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Warning: this novel is intended for an adult audience. It contains violence and vulgar language and, additionally, contains at least a little sexual content.

THE WORDSMITHS AND THE WARGUILD by Hugh Cook - Chapter 22

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Chapter 22

        In the days that followed, Togura gave the wizard a long account of his adventures, which, despite several evasions and a certain amount of exaggeration, was generally truthful. The one big lie in the whole account was Togura's claim that he was dedicated to questing for the index.
        "You're very brave," said the wizard.
        "It's my duty, sir."
        "Don't call me sir, call me Hostaja," said Hostaja Torsen Sken-Pitilkin. "Tell me, what are you being offered for success? Hmmm? Exactly what do the Wordsmiths propose to pay you?"
        "One percent of everything won from the odex."
        "One percent? That's scandalous. Young man, you've been done! Diddled and cheated! Ten percent is a minimum, that's what I say. You need an agent."
        "But I've made an agreement already. It's a little late to change now."
        "Not so," said the wizard. "I'll fly to Sung myself, later in the year. I'll have a word with Brother Troop. We'll sort it out."
        "What's in it for you, then?"
        "Don't worry your head about that. Whatever I get will be from the Wordsmiths, not from you. I'll be adequately remunerated, you can be sure of that."
        Togura was no longer a beggarly castaway. Instead, he was a valuable commercial property. The wizard of Drum, who had sworn never to set foot in Sung again - he still had painful memories of a certain game of Stone the Leper and the devaluation of the punt - had changed his mind entirely now that profit beckoned.
        Togura had certainly guaranteed his immediate survival. But there was a penalty for his deceit - he must now play the part of a death-dealing questing hero, at least while he was on Drum.
        "You should set out in spring," said Hostaja. "I'll take you to Estar myself."
        "In spring!" said Togura, alarmed at the prospect of being on Drum for so long. "I'm ready to leave now!"
        "You can't leave before we've renegotiated your agreement with the Wordsmiths," said Hostaja. "Risking your neck for one percent? That's lunacy!"
        "But, really - "
        "I have spoken. You're staying here till spring. That way, I'll be able to teach you something. The young are always over-confident, it's the ruling characteristic of the breed."
        "I don't need any training."
        "I see. You don't need any training. You know everything, is that it? Well, boy, tell he this - what's the Word you need to open the box which holds the index?"
        "That's a secret."
        "Fiddlesticks! The truth is, you've forgotten it, if you ever knew. Don't think there's anything secret from me, boy. Do you know the history of the Book of the Odex?"
        "Brother Troop found it."
        "No! Nonsense! Brother Troop wasn't even born at the time! Troop's father helped find it. There was an expedition to the Old City in the Valley of Forgotten Dreams, in Penvash. There were three survivors. Troop's father was one of them. They brought back the odex and the Book of the Odex. They wer lucky to bring back their own lives, if you ask me."
        "Why? What's so terrible about the Old City?"
        "Most of the people who have gone there to find out have never come back," said Hostaja. "Some of those unfortunates were wizards far more powerful than me. Consequently, I know better than to investigate. The Melski stay out of the whole valley, and, to my mind, that's the wisest thing to do. Anyway. Tell me. Who translated the Book of the Odex?"
        "Brother Troop?" said Togura uncertainly.
        "No! No! A thousand times no! It was me! Troop's father brought the book here more than a generation ago. I've laboured heartily since. Ah, but what thanks do I get for it?"
        "I think ... perhaps Brother Troop did mention your name."
        "A passing mention, perhaps! I know those people. They play down my role the best they can. It's the scholarly ego, my boy! A terrible thing, a terrible thing. I tell you - no, I'd better not. There's nothing to be gained from rehearsing these old, old quarrels. Just remember that I know as much about the odex as Brother Troop - no, more! - and what he knows, I taught him."
        "I understand, sir."
        The Word you need to open the box is Sholabarakosh. You'll know it as well as you know your own name, by the time you leave here. And more, besides. It's death to teach some of the things I've a mind to teach you, but the Confederation of Wizards has sentenced me to death five times already, with no visible effect."
        "Why would they do something like that?"
        "Internal politics, boy! I can explain it, if you've got a month to spare - but you've got better things to learn. Tell me, boy, what have they taught you about the ancient wizard castle?"
        "Well, I've seen this one, so - "
        "Boy, this is a pirate castle. It was built by the sea raiders a thousand years ago, when Drum was the center of piracy. Barring my own occupation, it's got nothing to do with wizards. But when you get to Estar you'll find a true power stronghold. Prince Comedo of Estar lives in Castle Vaunting, which was built by wizards. Tell me, boy, how many towers does it have?"
        Togura guessed one, then guessed fifty. Despite the instruction he had had from Brother Troop, he had never known a great deal about the quest he was one; what he had known had been mostly forgotten during the course of his traumatic adventures.
        "When you dare your indigestion on this quest," said Hostaja, "ignorance is death. I'll do my best to instruct you, boy, though I suspect it'll be painful for the both of us."
        And lessons began that very same day.
        Togura Poulaan studied through the autumn, learning more than he really wanted to know about the eight orders of wizards, the Confederation of Wizards, the nature of magic and the history of the troubled continent of Argan. Autumn turned to winter. Bleak winds scoured the island, bringing cold, slate-grey rain, which hammered against the window while Togura laboured to memorise Words of power and command.
        As the weather grew colder, the sea dragons, having gorged themselves on pine needles, retreated to a deep, dank dungeon to sleep. When Togura went down to have a look, he found them all reciting poetry in their sleep. The wizard of Drum, told of this, laughed:
        "The pretentious little brats are only shamming. When they're really asleep, they snore."
        And, indeed, when Togura went down a few days later to have another look, the dungeon was a sonorous slother of snoring dragons. At first, they worke up every few days, and would come stumbling up the stairs for meat and drink. They were no longer the lively, argumentative creatures he had met at the end of summer; winter made them slow, sluggish and dim-witted. As the days shortened, they woke no more, but hibernated, while fleas bit them with impunity. The cats, which had fleas of their own, kept to the fireside, also sleeping.
        Between study sessions, which increasingly bored him, Togura did a lot of sleeping himself. He also cleaned and sharpened old blades he found about the castle, then practised solitary swordplay in echoing halls and cloisters. The great outdoors, a wasteland of rock, wind and tumbled sea, held no attraction for him.
        Togura, as befitted his student status, did the cooking. They lived on salt beef, pickled octopus, boiled abalone, fried turnip, pig weed, sea anemone soup, garlic, onions and a noxious substance which Hostaja named siege dust. After meals, Hostaja would smoke a little opium, pick his nose with a golden spoon, sandpaper his false teet - which were made of metal - or fall asleep in his chair to dream of whatever it is that old men dream of.
        Hostaja also spent a great deal of time closeted in a private room which was secured against intrusion by a green door which was locked and bolted. He claimed that he spent the time meditating, though Togura had no way to verify this; his teacher still found plenty of time to scold Togura for his lackadasical attitude to his studies, and to exhort him to greater efforts.
        Toward the end of winter, when the winds were quiet for once, and the dragons still deep in hibernation, the wizard of Drum flew to Sung to confer with Brother Troop. Togura desperately wanted to go with him - to go to Sung, and stay there - but did not dare ask for the privilege. Hostaja, having spent so much time and effort on Togura's education, would be enraged if his hero reneged just because he was homesick. The time to back out would be later, when he got to Estar; if he was ever questioned, he could always say that Johan Meryl Comedo, prince of Estar, had refused him access to Castle Vaunting - it would be most unlikely that anyone would check.
        Before going away, the wizard of Drum warned Togura that he was not to open the green door into the wizard's private room.
        "Understand?" said Hostaja. "You will not, may not, must not open that door. No matter what! Not even if the door smokes, screams, or dances a split polka."
        "Is it likely to do that?" asked Togura anxiously.
        "With that door," said Hostaja, grimly, "anything can happen."
        Then he levitated his ship of sticks, and flew away to Sung. He expected to be gone three days, but a storm broke out, and he did not return for thirty. On his return, he seemed disappointed to find that the green door had not been tampered with.
        "Why didn't you open the door, boy?"
        "You told me not to!"
        "Since when did the words of the old carry weight with the young?"
        "I've adventures enough ahead of me without seeking them here. Who cares what's behind the green door? It might be something which wants to eat me!"
        "So it might, boy, so it might," said Hostaja, sounding troubled. "But where's your spirit? You're a bit of a disappointment to me, boy."
        "I've killed a monster," said Togura. "I've matched my skills against Zenjingu fighters. I've fought against the Warguild. I've started a revolution. I've survived the treachery of pirate. I've ridden a sea serpent - you don't believe me, but I swear it. Now if that doesn't make me a hero, what does?"
        The wizard of Drum shook his head.
        "Boy," he said, "you've had your accidents and you've scraped your way out of them, but I've got my doubts about you all the same."
        Now Togura understood. The green door had been a test, and he had failed. He felt crushed. But the news from Sung helped revive his spirits. The wizard of Drum, a seasoned negotiator, had extracted formidable concessions from the Wordsmiths. Togura Poulaan was appointed to the rank of wordmaster, with seniority backdated one year; when he brought the index to Keep, he would be guaranteed eleven percent of the return from the odex, plus a minimum payment of one hundred crowns; the Wordsmiths would persuade, bribe or coerce Cromarty into withdrawing the reward he had offered for Togura's head.
        "With all that on offer," said Hostaja, "I hope you start to take your responsibilities seriously. Study hard. We don't have much time."
        Togura did study hard, and found that they didn't have much time. Soon winter was at an end, and they were on their way to the east in the wizard's flying ship. The journey was a nightmare; the ship thrashed about in the air turbulence, plummeted, dropped, spun, twisted, raced and decelerated, making Togura sick, dizzy and terrified. He was thoroughly glad when they grounded in a clearing in Looming Forest, somewhere east of Lorp and north of Estar.
        As the wizard had already explained, he had no wish to fly any closer to Lorford because of the danger posed by the dragon Zenphos, which lived in Estar in a cave in the mountain of Maf.
        "Are you sure you know where you go from here?" said Hostaja.
        "I go east," said Togura, "and pick up the Hollern River, which flows south. I follow it south. Just before it reaches Lorford, it turns west. I'll know when I get to Lorford because there'll be a bridge, a town and a castle on a hill."
        "Right."
        "I've had a thought," said Togura. "Why don't I walk south? Then I could pick up the Hollern River as it flows toward the Central Ocean, and follow it upstream, toward the east, and get to Lorford that way."
        "You could," said Hostaja, "but it wouldn't be wise. In Lorford, they're used to people coming down the Hollern River. It's part of the Salt Road, after all. But soemone coming out of the west, from the sea, is a different proposition altogether. They might take you for a pirate scout, which would be unfortunate, to say the least. Yours wouldn't be the first head to decorate Prince Comedo's walls.
        "Is he very dangerous then, this Prince Comedo?"
        "Courage, boy! He's a coward, and a fool. If he menaces you, then menace him back in my name. Here - here's a parting gift for you. A letter of introduction from the Wordsmiths, written by Brother Troop in his capacity as governor. Another letter, also introducing you, which is written in my own fair hand. One last caution - never let any wizard know you've been associating with me. It could be the death of you. The Confederation is strong, boy, and ruthless, and is sworn to destroy me and all my works."
        "Thank you, sir," said Togura, and bowed.
        "Call me Hostaja," said the wizard of Drum, not for the firs time. "When we meet again, you with the index and destined to be much richer, call me Hostaja."
        And Hostaja Torsen Sken-Pitilkin, wizard of Drum, no longer Sung's most bitter and implacable critic - money is a great sweetener! - levitated his flying ship and was gone.
        Togura was alone in Looming Forest, but, for once, he was properly prepared for the task at hand. He had weather-worthy clothes and boots, a couple of knives, a sword, a bow, a quiver of arrows, five spare bowstrings, a big leather pack, a sheepskin sleeping bag, plenty of salt beef, a tinder box, enough rope to allow him to scale a respectable mountain, his two letter of introduction, a little money and a pot of boot grease.
        Togura, who felt that the wizard of Drum had overequipped him in every respect but money, threw away the boot grease, the rope, half the salt beef and a great hulking lump of driftwood which he found in the bottom of his pack - perhpas one of the sea dragons had put it there as a joke - and started walking east. Soon, to his pleasure, he encountered an eastward-runnning stream. He knew it would take him, without fail, to the Hollern River.
        This time, he could not get lost.
        As for this business of being a hero? Well, there would be plenty of time to make a decision on that after he got to Lorford. But before he made any decision about hero-work, he would undertake a far more urgent project: he would find one of Lorford's cheaper whores and finally cure himself of his virginity.


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The text on this page is part of the fantasy novel The Wordsmith and the Warguild by Hugh Cook, which, when published in North America in 1988, was divided into two separate volumes, The Questing Hero and The Hero's Return. This text can be read for free online. However, the text is copyright - all rights reserved. For permission to use this text or any portion of it contact Hugh Cook.

The Wordsmiths and the Warguild was first published in 1987. Copyright © 1987, 1988, 1998, 2004, 2006 Hugh Cook.


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