Michael Moorcock

For my god-daughter, Oona von B And for Berry and Co.

Author's Note

On May 10, 1941, a few months after Britain had unexpectedly won the crucial Battle of Britain and at last stopped the Nazi expansion, Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy and his oldest remaining friend within the Nazi hierarchy, flew to Scotland on his own initiative. He had crucial information for Churchill, he said. Arrested, he was interrogated by MIS, British military intelligence. What he told MIS was immediately suppressed. Certain files have since disappeared. Some existing files have still not been made public. Hitler attacked the Soviet Union on June 24, 1941. Many believe that Hess was appalled by Hitler's decision and was trying to make a final bargain with Churchill. Churchill never permitted a meeting with Hess, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1987.


Sleep, and I'll steal your silver;

Dream, and I'll steal your soul.

-WHELDRAKE, 'The Knight of the Balance'

Chapter One

Stolen Dreams

My name is Ulric, Graf von Bek, and I am the last of my earthly line. An unhealthy child, cursed with the family disease of albinism, I was born and raised in Bek, Saxony, in the early years of the century. I was trained to rule our province wisely and justly, to preserve the status quo, in the best traditions of the Lutheran Church.

My mother died giving birth to me. My father perished in a ghastly fire, when our old tower was partially destroyed. My brothers were all far older than I, and engaged mostly in military diplomacy abroad, so the estate, it was thought, would be my responsibility. It was not expected that I would wish to expose, any longer than necessary, my strange, ruby eyes to the light of common day. I accepted this sentence of virtual imprisonment as my due. It had been suffered by many ancestors before me. There were terrible tales of what had become of twin albino children born to my great-grandmother.

Any unease I had in this role was soon subdued as, in my questioning years, I made friends with the local Catholic priest and became an obsessive fencer. I would discuss theology with Fra. Cornelius in the morning and practice my swordplay every afternoon. All my bafflement and frustrations were translated into learning that subtle and dangerous art. Not the sort of silly swashbuckling boy-braggadocio nonsense affected by the nouveaux riches and ennobled burgermeisters who perform half-invented rituals of ludicrous manliness at Heidelberg.

No real lover of the sword would subject the instrument to such vulgar, clattering nonsense. With precious few affectations, I hope, I became a true swordsman, an expert in the art of the duel to the death. For in the end, existentialist that I am, entropy alone is the only enemy worth challenging, to conquer entropy is to reach a compromise with death, always the ultimate victor in our conflicts.

There's something to be said for dedicating one's life to an impossible cause. Perhaps an easier decision for a solitary albino aristocrat full of the idealism of previous centuries, disliked by his contemporaries and a discomfort to his tenants. One given to reading and brooding. But not unaware, never unaware, that outside the old, thick walls of Bek, in my rich and complex Germany, the world was beginning to march to simplistic tunes, numbing the race mind so that it would deceive itself into making war again. Into destroying itself again.

Instinctively, still a teenager, and after an inspiring school trip to the Nile Valley and other great sites of our civilization, I plunged deeply into archaic studies.

Old Bek grew all around me. A towered manor house to which rooms and buildings had been added over the centuries, she emerged like a tree from the lush grounds and thickly wooded hills of Bek, surrounded by the cedars, poplars and cypresses my crusader forebears had brought from the Holy Land, by the Saxon oaks into which my earlier ancestors had bound their souls, so that they and the world were rooted in the same earth. Those ancestors had first fought against Charlemagne and then fought with him. They had sent two sons to Roncesvalles. They had been Irish pirates. They had served King Ethelred of England.

My tutor was old von Asch, black, shrunken and gnarled, whom my brothers called The Walnut, whose family had been smiths and swordsmen since the time their first ancestor struck the bronze weapon. He loved me. I was a vessel for his experience. I was willing to learn anything, try any trick to improve my skills. Whatever he demanded, I would eventually rise to meet that expectation. I was, he said, the living record of his family wisdom.

But von Asch's wisdom was nothing sensational. Indeed, his advice was subtle and appealed, as perhaps he knew, to my aestheticism, my love of the complex and the symbolic. Rather than impose his ideas on me, he planted them like seeds. They would grow if the conditions were right. This was the secret of his teaching. He somehow made you realize that you were doing it yourself, that the situation demanded certain responses and what he helped you to do was trust your intuition and use it.

Of course, there was his notion of the sword's song.

'You have to listen for the song,' he said. 'Every great individual sword has her own song. Once you find that song and hear it clearly, then you can fight with it, for the song is the very essence of the sword. The sword was not forged to decorate walls or be a lifted signal of victory and dominance, but to cut flesh, bone and sinew, and kill. She is not an extension of your manhood, nor an expression of your selfhood. She is an instrument of death. At her best, she kills in justice. If this notion is objectionable to you, my son-and I do not suggest for an instant that you apply it, simply that you acknowledge its truth-then you should put away the sword forever. Fighting with swords is a refined art, but it is an art best enjoyed when also a matter of life and death.'

To fight for the ultimate-against oblivion-seemed to me exactly the noble destiny the Raven Sword, our ancestral blade, deserved. Few down the centuries had shown much interest in this queerly wrought old longsword inscribed with mysterious runic verses. It was even considered something of an embarrassment. We had a few mad ancestors who had perhaps not been exemplary in their tormented curiosity and had put the sword to strange uses. There was a report in the Mirenburg press only in the last century. Some madman posing as a legendary creature called 'Crimson Eyes' had run amok with a blade, killing at least thirty people before disappearing. For a while the von Beks had been suspected.

The story of our albinism was well known there. But no person was ever brought to justice. He featured dramatically in the street literature of the day, like Jack the Ripper, Fantomas and Springheeled Jack.

Part of our vulgar and bloody past. We tended to want to forget the sword and its legends. But there were few in the empty, abandoned and lost rooms at Bek, which had no family to fill them any longer, who could remember. Only a few retainers too old for war or the city. And, of course, books.

When it was time for me to handle that sword whenever I wished, von Asch taught me her main songs-for this blade was a special blade.

There were extraordinary resonances to the steel, however you turned it. A vibrancy which seemed feral. Like a perfect musical instrument. She moved to those songs. She seemed to guide me. He showed me how to

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