This short story is the first in the collection ZOTHIQUE, which was part of Ballantine's Adult Fantasy line, coming out in 1970. The story itself was first published in "Weird Tales" in 1936. I'm slowly working my way through ZOTHIQUE which may take a while, as a little CAS can go a long way.
Smith's Zothique is our own world, thousands of years in the future. Civilizations have risen and fallen, technology has been forgotten, and mankind is now dominated by sorcery and dark gods. Perfect for the D&C reader, eh? It's a ripe setting for Smith, who was one of the few American authors to successfully bring the European Decadent tradition to U.S. readers, and only quite a while after the Decadent movement sputtered out.
"Xeethra" is the tale of the orphaned goatherd Xeethra, who tolerates his abusive uncle and lives in dire poverty. One day, he spots a cave in a hidden valley, and descends to a beautiful but sinister garden, where he eats a weird fruit hanging from a tree. He starts having memories of being Amero, the ruler of a far-off country, and when he returns to the surface he sets off to seek his kingdom....
It's a simple set-up, and the bones of the tale are a basic deal-with-the-devil. But the language is so freakin' lush that it's worth reading just for that. When he eats the fruit, Smith tells us, "The rind broke easily under his teeth, and it seemed that a royal wine, sweet and puissant, was poured into his mouth from an overbrimming cup. He felt in his throat and bosom a swift warmth that almost suffocated him; and a strange fever sang in his ears and wildered his senses." Yowie. You just don't find prose like that all that often, and have it actually work.
"Xeethra" can be read online at various sites; Google it and see for yourself.
Also, today I'm posting our first links. One to the Scarlet Street forums, where I first became acquainted with my co-blogger (who one day will post something, really), and another to The Groovy Age of Horror, which was, in many ways, my inspiration for starting Dust & Corruption, and I'm flattered that they're linking to us here and referred to us as "a new blog to keep an eye on." Woo hoo!