The Fear of Liqoimkh

Laurence J. Cornford

1One score and seven lustrums had dwelt the wizard Zakathus in the lofty, grey mica flecked granite keep which rose above the emerald canopied forest of the province of Nyzarn├┤sh, north of the golden domes of Zaroul and windward of the boney Eiglophians. The interlect of Zakathus ruled over the humble folk of thereabouts with an indifferent courtesy and clinical sense of justice which made him much respected and feared.

Lodged in the deepwood was the bandit Liqoimkh, a sharp eyed man, quick as a striking snake, cruel and vain, who lusted after power without the morality to wield it. Liqoimkh brooded enviously upon the wizard in his squalid and dank cavern lair. He did not much care to have a powerful wizard so near at hand, whose sorceries could scry his innermost thoughts, or send death out of the darkness, also he would most gladly exchange his damp, drafty cavern in the greenwood, which was surely more suited to the habitation of mushrooms than men, for the stout defensible keep of the erudite master sorcerer. So Liqoimkh brooded upon the problem of how to overthrow this irksome sorcerer and finally a plan assembled itself.

It came to pass that in the Year of the Red Whale an egregious band of strolling players came to the keep of Zakathus and rapped cautiously upon the great beast-engraved gates of glittering brass. They inquired of the keep's master if he wished to see a performance which had drawn praise from nobles and princes in return for shelter from the oncoming night. Now Zakathus was a connoisseur of beauty and frolic and liked to unwind from the heavy tensions of the practices of elder sorcery through such fortunate and spontaneous entertainments, thus he ordered his servitor familiars to unbar the gates to these frivilous players. So they came before him in his hall and one by one they stood forward and announced themselves.

"I am Ryhorn," spoke the first, "my skill lies in the throwing of knives."

To prove his point Ryhorn dispatched five knives which in the passing of a gasp formed a halo in the laquered wood of Zakathus' high chair about the head of the startled wizard.

"I am Gimbus," spoke a stout dwarf attired in russet, as he ran forward, "and I am a master escapologist. I know how to tie and untie a thousand knots."

So to make his testament plain the dwarf bound Zakathus around with a cord, hand and foot, in knots so cunning that even the cantrips of the sorcerer could not untie them as fast a Gimbus remade them. And so speed of hand and speed of mind competed. When by magic Zakathus split the bonds Gimbus would nimbly reknot each strand so it was stronger than ever, until at last the wizard slackened, the exertion of the magic telling at last.

Forward stepped a great figure as large and as hirsuit as a great brown forest bear, and whose body was bound about by bracers and girdles of thick, dark studded leather.

"And I am Mordabas, whose strength is unsurpassed by any living man."

To make his nature clear he gripped hold of the brass portals and tugged against the wizard's familiars as they sought to lock the gates. And so strong was he that he held the door whilst the bandits of Liqoimkh passed through under the arch of his great arms. The bandits came like a torrent, soldiers first, then camp followers and brazen harlots, until the court of Zakathus was filled with the throng.

So it was that Liqoimkh walked hautily to the throne of the keep and, casting the entwined wizard to the floor, took up the seat. For a moment he surveyed his conquest with wild, half-seeing eyes, then his attention fell to the wizard as he lay sprawled before him upon the tessellated floor. At once the question of what to do with his captive occured to him. Being a superstitious man he resisted the pleadings of his lieutenants to have the wizard put to the sword, for he feared that so mighty a spirit as that of the wizard would be sure to return from the grave and exact some ghastly retribution upon him. So it was that Liqoimkh planned to imprison the sorcerer. But wizards could reach out from great distances, through bars and walls, and strike down their foes with spells and that would not do.

He barked out the order to strike off the hands of the wizard, that he could make no magical gestures and signs against the bandits. The men dashed forward and loosened the ropes and let them fall rattling to the ground. They took hold of his arms and pulled them out straight. One of their number stepped forward, a wicked scimitar in his grasp, and sliced off his hands at the wrists. At once a torrent of blood gushed from the wounds and spread like creeping fingers over the floor, seeping into the cracks in the tiles, and they say that no amount of washing ever got the stain out. The wizard started to writhe and cry out in strange words. Fearing that he was casting some last incantation, Liqoimkh himself dashed down from the dais and taking Zakathus's tongue between his gnarled fingers, sliced it off at the root. Blood gushed from Zakathus' mouth over the fine robes of Liqoimkh. For a moment the bandit was convinced that he felt the tongue still wriggling in his palm and with a flinch of disgust he dropped it to the floor, but no prodigy came from that act.

Then spoke Liqoimkh: "No merciful release to the oblivion of death shall you have, Zakathus the Fool. For I swear by the Black Gods of R'lyeh that I shall see to it that you outlive me. Yet long shall I live, long and well, while you shall eat ashes and know the lash."

Thus maimed and helpless with pain was Zakathus safely dispatched to the dungeon leaving a trail of blood to mark his passing, to live out his days no threat to the abominable bandit Liqoimkh.

Now the wizard Zakathus had overseen many miles of land about his keep and with his dispatch the people of that district were the easy prey of the bandits. When even these people were stripped of their all and cast into bondage within the keep, Liqoimkh turned his mind to new conquests with which his treasury could grow ever fuller.

The years and Liqoimkh's greed waxed in equal measure and with these his cruelty kept pace, until even the wardens of the nearby cities feared to venture from their stout walls and champion the farmers against this fiend. The whole province soon trembled at the fearful name of Liqoimkh. Yet some deeply obscured doubt made all Liqoimkh's finery seem the costumes of children at game, made all his rich food taste bitter and soured his bile, and all wine was tained with the hint of poison. His nights were restless and his only relief from fear came in acts of slaughter and cruel torture.

In the dungeon the years elapsed also and the jailor came to regard the helpless crippled wizard with sorrow so that when an idiot child, the unwanted offspring of the bandit's lusts, was sent to work in the kitchens the jailor dispatched the child to tend to the prisoners and gave little heed to the amount of time the boy spent with the jail's most ancient inmate. Before long the child was lingering for hours seated before him on rat gnawed and soiled straw, fascinated by the ruined sorcerer. The two would stare into each others eyes and at a certain glance the boy would run to fill a cup with water, or collect a crust of bread, or they would just sit, silently for hours, almost as if they were in some unknown conversation. They were two kindred spirits, both broken by the vagaries of life.

Sometimes when alone, engaged on some errand, the boy would make strange gestures or utter strange ululating syllables, for which he was duly and repeatedly chastened. But his existence was was too lowly to come to the attention of the mighty Liqoimkh, and he hid when the bandit chief occasionally visited the wizard, to check that Zakathus was still no threat.

The boy silently observed several encounters between the skeletal wizard and the saturnine bandit. Yet for all his broken flesh and long incarceration it was the wizard who chose to look straight into the face of Liqoimkh rather than cast his sight down in submission, even knowing that a vicious punishment must follow such an act. Gradually the boy perceived that it was Liqoimkh who lived in fear of this ragged conjuror. Zakathus was without fear: what more could Liqoimkh do to his earthly clay? It was the mighty Liqoimkh who was beaded with sweat and he that insured that even after the severest beating Zakathus was tended and kept alive. It was Liqoimkh who flinched before the steady gaze of the mage.

Eventually not even the king of distant Iqqua could ignore the iniquities of Liqoimkh as he ever sought out new prey and news came via a hasty runner that the king of Iqqua had marshalled his army to march against the bandit. Liqoimkh greeted the news with joy, for here was a diversion from the hollow pageantry of his existence. He summoned the neighboring bandits and offered a union with them against Iqqua. When the Iqquan army was broken they would plunder the ancient obsidian vaults of the dynasty of Iqqua, and set in its place a new dynasty - the lineage of Liqoimkh.

On a sultry day, heavy with brooding rainclouds, a mighty feast was set on trestled tables to celebrate the coming march against the army of Iqqua. Plates of pheasant and succulent haunches of jungle sloth, thinly sliced and spiced fish, fine pastries, and rich tangy fruits were laid with abundance before the revelers and for each plate of food there were two bottles of wine. In the center of the crowd stood Ryhorn, juggling perilously with glittering razor edged knives, while for the delectation of the masses Gimbus slipped free of silk bonds and pilfered treasures for the delight of all, while in his great fists Mordabas crushed thick cool rods of darkly tempered metal. At the height of the festivities Liqoimkh ordered that the maimed wizard be brought before him, thinking to make the aged wizard a kind of totem to his allies of Liqoimkh's invulnerability and a reminder of his former conquests.

The wizard was duly brought up, his legs in irons, the stumps of his arms held at his side, leaning for support on the boy. His hair was white, cheeks sunken, sore covered skin hanging from nearly fleshless bone. The tatters he wore were the remnants of his wizardly robes.

Liqoimkh mocked the former owner of the keep. "Here, my lords, is the mercy of Liqoimkh. See here the former owner of this keep, who lives in my hospitality since he retired from the arts sorcerous."

But the boy stepped forward and in a loud clear voice spoke: "I am the mouthpiece of the wizard Zakathus. You who have taken from him both his hands and his voice, know that he has regained them through this child. By the Black Gods of R'lyeh the day has come to keep your promise, that Zakathus shall outlive you."

At which the child gestured and chanted, and threw open his tunic to show that his body was tattooed with ancient and blasphemous sigils to the darkest gods of vengeance, and called out upon the great Secret Name, which is not lightly spoken. At the awesome utterance of that name all in the great chamber were paralyzed to the spot. Then a mighty cracking sound echoed through the halls. Up from the tessellated floor arose stranded globules of congealed blood, and before his eyes the strands moved of their own accord towards the stumps of Zakathus' wrists. The strands clumped there, stretching into the digits of a hideous pair of sangiune hands.

Even through his paralysis the face of Liqoimkh widened into a look of unutterable fear as he perceived his inescapable doom descending!

When the panoplied armies of Iqqua came into sight of the keep they beheld a meagre procession slipping like phantoms into the cool Hyperborean night. And when they questioned these travellers they learned that they were the serving folk, who, at the insistence of the jailor, had chosen to depart that night, for there was a Great Fear upon that keep. Then a remarkable and unearthly roar filled the night, and this sound touched fear in every breast that heard it, and only the rigorous training of the soldiers prevented the army routing upon the spot, but the officers thought it prudent to retreat and camp until clean daylight returned.

When the scouts drew close again by morning light they were perplexed to find the whole building lying in tumbled ruins. So they called up the army and as they approached they beheld an old man and a small boy standing beside the ruin, and so the captain spoke to them.

"Do you know how this castle was so felled?"

"Surely I do," spoke the boy, "For this castle fell and slew the bandits and all their allies to the last man, save for one who must suffer buried alive in the ruins, his arms and legs crushed beyond the repair of any human physician, all on account of the Fear of Liqoimkh."

And with those curious words the boy helped the old man to his feet and the two walked off into the wood and whither then know man knows.

Thus did the soldiers of Iqqua spread the tale of the Fear of Liqoimkh.

* * *

Author's notes (in keeping with Jim's entry)

1) This is meant to be a chapter of the Book of Eibon. It is tentatively put at Chapter 5 of Book 4 (Tales of Hyperborea). I chose to continue Lin Carter's Book of Eibon. The order is: Book 1 "The Histories of the Magi"; Book 2 "The Episodes of Eibon"; Book 3 "The Papyrus of Dark Wisdom"; Book 4 "Tales of Hyperborea", then three books of spells and "The Life of Eibon". The need for Book Four came from the fact that "The Stairs in the Crypt" and "The Feaster from the Stars" didn't fit in Book 2 (neither feature Eibon as narrator). Hence a new book of tales which is more general than the other two was called for.

2) The plot and title are mine, for better or worse, although a couple of the names come from Smith and the geography is consistent. In fact it perhaps owes as much to David Keller's "Tales of Cornwall" as to more obvious sources, although it was always a Hyperborean tale. The basic theme came from the question "what do you do with a wizard once you've crossed him?" It also came partly from the title, which formed itself early in the process: if Liqoimkh feared something, what did he fear? "Liqoimkh" was chosen for its visual strangeness rather than for pronunciation (I'm sure a poet like Smith would disaprove!) but can be pronounced something like "lick-o-mick".

3) This is one of seven tales I've written so far carrying on Lin Carter's plan for the Book of Eibon. The other six will appear soon in the Chaosium book The Book of Eibon edited by Robert M Price, along with all Lin Carter's tales, Smith's "The Coming of the White Worm" and a host of new tales by many other writers.

Thanks to Sandor for proofreading this version of the story.

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