The Enchanted Duplicator

by Walter Willis and Bob Shaw

Chapter 16

In Which Jophan Enters The Canyon Of Criticism

Jophan now pressed on with redoubled energy, and by evening he could plainly see a deep rocky cleft leading into the mountains. This, he knew, must be the Canyon of Criticism, the only route through the mountains to Trufandom. He resolved to fortify himself with a night's sleep before attempting this new peril, and spent the night at an oasis.

Next morning, having partaken cautiously of the Egg o" Bu lest it should dull his perceptions, Jophan set out for the entrance to the Canyon. As he approached it he noticed other Neofen converging on the point from all directions. They rushed past, wild-eyed and eager, and plunged into the Canyon. They had obviously partaken too freely of Egg o" Bu, for their eyes were glazed, their steps unsteady, their heads unnaturally swollen, and their clothes and shields neglected and dirty. Reluctant as he was to let them overtake him, he took thought of his previous experiences and the warnings he had been given. He polished his Shield of Umor hastily, checked his provisions, and only then set foot cautiously into the Canyon.

The path proved to be along the side of the Canyon rather than at its foot. After he had travelled some distance Jophan noticed that while the ground still fell away sharply to his left, the cliff on his right had gradually merged into a more gentle slope. Along this the path split into several smaller paths which wound their separate ways along the mountainside.

As he picked his way over the rougher ground he heard a clatter of falling rock in front of him, and looked upwards in time to see several small stones bounding towards him over an overhanging boulder. Hastily he brought up his shield and covered himself with it. Most of the stones bounced harmlessly off it, but to his dismay one of them passed through as if the shield were made of vapour, and dealt him a severe blow on the shoulder. Suppressing a cry of pain, Jophan looked closely at his shield. There was, he now noticed, a tarnished patch which had escaped the hasty polishing he had done that morning. Retreating quickly to safety, he polished his shield to a uniform brilliance. Then he ventured again towards the danger area, looking curiously ahead to see how the other Neofen were faring.

It was a dreadful sight that met his eyes. Lying on the paths were the crushed and bleeding bodies of many of the Neofen who had passed him that morning. Among them others staggered about, panic-stricken, trying to dodge the hail of stones. But their minds were so befuddled, and their swollen heads so vulnerable beneath their tiny and tarnished shields, that the efforts of many were in vain. Even as he watched, one of the unfortunate wretches was struck from the path by a particularly heavy stone, and with a heart-rending scream vanished from sight down the rocky slope.

On emerging form the lee of the big boulder which had been affording him some shelter, Jophan shielded his eyes from the sun and peered up the slope to try to discover why the falls of rock were so frequent. To his horror he saw, outlined against the sky, a row of dark, misshapen little men busily engaged in uprooting stones and hurling them at the defenceless Neofen below. He watched them for a while, but they showed no signs of abating their activities. Indeed, they did not even seem to stop for food, for he noticed one dwarf hurling stones with one hand and with the other eating what appeared to be a bunch of small sour grapes.

This last sight caused Jophan to decide that there was no point in delaying further. As he ventured forth a savage howl arose from the dwarfs, and the grape-eater seized a particularly sharp stone and threw it with tremendous speed directly at Jophan. Without flinching Jophan held his shield firmly above his head. The stone bounced harmlessly off the shield and back to the thrower with undiminished force. With grim satisfaction he observed it strike the dwarf with deadly effect, dislodging him from his perch so that he fell screaming down the slope and vanished into the abyss.

Greatly pleased by the excellence of his shield, Jophan proceeded along the path. The dwarfs seemed to have learned a lesson from a taste of their own medicine, and such stones as were thrown in his direction were cast in such a tentative and half-hearted manner that he could almost afford to ignore them. He began to think that the perils of the Canyon were at an end.

This mood of over-confidence was soon rudely shattered. On rounding the next curve in the path he suddenly found himself in semi-darkness. Thinking that some cloud had passed over the sun, he looked up casually. His heart almost failed him to see that the shadow was cast by several huge, swarthy giants sitting drowsily among the swarming dwarfs on the crest of the cliff. -

This version is from GHUTENBERG'S BHIBLE -- Section 7-b (Appendix B) -- Copyright © 1994 by Greg Hills. All rights reserved.

All rights to the original material is retained by the authors.