The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save For Sacnoth
by Lord Dunsany
In a wood older than record, a foster brother of the hills, stood
the village of Allathurion; and there was peace between the people
of that village and all the folk who walked in the dark ways of the
wood, whether they were human or of the tribes of the beasts or of
the race of the fairies and the elves and the little sacred spirits
of trees and streams. Moreover, the village people had peace among
themselves and between them and their lord, Lorendiac. In front of
the village was a wide and grassy space, and beyond this the great
wood again, but at the back the trees came right up to the houses,
which, with their great beams and wooden framework and thatched
roofs, green with moss, seemed almost to be a part of the forest.
Now in the time I tell of, there was trouble in Allathurion, for of
an evening fell dreams were wont to come slipping through the tree
trunks and into the peaceful village; and they assumed dominion of
men's minds and led them in watches of the night through the cindery
plains of Hell. Then the magician of that village made spells
against those fell dreams; yet still the dreams came flitting
through the trees as soon as the dark had fallen, and led men's
minds by night into terrible places and caused them to praise Satan
openly with their lips.
And men grew afraid of sleep in Allathurion. And they grew worn and
pale, some through the want of rest, and others from fear of the
things they saw on the cindery plains of Hell.
Then the magician of the village went up into the tower of his
house, and all night long those whom fear kept awake could see his
window high up in the night glowing softly alone. The next day, when
the twilight was far gone and night was gathering fast, the magician
went away to the forest's edge, and uttered there the spell that he
had made. And the spell was a compulsive, terrible thing, having a
power over evil dreams and over spirits of ill; for it was a verse
of forty lines in many languages, both living and dead, and had in
it the word wherewith the people of the plains are wont to curse
their camels, and the shout wherewith the whalers of the north lure
the whales shoreward to be killed, and a word that causes elephants
to trumpet; and every one of the forty lines closed with a rhyme for
And still the dreams came flitting through the forest, and led men's
souls into the plains of Hell. Then the magician knew that the
dreams were from Gaznak. Therefore he gathered the people of the
village, and told them that he had uttered his mightiest spell—a
spell having power over all that were human or of the tribes of the
beasts; and that since it had not availed the dreams must come from
Gaznak, the greatest magician among the spaces of the stars. And he
read to the people out of the Book of Magicians, which tells the
comings of the comet and foretells his coming again. And he told
them how Gaznak rides upon the comet, and how he visits Earth once
in every two hundred and thirty years, and makes for himself a vast,
invincible fortress and sends out dreams to feed on the minds of
men, and may never be vanquished but by the sword Sacnoth.
And a cold fear fell on the hearts of the villagers when they found
that their magician had failed them.
Then spake Leothric, son of the Lord Lorendiac, and twenty years old
was he: 'Good Master, what of the sword Sacnoth?'
And the village magician answered: 'Fair Lord, no such sword as yet
is wrought, for it lies as yet in the hide of Tharagavverug,
protecting his spine.'
Then said Leothric: 'Who is Tharagavverug, and where may he be
And the magician of Allathurion answered: 'He is the dragon-crocodile
who haunts the Northern marshes and ravages the homesteads
by their marge. And the hide of his back is of steel, and his under
parts are of iron; but along the midst of his back, over his spine,
there lies a narrow strip of unearthly steel. This strip of steel is
Sacnoth, and it may be neither cleft nor molten, and there is
nothing in the world that may avail to break it, nor even leave a
scratch upon its surface. It is of the length of a good sword, and
of the breadth thereof. Shouldst thou prevail against Tharagavverug,
his hide may be melted away from Sacnoth in a furnace; but there is
only one thing that may sharpen Sacnoth's edge, and this is one of
Tharagavverug's own steel eyes; and the other eye thou must fasten
to Sacnoth's hilt, and it will watch for thee. But it is a hard task
to vanquish Tharagavverug, for no sword can pierce his hide; his
back cannot be broken, and he can neither burn nor drown. In one way
only can Tharagavverug die, and that is by starving.'
Then sorrow fell upon Leothric, but the magician spoke on:
'If a man drive Tharagavverug away from his food with a stick for
three days, he will starve on the third day at sunset. And though he
is not vulnerable, yet in one spot he may take hurt, for his nose is
only of lead. A sword would merely lay bare the uncleavable bronze
beneath, but if his nose be smitten constantly with a stick he will
always recoil from the pain, and thus may Tharagavverug, to left and
right, be driven away from his food.'
Then Leothric said: 'What is Tharagavverug's food?'
And the magician of Allathurion said: 'His food is men.'
But Leothric went straightway thence, and cut a great staff from a
hazel tree, and slept early that evening. But the next morning,
awaking from troubled dreams, he arose before the dawn, and, taking
with him provisions for five days, set out through the forest
northwards towards the marshes. For some hours he moved through the
gloom of the forest, and when he emerged from it the sun was above
the horizon shining on pools of water in the waste land. Presently
he saw the claw-marks of Tharagavverug deep in the soil, and the
track of his tail between them like a furrow in a field. Then
Leothric followed the tracks till he heard the bronze heart of
Tharagavverug before him, booming like a bell.
And Tharagavverug, it being the hour when he took the first meal of
the day, was moving towards a village with his heart tolling. And
all the people of the village were come out to meet him, as it was
their wont to do; for they abode not the suspense of awaiting
Tharagavverug and of hearing him sniffing brazenly as he went from
door to door, pondering slowly in his metal mind what habitant he
should choose. And none dared to flee, for in the days when the
villagers fled from Tharagavverug, he, having chosen his victim,
would track him tirelessly, like a doom. Nothing availed them
against Tharagavverug. Once they climbed the trees when he came, but
Tharagavverug went up to one, arching his back and leaning over
slightly, and rasped against the trunk until it fell. And when
Leothric came near, Tharagavverug saw him out of one of his small
steel eyes and came towards him leisurely, and the echoes of his
heart swirled up through his open mouth. And Leothric stepped
sideways from his onset, and came between him and the village and
smote him on the nose, and the blow of the stick made a dint in the
soft lead. And Tharagavverug swung clumsily away, uttering one
fearful cry like the sound of a great church bell that had become
possessed of a soul that fluttered upward from the tombs at night—an
evil soul, giving the bell a voice. Then he attacked Leothric,
snarling, and again Leothric leapt aside, and smote him on the nose
with his stick. Tharagavverug uttered like a bell howling. And
whenever the dragon-crocodile attacked him, or turned towards the
village, Leothric smote him again.
So all day long Leothric drove the monster with a stick, and he drove
him farther and farther from his prey, with his heart tolling
angrily and his voice crying out for pain.
Towards evening Tharagavverug ceased to snap at Leothric, but ran
before him to avoid the stick, for his nose was sore and shining;
and in the gloaming the villagers came out and danced to cymbal and
psaltery. When Tharagavverug heard the cymbal and psaltery, hunger
and anger came upon him, and he felt as some lord might feel who was
held by force from the banquet in his own castle and heard the
creaking spit go round and round and the good meat crackling on it.
And all that night he attacked Leothric fiercely, and oft-times
nearly caught him in the darkness; for his gleaming eyes of steel
could see as well by night as by day. And Leothric gave ground
slowly till the dawn, and when the light came they were near the
village again; yet not so near to it as they had been when they
encountered, for Leothric drove Tharagavverug farther in the day
than Tharagavverug had forced him back in the night. Then Leothric
drove him again with his stick till the hour came when it was the
custom of the dragon-crocodile to find his man. One third of his man
he would eat at the time he found him, and the rest at noon and
evening. But when the hour came for finding his man a great
fierceness came on Tharagavverug, and he grabbed rapidly at
Leothric, but could not seize him, and for a long while neither of
them would retire. But at last the pain of the stick on his leaden
nose overcame the hunger of the dragon-crocodile, and he turned from
it howling. From that moment Tharagavverug weakened. All that day
Leothric drove him with his stick, and at night both held their
ground; and when the dawn of the third day was come the heart of
Tharagavverug beat slower and fainter. It was as though a tired man
was ringing a bell. Once Tharagavverug nearly seized a frog, but
Leothric snatched it away just in time. Towards noon the
dragon-crocodile lay still for a long while, and Leothric stood near
him and leaned on his trusty stick. He was very tired and sleepless,
but had more leisure now for eating his provisions. With
Tharagavverug the end was coming fast, and in the afternoon his
breath came hoarsely, rasping in his throat. It was as the sound of
many huntsmen blowing blasts on horns, and towards evening his breath
came faster but fainter, like the sound of a hunt going furious to
the distance and dying away, and he made desperate rushes towards
the village; but Leothric still leapt about him, battering his
leaden nose. Scarce audible now at all was the sound of his heart:
it was like a church bell tolling beyond hills for the death of some
one unknown and far away. Then the sun set and flamed in the village
windows, and a chill went over the world, and in some small garden a
woman sang; and Tharagavverug lifted up his head and starved, and
his life went from his invulnerable body, and Leothric lay down
beside him and slept. And later in the starlight the villagers came
out and carried Leothric, sleeping, to the village, all praising him
in whispers as they went. They laid him down upon a couch in a
house, and danced outside in silence, without psaltery or cymbal.
And the next day, rejoicing, to Allathurion they hauled the
dragon-crocodile. And Leothric went with them, holding his battered
staff; and a tall, broad man, who was smith of Allathurion, made a
great furnace, and melted Tharagavverug away till only Sacnoth was
left, gleaming among the ashes. Then he took one of the small eyes
that had been chiselled out, and filed an edge on Sacnoth, and
gradually the steel eye wore away facet by facet, but ere it was
quite gone it had sharpened redoubtably Sacnoth. But the other eye
they set in the butt of the hilt, and it gleamed there bluely.
And that night Leothric arose in the dark and took the sword, and
went westwards to find Gaznak; and he went through the dark forest
till the dawn, and all the morning and till the afternoon. But in
the afternoon he came into the open and saw in the midst of The
Land Where No Man Goeth the fortress of Gaznak, mountainous before
him, little more than a mile away.
And Leothric saw that the land was marsh and desolate. And the
fortress went up all white out of it, with many buttresses, and was
broad below but narrowed higher up, and was full of gleaming
windows with the light upon them. And near the top of it a few white
clouds were floating, but above them some of its pinnacles
reappeared. Then Leothric advanced into the marshes, and the eye of
Tharagavverug looked out warily from the hilt of Sacnoth; for
Tharagavverug had known the marshes well, and the sword nudged
Leothric to the right or pulled him to the left away from the
dangerous places, and so brought him safely to the fortress walls.
And in the wall stood doors like precipices of steel, all studded
with boulders of iron, and above every window were terrible
gargoyles of stone; and the name of the fortress shone on the wall,
writ large in letters of brass: 'The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save
Then Leothric drew and revealed Sacnoth, and all the gargoyles
grinned, and the grin went flickering from face to face right up
into the cloud-abiding gables.
And when Sacnoth was revealed and all the gargoyles grinned, it was
like the moonlight emerging from a cloud to look for the first time
upon a field of blood, and passing swiftly over the wet faces of the
slain that lie together in the horrible night. Then Leothric
advanced towards a door, and it was mightier than the marble quarry,
Sacremona, from which of old men cut enormous slabs to build the
Abbey of the Holy Tears. Day after day they wrenched out the very
ribs of the hill until the Abbey was builded, and it was more
beautiful than anything in stone. Then the priests blessed
Sacremona, and it had rest, and no more stone was ever taken from it
to build the houses of men. And the hill stood looking southwards
lonely in the sunlight, defaced by that mighty scar. So vast was
the door of steel. And the name of the door was The Porte Resonant,
the Way of Egress for War.
Then Leothric smote upon the Porte Resonant with Sacnoth, and the
echo of Sacnoth went ringing through the halls, and all the dragons
in the fortress barked. And when the baying of the remotest dragon
had faintly joined in the tumult, a window opened far up among the
clouds below the twilit gables, and a woman screamed, and far away
in Hell her father heard her and knew that her doom was come.
And Leothric went on smiting terribly with Sacnoth, and the grey
steel of the Porte Resonant, the Way of Egress for War, that was
tempered to resist the swords of the world, came away in ringing
Then Leothric, holding Sacnoth in his hand, went in through the hole
that he had hewn in the door, and came into the unlit, cavernous
An elephant fled trumpeting. And Leothric stood still, holding
Sacnoth. When the sound of the feet of the elephant had died away in
the remoter corridors, nothing more stirred, and the cavernous hall
Presently the darkness of the distant halls became musical with the
sound of bells, all coming nearer and nearer.
Still Leothric waited in the dark, and the bells rang louder and
louder, echoing through the halls, and there appeared a procession
of men on camels riding two by two from the interior of the
fortress, and they were armed with scimitars of Assyrian make and
were all clad with mail, and chain-mail hung from their helmets
about their faces, and flapped as the camels moved. And they all
halted before Leothric in the cavernous hall, and the camel bells
clanged and stopped. And the leader said to Leothric:
'The Lord Gaznak has desired to see you die before him. Be pleased
to come with us, and we can discourse by the way of the manner in
which the Lord Gaznak has desired to see you die.'
And as he said this he unwound a chain of iron that was coiled upon
his saddle, and Leothric answered:
'I would fain go with you, for I am come to slay Gaznak.'
Then all the camel-guard of Gaznak laughed hideously, disturbing the
vampires that were asleep in the measureless vault of the roof. And
the leader said:
'The Lord Gaznak is immortal, save for Sacnoth, and weareth armour
that is proof even against Sacnoth himself, and hath a sword the
second most terrible in the world.'
Then Leothric said: 'I am the Lord of the sword Sacnoth.'
And he advanced towards the camel-guard of Gaznak, and Sacnoth
lifted up and down in his hand as though stirred by an exultant
pulse. Then the camel-guard of Gaznak fled, and the riders leaned
forward and smote their camels with whips, and they went away with a
great clamour of bells through colonnades and corridors and vaulted
halls, and scattered into the inner darknesses of the fortress. When
the last sound of them had died away, Leothric was in doubt which
way to go, for the camel-guard was dispersed in many directions, so
he went straight on till he came to a great stairway in the midst of
the hall. Then Leothric set his foot in the middle of a wide step,
and climbed steadily up the stairway for five minutes. Little light
was there in the great hall through which Leothric ascended, for it
only entered through arrow slits here and there, and in the world
outside evening was waning fast. The stairway led up to two folding
doors, and they stood a little ajar, and through the crack Leothric
entered and tried to continue straight on, but could get no farther,
for the whole room seemed to be full of festoons of ropes which
swung from wall to wall and were looped and draped from the ceiling.
The whole chamber was thick and black with them. They were soft and
light to the touch, like fine silk, but Leothric was unable to break
any one of them, and though they swung away from him as he pressed
forward, yet by the time he had gone three yards they were all about
him like a heavy cloak. Then Leothric stepped back and drew Sacnoth,
and Sacnoth divided the ropes without a sound, and without a sound
the severed pieces fell to the floor. Leothric went forward slowly,
moving Sacnoth in front of him up and down as he went. When he was
come into the middle of the chamber, suddenly, as he parted with
Sacnoth a great hammock of strands, he saw a spider before him that
was larger than a ram, and the spider looked at him with eyes that
were little, but in which there was much sin, and said:
'Who are you that spoil the labour of years all done to the honour
And Leothric answered: 'I am Leothric, son of Lorendiac.'
And the spider said: 'I will make a rope at once to hang you with.'
Then Leothric parted another bunch of strands, and came nearer to
the spider as he sat making his rope, and the spider, looking up
from his work, said: 'What is that sword which is able to sever my
And Leothric said: 'It is Sacnoth.'
Thereat the black hair that hung over the face of the spider parted
to left and right, and the spider frowned; then the hair fell back
into its place, and hid everything except the sin of the little eyes
which went on gleaming lustfully in the dark. But before Leothric
could reach him, he climbed away with his hands, going up by one of
his ropes to a lofty rafter, and there sat, growling. But clearing
his way with Sacnoth, Leothric passed through the chamber, and came
to the farther door; and the door being shut, and the handle far up
out of his reach, he hewed his way through it with Sacnoth in the
same way as he had through the Porte Resonant, the Way of Egress for
War. And so Leothric came into a well-lit chamber, where Queens and
Princes were banqueting together, all at a great table; and
thousands of candles were glowing all about, and their light shone
in the wine that the Princes drank and on the huge gold candelabra,
and the royal faces were irradiant with the glow, and the white
table-cloth and the silver plates and the jewels in the hair of the
Queens, each jewel having a historian all to itself, who wrote no
other chronicles all his days. Between the table and the door there
stood two hundred footmen in two rows of one hundred facing one
another. Nobody looked at Leothric as he entered through the hole in
the door, but one of the Princes asked a question of a footman, and
the question was passed from mouth to mouth by all the hundred
footmen till it came to the last one nearest Leothric; and he said
to Leothric, without looking at him:
'What do you seek here?'
And Leothric answered: 'I seek to slay Gaznak.'
And footman to footman repeated all the way to the table: 'He seeks
to slay Gaznak.'
And another question came down the line of footmen: 'What is your
And the line that stood opposite took his answer back.
Then one of the Princes said: 'Take him away where we shall not hear
And footman repeated it to footman till it came to the last two, and
they advanced to seize Leothric.
Then Leothric showed to them his sword, saying, 'This is Sacnoth,'
and both of them said to the man nearest: 'It is Sacnoth;' then
screamed and fled away.
And two by two, all up the double line, footman to footman repeated,
'It is Sacnoth,' then screamed and fled, till the last two gave the
message to the table, and all the rest had gone. Hurriedly then
arose the Queens and Princes, and fled out of the chamber. And the
goodly table, when they were all gone, looked small and disorderly
and awry. And to Leothric, pondering in the desolate chamber by what
door he should pass onwards, there came from far away the sounds of
music, and he knew that it was the magical musicians playing to
Gaznak while he slept.
Then Leothric, walking towards the distant music, passed out by the
door opposite to the one through which he had cloven his entrance,
and so passed into a chamber vast as the other, in which were many
women, weirdly beautiful. And they all asked him of his quest, and
when they heard that it was to slay Gaznak, they all besought him to
tarry among them, saying that Gaznak was immortal, save for Sacnoth,
and also that they had need of a knight to protect them from the
wolves that rushed round and round the wainscot all the night and
sometimes broke in upon them through the mouldering oak. Perhaps
Leothric had been tempted to tarry had they been human women, for
theirs was a strange beauty, but he perceived that instead of eyes
they had little flames that flickered in their sockets, and knew
them to be the fevered dreams of Gaznak. Therefore he said:
'I have a business with Gaznak and with Sacnoth,' and passed on
through the chamber.
And at the name of Sacnoth those women screamed, and the flames of
their eyes sank low and dwindled to sparks.
And Leothric left them, and, hewing with Sacnoth, passed through the
Outside he felt the night air on his face, and found that he stood
upon a narrow way between two abysses. To left and right of him, as
far as he could see, the walls of the fortress ended in a profound
precipice, though the roof still stretched above him; and before him
lay the two abysses full of stars, for they cut their way through
the whole Earth and revealed the under sky; and threading its course
between them went the way, and it sloped upward and its sides were
sheer. And beyond the abysses, where the way led up to the farther
chambers of the fortress, Leothric heard the musicians playing their
magical tune. So he stepped on to the way, which was scarcely a
stride in width, and moved along it holding Sacnoth naked. And to
and fro beneath him in each abyss whirred the wings of vampires
passing up and down, all giving praise to Satan as they flew.
Presently he perceived the dragon Thok lying upon the way,
pretending to sleep, and his tail hung down into one of the abysses.
And Leothric went towards him, and when he was quite close Thok
rushed at Leothric.
And he smote deep with Sacnoth, and Thok tumbled into the abyss,
screaming, and his limbs made a whirring in the darkness as he fell,
and he fell till his scream sounded no louder than a whistle and
then could be heard no more. Once or twice Leothric saw a star blink
for an instant and reappear again, and this momentary eclipse of a
few stars was all that remained in the world of the body of Thok.
And Lunk, the brother of Thok, who had lain a little behind him, saw
that this must be Sacnoth and fled lumbering away. And all the while
that he walked between the abysses, the mighty vault of the roof of
the fortress still stretched over Leothric's head, all filled with
gloom. Now, when the further side of the abyss came into view,
Leothric saw a chamber that opened with innumerable arches upon the
twin abysses, and the pillars of the arches went away into the
distance and vanished in the gloom to left and right.
Far down the dim precipice on which the pillars stood he could see
windows small and closely barred, and between the bars there showed
at moments, and disappeared again, things that I shall not speak of.
There was no light here except for the great Southern stars that
shone below the abysses, and here and there in the chamber through
the arches lights that moved furtively without the sound of
Then Leothric stepped from the way, and entered the great chamber.
Even to himself he seemed but a tiny dwarf as he walked under one of
those colossal arches.
The last faint light of evening flickered through a window painted
in sombre colours commemorating the achievements of Satan upon
Earth. High up in the wall the window stood, and the streaming
lights of candles lower down moved stealthily away.
Other light there was none, save for a faint blue glow from the
steel eye of Tharagavverug that peered restlessly about it from the
hilt of Sacnoth. Heavily in the chamber hung the clammy odour of a
large and deadly beast.
Leothric moved forward slowly with the blade of Sacnoth in
front of him feeling for a foe, and the eye in the hilt of it looking
If anything lurked behind the pillars of the colonnade that held
aloft the roof, it neither breathed nor moved.
The music of the magical musicians sounded from very near.
Suddenly the great doors on the far side of the chamber opened to
left and right. For some moments Leothric saw nothing move, and
waited clutching Sacnoth. Then Wong Bongerok came towards him,
This was the last and faithfullest guard of Gaznak, and came from
slobbering just now his master's hand.
More as a child than a dragon was Gaznak wont to treat him, giving
him often in his fingers tender pieces of man all smoking from his
Long and low was Wong Bongerok, and subtle about the eyes, and he
came breathing malice against Leothric out of his faithful breast,
and behind him roared the armoury of his tail, as when sailors drag
the cable of the anchor all rattling down the deck.
And well Wong Bongerok knew that he now faced Sacnoth, for it had
been his wont to prophesy quietly to himself for many years as he
lay curled at the feet of Gaznak.
And Leothric stepped forward into the blast of his breath, and
lifted Sacnoth to strike.
But when Sacnoth was lifted up, the eye of Tharagavverug in the butt
of the hilt beheld the dragon and perceived his subtlety.
For he opened his mouth wide, and revealed to Leothric the ranks of
his sabre teeth, and his leather gums flapped upwards. But while
Leothric made to smite at his head, he shot forward scorpion-wise
over his head the length of his armoured tail. All this the eye
perceived in the hilt of Sacnoth, who smote suddenly sideways. Not
with the edge smote Sacnoth, for, had he done so, the severed end of
the tail had still come hurtling on, as some pine tree that the
avalanche has hurled point foremost from the cliff right through the
broad breast of some mountaineer. So had Leothric been transfixed;
but Sacnoth smote sideways with the flat of his blade, and sent the
tail whizzing over Leothric's left shoulder; and it rasped upon his
armour as it went, and left a groove upon it. Sideways then at
Leothric smote the foiled tail of Wong Bongerok, and Sacnoth parried,
and the tail went shrieking up the blade and over Leothric's head.
Then Leothric and Wong Bongerok fought sword to tooth, and the
sword smote as only Sacnoth can, and the evil faithful life of Wong
Bongerok the dragon went out through the wide wound.
Then Leothric walked on past that dead monster, and the armoured
body still quivered a little. And for a while it was like all the
ploughshares in a county working together in one field behind tired
and struggling horses; then the quivering ceased, and Wong Bongerok
lay still to rust.
And Leothric went on to the open gates, and Sacnoth dripped quietly
along the floor.
By the open gates through which Wong Bongerok had entered, Leothric
came into a corridor echoing with music. This was the first place
from which Leothric could see anything above his head, for hitherto
the roof had ascended to mountainous heights and had stretched
indistinct in the gloom. But along the narrow corridor hung huge
bells low and near to his head, and the width of each brazen bell
was from wall to wall, and they were one behind the other. And as he
passed under each the bell uttered, and its voice was mournful and
deep, like to the voice of a bell speaking to a man for the last
time when he is newly dead. Each bell uttered once as Leothric came
under it, and their voices sounded solemnly and wide apart at
ceremonious intervals. For if he walked slow, these bells came
closer together, and when he walked swiftly they moved farther
apart. And the echoes of each bell tolling above his head went on
before him whispering to the others. Once when he stopped they all
jangled angrily till he went on again.
Between these slow and boding notes came the sound of the magical
musicians. They were playing a dirge now very mournfully.
And at last Leothric came to the end of the Corridor of the Bells,
and beheld there a small black door. And all the corridor behind him
was full of the echoes of the tolling, and they all muttered to one
another about the ceremony; and the dirge of the musicians came
floating slowly through them like a procession of foreign elaborate
guests, and all of them boded ill to Leothric.
The black door opened at once to the hand of Leothric, and he found
himself in the open air in a wide court paved with marble. High over
it shone the moon, summoned there by the hand of Gaznak.
There Gaznak slept, and around him sat his magical musicians, all
playing upon strings. And, even sleeping, Gaznak was clad in armour,
and only his wrists and face and neck were bare.
But the marvel of that place was the dreams of Gaznak; for beyond
the wide court slept a dark abyss, and into the abyss there poured a
white cascade of marble stairways, and widened out below into
terraces and balconies with fair white statues on them, and
descended again in a wide stairway, and came to lower terraces in
the dark, where swart uncertain shapes went to and fro. All these
were the dreams of Gaznak, and issued from his mind, and, becoming
gleaming marble, passed over the edge of the abyss as the musicians
played. And all the while out of the mind of Gaznak, lulled by that
strange music, went spires and pinnacles beautiful and slender, ever
ascending skywards. And the marble dreams moved slow in time to the
music. When the bells tolled and the musicians played their dirge,
ugly gargoyles came out suddenly all over the spires and pinnacles,
and great shadows passed swiftly down the steps and terraces, and
there was hurried whispering in the abyss.
When Leothric stepped from the black door, Gaznak opened his eyes.
He looked neither to left nor right, but stood up at once facing
Then the magicians played a deathspell on their strings, and there
arose a humming along the blade of Sacnoth as he turned the spell
aside. When Leothric dropped not down, and they heard the humming of
Sacnoth, the magicians arose and fled, all wailing, as they went,
upon their strings.
Then Gaznak drew out screaming from its sheath the sword that was
the mightiest in the world except for Sacnoth, and slowly walked
towards Leothric; and he smiled as he walked, although his own
dreams had foretold his doom. And when Leothric and Gaznak came
together, each looked at each, and neither spoke a word; but they
smote both at once, and their swords met, and each sword knew the
other and from whence he came. And whenever the sword of Gaznak
smote on the blade of Sacnoth it rebounded gleaming, as hail from
off slated roofs; but whenever it fell upon the armour of Leothric,
it stripped it off in sheets. And upon Gaznak's armour Sacnoth fell
oft and furiously, but ever he came back snarling, leaving no mark
behind, and as Gaznak fought he held his left hand hovering close
over his head. Presently Leothric smote fair and fiercely at his
enemy's neck, but Gaznak, clutching his own head by the hair, lifted
it high aloft, and Sacnoth went cleaving through an empty space.
Then Gaznak replaced his head upon his neck, and all the while
fought nimbly with his sword; and again and again Leothric swept
with Sacnoth at Gaznak's bearded neck, and ever the left hand of
Gaznak was quicker than the stroke, and the head went up and the
sword rushed vainly under it.
And the ringing fight went on till Leothric's armour lay all round
him on the floor and the marble was splashed with his blood, and the
sword of Gaznak was notched like a saw from meeting the blade of
Sacnoth. Still Gaznak stood unwounded and smiling still.
At last Leothric looked at the throat of Gaznak and aimed with
Sacnoth, and again Gaznak lifted his head by the hair; but not at
his throat flew Sacnoth, for Leothric struck instead at the lifted
hand, and through the wrist of it went Sacnoth whirring, as a scythe
goes through the stem of a single flower.
And bleeding, the severed hand fell to the floor; and at once blood
spurted from the shoulders of Gaznak and dripped from the fallen
head, and the tall pinnacles went down into the earth, and the wide
fair terraces all rolled away, and the court was gone like the dew,
and a wind came and the colonnades drifted thence, and all the
colossal halls of Gaznak fell. And the abysses closed up suddenly as
the mouth of a man who, having told a tale, will for ever speak no
Then Leothric looked around him in the marshes where the night mist
was passing away, and there was no fortress nor sound of dragon or
mortal, only beside him lay an old man, wizened and evil and dead,
whose head and hand were severed from his body.
And gradually over the wide lands the dawn was coming up, and ever
growing in beauty as it came, like to the peal of an organ played by
a master's hand, growing louder and lovelier as the soul of the
master warms, and at last giving praise with all its mighty voice.
Then the birds sang, and Leothric went homeward, and left the
marshes and came to the dark wood, and the light of the dawn
ascending lit him upon his way. And into Allathurion he came ere
noon, and with him brought the evil wizened head, and the people
rejoiced, and their nights of trouble ceased.
* * * * * * *
This is the tale of the vanquishing of The Fortress Unvanquishable,
Save For Sacnoth, and of its passing away, as it is told and
believed by those who love the mystic days of old.
Others have said, and vainly claim to prove, that a fever came to
Allathurion, and went away; and that this same fever drove Leothric
into the marshes by night, and made him dream there and act
violently with a sword.
And others again say that there hath been no town of Allathurion,
and that Leothric never lived.
Peace to them. The gardener hath gathered up this autumn's leaves.
Who shall see them again, or who wot of them? And who shall say what
hath befallen in the days of long ago?