Authors: Lin Carter
Tags: #Sword & Sorcery
Brandishing the sacred axe of Thom-Ra, the young warrior hacked his way to the world’s end, to kill the man who had usurped the throne of the Dragon Emperor.
JOURNEY TO THE
Zarouk, Lord Chief of the fighting Kozanga, sent his fierce young grandson, the warrior Kadji, to hunt the vile imposter to the throne of the Dragon Emperor and bring back the sacred medallion as proof. With his two companions, beautiful red-haired Thyra and the clever magician Akthoub, Kadji rode East to World’s End to vanquish his deadly foe; knowing full well that it he failed it would mean another dread civil war in the Dragon Empire, that he would be branded coward — and worse.
A FIVE STAR PAPERBACK
This edition published in MCMLXXIII by
PBS Limited, Victoria Mills, Pollard Street,
Manchester M4 7AU
Copyright © MCMLXXI by Lin Carter
Made and printed in Great Britain by
C. Nicholls & Company Ltd
The Philips Park Press, Manchester
The Quest of Kadji
Is for that fine
Sword & Sorcery writer
my colleague in S.A.G.A.
The Contents of
: Song of Worlds.
: THE RED HAWK.
: IN GOLDEN KHOR.
: TWO RODE EAST.
: THE DARK TIME.
: THE MASKED PROPHET.
: THE ROAD TO WORLD’S END.
: After World’s End.
ZAO, Olymbris, Thoorana, Zephrondus, and great Guizund . . .
These are the five worlds that circle
The star Kylix in the constellation of the Unicorn.
And now of Guizund would I speak.
No eye but mine has seen her whispering plains,
Her ebon cliffs, her dragon-guarded shores.
But I have voyaged thither in my dreams,
And watched the Red Hawk ride to the World’s Edge,
And from my voyaging, bring back this tale . . .
Song of Worlds,
CHRONICLES OF KYLIX, the Fifth Book.
THE RED HAWK
The age is dark—the world Is old—
The Gods are dead or gone away!
But what care we? For I am told
A man can die but once, they say!
Road Song of the Kozanga Nomads
FOR THREE days and three nights the great clan of warriors had ridden without pause or rest across the worldwide plains of the whispering grasses, and in all that time no habitation of men had they seen.
But now, toward evening, one of the advance scouts turned back and rode like the very wind itself to the forefront of the weary and battle-stained legion. He rode up to the place where a tall bearded man, wrapped in a voluminous
of striped red and black wool, bestrode a superb white stallion.
The scout swept his steed to a halt, hard wrists tightening on the reins, and sung himself from the saddle in a whirl of dust. He stood waiting for the grizzled leader of the war-stained host to ride up to where he stood, and when the white stallion neared, be seized its silver-studded bridle, snatched off his tall hat of red felt, and bowed his dark head.
“What is it, O Jorad? The foe, surely, are not before us, as they are close behind?”
A village; and—a well,” said the scout.
The greybeard looked ahead, keen eyes narrowing, but the Great Plains ahead were dark with gathering dusk and even his eagle’s gaze could not penetrate the limitless distances.
“How far, O Jorad?”
“An hour—two at the most,
, Peasants. No horsemen, no fortifications, and the Dragon Banner”— here the young scout grimaced as if the phrase had a bad taste in his mouth, and spat in the dust at his feet— “the Dragon Banner flies neither from chieftain’s post, nor lookout’s nest, nor from atop the god house.”
The bearded leader of the host grunted and frowned thoughtfully. To rest . . . even if for a little time . . . to dismount and to permit the stiffness to drain from taut and weary muscles . . . to ease chafed limbs and to forget for a time the endless rhythm of pounding hooves throbbing like drumbeats over the endless stretches of the plains . . . it was a delicious thought, and the promise was most tempting.
But was it wise? No man could say how close upon their heels followed the victorious and arrogant foe. It might well be that the pursuing enemy had given up and turned back days or hours since; it might also be that the legion had long since outdistanced the enemy, and could afford some hours of rest.
And it might also be that the village ahead, seemingly peaceful, was—a trap.
He sighed wearily, but from within; outwardly, no weariness or weakness or slightest sign of indecision was permitted to be visible in the stern, stiff mask of his face. And in the midst of his own exhaustion and suffering, and the perplexity of the present danger, and worryings about the hazards of the unknown future, he calmly and judiciously appraised their chances.
As if he read the mind of the
, the young scout, Jorad, spoke up.
“Lord—I do not think it is a trap. The village, lies alone in the empty plain. There is no place where the troops of the foe might hide.”
The tall bearded man mused silently. He sat erect in the great saddle, stiff and tall as a spear, for all the pain of his wound. For three days since, when he and his men had been broken before the assault of the Rashemba knights at the battle of Agburz River, he had taken a lancehead in the shoulder. His sword arm was numb and useless, and despite the herbs bound to the wound, blood still trickled down his arm to splatter the tall dry grasses whereover they rode. The pain was very great, but his face was hard as iron and by no tremor in his voice nor wavering in his posture nor sign in his face did Zarouk,
or Lord Chief of the fighting Kozanga Nomads betray the agony that tormented him.
“Very well; we shall make camp there. Surely we have put many leagues between the brethren and the accursed Rashemba by now. And the sword-brothers must rest. Ride thou ahead, O Jorad, and tell the villagers the Kozanga are coming—and that our needs are great!”
The young warrior grinned, white teeth flashing in the dusty mask of his face. Village camp meant hot meat and wine and a soft bed—
Gods! Almost had young Jorad forgotten the taste of wine and the feel of a bed beneath his weary bones!
He ducked his head, clapped the red felt cap back on his long black locks and turned to mount and ride when the
spoke sharply, calling him back.
“And tell them, O Jorad, that we be the fighting Kozanga—true sons of the Great Plains—and no foreign dogs of Rashemba. We shall pay in red gold and white silver for food and drink and fodder. The Kozanga honor will take nothing at swordpoint from the people of the plains. Tell them that!”
The scout grinned and bobbed his dark head again.
“Aye, Lord!” Then he was off like the wind and the bearded Zarouk gazed after him wistfully. An, to be young and strong again, to fight all day and drink all night, and still be fresh to fight again the morrow! But he was old, old and grey, and his heart’s blood was ebbing from him drop by drop through the red hole torn by the treacherous lancehead of a foreign dog of a Rashemba. Long had he led the clan of warriors; now, his days as
were nearly at their end. Could he but live to shepherd the sword-brothers into the black mountains of Maroosh, where no man could follow, then could he rest content.
His wistful gaze hardened. His jaw muscles tightened under the crisp, iron-grey beard. Rest? Not while one man lived—the thrice-damned and god-accursed false princeling who had betrayed them to his foreign dog-friends . . .
Under his breath the gaunt old
breathed five words—and whether it be a curse or a prayer, what man could say?
Death to the Dragon Emperor!
THE VILLAGE was a miserable cluster of log huts huddled together amidst the plain around an open square of beaten earth that the spring rains would turn to a sea of mud. But this was the beginning of winter, and although the snows had not yet come the earth was hard and dry and bare.
At the center of the bare space rose the village well. To the eastern side, rose the
, the hut of the village chief. No less than the others of the small village, it was a squalid hovel, but taller than the rest and chinked with hard-packed clay. A feather-crested spear was thrust deep in the earth before its door. The red and gold feathers of the crest were old and tattered, faded and grey. Many generations had passed since the Ushamtar warriors who had come from the grasslands of the south to settle all this land had planted the proud war spear there as a rallying point. But the villagers were Ushamtar still, and they stood tall and proud and silent, with grave faces and keen eyes, arms folded on their chests, as the weary Nomad warriors entered the village with sundown.
By twos and threes the fighting Kozanga rode in, black moving shapes in the gathering gloom. The village chief had bade his wives build a great fire in the open space, and by its flickering red light the villagers could see the marks of battle on the torn and blood-stained
of the mounted men. Spired steel helms were dented; round leather-on-wicker shields were broken and battered; slim throwing spears were splintered. And many there were who did not ride but lay moaning ha carts dragged behind the main body of the clan host, men with ravaged faces and haunted eyes, wrapped in filthy bandages.
The village women threw their hands up, clucking amongst themselves at the sight of the wounded warriors. And even before the Lord of the warrior legion had exchanged greetings with the village chief, they vanished into huts and reappeared with pots and jars of strong wine and basins of steaming water and packets of dried herbs and fresh bandages, torn perhaps from their voluminous underskirts, wherewith to treat the injured warriors.
Zarouk drew his great white stallion up before the
of the chief with a flourish. With his left hand—for his right would serve him no more—he threw back the folds of his great
and laid bare to the sight of men the glitter of the great hooked axe of cold steel he wore strapped to his girdle.
The Peace of the Gods be with you, O Ushamtar!” he cried.
The village chieftain bowed low, touching the earth with the fingers of his right hand. “The fortune of Heaven ride with you, O Kozanga,” he replied gravely.
For a moment they looked at each other thoughtfully, each fully conscious of the drama of the moment and each determined to uphold the honor and courtesy of their respective peoples. The villager was an old man, bony-shanked and bald of pate, his lean and leathery face seamed and wizened with the years. But his dark eyes were sharp and keen and watchful, and he stood proudly, his gaunt shoulders wrapped in a fringed
of fine white cloth.
“Of your courtesy,” the Lord said, “I require food and drink and a place to rest for my sword-brethren, and for our horses, fodder and shelter from the wolves and the night cold.”
“All these shall be yours,” the villager said. Zarouk paused, hesitant. Then, because honor demanded truth in full, he added:
“But I must declare that the Dragon Emperor of golden Khôr has named us rogues, outlaws and renegades, and set upon us his dogs, the foreign mercenaries of Rashemba, who may yet be to this hour on our trail. If you feel that our presence will bring danger upon your village, I say, speak out, and we will ride on . . .”
The face of the old chieftain did not change. Pride in his ancient blood and age-old heritage held him stiff with dignity.
He said; “I bow me in the shadow of the Lord of the Dragon Throne—a thousand years to his name!—I and my fathers have bowed to his shadow and we are his men. But, also, we are Ushamtar, and the great Kozanga warriors are our brethren from the days of old. I would spit on my grandfathers’ bones, were I to deny hospitality to the sir-brethren of the Chayyim Kozanga. . . .”
The harsh lips of the
, drawn thin and tight with weariness and suffering, twitched. But he said no word. With his left hand he drew the sacred Axe of Thom-Ra, the holy totem of the Kozanga, borne by a thousand
of his race since Time’s Dawn, and set it to his lips.
“The Peace be upon you all,” he said, and permitted his captains to ease him down from the saddle, for he was too weak to dismount.
FOR ONE night and no longer did the exhausted and beaten Nomads rest in the village of the Ushamtar. They ate and drank hugely, paying with red gold for the hospitality of their hosts, as was the ancient custom. Then, having seen their blown and weary horses fed, watered, rubbed down and in safe shelter—and then only—did the proud Kozanga sleep. Like dead men they slept, but woke with first light of dawn to move on. Ahead of them, many leagues across the endless plains of whispering grass, lay the black mountains. Impassable to any man but a Kozanga were those tall and mighty mountains of black stone—an impregnable fortress of dark stone, hewn by the very hands of the Gods at the dim, forgotten beginning of things.
The secret passage through that wall of black rock was the hereditary secret of the Kozanga sword-brethren, for ages ago the fathers of the Nomad warrior clan had first raised the red-and-black war standard of their legion behind those mountains, on the banks of Chaya, the Sacred River. For thousands of years the Sons of the Chayyim Kozanga had passed that secret down the generations. Could they but reach that frowning rampart of black stone in the land of Maroosh, they would be safe—aye, and let the pursuing Rashemba knights yap like dogs at a closed gate! There, in the hidden valleys and the secret places of the mountains, the heroes of the conquered and broken legion could rest, heal their wounds, hone their blades, to ride again another day.
Aye! To ride straight to the tall gates of golden Khôr that had sold them to the, foreign dogs! All of the Empire of the Dragon would feel that cold kiss of steel and taste the sour wine of fear when the mighty Kozanga brethren rode on the trail of vengeance! That the old
swore, deep in his soul.
With first light he summoned to the hut wherein he lay his grandson, Kadji. He watched with proud eyes as the tall youth, wrapped in a flowing’
of tribal red and black, his blond locks flying free in the frosty air, rode up in a thunder of hooves before the hut and swung from the saddle to kneel in the dirt before his grandsire.
The grizzled Lord smiled slightly, and set one mighty hand on the boy’s head, lifting his face. Like a young hawk, Kadji raised bright, fierce eyes to meet his gaze. Blue as heaven and bright as sword steel were those clear young eyes, fearless and keen. The face of the youth was fair, but not soft: strong and lean, tanned to the hue of old leather by sun and wind, with lips that smiled and laughed, but he had the strong square jaw of his fathers and the bright gold mane of his mother. Kadji he was named, which was “Red Hawk” in the tongue of the Great Plains. And like a hunting hawk could he hurtle across the measureless leagues of whispering grass, astride his black Feridoon pony.
A fine hunter was the boy, and a fierce swordsman, for all his young years. His steady nerve and bold daring and bright, mischievous ways had made him beloved among the sword-brethren of the Kozanga. And Zarouk knew, deep in his heart, that when he could no longer lead the charge, the elder brothers of the legion would pass the name of
to Kadji the Red Hawk. . . .
“The Lord summoned me?” the boy demanded. Old Zarouk nodded.
“With full dawn, the sword-brethren ride, O Kadji! In the valleys of black rock, in the hidden places, there shall we rest. Beside the sacred banks of Mother Chaya shall we renew our strength, to rise and ride again and sweep the streets of traitorous Khôr with our bright swords. The dog-hearted knights of Rashemba shall we drive back to their foul kennels in the west, and they shall learn to tremble at the name of the Kozanga vengeance—aye, even they, who laugh now at the name!”
The boy nodded, eyes blazing. Unconsciously, he fell into the chanting, ceremonial rhythm of Zarouk’s words.
Mother Chaya shall wash clean the wounds of her children of the plains, and Father Sky shall echo again to the thunder of our hooves, when the Kozanga ride to vengeance! We shall ride to the foot of the Dragon Throne and take our honor back at swordpoint from the hands of the Great Father, aye, from the hands of Holy Yakthodah shall we receive our honor!”
Zarouk spoke like a great war trumpet and the boy Kadji blinked at the word.
“Speak, Lord!” he begged.
The eyes of Zarouk burned into the face of the boy.
“The sword-brothers shall ride into the hidden fastnesses of the black mountains, aye, and mayhap the Red Tents shall rise again on the shores of Mother Chaya, but Kadji the Red Hawk shall not ride thither. Neither shall we take our honor back from the hands of Yakthodah the Holy Dragon Emperor—not while the world lasts!”
The boy did not understand his grandsire’s words. His lips trembled and his blue eyes questioned, but he waited without asking. Zarouk drew a deep breath. How to phrase it—how to lay the great task on these young shoulders?
“Listen to my words, O Kadji! Thou knowest that when the Dragon Emperor, Azakour, third of that name, died twenty years since, all of the Dragon Empire was thrown into turmoil and confusion for lack of a true-born heir?”
“For unto the Lord Azakour Third were but two sons born: the eldest, Hodaky, was sickly and died young, and the youngest, Yakthodah, died whilst on his foreign travels to the court of the High Prince of Rashemba. The Dragon Throne empty, with no living heir, no man knew who should wear the White Crown and rule sovereign over all the plains. And the noble lords, the
, the fat landowners, even they our old oppressors, traitorous and ambitious and cunning, they whom the Old Emperor had put down and banished—came they not riding back, to try their power one against the other, that the strongest of them, all should seize the Khahidûr and take the name of Emperor? And was not all of the Empire of the Dragon torn asunder with civil war?”
“Then came the miracle! Out of westerly Rashemba came word that the Prince Yakthodah lived! That assassins of the banished
had sought his life, but slew another thinking it was he—while the True Prince fled into hiding under a name not his. You were a child when this word first came to the plains. Like the wind of spring it was, and our hearts flowered with joy at its coming. And thence into the Empire rode the Prince, with a mighty host of the chivalry of Rashemba by his side, to drive out the usurpation of the
and to claim his holy father’s throne. Did not the great Kozanga raise the war standard and ride by his side? Did not the sword-brothers of the Chayyim Kozanga break the
at the Hills of Yush? Did not I, Zarouk, stand in the Hall of Halls and see the True Prince crowned as Dragon Emperor? Did not he name me ‘brother’ and ‘friend’ before all men?”
“I swear that all these things are true,” the boy said solemnly.
The old warrior heaved a sigh.
, for the sword-brethren! For dark days came upon us soon after! The Dragon was not the man his father was! The wealth of his ancestors he squandered for gauds and baubles! The gold of Khôr he spent on jugglers and astrologers and magicians! Did he not spend his days in frivolity and his nights in gaming, drinking and revel? Did he not build his Dragon Guard—not from the sword-brothers of the plains—but from among the dog-knights of Rashemba? Did not he take as his Empress the foreign woman—the very daughter of the High Prince Bayazin who had lent him an army to whelm the
? And did he not, once the coffers were empty, welcome back the same
he had broken and banished—they and their gold? Did he not trade them Kozanga land for their gold? Did he not turn against us of the Kozanga, to curry favor with the
. . . did he not, at the last, outlaw and banish us, forbidding that a Chayyim Kozanga should enter the gates of golden Khôr? And then, as we rode from his lands with dignity, did he not loose upon our heels the dogs of Rashemba, to ambush and slaughter us? Which he would have done, had not the Gods warned us in time with the Omen of the Wolves . . .”
Kadji bent his head and beat his chest.
, alas, all these things are true!”
“Very well! Now, hearken thou, O Red Hawk, O son of my own son. In the darkness of night the War Prince of the Gods came to me in my dream and spake unto me, saying, behold, O Elder Brother of the Kozanga, the man that sits in the chair of Azakour
is not the son of his blood, but a vile and cunning impostor!