Authors: Michael Moorcock
The Warlord of the Air
The Land Leviathan
The Steel Tsar
The Eternal Champion
Phoenix in Obsidian
The Dragon in the Sword
The Knight of the Swords
The King of the Swords
The Bull and the Spear
The Oak and the Ram
The Sword and the Stallion
The Final Programme
A Cure for Cancer
The English Assassin
The Condition of Muzak
Elric of Melniboné
Elric: Sailor on the Seas of Fate
Volume 1: The Ruby Throne
Volume 2: Stormbringer
The Queen of the Swords
Print edition ISBN: 9781783291670
E-book edition ISBN: 9781783291663
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First Titan edition: June 2015
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 1971, 2015 by Michael Moorcock. All rights reserved.
Edited by John Davey
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A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
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This book is for Diane Boardman
N THOSE DAYS
there were oceans of light and cities in the skies and wild flying beasts of bronze. There were herds of crimson cattle that roared and were taller than castles. There were shrill, viridian things that haunted bleak rivers. It was a time of gods, manifesting themselves upon our world in all her aspects; a time of giants who walked on water; of mindless sprites and misshapen creatures who could be summoned by an ill-considered thought but driven away only on pain of some fearful sacrifice; of magics, phantasms, unstable nature, impossible events, insane paradoxes, dreams come true, dreams gone awry, of nightmares assuming reality.
It was a rich time and a dark time. The time of the Sword Rulers. The time when the Vadhagh and the Nhadragh, age-old enemies, were dying. The time when Man, the slave of fear, was emerging, unaware that much of the terror he experienced was the result of nothing else but the fact that he, himself, had come into existence. It was one of many ironies connected with Man (who, in those days, called his race “Mabden”).
The Mabden lived brief lives and bred prodigiously. Within a few centuries they rose to dominate the westerly continent on which they had evolved. Superstition stopped them from sending many of their ships towards Vadhagh and Nhadragh lands for another century or two, but gradually they gained courage when no resistance was offered. They began to feel jealous of the older races; they began to feel malicious.
The Vadhagh and the Nhadragh were not aware of this. They had dwelt a million or more years upon the planet which now, at last, seemed at rest. They knew of the Mabden but considered them not greatly different from other beasts. Though continuing to indulge their traditional hatreds of one another, the Vadhagh and the Nhadragh spent their long hours in considering abstractions, in the creation of works of art and the like. Rational, sophisticated, at one with themselves, these older races were unable to believe in the changes that had come. Thus, as it almost always is, they ignored the signs.
There was no exchange of knowledge between the two ancient enemies, even though they had fought their last battle many centuries before.
The Vadhagh lived in family groups occupying isolated castles scattered across a continent called by them Bro-an-Vadhagh. There was scarcely any communication between these families, for the Vadhagh had long since lost the impulse to travel. The Nhadragh lived in their cities built on the islands in the seas to the north-west of Bro-an-Vadhagh. They, also, had little contact, even with their closest kin. Both races reckoned themselves invulnerable. Both were wrong.
Upstart Man was beginning to breed and spread like a pestilence across the world. This pestilence struck down the Old Races wherever it touched them. And it was not only death that Man brought, but terror, too. Willfully, he made of the older world nothing but ruins and bones. Unwittingly, he brought psychic and supernatural disruption of a magnitude which even the Great Old Gods failed to comprehend.
And the Great Old Gods began to know Fear.
And Man, slave of fear, arrogant in his ignorance, continued his stumbling progress. He was blind to the huge disruptions aroused by his apparently petty ambitions. As well, Man was deficient in sensitivity, had no awareness of the multitude of dimensions that filled the universe, each plane intersecting with several others. Not so the Vadhagh or the Nhadragh, who had known what it was to move at will between the dimensions they termed the Five Planes. They had glimpsed and understood the nature of the many planes, other than the Five, through which the Earth moved.
Therefore it seemed a dreadful injustice that these wise races should perish at the hands of creatures who were still little more than animals. It was as if vultures feasted on and squabbled over the paralyzed body of the youthful poet who could only stare at them with puzzled eyes as they slowly robbed him of an exquisite existence they would never appreciate, never know they were taking.
“If they valued what they stole, if they knew what they were destroying,” says the old Vadhagh in the story,
Now The Clouds Have Meaning
, “then I would be consoled.”
It was unjust.
By creating Man, the universe had betrayed the Old Races.
But it was a perpetual and familiar injustice. The sentient may perceive and love the universe, but the universe cannot perceive and love the sentient. The universe sees no distinction between the multitude of creatures and elements which comprise it. All are equal. None is favoured. The universe, equipped with nothing but the materials and the power of creation, continues to create: something of this, something of that. It cannot control what it creates and it cannot, it seems, be controlled by its creations (though a few might deceive themselves otherwise). Those who curse the workings of the universe curse that which is deaf. Those who strike out at those workings fight that which is inviolate. Those who shake their fists, shake their fists at blind stars.
But this does not mean that there are some who will not try to do battle with and destroy the invulnerable.
There will always be such beings, sometimes beings of great wisdom, who cannot bear to believe in an insouciant universe.
Prince Corum Jhaelen Irsei was one of these. Perhaps the last of the Vadhagh race, he was sometimes known as the Prince in the Scarlet Robe.
This chronicle concerns him.
We have already learned how the Mabden followers of Earl Glandyth-a-Krae (who called themselves the Denledhyssi—or murderers) killed Prince Corum’s relatives and his nearest kin and thus taught the Prince in the Scarlet Robe how to hate, how to kill and how to desire vengeance. We have heard how Glandyth tortured Corum and took away a hand and an eye and how Corum was rescued by the Giant of Laahr and taken to the castle of the Margravine Rhalina—a castle set upon a mount surrounded by the sea. Though Rhalina was a Mabden woman (of the gentler folk of Lywm-an-Esh) Corum and she fell in love. When Glandyth roused the Pony Tribes, the forest barbarians, to attack the Margravine’s castle, she and Corum sought supernatural aid and thus fell into the hands of the sorcerer Shool, whose domain was the island called Svi-an-Fanla-Brool—Home of the Gorged God. And now Corum had direct experience of the morbid, unfamiliar powers at work in the world. Shool spoke of dreams and realities. (“I see you are beginning to argue in Mabden terms,” he told Corum. “It is just as well for you, if you wish to survive in this Mabden dream.” – “It is a dream…?” said Corum. – “Of sorts. Real enough. It is what you might call the dream of a god. There again you might say that it is a dream that a god has allowed to become reality. I refer of course to the Knight of the Swords who rules the Five Planes.”)