Illustrated by PHILLIP BARKER
PHARUN THE DARK had always had a passion for the beautiful things of life. And when the great lords of Malchairan rode forth in quest of glory, Pharun remained in his chambers engrossed in some scholarly pursuit. With his thin, pale hands he was wont to turn the pages of his beloved tomes and peer nearsightedly into all manner of bookish wisdom. Unlike his brothers was he, and whereas the other four sons of Chaga wore their mail to table and fought amongst themselves and made false promises to the kitchen maidens and spent their time at less savory pursuits, Pharun simply smiled and padded about in a comfortable robe and slippers, with book in hand.
Yet there was one thing else which Pharun loved aside from his books. And that was a woman. Oh, no, not one of the feline, painted, half-naked flirts of Malchairan; a simple, shy maiden from Phrantos who wore her robes ample and unadorned. A hostage was she, a daughter of the doddering king of her island home. Not half the fierce warriors of Chaga's stronghold knew she existed, and the other women of the place were wont to snap their pretty fingers and jeer at her provincial ways.
So she was lonely, a frail white little mist of a girl, alone in a nest of enemies. Which is probably why Pharun met her. He had heard her singing one night and had stopped to listen. In this way they had become friends, and Pharun went often to her chambers bearing his books and his writings. To her also he brought his problems, his frustrations and his dreams, and she soothed him, placing her slender fingers upon his brow and singing to him in the sibilant tongue of her own Phrantos.
"Indeed," he used to whisper, "It was your singing which first led me to you, and still do I love it best of all your charms."
Then she would smile and shyly close off his lips with her own. And in this way a bond was made between the two lonely ones, making the cold walls take on greater warmth and carpeting the marble floor with rosy clouds.
Chaga the bloody-handed, upon the throne of gold, looked with disfavor upon this strange and unintelligible being that was given him as a son. Chaga carressed his jeweled sword hilt and pondered mightily upon it. In vain did he prevail upon Pharun to put aside these senseless books and take up the sword and go forth to slay monsters and such indiscriminate enemies as could be found. Also in vain did Chaga offer Pharun wines and gold and the charms of pretty wenches. And when the king grew angry and expostulated at the top of his lusty lungs, as was his habit, Pharun simply paid no attention, his mind fixed on distant wisdom.
At first his brothers were in favor of letting him be. They jeered and teased, as will most intolerant youths, but that got them nothing but a gentle smile. They invited him to join them and got the same gentle smile and a shake of the head.
"Nay now, father," said Goran the eldest, "For long have we permitted this foolishness, and finally something must be done. There lies but one thing to do and that is to snatch away his toys. Only then will he realize that he is not yet a woolgathering graybeard. 'Twill serve to bring him to his senses."
"But that would be a most unfatherly thing to do. There must be other ways."
Goran shifted his brawny shoulders beneath his armor. "What matters it? Know you that the house of Chaga is laughed at by other great princes? Simply because of that jackass son of yours. They call us now 'the gentle lambs' and 'the Bookish Kings' and even more unpleasant things. He is the disgrace of our family."
"'Tis not as bad as you say, but the underlying truth is there. Pharun is a disgrace to my name and to the names of our glorious and warlike ancestors. How he came about here is beyond my understanding. A little mouse in a house of lions!"
"Then as I say, sire. A little swift work and it's done." Goran chuckled throatily. "Without his precious toys his mind will turn to more manly arts. 'Twill do him infinite good."
Chaga looked at his son from under the beetling eaves of his eyes and smiled. After all, it was for the boy's own good.
Goran waited patiently, knowing full well that his time would come. It was all he could manage not to mention the plan to Pharun just to watch the look on his face. It would be good.
Indeed, the proper moment came. the bronze-bound portals rumbled open, and Pharun was off to study the beauties of a summer afternoon. His chamber lay empty and unlocked. Swiftly Goran was inside.
His strong brown hands made short work of sweeping the parchments into the smouldering fireplace. Goran watched the hungry flames lash at the dusty sheets for a moment and then turned to the cabinets lining the wall. The ancient tomes, the lengthy writings, the astrolabes and other instruments of grammarie, the little cases of specimens and the delicate bottles of drugs -- all he hurled into the fireplace. He stamped into the sleeping alcove and tore the hangings from the walls and trampled them beneath booted feet, wild with sheer destructive lust. He did not hear the door open behind him.
It was the captive princess. Her eyes widened in horror, and a single sob of breath left her lips.
Goran whirled. "What in blazes do you want? Who --?"
"What have you done? Pharun will be --"
With one swift stride Goran was at her side, his heavy hand over her lips. He kicked the door shut with one powerful foot and dragged the girl back into the room.
"Never mind what Pharun will do!" Goran jeered down into her face. "He'll probably just moan a bit and then forget this foolishness."
For a silent moment she looked up at him, and then divining the look in his eyes, she struggled, panting wildly in his calm embrace, flailing wildly with her small fists and kicking the metal greaves with her soft slippers. Goran grinned and eyed her appreciatively. Perhaps Pharun had a better eye for wenches than he had thought.
Why struggle so? See, I hold you easily enough." Deliberately he tightened his grip so that she was pressed hard against his silvery breastplate. Goran bent and kissed her, fiercely, bruising her lips with his. "Isn't that better than a weakling?" He kissed her again.
Goran moved, still holding her, to Pharun's ornate bed. He threw her on it brutally and began to divest himself of his armor. "Lie still now and be a good girl and don't cry out." he jeered, "You're going to see what a real lover is like."
All this time she had lain motionless. Now she moved like a frightened deer and snatched a bodkin from her waist. Goran eyed her warily, but kept on removing his armor. Too late he saw what she intended. With a frustrated cry Goran leaped for her, but he was too late by seconds. She had plunged the dagger home into her own breast.
Goran stood a moment, his mind dwelling with horrid certainty on what his father would do to him for thus causing the death of a valuable hostage. He drew one sobbing breath and turned to flee.
Pharun stood in the doorway.
He did not seem to see Goran where he stood in the center of the rubbish-littered floor. His eyes flicked to the bright red splotch upon the breast of his beloved and a grimace of pain passed across his set features. Then silently he turned from Goran to stand, staring, into the fireplace.
For a moment he stood thus, then leaned down. When he rose in his hand was the scorched remnant of a parchment, tightly rolled and tied with a bit of cloth of gold. Quickly his fingers untied the knot and with infinite tenderness unrolled the charred fragment of the scroll.
The characters inscribed on the parchment meant nothing to Goran's staring eyes, but he recognized, close by the charred edge, a representation of the castle of Chaga. A moment to glance at that and thenGoran realized that Pharun's eyes were upon him. His rose to meet them.
In Pharun's eyes there was hatred; but more than hatred, sorrow; and more than sorrow, pity.
"You fool ...." Pharun whispered, but his eyes spoke volumes as they turned to the window. Hypnotized, Goran's eyes followed his brother's to see, not the rich fields and fertile valleys of his father's kingdom, but ...... nothing.
Understanding awakening in his mind, Goran turned again to his brother.
Once again Pharun's eyes were on the pale, cold breast of his loved one; then his hand was over the fire. Deliberately the fingers opened and, with deceptive slowness, the fragment of parchment drifted down toward the consuming flames.
Data entry by Judy Bemis
Updated May 16, 2001. If you have a comment about these web pages please send a note to the Fanac Webmaster. Thank you.