The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison

IX. Salapanta Hills

Of the Landing of Lord Juss and His Companions in Outer Impland and Their Meeting with Zeldornius, Helteranius, and Jalcanaius Fostus; and of the Tidings Told by Mivarsh, and the Dealings of the Three Great Captains on the Hills of Salapanta.

On the thirty and first day after that council held in Krothering, the fleet of Demonland put to sea from Lookinghaven: eleven dragons of war and two great ships of burthen, bound for the uttermost seas of earth in quest of the Lord Goldry Bluszco. Eighteen hundred Demons fared on that expedition, and not a man among them that was not a complete soldier. For five days they rowed southaway on a windless sea, and on the sixth the sea-cliffs of Goblinland came out of the haze on their starboard bow. They rowed south along the land, and on the tenth day out from Lookinghaven passed under the Ness of Ozam, journeying thence four days with a favouring wind over the open seas to Sibrion. But now, when they had rounded that dark promontory and were about steering east along the coast of Impland the more, and less than ten days’ journey lay between them and their haven in Muelva, a dismal tempest suddenly surprised them. For forty days it swept them in hail and sleet over wide-wallowing ocean, without a star, without a course; till, on a fierce midnight of wind and darkness and roaring waters was Juss’s and Spitfire’s ship and other four in her company driven on the rocks on a lee shore and broken in pieces. Hardly, and after long battling among great waves, those brethren won ashore, weary and hurt. In the inhospitable light of a wet and windy dawn they mustered on the beach such of their folk as had escaped out of the mouth of destruction; and they were three hundred and thirty and three.

Spitfire, beholding these things, spake and said, “This land hath a villanous look stirreth my remembrance, as but to behold verjuice soureth the mouth of him who once tasted thereof. Rememberest thou this land?”

Juss scanned the low long coast-line that swept north and west to an estuary, and beyond ran westwards till it was lost in the scud and driving spray. Desolate birds flew above the welter of the surges. He said, “Certainly this is Arlan Mouth, where least of all I had choosed to come a-land with so small a head of men. Yet shalt thou prove here, as it hath ever been, how all occasions are but steps for us to climb fame by.”

“Our ships lost,” cried Spitfire, “and the more part of our men, and worst of all, Brandoch Daha that is worth ten thousand. Easilier shall a little ant bib this ocean dry, than shall we in this taking perform our enterprise.” And he cursed and blasphemed, saying, “Cursed be the malice of the sea, which, having broke our power, now speweth us ashore here to our mere undoing; and so hath done great succour to the King of Witchland, and unto all the world beside great damage.”

But Juss answered him, “Think not that these contrary winds come of fortune or by the influence of malignant and combustive stars. This weather bloweth out of Carcë. Even as these very waves thou beholdest have each his back-wash or undertow, so followeth after every sending an undertow of evil hap, whereby, albeit in essence a less deadly thing, many have been drowned and washed away who stood unremoved against the main stroke of the breaker. So were we twice since that day brought near to our bane: first, when our judgement being darkened with a strange distraction we went up with Gaslark against Carcë; next, when this storm wrecked us here by Arlan Mouth. Though by mine art I rebated the King’s sending, yet against the maleficial undertow that followed it my charms avail not, nor the virtues of all sorcerous herbs that grow.”

“Are these things so, and wilt thou yet be temperate?” said Spitfire.

“Content thee,” said Juss. “The sands run down. A certain time only runneth this stream for our hurt; it must now have well nigh spent itself, and it were too perilous for him to conjure a second time, as last May he conjured in Carcë.”

“Who told thee that?” asked Spitfire.

“I do but conjecture it,” answered he, “from my studying of certain prophetic writings touching the princes of that blood and line. Whereby it appeareth (yet not clearly, but riddle-wise) that if one and the same King, essaying a second time in his own person an enterprise in that kind, should fail, and the powers of darkness destroy him, then is not his life spilt alone (as it fortuned aforetime unto Gorice VII. at his first attempt), but there shall be an end for ever of the whole house of Gorice which hath for so many generations reigned in Carcë.”

“Well,” said Spitfire, “so stand we to our chance. Old muckhills will bloom at last.”

Now for nineteen days fared those brethren and their company eastward through Outer Impland: first across a country of winding sleepy rivers and reedy lakes innumerable, then by rolling uplands and champaign ground. [paragraph continues]

At length, on an even, they came upon a heath running up eastward to a range of tumbled hills. The hills were not lofty nor steep, but rugged of outline and their surface rough with crags and boulders, so that it was a maze of little eminences and valleys grown upon by heather and fern and rank sad-coloured grass, with stunted thorn trees and junipers harbouring in the clefts of the rocks. On the water-shed, as on an horse’s withers, looking west to the red October sunset and south to the far line of the Didornian Sea, they came upon a spy-fortalice, old and desolate, and one sitting in the gate. For very joy their hearts melted within them, when they knew him for none other than Brandoch Daha.

So they embraced him as one beyond hope risen from the grave. And he said, “Through the Straits of Melikaphkhaz was I borne, and wrecked at last on the lonely shore ten leagues southward from this spot, whither I won alone, having lost my ship and all my dear companions. In my mind it was that ye must fare by this road to Muelva if ye suffered shipwreck in the outer coasts of Impland.

“Harken,” he said, “and I will tell you a wonder. A seven-night have I awaited you in this roosting-stead of daws and owls. And it is a caravanserai of great armies that pass by in the wilderness, and having parleyed with two I await the third. For well I think that here I have made discovery of a great mystery, one that hath engaged the speculations of wise men for years. For on that day of my coming hither, when sunset was red, as now you see it, behold an army marching up from the east with great flags a-flaunting in the wind and all kinds of music. Which I beholding, methought if these be enemies, then goeth down my life’s days with honour, and if friends, then cometh provender from those waggons of burthen that follow this army. A weighty argument; since not so much as the smell of victuals had I, save nasty nuts and berries of the open field, since I came forth of the sea. So went I, taking my weapons, on the walls of this spy-fortalice and hailed them, bidding them say forth their quality. And he that was their captain rode up under the walls, and hailed me with all courtesy and noble port. And who think ye ’twas?”

They answered nought.

“One that hath been famous,” said be, “up and down the earth for a marvellous valorous and brave soldier of fortune. Have ye forgot that enterprise of Gaslark that had its burying in Impland?”

“Was he little and dark,” asked Juss, “like a keen dagger suddenly unsheathed at midnight? Or bright with the splendour of a pennoned spear at a jousting on high holiday? Or was he dangerous of aspect like an old sword, rusty in the midst but bright at point and edge, brought forth for deeds of destiny at the fated day?”

“Thine arrow striketh in the triple ring o’ the mark,” said Lord Brandoch Daha. “Great of growth he was, and a very peacock of splendour in his panoply of war; and a great pitch-black stallion bare him. So I spake him fair, saying, ‘O most magnificent and godlike Helteranius, conqueror in an hundred fights, what makest thou these long years in Outer Impland with this great head of men? And what dark lodestone draws you these nine years, since with great sound of trumpets and tramp of horses thou and Zeldornius and Jalcanaius Fostus went forth to make Impland Gaslark’s footstool; since which time all the world believeth you lost and dead?’ And he beheld me with alien eyes, and made answer, ‘O Brandoch Daha, the world journeyeth to its silly will, but I fare alway with my purpose before me. Be it nine years, or but nine moons, or nine ages, what care I? Zeldornius would I encounter and engage him in battle, that still fleeth before my face. Eat and drink with me to-night; but think not to detain me nor to turn me to idle thoughts beside my purpose. For with the dawning of the day I must forth again in quest of Zeldornius.’

“So I ate and drank and was merry that night with Helteranius in his pavilion of silk and gold. And with the dawn he marshalled his army and marched westward toward the plains.

“And on the third day, as I sat without this wall, cursing your slow coming, behold an army marching from the east and one leading them mounted on a small dun horse; and he was clad in black armour shining like the raven’s wing, with black eagle’s plumes in his helm, and eyes like the eyes of a cat-a-mountain, full of sparkling flame. Little was he, and fierce of face, and lithe, and hard to look on and tireless to look on like a stoat. And I hailed him from where I sat, saying, ‘O most notable and puissant Jalcanaius Fostus, shatterer of the hosts of men, whitherward over the lonely heaths forlorn, thou and thy great armament?’ And he lighted down from his horse, and took me by the arms with both his hands, and said, ‘If a man dream, to speak with dead men betokens profit. And art not thou of the dead, O Brandoch Daha? For in forgotten days, that now spring up in my mind as flowers in a weed-choked garden after many years, so bloomest thou in my memory: great among the great ones of the world that was, thou and thine house in Krothering above the sea-lochs in many-mountained Demonland. But oblivion, like a sounding sea, soundeth betwixt me and those days; and the noise of the surf stoppeth mine ears, and the mist of the sea darkeneth mine eyes that strain for a sight of those far times and the deeds thereof. Yet for those dead days’ sake, eat with me and drink with me to-night, since here for a night once more I pitch my moving tent on Salapanta Hills. And to-morrow I fare onward. For never may rest bring balm to my soul until I find out Helteranius and smite his head from his shoulders. Great shame to him but little marvel is it, that he still courseth before me as an hare. For traitors were ever dastards. And who ever heard tell of a more hellish devilish damned traitor than he? Nine years ago, when Zeldornius and I made ready to decide our quarrels by battle, word came to me in a lucky hour how that this Helteranius with cunning colubrine and malice viperine and sleights serpentine went about to attack me in the rear. So turned I right about to crush him, but the fat chuff-cat was fled.’

“So spake Jalcanaius Fostus; and I ate and drank with him that night, and caroused with him in his tent. And at break of day he struck camp and rode westaway with his army.”

Brandoch Daha ceased, and looked eastward toward the gates of night. And lo, an army faring up from the lower moor-lands, toward them on the ridge, horsemen and footmen in dense array, and their captain on a great brown horse riding in the van. Long-limbed he was and lean, all armed in dusty rusty armour hacked and dinted in an hundred fights, with worn leather gauntlets on his hands and a faded campaigning cloak thrown back from his shoulders. He carried his casque at his saddle-bow and his head was bare: the head of an old lean hunting-dog, with white hair swept back from a rugged brow where blue veins showed; great-nosed and bony-faced, with huge bushy white moustachios and eyebrows. and blue eyes gleaming from cavernous eye-sockets. His horse was curst-looking, with ears laid back and blood-shed dangerous eyes, and he in the saddle sat erect and unyielding as a lance.

When he and his army came up upon the ridge, he drew rein and hailed the Demons. And he said, “On every ninth day these nine years have I beheld this lonely place of earth, as I pursued after Jalcanaius Fostus that still eludeth me and still fleeth before me; and this is strange, since he was ever a great fighter and engaged these nine years past to do battle with me. And now fear cometh upon me that eld draweth a veil of illusion athwart mine eyes, portending the approach of death or ever I perform my will. For here in the uncertain light of evening rise up before me shapes and semblances as of guests of Gaslark the king in Zajë Zaculo in days gone by: old friends of Gaslark’s out of many-mountained Demonland: Brandoch Daha, that slew the King of Witchland, and Spitfire of Owlswick, and Juss his brother, the same which had lordship over all the Demons ere we fared to Impland. Ghosts and back-comers of a world forgot. But if ye be right flesh and blood, speak and discover yourselves.”

Juss answered him, “O most redoubtable Zeldornius and in war invincible, well might a man expect spirits of the dead on these quiet hills about cockshut time. And if thou deem us such, how much more shall we, that be wanderers new-shipwrecked out of hungry seas, suppose thee but a shade, and these great hosts of thine but fetches of the dead that be departed, steaming up from Erebus as daylight dies?”

“O most renowned and redoubtable Zeldornius,” said Brandoch Daha, “thou wast once my guest in Krothering. To resolve thy doubts and ours, bid us to supper. It were matter indeed if spirits bodiless were able to bib wine and eat up earthly bake-meats.”

So Zeldornius let pitch his tents, and appointed the fifth hour before midnight for those lords of Demonland to sup with him. Ere they forgathered in Zeldornius’s tent they spake among themselves, and Spitfire said, “Was ever such a wonder or such a pitiful trick o’ the Fates as bringeth these three great captains to waste the remnant of their days in this remote wilderness? Doubt not but there’s practice in it, that maketh them march these long years this changeless round, each fleeing one that would fain encounter him, and still seeking another that flies before him.”

“Never went man with that look of the eyes Zeldornius hath,” said Juss, “but he was a man ensorcelled.”

“With such a look,” said Brandoch Daha, “went Helteranius and Jalcanaius. But mark our interest. ’Twere good to break the charm and claim their help for our pains. Shall’s show the old lion all the truth of this fact to-night?”

So spake Lord Brandoch Daha, and those brethren deemed his counsel good. So at supper, when men’s hearts were gladdened with good cheer, the Lord Juss sate him down by Zeldornius and opened to him this matter, saying, “O renowned Zeldornius, how befalleth it that these nine years thou pursuest after Jalcanaius Fostus, shatterer of hosts, and what was your difference betwixt you that set you by the ears?”

Zeldornius said, “O Juss, must I answer thee by reasons in this matter that is ruled by the high stars and Fate that lays men at their length? Enough for thee that unpeace befell betwixt me and Jalcanaius mighty in war, and it was confirmed between us that by the arbitrament of the bloody field we should end our difference. But he abode me not; and these nine years I seek to meet with him in vain.”

“There was a third of you,” said Juss. “What tidings hast thou of Helteranius?”

Zeldornius answered him, “No tidings.”

“Wilt thou,” said Juss, “that I enlighten thee hereon?”

Zeldornius said, “Thou and thy fellows alone of the children of men have spoken with me since these things began. For they that dwelt in this region fled years ago, accounting the place accursed. A paltry crew they were, and mean meat enow for our swords. Speak then, if thou meanest me well, and show me all.”

“Helteranius,” said Lord Juss, “pursueth thee these nine years, as thou pursuest Jalcanaius Fostus. My cousin here hath seen him but six days ago, in this same place, and talked with him, and shook him by the hand, and knew his mind. Surely ye be all three holden by some enchantment, that being old comrades in arms so strangely and to so little purpose do pursue each the other’s life. I prithee let us be a mean betwixt you all to set you at one again, and free you from so strange a thraldom.”

But with those words spoken was Zeldornius grown red as blood. In a while he said, “It were black treachery. I’ll not credit it.”

But Lord Brandoch Daha answered him, “From his own lips I received it, O Zeldornius. And thereto I plight my troth. This besides, that Jalcanaius Fostus was turned from battling with thee nine years ago (as he himself hath told me, and made firm his saying with most fearful oaths), by intelligence brought him that Helteranius was in that hour minded to take him in the rear.”

“Ay,” said Spitfire, “and unto this day he marcheth on Helteranius’s track as thou on his.”

With those words spoken was Zeldornius grown yellow as old parchment, and his white moustachios bristled like a lion’s. He sat silent awhile, then, resting upon Juss the cold and steady gaze of his blue eyes, “The world comes back to me,” he said, “and this memory therewith, that they of Demonland were truth-tellers whether to friend or foe, and ever held it shame to cog and lie.” All they bowed gravely and he said with a great lowe of anger in his eyes, “This Helteranius deviseth against me, it well appeareth, the self-same treachery whereof he was falsely accused to Jalcanaius Fostus. There were no likelier place to crush him than here on Salapanta ridge. If I stand here to abide his onset, the lie of the ground befriendeth me, and Jalcanaius cometh at his heels to gather the broken meats after I have made my feast.”

Brandoch Daha said in Juss’s ear, “Our peacemaking taketh a pretty turn. Heels i’ the air: monstrous unlady-like!”

But nought they could say would move Zeldornius. So in the end they offered him their backing in this adventure. “And when the day is won, then shalt thou lend us thy might in our enterprise, and aid us in our wars with Witchland that be for to come.”

But Zeldornius said, “O Juss and ye lords of Demonland, I yield you thanks; but ye shall not meddle in this battle. For we came three captains with our hosts unto this land, and beheld the land, and laid it under us. Ours it is, and if any meddle or make with us, were we never so set at enmity one with another, we must join together in his despite and bring him to bane. Be still then, and behold and see what birth fate shall bring forth on Salapanta Hills. But if I live, thereafter shall ye have my friendship and my help in all your enterprises whatsoever.”

For awhile he sat without speech, his stark veined hands clenched on the board before him; then rising, went without word to the door of his pavilion to study the night. Then turned he back to Lord Juss, and spake to him: “Know that when this moon now past was but three days old I began to be troubled with a catarrh or rheum which yet troubleth me; and well thou wottest that whoso falleth sick on the third day of the moon’s age, he will die. To-night also is a new moon, and of a Saturday; and that betokeneth fighting and bloodshed. Also the wind bloweth from the south; and he that beginneth that game with a south wind shall have the victory. With such uncertain blackness and brightness openeth the door of Fate before me.”

Juss bowed his head, and said, “O Zeldornius, thy speech is sooth.”

“I was ever a fighter,” said Zeldornius.

Far into the night sat they in the tent of renowned Zeldornius, drinking and talking of life and destiny and old wars and the chances of war and great adventure; and an hour after midnight they parted, and Juss and Spitfire and Brandoch Daha betook them to their rest in the watch-tower on the ridge of Salapanta.

On such wise passed three days by, Zeldornius waiting with his army on the hill, and the Demons supping with him nightly. And on the third day he drew out his army as for battle, expecting Helteranius. But neither that day nor the next nor the next day following brought sight nor tidings of Helteranius, and strange it seemed to them and hard to guess what turn of fortune had delayed his coming. The sixth night was overcast, and mirk darkness covered the earth. When supper was done, as the Demons betook themselves to their sleeping place, they heard a scuffle and the voice of Brandoch Daha, who went foremost of them, crying, “Here have I caught a heath-dog’s whelp. Give me a light. What shall I do with him?”

Men were roused and lights brought, and Brandoch Daha surveyed that which he held pinioned by the arms, caught by the entrance to the fortalice: one with scared wild-beast eyes in a swart face, golden ear-rings in his ears, and a thick close-cropped beard interlaced with gold wire twisted among its curls; bare-armed, with a tunic of otter-skin and wide hairy trousers cross-stitched with silver thread, a circlet of gold on his head, and frizzed dark hair plaited in two thick tails that hung forward over his shoulders. His lips were drawn back, like a cross-grained dog’s snarling betwixt fear and fierceness, and his white pointed teeth and the whites of his eyes flashed in the torch-light.

So they had him with them into the tower, and set him before them, and Juss said, “Fear not, but tell forth unto us thy name and lineage, and what brings thee lurking in the night about our lodging. We mean thee no hurt, so thou practise not against us and our safety. Art thou a dweller in this Impland, or a wanderer, like as we be, from countries beyond the seas? hast thou companions, and if so, where be they, and what, and how many?”

And the stranger gnashed upon them with his teeth, and said, “O devils transmarine, mock not but slay.”

Juss entreated him kindly, giving him meat and drink, and in a while made question of him once more, “What is thy name?”

Whereto he replied, “O devil transmarine, pity of thine ignorance sith thou know’st not Mivarsh Faz.” And he fell into a great passion of weeping, crying aloud, “Woe worth the woe that is fallen upon all the land of Impland!”

“What’s the matter?” said Juss.

But Mivarsh ceased not to wail and to lament, saying, “Out harrow and alas for Fax Fay Faz and Illarosh Faz and Lurmesh Faz and Gandassa Faz and all the great ones in the land!” And when they would have questioned him he cried again, “Curse ye bitterly Philpritz Faz, which betrayed us into the hand of the devil ultramontane in the castle of Orpish.”

“What devil is this thou speakest of?” asked Juss.

“He hath come,” he answered, “over the mountains out of the north country, that alone was able to answer Fax Fay Faz. And the voice of his speech is like unto the roaring of a bull.”

“Out of the north?” said Juss, giving him more wine, and exchanging glances with Spitfire and Brandoch Daha. “I would hear more of this.”

Mivarsh drank, and said, “O devils transmarine, ye give me strong waters which comfort my soul, and ye speak me soft words. But shall I not fear soft words? Soft words were spoke by this devil ultramontane, when he and cursed Philpritz spake soft words unto us in Orpish: unto me, and unto Fax Fay Faz, and Gandassa, and Illarosh, and unto all of us, after our overthrow in battle against him by the banks of Arlan.”

Juss asked, “Of what fashion is he to look on?”

“He hath a great yellow beard beflecked with gray,” said Mivarsh, “and a bald shiny pate, and standeth big as a neat.”

Juss spake apart to Brandoch Daha, “There’s matter in it if this be true.” And Brandoch Daha poured forth unto Mivarsh and bade him drink again, saying, “O Mivarsh Faz, we be strangers and guests in wide-flung Impland. Be it known to thee that our power is beyond ken, and our wealth transcendeth the imagination of man. Yet is our benevolence of like measure with our power and riches, overflowing as honey from our hearts unto such as receive us openly and tell us that which is. Only be warned, that if any lie to us or assay craftily to delude us, not the mantichores that lodge beyond the Moruna were more dreadful to that man than we.”

Mivarsh quailed, but answered him, “Use me well, you were best, and you shall hear from me nought but what is true. First with the sword he vanquished us, and then with subtle words invited us too talk with him in Orpish, pretending friendship. But they are all dead that harkened to him. For when he held them closed up in the council room in Orpish, himself went secretly forth, while his men laid hands on Gandassa Faz and on Illarosh Faz, and on Fax Fay Faz that was greatest amongst us, and on Lurmesh Faz, and cut off their heads and set them up on poles without the gate. And our armies that waited without were dismayed to see the heads of the Fazes of Impland so set on poles, and the armies of the devils ultramontane still threatening us with death. And this big bald bearded devil spake them of Impland fair, saying these that he had slain were their oppressors and he would give them their hearts’ desire if they would be his men, and he would make them free, every man, and share out all Impland amongst them. So were the common sort befooled and brought under by this bald devil from beyond the mountains, and now none withstandeth him in all Impland. But I that had held back from his council in Orpish, fearing his guile, hardly escaped from my folk that rose against me. And I fled into the woods and wildernesses.”

“Where last saw ye him?” asked Juss.

Mivarsh answered him, “A three days’ journey northwest of this, at Tormerish in Achery.”

“What made he there?” asked Juss.

Mivarsh answered, “Still devising evil.”

“Against whom?” asked Juss.

Mivarsh answered, “Against Zeldornius, which is a devil transmarine.”

“Give me some more wine,” said Juss, “and fill again a beaker for Mivarsh Faz. I do love nought so much as tale-telling a-nights. With whom devised he against Zeldornius?”

Mivarsh answered, “With another devil from beyond seas; I have forgot his name.”

“Drink and remember,” said Juss; “or if ’tis gone from thee, paint me his picture.”

“He hath about my bigness,” said Mivarsh, that was little of stature. “His eyes be bright, and he somewhat favoureth this one,” pointing at Spitfire, “though belike he hath not all so fierce a face. He is lean-faced and dark of skin. He goeth in black iron.”

“Is he Jalcanaius Fostus?” asked Juss.

And Mivarsh answered, “Ay.”

“There’s musk and amber in thy speech,” said Juss. “I must have more of it. What mean they to do?”

“This,” said Mivarsh: “As I sat listening in the dark without their tent, it was made absolute that this Jalcanaius had been deceived in supposing that another devil transmarine, whom men call Helteranius, had been minded to do treacherously against him; whereas, as the bald devil made him believe, ’twas no such thing. And so it was concluded that Jalcanaius should send riders after Helteranius to make peace between them, and that they two should forthwith join to kill Zeldornius, one falling on him in the front and the other in the rear.”

“So ’tis come to this?” said Spitfire.

“And when they have Zeldornius slain,” said Mivarsh, “then must they help this bald-pate in his undertakings.”

“And so pay him for his redes?” said Juss.

And Mivarsh answered, “Even so.”

“One thing more I would know,” said Juss. “How great a following hath he in Impland?”

“The greatest strength that he can make,” answered Mivarsh, “of devils ultramontane is as I think two score hundred. Many Imps beside will follow him, but they have but our country weapons.”

Lord Brandoch Daha took Juss by the arm and went forth with him into the night. The frosted grass crunched Under their tread: strange stars blinked in the south in a windy space betwixt cloud and sleeping earth, Achernar near the meridian bedimming all lesser fires with his pure radiance.

“So cometh Corund upon us as an eagle out of the sightless blue,” said Brandoch Daha, “with twelve times our forces to let us the way to the Moruna, and all Impland like a spaniel smiling at his heel; if indeed this simple soul say true, as I think he doth.”

“Thou fallest all of a holiday mood,” said Juss, “at the first scenting of this great hazard.”

“O Juss,” cried Brandoch Daha, “thine own breath lighteneth at it, and thy words come more sprightly forth. Are not all lands, all airs, one country unto us, so there be great doings afoot to keep bright our swords?”

Juss said, “Ere we sleep I will inform Zeldornius how the wind shifteth. He must face both ways now, till this field be cut. This battle must not go against him, for his enemies be engaged (if Mivarsh say true) to give the help of their swords to Corund.”

So fared they to Zeldornius’s tent, and Juss said by the way, “Of this be satisfied: Corund bareth not blade on the hills of Salapanta. The King hath intelligencers to keep him advertised of all enchanted circles of the world, and well be knoweth what influences move here, and with what danger to themselves outlanders draw sword here, as witness the doom fulfilled these nine years by these three captains. Therefore will Corund, instructed in these things by his master that sent him, look to deal with us otherwhere than in this charmed corner of the earth. And he were as well take a bear by the tooth as meddle in the fight that now impendeth, and so bring upon him these three seasoned armies joined in one for his destruction.”

They passed the guard with the watchword, and waked Zeldornius and told him all. And he, muffled in his great faded cloak, went forth to see guards were set and all sure against an onslaught from either side. And standing by his tent to give good night to those lords of Demonland, he said, “It likes me better so. I ever was a fighter; so, one fight more.”

The morrow dawned and passed uneventful, and the morrow’s morrow. But on the third morning after the coming of Mivarsh, behold, east and west, great armies marching from the plains, and Zeldornius’s array drawn up to meet them on the ridge, with weapons gleaming and horses champing and trumpets blowing the call -of battle. No greetings were betwixt them, nor so much as a message of challenge or defiance, but Jalcanaius with his black riders rushed to the onset from the west and Helteranius from the east. But Zeldornius, like a gray old wolf, snapping now this way now that, stemmed the tide of their onslaught. So began the battle great and fell, and continued the livelong day. Thrice on either side Zeldornius went forth with a great strength of chosen men, in so much that his enemies fled before him as the partridge doth before the sparrow-hawk; and thrice did Helteranius and thrice Jalcanaius Fostus rally and hurl him back, mounting the ridge anew.

But when it drew near to evening, and the dark day darkened toward night, the battle ceased, dying down suddenly into silence. Those lords of Demonland came down from their tower, and walked among the heaps of dead men slain toward a place of slabby rock in the neck of the ridge. Here, alone on that field, Zeldornius leaned upon his spear, gazing downward in a study, his arm cast about the neck of his old brown horse who hung his head and sniffed the ground. Through a rift in the western clouds the sun glared forth; but his beams were not so red as the ling and bent of Salapanta field.

As Juss and his companions drew near, no sound was heard save from the fortalice behind them: a discordant plucking of a harp, and the voice of Mivarsh where he walked and harped before the walls, singing this ditty:

The hag is astride

This night for to ride;

The devill and shee together:

Through thick and through thin,

Now out and then in,

Though ne’er so foule be the weather.

A thorn or a burr

She takes for a spurre,

With a lash of a bramble she rides now;

Through brakes and through bryars,

O’re ditches and mires,

She followes the spirit that guides now.

No beast for his food

Dares now range the wood,

But husht in his laire he lies lurking;

While mischiefs, by these,

On land and on seas,

At noone of night are a working.

The storme will arise

And trouble the skies;

This night, and more for the wonder,

The ghost from the tomb

Affrighted shall come,

Cal’d out by the clap of the thunder.

When they were come to Zeldornius, the Lord Juss spake saying, “O most redoubtable Zeldornius, renowned in war, surely thy prognostications by the moon were true. Behold the noble victory thou hast obtained upon thine enemies.”

But Zeldornius answered him not, still gazing downwards before his feet. And there was Helteranius fallen, the sword of Jalcanaius Fostus standing in his heart, and his right hand grasping still his own sword that had given Jalcanaius his bane-sore.

So looked they awhile on those two great captains slain. And Zeldornius said, “Speak not comfortably to me of victory, O Juss. So long as that sword, and that, had his master alive, I did not more desire mine own safety than their destruction who with me in days gone by made conquest of wide Impland. And see with what a poisoned violence they laboured my undoing, and in what an unexpected ruin are they suddenly broken and gone.” And as one grown into a deep sadness he said, “Where were all heroical parts but in Helteranius? and a man might make a garment for the moon sooner than fit the o’erleaping actions of great Jalcanaius, who now leaveth but his body to bedung that earth that was lately shaken at his terror. I have waded in red blood to the knee; and in this hour, in my old years, the world is become for me a vision only and a mock-show.”

Therewith he looked on the Demons, and there was that in his eyes that stayed their speech.

In a while he spake again, saying, “I sware unto you my furtherance if I prevailed. But now is mine army passed away as wax wasteth before the fire, and I wait the dark ferryman who tarrieth for no man. Yet, since never have I wrote mine obligations in sandy but in marble memories, and since victory is mine, receive these gifts: and first thou, O Brandoch Daha, my sword, since before thou wast of years eighteen thou wast accounted the mightiest among men-at-arms. Mightily may it avail thee, as me in time gone by. And unto thee, O Spitfire, I give this cloak. Old it is, yet may it stand thee in good stead, since this virtue it hath that he who weareth it shall not fall alive into the hand of his enemies. Wear it for my sake. But unto thee, O Juss, give I no gift, for rich thou art of all good gifts: only my good will give I unto thee, ere earth gape for me.”

So they thanked him well. And he said, “Depart from me, since now approacheth that which must complete this day’s undoing.”

So they fared back to the spy-fortalice, and night came down on the hills. A great wind moaning out of the hue less west tore the clouds as a ragged garment, revealing the lonely moon that fled naked betwixt them. As the Demons looked backward in the moonlight to where Zeldornius stood gazing on the dead, a noise as of thunder made the firm land tremble and drowned the howling of the wind. And they beheld how earth gaped for Zeldornius.

After that, the dark shut down athwart the moon, and night and silence hung on the field of Salapanta.

ornament

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/e/eddison/er/worm/chapter9.html

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