Authors: Tom Simon
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Anthologies, #Sword & Sorcery, #Science Fiction, #90 Minutes (44-64 Pages), #Literature & Fiction, #Anthologies & Short Stories
THE WORM OF THE AGES
AND OTHER TAILS
Six Short Fantasies
By Tom Simon
The Worm of the Ages and Other Tails
by Tom Simon
Published by Bondwine Books
Edited by Robin Eytchison
Editorial consultant: Wendy S. Delmater
Cover design by Sarah Dimento
Copyright © 2016 by Tom Simon
All rights reserved.
Other books by Tom Simon:
Writing Down the Dragon
and Other Essays
Death Carries a Camcorder:
Essays on Fantasy Writing
Style is the Rocket
and Other Essays on Writing
Lord Talon’s Revenge:
A Comedy of Greed, War, Hatred, Betrayal, and Other Desirable Things
THE EYE OF THE MAKER
1. The End of Earth and Sky
2. The Grey Death (forthcoming)
Visit the author’s website at
I work at novels as a general thing; though in the nature of the business, I have more of them unfinished, sitting up on blocks in my yard, than out in the marketplace earning their bread.
Ars brevis, vita longa;
which, as I am told, is Latin for ‘A watched pot never boils, and neither does an unwatched writer.’
From time to time, however, I have ideas for shorter pieces. Some of these are essays, collections of which I publish from time to time. Very rarely, I come up with an idea that wants to be expressed in the form of a short story. This little volume contains half a dozen of these, ranging from the numinous and mythical (‘The Worm of the Ages’) down to the silly and leg-pulling (‘Magic’s pawnshop’). I hope you enjoy them.
A legend of ancient days in Färinor, taken from
The Tower of Vargon.
The Eye of the Maker
will recognize the name of Vargon, Lord of the Dead. This is the tale of his beginning in Färinor, the former world in which a great many things had their origins.
The Tower of Vargon
itself tells (or will tell, if I am spared long enough to finish it, among many other books) how Vargon became discontented with his domain and tried to extend his rule over the living as well.
Avel, Mazuj, and Kataki are three mortal children who have escaped from the shadow of Vargon, a thick dark mirk which his tower belches forth to blot out the lights of heaven from the lands that pay him tribute. Beneath that shadow, all light and life must be bought with blood. In the twilit realm on the border of Vargon’s domain, they have met the Loring, a strange little old man who tells stories, and gives the impression that there is more about him than meets the eye.
The Loring poked the fire vigorously with a stick, making the flames leap on high and sparks climb dizzily into the night. His bald head seemed to glow in the sudden light, and his dark eyes glittered sorcerously. ‘Has nobody got a story to tell us?’
‘Old or new?’ asked Kataki.
‘Old, to be sure,’ said the Loring. ‘Tales and apples are bitter when picked unripe.’
Mazuj sighed. ‘My grandmother used to tell stories, but I don’t remember them well enough. Avel?’
‘I don’t remember my grandmother at all. I was too young when the reapers took her.’
‘Then it falls to me,’ said the Loring. ‘I never had a grandmother, but I can tell you a tale as old as I am, if that will do.’
Kataki laughed. ‘Were there tales so long ago?’ she asked archly.
‘There were deeds,’ the Loring answered; ‘they were made into tales later.’
Avel looked so eager that he almost seemed to smile. ‘Is it a true tale, Master Loring?’
‘As true as words will allow, child. It will not go easily into your speech, but I shall do the best I can.’ The old man stretched his limbs one by one, then sat cross-legged with his hands on his knees, facing the three children across the fire. ‘Hear and heed,’ he intoned, ‘while I tell of the Worm of the Ages.’
‘I don’t like worms,’ Kataki complained.
‘He means a dragon,’ said Mazuj.
The Loring raised a cautioning finger. ‘Not
Worm, forebear and fountainhead of dragonkind, whose heartbeats were the days, whose breaths were the seasons, even from the beginning of measured time. In the bitter North it made its lair, and there it slept for years untold amid the eternal snows, hard by the Walls of the Void at the limits of the world. It wrapped itself round the pillar of clear rock that is called Telménedh, making a circle of its long body, with its tail in its mouth—’
‘Why ever did it do that?’ Kataki asked.
‘To keep it from interrupting,’ Mazuj suggested.
‘To keep warm, of course,’ said the Loring mildly. ‘There is no cold like the cold of that place; and though the Ancient Fire was in the belly of the Worm, hotter than any fire that has been kindled since, its tail was far from that heat; and so it caught its tail in its mouth, and warmed it with its breath. The cold would have woken it else, and then its dreams would have ended, and with the waking of the Worm the measure of days and seasons would cease. It was a dire danger, and the powers of the world were not unmindful of it.
‘Now on a time the Worm became restless in its sleep—’
‘Did it yawn, and its tail fell out?’
‘Be quiet, Kat,’ Mazuj growled.
‘—for the spirit whose name is not spoken, the Destroyer of Worlds, whispered to it from the Void in poisoned words, to trouble its dreams and chill its fire. Then the stars faltered in their courses, and the rhythm was broken of the days that were the Worm’s heartbeats, and the seasons that were its breaths—’
‘You told us that before,’ said Kataki. Mazuj threw a shoe at her.
The Loring looked askance at them both, but did not deign to make any other answer. ‘—Until the earth and the heavens,’ he went on, ‘trembled at the brink of dissolution. But the powers of the world were forewarned; and the Keepers of the Light took counsel in their fastness at the heart of the world, in the Isles of Light in the midst of the Sundering Sea. And Lysana the Queen knew that the hour was approaching when the Maker would send his children (even such as yourselves) to walk upon the earth; but the Destroyer would forestall him. Then said the Queen, “Evil is the hour, and desperate the peril. Who will hazard his life against the waking of the Worm? For one of the Keepers must stand forth as our champion, lest the world be broken untimely.”
‘Then some would not stand forth for fear of the Worm, and others for want of power, knowing themselves unequal to the task. And some who stood forth the Queen refused because their strength was less than their courage, and some because their skill was less than their strength, until all were tried and found wanting. Then the Queen cried, “Is there no wight among us who can match the might of the Worm?” And the Keepers answered, “There is none.”
‘And the Queen said: “Then we must try a new thing. Send for Telkon the Smith: for the making of new things is in his care.” And Telkon was taken from his smithy and brought before the Queen; and she told him where the Worm lay, and what were its size and strength, and the armament of its claws and teeth, and the armour of its scales, and every other thing that was known to her concerning the Worm. Then Telkon cast his hammer at his feet, and stood a night and a day in thought.
‘Then Telkon spoke at last, saying: “No strength is like unto the Worm’s strength, and no armament like unto its armament. In all the earth there is but one power that approaches it, and that is Ynd Urenn, the Tree of the World. Yet even Ynd Urenn cannot overcome the Worm.”
‘ “Then we are lost,” said the Queen.’
‘It does seem a poor lookout,’ said Kataki. ‘Are you
this is a true story?’
The two boys glared at her, but the Loring seemed to take no notice. ‘ “I said not so,” said Telkon. “Of its unaided nature the Tree cannot quell the Worm; but haply of its wood I may fashion such a tooth that even the Worm will feel its bite.” And this the Queen bade him do.
‘Then Telkon took up his hammer and went unto Alenna, the midmost of the Isles, where Ynd Urenn grew among the pools and fountains of the stored and garnered Light, with its roots in the deep places of the earth and its branches upholding the sky. And he cut a branch from the Tree, and bore it away to his smithy in the island of Ión Tela, in his own country. Long he wrought upon it, forging it in the secret fires of Ión Tela, only less than the Ancient Fire that was in the belly of the Worm; and the wood was changed beneath his hammer, until at last he wrought a blade of purest adamant, harder than the bones of the earth, imperishable as the Light itself.’
‘What’s adamant?’ Kataki asked.
‘A kind of jewel,’ said Mazuj, glad of the chance to show off. ‘Clear as water, but harder than bronze or carbuncle. I bet it would even crack open
silly head. I’ve seen little ones before.’
The Loring bore this interruption with tranquil patience. As soon as Mazuj was done speaking, he went on: ‘That was the blade Tan-an-Nydh, which Telkon bore ever after. But in the hour of its making he brought it unto the Queen and put it in her hand. And the Queen said: “Who now will stand forth, and bear this blade as our champion against the waking of the Worm?” But again none stood forth; and some among the Keepers answered the Queen, saying, “What hand should bear it but the one that was its maker?”
‘Then Telkon was wroth, and cried, “Have I not done enough? Is there no other hand that can wield this weapon? Cannot Bringúr the bold, or Orandel the mighty? Are there no warriors among us?” But none answered him; and the Queen gave him the blade again, saying, “Already thy service is beyond all price. Yet serve but a little longer, and fame beyond the ending of the world shall be thy guerdon.” ’
(Here Kataki looked as if she might ask what a guerdon was, but since Mazuj seemed not to know either, she kept silent instead.)
‘ “O Queen,” said Telkon, “your promise would be the greater if you pledged to speak well of me on the morrow: for the ending of the world may be past by then. But if none other of the Keepers will do this thing, then I will bear the burden, even as I have forged the blade: and let it stand to their everlasting shame that none of my people helped.” And with that saying, he turned on his heel and strode from the presence of the Queen without taking leave.
‘Then some of the Keepers were wroth, and one who stood at hand said: “Punish this insolence, O Queen!” But the Queen answered: “If he succeed at this jeopardy, he will earn the right to what insolence he pleases. If he fail, there will be punishment enough for us all.” ’
‘I could do without these Keepers,’ said Mazuj. ‘They remind me of my brother. Talk bigger than they act, and they use the word
‘Child,’ said the Loring, ‘you could not. The Light must be kept, and so Keepers there must be.’
‘Ah,’ said Avel knowingly. ‘They’re needed, so they can get away with things. Like the reapers.’
‘Hush, both of you,’ said Kataki. ‘I want to hear the rest of the story. Did Telkon go after the Worm?’
‘He did,’ said the Loring. ‘From the council of the Keepers he went straightway to the Daughters of Cómar on their strand of pearl, and besought of them a vessel to bear him across the seas to the bitter North. And they gave him a coracle of willow and hazel, stretched over with the skin of a great shark that they had taken on the shore. And they themselves guided him over the Sundering Sea, being wise in all the lore of their father, who was its lord. Swiftly he passed, with neither storm nor calm to stay him; and he beached the coracle on the icy strand, and left it in their keeping, for the Daughters of Cómar cannot go far from the seas of their father.’
‘Now behold.’ The Loring’s voice fell almost to a whisper; the children leant forward to hear him better. ‘All is silent on the frozen shore. No sound is there but the creak of his feet upon the snow as Telkon strides the bitter leagues beneath the stars. He rests not, nor breaks his journey; for he has come without fire, lest it waken the Worm, or warn it of his presence. Though the Keepers are immortal, their flesh is flesh withal, even as yours or mine; and the cold of that land is death to all flesh. He who sleeps there without fire, sleeps for ever.’
Mazuj yawned. ‘I could sleep for ever, but I’d rather have the fire.’
‘Be quiet,’ said Kataki.
‘Now Telkon draws nigh the pillar of Telménedh, where the Worm still lies in fitful slumber. No other living thing is in the land; only snow and ice, and the shards of great rocks riven by frost. Nearer and nearer the Worm he creeps, and Tan-an-Nydh is in his hand. His one thought is to come upon the monster ere it wakes, and plunge the blade into its heart. But he is betrayed by the gleam of it in the starlight, and by the soft creak of his footfalls. A mighty eye blinks open, and its clear gaze falls upon him. The Worm awakes!’
‘I knew it,’ said Avel. Kataki glared at him.
‘Red and gold shone the Ancient Fire in the eyes of the Worm, as the beast bestirred itself; but all other lights went out. The stars stopped in their courses, flickered and failed. Beyond the little circle illumined by the Worm, all was as dark as the Void. And by fate or ill-chance, Telkon had come upon the Worm head first, far from its heart where he thought to strike, all too near the jaws of iron and the nostrils of burning brimstone.
‘Now the tail of the Worm was loosed, and its jaws began to open. Mighty was Telkon and great of stature, according to your measure or mine; but the mouth of the Worm yawned like a cavern. In another moment it would swallow him whole, and all hope would be ended, and the world dissolve in darkness. With desperate strength, the Smith of Ión Tela struck at the only place he could reach. Tan-an-Nydh bit deep into the tail of the Worm, and severed it from the body.
‘Now the jaws of the Worm opened wide indeed, but not to bite. It gave such a cry of anguish as the world never heard before or since. It was heard even in the Isles of Light, and the tortured rocks of the Worm’s cold lair were shivered to rubble. Deaf from the noise was Telkon, and battered by the blast of the Worm’s breath; but he clung as for life to the tail, and so held his stead. And before the Worm could lift its head to strike, he pushed with all his might, and lodged the tail deep in the Worm’s throat.’
‘Clever, that,’ said Mazuj.
‘Now the Ancient Fire was stopped within the Worm, and its teeth were sunk into its own severed flesh; and its claws were yet far away. Before it could bring them to bear, Telkon threw himself with desperate strength upon its neck, and smote its golden scales; and he held fast to the Worm, though it darted its head to and fro, trying in vain to throw him free; and it crushed his leg against the shivered rocks, so that he went halt of one foot ever after. Long time they strove, either against other, but Telkon was the victor. With his last strength he clove through the Worm’s hide, and the snows of Telménedh were stained with the fount of its scarlet blood. Then he swooned, and lay long in the dark beside his fallen foe.