Originally published in the legendary magazine Weird Tales in 1934, C. L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry is fantasy’s first true strong female protagonist, as well as one of the most striking and memorable characters to come out of the golden age of science fiction and fantasy. Published alongside landmark stories by H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, the six classic stories included in this volume prove that C. L. Moore’s Jirel is a rival to Conan the Barbarian and Elric of Melniboné, making Black God’s Kiss an essential addition to any fantasy library.
“I was looking for tales of dire conflict, hot-blooded honor and impetuosity, leadership and courage—all the qualities that my culture told me were reserved for males . . . what a joy it was to run across Jirel, who at some levels of my soul I longed desperately to be.” —Suzy McKee Charnas, Hugo and Nebula Award–winning author
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Black God's Kiss
They brought in Joiry's tall commander, struggling between two men-atarms who tightly gripped the ropes which bound their captive's mailed arms. They picked their way between mounds of dead as they crossed the great hall toward the dais where the conqueror sat, and twice they slipped a little in the blood that spattered the flags. When they came to a halt before the mailed figure on the dais, Joiry's commander was breathing hard, and the voice that echoed hollowly under the helmet's confines was hoarse with fury and despair.
Guillaume the conqueror leaned on his mighty sword, hands crossed on its hilt, grinning down from his height upon the furious captive before him. He was a big man, Guillaume, and he looked bigger still in his spattered armor. There was blood on his hard, scarred face, and he was grinning a white grin that split his short, curly beard glitteringly. Very splendid and very dangerous he looked, leaning on his great sword and smiling down upon fallen Joiry's lord, struggling between the stolid menat-arms.
"Unshell me this lobster," said Guillaume in his deep, lazy voice. "We'll see what sort of face the fellow has who gave us such a battle. Off with his helmet, you."
But a third man had to come up and slash the straps which held the iron helmet on, for the struggles of Joiry's commander were too fierce, even with bound arms, for either of the guards to release their hold. There was a moment of sharp struggle; then the straps parted and the helmet rolled loudly across the flagstones.
Guillaume's white teeth clicked on a startled oath. He stared. Joiry's lady glared back at him from between her captors, wild red hair tousled, wild lion-yellow eyes ablaze.
"God curse you!" snarled the lady of Joiry between clenched teeth. "God blast your black heart!"
Guillaume scarcely heard her. He was still staring, as most men stared when they first set eyes upon Jirel of Joiry. She was tall as most men, and as savage as the wildest of them, and the fall of Joiry was bitter enough to break her heart as she stood snarling curses up at the tall conqueror. The face above her mail might not have been fair in a woman's head-dress, but in the steel setting of her armor it had a biting, sword-edge beauty as keen as the flash of blades. The red hair was short upon her high, defiant head, and the yellow blaze of her eyes held fury as a crucible holds fire.
Guillaume's stare melted into a slow smile. A little light kindled behind his eyes as he swept the long, strong lines of her with a practised gaze. The smile broadened, and suddenly he burst into full-throated laughter, a deep bull bellow of amusement and delight.
"By the Nails!" he roared. "Here's welcome for the warrior! And what forfeit d'ye offer, pretty one, for your life?"
She blazed a curse at him.
"So? Naughty words for a mouth so fair, my lady. Well, we'll not deny you put up a gallant battle. No man could have done better, and many have done worse. But against Guillaume —" He inflated his splendid chest and grinned down at her from the depths of his jutting beard. "Come to me, pretty one," he commanded. "I'll wager your mouth is sweeter than your words."
Jirel drove a spurred heel into the shin of one guard and twisted from his grip as he howled, bringing up an iron knee into the abdomen of the other. She had writhed from their grip and made three long strides toward the door before Guillaume caught her. She felt his arms closing about her from behind, and lashed out with both spiked heels in a futile assault upon his leg armor, twisting like a maniac, fighting with her knees and spurs, straining hopelessly at the ropes which bound her arms. Guillaume laughed and whirled her round, grinning down into the blaze of her yellow eyes. Then deliberately he sat a fist under her chin and tilted her mouth up to his. There was a cessation of her hoarse curses.
"By Heaven, that's like kissing a sword-blade," said Guillaume, lifting his lips at last.
Jirel choked something that was mercifully muffled as she darted her head sidewise, like a serpent striking, and sank her teeth into his neck. She missed the jugular by a fraction of an inch.
Guillaume said nothing, then. He sought her head with a steady hand, found it despite her wild writhing, sank iron fingers deep into the hinges of her jaw, forcing her teeth relentlessly apart. When he had her free he glared down into the yellow hell of her eyes for an instant. The blaze of them was hot enough to scorch his scarred face. He grinned and lifted his ungauntleted hand, and with one heavy blow in the face he knocked her half-way across the room. She lay still upon the flags.
Jirel opened her yellow eyes upon darkness. She lay quiet for a while, collecting her scattered thoughts. By degrees it came back to her, and she muffled upon her arm a sound that was half curse and half sob. Joiry had fallen. For a time she lay rigid in the dark, forcing herself to the realization.
The sound of feet shifting on stone near by brought her out of that particular misery. She sat up cautiously, feeling about her to determine in what part of Joiry its liege lady was imprisoned. She knew that the sound she had heard must be a sentry, and by the dank smell of the darkness that she was underground. In one of the little dungeon cells, of course. With careful quietness she got to her feet, muttering a curse as her head reeled for an instant and then began to throb. In the utter dark she felt around the cell. Presently she came to a little wooden stool in a corner, and was satisfied. She gripped one leg of it with firm fingers and made her soundless way around the wall until she had located the door.
The sentry remembered, afterward, that he had heard the wildest shriek for help which had ever rung in his ears, and he remembered unbolting the door. Afterward, until they found him lying inside the locked cell with a cracked skull, he remembered nothing.
Jirel crept up the dark stairs of the north turret, murder in her heart. Many little hatreds she had known in her life, but no such blaze as this. Before her eyes in the night she could see Guillaume's scornful, scarred face laughing, the little jutting beard split with the whiteness of his mirth. Upon her mouth she felt the remembered weight of his, about her the strength of his arms. And such a blast of hot fury came over her that she reeled a little and clutched at the wall for support. She went on in a haze of red anger, and something like madness burning in her brain as a resolve slowly took shape out of the chaos of her hate. When that thought came to her she paused again, mid-step upon the stairs, and was conscious of a little coldness blowing over her. Then it was gone, and she shivered a little, shook her shoulders and grinned wolfishly, and went on.
By the stars she could see through the arrow-slits in the wall it must be near to midnight. She went softly on the stairs, and she encountered no one. Her little tower room at the top was empty. Even the straw pallet where the serving-wench slept had not been used that night. Jirel got herself out of her armor alone, somehow, after much striving and twisting. Her doeskin shirt was stiff with sweat and stained blood. She tossed it disdainfully into a corner. The fury in her eyes had cooled now to a contained and secret flame. She smiled to herself as she slipped a fresh shirt of doeskin over her tousled red head and donned a brief tunic of linkmail. On her legs she buckled the greaves of some forgotten legionary, relic of the not long past days when Rome still ruled the world. She thrust a dagger through her belt and took her own long two-handed sword barebladed in her grip. Then she went down the stairs again.
She knew there must have been revelry and feasting in the great hall that night, and by the silence hanging so heavily now she was sure that most of her enemies lay still in drunken slumber, and she experienced a swift regret for the gallons of her good French wine so wasted. And the thought flashed through her head that a determined woman with a sharp sword might work some little damage among the drunken sleepers before she was overpowered. But she put that idea by, for Guillaume would have posted sentries to spare, and she must not give her secret freedom so fruitlessly.
Down the dark stairs she went, and crossed one corner of the vast central hall whose darkness she was sure hid wine-deadened sleepers, and so into the lesser dimness of the rough little chapel that Joiry boasted. She had been sure she would find Father Gervase there, and she was not mistaken. He rose from his knees before the altar, dark in his robe, the starlight through the narrow window shining upon his tonsure.
"My daughter!" he whispered. "My daughter! How have you escaped? Shall I find you a mount? If you can pass the sentries you should be in your cousin's castle by daybreak."
She hushed him with a lifted hand.
"No," she said. "It is not outside I go this night. I have a more perilous journey even than that to make. Shrive me, father."
He started at her.
"What is it?"
She dropped to her knees before him and gripped the rough cloth of his habit with urgent fingers.
"Shrive me, I say! I go into hell tonight to pray the devil for a weapon, and it may be I shall not return."
Gervase bent and gripped her shoulders with hands that shook.
"Look at me!" he demanded. "Do you know what you're saying? You go —"
"Down!" She said it firmly. "Only you and I know that passage, father — and not even we can be sure of what lies beyond. But to gain a weapon against that man I would venture into perils even worse than that."
"If I thought you meant it," he whispered, "I would waken Guillaume now and give you into his arms. It would be a kinder fate, my daughter."
"It's that I would walk through hell to escape," she whispered back fiercely. "Can't you see? Oh, God knows I'm not innocent of the ways of light loving — but to be any man's fancy, for a night or two, before he snaps my neck or sells me into slavery — and above all, if that man were Guillaume! Can't you understand?"
"That would be shame enough," nodded Gervase. "But think, Jirel! For that shame there is atonement and absolution, and for that death the gates of heaven open wide. But this other — Jirel, Jirel, never through all eternity may you come out, body or soul, if you venture — down!"
"To wreak my vengeance upon Guillaume I would go if I knew I should burn in hell for ever."
"But Jirel, I do not think you understand. This is a worse fate than the depths of hell-fire. This is — this is beyond all the bounds of the hells we know. And I think Satan's hottest flames were the breath of paradise, compared to what may befall there."
"I know. Do you think I'd venture down if I could not be sure? Where else would I find such a weapon as I need, save outside God's dominion?"
"Jirel, you shall not!"
"Gervase, I go! Will you shrive me?" The hot yellow eyes blazed into his, lambent in the starlight.
After a moment he dropped his head. "You are my lady. I will give you God's blessing, but it will not avail you — there."
She went down into the dungeons again. She went down a long way through utter dark, over stones that were oozy and odorous with moisture, through blackness that had never known the light of day. She might have been a little afraid at other times, but that steady flame of hatred burning behind her eyes was a torch to light the way, and she could not wipe from her memory the feel of Guillaume's arms about her, the scornful press of his lips on her mouth. She whimpered a little, low in her throat, and a hot gust of hate went over her.
In the solid blackness she came at length to a wall, and she set herself to pulling the loose stones from this with her free hand, for she would not lay down the sword. They had never been laid in mortar, and they came out easily. When the way was clear she stepped through and found her feet upon a downward-sloping ramp of smooth stone. She cleared the rubble away from the hole in the wall, and enlarged it enough for a quick passage; for when she came back this way — if she did — it might well be that she would come very fast.
At the bottom of the slope she dropped to her knees on the cold floor and felt about. Her fingers traced the outline of a circle, the veriest crack in the stone. She felt until she found the ring in its center. That ring was of the coldest metal she had ever known, and the smoothest. She could put no name to it. The daylight had never shown upon such metal.
She tugged. The stone was reluctant, and at last she took her sword in her teeth and put both hands to the lifting. Even then it taxed the limit of her strength, and she was strong as many men. But at last it rose, with the strangest sighing sound, and a little prickle of gooseflesh rippled over her.
Now she took the sword back into her hand and knelt on the rim of the invisible blackness below. She had gone this path once before and once only, and never thought to find any necessity in life strong enough to drive her down again. The way was the strangest she had ever known. There was, she thought, no such passage in all the world save here. It had not been built for human feet to travel. It had not been built for feet at all. It was a narrow, polished shaft that cork-screwed round and round. A snake might have slipped in and gone shooting down, round and round in dizzy circles — but no snake on earth was big enough to fill that shaft. No human travelers had worn the sides of the spiral so smooth, and she did not care to speculate on what creatures had polished it so, through what ages of passage.
She might never have made that first trip down, nor anyone after her, had not some unknown human hacked the notches which made it possible to descend slowly; that is, she thought it must have been a human. At any rate, the notches were roughly shaped for hands and feet, and spaced not too far apart; but who and when and how she could not even guess. As to the beings who made the shaft, in long-forgotten ages — well, there were devils on earth before man, and the world was very old.
She turned on her face and slid feet-first into the curving tunnel. That first time she and Gervase had gone down in sweating terror of what lay below, and with devils tugging at their heels. Now she slid easily, not bothering to find toe-holds, but slipping swiftly round and round the long spirals with only her hands to break the speed when she went too fast. Round and round she went, round and round.
It was a long way down. Before she had gone very far the curious dizziness she had known before came over her again, a dizziness not entirely induced by the spirals she whirled around, but a deeper, atomic unsteadiness as if not only she but also the substances around her were shifting. There was something queer about the angles of those curves. She was no scholar in geometry or aught else, but she felt intuitively that the bend and the slant of the way she went were somehow outside any other angles or bends she had ever known. They led into the unknown and the dark, but it seemed to her obscurely that they led into deeper darkness and mystery than the merely physical, as if, though she could not put it clearly even into thoughts, the peculiar and exact lines of the tunnel had been carefully angled to lead through poly-dimensional space as well as through the underground — perhaps through time, too. She did not know she was thinking such things; but all about her was a blurred dizziness as she shot down and round, and she knew that the way she went took her on a stranger journey than any other way she had ever traveled.
Down and down. She was sliding fast, but she knew how long it would be. On that first trip they had taken alarm as the passage spiraled so endlessly and with thoughts of the long climb back had tried to stop before it was too late. They had found it impossible. Once embarked, there was no halting. She had tried, and such waves of sick blurring had come over her that she came near to unconsciousness. It was as if she had tried to halt some inexorable process of nature, half finished. They could only go on. The very atoms of their bodies shrieked in rebellion against a reversal of the change.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Black God's Kiss"
Copyright © 1966 Weird Tales, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I've got a bit of an odd relationship with many of the Weird Tales authors, and particularly the stories that they published therein.Case in point, Catherine Moore's Jirel of Joiry stories, collected here in one volume, including the crossover with her other character, the space-faring Northwest Smith, that she wrote with her eventual husband, Henry Kuttner.Now, in Moore's defence, these were written fairly earlier in Moore's career, and were not originally intended to be read in such close proximity to each other. But, at the same time, it's impossible to escape the impression that Moore didn't have that much of an idea beyond "sword-and-sorcery stories with a female lead"; the majority of the stories recycle the same basic plot — Jirel winds up in some alternate dimension where she faces off against an adversary wielding strange magics — and the prose veers between overwrought and repetitive — how many times do we need to be told of Jirel tossing her red hair, or about her yellow eyes? Eye-colour in particular appears to have been a thing for Moore at the time, as numerous characters have unusual eyes, which are then frequently described — or uninspiring, as evidenced in most of the action scenes.It's one of those odd things, in that I read them and enjoy them but even while reading I'm never quite certain why that is.
Meet Jirel of Joiry, first female fantasy heroine., vengeful and harsh warlord on a quest to vanquish his foes and evil-doers. In her adventures she chases her enemies to other plains of existence, fights very disturbing creatures and even comes across a traveler from the distant future.Very interesting collection of stories - but be warned! If you expect constant action and sword fights you may end up disappointed because main point here is the atmosphere of the story - effects of the surroundings, eerie creatures and sounds, torments and fear of the main character - not just mere hack-n-slash
After reading a short biography of CL Moore, I picked up Black God's Kiss. This is a *great* collection of pulp fantasy/science fiction. I love the character of Jirel: hot-headed, honorable and self-assured. And she is opposed by some truly nasty villains (you can always judge a heroine by her rogues gallery). I hope Paizo releases more of Moore's neglected writings. Highly recommended.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book a lot! C.L. Moore and Robert E. Howard both wrote for Weird Tales during the 1930's and both admired each others work. I can understand why after reading Black God's Kiss. I didn't know C.L. Moore was a woman until I read a letter posted on the internet where she was asking REH for more stories of The Sword Woman because only two stories ever written and left readers wanting more. Jirel of Joiry is one tough woman who not only is beautiful, brave, a loyal leader to her men, and smart! Rather than let her 20 or so men die at the hand of her enemy she goes on a dangerous quest to find a small box to return in exchange for their lives in Hellsgarde. All of the stories are excellent but Hellsgarde is my favorite as it has quite of a bit of supernatural, mystique, and more. I thought the inhabitants of the rock castle were reptilian people but I sure was wrong. This is a terrific book to read and lend to a friend. Must Reads:) Blood & Thunder, The Life & Art of REH by Mark Finn,One Who Walked Along by Novalyn Ellis REH's girlfriend, The Black Stranger & Other American Tales, The Never Ending Hunt by Paul Herman and all of his Weird Words and The Last of The Trunk, Selected Letters of REH by Rob Roehm, Dark Horse Comics of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, Marvel B&W comics by Roy Thomas back in the sixties, Bran Mac Morn, The Best of REH 1 & 2, Conan by Roy Thomas and Conan The Phenom, The Dark Barbarian and The Barbaric Triumph by Don Herron, Two-Gun Bob, Glenn Lord, Lord of Samarcand, Almuric, Boxing Stories, Action and Western Stories, and more. REH was and is still the best of the best story teller and poet and C.L. Moore is one of only a few people that could write stories on a regular basis that got printed in Weird Tales which says she's in unique company. Tell others about REH and C.L. Moore and keep supporting your local and online book stores. One last pleasant surprise!! Find The Beast From The Abyss which is a story about the valor and more of Cats by REH. Cats that fight river rats as big as dogs and the most herioc cat of all. This is awesome! Enjoy as it can be found on Howard Works.
I just finished the book last night, and found it to be an enjoyable read. The first thing that stood out to me is Ms. Moore's writing style. Despite being from an earlier era, it rarely felt dated, and made for a fast read. Of the stories, 'Hellsgarde' was definitely my favorite. 'Jirel Meets Magic' and 'Black God's Kiss' were great as well. 'Quest for the Starstone' was fun, but it felt a bit disconnected from the rest. Jirel is an interesting character...tough as most men of sword & sorcery, but with a definite female perspective which sets her apart from her contemporaries. The atmosphere of these stories is fantastic! Well worth a read.