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‘But Beautious Be’
The Lady Sirva’s Embassage, Chapter 16 of The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison

Reading from pages 216-28

How the Duke Corsus thought It proper to commit an Errand of State unto his Daughter: and how She prospered Therein

Duke Corsus is old and fat and withering, with a prematurely senile wife to vex him and a stunning beauty of a delicate daughter to offer hope of a useful marriage. Not being blessed with “a mess of sons” like one of his great court rivals, Corsus trusts to the tempting of the Witch King Gorice with the prize of his virgin daughter, even then being serenaded by some oaf below the balcony in the privy garden. Eddison handles the bloomed lust of the young woman to be taken by a powerful man with a deft touch, her desire to be conquered muted just under the surface.

Eddison does put an unlikely rhyme in the mouth of Corsus, who is less crass than the other lords of Witchland, though he swears by the Devil:

“Hornes to the bull,

Hooves to the steede,

To little hayres

Light feete for speed,

Ad unto lions she giveth tethe

A-gaping dangerouslye.

“Fished to swim,

And birds to flye,

And men to judge

And reason why,

She teacheth. Yet for womankind

None of these things hath she.

“For women beautie

She hath made

Their only shielde

Their only blade.

O’er sword and fire they triumph stille,

Soe they but beauteous be.”

Comically, the Witch King has already made orders that the Duke would be honoured as he wished with the next mission against Demonland, and has sealed it with his signet ring:

“…and sealed the warrant with the ruby head of the Worm Ouroboros, Saying, ‘The ruby, most comfortable to the heart, brain, vigour, and memory of man. So ‘tis confirmed.’”

Though the orders the Duke hoped to win by the gift of his daughter’s virginity are already sealed, the daughter still yearns to become the King’s conquest of the night and he, wanting her to know that her charms did not have the power to sway him, let her see the document before he took her.


Diction of note ‘Rampire”: to fortify, strengthen, secure, or enclose with or as if with a rampart.

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