“..the black saphire heavens from which the aging but despotic sun glared down with implacable drouth on the many kingdoms…”
Such is the wickedly florid manner in which Clark Ashton Smith paints a syllabus of blunted wonder through the eyes—but more accurately over the curious shoulder of—a bold goatherd boy who decides to explore a subterranean world exposed at the base of a fallen tree.
The harsh yet fairytale-like quality of this crisp novelette is perfectly read by Nathan Kloske, who seems to hit the odd, perilous note just as the author had intended. The shepherd, Xeethros strikes this reader as something of a composite of Orpheus, Adam in the Garden of Eden, Odysseus, Jack of the Beanstalk fable and Gilgamesh. A weird sense of transformative consciousness informs the entire tale, placing it in the realm of Aryan myth as well as the far-wondering science-fiction-fantasy of Gene Wolfe and Jack Vance.
Metaphorically I take the subtext as a fantastical rendering of the plight of the enlightened among the stolidly ignorant, a perfect modern fable cast in an ancient future—our hopeful destination.