The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison, , at sacred-texts.com
OF THE HOLD OF CARCË, AND OF THE MIDNIGHT PRACTICES OF KING GORICE XII. IN THE ANCIENT CHAMBER, PREPARING DOLE AND DOOM FOR THE LORDS OF DEMONLAND.
WHEN the Witches were come aboard of their ship and all stowed, and the rowers set in order on the benches, they bade farewell to the Red Foliot and rowed out to the deep, and there hoisted sail and put up their helm and sailed eastward along the land. The stars wheeled overhead, and the east grew pale, and the sun came out of the sea on the larboard bow. Still sailed they two days and two nights, and on the third day there was land ahead, and morning rose abated by mist and cloud, and the sun was as a hall of red fire over Witchland in the east. So they hung awhile off Tenemos waiting for the tide, and at high water sailed over the bar and up the Druima past the dunes and mud-flats and the Ergaspian mere, till they reached the bend of the river below Carcë. Solitary marsh-land stretched on either side as far as the eye might reach, with clumps of
willow and rare homesteads showing above the flats. Northward above the bend a bluff of land fell sharply to the elbow of the river, and on the other, side sloped gently away for a few miles till it lost itself in the dead level of the marshes. On the southern face of the bluff, monstrous as a mountain in those low sedge-lands, hung square and black the fortress of Carcë. It was built of black marble, rough-hewn and unpolished, the outworks enclosing many acres. An inner wall with a tower at each corner formed the main stronghold, in the south-west corner of which was the palace, overhanging the river. And on the south-west corner of the palace, towering sheer from the water's edge seventy cubits and more to the battlements, stood the keep, a round tower lined with iron, bearing on the corbel table beneath its parapet in varying form and untold repetition the sculptured figure of the crab of Witchland. The outer ward of the fortress was dark with cypress trees: black flames burning changelessly to heaven from a billowy sea of gloom. East of the keep was the water-gate, and beside it a bridge and bridge-house across the river, strongly fortified with turrets and machicolations and commanded from on high by the battlements of the keep. Dismal and fearsome to view was this strong place of Carcë, most like to the embodied soul of dreadful night brooding on the waters of that sluggish river: by day a shadow in broad sunshine, the likeness of pitiless violence sitting in the place of power, darkening the desolation of the mournful fen; by night, a blackness more black than night herself.
Now was the ship made fast near the water-gate, and the lords of Witchland landed and their fighting men, and the gate opened to them, and mournfully they entered in and climbed the steep ascent to the palace, bearing with them their sad burden of the King. And in the great hall in Carcë was Gorice XI. laid in state for that night; and the day wore
to its close. Nor was any word from King Gorice XII. But when the shades of night were falling, there came a chamberlain to Lord Gro as he walked upon the terrace without the western wall of the palace; and the chamberlain said, "My lord, the King bids you attend him in the Iron Tower, and he chargeth you bring unto him the royal crown of Witchland."
Gro made haste to fulfil the bidding of the King, and betook himself to the great banqueting hall, and all reverently be lifted the iron crown of Witchland set thick with priceless gems, and went by a winding stair to the tower, and the chamberlain went before him. When they were come to the first landing, the chamberlain knocked on a massive door that was forthwith opened by a guard; and the chamberlain said, "My lord, it is the King's will that you attend his majesty in his secret chamber at the top of the tower." And Gro marvelled, for none had entered that chamber for many years. Long ago had Gorice VII. practised forbidden arts therein, and folk said that in that chamber he raised up those spirits whereby he gat his bane. Sithence was the chamber sealed, nor had the late Kings need of it, since little faith they placed in art magical, relying rather on the might of their hands and the sword of Witchland. But Gro was glad at heart, for the opening of this chamber by the King met his designs half way. Fearlessly he mounted the winding stairs that were dusky with the shadows of approaching night and hung with cobwebs and strewn with the dust of neglect, until he came to the small low door of that chamber, and pausing knocked thereon and harkened for the answer.
And one said from within, "Who knocketh?" and Gro answered, "Lord, it is I, Gro." And the bolts were drawn and the door opened, and the King said, "Enter." And Gro entered and stood in the presence of the King.
Now the fashion of the chamber was that it was
round, filling the whole space of the loftiest floor of the round donjon keep. It was now gathering dusk, and weak twilight only entered through the deep embrasures of the windows that pierced the walls of the tower, looking to the four quarters of the heavens. A furnace glowing in the big hearth threw fitful gleams into the recesses of the chamber, lighting up strange shapes of glass and earthenware, flasks and retorts, balances, hour-glasses, crucibles and astrolabes, a monstrous three-necked alembic of phosphorescent glass supported on a bain-marie, and other instruments of doubtful and unlawful aspect. Under the northern window over against the doorway was a massive table blackened with age, whereon lay great books bound in black leather with iron guards and heavy padlocks. And in a mighty chair beside this table was King Gorice XII., robed in his conjuring robe of black and gold, resting his cheek on his hand that was lean as an eagle's claw. The low light, mother of shade and secrecy, that hovered in that chamber moved about the still figure of the King, his nose hooked as the eagle's beak, his cropped hair, his thick close-cut beard and shaven upper lip, his high cheek-bones and cruel heavy jaw, and the dark eaves of his brows whence the glint of green eyes showed as no friendly lamp to them without. The door shut noiselessly, and Gro stood before the King. The dusk deepened, and the firelight pulsed and blinked in that dread chamber, and the King leaned without motion on his hand, bending his brow on Gro; and there was utter silence save for the faint purr of the furnace.
In a while the King said, "I sent for thee, because thou alone wast so hardy as to urge to the uttermost thy counsel upon the King that is now dead, Gorice XI. of memory ever glorious. And because thy counsel was good. Marvellest thou that I wist of thy counsel?"
Gro said, "O my Lord the King, I marvel not of
this. For it is known to me that the soul endureth, albeit the body perish."
"Keep thou thy lips from overspeech," said the King. "These be mysteries whereon but to think may snatch thee into peril, and whoso speaketh of them, though in se secret a place as this, and with me only, yet at his most bitter peril speaketh he."
Gro answered, "O King, I spake not lightly; moreover, you did tempt me by your questioning. Nevertheless I am utterly obedient to your majesty's admonition."
The King rose from his chair and walked towards Gro, slowly. He was exceeding tall, and lean as a starved cormorant. Laying his hands upon the shoulders of Gro, and bending his face to Gro's, "Art not afeared," he asked, "to abide me in this chamber, at the close of day? Or hast not thought on't, and on these instruments thou seest, their use and purpose, and the ancient use of this chamber?"
Gro blenched never a whit, but stoutly said, "I am not afeared, O my Lord the King, but rather rejoiced I at your summons. For it jumpeth with mine own designs, when I took counsel secretly in my heart after the woes that the Fates fulfilled for Witchland in the Foliot Isles. For in that day, O King, when I beheld the light of Witchland darkened and her might abated in the fall of King Gorice XI. of glorious memory, I thought on you. Lord, the twelfth Gorice raised up King in Carcë; and there was present to my mind the word of the soothsayer of old, where, he singeth:
Ten, eleven, twelf I see
In sequent varietie
Of puissaunce and maistrye
With swerd, sinwes, and grammarie,
In the holde of Carcë
Lordinge it royally.
[paragraph continues] And being minded that he singleth out you, the twelfth, as potent in grammarie, all my care was that these Demons should be detained within reach of your spells until we should have time to win home to you and to apprise you of their farings, that so you might put forth your power and destroy them by art magic or ever they come safe again to many-mountained Demonland."
The King took Gro to his bosom and kissed him, saying, "Art thou not a very jewel of wisdom and discretion? Let me embrace thee and love thee for ever."
Then the King stood back from him, keeping his hands on Gro's shoulders, and gazed piercingly upon him for a space in silence. Then kindled he a taper that stood in an iron candlestick by the table where the books lay, and held it to Gro's face. And the King said, "Ay, wise thou art and of good discretion, and some courage hast thou. But if thou be to serve me this night, needs must I try thee first with terrors till thou be inured to them, as tried gold runneth in the crucible; or if thou be base metal only, till that thou be eaten up by them."
Gro said unto the King, "For many years, Lord, or ever I came to Carcë, I fared up and down the world, and I am acquainted with objects of terror as a child with his toys. I have seen in the southern seas, by the light of Achemar and Canopus, giant sea-horses battling with eight-legged cuttle-fishes in the whirlpools of the Korsh. Yet was I unafraid. I was in the isle Ciona when the first of the pit brast forth in that isle and split it as a man's skull is split with an axe, and. the green gulfs of the sea swallowed that isle, and the stench and the steam hung in the air for days where the burning rock and earth had sizzled in the ocean. Yet was I unafraid. Also was I with Gaslark in the flight out of Zajë Zaculo, when the Ghouls took the palace over our heads, and portents walked in his halls in broad daylight, and the Ghouls conjured the sun out of heaven. Yet was I unafraid. And for thirty days and thirty nights wandered I alone on the face of the Moruna in Upper Impland, where scarce a living soul hath been: and there the evil
wights that people the air of that desert dogged my steps and gibbered at me in darkness. Yet was I unafraid; and came in due time to Morna Moruna, and thence, standing on the lip of the escarpment as it were on the edge of the world, looked southaway where never mortal eye had gazed aforetime, across the untrodden forests of the Bhavinan. And in that skyey distance, pre-eminent beyond range on range of ice-robed mountains, I beheld two peaks throned for ever between firm land and heaven in unearthly loveliness: the spires and airy ridges of Koshtra Pivrarcha, and the wild precipices that soar upward from the abysses to the queenly silent snow-dome of Koshtra Belorn."
When Gro had ended, the King turned him away and, taking from a shelf a retort filled with a dark blue fluid, set it on a bain-marie, and a lamp thereunder. Fumes of a faint purple hue came forth from the neck of the retort, and the King gathered them in a flask. He made signs over the flask and shook forth into his hand therefrom a fine powder. Then said he unto Gro, holding out the powder in the open palm of his hand, "Look narrowly at this powder." And Gro looked. The King muttered an incantation, and the powder moved and heaved, and was like a crawling mass of cheesemites in an overripe cheese. It increased in volume in the King's hand, and Gro perceived that each particular grain had legs. The grains grew before his eyes, and became the size of mustard seeds, and then of barleycorns, swiftly crawling each over other. And even as he marvelled, they waxed great as kidney beans, and now was their shape and seeming clear to him, so that he beheld that they were small frogs and paddocks; and they overflowed from the King's hand as they waxed swiftly in size, pouring on to the floor. And they ceased not to increase and grow; and now were they large as little dogs, nor might the King retain more than a single one, holding his hand under its belly while it waved its legs in the air; and they were walking on the tables and jostling on the floor. Pallid they were, and permeable to light like thin horn, and their
hue a faint purple, even as the hue of the vapour whence they were engendered. And now was the room filled with them so that they mounted perforce one on another's shoulders, and they were of the bigness of well fatted hogs; and they goggled their eyes at Gro and croaked. The King looked narrowly on Gro, who stood in the presence of that spectacle, the crown of Witchland in his hands; and the King marked that the crown trembled not a whit in Gro's hands that held it. So he said a certain word, and the paddocks and the frogs grew small again, shrinking more swiftly than they had grown, and so vanished.
The King now took from the shelf a ball the size of the egg of an estridge, of dark green glass. He said unto Gro, "Look well at this glass and tell me what thou seest." Gro answered him, "I see a shifting shadow within." The King commanded him saying, "Dash it down with all thy strength upon the floor." The Lord Gro lifted the ball with both hands above his head, and it was ponderous as a ball of lead, and according to the command of Gorice the King he hurled it on the floor, so that it was pashed in pieces. And, behold, a puff of thick smoke burst forth from the fragments of the ball and took the form of one of human shape and dreadful aspect, whose two legs were two writhing snakes; and it stood in the chamber so tall that the head of it touched the vaulted. ceiling, viewing the King and Gro malevolently and menacing them. The King caught down a sword that hung against the wall, and put it in Gro's hand, shouting, "Smite off the legs of it! and delay not, or thou art but dead!" Gro smote and cut off the left leg of the evil wight, easily, as it were cutting of butter. But from the stump came forth two fresh snakes a-writhing; and so it fared likewise with the right leg, but the King shouted, "Smite and cease not, or thou art but a dead dog!" and ever as Gro hewed a snake in twain forth came two more from the wound, till the chamber was a maze of their wriggling forms. And still Gro hewed with a will, until the sweat stood on his brow, and he
said, panting between the strokes, "O King, I have made him many-legged as a centipede: must I make him a myriapod ere night's decline?" And the King smiled, and spake a word of hidden meaning; and therewith the turmoil was gone as a gust of wind departeth, and nought left save the shivered splinters of the green ball on the chamber floor.
"Wast not afearied?" asked the King, and when Gro said nay, "Methinks these sights of terror should much afflict thee," said the King, "since well I know thou art not skilled in art magical."
"Yet am I a philosopher," answered Lord Gro; "and somewhat know I of alchymy and the hidden properties of this material world: the virtues of herbs, plants, stones, and minerals, the ways of the stars in their courses, and the influences of those heavenly bodies. And I have held converse with birds and fishes in their degree, and that generation which creepeth on the earth is not held in scorn by me, but oft talk I in sweet companionship with the eft of the pond, and the glowworm, and the lady-bird, and the pismire, and their kind, making them my little gossips. So have I a certain lore which lighteth me in the outer court of the secret temple of grammarie and art forbid, albeit I have not peered within that temple. And by my philosophy, O King, I am certified concerning these apparitions which you have raised for me, that they be illusions and phantasms only, able to terrify the soul indeed of him that knoweth not divine philosophy, but without bodily power or essence. Nor is aught to fear in such, save the fear itself wherewith they strike the simple."
Then said the King, "By what token knowest thou this?"
And the Lord Gro made answer unto him, "O King, as a child weaveth a daisy-chain, thus easily did you conjure up these shapes of terror. Not in such wise fareth he that calleth out of the deep the deadly terror indeed; but with toil and sweat and with straining of thought, will, heart, and sinew fareth he."
The King smiled. "Thou sayest true. Now, therefore, since phantasmagoria maketh not thy heart to quail, I present thee a more material horror."
And he lighted the candles in the great candlesticks of iron and opened a little secret door in the wall of the chamber near the floor; and Gro beheld iron bars within the little door, and heard a hissing from behind the bars. The King took a key of silver of delicate construction, the handle slender and three spans in length, and opened the iron grated door. And the King said, "Behold and see, that which sprung from the egg of a cock, hatched by the deaf adder. The glance of its eye sufficeth to turn to stone any living thing that standeth before it. Were I but for one instant to loose my spells whereby I hold it in subjection, in that moment would end my life days and thine. So strong in properties of ill is this serpent which the ancient Enemy that dwelleth in darkness hath placed upon this earth, to be a bane unto the children of men, but an instrument of might in the hand of enchanters and sorcerers."
Therewith came forth that offspring of perdition from its hole, strutting erect on its two legs that were the legs of a cock; and a cock's head it had, with rosy comb and wattles, but the face of it like no fowl's face of middle-earth but rather a gorgon's out of Hell. Black shining feathers grew on its neck, but the body of it was the body of a dragon with scales that glittered in the rays of the candles, and a scaly crest stood on its back; and its wings were like bats' wings, and its tail the tail of an aspick with a sting in the end thereof, and from its beak its forked tongue flickered venomously. And the stature of the thing was a little above a cubit. Now because of the spells of King Gorice whereby he held it ensorcelled it might not cast its baneful glance upon him, nor upon Gro, but it walked back and forth in the candle light, averting its eyes from them. The feathers on its neck were fluffed up with anger and wondrous swiftly twirled its scaly tail, and it hissed ever more fiercely, irked by the bonds of the King's enchantment; and the
breath of it was noisome, and hung in sluggish wreaths about the chamber. So for a while it walked before them, and as it looked sidelong past him Gro beheld the light of its eyes that were as sick moons burning poisonously through a mist of greenish yellow in the dusk of night. And strong loathing seized him, so that his gorge rose to behold the thing, and his brow and the palms of his hands became clammy, and he said, "My Lord the King, I have looked steadfastly on this cockatrice arid it affrighteth me no whit, but it is loathly in my sight, so that my gorge riseth because of it," and with that he fell a-vomiting. And the King commanded that serpent back into its hole, whither it returned, hissing wrathfully.
Now the King poured forth wine, speaking a charm over the cup, and when the bright wine had revived Lord Gro, the King spake saying, "It is well, O Gro, that thou hast shown thyself a philosopher indeed, and of heart intrepid. Yet even as no blade is utterly tried until one try it in very battle, where if it snap woe and doom wait on the hand that wields it, so must thou in this midnight suffer a yet fiercer furnace-heat of terror, wherein if thou be reduced we are both lost eternally, and this Carcë and all Witchland blasted with us for ever in ruin and oblivion. Durst abide this trial?"
Gro answered, "I am hot to obey your word, O King. For well know I that it is idle to hope by phantoms and illusions to appal the Demons, and that against the Demons the deadly eye of thy cockatrice were turned in vain. Stout of heart are they, and instructed in all lore, and Juss a sorcerer of ancient power, who hath charms to blunt the glance of basilisk or cockatrice. He that would strike down the Demons must conjure indeed."
"Great," said the King, "is the strength and cunning of the seed of Demonland. By main strength have they now shown mastery over us, as sadly witnesseth the overthrow of Gorice XI., 'gainst whom no mortal could stand up and wrastle and not die, till cursed Goldry, drunk with spleen and envy, slew him in the Foliot Isles. Nor was there any aforetime to outdo us in feats
of arms, and Gorice X., victorious in single combats without number, made our name glorious over all the world. Yet at the last he gat his death, out of all expectation and by what treacherous sleight I know not, standing in single combat against the curled step-dancer from Krothering. But I, that am skilled in grammarie, do bear a mightier engine against the Demons than brawny sinews or the sword that smiteth asunder. Yet is mine engine perilous to him that useth it."
Therewith the King unlocked the greatest of those books that lay by on the massive table, saying in Gro's ear, as one who would not be overheard, "This is that awful book of grammarie wherewith in this same chamber, on such a night, Gorice VII. stirred the vasty deep. And know that from this circumstance alone ensued the ruin of King Gorice VII., in that, having by his hellish science conjured up somewhat from the primaeval dark, and being utterly fordone with the sweat and stress of his conjuring, his mind was clouded for a moment, in such sort that either he forgot the words writ in this grammarie, or the page whereon they were writ, or speech faded him to speak those words that must be spoken, or might to do those things which must be done to complete the charm. Wherefore he kept not his power over that which he had called out of the deep, but it turned upon him and tare him limb from limb. Such like doom will I avoid, renewing in these latter days those self-same spells, if thou durst stand by me undismayed the while I utter my incantations. And shouldst thou mark me fail or waver ere all be accomplished, then shalt thyself lay hand on book and crucible and fulfil whatsoever is needful, as I shall first show thee. Or quailest thou at this?"
Gro said, "Lord, show me my task. And I will carry it, though all the Furies of the pit flock to this chamber to say me nay."
So the King instructed Gro, rehearsing to him those acts that were needful, and making known unto him the divers pages of the grammarie whereon were writ those
words which must be spoken each in its due time and sequence. But the King pronounced not yet those words, pointing only to them in the book, for whoso speaketh those words in vain and out of season is lost. And now when the retorts and beakers with their several necks and tubes and the appurtenances thereof were set in order, and the unhallowed processes of fixation, conjunction, deflagration, putrefaction, and rubefication were nearing maturity, and the baleful star Antares standing by the astrolabe within a little of the meridian signified the instant approach of midnight, the King described on the floor with his conjuring rod three pentacles inclosed within a seven-pointed star, with the signs of Cancer and of Scorpio joined by certain runes. And in the midst of the star he limned the image of a green crab eating of the sun. And turning to the seventy-third page of his great black grammarie the King recited in a mighty voice words of hidden meaning, calling on the name that it is a sin to utter.
Now when he had spoken the first spell and was silent, there was a deadly quiet in that chamber, and a chill in the air as of winter. And in the quiet Gro heard the King's breath coming and going, as of one who hath rowed a course. Now the blood rushed back to Gro's heart and his hands and feet became cold and a cold sweat brake forth on his brow. But for all that, he held yet his courage firm and his brain ready. The King motioned. to Gro to break off the tail of a certain drop of black glass that lay on the table; and with the snapping of its tail the whole drop fell in pieces in a coarse black powder. Gro by the King's direction gathered that powder and dropped it in the great alembic wherein a green fluid seethed and bubbled above the flame of a lamp; and the fluid became red as blood, and the body of the alembic filled with a tawny smoke, and sparks of sun-like brilliance flashed and crackled through the smoke. Thereupon distilled from the neck of the alembic a white oil incombustible, and the King dipped his rod in that oil and described round the seven-pointed star on
the floor the figure of the worm Ouroboros, that eateth his own tail. And he wrote the formula of the crab below the circle, and spake his second spell.
When that was done, yet more biting seemed the night air and yet more like the grave the stillness of the chamber. The King's hand shook as with an ague as he turned the pages of the mighty book. Gro's teeth chattered in his head. He gritted them together and waited. And now through every window came a light into the chamber as of skies paling to the dawn. Yet not wholly so; for never yet came dawn at midnight, nor from all four quarters of the sky at once, nor with such swift strides of increasing light, nor with a light so ghastly. The candle flames burned filmy as the glare waxed strong from without: an evil pallid light of bale and corruption, wherein the hands and faces of the King Gorice and his disciple showed death-pale, and their lips black as the dark skin of a grape where the bloom has been rubbed off from it. The King cried terribly, "The hour approacheth!" And he took a phial of crystal containing a decoction of wolf's jelly and salamander's blood, and dropped seven drops from the alembic into the phial and poured forth that liquor on the figure of the crab drawn on the floor. Gro leaned against the wall, weak in body but with will unbowed. So bitter was the cold that his hands and feet were benumbed, and the liquor from the phial congealed where it fell. Yet the sweat stood in beads on the forehead of the King by reason of the mighty striving that was his, and in the overpowering glare of that light from the underskies he stood stiff and erect, hands clenched and arms outstretched, and spake the words LURO VOPO VIR VOARCHADUMIA.
Now with those words spoken the vivid light departed as a blown-out lamp, and the midnight closed down again without. Nor was any sound heard save the thick panting of the King; but it was as if the night held its breath in expectation of that which was to come. And the candles sputtered and burned blue. The King swayed and
clutched the table with his left hand; and again the King pronounced terribly the word VOARCHADUMIA.
Thereafter for the space of ten heart-beats silence hung like a kestrel poised in the listening night. Then went a crash through earth and heaven, and a blinding wildfire through the chamber as it had been a thunderbolt. All Carcë quaked, and the chamber was filled with a beating of wings, like the wings of some monstrous bird. The air that was wintry cold waxed on a sudden hot as the breath of a burning mountain, and Gro was near choking with the smell of soot and the smell of brimstone. And the chamber rocked as a ship riding in a swell with the wind against the tide. But the King, steadying himself against the table and clutching the edge of it till the veins on his lean hand seemed nigh to bursting, cried in short breaths and with an altered voice, "By these figures drawn and by these spells enchanted, by the unction of wolf and salamander, by the unblest sign of Cancer now leaning to the sun, and by the fiery heart of Scorpio that flameth in this hour on night's meridian, thou art my thrall and instrument. Abase thee and serve me, worm of the pit. Else will I by and by summon out of ancient night intelligences and dominations mightier far than thou, and they shall serve mine ends, and thee shall they chain with chains of quenchless fire and drag thee from torment to torment through the deep."
Therewith the earthquake was stilled, and there remained but a quivering of the walls and floor and the wind of those unseen wings and the hot smell of soot and brimstone burning. And speech came out of the teeming air of that chamber, strangely sweet, saying, "Accursed wretch that troublest our quiet, what is thy will?" The terror of that speech made the throat of Gro dry, and the hairs on his scalp stood up.
The King trembled in all his members like a frightened horse, yet was his voice level and his countenance unruffled as he said hoarsely, "Mine enemies sail at day-break from the Foliot Isles. I loose thee
against them as a falcon from my wrist. I give thee them. Turn them to thy will: how or where it skills not, so thou do but break and destroy them off the face of the world. Away!"
But now was the King's endurance clean spent, so that his knees failed him and he sank like a sick man into his mighty chair. But the room was filled with a tumult as of rushing waters, and a laughter above the tumult like to the laughter of souls condemned. And the King was reminded that he had left unspoken that word which should dismiss his sending. But to such weariness was he now come and so utterly was his strength gone out from him in the exercise of his spells, that his tongue clave to the roof of his mouth, so that he might not speak the word; and horribly he rolled up the whites of his eyes beckoning to Giro, the while his nerveless fingers sought to turn the heavy pages of the grammarie. Then sprang Gro forth to the table, and against it sprawling, for now was the great keep of Carcë shaken anew as one shaketh a dice box, and lightnings opened the heavens, and the thunder roared unceasingly, and the sound of waters stunned the ear in that chamber, and still that laughter pealed above the turmoil. And Gro knew that it was now with the King even as it had been with Gorice VII. in years gone by, when his strength gave forth and the spirit tare him. and plastered those chamber-walls with his blood. Yet was Gro mindful, even in that hideous storm of terror, of the ninety-seventh page whereon the King had shown him the word of dismissal, and he wrenched the book from the King's palsied grasp and turned to the page. Scarce had his eye found the word, when a whirlwind of hail and sleet swept into the chamber, and the candles were blown out and the tables overset. And in the plunging darkness beneath the crashing of the thunder Gro pitching headlong felt claws clasp his head and body. He cried in his agony the word, that was the word TRIPSARECOPSEM, and so fell a-swooning.
It was high noon when the Lord Gro came to his
senses in that chamber. The strong spring sunshine poured through the southern window, lighting up the wreckage of the night. The tables were cast down and the floor strewn and splashed with costly essences and earths spilt from shattered phials and jars and caskets: aphroselmia, shell of gold, saffron of gold, asem, amianth, stypteria of Melos, confounded with mandragora, vinum ardens, sal armoniack, devouring aqua regia, little pools and scattered globules of quicksilver, poisonous decoctions of toadstools and of yewberries, monkshood, thorn-apple, wolf's bane and black hellebore, quintessences of dragon's blood and serpent's bile; and with these, splashed together and wasted, elixirs that wise men have died a-dreaming of: spiritus mundi, and that sovereign alkahest which dissolveth every substance dipped therein, and that aurum potabile which being itself perfect induceth perfection in the living frame. And in this welter of spoiled treasure were the great conjuring books hurled amid the ruin of retorts and aludels of glass and lead and silver, sand-baths, matrasses, spatulae, athanors, and other instruments innumerable of rare design, tossed and broken on the chamber floor. The King's chair was thrown against the furnace, and huddled against the table lay the King, his head thrown back, his black beard pointing skyward, showing his sinewy hairy throat. Gro looked narrowly at him; saw that he seemed unhurt and slept deep; and so, knowing well that sleep is a present remedy for every ill, watched by the King in silence all day till supper time, for all he was sore an-hungered.
When at length the King awoke, he looked about him in amaze. "Methought I tripped at the last step of last night's journey," he said. "And truly strange riot hath left its footprints in my chamber."
Gro answered, "Lord, sorely was I tried; yet fulfilled I your behest."
The King laughed as one whose soul is at ease, and standing upon his feet said unto Gro, "Take up the crown of Witchland and crown me. And that high honour shalt thou have, because I do love thee for this night gone by."
Now without were the lords of Witchland assembled in the courtyard, being bound for the great banqueting hall to eat and drink, unto whom the King came forth from the gate below the keep, robed in his conjuring robe. Wondrous bright sparkled the gems of the iron crown of Witchland above the heavy brow and cheekbones and the fierce disdainful lip of the King, as he stood there in his majesty, and Gro with the guard of honour stood in the shadow of the gate. And the King said, "My lords Corund and Corsus and Corinius and Gallandus, and ye sons of Corsus and of Corund, and ye, other Witches, behold your King, the twelfth Gorice, crowned with this crown in Carcë to be King of Witchland and of Demonland. And all countries of the world and the rulers thereof, so many as the sun doth spread his beams over, shall do me obeisance, and call me King and Lord."
All they shouted assent, praising the King and bowing down before him.
Then said the King, "Imagine not that oaths sworn unto the Demons by Gorice XI. of memory ever glorious bind me any whit. I will not be at peace with this Juss and his brethren, but do account them all mine enemies. And this night have I made a sending to take them on the waste of waters as they sail homeward to many-Mountained Demonland."
Corund said, "Lord, your words are as wine unto us. And well we guessed that the principalities of darkness were afoot last night, seeing all Carcë rocked and the foundations thereof rose and fell as the breast of the large earth a-breathing."
When they were come into the banqueting hall, the King said, "Gro shall sit at my right hand this night, since manfully hath he served me." And when they scowled at this, and spake each in the other's ear, the King said, "Whoso among you shall so serve me and so, water the growth of this Witchland as hath Gro in this night gone by, unto him will I do like honour." But unto Gro he said, "I will bring thee home to Goblinland in
triumph, that wentest forth an exile. I will pluck Gaslark from his throne, and make thee king in Zajë Zaculo, and all Goblinland shalt thou hold for me in fee, exercising dominion over it."