Hugh Cook: The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster

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Hugh Cook The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster
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    The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster
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The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster

Hugh Cook

Chapter One

Name: Onosh Gulkan Birthplace: Hum.

Occupation: emperor.

Status: absolute ruler of the Collosnon Empire.

Description: hairy male of Yarglat race, age 43, slanting forehead gouged by thumb-fat depressions running from hairline to eyebrows, hair and eyes both black, height 14 qua, cheekbones high, ears immense, multiple scars on left leg and torso.

Hobby: hunting.

Quote: "The hunt is the ultimate answer to acedia."

The Witchlord's sons were three in number, and Sken-Pitilkin was lecturing all three when the Witchlord himself intruded on their lesson. Sken-Pitilkin resented the intrusion – and resented it all the more when he noticed the Rovac warrior Rolf Thelemite and the dwarf Glambrax lurking behind the Witchlord. Sken-Pitilkin was ever at pains to keep that pair of troublemakers out of his classroom, for such adulthood in combination with boyhood made a vicious combination.

"Eljuk, my son!" said Lord Onosh. "You've been drinking!"

An ugly jest, this.

For Eljuk had not been drinking at all. Rather, the boy's life was blighted by a cruel birthmark. It stained his lips with purple, and further purple dribbled from the corners of his lips, splattering down his chin in two separate winespills which thickened to a merging at the neck.

Here, at the outset, we see the flaw which doomed Lord Onosh to destruction. The Witchlord Onosh had been at odds with the world for so long that he had quite lost the art of showing the world kindness and affection. Though Eljuk Zala was the Witchlord's valued favorite, even Eljuk suffered a dozen slights a day from his father's tongue.

Actually, it was Eljuk's younger brother Guest who had been drinking, and who was subdued as a consequence of his hangover. At this time, Guest was 14, Eljuk 16, and Morsh Bataar (the eldest) a full 18 years of age. But though Guest was the baby, it was Guest who played the man to the very hilt, and often suffered as a consequence.

Before knowing young Guest, the wizard Sken-Pitilkin had never approved of hangovers; but close acquaintance with the boy had led him to concede that a hangover has many advantages. For it slows speech, subdues energy, abolishes wit, and makes the afflicted individual less likely to respond to the irregular verbs with acts of verbal dissidence or outright violence.

The wizard Sken-Pitilkin had been taking advantage of Guest's hangover to cram some of the more irregular verbs into the boy's head, and had been thus involved when Lord Onosh had interrupted the lesson, remarking (as has been stated above): "Eljuk, my son! You've been drinking!"

"Yes, father," said Eljuk. "But Guest is bearing my hangover for me."

At this the Witchlord laughed – not out of good humor but out of habit. For this joke had often been exchanged between father and son, though a thousand exchanges had failed to make Lord Onosh see that Eljuk found his part in the transaction to be painful.

"Regardless of who has been drinking," said Sken-Pitilkin acidly, "we have all been studying. We have been studying the irregular verbs."

The eminent Sken-Pitilkin was dropping a heavy hint, a hint which was meant to suggest to the Witchlord Onosh that he should absent himself from the room lest he further interfere with the lesson.

"Verbs!" said the Witchlord. "And what then is a verb? A hook for a rat or a knife for a cat? Enough of your verbs, my good fellow! Lessons are over for the day, so – boys, make ready! We're going hunting."

"Hunting?" said Morsh, absorbing that datum with his customary slowness.

"Precisely," said the Witchlord, with crisp directness.

"But, father," said Eljuk Zala, who was the only one who had license to question the emperor's decisions, "it is late in the season."

"Last chance weather, true," agreed Lord Onosh, "so we must take our chances while we have them. Remember, boys: the hunt is the ultimate answer to acedia."

That the emperor said often, it being one of his pet sayings.

Having discharged himself of that expression, he about-faced and departed, so sure in his power that he saw no need to linger to chivvy his boys into action. Unfortunately, when the Witchlord departed, he did not take with him either the Rovac warrior Rolf Thelemite or the dwarf Glambrax, and that pair of delinquents promptly infiltrated Sken-Pitilkin's classroom.

"So who is Acedia?" said Guest Gulkan, when his father was barely out of earshot. "That's what I can never work out."

"She's a wanton," said Rolf Thelemite, the Rovac warrior who ever bodyguarded Guest Gulkan, more to protect the world from the boy's temper than to protect the boy from the world. "She's your father's secret wanton, but she nags him stupid, so he runs for the hills at every opportunity."

"She's no wanton," said Morsh Bataar, who was sitting in a corner with a heap of half-assembled fishing flies at his feet.

"She's the pastry cook who has the man in fat. He hunts when the only choice otherwise is to diet."

"Acedia," said the wizard Sken-Pitilkin, "is not a woman's name. The word denotes a state of the psyche, and that state -

Eljuk Zala, tell us what state the word denotes."

Now Eljuk Zala was by far the mildest, most scholarly and most intelligent of the Witchlord's three sons, and he was fully cognizant of the fact that the word acedia denoted that bleak and aimless inertia which had ever blighted the Witchlord's life since the death of his wife. But Eljuk Zala had already been too bright and too right far too often that day, and knew that if he came up with the right answer just one more time then his brother Guest would surely make him suffer for it, and probably sooner rather than later. So Eljuk answered:

"Anger. That's what it means. Acedia means anger."

"It means no such thing," said Sken-Pitilkin, with intense irritation.

Then he lectured the unfortunate Eljuk at length on the meaning of acedia and the derelictions of Eljuk's scholarship.

Sken-Pitilkin's irritation was by no means feigned, for he often felt it an intense strain to have three Yarglat boys under his tutorship. Indeed, the wizard of Drum found all his contacts with the Yarglat stressful, for the Yarglat were not, on the whole, an intellectual people, and there were precious few dictionaries in their kennels or encampments.

"Well," said Guest Gulkan, when Sken-Pitilkin was done with berating his brother, "if you're through with lecturing, we've got to get ready for hunting. You're coming with us, I suppose?"

"Me?" said Sken-Pitilkin. "Hunt? Not for all the tea in Chay!

You wouldn't get me to a hunt unless I was tied to a horse and dragged."

"I'll see if I can find a spare horse, then," said Glambrax, Guest Gulkan's pet dwarf.

The dwarf was already dancing out of the room as he delivered himself of that smartcrack, hence escaped before Sken-Pitilkin could catch him a whack with the country crook ever kept ready for the disciplining of the mannikin and his master.

So it was that Glambrax again escaped punishment; and Lord Onosh and his sons readied themselves for the folly of the hunt, while the scholarly Sken-Pitilkin drew up a schedule of self- improvement which was calculated to see him attain mastery of the Geltic verbs jop, chilibisk and dileem, all of which had won a place for themselves in Strogloth's Compendium of Delights. While Sken-Pitilkin sometimes fell prey to acedia himself, he never sought to address his condition through the hunt, for his standard response to the dulling of the lifeforce was to have recourse to the irregular verbs, ever most marvelously refreshing in their inexhaustible variety.

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