“That, sir.” The medical auxiliary nodded downwards, holding the cloth stretched in the full beam of the lamp. Yanderman stared.

On the crusting brown blood there was a fine blur of green-like a mould, or mildew. It was alive, for it could be seen to grow, not creeping evenly out over the cloth but seeming to seed itself half an inch or an inch distant from the main part, then to spread at a snail’s pace till the new patch rejoined the original one, then to pause, then to begin again.

“Show the Duke,” Yanderman ordered, and the medical auxiliary did so.

Duke Paul watched the phenomenon curiously for a while. At last he said, “Take that cloth-in a box, or sealed package-to your medical tent. Test all the strong liquids and powders on it till you find one which will check or stop its growth. And watch that the living blood from Ampier’s wound is not infected with it!”

The medical auxiliary saluted and obeyed, vanishing into the night outside. The girl who had come back with the broth fed some of it to the injured scout; then with the help of the guard from the doorway she guided him from the tent and away to his quarters.

Duke Paul directed Kesford to read back what Ampier had told them, to fix it firmly in his mind. Then he turned to Granny Jassy, scowling at the side of the tent.

“Come to the couch, Granny,” he said. “Let’s find out if your strangely stocked mind holds any explanation for this thing which attacked Ampier.”

Grumbling, Granny obeyed. The Duke drew from his pouch a length of silver chain with a crystal ball on the end, as large as a man’s thumbnail, and set it swinging before Granny’s face. Shortly her eyes closed and he was able to begin questioning her. He persisted for an hour-his patience, Yanderman sometimes thought, was inhuman-without extracting any useful information.

The trouble with people like Granny Jassy, Yanderman reflected, was that they didn’t understand the memories which they could call up. Here now, for example, Granny was telling of strange animals, of many colours and in vast numbers, on which people rode as though they served for horses. Yet when pressed more closely, she described them as being wheeled-not animals, then, but machines! However, they went by themselves; for ignorant Granny, that made them animals, for whoever heard of a machine going by itself?

His mind wandered. How was it possible-the invariable question-how was it possible for these tales told by Granny and with less colour and detail by several other people in Esberg to be true memories? Yet it seemed they must be. When Duke Paul decided to base experiments on some of these fantastic tales even Yanderman, whose admiration for the duke was boundless, wondered whether he was wasting his time. He was not; many useful instruments, such as the searchlights guarding the campsite, and even the guns which armed the troops, were derived from old wives’ tales. You might say, of course, that this was a subconscious fitting-together of available facts which any inventor of new devices applied more systematically. You might. The Duke didn’t.

Encouraged, Duke Paul selected another kind of tale for investigation-the tale of a great city three days’ journey north of Esberg, with a million people in it. A ludicrous fantasy!

Yet three days’ journey north the men he sent out came upon mounds and hillocks clothed with greenery, gnawed by time, and dug into them. And there they found, true enough, pieces of worked metal, shards of strong glass, corroded household utensils, and more objects than anyone could have imagined.

And indeed now the proofs were beyond arguing. For ever since they set out on this greatest expedition of all, to see whether the legendary barrenland was real, Granny Jassy had been able to tell them of the terrain ahead-not as it was today, but as it might have been in the weird but consistent world of the old tales, when men lived in the gigantic cities of which the ruins had been discovered, when they flew through the air and even … no, that was imagination, surely! To fly in the air was vaguely conceivable; birds and insects did it. But to fly beyond the air, to other worlds, was ridiculous. And even that absurdity paled beside the ultimate: the story of walking to other worlds than this.

“You look solemn, Yan!” Duke Paul boomed, and Yanderman came back from his musing with a start. Granny Jassy was getting off the couch. The crystal ball on its length of chain had vanished into the Duke’s pouch again. Kesford was going over his notes, correcting his writing so he could read it back tomorrow.

“I am,” Yanderman agreed. “I grow confused with the mixture of certainty and fancy which confronts us-as though somehow a little nightmare had leaked into the waking world.”

“Assuredly a beast such as attacked Ampier smacks of some playful god’s whimsy,” the Duke said. He rubbed his hands together. “Nonetheless he killed it, and lives-or will, providing that green horror on his shirt doesn’t take root in his blood. I confess I held the tales of monsters from the barrenland too lightly, or I’d not have sent out scouts singly. Tomorrow we’ll do otherwise. We’ll send a party of a dozen, fully-armed.”

Yanderman nodded. “I do take it as heartening,” he said, “that men manage to live almost on the edge of the barrenland.”

Duke Paul chuckled. “You noted that! Good, good! Yes, we must gain all the information we can from those best fitted to tell us. Get the exactest details of Ampier’s route, and make straight for this smudge of smoke he fancied he saw. If it proves to be other than a village, go beyond it till you find people.”

Well, that was how one usually received orders from Duke Paul. Yanderman shrugged. “I’ll do so,” he agreed. “I’ll leave directly after dawn.”

He paused, expecting something further. But as far as Duke Paul was concerned the matter was settled. Already he had gone back to his maps, and his head was bowed as though tilted forward by the weight of his enormous beard.


Since the army from Esberg was on a peaceful mission-so long as everyone else was willing to let them go through-and since they were also in a hurry, they moved quickly and without trying to be inconspicuous. They were a most impressive sight on the road, covering their steady three miles an hour: two thousand men with four hundred and ten animals, red and black banners flying, generally singing by companies to keep the pace up.

It was a considerable change, Yanderman reflected, to be going out in the cold grey dawn with ten horsemen who all knew what had happened to Ampier yesterday. They were sensible and courageous men-but, after all, he himself had compared the situation facing them with a leakage of nightmare into the waking world, and a nightmare can reduce the bravest man to cold sweating.

No matter for that now, though. The problem was simply to get ahead to the first possible village on the edge of the barrenland, and to hope against hope that it was something more than a cluster of mud huts full of apathetic peasants. What Yanderman wanted to see was a decent little town where people stood up for themselves against the terrors-of whatever kind-that strayed out of the barrenland. That would be the best kind of tonic for the worrying soldiers.

They rode easily, but without dawdling. After the showers of yesterday the day was fine, though not very warm before the sun climbed well into the sky. Against the wishes of the medical staff Yanderman had got details of Ampier’s route from him last night before turning in. That had proved to be far-sighted, for according to this morning’s report the man’s wound had indeed been infected with the curious green mould and had started to gangrene already.

Which wouldn’t make the troops any less nervous, Yanderman thought bitterly.

As the miles went by, though, and there was no sign of anything stranger than country lacking people to cultivate it, they relaxed. Yanderman kept the line strung out in couples twenty paces apart, as a matter of routine precaution, but he raised no objection when the men changed places with one another for the sake of conversation. He himself rode with his chief lieutenant, Stadham, a man promoted late in life from the ranks, and who in fact commanded the company of which Yanderman was nominally senior officer. Yanderman was no kind of a soldier, though for the purpose of the expedition he was a member of the general staff. He was a man with an inquisitive mind, who wanted to know about the same things as intrigued Duke Paul. Since the Duke was in a position to investigate, Yanderman served him willingly.

A little before noon Yanderman looked about him at the landscape. He felt a quickening of his heart and a tightness seemed to close around his temples. Gesturing to Stadham, he gave a curt order.

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