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Title: The Valley of the Worm
Author: Robert E. Howard
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Language: English
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Date first posted: June 2006
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The Valley of the Worm
Robert E. Howard



I will tell you of Niord and the Worm. You have heard the tale before
in many guises wherein the hero was named Tyr, or Perseus, or
Siegfried, or Beowulf, or Saint George. But it was Niord who met the
loathly demoniac thing that crawled hideously up from hell, and from
which meeting sprang the cycle of hero-tales that revolves down the
ages until the very substance of the truth is lost and passes into the
limbo at all forgotten legends. I know whereof I speak, for I was
Niord.

As I lie here awaiting death, which creeps slowly upon me like a blind
slug, my dreams are filled with glittering visions and the pageantry
of glory. It is not of the drab, disease-racked life of James Allison
I dream, but all the gleaming figures of the mighty pageantry that
have passed before, and shall come after; for I have faintly glimpsed,
not merely the shapes that trail out behind, but shapes that come
after, as a man in a long parade glimpses, far ahead, the line of
figures that precede him winding over a distant hill, etched shadow
like against the sky. I am one and all the pageantry of shapes and
guises and masks which have been, are, and shall be the visible
manifestations of that illusive, intangible, but vitally existent
spirit now promenading under the brief and temporary name of James
Allison.

Each man on earth, each woman, is part and all of a similar caravan of
shapes and beings. But they can not remember-their minds can not
bridge the brief, awful gulfs of blackness which lie between those
unstable shapes, and which the spirit, soul or ego, in spanning,
shakes off its fleshy masks. I remember. Why I can remember is the
strangest tale of all; but as I lie here with death's black wings
slowly unfolding over me, all the dim folds of my previous lives are
shaken out before my eyes, and I see myself in many forms and guises--
braggart, swaggering, fearful, loving, foolish, all that men--have
been or will be.

I have been Man in many lands and many conditions; vet-and here is
another strange thing-my line of reincarnation runs straight down one
unerring channel. I have never been any but a man of that restless
race men once called Nordheimr and later Aryans, and today name by
many names and designations. Their history is my history, from the
first mewling wail of a hairless white age cub in the wastes of the
arctic, to the death-cry. of the last degenerate product of ultimate
civilization, in some dim and unguessed future age.

My name has been Hialmar, Tyr, Bragi, Bran, Horsa, Eric, and John: I
strode red-handed through the deserted streets of Rome behind the
yellow-maned Brennus; I wandered through the violated plantations with
Alaric and his Goths when the flame of burning villas lit the land
like day and an empire was gasping its last under our sandalled feet;
I waded sword in hand through the foaming surf from Hengist's galley
to lay the foundations of England in blood and pillage; when Leif the
Lucky sighted the broad white beaches of an unguessed world, I stood
beside him in the bows of the dragonship, my golden beard blowing in
the wind; and when Godfrey of Bouillon led his Crusaders over the
walls of Jerusalem, I was among them in steel cap and brigandine.

But it is of none of these things I would speak: I would take you back
with me into an age beside which that of Brennus and Rome is as
yesterday. I would take you back through, not merely centuries and
millenniums, but epochs and dim ages unguessed by the wildest
philosopher. Oh far, far and far will you fare into the nighted Past
before you win beyond the boundaries of my race, blue-eyed, yellow-
haired, wanderers, slayers, lovers, mighty in rapine and wayfaring.

It is the adventure of Niord Worm's-bane of which I speak--the root-
stem of a whole cycle of hero-tales which has not yet reached its end,
the grisly underlying reality that lurks behind time-distorted myths
of dragons, fiends and monsters.

Yet it is not alone with the mouth of Niord that I will speak. I am
James Allison no less than I was Niord, and as I unfold the tale, I
will interpret some of his thoughts and dreams and deeds from the
mouth of the modern I, so that the saga of Niord shall not be a
meaningless chaos to you. His blood is your blood, who are sons of
Aryan; but wide misty gulfs of eons lie horrifically between, and the
deeds and dreams of Niord seem as alien to your deeds and dreams as
the primordial and lion-haunted forest seems alien to the white-walled
city street.

It was a strange world in which Niord lived and loved and fought, so
long ago that even my eon-spanning memory can not recognize landmarks.
Since then the surface of the earth has changed, not once but a score
of times; continents have risen and sunk, seas have changed their beds
and rivers their courses, glaciers have waxed and waned, and the very
stars and constellations have altered and shifted.

It was so long ago that the cradle-land of my race was still in
Nordheim. But the epic drifts of my people had already begun, and
blue-eyed, vellow-maned tribes flowed eastward and southward and
westward, on century-long treks that carried them around the world and
left their bones and their traces in strange lands and wild waste
places. On one of these drifts I grew from infancy to manhood. My
knowledge of that northern homeland was dim memories, like half-
remembered dreams, of blinding white snow plains and ice fields, of
great fires roaring in the circle of hide tents, of yellow manes
flying in great winds, and a sun setting in a lurid wallow of crimson
clouds, blazing on trampled snow where still dark forms lay in pools
that were redder than the sunset.

That last memory stands out clearer than the others. It was the field
of Jotunheim, I was told in later years, whereon had just been fought
that terrible battle which was the Armageddon of the Esirfolk, the
subject of a cycle of hero-songs for long ages, and which still lives
today in dim dreams of Ragnarok and Goetterdaemmerung. I looked on
that battle as a mewling infant; so I must have lived about-but I will
not name the age, for I would be called a madman, and historians and
geologists alike would rise to refute me.

But my memories of Nordheim were few and dim, paled by memories of
that long, long trek upon which I had spent my life. We had not kept
to a straight course, but our trend had been for ever southward.
Sometimes we had bided for a while in fertile upland valleys or rich
river-traversed plains, but always we took up the trail again, and not
always because of drouth or famine. Often we left countries teeming
with game and wild grain to push into wastelands. On our trail we
moved endlessly, driven only by our restless whim, yet blindly
following a cosmic law, the workings of which we never guessed, any
more than the wild geese guess in their flights around the world. So
at last we came into the Country of the Worm.

I will take up the tale at the time when we came into jungle-clad
hills reeking with rot and teeming with spawning life, where the tom-
toms of a savage people pulsed incessantly through the hot breathless
night. These people came forth to dispute our way--short, strongly
built men, black-haired, painted, ferocious, but indisputably white
men. We knew their breed of old. They were Picts, and of all alien
races the fiercest. We had met their kind before in thick forests, and
in upland valleys beside mountain lakes. But many moons had passed
since those meetings.

I believe this particular tribe represented the easternmost drift of
the race. They were the most primitive and ferocious of any I ever
met. Already they were exhibiting hints of characteristics I have
noted among black savages in jungle countries, though they had dwelt
in these environs only a few generations. The abysmal jungle was
engulfing them, was obliterating their pristine characteristics and
shaping them in its own horrific mold. They were drifting into head-
hunting, and cannibalism was but a step which I believe they must have
taken before they became extinct. These things are natural adjuncts to
the jungle; the Picts did not learn them from the black people, for
then there were no blacks among those hills. In later years they came
up from the south, and the Picts first enslaved and then were absorbed
by them. But with that my saga of Niord is not concerned.

We came into that brutish hill country, with its squalling abysms of
savagery and black primitiveness. We were--a whole tribe marching on
foot, old men, wolfish with their long beards and gaunt limbs, giant
warriors in their prime, naked children running along the line of
march, women with tousled yellow locks carrying babies which never
cried-unless it were to scream from pure rage. I do not remember our
numbers, except, that there were some five hundred fighting-men--and
by fighting-men I mean all males, from the child just strong enough to
lift a bow, to the oldest of the old men. In that madly ferocious age
all were fighters. Our women fought, when brought to bay, like
tigresses, and I have seen a babe, not yet old enough to stammer
articulate words, twist its head and sink its tiny teeth in the foot
that stamped out its life.

Oh, we were fighters! Let me speak of Niord. I am proud of him, the
more when I consider the paltry crippled body of James Allison, the
unstable mask I now wear. Niord was tall, with great shoulders, lean
hips and mighty limbs. His muscles were long and swelling, denoting
endurance and speed as well as strength. He could run all day without
tiring, and he possessed a co-ordination that made his movements a
blur of blinding speed. If I told you his full strength, you would
brand me a liar. But there is no man on earth today strong enough to
bend the bow Niord handled with ease. The longest arrow-flight on
record is that of a Turkish archer who sent a shaft 482 yards. There
was not a stripling in my tribe who could not have bettered that
flight.

As we entered the jungle country we heard the tomtoms booming across
the mysterious valleys that slumbered between the brutish hills, and
in a broad, open plateau we met our enemies. I do not believe these
Picts knew us, even by legends, or they had never rushed so openly to
the onset, though they outnumbered us. But there was no attempt at
ambush. They swarmed out of the trees, dancing and singing their war-
songs, yelling their barbarous threats. Our heads should hang in their
idol-hut and our yellow-haired women should bear their sons. Ho! ho!
ho! By Ymir, it was Niord who laughed then, not James Allison. Just so
we of the Aesir laughed to hear their threats--deep thunderous
laughter from broad and mighty chests: Our trail was laid in blood and
embers through many lands. We were the slayers and ravishers, striding
sword in hand across the world, and that these folk threatened us woke
our rugged humor. We went to meet them, naked but for our wolfhides,
swinging our bronze swords, and our singing was like rolling thunder
in the hills. They sent their arrows among us, and we gave hack their
fire. They could not match us in archery. Our arrows hissed in
blinding clouds among them, dropping them like autumn leaves, until
they howled and frothed like mad dogs and charged to hand-grips. And
we, mad with the fighting joy, dropped our bows and ran to meet them,
as a lover runs to his love.

By Ymir, it was a battle to madden and make drunken with the slaughter
and the fury. The Picts were as ferocious as we, but ours was the
superior physique, the keener wit, the more highly developed fighting-
brain. We won because we were a superior race, but it was no easy
victory. Corpses littered the blood-soaked earth; but at last they
broke, and we cut them down as they ran, to the very edge of the
trees. I tell of that fight in a few bald words. I can not paint the
madness, the reek of sweat and blood, the panting, muscle-straining
effort, the splintering of bones under mighty blows, the rending and
hewing of quivering sentient flesh; above all the merciless abysmal
savagery of the whole affair, in which there was neither rule nor
order, each man fighting as he would or could. If I might do so, you
would recoil in horror; even the modern I, cognizant of my close
kinship with those times, stand aghast as I review that butchery.
Mercy was yet unborn, save as some individual's whim, and rules of
warfare were as yet undreamed of. It was an age in which each tribe
and each human fought tooth and fang from birth to death, and neither
gave nor expected mercy.

So we cut down the fleeing Picts, and our women came out on the field
to brain the wounded enemies with stones, or cut their throats with
copper knives. We did not torture. We were no more cruel than life
demanded.

The rule of life was ruthlessness, but there is more wanton cruelty
today than ever we dreamed of. It was not wanton bloodthirstiness that
made us butcher wounded and captive foes. It was because we knew our
chances of survival increased with each enemy slain.

Yet there was occasionally a touch of individual mercy, and so it was
in this fight. I had been occupied with a duel with an especially
valiant enemy. His tousled thatch of black hair scarcely came above my
chin, but he was a solid knot of steel-spring muscles, than which
lightning scarcely moved faster. He had an iron sword and a
hidecovered buckler. I had a knotty-headed bludgeon. That fight was
one that glutted even my battle-lusting soul. I was bleeding from a
score of flesh wounds before one of my terrible, lashing strokes
smashed his shield like cardboard, and an instant later my bludgeon
glanced from his unprotected head. Ymir! Even now I stop to laugh and
marvel at the hardness of that Pict's skull. Men of that age were
assuredly built on a rugged plan! That blow should have spattered his
brains like water. It did lay his scalp open horribly, dashing him
senseless to the earth, where I let him lie, supposing him to be dead,
as I joined in the slaughter of the fleeing warriors.

When I returned reeking with sweat and blood, my club horridly clotted
with blood and brains, I noticed that my antagonist was regaining
consciousness, and that a naked tousle-headed girl was preparing to
give him the finishing touch with a stone she could scarcely lift: A
vagrant whim caused me to check the blow. I had enjoved the fight, and
I admired the adamantine quality of his skull.

We made camp a short distance away, burned our dead on a great pyre,
and after looting the corpses of the enemy, we dragged them across the
plateau and cast them down in a valley to make a feast for the hyenas,
jackals and vultures which were already gathering. We kept close watch
that night, but we were not attacked, though far away through the
jungle we could make out the red gleam of fires, and could faintly
hear, when the wind veered, the throb of tom-toms and demoniac
screams: and yells--keenings for the slain or mere animal squallings
of fury.

Nor did they attack us in the days that followed. We bandaged our
captive's wounds and quickly learned his primitive tongue, which,
however, was so different from ours that I can not conceive of the two
languages having ever had a common source.

His name was Grom, and he was a great hunter and fighter, he boasted.
He talked freely and held no grudge, grinning broadly and showing
tusk-like teeth, his beady eyes glittering from under the tangled
black mane that fell over his low forehead. His limbs were almost
apelike in their thickness.

He was vastly interested in his captors, though he could never
understand why he had been spared; to the end it remained an
inexplicable mystery to him. The Picts obeyed the law of survival even
more rigidly than did the IIJsir. They were the more practical, as
shown by their more settled habits. They never roamed as far or as
blindly as we. Yet in every line we were the superior race.

Grom, impressed by our intelligence and fighting qualities,
volunteered to go into the hills and make peace for us with his
people. It was immaterial to us, but we let him go. Slavery had not
yet been dreamed of.

So Grom went back to his people, and we forgot about him, except that
I went a trifle more cautiously about my hunting, expecting him to be
lying in wait to put an arrow through my back. Then one day we heard a
rattle of tom-toms, and Grom appeared at the edge of the jungle, his
face split in his gorilla-grin, with the painted, skinclad, feather-
bedecked chiefs of the clans. Our ferocity had awed them, and our
sparing of Grom further impressed them. They could not understand
leniency; evidently-we valued them too cheaply to bother about killing
one when he was in our power.

So peace was made with much pow-wow, and sworn to with many strange
oaths and ritualswe swore only by Y'mir, and an Aesir never broke that
vow. But they swore by the elements, by the idol which sat in the
fetish-hut where fires burned for ever and a withered crone slapped a
leather-covered drum all night long, and by another being too terrible
to be named.

Then we all sat around the fires and gnawed meatbones, and drank a
fiery concoction they brewed from wild grain, and the wonder is that
the feast did not end in a general massacre; for that liquor had
devils in it and made maggots writhe in our brains. But no harm came
of our vast drunkenness, and thereafter we dwelt at peace with our
barbarous neighbors. They taught us many things, and learned many more
from us. But they taught us iron-workings; into which they had been
forced by the lack of copper in those hills, and we quickly excelled
them.

We went freely among their villages-mud-walled clusters of huts in
hilltop clearings, overshadowed by giant trees-and we allowed them to
come at will among our camps-straggling lines of hide tents on the
plateau where the battle had been fought. Our young men cared not for
their squat beady-eyed women, and our rangy dean-limbed girls with
their tousled yellow heads were not drawn to the hairy-breasted
savages. Familiarity over a period of years would have reduced the
repulsion on either side, until the two races would have flowed
together to form one hybrid people, but long before that time the
Aesir-rose and departed, vanishing into the mysterious hazes of the
haunted south. But before that exodus there came to pass the horror of
the Worm.

I hunted with Grom and he led me into brooding, uninhabited valleys
and up into silence-haunted hills where no men had set foot before us.
But there was one valley, off in the mazes of the southwest, into
which he would not go. Stumps of shattered columns, relics of a
forgotten civilization, stood among the trees on the valley floor.
Grom showed them to me, as we stood on the cliffs that flanked the
mysterious vale, but he would not go down into it, and he dissuaded me
when I would have gone alone. He would not speak plainly of the danger
that lurked there, but it was greater than that of serpent or tiger,
or the trumpeting elephants which occasionally wandered up in
devastating droves from the south.

Of all beasts, Grom told me in the gutturals of his tongue, the Picts
feared only Satha, the great snake, and they shunned the jungle where
he lived. But there was another thing they feared, and it was
connected in some manner with the Valley of Broken Stones, as the
Picts called the crumbling pillars. Long ago, when his ancestors had
first come into the country, they had dared that grim vale, and a
whole clan of them had perished, suddenly, horribly, and
unexplainably. At least Grom did not explain. The horror had come up
out of the earth, somehow, and it was not good to talk of it, since it
was believed that It might be summoned by speaking of It-whatever It
was.

But Grom was ready to hunt with me anywhere else; for he was the
greatest hunter among the Picts, and many and fearful were our
adventures. Once I killed, with the iron sword I had forged with my
own hands, that most terrible of all beasts-old saber-tooth, which men
today call a tiger because he was more like a tiger than anything
else. In reality he was almost as much like a bear in build, save for
his unmistakably feline head. Saber-tooth was massive-limbed, with a
low-hung, great, heavy body, and he vanished from the earth because he
was too terrible a fighter, even for that grim age. As his muscles and
ferocity grew, his brain dwindled until at last even the instinct of
self-preservation vanished. Nature, who maintains her balance in such
things, destroyed him because, had his super-fighting powers been
allied with an intelligent brain, he would have destroyed all other
forms of life on earth. He was a freak on the road of evolution--
organic development gone mad and run to fangs and talons, to slaughter
and destruction.

I killed saber-tooth in a battle that would make a saga in itself, and
for months afterward I lay semi-delirious with ghastly wounds that
made the toughest warriors shake their heads. The Picts said that
never before had a man killed a saber-tooth single-handed. Yet I
recovered, to the wonder of all.

While I lay at the doors of death there was a secession from the
tribe. It was a peaceful secession, such as continually occurred and
contributed greatly to the peopling of the world by yellow-haired
tribes. Forty-five of the young men took themselves mates
simultaneously and wandered off to found a clan of their own. There
was no revolt; it was a racial custom which bore fruits in all the
later ages, when tribes sprung from the same roots met, after
centuries of separation, and cut one another's throats with joyous
abandon. The tendency of the Aryan and the pre-Aryan was always toward
disunity, clans splitting off the main stem, and scattering.

So these young men, led by one Bragi, my brother-in-arms, took their
girls and venturing to the southwest, took up their abode in the
Valley of Broken Stones. The Picts expostulated, hinting vaguely of a
monstrous doom that haunted the vale, but the Aesir laughed. We had
left our own demons and weirds in the icy wastes of the far blue
north, and the devils of other races did not much impress us:

When my full strength was returned, and the grislv wounds were only
scars, I girt on my weapons and strode over the plateau to visit
Bragi's clan. Grom did not accompany me. He had not been in the Aesir
camp for several days. But I knew the way. I remembered well the
valley, from the cliffs of which I had looked down and seen the lake
at the upper end, the trees thickening into forest at the lower
extremity. The sides of the valley were high sheer cliffs, and a steep
broad ridge at either end, cut it off from the surrounding country. It
was toward the lower or southwestern end that the valley-floor was
dotted thickly with ruined columns, some towering high among the
trees, some fallen into heaps of lichenclad stones. What race reared
them none knew. But Grom had hinted fearsomely of a hairy, apish
monstrosity dancing loathsomely under the moon to a demoniac piping
that induced horror and madness.

I crossed the plateau whereon our camp was pitched, descended the
slope, traversed a shallow vegetation-choked valley, climbed another
slope, and plunged into the hills. A half-day's leisurely travel
brought me to the ridge on, the other side of which lay the valley of
the pillars. For many miles I had seen no sign of human life. The
settlements of the Picts all lay many miles to the east. I topped the
ridge and looked down into the dreaming valley with its still blue
lake, its brooding cliffs and its broken columns jutting among the
trees. I looked for smoke. I saw none, but I saw vultures wheeling in
the sky over a cluster of tents on the lake shore.

I came down the ridge warily and approached the silent camp. In it I
halted, frozen with horror. I was not easily moved. I had seen death
in many forms, and had fled from or taken part in red massacres that
spilled blood like water and heaped the earth with corpses. But here I
was confronted with an organic devastation that staggered and appalled
me: Of Bragi's embryonic clan, not one remained alive, and not one
corpse was whole. Some of the hide tents still stood erect. Others
were mashed down and flattened out, as if crushed by some monstrous
weight, so that at first I wondered if a drove of elephants had
stampeded across the-camp. But no elephants ever wrought such
destruction as I saw strewn on the bloody ground. The camp was a
shambles, littered with bits of flesh and fragments of bodies-hands,
feet, heads, pieces of human debris. Weapons lay about, some of them
stained with a greenish slime like that which spurts from a crushed
caterpillar.

No human foe could have committed this ghastly atrocity. I looked at
the lake, wondering if nameless amphibian monsters had crawled from
the calm waters whose deep blue told of unfathomed depths. Then I saw
a print left by the destroyer. It was a track such as a titanic worm
might leave, yards broad, winding back down the valley. The grass lay
flat where it ran, and bushes and small trees had been crushed down
into the earth, all horribly smeared with blood and greenish slime.

With berserk fury in my soul I drew my sword and started to follow it,
when a call attracted me. I wheeled, to see a stocky form approaching
me from the ridge. It was Grom the Pict, and when I think of the
courage it must have taken for him to have overcome all the instincts
planted in him by traditional teachings and personal experience, I
realize the full depths of his friendship for me.

Squatting on the lake shore, spear in his hands, his black eyes ever
roving fearfully down the brooding treewaving reaches of the valley,
Grom told me of the horror that had come upon Bragi's clan under the
moon. But first he told me of it, as his sires had told the tale to
him: Long ago the Picts had drifted down from the northwest on a long,
long trek, finally reaching these junglecovered hills, where, because
they were weary, and because the game and fruit were plentiful and
there were no hostile tribes, they halted and built their mud-walled
villages.

Some of them, a whole clan of that numerous tribe, took up their abode
in the Valley of the Broken Stones. They found the columns and a great
ruined temple back in the trees, and in that temple there was no
shrine or altar, but the mouth of a shaft that vanished deep into the
black earth, and in which there were no steps such as a human being
would make and use. They built their village in the valley, and in the
night, under the moon, horror came upon them and left only broken
walls and bits of slime-smeared flesh.

In those days the Picts feared nothing. The warriors of the other
clans gathered and sang their war-songs and danced their war-dances,
and followed a broad track of blood and slime to the shaft-mouth in
the temple. They howled defiance and hurled down boulders which
werenever heard to strike bottom. Then began a thin demoniac piping,
and up from the well pranced a hideous anthropomorphic figure dancing
to the weird strains of a pipe it held in its monstrous hands. The
horror of its aspect froze the fierce Picts with amazement, and close
behind it a vast white bulk heaved up from the subterranean darkness.
Out of the shaft came a slavering mad nightmare which arrows pierced
but could not check, which swords carved but could not slay. It fell
slobbering upon the warriors, crushing them to crimson pulp, tearing
them to bits as an octopus might tear small fishes, sucking their
blood from their mangled limbs and devouring them even as they
screamed and struggled. The survivors fled, pursued to the very ridge,
up which, apparently, the monster could not propel its quaking
mountainous bulk. After that they did not dare the silent valley. But
the dead came to their shamans and old men in dreams and told them
strange and terrible secrets. They spoke of an ancient, ancient race
of semihuman beings which once inhabited that valley and reared those
columns for their own weird inexplicable purposes. The white monster
in the pits was their god, summoned up from the nighted abysses of
mid-earth uncounted fathoms below the black mold, by sorcery unknown
to the sons of men. The hairy anthropomorphic being was its servant,
created to serve the god, a formless elemental spirit drawn up from
below and cased in flesh, organic but beyond the understanding of
humanity. The Old Ones had long vanished into the limbo from whence
they crawled in the black dawn of the universe; but their bestial god
and his inhuman slave lived on. Yet both were organic after a fashion,
and could be wounded, though no human weapon had been found potent
enough to slay them.

Bragi and his clan had dwelt for weeks in the valley before the horror
struck. Only the night before, Grom, hunting above the cliffs, and by
that token daring greatly, had been paralyzed by a high-pitched demon
piping, and then by a mad clamor of human screaming. Stretched face
down in the dirt, hiding his head in a tangle of grass, he had not
dared to move, even when the shrieks died away in the slobbering,
repulsive sounds of a hideous feast. When dawn broke he had crept
shuddering to the cliffs to look down into the valley, and the sight
of the devastation, even when seen from afar, had driven him in
yammering flight far into the hills. But it had occurred to him,
finally, that he should warn the rest of the tribe, and returning, on
his way to the camp on the plateau, he had seen me entering the
valley.

So spoke Grom, while I sat and brooded darkly, my chin on my mighty
fist. I can not frame in modern words the clan-feeling that in those
days was a living vital part of every man and woman. In a world where
talon and fang were lifted on every hand, and the hands of all men
raised against an individual, except those of his own clan, tribal
instinct was more than the phrase it is today. It was as much a part
of a man as was his heart or his right hand. This was necessary, for
only thus banded together in unbreakable groups could mankind have
survived in the terrible environments of the primitive world. So now
the personal grief I felt for Bragi and the clean-limbed young men and
laughing white-skinned girls was drowned in a deeper sea of grief and
fury that was cosmic in its depth and intensity. I sat grimly, while
the Pict squatted anxiously beside me, his gaze roving from me to the
menacing deeps of the valley where the accursed columns loomed like
broken teeth of cackling hags among the waving leafy reaches.

I, Niord, was not one to use my brain over-much. I lived in a physical
world, and there were the old men of the tribe to do my thinking. But
I was one of a race destined to become dominant mentally as well as
physically, and I was no mere muscular animal. So as I sat there there
came dimly and then clearly a thought to me that brought a short
fierce laugh from my lips.

Rising, I bade Grom aid me, and we built a pyre on the lake shore of
dried wood, the ridge-poles of the tents, and the broken shafts of
spears. Then we collected the grisly fragments that had been parts of
Bragi's band, and we laid them on the pile, and struck flint and steel
to it.

The thick sad smoke crawled serpent-like into the sky, and turning to
Grom, I made him guide me to the jungle where lurked that scaly
horror, Satha, the great serpent. Grom gaped at me; not the greatest
hunters among the Picts sought out the mighty crawling one. But my
will was like a wind that swept him along my course, and at last he
led the way. We left the valley by the upper end, crossing the ridge,
skirting the tall cliffs, and plunged into the fastnesses of the
south, which was peopled only by the grim denizens of the jungle. Deep
into the jungle we went, until we came to a low-lying expanse, dank
and dark beneath the great creeper-festooned trees, where our feet
sank deep into the spongy silt, carpeted by rotting vegetation, and
slimy moisture oozed up beneath their pressure. This, Grom told me,
was the realm haunted by Satha, the great serpent.

Let me speak of Satha. There is nothing like him on earth today, nor
has there been for countless ages: Like the meat-eating dinosaur, like
old saber-tooth, he was too terrible to exist. Even then he was a
survival of a grimmer age when life and its forms were cruder and more
hideous. There were not many of his kind then, though they may have
existed in great numbers in the reeking ooze of the vast jungle-
tangled swamps still farther south. He was larger than any python of
modern ages, and his fangs dripped with poison a thousand times more
deadly than that of a king cobra.

He was never worshipped by the pure-blood Picts, though the blacks
that came later deified him, and that adoration persisted in the
hybrid race that sprang from the Negroes and their white conquerors.
But to other peoples he was the nadir of evil horror, and tales of him
became twisted into demonology; so in later ages Satha became the
veritable devil of the white races, and the Stygians first worshipped,
and then, when they became Egyptians, abhorred him under the name of
Set, the Old Serpent, while to the Semites he became Leviathan and
Satan. He was terrible enough to be a god, for he was a crawling
death. I had seen a bull elephant fall dead in his tracks from Satha's
bite. I had seen him, had glimpsed him writhing his horrific way
through the dense jungle, had seen him take his prey, but I had never
hunted him. He was too grim, even for the slayer of old saber-tooth.

But now I hunted him, plunging farther and farther into the hot,
breathless reek of his jungle, even when friendship for me could not
drive Grom farther: He urged me to paint my body and sing my death-
song before I advanced farther, but I pushed on unheeding.

In a natural runway that wound between the shouldering trees, I set a
trap. I found a large tree, soft and spongy of fiber, but thick-boled
and heavy, and I hacked through its base close to the ground with my
great sword, directing its fall so that, when it toppled, its top
crashed into the branches of a smaller tree, leaving it leaning across
the runway, one end resting on the earth, the other caught in the
small tree. Then I cut away the branches on the under side, and
cutting a slim tough sapling I trimmed it and stuck it upright like a
proppole under the leaning tree. Then, cutting a way the tree which
supported it, I left the great trunk poised precariously on the prop-
pole, to which I fastened a long vine, as thick as my wrist.

Then I went alone through that primordial twilight jungle until an
overpowering fetid odor assailed my nostrils, and from the rank
vegetation in front of me, Satha reared up his hideous head, swaying
lethally from side to side, while his forked tongue jetted in and out,
and his great yellow terrible eyes burned icily on me with all the
evil wisdom of the black elder world that was when man was not. I
backed away, feeling no fear, only an icy sensation along my spine,
and Satha came sinuously after me, his shining eighty-foot barrel
rippling over the rotting vegetation in mesmeric silence. His wedge-
shaped head was bigger than the head of the hugest stallion, his trunk
was thicker than a man's body, and his scales shimmered with a
thousand changing scintillations. I was to Satha as a mouse is to a
king cobra, but I was fanged as no mouse ever was. Quick as I was, I
knew I could not avoid the lightning stroke of that great triangular
head; so I dared not let him come too close. Subtly I fled down the
runway; and behind me the rush of the great supple body was like the
sweep of wind through the grass.

He was not far behind me when I raced beneath the deadfall, and as the
great shining length glided under the trap, I gripped the vine with
both hands and jerked desperately. With a crash the great trunk fell
across Satha's scaly back, some six feet back of his wedgeshaped head.

I had hoped to break his spine but I do not think it did, for the
great body coiled and knotted, the mighty tail lashed and thrashed,
mowing down the bushes as if with a giant flail. At the instant of the
fall, the huge head had whipped about and struck the tree with a
terrific impact, the mighty fangs shearing through bark and wood like
scimitars. Now, as if aware he fought an inanimate foe, Satha turned
on me, standing out of his reach. The scaly neck writhed and arched,
the mighty jaws gaped, disclosing fangs a foot in length, from which
dripped venom that might have burned through solid stone.

I believe, what of his stupendous strength, that Satha would have
writhed from under the trunk, but for a broken branch that had been
driven deep into his side, holding him like a barb. The sound of his
hissing filled the jungle and his eyes glared at me with such
concentrated evil that I shook despite myself. Oh, he knew it was I
who had trapped him! Now I came as close as I dared, and with a sudden
powerful cast of my spear, transfixed his neck just below the gaping
jaws, nailing him to the tree-trunk Then I dared greatly, for he was
far from dead, and I knew he would in an instant tear the spear from
the wood and be free to strike. But in that instant I ran in, and
swinging my sword with all my great power, I hewed off his terrible
head.

The heavings and contortions of Satha's prisoned form in life were
naught to the convulsions of his headless length in death. I
retreated, dragging the gigantic head after me with a crooked pole,
and at a safe distance from the lashing, flying tail, I set to work. I
worked with naked death then, and no man ever toiled more gingerly
than did I. For I cut out the poison sacs at the base of the great
fangs, and in the terrible venom I soaked the heads of eleven arrows,
being careful that only the bronze points were in the liquid, which
else had corroded away the wood of the tough shafts. While I was doing
this, Grom, driven by comradeship and curiosity, came stealing
nervously through the jungle, and his mouth gaped as he looked on the
head of Satha.

For hours I steeped the arrowheads in the poison, until they were
caked with a horrible green scum, and showed tiny flecks of corrosion
where the venom had eaten into the solid bronze. He wrapped them
carefully in broad, thick, rubber-like leaves, and then, though night
had fallen and the hunting beasts were roaring on every hand, I went
back through the jungled hills, Grom with me, until at dawn we came
again to the high cliffs that loomed above the Valley of Broken
Stones.

At the mouth of the valley I broke my spear, and I took all the
unpoisoned shafts from my quiver, and snapped them. I painted my face
and limbs as the Aesir painted themselves only when they went forth to
certain doom, and I sang my death-song to the sun as it rose over the
cliffs, my yellow mane blowing in the morning wind. Then I went down
into the valley, bow in hand.

Grom could not drive himself to follow me. He lay on his belly in the
dust and howled like a dying dog.

I passed the lake and the silent camp where the pyre-ashes still
smoldered, and came under the thickening trees beyond. About me the
columns loomed, mere shapeless heaps from the ravages of staggering
eons. The trees grew more dense, and under their vast leafy branches
the very light was dusky and evil. As in twilight shadow I saw the
ruined temple, cyclopean wails staggering up from masses of decaying
masonry and fallen blocks of stone. About six hundred yards in front
of it a great column reared up in an open glade, eighty or ninety feet
in height. It was so worn and pitted by weather and time that any
child of my tribe could have climbed it, and I marked it and changed
my plan.

I came to the ruins and saw huge crumbling walls upholding a domed
roof from which many stones had fallen, so that it seemed like the
lichen-grown ribs of some mythical monster's skeleton arching above
me. Titanic columns flanked the open doorway through which ten
elephants could have stalked abreast. Once there might have been
inscriptions and hieroglyphics on the pillars and walls, but they were
long worn away. Around the great room, on the inner side, ran columns
in better state of preservation. On each of these columns was a flat
pedestal, and some dim instinctive memory vaguely resurrected a
shadowy scene wherein black drums roared madly, and on these pedestals
monstrous beings squatted loathsomely in inexplicable rituals rooted
in the black dawn of the universe.

There was no altar-only the mouth of a great welllike shaft in the
stone floor, with strange obscene carvings all about the rim. I tore
great pieces of stone from the rotting floor and cast them down the
shaft which slanted down into utter darkness. I heard them bound along
the side, but I did not hear them strike bottom. I cast down stone
after atone, each with a searing curse, and at last I heard a sound
that was not the dwindling rumble of the falling stones. Up from the
well floated a weird demon-piping that was a symphony of madness. Far
down in the darkness I glimpsed the faint fearful glimmering of a vast
white bulk.

I retreated slowly as the piping grew louder, falling back through the
broad doorway. I heard a scratching, scrambling noise, and up from the
shaft and out of the doorway between the colossal solumns came a
prancing incredible figure. It went erect like a man, but it was
covered with fur, that was shaggiest where its face should have been.
If it had ears, nose and a mouth I did not discover them. Only a pair
of staring red eyes leered from the furry mask. Its misshapen hands
held a strange set of pipes, on which it blew weirdly as it pranced
toward me with many a grotesque caper and leap.

Behind it I heard a repulsive obscene noise as of a quaking unstable
mass heaving up out of a well. Then I nocked an arrow, drew the cord
and sent the shaft singing through the furry breast of the dancing
monstrosity. It went down as though struck by a thunderbolt, but to my
horror the piping continued, though the pipes had fallen from the
malformed hands. Then I turned and ran fleetly to the column, up which
I swarmed before I looked back. When I reached the pinnacle I looked,
and because of the shock and surprise of what I saw, I almost fell
from my dizzy perch.

Out of the temple the monstrous dweller in the darkness had come, and
I, who had expected a horror yet cast in some terrestrial mold, looked
on the spawn of-nightmare. From what subterranean hell it crawled in
the long ago I know not, nor what black age it represented. But it was
not a beast, as humanity knows beasts. I call it a worm for lack of a
better term. There is no earthly language which has a name for it. I
can only say that it looked somewhat more like a worm than it did an
octopus, a serpent or a dinosaur.

It was white and pulpy, and drew its quaking bulk along the ground,
worm-fashion. But it had wide flat tentacles, and fleshly feelers, and
other adjuncts the use of which I am unable to explain. And it had a
long proboscis which it curled and uncurled like an elephant's trunk.
Its forty eyes, set in a horrific circle, were composed of thousands
of facets of as many scintillant colors which changed and altered in
never-ending transmutation. But through all interplay of hue and
glint, they retained their evil intelligence-intelligence there was
behind those flickering facets, not human nor yet bestial, but a
nightborn demoniac intelligence such as men in dreams vaguely sense
throbbing titanically in the black gulfs outside our material
universe. In size the monster was mountainous; its bulk would have
dwarfed a mastodon.

But even as I shook with the cosmic horror of the thing, I drew a
feathered shaft to my ear and arched it singing on its way. Grass and
bushes were crushed flat as the monster came toward me like a moving
mountain and shaft after shaft I sent with terrific force and deadly
precision. I could not miss so huge a target. The arrows sank to the
feathers or clear out of sight in the unstable bulk, each bearing
enough poison to have stricken dead a bull elephant. Yet on it came;
swiftly, appallingly, apparently heedless of both the shafts and the
venom in which they were steeped. And all the time the hideous music
played a maddening accompaniment, whining thinly from the pipes that
lay untouched on the ground.

My confidence faded; even the poison of Satha was futile against this
uncanny being. I drove my last shaft almost straight downward into the
quaking white mountain, so close was the monster under my perch; Then
suddenly its color altered. A wave of ghastly blue surged over it, and
the vast hulk heaved in earthquake-like convulsions. With a terrible
plunge it struck the lower part of the column, which crashed to
falling shards of stone. But even with the impact, I leaped far out
and fell through the empty air full upon the monster's back.

The spongy skin yielded and gave beneath my feet, and I drove my sword
hilt-deep, dragging it through the pulpy flesh, ripping a horrible
yard-long wound, from which oozed a green slime. Then a flip of a
cable-like tentacle flicked me from the titan's back and spun me three
hundred feet through the air to crash among a cluster of giant trees.

The impact must have splintered half the bones in my frame, for when I
sought to grasp my sword again and crawl anew to the combat, I could
not move hand or foot, could only writhe helplessly with my broken
back. But I could see the monster and I knew that I had won, even in
defeat. The mountainous bulk was heaving and billowing, the tentacles
were lashing madly, the antennae writhing and knotting, and the
nauseous whiteness had changed to a pale and grisly green. It turned
ponderously and lurched back toward the temple, rolling like a
crippled ship in a heavy swell. Trees crashed and splintered as it
lumbered against them.

I wept with pure fury because I could not catch up my sword and rush
in to die glutting my berserk madness in mighty strokes. But the worm-
god was deathstricken and needed not my futile sword. The demon pipes
on the ground kept up their infernal tune, and it was like the fiend's
death-dirge. Then as the monster veered and floundered, I saw it catch
up the corpse of its hairy slave. For an instant the apish form
dangled in midair, gripped round by the trunk-like proboscis, then was
dashed against the temple wall with a force that reduced the hairy
body to a mere shapeless pulp. At that the pipes screamed out
horribly, and fell silent for ever.

The titan staggered on the brink of the shaft; then another change
came over it-a frightful transfiguration the nature of which I can not
yet describe. Even now when I try to think of it clearly, I am only
chaotically conscious of a blasphemous, unnatural transmutation of
form and substance, shocking and indescribable. Then the strangely
altered bulk tumbled into the shaft to roll down into the ultimate
darkness from whence it came, and I knew that it was dead. And as it
vanished into the well, with a rending, grinding groan the ruined
walls quivered from dome to base. They bent inward and buckled with
deafening reverberation, the columns splintered, and with a
cataclysmic crash the dome itself came thundering down. For an instant
the air seemed veiled with flying debris and stone-dust, through which
the treetops lashed madly as in a storm or an earthquake convulsion.
Then all was clear again and I stared, shaking the blood from my eyes.
Where the temple had stood there lay only a colossal pile of shattered
masonry and broken stones, and every column in the valley had fallen,
to lie in crumbling shards.

In the silence that followed I heard Grom wailing a dirge over me. I
bade him lay my sword in my hand, and he did so, and bent close to
hear what I had to say, for I was passing swiftly.

"Let my tribe remember," I said, speaking slowly. "Let the tale be
told from village to village, from camp to camp, from tribe to tribe,
so that men may know that not man nor beast nor devil may prey in
safety on the golden-haired people of Asgard. Let them build me a
cairn where I lie and lay me therein with my bow and sword at hand, to
guard this valley for ever; so if the ghost of the god I slew comes up
from below, my ghost will ever be ready to give it battle."

And while Grom howled and beat his hairy breast, death came to me in
the Valley of the Worm.



THE END



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