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Chapter One —We ride into Magdag
We rode, Duhrra of the Days and I, into Magdag. Magdag, the city of the megaliths, the chief city of the Grodnims, those devoted followers of Grodno the Green, stank in our nostrils, us followers of the true path of Zair.
"This place is a cesspit of vileness." Duhrra spat, juicily, into the dust of-the roadway. "It should be smashed like my hand and cauterized like my stump."
"Amen to that, Duhrra. You know I am taking ship here for Vallia. You are gladly welcome to join me. If you wish to smash and cauterize Magdag, kindly give me time to go aboard and weigh."
He gazed at me, his big moonface sweating, his foolish-seeming mouth gaping.
"Duh —you're a hard man, Dak."
"Aye —and I should be harder. Now shut your black-fanged wine-spout. Here is a pack of Magdag devils in person."
We slumped in our saddles and half closed our eyes and let our heads droop on our breasts as we rode past a body of Magdaggian sectrixmen riding toward the west. I did not even bother to fleer them a searching glance as we lumbered by. Ahead lay the fortress city of Magdag, a place of great power and great evil, and I wished only to take myself as speedily as possible aboard a galleon from Vallia and tell her captain to sail me home as fast as his vessel could sail, home to Vallia and Valka.
Home —back to Esser Rarioch, my high fortress overlooking the bay and Valkanium, home to Delia and the twins!
The dusty road led straight to the western gate, an imposing structure of many levels, battlemented, loopholed, a tough nut to crack in any siege. The road itself thronged with people coming andgoing, for as a large and prosperous city Magdag demanded the unremitting toil of many hands to keep its belly fed. Here, on the green northern shore of the inner sea, those working hands would be slave.
Shadows of the gate dropped about us. The smells began in earnest. I intended to talk to no one. Straight to the harbor —the nearest of the numerous harbors of Magdag —and there seek information on the first ship of Vallia; yes, that was the plan. If I had to wait a sennight or so I felt I could just support the extra torment, for I had suffered much of late. The twin Suns of Scorpio streamed their mingled light upon the walls and battlements of the city, giving the evil place a spurious grandeur and glory. All the light and color of two worlds cannot in the end disguise true evil. So I thought then and, by Zair, so I think now.
The stupid sectrixes with their six legs and their blunt stubborn heads sensed the ending of their day's labors and a comfortable stall and food, and they speeded up their lumbering trot. Maybe they were not so stupid after all. Jogging awkwardly up and down we passed the lofty pointed arch of the gateway beneath the hard, incurious stares of Magdaggian soldiery, hired mercenaries mostly, with a few Homo sapiens among them, and turned sharp right-handed for the harbor area.
The eternal sounds of a great city rose about us, mingling with the stinks. The shadows clustered.
"And remember, Duhrra. You wear the green. Think like a Grodnim. Look like a Grodnim. Act like a Grodnim."
"Aye, Dak my master. Uh —Think, look, and act like a devil."
He shifted the stump of his right arm, severed at the wrist, and folded swathing rags more securely to conceal his hook.
"I do not forget I wear the red beneath all this green."
"That is well. Do not forget and strip off and reveal all to everyone. In all else —forget."
He caught the tone of my voice and hawked and spat again and we cantered through the deepening twilight toward a certain sailors' tavern where news was to be had. The shadows lengthened.
A line of beggars along the decaying inner wall cried out and held up pitiful mutilations, rattling their wooden begging bowls. These were men who had been used by the overlords of Magdag in war, and being wounded or rendered unfit for further duty, had been cast off. They were not even of use as slaves.
Somewhere a few good days' ride back to the west lay the corpses of half a dozen devils of Magdag. The gold and silver oars that had once jingled in their purses made the same bright sounds in ours. Money has no cares over its owners. I drew out a handful of copper obs, that almost universal single-value copper coin of Kregen, and threw them, one by one, at the beggars as we passed. The act gave me no pleasure.
Copyright © 1976, Kenneth Bulmer.