Let Us Speak of Magic: Part the Eleventh

In which the author speaks of Elric’s pact with Arioch, Lord of the Seven Darks.

Our hero Elric, brooding.
Our hero, slaying as he sings his terrible battle song. From the 1st edition of Stormbringer, the game.

Let Us Speak of Magic: Part the Eleventh

This will be the penultimate letter concerning Elric and his magical pacts, itself part of our larger conversation "Let Us Speak of Magic." For the preceding letters please see:

Dear Reader,

When last we spoke of Elric we read of his attempt to summon Arioch, one of the Chaos Gods, as part of his desperate effort to find the woman he loves (and the traitor who kidnapped her).

He believed that he failed. In this letter we will look at Elric’s pact with Arioch and see where it takes him...

Of Master and Slave

We pick up shortly after Elric collapses in exhaustion, believing that his summoning has been in vain:

There was a small sound. Painfully he raised his weary head.
A fly had come into the chamber. It buzzed about erratically, seeming almost to follow the lines of the runes Elric had so recently painted.
The fly settled first upon one rune and then on another.
It must have come in through the window, thought Elric. He was annoyed by the distraction but still fascinated by it.
The fly settled on Elric’s forehead. It was a large, black fly and its buzz: was loud, obscene. It rubbed its forelegs together, and it seemed to be taking a particular interest in Elric’s face as it moved over it. Elric shuddered, but he did not have the strength to swat it. When it came into his field of vision, he watched it. When it was not visible he felt its legs covering every inch of his face. Then it flew up and, still buzzing loudly, hovered a short distance from Elric’s nose. And then Elric could see the fly’s eyes and recognize something in them. They were the eyes — and yet not the eyes — he had seen on that other plane.

The manifestation of our Chaos God does not begin on a pleasant note. We are told it is annoying, obscene. And he appears to be toying with our hero. So Elric asks, still not certain and barely able to speak, “Arioch?”

And a beautiful youth stood where the fly had hovered. The beautiful youth spoke in a beautiful voice—soft and sympathetic and yet manly. He was clad in a robe that was like a liquid jewel and yet which did not dazzle Elric, for in some way no light seemed to come from it. There was a slender sword at the youth’s belt and he wore no helm, but a circlet of red fire. His eyes were wise and his eyes were old and when they were looked at closely they could be seen to contain an ancient and confident evil.
That was all the youth said, but it revived the albino so that he could raise himself to his knees.
And Elric could now stand. He was filled with energy.
The youth was taller, now, than Elric. He looked down at the Emperor of Melniboné and he smiled the smile that the fly had smiled. “You alone are fit to serve Arioch. It is long since l was invited to this plane, but now that I am here I shall aid you, Elric. I shall become your patron. I shall protect you and give you strength and the source of strength, though master I be and slave you be.”

In an echo of the summoning, Arioch invokes Elric’s name twice, first reviving him and then filling him with strength. Afterwards he is taller than Elric and can look down upon him.

The conversation with Arioch is of a markedly different tone than the previous conversations we have seen Elric have with those powers that he summons. For one, Arioch is very clear that he is the “master” and Elric is “the slave.”

This is not the friendly talk with Straasha, Lord of the Water Elementals. Nor is he invoking the promised service of a Beast Lord. This is a pledging of allegiance in exchange for aid.

And aid Arioch grants, providing strength to our weakened hero and guidance in how to proceed in his quest to save his missing love and track down the traitor who stole her.

Elric’s Dreadful Battle Song

Thanks to Arioch’s aid, Elric is able to find his enemy. And it is in this instance that we first hear Elric’s battlecry, which is in itself an invocation. We arrive as our nemesis Yyrkoon is trying to understand what has gone wrong while a servant addresses him:

“Agh! No! No!” Yyrkoon beat heavily on his captain’s back and the man shrank away. “Elric is not cunning. He is not cunning. Some powerful demon gives him these ideas.”
“Perhaps, my lord. But are there demons more powerful than those who have aided you?”
“No,” said Yyrkoon. “There are none. Oh, that could summon some of them now! But I have expended my powers in opening the Shade Gate. I should have anticipated…I could not anticipate… Oh Elric! I shall yet destroy you, when the runeblades are mine!” Then Yyrkoon frowned. “But how could he have been prepared? What demon…? Unless he summoned Arioch himself? But he has not the power to summon Arioch. I could not summon him…”
And then, as if in reply, Yyrkoon heard Elric’s battle song sounding from the nearby streets. And that song answered the question.
“Arioch! Arioch! Blood and souls for my lord Arioch!”

Blood and souls! That is what Arioch wants and requires.

Aside/interjection: If you know a little Warhammer Fantasy or 40K lore, you might recognize something of the most memorable battle cry of Chaos:

“Blood for the blood god, skulls for his throne!”

Here, the pact not only grants Elric power but it serves his new master. Yes, in this instance by serving Arioch, Elric serves himself. But Elric no longer dispatches enemies only for his own sake, now the death he deals is dedicated to the Chaos Lord.

That sounds ominous and troubling.

Arioch’s Fickle Aid

Sometimes Elric calls on Arioch for more direct aid in perilous situations. But his patron does not always find it necessary to aid the only one “fit to serve Arioch.”

In one instance, he appears as a dark cloud that devours Elric’s enemies. In another he grants supernatural strength at the last minute to overcome a monster that seems about to finish off our hero. There’s a time when Elric actually does Arioch a favor by inviting him to retrieve a wayward Chaos Jester. And in yet another instance, Elric is desperate for aid and Arioch responds:

“Greetings, Elric,” said the face. “Greetings, most beloved of my children.”
“Aid me, Arioch!”
“Ah,” said the face, its tone full of rich regret. “Ah, that cannot be…”

Oh, my! That doesn’t sound good! Why not?

“It is impossible, sweetest of my slaves. There are other matters afoot in the Realms of Chaos. Matters of enormous moment to which I have already referred. I offer only my blessing.”

What a great patron! But that’s not all, Arioch has some parting words before dire danger reaches our hero:

“Remember your oath to Chaos and remain loyal to us in spite of all. Farewell, Elric.”

So, just so we’re clear: I’m not going to help you, but, remember to remain loyal to us no matter what. Great. Now, I hope you survive!

In only one instance that I can think of is Elric able to compel Arioch to action.

In The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, Elric summons Arioch to undo an evil – and he has the means to command him. (Technically this scene appeared in a novella titled The Jade Man’s Eyes first, but the textual history of some of Moorcock's books gets…interesting.)

Elric possesses an artifact that gives him authority over his patron but that authority only allows him to issue one command. Arioch is compelled to obey but that doesn’t stop him from reasoning with Elric to persuade him away from his intended course of action.

But Elric is not dismayed: His cause is just and only Arioch can undo the evil.

So Arioch’s aid can be helpful, it can be absent, and it can compelled – at least once. But all of these little gestures are as nothing to the most pivotal “aid” Arioch ever gives Elric. And the pact that our hero enters into as a result.

Dear Reader, we will pause here for there is much to be said of Elric and the Black Sword – too much for this letter to hold. And so we must wait to resume our conversation until next week. I hope that you've enjoyed this letter.

Until we speak again.

Best regards,


Want more words, Traveller? Come visit my website at bryanerye.com, or take the direct route to the blog.

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