P = Phil, R = Ruth, T = Tim.
R: I have called up in all my years of horror / P: inch by inch, with baleful terror / R: no god nor devil / T: the red moon, ominous and gibbeous / R: no demon nor lich nor shadow / T: had declined above the terraces / P: of the wormy corpses that he dug with his hands from unconsecrated graves / R: and the thing was a streaming ooze of charnal pollution
T [in a terrible “British” accent]: Hello [Ruth and Phil’s laughter is heard in the background], and welcome to The Double Shadow, a Clark Ashton Smith podcast…[laughter in the background continues] why are you laughing? [pause] I thought we were going to do accents. [Ruth continues to giggle]
P: That…that was never agreed upon.
T: Oh. [normally] I thought we wanted to sound more like the M.R. James Podcast.
R: Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.
P: Yeah, did we want to sound like them on insult them?
T: Ok, no, for real, though.
R: I have called up in all my years of horror / P: inch by inch, with baleful terror / R: no god nor devil / T: the red moon, ominous and gibbeous / R: no demon nor lich nor shadow / T: had declined above the terraces / P: of the wormy corpses that he dug with his hands from unconsecrated graves / R: and the thing was a streaming ooze of charnal pollution / R: dreaming of conquests / T: It is verily known by few / R: and of vaster necromancies / P: there were people — mostly priests and women, it is told — whom he picked up as they fled / T: It is verily known by few, but is nevertheless an attestable fact / P: and pulled limb from limb as a child might quarter an insect / T, P, R: The Double Shadow — A Clark Ashton Smith Podcast.
T: Hello, and welcome to The Double Shadow, a podcast exploring the Weird fiction of 20th-century writer, Clark Ashton Smith. I’m Tim Mucci…
P: I’m Phil Gellat…
R: And I’m Ruth…de Ventillon? [Ruth continues pseudonyms for several more episodes]
T: …and this week we’ll be covering “A Rendezvous in Averoigne.” How’re you guys doing?
R: Better now that you’ve stopped that British accent.
T: *laughs* Look. I had thought we agreed that we were all going to do accents so we could be like the M.R. James podcast, A Podcast to the Curious.
R: While I am a big fan of the podcast, that was before I heard your “British accent.”
T: Can’t win ’em all.
P: It’s true, your British accent *laughs* it left much to be desired. Tim, tell us what story we’re going to be covering!
T: Ok, it’s “Rendezvous in Averoigne.” It was first published in Weird Tales in 1931. It’s actually, I believe, one of Smith’s most-reprinted stories, having been reprinted at least 17 times [R: REALLY?] yeah, in various productions…
P: Don’t you find that strange? I know we’re not that far into Smith’s oeuvre, but…I mean…I think our opinions of this story will become clear as we talk about it [group chuckles] but this, of all his stories, it seems to be very well-regarded and it has been reprinted so many times. And I don’t…
R: I don’t understand either. But Ray Bradbury talked about it, didn’t he?
P: He did talk about it. Ray Bradbury said, in an introduction to a collection of CAS stories, the collection was actually called Rendezvous in Averoigne, right Tim?
P: Ray Bradbury said “[Smith’s] stories more than any others…had everything to do with my decision…to become a writer…[I]n the short story form CAS stood alone on my horizon…[his] influence was… complete and… compelling. [Smith’s tales] are, above all, sensually compelling… [A] fiction writer must… enclos[e] his characters, and therefore his readers, in a scene, an atmosphere…Once you have trapped your readers in sights, sounds, smells, and textures… [they] will be unable to resist… Take one step across the threshold of [CAS’s] stories,and you plunge into color, sound, taste, smell,and texture — into language.” But is that talking about this story or about the entire body of Clark Ashton Smith’s work.
T: I think it’s just him talking about Smith’s work in general. He just happens to have written that in the introduction to the collection called A Rendezvous in Averoigne.
R: Although I will say for Rendezvous, it does do a good job with color, sound, taste, smell, and texture…but…
T: Yeah, I was just about to say that. That it’s a good example of his playing with language.
P: I was gonna butt in but it was going to be to completely agree. That on reading this story I was struck in particular by his use of smell as a descriptive device [T: Yes!] which is not something I think, at least in my experience fiction writers are very big on. So that was kinda interesting.
R: It’s a very visual story, too.
P: It’s very atmospheric. I was saying to Tim, before we started that on rereading it I liked it more than the first time I read it, but it definitely loses me at a certain moment and never gets me back. But we should probably get into the story. We can talk about those moments as we go.
T: Sounds good. Ruth, would you like to do the honors?
R: Certainly. I guess first we should start out by starting the characters. Our two characters are Gerard de l’Automne, just gonna call him Gerard, who is the troubadour type, professionally. He’s fallen in love with Fleurette, who’s the daughter of a well-to-do mercer in Vyones. He’s just come to Vyones, fallen completely in love with her as apparently troubadours are wont to do, and he’s agreed that they’ll meet in this wood where nobody ever goes so they’ll be completely alone. Nobody ever goes there, because it’s haunted. This was a great idea!
P: I love that we meet, I think this story starts off really well, and we meet Gerard, he’s trying to write a song with this woman, but he’s more in love than he is talented or, that’s not quite the language but he’s not very far in the song because he’s…
T: He’s thinking about…yeah…right.
P: He’s thinking about how he’s going to sleep with this woman, under this tree, which is kind of hilarious and already kind of a little bit more than sexual than Weird tales tend to be. I mean, it’s not explicity sexual, but the implication is…
T: Well, it’s pretty sexual, I mean, what Clark writes is “and he [meaning Gerard] was continually absorbed in a meditation on other than merely verbal felicities.” That’s pretty sexy.
R: By some definitions of sexy…
P: Tim, I love, yeah, I was going to say I love your defition of sexy. Let’s get together sometime.
T: He’s trying to write a song. And he’s thinking of other than merely verbal felicities. That spells sexy to me.
R: Well, they did pick a nice, lonely spot for it, but as we learn in the text…
Somewhere in this wood there was the ruinous and haunted Chateau des Faussesflammes; and, also, there was a double tomb, within which the Sieur Hugh du Malinbois and his chatelaine, who were notorious for sorcery in their time, had lain unconsecrated for more than two hundred years. Of these, and their phantoms, there were grisly tales; and there were stories of loup-garous and goblins, of fays and devils and vampires that infested Averoigne. But to these tales Gerard had given little heed, considering it improbable that such creatures would fare abroad in open daylight. The madcap Fleurette had professed herself unafraid also; but it had been necessary to promise the servants a substantial pourboire, since they shared fully the local superstitions.
Gerard had wholly forgotten the legendry of Averoigne, as he hastened along the sun-flecked path. He was nearing the appointed beech-tree, which a turn of the path would soon reveal; and his pulses quickened and became tremulous, as he wondered if Fleurette had already reached the trysting-place. He abandoned all effort to continue his ballade, which, in the three miles he had walked from La Frenaie, had not progressed beyond the middle of a tentative first stanza.
R: There’s your unfinished ballad there.
T: So he’s walking through…
P: Tim, someday you and I are going to hold hands in a trysting-place.
T: Tease! So, wait, I have some questions. First of all, when I read this passage, when he mentions that somewhere in the wood there was the ruinous and haunted Chateau des Faussesflammes and the double-tomb with the notorious sorcerers, I thought to myself “I wonder what’s gonna happen in this story?”
R: Yeah, gee.
T: But we saw Faussesflammes in the last, in “The End of the Story,” right? With the lamia living underground.
P: It’s true. I just wanna point out that there werewolves are teased here as well, the werewolves that Ruth has informed me we actually do eventually get a little bit of, but I feel like for all the build-up in all the Averoigne stories because they’re always getting mentioned… I just want to point it out so we can all share my frustration that by the time we get to it, it’s not that exciting.
T: Right. So, what’s the…it’s Sieur Hugh?
R: Sieur, lord. Du Malinbois, Malinbois would mean something along the lines of “evil wood” “bad wood” so the woods themselves are considered, it’s not unlike the English word “malign.”
T: Oh ok. So there we go. Clark being very literal again.
R: Yes, it’s extremely literal, and as we’ll find out, the woods are evil. Although if he’d thought a little more about that and a little less about…
T: The tryst?
T: Now what’s a “pourboire”?
R: It means “for drinking,” so…
T: Oh, so they just promise their services extra drinks?
R: Extra money so I guess they could go drink in the tavern afterward.
T: Ok yeah. So they’re walking and Gerard has totally forgotten that this is a haunted wood at this point because he just wants to hook up with the “madcap” Fleurette. I love that she’s “madcap.”
P: I love that she’s “madcap” and when we meet her I don’t think she says a single word. For a madcap, she’s awfully quiet!
R: To be fair, we meet her under very trying circumstances.
P: That’s true.
T: True, because what happens next? What happens to Mr. Gerard of the Autumn? Is that what his name would be translated to?
R: Yep. There’s really no…proper English equivalent. Well, he hears a terrible scream, goes running through the woods, comes upon a woman who’s being attacked by these strange, dark men. She’s very pale and her lips are very red. And as he comes forward to try to stop them, suddenly the men disappear, she starts laughing, and she fades out. And then that’s his moment of “oh crap, I’m in a haunted wood, aren’t I?”
T: So she vanishes, her “attackers” also vanish, and then he’s in a strange wood now.
He retraced his way toward the path he had been following. But when he thought to reach again the spot from which he had heard that shrill unearthly scream, he saw that there was no longer a path; nor, indeed, any feature of the forest which he could remember or recognize. The foliage about him no longer displayed a brilliant verdure; it was sad and funereal, and the trees themselves were either cypress-like, or were already sere with autumn or decay. In lieu of the purling brook there lay before him a tarn of waters that were dark and dull as clotting blood, and which gave back no reflection of the brown autumnal sedges that trailed therein like the hair of suicides, and the skeletons of rotting osiers that writhed above them.
Now, beyond all question, Gerard knew that he was the victim of an evil enchantment. In answering that beguileful cry for succor, he had exposed himself to the spell, had been lured within the circle of its power. He could not know what forces of wizardry or demonry had willed to draw him thus; but he knew that his situation was fraught with supernatural menace. He gripped the hornbeam staff more tightly in his hand, and prayed to all the saints he could remember, as he peered about for some tangible bodily presence of ill.
The scene was utterly desolate and lifeless, like a place where cadavers might keep their tryst with demons. Nothing stirred, not even a dead leaf; and there was no whisper of dry grass or foliage, no song of birds nor murmuring of bees, no sigh nor chuckle of water. The corpse-grey heavens above seemed never to have held a sun; and the chill, unchanging light was without source or destination, without beams or shadows.
Gerard surveyed his environment with a cautious eye; and the more he looked the less he liked it: for some new and disagreeable detail was manifest at every glance. There were moving lights in the wood that vanished if he eyed them intently; there were drowned faces in the tarn that came and went like livid bubbles before he could discern their features. And, peering across the lake, he wondered why he had not seen the many-turreted castle of hoary stone whose nearer walls were based in the dead waters. It was so grey and still and vasty, that it seemed to have stood for incomputable ages between the stagnant tarn and the equally stagnant heavens. It was ancienter than the world, it was older than the light: it was coeval with fear and darkness; and a horror dwelt upon it and crept unseen but palpable along its bastions.
T: I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a place that’s “like a place where cadavers might keep their tryst with demons.”
P: Everything about this passage is amazing…
T: Yes, I agree!
P: I mean…
T: I think this passage saves the story.
P: Like, I’m sorry, “tarn of waters that were dark and dull as clotting blood, and which gave back no reflection of the brown autumnal sedges that trailed therein like the hair of suicides,” so evocative!
R: This is the point where he really had me in this story. [agreement] I wasn’t sure where he was going, but I could see it, the whole wood just…died…
P: Let me interject with my Dungeons and Dragons role-playing metaphor for this story. So, if this were, say for example, a D&anp;D adventure, you’d have your bard as the main character. He’d be walking, maybe the setup wouldn’t be that he was going to a tryst, he would hear this scream. He would get in this first scuffle, which is like a trap. And here, I feel like he rolls poorly and get ensorcelled by this charm spell or…
P: Or something like that, yeah. So at this point I think the DM is feeling pretty good. The player is stuck in this world he has set up, there’s evil stuff going on, it’s really evocative, the player character is like “oh my god, I’m totally in trouble right now.” So let’s just keep that in mind as we go on.
T: That’s a really good assessment. That is very much what it feels like. So he’s there, he sees this castle above this tarn…
R: And he keeps trying to get away from it. He keeps going back to the woods and the woods grabs at him and he thinks “I can’t do this.” Eventually he tries to follow the tarn, but he keeps coming around back to the castle and eventually he gives up. He thinks ok I see I can get up to the castle and I can see the door and it’s empty, I don’t see any signs of life, but whatever this enchantment is, it’s drawing me into the castle, so I’m going to go. I can’t blame him for that, yeah it’s a “don’t go into that” but he can’t break the enchantment, so…
T: Yeah, if we’re still going with the D&D metaphor, this DM is totally railroading the game.
P: That’s exactly what I was going to say. This is the character getting railroaded into the encounter. [laughter]
R: You will go into the castle because I kidnapped your party and put them in there.
P: And there’s no way you can roll high enough on any of your searches to get out of this.
T: [laughs] right.
R: And for those of you who don’t play D&D, this is actually a really good metaphor for the story.
T: Yeah, it is. And don’t do this in your games.
P: Well, this stuff is ok, but I feel like it’s later on that things go off the rails. So, he gets there, and what happens, Tim?
T: He’s trying to get away, he can’t, and then he just decides “I’m gonna approach the castle.”
R: And when he gets up to the d oor, suddenly, where he could’ve sworn nobody was before, there’s a man, who’s welcoming him. He’s a little freaked out by this, but there’s not really much else he can do.
Gerard had retained his hornbeam staff; and though his reason told him that such a weapon was futile against any supernatural foe, some obscure instinct prompted him to clasp it valiantly as he neared the waiting figure on the sill.
The man was inordinately tall and cadaverous, and was dressed in black garments of a superannuate mode. His lips were strangely red, amid his bluish beard and the mortuary whiteness of his face. They were like the lips of the woman who, with her assailants, had disappeared in a manner so dubious when Gerard had approached them. His eyes were pale and luminous as marsh-lights; and Gerard shuddered at his gaze and at the cold, ironic smile of his scarlet lips, that seemed to reserve a world of secrets all too dreadful and hideous to be disclosed.
“I am the Sieur du Malinbois,” the man announced. His tones were both unctuous and hollow, and served to increase the repugnance felt by the young troubadour. And when his lips parted, Gerard had a glimpse of teeth that were unnaturally small and were pointed like the fangs of some fierce animal.
“Fortune has willed that you should become my guest,” the man went on. “The hospitality which I can proffer you is rough and inadequate, and it may be that you will find my abode a trifle dismal. But at least I can assure you of a welcome no less ready than sincere.”
“I thank you for your kind offer,” said Gerard. “But I have an appointment with a friend; and I seem in some unaccountable manner to have lost my way. I should be profoundly grateful if you would direct me toward Vyones. There should be a path not far from here; and I have been so stupid as to stray from it.”
The words rang empty and hopeless in his own ears even as he uttered them; and the name that his strange host had given the Sieur du Malinbois was haunting his mind like the funereal accents of a knell; though he could not recall at that moment the macabre and spectral ideas which the name tended to evoke,
“Unfortunately, there are no paths from my chateau to Vyones,” the stranger replied. “As for your rendezvous, it will be kept in another manner, at another place, than the one appointed. I must therefore insist that you accept my hospitality. Enter, I pray; but leave your hornbeam staff at the door. You will have no need of it any longer.”
R: And this, my friends, is where our bard rolls a 20.
P: Yes. The first, I think, of a couple 20s.
T: Yep. He tells Sieur Hugh “I’m gonna keep this. I made a…” what did he say?
R: He made a vow.
T: He made a vow that he’d kill two serpents with it?
R: Two vipers.
P: I love this, because it’s such a weird character moment. Like, I don’t understand if that’s just a lie he thought up on the moment, and if so, that’s an extremely strange lie to just…whip out.
T: And that’s exactly what Malinbois says. “‘That is a queer vow,’ rejoined his host.” And then he says [pouty voice] “However, bring it with you if you like. It is of no matter to me if you choose to encumber yourself with such a stupid a wooden stick.” I mean, he doesn’t say “stupid” but that’s basically what he’s saying. “Bring your stupid stick, I don’t care. I hope you trip on it!” [laughter]
P: I gues I don’t…I guess, this is the first huge chink in the story’s armor, although ultimately, it’s like this weird thing that the staff is somehow allowed to be brought into the castle, after *spoiler alert* obviously this is the man who has cast this pall over our hero and set this whole thing up. He’s obviously quite powerful. Why, then, is he letting this staff into his house? I just don’t understand. [T: Right.]
R: He, clearly, also rolled a 1. [P: Yes.] Because this spell is so powerful. It transforms the forest, it keeps him coming back to the castle, and yet. He brings the staff inside.
T: He can’t get him to leave that stick outside.
P: Not ’till he kills two vipers!
T: Right. And he’s totally ok with that. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard that one before. That’s ok.”
R: Well, and to be fair, he does have the staff, among other things, to kill vipers as he’s wandering around through the woods. [T: Right. P: True, true.] BUT to swear an oath? That’s where it gets weird.
P: The next time I get on a plane and the TSA tells me I have to take something out of my bag [Ruth starts giggling], I’m totally gonna say ‘I’m sorry, I swore a vow I have to hold onto this until I kill two vipers with it.'”
T: They’ll totally let you right on.
R: We’ll miss you, Phil. [Tim laughs]
P: I wasn’t thinking a gun, I was thinking like shampoo or something.
R: Oh, ok.
T: Right, so then they both go in and Sir Hugh brings him into a dining room. He brings him through a heavy door, a dark passage, somber wood, all very atmospheric, into a dining room. And at the table is sitting Fleurette, her two servants, and another woman. The woman in the emerald green dress that he saw being accosted by the dark creatures in the wood.
R: Who, incidentally, very much resemble the servants. Hmm.
T: Right, yes. Exactly. Then they sit down and start eating. He formally introduces himself to…I hate saying this guy’s name. [R: Malinbois? P: Just call him Hugh!] Right, so Hugh introduces Gerarde to Agathe, his wife.
P: I would say “Ah-Gah-Tuh” personally, but I don’t know how to say…
T: I like Ah-Gah-Tuh. Right, then the servants start serving them food. And Gerard notices they’re very much like the ones that accosted her in the woods. But I love this line here describing the servants:
They seemed to walk in an adumbration of sinister insoluble twilight.
T: How do you do that? How do you walk like that? [laughter]
P: I think that’s what so frustrating about this story, because I also highlighted a passage from the meal. The passage I highlighted was:
Above the aromas of the rare foods, the bouquets of the antique wines, there crept forth the choking mustiness of hidden vaults and embalmed centurial corruption, together with the ghostly spice of a strange perfume that seemed to emanate from the person of the chatelaine.
P: And, like, there’s so much amazing language. But, plot-wise, the story is already ridiculous. Because, they walk into this meal situation. Fleurette says nothing. Nobody says to anybody else “Oh you people have clearly enchanted us.” [T: Right.] Suddenly, these characters just become utterly removed from any normal human behavior that I would expect. Like, they don’t have to act like they’re in a horror movie, but just…acknowledge what’s obviously going on.
T: Or try to get information! [concurrance] They all just sit there quietly, not eating. Because none of them eat, even though food comes out.
P: And because the stink is “the choking mustiness of hidden vaults,” like who wants to eat food that has that smell to it. And I just feel like my frustration, and I’m sorry if I seem angry, but my frustration with the story is that it just keeps wasting its potential. Even the fact the Hugh says to him this great line, as he’s coming in the house “As for your rendezvous, it will be kept in another manner, at another place, than the one appointed.” And then he just walks in and she’s there. The payoff to that line is such a head-scratcher that I don’t know what to make on it.
T: It’s silly! And this is my take on this story, it’s a comedy. It’s like a dark comedy. But it reminds me of that movie The Fearless Vampire Killers.
R: I’m glad I haven’t seen that.
T: Where they’re just…yeah…but that’s another one that’s just kind of silly.
P: It’s kind of silly, but I kind of agree now that I think about it. Because that movie has a very rich atmosphere, but then it’s kind of just silly and just squanders its atmosphere on being kind of silly.
T: So then they eat dinner, or they don’t eat dinner.
R: They just sort-of pick at their food, it seems like.
T: And then the uncanny meal comes to an end. And then, [laughs] Hugh says “Ok, you guys [P: This is my favorite part of the story! This is my favorite part of the story!] go sleep now.”
P: Hugh says “Ok, two men and two women that I have in my house. You’re all gonna sleep here, but men and women…no couples. Either you each get your own room or it’s boys in one room and girls in the other.” And again they’re just like… [T: “Ok!”] They’re not like “that was weird.” They’re like “ok, the boys will sleep in one room and the girls in the other!” It’s the most bizarre arbitrary choice that a completely malicious sorcerer/vampire could offer!
R: Propriety! Propriety MUST be preserved! *smacks fist* [T: I guess so!] “You are my prisoners, I might be going to kill you. But dammit, your virtue will intact.”
T: But why couldn’t he have separated them all up? Put them in pens or cells? No, he gives them protection of their servants.
R: Yeah, I feel like that was kind of a bad idea.
P: Maybe, maybe there’s some unwritten set of bylaws that these Malinbois are operating on [T: Maybe.] that we’re just not aware of. I mean, maybe this is spell is so complicated and there are so many strange little pieces to it, and one of those pieces ie liks “No boy/girl rooms during the sleepover.”
T: I like how you’re trying to make this into our fault, Phil. [laughter] It’s not my fault!
P: It may be my fault, I don’t know!
T: So then they choose, y’know, boys/girls, let’s go to our rooms.
R: It makes a lot more sense to them to not split up. But then, as soon as they get there, he gets really upset that he let her be parted from his side and blames it on the enchantment. So again, the enchantment, supposedly, is what kept him from talking at dinner, and kept him from the other…
T: Oh, I guess that’s true, it even says “he marvelled at the spell of drug-like involition that had bedrowsed all his faculties.”
R: So he clearly feels the effect of the spell, but darnit if he doesn’t have his hornbeam staff! It was at his side at dinner and he brought it to his room.
T: And he has his trusty, his new buddy “Raoul.”
R: I feel like he’s got to get double the pourboire after this.
T: I feel like if this was the silly horror movie that I imagine it to be, Raoul is kind of the dumb, bumbling manservant who’s always tripping over the staff when he’s supposed to be giving it to Gerard to fight the monsters.
P: [laughing very hard] I don’t even know.
R: They go to their bedroom and they start talking about what kind of situation they’re in and they agree “Oh hey, sorcery! And Gerard says ‘Let’s take watches, but I’m going to sharpen my staff into a point. And stay awake. One of us is going to stay all night and we’re going to take turns.'” So first he’s going to let Raoul sleep, but then he starts taking his watch and then he’s like “oh crap,” and he falls asleep too. So it’s lights out, everyone’s fallen asleep.
P: So then, at some undetermined amount of time later, he wakes up and realizes that he has been asleep. And his senses are still kind of dull, and he’s still feeling a little out-of-it, but he realizes he’s unharmed.
R: And he has his staff, which is pointy!
P: His staff is still in his hand! Bear that in mind! He was asleep, and what happened happened, and he still has the staff.
R: The pointy staff!
T: The pointy staff that Mr. Hugh was so keen for him to get rid off at the beginning.
R: Even before it was pointy.
P: It becomes clear that at some point while they were both asleep, one of the vampires, I’m not sure if it tells us which one.
R: He smells the perfume.
P: Ah, he smells the perfume, so it was the female one. …came into the room, sucked some of Raoul’s blood, left, left the staff in Gerard’s hand, and then, here’s the real kicker, left without locking the goddam door!
R: It’s true, they’d been locked in the night before, and suddenly he’s got the staff, the door’s unlocked, Raoul’s lost a little blood but he’s fine, so…woohoo!
T: And he’s free, free to wander the castle.
P: So, in the role-playing game, this is the moment, I think where the story completely loses me, because the staff thing, I was kind of willing to go along with, but this unlocked door thing? I can’t. I just can’t abide it. [laughter] These are just the laziest vampires that mankind has ever known. And lazy, after performing massive acts of magic, which makes it even more bizarre. There’s an effort at some story logic to this during the story [T: Yeah] because Gerard sort of assumes that the vampire had been so blood-drunk that she left without locking the door or taking the staff.
R: Has she never done this before?
P: [laughs] Again, they must have done it before, its seems like a pretty well-worked-out trap, it’s just…just baffling.
T: Right. Well, the door’s open and the castle actually feels much better now that they’re asleep.
The castle was very still; and it seemed to Gerard that the animating spirit of evil was now quiescent; that the shadowy wings of horror and malignity, the feet that had sped on baleful errands, the summoning sorcerers, the responding familiars, were all lulled in a temporary slumber.
T: So these vampires can’t hold their blood.
R: Nope. And guess what? They left Fleurette’s door open too! [T: Yup!] So it’s not just one lazy vampire. It’s TWO lazy vampires!
P: So, in the RPG version of this story, either the DM starts rolling critical failures, 1s, the whole time, or the players start rolling crits. Like, crazy crits. This is like 20 after 20 after 20.
T: Yeah, so Gerard goes to check on Fleurette, finds her door unlocked, sees that her maid Angelique also has marks on her neck.
R: It’s like they’re saving him.
T: They’re untouched, who knows why. Maybe they’re nobles, [R: or dessert] maybe they taste sweeter. So Gerard and Raoul set out.
P: I want to point out that they roll another 20 here and immediately know where they’re going.
R: Which “He led the way along the devious corridors with a swiftness that betokened much forethought.” …….oh REALLY? [laughter] You memorized tha map? Really? That was pretty good seeing as you were kind of bespelled and couldn’t really talk and couldn’t ask people stuff. So, anyway, you manage to make it to where the Malinbois sleep.
It was a large, bare room, entirely built of stone, and illumined only by narrow slits high up in the wall, that had been designed for the use of archers. The place was very dim; but Gerard could see the glimmering outlines of an object not ordinarily to be looked for in such a situation, that arose from the middle of the floor. It was a tomb of marble; and stepping nearer, he saw that it was strangely weather-worn and was blotched by lichens of grey and yellow, such as flourish only within access of the sun. The slab that covered it was doubly broad and massive, and would require the full strength of two men to lift.
Raoul was staring stupidly at the tomb. “What now, Messire?” he queried.
“You and I, Raoul, are about to intrude upon the bedchamber of our host and hostess.”
At his direction, Raoul seized one end of the slab; and he himself took the other. With a mighty effort that strained their bones and sinews to the cracking-point, they sought to remove it; but the slab hardly stirred. At length, by grasping the same end in unison, they were able to tilt the slab; and it slid away and dropped to the floor with a thunderous crash. Within, there were two open coffins, one of which contained the Sieur Hugh du Malinbois and the other his lady Agathe. Both of them appeared to be slumbering peacefully as infants; a look of tranquil evil, of pacified malignity, was imprinted upon their features; and their lips were dyed with a fresher scarlet than before.
Without hesitation or delay, Gerard plunged the lance-like end of his staff into the bosom of the Sieur du Malinbois. The body crumbled as if it were wrought of ashes kneaded and painted to human semblance; and a slight odor as of age-old corruption arose to the nostrils of Gerard. Then the troubadour pierced in like manner the bosom of the chatelaine. And simultaneously with her dissolution, the walls and floor of the donjon seemed to dissolve like a sullen vapor, they rolled away on every side with a shock as of unheard thunder. With a sense of weird vertigo and confusion Gerard and Raoul saw that the whole chateau had vanished like the towers and battlements of a bygone storm; that the dead lake and its rotting shores no longer offered their malefical illusions to the eye. They were standing in a forest glade, in the full unshadowed light of the afternoon sun; and all that remained of the dismal castle was the lichen-mantled tomb that stood open beside them. Fleurette and her maid were a little distance away; and Gerard ran to the mercer’s daughter and took her in his arms. She was dazed with wonderment, like one who emerges from the night-long labyrinth of an evil dream, and finds that all is well.
“I think, sweetheart,” said Gerard, “that our next rendezvous will not be interrupted by the Sieur du Malinbois and his chatelaine.”
But Fleurette was still bemused with wonder, and could only respond to his words with a kiss.
T: Oh that madcap Fleurette!
P: Again, not saying a single word!
T: She’s so zany!
P: She feels like a real charmer. I think Gerard’s picked a real winner!
T: I feel like this is the ending of a He-Man cartoon. I feel like they should just laugh at the end “ah ha ha ha.”
R: They couldn’t even…protect their tomb. [sadly]
P: What I love about it is…they couldn’t protect their tomb, and it’s not like, like Gerard and Raoul go in there and instantly get the slab off. [T: no.] They can’t figure out to pull on the same end together right away, so there’s like this weird, as Tim points out, almost comedic when you think about it, cuz are they pulling in opposite ends? [T: Probably.] Like what are they doing before they figure out to pull on the same side, before the marble comes off?
T: Someone needs to make this as a straight-up horror comedy.
R: But then when it does, they’re just Buffy-pires. You stab ’em and …poof.
P: In my role-playing metaphor, these are like the last two 20s. These are also critical rolls here. Like the fiticious DM in my mind, like the vampires are actually quite strong but the players roll 20s again and then like, well, I guess they’re dead. And then, the adventure ends. With no, I mean….it’s just such a weird, this ending is so weird, and not in…
T: Well, because, the hero of our story doesn’t do anything heroic. It’s totally the vampires’ stupidity and laziness.
R: They’re lazy and weak.
T: And Gerard isn’t heroic. I mean, I guess the most heroic thing he did was hold onto his staff by telling a weird lie about it.
P: That I find kind of interesting. I can’t…I know I sound angry at the story, but it’s just because of the wasted potential. There are so many good details here, and as Ray Bradbury pointed out in that thing, Clark Asthon Smith does a marvelous job of bringing us into this world and bringing us into this strange alternate enchantment, because what even is this enchantment that Gerard has found himself in? Has it actually physically altered reality? There are so many interesting pieces to it, and what are these strange smells that come out of the food? What was the food? What is all this stuff that’s happening? It just…
R: It falls apart like a vampire.
P: Exactly! I have a thing, this is actually Clark Ashton Smith talking about the trouble he has with endings, and it’s actually from a letter to August Derleth, and it’s actually about the story we’re going to cover next week, “Maker of Gargoyles,” and he says in the letter
Funny, I have more trouble with the endings of stories than anything else, God knows how many I’ve had to rewrite.
So, again, not the most insightful, but he knows he has trouble with endings. And I think this story really suffers from it.
T: But again, like we mentioned at the top of the show, it’s the most frequently re-printed, it seems to be a lot of people’s favorite story, and maybe because it’s so, it’s easily-accessible? It’s not as challenging as “End of the Story” and it’s still a great piece of writing. It’s very evocative.
P: It is, it’s notable straightforward and I guess I think there’s merit to that, I guess. I do think, to what you and I Tim were talking about before the show, before we were recording, there’s an interesting idea to this story if you remove the idea that they’re vampires at all. If you take the fangs and the marks on the neck out, you’d have to adjust the ending a bit, but I think there’s a version where they’re just very weird, very powerful sorcerers and they’re after something else, other than blood. So that’s my note, I guess, to Clark Ashton Smith 80 years ago. Could they be something other than vampires? Maybe they should be werewolves. You seem to mention those a lot. Maybe they’re werewolf-sorcerers!
R: By the way, speaking of vampires, we’re so far for a two-for-two count if we’re going to count a lamia as a vampire which, they don’t exactly count as the same thing but they’re pretty close.
P: They’re like the same family.
R: So we’re got, so far, double-vampire action, no werewolves.
T: Not yet!
P: Only in this podcast do you get double-vampire action.
T: Did they mention werewolves in “End of the Story”
R: Yes, I believe that was part of the list of terrible terrible things that dwell under…
P: They tend to appear in lists of things in Averoigne, but not in the flesh. I want to point out, in this episode, I was going to start my “word of the story,” the vocabulary word I found most distinctive in the story, and in this story it’s “donjon.” Which I think you might actually pronounce “dungeon,” but it’s not a dungeon, it’s like…it’s spelled donjon and it’s not what we think of as a keep, right? It’s just part of a castle but this weird other word that I’d never seen before I read this story, and then I was like “What? What, pray tell, is a donjob?”
R: It’s in several of Smith’s stories, actually.
T: That’s what happens when your education came from reading the Encyclopedia Britannica.
R: There are worse ways to go.
T: True. So, yeah, that was “Rendezvous in Averoigne,” just a quick note before we end this show, the response to this podcast has been just completely overwhelmingly amazing. Thanks for everyone who’s subscribed and who’s checking out the podcast and website and Twitter feed, we’re on all those things, we’re on Facebook, our website is thedoubleshadow.com, you can follow us on twitter @thedoubleshadow, what’s the Facebook?
P: Where’s on that Stitcher thing now, too. I don’t really know what it is, but we’re on there.
T: All right! This has been The Double Shadow: A Clark Ashton Smith podcast, join us next time, in about 2 weeks, as we read [scary voice] “The Maker of Gargoyles.” By Clark Ashton Smith. Mwhahahahha.
R: No, really.
[clip of Ruth singing the Doctor Who theme music off-key.]