Warning: this novel is intended for an adult audience. It contains violence and vulgar language and, additionally, contains at least a little sexual content.
Disturbed by the manifestation of the monster which had escaped from the odex, the City Council of Keep met in an emergency session at noon that very same day, and passed a Resolution Regarding Care and Confinement Appertainint to Monsters. Subsection 5(c) of Schedule 9 of Annex 5 attached to the Resolution stated that:
Aware that the manifestation of the monster had excited a certain groundswell of public disfavour, the Wordsmiths sought to comply. They offered Togura the job on a temporary basis, while he decided whether he would quest for the index. He accepted, fully aware that only one real monster had emerged from the odex in more than three decades of operation.
The Wordsmiths then announced that they had recruited the young monster-slaughterer Togura Poulaan, who had proved himself by killing a monaster for them earlier in the day, in full view of the public. This announcement was met with derision by the citizenry, who were by now fully aware that the monster had been killed by Barak the Battleman, assassin and swordfighter, previously a gladiator in the murk pits of Chi'ash-lan.
"How many people in Keep know your face?" asked Brother Troops.
"A couple of dozen," said Togura.
"Two dozen people can scarcely overturn the world's belief. From now on, till further notice, you're Barak the Battleman."
"Agreed," said Togura.
Armed with his new name, he stood taller and felt stronger; he began to walk with something of a swagger. The Wordsmiths equipped him with a sword, a stabbing knife and a helmet, and made an announcement correcting the name of their resident hero.
Togura, remembering his encounter earlier in the day with the swordmaster-assassin who had prior claim to the name of Barak the Battleman, wondered with some trepidation what would happen if that rough, burly swordsman of middle years heard that his name had been usurped.
The swordsman did hear.
And he shrugged, for it was nothing to him. He should have changed his name leagues ago in any case. That evening, as he set off east, his business with King Skan Askander completed, he decided that henceforth he would call himself Genu Vay Chanay. He would identify himself as a free-lance executioner.
Genu Van Chanay gave no further thought to Keep or to its people or to the theft of his last roadname; he had plenty of things to worry about without troubling himself over trivialities like the use and abuse of his former name.
That very same evening, an invitation arrived at the Wordsmiths stronghold for the Governor and the new monster-slaughterer to attend a Banquet of Celebration to be given by the Family Suet that very night. This gave Togura an attack of stage fright.
As Brother Troop was attempting to calm his nerves, the calm of the night was interrupted by a roar from the odex, followed by the manifestation of a dragon's head. Unfortunately, the head was very much alive. But, fortunately, it was not attached to any body, and consequently was soon dead.
"It's yours, boy," said Brother Troop. "Proof positive to all the world of your ability."
"I can't claim it," said Togura. "I cannot tell a lie."
That in itself was a lie, or at least an exaggeration; he could easily tell a small lie, and often had and did, but he was unable to tell a lie on such an exaggerated scale.
"You needn't say anything about it at all," said Brother Troop. "We'll have it carried to the Banquet of Celebration. If anyone asks about it, then murmer politely and say it's beneath your dignity to discuss such trifles."
"That's excellent advice," said Togura, struck by the brilliance of this idea. "It's very kind of you."
"Not at all," said Brother Troop, dismissing his thanks with a wave of his hand. "It's us I'm thinking of. We have to have the confidence of the community we live amongst. You're a valuable asset to us, boy. Do us proud."
So it was that Togura went to the Banquet of Celebration in triumph, together with the dragon's head, which took pride of place at the dinner, occupying a table all to itself.
Togura was rather miffed when he discovered that the banquet was not to celebrate his own success at monster killing. It was, instead, to celebrate the engagement of young Roly Suet to the king's daughter, Slerma, and to announce the launch of a new coinage in bronze, gold and silver. The coinage would bear the head of King Skan Askander but would be backed by the assets of the Family Suet.
However, Togura's ego was boosted by the fuss the young and beautiful Day Suet made of her hero. She was a little puzzled about his new name. He explained the misunderstanding which had forced it upon him. And, as he brought proof positive of his abilities in the form of the dragon's head, she could not doubt his courage.
"You're a real man," she said, breathing admiration.
"I'm growing up," Togura concluded.
"Your father was round here earlier today, real man," she said. "He was talking of spanking you."
"I doubt that he'll get the chance," said Togura, really cool and collected.
"Yes," said Day Suet. "But it would be interesting to watch one real man spank another."
"Minx!" said Togura, swatting her.
She evaded him, and laughed.
And, before very long, she had persuaded him to laugh with her.
The musicians, robust and virile men, laboured and belaboured their instruments, pumping, hammering, stretching, scraping and churning, till their faces were beetroot-red and sweat poured down to their beards and their broad moustaches.
As Togura danced with Day, he dared, and she dared with him. Her breasts were soft. Her lips were hot and eager. Her eyes spoke just a little more than she would voice. His confidence grew. When he suggested they leave, she never asked him where. She led him to her room. As if in a trance, he stripped her to he skin. Her body, smooth and glabrous, glimmered in the light of a single candle. She closed with him, and gave him a drunken kiss. She smelt of sweat and musk, of perfume and spices, of hard liquor and youthful desire.
Standing before her, naked, he realised that now was the moment. Now he was really going to become a man. A real man. Initiated into the mysteries of the flesh. His desire was hard, urgent, swelling. He touched her thigh, lightly, finding it warm as new bread. Overwhelmed by her heat and aroma, he felt and irresistible imminence taking control of his flesh. Horror-struck, he tried to restrain himself.
His male organ began to pump.
At the last possible moment, Togura clapped a hand to his cock, which pumped hot jism over his palm. That saved him from splattering Day from bosom to thigh with his semen. But the disaster was still absolute, unmitigated and irretrievable.
"Oh no!" he cried, in agony.
"What is it?" said Day.
Then, realising precisely what it was, she began to laugh. Blithe spirit that she was, she could not take this technical hitch seriously. She was puzzled when Togura began to ram himself into his clothes.
"Tog," she said. "No. Don't go. Tog, it's nothing. Talk to me, Tog. Tog. Wait!"
But, when she clutched at him, he broke free and fled, still fastening his garments. He was so embarrassed he could not endure her presence. He wanted to die. Or bury himself in a hole for half a thousand years.
He escaped to the autumn air and stalked through the streets, furious. Raging. Hating himself and the world and his own rebellious flesh. He had failed absolutely and miserably at a man's most important test. He was worse than nothing. He was disgraced. He would never be able to look Day in the face again. She knew!
When his half-brother Cromarty had accused him of being a day-dreaming masturbator, that had been bad enough. But he had been able to deny it with a straight face, even though it was true. After all, masturbation was furtively acknowledged or hinted at by many. But to fail with a woman!
Togura remembered Cromarty boasting about Toff the milkmaid:
"She was hot, boys. Hot, drunk and flat on her back. So I stuck it in to the hilt. Rammed it in. She loved it. She begged for more. I gave it."
Everyone had their stories. Even Togura had his stories, though his were not true. (Could Cromarty's be untrue? He'd like to think so, but it was difficult. Cromarty was so brash, so arrogant, so confident.)
Brooding on his disaster, Togura grimly resolved that tonight would be the night, no matter what. He could never face Day again, but he would find a way. He would lose his virginity by morning, or die in the attempt.
Thus resolved, he bent his footsteps toward the townhouse of Melladona, one of the town's five whores, and rumoured to be the cheapest. She was awake and working; she had only lately discharged her last customer. He struck a bargain and paid.
He thought himself confident.
But when he actually saw her rancid flesh, her flaccid thighs, the fat veins snaking up her legs, the stale bruises and the odd blotched marks on her breasts, and the crinkling scar running from her neck to her naval, his courage failed. In her cold and narrow room, his worm disgraced him by shrinking to a cringing stump of flesh scarcely the size of a thumb.
He asked for his money back.
Melladona laughed, then, realising he was serious, attacked him. After he escaped into the street, she cursed him from the window. Trying to recover something from the debacle, he eased his ego by shouting a few well-chosen insults. Melladona responded promptly by emptying her chamber pot over his head.
Togura eventually washed himself off in someone's rain water barrel, then, sadder but not necessarily wiser, mooched through the night to the Wordsmiths' Stronghold. The gate was open, and someone, dressed in a winterweight coat and swaddled in a blanket, was sitting by the gate waiting for him.
"Togura Poulaan!" said Day Suet severely as he approached. "So there you are at last. Well? Aren't you grateful to see me? Don't you realise you're lucky to see me at all? Running off into the night like that! Stupid fellow! Most girls would have given you away forever."
"Day," said Togura, not knowing what to say.
She had come for him. She was his. This must be true love! But, all the same, she was a source of mortification to him. She knew! Standing in the light of the gatelamp, he hesitated.
"Don't just stand there, stupid!" said Day, impatiently. "Kiss me!"
Togura gathered her into his arms, and they kissed.
"Now take me inside," said Day, "And get me something to eat. It's cold out here, and I'm hungry."
"I don't know if the brothers would approve," said Togura.
Day kicked him in the shins, hard.
"I'm running out of patience, Togura Poulaan. You've used up most of your chances. You don't have many left."
"My lady," said Togura, the formality of romance coming to his rescue.
He took her hand in his and kissed it, gracefully. Then he led her inside. Unable to resist the opportunity to show off a little, he took her to the central courtyard to show her the odex. By night it was, when they stood in front of it, an amazement of brilliant colours, far brighter than the night lamps arrayed around the courtyard.
While they were standing watching, two figures dressed in black jumped down from the roof above and landed in the courtyard. Day squealed. The intruders drew swords. They were masked with darkness: only their eyes showed.
"We seek Togura Poulaan," said one, speaking a foreign variety of Galish rather than the local patois.
"The swordmaster-assassin otherwise known as Barak the Battleman," said the other.
"Here I am," said Togura - and instantly wished he had held his tongue.
"Joke with us again and you're dead," said one of the intruders, grabbing Day Suet by the throat. "The girl dies, too. Now tell us where we find our quarry. We know he's here! The whole town knows. We know him to his face, so try no substitutes. We know the head required in Chi'ash-lan."
Togura stood rooted to the spot, paralysed with terror. He had no weapons. Face to face with this twin death, what could he have done with weapons anyway?
"Tog," gasped Day. "He's hurting me!"
"Silence, girl!" snarled the man holding her, looking around. For the first time he looked directly into the odex, and so, for the first time, he saw its ever-changing maze of kaleidoscopic colours. "What," he said, slightly startled, "is that?"
Day did not answer, but Togura found voice enough to say:
"A kind of Door."
"You can go through it?"
"In a manner of speaking," said Togura.
At that moment, they were interrupted by sounds of argument beyond the courtyard. Then in came the Baron Chan Poulaan with a squad of bowmen and spearmen. Two wordmasters were clinging to the baron, trying to restrain him.
"This place is forbidden by dark," cried one.
But the baron advanced remorselessly.
"I'll have my son tonight," he said. "Or know the reason why. Ah, Togura! There you are! Come, boy. Heel!"
"Stay where you are," hissed one of the men in black.
"Who are your funny friends?" said the baron, advancing, with his men behind him. "Drawn swords, I see. Do we have a problem here?"
So speaking, the baron drew his own sword. He was by no means a master of the weapon, but he was strong, aggressive and enthusiastic. In Sung, he was regarded as fearsome.
The man holding Day in a throttle edged closer to the odex. His companion gave Togura a shove which sent him sprawling to the ground, then menaced the baron and his men.
"Back, rabble!" he said, speaking now in a loud, hard voice.
Baron Chan Poulaan was amused.
"There are at least seven of us and only two of you," said the baron, reasonably. "Throw down your weapons and surrender."
"I," said the man confronting him, "am a ninth-grade adept of the Zenjingu fighting cult. I can kill all of you without thinking. Your very existence here is at your peril."
"Your grammar suffers under stress," said the baron, dryly.
"Out, vermin! Do you not know the dread doom which walks in the midnight black of the Zenjingu fighters?"
"No," said the baron, frankly.
He was essentially a provincial man who led a narrow and provincial life; he knew nothing whatsoever of the Zenjingu fighters, whose very name was terror in the lands around Chi'ash-lan.
"You have outlived your life," snarled the Zenjingu fighter, raising his sword.
The baron snapped his fingers. An archer standing behind him unleashed an arrow. The Zenjingu fighter lurched, dropped his sword, threw up his arms, then waddled round in circles, gasping as he clutched at the arrow, which had pierced his throat.
"Thus we do in the highlands," said the baron, striding forward with an easy gait.
As the Zenjingu fighter tottered, the baron hacked into the unruly fellow's head. On the third blow, the man dropped dead at his feet. Whistling tunelessly, the baron turned his attention to the remaining trespasser.
"Get back!" shouted the survivor. "Get back, or I kill the girl."
"The life of a female Suet is nothing to me," said Baron Chan Poulaan, who saw no harm in telling the truth. "Go ahead. Make my day."
"No!" screamed Togura, launching himself at the Zenjingu fighter.
The fighter threw Day Suet into the odex, which had been described to him as a Door. Then he jumped in after her. Both were briefly visible, then gone, disintegrating - with a jangle of music - into a storm of colours. An ilps, popping out of the odex, celebrated the occasion with hearty laughter.
"So much for that," said the baron crisply, wiping his sword then sheathing it. "Come along, Togura, we're going home. What is it, boy? Not crying, are we? Now now, don't be a baby."
"I loved her," said Togura wretchedly.
"I'm sure you did," said the baron, unsympathetically. "We all suffer these fevers in our youth. Stop snivelling, boy!"
"You killed her!" screamed Togura.
"She's gone into the odex," said the baron. "I've heard the Wordsmiths say that it stores whatever's fed into it. If that's so, then get them to unstore it. Or do it yourself. Or if it can't be done, forget about it. Suets copulate like ferrets. There's plenty more where that came from. Come come, there's no use crying over spilt milk."
When Togura continued crying, the baron slapped him briskly. Togura clenched his fist and smashed him. His father fell unconscious at his feet, poleaxed. There was a murmer amongst the bowmen and the spearmen.
"Take him," said Togura, in a thick wet ugly voice. "Him and his sword. Take him, and get him out of here!"
The men obeyed.
The two wordmasters who had tried to prevent Baron Chan Poulaan from entering their stronghold muttered to each other. Togura Poulaan, now of the Wordsmiths, had made war on the head of the Warguild: no good would come of this.
They had more to mutter about shortly, for Togura, bloodlust in his heart, began to attack the odex.
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.