The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison, , at sacred-texts.com
OF THE ENTRY OF THE LORD CORINIUS INTO OWLSWICK AND HOW HE WAS CROWNED IN SPITFIRE'S SAPPHIRE CHAIR AS VICEROY OF GORICE THE KING AND KING IN DEMONLAND: AND HOW ALL THAT WERE IN OWLSWICK CASTLE DID SO RECEIVE AND ACKNOWLEDGE HIM.
Corinius, having completed this great victory, came with his army north again to Owlswick as daylight began to fade. The drawbridge was let down for him and the great gates flung wide, that were studded with silver and ribbed with adamant; and in great pomp rode he and his into Owlswick Castle, over the causey builded of the living rock and great blocks of hewn granite out of Tremmerdale. The more part of his army lay in Spitfire's camp before the castle, but a thousand were with him in his entry into Owlswick with Corund's sons and the lords Gro and Laxus besides, for the fleet had put across to anchor there when they saw the day was won.
Corsus greeted them well, and would have brought them to their lodgings near his own chamber, that they might put off their harness and don clean linen and festival
garments before supper. But Corinius excused himself, saying he had eat nought since breakfast-time: "Let us therefore not pass for ceremony, but bring us I pray you forthright to the banquet house."
Corinius went in with Corsus before them all, putting lovingly about his shoulder his arm all befouled with dust and clotted blood. For he had not so much as stayed for washing of his hands. And that was scarce good for the broidered cloak of purple taffety the Duke Corsus wore about his shoulders. Howbeit, Corsus made as if he marked it not.
When they were come into the hall, Corsus looked about him and said, "So it is, my Lord Corinius, that this hall is something little for the great press that here befalleth. Many of mine own folk that be of some account should by long custom sit down with us. And here be no seats left for them. Prithee command some of the common sort that came in with thee to give place, that all may be done orderly. Mine officers must not scramble in the buttery."
"I'm sorry, my lord," answered Corinius, "but needs must that we bethink us o' these lads of mine which have chiefly borne the toil of battle, and well I weet thou'lt not deny them this honour to sit at meat with us: these that thou hast most to thank for opening Owlswick gates and raising the siege our enemies held so long against you."
So they took their seats, and supper was set before them: kids stuffed with walnuts and almonds and pistachios; herons in sauce cameline; chines of beef; geese and bustards; and great beakers and jars of ruby-hearted wine. Right fain of the good banquet were Corinius and his folk, and silence was in the hall for awhile save for the clatter of dishes and the champing of the mouths of the feasters.
At length Corinius, quaffing down at one draught a mighty goblet of wine, spake and said, "There was battle in the meads by Thremnir's Heugh to-day, my lord Duke. Wast thou at that battle?"
Corsus's heavy cheeks flushed somewhat red. He answered,
[paragraph continues] "Thou knowest I was not. And I should account it most blameable hotheadedness to have sallied forth when it seemed Spitfire had the victory."
"O my lord," said Corinius, "think not I made this a quarrel to thee. The rather let me show thee how much I hold thee in honour."
Therewith he called his boy that stood behind his chair, and the boy returned anon with a diadem of polished gold set all about with topazes that had passed through the fire; and on the frontlet of that diadem was the small figure of a crab-fish in dull iron, the eyes of it two green beryls on stalks of silver. The boy set it down on the table before the Lord Corinius, as it had been a dish of meat before him. Corinius took a writing from his purse, and laid it on the table for Corsus to see. And there was the signet upon it of the worm Ouroboros in scarlet wax, and the sign manual of Gorice the King.
"My Lord Corsus," said he, "and ye sons of Corsus, and ye other Witches, I do you to wit that our Lord the King made me by these tokens his viceroy for his province of Demonland, and willed that I should bear a king's name in this land and that under him all should render me obedience."
Corsus, looking on the crown and the royal warrant of the King, waxed in one instant deadly pale, and in the next red as blood.
Corinius said, "To thee, O Corsus, out of all these great ones that here be gathered together in Owlswick, will I submit me for thee to crown me with this crown, as king in Demonland. This, that thou mayst. see and know how most I honour thee."
Now were all silent, waiting on Corsus to speak. But he spake not a word. Dekalajus said privily in his ear, "O my father, if the monkey reigns, dance before him. Time shall bring us occasion to right you."
And Corsus, disregarding not this wholesome rede, for all he might not wholly rule his countenance, yet ruled himself to bite in the injuries he was fain to utter. And
with no ill grace he did that office, to set on Corinius's head the new crown of Demonland.
Corinius sat now in Spitfire's seat, whence Corsus had moved to make place for him: in Spitfire's high seat of smoke-coloured jade, curiously carved and set with velvet-lustred sapphires, and right and left of him were two high candlesticks of fine gold. The breadth of his shoulders filled all the space between the pillars of the spacious seat. A hard man he looked to deal with, clothed upon with youth and strength and all armed and yet smoking from the battle.
Corsus, sitting between his sons, said under his breath, "Rhubarb! bring me rhubarb to purge away this choler!"
But Dekalajus whispered him, "Softly, tread easy. Let not our counsels walk in a net, thinking they are hidden. Nurse him to security, which shall be our safety and the mean to our wiping out this shaming. Was not Gallandus as big a man?"
Corsus's dull eye gleamed. He lifted a brimming wine-cup to toast Corinius. And Corinius hailed him and said, "My lord Duke, call in thine officers I pray thee and proclaim me, that they in turn may proclaim me king unto all the army that is in Owlswick."
Which Corsus did, albeit sore against his liking, knowing not where to find a reason against it.
When the plaudits were heard in the courts without, acclaiming him as king, Corinius spake again and said, "I and my folk be a-weary, my lord, and would betimes to our rest. Give order, I pray thee, that they make ready my lodgings. And let them be those same lodgings Gallandus had whenas he was in Owlswick."
Whereat Corsus might scarce forbear a start. But Corinius's eye was on him, and he gave the order.
While he waited for his lodgings to be made ready, the Lord Corinius made great good cheer, calling for more wine and fresh dainties to set before those lords of Witchland: olives, and botargoes, and conserves of goose's liver richly seasoned, taken from Spitfire's plenteous store.
In the meantime Corsus spake softly to his sons: "I like not his naming of Gallandus. Yet seemeth he careless, as one that feareth no guile."
And Dekalajus answered in his ear, "Peradventure the Gods ordained his destruction, to make him choose that chamber."
So they laughed. And the banquet drew to a close with much pleasure and merrymaking.
Now came serving men with torches to light them to their chambers. As they stood up to bid good-night, Corinius said, "I'm sorry, my lord, if, after thy pleasant usage, I should do aught that is not convenable to thee. But I doubt not Owlswick Castle must be irksome to thee and thy sons, that were so long mewed up within it, and I doubt not ye are wearied by this siege and long warfare. Therefore it is my will that you do instantly depart home to Witchland. Laxus hath a ship manned ready to transport you thither. To put a fit and friendly term to our festivities, we'll bring you down to the ship."
Corsus's jaw fell. Yet he schooled his tongue to say, "My lord, so as it shall please thee. Yet let me know thy reasons. Surely the swords of me and my sons avail not so little for Witchland in this country of our evil-willers that we should sheathe 'em and go home. Howbeit, 'tis a matter demandeth no sweaty haste. We will take rede hereon in the morning."
But Corinius answered him, "Cry you mercy, needful it is that this very night you go ashipboard." And he gave him an ill look, saying, "Sith I lie to-night in Gallandus's lodgings, I think it fit my bodyguard should have thy chamber, my lord Duke, which, as I lately learned, adjoineth it."
Corsus said no word. But Gorius, his younger son, that was drunk with wine, leaped up and said, "Corinius, in an evil hour art thou come into this land to demand servitude of us. And thou art informed of my father right maliciously if thou art afeared of us because of Gallandus. 'Tis this viper sitteth beside thee, the Goblin swabber, told thee falsely this bad tale of us. And 'tis pity he is
still inward with thee, for still he plotteth evil 'gainst Witchland."
Dekalajus thrust him aside, saying to Corinius, "Heed not my brother though he be hasty and rude of speech; for in wine he speaketh, and wine is another man. But most true it is, O Corinius, and this shall the Duke my father and all we swear and confirm to thee with the mightiest oaths thou wilt, that Gallandus sought to usurp authority for this sake only, to betray our whole army to the enemy. And 'twas only therefore Corsus slew him."
"That is a flat lie," said Laxus.
Gro laughed lightly.
But Corinius's sword leaped half naked from the scabbard, and he made a stride toward Corsus and his sons. "Give me the king's name when ye speak to me," he said, scowling upon them. "You sons of Corsus are not men to make me a stalk to catch birds with or to serve your own turn. And thou," he said, looking fiercely on Corsus, "wert best go meekly, and not bandy words with me. Thou fool! think'st thou I am Gallandus come again? Thou that didt murther him shalt not murther me. Or think'st I delivered thee out of the toils thine own folly and thrawart ways had bound thee in, only to suffer thee lord it again here and cast all amiss again by the unquietness of thy malice? Here is the guard to bring you down to the ship. And well it is for thee if I slash not off thy head."
Now Corsus and his sons stood for a little doubting in their hearts whether it were fitter to leap with their weapons upon Corinius, putting their fortunes to the hazard of battle in Owlswick hall, or to embrace necessity and go down to the ship. And this seemed to them the better choice, to go quietly ashipboard; for there stood Corinius and Laxus and their men, and but few to face them of Corsus's own people, that should be sure for his party if it came to fighting; and withal they were not eager to have to do with Corinius, not though it had been on more even terms. So at the last, in anger and bitterness of heart, they submitted them to obey his will; and in that
same hour Laxus brought them to the ship, and put them across the firth to Scaramsey.
There were they safe as a mouse in a mill. For Cadarus was skipper of that ship, a trusted liegeman of Lord Laxus, and her crew men leal and true to Corinius and Laxus. She lay at anchor as for that night in the lee of the island, and with the first streak of dawn sailed down the firth, bearing Corsus and his sons homeward from Demonland.