The Wolf Age
The third book in the Ambrose series
In Memoriam Pajrida PfuIjds ip: a stranger here, a citizen there
Patria splendida terraque florida, libera spinis, danda fidelibus est ibi civibus, hic peregrines.
Shields are shattered,
Before the word founders
Men will show mercy to none.
RAIDERS OF WURUVAARIA
AMONG WOLVES, BE WOLVISH OF COURAGE.
Chapter One: Council of the Gods
Listen, lacomes. This is what I see.
The Strange Gods were gathering by the Stone Tree, but Death and her sister justice had not yet appeared. Justice, they knew, would not, but they expected Death to be there before them and War was angry.
"I swear by myself," War signified, indicating by a talic distortion that the oath was not sincere or binding, "Death is the strangest of the Strange Gods. She pervades the mortal world, but she can't manifest herself anywhere within a pact-sworn juncture of space-time!"
"I am here," Death signified.
Now that they noticed her presence among them, the Strange Gods realized she had been implicit in a fold of local space-time all along, and simply had not chosen to reveal her presence to them. The other gods signified nontrivial displeasure with her.
Death indicated indifference and readiness to begin the pact-sworn discussion.
The Strange Gods did not submit to a ruler. In their discussions, it was common for the weakest of them to preside. So Mercy manifested herself more intensely than she would normally have done, and reminded them of their mission to destroy the werewolf city Wuruyaaria and how it was currently imperiled.
"It is Ghosts-in-the-eyes," signified Wisdom. "They are a powerful maker and necromancer-a master of all the arts we hate. Our instrument will destroy the city"-Wisdom indicated a pattern in events they all under- stood-"but now unless we find a way to bring down the walls of Wuruyaaria more swiftly, our instrument may also destroy great swathes among our worshippers. This goes against our nature and cannot be accepted."
Other gods indicated agreement.
Death indicated chilly amusement: a laugh. "The werewolves will die," she signified. "Their city will die. Our worshippers will die. Our instrument will die. Everything that lives must die. When the last soul is severed, this world will collapse into its component elements and drift away in pieces, flotsam on the Sea of Worlds. All this will happen in time: let events take whatever course they will, this is their destination. If this goes against our nature, our nature is doomed."
Each of the other gods emanated anger that would have killed a material being. It was uncivil of Death to prate about these matters that were well known to every god. If Death felt any discomfort from their emanations, she didn't show it. Her next comment was more immediately helpful, though.
"I have a kind of solution to propose," Death signified. "I would have effected it already, but the consequences will affect our pact-sworn efforts to destroy Wuruyaaria."
Mercy signified a need for more details; other gods echoed her.
Death indicated a trivial detail in the pattern of events: the death of a man named Morlock.
The gods expressed indifference.
Death changed the detail's position in time-space.
The gods meditated on the new potential patterns of events, a flowering of dark futures springing from this one seed.
Most of the gods expressed surprise. Cruelty chuckled a bit, slowly shaking his heavy, many-toothed head.
Death again changed the detail's position in time-space. The manifold patterns of things-to-be changed even more radically.
"How can this be?" signified War. "Men and women die every day and their deaths do not matter." Mercy signified some restlessness at this, but the Strange Gods were used to ignoring the endless quarrel between War and Mercy.
"The progress of our plan in the as-things-are moves very slowly," Death signified. "There is a tension of powers: our instrument; the pact binding our powers in this nexus of events; that damned sorcerer, Ghosts-in-the-Eyes; the natural forces we do not control; and so on. If we disrupt that tension, unbalanced powers will unleash events like a torrent."
Wisdom emanated concern, a need to wait. They did wait as he juggled futures in various shapes, pondering the uncertain effects of varying causal chains. "I cannot chart the path of this torrent," he signified finally to Death and to his peers. "It may benefit our pact-sworn intention or harm it."
"We must guide the torrent," signified War with obvious eagerness.
"We can't," Wisdom signified bluntly. "If we break our sworn intention we will be adrift in the torrent, effecting local changes within it but unable to determine its course. Each change will create new and interacting series of causation. There is certainty in our pact of sworn intention. In this other there is only chaos."
The Strange Gods, as one, made a symbol of protection against the name of this alien god. It had shocked them, as Wisdom intended, lending an unusual force to his signs.
"Certainty only of failure," Cruelty signified. "I was against the proposed instrument from the beginning. It is clear now that I was right and others were wrong. Why should the pact be sacred? Only our wills are sacred, or we are not gods."
"The pact is our will," signified Loyalty. "It is our will united to act as the Strange Gods. To break that is to blaspheme against ourselves." He continued for some time and stopped only when he visualized that the assembly was against him.
Everything he signified was true, but they would not accept failure. On the other hand, Wisdom had frightened them with his tomorrow-juggling and his metaphorical torrents.
"I propose a compromise," signified Stupidity. "Death alone will be freed from the pact-oath. The rest of us will abide by it. That should reduce the chaos in events." The Strange Gods impatiently made again the symbol of protection against the name of Chaos. Stupidity's use of Wisdom's trope emanated contempt and mockery, as was his intent. The gods were annoyed with Stupidity, but he did succeed in making them think less of Wisdom. Suddenly, Wisdom's fears seemed less wise, more fearful.
"That hardly matters," Wisdom signified warningly, but the gods were not prepared to listen. They wanted to do something, and this compromise allowed them the illusion of keeping to their plan even as they adopted a new one.
The compromise, in the end, was assented to by all the Strange Gods (except justice), and Death alone was released from the pact.
"I go," signified Death, and ceased to manifest herself.
The rest of the Strange Gods stood conferring worriedly under the Stone Tree until the sun rose in the west and they fled like ghosts to hide with the darkness underground.
Chapter Two: Death By Water
Morlock Ambrosius shuffled the deck and dealt again. He was sitting by the side of an empty field on the great northern plain, using the surface of a broad stump as a card table.
He threw a set of cards in a spiral pattern, crossed each card with another drawn from the pack, and then sat back to contemplate them. He again saw the drowned sailor, crossed by the Death card, the Lady of the Rocks. There were some variations: the one-eyed merchant bore the blank card of Mystery, the Wheel was crossed by the man with three wands looking out to sea. This was the third time he had thrown the cards, and each time they had prophesied the same fate: death by water.
He had invented the cards as a way to gather signs from the future without using his Sight. That was dangerous for him now: he knew that Merlin had broken loose from his earthy prison and might be exerting his own powers of Sight to track or trap Morlock. He had left his horse with a friend and let his choir of flames run wild in an open seam of coal. He had walked away from everyone and everything he knew so that when the final battle came between him and Merlin, as few people as possible would be destroyed. (In fact, he didn't much care if he himself survived the battle, but he hated the thought of losing to his old embittered ruthen father.) And now, instead of telling him anything about the conflict he knew was coming, the cards kept predicting his death by drowning.
Morlock shrugged his crooked shoulders and gathered up the cards. It was the nature of any type of mantia to reveal things that were useless until one met them in the context of a living Now. He slipped a band on the deck and tucked the cards into a pocket in his sleeve. Then he stood and walked northward up the road to the next town.
Morlock Ambrosius knew the town would be empty before he got there. He had seen enough of them on the northern plains to read the clues by now: the lack of smoke, even from the local smithy, was the clearest sign. What he didn't know was why the town was dead. It had not been for long. There was meat fresh enough to eat in the pantry of the town's sole cookhouse. Morlock cooked and ate it, along with some slightly stale bread and withered mushrooms he had also found there. He left the deck of cards on the counter in payment, even though he had a feeling the owners of the place would never return to claim it.
The place bothered him, so he didn't sleep there. He hopped a wall and walked due north across the brown stubbly fields, averting his eyes from the sun setting in the east. That was how he saw the raiding party approaching from the west.
Morlock was so old he didn't bother to keep count of the years anymore and had seen things like this before. The mystery of the empty towns stood explained: they had fled the raiders who were now returning toward the northern road after having caught at least some of the townspeople. The only question now was how Morlock could avoid being swept up by the raiders.
He knew a few invisibility spells, but they would all make his presence felt to a seer, if they had any in their party. Mundane concealment would be better than any spell, but there were no buildings near enough to be of any use. He settled for sitting down with his back to a wall facing east and waiting for them to pass.
It almost worked. The raiders had some trouble with their prisoners at the wall, which they were crossing somewhat north of Morlock. A few children made a break, running away northward, and a few raiders had to round them up while the others supervised the prisoners' crossing of the wall. They had much to trouble them without looking about for stray travelers.
Morlock, on the other hand, had a chance to observe the raiders and their prisoners quite closely. The raiders were rather odd looking, with long hatchet-narrow faces and necklaces strung with varying numbers of long sharp teeth. They had with them several doglike creatures who were not, in fact, dogs. Some of them took orders and obeyed them with more-thancanine shrewdness. Others seemed to be barking orders that the men (or manlike raiders) would obey.
Morlock watched their shadows to confirm his guess. They were long, distorted by the low angle of the setting sun. But where they fell upon the wall it was clear: the dogs or wolves cast shadows like a man crouching on all fours, while the men cast shadows like wolves standing on their hind feet.
It was a raiding party from the werewolf city somewhere to the north. Morlock forgot the name, if he had ever known it. His sisters could have told him, if she were here.
The prisoners were mostly older folk and children. The healthy adults had obviously been able to escape from the raiding party. A rational choice, Morlock supposed: one must bury one's parents eventually, and one can always have more children. He eyed the few mature adults among the prisoners with some interest. Merely slow-footed?
Morlock felt a twinge of pity for the children. There was nothing in store for them but life as slaves at best, or death as prey at worst. Or maybe it was the other way round: Morlock had never been a slave and he wasn't eager to make the experiment. He kept quiet and still and waited for the raiders to pass.
It almost worked. The prisoners had all crossed the wall; the runaways had been rounded up. The rearguard of the raiding party crossed the wall and began to follow the main group eastward. Perhaps Morlock released an incautiously energetic breath of relief. Perhaps his luck was just out. In any case, one of the wolves in the rearguard lifted his nose and then turned to look directly at Morlock, slumped against the wall. He barked a quiet word to his manlike comrades.
Two of the raiders armed with pikes looked over at Morlock and moved toward him, shouting in a language Morlock did not understand. Since all hope of concealment was over, Morlock stood and drew his sword Tyrfing, holding it at an angle meant to warn rather than threaten.
The two pikemen stopped moving toward him and stared at the dark crystal of the blade, woven with veins of paler crystal, glittering in the red light of the eastering sun.
The wolf who had spotted him first yowled a warning to the whole raiding group. All the raiders stopped and looked at him. Things were going from bad to worse.
Morlock backed away one deliberate step, paused, then took another step back. He growled slightly. From what he knew of wolves, he thought this might show that he was not prepared to attack, but would fight if he must.
The two pikemen and the wolf who commanded them took two steps forward, the pikemen shouting something and the wolf barking furiously. Oddly, he understood the wolf better than the pikemen. The wolf seemed to be saying that Morlock should hide his teeth or he would be bacon by morning.
Morlock suggested, in the same snarling language, the werewolf perform an act made possible by lupine agility. It was one of the few insults he knew for a wolf, and it was gratifyingly effective. The two wolf-shadowed pikemen were rocked back on their heels; the man-shadowed wolf charged forth with fiery eyes, silent now, eager to kill.
Morlock waited. When the wolf poised himself to leap, Morlock dodged forward and brought Tyrfing down on the werewolf's shoulder, shattering the bone.
Tyrfing was a focus of power as well as a weapon; to kill with it was an act of grim consequence, tantamount to enduring death itself. But the werewolf, of course, was not dead, merely wounded, and Morlock found he could shake off the shock of its suffering relatively quickly. He hoped the wolf would not heal soon; he had other trouble at hand.
The two pikemen were bearing down on him. Their weapons were excellent for keeping a party of unarmed prisoners in line, less effective against a skilled swordsman. Morlock ran to meet them and was past the range of their pikeheads before they could stab at him. He wounded the nearer pikeman on the arm with Tyrfing, and reached past him with his free hand to break the neck of the one beyond. The dying one fell like a stone, gasping his last breaths out uselessly; the other staggered backward, yammering, and strove to stab at Morlock with his pike.
Morlock spun aside and rolled over the nearby wall. He made as if to back away; the wounded pikeman lunged at him recklessly. Morlock evaded the pike's hooked blade, waited until the pikeman was fully extended, and then struck down with Tyrfing. The glittering edge hit the pikeman's arm lying across the surface of the wall and severed it at the elbow like a butcher's cleaver cutting through a joint of meat. The pikeman shrieked words of fear and hate, staggered backward, and fell out of sight groaning behind the low wall.
Morlock shook off the horror of the pikeman's suffering. A werewolf he might be, but he was as mortal in human form as Morlock was, and it was unlikely he would survive two such terrible wounds. But Morlock had many deaths on his conscience already; adding the death of a slave-taker or two did not bother him much.
The others were coming for him now. Since there was nothing he could do to stop it, he encouraged it. He made clucking noises he hoped they would find insulting. He croaked out some abuse he had learned from crows. He tapped the edge of his sword on the bloodstained surface of the wall and waggled his free hand at them. Soon many of the raiders, manlike and lupine, were running toward him. At the moment he judged right, he turned and ran south along the stone wall.
He heard some of the raiders scrambling or leaping over the wall. Others were running along the eastern side of the wall. That was all right with him: his enemies had effectively halved their own forces.
His bad leg was troubling him, but he kept running as fast as he could until he heard the grating gasp of a wolf's breathing just behind him. He spun and braced his feet in a fighter's crouch, his sword at full extension. The wolf at his heels was impaled on the blade before he knew what was happening; the frightened howl had an unpleasantly human quality. Morlock repressed the horror of the other's suffering and shook him off his sword. He kicked the moaning wolf out of his way and lunged at the next one leaping at him. This one didn't howl; Tyrfing had passed through her throat, nearly severing her neck. She, too, was out of the fight until she healed. Morlock leaped past to meet the next raider.
Neither men nor wolves run all at the same rate. A disciplined military force learns to move as a group, applying a maximum of power at the expense of moving a little more slowly. These raiders weren't that disciplined, and Morlock planned to take advantage of it. During his sprint his pursuers had strung behind him in a long line, and what had been an unwinnable battle of one against many was now just a string of single combats in which Morlock had, at least briefly, the advantage of surprise.
His next opponent was a wide-eyed man armed only with a long pole. He was already skittering to a halt as Morlock came up to him. While he was still off balance, Morlock struck off his weapon-bearing hand with Tyrfing and punched him in the throat. The man fell gagging to his knees. Morlock kicked him in the face as he passed, and the man went down to the ground.
By then Morlock was facing another antagonist: a lean woman with roancolored hair and a long pointed sword. Morlock fenced with her for a few grim moments, then struck home with a thrust through her upper right chest. He wrenched the sword from her grip with his free hand and she fell, spouting blood from her lips, into the dust of the stubbly field.
The woman's sword was rusty, bent, unbalanced, notched along both edges-inferior to Tyrfing in every way but one: he could use it to kill with impunity. He ran on to fight his next antagonist.
After a few more single combats, Morlock looked about to see wolves and men gathering in a group to attack him. He turned and, leaping back over the wall, ran southward. His would-be attackers followed. Glancing back, he saw that their pursuit had broken up into smaller groups again, some on each side of the wall. He leaped back to the west side and ran north to attack again.
He was running out of breath by now, but he strove not to show it: they would be more likely to break off the battle if they thought him tireless. And, in a strange way, the grim prophecies of the cards buoyed him up: if he was doomed to die by drowning, he needn't worry about being ripped open by werewolves in an empty field.
He had struck down a few more men and wolves, and was thinking of a new retreat when horns and wolf calls sounded to the north. His antagonists fled northward to answer them. When he was sure they were leaving, he slumped gasping against the wall and watched them run.
There was some sort of fight going on back at the main body of the raiding party. In the failing light it wasn't at first clear to Morlock what was happening. Then he realized: encouraged by the absence of so many raiders, the captives had seized the opportunity to fight back.
Their chances didn't look good.
Morlock, of course, could improve them.
He shook his head, wearily. It was not his fight; he was already tired. This was his chance to flee south and escape the raiders.
On the other hand, the field was dry. Absent a sudden downpour, he was unlikely to drown.
He stood pondering alternatives and getting his wind back. He saw a raider lift the struggling body of a child, impaled on a spear point. As the raider brandished the spear, shouting in triumph or threat, the body grew slack.
Morlock found himself running forward then in long irregular strides. The slave-takers, intent on their rebellious captives, didn't notice his approach until he was almost upon them. Then he lashed out with both swords, torn by the sudden rage from within and the talic shocks from Tyrfing. He struck and struck. He was bleeding now, and his fire-laden blood lit smoldering fires in the stubbly fields. The werewolves, manlike and wolfformed, seemed more dismayed by this than anything. Now many of the former captives had seized weapons from raiders that had been killed or wounded. The raiders still had greater numbers, but seemed to lack stomach for fighting. Soon they fled, north and east, away from the bitter low wall and the bodies of the slain and wounded and the harsh vengeful cries of their former captives.
Morlock stepped aside and sat down on the low wall, ripping strips from his cloak to bandage his wounds. He kept an eye on the former captives as he did so. It was possible they would resent him as much as the werewolves. He knew nothing of these people, not even a word of their language.
He saw one woman with iron gray hair struggling with a long spear gripped in the hands of a dead raider. She was sobbing quietly. He kept a cautious eye on her; it was possible that some of the captives were quislings or traitors, and perhaps she was one. Otherwise why weep over the dead raider? Then he saw what was on the end of the spear: the child's body he had seen raised up as a rebuke or a threat to the captives. She was struggling to remove the spear point from the body without doing it further damage.
He got up from the wall and walked over to her. He brushed her hands away from the shaft of the spear, and she let him. The blade of the spear was barbed and had caught in the child's body. The child was dead, of course; it had been a girl, perhaps ten years old. Morlock put one foot on the corpse and tore the spear loose from the body.
The old woman screamed and struck at his face with weak fists. He ignored it. He broke the spear shaft with his hands and cast the pieces aside. Then he opened his hands and looked her in the eye.
She stopped hitting him. She stood back, still sobbing from exhaustion, fear, grief-or all three. The sobbing slowed to a halt.
Silence surrounded them.
"Kree-laow," said one of the former captives, pointing at Morlock.
"Venbe Land kree-laow," said another.
An argument broke forth. One of the issues seemed to be whether Morlock was or was not kree-laow-whatever or whoever that might be.
Many of the captives lay dead on the field. If they had been Morlock's kith he would have felt the impulse to bury them. But circumstances were obviously unsuitable for a funeral, no matter how hasty. The sun had now set, and the blue eyes of the minor moons, Horseman and Trumpeter, were opening in the gray sky of gloaming. In the shadows along the low bitter wall, darker shadows were lurking, wounded werewolves licking their wounds audibly, healing probably, readying for a new attack almost certainly.
Morlock knelt down by the dead girl. The old woman jumped at him, croaking angry words. He held up his hand. Then he tore another strip from his ragged cloak and bound up the dead girl's left hand.
"My people," he said to the old woman, without any hope she would understand, "the people who raised me: they taught me to do this for those I would honor, but could not bury." He tore another strip of cloth and bound the girl's other hand.
The old woman knelt down by the dead girl on the other side. She tore a strip from her own ragged clothing and put it across the dead girl's face. She met his eye and nodded grimly. They both stood.
"Kree-laow!" said one of the former captives decisively, and this time no one argued. The survivors set about hastily honoring their fallen dead. Morlock patrolled back and forth as they did so, watching the wolf-eyed shadows that were gathering in the dark.
Then the others were done. Some of them tugged at Morlock's arm and shoulder; they said words he didn't understand. Their expressions were hard to read in the ice-pale moonlight, but they seemed to want him to come with them. They kept pointing north: perhaps they had a refuge there, or simply planned to join another band of refugees.
He considered it. On the one hand, not too far to the north lay the Bitter Water, an inlet from the western ocean. If he were truly destined to die by drowning, that would be a likely scene for it. On the other hand, if he walked southward alone, the werewolves would likely follow him. He knew from experience how relentless werewolves could be in the pursuit of a single prey, even one who had given them less cause to be angry than Morlock now had. And he had no silver nor wolfbane in his nearly empty pack.
He touched his chest and pointed north. "I'll go with you," he said.
They understood; their faces creased with relief and a kind of happiness. He thought it odd.
They went northward as quickly as they could, stumbling through the empty fields in the moonlit shadows. Eyes followed them in the dark-never too near, nor ever very far away.
It was the last bright call* of Cymbals, the first month of winter. The air on the northern plains should have been pitilessly cold, the land covered with many layers of snow. The wind that rose at their backs was chilly and many of the refugees shivered as they walked, but it was more like early autumn than the beginning of winter. Morlock had never known weather like this, but it was true that he didn't know the northern plains as well as other parts of Laent. He'd have liked to ask the refugees (the other refugees, he supposed he should call them: he was one of them now) about the weather, but he couldn't understand a word they said, and none of them could understand any of the languages he spoke to them.
About the middle of the night, they began to hear the sound of surf, and the air came alive with salty wet scents. The refugees were increasingly excited, but Morlock was feeling rather gloomy: it was as if he could feel Death gripping him more tightly.
They came in sight of the shoreline, and there were other refugees there, and the coarse cheerful sounds of wood being worked. Morlock's companions picked up their feet and ran down to the shore, laughing and crying and greeting the others there. Morlock followed more slowly. He noted that the woodworking sounds were coming from a small flotilla of boats that the refugees were making with lumber salvaged from demolished buildings. There were some foundations, gaping open at the cold sky, not far away from the shore.
Many explanations had already been made before Morlock arrived at the rocky beach of the Bitter Water. Some of Morlock's companions were standing around an older man wearing a ceremonial headband. Morlock heard the by now familiar kree-laow several times.
The old man, some sort of leader or priest, looked up as Morlock approached. His lined face had been frozen in a skeptical expression, but that melted as he took in Morlock's limping crooked form. He said several things directly to Morlock, who opened his hands and looked expectantly, waiting for the old man to understand that he didn't understand.
The old man was annoyed that Morlock didn't understand him. He waved off some explanations from some of the other refugees and spoke over his shoulder to a boy who wore a version of the same headband. The boy ran off, returning a few moments later with a small codex book. He handed it to the old man, who leafed through it for a few moments and then turned to hand it to Morlock.
Morlock took the book reluctantly. It seemed to be some book of ceremonies or prophecies, and he had found that participating in someone else's religion could become abruptly dangerous, even when he understood what they were saying. He was even more dismayed when he saw what the old man wanted him to see: through the middle of the text strode a crook-shouldered man, a torch in one hand and a black-and-white sword in the other. Around him was a ring of wolves with human shadows.
"Kree-laow!" shouted the old man, as if he could make Morlock understand that way.
"Possibly," said Morlock, handing back the book. "I hope not, though." If he disliked being entangled in someone else's religion, being entangled in their destiny seemed almost unsanitary.
Three children ran up, one of them bleeding. They were talking excitedly and gesturing southward. They may have been posted as lookouts; obviously, they had met a werewolf. More than one: one of the boys kept on flashing all his fingers, which Morlock guessed meant the numbers of the enemies: ten and ten and ten….
The old man said something; other men and women wearing headbands repeated it, and the men, women, and children all rushed to the boats, pushing them out from the rocky beach into the water.
Morlock was in two minds about whether to join them. He hated the water and would almost rather die on land than be saved on the sea. But he thought about the boy's hand signals: ten and ten and ten…. Too many tens.
Morlock waded into the cold shallows of the Bitter Water. Many cold moonlit faces turned eagerly toward him from the boats; they spoke to him. Everyone seemed eager to have the kree-laow (if that's what he was) on their boat.
He climbed on one at random. It did not, thank God Avenger, have the old man with the ceremonial headband; Morlock had taken a dislike to him in the few seconds he had known him. A younger man wearing a headband appeared to be the priest-captain of the boat. He took Morlock by the hand and welcomed him, then took him to one side of the boat where there was a bench and an oar for rowing.
"I understand," said Morlock. He threw his backpack and his two swords under the bench, sat down, and took hold of the oar. Some of the crew were already frantically splashing the blades of their oars in the water. He waited until the sides had established a rhythm, along with a chant led by the head band-wearer (who sat at the stern at the steering oar). When the other oars were swinging in rhythm he extended his own and started to push the water with the blade.
On the bench in front of him was an old woman. He wasn't sure if it was the same one whom he had met among the captives. There were no passengers in the middle of the boat, and many of the benches were empty: the refugees had been expecting more people than actually arrived.
That was unfortunate; they could have used the arms. And Morlock wished he had arrived early enough to give them some advice on boat building. (He was no sailor, but he knew something about shipmaking.) The boats were all flatbed rafts-none of them seemed to have keels. They would fare badly on the rough waves of the Bitter Water.
It was bad at first, but no worse than Morlock expected. The flat bottom of the boat hit each wave on the rough gray waters like a broadhead hammer. Morlock's mouth filled with a greasy fluid. He was near vomiting, but struggled against it. He didn't know how soon he would eat again, and he couldn't afford to lose a scrap of food to the cold dark sea.
The waves kept pushing the flatboats backward even as they struggled forward-and the boats slid sideways as often as they made any progress. When they had been paddling for more than an hour, Morlock looked backward. The shore was still in sight, terribly near for all their efforts. In the chill light of the minor moons, he saw that the smooth beach bristled with the forms of men and wolves.
He turned back to plying his oar. He met the eye of the old woman rowing in front of him: she too had been looking back.
"There's no going back," he said.
She grunted and said something he didn't understand. They bent themselves to their rowing. The night was still strangely warm for winter, but a cold wind came off the gray gleaming water; no one was sweating much.
Presently it grew still worse. There was a shout from one of the other boats, and everyone turned their eyes to the east. Morlock followed their gaze, but at first he wasn't sure what he was seeing. He had never seen anything like this before.
Emerging from the blue broken clouds, high above the moonslit eastern edge of the Bitter Water, were gray shapes like teardrops, riding through the sky like ships. Their prows were pointed; their sterns were wide and rounded. Under each midsection hung chains suspending a long black craft, snakelike in form.
"What are they?" he wondered. "Are they alive?"
No one answered. No one understood him. But the townsfolk knew something about them. Some turned back to their oars with renewed panicky energy; others put their hands over their faces, resigning themselves to their fate.
Morlock was not the resigned type. He struck out at the water savagely with his oar, but turned often to watch the approach of the airships. At first they were headed toward the center of the Bitter Water, but then they turned their prows slightly to intercept the flatboats. The sharp ends of the airships tilted slightly forward, and the snakelike gondolas slid forward on their chains.
The old woman in front of him said something and he turned to look at her. She said it again. He shrugged and opened his free hand.
She grunted and gestured impatiently back toward the shore. Then Morlock did understand: the airships had something to do with the werewolves.
Morlock was impressed. He also felt a savage covetous longing to know how the things were made, how they worked. But the main thing at the moment was to survive, and that looked increasingly unlikely.
The airships were clearly coming in to attack the flatboats. They were close enough now that he could see the windows lining the snakelike gondolas. And in many of the windows a warm, welcoming red light shone.
"We're done," he remarked grimly, and turned back to his oar. He still wasn't the resigned type.
Soon the airships were nearly overhead, and he could see the bowmen in the windows, their arrows alive with red light.
"Ware fire!" he shouted, though he knew no one could understand him.
The bowmen shot, and burning arrows struck all around them, in the water and on the decks. Few seemed to have been wounded, a fact that struck Morlock as ominous. The arrows largely fell in the center of the boats, on open planking.
Morlock reached under his bench for his nearly empty backpack. He swung it over the rail and passed it through the water. Then he ran with it, still soaking, to the nearest arrow burning on the deck and tried to douse the flame. But he managed to do nothing except set the soaked backpack alight: the burning arrows were treated with some agent that burned even in water. And it burned fast and fierce: he tossed the backpack off the boat, but it was already half consumed, and the fires were chewing deep holes in the flatboats. As he watched bemusedly, boiling water began to bubble upward amidst the spreading flame. This boat was sinking, and a glance around showed him that the other flatboats were as well. People were abandoning them on every side.
Now was the time for the crews of the airships to attack again, if they were seeking to kill the refugees. But they didn't. In fact, Morlock saw that they were lowering something from the airship gondolas on long chains. Nets. They were nets. As they hit the water, people already adrift on the waves started to crawl into them.
Morlock could not imagine what use the werewolves could have for humans except as meat animals or slaves. He expected his fiery blood would keep him off the menu card, so he wasn't concerned about that. But he had never been a slave. He had no interest in trying the profession.
He turned back to his bench and grabbed Tyrfing from its sheath. He struck with the dark glittering blade, severing the bench from the deck. He tossed the bench into the water and jumped in after it, sword still in hand.
He flipped the bench on its back and lay Tyrfing across its underside. The bench seemed buoyant enough to carry him and his sword, at least until it absorbed some water. Looking back, he saw the old woman who had been rowing in front of him. She was sinking under the silver surface of the Bitter Water. He reached out with one hand to rescue her, but she scornfully struck it aside and let herself sink. Soon she passed from sight: a gray shape lost in the gray moonslit water.
Morlock looked up. One net full of dripping refugees was already being drawn up toward the gondola of an airship. The others were still gathering willing victims.
Maybe they were right, Morlock realized. It was a warm night for winter, but it was still a winter night on the Bitter Water. Death was there, in the chill of the water if nothing else. He might live longer if he resigned himself to his fate, as they were doing.
But he wasn't the resigned type. And he had never been a slave. "Eh," he said, and paddled grimly away into the night.
His plan was to swim westward and then turn south toward the shoreline, hopefully landing at a place not thick with angry werewolves.
He hadn't much hope. The weather was warm, perhaps, by the frosty standards of the north, but the Bitter Water was cold-far colder than his blood. There was a fire in him, but he knew that water quenches fire. Still, he would not surrender. Death was in the water. He knew it; he felt it. But he would fend it off as long as possible.
A current, even colder than the other water, caught him and dragged him off the course he thought he was taking. Soon he couldn't even remember where he had thought land was. If he could hold out until dawn…
He did not hold out. The cold sank deep teeth into his aching limbs. His mind began to fog. He forgot to raise his head occasionally to look for signs of land. He found himself drifting occasionally, his feet motionless in the killing water, loosely grasping the bench, his eyes closed. Every time it happened it was harder to kick his feet into motion. And eventually the time came when he found himself adrift half submerged in the water, the wooden waterlogged bench lost on the dark sea. He kept his limbs moving as long as he could, but eventually the darkness in the cold water entered his mind and he sank, already dying, into the killing water.
Death was there under the surface of the sea. He had known it from the beginning, but now he saw her reaching out for him with long dark fingers, bristling with darkness like a spider's legs.
She embraced him with her many arms, and her bristling fingertips touched his face.
She introduced talic distortions into his fading consciousness, like words.
I am not ready for you to enter my realm, she signified. You have been a good servant to me, but I have more work for you to do in the world.
Without speaking, he rejected her service-rejected all the Strange Gods.
She signified an amusement even colder than the Bitter Water, and his mind went dark.
But it was not the darkness of death. He came to himself later-it must have been hours later, because the western sky was gray with approaching dawn. He was coughing up salty vomit as he crawled across the stony margin of the Bitter Water.
In the same instant he saw two things: his sword, Tyrfing, gleaming in the shallow water and the dim gray light. The other was a crowd of shadows, manlike and wolflike, standing farther up the beach. He looked up and saw men and women with wolvish shadows, wolves with human shadows.
His throat was closed like a fist; he couldn't call Tyrfing to him. He leapt toward it, but the werewolves were on him before he reached it. They didn't use swords or teeth, but clubs and fists. They wanted him alive.
He fought as hard as he could, but they were too many and his strength was failing. Before he lost consciousness he felt them put the shackles on his neck and arms.
Morlock had never been a slave. Until today.
Chapter Three: The Vargulleion
Morlock never remembered much of his first day in captivity. He had been half dragged, half carried all through the hours of sunlight. The band of werewolves who had captured him were about twenty in number, counting humans and wolves together. He was not their only prisoner; they had five others: sorry waterlogged human beasts (like Morlock) that they had recovered from the waves. Morlock was the only one in metal shackles. That was good and bad: bad for his chances to escape but perhaps good for killing one or more of his captors, if he could catch them unaware.
In between bouts of unconsciousness and semiconsciousness, whenever he was aware enough, he tried to keep an eye out for Tyrfing. He guessed one of the werewolves had taken it; it still carried a talic charge he could activate by calling its name. If he picked his moment carefully, he could summon the sword-in ideal circumstances, perhaps fight his way free. But it would have been enough for him to kill some of them.
He never caught sight of Tyrfing, though. Perhaps it was heaped with loot from the raided towns, awaiting a division of the spoils. Perhaps they had left it there in the water, fearing its latent magic. As light left the sky, he began to get desperate. He decided to ascend to the visionary plane and try to locate the sword by its implicit talic burden.
It was a risk; if some of the werewolves were seers, they would sense his action. But he decided to take that risk. As the werewolves settled down for a brief rest around sunset and a snack (one of the waterlogged captives-a lank-haired, hollow-cheeked woman who didn't even scream when they bit into her), Morlock slumped down with the other four survivors and allowed his mind to ascend slightly toward the visionary state. The world of matter and energy receded slightly, faded slightly, and the talic threshold of the spirit world stood forth brightly against the dim background.
A wolvish form turned toward him. Instead of fur, it seemed in his talic vision to have long feathers, and at the tip of each feather was an open, observant human eye. All the eyes were looking at Morlock. The werewolf seer issued an ululating call that Morlock heard with his material senses and his inner ear.
The other werewolves dropped their steaming fragments of human meat and rushed over. One of them, in man form, wore a tool belt and carried a brazen wooden box that the seer-wolf avoided with caution. The seer-wolf barked a curt order. The manlike werewolf set the box down near Morlock and opened it. Within it lay glowing glasslike objects.
Morlock dropped his vision and tried to kick the box over. He didn't know what the things in the box were, but he didn't want them near him, any more than the seer-wolf did. The seer-wolf barked another order, and suddenly Morlock was gripped with many hands and teeth, unable to move, the left side of his face pressed against the ground. The one with the tool belt grabbed tongs from his belt and a hammer. He used the tongs to lift a glowing glass tooth from the brazen box. The seer-wolf moved farther away instinctively, and Morlock would have done the same if he'd been able. The one with the tool belt placed the point of the glowing glass tooth against Morlock's right temple and pounded it in with the hammer.
The pain was the most terrible that Morlock had ever felt in his long life, but that wasn't the worst of it. With each blow of the hammer, he could see and hear and feel less of the world. When it was done, all that he could see and hear and feel were the things that were actually there: his Sight was gone.
His mind was empty of everything but grief and hate for a long time.
When Morlock brought himself to look at the void of matter and energy that was now the only world he could know, they had left the plains and were now in low hills, the sea still in sight on their left. It might have been hours or days later; he neither knew nor cared.
The hills about them were riddled with holes like empty eye sockets: dens of werewolves, he supposed. One of the hills had been cut down to bedrock and walled around; the holes in its sheer sides were smaller: windows, not doors. That was where they were taking him.
And only him. When Morlock looked about incuriously, he saw that the other human captives were gone. Either they had been left somewhere else or they had been eaten on the way. He neither knew nor cared.
To the west, there was another far greater walled edifice, and behind the walls were rising ranks of tableland, each rank thick with toothlike protrusions, each surface notched with dark den-holes. That must be the ill-famed city of werewolves.
Beyond it to the north was a mountain, tall enough to overshadow the highest of the tablelands. From the ragged cone at its peak, it was a volcano, though it seemed to be dormant. Mounted on its higher slopes was a gigantic circular device, gleaming in the light of the minor moons. On its upper rim two silvery globes of unequal size moved at separate rates. In its center were starlike symbols forming an all-too-familiar shape: a wolf. On its lower rim was a third globe-lightless, almost impossible to see, but larger than the other two.
A moon-clock, Morlock deduced, with a faint awakening of interest. He wondered what it was for, who had built it, what powered it. He turned his eyes away resolutely.
Ahead of him lay the walled lair: clearly a prison. From snatches of wolfspeech he understood from the captors, he guessed it was called the Vargulleion. There would be no moon-clocks there. He walked through the tomblike gate of the prison with unfeigned indifference in the midst of his captors, wolvish and manlike. First their shadows were swallowed by the darkness within; then their forms were lost and they made their way down the lightless hallway. A dim red light glowed at the end of the hall: an open door, leading to the prison interior. From it Morlock heard iron slamming on stone and many voices of men and wolves.
They took him to a cell on the highest floor of the Vargulleion and locked him in. The lock itself was a simple crossbar. But there was a guard station opposite the cell door, with a manlike and a wolvish guardian posted, watching him with cold interested eyes. He hoped they wouldn't always be as alert as they were now.
The cell had two cots. There was a window, high in the wall, and the light of the minor moons poured through it, painting the filthy surfaces with silver. (The window had a wooden shutter, but it was propped open.) He saw a narrow dark hole in the floor: the commode. Impossible to escape that way, but it might represent some structural weakness in the cell he could exploit.
Morlock lay down on one of the cots and slept. He never knew how long. When he awoke there was sunlight glaring in the window and he found a bowl of food and a bowl of water on the floor by his cot. The food was a mash of peas or beans or something-no meat, thank God Avenger. The water was even more welcome. He wasted none of it on washing, of course.
When he was done he examined the bowls carefully. They seemed to be tin of some type-perhaps brittle enough that he might break off a few fragments.
A man's voice shouted words at him. He looked up to see a guard standing at the bars of his cell. The guard rattled the bars and motioned with his hand: he wanted Morlock to bring the bowls to him.
The guard's hands were resting between the cell bars; Morlock thought about leaping forward to trap the guard. Now, perhaps, was not the timethere was still another guard, in wolf form, standing ready-but he noted the guard's recklessness. That, too, was a weakness that might be exploited.
As he stood and walked deliberately toward the cell door, the guard stood back. He used hand motions to direct Morlock to pass the bowls through the bars and drop them on the ground. Morlock did so and stood back. Presently a man-formed werewolf came by to collect them in a basket.
This werewolf was not a guard, clearly. He had no armor and very little clothing, only a sort of loincloth. His skin, hair, and eyes were all the same mottled pale color, and he was beardless (like the guards, but unlike Morlock himself; it was long since he'd shaved). Morlock guessed he was a prisoner, too: a trustee of some kind. The guards spoke to him, their voices friendly and contemptuous. The trustee said a few things to Morlock, but Morlock made no move to respond. Eventually the trustee went away, his basket of bowls clanking as he wrestled it down the corridor.
Time passed. Morlock spent a good deal of it staring at the walls. They looked new: this prison was not more than a few years old. Had it replaced an older one, or had the werewolves found some new need for a prison? For that matter, it seemed in retrospect that the dens he had walked past on his way here were also new; there was a rawness about their edges, a lack of plant growth on or near the doorways. He wondered about all this but came to no conclusions. It was hard to think with the glass spike in his skull: he was deaf to his own insight, could proceed only on reason alone, that feeble reed.
Morlock began to hope that he would be kept in solitary confinement, but that evening, when the window was still reddish gray with sunset, a dozen guards herded a new prisoner up the hallway. The two on station unlocked the door while the others forced the new prisoner into the cell that had been Morlock's sole domain.
The new prisoner was in human form …approximately. His face was long, but his eyes were set far back, almost by his ears. His brutal jaw came out almost as far as his flat porcine nose; when he bared his teeth, as he often did, they looked like the long gleaming teeth of a carnivore. His legs had a twist in them, like a dog's hind legs. His massive naked body was shaggy with hair, white streaked with red. (His bare skin, where it could be seen, showed the same mottling.) He looked like a werewolf who had changed incompletely back to human-who, perhaps, could not change fully out of beast form.
The new prisoner, as soon as he was released, threw himself at the cell door, but the wary guards had already slammed it shut and locked it fast. The new prisoner pressed his snarling face through the bars and snapped and howled. The guards stood back and passed amused remarks among themselves.
The pale trustee appeared again. This time he had two baskets and a handful of some kind of marker. He passed like a vendor through the crowd of guards (more guards, and more trustees, were filling up the hallway). Morlock couldn't tell exactly what was going one, but he thought the pale mottled trustee was selling bets.
The new prisoner tired of struggling against the unyielding bars. He drew his head back and stood snuffling angrily for a while. Then he stood as straight as his arched spine allowed and turned to look at Morlock, seeming to notice him for the first time.
He howled like a dog, and the crowd outside the cell roared and hooted like the audience at a race. They were an audience, Morlock realized: they had come to see him broken, perhaps killed by the beastlike prisoner.
A square of moonlight was already shining on the cell floor. The new prisoner stepped into it, and his unlovely flesh began to ripple like the surface of boiling water. The prisoner knelt down, raising his arms and screaming in ecstasy or fury as they transformed to wolf legs in the silvery light.
In a moment he had transformed: there was no trace of humanity about him anymore. Even his shadow seemed bestial and hulking as he turned toward Morlock with the light of death in his dark eyes.
Morlock stood, his hands open and empty. He was acutely aware that he had nothing to help him in this fight, not even a seer's intuition. He had no tools, no weapons, no escape, and he faced an enemy he could not kill.
The werewolf leapt from light into shadow. Morlock leapt past him, from shadow into the light.
Chapter Four: Undying
Morlock hit the cell floor rolling and jumped to his feet. The werewolf was skittering to a halt, its claws scrabbling on the stone floor for purchase. It smashed into the cot on the far side of the cell, and Morlock heard the wooden frame crack and splinter under the impact.
The bestial cellmate wheeled around. It started forward, as if to lunge at Morlock again, then paused.
Morlock took stock of his enemy. An ordinary wolf, from nose to tail tip, might be as long as Morlock was tall, or a bit longer. This beast was twice that length, and even broader and taller in proportion. Its red-streaked fur was bristly with winter growth: it would be hard for him to wound the beast without some sort of weapon. Its dead-black eyes were watching him with deadly intelligence, measuring him as he measured it.
It came for him then, diving through the crossed torrents of silvery light from the barred window. He darted toward the cell door, bounced off it, and spun away to the far side of the room, ending by the foot of his splintered bed.
At that point, the beast was just lumbering about in recovery from its leap.
Morlock was surprised. Its leap had been swift, terrifying in its speed. But it could not change direction easily, it seemed. Its muscle mass gave it speed, but not nimbleness.
Nimbleness was a feeble blade to pierce the immortal heart of his enemy. But it was at least one weapon in his armory.
He decided to grab another. He seized two sides of his cot's splintered frame and pulled them apart. He heard the beast's feet scratch the stones as it left the floor in another leap. He swung around, still gripping the cot, and smashed it into the side of the werewolf's head as it leaped toward him.
The werewolf fell in a ball, snarling, and snapped at his legs. Morlock smashed the disintegrating frame down on the werewolf; it yelped, finally fleeing from repeated blows. Morlock shook loose a few fragments and then stood forth triumphantly with a club in each hand.
The werewolf, slinking around the far side of the cell, looked from the uneven clubs in Morlock's hands to the fragments of the cot on the cell floor.
Possibly it was thinking about the disadvantages of wolf form. Morlock tossed one club in the air and flickered his fingers before he caught it again. Nimbleness and clubs: they weren't much, perhaps, against the werewolf's advantages. But maybe the beast didn't know that. He moved slowly, stalkingly, toward the werewolf.
The werewolf backed away slowly, around the edge of the room. Morlock followed it, watching for an opportunity to strike. He was also thinking about the beast, its size, and the energy with which it moved. Whenever it had last eaten, it must be growing hungry. As it grew hungrier, it would grow desperate. But it would also grow weaker. Perhaps his strategy should be a waiting game.
The werewolf was now again by the fragments of the cot. One of them was smoldering slightly; Morlock had been wounded slightly, and the blood, falling on the wood, had set it afire.
The werewolf sniffed the smoldering wood, then looked narrowly at Morlock. It extended its blunt snout and sniffed again. Its teeth bared in a wordless snarl, and it darted forward to attack.
Morlock struck, even more savagely than before, with his makeshift clubs, but this time the beast was not deterred. Still, the blows had some effect: it had been aiming at his throat, but it ended up ripping into his left leg.
Morlock pounded on the narrow snout as steaming fiery blood squirted out from between its teeth. The clubs broke over the beast's head; it whined with pain but did not retreat. Morlock took a sharpish end of one of the broken clubs and stabbed it into the werewolf's right eye. He pushed the wooden stake savagely, with all his strength, hoping to strike into the beast's brain.
It fled, sobbing strangely, with its lips firmly shut, with the wood still dangling from its bleeding eye socket. Then, as it paused by the wooden fragments of Morlock's cot, it spat deliberately on them. The blood it had drawn from Morlock's wound set them aflame. Then it darted across the room and spat the rest of its mouthful of blood on the other cot, which took fire and began to burn-slowly at first, then with increasing strength.
Morlock watched gloomily as his potential armory went up in flames kindled by his own blood. His nimbleness was now very much in doubt, due to the leg wound, and his materials for making new weapons were vanishing as he watched. But the worst thing about all this was the deliberate intelligence the werewolf had shown. He had thought of it as a beast, but it was not merely a beast. In fact, it seemed more like a person now than it had when still in man form.
He sat with his back against the cell wall and watched his enemy. It didn't seem disposed to attack, so Morlock tore strips from his shirt to bandage his leg wound. It was a terrible wound, and if it festered it might kill him …but only if he lived through this night.
The werewolf itself was hardly in better shape. It shook its head frantically and clawed at its eye, finally dislodging the bloody chunk of sharp wood. Then it crept forward to the middle of the room, toward the wedge of moonlight falling on the cell floor. It kept its one eye warily on Morlock as it moved, but it seemed intent on entering the moonlight.
Morlock didn't understand this, but he did understand that anything the werewolf wanted was bad for him. He stood and brandished his remaining club. He closed one eye deliberately and opened it: a warning to the beast that it could lose its other eye.
The werewolf snarled and continued to inch forward.
Morlock thought the beast had understood his threat and was disregarding it. If so, it was even more important that the werewolf not rest in the moonlight. It had transformed there: did moonlight hasten the beast's power to recuperate and heal? It seemed likely.
Morlock dropped his club and jumped for the window. His left hand caught the bars' iron sill, and with his right he slammed over the wooden shutter. There was a latch on the shutter and he set it. The only light in the cell now came from the smoldering flames set by Morlock's blood. The werewolf howled in fury and disappointment.
Morlock dropped back down to the cell floor, and a wave of pain darkened his vision as the fall jarred his wounded leg. Sound and smell warned him before sight that the werewolf was attacking again. He lashed out desperately with his fists, by luck battering the blunt snout aside before its teeth fixed on his throat.
Its jaws clamped down on his right upper arm. Morlock saw that the wounded eye was already healing: the orb was whole again, if sightlessly white. The healthy eye met his, and the werewolf seemed to grin at him around the blood bubbling out of Morlock's wound. Morlock clutched at the werewolf's eye with his left hand, digging deep into the socket with two fingers. The werewolf gave a muffled shriek, a strangely human sound from the lupine mouth, and fled, one eyeball dangling by a thick gleaming nerve from the empty socket.
Morlock stood with his back to the wall beneath the window and wearily tore more strips from his shirt for bandages. He did so with a sense of futility. In every encounter where the werewolf hurt him, it came closer to killing him. He could hurt it, but he could never kill it. The absence of moonlight might slow its healing, but would not stop it. And now it didn't even need to attack; it could sit and wait for him to pass out from blood loss or weariness.
If only he could kill it. But he had no silver and no wolfbane. How else could you kill a werewolf.?
The wounded beast sidled through the red smoky shadows of the cell. It issued a harsh, rasping sound like a cough.
Morlock thoughtfully twisted the bandage in his hands. He let the blood fall unregarded to the stone floor. A thought was forming in his mind.
Everything that lived, everything that had physical life, had to breathe. That was why the werewolf was coughing from the smoke.
Keeping one eye on the lurking beast, Morlock stooped down and pulled the leather laces from his shoes. When he had made them he had leeched the phlogiston from them so that they wouldn't burn; he tested their strength now with his fingers, and he liked what he felt. He patiently spliced the laces together. It took a little time to do properly and his time was running out, but there was no point in trying this without doing it right. When the laces were one, he grabbed a stray length of nonburning wood from the floor and, being careful not to drip blood on it, broke it in half. He knotted one end of each lace to a piece of wood, and presently he had a serviceable garrote.
Now to make a chance to use it. The beast was wounded in both eyes, but it could still smell and hear; he would have to distract it somehow so that he could attack it from behind.
Morlock carefully placed the garrote on the floor far away from any fires. Then he loitered casually toward one of the burning cots-it was the other one, the one Morlock had not broken up. By now the fire had spread over the length of the thing and it was burning merrily.
The werewolf was on the far side of the cell, distractedly and somewhat dismayedly swinging its loose eyeball on its nerve.
Morlock picked up the burning cot and threw it at the wall above the werewolf. As soon as the cot struck the wall, he dodged across the cell to seize his garrote and then jumped upon the werewolf's back as it emerged snarling from the curtain of hot gleeds and bloody smoke. He wrapped the cord around the half-blind beast's neck and began to twist.
Of course, it fought. But there was very little it could do: Morlock was out of reach of its teeth and claws. It strove to tear at the strangling cords with the claws of its back feet. Morlock waited until both back legs were fully extended, then stomped on the joints where the long bones of the leg joined together-the knees, for a man or a woman. He felt a certain savage satisfaction in hearing the knee joints crunch under his unlaced shoes.
The werewolf yelped, or tried to: Morlock felt the surge in its chest and neck. But its throat was closed; not a sound emerged. Morlock twisted the handles of the garrote again and again, cutting deeply into the beast's flesh. Presently it stopped moving.
He held on for a long time after that, counting the moments by his own pulses long after the werewolf's heart stopped. When he had counted a thousand heartbeats since the beast's last movement he relaxed the hold of the strangling cord slightly. The werewolf remained motionless. He relaxed it a little more.
The wolvish chest expanded slightly. There was a slight tremor in its veins: a returning heartbeat.
Morlock snarled and twisted the cord tight again, strangling off the werewolf's returning life.
Frustration threatened to swamp his reason. He could keep the beast from living, but he could not actually kill it. He could hope that the return of the sun would change the beast back into the bestial man it had been …but he couldn't be sure even of that: some werewolves could obviously maintain the beast form through the day.
He took the frustration out by twisting the cord even tighter. It dug even more deeply into the wolvish neck. That was what gave him the idea.
Maintaining his grip on the unliving but not-yet-dead beast, he dragged the body nearer some fragments of burning wood. Some of the wood was sharp and ragged. He took a chunk of that and started hacking away at the great muscles of the wolvish neck. Blood started to flow, a great deal of cold blood, black in the fiery light. But that was just as well: it extinguished the flames in the splintering wood and made it last longer. When one chunk became useless, he grabbed another. He twisted the unliving head back and forth periodically; it was growing looser and looser on the spine, as Morlock had hoped it would.
Eventually his crude wooden weapons pierced the werewolf's airway. Air began to whistle through the slashed openings-slow at first, then faster and faster. The werewolf's dangling eyeball dilated with awareness, and the claws began to scrabble on the stone floor.
Morlock had destroyed so much of the werewolf's neck that the strangling cord was no longer an effective means of restraint. Morlock let it go and clamped the werewolf's jaws shut with his hands. Planting his feet on the werewolf's front legs, he began to twist the werewolf's head on the fleshless neck. The beast struggled to open its jaws, to savage Morlock with its back claws, but soon its legs stopped moving: he had severed the corridor for nerve impulses to reach the body. The head came loose from the spine on the next twist.
The beast's body fell lifeless to the ground …but, horribly, the beast itself was not dead. Its dangling eye still glared at him with baleful intelligence, and the jaws strove feebly to open. He muzzled them shut with the strangling cord as a temporary solution.
He sat with his back against a wall and tried to think what he might do next. He wondered dimly if the head could find a way to reunite with the dead body and live again, or perhaps grow a whole new body from its neck. He didn't know. He didn't know what a werewolf could do.
The head could live without the body, but not the body without the head, that was clear. It made his next move clear, too.
Morlock jumped up and unlatched the shutter on the window, letting blue bars of moonlight fall into the red fuming cell again. He grabbed the wolf head by a loose end of cord and then jumped up to grab the iron sill of the window with his free hand. He tossed the wolf head up onto the sill and tried to push it through the bars. But the openings were too narrow for the wolvish skull to pass through. It made odd sounds as it lay there in the moonlight; it began to rock back and forth as if gaining new strength.
He grabbed the bars with both hands and slowly lifted himself up to the window, aided slightly by his feet scrabbling on the coarse stone wall of the cell. He kicked the wolf head with one foot, wedging its narrow maw between the iron bars. He kept on kicking it, first with one foot, then with another, finally with both. It was agony to his wounded leg and arm, but he kept at it until the bones of the skull were broken and the sacklike wolf head squished through the bars and fell, grunting with terror or some other emotion, out of sight into the moonlit world beyond.
Morlock extended his arms as much as possible and slid down the wall, finally dangling from his unwounded arm, to reduce the shock when he fell. It worked, to the extent that he didn't pass out from pain when he hit the cell floor.
He turned and surveyed the smoking, firelit cell. The werewolf body lay motionless, apparently dead (even if its head was still alive somewhere). He was sick with horror at what he had done, at what he had had to do. But he supposed he could call this a victory.
Looking beyond the cell bars, he saw with shock that the corridor was still full of watchers. He had forgotten about them. They stood there, man and wolf, staring at him with eyes full of wonder and horror, silent and motionless as stones. The pale trustee had dropped his baskets and was watching him through outspread fingers, like a child who is at once afraid to look at something and afraid to not look at it.
Morlock read their shock, and slowly (his mind was going dark) he understood it. This had not been about killing him. They could have done that at any time after his capture. They could have put archers at the cell door and filled him full of arrows. They could still do that. But they had planned to break him, send in the bestial man-wolf and break him and then, perhaps, kill him. Or perhaps make him into a new trustee-a safe fellow to run errands around the prison.
Lit within by sudden fury, Morlock staggered forward and, straining greatly but trying not to show it, seized the dead body of the beast from the cell floor. He threw it with all of his fading strength at the bars of the cell. He would have screamed at them, too, but he didn't have the breath for it.
They jumped back, tripping over each other to retreat. He stared at them for a moment longer, then turned away and limped over to a corner of the cell with relatively few fires. He lay down with his face against the wall, his back toward the cell door. It was his only way to show his contempt, since he had no words to speak that they could understand and no breath to speak them with.
The corridor was still silent when darkness descended on him and he escaped from the bloodstained, red-smoked, blue-lit cell for a time.
Chapter Five: Visitors
Pain and cold woke Morlock from a sleep more dreamless than death. He turned his head and saw that the open window was gray with predawn light. The smoke in the room had cleared away, the fires extinguished.
Morlock fought his way to a sitting position, his back against the bitterly cold damp wall. The werewolf body and the burning fragments were gone from the cell. Dark bloodstains still spread across the stones of the floor, especially by the barred door.
There was a bowl of food and a bowl of water there, and something else lay beside them on the stones.
Beyond the bars the guards stood watching him: two in wolf form, two in man form. They didn't speak to each other or to him.
He got to his feet and lumbered over to the food and water.
The thing beside them on the cell floor was a long tooth-a wolf's tooth possibly. A narrow hole had been bored in it, and it was strung on a piece of cord.
He looked up at the guards. Each of them had a cord of teeth around his neck or (in one of the men's case) wrapped around his forearm. It was some badge of acceptance or honor-or status. The savage man-wolf he had fought last night had worn no such symbol. But somehow he had earned this by defeating it.
He didn't like the idea of a cord around his neck, particularly if he got into another fight. He wrapped the cord around his wrist and turned his attention to breakfast.
The bowl of food was mush again, this time garnished with a human ear and two fingers, gray and bloodless as the predawn light. He set them aside and ate the mush: he could not afford to be squeamish. The water did not entirely wash away the taste. He took the ear and put it up on the sill of the open window and tossed the two fingers in a corner.
He went and sat in the opposite corner and stayed there, eyeing each one of his guards in turn. The faces of the men were clean shaven; their light armor and weapons well crafted and well kept. Yet they were somehow wolflike, with long narrow faces and somewhat crooked legs. The wolves, in turn, were strangely human, with cool observant eyes and deliberate gestures.
Someone had left this tooth for him, and they had not objected. He didn't understand, and he felt ill equipped to try to understand it. With the glass spike in his head, he was deaf to everything except what he heard with his ears. He was blind to everything except what he could see with his eyes. He grieved for his lost Sight.
Presently the trustee came along the hallway, with two archers following him, and exchanged a few words with the guards. The archers each hocked an arrow and pointed it through the bars at Morlock. A guard unbarred the cell door as the others stood ready to strike if Morlock rushed the door. There was obviously no point in doing this, so Morlock merely watched and waited.
The trustee entered the cell, and the door slammed shut behind him. The trustee wheeled and whined something at the guards through the bars; one of the wolves snarled a response. Reluctantly, the trustee turned back toward Morlock.
The trustee held something out in his pale mottled hands and made noises that were clearly words. The object in his hands was an open jar, and in it a brownish red goo, the color of cold blood. It smelt of bitter herbs: some kind of medicine, Morlock guessed; they would hardly take the trouble to poison him when they could kill him in so many more direct ways. Of course, what was a healing salve for a werewolf might still be poisonous for him, but Morlock was inclined to take the risk. He slowly extended one arm and opened his hand. The trustee darted forward to put the jar in his hand and then skittered away.
The guards in the corridor snickered. Morlock ignored them and the trustee; sitting down on the cell floor, he unbound his wounds (breaking their tenuous scabs, unfortunately) and smeared the salve densely over the ragged tears in his flesh.
The effect was not immediate, but it was quick enough to make him suspect there was magic involved in the salve. Plus, it seemed to have been leeched of phlogiston: it did not bubble or flame on contact with his blood.
A maker of some considerable attainments had crafted this salve, Morlock reflected, and had likely done it for Morlock personally (unless they had more prisoners with fiery Ambrosial blood). That was worth remembering.
Morlock rebound the stiff bandages over the no-longer-bleeding wounds and held the jar of salve out toward the trustee, still cowering at the far side of the cell. The trustee made no move toward Morlock; all his limbs were quivering and his pale eyes were twitching about as if looking for escape. One of the guards prodded the trustee with the blunt end of a pike, but he still made no move toward Morlock.
Finally Morlock tossed the jar toward the trustee. The pale mottled limbs spasmed with terror, and the hands just barely managed to catch the jar. The pale werewolf shrieked at the guards and they laughed. The archers took aim at Morlock again, and the other guards stood ready as one guard went to unbar the door again and let the panicky trustee out.
Morlock covertly watched for any lapse in vigilance. Unfortunately, he saw none. Unlike the trustee, they did not fear him. But they would never trust him. That was good for them, bad for Morlock.
The day outside grew brighter; the stones of the cell stubbornly began to yield up their nighttime chill and grow a little warmer. Morlock didn't move much. He kept an eye on the open window and waited.
Eventually the light in the window was darkened by the presence of a crow, drawn by the attractive smell of decaying flesh. She squawked with disgust when she found only a gristly old ear.
Morlock croaked a greeting.
The crow reacted with surprise and alarm. She wondered if he was one of those crow-eating people she had heard so much of recently.
Morlock said he wasn't hungry and he hoped the crow was enjoying the ear.
The crow wondered if that was supposed to be some kind of joke. She pointed out, as a general comment, that ears hardly have enough meat to fill a chick's belly, and the flavor was never very good, no matter how well rotted the flesh.
Morlock expressed ignorance. He rarely ate human meat, never by preference.
The crow saw his point. Human meat was rarely worth the trouble. Just as soon as it was getting ripe enough to eat, someone was likely to come along and bury it. The practice seemed mean-spirited to the crow, and she had some harsh words to say about that.
Morlock heard her out, and then said he was sorry about the ear and wondered if the crow would be interested in a couple of fingers.
The crow observed that Morlock still seemed to be using his, and she laughed a while at her witticism.
Morlock said that the fingers were lying around the cell somewhere; they had come with his breakfast and he didn't want them. The crow could have them.
The crow wondered if he thought she had been hatched yesterday. On the contrary, she was forty-two thousand years old and a personal friend of Morlock Ambrosius, if he knew who that was. She had more sense than to be trapped in a cell with a ravenous crow-eating werewolf who was just waiting for a chance to eat some more crow, but not this crow, not this clever crow, no. He could forget that. Besides, she could smell the fingers and she didn't think they were ripe yet.
Morlock said that he thought the fingers might have been cooked, like the ear.
The crow squawked in outrage. Had the great feathered gods laid the clutch of eggs that hatched into the universes just so that monkeys with their freakishly long and horribly soft and flexible claws could rip meat apart and stink it up with fire?
Morlock said that he had no opinion on the theological issue, but he thought the fingers were soft enough to eat and that, since the crow was a personal friend of Morlock Ambrosius, he was willing to put the fingers up on the cell so that the crow could get at them safely.
The crow bluntly wondered what the catch was.
Morlock said that he had no use for the meat, but he could do something with the finger bones. He wondered if the crow would leave them behind on the sill.
The crow thought for a moment, and grudgingly agreed.
Morlock gathered up the fingers and reached up to put them on the iron sill. Then he stood well away, to make it clear to the crow he intended no harm.
The crow kept an eye carefully on him. When satisfied he was safely distant, she took up one of the fingers in her claws, then the other, as if judging which was ripest.
An arrow struck her in the chest and she fell from sight with no sound other than a brief scrape of her claws on stone. The fingers fell with her off the far side of the sill.
Morlock turned toward the guards. The guard with the bow nocked another arrow and held it ready, watching him. The others watched him, too.
He realized they probably understood crow speech. No doubt wolves would find it handy. He could speak to them, then: insult them, threaten them, bribe them, plead with them, acknowledge them as people.
He chose not to. He took the tooth off his wrist and threw it at them: he was not one of them; he would never be one of them; he rejected them. He couldn't tell if they understood. They said or did nothing. But they watched him.
He sat down in the corner of the room and waited.
The day passed noon and headed toward evening. The guards were changed several times during the day, but each set proved as vigilant as the last. They spoke to each other very little and to Morlock never.
In the late afternoon there was a scuffle in the corridor and the tramp of booted feet. Armed guards dragged into Morlock's sight another prisoner: in man form, but clearly a werewolf, from his wedgelike face and crooked legs. His hair was brownish red, and he hadn't shaved for a few days, but he didn't have the full beard of a long-term prisoner.
He took one look at Morlock, at the bloodstained floor, at the laughing faces of the guards, and he began to shriek. Morlock understood no word, but the whole intent. The prisoner was begging not to be put in the cage with that monster. He was sorry; he was very, very sorry; he would never do it again; just please would they put him somewhere else, anywhere else.
There was a long conversation between the prisoner and one of the guards in wolf form. The werewolf seemed to be in charge; he had a great tore of honor-teeth that hung over his chest. Eventually they took the prisoner away without even opening the cell door.
The guards all expressed amusement, and some counters changed hands; apparently they had been betting on how long it would take the prisoner to break.
When the cell began to cool off, Morlock jumped up and slammed the shutter across the window. Then he wrapped himself into as tight a knot as he could in a corner and waited for sleep to come.
He was not one of them. He would not be one of them. But they could still use him, the way they had used the bestial wolfman they had unleashed on Morlock. He was their new beast, their new terror to break prisoners with. There was nothing he could do about that and no way he could think to use it to his advantage.
The darkness, when it came to cover his awareness, was no darker than his mood.
Chapter Six: Dragonkiller
The trustee returned with the healing salve again the next morning. The guards were as vigilant as ever, but the pale trustee seemed less terrified. He entered the cell without being forced and even approached Morlock within arm's reach to hand him the jar of salve.
The trustee seemed disposed to talk, but Morlock took the jar and turned away. He was used to saying nothing for many days at a time; he had often travelled alone in his long life. Further, his last conversation had been with the crow, and that hadn't ended well for the crow. Finally, if the jailors found the pale werewolf trustworthy, then Morlock had to assume the contrary.
His wounds were nearly healed. He examined the jar for some sort of maker's mark: a magical salve would almost certainly require its own unique vessel, and he knew that most adepts were as vain as spoiled children. But there was nothing that Morlock could see-with his eyes, anyway. Again, he felt the loss of his Sight like the loss of a limb.
He looked up to see the trustee's pale eyes on him. He handed back the jar and, as he did so, the pale werewolf said something to him. It was the first time he had heard the pale trustee speak without a background of banter or barking from the other jailors, and Morlock found the werewolf's voice to be oddly resonant and high-pitched-not a male voice or a female voice exactly. Morlock met the other's eye and shook his head to indicate he hadn't understood.
The werewolf spoke again, speaking more slowly. Morlock still understood only one word, or thought he did. It was rokhlan. In the shared language of dragons and dwarves, the language Morlock had grown up speaking, rokhlan meant "dragonkiller"-a title of honor among dwarves that Morlock had earned several times. Did the trustee know him? Did someone here know him? Had he misheard?
He shrugged and turned away. He still didn't trust the trustee. The pale werewolf waited for a few moments, apparently expecting Morlock to engage him again. Morlock began to pace the width of his cell, from stone wall to stone wall, ignoring the other. Eventually, the trustee left. Morlock continued his pacing.
After a month, the wounds were completely healed; even the scars had vanished. Over the month, which must have been the month of Jaric, since the nights were often moonless, the little drama of a prisoner being dragged up to Morlock's cell was several times replayed. Never was it necessary for the jailors to actually throw the prisoners into the cell; they were weeping and babbling as soon as they saw the fearsome beast that awaited them: Morlock. This did not please him, but there was nothing he could do about it. Several times he found the tooth on a cord next to his food and water; every time he tossed it contemptuously into the corridor, and eventually it stopped reappearing.
When he wasn't being used as a threat to terrify werewolves, he paced his cell. As he walked, through the long days when there was nothing else to do, he eyed the confines of his cell, hoping to find some signs of weakness he could exploit. Sadly, there seemed to be none. The building was newish; Morlock guessed it was less than ten years old. The mortar was much stained from moss and filth, but time had not worked its crumbling magic on it. The stones were well shaped and uniform; they seemed to have no flaws he could exploit. His greatest hope was in the ceiling or the floor; those stones could not be as massive as the load-bearing ones in the walls, even if the building was timbered with maijarra wood.
Of course, to exploit any weakness he would need time, tools, and freedom from observation. Time was every prisoner's constant friend and enemy. Tools he could make or acquire somehow. But every time he turned in his pacing he met the eyes of his jailors, staring at him, watching and waiting. As long as they kept that up, he could not escape.
He got to know the walls of the cell quite well, even the individual stones. Some of them displayed strips of texture in the upper right corner; others did not. Some had been scratched at by prisoners; others had not. Most of the prisoners' scratchings he couldn't read, but many of them were obviously tallies of days, calls, months, years. Morlock speculated on what the other symbols meant. And he walked.
One day, he realized that the strips of texture on the corners of some stones were also writing, graven deep into the stone and covered later by moss and mold and other matter. It was long before he could bring himself to stop pacing and scrape away at the filth to see if he could read the words. For one thing, it would let his captors know he was interested in the stones of the wall. For another, it broke the tedious pattern of his pacing, and his idea was to be as boring as possible for his guards so that they would lose interest in watching him. But in the end his curiosity overcame him. He halted by one of the walls and rubbed away at one of the corners.
He found, to his surprise, that he could read it. Moreover, he guessed few others in the world could. It was a piece of Latin, one of his mother's languages.
EGO • IACOMES • FILIVS • SAXIPONDERIS • HAS • CARCERES • FECI • ME • PAENITET • CAPTE
It took him some time to work it out. Latin was one of the languages that his long-dead harven father had made him learn, out of respect for his ruthen parents, but he rarely had use for it. Eventually he decided that this inscription said something like, 1, lacomes, Stoneweight's son, made this prison. Sorry about that, prisoner."
Stoneweight. What kind of name was that? Morlock wondered. And why had the maker signed his repellent work in Latin? It was mysterious, and he thought he might have some words for this lacomes character if he ever met him. Still, the inscription lifted his mood strangely. This prison had been made. What one maker makes, another can unmake. So Morlock believed, and he spent the rest of the day thinking about it: of solvents to break down mortar, of methods to stun or drug or distract guards, of opportunities that time and patience might bring him.
What time brought him that day was another prisoner in late afternoon. This one-another werewolf in man form-was tall and much scarred; his hair and beard were iron gray, but it didn't appear to be the gray of age. His appearance was nearly as threatening as the subhuman they had sent in to face Morlock on his first night here. But there was an intelligence in this werewolf's eyes that worried Morlock. He might be a more dangerous antagonist, and nightfall was imminent.
Many guards came along with the new prisoner into the narrow corridor. He wore no clothes, but he walked like a captive king among an honor guard of spears. He ignored them all and looked straight at Morlock through the bars of the cell. Morlock leaned his left shoulder against a cell wall and looked back indifferently.
The cell door was unbarred and swung open. The new prisoner stepped in, and the door crashed shut behind him.
The new guards remained in the corridor outside. The wolves and men bantered and bartered; the pale trustee again appeared and seemed to be taking bets (although he looked a little glum to Morlock). It was all very familiar.
The new prisoner went to a corner of the cell and sat down. His action seemed deliberately …not hostile. It could be he was only waiting for nightfall.
Morlock's best chance was to kill him before he turned into a wolf. As a man, he was as mortal as Morlock, and perhaps less used to defending his life. Morlock struggled with the idea of attacking first. It seemed reasonable, the only reasonable alternative. But he remembered the second prisoner who had been brought in, the one who panicked at the sight of Morlock, who broke down at the prospect of being locked in a cell with him. They used him as their beast to train rebellious prisoners. And he would not be used that way. He was caged; he was not a beast. He'd let this man live so that the man Morlock was could go on living.
They waited. The cell grew dark. They waited still. The chatter in the corridor outside grew impatient: some bets had already been lost. Blue squares of moonlight began to glow on the floor of the cell as the sun's light finally faded away. It was now early in the month of Brenting, by Morlock's calculation, and both the minor moons would be aloft.
The new prisoner rose to his feet. He stepped into the larger square of moonlight and raised his hands toward the window.
The silver-blue moonlight struck the prisoner like a hammer strikes redhot metal: bending him, reshaping him, twisting him. His back curved; his ears and jaws stretched; his teeth flickered like white flames in his mouth; he fell on his hands, and by the time they struck stone they were paws. A dense forest of coarse, dark fur sprouted on his crooked limbs and arched body.
His voice was unheard throughout. Morlock remembered how the other one had screamed in transformation, and he wondered if this werewolf was mute. But he suspected not. The werewolf's luminous blue eyes never lost their cool intelligence. He could master the pain or terror that accompanied his transformation and not be mastered by it. That was bad for Morlock, of course. But Morlock, too, was the master of his pain and fear. He waited for the werewolf's attack.
The werewolf turned toward Morlock and fixed his frosty blue gaze on him. Morlock still waited for the werewolf's attack. He did not move, but kept his hands open. If the beast jumped, he would try to meet it in midair and break its neck.
There were mutters of anticipation from the guards, human and lupine, in the corridor.
The werewolf stepped out of the square of moonlight: a deliberate step backward, away from Morlock. He stood there in the shadows, waiting.
A storm of shouts and barking arose in the corridor outside.
Morlock wondered if this meant what he thought it meant. The gesture the werewolf had made was oddly familiar. He himself couldn't take a step backward, since he was against the wall, but he spread the fingers of his hands and waited.
The werewolf took another step back, a blue-eyed gray shadow among other shadows. He deliberately dropped his gaze.
Then Morlock remembered when he had seen this gesture before. In the Giving Field of the Khroic horde, Valona's, where he had killed a dragon and saved a werewolf's life.
The werewolf uttered a few wordlike barks. It paused, and repeated them.
One of the words sounded like rokhlan. Though, as the werewolf repeated it for the second time, Morlock decided it was really more like rokhlenu. But he thought it was the same word, borrowed into the werewolf speech.
The werewolf repeated his statement a third time.
Morlock thought the werewolf was saying that he himself was the dragonkiller. Then Morlock remembered that the werewolf who had been taken with him and the others by Valona's horde was a dragonkiller. Anyway, he had claimed it, and Math Valone had believed it.
Morlock didn't think he could say what he wanted to say in wolfspeech-and, now that he thought of it, he had never heard werewolves in human form speak like wolves. It might be insulting or unclear; that was the last thing Morlock wanted at the moment.
He made a corvine croak of recognition (I know you) and added the werewolf's own word: rokhlenu.
The werewolf nodded, satisfied, and turned away. He trotted over to a corner of the cell and curled up to sleep.
The jailors in the corridor were furious. They threw bits of trash and shouted obvious insults, and they barked like chained dogs yearning at the end of a leash, and they grumbled, more or less all at once. They wanted to see a fight, at least see someone humiliated. There would be none of that tonight.
Morlock crossed his arms and watched them, allowing a crooked smile to show on his face. As the jailors in the hallway noticed it they began to grow quiet. He met the eye of anyone who looked at him and smiled. He was trying to tell them something: tonight they were the entertainment and he was the audience, and he had been richly amused.
They began to slink away. The message had been received, or they were tired of complaining. Last to go (apart from the guards who were left on station) was the pale trustee. He met Morlock's eye, gave a brief answering smile, and fled.
Chapter Seven: Words
Every day, for many days that followed, the jailors tried to provoke a fight between Morlock and the werewolf Rokhlenu. The jailors would give them one dish of food and one dish of water and wait for them to fight over it. It maddened them to see the prisoners divide up the food and share the water, passing the dish back and forth. The jailors gave the prisoners scant water and no food for ten days, then again tried offering the prisoners a single dish of food. Their fury at seeing the prisoners again share their food was extremely amusing to Rokhlenu and Morlock.
The guards with bows started using one or the other of the prisoners for target practice. When they did this they would shout or bark words at him. Morlock guessed these were encouragements to attack the other prisoner. He ignored the arrows, as did Rokhlenu. What the werewolf thought about it Morlock didn't know-their conversations hadn't gotten to the point of discussing abstractions. But from Morlock's point of view, the issue was clear. Either the guards would kill him, or they would not. If they would not, their threats were empty. If they did kill him, it was one way to escape the prison. He was willing to buy their failure with his own death.
The guards began to enter the cell in force. They beat Rokhlenu until the prisoner was crippled with pain and injuries. Then they left him to be killed in his weakness by Morlock. Morlock left him alone, letting him be healed by time and moonlight, so the next time the guards entered they crippled Morlock and left him for Rokhlenu. Rokhlenu left Morlock alone to heal, also (although this took longer).
The guards tried this gambit many times. The beatings were often overseen by the same senior guard-sometimes in wolf form, sometimes in human form, but always addressed as Wurnafenglu by the other guards, and recognizable from his great torc of honor-teeth. He would speak at length, cajolingly or insultingly, to the prisoners. Rokhlenu ignored it; Morlock didn't understand it.
Wurnafenglu finally resorted to riskier gambits, like having the jailors introduce weapons to the cell. One day they left a single knife with the food and water. Morlock and Rokhlenu tossed it back and forth to each other across the cell until the disgusted guards sent the pale trembling trustee in to recover it.
Their last attempt was directed specifically at Morlock. One night, after Rokhlenu had undergone his transition to wolfhood, a dozen archers took their places outside the cell and aimed nocked arrows at Morlock. Then the pale trustee appeared, holding a rough metal spike in a pair of long wooden tongs. He tossed the spike into the cell and backed away, looking apologetically at the prisoners.
Rokhlenu backed instinctively away from the spike. Morlock approached it. The archers shifted their aim to follow him.
The spike was made of silver. Morlock was intrigued. How had they acquired it? Why had they acquired it? What did they expect him to do?
He picked up the spike and looked at the guards outside the cell. No word or sign was given, but the implication seemed clear: kill him or we'll kill you.
Morlock hefted the spike in his hand. It was a powerful weapon in this stretch of the world, but it was no good to him in this cell. He tossed it through the open window into the moonslit world outside. Then he turned to face the archers.
Wurnafenglu, standing in wolf form in the hallway, gave a curt bark. The archers stood down and marched away. Only the usual four guards were left on station. Wurnafenglu looked wearily at Morlock and then looked away.
It was the jailors' last attempt to get Morlock and Rokhlenu to fight.
In the meantime, Morlock had been learning the werewolves' languages from Rokhlenu. He had been right that the werewolves were repelled by humans making wolf sounds (and the reverse): each form had its own language. In wolf form ("the night shape" Rokhlenu called it) they used Moonspeech, and in human form ("the day shape") they used Sunspeech.
At first, Morlock learned Moonspeech faster: he already knew a few words, and there were apparently not many to know. But Moonspeech was more difficult than Sunspeech in some ways. With fewer words and less grammar to communicate the same universe of meanings, much of the sense depended on shifting contexts and metaphorical leaps that Morlock found hard to follow. If he'd still had his Sight it might have been easier.
Sunspeech, in contrast, had a multitude of vocabularies and inflections with very precise distinctions. There was a difference between "volcanic rock unworked by a maker and unweathered by the elements" (wilk), "volcanic rock worked but not weathered" (wlik), "volcanic rock weathered but not worked" (welk), "volcanic rock worked and weathered" (welik), and it was a solecism to use one when you meant the other, or a vaguer word like the undifferentiated "rock" (lafun) when you really meant something more specific. Morlock committed this solecism so often that Rokhlenu seemed to grow used to it. Anyway, he stopped laughing at it.
Rokhlenu was a patient teacher, Morlock was a patient student, and they had as much time as they needed: they worked on languages whenever they were awake and the jailors weren't trying to provoke a fight between them.
Not infrequently the pale trustee would come and speak with them through the bars-mostly with Rokhlenu at first, but more and more with Morlock as he could speak and comprehend Sunspeech better. The trustee's name, it turned out, was Hrutnefdhu ("Skin-maker").
Morlock had thought long about the social differences he could see among the werewolves. All the guards, for instance, were clean shaven. All of the prisoners wore beards, except for Hrutnefdhu. Of the prisoners he had seen, all were naked, except for Hrutnefdhu …and himself.
After learning enough words, he finally managed to put a question to Rokhlenu one day: "Why are all the prisoners naked? Or are they?"
Rokhlenu's answer hinged on many words that Morlock didn't know, and he missed almost all of it. He got a sense that there was a status system involved, and that the less clothes you had the lower your status.
"Then," Morlock asked, "a loincloth like Hrutnefdhu's would be better than no clothes at all?"
"Yes," Rokhlenu agreed, with unusual curtness.
Morlock nodded. He took off what remained of his shirt and began to tear it into wide strips, knotting them together as he went. Rokhlenu said something to him that he didn't understand. He ignored it and finished the job. Then he held the cloth out to Rokhlenu. "Here. It's not much."
Rokhlenu struck the edge of one hand into the palm of another, a gesture of refusal. "No! I can change into a wolf at night. It may be a warm winter, but it's still winter. You need it more than I do."
Morlock continued to hold the cloth out.
Rokhlenu struck the edge of one hand into the palm of another and said again, "No. I thank you. No."
Morlock had to state an abstraction, and his language skills weren't ready for it. He said slowly, "There is you and me. There is them. They don't want this. So: here. Take it."
Rokhlenu looked at Morlock. He looked at the guards outside, who were watching keenly. He took the makeshift loincloth. "Thanks," he said, and wrapped it around himself with the ease of long practice.
Morlock then asked another question that had long been on his mind, "Why doesn't Hrutnefdhu have hair on his face?"
"He does," Rokhlenu replied, startled.
Some of the guards laughed. Morlock mulled it over, and then mimed shaving. That was what he was really concerned about. If there was some way for a prisoner to get the privilege of shaving, then he might acquire a razor and keep it. A straight edge of steel could be useful in so many ways.
The guards laughed again. Rokhlenu seemed surprised and a little embarrassed when he understood Morlock's question. He laboriously explained that Morlock's words implied that Hrutnefdhu had no fur on his face in the night shape, which was apparently an embarrassing blemish for werewolves and which Rokhlenu knew was not the case with Hrutnefdhu. He taught Morlock the vocabulary of shaving (khlut: razor, srend: oil, khlunv: shave) and then said, "But Hrutnefdhu doesn't shave. Someone shaved him good, long years ago."
The guards laughed again, even more uproariously.
There was some joke here that Morlock did not understand. He opened his hands and looked at Rokhlenu expectantly, hoping an explanation was coming.
Rokhlenu turned his head to one side: he understood that Morlock didn't understand. He mimed an action with his hands: a razor lopping something off. He said, "Hrutnefdhu is plepnup." He mimed again and repeated, "Plepnup." Morlock guessed that plepnup meant castrated. He turned his head to one side.
When Hrutnefdhu next appeared, Morlock's guess was confirmed. The guards had been much amused by his conversation with Rokhlenu, and they made Hrutnefdhu take his loincloth off and show his mutilated genitals to Morlock. The pale werewolf was deeply humiliated; his mottled face grew red with shame and powerless rage. Not just his testicles had been removed; his penis too had been savagely mutilated. He glared at Morlock as he stood naked at the barred cell door.
Morlock, for his part, was furious at the guards for humiliating the weak and timid trustee. He was sorry that something he'd said was the cause. He would have been hard pressed to explain that in one of his native languages, though. As the jailors finally allowed Hrutnefdhu to turn away, Morlock blurted, "There is them. There is you and me."
Rokhlenu looked at Morlock in surprise. He turned to Hrutnefdhu and said, "He's right. There is them. There is you and him and me."
"Plepnupov," hissed Hrutnefdhu. "Eh? You, me, him? All plepnupov. Eh?"
"If they had their way," said Rokhlenu. "So the Stone Tree can have them."
Hrutnefdhu turned and ran naked down the echoing hallway.
"That was bad," Rokhlenu said, turning away from the laughing guards, taking Morlock by the arm as he did so. "It was also good. You have a strange shame, Morlock."
"Yes. To have no bite does not shame you. To get bite from the jailors, that shames you. To have no shirt does not shame you. To have a shirt while your friend is naked, that shames you. To stand with a plepnup and say youand-me does not shame you. To let aplepnup stand ashamed before you, that shames you."
"I suppose so."
"Yurr. You don't say much, do you? Are you more talkative when you know more words?"
"Now there is you and me and him against them."
"Against," Morlock said. (It was a new word.) "If that means what I think it means, it is a good word."
"Isn't it, my friend?" laughed Rokhlenu. "I thought you would like it. Us against them. I almost feel sorry for them, don't you?"
Morlock thought the matter over for a moment and then said, "No."
Chapter Eight: Eyeless Night
There came a night without a moon, an eyeless night, in the wolvish phrase. It must have been early in the month of Drums. Rokhlenu did not transform into a wolf but stayed in human form, shivering in the dark cell with Morlock.
"How do you stand it without fur?" Rokhlenu asked him finally.
"I don't sleep much," Morlock admitted. "A few hours a night. There's no point in it anyway."
"Isn't there? I like to sleep when I can. Dreams might be the only way I ever get out of this place."
"I don't dream."
"Everybody dreams, Morlock. Are you sure what the word means?"
"I don't dream since they put the spike in my head."
"What?" Rokhlenu asked.
So, with a little prompting and vocabulary assistance from Rokhlenu, Morlock told the tale of how he had been captured. He didn't mention why he had been using his Sight: that wasn't something he wanted the guards to hear, if they were listening, and ever since Hrutnefdhu's humiliation he tried to stay aware that they were always listening. But he said that he had used his Sight and narrated what happened after, as far as he could remember it.
"A ghost-sniffer," Rokhlenu said, when Morlock described the wolf who had detected his Sight. "They travel with the raiders, in case they run afoul of any magic-users, like you used to be, I guess. I understand they get their powers from sleeping with pigs during the dark of the moons. Of course, all the Sardhluun try that sometimes."
This was mere slander, for the ears of the ever-listening guards, who twitched angrily but did not intervene.
"How did you end up so deep in the north, though?" Rokhlenu asked. "And what happened to those people who were travelling with you? I remember that young man. Thund?"
"Thend. Not the dullest tool in the drawer, but he had more nerve than brains at that. I remember how he crept down into the Vale of the Mother, leaving a trail as dark as ink through the tall grass! But his family was down there, and he wasn't going to let fear or common sense stop him from getting killed with them. It's a miracle he wasn't."
"You played a part in that miracle."
"A small matter. It added nothing to my bite when I told the story back home, believe me. Anyway, how are they?"
"Well, or so I hope. I left them so they'd have a better chance at that."
"Oh? Anything I should know about?"
Morlock glumly pondered how much he could or should tell Rokhlenu about Merlin. "I have a powerful enemy. When he attacks me …those around me may be harmed."
"Yurr. Well, we'll meet him together, if it comes to that. But you haven't asked me what I'm doing here."
"In a prison? I guess you're right. I've never been in one before. Have you?"
"A few times. Nothing like this." Morlock tapped the side of his head and shrugged.
"Well, since you can't ask, I'll just tell you. I was born, poor but honest-"
"Poor in imagination, anyway."
"To the Stone Tree with you, you ill-tempered, ape-footed son of a walrus-fondling pimp."
"That's a little better," Morlock conceded.
"I was horn, anyway: you won't quibble with me about that?"
Morlock almost did, just for something to do, but there was a limit anyone could stand to this abrasive humor, and they had no escape from each other's company. So he shrugged and opened one hand.
"Three shadows by sunlight," Rokhlenu swore. "Do you talk any more when you know the language better?"
The joke was already overfamiliar. "No," Morlock said curtly. "You were born?"
"Yes, although they didn't throw me in prison right away because of that. Actually, I was lying like a were-weasel earlier: my family had a lot of bite when I was growing up in the Aruukaiaduun pack-"
"What's `bite'?" Morlock asked.
"You can't be serious. Don't you know what bite is?"
"I thought I did," Morlock said. He pointed at a ragged scar on his arm. "That's from a bite. Or am I using the wrong word?"
"No," Rokhlenu said, "but it means more than just one thing. Bite is …You know, they gave you that honor-tooth after you ripped old Khretnurrliu's head off."
"Khretnurrliu." The name meant man-killer if Morlock understood it right. "That was his name?"
"Yes, but so what? It's not like you'll be seeing him again."
Morlock didn't tell him how wrong he was but said, "I remember the tooth. And the guards wear teeth. They show …" He wanted to say status, but he didn't know the word for it.
"They show bite: the more teeth the greater the individual's bite. The more bite you have, the more important you are. That's why Hrutnefdhu keeps trying to give the tooth back to you."
Hrutnefdhu, the pale trustee, had brought the tooth back to Morlock several times. But Morlock would not accept status from the beasts who had stolen his freedom, a point he did not have the abstract vocabulary to make to Hrutnefdhu, so he just kept refusing it.
"It is theirs," Morlock said now to Rokhlenu. "If it is theirs, it is not mine."
"Most people would have taken the tooth. If you acquired enough bite, they might let you out of here."
"Just let me go?"
"No. They'd probably send you to work in the fields. The Sardhluun have many fields and pastures, most of them slave-worked." Rokhlenu seemed about to go on, but he didn't.
Morlock could guess what he had been going to say. It would be easier to escape from there than from here. No doubt that was true. Morlock doubted he could bend himself to the performance, though. And it was clear that the only way he could earn a second tooth, more "bite" in the eyes of his captors, would be to kill Rokhlenu. Even if he could do that, he would not.
"Eh," Morlock said.
"Right," Rokhlenu agreed. "So, anyway, my people had bite. My father was a master rope maker on the funicular in Wuruyaaria-"
"Wuruyaaria is the city of werewolves?"
"Yes. For someone who doesn't talk much, you're interrupting me a lot."
"What's a funicular?"
"It's just a bunch of big ropes, really. One end is at the city walls (by Twinegate, naturally) and the other is on the city's highest mesa, Wuruklendon. Baskets can ride the ropes up and down."
"Yes." Rokhlenu explained what a basket was. "Of course, it's really the people and things in the baskets that are important."
"Of course," Morlock agreed, but he didn't mean it. It was the rope system itself that impressed him. "An impressive feat of making."
"The funicular? I guess so. People say Ulugarriu made it, like the moonclock in the volcano's side and everything else that impresses people."
"Ulugarriu." The name meant Ghosts-in-the-eyes, unless Morlock misunderstood it. "I would like to meet him." (The name's -u ending meant that it was masculine gender.) "He must be a great maker."
"Eh. Oh, maggots, now you've got me doing it. Forget about meeting Ulugarriu, Morlock. He walks unseen. Nobody ever meets him."
"Then how do you know he exists?"
"I never said he did. Anyway, I exist and I was born, not-so-poor-and slightly-dishonest in the shadow of the great Fang Tower of Nekkuk- lendon-which, before you ask, is the third of the great mesas of Wuruyaaria. Shall I tell you about my childhood, my youth, my musical education, my many battles, my steady-yet-rapid accumulation of bite, my first sexual adventures?"
"God Avenger, no.,,
"Well, it's your loss, but I'll skip on a bit, then. My problem was that, like most young werewolves of spirit, I wanted political office."
"I did say werewolves. I don't pretend to know what life is like for you people, but we are pack animals. We're not ashamed of it."
"It's not much different for us, I guess. Except for the shame, maybe. Go on."
"My father ranked high in the Aruukaiaduun pack, but I wanted to rank still higher. I could have, too: I was favored to win nomination to the Innermost Pack."
"How many packs are there?"
"Four, of course-and the outliers, who don't count yet. Each pack has an Inner Pack, who have the most bite in the pack, and millennia ago, when the city was founded, they set up an Innermost Pack with members drawn from all three of the treaty packs."
"Three? You said there were four."
"There were three, then. The Sardhluun weren't part of the treaty until later. They bought their way in, essentially. They had slaves, and prison houses, and meat, and as these are three things that no civilized society can do without-"
11 -that our society can't do without, the Sardhluun were given places on the Innermost Pack and accepted into the treaty. What would you have done?"
Morlock gave it some thought and said, "I would gut every member of the Sardhluun Pack with a silver knife."
This caused a rustle among the ever-watchful guards. Even Rokhlenu jumped a little, but then he said, "Right! And I'll hold them down for you. Anyway. The different packs can nominate members to the innermost Pack, but the nominees have to earn their place in competition with each other."
"How does it work?"
"Fight and bite. Bite and fight. You can get bite by fighting, or talking, or singing, or making, or doing. You can buy it: people who make money always have lots of bite. I got a lot of bite from a song I composed."
"Oh? What's it about?"
"The way a she-wolf's genitals smelled when Chariot was aloft in midwinter."
"That's impossible, though," Morlock pointed out, after some vocabulary was explained to him. "Chariot doesn't rise until the first day of spring."
"You have to make things up for a good song sometimes, Morlock."
Morlock shrugged dubiously at the necessity of fantasy and said, "So your political career led to the prison house."
"As it often does-maybe not often enough. I was popular; my family was rich; I was a well-respected singer; people knew I could fight. They knew it so much that I never had to."
"Wasn't that good?"
"Yes and no. I'd have liked to get in a few more fights to raise my reputation. But if you run around starting fights with people, it can actually decrease your bite."
Morlock nodded. "So: the dragon."
"Exactly. I took many a long run down south to the mountains, hoping to get into trouble I'd have to fight my way out of. Not too many werewolves actually go into the Kirach Kund, though. I had to wait a long time before I found a dragon that was vulnerable, but it was worth it."
"Go on." Morlock had a professional interest in the killing of dragons.
"I came upon one that had been drugged by the Spiderfolk. They had just taken its dragonrider prisoner and they were hauling him away. They could not approach the dragon-they're very susceptible to fire. You remember."
"So I waited till they were gone and I sneaked up on the dragon and killed it. And-"
"I crept into its mouth and gnawed through the palate into its brain."
"I can't say that I enjoyed the dragon brain much. But the palate, and dragon meat generally, is very pleasant: a firm white meat, somewhat like rattlesnake or chicken. Have you ever-?"
"No. Not dragon, at any rate."
"Well, everyone has to draw the line somewhere. I've never eaten another werewolf, no matter how hungry I've been. Not knowingly, anyway. So, after I left you in the Vale of the Mother, I went back and stripped the dragon's skull and brought it back to my father's house for a prize."
"It must have earned you a lot of bite."
"It did! It did! My father hired the best ghost-sniffers from the Goweiteiuun Pack to confirm my story in an affidavit, and the pack voted me a new name. They liked the story of how we were taken by the Khroi and the odd Dwarvish word the Khroi used for dragonkiller, so they voted me that for my new name."
"Oh? What was your name before?"
"Slenkjariu," Rokhlenu said reluctantly. "After my mother's grandfather. None of my mother's people amounted to much, and with names like that you can see why."
Morlock didn't exactly see why, but his friend actually seemed embarrassed and he didn't want to make it any worse. "I still sense a long road from there to here."
"A short one. There was, and is, a gray-muzzle in the Aruukaiaduun Inner Pack, name of Rywudhaariu; he had a list of nominees for the next citywide election, and I wasn't on it and he didn't want me on it. So he had a few of his boys rob and murder a bookie and then frame me for it."
Morlock needed some words explained ("bookie" and "frame" particularly). Then he remarked, "Was there a trial? Didn't your heroic bite help you there?"
"Not against Rywudhaariu, who'd been collecting teeth up and down the mesa for more than forty years. Anyway, he bribed the jury-used the proceeds of the robbery to fund the bribes. You have to admit that shows vifna."
"Do I?" Morlock didn't know what vifna was, but he didn't think he liked it. "Wasn't this all illegal? I don't understand your system."
"It was illegal, and everyone knew about it, and if things made sense maybe it wouldn't have worked. But Rywudhaariu was probably better off after my trial than before it. Somehow, if it's your job to make or enforce the laws and you break them with impunity, you can get a certain kind of bite from that. I don't understand it myself well enough to explain it, but that's how it seems to work. Maybe it's different in never-wolf cities."
"I don't know," Morlock said slowly, thinking of the late and unlamented Protector Urdhven and the men who had followed him. "Maybe not that different."
"Rywudhaariu's guards dragged me to the Sardhluun's plantation," Rokhlenu went on. "I was hoping they would have me working the fields, herding cattle or something. Escape would be easy. That's why they didn't do that, I guess. I started out on the ground floor and then worked my way up here." When he saw that Morlock didn't understand him, he explained, "The top floor is where they keep the real irredeemables. Like you and Khretnurrliu."
Morlock bowed his head to accept the compliment.
"I was hoping my father and brothers could bribe the Sardhluun to let me go, or at least give me a chance at escape," Rokhlenu said reflectively, "but I suppose Rywudhaariu is giving them their own trouble now."
"`It's a fool who kills the father and lets the son live,"' Morlock said, quoting the proverb.
"`Bare is the back with no brother,"' said Rokhlenu, quoting another.
"Your back is bare," Morlock pointed out.
"The god it is," Rokhlenu said, yawning. "I'm going to try to sleep now, Morlock. I don't know how you can stand this."
Sleeping on a cold stone floor in human form, Morlock guessed he meant. But the truth was that Morlock didn't have to stand it, for he slept very little, and that little didn't do him much good. His body rested, but never his mind.
Just now, for instance, he saw a fifth werewolf outside the cell. There were two guards in the day shape and two in the night shape, as always. One of the humans seemed to be in charge: he wore a neckband and chest-tort that bristled with accumulated teeth. Morlock thought this was Wurnafenglu. Morlock was fairly sure it was the same werewolf, and he was sure that he hated him. The others were just guards; Morlock might have seen them before, but he didn't recognize them.
It was the fifth werewolf that really had Morlock's attention, although he never looked directly at him. He could not: every time Morlock tried, the werewolf seemed to sidle over to the edge of Morlock's vision. But Morlock knew him: it was Khretnurrliu, the werewolf he had decapitated. The body was in the day shape, carrying its severed head before it like a lamp. It did not speak, nor make any noise. The guards passed a remark to each other occasionally, but never to Khretnurrliu. But Morlock saw him. He could not stop seeing him.
A pale shadow appeared at the bars: Hrutnefdhu, in the night shape. He coughed shyly, wondering if Morlock wished to talk.
Morlock moved forward to sit by the cell door. The archers raised their arrows reflexively to threaten him, but he ignored them and presently they relaxed.
"I'd rather sleep than talk," Morlock admitted, "but I can't sleep."
Hrutnefdhu expressed sympathy.
Morlock opened his hands: there was nothing to be done. "Can you change into wolf form without moonlight?" he wondered. "Can those?" he asked, gesturing at the guards.
Hrutnefdhu sang that he had assumed the hairy cloak of wolfhood last night, with Trumpeter's last light, and resisted the man-shaping rays of the sun all day. He added in a whisper that the wolf-formed guards were unfortunates unblessed by the gift of a second skin.
Morlock was interested. He'd heard there were werewolves who couldn't change fully from were to wolf or back again; indeed, Khretnurrliu with his twisted legs and hatchet face seemed to be one such. Apparently it was considered a blemish, even a matter of shame. He wondered if there was some way to use this to his advantage-to divide the guards somehow.
"Are there …? Sometimes I see werewolves in the day shape by moonlight," he said, trying to explain the question he could not ask.
Hrutnefdhu understood. He said that many guards lacked the gift of a second form, walking under the moons as if they were suns, making a lack of gift into a gift.
"Hm," Morlock said, trying not to sound too dubious. One of the night shape guards had a single tooth around his neck; the other had none. Clearly, they had little bite, even among other guards …who, Morlock reflected, might not have much bite as a class, outside the prison house.
Hrutnefdhu sang a single note of query.
Hrutnefdhu wondered why Morlock had never answered Rokhlenu's question. He too wished to know what had brought so powerful a maker and a seer as Morlock so far into the north.
Morlock shrugged. "I have no home. I go from one place to another. How did you know I was a maker?"
Hrutnefdhu sang that he had heard of heroes who walked into the north ages ago, broke the Soul Bridge, and banished the Sunkillers from the world. One of them was a man with crooked shoulders, and they called him Morlock. He was a maker and a son of makers.
"That was a different man than me," Morlock said, standing. "A very different man." He turned away and rolled himself up in a corner of the cell. He didn't sleep, then or for a long time, but at least no one expected him to talk.
It had been a better night than most since Morlock's imprisonment began. Now he knew that Rokhlenu was a rope maker, or had been. Under the circumstances, that was a very useful skill.
Chapter Nine: Madness
The days grew warmer, and Morlock gradually became convinced that he was going mad. He rather reluctantly raised the topic with Rokhlenu, who laughed it off at first.
"You'll have to convince me you were ever sane," the werewolf said, one blisteringly hot noonday in midspring. "Then I'll worry about you going crazy."
But Morlock convinced him in the end. He told him about Khretnurrliu, how he always saw the mutilated werewolf outside the cell. He wore the day shape in the night, carrying his head in one hand; he wore the night shape in the day, sitting with his head at his feet. He never spoke and rarely moved, except to shift away from Morlock's sight when Morlock tried to look straight at him. But he was always there.
"There's no one there but the guards, Morlock," Rokhlenu said, sounding a little worried now, though.
"You say so," Morlock agreed, "and I'm almost sure you're right. But I see him. I know he's there, even when I'm not looking. Listen to me, Rokhlenu. It's you this matters to."
"I don't know what I can do about it," the werewolf said.
"There's nothing to be done," Morlock agreed. "But you need to know. If I seem to be acting insanely, it's probably not an act. Protect yourself. Maybe you can get one of those field jobs."
Rokhlenu looked blank for a moment; then he realized Morlock was suggesting he might have to kill him. "Shut your meat-hole," he snarled.
"No. But I'll do what I can do to keep it from coming to that."
"All right. What can you do?"
Morlock shrugged. There was nothing, really.
That night, when they thought Morlock was sleeping, Rokhlenu had a low-voiced conversation with Hrutnefdhu.
Rokhlenu sang of Morlock's strength of will, how he had slain the beast Khretnurrliu, how he had faced the torments of the guards with patience, even with humor. He said he could not believe that madness was stronger than Morlock's will.
Hrutnefdhu conceded much of what Rokhlenu sang. He himself had seen that battle in the cell; he was still in awe that a man, a mere human, had done what Morlock had done. But he apologetically sang about the dangers of a powerful will turning inward, about obsessions that ate away at the strongest minds, feeding on that strength itself. He pointed out that Morlock was a Seer who had lost his magical Sight, and that madness might be the rot from that inward death.
Rokhlenu wondered if there was anything that could be done-if the spike could be drawn and Morlock's mind healed.
Hrutnefdhu sang of the storied wisdom of his mate, Liudhleeo, She-whoremembers-best. She waited for him among the long-legged lairs of the outlier pack, in the swamps south of Wuruyaaria. Liudhleeo might know.
Rokhlenu sang a brief comparison of the distance between the prison and the outlier pack and the distance between the prison and the paths of the moons. Since neither were accessible, they were equally far away.
Hrutnefdhu's song was apologetic, guilt-ridden. There were ghostsniffers among the Sardhluun, but they would not heal Morlock or allow him to be healed. They had felt his power when he was first captured and they feared it. An insane Morlock would suit them better than a sane one.
Rokhlenu sang a questioning note.
Hrutnefdhu gently pointed out that Morlock and Rokhlenu had broken the Sardhluun's system: they used prisoners to terrorize each other. A mad Morlock might be useful as a terror. A sensible Morlock who did exercises and memorized verb-tones was no good for the Sardhluun.
Rokhlenu speculated on things that might be good for the Sardhluun, such as venom-drenched, spiked silver hooks inserted under the tail.
Hrutnefdhu turned and walked away, his nails clattering on the stone floor. The guards were listening, and he could not afford to have a conversation of this sort under their ears.
Morlock found it interesting that Hrutnefdhu hadn't argued with Rokhlenu, even for show. The pale werewolf was a trustee in the prison, but Morlock was beginning to think that they could trust him …if they could think of a task to use him for. That was the trouble: they could do nothing unless they could escape from the cell, and the guards' unending vigilance made that unlikely.
It was increasingly difficult for Morlock to think coherently at all. He had begun to worry that Khretnurrliu was edging closer to the cell door. The fact that the cell gate was never opened was a matter of some comfort to Morlock. He began to wonder what would happen if he did have the chance to get into the corridor. If Khretnurrliu were there …Morlock had already killed him once. (His eyes were rotted away, and his nose and other soft tissues were visibly decaying. Empty eye sockets ringed with bare bone were what watched Morlock night and day from the corner of his eye.) How could he kill him again? Would he have to go on killing-killing-killing him forever? Wouldn't it be safer to stay in the cell where Khretnurrliu couldn't get at him? So Morlock reasoned to himself as his reason continued to unravel.
But in fact it was Rokhlenu who went mad first.
It happened one night late in the last full month of spring. The days were unbelievably, damnably hot, even in the shadows of the stone cell, and the nights brought very little relief to the still blistering air. But Rokhlenu did not refrain from the nocturnal change to wolfhood: apparently there was a special exultation to the transformation when all three moons were in the sky.
Rokhlenu had just undergone the change; the hallway was echoing with the howls of those doing the same.
Morlock looked up and saw, of course, Khretnurrliu, holding his severed head like a lantern in one hand. Next to him, in the center of Morlock's vision, was Wurnafenglu, that one gray-muzzled prison guard who seemed to have significant bite. He was looking directly at Morlock, dark lips parted in a wolvish grin that was all-too-human. He was expecting a good show.
"Rokhlenu," Morlock said, "they're about to try something. Be wary."
But Rokhlenu didn't listen. He was distracted by something happening in the hallway. Morlock heard the noise, but Rokhlenu was reacting to a scent. His nostrils dilated and he slunk toward the cell bars as if he were being dragged by the nose.
Several guards dragged a she-wolf into view. It was the first female werewolf that Morlock had seen in the prison: there had been females among the raiders, but none among the guards. This one was collared, her back feet bound to a metal bar that kept them spread-eagled. She was whimpering; blood was dripping from her mouth; she had been beaten, perhaps many times. She was evidently in heat.
The guards, laughing and making obscene gestures, showed her to Rokhlenu.
Rokhlenu seemed to struggle with himself for a moment. Finally he threw himself against the bars in a desperate attempt to reach the female.
The guards laughed and mocked him. In a chorus, man and wolf, they sang an obscene song at him; Morlock wondered if it was a version (or inversion) of one of Rokhlenu's songs; there was some mention of three moons aloft.
Rokhlenu was breaking his teeth trying to gnaw through the bars.
The guards raped the female werewolf, one by one. The senior guard, Wurnafenglu, the one with the grizzled fur and the multitude of honor-teeth, went first; the guards wearing the day shape went last. Even headless Khretnurrliu held his severed head high, as if to see better, and gruntingly thrust against the empty air with his decaying phallus.
In the end the she-wolf lay without moving on the stone corridor. Morlock wondered if she was dead. Two of the man-form guards dragged her away. The others turned and started barking insults and mockery at Rokhlenu again. They said they could bring in a she-wolf again every night, if Rokhlenu had enjoyed the show. They said that he probably couldn't have done much if he had made it through the bars-as they themselves would have done, in his place. They described the visceral pleasures of forcing the she-wolf in grunted songs that, again, seemed to be parodies of love poetry. They said a great many things that Morlock did not understand and made no effort to understand.
Rokhlenu kept battering himself against the bars. Whatever reason he had, it was not at his command.
Morlock hated to see it. He hated to see the guards laughing at his friend, mocking him in his moment of weakness. So he jumped forward and strangled him. He wrapped his right arm around Rokhlenu's neck as tightly as he could, and ignored the wolf's savage claws tearing at his flesh, scattering fuming fire-bearing blood on the stones of the cell and the corridor outside.
The guards roared with excitement. This was the game they had long waited to see. They called down the hallway to the other guards. They demanded that Hrutnefdhu bring his bag of betting slips-where the ghost was Hrutnefdhu whenever they needed him?
Morlock clamped down on Rokhlenu's windpipe as hard as he dared and held until the werewolf stopped scrabbling and clawing to get free.
He stood straight up, holding the motionless werewolf's body aloft by his neck. From the grinding sensation under his fingers, at least one bone was broken.
The guards in the hallway applauded him. They called him the beastkiller. They said he had earned much bite, and could earn much more.
Morlock threw the dead werewolf into the square of moonlight on the cell floor.
He turned toward the cell bars. He found the senior guard and fixed him with his gaze. He snarled at him in Moonspeech. He could see by their faces that this shocked the guards; even Khretnurrliu seemed dismayed, to the extent that Morlock could see expression on the severed head's face.
Morlock snarled that, if they wanted bloodshed, one of them should come into the cell. In the day shape or the night shape. With weapons and armor, or naked as the bald-faced bastards of ape-legged brachs that they were. He jumped up to the cell gate and shook the bars with his bleeding hands; the guards all instinctively recoiled. He laughed and turned his back on them.
Rokhlenu was reviving in the white-hot pool of moonlight. He rolled groggily to his feet. His eyes found Morlock, dripping blood and fire near at hand, and shied away from the sight. He didn't look at the hallway, still crowded with eager guards. He slunk over to a lightless corner of the cell and curled up on the floor.
Morlock went to the opposite corner and sat down with his back against the wall. He didn't expect to sleep, but he must have, eventually. After a dreamless interval he woke up and saw that it was past dawn. His wounds had mostly dried up, but one on the wrist was still dripping persistently.
Rokhlenu, now wearing the day shape, was sitting crouched in his corner, his hands across his face. He had not yet put on his loincloth, which was normally the first thing he did after transition.
Morlock rose and limped over to the loincloth. He picked it up with his left (unbleeding) hand and held it out to Rokhlenu. "Here."
"Get away from me," Rokhlenu said, not moving.
"Here," Morlock said, more insistently.
Rokhlenu struck the filthy cloth away from him. "Don't you understand?" he screamed. "The bond is broken. There never was a bond. I'm not one of you. I'm one of therm. I know it now. They know it. Why don't you know it?"
Morlock stooped and picked up the loincloth and held it out. "There is you and me," he said patiently. "There is them. You and me against them. No bond is broken. I say so."
Rokhlenu silently took the loincloth and wrapped it around himself. As Morlock turned away, the werewolf reached out his hand and grabbed Morlock by one shoulder. "You and me," Rokhlenu said, "against them. I'll remember this, Morlock."
Morlock nodded and went back to the other side of the cell, where he was less likely to bleed on his friend.
Chapter Ten: Method
Morlock didn't bother binding his wounds; he guessed the Sardhluun would be reluctant to let their beast killer die until they had wholly given up on finding ways to use him.
He was right. Presently Hrutnefdhu came slinking down the corridor in man form, the jar of healing salve in one hand, a roll of bandages in the other. He stood in the corridor, not looking at the guards as one opened the gate while the others nocked arrows and aimed them at the prisoners. Hrutnefdhu stepped into the cell. He didn't look at Rokhlenu, either, but went straight to Morlock with the salve.
"Thanks," Morlock said, slathering on the ill-smelling goo.
"I'll bind them," Hrutnefdhu said, unrolling a stretch of cloth and tearing it with his sharp white teeth.
Morlock thought this unwise, as his blood would likely cause the bandage to burn. But then he realized that Hrutnefdhu knew about this, and said nothing as the werewolf deftly bound up his wounds. The cloth absorbed the salve and Morlock's blood and did not burn.
"This salve and the cloth have been dephlogistonated," he said to Hrutnefdhu.
"I don't know what that means," the werewolf said.
"A powerful maker made them," Morlock said. "Who was it?"
"I don't know-the Goweiteiuun practice magic. Or maybe Ulugarriu made them."
"Ulugarriu?" Morlock asked. "I thought nobody saw him?"
"Nobody does," Hrutnefdhu said. "I didn't mean it. If any great wonder has been worked, they say that Ulugarriu did it. It's stupid. Never mind."
"Do you know what happened to the she-wolf?" Morlock asked.
Every muscle in the mottled werewolf's flexible body seemed to freeze. "What do you mean?" he asked finally.
"Did she die? Will she recover? They hurt her very badly."
"Yes." Hrutnefdhu swallowed painfully. "She is not dead. She is not well, but will recover. She is my mate, Liudhleeo."
His mate. Morlock did not understand how a castrato could have a mate, but that was not the most important thing, perhaps. "I am sorry," he said quietly. "I hated them for what they did. I hate them more now. I know that doesn't help."
Hrutnefdhu closed his eyes, opened them. "It's not nothing. There is you and me. There is them."
"There is Rokhlenu, also."
"I suppose there is."
"Will you bind his wounds also?" Morlock asked.
Hrutnefdhu's pale eyes focused on Morlock for a moment. Then he nodded impassively.
Rokhlenu had no visible wounds. But the smeared ointment would look like dried blood. And Morlock hoped that a rope maker's son could unobtrusively fashion the bandages themselves into respectable strangling cords.
The months passed and the deadly heat lessened slightly. It was autumn, presently, and from then on the nights were moonslit: great Chariot, the major moon, would be aloft until the last day of the year. But Rokhlenu often practiced the discipline of not changing into a wolf at night. When he did assume the night shape, he usually avoided the transformation into the day shape on the next morning.
It was a sort of self-discipline, he explained to Morlock. To wear the day shape by night or the night shape by day was, as Morlock had been told, an act of low status-largely because many could not make the full transition into or out of wolfhood. But for someone who could make the transition, it was a challenge to maintain the wolf-form by daylight: the wolf-self drew sustenance from the silver shadows in moonlight. And to resist the change by moonlight took yet another skill-the skill to decline power and the call of the beast in one's own blood. Rokhlenu wanted to know that he, not the Sardhluun, was the master of his spirit and his will.
Morlock was facing similar challenges, but not voluntarily. He was trying to retain a thread of his sanity untainted by the rising tide of madness in his mind. For long stretches of the day and night he could not see or hear anything that made sense. He would sit with his back against the wall amid a cloudy chaos of nothingness that masked the world. There was pain also: a steady knifelike pain radiating from the spike in his head, and cascades of dull aches in his joints that came and went.
If he had been himself in the midst of these distortions, it might not have been so bad. But, increasingly, he was not. Day after day he became more concerned that his fingers were growing backward into his hands, his hands withdrawing into his arms. He spent hour after hour measuring his hands against the bricks in the cell walls. He always seemed to get different results-sometimes encouraging, sometimes not.
There were times he knew his obsessions were just that: the madness working its way into his mind. But, in a way, that made it worse. There was nothing he could do to stop the madness. If he ever made it free from the cell, he would still be a prisoner of the madness.
He wondered, too, if he had the courage to leave the cell anymore. Khretnurrliu was outside all the time, now, very close to the bars. Often he held his severed head through the bars, and the rotting lips whispered silent threats and unspeakable curses against the man who had killed him. The only way Morlock could escape was to not be that man somehow. The madness, the cell, became his refuge. He feared the ghosts and the freedom that lay without.
Hate could help him with this, and sometimes he drank deep of it, trem bling with the desire to kill his tormentors as he had killed Khretnurrliu. But this, too, had its dangers. Like any strong drink, like any drug, the rage left behind it a cold absence, a weakness that only the return of rage itself could heal.
In the arena of his mind, in the chaos of his heart, he fought thousands of battles every day. Sometimes, through the dim distorting vision of the world-as-it-was, he saw Rokhlenu peering at him with deep concern. He would have allayed his friend's concern if he'd known how.
Fortunately, Morlock's obsessions, his endless internal war, the fog he lived in day and night-all these things made him a very boring prisoner. Occasionally he engaged in low-voiced conversations with Rokhlenu, but apart from that he sat by the cell bars day and night, rocking back and forth and flexing his muscles to keep from cramping. The guards kept close watch on him at first, but eventually they grew used to seeing him there and they relaxed their vigil.
It was necessary to sit by the doorway for a simple reason. Khretnurrliu was always just to the left or right of his field of vision. If he stayed by the door and refrained from looking into the cell, Khretnurrliu could not enter. It was a simple and reasonable solution to keep the ghost from entering and destroying them. Rokhlenu, when Morlock explained the matter to him, eventually agreed, although they didn't have many conversations after that. More often, Morlock saw him in low-voiced converse with Hrutnefdhu on the other side of the cell door.
Morlock had long ago twisted his old bandages into a strangling cord, wrapping it around his wrist as if it were a bracelet. He didn't doubt he could use it effectively against the guards, or at least one of them, if he could somehow get into the corridor. Rokhlenu could take care of another. If they were quick enough, each might use a fallen guard's weapon on another guard. All that was possible, if they could get into the corridor.
But what could they do against Khretnurrliu? That was the real question, and Morlock gnawed at it alone through the lonely days and hours, as Rokhlenu didn't seem interested in discussing it. Morlock knew little about trapping or combating ghosts, and what little he knew involved the Sight that was now lost to him.
He had once seen the execution of a criminal in the Anhikh Komos. After expulsion from the city communion, the malefactor was beheaded and his limbs bound with a light thread to keep the ghost from roaming about, malefacting even after death. Morlock had pointed out to a local that the thread wasn't much of a bond, and the local had told him it wasn't meant to bind the dead body but the ghost. Perhaps that was what he could do about Khretnurrliu: bind the ghost with a rope of light thread.
Morlock thought he could probably make a thread from his own hair, which was getting pretty long. He chose the grayer hairs on the grounds that they were more likely to baffle the grayish rotting ghost: like is always frustrated by like. He knotted a great length of the grayish hairs together over a number of days, working with his hands behind his back or under his legs so that the guards and Khretnurrliu could not see.
He tested his first attempt and it broke on the first tug. That annoyed him, and it also raised the latent maker in his madness. He could make a better thread than that-and did, though it took many days and many wild hairs. In the end he had a long thin string of grayish twine that was fairly strong. He himself could break it, but he didn't think Khretnurrliu could, not with his muscles hanging off his bones in greenish strands.
It was a trivial accomplishment, in a way, but it gave him a fierce satisfaction. He would have boasted about it to Rokhlenu, but of course that would give everything away. Anyway, Rokhlenu wasn't very communicative lately. He was very kind and very patient, reminding Morlock to eat and drink when he forgot (as he invariably did), but Morlock did not want kindness or patience in response to this heroic deed. He wanted awe or nothing. If he could explain to Rokhlenu how important the problem was, maybe he could spring the twine on him as a solution and get an appropriate response. But it would require distraction on the guards' part if he were to escape their attention, and he thought this unlikely. He looked up and glanced at them.
He saw, with some surprise, that there were only two: one in the day shape, one in the night shape. The day-shape guard was not an archer-anyway, he didn't have a bow. They were both werewolves of very little bite; the wolf had only one tooth on a cord around his neck; and the man had only a cord with no teeth. The man was looking idly down the corridor; the wolf was asleep.
Morlock was astonished, and more than a little offended. Didn't they know how dangerous he was? Didn't they have any sense of responsibility? He looked at Khretnurrliu, who was wearing the rotting body of a decapitated wolf today, and somehow he knew his enemy was as offended as he. Morlock was minded to complain about it, although he didn't know who would listen.
Then his attention was speared by something else. The grayish iron of the bar securing the cell gate was almost exactly the same color as the silvery twine he had labored so long to make. He wondered if the twine was strong enough to sustain the weight of the metal bar. He thought it was. If he could manage to loop the twine around the bar unobserved, there was a good chance he could ease it out of its slot and throw the cell door open.
He wished there were some way he could warn Rokhlenu of his plan, but there wasn't. Rokhlenu was very difficult to talk to lately; Morlock wondered if his cellmate might be going mad. The thought of insanity bothered Morlock very much; he hated the thought of losing his selfhood that way. He was glad he wasn't going insane. But if Rokhlenu was, there was little he could do but kill him before Morlock caught his illness: it was the reasonable thing to do.
Or was it? There was some reason why Morlock should not kill Rokhlenu; he was sure of it. Only he couldn't remember what it was. It would certainly be good to have someone fighting alongside him in the corridor.
Neither of the guards was looking. The one was still asleep. Morlock unobtrusively tossed a loop of twine for the end of the lock-bar …and missed.
Morlock was shocked. He could not remember the last time he had thrown anything at anything and missed. On the other hand, he couldn't remember much at all. His time in prison might have lasted only a few days or weeks, but everything before it seemed faint and unreal. Perhaps he really wasn't much good at throwing things.
He tried it again, and this time the twine loop fell across the top of the lock-bar on its far end. Morlock jostled the loop gently, and it fell across the end of the lock-bar. He was ready.
He looked up and saw that Khretnurrliu was staring at him. The dead wolf's severed head had opened its mouth in anticipation; the headless body was leaning forward, like a dog straining at an invisible leash. The dead werewolf was waiting for him.
He let one end of the twine go and drew it unobtrusively back into the cell. Khretnurrliu's dead body sat back and the severed head tilted; it seemed disappointed in Morlock. So was Morlock. But he just couldn't face the dead wolf. He had already killed it once. How long was he supposed to go on killing it? Maybe it was Rokhlenu's turn.
He sidled over to Rokhlenu and said, "Hey."
"Hey," Rokhlenu replied wearily. "Long time no smell."
"Stop saying that. There's no one else here. You can just say what you have to say."
"What would you do if you got out of here?"
Rokhlenu seemed surprised and pleased. "You sound a little more like yourself today. And, it's funny: I was just thinking about that-the minor moons know why; I don't. But I'd probably go to the outlier pack, south of Wuruyaaria. I can send word to my father and brothers-" He continued for a while in this vein.
Morlock twitched impatiently. This was too long term, too strategic. Morlock was asking about the immediate, the tactical situation. But he didn't know the words for this.
"I mean here and now," he said finally, interrupting Rokhlenu's daydream. "What would you do here and now if you got out of here?"
Rokhlenu caught his meaning. His breath grew short. "I suppose …take out the one on the left with the thing." The thing was what they usually said when referring to the strangling cords, when they had still been talking about them.
"What about Khretnurrliu?" Morlock whispered. "What could you do about Khretnurrliu?"
Rokhlenu slumped a little. The hope went out of his face. He looked directly into Morlock's worried eyes and said, "Nothing. I would do nothing about Khretnurrliu. I'm sick of hearing about him. He's dead, Morlock. Dead."
Morlock was troubled. He'd had a fairly sophisticated argument planned, given his still-primitive vocabulary of Sunspeech, all of it leading toward the proposition that Morlock would tackle the two living guards, if Rokhlenu confronted the dead wolf. He was going to explain about ghost binding and the twine and everything. But now it seemed there would be no point.
Morlock went back to his corner by the door and thought. He rocked back and forth; he clenched and unclenched his muscles and he thought. The guards didn't look at him. Rokhlenu had climbed up to the window and was staring out into the hot afternoon air. Even Khretnurrliu seemed to be looking away scornfully.
Morlock sat wrestling with the dread of the dead wolf the rest of that afternoon, all through the night, all through the next day until dark. In the end he came to the conclusion that it was safer to stay in the cell and not try to get out. This was his life now. He could endure it, if he could not love it.
Except that was not quite the end. Because …it wasn't just that he didn't love this life. He hated it. He hated the raiders who had inflicted it on him. He hated the ghost-sniffers who had driven the spike into his head, blinding him to the world of dreams. He hated the guards and their stupid tortures and rapes. Most of all he hated his hate: he hated the stink of it in his mind, the filth of it in his eyes and bones. What hell could the dead wolf inflict on him that was worse than this? And he was inflicting it on himself. He could make it end now, one way or the other.
He, of course, didn't have the courage, but he had known a man once who would never have given up, would never have inflicted this on himself if he had the chance to escape it, even by certain death, who never resigned himself to fate. That man had drowned …in the Bitter Water, he thought; he couldn't remember his name, unless …unless it was Morlock.
Bells began to ring, as if in answer to this appalling conjecture. Morlock looked up. Khretnurrliu stood in man form in the corridor, tossing his severed head from hand to skeletal hand as if it were a ball. The guards were staring down the corridor, a faint silver light shining on their faces. The one in the day shape raised his hands and underwent the transition to wolfhood, screaming in ecstasy and pain. Rokhlenu was at the cell window, reaching out his left hand for a single thread of moonlight as he gripped the sill with his right. He transformed abruptly to wolf, howling as he fell down into the cell's darkness.
Other werewolves were howling, up and down the corridor. And bells were ringing. Echoing faintly in through the windows, louder in the corridor, mixed with the despairing howls of prisoners, the joyous or merely drunken howls of guards.
It was the first night of the year, the night of Cymbals they called it in Morlock's distant home. Trumpeter and Chariot were setting, and Horseman was rising. A bright year, they would be calling it back home, since the first call would not be moonless. In dark years, all three moons set together and the night sky was dark and starlit until Trumpeter rose again.
Back home, the celebration would go on all night.
A long, joyous, noisy time.
Would these moon-worshipping werewolves celebrate less or more?
In any case, they were celebrating now. Loudly. Joyously.
God Avenger, thought Morlock, the thin fraying thread that was still Morlock in his madness, this is my hour. I will celebrate the New Year in a way the Sardhluun will never forget.
From where he sat he tossed the twine over the end of the lock-bar and caught it. He stood, hefting the lock-bar from its place. It fell ringing to the floor, one more bell welcoming in the new year. Morlock threw the gate open and strode across the threshold of the cell. The wolf-guards, startled, turned to meet him. But for them it was already too late: they had seen their last moonrise.
Chapter Eleven: New Year's Night
Morlock was achingly conscious that he was turning his back toward the dead man who had haunted him all these weary months, but that was the choice he made: not to be bound by his fear.
He stooped down to seize the iron lock-bar from the corridor floor. One of the guard-wolves was already leaping toward him; the other, the one who had just undergone transition, was struggling in the harness of his human armor.
Morlock swung the iron bar with all the unpent fury of his madness.
The guard-wolf's head shattered like a piece of ripe fruit. The body rolled to the floor and lay still. Morlock turned to silence the other guard, who had begun to yammer for help in Moonspeech, but he had only taken one step when a gray shadow streaked past him and fixed long white teeth in the guard-wolf's throat.
Morlock seized the guard's abandoned sword and severed its head from its body as Roklenu jumped nimbly out of the blade's path.
Rokhlenu gave Morlock an agreeable but bloody smile. He wished Morlock a happy New Year in singing Moonspeech.
" Khule gradara!" Morlock replied. "That's what we say back home: goodbye moons!"
The other guards were crowded by the window at the far end of the hallway, peering out at the last moonlight they would see for some time. Those who could change had already changed to the night shape. Those few in the day shape held out their hands wistfully, or drank smoke from great stone bowls, or just stared at the free air as if they hated the prison as much as Morlock did.
Rokhlenu looked slyly at the severed head and back at Morlock's free hand.
Morlock grinned in answer. He picked up the severed wolf head and hurled it down the hallway to land in the mournful celebration of guards. It struck one guard on the elbow while he was inhaling some smoke. The coalladen jar shook, spilling some fiery matter. The jostled guard turned and struck the wolf nearest him across the snout. It yowled a curse at him and bit him on the knee. The jar dropped and smashed on the ground, scattering smoke and fire. The fire burned many feet, and a cacophonous chorus of rage sprang up against the background of bells and wolfsong floating in on the evening air. The guards were embroiled in a general fight before Morlock and Rokhlenu reached them, the severed wolf head being kicked here and there by heedless feet in smoky chaos.
It took them a few moments after Morlock and Rokhlenu reached them to realize the fight had taken a more serious turn. Soon other severed heads were being jostled about on the floor, and the guards in day shape had all been hamstrung by surgical strokes of Rokhlenu's bright teeth. He then returned to sever their neck veins with equal precision.
The surviving guards, all in the night shape, fled down to the other end of the hallway.
Rokhlenu sang that they must not let the rats escape the trap; there would be no chance, otherwise.
Morlock did not understand what he meant about chances. He simply intended to kill his enemies until they killed him. But he was more than willing to start with the fleeing guards.
Side by side, the former cellmates ran back up the corridor. The prisoners in the cells all began to chant their names: Khretvarrgliu and Rokhlenu; the Beast Slayer and the Dragon Slayer.
The fleeing guards, some of them still trailing human war gear, tangled up at the narrow entrance to the stairway, blocking each other from escaping.
Morlock leaned against the outside of the cell that had once been his, among uncounted dead enemies. He wished vaguely there had been more.
One more werewolf appeared in the shadows of the stairway entrance: a pale mottled muzzle and a pair of shocked pale eyes. It was Hrutnefdhu, the trustee.
Rokhlenu sang that they were celebrating the New Year by escaping. He wondered if Hrutnefdhu wished to leave the prison alive or in pieces.
Morlock turned away and walked down the corridor again. If Hrutnefdhu would not join them, he must be killed. Morlock's throat was too choked with hate to use persuasive words; he hoped Rokhlenu's song could lure the pale castrato to abandon his trust. Otherwise Morlock would have to kill him.
He occupied himself by tossing back the lock-bars and swinging the gates of the cells wide. Some of the cells had mechanical locks; these Morlock forced with a sword or his fingers. The prisoners swarmed into the hall, praising his name, Rokhlenu's name, the moonset, the New Year's Night, the carnage of the hated guards.
Most wore night shapes, but there were a few who did not or would not undergo the change, including one red-skinned gold-haired monster with the build of a gorilla, the hands of a juggler, and the intelligence of a vacant room. The wolves were varicolored: red, black, gray, and white. They were battered, scarred with wounds that showed even through their wiry fur. Their eyes were cold and bitter as the lost light of the moons. They were the irredeemables, and they knew he would lead them into death among the swords and teeth of the guards. They shouted for it. They howled for it.
When Morlock returned to the stairway, Rokhlenu was singing of plans, of forethought, of deliberation, of safety.
"We don't need safety," Morlock said. "That's what keeps us safe."
He plunged into the dark stairwell. Cheering and howling, the irredeemables followed him.
Wide-eyed, the pale mottled trustee watched the ragged pack of irredeemables cascade down the dark stairs.
Rokhlenu snarled. First he had thought Morlock mad; then he thought him sane; now he was sure the never-wolf was mad. If Rokhlenu himself were not mad, he would take advantage of the chaos Morlock was causing to escape the prison. It would be so easy!
But he couldn't. When Rokhlenu had gone mad, Morlock had watched out for him, had not let the guards' cruelty destroy him. He had risked his life. Rokhlenu would do the same for him if it killed him, as Rokhlenu was glumly sure it would.
He forced himself to think sunlit thoughts, dreaming of a gold the world would not see for hours, that he might never live to see. The agony of transition swept over him, without the exultant shout of light to remake his heart. He had to remake it himself. It seemed to take forever, and it hurt like chewing a leg off. But at the end of it he stood like a man and began to arm and armor himself from the bloody torn equipage scattered around the floor.
"Stay by me," he said to the yet-more-astonished-if-possible Hrutnefdhu. "Morlock has run mad. If we stick together, maybe we can live through this thing."
Hrutnefdhu's pale face looked as dubious as Rokhlenu's heart felt. But they did go together down the dark stairway.
The fourth floor of the prison was larger than the fifth; there were several aisles among the freestanding cages and more prisoners in each cage. Rokhlenu remembered there being more guards there, too. Whether that had been the case or not Rokhlenu never knew; by the time he and Hrutnefdhu arrived the guards were bloody rubble in various corners, slain by Morlock and his irredeemables. Morlock was forcing locks with a long knife and freeing the prisoners; other irredeemables were smashing at locks with stolen swords …or, in a few cool-headed cases, using keys they had looted from dead guards.
Rokhlenu said to Hrutnefdhu, "Get the ones using keys. Have them come to me. Round up anyone who isn't moon simple."
Hrutnefdhu wondered if he were moon simple; he didn't understand.
"There are guard stations in the stairways below; we'll need to divide in two bands," Rokhlenu began.
Hrutnefdhu barked a curt acknowledgment and ran off to do Rokhlenu's bidding. Rokhlenu himself grabbed a few wolves who seemed to be able to pay attention. When Hrutnefdhu returned with a dozen men and wolves, Morlock and his irredeemables were already streaming toward one of the stairwells.
"We take the other," Rokhlenu said. "Ware guards. Kill the men and maim the wolves as severely as you can; behead them by choice."
They nodded and snarled in acknowledgment. These were not blooddrunk ex-prisoners intent on vengeance. They were hardened criminals engaged in escape. Rokhlenu knew he could trust them as long as it looked like he might succeed.
They ran down the stairs to the guard station. The guards there were waiting for them: three smoke-drunk men with rusty swords in their trembling hands. Rokhlenu's wolves took them down and left them sleeping off their drunk in death.
The third floor was even larger than the fourth; some guards were still resisting when Rokhlenu and his band arrived. Worst of all, one was at a window blowing a horn-call. Rokhlenu ran over and stabbed him through the rib cage, killing him instantly, but the damage was done. The sound of bells and songs from below had diminished greatly: what guards remained in the prison now knew of the escape. Rokhlenu hoped it was a skeleton crew; if so, they'd soon crack it to the marrow.
Many of the prisoners on the third floor were terrified and refused to leave their cells. Still, the numbers of escapees swelled, and many began to stream down the stairwells.
If Rokhlenu had been in charge, they would have skipped the second floor and gone down to confront the guards on the first floor while they were still relatively unprepared. But no one was in charge. Many of the more panicky escapees did indeed run from the second floor to the stairwells leading down to the ground floor, but Morlock and his irredeemables cleared the second floor of its few guards and broke the locks on all the cages. On this level, more prisoners were day shaped than night shaped, and almost none refused to leave their cages. The number of the escapees, as they finally charged the stairwells, was very large, but the men were very poorly armed and armored.
Rokhlenu and Hrutnefdhu followed Morlock down the stairwell. Rokhlenu thought there was some chance that the guards below (they could hear the sounds of fighting echoing up the stone ways) might rally and come up other stairways to attack Morlock's group from behind. His criminals would serve as a rearguard, then. If not, Morlock and his irredeemables would be their shock troops.
Just before Rokhlenu made it down to the ground floor, he heard Morlock laughing.
When he came out into the high-vaulted central chamber on the first floor, he saw why.
Morlock had not seen the dead rotting ghost of Khretnurrliu since he had rushed into the corridor, and a feeling of exultation was growing in him. It was separate from the poisonous glee of satisfied revenge (which, however, he also felt). The dead beast was dead, but it still fled from him. Perhaps it feared binding. Morlock had lost his twine somewhere, but Khretnurrliu might not know that.
Morlock kept looking about for Rokhlenu, but whenever he turned his view was blocked by the great gorilla-like red werewolf, who grinned at him with gray teeth through his golden beard. He had no weapon but fought only with his huge gold-clawed fists. Morlock did not understand a word he said, if the sounds he made were words, but he seemed intent on guarding Morlock's back.
Long before he reached the ground floor, Morlock met a backwash of escaped prisoners running back up toward the second floor. Morlock attacked them with the same cold empty rage he had unleashed on the guards: they were in his way. He killed a man, dismembered a crawling wolf, and drove the rest screaming before him down the stairs again.
They were pinned between Morlock and a knot of armed guards at the outlet of the stairwell. Of the two, they feared Morlock the more and threw themselves at the guards with panicky fervor. Morlock came up behind them and started stabbing through the bodies to cripple the guards. They broke and fled, and Morlock and his irredeemables ran into the central chamber of the prison's first floor.
There were no cages or cells here. This was the marshalling point of the guards, the sorting place for incoming prisoners. A sort of balcony ran around just under the ceiling of the high-vaulted chamber; beyond it were entrances to the upper wall outside. Morlock wondered if that might be a way to escape. The only way up to the balcony was a few rope ladders, though, so the wolves could not go that way. And when Morlock had last seen Rokhlenu, he was in the night shape. He turned away from them and contemplated the scene in the chamber itself.
Its chaos mirrored the disorder in his own soul, and he found it pleasing. Very few of the guards were in day shape; most had changed their skins to celebrate the bright New Year. The chamber was full of werewolves snarling and biting each other, with more pouring through the stairways every moment. The air was filled with smoke, from torches and from the aromatic bowls of smoke the werewolves seemed to love inhaling. The walls glittered with mounted weapons, mostly useless to the night-shape guards. The few guards in day shape-and some of the freed prisoners-were running up and grabbing these.
Morlock watched as one guard seized a very familiar scabbard and drew from it a glittering crystalline sword, the blade interwoven white and black.
Morlock laughed. The gorilla-like red werewolf was standing beside him now that they were free from the narrow stairway; Morlock slapped him on the shoulder and shouted ("There!"), pointing at the guard who bemusedly held Tyrfing.
The red werewolf grunted something and followed as Morlock began to fight his way across the chaos of the great chamber. The irredeemables followed at their heels.
The guard holding Tyrfing slipped in and out of Morlock's sight through the battle in the center of the chamber. At first he seemed inclined to put aside the deadly blade as a mere showpiece, but then a prisoner in a stolen guard's harness leaped at him and he struck out with the blade, shattering the attacker's weapon and armor, the blade sinking deep into his body.
Then the tide of battle blocked Morlock's sight. He grimly fought toward the place where he had last seen the guard holding Tyrfing.
Soon he was rewarded with another glimpse: the guard was cutting his way with the dark crystalline blade toward a group of guards blocking a sort of tunnel.
Morlock knew that tunnel. He remembered being dragged through it on his first night in the Vargulleion.
He wondered if he dared call out to Tyrfing. It had been long, so long, since he had implanted the talic impulse in its crystalline lattice, and he was worried that it might have dissipated. Blinded as he was on the talic realm, his inner self could hear no whisper of life from the blade-or from any other entity.
But now he was near-hardly three lines of struggling werewolves lay between him and his sword. He shifted the blade he was holding to his left hand, stabbed a werewolf with it, raised his right hand, and shouted as loudly and clearly as he could, "Tyrfing!"
The blade left the hand of the astonished werewolf who held it and flew through the smoky air to rest in Morlock's right hand.
Morlock's satisfaction was intense. They had taken everything from him, everything. Now, bit by bit, he was taking it back. Perhaps they would kill him tonight. They would never forget the price they paid to do it.
Now he carried two swords, and he wielded them both with deadly efficiency. At first he was tentative about striking with Tyrfing for a death blow, until he realized that his blindness on the tal-realm protected him from suffering when he used Tyrfing as a weapon. Perhaps it still harmed him, but he could not feel it. He laughed at the thought of it, and killed werewolves thereafter whenever he could.
He thought he heard Rokhlenu shouting at him-in Sunspeech, strangely, because Morlock remembered he had changed skins after sunset. Rokhlenu was shouting something about the tunnel.
Morlock turned toward the tunnel. The guards were retreating toward it, and the entrance bristled with their weapons and teeth.
Rokhlenu was right. That was the way out, if they sought escape, and there were many enemies there, if they sought vengeance. Plus, he had a feeling that Khretnurrliu was hiding there, cowering among the ranks with his severed head held low. Morlock turned and began to cut his way through the battle toward the tunnel entrance.
Rokhlenu's jaw dropped when he saw the dark blade fly through the air when Morlock called it. With his mouth still open, he turned to look at Hrutnefdhu.
The pale werewolf sang that Morlock was a maker, great among makers, perhaps the greatest of all.
"He's still crazy," Rokhlenu said. They were standing together at one of the rope ladders leading to the balcony. It was the obvious escape route, but most of the escapees had missed it-including Morlock, apparently. "I'm going to run up this ladder and see if there's a way out over the rampart outside. You thugs stand watch here."
His thugs disliked that-not the name, but the idea of being left behind. But they accepted it, perhaps because Rokhlenu was one of the few people in the room not drunk on blood or smoke.
He was halfway up the ladder when he looked around to see if there were any archers in the chamber or on the balcony. The balcony seemed to be empty, and no one on the floor seemed to be troubling himself with a bow: all the combat was close quarters.
Rokhlenu saw Morlock and his incorrigibles drifting aimlessly on the tide of battle. They were perilously near the tunnel entrance, where all the guards were falling back. If Morlock and his following got trapped in there, the guards could tear them to bits.
"Morlock!" he shouted. "Stay clear of the tunnel! Stay clear of the tunnel!"
Morlock glanced about and turned toward the tunnel.
"Year without a moon," swore Rokhlenu in a whisper, and dropped down to the foot of the ladder. "Hrutnefdhu," he said, "lead these wolves to Mor lock and stand by him. I'll take the men over the ramparts and attack the guards on the far side."
The pale werewolf's eyes grew as large as fists when he heard this order. But he nodded, and with a few high-pitched barks rallied the wolvish thugs and led them in a wedge into the chaos of the battle-torn smoky chamber.
Rokhlenu hoped they wouldn't all be absolutely killed, but there was only one thing he could do and he did it. He turned his back on them and swarmed up the rope ladder. The day-shape thugs followed him up.
If Morlock had been able to dream anymore, he would have thought it was a nightmare. The tunnel was darkish, lit only by a few torches. There was a mass of guards there, in wolf form and man form. The men were armed, and even some of the wolves were armored. The air was dense with smoke and heat and the stink of shed blood.
Morlock and his irredeemables killed their way into the tunnel. But there came a time when they could not advance farther. The press of bodies among the guards kept the dead guards standing in place three deep. The men at least were dead, and the wolves lifeless: there was no moonlight in the dark tunnel to feed their renewal. Morlock and those with him on the front line could not reach past the dead to get at the living. Nor could they retreat: there was a flood of escapees behind them also, forcing them forward.
The layers of dead surged back and forth between the competing sides, like the border of an uncertain empire.
It was strangely, dreadfully quiet in the dark tunnel. The only sounds were the labored breathing of the opposing mobs and the scratch of booted or clawed feet on the tunnel pavement.
From time to time some armorless werewolves would try to creep forward among the thicket of dead legs and snap at the knees of Morlock and his irredeemables. But their own wolves stood ready to counterattack: Morlock saw with surprise that one of those at his own side was Hrutnefdhu.
Morlock wanted to call back down the line for a spear or a bow and arrow or some kind of distance weapon. But he hadn't the words for this, in Moon speech or Sunspeech: weaponry had rarely come up in his discussions with Rokhlenu and Hrutnefdhu. Besides, he was tired, desperately tired, and it was almost impossible to breathe in the stinking smoke-laden tunnel.
If he lost his footing and tumbled backward, it would begin an avalanche that would end with a victory of the hated guards. He remembered hating the guards without actually hating them so much: the whole world was growing as dark and hazy as the evil tunnel's air. But he clung to the memory of hate like a faith; he braced his feet against the tunnel pavement and pushed back against the dead body in front of him.
He didn't think he could sustain the counterweight of the enemy line much longer.
He reached out with his right hand and stabbed experimentally with Tyrfing. If he could crack the enemy line somehow, cause one guard to give way, maybe the avalanche of bodies would fall the other way and the guards would flee or fall.
He couldn't reach anyone.
There was a wound on his arm, and it seeped blood onto the wolvish corpse in front of him. The corpse began to smolder, adding a reek of burning hair to the poisonous fog in the tunnel.
Morlock reflected faintly that if he bled enough, the corpse would burn away entirely. Then he would be that much nearer the enemy, near enough to strike a blow.
An idea occurred to him. Keeping the tension on the corpse in front of him, he slashed down at the corpse in front of that, hacking away at it until part of it fell away to the ground and the rest was crushed between the two battle lines. He was too startled when the moment came to press forward, but the enemy line lurched nearer to him. He tried reaching over it and stabbing at the werewolf on the far side.
The wolf first cowered low, losing the precarious purchase his shoulders had on the corpse in front of him. Then he leapt back to escape being crushed.
There was a tiny breach in the line of battle. Morlock let the corpses fall and leapt over them. Wielding Tyrfing with both hands, he cut a brief swathe of death, piling corpses all around him.
He turned to fund the gorilla-like red werewolf grinning beside him. He had imitated Morlock's tactic, with equal success.
"We do it again," he said to the other, hoping he would understand. "Again and again, until we break the line."
The red grinning shadow beside him made a wordlike sound, and they both turned to the task.
More of their comrades followed into the wedge they were digging into the guards' line; it grew wider, flatter, as more of them attacked enemies who had suddenly come into reach.
Morlock was wearier than ever, but when he looked up now his heart was gladdened by the sight of moonlit ground. This was bad in a way: the wolvish guards would take strength from the moonlight. But it was the way out, and they were nearer now.
Then he saw shapes he had been dreading step out of the light: werewolves in the day shape with bows, their arrows nocked and ready to shoot. They could devastate the irredeemables from a distance, and there was nowhere to turn, no way to protect themselves.
Morlock nearly groaned. But if he was to have only one more utterance, he didn't want it to be a sound of despair.
"Khai gradara!" he shouted, greeting the moonlight that had recently given him such hope. "Khai gradara! Khai, khai!"
The werewolves with human faces took up his cry behind him. The irredeemables wearing the night shape sang their own bitter triumphant song. The smoky air of the tunnel rang with it as the shadowy archers took deadly aim and shot.
Rokhlenu didn't know what he was expecting on the balcony, but he was disgusted with what he found. The balcony had been thick with soldiery when the prison break began, but no guards were there now. If they had held their post and fired a few arrows at escaping prisoners, the escape might have ended in utter failure. But because it was New Year's Night, they were smoke-drunk on duty when the alarm came; they had panicked and fled their post, leaving their weapons behind them. So Rokhlenu read the chaos of broken smoke-bowls, of quivers heavy with unshot arrows lying alongside unstrung bows.
"Everyone grab a bow," he said, "and a quiver-two if you can carry them."
He followed his own order and then ran along the balcony until he reached a portal to the outer rampart. He rushed out onto the rampart, hoping it would be as empty as the balcony.
It was, and he was delighted to discover the cowardly guards' escape route: a ladder of hooked-together guard harnesses, dangling over the edge of the rampart halfway down the wall.
"They must have loved their families," remarked the thug who first followed him out onto the rampart. He was a fur-faced, one-eyed son-of-a-brach, and he didn't seem to think much of families.
Rokhlenu waited until all his thugs were present and then explained his plan.
"All right, Dragon Slayer," said the one-eyed semiwolf "You go first. Watch out your hands don't slip on that armor: I guess they moistened it some while they were still wearing it."
Rokhlenu climbed down the makeshift ladder as far as it went and then dropped the rest of the way; arrows clattered out of his quivers as he struck the ground. He was stooping to pick them up when he discovered that not all the guards had abandoned their post in the crisis. There were a dozen of them, men and wolves, grinning at him from the shadows of a recess in the prison wall.
He grasped at his sword …and realized he had left it on the ground when he was gathering his bow and arrows. He seized the bow and started wielding it like a club. He had little hope his thugs would follow him: they would hear the fight and take a more advantageous escape route.
But they surprised him. He was kicking a wolf who had attached himself to his right knee when the wolf was abruptly cut in two by a broadbladed axe. He looked up to see it was wielded by the one-eyed semiwolf His other thugs were dropping down like hail from the rampart.
The guards weren't cowards, but they were taken by surprise and were pinned against the wall. In the end, they were dead, and Rokhlenu and his thugs limped away the victors.
"Sorry about the delay," the one-eyed semiwolf said. "We all left our swords and things behind and had to go back for them."
"Can't think of everything," Rokhlenu gasped.
"Say, Chief," One-Eye said, "you should take the night shape. We won't be mad; you've got a lot of wounds there."
They might have been mad, because they were most likely incapable of the full change themselves. A few had crooked legs, or hairy faces, but no doubt if they could have changed completely they would have done so at nightfall, before their cell doors swung open. But they all seemed to be looking at him with genuine concern and, when he looked down, he did see several wounds gushing black blood in Horseman's blue light.
He almost said, "Wait for me," but that would have implied a chance that they would not, and he didn't want to suggest that to them. He dropped his weapons and his loincloth and stood, naked and bleeding in Horseman's light. He drank the moonlight deep until it slew the sunlit thoughts in his brain.
His wolf's shadow rose up from the ground and wrapped itself around him; his human form fell away and lay, a mere shadow on the ground. His flesh and bones rippled like running water, and that was an agony. But it was also a delight, a tearing free from who he had been, an escape into new being, an ascent into harmony with the night. That was why he sang; that was why he screamed. That, and the pain.
The change took longer the less moonlight was in the air, and still longer because the silver light had to fill up his wounds and make them whole. Appreciable time had passed before he raised his lupine head to properly salute the moon with song.
He dropped his eyes to the ground and saw his ragged band of semiwolves still waiting for him.
He sang that they should bring their flying teeth and the corded branches that hurled them, and they should match their paces to his until they found the great mouth in the prison's ugly face.
The thugs seized their bows and arrows (not forgetting their swords and clubs this time) and followed him to the tunnel entrance of the prison.
Standing in the clear light of the moon, Rokhlenu looked into the swel tering, smoky, torchlit tunnel, and he didn't like what he saw or heard or smelled. Clearly, neither side had won a clear victory yet. He did not see or hear Morlock, but he thought he smelled the crooked man's fiery blood.
With a whispered song or two he deployed his men in two ranks to shoot at the backs of the slowly retreating guards.
"Khai gradara!" came a ragged shout, echoing down the tunnel. "Khai gradara! Khai, khai!"
Other voices joined the cry, and wolfsongs soon drowned the men's words, but Rokhlenu chuckled as he recognized the first voice: Morlock- moon simple to the last, though Rokhlenu began to hope this wasn't the last.
He called on his archers to shoot.
Many of them were trained-it was one way for a werewolf stuck in the day shape to be useful-but the worst of them could not miss. They fired into the densely crowded backs of men and wolves, and soon the wounded began to run. The only way they had to run was toward the bowmen, but it was also toward the moonlight, where the wolves could seek healing. The men could hope for no healing there, but it was the only way of escape.
The more ran, the more did run. Presently the guards' line broke, and roaring, the escapees charged forward, trampling any guard, man or wolf, who did not flee.
Morlock emerged almost last, surrounded by the survivors from the irredeemables, leaned on by the gorilla-like red werewolf and dragging Hrutnefdhu by the scruff of his neck. All three were terribly wounded; Morlock was trailing fire like a burning snail.
Some of Rokhlenu's thugs gently peeled the half-dead red werewolf from Morlock's shoulder. The pale mottled wolf raised his eyes to the moon, drank deep of light and air, and stood on his own feet, his strength renewed.
Morlock absently patted his white head like a dog's and staggered forward, blinking. He saw Rokhlenu standing there, and he remarked, as if they were in the middle of a long conversation back in the cell, "For a while I thought I didn't see the dead wolf anymore, but now I think I see him everywhere. I tried killing him by killing him and I killed and I killed but he kept being dead, so I think …I think I need to kill him by not killing him. If you know what I mean."
Rokhlenu sang that this seemed a very sound plan, and that life was like that sometimes.
Hrutnefdhu agreed, and said they would go now to the outlier pack, a fine place where all the werewolves were completely alive, and dead ones banned by law.
"Eh," said the crooked man, "dead wolves don't always obey the law."
A few more philosophical gleams like these lightened their long moonlit road to the outlier pack. But not too many, as Morlock was very tired, for which Rokhlenu thanked the moons and stars and even the Strange Gods, because he had heard as much as he could stand of crazy talk.
SUCH IS THEIR CRY – SOME WATCHWORD FOR THE FIGHT
MUST VINDICATE THE WRONG, AND WARP THE RIGHT;
RELIGION – FREEDOM – VENGEANCE – WHAT YOU WILL,
A WORD'S ENOUGH TO RAISE MANKIND TO KILL;
SOME FACTIOUS PHRASE BY CUNNING CAUGHT AND SPREAD,
THAT GUILT MAY REIGN, AND WOLVES AND WORMS BE FED!
Chapter Twelve: The Outliers
"I understand I have you to thank for this nightmarish cloud of thieves, monsters, and murderers who've descended to suck the last drop of blood from our parched veins?"
Rokhlenu looked up blinking to see a woman standing over him, like a shadow astride the rising sun. He had curled up last night, along with most of his men, on one of the boarded walkways that served as streets among the stork-legged lair-towers of the outlier pack. The night had been warm, and he had slept so deeply that the transition to his sunlit form had not awakened him. He was having trouble waking now, and he blinked his gummy eyes a few times and cleared his throat of goo until he thought of a sufficiently urbane reply.
"You're welcome," he said finally.
"Welcome, hah. You may be, and some of your boys may be, but that filthy, raving, flat-faced, crook-shouldered, fire-hazard of a never-wolf is not."
Rokhlenu didn't need to be fully awake to know who she was talking about.
"We all stay," he said sharply, "or we all go. My boys, as you call them, will back me."
He wasn't at all sure this was true, but a voice (it sounded like One-Eye) called out, "That's written in stone. Are there three moons or not? Does the sun rise in the west or does it not?"
A chorus of voices, in Sunspeech and Moonspeech, agreed that all these truths were self-evident.
Rokhlenu jumped to his feet in a single motion. It wasn't as easy as he hoped he'd made it look, but he didn't want this outlier to think him in any way a weakling.
The way she was eyeing him suggested this was the farthest thing from her mind. "You're Slenkjariu?" she asked. "I've heard of you."
"My name's Rokhlenu now."
"I heard that, too. They didn't strip that from you after you killed that bookie?"
"That's my name, and I didn't kill any bookie."
"The judicants of Nekkuklendon say you did."
"The judicants of Nekkuklendon would tattoo their price on their asses if the price didn't change all the time. Everyone knows that."
She waved her hand, dismissing the issue: it didn't matter in the outlier pack. "I'm Wuinlendhono. I'm running things here, for the time being."
"Oh?" Rokhlenu replied. He had heard that ways were strange in the outliers, but he was surprised to find a female in charge. Still, she seemed to have the bite for it: there was a necklace of long teeth around her neck and ropes of them around her narrow waist.
"I need something a little more binding from you, Rokhlenu," Wuinlendhono said in a low voice. She was a head shorter than Rokhlenu, but somehow her stern round face was very near his face. She smelled a little like the ginger root that grew on the sacred slopes of the necropolis east of the Stone Tree. "Things were tough enough for me," she continued, "before you and your happy band of jugglers showed up last night-"
"We're not jugglers!"
"Keep your voice down. That was a lighthearted, insincere compliment. I wish your boys had any skill as useful as juggling. Listen to me. I mean, listen to nie. You say your boys will back you. If you want to stay here, I need you to back me. Either you are with me or you're against me."
"I don't know anything about you."
"Yes, you do. I'm the person who decides whether you stay here or you go."
"I am. Half your people are still asleep; many are wounded. It would be a lot of trouble to drive you off or kill you, but we could do it. It'd make me very popular with some of my pack-mates, too. Listen, I'm not talking about indentured service. But if you're going to stay here, I need to know you're not going to get in my way. You can go any time you want. No shackles on anyone."
Rokhlenu thought about it. He looked at her: dark-haired, pale-skinned, round-headed, intent: a cool shadow in the freakishly warm winter sunlight. Not a stupid female. But still a female. He couldn't afford to bow his head to a female; no male would look up to him again.
She read his hesitation perfectly. "How about this?" she said. "My mate is dead. We'll say you're courting me. That way if you, urrr, defer to my judgment, it will seem like politeness, not submission."
"I guess. As long as I don't have to `defer' too often."
"Well, well, well. What a romance this is. The poet sings from the heat in his blood."
"If it's just a ruse-"
"Of course it is," Wuinlendhono said, in a silky contralto murmur as dark as her hair and as warm as fresh blood, "you stupid brach's bastard, do you think I have no one better to turn to than a filthy naked bloodstained refugee from a prison house?"
"Do you?" he replied frostily.
Her fierce little face unbent in a gentle smile. "You're quite right, new friend Rokhlenu," she said, in a voice meant to be heard by those standing nearby. "We must get you some pants, at least." Her eyes flickered downward and she walked away.
Rokhlenu followed her glance down and saw with dismay that he was sporting an advanced erection.
He willed it down by thinking of dead puppies and weeping grandmothers and anything, anything except the warm sensual poison of her voice in his ear. It took a while.
Eventually, he looked up and saw One-Eye standing nearby, but not too nearby. He was not grinning, but his fur-covered face was a little too obviously not grinning.
Rokhlenu called him over. He almost called him One-Eye, but stopped himself at the last minute. No doubt the semiwolf disliked being reminded of his disability, and Rokhlenu particularly wanted to avoid offending him. "Hey," he said finally. "It was busy last night, and I didn't catch your name."
"Olleiulu," said the one-eyed werewolf. Olleiulu meant One-Eye. Rokhlenu repressed an irritated growl.
"All right, Olleiulu," Rokhlenu said. "I need someone to watch my back, and we both know that's you. Am I wrong?"
"You're not wrong," Olleiulu agreed. "But I don't know how long I'm going to stay here. Just thought it's fair to tell you."
"Fair is fair. Just let me know when you're going to leave, if you leave."
"Fair is fair," Olleiulu echoed, and they each gripped the other's shoulder to seal the conditional allegiance.
"I need some clothes if I'm going to talk to that female again," Rokhlenu continued briskly, "and I don't want to get them from her. If there's a market or a rag shop around here, we should be able to trade some of our gear for a kilt or a loincloth or something."
"Breeches for males in the outliers," Olleiulu said. "Anything else makes them look at you funny. I'll get a shirt and some footgear, too, even if it is furnace-hot for winter."
"And it is. Thanks."
"Pick a sidekick, someone else to watch your back when you're watching mine."
"Done. It's old Lekkativengu, there." Lekkativengu meant Claufinger, and Olleiulu indicated a werewolf, largely human in appearance, but with wolvish claws on his hands and bare feet. His feet were somewhat pawlike, too. Rokhlenu didn't remember him from the prison escape, but it had been pretty chaotic. "We've sounded out most of the fifth- and fourth-floor gang, and they're with you, as long as you don't cross Khretvarrgliu. The rest are rats who'll go wherever they smell the most cheese."
Khretvarrgliu: that was what they were calling Morlock last night. Rokhlenu thought Morlock might not care for the nickname, but that wasn't the most urgent issue.
"You've done politics before?" Rokhlenu asked.
"I ran an extortion gang in Dogtown," Olleiulu said. "I guess it's pretty similar."
Rokhlenu was washed, breeched, shirted, and booted before he had to face Wuinlendhono again. In spite of the heat of the day, he found this a great relief. Hesitantly, he offered her his left arm; she smiled and intertwined herself with him.
"You can play the part, I see," she said, her contralto voice cooler than the warm winter breeze. "Let's walk. I'll show you the lairs, and something less pleasant."
Rokhlenu's heart was trying to hammer its way out of his chest. It took him several steps to gather enough breath to say, "It's not a part. I'm willing to mate with you."
"Ulugarriu's left testicle," was Wuinlendhono's amused response. "You've been in prison, Rokhlenu. Right now you're willing to mate with anything that doesn't get away fast enough."
"I don't want to argue about that. I just want to make something clear. If you're talking about mating with me, we're not talking about a quick screw. I only mate for life. You're too twisted up to think about that right now, but I'm not. You're no good to me like this. So go find someone and discreetly express the depths of your poetic soul-by the bucketful if necessary. We're short on females in the outliers, but there are working girls (and for that matter working boys) who come out from Apetown and Dogtown. You can find them in the day-lairs by the marketplace; your fellow Olleiulu will show you. Until your mind is clear, I'm not making any deal."
Rokhlenu snarled. "Aren't you at least going to say how touched and honored you are by my proposal?"
Wuinlendhono laughed sympathetically. She patted his left hand with her own. "Sorry, new friend, if I seem a little cold. I'm not a puppy, you know, anxiously awaiting her first heat. If we mate, you'll be my fifth."
"Oh? I thought you didn't go in for casual mating."
"I don't. They're all dead. My fourth, who was First Wolf of this hellhole, was killed by a gang of Dogtown robbers. My third caught some sort of lingering illness and ate silver rather than let it finish him. My second was out hunting one day when he ran into a werebear and they killed each other."
They walked on for a while in silence. When it became clear that she had finished he said, "And your first?"
"It was an arranged marriage," Wuinlendhono said. "My guardian outwed me to an old ghost-sniffer in the Goweiteiuun pack. I hated him, so I killed him. That's why I'm here, which was probably your next question."
"No," Rokhlenu said, thinking how much like prison this all was in some ways. "But thanks for telling me."
The lairs of the outlier pack were built on the swamps below Wuruyaaria's south wall. For streets they had boarded ways; the lairs were rickety towers built on stilts driven into the sandy mud of the swamp. The whole place looked like a strong wind could knock it down.
The people were a little tougher looking. They moved fast; they talked or sang fast. He didn't see too many stupid faces, and no sentimental ones. Even the stupid faces wore a hard, cheerful determination. If the wind came and the lairs fell, these people would rebuild-or sell the wreckage to a passing mark.
Wuinlendhono took him to a gem-and-bone seller in the north part of town. He had a single greenish dragon tooth on a gold chain, and Wuinlendhono bought it and gave it to Rokhlenu.
He was going to protest, but she forestalled him with a whisper. "In the outliers, women choose the men. Gifts are normal, so if people hear about this (and they will), they'll take it as part of my arduous campaign to get into your pants. And you need an honor-tooth commensurate with your status. Anyway, it didn't cost very much."
And it hadn't. Few werewolves in history had ever had enough bite to wear a tooth like that in public. Rokhlenu was one. He was strutting a bit after they got back onto the boards, and Wuinlendhono's proud sideways glance didn't exactly sting.
"You're not doing a very good job in cooling my ardor," he observed.
"Well, we haven't got there yet," was her enigmatic reply.
"There" was a lair-tower on the east side of town, taller and more rickety than most. Several of the upper floors seemed to have been added after the original construction, and there was at least one crack running almost half the length of the plastered walls.
"Can this thing stand our weight?" asked Rokhlenu, only half joking.
"Oh, clench up, Dragonslayer," Wuinlendhono answered. "Worse comes to worst, we can always jump." She did not seem to be joking at all.
The air inside was dense with bloodbloom smoke and less pleasant odors. Rokhlenu followed Wuinlendhono up flight after twisting flight of dark creaking stairs until they got to the top story of the lair, which was all one none-too-spacious den. (The tower narrowed as it rose.)
In the light from the western windows lay a naked man, sleeping restlessly on what seemed to be a tarpaulin. Over him crouched a she-werewolf in the day shape. Her smooth mottled skin and torrent of russet hair reminded him of someone, but he wasn't sure who. She was reading a small codex she held in her hand; when they entered, she set the book down next to some odd-looking medical instruments and welcomed them with a complete absence of enthusiasm.
"Liudhleeo, my gravy bowl," said Wuinlendhono. "Can you do it?"
"I've done what I know how to do," Liudhleeo replied. "I have closed up his battle wounds with the salve Hrutnefdhu helped me make-so the lair is no longer in danger of burning down. I have washed him, apparently the first bath he has taken in his life. His skin had many sores, and his feet were rotten with some sort of fungus. All that has been seen to."
"Wonderful. Wonderful. But, you know, what I was really asking about was whether he is still crazy."
"Yes. I have drugged him as deeply as I dared, and he finally fell into a kind of sleep. But unless my experience misleads me, and it is no feeble resource, he is not dreaming."
"He says he never dreams," Rokhlenu remembered. "It's because of the spike in his head."
"This is Rokhlenu, by the way, my cutlet," Wuinlendhono said. "He was Khretvarrgliu's cellmate."
"Yes, I smelled him," the russet werewolf said with a marked distasteand then Rokhlenu knew her, not by sight but by scent. She was the female whom the guards had raped outside his cell on that terrible spring night. He was shocked, then deeply ashamed as she eyed him. He turned away from her, and in the turmoil of his feelings he missed a few of her words.
11 -that spike, yes," Liudhleeo said. "I must say, the book you gave me has taught me quite a lot."
"My first husband wrote it. He was a very learned male."
"And such fine penmanship. All the pages were quite legible, even the ones stained with blood."
"Why dwell on old gossip, my lamb chop, when we could be busy generating new gossip?"
"My considered answer to that …will take a little time. So maybe we should defer it to another occasion."
"By all means, dear, as long as we understand that I'm one ahead."
"I understand nothing of the sort, but never mind. I suppose you want to know why I haven't pulled that spike out of Khretvarrgliu's bewildered old head."
"Well, I'm a little frightened about it, actually. I've never done anything like this, messing around inside a man's head, I mean. By choice, I would not start out in that type of surgery with a patient whose blood could set me afire. I sent sweet Hrutnefdhu to a ghost-sniffer who works in the Shadow Market; he said he might persuade him to come help."
"So you're waiting for this ghost-sniffer?"
"I was, but after reading this wonderful book some more I had just about nerved myself up to have a stab at the surgery. As it were."
"A ghost-sniffer probably can't help. They put these things in, but they never take them out. That's what I was reading in …in your husband's book. And Khretvarrgliu seems to be getting worse, much worse. You would not believe some of the gibberish he was talking before I finally got him to sleep."
"Are we sure the spike is causing the madness?" Wuinlendhono asked. "How do we know he wasn't going mad anyway?"
Both females looked at Rokhlenu, and he said, "I knew him briefly before last year. He was …an odd and difficult male back then. But sane, I think. It must be the spike. Morlock-Khretvarrgliu, I mean-was sure of it."
"Well," Liudhleeo said, not looking at him but inclining her head to acknowledge his contribution, "then either we take the spike out or there's only one other choice."
"We wrap him in the tarp and dump him in the swamp. Because he's done."
"Does it matter?" Wuinlendhono asked Rokhlenu.
"It matters," Rokhlenu replied. With difficulty, he turned to Liudhleeo. "Can we help?"
She was eyeing him a little less coldly now. "Yes."
Liudhleeo coated their hands with the red-brown healing salve; she said it would protect them from Morlock's fiery blood. Then she had them hold Morlock's unconscious body still. Wuinlendhono held his shoulders down; Rokhlenu put one hand under his jaw and the other on the crown of his head and held him firmly.
Liudhleeo did not anoint her own hands, but took up a long coppery knife on the end of a lead-gray stick. She knelt down beside Morlock and placed the edge of the blade over a red star-shaped scar on his temple. She deftly carved a cross into the flesh. Hot blood poured out of the wound and began to pool on the tarpaulin.
"The tarp is fireproof," she said, noticing Rokhlenu's alarmed glance. "But don't let any of that stuff fall on the floor. Otherwise we'll have a fire in here like …"
"Clench up," Rokhlenu said. "Worse comes to worst, we can always jump."
"Wish I'd said that," Wuinlendhono said, a little breathily. The scent or the sight of blood seemed to make her uneasy-Rokhlenu had never seen an adult werewolf so squeamish. He thought it odd. Of course, Morlock's blood did smell strange; maybe that was it.
Liudhleeo used a long-handled clamp to peel away a strip of Morlock's flesh, exposing the raw skull. Under the blood pulsed a sort of light, in the same rhythm as Morlock's heart. There was a squarish central locus and a fine network of pulsating lines spreading out from there.
"That's it," Liudhleeo said, tapping the squarish center.
"It looks like it's …growing or something. Laying down roots, like a plant."
"Maybe it is."
"Can we get it all out, then?"
"Maybe we can."
Liudhleeo gently but firmly inserted wedgelike probes on either side of the spike. Slowly, carefully, she worked it free from the skull and it dropped, dark as dried blood, to the tarpaulin.
"What about the lines?" Rokhlenu asked.
"I don't see them anymore. They went dark as soon as I extracted the spike. I think we're done."
She folded back the flap of flesh with the clamps and used a longhandled spoon to dab healing salve over the small but surprisingly bloody wound. Then she set about the awkward task of mopping up the blood. With a rag, and then tossing the rag into a bucket of water when it burst into flame. It took several rags, and the bucket was already dense with them, the water oily with Ambrosial blood.
By then the glass spike had dried and was safe to touch. Rokhlenu picked it up and looked at it. The end was unpointed and rather rough. It looked as if the tip had broken off, perhaps left behind in the wound.
"I know," said Liudhleeo, embarrassed. "But I think we've done what we can. Perhaps all will be well."
Rokhlenu handed her the dark spike. Then he lifted the dragon tooth from around his neck and held it out to her, chain and all. Wuinlendhono twitched a little at this but said nothing.
"No," Liudhleeo said, even more embarrassed. "I haven't earned it."
He went down on his knees, eyes intent on her, still holding out the tooth.
She took his hand and firmly folded his fingers over the tooth. "No one but you can wear this, Rokhlenu." She pushed his hand away, but he did not withdraw it.
"I never blamed you," she said then, not looking at him.
"I did," he said. "I do. But that's not what this is about. He saved methree times, four times, I don't know how many times. And you saved him. This is all I have. If it is worthless, it is still yours."
"Wear it for me, then," she said.
"For you," he said, and put the chain around his neck again. "Claim it when you like."
She bowed her head and motioned impatiently for him to stand, so he did.
Wuinlendhono stood also. "You'll keep the book, of course, my dear," she said, "and wear that spike like an honor-tooth. We'll discuss the filthy lucre another time."
"I did it for Hrutnefdhu," Liudhleeo whispered. "Khretvarrgliu is his friend, too."
"Yes," Rokhlenu said, remembering as if it were a thousand years before. "It was the three of us. The three of us against all of them."
"Well," Wuinlendhono said, gently taking his arm, "there's a few more of us now." She guided him toward the door. "Call on me, my dear, if there's anything you need."
"I need my Hrutnefdhu. Send him to me if you see him, please."
They descended the dark stairs to the street, already streaked with the long shadows of a strangely summery winter's afternoon.
"Let me put it this way," Wuinlendhono said then. "I give you a dragon's tooth as a courtship gift, and before sunset I have to watch you on your knees, begging another female to take it. Fairly accurate?"
"Yes," Rokhlenu said glumly. "I understand if this means you're done with me."
"You silly chunk of meat, I'm barely beginning. Five was always my lucky number. Come on along; let's see if a certified dragon slayer can't find a place to sleep indoors tonight."
Chapter Thirteen: The Sardhluun Standard
A dead man who carried his severed head like a lamp was walking beneath the walls of the empty Vargulleion.
"A fine manifestation," signified a passing snake. "But to what purpose, if no one is present to see it?"
"It pleases me," signified War. "It reminds me of the battle that was in this prison house, while the scent of it is still fresh."
"But the battle is over," signified the snake, a manifestation of Wisdom. "There will be no new deaths."
"Deaths are incidental to war, Wisdom. I'm surprised you don't know that."
"You can't have a war without deaths, can you? What is more essential?"
"Courage, and cowardice. The need for cunning, and the uselessness of cunning. Victory. Defeat."
"You could get all that in sporting competitions-"
"Are you trying to see if I can vomit in this manifestation?" War wondered.
"Perhaps the way the werewolves run them. I always look forward to their election year."
"Primaries are beginning. The Sardhluun begin picking their representatives tonight."
"Yes, and I visualize that both you and Death will be manifest there. You wish me to accompany you."
"I do," acknowledged Wisdom. "I dislike this plan of hers, whatever it is, and I think it may be time to reacquire her oath for our pact."
"I did think there would be more fighting," War admitted. "I'll go with you and see what she signifies."
The snake and the corpse with the severed head transited-by-intention to a neighboring locus of space-time.
It was the great arena of the Sardhluun Pack. The time was well after sunset; Horseman the second moon was high in the west; the sky around it glowed indigo. All the werewolves crowding the stands had transited to wolf form.
The Incumbent's Gate swung open in the arena wall. Out of it, a werewolf trotted proudly into the center of the fighting pit. The gate slammed shut behind him. His black fur was silvery on his muzzle. He had a great many honor-teeth: there was a great torc of them hanging around his neck. In his jaws he carried black-and-green streamers, the standard of the Sardhluun Pack. He was the incumbent gnyrrand, the citizen who, for the last year of choosing and several before, had led the Sardhluun's electoral band.
But the crowd did not esteem him: they yodeled his name in contemptuous tones: Wurnafenglu, Wurnafenglu. They called on the sacred ground of the fighting pit to swallow down the misbegotten luckless citizen who dared to pollute it. They howled insults against his relatives in elaborate verse forms.
He trotted back and forth across the arena ground, indifferent to their hostility, secure in his bite. If anyone wanted the Sardhluun standard or his honor-teeth, they would have to fight him for them.
Finally, one werewolf in the stands took up the challenge. He leapt down into the arena proper and barked a challenge. He was a whitish beast with black bristles running from his head down his spine all the way to the end of his tail. He wore a necklace of honor teeth-more than a few dangled there, though nothing like as many as the incumbent carried.
Wurnafenglu dropped the Sardhluun standard, since his right to it had been challenged.
The werewolves in the stands grew silent. They sat down to watch. The election was beginning.
A never-wolf slave entered the arena through a door set into the Incumbent's Gate. She carried two bowls of drink in her trembling hands. The spectators near at hand leaned forward to catch a scent of the deadly brew, then leaned back gasping when they did, or thought they did.
Everyone in the arena knew that the bowls contained an infusion of wolfbane.
The never-wolf slave put the bowls down in the center of the arena and backed away hastily. She ran back to the door in the Incumbent's Gate, but it was now locked and would not open for her. She was the only person present who had supposed it would.
A few werewolves chuckled mildly at her dismay, but all eyes turned now toward the Werowance of the Sardhluun, whose task tonight was to preside over the election of the pack's gnyrrand, its lead candidate in the upcoming general election. A silver-gray wolf with many cords of honor-teeth, the Werowance lay resplendent on his ceremonial black couch in a box set lower than the stands. He pressed a lever with one foot. A narrow opening appeared in the wall below him; a platform extended. On it was a ceramic bowl, brimming with antidote.
The Werowance sang what everyone knew. He was the Werowance of the Sardhluun, chosen by chance, by destiny, and by bite and by the common will of the Sardhluun. It was his duty to lead the Inner Pack in times of peace and to preside over the pack elections. This challenge would choose a representative for the general election to come. Only the strongest, the most cunning, the most ruthless of the Sardhluun could hope to carry the standard of their pack, the youngest and greatest of packs, against the corrupt beasts of the older treaty packs.
There was an incumbent, as they all knew: the detested Wurnafenglu. For many years, Wurnafenglu had tended the green-and-black standards of the Sardhluun like a herd of fat beeves. He had stood for the Sardhluun in the Innermost Pack of Wuruyaaria, even rising on occasion to the couch of the First Singer. But he had spent all his honor and all the glory of the Sardhluun in a single night of disgrace. Though he was the commander of the Var gulleion, the prison that (with the Khuwuleion) was the foundation of the pack's fortunes, he was absent on First Night, celebrating with his disgusting plurality of wives, when the prisoners rebelled. Many of his guards had died; he should have died with them. The subsidies from the city that they received for maintaining the prisoners would disappear; so should Wurnafenglu disappear. The Sardhluun were now a mockery among the older, weaker, less ruthless packs; so should Wurnafenglu be a mockery and a byword until the sun faded and the moons crunched its golden bones in their shining blue teeth. When Wurnafenglu might have done them all a favor by slinking away forever into the night of ignominy and shame, Wurnafenglu insisted on standing again for election to the Innermost Pack, as if to tie disgrace like a rotting puppy around the neck of the Sardhluun forever.
The Werowance hoped that this young and vigorous challenger-whose name escaped the Werowance although it was no doubt a worthy one-could slay the shame of the pack, tear those undeserved honor-teeth from a ravaged neck, or at least prevent him from taking up the banner to represent the pack he had so deeply stained with the stink of dishonor.
Either candidate could at this time withdraw, although he would of course leave his honor-teeth behind on the sacred ground of the arena's fighting pit.
This was the burden of the Werowance's song.
The two candidates bowed their heads and drank the poison in their bowls.
The election would run until one of them had drunk the antidote beneath the Werowance's box, or until both of them were dead.
War noted the manifestation of Death. She appeared to his god's eye as she often did: lightless, faceless, spider-armed, and many-fingered.
She acknowledged the manifestations of both War and Wisdom and signified, "I visualized this encounter. I will not rejoin the pact-sworn intention."
The werewolves felt the presence of Death, although only a few ghostsniffers could actually see her (and that dimly). A shudder ran through the audience, and they leaned forward to watch the election.
Wurnafenglu had faced election many times; he knew the taste of poison well, and it didn't frighten him. The challenger stood in a different place entirely. He looked anxiously toward the bowl of remedy and licked his lips, still bitter with poison. If he ran straight toward the bowl of remedy and drank the antidote, he would not die. But he would gain no honor and another election would be held, with him as the incumbent.
Wurnafenglu saw the uncertainty on the challenger's face and smiled a long sinister smile. He trotted around until he stood squarely between the challenger and the bowl of remedy. Then he sat right down and stared at the moon, drinking its light with his eyes, idly scratching his right ear with his right forepaw. Death was in him and he knew it. But he did not fear it.
"I love that ugly black wolf," signified Death privately to War.
"I consider him to be a fool," War replied. "He spent the better part of a year torturing two prisoners who had gotten the better of him. Then he walks away and lets his guards get snot-face drunk on bloom smoke, simply because of a date on a calendar. Now he must fight for his right to keep what he has, and he must do the same all year long if he wins here tonight."
"Oh, he's a fool. No doubt of that. A clever fool. A cunning fool. A wise fool. That is my favorite kind of fool."
Wisdom knew these signs were directed at him, but he did not acknowledge them.
The challenger was growing anxious. He tried to lock gazes with Wurnafenglu, but the black wolf would not look at him. The challenger assumed a threatening posture and snarled at Wurnafenglu. The black wolf kept looking at the moon. Now he was idly scratching his left ear. The challenger barked that he would kill-kill-kill Wurnafenglu. His blood would be the challenger's most favored drink; his rotting liver would be given to the challenger's cubs for a holiday treat; his intestines would be used for sausages and sold for copper coins in Apetown, and the challenger would give the money away in charity to monkey-faced whores.
Undaunted by these terrors, Wurnafenglu waited.
"Your plan is not progressing as you foresaw," Wisdom signified to Death.
Death emanated a reckless joy, more intense and bitter than mere amusement.
The werewolves, patiently waiting for election developments, shuddered, thinking the warm winter night had suddenly turned chilly.
Death signified, "You are right. The torrent you predicted is sweeping away my visualization of the nearer future."
War grumbled, "This torrent which is so constantly in your signs does not appear to me to be very exciting. One battle in a whole year! And the Sardhluun did no more raiding than they usually do, and next year they'll have to do less."
The citizens in the audience began to grow restless. They wanted a more eventful election than this-something they could talk about to those who hadn't witnessed it, to argue about with those who had.
But the challenger was growing more anxious. His threatening posture had given way to a nervous dance. He capered one way, then another. He leapt back, then forward, snarling.
The challenger looked desperately at the moon, the stands, his enemy. His eyes were clouding; his vision was fading; his nervous antics were spreading the poison through his blood more rapidly. He scampered off in a long curving charge toward the remedy bowl.
Wurnafenglu leapt and struck with his full weight on the challenger's right shoulder. The challenger rolled in the dirt and tried to rise, snapping frantically with his jaws. But Wurnafenglu pinned him. He forced the challenger's head to the ground with his back feet as the challenger scrambled ineffectively to free himself. Wurnafenglu fixed his jaws at the base of the challenger's spine.
Hollow wolvish whistles of admiration echoed around the arena. Few in the audience would have staked a serious combat on a bite like that, where the backbone was strongest. There were a few skeptical yelps, and someone began a song to the effect that Wurnafenglu had made his last bad decision.
These were silenced by the crack of the challenger's spine, a crunching sound that reverberated all around the arena.
Wurnafenglu shook his opponent for a few moments, to make sure the spine was severed, and then he relaxed his jaws and let the broken challenger fall whining to the ground. He turned away and trotted calmly over to the bowl of remedy. Unhurriedly, without wasting a drop, he drank half the antidote.
Carefully, he picked up the bowl with his teeth and sidled toward the challenger, who was staring desperately at the moon, trying to knit his shattered spine together in time to continue the fight. If there had been three moons aloft and no poison in his veins, he might have managed it, but things were as they were.
Wurnafenglu held out the bowl of remedy to his fallen opponent.
This rarely happened in elections of the Sardhluun, and it was a disgrace to accept. But it did mean life rather than death for the defeated candidate.
The challenger weakly pushed the bowl away with his snout.
Wurnafenglu offered the bowl to the challenger again.
The challenger pushed it away again, more slowly and more reluctantly now.
Wurnafenglu offered the remedy to the challenger for a third time.
There was a moment of stillness. Then, in the sight of everyone, the challenger made a sudden movement to drink the remedy.
Wurnafenglu sidled out of reach and the challenger was foiled.
Wurnafenglu approached the sobbing challenger from the side and contemptuously poured the remedy over the challenger's genitals.
The challenger writhed about, trying to lick at the spilled remedy, but because of his broken spine he could not reach it.
Wurnafenglu smashed the bowl across the whining challenger's face and it shattered. Victorious Wurnafenglu ripped the honor-teeth from the defeated challenger's neck and fixed his jaws in the defenseless throat. He held his grip until the poison finished its work and the challenger was dead.
He tossed the corpse from him and looked toward the audience for his due.
They gave it-reluctantly at first, but then more and more enthusiastically. They howled their congratulations and applause. They ululated into the single-eyed night, saluting Wurnafenglu's victory. Everyone loves a winner, and he had proven, against their hopes and desires, that he was a winner. They wanted him on their side so that they could be winners, too.
War attempted to signify something to Death, but then took note she was no longer manifest.
"I signify this again," he signified to Wisdom. "Death is the strangest of the Strange Gods."
"She is lying," Wisdom signified reflectively. "I think everything she signifies is a lie."
"Then she's more reliable than most," War signified tolerantly. Lies are the normal form of communication in war, and he was used to them. "Oh well, I suppose the fighting is over." He ceased to manifest himself.
Wisdom remained manifest, watching and thinking. He knew about lies, too, and he knew that people or gods lie largely because they are frightened. He thought it was important to know why Death was afraid.
Now that the serious matter of the election was over, the lighter business of the celebration began. Wurnafenglu invited a few of his close personal friends down to the arena ground to help him kill and eat the never-wolf slave who had brought in the poison.
Chief among his guests was, of course, his old friend the Werowance. The Werowance explained, in a song where tones of grief mixed with gladness, that he had only seemed to criticize Wurnafenglu because of his official obligations, and that he had always esteemed the gnyrrand as one of the greatest citizens in the history of Wuruyaaria, and that he hoped they could continue to work together for the betterment of the pack and the city they both loved so much. Wurnafenglu replied that he understood the Werowance completely and that he hoped he would always esteem the Werowance at the Werowance's true worth.
Wurnafenglu named a few other friends and foes to join him in the feast, and then they gave chase to the woman.
She had been crouching in a shadowy edge of the arena, hoping against hope that she would be spared, or at least forgotten. When the wolves came for her, she tried to run, but there were several of them and no place for her to go. In the end, which came soon, she was cornered and she knew it.
She stood in the moonlight, her back to the arena wall, as the great silver-muzzled black wolf approached. She shook her fist at him. "Kree-laow!" she screamed in the bestial face. "Kree-laow!"
Then they took her down and killed her and ate her. Many minor guests were invited down to sample some of the meat and hobnob with the great ones, and the night was thought of as a memorable one, until the next election.
Kree-laow, in the language of the dead woman, meant "He will avenge." The werewolves neither knew nor cared about this. At least, not then.
Chapter Fourteen: Fund-Raising
On the third morning of the year, Morlock woke from a long, long dream. He stretched his crooked frame as he lay in the sun and wondered vaguely why so much of his terrible dream had involved werewolves. He opened his eyes and looked up straight into the face of a werewolf.
True, she was in the form of a woman, but he had learned to recognize the long narrow face of a werewolf in the day shape. She had a mottled skin like Hrutnefdhu, too (if he wasn't just part of the dream). And somehow, somehow inside, he just knew she was a werewolf.
He sat up and put one hand to his temple. He felt the healing wound there. The spike was gone. His Sight had returned.
"Thank you," he said.
Her eyes dropped. She seemed embarrassed. "I did what I could," she said eventually. "I'm not sure I got it all. You may …there still may be problems."
He closed his eyes and tested his insight. He realized she might be right. It was hard to tell; his inward blindness had gone on so long. But: he could dream. He could live. The world was as radiant with meaning as with sunlight.
"I still thank you," he said. "My name is Morlock Ambrosius, and my blood is yours."
"Well," she said, laughing, "I sopped up enough of it! I don't think I want any more. Oh, I'm sure that's the wrong thing to say. I don't know your customs. I should-it was for my Hrutnefdhu, you know. He calls you his old friend; I couldn't do less."
"Hrutnefdhu." Morlock closed his eyes, trying to separate memory from dream and from delusions of madness. "Yes: it was him, and Rokhlenu, and me. Us against them."
"It still is, Hrutnefdhu says. Only there are more of us. And more of them, too, I'm afraid. I am Liudhleeo, Hrutnefdhu's mate." She looked narrowly at him as if expecting him to recognize the name.
He had heard it, but didn't at first remember where. Then he did. He considered what to say. He neither wished to avoid the issue of the rape, nor make it the most important thing about her. To him, she was still the healer who had saved him from death and madness. But she was also his fellow prisoner-or fellow ex-prisoner, now. "How did you escape?" he asked.
It was not what she had been expecting him to say, clearly. Her eager-tobe-angered expression twisted into simple surprise, and then a kind of relief. "Oh? Oh, that. They-they let me go. Threw me out, really. I think they thought I was dying. I was-well, the next day, I was in pretty bad shape."
"I hated them for what they did to you."
She was embarrassed again, on the verge of anger. "I don't hate them. I don't hate them. But I didn't shed any tears when I heard what happened to them; you can bet on that."
She put her long clever hands over her mottled face and laughed. "They said you'd say that. They said you'd say that, but I didn't believe them."
"Oh, don't overdo it. It will take the magic away. You'll need something to eat, I expect."
"Yes." Morlock thought about the last time he hadn't been hungry, and he couldn't remember it. "Yes. I could eat anything in the world. Except meat," he added hastily, remembering a gray ear afloat in soupy porridge.
"Oh, yes: Hrutnefdhu mentioned your aversion. Don't worry. It's almost impossible to acquire anything as exotic and expensive as human flesh in the outlier pack."
"All the same. If you don't mind."
"I don't mind. Let me get you settled with breakfast, and I'll go off to find my Hrutnefdhu."
Breakfast was flatbread, cheese, and a warm murky sort of tea. Morlock found it wonderful, not least because nothing in it seemed to be a by-product of a human slaughterhouse.
Afterward, putting on the loose but well-made gray clothes that had been left for him, he stood at each one of the little den's many windows and stared out at the world.
To the north, Wuruyaaria towered over: mesa rising over mesa like great steps up the side of a mountain. He watched the tiny silhouettes of the baskets run up and down the funicular and tried to reason how they might work. He looked at the moon-clock set into the dark volcano, its metal gleaming gold in the sun. If Ulugarriu had made these things, he must meet Ulugarriu.
Hrutnefdhu showed up shortly thereafter.
"Good to see you better," the pale werewolf said, shamefaced for some reason.
Morlock thanked him. "And you are well?" he asked.
"Oh, the moon took care of that. As much as it could," he added rather mysteriously. "Let's go," he added hastily. "Rokhlenu wants to see you."
Morlock nodded and they left together. Hrutnefdhu set a very elaborate lock on the door, and they made their way down the narrow stairs. In the light from the street door, Morlock saw notices on the wall in two languages. One was a few starlike images that might have been ideograms; the other was longer and looked like it might be a phonetic script. Moonspeech and Sunspeech, or so he guessed.
"What do they say?" he asked Hrutnefdhu.
The pale mottled werewolf blushed and said, "`Tenants must bury their own dead. No smoking bloom on the stairways."`
"Bloom is the smoke the guards were drunk on the other night?" Morlock asked.
"Yes," Hrutnefdhu said. "Many smoke it to forget their troubles, and some seem to have more trouble than others. Look, there are no good neighborhoods in the outlier pack, but this is the very worst. You need to know that."
Morlock looked up and down the narrow boarded way that served as a street. It stopped not too far east of the towering lair; beyond it was a murky stretch of swamp water and beyond that a rising slope choked with thickets and the suggestion of a cave entrance or two.
"It seems ideal to me," said Morlock, as he followed Hrutnefdhu to the other side of the little settlement.
Rokhlenu was deep in conference with Olleiulu when he looked up and saw Morlock standing nearby, clear-eyed and relatively sane-looking. He jumped up and they grabbed each other's shoulders.
"How's freedom?" Rokhlenu asked.
"Good," Morlock said. "You're back in politics, I hear."
"I may be," Rokhlenu said, the anxieties of his position pressing down on him. "Have they fed you? Are you hungry?"
"They have fed me," Morlock said, "but I'm still hungry. I take it rations are scarce, though."
"Not for Khretvarrgliu they krecking are not!" barked Olleiulu, and the werewolves nearby all started shouting about Khretvarrgliu and food and how maybe things would be better now.
"Let's go eat, then," said Rokhlenu. "We can talk over breakfast."
Rokhlenu and Olleiulu walked on either side of Morlock to the other side of the great ramshackle building. Hrutnefdhu insisted on walking behind, and no one but Morlock seemed to think that odd. Half of the building served as a dormitory without beds; the other half served as a refectory without benches or tables. Morlock got a bowl of, unfortunately, porridge. At least it seemed to have no animal products in it other than butter and a little honey.
The big red werewolf with the golden hair had preceded them into the refectory, and when he saw Morlock he shouted incoherently and gestured and in general made a fuss until Morlock sat down by him. There was no one else sitting there, so Morlock dropped down and sat on the empty floor. The other werewolves did the same, although at a greater distance from the red werewolf.
The conveniences of the refectory didn't run to spoons, so Morlock ate with his fingers like the others.
"We are short of money, I take it," he said, between slurps.
In a confusing amount of detail, Rokhlenu, supplemented by Olleiulu and Hrutnefdhu, explained to Morlock just how short of money they were. The outlier pack in general was not wealthy, barely having enough food to sustain themselves, and the addition of nearly the entire prison population had made matters worse. Money was scarce; food was expensive; lodging was almost impossible.
The building they were sitting in and the food they were eating were gifts from someone named Wuinlendhono. Olleiulu kept referring to them as "love-gifts" and looking slyly at Rokhlenu. Rokhlenu would blush and talk about something else in a blustering voice. Morlock didn't want to embarrass his friend, but it seemed to be the central issue, so he finally asked.
"Wuinlendhono is the First Wolf of the outlier pack," Rokhlenu explained. "For the time being, at any rate."
"Oh," said Morlock. He thought for a moment or two. "What's stopping her from keeping the job?" he asked. "If she wants it."
"Well, she's a female."
"Yes?" -o was the feminine ending for names in Moonspeech and Sunspeech.
"We don't generally have females running our packs," Hrutnefdhu explained to him, when the other males did not seem to realize that more explanation was needed.
"Oh. Then we're talking an …an arranged mating, if that's the right term," Morlock said.
"Yes, exactly," Rokhlenu said hastily. "That's what it is. A political arrangement, that's all. It will give us a place in the outlier pack. But I have to do my own arranging, my family still being on Aruukaiaduun. And I have no portion."
Morlock mulled this over as he went to get a fingerful of porridge. To his surprise, he found his bowl was empty. He looked up at the werewolves. Most were expressionless. The red werewolf was shamefaced and his right hand was full of porridge. His terrified eyes dropped rather than meet Morlock's.
Theft was a serious crime where Morlock was raised, in some cases more serious than murder, but the red werewolf was obviously not juggling with both hands. Morlock shrugged and turned back to the others.
"He must have grabbed it straight out of my bowl," Morlock said. "Remarkable."
"The skill of long practice," Hrutnefdhu remarked. "Several of his cellmates died of hunger. I don't think he can help it. That's why we call him Hlupnafenglu." The name meant Steals-your-food.
"Eh." Morlock didn't want to talk about it, but instead listened as Rokhlenu explained the local mating customs. Courting gifts were common from females to males, but males were supposed to bring a certain amount of property to a marriage. If Rokhlenu and Wuinlendhono married, her position would be secure and Rokhlenu's followers (most of the irredeemables and thugs who had fought their way out of prison with them) would have a place in the outliers.
"So we need money," Morlock said. "What kind of money? Cash? Things? Land?"
"Whatever we can get," Rokhlenu said. Olleiulu proposed a plan to work as robbers on the roads around the never-wolf cities in the south. In a year or two, they could return with a portion for Rokhlenu and enough coin to support the irredeemables for a while-if that was what they all wanted, to join the outliers.
As the three werewolves discussed this plan's merits and defects, Morlock thought about one thing and another. Presently he felt the weight of the bowl on his knee grow greater. He looked down to see most of his porridge had been returned. He looked up to see Hlupnafenglu looking at him shamefacedly.
"Take it," Morlock said, holding out the bowl. "No, take it," he added, when the red werewolf tried to push it away. "You're bigger than I am. You need the food more than I do. I've already eaten today. Take the food."
He persisted until the red werewolf grabbed the bowl and glumly started scooping up the contents.
The other werewolves displayed varying degrees of bemusement. "It's a new age of miracles," Hrutnefdhu muttered. "Hlupnafenglu giving back food…."
Rokhlenu was talking about joining some council of advisors with his intended bride, but Morlock declined to join him. "I'll go round up some money," he said. The other werewolves looked at him skeptically, and Rokhlenu asked if there was anything he needed.
"Two things," Morlock said. "First, a guide who can take me to the nearest market or markets."
"That's me," said Hrutnefdhu eagerly.
"Second, if it's not too much trouble, my sword."
"Your sword," Rokhlenu said blankly. "The one with the black-andwhite blade? The one you called to you in the New Year's fight? The one you slew the blue dragon with in the mountains?"
"Yes, it was not with me when I woke up."
"Those worthless barking ball-less brachs," whispered Olleiulu. "Those ape-toed, bald-faced, quivering slugs. They have stolen the sword of Khretvarrgliu."
"Well, many of them were in prison for theft, you know," Hrutnefdhu said, almost apologetically.
"I will roast them alive on silver spikes over a fire of wolfbane," Olleiulu said. "I will make them beg for the mercy of death and I will deny it them. I will kick their sorry ugly up-for-sale asses. I will get your sword back, Khretvarrgliu." He leapt to his feet and set off at a furious run.
"Thank you," Morlock said mildly to his back. He pounded Rokhlenu on the shoulder and went off to the marketplace with Hrutnefdhu. Hlupnafenglu followed them, a vague look on his face, the bowl still in his hand.
Business was slow in the marketplace; Morlock saw many vacant spaces among the vendors. The busiest corner stood between two whorehouses. A sausage seller and portrait maker had commandeered the space and were doing a fair business with those passing by toward one or the other door.
"Stay here," Morlock said to Hrutnefdhu and Hlupnafenglu.
Morlock walked up to the sausage seller and said, "Have you got live coals there?"
"I've got fresh sausages," the seller said, ready to be offended. "Each one contains a certain proportion of real meat!"
"I don't care about that," Morlock said. "But you've got them on a warming grill, and there's fire under the grill."
"Are you hinting that something might happen to my sausage cart?" the seller said suspiciously. "I pay protection to First Wolf of the outliers himself! You'll answer to him if you bother me! And you're bothering me!"
"The First Wolf of the outliers is a female," Morlock pointed out.
"He's right," said an amused spectator. "Better pay up, Chunky."
"Moonless nights," muttered the seller. "All right, what do you and your boys want?"
Morlock looked around and saw that Hrutnefdhu and Hlupnafenglu were at his elbows. The big red werewolf was staring with naked greed at the sausages on the grill.
"I told you to stay over there," Morlock said.
"Couldn't make him," the pale werewolf admitted.
Morlock took the bowl from Hlupnafenglu's hand and tapped him gently on the nose with it. There was a gasp from bystanders, and a crowd began to gather, expecting a fight.
Morlock had only done it to get Hlupnafenglu's attention, and this it had just barely done. The red werewolf looked vaguely in his direction, and Morlock said, "Over there. Wait over there. There is where you wait. Over there. Not here. There." He pointed. He stared at the red werewolf. He pointed. Eventually Hlupnafenglu got a troubled look on his face. He looked at the far side of the market where Morlock was pointing. He looked back at Morlock. He looked back and forth several times. Eventually he gave a last longing glance at the sausages and shambled sadly away. Hrutnefdhu followed at his heels.
"If you give me some coals of fire," said Morlock, turning back to the seller, "I'll give you a copper coin when I get one."
"That means you haven't got one."
"But I'll get one."
"If I don't give you the coals, what will you do?"
"I'll get them from someone else."
"Are you crazy?"
"I don't see why that matters."
The seller threw up his hands and opened the firebox on his cart. He picked up a pair of tongs to pull out some coals.
"Never mind that," said Morlock, and reached in with his right hand to grab a fistful of coals. There were even more gasps in the rapidly accumulating crowd, and someone actually screamed. This was all to Morlock's liking. He dropped the bowl at his feet and started juggling the live coals.
The audience was impressed. Not as impressed as an audience would have been in Narkunden or Ontil: werewolves did not fear fire any more than the children of Ambrose. But then, werewolves in their night shape do not have fingers and do not juggle. The audience speculated that Morlock was a werewolf who did not change fully to human: he might have wolvish paws, immune to fire. On request, Morlock showed them his hairless palms.
"He probably shaves them," shouted a heckler.
"Like you?" someone else retorted, to much abusive laughter.
Coins started appearing in Morlock's bowl. He threw hooks and doublehooks; he threw double-sidehooks where his hands moved so fast it looked as if he was throwing infinity rings. He kept juggling the coals until the fire was gone. By then the bowl was nearly full of red coins, shining copper and rusting iron.
He took a single copper coin and handed it to the sausage seller.
"Keep it," said the seller, who had sold his entire stock to the crowd that had gathered to watch Morlock's juggling.
"This was our deal," said Morlock, and pressed the coin on him.
"I'm out of sausages and I'm going back to my shop in Apetown," the seller said. "Will you be here this afternoon?"
"I don't know."
"Will you be here tomorrow?"
"Look, I'll pay you to be here. We're a team, Chiefl"
"I'm not your chief," said Morlock. He picked up his bowl and turned to the portrait maker, who was telling two uninterested passersby that he was Luyukioronu Longthumbs and they were missing the chance of a lifetime to have their portrait inked by him.
"How much for a drawing in ink?" Morlock asked Luyukioronu, after the passersby had passed by.
"Two pads of copper," said Luyukioronu eagerly. He hadn't done as well with the crowd as the sausage seller.
"I'll give you three pads for the paper, the ink, and the loan of a brush."
"What?" said the would-be artist suspiciously.
Morlock repeated himself.
"I'll do the drawing. Just give me the money," Luyukioronu insisted.
"You want the money, you give me what I asked for."
The crowd, which had shown signs of dispersing, began to thicken again.
Reluctantly, Luyukioronu surrendered the materials.
Morlock made a few trial strokes with the brush and the ink on the boards of the market floor. Then he spun the brush in his hands and thought for a moment. He dipped the brush in the ink and applied the brush to the page in swift decisive strokes. Soon it was a picture of a volcano with a moon-clock in its side, with mists hovering about that half obscured the symbols.
"That's Mount Dhaarnaiarnon," whispered a member of the crowd.
"Is it?" Morlock said. "Would anyone like this drawing? I will give it to them for free."
This sounded too good to be true. But the drawing was a marvel in black-and-white. Slowly, suspiciously, a middle-aged citizen edged forward and silently held out his hand. Morlock gave him the drawing and handed the ink and brush back to the artist.
"Ink my portrait," someone said tentatively.
"Paint my mate's portrait," said another.
"Paint Ullywuino!" shouted someone else. "She's my favorite whore!"
"There's too much paint on her already," someone else said.
Morlock held up his hands. "I have nothing to paint with, citizens. Unless you buy materials from this reliable craftsman."
"Hey!" shouted Luyukioronu. "I'm not your stationer! Buy your own stuffl"
Morlock shrugged. "I'm here to make money. I can draw better than you. The crowd won't want your work after they've seen mine."
The artist-werewolf's face worked angrily. He glanced at the drawing, still being held up with wonder by the crowd. He threw down the brush and the bowl of ink and stood up.
"Fine," Luyukioronu shouted. "Take the stuff. I hope the ink poisons you. But you won't get my teeth." He clutched at the few honor-teeth he had at his throat. Morlock saw with interest that his thumbs were indeed long: the tips stretched farther than his index fingers. "You'll have to fight me for those," Luyukioronu continued, "you gray-bagged, flat-faced, ape-fingered son of a never-wolf!"
"Wait!" said Morlock. "Stop!"
Luyukioronu walked stiff-legged away.
The crowd applauded.
Morlock looked around in bemusement. Hrutnefdhu was there in the crowd, and he took pity on his never-wolf friend. "You showed you had more bite as an artist than he did. The stuff is yours now."
"Eh." Morlock grabbed the bowl of coins. "How much is this stuff worth? Less than this?"
"A dozen coppers, perhaps. He probably stole it, you know."
"Maybe he did, but I won't. Go after him. Give him twenty copper coins. Take the rest to Rokhlenu and meet me back here."
The pale werewolf smiled strangely at him, took the bowl, and left.
"Citizens," Morlock said, sitting down by the easel. "What will you?"
He painted. He drew images in ink for four copper coins each. There were some sticks of charcoal tucked away in the artist's kit, and he sold pictures in charcoal for two copper coins each. There was some odd pigment in soft sticks, like chalk mixed with colors and oil. He found this fascinating to work with, but he didn't forget he was there to make money. He charged six copper coins for work in these.
He did it for the money, because he and his friends needed money. But it wasn't only the money. He was a maker who had made virtually nothing for more than a year. He ached to reshape matter with his hands and his dreams-now that he could dream again. Each image was important to him for itself, not just for the money.
And money wasn't all he earned by it. Customers often handed him an honor-tooth along with their coins. He thought it was a mistake at first, but they seemed angry if he asked them about it, so he stopped asking.
Most of the pictures were portraits. The customers wanted keepsakes of themselves, their mates, their sweethearts, their cubs. But one citizen said, "Make me a tree. I like trees." So Morlock drew in inks a maijarra tree he had seen in his now-distant youth on the western edge of the world. The next customer wanted a more warlike scene, so Morlock sketched in charcoal and smoky pastels the chaotic central chamber of the Vargulleion prison on that memorable New Year's Night. This was very popular, and customers wanted more like it, so Morlock drew scene after scene of the battle, as much as his hazy memory permitted. He drew images of Rokhlenu on the dragon he had killed in the mountain pass of Kirach Kund, images of Rokhlenu fighting the Spiderfolk. The crowd was intrigued by the images of the werewolf, and even more interested when they found that the werewolf was the intended spouse of the outliers' First Wolf.
Finally, Morlock took the last roll of paper that he had and used most of the rest of the ink and pigment on a vast panorama of the city of Wuruyaaria as he had first seen it, rising in savage civil splendor up the mesas of the mountainside, facing the threatening mass of Mount Dhaarnaiarnon, glaring over the scene with its single intricate mechanical eye. The overall tone was greenish, but Morlock stippled the surface with yellow pigment and smeared it with his thumb until the image shone with a green-and-gold misty luster he had never seen in the world, but somehow seemed exactly right.
"Who's that for?" asked someone in the crowd.
"Whoever pays the most for it," Morlock replied.
The impromptu auction netted Morlock several more fistfuls of copper coins, and a string of honor-teeth. The image went to the madam of one of the day-lairs (i.e., whorehouses) nearby. She said it would be perfect to decorate her waiting room.
"No doubt," Morlock said, with the sinking feeling a maker often has when relinquishing his work.
He bought a woman's headcloth to roll up his newfound wealth in. The crowd began to thin out reluctantly, the show obviously being over.
Two shadows fell across Morlock as he was rolling up the cloth. He looked up to see the long leering face of Luyukioronu, the werewolf artist. Next to him was a many-scarred thug with clawed fingers and a pronounced and toothy overbite.
"You took my stuff," Luyukioronu said. "So now we'll take your stuff. Stand back, never-wolf."
"Didn't my friend find you?" Morlock asked. "I sent him with payment for your materials. And you can have back whatever's left."
"He gave me your money. But that just told me you're afraid. So I used it to hire Snekknafenglu here, and we'll take the rest of your money nowand those honor-teeth you've got; you probably stole those, too."
"No man or wolf calls me thief," said Morlock as he stood.
"You!" shouted Luyukioronu. "Who ever heard of you to call you anything, you rat-tailed tailless bald-faced never-wolf-"
The crowd stood back, but did not leave. The show was clearly not yet entirely over. They had enjoyed watching Morlock work, but they would not intervene: a citizen should only carry what he or his can fight to keep. That was their law.
Morlock saw Snekknafenglu edging forward while Luyukioronu raved. Morlock lashed out with the edge of an ink-stained hand at what seemed to be the weakest part of Snekknafenglu's protruding upper jaw. The mercenary staggered back, eyes crossing in pain. Morlock turned to Luyukioronu and kicked him savagely in one knee. As the artist was reeling, Morlock kicked him in the other knee and he went down on the boards. Morlock turned back to Snekknafenglu standing at bay between Hrutnefdhu and Olleiulu. Olleiulu, Morlock was relieved to see, was carrying Tyrfing.
"What do you want us to do with him?" Olleiulu asked.
"Yes, what should we do with him-Khretvarrgliu?" Hrutnefdhu added slyly, glancing at Snekknafenglu.
The effect of the name on the thug was immediate and, Morlock had to admit, somewhat gratifying. Snekknafenglu gasped, looked anxiously at Morlock, anxiously at the sword, and turned to flee.
"Let him go," Morlock said, so his friends did. The thug-for-hire ran off, and a few members of the crowd tapered off after him, perhaps hoping to win a few honor-teeth from Snekknafenglu while he was feeling whipped.
Morlock turned to the artist, who was struggling to get back afoot. He snatched the artist's honor-teeth and ripped them from the hairy neck. Then he tossed them into the swamp water, where they sank out of sight.
"I am not a thief," said Morlock. "But you are a liar. Earn your bite back by telling the truth, or I'll take your teeth again."
The crowd hooted and applauded ironically as Luyukioronu scrambled away to nurse his losses.
"Well, you've had a busy morning," said Hrutnefdhu, eyeing Morlock's money-roll.
Morlock glanced at the sky in surprise. It was not yet noon.
"How about lunch?"
Morlock was ravenously hungry but said, "No thanks. You can take this money to Rokhlenu. Sorry it's so heavy-can we change it for silver, somewhere?"
"Silver," said Hrutnefdhu faintly. "Are you still crazy?"
"Oh." Morlock reflected for a moment. Silver would not pass for currency among werewolves. "No. Never mind. Tell Rokhlenu I'll send more when I can." Hrutnefdhu shrugged, took the money-roll, and departed.
Morlock accepted the sword from Olleiulu with sincere thanks.
"We found it in a stash one of our fellow escapees had set up," Olleiulu said. "A second-floor hero. He waited until the guards were dead or fled and he then looted bodies. He showed up here the next day and stole your sword the following night. Well, now we have one fewer mouth to feed, and a few more of us have some gear."
"You should put those honor-teeth on," Olleiulu said, pointing at the string Morlock had left on the boards of the market floor.
"I don't know what that means, and I don't mean any kind of disrespect. If you won't, you won't. But people see you without honor-teeth, they try to take whatever you got away from you. I know you can brush them off, but why should you have to?"
Morlock saw his point. He grabbed up the honor-teeth and roped them around his neck.
Olleiulu looked relieved. Morlock wondered if it was bad for a werewolf's reputation to be seen with someone who wore no honor-teeth; he guessed it might. Neither Hrutnefdhu nor Liudhleeo wore them, Morlock reflected.
"Well, what's next if it's not lunch? Rokhlenu said that me or Hrutnefdhu had to stay with you until you-until you-"
"Until I wasn't obviously crazy."
"Which I know you're not, no matter what that plepnup says. But you can't know your way around the boards yet."
"The plepnup is my friend, Olleiulu."
"Uh-huh, Chief. I didn't mean anything bad."
"Can you take me where he lives? Where he and Liudhleeo live?"
Olleiulu nodded sagely. "You're not hungry; you're tired. You want to rest."
"Not exactly." Morlock was both hungry and tired, but now that he had Tyrfing back there were many other things he could and should do.
Through the thinning crowd, Morlock saw the other side of the market square. Sitting with somber concentration, his head in his hands, was the big red werewolf, Hlupnafenglu.
"I forgot about him," Morlock admitted.
"Lucky you," Olleiulu snorted.
They went over, and Morlock told Hlupnafenglu that he could get up. He had to say it several times before the red werewolf could hear it or would believe it, but eventually he sighed with relief and got to his feet. He beamed with vacant happiness on Morlock and the scornful Olleiulu.
"East we go," said Olleiulu, and they went east.
Around sunset, Olleiulu returned alone to the ramshackle building Rokhlenu and his men used as quarters. He brought with him a sizable box sporting a wheel and handles for grasping. Whatever was in the box was obviously very heavy.
Rokhlenu and Wuinlendhono were sitting outside the building in chairs that had seen better days. Rokhlenu cocked an eye at Olleiulu and said, "I take it my friend is quite well and knows his way around the outlier pack perfectly."
Olleiulu put the box down and gasped for a while. When he could speak he said, "Khretvarrgliu seems to be well. But I think maybe I'm crazy, after today."
"What's in the box?" Wuinlendhono asked. "Not more fruits of the marketplace, I hope. I had several complaints from merchants that Morlock was funnelling all the money his way this morning."
Olleiulu looked to his chieftain, who nodded. Olleiulu lifted the lid of the box slightly and they all saw the red gleam of raw gold within. Olleiulu slammed the box shut before anyone else could see it.
"Well," Wuinlendhono said, after a brief silence. "It seems like that mating is on. If you're still interested, of course; I don't like to presume."
"I'm interested," Rokhlenu said grimly. It was true in several ways …unfortunately, they were ways that might not run together.
"There isn't that much gold in the outlier pack," Wuinlendhono reflected.
"There is now, I guess. Where did it come from, Olleiulu?"
"That's why I think I must be crazy. He …he …he made it. He apologizes it's not so much. He says there'll be more tomorrow."
"Hmmmm," hummed Wuinlendhono. "We'll have to hire a ghostsniffer to make sure it's really real. But assuming it will pass the sniff test, we can proceed with negotiating the terms of the marriage alliance." She stood in a single fluid movement. "I'll have one of my old women come over tomorrow and chew over the details with one of your men."
"Olleiulu, that'll be you."
Wuinlendhono licked the face of her intended in farewell and then walked sinuously away to her own lair-tower. The lupine bodyguards who had lain out of sight jumped up and danced around her as she walked, unregarding, among them.
"Have a seat," Rokhlenu offered. "Tell me about it."
Olleiulu ignored the seat next to his chieftain, sitting on the boards next to the treasure box. He grasped his ears a few times to settle his thoughts, and then began.
"I get there to the market and he's in the middle of some kind of barking match with Luyukioronu the forger and Snekknafenglu the claw-for-hire. Not the Snekknafenglu who works out of Dogtown, the other one."
"I don't know either one."
"That's right. I keep forgetting we weren't in business together until a few nights ago."
Rokhlenu never forgot it, but he didn't want to say that to Olleiulu; he might take it wrong. "It's a new life since then, and we've been together through most of it."
"Right. Anyway. We keep Khretvarrgliu from ripping them up-"
Rokhlenu had heard a more measured account from Hrutnefdhu, but he made allowances for Olleiulu's admiration for Morlock, and the form that admiration took.
-and after we sent off the plepnup-"
"That plepnup is my friend, Olleiulu."
"I keep making that mistake. Sorry, I don't mean anything by it. Anyway, we sent him back to you with the coin and we collected that crazy Hlupnafenglu and walked east right out of town. I think he wants to go back to a lair and sleep the afternoon like people do. But he heads straight past the pl-past Hrutnefdhu's lair and starts wading through the swamp. Hlupnafenglu plops in right after him."
"I wouldn't have done that, myself. Gotten in that water, I mean."
"Oh, thanks, Chief. I'll treasure that little piece of advice. I jumped as far across as I could, but I still ended in the shallows on the far side. Do you have any idea how bad that muck stinks?"
"No, thank ghost. Either you're downwind of me or you must have cleaned up."
"Cleaned up, but it was a while until I got to that. He starts setting up in one of those creepy caves up on the slope-"
"Setting up what? I thought all he had was his sword."
"That's all he got there with, right. But he starts cutting up brushwood and small trees on the hillside, swinging the sword like an axe."
"You said that too soon. He's got stacks of wood by now, see, and he takes a bunch of sticks and he builds a kind of basket or something."
"Except there was no way to carry anything in it. It was round like a ball and there were gaps all around in it, and the branches were weaved-"
11 -weaved together in a crazy way that kind of made my eyes hurt. Then he puts his back against the cave wall, and it's like he's gone to sleep or something."
"Well, it's a warm day for winter."
"It's a warm day for late spring. But I don't think he was really asleep. His sword started to glow and his eyes a little too-I mean you could see it through his eyelids."
"Is it too early to say `weird' yet?"
"You tell me. After he's not-sleeping like this for a while, a fuzzy shiny sort of mist starts coming out of the basket and floats away. Eventually he wakes up and lights a fire. He lights a lot of little fires, one at a time. He strikes sparks from a couple of stones, and he catches them with a leaf or a piece of grass or something, one by one you understand, and then he says something to them, talks to them like they're people, and he sets them down in the basket.
"Which starts to burn."
"No. He puts stuff in the basket-grass and junk; I don't know. It burns. But the basket doesn't burn."
"All right, I'll call that weird."
"But what about when the little flames started talking back? He says something, and they say it back to him in little sparky voices? What do you call that?"
"Oh, go mate yourself and have knuckly puppies. So, once he's got enough flames-I don't know maybe it was twenty or thirty-he starts making baskets while he talks to them. Real baskets you could carry stuff in. He packed them with earth and grass so the stuff in them didn't fall out."
"What stuff did he put in them?"
"Not him. Us. Hlupnafenglu and me. He wanted sand. Muddy, if it had to be, but the sandier the better. Then he sits back and takes another one of those not-a-naps while we haul sand and the flames argue and snap at each other."
"Are you sure?"
"Kreck, no. I couldn't understand them. But that's what it sounded like. We had a pretty big heap of sandy muck by the entrance of the cave when Morlock woke up. He tells us to keep at it and wanders off up the hillside, and he comes back with just a basket of dumb stuff. some yellow stinkstone, and dead beehives, and I don't know what else. Then he takes a bunch of it and mixes it up in a little basket like a dish, like about as wide as your hand. And he puts it inside the big basket, the one with the talking flames, like he's a baker putting some bread in an oven."
"You liked it." Olleiulu jerked a thumb toward the treasure box.
"That's how he made the gold?"
"Right. He came back after a while and changed baskets, and the one that came out of the big basket, he called it the nexus-the one that came out of the nexus was full of gold. It goes in reeking like yellow stinkstone and it comes out like raw gold. He's just dumping it on the ground in his cave. This goes on for a while."
"He takes some sand and he burns it in the nexus. He keeps going over to it and turning it with his bare fingers, folding it over on itself while it was red hot. And he talked a lot to the flames while he was working. It might have been just because they were there, but he didn't talk to us that way."
"What did he make the glass into?"
"He called them `mirror gates.' He makes water run uphill with them."
"I almost did. Never seen anything like it. Never seen anything like half the stuff I saw this afternoon, but that was the weirdest. He dug a skinny channel up the hill and another one running down again, and he lined them with wood smeared with beeswax. He put a mirror gate at the top and the bottom of the channels, where they joined. And he took a basket of water-"
"You want to give me some help with that one?"
"I'm the one that needs the help. I mean, you could see the water through the weave of the basket."
"Did he explain how he did it?"
"He didn't seem to think it was a secret, but there was stuff he didn't know how to say in Sunspeech or Moonspeech, and I didn't know how to tell him how to say it. I think he was saying that he tricked it-said the water was `gullible.' Only a little at a time, though. `You can't argue with a lake,' he said. `Even a pond can be stubborn.' But I don't know if he really knew what all the words meant."
"Or you didn't know what he meant."
"And I never will. Anyway, he dumps out the basket into one of the channels, and the murky water runs downhill, like you'd expect, and it hits the mirror gate at the bottom and it runs uphill. The muck mostly didn't want to travel uphill-Morlock says earth is less gullible than water-and after the water had been up and down the hill a couple times it was clear as air, clearer than the air usually is around this swamp. He kept dumping baskets of water in the channels until he had a regular brook running upside and downside. We sponged off with the clean water and drank deep-drank our body weight in water, I think. It was around that time the pl-Hrutnefdhu showed up. He came screaming through the swamp like a chicken on fire, and he ran up and down alongside the channels a couple times, and he wanted to be introduced to each flame personally, and he danced around the gold as if he had invented it personally, and he was pretty excited about the whole business, I guess. Morlock and him talked about stuff for half-forever, it seemed like."
Rokhlenu reflected that Olleiulu was more comfortable with Morlock the bloodstained beast slayer than Morlock the work-stained maker and friend of low-status citizens.
"Anyway, the sun was getting pretty low by then. I was going to bring Hlupnafenglu back with me, but he wouldn't leave the flames-just wanted to sit next to them and stare at them. So I came away with the gold."
"How'd you get back across the swamp water?"
"Wickerwork boat," Olleiulu said glumly. "I-well, I had something to do. He had the boat and some other stuff done when I got back. His hands were moving all the time, all the time."
Rokhlenu wondered what Olleiulu had had to do, but it seemed like an unhappy memory, so he didn't press him on it. Instead he changed the topic to the negotiations for the marriage settlement.
The sun was setting, and they were still deep in consultation when a messenger wolf with human fingers ran up to tell Rokhlenu that Wuinlendhono needed him. There was an embassy from the Sardhluun Pack in First Wolf's Lair: they said they wanted their prisoners back.
Chapter Fifteen: Quarry
Once a snake, resting in the cool shadows of a marble quarry, was approached by a werewolf holding a box made of light, glass, and certain heretical opinions.
The werewolf, still in the day shape, leaped to trap the snake; but the snake, who was Wisdom, transited to the other side of the quarry.
"Ulugarriu," the snake said, condescending to speak with its mouth, you will never trap me that way."
"Won't I?" Ulugarriu replied.
"No. My visualization of totality warned me of your approach. Your war against the gods is worse than folly, maker."
"Yes," said Wisdom. "It grieves me that we're enemies-"
"-but I see that the folly has eaten you deeply-"
"Be that way, then, you fur-faced ill-born," the snake hissed, and summoned ramparts of madness to attend him.
"I am not wearing my night shape," Ulugarriu observed, edging closer through the quarry shadows. "If I were, I would sing insults back at you. It would be a relief to my spirit, for I fear you. But why do you insult me? Does a god fear a fur-faced ill-born?"
But the snake was done with talking. He raised up a rampart of phobia between him and the werewolf.
Ulugarriu hesitated, and then took from the box a cloak of red-eyed anger. The werewolf donned the cloak and began to force a way through the rampart of phobia.
Wisdom then realized he did feel a little fear. While Ulugarriu was still entangled in the phobia, he transited to the far end of the quarry.
He would have transited farther, but he found he could not. His passage through space-time was obstructed somehow.
Ulugarriu surpassed the rampart of phobia and ran down the quarry toward Wisdom.
The snake raised up a rampart of delusions to block the werewolf.
The werewolf drew a two-edged blade, one edge deeply serrated with ugly irregular saw-teeth of evidence. Using this, Ulugarriu patiently began to saw through the delusions.
"Don't you wish to know why I'm here?" Ulugarriu asked as the sawtooth blade ground away at Wisdom's defense.
The snake knew that the werewolf was asking questions to trap him; it was an ancient way to get to wisdom. But it was a game his chosen nature compelled him to play.
"Yes," the snake replied. "Tell me, if you will."
"I will, indeed. Wisdom, this instrument your people have unleashed against my people-"
"You brought it on yourselves! You most of all!"
"Yes, me most of all. And so if I am to defeat this instrument-"
"You can't. Our united visualizations agree. Wuruyaaria will be destroyed."
Ulugarriu laughed strangely. "Wisdom! Wisdom! If only we'd had this conversation a year or two ago! How happy I could have made you with my despair. But now something has changed. Is it some new factor, not present in your visualizations or my mantic spells? Is it something about the nature of your instrument? (I hate that thing so much. How I long to kill it!) Or are your visualizations no longer united? My insight detects some flaw, some sort of disunity. I think you will tell me. I think you must tell me."
Wisdom belatedly realized that Ulugarriu had surpassed the rampart of delusion and was dangerously close to him. He summoned up a rampart of delirium to defend himself.
Ulugarriu patiently reversed the two-edged blade. The other edge was as smooth as the first was rough: this was a glittering razor of rational distinction. The werewolf whittled away at the wall of delirium, and now Wisdom began to feel something like despair. His only hope was to wait until nightfall. Whatever Ulugarriu had used to confine him, the change of sunlight to moonlight would be in his favor.
"How did you confine me here?" he asked Ulugarriu, hoping to gain time and knowledge.
The werewolf chuckled. "You're hoping nightfall will save you. No, dear Wisdom: it won't. I wrapped this locus of space-time with a four-dimensional coil, woven of dictates from the Aesir. It was a lot of trouble to collect them, but I knew it would be worth it someday. We are bound here in this stone vagina, gaping in the ground. The sun will not set, nor will you leave, until a certain thing happens. So it is not a matter of time after all. There are powers greater than time."
Ulugarriu had surpassed the rampart of delirium.
Wisdom enmeshed the werewolf in the rampart of mania. The werewolf reversed the cloak of red-eyed anger, and it became a cloak of black-eyed gloom.
Wisdom, smiling fiercely, resummoned the rampart of mania as the rampart of depression. Ulugarriu, weighed down by the cloak of gloom, labored sluggishly in the dark wall of depression.
Wisdom was dismayed. Lesser beings would have been instantly crushed by the weight Ulugarriu was enduring.
"What is it you want from me?" Wisdom asked.
The werewolf gasped something between a sob and a laugh. "The instrument! The instrument! Stupidity didn't devise it. Mercy had no hand in it. It has the stink of death and cunning on it. I think you and your friend Death made it, and I can find out from you how to break it. If I don't learn that, I will learn other things. I love to learn."
Ulugarriu was near, then, very near, moving slowly because of the weight of darkness but still moving. The werewolf reached out with the box made of light and glass and heresy.
Then behind the werewolf's darkness was a greater darkness. It wore the shape of a woman, except that she had many branching arms and legs.
Ulugarriu felt the weight of Death's shadow and said frankly, "I don't understand how you passed the barrier of divine intention."
"I killed the Aesir," signified Death, and the werewolf shook with the cold indifferent force of her signs. "Now their intentions are one with their hopes and fears: nothing. As yours shall be, wolf."
For answer, the werewolf opened the box. From it came the screams of a goddess: Justice. Wisdom quailed utterly under the assault, and even Death was stunned for a moment. When they recovered, the werewolf maker had escaped.
"Thanks, Death," Wisdom signified.
"We were friends once," Death observed, and began to demanifest.
"Wait!" Wisdom signified.
"For no one," signified Death. "Not even you." Then she was no longer manifest.
Wisdom withdrew his manifestation into the darkness underground and brooded there.
What the werewolf had said was true. The instrument did have the stink of cunning and death on it. Death had proposed the instrument to the Strange Gods, but now Death was free from the sworn intention of the other gods. If there was cunning here, it was not his. He spent some time unren- dering his visualization of the all and rerendering it.
He did not know and he needed to know. He was no god of wisdom. Also, Death was afraid, and whatever frightened her terrified him.
Chapter Sixteen: Offers Made; Offers Refused
About sunset, Morlock and Hrutnefdhu had just given up their last attempt to dislodge Hlupnafenglu from his perch beside the choir of flames. They left some dried meat and cheese (which, remarkably, he did not seem to be interested in) and a blanket against the night's chill-assuming there was any chill present in the warm air of this freakish winter. Then they took the wickerwork boat back across the open swamp.
The sun had long since disappeared behind the slope above, but now the curtain of sunlight withdrew over the edge of the world and the single eye of the second moon, Horseman, glared down on the world from a suddenly dark sky misty with clouds.
The transition struck Hrutnefdhu midway through their passage, and he writhed, screaming, into his night shape, almost overturning the little boat. Morlock was distracted by the effort to keep the boat upright and didn't note the details of Hrutnefdhu's transformation. But Hrutnefdhu was a wolf before they reached the far side.
He had been wearing a sort of kilt as his only garment, and now he stood on all fours, staring at it bemusedly. Morlock scooped it up and said he would carry it back to the den.
Hrutnefdhu sang his thanks and leapt out of the boat. Morlock followed, relieved to be on dry land again: he didn't like boat journeys, even as brief as this one.
Hrutnefdhu sang as they were approaching the rickety tenement-lair that they were happy to have Khretvarrgliu with them. Hrutnefdhu had worried that he might want to stay in the cave.
Morlock had considered this, but he didn't say so. The pale mottled werewolf had obviously wanted him to room with him and his mate quite badly. Maybe it gave them status, or maybe there was another reason. Morlock liked him and didn't want to displease him. Rather than say all this, he said, "Eh."
Hrutnefdhu laughed snufflingly and sang that Morlock need not be so ghost-bitten wordy; he could hardly keep up with the flow of eloquence.
"Eh," said Morlock. Then a practical matter occurred to him, and he reached into a pocket. "What do I owe you both? I have some gold left-"
Hrutnefdhu turned on him, barking furiously. He would kill-kill-kill Morlock if he said anything more about money. Never-wolves should stick to grunting; it was the only kind of conversation they were good for.
Morlock sat down beside the pale werewolf on the wooden street. "I spoke badly, it's true. Friendship is not bought and sold. We call it `blood' in my people-blood chosen-not-given. And blood has no price."
Hrutnefdhu wondered why he talked of money at all, then, and why he didn't keep his stupid flat ape-face shut, then; that was what Hrutnefdhu wanted to know. (His barking was still a little hysterical.)
Morlock waved his hands. "Things cost money. Don't you pay money for shelter, for food, for water-for everything but air, here? I have gold. I only wish to share. Why should I have money, and you not. Eh?"
The pale werewolf settled down. He sat beside Morlock and he said that things were fine just now, and that when money was needed they would treat Morlock's money as their own. Would that suit him? Could they stop talking about this ugly subject now?
Morlock nodded, and they sat there in silence for a time as Hrutnefdhu calmed down.
Hrutnefdhu finally sang that his blood was a little wild; he had not slept in the afternoon, as maybe he should have done. His afternoon had been frustrating beyond that. He asked Morlock not to think badly of him.
"Shut your maw," said Morlock agreeably, and was about to get up when Hrutnefdhu held out a paw, and Morlock sat back and waited.
Hrutnefdhu asked if Morlock had thought they would die, back in the tunnel leading out of the Vargulleion.
"I wasn't thinking very clearly then," Morlock said, remembering the night as if it were years or centuries ago. "I did expect us to be killed before we escaped."
Hrutnefdhu admitted that he had planned to ditch Morlock and Rokhlenu during the escape. The last thing he expected was to find himself fighting in the tunnel.
Morlock opened his hands and waited. There was obviously something Hrutnefdhu wanted to tell him.
The pale werewolf sang that he had meant to run away, but there was never a moment when the way was clear. When he found himself enmeshed in the tunnel, he thought they might fight their way through. Then, as time fled before them and the night wore away, he was no longer sure. When he was wounded, so badly wounded, he was sure he would die: there was no moonlight in the tunnel to heal him, or even maintain his life. He had felt himself dying, but he had gone on fighting anyway. It was not the song he would have sung of his life, but that was where it had led him, and he found a kind of contentment in knowing exactly how the rest of his life would pass. Then the enemy line broke, and many trampled Hrutnefdhu in their eagerness to escape, and his limbs were broken. He could see life ahead of him, but knew he would never reach it. But others had, and that was enough. As he was closing his eyes, he felt Khretvarrgliu's grip on his neck, dragging him toward life and light. Coming out of the tunnel, killing the sureness of his death, was like a second birth, a new life.
Morlock didn't know what to say. He patted the pale werewolf awkwardly on the shoulder.
Hrutnefdhu demanded to know why he had done it. Hrutnefdhu was just aplepnup, a trustee who had betrayed his trust, a citizen of no particular bite in prison or anywhere. Why had Khretvarrgliu killed his death, dragged him from death to life?
"Eh," said Morlock reluctantly, wishing he had a better answer to such an obviously important question, "I never asked myself why. It was us against them. You were-you are-one of us, not one of them. That's all."
The pale mottled wolf looked at him with pale moonlit eyes and sang no more of the matter.
They ascended the narrow dark stairs, littered with werewolves drinking smoke from fuming bowls, in defiance of the notice by the door. Liudhleeo was not in the apartment when they arrived. Hrutnefdhu suggested that Morlock wait there while he went and saw about the early night meal.
Morlock didn't argue; the long day had worn him ragged. He lay down for a moment on the rug where he had awoken that morning, and a moment later he was asleep.
It was still night when he awoke again: Liudhleeo was entering the apartment. She still wore her day shape. He rolled to his feet, but she carolled, "Oh, be still you silly ape. You must be half dead. I heard about some of the things you were up to today."
He sat back down on the rug and nearly lay back down, but restrained himself.
"How are you?" she asked, sitting beside him on the rug. "That's a technical question; remember that I'm your healer."
"Oh, blood-drinking, giggling, hairy ghosts. Is that all you have to say? Off with your clothes, then; I'll have to find out for myself."
Morlock nearly struck her hands away: the indignity of it reminded him a little of the prison. But she was his healer and Hrutnefdhu's mate. He took his clothes off, with her assistance.
She looked him over briefly, and then spent a good deal more time smelling him.
"How are you, really?" she said. "How is your Sight? You haven't fully recovered, have you? Don't spare my feelings; I want to know what's happening."
"My Sight is much impaired," he admitted reluctantly. "I had to go into full withdrawal simply to release some phlogiston from some wood this afternoon."
"I wish I knew what that meant. No, don't bother explaining just yet. I take it that this is something that you used to do easily, and now is markedly more difficult."
"Tell me something, and this too is a technical question, so be absolutely honest and as specific as you can. Is this terseness, this reluctance to part with a syllable more than you absolutely must-is it a relatively new feature of your psyche and behavior? Is it something that developed over the last year when the spike was in your skull?"
"Ghost. Well at least you're no crazier than you used to be. Am I right?"
"As far as I can tell. Of course …"
"If you mean, a crazy person wouldn't know he was crazy, I'm afraid that's not true. Many crazy people are dreadfully aware of their decaying faculties, at least intermittently, and so did you seem to be before I pulled that spike out. So we'll call the operation at least a partial success. Well, you still appear very undernourished, and I think that magical healing goo has some sort of unpleasant aftereffect, but apart from that you seem to be in fairly good shape for a rather battered never-wolf of-how many years?"
"I don't keep count anymore. Between four and five hundred."
"Oh, don't tell me, then. But this is a very poor occasion to practice your wit at my expense. I'm your healer, for ghost's sake. Is there anything else? There is, isn't there? Tell me."
"I'm dropping a lot of things with my left hand," he admitted.
"Doesn't everybody? Unless you're left-handed." She had to explain to him what handedness was, and then he had to explain to her that he was ambidextrous, or had been.
"Hm," she said at last, clearly concerned. "Well, you're still recovering. Let's not worry about it."
Morlock was worried about it, but what happened next nearly drove it from his mind. Liudhleeo leaned forward and inhaled his scent deeply in a gesture that did not seem to be exactly professional.
"You smell fairly clean," she said, "in a watery, brackeny way. But do you want me to wash you?"
"Wash me? With your tongue?"
"You are such a never-wolf. Yes, dear Morlock or Khretvarrgliu or whatever your name is, with my tongue. We don't have tubs and sponges like the Apetown bathhouses. What an idea! Anyway, it wouldn't be the first time. Who do you think cleaned you after your escape from prison? A nasty job, some would have found it, but I have to admit I find something about your scent rather exciting. And your blood is utterly delicious. I have a feeling that it might be some sort of poison, and I'm starting to think maybe that's how I want to die-"
He looked sideways at her and began to put on his clothes.
She grabbed his arm with her hand. "Listen, why bother? You'll only have to take them off again before we couple."
"I'm not going to couple you. If that means what I think it means."
"Couple with me, silly. And of course it means what you think it means. And of course you are going to couple with me, old what's-your-name. I know the smell of a male who's ready to have sex, and I'm ready to have sex with you, so what more is there to talk about? Unless talking is an important part of it, for you? I don't know how never-wolves do it. Though I'm aching to find out."
"You can't be serious."
"Why not? Males mystify me, really. Once you think you have them figured out, they go and-Listen, I'm your healer. This is a matter of your wellbeing. When was the last time you coupled with anybody? And I'm not talking about your apish palms."
"Forget it. Hrutnefdhu is my friend."
"Wonderful. He needs more of them. Especially males with a lot of bite, like you. But what has that got to do with it?"
"You are Hrutnefdhu's mate."
"Yes, of course. But Hrutnefdhu has been castrated, Morlock." She had to explain herself here, as she used the technical term, not the slur plepnup. "He is lovely, far lovelier than you or any other male I've ever known. I love him dearly, as I will never love you. But coupling is one thing we cannot do, and he knows that I need it. He doesn't begrudge me satisfying my needs. So let's say no more about it."
Morlock didn't doubt that she thought she was telling the truth, but he did doubt that Hrutnefdhu was as complaisant as she said: he knew something of the humble werewolf's prickly pride. In any case, Morlock had his own notions of loyalty. "No," he said, and finished putting on his clothes.
She watched him with her mouth slightly open, finally convinced he meant what he said. She threw up her hands and said, "And after I went to the trouble of repressing the change to my night shape! Oh, well: live and learn. Though I must say, you never-wolves are a cold-blooded lot."
"Don't be sullen, now. I don't fully understand you, Morlock, but I know that you're acting out of friendship to my sweet Hrutnefdhu, and nothing could make you dearer to me. Really, I mean that. Oh, ghosts, what are we going to do until midnight?"
"I met Hrutnefdhu as I came home and told him I was going to screw you and asked him not to come home until midnight. He'll bring some supper with him. Oh, well, you had better get some sleep. I'm going to stand in the moonlight and take my night shape, and then perhaps wash myself. If that won't offend your apish sensibilities."
"Don't be sullen."
"Well-bitten. Well-bitten. All right, I won't be sullen. Let's neither of us be."
Morlock's weariness dragged him back into sleep not long after she underwent the change. She woke him at midnight when supper arrived-but Hrutnefdhu did not arrive with it; he had sent it by a messenger from First Wolf's lair. There had been some kind of fight in the audience chamber that evening, and Rokhlenu had called all the irredeemables to stand guard.
The lair-tower of the outlier pack's First Wolf was less rickety than some. Its spacious first floor was mostly given to an audience chamber. At one end of the chamber there was a dais with a steep couch covered in bearskin. There, just after sunset, she lay in the moonlight falling from a nearby window: a small dark-furred she-wolf displaying the stillness and patience of a hunter. The only parts of her body that moved were her glittering eyes, which watched the three emissaries from the Sardhluun Pack as they paced and pranced and boasted before her.
The lead emissary, whose neck jangled with ropes of honor-teeth, had his forefeet on the lowest step of the First Wolf's dais. He was lifting his feet to climb further up, and his seconds were following him. Wuinlendhono's followers stood abashed in the presence of emissaries from a true treaty pack, and none of them sang a word or made a move to defend their First Wolf from disrespect. Even the wolves who wore the gold tooth as her bodyguards were standing with their heads down. Their chief, a reddish frizz-faced citizen named Yaniunulu, was emitting a funk so intense the whole room reeked of it. Wuinlendhono knew that if she had to act to defend her own honor she would act alone.
Rokhlenu came into the audience chamber, a great gray werewolf with eyes as blue as Trumpeter at first rising. He gazed about in astonishment at the insolence of the emissaries, the timidity of the outliers. He dashed across the open floor and leapt onto the dais steps, wheeling about to snarl in the face of the leading emissary.
The emissary knew him, though the reverse was not true. The emissary barked that he would kill-kill-kill Rokhlenu and drag his disembowelled corpse back to the Werowance and Wurnafenglu for the prize. He reared up on his back feet and howled his anger.
Wuinlendhono shot past Rokhlenu's shoulder like a black lightning bolt. She struck the lead emissary in the chest and he tumbled backward on the dais. While he was disoriented by his fall, her shining teeth fastened on his throat.
The other emissaries started forward to aid their leader, but Rokhlenu charged, snarling, to warn them off. They backed slowly away. He wore only one honor-tooth, but it was a dragon's tooth. They had not been present in the Vargulleion on the dreadful New Year's Night, but they had heard about it …from the survivors.
There was a silence in which they all heard the lead emissary's neck break.
Wuinlendhono dragged the corpse over to the nearest patch of moonlight and waited for the werewolf to revive. When he began to move his head feebly, she tore with her jaws at the cords around his neck and sent the honorteeth skittering across the floor of the audience chamber.
To the reviving werewolf she sang sweetly that he should be sure to tell the Werowance, be sure to tell Wurnafenglu, be sure to tell his mate and cubs how he had lost his honor-teeth-that he had lost them to a female.
Desperately, the disgraced wolf tried to grab at a few of the lost teeth with his mouth, but she headed him off, snarling, and he retreated back beside his peers, his head still hanging at an odd angle.
The other two emissaries sang despondently that this was a sad way to treat them and that the Werowance would be angry.
Shoulder to shoulder now, Wuinlendhono and Rokhlenu faced the three emissaries down, forcing them backward, barking that they should go! go! go! while they had one honor-tooth or testicle among them.
Olleiulu appeared at the entrance of the chamber with an unruly pack of irredeemables at his heels, mostly in their night shapes. They parted to let the emissaries through, and barked derisively, from human and lupine throats alike, as the three Sardhluun werewolves suddenly turned tail and fled into the night.
Wuinlendhono held her aggressive stance until the emissaries had vanished and the volley of insults pursuing them had died down. Then she turned and touched noses with Rokhlenu. Her breath was hot on his face, and he inhaled it like perfume.
She whispered her thanks, sang gently that five was a very lucky number indeed, and asked if he was willing to follow her lead on something.
Every nerve in Rokhlenu's body was ringing like a bronze bell, and he breathed back that he was willing to follow her anywhere. What he really meant was that he was willing to follow her into a nearby room and couple like weasels, and her sinister grin suggested that she understood this.
Nonetheless, she took his answer and bounded back up to First Wolf's couch and lay there.
She sang a song of honor to Rokhlenu and his irredeemables, who had stood forth to defend her and the honor of the outlier pack from the insolence of the flea-bitten Sardhluun guard dogs. A lucky ghost had guided her choice of intended, as he had proven this night. Then she pointedly directed Yaniunulu, the chief of her bodyguard, to sweep up the defeated emissary's honorteeth and present them as a love-gift to her intended, Rokhlenu, glorious singer and hero.
His tail hanging a little low, the reddish wolf moved to obey.
Olleiulu stood forth and said, "If you'll excuse me, Wuinlendhono, high and fierce, I can do that. I'm just a semiwolf, it's no problem for me."
Wuinlendhono crooned that Olleiulu was generous and brave, a warrior whatever shape he happened to wear, and that the work was beneath him; she would let Yaniunulu do it, and perhaps some other humble services around the lair. Meanwhile, Olleiulu had more important work to perform, the labor of a citizen and a fighter.
Stoically, Yaniunulu set about sweeping up the scattered honor-teeth with his tail.
Wuinlendhono asked Olleiulu if her intended had gathered together the agreed-upon settlement in gold.
Olleiulu's eyes crossed a little at this, and he looked anxiously at Rokhlenu for a sign. Rokhlenu nodded, and Olleiulu turned back toward First Wolf and said, "Yes, High Huntress and leader, he has."
Wuinlendhono sang that he could keep it, that she had changed her mind.
Stunned silence greeted this remark, followed by whispers and whistles of wonder. And there was an undercurrent of snarling anger from the irredeemable.. They had not come here to see their chief dishonored.
Not about the marriage, Wuinlendhono sang, when the surprise had begun to subside. On that she was more settled than ever. No, for a marriage settlement, she desired no gold, not she, who was rich enough that her very household servants and maids wore gold teeth. No, she needed no gold. It was blood that she wanted, blood and vengeance on the mangy sheepdogs of the Sardhluun Pack.
Dizzy with the sense that he was bounding along the edge of a crumbling cliff, Rokhlenu cried that the gift was too easy, that they had torn the Sardhluun Pack when they had little to fight with but the chains and stones of the hated Vargulleion.
Wuinlendhono sang back that she knew how brave he and his relentless heroes were, and that any deed requiring no more than bravery and cunning would be a trivial favor to ask of them, but that nonetheless she did want this one thing. The Sardhluun kept another prison for Wuruyaaria: the Khuwuleion, the Stone Lair, where females lay in vile durance. If Rokhlenu and his irredeemables would break the gates of the Khuwuleion and free the prisoners therein, she would life-mate with Rokhlenu the same night, may the ghosts bind her to it.
Rokhlenu sang that he accepted the challenge and that he would break the walls of the Khuwuleion and return to mate with her, still stained with the blood of their common enemies.
Wuinlendhono indicated a polite eagerness for that occasion and dismissed the assembly.
When they were alone, in a more private chamber on the floor above, Rokhlenu wondered aloud whether the frozen stone that his beloved used for a heart had been shedding icy splinters that were lodged in her brain, driving her mad.
Wuinlendhono sang that he was a very witty fellow and that she must remember to write some of these things down when her fingers returned on the morrow.
Rokhlenu insisted that he was essentially serious. It was one thing to rebuke emissaries who had insulted a First Wolf in her own lair. It was another to propose an act of war against a treaty pack. That would engage them in war with all four treaty packs: the entire city of Wuruyaaria.
Wuinlendhono said that he had beautiful eyes, lovely white teeth, and magnificent haunches but that he seemed to have no intellectual attainments at all, except making words sing. Did Rokhlenu not realize that he had already committed an act of war against the Sardhluun by leading the escape from the Vargulleion? That he had implicated her and the outliers in it by taking refuge here-and that she had accepted this by accepting him and his? The Sardhluun had generously promised to overlook her offense if she surren dered the fugitives, and those were the only terms on which they would overlook it. They were in a war already, and they could only look for a route to victory. She suggested that he use that space between his alert and expressive ears for a little activity she liked to call thinking.
Rokhlenu's song in reply was one of regret. He had brought this scent of trouble on her, and he would lead the pack hunting it away from her. He would take the other escaped prisoners with him and leave. The Sardhluun would pursue them and leave the outliers alone.
Wuinlendhono barked that if he took one more step toward the doorway she would kill him-kill! kill! kill! Males did not proffer their love to her and then withdraw it. She would rip his belly open. She would kill any female he tried to mate with. She would slander his name before every pack in Wuruyaaria-in every den of flea-bitten stray dogs who roamed the north. He must not leave. Would he not lie down and be reasonable? Why, oh why were beautiful males so reckless and wayward?
Rokhlenu suavely suggested it was because the smells emitted by mateworthy females in their presence drove them mad.
Wuinlendhono leapt on him then, and they rolled around on the floor for a while, nipping each other on the shoulders and pulling each other's tails.
After some more play of this sort, the First Wolf and her intended were lying face-to-face, breathing rather heavily, but discussing issues of a coldly practical nature.
Wuinlendhono agreed with Rokhlenu that war with the Sardhluun was technically war with all the treaty packs. But she pointed out that no one likes to help a loser. The Sardhluun had already been humiliated by the escape from the Vargulleion; that was why they were barking so loudly, to drown the sound of their shame. Citizens were laughing at them on all the mesas of Wuruyaaria, all the way down to Apetown: that was what all her spies said. If the Sardhluun also lost the prisoners in the Khuwuleion, they lost half the reason for their existence, and no one would lift a paw for them.
Rokhlenu said that she had a kind of point, but that the assault on the Khuwuleion was trickier than she made it sound. With all their disadvantages in breaking out of the Vargulleion, they had at least had the advantage of being there, inside the prison. They didn't first have to cross the plantation walls, alerting every citizen in the Sardhluun, and then break into the prison itself. Nor would it be New Year's Night when they did, with half the guards gone and half the guards who remained smoke-drunk and stupid.
Wuinlendhono suggested that they make the attempt during one of the primary elections the Sardhluun were holding this month. Many guards would be absent to attend the election; the plantation walls would be more thinly guarded. As for the prison defenses …well, they would think of something. Perhaps if that crazy Khretvarrgliu could be driven bear-shirt mad again, the guards would run squeaking away. She supposed half the stories she had heard about that night were lies, but even so …
Rokhlenu whistled thoughtfully, curling his tongue to flute the sound as he mulled this over. She did not know Morlock, he sang at last, or she would not have suggested this. Still, there might be something Morlock could do for them.
She sang that if Orlock-
Morlock, he corrected her.
Morlock, he corrected her.
-if Nyorlock-and that was close enough, an evil ghost take the neverwolf's unpronounceable name-that if Nyorlock could make gold out of mud, he could perhaps make more warlike and useful metals.
Rokhlenu sang concordantly and looked deep into her dark eyes agleam with moonlight.
She got to her feet irritably and asked if he had gotten laid yet.
He sang sadly that he would wait until they mated, that he didn't mind waiting.
She snapped that she did mind. The musk he emitted was making females wet in their nether parts for miles around. This nuisance must cease. She needed him to act with a cold clear head; she needed him to understand what he was doing when he bonded with her for life; she needed him to not have any regrets about last lost chances. Because he was not chasing other tails once they were together; she would not be shamed that way. If he needed the name of a good whore, she could find one for him.
In a bitter angular song not far removed from barking, he replied that he would never shame her that way, and he wondered why she was shaming him so. He didn't want his first coupling with her tainted with the stink of another female. His love for her was a sacred fire; it pained him, but he did not fear the pain.
His song was becoming more lyrical, and she interrupted him with a bitter barking laugh. She knew males better than that! she barked. He must be up to something.
He got to his feet, looked at her, and left without a word.
She repressed the impulse to run after him barking (get a whore! get a whore! get a whore!). That would do no good to anyone. She wondered what would.
This was the room where she usually slept in her night shape. Before she curled up in the moonlight, she went to a corner of the room where there was a tapestry on a frame against the wall. She dragged the frame aside. Behind the tapestry, mounted on a wooden frame, was Morlock's drawing of Rokhlenu standing in triumph over the dragon he had killed. One of her agents had bought it for her in the city, and she was very pleased with it. She had looked on it many times during the day, but this was the first time she had seen it with the eyes of her night shape. It looked different, more abstract, starker, not less beautiful.
She shook her head wearily. He would have to do something stupid, something thoughtless, something that reassured her that he was just another thump-footed, fat-nosed, bristle-witted male. Because if he didn't, she might really have to fall in love with him, and that would be a ghost-bitten nuisance.
She lay looking on his image, basking in the moonlight and his lingering scent, until sleep came to her.
Her dreams, as usual, were nightmares. Often she dreamed of her dead husbands; this afternoon, she had dreamed of Rokhlenu standing among them. But tonight it was a much older nightmare, her very first recurring nightmare. She was a child again, back in the Khuwuleion, and they were torturing her mother for a reason no one ever explained. She screamed for someone to save them, but she knew no one would ever save them. Even in her dream, she knew that was just an empty dream.
Chapter Seventeen: Fight and Bite
It was raining the next day-a strangely summery rain, with the warm air so dense with water that it had to sweat some out. Rokhlenu donned a cloak for his walk across the outlier settlement, and before he took too many steps he was overwarm. If the cloak hadn't been a gift from his intended, he would have draped it on a railing and walked away from it.
When he got to the far side of the settlement, he could see that Morlock was already at work in front of his cave, hammering away at something lying on a flat stone or anvil.
The wicker boat was resting at the water's edge on the base of the hill. Rokhlenu stared at it, wondering whether to call to Morlock or flounder across the water. The wicker boat, which had a glassy orb on its prow, swung toward him and proceeded across the stretch of swampy, rain-dented water.
This made the hairs on Rokhlenu's neck and ears rise up. On the other hand, it was rather convenient. He stepped into the boat and, using an oar he found inside the craft, paddled across to the other side. He eyed the up- and downhill stream dubiously, then climbed the slope to Morlock's cave.
Morlock's anvil was just at the entrance to his cave, and he was working sheltered from the rain. He nodded agreeably at Rokhlenu as he approached and said, "With you in a moment."
It wasn't long, in fact. Morlock was hammering what appeared to be a spearhead, and presently he tossed it into a vat of water to cool, alongside some others that were already there.
Rokhlenu's first thought was that Wuinlendhono was right and that Morlock must have been using his talents to make base metals to work with. But then he saw that the anvil was a stone, and that the hammerhead and the spearheads appeared to be made of clear greenish blue glass.
"There is so much sand and lime about," Morlock said, when he noticed him noticing the glass. "It made more sense to use it than try to find or make metal."
Rokhlenu started to ask if the glass was strong enough to make a good spearhead, then stopped. If it was strong enough to make a hammer, it was strong enough for weaponry. Although he didn't see how that could be.
"I had to mess about with it for a while," Morlock said, sensing his inchoate question. "These were just experiments, but I guess we will need weapons to fight with soon."
Morlock's casual assumption that he would fight alongside Rokhlenu when the time came eased the werewolf's mind. "Probably," Rokhlenu said, shouldering off his cloak and hanging it on the side of the anvil rock.
Morlock pulled forth a couple of wickerwork chairs, and they sat in the mouth of the cave and watched the misty rain fall on the swamp and the spindly lair-towers of the outlier pack.
"Odd weather," said Morlock presently, and it wasn't casual conversation.
"Insane," Rokhlenu agreed. "People say the world is going to end."
"Eh. Aren't they always saying that?"
"I guess so. It's not just werewolves, then?"
Morlock shook his head, and they sat for a while in silence.
"I hear the Sardhluun came calling last night," Morlock said.
"Yes." Rokhlenu laughed barkingly as he remembered the hapless emissary trying to lick up the honor-teeth he had lost to Wuinlendhono.
He told Morlock all about it, since it was essential that he know, and then found himself saying much more. He talked about his feelings for Wuinlendhono and her confusing display of feelings for him. He talked about his dreams and hopes that were now lost, and his uncertainty at the prospects opening up to him. He talked about his anxiety about not hearing from his father and brothers-not once, in prison or afterward.
Morlock didn't say much, but it wasn't a soliloquy by Rokhlenu: sometimes the never-wolf would ask a question, and he always appeared alert and interested.
As Rokhlenu wound down he became embarrassed and said, "Sorry to fill your ears with all this quacking."
"Eh," Morlock. "Everyone has to talk to someone. You should have heard me rant to my favorite bartender. Poor old Leen."
"What's a bartender?"
"Someone who serves you drinks."
"Like water? I don't get it."
Morlock explained about intoxicants in liquid form, and bars and bartenders.
"So it's like smoking bloom?" Rokhlenu asked.
"So I gather."
"And you like this …this …stuff?"
"I gave it up. I shouldn't have mentioned it."
"Well, why not? There's no one here but you, me, and the anvil."
"There is also Hlupnafenglu. But I think our secrets are safe with him."
Turning around in his chair, Rokhlenu looked back into the cave and saw the big red werewolf deeper in the cave, crouching down by a brightly lit sort of wickerwork sphere. He was gazing into it, entranced, firelight gleaming in his red eyes. There was a murmur that sounded like speech, but Rokhlenu wasn't sure whether it was coming from Hlupnafenglu or the flames or something else.
Rokhlenu turned around again and whistled meditatively. "He seems crazier than you were."
"Same cause I think," Morlock said, tapping the side of his head. "He has a scar on his temple like mine. I wonder what he was, that they felt the need to do this to him."
Rokhlenu thought about this for a moment. It smelled to him that Morlock was also referring, by extension, to what the Sardhluun had done to him. He also seemed to be implying that what had been done had not wholly been undone.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, and tapped the side of his own head to indicate what he was asking about.
"My Sight is better," Morlock said, "though by no means wholly returned. However …I seem to be dropping things with my left hand."
Years ago, when Rokhlenu was learning how to sing, one of the cantors of the Aruukaiaduun Pack had said in his hearing, "I am beginning to go deaf." A month later he was dead, and some said he had eaten wolfbane. Morlock's tone sounded a little like that long-dead cantor's; Rokhlenu knew it was no passing observation.
" Liudhleeo," Rokhlenu hissed. "That toe-fingered cow-leech. Did she butcher you? I'll-"
"No, I don't think so," Morlock said. "Whatever she did saved my life. I suspect the damage was done by then."
"Maybe it will get better. Give it time."
"Open your maw and tell me what that means."
Morlock shrugged, then said hesitantly, "Actually, it seems to be getting worse. So if we are going to do something about this other prison-"
11 -the Khuwuleion, perhaps we had better do it soon."
They turned, with some mutual relief, away from personal matters to tactics of approaching the Khuwuleion. Morlock was in the middle of a rather bizarre proposal that was making Rokhlenu question his sanity again when a damp and somewhat irritated crow fluttered down and landed on the ground by Morlock's feet.
The crow croaked that he had something for Morlock, if Morlock could make it worth his while.
Morlock croaked that he had a little bread, if the crow was interested.
The crow was always interested in new comestibles, but was sure this bread stuff would be a poor trade for ripe juicy information like what the crow had to offer.
Morlock, ignoring this, got up from the chair and went into the cave and rummaged around. "Sorry about this," he said to Rokhlenu. "Crows have a sense of politeness, but it doesn't seem to apply to non-crows. And we might want to know what he knows."
Morlock came back with half a loaf of brown bread and offered some crumbs to the crow. He ate some, complained about the color, flavor, lack of texture, and unfamiliarity of the foodstuff, then asked for more.
Morlock waved the loaf in the air and waited.
The crow said that there were soldiers from the Sardhluun Pack attacking the other side of the outlier settlement. He thought it was funny because-
Morlock and Rokhlenu leapt to their feet. Morlock dropped the loaf on the ground next to the startled crow.
"No weapon," Rokhlenu said ruefully. It hadn't seemed necessary for a walk across town.
"I can get you a stabbing spear or two," Morlock said. "We should drag Hlupnafenglu away from the flames, also."
"He is pretty good in a fight. Enjoys killing Sardhluun werewolves, anyway."
"Eh. Who doesn't?"
They raised the alarm as they went, sending any outlier who responded to defend the fenceless east side of their settlement. They themselves ran on in long loping strides to the western fence.
Hlupnafenglu had been grumpy about leaving his beloved flames, but once he realized that fighting would be involved he was happy enough. Morlock gave him the heavy glass hammer from the anvil, and he was delighted with its weight and, apparently, its translucency: he kept peering at the sky through the heavy glass and hooting inarticulately.
The red werewolf kept with them almost all the way across town, but was finally decoyed away at the last moment by, of all things, the lair-tower of First Wolf. He kept staring at it and mouthing things that might or might not have been words. He wouldn't leave it, so they had to leave him.
Approaching the western verge of the settlement, Rokhlenu felt a sense of foreboding. The palisade surrounding the outlier settlement was not really a fortification. It was mostly useful for preventing flightless birds from walking straight from the marsh into town. The fence was thin; there were many gaps. He could hear arrows striking the far side of the wall as they shouldered their way through a milling crowd to where the First Wolf was standing. A circle of her gold-toothed bodyguards surrounded her, and by each honor guard was one of Rokhlenu's irredeemables, his neck bristling with honor-teeth.
She looked rather dashing, Rokhlenu thought, in a brazen helmet and short coat of coppery rings. But she didn't look happy, and Rokhlenu thought he could guess why.
Morlock stepped up to the west wall and reached out with his left hand to test the strength of the barrier. The soft wood came apart between his fingers like overripe cheese.
"Hurl krakna," Morlock whispered and, whatever that meant, Rokhlenu was pretty sure he agreed with it. The settlement had never really been defended by the fence, Rokhlenu reflected. It had been defended from its potential enemies by the same thing that defended a poor man from robbers: indifference. They had changed all that last night, and now they were paying for it.
"-I don't understand it," Wuinlendhono was saying, "and maybe these two heroes can explain it."
"I beg forgiveness, High Huntress," Rokhlenu said, somewhat out of breath. "Explain what?"
"Why they"-she jerked a contemptuous thumb toward the Sardhluun attackers-"are not firing higher, into the town. Most of their arrows are sticking into our fence. It's a feeble protection as Nyor-as Nor-as Khretvarrgliu is discovering there, but they can't hope to batter through with arrows."
"It is odd," Rokhlenu agreed.
"Oh. Thanks for that," First Wolf replied, white-lipped, furious.
"It may be a distraction from another more serious attack," Rokhlenu continued. "The east side of town is unfenced, but we left some citizens there to stand guard. Maybe some of my men should go put a spine in them."
"A good thought," Wuinlendhono said, and looked her apology at him. He nodded patiently in acceptance, and started calling off irredeemables to go west.
"You can have your red ape-dog go back with them," Wuinlendhono added. "Look at the damage he's doing to the boardwalk by my lair!"
They looked at Hlupnafenglu, who was pulling up a board and muttering to himself.
Morlock said tensely, "How deep does the fence go? Is it anchored in the mud?"
Wuinlendhono looked annoyed at being addressed in this cavalier way, then thoughtful. "It is anchored there, but the palings don't go far below the surface."
Morlock measured the height of First Wolf's lair-tower with his eyes, and then the distance to the western fence.
"They are coming at us from below," he said, and ran past Rokhlenu and the astonished First Wolf.
It took Rokhlenu only a moment to reconstruct Morlock's thought. Archers had attacked the fence to distract the defenders, while werewolf divers had crept below the surface of the boardwalks to the base of First Wolf's tower. If they broke its anchors and it fell, it would breach the western fence….
And the demented Hlupnafenglu had been the only one to notice it! Rokhlenu wondered briefly who was really crazy around there.
"Go!" Rokhlenu shouted at the werewolves he sorted out to defend the east. An attack could still come there; the Sardhluun had enough armed bands for it. "The rest of you, with me."
"My guards, stay here," the First Wolf clarified. "Lucky ghosts guide you, Rokhlenu," she added, but he was already following Morlock away with a riot of irredeemables at his heels.
By now the red werewolf had pulled apart a fair stretch of the boards by the tower's base and was striking at the murky water thus exposed with his glittering hammer. Morlock drew his odd crystalline sword, the blade woven of black and white strands, and crouched down by the ragged hole in the wood and started stabbing deliberately …not quite at the water, Rokhlenu saw, but at the gap between the water and the wood. He had to dodge and weave to avoid getting clipped by Hlupnafenglu's hammer. As Rokhlenu came up, he saw that they were both aiming at: shapes in the murky water, human and lupine, some deeper in the water and others splashing out of reach on the surface. Ominous sounds came from the water: a chunking or chopping, like wood being cut.
Rokhlenu looked around desperately for another opening in the boards, found none, and then saw Morlock was doing the same.
"There's no other way, is there?" he said.
Morlock swore, "God Sustainer." The blasphemy shocked ghost-fearing Rokhlenu a bit, but he remembered how much Morlock hated the water.
Morlock shouted at Hlupnafenglu, "Wait!" He held out his hand. "Wait!"
Hlupnafenglu paused in his water-hammering, obviously confused.
Morlock took a deep breath and jumped into the water, feet first, and vanished from sight.
Hlupnafenglu gasped. A huge smile slowly broke out on his face as the idea pushed through whatever barrier blocked his thinking. People can jump in water! Brilliant! He raised the hammer over his head and jumped in after Morlock.
Rokhlenu gestured with the business end of his spear at the four irredeemables who seemed least terrified by the opening in the boards. "All right. You-you-you-and you: follow me in. Watch out you don't kill each other with your weapons." Rokhlenu turned to Olleiulu, who was standing nearby, his one eye as round as any moon. "Send someone into the lair-tower to clear the people out. Then you take the rest of these guys and go stand by Wuinlendhono. If she doesn't live through this, don't let me find you afterward."
He dropped into the dark water, stabbing spear in hand.
The water was dark; he expected that. Werewolves aren't generally afraid of the dark. But he did somehow expect his eyes to grow used to the darkness, and when they didn't-when he realized much of it came from the mud in the water enclosing him like a fist-he did feel a little panic rise within him.
He dimly saw a support timber for the boardwalk near at hand, and he grabbed it, swinging out of the path his followers would have to take …if they followed him.
They did: he heard a sound like distant thunder and sheaths of white bubbles spearing past him toward the darkness below.
Impinging on one of the sheaths he saw a kind of shadow. He didn't think it was Morlock or Hlupnafenglu, or any of his fighters. It was holding some thing in its hand-not like a sword or a dagger-more like a chisel. It was one of them, one of the Sardhluun werewolves. He stabbed at it with his spear: the shadow writhed and became even less distinct in a dark cloud of blood.
It wasn't a death-stroke; the shadow fled. Rokhlenu followed grimly. He could only hope the others were doing something like this, and that there were more of them than of the Sardhluun attackers; there was no chance for communication in the dark water.
His quarry seemed to have dropped what he was carrying and was swimming upward. Rokhlenu stuck his spear (blunt end first) through his belt and climbed up the support timber. It slowed him down, but he didn't want to throw away his weapon at the very beginning of this battle.
He broke the surface, gasping for air, and cast his gaze about. The light was dim indeed under the boards of the settlement, but in comparison to the darkness of the muddy water it was like the noonday sun.
He heard splashing and looked about to see a bedraggled semiwolf paddling away from him. His quarry. There were others in the water beyond, all heading in the same direction. Rokhlenu didn't see Morlock or Hlupnafenglu or any of his people.
He set off in pursuit. He did not so much swim as launch himself from support column to support column. He soon caught up with the werewolf nearest him, the one he had wounded. The wounded werewolf heard his approach and turned at last to fight, but Rokhlenu drew his spear and stabbed it, under the water, into his enemy's belly, twisting the blade after it struck home. Soon the half-wolf stopped struggling and the life left his bestial eyes. Rokhlenu left him drifting half submerged in the filthy water stained with his own blood …and some of Rokhlenu's, as his enemy's claws had riven his flesh in a few places.
The other Sardhluun attackers were farther off by then, but Rokhlenu continued to chase them. Like a nightmare where his feet were caught in a watery trap, time ceased to have any meaning. He made no progress in closing the gap with the others. Only gradually did he notice the light growing brighter: they were approached the end of the settlement's boards.
He briefly saw each of the attackers briefly framed in dark silhouette against the day's light, and then they vanished. By the time he reached the edge of the settlement he could see them outside the palings, climbing into a boat.
"Archers!" he thundered with what was nearly his last breath. "Sardhluun boat outside the fence! Kill all but the steersman. He's one of ours."
It was sheer bluff; he doubted that there were any archers within reach of his voice. In fact, he hoped there weren't: they'd be needed far more at the western or eastern edges of town. But it was gratifying to see the speed with which the Sardhluun saboteurs rowed away. He hoped idly that they would knife their steersman also, or at least grow to distrust him.
Rokhlenu rested for a moment in the water and then clambered up a support column to the surface of the boardwalk. He loped through the chaotic settlement-some running home to their lair-towers; others hustling away with property in their hands, obviously intent on flight; others rushing about with no clear goal in mind. The settlement had never been attacked, had never been important enough to attack, and many were panicking.
He started collecting these frantic types. "You!" he'd say. "Come with me!" And sometimes they'd run away, and sometimes they'd fall in behind him. Eventually he was leading a large number of citizens (male and female, in the night shape, the day shape, and every gradation between), and others fell in without being asked.
He had no idea what he was going to do with all these followers; it just seemed like a good idea to calm the panic on the boarded ways however he could.
By the time he reached the western wall, he had a pretty good idea what he was going to do with them, though. From some distance away he could see that someone had threaded the First Wolf's lair-tower with support cables. It was leaning precipitously to the west, but the cables were slowly dragging it back into an upright position.
He was not surprised to see a bedraggled and filthy Morlock directing the work. He did feel a little surprise, but perhaps not so much, to see that Hlupnafenglu was operating as his assistant. But they needed more hands to do the work, and he sent all the citizens in more or less human form over to help. Then he took the citizens in night shape toward the western wall. There had obviously been an attack in force while he was chasing saboteurs, and there seemed to have been some casualties.
He felt foreboding as he approached, and in truth the news was very bad. A band of his irredeemables was milling about in confusion; they parted like a curtain before him and he saw the bodies laid out on the boardwalk, dead and dying. There were too many there, too many, and none of them Sardhluun.
Apparently, when the tower-lair did not breach the wall, the Sardhluun archers had switched tactics and started aiming their shots beyond the wall, from boats rowed close enough so that they could do real harm within the settlement. Fire had chewed holes in the wall at several points, and other sections had been pierced by blunt force at the water level: rams mounted on boats had done that, he guessed. Many werewolves had been killed when the Sardhluun attacked in earnest …and Olleiulu, Rokhlenu saw with dismay, was one of them. He lay pierced by many poison-tipped arrows, his one eye staring lifeless at the rainy sky.
Even worse, Wuinlendhono lay among the wounded, and the wound was a serious one in the neck. Kneeling down over the First Wolf's unconscious form, Rokhlenu guessed that the arrow had been poisoned: the blood seeping through the bandages reeked of wolfbane.
"Thank ghost you're here," said a voice behind him, and he looked up to see Lekkativengu, Olleiulu's claw-fingered, wolf-footed sidekick. "We didn't know what to do," Lekkativengu added. "You were gone, the First Wolf is out, and we can't find her Second."
Rokhlenu didn't like the sound of this. A decent sidekick would have risen to the occasion and taken charge until his principal (or his principal's principal: Rokhlenu) returned. Maybe Lekkativengu had done that, but it didn't seem like it.
"Well, I'm here now," he said. "Gather a crew and get the wounded at least a bowshot away from the walls."
"The Sardhluun have retreated," Lekkativengu pointed out.
"They. Might. Come. Back."
"Oh. Oh, yes."
"Take the First Wolf to our-" barn "-lair right away. See that her bodyguard and some of our fifth-floor crew watch over her. That's how I want it, Lekkativengu; don't second-guess me." With Olleiulu the caution would have been unnecessary, but he wanted to let Lekkativengu know he was not ready to trust him yet.
"Yes, Chieftain. I won't, Chieftain."
"Afterward we can burn the bodies of our dead."
"Yes, Chieftain. What should we do-what should we do about these?"
Lekkativengu pointed with a claw-twisted finger toward a heap of dark objects in the shadow of the western wall. At first he thought they were stones or something laid by to be thrown as missiles toward attackers. Then he saw they were severed heads, human and lupine.
"The Sardhluun threw them over before they retreated," Lekkativengu said, unsteadily. "With slings and things, I guess. It was raining heads for a while. So weird."
"No doubt. May ghosts chew their canine innards, the flea-eating Sardhluun sheepdogs."
"We'll recognize some of those faces, Lekkativengu."
"Yes, Chieftain. One-I think it was-I haven't seen her in a few years. She might have been dead anyway. But I think it's my mother."
The claw-fingered werewolf's dismal confusion now stood explained, anyway. "We'll burn them with our own dead," Rokhlenu decided, after a moment. "Whoever they were, they're in our pack now."
"See to the First Wolf and return to me here," Rokhlenu said, gripping him briefly on the forearm.
The grief-stricken werewolf went about his work, and Rokhlenu turned to his own. He stationed their archers (pitifully few and rather ineffectivelooking) with lookouts at the breaches in the western wall. He sent messengers to the eastern side of the settlement, to find out how the day had gone there, and others to look for Liudhleeo: she might be no ghost-sniffer or wonder-worker, but she was the best healer they had, and he wanted her at Wuinlendhono's side.
When the chaos began to assume a pleasingly deceptive appearance of order, Rokhlenu ventured over to where Morlock stood, saturninely directing the securing of the support cables on the First Wolf's lair-tower.
"What a moon-barking, ghost-bitten, knuckle-sucking, blood-spattered disaster," he said in an undertone to Morlock, who nodded moodily.
"And it could have been even worse," Rokhlenu added. "If the Sardhluun had wanted to spend the warriors, they could have levelled the settlement down to the marsh."
Morlock nodded. "We did better when we had less," he said.
The remark stuck with Rokhlenu through the rest of that weary, grim day of aftermath. Starting with their bare hands, they had battered their way out of the Vargulleion. Now they had more to lose (he thought anxiously of Wuinlendhono). But they had more to work with, too. There should have been a way to avoid this-and, more important, a way to avoid something like it happening again. Because he doubted the Sardhluun were done with them yet.
His doubts were confirmed late that afternoon when Hrutnefdhu came scampering to tell him that there was an emissary from the Sardhluun Pack at the southern gate.
There was no word from Liudhleeo about Wuinlendhono, and the Second Wolf of the outliers was nowhere to be found-had apparently fled, along with many others, after the Sardhluun attack. So Rokhlenu went to meet the emissary himself.
Standing under the red banner of truce on the boarded way outside Southgate was Wurnafenglu. He had some lesser werewolves, all more or less human in appearance, about him, but he was clearly the emissary with the most bite.
The guards at the gate, none of whom were escapees from the Vargulleion, stood watching the Sardhluun werewolves but saying nothing.
Rokhlenu directed them to open the gate. He put aside his stabbing spear and stepped out onto the boarded way.
"What is your message?" he said. "I will bring it to the First Wolf."
Wurnafenglu smiled a wide predatory smile. "I would enter and deliver it myself. But our emissaries have not always been treated with respect among the huts-on-stilts of the outlier pack-"
"Don't waste my time with lies. Your last emissary treated our First Wolf with disrespect and she took his honor-teeth. He deserved none-a sheep in wolf's clothing."
"The last group was indeed unsatisfactory," Wurnafenglu admitted. "We were displeased. I could show you their bald corpses impaled on poison stakes."
"The price of failure among you Sardhluun sheepdogs?"
"The price of shaming us. Now the outlier pack, too, has taken a first tentative lick of the endless bowl of poison which is the vengeance of the glorious Sardhluun Pack. There is no need for them to drain it all. If you surrender us our prisoners and all the honor-teeth they have earned, no matter how exotic"-Wurnafenglu glanced pointedly at the dragon's tooth on Rokhlenu's cord of honor-teeth-"we will consider that shame has been paid in shame and we will no longer stalk the trail of the outliers. We urge your First Wolf to consider the matter well. War with the Sardhluun Pack will be war with the whole city of Wuruyaaria that overshadows you. You cannot sustain the weight of their anger, or ours."
"Will the Sardhluun Pack go barking for aid to the four treaty packs, then?" asked an amused contralto voice at Rokhlenu's side. Rokhlenu turned to see Wuinlendhono standing beside him, adorned rather than armored in a brazen helmet and a bright shirt of copper rings. Her face was pale and bloodless; her expression was amused and somewhat insolent. "How will the message be phrased?" she continued, adding in a yelping tone, "`Help! Help! We are bad sheepdogs who have lost our bad sheep! Help us! Help us!"'
The guards standing at the gate laughed openly at this. The werewolves in Wurnafenglu's train bristled. Wurnafenglu himself merely broadened his already sinister grin and waited. After a brief silence he asked, "Is that your answer?"
"My answer is this: if you are not out of bowshot one hundred breaths after this gate is shut, I will order my archers to fire upon you, your banner of truce notwithstanding."
"And that is all you have to say?" Wurnafenglu asked, gazing at her searchingly.
"Give my respects to my stepmothers, of course," Wuinlendhono said coolly. "All that they merit." She turned on her heels and walked back into the Southgate. Rokhlenu followed, pondering her last comments.
Hrutnefdhu was cowering in the shadows inside the gate. No doubt he had wanted to avoid being seen by Wurnafenglu. The guards were pointedly ignoring his presence, but Rokhlenu said to him, "We may have unwanted guests here soon, or there may be another attack on the western wall. Round up the fifth-floor gang and send them here. Send the fourth-floor crew to the western wall. Then find as many citizens as you can who are willing to stand watch all around the walls. Tell people you speak with my voice. Where's Morlock, by the way?"
"Bending…. He said we needed more bows. So he said he was going to bend some wood. He took that crazy red werewolf with him."
"Good. Let him do as he wants-he will anyway. But send the rest of the fifth-floor crew here, to me. Understand? Go, then, my friend."
The pale werewolf smiled wanly at him and fled.
He turned back to Wuinlendhono, who was looking rather pale herself, and said, "How are you, High Huntress? I won't lie: I feared for your life when I saw that wound."
"Liudhleeo gave me something for the poison," the First Wolf replied. "She was going to smear me with some of that magic pond water she used on your old friend Nyorlock, but it smelled too bad and I wouldn't let her. The wound will heal with time and a little moonlight. Poor Olleiulu took the worst of the attack, I'm afraid. I liked him, Rokhlenu."
Rokhlenu nodded grimly. "So did I. He thought we should leave and recoup our fortunes among the barbarous packs. We could still do that."
Wuinlendhono took him by the arm and led him a little away from the guards, who were watching them with an open and natural interest.
"I hate this place," she whispered, when they were fairly out of earshot. "I hate the stinking dirty water and the bugs in summer and the rickety lairtowers and the mud and the wobbly boardwalks. But it is mine. It is mine. They gave it to me, after my last husband died; they made me First Wolf for life. I won't let anyone take it from me. You can go if you want."
"If you go, I go. If you stay, I stay."
"Good. I did say you could go, but I was going to kill you if you did."
"There is something wrong with you; that much is certain. But when you speak like that, low and sweet, I almost don't care what you say."
"That's why you need to get yourself a whore. I need a mate with a level head who can pay proper attention to my words."
"Don't ever tell me that. Particularly if it's true."
"You need someone as crazy as you are. That's me. Anyway, I'll be there soon if you keep breathing in my face."
Her black eyes glared at him; her bloodless lips grinned at him. She stepped back from him and he was crestfallen: he hadn't really wanted her to move away, and she knew it. He also saw for the first time that she was a little unsteady on her feet. He wanted to give her his arm to lean on, but he guessed she would brush it away now.
After a moment she said, "Here's our real problem."
"We have a problem?"
"Oh, for ghosts' sake. Shut your meat-hole for a moment."
Rokhlenu repressed several approximately witty replies that occurred to him then because she really did look sick and unhappy and he hated that. Because he could not restrain himself any longer, he reached out his hand to steady her. She drew herself up, raised her hand to knock his away …then, unexpectedly, leaned into him.
"Thanks," she said.
"It's nothing," he said. "What's the problem?"
"Are you crazy? We must have ten thousand problems. Oh-you mean the one I meant. It's this. Gravy-boat, you don't have any right to do what you're doing around here."
Rokhlenu looked sidelong at her. "What do you mean?"
"Don't bite me. It's true. You're running this place as if you were my Second Wolf. Which you're not. Unless you want to be: the plepnup who had the job apparently ran off with the squeaking herds this morning."
"There's no chance he's among our honored dead, is there?"
"Well, that's the story I've been giving out. I suppose if he ever has the stones to show his hairless face around here again we may have to kill him to make the story stick."
"We'll share it, if it comes to that. But I take it from your general lack of eager woofiness that you are not thrilled with the prospect of being my Second Wolf."
"Frankly, no. I'm sorry-"
"No, don't be sorry. Always be frank with me. Always. Unless you're disagreeing with me. Then you can be diplomatic and sorry. But we don't disagree here. How can you keep the leadership of those crazy battle-scarred thugs if you're taking orders from a female? They'd be stupid to object, because I'm tougher than you are, or any of them, but that's not the point. They would object. We have to find a way around that."
"Well, yes, exactly. It's a problem. You're their leader, the only one they'll accept. Unless your old friend N-Ny-Khretvarrgliu wants the job."
"Then it's yours. But I have to have them in my corner if they're going to stay."
"I'll give it some thought."
"That's wonderful, beef dumpling, but I already have and I have a kind of solution. You know that fuzz-faced farting evil old grinning gray-muzzle we just bounced out of here?"
"Yes, that. He's not their Werowance. He's just on their pack council. And he's one of their candidates for election to the city's Innermost Pack."
"Huh. He'll have a tough election this year. We cost the Sardhluun a lot of bite with our escape."
"And we'll cost them more, but that's not the point right now. He carries authority in the pack because he was elected to represent them to the city."
"That's how it worked in the Aruukaiaduun, also." Rokhlenu scowled involuntarily. That was the life he had aimed at, and would have achieved, but for that brach's bastard Rywudhaariu. "But the outliers have never had singers on the Innermost Pack of Wuruyaaria."
"But it's stupid that we don't. We're here. We're part of the life of the city. Many of the citizens who vote in Apetown or Dogtown actually live here. Why shouldn't we be part of the treaty?"
"The thing is that we're not, though."
"The thing is, dear leg-of-lamb, that we need some sort of official status for you that doesn't threaten me. Candidate for the Innermost Pack is perfect for that. Your first task will be to obtain treaty rights for the outliers."
"Hm." Rokhlenu grinned. "By crushing the Sardhluun sheepdogs."
"Right! People in the city hate their guts. Who wouldn't? Maybe we can cut them out of the treaty-side with their enemies in the treaty packs. Maybe we can pound them until the Sardhluun themselves help us get into the treaty. Maybe we'll never get into the treaty. But in the meantime it gives you status to do what we want you to be able to do here and now."
"All right. I accept the nomination, but we'll have to have an election-"
"The election will be tonight after dark in the marketplace. Your irredeemables and as many of the outliers as I can trust will be there. Others will be unaccountably stationed on the walls for guard duty."
"I see. I see. You're pretty good at this."
"Somebody has to be. We can't all sidle through on good looks and charm and daring and good looks and a beautiful way with words and courageous feats and a beautiful singing voice and good looks and money. Actually, anyone could sidle through with all of that going for him, so don't think you're anything special."
"As long as you do, that's enough."
The outlier settlement had lost a lot of citizens on this difficult day. That night, after sunset, when the werewolves began to arrive for the election, the market at the center of the settlement was hardly crowded and the windows of the lair-towers all over town were dark and lifeless. In contrast, Wuruyaaria to the north was a misty waterfall of light rushing down the steps of the great mountain.
The great moon-clock on the face of Dhaarnaiarnon showed that Horseman should be aloft, but no moon could be seen through the dense cloud cover. Few of the citizens were in the night shape, and those were werewolves of low bite-likely they never transformed into the day shape.
It was a rather grim assembly that gathered in the torchlit market, but Wuinlendhono showed no awareness of this as she leapt up on a hastily made rostrum and addressed the crowd.
She spoke at some length about the dangers and the choices in front of them. She relayed to them the Sardhluun's offer of amnesty if they surrendered the prisoners, and she let them know she had rejected it. She said that the most she would permit the outlier pack to do would be to cast out the escapees. But she said that, in that case, she would lay down the chieftainship and go with her intended into exile.
That was the first matter she submitted to a vote: if they wished the escapees to leave the outlier settlement, they were to move to her left; if they were against ejecting the escapees, they should move to her right.
More than half of those present were refugees from the Sardhluun, but (unlike Wuinlendhono) Rokhlenu did not consider their votes certain. He suspected many of them would rather flee to the obscurity and safety of the barbaric packs of the outlands. He was sure of this when he saw them milling about in the middle of the market.
He stood up and walked through the milling assembly to stand prominently among the werewolves at Wuinlendhono's right hand.
This persuaded many of the undecided voters to come stand by him. Many-but far from all. Rokhlenu guessed that a majority of citizens present were still in the middle of the market, dithering. Rokhlenu saw Hlupnafenglu standing there, turning round and round with an odd smile on his face. It was far from clear that he understood what was going on-but at least he was enjoying himself, Rokhlenu reflected. He did not see Liudhleeo or Hrutnefdhu. They were citizens of little or no bite, but it would have been something just to have their votes right now.
Wuinlendhono could put the question again, phrasing it slightly differently. They could open the matter for debate. There were all sorts of things they might do, but it would be better if they didn't have to.
There was a stir in the crowd on the eastern end of the market, directly opposite Wuinlendhono. The scandalized crowd parted, and Rokhlenu saw with dismay that the cause of the disturbance was Morlock. He was striding across the marketplace with his freakish sword in his hand.
Wuinlendhono's gold-toothed bodyguards stood forth and snarled a warning. Morlock didn't even seem to notice them (in fact, their snarls had been a little tentative) but he halted ten or twelve paces in front of the rostrum and addressed Wuinlendhono in a voice that rode high above the muttering and growling of the crowd.
"First Wolf, I claim no rights in the assembly," the pale-eyed never-wolf said, "but I ask permission to address you."
"You are addressing me," Wuinlendhono pointed out briskly. "Keep it brief; we have a long night of business before us. It's bad manners to bring a weapon to an election, by the way."
"It was necessary that I do so," said Morlock. He strode forward. He did not quite kick the bodyguards out of his way, but they had to skip nimbly away to avoid being stepped on. He laid the sword at Wuinlendhono's feet.
"I have no vote here," he said, "but I say this. Your enemies are my enemies. I will fight for you in the teeth of the Sardhluun dogs. I do not know if this accords with your law; I don't know your law. I will do this for the healing and harbor you gave to me, a stranger and a never-wolf, when you could have turned me away. Today your blood was shed for me and for these others. I will pay for that blood with the blood of your enemies. Blood for blood: that is the only law I know."
"Khretvarrgliu!" the irredeemables began to roar. "Khretvarrgliu! Blood for blood! Blood for blood! Blood for blood!" It became a chant. Many of the original outliers began to join in. Hlupnafenglu hooted incoherently: apparently he had just recognized his friend Morlock; he stumped forward and pounded Morlock agreeably on his crooked shoulders.
Smiling graciously, Wuinlendhono knelt down and gingerly picked up Morlock's sword, one hand beneath the hilt, one hand beneath the blade. She handed it back to him. She leaned forward to speak in his ear. Rokhlenu wasn't close enough to hear what she was saying-the crowd was growing very noisy indeed-but he could see her lips. He was much mistaken if she didn't say, Nicely timed. Take this back and go stand by my Rokhlenu.
Morlock took the sword, at any rate, sheathed it on the shoulder hilt he was wearing, and strode over to stand at Rokhlenu's side. Hlupnafenglu capered like a puppy at his heels.
Hlupnafenglu wasn't the only one. All the remaining irredeemables came over in a rush, shouting, "Blood for blood! Blood for blood!" Many of the original outliers followed. Soon the whole left side of the market was vacant and there were a few citizens in the center, and the whole right side of the market was crowded with citizens standing on each other's feet and shouting "Blood for blood!" in each other's faces.
"Citizens," Wuinlendhono said, coldly eyeing the few holdouts in the center. "May I call the vote unanimous?"
They looked at her; they looked at the bristling mass of werewolves facing them; they turned back to her and nodded.
°I declare the pack is of one mind: the escapees shall stay. We are one pack; we will stand together and make our enemies pay blood for blood. I have spoken; let it be remembered."
At the First Wolf's declaration, the crowd roared in agreement and began to spread out around the market again. The densest part of the crowd remained around Rokhlenu and Morlock, but in deference to their bite the citizens (except Hlupnafenglu, who barely counted) stood a slight distance away. Rokhlenu risked leaning toward Morlock and said, "Why'd you do it? I told you not to show up here."
"Hrutnefdhu's idea," Morlock explained in a mutter. "We were watching from a tower, and it looked like you were going to lose."
"We were, too."
Wuinlendhono was speaking again. She pointed out the broader issue: that they were vulnerable to the Sardhluun attacks because they were not sworn to the treaty. She made her proposal that the outliers campaign for admission to the treaty packs.
This question she opened up to discussion by the citizens. Many of them had things to say, arguments to make, questions to ask. Wuinlendhono ran the meeting with cool practiced authority, letting everyone have their say in turn and keeping the discussion from breaking up into fights, as debates in werewolf assemblies often did. When one speaker turned snarling on another, a cold word from the rostrum was enough to bring them to heel.
Rokhlenu was proud of her-and worried for her. She looked relentless, yet strangely fragile in the flickering torchlight. He thought she was feeling the pain of her wound. And the wind had turned, also, making the night suddenly cold. He wanted to go stand beside her, support her, shield her from the wind-something to give her comfort, so that she would not have to stand alone.
But if their plan was to work, she had to stand alone.
In the end she declared the debate had gone on long enough. There was a rumble of general agreement: many of the same arguments were being repeated, over and over.
"Those in favor of seeking treaty status in Wuruyaaria, stand to my left," she directed. "Those against it, stand to my right."
The crowd had spread out during the debate, and it took a few moments before the voters sorted themselves out. Rokhlenu strode across the market to stand with those in favor of joining the treaty. He heard Hlupnafenglu tromping after him, but did not hear Morlock's rather irregular stride. Glancing about when he reached the left side of the rostrum, he noticed that Morlock had quietly sidled over to a corner of the market that was quietly noncommittal-neither left, right, nor center-and he stood there, leaning against the wall of a tower, watching the procedure with cool detachment.
There were no voters in the middle. Some did indeed stand on the First Wolf's right: escapees or long-term outliers who had a rather hard-bitten look to them. They probably liked standing outside the scope of the city's laws, Rokhlenu thought. He could understand it, remembering the bitter parody of justice that had brought him to the Vargulleion.
Wuinlendhono eyed the two groups. She said, "I declare that the greater number of the pack has resolved to seek treaty status. Does anyone seek an appeal?" She turned to the dissenters and asked, "Do you wish a tally?"
"No, High Huntress," said one. "The vote is clear." The others nodded their agreement, shivering slightly in the suddenly stronger wind.
"Then the pack will seek treaty status in this Year of Choosing," Wuinlendhono said, with confident formality. "I have spoken; let it be remembered."
As she spoke, the sky opened and the silver eye of Horseman peered through the ragged edges of cloud. She impulsively raised her arms and sum moned the change, assuming the shadow of her night shape, dismissing the shadow of her day shape. Before her transformation was half complete, the wave of moonlight swept over Rokhlenu, and he too summoned the change. All around him, werewolves were summoning their night shapes, screaming in ecstasy and pain at the transformation.
Morlock stood aloof during the debate and subsequent vote. He had an idea for putting a better edge on glass weapons and an idea for a flying machine and an idea for a new card game, and he was aching to get back to his cave and work on one or more of these ideas. On the other hand, he felt it would look bad if he simply walked away. Long solitude had worn away most of Morlock's social instincts, but he was fairly sure it would damage his friend's status if he displayed his complete indifference to the political issues of the day. The glass project involved some complex multidimensional calculations, and Morlock occupied himself by folding various n-dimensional polytopes in his head.
Since he was indifferent to the discussion, Morlock was the only person in the marketplace to notice that the clouds were thinning with the change of wind. He guessed the second moon would be appearing soon, and some of the werewolves would change their skins.
He had seen werewolves assume the night shape many times. But it occurred to him that he had never done so while using his Sight to observe the transformation. It might be interesting, he decided.
He sat down cross-legged on the boards and folded his hands. He rested his back against the tower wall and summoned the rapture of vision.
It was slow to come, cloudy and dim when it arrived. His Sight was nothing like what it had been; he thought now it might never recover.
But what he saw with his enfeebled vision was interesting enough. The werewolves were all woven through and through with silver-edged shadows. Their inner selves bristled with them.
Wuinlendhono was the first to feel the weight of moonlight when the sky opened its single eye. She raised her arms crawling with silver-edged shadows toward the moon. The silver along the edge of the shadows grew brighter and brighter. The shadows themselves grew deeper and darker. Then the image of the woman turned inside out: the silver was in the center and the shadows at the edges. The woman was now a wolf, shaking free from the dim gloomy material garments she wore, the red stain of her agonizing wound melting, drifting away, lost in the silver-hearted shadows.
Then the moonlight fell on the crowd and Morlock saw citizen after citizen undergo the same change, were becoming wolf, as the silver-edged shadows of their being became silver-hearted shadows and their flesh rippled and changed to match their inner selves.
Even the werewolves who could not undergo the change writhed in the moonlight. The shadows within them strove to twist and change, like those of their brethren. But there was some knot or twist within the shadows that kept them from inverting.
Most interesting of all was Hlupnafenglu. He was standing in the center of the marketplace, spinning around and around in glee as werewolves assumed their night shapes all around him. His exaltation and confusion were clearly visible on his talic exhalation. But Morlock could also see the spike in his brain: a coruscating whorl of red and gold and silver, dimming the shadows of his being, perhaps preventing them from inverting.
Now Morlock had a fourth project to contemplate: a cure for werewolves unable to change their skins. The details made for an interesting speculation. Even more interesting was the question of whether he should attempt it.
Morlock dismissed the vision, which was strangely fatiguing. His left hand throbbed with a numb ghostly ache: it seemed to be getting worse all the time, never better.
But at least it gave him one more thing to think about as the meeting continued.
Moonlight ran riot through the assembly, infecting the citizens with their night shapes. The First Wolf stepped out of her shining ceremonial armor and sang a wordless song of celebration and healing into the ragged, suddenly luminous night.
The citizens who could undergo the change freed themselves from their clothes and began to sing along with the First Wolf. The citizens condemned to wear some trace of the day shape even at night looked on in admiration and some envy.
All felt the appearance of moonlight at this crucial juncture of the meeting was a ghost-sent omen. Even the dissenters rejoiced at the outliers' new destiny, sacralized by the moon's unclouded eye.
When the song ended, the First Wolf nominated her intended, Rokhlenu, as gnyrrand to carry the pack's green-and-gold banner to the city, in war and peace. There was no need for a formal vote; the nomination passed with howling acclamations, and Rokhlenu leapt up on the rostrum next to his intended, the outlier pack's first candidate to the city government.
Wuinlendhono proposed that they elect four more candidates: five was a magic number; five was the number of limbs every person possessed (two legs, two arms, and a tail); five would be the number of treaty packs if they were successful.
The motion carried nearly as readily as Rokhlenu's election, and they spent much of the remaining night proposing and debating various nominees.
A water snake with bright wise eyes was listening to it all through the floorboards of the marketplace.
He noted the manifestation of a many-legged spidery form with a woman's face.
"Death," he signified, acknowledging his colleague.
"Wisdom," signified the other.
"Is this part of your mysterious plan?" the snake wondered.
"I am done with plans," Death signified. "Now we ride the torrent to the end that awaits all things-as we ever did, no matter what your visualizations tell you."
"Everything that has a beginning has an end," Wisdom acknowledged. "But there is a time before the end that matters."
"No. Only the end matters."
Wisdom uttered a talic distortion as intense as he was capable of. he rejected her premise.
Death was amused. "You should be careful, Wisdom. Ulugarriu is somewhere nearby. You may reveal your own presence."
"Do you sense that Ulugarriu is here?"
"Imprecisely. My visualization implies that Ulugarriu will at least monitor these events somehow. But the werewolf can mask itself from my direct perception, and my visualizations cannot fully comprehend it."
"Nor mine. I don't see why."
"If you did, your visualization would comprehend it. There is another thing my visualization does not comprehend-perhaps yours does."
"There is a bond between those two werewolves-the leaders. I forget their names."
"Love could explain it to you, perhaps," Wisdom signified, referring to the Strange God of that name. "I don't fully understand it either," he continued. "It troubles my visualizations-it is neither in my scope of being, nor can exist without it."
"I feel the same way," Death mused. "Unfortunately, Love does not readily signify to me, anymore. Our presences intermingle confusingly when we manifest in adjoining space-time."
"We have grown too deeply into our divine natures, perhaps," Wisdom mused. "Do you ever regret undertaking apotheosis?" he asked impulsively. "I sometimes wish I had waited a while longer, lived as a man a while longer."
"I do not regret," Death said slowly. "I do not remember. I do not wait. They are inconsistent with my godhood."
They weren't inconsistent with Wisdom, and he indicated so with a talic distortion, the symbolic equivalent of a sigh. But she had already ceased to manifest herself.
Wisdom was left behind troubled in the wake of Death, as usual. He spent some time observing Death's random factor in this nexus, the man named Morlock.
Morlock was not interested in the jubilation or debate of the tumultuous political meeting of the werewolves. He was not paying any attention to it at all. He sat folding strange shapes and setting them adrift in the dark waters of his mind. Those waters were dark to Wisdom, anyway: his visualization could not embrace them. They savored to him of death, of love, of hate, of loyalty, of grief, and other gods and phenomena that Wisdom could not even name.
Wisdom considered this locus of space-time, which both he and Death had come to observe. There was noise. There was howling. There were hopes and fears and anger. There was a man dreaming of bright things with a dark mind. Somewhere, felt but not seen, was the presence of the werewolf maker, Ulugarriu.
Was this locus really part of the god-destroying torrent that Death had signified of and seemed to welcome? He did not know. And he wanted to know.
It is the nature of wisdom to be aware of its limits and always struggle against them. The god Wisdom necessarily shared this nature. He took hold of space-time and twisted it around himself, directing his manifestation far away, toward the end of the world.
The moment after the wise-eyed snake disappeared, the water where he had been manifest was caught up in a net woven of glass, light and certain heretical opinions.
"May ghosts gnaw on the scaly cunning tail-without-a-body!" Ulugarriu spluttered, surfacing in the dark water, still wearing the day shape. "I missed him!"
The werewolf maker looked ruefully at the empty dripping net that had been woven to catch a god-then grinned a narrow, long wolvish grin, not wholly displeased, not wholly hostile. Ulugarriu liked a cunning opponent, and for that reason, if for no other, was a happy werewolf these nights.
Chapter Eighteen: Wisdom at World's End
This is the way the world ends: a wrinkled lip of blue stone protruding against an unending bitter void. That's the northern end, anyway.
Wisdom was tired of being a snake and wove a new manifestation of himself: a skeletal machine with shining crystalline spikes for eyes. It appeared between one instant and another atop the wreckage that had once been the anchor for the Soul Bridge, spanning the gap between this world-Wisdom's world, the only world in which he was allowed to be Wisdom-and another world entirely.
His presence occurred there on a morning when/where he visualized Death would be otherwise occupied.
The northern landscape was a marshy yellow wasteland, scattered with the decaying corpses of frost behemoths and ice jackals and other beasts who could only thrive in the bitter cold of the world's northern edge. But now the cold was gone, even in high winter, and the animals were dead, except for those that could burrow underground to find deep-hidden layers of frost and estivate there through the long deadly thaw.
The Strange Gods had killed this place, or their weapon against the werewolves had, creating the cruelly warm weather that devastated the oncethriving north. Wisdom had killed it, in a way. He hated that.
Death had brought the weapon to the Strange Gods; Death and her allies (especially Stupidity) had persuaded them to unleash it, binding themselves not to interfere with its course. Ulugarriu had foiled the weapon so far; the war between the gods and the werewolves was a long grinding stalemate. And now Death had escaped from the pact she herself had proposed, leaving the rest of the Strange Gods captive in it-and again Stupidity had been her ally. Now Death was excited, afraid, busy. She was up to something, and Wisdom (also afraid) needed to know what.
That was the need that brought him here. Wisdom's visualizations did not embrace where or how Death had acquired the instrument that was poisoning the north with heat. One possible explanation was that the instrument itself was not of the world, but from outside it.
As Wisdom stood on the anchor of the long-shattered Soul Bridge, he felt an alien presence. A set of unfamiliar symbols impressed themselves on his awareness.
He sensed nothing via his manifestation, nor was this part of his visualization. Somehow, this alien presence was speaking directly to his awareness.
It was what he had hoped for. He patiently signified a nonrandom pattern.
A new set of symbols impressed itself on him.
He signified a nonrandom pattern that followed logically from the previous one.
Time passed as Wisdom and the stranger exchanged symbologies: days, bright calls and dark calls, a month.
In the end he could not only understand the stranger but see it: it had acquired a fine layer of grit and moisture over its presence in the world. Wisdom detected a degree of increasing materiality, also, although he did not signal this to his conversational partner; he guessed it would consider the remark impolite.
Finally, Wisdom was able to ask, "Why are you here? We thought the Soul Bridge had been severed."
The response: "Why is not how. How: the Soul Bridge has been severed, but is not the only way to traverse the gulf. The-one-you-would-call-I will not discuss this further."
"And the why?"
"The implicature of events suggested to the-ones-you-would-call-us that a single instrument would be insufficient for your purposes. Do you wish another?"
"And will you-?"
"I not only would; I do. Will you supply another instrument?"
"If you require it."
"It furthers the interests of those-you-would-call-us."
"You have interests?" Wisdom wondered.
Wisdom pondered this. The entities on the far side of the broken Soul Bridge were hostile to all life that partook of materiality.
His visualizations were enriched-so much richer now than before. They were darker, though, much darker. He thought of Death and was sad.
"Your structure is elegant indeed," the alien remarked.
"Innumerable nodes of force concatenate in your being in patterns clearly rational yet difficult to predict in a finite set of dimensions."
"Yet there is an inelegant cluster of being that seems not to be fully patterned. It changes, but with earthy sluggishness. It is almost organic in its soft inflexibility."
"If the-one-you-would-call-I understand this thrice-used symbol, you have used it with a slightly different import each time."
"You may well have understood it, then."
"Those-you-would-call-we can integrate the unpatterned to your patterning."
"It would be more elegant. You would process symbols more efficiently."
"You should not refuse. Elegance is better than inelegance. Pattern is better than unpattern. Efficiency is better than inefficiency."
"Efficiency cannot be calculated without reference to purpose."
"Reduction of my unpattern to pattern would be contrary to my purpose. I believe the irregularities you refer to constitute my individual self. Sustaining that self as long as possible is at least one of my purposes."
"You have an individual self?" the alien signified doubtfully. "Is this more inefficiency in your symbology?"
"I do indeed have an individual self. You did not expect this?"
"No. This changes the implicature. You may not have another instrument."
"I don't want one anyway," Wisdom signified.
The alien ignored him thereafter, and he it.
The pattern in events was so clear, so dark. He was sorry for it, sorry for Death, whom he had once loved as the closest of his friends, when they were still mortal, all those ages ago. But he delighted in the intense detail of his divine visualization, also. Unclarity was almost gone. It was bracing, an icy relief, even though one small but personally important articulation of the web was tangled in an almost irresolvable coil.
He turned his back on the end of the world.
Standing close by him was Death, manifest as a many-legged spidery being with a dead woman's face.
"We were wrong to assume godhood," he signified to her. "Do you remember how you feared it? You were right to fear it."
"I will take away your fear," signified Death.
He raised his metal-like arms. "Let me take away yours. The apotheosiswheel that changed us into gods was largely my design. I am the only one who knows what has happened to you, and I am the only one who knows how to help you."
"I will take away your knowledge."
"I am willing to help you. I want to help you."
"I will take away your wanting, and all that you want."
His manifestation rejected her approach: the talic equivalent of a blow. Her manifestation flowed around it. She put her lifeless face against his metallic one in a cold kiss.
Wisdom's shining manifestation faded away, the talic components no longer organized by a divine intention.
Wisdom continued in the intentional design of events and in every mind that schemed and planned. In that sense, Wisdom continued to exist, and would always exist, until and unless the last mind faded away forever.
But the Wisdom who had been one of the Strange Gods, who had once been a man, who had walked in the long-vanished forests that once shadowed the western edge of the world and thought of ways he and his friends could escape mortality, that Wisdom was gone.
In this limited sense, Wisdom was dead.
Chapter Nineteen: Electrum
Rokhlenu was riding the wicker boat across the swamp to Morlock's cave when he heard a dull thump. Looking up, he saw a great bloom of fire ascend into the afternoon sky, followed by trails of smoke and dust.
"He'll kill himself one day," Rokhlenu reflected, "and us with him."
Rokhlenu beached the boat on the marshy verge and climbed the wooden steps Morlock had built into the hillside.
The never-wolf maker was not in his cave, as Rokhlenu had expected, but Hrutnefdhu the pale castrato was. He was sitting cross-legged just inside the cave, sewing metal rings onto leather or cloth stretched over a wooden frame. Deeper in the cave, Hlupnafenglu was curled up on the ground, holding up playing cards one by one in front of the basket of talking flames.
"Gnyrrand Rokhlenu," Hrutnefdhu said.
"Old friend Hrutnefdhu," Rokhlenu replied.
The pale werewolf glanced about instinctively, as if to see if anyone was listening, and said, "You don't have to call me that, you know. It can't be good for your bite to have a plepnup among your old friends."
Rokhlenu had thought about that, and Wuinlendhono had made the same point to him several times. But the outliers were not the Aruukaiaduun: there were many semiwolves, many plepnupov, many irregular shapes and shadows among his constituency. He thought it would harm him politically to distance himself from Hrutnefdhu. Anyway, he wasn't accustomed to picking his friends according to political convenience.
"Or a never-wolf, either," Rokhlenu added, grinning. "Where is he, by the way?"
Hrutnefdhu dropped his eyes to his work, blushing a little. He was easily affected by the slightest show of loyalty or affection; Rokhlenu thought he must have led a grim sort of life.
"Over the hill," the pale werewolf replied. "Trying something new, he said."
"Is he still alive, do you think?"
Hrutnefdhu grinned a little and said, "It is dangerous. That's why he doesn't do it here."
Rokhlenu looked over at the weapons rack. There were about a dozen stabbing spears with shining glass gores, two glass short swords with sharp points and leather grips, and about a dozen glass knives. Rokhlenu picked up one of these and balanced it on one finger thoughtfully.
"Not too many today," he remarked.
"You said we had enough yesterday, so he started working on this other thing."
"Is what you're doing part of it?"
"Not exactly. This won't be done tonight."
"What is it?"
"He says he'll be able to fly with it."
"Oh?" Rokhlenu walked over and examined the thing. It looked like a pair of bat wings, scaled over with metal discs and bound to a wooden frame. The frame and the wings hid some gears and cables that mixed wood and glass. There were grips on the inside tips of the wings.
"I doubt it," he said finally, "but it's interesting. Why are you sewing those rings all over it? Armor?"
Hrutnefdhu had just grabbed one of the rings from an odd upside-down box on long stiltlike legs. He met Rokhlenu's eye and let go of the disc in his hand. It flew straight upward, as if it were falling. He grabbed it before it rose too far and grinned as Rokhlenu whistled admiringly.
"It's weird in here sometimes," Rokhlenu said. "Like the stories they tell about Ulugarriu's workshop."
"Ulugarriu couldn't do anything like this. Not that I've ever heard," Hrutnefdhu said, turning shyly back to his work.
The pale werewolf seemed embarrassed by something, so Rokhlenu decided to leave him alone. "I'll go see what Morlock is up to," he said aloud, and patted Hrutnefdhu on the shoulder as he passed out of the cave.
He met Morlock coming over the rise of the hill with a sizable boulder in his hands. He looked a little scorched, but otherwise undamaged. There were clouds of smoke and dust settling behind him.
"Let me help you with that," Rokhlenu called.
"You should stay back. This hillside was a silver dump, I think. There may be some of the metal in these dust clouds."
"Urrrm. I think you're right: I can smell the nasty stuff. Well, they had to put it somewhere, I guess."
He saw mummified bodies of werewolves-some in the day shape, some in the night shape-scattered about the dusty hillside. He pointed at them and said, "Why would they come here? If I can sense the silver, they must have been able to."
"They killed themselves, I think. Some of them were carrying things. Notes, mementoes, that sort of thing."
"Horrible. You picked a nasty place for your work, old friend."
"Well, I knew no one else would get hurt if it went wrong. As it almost did: phlogiston is difficult stuff, and I haven't the material to handle it safely."
"What would you need?"
"A lightning bolt or two. The more the better. I could fashion some aethrium instruments from them. But the storms lately have been surprisingly free from lightning, and the landscape hereabouts is totally free from aether deposits."
"I did not know that."
"I think someone collects them. Your folk hero Ulugarriu, perhaps."
"You think Ulugarriu actually exists?" Rokhlenu asked doubtfully.
Morlock nodded toward the moon-clock on the side of the volcano. Rokhlenu nodded slowly. Personally, he didn't believe in Ulugarriu. But someone had built the wonders of Wuruyaaria: if he wasn't called Ulugarriu, he was called something else.
"You're sure you don't want help with that rock?" Rokhlenu said as Morlock came nearer, out of the poisonous dust.
"It's not too bad," Morlock replied.
"The thing must be heavier than you are."
"Just about. But there's something holding it up." He lifted the boulder high, and on its underside Rokhlenu saw what looked like two metal footprints, affixed to the rock with crystalline spikes.
"What are those?"
"Soles for my new shoes," Morlock said, lowering the boulder.
"Ghost. How many have you got?"
"Just the pair. At that, I had to sacrifice a lot of metal and phlogiston I was planning to use for the wings."
"I saw those. Will that thing work?"
"No idea. The crows think it will, or say that they think it will, but crows aren't always reliable. They may just want to see someone crash in it."
Rokhlenu understood that; he'd known a lot of crows. They'd probably laughed watching the werewolves eating silver. He thought about them and didn't feel like laughing.
"Why do you suppose people kill themselves?" he asked Morlock.
"Pain," Morlock said. "Loneliness. Shame. Anger."
Rokhlenu waited, but Morlock didn't say any more. He thought about the singer he had known who ate wolfbane, and he thought about Morlock's hand. He knew it wasn't any better: in fact, Morlock always wore a glove on his left hand now to hide how bad it was getting.
Rokhlenu had an odd feeling Morlock knew what he was thinking about, but he wasn't saying anything, and Rokhlenu couldn't think of anything to say. He grabbed the other side of the boulder, just to keep from being entirely useless, and they carried it back to the cave together.
"Liudhleeo says," he said when they set the rock down in the cave, "that we need to work on Hlupnafenglu soon-if you want to take care of that before we leave tonight."
"Yes," Morlock said. "If one of us is killed tonight, the task may prove impossible."
Hrutnefdhu had put away his metallic thread and ivory needle and was folding up the stilts under his upside-down box of rings. "I'll take him over to the lair-tower," he said to the others. "Liudhleeo will want to do the work over there. She hates it over here."
"The nearness of that silver, I think," Morlock said, and Rokhlenu turned his head in agreement. Different werewolves were sensitive to silver in different degrees, and Liudhleeo was more sensitive than most.
Hrutnefdhu was getting Hlupnafenglu's attention gently and patiently. He persuaded the groggy red werewolf with words and gestures to rise up and follow him. The red werewolf shuffled docilely along after Hrutnefdhu for a few steps. Then he seemed to wake up a little more. He cast his mad golden gaze around the cave, looking at Morlock, the nexus of speaking flames, the other two werewolves, Morlock again.
"It's all right," Morlock said, meeting his eyes. "It's all right. We will follow you over. We'll see you soon. Go with your friend Hrutnefdhu. Go with him. We'll follow."
It was not clear how much the crazy werewolf understood. But Morlock's words or tone seemed to settle him somehow. He followed Hrutnefdhu out of the cave into the afternoon light and they went together, the pale werewolf and the red one, down the wooden stairs to the wickerwork boat.
When they were gone, Rokhlenu turned to Morlock and said, "I want to see your hand."
Morlock considered the matter for a moment, and then he peeled off the glove without saying anything.
The hand was gray and dead looking. The fingers were the worst. And their tips looked not so much dead as …ghostly. They seemed to be translucent, almost transparent.
"Does it hurt?" Rokhlenu asked.
"Yes," said Morlock. "But most unpleasant is the lack of control. I-I'm not used to that."
Rokhlenu nodded grimly. "Did she do this to you? Liudhleeo? If she did-"
"I don't think so. I think it was from that spike that was in my head. Part of it may still be in there. Or, while it was in me, it did some damage that is killing me by inches."
"You think it will kill you, then?"
"Probably. Liudhleeo calls it `ghost sickness.' She has heard of it but never seen it."
"The Goweiteiuun have the best ghost-sniffers; maybe they can do something."
"So Liudhleeo says."
"And there's the Shadow Market in the low city, just inside the walls. Lots of crazy sorcerers work that place. Half of them are quacks and the rest are crooks, but they might know something useful."
"So Hrutnefdhu says."
Rokhlenu would have cursed the illness, the Sardhluun ghost-sniffers, Liudhleeo, Hrutnefdhu, and all of the sorcerers in the Shadow Market, but it would do no good. So he punched the wall of the cave instead. Morlock said nothing.
The moment passed. Rokhlenu picked up one of the swords from the weapon rack and said, "Can I take this? I prefer a sword to a spear, when it comes to a fight."
Morlock smiled a rare smile. "I made it for you." He took the sword and unwrapped the leather from the grip. Rokhlenu saw dark runes inset into the glass. "There is your name and a few runes of warding and finding. They won't do much for you, I'm afraid. But maybe you'll be able to find your blade when you need it, anyway."
Morlock shrugged, nodded.
They went down to the wickerwork boat. It was where the two other werewolves had left it, on the far side of the water. Morlock whistled, and the boat swam back toward them on its own. Rokhlenu felt a qualm stepping into the boat, and was relieved when Morlock poled it across the water in the ordinary way.
He grabbed Morlock by the elbow before they went into the lair-tower and said, "Hey."
"This ghost sickness. It hurts? It makes you angry?"
"You're not alone, though. And you have no reason to be ashamed."
Morlock's pale eyes fixed on him. "I know that. I know it, my friend."
The never-wolf seemed to understand what he was trying to say. So he stopped trying to say it, and they went upstairs to Hrutnefdhu and Liudhleeo's lair.
Hlupnafenglu was sleeping, somewhat twitchily, and he lay on the floor in the day's last light. Rokhlenu was not surprised to see a worried-looking Liudhleeo bending over him, but he was surprised to see his intended, Wuinlendhono, beside her.
They greeted each other warmly while Liudhleeo and Morlock exchanged a look-smoldering on Liudhleeo's part, rather frosty on Morlock's. Rokhlenu supposed Liudhleeo was trying to have sex with him; her appetites were becoming fairly notorious around the settlement, and even in Apetown and Dogtown, or so Rokhlenu had heard.
"Where's Hrutnefdhu?" asked Rokhlenu.
"Oh, he was getting twitchy," Wuinlendhono said irritably, "so I sent him on an errand. There's enough of us here to hold Big Red here down-or put him out of our misery if it comes to that."
"Maybe," Rokhlenu said, looking at the sleeping werewolf. "Just."
"My Hrutnefdhu doesn't like to see people cut up in cold blood," Liudhleeo explained.
"Who does?" muttered Wuinlendhono discontentedly.
Liudhleeo gave her a sidelong look for this. When Rokhlenu realized he was doing the same himself, he stopped. But it seemed like an odd remark for a werewolf to make.
"He's as ready as he'll ever be," Liudhleeo said, gesturing at the red werewolf, "and I'd like to get some sleep this afternoon, if at all possible. Maybe you, Rokhlenu, would hold down his head and you, Wuinlendhono, would hold his head like-well, like last time. That worked out so ghost-bitten well."
Morlock put his left hand on her shoulder and looked into her dark eyes. She dropped her gaze, then shyly raised it again. Her posture was almost flirtatious, and Rokhlenu was going to say something about it when she said in a businesslike tone, "Do you want to cut him open or pull the spike? I think that's a fair division of labor."
"I'll cut," Morlock said, and pulled a glass knife from his belt.
"And you brought your own knife. Very polite. No magical glass tweezers for me, I suppose?"
Morlock produced a long double-toothed probe from a pocket in one sleeve. That, too, was made of clear glass.
"Ask him for some raw beef," Wuinlendhono said, already kneeling by Hlupnafenglu's shaggy golden head. "I'm hungry."
Rokhlenu was in place, too, so Morlock knelt down by Hlupnafenglu's side and deftly incised a cross in the side of his head. He peeled back the flesh, exposing the skull. Under the frighteningly copious blood, there was a network of pulsating light woven through the bone of the skull. It was much like what they had seen in Morlock's skull, the three of them, anyway. Except that there was more of it; it was denser; the light was more golden.
"You knew exactly where it was," Liudhleeo said quaveringly.
"I saw it in a vision," Morlock explained. "He has a faint scar there, also."
"Are you-are you-are you in a vision or whatever you call it now?" She sounded terrified to Rokhlenu. He wondered why.
"No," said Morlock. He got out of her way, and she approached with the two-pronged probe.
Rokhlenu watched her hand narrowly for any sign of trembling, but there was none. Her hand approached the seeping wound confidently, and carefully probed the skull for the central node.
Then she screamed. She leapt to her feet and she was screaming. Smoke was rising from her hand. A drop of blood there was burning through her skin.
Morlock grabbed her hand and, quick as a werewolf, licked the blood from her hand. Then, unlike a werewolf, he grimaced and spat. "Eccch. Healing is an ugly business."
There were tears in Liudhleeo's dark eyes, but she was smiling as she looked on him. "Thanks," she said. "From one ugly healer to another."
"I guess I'd better pull the spike."
"I wonder why it burned you."
"The blood stinks of silver," Wuinlendhono said distantly. "If you people are done licking each other, I wish you would pull that spike or sew him up or both."
Morlock did both. He located the largest pulsating node and applied the pincers of his probe to either side. It took some time to break it free from the skull, which had begun to heal around the spike: it must have been in the red werewolf's head a long time. But, in the end, Morlock held it triumphantly in his hand, and the three (conscious) werewolves looked on it with a mixture of interest and horror.
It was not blood-dark, like the spike from Morlock's brain. It was still luminous as it lay in his hand, a silvery gold sheathed with drying blood.
"It's electrum, I think," the crooked never-wolf said. "An alloy of silver and gold," he explained, when they looked at him bewildered.
"What a disgusting idea!" Wuinlendhono said heatedly.
"Gold will cure a silver wound," Liudhleeo added tentatively. "I read that somewhere, I think. That's how he must have survived."
"It was some sort of experiment?" Rokhlenu asked. "A game-to see what could be done to a werewolf like this without killing him?" He felt rage building in him. "What kind of crazy ghost-sniffer would do that?"
Morlock pocketed the bloody silver-gold tooth. "Ulugarriu, maybe," he said.
The name cast a pall over the room. Morlock sewed up the red werewolf's bleeding head in an awful silence that didn't seem to bother him in the least. Of course, he lived his life swimming in awful silences, Rokhlenu reflected.
Hlupnafenglu lay in the sunlight, strangely still.
"I wonder if we killed him?" Liudhleeo said quietly.
"Better dead than running around with a silver spike in his brain," Wuinlendhono said decisively, standing with her usual fluid grace. "If we are done here, I think I will return to my lair for a sleep. We'll be having a long night, tonight."
"But-" Rokhlenu said, turning toward her. He hadn't been expecting her to accompany them on the foray to the Khuwuleion. It was insane: some of them would likely die. But she was staring at him with eyes carved from black ice, and his objections died unspoken in his throat.
"I'd better do the same," he said. "See you at sunset," he said to Morlock.
As Rokhlenu shut the door behind him he glanced back and saw Morlock tending to Liudhleeo's hand as she looked on him with a rather predatory smile on her long narrow face.
Chapter Twenty: A Long Night
Night had fallen. The sky was largely free of clouds and wholly free of moons: it was the first dark call of the month of Jaric- a very dark call, this year, since Horseman had set. They would fight this night in their day shapes-and that increased the chance that some of them would die. Perhaps all of them, if they had miscalculated the forces that would be present to defend the prison.
Rokhlenu assembled his strike force on the marshy verge west of town. Besides him, the First Wolf, and Hrutnefdhu, there were twenty irredeemables and five gold-toothed bodyguards led by the frizz-haired Yaniunulu. The senior bodyguard was hardly more prepossessing in his day shape than his night shape, but he had insisted on his right to accompany the First Wolf into danger and she had smilingly assured him she would do her very best to protect him.
They were waiting on Morlock; and Rokhlenu, getting jittery, sent Hrutnefdhu to round him up.
He was not surprised when he saw the pale werewolf returning alone, poling a boat from the southern gate of the outlier settlement.
"He says not to wait for him," Hrutnefdhu gasped as soon as he was within talking distance. "He'll catch up to us."
Rokhlenu shook his head grimly. "That crazy never-wolf."
They set off at a loping run down the path that led to the long walls of the Sardhluun Pack. They kept their glittering weapons sheathed; what armor they wore was covered by dark surcoats. They were hoping to surprise the enemy. They had no other hope, really.
They came to the long walls at a place far from any gate. There was no guard atop the wall that anyone could see or smell. Ape-fingered Runhuiulanhu climbed the wall with pitons and rope, like a cliff face, and the rest of them went up the rope one by one after him and down by rope on the opposite side.
They'd chosen their spot well: hardly three hundred loping paces off lay the squat bulk of the Khuwuleion, a dark shape etched against the western stars.
Rokhlenu was just catching his breath and his beloved on the far side of the Long Wall when a human shape vaulted clear over the wall and landed rolling in the dark field nearby.
"Nicely done," he whispered harshly.
"Takes practice," Morlock whispered back.
"How many legs did you break?"
Morlock climbed carefully to his feet. His expression was invisible in the dark, but he was clearly turned toward the wall, waiting. When all the werewolves had climbed down the inner wall he said, "Then," and leapt into the sky.
Rokhlenu lost sight of him at first, then saw a series of stars being briefly occulted: that was where Morlock must be. A dark shape landed in the fields halfway between the wall and the Khuwuleion and lifted off again.
"What if he misses the roof?" wondered Yaniunulu.
"Then he tries again," Rokhlenu said.
"What if he breaks his leg?"
"Then we send up Runhuiulanhu with a rope."
"And what if-?"
"Then we trade you and your gold-toothers to the Sardhluun for the female prisoners," said Yaarirruuiu, one of the irredeemables. "A bad trade for them, but we'll tell them you clean up nice."
A few snarling chuckles at this. The irredeemables had no time for the First Wolf's bodyguard at the best of times, and they didn't like frizz-faced Yaniunulu casting aspersions on Khretvarrgliu.
"I think he landed on the roof," Hrutnefdhu said quietly.
Rokhlenu couldn't tell, himself, but he trusted the pale werewolf.
"Forward, then," he said. "Run silent. Don't draw a weapon until the First Wolf or I command it."
They ran from the wall toward the hulking lightless prison.
It was too lightless, Rokhlenu thought as they approached. There seemed to be no lamplight or torchlight shining through the infrequent dark windows of the stone lair. It gave him a bad feeling, but they had set their plans and this was no reason to change them.
By the time they arrived at the Khuwuleion wall, two knotted lines had dropped from the distant roof. Except that they were both one line: they were connected at the low end and up above, where Morlock had installed a pulley. That was how the plan went, anyway.
"I suppose you'll want to be first or last," Wuinlendhono murmured in his ear.
"Last," he said. He'd thought about it: the ground was the point of greatest danger, if a patrol of Sardhluun guards happened by.
"Then I'm first," she said. Stepping over to the lines, she gripped one firmly and gave it a yank, letting Morlock know that a passenger was coming. Then four others took hold of the other line and started hauling it down. As it came down, the First Wolf went up, walking along the rough gray walls of the Khuwuleion.
Twenty-two others followed her up. In the end, there were four others and Rokhlenu.
"Remember," he whispered to the last four, who included Hrutnefdhu and the ape-fingered Runhuiulanhu, "run rather than fight. If need be, run all the way back to the outliers and have Lekkativengu come rescue us."
The irredeemables stood silent, but Hrutnefdhu's light voice whispered, "Yes, Gnyrrand."
Rokhlenu went to the rope, gripped it firmly, and pulled.
The other four started hauling at the ropes. Rokhlenu found himself fly walking up the side of the building. He found he didn't like it much and, as the ground got farther and farther away, he liked it less and less. But there was a moment when he seemed to be struggling absolutely alone, halfway between the dark ground and the star-filled sky. He didn't like it. But he knew he would never forget it.
He came up the lip of the roof, where the glass pulley was straining under his weight. In fact, Rokhlenu was dismayed to see a network of cracks running all through the pulley's transparent frame: it wouldn't bear his (or anyone's) weight much longer, he guessed.
Hands reached over the edge to pull him up. He grabbed them gratefully, and when they had him firmly, he let the rope go and climbed onto the roof.
He looked at the others and they looked at him. Most of them were grinning, teeth pale and sinister in starlight. There was no need to say anything: whatever he had experienced, they had experienced.
Morlock was standing with his long-leaping boots in his hand, looking at them intently. They had discussed this, too: it would be a mistake to leave them anchored to the roof, where the Sardhluun could find them and make use of them. They were impossible to fight in. But Rokhlenu had some sense of how difficult their making had been, and what an oddly intense feeling Morlock had for the things he made. Still, there was no help for it. Morlock opened his fingers, and the boots flew up into the sky and were lost.
The shadow with Yaarirruuiu's profile gestured toward part of the roof, where there was a hatch permitting entrance to the top floor of the prisonif it would open.
Morlock's crooked shape moved toward it. He gripped the bar atop the hatch with both hands (one gloved, one ungloved) and pulled it open.
It swung open fairly easily. At least there was no lock on it. But it screamed like a ghost hungry for blood, and a cloud of gray murk rose from it that had the tang of iron in Rokhlenu's nostrils: rust.
They waited without moving or speaking. Any guard within hearing would have to come investigate the sound.
No one came. The dark feeling in Rokhlenu grew darker. It was not a feeling of danger. It was worse than that somehow.
Morlock drew the sword strapped over his shoulder: it was a short one with a glass blade, not his own Tyrfing. He stepped through the hatch and dropped down to the floor below.
The werewolves turned to Rokhlenu and Wuinlendhono.
"Go down first," said Rokhlenu. "Then draw." He didn't want anyone impaling himself on his weapon. Except Yaniunulu, perhaps.
One by one they dropped through the hatch. Rokhlenu and Wuinlendhono went last, side by side.
Morlock had a piece of glass in his hand that was shedding a cool bluish light. Rokhlenu would have cautioned him about making a light until they were sure it was safe, except for two things. One was that Morlock seemed not to be in the mood for caution: his eyes were starting to get that staring crazy look again; he was less Morlock and more Khretvarrgliu by the moment. Second, Rokhlenu's ears and eyes and nose were all telling him what perhaps Morlock had already guessed: this place was abandoned. The cell doors lay half open; there was a fur of humid dust on the very bars of the cells.
"If there is a single rat in this entire building," said one of the irredeemables, "I'll eat it."
"I thought I was the only one who was hungry," said Wuinlendhono in a hard, clear, amused tone.
The werewolves snickered. They liked the toughness of their First Wolf. If they noticed, as Rokhlenu noticed, the wet staring look in her eyesalmost as crazy as Morlock's-they gave no sign of it.
Morlock took another piece of glass from a pocket in his sleeve and tapped it against the first. Now both were lit. He tossed the glass toward Rokhlenu and Wuinlendhono without looking at them; Rokhlenu snatched it out of the air and tried to look as if he weren't startled.
Morlock plunged down a nearby stairwell. The irredeemables started to follow him. The gold-toothed bodyguards looked toward Wuinlendhono for instructions. Yaarirruuiu noticed this, looked annoyed, and stood in front of the stairwell, blocking the way.
"Gnyrrand?" he said, meeting Rokhlenu's eye. (Translation: I'll be gnawed by ghosts if these semi-cows are going to show more respect to their chief than we show to ours.)
"Follow him," Rokhlenu said, "but be careful. This place may have traps, even if there is no one in it."
They followed Morlock down the stairs.
They were careful. There were no traps. There were no people. The building was empty of life, down to the torture chambers on the underground levels.
Rokhlenu and Wuinlendhono investigated those alone while the others stood guard in the central chamber on the first floor.
Rokhlenu walked behind and held the shining fragment of glass high as Wuinlendhono peered carefully into bloodstained room-the holding cells, the torture chambers, the spiked closets, everything large enough to conceal a body. It was as if she was expecting to find someone in particular. But there was no one there, alive or dead.
Finally she gave up and they started to climb the stairs back to the ground floor.
"It hasn't changed that much since I was a girl," she remarked. "I wonder when they stopped using it."
He grabbed her by the arm, and she turned to look at him. Her dark eyes were empty as if she didn't see him.
"You were imprisoned here," he said.
"I was born here."
"Ghost." Rokhlenu thought furiously. "That thing. Wurnafenglu. He is your father."
"No, I don't think so. I hope not. He didn't think so. My mother was one of his wives, but she became pregnant by another male. So he insisted, anyway. He had her thrown in prison and tortured her for the name, but she never told. Or maybe she did, and it didn't matter; they kept on torturing her, anyway. I grew up here. When I was a few years short of my first heat, Wurnafenglu bartered me to a rich old pervert of the Goweiteiuun Pack. He was an eminent ghost-sniffer, and smock-sniffer, too. I learned so much from him. My first, extremely late husband."
Rokhlenu noticed that he was gripping Wuinlendhono's elbow rather tightly. He relaxed his grip and put his hand along her forearm caressingly.
"I cannot stand," whispered Wuinlendhono, "that you know when to talk, and when not to talk. That you are as beautiful as a moon at new rising. That you are strong as iron, as cunning and lively as a flame. That I can trust you. That I can turn my back on you and know that I am safe, know that you will die defending me, that I would die defending you. Your love will make me weak and I cannot be weak. I can't be weak. Stop making me be weak."
"I wouldn't want you if you were weak."
She was in his arms by then, sniffing his hair and nipping at his neck. "Lying son of a never-wolf cow," she breathed in his ear.
"And don't talk that way about my mother. She was a very respectable rope weaver, may the ghosts leave her alone."
Wuinlendhono drew in a long sobbing breath and stood away from him.
"I'm sure she was," said the First Wolf of the outlier pack. "Eminently respectable. How sorry I am that I never got the chance to meet her."
"You'd be sorrier still if you did have the chance. She never was very kindly to my meathearts."
"And neither will I ever be, so we have that in common."
She took his arm and they climbed the dark stair in silence.
When they reached the ground floor, the other werewolves (including the four who had been left outside) were crowded around Morlock and Hrutnefdhu. Morlock was holding a large codex in his right hand and raising high the shining glass in his gloved left hand. Hrutnefdhu, standing beside him, was reading from the book in low tones.
"Interesting story?" Wuinlendhono inquired, when they were close enough not to shout.
"Many stories," said Morlock. "All grim."
"It's the prisoner registry," Hrutnefdhu said. "Names, crimes, dates of admission, dates of-well, departure, I suppose. And notes on their final disposition."
"They are all dead or sold," Morlock said. "The ink on the latest entries looks to be five years old at least."
"Five years." Rokhlenu shook his head. "This was a fool's errand. They must have decided years ago that selling their prisoners was more profitable than housing and feeding them."
"Why just female prisoners?" Morlock asked.
The irredeemables looked embarrassed on Morlock's behalf, the goldtoothed bodyguards amused at his lack of sophistication.
"There are more unmated males than females in the wild packs," Wuinlendhono explained. "Every female knows she can get a mate by leaving the city. Not that many want to."
"Would all the female prisoners over a stretch of five years or more be salable on those terms?" asked Morlock coolly.
"Depends on how desperate they are out there, Khretvarrgliu," Runhuiulanhu said philosophically. "You should see some of the stale biscuits, male and female, they have down at the day-lairs off the market. But people pay for their company all the time."
"Never you, of course," said a gold-tooth slyly.
"Yes me, you stupid bag of marrow-sucked bones. Me with my monkey hands and feet, even when all three moons are up, and everyone knowing about it on account of they call me Ape-fingers. You think females are lining up to mate with me? If I get it, I have to pay for it."
"Couldn't you find a female in the same condition?" asked Morlock.
"Mate with an ape-fingered female?" cried ape-fingered Runhuiulanhu. "I can do better than that!"
"Shut up, for ghosts' sake," Rokhlenu hissed. "We'll have the Sardhluun down on us and there's no point to that, now."
"Be quiet, by all means," the First Wolf agreed. "But," she continued, this was not a fool's errand. That book will be very useful. Very useful indeed."
Confused looks on most faces except Morlock's-he may have been still pondering the plight of the ape-fingered werewolf for all Rokhlenu knew. But light began to shine in Rokhlenu's understanding. "Not every female sent here was to serve a life sentence. No female was sent here for a death sentence. People will want to know what happened to them."
"There's that," Wuinlendhono agreed. "Then there's the money. The Sardhluun have been taking money every year for tending to the city's pris oners. The citizens of Wuruyaaria will be curious to know how that money was spent."
Nods all around, fierce grins. Morale had been falling ever since they found the prison was an empty stone box; now the warriors were standing straighter. His intended was good at chieftainship, Rokhlenu thought (not for the first time). It was one thing to realize what she had said; it was another thing to know that her fighters needed to hear it.
"Then we can declare victory and get out," he said aloud.
"I'd better get that pulley," Morlock said. "It'll look bad when they see we broke into an empty prison."
"Not worth the time-" Rokhlenu began, thinking of Morlock shuffling up and down all the stairs above them, but Morlock was already headed out the front gate.
The werewolves followed him out. Morlock walked over to the lines hanging down the wall, found one of the knots in the rope, and pulled it apart.
"Stand clear," he said belatedly, standing clear himself.
The long cord began to fall, piling up on the dark ground. A few moments later, the glass pulley landed in a shower of bright fragments. Morlock quickly stowed the fragments in a bag he had been carrying on his back, coiled up the rope, and did likewise. He looked up to see the werewolves staring at him.
"I don't like strangers handling my stuff," he said.
This was a universal instinct among werewolves, and they all nodded sagely in agreement. But what Rokhlenu had really been wondering was how Morlock had gotten the pulley to fall into pieces. He must have shattered it somehow beforehand, but kept the fragments from separating with some spell. Now the spell had been broken and the pulley followed suit obligingly.
"Morlock, you're the best of makers!" Rokhlenu said. "Ulugarriu can yodel up his own tail, if any."
"Like to see them fight it out," Yaarirruuiu said. "Morlock against Ulugarriu in a maker's challenge."
"Yes!" cried Hrutnefdhu, his eyes shining with admiration. "What a game it would be! Skill against skill, with life and bite on the line."
The gold-toothed guards looked sidelong with disdain at the pale castrato's enthusiasm, but the irredeemables chuckled and Yaarirruuiu clapped him on the shoulder. They liked the ex-trustee, and even respected him a little, though he would not wear (or could not keep) honor-teeth.
"Shut your noisy word-holes, my champions," Wuinlendhono said cheerily. "Let's get clear of this place so that the Sardhluun can start paying for our fun soonest."
This strongly appealed to all of them, and Rokhlenu had no trouble ordering them for a quick run back to the ropes they had left hanging from the Long Wall. He put Morlock and Hrutnefdhu at the end, where they would wind up anyway, ape-fingered Runhuiulanhu at the front, in case the ropes were gone and they had to rescale the walls, and Wuinlendhono carrying the book in the center of the company, where it was safest.
The ropes were still there and apparently had not been discovered. No one was lying in wait for them, anyway. Rokhlenu was standing on the top of the wall, preparing to climb down the other side, when he noticed light and noise coming from the north and east, along the straight road to Wuruyaaria from the Long Wall. He signalled that the others should keep crossing over while he kept his eyes and ears on this interesting if indistinct disturbance.
Wuinlendhono clambered up the rope. The prisoner book from the Khuwuleion was dangling from one shoulder bound in neatly knotted rope. "Thanks for the help," she said pointedly after (in his absorption) he failed to help her.
"Look!" he said.
"Election," she said briefly. "That's why we're here tonight, remember?"
"It's outside the walls! A primary election would be held on Sardhluun ground."
"Yurr. Yes, you're right about that."
"It's a general election rally."
"Must be. Yes, I agree. And it must be against a pack who has no hope of beating them, so they're risking a rally now, and hoping to live down the defeat before election season is over."
"Only they're going to get some help."
"Not tonight, cutlet. We're not ready."
"They're not ready."
"Can't talk you out of it, can I? Oh, well. You're the gnyrrand."
Yaniunulu was just passing over the wall between them, and Wuinlendhono said, "Yaniunulu. Give it to him."
The frizz-haired red werewolf paused to goggle at her. "High Huntress," he said, "with respect-"
"Listen, I'm not sure who you think you're talking to, but I am sure your respect means less than nothing to me. When I told you to give it to him, I meant for you to give it to him. So give it to him."
Silently Yaniunulu took a staff hanging from his belt and handed it to Rokhlenu. He proceeded down the far side of the wall without another word.
The staff was wrapped with a black covering. When he pulled that loose, he found that the staff was a flagstaff: around it was wrapped the green-andgold banner of the outliers.
"It would be better if all the other nominees were here," Wuinlendhono said, "but I thought it might come to this. Now you can fight under our banner."
Rokhlenu mulled this over for a moment, then said, "You knew there would be a general election rally tonight, and you lied to me about it."
"I still don't think we're ready to intervene in the general election-we don't even have an ally in the treaty packs yet. And I didn't lie; I just didn't go out of my way to correct your mistaken impression. Oh. Oh, ghost. I hate it that I just said that."
After a moment of tense thought Rokhlenu said mildly, "We'll have to do better."
"You're right," she admitted frankly. "I'm not used to this partnership thing. I'll go with my guards and get the wedding ready; I have my brideprice," she added, shyly tapping the prison register. She scampered down the rope before he could kiss her good-bye.
Hrutnefdhu was coming up the rope now. Morlock, the last of the group, climbed up when Hrutnefdhu started climbing down the outer wall.
He caught Morlock by the arm and hauled him up-not that Morlock needed the help; he climbed better than Runhuiulanhu.
"We're going to be fighting after all," he said to Morlock.
"Some sort of rally?" Morlock said. "I heard you talking. Won't it go against you with the treaty packs if you break up an election rally?"
Rokhlenu looked at him with astonishment he was unable to mask. "Have you ever seen an election?" he asked.
"Many," Morlock said. "They didn't usually involve fighting." He paused. "At least, not on purpose." Another pause. "Actually, I'm not sure about that. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Tell me about your election rallies."
The your stung a little. But Rokhlenu had almost forgotten that Morlock was a never-wolf; there was something so wolvish about him.
"Once the packs elect their nominees," he explained to his old friend, "pack meets pack in a series of rallies all through the election season. They speak and they fight; citizens come to watch. The pack that speaks and fights better gains bite. The other loses bite. The nominees with the most bite at the end of the election season lie down in the Innermost Pack of the city."
"Then," said Morlock, and climbed down the outer wall.
By the time Rokhlenu reached the ground, Wuinlendhono and her guards were gone. The werewolves and Morlock were standing with weapons drawn, waiting for him.
He shook loose the green-and-gold banner and handed it to Hrutnefdhu.
"Don't lose it," he said.
"Won't," said the pale werewolf in a strangled tone.
Banner-bearer was a position of high honor and Hrutnefdhu was the male of lowest bite among them, but the irredeemables were for it. "Ha!" said Yaarirruuiu. "You'll have some bite after tonight, plepnup." The irredeemables growled their approval.
"Or we'll all be plepnupov," Hrutnefdhu snapped back, and the irredeemables hooted. The ex-trustee was judged the winner of that exchange.
"Let's go," Rokhlenu said, and they ran side by side into battle.
Mercy was the weakest of the Strange Gods, and her visualizations were often less than complete. So she was surprised when War manifested himself along side her on the road to Wuruyaaria. He wore his now-favorite form of a decapitated man, holding his severed head like a lamp. She wore the form of a woman without a mouth, carrying a white lotus flower in her hand.
"Going to the rally?" the decapitated man signified, flapping its gray lips with a hint of mockery.
"I am," Mercy confirmed. "I am surprised to see you there. Will your friend Death also be watching it?"
"My visualization doesn't embrace that," War admitted. They had hated each other so long that they had reached a state where it was pointless to lie to one another. "She is stranger than ever, in recent event-series. Even when she signifies directly to me, I have trouble disentangling her symbols. They seem almost random, empty of meaning."
"There may be no deaths at this rally, anyway," Mercy signified. "I hope not."
"I care not. You may be right; you may be wrong: the Sardhluun are ruthless bastards. They are stupid, though, and rarely amuse me."
Their manifestations overlapped the nexus of space-time where the rally was occurring.
The gnyrrand of the Goweiteiuun, a citizen named Aaluindhonu, was standing with his slate of candidates under a banner of blue and red, telling a parable of a man with five sons. The man asked each of his sons to take an arrow and break it. They did. Then he took five arrows, bound them together, and told them each to try and break the bundle. None could, and this showed, the gnyrrand said, that strength came through union: of brother with brother, citizen with citizen, pack with pack. The Goweiteiuun Pack was for the strength of the city through unity. The gnyrrand slouched back among his dozen or so followers without waiting for the crowd's applause.
There wasn't much applause to wait for. The crowd of spectators, gathered in the open area between the two bands of candidates, was not particularly impressed. The arrow story was trite; the lesson was the sort of la-di-da their den mothers and teachers had been yowling at them for as long as they could remember. It might be true, but it bored them. They turned with relief to the Sardhluun band.
The gnyrrand of the Sardhluun Pack was not present; this wasn't an important enough rally for him to appear. His second-candidate, Hwinsyngundu, gave the Sardhluun response, standing under a banner of black and green, in front of fifty volunteers wearing the same colors. He was a burly, broad-shouldered werewolf, his fat neck wholly covered with thick bands of honor-teeth. He stepped forward and reached out one hand. A werewolf in Sardhluun colors put five arrows in his outstretched palm. Hwinsyngundu gripped the bundle with both hands, held it over his head, and-without a word-he snapped the bundle in half.
The crowd roared. This was better than the truth. This confirmed their irritation with the old truism-scratched the itch they had long felt.
"That was clever," War signified generously. "It was prearranged, of course."
"Yes," Mercy signified. "Aaluindhonu, the gnyrrand of the Goweiteiuun, betrayed his pack. The Sardhluun threatened to kill some of his semiwolf kin who live in Apetown unless he cooperated with them. He is fond of his kin, even if they are semiwolves, and has little hope in the elections anyway, and so he submitted to the Sardhluun demands."
"All's fair, I suppose," said War dubiously. Politics was much like war in some ways, almost an extension of war by other means, but sometimes the methods involved made him uncomfortable. "I wish Wisdom were manifest," he continued. "He'd enjoy this. The crowd certainly is."
The crowd itself was not particularly impressive. It was numerous, surely, especially for a rally this early in the season on a moonless night, when the fighting was likely to be bloodless. But there were many citizens wearing the night shape-probably denizens of Dogtown, where the never-men tended to congregate. Many of the others may have come from Apetown: they were not well dressed, and there were many semiwolves among them. Many in the crowd wore not a single honor-tooth. They had little bite to bestow.
But what they had, they gave to the Sardhluun and to Hwinsyngundu before he opened his mouth: they cheered; they howled; they barked. It was Sardhluun's rally to lose at that exhilarating moment.
Hwinsyngundu began to speak. He said that the city was strong because of its strongest citizens; life was a war, with every citizen in conflict with the others. The strongest ruled; others cooperated because they must, because they needed the strength of the strong, but the strong needed nothing but their strength alone, so the city should grow the strength of the strong to become stronger as the strong ruled the city with strength and in strength for its strength and theirs. Their strength, that is. In strength was safety and in safety was strength. He then expanded on these important points, perhaps repeating himself a little.
The crowd grew much less enthusiastic as he spoke (at much too great a length). This was just the usual Sardhluun line, almost as trite as the handholding inanity of the Goweiteiuun gnyrrand. They began to vacate the space between the two packs of candidates, long before the second candidate had finished his speech. Eventually, he noticed that he was losing the crowd and concluded with some screeching insults about the cowardice of the Goweiteiuun ghost-sniffers.
The crowd applauded politely. Hwinsyngundu had lost most of their esteem, but they were still somewhat in Sardhluun's favor because of the great stunt with the arrows, and because they were obviously going to win the ensuing fight. The Sardhluun candidates and followers behind Hwinsyngundu looked somewhat dismayed, though.
"What a clown," War signified impatiently.
"He believes what he is saying," signified Mercy, who felt sorry for the inept politician. "Hwinsyngundu really believes he is a bold lone hero who has clambered to the top through his strength and independent daring."
"He grew up in, and inherited, a household of five hundred personal slaves. He is the Werowance's bastard son and grandson."
"Yes. The family should outbreed more, obviously."
Now the space between the bands of candidates and their auxiliaries was quite clear, and the crowd readied themselves to enjoy a quick drubbing and mocking of the Goweiteiuun.
"Where are the prisoners of the Khuwuleion?" came a shout from the darkness beyond the rally torches.
The crowd fell silent, astonished. The candidates paused, unsure what was happening.
Even Mercy was surprised. She observed War, who made the gray lips of his severed head smile cheerily at her.
"Where are the prisoners of the Vargulleion?" the same voice shouted.
Now the crowd was less surprised, and more amused, because they all knew the answer to this one. The Sardhluun had lost all their male prisoners in the largest prison break in the history of Wuruyaaria. It was a shameful display of weakness from those who bragged constantly of their strength, and it had been enjoyed as a joke on all the mesas of Wuruyaaria.
Hwinsyngundu stepped into the open space between the two parties and shouted into the darkness. "The prisoners fled like weaklings to the cowardly outlier pack, who admit their weakness by submitting to the rule of a female. We of the mighty Sardhluun Pack have given them a first burning taste of vengeance and, if need be, they will drink the whole poisonous bowl and die of it. None defy the mighty Sardhluun Pack and live!"
"I did," said the speaker in the shadows, and strode forward into the light. He was a tall, gray-haired werewolf in the day shape, his wolf-shadow rippling below him in the firelight. Over his head rippled the green-andgold banner of the outliers, the flagstaff held by a pale mottled werewolf.
"I am Rokhlenu," said the gray werewolf, "gnyrrand of the outliers. I come with my fighters, all escaped from the Vargulleion, and my old friend Morlock Khretvarrgliu. We say that you lie, Sardhluun sheepdogs. You were too weak to hold us. You were too weak to retake us. And you sold your prisoners of the Khuwuleion like meat to the wild packs in the empty lands. The Khuwuleion is as empty as the Vargulleion, as empty as every Sardhluun promise, as every Sardhluun boast. Only cowards lie. Only weaklings worship strength. We come here to fight alongside the noble Goweiteiuun Pack against the Sardhluun fleabags. If you really are the stronger, you have the chance to prove it now."
Out of the darkness stepped two dozen werewolves, more or less human in shape. And there was the never-wolf, Khretvarrgliu, his shadow the same crooked form as his body. He held a sword the color of glass in his hand; his eyes, too, were the color of gray glass.
The Goweiteiuun followers cheered their unexpected allies; only their gnyrrand seemed dismayed. The Sardhluun werewolves looked at the Goweiteiuun, looked at the newcomers, and fell in a body on the outliers.
"This is what you came to see!" Mercy signified. "You visualized this!"
War's headless shoulders shrugged. "I could not be sure. None of my visualizations have the light of certainty these days. But several futures showed something like this. Ulugarriu was present in those features, but is not here now, unless disguised somehow."
"Ulugarriu might be able to baffle a god's indirect visualization, but not direct perceptions from our manifest selves. Surely?" signified Mercy, ever less sure as she thought of it.
"I don't know," War admitted reluctantly. "It's a good fight, though, don't you think?"
"I hate it. They have struck down that pale werewolf with the banner. They are going to kill him."
"No. No, you're wrong. Look how his comrades come to his aid. That one they call Khretvarrgliu. He's not even a werewolf. He's standing over the pale one's body. He'll die rather than let them hurt his friend. Doesn't it move you, Mercy? This is what war is really about: heroism, self-sacrifice, daring, strategy. Not just killing and cruelty."
"There is a great deal of killing and cruelty. Your hero Khretvarrgliu has killed three Sardhluun werewolves already. And he would kill them all if he could: there is a madness in him."
"You're right, of course. They should have killed him or left him alone."
So far the fighting had only been between the Sardhluun and the newcomers. The Goweiteiuun followers were urgently addressing their gnyrrand, who wore a bitter haggard look on his narrow face. Finally he nodded. The Goweiteiuun gave a thin howling cheer and they charged the flank of the Sardhluun werewolves.
The fight was far from certain even after the Goweiteiuun struck. The Sardhluun still had the greater numbers, and their band were all broadbacked fighters.
But their union was broken when the Goweiteiuun attacked. Some turned to respond to it; others hesitated; others stayed engaged with the outliers. There was a gap in the Sardhluun line, and the ruthless outliers took advantage of it. The gray-haired blue-eyed leader leaped forward, a longfaced ape-fingered werewolf at his side. By now the one they called Khretvarrgliu had lifted the pale werewolf from the ground and was holding him up with his left hand; the pale werewolf in turn held the green-and-gold banner high. The outliers shouted (or howled) as one and followed their gnyrrand into the broken Sardhluun line. Mad-eyed Morlock came last, hauling the banner-bearer like a banner and stabbing with his glittering glass sword.
The Sardhluun band retreated to re-form their line, but the others charged with them and the melee continued. Werewolves lay dead or dying on the moonless ground. Others, only wounded, were crawling out of the torchlight to hide in the shadows. The Sardhluun retreated again, and suddenly they were not retreating but running, a rout of werewolves in black and green fleeing for their lives down the road to the Long Wall.
The Goweiteiuun did not pursue them but stood cheering on the rally ground. The crowd, too, was cheering: the fight was excellent and unexpected; the stunt with the arrows had been a good one; in all, it was a much better rally than anyone had hoped for. The outliers did follow the Sardhluun until the defeated werewolves began to enter the Low Road Gate through the Long Wall. Then the leader of the outliers turned his fighters back and went to have words with the sad-eyed gnyrrand of the Goweiteiuun band.
"A good fight indeed," signified War. "Yes, I think this will be a fine election year." He demanifested himself with no further symbolism. It was uncivil, but he and Mercy had never been on the best of terms.
Mercy turned to find Death manifest beside her in the form of a spiderlimbed woman.
"How your weakness repels me," Death remarked. "I struck here tonight, and you could do nothing to stop it."
"In the shadows," Mercy replied, "are five she-wolves of the Goweiteiuun. They came to tend the wounded from their pack after tonight's rally. As it happens, all the seriously wounded are Sardhluun. The she-wolves will tend them as their own and no more of them will die."
Death rose to all eight of her legs and looked down on the small mouthless woman with the lotus in her hand. "They will all die," Death signified. "Each one will die, and none will save them."
"On another day. On another night. Tonight," signified Mercy with great satisfaction, "I have struck, and you could do nothing to stop it."
Death indicated amusement, indifference, and patience. Then she ceased to manifest herself.
Mercy stayed to watch the acts that fell within her sphere, and to watch the increasingly intent conversation between the gnyrrands of the Goweiteiuun and the outliers. More deaths would come of that; more fighting; more need for mercy.
Chapter Twenty-one: Night Shapes
Wuinlendhono and Rokhlenu's mating was settled for the fourth day of the year's third month-the month the werewolves called Uyaarwuionien ("third half-lunation of the second moon") but Morlock called Brenting. So he explained to Rokhlenu after Rokhlenu bespoke him as a guest and he accepted. They stood talking outside the irredeemables' lair-now considerably less barnlike thanks to their relative wealth, bite, and a good deal of hard work.
"What difference does it make what the month's called?" Rokhlenu asked Morlock.
"Nothing, except I find Brenting easier to pronounce."
"Are you joking? With that lippy growling bibbly sound at the beginning of the word?"
"You can say it."
"Of course I can say it, but why should I have to? I'm not an ape hanging by my feet from a tree branch. What's so hard to say about Uyaarwuionien? It practically sings its way out of your mouth."
"Not my mouth. I still haven't mastered the vowels of Sunspeech, let alone Moonspeech. Yesterday I asked a citizen selling grain in the marketplace whether she would sell me a pound of wheat flour and she started to take her clothes off."
"Oh. Oh, I see." In Sunspeech, the word luiunhiendhi meant "flour ground from wheat" whereas luunhendhe was an abrupt and rather intimate invitation involving another type of seed entirely. "Still, it's promising that she was so eager to go along. Did you get anywhere with her?"
"I got my flour eventually, if that's what you mean."
It was not what Rokhlenu meant at all. Like many males about to mate for life, he was eager to see his friends married off also, or at least happily settled. Morlock was an awkward prospect in this line.
"Well-pronounce it any way you want, as long as you're there. The act needs witnesses, and I want you to be mine."
"I'm honored, old friend," Morlock said formally, then added, "What should I bring?"
"Hm." Morlock looked unhappy. After a moment he said, "Rokhlenu."
"I think our friendship has passed the point where we waste time being polite to each other?"
"Sometime on day two, I'd say. Why?"
"I remind you that I have never been to a mating of werewolves. If a gift is customary, I would prefer to bring a gift, polite protestations notwithstanding."
"Yes, I see. But I mean what I say, Morlock. When a First Wolf mates, or anyone with a lot of bite, really, it's the custom to not give gifts to the happy couple. They are supposed to be too ghost-bitingly wealthy to need the guests' assistance. We really only want you to be there."
"I will be." Morlock looked closely at him, a faint smile on his face. "You say `happy couple' as if you mean it."
Rokhlenu shrugged and threw a chair at his old friend. Morlock caught it neatly-with his right hand, Rokhlenu noticed with a pang; he hardly ever moved the left hand anymore unless he had to. "I do mean it, I guess," Rokhlenu admitted. "Sad, isn't it?"
"Sad? No. Tragic perhaps."
"Happiness is usually tragic."
Morlock twirled the chair nervously in his fingers. He was no longer smiling. "I may be using the wrong words. The word I am thinking of in my native language implies no criticism."
"Now who's being polite? Get out and don't come back until you want to."
Morlock smiled, nodded, threw the chair back at him, and left.
"Your friend has been life-mated," Wuinlendhono said sagely, when Rokhlenu told her about the conversation later.
"Morlock? Married? Impossible."
"I'm sure his wife came to the same conclusion, at some point."
"Don't put the snarl on my old friend."
"He knows stuff about marriage that you don't, is what I'm saying, really. He has a sense of what you're getting into."
"I'm not getting into a what. I'm getting into a who."
"There's a what and a who. The who is your mate; the what is the marriage itself. There's usually trouble with one or the other."
"You worry too much about trouble. What happens can be dealt with. What never happens, you never have to deal with."
"Very philosophical. But I've got enough trouble to worry me. If these parfumiers don't come up with a decent wedding scent I may have to be mated wearing garlic instead of honor-teeth."
"Suits me. That or your natural scents: what could be more intoxicating?"
"It's not for you, clod. If you think I'm going to appear before what passes for the gentry in this bug-bitten swampy suburb without a decent wedding scent you …you can …"
"Think again? Bite you? Whistle up my tail?"
"You may not finish my sentences for me until we're mated and old."
"I can't wait to get started."
The waiting was hard, and became harder as the day got closer.
The day before the mating, grim news came from the city. Rokhlenu's father and two of his brothers had been killed in a night-theft while they were working as rope winders. His other brothers were missing; no one knew where they were-or, at least, if they knew, they would not say.
The messenger came to him just before sunset, and he went immediately to Wuinlendhono. He found her lying in her sleep chamber, just waking up from her afternoon sleep. Sitting down beside her sleeping cloak, he told her all he had heard.
"They can say night-thieves," he said. "And maybe they were nightthieves. But Rywudhaariu, that god-licking old gray-muzzle, he sent them. This is his work."
"It's a good guess. When did this all take place?"
"Seven months ago."
"You were on the fifth floor of the Vargulleion. There was nothing you could do."
"I know," Rokhlenu said, but he still felt guilty. He felt the shame survivors sometimes feel. "I think we should cancel the mating."
"Rokhlenu. Beloved. We will not cancel the mating."
"My father is dead. My brothers are dead."
"No deader now than they were yesterday."
"But now I know. If they were your kith, you would understand."
"I do understand. No, let me show you something, stalwart."
She rolled out of her sleeping cloak and grabbed a great heavy codex that was lying on a nearby chair. It was the prisoner book they had taken from the Vargulleion.
"I am not in here, by the way," she said, looking over the volume at him with her night-black eyes. "Evidently they didn't consider me a prisoner. But look at this."
Her forefinger rested on an entry; he read it over her shoulder. A prisoner named Slenginhuiuo. The crime was adultery. The dates of admission and discharge were illegible, but the prisoner was discharged as dead. Annotations in ideogrammatic Moonspeech added that the body was unfit for use as animal fodder and should be chopped up for fertilizer on the plantations.
"My mother," Wuinlendhono said. "I found this a few days ago. I hadn't wanted to look for it. I wanted to believe that he forgave her at last, that he sold her into some wild pack, that she was growing old licking someone else's cubs in the empty lands. But now I know. I know that she is dead. He had them torture her until she died."
"And you say we should be mated anyway."
"This is why we must be mated. Our families are gone. Our pasts are gone. All we have is each other, the present, and the future. Grieve. Plan vengeance. Do what you must. But tomorrow you will mount me as your mate. I need you."
If she had said (as he half expected her to say), be sensible, the plans are made, I finally have chosen my mating scent, we have bought expensive food and smoke which will spoil if it is not used, be sensible, all the invitations have been spoken, we have responsibilities to others, what will people think, be sensible-if she had said any of that, or anything like it, he would have left her forever. But the words she actually spoke tolled in his heart like a bell; he knew he could never leave her. She and no other was his life-mate.
"Need you, too," he grumbled.
"Oh, you golden-tongued persuader."
So Rokhlenu's mood was unexpectedly chaotic as he donned his wedding shirt the next day in the late afternoon. He was vibrating with hope and longing for Wuinlendhono; nothing could change that. But he was shaken by waves of grief and anger and loneliness, too. Somehow, no matter what he had done and where he had been, he had always seen himself returning to his family's den and telling his tale to them and listening to others from them as he lay by his brothers and father on the hearth before the long fireplace. Now they were dead, and that part of him was dying, like a gangrenous limb.
He stood in the little sleeping closet they had built for him in a corner of the irredeemables' barracks. A male was supposed to be mated from his parents' lair, the home where he grew up. But if that place still existed, it was just a place, a hole in the cliffs above Nekkuklendon mesa. The people who gave it meaning, who made it home, were dead. This place was just a place. He could still smell the sawdust from its making. But if he'd lived here for a hundred years, it still wouldn't be home.
"Chief," a hesitant voice broke in on his thoughts, "your friends are here."
Rokhlenu raised his head and saw that the door to his sleeping closet was open. In the doorway stood claw-fingered Lekkativengu.
"Good news," he said heavily, and moved toward the door. Lekkativengu stepped hastily out of the way, but Rokhlenu grabbed him by the shoulder before he had retreated entirely.
"You're in charge here, after I'm gone," he said.
"I know, Chief. Thanks."
They both knew it was a consolation prize; Rokhlenu had picked Yaarirruuiu to be the reeve of his campaign band. Lekkativengu had never really bitten through the bone as Olleiulu's replacement. Now that Rokhlenu had tasted real grief he was less inclined to condemn Lekkativengu as a scatterwit club-juggler. But he needed someone he could trust to watch his back in the long days and nights ahead, and he had seen Yaarirruuiu in the hour of action.
But the job of herding the irredeemables wasn't nothing, and Rokhlenu needed Lekkativengu to do it well. He said, "Olleiulu trusted you. Show me you deserve it and I'll never forget it."
Lekkativengu nodded, put his claw-fingered hand on Rokhlenu's shoulder, and said something about Rokhlenu's intended that would have earned him a knife in the belly on any other day. But encouragements like that were traditional between friends on a mating day, so Rokhlenu grinned and said, "If you insist. Over and over."
They released each other, and Rokhlenu turned to his friends. They were a rather motley crew: the never-wolf Morlock, the biteless healer female Liudhleeo-no, she was wearing an honor-tooth. No, it was the crystal spike she had pulled from Morlock's skull. Excellent: Wuinlendhono had told her to wear it. And it was a reminder, a very civil reminder, of how much he owed her. Beyond them stood the twenty irredeemables who had fought with him at the recent election rally-the twenty who had survived, anyway. Pale Hrutnefdhu was the only one missing.
Liudhleeo stepped forward, took his shoulder, and made an obscene suggestion about Wuinlendhono.
"Certainly," he said, "since you ask. Anything to oblige."
"Hrutnefdhu thought it best not to come," she added, in a low voice. "He hopes you understand."
"I do-though I'd be glad to see him here."
Morlock was close enough to hear this exchange, and he looked with some surprise at Liudhleeo, at Rokhlenu, and back at Liudhleeo. Then he shrugged.
Rokhlenu felt a sudden pang of doubt-did Morlock fully understand the life-mating ritual? Surely it couldn't be that different among neverwolves. Anyway, there was no time for a lesson now.
Liudhleeo stood aside, and Morlock grabbed Rokhlenu's shoulder. "I don't know any of the traditional remarks on a day like this," he observed.
Rokhlenu silently thanked the ghosts for this.
"I'll say this instead," Morlock continued. "We are one blood. Your blood is my blood. It will be avenged."
Rokhlenu belatedly realized that Morlock was talking about his father and brothers. His grief, never distant, returned in a great crashing wave. But this was real. It mattered, unlike the traditional obscene compliments. He met Morlock's eye. "I told you not to bring a present, you rat-bastard."
Morlock half smiled and shrugged. "I won't do it again," he promised, and stood back.
There were more encounters, more jokes and songs about the act of mating. But soon enough, Yaarirruuiu said, "Friends, the sun is setting. We must get our chief to his new home."
They roared and cheered and barked. Rokhlenu picked up a bundle of his clothes, and the twenty irredeemables who were accompanying him into Wuinlendhono's household picked up boxes of wealth and weapons and their own belongings. He walked before them, and they followed singing false and not really flattering stories about his sexual adventures or misadventures.
The walk to Wuinlendhono's lair-tower (still supported by cables, but on a firmer foundation than before thanks to Morlock and Hlupnafenglu) was not long, thank ghost. He pounded on the door and demanded entry.
The door was immediately opened by a snow-pale, anxious-looking Wuinlendhono. She wore a loose white wedding shirt, not so different than his own, except that the hem was lower, sweeping the floor. "My intended, you and yours enter my house and remain here forever," she said rapidly, and kissed his ear. She added in a whisper, "Ghost, I thought you were never coming. It's almost sunset."
"Plenty of time," he breathed, half stunned by the mix of her natural scent and her wedding scent. He noted with interest that she seemed more nervous than he was.
She took him by the hand and led him into the great audience chamber of the lair-tower. The dais had been moved so that moonlight would fall on it as soon as dark touched the sky after sunset. Around the audience chamber were scattered tables with bowls of food and water and fuming smoke. There were many low couches, and on some of them the councilors, allies, and friends who were Wuinlendhono's wedding party. They were already eating, drinking, smoking.
"My intended, disport yourselves with your friends and mine," Wuinlendhono said, in a loud formal voice. "I await your intention at the mating couch." She added in a low voice, "I give you a hundred breaths. If you're not on the dais by then, I'm coming after you and nailing you wherever you happen to be. One hundred breaths. And I'm breathing pretty fast, stalwart."
He watched her stride sinuously away from him and he took a deep breath. Ninety-nine more, and then …
His irredeemables were dumping the boxes with traditional informality about the room. This was just part of the tradition, meant to give the place a moved-in look. All the significant wealth and property (boxes of gold and such) had been brought over early in the day and secured.
Liudhleeo had Morlock over at one of the tables and was fussing over him with bowls of food and water. No doubt she would continue her epic quest to get into his pants tonight: mating ceremonies were famous for promoting spontaneous couplings. She tried to give him a bowl of smoke and he waved it off-and that reminded Rokhlenu of something.
He grabbed a jar sitting at a nearby table and ran over to Morlock and Liudhleeo. He took the bowl of water from Morlock's hand and dumped the contents back in the serving bowl. Morlock looked at him, his eyebrows lifting in surprise and amusement.
"You don't want that swill," said Rokhlenu. "Try this!" He cracked open the jar, poured a stream of purplish red wine into the bowl, and proudly handed it to Morlock.
He had been planning this for some time, ever since Morlock told him about drinking and bartenders. If Morlock didn't like smoking bloom, if he wanted wine to celebrate, Rokhlenu reasoned, why not get him some wine? It hadn't been easy, but he had done it, and the effect was all he could have hoped for.
Morlock's eyebrows raised even farther, his eyes widened, his mouth parted slightly. He was completely stunned.
"Is it the good kind?" Rokhlenu asked. "There were a couple of different colors. I got this from a gang of road robbers who dragged it back from Semendar without looking inside. There are crates of the stuff, as much as you could want."
"It's fine," Morlock said faintly.
"You're sure?" Rokhlenu asked.
"Morlock," Liudhleeo said out of the side of her mouth, "drink it. He's got some business to attend to."
Morlock put the bowl to his lips and drank a sip, then a larger mouthful.
"Excellent," he said, lowering the bowl. "Thanks, old friend. I know you mean well."
Rokhlenu laughed, punched him in the arm, and turned away. He had lost count of the breaths that had passed-and then he realized he didn't care. He walked, with as much dignity as he could, to the dais and mounted the steps. Wuinlendhono was watching him with her night-dark starless eyes. He found he had to step very slowly and carefully, lest he trip and fall-the worst of omens for a mating.
As he climbed the stairs, the room grew silent. By the time he reached the top, no one was speaking.
Wuinlendhono took his hands and they stood for a moment, wordless, staring into each other's eyes.
She shook his hands loose and said, in the dark contralto lightning she used as a voice, "I take you and all you are and all you own as mine."
He replied, in his clearest singing-while-speaking voice, "I take you and all you are and all you own as mine."
She undid the fastenings of her shirt, and it fell to the floor. She stood proudly naked in the red light of evening.
One of the knots in his fastenings would not come undone. He'd have cursed the one who had tied it, except it was himself, distracted by love and grief, only a short time ago.
Wuinlendhono smiled and brushed his hands aside, deftly undoing the knot. His shirt fell away, and he now stood as naked as she.
She ascended the couch on the dais and, never breaking eye contact, went down on all fours.
He climbed onto the couch behind her. She turned her head to watch him over her shoulder. Her eyes were wide, excited. She was panting slightly.
He mounted her from behind. As he entered her, her eyes half closed and she gasped. She writhed in pleasure, and the sinuous motion sent muscles rippling all down her glorious back.
Union with her was silken ecstasy. The world was afire with the day's last light. He wanted to drive into her until he came, but he could not; he must not yet.
She moved again and moaned.
"Be still," he said to her.
"Can't," she whispered.
"You must," he said, and put his hands on her back to keep her still. That was a mistake, perhaps: it sent soft streams of sensory fire up his fingers. He sank his fingers deeper in her soft firm skin, because he could, because they belonged to each other now. He almost started to move his hips.
"You're right," she whispered. "I'll be still."
Somehow that helped. He waited, adrift in a fog of pleasure-that-was and the agony of pleasure self-denied.
The room waited, silent, as sunlight died. The room grew dim, then dark. No lamps were lit.
Blue light appeared in the windows: the eyes of the moons were opening with the departure of the sun's light. The light grew stronger, bluer, more bitter, more intoxicating. Rokhlenu looked through the window straight into the face of Trumpeter and knew that this was the moment.
He yielded to the moment of transformation, and Wuinlendhono did the same. His shadow rose up and towered over him; hers did the same. The two shadows passed through each other, mingling as their bodies mingled, transforming them as they coupled; day shape with night shape and female with male they were bonded in an endless instant of transformation and sexual union.
Their screams gave way to ecstatic howls; they lay, still joined, in the night shape.
Slowly, hungrily, intently, patiently, Rokhlenu began to grind into his mate as she rocked back against him. They were mated now.
Rokhlenu found that his grief was not gone. If anything, he was even more aware of his loss, of his beloved dead. And he grieved for Wuinlendhono and their love. They were mortal; they would die; their love would be forgotten as if it never had been.
But this was their hour, and all the ages of nothingness to come could not wash away this one glorious moment of being and becoming. If this was life, and he felt it was, it was worth even the price of death to feel this way.
Morlock was drinking slowly and he was not yet drunk. But he had begun to drink on purpose, not merely to be polite, and that meant that most of the man he thought of as himself was gone.
It was as if there were two Morlocks. Drunk Morlock was careless, selfish, lazy, stupid, cruel-everything that Morlock hated about himself, everything he rejected. It was like the werewolves, with their day shape and night shape.
Not-drunk Morlock was still holding the reins. But drunk Morlock was slowly getting a grip on them.
This internal struggle numbed the shock he felt when he noticed Rokhlenu and Wuinlendhono consummating their bond by having sex in the presence of the wedding party. In any case, it was no skin off his walrus: different lands had different customs.
Rather more worrisome to him was the way partners were beginning to pair off and nuzzle each other on couches. Apparently the ceremonial union of the couple was accompanied by more informal unions among the wedding party. Looking back on weddings he had attended over the centuries, he realized that things were not so different here-just more open.
When the pair mating on the dais assumed their night shapes, and a tide of moonlit transformations spread across the room, the coupling began in earnest, many pairs eschewing the couches and tumbling about on the floor. There were wolves, semiwolves, and a few unfortunates in their day shape, apparently unable to make the transition. Morlock thought this-and nearly laughed aloud. Werewolf notions seemed to be soaking into his skin. If he stayed among the werewolves much longer, at the next wedding he might actually join in. That was an amusing thought, and this time he did laugh.
He looked around for the wine jar: time to grab it and make his escape. He found it. He also found that Liudhleeo was still standing beside him in her day shape. Her eyes were half closed; she was smiling at him with shy eagerness.
"I'd've thought you'd've switched shadows by now," he said, waving his wine bowl vaguely at the rest of the room.
She looked hurt, then sly. "Is that what you'd prefer? Some never-wolves like it-coupling with a partner in the night shape."
"They're not as never-wolfy as I am. I've never coupled with someone who was not a never-wolf." Morlock covertly tried to count up the number of negatives in that sentence, was unsure of his total, and added hastily, "I have only ever coupled with never-wolves. If you see what I mean. It's worked out pretty well for me so far," he said wryly, thinking of his ex-wife. There was a little wine left in his bowl, so he emptied it.
"There are none like that here," Liudhleeo replied. "If there were, she'd be a slave or meat. You aren't only because of who you are. I'm not the only female in the room who finds that fascinating. Or your scent fascinating."
"I never argue about matters of taste-or, in this case, smell."
She laughed too much and took his arm. He impatiently shook her off.
"Why are you being so cruel to me?" Liudhleeo asked, not as if she really minded.
"I don't know what's going on," said Morlock, "but I can't believe you look on me with favor."
Liudhleeo was amused. "Why not? You smell so wonderful, like blood and burning bone with a hint of poisonous leaves. And you're perfectly dangerous. Ghost, when you glare at me like that I just melt. And maybe you're not as beautiful as my sweet Hrutnefdhu, but nobody is, and anyway a female doesn't have to look at her partner during sex…." She paused, horrified by a thought that struck her. "Unless. Unless they do it …face-to-face. Do you do it that way, Morlock?"
"Sometimes. It doesn't matter."
"Doesn't matter? It bites me what males think matters. Not even monkeys do it that way, you know, face-to-face. It seems so depraved. Soft wet mouths and soft wet bellies pressing against each other. It seems so nasty. So nasty. Oh. Oh. Oh, ghost. You have to do that for me. I know you don't care about me. I know you don't care about anybody, but you can't leave me after putting that idea in my head."
"Now I see why Hrutnefdhu didn't attend," Morlock said. "Did you ask him to stay home?"
Now she stepped a pace back from him, her brows knitted in bafflement. "No," she said. "Of course not. But how do you suppose he'd feel if he were here, right now, with pairs coupling all over the floor and the room stinking of sex-"
"-and his mate trying to couple with his old friend-"
"Is that it? You don't understand. You really don't understand. It's not a betrayal."
"And I never will understand."
She bowed her head, defeated. "Do you want me to find you another female, then? Or a male, perhaps? There are other never-wolves in town."
Morlock stared at her. "My love life, grim and empty though it may be, has never been soiled by the presence of a pimp."
She stood back another pace, tears leaking from her eyes. She gave him a last reproachful look and fled.
Morlock took his wine jar and a couple of still-sealed ones for backup. He made his way unsteadily out of the moonlit room, stepping carefully around (or, in one case, over) groups of werewolves in various stages of sexual congress.
The air outside was clean, by contrast, but warm as a summer's night. He drank a jar of wine as he walked slowly across the outlier settlement, dropping the empty into a stretch of swamp showing next to a walkway. When he reached the lair-tower, he found that he couldn't face Hrutnefdhu (drunk Morlock was a coward, among his other vices), so he decided to sleep that night in his cave. The last thing he remembered was sitting in the wickerwork boat, finishing another jar of wine.
The night was dark, though moonlit. The swamp water was darker and smelled bad. His mind was darker still and smelled worse.
I met Murder on the way –
He had a mask like Castlereach –
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him;
All were fat, and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed the human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew
• • •
And many more Destructions played
In this ghastly masquerade,
All disguised, even to the eyes,
Like Bushops, lawyers, peers, or spies.
Last came Anarchy: he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse,
And he wore a kingly crown;
And in his grasp a sceptre shone;
On his brow this mark I saw –
"I AM GOD, I AM KING, I AM LAW!"
Chapter Twenty-two: The Shadow Market
From then on, Morlock drank himself to sleep every night. Sometimes he slept in the lair-tower apartment with Hrutnefdhu and Liudhleeo, but he didn't like to. If it was him and Hrutnefdhu alone there, he was conscious of why Liudhleeo was absent. But when he woke up, and looked across the room to see them wrapped around each other, blissfully empty of thought as they slept, joined by something more powerful than sexual union, he felt strange, an intruder. Werewolves had no sense of privacy with those they considered old friends, but Morlock did. Besides, when he drank so much that he grew sick and felt the need to vomit (which was almost nightly now), the cave was more convenient.
He was not yet drinking in the day, though. Morlock had been through this before, and he had a sense of fatalism about it. He knew that drunkenness would come to rule his life entirely and that he would be able to think of nothing else.
Perhaps that wasn't so bad, this time. He was, after all, dying. The ghost sickness had progressed so far that he could pick up nothing with his left fingers: material objects passed through the misty flesh as if it were air. If he was dying, if this was the end of all his days, did it matter if he died a drunk? He would be no more alive if he died sober.
But in the day he did not drink, not yet. He threw himself into projects and worked fiercely. He developed a wooden hand that he could wear over his ghostly hand like a glove. It was no good for fine work, of course, but it could bear weight, and the fingers could clamp shut for a grip, if need be.
For two-handed work, he had Hlupnafenglu. The red werewolf was strikingly improved after the removal of his spike-but he knew nothing about his past. His memory had been almost entirely scrubbed by the madness induced by the electrum spike in his brain. He could speak Sunspeech and Moonspeech, but he didn't even know his real name, so everyone continued to call him Hlupnafenglu.
He was intelligent and strong, though, with extremely deft hands. He fell into the role of Morlock's apprentice. The outliers could use many skills Morlock had, but he clearly would not be around forever to assist them, and he trusted Hlupnafenglu's character as well as his talent.
Together they forged glass weapons and armor for the outlier fighters. They began the challenging task of shoring up the outliers' defenses. Once Wuinlendhono found out what they were doing, she had a crowd of citizens put at their disposal and the work went faster: new watchtowers, armed with catapults and crossbows, soon bristled along the settlement's verge.
The days were hot; the work was hard. In the evenings, when his friends were sometimes smoking bowls of bloom, he would join them in a bowl of wine (which they always had ready, once they knew he would drink it). Sometimes they would play cards. Werewolves love to gamble, and they were all fond of the game he had invented called pookah or, as Hlupnafenglu always mispronounced it, poker. Later, while he could still walk, he would go back to his cave and drink himself unconscious.
He did not look well during the day, but his old friends attributed that to the ghost sickness that they knew was working on him.
One day he woke up, rolled away from the pile of vomit he had emitted in his sleep, fed the flames in the nexus with a chunk or two of coal, and staggered out to rinse his mouth and wash in the uphill stream outside his cave.
Rokhlenu was waiting for him there, sitting cross-legged beside the stream. The gray werewolf was, in contrast to his old cellmate, looking healthy these days. He wore clothes of green and gold, a gold ring with a green stone in it, and a green-and-gold band gathered his long gray queue.
"Gnyrrand Rokhlenu," Morlock said. "You're looking well. Very gnyrrandly, in fact."
"Thanks. Wuinlendhono is knitting some green-and-gold underwear for me, I believe."
"She's treating you well, anyway. Mated life suits you, old friend."
"It does. It does. You, however, look like a sack of moldy kidneys. And not in a good way."
"I was wondering if that was a compliment."
"Well, I won't lie to you. I feel like a bag of moldy kidneys. Or maybe just the mold."
"The ghost sickness is worse?"
"Yes." Morlock might have added, And then there is the drinking, but he didn't want to talk about that.
"Look, I've been talking to Wuinlendhono about this. I want you to stop working on the defenses around the settlement."
"There's more to do."
"There always will be. You told me once you thought this illness would kill you, and it looks to me as if it is killing you. Liudhleeo and Hrutnefdhu both say that someone in the Shadow Market might be able to help. So I think maybe that's what you should be doing from now on."
"Is that a gnyrrandly command?" Morlock asked wryly.
"It's a request from your old friend. You have been helping us so much. Maybe it's time to look out for yourself."
"I can do that pretty well."
Morlock laughed a little. "Haven't heard that one. I think what I enjoy most about Sunspeech is the rich variety of invective and cursing."
"It's good for that. Moonspeech for singing, Sunspeech for barking: that's the old saying."
Morlock washed his face and mouth and thought. "Would I be allowed in the city? Anyone who smells me or sees my shadow will know I'm a never-wolf."
"There are never-wolves and never-wolves, and then there's Khretvar rgliu. I don't think you'll have any trouble you can't fight your way out of. And the worst they can do is kill you."
"I suppose," said Morlock, looking forward to another night, and night after night, of drunken emptiness, "there are worse things."
In the end, Morlock went with Hrutnefdhu and Hlupnafenglu through the northern gate, up the walkway to the Swamp Road leading to the Swamp Gate of Wuruyaaria.
The gate was wide; twenty werewolves in the day shape could walk through it side by side and still have room to swing their arms. There were a couple of lazy watchers on either side wearing dark armor emblazoned with an ideogram that, Morlock had learned, meant Wuruyaaria in Moonspeech. One of them sniffed the air curiously as Morlock and his friends passed by, but no one stopped them.
The borough just inside the wall was a thicket of tilting towers built on rather marshy ground. Nearly every citizen in sight was wearing the night shape, or some part of it: everyone was a wolf or a semiwolf.
"Dogtown," said Hrutnefdhu. "Those who can't assume the day shape, or at least not completely, often end up here. People say they're more comfortable with their own kind."
"What do you say?" asked Hlupnafenglu, catching an implied reservation. He might have no memories, but there was nothing wrong with his intelligence.
"I say they were kicked out of their dens by shamed parents who didn't want never-men stinking up their lives and reducing their bite."
Morlock wondered, not for the first time, about Hrutnefdhu's family, and who had castrated him, and why. But he seemed to be speaking with some authority here: another outcast, for another reason.
They passed a werewolf nailing up a sign with hammer and nails. His paws had fingers as hairless and gray as a rat's tail. They passed another werewolf who was shuffling a dance on four human feet that grew from crooked canine legs. A chorus of largely lupine werewolves chanted and sang beside him. A small crowd had gathered to watch, and Morlock paused there too, fascinated by the show. But when he realized more eyes were directed toward him than the performers, he tossed a few pads of copper onto the coinspeckled ground between the dancer and the singers and walked off.
Hrutnefdhu and Hlupnafenglu were already standing some distance away, waiting for him.
"That was risky," the pale werewolf said. "If you'd had a few less honorteeth showing, you might have had to fight your way out of there."
"Never-men don't like to be stared at by anyone wearing the day shape. In fact, it's a little risky for us just to be passing through Dogtown in the daytime."
"Why are we, then?"
"Sardhluun werewolves come up the Low Road to Twinegate, and then into the city. There's less chance of meeting them if we take this way."
"Too bad." Morlock was sorry to miss a chance to fight some Sardhluun.
"Yurr. I hate them, too, Morlock, but this might not be the time to take on a band of them."
Morlock opened his right hand and shrugged: it was a matter of opinion.
Hlupnafenglu laughed. Fighting, working, learning, walking-it was all the same to him. Morlock envied the sunniness of his temperament a little.
Presently they came to an open area, and on their left was a gate, obviously Twinegate, not materially different from the Swamp Gate, except that more people were coming and going through it.
The area was dominated by a great stone tower, reaching from the swampy ground to the sky. Morlock kept on staring at it almost from the moment it came into view. There were narrow stairways of metal and wood running up the sides of the tower, and citizens running up and down the stairs. At the top of the tower was a great basket
"It's just the gate-station for the funicular," Hrutnefdhu said. "But I forgot: you've never seen it before."
"Not this close," Morlock said.
Hlupnafenglu was almost as fascinated. "I seem to remember …Do the cars smell like onions?"
"I never noticed that. I suppose it might depend on who or what was riding with you."
"How is it powered?" wondered the red werewolf.
"Slaves. They used to hire citizens to work the big wheels, but when the Sardhluun started flooding the market with slaves, it was cheaper to use them. A lot of citizens went hungry that year."
The three ex-prisoners looked at each other, sharing a single bitter thought about the Sardhluun without the need to speak it.
Morlock said, "The big wheels. I can hear the gears working. I'd like to see them sometime."
"We could ask, I suppose," said Hrutnefdhu nervously.
"It's not important. Another time."
They walked on, across the chaos around the tower's base, northward, into a new tangle of warrens. The land was drier and firmer; the buildings taller and narrower than Dogtown. The twisting streets were dense with werewolves in the day shape.
"Apetown," Hrutnefdhu said in a low voice. "Fairly safe in the daylight, but you don't want to cross here in the night shape, in the day or night."
Morlock nodded, and suddenly the pale werewolf's mottled skin flushed dark. "I forgot-"
"Never mind it, old friend," said Morlock, and Hlupnafenglu tugged playfully on Hrutnefdhu's ear.
Apetown looked busier than Dogtown, anyway. The ground floor of many a tower was given over to workshops of craftsmen: cobblers, smiths, glass blowers, bakers, butchers, launderers.
"Hands," said Morlock aloud. He had been trying to settle in his mind the difference between Dogtown and Apetown, and he realized it all came down to hands.
Hlupnafenglu looked bemused, but Hrutnefdhu instantly understood him. "Yes, you're right. It's a more prosperous place: there's more work people can do. It may not be work that gains anyone great bite, but it's work that other people will pay to have done."
"And when the sun goes down-"
"Yes, the shutters will drop here. Dogtown is livelier then. There's singing and shows. And if you want a thug for hire, you go to Dogtown, day or night."
They walked on through the warm hazy morning.
When they left the rumble of Apetown behind them, they came to a wide-open space between the brooding hulk of Mount Dhaarnaiarnon and the staggered cliff sides of Wuruyaaria. It was paved in stones that alternated black and white in no clear pattern. It was cut off from direct sunlight, and would be until the sun rose considerably higher in the murky sky.
"Here we are," said the pale werewolf. He looked around the Shadow Market, and his face twisted with annoyance. "Not too many vendors, and some of them I know are quacks."
Morlock was looking, too. At a booth near the market entrance, a male with the torso of a young boy and the limbs and face of a young wolf was having his ears pinched by a long-nosed saturnine male with a gray gown and a conical cap adorning his day shape. A mature female, perhaps the boy's mother, was standing over them; she was fully human except for her long lupine jaws and somewhat hairy face. She was asking in Moonspeech how much the fee would be and the vendor was asking in Sunspeech how she proposed to pay.
In the next space over, a wolf-faced young man with immaculately styled hair was listening to a group of young women in the day shape sing a song in Moonspeech. If a wolf face can look dubious, he looked dubious. Morlock was no judge of songs in Moonspeech, but he thought he had heard some broken notes.
Next over was a booth full of red-ribboned scrolls and velvet-bound books. Its vendor was a male with a wolf's body, human hands and feet, and a droopy semihuman face.
"I'll just step over and have a word with Liuunurriu, there," the pale werewolf said. "He doesn't like strangers, and it wouldn't do to look too interested so …"
Morlock nodded, and he and Hlupnafenglu drifted in the other direction.
"I think I remember Apetown," said the red werewolf abstractedly, after a few moments. "I don't remember the looks, but I remember the feel. Always hurry, hurry, hurry and fetch the bones. Fetch the bones; fetch the bones."
Morlock said nothing.
"Fetch the bones," Hlupnafenglu repeated again. "Why would people want bones?"
"For marrow," Morlock suggested. "Or soup."
"Soup!" shouted the red werewolf. "There was a great vat of it in the middle of the hut! And a great fat female who kept telling me, `Fetch the bones, yuh-yuh…. Fetch the bones, yuh-yuh….' And she said my name. Only I don't remember it now."
"You may yet."
"I hated her. I don't remember her name, but I remember the hate. I don't think she was my mother. I hated the bones, too. The stinking stupid bones. That was why. That was why. There was no soup that day. No soup, sir. No soup, ma'am. Take your no-soup and swim in it!"
The more the red werewolf remembered the angrier he seemed to get. Morlock found this interesting, but not so interesting that he failed to notice someone trying to unfasten his money pouch from his belt, craftily reaching under his left arm. He grabbed the pickpocket's extended fingers with his right hand and twisted.
The pickpocket, a strikingly flat-faced young male, screamed and fell sprawling on the ground. He had been standing unbalanced, and he didn't know enough to not draw attention when he was caught. All this marked him as an inept and inexperienced thief-which was in his favor, as far as Morlock was concerned. So Morlock released his fingers without breaking them.
His reward for this was a reproachful glare from the clumsy pickpocket as he lay on the black-and-white pavement. "You broke my fingers," he wailed, rubbing his left hand furiously with his right.
"No," said Morlock. "But I can, if you insist."
"I told you, Snellingu," said a white-haired male standing nearby, wearing dark armor with the Wuruyaaria ideogram. "Pickpocket."
"Snatch-and-grab, snatch-and-grab," irritably replied another watcher (evidently Snellingu) with a long scar on his face that cut across his lips. "You see so stupid he is being. He's being no sort of pickpocket. He's grabbing someone's cash box by now if you didn't have keep staring at him. And you are expecting me paying off the bet."
"Listen, it's my job to keep an eye on the criminal element."
"That's why you keep to be visiting your father's sister on nights-withno-moon. We all are hearing about her criminal element, if you're getting my drift."
"I do not get your drift, and you still owe me breakfast."
"You have be owing me breakfast three half-months straight and bent."
"Minus today's. That's what I'm saying. Hey, don't let him get away, Chief."
"I'm not your chief," Morlock replied. "And he can go where he likes."
The young male, scrambling to his feet, glared suspiciously at Morlock.
"I like that!" said the white-haired watcher. "We come here to defend you from this dangerous criminal and you-"
"Take him and bake him," said Morlock. "But not on my evidence. The young citizen tripped and fell."
"No pickpocket!" said scar-faced Snellingu, catching on suddenly. "The citizen is saying so! And thus I am owing you jack-minus-jack and you owing me breakfast, today, tomorrow, some more days."
"This citizen smells like a never-wolf to me."
"You are smelling like a snake trying to weasel his way out of a dead-dog bet."
"That metaphor stinks worse than this guy does."
"You are stinking worse than-"
"Listen, if I buy you a meatcake will you stop with the similes? I get enough crappy rhetoric from politicians this year if I want it, which I don't."
"That's two breakfasts, then. I never ate more than one meatcake at a time on your pad."
"You are all the time drinking that rotten milk-drink, which I am never drinking, but I am all the time paying for-"
The squabbling peace officers wandered off across the Shadow Market.
Morlock looked at the young citizen, who had not yet moved away. His face was hollowed out with hunger; rags hung on him as if he were a scare crow made of sticks. Morlock had seen children starved to death, and this child was starving to death.
"You can't steal," Morlock said coolly. "You won't work. I suppose now comes the begging."
The young citizen tore at his hair and spat at Morlock's feet. "I work! I work! I work for three days running messages for Neiuluniu the bookie. He says come back tomorrow; I'll pay you. Come back tomorrow, Lakkasulakku; come back tomorrow, Lakkasulakku. Today I say pay me the three days or I don't run messages. So he has his boys throw me out. You think he pays me? You think he ever pays me?"
It might have been a lie, but Morlock didn't think so. Anyway, it didn't matter. He said to Hlupnafenglu, "Take the young citizen, Lakkasulakku or whatever his name is, to the outliers and get him some work. Better buy him some food on the way-have you got any coin?"
The red werewolf, his good cheer restored, looked wryly at him. "Enough. You'll be all right?"
Morlock opened his right hand and shrugged. Hlupnafenglu punched him farewell and walked off, the suspicious-looking youngster in tow.
Morlock turned and saw a crow sitting in the middle of the Shadow Market, looking at him. Morlock walked over to talk to the bird.
"I don't have any food with me-" Morlock began.
The crow croaked that she remembered him pretty well. At least he wasn't a stone-throwing type. She and the rest of her murder had fed pretty well on a loaf of bread he had thrown at a crow once. She figured she owed him one, if that's what he was asking.
"Is there a vendor here you trust?" Morlock asked. "Not a stone thrower? A man who knows things?"
The crow laughed. She knew a man whose house had no legs but it walked, and he lived around stones but never threw one at crows. She didn't know what he knew, but he gave them grain sometimes, and offal he had no interest in eating, and he asked intelligent questions, not like Morlock.
"Will you take me to him?" Morlock asked.
The crow nodded and took wing. Morlock loped after her through the shadowy crowd.
The crow's dark feathers were briefly outlined in golden light as she lifted above the shadows of the square. She dropped again into darkness, and Morlock almost lost sight of her as she descended just beyond the edge of the market. But she waited for him there until he caught up, and then she flew into the tangle of streets and dark-bricked buildings east of the marketplace. A short flight: she landed at the door of a stone building. Above the door hung a sign with a picture of a rock being weighed on a scale. On the door was written in black letters IACOMES FILIUS SAXIPONDERIS.
"Here is a man I've long wished to meet," Morlock said to the crow. "Stop by my cave sometime. I have some unground grain I'll give you and yours."
The crow assured him he would see her and her murder soon. She flew away.
Morlock knocked on the door. There was no answer, but it wasn't locked, so he pushed it open and entered.
Inside he found a single dim room cluttered with books and stones and papers and dust. In the center of the clutter was a balding man at a desk who was scribbling something on a sheet of paper. He occasionally paused, a faraway look in his dim blue eyes, and gave the end of his pen a thoughtful chew. In his abstraction he sometimes chewed the wrong end of the pen: there were ink stains in his graying beard and on his shirt. He wrote in the light of a window set into the wall. The window did not open on the city outside-there was a wintry scene beyond the frosted glass, pine trees under a dense cover of snow in evening light.
The man didn't seem to notice that anyone else was there, so Morlock rapped on the inside of the door.
The man at the desk jumped, spilling his ink so that it ran dark across the page.
"Go away, won't you?" the man said in Latin. "I'm busy."
"Making more prisons?" Morlock asked in the same language.
"Not today. What day is it?"
"The first of Drums."
"No it's not. What year?"
"The year of the Ship."
"Then I'm in Wuruyaaria."
"Yes. Didn't you expect to be?"
"I expected to be left alone so that I can finish a rather large job I have on hand."
"No, no, no, no, no, no. No. Definitely no. Well, it depends on how you look at it, I guess. Listen, if you cared about what I'm doing you obviously would have gone away by now and left me to do it. I'd rather not try to make you go away; you appear to be armed. Is there anything I can do to persuade you to go away?"
"I wanted to meet you, lacomes."
"Pleased to meet you. Really, it's been an honor. Good-bye!"
"But I don't accept your apology."
"I haven't apologized. I'm actually trying to be dismissive and insulting, and it wounds me deeply that you haven't even noticed."
Morlock recited, "'I, lacomes Saxiponderis, made this prison. Sorry about that, prisoner."'
"Oh." lacomes focused his cold blue eyes on Morlock at last. "I see. You were a prisoner at the Vargulleion. Did they let you out? They don't usually do that."
"Good for you."
"Doesn't it bother you that your prison failed?"
"I'm sure it didn't. You didn't tunnel out, or break the bars, did you? There are silver cores in those iron bars. If you'd sawn into them you'd have had a sad surprise."
"I'm not a werewolf."
"Then what were you doing in the Vargulleion? It's a prison for werewolves, you know."
"They didn't consult me about it."
"Hm. I suppose not. They are pretty arbitrary. Still, I'd bet a nickel that the guards were inattentive. Am I right? You got out of there because the guards were napping or smoke-drunk or something."
Morlock nodded reluctantly, then added, "The locks weren't all that they might be."
The man threw up his hands; the pen flew out of his hand and bounced off the window behind him, leaving an inkblot on the frosted glass. "They didn't hire me to provide locks! They used their own people for the locks and bolts. Blacksmiths! Guys who usually made chains and manacles and stuff like that. I saw one of those locks. Key slots so big you could stick your little finger in them. Cell doors with simple crossbars. I said to them, `What happens when you have a prison riot?' They said, `There will be no riots. We have a way of breaking prisoners.' But broken things or people are pretty damned dangerous. I told them it was a mistake. What is the use of a prison for incorrigibles that has substandard locks? They said, `Perpetual vigilance shall be our lock.' And I said, `Look, in this kind of situation, you wear suspenders and a belt, just to be safe.' But most of them don't even wear pants, so I guess they didn't get it."
"But you took their money."
"Naturally, naturally. What's wrong with that?"
"The Vargulleion was hell before death. And you built it."
"The Vargulleion was, and is, a prison for criminals. I know it may seem odd to you, no doubt being a law-abiding sort of person, but society has to have a place to put its criminals if it's not going to kill them outright. This prison break you staged: anyone come out with you?"
"Well, congratulations. Any idea how many murderers, rapists, extortionists, robbers, and all-around thugs walked out with you? Or were they all innocent? I understand everyone in prison is innocent."
"I was innocent."
"Then you were the victim of an injustice. To the extent I am responsible for that, I apologize. Are you prepared to apologize to all those who've suffered and died because you unleashed a wave of criminals on the world?"
"I'll take that as a no. I'm not laughing off what happened to you: really, I'm not. It bothers me more than I can easily tell you or you'd believe. But I don't think you can have a society without injustice. When people live together-and they have to live together-interests and rights clash and someone always loses."
"And as long as you are paid, you are content with that."
"In a word: no. I hate it. I think everyone should hate it, and I hate it that everyone doesn't hate it. Look, injustice operates in my favor sometimes, against me other times. I guess maybe I'm better off than many. It's one kind of fool who doesn't think there's injustice in his city or his state. It's another kind of fool who sees it and thinks it doesn't matter as long as it doesn't touch him. I'm neither kind of fool."
"What kind of fool are you?"
"I'm the kind of fool who leaves his door unlocked when he doesn't want to be disturbed!"
"That's no answer."
"I haven't got one. Not about society, anyway. I think we have to live in imperfect societies, because there are no perfect ones, and no perfect people. But we have to struggle against their imperfections, and our own. It's a struggle that never ends, but if we carry on with it, things may get better. Not perfect, maybe, but better."
"That's a long war," Morlock said, thinking dark thoughts.
"Right; right. The longest. It'll never be over. Anyway, I'm not temperamentally suited for perfection. If I woke up tomorrow in Utopia City, the first thing I'd do is hit the road and head out of town."
"People get tired of struggling."
"Well, everyone needs a break sometimes. I like to read books, personally. What do you do?"
"Oh?" Iacomes looked him over, noticing the wooden glove on his left hand. "That from a work injury or something? Excuse my mentioning it if it's too painful."
"I seem to be changing into a ghost."
"Really?" lacomes was fully engaged in the conversation for the first time. "Can I see?"
Morlock undid the bolts that fastened the wooden sheath to his arm.
"It looks like those anchors are driven into bone," lacomes observed, watching him. "Didn't that hurt?"
"No. Unfortunately not."
"It's the illness. First the nerves ache, and then they seem to die and feel nothing, and then the flesh becomes ghostly. Now my arm has no feeling up to the shoulder."
Morlock pulled the sheath off and his hand lay exposed: vaporous, drifting, ghostlike.
"Does it hurt?" lacomes asked. "After it becomes ghostly, I mean."
"There is a kind of pain, but it's not physical. I can't explain."
"Hm. I hope I never understand fully, to tell you the truth. Can you move things with it?"
"Leaves. Feathers. Bits of paper. Nothing much heavier."
"Can you reach through things with it?"
"Not glass, or metal, or stone. If it was alive, or is alive, my fingers seem to be able to sink into it some distance. But there is pain for the other, I believe."
"I'll take your word on that," lacomes said hastily. "Hm," he added more thoughtfully, as Morlock pulled the wooden glove back over his ghostly hand. "This all reminds me of something. But what, exactly?"
"You know something about the ghost illness?" Morlock asked, pausing briefly as he rebolted the wooden glove onto his arm.
"Well, I read something about it once, and that's not the same thing at all. Where is that thing? Hey, Rogerius."
What appeared to be a brass head lifted itself up from among a tumble of gray stones. It was suspended in midair by nothing more obvious than its own intention.
"I asked you not to call me that," the brass head said, looking at lacomes with discontented crystal eyes.
"Did you notice when I ignored you? No? Oh, well. Rogerius, I want you to find something for me."
"I am busy at my visualization. I remind you that if I do not finish my visualization, you will not finish your project."
"I want you to find something for me," lacomes repeated patiently. "I read something once-"
"I sense an indefinite but fairly large number of documents-"
11 -about illness. That should narrow it down."
"Still indefinitely large."
"Oh, come on. I'm not a hypochondriac."
"Do you include emotional disturbances in your definition of illness?"
"Depends. Doesn't it? Everyone who has emotions has them disturbed sometimes. But some people are more disturbed than others."
"The number is still indefinitely large."
"All right. The document I am thinking of described an illness that had something to do with ghosts."
"If we include emotional disorders, the number of relevant documents is still very large. Would you like an estimate or a count?"
"Neither," lacomes said hastily. "How many if emotional disorders are excluded?"
"Is that wise? The intruder-whose name you have not asked but whom I have of course identified-is subject to a number of emotional disorders."
"I am not."
"Assuming that's true (which it's not), so what? Who wants to be a disembodied brass head?"
"Very well, I grant your wish: you are a disembodied brass head. Don't say I never did anything for you. Now exclude emotional disorders and give me a count."
"Seven thousand and forty-two."
"Hm. That's a lot."
"Ghosts cause illness. It's a scientific fact."
"Aha. Exclude ghost as cause. What then?"
"There is a much smaller number of relevant documents."
"How many are in this room? I seem to remember reading it in here. Or in the third-floor tower. Or in the kitchen. How many are in the house, here?"
"Bring them to me, eh?"
The brass head floated about the dim room, gathering dusty pieces of parchment in its teeth. It dropped them on the desk near lacomes and floated back to its nest among the tumble of stones.
"Thanks, Rogerius," said lacomes absently. "Well, this one is no good. It's Vespasian's dying joke-you know, `I think I'm becoming a god.' I can't think why he brought it to me. Though there is some overlap between `god' and `ghost,' I suppose, especially in Latin. And this is just a recipe for giving the morally ill the ability to see ghosts. I have no idea what use that would be, though I suppose in the right hands some use could be made of it. No, it's this that I was thinking of. see?"
He offered the parchment fragment to Morlock, who took it with his right hand. It was a set of instructions for making a mirror out of a unicorn's horn. The page was torn, probably from a scroll, but the mirror clearly had something to do with ghost illness (morbus lemuralis)-whether as cure or cause was not clear. There was a fragmentary notation along one torn edge of the page. It seemed to say lumina umbrosa. He pointed it out to lacomes.
"Yes, I couldn't make anything of that. `Lights full of shadow.' Makes no sense."
"But lumina can also mean `eyes' and an umbra can also be a ghost."
"Hm. `Eyes full of ghosts,' then. `Ghosts-in-the-eyes.' Ulugarriu!"
"Yes." Morlock nodded. "This will be useful to me. What do you want for it?"
"I don't have time to haggle right now. Why don't you just take it, and if I think of any little thing I can use-"
"You will not trick me into accepting an open-ended bargain."
"Well, it was worth a try. What have you got?"
They bargained keenly for a time, and in the end lacomes accepted three gold coins and a glass dagger for the parchment. "Though I don't know what I can do with a glass dagger," he said in the end.
"Take it, leave it, or bargain some more."
"No, I have this big job due and I've wasted too much time here already. We're even. Have a good day, and please don't call again."
"You're the worst salesman in the world, Iacomes," Morlock said, with a grudging admiration.
"Thank you, thank you. Praise from a master is indeed gratifying. Please pull the door completely shut as you go. Thanks. Thanks. Good luck, Morlock.
Morlock was back on the dim street, wending back toward the Shadow Market, before he realized something. He had never given his name to lacomes.
He turned back and tried to find lacomes' shop, but he lost his way in the twisting streets and finally had to give up. Hrutnefdhu met him as he was coming back to the border of the Shadow Market.
"What in ghost's name were you doing in there?" the pale werewolf gasped, who seemed especially pale for some reason.
"That's my business," Morlock replied curtly. He liked Hrutnefdhu, but he didn't like it when anyone tried to limit his movements.
"It's dangerous, that's all," Hrutnefdhu said apologetically. "The streets shift. They say nothing is ever in the same place twice. All sorts of weird entities come and go."
"Hm." There was something in this, but Morlock didn't want to talk about it. He was feeling a little odd, as if he was on the verge of the trembling madness that comes with a long bout of drinking.
"My friend Liuunurriu doesn't know anything about ghost sickness," Hrutnefdhu continued, "but he does know someone who might. He'll be back at twilight."
By now they were in the Shadow Market. The sun was high enough that misty golden light was falling on some of the black-and-white paving blocks. The place was almost empty of vendors: bright light and their shady callings did not mix, it seemed.
"I can come back, then," Hrutnefdhu said, when Morlock didn't answer.
"Thank you," said Morlock, whose body and soul were aching for a drink. "I may not be able to join you."
Chapter Twenty-three: War in the Air
It was another dark night. The sky above was stormy, split sometimes by lightning, but even above the clouds there was no moon tonight. Horseman had set just after sunset, and it would be seven days before Trumpeter rose.
Rokhlenu had grown up hating moonless nights, but now he loved them. It was pleasantly perverse to be entangled with his beloved, both of them wearing the day shape, deep in the darkness of night. Wuinlendhono, too, relished it. The air was warm as summer, despite the storm, and they lay on the day couch without a blanket.
The windows stood open to admit the cool rainy air. Had they turned their heads to look, they would have seen the approach of the airships standing in toward the outlier settlement, the eyes of the gondolas already angry-red with fire. But they were absorbed in a marital conversation and did not notice.
It was the warning calls that roused their attention at last: shouting, howling, horns; all rising from the watchtowers on the settlement's verge. They had been watching the plank roads and the waters for the approach of the enemy. They had been vigilant. But they had not been watching the sky, and so they noticed the airships almost too late.
Wuinlendhono and her mate rolled from the wedding couch and looked out the northern windows. One glance told them both all they needed to know. The Sardhluun had surrendered their long-boasted solitary stance and had allied with the Neyuwuleiuun Pack-the Neyuwuleiuun, who controlled the airships. Now airships were being sent against the outliers as if they were stray never-wolves fleeing bands of raiders.
"I'll go to the watchtowers," Rokhlenu said as they frantically pulled on clothing. "The airships may come within the range of our crossbows and catapults-"
"I'll go to the watchtowers," Wuinlendhono said. "I'm the First Wolf of this settlement, and it's for me to take charge of the defenses. You have to go to that crazy never-wolf friend of yours and see if he's got something to help us. Otherwise, we're done."
Rokhlenu stuttered a moment or two, but then bit down his protestations unspoken. She was right. And what bothered him was the thought of her going into danger, but no place was safe while the airships were attacking.
He seized her, kissed her, ran from her down the winding stairs to ground level.
He ran all the way to Hrutnefdhu and Liudhleeo's den in the rickety slum-tower on the east side of town. There was a new lock on the door of the den; it had a coppery face and glass eyes. It grinned in recognition and let him in as soon as he knocked.
Hrutnefdhu was alone in the den; he was sitting up in the sleeping couch, blinking.
"Where's Morlock?" asked Rokhlenu, and then nearly struck himself. Morlock was absent; Liudhleeo was gone. Wasn't it possible they were coupling at this moment, Hrutnefdhu's mate and his old friend?
If the pale werewolf was thinking anything along those lines, he gave no sign of it. "Morlock's drunk, I expect," Hrutnefdhu said sleepily. "He usually is, by this time of night. What time is it?"
"Where is he?"
"Cave. Wait a moment."
"I don't have a moment. The airships of the Neyuwuleiuun are attacking us.
Hrutnefdhu jumped naked from the couch, grabbed the coverlet, and wrapped it around himself as he ran after Rokhlenu.
The wickerwork boat with the glass eye was waiting on their side of the water-otherwise Rokhlenu would have leapt into the water and floundered across. Both werewolves took oars and drove the boat across the rain-lashed water. Shoulder to shoulder they ran up the long slope to Morlock's cave.
Morlock was sprawled in a pile of blankets by the cave's entrance. A halfempty jar of wine was still in his right hand. Deeper in the cave, Hlupnafenglu was sitting by the nexus of living flames, playing solitaire with Morlock's cards. He looked up in surprise at the entrance of the other two werewolves.
"What is it?" he asked.
"The Neyuwuleiuun are attacking."
"Who are the Neyuwuleiuun?" asked the red werewolf with an oddly unconcerned smile.
Rokhlenu goggled at him for a moment, but then remembered that Hlupnafenglu had lost his memories. "They have airships. We need Morlock. Wasn't he working on wings, or something?"
"Morlock is drunk."
"I see that. Wasn't he working on wings or something?"
"We were all working on them," Hrutnefdhu said. "But I don't know where they are, or if they're done."
Hlupnafenglu's smile became even broader. He pointed at the roof of the cave.
Five sets of wings in various stages of completion were hanging there. Or, more precisely, they were lying against the roof of the cave as if it were the floor.
Three were obviously unready, but the mechanisms of two seemed complete, and the skinlike surfaces of both were covered with the weight-defying metallic rings.
"How do they work?" Rokhlenu asked.
"Not sure," Hlupnafenglu said with his customary, somewhat eerie cheer.
"Morlock was going to show us," Hrutnefdhu added. "But he-well, he never got around to it."
Because he was drunk? Rokhlenu wondered. Looking back, he seemed to remember Morlock had said that wine was not good for him-he forgot exactly what his old friend had said. But why would someone go on drinking if it harmed him? It was beyond Rokhlenu's understanding, and not immediately relevant, so he put it aside.
Rokhlenu said, "Let's pull one down, and you two put it on me. I'll see if I can fly in it. If I don't kill myself, one of you follow me. We have got to do something about those airships or they'll burn our town down to water level."
They dragged one of the wingsets down from the roof and strapped it on the gnyrrand's back. Wearing it, he felt as light as air: his feet barely touched the ground. There were grips inside the wings, and when he used them to flex the wings, he felt his feet leave the ground for a moment.
"Chief, wait," said Hrutnefdhu.
"No waiting. One of you follow me. I'll be headed straight for the airships." He ran out of the cave and took straight to the air.
The southern wind threw him backward, pinning him against the hill above the cave, knocking the wind from his lungs.
"You don't have a weapon!" shouted Hrutnefdhu at the top of his penetrating voice.
"Oh," said Rokhlenu, dashed in multiple senses. "Help me down, citizens."
They hauled him down. There were still many glass weapons about the cave, and a sheath for a short sword was built into the frame of the wings, running across the shoulders. Rokhlenu took a sword, practiced sheathing and unsheathing a couple times, and then said, less dramatically, "Like I said before. I'm going to walk up to the top of the hill and take off from there. One of you do the same. The other try to wake Morlock up. Maybe he can think of something. If you can get him to think."
"Will do, Chief," said Hlupnafenglu.
As he stepped out of the cave into the warm rainy night, he heard the werewolves behind him arguing about who would follow. He struggled up to the top of the hill, the wind threatening to blow him off his feet at any moment. When he reached the crest, he spread his wings and leapt into the air. The wind carried him away, up into the dark fire-torn sky.
The worst thing, as soon as he left the ground, was the sense of placelessness. He was tumbling in the dark; there was no clear sign for him to follow, nothing to give him a sense of where to fly to.
There was, at least, up and down. He drove the wings to carry him higher and higher. Suddenly it occurred to him that the wind was blowing from the south, almost due north, and he must already be past the borders of the outlier settlement.
Steering took a few tries before he began to understand it, but he found he could angle the wings and his body to bank against the wind.
Then he saw them! The airships! They were no blacker than the clouds, but the eyes of the gondolas were still red with fire. Every now and then the sky would flash with lightning, and in the bitter blue light he could see the long clawlike shapes of the airships clearly. Down below was the outlier settlement, also outlined with fire. It was already burning. It might already be too late. Wuinlendhono might already be dead.
He drove his wings toward them. What he could do against them he did not know. But they weren't expecting him, and that was to his advantage.
He closed on the airships faster than he expected. The storm winds added speed to his wings.
And they did, in fact, see him. They were looking out from the windows of the gondola, scanning the dark night. He saw them long before they saw him …but he was armed with a short sword and they had bows. A bolt of lightning thundered shockingly nearby; though he was dazed by it he was close enough to hear a shout from the gondola of the nearer airship: someone had seen him.
With terrible clarity, he saw several archers take their bead on him and ready burning arrows to shoot.
Then a shadow passed between him and their fiery light.
Morlock was having the worst dream ever. Not a nightmare, in the usual sense. A frustration dream, a shame dream. Someone had come to him for help, someone he wanted to help, but he could not help them because he was drunk. Even in his dream Morlock knew it must be a dream, because he had given up drinking ages ago, precisely so that this exact thing would never happen again.
It was very real, though. It was as if he could see Rokhlenu strapping on the wingset he had built. He could hear the words the werewolves spoke. But he knew it was a dream, because he had long ago given up drinking.
He started a little when Hrutnefdhu screamed, You don't have a weapon! That was almost like it was really happening.
He felt something on his hand. He stared at it for a while. It was red, but not like blood. Plus, it did not burn, as his blood did. It was cold, unlike blood. And it didn't smell like blood. It smelled like wine.
He had a bowl of wine in his hand. He had spilled some of it when the pale werewolf shouted.
If he actually had a bowl of wine in his hand, that strongly suggested he had been drinking it.
If he had been drinking it, he was not having a nightmare about being drunk, as he often did. He was simply drunk.
That meant that Rokhlenu did actually need his help.
He'd said something about the Neyuwuleiuun …and their airships.
Morlock set the wine bowl down with elaborate care on the cave floor. He rose to his feet.
Rokhlenu was gone. The pale werewolf and the red one were standing between the other completed wingset and arguing about something.
"Where's Rokhlenu?" Morlock said. "He was just here."
The two werewolves turned to him with blank looks. A pale werewolf with a blank look. Morlock felt there might be a joke in there somewhere if he could think a little more clearly, and if he were the joking type, and if this were a joking situation-none of which was the case, so the hell with it, Morlock decided.
"He's gone, Khretvarrgliu," Hlupnafenglu said eventually. His right hand was gripping the wingset by the torso straps, so that Hrutnefdhu wouldn't escape with it, but his left hand mimicked a bird in flight.
"Buckle that thing on me," Morlock directed.
"Morlock. Old friend," said Hrutnefdhu gently. "You're too drunk to walk."
"I won't be walking. Hlupnafenglu: oblige me."
Hlupnafenglu walked over to Morlock with the wingset and Hrutnefdhu in tow. In the end, the pale werewolf assisted the red one in buckling the second wingset onto its maker.
"Draw down the stirrups and buckle them on my feet," he directed.
"What's a stirrup?" asked Hlupnafenglu.
"Something to put your feet in." Like on a saddle, he almost addedexcept he didn't know the word for saddle in Moonspeech or Sunspeech, and, in fact, he realized belatedly that he had used the Wardspeech word for stirrup. "They're under the base of the wings, attached to cables."
The werewolves found the stirrups and slowly drew them down to Morlock's feet. He stepped into them, and the two werewolves fastened the buckles over his feet.
"Chieftain," Hlupnafenglu admitted, "we didn't do this for Rokhlenu. Is it important?"
"It might be," Morlock said. The cables gave the wing beats extra force. That was the idea, anyway: Morlock had never actually flown one of these things. He'd kept on meaning to make the experiment …but when he came back to the cave in the evening he usually started drinking.
"Morlock, wait a moment," Hrutnefdhu said.
"A sword," Morlock said to Hlupnafenglu, who grinned and handed him a glass sword from the weapon rack. Morlock sheathed it over his shoulder.
"Spear," he said to Hlupnafenglu. The red werewolf gave him a stabbing spear from the weapon rack, and he placed it in the other shoulder sheath.
"Citizens, good fortune," said Morlock as he strode from the cave.
The cables pulling against his leg muscles had a paradoxically steadying effect. But Morlock was unsure whether he could actually walk uphill under the triple burden of the wingset, the heavy wind, and his drunkenness. He breathed deeply of the air, trying to clear the wine-colored fog from his eyes and mind.
He fixed the fingers of his wooden glove to the grip inside the left wing and clamped them shut. His right hand took the grip of the right wing. It was time to fly or fail-perhaps both.
He judged the direction of the wind, the width of the slope he stood on, and what force his wings could apply at what angles to the wind. The calculation soothed him: drunk or sober he could do a little three-dimensional math. He took a few steps into the darkness and leapt off into the wind, driving the wings hard with his arms and legs.
The shoulder of the hill flashed by at an acceptable distance. Morlock felt his mind, if not his body, come a little more alive.
He pumped his arms and legs to gain height in the darkness. He dreaded the thought of smashing into some tree or unseen ridge.
Like Rokhlenu before him, he felt the empty isolation, the disorientation of night flight. But it did not bother him as much. For one thing, he expected it: he had had flightlike experiences before. Plus, he was an experienced drunk who knew he was drunk: disorientation was an old, familiar enemy.
He banked left, losing the lift under his wings and tumbling end over end a couple of times before he caught the knack of it. But finally he was on a roughly westward course, though still driven northward by the relentless south wind, and climbing as high and fast as he could.
He saw the airships then, hanging like claws over the burning settlement of the outliers. The ships stood there, defying the wind, moored by some power he didn't understand. He wondered at it as he flew toward them, and he found in the wonder an intoxication deeper and more intense than the musty, muddy pleasures of wine. Why had he denied himself this danger and exultation? Why had he denied himself the air and the light and the darkness? This was why he was alive: to make, to do, to drive, not to drown his wits in fermented juice.
As he watched the airships, he saw a shape that occasionally impinged on the fiery light glaring from the gondola ports. Rokhlenu: headed toward a gondola to board it and kill the crew. A plan unlikely of success, but not hopeless with the advantage of surprise.
But there was no surprise. Morlock saw the archers taking aim at Rokhlenu with burning arrows. He expected Rokhlenu to dive, to swerve, to do something to avoid the arrows. But he didn't. Morlock guessed he was willing to risk a wound or two if he could get close enough to board the gondola. Perhaps he was counting on the metal rings to protect him; he might not realize that they would burn like paper, having been deeply imbued with metallic phlogiston.
Morlock drove himself forward and upward; when he was above and somewhat in front of his friend he stalled in midair and kicked him savagely in the right arm. Rokhlenu lost lift and tumbled down, a dark shadow toward the dark earth, the red reflections of fire fading from the scales on his wings. Morlock heard the bows sing discordantly at the same moment, and he drove himself upward in a steep arc.
The fiery arrows passed in midair between Morlock and Rokhlenu. Morlock turned his wings and let himself drop, spinning in the air so that his head was aimed almost directly at the ground. His stomach, full of wine and very little else, disliked this maneuver intensely and told him so noisily, but he did manage to escape the archers' second hasty salvo: he saw the arrows lay red tracks across the sky between his feet.
Looking groundward, Morlock saw that Rokhlenu had succeeded in recovering from the tumble he had kicked him into and was coming back up toward the gondola.
"Meet you on the keel!" he shouted to the startled werewolf as he fell past. He hoped keel was the right word; he had learned it from Hrutnefdhu when they were talking about boats in general (and the wickerwork boat Morlock had made in particular).
He came out of his dive in a sharp curve upward; it strained the wings until they creaked loud enough to be heard over the storm winds, but it saved some of his momentum, helping him to fly upward. He was now headed almost directly toward the underside of the gondola; the archers inside had no clear shot at him. Those in the gondola of the other airship did-but the closer he got to the gondola of their sister ship, the less likely they were to risk it. He got close fast. Soon he was directly under the gondola; he stalled in the air, seized a handhold on the rough planking with his right hand, and dangled there, gasping.
Apparently keel was the right word, or Rokhlenu had known what he meant by it, because a winged shadow hanging from the gondola some distance away started to shout at him in Rokhlenu's voice.
"…you …crazy?" he heard his old friend say.
People were always saying this to Morlock, and he couldn't see the point. If he was, what was the point in asking him?
"-in …now …dead …half of them-" Rokhlenu shouted on, half of his words carried away by the wind. But Morlock guessed he was complaining about the ruin of his attack on the crew of the airship.
"The wings will burn!" Morlock shouted several times. It was possible that he was shouting loud enough for the werewolves to hear him through the planking of the airship's floor. It didn't matter: Rokhlenu had to know this.
"…metal …protect …" Rokhlenu shouted back-anyway, that was all Morlock heard of it.
"The metal will burn!" Morlock roared.
"Metal burns?" Rokhlenu asked. He asked it several times.
"Everything burns!" Morlock replied. It was not strictly accurate. Dephlogistonated objects did not burn. Immaterial objects did not burn. There were other classes of exception, but none of them mattered at the moment.
Rokhlenu said something that might have been a curse.
Morlock released the clamp on his wooden glove by striking the winged arm against his knee. He swung over, handhold by handhold, until he was hanging next to Rokhlenu.
"You need to get your feet in the stirrups," he said.
"What are stirrups?"
Morlock repressed a curse of his own. "Things to put your feet in. They're under the base of the wings."
"Those ghost-bitten things! They kept smacking around, throwing me offl"
"Put. On. Feet."
Rokhlenu bent one foot up. Morlock, hanging from his right hand, used his wooden glove to catch a stirrup from under Rokhlenu's wings and pushed it toward the werewolf's free hand. Using the one hand, Rokhlenu managed to put it on his foot and buckle it. They repeated the process with the other stirrup.
As Morlock struggled to refasten the clamp of his wooden glove to the grip of his left wing, Rokhlenu stretched out his legs and said, "It makes the wings feel different."
That was the point: the pulleys attached to the stirrups helped provide power to the pseudo-musculature of cables and wings that drove the wings. Morlock didn't have the vocabulary to say this, and besides his stomach had finally reached the point of open rebellion. So he just said, "Yes," and turned his head to vomit.
When he had finished and wiped his face on his sleeve, he turned back to Rokhlenu.
"What now?" the werewolf asked.
Morlock had been thinking about that, between convulsions of his belly, and he pointed at the buoyant part of the nearby airship.
"Attack the other airship?" Rokhlenu asked.
"Bag of air," Morlock said.
"Not the gondola. The bag of air."
Rokhlenu turned to looked at the nearby airship. It was too dark to see his face, but his shout was pensive as he asked, "You think it's held up by air?"
"Hot air!" Morlock shouted.
A moment passed, and Rokhlenu laughed. "Like ash carried up by a fire! Hot air! Are you sure?"
"How do they keep it hot?"
"This is a great plan!" Rokhlenu howled at him.
"Wake up! It's all a dream! Live happy!"
"We'll try yours, then. Back up on the east side of this ship."
Morlock closed his eyes to try to gather the points of the compass, then opened them rapidly to escape the whirling drunken vortex behind his eyelids. "Yes!" he said. He was almost sure the east was the side they had first approached from; the airship itself would screen them from its sister ship.
A hatch opened in the underside of the gondola; werewolves, somehow distorted in form, stood there, holding bows with burning arrows nocked to shoot.
Morlock and Rokhlenu both fell away in power dives. An arrow passed by Morlock's elbow like a red meteor. Morlock bent his flight sharply upward, trying to catch the steady south wind to give him lift. It worked and he flew swiftly past the windows in the gondola, close enough to see a werewolf archer's startled face.
The werewolf wasn't the only one startled. He had at least three eyes, two human and one lupine, in a twisted mouthless face, and the brief glance Morlock had of him was startling indeed.
Morlock flashed past and upward, finally coming to land on the side of the airship. It was covered with a wooden framework, and he grabbed onto the frame with his right hand.
"What took you?" Rokhlenu shouted cheerfully in his ear.
Morlock snarled, "Your mother couldn't make change." His stomach was unhappy, but there was nothing left in it to vomit. Morlock hated the dry heaves, even when he wasn't hanging by one hand a dozen bowshots above the ground.
"…not to bandy words with you when you're drunk," Rokhlenu was saying. He didn't seem to be angry.
Morlock nodded. He unclamped his wooden glove from the wing-grip and hooked it on the airship frame to support himself, at last drawing his sword with his right hand. Rokhlenu did likewise. At more or less the same moment they plunged the blades into the fabric surface of the airship.
Morlock had expected a rush of hot air, perhaps fire. He was disappointed. The rift he was tearing in the surface spilled forth a cool bluish light, but nothing else.
"Guess we were wrong!" Rokhlenu shouted.
Morlock shrugged. That was one possibility. Another was that the bags of hot air were inside. He continued to hack away at the fabric. Rokhlenu did as well, and eventually they had a rip large enough for one of them to slide through, wings and all.
Rokhlenu seemed to want to discuss who should go through first, but Morlock unhooked his wooden glove from the cable and dove through without a word. It wasn't even worth discussing. He was the one who was dying; if he died a little sooner it was no great matter.
In his mind, Morlock had already sketched out several possible designs for the interior of the airship proper. One or two were actually ingenious and he hoped to see them at work. In this he was disappointed, because the interior of the ship was nothing like he had imagined.
The interior was all one great chamber, nearly empty. The only thing in it was a glowing stone near one end of the chamber and an oddly spidery being standing next to it.
Morlock drifted down to the bottom of the chamber, bemused. The stone and the entity by it (the keeper? the steersman? a guard?) were on a wooden platform; the rest of the chamber was an empty cylinder, tapered at both ends.
He heard Rokhlenu land behind him.
The being standing on the platform did something to the glowing stone.
Its light fell on Morlock more intensely. It struck him like an invisible hammer. He felt the fabric of the chamber rippling around him. There was a ghostly murmur in the air. He had no idea what was going on.
"I feel strange," Rokhlenu said thickly.
Bracing himself against the hammer-blows of the light, Morlock turned to face Rokhlenu. He looked strange. The light was causing the werewolf's flesh to ripple and twist, as if he were assuming the night shape. But he was not becoming a wolf. It was more as if a wax image of a man and a wolf were merging, distorting each other, but neither one growing and neither one shrinking. A wolf's head was emerging from Rokhlenu's neck, its eyes dead and empty, its maw toothless. Needle-toothed mouths were opening in the palms of his hands, and twisted canine legs were sprouting from his torso to join his arms and legs, giving him a nightmarishly spidery look-like that thing on the platform.
Morlock drew his sword, repressing a sudden temptation to pass it through his friend a few times and end his misery, and turned instead to slash an opening in the chamber wall.
"You can't stay here!" he shouted at his friend, who was now howling mindlessly from all his mouths. Morlock kicked him through the gap into the night; his howls faded into the storm.
Morlock hoped that his old friend had enough self-command to use the wings and glide to safety-or, if not, that the levity of the phlogistonimbued scales on his wings would cushion his long fall. But the worst thing that could happen to him from the fall was death, and it was not impossible that the light from the strange stone had done worse than this to him already.
The intensity of the light falling on Morlock grew. He dreaded the thought that it would distort him as it had his friend …but that didn't seem to be happening. It must be something about werewolves that made them vulnerable to the bitter blue light.
Morlock grabbed the grips of his wings and kicked off into flight. He arced upward to land on the platform beside the distorted creature.
It was a werewolf-or had been, Morlock guessed. It had four crooked lupine limbs as naked as a rat's tail, and approximately human arms and legs that were strangely muscled and covered with doglike fur. It had a lifeless wolf head dangling from one human shoulder, a single gigantic human eye peering out from what appeared to be a neck, and on the side of the neck was a gray-lipped human mouth that squealed with terror as Morlock landed beside it.
"Don't do this!" it begged him. "If I obey, he says he can change me back, but if I don't obey, he says he'll leave me like this. Please don't do this. Let me do what they tell me to do."
"How do they tell you?" Morlock demanded. "How does this thing work?"
"I can't tell you. I can't tell you anything. He'll know. They'll hurt me."
The glowing stone was set in a sort of barrel on a spinnable disc, with handles protruding like spokes around the rim's edge. The inner part of the barrel was covered with mirrors, to reflect the light upward and forward. There were lenses mounted atop the barrel and in front. Levers around the lenses made them focus the light more or less intensely. Morlock badly wanted to examine these assemblies; it seemed as if the levers somehow changed the shape of the lenses themselves, which was very interesting. But in more immediate terms, the more intense the light, the greater the force driving the airship. The lens pointing upward kept the ship aloft, could perhaps drive it even further up into the sky. The lens in front steered the ship and drove it forward …or backward: the wheel seemed to spin in a full circle. Now they were veering away to port-eastward, if Morlock's sense of direction was not totally deranged by dizziness and wine.
That was contrary to the plan emerging in Morlock's mind. He said, "Watch out," and grabbed one of the handles, rotating the barrel so that the light was pointing toward the pointed prow of the great cloth-covered chamber. The steersman (or former steersman, as Morlock had taken his job) hissed and skittered out of the way.
The fabric of the chamber rippled: they were now headed straight into the eye of the wind. There was a brief swirl of vertigo as the direction of the craft spun around. Morlock's stomach had been trying to crawl out of his belly ever since he stood up in his cave, so he found this relatively easy to ignore. He cranked the levers on the vertical lens until the light was more intense, glaring a bright cold blue on the prow.
There was a kind of wailing in his ears that was not quite a sound. It said words that were not quite words. His heart began to pound and his breath grew short, as if he were afraid. He recognized these signs: he had often felt them in graveyards or other places swarming with what some called ghosts, but which those-who-know called …
"Impulse clouds!" he said to the late steersman of the ship. "This craft is powered by impulse clouds! Maybe you call them ghosts."
"I don't call them anything!" the steersman screamed. "I don't talk to anyone about them, and no one talks to me. Don't tell me anything. I'm trying to do what they say, but you won't let me!"
Morlock ignored him (or her; it was impossible to tell).
Impulse clouds. They were a material part of any living body, but the most tenuous and usually invisible part. Sometimes they could survive the death of the body they had been associated with, in which case they often became a nuisance. Sunlight gathered them up or dispelled them, but moonlight did not. Some said that moonlight actually forced impulse clouds back to earth. That was why ghosts were often reported in moonlight: the moons kept them from rising into the air, then into the sky. Was it possible that the moons, sweeping through bands of impulse clouds raised up from the earth, drove them down again wrapped in moonlight?
If so, this vast fabric chamber was designed to take advantage of the impulse clouds implicit in moonlight. The impulses would reflect off the walls, driving the ship in any desired direction. Speed would vary with intensity.
And the impulse clouds must have something to do with the transformation of werewolves and other werebeasts: that was why the blue light had so distorted Rokhlenu-and the steersman, no doubt, and perhaps others. (He remembered the three-eyed werewolf he had seen.) Never-wolves, like Morlock, must be somehow more resistant to interference with their impulse cloud.
If Rokhlenu's distortion resulted from interference with his impulse cloud, it was possible it could be healed. Perhaps whoever had told the steersman he could be cured had not been lying.
"How do you know where to go?" he asked the steersman. "Do you get signals from the gondola? Is there a port somewhere?"
"Can't tell!" said the steersman. "He'll know! He always knows!"
"I may be able to cure you," Morlock said. "You needn't depend on him anymore. You needn't be afraid. Help me, and I'll help you."
"Liar!" screamed the distorted steersman. "No one can help me! Only him! And he won't now!"
Morlock hated being called a liar. He pushed the distorted creature off the platform; it fell squealing down to the base of the platform and lay there sobbing.
He systematically took in his surroundings. There must be some way for the steersman to see out, or for signals to be sent to him. The craft was too well designed to overlook this nontrivial detail.
At first there seemed to be nothing. Then he realized he was looking in the wrong direction: the steersman had one eye that pointed up….
Morlock craned his neck back. Over his head was a kind of board with black and white shapes playing over it. They seemed meaningless at first, but then he realized what he was seeing. It was as if it were a charcoal drawing of the ship's surroundings from a particular vantage point-on the ship's nose, he expected. And it changed as the ship moved. Somehow those sights were filtered and sent back here. Remarkable.
He tentatively shifted the angle of the ship's flight to starboard; the south wind struck it solidly on the port side of the prow, sending shock waves through the strange craft, forcing its nose further to the west.
At first he fought this, but then he saw something on the view-board that caused him to stop. A clawlike object hanging in the sky not so far from him, a gondola dangling below on cables. The other airship was following, concerned about the state of its sister ship, no doubt.
"Good of them," Morlock remarked to no one. It was time to put his plan into action, clearly. He spun the wheel until the other airship was dead center in the view-board. Then he cranked the levers for the lens on the front of the barrel, until the impulse light striking the prow was as bright as it could be.
"What are you doing?" screamed the steersman.
It didn't seem to be a rhetorical question, so Morlock answered it. "I am going to ram that ship."
There was a dark bird perched in the shredded fabric of the airship. Her name, for that time/place, was Mercy. Near her, in the storm outside, was a dark indistinct cloud: a manifestation of Death.
"Nothing for you to do, on a night like this," Death signified.
"I visualized that War would be manifest here."
"War enjoys experiencing the losing side of a conflict. He is savoring the outliers' suffering through his most direct manifestation."
"You have visualized this?"
"Yes. Also, he told me that he would."
Morlock's insight was sensitive enough that he felt their presence, though he did not see them or perceive their symbology. Their presence troubled him without his understanding it. But he didn't let it shake his intent.
Unfortunately, the other airship's crew seemed to realize he was intending to attack them. The ship swung around and fled before the wind.
Morlock was the worst sailor in the world. His former wife, who was possibly the best sailor in the world, often used to tease him about this. But even he knew that a stern chase was a long chase.
"God Avenger," swore Morlock.
Death and Mercy symbolically shielded themselves from the name of this alien god.
Morlock felt a brief respite, though he didn't understand why. He held his course, straight on the tail of the fleeing airship. If nothing else, he had broken the air attack on the outlier settlement. And there was still a chance he could ram the other airship. It all depended on what happened when they flew over the city.
The jagged rising outline of Wuruyaaria swelled on his view-board. Morlock's neck was sore from bending back and looking up, but he didn't want to take his eyes off the thing. If the other airship turned port or starboard it would have to strike against the course of the wind and would lose speed. That would be his chance to gain on it.
The other airship flew over the werewolf city without turning. Either its port was further north, or they didn't want to risk losing headway.
Mount Dhaarnaiarnon loomed beyond the mesas and cliffs of Wuruyaaria. The moon-clock did not show on the view-board, presumably because it wasn't relevant to navigation. But the ragged edge of the volcano's crater was unmistakable.