The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison

XXXII. The Latter End of All the Lords of Witchland

Of the Council of War; and How the Lord Corsus, Being Rejected of the King, Turned His Thoughts to Other Things; and of the Last Conjuring that was in Carcë And the Last Wine-Bibbing; and How Yet Once Again the Lady Prezmyra Spake with the Lords of Demonland in Carcë.

Gorice the King held in his private chamber a council of war on the morrow of the battle before Carcë. The morning was over-cast with sullen cloud, and though all the windows were thrown wide the sluggish air hung heavy in the room, as if it too were pervaded by the cold dark humour that clogged the vitals of those lords of Witchland like a drowsy drug, or as if the stars would breathe themselves for a greater mischief. Pale and drawn were those lords’ faces; and, for all they strove to put on a brave countenance before the King, clean gone was the vigour and war-like mien that clothed them but yesterday. Only Corinius kept some spring of his old valiancy and portly bearing, seated with arms akimbo over against the King, his heavy under-jaw set forward and his nostrils wide. He had slept ill or watched late, for his eyes were blood-shotten, and the breath of his nostrils was heavy with wine.

“We tarry for Corsus,” said the King. “Had he not word of my bidding?”

Dekalajus said, “Lord, I will summon him again. These misfortunes I fear me hang heavy on his mind, and, by your majesty’s leave, he is scarce his own man since yesterday.”

“Do it straight,” said the King. “Give me thy papers, Corinius. Thou art my general since Corund gat his death. I will see what yesterday hath cost us and what power yet remaineth to crush me these snakes by force of arms.”

“These be the numbers, O King,” said Corinius. “But three thousand and five hundred fighting men, and well nigh half of these over much crippled with wounds to do aught save behind closed walls. It were but to give the Demons easy victory to adventure against them, that stand before Carcë four thousand sound men in arms.”

The King blew scornfully through his nostrils. “Who told thee their strength?” said he.

“It were dangerous to write them down a man fewer,” answered Corinius. And Hacmon said, “My Lord the King, I would adventure my head they have more. And your majesty will not forget they be all flown with eagerness and pride after yesterday’s field, whereas our men ——”

“Were ye sons of Corund,” said the King, breaking in quietly on his speech and looking dangerously upon him, “but twigs of your father’s tree, that he being cut down ye have no manhood left nor vital sap, but straight wither in idiotish dotage? I will not have these womanish counsels spoke in Carcë; no, nor thought in Carcë.”

Corinius said, “We had sure intelligence, O King, whenas they landed that their main army was six thousand fighting men; and last night myself spake with full a score of our officers, and had a true tale of some few of the Demons captured by us before they were slain with the sword. When I say to you Juss standeth before Carcë four thousand strong, I swell not the truth. His losses yesterday were but a flea-biting ’gainst ours.”

The King nodded a curt assent.

Corinius proceeded, “If we might contrive indeed to raise help from without Carcë, were it but five hundred spears to distract his mind some part from usward, nought but your majesty’s strict command should stay me but I should assault him. It were perilous even so, but never have you known me leave a fruit unplucked at for fear of thorns. But until that time, nought but your straight command might win me to essay a sally. Since well I wot it were my death, and the ruin of you, O King, and of all Witchland.”

The King listened with unmoved countenance, his shaven lip set somewhat in a sneer, his eyes half closed like the eyes of a cat couched sphinx-like in the sun. But no sun shone in that council chamber. The leaden pall hung darker without, even as morning grew toward noon. “My Lord the King,” said Heming, “send me. To overslip their guards i’ the night, ’tis not a thing beyond invention. That done, I’d gather you some small head of men, enough to serve this turn, if I must rake the seven kingdoms to find ’em.”

While Heming spoke, the door opened and the Duke Corsus entered the chamber. An ill sight was he, flabbier of cheek and duller of eye than was his wont. His face was bloodless, his great paunch seemed shrunken, and his shoulders yet more hunched since yesterday. His gait was uncertain, and his hand shook as he moved the chair from the board and took his seat before the King. The King looked on him awhile in silence, and under that gaze beads of sweat stood on Corsus’s brow and his under-lip twitched.

“We need thy counsel, O Corsus,” said the King. “Thus it is: since our ill-faced stars gave victory to the Demon rebels in yesterday’s battle, Juss and his brethren front us with four thousand men, whiles I have not two thousand soldiers unhurt in Carcë. Corinius accounteth us too weak to risk a sally but and if we might contrive some diversion from without. And that (after yesterday) is not to be thought on. Hither and to Melikaphkhaz; did we draw all our powers, and the subject allies not for our love but for fear sake and for lust of gain flocked to our standard. These caterpillars drop off now. Yet if we fight not, then is our strength in arms clean spent, and our enemies need but to sit before Carcë till we be starved. ’Tis a point of great difficulty and knotty to solve.”

“Difficult indeed, O my Lord the King,” said Corsus. His glance shifted round the board, avoiding the steady gaze bent on him from beneath the eaves of King Gorice’s brow, and resting at last on the jewelled splendour of the crown of Witchland on the King’s head. “O King,” he said, “you demand my rede, and I shall not say nor counsel you nothing but that good and well shall come thereof, as much as yet may be in this pass we stand in. For now is our greatness turned in woe, dolour, and heaviness. And easy it is to be after-witted.”

He paused, and his under-jaw wobbled and twitched. “Speak on,” said the King. “Thou stutterest forth nothings by fits and girds, as an ague taketh a goose. Let me know thy rede.”

Corsus said, “You will not take it, I know, O King. For we of Witchland have ever been ruled by the rock rather than by the rudder. I had liever be silent. Silence was never written down.”

“Thou wouldst, and thou wouldst not!” said the King. “Whence gottest thou this look of a dish of whey with blood spit in it? Speak, or thou’lt anger me.”

“Then blame me not, O King,” said Corsus. “Thus it seemeth to me, that the hour hath struck whenas we of Witchland must needs look calamity in the eye and acknowledge we have thrown our last, and lost all. The Demons, as we have seen to our undoing, be unconquerable in war. Yet are their minds pranked with many silly phantasies of honour and courtesy which may preserve us the poor dregs yet unspilt from the cup of our fortune, if we but leave unseasonable pride and see where our advantage lieth.”

“Chat, chat, chat!” said the King. “Perdition catch me if I can find a meaning in it! What dost thou bid me do?”

Corsus met the King’s eye at last. He braced himself as if to meet a blow. “Throw not your cloak in the fire because your house is burning, O King. Surrender all to Juss at his discretion. And trust me the foolish softness of these Demons will leave us freedom and the wherewithal to live at ease.”

The King was leaned a little forward as Corsus, somewhat dry-throated but gathering heart as he spake, blurted forth his counsel of defeat. No man among them looked on Corsus, but all on the King, and for a minute’s space was no sound save the sound of breathing in that chamber. Then a puff of hot air blew a window to with a thud, and the King without moving his head rolled his awful glance forth and back over his council slowly, fixing each in his turn. And the King said, “Unto which of you is this counsel acceptable? Let him speak and instruct us.”

All did sit mum like beasts. The King spake again, saying, “It is well. Were there of my council such another vermin, so sottish, so louse-hearted, as this one hath proclaimed himself, I had been persuaded Witchland was a sleepy pear, corrupted in her inward parts. And that were so, I bad given order straightway for the sally; and, for his chastening and your dishonour, this Corsus should have led you. And so an end, ere the imposthume of our shame brake forth too foul before earth and heaven.”

“I admire not, Lord, that you do strike at me,” said Corsus. “Yet I pray you think how many Kings in Carcë have heaped with injurious indignities them that were so hardy as give them wholesome counsel afore their fall. Though your majesty were a half-god or a Fury out of the pit, you could not by further resisting deliver us out of this net wherein the Demons have gotten us caught and tied. You can keep geese no longer, O King. Will you rend me because I bid you be content to keep goslings?”

Corinius smote the table with his fist. “O monstrous vermin!” he cried, “because thou wast scalded, must all we be afeared of cold water?”

But the King stood up in his majesty, and Corsus shrank beneath the flame of his royal anger. And the King spake and said, “The council is up, my lords. For thee, Corsus, I dismiss thee from my council. Thou art to thank my clemency that I take not thy head for this. It were for thy better safety, which well I know thou prizest dearer than mine honour, that thou show not in my path till these perilous days be overpast.” And unto Corinius he said, “On thy head it lieth that the Demons storm not the hold, as haply their hot pride may incense them to attempt. Expect me not at supper. I lie in the Iron Tower to-night, and let none disturb me there at peril of his head. You of my council must attend me here four hours ere to-morrow’s noon. Look to it well, Corinius, that nought shalt thou do nor in any wise adventure our forces against the Demons till thou receive my further bidding, save only to hold Carcë against any assault if need be. For this thy life shall answer. For the Demons, they were wisest praise a fair day at night. If mine enemy uproot a boulder above my dwelling, so I be mighty enow of mine hands I may, even in the nick of time that it tottereth to leap and crush mine house, o’erset it on him and pash him to a mummy.”

So speaking, the King moved resolute with a great strong step toward the door. There paused he, his hand upon the silver latch, and looking tigerishly on Corsus, “Be advised,” he said, “thou. Cross not my path again. Nor, while I think on’t, send me not thy daughter again, as last year thou didst. Apt to the sport she is, and well enow she served my turn aforetime. But the King of Witchland suppeth not twice of the same dish, nor lacketh he fresh wenches if he need them.”

Whereat all they laughed. But Corsus’s face grew red as blood.

On such wise brake up the council. Corinius with the sons of Corund and of Corsus went upon the walls ordering all in obedience to the word of Gorice the King. But that old Duke Corsus betook him to his chamber in the north gallery. Nor might he abide even a small while at ease, but sate now in his carven chair, now on the windowsill, now on his broad-canopied bed, and now walked the chamber floor twisting his hands and gnawing his lip. And if he were distraught in mind, small wonder it were, set as he was betwixt hawk and buzzard, the King’s wrath menacing him in Carcë and the hosts of Demonland without.

So wore the day till supper-time. And at supper was Corsus, to their much amaze, sitting in his place, and the ladies Zenambria and Sriva with him. He drank deep, and when supper was done he filled a goblet saying, “My lord the king of Demonland and ye other Witches, good it is that we, who stand as now we stand with one foot in the jaws of destruction, should bear with one another. Neither should any hide his thought from other, but say openly, even as I this morning before the face of our Lord the King, his thought and counsel. Wherefore without shame do I confess me ill-advised to-day, when I urged the King to make peace with Demonland. I wax old, and old men will oft embrace timorous counsels which, if there be wisdom and valiancy left in them, they soon renounce when the stress is overpast and they have leisure to afterthink them with a sad mind. And clear as day it is that the King was right, both in his chastening of my faint courage and in his bidding thee, O King Corinius, stand to thy watch and do nought till this night be worn. For went he not to the Iron Tower? And to what end else spendeth he the night in yonder chamber of dread than to do sorcery or his magic art, as aforetime he did, and in such wise blast these Demons to perdition even in the spring-tide of their fortunes? At no point of time hath Witchland greater need of our wishes than at this coming midnight, and I pray you, my lords, let us meet a little before in this hall that we with one heart and mind may drink fair fortune to the King’s enchantery.”

With such pleasant words and sympathetical insinuations, working at a season when the wine-cup had caused unfold some gayness in their hearts that were fordone with the hard scapes and chances of disastrous war, was [paragraph continues]

Corsus grown to friendship again with the lords of Witchland. So, when the guard was set and all made sure for the night, they came together in the great banquet hall, whereas more than three years ago the Prince La Fireez had feasted and after fought against them of Witchland. But now was he drowned among the shifting tides in the Straits of Melikaphkhaz. And the Lord Corund, that fought that night in such valiant wise, now in that same hall, armed from throat to foot as becometh a great soldier dead, lay in state, crowned on his brow with the amethystine crown of Impland. The spacious side-benches were untenanted and void their high seats, and the cross-bench was removed to make place for Corund’s bier. The lords of Witchland sate at a small table below the dais: Corinius in the seat of honour at the end nearest the door, and over against him Corsus, and on Corinius’s left Zenambria, and on his right Dekalajus son to Corsus, and then Heming; and on Corsus’s left his daughter Sriva, and those two remaining of Corund’s sons on his right. All were there save Prezmyra, and her had none seen since her lord’s death, but she kept her chamber. Flamboys stood in the silver stands as of old, lighting the lonely spaces of the hall, and four candles shivered round the bier where Corund slept. Fair goblets stood on the board brimmed with dark sweet Thramnian wine, one for each feaster there, and cold bacon pies and botargoes and craw-fish in hippocras sauce furnished a light midnight meal.

Now scarce were they set, when the flamboys burned pale in a strange light from without doors: an evil, pallid, bale-like lowe, such as Gro had beheld in days gone by when King Gorice XII. first conjured in Carcë. Corinius paused ere taking his seat. Goodly and stalwart he showed in his blue silk cloak and silvered byrny. The fair crown of Demonland, wherewith Corsus had been enforced to crown him on that great night in Owlswick, shone above his light brown curling hair. Youth and lustihood stood forth in every line of his great frame, and on his bare arms smooth and brawny, with their wristlets of gold; but somewhat ghastly was the corpse-like pallor of that light on his shaven jowl, and his thick scornful lips were blackened, like those of poisoned men, in that light of bale.

“Saw ye not this light aforetime?” he cried, “and ’twas the shadow before the sun of our omnipotence. Fate’s hammer is lifted up to strike. Drink with me to our Lord the King that laboureth with destiny.”

All drank deep, and Corinius said, “Pass we on the cups that each may drain his neighbour’s. ’Tis an old lucky custom Corund taught me out of Impland. Swift, for the fate of Witchland is poised in the balance.” Therewith he passed his cup to Zenambria, who quaffed it to the dregs. And all they, passing on their cups, drank deep again; all save Corsus alone. But Corsus’s eyes were big with terror as he looked on the cup passed on to him by Corund’s son.

“Drink, O Corsus,” said Corinius; and seeing him still waver, “What ails the old doting disard?” he cried. “He stareth on good wine with an eye as ghastly as a mad dog’s beholding water.”

In that instant the unearthly glare went out as a lamp in a gust of wind, and only the flamboys and the funeral candles flickered on the feasters with uncertain radiance. Corinius said again, “Drink.”

But Corsus set down the cup untasted, and stayed irresolute. Corinius opened his mouth to speak, and his jaw fell, as of a man that conceiveth suddenly some dread suspicion. But ere he might speak word, a blinding flash went from earth to heaven, and the firm floor of the banquet hall rocked and shook as with an earthquake. All save Corinius fell back into their seats, clutching the table, amazed and dumb. Crash after crash, after the listening ear was well nigh split by the roar, the horror broken out of the bowels of night thundered and ravened in Carcë. Laughter, as of damned souls banqueting in Hell, rode on the tortured air. Wildfire tore the darkness asunder, half blinding them that sat about that table, and Corinius gripped the board with either hand as a last deafening crash shook the walls, and a flame rushed up the night, lighting the whole sky with a livid glare. And in that trisulk flash Corinius beheld through the south-west window the Iron Tower blasted and cleft asunder, and the next instant fallen in an avalanche of red-hot ruin.

“The keep hath fallen!” he cried. And, deadly wearied on a sudden, he sank heavily into his seat. The cataclysm was passed by like a wind in the night; but now was heard a sound as of the enemy rushing to the assault. Corinius strove to rise, but his legs were over feeble. His eye fit on Corsus’s untasted cup, that which was passed on to him by Viglus Corund’s son, and he cried, “What devil’s work is this? I have a strange numbness in my bones. By heavens, thou shalt drink that cup or die.”

Viglus, his eyes protruding, his hand clutching at his breast, struggled to rise but could not.

Heming half staggered up, fumbling for his sword, then pitched forward on the table with a horrid rattle of the throat.

But Corsus leaped up trembling, his dull eyes aflame with triumphant malice. “The King hath thrown and lost,” he cried, “as well I foresaw it. And now have the children of night taken him to themselves. And thou, damned Corinius, and you sons of Corund, are but dead swine before me. Ye have all drunk venom, and ye are dead. Now will I deliver up Carcë to the Demons. And it, and your bodies, with mine electuary rotting in your vitals, shall buy me peace from Demonland.”

“O horrible! Then I too am poisoned,” cried the Lady Zenambria, and she fell a-swooning.

“’Tis pity,” said Corsus. “Blame the passing of the cups for that. I might not speak ere the poison had chained me the limbs of these cursed devils, and made ’em harmless.”

Corinius’s jaw set like a bulldog’s. Painfully gritting his teeth he rose from his seat, his sword naked in his hand. Corsus, that was now passing near him on his way to the door, saw too late that he had reckoned without his host. Corinius, albeit the baneful drug bound his legs as with a cere-cloth, was yet too swift for Corsus, who, fleeing before him to the door, had but time to clutch the heavy curtains ere the sword of Corinius took him in the back. He fell, and lay a-writhing lumpishly, like a toad spitted on a skewer. And the floor of steatite was made slippery with his blood.

“’Tis well. Through the guts,” said Corinius. No might he had to draw forth the sword, but staggered as one drunken, and fell to earth, propped against the jambs of the lofty doorway.

Some while he lay there, harkening to the sounds of battle without; for the Iron Tower was fallen athwart the outer wall, making a breach through all lines of defence. And through that breach the Demons stormed the hold of Carcë, that never unfriendly foot had entered by force in all the centuries since it was builded by Gorice I. An ill watch it was for Corinius to lie harkening to that unequal fight, unable to stir a hand, and all they that should have headed the defence dead or dying before his eyes. Yet was his breath lightened and his pain some part eased when his eye rested on the gross body of Corsus twisting in the agony of death upon his sword.

In such wise passed well nigh an hour. The bodily strength of Corinius and his iron heart bare up against the power of the venom long after those others had breathed out their souls in death. But now was the battle done and the victory with them of Demonland, and the lords Juss and Goldry Bluszco and Brandoch Daha with certain of their fighting men came into the banquet hall. Smeared they were with blood and the dust of battle, for not without great blows and the death of many a stout lad had the hold been won. Goldry said as they paused at the threshold, “This is the very banquet house of death. How came these by their end?”

THE LAST CONJURING IN CARCË.
THE LAST CONJURING IN CARCË.

Corinius’s brow darkened at the sight of the lords of Demonland, and mightily he strove to raise himself, but sank back groaning, “I have gotten an everlasting chill o’ the bones,” he said. “Yon hellish traitor murthered us all by poison; else should some of you have gotten your deaths by me or ever ye won up into Carcë.”

“Bring him some water,” said Juss. And he with Brandoch Daha gently lifted Corinius and bare him to his chair where he should be more at ease.

Goldry said, “Here is a lady liveth.” For Sriva, that sitting on her father’s left hand had so escaped a poisoned draught at the passing of the cups, rose from the table where she had cowered in fearful silence, and cast herself in a flood of tears and terrified supplications about Goldry’s knees. Goldry bade guard her to the camp and there bestow her in safe asylum until the morning.

Now was Corinius near his end, but he gathered strength to speak, saying, “I do joy that not by your sword were we put down, but by the unequal trumpery of Fortune, whose tool was this Corsus’ and the King’s devilish pride, that desired to harness Heaven and Hell to his chariot. Fortune’s a right strumpet, to fondle me in the neck and now yerk me one thus i’ the midriff.”

“Not Fortune, my Lord Corinius, but the Gods,” said Goldry, “whose feet be shod with wool.”

By then was water brought in, and Brandoch Daha would have given him to drink. But Corinius would have none of it, but jerked his head aside and o’erset the cup, and looking fiercely on Lord Brandoch Daha, “Vile fellow,” he said, “so thou too art come to insult on Witchland’s grave? Thou’dst strike me now into the centre, and thou wert not more a dancing madam than a soldier.”

“How?” said Brandoch Daha. “Say a dog bite me in the ham: must I bite him again i’ the same part?”

Corinius’s eyelids closed, and he said weakly, “How look thy womanish gew-gaws in Krothering since I towsed ’em?” And therewith the creeping poison reached his strong heart-strings, and he died.

Now was silence for a space in that banquet hall, and in the silence a step was heard, and the lords of Demonland turned toward the lofty doorway, that yawned as an arched cavern-mouth of darkness; for Corsus had torn down the arras curtains in his death-throes, and they lay heaped athwart the threshold with his dead body across them, Corinius’s sword-hilts jammed against his ribs and the blade standing a foot’s length forth from his breast. And while they gazed, there walked into the shifting light of the flamboys over that threshold the Lady Prezmyra, crowned and arrayed in her rich robes and ornaments of state. Her countenance was bleak as the winter moon flying high amid light clouds on a windy midnight settling towards rain, and those lords, under the spell of her sad cold beauty, stood without speech.

In a while Juss, speaking as one who needeth to command his voice, and making grave obeisance to her, said, “O Queen, we give you peace. Command our service in all things whatsoever. And first in this, which shall be our earliest task ere we sail homeward, to stablish you in your rightful realm of Pixyland. But this hour is overcharged with fate and desperate deeds to suffer counsel. Counsel is for the morning. The night calleth to rest. I pray you give us leave.”

Prezmyra, looked upon Juss, and there was eye-bite in her eyes, that glinted with green metallic lustre like those of a she-lion brought to battle.

“Thou dost offer me Pixyland, my Lord Juss,” said she, “that am Queen of Impland. And this night, thou thinkest, can bring me rest. These that were dear to me have rest indeed: my lord and lover Corund; the Prince my brother; Gro, that was my friend. Deadly enow they found you, whether as friends or foes.”

Juss said, “O Queen Prezmyra, the nest falleth with the tree. These things hath Fate brought to pass, and we be but Fate’s whipping-tops bandied what way she will. Against thee we war not, and I swear to thee that all our care is to make thee amends.”

“O, thine oaths!” said Prezmyra. “What amends canst thou make? Youth I have and some poor beauty. Wilt thou conjure those three dead men alive again that ye have slain? For all thy vaunted art, I think this were too hard a task.”

All they were silent, eyeing her as she walked delicately past the table. She looked with a distant and, to outward seeming, uncomprehending eye on the dead feasters and their empty cups. Empty all, save that one passed on by Viglus, whereof Corsus would not drink; and it stood half drained. Of curious workmanship it was, of pale green glass, its stand formed of three serpents intertwined, the one of gold, another of silver, the third of iron. Fingering it carelessly she raised her glittering eyes once more on the Demons, and said, “It was ever the wont of you of Demonland to eat the egg and give away the shell in alms.” And pointing at the lords of Witchland dead at the feast, she asked, “Were these also your victims in this day’s hunting, my lords?”

“Thou dost us wrong, madam,” cried Goldry. “Never hath Demonland used suchlike arts against her enemies.”

Lord Brandoch Daha looked swiftly at him, and stepped idly forward, saying, “I know not what art hath wrought yon goblet, but ’tis strangely like to one I saw in Impland. Yet fairer is this, and of more just proportions.” But Prezmyra forestalled his out-stretched hand, and quietly drew the cup towards her out of reach. As sword crosses sword, the glance of her green eyes crossed his, and she said, “Think not that you have a worse enemy left on earth than me. I it was that sent Corsus and Corinius to trample Demonland in the mire. Had I but some spark of masculine virtue, some soul at least of you should yet be loosed squealing to the shades to attend my dear ones ere I set sail. But I have none. Kill me then, and let me go.”

Juss, whose sword was bare in his hand, smote it home in the scabbard and stepped towards her. But the table was betwixt them, and she drew back to the dais where Corund lay in state. There, like some triumphant goddess, she stood above them, the cup of venom in her hand. “Come not beyond the table, my lords,” she said, “or I drain this cup to your damnation.”

Brandoch Daha said, “The dice are thrown, O Juss. And the Queen hath won the hazard.”

“Madam,” said Juss, “I swear to you there shall no force nor restraint be put upon you, but honour only and worship shown you, and friendship if you will. That surely mightest thou take of us for thy brother’s sake.” Thereat she looked terribly upon him, and he said, “Only on this wild night lay not hands upon yourself. For their sake, that even now haply behold us out of the undiscovered barren lands, beyond the dismal lake, do not this.”

Still facing them, the cup still aloft in her right hand, Prezmyra laid her left hand lightly on the brazen plates of Corund’s byrny that cased the mighty muscles of his breast. Her hand touched his beard, and drew back suddenly; but in an instant she laid it gently again on his breast. Somewhat her orient loveliness seemed to soften for a passing minute in the altering light, and she said, “I was given to Corund young. This night I will sleep with him, or reign with him, among the mighty nations of the dead.”

Juss moved as one about to speak, but she stayed him with a look, and the lines of her body hardened again and the lioness looked forth anew in her peerless eyes. “Hath your greatness,” she said, “so much outgrown your wit, that you think I will abide to be your pensioner, that have been a Princess in Pixyland, a Queen of far-fronted Impland, and wife to the greatest soldier in this bold of Carcë, which till this day hath been the only scourge and terror of the world? O my lords of Demonland, good comfortable fools, speak to me no more, for your speech is folly. Go, doff your hats to the silly hind that runneth on the mountain; pray her gently dwell with you amid your stalled cattle, when you have slain her mate. Shall the blackening frost, when it hath blasted and starved all the sweet garden flowers, say to the rose, Abide with us; and shall she harken to such a wolfish suit?”

So speaking she drank the cup; and turning from those lords of Demonland as a queen turneth her from the unregarded multitude, kneeled gently down by Corund’s bier, her white arms clasped about his head, her face pillowed on his breast.

When Juss spake, his voice was choked with tears. He commanded Bremery that they should take up the bodies of Corsus and Zenambria and those sons of Corund and of Corsus that lay poisoned and dead in that hall and on the morrow give them reverent burial. “And for the Lord Corinius I will that ye make a bed of state, that he may lie in this hall to-night, and to-morrow will we lay him in howe before Carcë, as is fitting for so renowned a captain. But great Corund and his lady shall none depart one from the other, but in one grave shall they rest, side by side, for their love sake. Ere we be gone I will rear them such a monument as beseemeth great kings and princes when they die. For royal and lordly was Corund, and a mighty man at arms, and a fighter clean of hand, albeit our bitter enemy. Wondrous it is with what cords of love he bound to him this unparagoned Queen of his. Who hath known her like among women for trueness and highness of heart? And sure none was ever more unfortunate.”

Now went they forth into the outer ward of Carcë The night bore still some signs of that commotion of the skies that had so lately burst forth and passed away, and some torn palls of thundercloud yet hung athwart the face of heaven. Betwixt them in the swept places of the sky a few stars shivered, and the moon, more than half waxen towards her full, was sinking over Tenemos. Some faint breath of autumn was abroad, and the Demons shuddered a little, fresh from the heavy air of the great banquet hall. The ruins of the Iron Tower smoking to the sky, and the torn and tumbled masses of masonry about it, showed monstrous in the gloom as fragments of old chaos; and from them and from the riven earth beneath steamed up pungent fumes as of brimstone burning. Ever busily, back and forth through those sulphurous vapours, obscene birds of the night flitted a weary round, and bats on leathern wing, fitfully and dimly seen in the uncertain mirk, save when their passage brought them dark against the moon. And from the solitudes of the mournful fen afar voices of lamentation floated on the night: wild wailing cries and sobbing noises and long moans rising and falling and quivering down to silence.

Juss laid his hand on Goldry’s arm, saying, “There is nought earthly in these laments, nor be those that thou seest circling in the reek very bats or owls. These be his masterless familiars wailing for their Lord. Many such served him, simple earthy divels and divels of the air and of the water, held by him in thrall by sorcerous and artificial practices, coming and going and doing his will.”

“These availed him not,” said Goldry, “nor the sword of Witchland against our might and main, that brake it asunder in his hand and slew his mighty men of valour.”

“Yet true it is,” said Lord Juss, “that none greater hath lived on earth than King Gorice XII. When after these long wars we held him as a stag at bay, he feared not to assay a second time, and this time unaided and alone, what no man else hath so much as once performed and lived. And well he knew that that which was summoned by him out of the deep must spill and blast him utterly if he should slip one whit, as slip he did in former days, but his disciple succoured him. Behold now with what loud striking of thunder, unconquered by any earthly power, he hath his parting: with this Carcë black and smoking in ruin for his monument, these lords of Witchland and hundreds besides of our soldiers and of the Witches for his funeral bake-meats, and spirits weeping in the night for his chief mourners.”

So came they again to the camp. And in due time the moon set and the clouds departed and the quiet stars pursued their eternal way until night’s decline; as if this night had been but as other nights: this night which had beheld the power and glory that was Witchland by such a hammer-stroke of destiny smitten in pieces.

ornament

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