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Title: The Dark Man
Author: Robert E. Howard
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eBook No.: 0608071.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: October 2017

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The Dark Man
Robert E. Howard

_"For this is the night of the drawing of swords,_
_And the painted tower of the heathen hordes_
_Leans to our hammers, fires and cords,_
_Leans a little and falls."_

A biting wind drifted the snow as it fell. The surf snarled along
the rugged shore and farther out the long leaden combers moaned
ceaselessly. Through the gray dawn that was stealing over the coast of
Connacht a fisherman came trudging, a man rugged as the land that bore
him. His feet were wrapped in rough cured leather; a single garment of
deerskin scantily outlined his body. He wore no other clothing. As he
strode stolidly along the shore, as heedless of the bitter cold as if
he were the shaggy beast he appeared at first glance, he halted.
Another man loomed up out of the veil of falling snow and drifting
sea-mist. Turlogh Dubh stood before him.

This man was nearly a head taller than the stocky fisherman, and
he had the bearing of a fighting man. No single glance would suffice,
but any man or woman whose eyes fell on Turlogh Dubh would look long.
Six feet and one inch he stood, and the first impression of slimness
faded on closer inspection. He was big but trimly molded; a
magnificent sweep of shoulder and depth of chest. Rangy he was, but
compact, combining the strength of a bull with the lithe quickness of
a panther. The slightest movement he made showed that steel-trap
coordination that makes the super-fighter. Turlogh Dubh--Black
Turlogh, once of the Clan na O'Brien. And black he was as to hair, and
dark of complexion. From under heavy black brows gleamed eyes of a hot
volcanic blue. And in his clean-shaven face there was something of the
somberness of dark mountains, of the ocean at midnight. Like the
fisherman, he was a part of this fierce land.

On his head he wore a plain vizorless helmet without crest or
symbol. From neck to mid-thigh he was protected by a close-fitting
shirt of black chain mail. The kilt he wore below his armor and which
reached to his knees was of plain drab material. His legs were wrapped
with hard leather that might turn a sword edge, and the shoes on his
feet were worn with much traveling.

A broad belt encircled his lean waist, holding a long dirk in a
leather sheath. On his left arm he carried a small round shield of
hide-covered wood, hard as iron, braced and reinforced with steel, and
having a short, heavy spike in the center. An ax hung from his right
wrist, and it was to this feature that the fisherman's eyes wandered.
The weapon with its three-foot handle and graceful lines looked slim
and light when the fisherman mentally compared it to the great axes
carried by the Norsemen. Yet scarcely three years had passed, as the
fisherman knew, since such axes as these had shattered the northern
hosts into red defeat and broken the pagan power forever.

There was individuality about the ax as about its owner. It was
not like any other the fisherman had ever seen. Single-edged it was,
with a short three-edged spike on the back and another on the top of
the head. Like the wielder, it was heavier than it looked. With its
slightly curved shaft and the graceful artistry of the blade, it
looked like the weapon of an expert--swift, lethal, deadly, cobra-like.
The head was of finest Irish workmanship, which meant, at that
day, the finest in the world. The handle, cut from the head of a
century-old oak, specially fire-hardened and braced with steel, was as
unbreakable as an iron bar.

"Who are you?" asked the fisherman, with the bluntness of the

"Who are you to ask?" answered the other.

The fisherman's eyes roved to the single ornament the warrior
wore--a heavy golden armlet on his left arm.

"Clean-shaven and close-cropped in the Norman fashion," he
muttered. "And dark--you'd be Black Turlogh, the outlaw of Clan na
O'Brien. You range far; I heard of you last in the Wicklow hills
preying off the O'Reillys and the Oastmen alike."

"A man must eat, outcast or not," growled the Dalcassian.

The fisherman shrugged his shoulders. A masterless man--it was a
hard road. In those days of clans, when a man's own kin cast him out
he became a son of Ishmael with a vengeance. All men's hands were
against him. The fisherman had heard of Turlogh Dubh--a strange,
bitter man, a terrible warrior and a crafty strategist, but one whom
sudden bursts of strange madness made a marked man even in that land
and age of madmen.

"It's a bitter day," said the fisherman, apropos of nothing.

Turlogh stared somberly at his tangled beard and wild matted hair.
"Have you a boat?"

The other nodded toward a small sheltered cove where lay snugly
anchored a trim craft built with the skill of a hundred generations of
men who had torn their livelihood from the stubborn sea.

"It scarce looks seaworthy," said Turlogh.

"Seaworthy? You who were born and bred on the western coast should
know better. I've sailed her alone to Drumcliff Bay and back, and all
the devils in the wind ripping at her."

"You can't take fish in such a sea."

"Do ye think it's only you chiefs that take sport in risking your
hides? By the saints, I've sailed to Ballinskellings in a storm--and
back too--just for the fun of the thing."

"Good enough," said Turlogh. "I'll take your boat."

"Ye'll take the devil! What kind of talk is this? If you want to
leave Erin, go to Dublin and take the ship with your Dane friends."

A black scowl made Turlogh's face a mask of menace. "Men have died
for less than that."

"Did you not intrigue with the Danes? And is that not why your
clan drove you out to starve in the heather?"

"The jealousy of a cousin and the spite of a woman," growled
Turlogh. "Lies--all lies. But enough. Have you seen a long serpent
beating up from the south in the last few days?"

"Aye--three days ago we sighted a dragon-beaked galley before the
scud. But she didn't put in--faith, the pirates get naught from the
western fishers but hard blows."

"That would be Thorfel the Fair," muttered Turlogh, swaying his ax
by its wrist-strap. "I knew it."

"There has been a ship-harrying in the south?"

"A band of reavers fell by night on the castle on Kilbaha. There
was a sword-quenching--and the pirates took Moira, daughter of
Murtagh, a chief of the Dalcassians."

"I've heard of her," muttered the fisherman. "There'll be a
wetting of swords in the south--a red sea-plowing, eh, my black

"Her brother Dermod lies helpless from a sword-cut in the foot.
The lands of her clan are harried by the MacMurroughs in the east and
the O'Connors from the north. Not many men can be spared from the
defense of the tribe, even to seek for Moira--the clan is fighting for
its life. All Erin is rocking under the Dalcassian throne since great
Brian fell. Even so, Cormac O'Brien has taken ship to hunt down her
ravishers--but he follows the trail of a wild goose, for it is thought
the riders were Danes from Coningbeg. Well--we outcasts have ways of
knowledge--it was Thorfel the Fair who holds the Isle of Slyne, that
the Norse call Helni, in the Hebrides. There he has taken her--there I
follow him. Lend me your boat."

"You are mad!" cried the fisherman sharply. "What are you saying.
From Connacht to the Hebrides in an open boat? In this weather? I say
you are mad."

"I will essay it," answered Turlogh absently. "Will you lend me
your boat?"


"I might slay you and take it," said Turlogh.

"You might," returned the fisherman stolidly.

"You crawling swine," snarled the outlaw in swift passion, "a
princess of Erin languishes in the grip of a red-bearded reaver of the
north and you haggle like a Saxon."

"Man, I must live!" cried the fisherman as passionately. "Take my
boat and I shall starve! Where can I get another like it? It is the
cream of its kind!"

Turlogh reached for the armlet on his left arm. "I will pay you.
Here is a torc that Brian Boru put on my arm with his own hand before
Clontarf. Take it; it would buy a hundred boats. I have starved with
it on my arm, but now the need is desperate."

But the fisherman shook his head, the strange illogic of the Gael
burning in his eyes. "No! My hut is no place for a torc that King
Brian's hands have touched. Keep it--and take the boat, in the name of
the saints, if it means that much to you."

"You shall have it back when I return," promised Turlogh, "and
mayhap a golden chain that now decks the bull neck of some northern

The day was sad and leaden. The wind moaned and the everlasting
monotone of the sea was like the sorrow that is born in the heart of
man. The fisherman stood on the rocks and watched the frail craft
glide and twist serpent-like among the rocks until the blast of the
open sea smote it and tossed it like a feather. The wind caught sail
and the slim boat leaped and staggered, then righted herself and raced
before the gale, dwindling until it was but a dancing speck in the
eyes of the watcher. And then a flurry of snow hid it from his sight.

Turlogh realized something of the madness of his pilgrimage. But
he was bred to hardships and peril. Cold and ice and driving sleet
that would have frozen a weaker man, only spurred him to greater
efforts. He was as hard and supple as a wolf. Among a race of men
whose hardiness astounded even the toughest Norsemen, Turlogh Dubh
stood out alone. At birth he had been tossed into a snow-drift to test
his right to survive. His childhood and boyhood had been spent on the
mountains, coasts and moors of the west. Until manhood he had never
worn woven cloth upon his body; a wolf-skin had formed the apparel of
this son of a Dalcassian chief. Before his outlawry he could out-tire
a horse, running all day long beside it. He had never wearied at
swimming. Now, since the intrigues of jealous clansmen had driven him
into the wastelands and the life of the wolf, his ruggedness was such
as cannot be conceived by a civilized man.

The snow ceased, the weather cleared, the wind held. Turlogh
necessarily hugged the coastline, avoiding the reefs against which it
seemed again and again he would be dashed. With tiller, sail and oar
he worked tirelessly. Not one man out of a thousand of seafarers could
have accomplished it, but Turlogh did. He needed no sleep; as he
steered he ate from the rude provisions the fisherman had provided
him. By the time he sighted Malin Head the weather had calmed
wonderfully. There was still a heavy sea, but the gale had slackened
to a sharp breeze that sent the little boat skipping along. Days and
nights merged into each other; Turlogh drove eastward. Once he put
into shore for fresh water and to snatch a few hours' sleep.

As he steered he thought of the fisherman's last words: "Why
should you risk your life for a clan that's put a price on your head?"

Turlogh shrugged his shoulders. Blood was thicker than water. The
mere fact that his people had booted him out to die like a hunted wolf
on the moors did not alter the fact that they _were_ his people.
Little Moira, daughter of Murtagh na Kilbaha, had nothing to do with
it. He remembered her--he had played with her when he was a boy and
she a babe--he remembered the deep grayness of her eyes and the
burnished sheen of her black hair, the fairness of her skin. Even as a
child she had been remarkably beautiful--why, she was only a child
now, for he, Turlogh, was young and he was many years her senior. Now
she was speeding north to become the unwilling bride of a Norse
reaver. Thorfel the Fair--the Handsome--Turlogh swore by gods that
knew not the cross. A red mist waved across his eyes so that the
rolling sea swam crimson all around him. An Irish girl a captive in a
skalli of a Norse pirate--with a vicious wrench Turlogh turned his
bows straight for the open sea. There was a tinge of madness in his

It is a long slant from Malin Head to Helni straight out across
the foaming billows, as Turlogh took it. He was aiming for a small
island that lay, with many other small islands, between Mull and the
Hebrides. A modern seaman with charts and compass might have
difficulty in finding it. Turlogh had neither. He sailed by instinct
and through knowledge. He knew these seas as a man knows his house. He
had sailed them as a raider and as an avenger, and once he had sailed
them as a captive lashed to the deck of a Danish dragon ship. And he
followed a red trail. Smoke drifting from headlands, floating pieces
of wreckage, charred timbers showed that Thorfel was ravaging as he
went. Turlogh growled in savage satisfaction; he was close behind the
Viking, in spite of the long lead. For Thorfel was burning and
pillaging the shores as he went, and Turlogh's course was like an

He was still a long way from Helni when he sighted a small island
slightly off his course. He knew it of old as one uninhabited, but
there he could get fresh water. So he steered for it. The Isle of
Swords it was called, no man knew why. And as he neared the beach he
saw a sight which he rightly interpreted. Two boats were drawn up on
the shelving shore. One was a crude affair, something like the one
Turlogh had, but considerably larger. The other was a long, low
craft--undeniably Viking. Both were deserted. Turlogh listened for the
clash of arms, the cry of battle, but silence reigned. Fishers, he
thought, from the Scotch isles; they had been sighted by some band of
rovers on ship or on some other island, and had been pursued in the
long rowboat. But it had been a longer chase than they had
anticipated, he was sure; else they would not have started out in an
open boat. But inflamed with the murder lust, the reavers would have
followed their prey across a hundred miles of rough water, in an open
boat, if necessary.

Turlogh drew inshore, tossed over the stone that served for anchor
and leaped upon the beach, ax ready. Then up the shore a short
distance he saw a strange red huddle of forms. A few swift strides
brought him face to face with mystery. Fifteen red-bearded Danes lay
in their own gore in a rough circle. Not one breathed. Within this
circle, mingling with the bodies of their slayers, lay other men, such
as Turlogh had never seen. Short of stature they were, and very dark;
their staring dead eyes were the blackest Turlogh had ever seen. They
were scantily armored, and their stiff hands still gripped broken
swords and daggers. Here and there lay arrows that had shattered on
the corselets of Danes, and Turlogh observed with surprize that many
of them were tipped with flint.

"This was a grim fight," he muttered. "Aye, this was a rare
sword-quenching. Who are these people? In all the isles I have never seen
their like before. Seven--is that all? Where are their comrades who
helped them slay these Danes?"

No tracks led away from the bloody spot. Turlogh's brow darkened.

"These were all--seven against fifteen--yet the slayers died with
the slain. What manner of men are these who slay twice their number of
Vikings? They are small men--their armor is mean. Yet--"

Another thought struck him. Why did not the strangers scatter and
flee, hide themselves in the woods? He believed he knew the answer.
There, at the very center of the silent circle, lay a strange thing. A
statue it was, of some dark substance and it was in the form of a man.
Some five feet long--or high--it was, carved in a semblance of life
that made Turlogh start. Half over it lay the corpse of an ancient
man, hacked almost beyond human semblance. One lean arm was locked
about the figure; the other was outstretched, the hand gripping a
flint dagger which was sheathed to the hilt in the breast of a Dane.
Turlogh noted the fearful wounds that disfigured all the dark men.
They had been hard to kill--they had fought until literally hacked to
pieces, and dying, they had dealt death to their slayers. So much
Turlogh's eyes showed him. In the dead faces of the dark strangers was
a terrible desperation. He noted how their dead hands were still
locked in the beards of their foes. One lay beneath the body of a huge
Dane, and on this Dane Turlogh could see no wound; until he looked
closer and saw the dark man's teeth were sunk, beast-like, into the
bull throat of the other.

He bent and dragged the figure from among the bodies. The
ancient's arm was locked about it, and he was forced to tear it away
with all his strength. It was as if, even in death, the old one clung
to his treasure; for Turlogh felt that it was for this image that the
small dark men had died. They might have scattered and eluded their
foes, but that would have meant giving up their image. They chose to
die beside it. Turlogh shook his head; his hatred of the Norse, a
heritage of wrongs and outrages, was a burning, living thing, almost
an obsession, that at times drove him to the point of insanity. There
was, in his fierce heart, no room for mercy; the sight of these Danes,
lying dead at his feet, filled him with savage satisfaction. Yet he
sensed here, in these silent dead men, a passion stronger than his.
Here was some driving impulse deeper than his hate. Aye--and older.
These little men seemed very ancient to him, not old as individuals
are old, but old as a race is old. Even their corpses exuded an
intangible aura of the primeval. And the image--

The Gael bent and grasped it, to lift it. He expected to encounter
great weight and was astonished. It was no heavier than if it had been
made of light wood. He tapped it, and the sound was solid. At first he
thought it was of iron; then he decided it was of stone, but such
stone as he had never seen; and he felt that no such stone was to be
found in the British Isles or anywhere in the world that he knew. For
like the little dead men, it looked _old_. It was smooth and free from
corrosion, as if carved yesterday, but for all that, it was a symbol
of antiquity, Turlogh knew. It was the figure of a man who much
resembled the small dark men who lay about it. But it differed subtly.
Turlogh felt somehow that this was the image of a man who had lived
long ago, for surely the unknown sculptor had had a living model. And
he had contrived to bring a touch of life into his work. There was the
sweep of the shoulders, the depth of the chest, the powerfully molded
arms; the strength of the features was evident. The firm jaw, the
regular nose, the high forehead, all indicated a powerful intellect, a
high courage, an inflexible will. Surely, thought Turlogh, this man
was a king--or a god. Yet he wore no crown; his only garment was a
sort of loincloth, wrought so cunningly that every wrinkle and fold
was carved as in reality.

"This was their god," mused Turlogh, looking about him. "They fled
before the Danes--but died for their god at last. Who are these
people? Whence come they? Whither were they bound?"

He stood, leaning on his ax, and a strange tide rose in his soul.
A sense of mighty abysses of time and space opened before him; of
the strange, endless tides of mankind that drift forever; of the waves
of humanity that wax and wane with the waxing and waning of the
sea-tides. Life was a door opening upon two black, unknown worlds--and how
many races of men with their hopes and fears, their loves and their
hates, had passed through that door--on their pilgrimage from the dark
to the dark? Turlogh sighed. Deep in his soul stirred the mystic
sadness of the Gael.

"You were a king once, Dark Man," he said to the silent image.
"Mayhap you were a god and reigned over all the world. Your people
passed--as mine are passing. Surely you were a king of the Flint
People, the race whom my Celtic ancestors destroyed. Well--we have had
our day, and we, too, are passing. These Danes who lie at your feet--they
are the conquerors now. They must have their day--but they too
will pass. But you shall go with me, Dark Man, king, god, or devil
though you be. Aye, for it is in my mind that you will bring me luck,
and luck is what I shall need when I sight Helni, Dark Man."

Turlogh bound the image securely in the bows. Again he set out for
his sea-plowing. Now the skies grew gray and the snow fell in driving
lances that stung and cut. The waves were gray-grained with ice and
the winds bellowed and beat on the open boat. But Turlogh feared not.
And his boat rode as it had never ridden before. Through the roaring
gale and the driving snow it sped, and to the mind of the Dalcassian
it seemed that the Dark Man lent him aid. Surely he had been lost a
hundred times without supernatural assistance. With all his skill at
boat-handling he wrought, and it seemed to him that there was an
unseen hand on the tiller, and at the oar; that more than human skill
aided him when he trimmed his sail.

And when all the world was a driving white veil in which even the
Gael's sense of direction was lost, it seemed to him that he was
steering in compliance with a silent voice that spoke in the dim
reaches of his consciousness. Nor was he surprized when, at last, when
the snow had ceased and the clouds had rolled away beneath a cold
silvery moon, he saw land loom up ahead and recognized it as the isle
of Helni. More, he knew that just around a point of land was the bay
where Thorfel's dragon ship was moored when not ranging the seas, and
a hundred yards back from the bay lay Thorfel's skalli. He grinned
fiercely. All the skill in the world could not have brought him to
this exact spot--it was pure luck--no, it was more than luck. Here was
the best possible place for him to make an approach--within half a
mile of his foe's hold, yet hidden from sight of any watchers by this
jutting promontory. He glanced at the Dark Man in the bows--brooding,
inscrutable as the sphinx. A strange feeling stole over the Gael--that
all this was his work; that he, Turlogh, was only a pawn in the game.
What was this fetish? What grim secret did those carven eyes hold? Why
did the dark little men fight so terribly for him?

Turlogh ran his boat inshore, into a small creek. A few yards up
this he anchored and stepped out onshore. A last glance at the
brooding Dark Man in the bows, and he turned and went hurriedly up the
slope of the promontory, keeping to cover as much as possible. At the
top of the slope he gazed down on the other side. Less than half a
mile away Thorfel's dragon ship lay at anchor. And there lay Thorfel's
skalli, also the long low building of rough-hewn log emitting the
gleams that betokened the roaring fires within. Shouts of wassail came
clearly to the listener through the sharp still air. He ground his
teeth. Wassail! Aye, they were celebrating the ruin and destruction
they had committed--the homes left in smoking embers--the slain men--the
ravished girls. They were lords of the world, these Vikings--all
the southland lay helpless beneath their swords. The southland folk
lived only to furnish them sport--and slaves--Turlogh shuddered
violently and shook as if in a chill. The blood-sickness was on him
like a physical pain, but he fought back the mists of passion that
clouded his brain. He was here, not to fight but to steal away the
girl they had stolen.

He took careful note of the ground, like a general going over the
plan of his campaign. He noted where the trees grew thick close behind
the skalli; that the smaller houses, the storehouses and servants'
huts were between the main building and the bay. A huge fire was
blazing down by the shore and a few carles were roaring and drinking
about it, but the fierce cold had driven most of them into the
drinking-hall of the main building.

Turlogh crept down the thickly wooded slope, entering the forest
which swept about in a wide curve away from the shore. He kept to the
fringe of its shadows, approaching the skalli in a rather indirect
route, but afraid to strike out boldly in the open lest he be seen by
the watchers that Thorfel surely had out. Gods, if he only had the
warriors of Clare at his back as he had of old! Then there would be no
skulking like a wolf among the trees! His hand locked like iron on his
ax-shaft as he visualized the scene--the charge, the shouting, the
blood-letting, the play of the Dalcassian axes--he sighed. He was a
lone outcast; never again would he lead the swordsmen of his clan to

He dropped suddenly in the snow behind a low shrub and lay still.
Men were approaching from the same direction in which he had come--men
who grumbled loudly and walked heavily. They came into sight--two of
them, huge Norse warriors, their silver-scaled armor flashing in the
moonlight. They were carrying something between them with difficulty
and to Turlogh's amazement he saw it was the Dark Man. His
consternation at the realization that they had found his boat was
gulfed in a greater astonishment. These men were giants; their arms
bulged with iron muscles. Yet they were staggering under what seemed a
stupendous weight. In their hands the Dark Man seemed to weigh
hundreds of pounds; yet Turlogh had lifted it as lightly as a feather!
He almost swore in his amazement. Surely these men were drunk. One of
them spoke, and Turlogh's short neck hairs bristled at the sound of
the guttural accents, as a dog will bristle at the sight of a foe.

"Let it down; Thor's death, the thing weighs a ton. Let's rest."

The other grunted a reply, and they began to ease the image to the
earth. Then one of them lost his hold on it; his hand slipped and the
Dark Man crashed heavily into the snow. The first speaker howled.

"You clumsy fool, you dropped it on my foot! Curse you, my ankle's

"It twisted out of my hand!" cried the other. "The thing's alive,
I tell you!"

"Then I'll slay it," snarled the lame Viking, and drawing his
sword, he struck savagely at the prostrate figure. Fire flashed as the
blade shivered into a hundred pieces, and the other Norseman howled as
a flying sliver of steel gashed his cheek.

"The devil's in it!" shouted the other, throwing his hilt away.
"I've not even scratched it! Here, take hold--let's get it into the
ale-hall and let Thorfel deal with it."

"Let it lie," growled the second man, wiping the blood from his
face. "I'm bleeding like a butchered hog. Let's go back and tell
Thorfel that there's no ship stealing on the island. That's what he
sent us to the point to see."

"What of the boat where we found this?" snapped the other. "Some
Scotch fisher driven out of his course by the storm and hiding like a
rat in the woods now, I guess. Here, bear a hand; idol or devil, we'll
carry this to Thorfel."

Grunting with the effort, they lifted the image once more and went
on slowly, one groaning and cursing as he limped along, the other
shaking his head from time to time as the blood got into his eyes.

Turlogh rose stealthily and watched them. A touch of chilliness
traveled up and down his spine. Either of these men was as strong as
he, yet it was taxing their powers to the utmost to carry what he had
handled easily. He shook his head and took up his way again.

At last he reached a point in the woods nearest the skalli. Now
was the crucial test. Somehow he must reach that building and hide
himself, unperceived. Clouds were gathering. He waited until one
obscured the moon and in the gloom that followed, ran swiftly and
silently across the snow, crouching. A shadow out of the shadows he
seemed. The shouts and songs from within the long building were
deafening. Now he was close to its side, flattening himself against
the rough-hewn logs. Vigilance was most certainly relaxed now--yet
what foe should Thorfel expect, when he was friends with all northern
reavers, and none else could be expected to fare forth on a night such
as this had been?

A shadow among the shadows, Turlogh stole about the house. He
noted a side door and slid cautiously to it. Then he drew back close
against the wall. Someone within was fumbling at the latch. Then a
door was flung open and a big warrior lurched out, slamming the door
to behind him. Then he saw Turlogh. His bearded lips parted, but in
that instant the Gael's hands shot to his throat and locked there like
a wolf-trap. The threatened yell died in a gasp. One hand flew to
Turlogh's wrist, the other drew a dagger and stabbed upward. But
already the man was senseless; the dagger rattled feebly against the
outlaw's corselet and dropped into the snow. The Norseman sagged in
his slayer's grasp, his throat literally crushed by that iron grip.
Turlogh flung him contemptuously into the snow and spat on his dead
face before he turned again to the door.

The latch had not fastened within. The door sagged a trifle.
Turlogh peered in and saw an empty room, piled with ale barrels. He
entered noiselessly, shutting the door but not latching it. He thought
of hiding his victim's body, but he did not know how he could do it.
He must trust to luck that no one saw it in the deep snow where it
lay. He crossed the room and found it led into another parallel with
the outer wall. This was also a storeroom, and was empty. From this a
doorway, without a door but furnished with a curtain of skins, let
into the main hall, as Turlogh could tell from the sounds on the other
side. He peered out cautiously.

He was looking into the drinking-hall--the great hall which served
as a banquet, council, and living-hall of the master of the skalli.
This hall, with its smoke-blackened rafters, great roaring fireplaces,
and heavily laden boards, was a scene of terrific revelry tonight.
Huge warriors with golden beards and savage eyes sat or lounged on the
rude benches, strode about the hall or sprawled full length on the
floor. They drank mightily from foaming horns and leathern jacks, and
gorged themselves on great pieces of rye bread and huge chunks of meat
they cut with their daggers from whole roasted joints. It was a scene
of strange incongruity, for in contrast with these barbaric men and
their rough songs and shouts, the walls were hung with rare spoils
that betokened civilized workmanship. Fine tapestries that Norman
women had worked; richly chased weapons that princes of France and
Spain had wielded; armor and silken garments from Byzantium and the
Orient--for the dragon ships ranged far. With these were placed the
spoils of the hunt, to show the Viking's mastery of beasts as well as

The modern man can scarcely conceive of Turlogh O'Brien's feeling
toward these men. To him they were devils--ogres who dwelt in the
north only to descend on the peaceful people of the south. All the
world was their prey to pick and choose, to take and spare as it
pleased their barbaric whims. His brain throbbed and burned as he
gazed. As only a Gael can hate, he hated them--their magnificent
arrogance, their pride and their power, their contempt for all other
races, their stern, forbidding eyes--above all else he hated the eyes
that looked scorn and menace on the world. The Gaels were cruel but
they had strange moments of sentiment and kindness. There was no
sentiment in the Norse make-up.

The sight of this revelry was like a slap in Black Turlogh's face,
and only one thing was needed to make his madness complete. This was
furnished. At the head of the board sat Thorfel the Fair, young,
handsome, arrogant, flushed with wine and pride. He _was_ handsome,
was young Thorfel. In build he much resembled Turlogh himself, except
that he was larger in every way, but there the resemblance ceased. As
Turlogh was exceptionally dark among a dark people, Thorfel was
exceptionally blond among a people essentially fair. His hair and
mustache were like fine-spun gold and his light gray eyes flashed
scintillant lights. By his side--Turlogh's nails bit into his palms,
Moira of the O'Briens seemed greatly out of place among these huge
blond men and strapping yellow-haired women. She was small, almost
frail, and her hair was black with glossy bronze tints. But her skin
was fair as theirs, with a delicate rose tint their most beautiful
women could not boast. Her full lips were white now with fear and she
shrank from the clamor and uproar. Turlogh saw her tremble as Thorfel
insolently put his arm about her. The hall waved redly before
Turlogh's eyes and he fought doggedly for control.

"Thorfel's brother, Osric, to his right," he muttered to himself;
"on the other side Tostig, the Dane, who can cleave an ox in half with
that great sword of his--they say. And there is Halfgar, and Sweyn,
and Oswick, and Athelstane, the Saxon--the one _man_ of a pack of sea-wolves.
And name of the devil--what is this? A priest?"

A priest it was, sitting white and still in the rout, silently
counting his beads, while his eyes wandered pitying toward the slender
Irish girl at the head of the board. Then Turlogh saw something else.
On a smaller table to one side, a table of mahogany whose rich
scrollwork showed that it was loot from the southland, stood the Dark
Man. The two crippled Norsemen had brought it to the hall, after all.
The sight of it brought a strange shock to Turlogh and cooled his
seething brain. Only five feet tall? It seemed much larger now,
somehow. It loomed above the revelry, as a god that broods on deep
dark matters beyond the ken of the human insects who howl at his feet.
As always when looking at the Dark Man, Turlogh felt as if a door had
suddenly opened on outer space and the wind that blows among the
stars. Waiting--waiting--for whom? Perhaps the carven eyes of the Dark
Man looked through the skalli walls, across the snowy waste, and over
the promontory. Perhaps those sightless eyes saw the five boats that
even now slid silently with muffled oars, through the calm dark
waters. But of this Turlogh Dubh knew nothing; nothing of the boats or
their silent rowers; small, dark men with inscrutable eyes.

Thorfel's voice cut through the din: "Ho, friends!" They fell
silent and turned as the young sea-king rose to his feet. "Tonight,"
he thundered, "I am taking a bride!"

A thunder of applause shook the noisy rafters. Turlogh cursed with
sick fury.

Thorfel caught up the girl with rough gentleness and set her on
the board.

"Is she not a fit bride for a Viking?" he shouted. "True, she's a
bit shy, but that's only natural."

"All Irish are cowards!" shouted Oswick.

"As proved by Clontarf and the scar on your jaw!" rumbled
Athelstane, which gentle thrust made Oswick wince and brought a roar
of rough mirth from the throng.

"'Ware her temper, Thorfel," called a bold-eyed young Juno who sat
with the warriors. "Irish girls have claws like cats."

Thorfel laughed with the confidence of a man used to mastery.
"I'll teach her her lessons with a stout birch switch. But enough. It
grows late. Priest, marry us."

"Daughter," said the priest unsteadily, rising, "these pagan men
have brought me here by violence to perform Christian nuptials in an
ungodly house. Do you marry this man willingly?"

"No! No! Oh God, No!" Moira screamed with a wild despair that
brought the sweat to Turlogh's forehead. "Oh most holy master, save me
from this fate! They tore me from my home--struck down my brother that
would have saved me! This man bore me off as if I were a chattel--a
soulless beast!"

"Be silent!" thundered Thorfel, slapping her across the mouth,
lightly but with enough force to bring a trickle of blood from her
delicate lips. "By Thor, you grow independent. I am determined to have
a wife, and all the squeals of a puling little wench will not stop me.
Why, you graceless hussy, am I not wedding you in the Christian
manner, simply because of your foolish superstitions? Take care that I
do not dispense with the nuptials, and take you as slave, not wife!"

"Daughter," quavered the priest, afraid, not for himself, but for
her, "bethink you! This man offers you more than many a man would
offer. It is at least an honorable married state."

"Aye," rumbled Athelstane, "marry him like a good wench and make
the best of it. There's more than one southland woman on the cross
benches of the north."

What can I do? The question tore through Turlogh's brain. There
was but one thing to do--wait--until the ceremony was over and Thorfel
had retired with his bride. Then steal her away as best he could.
After that--but he dared not look ahead. He had done and would do his
best. What he did, he of necessity did alone; a masterless man had no
friends, even among masterless men. There was no way to reach Moira to
tell her of his presence. She must go through with the wedding without
even the slim hope of deliverance that knowledge of his presence might
have lent. Instinctively, his eyes flashed to the Dark Man standing
somber and aloof from the rout. At his feet the old quarreled with the
new--the pagan with the Christian--and Turlogh even in that moment
felt that the old and new were alike young to the Dark Man.

Did the carven ears of the Dark Man hear strange prows grating on
the beach, the stroke of a stealthy knife in the night, the gurgle
that marks the severed throat? Those in the skalli heard only their
own noise and those who revelled by the fire outside sang on, unaware
of the silent coils of death closing about them.

"Enough!" shouted Thorfel. "Count your beads and mutter your
mummery, priest! Come here, wench, and marry!" He jerked the girl off
the board and plumped her down on her feet before him. She tore loose
from him with flaming eyes. All the hot Gaelic blood was roused in

"You yellow-haired swine!" she cried. "Do you think that a
princess of Clare, with Brian Boru's blood in her veins, would sit at
the cross bench of a barbarian and bear the tow-headed cubs of a
northern thief? No--I'll never marry you!"

"Then I'll take you as a slave!" he roared, snatching at her

"Nor that way either, swine!" she exclaimed, her fear forgotten in
fierce triumph. With the speed of light she snatched a dagger from his
girdle, and before he could seize her she drove the keen blade under
her heart. The priest cried out as though he had received the wound,
and springing forward, caught her in his arms as she fell.

"The curse of Almighty God on you, Thorfel!" he cried, with a
voice that rang like a clarion, as he bore her to a couch nearby.

Thorfel stood nonplussed. Silence reigned for an instant, and in
that instant Turlogh O'Brien went mad.

_"Lamh Laidir Abu!"_ the war cry of the O'Briens ripped through
the stillness like the scream of a wounded panther, and as men whirled
toward the shriek, the frenzied Gael came through the doorway like the
blast of a wind from Hell. He was in the grip of the Celtic black fury
beside which the berserk rage of the Viking pales. Eyes glaring and a
tinge of froth on his writhing lips, he crashed among the men who
sprawled, off guard, in his path. Those terrible eyes were fixed on
Thorfel at the other end of the hall, but as Turlogh rushed he smote
to right and left. His charge was the rush of a whirlwind that left a
litter of dead and dying men in his wake.

Benches crashed to the floor, men yelled, ale flooded from upset
casks. Swift as was the Celt's attack, two men blocked his way with
drawn swords before he could reach Thorfel--Halfgar and Oswick. The
scarred-faced Viking went down with a cleft skull before he could lift
his weapon, and Turlogh, catching Halfgar's blade on his shield,
struck again like lightning and the clean ax sheared through hauberk,
ribs and spine.

The hall was in a terrific uproar. Men were seizing weapons and
pressing forward from all sides, and in the midst the lone Gael raged
silently and terribly. Like a wounded tiger was Turlogh Dubh in his
madness. His eerie movement was a blur of speed, an explosion of
dynamic force. Scarce had Halfgar fallen when the Gael leaped across
his crumpling form at Thorfel, who had drawn his sword and stood as if
bewildered. But a rush of carles swept between them. Swords rose and
fell and the Dalcassian ax flashed among them like the play of summer
lightning. On either hand and from before and behind a warrior drove
at him. From one side Osric rushed, swinging a two-handed sword; from
the other a house-carle drove in with a spear. Turlogh stooped beneath
the swing of the sword and struck a double blow, forehand and back.
Thorfel's brother dropped, hewed through the knee, and the carle died
on his feet as the back-lash return drove the ax's back-spike through
his skull. Turlogh straightened, dashing his shield into the face of
the swordsman who rushed him from the front. The spike in the center
of the shield made a ghastly ruin of his features; then even as the
Gael wheeled cat-like to guard his rear, he felt the shadow of Death
loom over him. From the corner of his eye he saw the Dane Tostig
swinging his great two-handed sword, and jammed against the table, off
balance, he knew that even his superhuman quickness could not save
him. Then the whistling sword struck the Dark Man on the table and
with a clash like thunder, shivered to a thousand blue sparks. Tostig
staggered, dazedly, still holding the useless hilt, and Turlogh thrust
as with a sword; the upper spike of his ax struck the Dane over the
eye and crashed through to the brain.

And even at that instant, the air was filled with a strange
singing and men howled. A huge carle, ax still lifted, pitched forward
clumsily against the Gael, who split his skull before he saw that a
flint-pointed arrow transfixed his throat. The hall seemed full of
glancing beams of light that hummed like bees and carried quick death
in their humming. Turlogh risked his life for a glance toward the
great doorway at the other end of the hall. Through it was pouring a
strange horde. Small, dark men they were, with beady black eyes and
immobile faces. They were scantily armored, but they bore swords,
spears, and bows. Now at close range they drove their long black
arrows point-blank and the carles went down in windrows.

Now a red wave of combat swept the skalli hall, a storm of strife
that shattered tables, smashed the benches, tore the hangings and
trophies from the walls, and stained the floors with a red lake. There
had been less of the black strangers than Vikings, but in the surprize
of the attack, the first flight of arrows had evened the odds, and now
at hand-grips the strange warriors showed themselves in no way
inferior to their huge foes. Dazed with surprize and the ale they had
drunk, with no time to arm themselves fully, the Norsemen yet fought
back with all the reckless ferocity of their race. But the primitive
fury of the attackers matched their own valor, and at the head of the
hall, where a white-faced priest shielded a dying girl, Black Turlogh
tore and ripped with a frenzy that made valor and fury alike futile.

And over all towered the Dark Man. To Turlogh's shifting glances,
caught between the flash of sword and ax, it seemed that the image had
grown--expanded--heightened; that it loomed giant-like over the
battle; that its head rose into smoke-filled rafters of the great
hall--that it brooded like a dark cloud of death over these insects
who cut each other's throats at its feet. Turlogh sensed in the
lightning sword-play and the slaughter that this was the proper
element for the Dark Man. Violence and fury were exuded by him. The
raw scent of fresh-spilled blood was good to his nostrils and these
yellow-haired corpses that rattled at his feet were as sacrifices to

The storm of battle rocked the mighty hall. The skalli became a
shambles where men slipped in pools of blood, and slipping, died.
Heads spun grinning from slumping shoulders. Barbed spears tore the
heart, still beating, from the gory breast. Brains splashed and
clotted the madly driving axes. Daggers lunged upward, ripping bellies
and spilling entrails upon the floor. The clash and clangor of steel
rose deafeningly. No quarter was asked or given. A wounded Norseman
had dragged down one of the dark men, and doggedly strangled him
regardless of the dagger his victim plunged again and again into his

One of the dark men seized a child who ran howling from an inner
room, and dashed its brains out against the wall. Another gripped a
Norse woman by her golden hair and hurling her to her knees, cut her
throat, while she spat in his face. One listening for cries of fear or
pleas of mercy would have heard none; men, women or children, they
died slashing and clawing, their last gasp a sob of fury, or a snarl
of quenchless hatred.

And about the table where stood the Dark Man, immovable as a
mountain, washed the red waves of slaughter. Norsemen and tribesmen
died at his feet. How many red infernos of slaughter and madness have
your strange carved eyes gazed upon, Dark Man?

Shoulder to shoulder Sweyn and Thorfel fought. The Saxon
Athelstane, his golden beard a-bristle with the battle-joy, had placed
his back against the wall and a man fell at each sweep of his two-handed
ax. Now Turlogh came in like a wave, avoiding, with a lithe
twist of his upper body, the first ponderous stroke. Now the
superiority of the light Irish ax was proved, for before the Saxon
could shift his heavy weapon, the Dalcassian ax lit out like a
striking cobra and Athelstane reeled as the edge bit through the
corselet into the ribs beneath. Another stroke and he crumpled, blood
gushing from his temple.

Now none barred Turlogh's way to Thorfel except Sweyn, and even as
the Gael leaped like a panther toward the slashing pair, one was ahead
of him. The chief of the Dark Men glided like a shadow under the slash
of Sweyn's sword, and his own short blade thrust upward under the
mail. Thorfel faced Turlogh alone. Thorfel was no coward; he even
laughed with pure battle-joy as he thrust, but there was no mirth in
Black Turlogh's face, only a frantic rage that writhed his lips and
made his eyes coals of blue fire.

In the first swirl of steel Thorfel's sword broke. The young sea-king leaped like a tiger at his foe, thrusting with the shards of the
blade. Turlogh laughed fiercely as the jagged remnant gashed his
cheek, and at the same instant he cut Thorfel's left foot from under
him. The Norseman fell with a heavy crash, then struggled to his
knees, clawing for his dagger. His eyes were clouded.

"Make an end, curse you!" he snarled.

Turlogh laughed. "Where is your power and your glory now?" he
taunted. "You who would have for unwilling wife an Irish princess--you--"

Suddenly his hate strangled him, and with a howl like a maddened
panther he swung his ax in a whistling arc that cleft the Norseman
from shoulder to breastbone. Another stroke severed the head, and with
the grisly trophy in his hand he approached the couch where lay Moira
O'Brien. The priest had lifted her head and held a goblet of wine to
her pale lips. Her cloudy gray eyes rested with slight recognition of
Turlogh--but it seemed at last she knew him and she tried to smile.

"Moira, blood of my heart," said the outlaw heavily, "you die in a
strange land. But the birds in the Culland hills will weep for you,
and the heather will sigh in vain for the tread of your little feet.
But you shall not be forgotten; axes shall drip for you and for you
shall galleys crash and walled cities go up in flames. And that your
ghost go not unassuaged into the realms of Tir-na-n-Oge, behold this
token of vengeance!"

And he held forth the dripping head of Thorfel.

"In God's name, my son," said the priest, his voice husky with
horror, "have done--have done. Will you do your ghastly deeds in the
very presence of--see, she is dead. May God in His infinite justice
have mercy on her soul, for though she took her own life, yet she died
as she lived, in innocence and purity."

Turlogh dropped his ax-head to the floor and his head was bowed.
All the fire of his madness had left him and there remained only a
dark sadness, a deep sense of futility and weariness. Over all the
hall there was no sound. No groans of the wounded were raised, for the
knives of the little dark men had been at work, and save their own,
there were no wounded. Turlogh sensed that the survivors had gathered
about the statue on the table and now stood looking at him with
inscrutable eyes. The priest mumbled over the body of the girl,
telling his beads. Flames ate at the farther wall of the building, but
none heeded it. Then from among the dead on the floor a huge form
heaved up unsteadily. Athelstane the Saxon, overlooked by the killers,
leaned against the wall and stared about dazedly. Blood flowed from a
wound in his ribs and another in his scalp where Turlogh's ax had
struck glancingly.

The Gael walked over to him. "I have no hatred for you, Saxon,"
said he, heavily, "but blood calls for blood and you must die."

Athelstane looked at him without an answer. His large gray eyes
were serious, but without fear. He too was a barbarian--more pagan
than Christian; he too realized the rights of the blood-feud. But as
Turlogh raised his ax, the priest sprang between, his thin hands
outstretched, his eyes haggard.

"Have done! In God's name I command you! Almighty Powers, has not
enough blood been shed this fearful night? In the name of the Most
High, I claim this man."

Turlogh dropped his ax. "He is yours; not for your oath or your
curse, not for your creed but for that you too are a man and did your
best for Moira."

A touch on his arm made Turlogh turn. The chief of the strangers
stood regarding him with inscrutable eyes.

"Who are you?" asked the Gael idly. He did not care; he felt only

"I am Brogar, chief of the Picts, Friend of the Dark Man."

"Why do you call me that?" asked Turlogh.

"He rode in the bows of your boat and guided you to Helni through
wind and snow. He saved your life when he broke the great sword of the

Turlogh glanced at the brooding Dark One. It seemed there must be
human or superhuman intelligence behind those strange stone eyes. Was
it chance alone that caused Tostig's sword to strike the image as he
swung it in a death blow?

"What is this thing?" asked the Gael.

"It is the only God we have left," answered the other somberly.
"It is the image of our greatest king, Bran Mak Morn, he who gathered
the broken lines of the Pictish tribes into a single mighty nation, he
who drove forth the Norseman and Briton and shattered the legions of
Rome, centuries ago. A wizard made this statue while the great Morni
yet lived and reigned, and when he died in the last great battle, his
spirit entered into it. It is our god.

"Ages ago we ruled. Before the Dane, before the Gael, before the
Briton, before the Roman, we reigned in the western isles. Our stone
circles rose to the sun. We worked in flint and hides and were happy.
Then came the Celts and drove us into the wilderness. They held the
southland. But we throve in the north and were strong. Rome broke the
Britons and came against us. But there rose among us Bran Mak Morn, of
the blood of Brule the Spear-slayer, the friend of King Kull of
Valusia who reigned thousands of years ago before Atlantis sank. Bran
became king of all Caledon. He broke the iron ranks of Rome and sent
the legions cowering south behind their Wall.

"Bran Mak Morn fell in battle; the nation fell apart. Civil wars
rocked it. The Gaels came and reared the kingdom of Dalriadia above
the ruins of the Cruithni. When the Scot Kenneth McAlpine broke the
kingdom of Galloway, the last remnant of the Pictish empire faded like
snow on the mountains. Like wolves we live now among the scattered
islands, among the crags of the highlands and the dim hills of
Galloway. We are a fading people. We pass. But the Dark Man remains--the
Dark One, the great king, Bran Mak Morn, whose ghost dwells
forever in the stone likeness of his living self."

As in a dream Turlogh saw an ancient Pict who looked much like the
one in whose dead arms he had found the Dark Man, lift the image from
the table. The old man's arms were thin as withered branches and his
skin clung to his skull like a mummy's, but he handled with ease the
image that two strong Vikings had had trouble in carrying.

As if reading his thoughts, Brogar spoke softly: "Only a friend
may with safety touch the Dark One. We knew you to be a friend, for he
rode in your boat and did you no harm."

"How know you this?"

"The Old One," pointing to the white-bearded ancient, "Gonar, high
priest of the Dark One--the ghost of Bran comes to him in dreams. It
was Grok, the lesser priest and his people who stole the image and
took to sea in a long boat. In dreams Gonar followed; aye, as he slept
he sent his spirit with the ghost of the Morni, and he saw the pursuit
by the Danes, the battle and slaughter on the Isle of Swords. He saw
you come and find the Dark One, and he saw that the ghost of the great
king was pleased with you. Woe to the foes of Mak Morn! But good luck
shall fare the friends of him."

Turlogh came to himself as from a trance. The heat of the burning
hall was in his face and the flickering flames lit and shadowed the
carven face of the Dark Man as his worshippers bore him from the
building, lending it a strange life. Was it, in truth, that the spirit
of a long-dead king lived in that cold stone? Bran Mak Morn loved his
people with a savage love; he hated their foes with a terrible hate.
Was it possible to breathe into inanimate blind stone a pulsating love
and hate that should outlast the centuries?

Turlogh lifted the still, slight form of the dead girl and bore
her out of the flaming hall. Five long open boats lay at anchor, and
scattered about the embers of the fires the carles had lit, lay the
reddened corpses of the revelers who had died silently.

"How stole ye upon these undiscovered?" asked Turlogh. "And whence
came you in those open boats?"

"The stealth of the panther is theirs who live by stealth,"
answered the Pict. "And these were drunken. We followed the path of
the Dark One and we came hither from the Isle of Altar, near the
Scottish mainland, from whence Grok stole the Dark Man."

Turlogh knew no island of that name but he did realize the courage
of these men in daring the seas in boats such as these. He thought of
his own boat and requested Brogar to send some of his men for it. The
Pict did so. While he waited for them to bring it around the point, he
watched the priest bandaging the wounds of the survivors. Silent,
immobile, they spoke no word either of complaint or thanks.

The fisherman's boat came scudding around the point just as the
first hint of sunrise reddened the waters. The Picts were getting into
their boats, lifting in the dead and wounded. Turlogh stepped into his
boat and gently eased his pitiful burden down.

"She shall sleep in her own land," he said somberly. "She shall
not lie in this cold foreign isle. Brogar, whither go you?"

"We take the Dark One back to his isle and his altar," said the
Pict. "Through the mouth of his people he thanks you. The tie of blood
is between us, Gael, and mayhap we shall come to you again in your
need, as Bran Mak Morn, great king of Pictdom, shall come again to his
people some day in the days to come."

"And you, good Jerome? You will come with me?"

The priest shook his head and pointed to Athelstane. The wounded
Saxon reposed on a rude couch made of skins piled on the snow.

"I stay here to attend this man. He is sorely wounded."

Turlogh looked about. The walls of the skalli had crashed into a
mass of glowing embers. Brogar's men had set fire to the storehouses
and the long galley, and the smoke and flame vied luridly with the
growing morning light.

"You will freeze or starve. Come with me."

"I will find sustenance for us both. Persuade me not, my son."

"He is a pagan and a reaver."

"No matter. He is a human--a living creature. I will not leave him
to die."

"So be it."

Turlogh prepared to cast off. The boats of the Picts were already
rounding the point. The rhythmic clacks of their oar-locks came
clearly to him. They looked not back, bending stolidly to their work.

He glanced at the stiff corpses about the beach, at the charred
embers of the skalli and the glowing timbers of the galley. In the
glare the priest seemed unearthly in his thinness and whiteness, like
a saint from some old illuminated manuscript. In his worn pallid face
was a more than human sadness, a greater than human weariness.

"Look!" he cried suddenly, pointing seaward. "The ocean is of
blood! See how it swims red in the rising sun! Oh my people, my
people, the blood you have spilt in anger turns the very seas to
scarlet! How can you win through?"

"I came in the snow and sleet," said Turlogh, not understanding at
first. "I go as I came."

The priest shook his head. "It is more than a mortal sea. Your
hands are red with blood and you follow a red sea-path, yet the fault
is not wholly with you. Almighty God, when will the reign of blood

Turlogh shook his head. "Not so long as the race lasts."

The morning wind caught and filled his sail. Into the west he
raced like a shadow fleeing the dawn. And so passed Turlogh Dubh
O'Brien from the sight of the priest Jerome, who stood watching,
shading his weary brow with his thin hand, until the boat was a tiny
speck far out on the tossing wastes of the blue ocean.


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