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fantasy novel chapter 39
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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 39

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Chapter 39

        The seas at the end of summer mourned onto the rocks of Togura's island of exile. He cast a chip of wood adrift. Watching it wash away in the waves, he wished himself home.
        Elsewhere on the island, Draven was campaigning. The last leader of the pirates was dead, killed at Androlmarphos. Draven said that Elkor alish, who had led them since then, had no claim to their loyalty:
        "After all, he's never had to face a vote in a free election. Remember that, boys. We all know that elections are the only way to get government of the pirates, by the pirates, for the pirates."
        "But," said someone, "Elkor Alish is the world's greatest war-leader. We need an alliance with him. He can make us rich."
        "Rich?" said Draven. "All the profit so far has gone to the earth, enriched with our blood and bones. I can't see that changing . If I could, of course I'd make an alliance for income - the pirate trade is thin at times, no doubting. But to make an alliance for the privilege of losing my liver? Now that's another story."
        So spoke Draven.
        But Togura, of course, never heard him.
        Togura was far away, trying to decipher the weather-worn inscription of an ancient seashore tomb. Giving up, he sat down on a rock and looked out to sea. The sun was burning down into the Central Ocean. Soon it would be night.
        Elsewhere, Draven was still at work.
        Ten days later, he was still at it.
        "I'm an honest man," said Draven, making politics to pirates. "You don't believe it? No doubt you've been listening to that fool Mellicks, a drunken sod of a sot with a barnacle backside, a liar since birth, like his whore-beefing father before him. Now listen here - "
        The days weathered away.
        While Draven politicked, Togura, on his lonesome, explored paths, tunnels and stairways, the legacy of generations of stoneworking. He discovered the stoneworkers of the Greater Teeth: a dwarvish undercaste of untouchables, an inbred people with stunted noses, heart defects and bad teeth. He heard the melancholy melodies of their pan pipes, then tried, without success, to reproduce those melodies on his triple-harp.
        "Hark to me," said Draven, addressing a pirate gathering. "Harken up. You - you, you, the woman in the corner - fart off! You men now - hear me out. What do we want from life? Two ships for riding - one made of wood, the other made of woman. We've got that. So why so many of us killed for no good purpose, tideline wreckage on a foreign shore ...?"
        While Draven preached and debated, Togura, elsewhere, investigated sea caves - some, half-flooded by the tides, used as harbours or as dry docks. He met the shipwrights of the Greater Teeth, who were slaves but proud regardless, for they were masters of their craft; he heard stories of their strange and distant lands, and, in return, played them music, the like of which they had never heard before.
        "How can I get passage to Sung?" he asked.
        "Nobody sails for Sung," he was told. "Some, though, sail on the now and then for the Lesser Teeth."
        "How so?" he asked.
        "Because the Greaters have the rule of the Lesser."
        Exploring this half-hope of getting at least half-way home, Togura learnt that under the rule of the pirate chief Menator - now dead - the pirates had conquered the sand-shore fishing islands known as the Lesser Teeth. They now maintained a shipboard garrison in Brennan Harbour, the only half-decent port in the Lesser Teeth, and extracted tribute from the populace.
        Precisely two and a half days after Togura learnt of this, a few pirates arrived in the Greater Teeth, having come south from the Lesser, in an open boat. They brought a tale of terror. On a dark night of hard and driving rain, the people of Brennan had rowed out to cut the anchor ropes of the three garrison ships, which had been driven ashore and wrecked. The crews had been slaughtered.
        "We set out to get an empire," said Draven, darkly, to all the pirates who would listen. "At this rate, we'll be lucky to keep our bones."
        Togura, despairing of any swift return to Sung, accepted an invitation to tour the Outer Rocks, the most barren part of the Greater Teeth. There, he played music for sealing parties. Sealing was an important part of the economy of the Greater Teeth, which could not be sustained by loot alone. Oil for lamps, furs for clothes, meat for the pot - all of this the seals provided. Seal blubber was eaten by all; being an excellent antiscorbutic, it helped keep them healthy.
        While Togura was playing music on the Outer Rocks, Draven, still on the island of Knock, was calling out his main rival for the pirate leadership:
        "Your father had no cock. He used a sausage instead. So that's what you were born with. But your mother bit it off at birth. Draw, you cockless hunk of shit-ballast, draw!"
        They drew, and fought, blade against blade. Draven killed his rival. Thanks to his diligent campaigning and the eloquence of his steel, Draven's triumph over the imperialists was complete; having convinced his peers of the futility of fighting wars of aggression in foreign lands, he was elected leader.
        "What now?" asked someone.
        "What now? Why, get your cocks out, boys, and breed, boys, breed. We're down a generation, so let's make up for it."
        This programme of action - simple, cheap and practical - proved suitably popular.
        Togura, sitting alone on the shores of the Outer Rocks, brooded about the news of the breeding programme. He could not participate, for he had no woman of his own. He played his triple-harp to the wind, the gulls, the seals alive and dead, and the heaping surf of the flotsam-jetsam waves; homesick, he longed for Sung, and mourned for the loss of his true love, Day Suet. He remembered the voice of Day Suet, the warmth of Day Suet, the naked thighs of Day Suet, and the night when she had almost made him a man.
        Day Suet was gone forever, for an evil Zenjingu fighter had thrown her into the odex, and had then jumped in after her. Togura had gone questing for the index which spoke the Universal Language, and which would have allowed him to rescue Day, but he had failed to find it. All he had was a magic casket - it would, he supposed, make a good tinder box - and this stupid triple-harp.
        "At least I tried," said Togura.
        And comforted himself by telling himself how very hard he had tried.
        A message came from Draven, brought by word of mouth:
        "Come back. We need you to play at a banquet."
        Togura supposed that the banquet was to celebrate Draven's accession to the leadership of the pirates of the Greater Teeth - as indeed it was, at least initially. But by the time Togura got back to Knock, which was a few days later, the purpose of the banquet had changed dramatically. It was now to honour the warrior Elkor Alish and the mercenary army which had lately arrived from the far-off islands of Rovac to serve under his war banner.
        "A week," said Togura, sagely, "is a long time in politics."
        Elkor Alish, who had been defeated at Androlmarphos, had now recovered the death stone and two magic bottles besides. It was a mystery how Alish had managed to steal these things away from the enemy, but there was no doubt about what they signified. They meant power, glory, victory. War fever swept the Greater Teeth. Loud-mouthed imperialists once more boasted about how they would be princes, kings, lords of pomp and circumstance in a world-conquering empire.
        And Draven?
        He cheered for conquest with the rest.
        The soldiers of the mercenary army from the islands of Rovac had come, for the most part, in trading ships chartered in the west, though a few had arrived in Rovac longships - slim, beautiful, shallow-draught vessels which Togura would have thought too fragile to dare the open ocean. He could only guess what hardship the longship crews had suffered on their long journey east.
        Elkor Alish had brought five longships and two hundred Rovac warriors to the Greater Teeth; most of the Rovac and most of their ships were at Runcorn. The Rovac were the proudest, hardest, most humourless men Togura had ever seen; they frightened him, for it seemed that a grim, relentless Purpose possessed them.
        Elkor Alish spoke to a general meeting of all the fighting men in the Great Hall of Knock (which should by rights have been called the Great Cave.) He spoke partly in Rovac, partly in Galish. He was entirely changed from the relaxed, genial man Togura had met after the defeat at Androlmarphos.
        Now that Alish once more had the chance of victory, he too had become hard, humourless, driving. When he spoke, his voice rang out, a thundering challenge in which even Togura could hear the underlying notes of remorseless fanaticism. Alish spoke of war, conquest, glory, vengeance. And men cheered, shouted, stamped their feet, roared out their absolute approval. Even Togura found himself, for a moment, excited by the prospect of war, loot, slaughter, arson, rape.
        At the banquet which followed, pirates and Rovac warriors got drunk together, drinking away as if their leading ambition in life was to die of alcoholic poisoning or cirrhosis of the liver. While mostly everyone got legless, Togura, promising himself a dram or two later, played his triple-harp to general acclaim.
        There was no confrontation between Alish and Draven, for Draven knew when he was defeated. At the height of the banquet, he stood and freely pledged himself to the world conqueror:
        "I, Bluewater Draven, speak to you, Elkor Alish, that all men may hear and know. Harken! By my heartbeat's blood, I swear, with all my honour, to love you as my brother, to obey you as my captain, to accept you as my king, to follow your wars to the hilt of my sword and the last of my leather. I ask nothing in return; to serve is enough."
        It was handsomely said. There were cheers. The banqueting men guzzled down drink after drink and got raucous. The Rovac roared out drunken poetry in their own language. Togura noted that neither Draven nor Elkor Alish drank much; they spent a lot of time conferring together, their voices masked by the uproar all around.
        Finally, Draven sent one of his sidekicks to Togura with a message:
        "Elkor Alish and myself are removing our enjoyments to my own home. Follow, with your harp."
        Togura obeyed.


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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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