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THE LAST CITY
The grim riders spurred their battle-steeds up the muddy slopes of the hill, coughing as their lungs took in the thick, black smoke rising from the valley.
It was evening, the sun was setting, and their grotesque shadows were long. In the twilight, it seemed that gigantic beast-headed creatures rode the horses.
Each rider bore a banner, stained by war, each wore a huge beast-mask of jeweled metal and heavy armour of steel, brass, and silver, emblazoned with its wearerâ€™s device, battered and bloodied, and each gauntleted right hand gripped a weapon on which was encrusted the remains of a hundred innocents.
The six horse men reached the top of the hill and dragged their snorting mounts to a halt, stabbing their banners into the earth where they flapped like the wings of birds of prey in the hot wind from the valley.
Wolf-mask turned to stare at Fly-mask, Ape glanced at Goat, Rat seemed to grin at Houndâ€”a grin of triumph. The Beasts of the Dark Empire, each a Warlord of thousands, looked beyond the valley and beyond the hills to the sea, looked back at the blazing city below them where, faintly, they could hear the wails of the slaughtered and the tormented.
The sun set, night fell and the flames burned brighter, reflected in the dark metal of the masks of the Lords of Granbretan.
â€œWell, my lords,â€ said Baron Meliadus, Grand Constable of the Order of the Wolf, Commander of the Army of Conquest, his deep, vibrant voice booming from within his great mask, â€œwell, we have conquered all Europe now.â€
Mygel Holst, skeletal Archduke of Londra, head of the Order of the Goat, veteran of Kamarg, from which he had barely escaped with his life, laughed. â€œAyeâ€”all Europe. Not an inch of it is not ours. And now great parts of the East belong to us also.â€ The Goat helm nodded as if in satisfaction, the ruby eyes catching the firelight, flashing malignantly.
â€œSoon,â€ merrily growled Adaz Promp, Master of the Order of the Hound, â€œall the world will be ours. All.â€
The Barons of Granbretan, masters of a continent, tacticians and warriors of ferocious courage and skill, careless of their own lives, corrupt of soul and mad of brain, haters of all that was not in decay, wielders of power without morality, force without justice, chuckled with gloomy plea sure as they watched the last Euro pe an city to withstand them crumble and die. It had been an old city. It had been called Athena.
â€œAll,â€ said Jerek Nankenseen, Warlord of the Order of the Fly, â€œsave hidden Kamarg . . .â€
And Baron Meliadus lost his humour then, made almost as if he would strike his fellow warlord.
Jerek Nankenseenâ€™s bejeweled Fly mask turned a little to regard Meliadus and the voice from within the mask was baiting. â€œIs it not enough that you have chased them away, my lord Baron?â€
â€œNo,â€ snarled the Wolf of Wolves. â€œNot enough.â€
â€œThey can offer us no menace,â€ murmured Baron Brenal Farnu of the Rat helm. â€œFrom what our scientists divined, they exist in a dimension beyond Earth, in some other time or space. We cannot reach them and they cannot reach us. Let us enjoy our triumph, unmarred by thoughts of Hawkmoon and Count Brass . . .â€
â€œOr is it another name that haunts thee, brother baron?â€ Jerek Nankenseen mocked the man who had been his rival in more than one amorous encounter in Londra. â€œThe name of the fair one, Yisselda? Is it love that moves you, my lord? Sweet love?â€
For a moment the Wolf did not reply, but the hand that gripped the sword tightened as if in fury. Then the rich, musical voice spoke and it had recovered its composure, was almost light in tone.
â€œVengeance, Baron Jerek Nankenseen, is what motivates me...â€
â€œYou are a most passionate man, Baron . . .â€ Jerek Nankenseen said dryly.
Meliadus sheathed his sword suddenly and reached out to grasp his banner, wrenching it from the earth. â€œThey have insulted our King-Emperor, our landâ€”and myself. I will have the girl for my plea sure, but in no soft spirit will I take her, no weak emotion will motivate me . . .â€
â€œOf course not,â€ murmured Jerek Nankenseen, a hint of patronage in his voice.
â€œ...And as for the others, I will have my plea sure with them, alsoâ€”in the prison vaults of Londra. Dorian Hawkmoon, Count Brass, the philosopher Bowgentle, the unhuman one, Oladahn of the Bulgar Mountains, and the traitor Huillam Dâ€™Avercâ€”all these shall suffer for many years. That I have sworn by the Runestaff!â€
There was a sound behind them. They turned to peer through the flickering light and saw a canopied litter being borne up the hill by a dozen Athenan prisoners of war who were chained to its poles. In the litter lounged the unconventional Shenegar Trott, Count of Sussex. Count Shenegar almost disdained the wearing of a mask at all, and as it was he wore a silver one scarcely larger than his head, fashioned to resemble, in caricature, his own visage. He belonged to no Order and was tolerated by the King-Emperor and his Court because of his immense richness and almost superhuman courage in battleâ€”yet he gave the appearance, in his jeweled robes and lazy manner, of a besotted fool. He, even more than Meliadus, had the confidence (such as it was) of the King-Emperor Huon, for his advice was almost always excellent. He had plainly heard the last part of the exchange and spoke banteringly.
â€œA dangerous oath to swear, my lord Baron,â€ said he softly. â€œOne that could, by all counts, have repercussions on he who swears it...â€
â€œI swore the oath with that knowledge,â€ replied Meliadus. â€œI shall find them, Count Shenegar, never fear.â€
â€œI came to remind you, my lords,â€ said Shenegar Trott, â€œthat our King-Emperor grows impatient to see us and hear our report that all Europe is now his property.â€
â€œI will ride for Londra instantly,â€ Meliadus said. â€œFor there I may consult our sorcerer-scientists and discover a means of hunting out my foes. Farewell, my lords.â€
He dragged at his horseâ€™s reins, turning the beast and galloping back down the hill, watched by his peers.
The beast-masks moved together in the firelight. â€œHis singular mentality could destroy us all,â€ whispered one.
â€œWhat matter?â€ Shenegar Trott chuckled. â€œSo long as all is destroyed with us . . .â€
The answering laughter was wild, ringing from the jeweled helms. It was insane laughter, tinged as much with self-hatred as with hatred of the world.
For this was the great power of the Lords of the Dark Empire, that they valued nothing on all the Earth, no human quality, nothing within or without themselves. The spreading of conquest and desolation, of terror and torment, was their staple entertainment, a means of employing their hours until their spans of life were ended. For them, warfare was merely the most satisfactory way of easing their ennui...
Excerpted from Hawkmoon: The Sword of the Dawn by Michael Moorcock.
Copyright Â© 1968 by Michael and Linda Moorcock.
Published in 1968 by A Tom Doherty Associates Book.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.