Hugh Cook: The Walrus and the Warwolf

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Hugh Cook The Walrus and the Warwolf
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    The Walrus and the Warwolf
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Hugh Cook

The Walrus and the Warwolf


Iron: metal made on Stokos by smelting the local hematite, a blood-red ore containing 70 parts in 100 of iron.

Steel: iron alloyed with carbon. Made on Stokos by baking iron with charcoal in a sealed pot kept at red heat for eight days, then melting the 'blister steel' thus produced in covered crucibles, skimming off the slag.

Firelight steel: fabric of the masterswords of Stokos; consists of interwoven layers of high carbon and low carbon steel; represents the height of the swordsmith's art.

Drake Douay had his sixteenth birthday two months before the start of the year Khmar 17. That night he celebrated by getting:laid;drunk;into an enormous amount of trouble.

At midnight he was trapped in a cul-de-sac by four coal miners, two dogs and an angry butcher's boy, all of them out for his blood.

However, Drake was a practised survivor. He escaped with nothing worse than bruised ribs, a broken toe, and a nick in his left ear where a dagger had scratched him in the skirmish.

Shortly afterwards, he stood outside the temple of the Demon Hagon, beating his fists against his naked chest and howling like a werewolf. Guards gave chase, but Drake lost them in the twisting back-streets of Cam. After

that, he was so tired he decided it was time for bed. But, to his surprise, he found the door of Hardhammer Forge barred against him.

'Wake up, Muck, you grouty old octopus!' bawled Drake.

But got no response, which was scarcely surprising, since Gouda Muck was nine-parts deaf and slept as soundly as a drunken crocodile quietly digesting a bellyful of plague-bloated rats.

Drake threw stones on the roof, then shouted, sang and howled, until one of the neighbours opened an attic window and threw a cat at him. Whereupon Drake decided on a tactical withdrawal.

Come dawn, he crawled out from underneath the boat where he had slept away the last of the night, yawned, grinned, stretched, hawked, then spat.'Ahoy there!' called someone in very bad Galish.Who was it?

A coal miner? The butcher's boy? The ruffian he had knocked out after last night's gambling quarrel?

It was none of the above, but a man rowing ashore from an evil-looking barque anchored out in the harbour of Cam. The ship's sails were furled, but, even so, Drake could see they were black.

'Ahoy yourself!' called Drake. 'What ship are you from?'

'Never mind the ship,' said the man, bringing the boat alongside some waterfront steps.

'Do you want a woman?' said Drake. 'I can get you one cheap.'

The stranger did not answer immediately, but secured the dinghy to a bollard with a painter, then came scrambling up the steps. He was an ill-favoured fellow with coarse foreign features, a thick neck, a barrel chest, rough-cut black hair and a shaggy black beard.'Who be you?' he said.

'Narda Narkin,' said Drake Douay, answering at random.

Some mighty queer people came into Cam from time to time, so it was only common sense for Drake to reserve his true name.

'Pleased to meet you then, Narda Narkin,' said the stranger. 'I be Atsimo Andranovory. I search for three men. Rumour has them in Cam.''Their names?' said Drake.'Whale Mike, Ish Ulpin and Bucks Cat.'

T know them well,' said Drake, who had never heard of them, but thought himself unlikely to profit by confessing ignorance. T can direct you to their very door – for a price. What's it worth?'

'As much as the air between your lips,' said Atsimo Andranovory, putting a hand to the hilt of the cutlass he wore at his belt.

Drake glanced around. The waterfront was deserted. His bargaining position was poor.

'Take the street which leads from the southern end of the waterfront,' said Drake, pointing. 'Take the third turning on the left then the second on the right, and it's the third house along.''Thank you kindly,' said Andranovory.

And, with perfect faith in these directions, set off. Whereupon Drake turned in the opposite direction, whistling a jaunty tune as he made for Hardhammer Forge.

It was going to be another fine day. The air was cool, calm and clean. The sky was an enormous ascension of blue, flaunting banners of white cloud. Drake was happy, despite fatigue and headache. He was young, he was strong – and everything was going his way.

On reaching the forge, Drake was dismayed by an enormous heap of dusty black coal which had been delivered the previous evening. It would have to be put in sacks then stacked in the cellar. That was apprentice work, hence Drake's work.'Such is life,' said Drake.And slipped inside.Hands in pockets, he leaned against a wall, looking around as if he owned the place. He breathed in heat and coal dust, and smirked. He was sixteen. He knew it all. He was ready for the world.'What are you doing here?' yelled Gouda Muck.'Why, I work here, don't I?' said Drake.

'Work!' screamed old man Muck. 'That's a joke! You've never done a day's decent work in your life. You're such an ugly little runt you couldn't work if you wanted to!'

Drake was unhurt by the word 'ugly'. If there was such a thing as male beauty, then he, with his athlete's build and perfect muscle definition, was beautiful – and he knew it. But 'runt' – now that stung. For Drake was fearfully close to being short, which was disastrous on Stokos, where the fashion was to be as tall as possible.

To annoy Muck, Drake made no answer, but simply whistled the lilting tune of that ditty which starts as follows:Two whores and a sheepdog were tupping one day When a cat and a virgin came dancing that way.

'Stop whistling!' shouted Muck. 'You should be ashamed of yourself. You look like a walking rubbish heap.'

Muck was exaggerating. But, in truth, Drake Douay was not a pretty sight. Or a pretty smell, either. Unwashed, largely unslept and decidedly dishevelled. Shirtless. Blood, dirt, paint, rust and tomato sauce splattered across his torso. Dried blood in his blond hair. Breath like a brewery.

'How did you get in such a state?' said Muck. 'Look at yourself!''Can't,' said Drake. 'Got no mirror.'

'Just as well,' said Muck. 'You'd frighten any self-respecting mirror to death.'

'Mirrors can be frightened?' said Drake. 'This sounds like experience speaking!'

At that, Muck picked up a beautiful chunk of specular iron with a hand which was old, gnarled, freckled with liver spots, and cunning with long experience. Muck heaved the rock at his apprentice. Drake ducked. The missile hit the wall, shattering into 376 pieces. Each fragment was made of crystallized hematite: for such is the nature of specular iron.

'Man, don't do that,' said Drake. 'This ducking business makes my head hurt.'

'Then cease your cheek,' said Muck, picking up a sword which he brandished so wildly that Drake feared for his head. 'Tell me – what's this?'

Even inside the forge, the weapon glittered like an eagle's eye. It was a masters word made of firelight steel. And not just any old mastersword, either, but the master-work Muck had made many dusty years ago to win entry to the swordsmith's guild.

'That?' said Drake, sneering at the blade. 'That's a giant's toothpick or a splinter of last month's moon, for all I know.''It's a sword! And where should you be? At sword!''Oh? Is it Temple Day again?''Yes,' said Muck, with satisfaction.

On these occasions, which happened every tenth day, everything at the temple of Hagon was half-price.

'What say,' said Drake. 'You set me free for the day. Just this once.'

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