The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison, , at sacred-texts.com
OF THE HOME-COMING OF THE DEMONS, AND HOW LORD JUSS WAS TAUGHT IN A DREAM WHITHER HE MUST SEEK FOR TIDINGS OF HIS DEAR BROTHER. AND HOW THEY TOOK COUNSEL AT KROTHERING, AND DETERMINED OF THEIR EXPEDITION TO IMPLAND.
Midsummer night, ambrosial, starry-kirtled, walked on the sea, as the ship that brought the Demons home drew nigh to her journey's end. The cloaks of Lord Juss and Lord Brandoch Daha, who slept on the poop, were wet with dew. Smoothly they had passage through that charmed night, where winds were hushed asleep and nought was heard save the waves talking beneath the bows of the ship, the lilting changeless song of the steersman, and the creak, dip, and swash of oars keeping time to his singing. Vega burned like a sapphire near the zenith, and Arcturus low in the north-west, beaconing over Demonland. In the remote south-east Fomalhaut rose from the sea, a lonely splendour in the dim region of Capricorn and the Fishes.
So rowed they till day broke, and a light wind sprang up fresh and keen. Juss waked, and stood up to scan the gray glassy surface of the sea spread to vast distances where sky and water faded into one. Astern, great clouds bridged the gates of day, boiling upwards into crags of wine-dark vapour and burning plumes of sunrise. In the stainless spaces of the sky above these sailed the horned moon, frail and wan as a white foam-flower blown from the waves. Westward, facing the thunder-smoke of dawn, the fine far ridge of Kartadza was like cut crystal against the sky: the first island sentinel of many-mountained Demonland, his topmost cliffs dawn-illumined with pale gold and amethyst while yet the lesser heights lay obscure, lapped in the folds of night. And with the opening day the mists swathing the mountain's skirts were lifted up in billowy masses that grew and shrank and grew again, made restless by the wayward winds which morning waked in the hollow mountain side, and torn by them into wisps and streamers. Some were blown upward, steaming up the great gullies in the rocks below the peak, while now and then a puff of cloud swam free for a minute, floated a minute's space as ready to sail skyward, then indolently stooped again to the mountain wall to veil it in an unsubstantial fleece of golden vapour. And now all the western seaboard of Demonland lay clear to view, stretching fifty miles and more from Northhouse Skerries past the Drakeholms and the low downs of Kestawick and Byland, beyond which tower the mountains of the Scarf, past the jagged sky-line of the Thornbacks and the far Neverdale peaks overhanging the wooded shores of Onwardlithe and Lower Tivarandardale, to the extreme southern headland, filmy-pale in the distance, where the great range of Rimon Armon plunges its last wild bastion in the sea.
As a lover gazing on his mistress, so gazed Lord Juss on Demonland rising from the sea. No word spake he till they carne off Lookinghaven-ness and could see where beyond the beaked promontory the
sound opened between Kartadza and the mainland. Albeit the outer sea was calm, the air in the sound was thick with spray from the churning of the waters among the reefs and swallowing shoals. For the tide ran like a mill-race through that sound, and the roaring of it was plain to hear at two miles' distance where they sailed. Juss said, "Mindest thou my shepherding of the Ghoul fleet into yonder jaws? I would not tell thee for shame whenas the fit was on me. But this is the first day since the sending came upon us that I have not wished in my heart that the Races of Kartadza had gulped me down also and given me one ending with the accursed Ghouls."
Lord Brandoch Daha looked swiftly upon him and was silent.
Now in a short while was the ship come into Lookinghaven and alongside of the marble quay. There amid his folk stood Spitfire, who greeted them, saying, "I made all ready to bring three of you home in triumph from your ship, but Volle counselled against it. Glad am I that I took his counsel, and put by those things I had prepared. They had cut me to the heart to see them now."
Juss answered him, "O my brother, this noise of hammers in Lookinghaven, and these ten keels laid on the slips, show me ye have been busied on things nearer our needs than bay-leaves and the instruments of joy since thou camest home."
So they took horse, and while they rode they related to Spitfire all that had befallen since their faring to Carcë. In such wise came they north past the harbour, and so over Havershaw Tongue to Beckfoot where they took the upper path that climbs into Evendale close under the screes of Starksty Pike, and so came a little before noon to Galing.
The black rock of Galing stands at the end of the spur that runs down from the south ridge of Little Drakeholm, dividing Brankdale from Evendale. On three sides the cliffs fall sheer from the castle walls to the
deep woods of oak and birch and rowan tree which carpet the flats of Moongarth Bottom and feather the walls of the gill through which the Brankdale beck plunges in waterfall after waterfall. Only on the northeast may aught save a winged thing come at the castle, across a smooth grass-grown saddle less than a stone's throw in width. Over that saddle runs the paven way leading from the Brankdale road to the Lion Gate, and within the gate is that garden of the grass walk between the yews where Lessingham stood with the martlet nine weeks before, when first he came to Demonland.
When night fell and supper was done, Juss walked alone on the walls of his castle, watching the constellations burn in the moonless sky above the mighty shadows of the mountains, listening to the hooting of the owls in the woods below and the faint distant tinkle of cow-bells, and breathing the fragrance borne up from the garden on the night wind that even in high summer tasted keen of the mountains and the sea. These sights and scents and voices of the holy night so held him in thrall that it wanted but an hour of midnight when he left the battlements, and called the sleepy house-carles to light him to his chamber in the south tower of Galing.
Wondrous fair was the great four-posted bed of the Lord Juss, builded of solid gold, and hung with curtains of dark-blue tapestry whereon were figured sleep-flowers. The canopy above the bed was a mosaic of tiny stones, jet, serpentine, dark hyacinth, black marble, bloodstone, and lapis lazuli, so confounded in a maze of altering hue and lustre that they might mock the palpitating sky of night. And therein was the likeness of the constellation of Orion, held by Juss for guardian of his fortunes, the stars whereof, like those beneath the golden canopy in the presence chamber, were jewels shining of their own light, yet dead wood glimmering in the dark. For Betelgeuze
was a ruby shining, and a diamond for Rigel, and pale topazes for the other stars. The four posts of the bed were of the thickness of a man's arm in their upper parts, but their lower parts great as his waist and carven in the image of birds and beasts: at the foot of the bed a lion for courage and an owl for wisdom, and at the head an alaunt for faithfulness of heart and a kingfisher for happiness. On the cornice of the bed and on the panels above the pillow against the wall were carved Juss's deeds of derring-do; and the latest carving was of the sea-fight with the Ghouls. To the right of the bed stood a table with old books of songs and books of the stars and of herbs and beasts and travellers' tales, and there was Juss wont to lay his sword beside him while he slept. All the walls were panelled with dark sweet-smelling wood, and armour and weapons hung thereon. Mighty chests and almeries hasped and bound with gold stood against the wall, wherein he kept his rich apparel. Windows opened to the west and south, and on each window-ledge stood a bowl of palest jade filled with white roses; and the air entering the bed-chamber was laden with their scent.
About cock-crow came a dream unto Lord Juss, standing by his head and touching his eyes so that he seemed to wake and look about the chamber. And he seemed to behold an evil beast all burning as a drake, busy in his chamber, with many heads, the most venomous that ever he the days of his life had seen, and about it its five fawns, like to itself but smaller. It seemed to Juss that in place of his sword there lay a great spear of fair workmanship on the table by his bed; and it seemed to him in his dream that this spear had been his all his life, and was his greatest treasure, and that with it he might accomplish all things and without it scarcely aught to his mind. He laboured to reach out his hand to the spear, but some power withheld him so that for all his striving he might not stir. But that beast took up
the spear in its jaws, and went with it forth from the chamber. It seemed to Juss that the power that held him departed with the departing of the beast, so that he leaped up and snatched down weapons from the wall and made an onslaught on the fawns of that fell beast that were tearing down the woven hangings and marring with their fiery breath the figure of the kingfisher at the head of his bed. All the chamber was full of the reek of burning, and he thought his friends were with him in the chamber, Volle and Vizz and Zigg and Spitfire and Brandoch Daha, fighting with the beasts, and the beasts prevailed against them. Then it seemed to him that the bedpost carven in the likeness of an owl spake to him in his dream in human speech; and the owl said, "O fool, that shalt justly be put in great misery without end, except thou bring back the spear. Hast thou forgot that this only is thy greatest treasure and most worthiest thy care?"
Therewith came back that grim and grisful beast into the chamber, and Juss assailed it, crying to the owl, "Uncivil owl, where then must I find my spear that this beast hath hidden?"
And it seemed to him that the owl made answer, "Inquire in Koshtra Belorn."
So tumultuous was Lord Juss's dream that he was flung at waking out of bed on to the deerskin carpets of the floor, and his right hand clutched the hilt of his great sword where it lay on the table by his bed, whereas in his dream he had beheld the spear. Mightily moved was, he; and forthwith clothed himself, and faring through the dim corridors came to Spitfire's chamber, and sat on the bed and waked him. And Juss told him his dream, and said, "I hold myself clean of all blame hereabout, for from that day forth this only hath been my care, how to find my dear brother and fetch him home, and only then to wreak myself on the Witches. And what was this spear in my dream if not Goldry? This vision of the
night kindleth for us a beacon fire we needs must seek to. It bade me inquire in Koshtra Belorn, and till that be done never will I rest nor so much as think on aught besides."
Spitfire answered and said, "Thou beest our oldest brother, and I shall follow and obey thee in all that thou wilt do or shalt ordain hereof."
Then fared Juss to the guest-chamber, where Lord Brandoch Daha lay a-sleeping, and waked him and told him all. Brandoch Daha snuggled him tinder the bedclothes and said, "Let me be and let me sleep yet two hours. Then will I rise and bathe and array myself and eat my morning meal, and thereafter will I take rede with thee and tell thee somewhat for thine advantage. I have not slept in a goose-feather bed and sheets of lawn these many weeks. If thou plague me now, by God, I will incontinently take horse over the Stile to Krothering, and let thee and thine affairs go to the devil."
So Juss laughed and left him in peace. And later when they had eaten they walked in a plashed alley, where the air was cool and the purple shadow on the path was dappled with bright flecks of sunshine. Lord Brandoch Daha said, "Thou knowest that Koshtra Belorn is a great mountain, beside which our mountains of Demonland would seem but little hills unremarked, and that it standeth in the uttermost parts of earth beyond the wastes of Upper Impland, and thou mightest search a year through all the peopled countries of the world and not find one living soul who had so much as beheld it from afar."
"This much I know," said Lord Juss.
"Is thine heart utterly bent on this journey?" said Brandoch Daha. "Or is it not preposterous, and a thing to comfort our enemies, that we should thus at the bidding of a dream fly to far and perilous lands, rather than pay Witchland presently for the shame he hath done us?"
Juss answered him, "My bed is hallowed by spells
of such a virtue that no naughty dream flown through the ivory gate nor no noisome wizardry hath power to trouble his sleep who sleepeth there. This dream is true. For Witchland there is time enow. If thou wilt not go with me to Koshtra Belorn, I must go without thee."
"Enough," said Lord Brandoch Daha. "Thou knowest for thee I tie my purse with a spider's thread. Then fare we must to Impland, and herein may I help thee. For listen while I tell thee a thing. Whenas I slew Gorice X. in Goblinland, Gaslark gave me along with other good gifts, a great curiosity: a treatise or book copied out on parchment by Bhorreon his secretary, wherein it speaketh of all the ways to Impland and what countries and kingdoms lie next to the Moruna and the fronts thereof, and the marvels that he found in those lands. And all that is writ in this book was set down faithfully by Bhorreon after the telling of Gro, the same which now hath part with the Witchlanders. Great honour had Gro as then from Gaslark for his far journeyings and for that which is written in this book of wonders; and this it was that had first put in Gaslark's mind to send that expedition into Impland, which so reduced him and came so wretchedly to nought. If then thou wilt seek to Koshtra Belorn, come home with me to-day and I will show thee my book."
So spake Lord Brandoch Daha, and Lord Juss straightway ordered forth the horses, and sent messengers to Volle under Kartadza and to Vizz at Darklairstead bidding them meet him at Krothering with what speed they might. It was four hours before noon when Juss, Spitfire, and Brandoch Daha rode down from Galing and through the woods of Moongarth Bottom at the foot of the lake, taking the main bridle road up Breakingdale, that runs by the western margin of Moonmere under the buttresses of the Scarf. They rode slowly, for the sun was strong on their backs. Glassy was the lake and like a turquoise,
and the birch-clad slopes to the east and north and the bare rugged ridges of Stathfell and Budrafell beyond were mirrored in its depths. On the left as they rode, the spurs of the Scarf impended from on high in piled bastions of black porphyry like giants' castles; and little valleys choked with monstrous boulders, among which the silver birches crowding showed like tiny garden plants, ran steeply back between the spurs. Up those valleys appeared successively the main summits of the Scarf, savage and remote, frowning downward as it were between their own knees: Glaumry Pike, Micklescarf, and Illstack. By noon they had climbed to the extreme head of Breakingdale, and halted on the Stile, a little beyond the watershed, under the sheer northern wall of Ill Drennock. Before them the pass plunged steeply into Amadardale. The lower reach of Switchwater shone fifteen miles or more to the west, well nigh hidden in the heat-haze. Nearer at hand in the northwest lay Rammerick Mere, bosomed among the smooth-backed Kelialand hills and the easternmost Uplands of Shalgreth Heath, with the sea beyond; and on the valley floor, near the watersmeet where Transdale runs into Amadardale, it was possible to descry the roofs of Zigg's house at Many Bushes.
When they came down thither, Zigg was out a-hunting. So they left word with his lady wife and drank a stirrup cup and rode on, up Switchwater Way, and for twelve miles and more along the southern shore of Switchwater. So dropped they into Gashterndale, and thence rounding the western slopes of Erngate End came up on the Krothering Side when the shadows were lengthening in the golden summer evening. The Side ran gently west for a league or more to where Thunderfirth lay like beaten gold beneath the sun. Across the Firth the pine-forests of Westmark, old as the world, rose toward Brocksty Edge and Gemsar Edge: a far-flung amphitheatre of bare cliff and scree shutting in the prospect to the north. High on the left towered the precipices of Erngate End; southward and south-eastward
lay the sea. So rode they down the Side, through deep peaceful meadows fair with white ox-eye daisies, bluebells and yellow goatsbeard and sea campion, deep-blue gentians, agrimony and wild marjoram, and pink clover and bindweed and great yellow buttercups feasting on the sun. And on an eminence beyond which the land fell away more steeply toward the sea, the onyx towers of Krothering standing above woods and gardens showed milk-white against heaven and the clear hyaline.
When they were now but half a mile from the castle Juss said, "Behold and see. The Lady Mevrian hath espied us from afar, and rideth forth to bring thee home."
Brandoch Daha cantered ahead to meet her: a lady light of build and exceeding fair to look upon, brave of carriage like a war-horse, soft of feature, clear-browed, gray-eyed and proud-eyed: sweet-mouthed, but not as one who can speak nought but sweetness. Her robe was of pale buff-coloured silk, with corsage covered as by a spider's web with fine golden threads; and she wore a point-lace ruffle stiffened with gold and silver wire and spangled with little diamonds. Her deep hair, black as the raven's wing, was fastened with pins of gold, and a yellow rose that nestled in its coils was as the moon looking forth among thick clouds of night.
"Doings be afoot, my lady sister," said Lord Brandoch Daha. "One King of Witchland have we done down since we sailed hence; and guested in Carcë with another, little to our content. All which things I'll tell thee anon. Now lieth our road south for Impland, and Krothering is but our caravanserai."
She turned her horse, and they rode all in company into the shadow of the ancient cedars that clustered to the north of the home-meads and pleasure gardens, stately, gaunt-limbed, flat-browed, bleak against the sky. On the left a lily-paven lake slept cool beneath mighty elms with a black swan near the bank and her four cygnets dozing in a row, their heads tucked beneath their wings, so that they looked like balls of gray-brown
froth floating on the water. The path leading to the bridge-gate zig-zagged steeply up the mound between low broad balustrades of white onyx bearing at intervals square onyx pots, planted some with yellow roses and some with wondrous flowers, great and delicate, with frail white shell-like petals. Deep, mysterious centres had those flowers, thick with soft hairs within, and dark within with velvety purple streaked with black and blood colour and dust of gold.
The castle of Lord Brandoch Daha standing at the top of the mound was circled by a ditch both broad and deep. The gate before the drawbridge was of iron gilded and richly wrought. The towers and gatehouse were of white onyx like the castle itself, and on either hand before the gate was a colossal marble hippogriff, standing more than thirty feet high at the withers; and the wings and hooves and talons of the hippogriffs and their manes and forelocks were overlaid with gold, and their eyes carbuncles of purest lustre. Over the gate was written in letters of gold:
Ye braggers an 'a',
Be skeered and awa'
Frae Brandoch Daha.
But to tell even a tenth part of the marvels rich and beautiful that were in the house of Krothering: its cool courts and colonnades rich with gems and fragrant with costly spices and strange blooms: its bed-chambers where, caught like Aphrodite in her golden net, the spirit of sleep seemed ever to shake slumber from its plumes, and none might be waking long in those chambers but sweet sleep overcame their eyelids: the Chamber of the Sun and the Chamber of the Moon, and the great middle hall with its high gallery and ivory stair: to tell of all these were but to cloy imagination with picturing in one while of over-much glory and splendour.
Nought befell that night save the coming of Zigg before
sun-down, and of those brethren Volle and Vizz in the night, having ridden hard in obedience to the word of Juss. In the morning when they had eaten their day-meal the lords of Demonland went down into pleasaunces, and with them the Lady Mevrian. And in an alley that was roofed with beams of cedar resting on marble pillars, the beams and pillars smothered with dark-red roses, they sat looking eastward across a sunk garden. The weather was sweet and gracious, and thick dew lay on the pale terraced lawns that led down among flower beds to the fish-pond in the midst. The water made a cool mirror whereon floated yellow and crimson water-lilies opening to the sky. All the greens and flower-colours glowed warm and clean, but soft withal and shadowy, veiled in the gray haze of the summer morning.
They sat here and there as they listed on chairs and benches, near a huge tank or vase of dark green jade where sulphur-coloured lilies grew in languorous beauty, their back-curled petals showing the scarlet anthers; and all the air was heavy with their sweetness. The great jade vase was round and flat like the body of a tortoise, open at the top where the lilies grew. It was carved with scales, as it. were the body of a dragon, and a dragon's head a-gaping reared itself at one end, and at the other the tail curved up and over like the handle of a basket, and the tail had little fore and hind feet with claws, and a smaller head at the end of the tail gaped downwards biting at the large head. Four legs supported the body, and each leg was a small dragon standing on its hind feet, its head growing into the parent body as the thigh or shoulder joint should join the trunk. In the curve of the creature's neck, his back propped against its head, sat the Lord Brandoch Daha in graceful ease, one foot touching the ground, the other swinging free; and in his hands was the book, bound in dark puce-coloured goatskin and gold, given him by Gaslark in years gone by. Zigg watched him idly turn
the pages while the others talked. Leaning toward Mevrian he whispered in her ear, "Is not he able and shapen for to subdue and put under him all the world: thy brother? A man of blood and peril, and yet so fair to behold that it is a marvel?"
Her eyes danced. She said, "It is pure truth, my lord."
Now spake Spitfire saying, "Read forth to us, I pray thee, the book of Gro; for my soul is afire to set forth on this faring."
"'Tis writ somewhat crabbedly," said Brandoch Daha, "and most damnably long. I spent half last night a-searching on't, and 'tis most apparent no other way lieth to these mountains save by the Moruna, and across the Moruna is (if Gro say true) but one way, and that from the Gulf of Muelva: 'a xx dayes journeye from northe by south-est.' For here he telleth of watersprings by the way, but he saith in other parts of the desert be no watersprings, save only springs venomous, where 'The water riketh like a sething potte continually, having sumwhat a sulphureous and sumwhat onpleasant savor,' and, 'The grownd nurysheth here no plante nor herbe except yt bee venomous champinions or tode stooles.'"
"If he say true?" said Spitfire. "He is a turncoat and a renegado. Wherefore not therefore a liar?"
"But a philosopher," answered Juss. "I knew him Well of old in Goblinland, and I judge him to be one who is not false save only in policy. Subtle of mind he is, and dearly loveth plotting and scheming, and, as I think, perversely affecteth ever the losing side if he be brought into any quarrel; and this hath dragged him oft-times to misfortune. But in this book of his travels he must needs speak truth, as it seemeth to me, to be true to his own self."
The Lady Mevrian looked approvingly on Lord Juss and her eye twinkled. For well it liked her humour to hear men's natures so divined.
"O Juss, friend of my heart," said Lord Brandoch Daha, "thy words proceed, as ever they did, from the true fount of wisdom, and I embrace them and thee. This book is a guide which we shall follow not helter-skelter but as old men of war. If then the right road to Morna Moruna lie from the Gulf of Muelva, were we not best sail straight thitherward and lay up our ships in that Gulf where the coast and the country side be without habitation, rather than fare to some nearer haven of Outer Impland such as Arlan Mouth whither thou and Spitfire fared six summers ago?"
"Not Arlan Mouth, o' this journey," said Juss. "Some sport perchance we might obtain there had we leisure for fighting with the accursed inhabitants, but every day's delay we now do make holdeth my brother another day in bondage. The princes and Fazes of the Imps have many strong walled towns and towers in all those coastlands, and hard by in a mediamnis of the river Arlan, in Orpish, is the great castle of Fax Fay Faz, whereto Goldry and I drave him home from Lida Nanguna."
"'Tis an ill coast too, to find a landing," said Brandoch Daha, turning the leaves of the book. "As he saith, 'Ymplande the More beginnith at the west syde of the in mowth of Arlan and occupiethe all the lond unto the hedeland Sibrion, and therefro sowth awaye to the Corshe, by gesse a vij hundered myles, wherby the se is not ther of nature favorable nor no haven is or cumming yn meete for shippes.'"
So after some talk and searching of that book of Gro they determined this should be their plan: to fare to Impland by way of the Straits of Melikaphkhaz and the Didornian Sea, and so lay up their ships in the Gulf of Muelva, and landing there start straightway across the wilderness to Morna Moruna, even as Gro had described the way.
"Ere we leave it," said Brandoch Daha, "hear what he speaketh concerning Koshtra Belorn. This he beheld from Morna Moruna, whereof he saith: 'The contery is
hylly, sandy, and baren of wood and corne, as forest ful of lynge, mores, and mosses, with stony hillies. Here is a mighty stronge and usid borow for flying serpens in sum baren, hethy, and sandy grownd, and thereby the litle round castel of Morna Moruna stondith on Omprenne Edge, as on the limit of the worlde, sore wether beten and yn ruine. This castelle was brent in tyme of warre, spoyled and razyd by Kynge Goriyse the fourt of Wytchlande in auncient dayes. And they say there was blamelesse folke dwellid therein and ryghte gentle, nor was ther any need for Goriyse to have usid them so cruellie, when hee cawsyd the hole howsholde there to appere before hym and then slawe sum owt of hande, and the residew he throughe all downe the steep cliffe. And but few supervivid after the gret falle, and these fled awaye thorough the untrodden forests of Bavvynaune and withoute question perysht ther yn great sorwe and miserie. Sum fable that it was for thys cruel facte sake that King Goriyse was eat by divels on the Moruna with al hys hoste, one man onely cumming home again to tell of these thynges bifallen.' Now mark: 'From Morna Moruna I behelde sowthawaye two grete mowntaynes standing over Bavvinane as two Queenes in bewty seted in the skye by estimacion xx legues fro hence above meny more ise robed mowntaines supereminente. The wyche as I lernyd was Coschtre Belourne the one and the othere Koshtre Pivrarca. And I veuyed them continuallie unto the going downe of the sun, and that was the fayrest sighte and the most bewtifullest and gallant marvaille that mine eyen hath sene. Therewith talkid I with the smaule thynges that dwell there in the ruines and in the busschis growing round abowte as it ys my wonte, and amongst them one of those byrdes cawld martlettes that have feete so litle that they seime to have none. And thys litle martlette sittynge in a frambousier or raspis busche tolde mee that none may come alive unto Coschtra Beloorn, for the mantycores of the mowntaines will certeynely ete his brains ere he come thither. And were he so fortunate
as scape these mantycores, yet cowlde bee never climbe up the gret crages of yce and rocke on Koschtre Beloorn, for none is so stronge as to scale them but by art magicall, and such is the vertue of that mowntayne that no magick avayleth there, but onlie strength and wisdome alone, and as I seye these woulde not avayl to climbe those cliffes and yce ryvers.'"
"What be these mantichores of the mountains that eat men's brains?" asked the Lady Mevrian.
"This book is so excellent well writ," said her brother, "that thine answer appeareth on this same page: 'The beeste Mantichora, whych is as muche as to saye devorer of Menne, rennith as I herde tell, on the skirt of the mowntaynes below the snow feldes. These be monstrous bestes, ghastlie and ful of horrour, enemies to mankinde, of a red coloure, with ij rowes of huge grete tethe in their mouthes. It hath the head of a man, his eyen like a ghoot, and the bodie of a lyon lancing owt sharpe prickles fro behinde. And hys tayl is the tail of a scorpioun. And is more delyverer to goo than is fowle to flee. And hys voys is as the roaryng of x lyons.'"
"These beasts," said Spitfire, "were alone enough to draw me thither. I shall bring thee home a small one, madam, to keep chained in the court."
"That should dash me from thy friendship for ever, cousin," said Mevrian, stroking the feathery ears of her little marmoset that cuddled in her lap. "That which feedeth on brains were overnourished in Demonland, and belike would overrun the whole country-side."
"Send it to Witchland," said Zigg. "Where when it hath eat up Gro and Corund it may sup lightly on the King, and then most fortunately starve for lack of its proper nutriment."
Juss stood up from his seat. "Thou and I and Spitfire," said be to Brandoch Daha, "must to work roundly and gather strength, for 'tis already midsummer. You, Vizz, Volle, and Zigg, must have the warding of our homes whiles we be gone. We cannot be less than two thousand swords on this faring."
"How many ships, Volle," asked Lord Brandoch Daha, "canst thou give us, busked and boun, ere this moon wane?"
"There be fourteen afloat," said Volle. "Besides these, ten keels lie on the slips at Lookinghaven, and nine more hath Spitfire but now laid down on the beach before his house at Owlswick."
"Thirty and three in sum," said Spitfire. "You see we have not twiddled our thumbs whilst ye were gone."
Juss paced back and forth with great strides, his brow clouded and his jaw clenched. In a while he said, "Laxus hath forty sail, dragons of war. I am not so idle-headed as fare without an army into Impland, but certain it is that if our ill-willers would move war against us we stand in apparent weakness, here or abroad, to throw back their onset."
Volle said, "Of these nineteen ships a-building no more than two can take the water before a month be past, and but seven more ere six months' time, push we never so mightily the work."
"The season weareth, and my brother wasteth in duress. We must sail ere another moon grow old," said Juss.
Volle said, "Then with sixteen sail thou sailest, O Juss; and then thou leavest us not one ship at home till more be finished and launched."
"How can we leave you so?" cried Spitfire.
But Brandoch Daha looked towards his lady sister, met her glance, and was satisfied. "The choice lieth fair before us," said he. "If we will eat the egg, little need to debate whether the shell must go."
Mevrian rose from her seat laughing, and said, "Then let the council rise, my lords." And her eyes grew serious, and she said, "Shall they make rhymes upon us that we of Demonland, whom men repute and hold the mightiest lords in all the world, hung sheepishly back from this high needful enterprise lest, our greatest captains being
abroad, our enemies might haply take us at home a disadvantage? It shall not be said of the women of Demonland that they upheld such counsels."