Thursday, June 12, 2014

Elric of Melneboné part 2: The Desperate Bargain

Michael Moorcock intended Elric to be sort of like the Anti-Conan; where most traditional Heroic Fantasy featured Beefy Barbarians slaying Evil Wizards, Elric was a nerdy wizard who got to kick the snot out of the barbarians.

At first, Elric does seem to be something of a wimp. Weak and sickly as a child, and dependent on exotic drugs to maintain his spark of life, the albino with bone-white skin grew into a bookish lad. His years of study have caused him to question the Traditional Values of cruelty and hedonism practiced by his ancestors, the Dragon Lords of Melniboné.

It is for these reasons that his cousin, Prince Yyrkoon, thinks that Elric's a poor ruler and wants to replace him; and it is for these reasons that, as Elric lies exhausted and weak after a sea-battle against barbarian raiders and when no one is looking, Yyrkoon chucks his cousin overboard.

As he sinks beneath the waves, weighted down by his armor and too weak to struggle to the surface, it occurs to Elric that Yyrkoon might have a point; that Melniboné might be better off with back-stabbing thug sitting on the kingdom’s Ruby Throne than with a conscience-ridden scholar; someone who would better embody the ethos which has governed Melniboné for over ten thousand years. For that matter, the troubled, tortured Elric might be better off dead as well. The only ones who would mourn his passing, would be his friend Dyvin Tvar, Keeper of the Dragon Caves, and of course the woman he loves, Yyrkoon’s sister Cymoril.

As the cold darkness engulfs him, another thought comes to him; an old, old spell which his ancestors had once used to invoke Straasha, the Lord of the Water Elementals, flits through his mind. Elric has eschewed sorcery, but magic is an ancient tradition among the Dragon Lords, mostly involving the summoning of spirits, demons and other supernatural creatures; the incantation, like an old nursery rhyme he might have heard as a child, flits through his mind.

The last thing he expects is to get a reply.
Straasha answers thy summons, mortal. Our destinies are bound together. How may I aid thee, and, in aiding thee, aid myself?
Elric thinks he’s dreaming. He protests that he is resigned to his fate and wants nothing more than to die; but Straasha tells him if that were the case then the invocation would not have called him. Some small part of Elric’s consciousness must have desired life with an intensity strong enough to overcome death. Again he asks Elric what boon he would seek.

Still certain he is hallucinating, Elric says that the only aid he would ask for is to be returned to Melniboné so that he can deal with Yyrkoon and save Cymoril form the torments her brother is sure to inflict upon her. But he doesn’t really believe it will happen. He knows he is as good as dead.

You cannot die. Not yet. Straasha assures him, and takes Elric to a place where he can rest. The world is on the verge of a new age, Strassha tells him, and the Lords of the Higher Realms are again taking an interest in the mortal world. He advises Elric that he will be happier if he gives himself up to his destiny, once he understands it; and that he should not hesitate to call upon the other elemental spirits at need, nor upon the beasts. But beware of gods, Elric. Beware the Lords of the Higher Worlds and remember that their aid and their gifts must always be paid for.

Yyrkoon, meanwhile, is having a really good day. He triumphantly announces that, Elric having died in battle, he is the new emperor. His sister, Cymoril, guesses the truth, and commands her escort of palace guards to kill Yyrkoon for his treason. One of her guards tries to obey, but he is cut down by the captain of the guard, who knows upon which side his bread is buttered. “My loyalty is to the Ruby Throne,” the captain tells the new emperor. That’s fine with Yyrkoon.

Yyrkoon continues on to the imperial palace, but when he enters the throne room, he sees someone sitting in his chair.

“You are dead, Elric! I know that you are dead!” But no, Elric is quite alive; and Yyrkoon finds himself surrounded by Dyvin Tvar’s men, who are more than happy to take him into custody.

In the past, Yyrkoon has criticized Elric for being far to clement and for disdaining the Melnibonéan tradition of gratuitous cruelty. With grim pleasure, Elric tells him that has decided to take Yyrkoom's advice; he thinks of something both humiliating and sadistically appropriate for his treasonous cousin.

Cymoril urges Elric to just kill the creep; she’s afraid that given time, her brother will regroup and cook up some counter-intrigue; but Elric is confident that he has pulled Yyrkoom’s fangs. He plans on exiling his cousin to some distant barbarian kingdom.

He never gets the chance. Yyrkoom still has followers loyal to him, and he’s been practicing sorcery of his own. Elric is aware of the prince’s experiments in magic; Yyrkoom has been trying to summon the Lords of Chaos in order to gain the legendary two Black Swords of Chaos. But he has been unsuccessful in that endeavor, and Elric has discounted Yyrkoom’s sorcerous abilities. Yyrkoom creates a groaning mist, a weird miasma that carries ghostly voices which play mind games on its victims and disorients them. Under the cover of the groaning mist, Yyrkoom is able to abduct Cymoril and flee the city with a group of supporters.

Elric attempts to locate Yyrkoom, but the wily prince has covered his tracks too well. Elric sends ships out in all directions, searching all the nearby islands, to no avail. As he waits, brooding in his palace, Elric buries himself in his father’s library, trying to find lore which might help him recover his love. For several months, his ships search, but return home empty; no report has been found of Yyrkoom. Elric decides to take drastic measures.

He has studied the oldest and most obscure books of magic in his father’s library; he has carefully considered every contingency; he has prepared as well as humanly possible; and now he is ready to attempt his only hope. He is going to try what Yyrkoom could never achieve; to summon Arioch, the Lord of Chaos. Did he remember Straasha’s warnings about the Lords of the Higher Worlds? Maybe; but Elric is out of options.

Arioch does appear, first in the form of a small, buzzing fly, and then as a tall, handsome youth.
The youth was taller, now, than Elric. He looked down at the Emperor of Melniboné and he smiled the smile that the fly had smiled. “You alone are fit to serve Arioch. It is long since I was invited to this plane, but now that I am here I shall aid you, Elric. I shall be your patron. I shall protect you and give you strength and the source of strength, though master I be and slave you be.”
This has “Bad Deal” written all over it, and Elric hesitates; but Arioch tells him he cannot help Elric find Yyrkoom and save Cymoril unless Elric first swears to serve him. Elric swears, and finds himself filled with ecstatic fire and a strength he’s never known.

Arioch tells him where his cousin can be found: in a barbarian land to the south where he has conquered two neighboring countries called Oin and Yu. Yyrkoon has also gained possession of the Mirror of Memory, a magical device which drains the memories of any who look in into it. That is how he has managed to obliterate all traces of himself. Arioch also advises Elric on the best way to reach his cousin: with the Ship Which Sails Over Both Land and Sea.

Elric again summons the Lord of the Water Elementals. It’s harder this time, because he does not have the benefit of a near-death experience to concentrate his attention. Straasha is not terribly happy about Elric’s summoning the Lords of Chaos back to this plane, but understands that he was fated to do so. As it happens, the Ship Arioch spoke of belongs to Straasha. Well, it used to belong to him and his brother King Glome of the Earth Elementals, but the two of them quarreled eons ago. Straasha got the Ship, but Glome was never happy about it. With reluctance, Straasha grants Elric use of the Ship.

Elric and his friend Dyvin Tvar prepare an expeditionary force including several war veterans with a “special disability”, which the narration does not at first specify, but which the astute reader can probably guess. They board the magical ship and damned if the blessed thing doesn’t sail over land just as smoothly as if it were sailing over water. But before they get too far, the land begins to quake and rock as if it were an ocean in a storm. The elementals of the earth are taking umbrage. Elric makes for the sea by the shortest route to avoid more trouble.

Sailing south, they reach the city of Dhoz-Kam, capitol of the lands of Oin and Yu, and find that the Mirror is waiting for them. It’s huge and has been set on two enormous pillars at the entrance to the harbor so that no ship can enter without its crew looking upon its baneful surface. No ocean-going ship, that is. Since Elric’s ship can sail over Land as well as Sea, he can circle around and approach the city from the rear.

But hardly do they strike the coast than the earth begins rebelling against the ship again, rocking and buffeting it like waves in a hurricane. Three of Elric’s men are killed by the pitching of the ship. Finally Elric realizes he must speak directly to Glome to try and placate him.

King Glome is not in a conciliatory mood. As far as he’s concerned, the Ship Which Sails Over Both Land And Sea rightfully belongs to him. After much pleading, Glome finally consents to let them pass, requesting only the bodies of the men already slain to be buried in the earth as tribute. But the Ship may nevermore travel over his domains; henceforth it may only travel over the water. Glome allows Elric to pilot the ship to a nearby lake. There it will stay.

Without the ship, Elric will have to attack Yyrkoon’s city on foot. He will need more help.

NEXT: Siege of Dhoz-Kam; the Mirror of Memory; Yyrkoom’s Desperate Flight and the Two Black Swords!

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