The Dead will Cuckold You

Clark Ashton Smith

A Drama in Six Scenes

  {1951}

PERSONAE

Smaragad, King of Yoros
Queen Somelis
Galeor, a wandering poet and lute-player, guest of Smaragad
Natanasna, a necromancer
Baltea, tiring-woman to Somelis
Kalguth, Natanasna's negro assistant
Sargo, the King's treasurer
Boranga, captain of the King's guards
Waiting-women, court-ladies, courtiers, guards and chamberlains.

THE SCENE: Faraad, capital of Yoros, in Zothique

SCENE I

A large chamber in the Queen's suite, in the palace of Smaragad. Somelis sits on a high throne-like chair. Galeor stands before her, holding a lute. Baltea and several other women are seated on divans, at a distance. Two black chamberlains stand in attendance at the open door.

Galeor (playing on his lute and singing):

Make haste, and tarry not, O ardent youth,
To find upon the night,
Outlined in fuming fire,
The footsteps of the goddess Ililot.

Her mouth and eyes make fair the bourns of sleep,
Between her brows a moon
Is seen. A magic lute
Foretells her with wild music everywhere.

Her opened arms, which are the ivory gates
Of some lost land of lote
Where from charmed attars flow,
Will close upon you 'neath the crimson star.

Somelis:
I like the song. Tell me, why do you sing
So much of Ililot?

Galeor:
She is the goddess
Whom all men worship in the myrrh-sweet land
Where I was born. Do men in Yoros not
Adore her also? She is soft and kind,
Caring alone for love and lovers' joy.


Somelis:
She is a darker goddess here, where blood
Mingles too often with delight's warm foam. . . .
But tell me more of that far land wherein
A gentler worship lingers.

Galeor:
By a sea
Of changing damaskeen it lies, and has
Bowers of cedar hollowed for love's bed
And plighted with a vine vermilion-flowered.
There are moss-grown paths where roam white-fleec├Ęd goats;
And sard-thick beaches lead to caves in which
The ebbing surge has left encrimsoned shells
Like lips by passion parted. From small havens
The fishers slant their tall, dulse-brown lateens
To island-eyries of the shrill sea-hawk;
And when with beaks low-dipping they return
Out of the sunset, fires are lit from beams
And spars of broken galleys on the sand,
Around whose nacreous flames the women dance
A morris old as ocean.


Somelis:
Would I had
Been born in such a land, and not in Yoros.

Galeor:
I wish that I might walk with you at evening
Beside the waters veined with languid foam,
And see Canopus kindle on cypressed crags
Like a far pharos.

Somelis:
Be you more tacit: there are ears
That listen, and mouths that babble amid these halls.
Smaragad is a jealous king - (She breaks off, for at this moment King Smaragad enters the room.)


Smaragad:
This is a pretty scene. Galeor, you seem at home
In ladies' chambers. I am told you entertain
Somelis more than could a dull sad king
Grown old too soon with onerous royalty.

Galeor:
I would please, with my poor songs and sorry lute,
Both of your Majesties.

Smaragad:
Indeed, you sing
Right sweetly, as does the simorgh when it mates.
You have a voice to melt a woman's vitals
And make them run to passion's turgid sluice.
How long have you been here ?

Galeor:
A month.

Smaragad:
It has been
A summer moon full-digited. How many
Of my hot court-ladies have you already bedded ?
Or should I ask how many have bedded you?

Galeor:
None, and I swear it by the crescent horns
O Ililot herself, who fosters love
And swells the pulse of lovers.

Smaragad:
By my troth,
I would confirm you in such continence,
It is rare in Yoros. Even I when young
Delved deep in whoring and adultery. (Turning to the queen)
Somelis, have you wine? I would we drank
To a chastity so rathe and admirable
In one whose years can hardly have chastened him. (The queen indicates a silver ewer standing on a taboret together with goblets of the same metal. Smaragad turns his back to the others and pours wine into three goblets, opening, as if casually the palm of his free hand over one of them. This he gives to Galeor. He serves another to the queen, and raises the third to his lips.)
See, I have served you with my royal hand,
Doing you honor, and we all must drink
To Galeor that he persevere in virtue,
And he must drink with us. (He drinks deeply. The queen raises her goblet to her lips but barely tastes it. Galeor lifts the wine, then pauses, looking in to it.)


Galeor:
How strangely it foams.

Smaragad:
Indeed, such bubbles seem
To rise as if from lips of a drowning man
In some dark purple sea.

Somelis:
Your humor is strange,
Nor are there bubbles in the cup you gave me.

Smaragad:
Perhaps it was poured more slowly. (To Galeor)
Drink the wine,
It is old and cordial, made by men long dead.
(The poet still hesitates, then empties his goblet at one draught.)
How does it taste to you?

Galeor:
It tastes as I have thought that love might taste,
Sweet on the lips, and bitter in the throat. (He reels, then sinks to his knees, still clutching the empty goblet.)
You have poisoned me, who never wronged you. Why
Have you done it?

Smaragad:
That you may never wrong me. You have drunk
A vintage that will quench all mortal thirst.
You will not look on queens nor they on you
When the thick maggots gather in your eyes,
And issue in lieu of love-songs from your lips,
And geld you by slow inches.

Somelis:
(descending from her seat and coming forward):
Smaragad,
This deed will reek through Yoros and be blazed
Beyond the murky marches of the damned. (She sinks to her knees beside Galeor, now prostrate on the floor and dying slowly. Tears fall From her eyes as she lays her hand on Galeor's brow.)

Smaragad:
Was he so much to you? Almost I have a mind
That the bowstring should straiten your soft throat,
But no, you are too beautiful. Go quickly,
And keep to your bed-chamber till I come.

Somelis:
I shall abhor you, and my burning heart
Consume with hate till only meatless cinders
Remain to guest the mausolean maggots. (Exit Somelis, followed by Baltea and the other women. The two chamberlains remain.)

Smaragad:
(beckoning to one of the chamberlains):
Go call the sextons. I would have them drag
This carcass out and bury it privily. (Exit the chamberlain. The king turns to Galeor, who still lives.)
Think on your continence eternalized:
You had not fleshed as yet your rash desire,
And now you never will.

Galeor:
(in a faint but audible voice): I would pity you,
But there is no time for pity. In your heart
You bear the hells that I have never known,
To which the few brief pangs I suffer
Are less than the wasp-stings of an afternoon
Sweet with the season's final fruit.

SCENE II

The king's audience hall. Smaragad sits on a double-daised throne, a guard bearing a trident standing at each hand. Guards are posted at each of the four entrances. A few women and chamberlains pass though the hall on errands. Sargo, the royal treasurer, stands in one corner, Baltea, passing by, pauses to chat with him.

Baltea:
Why sits the king in audience today?
Is it some matter touching on the state?
Still thunder loads his brow, and pard-like wrath
Waits leashed in his demeanor.

Sargo:
'Tis a wizard,
One Natanasna, whom he summons up
For practise of nefandous necromancy.

Baltea:
I've heard of him. Do you know him? What's he like ?

Sargo:
I cannot wholly tell you. It's no theme
For a morning's tattle.

Baltea:
You make me curious.

Sargo:
Well,
I'll tell you this much. Some believe he is
A cambion, devil-sired though woman-whelped.
He is bold in every turpitude, as those
Hell-born are prone to be. His lineage
Leads him to paths forbanned and pits abhorred,
And traffic in stark nadir infamies
Not plumbed by common mages.

Baltea:
Is that all?

Sargo:
Such beings have a smell by which to know them,
As olden tomes attest. This Natanasna
Stinks like a witch's after-birth, and evil
Exhales from him, lethal as that contagion
Which mounts from corpses mottled by the plague.

Baltea:
Well, that's enough to tell me, for I never
Have liked ill-smelling men.
(Enter Natanasna through the front portals. He strides forward, bearing a staff on which he does not lean, and stands before Smaragad.)

Sargo:
I must go now.

Baltea:
And I'll not linger, for the wind comes up
From an ill quarter. (Exeunt Sargo and Baltea, in different directions.)

Natanasna (without knelling or even bowing): You have summoned me ?


Smaragad:
Yes. I am told you practise arts forbid
And hold an interdicted commerce, calling
Ill demons and the dead to do you service.
Are these things true?

Natanasna:
It is true that I can call
Both lich and ka, though not the soul, which roams
In regions past my scope, and can constrain
The genii of the several elements
To toil my mandate.


Smaragad:
What! you dare avow it
The thing both men and sods abominate?
Do you not know the ancient penalties
Decreed in Yoros for these crimes abhorred?-
The cauldron of asphaltum boiling-hot
To bathe men's feet, and the nail-studded rack
On which to stretch their scalded stumps?

Natanasna:
Indeed
I know your laws, and also know that you
Have a law forbidding murder.

Smaragad:
What do you mean?

Natanasna:
I mean but this, that you the king have filled
More tombs than I the outlawed necromancer
Have ever emptied, and detest not idly
The raising of dead men. Would you have me summon
For witness here against you the grey shade
Of Famostan your father, in his bath
Slain by the toothed envenomed fish from Taur
Brought privily and installed by you? Or rather
Would you behold your brother Aladad,
Whose huntsmen left him with a splintered spear
At your instruction, to confront the fen-cat
That he had merely pricked? Yet these would be
Only the heralds of that long dark file
Which you have hurried into death.

Smaragad (half-rising from his seat): By all
The sooted hells, you dare such insolence?
Though you be man or devil, or be both,
I'll flay you, and leave your hide to hang in strips
Like a kilt about you, and will have your guts
Drawn out and wound on a windlass.

Natanasna:
These be words
Like froth upon a shallow pool. No finger
Of man may touch me. I can wave this staff
And ring myself with circles of tall fires
Spawned by the ambient space arcane. You fear me,
And you have reason. I know all the secrets
Of noisome deed and thought that make your soul
A cavern where close-knotted serpents nest.
Tell me, was there not yestereve a youth
Named Galeor, who played the lute and sans,
Making sweet music for an evil court?
Why have you slain him? Was it not through your fear
Of cuckoldom, thinking he pleased too much
The young Somelis? But this thing is known
To me, and I know moreover the dim grave
Where Galeor waits the worm.

Smaragad (standing erect, his features madly contorted): Begone! begone!
Out of my presence! Out of Faraad!
And here's a word to speed you: when you entered
This hall, my sheriffs went to find your house
And seize Kalguth, your negro neophyte
For whom 'tis said you have the curious fondness
That I might keep for a comely ebon wench.
Ponder this well: Kalguth must lie by now
Embowelled in our dankest dungeon-crypt.
He will rejoin you if tomorrow's sun
Meet you outside the city. If you linger,
I'll give him to my sinewy torturers.

Natanasna:
King Smaragad, if young Kalguth be harmed,
Hell will arise and sweep your palace clean
With fiery besoms and with flails of flame. (Exit Natanasna.)

(Curtain)

SCENE III

The necropolis of Faraad. Dying and half-decayed cypresses droop over creviced headstones and ruinous mausoleums. A gibbous moon shines through wispy clouds. Enter Natanasna, humming:

A toothless vampire tugs and mumbles
Some ancient trot's whitleather hide,
But he'll fly soon to the abattoir
And the pooling blood where the stuck pig died.

(Kalguth emerges from behind the half-unhinged door of a tomb close at hand. He carries a dark bag, which he lays on the ground at Natanasna's feet.)


Kalguth:
Greetings, O Master.

Natanasna:
It was well I sent you
To wait me here among the tacit dead-
Lugging you from your slumber at morning dusk
While none but blind-drunk bowsers were abroad.
As I prevised, the king took advantage
Of my commanded presence in his halls,
And sent his hounds to sniff for you. He'll not
Venture to harry me, who have climbed too high
In magedom's hierarchy, but would fang
His baffled spleen on one not fully armed
And bucklered with arts magical. We must
Depart from Yoros promptly, leaving it
To all its many devils, amid which
This king is not the least. (He pauses, looking about him at the tombs and graves.) It is a land
Where murder has made much work for necromancy,
And there's a task to do before we go
That we be not forgotten. I perceive,
My good Kalguth, that you have found the spot
Which my strix-eyed familiar did describe:
Those yonder are the yellowing cypresses
That death has pollarded, and this the tomb
Of the lord Thamamar, which sheltered you
Daylong from eyes still mortal. . . . See, where it bears
The lichen-canceled legend of his titles
And the name itself, half-blotted out. (He paces about, peering closely at the ground, and holding his staff extended horizontally. Over a certain spot the staff seems to twist violently in his hand, like a dowser's wand, until it points downward with the tip almost touching the earth.) This is
The grave that covers Galeor. The turf
Was lately broken here, and spaded back
With the grass turned upward. (He faces in the direction of Faraad, whose towers loom indistinctly beyond the necropolis. Raising both arms, he intertwines his fingers with the thumbs pointing skyward in the Sign of the horns.)
By this potent Sign,
O jealous king who dreaded cuckoldom,
Murder shall not avert from your proud head
The horns of that opprobrium: for I know
A spell whereby the dead will cuckold you. (Turning to Kalguth)
Now to our ceremonies. While you set
The mantic censers forth, I'll make the circles. (Taking a short sword, the magic arthame, from under his cloak, he traces a large circle in the turf, and a smaller one within it, trenching them both deeply and broadly. Kalguth opens the dark bag and brings out four small perforated censers whose handles are wrought in the form of the double triangle, Sign of the Macrocosm. He places them between the circles, each censer facing one of the four quarters, and lights them. The necromancers then take their positions within the inner circle. Natanasna gives the arthame to Kalguth, and retains his magic staff, which he holds aloft. Both face toward the grave of Galeor.)


Natanasna (chanting):

Muntbauut, maspratha butu, [Mumbavut, lewd and evil spirit,]
Varvas runu, vha rancutu. [Wheresoever thou roamest, hear me]
Incubus, my cousin, come,
Drawn from out the night you haunt,
From the hollow mist and murk
Where discarnate larvae lurk,
By the word of masterdom.
Hell will keep its covenant,
You shall have the long-lost thing
That you howl and hunger for.
Borne on sable, sightless wing,
Leave the void that you abhor,
Enter in this new-made grave,
You that would a body have:
Clothed with the dead man's flesh,
Rising through the riven earth
In a jubilant rebirth,
Wend your ancient ways a fresh,
By the mantra laid on you
Do the deed I bid you do.
Vora votha Thasaidona [By (or through) Thasaidon's power]
Sorgha nagrakronitlhona. [Arise from the death-time-dominion.]
(After a pause)
Vachat pantari vora nagraban [The spell (or mantra) is finished by the necromancer.]

Kalguth: Za, mozadrim: vachama vongh razan. [Yes, master: the vongh (corpse animated by a demon) will do the rest.
(These words are from Umlengha, an ancient language of Zothique, used by scholars and wizards.)]
(The turf heaves and divides, and the incubus-driven Lich of Galeor rises from the grave. The grime of interment is on its face, hands, and clothing. It shambles forward and presses close to the outer circle, in a menacing attitude. Natanasna raises the staff, and Kalguth the arthame, used to control rebellious sprits. The Lich shrinks back.)


The Lich (in a thick, unhuman voice): You have summoned me,
And I must minister
To your desire.

Natanasna:
Heed closely these instructions:
By alleys palled and posterns long disused,
Well-hidden from the moon and from men's eyes,
You shall find ingress to the palace. There,
Through stairways only known to mummied kings
And halls forgotten save by ghosts, you must
Seek out the chamber of the queen Somelis,
And woo her lover-wise till that be done
Which incubi and lovers burn to do.

The Lich: You have commanded, and I must obey. (Exit the Lich. When it has gone from sight, Natanasna steps from the circles, and Kalguth extinguishes the censers and repacks them in the bag.)

Kalguth: Where go we now?

Natanasna:
Whither the first road leads
Beyond the boundary of Yoros. We'll
Not wait the sprouting of the crop we've sowed
But leave it to lesson him, who would have crimped
My well-loved minion and my acolyte
For the toothed beds of his dark torture-chambers. (Exeunt Natanasna
and Kalguth, singing:
)

The fresh fat traveler whom the ghouls
Waylaid in the lonesome woodland gloom,
He got away, and they'll so now
For gamy meat in a mouldy tomb.

(Curtain)

SCENE IV

The queen's bed-chamber. Somelis half-sits, half-reclines on a cushioned couch. Enter Baltea, bearing a steaming cup.

Baltea:
With wine that stores the warmth of suns departed,
And fable-breathing spices brought from isles
Far as the morn, I have made this hippocras
Slow-mulled and powerful. Please to drink it now
That you may sleep.

Somelis (waving the cup away): Ah, would that I might drink
The self-same draft that Galeor drank, and leave
This palace where my feet forever pace
From shades of evil to a baleful sun.
Too slow, too slow the poison that consumes me-
Compounded of a love for him that's dead
And loathing for the king.

Baltea:
I'll play for you
And sing, though not as gallant Galeor sang. (She takes up a dulcimer, and sings):

Lone upon the roseate gloom
Shone the golden star anew,
Calling like a distant bell,
Falling, dimming into death. Came my lover with the night,
Flame and darkness in his eyes-
Drawn by love from out the grave-
Gone through all the loveless day-

(She pauses, for steps are heard approaching along the hall.)

Somelis:
Whose footsteps come? I fear it is the king.
(The door is flung open violently, and the fiend-animated Lich of Galeor enters.)


Baltea:
What thing is this, begot by hell on death?
Oh! How it leers and slobbers! It doth look
Like Galeor, and yet it cannot be.
(The Lich sidles forward, grinning, mewing and gibbering.)


Somelis:
If you be Galeor, speak and answer me
Who was your friend, wishing you only well
In a bitter world unfriendly to us both.
(Baltea darts past the apparition, which does not seem to have perceived her presence, and runs from the room).
But if you be some fiend in Galeor's form,
I now adjure you by the holy name
Of the goddess Ililot to go at once.
(The features, limbs, and body of the Lich are convulsed as if by some dreadful struggle with an unseen antagonist. Then, by degrees, the convulsions slacken, the lurid flame dies down in the dead man's eyes, and his face assumes a look of gentle and piteous bewilderment.)

Galeor:
How came I here? Me seems that I was dead
And men had heaped the hard dry earth on me.

Somelis:
There is much mystery here, and little time
In which to moot the wherefores. But I see
That you are Galeor and none other now,
The dear sweet Galeor that I thought had died
With all the love between us unavowed,
And this contents me.

Galeor:
I must still be dead,
Though I behold and hear and answer you,
And love leaps up to course along my veins
Where death had set his sullen winter.


Somelis:
What
Can you recall?

Galeor:
Little but night-black silence
That seemed too vast for Time, wherein I was
Both bounded and diffused; and then a voice
Most arrogant and magisterial, bidding
Me, or another in my place, to do
A deed that I cannot remember now.
These things were doubtful; but I feel as one
Who in deep darkness struggled with a fiend
And cast him forth because another voice
Had bade the fiend begone.

Somelis:
Truly, I think
There is both magic here and necromancy,
Though he that called you up and sent you forth
Did so with ill intent. It matters not,
For I am glad to have you, whether dead
Or living as men reckon bootless things.
'Tis a small problem now: Baltea has gone
For Smaragad, and he'll be here full soon,
Mammering for twofold murder. (She goes to the door, closes it, and draws the ponderous metal bars in their massive sockets. Then, with a broidered kerchief and water from a pitcher, she washes the grave-mould from Galeor's face and hands, and tidies his garments. They embrace. He kisses her, and caresses her cheeks and hair.)
Ah, your touch
Is tenderer than I have known before.
And yet, alas, your lips, your hands.
Poor Galeor, the grave has left you cold:
I'll warm you in my bed and in my arms
For those short moments ere the falling sword
Shatter the fragile bolts of mystery
And open what's beyond.
(Heavy footsteps approach in the hall outside and there is a babbling of loud, confused voices, followed by a metallic clang like that of a sword-hilt hammering on the door.)

(Curtain)

SCENE V

The king's pavilion in the palace-gardens. Smaragad sits at the head of a long table littered with goblets, wine-jars and liquor-flask, some empty or overturned, others still half-full. Sargo and Boranga are seated on a bench near the table's foot. A dozen fellow-revelers, laid low by their potations, lie sprawled about the floor or on benches and couches Sargo and Boranga are singing:

A ghoul there was in the days of old,
And he drank the wine-dark blood
Without a goblet, with never a flagon,
Fresh from the deep throat-veins of the dead.
But we instead, but we instead,
Will drink from goblets of beryl and gold
A blood-dark wine that was made by the dead
In the days of old.

(A silence ensues, while the singers wet their husky throats. Smaragad fills and empties his flagon, then fills it again.)


Boranga (in a lowered voice): Something has ired or vexed
The king: he drinks
Like one stung by the dipsas, whose dread bite
Induces lethal thirst.

Sargo:
He's laid the most
Of our tun-gutted guzzlers 'neath the board,
And I'm not long above it. . . . This forenoon
He held much parley with the necromancer
Whose stygian torts outreek the ripened charnel.
Mayhap it has left him thirsty. 'Twas enough
For me when Natanasna passed to windward.
I'm told the king called for incensories
To fume the audience-hall, and fan-bearers
To waft the nard-born vapors round and round
And ventilate with moa-plumes his presence
When the foul mage was gone.

Boranga: They say that Natanasna
And his asphalt-colored ingle have both vanished,
Though none knows whither. Faraad will lose
One bone for gossip's gnawing. I would not give you
A fig-bird's tooth or an aspic's tail-end feather
For all your conjurers. Let's bawl a catch. (They sing:)


-There's a thief in the house, there's a thief in the house,
My master, what shall we do?
The fuzzled bowser, he called for Towser,
But Towser was barking the moon.

(Enter Baltea, breathless and disheveled.)

Baltea:
Your Majesty, there's madness loose from hell.

Smaragad:
What's wrong? Has someone raped you without ?

Baltea:
No, 'tis about the queen, from whose bed-chamber
I have come post-haste.

Smaragad:
Well, what about her? Why
Have you left her? Is she alone?

Baltea:
She's not alone
But has for company a nameless thing
Vomited forth by death.

Smaragad (half-starting from his seat): What's all this coil?
A nameless thing, you say? There's nothing nameless.
I'd have a word for what has sent you here,
Panting, with undone hair.

Baltea:
Well, then 'til Galeor.

Smaragad:
Hell's privy-fumes!
He's cooling underground, if my grave-diggers
Shirked not their office.

Baltea:
And yet he has returned
To visit Queen Somelis, with dark stains
Of earth upon his brow, and goblin torches
Lighting his torrid gaze.

Smaragad (standing up): Tell me about it,
Though I cannot believe you. Though he be
Quick or dead, by Thasaidon's dark horns
What does he in the chamber of the queen?

Baltea:
I wot not how he came nor why. But she
Was parleying with him, speaking gentle words
When I ran forth to seek you.

Smaragad:
Sargo, Boranga, hear you this? Attend me,
And we'll inquire into this nightmare's nest
And find what's at the bottom. (He starts toward the door, followed by the others.) By all the plagues
Afflicting the five senses, there's too much
That stinks amid these walls tonight. . . . Where were
The guards? I'II prune their ears with a blunt sickle
And douche their eyes with boiling camel-stale
For such delinquency as lets
Goblin or man or lich go by them.

(Curtain)

SCENE VI

The hall before Somelis' bed-chamber. Enter Smaragad, Sargo Borga and Baltea, followed by two chamberlains. Smaragad tries the queen's door. Finding that it will not open, he beats upon it with the hilt of his drawn sword, but without response.

Smaragad:
Who has barred this door? Was it the queen? I vow
That she shall never close another door
When this is broken down. I'll bolt the next one for her,
And it will be the tomb's. Boranga, Sargo,
Give here your shoulders, side by side with mine. (All three apply their weight to the door but cannot budge it. Sargo, more intoxicated that loses his balance and falls. Boranga helps him to his feet.)
Truly, my stout forefathers built this palace
And all its portals to withstand a siege.

Boranga:
There are siege-engines in the arsenal,
Great rams, that have thrown down broad-builded towers
And torn the gates of cities from their hinges.
With your permission, Sire, I'll call for one
Together with men to wield it.

Smaragad:
I'll not have
A legion here to witness what lies couched
In the queen's chamber. Nor am I accustomed
To beat on closen doors that open not.
In all my kingdom, or in Thasaidon's
Deep tortuous maze of torments multi-circled,
There is no darker gulf than this shut room
Which reason cannot fathom, being shunted
From the blank walls to madness.

Sargo:
Your Majesty,
If this indeed be Galeor, it smells
Of Natanasna, who has called up others
From tomb or trench, inspiriting with demons
Malign or lewd their corpses. There'll be need
Of exorcism. I would have the priests
Brought in, and rites performed.

Smaragad:
I hardly doubt
That the curst necromancer is the getter
Of this graveyard fetus. But I will not have it
Either your way or Boranga's. (Turning to the chamberlains)
Bring to me
Fagots of pitch-veined terebinth, and naphtha.

Boranga:
Sire, what is your purpose?

Smaragad:
You will see full soon.

Baltea:
Your Majesty, bethink you, there are windows
To which armed men could climb by ladders, finding
Ingress to the queen's room. It may be she's
In peril from this intruder, who had about him
The air of an incubus.

Smaragad:
Truly, I think
That he is no intruder to the queen
Who has barred these portals. Nor am I a thief
To enter in by a window.
(The chamberlains return, bearing armfuls of fagots and jars of oil.)
Pile the wood
Before the door, and drench it with the naphtha. (The chamberlains obey. Smaragad seizes a cresset from one of the sconces along the hall, and applies it to the fagots. Flames leap up immediately and lick the cedarn door.)
I'll warm the bed of this black lechery
That lairs within my walls.

Boranga:
Have you gone mad?
You'll fire the palace!

Smaragad:
Fire's the one pure thing
To cleanse it. And for fuel we lack only
The necromancer and his swart catamite.
(The fire spreads quickly to the curtains of the hallway, from which flaming patches begin to fall. Baltea and the chamberlains flee. A section of the burning arras descends upon Sargo. He reels, and falls. Unable to rise, he crawl away, screaming, with his raiment ignited. A loosened splotches sets fire to the king's mantle. He flings the garment front him with an agile gesture. The flames eat steadily into the door, and assail its heavy wooden framework. The heat and smoke compel Boranga and Smaragad to stand back.)

Boranga:
Your Majesty, the palace burns about us.
There's little time for our escape.

Smaragad:
You tell me
A thing that's patent. Ah! the goodly flames!
They will lay bare the secret of this chamber
Whose mystery maddens me. . . . And at the last
There will be only ashes
For the summoning of any sorcerer.

Boranga:
Sire, we must go.

Smaragad:
Be still. It is too late for any words,
and only deeds remain.
(After some minutes the charred door collapses inward with its red-hot bars, Boranga seizes the king's arm and tries to drag him away. Smaragad wrenches himself loose and beats at Boranga with the flat of his sword.)
Leave me, Boranga.
I'll go and carve the lechers while they roast
Into small collops for the ghouls to eat.
(Brandishing his sword, he leaps over the fallen door into the flaming chamber beyond.)

(Curtain)


From: Strange Shadows: The Uncollected Fiction and Essays of Clark Ashton Smith. Ed. Steve Behrends, Donald Sidney-Fryer and Rah Hoffman. Greenwood Press 1989.

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