Myth of the Month: Morden Defends the Camp (1999)

This is an excerpt from Greg’s unpublished novel, commonly called Harmast’s Saga. In it the weaponthane Morden invokes a particular kind of ancestral magic to help his single-handed defense.

by Greg Stafford

The Arming Poem

Vargast prepared to defend the camp. But he, the chief, could not stand at the fore, so Vargast designated his trusted and experienced tribesman.

When Morden told Vargast of the coming Orgovaltes men, the chief quickly designated Morden to be the chief defender. He was qualified, mainly because he was so experienced in heroforming his ancestor. When Vargast designated him as Champion, Morden also was blessed with a great potency of power that gave him extraordinary magical preparation, and also risked every person in the clan to get exactly his wounds, if he failed. He would, with the help of the priests, get the clan’s Orlanth blessing and make himself so powerful that the enemy would be compelled to concentrate upon him.

All of the Orlanthi ceremonies followed the same principles. Each rite was a re-enactment of a divine or heroic act. If done properly, the ceremony would reproduce the magical effects which were done in the original action. In this way successful actions were remembered, reproduced, and refined, and the gods and heroes returned to the world.

Becoming your gods

Morden was fortunate because he had a powerful heroform ceremony, was able to activate into it more quickly than most men. Finally, to help himself further, Morden chose Brekun’s Shield Fight. Brekun was an ancestor of Morden’s, and kinship with the object of worship always helped to strengthen the connection. More importantly, Morden had practiced the feats of Brekun for many years. He would not rely entirely upon the magic he got from the ancient one — such would be a foolish dependence or a truly desperate attempt. Thus Morden could already hurl his razor-edged shield with great skill, and so the magical impetus would enhance rather than create, and be more powerful thereby.

The process of invoking the power of Brekun to come and be one with Morden proceeded without problem, like any ordinary ritual. Morden chanted the simple verses which would bring Brekun to his attention, then into his soul, and finally, to share his body. The priests meanwhile prayed to Orlanth, and with their worship they turned the ordinary air which they breathed to be the substance which is Orlanth.

To Morden, recipient of this attention, the world took on an appearance which he normally saw only when it was a holy day. Colors clarified into keen brightness. Ordinary things dropped away, so that artful decoration faded, insignificant details disappearing so that one suit of armor or shield looked like any other. Also the magical enhancements came forward, like bright insects coming out at sunset, so that Morden could see a magical sword even in its sheathe. The spirits which Morden could ordinarily only sense now also grew into visibility.

Dandern, the speaker, and Engorn, the storyteller, performed their parts with stern and cold efficiency. They brought the power of the Knowing God and the Speaking God into themselves, and then outward to energize memory and sound to both become special, nonordinary; the same way the storm priests were changing the nature of the air.

Dandern and Engorn both together retold the story of Brekun the hero. They told it in the sacred manner, and so they told parts which could not be spoken in a mundane version, and they omitted portions which were not relevant to the magic. And in this manner they reactivated the great magical powers which had helped Brekun, bringing them also to Morden for his upcoming battle. In the sacred retelling, now, Morden gained the most: he took upon himself the accouterments and doom of Brekun. Everyone else would gain whatever protection and fierce murderous ability they might be able to identify with in the story.

Brekun’s tale was not hard or long, and its glory was in the arming of the hero. The “Arming Poem” outfitted him with the usual “Noble spear, royal sword,” capable of “cutting unhanded, leaping, and singing.” And finally, specially, the shields: rim shield, spear shield, bound shield, and Flight Shield. The poem told how he gathered his weapons and sharpened them. Morden ritually sharpened his weapons as Brekun had, even though every blade was already honed to edge. He checked the shafts of his spears, looked over his long-ready armor for holes, and carefully counted his quivered javelins.

He counted his tokens, he fondled the amulets which gave him a piece of his god. Here is Raven, black stone polished smooth, dipped with gore. Here is Kara, white cube, and the Jara, white ball of wood, each for wounds. Stitched to his right sleeve as Durox, a bull’s bone with runes to warn him of chaos.

With reverence each charm and amulet was checked, to make sure its pouch was secure or its thong was tied, and to thank it kindly for what it would do.

Brekun then called for his wife, not his shieldboy. First she laced on his greaves, and made them fast with strong thongs. She put over his shoulders a shirt of fine linen, cut sleeveless to show the proud marks, and over that…

And so on and on. No women were present, save those fighting, and the men helped each other, checking every joint and knot and brace.

And so it went, until he donned his own humble cloak, which he saw to be blue and with silver borders. The priests recounted each word of the hero, letting the men hear what they needed to hear. The priests were sad when they made Morden’s eyes water while thinking of love, but Brekun had done so and it would be dangerous to omit that weakening event from the story in this circumstance.

And so passed the night, preparing for doom. Over the valley or two, Morden’s foe was doing the same.

With the dawn wind the foes came, brave men all. Arrows whistled, stones cracked, fire rose and fell upon the foe. Only the bravest came onward.

Singly, then, against eight at once Brekun blocked deadly darts and spear, with the Widow’s Howl sent those missiles back against the hateful foe.

Brekun, the fierce wielder of the prosperous sword, was touched by no bronze edge that day. He rained his blows upon swords, spear shafts, and helms, and with his square shield beat down the lances of the mighty.

Blessed by the decree of Orlanth and Humakt, he brought low the glory of Stad, and shattered the defender’s bound shield.

Blessed by the decree of Ernalda, he brought low the glory of the Melifas and cut his throat with the Rim shield.

Brekun pondered greatly the arts of war, and from his wife’s hands he bore the piercing shield, and made his foe, the captain, writhe.

Brekun spoke. “Who dares defy me with grievous assault? The pay for such a business is one head coin. My purse is not full yet. Stad and Syrik, Makkor and Melifas, Agnakor and Arntokar are just pennies now. Send me the gold piece, the chief who has defamed me.”

“There stands Brekun, among red steam rising hot from the pools of dripping human blood. He will not stop until the gore sea is dry. He will not stand down until tomorrow’s cock is done crowing.”

The Big Man

“Hakorlat and Morandor,” said the Prince, “Would you please go and see what this stranger wants from us?” The two men spurred their brown horses and, without word, rode quickly towards the enemy.

Morden, still standing, drew his sword and waited. The men did not slow their approach, and he could see their magic glistening in the early morning light. He squinted the way he needed to do in the early morning, and he could see the clenched teeth and the determined squint of the warriors as they faced him.

Morden, as had Brekun before him, screamed the Widow’s Howl, and every small creature which was within hearing of that shout fell down dead. The Widow’s Shout wasn’t a novel thing to these Orgovaltes warriors, and Hakorlat had used it often himself. The warriors held tight to the reins and rode hard.

But what Morden did, at Vargast’s advice, was to put a part of his real soul into the shout. Morden should think, said Vargast, of whoever loves him most, and let his pain drive the shout. But that was not enough, said Vargast, Morden must also feel the grief his wife would feel, and put that too behind the power of his shout. Morden did, and learned that Brekun shed two tears when he last thought of his wife.

The shout crashed into the two riders like a small wall, but they were too well prepared to be disabled by that. It had been stronger than expected, which shouldn’t have mattered either, but both men leapt into rage because the shout had surprised them, despite themselves, and they spurred their horses on even harder, one gripping lance and the other a javelin.

Morden grinned, and they saw it even at the distance and it made them even angrier. They forgot that they did not usually get so angry. They gouged their steeds with spurs. Morden took in hand six darts, each of them but six inches in size, shaped like a small arrow but with a large lead weight at the front. At casting range, both Morden and Morandor hurled their weapons, and six missiles sprang from both of their hands. Six missiles struck Morden, and he staggered back under the impact, nearly losing his footing. But none of the javelins struck through his armor. He regained balance, ready to stab with his drawn sword, but needed it not. His darts, propelled even more powerfully than usual, had gone all the way through both his foes, and their horses, so all four bloody bodies lay twitching on the side of the hill below him.

Morden howled, and sprang down the slope. His sword gleamed so brightly that it was visible from the other hill where the prince watched. He saw the bronze blade slash downward twice, and twice the stranger rose with the head of his foe in hand. Then the stranger threw the heads up into the air, and his sword with them, and the heads were cut into pieces. Even at that distance the prince saw that they were perfectly quartered. The sword dropped into the warrior’s hand again, and the prince saw the stranger smile, grimly, directly at him.

A swirling wind rose. The swift updraft of wind blew over the bloody corpses. Morden and the prince heard singing then, as the souls of these warriors rode upon the winds to start the long windy journey to Orlanth’s Hall. Around the prince his warriors all stirred, because they didn’t hear the music but they sensed something uncanny about them, and were disturbed.

“He is not a fraud, then,” said the prince to his companions.

Several days of hard riding were no hardship to Prince Kerandal, the son of King Keranlaka, and his entourage. They were going to battle, and the excitement of killing or dying only grew with each passing hour. When they saw Morden they didn’t need anything special to see that a warrior, armed to greatness, was ready for them.

They drew up their chariot and ponies on the hill opposite, almost half a mile away, which was far beyond any normal assault distance. Even a spirit, capable of streaking faster than even a wind, would normally become visible in the time it took to cross the distance. The prince, already glistening with bronze magic of his own, didn’t fear such a petty thing.

“Do you know that man?” he asked of his Spearman. His spearman leapt straight up into the air and stood on his saddle, and with his keen eyes he looked and could see the waiting warrior as if the two men were actually standing close to each other.

“He is of the laurel clan, and was a housethane for a chief among the Liornvuli. Seven magics, and maybe some more, dance upon his arms. His cloak is from a magical woman who lives among thorns, and his necklace keeps him from becoming tired. He is wearing his best clothes, but they are so shoddy I won’t bother to describe them.”

Most of the men laughed at this insulting comment about the warrior’s poverty, because they were all well dressed in cloaks of green and blue, with fur, and tunics of fine linen. They had gold on their arms, from their lord, and they were all experienced warriors, knowledgeable in the warrior ways of the storm gods.

“Good lord,” said a thick, accented voice, “May I approach that man first?” The speaker, a dandified stranger who wished to marry a princess, bore no sword or shield.

“Arkarthan, no doubt you could steal his sword from his hand. But this is a matter for a warrior to deal with, man to man.”

“In my home, we consider it a virtue to be prudent.”

“And impudent,” said the prince. But he said it with good nature, so that his companions all laughed again. Arkarthan, even though a foreigner, was well liked. “Northerner who would be brother,” continued Kerandal, “I proved that I could be prudent when I didn’t kill you. But now, we will do a warrior’s task the warrior’s way.”

The companions of the prince all nodded agreeably, eager to fight. They were mostly experienced. They appreciated, but did not depend upon, the blessed, sacred, and magical artifacts which Arkarthan had stolen for them. But it took more than a magic sword to combat a hero, and this impoverished stranger was not the first prepared hero they had faced. Prince Kerandal had, of course, several people who could variously respond to such a threat.

The Prince turned to one of his men, who was named Namar, and said, “You are a devotee of Big Man, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am. I’ll stomp him.”

Big Man was well known through the whole of central Genertela. He had lived six hundred years earlier, in the Silver Age, when the world was slowly edging its way out of the darkness and destruction. Big Man had gone far and wide in this area and used his great strength to make things, help people, and to generally improve the world.

Big Man had a particular ability. He had awesome strength, capable of lifting an entire war chariot, with its heavy armor, spears and blades, and even its pair of horses, driver, and bold warrior in it. In all of his life Big Man almost always picked everything up on the first try. Admittedly, he sometimes used both arms or even the great power of his legs at times.

Nonetheless, he sometimes failed. On those rare occasions when he was frustrated in lifting or throwing something, Big Man’s great power came into action. He actually grew larger, like a bladder being pumped up full, or a loaf of bread rising. Then, bigger and stronger, he would make a second attempt. He almost always succeeded on the second attempt, whether it was in tossing a galley up atop the plateau or pushing down a section of the wall of Nochet. Only about ten times in his long life did Big Man ever need a third attempt to lift something, and in those times he pumped up bigger yet again. Four times in his life Big Man needed four attempts to finally succeed. Those where when he held the triton underwater; when he broke the dragon’s neck; when Orlanth tried to lift him skyward; and when the mountain fell on him.

Only once did he increase in size five times.

Big Man was not a fighting man. In his age lived many far greater warriors who willingly accepted the risky tasks of fighting monsters or each other. Nonetheless, the grey predawn light of the Silver Ages were full of perils, and Big Man wrestled, threw, and broke his share of monsters and marauders. Though Big Man was always weaponless, many accounts are known of him throwing rocks, trees, or houses to kill his foes.

Big Man did not usually care to fight hand to hand, and he especially did not like to fight against other humans. He used his great strength several times to subdue those who would have fought him. He was even known to just stamp and break the ground and run away from fights rather than punch someone.

But the one time that he used his strength five times was in a fight, hand to hand, against a human being. Big Man was fighting against Jeri Babo then, and finally won that fight when he stamped on his foe with his iron soled boots, and crushed him like a man would crush a mouse.

Morden had been waiting patiently. He saw the great rock fly up into the air from the far side of the hill opposite him. Since the prince, who was watching back, did not flinch at the boulder’s crashing flight, Morden wasn’t worried either. He thought, “It’s a strong man that can do that.”

Morden saw a really big man come forward from over the hill. He had a red sash around his head and had no armor. He wore simple peasant clothes, bore a stone mason’s hammer, and wore big knobbed boots.

“Ah,” thought Morden, “A Big Man, not just a strong one.” Morden didn’t move when the Big Man paused and picked up the chariot, and his lord, and the horses all kicking and screaming in their harness. He put them down again, not too gently, and laughed very loudly. A flock of ravens which was coming to feed all fell out of the air, stunned, at that laugh.

Big Man put his hammer onto the ground near his lord’s chariot. The Big Man never misused his tools, and since he was not going to work stone he left this behind. He sauntered across the vale to Morden who still waited, calmly, without weapons drawn.

“Hey you,” said Big Man, when he was a few yards away, “I want to stand there.”

“Here? Stand here?” asked Morden. “Before I give you my part of the earth, I will ask you to be civilized enough to tell me your name.”

“It is not secret. Everyone knows me. I am Vogarth the Big Man, from Usedri, who is the strongest man in the world. Who are you?”

“I am Morden, the son of Harastan, born of the Shield Clan. I am a weaponthane of Vargast, and I bear the burden of my people in my soul.”

“Give me your place,” said Big Man. Of course, Morden could not accede to this demand because it would have weakened him to give up “his place.” He would not just be stepping off a piece of ground, but also abandoning the position which he chose to live in the world which was, at this moment, defender of the camp.

“Are you Big Man, who threw the dragon ship up onto Shadow Plateau, where the trolls ate it?” asked Morden.

“I am.”

“You look just like him. Are you Big Man who carried the wondrous Living Stone Tree from the Footprint to the queen’s house in Esrolia?”

“I am him,” said Big Man. “I am going to take your place there, now. It is important to me.” At this moment it was true, although of course in the original performance of this tale Big Man had real reasons to demand the place of Jeri Babo.

“I think that you are the same Big Man,” said Morden, “that cracked that stone giant with your hammer, and saved the troll king. Can I praise you some more?”

“I am him,” said the Big Man, “and I will pause for recognition.” He seemed happy to be recognized. All of these repetitions of course aided in enforcing the great powers of Big Man onto the mortal frame of the man who was his devotee. Morden’s identification, and the repetition of that recognition, reinforced even more strongly the previous agreement, making the Big Man’s presence even more concrete.

Of course, this also diminished the presence of the man beneath it.

“I think that you are the strongest man in the world, called Big Man,” said Morden, “and I know you do not like to fight.”

“That is me,” said Big Man, “and you are right. But I am going to take your place there.”

“I will give it to you,” said Morden, “but you are a fair man and a good one, and I would challenge you to a contest for it. Not a fight, which is not fair.”

“Contests are not good for me,” said Big Man. He was not smart, and he knew that. “Except a contest of strength.”

“OK then,” said Morden, “a contest of strength.”

“I’m so strong,” said Big Man, looking around for something to prove himself, “that I can knock over that tree with my spit.” And he hawked, then spat. The tree snapped off midway as if it had been hit by one of Morden’s shields, and crashed to the ground. “Can you do that?”

“Nope,” said Morden. “But I go first since you chose the field of contest.”

“All right.”

Morden looked around, and went and picked up a small grey rock. “I can squeeze blood out of a rock,” said Morden, and held his hand up, and showed the rock. Then he squeezed it, and blood dripped out. Morden threw it to the ground. “Can you?”

Big Man stared a moment. “That’s a cheat,” he said.

“Are you Big Man,” said Morden, “Who gave the stone tree to the queen, and was father of her triplets? I have seen you, and before me I see the Big Man.” Morden could see intelligence behind the eyes of his opponent. Intelligence there indicated that the man inside was winning a struggle of identification with Big Man. If the man, Namar, let his personality break through then Big Man with his supernatural powers would soon disappear.

But Namar inside there needed Big Man’s presence. A mere man could not accomplish the task, and he wanted to. He listened to Morden’s words. “You are he, I have been told, who threw the galley upon the plateau, and who bent the bronze gates of Heort’s hall. You are Big Man, who is fair, and ever ready to engage in challenges of strength.”

“I am he,” said Big Man, and he looked around for a rock. He picked it up and crushed it, then another, and a bigger one, then a smaller one, and several more in a row, using both hands. He got more and more dismayed each time.

Morden laughed at him. He said, very loud, “You have lost, Big Man. You have lost the contest, and you must now give me your place!”

Big Man knew it was true, and in his slow mind he was distressed. He had lost a contest of strength! How could he be the strongest man alive? Such was impossible!!

Big Man paused and looked at Morden. Intelligence flashed across those eyes again. “You cheat. You didn’t use a rock.”

“What? Is that Big Man or a fraud?” shouted Morden. “What!” Then he snapped his jaw in the Feat of the Sakkar’s Bite so that the sound was loud enough to kill an ordinary man. Big Man only staggered under it, but the eyes flashed anger now.

“You can’t use that trick on me!” he shouted. This was, however, an insight which Big Man was utterly incapable of making on his own. “I will stomp you, flea.” And of course, Big Man never threatened that so early in his fight against Jeri Babo.

“You are the cheat!” cried Morden. “You lost a contest of strength and you must depart from this place. Go away Big Man! Begone!”

“I will not! I will kill you for cheating the Big Man!” At this, where Namar denied his own identification with Big Man, the huge figure before Morden flickered a bit, fading in and out of focus, and then tumbled in upon itself, making a silly thop thopping sound until there stood there a man once again. “I will kill you…”

Morden laughed, loud, and the man, though weaponless and without armor, threw himself upon Morden. The fight was short, for though the man was strong he was just a man. Morden could have killed him easily, but instead he just struck him several times with his gloved fist, then threw him onto the ground and kicked him several times.

“Who is that who looks like a man in the chariot opposite me?” asked Morden.

“He is Prince Kerandal, the son of King Keranlaka, and I am…”

“Go tell your master that it takes more than peasants to beat this warrior,” said Morden.

“I will kill you,” said the man. “I am….”

“Not today, small man,” said Morden, and kicked the man again, hard enough to life his 200 pounds off the ground. “Not today. Now go.”

The man, Namar who could not name himself, was a warrior, and he had an amulet which, if held even briefly, stopped bleeding and healed pain enough to let a wounded man move. Namar used it then, and walked back to his prince, and at the wheel of the chariot he bent at the waist.

“My prince, I…”

“I saw,” said the prince. “What did he say,” asked Kerandal.

“He said to send a warrior, not a peasant, my prince. I beg you to let me arm and go back.”

“Go arm, and join us back here.”

The Great Thief

“That man and his sword might be a hero some day,” said the Prince, “If he finds enough foolish foes to fall before him. Clearly face to face combat is his preference. We aren’t stupid. We need someone who will surprise him, and have a skill which he can not prepare.”

“Ah,” said the foreigner, “Good prince who would have a brother. May I?”

“Perhaps it is time after all,” said the Prince. He contemplated only a few moments more before adding, “Arkarthan of Lolon, I ask you to go and engage that stranger. Perhaps, if you can not slay him, you will be able at least to bring his sword back to me.”

“I will do my best,” he said, and after a few short prayers he set off.

Prince Kerandal watched him go, and then he turned to one of his priests. He said, “Orandal, I think that you have a strange gift from our friend who walks there.”

“Yes, Sir, he gave me this, which he called a Pole Hook.” It was about a yard long, then bent for another foot to make a sharp angle. It was a wooden stick with metal tips, and painted in a single stripe rounding up its length.

“I did not listen when he gave it to you. Will you tell me what it does?”

“There is a star overhead which you can not see, and I can attach this hook to it and raise myself up to quite a height. It is much more stable than flying about, and so I can concentrate to see what lies further past here.”

“When Arkarthan reaches conversation distance from our foe, would you please use it and look beyond, to see what we are facing next?”

“As long as no arrows are shot at me, or I am not attacked. I have no defense when I hang there and peer far away.”

“He will be busy enough,” said the prince. “Prepare yourself.”

Towards the late afternoon a stranger approached Morden. He wore red tights, low pointed shoes, a green and yellow striped jerkin, and a wide brimmed hat with a raccoon tail on it. Finally, his face was painted, across his eyes, to look like a mask.

Morden had never seen such a man before, and didn’t know how to react.

The man’s name was Arkarthan, but everyone called him Quickhand. He was from a city called Lolon, in the land of Vanch. Morden had never been to Vanch, or anywhere within two hundred miles of it. He didn’t know that this man was a near-perfect specimen of the expression, “thieving as a Vanchite.”

Arkarthan knew quite a bit more about Morden. He knew, by sight from a distance, that Morden was a staunch, hard core Orlanthi. All those savage tattoos, the gleaming bronze armor with the runes scratched on it, and the hurtful aura of his bronzed magical protection breaking into the ordinary world.

The thief approached carefully. Arkarthan was no fool. He had faced a half dozen armed me, albeit lesser armed than this one. But he killed them all, and more importantly, a dozen or two more in less fair combat.

Morden spoke, and the Vanchite’s opinion agreed with the information which he had been told.

“Stand back Stranger,” said Morden, brandishing his sword. “It is a day to die, and you are in the region of Death.” The warrior’s belligerent intent stepped like a shadow — like a double self — right out of Morden then and rushed towards Arkarthan. He was expecting it, and although any normal warrior would have backed off, knowing combat was hopeless against such a demigod, Arkarthan didn’t even flinch outwardly at the apparition. He remained standing for several moments. Morden didn’t move, though Arkarthan could see his lips moving. Slowly, Arkarthan raised both hands, palm outward, towards the warrior. And, with invisible limb, reached all the way across the area between them, to take off the stone which glowed so brightly. The hand, more gentle than a kiss, felt a tiny resistance.

Morden shouted, then hurled his blade upward into the air. It turned over and over, slowly, as it flew upward, and Morden reached for his javelin.

Arkarthan recognized this: the Sword Trick. He had seen it when he fought the Sylilans as a younger man, and remembered the shout. It made him run away that time, long ago. Now he knew the barbarian would pick the javelin, hurl it while rushing forward, and catch the sword just before he reached hand to hand combat. Arkarthan had hoped it would be this easy. He was called Quickhand, but his invisible hands were only one of his assets.

He leapt upward as the javelin was prepared, and he snatched the airborne sword, but he left behind a more visible apparition of himself as a lure. It worked, because as Arkarthan poised at the apex of his leap he saw Morden’s javelin run through the throat of the illusion. The sword was heavy with magic, and so he held it with both hands as he landed, sword raised to chop down the swordless warrior who should have been standing, weaponless, before him.

Arkarthan never saw the razor edged shield which slashed through his abdomen as he landed. The thief was cut right in half, and the hurtling shield caused them to fall separately, apart from each other.

Arkarthan had been killed once before, but of course he was still stunned. He — his spirit — stood there, crouched and poised holding the magical sword before him, and he looked over his shoulder at his legs kicking and his liver flapping, and lots and lots of blood everywhere ruining his good clothes. He hadn’t been ready for that shield trick, but he knew what to do when he was killed.

He knew that if he could move his spirit quickly enough, he could pull his two parts together and he would be knit within seconds. He had prepared to be healed like this a long time ago. He was informed. He could do it.

Arkarthan looked from his spirit eyes right into his own dilated physical eyes, and moved in that moment back into his physical form. It didn’t hurt him as much as a normal man, because he was Arkarthan. But it was agony, and the gore splattered torso screamed out loud. He looked to his legs, which stopped twitching when he saw them. He felt his feet. Then Morden stepped into view.

Morden held his sword, lean and gleaming and untouched by the gore which drenched the ground. He had taken it from the air, where the spirit had held it, for the length of time it had taken him to do his Edged Shield Feat.

Morden looked down into the eyes of the magician whom he had just defeated. He felt resistance to his gaze, almost like someone pressing on his eyeballs. Morden shouted the Devil Smashing Shout. Both Arkarthan’s eyes burst and blood shot from them in streams as Morden chopped, once, and halved the torso yet again. The eyes stopped spraying, as they had stopped seeing, and as Morden backed cautiously off the parts of the body stopped jerking and pumping organs out.

Morden spoke and invoked the Ravens. They came to death as they always come, but quicker than usual, thanks to his prayer, and in a great number. Their flapping black wings were the sound of death’s wings. They flew off with gobbets of the enemy dripping from their axe beaks. The dead magician could never be reformed after they ate, if such resurrection was even within his power. Morden, who did not know anything of this foe, took no chance.

The ravens glutted, and flew away to boast of it to their cousins. Morden looked up at the flocks in time to see a warrior descend on the far side of the vale, to the prince.

The prince, too, was watching the black flocks depart with their warm feast and saw his man, who had been hanging, come down lightly nearby, and come to his prince to report.

“Behind the hill where this hero stands is a battalion of warriors, all with bronze spears and caps waiting patiently. Behind that is a large square camp, with wooden palisades and stones to hold it. On each corner a hero is standing, and inside the camp is another army, with javelins and shields. I saw many priests there, and with them were a band of winds which were like our holy mountain on a sacred day.”

The prince, watching this, said, “This man is greater than I am today. He has been preparing for weeks, I see, probably since the Sacred Time. I will remember his name, and come back when we’re equally prepared. It must have been that fop’s fault, with his faulty weapons and his Eurmal-stained gifts. Godi, send your hawk back and tell my sister that she need not fear being forced to marry that man any more.” And the godi nodded agreement, and they turned their horses and rode away, to be sure to be out of range of the Dusk-leaping Feat and the Setting Sun Throw and the Leaping Pursuit Feat too. As they galloped away one of the godi crouched low with his shield on his back fearing that Morden might know a Sunset Killing Shield Feat. He did, but didn’t use it that evening.

Morden watched them ride out of view, and returned to his guardian stance.

“There stands Morden,” said a voice, and he knew it was Vargast’s, “among red steam rising hot from the pools of dripping human blood. He will not stop until the gore sea is dry. He will not stand down until tomorrow’s cock is done crowing.” Pride gave Morden a reward, and he felt his weariness fade and his wounds cease their cutting and burning. His pride came from being certain that the cowardly chieftain running away would not return. The praise of his lord’s word was also a great gift, perhaps the best to be had that night. Tomorrow the loot would be his, should he care to keep it, but treasure was of no use to a man who would be dead soon, and no source of pride in that. His best gift, though, came from the success he attained in knowing that he had performed as well as his model, his hero, Brekun. He felt the touch of life after death, and it was like a tiny sip of cool sweet water to a man who thought he had no mouth.

Greg Stafford

23 Aug 99

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