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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Moorcock Michael

«The Last Enchantment», Michael Moorcock

THROUGH THE blue and hazy night ran a shuddering man. He clutched terror to him, his bloated eyes full of blood. First behind him and then seemingly ahead of him came the hungry chuckles, the high whispered words.

"Here toothsome. Here sweetmeat."

He swerved in another direction, moaning. Like a huge husk he was, like a hollow ornament of thin bone, with his great, rolling head swaying on his shoulders resembling a captive balloon, the wet cavern of his wide mouth fully open and gasping, the yellow spikes of teeth clashing in his head.

Awkwardly he ran, sometimes scuttling like a wounded spider, something lurching, mooing to himself through the tall and ancient forest, his feet sinking into the carpet of wet, pungent bracken and rotting roots. He held in his hand, that long, white, metal-coloured claw, a glowing black talisman, held it out and cried:

"Oh Teshwan-aid me, Teshwan. Aid me ..."

In the sluggish brew that was the contents of his rolling skull a few words swam to the surface and seemed to lie there, moving with the tide of his mind. And the voice which spoke them was sardonic: "How can Teshwan aid thee, little mortal?"

But this relic of disoriented flesh could not form a coherent thought; could not answer save to scream its fear. So Teshwan took his presence away and it was left to the horseman to find the horror-crazed man.

Elric of Melnibone heard the voice and recognized the name. He sensed other, more ominous, denizens lurking about him in the forest. Moodily he curled his hands about the reins of his mount and jerked its head, guiding it in the direction of the screams. He only casually considered aiding the man and he rode his horse toward him more from curiosity than anything. Elric was untroubled by the terrors that the forest held, regarding them as another, more normal man might regard the omnipresent song of birds and the rustle of small rodents in the undergrowth.

Great tremblings shuddered through Slorg's ruined body and he still heard the sharp whisperings. Were they carried on the air or were they slithering about in his jellied brain? He gasped as he turned and saw the white-faced horseman riding like a grim, handsome god into the moon-glazed glade.

The horseman's long, sharply delineated skull was leperwhite, as if stripped of flesh, and his slightly slanting eyes gleamed crimson. He wore a jerkin of black velvet caught at the throat by a thin silver chain. His britches, too, were of black cloth, and his leather boots were high and shining. Over his shoulders was a high-collared cape of scarlet and a heavy longsword slapped at his side as he pulled his steed to a standstill. His long, flowing hair was as white as his face. The horseman was an albino.

The shock of confronting this new and more tangible figure jerked Slorg back into half-sanity and broken words sidled from his lips.

"Who are you? Aid me! I beg you, aid me! "

Elric laughed lightly. "Now why should I, my friend? Tell me that."

"I have been-been profaned-I am Slorg. I was once a man-but those . . ."He rocked his body and flung his rolling head backwards, the curved lids falling down to cover his bulging eyes. "I have been profaned ..."

Elric leaned forward on the pommel of his saddle and said lazily: "This is none of my business, Master Slorg."

The great head darted forward, the eyes snapped open and Slorg's long lips writhed over his teeth like a camel's. "Address not me by a mundane title! I am Siletah Slorg-Siletah of Oberlorn-rightfully-right-fully."

The title was unknown to Elric.

"My apologies, O Siletah, " he mocked, "for now I observe a man of rank."

"A man no longer, " whispered Slorg and began to sob. "Help me."

"Are you, then, in danger?"

"Aye, danger-my kinsmen have set the Hungry Whisperers upon me, do you not hear them?"

And Elric cocked his head to listen. Yes, he heard sibilant voices now. "Where are you, morsel?"

"Oh, help me, help me, " begged Slorg and lurched toward Elric. The albino drew himself up and pulled his horse back.

"No closer, " he warned. "I am Elric of Melnibone."

Slorg's tattered face squeezed itself into a frown. "Ah, the name and the face, " he mumbled to himself, "the face and the name. Elric of Melnibone. Outcast! "

"Indeed, " smiled Elric, "but no more than you, it seems. Now I must bid you farewell and suggest, by way of friendly advice, that you compose yourself soon.

It is better to die with dignity, Siletah Slorg, "

"I have powers, outcast of Melnibone-I have powers, still! Help me and I will tell you secrets-such secrets! "

Elric waved a disdainful hand. A moonbeam caught for an instant the flash of the rare actorios ring which reposed on his finger. "If you know me, you should also know that I'm no merchant to bargain. I ask nothing and give nothing. Farewell! "

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