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.
P: I’m Phil.
R: And I’m Ruth.
T: And this week, we’ll be covering, “The Theft of the Thirty Nine Girdles,” which is a sequel- is it a sequel?
T: It’s another story featuring Satampra Zeiros
P: We have to call it a sequel, because he’s writing it as he’s dying, right? He’s old.
T: Yeah, yeah, he’s definitely old.
R: It’s definitely set to be written after the other story.
P: And it’s our final Hyperborea story, so that’s kinda sad.
P: It’s also notable, because it’s written waaaay, way after everything else that we’ve read so far, I think. I don’t think we’ve ever red anything that’s been this- that was written this…late.
P: He wrote this in the 50s so its about 20 years after the hey-day of Weird Tales and then it- the story was originally published in 1958 in a magazine called, “Science Fiction and Fantasy.”
R: Yeah that’s pretty different.
P: Yeah, it’s way different. It’s like a whole different- This is like cold war era Clark Ashton Smith as opposed to depression era Clark Ashton Smith.
T: When was the first one written, “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros?”
P: I think it was like 1931.
R: 1931 sounds right.
T: Wow, so that’s quite the gap to come back and revisit this character.
R: It’s a neat bookend though, for Hyperborea; cus we started, y’know, with “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros.”
T: Oh yeah, we did.
P: Yup, oh so many years ago; months ago I mean.
T: God, I feel like we’ve been living in Hyperborea for so long. Is it- has it been the longest setting or was Averoigne…
P: No, I think they’re all the same length-
T: They’re about the same length, I thought.
R: Yeah they’re about the same length. I mean we did have the whole Summer thing; mentally we’ve been in the setting longer.
T: Yeah, but I also feel like Atlantis didn’t have that much.
P: (inaudible) had like what, five stories?
R: I think so, yeah. And we could check this if we only had our right notes.
P: Naaaaaah, no.
R: Who needs notes?
R: We definitely don’t need Wikipedia.
P: I don’t, I mean, I would like to say some things about “Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine,” but it’s one of those magazines that I don’t think there’s much to say about really.
T: What do you know about it?
P: I don’t anything about it except that it was called Science Fiction and Fantasy. I know that he had a little bit of a hard time placing this story because even though it was like, he was a little bit of like a star from the Weird Tales era, nobody would take it. And I think one place, like was really excited to get it and they rejected it, because as we’ll see in the story, nothing much fantastical happens.
P: ‘This isn’t a fantasy story, Clark. There’s like nothing- you make it a point to point out that there is no magic in this story, and therefore we do not want it.’ It’s like an adventure story.
R: Yeah it’s an adventure; it’s like a crime jaunt, buddy comedy, of sorts.
P: A sexy crime jaunt.
“Let it be said as a foreword to this tale that I have robbed no man who was not in some way a robber of others. In all my long and arduous career, I, Satampra Zeiros of Uzuldaroum, sometimes known as the master-thief, have endeavored to serve merely as an agent in the rightful redistribution of wealth. The adventure I have now to relate was no exception: though, as it happened in the outcome, my own pecuniary profits were indeed meager, not to say trifling.
Age is upon me now. And sitting at that leisure which I have earned through many hazards, I drink the wines that are heartening to age. To me, as I sip, return memories of splendid loot and brave nefarious enterprise. Before me shine the outpoured sackfuls of djals or pazoors, removed so dexterously from the coffers of iniquitous merchants and money-lenders. I dream of rubies redder than the blood that was shed for them; of sapphires bluer than depths of glacial ice; of emeralds greener than the jungle in spring. I recall the escalade of pronged balconies; the climbing of terraces and towers guarded by monsters; the sacking of altars beneath the eyes of malign idols or sentinel serpents.
Often I think of Vixeela, my one true love and the most adroit and courageous of my companions in burglary. She has long since gone to the bourn of all good thieves and comrades; and I have mourned her sincerely these many years. But still dear is the memory of our amorous or adventurous nights and the feats we performed together. Of such feats, perhaps the most signal and audacious was the theft of the thirty-nine girdles.”
R: In some ways this makes me think that he could’ve done a whole Sinbad-esque series of their adventures and his adventures and meeting up with her and then breaking up with her perhaps at some point.
T: Satampra Zeiros could’ve been his Conan.
P: That’s what makes me think, well this too, but it’s weird…I dunno. Some of that opening just reads as, like, Conan parody to me-
P: Like I don’t know- maybe not even parody, just like, ‘This is what I have to say about this character, because we all know who Conan is’ or something like that.
T: Right. Yeah, cus it was well after Conan, right?
T: And when did- cus it also reminded me a lot of Fritz Leiber’s, “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser,” and I wonder-
P: This was after the first one. I think the first one of those is actually pretty early, like maybe the 40s, maybe.
R: True, but his first Satampra Zeiros was in, y’know-
T: Yeah, right.
P: Well right, but the language is different here, right? Because in that one, I wouldn’t even venture that the Satampra Zeiros in this story and the Satampra Zeiros in that story are quite different, because the Satampra Zeiros in that story is like a drunkard who has no interest in redistributing wealth. He’s just a robber.
T: (in agreement) Yeah, no.
R: This is true. Definitely true.
T: He’s just the master thief.
R: He’s does brag at the beginning about some of his awesome heists with Tirouv Ompallios. Like breaking the adamantine box of the Acromi, where the medallions of early Dynasty of Hyperborean kings were kept and that kind of thing. But yeah this is a little bit different. Definitely more of a social spin on it.
T: Yeah and now instead of Tirouv Ompallios he’s got Vixeela.
R: Tirouv Ompallios didn’t end so good.
P: Uh, yeah so, for the record, “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” is like the 30s. It’s like ’36 is the first novella.
T and R: Oh, ok.
P: Also it’s hard I think to separate this opening this sort of nostalgic opening from Clark Ashton Smith writing it at the time; who was much older and had lost a lot of friends. I mean I’m sure- I like to think of him as a super lonely dude from the 30s till his death. He probably wasn’t, but um, in fact he definitely wasn’t, but-
R: Yeah definitely, which is good!
P: Yeah, which is good, but it has this like, older man looking back on his exploits tone to it that is sort of interesting.
T: Right. And he’s one of the- in this story Satampra Zeiros is one of his more heroic narrators even though he’s a master thief. He’s very much on top of his game while telling this story. Like he’s not stuck for ideas. He’s ready to do it.
P: He doesn’t need to get drunk before he does it.
T: He’s a man with a purpose.
P: So what are these girdles? What’s the plan? What are they doing here?
T: Well apparently in Uzuldaroum there is a moon god or goddess?
P: It’s a god.
T: Oh yeah, the moon god. There’s a moon god, Leniqua, whose temple is in the suburbs of Uzuldaroum and they basically take 39 virgins and, I guess they, like, chain them up with these girdles?
T: And they’re basically religious prostitutes.
R: Right so they don’t stay virgins-
R: But they’re theoretical or religious virgins-
P: They call them nominal virgins, in the story.
R: You have to actually get the key, to be allowed to have sex with them, which is what the girdles come in for. They’re like pretty gold and they’ve got-
T: (adding) Bronze.
R: -lovely jewels and stuff. It’s just horrifying to think about being stuck in one of those things.
T: But luckily the key is sold pretty easily, like they’ll sell out the key for people’s usage. So yeah it’s prostitution.
P: This is one of my favorite details about this story, is like, nominal virgin only way for this temple to make money. My other favorite strange detail is that he points out that the temple isn’t in Uzuldaroum proper, it’s in the suburbs which, is just (laughs) like it’s a funny thing, because I don’t think that the suburbs as a concept really existed-
P: -when he was writing these stories before, like suburbs are kinda like a post-World War II thing, so I just think that’s a funny little detail, but it’s like, ‘Yeah these guys are in the suburbs, they’re y’know, just outside of gritty downtown Uzuldaroum.’
P: It’s like the like the Leniquan suburbs where you can go to this fancy whorehouse that pretends to be worshiping a moongod-
R: -that we’ve never heard of about and that we’ll never hear about again?
P: Yeah it appears- yeah, I tried to find out if anybody else had taken up Leniqua to do anything with him, but kinda like Yhoundeh, it’s like these weird Hyperborean gods that weren’t ominous enough to make the cut-
P: Like they’re not Tsathoggua, so everyone’s like, ‘Who cares?’
T: I was actually thinking about the notion of prostitution as sacrifice, cus you’re still like…giving up your body-
P: (laughing) What were you…what were you doing when you were thinking about this, Tim?
T: Oh y’know just sitting alone in the dark. Just me and my thoughts. Um, no, because we don’t really get the backstory of this temple, we get only what he tells us here, but this could be a legitimate religious ceremony for them. Like instead of actually sacrifices virgins by killing them, they force them into sex slavery (breaks into laughter).
R: I like how you ended that.
T: (sheepish) Yeeeeah. I mean it’s still awful-
P: Although is it clear that they are forced? Is that part of the story?
R: Well Vixeela used-
P: Vixeela just says that she doesn’t want to be it anymore, right? She doesn’t- It doesn’t necessarily say that she was forced.
R: It says that she “chafed at it.”
P: Which is a hilarious double entendre.
T: Yeah. Backstory Vixeela was one of the virgins,but she escaped. And the virgins are released once they’re 31.
R + P: Yeah.
T: Yeah. So at the age of 31 they’re like, ‘Ok go and now live your life.’ But Vixeela escaped before, how does he put it? ‘Her sacerdotal time had been up.’
R: Yeah I think that it’s like in a lot of cases where that, maybe, you end up with these people who, ideally, would have these people who are like, ‘Yeah I’m gonna go serve the god or goddess’ (Tim: Right). But in real life what you end up more with is people getting kinda forced into it or something like that.
T: That’s kinda how I took it, but it’s a fantasy story so we could just pretend that they’re willing participants.
P: Or just raise the question, it doesn’t really matter. I was just curious if it said one way or the other.
R: It’s not part of the heist especially.
T: The heist! Let’s talk about it.
P: Well, ok so actually let’s finish fleshing out Vixeela’s biography, right? So she chafed at wearing the girdles and then she fled and then she’s outside of Uzuldaroum for a little while then she comes back and decides to be a thief and she changes her looks and decides that she’s now too old to be cared about by the priests anyway, but she’s not a very good thief, like she can’t really pull it off that well so somehow, we don’t know how, she meets Satampra Zeiros, and they start thieving together and it works out great because apparently Satampra Zeiros is a big large dude and Vixeela is all skinny and wily, so it works out well.
R: Like a “lemur.”
P: (laughing in agreement) Like a lemur.
R: Like a lemur.
P: Like a nominally virgin lemur.
R: Yeah…and she’s, because she’s told them the whole backstory he gets this whole idea that maybe they should go and steal these 39 golden girdles.
T: Yeah it’s awesome.
P: Yeah, Tim what are the problems with the temple?
T: Ok, so firstly they have to get through the quote, unquote, sickle-armed priests. Do you think they just are armed with sickles or are their arms sickles?
P: I think that they hold sickles in their arms.
T: Me too, but I like to pretend that they’re-
R: If this were an RPG they would have sickle arms.
T: Right, they have prosthetic- they lose their arms to become priests of Leniqua and then they get sickle arms.
R: Seems fair.
T: Yeah, right? So they have to get past the guards and then the temple is also filled with people, so once they get past the guards they have to figure out how to empty the temple of people and they also have to figure out a time when all of the girdles are off of the women.
R: Right, cus it’s like, you can’t go from one lady to another being like, ‘Hold on a sec I got the key. (makes key turning noise) ok let’s scoot.’
T: Luckily Vixeela, since she was a virgin knows how to beat almost all of these problems. One, there’s a secret subterranean adit, like a tunnel, that’s underneath the temple that she thinks is still passable.
R: Yeah and it used to be used by people visiting the virgins because it used to be a lot more shameful, or respectful, or they were trying to keep un the appearance of virginity and now that totally not…
P: Yeah that’s a fascinating piece of- like you could read a whole backstory into how the fact that they’re not actually virgins came about, I think based just on that line, because it’s like, well maybe it was for a long time that they were actually virgins and people were just sneaking in to have sex with them and then eventually they were like, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, it doesn’t actually matter if they’re virgins or not, let’s just enter through the front door and we’ll make some money on this.’
P: So who knows? But there’s also this cool little line about this passage that says, “[it’s] a sign, perhaps, that religious sentiment had deepened or that modesty had declined.”
P: I think that’s a really clever turn of phrase.
T: Yeah, it’s great.
R: And Vixeela knows what night everybody will be in demand, so she knows what night, basically, all the girls should be out of their girdles and in their beds with guys or whatever. And so she knows that way they can avoid missing a girdle or- y’know cus ‘The Theft of Thirty Eight Girdles, but We Left One Behind,’ doesn’t sound nearly as good. But there’s still the problem of getting everybody out of the temple.
T: So then Satampra Zeiros, the master thief, he starts thinking about all of the tricks he’s used in the past. So he has like a drug that is quickly vaporized that he uses to put people to sleep when he’s robbing their houses, but it’s limited in range so that’s not gonna work, it won’t dissipate all throughout the temple and get everybody. And then he also knows of a pollen from a jungle lily that he throws in people’s faces that will paralyze them, but there’s too many people to deal with for that; he doesn’t have enough pollen to throw in all of these people’s faces.
R: Yeah (laughs), that would be an interesting attempt.
T: But I love these details, I love the detail of Vixeela, how she knows how to operate the secret flagstone with the counterweights that will let them into the temple and then he’s got this array of thiefly weapons. It’s definitely the most heroic Clark Ashton Smith story I can think of.
P: I still think Athammaus is the most heroic.
R: That is pretty awesome.
T: (laughing) I guess so.
P: What? C’mon, he’s totally more heroic than Satampra Zeiros! C’moooon.
T: I wish they would team up.
T: How cool would that be?
P: Don’t dodge the question!
R: Well you realize what would happen though if they teamed up right?
T: Yes, he is heroic, but he is a bureaucrat. He’s a company man. Satampra Zeiros is an entrepreneur.
R: He would also have to cut Satampra Zeiros’ head off.
P: (laughing in disbelief) He’s an entrepreneur?
T: He works for himself.
P: ‘I have a business idea for you: we’re gonna steal these virgins’ girdles.
P: ‘Sir, that’s not a business plan, that’s a heist.’ ‘Doesn’t matter let’s do it!’ I don’t know who was calling him sir, but somebody-
T: -the guy at the loan office.
P: The man in the bank.
R: Probably, yeah.
P: So Tim, how does he decide to solve this third and supposedly most difficult of problems in the temple?
T: He decides, since he doesn’t have the tools at his disposal, he knows somebody who may, who’s a magician and alchemist, Veezi Phenquor. He basically acts as his fence, but his alchemical fence, where he’ll bring him gold and silver and he’ll melt it down into other forms so he won’t get picked up by the cops.
R: Which is pretty cool having an alchemical fence.
T: But he’s kinda skeptical about magic. Like he doesn’t really think magic works or that Veezi, young Veezi, is a good magician.
T: But he knows-
P: He’s “a skilled pharmacist and toxicologist,” but a terrible magician.
R: Pretty much.
We found Veezi Phenquor decanting one of his more noisome concoctions from a still bubbling and steaming kettle into vials of stout stoneware. By the smell I judged that it must be something of special potency: the exudations of a pole-cat would have been innocuous in comparison. In his absorption he did not notice our presence until the entire contents of the kettle had been decanted and the vials tightly stoppered and sealed with a blackish gum.
“That,” he observed with unctuous complacency, “is a love-philter that would inflame a nursing infant or resurrect the powers of a dying nonagenarian. Do you—?”
“No,” I said emphatically. “We require nothing of the sort. What we need at the moment is something quite different.” In a few terse words I went on to outline the problem, adding:
“If you can help us, I am sure you will find the melting-down of the golden girdles a congenial task. As usual, you will receive a third of the profits.”
P: I nominate Veezi Phenquor as the classiest of Hyperborean citizens.
T: Oh my god.
P: You need to give a baby an erection? Or how about an old man? I’ve got just the thing.
T: It’s just insane.
P: So this is what I like about this story I guess, is that it just has sex on the brain.
T: It’s unrepentant.
P: You didn’t need to have him walk in on Veezi making a boner- making like a Hyperborean Viagra
T: Boner potions.
R: It does really say something about him though.
P: About Veezi? Yeah it does.
T: He knows his market. He’s a shrewd business man, that’s what I learned.
P: Now that’s a business plan, but similar to the business plan in “The Mandrakes,” right? This is the second time we’ve encountered an alchemist whose trade seemed to be just giving people the ability to screw.
R: Well this happens to be about the year and about the time that he ended up getting married so perhaps he did have sex on the brain despite being 61. Because he wrote it around ’53 based on a letter, which says nothing else interesting, but has the date anyway.
P: And Veezi has, yeah he does have something he thinks he can help them and we don’t actually find out what it is in this passage, we just know Veezi has something that they can use to clear the temple and he also has a plan to smuggle the girdles out once they have them, but I don’t think we actually know what that plan is either. They sort of hold those two cards to be a surprise for later in the story.
T: But Veezi’s on board. He’s like, ‘I’ll help you, but I gotta be part of this.’
P: Like I want to mention again just how much Satampra doesn’t want magic to be involved.
P: Like when he asks Veezi about it, he’s like, ‘ Now just to be clear, this isn’t magic this is’ I don’t know what he calls it, like pharmacology-
T: Yeah. well he says Veezi assures them. “that the effects of the powder, though extraordinary, are not beyond nature.”
P: Which is weird, because I don’t- Satampra in the other story- it feels almost Conan-ish, like he doesn’t want any magic, but we don’t have any justification for it, he just doesn’t think Veezi’s good at it I guess.
R: Mmmm, it could be just that much. If you don’t think somebody’s good at magic you definitely don’t want that spoiling your heist.
R: So it’s the next day.
T: Yeah and they have to lay low-
R: Well it’s the day of the heist, which was probably not the next day.
P: Yeah I thought they lay low for a while right? Cus at this point Satampra is know as a master thief. He doesn’t want the authorities skulking around or something. But yeah the day of the heist arrives.
R: They all meet up in peasant clothes.
T: Yup and then Veezi tells them his plan for getting them out.
R: Which is quite brilliant really.
T: Yeah, he gets a vegetable cart and fills it with vegetables, and once they steal the girdles they’ll just run down the tunnel, throw them in the vegetable cart, cover them up and then rejoin the vendors who are coming into the city, so they can come right back into the city.
R: Ocean’s 3: Thirty Nine Girdles. So they manage to sneak into the back of the temple pretty easily, through the cave like entrance and they don’t get caught or anything. They hear some voices and I love, “Leniqua’s image, presenting its reverend rear sat on a high dais in the center of the nave.”
P: Sex. On. The brain.
R: Like is it because they’re coming up behind it? Or?
T: Or is it that just the-
R: Or is like- does Leniqua kneel and shake his bum?
P: I think Leniqua’s like, he’s like that sun screen baby-
R: Oh god.
P: -Who’s like half turned towards the people coming into his temple. And he’s making a ‘oops’ face and his rump is just aimed at the door.
R: Can I tell you how much that sunscreen baby creeps me out.
P: And then I think for good luck you, as you enter the sacred whorehouse of Leniqua, you, like, throw pennies at his rump and depending on how they bounce, where they land you can scry your future.
P + R: Assmancy!
R: It all comes back to assmancy. They manage to get in and there are these fires, which burn round it and throw shadows around and make it all cool and dancey and turn it into a rave and then he uncorks the liquid, throws it into the fires and :Fwoot: :Puhh: Those are my sound effects.
T: They’re pretty good.
P: Mind you listeners, those are not the sound effects of magic, those are the sound effects of advanced pharmacology.
Immediately, it seemed, the air was full of surging phantoms—a soundless, multitudinous explosion, beating upon us, blasting our nostrils with charnel fetors till we reeled before it, choking and strangling. There was, however, no sense of material impact from the hideous forms that seemed to melt over and through us, rushing in all directions, as if every atom of the burning powder had released a separate ghost.
Hastily we covered our noses with squares of thick cloth that Veezi had warned us to bring for this purpose. Something of our usual aplomb returned and we moved forward through the seething rout. Lascivious blue cadavers intertwined around us. Miscegenations of women and tigers arched over us. Monsters double-headed and triple-tailed, goblins and ghouls rose obliquely to the far ceiling or rolled and melted to other and more nameless apparitions in lower air. Green sea-things, like unions of drowned men and octopi, coiled and dribbled with dank slime along the floor.
Then we heard the cries of fright from the temple’s inmates and visitors and began to meet naked men and women who rushed frantically through that army of beleaguering phantoms toward the exits. Those who encountered us face to face recoiled as if we too were shapes of intolerable horror.
The naked men were mostly young. After them came middle-aged merchants and aldermen, bald and pot-bellied, some clad in under-garments, some in snatched-up cloaks too short to cover them below the hips. Women, lean, fat or buxom, tumbled screaming for the outer doors. None of them, we saw with approbation, had retained her chastity girdle.
P: It’s just a sea of bouncing penises.
T: A sea of bouncing flesh.
R: Yes. Or as Phil put it nicely in the notes, “Nudies running hither and thither. Floppy genitals and screaming virginal whores and strange alchemical phantoms, just another Leniqua day.”
T: So what is it?
P: This is what I think it is. It’s not anything clearly that exists in reality, but I think my case for it being not magic is that it’s some kind of highly potent Hyperborean LSD that is air-bound, right? But it doesn’t make, this is like a minor detail in how the scene is written, I don’t- for that to really make sense to me I feel like they should have covered their faces before they lit it on fire, but then I guess they wouldn’t have seen anything and we kind of need to know what people are seeing.
R: Yeah, I think of it as almost being like some sort of magic fireworks, like what Gandalf set off in-
T: Oh yeah that’s-
P: Yeah, but I take Veezi at his word though, I think it’s like an air-borne hallucinogen.
R: Really, you take Veezi at his word?
T: Yeah, no, yeah number one.
P: I do yeah, I do.
T: I don’t
P: Hey, when in the history of Satampra Zeiros has Veezi betrayed him? If he had betrayed him in the past, he wouldn’t have gone to him in the first place.
R: Alright, we’ll follow your logic.
P: I think it’s like scarecrow gas, like in Batman. Scarecrow gas.
T: It could be a mixture of both. It could be something like a firework, but mixed in with that LSD hallucinogenic-
P: And also, let’s assume that Satampra knows that Veezi isn’t good at magic. I think this works pretty damn well-
R: This is true.
P: -Which I think also points to the fact that it’s probably not magic.
T: Yeah that’s true it does work.
R: And good news, everybody left their girdle. It does take a little trick to find one of them, because it’s being covered by a blanket or a cloak.
P: I love that the- cus it’s like this weird, I don’t know what it’s doing in the story, it’s like is it supposed to be suspenseful, like maybe they won’t find all 39 girdles?
R: Yeah and then boom they find it.
P: And like the next sentence is like, ‘Oh but it was there under some clothes, no problem.’
R: Yeah under a pile of male garments, we’re good.
T: Then they almost get nabbed.
R: It’s true.
P: This whole scene, I’m sorry, before we talk about them getting nabbed, reminds me actually of the first Conan movie, Milius’ Conan movie-
P: -Where they barge in on Thulsa Doom’s orgy. It has slightly a different effect, cus they just slaughter everybody there, but that similar adventurer-sneaking-upon-sexy-scene. I guess they don’t kill the women in Conan, they just kill the guards. Anyway, doesn’t matter.
R: I love that when they meet up with the high priest, as they’re trying to go back out the back door, he’s there trying to fight these phantoms and he’s got a long phallic rod of bronze.
P: Sex. On. The brain.
T: Well Leniqua’s obviously a sex cult with his little butt statue.
P: I wish for somebody listening to draw for us a priest fighting a phantom with a big penis staff.
T: I think I know the man for the job.
R: (knowingly) You do?
T: Yeah, I think we farm this out to Mike Bukowski.
R: I think we do.
T: Our resident penis artist.
P: (Following deep laughter) Our resident penis artist? Uhhhhhhhh, ok, so what happens?
T: Well they’re almost nabbed by the high priest. He strikes at Vixeela, but she dodges out of the way and then slams him in the head with the girdles and knocks him out.
P: Symbolism people.
R: It’s so beautifully- I mean it slams you in the head like a (inaudible)
T: Yeah, and I like that he had a name, Marquanos, that’s the high priest.
P: Marquanos and his magical penis staff.
R: And they have blood running in little rills from the serrated imprint of the great jewels, on his scalp.
T: So then they escape. They get out.
P: Yeah the fruit of their plan works great. Everything seems to be fine. And they, not unlike Robin Hood after a big heist, they lay low for a while, till the fuzz stops looking for them.
P: But it’s like, if I’m not mistaken in this story, they hide out for so long that eventually they have to like, go out to eat food, right?
P: They’re just like-
R: Well two days yeah.
P: Oh is it only two days?
P: But still, I mean that’s a long- you’d think they would’ve had enough food in their house to last maybe a week or something.
R: You would think.
P: I mean, he’s only sometimes known as a master thief, I guess now we see why.
T: He’s got other things to think about than stocking the fridge.
P: Yeah, he’s consummating his burglaries with Vixeela.
T: Right! Ew.
R: But you guys know they didn’t have refrigerators back then.
T: How do you know?
P: In all seriousness, I think that we can, I mean that is true probably, but that Hyperborea was facing an ice age, so clearly you could get an ice box.
R: Ok. That’s true.
P: I think that there would be ways to preserve food for at least three days.
R: So after three days it’s realistic.
P: There’s no Chef Boyardee canned food in Hyperborea.
T: I still don’t know we can say that.
P: Tim demands proof!
T: Chef De-Jonga…
P: Good one. Good one.
P: ‘I had something for this.’
T: Come back to me. Yeah so when they come back after eating.
Returning, we found evidence that Veezi Phenquor had paid us a visit during our absence, in spite of the fact that all the doors and windows had been, and still were, carefully locked. A small cube of gold reposed on the table, serving as paper-weight for a scribbled note.
The note read: “My esteemed friends and companions: After removing the various gems, I have melted down all the gold into ingots, and am leaving one of them as a token of my great regard. Unfortunately, I have learned that I am being watched by the police, and am leaving Uzuldaroum under circumstances of haste and secrecy, taking the other ingots and all the jewels in the ass-drawn cart, covered up by the vegetables I have providentially kept, even though they are slightly stale by now. I expect to make a long journey, in a direction which I cannot specify—a journey well beyond the jurisdiction of our local police, and one on which I trust you will not be perspicacious enough to follow me. I shall need the remainder of our loot for my expenses, et cetera. Good luck in all your future ventures.
“POSTSCRIPT: You too are being watched, and I advise you to quit the city with all feasible expedition. Marquanos, in spite of a well-cracked mazzard from Vixeela’s blow, recovered full consciousness late yesterday. He recognized in Vixeela a former temple-girl through the trained dexterity of her movements. He has not been able to identify her; but a thorough and secret search is being made, and other girls have already been put to the thumb-screw and toe-screw by Leniqua’s priests.
“You and I, my dear Satampra, have already been listed, though not yet identified, as possible accomplices of the girl. A man of your conspicuous height and bulk is being sought. The Powder of the Fetid Apparitions, some traces of which were found on Leniqua’s dais, has already been analyzed. Unluckily, it has been used before, both by myself and other alchemists.
I hope you will escape—on other paths than the one I am planning to follow.”
T: The double cross!
P: But is it a double cross?
P: How is it a double cross?
R: He could’ve left more bars of gold.
T: And he’s saying don’t follow me.
R: He left one, why didn’t he leave like five? Ten? I don’t know how many bars of gold there are.
P: I feel like in all the annals of heist double crosses, this one barely qualifies.
T: I think it very much qualifies, but it’s very- it’s the gentleman’s double cross.
T: Cus he could have easily gone and said, ‘C’mon the heats on, get in the vegetable cart, hide under the vegetables, let’s get out of here.’ Instead he’s like, ‘Here’s a piece of gold, I’m leaving with the rest, don’t follow me-
R: -And the gems.
T: And you’re being watched, so get out of the city.
P: But let me tell you why that isn’t a double cross.
P: Because for it to really be a double cross I think he has to have, from the beginning, been planning to double cross them. Instead it’s like, ‘Oh by the way I screwed up, I’m out of here, I’m leaving town.’ That’s like, it’s a subtle distinction, but to me it makes all the differences.
T: I don’t know.
P: Yes it is a double cross, but it’s not like he was like, ‘Hahaha I’m gonna double cross these guys.’ (Tim: I think it is!) It’s like, ‘Oh shit I’m found out I’m out of here.’
R: How do we know?
T: I took it that he was. That he did plan it all the time, that’s why he wanted to be involved, cus he could’ve just let them suss it out, but he’s like, ‘Y’know what, I got some plans here. I’ll only help you if I’m involved in the plan,’ because he knows-
P: But then why- No, Tim, no no no. Why did he leave a note then? Why did he give them any gold?
T: Because he doesn’t want them to get snagged by the cops.
R: He’s a mild asshole?
P: No, a real double cross would’ve been they come back into their apartment and the police are there and Marquanos kills them both. That’s a double cross, this is like a, ‘I screwed up and I’m out of here, by the way I’m warning you that you have to go too.’
T: I guess we’ll have to let history decide.
P: When we find those fossilized Chef Boyardee cans, maybe there’ll also be a note that explains the end of this story.
T: ‘Oh by the way, my name is Veezi Phenquor and I did indeed double cross.’
P: I like this story up until a point and for me this story blows it right here-
T: Oh really?
P: Yeah because this whole note to me just feels like a really soft ending, which is fine for a story, but this isn’t just a story, this is the last Hyperborean story he ever wrote, it’s a Satampra Zeiros sequel, and it starts with an old Satampra Zeiros saying, ‘I’m gonna tell you this story,’ and then it doesn’t loop back and have old Satampra Zeiros-
T: Yeah. That’s true.
P: -say something at the end. And it kind of drives me crazy, because I would like to know what old Satampra Zeiros thought about Veezi either double crossing or not double crossing him. And instead it just leaves us with this like, ‘Oh by the way you have to leave, don’t follow me,’ which is very- I find it a deeply unsatisfying ending to both this story and to the setting of Hyperborea.
R: Ok, I can buy the- I would like to see it loop around, definitely.
P: But everything up to that point, I think is a lot of fun. Like, I love- sexy heist is great, I love a little more Satampra Zeiros; that’s a lot of fun. But it’s just, I just needed- all it would’ve taken for me to love this story is probably two more sentences. Where it was old Satampra Zeiros saying ‘Vixeela and I parted ways and she died of Hyperborean, like, ice cancer (all laugh), later on I killed Veezi. All I needed was a little more- or like something to Satampra to the coming ice age of Hyperborea. Something to like- just like…Land me Clark. Land me. Instead you just took me up in the air and then dropped me.
T: I wonder if right after this, “The Theft of the Thirty Nine Girdles,” then he went to- he was still in Uzuldaroum, right? When he met Tirouv Ompallios, right?
T: I wonder if this is what caused his downward spiral.
P: I’m also curious about why he decided to make Satampra notably large-
P: -like a physically large person, which is brought up what, like twice in this story. I think it’s kind of weird.
T: Very specifically.
P: Yeah specifically, yeah.
T: Yeah, I agree with you that it is a little frustrating. I didn’t mind it all that much because the whole story has a very light tone, so I didn’t really mind it, but it is a frustrating ending, especially because since it’s the very last written, and latest written, Hyperborea story.
T: Yeah, it could’va been- he could’ve given us a little bit more.
P: I just need a touch, y’know? Just finish me off, that’s all I’m saying.
P: I bought the key, you took the girdle off, let’s do this. And that’s it for Hyperborea though. I’m sad to see it go.
R: Me too.
T: Yeah, it was a fun little fantasy setting.
P: Although I guess in our next episode, when we talk about our new settings and Necronomi-Con, maybe Tim can talk a little bit about that Hyperborea collection that he got.
T: Oh, yeah.
P: But we should save that I guess for the next episode.
T: Yeah Right. Oh yeah right, this episode we had a reader as you will obviously know by now. He is Rick Lacy, he is an artist for Zynga, and he also worked with Phil on, well you tell them Phil.
P: Rick and I worked on making an alchemical love child back in the 40s. Didn’t turn out and we’ve known each other since.
P: That’s a lie, we worked on a comic book called, “Labor Days,” for Oni Press many years ago. It’s good though, if you can find a copy.
T: Yeah, it is good. It’s really good. It pays off where, “The Theft of the Thirty Nine Girdles” does not.
P: I’m gonna land you. Y’know if you come into my massage parlor I’m gonna do anything you need.
T: Your ending will be happy.
P: So join us next time when we’ll talk about where we go next with Clark Ashton Smith and also talk a little bit about Necronomi-Con, which was last weekend although when you hear this it will probably have been a month ago, so join us.
T: And how many, uh, how many gir- oh, 39. Yup.
T: It’s right in the title.
R: It’s right in the title, Tim.
P: Look Tim’s just experiencing this for the first time right now.