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fantasy novel chapter 34
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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 34

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Chapter 34

        Heat oppressed him.
        Footsteps click-clocked back and forth, treading on timbers overhead. He did not know whether sunlit air lay above him, or whether there were more layers of death and suffering between him and the daylight. He did not know, but it would not be true to say that he did not care, for today he felt stronger - strong enough, in fact, to be appalled by his physical weakness and his degraded condition.
        A couple of body handlers clomped by, dragging a corpse which they had shuffled into a canvas removal bag. When they were gone, there were the usual moans and groans, but apart from that it was strangely quiet. It was daylight, certainly; a little blade of sunlight had prised apart the timbers not far away, giving Togura a proof of the sun. Usually, by day, the harbour was loud with shouts, swearing, battle drills and the constant clamour of woodwork and repairs. Today, nothing. Except, somewhere, a gull crying claw-claw-claw.
        Togura tried to sit up. He impressed himself by accomplishing this feat. He impressed himself less by promptly fainting. When he roused himself again, it was soup time. He drank greedily from a serving bowl; it was good.
        He rested, then nerved himself to attempt a heroic project: namely, making his way to the upper deck. He found himself too weak for the task; exhausted, he slept. He woke to find the darkness alive with activity. Men, some screaming in pain, were being carried down to join him. A chop-surgeon wearing a blood-bespattered leather apron prowled up and down with a lantern, looking for mutilated limbs he could hack off. He eyed Togura hopefully, then, disappointed, moved on.
        Very shortly, he found a suitable victim. Togura, with a little bit of hell now visible by lantern light, watched. And soon saw enough to make him faint dead away.
        When he recovered himself, he was being dragged along in darkness. Something heavy and dark shrouded him. He screamed and punched at the darkenss with his fists. The dragging stopped. Daylight opened at his eyes; a face peered in. Two men conferred, then, without ceremony, tipped him out of their canvas removal bag. He lay on the open deck of the ship, blinking at the sunlight. A sailor grabbed him by the armpits, hauled him into the shade of a tarpaulin which sheltered twenty wounded men, and left him there.
        From where he was lying, Togura could see cremation fires burning on the quayside; he suspected he was lucky not to have been incinerated.
        "Do you speak Galish?" he said to his nearest neighbor.
        But the man was zombie-silent, his eyes staring into the distance. Togura could get no response from him.
        "What about you?" he said to the next-nearest man.
        "Shrrr-shrrr," said the man, his breath muttering in and out between stubbly yellow teeth.
        "Sure," said Togura, heartlessly. "And what's your name and all? Hey?"
        "Shrrr ... " said the man.
        And said no more, for he was dead. Togura was disconcerted by this unexpected development, and felt a little bit guilty at his heartlessness.
        A man came round with soup and water; Togura took his second soup share of the day. He eyed the dead man. A chest wound had ruined his jerkin, but his trews looked stout enough. But Togura was not bold enough to strip him by daylight, and soon corpse men dragged him away.
        Togura was now feeling well enough to be disgusted by his own mired, filthy body and his dungbath reeking rags, which were softly seething with vermin. He swore that he would get the next setof clothes which were going. But, each time the opportunity arose, his courage failed him. When evening fell, he was still in the same rags.
        He woke in the darkness to find distant sounds of battle carrying through the still night air; there was fire inland, to the east. He was cold.
        He slept again, waking before dawn because of the cold. The rising sun found him stripping a corpse for its clothes; nobody raised an eyebrow. Later in the day, he managed to draw up a bucket full of harbour water which was marginally less disgusting than he was; he washed himself, after a fashion.
        There was a lot of coming and going and gossiping. He heard many people talking in Galish, but was too sick and shy to dare their disfavour and ask his basic questions; their gossip, apart from their commonplace complaints, was unintelligible because he did not know the context. Then, late in the afternoon, as he was tottering about the deck, exercising his shadow, he came upon a man he thought he knew. It was Draven, flushed, sweating and feverish.
        "Draven!" cried Togura, in amazement.
        The pirate, who had been dozing, opened his eyes and surveyed Togura. At first, Togura thought he was too sick to speak, but speak he did, and his voice sounded strong enough.
        "Who would you be, young man? No - don't tell me. Yes! Forester! Or should I say, Togura Poulaan? Isn't that how you introduced yourself in Lorford?"
        "I did," said Togura.
        "You gave me quite a shock, turning up like that. I'm sorry I couldn't have stopped for a word - it would've been more than my life was worth."
        "Why?" said Togura, remembering his desperate efforts to make contact with Draven at Lorford.
        "Because," said Draven.
        That was all the explanation he was ready to give; Togura suspected that if he pushed for more, he would only get an elaborate series of lies, so he let the matter drop. He was so glad to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice that he didn't chastise Draven for the disgraceful episode on the Warwolf, when Draven had helped throw Togura to the sea serpents.
        "So," said Draven, "you're the man with the price on his head."
        "Yes," said Togura, claiming this identity with something close to joy, even though it might expose him to danger. "That's me. Togura Poulaan, also known as Barak the Battleman, a veteran of many wars and battles."
        "Including, now, the battle of Androlmarphos. We're lucky to be still alive, wouldn't you say?"
        "Androlmarphos?" said Togura, blankly.
        "Yes, yes, Androlmarphos."
        "Where's that?"
        "Where's that? What's wrong with you? Did you just fall out of the sky? What do you mean, where's that? Androlmarphos is here. Around us. Under us. To the left of us, the right of us. It's where we are. We - tattoo this on your skin, in case you forget - we are now, and have been for some days, in Androlmarphos. The main port of the Harvest Plains, in case you didn't know. This thing we're sitting on is called a ship. That - "
        "All right, all right," said Togura. "I get the picture. Don't be so hard on me. I've had a very difficult time."
        "So have I," said Draven. "Right now, I'm dying of fever."
        "You have my sympathies," said Togura, without any sympathy; Draven looked too sick to fight or ride, but the vigour of his conversation proved him to be a very long way from death.
        "Apart from the fever," said Draven, stung by Togura's obvious lack of concern, "I've been to Gendormargensis and back. I've been tortured. I've been killed."
        "For sure," said togura. "For sure. May I stretch out my bones right here? I feel faint."
        "Stretch away," said Draven. "Stretch away."
        Both of them were in fact rather ill, and both had over-excited themselves with too much talking. Draven roused later in the evening, to listn to gossip about someone called Menator, who had been parlaying with the enemy, and had been murdered.
        "This is very bad news," said Draven.
        "Why?" asked Togura. "Was this Menator a friend of yours?"
        "No, my enemy," said Draven. "I swore to kill him and eat his liver. The first part of my vow is now impossible, and the second, in this heat, is probably already over-ripe."
        "What have you got against him?"
        "I'll tell you," said Draven.
        And he did, in detail. But Togura found pirate politics too complex to follow, and fell asleep in the middle of the explanation.
        The next day, just after soup, Draven resumed the tale of his trip to Gendormargensis and back.
        "Gendormargensis is in Tameran," said Draven. "It's so far north that it's cold all year, so they make buildings out of ice. They freeze the heads of their enemies in blocks of the stuff. Wherever you walk in the streets, there's dead eyes staring at you."
        "If the buildings are made of ice then what happens when they light a fire?"
        "They don't have proper fires, not in Gendormargensis," said Draven. "What they have is the heads of dead dragons. They shove their food between the jaws, and it cooks. They have live dragons, too. Hundreds of them. Armies of them. It was outside the dragon stables that they killed me."
        "They killed you?!"
        "Killed me dead. Then hacked me apart. Split me from stem to stern. Chopped me into dogmeat."
        "You look healthy enough to me."
        "Ay. I was resurrected. A dralkosh it was which did the deed."
        "A dralkosh?"
        "A woman of evil," said Draven, with a shudder. "Her name was Ampadara. Yes, that was the name. She was the chief torturer for the Lord Emperor of Tameran, the man they call Khmar. She had me cut to pieces, starting with my testicles."
        Togura at first had his doubts, but Draven backed up his tale with so much detail that it surely had to be true. Draven was eloquent about the terrors of the Collosnon Empire which dominated the continent of Tameran.
        "The women have the rule of it," said Draven. "That's the worst part. The rule of women is a fearful evil."
        He told of the streets of Gendormargensis, which were paved with layers of ice-covered skulls; of the Yolantarath River, which ran red with the blood of human sacrifices; of the Lord Emperor Khmar, a huge giant of a man with three arms, who went about naked, butchering babies and eating their livers raw; of the evil Ampadara, mistress of the knife, an ugly hag with a voice as vicious as a whip.
        "She laughed as she cut me," said Draven. "A foul laughter, like a bird of prey gone rabid."
        He told, in agonising detail, of his death and resurrection.
        "It was that Ampadara who raised me from the dead," said Draven. "She meant to make me her slave. But I escaped. When all's said and done, a man's a match for any woman - though in this case it was a near thing."
        "But what were you doing in Lorford?" said Togura.
        "Oh," said Draven. "That's another story."
        "It's one I wouldn't mind hearing," said Togura, who felt much stronger today, and was not going to be put off as easily as he had been the day before. "You owe me an explanation. You owe me quite a lot, for throwing me off the Warwolf."
        "Throwing you off?" said Draven, astonished. "I did no such thing! You jumped!"
        "I did not!" said Togura, indignantly.
        "But yes - I was there. I remember. You were fooling around at the stern, watching the women get slaughtered. I told you to watch your footing. You remember - come now, don't tell me no. I even grabbed hold when the sea lurched you over. But you slid from my grasp, no helping it."
        "That's not true!"
        "Well ... perhaps I misremember a detail or two. But the main sighting's there. I wasn't to blame."
        "You threw me over!"
        "That's a lie. I distinctly remember the weapons muqaddam had you in his grips. Throwing you or saving you, I'm not to know, but he had you. Didn't he?"
        "Well, yes, but - "
        "There you are then," said Draven triumphantly. "You say I threw you over and now you admit I didn't. Memory's a funny thing, young man. I tell you that. Don't trust yourself too far."
        Togura was about to protest further, but at that moment something strange was heard from the east. He could not see what it was; ships at anchor and harbourside buildings allowed him no vistas inland. There was a heavy grinding, growling sound, like ice breaking up, perhaps. He heard much shouting and screaming in the city, then an incoherent roaring, loud as breaking surf, or louder.
        "What is it?" said Togura.
        "We're under attack," said Draven, with fear in his voice. "We're under attack."


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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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