Basilisk by Ellen Kushner

Basilisk by Ellen Kushner

Author:Ellen Kushner [Kushner, Ellen]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 044104820X
Publisher: Ace Books
Published: 1980-08-10T23:00:00+00:00


“Nobody has been here for a hundred years.”

At the extreme northwestern edge of the Marsh, where the concentration of metal salts washed off the Rust Desert was low, saner vegetation had taken hold: willow drooped over the watercourses, the reedbeds were cream and brown, creaking in the cold wind. But the malformations were of a subtler and more disturbing kind— something in the stance of the trees, the proportion of the interface insects—and there was no great lessening of the gloom.

“A pity. Had the place been charted, we might have come to it directly and saved—”

“—A life.”

“Some trouble.”

An ancient roundtower reared above the trees. Built of fawn stone at some time when the earth was firmer, it stood crookedly, weathered like an old bone. Filaments of dead ivy crawled over it; blackthorn and alder hid its base; a withered bul-lace grew from an upper window, its rattling branches inhabited by small stealthy birds.

Closing on it, they found that its lower storeys were embedded in the earth: the low, rectangular openings spaced evenly round its damp walls were foundered windows. Three or four feet above the muck it was girdled by a broad band of fungus, like ringworm on the limb of an unhealthy man.

“My father’s books hinted at the existence of a sinking tower, but placed it in the east.”

“You could live to correct them.”

“Perhaps.” Cromis urged his horse forward, drew his sword. Birds fled the blackthorn. Snow had begun to fall again, the flakes softer this time, and larger. “Are we foolhardy to approach so openly?”

The Kahn got off his long roan mare and studied the deep, clumsy spoor of the baan. An avenue of broken branches and crushed sedge ended in a patch of trampled ground before one of the sunken windows: as if the thing grew careless in the security of its lair. He scratched his head.


He gazed at the tower, and said nothing for some minutes. Grey snow eddied about his motionless figure, settled briefly in his beard. His cloak flapped and cracked in the wind, and he fingered the hilt of his broadsword uneasily. He went a little nearer the dark opening. He paced backwards away from it. Finally, he said:

“I’m afraid I can’t get in there, it’s too small.”

Cromis nodded.

“You’ll keep watch.”

“I would come if I could. You are mad if you do it alone.”

Cromis took off his cloak.

“There is already a thing between us unsettled. Don’t add another one. There is no onus on you. Watch my back.”

Visibility had dropped to ten paces. Glimpsed through a shifting white curtain, the Kahn’s face was expressionless; but his eyes were bemused and hurt. Cromis threw his cloak over the hindquarters of his shivering horse, then turned and walked quickly to the sunken window. Snow was already gathering on its lintel. He felt the Kahn’s eyes on him.

“Leave now!” he shouted into the wind. “It doesn’t want you!”

He got down on his hands and knees, trying to keep the nameless sword pointed ahead of him. A


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