Grod Lump Excision

An excerpt of a scene featuring a character excised, for a variety of reasons, from my Songs of the Dying Earth story, “The Final Quest of the Wizard Sarnod.” The Subterranean edition is out in August, with stories by Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, et al. Grod may be resurrected for the version in my short story collection in 2010.

Grod Lump was round and fleshy, hairy and squat, a misshapen node atop two monstrous legs. He had four brawny arms and a face like a burlesque of a boar. The eyes scattered across his body sometimes made his foes mistake him for Chun the Unavoidable or Chen the Inexplicable. His skin had the texture of battle armor. He kept his brain behind the iron bowl of his prodigious stomach. The huge hole in the top of his head, from which issued a kind of simmering flame and the constant smell of hot coals, was what Grod used to cook his master’s salamanders.

Grod manifested in the middle of a vast, steaming plain covered in blades of red flame like burning grass, the sky veined orange and gold. Endlessly singed, this level lived between renewal and immolation.

Across the plain strode enormous fire salamanders, ponderous and slow as glaciers, but smoldering hot. Grod was smaller than a flake of skin from between one of the salamander’s toes, and so for a moment he mistook them for volcanoes covered in boiling lava. But their movements destroyed that illusion: a great slap and roar as they embarked on their endless quest to the walls of the world and back again. The stench of sulfur and smoke steamed off their mountainous flanks. The air shimmered with their exhalations of emerald mist.

The salamanders were not alone. They were engaged in what appeared to be a never-ending war with the much smaller flame dragons, which harried them like Twk Men swarming a human too close to one of their nests.

Had Grod been a poet he might have appreciated the view. But Grod was no poet. He had been made to wage war by the Weapons Makers of Ampridatvir a thousand years before, and any poetry in him had been subverted to that purpose.

Besides, his many eyes reported to him that he was already under attack, a brace of fire dragons spiraling down through the roiling waves of heat to eviscerate him with their corrosive flame.

Grod did not panic. As they hurtled toward him, unfurling a torrent of red death from their maws, he called upon the one spell Sarnod had given him: Ball and Chain, which manipulated the particles of the air to create a protective sphere of utter cold around him—while also sending out a vibrating chain of ice that caught one dragon in the head, freezing the skull solid. Held by the chain, the head swung back into the flames long enough to melt to ash, fell like stale gray snowflakes onto Grod’s sphere of cold, and stuck there, spackling it.

But the second dragon, seeing the fate of the first, pulled up and wheeled back across the sky, hidden by the greater red of the salamander closest to them. It snorted twice, curled its own flame around head and neck for protection, and dove once again for Grod, huge fangs bared in anticipation of Grod’s flesh.

Grod had many hidden skills, but moving fast was not among them, and so he stood his ground, enveloped in the ball of cold, and swung the chain of ice, which hissed into steam encountering the dragon’s shield of fire.

The dragon’s head was like a blunt star devouring the world, the jaws open wide to receive Grod as morsel, and he was already thinking to himself, Grod must now fight his way out of the dragon’s stomach, when something leapt in from the side. A thick object both jet-black and sharp sliced into the side of the dragon’s skull. The impact sent the dragon suddenly skidding across the fire grass to Grod’s left, followed by something that looked at first like a metal chimney with arms.

As the dragon’s body came to a jolting rest, its tail curled around and smashed into Grod. The force of this sent him flying and fire-lit to land battered among a thousand tongues of flame, all the while saying to himself, Grod see metal chimney. What is a metal chimney doing here?

When he was right-side up, he saw that the dragon lay slain, its head sword-hacked from its body. Standing a good seven feet tall, a knight dressed in a strange black armor had one black-armored boot upon the beast’s slack lower jaw.

In the sky beyond other fire dragons circled but, seeing the fate of their brothers, held off their attack.

Grod was puzzled. He walked up to the black knight.

“Grod not understand,” Grod said, staring up at the man. “Why risk self to help Grod?” He was not sure he would have done the same for a stranger.

The Black Knight had a pale, whorled face protected by a helmet-shield made of some thin but strong glass that caught the light and threw off a rainbow of colors. His voice came out high but loud from behind the shield.

“MAY KRAAN HOLD YOUR LIVING BRAIN IN ACID!” the Black Knight shouted.

Grod’s eyes blinked and blinked again. “Grod not understand now, either.”

Again the voice: “MAY THRANG THE GHOUL BEAR HANG YOUR INTESTINES FROM HIS CAVE WALLS!”

Grod stood back, ready to fight, but the Black Knight made no threatening move.

“MAY DARK THIAL SPIKE YOUR EYES!”

“Grod has many, many eyes,” Grod said. “It will take a long time to spike all of Grod’s eyes.” All of his eyes narrowed.

The Black Knight shook his head, performed an elaborate pantomime with his be-gloved hands and booted feet that made Grod dizzy and un-confused him not a bit.

Then the Black Knight reached into a pocket, took out a piece of black paper ablaze with golden letters, offered it to Grod.

Grod took it in one huge hand, looked upon its glistening surface.

To Whomever May Be Given This:
I have been doomed to walk this hellscape by a mad sorcerer most evil and foul. He has created an insane kingdom and transfers his own pain to his subjects, many of whom he has forced into depravity. The curse he has visited upon me turns all of my speech to vulgarisms and spittle. Please forgive me my ignoble discourse. I roam this land seeking an end to this tyranny. Will you help me defeat this scourge?

Grod stared at the paper for several minutes, then said, “Grod not understand.”

The Black Knight held up a finger begging Grod’s indulgence, and took out another piece of black paper. He scrawled upon it in flaming letters and handed it to Grod.

Dear Sir:
It is to be expected that you have your own exigencies, but a slight detour to help the one who saved your life would be most kind.

Grod sighed. “Grod not know how to read letters.” This fact irked Grod almost as much as had Sarnod’s ability, in an unguarded moment, to bind him into servitude.

Whereupon the Black Knight shouted in apparent exasperation, “MAY ETARR OF ASCOLAIS STRIKE YOU WITH THE SCEPTRE OF KNOWLEDGE!”

“You have a strange manner about you,” Grod said, once again taken aback.

Wary of more pantomime, he quickly projected the image of Vendra and Gandreel into the gesticulating chimney’s mind. “Grod seeks these two. Do you know them?”

The Black Knight staggered forward, then back, from the force of the projected images, Grod not being subtle in his intrusion. Then, recovering, the man nodded and took out another piece of paper.

This time, the Black Knight drew a crude series of images upon it. After much time had passed and he had created several more drawings, some of which crumbled to ash in his hands, Grod came to understand that the images showed Grod and the Black Knight traveling up the length of the fire salamander to its eye, and that within the eye the Black Knight had seen someone who resembled Gandreel.

“There is a city in the eye of the fire salamander?” Grod said, something like an intimation of grandeur suffusing his thoughts.

Nodding with what seemed a well-earned relief, the Black Knight handed Grod a pre-drawn note showing a vast and beautiful metropolis.

“MAY GOLICKAN KODEK THE CONQUEROR BESPOIL YOUR LANDS WITH MUCH RANCOR!”

Comments

  1. DC Black says

    Well… lack of quality can’t be the reason this was excised because it is excellent stuff. I like the references to Chun the Unavoidable and the Twk-men. I put my order in for this collection a month ago, and am awaiting its completion with eager anticipation. So many great authors involved in this collaboration.

    Thanks for the tasty appetizer…eagerly awaiting the banquet.

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