Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Long Looks at Short Fiction: "Travelers' Rest" by James Enge

"Traveler's Rest"
James Enge
Pyr Books
free download

The first installment of Long Looks at Short Fiction, back in the early days of this blog, was an examination of "Destroyer" by James Enge.  It's been in the top ten posts ever since it went live.

When I recently came across this short story on the Pyr website, I knew I had to write an LLaSF column about it.   It's just taken me a while to get to it.  Pyr has made this story available to celebrate the publication of its 100th title, The Wolf Age by, who else, James Enge. It's set before the events of Blood of Ambrose and is self contained.  If you're not familiar with Enge's alcoholic swordsman/sorcerer Morlock, this story provides a good introduction.

There's an old saying that something is worth what you pay for it.  In this case, it's definitely not true.

This isn't a particularly long piece, only 8500 words, but that's fine.  It's still a Morlock tale.  Morlock and his apprentice Wyrth are traveling through a strange land where the livestock grazing in the fields resemble overgrown beetles.  Wyrth thinks something is amiss, but Morlock insists on staying for lunch and at least one night.

It seems Wyrth  is right.  Things are definitely not well in the town.  And the hills are the last place you want to go to get away from the trouble.  It goes back to a bargain made a number of years ago.  Of course the hills are where Morlock heads when he gets enough information to make a decision to get involved.

The plot is straightforward enough that I won't go into the details.  Suffice to say that Enge writes intelligent fantasy for the thinking person.  In order to find out exactly what's happening, Morlock has to make a truce with the villain and enter his cave.  The problem now is to defeat the villain without breaking his oath while rescuing the young girl he's gone to find.

There's humor here, but also horror and tragedy.  It would have been easy for Enge to dwell on the horrors in the cave.  Instead he shows us enough to let us know just how dangerous Morlock's opponent is.  There's enough humor in this portion of the story to leaven the atrocities.  And Enge brushes over how the survivors of the village have to cope with the aftermath, which, although horrific, isn't as horrific as the situation before Morlock showed up.

Enge is fast becoming one of the best practitioners of sword and sorcery working today.  If you haven't read him, download this story and see what all the talk is about.

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