SMITH, CLARK-ASHTON – THE COMING OF THE WHITE WORM in THE EMPEROR OF DREAMS Fantasy Masterworks #26. 2002 Gollancz
An extraordinary almost hallucegenic fantasy tale that condenses a whole novel into about ten pages with astonishing skill. A warlock lives in a house on a cliff-top in a small coastal town. One day, a ship sails into the harbour of the town, and the warlock is summoned to inspect it, for all of its crew are dead. The captain and helmsmen still stand at their posts, though they are lifeless corpses. Fearing a plague, the warlock helps bury the ship in firewood and it is set alight. When the flames go out, the ship is charred, but the corpses are unaffected. The Warlock touches one corpse, and feels both burnt and icy cold. He goes home. The next day, he finds the entire town covered in ice. All of his people are frozen dead in their tracks. He alone seems unaffected. However, on waking the next day he finds that his house is now on top of a vast iceberg, which seems to be sailing, rather than drifting out to sea. He is now visited by two fellow magicians, who tell him that he is now to join them and several others of their kind in service of a giant worm like demon that lives on the top of the iceberg. The warlock is powerless to do otherwise. The berg and its crew sail to many once great cities, freezing them in ice and killing their populations. As he serves the needs of the foul creature, his fellow sorcerers are devoured by it, one by one. Soon, he alone survives. Fearing the same fate, he hears the voices of his companions from within the creature advising him whereto stab it to death. Knowing that in doing so, he will kill himself by melting the ice, he is willing to do so anyway. Ships witness the dark oil-blood gushing from the melting ice, and the spirit of the warlock tells of his sacrifice to another warlock who records the strange tale for our reading.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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