The Crabs of Iribos (Synopsis)

Clark Ashton Smith

Manthar, neophyte of the sorcerer Mior Lumivix, tells the tale of his master's feud with Sarcand, a formidable wizard, son of a necromancer from Naat who had taken a black cannibal woman of that isle for wife. Sarcand, striving to surpass Mior Lumivix in knowledge and power, obtains possession of an old scroll that the former has been vainly seeking. This scroll tells the burial-place of an ancient treasure including not only precious gems and metals but the books and talismans of a lost antique wizardry: the latter being most coveted by Sarcand and Mior Lumivix.

Sarcand leaves the city of Mirouane, sea-port of Zylac, sailing westward alone in a small vessel under the broadening crescent. Seeing his departure in a magic mirror, Manthar and Mior Lumivix pursue him the same night. They surmise that his destination is perhaps the desolate isle of Iribos, the only island near enough to be reached safely by a small sail-boat. The isle is commonly avoided by mariners, because of its bareness, the difficulty of landing amid its rocks and cliffs, and the many shipwrecks due to the treacherous currents that swirl about it. Also, vessels that pass beyond it are in peril of being caught by the terrible ocean-stream, the Black River, which flows with an irresistible swiftening toward Naat and the world's end.

Manthar and Mior Lumivix sight the island on the third dawn after leaving Mirouane. They have seen nothing of Sarcand's boat, and have met only vessels sailing southward or northward within discreet distance of Zothique. The isle presents only a wild, broken fastness of headlands, cliffs, and strange dolomitic spires that suggest the shafts of a necropolis. There is little vegetation, and this of a dark funereal cast.

Approaching the steep, rugged shores, they observe the wreckage of several galleys that have been cast to a great height among the rocks; this being due, as Mior Lumivix explains, to the disordered tides and currents, which, without high winds or hurricanes, produce the effect of storms.

They coast {?} the isle in search of a landing-place, and are drawn by some powerful undertow into a cavern nearly filled by the sea. The mast is broken, the boat swamped, in utter darkness and madly rushing water. Almost drowned, the apprentice and the master emerge to air and light in a small, land-locked harbor. Here, on a narrow sandy beach, they discern the boat used by Sarcand, which is recognizable by the uncouth, macabre carving of its prow and the blood-colored sail. Plainly Sarcand has entered without disaster to his boat, at a time when the tide was low in the sea-cavern.

Other visitors, however, have fared less fortunately, for the corpses of two men in the garb of seamen are lying half in and half out of the water not far from Sarcand's boat. Presumably they have met the fate escaped by Manthar and Mior Lumivix and have been drowned during their passage through the flooded cavern: the broken-off mast of a sunken boat projecting from the water near at hand. Other and more ancient wreckage strews the beach, together with human skeletons and scattered bones. There is no sign of Sarcand himself.

The two drowned bodies are covered with huge and ferocious crabs, peculiar to Iribos, which have not, like other crabs, waited for the corpses to decay but are attacking them and tearing away great morsels of bloody flesh. Swimming ashore and landing, the sorcerers approach the bodies and are themselves threatened by the crabs, several of which they crush with rocks. They recognize the face of one of the corpses (the other being in a state past recognition): it is that of a mariner from Mirouane suspected of belonging to a pirate crew. The sorcerers surmise that he and his companion have followed Sarcand to the island because of some rumor regarding the treasure and Sarcand's possession of the chart.

They refrain from disturbing the preoccupied crabs, and notice that many of these creatures, each bearing a morsel in its mouth, are crawling away toward the far end of the beach, which is steeply walled everywhere. Following the crabs they find a cavern, well above the water-line, into which the laden monsters are vanishing.

A strange suspicion causes Mior Lumivix to draw the arthame, or magic knife, which he carries. The cave to all appearances is the only place in which Sarcand could have hidden himself. The two enter cautiously, finding a spacious grotto dimly lit by an aperture in the high vault above.

Here they descry the mulatto necromancer, Sarcand, half-sitring, half-reclining in the rubble in which an ancient chest of tarnished bronze is half-buried. Plainly one of his legs has been broken. He has bound it with rude splints of driftwood and long tatters torn from his scarlet robe.

Even the sorcerers, inured to grisly and macabre sights, are horrified by the scene that presents itself: for Sarcand is greedily devouring the strips of human flesh proffered to him by the line of crabs.

Sarcand, recognizing the intruders, greets them with curses interladen with horrible boasrings. He tells them that he has found the ancient treasure of gems and gold, of books and talismans. It is true that his leg was broken by a falling rock when he entered the cavern. But he will live and escape. The ancient magic in the chest has given him control over the crabs: they feed him, they will drag down his enemies that he may feast on their flesh.

He suspends his cannibalism, and begins to mouth the uncouth words of an incantation strange to Mior Lumivix. The crabs drop their morsels and scuttle with formidable speed and ferocity toward the intruders: their number being increased momently by others from the beach.

While Manthar, half-dragged down by the creatures, is trying to crush them with a fragment of rock, Mior Lumivix throws his arthame at the cannibal wizard, transfixing him. Sarcand dies, and the crabs draw back from Manthar and his master and bury the slain sorcerer from sight as they begin to devour him.

The treasure, as well as Sarcand's boat, is now at the service of the other wizards.

^xxx^ xxx was added by Smith.
[xxx] xxx was deleted by Smith.

Printed from: www.eldritchdark.com/writings/short-stories/33
Printed on: November 25, 2017