The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison

III. The Red Foliot

Of the Entertainment of the Witches in the Palace of the Red Foliot; and of the Wiles and Subtleties of Lord Gro; and How the Witches Departed by Night Out of the Foliot Isles.

THE Red Foliot gat him back into his palace and sat in his high seat. And he sent unto the lords of Witchland and of Demonland that they should come and see him. Nor did they delay, but came straightway and sat on the long benches, the Witches on the eastern side of the hall and the Demons on the west; and their fighting men stood in order on either side behind them. So sat they in the shadowy hall, and the sun declining to the western ocean shone through the high windows of the hall on the polished armour and weapons of the Witches.

The Red Foliot spake among them and said, “A great champion hath been strook to earth this day in fair and equal combat. And according to the solemn oaths whereby ye are bound, and whereof I am the keeper, there is here an end to all unpeace betwixt Witchland and Demonland, and ye of Witchland are to forswear for ever your claims of lordship over the Demons. Now for a sealing and making fast of this solemn covenant between you I see no likelier rede than that ye all join with me here this day in good friendship to forget your quarrels in drinking of the arvale of King Gorice XI., than whom hath reigned none mightier nor more worshipful in all this world, and thereafter depart in peace to your native lands.”

So spake the Red Foliot, and the lords of Witchland assented thereto.

But Lord Juss answered and said, “O Red Foliot, as to the oaths sworn between us and the King of Witchland, thou hast spoken well; nor shall we depart one tittle the from the article of our oaths, and the Witches may abide in peace for ever as for us if, as is clean against their use and nature, they forbear to devise evil against us. For the nature of Witchland was ever as a flea, that attacketh a man in the dark. But we will not eat nor drink with the lords of Witchland, who bewrayed and forsook us their sworn confederates at the sea-fight against the Ghouls. Nor we will not drink the arvale of King Gorice XI., who worked a shameful and unlawful sleight against my kinsman this day when they wrastled together.”

So spake Lord Juss, and Corund whispered Gro in the ear, saying, “Were’t not for the privilege of this respected company, now were the time to set upon them.” But Gro said, “I prithee yet have patience. This were over hazardous, for the luck goeth against Witchland. Let us rather take them in their beds to-night.”

Fain would the Red Foliot turn the Demons from their resolve, but without avail; they courteously thanking him for his hospitality which they said they would enjoy that night in their booths, being minded on the morrow to take to their beaked ship and fare over the unvintaged sea to Demonland.

Therewith stood up Lord Juss, and with him the Lord Goldry Bluszco, that went in all his war gear, his horned helm of gold and his golden byrny set with ruby hearts, and bare his two-handed sword forged by the elves wherewith he slew the beast out of the sea in days gone by; and Lord Spitfire that glared upon the lords of Witchland as a falcon glareth, hungering for her prey; and the Lord Brandoch Daha that looked on them, and chiefly on Corinius, with the eye of contemptuous amusement, playing idly with the jewelled hilt of his sword, until Corinius grew ill at case beneath his gaze and shifted this way and that in his seat, scowling back defiance. For all the rich array and goodly port and countenance of Corinius, he seemed but a very boor beside the Lord Brandoch Daha, and dearly did each hate the other. So the lords of Demonland with their fighting men went forth from the hall.

The Red Foliot sent after them and made them in their own booths to be served of great plenty of wine and good and delicate meats, and sent them musicians and a minstrel to gladden them with songs and stories of old time, that they might lack nought of entertainment. But for his other guests he let bear in the massy cups of silver, and the great eared wine jars holding two firkins apiece, and he let pour forth to the Witches and the Foliots, and they drank the cup of memory unto King Gorice XI., slain that day by the hand of Goldry Bluszco. Thereafter when their cups were brimmed anew with foaming wine the Red Foliot spake among them and said, “O ye lords of Witchland, will you that I speak a dirge in honour of Gorice the King that the dark reaper hath this day gathered?” So when they said yea to this, he called to him his player on the theorbo and his player on the hautboy, and commanded them saying, “Play me a solemn music.” And they played softly in the Aeolian mode a music that was like the wailing of wind through bare branches on a moonless night, and the Red Foliot leaned forth from his high seat and recited this lamentation:

I that in heill was and gladness

Am trublit now with great sickness

And feblit with infirmitie:—

Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Our plesance here is all vain glory,

This fals world is but transitory,

The flesh is bruckle, the Feynd is slee:—

Timor Mortis conturbat me.

The state of man does change and vary,

Now sound, now sick, now blyth, now sary,

Now dansand mirry, now like to die:—

Timor Mortis conturbat me.

No state in Erd here standis sicker;

As with the wynd wavis the wicker,

So wannis this world’s vanitie:—

Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Unto the Death gois all Estatis,

Princis, Prelattis, and Potestatis,

Baith rich and poor of all degree:—

Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He takis the knichtis in to field

Enarmit under helm and scheild;

Victor he is at All mellie:—

Timor Mortis conturbat me.

That strong unmerciful tyrand

Takis, on the motheris breast sowkand,

The babe full of benignitie:—

Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He takis the campion in the stour,

The captain closit in the tour,

The lady in bour full of bewtie:—

Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He spairis no lord for his piscence,

Na clerk for his intelligence;

His awful straik may no man flee:—

Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Art-magicianis and astrologis,

Rethoris, logicianis, theologis,

Them helpis no conclusionis slee:—

Timor Mortis conturbat me.

In medecine the most practicianis,

Leechis, surrigianis, and physicianis,

Themself from Death may nocht supplee:—

Timor Mortis conturbat me.

When the Red Foliot had spoken thus far his dirge, he was interrupted by an unseemly brawling betwixt Corinius and one of the sons of Corund. For Corinius, who gave not a fig for music or dirges, but liked well of carding and dicing, had brought forth his dice box to play with the son of Corund. They played awhile to Corinius’s great content, for at every throw he won and the other’s purse waxed light. But at this eleventh stanza the son of Corund cried out that the dice of Corinius were loaded. And he smote Corinius on his shaven jowl with the dice box, calling him cheat and mangy rascal, whereupon Corinius drew forth a bodkin to smite him in the neck withal; but some went betwixt them, and with much ado and much struggling and cursing they were parted, and it being shown that the dice were not loaded, the son of Corund was fain to make amends to Corinius, and so were they set at one again.

Now was the wine poured forth yet again to the lords of Witchland, and the Red Foliot drank deep unto the glory of that land and the rulers thereof. And he issued command saying, “Let my Kagu come and dance before us, and thereafter my other dancers. For there is no pleasure whereon the Foliots do more dearly dote than this pleasure of the dance, and sweet to us it is to behold delightful dancing, be it the stately splendour of the Pavane which progresseth as large clouds at sun-down that pass by in splendour; or the graceful Allemande; or the Fandango, which goeth by degrees from languorous beauty to the swiftness and passion of Bacchanals dancing on the high lawns under a summer moon that hangeth in the pine trees; or the joyous maze of the Galliard; or the Gigue, dear to the Foliots. Therefore delay not, but let my Kagu come, that she may dance before us.”

Therewith hastened the Kagu into the shadowy hall, moving softly and rolling a little in her gait, with her head thrust forward; and a little flurried was she in her bearing as she darted this way and that her large and beautiful eyes, mild and timid, that were like liquid gold heated to redness. Somewhat like a heron she was, but stouter, and shorter of leg, and her beak shorter and thicker than the heron’s; and so long and delicate was her pale gray plumage that hard it was to say whether it were hair or feathers. So the wind instruments and the lutes and dulcimers played a Coranto, and the Kagu tripped up the hall betwixt the long tables, jumping a little and bowing a little in her step and keeping excellent time to the music; and when she came near to the dais where the Red Foliot sat ravished with delight at her dancing, the Kagu lengthened her step and glided smoothly and slowly forward toward the Red Foliot; and so gliding she drew herself up in stately wise and opened her mouth and drew back her head till her beak lay tight against her breast, flouncing out her feathers so that they showed like a widecut skirt with a crinoline, and the crest that was on her head rose up erect half again her own height from the ground, and she sailed majestically toward the Red Foliot. On this wise did the Kagu at every turn that she took in the Coranto, forth and back along the length of the Foliots’ hall. And they all laughed sweetly at her, being overjoyed at her dancing. When the dance was done, the Red Foliot called the Kagu to him and made her sit on the bench beside him, and stroked her soft gray feathers and made much of her. All bashfully she sat beside the Red Foliot, casting her ruby eyes in wonder upon the Witches and their company.

Next the Red Foliot called for his Cat-bears, that stood before him foxy-red above but with black bellies, round furry faces, and innocent amber eyes, and soft great paws, and tails barred alternately with ruddy rings and creamy; and he said, “O Cat-bears, dance before us, since dearly we delight in your dancing.”

They asked, “Lord, will you that we perform the Gigue?”

And he answered them, “The Gigue, and ye love me.”

So the stringed instruments began a swift movement, and the tambourines and triangles entered on the beat, and swiftly twinkled the feet of the Cat-bears in the joyous dance. The music rippled and ran and the dancers danced till the hall was awhirl with the rhythm of their dancing, and the Witches roared applause. On a sudden the music ceased, and the dancers were still, and standing side by side, paw in furry paw, they bowed shyly to the company, and the Red Foliot called them to him and kissed them on the mouth and sent them to their seats, that they might rest and view the dances that were to follow.

Next the Red Foliot called for his white Peacocks, coloured like moonlight, that they might lead the Pavane before the lords of Witchland. In glorious wise did they spread their tails for the stately dance, and a fair and lovely sight it was to see their grace and the grandeur of their carriage as they moved to the music chaste and noble. With them were joined the Golden Pheasants, who spread wide their collars of gold, and the Silver Pheasants, and the Peacock Pheasants, and the Estridges, and the Bustards, footing it in pomp, pointing the toes, and bowing and retiring in due time to the solemn strains of the Pavane. Every instrument took part in the stately Pavane. the lutes and the dulcimers, and the theorbos, and the sackbuts, and the hautboys; the flutes sweetly warbling as birds in the upper air, and the silver trumpets, and the horns that breathed deep melodies trembling with mystery and tenderness that shakes the heart; and the drum that beateth to battle, and the wild throb of the harp, and the cymbals clashing as the clash of armies. And a nightingale sitting by the Red Foliot sang the Pavane in passionate tones that dissolved the soul in their sweet, mournful beauty.

The Lord Gro covered his face with his mantle and wept to hear and behold the divine Pavane; for as ghosts rearisen it raised up for him old happy half-forgotten days in Goblinland, before he had conspired against King Gaslark and been driven forth from his dear native land, an exile in waterish Witchland.

Thereafter let the Red Foliot give order for the Galliard. Joyously swept forth the melody from the stringed instruments, and two dormice, fat as butter, spun into the hall. Wilder whirled the music, and the dormice capered ever higher till they bounded from the floor up to the beams of the vaulted roof, and down again, and up again to the roof-beams in the joyful dance. And the Foliots joined in the Galliard, spinning and capering in mad delight of the dance. And into the hall twirled six capripeds, footing it lightly as the music swept ever faster, and a one-footer that leaped hither and thither about and about, as the flea hoppeth, till the Witches grew hoarse with singing and shouting and hounding of him on. Yet ever capered the dormice higher and wilder than any else, and so swiftly flashed their little feet to the galloping music that no eye might follow their motion.

But little enow was Lord Gro gladdened by the merry dance. Sad melancholy sat with him for his companion, darkening his thoughts and making joy hateful to him as sunshine to owls of the night. So that he was well pleased to mark the Red Foliot go softly from his seat on the dais and forth from the hall by a door behind the arras, and seeing this, himself departed softly amid the full tide of the Galliard, forth of that hall of swift movement and gleeful laughter, forth into the quiet evening, where above the smooth downs the wind was lulled to sleep in the vast silent spaces of the sky, and the west was a bower of orange light fading to purple and unfathomable blue in the upper heaven, and nought was heard save the murmur of the sleepless sea, and nought seen save a flight of wildfowl flying against the sunset. In this quietness Gro walked westward above the combe until he came to the land’s edge and stood on the lip of a chalk cliff falling to the sea, and was ware of the Red Foliot, alone on that high western cliff, gazing in a study at the dying colours in the west.

When they had stood for a while without speech, gazing over the sea, Gro spake and said, “Consider how as day now dieth in yonder chambers of the west, so hath the glory departed from Witchland.”

But the Red Foliot answered him not, being in a study.

Then Gro said, “Though Demonland lieth where thou sawest the sun descend, yet eastward out of Witchland must thou look for the morning splendour. Not more surely shalt thou behold the sun go up thence to-morrow than thou shalt see shine forth in short season the glory and honour and power of Witchland, and beneath her destructive sword her enemies shall be as grass before the sickle.”

The Red Foliot said, “I am in love with peace and the soft influence of the evening air. Leave me; or if thou wilt stay, break not the charm.”

“O Red Foliot,” said Gro, “art thou in love with peace indeed? So should the rising again of Witchland tune sweet music to thy thought, since we of Witchland love peace, nor are we stirrers up of strife, but the Demons only. The war against the Ghouls, whereby the four corners of the earth were shaken, was hatched by Demonland —”

“Thou speakest,” said the Red Foliot, “clean against thine intention, a great praise of them. For who ever saw the like of these man-eating Ghouls for corruption of manners, inhuman degeneration, and deluge of iniquities? Who every fifth year from time immemorial have had their grand climacterical year, and but last year brake forth in never-imagined ferocity. But if they sail now, ’tis on the dark lake they sail, grieving no earthly seas nor rivers. Praise Demonland, therefore, who did put them down for ever.”

“I make no question of that,” answered Lord Gro. “But foul water, as soon as fair, will quench hot fire. Sore against our will did we of Witchland join with the Demons in that war, foreseeing (as hath been bloodily approved) that the issue must be but the puffing up of the Demons, who desire no other thing than to be lords and tyrants of all the world.”

“Thou,” said the Red Foliot, “wast in thy young days King Gaslark’s man: a Goblin born and bred: his very foster-brother, nourished at the same breast. Why must I observe thee, a plain traitor against so good a king? Whose perfidy the common people then did openly reprove (as I did well perceive even so lately as last autumn, when I was in the city of Zaju Zaculo at the time of their festivities for the betrothal of the king’s cousin german the Princess Armelline unto the Lord Goldry Bluszco), they carrying filthy pictures of thee in the street, singing of thee thus:

It was pittie

One so wittie

Malcontent:

Leaving reason

Should to treason

So be bent.

But his gifts

Were but shifts

Void of grace:

And his braverie

Was but knaverie

Vile and base.”

Said Gro, wincing a little, “The art of it agreeth well with the sentiment, and with the condition of those who invented it. I will not think so noble a prince as thou art will set thy sails to the wind of the rabble’s most partial hates and envies. For the vile addition of traitor, I do reject and spit upon it. But true it is that, regarding not the god of fools and women, nice opinion, I do steer by mine own lode-star still. Howbeit, I came not to discourse to thee on so small a matter as myself. This I would say unto thee with most sad and serious entertain: Be not lulled to think the Demons will leave the world at peace: that is farthest from their intent. They would not listen to thy comfortable words nor sit at meat with us, so set be they to imagine mischief against us. What said Juss? ‘Witchland was ever as a flea’: ay, as a flea which he itcheth to crush betwixt his finger-nails. O, if thou be in love with peace, a short way lieth open to thy heart’s desire.”

Nought spake the Red Foliot, gazing still into the dim reflections of the sunset which lingered below a darkening sky where stars were born. Gro said softly, as a cat purring, “Where softening unctions failed, sharp surgery bringeth speediest ease. Wilt thou not leave it to me?”

But the Red Foliot looked angrily upon him, saying, “What have I to do with your enmities? You are sworn to keep the peace, and I will not abide your violence nor your breaking of oaths in my quiet kingdom.”

Gro said, “Oaths be of the heart, and he that breaketh them in open fact is oft, as now, no breaker in truth, for already were they scorned and trampled on by his opposites.”

But the Red Foliot said again, “What have I to do with your enmities that set you by the ears like fighting dogs? I am yet to learn that he that hath a righteous heart, and clean hands, and hateth none, must needs be drawn into the brawls and manslayings of such as you and the Demons.”

Lord Gro looked narrowly upon him, saying, “Thinkest thou that the strait path of him that affecteth neither side lieth still open for thee? If that were thine aim, thou shouldst have bethought thee ere thou gavest thy judgement on the second bout. For clear as day it was to us and to thine own people, and most of all to the Demons, that the King played foul in that bout, and when thou calledst him victorious thou didst loudly by that word trumpet thyself his friend, and unfriends to Demonland. Markedst thou not, when they left the hall, with what a snake’s eye Lord Juss beheld thee? Not with us only but with thee he refused to eat and drink, that so his superstitious scruples may be unhurt when he proceeds to thy destruction. For on this are they determined. Nothing is more certain.”

The Red Foliot sank his chin upon his breast, and stood silent for a space. The hues of death and silence spread themselves where late the fires of sunset glowed, and large stars opened like flowers on the illimitable fields of the night sky: Arcturus, Spica, Gemini, and the Little Dog, and Capella and her Kids.

The Red Foliot said, “Witchland lieth at my door. And Demonland: how stand I with Demonland?’

And Gro said, “Also to-morrow’s sun goeth up out of Witchland.”

For a while they spoke not. Then Lord Gro took forth a scroll from his bosom, and said, “The harvest of this world is to the resolute, and he that is infirm of purpose is ground betwixt the upper and the nether millstone. Thou canst not turn back: so would they scorn and spurn thee, and we Witches likewise. And now by these means only may lasting peace be brought about, namely, by the setting of Gorice of Witchland on the throne of Demonland, and the utter humbling of that brood beneath the heel of the Witches.”

The Red Foliot said, “Is not Gorice slain, and drank we not but now his arvale, slain by a Demon? and is he not the second in order of that line who hath so died by a Demon?”

“A twelfth Gorice,” said Gro, “at this moment of time sitteth King in Carcë. O Red Foliot, know thou that I am a reader of the planets of the night and of those hidden powers that work out the web of destiny. Whereby I know that this twelfth King of the house of Gorice in Carcë shall be a most crafty warlock, full of guiles and wiles, who by the might of his egromancy and the sword of Witchland shall exceed all earthly powers that be. And ineluctable as the levin-bolt of heaven goeth out his wrath against his enemies.” So saying, Gro stooped and took a glowworm from the grass, saying kindly to it, “Sweeting, thy lamp for a moment,” and breathed upon it, and held it to the parchment, saying, “Sign now thy royal name to these articles, which require thee not at all to go to war, but only (in case war shall arise) to be of our party, and against these Demons that do privily pursue thy life.”

But the Red Foliot said, “Wherein am I certified that thou speakest not a lie?”

Then took Gro a writing from his purse and showed thereon a seal like the seal of Lord Juss; and there was written: “Unto Voll al love and truste: and fayll nat whenas thow saylest upon Wychlande to caste of iij or iv shippes for the Folyott Isles to putt downe those and brenne the Redd Folyott in hys hous. For if wee get nat the lyfe of these wormes chirted owt of them the shame will stikk on us for ever.” And Gro said, “My servant stole this from them while they spoke with thee in thine hall to-night.”

Which the Red Foliot believed, and took from his belt his ink-horn and his pen, and signed his royal name to the articles of the treaty proposed to him,

Therewith Lord Gro put up the parchment in his bosom and said, “Swift surgery. Needs must that we take them in their beds to-night; so shall to-morrow’s dawn bring glory and triumph to Witchland, now fixed in an eclipse, and to the whole world peace and soft contentment.”

But the Red Foliot answered him, “My Lord Gro, I have signed these articles, and thereby stand I bound in enmity to Demonland. But I will not bewray my guests that have eaten my salt, be they never so deeply pledged mine enemies. Be it known to thee, I have set guards on your booths this night and on the booths of them of Demonland, that no unpeaceful deeds may be done betwixt you. This which I have done, by this will I stand, and ye shall both depart to-morrow in peace, even as ye came. Because I am your friend and sworn to your party, I and my Foliots will be on your side when war is between Witchland and Demonland. But I will not suffer night-slayings nor murthers in my Isles.”

Now with these words of the Red Foliot, Lord Gro was as one that walketh along a flowery path to his rest, and in the last steps a gulf yawneth suddenly athwart the path, and he standeth a-gape and disappointed at the hither side. Yet in his subtlety he made no sign, but straight replied, “Righteously hast thou decreed and wisely, O Red Foliot, for it was truly said:

Let worthy minds ne’er stagger in distrust

To suffer death or shame for what is just,

and that which we sow in darkness must unfold in the open light of day, lest it be found withered in the very hour of maturity. Nor would I have urged thee otherwise, but that I do throughly fear these Demons, and all my mind was to take their plotting in reverse. Do then one thing only for us. If we set sail homeward and they on our heels, they will fall upon us at a disadvantage, for they have the swifter ship; or if they get to sea before us, they will lie in wait for us on the high seas. Suffer us then to sail to-night, and do thou on some pretext delay them here for three days only, that we may get us home or ever they leave the Foliot Isles.”

“I will not gainsay thee in this,” answered the Red Foliot, “for here is nought but what is fair and just and lieth with mine honour. I will come to your booths at midnight and bring you down to your ship.”

When Gro came to the Witches’ booths he found them guarded even as the Red Foliot had said, and the booths of them of Demonland in like manner. So went he into the royal booth where the King lay in state on a bier of spear-shafts, robed in his kingly robes over his armour that was painted black and inlaid with gold, and the crown of Witchland on his head. Two candles burned at the head of King Gorice and two at his feet; and the night wind blowing through the crannies of the booth made them flare and flicker, so that shadows danced unceasingly on the wall and roof and floor. On the benches round the walls sat the lords of Witchland sullen of countenance, for the wine was dead in them. Balefully they eyed Lord Gro at his coming in, and Corinius sate upright in his seat and said, “Here is the Goblin, father and fosterer of our misfortunes. Come, let us slay him.”

Gro stood among them with head erect and held Corinius with his eye, saying, “We of Witchland are not run lunatic, my Lord Corinius, that we should do this gladness to the Demons, to bite each at the other’s throat like wolves. Methinks if Witchland be the land of my adoption only, yet have I not done least among you to ward off sheer destruction from her in this pass we stand in. If ye have aught against me, let me hear it and answer it.”

Corinius laughed a bitter laugh. “Harken to the fool! Are we babies and milksops, thinkest thou, and is it not clear as day thou stoodest in the way of our falling on the Demons when we might have done so, urging what silly counsels I know not in favour of doing it by night? And now is night come, and we close prisoned in our booths, and no chance to come at them unless we would bring an hornets’ nest of Foliots about our ears and give warning of our intent to the Demons and every living soul in this island. And all this has come about since thy slinking off and plotting with the Red Foliot. But now hath thy guile overreached itself, and now we will kill thee, and so an end of thee and thy plotting.”

With that Corinius sprang up and drew his sword, and the other Witches with him. But Lord Gro moved not an eyelid, only he said, “Hear mine answer first. All night lieth before us, and ’tis but a moment’s task to murther me.”

Therewith stood forth the Lord Corund with his huge bulk betwixt Gro and Corinius, saying in a great voice, “Whoso shall point weapon ’gainst him, shall first have to do with me, though it were one of my sons. We will hear him. If he clear not himself, then will we hew him in pieces.”

They sat down, muttering. And Gro spake and said, “First behold this parchment, which is the articles of a solemn covenant and alliance, and behold where the Red Foliot hath set his sign manual thereto. True, his is a country of no might in arms, and we might tread him down and ne’er feel the leavings stick to our boot, and little avail can their weak help be unto us in the day of battle. But there is in these Isles a meetly good road and riding-place for ships, which if our enemies should occupy, their fleet were most aptly placed to do us all the ill imaginable. Is then this treaty a light benefit where now we stand? Next, know that when I counselled you take the Demons in their beds ’stead of fall upon them in the Foliots’ hall, I did so being advertised that the Red Foliot had commanded his soldiers to turn against us or against the Demons, whichever first should draw sword upon the other. And when I went forth from the hall it was, as Corinius hath so deeply divined, to plot with the Red Foliot; but the aim of my plotting I have shown you, on these articles of alliance. And indeed, had I as Corinius vilely accuseth me practised with the Red Foliot against Witchland, I had hardly been so simple as return into the mouth of destruction when I might have bided safely in his palace.”

Now when Gro perceived that the anger of the Witches against him was appeased by his defence, wherein he spake cunningly both true words and lies, he spake again among them saying, “Little gain have I of all my pains and thought expended by me for Witchland. And better it were for Witchland if my counsel were better heeded. Corund knoweth how, to mine own peril, I counselled the King to wrastle no more after the first bout, and if he had ta’en my rede, rather than suspect me and threaten me with death, we should not be now to bear him home dead to the royal catacombs in Carcë.”

Corund said, “Truly hast thou spoken.”

“In one thing only have I failed,” said Gro; “and it can shortly be amended. The Red Foliot, albeit of our party, will not be won to attack the Demons by fraud, nor will he suffer us smite them in these Isles. Some fond simple scruples hang like cobwebs in his mind, and he is stubborn as touching this. But I have prevailed upon him to make them tarry here for three days’ space, while we put to sea this very night, telling him, which he most innocently believeth, that we fear the Demons, and would flee home ere they be let loose to take us at a disadvantage on the high seas. And home we will indeed ere they set sail, yet not for fear of them, but rather that we may devise a deadly blow against them or ever they win home to Demonland.”

“What blow, Goblin?” said Corinius.

And Gro answered and said, “One that I win devise upon with our Lord the King, Gorice XII., who now awaiteth us in Carcë. And I will not blab it to a wine-bibber and a dicer who hath but now drawn sword against a true lover of Witchland.” Whereupon Corinius leaped up in mickle wrath to thrust his sword into Gro. But Corund and his sons restrained him.

In due time the stars revolved to midnight, and the Red Foliot came secretly with his guards to the Witches’ booths. The lords of Witchland took their weapons and the men-at-arms bare the goods, and the King went in the midst on his bier of spearshafts. So went they picking their way in the moonless night round the palace and down the winding path that led to the bed of the combe, and so by the stream westward toward the sea. Here they deemed it safe to light a torch to show them the way. Desolate and bleak showed the sides of the combe in the wind-blown flare; and the flare was thrown back from the jewels of the royal crown of Witchland, and from the armoured buskins on the King’s feet showing stark with toes pointing upward from below his bear-skin mantle, and from the armour and the weapons of them that bare him and walked beside him, and from the black cold surface of the little river hurrying for ever over its bed of boulders to the sea. The path was rugged and stony, and they fared slowly, lest they should stumble and drop the King .

ornament

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/e/eddison/er/worm/chapter3.html

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