Authors: Tanith Lee
Tales of the Flat Earth: Book One
Tales of the
Flat Earth: Book One
By Tanith Lee
This is a work
of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are
fictitious, and any resemblance to real people, or events, is purely
reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in
The right of
Tanith Lee to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her
in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988.
Cover Art by
Press Edition published through Kindle
To Hylda Lee,
in thanks for
the first fading horse.
Table of Contents
BOOK ONE: Light
1. A Mortal in
3. The Night
4. Seven Tears
5. A Collar of
6. Kazir and
1. The Chair of
3. The Starry
5. A Love Story
6. Love in a
BOOK THREE: The
1. Honey Sweet
2. Shezael and
4. The Anger of
5. A Ship With
6. The Sun and
by Tanith Lee
days, (back in the mid 1970s) my own world, rather than becoming flat, had
opened out into a Paradise, rich with possibility, and finally—at least for a while—
DAW Books, under the command of Donald A. Wollheim, had published my novels
Birthgrave, The Storm Lord,
Don’t Bite the Sun.
by sequels to
and a new novel,
I had been able to give up the day jobs and concentrate on the only work I
liked (loved) and was good at, writing.
At the time, I still lived with my parents. This was partly because
formerly I’d been unable to afford to live anywhere else—most of the employment
I took was poorly paid; but also because I enjoyed their company. My father and
I had a strong intellectual rapport. He had even taught me to read when I, aged
almost eight, and what would now be recognized as slightly dyslexic, had
remained untaught at the ghastly schools I attended. My mother and I had an
incredible relationship, magical and enlightening and including, among the
rest, pure craziness. She it was too who typed all my first books, the only
person ever able to decipher my long-hand writing.
That Sunday afternoon, post the washing-up, and my father away, (working
by then in a telephone exchange, he was hardly ever home until Sunday evenings)
she and I sat playing one of many invented word games. Suffice it to say this
one involved clues in the form of enigmatic phrases. These, when suitably
broken down, punned or realigned, rendered up famous names.
It was a warm afternoon. Outside the sky was blue. And the cat, having
given up on trying either to undo the fridge door, or persuade us we had
forgotten to give him lunch (some hope!) had left the building. My mother’s
turn: she spoke the phrase-clue. Till then I’d been winning. Not now. Not only
couldn’t I figure it out, the phrase itself had such an impactful ring I was
actually, was the name of the gorgeous movie (and by
then TV) actress, Googi Withers. It was easy, when you knew at last that you
broke the code
way: Go O gigi (gee-gee) plus Withers, i.e. shrivel,
decay, decline. Or,
Go nought horse shrivels-decays-declines.
OR, as was
the phrase she had coined:
Go nowhere on a horse that fades.
Once I gave in, and had had the answer explained, I told my mother and
myself, (or something told
), that there was a story in this phrase.
In fact of course, there was book—a whole series—in it.
As is quite
usual with me, the moment I put pen to paper, a tidal wave of places and
characters rushed through. But two aspects of
and of the
entire succession of books, perhaps, should be noted.
I’d been reading a lot of Oscar Wilde, always a favourite of mine, just
before the famous phrase that Sunday. And I am certain that essences of Wilde’s
lushly ornamental perspective colour the opus, and influence its ambience of
Arabian-Nights-meets-Every-Myth-Under-the-Sun. Additionally, Wilde is surely
one of the most erotic writers who ever lived. His oeuvre is embued by aching
sensualities, both hetero- and homosexual, and all the more potent, maybe, for
the confinement (mostly, and sometimes only just) inside the corset of 1800s censorship.
This sexual current also informs
almost from the first page, and
renders up a world consciousness that is normally bi-sexual, and which
occasionally erupts into far bawdier escapades, not excluding spiders or, (in a
later volume) the ocularly challenged.
The second aspect, and likely the most unique feature for the writer, of
this and the succeeding books, is the nature of world flatness.
I had for some years before the hour when I began
intrigued by the notion of a flat earth. I think I heard of it first at any
length via TV pronouncements from the Flat Earth Society—who knows, they could
be right, after all. And obviously, due to my obsessions with legend, theosophy
and history, I’d come across the FE scenario already. I’d had a plan for some
while to set a fantasy in such a world that truly
like a plain or a
plate. But when Azhrarn entered, in the very first line of
brought with him not only his titles, charisma and credentials but the backdrop
of a four-edged world, lying beneath a heaven of indifferent gods—who made Man
an exquisite underworld ‘hell,’ peopled by demons
who were not nearly indifferent enough.
The formulation of the Flat Earth must have gone on in what I now call
the Backbrain of my mind. Deep in there, behind the everyday necessities and
anxieties, and behind even the fount of inspiration and insane delight that
mark, for me, stages of all my work, some colony of cunning and insubstantial
backroom boys, (and girls) were, and are, laboring always. Evidently they did
so even in the 1970s, solving plot lines, building my empires of paper and ink.
And they, it seems, not I, made the world of
I wrote the
first story, then, which now appears as the three first tales of this book.
to that story arrived. And after the sequel, other
developments. In the end, the volume was complete, leading through its
disparate adventures to an ultimate set of events, which sprang legitimately
from all the rest.
Now I forget how long I took to write it all, but I know it wasn’t
long—a couple of months, probably.
After which, everything seemed completed. But not so very much later
another development occurred to me. Besides, I, or
a whole new world to play in. I had to go back... but this, of course, is
A sample page of Tanith Lee’s handwritten
notes, including “a sketch of the actual
of the Flat Earth,”
circa 1982. “I used both fountain pen—dipping in ink rather than cartridge,
which I prefer—and biro,” says the author.
Azhrarn Prince of Demons, one of the Lords of Darkness, took on him, for
amusement, the shape of a great black eagle. East and west he flew, beating
with his vast wings, north and south, to the four edges of the world, for in
those days the earth was flat and floated on the ocean of chaos. He watched the
lighted processions of men crawling by below with lamps as small as sparks, and
the breakers of the sea bursting into white blossoms on the rocky shores. He
crossed, with a contemptuous and ironic glance, over the high stone towers and
pylons of cities, and perched for a moment on the sail of some imperial galley,
where a king and queen sat feasting on honeycomb and quails while the rowers
strained at the oars; and once he folded his inky wings on the roof of a temple
and laughed aloud at men’s notions of the gods.
As he was returning to the world’s center an hour before the sun should
rise, Azhrarn the Prince of Demons heard a woman’s voice weeping as lonely and
as bitter as the winter wind. Filled with curiosity, he dropped to earth on a
hillside as bare as a bone, beside the door of a wretched little hut. There he
listened, and presently took on his man’s shape—for, being what he was, he
could assume any form he wished—and went in.
A woman lay before the exhausted flames of her dying fire, and he could
see at once that she, as was the habit of mortals, was dying too. But in her
arms she held a new-born child, covered by a shawl.
“Why do you weep?” Azhrarn inquired in fascination as he leant at the
door, marvelously handsome, with hair that shone like blue-black fire, and
clothed in all the magnificence of night.
“I weep because my life has been so cruel, and because now I must die,”
said the woman.
“If your life has been cruel, you should be glad to leave it, therefore
dry your tears, which will, in any case, avail you nothing.”
The woman’s eyes grew dry indeed, and flashed with anger almost as
vividly as the coal-black eyes of the stranger.
“You vileness! The gods curse you that you come mocking me in my last
moments. All my days have been struggle and torment and pain, but I should
perish without a word if it were not for this boy that I have brought into the
world only a few hours since. What is to become of my child when I am dead?”
“That will die, too, no doubt,” said the Prince, “for which you should
rejoice, seeing he will be spared all the agony you tell me of.”
At this the mother shut her eyes and her mouth and expired at once, as if
she could no longer bear to linger in his company. But as she fell back, her
hands left the shawl, and the shawl unfolded from the baby like the petals of a
A pang of indescribable profundity shot through the Prince of Demons
then, for the child was of an extraordinary and perfect beauty. His skin was
white as alabaster, his fine hair the color of amber, his limbs and features
formed as carefully and wonderfully as if some sculptor had made him. And as
Azhrarn stood gazing at him, the child opened his eyes, and they were of
darkest blue, like indigo. The Prince of Demons no longer hesitated. He stepped
forward and took up the child and wrapped it in the folds of his black cloak.
“Be consoled, O daughter of misery and wailing,” said he. “You have done
well by your son, after all.”
And he sped up into the sky in the shape of a storm cloud, the child
still nestled to him like a star.
carried the child to that place at the earth’s center where mountains of fire
stood up like thin ragged and enormous spears against a sky of perpetual
thunder and dark. Over everything lay the crimson smoke of the mountains’
burning, for almost every crag held a craterous pit of flame. This was the
entrance to the demons’ country, and a spot of awful beauty where men seldom if
ever came. Yet, as Azhrarn sped over in his shape of cloud, he heard the child
chuckle in his arms, unafraid. Presently the cloud was sucked into the mouth of
one of the tallest mountains, where no flame burned but there was only a deeper
Down fled the shaft, through the mountain and beneath the Earth, and with
it flew the Prince of Demons, Master of the Vazdru, the Eshva and the Drin.
First, there was a gate of agate which burst open at his coming and
clanged shut behind him, and after the gate of agate, a gate of blue steel, and
last a terrible gate all of black fire; however, every gate obeyed Azhrarn.
Finally he reached Underearth and came striding into Druhim Vanashta, the city
of the demons, and, taking out a silver pipe shaped like the thighbone of a
hare, he blew on it, and at once a demon horse came galloping and Azhrarn
leaped on its back and rode faster than any wind of the world to his palace.
There he gave the child into the care of his Eshva handmaidens, and warned them
that if any harm befell the boy their days in Underearth would be no longer
pleasant for them.
And so it was in the city of demons, in Azhrarn’s palace, that the mortal
child grew up, and from the earliest all the things that he knew and which,
therefore, became to him familiar and natural, were the fantastic, brooding and
sorcerous things of Druhim Vanashta.
All around was beauty, but beauty of a bizarre and amazing sort, though
it was all the beauty the child saw.
The palace itself, black iron without, black marble within, was lit by
the changeless light of the Underearth, a radiance as colorless and cool as
earthly starlight, though many times more brilliant, and this light streamed
into the halls of Azhrarn through huge casements of black sapphire or somber
emerald or the darkest ruby. Outside lay a garden of many terraces where grew
immense cedars with silver trunks and jet-black leaves, and flowers of
colorless crystal. Here and there was a pool like a mirror in which swam bronze
birds, while lovely fish with wings perched in the trees and sang, for the laws
of nature were immensely different beneath the ground. At the center of
Azhrarn’s garden a fountain played; it was composed not of water but of fire, a
scarlet fire that gave neither light nor heat.
Beyond the palace walls lay the vast and marvellous city, its towers of
opal and steel and brass and jade rising up into the glow of the never-altering
sky. No sun ever rose in Druhim Vanashta. The city of demons was a city of
darkness, a thing of the night.
So the child grew. He played about the marble halls and plucked the
crystal flowers and slept in a bed of shadows. For company he had the curious
phantom creatures of the Underearth, the bird-fish, and the fish-birds, also
his demon nurses with their pale and dreamy faces, their misty hands and
voices, their ebony hair in which serpents twined sleepily. Sometimes he would
run to the fountain of cold red fire and stare at it, and then he would say to
his nurses: “Tell me stories of other places.” For he was a demanding though an
endearing child. Nevertheless, the Eshva women of Druhim Vanashta could only
stir softly at this plea, and weave between their fingers pictures of the deeds
of their own kind, for the world of men was to them like a burning dream, of no
consequence except to make delightful enchantment in, and wickedness, which to
them was not wickedness at all, merely the correct order of things.
One other being came and went in the life of the child, and he was not so
easily accounted for as the fair nonsensical women with their tender snakes.
This was the handsome, tall and slender man who would come in suddenly with a
sweeping of his cloak like the wings of an eagle, and his blue-black hair and
his magical eyes, who would stay only for a second, glance smiling down at him,
and then be gone. No opportunity to ask this wonderful person for stories,
though the child felt sure that he would know every story there might be, no
space in fact to do more than mutely offer his look of worship and love, before
the eagle-wing cloak had borne its wearer away.
The time of demons did not at all resemble human time. By comparison, a
mortal life flashed by like the span of a dragonfly. Therefore while the Prince
of Demons went about his own midnight business in the world of men and out of
it, the child, glancing up, seemed to see the man in the inky cloak only once
or twice a year, while Azhrarn had perhaps gone to the nursery, as it were,
twice a day. Nevertheless, the child did not feel neglected. Worshipping, he
claimed no right to ask for any favor—indeed, did not even think of such a
thing. As for Azhrarn, the frequency of his visits indicated his great interest
in the mortal boy, or, in any event, his great interest in what he had guessed
the boy would become.
So the child grew up to be a youth of sixteen years.
The Vazdru, the aristocracy of Druhim Vanashta, sometimes watched him
walking on the high terraces of their lord’s palace, and one might observe: “That
mortal is indeed most beautiful; he shines like a star.” And some other would
answer, “No, more like the moon.” And then some royal demoness would laugh
softly and say, “More like another light of the earth sky, and our wondrous
Prince had best he careful.”
Beautiful the young man was, just as Azhrarn had foreseen. Straight and
slim as a sword, white of skin, and with his hair like shining red amber and
his evening eyes, it is certain there were few so exceptional in Underearth,
and fewer still in the world above.
One day, as he walked in the garden under the cedars, he heard the Eshva
handmaidens sigh and bow from the waist like a grove of poplars in the breeze,
which was their form of homage to their Prince. And turning eagerly, the young
man beheld Azhrarn standing on the path. It seemed to the mortal that this
special visitor had been absent far longer than before; perhaps some more than
usually complex venture had kept him on earth, the twisting of some gentle mind
or the downfall of some noble kingdom, so that possibly four or five years of
the young man’s life had gone by without his seeing him. Now his dark glory
burned there so tremendously that the mortal had an impulse to shield his eyes
from it, as from a great light.
“Well,” said Azhrarn, Prince of Demons, “it appears I chose excellently
that night on the hill.” And coming closer, he put his hand on the young man’s
shoulder and smiled at him. And that touch was like a spear thrust of pain and
joy, and the smile like the oldest enchantment of time, so that the mortal
could say nothing, only tremble. “Now you will listen to me,” said Azhrarn,
“for this is the only harsh lesson I shall teach you. I am the ruler of this
place, this city and this land, and also I am the master of many sorceries and
a Lord of Darkness, so that the things of the night obey me, whether on earth
or under it. Nevertheless, I will give you many gifts not generally bestowed on
men. You shall be to me my son, my brother and my beloved. And I will love you;
for such as I am, I do not give my love lightly, but once given it is sure.
Only remember this, if ever you make an enemy of me, your life shall be as dust
or sand in the wind. For what a demon loves and loses he will destroy, and my
power is the mightiest you are ever likely to know.”
But the young man, staring into the eyes of Azhrarn, said: “If I should
anger you, my lord, then all I would wish would be to die.”
Then Azhrarn leaned and kissed him.
The head of the mortal swam and he closed his eyes.
Azhrarn led him to a pavilion of silver, where the carpets were thick as
fern, and scented like night-time woods, and dark shining draperies hung down
like clouds across the moon.
In this strange place, part real, part mysterious, Azhrarn pondered the
adult virgin beauty of his guest once more, caressing the ivory body, and
combing with his fingers the amber hair he had cherished. The youth lay
dumbfounded by ecstasy beneath the Demon’s touch. He seemed lapped by the
heatless burning of the garden fountain of fire. He was an instrument designed
expressly for one master musician. Now the master tuned his body and woke the
nervous strings of his flesh to an exquisite and suspenseful agony. In the
embrace of Azhrarn was nothing brutish or even merely urgent. Eternal time was
on the side of his lovemaking, pleasures that thrilled and spilled over upon
each other, measureless and prolonged. Melted and remolded in the limitless
furnace, the youth became at last only one throbbing sounding-board for this
mounting theme. Then a note of awful and marvelous dimension was sounded within
him, filling the waiting vessel he had become to its brim. The phallus of the
Demon, (neither icy nor burning), entered him as a king enters a kingdom
conquered, adoring, his by right of surrender. The phallus was a tower which
pierced the gate, the vitals of the citadel of his inner world. The dark colors
of the pavilion merged with the darkness of those imminent and unclosing eyes
that watched him with a terrible, cruel, unsparing tenderness. The body of the
mortal leaped and flamed and shattered in a million shudderings of unbelievable
delight, the last chords of music, the cupola of the tower which smashed the
roof of the brain’s sky. He sank back in delirium with the taste of night,
Azhrarn’s mouth, upon his own.