And I am currently swamped in other things and will not be able to get back to it for a while. So now its 'content'. It's long so you may want to PDF or copy/paste it.
The Tale of Sir Babbling of Bromborough
We turn now to the tale of Sir Babbling of Broms-Burgh, called by some "The Nonsense Knight", so layering his names by three for he was never dubbed so by the King, nor did his mother call him "Babbling" in the crib (even when he babbled for sure), but named him Silence, for she despised clamour and hated noise above all things. Her heart was tuned too neatly to the world and buzzed like a wire in wind. Elf-Blood bubbled in her veins, she fizzed when spoken to and boiled at every shout. Only in the silence was she free, away from the banging of man. Only in the still calm could she smile and laugh her soundless laugh. Silence was her joy, so hence the name.
Perhaps she should have spoken to him more. Perhaps it was the old elf-blood (from Silences Great Grandfather Raven-Bone Brok, the Elfin Knight). Or perhaps it was neuropathology.
Sir Silence had a flaw upon his tongue. That flaw was like a notch in gold, for in courtesy, in courage and in kindness he bore the bell (meaning he would lead the herd of knights, if knights were goats).
He was also both clever and calm, though neither are really chivalric virtues and are distantly regarded by most knights, like an abandoned spanner, and his calmness breathed only in the presence of just acts. When witnessing injustice he was death.
He was as beautiful as summer and warm as wet wax, though his storm-coloured snail Thorgool claimed plutonic temperament, reserved and dark. Yet when mounted on Thorgool the glistering sharpness of his arms, the butter-bright summer of his looks, the fiery courage of his heart and the glacier-melting kindness in his smile made him seem like a bright sun rising from a storm. He was like an ice-age ending. There was one fine day in the middle of the Knight.
Sir Babbling was present in the court room of the Curlicue Throne and had witnessed Sir Whirl whirl Ham Floret with astounding centrifugal force. When Sir Bird Spiralling had called upon the Snail Knights for their sloath he had been amongst the top ten per-cent of knights there too agree. he drew his crooked blade and cried "O Timballo!", yet none there sought his counsel or his company, and when he left, he left alone, but for Thorgool.
And it may be that this aloneness sealed his doom. For, not alone of knights, he set his heart upon the quest of the Sword of Springs Shade, as likewise did Sir Duno Chrime, and though both came close upon it, both would die, and never set a hand upon it. That the end of this be certain have you no doubt. And as a spoken word must fade to silence in the air, so both tales fall into the dark and finish in the earth.
Yet. Though words wander and die like lost moths on a moonless night, the foreceful ghosts of wraith-like words are deeds, and deeds are strange spirits, for every doom contains a lullaby and each lullaby a doom, and fate is a riddle, and not all is known, and so;
Sir Babbling rode through the world, intent, upon Thorgool, and he thought as he rode of all that was wrought in rhyme and riddle, or shaped in song and story, of the sword of springs shade, if its strange fate and fierce guardians, of kings of black and silver and a knight of iron.
And he spoke as he travelled to those that he passed, to wreaca and wanderers, to villagers and villaines, to clerks and pardoners, and this is how that went with this knight;
"Good day to you Sir" the stranger would say, to the armoured and glistering knight, "What quest or virtue brings you here, on snail with foot so light?"
"Sithy writhe" would say Sir Babbling in meet and fit reply "and grimed nice to voal."
At this the other would make but little speech.
And thus continuing Sir Babbling, so spake he on;
"Vo noct cly art oct the Zoop-Grail. Mark 'Babbling' ict ichored in nurnes of the fuel. Ict bargle oct eoten zoom, vo so corona malade. Oct torrible zoom, vo True Osseus Moon, and writhe unvoal ict many grunes."
Then Sir Babbling would sigh, and a cloud cross his sun before he spoke again.
"Sith, do any voal writhe cog-teeth ichored nurns? Or any tugle spark oct True Osseus Moon?"
"Sir" would say the stranger after many thoughts. "I fear your speech is not my own, or else you have a flaw upon your tongue."
"And all fastidious writhe" was the knights sole reply for he knew of old the masque the world would place upon his words, and the skewed scales on which his speech was weighed, and he would lift his twisted lance in grim salute, so its bent pennant flapped against the wind, and Thorgool would gloomily move. So went his quest, alone but for Thorgool, for many grunes.
Yet not always was it so, for children loved Sir Babbling, for his sunshine and his words and wherever he passed they would ask of him his quest, and gather round to hear him speak, until a crowd gazed up in wonder, and skipped along beside Thorgool, and sang back the snail-riders words;
"Sir Babbling oce eoten zoom.
Sir Babbling oct for many grunes.
What does he bargle? The Torrible zoom.
Why does he sparkle? Cornona malade.
Why does he sigh? Sir Babbling is sad."
The children would split into halves, they sang the first lines together and then those to the right of Thorgool would singe the question and all those to the left sing the response, and at the end of the verse Sir Babbling would lower his twisted lance to the left and the largest child would grab on to its shaft and Sir Babbling would life the child all the way up in the air so the passed over his head like the hands of a clock telling twelve and then drop them gently on the other side.
Then the children would sing again and this would go on until only one child was left to answer at the end that Sir Babbling was sad. Then all the children would scream and run three times around Thorgool till everyone was shuffled, and then they would re-set. And that would go on till evening, or until a panting parent of heaving teacher arrived, frightened and relieved to find that the children had wandered off with a Knight of the Snail and not been tricked by an enchantress or stolen by the birds of crime.
So went his quest, and as light dripped from the welkin like red honey from a broken bowl and nights yron chariot tracked the upper air with its black rims, Sir Babbling would lean his head against Thorgools storm-coloured shell and whisper this lament, which only the snail could hear;
"Thorgool, Thorgool, eoten wive.
A wreaca voon to light vo strive,
Vo numbling gimpen chool to garp,
Vo lines, vo happen, sithy writhe.
A! Snark Thorgool to vo capsize,
Snark, snark and wrake ict cly demize.
Eoten Babbling? Garm and grool.
All grooll all slithe, oct elf-plate chool."
Until - a day came balanced on an hour, and the hour upon a minute and the minute on a moment in the crook-backed passage of the gruneous pines, and in the moment came a man upon an odour in the air, and the odour was of silver burning, and the man was manic dole, and bleeding from four saw-toothed wounds, and he clenched a cry inside him, and when the hermit saw Sir Babbling and knew he was a knight his heart boiled over in his chest and came out of his lips as words and these are the words they were;
"The young dead girl from the middle of the night!
Her face serene!
Her eyes like stings!
The rioting rout!
The crowd cries out!
'Beg! Beg! Beg!
Beg life! Or die again!
She curses all alive!
She calls down mickle strife!
The raskalls pile on moon-moth wings that burn with brillig light!!"
And with this man of many years fell down and died exactly where he was. And there was nothing nonsensical about anything for it was all actually happening, as clear as cake to that knights eyes, just over the rise, bright as day, in the gloom of the gruneous pines, a raskall crowd were burning a young girl alive.
The lady was as slender and as pale as a branch of ash stripped to its quick. She was bound with black iron to a gruneous log. Wet pine smouldered smoking at her feet. Churls and children hurled pine cones on the fire while varlets and villains took a toothed tree-saw to the wings of an enormous moth, strapped with fine panniers and bridled with a selenium bit, which had crashed through the pines in a line and taken off their tops for a quarter of a mile.
As they cracked and savaged the fine filigree of the moths lattice-work wings, they hurled spars and fragments onto the smouldering fire where they sparked and blazed like neurological damage.
The lady in the chains was not subdued, though her features were invisible behind the mask, her eyes glistered blackly like a scorpions sting and her voice, clear and deep, rolled out across the crowd like a mill-wheel down a hill.
"I am a Priestess of the Ziggurat Moon!
Pure thoughts will not amend your degradations!
Your sorrows will not sooth my angry heart,
Or cool the heaped-up coals in the censer
Of tempests which confers strength on the storm!
My mood cannot be soothed!
My heart cannot be gladdened!
My honeyed mouth has become venomous!
My anger is a ship of Lamentation,
In its passing the trees shall be as ash,
In its wake dust will fill your dancing places,
On witnessing its pennant your souls will escape you
To roost in ruined halls like scudding bats!
Behold, my rage is terrible, my teeth
Are crushers of flint, I devour corpses
And chew skulls like a dog of Seven Powers!"
Thusly she spoke, and loud.
"O Timballo" said Sir Babbling to Thorgool. Then he drew his crooked sword, stood forth upon his snail and cried out; "SNARK!"
At this the crowd grew silent, and turned to see, all but a few who still put pine cones into the blaze, and those men deafened by the grinding of the saw on silver wings.
"Snark chives!" said Sir Babbling, "snark varks! Snark to line on grooven tooth!"
Then he gestured to the woman tied up in the smoking fire. "Deblaggen von gickle you glooms! Deblaggen von vow! Or your voals myocardia grime!"
Here, even the woodsmen sawing up the moth came to a halt and the varlets tossing pine cones turned from the blaze to look upon Sir Babbling in his wrath.
"What?" said one, and another said "who?"
"Cly art vo noct oct Zoop-Grail." replied Sir Babbling "Vo noct oct Corona! Vo noct oct pythagoras room! Mark 'Babbling' ict ichored in nurns of the fuel. Cly clatcher notch-happy with snips of the cruel!"
"In a dogs arse!" cried a crone, and threw a burning pine cone at him.
And Thorgool crashed into the crowd like a river of spit. Men cried out like kettles in the dark. Raskalls scattered. Children wailed. Eighteen men with axes, knives and eyes like old embers, forgot what they were doing and flew upon the snail.
Let us hope that they were truly evil men, or even glooms, as Sir Babbling said, for they suffered accordingly, and indeed their voals myocardia grime.
The snail knight moved with vorpal thought. He curlicued his lance through a mans duodenum then snicker snacked his crooked sword from its catastrophic sheath and cut off his face like a ham sandwich. Thorgool slurped up another and rasped off his scalp like a greasy machine.
As the gurgling wails of the deblaggened villains shrilled amidst the pines the Priestess of the Moon cried;
"See now the threshold of tears is opened!
You walk the path of great lamentations!"
Those remaining charged Thorgool, they hacked at his body and climbed his shell to pull down the sun-bright snaegle maister and chop off his elements with an adze. As the pine smoke pillared into an un-seigeable keep bright white brillig light from the oxidising wings caught in the lightning-shaped blade of Sir Babblings silencing sword and he fell into a deep, grave wrath and so intoned his killing chant of doom.
"Hana, Mana, Mona, Mike!" he cried and cleaved off one left leg with every word.
A quartet of femoral arteries piped a red tune over Thorgool and Sir Babbling spoke again.
"Barcelona, Bona, Strike!" he carved up a rib-cage each and six separate lungs collapsed like bad accordians.
"Hare, Ware, Frown Venac!" resounded out the knights lament and four throats opened like taps to gush gurglingly into the black soil.
Only five villains remained, and perhaps they would have run or begged for life, but late and lacking was the hour for that, for Sir Babbling gazed upon them and the reaving rhyme of the rider of Thorgool was not yet at its end.
"Harrico, Warrico, We! Wo! Wac!" he screamed and with the first two words he pierced a heart each and on each final three a head he severed from its neck so that the sculs popped off like bottle tops, followed by a spume.
An awful silence ate into the air. Sir Babbling stood alone. Thorgool, hacked and slimy, and sensing no-one near, curled back into his bloodstained shell. Only the cracks of the terminal blaze cut the sonic void.
"Sithy writhe cly zindal" he said meetly to the woman of the Ziggurat Moon.
"The thorn winds of final retribution" she replied, shaking, "blossom like dry poppies in a parched land".
"Bubbling soils" muttered Sir Babbling, looking at the black yron chains that bound her to the log, "snark varks, ict neep embargle oct so toothen zules!", he laced his hands around his hilt in a full-fingered grip and, as the smoke embargled all, he raised his zig-zag sword and cried "Eenie, Meenie, Miney... Mo!" and he cleaved the black yron and the bitter wood so that the chains burst like rubber bands and he picked up the moon maid and burst through the burning branches like red from a rose and so she was free and the battle at an end.
And little force was needed for this act for the lady was light indeed, and dry. For Sir Babbling it was as if he were carrying sticks wrapped up with silk and scented herbs.
Sir Babbling placed the woman on her feet. He sheathed his zig-zag sword and the catastrophic scabbard went 'snicker snack' as the hinged segments snapped into place.
"Eenie, meenie, miney and mo" he said "were the first big four of long ago."
Then he knelt and carefully kissed the twig-thin fingers of her silk-gloved hand.
"Grimed nice, cly zinadal", said Sir Babbling, "mark 'Babbling' ict ichored in nurns of the fuel. Cly art vo noct oct Zoop-Grail. Agon" he pressed a hand against his snails shell "beagle indicator, cly grail 'Thorgool', (clo fro incommunicado oct grune)".
At this the woman from the moon made but little speech. yet she looked upon Sir Babbling for a whyle, and she looked upon Thorgool, and upon the terrible dismembered corpse of the moth that had carried her. And the looked upon the three heads, four left legs and ancillary other pieces strewn about.
"Vo ichor cly zindal?" said Sir Babbling "at it snark you neep?"
And it seemed that she would speak. Yet she trembled like a leaf and she turned this way and that, looking first on one thing, then another.
"I am cast into bright madness" she said, and she moaned deep, deep in her narrow chest as if the were a broken violin, and she bent as if in pain, and fell, and would have made her robes to spoil in the mud and horror, but that Sir Babbling caught her and held her. And yet she wept without tears.
Thusly spoke that knight and stroked her night-black hair;
"Herwat? Herwithe. Withe round and through,
Unvoal, unvide, it blurs not you,
Clo ofter brone the xax-swart noon.
Grime gickle-gal, groan crown of groon,
Grime for the slithe, the elf-plate curassier,
Grime for the brone, the lens-flood ex-sanguiner,
Grime for the blau, the blau of Ymir.
Oh grime gickle-gal, grime,
Vide not, voal not, no bannockers troon."
And at these words her moans grew little less, and the rasping of her tearless tongue was like the subtle touch of a snakes living skin and the cried;
"O Acimbabbar!" and "O my Temples, O my terraced moon!"
And after a time what little stars there were came to the sky, and the pine-fire smouldered but for silent magnesium flashes as the heat ignited moth-scales in the dark. And but the night was cold, she was colder, as cold as old bone, and yet she clung in Sir Babblings arms and, upon a time, she whispered to him so;
"The Lady An-Enlil I am. Titled
High-Priestess to the sky-devouring dark.
I dwelled, Sir Knight, in the Ziggurat Moon,
And sang I lamentations to its king,
I washed his face with furious salt tears
Till he forever took them from my eye
and made me so light, so clear and so fair
That like unto me no ziggurat held.
I wove silk pennants for the knights of air,
I blessed the blades of men who are not there,
I rode with fancies as my bodyguard
And idle imaginings were my maids.
The moon is like a mirror to this world,
Reflected terrors walk upon that land.
Of those terrors I had a little pride
(More than I ought to have had) and I spoke
A word that pleased him not, so he came to
Suffer me no longer in his company
And he drove me from my silver temples
And broke my inheritance, and it has
Befallen me to be so overthrown
that, but for my silver moth Acimbabbar
Nothing, not council, not court, nor kind words
Or treasures so remained. Lost are they all,
And I lost with those things so lost to me.
Then, dole grew my supposings, dark my thought,
Until my eye to this heraldic land
Gleaming like a bright bird beneath grey waves
Turned, the wandering world-candle by which
My moon is but intermittently lit.
The leagues between were lightless, and the hours
or months, or minutes, froze with comets fire.
Heavy grew the wings of Acimbabbar
And slow his silver breath in silent space,
Until, like a peacock with a fiery tail
This planet burst upon me like a storm
And all its blinding colours in a rage
And loyal Acimbabbar caught in his fall
By the branches of these resinous trees
And broke his wings, though still I saw him move
And shivering in the silver filigree.
Men came. Many. And none of them were mine."
And she turned to Sir Babbling, and even in the darkness of the dim trundling stars her mask was lucent as a silver flame, and her eyes behind it raisin-black, and glittering like that fruit.
"How glad I am to come upon a knight. And for that I know you are a good knight, and as I am a lady needing aid I beseech your assistance. I beg you for help. Wherefore you ought not to fail no lady lost, or a woman in strange country fearing harm, nor no disinherited queen or robbers prey. For robbed I am, of all my silver temples, of my fancies and knights, of my moth and my moon. And when I come again into my dancing places, ask never nothing of me but that I give you such. That and much more. And now I ask you to aid me and be my knight."
"Clo.." said Sir Babbling, and stared into here bright black eyes. "Clo.. homen dromen, fast forlore, ich noct cly art oct the Zoop-Grail. Ict bargle oct eoten zoom; vo so cornona malade. Oct torrible zoom vo True Osseous Moon. Sith, cly zindal, any tugle spark oct True Osseus Moon? Carpy argen vo super babboon?"
"I command!" shouted Lady En-Anlil, rising in imperious wize, "that you speak plainly in the manner of a knight and make known your thoughts, for wield I well such lore as tongues may tell and the speech and the meaning of all peoples who have ever seen the moon and the words you have wrought and the manner of their working owes not to any speech of any nation under air nor to any race unseen. And I place my threat and mark my warning sign upon your eye."
Here she advanced towards Sir Babbling, who stayed as still as a star and as quiet as a clam, and she raised her arm and target-locked her index-finger-tip right at his eye, so that the line of her digital bones, right through her arm, up to her shoulder and mask, was as stiff and unreal as a special effect and did not change its vector one degree as she stepped a little closer with each word;
"Doubt not" she whispered "my doom. For I have worn the great pectoral jewels and sung the final interpretation of night, and all who ever mocked me, be it never so small as the glance of an eye of the balance of a word, have been shaved of their skin with moon-bronze blades whilst still they breathed, and that was but a prologue to their pain."
And the spear-tip still axis of her pointing finger was now so close that the white curls of that knights cooling breath wreathed in pulsing billows round her hand, for now the dark was cold. Yet no such curling breath-marks issued from the Lady En-Anlil, no matter how chill the air. And still the knight was silent, and still the knight was still.
Then he tapped on the hilt of his sword, and scratched his head somewhat, and breathed in slowly through his nose, and made his lips a line, and closed his eyes and raised one hand and made as if to speak. And all through that the Lady was as still and as sharp as scratches on a lens. And Sir Babbling opened his mouth and very, very slowly, with his eyes tight shut he shaped his sound, with agony, as if carving brittle wood;
"I.." she said, and paused, opened his eyes, and breathed and closed them again.
"doubt," then he stopped again, the without opening his eyes he breathed deeply and went on;
"I doubt" and then he spoke with slow increasing speed, like a train careering downhill on uneven tracks;
"My fire.. is out;
My Lady's lost her comb,
So bridle my dog,
And saddle my hog,
And fetch my little maid home!"
And these last few words rushed out in a row and Sir Babbling gasped with a whoosh and wielded his own scul betwixt his palms, and staggered, and as the strength went from his legs he collapsed into the mud.
"Voom," he whispered "agon vo maxim bargle."
"A!!!" Said the Lady En-Anlil. "A! Kaos, kaos, kaos." And she also collapsed into the mud, and moaned again.
All this must have woke Thorgool for he quested forth and put out his horns and looked down on Sir Babbling who now glistered but little in the cold, black, bloodstained earth.
And Sir Babbling looked up and saw his snail staring down.
"O." Said Sir Babbling. "Sithy writhe Thorgool." And he held up his hands, "Deblaggen financial baboon?" And Thorgool reached down his gloomy head and carefully extended his deadly radula and snagged his knight and pulled him to his feet.
"A. Fastidious writhe Thorgool." Said Sir Babbling, and he picked up the Lady En-Anlil, (though she did not want to get up), and placed her on Thorgool where she clenched mutely like a bag of sticks and would not move or speak.
Then Sir Babbling took the panniers from the body of the Moon-Moth Acimbabbar and he placed his hands against the thorax of the hacked-up beast and quietly and thusly he intoned;
"Vo oct Zoom-Curassier
Argle, vot Sky-Grail.
Ict mo infinite shine
Art vo be mine.
Voal no elfin spark,
Clo zindal ict eoten clove
and no glooms bereave.
So tugle ice, Silence,
Vo noct oct Zoop-Grail."
And so he climbed upon Thorgool and took his passage from the gruneous pines, and did not regret their passing, not at all.
They rode through sunrise without speech. Sir Babbling nominally at the reins, and the Lady En-Anlil sat as far back on the snail shell as tactility and physics would allow, staring down at Thorgools silver emission, or up at the rise of the pine barrens as they faded into the heights.
Time rolled up the sun and let it shine, and upon a little while the Lady said;
"This sky is blue, and nothing shows beyond. It is like being trapped in an enormous pearl."
No answer came. Time ambled.
"Why this glare?" She said.
And still no answer came from that still and grimy knight.
"Your armour," she said "though besmirched with human ooze, is particularly deficient in this wize."
Still the knight did not reply or turn. So she climbed over the snail shell and poked him and found he was asleep.
"Snail." Said the Lady. "Your mad master is asleep and knows not where he goes."
Yet Thorgool proceeded onwards, perhaps attending to the scheme or secret thinking of all snails, whatever that is, I know it not.
"Snail! Said the Lady En-Anlil, and rattled the knight like a whisk in a bowl. "Snail! I am.."
Then she stopped, and sat again and wielded her head in her hands.
"Snail. I am I am I am." And sighed. And thought. And after she had thought she said; "Hrn."
Then she leaned down so her mask pressed against the shell of the plutonic snail and whispered these words in the language of the Wild Snail Riders of the Utter Steppe, the first tamers of the snail, who most believed were ancient myth, and who long ago has ranged terror across reality from atop their slaughterous snails;
Her er en mand
Som vil kjobe dit hus,
For en skjaeppe penge!"
And on these words Thorgool grew still.
Though Sir Babbling woke at sunset, he was cold. Thorgool was there, no fire was lit. The snail was rasping at the branches of an octave tree and slowly eating it all, including the addictive roots.
The tree was at a crossroads by a still pool which reflected the reddening sky. Sir Babbling saw drainage ditches. When he looked back on Thorgools incandescent trail, shining like enamel in the suns red light, he saw the dark pine barrens rising up. If any many bad folk of the barrens sought them still, it seemed they did not follow in Thorgools wet step.
He saw the woman in the mask standing by the sky-red pool, staring through some lenses at the margin of the air where it folded into the dark.
He checked Thorgool, gathered and lit a meagre blaze, unstrapped his zig-zag sword and laid it neatly within reach, then carefully removed his armour piece by piece, and setting it before, he cleaned it with a meticulous rag, amending burnish with some care. And this took several hours but though he glanced at her the Lady En-Anlil did not shift her feet, or even lower her lens, but stood stiffly growing paler against the darkening air, altering the angle of her viewer by infinitely small degrees, tracking something in the night.
Sir Babbling looked along he axis of her search.
"Homen dromen" he mused, and he walked over to the woman and saw her sighting tube was made of finely tattooed hide, chased with illuminations and curled into a tube.
Thorgool raised his whole snail-weight against the remaining trunk of the octave tree and slowly tipped it over like a big wind. The black roots groaned up out of the damp earth and he set to work.
"Hmm." Said Sir Babbling, and walked over to stand right behind the Lady En-Anlil, leaning over her shoulder, looking at the sky.
"Speak not your mad language, knight." She said. Then, "You will not see it with those eyes."
Still he squinted furrowingly, until she grew annoyed.
"Look then." She handed him the lens. "There." She raised her arm like a lever.
Sir Babbling sighted through the lens.
"You move too much." She said. "You breathe and twitch and shift. Look." She grabbed the lens and, without shifting its eye-piece from his eye, she altered its direction and held it there in still, extended arm.
"O Timballo." Said Sir Babbling. And he saw.
He saw a temple with a silver smile
He saw a white face ride a crocodile
He saw a madman drown a ziggurat
He saw a pale sea stage a coup d'etat
He saw a hollow knight eat up the moon
He saw a city ride a wild typhoon
He saw a moth eclipse upon a throne
He saw a king become a plain of bone
He saw starved dreaming sleepers dance for glee
He saw a host of fancies start to be
He saw the men who are not there begin
He saw the night behind the moon saw him.
"Enough!" She pulled the lens away. "I see you see too much, and yet not well. Selenian anemia stains your blood. There are dreams in your veins."
"Flo mo bargle Zoop-Vader, Raven-Bone Brok."
"Silence!" I have asked you for silence sir, and silence I shall have." She said,
At that the knight smiled a curious smile and bowed very low and very nobly. Yet he kept his eyes upon the lady as he grinned.
"Do not be arch, Conchlier." she said, and Sir Babbling stood straight and tight-lipped, though it seemed his eyes might be smiling.
"Things will happen soon," she said "for the moon is growing close. Much closer than before, and as I flew from the moon, other things, lighter and finer, fiercer and more fell will fly as well."
Yet the knight was already strapping on his armour and saddling Thorgool, who had sucked up the black bitter roots of the octave tree, leaving a minor disaster area and inexplicable ecological gap, and was now purring unnervingly like a big liquid cat while the narcotic octave juice dripped from his mouth.
And they did not have far to go that night indeed before the moon things came again into their tale, not even miles times two, for within one and half they came in sight of the dark town of Acaeton piled rambling round the shattered chimney of the elevator inn and its broken monomolecular walls. The tower of that titanic nowhere-leading tube had snapped like glass in ages past. Only sky-impaling jagged spikes remained, ringed round an empty core like a tall and empty crown of black chaotic ice.
Built inside that structure was the Elevator Inn, and ringed round it was Acaeton, which, except for its tube and its sinister name, was a perfectly reasonable place.
But not tonight.
As Thorgool snailed his way into the hinter-town, strange music and lamp-light like a fever of infected fire drifted from the arterial knots of the towns topographical core. The outskirt homes were black and cold. Doors locked and gates slammed shut as Thorgool passed by. No dogs barked, though from dark-barred fences came quixotic skittering like a burst bag of walnuts bouncing down stairs, and twisted whines of almost-words and shades of glowing colour like a child’s balloons and the half-seen shape of silver eyes.
And still Thorgool slid on, a snail of high distain, a snail to dare anything, indifferent, strange to fear and slightly addicted to octave juice.
The Lady En-Anlil stood up on Thorgool and looked over the shoulder of Sir Babbling.
"This place," she said "lies not aright."
"Clan invercept obsanion," said Sir Babbling, "without neeple dab." And loosened the clatch on his impulsive sword.
"Silence..." said the Lady, but then the word became her act for the neepling drumbeats and the eerie skreel of nail-nocked fiddles loudened and the lambent lucency grew in the gaps of the pine-and-ocatave buildings in the street ahead and a clamour climbed above them in the turrets of the air and a dancer rounded into sight, prancing light-footed, standing black against their shadow which glowed, pink as a pig and bright as the sky before dawn, and pouted and made a moue', and flapped its bright shadowed skirts, though the dancer did not wear them. And it span around the dancer as the dancer spun, like a shadow-line projected from a whirling sun, as if they were dancing together, and the shadow smiled with silver eyes. And then there were more and they came into view.
"What carnivale is this?" said En-Anlil, for they came in mad parade, the tattered dancers standing black against the whirling shades with silver eyes. And some wore work-suits danced to rags, and some in bedding clothes and some were naked, some were fine, and all were grinning, strained and taught like bows flexed to breaking, limbs hollowed to moonscapes of linear shade where tendons bit like hawsers bearing loads and bones flexed like flag-staffs in muscular typhoons.
Yet the shadows were smiling. A kallaidoscopic blossom-fall of edge-bright guests, splotched opera-goers the colours of a child’s paint-set decked out in two-dimensional couture; the shadows of top-hats and spreading gowns.
And of that fearful many some played fiddles or bashed on tambourines and others hooted through musical tubes and one dragged a clavichord and some wore scratch-masks or assembled paper heads or waved and wielded absent flags, bright pennants heralding nothing.
And they had been to a butchers and built a balloon from pig skins and whatever they could stitch, and this inflated thing rode like a lumescent god above the rout, glowing and grinning like a wild planet or a world of nuclear fools with a manic nihilistic smile sewed on its face, and scrawled across the belly of the stitch-pig god was;
"IS THIS THAT"
"I know these creatures" said the Lady En-Anlil.
But the crowd had seen the snail and they said "HO HO HO!"
"Ech nerp!" Replied Sir Babbling, and made Thorgool to turn.
"Go back!" Said En-Anlil. "Recreant conchlier! False knight! They are only pretty thoughts. They are the flotsam of the moon. Churlish concepts. Noplace guides. Just cut open all the people and out will come ideas. I will put them in a bag."
The Lady reached down to the hilt of the knights sword and tried to pull it out.
"It is the simplest thing in the world" she said, "you have done it before. I saw."
But Sir Babbling laid his hand upon hers and, though her hand was strong, and her grip inordinately so, though she leaned with her weight to unsheathe the lightning blade, her density was but little and her mass was passing frail, and the rider of Thorgool held back his blade one-handed with main strength and with the other ruled the snail.
"Vhat snot vark ict droom oct vo?" Asked Sir babbling as Throgool turned into an alleyway, which he nearly filled.
Late came her reply, for the idle imaginings were upon them. Yet they slipped on the snail-trail of Thorgool and scattered on his rearward shell.
These calls they heard, the knight and Lady both, from mis-fixed tongues echoing from the gruneous and octave walls;
"A palace in a potato!"
"Cheese that shares a cheese-dream theme!"
"A bee to sing of pins, upon a pin!"
"Which is taller; Round, or Blue?"
"Wisdom-assistance dogs with crafty hands!"
"Monocular psychic pigs!"
"What if dreams were false machines?"
"A knight composed of frogs desires!"
"A song recorded on a wire!"
"Back you idle imaginings!" Cried En-Anlil, and grasped up the curlicue lance.
"Ned snot Guisarme!" Said Sir Babbling and leapt up from the reins. They wrestled for the lance while a Derangement, silver with snail-slime, crawled up the shell whispering; "Executive banana vaults!"
"Ark voksoft!" Said Sir Babbling, and forcibly reversed the lance to that its blunt and pugilistic butt was first upon the foe. Then he dived to the reins, for Thorgool had somewhat wandered and was chewing on a cobblers sign and had eaten the sole of the gruneous shoe.
"Thorgool, Thorgool, voal grove!" He cried and the grim-shelled octave-addict climbed, raising first his front-snail-foot to the cobblers wall and schlooping over the planks.
"O!" Came a terrified cry from inside the home. "Our doom is upon us!"
"Witless and worthless!" Exclaimed the Lady En-Anlil, at whom, none but she best knew, and she staggered on the curved shell of Thorgool as the snail tipped vertically and started his ascent.
"Fruitless conceptions!" She cried, and bashed a grabbing thought-slave in the face.
"Coal-powered horses!" It screamed, falling into the dark.
"I am the Lady En-Anlil" she declaimed, stamping on another’s hand, "High-Priestess of the sky-devouring dark, Queen of Ziggurat Prime, Consort to the Man in the Moon and your" she whacked another right across the crown, it slipped and fell, shadow whirling like a leaf around a heavy seed crying;
"Rightful!" She hammered one more in the sternum and it went.
"Liege!" She poked one in the eye and they were free. Thorgool had climbed the houses side and tipped his centre mass onto the gables where he proceeded slowly and with foot wide-spread to distribute his weight, fearful of the roof-struts sweet melodic creaks.
The imaginings could, or would not climb the snail-bright wall and they seemed to lose their focus in the street below. Their clamour dimmed to next-door sound, the voices chilled to murmur while above, against the star-dim sky, the black mass of Thorgool rode the shark-grey rooftops like a sea-shouldering whale.
A strange peace came, only for a moment, as the iron-dark roofs of Acaeton rolled like slow waves, and from below came the lantern-bright glow and distant singing of the flotsam of the moon. And the pig-skin scratch-head bobbed about the level of the chimneys like a buoy and turned in its wandering and its mad stitched eyes seemed to glance across the rooftops at Sir Babbling and Thorgool and the Lady En-Anlil, and to give them a curious look.
The moon came out for a moment, like it had been behind a cloud, shining maybe just for them, though it seemed to caul the world in silver paint. And both saw its infinite terraces, its fractal geometric wastes, the burning points of silver temples like pin-pricks in black paper, its deserts of frozen blood and many other things too dole to say.
"Closer comes the moon" said En-Anlil. And then it went, eclipsed like a finger in the socket of an eye.
"A." Replied the knight, and gesturing out across the sleeping slates toward the sky-biting shatterwork at Acaetons radial core; "Hroak atin gallowglass, vror flot woo charm."
"What else can be done?" Said the Lady, and sat on the snail. Then, in circumspect wize, she said; "Not reck my rod nor lern my lore, neither would they do. Not one. Yet I was mistress of them all."
So went their way. As Thorgool slipped across the rooftops like a ghoul the pressure of his weight and the dripping of his silver slime and the soft whistling of the Lady from behind her mask birthed a thousand awful legends in the dreaming amygdalas of children sleeping in the attics just beneath the slates so that for ten generation after these events schoolyard rumour would transmit the truth of Big Doctor Soft; a black-haired flesh-consuming beast with wide, flat feet which treaded softly cross the rooftops in the night, carrying a sack of stolen boys and girls, whistling a strange tune and drooling from hunger so his wet shiny spit dripped through the cracks in the roof, listening for a cough or sneeze, then unzipping the roof by magical means and reaching down to grab the sneezy children out. So you better not cough or it will be BIG DOCTOR SOFT.
But that is neither here nor there, for Sir Babbling and his Damizell had reached the hollow tube at the centre of the town, which Thorgool had climbed and crossed, with some agonizing difficulty and high entrial, as he curled his body over the monomolecular edge, for if he had slipped and pressed its weight against that keening blade it would divide him into halves and both would tumble from the air. And little thanks he got for this endeavour from the knight and damizell for their minds were on themselves. But such is the unspoken service of snails.
They paused up-ended on the inside of the Aceatons tube and looked down on the barricaded Elevator Inn which had spread out from its ancient ruined core like a starfish in a bottle till it filled the whole inside. The buildings pressed latrines and parlours up against the walls, shacks and dactylic taverns tangled in the tube. Multiple strands of smoke curled up from the separate hearths, straight as pokers in the cylinders small clime.
Those still inside the Inn had barred the only entry, where grand stairs lead up to the lowest shatter-point tables and planks had been whacked into place and a handful of figments were wandering the stairs whole a barmaid behind the barricade forced back a few with the end of a pole.
Yet deaths moth head had also flitted in that portals stoppered yawn, and Nike' spread her brief red wings, and people had their sculs smashed in and bodies wrecked. Corpses were scattered on the steps like peppercorns, marked from above by spread red strokes; the nasty calligraphy of harm.
The two upon Thorgool saw this from a rare perspective, for birds did not fly within, and could not perch upon, the broken tube. To them it was a deadly trap.
Sir Babbling rode squarely with his legs locked in parallel wize, for Snail Knights trained exhaustively for every situation and could fight and ride neatly at ninety degrees, or even upside-down when required. But, though she had crossed on a moth from world to world, the Lady En-Anlil has not the knowing of snails and the merely stood upon Sir Babbling as if he were a step, and held to the saddle of Thorgool with one hand, and though she bore not the bell in terms of weight, this was still something of an irritant to him.
Still they slipped lower and slimed closer, climbing down the tube-wall on the one foot of Thorgool. And as the Elevator rose up before them they heard the voices rise of those within.
There was something of a tumult in that hall, and it seemed to the riders of the sky-bound snail, as the speech of that conclave curled up with the singularly straight smoke, that the clamour was commanded by a single strident tone which ran through the rabble like fox-fear in a house of hens; a brass band of a voice, golden, confident, with bardic tonsils and a ringing bronze tongue.
"Am I not a man and a gentle errant? And are we not such fellows here as fit to make a pudding of a pig? Why, I see leagued around the tap room an an honoured band as well-set to shoe a sea-slug in steel and ride it a mile in a high typhoon. TRUE;"
The voice declaimed in high wize, and paused, and seemed to the snail and the riders thereof that the speakers immediate ears must be held, for a moment, rythm-bound and song-stilled while the oraters attentions roved to and fro amongst them like invisible police.
"True..." he whispered, and the condensed intensity and aural counterpoint caused even Thorgool to lean forward a little, for whatever words proceeded such a sacred pause must be verse of high ritual, or song sacredly sung.
"True it is" he said, "that one or two times amongst us all, or three. But no more than that. It would seem, to some little in sympathy and lacking wit, that our might-martial and strategic deeds have augured little good. FAILURE! So might they imply. 'Why did you run away?' Could be the query of the almost asinine, nay, I say -childlike- inquisitor. 'What are you going to do next?' Are words one could foolishly extrude. 'Are you hiding in a pub and getting drunk?' They, (a simulated nitwit), could suppose. NO!..."
Again the gilded orator made pause, and Thorgool silently slid his snail-self onto the roof of the room in which that pause was born.
"No." Declaimed again the strident tongue, and those sitting on the snails dark shell heard, below them, the pace and pause, and pace again, or a pair of significant feet as the poet of the tap-room stalked threadwise back and forth to weave the harness of his mighty thoughts between his stepping feet.
"And only fools could thusly speak. We gird gentlemen. We gird and guard. We guard the taps. We gird our thoughts. For!" he went on, "It is the straight and sacred sword of reason which shall save us. It is the cleaving scalpel of cool intellect in the pure disinterested neocortical grasp. Only these twice-measure ideas can compound our strategy against this demonic intermission. For these are demons, allied friends, dream not else.... Demons! Drawn from the marrow of a deep, dark hell! Supernatural interlucors, unquestionably alien and wrong! Perverse extrusions of a chaos world!"
"What absolute trash", said the Lady En-Anlil, and jumped down the chimney to dispute the truth.
"A!" said Sir Babbling, "vark ark nark zindal?" but it was already too late. He heard a terrible crash and the flying of flinders and explosive tumult from the room below.
"Throne of Orcus!" Cried the bardic voice, "avast ye ghoul! Wake! Wear! And break off table legs, they have broken our perimeter! Damn you Belinda you somnolent wench, my orders were to beat em' off the gate!"
Sir Babbling looked over the rooftop to the barricade where the staunch maiden so named: Belinda, mistress of the bar, was wobbling on a ladder and whacking a dream-thing on the head with some tied-together pool cues. She turned from her work at the commotion and saw, for the first, a snail-knight in full armour on a war snail on the rooftop of the inn.
"Sithy writhe cly zindal" said Sir Babbling, and raised his hand, though she was too far to hear his words.
She raised hers in return.
From under the roof came the sound of old shilleighlies being shuffled: the Lady En-Anlil standing up.
"Step back you recreant knave" came a familiar voice, "for I am the Lady En-Anlil, high priestess of the Ziggurat Moon, and if your arms main might do but match the parliament of your thought, you could be knocked out by a gumdrop and assaulted by a breeze!"
"What! rang back the golden chord, "As I am a man, and Braggadocio, is this a body to be so ill-used as to be, not only leagued against by demons but overruled by a ghoul? And a woman to boot? Hist ye lady, get you gone - you are off not once but twice, first on account of your sex, (for the female is not a logical box), and second, you are dead. You should speak in dreams or not at all, and never walk. So hold your parchment tongue. Therefore, away with you, back to the sky or the moons dark gleam, Invert your entry and alter your place, or...."
Here he paused significantly.
Steps echoed beneath.
"Or I shall do a thing. I state not what, to guard the gurdeon of my terrible tongue. But it shall be a a thing of awful seeming. This thing that I shall do."
The voice seemed to lessen in its volume, and its stepping took up again. Slowly.
"It is an inexpressible event," said Braggadochio", not describable in parts. Therefore seek not details. Neither is it logically comprehensible (least, not by you) so ask no explanations. But it is a thing to be seen. This thing I shall do."
"Braggadocio rose again in pitch and intensity, and his slow steps proceeded back through the spine of the room below. Sir Babbling followed him silently upon the roof, his head cocked. Listening.
"A thing desired by few" said Braggadochio," - and viewed by none alive! Press not upon me woman, By stones and snails - take back your grasping hand or I shall act! A! Lady! Do not think I fear you! Indeed, as I am a gentleman, I retreat only in due decency and for hygienic reasons.
"Dreams!" Said the Lady En-Anlil. "You braggart boys would think a dream a dish-rag and flee from an unmoving stool! They are drivelling thought-things and aberrant ideas, peasants of the fractal plains and the least and last of the offered subjects of the Man in The Moon, the Emperor of Madness and death.
“Surely these are details!” screamed Braggadochio, and as Sir Babbling put his toes in the gutters and leaned, he peered and saw below him, the handle of the bars front door flex and jiggle indistinctly.
“Dream or Demon, let us be bakers about it an knead what is needed! A!”
So exclaimed Braggadocio for Sir Babbling had leapt lightly to soil and opened the door of the elevator inn and out had spilled the mead of verse; Braggadochio.
“O!” Said the sprawled sculptor of verbs. “A Knight of the Snail!” And he rose his full vertical length, like a golden wave crashing into the shore.
They were like two suns dawning in the dark, for, as much as the pauldrons and polynins of the Snail Knight glistered and gleamed, so the encasements of the Braggadochio and the volcanic manhood of his person were, if anything, even more magnificent. Here was a man made of men, and for them too. His nose; aquiline yet perceptive, like a thinking eagles beak, his eyes; like rolling coals, now gleaming with ironic capacities, now cascading rays of care, now stern, now bold. His beard like a black torrent bursting from a high and fractured crag. His mouth sanguine, yet humorous, joyous yet knowing. His carven arms and patriarchal trunk were sheathed in clean enamelled steel riveted with gold. Upon the acre of his chest were two bright lions – rampant, beating up a sneaky lizard, blazoned against a spiked, radial, futurist sun. The lizard had a plaintive look. Here was a man it seemed, who could embrace like a father and forgive like a god.
“And just in time, as tales describe” said Braggadochio, “I never doubted you would come. There Sir!”
He gestured through the open door to the Lady En-Anlil who advanced, fingertip-first and arm extended.
“There is your dominant shrike!” Said Braggadochio. “A selenian enchantress and witch-o-the-moon. Knock her to pieces and rescue the town.”
“Shrew,” said the Lady En-Anlil “is more apt for your intended use, and you will decant little succour from that mad knight for his tongue is set a-mazing and the service he is sworn to is my own.”
“Vile decadent and feminist!” Exclaimed Bragggadochio, still stepping backwards down towards the wall. “First, to allege (without cause) that I know not a Shrike from a Shrew, (for the Shrew is a comfortable creature in truth, be it only well-fed), and then to wail out female paradox, (Belinda, hand me that stick). For! (Step no closer).
Braggadochio had his back to the barricade and Belinda, deprived of her arms, began jabbing at a dream-slave with a fork.
“For if it has pleased the fates to rob this Conchiler of his sword-bright tongue, then how can his service be yours, since, voiceless, it cannot be sworn?”
“Ect’s fot clo feep” remarked Sir Babbling, and through the Ladies stretched-out arm, gently pressing it down, he reached out and took the tied-together sticks from Braggadochio, who surrendered them silently from his butter palms, and climbed beside Belinda who was bravely resisting as a silver-eyed irrelevance tried to climb her hair.
Thorgool fell through the roof.
Men screamed and ran from the collapsing inn. Their night had gotten worse.
“Knight!” Said En-Anlil, “Make sign that you reck my reasoning!”
Sir Babbling turned back to look on the ruin of Thorgools descent. The snail made tractamorphic motions of self-rescue and, whatever signs there read the Knight in the slimy squirmings of Thorgool, he seemed unpeturbed and returned to his work of beating down a dreamon with a pool-cue, wielded in one hand while the other pulled Belinda from its grasp.
(Snails can resist small falls if they take them foot first. A longer fall, landing on the shell, can end quite otherwise, as you have read.)
“Ont ro gleam int clo grime,” he said
“lipoe vo slep,
tugle ict vooms,
oct ho pro simpatico,
snark von glooms!”
“The question is an apt one” said Braggadochio, “as the moons self-stated emissary and error-amender, surely only your cold and resinous brain hold the pickled wisdom to our moon-begotten doom. By all sweet means my damizel – drizzle upon us the sucrose euphony of your till-now malingering tongue. It would be fine respite indeed from your corrections, your injections and your omnipresent spite.”
“Slice em up! Said En-Anlil. “It isn’t hard to do, albeit that some lack starch for stiff deeds. The things inside are only vague ideas; thoughts. Once the body is dismembered they may be wafted through the air like drifting smoke and I shall put them in my bag here, every one.”
“Are the Legions of the Moon then, only thoughts?” Said Braggadochio. “And its polity but fancies? Why, be it but so then once staunch fellow might overawe em’ all, for I myself amd a generator of near-infinite ideas. I would attain the silver land, dream myself an army and make an empire of the sky.”
“”Your empire,” said En-Anlil, “is a bucket, and ever shall be. Crown fit for a dingy rattle-bone nearly-knight. To place one foot upon the glass ladder or to pass the mirror of tears would bend you tip-to-tip. Even your thinking leads you on, pseudo-autocrat of feral concepts. I judge you as much use as a dog in a bonfire.”
Braggadochio bristled at this.
“But think of such a parti-coloured horde. Demonic legions, and at their head is Braggadochio glowing and glistering like the dawn (and why should you not, old Braggadochio? And see, the snail-knight is neutered and distraught.) For, look you Lady, they are such ravening entities, to guide and girdle them were to do the living many boons. They have eaten all of Acaeton before the sun.”
“Fiddle and spit,” said En-Anlil, “these mere things are but courtiers, poor players in the moons perennial passions. They are distractible, (unavoidable as errant thought), twisting like a kitten after snaps of light, fishhooked by novelty, impervious to force, as indestructible as dust and as like to dance upon a moonbeam as the same…”
But she stopped like a rock in the path of her tongue, and looked in wonder, for suddenly, Sir Babbling began to dance.
He leapt! He cut a parabola in the liquid air so high that on its apogee he seemed to pause – a frozen knight, his face a mask of vibrant calm, his arms flung fluidly above his head with his masculine hands tipped at the wrist so that he looked a little like a phi (the ancient letter = ᴪ) his legs spread like golden scissors in a madmans hands, toes pointed out.
Breath froze in every lung, mild and moonstruck paused alike – he fell from the air in an arc like a hawk grabbing hold of a goose.
So high, so fast, he had to crash,
So weighed in plate, it was his fate.
He touched the ground,
Without a sound,
Small and leaning,
Soft as dreaming.
Then – rose up in majesty,
Stronger than gravity!
(If the earth had been the stronger
This story would have been no longer.)
Everybody gasped. Even the dreams of the moon, who sighed like anxious bulldogs and could no move or look away. The nonsense knight rose up, dark-featured and metrically smooth – his arms raised parallel like an equations penultimate deciding sign – and grasped in his hands was his scabbarded lightning-shaped blade – held out like poisonous materials or very bad news.
Now! – He breathed. His eyes fixed upon the mortal tool – a fine shoulder-squaring , chest-expanding silent howl of indrawn air. The knight in the night like the spark in the heart of the slumbering coal burst forth. He looked the lightning blade and,
And lunged forward into a perfect extension, holding his sword-arm high with the gleaming thunder-bitten edge raised, tilted slightly left across the axis of his lunge, his eyes cast down, his left leg pointed smoothly to the rear, toe-position kept, and the rattling catastrophic sheath held flat-parallel to the earth, daggerwise unmoving in the rearward hand, straight across the back.
A satellite eye would have see the zig-zag silver of the sword and the black angular shape-match of its sheath equally displayed like the axis of a cosmic wheel across the golden body of the sun-warm knight.
And the shadow-cauled citizens stepped back, yet they stepped back only once, and froze, held in suspension like a speck in a screen, gazing at the knight, enraptured, as still and silent as surrendered engines turned by but one cog.
His feet passed like torpedoes in the sea and he danced for half a moment on a mote. Silence landed on tip-toe, arched like the golden bow of dawn, balanced near impossibly with both hands raised above his head, elbows pointed forwards, and the lightning bade and catastrophic sheath poised like mantis claws – black and silver angles crossing point-slash in the air.
And again the figments cringed like the captured killers of a saint, and awe walked on their face-bones and their expressions were expressionist and wild.
And as before they froze as Silence froze, moed as he moved, and through they fled from him they fled only as men might flee a fire, in a tumultuous crowd, but the knight with every movement, bounded metres, and he was there now, full of death, and with one more cry the mantis would prey amongst them.
And still they did not break, but shifted only when he stepped, froze when he froze, turned but looked back, trapped in anguish and delight to see what steps the knight would dance.
He span and swung the lightning blade – a whirligig of doom. The stabbing silver of the sword lashed among the dark-featured, bright shadowed mass who curled like a star-fretted nebulae around the glistering knight. His footfalls pattered on the ground like orchestrated rain. Where the death-edge struck – men screamed, women moaned and the black-outlined bodies of their mortal flesh fell senseless to the earth. Moon-slaves burst out from their brains like big gibbering balloons and gholed and gackled, looping through the dark air.
“They are out!” Cried the Lady En-Anlil, and clambered down the barricade, leaping the final feel and landing spiderwise, then scuttling and standing and striking out with speed, prancing and pricking, kicking her needle-thin limbs across the satin-black eart and holding out a spidersilk drawstring bag – its use-hole bordered with blue-amber beads; and bound within each bead was a still silver bee, its wings expanded in the sapphire lock, and the bees were bulky with honey borne from black Hellebore blooming in the fractal valleys of the moon.
But the Hellebore are yet to come.
“Come you imaginings” said the Lady En-Anlil, “I call you again to the keep of my care and summon you to service as so you did swear on the steps of the Ziggurat prime.”
It seemed, indeed, that now severed from their mortal sheaths, at least, the lunar fancies would attend and accept the commandment of their Priestess-Queen, for they slithered and snaked through the shadow-stained air, gurgling and grinning in horrible wize, frail and inane. But they bargled into the bag nonetheless, squeezing past the ring of beaded bees, who almost buzzed in the quivering gems. One by one the idle imaginings orbited the mask of En-Anlil and dropped, plopped into the spidersilk bag.
The knight was still again – like a picture of a pirouette. He stood on one foot, his body was a spiral, one leg up and curled around. From knee to hips to neck he was a twist, looking back nearly on his own path. The blade and scabbard were swung out like the cleaving fingers of a dangerous threshing machine.
The remaining figments froze as well. A carnival of horror bursting like a fresh-petalled flower from the central nexus of the violent Silence. Three things moved; the snail-knights steam-hot breath, which curled from his lungs like the ghost of a stepped-upon snake, the diamond beads of sweat that abseiled down his brow and the grimly shifting moan-bestowing bodies of the fallen fools. For they were not dead, or sliced at all.
“PHILLISY, PHOLLIST, TEN AND ELEVEN!”
S H O U T E D S I R B A B B L I N G
As he hurled through the horde in a series of linked pirouettes, his sword a-flash and whirling and the catastrophic scabbard rattling, thwacking, like a secret limb.
Now, see the martial artistry employed, for the clean, keen, blade-care of the knight met only air and hair, and bits of cloth. For wherever he whirled and regardless of how final seemed the stroke, the Zig-Zag sword glanced and grazed smoothly from the human skin, shaved it like a razor with no harm. As quick as an electrocuted snake, so swam the sword, and with each pseudo-blow, coming so quick behind it that it seemed like a shadow of the brand, the catastrophic scabbard flew.
Whenever it seemed certain that the blade should cut, upon the very moment of its graze – in dahed the scabbard and delivered a sound – THWACK – so it seemed that the impacts were one.
But so fast and so furious was the dance, so wild and windmill his arms, and so black and tractamorphic the sheath of the sword, that to anybody seeing the performance as a whole, it would be hard or impossible to notice that the jagged paths of the hand-delivered brands, one deadly, one sublime, not only intersected, but were One.
So passed the snail knights fluid/palsied dance – Graze-Thwack! Graze-Thwack! Graze-Thwack! Each impact seemed to kill, each death released a slave, and the Lady En-Anlil dashed on behind – hoovering emissions from the air into her spider-crafted sack.
The snail knight kneeled, invisibly he shook. One shin was one the ground, his chest bowed across his kneeling thigh. His head hung low, both arms lay back like folded wings, the sword and scabbard stretched along the ground behind.
Was this the end? The ramining moon slaves froze, spread upon an arc – it seemed no leap could reach them all.
Braggadochio, Belinda and the bros from the bar, watched, worried and unnerved. The possessed people of Acaeton seemd to shiver a little and doubt their own moves. Perhaps they heard the moans of the emancipated proles. Perhaps they began to understand tat they were trapped in a dance, like the victims of elves. Perhaps they did not care at all and only wanted to see what the snail knight would do. Perhaps they were bored.
Hissed, then howled, then cried aloud the rider of Thorgool, and he slowly rose from his knee, head still down, every muscle clenched as if he carried all. The wire in the vein of the world drew taut and thrummed, the air vibrated in a minor key and sprocket holes appeared at the edge of human sight.
The figments shifted slowly at exactly the same speed, and with tension equal to the task.
Said Silence and sped into a bounding sprint – his speed was unequalled! The figments pegged it, yet he curled round their patch like a caduceus! He lashed the matched brands in hexamathic patterns from each fist.
Screamed the meteoric man - a blazing blur of black and light that cometed through they raskall crew with more-than-human speed!
As he collapsed incalculably, skidding in sparks, fifteen feet or more as his armour grinded on the ground like a gryndlestone. Then lay there, gasping, drenched in sweat, limbs vibrating like washing machines, hearing only the tattoo of his ventricle beat.
They went down like dominoes – murdered with imaginary wounds. One upon the other – each collapsed – and the ballon-bright thoughts that slaved their minds oozed out of them and escaped into the air. Briefly. For the Lady En-Anlil trotted along in a line a summoned each spectre into her spidersilk bag.
“Twas nobly done” said Braggadochio, crouched by Sir Babbling, who stared at him through half-closed eyes.
“Yet…” he said, and bowed his head “imperfect.”
“O mother” wept a wakening child.