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‘Mother of Shade and Secrecy’
Conjuring in the Iron Tower: Chapter 4, The Worm Ouroboros, pages 44-59

“Of the Hold of Carce, and of the Midnight Practices of King Gorice XII. In the Ancient Chamber, Preparing Dole and Doom for the Lords of Demonland”

Such is the subtitle/summary of the crucial act of the tale, the summoning of the Worm, not yet named, to act as a sending of an ascendant sorcerer king, who has dusted off the arcane lore forgotten or neglected by his late sire.

Lord Gro of Goblinland, vassal of the late king and to his successor, is summoned to the dread keep of ancient necromancy to attend the new king upon his coronation:

“Dismal and fearsome to view was this strong place of Carce, most like to the embodied soul of dreadful night brooding on the waters of that sluggish river…”

The Portrait of the King in his chamber suits the setting:

“The low light, mother of shade and secrecy, that hovered in that chamber moved about the still figure of the King, his nose hooked as the eagle’s beak, his cropped hair, his thick close cut beard and shaven upper lip, his high cheekbones and cruel heavy jaw, and the dark caves of the brows whence the glint of green eyes showed as no friendly lamp to them without.”

The characters and setting are classically Dickensian in a way that would be deepened and darkened by Mervyn Peake in Titus Groan and from which Lewis and Tolkien would depart into bucolic contrasts, where Eddison gives us no real respite from the darkness, only half-waking jaunts from one grim act to the next, cut with a kind of adolescent heroism on the part of the Demon Lords and their allies.

To this dark tower Lord Gro goes and assures his majesty:

“I fared up and down the world, and I am acquainted with objects of terror as a child with his toys.”

He then learns that his new liege is a man of uncompromising will:

“This is the awful book of grammarie wherewith in this same chamber, on such a night, Gorice VII, stirred the vasty deep.”

Like a U.S. President Elect accessing the nuclear codes as his first act, King Gorice XII propels the story along an accelerating arc as he unleashes an ancient horror as a sending against his most hated enemies.

Archaic Diction of Note

1. Dole: Noun 2. a person's lot or destiny.

2. Machicolations (in medieval fortifications) an opening between the supporting corbels of a projecting parapet or the vault of a gate, through which stones or burning objects could be dropped on attackers.

3. Sithence, meaning since

4. Alembic, a distilling apparatus, now obsolete, consisting of a rounded, necked flask and a cap with a long beak for condensing and conveying the products to a receiver.

5. Bain-marie, a container holding hot water into which a pan is placed for slow cooking

6. Eft, the juvenile stage of a newt.

7. Appurtenances, accessories, trappings, appendages, accoutrements, etc.

8. Kestrel, a small falcon that hovers with rapidly beating wings while searching for prey on the ground.

A Well of Heroes: Two:

Literary Impressions of the Prose and Verse of Robert E. Howard

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