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Henry Lion Oldie. Fragments of novels in english translation

Henry Lion Oldie. The way of the sword (Synopsys)

Novel; about 165.000 words, 1994. Book 1 : Kabir The world described in the novel is unprecedented among the works of the world fantasy. Its history and geography is very like the Earth in Middle Ages, but with an essential difference: here all arms such as swords, spears etc. have a mind of their own. Arms of the same type form something like human families or clans. The living swords etc. call themselves "Brilliants", and they consider the human beings to be but their "Carriers", like dogs or horses, and don't even suppose that they are intelligent too. And the people in their turn have not the slightest idea about the way things are. Nevertheless, this society is rather stable: the skill of fencing being raised to the level of high art any duels never result in the blood-spilling or Carriers's death. Thanks to easily understandable reasons the wars have also been forgotten long ago. In one word, this world is a kind of "feudal utopia". But we learn that something is going wrong there. Mysterious and bloody murders began to happen in a number of towns. Not only people are killed, but also the intelligent arms happen to be destroyed. Such things have not happened here for almost eight centuries! The main heroes of the novel are the upright sword Dan Ghien called the Unicorn and its Carrier - a young nobleman Chan Unkor. The scimitar Sheshez ruling over the Emirate (from the Brilliants' point of view) invites the Unicorn to investigate those crimes. The same task is given by the man-Emir Daud to Chan Unkor. As the result Chan himself gets into trouble: during a fencing competition his right hand was cut away. Being under the psychic influence (unaware of it) exercized by his sword, the young man feels that he cannot live without fencing and tries the last remedy: following the advice given to him by the Emir's jester Druddle he orders a smith to forge an iron hand for him, although he understood very clearly that this was a nonsense. But as the result of secret ancient rites the iron hand acquires life of its own! It becomes the intermediary between the man and his sword, a link between the two intelligent races. The heroes understand that in order to oppose the murderers they have now to change their minds; soon they manage to overcome the interdiction to kill inherent to both of them while saving the life of the jester Druddle in a city street at night. The same night the man and his sword together with the jester's blunt dagger Dziuttee which is more widely known as the Kabir Executioner leave the capital following the footsteps of the murderers towards the native country of Chan's ancestors, Maylan (closely reminding the ancient China). Their butlers (the man Kos Antanya and the Estoc sword Zarrahid) decide to accompany their masters during the dangerous journey in spite of the orders given to them to stay at home. But the heroes had still to learn that some other companions were going after them. Should they had known that in advance... Book 2 : Maylan The road to Maylan was abundant with adventures; the heroes got better acquainted with one another, now they not only cooperate but from time to time create a new entity, "man-sword". They meet a smart old woman called Mother Tsi who is searching for some ancient secrets, they learn the details of Kabirean history and inform their companions about the symbiosis they live in, and at last arrive safely to Maylan. Here the heroes enter into possession of their family inheritance and at the same time they find out that the princess of Maylan who had become a widow being still very young is aspiring to marry Chan. Their investigation is likely to be interrupted, but suddenly a number of strange events happens around the heroes, all of them evidently having the goal to destroy the wedding. In the whirl of these around-wedding events the heroes manage to find the trace of the murderers (both men and the Brilliants) leading to an ancient Batinite sect whose members use the mortal duels in their rituals. The Batinites (men and their swords called "the Tarnished" consider that the original destination of both human beings and arms was to kill, and they are obliged not to forget it. But it is found out that the sectarians didn't take part in the crimes committed in Kabir! The real murderers are at last found (and among them the man and the sword who had cut away Chan's hand). The night murderers turned out to be the citizens of Kabir who had been taken prisoners by the nomad tribe in a distant land of Shulma and ran away in order to rescue their native land. The point is that the savage nomads are going to attack Kabir, and the murderers decided to sacrifice themselves: to rouse the inhabitants of Kabir, to remind them of the old warrior skills and in such a way to save the land from perishing. In a secret underground temple many people and their arms meet to fulfill the ritual duel-sacrifice: the Batinites, the runaway Kabireans, a revenger pursuing his foes (who earlier had been shown as an episodic character), Chan Unkor with his Unicorn, the Kabir Executioner and other personnages... When the duel was in its full swing, a woman messenger arrived from a village situated near the border: it has been attacked by the nomads. The invasion began! The ritual was interrupted; the heroes ride as soon as possible to meet the fate awaiting them in the ravaged village... Book 3 : Shulma The inhabitants of the village have been all slaughtered; their Brilliants are also dead and thrown down into a well. The advanced detachment of the Shulmus attack the company of the heroes, the battle begins; in the last moment the Kabireans are supported by their friends (both men and their Brilliants) who had followed them secretly. During the battle the Kabireans managed to overcome the interdiction to kill and defeat the Shulmus utterly; those who were lucky to stay alive were taken as prisoners. The nomads are overwhelmed by the fighting skills of their enemies, moreover, due to a casual coincidence of words they suppose Chan Unkor to be the incarnation of the Yellow God Mo, the highest war deity of Shulma. During the duel between Chan Unkor and the chief of Shulmus scouts Chan's right hand, made of iron, is uncovered by chance, and this put an end to all doubts of the Shulmus. The Kabireans go to Shulma; Kush-Tengry, a clairvoyant shaman abiding in the steppe goes to meet them because he forebodes great changes. Having arrived to a holy place where it is forbidden to fight, the Kabireans and the shaman soon found common language. It comes out that some time ago a High Gurkhan (chief governor) had appeared in Shulma and united all tribes in order to lead them to Kabir. This Gurkhan is evidently a native Kabirean. And Cinqueda, a short sword (his Brilliant) in its turn united the intelligent arms of the Shulmus that stayed until then in a savage state. In the holy place a variety of events happen until the Shulmus hords surround it. There follows a duel between Gurkhan and Chan Unkor. A stone thrown unexpectedly from a sling stunned the Kabirean, but the Unicorn and the iron hand save his life; while Chan is unconscious, the Unicorn, controls the iron hand holding it and continues to fight. When Chan comes to his senses he joins the battle, tears off the armour of the defeated Gurkhan - and finds out that the leader of the Shulmus is a woman! The ashamed nomads try to kill their former leader, but the Kabireans prevent them from doing this. The body-guards of the impostor Gurkhan take Chan's side believing him to be the god. Epilogue: Ambassadors from Shulma (the shaman Kush-Tengry and a friend of Chan Unkor's) come to the Kabirean Emirate. They meet the old Emir and the jester Druddle who had survived only by pure chance. There's no peace in the Emirate. The extremist part of the Batinites raised their heads. The peace treaty with Shulma seems to promise a happy end - but already a smith and an alchemist demonstrate in the presence of Emir the first sample of an arquebuse and the action of a powder bomb, proposing to use the new arms for the overcoming of the inner and external enemies. A new epoch stnds on the threshold. This world would never again be the same it had been before... This tale is told in turns by the sword Unicorn and its Carrier Chan Unkor. The action unfolds on the background of the crucial changing of the whole world's destinies. The numerous battle episodes are followed by philosophical discourses and dialogues, together with the psychological portraits of the heroes; original ideas are formulated, both ethic and fantastic. The adventures of the main heroes sometimes are tragical, but here and there humour and soft irony are woven into them. Besides this the novel contains several poetic fragments. The novel is written on the merge of "fantasy" and "alternative history". It combines dynamic plot with deep philosophical and psychological problems, in particular with moral aspects of fighting arts. The novel "THE WAY OF THE SWORD" was highly appreciated by the readers; it became an extremely popular book. This novel was published five times in Russia, the number of copies amount to seventy thousands. The novel "The Way of the Sword" got "The Great Zilant" prize at "ZilantCon" SF & Fantasy Festival in Kazan (Russia) in 1999.

Henry Lion Oldie. The way of the sword (fragments)

-- Here's a man standing at the crossway between life and death. How should he behave himself? -- Obviate your duality and let only your sword stand against the sky. From the talks of Kusunoki Masasighe with his teacher


Part 1. The sword of the man. Chapter 1.


We met the Kharzian near the corner tower Al-Koutuna in a dirty narrow lane of Jaffar-lo quarter -- there the streets are numerous and tangled like the threads of a worn sword-knot. Its Carrier stood in our way, with his crooked legs wide apart and his head bowed to the shoulder. The skull-cap on his head was incredibly small. It was embroidered skilfully with minute glass beads. The Carrier hands weren't hidden and he held nothing in them -- the ordinary hands of a good Carrier, smooth and calm. Coming nearer I felt him through and at first I've found no traces of a Brilliant equal to me -- there was nothing at his shoulder, nor at the belt under the folds of his cloak nor... Suddenly the Carrier threw something into the cool evening air, something like a big white butterfly made of lace. It began to fall slowly while the Carrier's other hand touched the belt I haven't yet seen. The buckle clicked loudly, and the released blade sang unfolding into a steel strip. It was a Brilliant and it greeted me with ritual whistle. The stranger's blade licked slightly the fine cloth of the falling shawl and divided the butterfly into two lesser ones; and I bowed apporovingly and remembered that since ancient times the natives of the torrid Kharza (one and a half day of caravan march from Kabir) have been renowned for their ancestor, the Ore Snake. And I felt uncomfortable in my dress -- the everyday leather scabbard fastened with seven rings of old bronze. I slid out, glad to feel the Kabirean dusk, and I did it in time: the Carrier of the Kharzean has already bent his legs and stood firmly as if having roots in the ground. I made my Carrier pull his hand up and to the left, otherwise the stranger Brilliant could have easily cut the top of my Carrier's turban and according to the Law of Debate it would mean that I were defeated. It was probably a new-comer in the capital, for it reckoned to end the Debate after the first stroke. I admit that the Kharzean was more flexible than me (everyone knows they are especially flexible) but as to the swiftness of our movements I could contend with it -- and this time no to its benefit. -- Very well, the Straight,-- tinkled the guest from Kharza vibrating after our collision, and I felt that he called me by an impersonal name with pleasure.-- And what if we... But he spent his time in vain. I threw the talkative Kharzean aside and then pushed slightly my Carrier's palm. His obedient body reacted at once, he bent one knee and I pierced the Kharzean Carrier's cloak close to his shoulder and right elbow. I touched the alien flesh and felt its burning heat. Both times I leaned closely to the Carrier's body: at first flatwise an then with my edge; but the soft and sensitive skin remained intact. For it is unreasonable to spoil the other's Carrier because it's very difficult to train them decently for serving us, the Brilliants. However the self-confident Kharzean could have chosen a better Carrier for himself... I was already leaving the lane when I remembered with regret that I had to present myself to the Brilliant of Kharza after our Debate. One must always be polite be you busy or irritated. I'm the Straight Sword of the family of Maylanese Brilliants. My name is Dan Ghien and I'm also called the Unicorn. My Carrier is Chan Unkor. But it is not so important.


Having returned home I went to the upper hall, caught the wall hook with one of my scabbard rings and leaned against my favourite Mekhlian carpet. I forgot to change my dress. My thoughts were focused at the strange meeting near the Al-Coutuna Tower. I dismissed my Carrier with a gentle mental push and he left the hall checking on his way the grid hanging over the fireplace. I had to stay alone for a while. I haven't left Kabir for a very long time, and I was rather well- known here; there was no need to make any tests and nobody would dare to draw the Unicorn into a crazy Debate in such an off-hand, casual way. Such things bring fun when you're young, when your body is quivering with excessive energy, and the thirst for adventures obscures the senses of a young Brilliant. Oh, youth, why are you so fond of arguing and prooving? Almost always you do it at a wrong time, in a wrong place and before indifferent witnesses... At my age -- and I've already changed in sequence five Carriers (I preferred the helpful and skilful house of Unkor fosaken in the sands of Upper Whay, the outskirts of Maylane) -- so, at my age it suffises to have six or seven traditional tournaments a year plus the more or less regular Debates with the familiar Brilliants. With one of them -- called Wolf's Broom -- I met more often than with others. It was a pike branched like the deer's horns or a ruffled tail of a steppe wolf. It dwelt in the Loow-Raskhar Street but a week ago it went with its Carrier somewhere to the mountains. Frankly speaking I missed the Broom a little and hoped that it'll return at least for the second half of the tournament in prospect. I liked to slide between its notched sprouts. It was... yes, it was delightful. Much better than the habits of my rival-friend, Gwenil the Lowlesean: it was unceremonious like all its two-hand kin and always strived during the Debate to come down on you with all its mass, and you had to spring and to fly aside; then Gwenil went away sprawling insolently at the shoulder of its mighty Carrier of a white-haired Northern breed and irradiating offencive contempt with its naked blade. I moved uneasily remembering the injuries of old. But soon I relaxed: they were old injuries. At the last tournament held in the open court of Buraya Castle I managed to catch Gwenil when it concentrated attention at its best stroke and I touched with my edge the Adam's apple on the strong neck of its Carrier. And the espadon self-confident as it was knew very well what my touch is worth. -- You're perfecting yourself, One-Horned,-- Gwenil whistled disappointedly, and for the first time it didn't hurry to rest upon its Carrier's shoulder.-- Take care not to lose your sharpness because of your pride! I saluted the Lowlesean giant and since then I liked to recollect Buraya Castle and my triumph. But still I was pondering about the strange Kharzean: where did it come from? By Thunder Blade, was that meeting casual or intentional? Was it a young bully who had recently arrived to Kabir or an experienced Brilliant wanting to test its strength face-to-face with me without any spectators? The firewood burned out. The door opened and the Lesser Brilliants of my house entered the hall in a file swaying at their Carriers' belts, all in similar scabbards, violet with silver embroidery. -- Hail to you, the Supreme Dan! -- tinkled shortly the Lesser ones while their Carriers were crowding about the fireplace, moving the armchairs, laying the table and dusting the perfectly clean window- glasses. I nodded them from my place at the carpet. Some of the Lessers have been long known to me from their birth, they belonged for ages to the suite of the Maylanese Straight swords Dan Ghiens. Some of them were somewhat curved but with both their sides sharpened, and their hilts were adorned with beautiful ornaments. They possessed Carriers who were in personal service of the Carrier Chan. All others were just short and wide daggers with plebeian manners. Their duty was to control a variety of petty but important things. For example, they used to shut the windows to keep the air in the rooms dry and warm (or, more exactly, they controlled the corresponding movements of their Carriers), or to put at the table the jugs full of thick red fluid. They call it "wine". Similar fluid folws in the veins of the Carriers and then it is called "blood". When the blood was spilled it meant that a Carrier was spoiled. It was an unforgivable blunder for a Brilliant. But the spilling of wine was necessary from time to time, although it could cause the Carriers to lose self-control and to become drunken. A Brilliant would never take a drunken Carrier to a tournament or even an ordinary Debate. However it wasn't forbidden. It was good that it wasn't forbidden. I'll return later to the question of drinking and I'll explain why do I, the Unicorn of Maylane, prefer the House of Unkors from Whay to all other Houses of Carriers. But this is altogether another story. [.....................................................................]


The humming noise of the spectators became distant, the figures of people standing by became dim -- and we were left alone, face to face. No-Datchi and I. The final Debates of the tournaments aren't the place for lazy meditations or self-analysis. There's no time for it. In these short moments you feel especially sharply your own existance and you're ready to exclaim proudly before the whole world: "Here I am!" Indeed the ancients were quite right saying that in such moments one should obviate duality and let only the sword stand against the sky. Against the sky where there's only one more solitary shining beam: No-Datchi, and it cuts all threads of unnecessary reflections in my mind. Oh, my rival wasn't now the polite and self-confident Brilliant that Gwenil has recently presented to me. Now it was attentive and cautious, its Carrier, bare-footed, held the hilt tightly with both hands over his head as if No-Datchi was going to pierce a cloud. In this position it stood still, the two-hand sword that I liked more and more; it stood still as a spire over a motionless tower of its Carrier. In Kabir such introductions to the Debate were rare, but I had grown up not in Kabir! And I knew perfectly well that the position of No-Datchi meant a challenge that one might meet or not. I met it. Keeping a distance that made it impossible to strike without stepping ahead, I slid out of my scabbard and slowly shifted the right hand of Carrier Chan down, to the back and then up pointing with my edge the face of the Carrier of No-Datchi. Then I strained myself -- and Chan put forward his empty left hand at the same time lifting his left leg so that his knee became close to his chin. Thus a statue of the dancing bird Fon with stretched wings (the right one being twice longer than the left and glittering in the sun) appeared in front of the stone tower with a steep dome. It is much more difficult and tiresome to stand long on one foot (while No-Datchi's Carrier stood on both) but I was perfectly sure of our success. Not in vain we used to stay so many times at our courtyard with a cup of hot wine put on the uplifted knee of Carrier Chan and it was long ago that he learned not to spill the wine. The spectators on the stands were silent, dumb-stricken with bewilderment; the sun was moving slowly from east to west, our shadows at the ground grew longer, but we were still standing, and only when the spire over the tower waved a little I allowed Chan -- the Bird -- to clasp his wings triumphantly and use his both feet. After that the two-hand lightning came down on me. Escaping from the first collision and putting rather a safe distance between us I understood that No-Datchi will now act only when sure of success. Having lost the competition in immobility and remembering that the straps of sandals were cut, it would afford no disputable, unnecessary movements... Well, I was glad for him. And for myself too. For it meant that the time has come to use the family skills of the Straight Swords Dan Ghiens. The time for the deeds that once made me prefer the House of Unkors of Whay to all other Houses of Carriers. No-Datchi's Carrier jumped forward impetuously and No-Datchi itself sprang up, halted for a moment trying to realize what's going on. Carrier Chan was laughing. He was laughing joyfully and sincerely and then stretched his left hand in front of him groping the air as if seeking something invisible for everybody except himself. And he found that thing. No-Datchi didn't move, his tip quivering with cautious impatience. The fingers of Carrier Chan tattooed at the invisible shelf and clenched forming a ring -- as if he had taken a cup. ...No-Datchi's Carrier shuffled his feet impatiently crushing the grass, but No-Datchi didn't change its position. I sank to the ground looking as limp as I could. My edge almost touched a pebble lying on the ground. ...And No-Datchi couldn't contain itself any longer and made a stroke. It struck inevitably like an attacking cobra, it was sure of success and stopped close to the head of Carrier Chan who was still laughing. It was the highest grade of Mastery of Control for a two-hand sword. More exactly, it stopped at the point where Chan's head has just been. For Carrier Chan has brought the invisible cup to his lips just at the moment when the stroke fell, and he bent back drinking the invisible liquor. So his head shifted by one fourth of No-Datchi's length. And it suffised. At the same time Chan waved awkwardly his right hand trying to keep his balance. And I happened to be in that hand -- oh, quite casually! And my blade set without effort against the armpit of No-Datchi's Carrier. During the Debate of the Brilliants, especially at the final of a tournament referees are not needed. So No-Datchi understood everything that it had to understand. And having understood it made another stroke for the full length of its blade reducing the distance to a irreparable point and still keeping at the height of my Carrier's head. It even seemed to me that this time No- Datchi might have not managed to stop in time -- although, of course, I could only imagine such a thing. But the contents of the imaginary cup rushed to the head of Carrier Chan faster than the two-hand sword angry with its failure. And Carrier Chan fell to his knees. The drunken Carriers can hardly stand on their feet -- that's why he did it. And as to me, I tickled carelessly the belly of No-Datchi's Carrier and then sank down, tired, at the Carrier Chan's shoulder. The stunned No-Datchi led his Carrier back to ponder over the situation, but Carrier Chan cried hoarsely in protest and followed him turning a somersault. He wanted to continue the game. And the curved lightning of No-Datchi struck from sky to ground once more -- and again on vain. Carrier Chan pretended to be unable to finish the somersault properly, and fell clumsily so that No-Datchi plunged to the ground about a half of its length to the left. By the way I stung the bare heel of No-Datchi's Carrier -- and stopped suddenly, possessed with a strange guess. No-Datchi plunged to the ground. But it couldn't have done it! It couldn't! For it supposed Carrier Chan to be then at that point... And it ought to stop over the ground, over the body, and not in it! Oh, one shouldn't meditate during a Debate. Shouldn't... -- Excuse me,-- whistled No-Datchi falling down abruptly. It missed my hilt just by a bit.-- I'm sorry indeed... And I felt that the fingers holding me are going to die. No. They're already dying. Carrier Chan fell to the grass reddened with blood; his right hand was cut away, and a mute question was beating in his sober eyes. -- But you... You can't be a Lustreless? -- it was all I could whisper losing my consciousness and feeling the mortal grip of the dying fingers. -- Excuse me... -- Be quick, No! Don't be sluggish! -- said a strangely familiar creaking voice beside me, and I managed to notice three quite identical Brilliants, short and resembling a trident without shaft; the three of them were placed at the belt of a meagre clumsy Carrier. They called No- Datchi, they urged it, they didn't give me time to finish my phrase, to think, to see the cause... Why? But then they all disappeared: the two-hand No-Datchi, the trident daggers with similar voices, the sun, dim and not like a... Because darkness came and engulfed them.


And the spectators didn't understand at first what's happened. When the cheerful Chan Unkor, the heir of Maylanese Vans, begins as usually to pretend to be drunken and the light straight sword in his hand is scurrying faster than the needle of the best Kabir embroideress -- the spectators watched him with hearts full of delight. And who could follow the impredictable movements of the smiling Chan, who could understand the veritable cause or believe the impossible? And those who could follow, those who managed to understand, who were ready to believe -- alas, they were far from there and the crowd that rushed at last to the tournament field overflew and scattered them. The crowd is terrible because you are drawned in it, you get dissolved and you can't cut your way, you're late even if you can see more than the others and the smarting rage is boiling in your heart like the strong flame of a forging furnace! Somewhere in the very midst of the human whirlwind a giant espadon whistled deafeningly over the heads wielded by the mighty hand of Falgrim the Whitehaired, Lord of Lowlese, and the stentoriam roar of the Northerner almost covered the chorus of the crowd. -- Let me go! Let me come to him! Do let me at once! And it was not clear whom the violent Falgrim wanted to see: the unexpected victim or the guilty butcher who'd already run away. And from the eastern grounds gallopped an unsaddled horse; on its back, just like a boy-shepherd, bowed to the horses's neck Emir of Kabir, Daud-abu-Salim himself, and the curved yathagan at his side was beating pitilessly the horses's croup driving it, urging it on... The white tunuc of Diomedes of Kimaena was sliding between the pressed bodies of the gapers and the sickle-like blade-makhaira followed the swarthy and lissom Diomedes using the smallest gaps, pushing the crowded people apart and helping the Kimaenean to make one more step forwadrd... or at least half a step, on and on... At the upper row of western stands near the main entrance stood a girl in a black riding attire trying to understand what's going on. At her side a long pike with multiple notched sprouts at its shaft stood inclined to the tournament field that resembled now a boiling cauldron or a crater of an awakened volcanoe... The noble lady Ak-Ninchi of the House of Chibetay and the Wolf's Broom have managed to come back from the Lower Khakass Mountains when the tournament was already coming to its end, and the scene that opened before them didn't explain anything to them. But only two men were the first to come to Chan Unkor who was bleeding profusely with his hereditary sword and a piece of his own flesh at his side. The one was Kos un-Tanyah, the strict and severe butler of the Unkors with a narrow estoque anxiously swaying at his baldric, and the other was one of the attendants of Emir Daud either a man of motley or a councellor or both at a time. Everybody called him Droudle Muzdry. The butler Kos un-Tanyah was hurriedly tying the mutilated Chan's arm at the elbow with a cord torn from somebody's scabbard, and the squatty jester-councellor Droudle tried to penetrate the raging crowd but he couldn't see anything and full of helpless pesperation had to drop his small razor-sharp yathagan. And this time nobody felt like laughing at him. But in a while the mad ocean of the crowd began to calm down, to divide into separate personal drops and coming to themselves people realized that it was late. Late to justify oneselves, late to seek for the guilty and to punish the malefactors; for everybody there was guilty in a measure and there was nobody to be punished. The Kabireans came too late. -- Let me go to him... Let me go...-- whispered Falgrim Whitehaired, and the giant espadon at his hand drooped mournfully. Never will Gwenil pardon itself for the fight that he failed to win. Translated from Russian by Alina Nemirova.

Henry Lion Oldie. The Twilight of the world (fragments)



Shadow 1. Human. Animal. Divine: Sigurd Yarrow, the Ninefold-Living.


For the first time in his life he went so far into the wood. The wood was watching the lonely man curiously and winking with myriads of sunlight specks, and the traveller tried in vain to drive away the sad thoughts. He was thinking about the three lives he still possessed: how insignificant they were compared with the green rustling eternity of the wood... Besides, the Invertings have been on his track for about forty hours by now. He knew it for sure. He'd like to have a glance at the western slopes of the Ra-Muaz Mountains from above, as the eagles fly. But there is hardly anything interesting for the winged master of mountain passes in the tangle of tree stems and lianas that stretched from the border outposts of Kalorra up to the ancient mines, deserted and decayed from times immemorial. Well, fly home, the proud bird, pursue your prey from rock to rock, bathe yourself in the shining blue; even your all-seeing piercing eye cannot penetrate the confusion of the tree branches, cannot see what is hidden in the rustling mass both visсous and fluid. He watched the eagle with his tired eyes as long as it could be seen through the thick leaves. Then he prepared to continue his way. He had a sack and a sword tied on his back. The sack was constantly sliding down. He put it into place and fastened his belt bringing the hilt of his sword nearer his right shoulder. Then he turned his head, raised his arms to make sure that nothing hindered, nothing rattled. And then he resumed his way. A flat-nosed head showed itself out of the grass beneath his feet. The head on a lithe neck (as thick as an adult man's leg) rose high over the grass and moved slowly from side to side feeling the air with a forked tongue. Then it stood still watching intently the verdure of young bamboo. -- Lie still, Zou,-- said the man although he knew well that the snake was almost not able to hear him.-- Don't bother. The time for you to hunt didn't come yet. Calm yourself... He put his hand on the snake's neck and stroked slightly the scales. But the snake didn't want to calm itself. It slided away. The thick gold- and-brown coils of its body unfurled dividing the grass and the warning hiss filled the balmy air of a hot summer day. The man stood motionless as a statue and waited. A small spotted figure appeared among the knotty trees and soon a doe ran to the quiet glade. The animal raised its graceful head with trembling nostrils. Zou gathered his body into a resilent knot preparing for a terrible rush. But the doe strained itself and disappeared in no time among the jessamin bushes. The man laughed gently. -- Night is your time,-- he said to the snake that was hissing disappointedly.-- You'll be hunting at night. D'you understand it, Zou? At daytime we have other things to do. Let's go now! He smiled again: "to go" was not the word to use when you're speaking to the boa-hunter Zou, the best one among the "lithe spears", seven steps long -- surely seven full steps and even a little more... When they crossed the glade the man turned his head and glanced at the bushes where the frightened doe took refuge. The bushes were still shaking. A shadow of anxiety passed over the man's face. -- No,-- he said to himself,-- it can hardly be so. The animal was not of the sort... Just a silly animal. And a weak one. This place here is too wild... A tiny instrument hanged on his belt. It was not bigger than his palm, something like a toy-harp with unproportionally thick strings. He touched it with his fingers, and a low vibrating sound swam over the ground. A strap of waving grass marking the path of the snake began to shift to the right. Zou understood his master's command without mistakes. ...A few hours later the sun, wounded by the tree branches, spilled its blood over the ice-clad summits of the mountains and went to rest. But the man and the snake have already reached the place where they intended to stay for night. As soon as the boa saw a brook that divided an oval glen like a steel blade, it crossed the clayey slope and swam lazily down the stream. The man took his sack off and approached the water too, casting cautious glances around him. He drank some water, rinsed his hands and examined his own face reflected in the stream. He had calm grey eyes with eyelashes unusually long for a man. He had slightly aquiline nose and sharp cheek-bones and a whitish scar across the upper lip. It was just an ordinary face if one didn't try to look deeper into the pool of his grey eyes. But if one dared... The face that was looking at him from the water belonged to Sigurd Yarrow, the Fifth rank Salar; it was the face of one Gliding-in-the-Dusk. With a muffled curse he struck the water with his palm, splashing the reflection, and the drops flew down his cheeks leaving wet tracks. He was crying not with tears but with the lying water of a forsaken stream. He knew well whose face he has just broken. It was the face of a coward. The man who has seen his best friend to die and who has done nothing to revenge. Nothing in round numbers. In fact he had no possibilities to do anything but that didn't matter at all. For the first time he regretted that there were still three lives left to him.

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The doe dived into the bushes, and the spots of its skin blended with the shadows of leaves and branches, with specks of sunlight... In a while a teenager boy appeared at the edge of the glade. He made several steps and stood still. No, it wasn't a boy. It was a girl with narrow hips and small rigid breasts. She turned her head in the direction where the Gliding-in-the- Dusk has gone and her eyes began to change, as if two shining lakes touched with frost. Ice covered their brims at first, then more and more... The girl clenched her fingers into tight fists resembling the hooves of a doe. She remained motionless for a while, shuffling her feet, and then jumped into the thicket. And the forest engulfed her.

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KALORRA. THE CITY WHERE THEY DON'T LIKE THE HEROES Sigurd is now sixteen. He got his Second Rank recently and he's very proud of his grey cloak with a silver buckle on his shoulder. He is the Salar of the wilds. His coeval and friend Bryan Oygla vied with him in the turning up of their noses and in mannish manners. Elder Gliding-in- the-Dusk shake hands with them and the mentor Pharamarz even takes them to accompany him to Kalorra (although, one must admit, he obliged them to leave home their whips and Bryan's bronze sickle). One shouldn't visit the city being armed. The city is inhabited by the unhappy people having but one life -- the only and the last. It is not decent for an offspring of Gods, awarded with nine lives, to bear in their presence the weapons that can take somebody's life. They are different. They are the Salars of the wilds. The Ninefold-Living. The shield between the city and the forest. Quite different indeed. Sigurd understands everything. He is happy and proud. He's going to visit Kalorra today. Only one question bothers the young hero: what does mentor Pharamarz need companions for? He tries to imagine who might be dangerous for the Grandson of Gods, but his imagination fails him and he drives away silly thoughts. If one takes companions it means one needs them. And that's all. Bryan Oygla is of the same opinion. In his childhood Sigurd visited Kalorra two times with his parents. He has forgotten almost everything but nevertheless it seemed to him that the city has become older and lesser since then. It shrunk like a dry leaf in autumn. Twice they had to cross the deserted quarters. Hot wind was rattling with the half-torn shutters and whirled the dust in the by-streets overgrown with tall weeds, and lean gophers hurried to hide in the shadows when they saw people passing by. Later they met city inhabitants going to and fro but they were not numerous. It was only about the city center that the usual urban crowds appeared. Sigurd was unpleasantly disappointed by the sullen countenances and stooping figures of the Kalorreans. Even young pretty seemed unhealthy and vicious. They both excited and scared the young Salar. At the border villages people often had hard times and were not easy smiling, but still the atmosphere was different. Maybe it was purer? Bryan was likely to think in the same way. And mentor Pharamarz had a surprisingly polite smile on his imperturbable face. It was like a mask. But nevertheless people went round them and hurried away. The city pushed them away just like human flesh resists the inevitable invasion of a surgeon's knife. They stopped near the Palace of the Rulers, and Pharamarz ordered them to wait for him near the stairs and not to go away. Then he went up the polished marble steps and disappeared behind the huge doors lined with bronze. When the door shut the young Salars heard a low-voiced stroke of gong. The audience began. At first they stood still, as still as only the Gliding can stand and examined the noisy square with curiosity. The square examined them too, but the Salars didn't notice it. Two hours later their attention was drawn by a small crowd near a fence at the far end of the square. They loooked at each other, then they looked at the closed door of the palace and directed their steps towards the crowd. ...Three bearded men with identically unshaven faces and equally ragged clothes pressed a fourth man to the wooden fence and were cheerlessly beating him at the chest and mouth. The pressed man squeaked, moaned and looked before him with sad eyes. -- What are they doing? -- asked Bryan Oygla a young plump market- woman who screamed joyfully at each hit of the three man. -- Fighting,-- she said excitedly without turning her head form the event.-- Settling scores. They say the Bold Phan took somebody's money for his own... Fine fellows, aren't they? And the beads on her high breast tinkled again beating the time of her screams. Sigurd didn't understand her. He has never fought yet in his life. Only the animals happen to fight when they're young. Salars don't fight. The Invertings don't fight. They can kill, oh yes, they do kill. And often they are killed themseleves. But what's good in such fighting? He couldn't catch the meaning of the word. It was dirty, dull and senseless. Just like those men at the fence. One of the bearded men drew out a knife. The knife was blunt, curved and inconvenient. Bryan sighed, made his way through the crowd and came near the fighters. -- This knife is bad,-- said Oygla taking the man by his hand.-- And you're not better. Stop this! It's a shame... The bearded man seemed to be at the verge of an apoplexy. He swallowed air with a convulsive movement and all space left at his face between the thick hair and the tiny eyes became bloodshot. He stared at Oygla as if he has never seen a live man before. Then he saw Bryan's grey cloak and breathed noisily and laughed loudly. -- You're a hero,-- he said when his breath calmed down.-- Our glorious defender... Devilish sprawn! So you don't like my knife, do you? Sigurd remembered well the pause after these words, and it often returned afterwards in his nightmares. And each time it seemed to him that he's standing naked at the middle of the silent square and awful inhuman faces crease their noses with disgust and sniff at him. The bearded man drew his hand out of Oygla's grip and hit him with his knife at the breast. He was very surprised to see that he missed the hit. He repeated it once more. And more. Awkward men breathing heavily tried to kick down a boy -- a surprisingly slippery boy -- and the man he had tried to protect was the most diligent of the four. But Bryan moved swiftly and rhytmically as he was taught. The four couldn't reach him. And his hand searched for the sickle at his belt -- but in vain. When he realized that he was unarmed he clenched his fists... -- Excuse him, please,-- said the familiar soft voice at Sigurd's ear. And everything came to an end. The mentor Pharamarz bowed to the crowded people, made his excuses once more, took the offended Bryan by the shoulder and led him away. Sigurd shook off the sticky hot fingers of the market-woman and followed them. There were whispers in the crowd and staring eyes, and the younger women were cocking their eyes at each other and smacking their lips. When they left the city Oygla broke silence at last. -- Why did he behave so, Teacher? -- He was struggling with tears of anger. -- Why? -- Pharamarz thought for a moment and then went on.-- Why does the puma hate the kuguar most of all beats? Because they are alike. Alike but not the same. Do you remember what kind of buckle you wore when you had First Rank, Salar Oygla? -- It was golden, Teacher. -- And now when you've got the Second Rank? -- It us silver, Teacher. -- Quite right. And the Third Rank Salars wear a bronze buckle. I'm a mentor, I'm of the Seventh Rank, and my buckle is made of iron. The golden age passed long ago, my Salars. Or may be it has never begun. The Gods have gone forever to the Penates of Eternity, and the way there is known only to the eldest of Salars, the Sons of Gods. Maybe soon I'll know the way too. Our age is iron one, boys, and it is rusty. And if we, the Gliding-in-the-Dusk, the blue steel of our age, the Ninefold-Living won't defend the people of Kalorra they'll pass away earlier than it should be. They will disappear once and forever. And then it'll make no difference whether they were good or bad. They're of the same tree, of the same root with us, they are our relatives from mother's side. -- And what of it? -- asked Sigurd with perplexity.-- I have passed two times already. I had been ill when a boy... And then a leopard tore me. And each time I returned. -- That's right,-- said the mentor Pharamarz smiling sadly.-- You passed twice, Bryan three times, and I had six times. So we must forgive everything to the people of Kalorra -- they pass away one time and that's all. We the Ninefold-Living shouldn't accuse them. Sigurd nodded. He has already forgiven the people of Kalorra. But why did the bearded men call them -- the offspring of Gods -- the devilish sprawn? Their ancestors surely were not devils! The devils... or the devouted Gods? Or the devious Gods? Or simply -- Divine folk? What they were?

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[.....................................................................] Shadow 2. Animal. Human. Divine: Solly Of Shaingholm, the Mutable. [.....................................................................]



Old Morn was against this venture and did his best to dissuade them -- but he couldn't to simpy order or forbid them to go. He could not to forbid anything to the people whose kin became cold ashes before his eyes. Morn was against it but they didn't listen to him. And Solly turned away and left his teacher, for his father from that time on would never go hunting to the forest and his mother lost her left hand and whenever she become wolf again she'll be lame and won't be able to catch even the most sluggish beasts. Since then Solly hasn't seen his mother smile softly as she use to before hearting about his successes or how the teacher had praised him. It was all gone. The invisible door that kept her smiles was shut forever. Now he could see in his mother's eyes only anguish and bitterness. She didn't weep and didn't say anything but it would be better if she wept or even howled... ...They marched in silence. They didn't glance back. They marched as animals. Some of them took their weapons tied with belts to their backs, others relied only upon their own claws and fangs. About two dozens of Mutables joined them -- the solitary ones who didn't like to use fire and dwelt in holes or any suitable shelters. Solly knew that his native village was the only one in this land. And it did not exist now. Morn had to lead those who survived to some new place. Solly has heared (also from Morn) that their people dwelt somewhere in the East, but nobody of his fellows ever dared to enter those wild lands. People say that there were some settlements over the mountains, at the other side of Ra-Muaz passes... They could have gathered twice as much Mutables but rage was driving them on and didn't allow to wait. Besides, the scouts told that the Killers from the Constants village had been summoned to some muster and those Ninefold-Living who were left home won't resist long. Solly understood better than his mates what would have happened with them were the Killers present, but now the wood people had a favourable opportunity. An opportunity blinded by rage... The rain lashed their backs as if the sky urged the avengers on. Pitch-black darkness unlike the Constants... Woe to the murderers! Their nine lives won't do them any good. The Mutables will drag their corpses to the woods and there they'll watch them dying again and again, until the last bracelet will appear on their arms as the sign that their crimes are atoned for. ...It took them few moments to strangle the dogs. And a triumphant howl announced the beginning of the feast. A live wave born in the night rolled out of the forest and overflew the palisade; those who have enough time to transform into human from climbed up the pales scratching their skin in a hurry to open the gate. Solly jumped down and helped Rollo to remove the wooden bar, with an evil smile. A lightning showed the wolfish grin at the youth's face in a short flash. And the thunder answered with a hoarse groan of awe. The gate was flung open and the massacre began. The werwolves didn't spare anybody. Invisible death overtook the Constants everywhere, the blades and knives worked untiringly, dissecting the scared night and soft human flesh... Solly was running past at opened door when a Ninefold-Living jumped out of it. He was almost naked but armed with a sword. At the next moment he sank slowly at the porch of his own home. He had no time to notice Solly's instantaneous stroke. The Mutable praised once more the darkness of the night. Then he threw away his bladric and changed himself into a wolf. Wielding the sword wasn't enough for him. He wanted some more than that. Only then his vengeance would be accomplished. He burst into the house. There was another door inside. He pushed it with his paw, and it opened with a creak. The woolf's keen eyes discerned at once the two figures pressed into the corner and clinging to one another. There were a girl, almost a child, frail and clumsy, and a boy about seven whom the girl tried to protect. The boy trembled, terror- stricken. They were the children of the man whom Solly has just killed at the porch. The moon peered cautiously through a gap in the clouds and lighted the room through an opened window. The girl saw the woolf's silhouette and raised her head with a shiver. And Solly clearly saw in her eyes the familiar anguish. They were the eyes oa his mother. It was his father who lay dead at the entrance... It was he himself who was now choking with terror in the corner behind a unsecure shield of his sister slender body in a light dress... Without thinking what he is doind Solly rose to his feet -- his two human feet -- and stood before the girl, and a timid, improbable hope linked them. And the moon, astonished, forgot to hide itself in the clouds. Solly heared a loud noise, and Rollo burst into the room staggering as a drunkard. He was in human form, wholly naked, and his sword was stained with blood. The leopard-man was drunken with blood. -- Ah, you've found some fun too, haven't you, Solly? -- gasped Rollo, showing his teeth in rapture.-- Well, let's halve the prey! You take the girl and the cub is for me. And then we'ii halve them each in turn, and once more... He stuck his sword into the floor prepearing to transform into a leopard, a mad yellow cat, but Solly turned to him, and Rollo looked at his friend's face -- and understood everything at once. -- What's up with you, Sol? -- he muttered stepping back to the door.-- These here... they killed your dad... they crippled your mum... how can you... -- They did it,-- Solly's voice was colourless and toneless as the Morn's.-- Then we do it -- and then it's their turn -- and ours... and again... Constants or Mutables, both of us are constant only in one thing -- equally constant... Solly wanted to stop but he couldn't. The words fell and fell from his lips, but suddenly Rollo's body tightened and Solly became silent at once. Fear seized him. He was afraid not for himself. When a human being he could contend with Rollo, but Rollo-leopard could easily tear both Solly the man and Solly the wolf, and after that... Solly's hand instinctively grasped the hilt of Rollo's sword that protruded from the floor. At this very moment a growling and grinning whirlwind rushed at him out of the dark. Solly raised his hand just to defend himself but his fingers clasped the hilt as if by their own will, and the sharp blade cut the leopard from hinder legs to the throat. The muscular twitching body knocked Solly off his feet, but he hurriedly jumped up and lifted his hand against Rollo. But there was no need to hurry. Rollo was dead. -- Have you here any place to hide yourself? -- asked Solly turning to the girl. She didn't say anything. -- Yes, we have,-- the boy said instead of her. He thought a little and added shyly: -- Thank you... ...Solly hid them in a barn. He brought there the body of their father too: to prevent it to being taking away to the forest. Then he covered them with hay. The father had to come back to life by the morning just like any of the Ninefold-Living and in Solly's opinion he was quite capable to take care of his own family. After that he returned to the forest with his mates. Many of them carried the bodies of the Ninefold-Living to continue their killing tomorrow, but Solly marched without any burden. He carried with him only the memory of the Constant girl with his mother's brown eyes... and the dead body of Rollo lying on the floor... They marched without glancing back.

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