I’m having far too much fun with ‘The Incorruptibles’ to polish it off quickly and it has been a while since I dipped into the worlds of Clark Ashton Smith so… The end result is another brief journey into the dark woods of medieval Averoigne and a young monk’s journey to expose an evil prelate…
'By the Ram with a Thousand Ewes! By the Tail of Dagon and the Horns of Derceto!' said Azédarac, as he fingered the tiny, pot-bellied vial of vermilion liquid on the table before him. 'Something will have to be done with this pestilential Brother Ambrose. I have now learned that he was sent to Ximes by the Archbishop of Averoigne for no other purpose than to gather proof of my subterraneous connection with Azazel and the Old Ones. He has spied upon my evocations in the vaults, he has heard the hidden formulae, and beheld the veritable manifestation of Lilit, and even of Iog-Sotôt and Sodagui, those demons who are more ancient than the world; and this very morning, an hour agone, he has mounted his white ass for the return journey to Vyones. There are two ways — or, in a sense, there is one way — in which I can avoid the bother and inconvenience of a trial for sorcery: the contents of this vial must be administered to Ambrose before he has reached his journey's end — or, failing this, I myself shall be compelled to make use of a similar medicament.'
Beautiful writing (I wish I could curse like that, the world would be a much better place if everyone cursed like that) but, as an opening paragraph, it feels a little clumsier than what I’m used to from Ashton Smith. We’re being told what’s going on here, instead of being shown, and it feels forced. This issue crops up here and there, over the rest of the tale, but the language gets the reader through these tough patches and then we’re away.
‘In the oblique rays, the elongated webs of shadow wrought by the dying afternoon, the forest seemed to attend with bated breath the noisome and furtive passing of innominable things. Nevertheless, Ambrose had met no-one for miles…’
Brother Ambrose is making his way through the forest of Averoigne with as much haste as he can (if I was a Bishop entrusting someone with an important mission, the last thing I’d do is make them ride a donkey…) and I loved the way that Ashton Smith crowds the forest with phantasms brought on by what Ambrose had witnessed previously. We’ve seen in previous Averoigne stories that the forest holds dangers but Ashton Smith shows us that nothing is so dangerous as the fear we make for ourselves. This move builds things up nicely until the moment when Ambrose is finally caught by the agent of Azedarac and finds himself…
And here’s the thing, I don’t want to give anything away as Ashton Smith takes a story that was clearly going to end either one way or another and gives it an ending that comes straight out of left field. An ending that resolves absolutely nothing important in the plot but gives us a good insight into the universe Ashton Smith writes in. Good or evil, whatever you strive for can be taken from your grasp just like that and for no reason other than a passing fancy of either the gods or cosmic fate. Ambrose isn’t complaining too much by the end and you can’t blame him given what he has had to endure; at least Ashton Smith gives him that.
If you want to read ‘The Holiness of Azedarac’ yourself (and why not, it’s free) then you should be clicking right Here.