“Gog and Magog” by Charlotte Ashley
When the Gates of Alexander were thrown open and the Wall at Darialani was smashed to pieces, it were not the Kypchaks what came through, nor the Kumans, the Turks nor even the Mongols. It were Gog and Magog come to crush the last kingdom of God.
Ezekiel foresaw the coming of the giants many ages before the flaming star ripped the sky over Damascus and caused glowing lapis lazuli to rain, scattering mystic gemstone and artifice from Jerusalem to Trebizond. The Wall at Darialani was a good trick but the gifts from the sky were even better and I was very lucky to have a lazuli weapon for my own by the time those monsters come to Tbilisi to slaughter us.
I will tell you now how I come to have such a weapon.
I was at Constantinople with that worm Michael Komnenos Doukas when the Franks knocked a hole in the wall and set fire to the city. I was with him also when he betrayed Boniface of Montferrat and robbed him of weapons and men in his great hurry to slink out of the city like a beaten dog.
We were not five days in the countryside when those men abandoned him in the night, taking what they could and leaving the belly-crawler nothing but those treasures attached to his person. I must have ranked least among those treasures, for the very next morning he did trade me for a horse. I was young then and fresh and worth more than a horse I think, but in those times horses could carry a man to safety and I could not, so I was sold to a stranger who spoke no Greek. Michael Komnenos wore the lazuli weapon close to his skin under his breeches but that was a place I was well used to reaching, and so I took it from him as he fondled me one last time just before he took possession of his new mount.
This weapon I took from Michael Komnenos Doukas was made of solid glowing lapis lazuli by the finest artificer in Byzantium and could kill any man or beast from half a league distant. Some of the girls know of my treasure and Anna is fond of saying I could trade it for an Empire, but I have seen what happens to Empires and I have no desire to see what is mine raped and pillaged and burnt. My pistala is dear to my heart and I will not part with it for anything.
The Wall had fallen but we in the city knew not. The pass of Darialani was a desolate place of yellow dust and stone and only goatherds to gossip of what they saw there. Gog and Magog marched south upon the city laying waste to the villages faster than the gossip of goatherds could fly, and so it was only because Prince George was so very bold that I escaped being caught unawares and wasted along with so many others.
I knew the Regent George Lasha because, though he was a strange boy and shy, he was forever coming to Mistress Shukhia’s to watch us. I am told he paid the mistress for this right but I never saw one follara even though it seemed he was always staring at me. I might not be so fresh as I was in Constantinople but I am a beauty enough that I knew the look young Lasha George gave me was worth a dirham at least.
Anna and me were sitting on the stoop above the cloud of dust kicked up by the many folk trading cheese and gourds in the market when I seen Lasha George, fourth of his name, come wrapped in a long brown cloak. He was not bound for Mistress Shukhia’s, but as he hurried the cloak fluttered and I saw the telltale glint of shining lapis lazuli from the sky underneath it. I had not once seen a weapon such as mine in all of Tbilisi for it was rare and cost a price only royal people could pay, and God gives royal people the wisdom to leave their treasures in armored coffers.
Yet there it was on Lasha and I knew surely that something awful was come, though I thought then it were probably Turks. I have been fucked by Turks before but it were always for coin and I had no desire to have the goods of my trade stolen from me so I shoved Anna and made her to move inside with me where we could arm ourselves.
“Georgi’s just learning his trade, Martya,” Anna said to me. “Probably his mother is tired of having her ear bent by those priests. Little lord shouldn’t be doing this and that and that other thing. So she makes him a warrior like Soslan his father; it’s natural enough. Come on, Martya, I am tired and I would sit down before Shukhia sends us customers.h
“You’ll not sit down,” I told her, “Don’t be a dumb goat. I know a thing or two about sacks.”
Tbilisi was a great city and strong but so was Constantinople before the Franks rent her apart. I made Anna and some other girls arm themselves with forks and cudgels, but I had my pistala and as I did not want to be trapped in a whorehouse if it were to be a sack, I decided to follow Lasha George. Constantinople taught me that rich people have a talent for being where the danger is not, and if things stood the way I feared they did then I wanted to be a shadow to Prince George, come what may.
A great unholy groan like the lowing of a mountainous cow shook golden slag from the stone homes of my neighbors and caused great confusion in the market. People crowded the streets, craning necks around the rooftops trying to catch a glimpse of whatever it was that had made the sound that had excited us all. I had no such curiosity for I knew an enemy you could see was an enemy who stood too close. I let my eyes wander the street instead in search of the Prince, and in my hurry I very near walked right by the filthy, pot-lined alley where Lasha George crouched half-hidden behind a cart of cabbages.
The common people of Tbilisi may have been too occupied to pay a half-naked whore any mind but Lasha George, blood of Queen Tamar and blessed by God, chose me from the busy streets with his ever-watchful eyes and gaped at me like a dead fish. To his great credit, his eyes passed from my bosom long enough to take note of my pistala and seeing it he stood tall and gave me a kingly look I would not have thought him capable of. With a movement of one hand he commanded me to join him in the dirty alley.
“Martya,” he said to me and I was surprised that he knew my name, “give me that object of power and get back to Mistress Shukhia.”
“I won’t,” I said to him and looked at his cloak to show I knew he were armed already.
“I command you to,” Lasha George told me and he held out a long, delicate hand. But I can stand as tall as any king and I meant to survive this sack, so I said to him some very rude things which I will not repeat and pray to God that He forgive me for speaking thus to the Prince. Lasha looked very surprised and told me instead that I would go with him. As this was my intention from the start I gave him a happy smile and he blushed.
“Where is the army?” I asked him but he shook his head to silence me. He was now watching over my shoulder so I turned around and there I saw soldiers of the Queen’s guard opening doors and shoving folk, looking for some person.
“Do you hide from your mother’s guard?” I asked and wondered if God had forsaken him and he was turned outlaw.
Lasha George frowned and answered, “Yes, they would prevent me from engaging the enemy.”
“Your mother is the smartest, holiest and best person in the land,” I told Lasha George the Fool for I understood with a sinking heart that the Regent did not intend to take me to the safety of any noble refuge. That great keening howl ripped through the air again, louder this time, and from the north. It was the noise of no army I have ever heard and as God is my witness I have heard armies from five nations and they all speak with the same voice.
The guards that sought my lord Regent looked frightened and quit ransacking my neighbors. They, being people of sound judgement, joined the sea of bodies flowing south, away from whatever roared in the north. The moment he saw their backs, Lasha George quit the alley and swam north against the crowd.
Why I went along, I can not now say, for my hopes of staying safe had just been reduced to a certainty of being killed. Lasha’s lazuli weapon was a defense of sorts, but not so good a defense as an army or a cave to hide in. In truth, it were madness only that caused me to follow my liege, but God’s most blessed always seem to be madmen and imbeciles because in running towards our death we found instead our salvation and this is how.
We ran all the way to the wall north of the city and mounted the yellow stone palisades to get a better look at the plains around the city and I was much surprised to see not one single man-at-arms there. At Constantinople there had been a forest of trebuchets and towers growing out of that sea of stinking Franks, but here there was no army at all. Instead, another rumbling moo rolled down from the mountains and with it a deafening screech like the grinding of an empty millstone. Whatever threatened us was in the valley hidden behind Mount Saguramo and if it were marching on us we would see it any time.
“We can’t let it reach the city,” was what Lasha George said.
I looked at the empty plains in front of us and the towers along the palisades and I say to Lasha George, “You are a great idiot. Smart people stay behind walls.”
“We will bring the battle to it,” says Lasha in a stern way, but I could not see how he were going to cross all that space without being seen by his own men,
“Who, by the way,” I say to him, “you are trying to escape.”
“The soldiers have gone south,” says Lasha George. “They are regrouping at Rustavi. Not one of them has courage enough to follow where we will go.”
I was surprised to hear the soldiers would abandon the city, for Queen Tamar’s palace was new and folk say it were built with artifice come from the sky so why would she leave it to the mercy of whatever evil come from the north? I was almost frightened then and my skin grew cold but also perhaps that come from a lack of decent clothing to cover me. I understood then why Lasha George were so angry, for he was a romantic boy who spent too much time with poets and he would take offence to cowardice and probably also to leaving thousands of his people to be killed dead by evil northern cow-gods. He was a dear boy, Lasha George was, and I argued no further because I did not wish to see the other girls at Shukhia’s killed dead nor some other people in the city who I had grown fond of.
“Come,” Lasha George led us down again so that we might begin our suicidal progress towards our foe.
Before even we reached the foot of the stairs a mob of Queen Tamar’s guard descended on Lasha George like a snarl of rutting snakes. His weapon was quickly tangled in his cloak and so I bent to pick up some stones what lay at my feet and I loaded them into my pistala. I held it in both hands and pointed its angry mouth towards the guard and say to them,
“Leave off or you’ll lack for heads, the lot of you.”
One at a time they did step back in surprise but not so much surprise that their dogs’ appetites were not roused by the feast they must have seen in me. I did not know what madness could persuade them to attack a Prince protected by a woman wielding a weapon more powerful than anything they were like to have ever seen, except perhaps it caused me to look all the more attractive as a captive or corpse.
The guard gathered their wits and moved to surround us. I stood beside Lasha George, ready to relieve the first man who would touch us of his skull. Lasha threw aside his cloak and drew his great blade with a long hiss. The sword young Lasha George the Poet bore was as tall as myself, forged entirely of glowing lapis lazuli with a holy cross blazed on the hilt. The tall boy looked like a man then and I confess I was impressed.
I was ready to open a great hole in the chest of a guardsman when the voice of some aged codger broke over us, and it commanded:
“Stop! In the name of God, heaven, and the Queen I command you to stop, you fools! I have word from the Queen! Get back, get back immediately!”
Those guards did very nearly drop their weapons in their hurry to back away from the Prince, though I did not lay aside my weapon and neither did Lasha. The old man who hurried to meet us resembled greatly an artificer for he wore lenses of shining gemstone tight to his beardless, creased, and pock-marked face. The Regent, I noticed, was pleased to see the old man and greeted him by name, which was Nasir or al-Kamal and then some more, and in truth Turks have more names than the Bible, but I did call this one Nasir after this day.
“I will engage Gog before he reaches the city,” Lasha tells this Turk. “I will not go to my mother.”
“Yes, I thought you might have some fool idea of that sort. Shota has filled you with notions of- but no, there is no time to argue. Your mother-”
“I will not go to my mother,” Lasha George tells him again. Nasir looks at the Regent with his covered eyes and I thought I did see that something behind those colored lenses was glowing, so I crossed myself. Those artificers of Shirvan who have taken artifice into the bodies that God gave them cause me to shudder, by God, even now.
“No, we will not go to your mother,” says the old man in a slow way, “but if you will stop the giants you must come with me to her palace. We will take her dromon. Why did you not come to me first? Such a waste of time!”
“What good is a dromon?” I asked him, “for when last I looked the Kura river was not deep enough to float a condom.”
Nasir turned his frightening glowing eyes on me then and saw the weapon I held as if for the first time.
“Is that yours?” he asked me, so I said yes and no man will take it from me. “You will come too, then,” he says.
With Nasir we were no more molested by any guard, but by now the cries from the giant in the north had grown so frequent that the folk of the city were in a panic and could spare no time to remark us at all. He led us through the streets to the palace and beyond to a tower all his own where I first saw the dromon he spoke of.
I knew dromons from my girlhood in Chandax. The last ship to carry me was with the Venetian fleet that took me from Crete to Antioch, where Komnenos did buy me. I thanked God when I come to Tbilisi and her mountains and I prayed I would never see the sea again which reminded me only of my mother and father, God rest their Souls.
The dromons of Nasir the Artificer were built wrong, I could see. In place of sails, the great long ships wore bulging pillows atop their masts and they were overburdened with heaps of artifice and scrap. These were land-locked wrecks not fit to travel to any place. I knew I could travel no further with the son of Queen Tamar and a madman artificer and I told them so.
The old man looked at my pistala and says, “Then I will take the weapon you bear.”
“As God is my Lord, you will do no such thing,” I told him and pointed the barrel at his head. The stones loaded in its heart would serve well enough to kill a mortal man but the artificer had not the good sense to be frightened. He only stepped toward me with his hand out as if to take it. “Get away from me, Infidel!” I say to him, “for I will kill you dead and repent of it later.” But the old man laughed and shook his head as if I were a child.
“You can not kill me with this,” he says, “I know not from whom you stole this thing but such weapons of power will act only for their masters, and you are no person of consequence to be tuned to such an instrument.”
“Dear God,” I prayed, “You can see I tried to save this man but he would not listen.” I squeezed the trigger.
The pistala lit up with the flare of a moth come too close to a candle. I felt its heat from my belly up to my bosom, and with the cry of a nighthawk come from hell, the shot exploded from the mouth of the weapon. Nasir leapt off the ground and went tumbling onto his back some strides away but to my great surprise I saw he still had a head on his shoulders.
Georgi shouted and turned on me with tears in his eyes but Nasir from the ground cried, “Wait!”
He lifted the head he should not have and I saw the lenses he wore had been shattered, and underneath them he had not eyes but one great band of glowing lapis lazuli between his forehead and nose. His mouth hung open from pain or surprise and he says, “How could you do that? Where is your power source?”
“Shall I shoot again?” I asked him, but I knew he had been spared by God and I would not squeeze the trigger again.
“No, no!” he says in a panic, not knowing I have changed my mind anyway. “You are clearly a person of more consequence than I first suspected. I am sorry.”
I did not know what consequence of my person he could have meant but I was happy to hear him apologize and so I apologized as well for shooting him in the face and destroying the artifice that masked his horrible deformity.
He smiled and reached to Lasha to help him stand and said, “It is no deformity, child, it is my power source.”
Lasha George tugged off his glove to show me his hand, and there in the pit of his palm were a glowing pool of lazuli as well.
“I have no such abomination of artifice to share with you,” I tell them, but Nasir insisted I do. I did not want to fight with the man in front of Lasha George but I still thought to leave their presence so I told them I would be going.
If Nasir had spoken I would have been deaf to his words but it were the Regent instead who quietly says to me, “I need your help.”
That young man looked at me with eyes so soft and distressed that despite my desire to live and not take up the company of mad royal people, I went with them into Tamar’s dromon.
I would not have been so quick to board a boat marooned on land, but our enemy had arrived. A screech like the twist of a giant’s rusted cartwheel bore into my ears just before the outer wall of the palace cracked, then separated into a cloud of yellow dust and a heap of pebble and sand.
Nasir looked up as if he had just now remembered we were all going to be killed dead and beckoned for us to follow him onto one of the ships. The soldiers we found there gave us both a terrible fright but Nasir assured us.
“They are reinforcements from Trebizond, seat of your cousin!” Lasha George smiled and I could see that he was going to have some satisfaction of his desire to fight.
In the middle of the deck there was a stone well, only it drew not water but power from the bowels of the ship. A disk of artifice was fit into the mouth of the well, and when the Regent put his hand on the disk’s lazuli window, a flash of blue light did cause the ship to buzz like a bee.
“It will be only moments before the balloons will have heated sufficiently to take us aloft,” Nasir says to me, which I confess I would not understand even if I was listening to him, which I was not. For I could see now the source of the noise which had assaulted us all this time and it was a beast from hell and scripture.
It was a monstrous giant of steel what loomed over the city, taller than any church or tower, wider than the gardens of the palace and so clean-made of sky-born artifice that I could see it was not a work of man but a creature forged by a supreme creator who must be God. In its chest was carved an enormous rose of glowing blue lapis lazuli that throbbed like a heartbeat.
“Gog.” I could only whisper the name of the enemies of Christendom that I knew well from the stories. “There must be two. Magog will come as well.”
“The dam has broken and in number they shall be like sand on the seashore,” Nasir says. “Two giants to helm an army that will bring on the Day of Resurrection.”
“We should pray,” I tried to say but the ship lurched and the tower beside us fell away. I could see that we were being lifted aloft.
Up went the dromon and up went we its passengers. With the tug of a rod Lasha caused two wings to snap open on either side of the ship for to better steer her. These wings fluttered like a sparrow’s and caused us to ride the winds smoother than any sea-born dromon I have ever known. I could see this sky-dromon would evade the beast’s grasping arms with the agility of raptor.
I had a hawk’s view of the city as well. I saw Gog reach into the north tower of the Queen’s palace, scattering stone and dust over the neighborhood. We were lucky to be aloft but I could see that the common folk were not reaping this luck for the collapse of the Queen’s tower had crushed many people. The giant picked through the ruins like some great beggar combing for scraps until it found a shard of lapis lazuli so small in its great hands that it seemed to be no bigger than a fig. Just like a great lord with a fig, Gog put it into the crevice in its face that might have been a mouth and ate it up.
“It has come for the lazuli!” Nasir cried. “Abomination of artifice! It comes for its power source!”
“Also to ruin the kingdoms of God,” I reminded the man. The giant raised up its head from the rubble when we come close, so I waved my pistala in the air and shouted, “We can draw him back into the mountains! Back to the Gates, if it wants to feed!”
Lasha George nodded. The feast of lazuli on our dromon was richer than any in the city, and so smelling it the giant took a few lumbering steps after us. He was clumsy, this steel giant, and in his haste to follow us he kicked over another block of buildings, crushing God only knows how many more folk. But he came, and we thanked God. He followed.
Magog his brother was crossing the plains on misshapen legs of artifice but he, too, was attracted by the dromons. We sped north over their heads like wasps. We reached the pass of Darialani well before they did and in that desolate place of dust, stone and ruins we could lay our final trap.
Those borrowed warriors of Trebizond formed a shield wall at the mouth of the gorge but in truth they were but bait for it were Lasha and myself who were to engage the beasts. The steel weapons with inlaid smears of lazuli that the soldiers held would be merely snacks for Gog and Magog, but Lasha George’s greatsword of solid lazuli and my pistala were formidable weapons and with them we hoped to separate the giants from their power sources. Those great glowing rose-panels on their chests were the target, and to shatter and destroy them I was given huge, pointed darts of artifice and lazuli the size of garden slugs to fire into their hearts. For one moment I confess I wished to take those priceless slugs and run to Baghdad where they could be sold, but I must truly be a holy woman for I decided I liked Lasha George well enough to stay and die for him instead.
First Magog then Gog showed themselves to us and I did not hesitate to open fire on them. I had to arm my weapon one slug at a time but it was well worth the effort for the lazuli panels on the monster’s chest shattered with the force of my shots. The more of them I fired the hotter I felt, but it was a heat that flowed into my weapon until it glowed with a bright white light and exploded with ten times the force I had grown used to. The shining of the giant’s artifice dulled as I tore it away with my fire until finally Magog fell to his knees just as I ran out of slugs. Gog his brother come round the corner just then.
“I have no shot!” I screamed at Lasha, for I could stuff my weapon with stone again but I feared it would not work quite so well as the slugs. Lasha nodded to show that he had heard me but he did not look to care that he would face Gog alone. He had hungered for this fight all day and now that it had come, he would be its equal.
Lasha crouched on some rocks up the steep wall of the gorge, as high as the giant’s shoulder. It entered the pass and roared its hell-sent howl as it made to dive into the guards, who looked as small as a child’s toys spilt on the floor of the canyon. It did not note Lasha until he leapt from his perch with one great bound and sunk his sword deep into its collar as easily as if he sliced cheese. The giant arched and threw himself into a tower of old stone but Lasha held fast to his weapon. Between its throes he removed his weapon and jumped nimbly to its other shoulder and there sliced again as if seeking its heart through its throat. The giant jerked to the other side and lurched again.
He had great skill with a sword, my prince did, and back and forth did he dance, stabbing again and again until even I could see the wisdom of his strokes. Gog’s head remained atop its shoulders only because it balanced there, and for Georgi’s final trick he took the sword in both hands and gave a mighty cry as he cleaved into the giant’s cheek and knocked that head clean off.
The headless giant stepped to and fro but as Lasha climbed off of it we could see it were slowing. In time the light drained from its lazuli marks and it sat down as if resigned to the fate God and Lasha George had carved out for him.
That were the end of Gog and Magog.
It were not the end of the rest of us and let me tell you what happened next. Nasir gutted the giants like a hunter disembowels his quarry to ensure they never rose again, saying if they would rebuild themselves again he would leave them no components. The lapis lazuli that coursed through their veins disappeared into Queen Tamar’s coffers, and the body of Gog was gifted to the Franks ten years later and I have heard they used that body to construct the largest monument to God in all the earth, the Great Lady of Paris.
George IV of Georgia ascended the throne three years later. He took me to his bed, and we discovered where my power source lay. Despite the complaints of his priests, we were married, and all that remains to be said is that though I am no longer young, I still hold the pistala as my very own, and because of it I am nearly the most powerful woman in all of the Caucasus, dei gratia. Amen.
|Charlotte Ashley is a writer and bookseller living in Toronto, Canada. Her short fiction appears in a number of anthologies and magazines, including the Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2017 (ed. Rich Horton). She has been nominated for both the Aurora and Sunburst Awards and once performed a story from the equipment of a CrossFit gym. You can find more about her at www.once-and-future.com or on Twitter @CharlotteAshley.|