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BETWEEN WAKEFULNESS AND sleeping, we have most of us had the illusion of hearing voices, scraps of conversation, phrases spoken in unfamiliar tones. Sometimes we attempt to attune our minds so that we can hear more, but we are rarely successful. Between wakefulness and sleeping, I began, every night, to hear voices . . .
Had I hung, for an eternity in limbo? Was I alive–dead? Was there a memory of a world which lay in the far past or the distant future? Of another world which seemed closer? And the names? Was I John Daker or Erekos‘? Was I either of these? Many other names, Shaleen, Artos, Brian, Umpata, Roland, Ilanth, Ulysses, Alric, ﬂed away down the ghostly rivers of my memory. I hung in darkness, bodiless. A man spoke. Where was he? I tried to look but had no eyes to see.
“Erekosë the Champion, where are you?”
Another voice, then: “Father . . . it is only a legend . . .”
“No, Iolinda. I feel he is listening. Erekosë . . .”
I tried to answer, but had no voice. Swirling half-dreams of a house in a great city of miracles, a swollen, grimy city of miracles, crammed with dull-coloured machines, many of which bore human passengers. Of buildings, beautiful beneath their coatings of dust and of other, brighter buildings not so beautiful, with austere lines and many glass windows. Of a troop of riders galloping over an undulating countryside, ﬂamboyant in armour of lacquered gold, coloured pennants draped around their blood-encrusted lances. Their faces were heavy with weariness. Of more faces, many faces, some of which I half recognized, others which were unfamiliar, people clad in strange clothes. A picture of a white haired, middle-aged man who had a tall, spiked crown upon his head. His mouth moved, he was speaking . . .
“Erekosë, it is I, King Rigenos, Defender of Humanity. You are needed again, Erekosë. The Hounds of Evil rule a third of the world and humankind is weary of the war against them. Come to us, Erekosë and lead us to victory. From the Plains of Melting Ice to the Mountains of Sorrow they have set up their corrupt standard and I fear they will advance yet further into our territories.”
The woman’s voice: “Father, this is only an empty tomb. Not even the mummy of Erekosë remains–it became drifting dust long ago. Let us leave and return to Necranal to marshal the living peers.”
I felt like a fainting man who strives to ﬁght against dizzy oblivion but, however much he tries, cannot take control of his own brain. Again I tried to answer, but could not.
It was as if I wavered backwards through time, while every atom of me wanted to go forwards. I had the sensation of vast size as if I were made of stone with eyelids of granite, measuring miles across–eyelids which I could not open. And then I was tiny–the most minute grain in the universe, and yet I felt I belonged to the whole far more than the stone giant.
Memories came and went. The whole panorama of the twentieth century, its beauties and its bitternesses, its satisfactions, its striﬁng, rushed into my mind like air into a vacuum. But it was only momentary, for the next second my entire being was ﬂung elsewhere–to a world which was Earth, but not the Earth of John Daker, not quite the world of dead Erekosë, either.
There were three great continents, two close together, divided from the other by a vast sea containing many islands, large and small.
I saw an ocean of ice which I knew to be slowly shrinking–the Plains of Melting Ice. I saw the third continent which bore lush ﬂora, mighty forests, blue lakes and was bound along its northern coasts by a towering chain of mountains–the Mountains of Sorrow. This I knew to be the domain of the Eldren, whom King Rigenos had called the Hounds of Evil.
Now, on the other two continents, I saw the wheatlands of the West on the continent of Zavara, with their tall cities of multicoloured rock, the rich cities of the wheatlands–Stalaco, Calodemia, Mooros and Ninadoon.
There were the great seaports–Shilaal, Wedmah, Sinana, Tarkar, and Noonos of towers cobbled with precious stones.
Then I saw the fortress cities of the Continent of Necralala, with the capital city Necranal chief among them, built on, into and about a mighty mountain, peaked by the spreading palace of its warrior kings.
Now a little more came clear as, in the background of my awareness, I heard a voice calling Erekos‘, Erekos‘, Erekos‘ . . .
The warrior kings of Necranal, kings for two thousand years of Humanity united, at war, and united again. The warrior kings of whom King Rigenos was the last living and aging now, with only a daughter, Iolinda, to carry on his line. Old and weary with hate–but still hating. Hating the unhuman folk whom he called the Hounds of Evil, mankind’s age-old enemies, reckless and wild, linked, it was said, by a thin line of blood to the human race–an outcome of a union between an ancient queen and the Evil One, Azmobaana.
Hated by King Rigenos as soulless immortals, slaves of Azmobaana’s machinations.
And, hating, he called upon John Daker, whom he called Erekosë, to aid him with his war against them.
“Erekosë, I beg thee answer me. Are you ready to come?” His voice was loud and echoing and when, after a struggle, I could reply, my own voice seemed to echo also.
“I am ready,” I replied, “but appear to be chained.”
“Chained?” There was consternation in his voice. “Are you, then, a prisoner of Azmobaana’s frightful minions? Are you trapped upon the Ghost Worlds?”
“Perhaps,” I said. “But I do not think so. It is space and time which chain me. I am separated from you by a gulf.”
“Already we pray that you may come to us.”
“Then continue,” I said.
I was falling away again. I thought I remembered laughter, sadness, pride. Then, suddenly, more faces, I felt as if I witnessed the passing of everyone I had known, down the ages, and then one face superimposed itself over the others–the head and shoulders of an amazingly beautiful woman, with blonde hair piled beneath a diadem of precious stones which seemed to light the sweetness of her oval face. “Iolinda,” I said. I saw her more solidly now. She was clinging to the arm of the tall, gaunt man who wore a crown–King Rigenos.
They stood before an empty platform of quartz and gold, and resting on a cushion of dust was a straight sword which they dared not touch. Neither did they dare step too close to it for it gave off a radiation which might slay them.
It was a tomb in which they stood. The Tomb of Erekosë–my tomb. I moved towards the platform, hanging over it. Ages before, my body had been placed there. I stared at the sword which held no dangers for me but was unable, in my captivity, to pick it up. It was my spirit only which inhabited the dark place–but the whole of my spirit now, not the fragment which had inhabited the tomb for thousands of years. The fragment which had heard King Rigenos and had enabled John Daker to hear it, to come to it and be united with it.
“Erekosë!” called the king, straining his eyes through the gloom as if he had seen me. “Erekosë–we pray.”
Then I experienced the dreadful pain which I suppose a woman to go through when bearing a child. A pain that seemed eternal and yet was intrinsically its own vanquisher. I was screaming, writhing in the air above them. Great spasms of agony–but an agony complete with purpose–the purpose of creation.
At last I was standing, materially, before them.
“I have come,” I said. “I am here, King Rigenos. I have left nothing worthwhile behind me–but do not let me regret that leaving.”
“You will not regret it, Champion.” He was pale, exhilarated, smiling. I looked at Iolinda who dropped her eyes modestly and then, as if against her will, raised them again to regard me. I turned to the dais on my right.
“My sword,” I said reaching for it.
I heard King Rigenos sigh with satisfaction.
“They are doomed, now, the dogs,” he said.
They had a sheath for the sword. It had been made days before. King Rigenos left to get it, leaving me alone with Iolinda. I did not question my being there and neither, it seemed, did she. We regarded one another silently until the king returned with the scabbard.
“This will protect us against your sword’s poison,” he said.
I took it, slid the sword into it. The scabbard was opaque, like glass. The metal was unfamiliar to me, as John Daker, light, sharp, dull as lead. Yet the feel of it awaked dim remembrance which I did not bother to arouse. Why was I the only one who could wear the sword without being affected by its radiation?
Was it because I was constitutionally different in some way to the rest of these people? Was it that the ancient Erekosë and the unborn John Daker (or was that vice versa?) had metabolisms which had become adapted in some way against the power which ﬂowed from the sword?
I had become, in that transition from my own age to this, unconcerned. It was as if I was aware that my fate had been taken out of my own hands to a large extent. I had become a tool. If only I had known for what I should be used, then I might have fought against the pull and remained harmless, ineffectual John Daker. But perhaps I could not have fought.
At any rate, I was prepared from the moment I materialized in the Tomb of Erekosë to do whatever Fate demanded of me. Later, things were to change.
I walked out of the tomb into a calm day, warm with a light breeze blowing. We stood on a small hill.
Below us a caravan awaited–there were richly caparisoned horses and a guard of men dressed in that same golden armour I had seen in my dreams, but these warriors were fresher-looking.
The armour was ﬂuted, embellished with raised designs, ornate and beautiful but, according to my sparse reading on the subject of armour, coupled with Erekosë’s stirring memory, totally unsuitable for war. The ﬂuting and embossing acted as a trap to catch the point of a spear or sword, whereas armour should be made to turn a point. This armour, for all its beauty, acted more as an extra danger than a protection.
The guards were mounted on heavy war horses but the beasts that knelt awaiting us resembled a kind of camel out of which all the camel’s lumpen ugliness had been bred. These beasts were beautiful. On their high backs were cabins of ebony, ivory and mother-o’-pearl, curtained in scintillating silks.
We walked down the hill and, as we walked, I noticed that I was dressed in the pyjamas I had worn when ﬁrst I went to bed. I was surprised, although they were not wholly incongruous, since the king’s garments were ﬂowing and loose, but they seemed wrong. I felt that I should have left these, also, behind me–on another body. But perhaps there is no body left behind.
From the Trade Paperback edition.