The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison

XXXIII. Queen Sophonisba in Galing

Of the Entertainment Given by Lord Juss in Demonland to Queen Sophonisba, Fosterling of the Gods, and of That Circumstance Which, Beyond All the Wonders Fair and Lovely to Behold Shown Her in that Country, Made Her Most to Marvel: Wherein is a Rare Example How in a Fortunate World, Out of All Expectation, in the Spring of the Year, Cometh a New Birth.

Now the returning months brought the season of the year when Queen Sophonisba should come according to her promise to guest with Lord Juss in Galing. And so it was that in the hush of a windless April dawn the Zimiamvian caravel that bare the Queen to Demonland rowed up the firth to Lookinghaven.

All the east was a bower for the golden dawn. Kartadza, sharp-outlined as if cut in bronze, still hid the sun; and in the great shadow of the mountain the haven and the low hills and the groves of holm-oak and strawberry tree slumbered in a deep obscurity of blues and purples, against which the avenues of pink almond blossom and the white marble quays were bodied forth in pale wakening beauty, imaged as in a looking-glass in that tranquillity of the sea. Westward across the firth all the land was aglow with the opening day. Snow lingered still on the higher summits. Cloudless, bathing in the golden light, they stood against the blue: Dina, the Forks of Nantreganon, Pike o’ Shards, and all the peaks of the Thornback range and Neverdale. Morning laughed on their high ridges and kissed the woods that clung about their lower limbs: billowy woods, where rich hues of brown and purple told of every twig on all their myriad branches thick and afire with buds. White mists lay like coverlets on the water-meadows where Tivarandardale opens to the sea. On the shores of Bothrey and Scaramsey, and on the mainland near the great bluff of Thremnir’s Heugh and a little south of Owlswick, clear spaces among the birchwoods showed golden yellow. daffodils abloom in the spring.

They rowed in to the northernmost berth and made fast the caravel. The sweetness of the almond trees was the sweetness of spring in the air, and spring was in the face of that Queen as she came with her attendants up the shining steps, her little martlets circling about her or perching on her shoulders: she to whom the Gods of old gave youth everlasting, and peace everlasting in Koshtra Belorn.

Lord Juss and his brethren were on the quay to meet her, and the Lord Brandoch Daha. They bowed in turn, kissing her hands and bidding her welcome to Demonland. But she said, “Not to Demonland alone, my lords, to the world again. And toward which of all earth’s harbours should I steer, and toward which land if not to this land of yours, who have by your victories brought peace and joy to all the world? Surely peace slept not more softly on the Moruna in old days before the names of Gorice and Witchland were heard in that country, than she shall sleep for us on this new earth and Demonland, now that those names are drowned for ever under the whirlpools of oblivion and darkness.”

Juss said, “O Queen Sophonisba, desire not that the names of great men dead should be forgot for ever. So should these wars that we last year brought to so mighty a conclusion to make us undisputed lords of the earth go down to oblivion with them that fought against us. But the fame of these things shall be on the lips and in the songs of men from one generation to another, so long as the world shall endure.”

They took horse and rode up from the harbour to the upper road, and so through open pastures on to Havershaw Tongue. Lambs frisked on the dewy meadows beside the road; blackbirds flew from bush to bush; larks trilled in the sightless sky; and as they came down through the woods to Beckfoot wood-pigeons cooed in the trees, and squirrels peeped with beady eyes. The Queen spoke little. These and all shy things of the woods and field held her in thrall, charming her to a silence that was broken only now and then by a little exclamation of joy. The Lord Juss, who himself also loved these things, watched her delight.

Now they wound up the steep ascent from Beckfoot, and rode into Galing by the Lion Gate. The avenue of Irish yews was lined by soldiers of the bodyguards of Juss, Goldry, and Spitfire, and Brandoch Daha. These, in honour of their great masters and of the Queen, lifted their spears aloft, while trumpeters blew three fanfares on silver trumpets. Then to an accompaniment of lutes and theorbos and citherns moving above the pulse of muffled drums, a choir of maidens sang a song of welcome, strewing the path before the lords of Demonland and the Queen with sweet white hyacinths and narcissus blooms, while the ladies Mevrian and Armelline, more lovely than any queens of earth, waited at the head of the golden staircase above the inner court to greet Queen Sophonisba come to Galing.

A hard matter it were to tell of all the pleasures prepared for Queen Sophonisba and for her delight by the lords of Demonland. The first day she spent among the parks and pleasure gardens of Galing, where Lord Juss showed her his great lime avenues, his yew-houses, hie fruit gardens and sunk gardens and his private walks and bowers; his walks of creeping thyme which being trodden on sends up sweet odours to refresh the treader; his ancient water-gardens beside the Brankdale Beck, whither the water nymphs resort in summer and are seen under. the moon singing and combing their hair with combs of gold.

On the second day he showed her his herb gardens, disclosing to her the secret properties of herbs, wherein he was deeply learned. There grew that Zamalenticion, which being well beaten up with fat without salt is sovran for all wounds. And Dittany, which if eaten soon puts out the arrow and healeth the wounds; and not only by its presence stayeth snakes wheresoever they be handy to it, but by reason of its smell carried by wind and they smell it they die. And Mandragora, which being taken into the middle of an house compelleth all evils out of the house, and relieveth also headaches and produceth sleep. Also he showed her Sea Holly in his garden, that is born in secret places and in wet ones, and the root of it is as the head of that monster which men name the Gorgon, and the root-twigs have both eyes and nose and colour of serpents. Of this he told her how when taking up the root, a man must see to it that no sun shine on it, and he who would carve it must avert his head, for it is not permitted that man may see that root unharmed.

The third day Juss showed the Queen his stables, where were his war-horses and horses for the chase and for chariot racing stabled in stalls with furniture of silver, and much she marvelled at his seven white mares, sisters, so like that none might tell one from another, given him in days gone by by the priests of Artemis in the lands beyond the sunset. They were immortal, bearing, ichor in their veins, not blood; and the fire of it showed in their eyes like lamps burning.

The fourth night and the fifth the Queen was at Drepaby, guesting with Lord Goldry Bluszco and the [paragraph continues]

Princess Armelline, that were wedded in Zajë Zaculo, last Yule; and the sixth and seventh nights at Owlswick, and there Spitfire made her lordly entertainment. But Lord Brandoch Daha would not have the Queen go yet to Krothering, for he had not yet made fair again his gardens and pleasaunces and restored his rich and goodly treasures to his mind after their ill handling by Corinius. And it was not his will that she should look on Krothering Castle until all was there stablished anew according to its ancient glory.

The eighth day she came again to Galing, and now Lord Juss showed her his study, with his astrolabes of orichalc, figured with all the signs of the Zodiac and the mansions of the moon, standing a tall man’s height above the floor, and his perspectives and gloves and crystals and hollow looking-glasses; and great crystal globes where he kept homunculi whom he had made by secret processes of nature, both men and women, less than a span long, as beautiful as one could wish to see in their little coats, eating and drinking and going their ways in those mighty globes of crystal where his art had given them being.

Every night, whether at Galing, Owlswick, or Drepaby Mire, was feasting held in her honour, with music and dancing and merry-making and all delight, and poetical recitations and feats of arms and horsemanship, and masques and interludes the like whereof hath not been seen on earth for beauty and wit and all magnificence.

Now was the ninth day come of the Queen’s guesting in Demonland, and it was the eve of Lord Juss’s birthday, when all the great ones in the land were come together, as four years ago they came, to do honour on the morrow unto him and unto his brethren as was their wont aforetime. It was fine bright weather, with every little while a shower to bring fresh sweetness to the air, colour and refreshment to the earth, and gladness to the sunshine. Juss walked with the Queen in the morning in the woods of Moongarth Bottom, now bursting into leaf; and after their mid-day meal showed her his treasuries cut in the live rock under Galing Castle, where she beheld bars of gold and silver piled like trunks of trees; unhewn crystals of ruby, chrysoprase, or hyacinth, so heavy a strong man might not lift them; stacks of ivory in the tusk, piled to the ceiling; chests and jars filled with perfumes and costly spices, ambergris, frankincense, sweet-scented sandalwood and myrrh and spikenard; cups and beakers and cared wine-jars and lamps and caskets made of pure gold, worked and chased with the forms of men and women and birds and beasts and creeping things, and ornamented with jewels beyond price, margarites and pink and yellow sapphires, smaragds and chrysoberyls and yellow diamonds.

When the Queen had had her fill of gazing on these, he carried her to his great library where statues stood of the nine Muses about Apollo, and all the walls were hidden with books: histories and songs of old days, books of philosophy, alchymy and astronomy and art magic, romances and music and lives of great men dead and great treatises of all the arts of peace and war, with pictures and illuminated characters. Great windows opened southward on the garden from the library, and climbing rose-trees and plants of honeysuckle and evergreen magnolia clustered about the windows. Great chairs and couches stood about the open hearth where a fire of cedar logs burned in winter time. Lamps of moonstones self-effulgent shaded with cloudy green tourmaline stood on silver stands on the table and by each couch and chair, to give light when the day was over; and all the air was sweet with the scent of dried rose-leaves kept in ancient bowls and vases of painted earthenware.

Queen Sophonisba said, “My lord, I love this best of all the fair things thou hast shown me in thy castle of Galing: here where all trouble seems a forgotten echo of an ill world left behind. Surely my heart is glad, O my friend, that thou and these other lords of Demonland shall now enjoy your goodly treasures and fair days in your dear native land in peace and quietness all your lives.”

The Lord Juss stood at the window that looked westward across the lake to the great wall of the Scarf. Some shadow of a noble melancholy hovered about his sweet dark countenance as his gaze rested on a curtain of rain that swept across the face of the mountain wall, half veiling the high rock summits. “Yet think, madam,” said he, “that we be young of years. And to strenuous minds there is an unquietude in over-quietness.”

Now he conducted her through his armouries where he kept his weapons and weapons for his fighting men and all panoply of war. There he showed her swords and spears, maces and axes and daggers, orfreyed and damascened and inlaid with jewels; byrnies and baldricks and shields; blades so keen, a hair blown against them in a wind should be parted in twain; charmed helms on which no ordinary sword would bite. And Juss said unto the Queen, “Madam, what thinkest thou of these swords and spears? For know well that these be the ladder’s rungs that we of Demonland climbed up by to that signiory and principality which now we hold over the four corners of the world.”

She answered, “O my lord, I think nobly of them. For an ill part it were while we joy in the harvest, to contemn the tools that prepared the land for it and reaped it.”

While she spoke, Juss took down from its hook a great sword with a haft bound with plaited cords of gold and silver wire and cross-hilts of latoun set with studs of amethyst and a drake’s head at either end of the hilt with crimson almandines for his eyes, and the pommel a ball of deep amber-coloured opal with red and green flashes.

“With this sword,” said he, “I went up with Gaslark to the gates of Carcë, four years gone by this summer, being clouded in my mind by the back-wash of the sending of Gorice the King. With this sword I fought an hour back to back with Brandoch Daha, against Corund and Corinius and their ablest men: the greatest fight that ever I fought, and against the fearfullest odds. Witchland himself beheld us from Carcë walls through the watery mist and glare, and marvelled that two men that are born of woman could perform such deeds.”

He untied the bands of the sword and drew it singing from its sheath. “With this sword,” he said, looking lovingly along the blade, “I have overcome hundreds of mine enemies: Witches, and Ghouls, and barbarous people out of Impland and the southern seas, pirates of Esamocia and princes of the eastern main. With this sword I gat the victory in many a battle, and most glorious of all in the battle before Carcë last September. There, fighting against great Corund in the press of the fight I gave him with this sword the wound that was his death-wound.”

He put up the sword again in its sheath: held it a minute as if pondering whether or no to gird it about his waist: then slowly turned to its place on the wall and hung it up again. He carried his head high like a war-horse, keeping his gaze averted from the Queen as they went out from the great armoury in Galing; yet not so skilfully but she marked a glistening in his eye that seemed a tear standing above his lower eyelash.

That night was supper set in Lord Juss’s private chamber: a light regale, yet most sumptuous. They sat at a round table, nine in company: the three brethren, the Lords Brandoch Daha, Zigg, and Volle, the Ladies Armelline and Mevrian, and the Queen. Brightly flowed the wines of Krothering and Norvasp and blithely went the talk to outward seeming. But ever and again silence swung athwart the board, like a gray pall, till Zigg broke it with a jest, or Brandoch Daha or his sister Mevrian. The Queen felt the chill behind their merriment. The silent fits came oftener as the feast went forward, as if wine and good cheer had lost their native quality and turned fathers of black moods and gloomy meditations.

The Lord Goldry Bluszco, that till now had spoke little, spake now not at all, his proud dark face fixed in staid pensive lines of thought. Spitfire too was fallen silent, his face leaned upon his hand, his brow bent; and whiles he drank amain, and whiles he drummed his fingers on the table. The Lord Brandoch Daha leaned back in his ivory chair, sipping his wine. Very demure, through half-closed eyes, like a panther dozing in the noon-day, he watched his companions at the: feast. Like sunbeams chased by cloud-shadows across a mountain-side in windy weather, the lights of humorous enjoyment played across his face.

The Queen said, “O my lords, you have promised me I should hear the full tale of your wars in Impland and the Impland seas, and how you came to Carcë and of the great battle that there befell, and of the latter end of all the lords of Witchland and of Gorice XII. of memory accursed. I pray you let me hear it now, that our hearts may be gladdened by the tale of great deeds the remembrance whereof shall be for all generations, and that we may rejoice anew that all the lords of Witchland are dead and gone because of whom and their tyranny earth hath groaned and laboured these many years.”

Lord Juss, in whose face when it was at rest she had beheld that same melancholy which she had marked in him in the library that same day, poured forth more wine, and said, “O Queen Sophonisba, thou shalt hear it all.” Therewith he told all that had befallen since they last bade her adieu in Koshtra Belorn: of the march to the sea at Muelva; of Laxus and his, great fleet destroyed and sunk off Melikaphkhaz; of the battle before Carcë and its swinging fortunes; of the unhallowed light and flaring signs in heaven whereby they knew of the King’s conjuring again in Carcë; of their waiting in the night, armed at all points, with charms and amulets ready against what dreadful birth might be from the King’s enchantments; of the blasting of the Iron Tower, and the storming of the hold in pitch darkness; of the lords of Witchland murthered at the feast, and nought left at last of the power and pomp and terror that was Witchland save dying embers of a funeral fire and voices wailing in the wind before the dawn.

When he had done, the Queen said, as if talking in a dream, “Surely it may be said of these kings and lords of Witchland dead —

These wretched eminent things

Leave no more fame behind ’em than should one

Fall in a frost, and leave his print in snow;

As soon as the sun shines, it ever melts

Both form and matter.”

With those words spoken dropped silence again like a pall athwart that banquet table, more tristful than before and full of heaviness.

On a sudden Lord Brandoch Daha stood up, unbuckling from his shoulder his golden baldrick set with apricot-coloured sapphires and diamonds and fire-opals that imaged thunderbolts. He threw it before him on the table, with his sword, clattering among the cups. “O Queen Sophonisba,” said he, “thou hast spoken a fit funeral dirge for our glory as for Witchland’s. This sword Zeldornius gave me. I bare it at Krothering Side against Corinius, when I threw him out of Demonland. I bare it at Melikaphkhaz. I bare it in the last great fight in Witchland. Thou wilt say it brought me good luck and victory in battle. But it brought not to me, as to Zeldornius, this last best luck of all: that earth should gape for me when my great deeds were ended.”

The Queen looked at him amazed, marvelling to see him so much moved that she had known until now so lazy mocking and so debonair.

But the other lords of Demonland stood up and flung down their jewelled swords on the table beside Lord Brandoch Daha’s. And Lord Juss spake and said, “We may well cast down our swords as a last offering on Witchland’s grave. For now must they rust: seamanship and all high arts of war must wither: and, now that our great enemies are dead and gone, we that were lords of all the world must turn shepherds and hunters, lest we become mere mountebanks and fops, fit fellows for the chambering Beshtrians or the Red Foliot. O Queen Sophonisba, and you my brethren and my friends, that are come to keep my birthday with me to-morrow in Galing, what make ye in holiday attire? Weep ye rather, and weep again, and clothe you all in black, thinking that our mightiest feats of arms and the high southing of the bright star of our magnificence should bring us unto timeless ruin. Thinking that we, that fought but for fighting’s sake, have in the end fought so well we never may fight more; unless it should be in fratricidal rage each against each. And ere that should betide, may earth close over us and our memory perish.”

Mightily moved was the Queen to behold such a violent sorrow, albeit she could not comprehend the roots and reason of it. Her voice shook a little as she said, “My Lord Juss, my Lord Brandoch Daha, and you other lords of Demonland, it was little in mine expectation to find in you such a passion of sour discontent. For I came to rejoice with you. And strangely it soundeth in mine ear to hear you mourn and lament your worst enemies, at so great hazard of your lives and all you held dear, struck down by you at last. I am but a maid and young in years, albeit my memory goeth back two hundred springs, and ill it befitteth me to counsel great lords and men of war. Yet strange it seemeth if there be not peaceful enjoyment and noble deeds of peace for you all your days, who are young and noble and lords of all the world and rich in every treasure and high gifts of learning, and the fairest country in the world for your dear native land. And if your swords must not rust, ye may bear them against the uncivil races of Impland and other distant countries to bring them to subjection.”

But Lord Goldry Bluszco laughed bitterly. “O Queen,” he cried, “shall the correction of feeble savages content these swords, which have warred against the house of Gorice and against all his chosen captains that upheld the great power of Carcë and the glory and the fear thereof?”

And Spitfire said, “What joy shall we have of soft beds and delicate meats and all the delights that be in many-mountained Demonland, if we must be stingless drones, with no action to sharpen our appetite for ease?”

All were silent awhile. Then the Lord Juss spake saying, “O Queen Sophonisba, hast thou looked ever, on a showery day in spring, upon the rainbow flung across earth and sky, and marked how all things of earth beyond it, trees, mountain-sides, and rivers, and fields, and woods, and homes of men, are transfigured by the colours that are in the bow?”

“Yes,” she said, “and oft desired to reach them.”

“We,” said Juss, “have flown beyond the rainbow. And there we found no fabled land of heart’s desire, but wet rain and wind only and the cold mountain-side. And our hearts are a-cold because of it.”

The Queen said, “How old art thou, my Lord Juss, that thou speakest as an old man might speak?”

He answered, “I shall be thirty-three years old tomorrow, and that is young by the reckoning of men. None of us be old, and my brethren and Lord Brandoch Daha younger than I. Yet as old men may we now look forth on our lives, since the goodness thereof is gone by for us.” And he said, “Thou O Queen canst scarcely know our grief; for to thee the blessed Gods gave thy heart’s desire: youth for ever, and peace. Would they might give us our good gift, that should be youth for ever, and war; and unwaning strength and skill in arms. Would they might but give us our great enemies alive and whole again. For better it were we should run hazard again of utter destruction, than thus live out our lives like cattle fattening for the slaughter, or like silly garden plants.”

The Queen’s eyes were large with wonder. “Thou couldst wish it?” she said.

Juss answered and said, “A true saying it is that ‘a grave is a rotten foundation.’ If thou shouldst proclaim to me at this instant the great King alive again and sitting again in Carcë, bidding us to the dread arbitrament of war, thou shouldst quickly see I told thee truth.”

While Juss spake, the Queen turned her gaze from one to another round the board. In every eye, when he spake of Carcë, she saw the lightning of the joy of battle as of life returning to men held in a deadly trance. And when he had done, she saw in every eye the light go out. Like Gods they seemed, in the glory of their youth and pride, seated about that table; but sad and tragical, like Gods exiled from wide Heaven.

None spake, and the Queen cast down her eyes, sitting as if wrapped in thought. Then the Lord Juss rose to his feet, and said, “O Queen Sophonisba, forgive us that our private sorrows should make us so forgetful of our hospitality as weary our guest with a mirthless feast. But think ’tis because we know thee our dear friend we use not too much ceremony. To-morrow we will be merry with thee, whate’er betide thereafter.”

So they bade good-night. But as they went out into the garden under the stars, the Queen took Juss aside privately and said to him, “My lord, since thou and my Lord Brandoch Daha came first of mortal men into Koshtra Belorn, and fulfilled the weird according to preordainment, this only hath been my desire: to further you and to enhance you and to obtain for you what you would, so far as in me lieth. Though I be but a weak maid, yet hath it seemed good to the blessed Gods to show kindness unto me. One holy prayer may work things we scarce dream of. Wilt thou that I pray to Them to-night?”

“Alas, dear Queen,” said he, “shall those estranged and divided ashes unite again? Who shall turn back the floodtide of unalterable necessity?”

But she said, “Thou hast crystals and perspectives can show thee things afar off. I pray bring them, and row me in thy boat up to Moonmere Head that we may land there about midnight. And let my Lord Brandoch Daha come with us and thy brothers. But let none else know of it. For that were but to mock them with a false dawn, if it should prove at last to be according to thy wisdom, O my lord, and not according to my prayers.”

So the Lord Juss did according to the word of that fair Queen, and they rowed her up the lake by moonlight. [paragraph continues]

None spake, and the Queen sate apart in the bows of the boat, in earnest supplication to the blessed Gods. When they were come to the head of the lake they went ashore on a little spit of silver sand. The April night was above them, mild with moonlight. The shadows of the fells rose inky black and beyond imagination huge against the sky. The Queen kneeled awhile in silence on the cold ground, and those lords of Demonland stood together in silence watching her.

In a while she raised her eyes to heaven; and behold, between the two main peaks of the Scarf, a meteor crept slowly out of darkness and across the night-sky, leaving a trail of silver fire, and silently departed into darkness. They watched, and another came, and yet another, until the western sky above the mountain was ablaze with them. From two points of heaven they came, one betwixt the foreclaws of the Lion and one in the dark sign of Cancer. And they that came from the Lion were sparkling like the white fires of Rigel or Altair, and they that came from the Crab were haughty red, like the lustre of Antares. The lords of Demonland, leaning on their swords, watched these portents for a long while in silence. Then the travelling meteors ceased, and the steadfast stars shone lonely and serene. A soft breeze stirred among the alders and willows by the lake. The lapping waters lapping the shingly shore made a quiet tune. A nightingale in a coppice on a little hill sang so passionate sweet it seemed some spirit singing. As in a trance they stood and listened, until that singing ended, and a hush fell on water and wood and lawn. Then all the east blazed up for an instant with sheet lightnings, and thunder growled from the east beyond the sea.

The thunder took form so that music was in the heavens, filling earth and sky as with trumpets calling to battle, first high, then low, then shuddering down to silence. Juss and Brandoch Daha knew it for that great call to battle which had preluded that music in the dark night without her palace, in Koshtra Belorn, when first they stood before her portal divine. The great call went again through earth and air, sounding defiance; and in its train new voices, groping in darkness, rising to passionate lament, hovering, and dying away on the wind, till nought remained but a roll of muffled thunder, long, low, quiet, big with menace.

The Queen turned to Lord Juss. Surely her eyes were like two stars shining in the gloom. She said in a drowned voice, “Thy perspectives, my lord.”

So the Lord Juss made a fire of certain spices and herbs, and smoke rose in a thick cloud full of fiery sparks, with a sweet sharp smell. And he said, “Not we, O my Lady, lest our desires cheat our senses. But look thou in my perspectives through the smoke, and say unto us what thou shalt behold in the east beyond the unharvested sea.”

The Queen looked. And she said, “I behold a harbour town and a sluggish river coming down to the harbour through a mere set about with mud flats, and a great waste of fen stretching inland from the sea. Inland, by the river side, I behold a great bluff standing above the fens. And walls about the bluff, as it were a citadel. And the bluff and the walled hold perched thereon are black like old night, and like throned iniquity sitting in the place of power, darkening the desolation of that fen.”

Juss said, “Are the walls thrown down? Or is not the great round tower south-westward thrown down in ruin athwart the walls?”

She said, “All is whole and sound as the walls of thine own castle, my lord.”

Juss said, “Turn the crystal, O Queen, that thou mayest see within the walls if any persons be therein, and tell us their shape and seeming.”

The Queen was silent for a space, gazing earnestly in the crystal. Then she said, “I see a banquet hall with walls of dark green jasper speckled with red, and a massy cornice borne up by giants three-headed carved in black serpentine; and each giant is; bowed beneath the weight of a huge crab-fish. The hall is seven-sided. Two long tables there be and a cross-bench. There be iron braziers in the midst of the hall and flamboys burning in silver stands, and revellers quaffing at the long tables. Some dark young men black of brow and great of jaw, most soldier-like, brothers mayhap. Another with them, ruddy of countenance and kindlier to look on, with long brown moustachios. Another that weareth a brazen byrny and sea-green kirtle; an old man he, with sparse gray whiskers and flabby cheeks; fat and unwieldy; not a comely old man to look upon.”

She ceased speaking, and Juss said, “Whom seest thou else in the banquet hall, O Queen?”

She said, “The flare of the flamboys hideth the cross-bench. I will turn the crystal again. Now I behold two diverting themselves with dice at the table before the cross-bench. One is well-looking enough, well knit, of a noble port, with curly brown hair and beard and keen eyes like a sailor. The other seemeth younger in years, younger than any of you, my lords. He is smooth shaved, of a fresh complexion and fair curling hair, and his brow is wreathed with a festal garland. A most big broad strong and seemly young man. Yet is there a somewhat maketh me ill at ease beholding him; and for all his fair countenance and royal bearing he seemeth displeasing in mine eyes.

“There is a damosel there too, watching them while they play. Showily dressed she is, and hath some beauty. Yet scarce can I commend her ——” and, ill at ease on a sudden, the Queen suddenly put down the crystal.

The eye of Lord Brandoch Daha twinkled, but he kept silence. Lord Juss said, “More, I entreat thee, O Queen, ere the reek be gone and the vision fade. If this be all within the banquet hall, seest thou nought without?”

Queen Sophonisba looked again, and in a while said, “There is a terrace facing to the west under the inner wall of that fortress of old night, and walking on it in the torchlight a man crowned like a King. Very tall he is: lean of body, and long of limb. He weareth a black doublet bedizened o’er with diamonds, and his crown is in the figure of a crab-fish, and the jewels thereof out-face the sun in splendour. But scarce may I mark his apparel for looking on the face of him, which is more terrible than the face of any man that ever I saw. And the whole aspect of the man is full of darkness and power and terror and stern command, that spirits from below earth must tremble at and do his bidding.”

Juss said, “Heaven forfend that this should prove but a sweet and golden dream, and we wake to-morrow to find it flown.”

“There walketh with him,” said the Queen, “in intimate converse, as of a servant talking to his lord, one with a long black beard curly as the sheep’s wool and glossy as the raven’s wing. Pale he is as the moon in daylight hours, slender, with fine-cut features and great dark eyes, and his nose hooked like a reaping-hook; gentle-looking and melancholy-looking, yet noble.”

Lord Brandoch Daha said, “Seest thou none, O Queen, in the lodgings that be in the eastern gallery above the inner court of the palace?”

The Queen answered, “I see a lofty bed-chamber hung with arras. It is dark, save for two branching candlesticks of lights burning before a great mirror. I see a lady standing before the mirror, crowned with a queen’s crown of purple amethysts on her deep hair that hath the colour of the tipmost tongues of a flame. A man cometh through the door behind her, parting the heavy hangings left and right. A big man he is, and looketh like a king, in his great wolf-skin mantle and his kirtle of russet velvet with ornaments of gold. His bald head set about with grizzled curls and his bushy beard flecked with gray speak him something past his prime; but the fight of youth burns in his eager eyes and the vigour of youth is in his tread. She turneth to greet him. Tall she is, and young she is, and beautiful, and proud-faced, and sweet-faced, and most gallant-hearted too, and merry of heart too, if her looks belie her not.”

Queen Sophonisba covered her eyes, saying, “My lords, I see no more. The crystal curdles within like foam in a whirlpool under a high force in rainy weather. Mine eyes grow sore with watching. Let us row back, for the night is far spent and I am weary.”

But Juss stayed her and said, “Let me dream yet awhile. The double pillar of the world, that member thereof which we, blind instruments of inscrutable Heaven, did shatter, restored again? From this time forth to maintain, I and he, his and mine, ageless and deathless for ever, for ever our high contention whether he or we should be great masters of all the earth? If this he but phantoms, O Queen, thou’st ’ticed us to the very heart of bitterness. This we could have missed, unseen and unimagined: but not now. Yet how were it possible the Gods should relent and the years return?”

But the Queen spake, and her voice was like the falling shades of evening, pulsing with hidden splendour, as of a sense of wakening starlight alive behind the fading blue. “This King,” she said, “in the wickedness of his impious pride did wear on his thumb the likeness of that worm Ouroboros, as much as to say his kingdom should never end. Yet was he, when the appointed hour did come, thundered down into the depths of Hell. And if now he be raised again and his days continued, ’tis not for his virtue but for your sake, my lords, whom the Almighty Gods do love. Therefore I pray you possess your hearts awhile with humility before the most high Gods, and speak no unprofitable words. Let us row back.”

Dawn came golden-fingered, but the lords of Demonland lay along abed after their watch in the night. About the third hour before noon, the presence was filled in the high presence chamber, and the three brethren sat upon their thrones, as four years ago they sat, between the golden hippogriffs, and beside them were thrones set for Queen Sophonisba and Lord Brandoch Daha. All else of beauty and splendour in Galing Castle had the Queen beheld, but not till now this presence chamber; and much she marvelled at its matchless beauties and rarities, the hangings and the carvings on the walls, the fair pictures, the lamps of moonstone and escarbuncle self-effulgent, the monsters on the four-and-twenty pillars, carved in precious stones so great that two men might scarce circle them with their arms, and the constellations burning in that firmament of lapis lazuli below the golden canopy. And when they drank unto Lord Juss the cup of glory to be, wishing him long years and joy and greatness for ever more, the Queen took a little cithern saying, “O my lord, I will sing a sonnet to thee and to you my lords and to sea-girt Demonland.” So saying, she smote the strings, and sang in that crystal voice of hers, so true and delicate that all that were in that hall were ravished by its beauty:

Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough windes do shake the darling buds of Maie,

And Sommers lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimn’d;

And every faire from faire some-time declines,

By chance or natures changing course untrim’d;

But thy eternall Sommer shall not fade

Nor loose possession of that faire thou ow’st;

Nor shall Death brag thou wandr’st in his shade,

When in eternall lines to time thou grow’st:

So long as men can breath, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

When she had done, Lord Juss rose up very nobly and kissed her hand, saying, “O Queen Sophonisba, fosterling of the Gods, shame us not with praises that be too high for mortal men. For well thou knowest what thing alone might bring us content. And ’tis not to be thought that that which was seen at Moonmere Head last night was very truth indeed, but rather the dream of a night vision.”

But Queen Sophonisba answered and said, “My Lord Juss, blaspheme not the bounty of the blessed Gods, lest They be angry and withdraw it, Who have granted unto you of Demonland from this day forth youth everlasting and unwaning strength and skill in arms, and — but hark!” she said, for a trumpet sounded at the gate, three strident blasts.

At the sound of that trumpet blown, the lords Goldry and Spitfire sprang from their seats, clapping hand to sword. Lord Juss stood like a stag at gaze. Lord Brandoch Daha sat still in his golden chair, scarce changing his pose of easeful grace. But all his frame seemed alight with action near to birth, as the active principle of light pulses and grows in the sky at sunrise. He looked at the Queen, his eyes filled with a wild surmise. A serving man, obedient to Juss’s nod, hastened from the chamber.

No sound was there in that high presence chamber in Galing till in a minute’s space the serving man returned with startled countenance, and, bowing before Lord Juss, said, “Lord, it is an Ambassador from Witchland and his train. He craveth present audience.”

THE WORM

ornament

OUROBOROS

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/e/eddison/er/worm/chapter33.html

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