Through a stifling fir-grove, cramping the paved road to the
width of a second-grade horse-path, two travelers were beating their way. Among
them two the one, who paced behind, was especially notable for his enormous height,
broad shoulders, soldier's haircut a la Tiberius and a fierceness of face, whose
features were not softened by the low blessings of a civilization.
That was Conan, the barbarian from Cimmeria.
– Is that the truth that the Danes call white ash "The Steed of
– That is the truth.
– And when they want to say "bear", they say "The Wolf of Bees"?
– Yes, sometimes.
– And what about the "sea"? Do they really say "The Road of Whales"
– They really do. Sometimes they even say "The Road of Hoopers".
King Conan from overseas stared unkindly at the Dutch king's son
– It's a lie! Nonsense and stuff!
– You're hurting my feelings, king Conan. I'd never tell a lie.
The latter was a wishful, but not real stretch about Siegfried.
He tells lies every so often and because of his boyhood, not always skilfully.
– And how do I say "a sword"?
– A sword? Hmm... It could be..."Odin's Baton"!
– A baton? Swear on Mithra, it is foolish!
Cimmerian fell silent.
Siegfried became upset. When such a respected, such a celebrated
man as king Conan labels the musical style of speaking as "foolish", it means
that it is foolish. So, it turns out, that Cimmerian called "foolish" Siegfried
himself and also Siegfried's father – both held the Danes in high respect.
– In the real life the Danes say "a sword", "a sea" and "a bear".
It is only for a song or a story... In their songs they call things unlike anybody
else, – Siegfried tried to proved the Danes' innocence.
– Then it is especially foolish! To call same things in different
ways! For instance, imagine. I've killed a demon; I've saved a daughter of Othyr's
vizier. And then I dropped in a tavern. And I say: "Give me a Small Barrel With
Throat's Pleasure! Make haste!" And when the tavern-keeper would bring me the
wine, I taste it and exclaim: "You are tricking me, bastard! It is not a Throat's
Pleasure! It is a Bloody Flux's Steed! Go while the going is good!"
Conan has started roaring with laughter.
Ua-ha-ha. Pause. Ua-ha-ha. Pause. Ua-ha-ha.
Siegfried chuckled cheerlessly. Discussing the cultural predilections
of the young Dane's nation have made him feel embarrassed.
– It is best not to be noisy on Gniteihed, – he warned.
At once Cimmerian quieted down and turned serious.
– Demons? Manticoras? Picts? I understand...
Conan's became bellicosely tensed, straining all the nerves and
all his splendid muscular system. He's also laid his palm on the dagger's handle.
– And wyverns, – added Siegfried.
There were no wyverns and no manticoras on Gniteihed. As far as
demons concerned... Siegfried wasn't very clear about them. And picts... Siegfried
heard about them for the first time in his life. When he asked to keep the noise
down, he just meant that it is a local tradition not to give a coarse laugh, not
to play rough tricks, not to raise a voice needlessly on this Gniteihed Isle.
As one would not in a church.
– Don't you worry, wyverns are harmless creatures. Practically,
– Conan said competently.
– But they are quite dreadful.
"Not much more dreadful, then we both are", – thought Siegfried.
-There are many creatures, that are more dreadful then the wyverns,
– he said aloud evasively.
– How could I be unaware of it! – proclaimed Conan. – Don't you
know that in the dungeon of Punt I endured the mortal combat with Sakh the Snake,
that was a loathsome fosterling of Chaos itself?!
And up until the sunset the Cimmerian would not leave Siegfried
in peace with his memoirs. He did not even give him a chance to put a word into
his stories, except for legitimated "oho!", "indeed?" and "terrific!".
Not easy to find a guide in places like that. The Bataves are superstitious
and at the same time extremely disinterested. The service, which could be easily
purchased at a moderate price in Punt or Othyr, is free in the lands of these
barbarians. But, contemptuously turning away from gold, Bataves simultaneously
refuse the further contact with the travelers.
Fortunately, the Dutch nobility is familiar by hearsay with Conan
the Cimmerian. Therefore, when I, in blank despair, dared to come to the court
of king Siegmund and proved that I am the very man who destroyed Sakh the Snake,
legendary Conan, they offered me a cup of good vine, fairly good snack and attacked
me from all sides with their questions.
My request about the guide has surprised them, but, Mithra be praised,
I was not refused. It is nice to be a king, even a one-time king.
Siegfried, the youngest son of the king Siegmund, had offered to
escort me to the very den of the dragon Fafnir. I did not want to offend my host,
so I accepted an offer at once. Though, I would prefer the company of valkyrie.
Unfortunately, I did not notice any at Dutch's court. By the way, one more reason
to give no credence to the "trustworthy stories" about the lands overseas. They
all promise wonders like diamond genies that sit astride the golden Semurgs, but
when you arrive, you see quite another thing like disrespect to Mithra, nasty
idolatry, black magic and subacute gonorrhea... Othyr and Kush kingdoms are in
Siegfried is an unsociable fifteen years old fellow. Seems like
he deifies me. He listens spellbound to me and does not contradict in anything.
But what is there to contradict to, though... Condescending to his juvenescent
level of intellectual and psychical development, I try not to be on a slippery
ground, not to speak about things, that can discredit me in the opinion of a respectable,
civilized society; I mean in the opinion of magicians and wonder-workers of Punt,
in the opinion of Aquilon's guardsman and courtesans... I really hope that they
long for me much more then I long for them...
Siegfried's big brother is an exceptional rabble -it is obvious.
For instance, what a brutish name – Atawolf! Sounds silly! Cock-a-doodle-doolf!
I am sorry for Siegfried. From all his father's wealth he will
inherit at most a tattered goat. It is a native custom of the Bataves. They don't
like to divide up the lands, which were collected with a sincere martial diligence;
they prefer to disinherit the younger sons of the king. So, the elder son takes
it all – the movables, the immovables, the flocks of tattered goats. Siegfried
doesn't have any chance of getting duchy or even a shabby mark.
He is free to decide between three options – to be one from the
curtailed list of court circle, to be episcopized and become a Bishop (this is
how the Bataves call the supreme priest) or to become a traveler. Judging on his
appearance (especially his laid-back gaze), Siegfried is preparing himself for
becoming a priest.
About Fafnir he knows no more then I do. Or, maybe, doesn't want
to relate. The latter is unlikely, because adolescents are ingenuous, they are
usually in a hurry to let the cat out of the bag in order to rise in the grown-ups
opinion. Especially when those grown-ups are as authoritative, as I am. On the
other hand, he is not as self-satisfied as the Avallon's aristocrats, – those
begin to put on airs from the cradle...
Now, I'll try to provoke Siegfried to be frank.
– I guessed, that it is customary in your kingdom not to speak
about it... but... I know that from time to time Fafnir expects human sacrifices
from you all.
– How do you happen to know?
– One friendly dragon told me.
I've read it in his face, that he does not trust my words about
"one known dragon".
– Most likely that dragon just wanted to soil the reputation of
his congener. If Fafnir expects human sacrifices, why grant him an asylum?
This is something new – he never told me about an asylum before.
The important thing is to give up no signs of me being really surprised.
– An asylum? I'm sure, it is not an asylum in a full sense of the
word. I suspect, that you keep Fafnir here on Gniteihed not only because he asked
you, but because it pays. Maybe you keep him, so to say, in reserve. In case there
is a war, for example. Or for a black magic, if not for something worse... I see,
my dear Siegfried, we both catch the meaning at once... Do we?
It is astonishing, but the stripling has become really confused.
His cheeks turned red. He's hiding his eyes.
It means, I found out something interesting, something that a stranger
should not know... A taboo... A frightful secret... Enigma full of horror, that
chills to the bones... On the whole, in such atmosphere I feel right at home!
I was right when I left my gang and went off this way, to the back
of beyond. Maybe in our petty time here is the only place for the absolute feat
"You are totally right, – answered Siegfried. He finally collected
his thoughts – You, king Conan, are very shrewd... Fafnir really needs such sacrifices...
And this is why I'll ask Fafnir to make you swear never share your insights with
This time I looked at a madcap fellow anew. I see that this young
barbarian has terrifically changed! It's as if Zervan, the sovereign of time,
had condescended to this backwoods and created a new Siegfried in exchange for
previous one. Stately, calm, dispassionate... This Siegfried, I believe, shall
obtain the power and win fame... But fishily episcopal ones...
Two days of mountaineering on the Glerbjorg mountain ridge gave
Siegfried a possibility to see enough of the overseas guest.
There was a long dagger with a bone handle in Conan's belt and
this belt itself was made of marvelous lindwurmskin. The barbarian's sword had
such huge overall dimensions, that it has no place in a belt sheath – a sheath
like that would drag behind, living uneven track. This is why Conan carried the
sword on his shoulder, wrapping it around with morocco.
Silk baggy trousers represented the most garish detail of the barbarian's
dress. In the old days they probably seemed luxurious. On his feet he wore a queer
leather flats with clinch-toes.
Behind his back Conan had a sack with belongings, which, according
to his words, were represented mostly by "amulets, talismans and poisons". However,
every morning and every evening instead of amulets and poisons Conan took out
of his sack a large mirror, made out of beaming bronze and a remarkable shaving-knife.
After the shaving he used fragrant ointments from two phials and prayed on cryptographic
language to the gods, who were unknown to Siegfried.
Indelible tan ate into his face, into his neck, into his hands.
At the same time, his body and shoulders that were hidden under the shirt and
hauberk (which was worn by Conan for no apparent reason) were almost pale.
When the barbarian uncovered himself up to the waist for taking
a bath in a tiny waterfall, Siegfried furtively smiled.
– Why are you grinning?
– You look like a busker, who rubbed himself with soot to play
an Ethiopian. Like as if he'd rubbed his face and hands but forgot about breast
and shoulders, because audience could not see them anyway, because of the clothes.
– You must be a title-holder in concocting... better give me a
– But where is it?
– In the same place, in a sack. To the on your right.
Concerning the talismans Conan did not lie. In addition to the
clothes and other paraphernalia, associated with everyday life, there were some
enigmatic trinkets in Conan's sack. Probably, there were amulets in all cases.
Under the towel Siegfried found a goblet, made from a human skull;
its stem imitated a rooster's leg. In the eye-sockets felt the burden of their
fate two great pearls – they were just like two cherries.
Siegfried put a crumpled towel in the extended hand of Conan.
– We must hurry, – said a king's son.
In an hour they've reached a bald Glerbjorg ridge. There were no
fir-trees there. Only the grass and the anemic cowberry bushes.
A valley at the foot of the mountain ridge was hazy. The forest,
that remained behind them could not go up to the top, it also could not go down
to the valley. Here and there on the northern mountainside they could see pellucid
groves and nothing more.
Paved road went away to the left, climbing higher and higher along
the ridge of Glerbjorg. Two paths rifted from the road. One of them directed downward,
to the valley, the other turned right, to the mess of the gray boulders. A roadside
stone, that was full of runes, sticked out right in front of Siegfried and Conan.
Conan did not notice the stone; instead he tracked the pave road
to the last degree. The road reached the very top; this peak, properly speaking,
had the name Glerbjorg. There, on the peak, groaned in the wind a deserted watchtower,
that was surrounded with a guttered earth mound.
– Whose? – laconically asked Conan, poking his finger into a watchtower.
– This fortress is ours, – proudly answered Siegfried. – Its name
is Flute of the Winds. Romans had built it. Then it was captured by the Halvdanes...
Now the fortress is ours.
-"The fortress"! Hmm... If it is a fortress, why don't we see a
– Cause there is no pleasure in being there, in that fortress,
– admitted Siegfried. – People say this is a very unpleasant place. And unsafe.
– Is that so? Really unsafe? But why? Is there a den of demons?
Very interesting! Let's go there and see if there're any demons in your windy
The barbarian did not wait for a response of his guide. He confidently
set out on foot in the line of the watchtower. Siegfried had no time to blink
twice when Cimmerian, who became ten years younger at once, came to be within
– King Conan! Show down a little! King Conan! What are you doing!
Jingling with the sheath rings, Siegfried ran at full speed, following
the restless barbarian.
– King Conan... You must not go there... You may not... Forbidden...
– to Siegfried's shame, he was short of breath.
– Why I may not? Why "forbidden"?
– Because. "Forbidden" means forbidden!
– Bullshit, good Mithra excuse my ribaldry! I, Conan the Cimmerian,
may go anywhere! Everywhere I've decided! Do you realize that, dear boy?
Siegfried had bitten his lip. It's been a long time since someone
called him "a boy". King Conan called him that way and it probably means that
he does not take him seriously. Absolutely not. And it means, that he is unable
to stop him on his way to the Flute of the Winds. Then what should he do now?
What should he do?!
– Well... – said Siegfried with a sepulchral voice. – Go. It's
your right. Then I'll go back. To the sea. And I'll order the old Rutgar to sail
for the homeland.
– Who is Rutgar?
Having really unsatisfying and even unhealthy curiosity concerning
the places where evil spirits and other scum lives, Conan at the same time was
quite inattentive and in fact incurious.
– Rutgar is helmsman of our snekkar, – reminded a king's son.
– Just as you like! Go back! But remember: even if I would stay
in the fortress until the dawn, in any case I'll come down after you. And will
even leave behind, – said Conan with authority.
Siegfried angrily turned his back upon the barbarian and begun
to walk away.
It was his opinion that the conversation is over. Damn that stubborn
sun of a bitch! Devils take his pighead! Siegfried, the offspring of the ruler's
family, shall not wrangle with a barbarian without kith or kin, with an usurper
of lice-ridden Aquillon's throne! Moreover with an ex-usurper. Now Conan is just
an ordinary fortune hunter, nothing more than a soldier of fortune!
– However... – was heard behind Siegfried's back, – the victory
over the mountain spirits would hardly add a brilliant to the crown of my glory...
And it would take about a week to swim across the see to the lands of your father...
So... You're the winner!
Siegfried, having a grudge against Conan, did not turn around.
He came to the roadside runic stone. Conan, that suddenly grew quiet, followed
– Don't be silly, dear boy! Never take an offence at me! Everyone
knows, that I have an ungovernable character...
– Never call me "dear boy"! Could you say, that I am a bad guide?
Do you see that stone? Full of runic notes?
– Here it is!
– Ah, now I see...
– Can you read runes?
– I can't.
– Aha! But I can! There is an inscription on that stone. "Going
to my left... you'll sink into oblivion... Going... going to my right... you'll
look death... in the face. Going straight..."
Siegfried wrinkled up his forehead, recollecting the word-for-word
– "Going straight..."
– It is unimportant, – Conan interrupted. – You did not let me
go to the left. So, let's go to the right! What do you think about it? "You'll
look death in the face"... I'm sure it means, that you'll look in a dragon's face,
it surely means Fafnir!
– No! Never! You're wrong again! We should not go on the right,
in no circumstances! There is a real Death. Absolutely real! We don't know anything
about the travelers that went to the left. But we often meet those, who went to
the right! We often meet their phantoms! Do you understand? There is oblivion
on the left and Death on the right!
– I do understand. It's easy!
– And so we need to go straight and down, to the valley. It is
swampy down there, but this season it's possible to walk through. You are lucky.
If it had been a spring or a beginning of a summer, no one would have offered
to take you to Fafnir. This valley is dangerous; many people had vanished there.
– Well... well... well... Stop chattering! It's clear as a noonday,
that the end of the inscription is "Going straight, you'll find Fafnir!" Am I
Siegfried nodded. That minute he recalled the exact words that
finished that sentence: "Going straight, you'll find a fool's grave".
Till the very den of the dragon we almost did not speak.
By the way, a king's son was a good walker – we ran down from the
mountain and he even shot ahead. Then we traversed a bog, a really guileful bog.
The path had disappeared, but Siegfried accurately scented, where to step. So,
my ankles stayed dry.
I guessed, that my dear boy had been there before. When I openly
asked him, he answered unwillingly. He said, "yes". He's been here together with
his father. He was a child back then and was not allowed to come into the Fafnir's
cave. He said, that he never saw this wise dragon and that he's also waiting for
the time when he'll ask him the questions and quench his thirst for wisdom.
"And you too" – added Siegfried proudly. The pride of a king's
son was absolutely explainable: our joint journey to the dragon was putting us
both in equal position, as if we were really equal...
Eh! What "thirst for wisdom"? What questions? My dear naive boy...
If there really is somebody in the den, that somebody is hardly
satisfied with his bitter lot to quench juvenescent thirst for wisdom all days
long. The barbarians are not burdened with the ungrounded philoprogenitive beliefs.
And this is why it's easy for me to imagine, that your father, dear boy, came
to an arrangement with vile Fafnir in a good time, so to say, and sold him your
body and soul... And when I, Conan, turned up, he decided to take the occasion
and settle things up with Fafnir. And even make him an appetizing present in the
form of nourishing Cimmerian.
It is clear – the dragon, the son of Angra Mainyu, would never
loaf about the den without any vital interests... But what kind of vital interests
could the Angra Mainyu sons have? We know it very well! I have grown wise with
experience! You want to eat me up? No, thanks!
After the bogs, we crossed a thick of the forest. It was foul,
full of wind-fallen trees and very humid. The path had rode up again, dodging
between the stones along the stream. Finally, it had led us out of the forest
to the fresh air.
We stopped at the edge of a spacious glade. One hundred steps away
from us darkened a wide rocky wall. I craned my neck and made certain that wall's
upper end disappears in the dark clouds that gathered above us.
It was astonishing – when we saw the sights of this land from the
alp, I did not see any wall like that.
I cheered up – this meant, that the place is bewitching, magical.
And that, in turn, meant, that I would not feel sorry for the time spent.
Near the bottom of the rock, one foot over the glade, I saw an
iron door. It was red because of rust, ancient and massive. At the same time I
did not notice any hinges or locks.
"How should your sword be styled?"
Siegfried spoke in hushed tones. Apparently he was afraid of the
dragon. He was really afraid, even though he was under protection of Conan himself!
I bet he did not believe that he would get the answers to his stupid questions!
He maybe did not even believe that he would get a chance to ask!
"I would like to know the name. Does your sword have a name?"
"So I'd know how to address it!"
"Is it necessary?"
This minute I've remembered: it is quite common among these barbarians
to idolize their arm, to pray to it. What a godlessness! Indeed! To worship the
iron that is being hourly desecrated by unclean blood! But, this is a bad job,
I mean trying to change ones mind regarding the mistakes inherited from their
"It is necessary" – meanwhile answered Siegfried. "For example,
my sword's name is Gram".
I had no choice. So I had to remember one sonorous local word,
the first one that came across.
"The name of my sword is... Rydil"
"But why did not you mention it earlier?"
"I... I don't like to blab out the important things... But since
you told me your secret first... I shall do the same."
"Well... Please, give me your Rydil. I need to talk to him."
Siegfried's utmost seriousness did not dispose to mockery. I winded
off my morocco and extended to Siegfried my sword, which from that moment on had
the name Rydil.
Siegfried had actually grunted from the exertion. It is clear,
he did not get use to the things like my Rydil. His own sword, his Gram, was unlikely
to surpass my dagger in weigh or length.
Haphazardly he piled up Rydil on his shoulder and went aside, under
the protection of old ash-tree.
There he'd stuck both swords – mine and his – into a ground. At
first I wished to blame him for his treatment of my favorite. But I said nothing.
(When I watch myself, I can be tolerant!)
King's son kneeled down, put together his palms, as if he were
praying and started to mumble. I suppose he tried to get our swords talking. It's
I've decided, that it is a right time for me to get down to my
I drag out of the sack the Shangarian necklace from black bolls
of a slay-poppy and an amulet with a dried finger of Agrapurian sorcerer Lolamba.
I put an amulet and a necklace around my neck; I got a seal-ring of Ether Spider
on my forefinger.
After that I returned the sack to my back. I need to be watchful!
No doubt, it is easier to speak with a dragon without any sacks. But it is really
stupid to forget about omnipresent thieves! I know, that these lands are thinly
populated, but I bet, that a half of the population are, for sure, the cryptic
thieves! Besides, people are not the only who steals. Many of the spirits, werewolves,
even vywerns do the same...
Siegfried continued his conversation with Gram and Rydil. However,
the swords did not answer him neither with chime nor even with a gentlest squeak.
Ah! I wonder what was he hoping for?
I smiled. I know, that in contrast to Siegfried I would
be heard. Because I know whom to appeal to!
I turned my face to the East and recited from "Mihr Yasht" the
words, that in the old days had brought me the victories over the whole lands:
"We sacrifice unto Mithra, the lord of wide pastures, who
is truth-speaking, a chief in assemblies, with thousand ears,
well-shaped, with ten thousand eyes, high, with full knowledge,
strong, sleepless, and ever awake.
To whom the chiefs of nations offer up the sacrifices, as they
go to the field, against the havocking hosts, against the enemies
in a battle array, in the strife of the conflicting nations..."
So, I've finished my arrangements. Siegfried was still standing
on his knees before an ash-tree. I stepped up to him.
– Are you going to murmur up to the stop?
He kept silence. I think, he was pretending like he didn't hear
Without wasting words, I grasped the handle of my sword and tried
to tear it up from the ground. That's enough, dear boy. I hope you had a good
long talk. That'll do it for today!
(Doesn't sound right...)
I wish! Rydil was deep in a ground, and it did not really moved,
as if he put down roots! Or, as an old scoundrel Lolamba would say, as if it got
stuck in the teeth of Nergalus!
I squatted down, placed my shoulder under the sword's cross-piece
and tried to straighten. I hoped to liberate my arm by all means.
But that also did not help.
Siegfried, in whose sight I made my endeavor attempts in morose
silence, had finally woken up.
– What are you doing, king Conan?
It was not that easy to hold the anger.
– Don't you see it with your own eyes? I'm taking out my sword!
But I can't understand what's happening with it!
– Nothing serious. It is simple. The iron went under the auspices
of the sacred tree. And this tree shall give our swords back after we finish a
communication with Fafnir.
– And nothing in the world can extract my sword from here?
– Then say to me, don't you afraid to come to the dragon's den
without a sword?
– Quite the contrary. I am afraid to come to the dragon's den with
I'm not a huge thinker and I'm even ready to recognize this fact
(at least, in the face of Mithra), but at that moment I had no trouble grasping,
that it is useless to argue with Siegfried, to entreat him to take away a paternoster,
to call to his common sense or his feelings.
At the same time I understood one more thing – for no apparent
reason Siegfried does not take into consideration my dagger. Maybe he thinks,
that dagger is safe, maybe he thinks, that Fafnir thinks that it is safe. But
most likely Siegfried just forgot about my dagger. As it is often the case, a
thing could become such an eyesore to someone that he just stops noticing it at
But who knows, maybe in a minute Siegfried will see things clearly
again. Then he'll certainly demand that I'd leave the dagger near the sacral ash!
I smiled as unconstrainedly as I only could. And said:
– So... well... I feel, it's time to unlock Fafnir... meanwhile
I'll go aside... I'll be right back.
– What for?
– Hmm... I think it's not good to make water under the holy elm!
Or, as the Danes would say, "Unrighteousness is to pollute the Odin's steed with
belly's foam". Correct?
Seems, it sounded very comically. I burst out laughing.
Still giggling, I went to the bushes and there took out of my sack
a tiny (as two thimbles!) green bottle. This small bagatelle was paid for with
lives of the whole pirate gang in a heroic time of my youth.
Although I, old Cimmerian miser, grudged a little a priceless ounce
of sweat that has been taken from an invisible rakshas, nevertheless I did not
hesitate. I've moistened the sheath and the dagger with bottle's contents.
The skin had discolored immediately; the white-yellow ivory became
absolutely white. Losing their natural colors, all the sheath's and dagger's substances,
became saturated with a new color, the color of invisibility.
The arms before my very eyes have dissolved in a thin air. But
I was palpably aware of a smooth bone globule on the top of the handle, of two
iron hooks near the basis of the blade and of the silver bracket on the edge of
the sheath. All the things where they should be. I was satisfied.
The only problem is that the sweat of the invisible rakshas will
not be holding on long enough. It will dry up soon and an image of the dagger
will come through the emptiness and unveil my conspiracy...
– King Conan! King Co-o-nan!.. I am going i-i-in!
The iron door turned on the iron pillar passing through its very
middle. Outstanding hand-made thing, a masterpiece of blacksmith Reign apart from
the fact that it was firm and eternal had one more advantage: it was equipped
with a magnificent mechanical lock and a servo-motor with a hydraulic booster.
Siegfried greased the key with old fat and inserted it in a keyhole
that was recondite behind the blackberry bush to the right of the door.
King's son had to exert himself to make the mechanism work. For
this purpose he had to add one more auxiliary detail to the key's head. It was
a foot-long lever.
During the first turn of the key, four joint-pins came back into
the slots of the lock's mechanism and opened the door.
A dozen of athletes would turn purple with strain, trying to swing
the iron monolith around the ace-pillar. However, blacksmith Regin would never
be considered an Archimedes of his poor in genius time if it'd require a dozen
of athletes to use his marvels of mechanical ingenuity.
Siegfried turned the key once again.
In the depth of basalt awoke and begun to roar an artificial waterfall.
A water tank embedded in the rock, splashed away ten thousands barrels of water.
The water squelched in the water-wheel paddles, driving gears started
to rattle. The door was opening slowly. The opened chink was wide enough for a
man of any constitution, even as husky as Conan.
It will take five days to refill the water tank again – the stream,
that flowed through the secret vein of rock was quite feeble.
The second water tank, that was situated symmetrically, still remained
full. It must be emptied during the closing of the iron door.
Conan resolutely stepped over the threshold, following Siegfried.
The dispersed light of the autumn day was immediately taken to
task by numerous gems marking the walls and the ceiling of the roomy alley with
a dotted line. It went straight for seventy steps and then smoothly turned right.
This bright inner light that suddenly blazed up in yellow, crimson
and dark blue gems, scared Conan, though Siegfried stayed indifferent to it. The
barbarian suspected that the gems that sparkled in blind darkness are products
of a sacrilegious teurgia while Siegfried discovered that they are nothing but
lamps indicating the direction.
No stink, no sticky piles of garbage, no cattle skulls or bones...
In a word, no paraphernalia of slovenly gluttony. Cimmerian just did not find
them in a passage, though he industriously tried.
The Fafnir's abode was an evidence of the strange fact: its master
is a cleanly, inventively thinking creature, maybe a little bit phlegmatic and
lazy, inclined to create sporadically when the inspiration comes...
Turn of passage revealed one of the last products of Fafnir's inspiration:
an impressive block of a rock crystal. Only when adapted to the unusual lighting
and only after being filled with the creativity of the artist one could realize
that this block was a Fafnir's life-sized self-portrait. Crystal dragon laid on
the floor, tucking up the forepaws under the chest in a catlike manner. He covered
his head with his right wind.
King Siegmund, who came into the den at the beginning of the year
to ask dragon's advice on the religious politics of the kingdom, caught Fafnir
sculpturing the left wing. Siegmund had frightened away Fafnir's inspiration.
This is why the self-portrait remained unfinished and single-winged...
The nature showered artistic gifts on Fafnir the Sculptor. And
that made him very unscrupulous in the choice of tools for his art-work. He usually
scorned the traditional sculptor's tools, preferring his inborn pride. For rough
treatment of the rock crystal he has been using his diamond cutting teeth of the
upper jaw. For finishing work he has been using the claws of the upper extremity,
he has been polishing his masterpieces with tale skin, that was as shaggy, as
a real emery.
"Fafnir, son of Hreidmar" – this name was given to the sculptured
figure by the dragon. But he did not emboss the inscription in imperishable stone.
The joy of creation caused a toothache, the claws horribly itched...
Conan stood on his toes. He knocked on the edge of the crystal
tail, evaluating. Unfortunately, the abstract thinking of the barbarian was not
strong enough to recognize in the crystal block anything more interesting, then
a block. The Fafnir's tail in his opinion was merely a fantastical stalagmite...
– When you are guest, it' s better not to touch anything without
the host's permission...
It seemed to Conan that this phrase was pronounced by Siegfried.
Acoustics in the heart of the fairy mountain was really fairy. Distant sounds
seemed close, close sounds sometimes even did not reach ear, the beating of own
heart could be easily mistook for the murmur of the scorching sulfur in the subterranean
waterfalls of Utgard.
– Better stop teaching me! Right now! – the barbarian became furious
He nervously grasped his dagger, but timely collected himself.
The clank of iron was able to reveal his intents. If not to Fafnir himself, then
Cimmerian walked around the sculpture then he figured out, that
the crystal block from certain perspectives looks like a bird, nestled down on
the floor. However, Conan did not care about this resemblance a rush. He was not
interested in the crystal dragon-like birds, he needed their flesh-and-blood prototype.
And the latter, seemed, vanished into thin air!
– Who is here?
– Indeed, who?
The voice did not belong to Siegfried, although it also jingled
with juvenile bells.
– I am Conan, king of Aquillon, noble native of Kymmeria, – answered
the barbarian, bracing himself up.
– I am Fafnir, son of Hreidmar, the wise native of Nifelheim. You
may ask your questions.
– Where is Siegfried?
– He is listening to my answers.
– But then where are you?
– I am here.
– Why don't I see you then?
– You see my simulacra. My simulacra is conversing with you. You
can get the answers. Is it not enough?
– It is not enough.
Having a Jesuitical shrewd common sense, Conan gave no signs that
he was hearing the word "simulacra" for the first time in his life. Although he
guessed, that his interlocutor means the crystal bird. It might well be, – Conan
supposed, – that "simulacra" is just a word for "bird".
– Siegfried is polite, as polite as his father Siegmund. He is
being satisfied with my simulacra's answers without complaints. But you are not,
– said Fafnir. – I believe, that your father was as uncouth as you are...
The dragon was famous for his foresights – the life of Niun, Conan's
father, was not really rich in ceremonies. It was the life of a village farrier.
– ...However, – the dragon continued, – you might have weighty
reasons to insist upon meeting me in person?
– Of course, penetrating son of Hreidmar, I have. I know, that
a spit of dragon is an excellent transmutator and it is very useful for magicians.
I would like to buy some of your spit. A quarter of a pound. Price does not matter.
– Your voice is a voice of a warrior. Not of a magician. Your work
is to strike with iron. Seeking for my spit, you are turning to the road of black
magic. It will bring you no good, – for a moment intelligible parlance of Fafnir
degraded to the muffled sleepy mumbling. – I see... see your past lives... future
lives... here... there... these lives are like fishes... quick-moving fishes...
Aha! Here it is! Here it lays, my forty pounds nugget! – triumphed dragon. – Listen
to me, you naked animal: you had never taken neither spit, nor sweat or bile from
celestial dragons. You have been taking it from rakshases, from people and vywerns,
from lindwurms, loathsome ashy snakes and many animals. You have been mainly taking
the blood. And that was your right. Because you have been staying on the path
of warrior with both feet. And now...
– That will do! Enough! Let's get down to business! What do you
ask for your spit?
– Your left hand. Up to the elbow.
– Exorbitant prices! But... but I'm willing to give you one finger.
For a quarter of a pound.
About a minute it was quiet.
– One finger will do. But remember well my warning. If you give
me your finger today, in four days you will die...
Until this moment Conan stayed indifferent to the cautions of Fafnir.
He kept the conversation up only because he wanted to lure the dragon out of his
sanctuary and make the creature appear before him in all his visible, tangible,
vulnerable fullness, in fullness of flesh. However, this time the dragon's warning
confused him. Indeed, the death of Conan, the famous exterminator of filth, should
be desirable for any foul offspring of Evil. For what reason Fafnir, this progeny
of Angra Mainyu, is trying to discourage him, Conan, from the bewitching bargain?
But the barbarian was already through with hesitation – he just
came to the conclusion, that mercenary creature is lying.
– It's a deal! – screamed out Conan boldly. – My finger is yours!
Once Cimmerian has witnessed a terrible attack. A huge migrant
horde of locust assaulted the Kush kingdom. He memorized forever an apocalyptic
rattle of the gluttonous cloud stripping motley patches of fields and pastures
from the landscape and reducing to a common ash-colored denominator the sowings
of pea and hemp, barley and wheat. He had never seen anything more frightening
in his life.
The locust cloud has assembled in the heart of the cave and then
dived from under the arches curtained off with darkness as if it intended to hit
exactly Conan's chest.
Conan knew from Kush experience, that it is best in such situation
to fall on the ground.
When the deafening rattle finally calmed down, leaving behind just
a few chilly hurricanes, Conan raised his head.
In front of him, proudly sticking out his belly, stood a dragon.
In fact, he bore much more resemblance to a bird then to a reptile.
Fafnir's wings that would not fit into the passage while spread
stuck up above the spotty back of the dragon. Their rear edges seemed blood-stained
and tattered at first sight. But very soon Conan noticed that this optical illusion
is caused by feathers, that covered the wings of the dragon. Black, scarlet, orange
The legs and the back of Fafnir's head were also feathery. Plumage
there was modest in color, but warmed up the dragon's cold body well. Two pointy
ears of Fafnir were shaggy with a tender gray fluff. The down inside of the ears
were silver-bluish. As the ears of young rakshas, – noted Conan.
The barbarian also decided, that this feathering caused that terrible
locust-like noise that accompanied dragon's flight. But Conan was wrong. Loud
chirr and rattle, that announced the appearance of the winged anchorite, was just
one of the numerous dragon's jokes. Another time Fafnir would squeak as a pig,
hiss as a pouring rain, drone like a fire-ball.
There were wide segments of keratinized skin on the chest, on the
belly and on the inside of the dragon's hip. They were separated from one another
with leathern bottlenecks. Perhaps, this was the only thing (not counting the
bare tale with arrow-like end and haughty crocodile mug of exorbitant length)
testified, that Fafnir is essentially a dragon.
He was ten ells high. Cimmerian couldn't tell the length of dragon.
The illumination was too delusive.
Unprecedented color! Unwitnessed breed! Conan almost panted with
ecstasy. What a priceless trophy!
– So there you are, Conan, the son of Niun!
The authentic voice of Fafnir, produced by his real throat and
not by a cold throat of simulacra, was silky. In fact, it was so silky that one
might want to stroke it with hand. Or maybe even to stroke his tongue. One would
like to apply it to a forehead, to the cheeks, to wrap it around the neck. It
was a voice of a crafty devil, princesses' seducer, of a thief abducting human
Conan became strongly convinced, that this creature is treacherous,
blood-thirsty and mendacious.
– It is me. So what?
– You are similar to my brother Regin. As sulky as he is. You are
– Is he a man, I mean, your brother?
– He is man-not-man. But it is not interesting. I need to know
Fafnir made two steps forward and moved his eye surrounded by a
ring of horn, closer to Conan.
Cimmerian heard that dragon eye despite its deceptive vulnerability,
cannot be punctured by knife or sword. Is that true, or is that just another lie
told by cunning eunuch Lolamba?
He wished he could verify it, but the risk outweighed possible
– Tell me, Cimmerian, were your mother faithful to your father?
– suddenly asked Fafnir. – Did she offer herself to lustful nothern wind? Did
she drink the magical water with white worms? Maybe, she received a Golden Rain
in her privy rooms? Or did she consorted with Black Kite in the image of pen-swan?
That was too much! Conan's mind was blinded with fury. But, though
his eyes were blind, his hands, unfortunately, were not.
The heaviest marrowbone in Nothern Europe punched the dragon's
Fafnir's head shacked away from Conan.
– Stop smearing my mother! – yelled the barbarian.
In vain. It was not wise to waste time on such fits of passion.
Any snake could be envious of dragon's tale mobility. Fafnir has
knocked Conan down before in he could delivered the third blow in series. At that
the arrow on the dragon's tale has scratched Conan's hauberk.
Kept on moving mechanically.
Turned around the longitudinal axis.
And chopped off a little finger from the Conan's hand that was
drawn back for the fourth blow.
It has also chopped off it's own sculptural image from the monument
"Fafnir, son of Hreidmar" and broke a couple of gems on the wall of passage. Then
it went away, drawn by celestial-born dragon's muscular system, that was very
– I do really hate curious persons! I do hate idle curiosity! I
do hate them even more, then I hate lindwurms! – barked dragon. – And I do hate
you three time as much! You, dirty huckster!
The unfinned, sharp-clawed forepaw of dragon has pressed Conan
to the floor. It has also covered an invisible dagger. To that dagger were directed
all the simple thoughts of the barbarian.
Conan's left hand was bleeding. While the right hand tried to feel
the dagger's handle.
– You needed my spit? Then take it! I am not greedy! Take it!
Fafnir angrily spited.
But his dense spit did not spread like a foam puddle over the floor.
Because of the contact with an air, luminous liquid roughly blistered. Separate
bubbles, rolling over, gathered in one big ball. Its outer sheath got hard. Then
contents of this vessel, that reminded of glassy honeycomb, got the color of the
When the spit underwent these transformations, Conan repeatedly
called for Mithra's help.
Fafnir intently sniffed.
Finally the smell of the blood helped the dragon to find the barbarian's
finger that was chopped out. He removed his paw from the prostrate Conan, stepped
ahead, stretched his neck and, twisting his tail into a magic pretzel, breathed
on the little finger.
Ownerless bit of human flesh instantly turned into a silver fish.
Fafnir licked off the fish with his shining tongue at once.
– Human flesh is forbidden... – murmured dragon. – But fish is
The dragon was confident, that the bargain is done and thus the
conversation is over. But the barbarian was not going to share that opinion.
The left underarm of Fafnir was just at the high point above the
Conan's nose. Cimmerian squinted his eyes. The bone handle of his dagger was slowly
returning into a world of visible.
Cimmerian carefully pulled the dagger from the sheath with his
– Oh! But what is there... what? – Fafnir pricked up his ears,
listening to the prophetic currents, that came from his stomach. – A fate? My
fate?.. Hey, Conan!..
The dragon crooked his neck and looked under his belly.
The darkness reigned there. The eyes of Fafnir flared.
– King Conan? What is going on?
This was the voice of Siegfried. Two minutes ago king's son accomplished
the conversation with another Fafnir's simulacra situated in a small room, which
he entered, following the turns of the main passage. It was not far from the first
Conan leaped to his feet and stabbed the dragon with his dagger.
Steel had torn the buckle between two horny segments on the dragon's belly.
The blade came into a Fafnir's flesh to the full length. Then into
this living depth, that started to exude a farinaceous gluten, but did not start
bleeding, plunged the dagger's handle together with Conan's hand.
Fafnir began to wail. The lamentations of the dragon were mournful,
but unintelligible. His eyes twinkled twice and went off.
It seemed to Conan that the Fafnir's glutton will suck him in immediately.
He uttered a scream and jerked back his hand. The dagger completely remained in
The Cimmerian rapidly flew out from under the dragon.
Siegfried, who stood under the left wing of Fafnir, has caught
a slap in a ear. He still was unable to comprehend, what was happening.
Suddenly Fafnir became quiet and crashed down on his right side,
a broken wing crunched.
Instantly, with loud flapping, the dagger jumped out from the wound.
Its handle painfully punched Siegfried in the chest.
– Conan... you...
Siegfried did not finished the sentence. The tight stream of dragon's
blood hit his chest. Right in front of his eyes gleamed the spokes of a scarlet
wheel. And king's son fainted away. The bloody steam, that seemed inexhaustible
nodulized Siegfried from top to toe.
As soon as miracle-working haemoglobins sprinkled the Siegfried's
sinciput, he took a long breath and, making hoarse noises, came to himself.
Simultaneously, Fafnir has also regained consciousness.
– R-r-r-r-tsa... R-r-r-tsa... – said the dragon, gnashing with
his sharp claws. He rose to his four feet.
While Fafnir have been dying, while Siegfried have been taking
a bloody shower, the only thing that Conan had time to accomplish was offering
a gratifying prayer to Mithra. Though he prayed in rough-and-ready fashion.
But very soon it has become clear that his gratitude to Mithra
was expressed prematurely...
It turned out that Mithra is not a helper, at least, for a while.
And that the only real ally of Cimmerian is his dagger. But where is this dagger?!
After washing in dragon's blood, Siegfried's skin started to itch.
But most importantly something has happened to Siegfried's eyesight. He saw a
bright star where was the exit from the cave, he saw the luminous piece of rotten
wood where was Conan. Fafnir was seen as an oblong window and beyond that window
was glistening like silver a night sea. There was a moonlight drive on that see.
Right to that moonlight, sailed a boat. At the bottom of the boat there laid a
man and someone in black loose overall was sitting at the stern... In his hands
the stranger held an unusual thin oar.
Someone in black loose overall turned around. White teeth, red
gums, eternal smile of skeleton. The oar came out of the water and Siegfried recognized
that this is not an oar, this is a scythe. The passenger of a boat was Conan.
The helmsman was Death.
O, Jesus, chieftain of the divine army and his holy centurions,
help! Dispel the satanic delusion!
Siegfried jumped up and took to his heels. Bumped into a wall –
unfortunately, the substantial geometry of the passage did not coincided with
its parallel geometry which was in focus of Siegfried's sight after the
contact with Fafnir's blood.
He dashed aside, ran forward and bumped into the opposite wall.
But the exit was very close.
Siegfried's spirit became stronger and he doughtily dived into
the heart of the bright star. He did not scorched even his wavy hair and came
to the surface beyond the parallel sight. The evening humidity and wet grass open
their arms to him.
In the cave snarled and raged dragon Fafnir – personified hatred
against the human race.
And it seemed to Siegfried that Fafnir pursued him closely. A death
from the wounded Fafnir's sharp-clawed paws would have been just. King's son recognized
that. He, Siegfried, had brought a killer disguised as a friend to the wise dragon.
He, Siegfried, deserves no credit. He deserves death and posthumous damnation.
But thirst for life is stronger then justice. And the moral categories
are aliens to human body.
Instead of waiting for the well-deserved punishment, Siegfried's
body erected itself in front of the key inserted into a keyhole. The hands of
Siegfried snatched at lever and turned the key – once, twice, thrice...
Fafnir's blood streamed down the king's son's legs, irrigating
the grass, though after this irrigation it immediately changed into fragile crystals
of goldish spar.
The water from the second water-tank gushed out on the wheel paddles.
The iron door was closing slowly...
Conan, the indomitable barbarian from Kymmeria, became almost deaf
by the dragon's howling. But unlike Siegfried, he did not lose his temper.
When Siegfried ran at a breakneck pace towards the cave's exit,
and Fafnir, on his numb, lifeless legs moved back into the depth of the cave,
Conan has finally found his dagger. After returning from the dragon's belly, the
steel has became cherry-red and the handle was now colored with lemon-yellow.
The left palm, that has lost a little finger, has been horribly
aching. The stump has been still bleeding.
Conan pulled three clove of slay-poppy out of his necklace and
hastily chewed them down. The sedative effect of the Othyr herb positively affected
him very soon – his hands, his feet, his jaws, upper and lower and even his tongue
went absolutely numb. His backbone became covered with hoar-frost. However Conan's
extremities – upper and lower – were still obeying him. And that was most important.
Cimmerian turned away, closed his eyes and, speaking with his lips
closed, pronounced a conjuration. After that he opened a seal-ring of Ether Spider.
With a quiet hum from the cavity that was hidden under the massive ruby of a seal-ring,
got out a spirit, known by the name Ether Spider.
With a lightning speed he started to spin a web and in a split
second he had woven from the thin air an image of Conan, that looked exactly like
Conan himself. Now near the real Conan there stood a second Conan swaying a little
bit like drunk.
Ether Spider – is a very ephemeral creature by nature, he just
dissolves in the air, if telluric magic of ruby does not defend it. And this is
why the spirit preferred to take a sip of energy from his master's lips and hide
again in the seal-ring as soon as possible.
Conan pressed on a ruby and a jewel went back with a soft click.
After that Cimmerian opened his eyes. It was strictly forbidden
to watch Ether Spider work. Else wise Ether Spider could catch a sight, root into
the pupil of the eye and settle down in the Cimmerian's cranium. Joyless perspective.
Especially taking into account the intolerable talkativeness of the spirit.
Fafnir, who has been moving by anything but the life-force, has
finally stopped. He rested his eyes on Conan. And it seemed to him, that the barbarian
is stunned. His hands are lowered, his head is bent...
The last seconds of countdown were ticking in the Fafnir's consciousness
and the dragon doubtfully examined the spurious Conan. He already got used to
the fact, that the life has left his winged body as well as to the fact that very
soon the motion would leave it too. The only thing that still bothered Fafnir
was: what to do with the Cimmerian? To chastise him for his treachery with immediate
death or to pass the Conan's life to inexorable Fate?
At the same time genuine Conan prepared himself to the last combat.
He hid himself beyond the crystal Fafnir's simulacra. He was waiting for a moment
when dragon would attack his copy, made by Ether Spider. According to his calculations,
during the attack the creature should come as close as necessary for the last
stab of dagger. He decided to aim at the dragon's eye.
If crafty castrate Lolamba was right and the dragon's eye is really
stronger then the steel, the attempt would not be successful and the jaws of tough
Angra Mainyu's offspring would close down the skull of Conan and squeeze out his
brain from his nostrils and eye-sockets. But if Lolamba was mistaken... Oh...
in this case he, Cimmerian, would grant to the Netherlands people their liberty
from feathered tyrant's oppression!
Fafnir jumped ahead.
Conan, who was woven from nothing, has been torn to tatters. These
tatters, weightless, variegated started to spin in the air that was stirred up
by dragon's paws.
The Fafnir's muzzle became faintly visible in this motley circulation
two steps away from Conan. Screaming out a war-cry of Othyr camel guardians, Cimmerian
rushed into attack.
Lolamba was wrong. Dagger's cutting edge has easily pierced through
the cornea of the dragon's eye. And this eye exploded from within: the life ardor
came out from the third innerbody cocoon connecting the dragon's brain with his
Instantly a beam of particles painted in gay colors barbarian's
hair, blazed on his cheeks, shaded his look.
– I forgive you, Conan. But remember, the deal is done, – murmured
Fafnir, lowering to his belly and covering his head with a wing, right to a T
as did his crystal simulacra.
The dragon became silent. At once the last sparkles from his exploded
eye went out. Absolute darkness reigned in Fafnir's asylum.
In the beginning, Conan ignored this fact.
As it did many times in the past after a victory over a powerful
enemy Conan felt that blood foamed in his veins like an ocean surf. And he heard
the all-conquering blare of optimistic trumpets.
– You are the offspring of the All Lies Father. And you yourself
told only lies!
Conan addressed the spirit of Fafnir, which, according to the barbarian's
idea, should be near at hand.
– I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of your predictions!
– summarized Conan with haughty voice. And spited out in darkness.
Then Conan sang a Song of Good Fortune. And danced a Dance of Victory.
The chorus of Conan's double that were born by echo joined him
Dancing in the darkness was not convenient. Twice Conan hit his
head on the wall and against the simulacra. Only after that he assented to notice
that it is absolutely dark and that Siegfried is missing.
– Hey! Hey, king's son! Dry your pants and come out here! I've
liberated your kingdom from the blood-sucking parasite! You all are free people
Conan listened to the silence. Only echo answered him.
"What a molly-coddle this Siegfried" – muttered the barbarian.
He was sure, that king's son is somewhere around. Maybe he just fainted away?
And what happened to light?
Groping his way, Conan reached the cave's exit and made faced the
fact: the door was closed. Neither a sunbeam, nor a moonshine delved into and
inflamed the wall gems.
– Hey, whoever you may be... whoever you may serve... you... Nergalus'
giblets... you should know: Conan the Cimmerian will show you what's what! On
the earth or under the earth I'll give you what-for! I'll tear you in pieces!
Barehanded! And so better open the door until I fly into a rage! Today I'm in
a good temper. Very well... I'll have mercy on you, little fool.
The king's son mosquito shout reached Conan's ears from behind
the door. The voice was materially weakened by the door's steel.
– King Conan! I am unable to open this door! You will have to wait!
It is not too long, only five days! And five nights! Until the opening water tank
is filled up! Now you must keep silence. You've committed a horrible crime. I
don't want to talk to you.
– Don't be a fool, Siegfried. What does it mean – "you are unable"?
Once you was able to open it! I saw it with my own eyes! Is it difficult to do
it once again? I've liberated your people from the cruel dragon and you return
evil for good... Shame on you!
But king's son did not answer.
The whole night, that he spent near the iron door, Siegfried tried
to make peace with his conscience. In vain.
Indeed, at the very beginning, he killed nice Fafnir. Not with
his own hands, but with Conan's. Now he is actually killing Conan, imprisoning
him in Fafnir's cave. And again, not with his own hands, not because of his will
– the door has been closed by the power of water, while he, Siegfried, thought
that Conan is dead and that wounded Fafnir was going to tear off his, Siegfried's,
There was one more important circumstance, that gave Siegfried
It was necessary to pay wergild for the Fafnir's death. The dragon's
kinsfolk should take it. Otherwise they (or their spirits) will certainly haunt
Conan to death. And even in the world beyond they will give Conan no quarter.
Even looking at this problem through the prism of pure Christian
views (Siegfried actually recognized the great power of comes Jesus and was sure,
that he is a convinced Christian) anyway it turned out that Fafnir is an innocent
victim of treacherous stab and that Conan is like Judas or Herod. Or even worse.
The best thing in times like this would be to ask bishop's advise.
Unfortunately, there were no bishops in Gniteihed. There were also no churches,
no monks, no pagan basilicas, no Jupiter temples there. Even no Isida's priest
and no shabby druid!
It also turned out, that Siegfried's doing were not only destructive
for the physical bodies of Cimmerian and Fafnir, but even destructive for the
spiritual body of king Conan. Through ignorance king Conan has killed a sentient
being, that must not be killed anyway. And now he even unable to depurate himself
from the filth of violence and forced to stick around in the shut cage alone with
his sins and a victim of these sins.
Siegfried pitied blockheaded Conan. This is why he decided to wait
near the door these damned five days. Then he will turn the key, liberate the
power of the water and together with it liberate the impetuous barbarian.
After his liberation Conan will have to choose the lesser of two
evils: to stay on Gniteihed in a role of eternal outcast or to appear in court
of Siegmund. (If divine justice will not occur earlier.)
Siegfried could not sleep. He was freezing. The capricorn beetles
heartily creaked on a sacred ash-tree. Beyond the iron door snored the Cimmerian.
– "Eternal light"! "Truth"! – Cimmerian mimiced the king's son.
– What kind of "truth" can say the dragon, contemptible Angra Mainyu's offspring?
Don't you know, that in Angra Mainyu's army Druj or Big Lie is one of the high
standing generals? So, the truth and the dragon are incompatible.
– We don't think so.
– You are stubborn as a jackass. Well... Now you know what I came
to the Fafnir's cave for. But I still have no idea, what are you seeking here?
– Does it really matter?
– I swear on Sraosha's bludgeon! It is better to talk to you then
to go mad from hunger and thirst!
– Maybe you should better try again to destroy the door? Maybe
you've got some more of your secret magic amulets? Seems, you did not yet tested
the miraculous properties of the Fafnir's spit...
– I need a rest... And I'm sick of this damn spit... So, you can
start telling me your story... I need to collect my thoughts.
– Very well. I collogued with one of the Fafnir's simulacra. Just
as you did. That simulacra looked a like an outline of a tree made of white clay
globules. The dragon convinced me that this simulacra had a name "Fafnir without
– Insane creature! Nevertheless, I was right when tickled him with
– Unlikely, that insane creature could explain things one after
another and coherently. – Siegfried interrupted the barbarian. – I believe, that
the dragon knew the esoteric truth... The interior truth of the world. Do you
understand me? He was building his simulacras according to his knowledge...
– But where did you pick up all these words, – wondered Conan.
– "Interior"... "eternal light"... "esoteric truth"... I remember, you use to
speak like a regular boy before!
– "Interior" in Latin means "inner". Nothing special.
– Nothing? Let it be nothing, – Conan despondently agreed. – And
what did this "Fafnir without skin" told you?
– I wanted to know my future. To be exact, I came here to ask what
version of the future should I choose for myself.
– Ha! This question is very simple. Why didn't you ask me? To get
the right answer one don't have to ask mendacious dragons!
– Because a man has no definite future. There is nothing to know.
A man does not have any prescripted future. The world does not have any prescripted
– I understand this point of view, – tactfully agreed the king's
son. But we, Bataves, do love speaking about the future. It is customary to speak
about it. We think, that we can worm out a future as we can worm out a secret
path to Hiperborea. Does it astonish you when the merchant, going to the other
end of the world, wants to know as much as he can about the distant mountains
and lakes, forests and tribes? Even in the case if his trip would be cancelled?
– It does not astonish me.
– Then you better believe, that I asked Fafnir, which ways of a
strange land are convenient for me. This is a tradition in our family. My older
brother Ataulf also asked Fafnir for advise, and so did my father Siegfried, and
so did my uncle Rognar... I wanted to know which direction to go – my vocation,
so to say.
– I understand. Then I bet being a king is not you vocation. And
this is what Fafnir told you.
– Ye-es... But how do you happen to know?
– It is absolutely clear. You brother Ataulf would kill you if
he suspect you of such claims. Believe me, my dear boy, I have had all kinds of
experiences... I've seen lots of king's sons... One should not be a prophetic
dragon in order to figure out your vocation...
– If you are so penetrating, then maybe you know what Fafnir proposed
– Wait a minute... Well... You are able to become a warrior. It
is obvious. And it is much more obvious that you will become a poor warrior. Further...
You can be a priest of the Savior. A bishop, as far as I remember... You are suited
for such work, it's clear. "Eternal light", "esoteric truth"... Well-rounded speeches...
In fact, I don't see any other options for a king's son – it is unlikely, that
you are going to become a shoemaker... Oh, now. I see the third way! You can be
a judge. As Sraosha in the army of Ahura Mazda. You will go with a bludgeon and
punish the bribe-takers and scoundrels.
– You are wrong. Fafnir never told me about being a bishop. He
told me, that I can be a Hunter for Elements. Which means – wizard.
– It makes no difference, – indifferently responded Conan. – Let
me tell you that in the lands, where righteous men confess the true teaching of
Zaratushtra, they call their priests of the Saviour "the wizards". So, your words
just prove me right.
Siegfried has become depressed. Maybe Conan is right and Fafnir
did not have any special knowledge?
But one minute passed and he returned to this sacrilegious thought.
It is impossible! What does it mean – "did not have any special knowledge"? What
a bullshit! The most important thing is not "what" but "how"! Fafnir did not only
tell him the ways he should choose. He also said, what exactly to do in order
to go this of that way!
– Well... Maybe it really makes no difference... – said Siegfried
with strained voice. He awfully tried to keep his wool on. – If you, king Conan,
really equal in your wisdom to dragon Fafnir, then tell me, please, what exactly
Fafnir has suggested? What was it?
Conan began to grumble in response. Siegfried decided that it gurgles
in the barbarian's belly because of hunger.
In a minute Conan answered with a chest-voice:
– I have to tell you, king's son... You can be a Hunter for Memory.
Hunter is a good word, I think. It helps to express the proper sense. For example,
the king is a Hunter for Power, the warrior is a Hunter for Courage. The magician
is a Hunter for Elements... The judge is a Hunter for Justice...
Every new Conan's word made Siegfried gloomier. His knees trembled
and his face became marmoreal. Because the Cimmerian repeated exactly the things,
that Fafnir has told Siegfried. Word for word.
– The Hunter for Memory can be whatever he likes – a scald, a warrior,
a magician. He can even be a beggar. But one day the Hunter for Memory will set
fire to one and only temple. Or he will be crucified on the oblique cross. Maybe
he'll write "The Metamorphoses" or count the skies. When the Hunter for Memory
come into a world, he stay there forever. As the moon and the stars. His death
is unavoidable, but his life will be engraved in the memory of the world. His
memory is imperishable. And this is why he is called the Hunter for Memory.
– King Conan, stop talking! – Siegfried lost his temper. He gripped
his head in a vice of hands.
But Conan did not react to Siegfried's despair howling. He burst
out laughing and continued:
– Now I'll tell you some more interesting things... To become a
Hunter for Courage you should go straight to the court of Roman basileus. But
you need to remember – from there you will never come home...
Exhausted Siegfried rested against the door and fell silent. The
pragmatysm gained the upper hand over the sacred fear – finally he decided, that
it would be useful to listen to Fafnir's prophecies once more.
– To become a Hunter for Justice, you need to go to Syrmius, to
the court of Atley, hunnu king. But you'll never come back from the land of hunnu...
To become a Hunter for Elements, go to Niebelungenland. To the Nebelsee Lake.
In fifteen years you will surpass your human nature. And you'll never return to
Siegfried imagined the Nebelsee Lake as distinctly, as if he was
born and grew up there.
Contrary to the lake's name (which implied shades and darkness),
the air under Nebelsee was transparent and clean as Easter dawn. Two huge fishes
played in a water, not far from the shore boulders. And the mirror-like surface
of the water suggested that Nebelsee is a deep lake with a guileful, black floor...
"But I myself have never been at Nebelsee!" – Siegfried was horrified.
In a minute everything became clear for him. The stranger remembrances
– the remembrances of Fafnir came into his flesh together with Fafnir's blood.
Siegfried stopped the retrospection with his will.
– What a blockhead am I! – he cried out.
He finally understood, what happened this morning. What happened
while he washed himself in a brook and had his meagre breakfast. Then he nicely
moved away from the iron door for not confusing the Cimmerian with his champing.
To confuse Cimmerian! Ha! The Cimmerian himself was able to confuse
the whole world!
Now Siegfried knew it exactly, beyond doubt: "While I had my breakfast,
Cimmerian had his! He cut the dragon's heart out and ate it up. He arranged a
sumptuous feast! What a fool! I warned him in vain..."
Indeed, more then twice king's son alarmed Conan. Conjured him.
Begged him to be patient. To suffer five days – miserable five days! – without
water and food. In fact, it is not that painful. Any druid, any well-disciplined
Christian monk would say, that keeping the five-days fast is good for your health.
Very good in fact. This fast would certainly help to both bodily transformation
and spiritual transfiguration of the barbarian. But the barbarian did not like
to suffer. He did not like to keep fast. He did not care about transformations
Here is a solution to the ominous secret of Conan's knowing-all-speeches.
His knowledge is borrowed. It was picked up from the delicious
Fafnir's heart. And all Conan's oracles are the oracles of Fafnir.
The barbarian received a communion of dragon's flesh and blood.
And now Conan's flesh and blood are becoming the dragon's flesh and blood. Yes,
he'll become a dragon. An enlightened one or an insane one. But he'll not be able
to hold the human shape for long.
After a while, in one or two meals, Conan will start understanding
the language of tries and birds. The secrets of Creation and the secrets of the
End of the World will open to him. But if the nature of dragon is in harmony with
such secrets, the nature of human is not. Human will never stand the test of these
secrets. A human soul is too small compared to the soul of a dragon.
And what will happen then?
The End of the World? Scarcely.
Most likely, the End of Conan.
The knowledge about Conan's fate came into Siegfried together with
Fafnir's blood – in that blood he was washed yesterday, against his will. But
king's son had got off lightly with homeopathic draught of dragon blood while
Conan gulped this elixir down from the heart and it was probably an overdose...
It is strange, that he is still alive though.
Or maybe he is not?
Maybe on that side of the door, a new monster, an anthropogenic
dragon tears off leavings of baggy trousers from his legs?
– Listen to me, king... What should I call you: "the king Conan"
or "the dragon Conan"? Maybe even "the king Fafnir"?
– The Daeva take you, king's son... – responded Conan with hopeless,
hangover voice. – Me is me.
– Do you remember what we were talking about?
– Don't you? Did you have time to forget?
– Don't be cross with me... I'm just checking... I want to know...
Were you attentive when I spoke? It just seemed to me that you began to nod...
– What an insolent fellow! Do you think, that when I can't show
you what's what, you can distrust me? King Conan from Kymmeria? Damned insolence!
Don't you know, who is elder here?
– Don't you know that at any moment I can get up and leave
you here all alone... For a half of a year or even more... And no one will release
you from this cave. Don't you remember, that the key is on my side?
– Stinky asshole, – muttered Conan gently.
Siegfried waited silently for a more substantial answer. And he
waited till the barbarian answered.
– I listened to you attentively, dear boy. You told me about the
Hunters. About Hunter for Justice, Hunter for Elements... and so on.
– You think, I told you about the Hunters? – exclaimed Siegfried,
emphasizing the word "I" .
– Yes. It was you. May I drop dead if it was not you!
Well, well, well...
The transformation of Conan's personality went at full speed. And
this process was really amazing. The barbarian has lost a stable connection with
human's reality. At the same time, the dragon's nature, that started to get control
over him, still did not fully developed itself, it did not yet show itself, pretending
to be something exterior, distant, safe.
But the most interesting things occurred on the third day.
Conan, the barbarian had comprehended the secrets of Creation and
of the End of the World.
He hurried up to share them with Siegfried in the course of the
next afternoon trance, where he spent particularly long time, helping himself
with a menacing, roaring and dragon-like screeches.
Frankly speaking, Siegfried was disappointed with those secrets.
He knew the most of them from the Halvdan people. They have the reputation of
the most knowledgeable, because of their friendship with late Fafnir.
And again – as it was yesterday – when Conan came to consciousness
after his trance, he was positive, that the things he told on behalf of Fafnir
were nothing but a faithless nonsense told by impious dreamer Siegfried.
– Oh... I told to myself... Conan! Don't look for a fame in the
evening of life... You've destroyed lots of evil, so you've made lots of good
things... But I was stubborn! I did not take my own advice... And the demons carried
me to the edge of the world... And here in the middle of dirt and wretchedness,
I become a victim of my own nobility... I turned into a boy, who is teached by
wise, godlike philosopher Siegfried... Siegfried opens to me the secrets of the
world... Woe is me!
Siegfried smiled only two times on Gniteihed. This was the second
Siegfried was touched not only by the trivial irony of Cimmerian,
no. He was touched by the ultimate idiotism of the situation: the barbarian, the
killer of a dragon, which to the marrow of his bones became soaked with the dragon's
wisdom, is gushing with this knowledge from morning to night while in actuality
he is really partitioned off the second, the dragon's, half of his new personality
with a blind wall. Moreover, he subjected this second half of his personality
to the dialectical ostracism.
The forth day they spoke about the forces that set the universe
going. The Cimmerian chattered non-stop.
Siegfried did not understand much. Conan was easily carried away
and very often he started to speak the language of celestial dragons. In the cave
echoed the strange sounds – they seemed like bursting of puff-balls or maybe like
hooting of one thousand headed eagle-owl.
Everyone knows, that the language of the celestial dragons is saturated
with magical sounds ten times more than the language of Adam and Eve. This is
why lots of strange things happened in the cave and even near the door.
Broke into bloom and faded the branches of the dried blackberry
bush, that was exterminated by Siegfried almost at the roots (he used it to light
The grass on the glade intertwined into tight knots. Some bushes
started to grow upside down and their roots slowly stirred on the wind...
Siegfried decided to stand aside. He was afraid, that he will get
into this magical mess. It is not funny to find himself growing in a ground, like
Fortunately, Conan changed the register of elements very soon.
Some stone cogs pushed their way through the grass and go up to
two ells in height. Then they made their way back into the earth, leaving behind
themselves the circular banks of brown alumina.
The barbarian was erupting just like young Icelandic volcano. His
language went too far along the way of transforming the Word: constructive, destructive,
inconceivable in its goals, perilous.
Luckily for Siegfried and for the whole Gniteihed, the will of
Conan that was able to configure the World did not take part in this madness.
Then Conan's body – the unremovable variable of all the equations with the participation
of human being – this body wanted only to break free from the Fafnir's crypt that
was tarred with darkness and sealed with iron.
The rusty dust started to peel off from the door. In the beginning
Siegfried did not paid attention to it at all. Only lather, when the large flat
slice of air in front of the door became absolutely red, Siegfried chickened out,
because he thought that such a thick layer of rust on the door was impossible.
When the red fog had lifted and Siegfried saw the iron slab again,
Conan was silent.
This didn't surprise the king's son. He was infatuated with the
studying of the slab's surface.
The snap-shot – is like if you're looking from above on the heels
and mountains of Gniteihed, that were cast in iron. King's son stared at the bas-relief
in a mute amazement. Then he finally realized, that the shape of the bas-relief
have nothing in common with Gniteihed. Absolutely nothing in common.
It was peaceful and quiet on the glade. King's son waited a little
– he was afraid of the new recurrences of Conan's magic monologue.
But he started to guess, that there will be no recurrences any
more. He came closer to the door and stopped within five steps from it.
Took four more steps. And understood, that it is unnecessary to
come closer. He returned.
This was an optimal distance. Optimal for perusal.
If the iron of the door would grow soft to the condition of the
heated wax, if Conan would rush to attack the door like a cow given to butting,
if he could breach the door and at the same time turn into that "wax iron" then...
then we'd understood or maybe imagined the bas-relief, that mesmerized Siegfried.
The knees, the palms and the head of Conan went beyond the surface
of the door. In addition to that somewhere were noticeable separate small details
like creases of the cloth, segments of the necklace, the right shoulder and the
right shoe's hooked toe.
The line with the sharp edges and some sickle-like cavities hardly
blended with the whole composition. What are these? Maybe the traces of casual
magical perturbations, maybe the fragments of his ribs... In fact, that magical
squall could have easily tore up barbarian's chest...
All these details in their totality were mistaken by Siegfried
for the mountain landscape. But now he seemed to grasp the proper gestalt.
The barbarian looked down on earth, approximately at the point,
where Siegfried stood. Conan's head was bent forward and his chin did not make
an independent detail, it was hidden in thickness of the iron.
Here it is, the settlement of all the disputes. Here it is, the
critical argument in favor of dragon Fafnir's power and rectitude. The words of
Conan were certainly borrowed. And the true master of these words was certainly
The incarnated force of the elements, that were awakened by the
words of Fafnir, break out of the iron towards the light. It was visible, weighty,
it made Siegfried tremble. The abstract categories, the fate of the world, the
justice, the future were crushed and milled into a sand in Siegfried's imagination
by this force.
Suddenly Siegfried with childish naivety started to think, that
if he were a Hunter for Elements, he would be able to pull out the damn door at
the very first night together with the flinders of rock. He would be able to save
Conan from this prison before he decided to gobble up the dragon's heart. And
this would be the real feat! At that minute he, seemed, decided his fate. He made
up his mind to become a Hunter for Elements...
In a minute Siegfried squatted down and took a long look at king
He expected to see the furious grin or, probably, the last smile.
The smile of liberation. After all, Conan's flesh had successfully liberated from
the sufferings and his soul liberated from the flesh's restrictions...
And Siegfried really did see that smile.