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Authors: Avram Davidson

Masters of the Maze

MASTERS OF THE MAZE
AVRAM DAVIDSON

a division of F+W Media, Inc.

For Poul and Karen Anderson, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Walter Breen, Ted Cogswell, Grania Davidson, Phil Dick, Ray and Kirsten Nelson.

Unless the past perishes, I
cannot be safe.

—P
ETRARCH

Prologue

Elias Ashmole thought that he had discovered it. Oxford lawyer, courtier, soldier, astrologer, alchemist, historian, mystic, pragmatist, devotee of the new learning as well as the old; first gentleman freemason, founder of the first “public museum of curiosities” in England: Elias Ashmole,
floreat
1617-1692.

The Maze was, is, and will be. When the magnablock exploded into infinity, the Maze was formed. “There was light”—and the light shone upon the Maze. Coeval and coexistent, neither of the same substance nor the same essence; having the attributes, the incidents, the accidents of neither terrene nor contraterrene matter, the Maze is both immanent and transcendent of both. It traverses space, it transects time. Ancient of years, the worlds form around it….

The nearest and quickest way is not ever the best. There is a door by which one can enter the treasure house of Croesus—but although it is only a hundred steps from door to treasure, fifty of these steps pass through the house of Daniel Dickensheet in Mincemeat Lane in the year of the Plague and on the door of that house is painted a cross, and the words,
Lord Have Mercy On Us….

Generation after generation, generation before generation, north and south and up and down, the early and the latter rains, and the great red slow-rolling sun of the End of Days, have seen, see, and have yet to see the Masters of the Maze at their work. They explore, they plot their courses, they watch. Perhaps this above all. They watch. They guard.

CHAPTER ONE

Darius Chauncey had been in his time attached to the staff of General Logan, and thus (besides other good and sufficient reasons) should have been aware of the importance of keeping a vigilant picket. But Darius Chauncey was also the lover of the local Snake Goddess, and the thought of her firm and painted breasts and her hips, so supple beneath the flouncy skirts, had beguiled him. And so the Chulpex got by, silent, swift, and pale as wax. He was at any event observed by Et-dir-Mor, a High Physicist of the Red Fish People, and Et-dir-Mor sped to cut him off. But the way was exceptionally intricate and by the time it was half-traversed the Chulpex had vanished. He was, as it happened, soon enough apprehended elsewhere on an outside. His captors showed him a cross and he hissed knowingly and bowed before it — unwisely, as he soon learned, for they at once dealt with him in the name of Perunas (to whom they were still faithful), hooting in astonishment at the curious things the fire was doing to his body. And he was soon dead.

Et-dir-Mor had had some notion that this might be the case, but he returned in a rather thoughtful mood nonetheless. It did seem to him that more Chulpex than usual were being sighted. He made a note to discuss it with Ambrose Bierce.

• • •

Joseph Bellamy sat at his heaped-up desk trying to catch up with correspondence dealing with the Esquires of the Sword. From time to time he glanced automatically at an object on the far left corner of the desk-top, a truncated pyramid of something resembling a faintly roseate crystal with a curiously fractured pattern of lines inside of it. Now and then he looked appreciatively at the fire of great greasy black slabs of bituminous burning in his fireplace grate: eighty percent of the heat of course went right up the vast fieldstone chimney, but Joseph Bellamy did not care. Though he was bundled up snugly, he considered too much warmth to be unhealthy, conducive to colds.

Right Worthy and Worshipful Compeer:
(he wrote)
Pray accept my arms and my esteem in the name of Elias and the Vigil.
He paused in his muttering, and the sturdy though ancient typewriter with its bank of keys on either side fell silent.

Been trying to get hold of you by phone
, he went on, after a moment,
but the service up here in this part of the state is enough to give indigestion to a sow. And they have the nerve to want an increase in rates, too! Ess aitch dash tee, is what I say to that, and now to business, if not labor. I have been well aware of the Eleventh Sequence recently and I know that a good reason exists for things having been slack. But you know that I am fairly isolated up here where I am and at the moment it is simply impossible to replace you. I will ask around and see what can be done. There is someone on whom I have my eye. So try and take care of your health for the time being. I —

He glanced again at the dawn-colored and translucent ward on the corner of his desk, frowned, clicked his tongue; typed, at a quickened pace,
I
conclude without conclusion and remain, Right Worthy and Worshipful Compeer, yours in Elias and the Vigil which is never concluded
, Jos Bellamy ESQ ESLU †

He picked up something long and withy-thin with a short crosspiece near the lower end. He proceeded. He said to the one he presently faced, “Go back. For you there is never passage. Back. Go. Go now.”

Pallid, thin, faintly glistening, something which might have been “Gold” or “Cold” sounded. Arms were waved. Hiss and hiss and breathy syllables.

“Go back. Back. Go.”

The thing in Bellamy’s hand glowed with a faintly blue-green light in the obscurity. He thrust. He moved.

“Old. Old. Much cold. Much gold. Nay. Stay. Ss. P …”

Wearily, wearily, Joseph Bellamy proceeded. Sound died away to a thin thread which was merely awareness. The figure receded, turned, receded, twisted, turned, dwindled, turned upside down, wiggled, shrank, reversed, vanished.

Bellamy sighed, shivered, withdrew.

The blaze was welcome for its sight and sound as well as warmth, and he thought (as very often) of Adam Cadmon, Adam Androgyne, the Primal Mother-Father, facing fire for the first incredible time: the beckoning-repelling comfort-fear of the ever-beautiful flux of it. The constant-inconstant dancing heart of it. Eternal promise, eternal dream.

He sighed, he sighed and returned to his desk.

• • •

Nathaniel Gordon stared at his face in the mirror. Hopeless — quite hopeless! Brow too low, nose too blunt, teeth too large, ears — For the thousandth time he thought of covering all (or a goodly part of the all) with a beard. But the thought of two to three weeks of itch and ugliness dissuaded him. Although now and here was the logical time and place if it were ever to be done.

He thought once again, lovingly, longingly, of the long-planned trip to Europe. Three-quarters of the way around the Mediterranean (…“
tideless, dolorous midland sea … land of sand and ruin and gold
…”), then leave the ship at Trieste and — And here, as always, the torture of indecision.

Which way? To the east, the picturesque and unpeopled … comparatively … by tourists … the Balkans? Oots and sooks and slivova. Pre-Sarajevoan inns in hidden valleys. Dollars stretching endlessly. Glagolitic alphabets, glades buried in attarous roses plucked by half-naked and lascivious xenophile peasant girls. Black lambs and gray falcons. And also: political police, mass calisthenics, fleas, fierce scowling knife-bearing xenophobic peasant
men.
Or to the west, the familiar, the necessary, the source and fount, the tamed and undangerous, the tourist-swarming, expensive, dollarophagic, accessible …

He grunted, abandoned the mirror, returned to the typewriter. East or west, whichever was best, Nate Gordon would never make either one (Sardinian town perched on crag, Frisian fishing village, Paris the beautiful and ever-receptive, wild Wales) (Illyrian Jonina of the false messiah, thyme-and-lilac scented Chios, Dîocletian-haunted Dalmatia) if he did not raise the essential fund.

And it was well within his grasp, he
could
do it. All he had to do was sit down at the mill and grind out ten pieces at $400 each. Or twenty at $200 each. Or some combination or permutation thereof. He had editorial okays. He knew the style and craft, the market. Love-Starved Arabs Raped Me Often. Communist Crocodiles Raped My Wife. Man-Eaters of the Malayan Peninsula. Man-Hating Women Pirates of Polynesia. Women-Eating Arabs of the Crocodile Coast. Get the guy up on the cliff. Leave him up there. Explain how he got there. Then get him off of there. Down off, up off, it made no difference. Rabid Bats Devoured My Wife. Woman-Eating Crocodiles of Wild Bokhara. Rasputin Raped My Aunt.

He had written such pieces a hundred times before, each under a different name (only sometimes he forgot and used some of them over again, so that poor Pierce Tarraval, to name but one, had lost wives to fates worse than death on three different continents), each provided with a pseudonymous affidavit attesting to its authenticity — and each had sold promptly.

“Really,” simpered his slightly fey agent, who knew the manly men’s magazine market like the inside of his posh apartment; “Really, Nathaniel, such versatile Fertility!”

“Stick with me, kid, and I’ll wrap your ass in silk.”

The money had come in easily, and, just as easily, it had gone right out again. It had all been easy and effortless then. And then Nate discovered that he no longer wanted to write such easy, profitable crap. He wanted to write things harder, better, with his own name on them, things that would be a pride and a comfort to you, which the others were not, even if the money was spent just as fast — things you could keep on a shelf and take down and open from time to time and look at and show to others — that you could just
think
about from time to time and be glad about.

Nothing that he had written so far was like that. Not that he regretted what he had written so far. He had, so to speak, starved in his last garret and slept on his (or, rather, someone else’s) last living room sofa: that scene, so romantic to some, held no more allure for him. He had a comfortable apartment in the Seventies, and he was glad to have it. He was glad to be able to eat good meals of his own providing and not to have to walk twenty blocks in the cold in hopes of being invited to stay to a much less good meal at someone else’s not-so-comfortable apartment. He was able to drink good booze when he felt like it — and he felt like it only as often as he felt like it — and not, when desperation descended, to have to roam from one saloon to another looking for a lonely and babbling lush who might after an incalculable wait invite him to have a shot of bar whiskey.

His improved circumstances and improved self-confidence enabled him to satisfy other needs and hungers, too. It had seemed to Nate, when he had no place to take a girl, that the only girls he could find were those who had no place to take a fellow. It was said that the English made love (if you could call it that) in alleys, standing up. You could hardly do that in New York. Now, at any rate, he didn’t even need to think about it, having his choice of two beds and a sofa (as well as a few thick rugs) on which to make love to girls with large breasts and girls with small breasts and girls with hardly any breasts at all (not that the lack of them mattered if you kept your mind on fundamentals), to girls who smelled sweetly and girls who smelled naturally (sometimes almost
too
naturally), and girls who had no smell at all, to girls who were push-button ready and girls who took forever to get ready and girls …

No. Nate no longer desired to think in terms of girls, plural. The question now was of
a
girl.
The
girl. That is, when the question wasn’t one of writing. Whatever it might have been if things had developed somewhat differently, the two questions were now really one question.


You,
” she had said, “are prostituting yourself.”

The more he felt the force of the charge, the more he denied its accuracy, the more she held to it. Her name was Peggy Stone, she was perfectly ordinary looking, she was warm and kind and loving and (after more patience and persuasion than he was accustomed to) good in bed. So Nate had asked himself why he should look further. Then he asked Peggy. And she told him.

“I make a good living,” he protested.

“So do I. Already.”

“But you wouldn’t have to work — ”

“I enjoy working.”

“But what if we have kids?”

“ ‘
We?
’ ”

He stared at her, his face askew and aggrieved. “You mean you don’t want to marry me?”

“Very much. But.”

And the
But
brought them right back where they’d started from. She wouldn’t marry him as long as, capable of writing better, he continued to write rubbish. No, she didn’t want him (as he suggested, sarcastically) to contribute “experimental writing” to little magazines that paid in free copies … when they paid at all.

“If you were just Johnny-One-Note, that would be something else,” she said. “I still wouldn’t like the crud you churn out on your little crud-mill” — here she gestured to his antediluvian portable. “ — but I’d … I wouldn’t
grin
and bear it, I’d just bear it. But you
aren’t
Johnny One-Note. Those things you wrote for
America West —

Here he stopped being sullen and sorry, leaped into sound and struggle. What did she mean,
things
? He had written, for
America West
exactly one — “One, count them, one!” — article. And had been paid a total of $17 for it! Peggy was unconvinced. And the Hell of it was, so was Nate Gordon.

He knew he could do better, he wanted to do better, had been long on the verge of coming to the same conclusion — and was still in this regard, he grumblingly told himself,
virgo intacto.
Perhaps matters, if left to themselves, might have worked out so as to allow him to make his own change in his own way. As it was — Well, as it was, it wasn’t going to be easy. For one thing, he had to make a complete break away from the familiar scene. For one thing, could he — there in the old apartment — write anything but the old sludge? It was doubtful. Too, if he went on living in the same place there would be the constant demands of the old life. Liquor store, restaurants, friends, bars, bookstores, theaters, girls, girls, girls — all costing money at the same old rate. He would
have
to go on churning out the same old crud.

Also — Jamieson Swift, his agent — and Lew Sharp, Burt Nash, Sydney Sherman, editors of the magazines Nate contemptuously named to himself as
Brute, Rut,
and
Gonad —
would they leave him alone to work out his destiny in the fashion he would have to grope for? No, no they would not. And could he resist them, if they came pleading and cajoling and doling out fat, tempting advances? No, no he could not.

Therefore, there was only one solution: Get away. And, he told himself, if he had to get away, it made sense to get away as far away as possible. Where, for one thing, nobody would be bothering him not to change; where, for another, the demands of money would be absent; and where, perhaps most essential of all, where he could let the winds of far-off places blow through his mind and clear it of accustomed clichés and contrivances, formulas and familiar fancies.

The answer (he told himself, as authors old and young and now dead and still living have told themselves so often) — the answer was Europe.

It was only by chance that the way to Europe seemed to lie by way of Darkglen Woods, the estate of Joseph Bellamy.

• • •

Flint’s Forge has long been cold, and the living cannot remember when it was ever hot. The village to which it gave its name has withered away to something less than a hamlet, and no one but an occasional hunter or berry picker ever lights on the buckling stone walls of the old ironworkers’ houses off in the woods, or smells the scent of their lilac bushes, now grown into trees.

The narrow road hereabouts is bordered for the most part with thicket and woods, crowding in close enough (except at high noon) to shut off much light: pine and sumac and Chinese elm. In scattered places some pasture is still kept open enough to give a view of farther woods in ever-darkening shades of green rising up into the hills and the low mountains. Here and there an old small house clings to the lip of the road, timbers sagging and never painted and now blackening with very age; and sometimes an old man or old woman, fat and toothless, sits in a chair on the warping porch, waves to the infrequent passing aquaintance, stares — less in suspicion than astonishment — at the rare passing stranger.

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