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2011 06 07

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[THIOT: Runesong of the ErilaR Masters]
BOOK TWO Here Be Dragons: Translator's Confession

Here Be Dragons

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"What makes the people want to destroy others?
The people, yes the people, but think,
that you also include yourself in that.
And that decay of others also lives in us.
And I see no other solution,
I really see no other solution than to turn into my
own center and there destroy all that decay.
I no longer believe that we can improve anything in the
exterior world, that we must not first improve within ourselves.
And that seems to me the only lesson of this war that we have learned.
That we must search only in ourselves, and nowhere else."
Etty Hillesum
Het Verstoorde Leven

Tales Of The Horse Eel

1

              Here ends the Manuscript.
              It (together with other texts which are now being translated) was composed in ancient script on hide parchment that was recovered less than a decade ago. The original writ is no longer understood except by means of translations and commentaries in more modern tongues. Thiot: Chronicles Of The People is the only extant text of the Holocaust. It is a traditional retelling of the tale of the tribe's survival, although Vargarm's editorial pen is evident particularly in the final chapters which, so he tells us, were completed during the Regency of Mjoda ~ a realm of which we know neither place nor date.
              The Piscean Age that preceded ours is known by scholars as the Christean era. For millennia the calendar began with the birth of the 'Christus' savior, and the years were numbered and dedicated to him: Anno Domini, the 'year-of-our-lord'. Known as the AD dating system, it was in use as late as AA700 in some parts of the known world. Because of inherent errors in the system, much history before the year 500 can be only provisionally fixed as to date. The cataclysmic events in the tale are known to have culminated with the dawning of our Age.
              It is strange to say we have not yet determined how we learned to tame the dragon. However the dispute, the tribal myth is evident in our customs and manners. May the Serfdom of Thrallii and its learned Council of Nineteen profit by this account.
Respectfully submitted:
b.e. DeeWARRAN-MUST
boreal ethnographer
Towering Halls, AA1823

2
              When Dee submitted the translation of the Chronicles Of The People to Council with the above Translator's Note appended, he concealed a secret, heretical question that had begun to take shape in his mind, a question he had obliquely raised in an incautious sentence of the last paragraph. His was a time of familiar stories about a myth-shrouded history that told of a horrific war with the Berserker and how the dragon came to the people along with the secret knowledge to tame the terrifying and ravenous Needhog Horse Eel. On such tales ~ part fable, part history (and none could tell which), rested a tenuous edifice of theoretical ethnogeny. From the Northbond Epic:
              . . . This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land, terrifying all Northbonders most woefully: there were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine; and not long after, the harrowing inroads of the Berserker made lamentable havoc in the temple of the Sonne in Holy-land, by rapine and slaughter.
              Very long ago this was, so old people have told me, when the terrible monster came from its home in a hell not hell but earth, where it was spawned in the slime. It had a body like an ox, and legs like a frog, two short fore-legs and two long ones behind, and besides that it had a tail like a serpent, ten fathoms in length. When it moved it jumped like a frog, and with every spring it covered half a league of ground. When the Horse Eel stirred, its thoughts were as quick as its greed or its claws. Snatched man, clutched him, ripped him apart, cut his body to bits with powerful jaws, drank the blood from his veins, and bolted him down, hands and feet; death and Needhog's great teeth came together, snapping life shut.
              Its thoughts quick as its greed, it made cowards and traitors of men, shamefaced jackals, pierced their minds with a nameless, shapeless terror that drained their will of courage and filled them with agony.
              Berserker too proud to care what their hearts hid, brought only destruction and slaughter. In their mad rages they killed. Granted greater strength than anyone alive, but dark and blood-thirsty in spirit. Shared no treasure, showed no road to riches and fame.
              Earl clung to rotting wealth of this world, clawed to keep it, earned no honor, no glory, in giving golden rings. Thus he awoke the demon, the fiend, from its darkness and dreams and brought terror to the people: the beast had slept in a huge stone tower with a hidden path beneath. Earl stumbled on the entrance, went in, discovered the ancient treasure, the pagan jewels and gold the dragon had been guarding, and dazzled and greedy, stole a gem-studded cup, and fled. But now the dragon hid nothing, neither the theft nor itself; it swept through the darkness, and all of Northbond knew its anger. Vomiting fire and smoke, the dragon burned down earl's castle and churl's hut; it meant to leave nothing alive.
              The churl thought he had nothing now and would have less but for the fame of a dragon's treasure in the monster's hidden home. He found the huge stones, set in the ground, with the sea beating on the rocks close by. Stone arches felt the heat of the dragon's pestilential breath flooding down through the hidden entrance, too hot for any to stand, a streaming current of fire and smoke that blocked all passage. Then churl dug a deep pit and a shallow trench running out from the side of it, in the dragon's path; the pit to catch the poisonous, burning blood, and the trench for churl to sit in wait. When Needhog, crawling on his way down to water, came over the pit, churl cut him through with the heavy sword, strong and blessed with magic, the best of all weapons but so massive that no ordinary man could lift its carved and decorated length. Then the sword melted, blood-runneled, dripping down so that all that was left was the hilt of the jeweled sword; the rest of that rune-marked blade had dissolved in Needhog's steaming blood. The dragon screamed a cry of pain and malice, sought out its fearsome cave; that too was the end of the Berserker.
              But for the churl the triumph was the last he would ever earn. The noxious breath and toxic blood had begun its evil-stained action on him; he could feel something stirring, burning in his veins, a stinging venom, and he knew the beast had left it. To him came a thrall, and poison-touched churl spoke, knowing he'd unwound his string of days on earth, seen as much as would be granted him, all worldly pleasures gone, as life would go: 'This dragon's treasure is not gold and gems but words and oaths. Death will be softer, leaving life and this people, if I pass on this treasure before I die.' Then thrall sprinkled with water the hero, until the words deep in his breast broke through and were heard as he lay weak and dying, gasping for breath, and thrallish ear bent to churlish mouth to hear the secret of the Horse Eel.
              With this precious learning, the thrall haltered the monster and led it to a far isle and Red Cap's Hide. Came earl out of the woods, knowing the dragon was gone; afraid while it spit its fires, he fell then on the Berserker whose rage had waned and drove him from Northbond. . . .
              If the tale rings true, the truth belongs to us all; if it chimes hollow, the fault is mine only, who told the tale.

3
              "My dear old colleague, as a scholar of political history, I can tell you this:"
              Dee nodded in encouragement at his old friend to whom he had gone, as was his custom when confronted with a difficult conundrum.
              "The Northbond Epic is as reliable as any extant text. Approached as an archeological relic, it is fascinating. Taken as a linguistic document, it is a marvel, a mine of revelations and controversies. It gives us information about Old Northbond social life and about Old Northbond politics and about many things on which scholars would like to have much more information."
              "As history . . . ," interjected Dee.
              "As for history," the scholar continued placidly, "the year of which this section of the Epic deals has been traditionally accepted (religiously, really, one should say) as Year One of our Age and of the Serfdom's foundation. Some scholars believe that this should be placed later ~ but this is a heresy to be left unpublished, unspoken even." He had dropped his voice, and involuntarily looked over his shoulder.
              Dee was going to say something, but his friend held up a hand to silence him, and continued.
              "There is no historical doubt that the Berserker War was fought, that they were driven off by our ancestors, and that this completed a chain of events that led to the earliest stages of what would become the Serfdom of Thrallii. We have a picture of this early society, that could not yet be called a thralldom, when earls, churls, and thralls composed the strata of what your specialty calls ethnosity, what mine calls political classes: the human divisions that the Northbond Epic depicts of earls living in castles and clinging to inglorious wealth, churls in huts with nothing but to fight the menace, and thralls who appear only to serve those who would lose their mastery over them when finally the Serfdom was realized."
              "So you are saying, in essence, that the historical facts support the events as they are depicted in this early document," Dee mused.
              "The earls, disgraced, disappeared from history; the theft of the golden cup should perhaps be seen as allegory. The heroic churl ~ 'no ordinary man', as the Epic states ~ nevertheless remains unnamed, unless a secret tradition speaks of him among the churls who survive to this day in isolated tribes throughout the far-flung reaches of Thrallii. At last appeared the thrall to offer the churlish hero water and in return received the secret knowledge with which he haltered the dragon. The Horse Eel, likewise, is a historical fact, and has been so attested through the centuries; we have archeological evidence of where the huge stone tower of the dragon stood and where the thrall led the beast to Red Cap's Hide.
              "Where is Red Cap's Hide?" Dee asked.
              "On the western end of the Isle of Thrallii, an island so large and wild that geographers consider it a land in itself. It is told that when Needhog was tamed he was led back to this tower and put in the care of Red Cap ~ an extremely interesting personality in his own right; and as you know, he takes his own unique position in our religious pantheon."
              "I'd like to hear of the historical Red Cap," Dee said, then added with a little impatience, "but I would return to the subject of which you are reluctant to speak. It is a well known ethnographic axiom that our Serfdom and this Age together arose from the Holocaust: a new-born state in the reborn world of a dawning age. But the Chronicle I have just submitted in translation to Council is very clear: Vargarm states that from the time of the tribe's so-called fimbul winter to the coming of the dragon and the Berserker who came with him, four-hundred rounds of seasons passed; and what is known of the reign of godi Mjoda, in whose time Vargarm wrote?"
              The old scholar of political history became pensive. "The term godi," he said, "is a churlish one, and means priest or chief, or perhaps priestly-king. Your remarkable translation of the Thiot Chronicles, and the reference to Mjoda, caused me to recall an old churlish genealogy, and upon going back to it found this name in the long dreary lists of begats and succeededs that enumerate many generations. Godi Mjoda's place in these listings seems to agree very well with Vargarm's four-hundred rounds of seasons." But added the scholar (for the record, as it were): "Be warned that this is dangerous ground ~ soaked with the blood of political historians who would speculate on such questions. The very tenets of the temple are enshrined in the simultaneous emergence of new earth, new church, new state ~ infallibly revealed in nature by our all-embracing Sonne."
              Dee was about to reply when a knock on the door of the scholar's study interrupted, and upon being bid to enter three students laden with books, scrolls, and papers came in. Dee made the required salutations and, with an affectionate smile and a nod of the head to his old friend, left by the door the students entered without allowing it to fall shut.
*

Towering Halls

1

              The Old East Road led only to the vast forest wilderness. Few travelers trod it beyond where stood a soaring stonework fortress surrounded by massive, battlement-topped, ancient walls that had been three-hundred years in the making. Though its brick and stone had crumbled in places, from the outside the view conveyed the wall's great length, and the numerous towers and turrets, its six outer gates, spoke eloquently of its now faded illustrious past. The main gate had tall, slender, double-towered spires over a high-shouldered arch, and was an impressive showpiece in richly adorned ornate brick form. Inside, the fortress made an impression of bulky height, with every building an architectural marvel: a high saddle-roofed right-angled hall with arcades built in front of its two stories; a large rectangular building with a square bell-tower on a massive keep; a temple with the entrance to its inner court through a narrow soaring arch set between two round, squat towers with fluted spires. There were storehouses, hostels, bath-houses, carters, stables, half-timbered low town residences, narrow high triangular gabled houses with staggered eaves, and humble thatch and daub wooden servant quarters, all dwarfed by lofty towers. Squares and courtyards, streets and alleys, made it seem much like a town ~ which indeed it had once been, but its government had long removed to the City of Thud; a hospital occupied the old seven-spired municipal building. All this, ringed by the ancient walls, was Towering Halls.
              Its most famed and noted feature, however, was at the east, last to be seen when coming from the nearby city on the coast. Jutting from the walls was an ancient chapel stronghold with narrow windows high in its rough stone walls. The chapel was towerless ~ no cathedral it, for the sun reaches to the lowest. The entry into the chapel, between two square columns, up monumental steps, was barred by heavy, metal inlaid, double wooden doors. It was empty and cold inside, while outside of this severe silence, huddled against its walls, was a jumble of huts, hovels, and barns, occupied by people (though not encouraged to stay and able to eke only a meager living from the land) who lived there to be near the priestess of this chapel whom they thought a great oracle. There were many acolytes, nuns and monks of various ranks and orders, who served the chapel.
              But most people at Towering Halls were the students, graduands, teachers, schoolmasters, scholars, administrators and servants of the institution of learning that had its seat there. Landsuniversity was venerable as the walls: its first chancellor had received two silver scepters and the great seal as proof and symbol of its exalted status. The departments of ethnography and ethnogeny shared with the department of metaphysics a structure that had started as two simple buildings side by side, joined by transverse facades, extended twice in three centuries, and finally combined by means of a massive blind facade in brickwork concealing the original gables and roofs; tracery and rosettes subdivided and adorned the facade to form a unique architectural whole. Inside were lecture halls, conference rooms, offices, study quarters, libraries, and tenured staff apartments. In one of these, at the rear of the building, overlooking a narrow alley from a third floor study window, Dee had labored for many years. At Towering Halls, Dee had spent most of his life.

2

              The junior ethnogeny research fellow tapped timidly on the door marked: b.e. DeeWARRAN-MUST, Doctor of Boreal Ethnography (with laurels). Almost immediately, it was opened by Dee's maid-servant who led him through a short, darkened hall, and bade him wait. After a respectful knock, she entered the study, then returned nearly at once to usher the fellow inside, closing the door behind him.
              "Sit down, sit down," said Dee from across the room. He stood by a work-table from which he took a parchment leaf covered with symbols of writing, placed it on a folio on a shelf and covered the stack carefully with a cloth. Then he went behind his spacious desk and looked across to the young fellow who sat uneasily on the edge of a chair on the other side. Dee pulled a short flask from a small pedestal cupboard, cleared a spot in the clutter of books, papers, and notes, and set it on the desk. "Drink?" he asked.
              "No, sir. Thank you, sir."
              Dee produced a tiny glass, filled it with a pleasing glug-glug, sat down, and sipped.
              "Doctor MUST," said the junior uneasily, "I was assigned the query you directed to our department."
              "The inquiry." Dee looked blank.
                            "Pertaining to the regency of one godi Mjoda, sir."
              "Ah yes, of course." He sipped again and smacked his lips.
              "I'm afraid, sir, we haven't much."
              Dee did not speak. He had not expected much.
              "Ethnogenically considered," said the junior researcher, consulting a thick file he had brought, "there is very little documentation beyond some old genealogies in the library of the department of history that appear to place it in a period of churlish hegemony. But this does not assist us in determining the location of the regency in question. However, among historical geographers there is a tradition that at a very early date there existed somewhere in the lands north of the Bay of Slaves a loose federation of churls known as Thidoruk's Chiefhold. Combining the historical and geographical facts with our ethnogenical research, it seems certain at the least that there is a strong connection (either ascendent or descendent) between the regency of Mjoda and Thidoruk's Chiefhold. Even though the so-called chiefhold may in fact be largely legendary, and considering the huge geographical area we have tentatively identified, when taken with your own considerable knowledge in the field of ethnography, there may be sufficient clues for you to deduce a more precisely defined location." He looked hopefully at Dee.
              Dee nodded. He had not expected much, and that was exactly what he had received. He took the file from the fellow, leafed absent-mindedly through the documents in it. He leaned forward, nearly tipped the flask on his desk so he put it back in the cupboard and drained the glass. He shuffled with his hand on his desk until he found a small paper, checked both sides for writing, found none, and scribbled some words on it. He sealed the note with his signet and handed it to the young fellow. "Please give this note to your departmental supervisor. Thank you for your work. I'm sure you will get a good mark for it. I'll return your research file shortly. Thank you."
              The young man rose quickly and bowed stiffly. "Thank you, Doctor," he said sincerely, and made a relieved get-away.
              Dee sighed. The information did at least confirm his own assumptions. The north shore of the Bay of Slaves was a likely location for the origin of the ancient manuscript. Almost ten years ago to the day he had purchased it from a Northmost trader ~ and purchased it dearly too. The trader had brought it to Towering Halls where he meant to turn a profit on it. By chance (was there such a thing as chance?) the trader had ended by offering it to Dee in this very study. The man, exotically clothed and all brown, weathered and rough-looking from many years on the road, had told Dee he bought the parchments at the harbor town of Land End from a churl who had a fearful story:
              Some years previous, the churl had related, it was learned among the local tribes that certain ancient and sacred scriptures had been discovered in a low cave of the north shore coastal lands. This holy writ, so it was murmured, had powers to free the mind, and an urge to behold this text came over him. After a difficult traverse of several weeks across the countryside, he found entrance to the cave controlled by ruthless merchants exacting high prices for a view of the relic. Again and again he paid to try and read the ancient script until his small store of funds was exhausted. But now an obsession had taken hold of him, an obsession that caused him to be a triple murderer, steal the parchments, and flee by ship to harbor at Land End. But so great was his remorse that now he wanted only to rid himself of what had caused this ghastly burden on his conscience, and only a superstitious fear had stopped him from throwing them overboard into the sea.

3

              Dee was occupied with the routines of students and teaching, and the continuing work of translation ~ for the completion of the Thiot Chronicles had been only part of the total ErilaR Manuscript (as he had come to call it). Using documents such as the Northbond Epic, the Thiot Chronicles, and the even more ancient tales related in Runesong, another text of the ErilaR Manuscript, Dee tried to devise a rational chronology. He began an outline for a paper but, though it was the best he could do, it seemed replete with inconsistencies:
              In the remotest dawn of antiquity, from a state of anarchy descended a nation which took up residence in the legendary land of Europe where they came into conflict with kings. The kingdoms developed an empire, while the nation evolved the tribe Thiot. Then the Holocaust; and the cataclysm did not only alter geography, for when the state of North-bond arose it had three new ethnosities: churl (begat from Thiot?); earl (had they been imperialist?); and enslaved thrall (from where did they come?). But unshaken by the Holocaust remained Sonne: the shining sun of Northbond, as before the supreme principle Tiwa: the shining inner light. 'Then came in dimness dragon flying, adder gleaming, beneath from Nidafjollum,' or 'from its home in a hell not hell but earth'. But 'most miserable and wretched was his burden, his winged talons which rode upon him. From their dark primitive caverns they urged their foul steeds' ~ the Berserker who brought the horrific war. This dreadful conflict finally resulted in the Berserker being driven off into the oblivion of history, but not before he wiped out earl to the last man, and drove churl to within an inch of his life. Only thrall survived to establish a glorious Serfdom. The dragon was led away to the mastery of Red Cap where the great tower was to crumble with age.
              Dee was convinced that certainly the latter portion of the Thiot Chronicles' final chapter was Vargarm's contemporary account of the horse- eel. And what did it tell? Vargarm expected the dragon must sink, quoting an unnamed prophetess: Jaine? Le An? Another, more ancient, seeress? But the dragon was led away and, far from sinking, became ethnographically absorbed in the institutions of Thrallii ~ its church, state, social life. Where now he was the giver of knowledge, for Vargarm he had brought pain by his very presence. But Vargarm spoke of the dragon only 'as the horse-eel'; perhaps this was not the great Needhog he had written of but some other, commoner, dragon. Why was it that the historical and ecclesiastical traditions of the dragon stood in direct opposition? In the former he was the bringer of agony to the righteous, while in the latter bringing tranquillity to the pious; in one he was the consummate 'do-evil', the other associated him with the divine; history showed his power broken by knowledge, but he was revered in temples for providing knowledge of Sonne. While historians had him the dragon of wanton destruction, to ecclesiastics he bore the sun in his monstrous jaws; but both secular and historical tradition agreed this dragon, the Horse Eel, Needhog, was and is mastered by Red Cap. Red Cap: the enigma. Was he thrall, churl, or earl? Berserker? Who was Red Cap? Whence did he come; where did he go?

*

Mother

1

              No tinge of dawn touched the sky when, surrounded by numerous yellow-robed acolytes, the priestess crossed the wide, cobble-stoned inner courtyard to the ancient chapel stronghold; as the most exalted ecclesiastic in the land the sun could not be allowed to strike her sacred body. Inside the austere darkness of the chapel, the curate (an old man with a grey fringe of hair, a white and yellow robe over his short, thin, bowed figure) had opened the huge wooden doors to the devout who had come in throngs. They awaited the ceremonial rite of the Feast of Sonne seated on mats, rugs, and little stools on the rough, stone floor of the main chapel where the ceiling rose many times the height of a man. When the priestess followed by a procession of acolytes entered, they stood up and a low, expectant murmur arose from them. She was dressed all in white and wore a chain of office from which dangled a golden sunburst pendant. From her waist hung a long, golden sword with which, it was said, she was invincible as in quickness to parry she had no peer and she could strike twice where any man could once. At the far west end of the chapel a large sanctuary soared up into darkness; in its center was an altar made of a massive slab of polished stone where the priestess took a position encircled by her acolytes. Through windows set high in the rough stone walls of the chapel pale daylight began to filter, and columns on either side threw huge, solemn shadows across the rough stonework.
              Shortly, at a certain carefully calculated time, the curate rang a bell several times, signaling the priestess to start an invocation.
              "Hear me, oh breathing, flowing Sonne."
              The acolytes began to chant in unison: "Oh, sun, oh, dragon-sun, the beast that whirlest forth, oh begetter of life."
              "Thou that flowest. Thou that goest," all the people congregated in the great chapel chanted in return.
              Then the acolytes again: "Thou Needhog-sun that goest without will. Thou air, breath, spirit. Thou without bound or bond. Thou essence, air-swift streaming. Thou wanderer. Thou shining force of breath. Thou dragon-sun. Thou savior, save. Thou secret, solitary bird, inviolate wisdom, whose word is truth, creating the world by magic."
              And the congregation: "Thou that flowest. Thou that goest."
              The priestess turned to the altar. "Hear me," she cried, "and make all spirits subject unto me, so that every spirit of the firmament and of the ether, upon the earth and under the earth, on dry land and in the water, of whirling air and rushing fire, and every spell and scourge may be obedient unto me. I invoke the terrible and invisible which dwells in the void."
              The first rays of sunrise fell through a cunningly placed opening high in one of the chapel walls and sent a mote-swirling beam of light the length of the long chapel into the darkened sanctuary where it struck the great stone slab.
              "Thou Needhog," the acolytes sang. "Thou eye, thou lust. Cry aloud. Cry aloud. Whirl the wheel. Oh, Needhog."
              Then the curate shouted with feeble voice: "Silence. Give me thy secret."
              Acolytes brought a golden, high-footed grail, placed it on the altar, and arranged in its wide-mouthed bowl small sticks and straws in a heap. The priestess was provided with a long-handled lens with which she intercepted the beam of sun to focus its heat into the grail. When, after some little time, a tiny flame lept from the bowl and pungent smoke rose in small tendrils, she stepped away.
              The old curate advanced then to the altar, three times kissed a great, clasped book he placed on the slab, and intoned: "I proclaim the law of light." He put his palms together in front of his breast, then slowly separated them as if parting a veil.
              Making the same gesture, all the people responded: "Light is the law."
              The curate took the book, acolytes removed the grail, and the priestess stepped forward, drew the sword, disrobed, and stood naked before the altar ~ empty but for the bright sunlight on its polished surface.
              Though she was very old, the priestess was smooth and handsome with a very pale complexion, and she was exceedingly thin. She raised the sword. "By the power of the sharp edge, I say unto thee, arise that thou mayst administer the virtues."
              The curate draped a gold and scarlet robe over her nakedness, and said, "be the flame of the sun thine ambiance, oh, priestess of Sonne. Be the dragon."
              And the congregation chanted: "So mote it be."
              Continued the curate: "Oh, visible and sensible of whom the earth is but a frozen spark turning about thee, source of light, source of life, let thy perpetual radiance hearten us to continual labor and enjoyment."
              "So mote it be," chanted the people.
              "Lady of darkness, be thou favorable to hunters and lovers, and to all who toil upon the earth, and to all mariners at sea."
              "So mote it be."
              "Be the hour auspicious, the gate of life open, the veil fallen."
              "So mote it be."
              The priestess raised with two arms the sword and turned to face the congregation. She stepped into the light so that the sunbeam struck her flat, naked breasts and abdomen between the hems of the open scarlet robe, and the sunburst pendant sparkled a golden reflection above her black pubic hair.
              With great force she said: "There is no part of me that is not Sonne." Then she turned away and with the sword held high led her acolytes in procession out of the sanctuary into the dark forbidden recesses of the chapel.
              The curate remained to stand beside the altar, holding the book of the law, and watched as the congregation filed past one by one to let the sunbeam fall across their bodies, and thus be blessed by its passion.

2
              Dee transversed the cobblestones of the courtyard, and entered the chapel by the door used by acolytes. He hurried down the dark, gloomy corridor past the curate's quarters while his leathered feet barely raised a hollow, shuffling echo from the rough stone floor. Pushing aside a heavy fold of massive, brocaded and tasseled curtain, he went into the sanctuary.
              The priestess could not have heard him but she turned around at once.
              "Dee," she said.
              Her piercing green eyes rested coldly on him. She had thin black hair around a long, narrow face, and, with her figure barely concealed in the white robe she wore, she gave an overwhelming impression of thin delicacy, frailty even ~ but that, Dee knew, would be a very mistaken assumption.
              How like her I am, he thought, and said: "Mother."
              She said nothing more.
              He looked around, saw they were alone. The main doors locked out the world beyond the walls of the chapel and captured an oppressive silence. He walked to where she stood waiting, took a deep breath. "My students' semester is almost complete," he said. "I have been engrossed in research. Mother, I would travel to the Isle of Thrallii."
              "At your age?" she answered with a slight smile. "And for what purpose? Is it to do with your work?"
              "I wish to stand where the dragon's stone tower once stood, and reflect on something solid instead of my troubling speculations. I would follow up my research with fieldwork that could very well be valuable in the field of knowledge about the origin of the horse-eel. You see, there is considerable confusion in my mind at present about the Holocaust, about the dragon, about Red Cap, and about how these came to be in Sonne's domain."
              "Of Red Cap all is taught here among my acolytes," she said. "That he masters Needhog ~ the cosmic dragon who bears the sun in his jaws." Then she surprised Dee greatly by suddenly speaking very candidly. "The nature of Sonne," she said to him, "is alien to the universe which he neither created nor governs. He is from a divine realm of light ~ self-contained and remote; we are but wanderers from that realm in this cosmos that is its opposite ~ the realm of darkness. The world is the work of lower powers; descended from it is the Horse Eel who doesn't know the true divine; and though Needhog obstructs the knowledge of it, he knows it is the power of Sonne that sustains him and he prostrates himself before that power that infuses the world with eternity's counterfeit substitute of time. In the end, golden Sonne is to be slain by the evil principle that Needhog carries within him."
              Dee was astonished. "But the tenets of the church . . . ," he stammered.
              "The tenets of the church," she replied offhandedly, "inculcate rigid and exclusive habits of thought in the common thrall."
              "What then," exclaimed Dee, "do the people think they are doing when they come to worship Sonne in your chapel ~ and in all the churches and temples of the land?"
              "The greatest visible power is that which lives in the sun, the force of life by the influence of which that body, that ball, is made to shine and to move. The forces of life come from the heavens to the sun, and from the sun to earth; grain, grass, and trees cling to the earth in order to partake of it. And the chief power here below is fire, which is the ancestress that sustains us and rears us. The body is the expression of the life force.
              "You ask what the people think they're doing. I will tell you, in Master HUXLEY's words as taught in the Mystery School: with one part of their minds they think they are worshiping an enormous divine personality who can be cajoled with ritual and promised acts of adoration into giving them what they want. But with another part of their minds they know perfectly well that Sonne is not a person. They even know that if prayers are sometimes answered it is because in this very odd world of ours, ideas have a tendency, if you concentrate your mind on them, to get themselves realized. And another thing the people are doing ~ they are unconsciously learning a lesson about themselves, they are being told that if they'd only stop giving themselves suggestions to the contrary, they might discover that Sonne is wisdom, the center of energy, that each human being contains within itself a center that may grow to be a sun."
              "Are you saying that there is no use in the rituals of worship that you conduct?" asked an incredulous Dee.
              "Magic causes the sun to shine," the priestess answered sternly. "I do that so the sun may be burning hot and eat up all the clouds in the sky. I kindle the sun by my rituals and my magic ceremonies. Assuredly it would not rise were we not to make offerings."
              Dee fell silent and stared at the floor. When she said nothing further, he looked up and saw her piercing eyes resting speculatively on him.
              She turned away from him, touched one knee briefly to the rough stone and placed a hand on the altar. "I will have travel documents drawn up and brought to your apartment," she said.
              He thanked her and was about to hurry away, when, without turning to him, she spoke again in a peculiarly appraising tone of voice: "The nature of people, Dee, cannot be changed."
              "I believe," he replied hotly, "I believe that I can change!"
              Then the priestess turned to him. "Do not change too greatly, my son," she answered mildly.

3

              Seated on a plodding steed, Dee rode out one of Towering Halls' western gates on a clear, cool afternoon, trailing a tethered spare riding horse and two pack-mules. Walking briskly behind was his maid-servant who was to tend to his needs and comfort on the journey to Red Cap's isle that lay ahead.
              They had traveled little over an hour when the outskirts of the city came into view, but Dee turned off the Old East Road before reaching these and entered the courtyard of an old two-storey stone building. So weathered it would not be noticed by any but those familiar with its features, barely legible in chiseled stone on the facade over the entry, was the legend: Thud Hostelry. Dee dismounted.
              A grey-haired old man with a ruddy face in which were set pale blue eyes came out the door and down the steps. "Doctor MUST," he said with a slight bow. "A pleasure to have you again." With an appraising look at the animals, he added, "will you be requiring the stable?"
              "Yes indeed, churl," Dee answered. "For the night only, and the small suite for myself and my servant. We travel early tomorrow, but first I would enjoy one of your goodly meals and the use of the study-room to peruse some of the maps in your collection."
              "Certainly, eminent sir," said the hostelier and, turning, gave some instructions to a stocky man with uncommon red hair who took the horse's halter and with the help of Dee's servant began to lead the small train across the yard.
              "Wait," said Dee. "Let me take this now." He unstrapped from his riding horse a heavy parcel wrapped in hide, securely bound with leather straps, and carried it up the stone steps. "Any guests?" he inquired.
              The old man shook his greying head. "No, Doctor. Though once, long ago, no doubt, there was, you know there is little business here for a hostelry. If it was not for my son and his wife to till our small patch of rocky land, we surely would starve. But enough of that. We have had your patronage for lo these many years and sorely glad we are of it too." He led the way inside the common room and quietly ordered a woman there to kindle a fire.
              Shortly after, Dee was comfortably ensconced with a beaker of hot mead in front of brightly leaping flames in the hearth. Outside, dusk crept slowly over the land. From behind him came the soft murmur of the women (two of a kind, with their thin black hair, pale, narrow faces, and soft voices) as they lit lamps and prepared a meal table. The hostelier attended him. Dee pressed some silver into his palm. "This parcel," he said, pointing with his foot, "I will leave for safe-keeping here with you."
              The old man nodded, but slightly raised the greying brows over his pale eyes.
              "It contains nothing of value to any but a scholar," said Dee, "but it seems that in my advancing age it may yet become my life's work. I would not trust it lightly with many a man."
              "I understand, Doctor. Indeed. Your generosity is well known to us. I myself will take it to the vault." And off he went, carrying the hide-wrapped parcel, while Dee went to table and an excellent repast.
              When the full dark of evening covered the silhouettes of the landscape outside the window of the old hostelry's study-room, he sat at a wooden table by the light of a lamp and unrolled the maps the hostelier pulled out for him. Dee and the old man spent several hours in earnest discussion until, all at last having been satisfactorily arranged, Dee retired to his suite. It was cool in the darkened rooms. By the light of the candle he carried, he saw that his maid-servant was abed. He disrobed, snuffed the candle, shivered slightly, then eased under the bedcovers cozily beside her warm, sleeping form.

4
              Following a pre-dawn breakfast, next morning early, the tiny caravan clopped through the silent warren of houses and establishments, cobbled streets and dirt alleys, that was Old Thud ~ the oldest section of the city. Less than half an hour later they reached the intersection with the Northern Trade Route, but Dee turned the animals southward. Soon the jumble of dwellings lay behind, and he saw tillers labor the land on both sides of the road. Several hours after, the fields became less frequent until great trees crowded the road except where here and there between rocky outcrops the vast sea of the Bay of Slaves could be seen on the right hand side. Then he allowed his servant to ride the extra horse. Thus they proceeded.
              The old hostelier had been a traveler for many of his long years and Dee had been keen for his advice, so the evening previous had bid him stay in the study-room with him. Then he explained his plan of setting off southwest from Thud to take this road that ran close along the coast. After some measurements he had determined the distance to the harbor village of Must ~ "named like me," he mused. "It should take twelve days. Allow two weeks," he estimated.
              The old man had nodded.
              "Then hire a vessel for a bit of coast-hugging sea faring to this place marked with an S on the Isle of Thrallii."
              "Depotess," the hostelier had said. "Is that your destination?"
              "No," Dee had answered, "I want to go . . . ," his finger traced the island westward, "here." His pointer stopped at an unnamed place marked by a small black circle.
              "That is a hundred miles of untracked land," the old grey-hair had exclaimed. "What is it that you seek so far away on this wild and rugged island?"
              "Long ago," Dee had said, "in ancient days, a tower famed in history and legend stood here."
              The old man frowned. "It will be very difficult, Doctor."
              Dee had turned to him. "Do you know of this?"
              "I don't know this place of which you speak, sir, but in my youth I traversed the Spireberg mountains of that isle. If you would, once in Depotess seek out one of my churlish relations. It can be arranged for you to be assisted." And he had provided Dee with a sign he should use.
              They made excellent progress and, after an uneventful journey, found themselves in the village of Must. There Dee sold the animals and engaged a vessel to sail up the coast, then cross the treacherous swift currents and rip-tides in the strait that separated the mainland from the Isle of Thrallii. At Depotess a stony breakwater protected the mouth of a wide river that served as port for the tiny hamlet of no more than twenty houses. It was a simple matter to find the hostelier's relation. The only representative of his race, short and stocky with tousled blond hair and the hostelier's blue eyes, he lived alone in a shack on the edge of the hamlet. Shown the hostelier's sign, and having determined fair recompense in silver, he agreed at once to be retained as guide. On his advice, Dee rented a cottage near shore where his maid-servant awaited his return. He purchased three sturdy, long-haired ponies, and scant time passed before recommencing the journey.
              They followed the river upstream through heavy forest for five days until it was a mere stream flowing from the broken-stumped crags of the Spireberg Shoulder. The churl told Dee that north of it lay the barren Stony Plain that slowly descends to a rugged, rocky coast, perilous to ships that venture near shore. The Spireberg Shoulder was a system of low mountains that reached eastward many days travel to a small village, Thidoruk Fell, where (so old churlish tales related, Dee was assured) a legendary chieftain had found the half mile long beach that afforded the only possible landfall on the north shore from the treacherous currents of the choppy waters in the Great Slave Bay. Thidoruk, the churl told, and his band of warriors traveled west to the peak known as The Spire where they battled a fearsome monster before setting up a beacon there. They rode now, he impressed on Dee, the trail of the great chief. Dee turned onto the barely perceptible track and toward the destination, the peak at the end of the isle where the Spireberg Shoulder met the sea.
              Three days later they emerged from the forest onto a trail along the southern coast that led after a few more hours to where a wooden-piled dock reached tentatively out from a shore upon which huddled four shacks occupied by fishermen and their families. To the north The Spire could be seen rising above the land far distant. A well-marked trail led northward but none of the fishers wanted to travel it; in fact, they assured Dee that the peak, the rocks around it, and the dark and choppy waters of the seabay were taboo to them, and nothing would induce them to speak more of the matter ~ sullenly shaking their heads, until one finally allowed that to the north lived a solitary woman who might speak with one such as he (and Dee thought of his mother).
              But the churl had heard too much and declared to Dee that it seemed unnecessary to accompany him farther as the destination was clearly in sight and his contract fulfilled. He would stay with the simple fishers, he said, and help them with their nets until Dee returned.
*

Master Red Cap

1

              It was not until the following morning that Dee was able to convince the churl (with some copper coins) to ride with him. The trail went nearly straight north into the forest until, after a couple of hours, it turned abruptly west and shortly came to where a wicker-gated path led off. Dee leaned over the pony's neck to peer down the path and suddenly noticed the woman standing beside the gate. The pony jumped as Dee reacted with a start; after a short struggle for control, he dismounted.
              She wore a grey cape, so long he could not see her feet, tied by a tas-seled cord around her thin waist. Her eyes looked benevolently from a pale, narrow face. "You've come to the tower," she stated.
              "Yes, indeed," Dee said. "Did you guess?"
              "I didn't guess you came to see me."
              "Well, madam, but indeed I have come to see you. Some simple fishers at the coast said you know lore of The Spire ~ and of the tower," he added.
              "Lore. Well, well, indeed you say."
              "I would certainly be obliged, and very willing indeed to offer. . . ."
              "Indeed," she said.
              "Indeed," repeated Dee rather stupidly.
              With a swish of her long cape, the woman turned and strode away along the path. Dee pushed on the wicker gate; it swung open effortlessly. Behind him on the trail the churl stood uncertainly holding the three ponies. He turned to him and said: "Take a break." Then he hurried after her. A few minutes down the path led him to a small, rough wood and stone house. There was no sign of the woman so, not knowing what else to do, he knocked on the door. She opened it at once, but turned without a word. As she walked into the house, as if leading him in Dee saw that she wore a sword on her back. Surprised, and with some concern, he stopped just inside the door, then (with a mental shrug) pushed the door closed behind him and entered the room where she stood to face him. The cape had gone, and she wore a long, rough, white robe; around her neck a chain from which hung a silver sunburst pendant.
              "You are a priestess," said Dee after a sudden intake of breath.
              "Sir," she said severely.
              "Forgive, revered lady. I am DeeWARRAN-MUST, Doctor of Ethnography at Landsuniversity."
              "In Towering Halls."
              "Indee. . . ."
              She silenced him with an impatient movement of her hand. "WARRAN," she said meditatively. "You are the Vala's son." When he nodded, she laughed quietly. "Why do you seek the tower?"
              Dee opened his mouth, started a gesture with an arm, raised one shoulder, could find no ready answer.
              "A long story, is it? But forgive me. My hospitality. Sit down. Lived alone too long. . . ." She bent over a small iron stove. "Would you eat, drink?" He took from her a mug filled with a hot herbal brew. An invigorating fragrance belied its acrid taste, and he must have grimaced, for she said: "Oh, bitter. You may add some honey."
              "What is your duty here?" Dee asked.
              Her green eyes rested on him, considering what to tell him. "Why ever did your mother send you here?" she said at last, shaking her head.
              "She didn't. She permitted it at my request."
              The priestess began to draw from Dee his thoughts and learning and the reasoning that had caused his presence in her house. After weeks of ceaseless travel, Dee had an eagerness for intellectual discourse that she skillfully exploited, until Dee realized he had told her a great deal while she had revealed very little.
              "The fishermen said you are well-versed in lore. Of course, I didn't know they spoke of a priestess, solitary, with no congregation. Why are you here, alone?"
              Again she considered him seriously. "I really don't know what to tell you, and the duties of a priestess may not concern you."
              "Well, you know where the site of the tower is." Dee saw assent in her face. "Will you show me?"
              "Certainly." She put a number of items into a leather pouch that she swung by a strap over her shoulder after donning the grey cape. "Let's go." She took a staff and went out the door, leaving Dee to hurry after her.
              The churl had started a small fire beside the trail, the three ponies hobbled nearby. He stood up awkwardly, glanced fearfully at the woman. "Where is she going?" he asked.
              "She'll show us the way," Dee answered.
              Immediately followed a flood of words to say that certainly Dee had now no need for another guide ~ one, moreover, with no knowledge of the terrain in which they found themselves. In short, the churl did not want to continue, until offered more coin and Dee, finally, in exasperation, waved the hostelier's sign to insist his hire was not guide alone but labor and service, and the churl was at last persuaded.
              The priestess at once set off on foot along the trail.
              Dee trotted behind her. From under the swirling robes he saw her pale bare feet. "You must ride the third pony," he panted.
              "I never ride." She stopped, looked skyward. "Go on," she said, "get your horses. You'll catch up. It's far to go before dark."
              After some time the trail turned north again, and several hours passed before the forest fell away and they began the slow ascent of a vast stony plain dominated in the distance by the steep rocky slopes and crags of The Spire. Far off to the east the broken-stumped mountains of the Spireberg Shoulder showed mistily. The priestess walked for five hours without stop until the peak loomed in the sky and cast a huge gloomy shadow over the barren, undulated rocks and crags.
              "The sun is hidden by the tower," she said, "but it is not yet late. We might rest a short while."
              "You say tower," Dee noted quickly. "Is it the mountain you mean?"
              "To us tower and Spire are one and the same," she answered, busying herself kindling a small fire and boiling a concoction, and her only further reply was that "there is no point saying words about what you shall see for yourself in a short time."
              Shortly after, they resumed and soon reached a junction from where a rocky trail led up the slopes of The Spire.
              The priestess stopped. "This leads to the top," she said, pointing. "It's not as high as it looks, but it'll take a good two hours."
              The churl had hung back with the ponies. "Doctor, please," he said when he rode up visibly discomfited, "you don't need me. Let me wait here for you. I'll have no useful purpose."
              At that the priestess spoke to him sharply: "My command is for you to continue. It is not for churls to question purpose."
              Then the churl said no more but trembling lowered his gaze. He led the ponies after Dee, occasionally glancing fretfully about him.
              The winding trail had hairpin curves carved into the rugged rocky slopes, and the steady ascent was taxing Dee who walked with his eyes to the ground behind the priestess until she suddenly stopped.
              "There," she said.
              Dee looked up to see that they had crested the height. In the lengthening shadows he saw the ancient remains of crumbled walls and heaps of rock and stone that once were perhaps a structure cradled in the rocky crags of The Spire. "The tower!"
              "What's left of it. But look." She pointed.
              His gaze followed her arm and it seemed to him that far ahead in the dusk he saw a faint glimmer of light. He turned with a question, but she was already striding ahead. He hurried to catch up. Behind him he could hear the clatter of the ponies' feet on the rock.

2

              Master Red Cap was a thin old man. He wore leather jerkin, short pants, and high boots. His pale, thin limbs showed grotesquely. In his belt he carried a wide, long knife. On his head he wore a rust-brown brimless cap that fit closely to his skull and covered his forehead and most of his ears. Thin strands of black hair hung down his neck.
              Dee knew who he was because as soon as they stepped past the door of a chamber restored or preserved within the ruins of the ancient tower, the priestess introduced him.
              "This is Master Red Cap," she said.
              Dee was stunned into silence.
              "And this," said the priestess, indicating him, "is Doctor WARRAN."
              "MUST," Dee corrected.
              "MUST," she agreed. "I do believe he wishes to be shown around."
              Red Cap had a secret smile. "Come," he said, "there is no time like the present." He fetched two lit torches, handed one to the priestess, led them to a black stairwell, and descended worn stone steps into the rock.
              Dee followed. Behind him, the priestess motioned to the churl who dared not protest and took his place in the small procession with the priestess following him. The torch flames threw a flickering light on the stairs that turned then here, then there, sometimes interrupted with a short passageway, and always down, down.
              "I thought," said Dee, "that Master Red Cap lived many centuries ago."
              "That is true," answered he, "and ever since has a Red Cap passed from head to head ~ and so I, too, have grown old and must pass it on."
              "Ah, then it is a symbol of your office."
              "Office. Heh, heh," he chuckled amiably and repeated it. "Office. Heh, heh, heh. It's more of a duty, rather. A responsibility."
              "You are responsible then for the tower ~ this ruin here on The Spire?"
              "That and everything in it."
              "In it? What is in it?"
              "That knowledge is my responsibility."
              "The knowledge of what is here?"
              "Yes, yes. But enough, we're here. Move slowly now."
              They stepped out onto a wide, rocky ledge high above the floor of a huge underground grotto. Red Cap led him to the edge, raised the torch high and there was a flickering reflection from a still, black surface below. "The dragon pool," he said softly.
              "Is this where the horse eel lived?"
              The priestess stood so the torch she held lit steps cut down into a narrow cleft.
              Dee peered down. "May I," he said hesitantly, "go and look?"
              "Oh, yes."
              The bottom steps narrowly opened onto the cavern floor where the pool lay shimmering in the light from the two torches held high above him on the ledge. He sniffed a fleeting whiff of salty breeze, and took a step. From above him came an agonized moan. Then he saw it. It stood upright unalarmed. The details of its body did not garner attention because the eye was held by the head ~ strangely too large for the body, with big yellow forward-facing eyes. It dropped to the ground and looked at him. It slowly came toward him, staring all the time. A stillness beyond terror came over him, a sense of being asked a question the answer to which is both obvious and impossible to find. One needs a strong will to break away from such a stare, to see anything else but the steadily advancing head, to force numb limbs into action, to turn, to run. The dragon did not follow.
              "That's a dragon," Dee panted when he reached the top of the rocky ledge. He looked down, saw it stand in the murk by the pool looking up at them.
              "It's a female," said Red Cap. "She lives in deep water and cannot fly. The male is much larger and fiercely territorial to protect her watery lair. His limestone cave must be long enough to contain the body, narrow enough to be defended by the head, for his body can be pierced easily which drains him of the corrosive juices that enable him to fly and breathe fire."
              "You're giving me a physiology lecture on, on that, that . . . ," Dee sputtered.
              "This is knowledge to be passed with the Cap," Red Cap answered seriously.
              "Passed with the cap? As in succession?" Dee was incredulous. "No, no. Not to me."
              Red Cap exchanged a glance with the priestess.
              "You have come here, though you may not yet know it, as destined by Sonne," she said to Dee. "To learn the mastering of the Horse Eel from the Master."
              "No, no," Dee protested, "I told you why I came."
              "To find the tower; to stand on The Spire. Do you not wonder what compelled this arduous, rather useless, journey? Sonne's fate lays upon you and it holds the master's cap."
              "That simply cannot be," said Dee. He looked down to the dim pool below where the dragon (the dragon!) still stood staring up at the torch light. "That gaze is terrifying." He shivered.
              "The dragon mask is its helm of terror," Red Cap said placidly. "The head is its only invulnerable part."
              Dee had felt the terror of that hypnotic gaze, but not the agony of which the old Epic had spoken; and Vargarm had written that 'his presence alone caused pain'. "No pain," he muttered, "no pain."
              Master Red Cap laughed, understanding perfectly. "None for us," he said. He motioned Dee to turn and look where the churl stood.
              He was rigid. His face contorted. From him came soft, fearful moans that, Dee realized, sounded the terror-filled drone he had been unable to identify in his excited state of mind.
              "He feels the pain," Red Cap added by way of unnecessary explanation. "But he will be gloriously relieved of it, for he also has an important function. Fate has provided all that is required."
              Dee was aghast and bewildered.
              Red Cap removed his hat, held it out to Dee. "At certain times, and this is such a time, the Master's Cap needs to be redyed in human blood." He drew the wide-bladed knife from his belt.
              Dee recoiled violently, coming perilously near the rocky edge.
              "Steady," Red Cap said kindly, "wouldn't want to lose you so quickly." He walked to the churl and with one efficient arm motion slit his throat. The priestess helped him lower the body to the rock, while Red Cap caught a pulsing, steaming stream into his hat.
              Dee stood shocked in a sudden silence. Below, he heard a movement of the beast.
              "She smells blood," Red Cap said. "They don't eat much: a pig a month; but their greed knows no bound." He rolled the body to the edge.
              Dee looked about wildly, then ran as fast as he could into a pitch-black opening away from the horror. Stone steps led him down, his mind rushing as his feet, until he suddenly emerged, hearing surf, seeing starlight reflected off the endless heaving sea, a dark lifeless firetower, a dock with a masted dory.
*

Heretic

1


              Berserker. Berserker. The name echoed through his wild thoughts. He had led the churl to his slaughter just as had the Berserker of old. This was not what he had gone to the tower to learn. He groaned. He was the berserker ~ his race Berserker.
              Prevailing winds and currents swept the sailed dory along the north coast of the island, across the open sea, directly toward the City of Thud and, after three nights, a landfall at a southern suburb of fashionable villas where Dee had several friends and relations, the nearest of which he looked up.
              "Uncle," they said, "have you not heard? Ah, but you've been away. Council men have been to look for you. There is rumor of an Inquiry. What have you done?"
              Dee bathed and ate, answered little, rested less, was soon away in a clattering carriage through Thud's old quarter, up the Old East Road, to Towering Halls. When he entered his apartment, he found an envelope pushed under the door and every room ransacked. The thrashing of the study in particular made Dee coldly livid. He turned away after surveying the wreckage less than five minutes, and made directly for the chancellor's chambers where he was taken into custody by two polite but firm men-at-arms, and transported back to the city.

2
              Dee was very tired.
              The hearing chamber was imposing and large.
              "You understand, do you, that this is a court of inquiry and not a trial," said the chancellor. He was seated behind a high bench beside a man in the silver-decorated black cloth of a councillor, on whose other side sat the old curate in his yellow and white robes. In contrast, the chancellor's garb was all somber browns, even to his dark, mortar-board hat.
              "Doctor MUST! You understand, do you?" he repeated.
              "Yes. No! What inquiry?"
              "Doctor, please. You can see the college thought fit that I myself attend proceedings."
              "Be assured, Doctor MUST," broke in the councillor, "our procedures, which you well know, will be observed, and the nature of this Inquiry will be revealed in due course. As you can see, both the College of Scholars and the Ecclesiastical Curate are represented at the highest levels. Council, though unable to free our Prime Councillor from his other, most pressing, duties, has nevertheless authorized me fully." The councillor turned from Dee to where the priestess sat on a balcony set in a side wall high above. "Being lawfully constituted of Curate, College, and Council, let this court be affirmed."
              The priestess waved a hand. "So be it."
              "The church," said the councillor, "has sought this Inquiry into an unorthodoxy published by you in the translation of a Chronicle, Doctor. It is further alleged that you took an old churlish tale and appended to it portions of your own making. If such is found to be the case, the church will press for a trial on heresy. Such is the issue before this Court of Inquiry." The curate seemed about to speak, but the councillor held up a hand, and continued. "Now, I understand that the Chronicle in question came into your possession as a parchment folio that you evidently presumed to be of great age, and translated in good faith to be submitted to Council for disposition. Is it not so?"
              "Yes," said Dee.
              "If the church," the councillor turned to the curate, "if the church finds in this document an unorthodoxy, the church will mete its punishment in the realm of the soul. However," and here his yellow hawk eyes swung back to Dee, "if indeed, as the church alleges, these unorthodoxies are not contained within the original parchments, we have a deliberate heresy, punishable in law at trial. You understand, Doctor?"
              "There is more evidence," the curate said.
              "That certainly will be most carefully considered at trial," the councillor said. "Do you understand," he asked Dee again, "what I have just put to you?"
              "Yes, I do. But what is the unorthodoxy I am accused of?"
              "What is unorthodox, and what a heresy, is for the church to determine and for the court to accept, and of no moment at the present. In fact, it may be asked why the issue is at inquiry here when the matter seems easily proved by an examination of the original document."
              "Indeed," spoke up the chancellor.
              The curate glanced up at the priestess above him on the balcony. "The church," he said feebly, "has not this parchment."
              "Of course not," the chancellor said. "Doctor MUST has it. He continues the translation of it. The original will show there is no heresy. Doctor MUST is a respected scholar in his field." He turned to Dee. "Doctor, provide the court with these parchments for a scholarly examination by the college."
              "No," the curate responded. "The church must examine same."
              "Esteemed colleagues!" The councillor chided them silent. "An examination of the original," he said to Dee. "You have it in your possession then, do you, Doctor?"
              The curate leaned forward.
              "Yes," said Dee. "No," said Dee. A great weariness almost over-whelmed him.

3
              What could he say? What did he say? He spoke. They listened and, eventually, nodded. They let him go. Adjourned to the morrow. The com-plete parchment folio to be submitted to the court. At Towering Halls, he'd said, in a secret place only he could find. The councillor, Sonne bless him, said he was an honorable, well-respected man of substance and family. The curate wasn't so certain. As he left the court, Dee noticed a yellow-robed figure follow at a distance. The figure started to trot. As it neared, Dee saw it was a young woman who came to him to say: 'Our Lady wishes to see you.'
              The priestess stood waiting.
              Dee didn't know what to say. "Mother," he said.
              "And what did you learn at the tower?"
              He expected: Did you do it? Is it true? "That the horse eel lives."
              "And Red Cap?"
              Had she caused him to be inquired for heresy? "Master Red Cap lives."
              She looked at him levelly. "I do not think you have any choice."
              "What do you mean? To give the parchments to the court?"
              "No, no. Take your precious books. Do you not see how you can complete your work? The only way is to take it, take it to the tower and the master's cap."
              "I cannot ever be berserker! Oh, Mother, Berserker. Are we?"
              "You wanted to do fieldwork. Remember? Important work, you said, Dee, valuable to the field of knowledge about the origin of the dragon. You've met the best teacher there is, Dee."
              "I know it. But I've just spent three days on a little boat with only my thinking: and what if our histories, our traditions, the very tenets of the church, are based on lies?"
              "A cherished myth is more valuable than truth, Dee. What the worship of Sonne has conferred on our race is a liberating conception of law that transcends all human prejudices and interests. Could one hope for this from any other principle than religion?"
              "But."
              "What is to be gained by telling the common people that the she-dragons have spawned their long-lived generations in the tower, watched over by a Red Cap passed from Master to fleeting Master, since Day One of our Age?"
              Dee opened his mouth, but she answered the unspoken question.
              "And whether Day One was the precise moment of the Holocaust, or five-hundred years later, matters nothing whatever."
              "But, Mother."
              Her posture stiffened. Suddenly the golden-chained sunburst pendant on her white-robed chest seemed prominent and she was only the priestess: "At best, you can give your work up to the court, be censured by the church, and return to Landsuniversity for your remaining tenure under the cloud of unorthodoxy."
              "But the dragon," said Dee. "And Red Cap . . . , he slit the churl's throat to dye his hat! That is the real heresy."
              "Phsaw, I care not a whit for heresy."
              "Laser-fused radiation," said Dee, and when she frowned, went on vehemently: "After the Holocaust, such radiation caused mutations that also had its effects on humans. This is what I think happened: there was a tribe living then on the Isle of Thrallii where there was a particularly traumatic event that drove the people to live in underground caves where over generations they mutated, and dwelling with them was a beast also affected by the same radiation, and these became the Horse Eel and the Berserker, and they are us. Once perhaps we were churl like those we deem our lessers, but now our thin stature and pale complexion marks us as thralls."
              The priestess impatiently waved a hand. "I cannot help you in court, against the church. Only at The Spire will you be rid of the threat of heresy, free to pursue your studies, your work, your translations, and put your mark in the Master's Record that is in the curriculum of the Mystery School for all time to come."
*

Escape

1


              Dee walked between barracks to the main street that led to the harbor. Across was a Thrall House for official visitors where he registered and took a room. He sank down on a chair, and sat without moving for twenty minutes. Then he found a flat wooden box in which he placed a water-filled leather flagon, wrapped it in a torn piece of bedcover, tied around a cord cut from a curtain, and placed on it his signet. He went down to the dining room and had a meal over which he lingered until it was nearly dark, then ordered a carriage.
              He did not see anyone, but was sure he was followed. He peered behind and could see the swinging lamps of several wagons in the street. He paid the coachman well to deliver the important parcel into the hands of Doctor MUST in Landsuniversity at Towering Halls, department of ethnography. He had him repeat it several times, to make sure it would be done right, for Dee (an old understudying graduand, he told the coachman) wished to stay the night in a slightly unsavory part of the city. Thus, after the horse had plodded its weary way down the Northern Trade Route, Dee slipped out of the carriage (the coachman understood the need for discretion).
              He stood in the shadows of a narrow alley to see, scant minutes later, another carriage pass, and watched the receding lamps turn, first one, the other following, onto the Old East Road. Then he hurried along the rutted dirt lanes between hovels and rude houses, until he came out a short distance from the old Thud Hostelry where he knocked on the door and entered.
              The younger churl was in the common room. A stocky shadow played at his feet, lamplight threw an auburn-hued sheen on his hair.
              "Good evening," said Dee. "Is your father available?"
              "No."
              "I left a parcel in his safekeeping. The name is MUST."
              "Doctor MUST, oh yes. I'm afraid father is gone, and will not be back for long."
              "He put it in the vault, he said."
              "Oh yes. I know the parcel. It is there."
              "May I have it, please?"
              The churl shuffled off.
              Dee suddenly fumbled in a pocket, brought out and smoothed the crumples of the envelope found inside his apartment door in the morning. This morning! He sat. Weariness stole over him. The envelope contained a short note and a folded map ~ not large in size, but old. The map's legend read: 'Seafarer's Map Of The Thrallian Sea ~ showing the Great Seaway and ancient Thidoruk Fell'.
              The note was hastily written and brief: "Don't know if you're in trouble, but best not be seen with you. The map is over 600 years old. Note unnamed place NE of sea. That is Thidoruk's Chiefhold, and almost certainly also the earlier location of Mjoda's Regency. Yours."
              No name, but Dee knew who.
              The map was of the Bay of Slaves. Tides and currents, landmarks and navigational directions, were all marked, to a scale of nautical leagues. It showed the Isle of Thrallii, and where Thidoruk Fell was on it, and at the isle's western tip marked The Spire with a small cross. The City of Thud was prominently circled and arrowed at bottom-right. The Northern Trade Route traced along the edge of the map to the mountain pass Storm Gap. The main northern peak, Asaberg, was indicated by a heavy cross. A little distance below it, a small circle marked an unnamed place not more than ten miles from the north coast of the great sea.
              The hostelier's son returned with the heavy parcel wrapped in hide and bound with leather straps. "Here you are, sir. Couple of weeks ago, sir, councilmen came here to ask about you. The next day, father left. 'When the law suspects respectable gentlemen like Doctor MUST,' he said, 'churls should be scarce,' he said. But me and the wife, we know nothing but to till our little plot of land. Should I make a fire, sir?"
              "No. I must be off immediately." Dee stood up, picked up the parcel, headed for the door, turned back. The churl had followed and Dee looked into the unsettlingly blue eyes. He did not speak. Left, without even offering gold.
              He made his way through the dirt lanes of the dark and silent workers district of Old Thud with the parcel on his shoulder. It hurt him when he made it back to where, from the Northern Trade Route, the street ran to the harbor. He walked past, keeping to the dark side of the road, away from a well-lit New Thud Tavern on the corner. A few hundred yards up the road he turned by an alley into a squalid slum from which he emerged at the north end of the harbor. At that time of the evening it was still a hive of activity with stevedores, sailors, and businessmen going about their work, and frequenting a couple of small, stand-up ale-houses that looked out over a fleet that bobbed protected by a pier on the south, and a long arm of land to the north that blocked the current of the mighty River Thud. There were long, slim, masted galleys with two, three, and even four banks of oars; warships with distinctive overhanging forecastle and rounded stern, and two, three, or more masts; but most were short, wide-hulled, single-masted cogs.
              Dee turned from the harbor north to where shipyards overlooked the broad, island-studded delta of the great river where, he knew, oftimes smaller vessels moored. He engaged a cog to take him up the coast to Land End, the small port that usually served as a staging point for the crossing to the north coast. Within the hour, wind and tide were favorable and the cog sailed. In the small cabin below, Dee fell exhausted on a cot.
              He was awakened hours later with Land End's beacon in sight. When he set foot on the pier, dawn was breaking over the rising flatlands of the enormous river delta. He rented a room at an inn in the village, and slept the entire day. Most of the following night he sat in the darkened room, occasionally putting flame to a candle to study the map or make notes, and pondered the shape of a plan. He had his travel documents, a well-stocked purse, and the hide-wrapped parcel. He could not afford much more time at Land End; it was a day and a night since he failed to appear in court.

2

              It took a good part of the morning to hire another cog and to purchase the outfit he needed, but well before noon Dee was able to sail a course almost due north ~ the coast always on the starboard side. The second morning dawned clear, and Asaberg's peaks were visible far beyond the ship's prow cutting into the sea's horizon. Always a sailor's guide to navigating these waters, the sight of the mountain struck Dee with the force of revelation: he thought himself not escaping, but on pilgrimage ~ about to enter a divine landscape. Below the great mountain, Runes had etched song-lines in the sacred land. Like a pilgrim he stood, there on the prow before the shining swells and Asaberg rising off the invisible seam between sea and sky, like a pilgrim ready to accept the earth's charity. From that moment a star guided Dee: the idea of a center, the magnetic point of the geomyth, the return to where Gimle once stood. Pilgrimage to an answer. A need to shed beliefs and to look at the pilgrim, for it was really not about going somewhere, it was about himself. From that day forth, Dee found the mystery school in the world as it was, and initiation a daily task. He perceived the mysteries in his ordinary pain-filled world ~ in which each had a purpose, Dee's perhaps to find the tribe Thiot.
              The angle from north to Asaberg had been carefully measured on the map by Dee, and given to the mariners made a landfall off a placid sea on the third day. He had a trunk buried in a shallow hole high up on the beach, shouldered a heavy backpack and walked into the deep forest. Within hours he emerged on an old, little-traveled road indicated on the map as running east-west. A massive mountain range with Asaberg's peak dominating was prominent far in the north. He turned west, and soon reached the collection of huts, hovels, barns and stables that was Thidoruk's Chiefhold ~ as it was still known.
              The value of gold and silver coin was high in the remote village and Dee found himself possessed of a small fortune. He purchased a pleasant little house to settle with the local churls. A thrall operated a dilapidated Nemeton Inn (ale-house and general supplies). She lived by the profit of her enterprise and was approaching middle age. Delighted with his company she bestowed on Dee warm hospitality, and plied him with knowledge of local customs. The churlish name the inn bore was an ancient one, she said, after a sacred grove where interlocking boughs (on which birds fear to perch) enclose a space of darkness and cold shade where sunlight is banished. No wild beasts lie down to rest there, no wind ever blows though the trees rustle among themselves.
              The pilgrimage turned to Nemeton. Dee began a one man ethnogra-phic field project. The churls soon grew used to his inquisitive nature, his habit of incessant note-taking, and good-naturedly called him: 'Perfesser'. Of the sacred grove their tales related; of Gimle they knew nought. He hired them frequently to guide and accompany him on jaunts into the forest in search of Nemeton, for he was certain it was the key to finding Gimle, and beyond to the faint hope of discovering the serpentine-Rune inscribed megalith stone of the nineteen tribes. As he walked in the forest, the spirit of the trees descended upon him; he grew into the land and the land grew in him, and songlines etched him.

Sun's falling down on a northern sky,
giving me a chance to be free.
Music of the geese's going to make me cry,
giving you a chance to be free.
One chance to be free, to dwell among the unseen.
One chance to be alive, living in the day of your dream.

The clouds are gathering, seems I knew they would.
Shadow on the dove of peace.
Thoughts are fading of the brotherhood.
Calling out for your release.

Smell of smoke in the autumn air,
giving me a chance to be free.
Carpet of leaves laid with love and care,
giving you a chance to be free.

One chance to be free, to leave all thoughts behind.
One chance to be free, living for all humankind.
*

Thiot

1


              As the seasons fell away, one by one, by one, Dee told most of the story to his compatriot in the Nemeton Inn's comfortably appointed taproom, and sometimes in her bed. She was an independent thinker. Dee held regular readings at the inn. At first only a few locals attended, but in time stoic churls filled the common room to hear Dee read from the Thiot Chronicles and other new translated work. It was good for business, but one evening she had an observation.
              "A missionary. You're acting like a missionary."
              "But I don't have a gospel."
              "Yes, you do. It's these Thiot tales, and Runesong."
              "I'm reacquainting them with their own tradition."
              "You're not one of them."
              Dee stopped. Did he want to be a churl? What was it Radendr had said? Race is a biological accident? (He later looked it up: 'race is a biological statistic.') Gender also was such a statistic. He leaned over to touch the hair on her head so like his own, brushed a kiss on her gentle lips. "I am not a woman," said Dee, "but I am one of your sex by our very humanity."
              She smiled and settled close to him. "Why do you teach them these churlish tales but never thrallish tradition?"
              "The history of nations diverged from each other out of a common mythology that speaks of a continuous tradition of sages who teach about the shining inner light."
              "That's what I mean. Like an evangelist."
              "Once we were all the same; once we will be again. Ethnosity is impermanent ~ fleeting variations in the scheme of populations." Dee sighed contentedly. "It's not one way transmission either. I am learning much from their tales."
              "And what are you learning?"
              "Thiot's nineteen bands survived the Holocaust to the regency of Mjoda, right here in these lands. On the southeast shore of the great sea, meanwhile, the Serfdom of Thrallii was founded, soon to displace the nineteen churlish tribes of Thidoruk's Chiefhold. Through an ethnographic accident (a cultural victory by the vanquished, one might say) the Serfdom is governed by a council of nineteen and the principle of the great Shining of old survived and lives in our Thrallish Sonne."
              Dee fell silent, feeling contemptible.
              Fortunately, she kissed it better.

2

              There was no village proper at Thidoruk's Chiefhold. Its center was the Nemeton Inn on the Northmost Road that yielded few travelers from the west's far distant realms. Eastward led the beaten trail to the Northern Trade Route, to Thud far to the south, or through Stormgap to the Northmost lands beyond the mountains. No structures but the inn were in sight anywhere along the road. The inhabitants numbered scarcely a few thousand but they occupied a considerable area, for they lived apart, their own fields and woods surrounding the outbuildings and houses.
              At any one time there were several hundreds of churls who stayed for shorter and longer times at the chiefhold where all, invariably, had near or distant kin. Every churl in the whole world, it seemed, came at least once in their lives. In fact, most came many times, and many came often. So it was not surprising that Dee should encounter the proprietor of the old Thud Hostelry. The encounter itself was, however, not only surprising, it was as Fanshawe had it: at a place high in the mountains, he discovered four men chanting by moonlight. He first heard them from afar while on a somewhat perilous journey. Riding on alone under a full moon, he finally reached where they were to be seen swaying backwards and forwards in a trance, reciting in a strange mixture of dialects. Their chant went on until dawn. This Dee heard out in the wilderness under the most extraordinary circumstances imaginable. At the time he felt very elated and was inspired.
              "Teiwaz, I was, I is, I am; I was, and as I is, I am. Within me was and is Teiwaz. In me Shining."
              Then, one of the chanting voices, one of the swaying figures, took on a disturbing familiarity until Dee realized it was the old hostelier, and he crept away.

3

              Dee became a virtual hermit, rarely venturing from his house. Ostensibly, to resume translating the ErilaR Manuscript, and he accomplished a great deal of work in long cycles of intense concentration and exhausted sleep, from which he emerged dazed into the outdoors sometimes to see the seasons change. Ostensibly. Though he didn't admit it to himself, Dee was hiding from the hostelier, hiding from his guilt, by hiding in his house, by hiding in his work.
              Surely in time Dee would recognize this in himself. Would he? And seek out the hostelier to set everything aright. It is in the mind of Le An who conjures this, whether the knowledge in the manuscript liberated Dee to thus find Thiot within ~ the strength of the people living in each, or whether Dee would turn to the sure welcome at the tower and the honor of the Master's Cap. But we, the tellers of this tale, propose to turn from Dee to the work on which he lavished such energy and devotion.
*

Runesong

1


              The original hide parchment manuscript is a collection of various texts that appear to have been gathered from different sources but have related subject matter. The second major text, Runesong, especially noteworthy for variant mythological tales and copious references to ancient books, is the polemic of a scholarly initiate in a preholocaust era. As I painstakingly worked for a literal translation (what remained of the poetry due only to the eloquence of the composition), I became convinced that it was the work of Radendr, and I was seized by a growing conviction that through it Radendr and the ErilaR of old were speaking to me.
              Though we may be doomed to repeat cycles of destruction and regeneration (or should that be degeneration?), this morbid prophecy of which was told they turned to a cause of proud intensity to act justly and true to their world view that was rooted in the northern lands. Each of us, they said, stands alone before the mirror of the universe that as a consequence of its nature can reflect only what we hold up to it. Nothing matters but what we do, they said. Admit no rule but thy own ethic, they said. Their fierce independence stirred in me longing for a freedom lost and buried in past ages.
              This is my confession. That I know myself to be Berserker. But also that as berserker I am specially bound like a shaman to ecstacy.
              The number nine has great significance to the ErilaR and I noted that each book was divided into nine parts. But Runesong's ninth was a poem styled after the old lays composed and added over four-hundred years after Radendr's time by Vargarm, and I fell to thinking on why this text had but eight chapters or had Vargarm replaced an original chapter with one of his own. Then, in a flash of insight, I saw that Radendr's Great Book was designed to have a ninth chapter added by the transcriber or translator of each age, as if to indicate that the great myth, the old ethic, must always remain current. I realized then that my task was to allow the great work to permeate my own being to bring to fruition a statement of the ancient myth in the context of my time, and that this was Radendr's deep intent: to show the timeless current of one nation's understanding in the psychic universe ~ an unbroken stream of thought whose tenuous tendrils could be grasped regardless whether thrall, churl, or berserker.
              One short text of the ErilaR Manuscript is a listing of titles and seem to be references that should, doubtless, be appended to the Book that follows. It is reproduced below.
beD

* * *

horse-eels at Ireland's mystery animals
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