Varlarsaga Volume 3 - Consolation
Chapter 64 - Triumph and Remorse
After a time in which the moon carried further on its nightly journey
and stars winked in and out of wearisome cloud, Morgan Fane-King
‘Well good folk and kin-elves, as the days and nights of Varlar roll
and the destinies of our lives are altered by this thing or that, so
must we grimly bear. Beyond our control now, is the greater fate; the
fate of all the world, borne in the hand of He who was chosen and has
passed from us, out of our care and reach. Each of us have stake in the
way of the world and how it wears. Many, have claim and right to follow
him as far as those daunting portals, the Gates of Adamant. None of us,
but he, have the right to broach them. Now it is time to gather in
council, and tell that which be in our hearts for the future of all.
Now must voices be raised from the Free Peoples of Varlar that, arrayed
here, dwell upon events to follow. Each: Men, Dwarves, Elves, need make
provision for that to come. Ere it comes and we be unprepared. Let
downfall be not our lot, simply because we awaited its coming without
speech. We must gather; the lordly, the high and the wise, in assembly.
And so state the thoughts, the hopes, and the designs of these
multitude gathered around this venerable place. Upon this, I pray you
heed my advice. And further say I, need we heed Master Corin's words;
watch our horizons and most of all, watch this Earth-Mouth, for out of
it may issue forth all manner of things far and above our power,
stature or knowledge. Or,’ Morgan's voice lowered, ‘far beneath; things
so debased and evil, that we be put to Their yoke, forever.’
At these words, Menkeepir said, ‘May I speak for the peoples of
Mankind? I know that others have the right as well as I and they must
take their turn, but for myself, do I agree. There is use for
parliament and concord amongst our allied selves and swiftly, as need
has it. Let us go to a lit place now, this night, and earnest talk; for
by morrow, already may it be too late.’
The rest, of varied kindred, nodded assent and were about to depart,
leaving Cinglor the elf to post a guard when, through the night, a
flutter of wings was detected. This sound, a rustle, grew. Then, before
even an elf could move, a dark, darting creature: bird or bat, or
other, scurried past fire-flicker and fled into the hole beyond.
He´Remon turned, his long arm raised, finger pointing. ‘That is the
Jackdaw. The bird of Corin's prophesy. Now comes it to descend the
depths with him!’
‘But what can that mean?’ asked Ordrick, having arrived a moment before.
‘Who can say ?’ Silval replied. ‘The creature is no ordinary bird, that
is sure. And it has followed him, at times guiding, at others aiding
him, through most of the days of his life. Whether that be for good or
evil, remains to be seen.’
‘Then should not some dare these hidden depths?’ questioned Ordrick.
‘At least as far as we may, that Corin be protected by force of arms.
‘Would that be the wisest?’ asked He´Remon. ‘Maybe it would. Yet first
should we not think on it, lest we blunder where we should not?’
‘The Wizard speaks with prudence,’ said Morgan. ‘Let us follow our
first course, gather and speak together. Quick now, for time and words
are wasted here, when other ears and minds need know what has befallen
and so help us in our quandary.’
Thence forth was it settled and everyone, with Cinglor's exception,
hastened away to where an assembly could be held beneath the elf-lit
pavilions on Aileen Plain.
Cinglor began to array his elf-guard: bow and spear and sword, and
busied himself with their positioning and settlement about the
vicinity. Strange to tell, therefore, that whilst this was being done,
a dark shadow slid betwixt the elven ranks and slipped into the
pitchness of Earth-Mouth. And with that liquid shadow flitted another
tiny thing about it. Last of all there bounded a'hop, halt, a'hop and
hop again, creature. And as it disappeared into the void, came there
the faintest, frog-like croak.
Corin had walked very far. That he knew.
To begin with he had counted his steps, but after hundreds that led to
thousands there seemed little point. Sometimes the way was sloped.
Sometimes, like vast gang-way ramps. The going spiralled in slow,
winding circles, ever descending. The road, for it was not just a
stairway or a passage or tunnel, was high and broad. Bounding it, he
knew without seeing, were distant walls of Adamantean hardness
somewhere far above, and roofed over with the like. And, by the sole
light of lumallin cast from elvish cloak, Corin saw the dust of ages,
now disturbed by his own passing feet. None had trod that road it
seemed, since all was closed and hidden. It was cold there and sound
somehow stifled. All sight, hearing, feeling even, seemed oddly
As, indeed, it was. For the Road of Adamant began on the surface of
Varlar at Croh-Yah, Earth-Mouth upon Aileen Plain, and from there
traversed the downward regions of Stone-Bone that were neither the
outward World-Varlar nor Earth-Spine, Klud-er-Yah, that led to The Pits
of Nether; those Pits, locked beyond the Doors of Earth-Spine, which
Corin had yet to encounter. And somewhere, further ahead, before the
Doors, he remembered, lay the realm of Chardon the Barge-poler. He, of
whom Hagris the Witch had spoken.
Corin felt the chill of cold and the chill of dread, creeping through
him from head to toe. By the soft glow of lumallin, the way before him
led into the shadows of blackness. Daring, he risked a further light,
drawing Næglind from her covering; for so he now thought of the sword,
as was it made by she, whom Corin realised he loved at first sight. He
raised the blade on high and like a beacon, sprang it forth with
blue-red fire. He took a rapid breath at the sight around and above
him. It was awesome and sombre.
Before, he was able only to look and feel at close quarters. Now was he
to see, for the first time, the terrible splendour of the road he
walked. It spread, wide and glistening, ahead; an iron-hard surface
that shimmered through the age-old dust with reflected light. It was
like a flowing river, hung over by the weeping of willows. But the
willows were fingers and spikes of hardness, and the river a frozen
torrent of untarnishable metal, besmirched only by time's failings. In
places, ran it angular and sharp; knifelike the edges and
intersections. In others, rolled it, curving and sliding into shapes
beautiful and grotesque. Here was grandeur and starkness, side by side.
Here, mastery of form, as if planned, and catastrophe that bore the
hallmark of chaos.
These were the Roads of Adamant; the pitching, sterile agonies that
were Earth's torment and strength. The path that led to Varlar's hidden
This solitude-way to abyss, through steel wrought stainless and
impenetrable, lay upon every side: overhead and under Corin's very
feet. This prison-domain, untrod until his coming. Here was he humbled
in the presence of creation almost beyond comprehension; breathtaken by
an admixture of wonder, elation, and fear.
‘How could my fate have taken me so far in my journeying, at last to
lead me hence?’ Thus he pondered, sheathing the sword, and again
The steps of his travel took him ever deeper; down and down into the
majesty and terror of those empty halls, whilst his heart leapt in his
breast and his legs, unflagging, carried him on.
Far behind in the dead of Adamant's night, beings now moved. They came
softly: fluttering, flying on swish-air wings, hopping, padding
He was not alone.
Neither sleep, nor hunger, nor thirst seemed to lay claim on him. Only
cold and time touched him; both relentless and unbending. ‘How long, by
sun and moon, have I walked?’ Corin whispered. And shivering, it came
to him that it mattered not. ‘I will go on until I reach my
destination, or Death takes me by the hand.’ And then he thought, ‘No.
Even Death shall I resist. It has no part in this fate, this quest that
I live out. It may not come for me until that is finished. My life's
task lies before me. The Doors of Adamant must yet be opened and what
is beyond must be freed. Then, only then, shall fate, life or death,
And so he struggled on, thinking through all the moments of his life;
girding, preparing himself for what might wait ahead. He felt now, no
longer the tiny babe, the child of Men's-realm, the imprisoned youth
and escapee. No longer the Prince Mylor. No longer Corin, the
adventurer amidst strange lands and peoples. No longer Avarhli of the
Elloræ. No longer of man, or elf, hermit, wizard or warrior. Now he
belonged to none. Now he was a whole and separate entity. Now he was a
creature unbound, unique, empty of all that was the past. Now, the
future quest, the journey forward and the aftermath, were his only
concern. Now was all there was; all, and everything.
Perhaps it was nearer the truth to say that Corin, through sheer effort
of will-power, had made that so by blocking every thought of self or
others, from his mind; forcing those dear to him from memory.
Concentrating solely on this final, almighty task. Beyond that, if he
survived, he knew that he must go on, though forward or back was not
clear to him. He could only await the judgement of events to come. But,
for this time, he earnestly prayed that he should not have chosen
wrongly, the path to follow.
The going grew tedious, though ever-changing, undulating, ever-winding:
narrowing, opening, sinuously meandering. And yet, were the Roads of
Adamant inherently of a sameness; everywhere that same steely hardness,
so that it seemed he breathed it in, and was absorbed by it, as if he
were at oneness, within. He wondered at the vision of being swallowed
forever inside, as the Daræ and those others had been. The thought
caused him to waver in his stride, until he cast it from him with all
the strength he could muster. Yet doubt is an insidious thing and often
it returned the more he shunned it.
He passed over broad-spanned causeways, softly ringing with the
intonation of even his elvin-clad feet. Sometimes, he gazed up at
hanging clusters of stalactites, that seemed to pierce the very depths
of his heart. Then, he stumbled on, through a world stronger than iron
or steel, chained and bound unto itself: hostile, beautiful, and cruel.
When he saw, far ahead, the faint glimmer of The Lakes, he thought he
had gone mad.
So long, it seemed, he had walked and wearied, with cold and doubt and
dread his only companions, that he was totally unprepared for the
sudden shock of that sight. For time beyond his measure, Corin waited,
summoning courage to press on. Below him, from world's beginnings,
awaited those vast pale pools, The Lakes; Realm of Chardon the
At last, Corin drew upon his resolve; his only ally, that living blade
of Orichalc. Lofting it on high, so that an arc of light cascaded, he
strode forward, himself uplifted by this beacon. He came down to the
very edge and stood, silent and watchful, his eyes growing used to the
brilliance that Næglind cast across those still pools. And then it came
to him, as the slow ripples lapped the shore at his feet, that here
washed not water; too thick and opaque was it. More unto molten metal,
cold though and flowing. He stooped to touch it, then drew away.
Somehow he knew, he durst not.
As he stood upright, his eyes followed the ripples and he saw, with a
gasp of shock, the reason whence their flowing. In the mists of the
further shore, a dark form emerged; a flat, punt-like shape it was. And
on it, bent a thing that seemed clothed in the garb of spider-webbed
shroud; a thing that appeared not of the living world, a wraithlike
creature. In its grasp, held it a long pole, and by that pole's
wielding, moved the craft. Spellbound, Corin watched whilst the ferry
of Chardon, for such it surely was, crept slowly nearer.
After an interminable time, the craft drew nigh enough and the Poler
slid the slender, glistening shaft from out the pool, and raising it,
turned to hail Corin. The words came as rasping whispers, hanging in
Corin's mind like hooks biting into flesh. ‘Sshhardon am Iii! None have
come here ssince ttime beyond tellling. None but the deadd. Youu arre
not of the deadd. What mannerrr of thing arre youu?’
There was a silence, during which Corin could hear the mingling of his
own breath with the harsh bubbling of Chardon's; if breath that truly
Then, holding Næglind by the hilts in both firm hands, Corin said, ‘I
am the wielder of power greater than you know. I am the One. He who has
come hither to cast down the Binding Spells of the Doors and throw them
The wraith uttered a deep rumble that might have passed for laughter,
if it had not been filled with emptiness. ‘A powerr youu arre, elssse
youu could nott bee hencce. Youu thhen arre thhe brreakerr of
‘I am he who broached the Wall of Earth-Mouth, and my errand bids me
further. I must pass your Pools, oh Ferrier, for I would enter the ways
beyond that lead to the Doors of Adamant.’
A chill descended.
Chardon appeared to weigh and deliberate these words, though Corin had
no real way of telling.
Then, as if a curtain were drawn away, the seeping mists cleared,
curling down into the Pools and vanishing. A grey-yellow light
enveloped the Lakes, stretching in all directions, illuminating even
the far shores where Corin thought he glimpsed myriad shapes; writhing,
The eyes of Chardon leapt wide with burning light that blazed deep and
probing into Corin's, so that he was forced to yield, averting his
gaze. ‘Youu cannot passs here. Youu have nott thhe sstrengthh. Die! And
Iii willl take yourr Sshade accrosss. Elssewise, be gone sswiftly!’
A storm was rising inside Corin's mind. He felt as if his eyes were
being plucked from out his head. His brain seemed to pulse, bursting;
his heart, his very soul, to wrench forward, whilst his body crumbled
dustward. Then Næglind, as he clutched it, began to drop until the
crosshilts fell between his face and that of Chardon. The Ferrier
seemed to start, the fire of its eyes deflected. The shadow cast by the
sword passed betwixt Corin and Chardon. The Ferrier lifted its staff to
intercede, and for long time they swayed; fighting thus a silent,
Until the lights of the Ferrier's eyes were put out.
The mists swirled.
Only Næglind's brilliance resumed, transforming greyness into sight.
The wraith bent, sliding its pole into the murky depths. ‘Yess,’ it
said. 'Iii will take youu acrosss. To the landss of thhe deadd: The
Limbusss. Forr yourr mightt iss grreaterr than minehh.’
Corin rested, empty within. He had contested and won a soundless, a
The black punt hovered, a mere step from shore. Chardon, at the
furthest extreme, beckoned with a cowled arm. ‘Comme, as youu darre.
Sshhardon willl nott harrm youu. Youu have harrmed yoursselff. Comme.
Thoughh therre iss noo way backkk.’
Keeping Næglind directly between their eyes, Corin boarded the craft.
It swayed gently with that motion, and glided out over the quick-silver
liquid with one deft push of the wraith's pole.
At either end, they stood; Chardon hunched to the task; Corin intent
that the supremacy won over this Keeper of the Lakes, should not be
And so, in eerie quiet, but for a faint slopping of ripple-wake, they
passed on across the Pools; through canal and spillway that led,
maze-like, the paths of the Lakes.
The wraith spake not, nor moved from its place, turning the long stick;
propelling them forward, till at end, they reached the other side. The
punt touched, and bobbed against that firmness. Corin stepped from the
craft, and found footage on the hither shore.
Chardon uplifted the dark staff. ‘Itt iss done. Go. Bee with the deadd.
Iff yourr powerr iss thuss grreat, meeet youu yourr endd!’
It poled away, and the punt slid out into the Lakes, and mists, and
allnight. Maybe, there to lie; waiting forever.
The brightness of Næglind swept that dank and foreboding strand, as
Corin trudged its crunching slopes; shivering now, with a strange
fear-thrill that he had not known before.
Advancing toward the spearing shadows, he lofted the blade, so that its
brilliant light might thrust back the feared dark waiting, dreadfully,
ahead. But soon, Corin saw this to no avail. Næglind's blaze reflected
and pierced not past. Stumbling, and finally halting, he sheathed the
blade of Orichalc, and ventured further, lit only by the faintness of
lumallin that seeped from his elvish garments.
Thus, he had not mounted the rising way too far before stopping.
Something, he felt, unseen, had brushed his cheek. He thought, in his
fright, that he heard a whisper, unintelligible. He thought he saw
movement nearby; about, above. He thought these things, though he dared
traverse beyond; for now his footfalls crossed boundaries. And his
living body slipped in, amidst the rampant shades of the Unliving.
Soon, groping, onward he forged.
And soon, forged they, the Forms about him. They swarmed and covered
him. Clung to him, in a silent embrace; engulfing, threatening to cover
his ears and eyes, to swallow his mouth. To surround his pounding heart
and lungs. To caress him into death. Death that pervaded; that licked,
hungrily, at his finger-tips. Death, easy Death, that beckoned now; on,
and here, and there, and everywhere. For these were the Shades and the
Shadows of Death.
This was the horded province of Death. Where herded, interned, cuffed
half-way were the ended throes of those who might travel no further;
caught in durance, neither to fulfil their final journey, nor to turn
The way grew coughing-thick with cloying vapours; heavy each step, each
breath, each living thought. So easy to tread the Dead-Path. So simple
to walk the Road to Dead-Domain. And though he downward trod, it seemed
to him that the way was of a steep and endless hill; a sheer mountain
that, for all his intent, he could not attain.
Then, after much effort, it came to him that Næglind might be of aid
once more. Upon his knee now, bent and troubled by Varlar's misery, he
uncovered the sword of Orichalc. As the blue flame of it came forth, so
was swept back the oppression of the dead; for they were in dread awe
of that revealed power. But the light from the blade cleaved not far
around him, giving Corin only a little space. Still and all, the dead
would not overstep those bounds.
Corin arose. He was free to go on. The stricture of the dead abated.
The shadows of the future awaited, weighted with the unknown.
Far behind, at the beginnings of Chardon's Lake-realm, padded feet, and
fluttering wings. At the quick-silver edge, the hop and pad halted. But
the soft, firm beat of wings continued, out into the gloamen-mists,
across the pale-streaked stretches that barred the Living from the Dead.
Behind, the two, Wolf and Toad, waited unmoving; vigils of Varlar.
Stupored, Corin shook his head awake. Coming to himself, he knew that
he trod in the presence of the Dead; they who were held in that place
A mist touched him; it overwhelmed him. It was the Mist of Arleas of
Penda. That man, that warlike and proud man, lost in the recent past of
Ravenmoor, who had died fighting as he had so desperately wanted,
wanted now to again reach out. But the Mist, intangible, would neither
resolve or dissolve. Neither would the others: the many that gathered
around Corin, tugging at him; at ankles, arms, hands and throat.
Tugging at him, until he felt ground down, crushed, like grain in a
mill. Here were those he had known in his own short life: Erryldene,
King of Ravenmoor, the man who had taken him as son. Hulda, wife to
Arleas. Doomed, old Reethian. Gebod Strong-Arm. High-man Abric. Birle,
the King's cup-bearer.
Here were those of other times, whispering their names: Weldun, first
king of Ravenmoor, and his son Tiernan, and his son Kean. On and on,
the Shades and Umbers of folk newcome and long dead: Grorn of the sea
Qwroane. Forinth the Mariner, discoverer and explorer. He, who by
sheerest accident or fated design, came upon the secret thing hidden
from the eyes and hands of all; the casket wherein slept the babe of
Loriandir. And there was Orsokon the First, father to the current
ruler, Orsokon the Second. There too were Mis-Kyang and Shalminesar,
ancients of Kutha-Kesh. Wolfian of Dorthallonæ, the Lorda Minca's
father. Rohilkhand, her captain. Blind Cennalath and Disintar of
Orenburg. The dwarves, Narr and Nyrath from the Ramabad. And Grani,
Loriandir's faithful hand-dwarvess, who had chosen death in order to
hide that elvish lady's child.
All these crowded, thronging to Corin; grasping with mist-fingers,
begging, imploring. Wailing their sighing-cry of the misplaced dead;
those doomed to aimless wander the borderland between Chardon's Lakes
and the Doors of Adamant.
There were other creatures as well; those of the animal kingdoms, those
of the sea and the sky. And there were furtive, sinister beings of
evil: goblins, trolls, imps and their like. They lurked, ever present
in the shadowy depths, recoiling, yet somehow pleading; their need of
fulfilment for the last journey, as urgent as any.
Through them, Corin laboured, harking their faintest screaming, heeding
their constant questing. Now he, the One living, mingled and merged
with the dead. Now grew he weary; wretched for those of life's grace,
and tormented for those who dwelt on the Limbus. Now Corin's thoughts
seemed to echo in his head as if he spoke aloud. ‘How much further? How
long this torturous endurance? How much strength left to muster? How
long may the Living abide with the Dead, before death colds and claims?
Trees grow old, and go to rotted wood. Dwarves of stone return to
stone. Elves of air and light, thus pass that way. Men, of earth and
water, so become again. Therefore the creatures of sea and wind and
land, all to their place, do go. How long then before I am taken and
wrought to my ended state? Is there no end to this misery; no finality,
consolation, peace? Is there only ever onward? Is that my doom? Must I
walk the ways of the Limbus, without pause, into a long evernight?’
He looked up, squinting; a hand raised to shade his eyes from Næglind's
fog-swirled light. Ahead, the gloom seemed to tower; foreboding,
forbidding. There was something. Something vast and reared, loomed,
fearsome. It was not of the dead, though their mists writhed before it.
Without knowing, Corin breathed deeply of the curling, billowing
vapours, wafting, surrounding him. The light of lumallin and that of
the sword began to shimmer, fading. He walked forward, at once both
drawn and pushed away. He felt torn, ripped in twain. He felt a
destiny, an awe-full realness. He cast off the wraiths of the unreal,
strove to focus his mind and sight and being on that before him.
And there It was.
There it stood. The tallest grandeur of solemn architect, The Doors of
Adamant. Paired, rising into heights beyond sight, impassive and
massive of structure, so that the eyes could not encompass wholly such
Here was the entrance to Earth-Spine. Here the fate that waited Corin
over all the long seasons of the world. Here, the fortune of Varlar.
And here, stood he, dismayed; his heart and soul wrenched and broken,
as if on some gigantic wheel that touched not body, nor knowing mind,
but wounded and pierced far, far deeper. Only Næglind, sword of
Talisar, fair Daræ maiden, Lady to whom his heart-strings clung, helped
him through his grief and misery. Only that shining light was succour
and beacon enough, proof against everything that strove to hedge and
hem him within his own binding prison.
And Corin, wrestling with doubt and fear, and guilt, cried out. ‘Why,
why am I the one? Why am I chosen to make this decision? This decision
to mend, or damn Varlar to extinction? This damned decision, that I can
now not make. I am too weak. I am too unworthy to be trusted with such
perilous power. I am broken already, ere I break a greater fate. I have
not the strength, damn me, to decide alone for all!’
He bowed his head, and fell to his knees, Næglind held before him. His
eyes were dry, dry as his parched throat. About him swirled the Dead's
mists, pressing, moaning, shrieking; held at bay by the sword-glow that
now swelled and burgeoned, driving back those haunting hordes.
And then, to Corin, came The Voices. They who had ever come, unbidden.
And They said unto him, ‘Your quest is unended. Come, fulfil. You
cannot go back. Wake the Sleeper, bonded Doors breaking. Way on, way
on. Lest world be left, forsaking. Behind Adamant, who knows what
lurking? Come, fill your fate, stay such shirking!’
“UPON THE DARK SIDE, WITHIN THE BORDERS OF STONE-BONE, THE BARRIERS MAY
WELL HAVE BEEN TORN DOWN.
BUT BY WHOM, GOOD, OR EVIL?”
“IT SHALL BE YOU THEN, WHO HOLDS THOSE DOORS.”
“THE FATE OF ALL VARLAR WILL BE YOUR LOT AND LOAD: CURIOSITY,
IMPATIENCE, DESPAIR, YOUR MILLSTONE.”
“YOU ARE MARKED AND SET APART FROM ALL OTHERS.”
‘Hold your hand, leave well lying.
Sheathe your folly, spell untying.’
‘Impetuous frolic, best left alone.
Flee this place; this hard Stone-Bone.’
‘Go. Let go such perseverance.
Locks let be; needless such severance.’
And then, in a singing; a song from far beyond, came the voice of
another, ‘Corin, art thou my Corin, within the darkness? Art thou truly
hither to release and be with me? Open, if can be. Open, that I may
come to thee.’
In Corin's heart there welled more words, ‘The mother sings sweetest to
her babe, the blackbird to her nestling; for so are the bindings
Thus he thought and thus, with the weight of terrible burden and the
risen pleadings of pressing Mists, he took to his feet, swaying;
confused with power, almost beyond ability to contain. Fighting, all
the while, the gift and burden that only he could bear.
‘I have been made for this; groomed and trained and taught, for this.
Each past learning and test, for this. Which way will I fall, I wonder?
Is it strength to go on, or strength to go back?’
But already, he knew. The pull of it was unendurable. The curiosity too
great. Too strong, the impatience within him. Too long, the despairing.
Yet what he wanted above everything was mercy, mercy for all; those
above, dwelling on Varlar's skin, those below biding the Limbus, and
they who awaited beyond the fastness of Adamantine's Doors in the dark.
Now, with a purpose, again Corin went forward until he stood before the
base. He looked to left and right, and up to where his eyes could reach
no further. All was smooth, cold and resistant. The Doors of Adamant
were fashioned of something so hard, that Orichalc seemed, by
comparison, mud to steel. He dared a touch and the feel was
electrifying. It burnt his fingers, so that he fell back.
The wind of mourn sighed about him.
He probed the portals with Næglind and instantly, showers of sparks
flew from the point; sparking and crackling. Together, placed Corin,
hand and sword against the hardness and felt there searing pain that
threw him down. But resolve, such as he felt then, could not be
quenched. For now he believed in his mission; finally and utterly.
Lying prone upon his back he held up the sword and from his lips,
unbidden, unCorin, sprang words:
‘THE POWER TO UNWRAP, UNMESH, UNDO. THE POWER TO UNBIND, TO SHED, TO
LOOSE, TO BREAK AND UNSHACKLE. THE POWER TO SEVER THE HAWSERS AND
CHAINS, AND LOCKS AND BANS OF VALANDIR, LAST OF THE DROTNAR OF VARLAR,
I NOW CLAIM AS MY RIGHT. SHIVER DOWN THESE BARRIERS. BREAK THESE FAST
MOORINGS. SHATTER THESE SPELLINGS. BURST ASUNDER THE POWER BY WHICH YOU
ARE HELD. I, I COMMAND YOU, AND NONE OTHER HERE, THERE, OR EVERMORE,
MAY DO SO BUT I. BREAK, AND BREAK, AND LET LIGHT ENTER!’
The sword, held within his grasp, began to melt like wax.
A sound, never to be heard again, screamed.
Snake-like things fell writhing, hitherto unseen and lay, hissing their
socketless eyes out; curling and convulsing. Coils dropped, like slimy
chains. Links wriggled and pulsed, dying. The whole, mighty wrath; the
casting spells of Valandir, sagged and peeled and sloughed from the
There came a rumble, then all was stilled. The Doors bent inward.
Corin, his hand raised as if to protect himself, sought, and caught up
Næglind's remains. With some presentiment of what was to come, he
crawled a little way off, whilst a wind arose; a wind that drew and
sucked the things without, so that they were borne inside.
Corin was caught up in a great onrush; battered by unseen forces that
swept him aside, tore past, over and under and around him. He had, at
once, the cognition to know that the Dead acted not from malice. That
they had, in truth, no choice. Theirs was to seek the realm from which
they had, so long, been banned. Theirs, was to fill the fated scales;
to find the peace, or the torment, of those who had died from Varlar.
Theirs, was that final quest.
Groping, Corin drew away to the lee of Adamant's walls and there, with
the ruin of Næglind clutched to him, he awaited the whirlwind's
In time, it came. Vapours and Shades, Umbers and Mists, tumbled and
slid; vanishing into the deeps of Earth-Spine, to find their haven.
Corin lay alone, crushed against the hard, outer reaches of the Limbus.
Dark swallowed up the last wraith-lights as they passed. Far off, in
the murk, greyed the inkling of Chardon's Lakes.
All fell utterly silent. The wind was gone. Everything stilled, but for
Corin's breath, which rose and fell, shivering. The transfigured thing,
Næglind that he held tight, like a last treasure, beat; as a
heart-beat, slow and surging.
A gradual faint light, the blueness of it, kindled and began to grow.
To grow and blossom, to override the darkness of deathly shadow; to
overpower the gloom. Corin unclenched his eyes, stared about himself;
felt a newness borne of purge. He felt somewhat recovered; perhaps like
those so ill that hope is lost, and yet come again to health and
solace, to new meaning and vision. But he dared not rise. Instead, he
waited whilst the light from Næglind's remnant bloomed. The melted
thing fired, and fired him with welcome courage.
The Limbus drew back its veil. A warmth stole through the air. And
finally Corin thrust himself up upon his guiding-staff and staggered
forward to the cast-open Doors.
For long moments he breathed freely; the air seemed fresh enough,
though pocked by sulphureous wafts. Within, he glimpsed the arched road
of Earth-Spine; open now to any who might dare traverse that way.
Varlar, after many ages, was again restored; joined within and without.
Corin rested, weary. His efforts were complete. He thought he heard a
sound; at first it came as a faintest thing. It grew, ever increasing
swiftly. After a little, it was grown to a terrifying discord.
He fell back, as if smitten.
The sound arose to a frenzy. And out of the sound, there thundered a
horde so overwhelming, so violent and frightening, that he was thrust
aside, cowering; whilst the innermost malevolence of Earth-Heart burst
forth, driving mountainous, past him.
A madness engulfed him, and stampeded by: huge entities there went,
marching and riding; fire-engorged, lashing with many-thonged whips and
knotted cats that spat the air, cracking. Carts and chariots, times
again higher than men's heads, rolled and pounded out of the depths.
Herds of jostling goblins, mobbing together, crowded past; their spears
a forest of fire-glowing. Evil boiled out of Earth-Spine, broaching the
new-made opening through Adamantine, throwing down pylons and vast
slabs across the Pools of Chardon, and coursing up the roads of
Stone-Bone. A pandemoniacal clamour rent the vast caverns, so that
there was no refuge from that uproarious din. The Limbus erupted in
Away, beneath the towering walls of Adamant, Corin cringed, hiding
himself; hiding from the shame of his doings. The Choice was made. The
Decision was disastrous!
Now all Varlar-doom rode free, to straddle and enslave!
‘I have been beguiled,’ he thought in his misery. ‘Duped by glamourie.
Used, through my own weakness. Used by They, whose Powers were beyond
even Valandir's. Tricked and trapped to Their connivance. Now all is
undone. The Māādim are free again and none can stop them. I have
unleashed the World-Beasts; my doing, my fate. I am the instrument of
derided illusion, the drum upon which now beats Evil. I am the Bringer
of Disaster! It was I, all along, who strove to this defeat. I; the
downfall of Varlar. I, The One. The One Master of Ending.’
He began to weep, whilst the seemingly endless torrent rushed,
unabated, through the gaping Gates. He rued his birth, his life, his
worldly mission. He cursed his quest. Threw away the broken, melted
sword. Hammered against the unremitting walls, till failing, choking,
he dragged himself upright and fearing no more, stumbled out toward the
black stream that issued forth from the Pits of Nether.
‘I must die!’ he shouted. ‘There is no thing left that I may do, but
die to ease my shame. I must die, that I be eradicated, expunged,
before all others. I have failed! Valandir warned me. Entrusted me. To
my failure. The Millstone was my undoing. My foolish misjudgement will
end by slaying all. My own folly must now slay me!’ He stood before the
heedless herd, heard their horrible mutterings, felt the heat of their
terrible passing; panged for the pierce of death.
They rode and stamped by, around him, laughing; lauding and cursing him.
‘NO!’ said stentorian voices. ‘NO! WE WILL NOT SLAY YOU. NOT YOU, OUR
SAVIOUR. YOU MUST ABIDE TO SEE THE FRUIT OF YOUR LABOUR. YOU SHALL BE
SPARED, THAT YOU MAY WATCH WHILST WE GATHER ALL VARLAR TO US, AND
DISPOSE OF THEM AS WE DEEM. YOU MUST WATCH WHEN OUR MASTERS COME FORTH.
THE CHOTHS WILL RULE, AND YOU, IN YOUR DESPAIR, WILL LIVE TO SEE THEIR
Corin recoiled, hands shielding his face, heart stung and inwardly
bleeding. ‘I must kill myself then,’ he thought. ‘For They, in Their
utter cruelty, will not. I have been Their foil, and now They would
have me witness The End; keeping me alive till last!’ He cast about,
but no weapon of destruction could he lay hand to, only Næglind. And
Næglind was but a disfigured rod. Nowhere even was there a height from
which to hurl himself. Nowhere a sharp edge with which to gut himself.
‘Give me a spear, a spike to impale myself. Give me a death !’ He cried
this, now ashamed, crushed by his own remorse and cowardice.
‘NO,’ came the final reply, as the fire of a last, behemothic figure
burst from Earth-Spine. ‘NO! YOU MAY HAVE NO RELIEF THROUGH SLAYING.
YOU ARE TOO PRIZED BY US. WE, THE MĀĀDIM, LOVE YOU AND HATE YOU TOO
MUCH. AND WE WILL KEEP YOU, THAT YOU REAP ALL TO COME. NO! LIFE'S EASE
IS NOT YOUR LOT. YOU WILL DWELL WITH US FOREVER IN THE NEW WORLD; THE
LORDOM OF THE CHOTHS!’
There was an uproarious cacophony, a wail and thunder and
disembowelment of any things named good; a gleeful devilry that swept
away with the triumphant procession.
Corin was left; haggard, wretched, alone. He wandered, blindly, the
road. His mind followed the path of the Māādim and Their armies.
Nothing could stop Them from reaching the surface, he knew; for he had
opened the floodgates. And now, it was beyond him even to kill himself;
to die away in shame. The Gates of Adamant yawned behind Corin and he
turned to them; wondering vaguely, that if he passed through, might he
find the means to do away with his tormented body.
He was hardly conscious, hardly knowing, whilst he stood thus;
preparing only to find a death, when a flutter of wings fell upon his
There, alighted Moth and Bili Jackdaw.
Chapter 65 [next]