Fred Saberhagen – Empire of the East Trilogy

Tumbling back to life from what had seemed the bitterest of nightmares, the High Lord Draffut gave no immediate thought to his own condition, or to the outcome of the battle, or to anything except the ruin of his lake. Disregarding the ruin and confusion that surrounded him, he raised his eyes at once to what had been his high domain. The radiant cascade of the lake had slowed to a mere trickle. It was draining with the new finality of death.

He rushed at once to climb the slope behind the citadel. Power remained in him to melt the rock to life, and make it form holds for his hands and feet; the power absorbed through ages of his dwelling in and near the lake, that would not let him die, that healed his bones almost as fast as they were broken. Only this life-power let him bear the shock when he had mounted to his lake and found it a drained shell, cracked at the bottom like a broken egg. The dull, black fabric of its inner lining, the only material the Old World had devised that could resist the quickening force of pure life-principle-this shell remained, now for the first time in his memory marked by no shifting patterns or gay butterflies. The healing machines, their lives already fading, hopped and struggled feebly, like dying frogs in a drained pond.

Draffut did not stand long within the broken doorway, gazing at the utter ruin of his life and purpose. The cries from down the slope came to his ears. Human cries, from the battlefield, of men in deadly need and fear. He moved to answer them, without stopping to considerwhat he might be able to do.

Down the slope again he went, walking at first, then quickening his strides into a run. Before him like a trodden anthill lay the demolished citadel and its swarming men. Here and there they were still fighting one another. But there were no more valkyries in the air.

Close before Draffut one of them lay motionless, smashed by a fall, rotors bent and body broken with the violence of its crash. A look through the sprung-open belly doors showed Draffut that the man inside was cold and dead. Draffut, raging, picked up the machine, shook it and shouted at it. Where his hands touched the metal it stirred with faint life; but that was all. Only now did the magnitude of what had happened come home to the Lord Draffut with full force. Even if he could somehow repair or vivify this machine, there was nowhere for it logo, no healing possible for the dead man inside. Nor for any of the others who now lay upon the field, or who might fall tomorrow.

Far down the mountainside, near where the great crack in the mountain had shattered the citadel’s outer wall, a bright gleam caught Lord Draffut’s eye. It was the many-colored radiance of the lake, trapped in a small pool in the rocks. At once he tore the battered flyer apart, pulled out the corpse inside. Cradling the body tenderly in one arm, he hurried on.

Reaching the small pool, not much bigger than a bathub, he found that some of the wounded of both armies had sought it out already, were sprawled beside it drinking, or splashing the fluid on their wounds. Picking his way carefully among these injured men, Lord Draffut reached a spot beside the radiant pool. He dropped into it the dead man he carried, then set himself to disperse healing to as many as he could.

With every passing moment, more wounded, mostly Easterners, were crawling and staggering to the place. A groaning, demanding throng grew rapidly around the Lord of Beasts. The level of the fluid in the pool sank rapidly as well -rock could not hold it in for long -and Draffut crouched low beside it, scooping up healing handfuls which he poured into mouths or onto wounds. The dead man he had carried here was sitting up and groaning now.

Draffut splashed a remnant of the lake onto a mangled arm-stump, whose owner shouted with the ending of his pain; perhaps a new and proper arm would grow. Another man, his belly opened, came sliding in blood to reach the pool, and Draffut poured for him an end of agony.

Amid the general cries of pain, and with his dazed concentration on his task, Lord Draffut did not notice when a different, heartier voice, raging and commanding, was raised in the rear of the rapidly growing throng about him.

“-back to your ranks, malingerers! The enemy still holds the field. You who can walk, rejoin your units, cowards, or I’ll give you wounds… Guardsmen! Take up your arms and fight for me!”

Nor did Lord Draffut, in his dazed state, fully notice what was happening when this shouter came raving, scattering wounded Guardsmen from the pool with blows of the flat of his sword. Draffut was aware only of one more victim reeling toward him, with sunken eyes and the stink of terrible gangrene. Draffut scooped up for this one a generous handful, and threw it accurately. From his hand the fluid of the lake leaped out, a clear and innocent serpent in the air. Only in that instant did the sunken eyes of the raving, raging man meet those of Draffut, in a look that the Beast-Lord would long remember; and only in that instant did Draffut know who this man was.

The splash of liquid struck. A maddened shout ceased in mid-syllable, a sword dropped clanging to theground. Then nothing more was heard orseenof Som the Dead. He and his portion of the Lake of Life had vanished from the world of men.

” – with the knife of fire I cut off feet and hands,

Shut his mouth and his lips – ”

The bellowing of Zapranoth grew louder and more desperate, and at the same time became more muffled.

“Blunted his teeth,

Cut his tongue from his throat.

Thus I took away his speech,

Blinded his eyes,

Stopped his ears,

Cut his heart from its place.”

The fire swam before Chup’s eyes, and the exhaustion of the magician, a feeling new to him, seemed to weaken his every bone. Once more he begged the powers of the West to send him words, for it was growing very hard to think. Then summoning his strength, he shouted:

” I made him as if he had never been!”

Silence had fallen all across the riven plateau of the battlefield; in silence the army of the East had begun to turn to desperate flight or to surrender. Looking where Zapranoth had been, Chup could see no more metal hoops, no more heap of greasy ashes, nothing.

But in his mind still spoke the Demon-Lord: Master. Yet a very little of my life remains. Save that, and from it all the rest can be remade. My powers can be restored, to raise for you an army to lead, to build for you your kingdom –

Chup with great care gathered the last hairs, while beside him Lisa-Carlotta moved her mistreated head and once more opened her dazed eyes.

“His name is not any more.

His children are not.

He existeth no more.

Nor his kindred.

He existeth not, nor his record;

He existeth not, nor his heir.

His egg cannot grow.

Nor is his seed raised.

It is dead.

And his spirit, and his shadow, and his magic.”

Thus was the Lord of Demons, Zapranoth, destroyed, and thus did Chup of the North earn a place in the army of the West. His bride was searched for, especially where some said they had seen her pass, descending along a new path created by the splitting of the mountain. But she was not found.

When the last drops of his lake were gone, the great Beast-Lord Draffut fled to somewhere where there were no cries of wounded men.

“Lisa?” Rolf of the Broken Lands had come to speak to the unrecognizable girl who, they said, had been his sister once.

“Rolf.” She knew him, but her voice was dull. She was inconsolable -not for her own pain, not for the East’s defeat, nor for any of the fallen -save one.

“My Dark Lord,” she said. “My strong protector. He was all I had.”

Book Three

Ardneh’s World



They were preparing a man for death by slow impalement, for the amusement of the Emperor, who sat in meditative silence amid the blooming drowsy richness of his garden. On the sloping lawn a little below his simple chair, the sharpened stake had been erected in a space framed by formal plantings of tall flowers, among which bees buzzed richly. A few meters beyond that the garden ended at a low sea-wall of stone, and beyond the wall the vast calm lake began. So close was the wall to where the Emperor John Ominor was waiting that with a little effort he might have made a jewel -there was no other kind of stone in easy reach-go splash.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *