Stories by Colin Burke

A Mixture of Feralties


“Dispossess those peasants, Ankhordon, and I’ll have your head in fourteen days,” said Drelauni of Pennofol, a knight-errant of Doriadomri like Milcoradis himself. Almost all present knew the threat was not idly made: no one threatened Ankhordon who meant it not: he had a short way with that particular kind of humour.

“Be damned,” quoth Ankhordon.

“Not for that. When even the judge who granted your technical right in strict letter of law could not forbear to comment on the strength of their claim in common morality, that claim had to be almost perfect.”

“Almost is not enough.”

“Not for peasants,” said Fillomos.

“To hell with you and your brother,” said Drelauni. “All right, then, the head it is. I’ll start preparing this evening.”

As Milcoradis and the new clerk of Tollim Advocate rode away from Manor Khordonhon, Musluas asked, “Did Sir Drelauni really mean that?”

“The head, the whole head, and nothing but the head. He’ll do it.”

“And be executed.”


“What? Why not?”

“You’ll see. You just haven’t got acquainted enough around here yet. You’ll see. He won’t even need your master’s help, which served him so well on similar occasions before.”


“Before. Drelauni has been quite a champion of the little man against local petty tyrants.” Milcoradis would say no more; he enjoyed a touch of mystification from time to time. Musluas, who as a promising clerk-advocate was inclined to think of himself as having a natural talent for eliciting information, could not pry out another item.

Two days later, Fillomos failed to get an answer, even to shouting and pounding, at the bolted door of his older brother’s study in the North Tower of Manor Khordonhon, and had the door broken open. Ankhordon’s neck and shoulders were slumped over the desk, above blood soaked into the list he’d made of new fields he’d got for sheep farming after dispossessing, quite legally, eighteen peasants whose families had held land from his forebears from time immemorial even in Ensgabaen. The head was on the floor behind the chair. The weapon, whatever it had been and wherever it was, had severed all at one razor-stroke.

Milcoradis called on Musluas after hearing the news in gory detail and repeated all of it.

“So Drelauni kept his promise, rather promptly,” said Musluas. “Does anyone know how? Motive and threat without means and opportunity aren’t enough to convict for murder.”

“I know how it could have been done. One of the Nine Magical Aids for Heroes Who Battle Magic Wielders is the Axe of Bhornudin, in the keeping these days of Morrossus the Old. It was meant especially and exclusively for use against sorcerers in the act of casting spells against a hero from the protection of a sealed chamber closely guarded, but there were flaws in the original enchantment which permit it to be wielded, by one who knows them, in certain circumstances, against non-sorcerers. But in such a case it would not return immediately to Morrossus for cleansing, as it normally does, but would remain in the possession of the user, with the victim’s blood dried into it and liquefying every three hours, on the hour. Most incriminating, if one knows where to look for it.”

“Are you supposed to be telling me this? Aren’t most Magical Aids dark secrets protected by geas?”

“I should be writhing in agony at your feet. If you hadn’t already known. But I’ve heard from Spenuos Soddenbrain of the sorcerer in your mother’s ancestry and his blood-feud with the house of Pennofol. Throwing an unexpected axe into Drelauni’s project could really have got him into serious trouble with the law.”

“Are you accusing me–?”

“You’re probably the only person in these parts, and certainly the only one who heard Drelauni, who didn’t also know of Drelauni’s skill as an intuitively highly accurate, and almost-libellous, sculptor. It’s too bad Master Tollim allows his clerks, when he has any, to talk to him only on business immediately in hand, or you’d certainly have heard in time to keep poor Ankhordon from the hell I fear he’s gone to.

“Nope.” That was uttered as Milcoradis caught wrist wearing hand bearing dagger driving for his heart. His other fist knocked Musluas unconscious. Then he disarmed the youth.

Sure enough, members of the Civil Guard alerted by Milcoradis found the still-bloody Axe of Bhornudin under Musluas’s bed, and Musluas was duly committed to fair trial. The trial included able defence by Master Tollim, who at the sentence hearing made the most of pleading misguided idealistic sympathy for peasants Musluas hadn’t realized were rich enough together to have even Master Tollim at his greediest diddle Ankhordon well and truly in the Court of Appeal. (In that court moral as well as legal right held sway, according to the Constitution of Ensgabaen, in which a young clerk advocate from distant Snudfirg could not be expected yet to be much learned.) After the fair trial Musluas was duly executed with executioner’s axe mundane.

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