The Conjuring in the Iron Tower
from The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison

It was now gathering dusk,
and weak twilight only entered through the deep
embrasures of the windows that pierced the walls
of the tower, looking to the four quarters of the
heavens. A furnace glowing in the big hearth threw
fitful gleams into the recesses of the chamber, lighting
up strange shapes of glass and earthenware, flasks
and retorts, balances, hour-glasses, crucibles and as-
trolabes, a monstrous three-necked alembic of phos-
phorescent glass supported on a bain-marie, and
other instruments of doubtful and unlawful aspect.

Under the northern window over against the door-
way was a massive table blackened with age, whereon
lay great books bound in black leather with iron
guards and heavy padlocks. And in a mighty chair
beside this table was King Gorice XII., robed in his
conjuring robe of black and gold, resting his cheek
on his hand that was lean as an eagle's claw. The
low light, mother of shade and secrecy, that hovered
in that chamber moved about the still figurc of the
King, his nose hooked as an eagle's beak, his cropped
hair, his thick close-cut beard and shaven upper lip,
his high cheek-bones and cruel heavy jaw, and the
dark eaves of his brows whence the glint of green
eyes showed as no friendly lamp to them without. The
door shut noiselessly, and Gro stood before the King.

The dusk deepened, and the firelight puIsed and
blinked in that dread chamber, and the King leaned
without motion on his hand, bending his brow on
Gro; and there was utter silence save for the faint
purr of the furnace.

In a while the King said, "I sent for thee, because
thou alone wast so hardy as to urge to the uttermost
thy counsel upon the King that is now dead, Gorice
XI. of memory ever glorious. And because thy coun-
sel was good. Marvellest thou that I wist of thy counsel?"
Gro said, "O my Lord the King, I marvel not......."

[And Gorice said] ["I bethink me of]
Gorice X., victorious in single combats
without number, [who] made our name glorious over all the
world. Yet at the last he gat his death, out of all
expectation and by what treacherous sleight I know not,
standing in single combat against the curled step-dancer
from Krothering. But I, that am skilled in grammarie,
do bear a mightier engine against the Demons than
brawny sinews or the sword that smiteth asunder. Yet
is mine engine perilous to him that useth it."

Therewith the King unlocked the greatest of those
books that lay by on the massive table, saying in Gro's
ear, as one who would not be overheard, "This is that
awful book of grammarie wherewith in this same cham-
ber, on such a night, Gorice VII. stirred the vasty deep.
And know that from this circumstance alone ensued the
ruin of King Gorice VII., in that, having by his hellish
science conjured up somewhat from the primaeval dark,
and being utterly fordone with the sweat and stress of
his conjuring, his mind was clouded for a moment, in
such sort that either he forgot the words writ in this
grammarie, or the page whereon they were writ, or
speech failed him to speak those words that must be
spoken, or might to do those things which must be done
to complete the charm. Wherefore he kept not his pow-
er over that which he had called out of the deep, but it
turned upon him and tare him limb from limb. Such like
doom will I avoid, renewing in these latter days those
self-same spells, if thou durst stand by me undismayed
the while I utter my incantations. And shouldst thou
mark me fail or waver ere all be accomplished, then
shalt thyself lay hand on book and crucible and fulfill
whatsoever is needful, as I shall first show thee. Or
quailest thou at this?"

Gro said, "Lord, show me my task. And I will carry
it, though all the Furies of the pit flock to this chamber
to say me nay."

So the King instructed Gro, rehearsing to him those
acts that were needful, and making known unto him the
divers pages of the grammarie whereon were writ those

words which must be spoken each in its due time and se-
quence. But the King pronounced not yet those words,
pointing only to them in the book, for whoso speaketh
those words in vain and out of season is lost. And now
when the retorts and beakers with their several necks
and tubes and the appurtenances thereof were set in
order, and the unhallowed processes of fixation, conjunc-
tion, deflagration, putrefaction, and rubefication were
nearing maturity, and the baleful star Antares standing
by the astrolabe within a little of the meridian signified
the instant approach of midnight, the King described on
the floor with his conjuring rod three pentacles inclosed
within a seven-pointed star, with the signs of Cancer and
of Scorpio joined by certain runes. And in the midst of
the star he limned the image of a green crab eating of the
sun. And turning to the seventy-third page of his great
black grammarie the King recited in a mighty voice words
o[ hidden meaning, calling on the name that it is a sin
to utter.

Now when he had spoken the first spell and was si-
lent, there was a deadly quiet in that chamber, and a
chill in the air as of winter. And in the quiet Gro heard
the King's breath coming and going, as of one who hath
rowed a course. Now the blood rushed back to Gro's
heart and his hands and feet became cold and a cold
sweat brake forth on his brow. But for all that, he held
yet his courage firm and his brain ready. The King mo-
tioned to Gro to break off the tail of a certain drop of
black glass that lay on the table; and with the snapping
of its tail the whole drop fell in pieces in a coarse
black powder. Gro by the King's direction gathered that
powder and dropped it in the great alembic wherein a
green fluid seethed and bubbled above the flame of a
lamp; and the fluid became red as blood, and the body
of the alembic filled with a tawny smoke, and sparks
of sun-like brilliance flashed and crackled through the
smoke. Thereupon distilled from the neck of the alembic
a white oil incombustible, and the King dipped his rod in
that oil and described round the seven-pointed star on
the floor the figure of the worm Ouroboros, that eateth
his own tail.. And he wrote the formula of the crab below
the circle, and spake his second spell.

When that was done, yet more biting seemed the night
air and yet more like the grave the stillness of the cham-
ber. The King's hand shook as with an ague as he turned
the pages of the mighty book. Gro's teeth chattered in his
head. He gritted them together and waited. And now
through every window came a light into the chamber as
of skies paling to the dawn. Yet not wholly so; for never
yet came dawn at midnight, nor from all four quarters
of the sky at once, nor with such swift strides of in-
creasing light, nor with a light so ghastly. The candle
flames burned filmy as the glare waxed strong from
without: an evil pallid light of bale and corruption,
wherein the hands and faces of the King Gorice and his
disciple showed death-pale, and their lips black as the
dark skin of a grape where the bloom has been rubbed
off from it. The King cried terribly, "The hour approach-
eth!" And he took a phial of crystal containing a de-
coction of wolf's jelly and salamander's blood, and
dropped seven drops from the alembic into the phial and
poured forth that liquor on the figure of the crab drawn
on the floor. Gro leaned against the wail, weak in body
but with will unbowed. So bitter was the cold that his
hands and feet were benumbed, and the liquor from the
phial congealed where it fell. Yet the sweat stood in
beads on the forehead of the King by reason o[ the mighty
striving that was his, and in the overpowering glare of
that light from the underskies he stood stiff and erect,
hands clenched and arms outstretched, and spake the

Now with those words spoken the vivid light departed
as a blown-out lamp, and the midnight closed down
again without. Nor was any sound heard save the thick
panting of the King; but it was as if the night held its
breath in expectation of that which was to come. And the
candles sputtered and burned blue. The King swayed and
clutched the table with his left hand; and again the King
pronounced terribly the word VOARCHADUMIA.

Thereafter for the space of ten heart-beats silence
hung like a kestrel poised in the listening night. Then went
a crash through earth and heaven, and a blinding wild-
fire through the chamber as it had been a thunderbolt.
All Carce quaked, and the chamber was filled with
a beating of wings, like the wings of some monstrous
bird. The air that was wintry cold waxed on a sudden
hot as the breath of a burning mountain, and Gro was
near choking with the smell of soot and the smell of
brimstone. And the chamber rocked as a ship riding in a
swell with the wind against the tide. But the King, steady-
ing himself against the table and clutching the edge of it
till the veins on his lean hand seemed nigh to bursting,
cried in short breaths and with an altered voice, "By
these figures drawn and by these spells enchanted, by the
unction of wolf and salamander, by the unblest sign of
Cancer now leaning to the sun, and by the fiery heart of
Scorpio that flameth in this hour on night's meridian,
thou art my thrall and instrument. Abase thee and
serve me, worm of the pit. Else will I by and by
summon out of ancient night intelligences and domina-
tions mightier far than thou, and they shall serve mine
ends, and thee shall they chain with chains of quench-
less fire and drag thee from torment to torment through
the deep."

Therewith the earthquake was stilled, and there re-
mained but a quivering of the walls and floor and the
wind of those unseen wings and the hot smell of soot and
brimstone burning. And speech came out of the teeming
air of that chamber, strangely sweet, saying, "Accursed
wretch that troublest our quiet, what is thy will'?" The
terror of that speech made the throat of Gro dry, and the
hairs on his scalp stood up.

The King trembled in all his members like a fright-
encd horse, yet was his voice level and his coun-
tenance unruffled as he said hoarsely, "Mine enemies
sail at day-break from the Foliot Isles. I loose thee
against them as a falcon from my wrist. I give thee
them. Turn them to thy will: how or where it skills not,
so thou do but break and destroy them off the face of
the world. Away!"

But now was the King's endurance clean spent, so that
his knees failed him and he sank like a sick man into his
mighty chair. But the room was filled with a tumult as of
rushing waters, and a laughter above the tumult like
to the laughter of souls condemned. And the King was re-
minded that he had left unspoken that word which should
dismiss his sending. But to such weariness was he now
come and so utterly was his strength gone out from him
in the exercise of his spells, that his tongue clave to the
roof of his mouth, so that he might not speak the word;
and horribly he rolled up the whites of his eyes beckon-
ing to Gro, the while his nerveless fingers sought to turn
the heavy pages of the grammarie. Then sprang Gro forth
to the table, and against it sprawling, for now was the
great keep of Carce shaken anew as one shaketh a dice
box, and lightnings opened the heavens, and the thun-
der roared unceasingly, and the sound of waters stunned
the ear in that chamber, and still that laughter pealed
above the turmoil. And Gro knew that it was now with
the King even as it had been with Gorice VII in years
gone by, when his strength gave forth and the spirit
tare him and plastered those chamber-walls with his
blood. Yet was Gro mindful, even in that hideous storm
of terror, of the ninety-seventh page whereon the King
had shown him the word of dismissal, and he wrenched
the book from the King's palsied grasp and turned to
the page. Scarce had his eye found the word, when a
whirlwind of hail and sleet swept into the chamber, and
the candles were blown out and the tables overset. And
in the plunging darkness beneath the crashing of the
thunder Gro pitching headlong felt claws clasp his head
and body. He cried in his agony the word, that was the
word TRIPSARECOPSEM, and so fell a-swooning.

It was high noon when the Lord Gro came to his
senses in that chamber. The strong spring sunshine
poured through the southern window, lighting up the
wreckage of the night. The tables were cast down and
the floor strewn and splashed with costly essences and
earths spilt from shattered phials and jars and caskets:
aphroselmia, shell of gold, saffron of gold, asem, amianth,
stypteria of Melos, confounded with mandragora, vinum
ardens, sal armoniack, devouring aqua regia, little pools
and scattered globules of quicksilver, poisonous decoc-
tions of toadstools and of yewberries, monkshood,
thorn-apple, wolf's bane and black hellebore, quintessences
of dragon's blood and serpent's bile; and with these,
splashed together and wasted, elixirs that wise men have
died a-dreaming of: spiritus mundi, and that sovereign
alkahest which dissolveth every substance dipped therein,
and that aurum potabile which being itself perfect in-
duceth perfection in the living frame. And in this welter
of spoiled treasure were the great conjuring books hurled
amid the ruin of retorts and aludels of glass and lead
and silver, sand-baths, matrasses, spatulae, athanors, and
other instruments innumerable of rare design, tossed
and broken on the chamber floor. The King's chair was
thrown against the furnace, and huddled against the table
lay the King, his head thrown back, his black beard
pointing skyward, showing his sinewy hairy throat. Gro
looked narrowly at him; saw that he seemed unhurt and
slept deep; and so, knowing well that sleep is a present
remedy for every ill, watched by the King in silence all
day till supper time, for all he was sore an-hungered.

When at length the King awoke, he looked about him
in amaze. "Methought I tripped at the last step of last
night's journey," he said. "And truly strange riot hath
left its footprints in my chamber."

Gro answered, "Lord, sorely was I tried; yet fulfilled I
your behest."

The King laughed as one whose soul is at ease, and
standing upon his feet said unto Gro, "Take up the crown
of Witchland and crown me. And that high honour shalt
thou have, because I do love thee for this night gone by."


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