Read an Excerpt
AN EPISODE IN KING HUON’S THRONE ROOM
The vast doors parted and Baron Meliadus, but lately returned from Yel, walked into the throne room of his King-Emperor to report his failures and his discoveries.
As Meliadus entered the room, whose roof seemed so tall as to be one with the heavens and whose walls were so distant as to seem to encompass an entire country, his way was blocked by a double line of guards. These guards, members of the King-Emperor’s own Order of the Mantis and wearing the great jeweled insect masks belonging to that Order, seemed reluctant to let him pass through.
Meliadus controlled himself with difficulty and waited while the ranks drew back to admit him.
Then he strode on into the hall of blazing colour, whose galleries were hung with the gleaming banners of Granbretan’s five hundred greatest families and whose walls were encrusted with a mosaic of precious gems depicting Granbretan’s might and history, along an aisle made up on either side by a thousand mantis warriors, each statue-still, towards the Throne Globe more than a mile distant.
Halfway to the globe, he abased himself in a somewhat peremptory fashion.
The solid black sphere seemed to shudder momentarily as Baron Meliadus rose, then the black became shot through with veins of scarlet and white which slowly spread through the darker shade until it had vanished altogether. The mixture like milk and blood swirled and cleared to reveal a tiny foetuslike shape curled in the centre of the sphere. From this twisted figure peered eyes that were hard, black, and sharp, containing an old—indeed, an immortal—intelligence. This was Huon, King-Emperor of Granbretan and the Dark Empire, Grand Constable of the Order of the Mantis, wielder of absolute power over tens of millions of souls, the ruler who would live for ever and in whose name Baron Meliadus had conquered the whole of Europe and beyond.
The voice of a golden youth now issued from the Throne Globe (the golden youth to whom it had belonged had been dead a thousand years):
“Ah, our impetuous Baron Meliadus…”
Again Meliadus bowed and murmured, “Your servant, Prince of All.”
“And what have you to report to us, hasty lord?”
“Success, Great Emperor. Proof of my suspicions…”
“You have found the missing emissaries from Asiacommunista?”
“I regret not, Noble Sire…”
Baron Meliadus did not know that it had been in this disguise that Hawkmoon and D’Averc had penetrated the capital of the Dark Empire. Only Flana Mikosevaar, who had helped them escape, knew that.
“Then why are you here, Baron?”
“I discovered that Hawkmoon, whom I insist is still the greatest threat to our security, has been visiting our island. I went to Yel and there found him and the traitor Huillam D’Averc, as well as the magician Mygan of Llandar. They know the secret of traveling through the dimensions.” Baron Meliadus did not mention that they had escaped from him. “Before we could apprehend them they vanished before our eyes. Mighty Monarch, if they can come and go from our land at will, surely it is plain that we can never be safe until they are destroyed. I would suggest we begin immediately to direct all the efforts of our scientists—of Taragorm and Kalan in particular—to finding these renegades and finishing them. They threaten us from within…”
“Baron Meliadus. What news of the emissaries from Asiacommunista?”
“None, so far, Mighty King-Emperor, but…”
“A few guerillas, Baron Meliadus, this empire may contend with, but if our shores are threatened by a force as great, if not greater, than our own, by a force, moreover, that is possessed of scientific secrets unknown to us, that we may not survive, you see…” The golden voice spoke with acid patience.
Meliadus frowned. “We have no proof that such an invasion is planned, Monarch of the World…”
“Agreed. Neither have we proof, Baron Meliadus, that Hawkmoon and his band of terrorists have the power to do us any great harm.” Streaks of ice blue suddenly appeared in the Throne Globe’s fluid.
“Great King-Emperor. Give me the time and the resources…”
“We are an expanding empire, Baron Meliadus. We wish to expand still further. It would be pessimistic, would it not, to stand still? That is not our way. We are proud of our influence upon the Earth. We wish to extend it. You seem uneager to carry out the principles of our ambition which is to spread a great, laughing terror to the corners of the world. You are becoming small-minded, we fear…”
“But by refusing to counter those subtle forces that might wreck our schemes, Prince of All, we could betray our destiny also!”
“We resent dissension, Baron Meliadus. Your personal hatred of Hawkmoon and, we have heard, your desire for Yisselda of Brass, represent dissension. We have your self-interest at heart, Baron, for if you continue in this course, we shall be obliged to elect another over you, to dismiss you from our service—aye, even to dismiss you from your Order…”
Instinctively, Baron Meliadus’s gauntleted hands leapt fearfully to his mask. To be unmasked! The greatest disgrace—the greatest horror of them all! For that was what the threat implied. To join the ranks of the lowest scum in Londra—the caste of the unmasked ones! Meliadus shuddered and could hardly bring himself to speak.
At last he murmured, “I will reflect on your words, Emperor of the Earth…”
“Do so, Baron Meliadus. We would not wish to see such a great conqueror destroyed by a few clouded thoughts. If you would regain all our favour, you will find for us the means by which the Asiacommunistan emissaries left.”
Baron Meliadus fell to his knees, his great wolf mask nodding, his arms outspread. Thus the conqueror of Europe abased himself before his lord, but his brain flared with a dozen rebellious thoughts and he thanked the spirit of his Order that the mask hid his face so that his fury did not show.
He backed away from the Throne Globe while the beady, sardonic eyes of the King-Emperor regarded him. Huon’s prehensile tongue darted out to touch a jewel floating near the shrunken head and the milky fluid swirled, flashed with rainbow colours, then gradually turned black once more.
Meliadus wheeled and began the long march back to the gigantic doors, feeling that every eye behind the unmoving mantis masks watched him with malevolent humour.
When he had passed through the doors, he turned to the left and strode through the corridors of the twisted palace, seeking the apartments of the Countess Flana Mikosevaar of Kanbery, widow of Asrovak Mikosevaar, the Muskovian renegade who had once headed the Vulture Legion. Countess Flana not only was now titular head of the Vulture Legion, but also cousin to the King-Emperor—his only surviving kin.
Copyright © 1969, 1977 by Michael and Linda Moorcock