Ch. 1: God of the Cave

     In the 1769th year of the Common Era, I wandered into the southern regions of the North Americas, there to await with usual patience the next important moment in the grand tapestry of human existence.  During autumn in this climate, the rain can be heavy, cold and drenching.  As I made my way between townships, I was in the night on a fairly level plain when such a rain came upon the land.  Only a cave mouth in an edifice of stone gave hope of dryness.  Stark and unfathomable to the glance, with but a few low shrubs growing about and one lone, rebellious tree rooted to its side, it was far from inviting, but there did not seem to be any choice other except getting soaked and chilled to the bones.  “Any shelter in a storm”, I thought as I scrabbled up the rain-slick rocks.
    Still, having gained the ground at the cave mouth, I paused…hesitant, suspicious…with good reason? Then, damning myself for a fool and a coward, I chose dry shelter over the wet night. I had not gone three steps before I felt the loose ground slope away sharply, and damned myself yet again as I fell into space.

It may have been minutes, it may have been hours that I lay unconscious ...time slips out of focus in that context. Eventually, consciousness returned and with it an awareness of…light? “I thought I saw light as I fell”, I mused as I gained my feet and searched in vain for my broad-brimmed hat. “But what is the source?  It seems to originate from the next chamber.” More cautious this time of the treachery of my own feet, I rounded the corner….to find myself taken off balance once more, this time by the evidence of mine eyes.


There, scattered about that great chamber, lying as if discarded for rubbish, were apparently many of  the great treasures of the world, from the purest worked gold to the brightest gems…I recognized there wonders believed lost for centuries, and the work of artisans long since gone to the earth.  All this lay gleaming bloody red in the torchlight. More, I saw tools of war from various epochs and empires…from Zulu shields to Roman Centurion breastplates, to the exotic armory of the Far East.
    Above all, set like a guardian, the form of a man, ancient and hollow-cheeked, enthroned on a dais.  The craft of the figure was astonishing, and the substance of its sculpting was not easy to determine... it seemed as pale as marble, yet glowed with a light that such cold stone could never possess.  "The sculptor of this figure was an unrivalled master" I thought as I marvelled at the astonishingly lifelike cast of the figure’s features… However, in the midst of my mute reverie, it startled me by opening Its eyes and fixing me with their intensity. The thing was alive.

“Greetings, traveller.  What seek you here?” It's voice was as rough as the stone I had earlier imagined it to me, yet it boomed in that cavern with a magnificent boldness and arrogance.  This was a voice that had once been used to command, but had not been used in that manner for a long time.

“I came sir, to seek warmth and shelter.  Now, by misfortune, I but seek theway out.” I thought to placate without grovelling, but could not keep a certain tone of hesitance from my own voice in these weird, unlooked for surroundings.

    “I see….so, that’s it then?  But is it not a good night for thieving?"  The voice now held a trace of sardonic mirth.  "Look about you traveller…is there not everything here that a man could desire?  Does DaVinci’s golden horse not please you?  Or the sleeping Heart of Tahriman?  Perhaps it is knowledge you seek…the scrolls of Alhazred would fill that need.  Have you need of a weapon?  The Sword of Siegfried would serve.  And surely this coin from the hoard of the Niebelungs would buy kingdoms!”  As he spoke each, he indicated the objects in question with a gracious gesture, as if inviting me to partake of the many treasure scattered about the cave floor.  The gesture was as the graceful repose of the lion shortly before it gives chase to the doomed zebra.
    “Nay, sir…I came seeking not to steal, but only to dry my cloak.  I am no thief and found thy hoard quite by accident.”  “LIAR!!!  Know this, thief….Iam old.  Far older than you---though I sense you carry more years than you betray—can concieve!  I have been many things in my day…reaver, slayer, brigand, conqueror and hero!  I have trod the roads of gleamiing kingdoms now forgotten!   I have faced warriors, wizards and monsters whose power shook this mortal plane, and I have slain beasts whose visages would send you gibbering….. …after all that I think I should know a thief when I see one!”  This soliloquoy amazed me more...could this be right?  Could this be such a man?  Recovering from ths latest shock, I queried: “But how…after such a life as you describe, how came ye to be here, hoarding your gold like a dragon of myth, and sitting in silent majesty over the bones of the dead?”

     “Once, long ages ago, I was ruler of a mighty kingdom that I had won by blood from a tyrant’s hands.  I wrested the crown from his head shortly after I had wrested his head from his body!  However, years later, when my queen died, my wanderlust was reborn.  I left the realm in my son’s hands and took to the high seas to explore the new, untouched shores of the west.  Lands, shores, continents.... all lay gleaming before the prow of my dragon boat, and I would conquer them all as I had conquered each shining kingdom of my previous experience.  Hard lives often lead to hard fortunes, however, and one day, having lost both ship and crew by various and often violent meant, I stopped to slake my thirst at a jungle fountain.  The water tasted strange, but revitalized me instantly.  I found from that day that I aged no further, nor wearied for long.  But it did nothing to ease the weariness in my soul, and eventually I became tired of this life I had chosen.  I longed for the solace I had in the past given to so many men.  Alone, friendless, homeless and deathless , I wandered on foot until I found this very cavern. Here did I make my home and take my rest….sick, at last, of wandering and, I thought, having seen all that this world had to offer, this place was good as any other. Here, then, I decided to wait.  Wait for the death that must inevitably catch up to me.  A death which never came!  Still I sat, tired, cold to my soul, and, I thought, alone and forgotten. Or so it seemed, until the superstitious natives learned of my presence and began to weave their myths and legends about me. This had its positive aspect for they came to me with gifts and sacrifices…food, gold, oil for my lamps…and any other desire I had was fulfilled.
    However, there came too the warriors…explorers from other lands who heard the legends and came to make their glory by challenging the 'god in the cave.' Many came over the years, and one and all they died, leaving their bones and their fortunes to decorate my cavern. Thus it is I have now determined that my death can only come at the hands of a warrior…a warrior who would have to be the equal of all gone before in this place. I have often, in my youth, been hailed as a hero, and it was once to my pride that no one could be called my equal.  Now, I fear it is my curse.
    So many heroes…so many bones….

    "But that is nomatter to you, for you are no hero, are you, thief?  You have come not to steal my glory, but my gold.  You will die all the same.  Hero or thief, all who make claim on me must prove it in battle. Youwill find a sword by your feet.  Pick it up.”

So saying, he stood and removed his cloak.  Despite his obvious age, he was still imposingly tall and lean of limb.  His marble-hued arms flexed with strength as he stooped to pick up a well-honed headsman's axe which rested by the side of his granite throne.  I saw that he meant to attack, and thought to forestall such a confrontation with an appeal to reason.
    “No.  I am no thief and I will not fight thee.”

    “I do not care what you will…..YOU FILL FIGHT OR  I WILL CUT YOU DOWN LIKE A BEAST!”

    With this, he lunged forward and swung the axe in a strong and true arc that might have instantly removed my head had I not allowed myself to fall backwards off balance and roll away from him.
    Old though he was, he was also quick and fierce blazed his eyes with madness and bloodlust.  I knew that my only chance for survival lay in arming myself quickly. I shed my greatcoat, and as I did so drew forth the ever-present silvered blade from its scabbard at the small of my back.  I stood forth with the point directed boldly at my new opponent.   “Now sir….king or madman….face me if you will!”
    He paused for a moment to assess this new attitude, and then with inhuman strength did his blade descend to cleave me if it could.  Only by reflex did I catch it on my sword, sending a burst of sparks upwards in the gloom.  A well-placed kick put him off balance and on the defensive.  Unrelenting I drove forward, knowing that to allow him to recover was to die.  Until, at last, our blades locked and his grim visage came close to mine.
     With metal locked on metal our eyes now became our weapons, clashing in a battle of wills, and it seemed to me that we must remain so for the rest of our separate eternities. Perspiration ran into my eyes with the effort while his features seemed to betray no such strain.  But when, in the struggle, his boot caught on a skeleton hand as though the dead reached out to claim him,  I saw then in his eyes a barbaric fear of the supernatural.  Losing his balance, he pitched forward sharply, directly onto the point of my sword.  The armor in which he was covered could never have stopped nor blunted the blow.

    As I drew the point from his abdomen, I helped him to the floor.  He lay there with his gaze fixed on the ceiling, breathing in ragged gasps.  His helm rolled away to reveal a mane of hair as white as his beard and a furrowed high forehead.
    “So, then…This is how it ends.  Slain by mischance at the hands of a thief” he choked, his voice notably weaker now.  “What a cruel joke.

"Must I go then to meet my god not as a warrior fallen, but as a feeble greybeard who did not know when to die? My god is powerful and mirthless, but when I stand before his mound of dead today…How he will laugh!”

    So saying, he threw back his head and in a savage voice called upon the name of a god so old I thought his name was known only to scholars.  Then he spoke no more.
    As I stood away from the corpse and prepared to take my leave of that tragic place, a strange new chill came over me.  From the air, booming and resonating like the pealing of thunder came a mighty voice…

                        “COME TO ME MY FAVORED SON”

    Suddenly, before me, rising from the body of the old king, came a vision…transparent and insubstantial, but yet strong and heroic, the form of a wild-maned bullock. He seemed as if he could tread the shining kingdoms of the world beneath his sandaled feet, and I knew it must be this warrior in his golden youth. The apparition paid no heed to me, but kept its eyes fixed on the ceiling of the cavern.  Walking as if it were ascending a staircase, it climbed steadily upwards until it vanished through the overhanging canopy of stone.  With it went my will to stay in that place.  After the events  of the night I thought I would have no rest in that cavern of the dead and would rather take my chances with the autumn rain.
    Neither did I allow myself to be made a liar to the newly-departed spirit of that old, old king.  Tempting though it was, I did not load my tunic with gold from that hoard. I did however, take one single momento of that place….a small thing, but one which I thought to be significant…a gold coin, surely the oldest of those there, and which I carry still.  One side bears the unmistakable Aquiline profile of the man I had  fought, crowned and noble. A king and a conqueror.  The other, however, bears that which I take to be the emblem of his former kingdom….There, stamped in the gold is the lion-head emblem of a kingdom many eons lost.


The illustrated version of "God of the Cave" can be found in
"The Journals of Simon Pariah" No. 1 on the Books page.

Back to Stories