Tuesday, September 24, 2013


“Madness is something rare in individuals—but in groups, parties, peoples, ages it is the rule.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


“I turned her so I could see her face when I kissed her and I saw that her eyes were shut. I kissed both her shut eyes. I thought she was probably a little crazy. It was all right if she was. I did not care what I was getting into. This was better than going every evening to the house for officers where the girls climbed all over you and put your cap on backward as a sign of affection between their trips upstairs with brother officers. I knew I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards. Like bridge you had to pretend you were playing for money or playing for some stakes. Nobody had mentioned what the stakes were. It was all right with me.”
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Professor's House by Willa Cather

This is a novel that contains two distinct stories--one about Godfrey St. Peter, an aging history professor entering the downward slope of his life, and the other about Tom Outland, a young man lost at the peak of his potential. And like most novels that contain two main characters, the interesting parts come from when and how those two lives intersect.

Of course they intersect as a matter of plot, Tom Outland being a kind of protege of Godfrey St. Peter--a young man who achieves more fame and fortune in a life cut short that the Professor does in one of interminable length. But more interesting to me is how they intersect as a matter of theme.

It’s difficult to know where to start. This is not Cather’s best novel, and I’m not convinced it hangs together as well as she intended. But let’s start here.

When I had gone up this canyon for a mile or so, I came upon another, opening out to the north--a box canyon, very different in character. No gentle slope there. The walls were perpendicular, where they weren’t actually overhanging, and they were anywhere from eight hundred to a thousand feet high, as we afterward found by measurement. The floor of it was a mass of huge boulders, great pieces of rock that had fallen from above ages back, and had been worn round and smooth as pebbles by the long action of water. Many of them were as big as haystacks, yet they lay piled on one another life a load of gravel. There was no footing for my horse among those smooth stones, so I hobbled him and went on alone a little way, just to see what it was like. My eyes were steadily on the ground--a slip of the foot there might cripple one.

This is from Tom Outland’s Story, the long middle section of the book, a first-person narrative that describes Tom’s life as an explorer in the American Southwest before coming east to study under St. Peter.

It was such rough scrambling that I was soon in a warm sweat under my damp clothes. In stopping to take breath, I happened to glance up at the canyon wall. I wish I could tell you what I saw there, just as I saw it, on that first morning, through a veil of lightly falling snow. Far up above me, a thousand feet or so, set in a great cavern in the face of the cliff, I saw a little city of stone, asleep. It was as still as sculpture--and something like that. It all hung together, seemed to have a kind of composition: pale little houses of stone nestling close to one another, perched on top of each other, with flat roofs, narrow windows, straight walls, and in the middle of the group, a round tower.

It was beautifully proportioned, that tower, swelling out to a larger girth a little above the base, then growing slender again. There was something symmetrical and powerful about the swell of the masonry. The tower was the fine thing that held all the jumble of houses together and made them mean something. It was red in colour, even on that grey day. In sunlight it was the colour of winter oak-leaves. A fringe of cedars grew along the edge of the cavern, like a garden. They were the only living things. Such silence and stillness and repose--immortal repose. That village sat looking down into the canyon with the calmness of eternity. The falling snow-flakes, sprinkling the pinons, gave it a special kind of solemnity. I can’t describe it. It was more like sculpture than anything else. I knew at once that I had come upon the city of some extinct civilization, hidden away in the inaccessible mesa for centuries, preserved in the dry air and almost perpetual sunlight like a fly in amber, guarded by the cliffs and the river and the desert.

The tower is a celestial observatory--and it is significant that Tom calls it “the fine thing that held all the jumble of houses together and made them mean something.” Later, when Tom brings some of his comrades to the site, they encourage him to go to the Smithsonian in Washington with news of his find and bring their professional archeologists out to study it properly. One of them says:

“Like you, I feel a reverence for this place. Wherever humanity has made that hardest of all starts and lifted itself out of mere brutality, is a sacred spot. Your people were cut off here without the influence of example or emulation, with no incentive but some natural yearning for order and security. They built themselves into this mesa and humanized it.”

Tom, in fact, does this. But the professional archeologists don’t see the hidden city and the mysteries it contains the same way Tom does. In many ways, they seem insensitive to the potential of the place for a deep understanding of what makes us human and the insistent drive our species has for taming the wild around us.

For Tom, it is indeed a sacred place.

When I pulled out on top of the mesa, the rays of sunlight fell slantingly through the little twisted pinons--the light was all in between them, as red as a daylight fire, they fairly swam in it. Once again I had the glorious feeling of being on the mesa, in a world above the world. And the air, my God, what air!--Soft, tingling, gold, hot with an edge of chill on it, full of the smell of pinons--it was like breathing the sun, breathing the color of the sky. Down there behind me was the plain, already streaked with shadow, violet and purple and burnt orange until it met the horizon. Before me was the flat mesa top, thinly sprinkled with old cedars there were not much taller than I, though their twisted trunks were almost as thick as my body. I struck off across it, my long black shadow going ahead.

A place for human refinement and elucidation. Tom spends much of his time up there reading Virgil, committing long passages of the Aeneid to memory. And when he thinks of the Aeneid later, when he is far removed from that magical place…

I can always see two pictures: the one on the page, and another behind that: blue and purple rocks and yellow-green pinons with flat tops, little clustered houses clinging together for protection, a rude tower rising in their midst, rising strong, with calmness and courage--behind it a dark grotto, in its depths a crystal spring.

In essence, the ancient civilization is an achievement on par with that of Virgil’s. Tom Outland’s story is rich with these comparisons, reminding the reader of the deep and fathomless mysteries that have challenged the human mind for millennia, and the myriad ways that civilizations have tried to respond.

But what does anything of this have to do with the novel’s titular professor and his house?

To answer that, let’s start here.

“Godfrey,” she said slowly and sadly. “I wonder what it is that makes you draw away from your family. Or who it is.”

“My dear, are you going to be jealous?”

“I wish I were going to be. I’d much rather see you foolish about some woman than becoming lonely and inhuman.”

“Well, the habit of living with ideas grows on one, I suppose, just as inevitably as the more cheerful habit of living with various ladies. There’s something to be said for both.”

This is a conversation between the Professor and his wife--she chiding him for wanting to spend all his time and attention on his work.

“I think your ideas were best when you were your most human self.”

St. Peter sighed. “I can’t contradict you there. But I must go on as I can. It is not always May.”

“You are not old enough for the pose you take. That’s what puzzles me. For so many years you never seemed to grow at all older, though I did. Two years ago you were an impetuous young man. Now you save yourself in everything. You’re naturally warm and affectionate; all at once you begin shutting yourself away from everybody. I don’t think you’ll be happier for it.” Up to this point she had been lecturing him. Now she suddenly crossed the room and sat down on the arm of his chair, looking into his face and twisting up the ends of his military eyebrows with her thumb and middle finger. “Why is it, Godfrey? I can’t see any change in your face, though I watch you so closely. It’s in your mind, in your mood. Something has come over you. Is it merely that you know too much, I wonder? Too much to be happy? You were always the wisest person in the world. What is it, can’t you tell me?”

Get ready. Here it comes.

“I can’t altogether tell myself, Lillian. It’s not wholly a matter of the calendar. It’s the feeling that I’ve put a great deal behind me, where I can’t go back to it again--and I really don’t wish to go back. The way would be too long and too fatiguing. Perhaps, for a home-staying man, I’ve lived pretty hard. I wasn’t willing to slight anything--you, or my desk, or my students. And now I seem to be tremendously tired. One pays, coming and going, A man has got only just so much in him; when it’s gone he slumps.”

This is part of the last narrative arc of the novel. The Professor is feeling restless, drawn both by the excitement of his intellectual pursuits and by the obligations and rewards of familial love, but realizing that his days are growing increasingly numbered, and that he has not yet accomplished something of the significance of his young student, Tom Outland. His family is planning a trip to Europe--sailing on a ship called the Berengaria--but he begs off, deciding to stay home and make use of the time alone to advance his scholarship.

And stays home he does--except not in the new house they have recently moved into, but in his old house--the house of the book’s title--the house with the Professor’s old study at the top of the stairs. A study with drafty windows and a gas-burning stove and a dressmaker’s dummy that his wife’s seamstress still uses to block and shape her dresses.

There, and only there--like the tower standing tall among the houses in Tom Outland’s forgotten city--does St. Peter feel that he can scale the mountains of human achievement, if not in an ancient civilization of the desert Southwest, than in the pages of the books he reads and writes about the history of Spanish America. Tom’s discovery fuels his work and fuels his imagination, and as he reflects on his position late in life, he longs for a return to the region that Tom so richly revealed to him.

His family wrote constantly about their plans for next summer, when they were going to take him over with them. Next summer? The Professor wondered… Sometimes he thought he would like to drive up in front of Notre Dame, in Paris, again, and see it standing there like the Rock of Ages, with the frail generations breaking about its base. He hadn’t seen it since the war.

But if he went anywhere next summer, he thought it would be down into Outland’s country, to watch the sunrise break on sculptured peaks and impassable mountain passes--to look off at those long, rugged, untamed vistas dear to the American heart. Dear to all hearts, probably--at least, calling to all.

In many ways, I wish the novel ended there, with those words, the Professor looking west towards some mythic understanding of the American soul. But Cather doesn’t end it there. It goes on for twelve more pages, enough to allow the Professor to have a brush with death in his beloved study.

He falls asleep with the gas on, and the breeze blows the windows shut. Only the arrival of the seamstress saves him from asphyxiation, and when he recovers he has an unfortunate and somewhat forced realization.

Here’s what I mean. Before this episode, these are his thoughts about his family:

He loved his family, he would make any sacrifice for them, but just now he couldn’t live with them. He must be alone. That was more necessary to him than anything had ever been, more necessary, even, than his marriage had been in his vehement youth. He could not live with his family again--not even with Lillian. Especially not with Lillian! Her nature was intense and positive; it was like a chiselled surface, a die, a stamp upon which he could be be beaten out any longer. If her character were reduced to an heraldic device, it would be a hand (a beautiful hand) holding flaming arrows--the shafts of her violent loves and hates, her clear-cut ambitions.

And after:

His temporary release from consciousness seemed to have been beneficial. He had let something go--and it was gone: something very precious, that he could not consciously have relinquished, probably. He doubted whether his family would ever realize that he was not the same man they had said good-bye to; they would be too happily preoccupied with their own affairs. If his apathy hurt them, they could not possibly be so much hurt as he had been already. At least, he felt the ground under his feet. He thought he knew where he was, and that he could face with fortitude the Berengaria and the future.

Ask Charles Strickland why I call this realization unfortunate. As Maugham so wonderfully explored in The Moon and Sixpence, the quest for pure aestheticism too often comes at the price of domestic comfort and relations. And I’ve grown to a position in my own life where I much prefer fictional characters who attempt to scale those heights to those that settle for happily ever after.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Chapter Thirty-Eight


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 69,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1991. All rights reserved.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The first real spell Roystnof taught me was called shocking grasp, and I learned it on the day of the Festival of Whiteshine. Roystnof called it a potent but simple spell and, even though I had been studying magic on and off for six years, it took me the entire morning and some of the afternoon to master it. I remember how exhausted I was after I had finally cast it correctly on a wooden chair, how exhausted and triumphant I felt. It was a powerful spell and for the first time in my life I felt like a real wizard, like I deserved to be Roystnof’s apprentice. When I think about it, it was really one of the happiest times of my life, feeling closer to Roystnof than perhaps ever before or since.

+ + +

Brisbane went right to bed when he got back to his chamber, tired even though he had slept most of the day. In the morning he told Smurch he did intend to challenge Tornestor in the pugtrolang. The half-ork was overjoyed at the news and it took Brisbane several minutes to calm him down enough to get some useful information out of him. Brisbane wanted to know how he was expected to go about it, what rituals he was supposed to follow, and what manners he needed to observe.

He found out it was relatively simple. All he had to was issue his masokom before the evening draknel, as Wister had done to him, and if the Sumak accepted his challenge, battle to decide the chief of the clan would follow the meal. Technically, Tornestor could not refuse the masokom—to do so would be a sign of weakness, but he could name one of his Sums—which were what the orks with the red stripes on their sleeves were called—to fight in his place. This was allowed and it was meant to prevent daily challenges against a Sumak until he lost a fluke contest to an ork with lesser combat skills.

Smurch seemed to think this was what Tornestor would do in response to Brisbane’s challenge. If Brisbane defeated one of Tornestor’s Sums—who were named Bronsop and Riltik—then Tornestor would be forced to face Brisbane the next day in the pug-trolang. Of course, if the Sumak was sure he could defeat Brisbane, he just might accept the challenge outright.

Brisbane spent the day, as usual, with Ternosh, trying to master the use of orkish magic. He still had had no success and was beginning to wonder if he would ever get the hang of it. Ternosh was a good and patient teacher, but there seemed to be something missing from Brisbane’s internal makeup, something that kept him from channeling his inner force of magic into these strange orkish paths.

It no longer mattered to Brisbane, however. He was getting out of here in one or two days, depending on Tornestor’s decision about his masokom. Angelika had more or less promised him that. But he could not let Ternosh catch onto his plan, so he worked as hard as ever on the orkish spells. He wanted to keep it secret from the Grumak mainly because he wasn’t sure how Ternosh would react. Brisbane supposed there was the chance Ternosh would accept it, figuring this mad try for domination of the clan was the mission Gruumsh had sent him here for, but Brisbane thought the chances of that were slim. If Ternosh believed Gruumsh One-Eye had sent him here to become the new Sumak of the clan, why had the Grumak put up such a fuss when Wister had challenged him? If Brisbane was destined to become the clan’s first human Sumak, then surely no ork with the combat skills of Wister could have stood in his way.

No, Brisbane didn’t want Ternosh to know about his plan because he was afraid the Grumak would be able to stop it somehow, like he had tried to do with Wister. Brisbane thought the best policy would be to keep it secret from everyone until that night’s draknel, when he would announce his intentions to everyone present as he issued the masokom to Tornestor, and that was just what he did.

The day passed and when evening arrived, Brisbane calmly went to the banquet chamber as he had done every other night. Every other night except the night before, when he had been too sick on incense smoke to attend. He took his usual seat, now on the right of Ternosh since the death of Grum Wister, and said a pleasant good evening to the Grumak. He poured himself a tankard of ale and, sipping it slowly, listened to the conversations running around the table and waited for Sumak Tornestor to enter the chamber.

Brisbane did not have to wait long. Tornestor soon arrived with his faithful Sums walking behind him. Brisbane watched him carefully as he strode into the chamber and took his seat at the banquet table. He was again struck by the sheer size of the ork, and he could not deny the swirling of fear in his bowels when he thought about what he was going to do. Defeating Wister had been easy. It had taken him a while to decide to strike the Grum down, but there had been no real test in the area of combat. Brisbane was sure Tornestor would be a much different story. He was the leader of the clan, by definition, the best warrior they had. Whereas Wister had spent most of his time in his work chamber honing his magical skills, Tornestor had been fighting his way up through the ranks of orkish society, sharpening his skills with his blade.

Tornestor, after taking his seat, addressed the crowd at the table. “Welcome, klatru of the Red Eye Clan, to this evening’s draknel. Before the meal is served, does anyone have anything to say?”

Silence ran around the table as Brisbane slowly rose to his feet.

Angelika, help me.

Strength, Brisbane. You have the strength to persevere.

“Grum Brisbane,” Tornestor said in his scratchy voice. “You wish to invoke your right of statement?”

Brisbane quietly cleared his throat. “I do.” All eyes around the table were on him.

“You may speak, Grum Brisbane.”

Here goes. “I wish to issue a masokom, Sumak Tornestor.”

This caused a certain amount of mumbling to murmur around the table. Ternosh looked up at him with a glaring red eye but Brisbane did his best to ignore the Grumak.

Tornestor held up his hands to bring silence back to the chamber. “It is your right to do so. Who do you wish to challenge?”

There was a moment when Brisbane seemed to feel the air crystallize around him and the others in the chamber, freezing the scene like a diorama in the collection of some observing god. In this moment he saw the detail of his surroundings to an almost impossible degree. The folds in the black garments of the orks, the beads of moisture on the tankards of cold ale, the chipped and rough edges on Tornestor’s claw-like fingernails—it was all preserved in Brisbane’s memory as if he had been standing at the table, waiting to issue his challenge, for all time.

“You, Sumak Tornestor.”

The uproar that followed was comprised mostly of cries of shock and surprise, but mixed in were a few unmistakable guffaws of laughter. Ternosh leapt to his feet and stood impatiently, waiting for Tornestor to notice him. There was no change in expression on the face of the Sumak, but both Bronsop and Riltik began to study Brisbane with a pair of nearly carnivorous stares.

Tornestor again raised his hands for silence. “Brother,” he said to the Grumak. “Sit down.”

“But Tornestor—”

“Ternosh, sit down!” The voice echoed through the chamber, repeating the order over and over again.

At the outpouring of his brother’s anger, Ternosh slowly sat down.

Tornestor turned to face Brisbane. “Grum Brisbane,” he said in a tone under his control. “Normally I would ask the reason for the issuing of a masokom, but as you have challenged the Sumak, there can only be one reason for it. You intend to rule this clan. Before I decide to accept the masokom myself or to defer it to one of my Sums, tell me one thing. Is this why Gruumsh One-Eye has sent you among us? To depose me? Have I displeased him in some manner?”

Brisbane was tempted to say yes, to say that was just what he had been sent here for. Yes, Tornestor. Gruumsh One-Eye himself has sent me here to kill you and when you are dead your god will squash out your existence under the heel of his massive boot. Yes, Tornestor, I am your death. Brisbane was tempted to say this, but in the end, he did not.

“Who do I fight today?” was all Brisbane did say, deliberately ignoring the Sumak’s question. “You or one of your Sums?”

Tornestor’s lips snarled, exposing his sharp teeth. “You are wise, Grum Brisbane. Wise, or foolish. After the draknel is finished, you will meet Bronsop in the pug-trolang.” He clapped his hands twice and immediately servants carrying food entered the chamber.

Brisbane sat down as the personal conversations resumed around the table and the draknel was served.

“Is it true?” Ternosh asked him quietly. “Is this indeed why Gruumsh sent you here?”

Brisbane looked the Grumak right in the eye. “Eat your meal, Ternosh. Eat your meal and leave me alone.

Ternosh let out a harumph and turned back to his plate, being heaped with food by a servant. “Well,” the Grumak said to himself. “I guess I’ll find out soon enough, won’t I?”

The draknel passed very slowly for Brisbane. After everyone’s plate had been filled, he waited with them all for Tornestor to dig in so they could eat. The chief seemed to wait an unusually long period of time that night, probably in a token attempt to further show his dominance in the wake of Brisbane’s masokom. Brisbane didn’t care. Let him milk it for as much as he could. He would not be milking it for much longer.

As he had done before his battle with Wister, Brisbane did not overstuff himself with food and limited himself to only one tankard of ale. He wasn’t sure which of the orks on either side of Tornestor was Bronsop, but throughout the draknel, the one on the Sumak’s right kept staring at him, so he assumed that was the one. Whenever he caught the red-striped ork looking at him, Brisbane forced the most vicious glare he could to his face. He wasn’t going to let the ork intimidate him.

He is not your match, Brisbane. You can defeat him.

I know I can, Angelika. I have to.

When the meal was finally finished, and the servants had cleared the table, Tornestor rose to his feet.

“Gentlemen,” he said formally. “In the tradition handed down through generations, a tradition begun in the time Gruumsh One-Eye himself walked the earth, a challenge, a masokom, has been issued by one of us against another. The reason for this masokom is clear. Are there any here who would deny my right to name Sum Bronsop to accept the challenge in my stead?”

The table experienced an uneasy silence.

“Then let us move to the pug-trolang, the pit of combat, to settle this masokom before our own eyes.”

Then they were all up and moving out of the banquet chamber. Tornestor and his two Sums led the way and Ternosh and Brisbane brought up the rear. The procession made its way down the short, dark corridor and emerged into the chamber of the pug-trolang. The klatru quickly took their places around the pit, all except Brisbane and the red-striped Bronsop, who began to arm themselves with pieces of the armory that was the outer wall of the chamber.

Brisbane watched Bronsop for a little while. The ork was about his size and extremely hairy. He chose a metal breastplate from the wall, as well as a crest-shaped shield and a thick, heavy scimitar. He saw Brisbane watching him suit up, but ignored the human completely. When he was finished, Bronsop marched to the edge of the pit and dropped himself down.

Brisbane turned his attention to the armor and weapons. He chose a black chainmail shirt that hung down to his knees and a large circular shield, as usual, black and emblazoned with a great red eye. He searched for the same sword he had used against Wister and, eventually, he found it. He twirled it around in his right hand, marveling again at its perfect balance, and prepared to set off for the pug-trolang.

But just before he walked away from the wall, his eyes caught sight of a single black helmet, propped up on the end of a spear. He took it immediately and placed it on his head. It had a metal faceguard, with two wide slits to see through. Brisbane could not imagine the orks getting much use out of it; the orkish head being generally larger than the human one. Fully armed and protected, Brisbane then made his way to the pug-trolang and dropped himself down.

He took his place opposite and facing Bronsop and actively engaged in the staring match that seemed to be a ritual at this stage of the game. He did not watch Ternosh over by the pedestal—

and Angelika

—conjure up the Demosk and he did not watch Tornestor rise to his feet when the time came to start the battle. He watched Bronsop. And Bronsop watched him.

The incense smoke again stayed mostly above the floor of the pug-trolang. Brisbane could still smell the pungent orange odor of it, and it brought back unpleasant memories of the sacrifice of Amanda. But he pushed these thoughts aside, he had to, and concentrated solely on how to defeat Bronsop.

Yes. That’s right, Brisbane. For Amanda. He deserves to die for what happened to Amanda.

Angelika, stay out if it.

But our vengeance, what about our vengeance? We must make them pay.

I’m doing it, aren’t I?

Yes. Yes, Brisbane, you are.

The Demosk made its appearance, ghostly and eyeless, but Brisbane did not look at it. He heard Ternosh inform it of the reason it had been summoned and he heard the Demosk say it was ready to witness to masokom.

“Then we are ready,” Tornestor said to the smoke-filled room. “Bronsop?”

The ork did not take his eyes off Brisbane. “Yes, Lord?”

“Kill him.”

Bronsop smiled. “That I will, Lord.”

“Begin!” Tornestor called out.

The klatru roared in support and excitement as Bronsop charged at Brisbane. The charge was quick and strong, and when Brisbane tried to push it aside like he had done so easily to Wister, Bronsop fought it, pivoting back against Brisbane’s thrust and scored a strike on Brisbane’s chainmail. Brisbane brought his shield down to protect himself as he found himself toe to toe with a warrior of considerable skill.

Careful, Brisbane. Do not leave yourself foolishly open.

Brisbane traded a few ineffectual blows against their shields with the ork, each gauging the comparative skill of the other. Brisbane did not know what Bronsop thought of him, but Brisbane could not help but be impressed with the Sum. Unlike Wister, his blows were quick and powerful, his balance was perfect, and his use of his shield was near expert. For a moment, Brisbane experienced a sinking feeling that perhaps he would not be able to defeat Bronsop.

Brisbane! Do not poison your mind so. Of course you can defeat him. If you do not destroy this monster, you will never win me back. Remember that.

If I can’t defeat him, Angelika, I’ll be dead.

Yes, and dead you cannot wield me. You must win.

Bronsop tried a swipe at his legs, but Brisbane had read it in the ork’s movements and skipped over the blade as it passed by. Stooped over like he was, Brisbane tried to bring his sword down on top of Bronsop’s head, but the ork’s shield came up and caught the blow.

He’s good, Angelika. He’s good.

He is skilled, Brisbane, but you are better.

But he is good.

Fine. Perhaps there will be no nonsense this time.

What do you mean by that?

The crowd roared as Bronsop unleashed a savage blow on Brisbane’s upraised shield that drove the human down onto one knee. Brisbane quickly rolled across the ground and struck out at the ork’s unprotected legs. He hit with a shallow cut along one of Bronsop’s shins and bounced up again to his feet. The crowd let out a cry of displeasure and the Sum, bloodied, backed out of combat.

You refused to fight the one called Wister for so long because he was no warrior. Since this creature is much better, perhaps you won’t have the same reluctance.

We’ll see, Angelika.

Bronsop stood away, looking at Brisbane with a shocked look of amazement. The wound certainly was hurting him and was bleeding quite a bit, but it was only superficial. Brisbane had not yet won. The ork charged back into combat with a cry of rage.

But now Brisbane had the advantage. It was the right leg he had hit and Bronsop was obviously favoring it. Brisbane concentrated his attack so the Sum had to pivot on his wounded leg in order to repel him. It also happened to be Bronsop’s weaker side, his shield being in his left hand, and that gave Brisbane yet another advantage.

Good. We’ve got him now. Don’t rush it. Wait for him to open up.

Angelika, leave me alone.

Vengeance, Brisbane. It must be your constant objective. You must destroy this evil.

Bronsop was getting desperate. The loss of blood was beginning to affect him. If he did not end this battle soon he would pass out. Brisbane saw this, and he stayed on the defensive, waiting for Bronsop to get sloppy. They parried for a while, Brisbane attacking the Sum’s weak side just enough to keep him from launching an all-out attack. Once, Brisbane hit him on the breastplate, nearly hard enough to knock the Sum off his feet.

Now, Brisbane. End this creature’s life. Destroy him and only Tornestor stands between you and me.

Not yet, Angelika.

Brisbane was watching Bronsop carefully. He knew the ork was going to have to go for everything sooner or later. That was what he was waiting for.

Eventually, it happened. After patiently waiting through the growing dissatisfaction in the crowd and the constant urgings of Angelika to hurry up and end the battle, Bronsop finally swung out in his final move of desperation. It almost worked. It was a high, quick-moving swipe to the head that, had it hit where it had been aimed, might have shattered Brisbane’s skull inside his helmet and certainly knocked him unconscious. But Brisbane had seen it coming and, at the last second, was able to duck just enough to turn the smashing blow to the side of his head into a glancing blow off the top of his helmet. The swing turned Bronsop halfway around and, for a moment, he tottered on the edge of losing his balance.

Now, Brisbane!

The breastplate still hung on the ork, protecting his body from any sword thrust, but his sword arm, circled by the red stripe on his sleeve, hovered in front of Brisbane’s sight, completely open and unshielded. Dazed a little from the glancing blow to his head, Brisbane brought his sword down hard on the exposed arm, between the elbow and the shoulder, and cleanly severed it from Bronsop’s body. The arm, with the scimitar still clenched in its claw-like hand, fell to the floor of the pug-trolang with a spurt of blood.

The crowd of orks let out a shocked gasp as Bronsop dropped to his knees in front of Brisbane, his shield hanging limply on his left side and a river of red running down his right. The ork looked up at Brisbane with a grimace of pain on his face so twisted it seemed like a grin. Silence fell over the pit of combat as Brisbane locked eyes with his dying adversary.

Finish him, Brisbane. Send him back to his evil maker. Vengeance is ours!

Brisbane looked closely at Bronsop as the ork’s mouth began to work in a silent imitation of speech. His lips formed two words over and over again, but it wasn’t until the ork was able to force some air through his vocal chords that Brisbane could make them out.


Brisbane nodded. Swiftly, he brought his sword across and struck Bronsop’s neck, removing his head from his body. The head bounced off to the side and the body slumped lifelessly forward.

It is done. Praise Grecolus for his wisdom and Brisbane for his courage.

“Grum Brisbane has defeated Sum Bronsop,” the Demosk said. “Do you require anything else of me, Grumak Ternosh?”

Ternosh was slow in responding. “No.”

Brisbane looked up at the orks around the edges of the pit after the Demosk had vanished and the smoke had begun to dissipate. They all wore looks of muted surprise on their faces and they were all frozen as if they had been turned to stone. Brisbane’s gaze fell upon Ternosh and then slowly swept around the ring until he was looking at Tornestor. The Sumak was looking at him as well, but the look on his face was not one of surprise. It was one of hatred.

“Tomorrow,” Brisbane said, giving life to the scene. “Prepare yourself, Tornestor, for tomorrow we meet in the pug-trolang.”

The Sumak said nothing. He slowly got out of his stone chair and, after giving Brisbane another long and measured glare, turned and stalked quickly from the chamber.

Brisbane looked down at the remains of Bronsop as the others filed out of the cave. In three separate parts, the body lay there like a bloody tribute to an angry god. It occurred to Brisbane that to the orks and to Angelika, that was exactly what it was. In fact, only Brisbane, who was the one who had actually performed the sacrifice, didn’t believe the event was related to any god in any way. The orks had just seen one of their own be sent onto his ultimate reward, the eternal battlefield of Gruumsh One-Eye. Angelika had just seen another monster destroyed in Grecolus’ holy mission for the destruction of evil. Brisbane had just killed an intelligent being to get his sword back. And tomorrow, he was going to have to do it again. He had trouble deciding which one of them was the craziest.


Brisbane looked up at the edge of the pug-trolang and saw Ternosh standing there. “What?”

“Is this why Gruumsh sent you here? To become our new Sumak?”

Brisbane shook his head in slow frustration. “What do you think, Ternosh?”

“I think he did,” Ternosh said without hesitation. “After what I just saw, I think he must have.”

“Help me out of this pit.”

Ternosh did.