Black Sword’s Brothers

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Black Sword's Brothers, a novella by Michael Moorcock, featuring Elric of Melniboné, and the second of four novellas, collectively published as Stormbringer, which tell the climactic conclusion of the Elric saga. First published in Science Fantasy #61 (October 1963), the periodical edited by John Carnell, who originally encouraged Moorcock to produce his early Elric stories.

Publishing History (UK)

  • Science Fantasy #61, (Nova, October 1963)
  • Stormbringer, (Herbert Jenkins, 1965) (abridged & revised)
  • Stormbringer, (Mayflower, 1969) (as above)
  • Stormbringer, (Grafton, 1985) (restored & revised)
  • The Tale of the Eternal Champion", Volume 12: Stormbringer, (Orion Books, 1993) (revised)
  • Elric, (Gollancz, 2001)[1]

Publishing History (US):

Adaptations

Black Sword's Brothers was adapted for comics by P. Craig Russell in issues 2-4 of the Stormbringer mini-series published by Dark Horse/Topps Comics (1997). The adaptation on the whole is remarkably faithful to Moorcock's original text and much of the dialogue is used verbatim. Russell's depictions of the Dukes of Hell as blue-skinned Hindu deities is perhaps a homage to the artwork of Bob Haberfield, who made frequent use of Eastern symbolism in his covers for Moorcock's novels in the '70s.

Synopsis

* * The following section may contain spoilers * *


After rescuing Zarozinia, Elric convenes a council of war where he explains that the remaining free nations have a greater chance of defeating Jagreen Lern’s Chaos-hordes if the stronger forces of Lormyr, Filkhar, Argimiliar and Pikarayd unite with the Sealords of the Isle of the Purple Towns and the nations of the Eastern Continent. However, long-held animosities between the rival sea forces prevails over short-term needs and the Southern delegates walk out. Despite this, the Sealords and representatives from Vilmir, Ilmiora and the city of Tanelorn agree to support Elric. Rackhir, the Red Archer, reveals that Chaos has closed off the gateways to the domain of the Grey Lords who aided him when Tanelorn was recently threatened,[2] so Elric decides he and Moonglum will journey to Sorcerers' Isle to petition the aid of the White Lords. As they sail towards the West they witness how Chaos is increasingly affecting the natural world, and inexorably they are diverted from their course and ship-wrecked on the Serpent's Teeth, a range of jagged rocks south of Shazaar on the Western Continent.

As Elric and Moonglum try to a new vessel they encounter Ohada the Seer with a message from Sepiriz: that he has done what Elric has failed to do and the albino must meet him at Nihrain. After learning that Jagreen Lern has assassinated his ally, King Sarosto of Dharijor and summoned the Dukes of Hell to his service, they head north and arrive at the Hewn City of Nihrain. Sepiriz tells them his brothers and the hermits of Sorcerers' Isle are attempting to contact the White Lords, but Fate has another task for Elric - to destroy the Dukes of Hell. Now that Jagreen Lern has allowed Arioch, Balan and Maluk into the world Elric's only supernatural allies are Stormbringer and its brothers. Sepiriz reveals that the runeswords are the earthly manifestation of supernatural entities, Chaotic by nature but controllable by one who already has mastery over one, as Elric has over Stormbringer. He gives Elric a rune to summon the black swords in extreme emergency, as well as two tireless Nihrainian mounts so he and Moonglum may pass over sea or air and ride for Isle of Pan Tang, which is enveloped by a peculiar darkness.

Jagreen Lern tries to prevent Elric and Moonglum reaching the Pan Tangian capital Hwamgaarl - City of Screaming Statues with lion-vultures and an army, but both are defeated and the riders reach the Theocrat's temple-palace, where garbed in his red Chaos-armour, Jagreen Lern answers Elric's challenge, bringing the Dukes of Hell with him; Arioch asks if Elric has come to repent, but Elric replies he intends to send them back to Chaos. Arioch attacks Elric, who casts Sepiriz's rune and summons a million black swords, which led by Stormbringer attack the Chaos Lords; however, separated from the runesword, Elric's albinism overcomes him and he collapses. The swords successfully banish the Dukes of Hell, but Elric and Moonglum are taken captive by Jagreen Lern's and placed aboard his flagship. Without Stormbringer - who returns to its native plane - Elric is practically crippled, although Jagreen Lern plies him with drugs to keep him alive. The fleet is joined by the Lormyrian navy of King Montan, who attended the council of war but has thrown in his lot with the Theocrat. Jagreen Lern has Elric tied to a flag-mast to witness the destruction of the Southern sea forces, protecting him with charms so no harm befalls him. As night falls, Elric summons what little strength remains for a last desperate plan.

In the morning Elric - whose strength and mind have been sustained by Jagreen Lern’s drugs - calls for Stormbringer as the noise of the ensuing battle rises; Jagreen Lern orders Elric's death, but his own charms prevent the sailors harming the albino. Stormbringer materializes and cuts its master's bonds. Reunited with the sword Elric's vitality is restored, he sets fire to the flagship, rescues Moonglum and crosses to the Argimiliarian flagship of King Hozel, where he spies the arrival of the Isle of the Purple Towns fleet coming to their rivals’ aid. Not having time to deal with Jagreen Lern because he bears the unconscious Moonglum, Elric jumps into the sea and makes for the Sealords' ships, where they are rescued by Kargan Sharpeyes, whom Elric instructs to return to the Isle of the Purple Towns, abandoning the Southlanders to their fate. Sepiriz arrives at the Isle of the Purple Towns, and informs Elric that although the White Lords have been contacted they can do little for the time being; however, Jagreen Lern's forces must consolidate their conquest of the Southern continent before turning their attention eastwards, so there is time for a brief respite. The Nihrainian also tells Elric that Stormbringer's return to its realm has strengthened it and as a result it will revitalize him quicker then before, although he warns the power is evilly-gained and may overwhelm him. Elric swears by the Cosmic Balance to see Law triumph and a New Age of Men come to the Earth.Template:Endspoilers

Analysis

In many ways this is a bridging chapter in the final Elric story, a charge attested by the fact that large portions (specifically the opening chapter) of the original novella were removed for the novel’s original publication in 1965. Unlike in the previous novella, Dead God's Homecoming and the two later ones - Sad Giant's Shield and Doomed Lord's Passing - there is no quest to accomplish, no ancient artefact to retrieve. In fact, the initial mission to Sorcerers’ Isle - to petition the White Lords - is quickly (and conveniently) forgotten in order that Elric may be diverted to Pan Tang. Even then, the key event in the novella, the final confrontation between Elric and his patron demon, Arioch, in many ways almost goes unnoticed.

Instead, Black Sword's Brothers purpose is to flesh out the nature of the runesword Stormbringer. Previously we learnt that the Black Swords, Stormbringer and Mournblade, were created by Chaos to destroy Chaos, which we see demonstrated when they combined to slay the Dead God Darnizhaan. Now we discover that the runeswords are merely two among millions. In light of the later development of Moorcock’s cosmology, which was not yet firmly established in his writings at this point, we might surmise that the million black swords come from the multitudinous realities that comprises the Multiverse, just as we will see in later stories separate incarnations of the Eternal Champion come together at various times (see The Sailor on the Seas of Fate). Or just as our reality is dominated by humans, perhaps there is a reality where the primary species are entities that manifest themselves Elric’s reality as black swords?

Another purpose of the novella is to reinforce Elric’s acceptance of his fate as the destroyer of the world. In the council of war at Karlaak, Elric tells the assembled delegates:

"I know that the men of the Young Kingdoms are only the gods’ first mouldings – shadow-things who precede the race of real men, even as we preceded you. And I know that if we do not vanquish both Jagreen Lern and his supernatural allies, then men will be swept from the boiling face of a maddened planet, their destiny unfulfilled!"

There is something messianic about Elric in these stories – just as Jerry Cornelius would be a new Messiah in The Final Programme and Karl Glogauer fulfils the literal role of Messiah in Behold the Man. He promises a new world, a better world, one where Chaos will be less influential than it is in the world of the Young Kingdoms, but in order to create it he must first destroy the present world. In the 1962 novella The Eternal Champion John Daker perpetrates the genocide of humanity, and what we are presented with in the Stormbringer novellas is another 'genocide', although it is presented very much in the terms of ‘to save the world it became necessary to first destroy it’.

Moorcock had previously depicted a world dominated by the barren rule of Law in the novella To Rescue Tanelorn..., while in Dead God’s Homecoming we saw the first effects of how Chaos was affecting the natural world as it became more dominant. In this story we not only see further anomalies such as the boiling sea when Elric and Moonglum cross the Dragon Sea, but Moonglum also says:

"All the way from Karlaak we’ve had every sort of weather, freak snow-storms, thunder-storms, hail and winds as hot as a furnace blast. Those rumours were disturbing as well – a rain of blood in Bakshaan, balls of fiery metal falling in Jadmar a few hours before we arrived. It seems nature has gone insane."

Readers with a religious background might recognize these phenomena as ‘signs and wonders’ heralding the coming Apocalypse, which will draw ever nearer in the subsequent novellas.

Textual Revisions

When Moorcock presented the four novellas in 1965 under the title Stormbringer, the publisher requested cuts to be made to the original text (to accommodate a specific page length?) and so Moorcock consolidated them into a single narrative, in the process excising approximately a quarter of the original text and writing new passages to ensure the story ran smoothly.

So, whereas in the novella Elric returns to Karlaak with Zarozinia and Dyvim Slorm, in the abridged novel the trio encounter Moonglum in the Western Continent on the pretext that he has come to help Elric fight Chaos. They then arriving in the port of Nio, where the sailor Lans Burta says he will only accept Elric’s wife and cousin as passengers since the albino is too recognizable, so Elric and Moonglum make their own way home separately. Since there is now no war council for Elric to attend, he does not sail to Sorcerer’s Isle to seek the hermits aid in petitioning the White Lords; instead, when they are ship-wrecked, Elric tells Ohada that they were heading south rather than "to Sorcerers’ Isle in the south-west". When Elric arrives at Nihrain, Sepiriz tells him:

"We ourselves were trying to contact the White Lords, with the aid, until recently, of the hermit magicians of the Sorcerer’s Isle, but Jagreen Lern’s war-fleet destroyed the island and Chaos has blocked our attempts to rescue the hermits. My brothers still strive to find the White Lords on the higher planes."

Some additional dialogue was added to the conversation where Sepiriz tells Elric he must destroy the Dukes of Hell in the 1965 abridgement, which was later removed from the 1977 and 1993 editions (the additional text is emboldened):

Sepiriz rose and gripped Elric's shoulder, staring with black eyes into the dazed and smouldering crimson ones. "You have pledged yourself to this mission, remember?"
"Aye, pledged – but Sepiriz – the Dukes of Hell – Arioch – I – oh, I wish that I were dead now..."
"You have much to do before you'll be allowed to die, Elric," Sepiriz said quietly. "You must realise how important you and your great sword are to Fate's cause. Remember your pledge!"
Elric drew himself upright, nodding vaguely "Even had I been given this knowledge before I made that pledge, I would still have made it..."

This additional dialogue was restored for the publication of Stormbringer in the first Del Rey collection, Elric: The Stealer of Souls.

In the original 1963 novella and the 1965 abridgement, Elric sabotages Jagreen Lern's ship by setting fire to the barrels of pitch that form the fireballs for his catapult after Stormbringer rescues its master from the yardarm, but in subsequent editions this scene was omitted for some reason:

Close by was a great barrel of pitch, used to form the fireballs. Close to that was a flaring torch used to ignite them. Elric seized the brand and flung it into the pitch.
'Though Jagreen Lern may win this battle, his flagship shall go to the bottom with the Southern fleet,' he said grimly, and dashed for the hold where he had been imprisoned, aware that Moonglum lie helpless there.

In all the various editions of the text, after Elric and Moonglum swim to Kargan's ship there is a line that mentions Jagreen Lern’s flagship is ablaze, but this makes little sense without the inclusion of the previous text. One possible explanation for its omission from later editions is that the full text for the subsequent novella, Sad Giant's Shield, mention is made of Jagreen Lern's flagship during a second navel battle. While it's not impossible for Jagreen Lern to have acquired a new flagship, following the destruction of the first, it could be seen as an inconsistency in the overall arc of the narrative. The missing text was eventually restored in the first Del Rey collection, Elric: The Stealer of Souls.

A final significant modification to the abridged text is when Elric and Moonglum are rescued by Kargan Sharpeyes, and they discover Dyvim Slorm aboard the ship, having prevailed upon the Sealords to come to the Southerns’ aid, which is a necessary change as there is no Council of War to otherwise explain why the men of the Isle of the Purple Towns should be at the battle. At this point, Moorcock also brings forward the confrontation with the Chaos Ships from Sad Giant's Shield in the narrative, but the manner of Elric, Moonglum & Dyvim Slorm's rescue from the water is lifted from an earlier scene in the third novella rather than as presented in the full text. From hereon the abridged novel (more or less) segues into the main narrative of Sad Giant's Shield and Elric's assault on Mordaga's Castle.

Connections

Black Sword’s Brothers is set two months after the events of the preceding novella, Dead God’s Homecoming.

Elric's Dream of a Thousand Years in the 2003 novel, The Skrayling Tree, takes place during the night he spends crucified on Jagreen Lern's yardarm in Black Sword’s Brothers.

Mike Says

  • "There is a tendency in imaginative fiction towards religiosity which I try to resist where possible. What my heroes fight for is balance -- the balance between Law and Chaos, Radicalism and Conservatism, if you like -- but they are pretty much all anti-authoritarian, which is where I am emotionally."[3]

Notes

  1. Fantasy Masterworks, Volume 17
  2. See To Rescue Tanelorn...
  3. Moorcock's Miscellany Q&A Archive Article #2285