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Authors: Michael Moorcock

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Corum: The Prince with the Silver Hand: The Bull and the Spear


by Michael Moorcock


scanned and edited by MalazanE March 30, 2010


version 1.0






In those days there were oceans of light and cities in the skies and wild flying beasts of bronze. There were herds of crimson cattle that roared and were taller than castles. There were shrill, viridian things that haunted bleak rivers. It was a time of gods, manifesting themselves upon our world in all her aspects; a time of giants who walked on water; of mindless sprites and misshapen creatures who could be summoned by an ill-considered thought but driven away only on pain of some fearful sacrifice; of magics, fantasms, unstable nature, impossible events; insane paradoxes, dreams come true, dreams gone awry; of nightmares assuming reality.




It was a rich time and a dark time. The time of the Sword Rulers. The time when the Vadhagh and the Nhadragh—age-old enemies—were dying. The time when Man, the slave of fear, was emerging, unaware that much of the terror he experienced was the result of nothing else but the fact that he, himself, had come into existence—just one of many ironies connected with Man (who, in those days, called his race Mabden).




The Mabden lived brief lives and bred prodigiously. Within a few centuries they rose to dominate the westerly continent on which they had evolved. Superstition stopped them from sending many of their ships toward Vadhagh and Nhadragh lands for another century or two, but gradually they gained courage when no resistance was offered. They began to feel jealous of the older races; they began to feel malicious.




The Vadhagh and the Nhadragh were not aware of this. They had dwelt a million or more years upon the planet which now, at last, seemed at rest. They knew of the Mabden but considered them not greatly different from other beasts. Though continuing to indulge their traditional hatred of one another, the Vadhagh and the Nhadragh spent their long hours in considering abstractions, in the creation of works of art and the like. Rational, sophisticated, atone with themselves, these older races were unable to believe in the changes that had come. Thus, as it almost always is, they ignored the signs.




There was no exchange of knowledge between the two ancient enemies, even though they had fought their last battle many centuries before. The Vadhagh for their part lived in family groups occupying isolated castles scattered across a continent called by them Bro-an-Vadhagh. There was scarcely any communication between these families, for the Vadhagh had long since lost the impulse to travel. The Nhadragh, on the other hand, lived in their cities built on the islands in the seas to the northwest of Bro-an-Vadhagh. They, also, had little contact, even with their closest kin. Both races reckoned themselves invulnerable. Both were wrong.




Upstart Man was beginning to breed and spread like a pestilence across the world. This pestilence struck down the old races wherever it touched them. And it was not only death that Man brought, but terror, too. Willfully, he made of the older world nothing but ruins and bones. Unwittingly, he brought psychic and supernatural disruption of such magnitude that even the Great Old Gods failed to comprehend it.




And the Great Old Gods began to know fear.




And Man, slave of fear, arrogant in his ignorance, continued his stumbling progress. He was blind to the huge disruptions aroused by his apparently petty ambitions. Man was deficient in sensitivity, had no awareness of the multitude of dimensions that filled the universe, where each plane intersected with several others.




Not so the Vadhagh or the Nhadragh, who had known what it was to move at will through the dimensions they termed the Five Planes. They had glimpsed and understood the nature of many planes, other than the five, through which the Earth moved.




Therefore it seemed a dreadful injustice that these wise races should perish at the hands of creatures who were still little more than animals. It was as if vultures feasted on and squabbled over the paralyzed body of the youthful poet who could only stare at them with puzzled eyes as they slowly robbed him of an exquisite existence they would never appreciate, never know they were usurping.




"If they valued what they stole, if they knew what they were destroying," says the old Vadhagh in the story, 'The Only Autumn Flower’, "then I would be consoled. "




It was unjust.




By creating Man, the universe had betrayed the old races.




But it was a perpetual and familiar injustice. The sentient may perceive and love the universe, but the universe cannot perceive and love the sentient. The universe recognizes no distinction between the multitude of creatures and elements which comprise it. All are equal None is favored. The universe, equipped with nothing but the materials and the power of creation, continues to create: something of this, something of that. It cannot control what it creates, and it cannot, it seems, be controlled by its creations (though a few might deceive themselves otherwise). Those who curse the workings of the universe curse that which is deaf. Those who strike out at those workings fight that which is inviolate. Those who shake their fists, shake their fists at blind stars.




But this does not mean that there are some who will not try to do battle with and destroy the invulnerable. There will always be such beings, sometimes beings of great wisdom, who cannot bear to believe in an insouciant universe.




Prince Corum Jhaelen Irsei was one of these. Perhaps the last of the Vadhagh race, he was sometimes known as the Prince in the Scarlet Robe.




This is the second chronicle concerning his adventures. The first chronicle, known as The Books of Corum, told how the Mabden followers of Earl Glandyth-a-Krae killed Prince Corum ‘s relatives and his nearest kin and thus taught the Prince in the Scarlet Robe how to hate, how to kill, and how to desire vengeance. We have heard how Earl Glandyth tortured Prince Corum and took away a hand and an eye and how Corum was rescued by the Giant of Laahr and taken to the castle of the Margravine Rhalina—a castle set upon a mount surrounded by the sea. Though Rhalina was a Mabden woman (of the gentler folk of Lwym-an-Esh), Corum and she fell in love. When Glandyth roused the Pony Tribes, the forest barbarians, to attack the Margravine's castle, she and Corum sought supernatural aid and thus fell into the hands of the sorcerer Shool, whose domain was the island called Svi-an-Fanla-Brool— Home of the Gorged God. And now Corum had direct experience of the morbid, unfamiliar powers at work in the world. Shool spoke of dreams and realities (“I see you are beginning to argue in Mabden terms, ” he told Corum. "It is just as well for you, if you wish to survive in this Mabden dream.'‘—"It is a dream ...?'‘ said Corum.—"Of sorts, ” answered Shool. "Real enough. It is what you might call the dream of a God. There again you might say that it is a dream that a God has allowed to become reality. I refer of course to the Knight of the Swords, who rules the Five Planes. ")




With Rhalina his prisoner Shool could make a bargain with Corum. He gave him two gifts—the Hand of Kwll and the Eye of Rhynn—to replace his own missing organs. These jewelled and alien things were once the property of two brother gods known as the Lost Gods since they mysteriously vanished.




Armed with these Corum began his great quest, which was to take him against all three Sword Rulers—the Knight, the Queen and the King of the Swords—the mighty Lords of Chaos. And Corum discovered much concerning these gods, the nature of reality and the nature of his own identity. He learned that he was the Champion Eternal, that, in a thousand other guises, in a thousand other ages, it was his lot to struggle against those forces which attacked reason, logic and justice, no matter what form they took. And, at long last, he was able to overwhelm (with the help of a mysterious ally) those forces and banish gods from his world.




Peace came to Bro-an-Vadhagh and Corum took his mortal bride to his ancient castle which stood on a cliff overlooking a bay. And meanwhile the few surviving Vadhagh and Nhadragh turned again to their own devices, and the golden land of Lwym-an-Esh flourished and became the center of the Mabden world—famous for its scholars, its bards, its artists, its builders and its warriors. A great age dawned for the Mabden folk; they flourished. And Corum was pleased that his wife's folk flourished. On the few occasions when Mabden travellers passed near Castle Erorn, he would feast them well and be filled with gladness when he heard of the beauties of Halwyg-nan-Vake, capital city of Lwym-an-Esh, whose walls bloomed with flowers all year round. And the travellers would tell Corum and Rhalina of the new ships which brought great prosperity to the land, so that none in Lwym-an-Esh knew hunger. They would tell of the new laws which gave all a voice in the affairs of that country. And Corum listened and was proud of Rhalina's race.




To one such traveller he offered an opinion: "When the last of the Vadhagh and the Nhadragh have disappeared from this world, ” he said, "the Mabden will emerge as a greater race than ever were we. ”




"But we shall never have your powers of sorcery, "answered the traveller, and he caused Corum to laugh heartily.




"We had no sorcery at all! We had no conception of it. Our 'sorcery ’ was merely our observation and manipulation of certain natural laws, as well as our perception of other planes of the multiverse, which we have now all but lost. It is the Mabden who imagine such things as sorcery. They would always rather invent the miraculous than investigate the ordinary (and find the miraculous therein). Such imaginations will make your race the most exceptional this Earth has yet known, but those same imaginations could also destroy you!"




"Did we invent the Sword Rulers whom you so heroically fought?"




'Aye,'' answered Corum, ‘ I suspect that you did! And I suspect that you might invent others again."




"Invent phantoms? Fabulous beasts? Powerful gods? Whole cosmologies?" queried the astonished traveller. "Are all these things, then, unreal?"




"They're real enough," Corum replied. "Reality, after all, is the easiest thing in the world to create. It is partly a question of need, partly a question of time, partly a question of circumstance . . ."




Corum had felt sorry for confounding his guest, and he laughed again and passed on to other topics.




And so the years went by and Rhalina began to show signs of age while Corum, near-immortal, showed none. Yet still they loved each other— perhaps with greater intensity as they realized that the day drew near when death would part them.




Their life was sweet, their love strong. They needed little but each other's company.




And then she died.




And Corum mourned for her. He mourned without the sadness which mortals have (which is, in part, sadness for themselves and fear of their own death).




Some seventy years had passed since the Sword Rulers fell, and the travellers grew fewer and fewer as Corum of the Vadhagh people became considered more as a legend in Lwym-an-Esh and less as a creature of ordinary flesh. He had been amused when he had heard that in some outlying parts of that land there were now shrines to him and crude images of him to which folk prayed as they had prayed to their gods. It had not taken them long to find new gods, and it was ironic that one of them should be the person who had helped rid them of their old ones. They magnified his feats and, in so doing, simplified him as an individual. They attributed magical powers to him; they told stories of him which they had once told of their previous gods. Why was the truth never enough for the Mabden? Why did they forever embellish and obscure it? What a paradoxical people they were!




Corum recalled his parting with his friend Jhary-a-Conel, self-styled Companion to Champions, and the last words he had spoken to him: "New gods can always be created." Yet he had never guessed what at least one of those gods would be created from.




And, because he had become divine to so many, the people of Lwym-an-Esh took to avoiding the headland on which stood ancient Castle Erorn, for they knew that gods had no time to listen to the silly talk of mortals.




Thus Corum grew lonelier still; he became reluctant to travel in Mabden lands, for this attitude of the folk made him uncomfortable.




In Lwym-an-Esh those who had known him well and known that, save for his longer lifespan, he was as vulnerable as themselves, were now all dead, too. So there were none to deny the legends.

BOOK: The Bull and the Spear - 05
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