Ronan the Barbarian, страница 1
RONAN THE BARBARIAN
Translated from the
"Many are the myths and legends woven around the deeds of Ronan Mage-bane, greatest of warriors. Only here, in the Pink Book of Ulay, can the real truth be reliably told..."
THE PINK BOOK OF ULAY
"The Pink Book of Ulay is about as reliable and truthful as a sales-rep describing his recent sex-life to another sales-rep."
THE GOOD CHRONICLE GUIDE
"Hey - must be some book, yeah?"
MAV MAVSON (CHIEF SALES EXECUTIVE FOR THE ORCBANE SWORD CORPORATION)
...but the first to recognise the true value of Spell-stone was Vataan, the Elven Mage of B'Ibaq. An avid collector of gemstones, he was examining some examples of an unfamiliar green crystal that he had collected during a holiday in South Behan when a hornet buzzing around the window began to irritate him. Carelessly flinging a minor fireball at it, he was amazed to find that for some reason the power of his spell was increased a hundredfold and the fireball took out the entire wall, the house next door, and half the corner shop.
When he had at last shaken off the resulting lynch mob, Vataan settled down to do some serious research into this new crystal. To his amazement, he found that it acted like a magnifying lens to magic, vastly increasing his powers. Wishing always to have the crystal on his person, and being a skilled lapidary, he set it in the centre of a torque of gold, bound about with filaments of silver and platinum and imbued with all his magic guile, and this he wore around his neck. So did he become a powerful and renowned mage within the city where he lived, and thus did this magical jewel become known as the Torque of Vataan...
THE PINK BOOK OF ULAY
The lizard scuttled across the stone-flagged floor and then froze like a lime-green statue, alerted by a sudden movement on the other side of the room. It waited, head on one side, senses analysing the currents of air, the vibrations of the floor, the curious gasps and moans emanating from the pile of furs heaped in front of the dying log fire. It listened uncomprehendingly as the sounds quickly reached a crescendo before fading, and then hugged the floor as a large threatening figure hauled itself upright and lurched through the door into the next room. Silence descended, and the lizard scuttled forward again. And then a hand poked out from the furs, a hand that was slender, feminine, and trembling with suppressed annoyance. The lizard froze once more as every sense screamed a warning of danger, and then blue light blasted from the fingertips and hammered into it. There was a small explosion and a tiny puff of lime-green smoke, and the lizard was instantly transformed into a very surprised looking cheeseburger (with extra cheese). The hand beckoned impatiently and the cheeseburger floated across the floor and settled reluctantly into its palm.
Shikara took a huge bite of the burger and then snuggled back sulkily into the warmth of the furs. Well, what a disappointment tonight had been! Normally there was a lot to be said for being a sorceress, particularly when it came to lovemaking. For starters, you could usually forget all the age-old problems associated with having to make love to such a self-centred species as man. No more let-downs. No more "not tonight, love, I've got a jousting tournament tomorrow," or "that's me satisfied… tough luck, darling, I'm going to sleep." Whatever the potential problem, you could isolate it and cure it, sometimes before it had even come into existence. For the wine-wasted, a quick Spell of Rigidity. For the inexperienced or selfish, a Charm of Delayed Ecstasy. For the under-endowed, a Potion of Enlargement.
She snorted sarcastically and reached out for the wine goblet propped on the edge of the hearth. God, how unimaginative men were! Offer them a choice, and it was always the Potion of Enlargement they went for. And always for the same part of the body. Why wouldn't they experiment? Mind you, maybe they did know best. She remembered that young warrior she'd had the crush on, a few decades ago. She'd given him a two-foot tongue. It was great at first, until he started catching flies with it. She'd found that most off-putting. Especially in the middle of making love. Still, it hadn't been all bad...
Shikara flexed her body, enjoying the feel of the furs against her skin, and luxuriated in the memories of past lovers. There had been that young prince, whats-his-name… he'd been a sweet boy. Inexperienced, upright, moral; he'd refused to make love once, as it was a holy day, and when she'd tried to coerce him, he'd locked himself in the bathroom. Amused, she'd cast a spell of Invisible Lip-love through the keyhole. The noises that had emerged over the next hour! It sounded as though the Prince was being sucked to death by a giant leech. When he eventually emerged, he was about a stone lighter and shaking like a leaf. Mind you, he'd been no use to her after that. He was a spent force. Eventually, she heard that he'd retired from public life and sought peace and tranquillity in a monastery. In a fit of nostalgia, she'd cast a spell unbeknown to him, granting him one hour of Invisible Lip-love every year on his birthday. It must have come as one hell of a shock to him on the first birthday after that. One hell of a shock to the other monks, too.
The sound of footsteps in the next room brought her sharply back to the present, and she scowled with annoyance. Some lover this Nekros had turned out to be! Two weeks ago, when she'd first seen him striding into Drenai Dreams ("Unch Haven's Premier Night-club"), she had been immediately struck by his swarthy, muscular good looks. And when he'd carelessly decapitated the barman with his own sword for serving someone else out of turn, she had been smitten. She had always found the combination of macho beauty and casual butchery a bit of a turn-on. But on their first night together the scales had fallen from her eyes like an apatodon falling from a cliff. (Information on apatodons and other Midworldian flora and fauna can be found in Appendix 1, at the end of this book.) She had rather hoped that Nekros would be something of a sexual athlete... and, it had to be admitted, in his own way he was. Unfortunately, he specialised in the sprint. Since then she had used every spell in her book to try and introduce a little stamina into his repertoire. At first she had met with some success, but lately it seemed that her magic wasn't doing a single klatting bit of good at all. Like most world-class sprinters, Nekros appeared to be trying to break the ten seconds barrier every time he performed.
With a frustrated sigh she drained the goblet, and then scowled at the doorway as Nekros sauntered back through it, his six-foot-plus muscled frame seeming faintly ridiculous wrapped in the woman's robe he'd donned against the chill of the other room. The sarcastic barb she had prepared froze on her lips, and an angry glint lit her eyes as she saw that he was leafing through an ancient leather-bound book. Her Minutiae Carmenorum! Her own personal book of spells! Not that she needed to refer to it these days.... and not that it would be of any use to someone without the Power.... but still! How dare he! Didn't he realise that a woman's spell-book was more private than her diary? This felt worse than the time she'd spent three days inveigling the legendary Tobylt Dragonslayer back to her place, only to find him standing in front of the mirror in her bedroom, trying on some of her most feminine underwear.
Furious, she flicked a quick Mind-sting at Nekros, then fell back in amazement as he deflected it straight back at her. That hurt! How the hell? For some reason she couldn't move, couldn't seem to think... the wine! Her thoughts turned inward as she sought the contents of her bloodstream, analysing, evaluating. Drugged! But even so, she should be able to mindblast Nekros with one hand tied behind her back. How had he got the Power to contain her? Puzzled, she stared up at him, and then her guts twisted with horror as she saw the glint of gold nestling about his throat. By the five Great Demons! The Torque of Vataan! How had he found it? She could have sworn it was safe, bound about by spells and incantations and st
With a satisfied grunt Nekros found the page for which he had been searching. He gazed down at Shikara and she was horrified to see that his eyes were empty of all emotions except for satisfaction and.... surely not! Yes, hatred! God, what a prat she'd been! She sank back into the furs, stunned and vulnerable, unable to think, and lay there helpless as Nekros began to chant. His voice seemed to fill the room like a melon filling an eggcup, and the words seemed to be crushing her as she tried to cudgel her brain into action. The combination of drug and spell had robbed her of the ability to harm him, but she knew she had to do something. The Torque and the Spell Book gave Nekros the potential for a vast amount of power, but it was a power that he would be unable to control. Even though he did possess some latent ability he was, quite simply, a magical maladroit. The one time that Shikara had tried to show him how to do a basic spell, he had accidentally turned the kitchen stove into a pool of molten metal. Letting him loose on the world with both Torque and Book would be like letting a five-year-old loose in a pet shop with a chain saw.
Desperation gave her one last surge of magical strength. Her eyes flared briefly, and the Book erupted in a sheet of green flame, turning to ashes in an instant. Nekros roared with pain and fury, stared for a second at his singed fingertips, and then hurled the final words of the incantation at her. Shikara had one brief moment to realise that this time she really was in bottomless do-do, and then everything imploded in white light and the four walls of the room seemed to slam in and crush her.
Came there a time in the second age when evil spread its thrall throughout the land. Men walked in fear, as trolls and orcs multiplied, goblins took up long division, and dragons dealt with fractions. Many a once-noble tribe forsook the ploughshare for the sword, and mighty were they, for they had studied the Black Arts, and knew of anabolic steroids. And chief amongst them was the Tribe of Fallon. None could withstand their might, and at their leader's name grown men would bow their heads in fear. Nekros the Black was he, for black was his horse, and black his helm and shield, and he cared naught for personal hygiene. Some said that he had sold his soul to the demon Lord, Asgarbad, others that he had swapped it for some curling-tongs. Fell was he, and where he rode death and destruction followed...
THE PINK BOOK OF ULAY
The Nevacom Plains stretched for mile upon mile between the Northern Mountains and the Forest of Dreams. Once a thriving area of arable farmlands in the east of Frundor, the Plains had been savagely affected by climatic changes. Earthquakes had diverted the two main rivers away from the area. Lack of rainfall had turned the topsoil to dust, and searing north winds had blown the dust away. Successful farming became an impossibility, and the people began to leave, gradually at first, and then in droves. Eventually, the Plains became a virtually uninhabited wasteland. You could still grow things there... lonely, for example. Bored. Hungry and thirsty. But crops? Tricky. The few remaining folk who tried to scratch a living in the barren wastes were one of three things. Poor, extremely poor, or dead.
Right in the middle of the most desolate part of the plains stood a primitive shack that looked as though it had been built by somebody who had no tools, no ability, and quite probably no hands. The biting wind whistled around the matted filth of the thatched roof and blew grit and gravel under a door that was more hole than wood. In the lee of the wattle-and-daub walls, where the wind was merely uncomfortable rather than painful, huddled an underfed, under-sized donkey. The donkey was extremely pissed off. It had spent most of the day looking for food, and the rest of the day thinking about food. So far it had managed to eat a few straggly leaves of pata grass, some earth, a bit of one of its own hooves that had come off, and a paper bag. The paper bag had been something of a highlight. Now as night fell it was standing there in the encroaching gloom, stomach rumbling, chewing on a stone, which it was trying to pretend was a piece of turnip, and staring pessimistically up at the thatch.
Bloody typical!" it thought, as the aroma of rotting straw wafted tantalisingly down. "The best meal for miles around, and they've stuck it on top of the shack. Keep me going for weeks, that would!" It had spent ages trying to think of a way of getting up to the roof and was currently working on mutating and growing wings - not with a lot of success, it had to be said.
Suddenly, the donkey pricked up its ears. What was that in the distance? It sounded like approaching hooves. Could this possibly herald the advent of food? Maybe some donkey-loving charity had got wind of his plight, and was speeding to his rescue! Straw for the Poor, perhaps, or Hay on the Way. Yeah, that must be it! With optimistic heart and rumbling stomach, the donkey waited patiently as nemesis approached.
Like crows seeking carrion, the Tribe of Fallon came out of the East. They rode like the wind, black shadows on a blacker plain. Their horses' hooves were muffled by cloths, to deaden the sound of their coming. Surprise was their weapon, as was terror, and all men were their foe. No man would they spare, nor woman, nor child. These were seriously bad bastards.
As they flowed past like some polluted tide, the two leading riders peeled off from the group and cantered their horses towards the shack. The larger of the two stared at it for a moment and then spoke.
"Go with the tribe, Angnail. There is only enough sport here for one. I will join you later."
Angnail spurred his horse in pursuit of the rest and merged silently with the night. His leader dismounted, leaving his huge coal-black horse to paw restlessly at the bare ground, and then paused to sniff the air. Ye Gods! The stench was enough to make an orc vomit! How could anyone could be so stupid as to construct their cesspit so close upwind from their house! Nekros shook his head despairingly, and the golden torque at his throat glinted in the moonlight. Then holding his cloak bunched over his nose, he stalked purposefully towards the shack, a gleam of happy anticipation in his watering eyes.
Inside, Varg the Slender was concentrating on dinner, while his wife watched with tremulous admiration. For the record, calling him "Varg the Slender" was something of a misnomer. In fact, even calling him "Varg the Painfully Thin" would have been doing his skeletal frame an injustice. But as Varg liked to say, you don't get anywhere by being pessimistic. It was his irrepressible optimism that led him to call his wife "Elen the Not-too-ugly". The same optimism had led him to stick it out in the Plains when all his neighbours had given up.
"Never mind", he'd say, when the harvest had failed again, and everyone was facing starvation. "Worse things happen at sea!" But the neighbours just threw a few bricks at him and moved away to the South.
"Quitters!" he'd said. "This place is on the up." For a brief while this year, it had looked as though he'd be proved right. It had actually rained one afternoon a few months back, and by mid-summer, the wheat had rocketed up to six inches tall. But since then, nothing. Once again, it had been a poor harvest. And tonight, the last few grains of wheat had been ground down to make the minuscule bread roll that sat on their only plate. But Varg was not discouraged. Varg had a plan.
Varg was very proud of his little plans. Without them, they would probably have starved to death by now. It had been his idea to site the cesspit where they had, and to stop putting quicklime into it. He called it his F-plan diet. The F stood for flies. They came in their thousands, and Varg and Elen spent a lot of time developing interesting recipes based around this unusual source of protein. There was Blow-fly Pâté, Crunchy Blue-bottle Surprise, and of course his favourite, Crushed Maggot Terrine. It was at about this time that their neighbours stopped coming round for dinner. As Varg was forced to admit, the F-plan diet may have been pretty sound nutritionally, but the main problem came with actually keeping the food down.
However, if all went well his latest plan would result in
Behind him his wife stood in front of the table, watching nervously, while behind her, their baby joggled up and down on the table-top in his home-made baby bouncer. (Varg was very proud of the baby-bouncer he'd fashioned out of festa vines and old elastic and hung from the roof. He was less proud of their baby, Glob, and even in his most optimistic moments couldn't come up with a better name than Glob the Revolting. For this was not a bonny baby. This was a baby so ugly that even the best parents in the world would have been tempted to put his nappy on over his face.)
And so Varg watched the rat-hole, Elen watched her husband, and Glob bounced up and down and made a noise like someone sucking a slug. And behind him, Nekros sauntered into the hut. At first, no-one noticed him, for as he entered, the short-sighted rat stuck its head out of the hole and grabbed Varg's finger, and Varg, with a yell half of pain and half of triumph, brought the rock smashing down on its head. Then holding up the tiny corpse, he grabbed his wife, and the two of them hugged each other in exhilaration.