Back | Next

Among the hideous creatures in Pellucidar, ERB’s world at the earth’s core, are the Sagoths, which the Emperor (David Innes) describes as “barely sapient gorillas.” Leave it to bestseller Mercedes Lackey to come up with a tale of Pellucidar that is narrated by, of all things, a Sagoth—and a Sagoth that possesses all the hopes and emotions of any of its human counterparts. So join her as she relates the story of Mirina, known as The One Who Fell.


The Fallen

A Tale of Pellucidar

decorative divider

Mercedes Lackey

I am Mok, son of . . . well, I do not know who my father was. My mother was named Lur, but there are many Lurs among the Sagoth that I grew up among, and I doubt that I could single her out were she to stand before me now.

Oh yes, I am a Sagoth. Surprised? Shocked that such as I, of a race that, as a whole, can barely reckon up the fingers and toes, a race that the Emperor calls “barely sapient gorillas,” should be writing this? I can tell you, not nearly as shocked as the Emperor was when I was brought before him. His friend, Abner Perry, thinks that I am the result of some meddling by the Mahar, and I am not inclined to argue with him. The Mahar were wont to meddle in the breeding of the lesser creatures, trying to make humans fatter and more docile, for instance, so why not meddle to make my kind fit for more than understanding a few orders at best? Abner Perry calls me the Pythagoras of my kind. I think he is greatly mistaken, but then again, compared to my fellows, perhaps I am.

This makes me lonely. I do not find the females of the human kind to be attractive, and it would be a strange human female who would yearn for me, yet the females of my own breed, while drawing me to them with their broad jaws and hairy bosoms, repulse me at the same time with their stupidity. So Loneliness is an old and familiar companion, and perhaps that is why I was fit to play the part that I did—

But I am ahead of myself, and this is not my story. It is the story of Mirina, the One Who Fell. So let me begin the tale at its true beginning.

It was a perfectly ordinary day in the land of Thuria, the Land of Awful Shadow—the only place in all of this world that has anything like darkness, because of the great orb that the Emperor, David Innes, calls a “moon” that hangs between Thuria and the source of our light. My friend Kolk, the son of Goork, who is King of the Thurians, and I were out upon the water with Kolk’s son Dek. This might seem strange, since the waters of this world teem with terrible beasts, but Abner Perry had invented a boat he called a “whaler” and a weapon he called a “harpoon gun,” and we were afire to test it. One day I will tell the story of how I came to be friends with Kolk and saved his son’s life, but that is not today.

Suffice it to say that we were on the water with Perry’s gun, and things were not going well for the great beasts of the waters. We had just dispatched our third, when a flash of light in the sky above us caught our eyes.

It came again, and we could see it was something white . . . winged, like a Mahar or thipdar, but not so big, and the wings were oddly made. It was not flying, it was falling—or rather, falling, then flailing with its wings as if trying to save itself, then falling again. The effect was somehow one of piteousness, helplessness— so much so that I think we were all moved by compassion at the same time. I do not know how that came to be, but I do know that the three of us, as one and without any consultation, turned our vessel toward the place where we thought the thing would fall and made all haste to be there when it landed.

We had not quite reached the spot when the creature—which we could see now looked like a human with wings!—gave a last convulsive attempt to save itself and plunged into the water.

Dek was over the side in a moment. He has long spent as much time with the peoples of the islands as with his own folk and is as much at home in the water as he is on the back of a lidi. We were roped for safety to the boat, of course—something I insisted on, since I swim like a stone—so when he plunged over the side, I made haste to seize his rope and play it out so it did not snag and pull him up short. In no time he had reached the floating figure and was pulling it back through the water. But such commotion was bound to attract unwelcome guests.

And of course it did.

I saw it first, the hump rising above the waves as the thing moved swiftly toward us. I shouted and pointed with my chin, my hands and great strength busy hauling Dek and his burden in as fast as I could. There are many times when it is good to be a Sagoth, and this was one.

Kolk also did not hesitate. He sprang to Perry’s gun, armed it with one of the harpoons that did not have a rope attached to it, and fired into the bulk of the beast before it could submerge and come up beneath his son.

The goal must have been to distract it from its quarry, and if so, the ploy worked.

A nightmare head, all jaws and teeth, broke the surface. Its neck was not long enough to permit it to bite at the iron harpoon impaling its side, so, after a futile attempt, it turned its fury on the boat.

By now Dek was aboard and pulling the fallen creature aboard with him—no easy feat, since the creature’s long wings were impeding his progress. He no longer needed me, so I rushed to the other weapon aboard this little ship—the real cannon, a six-pounder, which I had insisted on being left charged. Not all the natives of the islands are friendly, and not all the beasts of the water could be dispatched with a harpoon.

As jaws twice as long as a human is tall opened to close on the prow of the ship, I turned that cannon into them and touched the match to the powder.

By good luck, my aim was true. I sent the ball crashing into what passed for the monster’s brain, as well as shattering half of its jaw. It gave a terrific screech that deafened us, thrashed its whole body (barely missing the prow again) and sank into the depths.

Now we could turn to help Dek haul the winged stranger aboard.

I expected something like a stunted Mahar, or some other freak like myself. I imagine the others were assuming the same. Picture our shock to discover that it was a winged human, and a girl!

She was slender, scarcely half the height or weight of a typical woman of Sari or Thuria. Her hair was long, and hung down her back in a single tail I was to learn was called a “braid,” and pale as the moonflower. Her wings were not naked and webbed like those of the Mahar and thipdar; instead they were covered with things that appeared to be large feathers, like a bird. Strangest of all, she was wearing not a garment of leather, but one of some other substance, more light and flexible than any leather I have ever seen. In fact, it was like the coverings that David Innes and Abner and the other men of the outer world sometimes wear. David had told me that this stuff was called “cloth.”

We had never seen such a strange creature in all our lives.

I thought at first the fall had killed her, but Dek cried out that she was breathing, and we must get water. I was a little afraid—there was no telling what manner of fair-faced monster this girl might be—but I obeyed. I went to the stern and got one of our waterskins and brought to it to him just as the girl opened eyes of a color of blue I have never seen before nor since.

She gasped on seeing Dek, and her face went white, then red, then white again. Dek for his part was oblivious to this and merely seized the waterskin from me and urged her to drink.

This she did, as the pulse in her throat fluttered and I heard in my head that which I had never expected to hear from something shaped like a human—the soundless speech of the Mahar!

Do you not know me? How can you not know me?

Her words were addressed to Dek, not to me, but I was the one to answer. He is Dek, son of Kolk, and we have never seen a thing like you before, I replied, a little sternly—because if Mahar speech came from this creature, then it must know the Mahar, and converse with them. And that meant it might be an enemy, an agent of those awful creatures that feed on human and Sagoth and regard us as we regard insects.

Startled, she turned her head to stare at me. I saw nothing in her face to indicate subterfuge, only bewilderment and fear, and something I could not read, then. But he has been in my dreams all of my life! How can he not know me? Why does he not speak to me himself?

I softened my tone, though I remained stern. Clearly she did not know my kind, for she showed no surprise that I could speak beyond simple words. He is a human, and he cannot hear the speech of the Mahar. What are you, and where have you come from, and what do you intend here?

At the mention of the Mahar she turned paler than before, if that was possible. Dek was glancing from her to me and back again, sensing something was going on between us, but not able to hear it himself. “What’s going on, Mok?” he demanded.

“Somehow this girl-creature speaks the speech of the Mahar,” I explained. “I am questioning her.” At that both Dek and his father held their peace.

Faced with my intimidating face and stern voice, the girl trembled, but answered my questions unflinchingly, and I pieced together her story. And if I had not spent the majority of my life in the company of the Emperor and Abner Perry, who found me as a child, I would never have believed it.

“She comes from there,” I said, nodding upwards with my head to that thing that loomed above us, that Innes and Perry called a “moon.” Dek gaped but did not look as if he disbelieved me. Kolk shook his head but did not interrupt. “She says that as we have driven the Mahar from here, it is there that they have fled to. Her people have seen them, streaming to the surface from what she calls ‘the land above’ in a vast migration. There were always some, but now there are legions more.”

“But how did she get h—” Dek began, then flushed with embarrassment when he remembered her wings.

“She says she was pursued by a Mahar, and determined to die rather than be taken,” I related. “She had no expectation of reaching here—and did not want to, since her people regard the land above with terror, as the place from which the Mahar are coming. She knew that the higher she flew, the colder she would become, and she expected to die from it. But instead, at some point, she reached a place where the land no longer called to her from below, and our land called to her from above . . .” I rubbed my head at this point, because the girl’s thoughts were as confused as to this point as mine, and were mostly full of how cold it had been. “Then she began to fall, but toward us, not toward her home. As she grew warmer, she tried to fly again, but succeeded only in checking her fall. The rest you know.”

I said nothing of what she had said of Dek. Instead, I turned back to her. Can you hear the sounds we make when our mouths move? I asked.

She answered in the affirmative, but her hands fluttered at her throat. We do not make such noises, my people. So she was mute but not deaf.

You had best learn how to understand the noises then, I told her, for I am the only one who can speak to you in this way—or at least, the only one who is not a beast that would probably kill you. “She cannot speak aloud,” I added. “So I suppose I will have to stay with her for now.”

Dek’s face showed his relief. “Well, good. I cannot imagine anyone I trust more with such a task.”

Kolk finally spoke. “It is good that the Emperor and Perry are here,” he said. “Surely they will know what to do with her.”

And so it was decided. We would take her to the Emperor. And at some point as we sailed the whale-boat back to shore, it was also decided that we would call her Mirina.

David Innes was intrigued, and delayed his departure by some sleeps in order to study the girl—once she recovered, that is. She had taken a terrible fall, after an even more terrible journey from her world to ours, and she was some time in growing better.

In some ways, she did not grow better at all. I understood this, and so, I think, did Innes. We have both grown used to being the only ones of our kind among strangers. I could see the loneliness growing in Mirina’s eyes, and a desperation as she came to understand that Dek really had no notion she had ever dreamed of him once, much less many thousands of times.

Yes, thousands, for it seems that they sleep up there in the sky, much more often than we do. And not just when they grow weary, but are asleep as much as they are awake. Innes says this is because they have something called time, because their world turns so that half of it is always in darkness and half in light, and that life is like that on the Outer World where he is from. This has always seemed so strange as to make my thoughts spin, but I can look at the moon above us and see it turning, so I know this to be true. Our timelessness troubled the girl, though not as much as her loneliness, and another thing of which I will tell you.

When she finally grew well enough, she made the attempt to fly, only to find she could not even raise herself a little bit above the ground. Her wings beat gallantly against the air, yet nothing happened.

This nearly broke her, I think. She collapsed in a heap and covered her face with her hands and her head and body with her wings, and wept soundlessly as her poor, frail little body shook with sobs. She could not understand it. When she tried to speak to me, all she could manage was, So heavy! Why am I so heavy?

It was Perry who explained it, though I did not understand the explanation, and neither did Mirina. Perry said there was something called gravity, which pulls us down to the land, and that the gravity of our land is stronger than the gravity of the moon. He went on at some length, and no one understood it. It was Innes that said, “There is so much more of our land than the land of the moon that it calls to everything upon it with greater strength.” That seemed logical to all of us, and we nodded, though Perry looked at us with disgust and muttered something under his breath.

Mirina then took to two pursuits. One was to spend herself into exhaustion, beating her wings to strengthen them, for after all, the Mahar can fly, and fly to her land, it seems, so eventually she felt she should be able to do the same.

The other was to follow Dek about, when she was not beating her wings.

For his part, he did not mind, although I could see that in his head he regarded her as a charming child, well worth indulging, and not the well-grown woman I knew her to be. He taught her a simple language of hand-signals, he supplied her with a light bow and arrows, which she used to great effect, so they went hunting together. He watched, fascinated, as she demonstrated braiding and weaving. Braiding he found particularly intriguing, especially as it enabled him to keep his long hair out of his face. So he enlisted her help in making his hair controlled . . . and I would watch her face as she did so, and it nearly broke my heart to see how it pleased and hurt her at the same time to give such an intimate service to him. For of course I was always their companion, since I was the only one who understood her.

Why do you torment yourself in this way, with him? I would ask her. And the answer was always the same.

I will be miserable regardless. I would rather be miserable with him, than miserable without him.

So day by day, her wings grew stronger, and she grew sadder. I thought that in the end she would probably try to fly back to her home, and maybe die in the attempt. Maybe? Almost certainly—unless she would gain the help of one of Perry’s gigantic floating bags. Then . . . maybe she could. I wondered if I should tell her about them. Perry had never made another, after nearly killing Dian the Beautiful, the Emperor’s mate and beloved, when one ran away with her. But for this . . . for this he might make one.

Would that be a good thing, or a bad? Because the land does call to us ardently, and I was not at all sure that even with the help of a floating bag that she could escape the call. Even if she did, there would be the return to her own land, up there in the sky, and the Mahar that were living there and preying on her people. A perilous plummet that would be, even with stronger wings than she had before.

But before I could make up my mind whether to tell her or no, events were taken from my hands.

It happened, after the Emperor had left us to return to his land and mate, and Perry with him, satisfied with how well his boat had turned out, that Dek and I were out on one of those selfsame boats, with Mirina with us also, and three other men of Thuria. This time we were hunting in earnest, for the purpose of clearing the waters and making them safe to navigate for the canoes of our island allies. Mirina, light as she was, with her wings to help her balance, had a perch on the top of the mast and was serving as our scout.

We had just dispatched one of the great sea-creatures with surprisingly little bloodshed, our harpoon having gone through its head from eye-socket to eye-socket. Seeing an opportunity, we brought it quickly alongside and tied it there, making sure that no fluids leaked into the water to attract others of its kind. There was much good meat on such a beast, and the bones, the skin, all were of immense use to us. Even the ribs could be used to form the ribs of a boat. We had used such when they washed ashore, but now we had an opportunity to bring one home intact and not half-rotten.

So intent were we that we paid no attention to our surroundings until finally a shrill whistle from above penetrated the noise we were making as we worked. Several of us looked up.

Mirina was blowing on the alarm-whistle that Dek had made her from a bit of hollow bone and frantically gesturing to the stern.

And we saw it. One of the terrible, unpredictable storms, coming straight at us.

It killed us to do so, but we straightway cut the big carcass loose—though as the others sawed at the ropes, I took care to remove the fins and stow them belowdecks with our water. Mirina half-slid, half-fluttered down out the mast, for when that wind hit, she, with her wings, would be the most vulnerable of us all. Then we put on full sail to try to outrun it and get into shelter in the lee of one of our ally-islands.

But the storm was coming on too fast. Seeing this, Dek sent Mirina to huddle in the storage belowdecks, dropped all sail, and sent out the sea-anchor. He ordered all of us to rope ourselves to the boat, and just in time.

I cannot tell you how long the storm lasted. Dek and I stood at the tiller and kept her nose into the waves. The other three huddled down as best they could. Perry and that strange cannibalistic fellow who was so good at boat-building had sworn this craft could weather any storm, but I had never seen a storm such as this. I do know that it drove us right out of the Shadow and well into the part of the ocean where all is light very quickly, for the sky, which had been black, lightened into a sullen gray, and so it stayed.

It is good that we had my strength. I do not think Dek could have held the tiller steady without it. It is good that the ship had a tiller carved of the keelbone of a great sea-beast, for it was flexible and did not snap. Several times, a slender, white arm came from below the deck between us, at a little hatch, and Dek would stoop and take what Mirina offered—dried fish, dried meat, a waterskin. If we had not had those, I think we would have perished. The other men crawled to us and shared what Mirina sent up to us, then huddled down at our feet.

Then came a terrible moment, when a wave as tall as a mountain towered over us, blotting out the sky. The other men stared at it in horror as it threatened to fall upon us. But Dek and I held the tiller steady, and the sea-anchor held, and we somehow climbed the near-vertical face of that dreadful water, hovered for a moment on the peak, then slid down the other side with a speed that stole the breath from my body and made my heart stand still.

And that was the worst of the storm. Not long after, we got into a place of calmer winds, huge swells rather than waves, rain and lightning.

Dek was exhausted. He trembled as he stood there. I assured him I could hold the tiller while he slept, which of course I could and did, and he fell down with the others, pulling the canvas of the sail over the lot of them to shelter them a bit from the rain.

Mirina crept out from belowdecks. She was soaked, of course, from the times when she had opened the hatch, but she did not appear to feel the cold. She had brought me a great piece of fin, all meat and fat, which I devoured and did me much good.

Do you know where we are? she asked me.

“Not in the least,” I answered aloud. “But this ship has that compass thing fastened in that box on the prow.” I pointed with my chin, not wanting to let go of the tiller. “The prow would have to crack off before we lost it, and if that happened, we would be in such straits that losing the compass would be the least of our worries.”

My home is there,—she said, and pointed up and to our stern. I can feel it. So if we go that way, we will come to the Shadow and all will be well with you.

Well! That was useful. I knew, of course, that every human and most Sagoth, when on land, know exactly where the land of his birth is—and also any land he has visited in person. It is something born in us, but we lose it on the water. The natives of the islands can tell you each where his own island is as well, though they are lost on the land. But it seemed this child of the air was not lost, neither on land, nor on water. And she was right. If we followed where she pointed, we would come to the Shadow of her world and be home. Thus it would not matter even if we lost the compass.

I confess that I was much cheered by this, and restored by the food and this knowledge, I held course through the rain and thunder until at last the storm died and the men awoke. Then I imparted what Mirina had told me to Dek.

By now we could see we were deep among the islands. The moon was not visible; it must have been hidden behind one or more of them. These islands towered around us, looking like what Innes and Perry had told us they were, the tops of submerged mountains. We recognized none of them, and reckoned ourselves lucky that caution on my part had caused me to insist that we had sailed with water belowdecks enough for many sleeps. Food we could catch with our harpoon, and by fishing, but water . . .

Before I slept myself, I helped Dek haul in the sea-anchor and stow it, helped the men to rig the sail, and got the boat turned about and pointed in the direction Mirina wished us to go—which agreed with the compass.

We knew we were not out of peril yet. There are many strange races living on the islands. Some are peaceful and friendly. Some are wary and hostile.

And some are deadly.

Also, there were the great beasts of the sea.

No, we were by no means celebrating, except in that we celebrated going down the throat of the storm and coming out alive.

I flung myself down on the deck and slept, as Dek and the others made for home.

It was Dek kicking me in the ribs that woke me. A quick glance at the hurried preparations for combat told me why.

“Astern,” Dek said, briefly, and took the tiller.

Now, the good thing about being a sailing ship with only four rowers is that most of the time the rowers do not need to work; the wind does it all for you. The bad thing about being a sailing ship with only four rowers is that when you are being overtaken by a dozen islander canoes of the sort with the pods on the side, and the wind is scarcely a breeze, then you know that the canoes are going to win this race. We Thurians did not know many folk with that sort of canoes—only one of our island allies had such, and these were too far to be our allies.

I glanced up. Mirina was hanging quiver after quiver full of arrows on the top of the mast at her usual perch. Good. She would be able to stay out of reach, at least until they swarmed us. What would happen to her then . . .

I got my sword and my club, and a tiny shield I fastened on my wrist. I was of little use with distance weapons. The rest armed themselves with their guns—alas, we had not brought much ammunition for them, since they were all but useless against the sea-beasts—and put spears, bows, and their swords at their sides in readiness. We turned to face the foe. There was no point in trying to race them, and our harpoon gun and cannon faced forward. We might as well use them while we could.

As soon as the first canoe was in range, we fired the cannon. It was both a lucky and a good shot; it hit the canoe squarely, and the thing exploded in flying splinters and falling bodies.

That took our foes aback; we could see them gesturing to one another vehemently, and the paddlers slowed or stopped. But they must have been made of stern stuff; before long the paddlers dug their oars into the water, and they came at us again.

But of course this had given us plenty of time to reload and aim, and the second shot hit another canoe before they had gotten properly underway. This time our attack was met with fierce howls of rage.

We got off two more shots, both scoring direct hits, before we knew there would be no time to reload for a fifth. But now they were in harpoon range, and Dek ran to that gun, taking careful aim before firing.

It was a terrible sight.

The harpoon not only struck the man he had been aiming for, it passed through him and impaled the second man in the canoe as well. Dek had used one of the harpoons that had no line fastened to it, as those were more accurate, so the two men thrashed together, screaming and bleeding, before they finally fell overboard, still pinned together.

This only enraged the attackers, but Dek managed to get off a second harpoon before they were on us.

But we had narrowed the odds against us, somewhat. There had been a dozen canoes, with two men to each; the cannon had taken four, and the harpoon one. That left but seven, with fourteen men to our four, plus Mirina, though to be honest, I did not think she would be of much use.

We began to hurl spears, but those were deflected by the bark shields the men put up as they came alongside. We four put our backs to the mast and prepared to fight as we were surrounded by canoes and their occupants swarmed the sides of the boat.

A strange sound came to my ears as they screamed and boarded us. I looked up. It was Mirina. She was flying!

Hovering, rather, using what little wind there was to help her stay aloft. And with a grim look upon her face, she was carefully sighting and loosing her arrows down into the mob around us.

Her bow was light, and her arrows, perforce, were just big enough to take down birds or hare. They were hardly man-killers, unless she got off a lucky shot.

But they were man-cripplers.

And she had the advantage of height and the knowledge that even if one of them got past us and up the mast, he could not reach her. She could take her time sighting, and pick her target—their arms, their necks, their heads. One arrow in a bicep made it hard to wield the club-like, shell-edged wooden swords they were using. Two made it almost impossible. They could not use their shields to protect themselves from her arrows without opening themselves to our swords.

But I could not watch her further, as we were fighting for our lives.

It was hard, bloody work.

Those curved, bark shields were effective. I had never seen the like. They were light, and flexible, so when you hit them, your blow rebounded, giving the man or one of his fellows a chance to strike at you while you were still recovering from what had happened. If it had not been for Mirina, I think we would have lost.

But her steady firing weakened the enemy. Shields drooped, giving us openings; men found their swords dropping from nerveless fingers. We were bleeding from a hundred shallow cuts, but they could not manage a fatal blow, while we slowly took them down, one at a time.

Finally someone realized that they were but five to our four, and the little archer above was showing no signs of running out of arrows. One of them yelled, and the remainder retreated to their canoes, cutting them loose and pushing off. In very little time, they were but specks in the distance.

Mirina dropped to the deck of the boat, heedless of the blood, spent.

She collapsed there, wings sprawling, body heaving with pants and shuddering with the pounding of her heart. Dek ran to her, seizing a waterskin on the way, and cradled her in his arms, putting it to her lips.

She had not even the strength left to drink, so he used a little of the water to gently bathe her face.

For a moment I feared that she had overtasked her strength, defending us, and that her frail heart would fail.

But then she took a deep and shuddering breath, and looked up at Dek. And that was when I saw it happen, when he looked at her for the first time, and saw, not the strange birdlike creature, nor the seeming-child. He looked at her and saw the woman in the slender body, and looked on her, not as a man looks on a child, but as a man looks on a woman.

She saw it, too, and her eyes widened. Her hands started to move in that language of signs, but he forestalled anything she might have “said” by kissing her.

Well, that is all that there is to the tale. The rest was commonplace; we heaved the bodies of our unknown enemies overboard, cleaned the decks of blood, and tied the captured canoes behind us, for they were exceptionally well-made, and more than made up for the loss of the sea-beast. The wind finally rose in our favor. Between the compass and Mirina’s inner sense, we returned to our own shores, and Dek presented Mirina to his father as his mate. Nor did Kolk appear displeased with this.

And as for me . . . well, this tale has given me new hope. For if a man of Thuria can have his mate fall from the sky to him, a mate half-bird and half-girl, then surely there can be a mate out there for me.

After all, what in Pellucidar is less likely—a female Sagoth as intelligent as I—or a girl with wings?

left-facing decorationENDright-facing decoration

Back | Next