The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison

XXVII. The Second Expedition to Impland

How the Lord Juss, Not to Be Persuaded from His Set Purpose, Found, where Least it was to Be Looked for, Upholding in that Resolve; and of the Sailing of the Armament to Muelva by Way of the Straits of Melikaphkhaz.

That was the last ember of red summer burning when they cut them that harvest on Krothering Side. Autumn came, and winter months, and the lengthening days of the returning year. And with the first breath of spring were the harbours filled with ships of war, so many as had never in former days been seen in the land, and in every countryside from the western Isles to Byland, from Shalgreth and Kelialand to the headlands under Rimon Armon, were soldiers gathered with their horses and all instruments of war.

Lord Brandoch Daha rode from the west, the day the Pasque flowers first opened on the bluffs below Erngate End and primroses made sweet the birch-forests in Gashterndale. He set forth betimes, and hard he rode, and he rode into Galing by the Lion Gate about the hour of noon. There was Lord Juss in his private chamber, and greeted him with great joy and love. So Brandoch Daha asked, “What speed?” And Juss answered, “Thirty ships and five afloat in Lookinghaven, whereof all save four be dragons of war. Zigg I expect tomorrow with the Kelialand levies; Spitfire lieth at Owlswick with fifteen hundred men from the southlands; Volle came in but three hours since with four hundred more. In sum, I’ll have four thousand, reckoning ships’ companies and our own bodyguards.”

“Eight ships of war have I,” said Lord Brandoch Daha, “in Stropardon Firth, all busked and boun. Five more at Aurwath, five at Lornagay in Morvey, and three on the Mealand coast at Stackray Oyce, besides four more in the Isles. And I have sixteen hundred spearmen and six hundred horse. All these shall come together to join with thine in Lookinghaven at the snapping of my fingers, give me but seven days’ notice.”

Juss gripped him by the hand. “Bare were my back without thee,” he said.

“In Krothering I’ve shifted not a stone nor swept not a chamber clean,” said Brandoch Daha. “’Tis a muck-pit. Every man’s hand I might command I set only to this. And now ’tis ready.” He turned sharp toward Juss and looked at him a minute in silence. Then with a gravity that sat not often on his lips he said, “Let me be urgent with thee once more: strike and delay not. Do him not again that kindness we did him aforetime, fribbling our strength away on the cursed shores of Impland, and by the charmed waters of Ravary, so as he might as secure as sleep send Corsus hither and Corinius to work havoc i’ the land; and so put on us the greatest shame was ever laid on mortal men, and we not bred up to suffer shame.”

“Thou saidst seven days,” said Juss. “Snap thy fingers and call up thy armies. I’ll delay thee not an hour.”

“Ay, but I mean to Carcë,” said he.

“To Carcë, whither else?” said Juss. “But I’ll take my brother Goldry with us.”

“But I mean first to Carcë,” said Brandoch Daha. “Let my opinion sway thee once. Why, a schoolboy should tell thee, clear thy flank and rear ere thou go forward.”

Juss smiled. “I love this new garb of caution, cousin,” said he; “it doth most prettily become thee. I question though whether this be not the true cause: that Corinius took not up thy challenge last summer, but let it lie, and that hath left thee hungry still.”

Brandoch Daha looked him sidelong in the eye, and laughed. “O Juss,” he said, “thou hast touched me near. But ’tis not that. That was in the weird that bright lady laid on me, in the sparrow-hawk castle in Impland forlorn: that he I held most in hate should ruin my fair lordship, and that to my hand should vengeance be denied. That I e’en must brook. O no. Think only, delays are dangerous. Come, be advised. Be not mulish.”

But the Lord Juss’s face was grave. “Urge me no more, dear friend,” said he. “Thou sleep’st soft. But to me, when I am cast in my first sleep, cometh many a time the likeness of Goldry Bluszco, held by a maleficial charm on the mountain top of Zora Rach, that standeth apart, out of the sunlight, out of all sound or warmth of life. Long ago I made vow to turn neither to the right nor to the left, until I set him free.”

“He is thy brother,” said Lord Brandoch Daha. “Also, is he mine own familiar friend, whom I love scarce less than thee. But when thou speakest of oaths, remember there’s La Fireez too. What shall he think on us after our oaths to him three years ago, that night in Carcë? Yet. this one blow should right him too.”

“He will understand,” said Juss.

“He is to come with Gaslark, and thou told’st me thou dost e’en now expect them,” said Brandoch Daha. “I’ll leave you. I cannot for shame say to him, ‘Patience, friend, truly ’tis not to-day convenient. Thou shalt be paid in time.’ By heavens, I’d scorn to entreat my mantle-maker so. And this our friend that lost all and languisheth in exile because he saved our lives.”

So saying, he stood up in great discontent and ire as if to leave the chamber. But Juss caught him by the wrist. “Thou dost upbraid me most unjustly, and well thou knowest it in thy heart, and ’tis that makes thee so angry. Hark, the horn soundeth at the gate, and ’tis for Gaslark. I’ll not let thee go.”

“Well,” said Lord Brandoch Daha, “have thy will. Only ask not me to plead thy rotten case to them. If I speak it shall be to shame thee. Now thou’rt warned.”

Now went they into the high presence chamber, where were bright ladies not a few, and captains and noble persons from up and down the land, and stood on the dais. Gaslark the king walked up the shining floor, and behind him his captains and councillors of Goblinland walked two by two. The Prince La Fireez strode at his elbow, proud as a lion.

Blithely they greeted those lords of Demonland that rose up to greet them beneath the starry canopy, and the Lady Mevrian that stood betwixt her brother and Lord Juss so as ’twere hard to say which of the three was fairest to look on, so much they differed in their beauty’s glory. Gro, standing near, said in himself, “I know a fourth. And were she but joined with these, then were the crown of the whole earth’s loveliness fitted in this one chamber: in a right casket surely. And the Gods in heaven (if there be Gods indeed) should go pale for envy, having in their starry gallery no fair to match with these; not Phoebus Apollo, not the chaste Huntress, nor the foam-born Queen herself.”

But Gaslark, when his eye lighted on the long black beard, the lean figure slightly stooping, the pallid brow, the curls smoothed with perfumed unguents, the sickle-like nose, the great liquid eyes, the lily hand; he, beholding and knowing these of old, waxed in a moment dark as thunder with the blood-rush beneath his sun-browned skin, and with a great sweep snatched out his sword, as if without gare or beware to thrust him through. Gro stepped hastily back. But the Lord Juss came between them.

“Let alone, Juss,” cried Gaslark. “Know’st not this fellow, what a vile enemy and viper we have here? A pretty perfumed villain! who for so many years did spin me a thread of many seditions and troubles, while his smooth tongue gat money from me still. Blessed occasion! Now will I let his; soul out.”

But the Lord Juss laid his hand on Gaslark’s sword-arm. “Gaslark,” said he, “leave off thy rages, and put up thy sword. A year ago thou’dst done me no wrong. But to-day thou’dst have slain me a man of mine own men, and a lord of Demonland.”

Now when they had done their greetings, they washed their hands and sate at dinner and were nobly served and feasted. And the Lord Juss made peace betwixt Gro and Gaslark, albeit ’twas no light task to prevail upon Gaslark to forgive him. Thereafter they retired them with Gaslark and La Fireez into a chamber apart.

Gaslark the king spake and said, “None can gainsay it, O Juss, that this fight ye won last harvest tide was the greatest seen on land these many years, and of greatest consequence. But I have heard a bird sing there shall be yet greater deeds done ere many moons be past. Therefore it is we came hither to thee, I and La Fireez that be your friends from of old, to pray thee let us go with thee on thy quest across the world after thy brother, for sorrow of whose loss the whole world languisheth; and thereafter let us go with you on your going up to Carcë.”

“O Juss,” said the Prince, “we would not in after-days that men should say, On such a time fared the Demons into perilous lands enchanted and by their strength and valorousness set free the Lord Goldry Bluszco (or haply, there ended their life’s days in that glorious quest); but Gaslark and La Fireez were not in it, they bade their friends farewell, hung up their swords, and lived a quiet and merry life in Zajë Zaculo. So let their memory be forgot.”

Lord Juss sat silent a minute, as one much moved. “O Gaslark,” he said at length, “I’ll take thine offer without another word. But unto thee, dear Prince, I must bare mine heart somewhat. For thou here art come not strest in our quarrel to spend thy blood, only to put us yet deeper in thy debt. And yet small blame it were to thee shouldst thou in dishonourable sort revile me, as many shall cry out against me, for a false friend into thee and a friend forsworn.”

But the Prince La Fireez brake in upon him, saying, “I prithee have done, or thou’lt shame me quite. Whate’er I did in Carcë, ’twas but equal payment for your saving of my life in Lida Nanguna. So was all evened up betwixt us. Think then no more on’t, but deny me not to go with you to Impland. But up to Carcë I’ll not go with you: for albeit I am clean broke with Witchland, against Corund and his kin I will not draw sword nor against my lady sister. A black curse on the day I gave her white hand to Corund! She holdeth too much of our stock, methinks: her heraldry is hearts not hands. And giving her hand she gave her heart. ’Tis a strange world.”

“La Fireez,” said Juss, “we weigh not so lightly our obligation unto thee. Yet must I hold my course; having sworn a strong oath that I would turn aside neither to the right nor to the left until I had delivered my dear brother Goldry out of bondage. So sware I or ever I went that ill journey to Carcë and was closed in prison fast and by thee delivered. Nor shall blame of friends nor wrongful misprision nor any power that is shake me in this determination. But when that is done, no rest remaineth unto us till we win back for thee thy rightful realm of Pixyland, and many good things besides to be a token of our love.”

Said the Prince, “Thou doest right. If thou didst other thou’dst have my blame.”

“And mine thereto,” said Gaslark. “Do not I grieve, think’st thou, to see the Princess Armelline, my sweet young cousin, grow every day more wan o’ the check and pale? And all for sorrow and teen for her own true love, the Lord Goldry Bluszco. And she so carefully brought up by her mother as nothing was too dear or hard to be brought to pass for her desire, thinking that a creature so noble and perfect could not be trained up too delicately. I deem to-day better than to-morrow, and to-morrow better than his morrow, to set sail for wide-fronted Impland."’

All this while the Lord Brandoch Daha said never a word. He sat back in his chair of ivory and chrysoprase, now toying with his golden finger-rings, now twisting and untwisting the yellow curls of his moustachios and beard. In a while he yawned, rose from his seat and fell to pacing lazily up and down. He had hitched up his sword across his back under his two elbows, so that the shoe of the scabbard stood out under one arm and the jewelled hilt under the other. His fingers strummed little tunes on the front of the rich rose velvet doublet that cased his chest. The spring sunlight as he paced from shine to shade and to shine again, passing the tall windows, seemed to caress his face and form. It was as if spring laughed for joy beholding in him one that was her own child, clothed to outward view with so much loveliness and grace, but full besides to the eyes and finger-tips with fire and vital sap, like her own buds bursting in the Brankdale coppices.

In a while he ceased his walking, and stood by the Lord Gro who sat a little part from the rest. “How thinkest thou, Gro, of our counsels? Art thou for the straight road or the crooked? For Carcë or Zora Rach?”

“Of the roads,” answered Gro, “a wise man will choose ever that one which is indirect. For but consider the matter, thou that art a great cragsman: think our life’s course a lofty cliff. I am to climb it, sometime up, sometime down. I pray, whither leadeth the straight road on such a cliff? Why, nowhither. For if I will go up by the straight way, ’tis not possible; I am left gaping whiles thou by crooked courses hast gained the top. Or if down, why ’tis easy and swift; but then, no more climbing ever more for me. And thou, clambering down by the crooked way, shalt find me a dead and unsightly corpse at the bottom.”

“Grammercy for thy me’s and thee’s,” said Lord Brandoch Daha. “Well, ’tis a most weighty principle, backed with a most just and lively exposition. How dost thou interpret thy maxim in our present question?”

Lord Gro looked up at him. “My lord, you have used me well, and to deserve your love and advance your fortunes I have pondered much how you of Demonland might best obtain revenge upon your enemies. And I daily thinking hereupon, and conceiving in my head divers imaginations, can devise no means but one that in my fancy seemeth best, which is this.”

“Let me hear it,” said Lord Brandoch Daha.

Said Gro, “’Twas ever a fault in you Demons that you would not perceive how ’tis oft-times good to draw the snake from her hole by another man’s hand. Consider now your matter. You have a great force both for land and sea. Trust not too much in that. Oft hath he of the little force o’ercome most powerful enemies, going about to entrap them by sleight and policy. But consider yet again. You have a thing is mightier far than all your horses and spearmen and dragons of war, mightier than thine own sword, my lord, and thou accounted the best swordsman in all the world.”

“What thing is that?” asked he.

Gro answered, “Reputation, my Lord Brandoch Daha. This reputation of you Demons for open dealings even to your worst enemies.”

“Tush,” said he. “’Tis but our way i’ the world. Moreover, ’tis, I think, a thing natural in great persons, of whatsoever country they be born. Treachery and double dealing proceed commonly from fear, and that is a thing which I think no man in this land comprehendeth. Myself, I do think that when the high Gods made a person of my quality they traced tween his two eyes something, I know not what, which the common sort durst not look upon without trembling.”

“Give me but leave,” said Lord Gro, “and I’ll pluck you a braver triumph in a little hour than your swords should win you in two years. Speak smooth words to Witchland, offer him composition, bring him to a council and all his great men along with him. I’ll so devise it, they shall all be suddenly taken off in a night, haply by setting upon them in their beds, or as we may find most convenient. All save Corund and his sons; them we may wisely spare, and conclude peace with them. It shall not by ten days delay your sailing to Impland, whither you might then proceed with light hearts and minds sat ease.”

“Very prettily conceived, upon my soul,” said Brandoch Daha. “Might I advise thee, thou’dst best not talk to Juss i’ this manner. Not now, I mean, while his mind’s so bent on matters of weight and moment. Nor I should not say it to my sister Mevrian. Women will oft-times take in sad earnest such a conceit, though it be but talk and discourse. With me ’tis otherwise. I am something of a philosopher myself, and thy jest ambleth with my humour very pleasantly.”

“Thou art pleased to be merry,” said Lord Gro. “Many ere now, as the event hath proved, rejected my wholesome counsels to their own great hurt.”

But Brandoch Daha said lightly, “Fear not, my Lord Gro, we’ll reject no honest redes of so wise a counsellor as thou. But,” and here was a light in the eye of him made Gro startle, “did any man with serious intent dare bid me do a dastard deed, he should have my sword through the dearest part of’s body.”

Lord Brandoch Daha now turned him to the rest of them. “Juss,” said he, “friend of my heart, meseemeth y’are all of one mind, and none of my mind. I’ll e’en bid you farewell. Farewell, Gaslark; farewell, La Fireez.”

“But whither away?” said Juss, standing up from his chair. “Thou must not leave us.”

“Whither but to mine own place?” said he, and was gone from the chamber.

Gaslark said, “He’s much incensed. What hast thou done to anger him?”

Mevrian said to Juss, “I’ll follow and cool him.” She went, but soon returned saying, “No avail, my lords. He is ridden forth from Galing and away as fast as his horse might carry him.”

Now were they all in a great stew, some conjecturing one thing and some another. Only the Lord Juss kept silence and a calm countenance, and the Lady Mevrian. And Juss said at length to Gaslark, “This it is, that he chafeth at every day’s delay that letteth him from having at Corinius. Certes, I’ll not blame him, knowing the vile injuries the fellow did him and his insolence toward thee, madam. Be not troubled. His own self shall bring him back to me when time is, as no other power should do ’gainst his good will; he whose great heart Heaven cannot force with force.”

And even so, the next night after, when folk were abed and asleep, Juss, in his high bed-chamber sitting late at his book, heard a bridle ring. So he called his boys to go with him with torches to the gate. And there in the dancing torch-light came the Lord Brandoch Daha a-riding into Galing Castle, and somewhat of the bigness of a great pumpkin tied in a silken cloth hung at his saddle-bow. Juss met him in the gate alone. “Let me down from my horse,” he said, “and receive from me thy bedfellow that thou must sleep with by the Lake of Ravary.”

“Thou hast gotten it?” said Juss. “The hippogriff’s egg, out of Dule Tarn, by thyself alone?” and he took the bundle right tenderly in his two hands.

“Ay,” answered he. “’Twas where thou and I made sure of it last summer, according to the word of her little martlet that first found it for us. The tarn was frozen and ’twas tricky work diving and most villanous cold. It is small marvel thou’rt a lucky man in thine undertakings, O Juss, when thou hast such an art to draw thy friends to second thee.”

“I thought thou’dst not leave me,” said Juss.

“Thought?” cried Brandoch Daha. “Didst ever dream I’d suffer thee to do thy foolishnesses alone? Nay, I’ll come first to the enchanted lake with thee, and let be Carcë i’ the meantime. Howbeit I’ll do it ’gainst the stream of my resolution quite.”

Now was but six days more of preparation, and on the second day of April was all ready in Lookinghaven for the sailing of that mighty armament: fifty and nine ships of war and five ships of burthen and thrice two thousand fighting men.

Lady Mevrian sat on her milk-white mare overlooking the harbour where the ships all orderly rode at anchor, shadowy gray against the sun-bright shimmer of the sea, with here and there a splash of colour, crimson or blue or grass-green, from their painted hulls or a beam of the sun glancing from their golden masts or figureheads. Gro stood at her bridle-rein. The Galing road, winding down from Havershaw Tongue, ran close below them and so along the sea-shore to the quays at Lookinghaven. Along that road the hard earth rang with the tramp of armed men and the tramp of horses, and the light west wind wafted to Gro and Mevrian on their grassy hill snatches of deep-voiced battle-chants or the galloping notes of trumpet and pipe and the drum that sets men’s hearts a-throb.

In the van rode the Lord Zigg, four trumpeters walking before him in gold and purple. His armour from chin to toe shone with silver, and jewels blazed on his gorget and baldrick and the hilt of his long straight sword. He rode a black stallion savage-eyed with ears laid back and a tail that swept the earth. A great company of horse followed him, and half as many tall spearmen, in russet leather jerkins plated with brass and silver. “These,” said Mevrian, “be of Kelialand and the shore-steads of Arrowfirth, and his own vassalage from Rammerick and Amadardale. That is Hesper Golthring rideth a little behind him on his right hand; he loveth two things in this world, a good horse and a swift ship. He on the left, he o’ the helm of dull silver set with raven’s wings, so long of the leg thou’dst say if he rode a little horse he might straddle and walk it: Styrkmir of Blackwood. He is of our kin; not yet twenty years old, yet since Krothering Side accounted one of our ablest.”

So she showed him all as they rode by, Peridor of Sule, captain of the Mealanders, and his nephew Stypmar. Fendor of Shalgreth with Emeron Galt his young brother, that was newly healed from the great wound Corinius gave him at Krothering Side; these leading the shepherds and herdsmen from the great heaths north of Switchwater, who will hold by the stirrup and so with their light bucklers and little brown swords go into battle with the horsemen full gallop against the enemy. Bremery in his ram’s-horn helm of gold and broidered surcoat of scarlet velvet, leading the dalesmen from Onwardlithe and Tivarandardale. Trentmar of Scorradale with the northeastern levies from Byland and the Strands and Breakingdale. Astar of Rettray, lean and lithe, bony-faced, gallant-eyed, white of skin, with bright red hair and beard, riding his lovely roan at the head of two companies of spearmen with huge iron-studded shields: men from about Drepaby and the south-eastern dales, landed men and home-men of Lord Goldry Bluszco. Then the island dwellers from the west, with old Quazz of Dalney riding in the place of honour, noble to look on with his snowy beard and shining armour, but younger men their true leaders in war: Melchar of Strufey, great-chested, fierce-eyed, with thick brown curling hair, horsed on a plunging chestnut, his byrny bright with gold, a rich mantle of creamy silk brocade flung about his ample shoulders, and Tharmrod on his little black mare with silver byrny and bats-winged helm, he that held Kenarvey in fee for Lord Brandoch Daha, keen and ready like an arrow drawn to the barbs. And after them the Westmark men, with Arnund of By their captain. And after them, four hundred horse, not to be surpassed for beauty or ordered array by any in that great army, and young Kamerar riding at their head, burly as a giant, straight as a lance, apparelled like a king, bearing on his mighty spear the pennon of the Lord of Krothering.

“Look well on these,” said Mevrian as they passed by. “Our own men of the Side and Thunderfirth and Stropardon. Thou may’st search the wide world and not find their like for speed and fire and all warlike goodliness and readiness to the word of command. Thou look’st sad, my lord.”

“Madam,” said Lord Gro, “to the ear of one that useth, as I use, to consider the vanity of all high earthly pomps, the music of these powers and glories hath a deep under-drone of sadness. Kings and governors that do exult in strength and beauty and lustihood and rich apparel, showing themselves for awhile upon the stage of the world and open dominion of high heaven, what are they but the gilded summer fly that decayeth with the dying day?”

“My brother and the rest must not stay for us,” said the lady. “They meant to go aboard as soon as the army should be come down to the harbour, for their ships be to sail out first down the firth. Is it determined indeed that thou goest with them on this journey?”

“I had so determined, madam,” answered he. She was beginning to move down towards the road and the harbour, but Gro put a hand on the rein and stopped her. “Dear lady,” he said, “these three nights together I have dreamed a dream: a strange dream, and all the particulars thereof betokening heavy anxiety, increase of peril, and savage mischief; promising some terrible issue. Methinks if I go on this journey thou shalt see my face no more.”

“O fie, my lord,” cried she, reaching him her hand, “give never a thought to such fond imaginings. ’Twas the moon but glancing in thine eye. Or if not, stay with us here and cheat Fate.”

Gro kissed her hand, and kept it in his. “My Lady Mevrian,” he said, “Fate will not be cheated, cog we never so wisely. I do think there be not many extant that in a noble way fear the face of death less than myself. I’ll go o’ this journey. There is but one thing should turn me back.”

“And ’tis?” said she, for he fell silent on a sudden.

He paused, looking down at her gloved hand resting in his. “A man becometh hoarse and dumb,” said he, “if a wolf hath the advantage first to eye him. Didst thou procure thee a wolf to dumb me when I would tell thee? But I did once; enough to let thee know. O Mevrian, dost thou remember Neverdale?”

He looked up at her. But Mevrian sat with head erect, like her Patroness divine, with sweet cool lips set firm and steady eyes fixed on the haven and the riding ships. Gently she drew her hand from Gro’s, and he strove not to retain it. She eased forward the reins. Gro mounted and followed her. They rode quietly down to the road and so southward side by side to the harbour. Ere they came within earshot of the quay, Mevrian spake and said, “Thou’lt not think me graceless nor forgetful, my lord. All that is mine, O ask it, and I’ll give it thee with both hands. But ask me not that I have not to give, or if I gave should give but false gold. For that’s a thing not good for thee nor me, nor I would not do it to an enemy, far less to thee my friend.”

Now was the army all gotten ashipboard, and farewells said to Volle and those who should abide at home with him. The ships rowed out into the firth all orderly, their silken sails unfurled, and that great armament sailed southward into the open seas under a clear sky. All the way the wind favoured them, and they made a swift passage, so that on the thirtieth morning from their sailing out of Lookinghaven they sighted the long gray cliff-line of Impland the More dim in the low blown spray of the sea, and sailed through the Straits of Melikaphkhaz in column ahead, for scarce might two ships pass abreast through that narrow way. Black precipices shut in the straits on either hand, and the sea-birds in their thousands whitened every little ledge of those cliffs like snow. Great flights of them rose and circled overhead as the ships sped by, and the air was full of their plaints. And right and left, as of young whales blowing, columns of white spray shot up continually from the surface of the sea. For these were the stately-winged gannets fishing that sea-strait. By threes and fours they flew, each following other in ordered line, many mast-heights high; and ever and anon one checked in her flight as if a bolt had smitten her, and swooped head-foremost with wings half-spread, like a broad-barbed dart of dazzling whiteness, till at a few feet above the surface she clapped close her wings and cleft the water with a noise as of a great stone cast into the sea. Then in a moment up she bobbed, white and spruce with her prey in her gullet; rode the waves a minute to rest and consider; then with great sweeping wing-strokes up again to resume her flight.

After a mile or two the narrows opened and the cliffs grew lower, and the fleet sped past the red reefs of Uaimnaz and the lofty stacks of Pashnemarthra white with sea-gulls on to the blue solitude of the Didornian Sea. All day they sailed south-east with a failing wind. The coastline of Melikaphkhaz fell away astern, paled in the mists of distance, and was lost to sight, until only the square cloven outline of the Pashnemarthran islands broke the level horizon of the sea. Then these too sank out of sight, and the ships rowed on south-eastward in a dead calm. The sun stooped to the western waves, entering his bath of blood-red fire. He sank, and all the ways were darkened. All night they rowed gently on under the strange southern stars, and the broken waters of that sea at every oar-stroke were like fire burning. Then out of the sea to eastward came the day-star, ushering the dawn, brighter than all night’s stars, tracing a little path of gold a-long the waters. Then dawn, filling the low eastern skies with a fleet of tiny cockle-shells of bright gold fire; then the great face of the sun ablaze. And with the going up of the sun a light wind sprang up, bellying their sails on the starboard tack; so that ere day declined the sea-cliffs of Muelva hung white above the spray-mist on their larboard bow. They beached the ships on a white shell-strand behind a headland that sheltered it from the east and north. Here the barrier of cliffs stood back a little from the shore, giving place for a fertile dell of green pasture, and woods clustering at the foot of the cliffs, and a little spring of water in the midst.

So for that night they slept on board, and next day made their camp, discharging the ships of burthen that were laden with the horses and stuff. But the Lord Juss was minded not to tarry an hour more in Muelva than should suffice to give all needful orders to Gaslark and La Fireez what they should do and when expect him again, and to make provision for himself and those who must fare with him beyond these shadowing cliffs into the haunted wastes of the Moruna. Ere noon was all this accomplished and farewells said, and these lords, Juss, Spitfire, and Brandoch Daha, set forth along the beach southward towards a point where it seemed most hopeful to scale the cliffs. With them went the Lord Gro, both by his own wish and because be had known the Moruna aforetime and these particular parts thereof; and with them went besides those two brothers-in-law, Zigg and Astar, bearing the precious burden of the egg, for that honour and trust had Juss laid on them at their earnest seeking. So with some pains after an hour or more they won up the barrier, and halted for a minute on the cliff’s edge.

The skin of Gro’s hands was hurt with the sharp rocks. Tenderly he drew on his lambswool gloves, and shivered a little; for the breath of that desert blew snell and frore and there seemed a shadow in the air southward, for all it was bright and gentle weather below whence they were come. Yet albeit his frail body quailed, even so were his spirits within him raised with high and noble imaginings as he stood on the lip of that rocky cliff. The cloudless vault of heaven; the unnumbered laughter of the sea; that quiet cove beneath, and those ships of war and that army camping by the ships; the emptiness of the blasted wolds to southward, where every rock seemed like a dead man’s skull and every rank tuft of grass hag-ridden; the bearing of those lords of Demonland who stood beside him, as if nought should be of commoner course to them pursuing their resolve than to turn their backs on living land and enter those regions of the dead; these things with a power as of a mighty music made Gro’s breath catch in his throat and the tear spring in his eye.

In such wise after more than two years did Lord Juss begin his second crossing of the Moruna in quest of his dear brother the Lord Goldry Bluszco.

ornament

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 16:03