Saturday, May 10, 2014

More out-of-context follies with Clark Ashton Smith

Luis Royo, Dead Moon
I'm still enjoying my rediscovery of a favorite author from my teen years, Clark Ashton Smith. He was a contemporary and friend of Lovecraft and wrote similar kinds of stories (Sometimes I imagine their friendship might have been a little like mine with Tabico and trilby else). As I've said before, all CAS's stories are available in full, for free, on The Eldritch Dark. The one I want to quote from today is Necromancy in Naat.

Well, the title kind of gives away the real context, doesn't it? But CAS writes this scene in such a way that it's almost laughably easy to imagine the sorcerers' thralls are alive and just mind controlled. Let me prove it to you. I'm not going to change a single word in the original text of this passage; I'll just trim a few words here and there. Read the setup below, and then, as you read the text, imagine the hero has fallen into the grip of a trio of mind controllers who've half ensorcelled him (which they have) and fully ensorcelled his lover.

The hero of the story, Yadar, has set off to rescue his beloved, who has been kidnapped and taken across the ocean. He's in another galley which gets caught in a current called the Black River and then wrecked just off the coast of Naat. A woman swims out to Yadar and rescues him. Then this happens.

Uttering no word, nor turning to look at Yadar, the woman rose to her feet; and, beckoning him to follow, she moved away in the deathly blue dusk that had fallen upon Naat. Yadar, arising and following the woman, heard a strange and eery chanting of voices above the sea's tumult, and saw a fire that burned weirdly, with the colors of driftwood, at some distance before him in the dusk. Straightly, toward the fire and the voices, the woman walked. And Yadar, with eyes grown used to that doubtful twilight, saw that the fire blazed in the mouth of a low-sunken cleft between crags that overloomed the beach; and behind the fire, like tall, evilly posturing shadows, there stood the dark-clad figures of those who chanted.

Now memory returned to him of that which the galley's captain had said regarding Naat. The very sound of that chanting, albeit in an unknown tongue, seemed to suspend the heartward flowing of his veins, and to set the tomb's chillness in his marrow. And though he was little learned in such matters, the thought came to him that the words uttered were of sorcerous import and power.

Going forward, the woman bowed low before the chanters, like a slave. The men, who were three in number, continued their incantation without pausing. Gaunt as starved herons they were, and great of stature, with a common likeness; and their sunk eyes were visible only by red sparks reflected within them from the blaze. And their eyes, as they chanted, seemed to glare afar on the darkling sea and on things hidden by dusk and distance.

High leaped the fire, with a writhing of tongues like blue and green serpents coiling amid serpents of yellow. And the light flickered brightly on the face and breasts of that woman who had saved Yadar from the Black River; and he, beholding her closely, knew why she had stirred within him a dim remembrance: for she was none other than his lost love, Dalili!

Luis Royo, Dead Moon
Forgetting the presence of the dark chanters, he sprang forward to clasp his beloved, crying out her name in an agony of rapture. But she answered him not, and responded to his embrace only with a faint trembling. Mortally pale and languid were the lips that he kissed. In the wide, beautiful eyes that she turned to him, he found only a drowsy voidness, and such recognition as a sleeper gives when but half awakened, relapsing quickly into slumber thereafter.

'Art thou indeed Dalili?' he said. And she answered somnolently, in a toneless, indistinct voice: 'I am Dalili.'

To Yadar, baffled by mystery, forlorn and aching, it was as if she had spoken from a land farther away than all the weary leagues of his search for her. Fearing to understand the change that had come upon her, he said tenderly: 'Surely thou knowest me, for I am thy lover, the Prince Yadar, who has sought thee through half the kingdoms of earth, and has sailed afar for thy sake on the unshored sea.'

And she replied like one bemused by some heavy drug, as if echoing his words without true comprehension: 'Surely I know thee.' And to Yadar there was no comfort in her reply; and his concernment was not allayed by the parrotings with which she answered all his other loving speeches and queries.

Luis Royo, Dead Moon
He knew not that the three chanters had ceased their incantation; and, verily, he had forgotten their presence. But as he stood holding the girl closely, the men came toward him, and one of them clutched his arm. And the man hailed him by name and addressed him, though somewhat uncouthly, in a language spoken throughout many parts of Zothique, saying: 'We bid thee welcome to the Isle of Naat.'
Yadar, feeling a dread suspicion, interrogated the man fiercely: 'What manner of beings are ye? And why is Dalili here? And what have ye done to her?'

'I am Vacharn,' the man replied, 'and these others with me are my sons. We dwell in a house behind the crags, and are attended by the people that our sorcery has called from the sea. Among our servants is this girl, Dalili, together with the crew of that ship in which she sailed from Oroth. Like the vessel in which thou camest later, the ship was blown far asea and was taken by the Black River and wrecked finally on the reefs of Naat. My sons and I, chanting that powerful formula which requires no use of circle or pentacle, summoned ashore the company: even as we have now summoned the crew of that other vessel, from which thou wert saved by the swimmer, at our command.'

Vacharn ended, and stood peering into the dusk intently; and Yadar heard behind him a noise of slow footsteps coming upward across the shingle from the surf. Turning, he saw emerge from the livid twilight the old captain of that galley in which he had voyaged to Naat; and behind the captain were the sailors and oarsmen. Stiffly, like automatons, they made obeisance to Vacharn and his sons, acknowledging thus their thralldom to those who had called them. In their glassily staring eyes there was no recognition of Yadar, no awareness of outward things; and they spoke only in dull, rote-like recognition of certain obscure words addressed to them.

To Yadar, it was as if he too stood and moved in a dark, hollow, half-conscious dream, walking with the enchanters through a dim ravine that wound secretly toward the uplands of Naat. In his heart there was small joy at the finding of Dalili; and his love was companioned with a sick despair.

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