Young Thongor (5 page)

And he set the great broad sword back in its scabbard, and drank deep of the red wine, watching dawn rise up over the edges of the world to fill the land with light; and he set his face towards the south, that last of the Black Hawk warriors.

And he passed from sight, down the hill-slope, striding with long steps towards the place where the great range of purple mountains marched across the world from west to east.

His heart lifted within him, for the night was over. And as he strode from view, he lifted his voice and sang again that warriors’ song…

Out there, beyond the setting sun,
Are kingdoms waiting to be won!
And crowns, and women, gold and wine—
Courage! And hold the battleline!


For over two years, the youthful Thongor wanders the vastness of the Lemurian Northlands. Here the tribesmen are clannish, suspicious of strangers and a swift death is promised to anyone straying into their jealously protected domains. Thongor lives on his wits, often forced into using his fighting skills to survive, developing them, hardening himself until he has become a dangerous, fierce warrior, lion-like and elusive.

Not yet seventeen, he moves ever southward, away from the lands of his birth, into the huge range of the Mountains of Mommur.



As the Sun Died

The fierce tropic sun of old Lemuria had long since passed the zenith of day. Now it descended the dome of heaven to perish in its pyre of crimson vapors that lit the dim west with flame. In all this desolate land of jagged, jumbled rock, nothing lived, nor moved, but shadows.

The level shafts of flaming light struck across the vast tableland of the plateau and drew long ink-black shadows from the circle of standing stones amidst the waste.

Seven they were, and twice taller than a man: tapering columns of dark volcanic stone, rough-hewn, coarsely porous. They stood in a circle on the plain of broken rock, and the red rays of the sinking sun drew long tapering shadows from them. Seven long black narrow shadows…like the fingers of a monstrous groping hand.

Glyphs were deep-cut in the ringed monoliths. Ages of slow time had all but worn them smooth. Yet still were they faintly legible, were there any eye to read them in this shadowy land of stone and silence.

That which stood amidst the circle of standing stones caught the red rays of sunset and flashed with gem-like brilliance. It was a vast, rugged mass of crystal, cloudy, misted: a huge gem of green and sparkling silver, so large that the arms of a full-grown man could scarce encompass it.

Into nine hundred uneven geometric facets was the glimmering crystal cut. Each facet was engraved with a curious sigil; each sigil was subtly alike each other, yet no two were precisely the same.

As the sun died in thunderous glory on the western horizon, the faceted stone caught the last beams and burst ablaze with sparkling splendor. Amidst the shimmering radiance, the strange sigils glowed weirdly, as if sentient. Like watchful eyes, cold, alert, intent, they peered through the purpling shadows.

No man alive on earth in all that distant age could read those carved signs on the monstrous jewel, nor spell the sense of those deep-carved and age-worn glyphs upon the seven monoliths.

But something pulsed amidst the dazzling radiance of the stone and as it lay bathed fully in the sunset flames.


Vast, awesome, magical.



When Dragons Hunt

For five hours now the boy had fled for his life, and now he had reached the very end of his strength. His numb legs would move no farther and he fell, gasping for breath, in the coarse rubble that bestrewed the plateau. His lungs were afire, his raw throat ached and thirst was like a raging torment within him. But he could flee no more.

Against the blaze of sunset, the dragons circled. Black, horrid shapes with snaky necks and ragged, bat-like wings. They had caught the hot scent of manflesh shortly past midday and they had hunted him lazily down the high mountain pass that cleft all this mighty range, the Mountains of Mommur, and across this bleak and desolate tableland, until they had worn him to the point of exhaustion.

Now they swung casually, wings booming like sales on the quickening breeze, cold ferocity flaring in the mindless reptilian eyes that shone through the gathering dusk like yellow coals.

Sprawled panting amidst the broken stones, the boy glared up at them, his strange gold eyes blazing lion-like through tangled black locks. He did not fear them and would fight them to the last with every ounce of strength in his bronzed and brawny form. But he was doomed, and he knew it.

His savage people, tribesmen of the cold north, had a saying
. When dragons hunt, the boldest warriors hide.

He was young, not yet seventeen, and nearly naked, his brown hide bare save for high-laced sandals and a rag of cloth twisted about his loins. His breast and strong arms, back, belly and shoulders were scored with old scars and white with road dust, for he had come far—halfway across the world it seemed, from that gore-drenched battlefield whereon all his people had died save he alone. Down from the wintry tundras of the frozen Northlands had he come, alone and on foot, battling savage beasts and even more savage men, and the scars of many battles marked him.

Strapped in a worn old scabbard across his broad young shoulders, a great Valkarthan broadsword lay. It was his only weapon: and it was useless against the winged death that hovered, indolently flapping, against the sky of darkening crimson. Had he but a bow he could likely have struck down the flying horrors that had playfully, cat-like, lazily hunted him all afternoon down the bleak mountains to this desolate plateau.

Here, in a brief scarlet flare of agony, he would die. And here his bare white bones would lie bleaching to powder under the Lemurian skies forever.

But he knew no fear, this bronzed boy who lay helpless, panting, exhausted.


Where Horror Dares Not Pass

Suddenly a cold hand went gliding across his hot thigh. He jerked about, nape prickling with primal night-fears, one capable fist seizing the hilt of the two-handed broadsword. Then he relaxed, chest heaving. It was a cold, black shadow that had crept across his flesh, dark and stealthy. A long, tapering shadow, like a pointing finger.

Curious, the boy raised himself on one arm and peered about to see the source of that shadow. He threw his tangled black mane back from his face and stared with amazement. Stared at the ring of dark columns that encircled a lone cube of black stone like a rude altar. And stared at that which glittered and flashed there.

He was looking directly into the sunset, but that roiling mass of crimson flame was less brilliant than the immense and sparkling jewel that stood amidst the monoliths.

Cold wind swept over him in a gush.

Fetid, hot breath blew, stinking, in his face. He flinched—ducked—as one of the scaly horrors of the upper sky swung low, snapping yellowed fangs at his flesh. The dragons were bolder, now. Or, perhaps, hungrier.

He staggered to his feet, levering himself erect with one hand braced against a broken boulder. He would meet death face to face, standing on his two feet like a man, he thought grimly.

They swung about far above, the twin, bat-winged horrors, circling for the kill. He glared about for a place to stand, a tall stone to set his shoulders against, and suddenly he thought of that circle of smooth lava pillars. The monoliths were set close together: the bat-winged horrors would not be able to come at him from above or behind it if he set his shoulders against one of those pillars; they could only come at him from in front, and then they would face the glittering, razor scythe of that mighty broadsword with which he and his forefathers had fought against many a foe. Perhaps he had a chance after all.

Staggering a little, his aching legs still numb with bone-weary exhaustion, he headed for the ring of standing stones and the sparkling enigma they guarded and enclosed. He drew the great sword, Sarkozan. He set his back against the rough cold stone and took his stand. He threw back his head and shouted a challenge to the winged predators of the sky.

They swerved and came hurtling down at him, those flapping black shapes. He could see the flaring coals of their burning eyes and the immense grinning jaws lined with yellowed fangs, the long snaky necks stretched hungrily for him, clawed bird-feet spread to cling and rip—

Ignoring the ache of weariness in chest and arms and shoulders, the boy swung up the great sword as the flying dragons flashed for him—and swerved aside!

Puzzled, the boy’s strange gold eyes narrowed thoughtfully. He watched through tousled black locks as the flying reptiles curved in their flight, veered away, and flapped off hesitantly, to rush down at him again.

Again they came swooping down. And again they veered to one side at the last moment.

It was strange. It was more than strange, it was a little frightening. It was as if those horrid dragons of the sky—
the circle of standing stones!

Propped against the rough pillar, leaning weary arms on the cross-hilt of the great sword, Thongor watched as the sunset died to smoldering coals. The skies darkened as night rose on black wings up over the edges of the earth to shroud the great continent in shadow.

The dragons hovered and circled, and, at length, flapped away and were lost in the gathering darkness. Then the boy turned to explore this peculiar ring of monoliths, where even the fanged predators of the sky dared not come near. This circle of stones, which mailed, mighty dragons dared not pass.


The City in the Jewel

Thongor examined the seven stone pillars. They were of cold dead rock, dark, volcanic, rough and porous to the touch. With curious fingers the young barbarian traced the strange heiroglyphs inscribed upon them. He could make nothing of the curious symbols, but, then, as for that, he could neither read nor write. He had no way of guessing that those inscriptions were in a long-dead tongue whose last living speaker had perished from the earth untold aeons before…

He next approached the low altar.

It was a six-sided cube of black rock and it bore no carvings. On its top, the great gem flashed and twinkled. Never before had the boy seen a mass of crystal so immense. He bent over it curiously, and the cold shifting lights that moved within bathed his features in a restless glow.

His was a strong young face, square of jaw and broad of brow and cheekbone. Scowling black brows curved over lion-like eyes. Sun and wind had burnt his face to the hue of old leather; there was strength in that face, and intelligence, and breeding. Though how a half-naked wild boy from the savage wilderness of the wintry Northlands had come by that breeding, none could say.

He was curious about the carved sigils, which adorned the glassy surface of each of the odd-angled facets, and he stretched out his hand to trace them—

And jerked back numb, tingling fingers with a muted cry. A cold, electric shock stabbed at him as his outstretched fingers touched the slick, glassy surface—a weird, thrilling force.

Frowning, puzzled, he bent over the glittering, flashing gem and peered deep into it.

Deep and deep…through the angled mirrors of the many facets…down through twinkling mists of dim green and sparkling silver dust…to the strange pulsing core of the monstrous gem, where cold phosphorescent fires coiled and glared.

But something happened. The crystal

The mists thinned—faded—evaporated.

Had the touch of his fingers closed a contact between the boy and the forces that slumbered, locked deep within the mystery jewel? Had his nearness triggered some dormant, age-old spell—some mystic sorcery whose secret was traced in the weird sigils that had been hewn into the facets of the gem?

Sparkling mists coiled—cleared—whipped away.

Suddenly the clouded green crystal was clouded no more. Now it was clear and pellucid as glass…and the boy’s eyes widened in amazement as he stared down upon that which was now clearly visible in the very core of the gigantic gem. He stared down upon…

A city! A city there in the heart of the jewel.

It was exquisite, elfin. Tiny, delicate minarets and needle-pointing spires of dainty glistening ivory. Swelling bells of domes, twinkling with goblin lights. Delicious little houses, peak-roofed and gabled, with stained-glass windows no bigger than his thumbnail.

A faerie princedom in the frozen heart of a gem!

Breathless with awe and wonder, the savage boy stared down at little, crooked streets cobbled as if with cowrie shells; at curved flights of alabaster stairs a finger joint in width; at elfin gardens of miniature trees where tiny brooks meandered like shimmering strips of blue satin ribbon.

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