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Varlarsaga Volume 3 - Consolation

Chapter 65 - Nardred Rises

He´Remon the Wizard knew as swiftly, if not more so, than even the elves. Something, some world-important thing was happening, deep down inside Varlar.

All that day and the days preceding, the plain of Aileen had been abuzz with comings and goings and arrivals. From seaward, the fleets of Aneurin Seawanderer had hoved; bound out of the carnage at White-Bridge, bearing Queen Goldal and her Elloræ peoples thither. Landward, from the east, riding and marching, had come men from now lost Ravenmoor and peoples of Kurigaldur and the big and little folk of Rî-mer-Rī.

They had all come, or maybe were drawn, to that place of confrontation. Now, save for a remnant scattered in far places, the Free-folk of Varlar were condensed about the seas and flat lands, the hills and mountains, that bordered Aileen and Earth-Mouth. The assembly was enormous. Aileen Plain hardly contained such amassing; what with animals, food-store and tentings. Here were mustered nothing more than the greatest gathering of elves, men, dwarves, brownies, pixies and pents, that had ever been.

Upon that morn of day, after long and thoughtful debate entailing many opinions and resolvings, Silval concluded, ‘Though our kindred and friends flock to us, flooding this uneasy land, do I still feel wary. A thing has worried me for long, a little thing, but still a bother. During our long battle for this place, the winning of Earth-Mouth, not once have we heard the goblin-drums, not once spoke those forebodings; as if held in reserve. And why would drums be so withheld? Unless an army abided with them. I tell you all, beware The wide lands! I deem they yet harbour a silent, unseen enemy that awaits events we cannot know or foresee.’

Morgan and He´Remon agreed. ‘Aye, there is truth in Silval's words,’ said the former. ‘But tell me, any who have thought, what more can be done in such regard that has not already been? Over the passing time have we not readied and chastened ourselves. Do not Aneurin and his fleets await, in case of our need for flight? Are not our peoples and allies busied raising new craft to bear all away into the wide oceans? Have the Zwerge stinted refuge in their cavernous halls? Have we not healed, secured and kept watch? Is not our strength as best as it ever might be. Are we not prepared?’

Silval drew his arm about Elvra's pale shoulder and said, ‘I did not mean to berate any here for lack of forethought. Everything that can be done, I deem, has been. Yet readiness, preparation, deliberation in council, the ability to war and the forbearance to flee, may not be enough. What lives and dwells on Varlar's skin? What sucks the blood, or creates it, beneath? What awaits us here, and there? What if... if it is more than we can withstand?’

He´Remon answered, ‘What then, Master Birdwing, would you have us do? Should all here disperse and drift back into their old lands to wait? Wait, maybe to be taken, people by people, one by one.’

‘Nay.’ Silval shook his head. ‘That is not the answer. If it were, I myself might have convinced Elvra, my love, and fled long ago.’

‘Would you Brother?’ Goldal asked, knowing the answer.

The Birdwing smiled, a fresh clean smile, for his sister. ‘That would have been the easy way for Elvra and I, since we revere now the forest haunts of the world, not only those of ended Elfame. As I think shall you, dear Sister, if ever you lay eye to them.’

Goldal caught his smile. ‘The easy way. Yes. Wizard He´Remon suggested that, though he meant it not. For I deem there is no such way, as I am sure he does. You have not flown Brother, and instead speak of caution. But have you no solution?’

Silval shook his head uselessly. ‘Nay Sister. I have no solution. I can but rely on Corin Avarhli's judgement. He alone is the wielder and bearer of our fortunes. I can only warn of things I feel and see, and do not see. If, by my warnings, we be that much more guarded, then I have done all within me to do. A warning, albeit of false alarm, is better than no warning of disaster. Our chosen path is set. Yet the portents for Varlar are not to my liking.’ On that final note, Silval lifted his dearest Elvra, and bore her away from the assemblage, out into the windswept day.

Morgan, after a long silence, asked, ‘Master Wizard, what might your thoughts be?’

He´Remon's eyes glowed, hooded beneath his brows. ‘The Birdwing, I believe is right to be wary. All is poised. Perhaps we have not the strength to fight the things that dwell, hidden on Varlar's surface. Perhaps we have. Much depends on that which haps below. If Corin, the One Master, fails to open the way, so may it be for the best. If he succeeds, then shall the scales be tipped. There is no solution but that. Soon enough, will it be made plain.’


At the end of the day, the far-off birds of the Booca began to fly in: sparrows, those left alive, many dragon-scorched; some doves, a few starlings and the odd rook. News was abroad. Out of the western wastes, and down from the north, black-surging forces were massing. The goblin hordes, new-plenished, were on the march. This time, raising a force that had not been seen in Varlar before. A force that over-mastered all the kindreds that peopled Aileen Plain, even in their massed many.

‘We will not be trapped again, as those at Rioncion were,’ said MorganFane. ‘This time Aneurin Foamhair will float us away if things go badly. But I am confident in our abilities. Aileen shall not fall because of the goblin numbers.’

‘Never will it fall, whilst we stand fast,’ said He´Remon; though it seemed that the wizard sat aloof, deep in thought. ‘Nevertheless, I tell you this, I feel events moving beneath our feet. Moving to what end, I cannot tell, yet it is my guess that Master Corin has opened the spillway. I do not see, or pretend to. I merely portend. Be prepared all the same, for I have strong presage that this is so.’



‘You have done it now,’ said a bird-voice in Corin's ear, so close that the yellow beak actually clipped his skin. ‘What have you to say for yourself?’

Corin, in a kind of morbid drunkenness, brushed absently at the voice as he set forth, stumbling, staggering, bearing himself up upon Næglind, into the Earth-Spine. ‘Go away. Leave me alone. I have done it now, all that was ever wanted of me; caused The Downfall, set Them free. The destruction is begun. Is that not enough? Have I not been used unto that end? Why do you gloat? Why come you to lurk at my shoulder? Let me be. Maybe I can find yet, my own end. At least, might I succeed in that.’

‘And what of the Fane, Loriandir? What of She, who awaits Her release?’ Said Moth softly, at his other ear.

Corin halted, swaying, leaning against Næglind's disfigurement. ‘Yes.’ he said, lifting a trembling hand to his face. ‘Yes. Loriandir, my Mother. Is she here, within? Or was that too, a malicious lie; a part of the plot to lure me hence? Surely it was. Surely The Voices were nought more than a sham. Surely, if she ever existed, is she long ago dead.’ He tried, vainly, to shake free the images within his head, and the creatures who held fast to his shoulders. But Moth and Daw would not leave. And Corin, too distraught, and muddled, and preoccupied with disgrace and death, could not brush them away. Instead, he stumbled forward; falling, crawling, trailing Næglind with him, until... It was like a haunting dirge, a sound that rose before him where he, bloody-kneed, groped.

They came toward him, a sombre, cloaked group, and clustered about him as if he belonged to them. Their eyes were like shining stars at midnight. Their beings, like haunting, shrouded bats; their voiced intonations, like unspoken probings. And then, they spoke. ‘We are the remnant of the Daræ. You have come, broken the chains that bound us. You have suffered, to that end, great hurt. We will relinquish you from that agony.’

‘Oh yes,’ Corin whispered, ‘do so. Let me be dead, that my being fly down and inward, where now it shamefacedly seeks; there to purge or rot with those who have flown to Earth-Heart. Give me that, I beseech you. For I can go no further.’

‘Corin. Corin. Art thou my Corin? Hast thou come, at last, for me?’ This Voice sang through the dark. Then a light, faint and slow-bloomed, arose in the distance beyond. A figure: absorbing, diaphanous, captivating, passed through the furthest, gloom-ridden ranks, until it stood before him. It was a Lady, hair streaming and lit by lights unseen, garments of silken cloud, cascading about her pale arms. It was Loriandir. She, so long ago ensnared, within the Nether World. She, whom Corin had longed for, as mother. This Lady, now stood before him, her feet, unencumbered by slippers, but paces away. Her soft-stern, dark-riveting eyes fell upon him.

He raised his own life-broken eyes, and their gaze met. It fused and burned and coalesced, and he was smitten at once by her enchanting glamour.

Together, Moth and Daw flew to her hands. She, Fane Loriandir, regarded him for a long time; her slender form, it seemed, pulsing life's moments away. At last, she said, ‘You are not my child. You are not my Corin. Though you have broken the binding spells, you are not my one; not the child of Themion and Loriandir. You are as a stranger to me, passed through the veil of beyond, whom I now see clearly for the first time.’ Her words were the cruellest barbs to him, each one a separate blow to his reeling mind.

‘But I am Corin,’ he croaked. ‘That is my name. The name I took for my own.’

‘And whence came it to you, to take such name, can you recollect?’

He shook his head, all in turmoil, witless. ‘No, yes. Why, I have thought of myself as Corin ever since The Voices called to me. It was They, who named me so. Put it into my head. They and You, oh Lady, whom I thought spoke to me.’ He lowered his eyes, defeated. ‘Now I see that I was deluded all along by the Powers of Evil.’

‘In part, yes. Though not totally,’ said another voice; a voice that Corin knew.

He looked up, startled, and there beside Loriandir stood two others: the first was Clothyl, the fair-haired, wild-eyed child-witch. The second was that bird-like sorceress Hagris, hunched and hooded. Of Moth and Daw, there now was no sign.

‘You are they, and they are you,’ said Corin, like one in a dream.

‘We are all, united,’ Clothyl replied.

‘Then I do not understand anything. Why are we here, talking like this? What is happening in the world above? What part have I played in truth, and what more am I, a useless, nameless traitor of Varlar to do?’

‘You shall be told, and all will be made clear,’ said Clothyl. ‘That you have been deceived and used, is true, though not wholly by the Powers of Evil. There are other Powers in Varlar who have sought your unknowing aid, and your exploitation. And to those ends, have you not failed. Now, whilst the Māādim's eyes and thoughts be bent elsewhere and their dark hearts filled with victory, must we make ready for what is to come. Your quest is not over. Rise up and take Næglind, your staff, in hand. For soon, oh nameless one, you shall be called upon once more.’

Blindly he did as he was bid, struggling unaided to his feet, whilst Hagris said, ‘When all is lost, so shall it be gained. When everything is darkness, so then shall light be emergent. When all is despair, so shall hope arise; springing forth out of barren soil, blossoming, to triumph, when that very thought is vanished.’

‘I have heard those words before,’ he said, drawing fresh breath.

‘Yes,’ said Clothyl. ‘They are the words of The Voices, out of dreams and wakeful sleep. All that was said to you was not delusion. Much was truth. That is so, because we spake it. There is a patchwork of truths, half-truths and lies, woven many times over, woof and warp, upon the broad loom of your life; much of it by we, The Unravellers of Aplotha. Some further, by this dear Fane Lady, whom you believed to be your own mother. And more so by those who sought to manipulate your passions, desires, weaknesses and strengths, to their own benefit. That you succumbed to their dominance, and thus opened the way for their emergence into Varlar above, is accountable. At the last, your choice was inevitable, as those Evils needed believe. And so was it planned, by us. Now we must ready for the storm of Varlar, in the hope of what is to come. The wheels of world's works have been turned again, from whence they long had lain silent and seized by disuse. Ready yourself and throw off the yoke of shame at what you thought to be profound folly. You are not disgraced. The task you took upon yourself, no other could have borne. Yours has been a service far and above all expectation, for you were sent through dark paths and danger, unknowing, the long whiles of your true mission. Must it have been that way, you shall soon see. Though before this time, you travelled in ignorance and innocence, of paramount importance; the hour draws nigh when each and every one of Varlar, within and without, shall know their fate revealed. Yours, is mighty mete to play... ’


‘The drums are coming. Can you not hear them? I hear them, as if they, thunderous, broke at our feet this very instant.’ Thus spoke Silval Birdwing, listening and watching upon a wind-swept rise, cradling Elvra in his arms. Away to the south moaned the night-blue ocean, creamy with the ships of Aneurin's fleets. West, loomed the Ramabad mountains. North and east, hummed the lands with faint, ominous sounds.

‘I hear them,’ said Elvra, ‘though where they have gathered, breeding and fermenting and growing as a plague of earth-blight, I am at a loss to say. It would almost seem that they have been held back; hidden until this time. But to what purpose?’

‘Who can say?’ answered MorganFane joining them, in company with He´Remon. ‘Why now do they move against us, when surely before could they have met our forces, hard pressing us.’

‘Maybe they were not then so disposed,’ offered the wizard, uncertainly. ‘Still and all, I spoke my fears and feelings a time ago. Perhaps the Nugobluk come now, perceiving Earth-Mouth's opening, and that which might emerge. Maybe they believe such to be for their advantage, yet how can they know for sure?’


Through the evening the roll of drums grew and a shrilling of savage horns and clarion whistles, together with the harsh hoarseness of throated cries and curses, rent the lands about Aileen Plain where awaited the armies of the Free.

None there could sleep, or find rest that night, not even elves; unless they refreshed themselves where they stood, wakeful but silent-still on hummock or hillside, or amongst the ghastly, dead trees; those last guardians of Earth-Mouth.

At the greying of dawn Men of that congregation first sighted their enemy as they had never seen them before. Only the Elloræ, survivors of Rioncion, had witnessed a narrow insight of such array, and even they were awe-struck by the numberless crush that now emerged into the day. The Nugobluk had come, cloaked by darkness; no fires had they openly displayed, no hint of their preponderance gave they, save for the sounds of their arrival. Yet there they were, a thousand thousand strong, or so it seemed to the watchers. And if there were not that many, then perhaps by vent of clamour and vehemence and menace, appeared it so; for where the shoulders of Sagarmat stretched westward, so poured the companies of goblin, imp and troll. And where-away the fields and lakes lay in the north, were they overwhelmed with greater armies, curving east to the coastline, encircling the lands from sea to mountains; isolating the gathered of Aileen, so that their only escape routes were the dwarf mansions or the waters of Varlar's ocean.

On the basin lip of what had once been the Mälar, lake of the Zwerge, bode the foremost of dwarves, elves and men; helpless to do more than observe, as the day lengthened and the enemy bore nearer. Dragons were sighted, circling and puffing the high pinnacle of the northern Ramabad. Grim flocks of death-birds haunted the distant skies. Grey-black cloud loomed out of the southern oceans, threatening storm. The wind of Varlar began a plaintive sighing that swept the open plain, bearing with it the taint of sea-wrack.

Skragga, Captain of all Nugobluk of the North World, looked out, well pleased by his teeming multitudes. Had not the workings gone as fore-planned? Had not he sent his legions, allowing them to be destroyed, that the accursed elves and their allies could win through to Mouth-of-Earth? Had he not withdrawn at just the right time, so as to seem in rout from that battle, thus leaving the way clear for them to take their stinking mud-puddle?

Skragga gloated. Those were his orders; let the many mugs and gark die underfoot, the better the sham. Let the foe of the great Nugobluk gather in force at this one place, to be penned like herds for the slaughter, at the end. Now, the end pended. Now, the entire might of goblindom arose to crush and enslave, forever. Good things were in store, thought Skragga. Rewards from the highest; from King Gasric, from the Black Lords. Maybe even from the Māādim themselves. He shuddered within his sludge-pumping heart, to think of Them, the Lords of the Nether World. Then, he shook himself and dimly heard the dull, oiled rattle of his own greasy mail-rings and saw, through stringy eyes, a litter borne toward him that carried the royal figure, coming up from Yaghan-Gazzul, out of that dirtward fortress to witness the final extermination.

Gasric, King of Nugobluk, came lifted on a bier of grinning skulls, padded for his relief. From it, dried and tangled, entrails dangled into the mire. Hair-plaited skulls swayed to the rhythm of his carriage; he wore them upon his person, from neck and wrist, waist and bulging ankles. His balding knot was bound in sinew, his black, sticky mouth, clotted in blood. Bones were his jewels. Over-trodden, dying imps, his slaves. Stabbing, swearing Ugush, his bodyguard. He gnawed voraciously at the remains of some poor creature, and then flung it amongst those who would fight over the offal. Kicking out the rest, licking bone knife, finger-claws and slimy arms; he deigned arise from his couch to view the destruction of hated elves and other such pustules. With a squinting nod, the King of Nugobluk acknowledged Skragga, his Right-Claw, and squelching an imp or two, heaved his bloated girth to where he might witness the confinement, the butchery, and the final enslavement of his enemies.

Behind him, throve those of Yaghan-Gazzul, belching forth, erupting from the sore of that realm to view their impending victory. Now was bared the frightful totality of goblin power: the thousand times over ranks of Ymp-mugs, the servile Gark and their own upper classes: Ugush, the largest goblin species, in all their ferocity, the dreadful ruthless and cruel Attagark and the special-bred Boghaz, disembowlers and gut-rippers, culled from the worst, unleashed amongst trolls and quasiads in the forefront, to do the most damage. Then there were the dragon-squib, the spy and carrion-birds, wolves and bears and other skulking beasts; perverted to the cause. And lastly, the fire-drakes that zoomed overhead, threatening doom.

Against this preponderance, the armies of the Free-Folk were sore-pressed and though, in the beginning of battle, they held and even won ground, eventually they were forced to withdraw, little by little, beyond the northern high-lands, onto the baking mud of Aileen itself.

Through that day the bitter forces clashed and battered times over, whilst the Nugobluk rejoiced at their taking of the higher ways and gleed at the constriction of their enemies.

By dusk Gimbutas, the Iron-Bludgeoner, was doing much damage amongst Possum Wollert's folk, whilst Ghorn the troll waded through the pechts, killing many, until Broga drove him off with sheer, ogrish rage, saving Prince Clovell's life, in his blundering fury.

Meanwhile, as night fell, Skragga began hurling every legion of his force from the heights, intent upon crushing all resistance with total, overpowering weight. Attagark, led-by Fangi and Ettar, clashed against Bel-Thalion's deer-cars.

Ugush, under Oorlog and Dagass, mercilessly slaughtered the peoples of Dorthillion and Indlebloom, who held out against them only by the heroism of lord Menkeepir and his brother Mendor, in company with those fresh-come: Orsokon, Wanax of destroyed Kurigaldur, and young King Ordrick, last ruler of Ravenmoor. These then, many diverse of men, banded together as best they could against the insatiable hordes; to hold the way to Earth-Mouth as long as possible.

Lo! Eventually scores fell fighting. And the remainder were forced to retreat, lit by torchlight and the fires that followed them.

The battle-main now centred about Earth-Mouth, which the Elloræ still held; though dwarves and goblins, shadow-like, were fighting axe to claw on the mountains above, and pitched encounter, skirmish, and counter-attack flared, dotting the eastern horizon, where the Nugobluk sought to out-flank, and so sever the way of retreat to the sea.

Silval, hard pressed on the front where the goblins had forced a wedge, watched helplessly whilst his friends and allies came tumbling back out of the north; routed, many left killed and trampled. Behind them the hills and mud-flats and mounds were black with the enemy. Fire-balls exploded in the distance.

And yet those retreating, now came as relief of a kind; for whilst Bel-Thalion in the north and Darion in the north-east, together coupled to stem the onrush, men under Orsokon, Menkeepir and Ordrick, cut through the eastern phalanges attacking Silval's forces, and so kept the way open still to Croh-Yah.

If things had not gone badly southward, might they have held Earth-Mouth; but at that crucial time, word reached Silval of MorganFane's demise. He had fallen, fighting side by side with Possum Wollert, who bore his body from the fray, whilst gore-hungry Gimbutas, the Attagark, bayed at his heels. The eastern front now lay collapsing. Soon, retreat to the sea would be cut off.

MorganFane was dead.

An all-encompassing despair passed through the ranks of the Elloræ, moving even those of men to tears. Now fell it to Silval Birdwing to make a great decision. Blindly as he fought and grieved and killed and ordered, fought he also an inner battle.

But, at last, he thought to himself, ‘We must flee. There is no other way now, except noble death. To stay on shall engender that reward. Yet I have not seen my last tree, or cloud, or stream. Nor have I last touched my loved one. Still, it is my lot to give the word and halt, for a while, this carnage. Though I am loath to relinquish our grasp here, for we will be driven once more to the sea and Earth-Mouth will fall. And what then? What of Corin Avarhli's plight? If evil pours out of Croh-Yah, it shall link with evil; potent against us. And if good issues forth, it may well be crushed without our aid, and dispersed; leaving everything in the hands of the enemy. What more though can I do? Gamble, and die here, to buy a little more time? There are thousands who will die with me. I must think of them. If we do not withdraw soon, there shall be no choice at all.’

He made his choice. Hewing as he went, he summonsed those stoutest to bear his word far and wide, and swiftly the messengers went out spreading the news of retreat. Once more, the Elloræ and their allies, would bow to the strength of their enemy.

But as Silval thought, ‘Maybe better to bend as the birch, than to break as the ash. Croh-Yah must we certainly abandon; yet hope, not totally. The southern seas are still reachable, where Aneurin's ships await. Perhaps there, will come a reformation; some miracle to allow us again to broach these savage shores.’

With saddened hearts at Silval's command, those left on all fronts began to fall back, leaving Earth-Mouth agape, undefended. The Zwerge broke off their encounters and sought shelter within the deep mountains, shutting their doors in the faces of the foe. Aileen Plain seethed with the ravening invaders.

Meanwhile, the way to the sea still lay open as elves and men fought across the eastern arm of the goblins, and their rearguard held the northern pursuit at bay.

Hollow and mighty, rolled the Nugo drums. Strident, the bone horns and whistles. Thunderous, the tam-tam clash and shimmer. Death-rattling, the skull-beaters, the gongs and knockers. Screeching, the sinew-fiddles; whilst the teeming goblin hordes drew tighter their invisible cords of strangulation, and the free-folk struggled on toward the sonorous, benighted ocean. Already, very many had taken to the ships, but the vast bulk of Elloræ forces and the warriors of men were yet upon the land. And that is when the unexpected happened, with such calamitous effect that all the free-folk were staggered, horrified. Away in the distance, muffled by the din of drums, a sound like a sudden storm, reached their ears. It rose out of the darkened, moon-glossed sea. But it was not a storm.

The wind was brisk, coming in from the south, yet the sky lay unencumbered with cloud; a starry carpet. No. If storm it was, then it raised up from the very water itself. Those on the cliffs saw the first torrents swell to towering peaks, as if the ocean was alive with some awful force that tipped the flotillas of Valdë craft this way and that. Scores were overturned, or crushed against the rocks. Hundreds more were scattered like fallen leaves, strewn out into the vastness of the tossing ocean. Waves loomed, borne up from the sea-bed, bearing dead and dying creatures on their foamy beards.

Try as they might, the fleets of Aneurin were swept away; broken and dispersed to the four winds. The sea was no longer mere water, but soaring mountains of solid weight; walls of absolute terror. Stars glittered innocently, reflecting across that horrendous tumult, where rushing doom seemed to overbear the land; threatening to swamp and drown it. Those on the cliffs were drenched by this fearful deluge. Some, even as they were pulled to death in the boiling back-wash, thought they glimpsed, or sensed, a bulk of blackness, rearing before them. What it was, they never knew and perhaps it was better so.

Of those left clinging to the land, scrambling back from the brink, yawned it over; an engulfing, serpentine thing, larger than nightmares could describe. And it seemed filled with a malevolence and a hunger to devour all before it. From this leviathan, elves and men hid their eyes, hopeless, powerless against it, where it writhed across the night sky, roaring and moaning; vomiting torrents of brine and sea-weed that rained down upon them. Thought most, ‘This surely must be world's end!’

Then, swift, it suddenly began to recoil its gigantic neck back into the surging deeps; subdued it appeared, and then the blazing eyes in its mountainous head sank from sight and the waves thundered, and it was gone.

‘The Nardred! The Nardred! World-Serpent!’ cried many in the aftermath, and as flares of light sputtered, and torches flickered into life and the moon drifted toward the horizon, they saw the tall figure of the wizard He´Remon, standing on the cliff tops, arms extended, brandishing his great staff as if it were a weapon, toward the ocean, where all now receded. And they saw him lower his hands, and sink down, deeply tired by a mighty labour. But then, needed they turn away; for though that disaster and danger was seemingly passed, another, more pressing, threatened immediately. The Nugobluk had captured Earth-Mouth, and the forces of the free-folk were now contained; the threatening, naked ocean at their backs, the goblins at their faces.

‘Ill-fated MorganFane was wrong when he said that we should not be so ensnared as at Rioncion,’ lamented Goldal, where she stood, regal and pale, watching the gathering of doom.

‘Yes, he was,’ Silval sighed, holding Elvra's hand in his. ‘Yet how could he have foreseen this latest blow?   Now the fleets of Aneurin Seamaster are all washed away into the far ocean. Even the craft drawn up and readied here are gone, dashed to pieces. There is no way out.’

‘No way out,’ echoed King Ordrick, ‘though except for the Wizard, might everything have been over even now. Whatever that thing, that nightmare from the deeps was, he alone stood against it.’

‘Aye,’ said Menkeepir, water streaming from his armour, ‘and it is plain now that He´Remon is much exhausted by his mighty feat. We cannot count on him in this new time of need.’

‘No,’ replied Silval gravely. ‘There is little more that we can do. None shall come to our aid, for they are already here. The remnant left of Free-folk outside, are pitiful few. When we are done, they will fall beneath the hammers of Evil. But we are not done yet.’ He drew himself up, straight and proud, before them. ‘See there. Our enemies have ceased their attacks; to gloat and gather anew, or to rest and await day, maybe. Or perhaps it is that they await more than day. See how they cluster and throng to Earth-Mouth. How they seethe with anticipation. They expect a Coming, and soon. Shall we not give them a coming? One that will remain unforgotten, long after we have perished.’

‘What then do you propose to do?’ asked Belda, shivering beside Goldal who, it seemed, had taken this woman of Ravenmoor to her heart.

‘What is left us now, but to fight, to war against the enemy. To drive on, until we are vanquished. We cannot hope to win. They have us, so let them pay a dear price for our downfall.’

Ordrick nodded his agreement. ‘It is as well,’ he said. ‘There is no escape. For myself, will I pledge to the destruction of the foe, albeit a bitter finish for us.’

Grimly, Silval said, 'Sobeit. We have something left to save, and nothing now to lose.'

‘But wait,’ called Farinmail the dwarf, panting up in his bloodstained burnie. ‘Have I heard you aright? This is a madness! We have our lives, each and every one, to lose; yet you elf, speak of saving. What saving?’

Silval looked at the dwarf, long and hard. ‘I would have thought that you, Zwerge warrior, counted unbowed pride and hatred of the Nugobluk worthy of keeping unto death. If we may only survive in slavery and torture at their pleasure, is not death preferable? And if death, then why not at the business of destroying at least some of those who shall be the bloody masters after us. As to the saving; well,’ he shrugged, ‘we have the dragon Sgnarli. I am told he may be able to fly again. Mayhap he can bear some away to safety where they might seek a hidden place, far from the eyes of the enemy.’

‘And you would choose them?’ asked Menkeepir.

Silval was silent, but the lord Menkeepir went on, ‘Choose as may be. I know my mission. I and my people will stay here. For it is prophesied that I must lead them, and keep their faith. We will go into battle. Yet not with subjugation or death as our goal. We shall strive to win through and break this death's-web. If we cannot retreat we will cut a path of blood and thence flee this foe, to lick our sore wounds and thrive again. Since we are men who live and die and are born over to multiply, I will not see us wither forever.’

‘Brave and courageous are your words!’ cried Farinmail. ‘And I, for Zwerge-kind, will fight at your side as I care not much for dying, not whilst my sparth-arm can bear the axe.’

‘That is well,’ Silval said. ‘Fight for life, or revenge, or hatred of goblins; let them long after bemoan our wrath. But first now must we choose the dragon's load. Only a scant few may he carry; no time, I deem, will he have to return. Who, will we send away?’

‘I believe that we must choose them paired, male and female; representatives of the free-folk, that they may bear fruit in union, as a continuance of hope,’ said Goldal softly.

‘For Elves, Men and Dwarves, do you mean, O gracious Lady?’ asked Farinmail.

‘Yes. And for Pechts, Pents and Booca. All are races separate, though unified in our mutual peril.’

‘We of the Zwerge thank you for such honour,’ replied the dwarf. ‘But no dworro, that is Zwerge maidens, have I with me. They are all locked deep within Zwerge Drysfa. So again I thank you wholeheartedly, one and all, though we out here cannot avail ourselves of this fair offer.’ Farinmail spoke truly, yet it was strange indeed to hear these words from the like of this gruff and surly dwarf, and those who listened were touched by his humility; yet briefly, for time winged. Already the stars were dimming in Varlar's skies, and the pallor of a morning laden with sorrow, forebode its coming.

And so, hastily, the choices were made: Timbrial and Ivris, both being lovers, for the Pechts; Piri, the daughter of Rosac and Rosida, and Miriflîra for the brownies; Amqa and Falnir, who both protested, but were convinced by Silval, for elves; Niam and Linel of the Pentanu; and for men, Bayondir of Indlebloom and Qwilla of Rî-mer-Rī, for it was seen that she had still a part to play with those gentle folk left behind in their far-off homeland. Lastly was chosen Pitrag, whom Falnir deemed must go, to guide Sgnarli dragon wherever they need travel.

There were others of course, hundreds of fine lords and ladies left there. Many wiser, more noble, better apt and fitted. But the leaders, the kings and the great, the valiant and the meek, would not take their leave of Aileen Plain. That, they could not bring themselves to do. Out of lofty pride perhaps, or misplaced heroism, maybe. Or was it loyalty to their respective peoples?

It was afterwards judged that their final choices had been right. Those to go were young and life was upon them and they were frail and dour and hardy, gentle and strong enough to survive in the harsh world, as symbols of the lost races. At the last, Goldal spake with them, and she said, ‘Ye hands-full, who ride away bearing our final hope, go with the blessing of this multitude. Flee to a corner of Varlar where you may seek shelter from the Enemy. Hide if need be, as likely it will. Nurture yourselves. Bring forth the children of your races, and guard their growing. Keep to the secret places, that we may not be lost in vain.’

And to them Silval said, ‘This do I tell you, fly north first to Dorthillion, where folk of Lorda Minca still dwell in Erilar and let them know our fate. Beg them follow your path, and thence bear to the east. For no good thing shall they find hereafter. Guide them across the wastes of those lands and come, under the Lady Qwilla's eye, to her realm of Rî-mer-Rī. There still, are some few who await succour. Take to the southern oceans, or veil yourselves in the highest alps, where evil may not find you. Cover yourselves in darkness until a time comes when Free-folk may walk the light of day. Carry with you the last gift, life. See that you treasure and revere it. In your keeping, your destiny, is it now bound. Go swiftly and safely. And guard with your own lives this poor Ymp and this lowly dragon, for they are now the way and the hope of us all; we, soon to perish from Varlar.’


As morning broke, rising in the sun-ball of the west, the dragon fluttered away out over the southern sea. Unsteadily, he flapped his course skyward across the ocean, carrying the last to leave Aileen heavy borne upon his scaled back, for his load was such that some doubted he might manage all. Yet the dragon proved equal to his task. When he turned northward, those upon the Plain shed their final tears.

Their last sunrise washed over them. And still, they gird themselves to war's finish. Still, some clutched the straw of hope, long vanished. They looked out at the enemy, expectant, and were dismayed. Then, and only then, the free-folk resolved to do battle until they fell into the Wells of World's end.

‘Are we going to die, Mother?’ asked young Branta, the son of Bran the woodsman and his wife Anser. ‘We are going to sleep. Sleep from which we shall not awake,’ replied his mother, brushing away her tears and feeling for the knife that she knew she must employ at the last.

‘Stay close to me, my dearest Elvra. At the last, I will make sure that these scrilings do not take us alive.’ So said Silval Birdwing, sword in hand, holding her before him, where he sat Cornarian; white steed of Elfame.

‘Strange, is it not, that we should rather die than bear capture?’ murmured Elvra softly, amongst the dreams of wounds. ‘Much as they will slay themselves, than fall upon our mercy. In this thing only, do we have a common end.’

‘I will watch your back, Brother; Broga, Minca and I. Drive straight on, in company with Orsokon's people, and do not turn aside, no matter what. It is your task to win through, with those strong enough to follow you.’

‘I know it Mendor, my dear Brother Lord,’ said Menkeepir. ‘In my heart I know. But also, in my heart, I am afraid. Afraid that in this hour, I may fail our people; our people in my care.’ He shook his shaggy head, now so much greyer and toil-worn.

‘You must try, as must we all,’ Minca said brightly, as if there was no chance of dying. ‘Hey, we will do it! I love you both too much to say farewell on this drear plain!’

Dalen Lêfa sat, holding Bim tight in his tiny arms. A tear ran down the pixie's round face and splashed upon the cat's nose. Silently, Bim licked it away.

Together, awaiting the word to attack, the peoples of Darion and Goldal, and Bel-Thalion bided; some mounted, some afoot, others in deer-carts. And amongst them were those three High-elves. As was Nivri-Allon and with her, Talisar the Daræ.

‘A bright day, to be our last,’ the Dark-elf maiden whispered, done with her tears. Then, lifting up her hands she cried, ‘Oh what a terrible folly and fate, have my kind drawn us to. I curse them for their impiety, their pride and vanity! For they have brought this day upon the earth, and long ago wrought they their own downfall, our downfall; and the downfall of Varlar, the world!’

‘Farewell Gorm, my good old friend and true,’ wept farmer Bossel, clinging to his crony.

Ordrick and Belda, Izod the Fair and Beald, Cadogan, Jofrid and his wife, were drawn up amongst their many kith and kin; Spiggot and his daughter, Badger and Jeriah Rudd, Fin and Bran, and all those others left alive of Ravenmoor. None spoke. Their hearts were too filled with dread.

Wollert Possum's folk were massed about him; spear bearing, wild-eyed, prepared for overwhelming death.

The gentle brownies and Clovell's Pechts had gathered in company with their leaders. With them, standing stern, was the remnant of Farinmail's dwarf contingent; axes glinting in the sun that shone out of the west. Near the last, the Booca released the bird-kin they had so faithfully tended; thousands of them, of thousand-fold kind, all flocked together, wheeling and turning over and away from Aileen Plain, to seek some distant night roost that those left behind would not live to witness.

Along the lines, impassive, the free-folk poised, awaiting the signal to ride forth on their doomed errand. Silval, and those lords and kings and great ladies, uplifted their arms...

And then, even then, was it too late!

A mighty tumult erupted from the hordes milling about Earth-Mouth. Shrinking from that gulf, the Nugobluk fell back in awe, in fear, in some kind of goblin reverence. The hole of Earth-Mouth; the great, vaulted yawn of it, became visible to those of Men and Elloræ who watched, transfixed, whilst the Dæmons of the Underworld burst forth, through to the surface!

The Māādim were free!

They launched their livid legions out under Varlar's sky. They attacked the day, as if it were an enemy in itself. They came in fire, wielding swords and lances of burning flame that scourged and seared and blackened the earth, setting the dead trees to fiery torches.

Hungrily, these denizens of Earth-Heart exploded onto the surface, gazing about the world above, which they had not gained for ages past. Yet now, at long last, were they free, to ravage and conquer.

Now had come the time for Varlar's ultimate overthrow!


Chapter 66 [next]

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