Of all the Jirel stories I’ve looked at so far, I found this to be the weakest. The story opens with Jirel lying unconscious and near death from a pike wound to the side. As the priest shows up to give her last rites, she disappears.
She finds herself on a platform facing a giant statue of a man. Around his head is a crown of flames. It isn’t long before the subject of the statue shows up. He appears in a swirl of light whose description sounds a lot like the transporter effects from Star Trek TOS.
The man informs her his name is Pav. He’s brought her to his kingdom of Romne. He intends for Jirel to be his queen. It’s her fiery fighting nature that’s drawn his attention.
Jirel, of course, isn’t having any of this idea. She says she’d rather die first. Pav, in spite of the fact he’s kidnapped her, has some semblance of honor. He states he doesn’t want to take her against her will. They end up making a bargain: Jirel will go in search of a weapon to defeat Pav. If successful, she will use the weapon against him. If she fails, she becomes Pav’s bride.
The kingdom of Romne is a strange one which obeys physical laws different from those of our own. Jirel can gaze intently at any location she can see, and she will be taken there. The description of this effect is like the lens of a camera zooming in on something. The concept of a camera is never used, but it’s a sign of Moore’s skill as a writer that she is able to portray this idea.
Jirel visits a plateau on the edge of a great mountain where she encounters an old woman wrapped in a white robe whose dark hair resembles snakes on her shoulders. The woman questions Jirel’s motives in coming there. It turns out she is the former queen of Romne and as such is Jirel’s rival. Jirel is able to convince the woman that she has no desire to marry Pav but only wants to return home.
The woman tells Jirel how to destroy Pav, but Jirel doesn’t agree to follow the woman’s instructions because she suspects there is something the old woman isn’t telling her. Pav shows up before the conversation is finished. He comes striding towards the mountain, a giant of a size on the scale of the mountain, shrinking to the size he was when he first appeared to Jirel by the time he reaches her. The old woman flees, but not before slapping Jirel and telling her to honor the bargain or suffer for it.
Pav insists that Jirel honor her bargain with him and marry her. Jirel agrees, planning to kill him instead.
Of course Jirel manages to escape and return home. There’s no swordplay or physical combat in this story. All of the physical fighting takes place before “The Dark Land” opens, when Jirel is injured. While Romne is an odd place, there’s nothing about it to make the land stand out. We’ve seen this sort of thing before in other works. Moore certainly depicts fantasy lands that are more imaginative in some of her earlier works, including the previous Jirel stories. (Reviewed here, here, and here.)
Don’t get me wrong. This was not a bad story. Moore’s poetic and lush prose is every bit as good as it is in her other works. It’s the story itself that’s a bit on the thin side compared to what came before, as well as the next story, “Hellsgarde”. Still, I’d rather read a C. L. Moore story when she wasn’t at the top of her game than read most of what is being pushed on readers by New York publishers these days.