Friday, October 25, 2013


“As in the realm of the stars it is sometimes two suns which determine the course of a planet, as in certain cases suns of differing colour shine on a single planet now with a red light, now with a green light, and sometimes striking it at the same time and flooding it with many colours: so we modern men are, thanks to the complicated mechanism of our ‘starry firmament,’ determined by differing moralities; our actions shine alternately in differing colours, they are seldom unequivocal—and there are cases enough in which we perform many-coloured action.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Thursday, October 17, 2013


“A human being who strives for something great regards everybody he meets on his way either as a means or as a delay and hindrance—or as a temporary resting-place.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

“Don’t you think it would be more interesting if you went the whole hog and drew him warts and all?”

“Oh, I couldn’t. Amy Driffield would never speak to me again. She only asked me to do the life because she felt she could trust my discretion. I must behave like a gentleman.”

“It’s very hard to be a gentleman and a writer.”

As good as any quote to sum up the theme of this delightful little tome, written eleven years after my favorite Maugham novel, and purported to be the author’s favorite of his own novels.

The second speaker above is Alroy (Roy) Kear, an English novelist of middling fame that has been asked to write a biography of one of the recently passed lions of literature--Edward Driffield--by that author’s second wife and widow. And the first and third speaker is our narrator, William Ashenden, to whom Kear has come for information about Driffield’s early life; for Ashenden knew Driffield as a younger man, when the lion was married to his first wife and, by most accounts, at the peak of his literary prowess.

The first wife, Rosie, is one of those characters in fiction that comes to symbolize much more than just her role in the story. She was Driffield’s muse and, evidently, the muse to many other men--Ashenden included. Here, the two of them talk about Rosie’s other affairs and Ashenden’s jealousy of them.

I looked at Rosie now, with angry, hurt, resentful eyes; she smiled at me, and I wish I knew how to describe the sweet kindliness of her beautiful smile; her voice was exquisitely gentle.

“Oh, my dear, why d’you bother your head about any others? What harm does it do you? Don’t I give you a good time? Aren’t you happy when you’re with me?”


“Well, then. It’s so silly to be fussy and jealous. Why not be happy with what you can get? Enjoy yourself while you have the chance, I say; we shall all be dead in a hundred years and what will anything matter then? Let’s have a good time while we can.”

She is a free spirit, Rosie is, one who sows happiness wherever she goes and, because she does so at least in disregard if not outright ignorance of the social norms that control the rest of society, she is viewed by most as something vulgar. Ashenden himself is troubled by her behavior, trained as he and all men are to believe that happiness can only come from the possession of women. But long after Rosie leaves both him and Driffield for new adventures in America, he comes to appreciate the unique role her spirit played in his art and the art of other great men.

This extended passage comes very late in the novel, when Maugham is clearly interested in summing things up and driving his points home. In it, Kear, Ashenden, and the second Mrs. Driffield are reminiscing, and they come across some photos of Rosie that Driffield had kept locked away in a trunk. I’ll make some comments along the way.

“And here is the bride,” said Mrs. Driffield, trying not to smile.

Poor Rosie, seen by a country photographer over forty years ago, was grotesque. She was standing very stiffly against a background of baronial hall, holding a large bouquet; her dress was elaborately draped, pinched at the waist, and she wore a bustle. Her fringe came down to her eyes. On her head was a wreath of orange blossoms, perched high on a mass of hair, and from it was thrown back a long veil. Only I knew how lovely she must have looked.

“She looks fearfully common,” said Roy.

“She was,” murmured Mrs. Driffield.

Of course she looked different to Ashenden. He is looking at her through the eyes of love, memory, and understanding of what she meant for him. But note especially how vulgar Kear and Mrs. Driffield think she was. It’s not just that they don’t see the muse Ashenden knew--they see something loathsome, something almost opposite.

But first, we’ll pause for this wonderful insight into the life of a successful author.

We looked at more photographs of Edward, photographs that had been taken of him when he began to be known, photographs when he wore only a moustache and others, all the later ones, when he was clean-shaven. You saw his face grown thinner and more lined. The stubborn commonplace of the early portraits melted gradually into a weary refinement. You saw the change in him wrought by experience, thought, and achieved ambition. I looked again at the photograph of the young sailorman and fancied that I saw in it already a trace of that aloofness that seemed to me so marked in the older ones and that I had had years before the vague sensation of in the man himself. The face you saw was a mask and the actions he performed without significance. I had an impression that the real man, to his death unknown and lonely, was a wraith that went a silent way unseen between the writer of his books and the fellow who led his life, and smiled with ironical detachment at the two puppets that the world took for Edward Driffield. I am conscious that in what I have written of him I have not presented a living man, standing on his feet, rounded, with comprehensive motives and logical activities; I have not tried to: I am glad to leave that to the abler pen of Alroy Kear.

I really enjoy this aspect of Maugham’s fiction--the way he peppers the narrative with piercing and lyrical observations of art and artists, and how both fare in an unsympathetic world. More on that later. But for now, let’s get back to Rosie, and how she is viewed by Ashenden vs. Kear and Mrs. Driffield.

I came across the photographs that Harry Retford, the actor, had taken of Rosie, and then a photograph of the picture that Lionel Hiller had painted of her. It gave me a pang. That was how I best remembered her. Notwithstanding the old-fashioned gown, she was alive there and tremulous with the passion that filled her. She seemed to offer herself to the assault of love.

“She gives you the impression of a hefty wench,” said Roy.

“If you like the milkmaid type,” answered Mrs. Driffield. “I’ve always thought she looked rather like a white nigger.”

That was what Mrs. Barton Trafford had been fond of calling her, and with Rosie’s thick lips and broad nose there was indeed a hateful truth in the criticism. But they did not know how silvery golden her hair was, nor how golden silver her skin; they did not know her enchanting smile.

“She wasn’t a bit like a white nigger,” I said. “She was virginal like the dawn. She was like Hebe. She was like a white rose.”

Mrs. Driffield smiled and exchanged a meaning glance with Roy.

“Mrs. Barton Trafford told me a great deal about her. I don’t wish to seem spiteful, but I’m afraid I don’t think that she can have been a very nice woman.”

“That’s where you make a mistake,” I replied. “She was a very nice woman. I never saw her in a bad temper. You only had to say you wanted something for her to give it to you. I never heard her say a disagreeable thing about anyone. She had a heart of gold.”

She sounds lovely, doesn’t she? But wait. Those aren’t the kinds of things she will be judged by.

“She was a terrible slattern. Her house was always in a mess; you didn’t like to sit down in a chair because it was so dusty and you dared not look in the corners. And it was the same with her person. She could never put a skirt on straight and you’d see about two inches of petticoat hanging down on one side.”

Mercy. Ashenden, how can you possible counter that?

“She didn’t bother about things like that. They didn’t make her any the less beautiful. And she was as good as she was beautiful.”

Nice try.

Roy burst out laughing and Mrs. Driffield put her hand up to her mouth to hide her smile.

“Oh, come, Mr. Ashenden, that’s really going too far. After all, let’s face it, she was a nymphomaniac.”

That’s it. It’s out. She broke the sexual mores of their society. She must be all bad.

“I think that’s a very silly word,” I said.

He will try. Ashenden will try to explain what Rosie was in a way they can understand.

“Well, then, let me say that she can hardly have been a very good woman to treat poor Edward as she did. Of course it was a blessing in disguise. If she hadn’t run away from him he might have had to bear that burden for the rest of his life, and with such a handicap he could never have reached the position he did. But the fact remains that she was notoriously unfaithful to him. From what I hear she was absolutely promiscuous.”

“You don’t understand,” I said. “She was a very simple woman. Her instincts were healthy and ingenuous. She loved to make people happy. She loved love.”

“Do you call that love?”

“Well, then, the act of love. She was naturally affectionate. When she liked anyone it was quite natural for her to go to bed with him. She never thought twice about it. It was not vice; it wasn’t lasciviousness; it was her nature. She gave herself as naturally as the sun gives heat or the flowers their perfume. It was a pleasure to her and she liked to give pleasure to others. It had no effect on her character; she remained sincere, unspoiled, and artless.”

How was that? Do you think they will understand that?

Mrs. Driffield looked as though she had taken a dose of castor oil and had just been trying to get the taste of it out of her mouth by sucking a lemon.

Evidently not.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “But then I’m bound to admit that I never understood what Edward saw in her.”

“Did he know that she was carrying on with all sorts of people?” asked Roy.

“I’m sure he didn’t,” she replied quickly.

Editor’s note: He did.

“You think him a bigger fool than I do, Mrs. Driffield,” I said.

“Then why did he put up with it?”

“I think I can tell you. You see, she wasn’t a woman who ever inspired love. Only affection. It was absurd to be jealous over her. She was like a clear deep pool in a forest glade into which it’s heavenly to plunge, but it is neither less cool nor less crystalline because a tramp and a gipsy and a gamekeeper have plunged into it before you.”

Roy laughed again and this time Mrs. Driffield without concealment smiled thinly.

“It’s comic to hear you so lyrical,” said Roy.

I stifled a sigh.

So did I. They just don’t get it.

I have noticed that when I am most serious people are apt to laugh at me, and indeed when after a lapse of time I have read passages that I wrote from the fullness of my heart I have been tempted to laugh at myself. It must be that there is something naturally absurd in a sincere emotion, though why there should be I cannot imagine, unless it is that man, the ephemeral inhabitant of an insignificant planet, with all his pain and all his striving is but a jest in an eternal mind.

Wow. Write that one down on a small card and carry it around in your wallet.

The conclusion here is that Ashenden in unable to make Kear and Mrs. Driffield understand. But there is a deeper question: Is he able to make you understand? Because that’s really the point, isn’t it, Dear Reader. The point of this whole story. Where does great art come from? After the journey you’ve taken through the novel--Ashenden’s journey, a journey through his eyes and heart--are you in a position to understand in a way that Kear and Mrs. Driffield can’t?

Okay. So dwell on that for a minute. But now, here’s a twist. For as much as Ashenden understands the role that a character like Rosie can play in the soul and inspiration of a writer, Rosie herself is incapable of understanding what makes a writer truly tick.

The very end of the novel is Maugham at his very best, deftly using the narrative flow of his characters and their relationships to explore the very esoteric subject of art and its painful genesis.

Here, Ashenden happens to run across Rosie years later while visiting New York. In the course of their discussion, she mentions the child she a Driffield had had at the very beginning of their marriage.

“I didn’t know you’d ever had a child,” I said with surprise.

“Oh, yes. That’s why Ted married me. But I had a very bad time when it came and the doctors said I couldn’t have another. If she’d lived, poor little thing, I don’t suppose I’d ever have run away with George. She was six when she died. A dear little thing she was and as pretty as a picture.”

“You never mentioned her.”

“No, I couldn’t bear to speak about her. She got meningitis and we took her to the hospital. They put her in a private room and they let us stay with her. I shall never forget what she went through, screaming, screaming all the time, and nobody able to do anything.”

Rosie’s voice broke.

Someday, I’ll write a thesis on the use of brevity in portraying horror in fiction, and this paragraph will be one of the examples I cite. The brutal efficiency of the words convey so much more than they deserve to.

But Ashenden has a different reaction.

“Was it that death Driffield described in The Cup of Life?”

The Cup of Life is Driffield’s controversial masterpiece. But note what Rosie says about it.

“Yes, that’s it. I always thought it so funny of Ted. He couldn’t bear to speak of it, any more than I could, but he wrote it all down; he didn’t leave out a thing; even little things I hadn’t noticed at the time he put in and then I remembered them. You’d think he was just heartless, but he wasn’t, he was upset just as much as I was. When we used to go home at night he’d cry like a child. Funny chap, wasn’t he?”

Sure, Rosie. Funny chap. Why would he do such a thing? Oh, wait. Here’s why…

It was The Cup of Life that had raised such a storm of protest; and it was the child’s death and the episode that followed it that had especially brought down on Driffield’s head such virulent abuse. I remembered the description very well. It was harrowing. There was nothing sentimental in it; it did not excite the reader’s tears, but his anger rather that such cruel suffering should be inflicted on a little child. You felt that God at the Judgment Day would have to account for such things as this.

Obvious. What writer wouldn’t want to write something like that? And most writers know that that kind of writing comes only from real harrowing experience, not from fancies that are simply dressed up to be.

But here’s the best part of all. Rosie’s incomprehension about what would possess someone to write about such a tragic circumstance prompts Ashenden to meditate upon the writer’s life. And, as our narrator, we are privy to the the following thoughts that must surely have passed through Maugham’s mind as well.

It is full of tribulation. First he must endure poverty and the world’s indifference; then, having achieved a measure of success, he must submit with a good grace to its hazards. He depends upon a fickle public. He is at the mercy of journalists who want to interview him and photographers who want to take his picture, of editors who harry him for copy and tax gatherers who harry him for income tax, of persons of quality who ask him to lunch and secretaries of institutes who ask him to lecture, of women who want to marry him and women who want to divorce him, of youths who want his autographs, actors who want parts and strangers who want a loan, of gushing ladies who want advice on their matrimonial affairs and earnest young men who want advice on their compositions, of agents, publishers, managers, bores, admirers, critics, and his own conscience. But he has one compensation. Whenever he has anything on his mind, whether it be a harassing reflection, grief at the death of a friend, unrequited love, wounded pride, anger at the treachery of someone to whom he has shown kindness, in short any emotion or any perplexing thought, he has only to put it down in black and white, using it as the theme of a story or the decoration of an essay, to forget all about it. He is the only free man.

Wonderfully phrased, 100% true, and makes you wonder how much of the novel you have just read is autobiographical.

+ + +

As I think I’ve commented before, Maugham’s observations about the world and the cultures in it in Cakes and Ale are as inerrant as ever. Here’s a few that really jumped out at me.

Regarding the use of ready-made phrases to abbreviate common ideas into as few imaginative words as possible:

The Americans, who are the most efficient people on the earth, have carried this device to such a height of perfection and have invented so wide a range of pithy and hackneyed phrases that they can carry on an amusing and animated conversation without giving a moment’s reflection to what they are saying and so leave their minds free to consider the more important matters of big business and fornication.

Regarding beauty in art:

Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all: that is why the criticism of art, except in so far as it is unconcerned with beauty and therefore with art, is tiresome. All the critic can tell you with regard to Titian’s Entombment of Christ, perhaps of all the pictures in the world that which has most pure beauty, is to go look at it.

Regarding finding truth in fiction:

As we grow older we become more conscious of the complexity, incoherence, and unreasonableness of human beings; this indeed is the only excuse that offers for the middle-aged or elderly writer, whose thoughts should more properly be turned to graver matters, occupying himself with the trivial concerns of imaginary people. For if the proper study of mankind is man it is evidently more sensible to occupy yourself with the coherent, substantial, and significant creatures of fiction that with the irrational and shadowy figures of real life.

And regarding the subjective nature of time, this time squarely in the narrative, when Ashenden encounters and old classmate, now grown old like him:

He had drawn breath, walked the earth and presently grown to man’s estate, married, had children and they in turn had had children; I judged from the look of him that he had lived, with incessant toil, in penury. He had the peculiar manner of the country doctor, bluff, hearty, and unctuous. His life was over. I had plans in my head for books and plays, I was full of schemes for the future; I felt that a long stretch of activity and fun still lay before me; and yet, I supposed, to others I must seem the elderly man that he seemed to me.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chapter Thirty-Nine


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

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

On our journey south to save Ignatius Roundtower from the stone prison a magical lizard had shut him in, we stumbled across a pair of ogres who must have been out looking for an easy meal. It was my first experience with real combat and, probably because of that, both Nog and Roystnof told me to stay out of the way. This I did and, after I saw Roystnof strike one down with a lightning bolt, I thought it was all I was going to have to do. But the second ogre surprised us with its ferocity and in an instant I found myself standing between it and the death of my two friends. I had two weapons at my disposal, the shocking grasp spell Roystnof had taught me and the short sword Nog had given me. In all the time I have spent thinking about that one event in my life, I have yet been able to discern exactly what it was that made me choose the sword over the spell.

+ + +

Brisbane spent most of the next day, as usual, with Ternosh in the small chamber where the Grumak had originally conducted the test to see if Brisbane’s blood contained the bane of Gruumsh One-Eye. However, they did not spend most of this time going over the practices and lessons of orkish magic, as they had been doing since Brisbane had been inducted into the klatru. Instead, they spent the time discussing Brisbane’s current position in the clan and what was going to happen after that night’s draknel.

They had two very different opinions. Ternosh, who had alluded to his the night before and reasserted it in the morning, felt Gruumsh One-Eye had truly sent Brisbane to become the clan’s new Sumak, to show them a new kind of battle tactic, and to guide them on the path of victory over their enemies. Because he believed this, he did not think Brisbane had anything to worry about in the upcoming battle with Tornestor. After all, Gruumsh wouldn’t very well send someone to become the new Sumak who could not defeat the old one.

Ternosh had this belief so well burned into him that Brisbane, in his anxiety over facing Tornestor in the pug-trolang, felt safe enough to reveal some of his misgivings about the situation. In effect, for Brisbane, it was time to come clean. He told the Grumak he was firmly convinced Gruumsh One-Eye had not sent him here. He told the Grumak he had no idea what his mission, as spoken of by the Demosk, was and that he had no intention of carrying it out whatever it happened to be. He told the Grumak he did not believe an entity named Gruumsh One-Eye existed. He even told the Grumak the only reason he had spent so much time among them was because he was buying time until he could get his sword back.

Ternosh listened to each of Brisbane’s assertions carefully and, when the human was finished, he passed them all off with a wave of his hand.

“It does not matter what you believe,” the Grumak said. “My Demosk has confirmed Gruumsh has sent you here for some hidden purpose. This information cannot be in error. Your belief is not necessary in the matter. Gruumsh sent you here and here you are. Do you really think we would have left you alive for any other reason?”

“The only reason I’m still alive,” Brisbane said, “is because I can work magic. If I couldn’t, you would have killed me for wearing this symbol.” He pulled his pentacle medallion out from behind his robes.

“This is true,” Ternosh said, “and it only further proves my point. Your magic is a gift from Gruumsh One-Eye, as all magic is. Although you do not have red eyes and as yet have been unable to perform respectable magic, the Demosk has confirmed the taste in your blood and I have seen you work small tricks of your own. Again, your belief of where your power comes from is immaterial. It comes from Gruumsh, and he gave it to you to keep us from accidentally killing you. The logic is inescapable.”

Brisbane listened to the Grumak’s explanation. “You remind me of someone I used to know.”

“Oh yes? When was that?”

“A long time ago,” Brisbane said.

But it was true. For a moment, Ternosh had reminded Brisbane almost painfully of Roystnof. His friend had often talked like that, invoking the almost mystical powers of logic to explain certain situations or policies. Except that when Roystnof had used logic, it had sounded truthful and irrefutable. When Ternosh used it, it sounded crazy. The Grumak said his magic came from Gruumsh One-Eye as if it was a logical fact, and he had no proof to support it. Roystnof said his magic came from within himself as if it was a logical fact, but he too really had no proof to support it. So why did Roystnof’s view seem so much more sensible to Brisbane? Why did he believe Roystnof and not Ternosh? They had both used perfect logic, but each of them had started with a different supposition. Brisbane realized logic could only go so far, that it could be used to argue any point of view at all, and that if you followed it back far enough, eventually you would find a pre-conceived idea or, even worse, a declaration of faith.

Brisbane didn’t know. Did this mean the only use logic had was to prove the unprovable?

He knocked heads with Ternosh for most of the day, not really coming away with anything concrete. Brisbane did not get into any kind of conversation about his reasons for wanting his sword back, afraid of getting too deep into it for many of the same reasons he didn’t discuss it with Smurch. Thankfully, Ternosh did not press the matter, evidently understanding to some degree the commitment he felt to the blade. It was obviously something special, for no one in the clan could draw it from its scabbard. The Grumak did ask Brisbane if, before he had been captured, he had been able to free the weapon.

Brisbane was hesitant in answering but finally told Ternosh he was.

Ternosh shrugged. “Perhaps it is another signal from Gruumsh. A warning to us that you are something special and not to be tampered with. It really doesn’t matter now. The sword belongs to Gruumsh One-Eye, and you will never get it back.”

“I won’t?”

Ternosh shook his head. “I don’t see how you could. The weapon was given in tribute to Gruumsh One-Eye, and every grugan in the clan will defend that to their death. Theft is, at this point, impossible.”

This was much like what Smurch had said to him, yet Angelika was certain, had been certain since this fiasco had begun, that Brisbane would eventually get her back. The problem suddenly was Brisbane wasn’t too sure if he wanted her back. Or, perhaps closer to the truth, he wasn’t too sure what he was ready to do to get her back. He still wanted her back, she was too much a part of him to let go, but her messages to him was souring each time she spoke.

Vengeance, she had said countless time, we must wreak our vengeance for what they have done to you and Amanda. Assuredly, the orks deserved some sort of justice for what they had done, but more and more, Brisbane didn’t feel like he was accomplishing anything. What had he done? He had killed two orks so far, and he had killed them in ways socially acceptable to the rest of the clan. The clan was not suffering for what they had done. The deaths of Wister and Bronsop really meant very little to them. Death was so much a part of life to them that Brisbane could get no sense of revenge out of what he had done. They believed when a warrior was killed in the pug-trolang, it was because he was weak and it had been his time to go.

He was almost tempted to try and discuss this new development with Angelika but, even though he had some time to himself before the evening’s draknel, he decided against it. It didn’t matter much now anyway. He was committed. He couldn’t get out of fighting Tornestor now even if he wanted to. The masokom had been issued. In the customs of the clan, it was in fact Tornestor who was being forced to fight him and not the other way around. Angelika had said if Brisbane could defeat Tornestor in the pug-trolang, the clan would be destroyed and he would get her back. The second promise was motivation enough. Brisbane could only hope her promise was not an empty one.

An hour or so before the draknel, Ternosh wished him well and sent him back to his chamber. At first, Brisbane was thankful for the time alone, thinking it would give him a chance to clear his head, but as it turned out, the time was more detrimental than calming to his state of mind. He tried to relax, laying down on his bed and breathing deeply, but he was just too worked up to get anywhere. There were too many possibilities and open questions. If he had been sure about Angelika’s promises, as he always had been before, then perhaps he could have been calm enough to concentrate on his battle with Tornestor. But as he felt now, he found himself worrying more about what was going to happen after the combat than what was going to happen during it.

He called Smurch into his chamber, to give him someone to talk to and to hopefully take his mind off some of his troubles. But the half-ork was of little help, being full of excitement over the upcoming battle. He was very supportive, wanting only the best for his master, but it wasn’t what Brisbane wanted to discuss. He tried to sidetrack Smurch onto other subjects but either the half-ork was unchangeable or Brisbane’s own mind was too much on the combat, because they always seemed to come back to the fight with Tornestor.

Eventually, Brisbane’s time was up.

Smurch got to his feet. “It is time, Gil. You must now attend this evening’s draknel.”

Brisbane nodded. “I know.”

Smurch helped his master to his feet. “Good luck. The next time I serve you, I hope I will be serving the clan’s new Sumak.”

“Either that or you’ll be burying me,” Brisbane said.

The half-ork gave him a queer look. “Well, that’s true, but I don’t think one in your position should be thinking like that.”

“Why not?”

“Confidence,” Smurch said. “You must have confidence. How do you expect to defeat Tornestor if you cannot win such a simple battle with yourself?”

“I don’t know,” Brisbane said. “I used to have confidence. I don’t know what has happened.”

“Well,” Smurch said. “Best of luck.”

Brisbane looked into the half-ork’s eyes. “Thank you, Jack.”

Smurch nodded. “I’ll see you soon.”

Brisbane slowly left his room and made his way to the banquet chamber. Most of the klatru had already gathered and they were sitting around the table, drinking ale and talking loudly. When Brisbane entered the chamber, a silence fell among them.

Brisbane self-consciously looked at himself when all the orkish eyes stared at him. He was wearing his tunic and trousers, the ones he had been wearing when captured, now freshly cleaned and soft to the skin, under the red and white robes that designated his position in the clan as Grum because, frankly, one way or the other, he was getting out of here tonight. He also saw that his pentacle medallion was lying on the outside of his garments.

When he looked back up at the table, the orks quickly turned their heads away. Brisbane cautiously made his way over to his bench and sat down on the right side of Ternosh. Slowly and quietly, orkish conversation resumed around the stone table.

Ternosh leaned over and spoke softly to Brisbane. “Hello.”

“Hello,” Brisbane said.

“You will have to reissue your masokom to Tornestor tonight. Everyone knows it is still binding and Tornestor will not be able to refuse it or require Riltik to fight for him, but it is a ceremonial requirement. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Brisbane said, watching the portal Tornestor would eventually emerge from.

“Good. Would you like some ale?”

Brisbane nodded, keeping his eyes on the arch. “One mug.”

Ternosh poured and set it before him. Brisbane took a sip. It was cold and delicious.


“Yes, Brisbane?”

“How do you feel about it? I mean, with Tornestor being your brother and all?”

Ternosh looked at the portal with Brisbane, as if the Sumak had just appeared. “Tornestor is my brother. I can remember a time when we were just Tor and Ter, living on the surface with the females and the children. But when I became old enough, my red eyes demanded that I be taken into the cave and trained as a Grum. There was a time when I was much like you, an innocent in a strange world, doing my best to get along in my new environment. I remember what it was like then. I remember what it was like when I had both of my eyes.”

Brisbane turned to look at Ternosh’s profile, seeing his healthy right eye and the strap that held the black patch over what remained of his left, plucked out by his own hand when he became Grumak in honor of the single orb of Gruumsh One-Eye.

“I think Tornestor saw the special treatment I received,” Ternosh went on softly, “and was jealous that his younger brother was suddenly so far above him. He wanted the benefits of the klatru, too, but his eyes were black and, as such, he had only one route open to him. As Tor, he collected as much fame and conquest as he could until he was a leader on the surface and, eventually, the members of the klatru voted him to become one of their elite group. This is the only way it is ever done, and it happens only when one grugan separates himself so much from his peers. In fact, the last grugan to be considered for this honor was Kras, the man you strangled on the river bank when you were captured. Even when you were being held in your cage, news of what you had done to Kras was sending ripples up and down the klatru.”

Brisbane thought about it. He had been insane when he had strangled Kras, mad with rage at being disarmed of Angelika. He barely remembered the incident.

Ternosh continued. “As Tornes, my brother was content for a while, but when I became Grumak, a position of higher rank than the regular klatru, I think the tide of jealousy welled up within him again. His course was then set. The only position in the clan higher than my own is Sumak, and Tornes quickly began his successful quest for it.”

Ternosh turned and looked at Brisbane. “What I’m trying to say is that my brother and I are no longer two nameless whelps, suckling at our mother’s breast. We are now Sumak Tornestor and Grumak Ternosh, the two most powerful members of the Red Eye. Our lives are very different now and we have responsibilities undreamed of by the children on the surface. Even if you were not a human sent by Gruumsh One-Eye, I would not interfere with the masokom you have issued. Tornestor has met and defeated several power-hungry grugan before you. It is his duty to meet and destroy all resistance to his authority. If he cannot do this, then he does not deserve to be our Sumak.”

“Yes,” Brisbane said. “But you think I’m going to win, don’t you?”

“If Gruumsh sent you, you must win.”

“Then your brother will be killed.”

“Yes,” Ternosh said. “My brother will be killed. But he has been a great Sumak. Gruumsh will surely make him a general in his army.”

Conversation around the table was cut off at that moment as Tornestor entered the banquet chamber. The huge ork was dressed as he normally was, all in black with the red sash draped over his shoulder. Behind him and to his right stood Riltik, his right arm ringed with a red stripe. There was no one else with them.

From the time the Sumak entered the room until the time he sat down in his great stone chair, Tornestor did not take his black eyes off Brisbane. He was seated in silence for several moments before Ternosh poked Brisbane in the ribs.

“Stand and issue the challenge,” Ternosh whispered.

Brisbane rose to his feet with everyone’s attention fixed on him. He did his best to ignore them all, concentrating on the furrowed brow and the glowing eyes of Tornestor.

Wow, is he ugly, Brisbane thought. Most orks look like humans with some pig features, and that’s ugly enough, but he’s downright hideous. It’s as if he’s not human at all. He’s all ork. He’s a grugan.

“You wish to invoke your right of statement, Grum Brisbane?” Tornestor’s tone was an angrier version of hostile.

Brisbane took a deep breath. “I formally reissue my masokom to you, Sumak Tornestor. I challenge you to battle in the pug-trolang for mastery of this clan.” He remained standing.

Tornestor did not hesitate. “I, Sumak Tornestor, accept your challenge.” He clapped his hands twice and servants were carrying food into the room before Brisbane had retaken his seat.

Brisbane leaned closer to Ternosh. “Angry, isn’t he?”

Ternosh nodded as the servants put food in front of him and all around the table. “It is his authority you have challenged,” the Grumak said softly. “The last masokom he had was nearly two months ago. He accepted that one directly, not passing it off to one of his Sums. He killed the grugan in twenty-eight seconds. I don’t think he expected another challenge so soon. Of course, you are a special case.”

Brisbane began to pile meat and potatoes onto his plate. “Why is there only Riltik? Doesn’t he replace his Sums when they are killed?”

“He will replace Bronsop tomorrow if he survives. It is a show of respect to your combat skills not to replace him right away. Everyone here knows why Bronsop’s place is empty. When you win, it will be your duty to name another Sum from among the klatru. You will inherit Riltik.”

Inherit. Brisbane thought that was a strange way of putting it.

The draknel continued as it always did, but it was oddly quiet that night. There were conversations among small groups of orks, but there were no stories to be told or songs to be sung. Brisbane ate carefully, not eating too much too quickly, and he held himself to only one tankard of ale. He was used to one meal a day and the only time he ever seemed to be hungry now was an hour or so before draknel. His meals had grown in size, too, due to their infrequency. The meal he ate that night was large enough to fill him but not to stuff him, even though that amount of food would have burst him had he tried to eat it three months ago.

Throughout the draknel, Brisbane found himself in an angry staring match with Tornestor. It seemed every time he lifted his face out of his plate, he saw Tornestor glaring at him, his large hands resting on either side of his platter and his jaw immobile. Brisbane did his best to not let the Sumak’s stare ruin his appetite, but it was not easy.

Finally, the meal was finished and it was time for battle. After the servants had cleared away the large mess and the few leftovers, Tornestor quickly rose from his stone chair and rushed out of the chamber and down the short corridor that led to the pug-trolang. Riltik and the rest of the klatru had to scramble in an attempt to preserve the march-like precision they usually used in going to the battle chamber. Brisbane was not interested in preserving any tradition. He took his time getting up and leaving the chamber. Ternosh stayed with him.

“Well,” Brisbane said to the Grumak. “This is it.”

Ternosh nodded. “This is it.”

Brisbane went down the short tunnel and emerged into the chamber of the pug-trolang. The klatru had already taken their positions around the pit and Tornestor stood a quarter of the way around the circle on his right, arming himself with the armor and weapons that ringed the chamber walls. Brisbane watched him carefully. The ork was so huge Brisbane didn’t think he would be able to find any armor to fit him. The orks made none of their armor or weapons themselves. They stole them all from human craftsmen and warriors. Brisbane himself was one of the tallest humans he had ever met and, at seven feet, Tornestor was a good six inches taller than him.

But the Sumak was able to find something to fit him. With a revelation of shock, Brisbane saw Tornestor was donning the same chainmail poncho Shortwhiskers had bought for Brisbane in Queensburg before they had set out that spring. The same one Vrak had taken from Brisbane when he had been captured on the banks of the Mystic River. The mail had hung down to Brisbane’s knees. On Tornestor, it stopped just below the waist. The Sumak also chose a huge, diamond-shaped shield and a double-edged sword that appeared too heavy for even Brisbane to lift.

Fully outfitted, Tornestor gave Brisbane a final angry look and dropped himself into the pit of the pug-trolang.

Ternosh patted Brisbane twice on the back and then went over to take his place beside the pedestal and Angelika. Brisbane looked longingly at his sword and, at once, her seductive presence made itself comfortable among his thought patterns.

The time has arrived, young Brisbane. The time of our vengeance is upon us. We shall kill their demon leader and destroy their whole wicked band.

Brisbane was not sure if he welcomed her input, but then realized there was little he could do about it. He went over to the wall, trying to ignore Angelika’s influence and began to choose his armor and weapons.

Yes, Brisbane. Arm yourself well. This will be the gravest challenge you have faced yet. But you will prevail. You will be triumphant because I am with you and soon I will be returned to your side. Yes.

Brisbane first thought to wear a heavy breastplate like Bronsop had chosen yesterday, but decided against it. He didn’t want to be weighed down too much, hoping quickness could win out over an ork as large as Tornestor. But he also did not want to go unprotected. At last, he chose a light chainmail shirt, painted black, and a pair of black shin guards to offer some protection to his legs. He fitted the black helmet he had used in the battle against Bronsop on top of his head and chose a black crest-shaped shield with a great red eye painted sloppily in the middle. For his sword, he picked the same, perfectly-balanced weapon he had used twice before.

It really is a fine sword, he thought.

Don’t get too attached to it, Brisbane. This is the last time you will ever have to use it.

I will get you back, won’t I, Angelika?

Yes. Kill this pig and you and I will be reunited.

How? How will I get you back.

You will.

Armed properly, Brisbane walked over to the edge of the pug-trolang. All around the room the klatru were staring at him and, down in the pit, Tornestor was looking up at him. Brisbane’s eyes passed over them all one by one and finally came to rest on Ternosh. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the Grumak nodded his head.

Brisbane dropped himself into the pit.