A collection of stories set in the Primal Land, with an all-conquering hero.
Brian Lumley is the author of the bestselling Necroscope series of vampire novels. The first Necroscope, Harry Keogh, also appears in a collection of Lumley's short fiction, Harry Keogh and Other Weird Heroes, along Titus Crow and Henri Laurent de Marigny, from Titus Crow, Volumes One, Two, and Three, and David Hero and Eldin the Wanderer, from the Dreamlands series.
An acknowledged master of Lovecraft-style horror, Brian Lumley has won the British Fantasy Award and been named a Grand Master of Horror. His works have been published in more than a dozen countries and have inspired comic books, role-playing games, and sculpture, and been adapted for television.
When not writing, Lumley can often be found spear-fishing in the Greek islands, gambling in Las Vegas, or attending a convention somewhere in the US. Lumley and his wife live in England.
In the coastal, tropical forests east of Thinhla, lost amid creeper-cursed and vine-entwined ruins of an ancient city--where orchids took root in crumbling courtyards and shifty-eyed chameleons swayed atop the slumping piles of primal ziggurats--there lay the toppled temple of Ahorra Izz, the scorpion-god, whose stone steps went down to caverns of forbidden treasure beyond all dreams of human avarice. Guarded to east and west by twin rivers no man had ever named, whose steamy banks crept with crocodiles and whose waters teemed with tiny, terrible flesh-eating fishes--and by jungles of hybrid vegetation voracious beyond any appeasement, whose spines and suckers were armed with potent poisons--the place would seem unassailable and the treasure of Ahorra Izz entirely safe from all outsiders . . . And yet--
At least one man had been there, had filled his pockets to brimming with brilliant red gems, and had survived to tell of that hellish hothouse of rotting ruins and vampire vegetation--but only at the expense of his freedom . . .
It was four long years now since Tarra Khash the Hrossak had stumbled half-dead into Thinhla. So thin as to be almost fleshless, full of a delirious fever, in his semiconscious nightmare he had gibbered and moaned of the treasure of the scarlet scorpion. And yet he was lucky, for if the scum of the city had found him in that condition--if his staggering feet had taken him into the city's stews or fleabitten flophouses--then Tarra Khash would certainly have vanished; swiftly and silently removed, food for the great fishes that follow the galleys and split the water dorsally in Thinhla's harbour. As it was, he collapsed outside the walled courtyard of a convent, where dwelled seventeen sweet sisters of mercy whose devotions were to Theem'hdra's benevolent gods and goddesses. And there they found him in the dawn: life all but ebbed from him, a scarlet fortune bursting from his pockets like clots of blood frozen in some cold and alien hell.
For three months they tended and nursed him, returning him to life and flushing from his system poisons which would surely have killed a lesser man; and as the fever went out of him so his strength flowed back, and soon he was able to frown and question and ask for his treasure, that scarlet wealth of rubies wherewith his pockets had been stuffed. And all of this time his presence in the convent remained a secret; because the sisters were what they were, no one questioned the fact that they now paid for certain of their provisions with tiny red rubies. No one, that is, except Nud Annoxin, Thinhla's fattest, richest and most loathsome jewel-merchant.
Such was Nud Annoxin's interest that he set a spy to watch over the convent day and night; and when at long last Tarra Khash took his leave of the place and found himself a proper lodge in the city, then the secret watcher reported that occurrence to his fat and offensive master. Also the fact that Tarra Khash appeared to pay his way with rubies of a rare and flawless beauty . . .
Now the Hrossak was not a subtle man; little more than a barbarian, as were all the men of the steppes beyond the River Luhr, he was big, blunt, occasionally brutal, but above all, open as a book with its covers laid back. Another man endowed with Tarra's wealth might have tried to keep his secret hid, might have purchased a large property and employed hirelings to guard him and hoard both. But Hrossaks believed in living and few men of the steppes would willingly pen themselves, to which general rule Tarra was no exception. Now that his health was returned to him he began to live as he had lived before, and life to Tarra Khash could only be poured from a bottle, gnawed from a juicy bone, or found in the purple-sheeted bed of a bawdy-house belle. Which was why he was the perfect subject for the wiles of one such as Nud Annoxin . . .
Waking up late one hot morning, in his tavern bed above the waterfront, Tarra stuck his tousled head out of his high, small-paned window, smelled nets drying in the sun and the salt breeze off the Southern Ocean, and licked lips dehydrated by yestereve's alcoholic excesses. He remembered entertaining thoughts of a woman, and then of drinking to the idea until it became untenable, and finally of staggering back here under a reeling moon to climb corkscrew stairs to his horribly revolving bed. Now he laughed at such memories, then quickly groaned at the dull ache his laughter conjured up from the ghosts of his boozing.
Food, that was the answer! The Hrossak cursed himself for a fool. All of that drinking on an empty stomach. Well, he could remedy that: not the hangover but the emptiness, at least. A hearty breakfast would do the trick, washed down with a draught or three of good ale. Tarra grinned as he dressed and thought back on his life; but as his thoughts took form so his grin faded, and he grew remarkably philosophical for a Hrossak. There once was a time when he would drink for the hell of it, but since leaving the convent he seemed to drink only to forget . . . to forget the horrors he had known in the temple of Ahorra Izz!
And yet even now he could not be sure whether it had been real, or whether he had dreamed it all. He had certainly not dreamed the treasure of the nether-caverns; no, for the pockets of his wide belt were even now full of perfect rubies large and small; but what of the rest of it? Tarra Khash shuddered as he sat down on his bed to roll up the sleeves of his shirt and the wide-cuffed bell-bottoms of his trousers, to peer yet again at the dozens of tiny white scars which marred the bronze tan of his calves and forearms . . . And suddenly his hunger abated somewhat as a renewed desire for strong liquor rose up in him like a tide.
Now naïve as the Hrossak was, he was not so dumb as to dwell on the seamy side of Thinhla without taking certain precautions--not while he was master of so much wealth. Eventually he intended to board a ship bound for Grypha, make his way up the Luhr and so back to the steppes; but for now he was satisfied to recuperate in his own way, to convalesce in a manner befitting his near-barbarian status, and Thinhla had more than enough amusements and diversions for a man of the Steppes of Hrossa.
As for his precautions: they were simple enough. This garret room, for instance: unassailable from the outside, it looked down precipitously upon the wharves. And its stout oaken door, double-barred and bolted--with a padlock whose single heavy key Tarra wore around his neck--would admit no one he wanted kept out. And so, no matter how drunk, he felt perfectly safe to sleep here; and awake--why!--who in his right mind would tackle a grinning Hrossak with arms like a bear and a wicked sabre sharp as a well-honed scythe?
As he left the tavern and made his way into the backstreet away from the wharves, Tarra came around a corner and bumped (by accident, apparently) into a fat, jolly-looking man who caught hold of his brawny arms to steady himself. This was Nud Annoxin--wearing a very false aspect--who had made a covert study of Tarra's habits and quite deliberately chosen this morning to place himself in the Hrossak's way. Now the fat man unhanded Tarra and bowed, as best his belly would allow, before introducing himself.
"Nud Annoxin," he informed, holding out a pudgy hand. "My pardon, sir, for almost tripping you; but dreaming of a hearty breakfast and a gallon of ale, I was not watching my way. I've just returned from a profitable business trip in the hinterland--but a dry affair and almost completely void of victuals--and now I hie me to my favourite eatery. You're a steppeman, I see. Perhaps you have an appetite?"
"Aye," Tarra grunted, "I'm a Hrossak--and a hunger on me, certainly--and something of a thirst to boot!"
"Then say no more," said Nud with a nudge and a wink. "Come, be my guest. I dwell not far from here; and no finer wine cellar in all Thinhla." And he took Tarra Khash by the elbow.
The Hrossak shook himself free and looked momentarily suspicious. "Your favourite eatery, you said."
"Most certainly!" cried Nud, standing back. "My own house, I meant, whose kitchen is that of a veritable king of gourmets!" He patted his stomach. "Can't you tell? But come, will you be my guest? And after we've eaten, perhaps my dancing girls may entertain . . . ?"
That last did the trick, for now the jewel-merchant had offered all three ingredients in the Hrossak's ideal brew of life. Tarra grinned and slapped Nud's meaty back, which made all of his flesh tremble like so much jelly, then bade him lead the way and gladly followed on behind.
Four long years gone by, but the Hrossak remembered every detail of that first meeting as if it were yesterday. More clearly, in fact, for there had been precious little in between to dilute or dim the memory. Only this deep damp well of a cell and his nightly, self-imposed task of cutting hand- and footholds in its walls, which were too far round in the circle to climb as a chimney.
And yet Nud Annoxin had delivered all he promised--much more, to tell the truth. There had been food all through the fore and afternoon, and drink by the flagon--a deluge of drink--until Tarra's head swam in it like a fish in blinding, bubbly, sparkling shallows. And dancing girls (Annoxin's "daughters," the fat liar said, though Tarra had doubted it) and more food and wine. And Nud had grown merrier (or had seemed to), telling the story of his life to Tarra Khash; and oh!--they had become fast friends.
Until Tarra too told his tale: the story of how, wandering east of Grypha, he had paused to cast a line in the Bay of Monsters; and of the large fish he caught, and the greater Roc-bird that caught him and fish both; of the journey westward clutched in terrible, rib-cracking talons, until the Roc's nest of five hunger-crazed chicks big as lions was sighted atop a jungle-girt crag; then of stabbing his feathered captor, and of falling to the jungle's verdant floor cushioned by the carnivore's carcass; and finally of stumbling upon the lost city and the discovery of the temple of Ahorra Izz, its stone steps descending, the caverns of rubric-glowing riches . . . and--
And there the Hrossak came to his senses--or what was left of them--but far too late. Drugged, he lay supine upon Nud Annoxin's couch; and the fat merchant, sober as a judge, dragged from him the whole story in most minute detail; all the while forcing resistless potions down his throat, until the words poured from him and left him empty, unconscious, and doomed to dwell for the rest of his life in the deep, well-like dungeon wherein Nud's eunuchs then tossed him.
As to why Nud had not simply killed him: he was not happy that Tarra had told all. If the jungles were so dire and desperate, the swamps so full of foot-long leeches and the rivers a-leap with needle-tooth fishes, how then was the Hrossak come all these leagues to Thinhla? And all alone and unaided. Better to keep him in a deep dungeon and milk the whole truth from him bit by bit. For Nud was not satisfied with the rubies stolen from Tarra's belt; he wanted more--he wanted the entire treasure of the scarlet scorpion!
And so time passed, months growing into years, and Nud Annoxin going often to peer into the well-cell's deep throat, to coax and cajole Tarra Khash and drag from him bits of information, some of which even Tarra thought he had forgotten. But in the stillness of long nights, when only the cheeping of rats disturbed the silence, then the Hrossak chipped at the rotten mortar of his circular cell wall and slowly formed his life-ladder; and he swore a grim vengeance on the fat jewel-merchant, when at last his fingers should reach the rim and haul him up from hell . . .
"Tarra?" came nud's greasy voice one late afternoon, echoing in his captive's subterranean sinkhole and sending the rats scurrying. "Tarra, are you listening?"
"What else have I to do, fat dog?" And Tarra looked up to see Nud's rim-peering face high overhead.
"My friend, I have a flagon of fine wine, a fresh loaf of bread and a wedge of cheese. Aye, and a question, too."
"First the wine, the bread and the cheese," answered Tarra. "Then the question."
"And you'll answer truthfully?"
"As best I can, though for a fact I know that when you've done with me you'll simply let me rot down here."
A bucket was lowered with the aforementioned fare, while Nud tut-tutted and denied Tarra's charge, saying, "Come, come, old friend, let's not speak of tomorrow. Have I not promised that when my hirelings return with treasure and a well-marked map, that then I'll set you free? But until one or two such really do return, and until I have the map to hand and a portion of the treasure to prove it--"
"I stay where I am, eh?" said Tarra softly. "Well, it's my belief that when you have the route and a small sack of ruby-shards, then you'll send me down a flagon floating with poison. Either that or you'll block up this hole entirely." And then he gave himself up to the food and drink, for Nud had not fed him for a day or two.
Finally, when the chomping and swilling ceased and Nud heard only the Hrossak's low breathing, he called down: "Listen, and I shall tell you of my progress, which previously was far too slow . . ."
Now Tarra Khash had heard most of this before. He knew that Nud liked the sound of his own oily voice, and that he reiterated mainly for his own benefit, and so sighed as he resigned himself to the jewel-merchant's monologue. Anyway, he had nothing better to do, and it amused him in a grim sort of way (as much as he might be amused in this rat-infested hole) to learn of Annoxin's many trials and not so many tribulations.
"More than three years agone," the fat man began, resting elbows on rim and many chins in cup of flabby palms, "you told me your tale of the rogue Roc, of its death under your knife, of your fall to forest floor and subsequent discovery of ruins, temple and treasure. Since when, little by little, by one persuasion or another, you've remembered your route out of that place and other things important to my plan; and I, by use of certain hirelings--many hirelings, in fact, and well paid to boot--have attempted to retrace your steps.
"I asked you, you'll recall, how you crossed the nameless river and where. And you replied near its mouth, where the water was salt from the Southern Ocean; for the terror-fish are of a fresh-water species and not much given to swimming in brine, likewise the crocodiles."
"All true," replied Tarra, stifling a sigh. "Including the curved, giant palm-leaf plank I used for boat."
"I was coming to that," said Nud, annoyed, "but let it pass." He paused for a moment before once more taking up the tale.
"Well, I sent out three men and they crossed the river at place and in manner prescribed--and one came back to tel...
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Descrizione libro Headline Book Publishing, 1991. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. book. Codice libro della libreria 747236100
Descrizione libro Headline Book Publishing, 1991. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Codice libro della libreria P110747236100