Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.
THE DARK LAND (1936) – In her tower bedroom at Castle Joiry, Jirel lies in bed, mortally wounded while leading her men at the Battlefield of Sorrow. A pike wound in her side has grown infected and the weak, delirious warrior woman is surrounded by her chambermaids, all of them weeping over their lady’s condition.
Father Gervase, whom we met back in the first Joiry story, arrives to cleanse Jirel of her sins as part of her Last Rites. He and the chambermaids are shocked to see that Jirel of Joiry’s body has disappeared from her death bed.
The priest and the maids are overcome with fear that the mistress of Castle Joiry may have been taken away body and soul by Satan. Father Gervase whispers his suspicion that Jirel had too often dabbled in forbidden things and defied too many unearthly powers during her lifetime and had finally paid the price.
Elsewhere, Jirel comes to on a comfortable bed with her wounds completely healed and her body dressed in an elegant purple dress. While she struggles to figure out where she is and what happened, a tall, imposing man with coal-black skin and a head made of burning flames welcomes her to the mystic realm called Romne.
The figure tells her he is Pav, the ruler of Romne, and Jirel has attracted his attention due to her spreading fame among unearthly entities thanks to her reckless adventuring and repeated defiance of their kind.
At length, Pav informs our heroine that he transported her bodily to Romne and healed her mortal wound because he has decided she will make a fit bride for him and queen for his domain. As you would expect, even unarmed, Jirel tries to fight her abductor who mystically pits his will against hers.
Through concentration, Pav is able to drive Jirel to her knees before him. She is furious but Pav is delighted at how spirited she is. He admits to her that he could magically submerge her will and make her an obedient bride but to do so would extinguish her fiery individuality. He prefers for her to be his willingly.
After Pav lets Jirel rise to her feet again, he takes her on a tour of Romne, a realm of near total darkness with only the barest outlines of trees and mountains visible to our heroine no matter how much she strains her eyes.
Because the infatuated Pav is still trying to charm Jirel of Joiry he mentions that as queen of Romne she will be taught certain mystic arts which will deepen her appreciation of this odd realm. Combining threats with pleas, Jirel convinces Pav to humor her by giving her time to find an escape from Romne or to fight him in an armed duel.
The smiling figure condescends to give our heroine the run of his kingdom for a time, certain that she will find neither a way out nor a weapon to use against him. (If only villains in real life were this foolish.)
While exploring the mad realm of Romne, Jirel encounters a woman called, interchangeably, the White Witch and the Corpse Witch. She is dressed in all-white robes, smells of the grave and has a boney-white skull face with hair that writhes like tentacles.
This witch informs the warrior woman that she had been Pav’s mate until his growing preoccupation with Jirel caused him to reject her. She plans to kill our heroine and thus regain first place in Pav’s affections.
The desperate Jirel finds that she is helpless before the Corpse Witch’s magic but talks the female entity into striking a bargain. Rather than just kill her (Jirel) and regain Pav’s affections until some other woman strikes his fancy, she should instead help her kill Pav and then she can rule Romne alone forever.
The White Witch agrees and gives instructions to the warrior woman regarding a way to kill Pav. After that, Jirel convinces Pav that she is ready to be his bride and they return to his throne room. Once there she distracts the king of Romne by poutishly insisting on a wedding gown.
While the bemused Pav is thus distracted, Jirel of Joiry uses the prescribed method of destroying him, then must try to survive against the triumphant Corpse Witch. Since there are still two more Jirel stories to go, obviously she does survive and winds up transported back to Castle Joiry.
Another Jirel of Joiry story awaits us next time.
FOR OTHER NEGLECTED PULP HEROES CLICK HERE.