The Many-Coloured Land

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Off in a remote little nook of his brain, something was typing out a message to him, a conviction that grew to enormous, almost frightening, proportions as the exquisite tension built to its culmination. This person was not "women." She was not, as all the others had been to him, an abstraction of feminine sexuality, a comforter, a receptacle for physical release. She was different. She was Martha.
The message was hard to understand, but any minute now, he was going to figure it out.
Chapter Five

It had been Martha who gave the Bogle his title.

He had been there, sitting on a boulder and regarding them with a misanthropic glare, when they awoke early the next morning in their camp below the southern flank of the Feldberg. After brusquely identifying himself as an emissary from Sugoll, he had ordered them to pack up without even waiting to let Richard make breakfast. The pace he set up a spur ridge of the mountain was deliberately trying and he would have raced them uphill without a rest if Madame had not occasionally demanded that they stop to catch their breath. Plainly, the dwarfish creature was feeling ill-used at having to serve as a guide and had decided to wreak his own petty revenge.
The Bogle was much shorter than any Firvulag they had ever seen before, and much uglier, with a tubby little torso and skinny arms and legs. His skull was grotesquely compressed to the point of being birdlike. Large black eyes with overlapping pouches were set close together above his toucanish nose. Prominent ears drooped flaccidly at the upper margins. His skin shone greasy reddish brown, and his sparse hair twisted into strands like a string mop. The Bogle's clothing, belying his physical repulsiveness, was neat and even beautiful: polished boots and a wide belt of carved black leather, wine-red breeches and shirt, and a long vest embroidered in flamelike patterns and studded with semiprecious stones. He wore a kind of Phrygian bonnet with a large brooch positioned just above his scraggly brows, which were knit in what seemed to be a permanent scowl.
Following their trollish guide, the five travelers skirted the mountain ravines, following a tiny but very distinct trail, and passed through a part of the Black Forest that had nearly as many broadleaf trees as conifers. Wherever the Feldberg brooks slowed enough to pool there were bosky dingles clogged with tall ferns and alders, creeping clematis vines, and fall-blooming primroses with poisonously bright blossoms. They came to a hollow where the waters of a hot spring bubbled to the surface. Lush and unhealthy-looking vegetation crowded the steamy swale. A flock of ravens croaked a sardonic greeting from the half-eaten carcass of a small deer that lay near the edge of a mineral-encrusted puddle. More bones, some clean, some furred with thick moss, were strewn about the undergrowth.
Farther east, the rock formations began to change. Colored limestone outcroppings intruded amongst the granite. "Cave country," Claude remarked to Madame. They were walking side by side now, the path widening as they passed below a wooded cliff. The sun was warm; nevertheless, the paleontologist felt a subterranean chill. In the few places where the rock face was visible, they saw scarlet and blue swallows with long forked tails darting in and out of pocks in the limestone. Spiny-ribbed elephant-ears grew in dense patches beneath the trees. They sheltered clumps of distinctive mushrooms, white-stemed, red caps flecked in white.
"They are here," the old woman said abruptly. "All around us! Can you not feel them? So many! And all . . . deformed."
For a moment, he failed to catch the significance of what she was saying. But it fit, fit with the undercurrent of anxiety that had lurked at the edge of his consciousness ever since early morning. Fit with the surliness of the Bogle, whom Claude had mistaken for an ordinary Firvulag. "Les Criards," Madame said. "They follow us. One of them leads us. The Howling Ones."
The path led uphill at an easy slope, entirely free of debris. The swallows flickered among the firs and beeches. Great bars of golden lights slanted down into the forest as if through open windows.
The old woman said, "Such a beautiful place. But there is desolation here, mon vieux, a wretchedness of spirit that at once touches my heart and disgusts me. And it grows stronger."
He lent her his arm, for she was faltering, apparently for no physical reason. Her face had gone dead white. "We could ask the Bogle to stop," Claude suggested.
Her voice was dulled. "No. It is necessary to go on . . . Ah, Claude! You should thank God for not making you sensitive to the emanations of other minds! All sentient beings have secret thoughts, those that remain hidden except to the good God. But there are other thoughts as well, pitched, as it were, on different psychic levels, the nonvocal speech, the currents and storms of emotion. This latter is what I am enveloped in now. It is a most profound enmity, a malevolence that can come only from the most distorted personalities. The Howling Ones! They hate other beings but they hate themselves so much more. And their howling fills my mind . . ."
"Can't you shut it out? Defend yourself as you did against the Hunt?"
"If I had been properly trained," she said forlornly. "But all that I know I have taught myself. I do not know how to counter this horde. They don't offer any concrete threat that I can seize upon." Her expression was very near panic. "All they do is hate. With all their strength . . . they hate."
"Do they seem to be more powerful than ordinary Firvulag?"
"I cannot be sure of that. But they are different in some unnatural way. That is why I called them deformed. With the Firvulag, and even with the Tanu, human metapsychics can feel a certain mental kinship. It is no matter that the exotic is an enemy. But never could I be akin to these Criards! I have never before been so close to so many of them. Only rarely did we encounter them in our little enclave within the Vosges, and there they were wary. But these . . . I . . ." Her voice broke off, harsh and too high-pitched. Her right fingers stroked the golden torc with a feverish urgency while those of her left hand dug painfully into Claude's arm. She kept darting her eyes from side to side, scanning the crags. There was nothing unusual to be seen.
Felice, who had been at the tail end of the line behind them, now closed the distance and announced, "I don't like this place at all. For the past half hour or so I've had the damnedest feeling. Nothing at all like those nervous fantods we got in the Fungus Forest, either. This time, there bloody well is something to be afraid of! Come on, Madame, what's going on?"
"The malign Firvulag, the Howlers, are all around us. Their mental projections are so powerful that even you, in your latent state, can perceive them."
The blonde athlete's mouth tightened to a straight line and her eyes flashed. In her unaccustomed buckskin garb, she looked like a schoolgirl playing at Red Indians. She asked Madame, "Are they getting ready to attack?"
"They will do nothing," the old woman replied, "without the permission of their ruler, Sugoll."
"Only mental intimidation, damn their eyes! Well, they don't scare me!" Felice unstrapped the bow from her pack and checked the arrows expertly without losing stride. The cliff had now become a crazy jumble of blocks and pinnacles with the rising of the land. The trees thinned. They could see far out over the intermontane valleys. Even the distant Alps were barely visible to the south. The Feldberg itself reared up another thousand meters above them, chopped off in a sheer precipice on its southeastern face as though some Titan had taken an axe to it, mutilating the symmetry of the smoothly rounded crown.
Up at the head of the line, the Bogle was holding up one hand. They had arrived at an alpine park, a meadow surrounded on all sides by steep rocks. Precisely in the center of the area was a haystack-shaped knoll of velvety black stone, veined with a weblike tracery of bright yellow.
"This is it," said the Bogle. "And here I gladly leave you."
He folded his arms and, scowling, faded from sight. The scowl lasted longer than the rest of him.
"Well, that's a hell of a . . ." Richard begantherounded torso and skinny limbs of the Bogle. Many had disproportionately large hands and feet. Some of the bodies seemed twisted, as with spinal deformities; others had asymmetric bulges under well-made garments, hinting of tumorous growths or even concealed extra limbs. The heads were grotesque: pointed, flattened, ridged like tree bark, crested, even horn-bearing. Some were too large or too small for the supporting body, or monstrously ill-suited, as the tiny female head with the lustrous curls and lovely features that sat incongruously on the hunched form of a young chimpanzee. Almost all of the faces were hideous, warped or swollen or stretched beyond any semblance of humanoid normality. There were faces covered with red and blue wattles, with hair, with saurian scales, with weeping scabs, with cheeselike exudate. There were eyes bulbous, beady, stalked, misplaced, superfluous. Some of the creatures had mouths so wide as to be froglike; others lacked lips altogether, so that the stumps of rotted teeth were exposed in perpetual ghastly grins. Those mouths ranged from animal muzzles grafted onto otherwise normal skulls to improbable vertical slits, coiled trunks, and parrot beaks. They opened to show fat tusks, close-set narrow fangs, drooling gums, and tongues that might be black or fringed or even double or triple.
Very gently, the misbegotten throng howled again.
On the black rock now sat a fairly tall bald-headed man. His face was beautiful and his body, clad from neck to heel in a tight-fitting purple garment, that of a superbly muscled humanoid.
The howling ceased abruptly. The man said, "I am Sugoll, the lord of these mountains. Say why you come."
"We bring," Madame said in a barely audible voice, "a letter from Yeochee, High King of the Firvulag."
The bald man smiled tolerantly and held out one hand. Claude had to support Madame Guderian as she approached the rock.
"You are afraid of us," Sugoll observed as he perused the piece of vellum. "Are we so disgusting to human eyes?"
"We fear what your minds project," Madame said. "Your bodies can only stir our compassion."
"Mine is an Illusion, of course," said Sugoll "As the greatest of all these", he swept one arm to encompass the quivering mass of creatures, "I must naturally be their superior in all things, even in physical abomination. Would you like to see me as I really am?"
Claude said, "Mighty Sugoll, this woman has been severely affected by your mental emanations. I was once a life-scientist, a paleobiologist. Show yourself to me and spare my friends."
The bald man laughed. "A paleobiologist! See if you can classify me, then." He stood upright on his rock. Richard came and took Madame back, leaving Claude standing alone.
There was a brief flash and all of the humans except the old man were momentarily blinded.
"What am I? What am I?" Sugoll cried out "You'll never guess, human! You can't tell us and we can't tell you because none of us knows!" Peal after peal of mocking laughter rang out.
The handsome figure in purple was once again seated on his rock. Claude stood with feet widely planted, his head down on his breast and his lungs pumping. A trickle of blood oozed from his bitten lower lip. Slowly, he raised his eyes to meet Sugoll's.
" Ido know what you are."
"What's that you say?" The goblin ruler hitched forward. In one lithe movement he vaulted to the ground and sprang close to Claude.
"I know what you are," the paleontologist repeated. "What all of you are. You are members of a race that is abnormally sensitive to the background radiation of the planet Earth. Even the Tanu and Firvulag who live in other regions have suffered reproductive anomalies because of this radiation. But you, you have compounded the problem by living here . I daresay you've drunk from the deep springs, with their juvenile water, as well as from the shallower fountains and the brooks of melted snow. You've probably made your homes in caverns," he pointed to the yellow-streaked knoll, "full of attractive black rocks like that one."
"It is so."
"Unless I miss my guess and my old memory bank's fritzed out, that rock is nivenite, an ore containing uranium and radium. The deep springs are likely to be radioactive, too. During the years that you people have lived in this region, you've exposed your genes to many times the radiation dose experienced by your fellow Firvulag. This is why you've mutated, why you've changed into . . . what you are."
Sugoll turned and stared at the velvet-black rock. Then he threw back his beautifully formed illusionary skull and howled. All of his troll and bogle subjects joined in. This time the sound was not terrifying to the humans, only unbearably poignant.
At length, the Howling Ones ceased their racial dirge. Sugoll said, "On this planet, with only primitive genotechnology, there can be no hope for us."
"There is hope for generations unborn if you move away from here, say, into more northerly regions where there are no concentrations of dangerous minerals. For those of you alive today . . . well, you have your powers of illusion-making."
"Yes," the exotic ruler agreed, his voice flat. "We have our illusions." But then the implications of what Claude had said began to reveal their true import to him. He cried out, "But can it be true? What you said about our children?"
The old man said, "You need advice from an experienced geneticist. Any human with that background has probably been enslaved by the Tanu. All I can tell you is a few basic generalizations. Get out of this area to put a stop to new mutations. The worst of you are probably sterile. The fertile people will likely have recessives for normality. Inbreed the most normal among you to fix the alleles. Bring normal germ plasm into the population by mending your fences with the other Firvulag, the normal ones. You'll have to use your illusion-making powers to make yourselves attractive as potential mates, and you'll have to be socially compatible to encourage the mixing. That means no more bogey-man mentality."
Sugoll gave a bark of ironic laughter. "Your presumption passes belief! Emigrate from our traditional lands! Give up our mating traditions! Make friends with our old enemies! Marry them!"
"If you want to change your genetic pattern, that's the way to start. There's a long shot, too . . . if we should ever manage to liberate humanity from the Tanu. There just might happen to be a human genetic engineer among the time-travelers. I don't know exactly how the Tanu Skin works, but it may be possible to utilize it to alter your grossly mutated bodies back into a more normal form. We were able to do this in some cases, using the regeneration-tanks of the future world that I came from."
"You have given us much to ponder." Sugoll was more subdued. "Some of the intelligence is bitter indeed, but we will think on it. Eventually, we will make our decision."
Madame Guderian now stepped forward and resumed her role of leader. Her voice was firm; her color had returned. "Mighty Sugoll, there is still the matter of our mission. Our request of you."
The exotic clenched his fist, which still held Yeochee's message. The vellum crackled. "Ah, your request! This royal command was useless, you know. Yeochee has no power here, but doubtless he did not care to admit it to you. I allowed you to enter our territory on a whim, curious as to the extremity that would make you take such a risk. We had planned to amuse ourselves with you before finally permitting you to die . . ."
"And now?" Madame inquired.
"What do you ask of us?"
"We seek a river. A very large one, rising in this area, which flows eastward until it reaches the great half-salty lagoons of the Lac Mer hundreds of kilometers from here. We hoped to travel upon this river to the site of the Ship's Grave."
There was a surprised chorus of howls.
"We know the river," Sugoll said. "It is the Ystroll, a truly mighty flood. We have a few legends of the Ship. Early in the history of our people on this world, we broke away from the main body of the Firvulag and sought independence in these mountains, away from the Hunting and the senseless annual slaughter of the Grand Combat."
Madame had to explain carefully the human complicity in the recent rise to dominance of the Tanu, as well as her own scheme to restore the old balance of power while freeing humanity. "But to do this, we must obtain certain ancient items from the crater of the Ship's Grave. If you will furnish us with a guide to the river, we believe that we will be able to locate the crater."
"And this plan, when will you put it into effect? When might the human scientists be free of the Tanu yoke and able, if Teah wills, to help us?"
"We had hoped to implement the scheme this year, before the start of the Grand Combat Truce. But there is scant hope of this now. Only twelve days remain. The Ship's Grave lies at least two hundred kilometers from here. It will doubtless take us half of the remaining time just to walk to the head of navigation on the river."
"That is not so," Sugoll said. He called out, "Kalipin!"
The Bogle stepped forth from the throng. His formerly surly face was transfigured by a broad smile. "Master?"
"I do not understand these kilometers. Tell the humans how it is with the Ystroll."
"Below these mountains," the Bogle said, "are the caverns where we make our homes. But at other levels, some deeper, some shallower, are the Water Caves. They are a maze of springs, bottomless pools and streams flowing through the blackness. Several rivers have their sources in the Water Caves. The Paradise, which flows past Finiah to the northwest, is one. But the mightiest torrent born beneath our mountains is the Ystroll."
Claude exclaimed, "He could be right! There were underground tributaries to the Danube even in our own time. Some said they came from Lake Constance. Others postulated a connection to the Rhine."
The Bogle said, "The Ystroll emerges as a full-grown river into a great lowland to the northeast. If you enter the Water Caves at Alliky's Shaft via the lift buckets, you can pick up the Dark Ystroll not two hours' march from here. Then it is a subterranean water-journey of but a single day to the Bright Ystroll, that which flows beneath the open sky."
Madame asked Sugoll, "Would your boatmen guide us along the underground section?"
Sugolldid not speak. He lifted his eyes to the surrounding crowd of monstrosities. There was a musical chorus of howls. The goblin shapes began to shift and change, and the terrible swirling pattern of the sky calmed. The mental energies of the little people relaxed from the projection of undisciplined hatred and self-loathing and began to weave gentler illusions. The dreadful deformities faded, a throng of miniature men and women took the place of the nightmares.
"Send them," sighed the Howling Ones.
Sugoll bowed his head in acknowledgment. "It will be done."
He arose and lifted his hand. All of the small people repeated the gesture. They became as tenuous as mountain mist burning away in the noon sunlight.
"Remember us," they said as they vanished. "Remember us."
"We will," Madame whispered.
The Bogle went trotting away, beckoning for them to follow. Claude took Madame Guderian's arm, and Richard, Martha, and Felice came trailing behind.
"Only one thing," the old woman said to Claude in a low tone. "What did he really look like, this Sugoll?"
"You can't read my mind, Angélique?"
"You know I cannot."
"Then you'll never know. And I wish to God," the old man added, "that I didn't."
Chapter Six

Late in the evening, when the giant hawkmoths and the flying squirrels played their aerial games above the wooded canyon of Hidden Springs Village, seven men bearing six heavy sacks came home to the Lowlife settlement, led by Khalid Khan. They sought Uwe Guldenzopf, but his hut was empty. Calistro the goat-boy, bringing his animals home from their browsing, informed the seven that Uwe was at the community bathhouse with Chief Burke.

"The Chief is here?" Khalid exclaimed in consternation. "Then the expedition to the Ship's Grave was a failure?"
Calistro shook his head. He was about five years old, sober and responsible enough to know something of the great plans that were afoot. "The Chief was hurt, so he came back. Sister Amerie fixed his wounded leg, but he still must soak it many times each day . . . What do you have in the sacks?"
The men laughed. Khalid dropped his load on the ground with a loud clanging sound.
"Treasure!" The speaker was a wiry, shock-haired individual standing just behind Khalid, the only one of the seven not burdened down. The stump of his left arm was wrapped in a wad of dark-stained cloth.
"Let me see!" begged the child. But the men were already on their way up the flat-floored canyon. Calistro hurried his animals into their night pen and rushed to follow.
White starlight shone on a small area of open grass near the banks of the brook that was born of the hot and cold springs' mingling; however, most of the village lay concealed in deep shadow, the homes and community buildings sheltered beneath tall pines or spreading evergreen oaks that hid them from Finiah's Tanu sky-searchers. The bathhouse, a large log structure with a low-caved roof overgrown with vines, was built against one of the canyon walls. Its windows were closely shuttered, and a U-shaped passage kept torchlight from the interior from shining out the open door.
Khalid and his men entered into a scene of steamy cheerfulness. It seemed that half the village had gathered in here on this rather chilly evening. Men, women, and a few children splashed in stone-lined hot or cold pools, lolled in hollow-log tubs, or simply lounged about gossiping or playing backgammon or card games.
Uwe Guldenzopf's voice rang out over the communal din. "Hoy! Look who's back home again!" And the Lowlives raised a shout of welcome. Somebody yelled, "Beer!" And one of Khalid's grimy contingent appended a heartfelt, "Food!" The boy Calistro was sent to roust out the village victualers while the new arrivals pushed through a gabbling, laughing mob toward an isolated tub where Peopeo Moxmox Burke sat, his long graying hair stringy in the bathhouse vapors and his craggy face atwitch as he suppressed a delighted grin.
"How," quoth he.
"Beats me," the Pakistani metalsmith. "But we did it." He dropped his sack on the stone floor and opened it, taking out a lance-head rough from the casting mold. "Secret weapon, Mark I." Turning to one of the other men, he groped in his sack and produced a handful of smaller objects, approximately leaf-shaped. "Mark II. You sharpen 'em, they're arrowheads. We've got about two hundred and twenty kilos of iron all told, some of it cast like these, some in bars for miscellanea, ready for forging. What we have here is medium-carbon steel, smelted in the best antique style. We built us a forced-draft furnace fueled with charcoal and drafted with six skin bellows hooked up to decamole tuyeres. Carbon from charred bulrushes. We buried the furnace so we can go back and make more iron when we've a mind to."
Burke's eyes glistened. "Ah, mechaieh! Well done, Khalid! And all the rest of you, too, Sigmund, Denny, Langstone, Gert, Srnokey, Horai. Well done, all of you. This could be the breakthrough we've all been dreaming of, praying for! Whether or not the others succeed at the Ship's Grave, this iron will give us a fighting chance against the Tanu for the first time."
Uwe stood sucking his meerschaum, his gaze wandering over the tattered and soot-stained smelters. "And what happened," he inquired, "to the other three of you?"

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