& de Iriny began< s"cking at his forid $o"stache to find a
ess offensive +hrasing.&Co" beieve that the Bakongos are 6orshi++ing a creat"re 6hich
6o"d< 6i< begin to r"e the 6ord if yo" don>t sto+ itB&
Da$e ,ice ooked at hi$.&Not >r"e> the 6ord<& she corrected. &Rather beco#e the
6ord. This thing< this seed a6akened in the A"nge by the actions of $en $ore de+raved
and fooish than # can easiy beieve . . . this eGistence< "nchecked< 6o"d +er$eate
o"r 6ord ike $od thro"gh a oaf of bread< "nti the very +anet beca$e a ba of viscid
si$e h"rting aro"nd the s"n and stretching tentaces to6ard 1ars. Ces< # beieve that<
!a+tain. Didn>t yo" see 6hat 6as ha++ening ast night in the viageB&
The Begian ony sco6ed in +er+eGity.
, siver note sang fro$ across the broad cearing. De Iriny gr"nted< then +"t his ong
bos"n>s +i+e to his i+s and so"nded his re+y even as Ester$an>s signa Aoined it.
The dance broke a+art as the once;soid earth began to di$+e beneath $en>s 6eight.
The 4orest 7"ards b"rst o"t of the tree ine 6ith cries +"nct"ated by the boo$ of ,bini
rifes. &%ightD& ordered Da$e ,ice in a cracking ato< and the antern thre6 its bright fan
across the book she hed. The scaffoding $oved< see$ed to sink straight into gro"nd
t"rned f"id as 6ater. ,t the ast instant the three fig"res on it inked hands and sho"ted<
&,ht"D& in tri"$+h. Then they 6ere gone.
#n 6aves as co$+eG as the s"t"res of a sk"< $otion began to eGtend thro"gh the soi of
the cearing. , shrieking Baenga< s+ear raised to thr"st into the nearest dancer< ran across
one of the @"ivering ines. #t rose across his body ike the breaking s"rf and he shrieked
again in a different tone. 4or a $o$ent his back;headed s+ear bobbed on the s"rface.
Then it< too< 6as eng"fed 6ith a faint +o+ that eft behind ony a sick of bood.
Da$e ,ice started chanting in a singsong< $oding a tong"e $eant for i@"id #rish to a
ang"age not $eant for tong"es at a. , tre$or in the earth drove to6ard her and those
abo"t her. #t had the hideo"s certainty of a tor+edo track. S+arro6>s hands feGed. De
Iriny stood st"+efied< the 6histe sti at his i+s and his +isto dra6n b"t forgotten.
The three co"riers ooked at the onco$ing $ove$ent< ooked at each other . . .
disa++eared a$ong the trees. :yebas 6hite< the =roo$an dro++ed his antern and
foo6ed the$. J"icker even than S+arro6< Da$e ,ice knet and righted the antern
6ith her foot. She acted 6itho"t $issing a syabe of the for$"a sta$+ed into her
$e$ory by ong re+etition.
Three $eters a6ay< a sa6;bade of 6hite fire ri++ed a cross the death advancing thro"gh
the soi. The 6eaving trai basted back to6ard the center of the cearing ike an ant r"n
bo6n by carbon dis"+hide.
De Iriny t"rned in a$a?e$ent to the 6o$an cro"ched so that the antern go6 6o"d fa
across the back;ettered +ages of her book.&Co" did itD&he cried. &Co" sto++ed the
thingD&
The $idde of the cearing raised itsef to6ard the night sky< raining do6n frag$ents of
the bonfire that cro6ned it. 2"$ans screa$edFso$e at the to"ch of the fire< others as
tendris eGtr"ding fro$ the to6ering center 6ra++ed abo"t the$.
Da$e ,ice contin"ed to chant.
The "ndergro6th 6his+ered. &Behind yo"< !a+tain<& S+arro6 said. 2is face had a thin
s$ie. De Iriny t"rned< caing a chaenge. The br"sh +arted and a fe6 feet in front of
hi$ 6ere seven ar$ed natives. The nearest 6aked on one foot and a st"$+. 2is eft hand
gri++ed the stock of a /inchester carbine* its barre 6as s"++orted by his right 6rist
since there 6as a knob of ancient scar tiss"e 6here the hand sho"d have been attached.
De Iriny raised his Bro6ning and sa++ed three shots into the native>s chest. Boods+ots
s+rang o"t against the dark skin ike additiona ni++es. The back co"ghed and Aerked the
trigger of his o6n 6ea+on. The carbine 6as so cose to the Begian>s chest that its $"??e
fash ignited the inen of his shirt as it be6 hi$ back6ards.
S+arro6 gigged and shot the native thro"gh the bridge of his nose< sna++ing his head
aro"nd as if a horse had kicked hi$ in the face. The other backs $oved. S+arro6 kied
the$ a in a ri++e of fire that 6o"d have done A"stice to a 7ating g"n. The big
revovers sa$$ed aternatey< S+arro6 "sing each orange $"??e fash to ight a target
for his other hand. 2e sto++ed shooting ony 6hen there 6as nothing eft before his g"ns*
nothing save a 6rithing tange of bodies too freshy dead to be sti. The air 6as thick
6ith 6hite s$oke and the feca stench of death. Behind the a"ghing g"n$an< Da$e
,ice =irea contin"ed to chant.
P"sing< rising< higher aready than the giants of the forest ringing it< the fifty;foot;thick
co"$n of 6hat had been earth do$inated the night. , s+ear of fase ightning Aabbed and
ganced off< free?ing the chaos beo6 for the eyes of any 6atchers. 4ro$ the base of the
$ain neck had s+ro"ted a ring of tendris< r"ddy and goden and gittering over a 6ith
inc"sions of @"art?. They snaked a$ong the co$batants as feGibe as sik* 6hen they
cosed< they gro"nd together ike $istones and s+attered bood a do?en yards "+ the
sides of the centra co"$n. The tendris $ade no distinction bet6een 4orest 7"ards and
the others 6ho had danced for ,ht".
Da$e ,ice sto++ed. The co"$n s"rged and bent against the sky< its +eak @"esting ike
the $"??e of a h"nting dinosa"r. S+arro6 hissed< &4or the ove of ;od, bitchD& and
raised a revover he kne6 6o"d be "seess.
Da$e ,ice s+oke five $ore 6ords and f"ng her book do6n. The gro"nd eG+oded in
go"ts of ca"teri?ing fa$e.
#t 6as not a hasty thing. S+arks roared and ba?ed as if the cearing 6ere a ca"dron into
6hich gods +o"red f"rnaces of $oten stee. The back co"$n that 6as ,ht" t6isted
h"gey< a cobra +inned to a bonfire. There 6as no heat< b"t the ight itsef seared the eyes
and $ade bare fesh cra6.
/ith the s"ddenness of a torn +"ffba< ,ht" s"cked in6ard. The earth sagged as tho"gh
in osing its abiity to $ove it had aso ost a rigidity. ,t first the cearing had been
sighty de+ressed. No6 the center of it ga+ed ike a drained boi< a t6isted cyinder fed
by the coa+sing veins it had earier shot thro"gh the earth.
/hen the bast ca$e it 6as the $ore st"nning for having foo6ed a reative sience.
There 6as a rending crash as so$ething dee+ in the gro"nd gave 6ay* then a tho"sand
tons of rock and soi be6 sky6ard 6ith vocanic +o6er behind the$. /here the earth
had tre$bed 6ith co"nterfeit ife< fia$ents Aerked aong after the $ain $ass. #n so$e
+aces they ri++ed the s"rface as $"ch as a $ie into the forest. ,fter a ti$e< d"st and
grave began to s+rinke do6n on the trees< the ighter +artices $arking the cano+y 6ith
a ong f"$e do6n6ind 6hie arger rocks +attered thro"gh ayer after ayer of the
hindering eaves. B"t it 6as ony dirt< no different than the soi for h"ndreds of $ies
aro"nd into 6hich trees thr"st their roots and dre6 ife fro$ 6hat 6as ifeess.
&7od da$n if yo" didn>t ki it<& S+arro6 6his+ered< ga?ing in 6onder$ent at the ne6
crater. There 6as no onger any ight b"t that of the hooked $oon to siver the carnage
and the s"r+rising n"$ber of 4orest 7"ards stragging back fro$ the A"nge to 6hich they
had fed. So$e 6ere beginning to Aoke as they +icked a$ong the bodies of their co$rades
and the dancers.
&# didn>t ki anything<& Da$e ,ice said. 2er voice 6as hoarse< $"ffed besides by the
fact that she 6as crading her head on her knees. &S"rgeons don>t ki cancers. They c"t
o"t 6hat they can find< kno6ing that there>s a6ays a itte eft to gro6 and s+read
again . . . .&
She raised her head. 4ro$ across the cearing< !oone Tro"vie 6as ste++ing to6ard
the$. 2e 6as as da++er and coo as a6ays< skirting the go"ge in the center< skirting aso
the gro"+ of Baengas 6ith a t6o;year;od they $"st have fo"nd in one of the h"ts. Ene
6as hoding the chid by the ankes to drain a the bood thro"gh its sit throat 6hie his
co$+anions gathered fire6ood.
&B"t 6itho"t the ones 6ho 6orshi++ed it<& Da$e ,ice 6ent on< &6itho"t the ones 6ho
dre6 the kerne "+ to a gro6th that 6o"d have been . . . the end of 1an< the end of
%ife here in any sense yo" or #For those o"t thereF6o"d have recogni?ed it. . . . #t>
be $ore than o"r ifeti$es before ,ht" ret"rns. # 6onder 6hy those ones gave the$seves
so 6hoy to an evi that 6o"d have destroyed the$ firstB&
S+arro6 gigged again. Da$e ,ice t"rned fro$ the a++roaching Begian to see if the
so"rce of the h"$or sho6ed on the g"n$an>s face.
&#t>s ike this<& S+arro6 said. &#f they 6as evi< # g"ess that $akes "s good. #>d never
tho"ght of that before< is a.&
2e contin"ed to gigge. The a"ghter of the Baengas echoed hi$ fro$ the cearing as they
thr"st the chid do6n on a ro"gh s+it. Their teeth had been fied to +oints 6hich the
$oonight t"rned to Ae6es.
The Son! of the Bone

- read a t&o?vol'#e translation of the Finnish epic )alevala in ,iet Na#.
AThe Song of the BoneA is set in Nor&ay in ,iking ti#es, b't a &edding
feast fro# the )alevala is the genesis of this story.
- didn(t &rite AThe Song of the BoneA till after -(d gotten back to the World.
- didn(t have a potential #arket. Beca'se - &as pretty depressed abo't the
piece &hen - finished it - didn(t try to send it any&here. 4- &as pretty
depressed abo't #ost things at the ti#e, frankly. -t &as so#e years before
- &as able to look straight at Na#, and a very long ti#e before that didn(t
#ake life even #ore depressing. -(# not s're -(# o't of that stage :'ite
yet.5

St'art David Schiff, an ar#y dentist &ho(d 9'st been assigned to Ft. Bragg
in Fayetteville, ca#e to a S'nday afternoon get?together at the ho#e of
the M'rray brothers, collectors e8traordinaire, in D'rha#. St' &as
planning to start a s#all?press fantasyMhorror #agazine to replace The
3rkha# /ollector. $art of his reason for doing so &as that he(d been art
editor on Meade Frierson(s h'ge "CE" fanzine $2 and didn(t feel that
he(d gotten proper recognition for his &ork. By doing the prod'ction
hi#self, he(d keep that fro# happening again.

St' &anted fiction, b't he didn(t plan to pay for it. - gave hi# AThe Song of
the Bone,A b't - told hi# - tho'ght he &as #aking a #istake+ free fiction
&as generally going to be &orth &hat he paid. - tho'ght #y story &as
val'eless, &hich &as the only reason - &as giving it to hi#.

St' took the piece, b't #'ch #ore i#portant he took #y advice+ after the
second iss'e of Whispers he began paying a penny a &ord for stories.
We(re both convinced that the decision to pay for fiction is the reason that
Whispers &as there to keep alive the fantasyMhorror short?story genre
d'ring the "CE>s.

The difference bet&een lo& pay 4and a penny a &ord &as as good as so#e
professional SF #agazines &ere paying at the ti#e5 and no pay &as the
difference bet&een being a professional and being a dilettante. That &as
i#portant to so#e of 's, #e incl'ded, even tho'gh it &as nearly a decade
before - even drea#ed of #aking a living fro# &riting fiction.

.n the ne8t iss'e - beca#e St'(s assistant editor. Thro'gho't Whispers(
r'n, - read all the fiction that ca#e to the #agazine, sending on the ones -
tho'ght &ere p'blishable to St'. -t &as a fr'strating 9ob, b't -(# glad - did
it. Mr. Derleth had spent #ore ti#e on #e than - &as &orth. - co'ldn(t
repay hi#, b't - co'ld pass the effort on.

Eaf 6as king in Dronthei$ and +rayed to the /hite !hrist< b"t there 6ere other gods
sti in the "+co"ntry and it 6as to the$ that 2edinn and his 6ife sacrificed in the
evening. 4inished< they 6aited a $o$ent to 6atch the co"ds that +ied "+ high over the
to+s of the firs. 2edinn s$ied as the first of his co6s 6aked across the cearing to6ard
the catte shed< the rest foo6ing in a sient +rocession. En the eft side +attered a back
$ongre 6hich sna++ed at the nose of a co6 that began to stray< and at the end of the ine
sha$bed 7age the herds$an< a$ost ost in the goo$ of the forest behind hi$.
&2e doesn>t have a staff<A 7"dr"n said to her h"sband. &2o6 does he kee+ the$ in ine
ike thatB&
2edinn shr"gged.&2e see$s to 6histe at the$. 2e>s got forest bood in hi$< yo" kno6<
and they can do things 6ith ani$as. 1osty the dog does the 6ork any6ay.&
The herds$an t"rned to6ard the co"+e and< tho"gh darkness and distance hid his
feat"res< 7"dr"n sh"ddered. &9gh<& she said< &# 6ish 6e didn>t have to ook at hi$. /hy
don>t yo" se hi$ to a traderB&
&No6< S6eetning<& 2edinn said< stroking his 6ife
>
s fine hair 6ith affection< &he>s a good
herds$an des+ite his ooks. ,nd 6e>d never get a 6orn kette for hi$< yo" kno6.&
The dog had 6aited for his $aster at the shed door. They entered together< 7age cosing
the door behind the$.
&2e see+s 6ith the co6s< thenB& 7"dr"n asked in s"r+rise.
&#n a corner of the co6shed<& her h"sband agreed. &2e and his dog together. ,nd he eats
any scra+s the cook cares to give hi$. 2e>s reay no tro"be for the 6ork he does<&
2edinn conc"ded co$+acenty< &if yo" can earn to stand his face< Daring.&
7"dr"n a"ghed and +atted her h"sband>s ar$. &Ether $en don>t $atter at a< S6eetning<
no other $en.&
* * *
&Eoh< 7"dr"n< ho6 do # ookB&#nga asked< +iro"etting in a b"e e$broidered dress that
sho6ed her b"Go$ char$s to the f" above a bet of co++er disks. 7"dr"n eaned back
against the 6a and stared criticay at her sister;in;a6. The gir>s thick braid 6as
hanging oose< not gathered abo"t her head< and it shone in the a$+ight. , fe6 strands
had beco$e tanged in #nga>s neckaces of facetted tin beads.
&2ere no6<& said 7"dr"n< freeing the hairs< &yo" $"stn>t thro6 yo"rsef aro"nd ike that
or yo"> not be fit to $eet BAorn. Co" $"st not dishonor the ho"se or yo"r brother.&
&Eh< t"sh<& the yo"nger gir co$+ained< &they>d never notice< they> be so dr"nk by no6.
/hy co"dn>t BAorn have seen $e 6hie he 6as sti abe to seeB&
&The bride+rice had yet to be disc"ssed<& 7"dr"n chided. &#t 6o"dn>t have been +ro+er.
,nd no $atter 6ho can a++reciate it< yo" $"st ook yo"r best for yo"r h"sband.&
&Eh< # do 6ant to be +retty<& #nga ans6ered +et"anty< &b"t # don>t think BAorn 6ants a
6ife 6ho>s A"st a stick do and sits in the corner doing nothing. Co" kno6<& the gir added
6ith a s+ec"ative grin< &they say he reay is a bear< A"st ike his na$e. , ro"gh and
strong . . . .&
7"dr"n nodded sterny to sience the gir.&Co">re as ready as yo" can be<& she said< &and
the $en are 6aiting.&
The t6o 6o$en ste++ed o"t into the 6ar$ 1ay darkness 6here the siver $oon hid in
the overcast. The s"$$er kitchen ba?ed 6ith ight and servants trotted bet6een it and
the $ain ha. T6o e$+ty t"ns of $ead stood o"tside the o+en $ain door aready. #t 6as
diffic"t to beieve that the roisterers co"d +ossiby have +"t a6ay that $"ch i@"or and
sti do6n the @"antities of venison being carried in.
&EhD& gas+ed #nga as she sa6 the s@"atting sha+e ighted by the gare thro"gh the ha
door6ay. &B"t it>s A"st 7age.&
The herds$an t"rned and stared at the 6o$en. ,t his feet ay his back $ongre< gna6ing
on a deer ha"nch. 7age ooked $ore h"$an 6ith his st"bby egs foded "nder hi$< b"t
his i$bs 6ere a$ost as shaggy as his dog and his so+ing forehead 6as scarcey h"$an.
,s the 6o$en started to edge aro"nd hi$< 7age s6e+t the bone fro$ his dog>s $o"th and
fo"rished it to #nga< 6ho s@"eaed and shied back.
/ith a siy $ocking grin< the herds$an set the bone bet6een his $oars and cr"nched
the end to s+inters.
2e 6as sti grinning as 7"dr"n +ro+eed the yo"nger gir into the ha 6ith a fir$ hand
on her 6aist.
4ish oi a$+s in 6a niches it the ha< b"t the best @"aity oi 6as aready gone and a
fi$ of soot had beg"n to sette over the roo$. No one see$ed to notice it* so$e 6ere
aready too dr"nk to stand and one had vo$itedFa foG skin had been tossed over the
eAecta b"t a so"r odor +er$eated the roo$. Eny one had act"ay coa+sed< tho"gh< and
$ost 6ere in f" voice.
The 6o$en +a"sed "ncertainy at the door6ay. ,fter a $o$ent 2edinn ooked "+ fro$
his arg"$ent 6ith the h"king yo"ng $an beside hi$ and sa6 the$. 2e stood and
sho"ted so$ething "ninteigibe and "nnoticed in the genera din. ,ngry< he +icked "+
his bron?e drinking c"+< reconsidered< and dre6 the s6ord that he 6ore at his bet ike
everyone ese. 2e sa$$ed the hit t6ice on the tabe< Ao"ncing it on the trestes and
rocking the see+er onto the foor. So6y the roo$ @"ieted.
There 6ere abo"t t6enty $en +acked into the ha< 2edinn>s reatives and retainers and
those of the +ros+ective bridegroo$. Negotiations for the bride;+rice and do6er had been
shar+er than either of the t6o +ros+ero"s far$ers had eG+ected< so that the te$+er of the
ha 6as harsh des+ite the drink. ,s a res"t 2edinn gared at BAorn and his voice rang
o"der than needf"< &1y sisterD&
BAorn rose a itte "nsteady< and s@"inted across the tabe. &2a6D& he cried< f"shing<
&she> do for a $ich co6 if not for a 6ife. B"t 6e> t"rn her trinkets to rea siver and
god 6hen # 6ed her.&
2edinn t"rned 6hite b"t it 6as 7"dr"n 6ho s+oke.&2"sband< $"st 6e hear each
beardess beggar +rate as 6e feed hi$B&
#nga screa$ed as BAorn snatched at his s6ord< b"t his o6n "nce Skeggi +inned the yo"th
in a ha$$erock and 6rested hi$ back fro$ his host. The tabe crashed over on its side
and those not too bef"dded dre6. Skeggi roared< &7et hi$ cearD No boodD No boodD&
T6o or three of the others of BAorn>s +arty aided Skeggi in forcing hi$ o"tside. 2edinn
and his o6n +eo+e cro6ded back a6ay fro$ the door< "nabe to he+ and barey
"n6iing to hinder.
Never had BAorn ooked $ore the bear his na$e $eant. :ven 6ith fo"r big $en cinging
to hi$ he had $anaged to dra6 his broads6ord b"t had not @"ite co$e to the +oint of
"sing it on his o6n kins$en. /ith a conv"sive effort they r"shed hi$ thro"gh the door<
b"t he shook free o"tside it.
7age scra$bed a6ay b"t his dog ye+ed in fear of being tra$+ed. #n sheer berserk f"ry
BAorn 6hired and o++ed the back $ongre in t6o. 2is overhand bo6 finished in
shattering the s6ord;bade against a cobbestone< eaving the dog>s cor+se in a great
s+ash of bood. The right fore+a6 t6itched< $aking dark ri++es in the a$+ight.
Skeggi hed back a $an +re+ared to sei?e BAorn again. The far$er t"rned so6y< his
anger 6ashed a6ay by the shock that had n"$bed his 6hoe side.
&J"ick< a horse<& Skeggi co$$anded. Ene of the servants dro++ed his +atter and ran to
the shed. ,ided in tense sience by t6o of BAorn>s $en he sadded the nearest horse< a big
roan< and ed it to Skeggi 6ho 6as hoding his ne+he6 by the ar$. Skeggi gr"nted and
ifted BAorn into the sadde 6here he sagged< a$ost too st"+efied to +"t his feet in the
stirr"+s.
&No6 ead hi$ o"t of here before he 6akes "+<& Skeggi sna++ed to one of the $en.
&/e> foo6. This night has gone on ong eno"gh.&
Beca"se she had ste++ed to the door< eaving #nga to 6ee+ inside the ha< 7"dr"n 6as
the ony one to see 7age +"t t6o fingers to his $o"th and give a short 6histe.
The horse 6hickered softy< then 6hinnied and tore the reins free. Before any of the haf;
dr"nken $en co"d sto+ it< the roan had gao+ed bindy into the forest.
&Not on foot< yo" frog;s+a6nD& Skeggi beo6ed to the $en st"$bing after BAorn.
&Sadde horsesD&
#nga cried hersef to see+< b"t 7"dr"n 6as standing in the kitchen door6ay 6hen 2edinn
and his $en rode back in the +re;da6n.
&/here is BAornB& she asked @"iety as her h"sband a++roached.
&Dead<& 2edinn ans6ered in a fat< eG+ressioness voice.&The horse $"st have dragged
hi$ a $ie. /e never did find his eg.&
&There>s hot 6ater inside<& 7"dr"n said.
She stood beside 2edinn as he +"nged his face into the 6ater. /hen he straightened she
began $assaging her h"sband>s neck< oosening the tense $"sces. ,t ast 7"dr"n t"rned
2edinn aro"nd to face her.
&Did yo" see 7age ki hi$B& she asked.
&Don>t tak abo"t 7age no6< S6eetning<& 2edinn ordered 6eariy.
&7age kied BAorn< 2edinn* he 6histed and the horseF&
&Sto+ itD& her h"sband sna++ed. &#t>s $ore i$+ortant than 6hether yo" ike a herds$an<
no6. There>s a $an dead after being ins"ted in $y ho"se* a $an>s deadD&
7"dr"n stared at hi$ 6itho"t eG+ression< then ran her hand do6n the c"rve of his bice+s.
&#t>s been a ong night< S6eetning* et>s go to bed.&
7"dr"n 6as aone in the ha 6hen she heard the co6s ret"rning that evening. ,n
"nfa$iiar so"nd< a high tri< dre6 her to the door to 6atch. 7age 6as bo6ing a +i+e of
so$e sort. , shado6 6avered near the head of the fie and a co6 Aerked back into ine.
7"dr"n began to 6ak to6ard the herd. 2er bey started to tre$be and she ran< hair
oosening to strea$ o"t behind her s+endid body. The herds$an ganced "+ and +a"sed
as she a++roached.
The 6o$an sto++ed a body;ength fro$ hi$< breathing in tight< controed +ants. #n his
hand 7age hed a bone f"te cr"dey dried 6ith finger hoes. #t 6as a s$a thigh bone<
and 7"dr"n re$e$bered the dog>s $anged body as 7age raised the f"te to his i+s. The
so"nd 6his+ered bet6een the$< s"r+risingy $"sica to co$e fro$ s"ch a br"tish
$instre.
, s$a back shado6 danced on the grass< so rea that 7"dr"n sa6 its +ink tong"e o.
7age began to +ay o"der . . . .
7"dr"n screa$ed and snatched the f"te a6ay< cr"shing the fresh bone bet6een her
fingers.
&/itchD& she sho"ted. &=ier 6itchD&
The herds$an $ade a g"tt"ra so"nd. So$e6here behind her 7"dr"n heard her h"sband
ca and 6hired to r"n.
&2edinnD 2e tried to ra+e $eD =i hi$< =#%% 2#1D&
B"t before 2edinn co"d reach her< 7age had disa++eared into the forest and the catte
6ere aready beginning to stray.
#n the night she heard the 6histing as she ay on the o6 co"ch 6ith her h"sband. 4or a
$o$ent she +retended that it 6asn>t rea< 6as ony a drea$< b"t another tri fro$ the
darkness fro?e her. Sti she 6aited< bone cod< "nti the so"nd ri++ed aro"nd her a third
ti$e. #t see$ed to be nearer.
&2edinn<& she 6his+ered< shaking her see+ing h"sband< &2edinn.&
&9h . . . B& gr"nted 2edinn. &S6eetningB&
&Shh. %isten.&
,fter a $o$ent 2edinn +added over to a 6indo6 and oosed its eather fa+ to +eer o"t.
2e s6ore and began to +" on his boots.
&#s it hi$B& 7"dr"n 6his+ered.
&#t>s hi$< yes<& 2edinn ans6ered< gro+ing for his s6ord.
&Then ca the $en o"t<& 7"dr"n hissed.
&# don>t need he+ to teach that dog vo$it a esson<& 2edinn said< thro6ing o+en the door.
7"dr"n foo6ed hi$ barefoot.
The herds$an faced the$ fifty +aces a6ay< his eG+ression shaded by his thick shock of
hair. 2e carried a bone< arge eno"gh to $ake a dangero"s c"b. Not a c"b tho"gh<
7"dr"n kne6< for she co"d see the shado6s of finger hoes as on the s$aer f"te.
This had been a $an>s thigh< a arge $an>s.
2edinn staked to6ard his save< his s6ord hed o6 across his body.
&/aitD&7"dr"n screa$ed< r"nning after her h"sband as 7age raised the f"te to his i+s.
There 6as no 6his+er of so"nd this ti$e< no keening< b"t a f";throated skiring that
t"rned 7"dr"n>s s6eat acid.
, bear oo$ed "+ beside 7age< s6inging its right +a6 6ith terribe +recision. 2edinn>s
ribs caved in and his body h"rted back against his 6ife.
7"dr"n screa$ed again as the bear 6added h"gey to6ard her< and the a"ghter of the
thigh bone rang behind it.
The 'aster Of Demons

- &as in correspondence &ith 6a#sey /a#pbell for #'ch of the "CE>s.
When he beca#e president of the British Fantasy Society, - 9oined the
organization 4the original anthologies in &hich #ost of #y fantasy and
horror appeared &ere all British any&ay5. 3t 6a#sey(s re:'est - then
&rote AThe Master of De#onsA for the cl'b(s fantasy #agazine, Dark
2ori?ons.

Dark 2ori?ons didn(t pay for its #aterial. My &arning to St'art abo't the
val'e of gift stories #ight be recalled here. aving said that, - felt free to
e8peri#ent on this story. -(# not dissatisfied &ith the res'lt, tho'gh this
stylistic for# isn(t one -(ve ever tried &hen - e8pected to be paid for #y
&ork.

The core of the story is the fact that Willia# the /on:'eror s&ore, ABy the
face of 2'ccaBA 2'cca is a shrine of the ,irgin in Northern -taly, b't the
so'rce - 'sed stated that the #eaning of the oath &as 'nkno&n. Willia#(s
career and the fact that his father &as called 6obert the Devil gave #e the
basic notion.

The story(s set in 2ate Medieval 1'rope, &hen there &as a 'ni:'e cli#ate
for learning. /lassical science and literat're &ere ret'rning to the
intellect'al #ainstrea#, b't #'ch &as being discovered for the first ti#e
as &ell. Scholars all spoke 2atin, so a /atalan and a Bohe#ian #ight
#eet in Bologna, for e8a#ple, to disc'ss 3rab researches into optics.

The division bet&een &hat &e no& consider science and &hat &e call
#ysticis# &ere less obvio's so#e h'ndreds of years ago also. 4-t(s 'sef'l
to re#e#ber that Ne&ton developed calc'l's to si#plify astrological
co#p'tations.5

- &ish - co'ld have gotten #ore of the &onder of the period into this story@
b't - hope at least so#e of it co#es thro'gh.

There is a hierarchy in 2e and this 2er$ann of Prag"e kne6* b"t the 6ay of it he faied
to gras+< so this is the story of his +ride and his ignorance and 6hat ca$e of the$.
Perha+s he had been born in Prag"e< b"t at the end he ived aone in a roo$ c"t fro$ the
rock of a sea;+o"nded crag on the 6estern edge of the continent.
2is to6er of gass 6as the key< the ta heiG s@"ir$ing into the air fro$ a b"b of +"r+e
f"id< 6itho"t that the +arch$ent of ,ndro$edes 6o"d have been 6orthess< $ere 6ords
in the darkness.
,nd even +ossession of the $e$oirs of the bitter 7reek ste$$ed fro$ the drea$ing
gass. There had been r"$ors< hints* b"t ony that "nti 2er$ann it an oi a$+ beneath
the base of the heiG. Then< n"de< he s$eared his body 6ith an oint$ent of fats and
beadonna before recining on a co"ch to 6atch the +"r+e i@"id stir and b"bbe< ighted
by the one a$+ aone. ,s the s"ggish bobs of coor $o"nted in the cosed t"be and the
dr"g took hod it see$ed as if the heiG engthened i$$ensey< and 2er$ann>s $ind
foo6ed the b"bbes into a height of discord and 6his+ers. #n ti$e the a$+ b"rned o"t
and the f"id dri++ed back into its reservoir< b"t 6hen 2er$ann a6oke he kne6 6here
the $an"scri+t 6as hidden and ho6 it $ight be had.
* * *
:ven so it 6as three years before 2er$ann had the +arch$ent to hand< b"t to arg"e 6ith
necessity is ti$e i s+ent and there had been no other 6ay. #t 6as a short chronice of
kno6edge and fai"re< of 6isdo$ $ade "seess by the inade@"acy of its goas. #n the
$idst of the 7reek a singe ine in %atin stood o"t< not a goss for it too 6as 6ritten in
,ndro$edes> o6n crabbed hand:
J9#!INJI:PD,:1EN:1P%I!!,:PDE1#NI1P!%,1,R:P4:!:R
#TP!ENSP#!,B#TIRPPET:ST,T:1P#N4#N#T,1. /hosoever sha ca"se the s+irit
%"ccae to cry &1asterDD& sha gi$+se "nbo"nded +o6er.
This ine dre6 2er$ann>s eyes as the 7reat Bear does a $ariner>s and as he read and
reread it he began to tre$be at its i$+ications. No onger did he drea$ of the :arth< its
castes and fertie vaes< b"t of +o6er that staked a$ong the aeons and diced 6ith s"ns.
#n the end he t"rned again to the oint$ent and the +"r+e 6his+ers that never @"estioned<
never advised< ony ans6ered the @"estions +"t to the$ 6ith a hard< icy tr"th. 2e 6as
afraid< no6* for tho"gh 2er$ann had no conce+tion of the f"ness of the forces he deat
6ith< he kne6 of %"ccae and dreaded it. B"t to sto+ 6as to die in his o6n ti$e< and the
+ride 6as on 2er$ann to take 6hat fate offered. ,nd so the to6er< and so the drea$s* in
the $orning his fear 6as greater for kno6ing $ore of his task< b"t he began his
+re+arations.
,nd this too 6as a so6 b"siness< for it de$anded $"ch of the tr"e $erc"ry 6ith 6hich
to ay o"t the +entace. #f %"ccae 6as to be ca"ght there $"st be no chance for it to
esca+e ater. 4irst the hydragyr"$< then the t6o s+es to co$$it to $e$ory. The first to
send hi$ into the +ace< the ti$e 6here %"ccae danced and 6aited for the s"n to eG+ode*
the second to ret"rn hi$ and it< at the s+it;second that 6o"d eave %"ccae 6ithin the
+entace and 2er$ann o"tside it: ese the $agician co"d cro"ch in one safety 6hie a
the 6ord besides $eted into "nhoy ache$y.
So 2er$ann 6aited "nti the +entace 6as ready and the stars had "nited in s"ch a 6ay to
$ake the "nthinkabe +ossibe. Then he s+oke three 6ords that stied the $"tter of the
city aro"nd hi$< three 6ords and a fo"rth that 6as dro6ned in the th"nderca+ 6hich tore
a hoe in the "niverse and h"red hi$ thro"gh it.
The great s"n h"ng right overhead< a gorgon that icked at the sky 6ith ong ser+ents of
fire. ,cross the barren rocks 6rithed the shado6s of the three dancers: the first< 6ashed
+"r+e by the dee+ red ight< +o"nded his s+ay feet in ti$e to the so"nd that ho6ed
thro"gh his nose< as ong as he 6as ta. The second +ranced< goat;footing it over rocks
that s+arked beneath hi$. 2is $o"th 6as t6isted into a rict"s of deight and never a
so"nd ca$e fro$ it.
The third 6as +erched on a o6 +edesta: it 6as %"ccae and ony its face danced. Ene
eye< as $orib"nd as the s"n< b"rned in the center of a tho"sand shifting +atterns* every
one of the$ a dead da$ned so"< each of the$ 2er$ann hi$sef.
B"t 2er$ann stood and 6his+ered the syabes of ret"rn 6itho"t a +a"se or st"$bing.
The 6aiing and cick of hooves contin"ed b"t ony %"ccae re$ained< ony its face
6ar+ing and gro6ing and 6eaving a net for 2er$ann>s so". B"t he 6as dr"nk 6ith
drea$s of +o6er and co"d not be bo"nd* the 6ords ri++ed off his tong"e heedess of the
sha+e that eG+anded before his eyes "nti it fied the 6hoe 6ord. ,s the fina 6ord rang
o"t in the s"dden sience 2er$ann ste++ed back 6itho"t ooking and the so"nd of sea
crashed aro"nd hi$.
2e 6as safe< and %"ccae gared 6ithin a +rison as ceaseessy changing as its o6n face.
,nd then to the $astering. 4or the first ti$e the $agician>s drea$ s+ira faied hi$ and
he 6oke fro$ his st"+or 6ith nothing b"t the $e$ory of fr"itess chittering. 2er$ann
6as n"$b 6ith terror by then< b"t he co"d not sto+* %"ccae s@"atted in his $ind tho"gh
he had c"rtained off the +entagra$. Sooner or ater he 6o"d $ake a $istake< 6o"d
break the ine. 9ness . . .
2er$ann>s ore 6as as great as his reckessness in "sing it to do 6hat his drea$ had tod
hi$ co"d not be done: to cr"sh %"ccae to the +oint it $"st ad$it his do$inance and
ordshi+. ,nd here 2er$ann $is"nderstood as he had been intended* b"t it 6as too ate
by then and his fate 6as cosing on hi$.
2e took a great s$oky garnet and str"ng it on a siver 6ire to the ceiing. 4ro$ his
cabinets he took a tiny boG of orange crystas and a +hia of dee+ b"e i@"id. The boG he
o+ened and set beneath the stone. Then< tho"gh he need not have done so< 2er$ann
ri++ed a6ay the hangings bet6een hi$ and %"ccae. The red eye gared at hi$ and the
garnet ba?ed back. 2er$ann "nsto++ered the +hia and began chanting the 6ords of
congr"ity. En the t6enty;first syabe he tited the i@"id into the boG and ste++ed back
as a ser+ent of s$oke shot "+ to sei?e the garnet.
4or a the +o6er of %"ccae it 6as tra++ed beyond sef;+reservation< for the stone 6as
dead and the s$oke that hissed abo"t it 6as horriby aive. The +sychic everage on the
garnet 6ashed %"ccae>s face to a fro?en gray< ga?ed the fire of the singe eye< and hed
the ficker of so"s to a $"ddy tre$bing. , $in"te< another $in"teF
Fand %"ccae s+oke.
#t 6as a so"nd 6itho"t earthy co"nter+art< b"t 2er$ann heard it and "nderstood in the
fina instant his $istake. Then the sea and rock boied together as %"ccae>s 1aster ca$e
to free 2is iege.
The Dancer in the Flames

- spent #ost of "CE> as an interrogator &ith the ""th 3r#ored /avalry
6egi#ent. The e8perience changed #y life in #any &ays, so#e of the#
good.

Most of the changes &ere not good. When - hear people :'ote Nietzsche,
AWhat does not kill 's #akes 's stronger,A - al&ays think A*eah, b't
stronger &hatGA Not stronger h'#an beings, of that -(# s're.

- don(t think it ever occ'rred to #e to send AThe Dancer in the Fla#esA
any&here b't to St' Schiff. FOSF &o'ld(ve taken si8 #onths or #ore to
reply, and - ass'#ed the reply &o'ld be a re9ection.

No& -(# not :'ite so s're. -t s'rprises #e that a n'#ber of people &ith
backgro'nds in literat're praise this story as a st'dy in alienation, &hen -
tho'ght it &as 9'st a fantasy abo't ,iet Na#.

To #e, ,iet Na# &as alienation. - &ish it had been a fantasy.

The vie&point character is an officer. - &as not. The setting, incidents, and
attit'des depicted are all real. -f yo' ask Na# vets &hat the #ost pop'lar
song -n /o'ntry &as, they(ll all tell yo', AWe ;otta ;et .'t of This
$lace.A

This isn(t a story &hich - like very #'ch. .ne of the reasons is that - don(t
#'ch like the person &ho lived the backgro'nd -(# &riting abo't here.
We(ve been st'ck &ith each other since "CE>, tho'gh.

The fa$es 6rithing o"t of the ashtray 6ere an eyeba;icking orange. 4or an instant %t.
Schaydin 6as s"re that the i$age dancing in the$ 6as that of the gir he had b"rned aive
in !a$bodia< siG $onths before. B"t no< not @"ite* tho"gh the other>s face had been of
7aic cast too.
The t6o enisted $en had t"rned at the so"nd of the officer br"shing back the +oncho
c"rtain 6hich divided his tent fro$ the rear co$+art$ent of the co$$and track. Radios
6ere b"it into the right 6a of the vehice above a narro6 co"nter. En that co"nter
rested the !J>s ci+board and a chea+ gass ashtray< f" of fa$e. The $en 6ithinFSki+
Soane< 6ho drove the co$$and track and 6as no6 !harge of J"arters< and the $edic
:vensFhad been 6atching the fire 6hen Schaydin ooked in. #t 6as to that ten;inch
fa$e 6hich the ie"tenant>s eyes 6ere dra6n as 6e.
2e stared at her caves and "+ the s6e of the hi+s 6hich t"cked in at a 6aist that thr"st
to6ard hi$. She ooked straight at Schaydin then and her $o"th +"rsed to ca. ,bove the
i$age h"ng the back ri++es of s$oke 6hich 6ere her hair. ,br"+ty the fa$e shrank to
a 6avering neede and binked o"t. The co$+art$ent 6as ighted ony by the instr"$ent
dias< +itch;dark after the orange gare. The air 6as shar+ 6ith the resid"e of the fa$e*
b"t $ore than that ca"sed Schaydin>s chest to constrict. 2e re$e$bered he had caed o"t
so$e Aoke as he to"ched the fa$ethro6er>s trigger and sent a oo+ of na+a$ thro"gh the
6indo6 of the hooch they 6ere s"++osed to destroy. The !a$bodian gir $"st have been
hiding in the thatch or a$ong the bags of rice. She had been a aba?e as she ea+ed into
the o+en< shrieking and t6isting ike a dervish "nti she died. B"t this tiny i$age had not
screa$ed< it had reay s+oken. #t5She had saidF
&2o6 did yo" do thatB& Schaydin gas+ed.
The enisted $en ganced at each other< b"t their co$$ander did not see$ angry< onyF
strange. Soane hed "+ a t6enty;o"nce bock of !;0< +astic eG+osive. S6eat roed
do6n the driver>s chest and beer g"t. 2e 6ore no shirt since the radios heated the
co$$and vehice even in the reative cooness of the Iietna$ese night. &Co" take a bit of
!;0< sir<& Soane said. 2is hairy th"$b and forefinger go"ged o"t an acorn;si?ed ch"nk of
the 6hite eG+osive. ,nother +iece had aready been re$oved.&#t takes a shock to $ake it
bo6 "+. #f yo" A"st to"ch a $atch to it in the o+en< it b"rns. %ike that.&
Soane handed the +eet to Schaydin< 6ho stood 6ith a da?ed ook on his face. The !;0
had the consistency of no"gat< b"t it 6as $"ch denser. &/e o"ght >a air the +ace o"t<
tho"gh<& the driver contin"ed. &The f"$es don>t do anybody $"ch good.&
&B"t ho6 did yo" get it to ook ike a 6o$anB&Schaydin de$anded.&# co"d see her right
there< her face< her eyes . . . and she 6as saying . . . .&
:vens reached +ast the ie"tenant and fa++ed the +oncho c"rtain to stir the dissi+ating
tendris of s$oke.&!;0$akesa +retty fa$e<& the stocky $edic said< &b"t yo" don>t 6ant
to get the st"ff in yo"r syste$. /e "sed to have a $ascot< a itte +"++y. She ate +art of a
bock and 6ent +"re;ass cra?y. Seeing things. She>d back into a corner and sna+ and bark
ike a bear 6as after her . . . . 1idde of that afternoon she 6ent haring o"t over the
ber$< ya++ing to beat 2e. /e never did see her again.&
The $edic ooked a6ay fro$ his !E< then added< &Don>t think yo" o"ght to breathe the
f"$es< either. 2ard to te 6hat it $ight $ake yo" see. Don>t think # 6ant to b"rn any
$ore !;0< even if it does $ake the da$nedest shado6s # ever ho+e to see.&
The ie"tenant o+ened his $o"th to +rotest< to insist that he had seen the i$age the instant
he +"shed the c"rtain aside* b"t he ca"ght his $en>s eG+ressions. 2is $ind see$ed to be
6orking nor$ay again. &Co" g"ys A"st sa6 aFfireB&
&That>s a there 6as to see<& said :vens. &%ook< it>s ate< # better go rack o"t.& Soane
nodded< tossing hi$ the +art bock of eG+osive. The $edic edged +ast Schaydin< into the
tent and the sti night beyond.
&Ti$e for a g"ard check<& Soane said a6k6ardy and reseated hi$sef before the
$icro+hone. Ene by one the heavy;set $an began caing the vehices sited aro"nd the
circ"ar ber$. The tracks re+ied 6ith the @"iet negative re+orts that sho6ed so$eone
6as a6ake in each t"rret. The !J did not ook "+ at his co$$ander< b"t 6hen Schaydin
ste++ed back fro$ the co$+art$ent and t"rned a6ay< he heard a r"ste. Soane had +"ed
the +oncho cosed.
Schaydin sat do6n on the edge of his b"nk< staring at the $orse of eG+osive. 2e sa6
instead the gir he had gi$+sed in the fa$e. She had danced 6ith her body< 6rithing
sin"o"sy ike a bey dancer as her breasts heaved against the fire>s trans"cence.
Schaydin co"dn>t have been $istaken< the gir had been as rea asFthe !a$bodian gir
he had b"rned. ,nd this gir>s eG+ression 6as so aive< her fire;bright eyes ginting 6ith
arrogant de$and. What had the /a#bodian girl been cryingG B't her eyes &ere d'lled
by the clinging napal# . . . .
The +eet of !;0 ca$e into foc"s as Schaydin>s fingers rotated it. , right< there 6as a
si$+e 6ay to see 6hether his $ind had been +aying tricks on hi$.
Schaydin set the ba of eG+osive on to+ of a $inican< the seaed stee a$$"nition boG
+ri?ed as "ggage by $en in ar$ored "nits. !;0 b"rned at over '000 degrees< the
ie"tenant re$e$bered< b"t it 6o"d b"rn briefy eno"gh that ony the +aint 6o"d
scorch. The fa$e of Schaydin>s cigarette ighter 6avered a6ay fro$ the 6hite +eet and
heated the case in his hand. Then a tiny s+ark and a ficker of orange 6inked thro"gh the
yeo6 na+htha fare. Schaydin Aerked his ighter a6ay and sh"t it. 4ire oo$ed "+ fro$
the plasti:'e. #ts hissing fied the tent A"st as the roar of an inco$ing rocket does an
enca$+$ent.
,nd the dancer 6as there again.
The engineer +atoon ran a generator 6hich +o6ered ights a over the fire;base thro"gh
$akeshift ines of co$$o 6ire. %eft;handed and 6itho"t ooking at it< Schaydin Aerked
a6ay the 6ire to his tent>s ight b"b. The s+"ttering fire brightened in the darkness< and
in it the gir>s feat"res 6ere as shar+ as a ca$eo carven in r"ddy stone. B"t the $o"th
$oved and the dancer caed to Schaydin over the fire;noise< &Iiens iciD Iiens a 1arieD&
Schaydin had st"died 4rench as an "ndergrad"ate in divinity schoo< eno"gh to recogni?e
that the tones 6ere not @"ite those of $odern 4rench* b"t it 6as cear that the dancer 6as
caing hi$ to her. 2is body tensed 6ith the i$+ossibe desire to obey. S6eat ri$$ed a
the stark ines of his $"sces.
Then the fa$e and the gir 6ere gone together< tho"gh afteri$ages of both danced across
Schaydin>s eyes. The ie"tenant sat in the dark for so$e ti$e< obivio"s to the haf;
$ove$ent he $ight have gi$+sed thro"gh a chink in the +oncho. The !J t"rned back to
his $icro+hone< fro6ning at 6hat he had 6atched.
* * *
Schaydin 6as $ore 6ithdra6n than "s"a in the $orning< b"t if any of his feo6 officers
noticed it< they +"t it do6n to the ie"tenant>s nat"ra anGiety abo"t his +osition. The neGt
days 6o"d deter$ine 6hether Schaydin 6o"d be +ro$oted to ca+tain and take on for
the rest of his to"r the sot he no6 hed in +ace of the 6o"nded !a+t. 4"er. Ether6ise<
Schaydin 6o"d have to give "+ the co$+any to another officer and ret"rn to Third
Patoon. Schaydin had tho"ght of itte ese d"ring his +revio"s 6eek of co$$and< b"t
today it barey occ"rred to hi$. 2is $ind had been drifting in the "nreaity of So"theast
,sia* no6 it had fo"nd an anchorage so$e6here ese in ti$e and s+ace.
The thin ie"tenant s+ent $ost of the day in his tent< 6ith the orange side6as roed "+
to $ake its roof an a6ning. The first sergeant 6as stationed +er$anenty in the
Regi$ent>s base ca$+ at Di ,n< r"nning an estabish$ent 6ith a$ost as $any troo+s as
there 6ere in the fied. #n Iiet Na$< even in a co$bat "nit< a $aAority of the troo+s 6ere
nonco$batants. Bee6< the 4ied 4irst< 6as on RQR in Tai6an< so an "n"s"a a$o"nt of
the co$+any>s day;to;day affairs sho"d have faen on the co$$ander hi$sef.
Today Schaydin so"ghed the$< ans6ering the $ost +ressing @"estions distractedy and
6itho"t +artic"ar interest. 2is eyes strayed often to his $inican< 6here the +aint had
b"bbed and cracked a6ay in a circe the si?e of a fifty;cent +iece.
She had see$ed short< tho"gh he co"d not be s"re since the i$age had been ess than a
foot ta 6hen the fa$es ea+t their highest. Not +"$+< eGacty< for that i$+ied fat and
the dancer had been a ri++ing $"sc"arity* b"t she had been a stocky gir< an athete
rather than a ho"ri. ,nd yet Schaydin had never before seen a 6o$an so sed"ctivey
+assionate< so radiant 6ith desire. :very ti$e Schaydin tho"ght of the dancer>s eyes< his
groin tightened* and he tho"ght of her eyes a$ost constanty.
!o$e to $e . . . . !o$e to 1arie . . . .
* * *
The activities of the firebase 6ent on as "s"a< ignoring Schaydin A"st as he did the$.
Second Patoon and so$e vehices fro$ 2ead@"arters !o$+any beo6ed off on a
1edca+ to a viage ten kio$eters do6n Ro"te '-. There the $edics 6o"d dis+ense
antibiotics and bandages to the $idy i. The troo+s 6o"d aso gogge at ravaged
fig"res 6ho$ not even Johns 2o+kins co"d have aided: a chid 6hose egs had been
a$+"tated three years +ast by a directiona $ine* a thirty;year;od $an 6ith ee+hantiasis
of the scrot"$< 6aking bo6egged beca"se of the b"k of his cantao"+e;si?ed
testices . . . .
!hinook heico+ters bro"ght in f"e and a$$"nition res"++y in cargo nets s6inging
beneath their beies. Schaydin did not notice their ho6ing a++roach* the synco+ated
cho+ of their t6in rotors as they hovered* the b"ste of $en and vehices heading to6ard
the stee;+ank +ad to +ick "+ the goods. The ie"tenant sat i$+assivey in his tent even
6hen the ho6it?er battery fired< tho"gh the hogs 6ere ofting so$e of their shes to
$aGi$"$ range. The $"??e basts raised do"ghn"ts of d"st that enveo+ed the 6hoe
base. Schaydin>s $ind>s eye 6as on a dancing gir< not $en in baggy green fatig"es* the
roar he heard 6as that of a cro6d far a6ay< 6atching the dancer . . . and even the
d"st in Schaydin>s nostris did not s$e ike the +"veri?ed aterite of Tay Ninh Province.
&Ti$e for the officers> $eeting< sir<& Soane $"r$"red.
Schaydin contin"ed to sit ike a thin< nervo"s B"ddha in a a6n chair.
&Sir<& the driver re+eated o"dy< &they A"st b"??ed fro$ the TE!. #t>s aready '300
ho"rs.&
&Eh< right<& $"ttered the ie"tenant di??iy. 2e shook his head and stood< then ran his
fingerti+s abstractedy over the backened $inican. &Right.&
* * *
The Tactica E+erations !enter 6as $erey a trio of co$$and vehices aro"nd a arge
tent in the $idde of the firebase. Schaydin had forgotten to carry his a6n chair 6ith
hi$. 2e +"ed "+ a boG 6hich had hed $ortar shes and sat facing the acetate;covered
$a+ 6ith its crayoned "nit sy$bos. The afternoon rain started< +"nging sheets of 6ater
that $ade the canvas Ao"nce ike a dr"$head. #t so"nded ike an angry cro6d.
The !ivi ,ffairs Efficer and the ie"tenant fro$ the $iitary inteigence detach$ent
shared a +resentation on the res"ts of the 1edca+. They +roved that ?ero co"d be
divided in haf to fi t6enty $in"tes. Then the E+erations Efficer described 4 Troo+>s
$orning s6ee+. #t had t"rned "+ t6o od b"nkers and so$e cartridge cases< b"t no signs
of recent occ"+ation. The sector 6as @"iet.
The bading S;- s6itched to disc"ssing the o+eration +anned in t6o days. /hen he
directed a @"estion to Schaydin< the ie"tenant contin"ed to rock sienty on his boG< his
eyes o+en b"t fiGed on nothing in the tent.
&SchaydinD& the s@"adron co$$ander snared. &Sto+ sitting there 6ith yo"r finger "+
yo"r b"tt and +ay attentionD&
&Ces< sirD& Schaydin>s face f"shed hot and his 6hoe body tinged< as if he had A"st been
ro"sed fro$ a dead faint. &/o"d yo" +ease re+eat the @"estion< sirB&
The $eeting asted another ten $in"tes< "nti the rain sto++ed. Schaydin absorbed every
+ointess detai 6ith febrie ac"teness. 2is fesh sti tinged.
* * *
,fter !o. Brookings dis$issed his officers into the cearing skies< Schaydin 6andered
to6ard the far side of the defensive ber$ instead of going directy to his tent. 2e
foo6ed the +ath behind one of the sef;+ro+eed ho6it?ers< avoiding the +ie of 6hite
coth bags st"ffed 6ith +ro+eant +o6der. The charges 6ere +acked in seg$ents. 4or
short range sheing< so$e of the seg$ents 6ere torn off and thro6n a6ay as these had
been. Soon the +o6der 6o"d be carried o"tside the +eri$eter and b"rned.
B'rned. 3 roaring, sparking col'#n of orange fla#e, and in itH
Schaydin c"rsed. 2e 6as s6eating again.
Three ringing eG+osions so"nded near at hand. The noise had been a facet of the
backgro"nd before the rain as 6e< Schaydin re$e$bered. 2e 6aked to6ard the so"rce
of the so"nds< one of 4irst Patoon>s tanks. #t had been backed caref"y a6ay fro$ the
ber$< shedding its right tread onto the gro"nd< straight as a to6 ine bet6een the vehice
and the earthen 6a. 4o"r $en h"nched behind a traier so$e yards fro$ the tank. Ene
of the$< naked to the 6aist< hed a detonator in his hand. The troo+er sa6 Schaydin
a++roaching and caed< &Stand back< sir. /e>re bo6ing o"t torsion bars.&
The ie"tenant sto++ed< 6atching. The troo+er nodded and sa++ed cosed the scissors
hande of the detonator. S$oke and another canging eG+osion s+rang fro$ a$ong the
tank>s road 6hees. The enisted $en straightened. &That>s got it<& one of the$ $"r$"red.
Schaydin 6aked to the$< trying to re$e$ber the na$e of the ta $an 6ith the
detonator< the tank co$$ander of this vehice.
&/hat>s going on< :$$ettB& Schaydin asked.
None of the enisted $en sa"ted.&:$ery< sir<& the T! corrected. &E"r tank had siG
torsion bars broke< so she steered and rode ike a tr"ck 6ith s@"are 6hees. Back in the
/ord they>ve got $achines to drift o"t torsion bars< b"t here 6e>re A"st "sing a co"+e
o"nces of !;0 to crack each one oose.& The ta nonco$ +ointed at the bock of eG+osive
dro++ed on the gro"nd beside hi$. #ts green sand6ich backing had been +eeed a6ay
fro$ both sides< and haf the do"ghy 6hite plasti:'e had been +inched off. Severa
co++er basting ca+s ay on the gro"nd beside the !;0.
:$ery ignored the ie"tenant>s s"dden +aor. 2e sto++ed +aying attention to Schaydin
entirey since it 6as obvio"s that the officer 6as not abo"t to he+ 6ith the Aob. &!o$e
on< snakes<& :$ery said< &6e got a ot to do before s"ndo6n.&
The cre6$en scra$bed to their fifty;ton $o"nt< h"king and r"sted and $ore
te$+era$entay fragie than any b"t the $en res+onsibe for s"ch $onsters 6i ever
kno6. Schaydin>s staring eyes foo6ed the$ as he hi$sef bent at the knees and to"ched
the bock of !;0. #ts s$ooth o"ter 6ra++er 6as coo to his fingers. /itho"t ooking at the
eG+osive< Schaydin sid it into a side +ocket of his fatig"e tro"sers. 2e 6aked s6ifty
back to his tent.
* * *
Tro+ic s"nset is as s6ift as it is briiant. #t cra$s a the reds and ochres and $agentas of
the te$+erate ?ones into a fe6 $in"tes 6hich the night then s6ao6s. B"t the darkness<
tho"gh it 6o"d be s"dden< 6as ho"rs a6ay* and Schaydin>s +"sing $e$ory 6o"d not
et hi$ 6ait ho"rs.
Soane 6as radio 6atch this afternoon. The driver sat on the taigate of the co$$and
vehice 6ith his feet on the fra$e of his cot. 2e 6as taking to the staff sergeant 6ho
6o"d take over as !J at 2000 ho"rs. They fe sient 6hen Schaydin a++eared.
&7o ahead< Ski+< get yo"rsef so$e s"++er<& the ie"tenant said stiffy. &#> take the radio
for a 6hie.&
&S>okay< sire< /ash here s+eed $e<& Soane said. 2e +ointed at the +a+er +ate 6ith
re$nants of beef and crea$ed +otatoes< sitting on his footocker. &7o ahead and eat
yo"rsef.&
&# said #>d take the radioD&Schaydin sna++ed. 2e 6as tre$bing< tho"gh he did not reai?e
it. Soane ganced very @"icky at his co$$ander< then to the started sergeant. The driver
o6ered his feet fro$ the cot and s@"ee?ed back so that Schaydin co"d enter the track.
The t6o enisted $en 6ere 6his+ering together at the o+en end of the tent 6hen their
ie"tenant dre6 the +oncho sh"t< cosing off the rest of the 6ord.
#t 6as di$ in the soid;6aed vehice< di$$er yet 6hen Schaydin "n+"gged the desk
a$+. Radio dias gea$ed and refected fro$ the for$ica co"nter< chinks of ight see+ed
in +ast the c"rtain. B"t it 6o"d serve< 6o"d serve . . . .
The teGt"re of the !;0 steadied Schaydin>s fingers as he $oded it. The high sides of the
ash tray $ade it diffic"t to ignite the +eet. The hot stee of the ighter seared his fingers
and he c"rsed in teary fr"stration* b"t A"st before Schaydin 6o"d have had to +" a6ay
6inked the s+ark and the orange fareFand in it< the gir dancing.
2er head 6as f"ng back< the back< ri++ing< s$oky hair fying o"t behind her. Schaydin
heard the 6ords again< &, 1arieD #ciD Iiens iciD&The radio 6as babbing< too< on the
co$$and fre@"ency* b"t 6hatever it de$anded 6as ost in the roar of the cro6d.
Passion< as fiercey hot as the eG+osive that gave it for$< fashed fro$ the gir>s eyes.
&!o$e to $eD&
The fa$e s+"ttered o"t. Schaydin 6as bind to a b"t its afteri$age.
The co$+art$ent 6as hot and reeking. S6eat beaded at Schaydin>s hairine and on his
short< back $o"stache. 2e stri++ed the backing a6ay fro$ the rest of the eG+osive and
began to knead the 6hoe ch"nk< haf a +o"nd< into a singe ba.
&Batte SiG to Batte Ene;SiG<& the radio re+eated angriy in !o. Brookings> voice. &7od
da$$it< Schaydin< re+ortD&
The ashtray had shattered in the heat. Schaydin s6e+t the frag$ents nervo"sy to the
foor< then set the "$+ of eG+osive on the bood;$arked for$ica. , shard of cear gass
6inked "nnoticed in the hee of his hand. 2e sna++ed his ighter to fa$e and it $o"nted<
and she $o"ntedF
Fand she caed. 2er hands co"d not reach o"t for hi$ b"t her so" did and her 2e;
bright eyes. &Iiens iciD IiensD&
The dancer>s s$ooth fesh 6rithed 6ith no coak b"t the fa$e. 2igher< the radio dias
$eting< the i?ard;tong"e forks of the ba?e beading the a"$in"$ roofFSchaydin
stood< his ankes cose together ike hers. 2e did not reach for her< not beca"se of the heat
b"t beca"se the $otion 6o"d beF6rong. #nstead he +"t his hands behind his back and
crossed his 6rists. E"tside the c"rtain< voices snared b"t the dragon;hiss of the !;0
6o"d have dro6ned even a sane $an>s senses. She t6isted< her eyes beckoning< her
$o"th o+ening to s+eak. Schaydin arched< bending his body A"st so andF
&!o$eD&
Fand he 6ent.
The +oncho tore fro$ !o. Brookings> fingers and a gir +"nged o"t of the fiery radio
co$+art$ent. She 6as s6arthy b"t not Iietna$ese< naked eGce+t for s$odering scra+s
of a 6ooen shift. Neither Brookings nor the enisted $en co"d "nderstand the 4rench
she 6as babbing* b"t her Aoy< des+ite severe b"rns on her feet and egs< 6as
"n$istakabe.
No one ese 6as in the vehice.
En Ectober '0< '02(< the asse$bed viagers of Briancon< Province of Da"+hinR<
=ingdo$ of 4rance< roared in 6onder$ent. The 6itch 1ariedea Barthe< being b"rned
aive at the stake< s"ddeny took the for$ of a de$on 6ith baggy green skin. The change
did not aid the 6itch< ho6ever< for the bonds sti hed. Des+ite its 6rithing and
"ninteigibe cries< the de$on;sha+e b"rned as 6e in the fire as a gir 6o"d have.
Firefi!ht

.ne of the best of #any good things that(s happened in the co'rse of #y
&riting career is that - got )irby Mc/a'ley for an agent. 43nd
incidentally, if these intros don(t #ake it clear that -(ve been a#azingly
l'cky all #y life, then they(re distorting a tr'th that - feel all the &ay to #y
bones.5

3fter Mr. Derleth died, - had to look for ne& #arkets. - #anaged to sell a
story to 4QS4 b't a lot of short fiction &as being p'blished in one?shot
anthologies that - &asn(t even going to hear abo't before they closed. -
tho'ght abo't agents, b't - didn(t really kno& ho& to go abo't getting one
and - felt 4rightly5 that anybody &ho took #e at that stage of #y career
&as a pretty do'btf'l prospect hi#self.

3 p'lp dealer friend, 6ichard Minter, #entioned that a correspondent
fro# Minneapolis, )irby Mc/a'ley, had started representing fantasy
&riters. e &as agent for a n'#ber of /eird Taes pros 4/arl 7acobi, for
e8a#ple5, b't he also had ne& 3rkha# o'se &riters like 6a#sey
/a#pbell and Brian 2'#ley in his stable.

Wo'ld he represent #eG Did - really &ant an agentG 3nd perhaps #ost
i#portant, ho& painf'l &o'ld it be to be t'rned do&nG $retty painf'l, -
s'spected, b't - co'ld delay the event by not &riting Mc/a'ley.

T&o things happened. 4QS4 p'blished a /th'lh' Mythos novelette by
Brian 2'#ley. Since the "CD>s, the only 2ovecraftian stories in the
#agazine had been parodiesHit &as far too sophisticated for Apne'#atic
proseA to :'ote one editor(s co##ent abo't 2ovecraft(s o&n style. *et here
&as an 'nabashed pastiche. - co'ld only ass'#e that Mr. 2'#ley(s agent
&as an incredible sales#an. 4.ddly eno'gh, that &as precisely the correct
ass'#ption to dra& fro# the event.5

Second, Marvel /o#ics bro'ght o't a digest?sized fantasy #agazine, The
2a"nt of 2orror. M'ch of it &as &ritten in?ho'se by co#ics scripters, b't
there &as also a ne& story by 6a#sey /a#pbell. Mr. /a#pbell(s agent
&as obvio'sly on top of things.

F'rther#ore, - learned that The 2a"nt of 2orror &as being killed after
the second iss'e 4&hich &as already at the printers5. -(d #issed #y chance
at a sale beca'se - didn(t have an agent like )irby Mc/a'ley.

- didn(t think - co'ld si#ply &rite )irby 4&ell, Mr. Mc/a'ley5 and tell hi#
- &anted an agent. -(d 9'st finished a story 4A/ontactBA5 that - intended to
send to 3nalog. - sent it to )irby &ith #y :'ery letter instead.

e &rote back &ith great enth'sias# 4)irby does everything &ith great
enth'sias#@ yo' can :'estion his 9'dg#ent so#eti#es, b't never his
g'sto5, saying that he &as already a&are of #y &riting and had intended
to approach #e shortly. e tho'ght the story &as great 4he sent it on to
3nalog and got an acceptance by ret'rn #ail, the fastest -(ve ever had in
#y life5 and looked for&ard to a long and profitable association.

We(ve had that, tho'gh it &as a lot of years before - #ade eno'gh #oney
to 9'stify )irby and his sister )ay keeping #e on as a client. )irby &ent
fro# s'ccess to s'ccess, ratcheting clients 'p by orders of #agnit'de
&hether they started fro# nothing 4like )arl Wagner5 or fro# so#ething
already i#pressive 4like Stephen )ing, &ho beca#e )irby(s client after his
early si8?fig're book deals5.

-n the co'rse of his other activities, )irby edited original anthologies. -
&rote AFirefightA for the first of the#, AFrights.A The incident of a kid in
the fla#e track breaking 'p an attack &as :'ite real, tho'gh of co'rse the
ene#y &as an N,3 battalion rather than anything s'pernat'ral.

3s a #atter of fact, the &hole backgro'nd is real. - look back at that ti#e
and realize that it &as a co#pletely different &orld.

B't at the ti#e it &as the real &orld, and the only &orld - had.

&!hrist<& 7inei said< staring at the d"sty 6iderness< &if this is a sa$+e< the neGt $ove>
be to 2e. ,nd a firebase there>d be cooer.& 2errod it a cigarette and +oked the +ack
to6ard his s"bordinate.&2ave one<& he s"ggested.
&Not "ness it>s grass<& the heavy ne6bie $"ttered. 2e fa++ed the seeveess fak Aacket
a6ay fro$ his fesh< feeing streaks of $o$entary chi as s6eat started fro$ beneath the
@"ited nyon. &!hrist< ho6 d>yo" stand itB&
2errod< rangy and big;Aointed< eaned back in the do$e seat and cocked one eg over the
fa$ethro6er>s $"??e. 7inei envied the track co$$ander>s b"id every ti$e he ooked
at the taer $an. 2is o6n basic training ony fo"r $onths before had been a ghasty
ro"nd of eGtra +hysica training to s6eat off +o"nds of his $other>s +asta.
&Better get "sed to it<& 2errod 6arned a?iy. &This ?i++o a6ays 6inds "+ at the back of
the co"$n< so 6e a6ays 6ait to set "+ in the ne6 aagers. Think abo"t the$F+retend
yo">re a tree.&
7inei foo6ed his T!>s finger to6ard the eight giant trees in the stone encos"re. #t
didn>t he+. Their to+s reached a h"ndred feet into the air above the desoate +ain<
standing aoof fro$ the activity that raised a +a of d"st beside the$. The shado6s
+ooing beneath co"d not coo 7inei as he s@"atted s"n;da??ed on the deck of the
fa$e track.
,t east !oone Boye 6as A"st as hot 6here he stood directing +ace$ents fro$ the
sandbagged deck of his vehice. 2ie" stood beside hi$ as "s"a. Co" co"d a6ays
recogni?e the inter+reter at a distance beca"se of the tiger fatig"es he 6ore< darky
streaked 6ith back and green. Beo6 the t6o< radio$en 6ere stringing the ast of the
tar+a"in +assage6ays that Aoined the three co$$and vehices into a Tactica E+erations
!enter. No6 yo" co"d $ove bet6een the backed;o"t tracks in the dark* b"t the coo of
the night see$ed far a6ay.
En the roof< Boye +ointed and said so$ething to 2ie". The dark;skinned inter+reter>s
nod 6as e$+hatic* the coone s+oke into his neck;s"ng $icro+hone and the t6o
vehices ahead of the fa$e track gr"nted into $otion. 2errod straightened s"ddeny as
his radio he$et b"r+ed at hi$. &Seven;?ero< roger<& he re+ied.
&/e $ovin>B& 7inei asked< eaning coser to the T! to hear hi$ better. 2errod fi++ed
the s6itch by his eft ear for6ard to interco$ and said< &E=< 1"rray< they 6ant "s on the
6est side against that stone 6a. There> be a gro"nd g"ide< so take it easy.&
1"rray edged the ?i++o for6ard< driving it cock6ise aro"nd the circ"it other tracks had
ca6ed in the barren earth. :Gce+t for the grove 6ithin the roo$y aterite encos"re< there
6as nothing gro6ing coser than the r"bber +antation 6hose rigid fies $arched green
and siver a $ie to the east. %o6 dikes< $osty faen into the cr"$bing soi< ordered the
6asteand. D"st +"$ed in the far distance as a $otorbike +"ed o"t of the r"bber and
t"rned to6ard the firebase. !oke girs aready< 7inei tho"ght. :ven in this desert.
/hatever the region>s +robe$ 6as it co"dn>t have been 6ith the soi itsef* not if trees
ike the $onsters behind the o6 6a co"d gro6 in it. :very one of the eight the $assive
stone6ork girded 6as forty feet aro"nd at the base. The 6rinked boe of the centra titan
co"d have been haf that again.
The ?i++o hated 6hie a bridge tank roared< ch"rning the yieding dirt as it $ane"vered
its fronta so+e "+ to the coarse aterite. The gro"nd g"ide< a bare;chested tanker 6ith a
beaded s6eat band< dro++ed his ar$s to signa the bridge to sh"t do6n< then $otioned
the fa$e track in beside the greater b"k. 1"rray c"t his engine and hoisted hi$sef o"t
of the driver>s hatch.
!o$$on sense and the coone>s orders re@"ired that everyone on a track be 6earing
he$et and fak Aacket. 1en ike 1"rray< ho6ever< 6ho eGtended their to"rs to fo"r years<
tended to ignore death and their officers 6hen co$fort 6as at stake. The driver 6as
naked to the 6aist* beached goden hairs stood o"t 6ireike against his dee+ tan.&Dig o"t
so$e beers< t"rte<& he said to 7inei 6ith easy arrogance. &/e got ti$e to do6n >e$
before they start +"ttin> a detai together.& Road d"st had coated the stocky< +o6erf"
driver do6n to the throat< the height he +roAected fro$ his hatch 6ith the seat raised and
the cover s6iveed back. Cears of Iietna$ese s"night had 6ashed a coor fro$ his
once;b"e eyes.
,n ,!,I +"ed "+ to the fa$e track>s right< its T! nonchaant in his c"+oa behind the
ca fifty. To 7inei>s a$a?e$ent< the $otorbike he had seen eaving the r"bber +antation
6as the neGt vehice in ine. #t 6as a tiny green Sachs rather than one of the o$ni+resent
2onda 30s< and its driver 6as !a"casian. 1"rray grinned and A"$+ed to his
feet.&!ro?ierD Jac@"esD&he sho"ted deightedy.&/hat the he are yo" doin> hereB&
The 6hite;shirted civiian t"rned his bike neaty and t"cked it in on the shady side of the
?i++o. #f any of the brass had noticed hi$< they $ade no sign. Dis$o"nted< !ro?ier tited
his face "+ and s6e+t his baseba ca+ a6ay fro$ a head of thinning hair. &Ces< # tho"ght
# $ight find yo"< Joe<& he said. 2is :ngish 6as sighty b"rred. &B"t any6ay< # 6o"d
have co$e A"st to tak again to /hites. #t is grand to see yo".&
2errod "nashed the sheter tar+ fro$ the oad and et it th"$+ over the side. &%et>s get
so$e shade "+<& he ordered.
&Jack 6as r"nning a +antation for 1ichein "+ north 6hen 6e 6ere in the ,;Sha"
Iaey<& 1"rray eG+ained. &2e>s a good d"de. B"t 6hy yo" do6n here< $anB&
&Eh< 6e<& the 4rench$an said 6ith a de+recating shr"g. &Co"r defoiation< yo" kno6B ,
fe6 $onths after yo"r s@"adron +"s o"t< the +anes co$e over. PoofD Pantation Seven
is dead and # $"st be transferred. They gro6 +ean"ts there no6.&
2errod a"ghed. &That>s the nice thing abo"t a Aob in this co"ntry<& he said. &,6ays
so$ethin> ne6 to$orro6.&
&Ceah< not so $any I! here as "+ there<& 1"rray agreed.
!ro?ier gri$aced.&The I! # a$ abe to ive 6ith. %ike the$B No. B"t # "nderstand the$<
"nderstand their< their ai$s. B"t these +eo+e aro"nd here< these 1engsFthey 6i not
6ork< they 6i not tak< ony gare at yo" and +ant eno"gh rice for the$seves. 1ichein
$"st bring in Iiets to 6ork the r"bber< and even those< they do not stay beca"se they do
not ike 1engs so near.&
&B"t they>re a Iietna$ese< aren>t theyB&7inei asked in +"??e$ent.&# $ean< 6hat ese
co"d they beB&
The 4rench$an ch"cked< hooking his th"$bs in his tro"ser to+s. &They ive in Iiet Na$
so they are Iietna$ese< noB B"t yo" ,$ericans have yo"r #ndians. 2ere are the
1ontagnardsF6e ca the$ the 1o"ntaineers< yo" kno6B B"t the Iietna$ese na$e for
the$ $eans >the dirty ani$as.> Not the sa$e fok< no no. They 6ere here ong before the
Iiets ca$e do6n fro$ the North. ,nd the 1eng 6ho ive here and a fe6 other +aces<
they are not the sa$e either* not as the Iiets or even the 1ontagnards. ,nd $aybe they
are oder yet< so they say.&
The gro"+ 6aited a $o$ent in sience. 2errod o+ened the 1er$ite can that served as a
cooer and began handing o"t beer.&7ot a ch"rch keyB&he asked no one in +artic"ar.
1"rray< the ony $an on the track 6ith a knife< dre6 his h"ge Bo6ie and cho++ed ragged
trianges in the to+s. Te+id beer g"rged as the fo"r $en drank. 7inei set his can do6n.
&9$$<& he said to his T!< &ho6 abo"t the co;aGB&
2errod sighed.&Ceah< 6e don>t 6ant the son;of;a;bitch to Aa$.&Joints +o++ed as he stood
and stretched his ong fra$e.
!ro?ier g"+ed the s6ig of beer sti in his $o"th. &#ndeed not<& he agreed. &Not here<
es+eciay. The area has a very bad re+"tation.&
&That a factB&2errod asked in $id s"r+rise. &,t the troo+ $eetin> ast night the oe $an
said aro"nd here it>d be +retty @"iet. Not $"ch activity on the inteigence $a+s.&
&,ctivityB&the 4rench$an re+eated 6ith raised eyebro6s.&/ho can sayB The I! co$e
thro"gh the aborers> hootches no6 and again< not so $"ch here as near ,;Sha"< that is
tr"e. B"t 6hen - first 6as transferred here three years ago< there 6ere five< $aybe siG
h"ndred in the viageFthe 1engs< yo" kno6< not the +antation ines.&
&That itte +ace back 6here 6e eft the hardbaB& 7inei 6ondered ao"d. &Jee?< there>s
not a do?en hootches there.&
&J"ite so<& !ro?ier agreed 6ith a grave nod of his head. &Beca"se a battaion of
!o$$"nists s"rro"nded it one night and kied every 1eng they fo"nd. 1aybe t6enty
s"rvived.&
&!hrist<& 7inei breathed in horror< b"t 2errod>s greater eG+erience ca"sed his eyes to
narro6 in c"riosity.
&/hy the heB& the ta track co$$ander asked. &# $ean< # kno6 they>ve got hit s@"ads
o"t to g"n do6n viage co+s and head$en and a. B"t 6hy the 6hoe +aceB /ere they
that strong for the govern$entB&
&The govern$entB& the civiian echoed* he a"ghed.&They s+at at the District 7overnor
6hen he ca$e thro"gh. B"t a 6eek before the !o$$"nists ca$e< there 6as firing near
this very +ace. !o$$"nist< there is no do"bt. # sa6 the tracers $ysef and they 6ere
green.
&The restFand this is r"$or ony< 6hat $y fore$en tod $e at the ti$e before they
sto++ed taking abo"t itFa co$+any< thirty $en< 6ere a$b"shed. /i+ed o"t< every one
of the$ and $"tiated< ah . . . bady. 2o6 they decided that the 1engs 6ere
res+onsibe< # do not kno6* b"t that co"d have been the reason they 6i+ed o"t the viage
ater.&
&9$$<& 2errod gr"nted. 2e cr"$+ed his beer can and ooked for a itter barre.&%e$$e
get on the horn and 6e> see A"st ho6 the co;aG is scre6ing "+.& The can cattered into
the barre as the T! s6"ng "+ on the back deck of the ?i++o again. The others co"d hear
his voice as he s+oke into the $icro+hone: &Batte five;siG< track seven;?ero. Re@"est
cearance to test fire o"r 1ike seven;fo"r.&
,n "ninteigibe cracke re+ied fro$ the headset a $o$ent ater. &No sir<& 2errod
denied< &not if 6e 6ant it 6orking tonight.& 2e nodded at the ans6er. &Roger< roger.& 2e
6aved. &E=<& he said to his cre6 as he set do6n the radio he$et< &et>s see 6hat it>s
doin>.&
7inei ci$bed "+ beside 2errod< sithering his +"dgy body over the edge of the track
6ith diffic"ty. 1"rray contin"ed to o"nge against the side of the track. &2e<& he said<
&# never $"ch iked g"ns any6ay* yo" g"ys do yo"r thing.&!ro?ier stood beside his
friend< interested b"t hoding back a itte fro$ the deicacy of an "ninvited g"est. The
$achine g"n had once been co;aGia to the fa$ethro6er. No6 it 6as on a s6ive 6eded
to the to+ of the T!>s do$e. 2errod rotated it< ai$ing at the h"ge tree in the center of the
grove. , ten foot scar streaked the ight tr"nk verticay to the gro"nd< so he set the
b"ckhorn sight A"st above it. Ether troo+ers< 6arned by radio 6hat to eG+ect< 6ere
6atching c"rio"sy.
The g"n st"ttered off a short b"rst and Aa$$ed. :$+ty brass tinked off the right side of
the track. 2errod s6ore and cicked o+en the receiver cover. 2is scre6driver +ried at the
st"ck case "nti it s+rang free. Sa$$ing the cover sh"t< he Aacked another ro"nd into the
cha$ber.
B,1 B,1 B,1 B,1 B,1
&7od da#n it<& 2errod said. &%ooks ike 6e gotta take the 6hoe thing do6n.&
&Er thro6 rocks<& 7inei s"ggested.
2errod cocked a r"sty eyebro6. 9nike the thick;set ne6bie< he had been in co"ntry ong
eno"gh to have a fee for rea danger. ,fter a $o$ent he grinned back. &Eh< 6e don>t
have to thro6 rocks<& he said. 2e "ns"ng his od s"b$achine g"n fro$ the side of the
do$e. T6enty years of service had 6orn $ost of the finish off its cr"dey sta$+ed $eta
b"t it sti ooked s@"at and deady.
2errod set the 6ire stock to his sho"der* the b"rst< 6hen he s@"ee?ed off< 6as ear;
shattering. , ine of fiercey red tracers stabbed fro$ the $"??e and ri++ed an ascending
c"rve of s+intered 6ood "+ the side of the center tree.
&Na6< 6e>re E= 6hie the oe greaseg"n 6orks<& 2errod said. 2e a"ghed. &B"t<& he
added< &6e better tear do6n the co;aG anyho6.&
&Perha+s # sho"d eave no6<& !ro?ier s"ggested. &#t gro6s ate and # $"st ret"rn to $y
d"ties.&
&2e<& 1"rray +rotested< &stick aro"nd for cho6 at east. Co"r dinks> do 6itho"t
babysittin> for that ong.&
The 4rench$an +"rsed his i+s.&2e> have to cear 6ith the coone<& 2errod 6arned.
&No s6eat<& the driver insisted.&/e> sno6 hi$ abo"t a the oca inteigence Jac@"es
can give "s. !o$e on< $an* 6e> brace hi$ no6.& !ro?ier foo6ed in 1"rray>s forcef"
6ake< an a++rehensive fro6n sti on his face.
&Say< 6here>d yo" get theseB& 7inei in@"ired< +icking "+ a fat< red;nosed cartridge ike
those 2errod had A"st th"$bed into his greaseg"n.
&The tracersB& the T! re+ied absenty. &Eh< # fo"nd a case back in Di ,n. Pretty at night
and< 6hat the he< they hit A"st as hard. B"t et>s get crackin> on the co;aG.&
7inei A"$+ed to the gro"nd. 2errod handed hi$ a footocker to serve as a tabeFthe
back deck of the ?i++o 6as too c"ttered to stri+ the g"n thereFand the co;aG itsef. #n a
fe6 $in"tes they had red"ced the 6ea+on to co$+onents and beg"n ceaning the$.
, shado6 eased across the footocker. 7inei ooked "+< sti hoding the receiver he 6as
br"shing 6ith a sovent;aden toothbr"sh. The inter+reter< 2ie"< had 6aked over fro$
the TE! and 6as facing the grove. 2e see$ed obivio"s to the troo+ers beside hi$.
&2ey 2ie"<& the T! caed.&/hy the he>d the coone stick "s here< d>ya kno6B /e get
in a firefight and these da$n trees> hide a division of I!.&
2ie" ooked aro"nd so6y. 2is feat"res had neither the fragiity of the +"re Iietna$ese
nor the $oon;ike f"ness of those 6ith !hinese bood. 2is 6as a bocky face< set as ever
in hard ines< $ahogany in coor. 2ie" ste++ed "+ to the 6a before ans6ering< etting his
hands r"n over the ro"gh stone ike t6o dried oak eaves.
&No ti$e to $ake ber$<& he said at ast< +ointing to the beo6ing !ater+iar ci$bing
o"t of a trench near the TE!. The D;7, 6as digging in see+ing traiers for the brass
rather than starting to thro6 "+ an earthen 6a aro"nd the +eri$eter. &The 6a here
$ake "s need ti;ti ber$< # sho6 coone.&
2errod nodded. The stone encos"re 6as s@"are< abo"t a h"ndred yards to a side. Tho"gh
ony fo"r feet high< the ancient 6a 6as neary as thick and 6o"d sto+ anything short of
an eight inch she. B"t even 6ith the 6ork the 6a 6o"d save the engineers on the 6est
side< those trees s"re +ayed he 6ith the ?ones of fire. Seven of the$ ooked to 2errod
to be Phii++ine $ahoganies* 7od kne6 6hat the $onster in the $idde 6as* a banyan<
$aybe< fro$ the creviced tr"nk< b"t the bark didn>t ook ike the banyans he>d seen
before.
&Never sa6 trees that big before<& the T! said ao"d.
2ie" ooked at hi$ again< this ti$e 6ith a hint of eG+ression on his face.&Ces<& he stated.
&Ti;ti eft 6hen 4rench co$e< no6 ony one.& 2is fingers toyed 6ith the faded d"ck of
the a$$o +o"ch ci++ed to his bet. Both sodiers tho"ght the dark $an 6as thro"gh
s+eaking< b"t 2ie">s tong"e ficked bet6een his thin i+s again and he contin"ed< &1aybe
three< $aybe t6o years ony< there 6as other. No6 ony this.&The inter+reter>s voice
beca$e a hiss.&B"t bea"co"+ years before< every6here 6as tree< every6here 6as 1engD&
Boots sc"ffed in +o6dery dirt* 1"rray and the
4rench$an 6ere co$ing back fro$ the TE!. 2ie" ost interest in 2errod and va"ted
the aterite 6a gracef"y. The driver and !ro?ier 6atched hi$ ste++ing +"r+osef"y
to6ard the center of the 6idey s+aced grove as they hated beside the others.
&B"t 6ho is thatB& !ro?ier @"estioned shar+y.
&9hB That>s 2ie"< he>s o"r inter+reter<& 1"rray gr"nted in s"r+rise. &2o6 co$eB&
The 4rench$an fro6ned . . . &B"t he is 1eng< s"reyB # did not kno6 that any served
in the ar$y< even that the govern$ent tried to ind"ct the$ any$ore.&
&2e< # a6ays heard he 6as fro$ Saigon<& 2errod ans6ered. &2e>d>a said if he 6as
fro$ here< 6o"dn>t heB&
&/hat the he>s 2ie" "+ to< anyho6B& 7inei asked. 2e +ointed to6ard the grove 6here
the inter+reter stood< facing the scarred tr"nk of the centra tree. 2e co"dn>t see 2ie">s
hands fro$ that ange< b"t the inter+reter t6itched in rit"a $otion beneath the f"id
stri+es of his fatig"es.
Nobody s+oke. 7inei set one foot on the tread and ifted hi$sef onto the fa$e track.
Red and yeo6 s$oke grenades h"ng by their safety rings inside the do$e. Sti o6er
s6"ng a d"sty +air of binoc"ars. 7inei be6 on the enses before setting the gasses to
his eyes and rotating the se+arate foc"s knobs. 2ie" had knet on the gro"nd< b"t the
troo+er sti co"d not te 6hat he 6as doing. So$ething ese ca"ght his eye.
&7od da$n<& the +"$+ ne6bie b"rted. 2e eaned over the side of the track and thr"st
the gasses to6ard 2errod< b"sy +"tting the $achine g"n back together. &2ey Red< take a
ook at the tree tr"nk.&
1"rray< !ro?ier< and 7inei hi$sef 6aited eG+ectanty 6hie the T! refoc"sed the
binoc"ars. 1agnified< the tree increased geo$etricay in hideo"sness. #ts bark 6as
+inkish and +a+er thin< s$oother than that of a birch over $ost of the boe>s s"rface. The
go"ged< 6rinked a++earance of the tr"nk 6as d"e to the "nderying 6ood< not any
irreg"arity in the bark that covered it.
The ta catface in front of 2ie" 6as the tr"nk>s ony tr"e be$ish. /here the tear had
+"ckered together in a creased< backened sea$< ragged edges of bark f"ttered in the
bree?e. The fa+s 6ere an "nheathy coor< ike skin +eeing a6ay fro$ a bad b"rn. 2ie">s
s@"at body hid ony a third of the scar* the "++er +ortion to6ered goo$iy above hi$.
&/e< it>s not $"ch to ook at<& 2errod said at ast. &/hat>s the deaB&
&/here>s the b"et hoesB& 7inei de$anded in tri"$+h. &Co" +"t t6enty< thirty shots in
it< rightB /here>d they go toB&
&Son of a bitch<& the T! agreed< taking another ook. The co;aG sho"d have eft a tight
+attern of shattered 6ood above the ancient scar. :Gce+t for so$e bro6nish di$+es in
the bark< the tree 6as "n$arked.
&# sa6 s+inters fy<& 1"rray re$arked.
&7odda$ 6ood $"st>a s6eed right over>e$<& 2errod s"ggested. &That>s 6here # hit< a
right.&
&That is a very strange tree<& !ro?ier said< s+eaking for the first ti$e since his ret"rn.
&There 6as another ike it near Pantation Seven. #t had a$ond trees aro"nd it too<
tho"gh there 6as no 6a. They ca the$ god treesFthe Iiets do. The 1engs have their
o6n 6ord< b"t # do not kno6 its $eaning.&
, !hinook s6e+t over the firebase fro$ the so"th< $o$entariy stifing conversation
6ith the synco+ated 6ho++ing of its t6in rotors. #t hovered A"st beyond the +eri$eter<
then so6y setted in a circ"ar d"st co"d 6hie its t"rbines 6hined enor$o"sy. 1en
ran to "noad it.
&!ho6 +retty @"ick<& 1"rray co$$ented. #t 6as nearing fo"r o>cock. 7inei ooked
a6ay fro$ the bird. &Don>t see$ right<& he said. The other $en ooked bank. 2e tried to
eG+ain< &# $ean< the Shithook there< Aet engines and a< and that tree there being so od.&
The driver snorted. &2e< that>s not od. No6 back in !aifornia 6here they $ake those
things&Fhis broad th"$b indicated the banana;sha+ed heico+terF&they got red6oods
that>re reay od. Co" don>t think anything f"nny abo"t that< do yo"B&
7inei gest"red he+essy 6ith his hands. S"r+risingy it 6as !ro?ier< haf;seated on the
aterite 6a< 6ho ca$e to his aid.&/hat $akes yo" think this god tree is ess od than a
red6ood< JoeB& he asked $idy.
1"rray binked. &2e< red6oods>re the odest things there are. ,ive< # $ean.&
The 4rench$an a"ghed and re+eated his de+recating shr"g. &B"t trees are $y b"siness<
yo" kno6B No6 there is a +ine tree in ,ri?ona oder than yo"r !aifornia se@"oias* b"t
nobody kne6 it for a ong ti$e beca"se there are not $any of the$ and . . . nobody
noticed. ,nd here is a tree< an od oneFb"t 6ho kno6sB 1aybe there are ony t6o in the
6hoe 6ord eftFand the other one< the one in the north< that +erha+s is dead 6ith $y
+antation.&
&Co" never co"nted the rings or anythingB& 2errod asked c"rio"sy 2e had ocked the
barre into the co;aG 6hie the others 6ere taking.
&No . . . & !ro?ier ad$itted. 2is tong"e to"ched his i+s as he ganced "+ at the god
tree< 6ondering ho6 $"ch he sho"d say. &No<& he re+eated< &b"t # ony sa6 the tree once
6hie # 6as at Pantation Seven. #t stood in the A"nge< $ore than a $ie fro$ the r"bber<
and the aborers did not care that anyone sho"d go near it. There 6ere 1engs there< too<
# 6as tod* b"t ony a fe6 and they hid in the 6oods. Bad bood bet6een the$ and $y
aborers< no do"bt.&
&/e< he< Jac@"es<& 1"rray +ro$+ted. &/hen did yo" see itB& !ro?ier sti hesitated.
S"ddeny reai?ing 6hat the +robe$ $ight be< the driver said< &2e< don>t 6orry abo"t
o'r sto$achs< fer god>s sake. 9ness yo">re s@"ea$ish< t"rteB& 7inei b"shed and shook
his head. %a"ghing< 1"rray 6ent on< &,nyho6< yo" gro6 "+ +retty @"ick after yo" get in
the fiedFthose that ive to. Te the story< Jac@"es.&
!ro?ier sighed. The gade behind hi$ 6as e$+ty. 2ie" had disa++eared so$e6here
6itho"t being noticed.&/e<& he began< &it has no i$+ortance< # a$ s"reFa this
ha++ened a h"ndred $ies a6ay< as yo" kno6. B"t . . . .
&#t 6as not ong after 1ichein sent $e to #ndochina< in '(3- that 6o"d be. # 6as tod of
the god tree as soon as # arrived at Pantation Seven< b"t that 6as a. Ene of $y fore$en
had 6arned $e not to 6ander that 6ay and # ass"$ed< beca"se of the Iiet 1inh.
&Near $idnightFthis 6as before Dien Bien Ph"< yo" 6i re$e$berFthere 6as heavy
firing not far fro$ the +antation. # caed the district garrison since for a $arve the radio
6as 6orking. B"t of co"rse< no one ca$e "nti it 6as ight.&
2errod and 1"rray nodded together in agree$ent. !harging into a night a$b"sh 6as no
6ay to he+ yo"r b"ddies< not in this co"ntry. !ro?ier ceared his throat and 6ent on< &#t
6as t6o co$+anies of coonia +aras that ca$e< and the coone fro$ the fort hi$sef.
Nothing 6o"d he+ b"t that # sho"d g"ide the$ to 6here the shooting had been. ,
+atoon had set "+ an a$b"sh< so they said< b"t it did not ca inFeven for fire s"++ort.
/hen # radioed they ass"$ed . . . . & 2e shr"gged eG+ressivey.
&,nd that is 6hat 6e fo"nd. , the $en< a of the$ deadF"nforgettaby. They 6ere in
the grove of that god tree< on both sides of the trai to it. Perha+s the ie"tenant had
tho"ght the Iiets 6ere raying there. The +aras 6ere 6e ar$ed and did $"ch shooting
fro$ the shes 6e fo"nd. B"t of ene$ies< there 6as no sign* and the +aras had not been
shot. They 6ere torn< yo" kno6B 1"tiated beyond 6hat # co"d beieve. B"t none had
been shot< and their 6ea+ons ay 6ith the bodies.&
&That>s cra?y<& 7inei said< voicing everyone>s tho"ght. &Dinks 6o"d>a taken the g"ns.&
!ro?ier shr"gged. &The coone said at ast his $en had been kied by so$e 6id tribe< so
savage they did not "nderstand g"ns or 6o"d not "se the$. The 1engs< he $eant. They
6ere . . . 6ider< +erha+s< than the ones here b"t sti . . . . # 6o"d not have
tho"ght there 6ere eno"gh of the$ to 6i+e o"t the +atoon< 6aiting as it $"st have
been.&
&2o6 &ere the $en kiedB& 2errod asked at ast.
&=nives # think<& the 4rench$an re+ied< &short ones. Teeth # $ight have said* b"t there
6ere reay no signs that anything had fed on the bodies. Not the kiers< that is. Ene $an
F&
2e +a"sed to s6ao6< contin"ed< &Ene $an # tho"ght 6ore a ong shirt of back. /hen #
ca$e coser< the fies eft hi$. The skin 6as gone fro$ his ar$s and chest. 7od aone
kno6s 6hat had kied hi$* b"t his face 6as the 6orst to see< and that 6as "n$arked.&
No one s+oke for so$e ti$e after that. 4inay 1"rray said< &They o"ghta have cho6 on.
!o$ingB&
!ro?ier s+read his hands. &Co" are s"re it is a rightB # have no "tensis.&
&No s6eat< there>s +a+er +ates. Rest>a yo" g"ysB&
&#> be aong<& 2errod said. &%e$$e re$o"nt the co;aG first.&
&#> do that<& 7inei offered. 2is face 6as saffron< boodess beneath his tan. &Don>t fee
h"ngry tonight anyho6.&
The track co$$ander s$ied. &Co" can give $e a hand.&
/hen the g"n 6as boted soidy back on its $o"nt< 2errod aid a bet of a$$"nition on
the oading tray and cicked the cover sh"t on it. &,h<& 7inei $"$bed< &ah< Red< don>t
yo" think it>d be a good idea to kee+ +ress"re "+ in the na+a$ tanksB # $ean< there>s a
otta 1engs aro"nd here and 6hat 1"rray>s b"ddy says . . . .A
&/e> $ake do 6ith the co;aG<& the T! re+ied< grinning. &Co" kno6 ho6 the co"+ings
eak na+a$ 6ith the +"$+s on.&
&B"t if there>s an attackB& 7inei +eaded.
&%ook< t"rte<& 2errod eG+ained $ore shar+y than before< &6e>re sitting on t6o h"ndred
gaons of na+a$. Ene s+ark in this track 6ith the +ress"re "+ and 6e 6on>t need no
attack. E=B& 7inei shr"gged. &/e< co$e on to cho6 then<& the T! s"ggested.
&7"ess #> stay.&
&S>E=.&2errod si++ed off the track and began 6aking to6ard the $ess tent. 2e 6as
singing softy< &/e gotta get o"ta this +ace . . . .&
!ro?ier eft A"st before the stor$ broke. The rain that had hed off $ost of the day sheeted
do6n at d"sk. %ightning 6hen it fared A"$+ed fro$ co"d;to+ to invisibe co"d;to+. #t
backighted the sky.
The cre6$en h"dded "nder the inade@"ate tar+a"in< istening to the ragged static that
6as a 1"rray>s transistor radio co"d +ick "+. :vent"ay he sh"t it off. 7inei s6ore
$iseraby. Santing rain had started a 6or$ of 6ater at the head of his cot. #t had finay
s@"ir$ed a the 6ay to the other end 6here he sat h"nched against the chi
6ind.&Sho"dn>t so$ebody be on the trackB&he asked. Reg"ar g"ard shifts started at ten
o>cock< b"t "s"ay everybody 6as $ore or ess aert "nti then.
&7o ahead< t"rte< it>s yo"r bright idea<& 1"rray said. 2errod fro6ned $ore serio"sy.
&Ceah< if yo">re 6orried yo" $ight as 6e . . . %ook< yo" get "+ in the do$e no6 and
1"rray> trade his first shift for yo"r second. RightB&
&S"re<& the driver agreed. &1aybe this da$n rain> sto+ by then.&
/earing his +oncho over his fak Aacket< 7inei ca$bered "+ the bo6 so+e of the ?i++o.
The $eta sides 6ere too si$y 6ith rain to $o"nt that 6ay. :Gce+t d"ring ightning
strokes< the darkness 6as o+a@"e. /hen it fashed< the trees stabbed into the s"dden
bright skies and $ade 7inei think abo"t the na+a$ beneath fro$ a different as+ect.
!hrist< those trees 6ere the taest things for $ies< and 7od kne6 the track 6asn>t very
far a6ay if ightning did hit one. 7od< they 6ere ta.
,nd they 6ere od. 7inei recogni?ed the feeing he>d had ever since the fa$e track had
nosed "+ to the 6a to face the grove: an a"ra of age. The sa$e thing he>d sensed 6hen
he 6as a kid and sa6 the 7rand !anyon. There 6as so$ething so od it didn>t give a
da$n abo"t $an or anything ese.
!hristD No tree 6as as od as that* it $"st be their si?e that $ade hi$ so A"$+y. Dark as it
6as< the dinks co"d be cra6ing coser bet6een ightning fashes too. ,t east the rain
6as so6ing do6n.
The hatch cover 6as foded back into a ca$she seat for the $an on the do$e. There
6as a fiber +io6 to +"t over the stee< b"t it 6as soaked and 7inei had set it on the
back deck. 4or the first ti$e he co"d re$e$ber< the thickness of his fak Aacket fet good
beca"se the air 6as so cod. /ater that sicked off the +oncho or dri++ed fro$ the "seess
fat $"??e of the fa$ethro6er Aoined the dro+s s+attering directy onto the ?i++o>s deck.
#t +ooed and fo6ed s"ggishy to6ard the o6est +oint< the o+en driver>s hatch.
The sky 6as starting to cear. ,n occasiona s+ray fe< b"t the stor$ 6as over and a
@"arter $oon shone 6hen the broken co"ds ao6ed it. 2errod st"ck his head o"t fro$
"nder the tar+. &2o6>s going< $anB&
7inei stretched so$e of the stiffness o"t of his back and began stri++ing off the +oncho.
&E=< # g"ess. # co"d "se so$e coffee.&
&Ceah. /e< hang in there ti $idnight and get 1"rray "+. /e>re gonna rack o"t no6.&
Shado6s fro$ the treeto+s +ooed $assivey abo"t the boes. ,tho"gh there 6as eno"gh
bree?e to $ake the branches tre$be< the tr"nks the$seves 6ere soid as ciffs< as soid
as Ti$e. The scar at the base of the god tree 6as +erversey $oonit. The 6hoe grove
ooked sinister in the darkness< b"t the scar itsef 6as so$ething $ore.
Eny the haf;ho"r ro"tine of +eri$eter check ke+t 7inei a6ake. Ioices cracked aro"nd
2ead@"arters Troo+>s sector "nti 7inei co"d re+eat< &Seven ?ero< re+ort negative<& for
the ast ti$e and thankf"y take off the co$$o he$et. 2is boots s@"eched as he
dro++ed beside the cot 6here 1"rray snored softy< 6ra++ed in the $otted green;bro6n
nyon of his +oncho iner. 7inei shook hi$.
&9hD& the driver gr"nted as he sna++ed a6ake. &Eh< right* e$$e get $y boots on.&
Ene of the fe6 co"ds re$aining drifted over the $oon. ,s 1"rray stood "+right< 7inei
tho"ght $ove$ent fickered on the dark stone of the 6a. &2eyD& the driver 6his+ered.
&/hat>s 2ie" doing o"t thereB&
7inei +eered into the grove 6itho"t being abe to see anything b"t the trees. &That 6as
hi$ goin> over the 6a<& 1"rray insisted. 2e hed his 1') 6ith the bot back< ready to
cha$ber aro"nd if the receiver 6as Aarred.&%ook< #>$ gonna check 6here he>s going.&
&Jee?< so$ebody> see yo" and c"t oose<& 7inei +rotested. &Co" can>t go o"t thereD&
1"rray shook his head decisivey. &Na6< it> be E=<& he said as he si++ed over the 6a.
&!ra?y<& 7inei $"ttered. ,nd it s"ddeny str"ck hi$ that a $an 6ho vo"nteered for
three eGtra years of co$bat +robaby &asn(t @"ite nor$a in the back;ho$e sense.
%icking his i+s< he 6aited tensey in the darkness. The air had gro6n 6ar$er since the
rain sto++ed< b"t the +"$+ ne6bie fo"nd hi$sef shivering.
, bird f"ttered a$ong the branches of the nearest $ahogany. Co" didn>t see$ to see
$any birds in co"ntry< not ike yo" did back in the /ord. 7inei craned his neck to get a
better vie6< b"t the irreg"ar $oonight +assed ony the i$+ression of 6ings a drab coor.
Nothing ese $oved 6ithin the grove. 7inei s6ore $iseraby and shook 2errod a6ake.
The track co$$ander se+t 6ith his fak Aacket for a +io6 and< des+ite his attit"de of
nonchaance< the c"$sy greaseg"n ay beside hi$ on the cot. 2is fingers c"red aro"nd
its +istogri+ as he a6akened.
&Eh< for god>s sake<& he $"ttered 6hen 7inei b"rted o"t the story. 2errod had ke+t his
boots on< ony the to+s "naced< and he @"icky 6hi++ed the ties tight aro"nd his shins.
&!hrist< ten $in"tes agoB&
&/e< sho"d # ca inB& 7inei s"ggested "ncertainy.
&2e<& 2errod $"ttered< &no< # better go te the oe $an. Co" get back in the do$e and
6ait for $e.& 2e hefted his s"b$achine g"n by the receiver.
7inei started to ci$b onto the track. T"rning< he said< &2ey< $an.&2errod +a"sed.
&Don>t be too ong< h"hB&
&Ceah.& The track co$$ander tr"dged off to6ard the "nighted 2J tent. , bird< $aybe a
arge bat fro$ its erratic fight< +assed over 7inei>s head at treeto+ eve. 2e raised the
oading cover of the co;aG to recheck the +osition of the inked bet of a$$"nition.
There 6as a ight in the grove.
#t 6as neither $an;$ade nor the $oon>s refection< and at first it 6as a$ost too faint to
have a so"rce at a. 7inei ga+ed fro?en at the h"ge god tree. The go6 resoved into a
viridescent ine do6n the center of the scar< a stri+ of brightness that 6idened +erce+tiby
as the edges of the cicatriG dre6 back. The interior of the tree see$ed hoo6< ined 6ith
sef;shining greeness to 6hich for$s c"ng. ,s 7inei 6atched< a handf" of the
creat"res "rched fro$ the inner 6a and f"ttered o"t thro"gh the diated scar.
So$eone screa$ed 6ithin the aager. 7inei 6hired aro"nd. The tactica o+erations
center 6as green and t6o;di$ensiona 6here the chi gare icked it. , $an tore thro"gh
the canvas +assage inking the vehices< ho6ing and c"tching at the back of his neck
"nti he fe. , dark sha+e fa++ed a6ay fro$ hi$. The re$aining botches cinging to the
green of the tree fickered o"t6ard and the scar began to cose.
The ca fifty in the assa"t vehice to the right s"ddeny began basting tracers +oint bank
into the shrinking green ba?e. 2eavy b"ets that co"d s$ash thro"gh haf an inch of
stee ri++ed across the tree. #t 6as ike stabbing a s+onge 6ith ice +icks. So$ething
dro++ed into the ,!,I>s c"+oa fro$ above. The shots sto++ed and the g"nner began to
beo6 hoarsey.
7inei s6iveed his co;aG onto the tree and ca$+ed do6n on its "nders"ng trigger.
Nothing ha++ened* in his +anic he had forgotten to charge the g"n. S+arking $"??e
fashes 6ere er"+ting a across the aager. Near the TE! a $an fired his 1') at a cra?y
ange< trying to dro+ one of the fying sha+es. ,nother s+iraed do6n behind hi$ of its
o6n deady accord. 2is rife contin"ed to fire as he coa+sed on to+ of it. #t sent a ast
rando$ b"et to s+a a fake of a"$in"$ fro$ the fa$e track>s side< a foot beneath
7inei>s eG+osed head.
, sodier in siho"ette against the green ight "nged to6ard the god tree>s sitted +orta
and e$+tied his rife +oint bank. The knife in his hand go6ed green as he cho++ed it "+
and do6n into the edge of the scar< trying to 6iden the ga+. &1"rrayD& 7inei caed. 2e
Aerked back his $achine;g"n>s o+erating rod b"t did not shoot. 2e co"d hear 1"rray
screa$ing obscenities $ade staccato by cho++y b"rsts of a"to$atic fire fro$ behind hi$.
7inei t"rned his head 6itho"t conscio"s 6arning. 2e had ony eno"gh ti$e to dro+
do6n into the co$+art$ent as the thing s6oo+ed. #ts vans< stretched batike bet6een ar$
and eg< had aready sa$$ed it "+right in braking for the ki. The green gare thre6 its
feat"res in +erfect reief against the chaos of the firebase: a body t6enty inches ong<
dee+;torsoed ike a $"$$ified +ig$y* 6ease teeth< sender cones +erfecty for$ed for
sa"ghter* a face that co"d have been h"$an save for its si?e and the streaks of back
bood that disfig"red it. Tree ight fashed a shado6 across the hatch as the chittering
creat"re fa++ed to6ard other +rey for the $o$ent.
7inei straightened so6y< +eered o"t of the do$e. There 6as a codness in his s+ine* his
6hoe o6er body fet as tho"gh it beonged to so$eone ese. 2e kne6 it 6asn>t any "se<
even for hi$sef< to sa$ the do$e hatch over his head and ho+e to 6ait the night$are
o"t. The driver>s co$+art$ent 6as o+en* there 6as +enty of roo$ bet6een the seat and
the engine fire6a beside it for the kiers to cra6 thro"gh.
Taking a dee+ breath< 7inei ea+ed o"t of the hatch. 2e ignored the co;aG. , sh"ffing
ste+ for6ard in a o6 cro"ch and he sid feet first thro"gh the driver>s hatch. Throtte
for6ard< both c"tch evers at ne"tra. The starter $otor 6hined for an instant* then the
siG;cyinder diese ca"ght< staggered< and boo$ed into ife. ,n i$baance so$e6here in
the engine $ade the 6hoe vehice tre$be.
1"rray 6as sti go"ging at the base of the scar< face t6isted in $aniaca savagery. !hi+s
fe6 every ti$e the bade str"ck< etting $ore of the interior gare s+i o"t. 7inei
throtted back< nerving hi$sef to $ove.&1"rrayD& he sho"ted again over the essened
throb of the diese. &7et a6ayFda$$it< get a6ayD&
, fig"re oo?ed o"t of the shado6s and gri++ed 1"rray by the sho"der. Perha+s the
driver screa$ed before he recogni?ed 2ie"* if so< 7inei>s o6n cry $asked the so"nd.
The 1eng s+oke< his face distorted 6ith tri"$+h. ,s the incred"o"s driver stared< 2ie"
sho"ted a fe6 syabes at the god tree in a throaty ang"age far different fro$ the nasa
tris of Iietna$ese.
The tree o+ened again. The edges of the scar cr"$+ed side6ays< eG+osing f"y the
green;it interior and 6hat stood in it no6. 1"rray 6hi++ed aro"nd< his bade raised to
sash. ,n ar$ gri++ed his< hed the knife $otioness. The thing 6as as ta as the o+ening
it stood in< bi+eda b"t "ttery inh"$an.
#ts face 6as a $irror i$age of 2ie">s o6n.
1"rray f"ng hi$sef back< b"t another +aid< boneess ar$ encirced hi$ and dre6 hi$
into the tree. 2is screa$ 6as $o$entary< c"t off 6hen the green o+ening s@"ee?ed
a$ost sh"t behind hi$ and 6hat 2ie" had s"$$oned.
The hooked $oon 6as o"t again. 2ie" t"rned and began striding to6ard the shattered
aager. 2is singe a$$o +o"ch fo++ed o+en* the cr"de neckace aro"nd his neck 6as of
h"$an fingerti+s< dried and str"ng on a t6ist of ca$bi"$. Behind hi$ a score of other
h"$an;a++earing fig"res s"nk o"t of the grove< every face identica.
7inei gathered his feet "nder hi$ on the seat< then s+rang back on to+ of the track. Ene
of the 6inged sha+es had been 6aiting for hi$< caed by the $"tter of the engine. #t
darted in fro$ the front< banking easiy aro"nd 7inei>s o"t;thr"st ar$. 7inei tri++ed on
the fa$ethro6er>s broad t"be< fe for6ard br"isingy. !a6ed fingers dre6 fo"r boody
tracks across his forehead as the fyer $issed its ai$. #t s6e+t back +"r+osef"y.
7inei A"$+ed into the do$e hatch and snatched at the ca$she cover to cose it. ,s the
stee id s6"ng to< the 6inged $an>s f" 6eight bo"nced it back on its hinges ringingy.
Jagged teeth raked the sodier>s bare right ar$< $aking hi$ screa$ in fren?y. 2e yanked
at the hatch cover 6ith $ad strength. There 6as no cang as the hatch sh"t< b"t so$ething
cracked bet6een the edges of ar$or +ate. The brief cry of agony 6as higher +itched
than a $an>s. E"tside< the scar began to diate again.
7inei gri++ed the vave and hissed 6ith +ain. Shock had n"$bed his right ar$ ony
$o$entariy. %eft;handed he o+ened the feeds. 2is fingers fo"nd a s6itch< ficked it "+<
and the +"$+ began throbbing behind hi$. 2is 6hoe body sh"ddered as he s6"ng the
do$e thro"gh a short arc so that the tree>s ba?ing scar 6as centered in the +erisco+e. The
"niversa Aoint of the fat na+a$ hose creaked in +rotest at being $oved and a dro+ of
thickened gasoine s+attered stickiy on 7inei>s fak Aacket.
/ith a cry of horrified "nderstanding< 2ie" ea+ed onto the stone 6a bet6een 7inei
and the tree. &Co" $"stF& 6as a the 1eng co"d say before the Aet of na+a$ ca"ght
hi$ s@"arey in the chest and f"ng hi$ back into the encos"re. There 6as no fa$e. The
igniter had not fired.
1"$bing haf;re$e$bered frag$ents of a %atin +rayer< 7inei triggered the 6ea+on
again. Na+a$ s+"rted against the tree in an "nobstr"cted back arch. The igniter banged
in $id;shot and the darkness boo$ed into a heish red gare. The tree keened as the
fa$e rod>s giant fist s$ashed against it. #ts o"ter bark shriveed and the dee+< boody
s"rge of na+a$ s$othered every other coor. 7inei>s fiery scythe roared as he sashed it
"+ and do6n the tr"nk. /ood began to cracke ike g"nfire< eG+oding and h"ring back
geysers of s+arks. , +"ff of dry heat roied to6ard the aager in the t"rb"ent air. #t 6as
heavy 6ith the stench of b"rning fesh.
, series of s6ift th"ds 6arned 7inei of fyers anding on the ?i++o>s deck* teeth cicked
on ar$or. So$ething r"sted fro$ the driver>s co$+art$ent. The troo+er "sed his
stiffening right hand to s6itch on the interior ights. The yeo6 b"bs ginted fro$ cose;
set eyes +eering over the driver>s seat. 7inei kicked. #nstead of cr"nching "nder his
boot< the face gave 6ith a terribe resiiency and the 6inged $an contin"ed to s@"ir$ into
the T!>s co$+art$ent. , s+arking chain of eyes fashed behind the first +air. The 6hoe
s6ar$ of kiers 6as cro6ding into the track.
7inei>s ony 6ea+on 6as the fa$e itsef. #nstinctivey he s6"ng the no??e to the eft
and de+ressed it< trying to hose fire into the for6ard hatch of his o6n vehice. #nstead< the
fro?en co"+ing +arted. Na+a$ go"ted fro$ the ine. The fa$e died 6ith a ser+entine
"rch< eaving the god tree aone as a ance of fire. The track 6as fooding 6ith the
g"$$y f"id* it c"ng to 7inei>s chest and fak Aacket before roing off in s"ggish
gobbets.
Boody faces 6ashed back 6ith s$ears of na+a$< the 6inged $en str"gged to6ard
7inei i$+acaby. 2is $ind barey f"nctiona< the sodier thre6 o+en the hatch and
staggered onto the ?i++o>s deck. 9nseen< one fyer sti h"ng in the air. #t str"ck hi$ in the
$idde of the back and cata+"ted hi$ off the vehice. 7inei so$ersa"ted across the
d"sty< fa$e;it ca"dron. The na+a$>s g"ey tenacity fiGed the creat"re fir$y against
7inei>s fak Aacket* its hooked ca6s ocked into the fabric 6hie its teeth tore his sca+.
The h"ge torch of the god tree crashed in6ard to6ard the aager. , fa$ing branch
sna++ed 6ith the i$+act and bo"nded high in the air before +"nging do6n on the
na+a$;fied fa$e track. 7inei staggered to his feet< tried to r"n. The ?i++o eG+oded
6ith a hoo6 boo$ and a $"shroo$ of fa$e< knocking hi$ do6n again 6itho"t
disodging the vengef" horror on his back.
/ith the ast of his strength< 7inei ri++ed off the "nfastened fak Aacket and h"red it
into the air. 4or one gistening instant he tho"ght the na+a$;soaked nyon 6o"d and
short of the +oo of fire s"rro"nding the fa$e track. 2is "ncoordinated thro6 6as high
and the 6inged kier had ti$e to +" one van oose as it +in6heeed. #t str"ck the gro"nd
that 6ay< $ired by the incendiary that boo$ed to cons"$e it.
7inei ay on his back< no onger abe to $ove. , shado6 h"$+ed over the to+ of the
6a: 2ie"< $oving very stiffy. 2is right hand hed a cane s+ear. The 1eng 6as 6ithered
ike a vioet 6hose roots had been cho++ed a6ay< b"t he 6as not dead.
&Co" ki a< yo" . . . ani$as<& he said. 2is voice 6as thick and haf;choked by the
na+a$ that had hosed hi$. 2e baanced on the 6a< back against the b"rning 6reckage
of the god tree.&, . . . &he re+eated< raising the s+ear. &!"t . . . +oison . . .
b"rn. B"t yo"F&
2errod>s greaseg"n sa$$ed beside 7inei< its $"??e bast deafening even against the
backgro"nd roar of the fa$es. , soid bar of tracers stitched redy across the 1eng>s
chest and sa++ed hi$ off the 6a as a screa$ing ba of fire.
#t 6as sti fo"r ho"rs to da6n< 7inei tho"ght as he drifted into "nconscio"sness* b"t
"nti then the fa$es 6o"d give eno"gh ight.
Best Of L&ck

3s - #entioned in disc'ssing AFirefight,A in "CE= Marvel /o#ics started a
digest fantasyMhorror #agazine titled The 2a"nt of 2orror. When they
killed a'nt as a digest, they br'ited the possibility of reviving it as a
BOW horror co#ic &ith t&o pages of prose fiction. 4- believe the p'rpose
of the prose &as to #eet #ailing criteria for a red'ced postage rate.5

T&o co#ic pages a#o'nted to "K>>?"I>> &ords. - sat do&n to &rite a
story &hich &o'ld fit that length. The res'lt &as ABest of 2'ck,A another
standard horror story 'sing ,iet Na# for its setting 4as -(d done &ith
A3rclightA and A/ontactBA5.

The length &as a proble#. My first version of the story ca#e to 0,>>>
&ords, short even for #e b't too long for the space. 1ven at the start of #y
career - 'nderstood so#ething #any &riters fail to grasp+ if there(s a fi8ed
a#o'nt of roo# available, t'rning in a story that is the fi8ed a#o'nt pl's
#ore is a s're ro'te to re9ection. - therefore c't o't 0>> &ords that really
sho'ldn(t have gone. - &as never satisfied &ith the story after that final
edit.

3nd a'nt &asn(t revived in any for#at, so it(d all been &asted effort
any&ay. The story dropped co#pletely o't of #y #ind.

-n "CEE ;erry $age, editor of The Cear>s Best 2orror Stories for D3W
Books, changed the previo's reprint?only for#at 4to &hich )arl Wagner
reverted &hen he took over fro# ;erry in a fe& years5. e asked #e if -
had a ne& story to s'b#it@ - told hi# - didn(t.

Where'pon )irby sold ;erry ABest of 2'ck.A 3s - said, -(d forgotten abo't
it.

Frankly, - &asn(t thrilled to sell a story &hich - felt -(d crippled in the
editing, b't shortly after&ard - got another s'rprise+ NB/ developed a
horror anthology sho&, &hose prod'cers optioned ABest of 2'ck.A Not
only that, they later rene&ed the option. For :'ite a long ti#e, ABest of
2'ckA &as #y #ost profitable story in total ter#s, let alone on a per?&ord
basis.

- still &ish - hadn(t taken o't that last 0>> &ords.

, R"ssian;designed .3' caiber $achine g"n fires b"ets the si?e of a 6o$an>s th"$b.
/hen a $an catches a +air of those in his chest and throat the 6ay !a+t. /arden>s
radio$an did< his "ck has r"n o"t. , go"t of bood s+rayed back over !"rtis< neGt $an in
the co"$n. 2e gi$+sed o+en air thro"gh the RTE>s $idde: the hoe +o6ed thro"gh the
faiing body 6o"d have hed his fist.
B"t there 6as no ti$e to 6orry abo"t the dead< no ti$e to do anything b"t dive o"t of the
ine of fire. !a+t. /arden>s fera ea+ had carried hi$ in the o++osite direction< o"t of
!"rtis> sight into the goo$ of the r"bber. 1"??e fashes fickered over the siver tree;
tr"nks as the b"nkered $achine g"ns tore "+ Dog !o$+any.
!"rtis> "cky +iece bit hi$ thro"gh the shirt fabric as he sa$$ed into the s$ooth earth.
The ony cover in the ordered +antation ca$e fro$ the trees the$seves< and their
+recise arrange$ent eft three aises o+en to any hiding +ace. The heavy g"ns ri++ed
thro"gh the darkness in short b"rsts fro$ severa ocations* there 6as no 6ay to be safe<
nor even to te fro$ 6here death 6o"d strike.
!"rtis had Aerked back the cocking +iece of his 1')< b"t he had no target. Bind firing
6o"d ony ca do6n the attentions of the !o$$"nist g"nners. 2e fet as naked as the
ead in a J"are? foor sho6< terriby a6are of 6hat the big b"ets 6o"d do if they hit
hi$. 2e had +icked "+ the "cky 1aria Theresa doar in Tai6an< haf as a Aoke< haf in
"nstated re$e$brance of $en 6ho had been saved 6hen a coin or a Bibe t"rned an
ene$y s"g. B"t no coin 6as going to defect a .3' ca fro$ the straight ine it 6o"d
bast thro"gh hi$.
Red;orange ight boo$ed a h"ndred yards to !"rtis> eft as a g"n o+ened "+< st"ttering a
sheaf of ead thro"gh the trees. !"rtis $arked the s+ot. Sto$ach tight 6ith fear< he s6"ng
his c"$sy rife to6ard the target and s@"ee?ed off a b"rst.
The ret"rn fire 6as instantaneo"s and fro$ a g"n to the right< "nnoticed "nti that
$o$ent. The tree !"rtis cro"ched beside eG+oded into s+inters across the base<
st"nning i$+acts that the sodier fet rather than heard. 2e d"g his fingers into the dirt<
trying to drag hi$sef sti o6er and screa$ing $entay at the +ress"re of the coin
6hich ke+t hi$ that $"ch coser to the crashing b"ets. The r"bber tree 6as sagging< its
t6eve;inch boe sa6n thro"gh by the fire< b"t nothing $attered to !"rtis eGce+t the
raving death a b"et>s 6idth above his head.
The firing sto++ed. !"rtis cenched his fists< raised his head a fraction fro$ the gro"nd. ,
singe< s+itef" ro"nd banged fro$ the first b"nker. The b"et ticked the ri$ of !"rtis>
he$et< $issing his fesh b"t sna++ing his head back 6ith the force of a thro6n anvi. 2e
6as o"t cod 6hen the tree to++ed so6y across his boots.
* * *
There 6ere 6his+ers in the darkness< b"t a he co"d see 6ere b"e and a$ber streaks on
the inside of his $ind. 2e tried to $ove< then gas+ed in agony as the +inioning $ass
shifted against his t6isted ankes.
There 6ere 6his+ers in the darkness< and !"rtis co"d g"ess 6hat they 6ere. Dog
!o$+any had +"ed back. No6 the I! 6ere si++ing thro"gh the trees< stri++ing the
dead of their 6ea+ons and c"tting the throats of the 6o"nded. /herever !"rtis> rife had
been f"ng< it 6as beyond reach of his des+erate fingers.
So$ething s"r+ed richy near !"rtis on his right. 2e t"rned his face to6ard the so"nd<
b"t its origin "rked in the +a+abe backness. There 6as a s"shy< ri++ing noise fro$ the
sa$e direction< setting i$$ediatey into a rhyth$ic g"+ing. !"rtis s@"inted "seessy.
The $oon 6as f"< b"t the co"ds 6ere as soid as stee c"rtains.
T6o Iietna$ese 6ere a++roaching fro$ his eft side. The sc"ff of their tire;soed sandas
+a"sed $o$entariy in a i@"id tri of s+eech< then res"$ed. , fashight +ayed over the
gro"nd< its narro6 bea$ +assing A"st short of !"rtis> eft hand. The g"+ing noise
sto++ed.
&Eng voB& 6his+ered one of the I!< and the ight fashed again. There 6as a snar and a
screa$ and the instant red b"rst of an ,=;07 ba?ing ike a fare. The radio$an>s body
had been torn o+en. 7obbets of "ng and entrais< dro++ed by the feasting thing< 6ere
scattered abo"t the cor+se. B"t !"rtis> rea terror 6as at 6hat the $"??e fash ca"ght in
$idea+Fteeth ginting 6hite against boody cri$son< the $ask of a yeo6;eyed beast
$ore savage than a night$are and "ttery "ndeterred by the b"ets +"nching across it.
,nd the torso beneath the face 6as dressed in ,$erican A"nge fatig"es.
* * *
&7ad to have yo" back< !"rtis<& !a+t. /arden said. &/e>re 6ay "nder strength< and
re+ace$ents haven>t been co$ing in fast eno"gh. Better get yo"r gear together no6<
beca"se at '(00 ho"rs the co$+any>s heading o"t on a night +atro and # 6ant every $an
aong.&
!"rtis shifted "neasiy< transfiGed by the saffron scera of the ca+tain>s eyes. The driver
6ho had +icked hi$ "+ at the cho++er +ad had fied !"rtis in on 6hat had gone on
d"ring his eight 6eeks in the hos+ita. Seventeen $en had died in the first a$b"sh. The
condition of the radio$an>s body 6as ba$ed on the I!< of co"rse* b"t that itsef had
contrib"ted to rotted $orae< $en screa$ing in their see+ or s@"irting nervo"s shots off
into the shado6s. , $onth ater< /arden had ed another s6ee+. The ithe< athetic ca+tain
sho"d have been a +o+"ar officer for his obvio"s 6iingness to share the dangers of his
co$$and* b"t 6hen his second $aAor o+eration ended in another disaster of b"nkers and
s+ider hoes< the ony e$otion Dog !o$+any co"d find for hi$ 6as hatred. :verybody
kne6 this area of o+erations 6as thick 6ith I! and that it 6as Dog !o$+any>s b"siness
to find the$. B"t ho6ever s"ccessf" the o+erations 6ere fro$ the division co$$ander>s
stand+ointFthe foo6;"+s had netted tons of e@"i+$ent and abandoned $"nitionsF
/arden>s $en kne6 that they had taken it on the chin t6ice in a ro6.
#t hadn>t he+ed that the body of %t. Schaden< kied at the ca+tain>s side in the first
eGchange of fire< had been recovered the neGt day in eeriy $"tiated condition. #t ooked<
the driver 6his+ered< as tho"gh it had been gna6ed on by so$ething.
* * *
They $oved o"t in the brief d"sk< nervo"s s@"ads shr"nk to the si?e of fire tea$s "nder
the +o"ndings they had taken. The re$ainder of the battaion 6atched Dog>s de+art"re in
$"r$"ring ci@"es. !"rtis kne6 they 6ere $aking bets on ho6 $any of the +atro
6o"dn>t 6ak back this ti$e. /e< a ot of +eo+e in Dog itsef 6ere 6ondering the
sa$e.
The co$+any s@"ir$ed a6ay fro$ the base< avoiding kno6n trais. !a+t. /arden had a
destination< tho"gh* !"rtis< again $arching A"st behind the co$$and gro"+< co"d see the
ca+tain "sing a +enight to check co$+ass and $a+ at each of their fre@"ent hats. The
ight 6as scarcey necessary. The $id;afternoon do6n+o"r had 6ashed cean the sky for
the f" $oon to ba?e in. #t $ade for easier $ove$ent thro"gh the tanges of trees and
vines< b"t it 6o"d ight "+ the 7#s ike d"cks in a shooting gaery if they b"ndered into
another I! b"nker co$+eG.
The trade doar in !"rtis> +ocket fo++ed +ainf"y against hi$. The br"ise it had given
hi$ d"ring the a$b"sh sti throbbed. #t 6as starting to h"rt $ore than his ankes did< b"t
nothing 6o"d have convinced hi$ to eave it in his ocker no6. 2e>d gotten back the ast
ti$e< hadn>t heB Des+ite the $"rdero"s crossfire< the tree< and the . . . other. !"rtis
gri++ed his s6eaty 1') tighter. 1aybe it hadn>t been 1aria Theresa>s cho+;scarred face
that got hi$ thro"gh< b"t he 6asn>t $issing any bets.
Beca"se every ste+ he took into the A"nge dee+ened his g"t;6renching certainty that Dog
!o$+any 6as abo"t to catch it again.
The ca+tain gr"nted a brief order into the +hone feGed to his RTE. The A"nge 6his+ered
&hat& fro$ each of the +atoon eaders. /arden>s face 6as in a +atch of $oonight. 2is
eft hand craded the co$+ass< b"t he +aid it no attention. #nstead his ean< do$inant nose
ifted and visiby sn"ffed the sti air. /ith a nod and a secret s$ie that !"rtis shivered
to see< the ca+tain s+oke again into the radio to $ove the co$+any o"t.
Three $in"tes ater< the first bast of shots raked thro"gh the$.
The b"et hit the breech of !"rtis> rife instead of si$+y dise$bo6eing hi$. The dented
barre cracked do6n across both of his thighs 6ith sedge ha$$er force. 2is eft th"$b
6as disocated< tho"gh his right hand< o"t of the +ath in 6hich the .3' ca had snatched
the rife< ony tinged. !"rtis ay on his back a$a?ed< istening to the th"$+;crack of
g"nfire and b"ets +assing overhead. 2e 6as not even screa$ing: the +ain 6as yet to
co$e.
,n ,$erican $achine g"n ri++ed a ong red streak to 6ithin siG inches of !"rtis> head<
no ess +otentiay deady for not being ai$ed at hi$. The 6o"nded sodier f"$bed o+en
his breast +ocket and c"tched at the "cky +iece. #t 6as the ony action to 6hich he co"d
force his +"nished body. The $oon gared gri$y do6n.
So$ething $oved near !"rtis. !a+t. /arden< bareheaded< 6as snaking across the A"nge
foor to6ard hi$. /arden grinned. 2is face s"$+ed s"ddeny ike ead in a $od<
sha+ing itsef into a ghasty ne6 for$ that !"rtis had seen once before. The /arden;
thing>s fangs shone as it +oised< then ea+edFstraight into a strea$ of !o$$"nist fire.
, t6o;o"nce b"et $eat;aGed thro"gh the thing>s chest back to front< sa++ing it against a
tree. !"rtis gigged in reief before he reai?ed that the creat"re 6as rising to its knees.
4"id shock had basted a great crater in the fesh over its breastbone< and the o6er haf
of its face 6as coated 6ith bood g"+ed o"t of its o6n "ngs. The eyes 6ere bright
yeo6 and horriby aive< and as !"rtis stared in fascination< the ga+ing 6o"nd began to
cose. The thing took a ste+ to6ard the he+ess sodier< a tri"$+hant gri$ace s6ee+ing
over its distorted feat"res.
/itho"t conscio"s direction< !"rtis> th"$b s+"n the siver doar to6ard the advancing
creat"re. The haf;heaed 6o"nd;i+s in the thing>s chest see$ed to s"ck the coin in. The
screa$ that foo6ed 6as that of an ani$a s+inded on 6hite;hot 6ire< b"t it ended
@"icky in a g"rge as disso"tion set in.
* * *
The stretcher tea$ bro"ght !"rtis o"t in the $orning. 2is right hand had been di++ed into
the +oo of fo"ness soaking the gro"nd near hi$< and the doctors co"d not "ncench the
fist fro$ the obAect it 6as fro?en on "nti after the $or+hine had taken hod.
AR%Li!ht

My 'nit &as the ""th /avHthe Blackhorse 6egi#ent. We had si8?#an
intelligence tea#s in the field at battalion level 4a 'ni:'ely lo& level for
FS forces in Na#5. 3fter a co'ple &eeks at the regi#ental base in Di 3n, -
re:'ested transfer to one of the field 'nits. - &as assigned to Second
S:'adron, &hich(d 9'st capt'red Sn'ol, /a#bodia.
My first night in /a#bodia coincided &ith an 3rclight, a code?na#ed
operation &hich

- no& kno& sho'ld be &ritten 3rc 2ight. We didn(t kno& ho& to &rite it at
the ti#e, not do&n &here - &as.

-n an 3rc 2ight, B?D0 bo#bers #odified to carry the #a8i#'# n'#ber of
conventional &eapons 4there(s nothing like the# in the 3ir Force
inventory today, a #atter &hich co##anders noted &ith regret d'ring the
;'lf War5 fle& three abreast, raining ED>?po'nd bo#bs on the 9'ngle
belo&. Depending on the n'#ber of planes in line behind the leaders, the
s&athe of 'tter destr'ction contin'ed for #iles or even #any #iles.

-(ve never seen anything like it in #y life. 4.), there are a n'#ber of other
,iet Na# e8periences - co'ld say that abo't@ b't it(s no less tr'e.5 The
bo#bs &ere landing ten #iles so'th of 's, b't yo' co'ldn(t talk over the
so'nd of the contin'o's e8plosions. The gro'nd :'ivered, the &hole
horizon lit &hite, and it 9'st kept going on and on and on.

- got back to the World and res'#ed &riting. - &anted to do s&ord and
sorcery, b't as -(ve #entioned there &asn(t a #arket for the genre in the
professional #agazines. My friends Manly and )arl s'ggested d'ring one
of o'r fa#ily get?togethers that - try 'sing #y ,iet Na# e8periences in a
story instead of setting everything in the distant past.

Does that see# a pretty obvio's notionG -t certainly does to #eHno&. 3t
the ti#e . . . - d'nno. - i##ediately follo&ed #y friends( s'ggestion,
b't - &as a&are even then that there &as a lot of st'ff fro# &hich - &as
trying to distance #yself.

-n fact, &riting abo't Na# as fiction is the best therapy - co'ld(ve fo'nd
for the things that ailed #e. aving said that, it &as along the lines of a
live?c'lt're inoc'lation+ the res'lt can be e8pected to be very good, b't
the possibility of a disastro's o'tbreak as a direct res'lt of the process
&as a real one.

- &rote A3rclightA and sent it to 4QS4. Mr. Fer#an, &ho(d re9ected #y
s&ord and sorcery stories in a friendly fashion, bo'ght this one for a little
'nder 0?centsM&ord.

3n ac:'aintance co##ented that the ne8t story - &rote &ith a So'theast
3sian setting 4A/ontactBA5 read as tho'gh - tho'ght everybody had been to
Na#. The ob9ection is e:'ally valid for A3rclight.A There(s a lot of
inade:'ately e8plained 9argon and a lot of hard&are that(s 'nfa#iliar to
so#ebody &ho hadn(t been i##ersed in it.

The proble# is #ore basic than a fail're of craft 4tho'gh it(s certainly bad
crafts#anship on #y part5+ it &as sy#pto#atic of a fail're to grasp the
bo'ndaries of civilian life. Most readers &ere profo'ndly ignorant of
#atters that had been of constant, life or death, concern to #e@ and -
si#ply didn(t 'nderstand that.

This &as #y first sale to 4and later beca#e #y first appearance in5 a
professional SF #agazine.

7r"nting and snaring< the nineteen tracked vehices of 7 Troo+ str"gged into a night
defensive +osition. 4ro$ the road 6atched a fa$iy of i$+assive !a$bodians. The track
co$$ander of the nearest vehice< three;siG< 6aved at the$ as his ,!,I sh"ddered
thro"gh a thirty;degree arc and +re+ared to back into its +osition in the aager. Red +aint
$arked the track>s fat a"$in"$ sides 6ith the na$e &2orny 2orse& and a gra+hic
+arody of the regi$ent>s staion insignia. None of the stoid< fat;faced onookers gave
any sign of interest< even 6hen the ,!,I "rched side6ays and began to tit. The T!
eaned o"t of his c"+oa in the $idde< vainy trying to see 6hat 6as the $atter. Jones< the
eft g"nner< ooked o"t over the hoe o+ening "nder the tread and 6aved franticay< trying
to sho"t over the engine noise. The T! nodded and sna++ed to the driver thro"gh his
interco$< &/hi+ >er right and g"n >er< Jody< 6e>re faing into a godda$n b"nkerD&
The diese beo6ed as Jody et the eft c"tch f" o"t and tra$+ed on the foot feed. The
,!,I se6ed eve again 6ith the eft tread s+itting $anged vegetation behind it. &!"t
the engine<& the T! ordered< and in the s"dden sience he sho"ted to the co$$and track
in the center of the ro"gh circe of vehices< &!a+tain 4"erD /e>re on a b"nker
co$+eGD&
The shirtess< s6eating officer dro++ed the can of beer he 6as starting to o+en and
grabbed his dirty 1'). No $atter 6hat yo" did< cean yo"r rife daiy and kee+ it in a
case< the choking d"st kicked "+ by the tracks inevitaby cre+t into it at the end of a day>s
$ove. ,nd if they reay 6ere on a b"nker co$+eG< the $ove 6asn>t over yet. :verybody
kne6 6hat had ha++ened to : Troo+ ast Nove$ber 6hen they aagered on an
"ns"s+ected co$+eG and a do?en sa++ers had cre+t o"t inside the NDP that night.
The hoe< an irreg"ar ova +erha+s a foot aong the greater aGis< ooked
"nco$+ro$isingy back against the red aterite of the bare gro"nd. /orse< the tited edge
of a sab sho6ed ceary at the back< +roving the cavity beo6 6as artificia. :verybody
kne6 the dinks had been b"iding b"nkers here in the Parrot>s Beak for t6enty years and
$ore< b"t the ca+tain had never seen a stone one before.
&/ant $e to frag itB& so$eone said. #t 6as the redheaded T! of the track that t"rned the
b"nker "+< 4"er sa6. !asey< his na$e 6as. 2e hed his "na"thori?ed .03 in one hand<
cocked< and a +air of s$ooth;h"ed frag$entation grenades in the other.
&7i$$e one of the$<& gro6ed Sergeant Peacock< reaching his h"ge back ar$ to6ard
the yo"nger sodier. !asey handed one of the grenades to the fied first and 6atched hi$
eG+erty $od a +o"nd and a @"arter stick of +astic eG+osive aro"nd it. The 6hite
eG+osive encased a the $eta eGce+t the hande and the safety +in in a "$+y cocoon.
&/e> try a b"nker b"ster first to see if anybody>s ho$e<& the sergeant said 6ith
satisfaction. &Better cear back.& 2e +"ed the +in.
, aro"nd the aager< $en 6ere 6atching 6hat 6as going on beside three;siG. Nobody
6as kee+ing a ooko"t into the A"nge* b"t< then< the dinks didn>t hit ar$ored "nits in the
dayti$e. Besides< the do?en !a$bodians 6ere sti s@"atting in the road. #nteigence
$ight be 6rong< b"t the ocas a6ays kne6 6hen there 6as going to be tro"be.
Peacock sided coser to the hoe< h"nching do6n a itte at the tho"ght that a fat bro6n
face $ight +o+ "+ o"t of it at the ast instant< eyes garing at hi$ behind the sights of an
,=. 2e gagged and binked< then tossed the bo$b the ast yard 6ith a conv"sive gest"re
and darted back a6ay.
&Jes"s 2. !hristD& he 6hee?ed. &Jes"s 2. !hristD That stinks do6n there ike nothing on
earthD&
&2o6>s thatB& 4"er sna++ed< nervo"s abo"t anything "n"s"a. The b"nker b"ster 6ent
off< a hoo6 boo$ ike a cherry bo$b in a garbage can< ony a tho"sand ti$es as o"d.
Dirt and 6hi??ing frag$ents of stone $"shroo$ed "+6ard< drifting $osty to6ard three;
siG and sho6ering it for thirty seconds. The cre6 covered their eyes and h"nched their
stee +ots cose to their sho"ders. !a+tain 4"er< kneeing beside the track "nder the
"neG+ected rain of dirt< s"ddeny choked and A"$+ed to his feet s6earing. &1y 7od<& he
roared< &6hich 6ay>s the 6ind bo6ingB& The charne reek that oo?ed o"t of the ne6y
o+ened b"nker 6as strong and indescribaby fo". The troo+ had fo"nd NI, b"ried in the
A"nge for $onths in the da$+ 6ar$th< fo"nd the$ and d"g the$ "+ to search for +a+ers*
that stench had been nothing to this one.
&1"st>a been a hos+ita<& Sergeant Peacock s"ggested as he edged "+6ind of the +it. 2e
6as covering his nose 6ith an oive;drab handkerchief. &Jes"s<& he re+eated< &# never
s$eed anything ike that.&
Three;siG>s diese ri++ed back into ife and bro"ght the track "+6ind of the hoe in a 6ide
circe. Ten yards a6ay< its nose +ointing o"t to6ard the road beside the neGt vehice over<
it hated and !asey descended again. 2e sti hed his +isto. &7od< ook at that<& he said.
/hen the b"nker b"ster had bo6n< it ifted the roof off a narro6 cry+t so$e ten feet ong
and haf that 6ide. #t co"d not have been $ore than inches beo6 the s"rface of the soi
at any +oint. Reativey itte of the r"bbe kicked "+ by the eG+osion had faen back into
the cavity< eaving it o+en to the eyes of the $en on its edge. 1ost of the itter on the
foor of the cry+t 6as of bones. , 6ere dry< and $any had been s$ashed to +o6der by
the bast. Ene sk"< 6hoe by so$e $ischance< gogged to6ard the north 6a.
The ido gared back at it. #t 6as abo"t siG feet high< c"t o"t of streaky soa+stone instead
of the o$ni+resent aterite 6hose +ocked ro"ghness for$s the 6as and orna$entation of
$ost !a$bodian te$+es< even those of ,ngkor /at. Tho"gh it stood on t6o egs< there
6as nothing $anike abo"t the creat"re. , fanged Aa6 t6isted into a vicio"s gri$ace<
eering o"t over the beast>s +otbey. Ene ca6ed ar$ rested on the +a"nch* the other<
a++arenty the ony cas"aty of the eG+osion< had been broken off at the sho"der and ay
haf;covered by the grave on the foor. The gray;on;back $arking of the stone bended
to give the i$age a ifeikeness it sho"d not have had* 4"er binked< haf;eG+ecting
bood to s+"rt fro$ the severed ar$. Ever a ay the $ias$a of decay< so6y diff"sing
on the hot bree?e.
4"er hesitated a $o$ent< +eering over the edge. &,nybody see a door to this +aceB& he
asked. None of the gro"+ so6y gathering on the edge of the cry+t ans6ered. The 6hoe
roo$ had been faced 6ith thin sabs of the sa$e stone that for$ed the ido. %ine after ine
of s@"iggy< decorative !a$bodian 6riting covered their s"rface "ninteigiby.
4rag$ents fro$ the roof of the cry+t sho6ed si$iar $arkings.
&That ain>t no hos+ita<& Sergeant Peacock asserted needessy< 6i+ing his +a$s on the
seat of his fatig"es. The ight;green $ateria darkened 6ith s6eat.
Jody Bredt< the "ndersi?ed Pfc. 6ho drove three;siG< sa"ntered over 6ith his gas $ask in
his hand. 2e took the 6ar a itte $ore serio"sy than $ost of the rest of the troo+ and
ke+t his $ask in the hatch 6ith hi$ instead of being b"ried in the botto$ of his d"ffe
bag. &/ant $e to take a ook do6n there< !a+tain 4"erB& he asked i$+ortanty.
&/hy don>t yo" A"st +"t in for officia t"nne ratB& his T! gibed< b"t the officer nodded
a++reciativey. &Ceah< go ahead. Be caref"< for 7od>s sake< b"t # think this $ay A"st have
been an od te$+e.&
Jody si++ed his $ask on< virt"ay binding hi$sef even in the bright s"night. The
enses 6ere d"sty and scratched fro$ knocking aro"nd in the track for $onths. ,
+rei$inary sniff had convinced hi$ that the stench had a$ost dissi+ated< b"t he co"dn>t
take the $ask off no6 that he>d $ade s"ch a +rod"ction of it. 7ingery< he o6ered
hi$sef over the edge. Sergeant Peacock knet do6n to hod his 6rist in case he si++ed*
there $ight be a $ine "nder any of the deicatey carven sabs. The gooks 6ere cever
abo"t that sort of thing. Sti< any $ines do6n there sho"d have gone off 6hen the
b"nker b"ster did. 2e et his feet to"ch the gro"nd 6ith a itte $ore confidence and ran
his hand over the 6a. &# don>t see any s6inging doors or anything<& he re+orted. &1aybe
they got in thro"gh the roof< h"hB&
&2e< 6e> never kno6 that no6<& !asey snorted.&2ey< !a+tain< # think the s$e is
+retty 6e gone. %et $e go do6n there.&
&/hyB& 4"er gr"nted. &/ant to take that stat"e back 6ith yo" on RQRB&
The T! grinned. The ca+tain kne6 his $en +retty 6e. &Na6< too big. # did think one of
the$ sk"s 6o"d $ake kind of a nice so"venir if they don>t check $y hod baggage too
cose< tho"gh.&
4"er s6ore and a"ghed. &E=<& he said< s@"atting do6n +re+aratory to A"$+ing in
hi$sef< &go ahead< yo" fo"nd the +ace. B"t # 6ant the rest of yo" g"ys back on yo"r
tracks. /e>re going to be eaving here in five< as soon as # get a ook aro"nd $ysef.&
&2ey< Red< thro6 $e so$ething<& one of the bystanders begged !asey< b"t the ca+tain
6aved hi$ a6ay +ere$+toriy.&7o on< god da$nit< # don>t 6ant a of yo" hanging
aro"nd here in case the dinks are o"t there.& 2e ho++ed do6n into the cavity< Aoining
!asey and the driver 6hose $ask h"ng fro$ his hand again. The air 6as thick b"t had
ost the earier noiso$eness.
!asey +icked "+ the sk" he 6anted for a tro+hy 6ith a finger thro"gh each of the eye;
sockets. /hen he had ifted it 6aist high< the bone cr"$bed to +o6der. /hat 6as eft of
the sk" shattered "nrecogni?aby 6hen it hit the foor. &7odda$n<& the T! s6ore<
kicking angriy at the hea+ of d"st< &6hy didn>t it do that 6hen the frag 6ent off if it had
to do it at aB No6 # got $y ho+es "+ and ook 6hat ha++ensD&
Peacock< s@"atting ike a back B"ddha on the ri$ of the cry+t< ch"cked dee+ in his
chest.&/hy< the neGt dink 6e get< yo" A"st c"t his head off and dry it o"t. 2o6 that be<
RedB 7et yo" a nice fresh head to take back to yo"r 6ife.&
!asey s6ore again. The ca+tain 6as handing another of the bones. This one 6as a
fe$"r< sheared off so$e inches short of the knee Aoint. #f the frag hadn>t done it< the
da$age dated fro$ the "ng"essabe +ast. The bone 6as a$ost as dry and fragie as the
sk" that had +o6dered in !asey>s hands. 2e tossed it "+ to the fied first< shaking his
head in +"??e$ent. &2o6 od do yo" g"ess that is< SargeB& he asked. &# don>t think # ever
sa6 anything that "sed "+ before.&
&This od g"y is sti in fine sha+e<& Jody +"t in< ra++ing the br"ta ido on the nose 6ith
his gas $ask. &4rag didn>t h"rt hi$ hardy at a< did itB& 2e kicked at the broken i$b
ying near the stat"e. The others< $ore or ess conscio"sy< had been avoiding the ido
6ith their eyes. #f yo" ooked too cosey< the cr"de s6irs on the thing that 6ere
s"++osed to re+resent hair see$ed to $ove by the$seves. Probaby the grain of the
stone.
&7odda$n<& 4"er said. #t 6as not entirey bas+he$o"s the 6ay he said it. &/i yo"
ook at that.&
The driver>s foot had shaken the broken ar$< +a6< 6hatever< o"t of the +ie of r"bbe in
6hich it ay. Previo"sy "nseen 6as the fig"re of the $anFit 6as ceary a $anFhed in
the $onster>s ca6ed gri+. The $an had been sc"+ted ony a fraction of the si?e of the
thing hoding hi$< so$e thirty inches or so fro$ foot to 6here the head 6o"d have been
if it hadn>t been broken off by the bast. 4"er ooked $ore cosey. No< the fig"re had
been carved that 6ay originay< i$+ and headess in the ido>s ca6s. The beast;god>s
eering $o"th see$ed to take a f"rther< even $ore "n+easant di$ension. 4"er stretched
his ar$ "+ to Sergeant Peacock. &Sarge< give $e a hand. !o$e on< yo" t6o< 6e>re getting
o"t of here.&
&Think the gooks been "sing this as a hos+itaB& Jody asked< scra$bing "+ to the s"rface
6ith a boost fro$ !asey. Jody a6ays $issed the ast 6ord and didn>t have @"ite the
inteigence to s"++y it hi$sef.
&# don>t kno6 6hat they>re doing<& 4"er gr"nted. &#f there>s one b"nker aro"nd here<
there co"d be a h"ndred tho"gh< and #>$ not sitting aro"nd to find o"t. # think #> ask for
a B;32 strike here. 7od kno6s< they>re fattening eno"gh e$+ty A"nge they o"ght to be
6iing to hit a s+ot ike this.&
!asey +icked "+ a bit of the cry+t>s roof and tossed it in his hand.&2ey<& he said< &$aybe
so$e of those ocas s+eak :ngish. #>d ike to kno6 6hat these s@"igges are saying.&
&Co">re going to have to find the$ to ask<& Peacock said 6ith a shr"g. &They $"st>a took
off 6hen the b"nker b"ster 6ent off.&
&9$$<& the redhead gr"nted. &/e< it $akes a so"venir any6ay.& ,ro"nd the circe of
vehices engines 6ere starting "+. Ene of the g"nners signaed !asey 6ith the radio
he$et in his hand. &!o$e on< Red<& he sho"ted< &6e>re $oving o"t.& !asey nodded and
began Aogging to6ard the track. 2e 6asn>t sorry to be eaving this +ace either. Not sorry
at a.
* * *
Three;siG had a f" cre6 of fo"r $en< and so they s+it the g"ard into t6o;ho"r shifts
fro$ 2200 to 0)00. The ne6 ocation 6as a dead ringer for the one they>d A"st eft< o6
A"nge a++roaching the graveed ength of 2igh6ay '-< b"t at east there didn>t see$ to be
any b"nkers. Er idos. !asey had ast g"ard< a concession to his rank that $eant he co"d
get siG ho"rs see+ "ninterr"+ted< b"t he co"dn>t see$ to dro+ off so"ndy. The air 6as
coo and $isty< coaking the tracks so cosey that the Sheridan to the eft in the aager
6as a$ost invisibe. , good night for sa++ers. !asey co"d a$ost fee the$ cree+ing
coser.
2e ganced at his 6atch. Three o>cock< Jody>s shift. The T! 6as stretched o"t on the
cosed cargo hatch of the ,!,I 6hie the t6o g"nners se+t inside on $attresses aid
over the ranked a$$o boGes. 2e sho"d have been abe to see Jody sitting in the c"+oa<
staring o"t into the A"nge. ,t first gance the driver 6asn>t there< and !asey sat "+ to
$ake s"re the itte g"y hadn>t gone and done so$ething "n"s"ay st"+id. ,t the first
so"nd of $ove$ent fro$ behind hi$ Jody gas+ed and straightened "+ fro$ 6here he
6as h"nched over the c"+oa>s fifty caiber $achine g"n. &Jee?< Red< it>s yo". Jee?< yo"
gave $e a shock thereD& he 6his+ered nervo"sy.
!asey s6"ng hi$sef aro"nd to ean his eft side on the so+ing stee of the c"+oa and
+eer o"t in to the night.&!o"dn>t see+<& he $"ttered. The r"ste of static esca+ing fro$
the driver>s radio he$et 6as co$forting< $echanica.
&# think there>s so$ebody o"t there<& Jody b"rted s"ddeny< 6aving his ar$ to6ard the
$ist. &# kee+ hearing so$ething $oving< kind of.&
So$ething ike th"nder began in the far distance. #t didn>t see$ o"d "nti yo" tried to
6his+er over it. 9nike th"nder< it didn>t sto+. The r"sting< r"$bing so"nd 6ent on and
on< and to the 6est the sky brightened inter$ittenty 6ith 6hite fashes.
Jody tensed. &/hat the he>s thatB& he sta$$ered< his right hand aready snaking for the
ca fifty>s charging hande. 2is T! ch"cked and sto++ed hi$. &!hrist< yo" are ne6<&
!asey said 6itho"t $aice. &This the first ti$e yo" heard an ,rcightB&
Jody>s bank eG+ression 6as evident even in the goo$.&,rcight<& the T! re+eated. &Co"
kno6< a B;32 strike. 2e< that $"st be ten kicks a6ay at east.&
&Ten kio$etersB& the driver said in s"r+rise. &#t scared $e there for a $in"te.&
&#f there>s any dinks "nder it< it> scare the$ 6orse<& !asey stated +ositivey.
&/ait ti 6e go thro"gh one of the bo$bed areas< and yo"> see. They A"st fatten 6hoe
s6aths of the A"nge< a @"arter $ie 6ide and as ong as there>s +anes in the strike. Don>t
eave a thing higher than the grass< either.&
2e ganced at his 6atch again and s6ore.&%ook< # got to get so$e see+. /ake $e "+ in
haf an ho"r< h"hB&
&Co" don>t think there>s so$ething o"t there< RedB&
&2e< # don>t kno6<& the T! gr"nted. &=ee+ yo"r eyes o+en and 6ake $e "+ in haf an
ho"r.&
There 6as so$ething +ressing do6n on the$ fro$ the dark< b"t it $ight have been the
$ist aone. !asey dre6 his +oncho iner coser abo"t hi$ and fe back into a fitf" see+.
2e drea$ed< ai$essy at first b"t then of the 6riting;covered cry+t he had stood in that
afternoon. 2e 6as there again< b"t the roof had been re+aced and the 6as 6ere $ies
high. The ido 6as 6aiting for hi$. #ts soa+stone Aa6s grinned< and its re$aining ar$
began to reach o"t. The stench roed a$ost tangiby fro$ its $a6.
&Jes"s 7odD& the T! b"rted. 2is head rang 6ith the bo6 he had given it< "rching
"ncontroaby against the c"+oa to get a6ay fro$ his drea$. :ven a6ake< the charne
fetor ay heaviy in his nostris. &Jes"s<& he re+eated $ore softy. #f he>d kno6n the sort of
night$are he 6as d"e for< he>d have s+eed Jody right then at -:'3 and et the driver
drea$ it for hi$.
#t 6as sti +itch;dark* da6n and s"nset are s"dden things in the tro+ics. The i"$inated
hands of his big 6rist6atch 6ere cear at five after fo"r< tho"gh< t6enty $in"tes after
Jody sho"d have 6aked hi$ "+. &2ey< t"rte<& he 6his+ered< &# tod yo" to get $e "+ at a
@"arter of. Co" ike g"ard so $"ch yo" 6ant to +" $y shift tooB&
No ans6er. ,ar$ed< !asey +eered into the c"+oa. The ight fabric of the driver>s shirt
sho6ed fainty 6here his torso covered the receiver of the ca fifty. Des+ite a his tak
abo"t hearing so$ething in the A"nge< Jody had faen asee+.
#n the g"ts of the ,!,I< the radio hissed softy. &!o$e on< Jody<& !asey +rodded. 2e
+"t his hand on the driver>s sho"der. Jody>s body si++ed f"idy off the seat< faing
thro"gh the c"+oa into the vehice>s interior. Ene of the g"nners sna++ed a6ake 6ith a
started c"rse and t"rned on his fashight.
En the back deck of the ,!,I< !asey stared at the dark 6etness on his hand. 4or a
$o$ent he 6as too transfiGed even to ook do6n into the track< to ook do6n at Jody>s
torso s+ra6ing in headess obscenity.
* * *
!a+tain 4"er ya6ned< then shook his head to cear it. &S"re ho+e 6e don>t have another
sa++er tonight<& he $"ttered. &!hrist< #>$ tired.&
Sergeant Peacock $ethodicay checked the tent fa+< $aking s"re it 6as seaed and not
eaking ight fro$ the s$a yeo6 b"bs inside. The co$$and track>s engine 6as on<
r"$bing to +o6er the ights and the t6o radio sets in the track itsef behind the tent. #t
6as $idnight and voices cracked as the radio o+erator caed the ro of the vehices
aro"nd the NDP.
&Te the tr"th<& 4"er 6ent on 6ith a grin of f"rtive e$barrass$ent< &# 6asn>t see+ing
too 6e ast night even before !asey started sho"ting. 2ad one he of a night$are.
!hrist< 6hat a thing that 6as.&
&# kne6 the gooks to do it in =orea<& Peacock said< his great bro6n eyes g"arded. &!"t a
fea>s head off and eave his b"ddy see+ing right beside hi$. # g"ess they fig"red the
story that got aro"nd did $ore good than if they A"st kied both of >e$.&
The officer shr"gged i$+atienty< ost in his o6n tho"ghts. &The drea$< # $eant. Co"
don>t eG+ect yo"r o6n drea$s to go back on yo" over here. !hrist< it>s not as tho"gh 6e
don>t have eno"gh tro"be 6ith the dinks.&
&/e $oved ten kicks today<& the back said $idy< shifting his b"k on his cot. &Co"
6ere +robaby right< fig"ring there 6as a b"nker syste$ off in the A"nge 6here 6e
aagered ast night. They> A"st be gad 6e $oved o"ta their hair* they 6on>t chase "s.&
!a+tain 4"er 6asn>t istening. 2is face 6as +ec"iary tense< and he see$ed to be
straining to catch a so"nd fro$ o"tside the tent.&/ho>s $oving aro"nd o"t there<
PeacockB& he said at ast.
The fied first binked. &SirB& he said. The big $an stood "+< thr"st his head thro"gh the
tent fa+< hoding the edges of the $ateria cose to his neck to bock off the ight inside.
There 6as nothing< nothing b"t an evi reek that see$ed to +er$eate the 6hoe area. 2e
+"ed back into the tent. &:verything see$s a right< sir* they got a radio going in one of
the tracks< $aybe that>s 6hat yo" heard.&
&No< no<& the officer denied +eevishy< &it 6as so$ebody $oving aro"nd. # s"++ose it 6as
A"st so$ebody taking a +iss. !hrist< #>$ too A"$+y to see+ and too tired to think straight
6hen # stay a6ake. 7od da$n it< # 6ish J"y 6as here so # co"d take $y RQR and forget
this da$n +ace.&
&Don>t et drea$s bother yo"<& Sergeant Peacock co"nseed @"iety.&# kno6 abo"t
drea$s* # had bad drea$s 6hen # 6as a baby< b"t $y $o$$a 6o"d 6ake $e "+ and te
$e it 6as a right< that it didn>t $ean anything. ,nd that>s so< once yo" 6ake "+. :ven
that one ast nightF&
&%ook< Peacock<& the ca+tain snared< &6hat # don>t need is a ect"re fro$ yo" on ho6
chidish #>$ being. Besides< 6hat do yo" kno6 6hat # 6as drea$ing ast nightB&
&Sorry< sir<& the sergeant said 6ith i$+assive dignity< &#>$ s"re # don>t kno6 6hat yo"
6ere drea$ing abo"t. # $eant $y o6n drea$ abo"t the idoFyo" kno6< the one back at
yesterday>s first NDP. #t 6as +retty bad< the thing reaching o"t for $e and a< b"t # kne6
it 6as A"stF&
The ca+tain 6as staring at hi$ in terror< a the r"ddiness see+ing yeo6y o"t of his
face.&1y 7od<& 4"er 6his+ered.&Dear 7od< yo" $ean yo" drea$ed that tooB& 2e stood
"+. The cot creaked behind hi$ and his dog tags cinked together on his bare chest. To his
ears< at east< there see$ed to be another so"nd* one fro$ o"tside.
&7od da#n itD& 4"er sho"ted. 2is 1') ay "nder his cot< across the do"be I of the
head and center egs. 2e snatched it o"t and sna++ed back the o+erating rod. The bot
cacked ho$e< cha$bering a ro"nd. /ith the rife in his hands and not another 6ord for
the sergeant< the ca+tain ste++ed thro"gh the tent fa+s. The radio o+erator ganced
thro"gh the back of the tent to see 6hat the co$$otion 6as abo"t. Sergeant Peacock
shr"gged and shook his head. E"tside the tent they co"d hear the !E>s voice sho"ting
angriy< &, right< 6ho the he isF&
The voice f"ted horriby into a screa$< high;+itched and terrified.&1y 7odD& the
radio$an b"rted and A"$+ed back to his seat in front of the e@"i+$ent. Sergeant Peacock
scoo+ed "+ his hostered +isto and the $achete beside it< his right hand br"shing the ight
s6itch and +"nging the tent into darkness. #n the track behind hi$ the radios 6inked
eviy as the big nonco$ dived o"t into the night.
There 6as nothing to be seen. The screa$ had c"t off as @"icky as it had beg"n. There
6as an angry hiss fro$ one of the encircing tracks as so$ebody sent "+ a +arach"te
fare. #ts chi gare sho6ed nothing $ore than the back overcast had as it drifted do6n
s$okiy< $oving so"th6ard on the s"ggish 6ind. There 6as a catter of e@"i+$ent a
aro"nd the circe no6< $en nervo"sy activating 6ea+ons and kicking dieses into ife.
&ThereD& so$ebody sho"ted fro$ the so"thern c"rve of the aager. The fare< yeo6 no6<
had in its dying $o$ents ca"ght so$ething ying at the edge of the A"nge.
&!over $e<& Peacock sho"ted. Pisto in hand< he ran to6ard the afteri$age of the obAect.
So$ething hard skittered "nderfoot< not eno"gh to thro6 hi$. #t 6as an 1'). 2e did not
+a"se to +ick it "+. 2e +o"nded heaviy bet6een t6o tracks< o"t into the narro6 stri+
bet6een aager and A"nge torn by the vehices $ane"vering there earier in the day. 2e
6as very cose to 6hat the fare had i"$inated. &7i$$e so$e ightD& the sergeant
roared< heedess of the fact that it 6o"d sho6 hi$ "+ to any "rking sni+er.
, five;ce fashight bea$ed instanty fro$ the nearest track. The ight 6obbed< then
steadied 6hen it fo"nd its target. The fat bea$ ay in a ong ova across the thing
gi$+sed in the fare.
&Sarge< is that the ca+tainB& so$eone sho"ted fro$ the track. The radio o+erator $"st
have tod the$ 6ho had screa$ed.
&No< not @"ite<& the fied first re+ied in a strange voice. 2e 6as ooking farther o"t into
the A"nge< at the shado6s ea+ing behind the ight. &#t>s ony his eg. No< #>$ 6rongF#
think the rest of hi$>s here after a. Jes"s< # do ho+e his fa$iy kno6s an "ndertaker 6ho
ikes Aigsa6 +"??es.&
* * *
%ie"tenant /orthington t"rned back to an angry sodier< scratching the bro6n hair that
ay cose to his sca+. En the card tabe in front of hi$ 6ere aid three sections of reief
$a+< Aoined and covered by a ayer of cear acetate.
&%ook< !asey<& the officer said 6ith ebbing +atience<& # kno6 yo">re shook* 6e>re a
shook. ,nd on to+ of that< #>ve got to kee+ this troo+ r"nning "nti they get a re+ace$ent
for 4"er o"t here. B"t #>$ not going to send the troo+ back so"th to bo6 "+ a godda$n
ido A"st beca"se yo" have bad drea$s abo"t it. Besides< ook hereF&he thr"st the $a+
to6ard the T!< st"bby finger +ointing a ong rectange shaded in red crayon on itF&the
ocation is off i$its since siG this $orning "nti S"nday $idnight. So$ebody ese is
o+erating in there< # g"ess< and they don>t 6ant "s shooting at each other.&
The redhead>s hands cenched. &#>$ teing yo"<& he grated< his voice tight< &it>s co$ing
for "s. 4irst Jody< then the ca+tainFhe< 6hat $akes yo" think it>s going to @"it 6hen it
gets Peacock and $eB , of yo" 6ere there.&
&!a+tain 4"er 6as eaten by a tiger<& the ie"tenant sna++ed.&No6 6hy don>t yo" c"t the
cra+ and get back to yo"r trackB&
&7odda$n f"nny tiger that doesn>t eave foot+rintsF&
&So it A"$+edD ,re yo" going to get o"t of here< or are yo" going back to J"an %oi "nder
g"ardB& /orthington started to rise o"t of his a6n chair to end his 6ords e$+hasis.
4or an instant it see$ed the enisted $an 6o"d hit hi$* then !asey t"rned and staked
off 6itho"t sa"ting. /e< sa"tes 6eren>t co$$on in the fied any6ay< the ie"tenant tod
hi$sef as he 6ent back to his Aob of sorting o"t the $ess the ca+tain had eft for hi$.
9nder the tar+ by the s"++y track< Sergeant Peacock sat at another card tabe si++ing
A"ice fro$ the five;gaon container there. 2e ooked "+ as !asey a++roached. 4irst
+atoon had gotten back ate fro$ a convoy r"n< and a fe6 of the $en 6ere sti eating
their s"++er nearby.
&!an>t yo" do so$ething abo"t hi$< SargeB& the T! begged. 2is body< "nder its tan< had
an "nheathy h"e that the fied first noted 6itho"t co$$ent. The yo"nger $an 6as abo"t
to crack.
&/e< # g"ess he>s right<& the Negro said 6itho"t e$+hasis. &# kno6 6hat yo">re thinking<
it 6as a bad drea$F&
&The sa$e drea$ t6ice in a ro6D& !asey broke in< &and yo" had it too.& 2e dre6 a c"+
of A"ice fro$ the container< and the action see$ed to steady hi$. &Jes"s !hrist< yo" can>t
te $e that>s A"st a coincidence< not 6ith the things that ha++ened right 6hen 6e 6ere
drea$ingD&
The big nonco$ shr"gged. &So $aybe 6e s$eed so$ething<& he agreed< &and it $ade
"s think abo"t that stinkhoe 6e o+ened "+ the other day. #t co"d do that< yo" kno6.
1aybe so$e tiger 6as "sing the +ace for a cave and ca"ght the s$e fro$ it. The drea$
don>t $ean anything< that>s a #>$ saying. #f there>s a tiger roa$ing aro"nd< 6e> shoot it
the neGt ti$e.&
The redhead took a si+ of his A"ice and soshed it aro"nd in his $o"th. 2e grinned 6ryy.
&Sarge<& he said< &# a$ost think yo" beieve that. :ven tho"gh yo" kno6 da$n 6e that
the ony chance for yo" and $e and $aybe the rest of the o"tfit is to bo6 "+ that ido
before it gets "s too. Stands to reason that if 6e see it drea$ing 6ith ony one ar$ and if
6e bo6 the rest of it to s$ithereens< it 6on>t be abe to co$e for "s at a.&
The sergeant ch"cked.&/e< yo" better ho+e yo">re 6rong< son< >ca"se they aren>t going
to et "s go back and bo6 that thing "+. Be a fine thing if the arvins a$b"shed "s or 6e
ran into a sheaf of o"r o6n one;five;fives< 6o"dn>t itB&
&7od da$n it< ho6 do yo" stay so ca$B&the yo"nger $an eG+oded. Sergeant Peacock
ooked hi$ "+ and do6n before ans6ering< &/e< # te yo"< son< 6hen # 6as abo"t yo"r
age in =orea< $y +atoon 6as hoding a ridge that the gooks 6anted rea bad. They ca$e
at "s 6ith bayonets* yo" kno6 those od R"ssian ones< seventeen inches in the badeB
There 6as one co$ing right for $e and # s6ear he 6as the biggest gook # ever sa6<
bigger than $e even. # had a carbine 6ith a thirty;ro"nd boG< and # shot that son of a bitch
right thro"gh the chest. # $ean # shot hi$ thirty godda$n ti$es. ,nd he ke+t co$ing.
&# co"dn>t beieve it. There 6as bood a over the front of his "nifor$< and he A"st ke+t
co$ing. # +"t the ast shot into hi$ fro$ coser than # a$ to yo"< and then he st"ck his
godda$n bayonet a the 6ay thro"gh $y g"ts before he died. # said to $ysef< 1rs.
Peacock< yo"r favorite son isn>t co$ing back >ca"se the gooks got ?o$bies fighting for
the$. B"t # 6as 6rong both ti$es. They fiGed $e "+ in Ja+an and had $e back 6ith the
rest of the "nit before the ceasefire. ,nd that gook 6asn>t $agic either* he 6as A"st
to"gher than anybody ese in the 6ord. Since then # A"st haven>t et anything scare $eF
es+eciay not $agic< even 6hen # co"d see it. That a 6ent o"t of $e 6hen the bayonet
si++ed in.&
!asey shook his head in resignation.&# ho+e to 7od yo" can say that to$orro6
$orning<& he $"ttered. &,nd # ho+e to 7od that #>$ aro"nd to hear yo".& 2e 6aked off
in the direction of his track.
Baiey and Jones sat in front of the c"+oa< +aying cribbage and kee+ing a des"tory
6atch on the s"rro"nding A"nge. Baiey 6as driving no6 that Jody 6as gone* that $eant
that ony one of the $achine g"ns in back 6o"d be $anned in a firefight. !hrist< 6hy
sho"d he 6orry abo"t thatB !asey asked hi$sef savagey. &2ey< snake<& the others
greeted hi$. The T! nodded. 2e ci$bed into the c"+oa and sighted aong the barre of
the ca fifty. #t didn>t give hi$ the co$fortabe feeing it so$eti$es did.
&Say< Red<& Jones said< kee+ing his eyes on his cards< &yo" been ooking kinda rocky. J"st
for tonight< Pete and # tho"ght 6e>d cover for yo" and et yo" get so$e see+.&
&No< thanks a ot< $an< b"t no.&
&,6< co$e on< Red<& Baiey +"t in. &Co">re so beat yo">re gonna fa right off the track if
yo" don>t get so$e see+. 2e< 6e can>t have that ha++ening to a short;ti$er 6ith ony
t6enty;seven days eft< can 6eB&
&T6enty;eight<& !asey corrected a"to$aticay. 7od< that cose to going ho$e and this
had to ha++enD #t 6o"d have been bad eno"gh to get ?a++ed by the dinks no6< b"t< he<
yo" fig"re on that . . . .
&/hat do yo" say< $anB& Baiey +ro$+ted.
&Sorry< # reay do a++reciate it. B"t #>$ not going to see+ tonight. # kno6 6hat yo">re
thinking< b"t #>$ right. #f it gets $e< it>s going to get $e a6ake. That>s ho6 it is.&
Beo6 the T!>s ine of sight< Jones ca"ght Baiey>s eyes. The driver fro6ned and gave a
shr"g. &4ifteen;t6o< fifteen;fo"r< and a +air for siG<& he co"nted $orosey.
The sky 6as bea"tif". !o"d streaks in the 6est broke the briiant s"nset into three
orange bades stabbing across the heavens to beed on a 6rack of c"$"i. The refecting
6edges< $ies high< stood ike three keystones of an arch< $ore st"nning than any s"nrise
co"d have been. S6ifty they shr"nk "+6ard< dee+ened< disa++eared. The sa$e co"ds
that had $ade the dis+ay +ossibe bocked off the $oon and stars "ttery. #t 6as going to
be another +itch;back night.
Jones ste++ed aro"nd to the cargo hatch and +"ed three beers o"t of the cooer. 2e
handed the$ "+ to the T! to o+en 6ith the ch"rch key hanging fro$ the side of the
c"+oa. No +o+;to+s in Na$. !hrist< itte eno"gh ice< !asey tho"ght as he si++ed his
6ar$ Pabst. /hat a he of a +ace to die inD
4ootste+s cr"nched on the gravey soi. !asey>s heart A"$+ed as he t"rned aro"nd to find
the so"rce of the so"nds. Tiger< $onster< 6hatever< the thing co"d be on yo" before yo"
sa6 it in this darkness.&2o6>s it goingB&Sergeant Peacock>s fa$iiar voice asked.
The T! reaGed< a$ost abe to a"gh at his fright. &Not bad ti yo" scared the cra+ o"t of
$e A"st no6.&
&Co" kee+ coo<& the sergeant ad$onished. 2e didn>t atte$+t to ci$b onto the back deck*
instead< he stood beside the ,!,I< his head a itte beo6 the eve of its sides. !asey
ci$bed o"t of the c"+oa and s@"atted do6n beside it to see the big Negro better.
&Co" co"d have gone back on the s"++y bird tonight<& Peacock said< his voice o6 b"t
a"dibe to Jones and Baiey inside the track no6 as 6e as to the T!.
!asey didn>t care. 2e co"d ive anything do6n< if he had $ore than a night or t6o to
ive. #n nor$a tones he re+ied< &Didn>t fig"re that 6as going to do $"ch good< Sarge.
/e>re at east ten kicks a6ay fro$ 6here 6e fo"nd that thing< rightB& The fied first
nodded.
&/e< stands to reason that if it can foo6 "s any6ays at a< it co"d A"st as easy foo6
$e back to J"an %oi. ,t east here # got a chance.& 2is eft hand reached o"t and +atted
the heavy barre of the ca fifty< sticking $ore than three feet o"t fro$ the c"+oa
g"nshied. &Eh< # kno6<& the redhead 6ent on< &the ca+tain had a g"n< and Jody 6as right
here 6hen it got hi$Fb"t !hrist< back at J"an %oi or Di ,n there 6o"dn>t be a
godda$n thing bet6een $e and it.&
The sergeant ch"cked 6itho"t $"ch h"$or. !asey tho"ght he co"d see the o"tine of a
$achete< b"cked onto the +isto bet "nder the $assive b"ge of the back>s sto$ach. The
ony other ti$e the T! co"d re$e$ber Peacock act"ay 6earing the big knife 6as the
evening they got 6ord that the firebase 6as being hit by everything fro$ one;oh;sevens
on do6n and that the NDPs co"d eG+ect their share any $o$ent. &2ey< yo" 6ant a
beerB& he @"estioned. &#t>s 6ar$< b"tFoh /hristBA
The yo"nger $an ea+ed back into his c"+oa. &/hat>s the $atterB& the sergeant
de$anded. Then his nostris 6rinked.
&4aresD& the nonco$ sho"ted at the to+ of his "ngs. &:verybody shoot "+ faresD&
&/hat the heB&Jones b"rted in conf"sion as he and Baiey st"ck their heads "+ o"t of
the cargo hatch. The bot of the ca fifty in the c"+oa canged o"dy as !asey snatched
back the charging hande. ,cross the aager so$ebody had heard the sergeant>s beo6
and obeyed enth"siasticay 6ith a +air of 6hite star c"sters. They shot "+ ike Ro$an
candes< dra6ing 6eird shado6s 6ith their short $"ti+e gare and siho"etting Sergeant
Peacock hi$sef as he +o"nded across the dirt to6ard the co$$and track. , horribe
stench ay over everything.
The fares b"rned o"t. The sergeant disa++eared< back into the dee+er backness. %t.
/orthington "rched into sight at the fa+ of the co$$and tent< his rife in his hand. Then
the sergeant beo6ed< a terribe $iGt"re of hatred and s"r+rise that a$ost dro6ned o"t
the hiss of another fare going "+. #n the c"+oa of three;siG< !asey c"rsed 6ith effort as
he s6"ng the s@"eaing ar$or aro"nd and +ointed the big $achine g"n in across the NDP.
&Red< 6hat in 7od>s na$e are yo" doingB& Jones shrieked. The fare +o++ed and began
foating do6n on its +arach"te. Sergeant Peacock 6as bet6een three;siG and the
co$$and track. 2is boated shado6 6rithed across the soi* neither of his feet 6ere
to"ching the gro"nd. !asey +ressed do6n the b"tterfy trigger 6ith both th"$bs. The
shattering $"??e bast +ocked the sides of the co$$and tent as the red tracers snicked
o"t +ast it. The strea$ of fire 6as 6hi++ing a$ost straight across the aager< a ong
raking b"rst endangering everybody in the troo+ as it ashed the air A"st over Sergeant
Peacock>s head. The fied first 6as str"gging titanicay 6ith nothing at a* his right hand
sashed the ginting $achete bade again and again across the air in front of hi$ 6hie his
eft see$ed ca$+ed on the invisibe so$ething that hed and s"++orted hi$.
The so"thern sky brightened< fickered. Not another fare< Jones reai?ed< not th"nder
either as the so"nd sh"ddered to6ard hi$. ,rcight< a strike on the area they had started
to aager in t6o nights back.
, aro"nd the NDP< $en 6ere sho"ting in conf"sion. The ie"tenant had started r"nning
to6ard the fied first< then coa+sed gagging as he took a dee+ breath. Dieses r"$bed<
b"t no one ese had started shooting. The barre of !asey>s $achine g"n 6as cherry red.
Co" co"d 6atch tracers start to t"$be in screa$ing arcs as soon as they eft the b"rnt;
o"t barre< b"t the T! contin"ed hosing the air. Sergeant Peacock gave a choked cry* his
$achete sna++ed< then dro++ed fro$ his hand. ,t the sa$e instant< the ca fifty ca$e to
the end of its bet of a$$"nition and st"ttered into sience. The T!>s des+airing c"rses
6ere barey a"dibe over the rising th"nder of bo$b basts raking the A"nge so"th of
the$.
There 6as an incongr"o"s +o+ fro$ the air beside Sergeant Peacock. The fied first
dro++ed to the gro"nd< "nconscio"s b"t aive. /ith a s$ie of incred"o"s ho+e etched on
his face by the ast go6 of the fare< !asey staggered o"t of his c"+oa. 2is eyes 6ere
fiGed on the ri++ing gare in the so"th< and he didn>t see$ to notice 6hen Jones +"cked
his seeve.
&7od bess the ,ir 4orce<& the T! 6as 6his+ering. &7od bess the ,ir 4orce.&
Somethin! (ad to Be Done

There(s a #istake in this story &hich a fan &ho(d been a 'nit clerk called
to #y attention. - haven(t corrected it for this appearance, b't - &ant to
point it o't.

3 character is described as &earing Aa Silver Star 4#edal5 &ith , for
,alor.A The clerk e8plained that the Silver Star &as by definition an a&ard
for valor@ there &as no additional , endorse#ent as there #ight be &ith
the 4lo&er?stat's5 Bronze Star or 3r#y /o##endation Medal.

- #ade the #istake beca'se - based the description on a real soldier &ho#
- kne& &ith 0nd S:'adron and &ho# -(d been told had been a&arded a
Silver Star &ith , for his co'rage at Fort Defiance. .bvio'sly - &as told
&rong. My bet no& is that the g'y got a Bronze Star &ith , beca'se he
&as a Spec % and, :'ite frankly, #edals &ere #ore a #atter of rank than
of #erit in ,iet Na#. 4- kno& of a lie'tenant colonel &ho got a Silver Star
for being so detested by his #en that they shot do&n his helicopter &hen
he fle& over the# on a road #arch. The loss &as attrib'ted to ene#y
action, of co'rse.5

B't that brings 'p the :'estion of tr'th, &hich is one - &restle &ith a lot. -
&rote these stories very close to the period of their setting, and they(re as
tr'e as - co'ld #ake the#Hb't &hat the people on the gro'nd Akne&A
isn(t necessarily the tr'th.

For e8a#ple, there &as a &idely hated for# of C>?## a##'nition, a
shrapnel ro'nd called ;reen Ball 4fro# the nose color5 or Dial?3?Dink
4fro# the fact that yo' rotated the f'se to detonate the ro'nd at a chosen
distance fro# the g'n@ ideally 9'st short of the dink, the ,ietna#ese, yo'
&ere trying to kill5. -t &as a co#ple8 and not partic'larly reliable ro'nd.
We got a lot of it, and it &as al&ays the first thing tank co##anders
b'rned 'p d'ring Mad Min'tes &hen they &ere firing as #any ro'nds as
possible into the darkness for si8ty seconds.

The C>?## g'n of o'r M%I tanks had a T?shaped #'zzle brake. - &as told
that ;reen Ball had a tendency to blo& off the front half of the brake, and
it &as certainly tr'e that #any of the tanks had da#aged #'zzle brakes.

3ct'ally, the da#age 4- no& kno&5 had nothing to do &ith the type of
a##'nition. -t &as si#ply a res'lt of g'ns firing tho'sands of ro'nds in
9'ngle anti?g'errilla operations, &hen they(d been designed to fire
h'ndreds of ro'nds 4at #ost5 d'ring ar#ored battles in 1'rope. Beca'se
&e disliked ;reen Ball, &e bla#ed the fail'res on the a##'nition.

So yo' can(t depend on #y fiction to tell yo' the tr'th . . . b't as for
ho& it felt and &hat &e tho'ght, that(s real and - stand by it today. Writing
short stories and &riting novels are t&o different thingsHas different as
&riting prose fiction and scripting for television. There are people &ho do
both s'perbly &ell 43rth'r /. /larke above all5, b't the ability to do one
doesn(t say #'ch abo't the likelihood that the sa#e person &ill be able to
do the other. The #arketplace today is geared to novels. That(s fine, and
it(s by &riting novels that - earn #y living.

B't - ca#e 'p thro'gh short stories, &hich necessitated #e developing
skill in &riting tight prose. ASo#ething ad to Be DoneA is the best -(ve
ever done at packing a story effectively in a brief co#pass. -(# very pro'd
of it.

&2e 6as o"t in the ha A"st a $in"te ago< sir<& the +inched;faced /,! said< ooking "+
fro$ her ty+e6riter in irritation. &Co" can>t $istake his face.&
!a+t. Rich$ond shr"gged and 6aked o"t of the b"sy office. Binking in the di$ $arbe
6ere a do?en conf"sed civiians< b"ssed in for their +re;ind"ction +hysicas. No one ese
6as in the ha6ay. The thick;6aisted officer fro6ned< then tho"ght to o+en the door of
the $en>s roo$. &Sergeant 1or?ekB& he caed.
7ass cinked 6ithin one of the cosed stas and a dee+ voice 6ith a catch in it gr"$bed<
&Ceah< be right 6ith yo".& Rich$ond tho"ght he s$eed gin.
&Co" the other gho"B&the voice @"estioned as the sta s6"ng o+en. ,ny retort Rich$ond
$ight have $ade 6ithered 6hen his eyes took in the cadavero"s fig"re in i;taiored
greens. Patoon sergeant>s chevrons on the seeves< and beo6 the$ a onger ro6 of
service stri+es than the ca+tain re$e$bered having seen before. 7od< this 6aking cor+se
$ight have served in /ord /ar ##D 1ost of the ribbons ranked above the sergeant>s
breast +ockets 6ere "nfa$iiar< b"t Rich$ond ca"ght the itte I for vaor 6inking in the
center of a siver star. :ven in these $eda;ha++y days in So"theast ,sia they didn>t toss
$any of those aro"nd.
The sergeant>s cheeks 6ere hoo6< his fingers grotes@"ey thin 6here they rested on to+
of the door or c"tched the handes of his ?i++ered ,/E% bag. /here no $oes s@"atted<
his skin 6as as 6hite as a convict>s* b"t the $oes 6ere a$ost every6here< hands and
face< do?ens and scores of the$< cro6ding together in 6eted obscenity.
The sergeant a"ghed starky. &Pretty< aren>t #B The docs te $e # got too $"ch s"n over
there and it gave $e r"na6ay 6arts. 2e< fo"r years is eno"gh ti$e for it to.&
&9$$<& Rich$ond gr"nted in e$barrass$ent< edging back into the ha to have
so$ething to do. &/e< the car>s in back . . . if yo">re ready< 6e can see the
%"nko6skis.&
&Ceah< !hrist<& the sergeant said< &that>s 6hat # ca$e for< to see the %"nko6skis.& 2e
shifted his bag as he foo6ed the ca+tain and it cinked again. ,6ays before< the other
$an on the notification tea$ had been a stateside officer ike Rich$ond hi$sef. 2e had
heard that a fe6 o6;cas"aty o"tfits $ade a habit of etting 6hoever kne6 the dead $an
best acco$+any the body ho$e< b"t this 6as his first act"a eG+erience 6ith the +ractice.
2e ho+ed it 6o"d be his ast.
Threading the green 4ord thro"gh the heavy traffic of the city center< Rich$ond said< &#
take it Pfc %"nko6ski 6as one of yo"r $enB&
&Ceah< Stevie;boy 6as in $y +atoon for abo"t three 6eeks<& 1or?ek agreed 6ith a
ch"cke.&%ost siG $en in that ti$e and he 6as the ast. SiG o"t of t6enty;nine< not very
da$n good< 6as itB&
&Co" 6ere "nder heavy attackB&
&2e< no< $osty the dinks 6ere etting "s aone for a change. /e 6ere o"t in the $idde
of /ar Oone !< yo" kno6< $ost !hrist;bitten stretch of co"ntry yo" ever sa6. No dinks<
no treesFthey>d a been defoiated. Not a da$n thing b"t d"st and each other>s
co$+any.&
&/e< 6hat did ha++enB&Rich$ond +ro$+ted i$+atienty. Traffic had thinned so$e6hat
a$ong the bocks of od b"idings and he began to ook for ho"se n"$bers.
&Eh< $osty they A"st died<& 1or?ek said. 2e ya6ned acohoicay. &Stevie< no6< he got
bo6n to he by a grenade.&
Rich$ond had earned 6hen he 6as first assigned to notification d"ty not to d6e on the
6ays his . . . $issions had died. The +ossibiities varied fro$ "n+easant to ghasty.
2e st"dio"sy avoided saying anything $ore to the sergeant beside hi$ "nti he fo"nd the
n"$ber he 6anted. &Ene;siGteen. This $"st be the %"nko6skis>.&
1or?ek got o"t on the c"rb side< ooking $ore skeeta than before in the da++ed
s"night. 2e sti hed his ,/E% bag.
&Co" can eave that in the car<& Rich$ond s"ggested. &#> ock "+.&
&Na6< #> take it in<& the sergeant said as he 6aited for Rich$ond to 6ak aro"nd the
car.&Co" kno6< this is every da$n thing # bro"ght fro$ Na$B They didn>t bother to o+en
it at Travis< A"st asked $e 6hat # had in it. >, @"art of gin<> # tod >e$< >b"t # 6on>t have it
ong<> and they 6aved $e thro"gh to $ake $y connections. Ene advantage to this kind of
tri+.&
, be chi$ed far 6ithin the ho"se 6hen Rich$ond +ressed the b"tton. #t 6as cooer than
he had eG+ected on the +ine;shaded +orch. 1iserabe as these high< dark od ho"ses 6ere
to heat< the design $ade a 6ord of sense in the s"$$er.
, ight ca$e on inside. The stained;gass 6indo6 eft of the door darkened and a atch
snicked o+en.&Pease to co$e in<& invited a soft;voiced fig"re hidden by the dark oak
+ane. 1or?ek grinned ina++ro+riatey and ed the 6ay into the ha< brighty ighted by
an eectric chandeier.
&1r. %"nko6skiB&Rich$ond began to the 6is+y;itte $an 6ho had ad$itted the$. &/e
areF&
&B"t yes< yo" are here to te "s 6hen Stefan sha co$e back< are yo" notB& %"nko6ski
broke in.&!o$e into the sitting roo$< +ease< ,nna and $y da"ghter Rose are there.&
&,h< 1r. %"nko6ski<& Rich$ond tried to eG+ain as he foo6ed< a too conscio"s of the
sardonic grin on 1or?ek>s face< &yo" have been infor$ed by teegra$ that Pfc.
%"nko6ski 6asF&
&/as kied< yes<& said the yo"nger of the t6o red;haired 6o$en as she got "+ fro$ the
sofa. &B"t his body 6i co$e back to "s soon< 6i he notB The $an on the tee+hone
said . . . B&
She 6as gorgeo"s< Rich$ond tho"ght< coo and ass"red< haf;s$iing as her hair cascaded
over her eft sho"der ike a thick co++er cond"it. Disconcerted as he 6as by the 6hoe
sit"ation< it 6as a $o$ent before he reai?ed that Sgt. 1or?ek 6as saying< &Eh< the
coffin>s +robaby at the air+ort no6< b"t there>s nothing in it b"t a h"ndred and fifty
+o"nds of grave. Did the teegra$ te yo" 6hat ha++ened to StevieB&
&SergeantD& Rich$ond sho"ted. &Co" dr"nkenF&
&Eh< ca$ do6n< !a+tain<& 1or?ek interr"+ted beaky.&The %"nko6skis< they
"nderstand. They 6ant to hear the 6hoe story< don>t theyB&
&Ces.&There 6as a to"ch too $"ch sibiance in the 6ord as it cra6ed fro$ the oder
6o$an< Stefan %"nko6ski>s $other. 2er hair 6as too gri??ed no6 to have $ore than a
to"ch of red in it< eno"gh to r"st the tight ringets cinging to her sk" ike a he$et of
$ai. /itho"t @"ite a++reciating its i$+ortance< Rich$ond noticed that 1r. %"nko6ski
6as standing in front of the roo$>s ony door.
/ith +erfect nonchaance< Sgt. 1or?ek sat do6n on an overst"ffed chair< aying his bag
across his knees.
&/e<& he said< &there 6as @"ite a re+ort on that one. /e tod the$ ho6 Stevie 6as trying
to booby;tra+ a 6hite +hos+horo"s grenadeFfiG it to go off as soon as so$e dink +"ed
the +in instead of fo"r seconds ater. ,nd he goofed.&
1rs. %"nko6ski>s breath 6histed o"t very softy. She said nothing. 1or?ek 6aited for
f"rther reaction before he s$ied horriby and added< &2e b"rned. , co"+e +o"nds of
/iie Pete going booie< 6e . . . it kee+s b"rning a the 6ay thro"gh yo". %ike #
said< the coffin>s f" of grave.&
&1y god< 1or?ek<& the ca+tain 6his+ered. #t 6as not the sergeant>s savage grin that fro?e
hi$ b"t the icy;eyed sience of the three %"nko6skis.
&The grenade< that 6as rea<& 1or?ek conc"ded. &The rest of the re+ort 6as a ie.&
Rose %"nko6ski reseated hersef gracef"y on a chair in front of the heaviy dra+ed
6indo6s.&/hy don>t yo" start at the beginning< SergeantB&she said 6ith a thin s$ie that
did not sho6 her teeth. &There is $"ch 6e 6o"d ike to kno6 before yo" are gone.&
&S"re<& 1or?ek agreed< tracing a $otted forefinger across the +ig$ented caosities on
his face. &Not $"ch to te. The night after Stevie got assigned to $y +atoon< the dinks
hit "s. No big thing. 2ad one feo6 d"sted off 6ith brass in his anke fro$ his $achine
g"n bo6ing "+< that 6as a. B"t a b"rst of ,= fire knocked Stevie off his tank right at
the start.&
&/hat>s a this abo"tB& Rich$ond co$+ained. &#f he 6as kied by rife fire< 6hy say a
grenadeF&
&SienceD& The co$$and cracked ike hee +ates on concrete.
Sgt. 1or?ek nodded. &/hy< thank yo"< 1r. %"nko6ski. Co" see< the ca+tain there doesn>t
kno6 the b"ets didn>t h"rt Stevie. 2e tod "s his fak Aacket had sto++ed the$. #t
co"dn>t have and it didn>t. # sa6 it that night< before he b"rned itFfive hoes to stick
yo"r fingers thro"gh< right over the breast +ocket. B"t Stevie 6as fine< not a $ark on
hi$. /e< !hrist< $aybe he>d had a bandoier of a$$o "nder the Aacket. # had other
things to think abo"t.&
1or?ek +a"sed to gance aro"nd his a"dience. &, this tak< # co"d s"re "se a drink. #
kied $y botte back at the 4edera B"iding.&
&Co" 6on>t be ong<& the gir hissed in re+y.
1or?ek grinned.&They broke "+ the s@"adron< then<& he ras+ed on< &gave each +atoon a
sector of /ar Oone ! to cover to stir "+ the dinks. There>s $ore ife on the $oon than
there 6as on the stretch 6e +atroed. Third night o"t< one of the g"nners died. They fe6
hi$ back to Saigon for an a"to+sy b"t da$ned if # kno6 6hat they fo"nd. 7ao+ing
$aaria< 6e fig"red.
&Three nights ater another g"y died. Da6son on three;siG . . . !hrist< the na$es don>t
$atter. So$e ti$e after $idnight his track co$$ander 6oke "+< heard hi$ $oaning. /e
got hi$ back to J"an %oi to a hos+ita< b"t he never ca$e o"t of it. The ie"tenant
tho"ght he got 6as+ st"ng on the neckFhere< yo" kno6B& 1or?ek to"ched t6o fingers to
his A"g"ar. &%ike he 6as aergic. /e< it ha++ens.&
&B"t 6hat abo"t StefanB& 1rs. %"nko6ski asked. &The others do not $atter.&
&Ces< finish it @"icky< Sergeant<& the yo"nger 6o$an said< and this ti$e Rich$ond did
catch the fash of her teeth.
&/e had a third death<& 1or?ek said agreeaby< stroking the ?i++er of his ,/E% bag
back and forth. &/e 6ere a A"$+y by then. # do"bed the g"ard< t6o $en a6ake on
every track. Three nights ater< and nobody in the +atoon re$e$bered anything fro$
t6enty;fo"r h"ndred ho"rs ti Riggs> +artner binked at ten of one and fo"nd hi$ dead.
&#n the $orning< one of the boys ca$e to $e. 2e>d seen Stevie si+ over to Riggs< he said*
b"t he 6as ?onked o"t on grass and didn>t think it reay had ha++ened "nti he 6oke "+
in the $orning and sa6 Riggs "nder a +oncho. By then< he 6as scared eno"gh to te the
6hoe story. /e< 6e 6ere a A"$+y.&
&Co" kied Stefan.& #t 6as not a @"estion b"t a fat state$ent.
&Eh< he< %"nko6ski<& 1or?ek said absenty< &6hat does it $atter 6ho roed the
grenade into his b"nkB The story got aro"nd and . . . so$ething had to be done.&
&=no6ing 6hat yo" kno6< yo" ca$e hereB& 1rs. %"nko6ski $"r$"red i@"idy. &Co"
$"st be $ad.&
&Na6< #>$ not cra?y< #>$ A"st sick.& The sergeant br"shed his eft hand over his forehead.
&1aignant $eano$a< the docs tod $e. T6enty;siG years in the godda$ ar$y and in
another 6eek or t6o #>d be &arted to death.
&!a+tain<& he added< t"rning his cancero"s face to6ard Rich$ond< &yo" better eave
thro"gh the 6indo6.&
&Neither of yo" 6i eaveD& snared Rose %"nko6ski as she ste++ed to6ard the $en.
1or?ek ifted a fat gray cyinder fro$ his bag.&=no6 6hat this is< honeyB&he asked
conversationay.
Rich$ond screa$ed and ea+ed for the 6indo6. Rose ignored hi$< sashing her hand o"t
for the +hos+horo"s grenade. Dra+ery 6ra++ing the ca+tain>s body shieded hi$ fro$
gass and s+intered 6indo6 fra$e as he +itched o"t into the yard.
2e 6as sti screa$ing there 6hen the bast of 6hite fire b"ged the 6as of the ho"se.
The )lf (o&se

Bill Fa&cett, a friend and a book packager, p't together for Baen Books
&hat &as s'pposed to be an original anthology of novellas by Dave
Weber, 1ric Flint, and #e. 4-t &as a little #ore co#ple8 than that to begin
&ith, and a lot #ore co#ple8 before the book event'ally ca#e o't.5 For
that vol'#e - &rote a a##er novella &hich beca#e part of an episodic
a##er novel.

Bill then sold a fantasy e:'ivalent and asked #e to &rite a short story in
the -sles 'niverse. 1ach vol'#e of #y -sles fantasy series has fo'r
individ'al vie&point strands &hich co#bine for the cli#a8. -f Bill had
been able to 'se a novella, - #ight(ve &ritten a se:'ence &hich -(d spread
o't over five or si8 chapters &hen it appeared in the ne8t -sles novel. 3
short story didn(t fit that novel for#at, so - si#ply &rote AThe 1lf o'seA
fro# scratch &ith no e8pectationHthen or no&Hof ever re'sing it as part
of an -sles novel.

- &rote the story to be self?standing. -f it had any val'e at all beyond
doing a favor to a friend, it needed to be accessible to readers &ho had no
previo's fa#iliarity &ith the -sles series. That #eant li#iting it to a single
character.

- picked /ashel beca'se he(s friendly, cheerf'l, and very direct. Basically,
- like hi#. 4- identify &ith /ashel(s sister -lna, &ho(s angry, harsh, and
generally depressed, b't that(s another #atter entirely.5

- kne& the concept of the AThe 1lf o'seA &asn(t original to #e, b't 'ntil
-(d finished the ro'gh draft - co'ldn(t have told yo' fro# &ho# -(d stolen
it. -n reading it thro'gh for the first ti#e, the so'rce &as obvio's+ A)aza#
/ollects,A an early &ork by /yril )ornbl'th.

-f - needed proof of ho& #'ch better a &riter - co'ld be than - a#, all -(d
have to do is reread any of a dozen or #ore pieces &hich )ornbl'th
dashed off before he &as t&enty. Beca'se - don(t need that proof, - reread
)ornbl'th si#ply for the pleas're of discovering ne& flashes of brilliance
&ith each reading. - s'ggest that all of yo' read hi# also.

!ashe didn>t need to carry his @"arterstaff in the corridors of the Iicar>s +aaceF6hat>d
been the !o"nt of 2aft>s +ace ti Prince 7arric arrived the 6eek beforeFb"t he 6as
$ore co$fortabe hoding the s$ooth< fa$iiar hickory than he>d be other6ise. 2e didn>t
disike big b"idings< b"t he disiked being in the$* and this +aace had a nasty fee a its
o6n.
Besides< the staff had been a friend in +aces 6here !ashe had no other friends. 2e
6o"dn>t fee right abo"t eaving it aone in the h"ge s"ite assigned to hi$ 6hie he 6ent
off to dinner 6ith 7arric in the roof garden. #f the servants< officias< and the a$a?ing
n"$ber of other +eo+e cro6ding the +aace stared at hi$< 6e< a $an as big as !ashe
or;=enset 6as "sed to being stared at 6hether he carried a @"arterstaff or not.
4or a 6onder there 6asn>t anybody aro"nd at the $o$ent. !ashe sa"ntered do6n the
ha ooking at the cher"b $"ra +ainted A"st above sho"der eve. #n the di$ ight
thro"gh the transo$s of the roo$s to either side< there 6as so$ething ne6 to catch every
ti$e he +assed.
!ashe started to grin at the itte feo6 6ith his 6ings s+read as he str"gged to ead a
goat 6ho didn>t 6ant to go. The so"nd of a gir crying Aerked his head aro"nd.
2e>d been hoding the @"arterstaff straight "+ and do6n in one hand. No6< 6itho"t hi$
thinking abo"t it his eft hand si++ed into +osition a s+an beo6 the right and he santed
the staff before hi$. &1a>a$B& he said< ready to dea 6ith 6hatever 6as $aking a 6o$an
cry.
The gir 6ore servant>s cothing< a ca+ and a si$+e gray t"nic set off by a sash of
beached 6oo. She knet a itte 6ay do6n a corridor 6hich Aoined the $ain one fro$ the
right. !ashe didn>t re$e$ber there being anything b"t a bank 6a there< b"t he g"essed
he>d a6ays $issed it beca"se he>d been intent on the $"ra o++osite.
She gave another vain +"sh at the in6ard;o+ening door in front of her< then ooked "+ at
!ashe 6ith eyes gittering 6ith tears.&Eh< sirD&she said.&# dro++ed the key and it si++ed
"nder the door. The ste6ard 6i beat $e if # don>t get it backD&
&# don>t g"ess he 6i<& !ashe said. The notion that so$ebody>d beat a itte si+ of a gir
s"r+rised hi$ into s+eaking in a gro6. 2e didn>t kno6 her< b"t he didn>t think $en o"ght
to hit any girs. 2e 6as rea s"re no $an 6as going to try that t6ice in front of !ashe or;
=enset.
2e ceared his throat and 6ent on in a nor$a voice< &B"t anyho6< et>s see if # can>t get
yo"r key.&
The door stood a finger>s breadth aAar. !ashe +ressed 6ith the fingerti+s of his right hand
6itho"t b"dging it f"rther. #t 6as st"ck< that 6as a* r"sty hinges< he fig"red< since the
+ane didn>t bind to the inte or transo$. Thro"gh the crack at the edge he co"d see a
gint of god in 6hat 6as other6ise darkness* the key 6as there< a right. #t $"st>ve
bo"nced 6rong off the stone foor.
!ashe eaned his @"arterstaff against the 6a beside hi$ and +aced his hands one above
the other on the atch side of the +ane. The gir ooked "+ at hi$ intenty. She see$ed
oder< a of a s"dden< and there 6as no sign of her frightened des+air of a $o$ent ago.
2e $ade s"re his feet 6ere set< then +"t his 6eight against the 6ood.
1ore +eo+e ived in the +aace than did in a Barca>s 2a$et 6here !ashe>d gro6n "+.
:ven tho"gh there 6asn>t any traffic in the $ain corridor< so"nds constanty echoed
thro"gh the ha6ays and $ade the foor @"iver. , that sto++ed* !ashe +ressed against
the +ane in dead sience. 1aybe it 6as the effort< beca"se the door sti didn>t 6ant to
giveF
,nd then it did< tho"gh 6ith creaking "n6iingness. #t o+ened another finger>s breadth<
t6ice that . . . .
The gir st"ck her ar$ in< caing so$ething that !ashe co"d barey hear thro"gh the
roar of bood in his ears.&# can>t @"ite . . . & she said< so he ke+t +"shing and the door
gave so$e $ore< eno"gh that she s@"ee?ed her torso into the roo$ beyond.
!ashe shoved harder yet. 2e co"d fee the 6ood fighting hi$ ike the staff of a bent
bo6< ready to sna+ back if he et "+ the +ress"re. &#>ve got itD& the gir said< ony her egs
fro$ the knees do6n o"t in the ha6ay 6here !ashe co"d see the$. &#>veF&
,nd then she shrieked< &1iord< #>$ faingD&shriy. 2er egs sid o"t of sight< foo6ing
the rest of her. She 6as 6earing sandas 6ith stra+s of green;dyed c"t;6ork.
!ashe didn>t "nderstand 6hat 6as ha++ening< b"t as the gir si++ed in6ard he sa$$ed
his sho"der hard against the +ane instead of A"st shoving 6ith his hands. 2e hadn>t done
that before beca"se he didn>t 6ant to s$ash the door< b"t no6 he didn>t care.
The door didn>t break< neither the thick fir +ane nor the s@"eaing hinges that fo"ght hi$
a the 6ay< and he s6"ng it o+en at right anges. The roo$ 6ithin 6as s$a and dingy.
There 6as no f"rnit"re< and +art of the rotten 6ainscoting had faen onto the foor.
The gir had the key in one hand and reached to6ard !ashe 6ith the other. She ooked
ike she 6as siding back6ards< b"t she 6as aready farther a6ay than the far 6a of the
roo$.
!ashe grabbed the staff 6ith his eft hand and stretched it o"t to the gir. She co"dn>t
reach it and screa$ed again. 2er voice 6as gro6ing fainter* he co"d see her body shrink
as the distance increased.
&D"?iD&!ashe beo6ed. 2e strode into the roo$< hoding the @"arterstaff o"t in both
hands. The gir grabbed it< b"t !ashe>s feet si++ed ike he 6as standing on an icy
hiside.
The door sa$$ed behind hi$. The ony ight 6as a di$< yeo6;bro6n go6 that
siho"etted the gir>s body and he and she +"nged do6n an "nseen so+e.
H H H
!ashe fet hi$sef s+inning as he dro++ed< b"t his body 6asn>t to"ching anything. The
gir hed the other end of his staff* he co"dn>t see her eG+ression< b"t she didn>t ba6 in
fear or $ake any so"nd at a that he noticed.
They skidded onto a gritty hiside and sto++ed. !ashe ooked over his sho"der. , he
sa6 6as gray sky and a rising so+e. There 6asn>t any sign of the roo$ 6here they>d
co$e fro$. 2e ooked a aro"nd and didn>t see anything he iked better.
The bare his ranged in coor fro$ yeo6;6hite to the red of r"sty iron. 4or the $ost
+art the rock had 6eathered into grave< b"t there 6ere o"tcro+s 6here the stone $"st>ve
been harder. The genera andsca+e 6asn>t +retty< b"t the o"tcro+s 6ere 6orse. /henever
!ashe ooked hard at one< he started to see a arge< angry face.
2e got "+< br"shing cr"$bed rock fro$ the back of his t"nic. 2e hadn>t co$e do6n
hard< for a that they>d see$ed to be r"shing headong thro"gh e$+tiness. 2e ganced at
the gir< aready on her feet. She s$ied and said< &1y na$e is 1ona< %ord !ashe. Do
yo" kno6 6here 6e areB& &J"st !ashe< +ease< $istress<& he said 6ith a gri$ace. &#>$ not
ord anything.&
2e ceared his throat< ooking aro"nd again. The andsca+e 6asn>t any $ore a++eaing on
a caref" s"rvey than it>d been 6hen he first anded in it. &,nd # don>t kno6 anything
abo"t this +ace< eGce+t # 6ish 6e 6ere so$e+ace ese.&
&#t>s 6here the ho"se ef ives<& 1ona said. She 6as ooking at the andsca+e aso< t"rning
her head so6y.&9sed to ive< # $ean. There can>t be anything aive here eGce+t the
d6eing itsef.&
She hed her ar$s across her boso$* her eG+ression 6as cody disa++roving. 4ro$
1ona>s feat"res she 6as yo"nger than !ashe>s nineteen years< b"t her eyes 6ere a ot
oder than that.
!ashe foo6ed the ine of her ga?e "+ a series of streaked< ragged so+es. En to+ of a
b"tte 6as 6hat at first he>d taken for 6hite stone 6eathered into a s+ire. /hen he
s@"inted and et it sink in ange by ange< he reai?ed he 6as seeing a $an;$ade to6er
6ith batte$ents on to+. , sant of 6indo6s c"rved aro"nd the shaft the 6ay they>d do to
ight a circ"ar staircase.
&Co" $ean that casteB& !ashe said< nodding to6ard the str"ct"re instead of +ointing.
&That there>s +eo+e iving thereB&
&There>s no +eo+e here and no eves either<& the gir said as she stared to6ard the to6er.
&Eny "s. ,nd # don>t $ean the b"iding< !ashe. This 6hoe 6ord 6as the d6eing for
the ho"se ef.&
!ashe ceared his throat. 2e took o"t the +ad of ra6 6oo he carried in his bet 6aet
and 6i+ed the s$ooth hickory s"rface of his @"arterstaff as he tho"ght.
&1ona<& he said 6hie kee+ing his eyes fiGed on his task. &The ony ho"se eves #>ve
heard of are the itte feo6s 6ho ive "nder the hearth and< 6e< $ake things go right.
The %"ck of the 2o"se< so$e +eo+e ca the$.&
2e ceared his throat again. &Not that #>ve ever seen one. Er kno6n anybody 6ho did.&
&2o6 co"d anybody ive "nder a hearthB& 1ona asked< 6ith a +retty s$ie that took the
sting o"t of 6ords that co"d>ve been +retty c"tting if said the 6rong 6ay. &B"t they co"d
ive bet6een the cracks of the rea 6ord< in a +ace that gre6 for the$. , +ace ike this
6as.&
She ooked aro"nd< no onger s$iing.&/hen the ef died<& she said< &the d6eing
sho"d>ve faen a+art ike a 6eb 6hen the s+ider dies. This d6eing took a ife of its o6n
instead. , sort of ife.&
The sky 6as getting darker. #t 6as soidy overcast< as heavy and o++ressive as a bock of
gray stone. !ashe co"d fee a stor$ in the air. D"?i< the itte god of she+herds< kne6
ho6 $any ti$es he>d been ca"ght by the 6eather 6hie he 6as $inding shee+* b"t he
didn>t have shee+ to 6orry abo"t this ti$e< so he co"d go so$e6here ese.
&,h< 1onaB& he said. &# think 6e>d best get "nder cover 6hie 6e can. 9ness yo">ve got
a better idea< et>s head for the caste "+ there.&
&Ces<& she said. &/e> do that. Tho"gh the stor$ 6i catch "s any6ay.&
They had abo"t a haf;$ie to go. The ro"te 6as "+hi on average< b"t !ashe co"d see
there 6ere severa ridges and g"ies bet6een the$ and the caste. :G+erience had ta"ght
hi$ that the terrain 6as a6ays 6orse than it see$ed at a distance< b"t he didn>t foresee
anything they co"dn>t cross even if he had to carry the gir +art of the 6ay.
2e ooked at 1ona again. She 6asn>t the frai itte gir that she>d see$ed 6hen he first
sa6 her in the +aace corridor. She ste++ed 6ith deter$ination across the ro"gh terrain<
avoiding head;si?ed ch"nks of rock b"t see$ingy "n+ert"rbed by the coarse grave.
1aybe the soes of her sandas 6ere st"rdier than they see$ed. !ashe hi$sef 6as
6earing thick boots. 2e didn>t ike the fee of footgear< es+eciay in 6ar$ 6eather< b"t
the stone foors of the +aace and cobbestone streets of the city beyond 6ere too $"ch
for the ca"ses he>d deveo+ed going barefoot on the $"d and $eado6s 6here he gre6
"+.
%ightning fashed so$e6here above the co"ds< giving the$ teGt"re if not sha+e for an
instant. !ashe hed his staff cross6ise< ready to brace hi$sef 6ith an iron b"tt;ca+ if the
grave sid or a rock t"rned "nder his foot. Co" co"dn>t tr"st yo"r footing here . . . .
&#>$ s"r+rised there>s nothing gro6ing here<& !ashe said. The gir 6as a co"+e ste+s in
front of hi$< choosing each ste+ and kee+ing in +erfect baance. &This isn>t good soiF&
his boot toe go"ged into the so+e &Fb"t 6ith rain< there o"ght to be so$ething.&
&Nothing can ive here<& 1ona said bittery. She reached do6n and br"shed at the oose
grit. &%ook.&
The "nderying rock 6as $osty dark bro6n and crea$< 6ith streaks of $aroon and other
coors. !ashe fro6ned as he et his eyes gra++e 6ith the +attern.
&#t>s a tree tr"nk<& he said at ast. &#t>s a stone stat"e of a tree tr"nk.&
&#t 6as a tree tr"nk<& the gir said.&The ho"se has t"rned it to stone to reabsorb it. %esser
vegetation isF&
She s6e+t her eft hand in a short arc< +a$ do6n.
&Faready gone. Stone and d"st. The ho"se has ony a haf;ife* it hates the rea thing.&
She s$ied 6ryy at !ashe.&4orgive $e if # get carried a6ay<& she said. &There>s nothing
evi abo"t 6hat>s ha++ening here< any $ore than there is 6ith cancer or a 6of tree. B"t
it>s a +erversion and can>t be ao6ed.&
!ashe nodded. &/e>d best be getting on<& he said< nodding to6ard the to6er ahead of
the$. The hi 6as +artic"ary stee+ right here* he co"d ony see the cro6ning
batte$ents fro$ 6here he stood. &Tho"gh yo" 6ere right abo"t "s not beating the
stor$.&
They res"$ed< ci$bing stee+y no6. The gir dabbed a hand do6n fre@"enty 6hie
!ashe "sed the b"tt of his staff to steady hi$ 6here he didn>t tr"st the gri+ of his feet.
2e kne6 6hat a 6of tree 6as. #f a forest gre6 6id< there>d a6ays be a fe6 trees< oaks
$ore often than not< that thro"gh a co$bination of "ck in soi and the 6eather s+read
over gro"nd that co"d>ve s"++orted a do?en ordinary trees. Their i$bs shaded o"t esser
gro6th< and their tr"nks gre6 gnared and rotted at the heart< "seess for anything b"t
fire6ood.
4orests didn>t gro6 6id< of co"rse: 6ood 6as too va"abe a reso"rce for that. #f a tree
started taking $ore than its share< the 6oodot>s o6ner hired a h"sky yo"ng $an ike
!ashe to c"t it do6n.
, stee+;sided g"y barred their 6ay< not broad b"t dee+er than t6ice !ashe>s height. 2e
fig"red he co"d get over it< b"t the gir>d have to ci$b do6n and thenF
1ona A"$+ed over the g"y fro$ a standing start< ooking ike nothing so $"ch as a
s@"irre ho++ing the ga+ bet6een trees. She ganced over her sho"der. &#> 6ait for yo"
here< 1aster !ashe<& she said 6ith a trace of a"ghter in her tone.
!ashe gr"nted. 2e checked the gro"nd< then backed t6o ste+s and ca$e on again in a
r"sh. 2e b"tted his @"arterstaff fir$y at the edge of the g"y and "sed the great strength
of his sho"ders to oft hi$ over. 2e anded beside her< feGing his knees to take his
6eight.
&Co">re gracef" des+ite yo"r si?e<& the gir said as she res"$ed her 6ay to6ard the
to6er.
&/ho are yo"< 1istress 1onaB& !ashe asked. &/hat are yo"B&
&#>$ a servant<& she said. &/e>re a servants of one kind or another< aren>t 6eB Co" "sed
to serve shee+< for eGa$+e.&
&# didn>t serve shee+<& !ashe said< shocked at the tho"ght. &#F&
2e broke off. , she+herd did a ot of things< b"t 6hen yo" boied the$ a do6n they
a$o"nted to $aking s"re his shee+ 6ere safe and co$fortabe. P"t ike that it s"re
eno"gh so"nded ike being a servant.
&/e< $aybe that>s so<& he ad$itted< saying the 6ords instead of A"st hoding his tong"e
and +retending he hadn>t been 6rong to begin 6ith. The rain hit< vioent sashes fro$
straight ahead. :ach g"st drove at !ashe>s face ike he 6as standing in the s"ice of the
$i back ho$e in Barca>s 2a$et. 2e didn>t see ho6 1ona co"d stand against it b"t she
did< o6ering her head and striding on.
The ightning 6as neary constant< dancing in the co"ds as the air sh"ddered 6ith
th"nder. R"noff go"ged fresh riv"ets 6hich g"shed do6n the so+es as strea$s of thin
$"d.
The g"y they>d crossed $"st be a raging freshet no6. #t>d be a bad ti$e to ose yo"r
footing and side into a torrent.
The stor$ sto++ed as abr"+ty as it>d beg"n. #t +a"sed< at any rate* the rain no onger fe<
b"t the sky stayed the sa$e dark $at. 1ona had a itte +eaked ca+ as +art of her ivery.
#t>d bo6n a6ay< and her si$+e t"nic st"ck to her torso< so++ing 6et and three shades
darker than its origina ight gray. !ashe fig"red he ooked ike a dro6ned rat hi$sef.
2e grinned and sicked the 6ater off his staff bet6een his th"$bs and forefingers< siding
first his right hand to the ferr"e and then ceaning the other haf 6ith his eft. , dro6ned
oG< $aybe. En his 6orst day< nobody 6as going to conf"se !ashe or;=enset 6ith a rat.
They>d reached the base of the great o"tcro+ on 6hich the to6er stood. The ciff 6as
+retty stee+< b"t there 6as a +ath santing "+ to the eft. #t ooked bady 6orn . . .
6e< no. #t ooked $ore ike the rock had been $eted so$eho6. ,ny6ay< they>d be abe
to get "+ it even if the rain started again.
&/aitD& the gir said< staring intenty at the ciff to the side of the +ath6ay. 2er indeG
finger traced a b"$+ in the rock. #t 6as abo"t the si?e of a ri+e cantao"+e and had a
+eary "ster instead of the d"< chaky s"rface hoding it.
No6 that 1ona>d +ointed o"t the first one< !ashe sa6 that there 6ere $ore bas< as
$any as he co"d co"nt on the fingers of one hand< in the rock beside it. They ooked as
$"ch ike frog>s eggs as anything !ashe co"d think of* tho"gh $"ch bigger< of co"rse.
&The seeds of ne6 d6eings<& the gir said softy. She took her hand a6ay fro$ the stone.
&:ach seed sho"d gro6 into a ho$e for a yo"ng ef 6ho>d $ake the +eo+e of a ho"se in
the 6aking 6ord a itte ha++ier. This +ace is absorbing the$ too.&
She t"rned her head to6ard !ashe.&# 6as 6rong< # think<& she said. 2er voice didn>t
so"nd angry< b"t it rang as hard as a s6ord edge. &/hat>s ha++ening here is evi.&
&%et>s go on<& said !ashe< b"t 1ona had started "+ the +ath before he got the 6ords o"t.
The 6ind rose again before they>d ci$bed haf6ay. #t 6hired aro"nd the o"tcro+<
b"ffeting !ashe head;on no $atter 6hich direction he 6as facing as he 6aked aong the
c"rving +ath. Rain began to fa< a fe6 dro+s at a ti$e b"t big ones that st"ng ike hard;
thro6n +ebbes.
1ona>s t"nic 6as seeveess and ony knee;ength. :ven so !ashe 6as afraid that it>d
give the stor$>s vioence eno"gh +"rchase to snatch her fro$ the +ath and thro6 her onto
the broken andsca+e beo6. 2er baance re$ained +erfect and her ste+s stayed steady
des+ite the g"sts.
The to+ of the o"tcro+ 6as as fat as a tabe. The to6er stood in the center 6ith no $ore
$argin than !ashe co"d s+an by stretching his ar$s o"t to either side. 2e 6ondered if
the s+ire itsef 6as artificia< a +edesta b"it at the sa$e ti$e the to6er 6as* tho"gh if
6hat 1ona said 6as tr"e< this 6hoe 6ord had been $adeFor gro6n< 6hich he
s"++osed 6as the sa$e thing.
The entrance 6as +art6ay aro"nd the to6er fro$ 6here the +ath reached the to+. 1ona
started for it 6ith !ashe right behind. No6 that they 6ere cose< !ashe sa6 that the
6indo6s in the to6er 6ere bocked "+Ffied 6ith stone rather than A"st sh"ttered. /hat
he>d seen 6ere the o"tines 6here the sashes "sed to be.
The rain res"$ed in torrents< no6 $iGed 6ith hai the si?e of @"ais> eggs. !ashe thre6
his eft ar$ "+ to shied his eyes. 2e>d have br"ises 6hen this 6as over< that 6as for s"re.
Bas of ice shattered against the stone< cracking ike a fire of +ine bo"ghs. Shar+ bits
bo"nced fro$ the gro"nd< +ricking !ashe>s ankes and o6er egs.
The to6er>s door6ay 6as recessed. 1ona bent to6ard it< doing so$ething 6ith the +ane.
!ashe h"nched behind her< trying to sheter her fro$ the haistones that si++ed +ast the
overhang.
The ratting hai dro6ned the th"nder< b"t its dee+er notes sti vibrated thro"gh !ashe>s
boots. %ightning 6as a constant ri++ing +resence overhead. The to6er>s 6as 6ere
aabaster* !ashe ran his fingerti+s over the$< trying to find Aoints bet6een the co"rses. #f
there 6ere any< they 6ere too fine for his to"ch or eyesight< either one< to identify the$.
&1ona< $aybe # can break it do6n<& !ashe said< s+eaking o"der 6ith each 6ord of the
short sentence. The hai $ade $ore noise than he a++reciated "nti he tried to tak over it.
, cr"st faked off the 6a 6hen !ashe r"bbed it. Tho"gh the to6er stood in o+en air< the
stone 6as rotting ike a stat"e b"ried in the acid soi of a forest.
&#>ve got itD& said the gir< and as she s+oke the to6er o+ened* she ste++ed inside.
!ashe 6as cose on her hees< b"$+ing the door as he entered. #t 6as $ade of the sa$e
6hite stone as the rest of the b"iding< +ivoting on +ins carved fro$ one bock 6ith the
+ane. ,s soon as !ashe 6as +ast< it banged sh"t 6ith a ringing so"nd $ore ike a
Gyo+hone than that of stone on stone.
The stor$>s noise ended abr"+ty 6hen the door cosed. They 6ere in an anteroo$.
&There>s ightD& !ashe said in s"r+rise< and there 6as: a soft< shado6ess go6 fro$ the
stone itsef. The roo$ 6as "nf"rnished< b"t on the 6as 6ere carved +atterns as rich and
fancif" as the engravings on a nobe$an>s god dinner service.
Eny a fe6 +atches re$ained to sho6 6hat the origina decoration had ooked ike<
tho"gh. The scay rot disfig"ring the to6er>s eGterior had cai$ed $ost of the inner
s"rfaces too.
1ona ste++ed thro"gh the inner door6ay. !ashe foo6ed< kee+ing his ebo6s cose to
his sides. The +assage 6as so narro6 that if he>d tried to s6agger thro"gh ar$s;aki$bo<
he>d have b"$+ed the Aa$bs.
, sender 6o$an stood in the center of the ha< her right hand o"t in greeting. &EhD&
!ashe said< straightening in s"r+rise. The to6er 6as so sient that he>d convinced hi$sef
it 6as e$+ty
&2er na$e 6as 7igia<& 1ona said< 6aking to6ard the other 6o$an. &She 6as the "ck
of the +aace ever since the !o"nt of 2aft b"it it. There 6as never a ho"se ef 6ho co"d
$atch 6hat 7igia did 6ith gass. She $ade the +aace 6indo6s gea$ ike a tho"sand
rainbo6s every s"nrise.&
!ashe to"ched his tong"e to his o6er i+. 2is staff 6as sant6ays before hi$< not so
$"ch a threat as a barrier bet6een hi$ and the sient 7igia.&/hy doesn>t she $oveB& he
asked.
&Beca"se she>s dead< !ashe<& 1ona said. &She gre6 od and died* as things sho"d do.
/itho"t death there can be no rene6a.&
She reached to6ard the dead 6o$an* their faces 6ere as ike as those of t6ins. /hen her
fingers to"ched the other>s cheek< 7igia disintegrated into d"st $otes. 2er right ar$ fe
to the foor intact< then er"+ted as a geyser of fine d"st s6iring in the air.
There 6as a dry< s6eetish s$e. !ashe thre6 his ar$ over his nose to breathe thro"gh
the 6aterogged seeve of his t"nic< tho"gh he didn>t s"++ose it $attered.&1onaB& he
said.&2o6 can 6e get o"t of hereB Back to the +aace< # $eanB Er so$e6hereD&
#nstead of ans6ering< the gir 6aked to6ard the door on the other side of the centra
roo$. 2er feet stirred 7igia>s re$ains into "$ber 6hors. 7ri$acing< !ashe foo6ed.
The roo$ beyond 6as darker than the others. ,gainst the far 6a 6as a throne ineG+erty
hacked o"t of stone* on it sat a stat"e as br"ta and +ri$itive as the throne itsef. #t 6as
$ae< b"t it had t"sks and a cr"de a+e>s face. #n its right hand 6as a stone c"b the ength
of !ashe>s ar$.
&#s this a cha+eB& !ashe said. &#s that the god they 6orshi+ hereB&
The to6er sh"ddered. !ashe heard the shar+ crackMcrackMcrack of stone breaking. The
stat"e tre$bed side to side on its throne.
!ashe t"rned* the o"ter door had sa$$ed behind the$< b"t $aybe he co"d s$ash it
o+en again. &:arth@"akeD& he cried. &/e>ve got to get o"tD&
&#t>s not an earth@"ake<& 1ona said i$+assivey* she didn>t $ove. &,nd 6e can>t get o"t
6hie this re$ains. The d6eing $"st have a $aster to eGist< so it>s created a $aster in its
o6n i$age.&
The stat"e stood "+. #t ooked even bigger standing than it>d see$ed 6hie seated* !ashe
didn>t think he co"d reach to the to+ of its head fat;footed. Not that he 6as ikey to need
to do that.
#t started for6ard< raising its c"b. &1ona< get o"t of the 6ayD& !ashe said in a gro6.
2e ifted the @"arterstaff before hi$ and began backing to6ard the door to the centra
roo$. The ight 6as better there< and there 6as $ore s+ace besides. 2e and his staff
covered a ot of territory 6hen the fight started.
Rock groaned against itsef. The stat"e>s face shifted as its $o"th $oved.&# 6i destroy
yo" . . . & the stone said in a r"$be a$ost too o6 for h"$an ears.
!ashe kne6 6here the door6ay 6as behind hi$. 2e feinted at the stat"e>s head< then
ste++ed back @"icky and s"rey. 2e ke+t his staff vertica to cear the narro6 o+ening.
1ona 6as so$e6here nearby< a +resence 6itho"t for$ beca"se a !ashe>s attention 6as
on the stat"e. 2e ho+ed the gir>d stay cear< b"t he co"dn>t 6orry abo"t that right no6.
The stat"e c"$+ed thro"gh the door6ay after hi$< barey cearing the Aa$bs. #t ooked
even "gier than it had in the reative shado6 of the f"rther roo$.&Co" cannot esca+e
$e . . . & it grated in a voice of e$otioness $enace.
!ashe s+"n his staff in a short s"n;6ise arc< crashing his eft ferr"e into the "$+ish fist
6hich gri++ed the stone c"b. There 6as a crack and fash of b"e 6i?ardight* the
creat"re gro6ed ike an a++roaching avaanche.
!ashe 6asn>t ooking for esca+e. 2e>d co$e to fight.
The stat"e r"shed hi$< s6inging the stone c"b in an overhead bo6. !ashe ra$$ed his
staff for6ard ike a s+ear. The b"nt b"tt;ca+ sa$$ed into the thing>s throat 6ith another
b"e fash.
The creat"re>s head Aerked back. The $ighty arc of its c"b to"ched nothing b"t air ti it
s$ashed itsef on the foor< cratering the aabaster. The gri+ fe6 o"t of the stone hand.
!ashe backed< gas+ing in dee+ breaths. 2e>d str"ck s6ifty and as hard as he co"d< and
the @"ivers of 6i?ardight $eant he 6as "sing $ore than the strength of his great
$"sces. 2e 6as "nco$fortabe abo"t that other b"sinessFhe 6as a she+herd< not a
6i?ardFb"t 6hen he 6as facing a creat"re ike this he 6as gad of any he+ he co"d get.
The thing hed its hands "+ in front of its face. #ts fingers 6ere thin scorings in stone
$itts* ony the th"$bs 6ere se+arate. #ts b"nt feat"res 6ere those of a bestia do a chid
had $oded fro$ cay.
The creat"re>s $o"th o+ened. #t screa$ed ike $istones r"bbing.
&/atchF& 1ona cried< b"t !ashe didn>t need to be tod 6hat to do in a fight. The
creat"re ea+ed to6ard hi$ ike a $issie fro$ a h"ge cata+"t. !ashe ste++ed back and
side6ays< thr"sting his @"arterstaff o6. 2e si++ed the thick hickory +oe bet6een the
stone ankes* it feGed b"t hed. The creat"re +"nged head;first into the 6a 6ith a crash
that rocked the to6er.
The aabaster fract"red in scao+ed fakes< eaving a crater at the +oint of i$+act. The
creat"re dro++ed fat on the foor. #t braced its stone ar$s beneath it< starting to rise.
!ashe< hoding the staff ike a battering ra$< str"ck the back of its head< bo"ncing it into
the 6a again. %ight as b"e as the heart of a sa++hire fared at the do"be crackB of iron
on stone and stone on stone.
!ashe ste++ed back< bending sighty and s"cking air thro"gh his o+en $o"th. The
creat"re>s ar$s $oved feeby< ike an infant trying to s6i$. The ferr"e !ashe had A"st
str"ck 6ith go6ed orange< cooing to d" red. 2e s6itched ends< then bro"ght the staff
back 6ith both ar$s.
The creat"re got its hands "nder it and ifted its head sighty. !ashe "nged for6ard<
driving the staff do6n 6ith the 6hoe 6eight of his body. The b"tt ha$$ered the creat"re
at the sa$e +oint as before. The stat"e>s head eG+oded in a fash and th"nderca+. The
$assive body began to cr"$be the 6ay a sand caste dissoves in the s"rf.
!ashe fet hi$sef 6avering. 2e +anted the @"arterstaff against the foor and "sed it to
brace hi$ as he et hi$sef knee. 2is breath 6as a ras+ing th"nder< and his bood
ha$$ered in his ears.
The ony +art of the creat"re sti re$aining 6as the o"tstretched right ar$. /hen it
s"ddeny coa+sed to a s+i of sand< !ashe ca"ght a brief re$inder of the dry< s6eet
odor in 6hich 7igia had vanished. Then nothing re$ained b"t air harsh 6ith the faint
bri$stone reek of nearby ightning.
H H H
!ashe stayed ike that forF6e< for a ti$e. 2e fig"red he co"d $ove if he had to< b"t
since he didn>t he 6as A"st going to rest ti he fet ike doing so$ething ese.
Tho"gh he>d ke+t his eyes o+en< he didn>t have $"ch a6areness of his s"rro"ndings.
There 6asn>t a ot to see< after a* A"st the trai of coarse grit that>d been a stat"e there on
the foor in front of hi$. #t ooked ike 6hat he>d seen on the his he>d ci$bed to reach
the to6er . . . .
&,re yo" ready to go ho$e< !asheB& 1ona said.
!ashe>s 6ord cicked back into hard foc"s again. 2e t"rned his head and s$ied at the
gir< feeing a itte e$barrassed. 2o6 ong had she been standing there< 6aiting for hi$
to co$e to hi$sefB
&#>$ a right<& he said< 6ondering ho6 tr"e that 6as. 2e stood< ifting hi$sef +arty by
the strength of his ar$s on the @"arterstaff. 2e s6ayed a itte< b"t no 6orse than yo"
a6ays did 6hen yo">d been bent over and got "+ s"ddeny.
2e grinned 6ider and said< &#>$ fine<& $eaning it this ti$e. &B"t ho6 do 6e get back
ho$e< 1onaB&
,s !ashe s+oke< he took a coser ook at the 6as. 2is eyes narro6ed.&1onaB& he said.
&Things don>t ook right. The stone ooks thin. #t 6asn>t ike that before.&
&This 6ord is decaying<& the gir said< &and not before ti$e. /e have to get yo" o"t of
here< tho"gh. !o$e.&
She ste++ed thro"gh the door6ay to the roo$ 6here the stat"e had 6aited* the god key
6as o"t in her hand again. !ashe foo6ed< as he>d been doing ever since he $et the gir
FeGce+t 6hen there 6as the fighting.
2e grinned again. That 6as a right. 1ona 6as better at eading than !ashe ever 6anted
to be< and she>d ke+t o"t of the 6ay 6hen he 6ent to 6ork.
1ona ooked back at hi$. &#>$ sorry # had to trick yo"<& she said. &Co"r he+ 6as very
i$+ortant.&
!ashe shr"gged. &Co" didn>t have to trick $e< 1ona<& he said. &Co" co"d A"st have
asked. B"t that>s a right.&
The throne had faen into a +ie of sand and +ebbes ike the thing that>d sat on it. En the
6a behind 6as another door. 1ona st"ck the key into the doorFthere hadn>t been a
keyhoe that !ashe co"d see< b"t he 6as s"re abo"t 6hat she>d A"st doneFand +"ed
the +ane o+en.
&7o on thro"gh< !ashe<& she said< s$iing ike the s"n rising. &Thank yo". /e a thank
yo".&
!ashe hesitated. &Co">re co$ing too< aren>t yo"< 1onaB& he said. %ight and coor 6itho"t
sha+e s6ired in the door o+ening.
2er s$ie beca$e +ensive. She raised the key in the hand that didn>t hod the door o+en.
&# have to free the seeds 6e fo"nd<& she said. &Ether6ise they> rot instead of gro6ing as
they sho"d.&
&B"t 6hat ha++ens to yo"B& !ashe said.
&7o on back to yo"r o6n 6ord< !ashe<& 1ona said< her voice hard 6itho"t harshness.
&There $"st be rene6a.&
!ashe ceared his throat. 2e didn>t have anything to say< tho"gh< so he nodded and
6aked to6ard the o+ening. ,s his eading foot entered the b"r of coor< 1ona said<
&Co"r ho"se 6i a6ays be a ha++y one< dear friend.&
4or a $o$ent !ashe ste++ed thro"gh nothingness so sient that he heard his heart
beating* then his boot hee cacked on stone. 2e 6as standing in the fa$iiar ha6ay
do6n 6hich he>d been going to dinner.
&EhD& cried a servant< dro++ing the +air of siver e6ers he>d been carrying to refi fro$
the 6e in the co"rtyard at the end of the +assage. They rang on the foor< so"nding s6eet
or hoo6 by t"rns as they roed.
!ashe s@"atted< hoding his staff "+right in one hand as he ca"ght the nearer +itcher. #t
$ight have a fe6 ne6 dings in it< b"t he didn>t g"ess the servant 6o"d get in rea tro"be.
&Eh< yo"r ordshi+< #>$ so sorryD& the feo6 babbed. 2e took the e6er fro$ !ashe>s
hand b"t he 6as tre$bing so bad he ooked ike he $ight dro+ it again. &# didn>t see
yo"D&
!ashe ganced at the door he>d co$e o"t of . . . and fo"nd there 6asn>t one< A"st a
bank 6a bet6een the entrances to a +air of arge s"ites. 2e stood "+. &Sorry<& he said
a+oogeticay. &# didn>t $ean to starte yo".&
!ashe headed on in the direction he>d been going 6hen he>d first heard the girF6e<
first heard 1onaFcrying. 2e>d never reay iked this +aace. #t 6as a dingy +ace< bady
r"n;do6n before 7arric arrived and re+aced the !o"nt of 2aft 6ith a vicar.
Nothing !ashe co"d see 6as different abo"t it no6< b"t the corridor see$ed a itte
cheerier than it "sed to be. 2e s$ied. 2e>d have started 6histing if he co"d carry a t"ne.
The (&ntin! *ro&nd

- read 4and al&ays have read5 both science fiction and fantasy. Mr.
Derleth insisted that SF &as #erely a s'bset of fantasy, b't even if that(s
tr'e 4and -(# not s're it is5 the state#ent doesn(t acc'rately describe #ost
people(s perceptions. Still, beca'se - #ove bet&een fantasy and SF as a
reader, it(s been easy for #e to &rite both.

Nor do - see any reason that a horror story can(t be SF. Many years ago
6a#sey /a#pbell asked #e for #y choice of the ten top horror stories.
.ne of those - picked instantly &as AThe /old 1:'ationsA by To# ;od&in,
a p're SF story &hich - find horrifying in &ays that one #ore n't &ith a
#eat cleaver can never be.

AThe /old 1:'ationsA proves #y point in another fashion also. -t(s &ell
kno&n that 7ohn /a#pbell p'blished the story in 3sto'nding, the
:'intessentially hard?SF #agazine. -t(s less &ell kno&n that ;od&in
borro&ed the plot fro# an 1/ horror co#ic. The bo'ndaries bet&een
horror and SF are easily per#eable.

6a#sey /a#pbell asked #e for a story for S'perhorror, an original
horror anthology he &as p'tting together. The only criterion &as that the
story be a good one. 4.ne of the best in the collection &as AThe ,iad'ctA
by Brian 2'#ley, a slice of a'tobiography &ith no fantasy ele#ent
&hatever.5

- chose to &rite a story that &as SF in for#, altho'gh it co'ld have been
done 9'st as easily as a fantasy. $ay#ent &as to be 0 centsM&ord, b't
instead - traded the piece for the pencil ro'gh draft of the novel 6a#sey
had 9'st finished+ his first, The Doll Who 3te is Mother.

-t(s neither the science nor the co'ld?be fantasy that #akes AThe 'nting
;ro'ndA a horror story@ it(s the character(s sit'ation. There(s less fiction
in that than - #ight &ish.

- ca#e back fro# Na# &ith no physical da#age and an absol'te ref'sal
to ad#it that there #ight be other proble#s. WeH#y &ife and -Hrented
roo#s in an old ho'se that had been split into three apart#ents for
st'dents and other people &itho't a lot of #oney.

.ne of the nicest aspects of the ho'se &as the attached vacant lot. 3 large
tree had been c't do&n a year or t&o past@ the st'#p re#ained beside the
drive&ay. - sat cross?legged on that st'#p, reading or &riting, any ti#e it
&asn(t raining. For &hatever reason, it &as &hat #y so'l needed.

*o'(ll find that st'#p in AThe 'nting ;ro'nd.A *o'(ll also find an
acc'rate description of a neighborhood of D'rha#, N/, 9'st north of
D'ke(s 1ast /a#p's. 3nd yo'(ll find a part of #e@ b't - e#phasize, only a
s#all part.

The +atro car>s tires hissed on the 6ar$ as+hat as it +"ed to the c"rb beside %orne.
&/hat yo" "+ to< snakeB& asked the s@"are;bodied +oice$an. The car>s r"$bing ide and
the 6hirr of its air conditioner thro"gh the o+en 6indo6 fied the evening. %orne s$ied
and nodded the ighted ti+ of his cigarette. &Sitting on a st"$+ in $y yard< 6atching co+s
+ark on the 6rong side of the street. /hat>re yo" "+ to< BenB& #nstead of ans6ering< the
+oice$an ooked hard at his friend. They 6ere both in their ate t6enties* the $an in the
car stocky and dark 6ith a cose;cro++ed $"stache* %orne sender< his hair sand;coored
and faing across his neck brace. &2"rting< snakeB& Ben asked softy.
&Shit< fo"r years is eno"gh to get "sed to anything<& the thinner $an said. Tho"gh %orne>s
eyes 6ere on the chi$e to6er of the abandoned Ba+tist ch"rch a bock do6n Rankin
Street< his $ind 6as ost in the far +ast. &Co" kno6< so$e nights # sit o"t here for a 6hie
instead of going to bed.&
Three cars in @"ick s"ccession thre6 6aves of ight and so"nd against the ro6s of aging
ho"ses. Ene binked its high bea$s at the +atro car briefy< bindingy. &Bastard<& Ben
gr"$bed 6itho"t rea anger. &/e< back to the 6ar against cri$e.& 2is s$ie @"irked.
&Better than the ast 6ar they had "s fighting< heyB&
%orne finished his cigarette 6ith a ong drag. &2e< # don>t kno6< sarge. 2o6 $any Aobs
give yo" a f" +ension after t6o yearsB&
&See yo"< snake.&
&See yo"< sarge.&
The big cr"iser snared as Ben +"ed back into the traffic ane and t"rned at the first
corner. The city 6as on a syste$ of neighborhood +oice +atros< an atte$+t to avoid the
anony$o"s +atroing that t"rned each car into a $iniat"re search and destroy $ission.
The first night he sat on the st"$+ beside his a+art$ent< %orne had s6orn in s"r+rise to
see that the face +eering fro$ the c"rio"s +atro car 6as that of Ben 7resha$< his s@"ad
eader d"ring the ten $onths and nineteen days he had carried an 1)0 in /ar Oone !.
,nd that 6as the ony +ast re$aining to %orne.
The back door of Jenkins> ho"se banged sh"t on its s+ring. , fe6 $o$ents ater heavy
boots began scratching "+ the grave of the co$$on drive. %orne>s seat 6as an oak
st"$+< three feet in dia$eter. #nstead of trying to t"rn his head< he shifted his 6hoe body
aro"nd on the 6ood. Jenkins< a +"$+ish< haf;bad $an in his ate siGties< ifted a +air of
canned B"d6eisers. &1"st get thirsty o"t here< 6ar$ as it is.&
&#t>s a6ays thirsty eno"gh to drink good beer<& %orne s$ied. &#> share $y st"$+ 6ith
yo".&They si++ed for a ti$e 6itho"t s+eaking. 1rs. P"refoy< Jenkins> 6ido6ed sister and
a $atrony Ba+tist< ke+t ho"se for hi$. %orne gathered that 6hie she did not forbid her
brother to drink an occasiona beer< neither did she +rovide an enco"ragingy socia
at$os+here.
&#>ve seen yo" o"t here at - a.$.<& the oder $an said. &/hat> yo" do 6hen the 6eather
t"rns codB&
&4ree?e $y b"tt for a 6hie<& %orne ans6ered. 2e gest"red his beer to6ard his dark
a+art$ent on the second foor of a ho"se $"ch ike Jenkins>.&Sit "+ there 6ith the ight
on. 2e< there>s ots of I, hos+itas< #>ve been in ots of the$. #f North !aroina isn>t
6ar$ eno"gh< $aybe they>d find $e one in 4orida.& 2e took another s6ao6 and said<
&# A"st see+ better in the dayti$e< is a. Too $any ghosts aro"nd at night.&
Jenkins t"rned @"icky to $ake s"re of the s$ie on the yo"nger $an>s face. #t fashed at
his $otion.&Not @"ite that sort of ghost<& %orne eG+ained. &The ones # bring 6ith
$e . . . .&,nd he ke+t his s$ie des+ite the si??e of faces in the 6hite fire s"dden in
his $ind. The noise of +o++ing< boiing fesh faded and he 6ent on< &There 6as
so$ething 6eird going on ast night< tho"ghF& he ganced at his big Ja+anese
6rist6atchF&6e< da$n eary this $orning.&
&, 2ao6een ghost 6ith a 6hite sheetB& Jenkins s"ggested.
&9$$< no< do6n at the ch"rch<& said %orne< f"$bing his cigarettes o"t. Jenkins
shr"gged ref"sa and the dart of b"tane fa$e ignited ony one.&The to6er there 6asF#
don>t kno6< # ooked at it and it see$ed to be vibrating. No so"nd< tho"gh< and then a big
red fash 6itho"t any so"nd either. # tho"ght s"re it>d ca"ght fire< b"t it 6as A"st a fash
and everything 6as back to nor$a. 4"nny. Co" kno6 ho6 yo" hod yo"r fingers over a
fashight and it co$es thro"gh< kind ofB /e< the fash 6as ike that< ony thro"gh a
stone 6a.&
&# never sa6 anything ike that<& Jenkins agreed. &Ed ch"rch doesn>t see$ the 6orse for
it< tho"gh. #t> be ready to fa do6n itsef before the co"rts get a setted abo"t 6ho
o6ns it< yo" kno6.&
&9$$B&
&4eo6shi+ Ba+tist b"it a ne6 ch"rch haf a $ie north of here< $ore +arking< and
anyho6< it 6as going to cost $ore to re+air that od firetra+ than it 6o"d to b"id a ne6
one.& Jenkins grinned. &1abe hasn>t $issed a S"nday in forty years< so # heard a abo"t
it.
The city bo"ght the od ot for a boys> c"b or so$e s"ch foo thingF# 6ant to s+it every
ti$e # think of $y +ro+erty taGes< # doFb"t it t"rns o"t the Rankins< that>s 6ho the
street>s na$ed after too< they>d given the and 6ay back before the =aiser>s /ar. Da$n if
so$e of the$ 6eren>t sti aro"nd to s"e to get the ot back if it 6asn>t going to be a
ch"rch any$ore. So that 6as ast year< and it>s ike to be a fe6 $ore before anybody +"ts
$oney into tearing the od +ace do6n.&
&4ro$ the 6ay it>s boarded "+ and +adocked< # fig"red it $"st have been a refection #
sa6<& %orne ad$itted. &B"t it ooked f"nny eno"gh<& he added shee+ishy< &that # took a
6ak do6n there ast night.&
Jenkins shr"gged and stood "+. 2e had the fisher$an>s trick of dro++ing the +" tab into
his beer before drinking any. No6 it ratted in the botto$. &/e<& he said< +icking "+
%orne>s can as 6e< &it>s bed ti$e for $e< # s"++ose. Co" better get yo"rsef off soon or
the b"gs> carry yo" a6ay.&
&Thanks for the beer and the co$+any<& %orne said. &Ene of these nights #> bring do6n
an ice chest and 6e> reay tie one on.&
%orne>s ears foo6ed the od $an back< his boots a friendy< even so"nd in the 6ar$
,+ri darkness. , to"ch of bree?e ca"ght the 6isteria hedge across the street and s+read
its s6eetness< di"ted< over %orne. 2e gro"nd o"t his cigarette and sat @"iety< etting the
vines breathe on hi$. Jenkins> garbage can scr"nched o+en and one of the e$+ties echoed
into it. The other did not fa. &/hat the heB& %orne 6ondered ao"d. B"t there 6as
so$ething abo"t the night< des+ite its "rban innocence< that bro"ght "+ $e$ories fro$
+ast years $ore strongy than ever before. #n a itte 6hie %orne began 6aking. 2e 6as
sti 6aking 6hen da6n 6ashed the fiery +ict"res fro$ his $ind and he ret"rned to his
a+art$ent to find three +oice cars +arked in the street.
The t6o other tenants stored their cars in the side yard of the a+art$ent ho"se. %orne had
ste++ed bet6een the$ 6hen he heard ad6o$an screa$< &That>s hi$D Don>t et hi$ get
a6ayD&
%orne t"rned. /hite;haired 1rs. P"refoy and a +air of "nifor$ed +oice$en faced hi$
fro$ the +orch of Jenkins> ho"se. The yo"nger $an had his revover haf;dra6n. , third
"nifor$ed $an< Ben< ste++ed @"icky aro"nd fro$ the back of the ho"se. &#>$ not going
any6here b"t to bed<& %orne said< s+reading his e$+ty hands. 2e began 6aking to6ard
the others. &%ook< 6hat>s the $atterB&
The odest< heaviest of the +oice$en took the +orch ste+s in a ea+ and a++roached
%orne at a barey restrained trot. 2e had $aAor>s +i+s on his sho"der stra+s. &/here have
yo" been< snakeB& Ben asked< b"t the $aAor 6as bet6een the$ instanty< gro6ing< &#>
hande this< 7resha$. 1r. !hares %orneB&
&Ces<& %orne 6his+ered. 2is body fashed hot< as tho"gh the fat +oice$an 6ere a fire< a
to6ering sheet of orange ri++ing 6ith the s+eckes of tracers cooking off . . . .
& . . . and at any ti$e d"ring the @"estioning yo" $ay 6ithdra6 yo"r consent and
thereafter re$ain sient. Do yo" "nderstand< 1r. %orneB&
&Ces.&
&Did yo" see 1r. Jenkins tonightB&
&9h;h"h. 2e ca$e o"tF6hen did yo" eave $e< BenB '0:-0B& %orne +a"sed to ight
another cigarette. 2is fa$e 6avered ike the bade of a kris. &/e each drank a beer< shot
the b". That>s a. /hat ha++enedB&
&/here did yo" ast see 1r. JenkinsB&
%orne gest"red. &# 6as on the st"$+. 2e 6aked aro"nd the back of the ho"seFhis
ho"se. # g"ess # co"d see hi$. ,ny6ay< # heard hi$ thro6 the cans in the trash
and . . . that>s a.&
&Both cansB& Ben broke in des+ite his co$$ander>s sco6.
&No< yo">re rightFA"st one. ,nd # didn>t hear the door cose. #t>s got a s+ring that sa$s it
ike a one;oh;five going off< "s"ay. %ook< 6hat ha++enedB&
There 6as a +a"se. Ben t"gged at a corner of his $"stache. %o6 s"night s+rayed %orne
thro"gh the trees. Standing< he ooked taer than his siG feet< a knobby staff of a $an in
6heat Aeans and a green;dyed T;shirt. The shirt had beg"n to disintegrate in the years
since it 6as iss"ed to hi$ on the 6ay to the 6ar ?one. The brace 6as baby;fesh +ink. #t
$ade hi$ ook incongr"o"sy b"necked< aien.
&2e co"d have changed cothes<& s"ggested the yo"ng +atro$an. 2e had hostered his
6ea+on b"t contin"ed to toy 6ith the b"tt.
&2e didn>t<& Ben sna++ed< the signs of his te$+er obvio"s to %orne if not to the other
+oice$en. &2e>s 6earing no6 6hat he had on 6hen # eft hi$.&
&/e> take hi$ aro"nd back<& the $aAor s"ddeny decided. #n convoy< Ben and the other<
nervo"s< +atro$an to either side of %orne< and the $aAor bringing "+ the rear< they
crossed into Jenkins> yard foo6ing the stee+ do6nso+e. 1rs. P"refoy stared fro$ the
+orch. Beneath her a hydrangea b"sh graded its boo$s red on the eft< b"e on the right<
6ith the caref"y tended acidity of the soi. #t 6as a $irror for her face< r"ddy to6ard the
s"n and gray 6ith fear in shado6.
&/hat>s the +robe$B& %orne 6ondered ao"d as he vie6ed the back of the ho"se. The
trash can 6as o+en b"t "+right< its id ying on the s$ooth a6n beside it. Nearby 6as one
of the B"d6eiser e$+ties. The other ay aone on the botto$ of the trash can. There 6as
no sign of Jenkins hi$sef.
Ben>s s@"are hand indicated an arc of s+atters siG to eight feet high< back against the
6hite siding. &They +ro$ised "s a ab tea$ b"t he< it>s bood< snake. Co" and $e>ve seen
eno"gh to recogni?e it. 1rs. P"refoy got "+ at fo"r< didn>t find her brother. # sa6 this
6hen # checked and . . . .& 2e et his voice trai off.
&No bodyB& %orne asked. 2e had ighted a fresh cigarette. The g"shing fa$es
s"rro"nded hi$.
&No.&
&,nd Jenkins 6eighs 6hatB 220B& 2e a"ghed< a so"nd as thin as his 6rists. &Co">d +ay
he +roving a $an 6ith a broken neck ran off 6ith hi$< 6o"dn>t yo"B&
&BrokeB S"re< 6e> beieve thatD& gibed the nervo"s +atro$an.
&Co"> beieve #e, $eatbaD& Ben snared.&2e broke it and he carried $e o"t of a
f"cking b"rning shithook 6hie o"r a$$o cooked off. ,nd by 7odF&
&:asy< sarge<& %orne said @"iety. &#f anybody needs shooting< #> borro6 a g"n and do it
$ysef.&
The $aAor fashed his sco6 fro$ one $an to the other. 2is s"dden "ncertainty 6as as
obvio"s as the fag +in in his a+e: %orne 6as no6 a veteran< not an aging hi++y.
&#>$ an o"t+atient at the I, hos+ita<& %orne said< seeing his chance to da$+ the
fire.&So$ething>s f"cking "+ so$e nerves and they>re trying to do so$ething abo"t it
there. /ish to he they>d do it soon.&
&7resha$<& the $aAor said< $otioning Ben aside for a o6;voiced eGchange. The third
+oice$an had gone red 6hen Ben sna++ed at hi$. No6 he 6as 6hite< reai?ing his
$ortaity for the first ti$e in his t6enty;t6o years.
%orne grinned at hi$.&2ang oose< t"rte. Neither Ben or $e ever kied anybody 6ho
didn>t need it 6orse than yo" do.&
The boy began to tre$be.
&1r. %orne<& the $aAor said< his tone A"dicio"s b"t not hostie< &6e> be getting in to"ch
6ith yo" ater. ,nd if yo" reca anything< anything at a that $ay have bearing on 1r.
Jenkins> disa++earance< ca "s at once.&
%orne>s hands nodded agree$ent. Ben 6inked as the ab van arrived< then t"rned a6ay
6ith the others.
%orne>s +ain 6as ess than "s"a< b"t his drea$s a6akened hi$ in a s6eat each ti$e he
dro++ed off to see+. /hen at ast he s6itched on the radio< the headine ne6s 6as that
three +eo+e besides Jenkins had disa++eared d"ring the night< a of the$ 6ithin five
bocks of %orne>s a+art$ent.
* * *
The air 6as very cose< $"ffing the briiance of the stars. #t 6as 4riday night and the
roar of so"thbo"nd traffic so"nded fro$ Donovan ,ven"e a bock to the east. The three
northbo"nd anes of Jones Street< the neGt one 6est of Rankin< 6ere not yet as cotted
6ith cars as they 6o"d be ater at night< b"t headights there 6ere a nervo"s darting
thro"gh the ho"ses and trees 6henever %orne t"rned on his st"$+ to ook. Rankin Street
ay @"iety bet6een< ighted at aternate bocks by b"e gobes of $erc"ry va+or. #t 6as
narro6< so that cars co"d not +ass those +arked aong the c"rb 6itho"t so6ing< easing* a
+acid isand s"rro"nded by $odern +ress"res.
B"t no one had disa++eared to the east of Donovan or the 6est of Jones.
%orne st"bbed o"t his cigarette in the +"nky 6ood of the st"$+. #t 6as ridded 6ith
ter$ites and so$eti$es he +ict"red the$< scrabbing thro"gh the darkness. 2e hated
insects< hated es+eciay the gr"bs and hidden things< the cor+se;6hite ter$ites . . .
b"t he sat on the st"$+ above the$. , +erversey obAective +art of %orne>s $ind kne6
that if he co"d have sat in the heart of a f"rnace ike the co$+anions of Danie< he 6o"d
have done so.
4ro$ the bocky shade of the +orch neGt door ca$e the creak of s+rings: 1rs. P"refoy<
shifting her 6eight on the c"shions of the od 6ing;back chair. #n the eary evening %orne
had ca"ght her face staring at a +aror 6indo6< her $"sces fat as 6aG. ,s the dee+er
darkness b"rred and +ooed< she had si++ed o"t into its cover. %orne fet her b"rning
eyes< kno6ing that she 6o"d never forgive hi$ for her brother>s disa++earance< not if it
6ere +roven that Jenkins had eft by his o6n decision. %orne had a6ays been a sinner to
her* innocence 6o"d not change that.
,nother cigarette. So$eone ese 6as 6atching. , +assing car thre6 %orne>s anged
shado6 for6ard and across Jenkins> ho"se. %orne>s g"ts cenched and his fingers cr"shed
the "nit cigarette. 2ight. T&elve #en in a rice paddy &hen the capt'red flare b'rsts
above the#. The pop?pop?pop of a g'n far off, and the splashes col'#ning aro'nd 2t.
B'rnesH
&!hristD&%orne sho"ted< standing 6ith an i$$ediacy that aced +ain thro"gh his body.
So$ething 6as terriby 6rong in the night. The ights bro"ght back $e$ories< b"t they
@"enched the rea threat that hid in the darkness. %orne kne6 6hat he 6as feeing< kne&
that any instant a bro6n face 6o"d +eer o"t of a s+ider hoe behind an ,=;07 or a $ine
6o"d ri+ stee +eets do6n the trai . . . .
2e sto++ed< forcing hi$sef to sit do6n again. #f it 6as his ti$e< there 6as nothing he
co"d do for it. , fresh cigarette fitted bet6een his i+s a"to$aticay and the neede;
bright ighter foc"sed his eyes.
,nd the 6atcher 6as gone.
So$ething had +oised to ki %orne< and had then +assed on 6itho"t striking. #t 6as as
"nnat"ra as if a 6a coa+sing on hi$ had se+arated in $idair to eave hi$ "nhar$ed.
%orne>s ar$s 6ere tre$bing< his cigarette ti+ an orange b"r. /hen Ben>s cr"iser +"ed
in beside hi$< %orne 6as at first "nabe to ans6er the other $an>s< &2ey< snake.&
&Jes"s< sarge<& %orne 6his+ered< s$oke s+"rting fro$ his $o"th and nostris. &There>s
so$ebody o"t here and he>s a bad f"cker.&
!arrier noise batted before the car radio ra++ed a series of n"$bers and street na$es.
Ben kn"cked his $"stache "nti he 6as s"re his o6n cr"iser 6as not $entioned. &Ceah<
he>s a bad one. ,nother one gone tonight< a itte gir fro$ three bocks do6n. /ent to the
store to trade siG e$+ties and a di$e on a coke. !hrist< # sa6 her t6o ho"rs ago< snake.
The bottes 6e fo"nd< the kid 6e didn>t . . . . Seen any itte girsB&
There 6as an "+right shado6 in front of Ben>s radio: a riot g"n< ci++ed to the dashboard.
&2aven>t seen anything b"t cars< sarge. %ots of +oice cars.&
&They>ve got an eGtra ten $en on<& Ben agreed 6ith a nod.&/e 6ent over the od Ba+tist
ch"rch a fe6 $in"tes ago. 7reat T,! S@"ad 6ork. Nothing. Da$n ocks 6ere r"sted
sh"t.&
&Think the Ba+tists>ve taken "+ 6ith baby sacrificeB& %orne ch"cked.
&Shit< there>s five bodies so$e6here. #f the bastard>s oading the$ in the back of a tr"ck<
yo">d think he>d s+read his +ick"+s over a bit $ore of an area< 6o"dn>t yo"B&
&%ook< baby< anybody 6ho +acked Jenkins aro"nd on his backF# s"re don>t 6ant to $eet
hi$.&
&Don>t g"ess Jenkins did either<& Ben gr"nted. &Er the others.&
&PD to D;3<& the radio interr"+ted.
Ben keyed his $icro+hone. &7o ahead.&
&'0;23 %t. !oo+er at Rankin and D"ke.&
&'0;0< '0;7)<& Ben re+ied< starting to ret"rn the $ike to its hoder.
&D;3< ackno6edge<& the receiver ordered testiy.
&7odda$n f"ckerD& Ben snared< banging the instr"$ent do6n. &Sends A"st abo"t haf the
f"cking ti$eD&
&=ee+ a o6 +rofie< sarge<& %orne $"r$"red< b"t even had he screa$ed< his 6ords
6o"d have been ost in the boo$ of eGha"st as Ben cra$+ed the car aro"nd in the street<
the eft 6hees b"$+ing over the far c"rb. Then the acceerator fattened and the big car
shot to6ard the rende?vo"s.
#n Iiet Na$< %orne had ke+t his death 6ish "nder contro d"ring sheing by digging in
and kee+ing his head do6n. No6 he stood and 6ent inside to his roo$. ,fter a ti$e< he
se+t. #f his drea$s 6ere bright and tort"red< then they a6ays 6ere . . . .
* * *
&S"re< yo" kne6 Jackson<& Ben eG+ained< the +oo$;+oo$;+oo$ of his engine a ive
thing in the night.&2e>s the bond shit 6ho . . . didn>t beieve yo">d broken yo"r neck.
Cesterday $orning.&
&S$a oss< then<& %orne grinned. &B"t yo" 6atch yo"r o6n ass< hearB #f there>s nobody
o"t b"t co+s< there>s going to be $ore co+s than A"st Jackson disa++earing.&
&!o+s and da$ned foos<& Ben gr"$bed.&/hen # didn>t see yo" o"t here on $y first
+ass< # tho"ght $aybe yo">d gotten sense eno"gh to stay inside.&
&# 6as going to. Decided . . . oh< he. /hat>s the boG score no6B&
&Seven gone. Seven for s"re<& the +atro$an corrected hi$sef. &Ene got grabbed in the
ti$e he took to 6ak fro$ his gir>s front +orch back to his car. That bastard>s "cky< b"t
he>s cra?y as he if he thinks he> stay that "cky.&
&2e>s cra?y as he<& %orne agreed. , s+ring 6his+ered fro$ Jenkins> +orch and %orne
bobbed the ti+ of his cigarette at the noise.&She>s not doing so good either. , ast night
she 6as staring at $e< and no6 she>s at it again.&
&!hrist<& Ben $"ttered. &Ceah< 1aAor 2oose$an taked to her this $orning. Co">re abo"t
the baddest $an ever< eading +o> 7eorge into s$oking and drinking and ate ho"rs before
yo" kied hi$.&
&Never did get hi$ to s$oke<& %orne said< ighting Ben>s cigarette and another for
hi$sef. &Say< did Jackson s$okeB&
&2"hB No.& Ben fro6ned< staring at the cosed +assenger;side 6indo6s and their
refections of his instr"$ents. &Ceah< co$e to think< he did. B"t never in "nifor$< he had
so$e sort of thing abo"t that.&
&2e sheered off ast night 6hen # it a cigarette<& %orne said. &No< not JacksonFthe other
one. # A"st 6ondered . . . .&
&Co" sa6 hi$B& Ben>s voice 6as s"ddeny shar+< the h"nter scenting +rey.
%orne shook his head. &# A"st fet hi$. B"t he 6as there< baby.&
&J"st ike before they shot "s do6n<& the +oice$an said @"iety. &Co" s@"ee?ing $y ar$
and sho"ting over the da$n engines >They>re 6aiting for "s< they>re 6aiting for "sD> ,nd
not a f"cking thing # co"d doF# didn>t order the assa"t and the ca+tain s"re 6asn>t
going to ca it off beca"se $y $achine g"nner said to. B"t yo" 6ere right< snake.&
&The fa$es . . . & %orne 6his+ered< his eyes "nfoc"sed.
&,nd yo">re a d"$b bastard to have done it< b"t yo" carried $e o"t of the$. #t never
he+ed "s a bit that yo" kne6 6hen the shit 6as abo"t to hit the fan. B"t yo">re a da$n
good $an to have aong 6hen it does.&
%orne>s $"sces tre$bed 6ith $e$ory. Then he stood and a"ghed into the night. &Co"
kno6< sarge< in t6enty;seven years #>ve ony fo"nd one Aob # 6as any good at. # didn>t
$"ch ike that one< and anyho6Fthe 6ord doesn>t see$ to need kiers.&
&They> a6ays need "s< snake<& Ben said @"iety. &So$e ti$es they 6on>t ad$it it.&
Then< &/e< # think #> 6aste so$e $ore gas.&
&SargeF& The 6ord h"ng in the e$+ty darkness. There 6as engine noise and the tires
hissing in the near distance andFnothing ese.&Sarge< 1rs. P"refoy 6as on her +orch a
$in"te ago and she didn>t go inside. B"t she>s not there no6.&
Ben>s five;ce fashight sid its narro6 bea$ across the +orch: the gider< the 6ing;back
chair. En the far raiing< a ro6 of +otted vioets 6ith a ga+ for the one no6 s+ied on the
boards as if by so$eone va"ting the rai b"t dragging one hee . . . .
&Didn>t hear it fa<& the +oice$an $"ttered< cacking o+en the car door. The do$e ight
s+ied a starting yeo6 +oo across the t6o $en. ,s it did so< 6hite $otion tre$bed
haf a bock do6n Rankin Street.
&4"ckerD& Ben said. &2e co"dn>t A"$+ across the street< he thre6 so$ething so it
fashed.& Ben 6as back in the car.
%orne s@"inted< f"rio"s at being binded at the critica instant.&Sarge< #> s6ear to 7od he
headed for the ch"rch.& %orne strode stiffy aro"nd the front of the vehice and got in on
the +assenger side.
&1other;f'ckBA the stocky +oice$an snared< dro++ing the $icro+hone that had three
ti$es faied to get hi$ a res+onse. 2e reached for the shift ever< ooked s"ddeny at
%orne as the sender $an "nci++ed the shotg"n. &/here d>ye think yo'(re goingB&
&/ith yo".&
Ben si++ed the trans$ission into Drive and h"ng a shrieking 9;t"rn in the e$+ty street.
&The first one>s birdshot< the neGt fo"r are do"be;o"ght b"ck<& he said faty.
%orne Aacked the side t6ice< cha$bering the first ro"nd and then sh"cking it o"t the
eAector. #t gea$ed +aey in the instr"$ent ight. &Don>t think 6e>re going after birds<& he
eG+ained.
Ben t6isted across the street and bo"nced over the drive6ay c"t. The car sa$$ed to a
hat in the s$a ot behind and shieded by the b"k of the od ch"rch. #t 6as a high<
narro6 b"iding 6ith t6o eves of boarded 6indo6s the ength of the east and 6est
sides* the s@"are to6er stood at the so"th end. ,t so$e ti$e after its constr"ction< the
ch"rch had been faced 6ith artificia stone. #t 6as dingy< a gray $ass in the night 6ith a
darkness abo"t it that the night aone did not eG+ain.
Ben sid o"t of the car. 2is fash to"ched the s$a door to the right of the to6er.
&Nothing 6rong 6ith the +adock<& %orne said. #t 6as a for$idabe one< set in a +atinaed
has+ to cose the ch"rch against vandas and dereicts.
&They 6ere a ocked tight yesterday< too<& the +atro$an said. &2e co"d sti be getting
in one of those 6indo6s. /e> see.& 2e t"rned to the tr"nk of the car and o+ened it<
hoding his fashight in the crook of his ar$ so his right hand co"d be free for his dra6n
revover.
%orne>s @"ick eyes scanned the 6a above the$. 2e bent back at the 6aist instead of
titing his head aone. &7ot the keyB& he asked.
The stocky $an ch"cked< raising a +air of foding shoves< ar$y s"r+"s entrenching
toos. &=ee+ that corn;sheer ready<& he directed< hostering his o6n 6ea+on. 2e ocked
the bade of one shove at (0S to the shaft and set it on to+ of the +adock. The other< sti
foded< cracked o"dy against the head of the first and +o++ed the ock o+en neaty.
&4ied eG+edients< snake<& Ben a"ghed. &#f 6e don>t find anything< 6e can A"st sh"t the
+ace "+ again and nobody> kno6 the difference.&
2e tossed the shoves aside and s6"ng o+en the door. The air that +"ffed o"t had the
eG+ected $"stiness of a ong;cosed str"ct"re 6ith a s6eetish overtone that neither $an
co"d have identified. %orne ganced aro"nd the o"tside once $ore< then foo6ed the
+atro$an 6ithin. The fa$es in his $ind 6ere very cose.
&%ooks abo"t ike it did ast night<& Ben said.
&,nd ast year< #>d g"ess.& The 6avering ova of the fashight +icked over the foor. The
hard6ood 6as 6ar+ing< +ocked at fre@"ent intervas by hoes.
&They "nboted the od +e6s 6hen they $oved<& Ben eG+ained. &Took the stained gass
too< since the +ace 6as going to be torn do6n.&
The nave 6as a singe narro6 roo$ r"nning fro$ the chance in the north to the to6er
6hich had hed the organ +i+es and< above< the chi$es. The $ain entrance 6as by a side
aise< thro"gh do"be doors in the $idde of the 6est 6a. The interior ooked a g"tted
r"in.
&Co" checked the 6hoe b"idingB& %orne asked. The +"+it had been ri++ed a6ay. The
chance rai re$ained tho"gh haf;s+intered< a++arenty to +ass the organ and atar.
4rag$ents of 6ood< cr"$+ed boGes< and gass ittered the big roo$.
&The $ain +art. /e didn>t have the key to the to6er and the $aAor didn>t 6ant to b"st in.&
Ben took another ste+ into the nave and kicked at a stack of od b"etins.
White heat, &hite fireH&Ben< did yo" check the ceiing 6hen yo" 6ere here ast nightB&
&2"hB& The narro6 7othic va"t 6as backness forty feet above the gro"nd. Ben>s
fashight knifed "+6ard across +ainted +aster to the ribbed and +aneed ceiing that
so+ed to the $ain bea$. ,ndF&Jes"sD&
, arge cocoon 6as tight against the roof +eak. #t shi$$ered +aey a?"re< b"t the
+o6erf" ight thr"st thro"gh to the h"$an o"tine 6ithin. %ong shado6s @"ivered on the
6ood< $agnifying the tre$bing of the +oice$an>s 6rist as the bea$ $oved fro$ the
cocoon to another beside it< to the thirdF
&Seven of the f"ckersD& Ben cried< taking another ste+ and sashing the ight to the near
end of the roo$ 6here the so"th 6a cosed the inverted I of the ceiing. ,bove the door
to the to6er 6as the bai?e screen of the +i+e oft. The coth f"ttered behind 1rs. P"refoy<
6ho stood stiffy "+right t6enty feet in the air. 2er face 6as ocked in horror< fra$ed by
her to"sed 6hite hair. Both ar$s 6ere sighty eGtended b"t 6ere stone;rigid 6ithin the
ace;fringed seeves of her dress.
&SheF& %orne began< b"t as he s+oke and Ben>s hand fe to the b"tt of his revover< 1rs.
P"refoy began to fa< titing a itte in a r"ste of skirts. Beneath the cr"$+ed edge of the
bai?e c"rtain< s+iked on the bea$ of Ben>s fashight< gea$ed the head and foreca6s of
6hat had been c"tching the 6o$an.
The eyes gared ike siG;inch o+as< fierce and hot in a dead;6hite eGoskeeton.
The foreca6s cicked side6ays. ,s tho"gh they had cocked a s+ring< the 6hoe fat torso
shot do6n at Ben.
,n inch ong and sc"tting "nder a rock< it $ight have +assed for a scor+ion< b"t this
"nging $onster 6as siG feet ong 6itho"t co"nting the ength of the tai arced back
across its body. 4ashing egs< fashing body ar$or< and the f"id;Ae6eed sting that
6inked as %orne>s finger t6itched in its kier>s refeGF
%orne>s body screa$ed at the recoi of the heavy charge. The creat"re s+"n as if kicked in
$idair< s$ashing into the foor a yard fro$ Ben instead of on to+ of the +oice$an. The
revover basted< a h"ge yeo6 botte;sha+e faring fro$ the $"??e. The b"et ri++ed
a6ay a 6indo6 sh"tter beca"se a siG;inch +incer had ocked Ben>s 6rist. The creat"re
reared onto the back t6o +airs of its eight Aointed egs. %orne ste++ed side6ays for a cear
shot< the side of his 6ea+on sick;snacking another ro"nd into the cha$ber. En the
creat"re>s 6hite bey 6as a s$eared asteriskFthe oad of b"ckshot had ricocheted off<
eaving a trai ike 6aG on gass.
Ben c"bbed his fashight. #t cracked har$essy bet6een the go6ing eyes and s+rang
fro$ his hand. The other ca6 fashed to Ben>s face and tra++ed it< not cr"shingy b"t
hard eno"gh to i$$obii?e and start bood;trais do6n both cheeks. The bades of the
+incer ran fro$ nose to hairine on each side.
%orne thr"st his shotg"n over Ben>s right sho"der and fired +oint;bank. The creat"re
rocked back< Aerking a screa$ fro$ the +oice$an as the ca6s tightened. The ead str"ck
the h"ge eft eye and s+ashed a6ay< d"ing the o+a shine. The fashight sti garing
fro$ the foor behind the creat"re siho"etted its sectioned tai as it arched above the
+oice$an>s head. The ar$ed ti+ +"nged into the base of his neck. Ben stiffened.
%orne sho"ted and e$+tied his shotg"n. The second dense red boo$ ca"ght ike a strobe
ight the dotted ine of bood dro+ets Aoining Ben>s neck to the 6ithdra6n inAector. ,
ca6 sei?ed %orne>s 6aist in the roing echo of the shotg"n basts. 2is g"nb"tt cracked
on the creat"re>s ar$or< stee s+arking as it sid off. The eGtending +incer br"shed the
shotg"n aside and ca$+ed over %orne>s face< haf;shieding fro$ hi$ the sight of the
rising sting.
Then it s$ashed on %orne>s neck brace< and darkness eG+oded over hi$ in a fare of
cor"scant +ain.
* * *
The oo?ing r"in of 1rs. P"refoy>s face stared at %orne thro"gh its re$aining eye 6hen he
a6oke. :verything s6a$ in b"e darkness eGce+t for one bright b"r. 2e binked and the
b"r s"ddeny resoved into a streetight garing "+ thro"gh a shattered board. %orne>s
"ngs b"rned and his stiffness see$ed $ore than even "nconscio"sness and the +ain
skidding thro"gh his nerve +aths co"d eG+ain. 2e $oved his ar$ and so$ething c"ng
to its s"rface* the 6ord @"ivered.
%orne 6as hanging fro$ the roof of the ch"rch in a thin< trans+arent sheath. 1rs. P"refoy
6as a yard a6ay< $"ti+e 6ra++ings shro"ding her cor+se $ore co$+etey. /ith a
strength not far fro$ +anic< %orne forced his right fist into the b"bbe aro"nd hi$. The
$ateria< eGtr"ded in broad s6athes by the creat"re rather than as a oo$ of threads<
sagged b"t did not tear. The cear a?"re t"rned $iky "nder stress and s"cked in aro"nd
%orne>s 6rist.
2e 6ithdre6 his hand. The $e$brane +assed so$e oGygen b"t not eno"gh for an active
$an. %orne>s hands +atted the o"tside of his +ockets finding< as he had eG+ected< nothing
6ith a shar+ edge. 2e had not recenty bitten off his th"$bnais. Thr"sting against the fire
in his chest< he bro"ght his eft hand in front of his body. /ith a fod of the cocoon
bet6een each th"$b and indeG finger< he thr"st his hands a+art. , ri+ started in the 6hite
o+acity beneath his right th"$b. ,ir< cean and coo< Aetted in.
&Eh< Jes"s<& %orne $"ttered< even the +ain in his body forgotten as he 6idened the tear
"+6ards to his face. The cocoon 6as bobbing on a short ead< rotating as the ri+ changed
its baance. %orne co"d see that he had beco$e ninth in the ine of hanging bodies< saved
fro$ their +araysis by the chance of his neck brace. Ben< his face b"rred by the
$e$brane hoding hi$ neGt to %orne< had been ess fort"nate.
Ten yards fro$ 6here %orne h"ng and t6enty feet beo6 the roof bea$< the bai?e c"rtain
of the +i+e oft t6itched. %orne fro?e in fearf" i$$obiity.
The creat"re had been abe to ea+ the 6idth of a street carrying the 6eight of an ad"t* its
strength $"st be as a6eso$e as 6as the rigidity of its ar$or. /hether or not it co"d
drive its sting thro"gh %orne>s brace< it co"d ass"redy ri+ hi$ to coo+s if it reai?ed he
6as a6ake.
The c"rtain $oved again< the narro6 ivory ti+ of a +incer ifting it sighty. The creat"re
6as 6atching %orne.
Ben carried three ar$or;+iercing ro"nds in his .-37 1agn"$ for +"nching thro"gh car
doors. %orne tried to re$e$ber 6hether the revover had re$ained in Ben>s hand as he
fe. There 6as no i$age of that in %orne>s $ind< ony the torchike $"??e basts of his
o6n shotg"n. Si$ as it 6as< his ony ho+e 6as that the Aacketed b"ets 6o"d +enetrate
the creat"re>s eGoskeeton tho"gh the soft b"ckshot had not.
%orne t6isted his "++er torso o"t of the hoe for a coser ook at Ben< $aking his o6n
cocoon rock angriy. The bai?e ifted f"rther. The streetight ay across it in a +ae band.
/hy didn>t the creat"re sc"tte o"t to finish the b"sinessB
Brief $otion 6aked a fash of scintiant coor fro$ the +i+e oft. The c"rtain fa++ed
cosed as if a voey of shots had ri++ed thro"gh it. %orne recogni?ed the refeG: the +anic
of a s+ider 6hen a stick thr"sts thro"gh its 6eb. Not an obAect< tho"gh* the ight itsef<
6eak as it 6as< had sa++ed the creat"re back.
Ben>s bright fashight had not sto++ed it 6hen necessity drove< b"t the $onster $"st
have fet +ain at h"$an eves of i"$ination. #ts eyes 6ere ada+ted to staright or the
go6 of a s"n i$$eas"raby fainter than that of :arth. &/here did yo" co$e fro$< yo"
bastardB& %orne 6his+ered.
%ight. #t gave hi$ an idea and he f"$bed o"t his b"tane ighter< adA"sting it to a
$aGi$"$ fa$e. The sheathes 6ere reativey thin over the victi$s> faces to aid
trans+iration. ,t the 6aist< tho"gh< 6here a b"ge sho6ed Ben>s ar$ ocked to his torso<
the $e$brane 6as thick eno"gh to be o+a@"e in the di$ ight. %orne bent dangero"sy
over< c"rsing the stiffness of his neck brace. 2oding the inch;high Aet cose< he tried to
+eer thro"gh Ben>s cocoon. 9neG+ectedy the fabric gave a itte and %orne bobbed
for6ard< bringing the fa$e in contact 6ith the $ateria sheathing Ben.
The $e$brane s+"ttered< kissing %orne>s hand +ainf"y. 2e Aerked back and the ighter
ficked a6ay. #t dro++ed< cod and sient "nti it cracked on the foor forty feet beo6.
Des+ite the +attern of ight over it< the c"rtain to the oft 6as shifting again. %orne c"rsed
in terror.
, ine of green fire si??ed "+ the side of Ben>s cocoon fro$ the +oint at 6hich the fa$e
had to"ched it. The $ateria across his face fared. The +oice$an gave no sign of feeing
his skin c"r a6ay. The revover in his hand 6inked green.
%orne screa$ed. 2is o6n feGibe +rison "rched and sagged ike heated +oyethyene.
Ben 6as 6ra++ed in a cancero"s he that roared and heaved against the roofbea$s as a
ive thing. 7reen tong"es icked yeo6;orange fa$es fro$ the dry 6ood as 6e. %orne>s
cocoon and that to the other side of Ben 6ere defor$ing in the f"rnace heat. ,nother
"rch and %orne had si++ed t6enty feet< sti gri++ed aro"nd the 6aist in a sack of b"e
$e$brane. 2e 6as gyrating ike a to+.
The oft c"rtain had t6itched higher each ti$e it s+"n +ast his vision.
The botto$ of Ben>s cocoon b"rned a6ay and he +"nged +ast %orne< face "+6ard and
sti afire. Bone cr"nched as he hit. The body rebo"nded a fe6 inches to fa again on its
face. The roar of the fa$es $"ffed %orne>s 6ai of rage. 2is o6n eongated ca+s"e
began to fo6. 4a$es gras+ed at %orne>s s"++ort. Before they co"d to"ch the sheathing<
the $e$brane +"ed a ast fe6 inches and sna++ed ike an overstretched r"bber band.
The i$+act of the foor s$ashed %orne>s Aa6 against his neck brace< grinding each
tort"red vertebra against the neGt. 2e did not ose conscio"sness< b"t the shock +aray?ed
hi$ $o$entariy as thoro"ghy as the creat"re>s sting co"d have done.
Bathed in green ight and the orange of the ba?ing roof +anes< the scor+ion;thing thr"st
its thoraG into the nave. #t 6aking egs gri++ed the fat s"rface< di$+ing the +aster. The
creat"re t"rned "+6ard to6ard the fire< three $ore cocoons aight and their h"ngry
fa$es a++ing across the bea$s. Then< +arti;coored by the i"$ination< its egs shifted
and the o+a eyes trained on %orne. The ight $"st be tort"re to it< $"ffing in indecision
its res+onses< b"t it 6as abo"t to act.
, s$a for$ 6ra++ed in a fa$ing shro"d dro++ed to th"$+ the foor beside %orne. 2is
ar$s 6o"d $ove again. 2e "sed the$ to stri+ the re$aining sheathing fro$ his egs. #t
c"ng as the heat of the b"rning cor+se began to $et the $ateria. So$ething 6rithed
fro$ a cracking t"$or on the chid>s neck. The thing 6as finger;ong and see$ed to +a6
the air 6ith a score of tiny egs* its o+aescent eyes +roved its +arentage. The creat"re
bro"ght $ore than +araysis to its victi$s: it 6as a gravid fe$ae.
7reen fa$e to"ched the arva. #t b"rst in a +"st"ant s$ear.
The ad"t 6ent $ad. #ts egs shot it a$ost the ength of the nave to rebo"nd fro$ a
side6a in a co"d of +aster. The creat"re>s hori?ontay fattened tai r"ddered it
instinctivey short of the fire as it ea+t "+6ard to the roof +eak. #t c"ng there in +ae
horror against the 6ood< eyes on the advancing fa$es. Three $ore bodies fe< s+ashing
ike ginkgo fr"its.
%orne staggered "+right. The fire ha$$ered do6n at hi$ 6itho"t bringing +ain. 2is
body had no feeing 6hatever. Ben>s hair had b"rned. 2is neck and sca+ 6ere back
6here skin re$ained< red 6here it had cracked o+en to the $"sce beneath. The $arbed
backgro"nd sho6ed ceary the tiny< +aid hatching trying to t6ist across it.
%orne>s toe br"shed the arva onto the foor. 2is boot hee str"ck it< str"ck again and
t6isted. P"r"ent ichor s+"rted bet6een the eather and the boards. %orne knet. #n one
$otion he s6"ng Ben across his sho"ders and stood< A"st as he had after their heico+ter
had nosed into the trees and eG+oded. %ogic had been b"rned o"t of %orne>s $ind<
eaving ony a $e$ory of friendshi+. 2e did not ook "+. ,s his $echanica ste+s took
hi$ and his b"rden thro"gh the door they had entered< a shado6 6avered across the$.
The creat"re had s+r"ng back into the oft.
%orne st"$bed to his knees in the +arking ot. The ch"rch had been rotten and dry.
Erange fa$es f"ffed thro"gh the roof in severa +aces< thr"sting corkscre6s of s+arks
into the night sky. T6eve feet of roof sates th"ndered into the nave. 4a$e s+e6ed "+
ike a secondary eG+osion. There 6ere sirens in the night.
/itho"t 6arning< the east facade of the to6er coa+sed into the +arking ot. 2ead;si?ed
ch"nks of Tennessee;stone s$ashed at the +atro car< one of the$ $issing %orne by
inches. 2e ooked "+< bank;eyed< his hands ighty to"ching the cor+se of his friend. Ef
its o6n voition< the right hand traced do6n Ben>s sho"der to the ra6 fesh of his ebo6.
The to6er stairs s+iraed o"t of the d"st and r"bbe< aid bare to the stee fra$e6ork 6hen
the 6a fe. En the sagging foor of the +i+e oft rested a $achine ike no other thing on
:arth< and the creat"re 6as inside it. T"bes of sivery $eta rose crade;for$ fro$ a base
of si$iar $eta. The interstices 6ere not fied 6ith anything $ateria< b"t the
at$os+here see$ed to shiver< b"rring the creat"re>s o"tine.
,nd %orne>s hand 6as "n6ra++ing Ben>s stiff fingers fro$ the gri+s of his revover.
%orne stood again< his eft hand ocking his right on the b"tt of the big $agn"$. 2e 6as
fa$iiar 6ith the 6ea+on: it 6as the one Ben had carried in Na$< the sa$e too he had
"sed for five of his thirteen kis. #t 6o"d ki again tonight.
:ven in the soaring hooca"st the shar+ crack of %orne>s shot 6as a"dibe. %orne>s
forear$s rocked "+ as a "nit 6ith the recoiing handg"n. The creat"re "rched side6ays
to to"ch the shi$$ering constr"ct aro"nd it. , red s"rface discharge ri++ed across the
eGoskeeton fro$ the +oint of contact. %orne fired again. 2e co"d see the ar$or d" at
his +oint of ai$ in the center of the thoraG.
,gain the creat"re A"$+ed. Neither b"et had +enetrated< b"t the s+ashing ead of the
second c"t an "+right fro$ the $achine. The creat"re s+"n< eGtending +revio"sy
"ngi$+sed tendris fro$ the region of its $o"th +arts. They fickered over a contro +ate
in the base. 1achinery chi$ed in res+onse.
The shivering @"ickened. The $achine itsef and the thing it encosed see$ed to fade.
%orne th"$b;cocked the $agn"$< o6ered the red vertica of the front sight "nti it 6as
even 6ith the rear notch* the creat"re 6as a 6hite b"r beyond the$. The g"n b"cked
back hard 6hen he s@"ee?ed* the $"??e bast 6as shar+er< fatter< than before. The first
of the ar$or;+iercing b"ets hit the creat"re bet6een the +aired tendris. The eGoskeeton
s"rro"nding the$ shattered ike safety gass str"ck by a brick.
The creat"re straightened in sient agony< rising onto its hind egs 6ith its tai ying
rigidy against its back. #ts ovi+ositor 6as f"y eGtended< th"$b;thick and siG inches
ong.
&/as it f"n to ki the$< b"gB& %orne screa$ed. &/as it as $"ch f"n as this isB& 2is
fo"rth shot sa$$ed< di$+ing a bey +ate 6hich then b"rst o"t6ard in an "gy g"sh of
f"ids. The creat"re>s $e$bers ca$+ed tighty abo"t its s+as$ing thoraG. The tai ashed
the "+rights in red s+"rts. The $achine 6as fading and the torn +aneing of the oft 6as
beginning to sho6 thro"gh the dying creat"re>s body.
There 6as one shot eft in the cyinder and %orne steadied his sights on the contro +ate.
2e had aready beg"n taking "+ the ast +ress"re 6hen he sto++ed and o6ered the
$"??e. No< et it go ho$e< 6hatever +ace or ti$e that $ight be. %et its feo6s see that
:arth 6as not their h"nting gro"nd aone. ,nd if they ca$e back any6ayFif they only
&o'ldB
There 6as a fash as +enetrating as the first $icrosecond of a n"cear bast. The
i$+osion dragged %orne off his feet and s"cked in the fa$es so s"ddeny that a so"nd
see$ed fro?en. Then both side6as coa+sed into the nave and the r"ins of the to6er
t6isted do6n on to+ of the$. #n the ast instant< the +i+e oft 6as e$+ty of a b"t
$e$ory.
, fire tr"ck +icked its 6ay thro"gh the r"bbe in the +arking ot. #ts headights fooded
across the fig"re of a sandy;haired $an 6earing scorched cothing and a neck brace. 2e
6as kneeing beside a body< and the tears 6ere bright on his face.
The A&tomatic Rifleman

Fritz 2eiber is credited &ith developing the horror story &ith an 'rban
setting. is Fafhrd and ;ray Mo'ser series is #ore a parallel
develop#ent to 6obert 1. o&ard(s &ork than it(s a copy 4co#pare 2e
Fan'(s /ar#illa &ith Stoker(s Drac'la for another case of Asi#ilarA not
#eaning Athe sa#eA5. 3nd for horror in an SF #ilie', it(d be hard to
better, say, A3 Bad Day for SalesA or A3 $ail of 3ir.A

- stole this idea fro# 2eiber(s 'rban fantasy AThe 3'to#atic $istol.A

Well, it(s not :'ite that si#ple. ,ergil &as reg'larly acc'sed of stealing
fro# o#er, to &hich he &o'ld reply, AWhy don(t yo' try it yo'rselfG -f
yo' did, yo'(d 'nderstand that it(s easier to filch erc'les( cl'b than it is
to steal a verse fro# o#er.A B't AThe 3'to#atic 6ifle#anA &o'ldn(t
e8ist in the for# it does &ere it not for 2eiber(s literally se#inal story.

-f yo' like #y &ork, go o't and read everything Fritz 2eiber &rote before,
say, "CK>. - don(t kno& of a &riter &ith a #ore varied and brilliant take
on every s'b9ect he to'ched.

The story itself is a &ish?f'lfill#ent fantasy like a great deal of other
horror fiction, so#e of it very good. The story posits the notion that things
are in their present state beca'se so#e e8ternal force is &orking to #ake
the# bad@ in other &ords, the &orld(s proble#s are not the res'lt of
#ankind(s o&n actions.

- &ish - co'ld really believe that &as tr'e.

!oster 6as 6aiting for the$ in the darkened roo$< hidden by the greater shado6 of the
co"ch. 2is face 6as as ean and hard;edged as the a"to$atic rife he hed +ointed at the
door. &/here>s the godda$ ightB& Penske $"ttered. 2e fo"nd the s6itch< thre6 it< and
fro?e 6ith his hand haf6ay do6n to the knife in his boot.
Davidson b"$+ed into Penske fro$ behind and c"rsed< her i+s t6isting into the sneer
she ke+t ready 6hen she 6as aro"nd the short $an. &1ove yo"rF& she began before she
sa6 6hy Penske had sto++ed. Then< 6itho"t hesitation< she cried< &7eorge< ook o"tD&
&Too ate<& said !oster 6ith a baiiff>s s$irk and the east $otion of the rife $"??e to
bring it to the attention of 7eorge =err. The back $an in s"it and tie oo$ed behind his
t6o co$+anions. 2is eyes 6ere o+en and a++arenty g"ieess< sh"ttering a $ind that had
aready reai?ed that the fi$sy a+art$ent 6as 6o"d be no obstace to rife b"ets. &B"t
6e>re a friends here<& !oster 6ent on< his grin broadening.
&Then # s"ggest 6e a co$e in and disc"ss $atters<& said =err in a c"t"red voice<
sho6ing his bad front tooth as he s+oke. 2is fingers to"ched Davidson>s right ebo6 and
hated the steathy $otion of her hand to6ard her o+en +"rse.
&S"re<& said !oster< nodding< &b"t stay b"nched in that corner< if yo" 6i.& 2is head and
not the rife t6itched a direction. &9nti yo">re convinced of $y good intentions< yo"> be
te$+ted toF+"t yo"rseves in danger. /e don>t 6ant that.&
&/ho the he are yo"B& Penske de$anded< sh"ffing side6ays as directed. ,n angry
f"sh t"rned his face a$ost as dark as that of =err beside hi$.
&1y na$e>s !oster<& the rife$an said. &,gfied tod $e 6here #>d find yo".&
Davidson 6hired angriy to6ard =err. &# tod yo" not to tr"st that bastardD& she said.
&So$ebody o"ght to take one of his basketbas and st"ff itF&
&Dee< that>s eno"gh<& the big $an said< his eyes sti on the rife$an. 2e had cosed the
ha door softy behind hi$. Nothing in his $anner caed attention to the +isto hostered
in the s$a of his back.
&2e said yo" co"d "se a rife$an for 6hat yo" had in $ind<& !oster a$+ified. &/e>re
6hat yo" need.&
&/eB&asked Penske ta"ty. The $"sces beneath his eather Aacket 6ere as rigid as the
bones to 6hich they 6ere anchored< for he recogni?ed even better than the others the
$enace of the 6ea+on 6hich covered the$.
&1e<& said !oster< &and hi$.& 2is eft forefinger ta++ed the g"nbarre 6here it +roAected
fro$ its 6ooden shro"d. 2is right hand stayed fir$ on the rife>s anged handgri+< finger
ready on the trigger.
!a$y< =err said< &,gfied doesn>t kno6 6hat 6e have in $ind.&2is right hand 6as no6
oose at his side< no onger restraining Davidson.
&S"re he does<& said the rife$an< fashing his tight;i++ed grin again. &=a6anishi< the
Ja+anese Pri$e 1inister. ,nd #>$ here to $ake s"re yo" get hi$.&
4or a $o$ent< no one even breathed. !oster eaned for6ard< his right ebo6 sti gri++ing
the g"nstock to his ribs. 2e said earnesty< &%ook< if # 6ere the +oice< 6o"d # be taking
to yo"B The 6hoe /ord Proetarian !a"c"s is right here< right in front of . . . "s.
,nd if it 6as trias< convictions< they 6ere afterFthe evidence is on yo"< or at east
o"tside in yo"r car. Co" be6 a6ay a teer in %a Prensa< and yo">ve sti got the g"n<
don>t yo"B ,nd the one that kied that itte gir in 1ason !ityB&
Davidson $"$bed a c"rse and ooked hot;eyed at Penske.
&B"t 6e>re friends<& !oster re+eated. Iery deiberatey< he rotated the a"to$atic rife so
that its $"??e brake +ointed at the ceiing. The r"bber b"tt rested on his thigh.
&4riends<& said =err. &Then 6e sho"d get co$fortabe.& 2e took off his s"it coat and
t"rned< as deiberate as !oster< to dra+e it over the back of a chair. The gri+ of the big
!ot 6as a s@"are back siho"ette against his ight shirt.
:veryone eased a itte. !oster aid the rife across his knees< one hand sti caressing the
receiver of the 6ea+on. Davidson and Penske both it cigarettes< the atter by ficking the
head of a kitchen $atch 6ith his th"$bnai. 2e tossed the 6ooden siver to6ard a
6astebasket. #t $issed< b"t he ignored it as it contin"ed to s$o"der on the chea+ car+et.
=err took one of the straight chairs fro$ the kitchen;dinette and sat back6ards on it<
facing in to6ard the iving roo$ and !oster. The +isto did not go"ge at hi$ that 6ay.
&Penske< 6hy don>t yo" bring things in fro$ the van<& he said.
The short $an go6ered< b"t his eG+ression s"ddeny ceared and he 6aked to the door.
&#> knock 6hen # 6ant yo" to o+en<& he said as he eft the roo$.
Davidson $oved over beside =err< her fingerti+s br"shing the +oint of his sho"der.&Co"
so"nd very confident abo"t yo"r abiity to "se that g"n<& the big $an said 6ith a gest"re
to6ard the oddy sha+ed rife. &B"t