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TitleMichael Moorcock - Elric 1 - Elric of Melnibone
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sluggishly and reshapes itself, as if it were sentient smoke and as restless in its jewelled
prison as the young albino on his Ruby Throne.
He looks down the long flight of quartz steps to where his court disports itself, dancing
with such delicacy and whispering grace that it might be a court of ghosts. Mentally he debates
moral issues and in itself this activity divides him from the great majority of his subjects, for
these people are not human.
These are the people of Melnibone, the Dragon Isle, which ruled the world for ten thousand
years and has ceased to rule it for less than five hundred years. And they are cruel and clever
and to them 'morality' means little more than a proper respect for the traditions of a hundred
To the young man, four hundred and twenty-eighth in direct line of descent from the first
Sorcerer Emperor of Melnibone, their assumptions seem not only arrogant but foolish; it is plain
that the Dragon Isle has lost most of her power and will soon be threatened, in another century or
two, by a direct conflict with the emerging human nations whom they call, somewhat patronisingly,
the Young Kingdoms. Already pirate fleets have made unsuccessful attacks on Imrryr the Beautiful,
the Dreaming City, capital of the Dragon Isle of Melnibone.
Yet even the emperor's closest friends refuse to discuss the prospect of Melnibone's fall.
They are not pleased when he mentions the idea, considering his remarks not only unthinkable, but
also a singular breach of good taste.
So, alone, the emperor broods. He mourns that his father, Sadric the Eighty-Sixth, did not
sire more children, for then a more suitable monarch might have been available to take his place
on the Ruby Throne. Sadric has been dead a year; whispering a glad welcome to that which came to
claim his soul. Through most of his life Sadric had never known another woman than his wife, for
the Empress had died bringing her sole thin-blooded issue into the world. But, with Melnibonean
emotions (oddly different from those of the human newcomers), Sadric had loved his wife and had
been unable to find pleasure in any other company, even that of the son who had killed her and who
was all that was left of her. By magic potions and the chanting of runes, by rare herbs had her
son been nurtured, his strength sustained artificially by every art known to the Sorcerer Kings of
Melnibone. And he had lived--still lives--thanks to sorcery alone, for he is naturally
lassitudinous and, without his drugs, would barely be able to raise his hand from his side through
most of a normal day.
If the young emperor has found any advantage in his lifelong weakness it must be in that,
perforce, he has read much. Before he was fifteen he had read every book in his father's library,
some more than once. His sorcerous powers, learned initially from Sadric, are now greater than any
possessed by his ancestors for many a generation. His knowledge of the world beyond the shores of
Melnibone is profound, though he has as yet had little direct experience of it. If he wishes he
could resurrect the Dragon Isle's former might and rule both his own land and the Young Kingdoms
as an invulnerable tyrant. But his reading has also taught him to question the uses to which power
is put, to question his motives, to question whether his own power should be used at all, in any
cause. His reading has led him to this 'morality', which, still, he barely understands. Thus, to
his subjects, he is an enigma and, to some, he is a threat, for he neither thinks nor acts in
accordance with their conception of how a true Melnibonean (and a Melnibonean emperor, at that)
should think and act. His cousin Yyrkoon, for instance, has been heard more than once to voice
strong doubts concerning the emperor's right to rule the people of Melnibone. 'This feeble scholar
will bring doom to us all,' he said one night to Dyvim Tvar, Lord of the Dragon Caves.
Dyvim Tvar is one of the emperor's few friends and he had duly reported the conversation,
but the youth had dismissed the remarks as 'only a trivial treason', whereas any of his ancestors
would have rewarded such sentiments with a very slow and exquisite public execution.
The emperor's attitude is further complicated by the fact that Yyrkoon, who is even now
making precious little secret of his feelings that he should be emperor, is the brother of
Cymoril, a girl whom the albino considers the closest of his friends, and who will one day become
his empress.

Down on the mosaic floor of the court Prince Yyrkoon can be seen in all his finest silks
and furs, his jewels and his brocades, dancing with a hundred women, all of whom are rumoured to
have been mistresses of his at one time or another. His dark features, at once handsome and
saturnine, are framed by long black hair, waved and oiled, and his expression, as ever, is
sardonic while his bearing is arrogant. The heavy brocade cloak swings this way and that, striking
other dancers with some force. He wears it almost as if it is armour or, perhaps, a weapon.
Amongst many of the courtiers there is more than a little respect for Prince Yyrkoon. Few resent
his arrogance and those who do keep silent, for Yyrkoon is known to be a considerable sorcerer

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not be knowledgeable in the matter of ships?'
Elric frowned, deepening the lines which now marked his face. 'Aye--Straasha might know.
But I'm loath to call on his aid again. The Water Elementals are not the powerful creatures that
the Lords of Chaos are. Their strength is limited and, moreover, they are inclined to be
capricious, in the manner of the elements. What is more, Dyvim Tvar, I hesitate to use sorcery,
save where absolutely imperative...'
'You are a sorcerer, Elric. You have but lately proved your greatness in that respect,
involving the most powerful of all sorceries, the summoning of a Chaos Lord--and you still hold
back? I would suggest, my lord king, that you consider such logic and that you judge it unsound.
You decided to use sorcery in your pursuit of Prince Yyrkoon. The die is already cast. It would be
wise to use sorcery now.'
'You cannot conceive of the mental and physical effort involved...'
'I can conceive of it, my lord. I am your friend. I do not wish to see you pained--and
'There is also the difficulty, Dyvim Tvar, of my physical weakness,' Elric reminded his
friend. 'How long can I continue in the use of these overstrong potions that now sustain me? They
supply me with energy, aye--but they do so by using up my few resources. I might die before I find
'I stand rebuked.'
But Elric came forward and put his white hand on Dyvim Tvar's butter-coloured cloak. 'But
what have I to lose, eh? No. You are right. I am a coward to hesitate when Cymoril's life is at
stake. I repeat my stupidities--the stupidities which first brought this pass upon us all. I'll do
it. Will you come with me to the ocean?'
Dyvim Tvar began to feel the burden of Elric's conscience settling upon him also. It was a
peculiar feeling to come to a Melnibonean and Dyvim Tvar knew very well that he liked it not at

Elric had last ridden these paths when he and Cymoril were happy. It seemed a long age
ago. He had been a fool to trust that happiness. He turned his white stallion's head towards the
cliffs and the sea beyond them. A light rain fell. Winter was descending swiftly on Melnibone.
They left their horses on the cliffs, lest they be disturbed by Elric's sorcery-working,
and clambered down to the shore. The rain fell into the sea. A mist hung over the water little
more than five ship lengths from the beach. It was deathly still and, with the tall, dark cliffs
behind them and the wall of mist before them, it seemed to Dyvim Tvar that they had entered a
silent netherworld where might easily be encountered the melancholy souls of those who, in legend,
had committed suicide by a process of slow self-mutilation. The sound of the two men's boots on
shingle was loud and yet was at once muffled by the mist which seemed to suck at noise and swallow
it greedily as if it sustained its life on sound.
'Now,' Elric murmured. He seemed not to notice the brooding and depressive surroundings.
'Now I must recall the rune which came so easily, unsummoned, to my brain not many months since.'
He left Dyvim Tvar's side and went down to the place where the chill water lapped the land and
there, carefully, he seated himself, cross-legged. His eyes stared, unseeingly, into the mist.
To Dyvim Tvar the tall albino appeared to shrink as he sat down. He seemed to become like
a vulnerable child and Dyvim Tvar's heart went out to Elric as it might go out to a brave, nervous
boy, and Dyvim Tvar had it in mind to suggest that the sorcery be done with and they seek the
lands of Oin and Yu by ordinary means.
But Elric was already lifting his head as a dog lifts its head to the moon. And strange,
thrilling words began to tumble from his lips and it became plain that, even if Dyvim Tvar did
speak now, Elric would not hear him.
Dyvim Tvar was no stranger to the High Speech--as a Melnibonean noble he had been taught
it as a matter of course--but the words seemed nonetheless strange to him, for Elric used peculiar
inflections and emphases, giving the words a special and secret weight and chanting them in a
voice which ranged from bass groan to falsetto shriek. It was not pleasant to listen to such
noises coming from a mortal throat and now Dyvim Tvar had some clear understanding of why Elric
was reluctant to use sorcery. The Lord of the Dragon Caves, Melnibonean though he was, found
himself inclined to step backward a pace or two, even to retire to the cliff-tops and watch over
Elric from there, and he had to force himself to hold his ground as the summoning continued.
For a good space of time the rune-chanting went on. The rain beat harder upon the pebbles
of the shore and made them glisten. It dashed most ferociously into the still, dark sea, lashed
about the fragile head of the chanting, pale-haired figure, and caused Dyvim Tvar to shiver and

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