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Varlarsaga Volume 2 - Recovery
Chapter - 32 Sangasu: The Death-Striker
The Kisir-Oba; grim, stark and yellow-grey.
Devoid of growth, of life; or so it appeared to Corin and the riders of Indlebloom Vale, as they threaded their way further into the twisting ravines that bent, now east and south, now east and north, drawing them deeper into the wild, sand-drifted hills.
The sun grew hot upon the third day out from Kurigaldur, and with it came a languid weariness that bore the travellers down and mightily oppressed them. Only Brôga remained undeterred, plodding on, either a little way ahead, or striding out between the mounts of Corin and Menkeepir.
Once, without warning, the ogre plucked Bim from Corin's shoulder, as if the cat were nothing more than a fruit to be picked from some orchard tree, and wrapped him round his own rough neck. Then he lumbered on a way, grunting and growling but, despite the anxieties of Corin and the others, did the cat no harm; so that when he returned Bim to Corin's arms, the cat was purring amiably.
‘Gentle, but foul,’ remarked Bimmelbrother. ‘I begin almosst to like the brrute, in a cautiouss way, though he needs a good scrrub. Too many things live in his hair, and the lice find every pathway on hiss back.’
‘It seems we collect foul companions,’ whispered Corin. ‘First the Ymp Pitrag, then his dragling, and now Brôga. Still, in a way it is comforting to have this ogre with us. He seems to have no fear of the land in which we travel.’
‘I wonderr if he hass any thought, except rreaping more food and wine,’ purred Bim rubbing his face and ear with a paw, and settling by Corin's cheek.
‘Look! Up there!’ came a sudden cry from one of the men at the rear of the party. ‘A lone bird, flying our way!’
And indeed it was so. As Corin turned his gaze skyward to the south, he perceived a tiny dot winging its way in great speed. And even as he watched, the bird hurtled overhead and was gone into the east.
But Corin already knew. ‘There flies the sign, the sign that has awaited us!’ he hailed, jubilant, pointing after the jackdaw. ‘Where he roosts lie the answers to many riddles, I guess.’
‘I wonder if it is truly the same that you have spoken of,’ pondered Menkeepir as they rode on.
‘That I have no way of telling,’ returned Corin. ‘But be he Bili, my rescuer, or one of his brethren, clearly he marks the path eastward over these barren wastes. His mistress and her companions, be they witches or wonders, dwell still, somewhere that way. Of that I feel certain.’
‘Perhaps we had best look to our weapons for the moment,’ broke in Mysingir, with a warning note in his voice. ‘We are not alone. Look up there,’ he indicated with a turn of his head.
The others followed his lead toward the crest of stony hills upon their left where three grey-shrouded figures mounted on small, shaggy ponies, rode at parallels to the travellers.
‘Folk of the Hiung-Nu, I do not doubt,’ said Menkeepir uneasily.
Soon the three riders were joined by four more, then two, then six; until a score and seventeen more, strung out in single file, followed the company.
Mysingir rested his hand upon the pair of long spears girt at his saddle. ‘Already they outnumber us. Why do they not attack if that is their want?’
As if in answer to his question, a larger band appeared over the distant rim of the hills before them. This group arrayed themselves in a broken line along the horizon and waited unmoving whilst a number of dun-yellow dogs roamed aimlessly amongst their dwarf-horses.
At this, Brôga, who seemed to heed them for the first time, halted, then came trotting back to Menkeepir and Corin, who drew rein awaiting him. The ogre gestured with his club. ‘Wine-meat?’ he shouted hopefully.
‘No,’ replied Menkeepir. ‘Danger, enemies!’
For a moment, Brôga appeared bewildered, until his slow gaze passed about the men of Indlebloom and he noticed that they had all drawn weapons. Then, turning back to the distant, motionless Hiung-Nu, he growled, ‘Brôga-kill-some-make-way-for-us!’ And at once he set off, his club slung over his great shoulder.
‘Wait!’ cried Corin, urging his mount forward. ‘There are too many for you alone. Even an ogre cannot fight such numbers.’
The ogre halted as Corin caught him up saying, ‘Stay, and fight with us if that is needed, for we are stronger with you at our side.’
‘Hrumph!’ grunted Brôga, almost indignantly; yet he heeded Corin's entreaty and held his ground whilst Menkeepir and the others drew nigh.
‘Do you think that we should attempt to speak with these wild folk?’ asked Mysingir, twisting about to keep watch.
Menkeepir shook his head. ‘Remember the words of Orsokon. These folk are savage and keep law only unto themselves. Their talk is in plunder and death.’
‘Then what is your counsel, oh Brother-Lord? We cannot just wait here to die at their hands.’
‘No,’ replied Menkeepir thoughtfully, ‘but if we turn and run we will only have to do it all over again another day. Or...’
‘Or what Brother? Have you some other plan?’
‘We could do what they might not expect. We could charge the riders on the rises to our left. They are fewest there. With speed and surprise we may cut through them before the others can come to their aid.’
Corin spoke up, ‘If that is to be our course, let us go straight away. The Dog-faces are on the move as we debate.’
This observation was true. The larger group facing the company had begun to move slowly forward, fanning out toward the tumbled dunes in the south. Meanwhile, those upon the low hills remained unmoving, as if waiting in reserve.
At Menkeepir's signal the travellers wheeled their mounts and charged the slopes in a tight arrowhead. Brôga sprang away after them, and in several huge bounds came up beside Mysingir. ‘Now-is-time-to-kill?’ he roared as he ran.
‘Now is time to fight!’ Mysingir shouted as they crashed over the slopes like an unstoppable wave. In a flurry of sand, they reached the summit, bunching as they closed with the ranks of the enemy. For the first time, Corin had a closer glimpse of them: they were small folk, much smaller than men, and their heads, hoodless now, were snouted and dog-like. Their teeth, more like fangs, were bared, and in each rough, paw-hand they clutched short, blunt-ended razors and long, pliable slings fashioned of animal bladders.
As the riders from Indlebloom broke amongst them, the Hiung-Nu hurled their sling stones and slashed out with slit-wind blades. They howled and barked about the men like a dog-pack intent on pulling down the prey. But the blue roans of Mendoth were swift and the people of Indlebloom dour when confronting openly the enemy; and Brôga himself raged amongst the Dog-Faces, catching up their slings, and in turn slinging the slingers.
Stones pelted over his shoulders and hairy brow, raising welts and bringing forth blood, all the more to the ogre's stinging infuriation. The further they harried him, the more he lashed out; assailing the assailants, plucking them from the rough hides of their tarpan ponies and hurling them at their charging followers. Yet onward they came, converging round Brôga whilst his stone club whirled about, dashing the nearest into the dark sand with stunning force.
Mysingir turned his mount and drove amongst those surrounding the ogre, with long spear lowered, unseating first one and then skewering a second of the enemy.
And still they were fierce and unbending. They clustered around, each taking a fallen comrades place; savage and unyielding. As they died, they died slashing with their razors or curved swords; snapping their jaws until life left them. Their tarpans, wild and wilful, bit and kicked as they milled about, and everywhere the yellow dogs snatched and tugged at the down-trodden.
Indeed Mysingir and another of his men were pulled from their mounts, and stood fighting back to back, until the ogre waded through the press, bashing this way and that, to relieve them. Menkeepir caught up the reins of a loose horse and led it in to their aid, slashing out with his sword as he struggled forward. But it was the armour that saved both men and animals from worse hurt, for though it weighed them somewhat, it withstood many a hurled missile or wielded blade.
Corin steadied his steed upon the further side, both he and Bim free of the fighting. There he saw that beyond the men of Indlebloom and their adversaries, more of the gathering tribe below were racing up the slopes towards them. At their forefront, Corin guessed, disrobed but for breeches and ragged headcloth, rode their chief, Etzela.
Even at that distance, small of stature that he was, he looked ferocious: a raging dog on shaggy beast, hood and robe thrown to the wind. Corin raised his bow; steadied it whilst Menkeepir led Mysingir from the fray, and aimed it deadly at the Hiung-Nu chief.
The ogre burst from the midst of the fighting, blood and grime caking his filthy thighs; carrying with him, as if a bundle of rags, two fallen men beneath one arm, and still felling any who dared come near.
Corin's fingers tightened on the bowstring.
‘Neow Meowster!’ mewed Bim. ‘If we arre to escape, neow!’
A moment longer Corin held, his mind binding his hand; then, flowing through it in a torrent he heard,
‘The going grows hardest for those who hesitate.
Ply thy paddles. Do not ship them.
Meet the test and rise above, or give in forever to evils hated.
Rise up, rise up Fated.
All is for the good. Way on, way on, else chance be gone, and all be over, lest thou could...’
And dimly behind that Voice, he heard another, ‘Corin, Corin...Thou art my Corin...?’
Then it faded as his fingers, numbed it seemed for long time, released the shaft and the bowstring twanged its song. Almost upon them, Etzela was smitten by the arrow high on his left shoulder. And so the Dog-Face chieftain went down to twilight...but not to dark. He tumbled from his sturdy tarpan as his followers, in spurts and clouds of sand, drew around him, whilst his tribesfolk above turned aghast as a sudden wail went up from those below.
Then Etzela arose, yapping, and hastily drawing out the paining dart, hurled it away.
Already, Menkeepir and the others had re-grouped about Corin, with the ogre standing foremost, sweat and blood streaming down his towering, hairy body.
Below, amongst the riderless tarpans and strewn bodies, the Hiung-Nu gathered about their leader where he stood, unbinding his headgear and fashioning it into a sling. In a flash Etzela stooped, picked up a rough stone and, darting forward, slung it at Brôga. With a sickening thud, the missile struck him, so that he threw a begrimed arm up to his brow where a ragged cut had opened. The ogre staggered, and for a moment the stone club sagged. Etzela, amid a welter of dogs, ran forward, the sling whirling; his tribesfolk whooping as they charged behind their leader.
The company from Indlebloom Vale made ready to defend the ogre, though they could have fled; yet to a man, they would not abandon him.
Then, in that instant of convergence between the opposed groups, a lone horn, plaintive but insistent, echoed from the west. There, like phantom visions, swept a band of yellow robed figures; most riding rugged horse-beasts of the field, though the foremost were mounted upon seven blue roans, the gift of the lord Menkeepir.
So, out of the nether grey sands came Orsokon, Wanax of Kurigaldur, to do battle with his Father-slayer and long time enemy, the Dog-Face, Etzela.
At the sound of the horn, the barking hordes turned to meet this new-come threat, even as it burst upon their rear; Etzela himself howling up a mount and riding headlong down toward Orsokon who waited, blue and saffron, in the mid-noon heat.
Disregarding Menkeepir and the company, the Hiung-Nu on the heights above urged their tarpans after their leader, as he and Orsokon clashed, blades sharding to pieces above their heads. Sweeping by, each drew a second weapon: one, a thin, keen dagger, the other, a long, single-edged razor.
Again they rushed and passed, slashing and feinting, whilst about them their followers threw themselves at each other with utter fury.
Etzela, blood streaming from his shoulder, dashed Orsokon from his roan, and leapt down for the kill. Yet even as Menkeepir spurred the company to his aid, Orsokon slipped aside so that Etzela ripped only saffron robes which fell away leaving the Wanax white and naked, but unbowed. In a breath, he sprang upon his Father's murderer; their hands grappled, their wrists locked, as they strained against each other. Orsokon was much the taller of the two, but Etzela's bulky frame and savage strength more than made up for this loss. They fell and rolled amongst the milling throng, as Corin and the men of Indlebloom rode into the fray. Bim hid amid the folds of Corin's cloak, his claws firmly gripping a hold. Mysingir, mounted once more, raced amongst the massing Hiung-Nu, matching their animal's sure-footed nimbleness with his own mount's barded agility.
Tumult and confusion abounded, and those in the centre knew little of what was happening a few horses away. Orsokon's riders fought passage through to their Wanax, beating off the clinging, death-dealing Hiung-Nu, to form a ring about the two adversaries as they stabbed and tripped and tumbled in the knee-deep sands. Both now were cut and bleeding from several wounds; Orsokon gasping for breath and Etzela, squint-eyed and snarling, lolling out his red tongue like a parched wolf. In brief glimpses, as they hacked their way toward Orsokon, Corin caught sight of the two enemies, still intent only upon the other's death. Orsokon's face was now a bloody mask, yet his dagger was tipped with red, and Etzela howled frantically, as if urging his people to break through the Kurigaldans and crush them. His cries were answered from an unexpected quarter. Across the dunes southward, pouring like an angry tide, came grim battalions; the bulk of the Hiung-Nu nation, all tarpan mounted, razors and curved swords glinting in the sun.
Menkeepir turned to Corin, shouting over the din, ‘Get clear! One more or less will make no difference. Go on. Ride whilst you still have some chance!’
‘I will wait,’ called Corin, ‘to go on alone would be a dangerous folly!’ And he smiled grimly, thrusting through the press.
Then, on the instant, all was transformed: a cry of horror went up from the innermost circle! Both the Hiung-Nu and the Kurigaldans broke away, their mounts squealing in panic. Suddenly Corin was able to see what was happening; hard by Orsokon and Etzela, a hole had appeared in the earth that drained the sands inwards as it grew ever wider. A tarpan and its rider slid into the sucking chasm and, with dreadful screams, vanished. Etzela flung away his razor and fled amongst the kicking hooves with yips of terror. The sand fell, dwindling at Orsokon's feet as Mysingir, cantering by, snatched up the Wanax, faltered on the brink, and bolted off as the dune erupted and a massive head appeared.
With brayings and barkings, the Hiung-Nu drew back; even to those newcome, spreading over the dunes, the rumour travelled like wildfire, and they too swerved aside. But as they fell away, deep within their masses, came a chill, throbbing chant; ‘Ôb-Ôb; Ôb-Ôb!’
The riders of Indlebloom and Kurigaldur reeled as the creature beneath the sand writhed up and out. Its head was flat, scaled and serpent-like. Its eyes were hooded, then flaring; emerald wide, seeming everywhere at once. The skin upon its upper was yellow-grey, whilst its underparts were livid blue-black. And as it reared, Corin let fly a shaft; saw it strike the nub of the broad-thirled nose, deflect and fall uselessly.
He sought another arrow to his bow, as Menkeepir joined him, ‘That is the Sangasu! The Death-Striker! Ride for your life!’ shouted the Lord, as he galloped off amidst the confusion. The serpent was nigh to free of its burrow now, and its coils piled and recoiled, seemingly filling all the place where but moments before a throng had struggled in desperate conflict.
As if mesmerised, Corin watched this mighty Sand-Worm of the deep dunes: saw the webbed and clawed forelegs; the vast body ending snakelike. In a trice, the towering monster slithered and scrabbled perilously nearer. Corin's horse reared in panic, near tipping him off; yet he managed to stay in the saddle, with Bim still clawing a hold at his collar. Away went the roan, tossing its white-maned head and rolling whited eyes in terror. Clinging fast and feeling doom hissing at his back, Corin flung his mount sharply from side to side, so that it kicked sand in all directions as it swerved and slewed through the trickling rivulets of the dunes; its powerful hind quarters driving in sheer fright.
How would they have escaped, but for the intervention of the ogre, who, in the midst of battle, had sat down to rub his sore head and wonder where his next drink of blood-wine might come from. Then the slapping, pattering feet of the legged worm came rushing by in a scrunch and a screech of sand, as the great, coiled body compressed it to sandstone with its passing. Brôga leapt to his flat-nailed feet and strode forward whilst the creature's whip-lash tail flailed through the air. It caught him a smack that sent the ogre tumbling like a wooden top, though at its end he bounced up rubbing his mouth and glaring around, brandishing his club.
Now he was an angry ogre.
The masses all about had fled; Menkeepir and the company of Indlebloom toward the east a little way, there to halt and swing back, ready to flee at once if pursued by Etzela's Hiung-Nu. However they were scattering south and west with but a few, their bloodied chieftain at their head, holding off to watch, as were Orsokon and his peoples together with Mysingir, who had plucked the Wanax from the sands.
At the centre point, where the gathered combatants had clashed so recently, in the trough of its own making, rose the sand-serpent. No cold-drake or dragon was this; no indeed, this was the dreaded, two-legged Great-Worm of the Kisir-Oba. Now, nosing the smell of prey, the monstrous creature reared to constrict and devour; having already tucked away the tit-bit of tarpan and rider. With relentless intent, the Great-Worm raced forward, webbed feet finding sure hold in the shifting sands.
Corin, at the brink of the topmost dune, fell! The cat, the horse and he, tumbling and rolling, head and heel, neigh and scrowl, down toward the maw of the waiting, gloating, great-bead-eyed Worm; and as they rolled and floundered, there it placed its widening, gruesome jaws. A catch of horror and a cry arose from those at safe distance, whilst the long, greedy tongue slid out to encircle its prey.
At the last possible moment, the vast maw shuddered and twisted aside, as if in doubt. The hooded eyes slid around, the head turned about. Corin, his poor steed, and Bim, rumbled to a stop in the flattened depression where the creature's jaws had hung open. A sledge-hammer sound thundered up the whole length of the shining monster and in one rippling, withdrawing motion, it pawed high into the sky, its broad-paddled feet flailing.
Corin saw the gape of jaws, the steaming nostrils, the ears that quivered in maddened pain. Then, as the Sand-Worm's head swung back, he glimpsed its now crimson eye boiling in torrent, unlidded, incapable of stemming the flow from the huge-rent wound that, never before, had this creature endured. Its body twisted and contracted in an agony of suffering, the great coiling scales slid, like massed razors, within an arm's length of Bim, as Corin snatched him away and scrambled pell-mell up the flowing sands. The horse laboured by, knee-deep in the dune, and Corin was able to grasp its trailing reins and haul himself and Bim upon its sweat-slicked back.
Already, Menkeepir and Mysingir were circling the rim of the hollow, racing to Corin's aid; whilst below, Brôga and the Sangasu were lost in a flurry of sand swept high by the monster's failing tail. The Sand-Worm screeched in rage as the thud of blow after blow crashed and hammered on its armoured hide. Now, always on the monster's blind side, the ogre set about its destruction with all the ferocity and brute strength that he possessed. Each stroke of the stone club rang like a hammer to the anvil, whilst Brôga's breath came in huge gulps, as if mighty bellows were at work, in his fear and rage and lust of slaying. Twice in the death struggle the ogre was felled by the wall of the monster's head as it slewed and thrashed in maddened frenzy at its unseen assailant. But at each fall he clambered to his feet in time to deal another blow to the coils that sought to crush him.
The Sangasu, in its desperate cunning, withdrew, and at last caught sight of its attacker. For a moment, the dust and sand settled whilst its one emerald eye, filled with cold hatred and hungry malevolence, regarded the enemy, and then swinging round, all the enemies that now crowded in to see the end, regardless of danger. Long had this monster of the desert tunnelled in the depths. Long had it littered those tunnels with the bones of its victims. Many upon many were the generations that it preyed on, so that all creatures feared and fled it. Tasty was the flesh of dog and tarpan and human, and sweet was the sound of its own name; ‘Ôb! Ôb!’ as it devoured the desert warriors who uttered it.
And now, now was the time to leap forward and crush and constrict, and pay back everything that moved within its bloodied eye-sight! With a rush it pattered and slithered, to pounce upon the impertinent impudence before it, and gobble it to pieces, then render the pieces to nothingness.
But as it advanced, so did Brôga, so that the Sand-Worm was not quite prepared for the ogre's onslaught. Brôga met the towering monster in full stride, with the weight of the slow-builded mountains behind his bat of stone. With a mighty upward stroke, scales the size of platters shivered from the Sangasu's mouth. And as the creature dipped its head, almost in an attempt to catch sight of its own shattered maw, the ogre struck for the last time. The downward blow crashed through the plating directly between the Sand-Worm's eye-sockets, and the armour fell away like rain.
Brôga staggered back, wrenching the club from the wound.
For a moment it seemed that all there observing were turned to stone; struck dumb, incapable even to draw breath. Then the Sangasu went berserk; thrashing and writhing, whipping the sands, curling inward and outward as if it would turn itself inside out whilst the darkness in its eye and brain grew greater and greater. It fought the rushing blackness; the void of death, knotting and squirming, until finally the paroxysms spent themselves, and it jerked no more. The great Sangasu, bane of the desert folk, had gone; twisting down the Longest Tunnel to everlasting night.
But where was Brôga?
The people who rimmed the thrown-up mounds stared down at the stilled, contracted Sand-Worm; though where Brôga had been, there now lay only his club.
Corin turned his mount and rode down the slope until the roan baulked and would go no further. Sliding from the saddle, with Bim still clutched firmly under his arm, Corin stumbled forward until a movement of the Sand Worm's hideous bulk brought him up sharply in sudden alarm. A ripple grew along the creature's neck, and from beneath it there blindly groped a brawny arm. At once, Corin set Bim down and went to the ogre's aid, grasping his huge hand and placing a foot against the scaled hide of the monster. With a stout effort he managed to free Brôga's head and shoulders, so that he could struggle out from under the immense carcass. In a last heave, the ogre dragged his legs clear and lay, panting for a time, before climbing to his feet. As he rose, Corin saw that all along his left arm and side the flesh was red raw where the mailed coat of the serpent had ripped it open. He saw too, when Brôga's face lit up in the usual wide grin, that a few teeth were missing.
‘Where-one-who-throws-stone!?’ he demanded, looking about with mock fury, and spitting out chips of teeth, whilst Bim rubbed at his ankles.
At this, Corin stole a glance to where the silent peoples of Orsokon and Menkeepir sat horse, and thence to the Hiung-Nu and Etzela himself. The Dog-Faces, still as savage and grim as ever, watched on whilst Brôga limped over to retrieve his club.
‘You-ready-to-fight-now!’ he bellowed, holding the weapon aloft and waving it.
Etzela stirred. Deftly he began winding his sling into a head band. Then he took a curved sword from one of his followers and raised it on high. For a moment it seemed a signal to attack, and Corin tensed, ready to make a dash for his mount.
However, that was not to be.
With a last flourish, Etzela turned away, drawing a rough robe across his shoulders and hooding his head. A rider reached down and drew his wounded leader up behind him, and then the Hiung-Nu, with their sturdy tarpans and yellow dogs, were loping off southward without so much as a backward glance.
Soon they were nothing more than a dwindling, grey mass in the distance.
‘So my Father's murderer still rides free to counsel with the living,’ murmured Orsokon, wiping blood and grime from his shaven face.
‘Here, clothe yourself in my robes,’ said Menkeepir, ‘for now I shall openly wear armour in this savage land, and you are naked to the sun.’
‘Indeed I am,’ replied the Wanax of Kurigaldur, gratefully accepting the shed garment and donning it.
‘We are thankful to you and your people, good Orsokon, for coming to our aid,’ continued Menkeepir.
The other smiled, ‘How could we not? Your gift of precious horses honoured us. And they, of course, needed exercise. But in truth, I desired a chance at that vileness Etzela. Now, alas, he has ridden from my reach, though he bears scars for his trouble that he will not swiftly forget.’
‘Much to his shame, I guess,’ laughed Mysingir. ‘He certainly felt the prick of master Corin's elvish barb.’
‘And the feel of Orsokon's vengeful blade,’ added Menkeepir.
‘Still, he lives, free and unpunished,’ sighed the Wanax. ‘Yet for now, I am content. He has fled me, and I stand here within Etzela's land, untamed. I shall depart for this time, though from this day forth I will ride here without fear of him.’
Then, whilst the Kurigaldans readied themselves to take their leave, Menkeepir made a speech. ‘There are thanks to be given and to share here. All of us who are still alive to see the sun go eastward sinking, should be thankful. We, of Mendoth City in our beloved Indlebloom Vale, pledge again renewed friendship with the peoples of Kutha-Kesh and their Wanax. Thanks too, do all here give to the victor over yon dreadful creature; this wild and unruly ruffian from the Malthace forests. For not only did he perform a mighty feat in vanquishing the Sangasu, he also awed the Hiung-Nu so that we are free of them, for a time at least.’
Sitting apart from everyone, Brôga merely grunted and contented himself by licking at the blood from his own wounds; grinning down at the shrivelling Sand Worm that lay steaming in the blast of the late noon sun.
But Orsokon said, ‘A blessing upon you, oh riders from the lands beyond the valley of Kutha-Kesh, and even upon yonder leering hulk; for in truth we have shared a double victory over both the Serpent and the Dog-Face. Now it is time for our parting. The call of Kurigaldur grows strong within us. Silver-Tresses and little Orso await me, and your beautiful roans have proved their mettle. Also I must take my wounded and dead home to their Zigguratu. Farewell now, I say, yet we will keep our eyes turned eastward for your return.’
He threw himself into the roan's saddle. ‘A word of advice Lord Menkeepir. Do not disturb the Hiung-Nu dead here. You have no time for such, and 'tis better to leave well enough alone lest wrath you bring upon yourselves from Etzela. As the Dog-Face abide none in life, so do they abide none in death. Let their own, return and make such ritual as they deem needed. Mayhap the Serpent's carcass will remind them of the ogre, and they will allow your passing.’
At those words, Orsokon and his band turned away, and Corin watched the shadows of the Kurigaldans grow long as they rode toward coming night in the west.
Menkeepir looked at Corin; a long, steady, keen gaze. ‘And there is our road,’ he said, thrusting a metal-clad arm beyond the other's shoulder.
Corin nodded. ‘We must follow the sun's path whilst we can. To the east, and to whatever may lie there; for I feel, in my head and my heart, the great pull of it drawing me, calling me on.’
He stared at them all, and a sudden excitement welled in his eyes; and they were clear, free of fear, and shining with a strange light.
‘So be it,’ said Menkeepir slowly.
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