Home   International Poetry Fiction Non-fiction
© Copyright 2003 Kenneth Mulholland  

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 finally spoke.

‘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 different; unworldly.

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 heart.

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 setting forth.

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 clip-clawed.

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, reveal itself.’

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 Barge-keeper.

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 was.

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 open.’

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 Orricchalcc.’

‘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, weird shapes.

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, ferocious torment.


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 savage conflict.

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 lost.

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 back.

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 between.

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 wonder.

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!’






‘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 betwixt.’

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 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 Doors.

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 abatement.

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 sound!

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.


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.


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 hunched shoulders.

There, alighted Moth and Bili Jackdaw.


Chapter 65 [next]

Australian Page email your comments to the author Exchange critiques on the Lit-Talk board