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The Book of Zirchevby Steven B Wilson
It was a warm day in the ministry building of Karameikos. Lord Zogrev Yarol, Minister of State, was reading and sorting reports with less than his normal intensity. Every so often he would reach over and pen a few lines on some nearby paper and then return to his reading.
He was tired and it had already been a long day, even though the sun had not yet reached full height. He therefore welcomed the entrance of a junior adviser, who carried a few large sheets of paper and had a too-excited smile on his lips.
"Lord Yarol! I have something important for you to look at!"
Zogrev smiled patiently, leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across his belly. "Do you now? Alexandr is it? Yes...now what is so important that you must rush in to interrupt a Minster while he's working?"
"Oh...um...s-sorry Lord Yarol," Alexandr stammered. "I can come back at another time..."
"No, no. Come in," Zogrev's smile widened. "Tell me what you have."
"Thank you!" Zogrev waved away the little bow the young man gave him. "This morning a rather unsavoury looking man came into the offices with these papers. He said he had torn them from a book he found in a hut of some wizard on the far side of the Dymrak Forest. I'm not sure I believe him on that point. How the thief could have broken into a wizard's house and lived...not to mention travelling through the Dymrak..."
Zogrev softly cleared his throat.
"Umm, yes. Anyway, he claimed that these pages are from an ancient journal penned by Zirchev himself!"
Alexandr's excited movements soon became an uncomfortable shifting as Zogrev's smile slowly faded while his eyes stared unblinking at the junior adviser.
"And the Ministry of the State paid this thief for these papers?" Zogrev asked in even tones.
"Oh! Um...yes Lord Yarol. I was the only one in the office...at the time...and I thought that perhaps..." his voice trailed off pathetically.
Zogrev's smile returned. "No harm done, lad. Let's see what the hard-earned taxes of the citizens of Karameikos have purchased. No, no. Don't apologise. It might prove entertaining - and that is worth something! Dismissed...oh, and Alexandr? Please remember that this Ministry does not have the funds to purchase every holy relic that comes through our doors," Zogrev again smiled kindly at the deflated youth. "Perhaps we can send the next relic to one of our fine Churches first?"
"Yes, of course Lord Yarol," Alexandr replied, returning the smile faintly as he closed the doors.
Now, Zogrev said to himself, how amusing of a writer are you my friend? The letters on the yellowed papers was in a legible, albeit somewhat archaic, script. At least the writer, whoever it may be, was no stranger to penmanship. It also showed a Traladaran dialect that, while unfamiliar, was still understandable.
Zogrev settled himself down and began to read:
*** *** ***
And it came to pass that the days of Zirchev were in the days of Halav; and Halav was not yet king over all the land.
And Zirchev was a seer in the possession of the Eyes of Traldar; wherefore Zirchev came forth in the days of Halav, and began to warn the people, for he could not be restrained because of the visions that the Eyes had shown him.
For he did cry from the morning, even until the going down of the sun, exhorting the people to prepare lest they should be destroyed...
And it came to pass that Zirchev did portend great and marvellous things unto the people, which they did not believe, because they saw them not...
...but they esteemed him as naught, and cast him out; and he hid himself in the cavity of a rock, by day, and by night he went forth viewing the things which should come upon the people.
And it came to pass that in that same year in which he was cast out from among the people there began to be a great war among the people, for there was a man who rose up, who was a mighty man, and sought to destroy the king...
And now this man, Halav by name, having studied, himself, in all the arts of war and all the cunning of the world, wherefore he gave battle unto the king...
Wherefore, it came to pass that in the first year that Zirchev dwelt in the cavity of a rock, there were many people who were slain by the sword of Halav that he might obtain the kingdom.
And it came to pass that the Sons of Halav fought much and bled much.
And in the second year the word of the Immortals came to Zirchev, that he should go and warn Halav that, if he would prepare, and all his household, the Immortals would give unto him his kingdom and spare the people -
Otherwise they should be destroyed, and all his household...
And it came to pass that Halav prepared, also his household, also the people; and the wars ceased...
And it came to pass that there arose up out of the east the Horde of Saat-Qadi, and he gave battle unto Halav; and he did beat him, insomuch that in the third year he did bring Halav into captivity.
And the Sons of Halav, in the fourth year, did beat Saat-Qadi, and did restore freedom again unto Halav.
Now there began to be a war upon all the face of the land, every Traldar with his band fighting against the Horde of Saat-Qadi.
And it came to pass that Halav was exceedingly angry with Saat-Qadi, and he went against him with his armies to battle; and they did meet in great anger, and they did meet in the valley of Sula; and the battle became exceedingly sore.
And it came to pass that Saat-Qadi fought against him for the space of three days. And it came to pass that Halav beat him, and did pursue him until he came to the river Rugalov.
And it came to pass that Saat-Qadi gave him battle again upon the shores of the river; and behold, he did beat Halav, and drove him back again to the valley of Sula.
And Halav gave Saat-Qadi battle again in the valley of Sula, in which he beat Saat-Qadi and slew him.
And Saat-Qadi wounded Halav in his thigh, that he did not go to battle again for the space of two years, in which time all the people upon the face of the land were shedding blood, and there was none to lead them...
* * *
And now, after the space of two years, and after the death of Saat-Qadi, behold, there arose the brother of Saat-Qadi and he gave battle unto Halav, in which Halav did beat him and did pursue him to the wilderness of Dymrak.
And it came to pass that the brother of Saat-Qadi did give battle unto him in the wilderness of Dymrak; and the battle became exceedingly sore, and many thousands fell by the sword.
And it came to pass that Halav did lay siege to the wilderness; and the brother of Saat-Qadi, who took the name Mekmet-Qadi, did march forth out of the wilderness by night, and slew a part of the army of Halav, as they were drunken.
And he came forth to the land of Lavv, and placed himself upon the throne of Halav.
And it came to pass that Halav dwelt with his army in the wilderness for the space of two years, in which he did receive great strength to his army.
And it came to pass that the high shaman of Mekmet-Qadi murdered him as he sat upon his throne.
And it came to pass that one of his own beastmen murdered him in a secret pass, and obtained unto himself the kingdom; and he took the name Mokamett-Qadi; and Mokamett-Qadi was a beast of great stature, more than any other beast among his horde.
And it came to pass that in the first year of Mokamett-Qadi, Halav came up unto the land of Lavv, and gave battle unto Mokamett-Qadi.
And it came to pass that he fought with Mokamett-Qadi, in which Mokamett-Qadi did smite upon his arm that he was wounded; nevertheless, the army of Halav did press forward upon Mokamett-Qadi, that he fled to the borders upon the seashore.
And it came to pass that Halav pursued him; and Mokamett-Qadi gave battle unto him upon the seashore.
And it came to pass that Mokamett-Qadi did smite the army of Halav, that they fled again to the wilderness of Dymrak.
And it came to pass that Mokamett-Qadi did pursue him until he came to the moors of the Volaga. And Halav had taken all the people with him as he fled before Mokamett-Qadi in that quarter of the land whither he fled.
And when he had come to the moors of the Volaga he gave battle unto Mokamett-Qadi, and he smote upon him until he died; nevertheless, the brother of Mokamett-Qadi did come against Halav in the stead thereof, and the battle became exceedingly sore, in the which Halav fled again before the army of the brother of Mokamett-Qadi.
Now the name of the brother of Mokamett-Qadi took the name Yeenoghu-Pasha. And it came to pass that Yeenoghu-Pasha pursued after Halav, and he did overthrow many villages, and he did slay both women and children, and he did burn the villages.
And there went a fear of Yeenoghu-Pasha throughout all the land; yea, a cry went forth throughout the land - Who can stand before the army of Yeenoghu-Pasha? Behold, he sweepeth the earth before him!
And it came to pass that the people began to flock together into Halav's armies, throughout all the face of the land.
And so great and lasting had been the war, and so long had been the scene of bloodshed and carnage, that the whole face of the moor was covered with the bodies of the dead.
And so swift and speedy was the war that there was none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood, leaving the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land, to become a prey to the worms of the flesh.
And the scent thereof went forth upon the face of the moor, even upon all the face of the moor; wherefore the people became troubled by day and by night, because of the scent thereof.
Nevertheless, Yeenoghu-Pasha did not cease to pursue Halav; for he had sworn to avenge himself upon Halav of the blood of this brother, who had been slain...
And it came to pass that Yeenoghu-Pasha did pursue Halav eastward, even to the borders by the mountains, and there he gave battle unto Yeenoghu-Pasha for the space of three days.
And so terrible was the destruction among the armies of Yeenoghu-Pasha that the beastmen began to be frightened, and began to flee before the armies of Halav; and they fled north to the river Volaga, and swept off the inhabitants before them, all them that would not join them.
And they pitched their tents in the valley of Volaga; and Halav pitched his tents in the valley of Baphorqa. Now the valley of Baphorqa was near the hill Chaqaquet; wherefore, Halav did gather his armies together upon the hill Chaqaquet, and did sound a trumpet unto the armies of Yeenoghu-Pasha to invite them forth to battle.
And it came to pass that they came forth, but were driven again; and they came the second time, and they were driven again the second time. And it came to pass that they came again the third time, and the battle became exceedingly sore.
And it came to pass that Yeenoghu-Pasha smote upon Halav that he gave him many deep wounds; and Halav, having lost his blood, fainted, and was carried away as though he were dead.
* * *
And it came to pass when Halav had recovered of his wounds, he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain uncounted numbers of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.
And his soul mourned and refused to be comforted.
And it came to pass that he sent a messenger unto Yeenoghu-Pasha, desiring him that he would spare the people, and he would give up the kingdom for the sake of the lives of the people.
And it came to pass that when Yeenoghu-Pasha and received his messenger he sent the messenger back unto Halav, that if he would give himself up, that he might slay him with his own axe, that he would spare the lives of the people.
And it came to pass that the people of Halav were stirred up to anger against the beastmen of Yeenoghu-Pasha; and the beastmen of Yeenoghu-Pasha were stirred up to anger against the people of Halav; wherefore, the beastmen of Yeenoghu-Pasha did give battle unto the people of Halav.
And when Halav saw that he was about to fall he fled again before the beastmen of Yeenoghu-Pasha.
And it came to pass that he came down along the waters of the Volaga and pitched his tents; and Yeenoghu-Pasha also pitched his tents near unto them; and therefore on the morrow they did come to battle.
And it came to pass that they fought an exceedingly sore battle, in which Halav was wounded again, and he fainted with the loss of blood.
And it came to pass that the armies of Halav did press upon the armies of Yeenoghu-Pasha that they beat them, that they caused them to flee before them; and they did flee southward...
And it came to pass that the army of Halav did pitch their tents near the hill Xichiphix, which overlooked the river Volaga...
And it came to pass that when they were all gathered together...men being armed with weapons of war, having shields, and breastplates, and head-plates, and being clothed after the manner of war - they did march forth to battle against the army of Yeenoghu-Pasha.
And it came to pass that when it was night they were weary, and retired to their camps; and after they had retired to their camps they took up a howling and a lamentation for the loss of the slain of their people; and so great were their cries, their howlings and lamentations, that they did rend the air exceedingly.
And it came to pass that on the morrow they did go again to battle, and great and terrible was that day; nevertheless, they conquered not, and then the night came again they did rend the air with their cries, and heir howlings, and their mournings, for the loss of the slain of their people.
And it came to pass that Halav sent again a messenger unto Yeenoghu-Pasha, desiring that he would not come again to battle, but that he would take the kingdom, and spare the lives of the people.
But behold, the beastmen had given into a frenzy and the blinded in their minds that they might be destroyed; wherefore they went again to battle.
And it came to pass that they fought all that day, and when the night came they slept upon their weapons.
And on the morrow they fought even until the night came.
And when the night came they were drunken with anger, even as a man who is drunken with wine; and they slept again upon their weapons.
And on the morrow they fought again; and when the night came they had all fallen save it were fifty and two of the people of Halav, and sixty and nine of the beastmen of Yeenoghu-Pasha.
And it came to pass that they slept upon their weapons that night, and on the morrow they fought again, and they contended in their might with their weapons and with their shields, all that day.
And when the night came there were thirty and two of the beastmen of Yeenoghu-Pasha, and twenty and seven of the people of Halav.
And it came to pass that they ate and slept, and prepared for death on the morrow...
And it came to pass that they fought for the space of three hours, and they fainted with the loss of blood.
And it came to pass that when the men of Halav had received sufficient strength that they could walk, they were about to flee for their lives; but behold, Yeenoghu-Pasha arose, and also his beastmen, and he swore in his wrath that he would slay Halav or he would perish by the sword.
Wherefore, he did pursue them, and on the morrow he did overtake them; and they fought again near the summit of the hill Xichiphix. And it came to pass that when they had all fallen, save it were Halav and Yeenoghu-Pasha, behold Yeenoghu-Pasha had fainted with the loss of blood.
And it came to pass that when Halav had leaned upon his sword, that he rested a little, he smote off the head of Yeenoghu-Pasha.
And it came to pass that after he had smitten off the head of Yeenoghu-Pasha, that Yeenoghu-Pasha raised up on his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled for breath, he died.
And it came to pass that Halav fell to the earth, and became as if he had no life.
*** *** ***
Lord Zogrev Yarol felt cold. Although the warm summer light leaped from the many windows in his office, he was not warm. He stood and placed the papers on his desk and looked unseeingly at them while tapping them gently with his fingers.
Suddenly he sprang into action. Flinging open the doors he shouted for Alexandr at the top of his lungs. The poor adviser came running, almost tripping over his feet, to answer the summons.
"Tell me," Zogrev whispered intently, "those papers you gave me...are they the originals?"
"Yes, Lord Yarol. But was a copy made this morning...perhaps more by now."
"I want them all destroyed. Now."
"Oh...um...yes, of course Lord Yarol."
"And have the scribe come and have a word with me. Dismissed."
Zogrev returned to his office and stared gloomily at the innocent looking papers. As the chill in his blood faded, he just felt tired - very, very tired.