The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison, , at sacred-texts.com
OF THE LORD CORUND'S BESIEGING OF THE BURG ABOVE THE LAKES OF OGO MORVEO, AND WHAT BEFELL THERE BETWIXT HIM AND THE DEMONS; WHEREIN IS ALSO AN EXAMPLE HOW THE SUBTLE OF HEART STANDETH AT WHILES IN GREAT DANGER OF HIS DEATH.
WHEN the Lord Corund knew of a surety that he held them of Demonland shut up in Eshgrar Ogo, he let dight supper in his tent, and made a surfeit of venison pasties and heath-cocks and lobsters from the lakes. Therewith he drank nigh a skinful of sweet dark Thramnian wine, in such sort that an hour before midnight, becoming speechless, he was holpen by Gro to his couch and slept a great deep sleep till morning.
Gro watched in the tent, his right elbow propped on the table, his check resting on his hand, his left hand reaching forward with delicate fingers toying now with the sleek heavy perfumed masses of his beard, now with the goblet whence he sipped ever and anon pale wine of Permio. His thoughts inconstant as insects in a summer
garden flitted ever round and round, resting now on the scene before him, the great form of his general wrapt in slumber, now on other scenes sundered by great gulfs of time or weary leagues of perilous ways. So that in one instant he saw in fancy that lady in Carcë welcoming her lord returned in triumph, and him, may be, crowned king of new-vanquished Impland; and in the next, swept from the future to the past, beheld again the great sending-off in Zajë Zaculo, Gaslark in his splendour on the golden stairs saying adieu to those three captains and their matchless armament foredoomed to dogs and crows on Salapanta Hills; and always, like a gloomy background darkening his mind, loomed the yawning void, featureless and vast, beyond the investing circle of Corund's armies: the blind blasted emptiness of the Moruna.
With such fancies, melancholy like a great bird settled upon his soul. The lights flickered in their sockets, and for very weariness Gro's eyelids closed at length over his large liquid eyes; and, too tired to stir from his seat to seek his couch, he sank forward on the table, his head pillowed on his arms. The red glow of the brazier slumbered ever dimmer and dimmer on the slender form and black shining curls of Gro, and on the mighty frame of Corund where he lay with one great spurred booted leg stretched along the couch, and the other flung out sideways resting its heel on the ground.
It wanted but two hours of noon when a sunbeam striking through an opening in the hangings of the tent shone upon Corund's eyelids, and he awoke fresh and brisk as a youth on a hunting morn. He waked Gro, and giving him a clap on the shoulder, "Thou wrongest a fair morn," he said. "The devil damn me black as buttermilk if it be not great shame in thee; and I, that was born this day six and forty years as the years come about, busy with mine affairs since sunrise."
Gro yawned and smiled and stretched himself. "O[paragraph continues]
Corund," he said, "counterfeit a livelier wonder in thine eyes if thou wilt persuade me thou sawest the sunrise. For I think that were as new and unexampled a sight for thee as any I could produce to thee in Impland."
Corund answered, "Truly I was seldom so uncivil as surprise Madam Aurora in her nightgown. And the thrice or four times I have been forced thereto, taught me it is an hour of crude airs and mists which breed cold dark humours in the body, an hour when the torch of life burns weakest. Within there! bring me my morning draught."
The boy brought two cups of white wine, and while they drank, "A thin ungracious drink is the well-spring," said Corund: "a drink for queasy-stomached skipjacks: for sand-levericks, not for men. And like it is the dayspring: an ungrateful sapless hour, an hour for stab-i'-the-backs and cold-blooded betrayers. Ah, give me wine," he cried, "and noon-day vices, and brazen-browed iniquities."
"Yet there's many a deed of profit done by owl-light," said Gro.
"Ay," said Corund: "deeds of darkness: and there, my lord, I'm still thy scholar. Come, let's be doing." And taking his helm and weapons, and buckling about him his great wolfskin cloak, for the air was eager and frosty without, he strode forth. Gro wrapped himself in his fur mantle, drew on his lambskin gloves, and followed him.
"If thou wilt take my rede," said Lord Gro, as they looked on Eshgrar Ogo stark in the barren sunlight, "thou'lt do this honour to Philpritz, which I question not he much desireth, to suffer him and his folk take first knock at this nut. It hath a hard look. Pity it were to waste good Witchland blood in a first assault, when these vile instruments stand ready to our purpose."
Corund grunted in his beard, and with Gro at his elbow paced in silence through the lines, his keen eyes searching ever the cliffs and walls of Eshgrar Ogo, till in some
half-hour's space he halted again before his tent, having made a complete circuit of the burg. Then he spake: "Put me in yonder fighting-stead, and if it were only but I and fifty able lads to man the walls, yet would I hold it against ten thousand."
Gro held his peace awhile, and then said, "Thou speakest this in all sadness?"
"In sober sadness," answered Corund, squaring his shoulders at the burg.
"Then thou'lt not assault it?"
Corund laughed. "Not assault it. quotha! That were a sweet tale 'twixt the boiled and the roast in Carcë: I'd not assault it!"
"Yet consider," said Gro, taking him by the arm. "So shapeth the matter in my mind: they be few and shut up in a little place, in this far land, out of reach and out of mind of all succour. Were they devils and not men, the multitude of our armies and thine own tried qualities must daunt them. Be the place never so cocksure, doubt not some doubts thereof must poison their security. Therefore before thou risk a repulse which must dispel those doubts use thine advantage. Bid Juss to a parley. Offer him conditions: it skills not what. Bribe them out into the open."
"A pretty plan," said Corund. "Thou'lt merit wisdom's crown if thou canst tell me what conditions we can offer that they would take. And whilst thou riddlest that, remember that though thou and I be masters hereabout, another reigns in Carcë."
Lord Gro laughed gently. "Leave jesting," he said, "O Corund, and never hope to gull me to believe thee such a babe in policy. Shall the King blame us though we sign away Demonland, ay and the wide world besides, to Juss to lure him forth? Unless indeed we were so neglectful of our interest as suffer him, once forth, to elude our clutches."
"Gro," said Corund, "I love thee. But hardly canst thou receive things as I receive them that have dealt all
my days in great stripes, given and taken in the open field. I sticked not to take part in thy notable treason against these poor snakes of Impland that we trapped in Orpish. All's fair against such dirt. Besides, great need was upon us then, and hard it is for an empty sack to stand straight. But here is far other matter. All's won here but the plucking of the apple: it is the very main of my ambition to humble these Demons openly by the terror of my sword: wherefore I will not use upon them cogs and stops and all thy devilish tricks, such as should bring me more of scorn than of glory in the eyes of aftercomers."
So speaking, he issued command and sent an herald to go forth beneath the battlements with a flag of truce. And the herald cried aloud and said: "From Corund of Witchland unto the lords of Demonland: thus saith the Lord Corund, 'I hold this burg of Eshgrar Ogo as a nut betwixt the crackers. Come down and speak with me in the batable land before the burg, and I swear to you peace and grith while we parley, and thereto pledge I mine honour as a man of war."
So when the due ceremonies were performed, the Lord Juss came down from Eshgrar Ogo and with him the lords Spitfire and Brandoch Daha and twenty men to be their bodyguard. Corund went to meet them with his guard about him, and his four sons that fared with him to Impland, Hacmon, namely, and Heming and Viglus and Dormanes: sullen and dark young men, likely of look, of a little less fierceness than their father. Gro, fair to see and slender as a racehorse, went at his side, muffled to the ears in a cloak of ermine; and behind came Philpritz Faz helmed with a winged helm of iron and gold. A gilded corselet had Philpritz, and trousers of panther's skin, and he came a-slinking at Corund's heel as the jackal slinks behind the lion.
When they were met, Juss spake and said, "This would I know first, my Lord Corund, how thou comest hither,
and why, and by what right thou disputest with us the ways eastward out of Impland."
Corund answered, leaning on his spear, "I need not answer thee in this. And yet I will. How came I? I answer thee, over the cold mountain wall of Akra Skabranth. And 'tis a feat hath not his fellow in man's remembrance until now, with so great a force and in so short a space of time."
"'Tis well enough," said Juss. "I'll grant thee thou hast outrun mine expectations of thee."
"Next thou demandest why," said Corund. "Suffice it for thee that the King hath had advertisement of your farings into Impland and your designs therein. For to bring these to nought am I come."
"There was many firkins of wine drunk dry in Carcë," said Hacmon, "and many a noble person senseless and spewing on the ground ere morn for pure delight, when cursed Goldry was made away. We were little minded these healths should be proved vain at last."
"Was that ere thou rodest from Permio?" said Lord Brandoch Daha. "The merry god wrought of our side that night, if my memory cheat not."
"Thou demandest last," said Corund, "my Lord Juss, by what right I bar your passage eastaway. Know, therefore, that not of mine own self speak I unto you, but as vicar in wide-fronted Impland of our Lord Gorice XII., King of Kings, most glorious and most great. There remaineth no way out for you from this place save into the rigour of mine hands. Therefore let us, according to the nature of great men, agree to honourable conditions. And this is mine offer, O Juss. Yield up this burg of Eshgrar Ogo, and therewith thy sealed word in a writing acknowledging our Lord the King to be King of Demonland and all ye his quiet and obedient subjects, even as we be. And I will swear unto you of my part, and in the name of our Lord the King, and give you hostages thereto, that ye shall depart in peace whither you list with all love and safety."
The Lord Juss scowled fiercely on him. "O Corund he said, "as little as we do understand the senseless wind, so little we understand thy word. Oft enow hath gray silver been in the fire betwixt us and you Witchlanders; for the house of Gorice fared ever like the foul toad, that may not endure to smell the sweet savour of the vine when it flourisheth. So for this time we will abide in this hold, and withstand your most grievous attempts."
"With free honesty and open heart," said Corund, "I made thee this offer; which if thou refuse I am not thy lackey to renew it."
Gro said, "It is writ and sealed, and wanteth but thy sign-manual, my Lord Juss," and with the word he made sign to Philpritz Faz that went to Lord Juss with a parchment. Juss put the parchment by, saying, "No more: ye are answered," and he was turning on his heel when Philpritz, louting forward suddenly, gave him a great yerk beneath the ribs with a dagger slipped from his sleeve. But Juss wore a privy coat that turned the dagger. Howbeit with the greatness of that stroke he staggered aback.
Now Spitfire clapped hand to sword, and the other Demons with him, but Juss loudly shouted that they should not be truce-breakers but know first what Corund would do. And Corund said, "Dost hear me, Juss? I had, neither hand nor part in this."
Brandoch Daha drew up his lip and said, "This is nought but what was to be looked for. It is a wonder, O Juss, that thou shouldst hold out to such mucky dog a hand without a whip in it."
"Such strokes come home or miss merely," said Gro softly in Corund's ear, and he hugged himself beneath his cloak, looking with furtive amusement on the Demons. But Corund with a face red in anger said, "It is thine answer, O Juss?" And when Juss said, "It is our answer, O Corund," Corund said violently, "Then red war I give you; and this withal to testify our honour." And he let
lay hands on Philpritz Faz and with his own hand hacked the head from his body before the eyes of both their armies. Then in a great voice he said, "As bloodily as I have revenged the honour of Witchland on this Philpritz, so will I revenge it on all of you or ever I draw off mine armies from these lakes of Ogo Morveo."
So the Demons went up into the burg, and Gro and Corund home to their tents. "This was well thought on," said Gro, "to flaunt the flag of seeming honesty, and with the motion rid us of this fellow that promised ever to grow thorns to make uneasy our seat in Impland."
Corund answered him not a word.
In that same hour Corund marshalled his folk and assaulted Eshgrar Ogo, placing those of Impland in the van. They prospered not at all. Many a score lay slain without the walls that night; and the obscene beasts from the desert feasted on their bodies by the light of the moon.
Next morning the Lord Corund sent an herald and bade the Demons again to a parley. And now he spake only to Brandoch Daha, bidding him deliver up those brethren Juss and Spitfire, "And if thou wilt yield them to my pleasure, then shalt thou and all thy people else depart in peace without conditions."
"An offer indeed," said Lord Brandoch Daha; "if it be not in mockery. Say it loud, that my folk may hear."
Corund did so, and the Demons heard it from the walls of the burg.
Lord Brandoch Daha stood somewhat apart from Juss and Spitfire and their guard. "Libel it me out," he said. "For good as I now must deem thy word, thine hand and seal must I have to show my followers ere they consent with me in such a thing."
"Write thou," said Corund to Gro. "To write my name is all my scholarship." And Gro took forth his ink-born and wrote in a great fair hand this offer on a parchment. "The most fearfullest oaths thou knowest," said[paragraph continues]
Corund; and Gro wrote them, whispering, "He mocketh us only." But Corund said, "No matter: 'tis a chance worth our chancing," and slowly and with labour signed his name to the writing, and gave it to Lord Brandoch Daha.
Brandoch Daha read it attentively, and tucked it in his bosom beneath his byrny. "This," he said, "shall be a keepsake for me of thee, my Lord Corund. Reminding me," and here his eyes grew terrible, "so long as there surviveth a soul of you in Witchland, that I am still to teach the world throughly what that man must abide that durst affront me with such an offer."
Corund answered him, "Thou art a dapper fellow. It is a wonder that thou wilt strut in the tented field with all this womanish gear. Thy shield: how many of these sparkling baubles thinkest thou I'd leave in it were we once come to knocks?"
"I'll tell thee," answered Lord Brandoch Daha. "For every jewel that hath been beat out of my shield in battle, never yet went I to war that I brought not home an hundredfold to set it fair again, from the spoils I obtained from mine enemies. Now this will I bid thee, O Corund, for thy scornful words: I will bid thee to single combat, here and in this hour. Which if thou deny, then art thou an open and apparent dastard."
Corund chuckled in his beard, but his brow darkened somewhat. "I pray what age dost thou take me of?" said he. "I bare a sword when thou was yet in swaddling clothes. Behold mine armies, and what advantage I hold upon you. Oh, my sword is enchanted, my lord: it will not out of the scabbard."
Brandoch Daha smiled disdainfully, and said to Spitfire, "Mark well, I pray thee, this great lord of Witchland. How many true fingers hath a Witch on his left hand?"
"As many as on his right," said Spitfire.
"Good. And how many on both?"
"Two less than a deuce," said Spitfire; "for they be false fazarts to the fingers' ends."
"Very well answered," said Lord Brandoch Daha.
"You're pleasant," Corund said. "But your fusty jibes move me not a whit. It were a simple part indeed to take thine offer when all wise counsels bid me use my power and crush you."
"Thou'dst kill me soon with thy mouth," said Brandoch Daha. "In sum, thou art a brave man when it comes to roaring and swearing: a big bubber of wine, as men say to drink drunk is an ordinary matter with thee every day in the week; but I fear thou durst not fight."
"Doth not thy nose swell at that?" said Spitfire.
But Corund shrugged his shoulders. "A footra for your baits!" he answered. "I am scarce bounden to do such a kindness to you of Demonland as Jay down mine advantage and fight alone, against a sworder. Your old foxes are seldom taken in springes."
"I thought so," said Lord Brandoch Daha. "Surely the frog will have hair sooner than any of you Witchlanders shall dare to stand me."
So ended the second parley before Eshgrar Ogo. The same day Corund essayed again to storm the hold, and grievous was the battle and hard put to it were they of Demonland to hold the walls. Yet in the end were Corund's men thrown back with great slaughter. And night fell, and they returned to their tents.
"Mine invention," said Gro, when on the next day they took counsel together, "hath yet some contrivance in her purse which shall do us good, if it fall but out to our mind. But I doubt much it will dislike thee."
"Well, say it out, and I'll give thee my censure on't," said Corund.
Gro spake: "It hath been shown we may not have down this tree by hewing above ground. Let's dig about the roots. And first give them a seven-night's space for reckoning up their chances, that they may see morning
and evening from the burg thine armies set down to in. vest them. Then, when their hopes are something sobered by that sight, and want of action hath trained their minds to sad reflection, call them to parley, going straight beneath the wall; and this time shalt thou address thyself only to the common sort, offering them all generous and free conditions thou canst think on. There's little they can ask that we'd not blithely grant them if they'll but yield us up their captains."
"It mislikes me," answered Corund. "Yet it may serve, But thou shalt be my spokesman herein. For never yet went I cap in hand to ask favour of the common muck o' the world, nor I will not do it now."
"O but thou must," said Gro. "Of thee they will receive in good faith what in me they would account but practice."
"That's true enough," said Corund., "But I cannot stomach it. Withal, I am too rough spoken."
Gro smiled. "He that hath need of a dog," he said, "calleth him 'Sir Dog.' Come, come, I'll school thee to it. Is it not a smaller thing than months of tedious hardship in this frozen desert? Bethink thee too what honour it were to thee to ride home to Carcë with Juss and Spitfire and Brandoch Daha bounden in a string."
Not without much persuasion was Corund won to this. Yet at the last he consented. For seven days and seven nights his armies sat before the burg without sign; and on the eighth day he bade the Demons to a parley, and when that was granted went with his sons and twenty men-at-arms up the great rib of rock between the lakes, and stood below the east wall of the burg. Bitter chill was the air that day. Powdery snow light-fallen blew in little wisps along the ground, and the rocks were slippery with an invisible coat of ice. Lord Gro, being troubled with an ague, excused himself from that faring and kept his tent.
Corund stood beneath the walls with his folk about him. "I have matter of import," he cried, "and It is need,
ful it be heard both by the highest and the lowest amongst you. Ere I begin, summon them all to this part of the walls: a look-out is enow to shield you of the other parts from any sudden onslaught, which besides I swear to you is clean without my purpose." So when they were thick on the wall above him, he began to say, "Soldiers of Demonland, against you had I never quarrel. Behold how in this Impland I have made freedom flourish as a flower. I have strook off the heads of Philpritz Faz, and Illarosh, and Lurmesh, and Gandassa, and Fax Fay Faz, that were the lords and governors here aforetime, abounding in all the bloody and crying sins, oppression, gluttony, idleness, cruelty, and extortion. And of my clemency I delivered all their possessions unto their subjects to hold and order after their own will alone, who before did put on patience and endured with much heart-burning the tyranny of these Fazes, until by me they found a remedy for their more freedom. In like manner, not against you do I war, O men of Demonland; but against the tyrants that enforced you for their private gain to suffer hardship and death in this remote country: namely, against Juss and Spitfire that came hither in quest of their cursed brother whom the might of the great King hath happily removed. And against Brandoch Daha am I come, of insolence untamed, who liveth a chambering idle life eating and drinking and exercising tyranny, while the pleasant lands of Krothering and Failze and Stropardon, and the dwellers in the isles, Sorbey, Morvey, Strufey, Dalney, and Kenarvey, and they of Westmark and all the western parts of Demonland groan and wax lean to feed his luxury. To your hurt only have these three led you, as cattle to the slaughter. Deliver them to me, that I may chastise them, and I, that am great viceroy of Impland, will make you free and grant you lordships: a lordship for every man of you in this my realm of Impland."
While Corund spake, the Lord Brandoch Daha went among the soldiers bidding them hold their peace and not
murmur against Corund. But those that were most hot for action he sent about an errand preparing what he had in mind. So that when the Lord Corund ceased from his declaiming, all was ready to hand, and with one voice the soldiers of Lord Juss that stood upon the wall cried out and said, "This is thy word, O Corund, and this our answer," and therewith flung down upon him from pots and buckets and every kind of vessel a deluge of slops and offal and all filth that came to hand. A bucketful took Corund in the mouth, befouling all his great beard, so that he gave back spitting. And he and his, standing close beneath the wall, and little expecting so sudden and ill an answer, fared shamefully, being all well soused and bemerded with filth and lye.
Therewith went up great shouts of laughter from the walls. But Corund cried out, "O filth of Demonland, this is my latest word with you. And though 'twere ten years I must besiege this hold, yet will I take it over your heads. And very ill to do with shall ye find me in the end, and very puissant, proud, mighty, cruel, and bloody in my conquest."
"What, lads?" said Lord Brandoch Daha, standing on the battlements, "have we not fed this beast with pig-wash enow, but he must still be snuffing and snouking at our gate? Give me another pailful."
So the Witches returned to their tents with great shame. So hot was Corund in anger against the Demons, that he stayed not to eat nor drink at his coming down from Eshgrar Ogo, but straight gathered force and made an assault upon the burg, the mightiest he had yet essayed; and his picked men of Witchland were in that assault, and he himself to lead them. Thrice by main fury they won up into the hold, but all were slain who set foot therein, and Corund's young son Dormanes wounded to the death. And at even they drew off from the battle. There fell in that fight an hundred and four-score Demons, and of the Imps five hundred, and of the Witches
three hundred and ninety and nine. And many were hurt of either side.
Wrath sat like thunder on Corund's brow at suppertime. He ate his meat savagely, thrusting great gobbets in his mouth, crunching the bones like a beast, taking deep draughts of wine with every mouthful, which yet dispelled not his black mood. Over against him Gro sat silent, shivering now and then for all that he kept his ermine cloak about him and the brazier stood at his elbow. He made but a poor meal, drinking mulled wine in little sips and dipping little pieces of bread in it.
So wore without speech that cheerless and unkindly meal, until the Lord Corund, looking suddenly across the board at Gro and catching his eye studying him, said, "That was a bright star of thine and then shined clear upon thee when thou tookest this bout of shivering fits and so wentest not with me to be soused with muck before the burg."
"Who would have dreamed," answered Gro, "of their using so base and shameful a part?"
"Not thou, I'll swear," said Corund, looking evilly upon him and marking, as he thought, a twinkling light in Gro's eyes. Gro shivered again, sipped his wine, and shifted his glance uneasily under that unfriendly stare.
Corund drank awhile in silence, then flushing suddenly a darker red, said, leaning heavily across the board at him, "Dost know why I said 'not thou'?"
"'Twas scarce needful, to thy friend," said Gro.
"I said it," said Corund, "because I know thou didst look for another thing when thou didst skulk shamming here."
"Sit not there like some prim-mouthed miss feigning an innocence all know well thou hast not," said Corund, "or I'll kill thee. Thou plottedst my death with the Demons. And because thyself hast no shred of honour in thy soul, thou hadst not the wit to perceive that their nobility
would shrink from such a betrayal as thy hopes entertained."
Gro said, "This is a jest I cannot laugh at; or else 'tis madman's brabble."
"Dissembling cur," said Corund, "be sure that I hold him not less guilty that holds the ladder than him that mounts the wall. It was thy design they should smite us at unawares when we went up to them with this proposal thou didst urge on me so hotly."
Gro made as if to rise. "Sit down!" said Corund. "Answer me; didst not thou egg on the poor snipe Philpritz to that attempt on Juss?"
"He told me on't," said Gro.
"O, thou art cunning," said Corund. "There too I see thy treachery. Had they fallen upon us, thou mightest have thrown thyself safely upon their mercy."
"This is foolishness," said Gro. "We were far stronger."
"'Tis so," said Corund. "When did I charge thee with wisdom and sober judgement? With treachery I know thou art soaked wet."
"And thou art my friend!" said Gro.
Corund said in a while, "I have long known thee to be both a subtle and dissembling fox, and now I durst trust thee no more, for fear I should fall further into thy danger. I am resolved to murther thee."
Gro fell back in his chair and flung out his arms. "I have been here before," he said. "I have beheld it, in moonlight and in the barren glare of day, in fair weather and in hail and snow, with the great winds charging over the wastes. And I knew it was accursed. From Morna Moruna, ere I was born or thou, O Corund, or any of us, treason and cruelty blacker than night herself had birth, and brought death to their begetter and all his folk. From Morna Moruna bloweth this wind about the waste to blast our love and bring us destruction. Ay, kill me; I'll not ward myself, not i' the smallest."
"'Tis small matter, Goblin," said Corund, "whether
thou shouldst or no. Thou art but a louse between my fingers, to kill or cast away as shall seem me good."
"I was King Gaslark's man," said Gro, as if talking in a dream; "and between a man and a boy near fifteen years I served him true and costly. Yet it was my fortune in all that time and at the ending thereof only to get a beard on my chin and remorse at heart. To what scorned purpose must I plot against him? Pity of Witchland, of Witchland sliding as then into the pit of adverse luck, 'twas that made force upon me. And I served Witchland well: but fate ever fought o' the other side. I it was that counselled King Gorice XI. to draw out from the fight at Kartadza. Yet wanton Fortune trod down the scale for Demonland. I prayed him not wrastle with Goldry in the Foliot Isles. Thou didst back me. Nought but rebukes and threats of death gat I therefrom; but because my redes were set at nought, evil fell upon Witchland. I helped our Lord the King when he conjured and made a sending against the Demons. He loved me therefor and upheld me, but great envy was raised up against me in Carcë for that fact. Yet I bare up, for thy friendship and thy lady wife's were as bright fires to warm me against all the frosts of their ill-will. And now, for love of thee, I fared with thee to Impland. And here by the Moruna where in old days I wandered in danger and in sorrow, it is fitting I behold at length the emptiness of all my days."
Therewith Gro fell silent a minute, and then began to say: "O Corund, I'll strip bare my soul to thee before thou kill me. It is most true that until now, sitting before Eshgrar Ogo, it hath been present to my heart how great an advantage we held against the Demons, and the glory of their defence, so little a strength against us so many, and the great glory of their flinging of us back, these things were a splendour to my soul beholding them. Such glamour hath ever shone to me all my life's days when I behold great men battling still beneath the bludgeonings of adverse fortune that, howsoever they be mine enemies,
it lieth not in my virtue to withhold from admiration of them and well nigh love. But never was I false to thee, nor much less ever thought, as thou most unkindly accusest me, to compass thy destruction."
"Thou dost whine like a woman for thy life," said Corund. "Cowardly hounds never stirred pity in me." Yet he moved not, only looking dourly on Gro.
Gro plucked forth his own sword, and pushed it towards Corund hilt-foremost across the board. "Such words are worse than sword-thrusts betwixt us twain," said he, "Thou shalt see how I'll welcome death. The King will praise thee, when thou showest the cause. And it will be sweet news to Corinius and them that have held me in their hate, that thy love hath cast me off, and thou hast rid them of me at last."
But Corund stirred not. After a space, he filled another cup, and drank, and sat on. And Gro sat motionless before him. At last Corund rose heavily from his seat, and pushing Gro's sword back across the table, "Thou'dst best to bed," said he. "But the night air's o'er shrewd for thine ague. Sleep on my couch to-night."
The day dawned cold and gray, and with the dawn Corund ordered his lines round about Eshgrar Ogo, and sat down for a siege. For ten days he sat before the burg, and nought befell from dawn till night, from night till dawn: only the sentinels walked on the walls and Corund's folk guarded their lines. On the eleventh day came a bank of fog rolling westward from the Moruna, chill and dank, blotting out the features of the land. Snow fell, and the fog hung on the land, and night came of such a pitchy blackness that even by torch-light a man might not see his hand stretched forth at arm's length before him. Five days the fog held. On the fifth night, it being the twenty-fourth of November, in the darkness of the third hour after midnight, the alarm was sounded and Corund summoned by a runner from the north with word that a sally was made from Eshgrar Ogo, and the
lines bursten through in that quarter, and fighting going forward in the mirk. Corund was scarce harnessed and gotten forth into the night, when a second runner came hot-foot from the south with tidings of a great fight thereaway. All was confounded in the dark, and nought certain, save that the Demons were broken out from Eshgrar Ogo. In a space, as Corund came with his folk to the northern quarter and joined in the fight, came a message from his son Heming that Spitfire and a number with him were broken out at the other side and gotten away westward, and a great band chasing him back towards Outer Impland; and therewith that more than an hundred Demons were surrounded and penned in by the shore of the lakes, and the burg entered and taken by Corund's folk; but of Juss and Brandoch Daha no certain news, save that they were not of Spitfire's company, but were with those against whom Corund went in person, having fared forth northaway. So went the battle through the night. Corund himself had sight of Juss, and exchanged shots with him with twirl-spears in a lifting of the fog toward dawn, and a son of his bare witness of Brandoch Daha in that same quarter, and had gotten a great wound from him.
When night was past, and the Witches returned from the pursuit, Corund straitly questioned his officers, and went himself about the battlefield hearing each man's story and viewing the slain. Those Demons that were hemmed against the lakes had all lost their lives, and some were taken up dead in other parts, and some few alive. These would his officers let slay, but Corund said, "Since I am king in Impland, till that the King receive it of me, it is not this handful of earth-lice shall shake my safety here; and I may well give them their lives, that fought sturdily against us." So he gave them peace. And he said unto Gro, "Better that for every Demon dead in Ogo Morveo ten should rise up against us, if but Juss only and Brandoch Daha were slain."
"I'll be in the tale with thee, if thou wilt proclaim
them dead," said Gro. "And nothing is likelier, if they be gone with but two or three on to the Moruna, than that such a tale should come true ere it were told in Carcë,"
"Pshaw!" said Corund, "to the devil with such false feathers. What's done shows brave enow without them: Impland conquered, Juss's army minced to a gallimaufry, himself and Brandoch Daha chased like runaway thralls up on the Moruna. Where if devils tear them, 'tis my best wish come true. If not, thou'lt hear of them, be sure. Dost think these can survive on earth and not raise a racket that shall be heard from hence to Carcë?"