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‘Under the Wings of Night’
Koshtra Belorn Chapter Thirteen of The Worm Ouroboros, pages 183-96

“Dawn came like a lily, saffron-hued, smirched with smoke-gray streaks that slanted from the north. The great peaks stood as islands above a main of level cloud, out of which the sun walked flaming, a ball of red-gold fire.”

E. R. Eddison mutes this beautiful awakening scene relentlessly into a stark word picture of daunting nature. King Juss and Lord Brandoch Daha are entertained by a virginal goddess with Mivarsh Faz reduced to a servant, an utterly un-heroic being reaping what his whimpering has sown. During the course of this wondrously wrought chapter the Lords of Demonland are hosted by Queen Sophonisba, a girl barely at the verge of woman hood, a goddess elevated to her position by the everlasting gods as a mercy, for her kind and civil people had been relentlessly persecuted by the Witchkings.

The most fascinating aspect of this extended audience, in which ambrosia is served by unseen hands, is that the Goddess is attended by martlets, identical to the avian narrator who had brought Lessingham—now absent from the narrative, for the reader is Lessingham—into the realms menaced by the Witchkings. Sophonisba is an elevated, ancestral being—forlorn for being the last of her kind—far from all-powerful and laboring under a specific curse preventing her from addressing directly the fate of Lord Goldry.

Just as Brandoch Daha seduced and had carnal knowledge of a dark chthonic goddess, King Juss enters into a platonic reverence and affection for the girlish goddess elevated above the earthly order, indicating his kingliness. A keen dreaming experience informs Juss obliquely as to the true nature of their enemy.

The cruelties of the Witchkings to the long ago extinguished people of Sophonisba—who is reminiscent of the lady of the lake of Arthurian legend, but elevated and vulnerable—are related. Rather than being handed a sword like Author, Juss has been gifted a dreamer’s insight and he finds that he and his folk have taken the earthly place of the same enemy that vanquished the people of this goddess, ascendant in her everlasting sorrow. For those inclined to seek parallels between the two tales, Sophonisba and her lost people may be likened to Lady Galadrial and the High Elves, more realistically treated as past enemies of the overarching evil that remains in the world than Tolkien’s extant magical allies against the Dark Lord.

Juss ends his audience with the girl goddess with the central revelation of the novel, learned in his dream and revealed in the matter of someone who has succeeded in a vision quest, “Rightfully, having such a timeless life, this King weareth on his thumb the Worm Ouroboros which doctors have from of old made for an ensample of eternity, whereof the end is ever at the beginning and the beginning at the end forever more.”

The dark fact is that that the Witch Kings of Garce, from Gorice I down to Gorice XII, all rightfully carry the same name, for when one dies it is merely the shedding of a body and his malevolence is transferred intact to a new vessel of flesh.

Diction of Note

-Fey: “unworldliness” in English, but in Gaelic “near death” and in Eddison’s context perhaps one in the same

-Fain: with pleasure or willingness

-Climacteric: a critical, crucial event having far-reaching consequences

-Wist: past and past participle of wit

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