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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Moorcock Michael
 

«The Fortress of the Pearl», Michael Moorcock

And when Elric had told his three lies to Cymoril, his betrothed, and had set his ambitious cousin Yyrkoon as Regent on the Ruby Throne of Melniboné, and when he had taken leave of Rackhir the Red Archer, he set off into lands unknown, to seek knowledge which he believed would help him rule Melniboné as she had never been ruled before.

But Elric had not reckoned with a destiny already determining that he should learn and experience certain things which would have a profound effect upon him. Even before he encountered the blind captain and the Ship Which Sailed the Seas of Fate, he was to find his life, his soul and all his idealism in jeopardy.

In Ufych-Sormeer he was delayed over a matter involving a misunderstanding between four unworldly wizards who amiably and inadvertently threatened the destruction of the Young Kingdoms before they had served the Balance's ultimate purpose; and in Filkhar he experienced an affair of the heart which he would never again speak about; he was learning, at some cost, the power and the pain of bearing the Black Sword.

But it was in the desert city of Quarzhasaat that he began the adventure which was to help set the course of his weird for years to come. . .

The Chronicle of the Black Sword

PART ONE

Is there a madman with a brain To turn the stuff of nightmare sane And demons crush and Chaos tame, Who'll leave his realm, forsake his bride And, tossed by contradictory tides, Give up his pride for pain?

The Chronicle of the Black Sword

1 A Doomed Lord Dying

It was in lonely Quarzhasaat, destination of many caravans but terminus of few, that Elric, hereditary Emperor of Melniboné, last of a bloodline more than ten thousand years old, sometime conjuror of terrible resource, lay ready for death. The drugs and herbs which usually sustained him had been used in the final days of his long journey across the southern edge of the Sighing Desert and he had been able to acquire no replacements for them in this fortress city which was more famous for its treasure than for its sufficiency of life.

Slowly and feebly the albino prince stretched his bone-coloured fingers to the light and brought to vividness the bloody jewel in the Ring of Kings, the last traditional symbol of his ancient responsibilities; then he let the hand fall. It was as if he had briefly hoped the Actorios would revive him, but the stone was useless while he lacked energy to command its powers. Besides, he had no great desire to summon demons here. His own folly had brought him to Quarzhasaat; he owed her citizens no vengeance. They, indeed, had cause to hate him, had they but known his origins.

Once Quarzhasaat had ruled a land of rivers and lovely valleys, its forests verdant, its plains abundant with crops, but that had been before the casting of certain incautious spells in a war with threatening Melniboné more than two thousand years earlier. Quarzhasaat's empire had been lost to both sides. It had been engulfed by a vast mass of sand which swept over it like a tide, leaving only the capital and her traditions which in time became the prime reason for her continuing existence. Because Quarzhasaat had always stood there, she must be sustained, her citizens believed, at any cost throughout eternity. Though she had no purpose or function, still her masters felt a heavy obligation to continue her existence by whichever means they found expedient. Fourteen times had armies attempted to cross the Sighing Desert to loot fabulous Quarzhasaat. Fourteen times had the desert itself defeated them.

Meanwhile the city's chief obsessions (some would say her chief industry) were the elaborate intrigues amongst her rulers. A republic, albeit in name only, and hub of a vast inland empire, albeit entirely covered by sand, Quarzhasaat was ruled by her Council of Seven, whimsically known as the Six and One Other, who controlled the greater part of the city's wealth and most of her affairs. Certain other potent men and women, who chose not to serve in this septocracy, wielded considerable influence while displaying none of the trappings of power. One of these, Elric had learned, was Narfis, Baroness of Kuwai'r, who dwelled in a simple yet beautiful villa at the city's southern extreme and gave most of her attention to her notorious rival, the old Duke Ral, patron of Quarzhasaat's finest artists, whose own palace on the northern heights was as unostentatious as it was lovely. These two, Elric was told, had elected three members each to the Council, while the seventh, always nameless and simply called the Sexocrat (who ruled the Six), maintained a balance, able to sway any vote one way or the other. The ear of the Sexocrat was most profoundly desired by all the many rivals in the city, even by Baroness Narfis and Duke Ral.

Uninterested in Quarzhasaat's ornate politics as he was in his own, Elric's reason for being here was curiosity and the fact that Quarzhasaat was clearly the only haven in a great wasteland lying north of the nameless mountains dividing the Sighing Desert from the Weeping Waste.

Moving his exhausted bones on the thin straw of his pallet, Elric wondered sardonically if he would be buried here without the people ever knowing that the hereditary ruler of their nation's greatest enemies had died amongst them. He wondered if this had after all been the fate his gods had in store for him: nothing as grandiose as he had dreamed of and yet it had its attractions.

When he had left Filkhar in haste and some confusion, he had taken the first ship out of Raschil and it had brought him to Jadmar, where he had chosen wilfully to trust an old Ilmioran drunkard who had sold him a map showing fabled Tanelorn. As the albino had half-guessed, the map proved a deception, leading him far from any kind of human habitation. He had considered crossing the mountains to make for Karlaak by the Weeping Waste but on consulting his own map, of more reliable Melnibonéan manufacture, he had discovered Quarzhasaat to be significantly closer. Riding north on a steed already half-dead from heat and starvation, he had found only dried river-beds and exhausted oases, for in his wisdom he had chosen to cross the desert in a time of drought. He had failed to find fabled Tanelorn and, it seemed, would not even catch sight of a city which, in his people's histories, was almost as fabulous.

As was usual for them, Melnibonéan chroniclers showed only a passing interest in defeated rivals, but Elric remembered that Quarzhasaat's own sorcery was said to have contributed to her extinction as a threat to her half-human enemies: A misplaced rune, he understood, uttered by Fophean Dals, the Sorcerer Duke, ancestor to the present Duke Ral, in a spell meant to flood the Melnibonéan army with sand and build a bulwark about the entire nation. Elric was still to discover how this accident was explained in Quarzhasaat now. Had they created myths and legends to rationalise the city's ill-luck entirely as a result of evil emanating from the Dragon Isle?

Elric reflected how his own obsession with myth had brought him to almost inevitable destruction. "In my miscalculations," he murmured, turning dull crimson eyes again towards the Actorios, "I have shown that I share something in common with these people's ancestors." Some forty miles from his dead horse, Elric had been discovered by a boy out searching for the jewels and precious artefacts occasionally flung up by those sandstorms which constantly came and went over this part of the desert and were partially responsible for the city's survival as well as for the astonishing height of Quarzhasaat's magnificent walls. They were also the origin of the desert's melancholy name.

In better health Elric would have relished the city's monumental beauty. It was a beauty derived from an aesthetic refined over centuries and bearing no signs of outside influence. Though so many of the curving ziggurats and palaces were of gigantic proportions there was nothing vulgar or ugly about them; they had an airy quality, a peculiar lightness of style which made them seem, in their terra-cotta reds and glittering silver granite, their whitewashed stucco, their rich blues and greens, as if they had been magicked out of the very air. Their luscious gardens filled marvellously complex terraces, their fountains and water-courses, drawn from deep-sunk wells, gave tranquil sound and wonderful perfume to her old cobbled ways and wide tree-lined avenues, yet all this water, which might have been diverted to growing crops, was used to maintain the appearance of Quarzhasaat as she had been at the height of her imperial power and was more valuable than jewels, its use rationed and its theft punishable by the severest of laws.


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