Dawn of Flame. The Stanley G. Weinbaum Memorial Volume - Stanley G. Weinbaum - ebook

Dawn of Flame. The Stanley G. Weinbaum Memorial Volume ebook

Stanley G. Weinbaum

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Opis

After a worldwide plague breaks civilization, Joaquin Smith and his sister build an empire up the Mississippi Valley. Who would be brave or foolish enough to stand in their way? Who but a young backwoodsman named Hull Tarvish? „Dawn of Flame” was written in the year 1939 by Stanley Grauman Weinbaum. This book is one of the most popular novels of Stanley Grauman Weinbaum, and has been translated into several other languages around the world. After his death, Weinbaum became „science fiction’s first cult author”; „Dawn of Flame” appeared as the title piece of a 1936 memorial story collection, while „The Black Flame” was the lead feature in the January 1939 debut issue of Startling Stories.

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Liczba stron: 118

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Contents

Chapter 1. The World

Chapter 2. Old Einar

Chapter 3. The Master Marches

Chapter 4. The Battle Of Eaglefoot Flow

Chapter 5. Black Margot

Chapter 6. The Harriers

Chapter 7. Betrayal

Chapter 8. Torment

Chapter 9. The Trap

Chapter 10. Old Einar Again

1. THE WORLD

Hull Tarvish looked backward but once, and that only as he reached the elbow of the road. The sprawling little stone cottage that had been home was visible as he had seen it a thousand times, framed under the cedars. His mother still watched him, and two of his younger brothers stood staring down the Mountainside at him. He raised his hand in farewell, then dropped it as he realized that none of them saw him now; his mother had turned indifferently to the door, and the two youngsters had spied a rabbit. He faced about and strode away, down the slope out of Ozarky.

He passed the place where the great steel road of the Ancients had been, now only two rusty streaks and a row of decayed logs. Beside it was the mossy heap of stones that had been an ancient structure in the days before the Dark Centuries, when Ozarky had been a part of the old state of M’souri. The mountain people still sought out the place for squared stones to use in building, but the tough metal of the steel road itself was too stubborn for their use, and the rails had rusted quietly these three hundred years.

That much Hull Tarvish knew, for they were things still spoken of at night around the fireplace. They had been mighty sorcerers, those Ancients; their steel roads went everywhere, and everywhere were the ruins of their towns, built, it was said, by a magic that lifted weights. Down in the valley, he knew, men were still seeking that magic; once a rider had stayed by night at the Tarvish home, a little man who said that in the far south the secret had been found, but nobody ever heard any more of it.

So Hull whistled to himself, shifted the rag bag on his shoulder, set his bow more comfortably on his mighty back, and trudged on. That was why he himself was seeking the valley; he wanted to see what the world was like. He had been always a restless sort, not at all like the other six Tarvish sons, nor like the three Tarvish daughters. They were true mountainies, the sons great hunters, and the daughters stolid and industrious. Not Hull, however; he was neither lazy like his brothers nor stolid like his sisters, but restless, curious, dreamy. So he whistled his way into the world, and was happy.

At evening he stopped at the Hobel cottage on the edge of the mountains. Away before him stretched the plain, and in the darkening distance was visible the church spire of Norse. That was a village; Hull had never seen a village, or no more of it than this same distant steeple, shaped like a straight white pine. But he had heard all about Norse, because the mountainies occasionally went down there to buy powder and ball for their rifles, those of them who had rifles.

Hull had only a bow. He didn’t see the use of guns; powder and ball cost money, but an arrow did the same work for nothing, and that without scaring all the game a mile away.

Morning he bade goodbye to the Hobels, who thought him, as they always had, a little crazy, and set off. His powerful, brown bare legs flashed under his ragged trousers, his bare feet made a pleasant swoosh in the dust of the road, the June sun beat warm on his right cheek. He was happy; there never was a pleasanter world than this, so he grinned and whistled, and spat carefully into the dust, remembering that it was bad luck to spit toward the sun. He was bound for adventure.

Adventure came. Hull had come down to the plain now, where the trees were taller than the scrub of the hill country, and where the occasional farms were broader, well tilled, more prosperous. The trail had become a wagon road, and here it cut and angled between two lines of forest. And unexpectedly a man–no, two men–rose from a log at the roadside and approached Hull. He watched them; one was tall and light-haired as himself, but without his mighty frame, and the other was a head shorter, and dark. Valley people, surely, for the dark one had a stubby pistol at his belt, wooden-stocked like those of the Ancients, and the tall man’s bow was of glittering spring steel.

“Ho, mountainy!” said the dark one. “Where going?”

“Norse,” answered Hull shortly,

“What’s in the bag?”

“My tongue,” snapped the youth.

“Easy, there,” grunted the light man. “No offense, mountainy. We’re just curious. That’s a good knife you got. I’ll trade it.”

“For what?”

“For lead in your craw,” growled the dark one. Suddenly the blunt pistol was in his hand. “Pass it over, and the bag too.”

Hull scowled from one to the other. At last he shrugged, and moved as if to lift his bag from his shoulders. And then, swift as the thrust of a striking diamondback, his left foot shot forward, catching the dark one squarely in the pit of his stomach, with the might of Hull’s muscles and weight behind it.

The man had breath for a low grunt; he doubled and fell, while his weapon spun a dozen feet away into the dust. The light one sprang for it, but Hull caught him with a great arm about his throat, wrenched twice, and the brief fight was over. He swung placidly on toward Norse with a blunt revolver primed and capped at his hip, a glistening spring-steel bow on his shoulder, and twenty-two bright tubular steel arrows in his quiver.

He topped a little rise and the town lay before him. He stared. A hundred houses at least. Must be five hundred people in the town, more people than he’d ever seen in his life all together. He strode eagerly on, goggling at the church that towered high as a tall tree, at the windows of bits of glass salvaged from ancient ruins and carefully pieced together, at the tavern with its swinging emblem of an unbelievably fat man holding a mammoth mug. He stared at the houses, some of them with shops before them, and at the people, most of them shod in leather.

He himself attracted little attention. Norse was used to the mountainies, and only a girl or two turned appraising eyes toward his mighty figure. That made him uncomfortable, however; the girls of the mountains giggled and blushed, but never at that age did they stare at a man. So he gazed defiantly back, letting his eyes wander from their bonnets to the billowing skirts above their leather strap-sandals, and they laughed and passed on.

Hull didn’t care for Norse, he decided. As the sun set, the houses loomed too close, as if they’d stifle him, so he set out into the countryside to sleep. The remains of an ancient town bordered the village, with its spectral walls crumbling against the west. There were ghosts there, of course, so he walked farther, found a wooded spot, and lay down, putting his bow and the steel arrows into his bag against the rusting effect of night-dew. Then he tied the bag about his bare feet and legs, sprawled comfortably, and slept with his hand on the pistol grip. Of course there were no animals to fear in these woods save wolves, and they never attacked humans during the warm parts of the year, but there were men, and they bound themselves by no such seasonal laws.

He awoke dewy wet. The sun shot golden lances through the trees, and he was ravenously hungry. He ate the last of his mother’s brown bread from his bag, now crumbled by his feet, and then strode out to the road. There was a wagon creaking there, plodding northward; the bearded, kindly man in it was glad enough to have him ride for company.

“Mountainy?” he asked.

“Yes.

“Bound where?”

“The world,” said Bull.

“Well,” observed the other, “it’s a big place, and all I’ve seen of it much like this. All except Selui. That’s a city. Yes, that’s a city. Been there?”

“No.”

“It’s got,” said the farmer impressively, “twenty thousand people in it. Maybe more. And they got ruins there the biggest you ever saw. Bridges. Buildings. Four–five times as high as the Norse church, and at that they’re fallen down. The Devil knows how high they used to be in the old days.”

“Who lived in ‘em?” asked Hull.

“Don’t know. Who’d want to live so high up it’d take a full morning to climb there? Unless it was magic. I don’t hold much with magic, but they do say the Old People knew how to fly.”

Hull tried to imagine this. For a while there was silence save for the slow clump of the horses’ hooves. “I don’t believe it,” he said at last.

“Nor I. But did you hear what they’re saying in Norse?”

“I didn’t hear anything.”

“They say,” said the farmer, “that Joaquin Smith is going to march again.”

“Joaquin Smith!”

“Yeah. Even the mountainies know about him, eh?”

“Who doesn’t?” returned Hull. “Then there’ll be fighting in the south, I guess. I have a notion to go south.”

“Why?”

“I like fighting,” said Hull simply.

“Fair answer,” said the farmer, “but from what folks say, there’s not much fighting when the Master marches. He has a spell; there’s great sorcery in N’Orleans, from the merest warlock up to Martin Sair, who’s blood-son of the Devil himself, or so they say.”

“I’d like to see his sorcery against the mountainy’s arrow and ball,” said Hull grimly. “There’s none of us can’t spot either eye at a thousand paces, using rifle. Or two hundred with arrow.”

“No doubt; but what if powder flames, and guns fire themselves before he’s even across the horizon? They say he has a spell for that, he or Black Margot.”

“Black Margot?”

“The Princess, his half-sister. The dark witch who rides beside him, the Princess Margaret.”

“Oh–but why Black Margot?”

The farmer shrugged. “Who knows? It’s what her enemies call her.”

“Then so I call her,” said Hull.

“Well, I don’t know,” said the other. “It makes small difference to me whether I pay taxes to N’Orleans or to gruff old Marcus Ormiston, who’s eldarch of Ormiston village there.” He flicked his whip toward the distance ahead, where Hull now descried houses and the flash of a little river. “I’ve sold produce in towns within the Empire, and the people of them seemed as happy as ourselves, no more, no less.”

“There is a difference, though. It’s freedom.”

“Merely a word, my friend. They plow, they sow, they reap, just as we do. They hunt, they fish, they fight. And as for freedom, are they less free with a warlock to rule them than I with a wizened fool?”

“The mountainies pay taxes to no one.”

“And no one builds them roads, nor digs them public wells. Where you pay little you get less, and I will say that the roads within the Empire are better than ours.”

“Better than this?” asked Hull, staring at the dusty width of the highway.

“Far better. Near Memphis town is a road of solid rock, which they spread soft through some magic, and let harden, so there is neither mud nor dust.”

Hull mused over this. “The Master,” he burst out suddenly, “is he really immortal?”

The other shrugged. “How can I say? There are great sorcerers in the southlands, and the greatest of them is Martin Sair. But I do know this, that I have seen sixty-two years, and as far back as memory goes here was always Joaquin Smith in the south, and always an Empire gobbling cities as a hare gobbles carrots. When I was young it was far away, now it reaches close at hand; that is all the difference. Men talked of the beauty of Black Margot then as they do now, and of the wizardry of Martin Sair.

Hull made no answer, for Ormiston was at hand. The village was much like Norse save that it huddled among low hills, on the crest of some of which loomed ancient ruins. At the near side his companion halted, and Hull thanked him as he leaped to the ground.

“Where to?” asked the farmer.

Hull thought a moment. “Selui,” he said.

“Well, it’s a hundred miles, but there’ll be many to ride you.”

“I have my own feet,” said the youth. He spun suddenly about at a voice across the road: “Hi! Mountainy!”

It was a girl. A very pretty girl, slim waisted, copper haired, blue eyed, standing at the gate before a large stone house. “Hi!” she called. “Will you work for your dinner?”

Hull was ravenous again. “Gladly!” he cried.

The voice of the farmer sounded behind him. “It’s Vail Ormiston, the dotard eldarch’s daughter. Hold her for a full meal, mountainy. My taxes are paying for it.”

But Vail Ormiston was above much converse with a wandering mountain-man. She surveyed his mighty form approvingly, showed him the logs he was to quarter, and then disappeared into the house. If, perchance, she peeped out through the clearest of the ancient glass fragments that formed the window, and if she watched the flexing muscles of his great bare arms as he swung the axe–well, he was unaware of it.

So it happened that afternoon found him trudging toward Selui with a hearty meal inside him and three silver dimes in his pocket, ancient money, with the striding figure of the woman all but worn away. He was richer than when he had set out by those coins, by the blunt pistol at his hip, by the shiny steel bow and arrows, and by the memory of the copper hair and blue eyes of Vail Ormiston.

2. OLD EINAR

Three weeks in Selui had served to give Hull Tarvish a sort of speaking acquaintance with the place. He no longer gaped at the sky-piercing ruins of the ancient city, or the vast fallen bridges, and he was quite at home in the town that lay beside it. He had found work easily enough in a baker’s establishment, where his great muscles served well; the hours were long, but his pay was munificent–five silver quarters a week. He paid two for lodging, and food–what he needed beyond the burnt loaves at hand from his employment cost him another quarter, but that left two to put by. He never gambled other than a wager now and then on his own marksmanship, and that was more profitable than otherwise.

Ordinarily Hull was quick to make friends, but his long hours hindered him. He had but one, an incredibly old man who sat at evening on the step beyond his lodging, Old Einar. So this evening Hull wandered out as usual to join him, staring at the crumbling towers of the Ancients glowing in the sunset. Trees sprung on many, and all were green with vine and tussock and the growth of wind-carried seeds. No one dared build among the ruins, for none could guess when a great tower might come crashing down.

“I wonder,” he said to Old Einar, “what the Ancients were like. Were they men like us? Then how could they fly?”

“They were men like us, Hull. As for flying–well, it’s my belief that flying is a legend. See here; there was a man supposed to have flown over the cold lands to the north and those to the south, and also across the great sea. But this flying man is called in some accounts Lindbird and in others Bird and surely one can see the origin of such a legend. The migrations of birds, who cross land and seas each year, that is all.”

“Or perhaps magic,” suggested Hull.

“There is no magic. The Ancients themselves denied it and I have struggled through many a moldy book in a curious, archaic tongue.”

Old Einar was the first scholar Hull had ever encountered. Though there were many during the dawn of that brilliant age called the Second Enlightenment, most of them were still within the Empire. John Holland was dead, but Olin was yet alive in the world, and Kohlmar, and Jorgensen, and Teran, and Martin Sair, and Joaquin Smith the Master. Great names–the names of demigods.

But Hull knew little of them. “You can read!” he exclaimed. “That in itself is a sort of magic. And you have been within the Empire, even in N’Orleans. Tell me, what is the Great City like? Have they really learned the secrets of the Ancients? Are the Immortals truly immortal? How did they gain their knowledge?”

Old Einar settled himself on the step and puffed blue smoke from his pipe filled with the harsh tobacco of the region. “Too many questions breed answers to none,” he observed. “Shall I tell you the true story of the world, Hull–the story called History?”

“Yes. In Ozarky we spoke little of such things.”

“Well,” said the old man comfortably, “I will begin then, at what to us is the beginning, but to the Ancients was the end. I do not know what factors, what wars, what struggles, led up to the mighty world that died during the Dark Centuries, but I do know that three hundred years ago the world reached its climax. You cannot imagine such a place, Hull. It was a time of vast cities, too–fifty times as large as N’Orleans with its hundred thousand people.”

He puffed slowly. “Great steel wagons roared over the iron roads of the Ancients. Men crossed the oceans to east and west. The cities were full of whirring wheels, and instead of the many little city-states of our time, there were giant nations with thousands of cities and a hundred million –a hundred and fifty million people.”

Hull stared. “I do not believe there are so many people in the world,” he said.

Old Einar shrugged. “Who knows?” he returned. “The ancient books– all too few–tell us that the world is round, and that beyond the seas lie one, or several continents, but what races are there today not even Joaquin Smith can say.” He puffed smoke again. “Well, such was the ancient world. These were warlike nations, so fond of battle that they had to write many books about the horrors of war to keep themselves at peace, but they always failed. During the time they called their twentieth century there was a whole series of wars, not such little quarrels as we have so often between our city-states, nor even such as that between the Memphis League and the Empire, five years ago. Their wars spread like storm clouds around the world, and were fought between millions of men with unimaginable weapons that flung destruction a hundred miles, and with ships on the seas, and with gases.”

“What’s gases?” asked Hull.

Old Einar waved his hand so that the wind of it brushed the youth’s brown cheek. “Air is a gas,” he said. “They knew how to poison the air so that all who breathed it died. And they fought with diseases, and legend says that they fought also in the air with wings, but that is only legend.”

“Diseases!” said Hull. “Diseases are the breath of Devils, and if they controlled Devils they used sorcery, and therefore they knew magic.”

“There is no magic,” reiterated the old man. “I do not know how they fought each other with diseases, but Martin Sair of N’Orleans knows. That was his study, not mine, but I know there was no magic in it.” He resumed his tale. “So these great fierce nations flung themselves against each other, for war meant more to them than to us. With us it is something of a rough, joyous, dangerous game, but to them it was a passion. They fought for any reason, or for none at all save the love of fighting.”

“I love fighting,” said Hull.

“Yes, but would you love it if it meant simply the destroying of thousands of men beyond the horizon? Men you were never to see?”

“No. War should be man to man, or at least no farther than the carry of a rifle ball.”

“True. Well, some time near the end of their twentieth century, the ancient world exploded into war like a powder horn in a fire. They say every nation fought, and battles surged back and forth across seas and continents. It was not only nation against nation, but race against race, black and white and yellow and red, all embroiled in a titanic struggle.”

“Yellow and red?” echoed Hull. “There are a few black men called Nigs in Ozarky, but I never heard of yellow or red men.”

“I have seen yellow men,” said Old Einar. “There are some towns of yellow men on the edge of the western ocean, in the region called Friscia. The red race, they say, is gone, wiped out by the plague called the Grey Death, to which they yielded more readily than the other races.”

“I have heard of the Grey Death,” said Hull. “When I was very young, there was an old, old man who used to say that his grand-father had lived in the days of the Death.”

Old Einar smiled. “I doubt it, Hull. It was something over two and a half centuries ago. However,” he resumed, “the great ancient nations were at war, and as I say, they fought with diseases. Whether some nation learned the secret of the Grey Death, or whether it grew up as a sort of cross between two or more other diseases, I do not know. Martin Sair says that diseases are living things, so it may be so. At any rate, the Grey Death leaped suddenly across the world, striking alike at all people. Everywhere it blasted the armies, the cities, the countryside, and of those it struck, six out of every ten died. There must have been chaos in the world; we have not a single book printed during that time, and only legend tells the story.

“But the war collapsed. Armies suddenly found themselves unopposed, and then were blasted before they could move. Ships in mid-ocean were stricken, and drifted unmanned to pile in wreckage, or to destroy others. In the cities the dead were piled in the streets, and after a while, were simply left where they fell, while those who survived fled away into the country. What remained of the armies became little better than roving robber bands, and by the third year of the plague there were few if any stable governments in the world.”

“What stopped it?” asked Hull.

“I do not know. They end, these pestilences. Those who take it and live cannot take it a second time, and those who are somehow immune do not take it at all, and the rest–die. The Grey Death swept the world for three years; when it ended, according to Martin Sair, one person in four had died. But the plague came back in lessening waves for many years; only a pestilence in the Ancient’s fourteenth century, called the Black Death, seems ever to have equaled it.

“Yet its effects were only beginning. The ancient transport system had simply collapsed, and the cities were starving. Hungry gangs began raiding the countryside, and instead of one vast war there were now a million little battles. The weapons of the Ancients were everywhere, and these battles were fierce enough, in all truth, though nothing like the colossal encounters of the great war. Year by year the cities decayed until by the fiftieth year after the Grey Death, the world’s population had fallen by three-fourths, and civilization was ended. It was barbarism now that ruled the world, but only barbarism, not savagery. People still remembered the mighty ancient civilization, and everywhere there were attempts to combine into the old nations, but these failed for lack of great leaders.”

“As they should fail,” said Hull. “We have freedom now.”

“Perhaps. By the first century after the Plague, there was little left of the Ancients save their ruined cities where lurked robber bands that scoured the country by night. They had little interest in anything save food or the coined money of the old nations, and they did incalculable damage. Few could read, and on cold nights was usual to raid the ancient libraries for books to burn and to make things worse, fire gutted the ruins of all cities, and there was no organized resistance to it. The flames simply burned themselves out, and priceless books vanished.”

“Yet in N’Orleans they study, don’t they?” asked Hull.

“Yes, I’m coming to that. About two centuries after the Plague–a hundred years ago, that is–the world had stabilized itself. It was much as it is here today, with little farming towns and vast stretches of deserted country. Gunpowder had been rediscovered, rifles were used, and most of the robber bands had been destroyed. And then, into the town of N’Orleans, built beside the ancient city, came young John Holland.

“Holland was a rare specimen, anxious for learning. He found the remains of an ancient library and began slowly to decipher the archaic words in the few books that had survived. Little by little others joined him, and as the word spread slowly, men from other sections wandered in with books, and the Academy was born. No one taught, of course; it was just a group of studious men living a sort of communistic, monastic life. There was no attempt at practical use of the ancient knowledge until a youth named Teran had a dream –no less a dream than to recondition the centuries-old power machines of N’Orleans, to give the city the power that travels on wires!”

“What’s that?” asked Hull. “What’s that, Old Einar?”

“You wouldn’t understand, Hull. Teran was an enthusiast; it didn’t stop him to realize that there was no coal or oil to run his machines. He believed that when power was needed, it would be there, so he and his followers scrubbed and filed and welded away, and Teran was right. When he needed power, it was there.

“This was the gift of a man named Olin, who had unearthed the last, the crowning secret of the Ancients, the power called atomic energy. He gave it to Teran, and N’Orleans became a miracle city where lights glowed and wheels turned. Men came from every part of the continent to see, and among these were two called Martin Sair and Joaquin Smith, come out of Mexico with the half-sister of Joaquin, the satanically beautiful being sometimes called Black Margot.

“Martin Sair was a genius. He found his field in the study of medicine, and it was less than ten years before he had uncovered the secret of the hard rays. He was studying sterility but he found–immortality!”

“Then the Immortals are immortal !” murmured Hull.

“It may be, Hull. At least they do not seem to age, but–Well, Joaquin Smith was also a genius, but of a different sort. He dreamed of the re-uniting of the peoples of the country. I think he dreams of even more, Hull; people say he will stop when he rules a hundred cities, but I think he dreams of an American Empire, or”–Old Einar’s voice dropped– “a world Empire. At least, he took Martin Sair’s immortality and traded it for power. The Second Enlightenment was dawning and there was genius in N’Orleans. He traded immortality to Kohlmar for a weapon, he offered it to Olin for atomic power, but Olin was already past youth, and refused, partly because he didn’t want it, and partly because he was not entirely in sympathy with Joaquin Smith. So the Master seized the secret of the atom despite Olin, and the Conquest began.

“N’Orleans, directly under the influence of the Master’s magnetic personality, was ready to yield, and yielded to him cheering. He raised his army and marched north, and everywhere cities fell or yielded willingly. Joaquin Smith is magnificent, and men flock to him, cities cheer him, even the wives and children of the slain swear allegiance when he forgives them in that noble manner of his. Only here and there men hate him bitterly, and speak such words as tyrant, and talk of freedom.”

“Such are the mountainies,” said Hull.

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