Dwellers in the
Mirage by A. E. Merritt
SOUNDS IN THE
CHAPTER II. RING
OF THE KRAKEN
CHAPTER V. THE
CHAPTER VI. THE
CHAPTER VII. THE
CHAPTER X. IF A
MAN COULD USE
ALL HIS BRAIN
DRUMS OF THE
CHAPTER XII. ON
BOOK OF THE
CHAPTER XIV. IN
CHAPTER XV. THE
LAKE OF THE
KISSES OF LUR
BOOK OF DWAYANU
WOLVES OF LUR
CHAPTER XIX. THE
TAKING OF SIRK
CHAPTER XX. "TSANTAWU—FAREWELL!"
BOOK OF LEIF
RETURN TO KARAK
GATE OF KHALK'RU
BOOK OF KHALK'RU
CHAPTER I. SOUNDS IN THE NIGHT
I RAISED my head, listening,—not only with my ears but with every
square inch of my skin, waiting for recurrence of the sound that had
awakened me. There was silence, utter silence. No soughing in the
boughs of the spruces clustered around the little camp. No stirring
of furtive life in the underbrush. Through the spires of the spruces
the stars shone wanly in the short sunset to sunrise twilight of the
early Alaskan summer.
A sudden wind bent the spruce tops, carrying again the sound—the
clangour of a beaten anvil.
I slipped out of my blanket, and round the dim embers of the fire
toward Jim. His voice halted me.
"All right, Leif. I hear it."
The wind sighed and died, and with it died the hum- ming
aftertones of the anvil stroke. Before we could speak, the wind arose.
It bore the after-hum of the anvil stroke—faint and far away. And
again the wind died, and with it the sound.
"An anvil, Leif!"
A stronger gust swayed the spruces. It carried a distant chanting;
voices of many women and men sing- ing a strange, minor theme. The
chant ended on a wailing chord, archaic, dissonant.
There was a long roll of drums, rising in a swift cres- cendo,
ending abruptly. After it a thin and clamorous confusion.
It was smothered by a low, sustained rumbling, like thunder, muted
by miles. In it defiance, challenge.
We waited, listening. The spruces were motionless. The wind did
"Queer sort of sounds, Jim." I tried to speak casually, He sat up.
A stick flared up in the dying fire. Its light etched his face against
the darkness—thin, and brown and hawk-profiled. He did not look at me.
"Every feathered forefather for the last twenty centuries is awake
and shouting! Better call me Tsantawu, Leif. Tsi' Tsa'lagi—I am a
Cherokee! Right now—all Indian."
He smiled, but still he did not look at me, and I was glad of
"It was an anvil," I said. "A hell of a big anvil. And hundreds of
people singing . . . and how could that be in this wilderness . . ,
they didn't sound like Indians. . . ."
"The drums weren't Indian." He squatted by the fire, staring into
it. "When they turned loose, something played a pizzicato with icicles
up and down my back."
"They got me, too—those drums!" I thought my voice was steady, but
he looked up at me sharply; and now it was I who averted my eyes and
stared at the embers. "They reminded me of something I heard . . .
and thought I saw ... in Mongolia. So did the singing. Damn it, Jim,
why do you look at me like that?"
I threw a stick on the fire. For the life of me I couldn't help
searching the shadows as the stick flamed. Then I met his gaze
"Pretty bad place, was it, Leif?" he asked, quietly. I said
nothing. Jim got up and walked over to the packs. He came back with
Some water and threw it over the fire. He kicked earth on the hissing
coals. If he saw me wince as the shadows rushed in upon us, he did not
"That wind came from the north," he said. "So that's the way the
sounds came. Therefore, whatever made the sounds is north of us. That
being so—which way do we travel to-morrow?"
"North," I said.
My throat dried as I said it.
Jim laughed. He dropped upon his blanket, and rolled it around
him. I propped myself against the bole of one of the spruces, and sat
staring toward thesnorth.
"The ancestors are vociferous, Leif. Promising a lodge of sorrow,
I gather—if we go north. . . . 'Bad Medicine!' say the ancestors. . .
. 'Bad Medicine for you, Tsantawu! You go to Usunhi'yi, the Darkening-
land, Tsantawu! . . . Into Tsusgina'i, the ghost country! Beware!
Turn from the north, Tsantawu!' "
"Oh, go to sleep, you hag-ridden redskin!"
"All right, I'm just telling you."
Then a little later:
" 'And heard ancestral voices prophesying war'— it's worse than
war these ancestors of mine are prophesying, Leif."
"Damn it, will you shut up!"
A chuckle from the darkness; thereafter silence.
I leaned against the tree trunk. The sounds, or rather the evil
memory they had evoked, had shaken me more than I was willing to
admit, even to myself. The thing I had carried for two years in the
buckskin bag at the end of the chain around my neck had seemed to
stir; turn cold. I wondered how much Jim had divined of what I had
tried to cover. . . .
Why had he put out the fire? Because he had known I was afraid? To
force me to face my fear. and conquer it? ... Or had it been the
Indian instinct to seek cover in darkness? . . . By his own admission,
chant and drum-roll had played on his nerves as they had on mine. . .
Afraid! Of course it had been fear that had wet the palms of my
hands, and had tightened my throat so my heart had beaten in my ears
Like drums . . . yes!
But . . . not like those drums whose beat had been borne to us by
the north wind. They had been like the cadence of the feet of men and
women, youths and maids and children, running ever more rapidly up the
side of a hollow world to dive swiftly into the void . . . dissolving
into the nothingness . . . fading as they fell . . dissolving . . .
eaten up by the nothingness ....
Like that accursed drum-roll I had heard in the secret temple of
the Gobi oasis two years ago!
Neither then nor now had it been fear alone. Fear it was, in
truth, but fear shot through with defiance . . . defiance of life
against its negation . . . up-surging, roaring, vital rage . . .
frantic revolt of the drowning against the strangling water, rage of
the candle-flame against the hovering extinguisher. . . .
Was it as hopeless as that? If what I suspected to be true was
true, to think so was to be beaten at the beginning!
But there was Jim! How to keep him out of it? In my heart, I had
never laughed at those subconscious perceptions, whatever they were.
that he called the voices of his ancestors. When he had spoken of
Usunhi'yi, the Darkening-land, a chill had crept down my spine. For
had not the old Uighur priest spoken of the Shadow-land? And it was as
though I had heard the echo of his words.
I looked over to where he lay. He had been more akin to me than my
own brothers. I smiled at that, for they had never been akin to me. To
all but my soft- voiced, deep-bosomed, Norse mother I had been a
stranger in that severely conventional old house where I had been
The youngest son, and an unwelcome intruder; a changeling. It had
been no fault of mine that I had come into the world a throw-back to
my mother's yellow-haired, blue-eyed, strong-thewed Viking
forefathers. Not at all a Langdon. The Langdon men were dark and
slender, thin-lipped and saturnine. stamped out by the same die for
generations. They looked down at me, the changeling, from the family
portraits with faintly amused, supercilious hostility. Precisely as
my father and my four brothers, true Langdons, each of them, looked at
me when I awkwardly disposed of my bulk at their table.
It had brought me unhappiness, but it had made my mother wrap her
heart around me. I wondered, as I had wondered many times, how she had
come to give herself to that dark, self-centred man my father—with the
blood of the sea-rovers singing in her veins. It was she who had
named me Leif—as incongruous a name to tack on a Langdon as was my
birth among them.
Jim and I had entered Dartmouth on the same day. I saw him as he
was then—the tall, brown lad with his hawk face and inscrutable black
eyes. pure blood of the Cherokees, of the clan from which had come the
great Sequoiah, a clan which had produced through many centuries
wisest councillors, warriors strong in cunning.
On the college roster his name was written James T. Eagles, but on
the rolls of the Cherokee Nation it was written Two Eagles and his
mother had called him Tsantawu. From the first we had recognized
spiritual kinship. By the ancient rites of his people we had become
blood-brothers, and he had given me my secret name. known only to the
pair of us, Degataga—one who stands so close to another that the two
My one gift, besides my strength, is an aptness at languages. Soon
I spoke the Cherokee as though I had been born in the Nation. Those
years in college were the happiest I had ever known. It was during the
last of them that America entered the World War. Together we had left
Dartmouth, gone into training camp, sailed for France on the same
Sitting there, under the slow-growing Alaskan dawn, my mind leaped
over the years between . . . my mother's death on Armistice Day . . .
my return to New York to a frankly hostile home . . . Jim's recall to
his clan . . . the finishing of my course in mining engineering . . .
my wanderings in Asia . . . my second return to America and my search
for Jim . . . this expedition of ours to Alaska, more for comradeship
and the wilderness peace than for the gold we were supposed to be
A long trail since the War—the happiest for me these last two
months of it. It had led us from Nome over the quaking tundras, and
then to the Koyukuk, and at last to this little camp among the
spruces, somewhere between the headwaters of the Koyukuk and the
Chandalar in the foothills of the unexplored Endicott Range. A long
trail ... I had the feeling that it was here the real trail of my life
A ray of the rising sun struck through the trees. Jim sat up,
looked over at me, and grinned.
"Didn't get much sleep after the concert, did you?"
"What did you do to the ancestors? They didn't seem to keep you
He said, too carelessly: "Oh, they quieted down." His face and
eyes were expressionless. He was veiling his mind from me. The
ancestors had not quieted down. He had lain awake while I had thought
him sleeping. I made a swift decision. We would go south as we had
planned. I would go with him as far as Circle. I would find some
pretext to leave him there.
I said: "We're not going north. I've changed my mind."
"I'll tell you after we've had breakfast," I said— I'm not so
quick in thinking up lies. "Rustle up a fire, Jim. I'll go down to the
stream and get some water."
I started. It was only in moments of rare sympathy or in time of
peril that he used the secret name.
"Degataga, you go north! You go if I have to march ahead of you to
make you follow . . ."he dropped into the Cherokee. . . . "It is to
save your spirit, Degataga. Do we march together—blood-brothers? Or do
you creep after me—like a shivering dog at the heels of the hunter?"
The blood pounded in my temples, my hand went out toward him. He
stepped back, and laughed.
"That's better, Leif."
The quick rage left me, my hand fell.
"All right, Tsantawu. We go—north. But it wasn't —it wasn't
because of myself that I told you I'd changed my mind."
"I know damned well it wasn't!"
He busied himself with the fire. I went after the water. We drank
the strong black tea, and ate what was left of the little brown storks
they call Alaskan turkeys which we had shot the day before. When we
were through I began to talk.
CHAPTER II. RING OF THE KRAKEN
THREE years ago, so I began my story, I went into Mongolia with
the Fairchild expedition. Part of its work was a mineral survey for
certain British interests, part of it ethnographic and archeological
research for the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania.
I never had a chance to prove my value as a mining engineer. At
once I became good-will representative, camp entertainer, liaison
agent between us and the tribes. My height, my yellow hair, blue eyes
and freakish strength, and my facility in picking up languages were of
never- ending interest to them. Tartars, Mongols, Buriats,
Kirghiz—they would watch while I bent horseshoes, twisted iron bars
over my knees and performed what my father used to call contemptuously
my circus tricks.
Well, that's exactly what I was to them—a one-man circus. And yet
I was more than that—they liked me. Old Fairchild would laugh when I
complained that I had no time for technical work. He would tell me
that I was worth a dozen mining engineers, that I was the expedition's
insurance, and that as long as I could keep up my act they wouldn't
be bothered by any trouble makers. And it is a fact that they weren't.
It was the only expedition of its kind I ever knew where you could
leave your stuff unwatched and return to find it still there. Also we
were singularly free from graft and shake-downs.
In no time I had picked up half a dozen of the dialects and could
chatter and chaff with the tribesmen in their own tongues. It made a
prodigious bit with them. And now and then a Mongol delegation would
arrive with a couple of their wrestlers, big fellows with chests like
barrels, to pit against me. I learned their tricks, and taught them
ours. We had pony lifting contests, and some of my Manchu friends
taught me how to fight with the two broadswords—a sword in each hand.
Fairchild had planned on a year, but so smoothly did the days go
by that he decided to prolong our stay. My act, he told me in his
sardonic fashion, was undoubtedly of perennial vitality; never again
would science have such an opportunity in this region—unless I made
up my mind to remain and rule. He didn't know how close he came to
In the early summer of the following year we shifted our camp
about a hundred miles north. This was Uighur country. They are a
strange people, the Uighurs. They say of themselves that they are
descendants of a great race which ruled the Gobi when it was no desert
but an earthly Paradise, with flowing rivers and many lakes and
teeming cities. It is a fact that they are apart from all the other
tribes, and while those others cheerfully kill them when they can,
still they go in fear of them. Or rather, of the sorcery of their
Seldom had Uighurs appeared at the old camp. When they did, they
kept at a distance. We had been at the new camp less than a week when
a band of twenty rode in. I was sitting in the shade of my tent. They
dis- mounted and came straight to me. They paid no attention to
anyone else. They halted a dozen feet from me. Three walked close up
and stood, studying me. The eyes of these three were a peculiar
grey-blue; those of the one who seemed to be their captain singularly
cold. They were bigger, taller men than the others.
I did not know the Uighur. I gave them polite salutations in the
Kirghiz. They did not answer, maintaining their close scrutiny.
Finally they spoke among them- selves, nodding as though they had come
to some decision.
The leader then addressed me. As I stood up, I saw that he was not
many inches under my own six feet four. I told him, again in the
Kirghiz, that I did not know his tongue. He gave an order to his men.
They surrounded my tent, standing like guards, spears at rest beside
them, their wicked long-swords drawn.
At this my temper began to rise, but before I could protest the
leader began to speak to me in the Kirghiz. He assured me, with
deference, that their visit was entirely peaceful, only they did not
wish their contact with me to be disturbed by any of my companions. He
asked if I would show him my hands. I held them out. He and his two
comrades bent over the palms, examining them minutely, pointing to a
mark or a crossing of lines. This inspection ended, the leader touched
his forehead with my right hand.
And then to my complete astonishment, he launched without
explanation into what was a highly intelligent lesson in the Uighur
tongue. He took the Kirghiz for the comparative language. He did not
seem to be surprized at the ease with which I assimilated the tuition
; indeed, I had a puzzled idea that he regarded it as something to be
expected. I mean that his manner was less that of teaching me a new
language, than of recalling to me one I had forgotten. The lesson
lasted for a full hour. He then touched his forehead again with my
hand, and gave a command to the ring of guards. The whole party
walked to their horses and galloped off.
There had been something disquieting about the whole experience.
Most disquieting was my own vague feeling that my tutor, if I had read
correctly his manner, had been right—that I was not learning a new
tongue but one I had forgotten. Certainly I never picked up any
language with such rapidity and ease as I did the Uighur.
The rest of my party had been perplexed and apprehensive,
naturally. I went immediately to them, and talked the matter over.
Our ethnologist was the famous Professor David Barr, of Oxford.
Fairchild was inclined to take it as a joke, but Barr was greatly
disturbed. He said that the Uighur tradition was that their
forefathers had been a fair race, yellow-haired and blue-eyed, big
men of great strength. In short, men like myself. A few ancient
Uighur wall paintings had been found which had portrayed exactly this
type, so there was evidence of the correctness of the tradition.
However, if the Uighurs of the present were actually the descendants
of this race, the ancient blood must have been mixed and diluted
almost to the point of extinction.
I asked what this had to do with me, and he replied that quite
conceivably my visitors might regard me as of the pure blood of the
ancient race. In fact, he saw no other explanation of their conduct.
He was of the opinion that their study of my palms, and their manifest
approval of what they had discovered there, clinched the matter.
Old Fairchild asked him, satirically, if he was trying to convert
us to palmistry. Barr said, coldly, that he was a scientist. As a
scientist, he was aware that certain physical resemblances can be
carried on by hereditary factors through many generations. Certain
peculiarities in the arrangement of the lines of the palms might
persist through centuries. They could reappear in cases of atavism,
such as I clearly represented.
By this time, I was getting a bit dizzy. But Barr had a few shots
left that made me more so. By now his temper was well up, and he went
on to say that the Uighurs might even be entirely correct in what he
deduced was their opinion of me. I was a throwback to the ancient
Norse. Very well. It was quite certain that the Aesir. the old Norse
gods and goddesses—Odin and Thor, Frigga and Freya, Frey and Loki of
the Fire and all the others— had once been real people. Without
question they had been leaders in some long and perilous migration.
After they had died, they had been deified, as numerous other similar
heroes and heroines had been by other tribes and races. Ethnologists
were agreed that the original Norse stock had come into North-eastern
Europe from Asia, like other Aryans. Their migration might have
occurred anywhere from 1000 B.C. to 5000 B.C. And there was no
scientific reason why they should not have come from the region now
called the Gobi, nor why they should not have been the blond race
these present-day Uighurs called their forefathers.
No one, he went on to say, knew exactly when the Gobi had become
desert—nor what were the causes that had changed it into desert. Parts
of the Gobi and all the Little Gobi might have been fertile as late as
two thousand years ago. Whatever it had been, whatever its causes,
and whether operating slowly or quickly, the change gave a perfect
reason for the migration led by Odin and the other Aesir which had
ended in the colonization of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Admittedly I
was a throwback to my mother's stock of a thousand years ago. There
was no reason why I should not also be a throwback in other
recognizable ways to the ancient Uighurs—if they actually were the
But the practical consideration was that I was headed for trouble.
So was every other member of our party. He urgently advised going back
to the old camp where we would be among friendly tribes. In conclusion
he pointed out that, since we had come to this site, not a single
Mongol, Tartar or any other tribesman with whom I had established such
pleasant relations had come near us. He sat down with a glare at
Fairchild, observing that this was no palmist's advice but that of a
Well, Fairchild apologized, of course, but he over- ruled Barr on
returning; we could safely wait a few days longer and see what
developed. Barr remarked morosely that as a prophet Fairchild was
probably a total loss, but it was also probable that we were being
closely watched and would not be allowed to retreat, and therefore it
did not matter. .
That night we heard drums beating far away, drumming between
varying intervals of silence almost until dawn, reporting and
answering questions of drums still further off.
The next day, at the same hour, along came the same troop. Their
leader made straight for me, ignoring, as before, the others in the
camp. He saluted me almost with humility. We walked back together to
my tent. Again the cordon was thrown round it, and my second lesson
abruptly began. It continued for two hours or more. Thereafter, day
after day, for three weeks, the same performance was repeated. There
was no desultory conversation, no extraneous questioning, no
explanations. These men were there for one definite purpose : to teach
me their tongue. They stuck to that admirably. Filled with curiosity,
eager to reach the end and leam what it all meant, I interposed no
obstacles, stuck as rigorously as they to the faatter in hand. This,
too, they seemed to take as something expected of me. In three weeks I
could carry on a conversation in the Uigher as well as I can in
Barr's uneasiness kept growing. "They're grooming you for
something!" he would say. "I'd give five years of my life to be in
your shoes. But I don't like it. I'm afraid for you. I'm damned
One night at the end of this third week, the signalling drums beat
until dawn. The next day my instructors did not appear, nor the next
day, nor the day after. But our men reported that there were Uighers
all around us, picketing the camp. They were in fear, and no work
could be got out of them.
On the afternoon of the fourth day we saw a cloud of dust drifting
rapidly down upon us from the north. Soon we heard the sound of the
Uigher drums. Then out of the dust emerged a troop of horsemen. There
were two or three hundred of them, spears glinting, many of them with
good rifles. They drew up in a wide semi- circle before the camp. The
cold-eyed leader who had been my chief instructor dismounted and came
forward leading a magnificent black stallion. A big horse, a strong
horse, unlike the rangy horses that carried them; a horse that could
bear my weight with ease.
The Uighur dropped on one knee, handing me the stallion's reins, I
took them, automatically. The horse looked me over, sniffed at me, and
rested its nose on my shoulder. At once the troop raised their spears,
shouting some word I could not catch, then dropped from their mounts
and stood waiting.
The leader arose. He drew from his tunic a small cube of ancient
jade. He sank again upon his knee, handed me the cube. It seemed
solid, but as I pressed it flew open. Within, was a ring. It was of
heavy gold, thick and wide. Set in it was a yellow, translucent stone
about an inch and a half square. And within this stone was the shape
of a black octopus.
Its tentacles spread out fan-wise from its body. They had the
effect of reaching forward through the yellow stone. I could even see
upon their nearer tips the sucking discs. The body was not so clearly
defined. It was nebulous, seeming to reach into far distance. The
black octopus had not been cut upon the jewel. It was within it.
I was aware of a curious mingling of feelings—repulsion and a
peculiar sense of familiarity, like the trick .of the mind that causes
what we call double memory, the sensation of having experienced the
same thing before. Without thinking. I slipped the ring over my thumb
which it fitted perfectly, and held it up to the sun to catch the
light through the stone. Instantly every man of the troop threw
himself down upon his belly, prostrating himself before it.
The Uigher captain spoke to me. I had been sub- consciously aware
that from the moment of handing me the jade he had been watching me
closely. I thought that now there was awe in his eyes.
"Your horse is ready—" again he used the unfamiliar word with
which the troop had saluted me. "Show me what you wish to take with
you, and your men shall carry it."
"Where do we go—and for how long?" I asked.
"To a holy man of your people," he answered. "For how long—he
alone can answer."
I felt a momentary irritation at the casualness with which I was
being disposed of. Also I wondered why he spoke of his men and his
people as mine.
"Why does he not come to me?" I asked.
"He is old," he answered. "He could not make the journey."
I looked at the troop, now standing up beside their horses. If I
refused to go, it would undoubtedly mean the wiping out of the camp if
my companions attempted, as they would, to resist my taking. Besides,
I was on fire with curiosity.
"I must speak to my comrades before I go," I said.
"If it please Dwayanu"—this time I caught the word—"to bid
farewell to his dogs, let him." There was a nicker of contempt in his
eyes as he looked at old Fairchild and the others.
Definitely I did not like what he had said, nor his manner.
"Await me here," I told him curtly, and walked over to Fairchild.
I drew him into his tent, Barr and the others of the expedition at our
heels. I told them what was happening. Barr took my hand, and
scrutinized the ring. He whistled softly.
"Don't you know what this is?" he asked me. "It's the Kraken—that
super-wise, malignant and mythical sea-monster of the old Norsemen.
See, its tentacles are not eight but twelve. Never was it pictured
with less than ten. It symbolized the principle that is inimical to
Life—not Death precisely, more accurately annihilation. The Kraken—and
here in Mongolia!"
"See here. Chief," I spoke to Fairchild. "There's only one way you
can help me—if I need help. And that's to get back quick as you can to
the old camp. Get hold of the Mongols and send word to that chief who
kept bringing in the big wrestlers—they'll know whom I mean. Persuade
or hire him to get as many able fighting men at the camp as you can.
I'll be back, but I'll probably come back running. Outside of that,
you're all in danger. Not at the moment, maybe, but things may
develop which will make these people think it better to wipe you out.
I know what I'm talking about. Chief. I ask you to do this for my
sake, if not for your own."
"But they watch the camp—" he began to object.
"They won't—after I've gone. Not for a little while at least.
Everyone of them will be streaking away with me." I spoke with
complete certainty, and Barr nodded acquiescence.
"The King returns to his Kingdom," he said. "All his loyal
subjects with him. He's in no danger—while he's with them. But—God, if
I could only go with you, Leif! The Kraken 1 And the ancient legend of
the South Seas told of the Great Octopus, dozing on and biding his
time till he felt like destroying the world and all its life. And
three miles up in the air the Black Octopus is cut into the cliffs of
the Andes! Norsemen— and the South Sea Islanders—and the Andeans! And
the same symbol—here!"
"Please promise?" I asked Fairchild. "My life may depend on it."
"It's like abandoning you. I don't like it!"
"Chief, this crowd could wipe you out in a minute. Go back, and
get the Mongols. The Tartars will help. They hate the Uighurs* I'll
come back, don't fear. But I'd bet everything that this whole crowd,
and more, will be at my heels. When I come, I want a wall to duck
"We'll go," he said.
I went out of that tent, and over to my own. The odd-eyed Uighnr
followed me. I took my rifle and an automatic, stuffed a toothbrush
and a shaving-kit in my pocket, and turned to go.
"Is there nothing else?" There was surprise in his Question.
"If there is, I'll come back for it," I answered.
"Not after you have—remembered," he said, enigmatically.
Side by side we walked to the black stallion. I lifted myself to
The troop wheeled in behind us. Their spears a barrier between me
and the camp, we galloped south.
CHAPTER III. RITUAL OF KHALK'RU
THE stallion settled down to a steady, swinging lope. He carried
my weight easily. About an hour from dusk we were over the edge of the
desert. At our right loomed a low range of red sandstone hills Close
ahead was a defile. We rode into it, and picked our way through it.
In about half an hour we emerged into a boulder-strewn region, upon
what had once been a wide road. The road stretched straight ahead of
us to the north-east, toward another and higher range of red sand-
stone, perhaps five miles away. This we reached just as night began,
and here my guide halted, saying that we would encamp until dawn. Some
twenty of the troop dismounted; the rest rode on.
Those who remained waited, looking at me, plainly expectant. I
wondered what I was supposed to do; then, noticing that the stallion
had been sweating, I called for something to rub him down, and for
food and water for him. This, apparently, was what had been looked
for. The captain himself brought me the cloths, grain and water while
the men whispered. After the horse was cooled down, I fed him. I then
asked for blankets to put on him, for the nights were cold. When I
had finished I found that supper had been prepared. I sat beside a
fire with the leader. I was hungry, and, as usual when it was
possible, I ate voraciously. I asked few questions, and most of these
were answered so evasively, with such obvious reluctance, that I soon
asked none. When the supper was over, I was sleepy. I said so. I was
given blankets, and walked over to the stallion. I spread my blankets
beside him, dropped, and rolled myself up.
The stallion bent his head, nosed me gently, blew a long breath
down my neck, and lay down carefully beside me. I shifted so that I
could rest my head on his neck. I heard excited whispering among the
Uighurs. I went to sleep.
At dawn I was awakened. Breakfast was ready. We set out again on
the ancient road. It ran along the hills, skirting the bed of what had
long ago been a large river. For some time the eastern hills protected
us from the sun. When it began to strike directly down upon us, we
rested under the shadow of some immense rocks. By mid-aftemoon we
were once more on our way. Shortly before sun-down, we crossed the dry
river bed over what had once been a massive bridge. We passed into
another defile through which the long-gone stream had flowed, and
just at dusk reached its end.
Each side of the end of the shallow gorge was commanded by stone
forts. They were manned by dozens of the Uighurs. They shouted as we
drew near, and again I heard the word "Dwayanu" repeated again and
The heavy gates of the right-hand fort swung open. We went
through, into a passage under the thick wall. We trotted across a wide
enclosure. We passed out of it through similar gates.
I looked upon an oasis hemmed in by the bare mountains. It had
once been the site of a fair-sized city, for ruins dotted it
everywhere. What had possibly been the sources of the river had
dwindled to a brook which sunk into the sands not far from where I
stood. At the right of this brook there was vegetation and trees; to
the left of it was a desolation. The road passed through the oasis
and ran on across this barren. It stopped at, or entered, a huge
square-cut opening in the rock wall more than a mile away, an opening
that was like a door in that mountain, or like the entrance to some
gigantic Egyptian tomb.
We rode straight down into the fertile side. There were hundreds
of the ancient stone buildings here, and fair attempts had been made
to keep some in repair. Even so, their ancientness struck against my
nerves. There were tents among the trees also. And out of the
buildings and tents were pouring Uighurs, men, women and children.
There must have been a thousand of the warriors alone. Unlike the men
at the guardhouses, these watched me in awed silence as I passed.
We halted in front of a time-bitten pile that might have been a
palace—five thousand years or twice that ago. Or a temple. A colonnade
of squat, square columns ran across its front. Heavier ones stood at
its entrance. Here we dismounted. The stallion and my guide's horse
were taken by our escort. Bowing low at the threshold, my guide
invited me to enter.
I stepped into a wide corridor, lined with spearsmen and lighted
by torches of some resinous wood. The Uighur leader walked beside me.
The corridor led into a huge room—high-ceilinged, so wide and long
that the flambeaux on the walls made its centre seem the darker. At
the fax end of this place was a low dais, and upon it a stone table,
and seated at this table were a number of hooded men.
As I drew nearer, I felt the eyes of-these hooded men intent upon
me, and saw that they were thirteen—six upon each side and one seated
in a larger chair at the table's end. High cressets of metal stood
about them in which burned some substance that gave out a steady,
dear white light. I came close, and halted. My guide did not speak.
Nor did these others.
Suddenly, the light glinted upon the ring on my thumb.
The hooded man at the table's end stood up, gripping its edge with
trembling hands that were like withered claws. I heard him
The hood slipped back from his head. I saw an old, old face in
which were eyes almost as blue as my own, and they were filled with
stark wonder and avid hope. It touched me, for it was the look of a
man long lost to despair who sees a saviour appear.
Now the others arose, slipped back their hoods. They were old men,
all of them, but not so old as he who had whispered. Their eyes of
cold-blue-grey weighed me. The high priest, for that I so guessed him
and such he turned out to be, spoke again :
"They told me—but I could not believe! Will you come to me?"
I jumped on the dais and walked to him. He drew his old face close
to mine, searching my eyes. He touched my hair. He thrust his hand
within my shirt and laid it on my heart. He said :
"Let me see your hands."
I placed them, palms upward, on the table. He gave them the same
minute scrutiny as had the Uighur leader. The twelve others clustered
round, following his fingers as be pointed to this marking and to
that. He lifted from his neck a chain of golden links, drawing from
beneath his robe a large, flat square of jade. He opened this. Within
it was a yellow stone, larger than that in my ring, but otherwise
precisely similar, the black octopus— or the Kraken—writhing from its
depths. Beside it was a small phial of jade and a small, lancet-like
jade knife. He took my right hand, and brought the wrist over the
yellow stone. He looked at me and at the others with eyes in which
"The last test." he whispered. "The blood!"
He nicked a vein of my wrist with the knife. Blood fell, slow drop
by drop upon the stone; I saw then that it was slightly concave. As
the blood dripped, it spread like a thin film from bottom to lip. The
old priest lifted the phial of jade, unstoppered it, and by what was
plainly violent exercise of his will, held it steadily over the
yellow stone. One drop of colourless fluid fell and mingled with my
The room was now utterly silent, high priest and his ministers
seemed not to breathe, staring at the stone. I shot a glance at the
Uighur leader, and he was glaring at me, fanatic fires in his eyes.
There was an exclamation from the high priest, echoed by the
others. I looked down at the stone. The pinkish film was changing
colour. A curious sparkle ran through it; it changed into a film of
clear, luminous green.
"Dwayanu!" gasped the high priest, and sank back into his chair,
covering his face with shaking hands. The others stared at me and back
at the stone and at me again as though they beheld some miracle. I
looked at the Uighur leader. He lay flat upon his face at the base of
The high priest uncovered bis face. It seemed to me that he had
become incredibly younger, transformed; his eyes were no longer
hopeless, agonized; they were filled with eagerness. He arose from his
chair, and sat me in it.
"Dwayanu," he said, "what do you remember?"
I shook my head, puzzled; it was an echo of the Uighur's remark at
"What should I remember?" I asked.
His gaze withdrew from me, sought the faces of the others,
questioningly; as though he had spoken to them, they looked at one
another, then nodded. He shut the jade case and thrust it into his
breast. He took my hand, twisted the bezel of the ring behind my thumb
and closed my hand on it.
"Do you remember—" his voice sank to the faintest of
Again the stillness dropped upon the great chamber— this time like
a tangible thing. I sat, considering. There was something familiar
about that name. I had an irritated feeling that I ought to know it;
that if I tried hard enough, I could remember it; that memory of it
was fust over the border of consciousness. Also I had the feeling
that it meant something rather dreadful. Something better forgotten. I
felt vague stirrings of repulsion, coupled with sharp resentment.
"No," I answered.
I heard the sound of sharply exhaled breaths. The old priest
walked behind me and placed his hands over my eyes.
"Do you remember—this?"
My mind seemed to blur, and then I saw a picture as clearly as
though I were looking at it with my open eyes. I was galloping through
the oasis straight to the great doorway in the mountain. Only now it
was no oasis. It was a city with gardens, and a river ran spark- ling
through it. The ranges were not barren red sand- stone, but green with
trees. There were others with me, galloping behind me—men and women
like myself, fair and strong. Now I was close to the doorway. There
were immense square stone columns flanking it ... and now I had
dismounted from my horse ... a great black stallion ... I was entering
. . .
I would not enter! If I entered, I would remember— Khalk'ru! I
thrust myself back . . . and out . . . I felt hands over my eyes ... I
reached and tore them away . . . the old priest's hands. I jumped
from the chair, quivering with anger. I faced him. His face was
benign, his voice gentle.
"Soon," he said, "you will remember more!"
I did not answer, struggling to control my inexplicable rage. Of
course, the old priest had tried to hypnotize me ; what I had seen was
what he had willed me to see. Not without reason had the priests of
the Uighurs gained their reputation as sorcerers. But it was not that
which had stirred this wrath that took all my will to keep from
turning berserk. No, it had been something about that name of
Khalk'ru. Something that lay behind the doorway in the mountain
through which I had almost been forced.
"Are you hungry?" The abrupt transition to the practical in the
old priest's question brought me back to normal. I laughed outright,
and told him that I was, indeed. And getting sleepy. I had feared that
such an important personage as I had apparently become would have to
dine with the high priest. I was relieved when he gave me in charge of
the Uighur captain. The Uighur followed me out like a dog, he kept his
eyes upon me like a dog upon its master, and he waited on me like a
servant while I ate. I told him I would rather sleep in a tent than
in one of the stone houses. His eyes flashed at that, and for the
first time he spoke other than in respectful monosyllables.
"Still a warrior!" he grunted approvingly. A tent was set up for
me. Before I went to sleep I peered through the flap. The Uighur
leader was squatting at the opening, and a double ring of spearsmen
stood shoulder to shoulder on guard.
Early next morning, a delegation of the lesser priests called for
me. We went into the same building, but to a much smaller room, bare
of all furnishings. The high priest and the rest of the lesser priests
were awaiting me. I had expected many questions. He asked me none; he
had, apparently, no curiosity as to my origin, where I had come from,
nor how I had happened to be in Mongolia. It seemed to be enough that
they had proved me to be who they had hoped me to be—whoever that
was. Furthermore, I had the strongest impression that they were
anxious to hasten on to the consummation of a plan that had begun with
my lessons. The high priest west straight to the point.
"Dwayanu," he said, "we would recall to your memory a certain
ritual. Listen carefully, watch carefully, repeat faithfully each
inflection, each gesture." "To what purpose?" I asked.
"That you shall learn—" he began, then interrupted himself
fiercely. "No! I will tell you now! So that this which is desert shall
once more become fertile. That the Uighurs shall recover their
greatness. That the ancient sacrilege against Khalk'ru, whose fruit
was the desert, shall be expiated!"
"What have I, a stranger, to do with all this?" I asked.
"We to whom you have come," he answered, "have not enough of the
ancient blood to bring this about. You are no stranger. You are
Dwayanu—the Releaser. You are of the pure blood. Because of that, only
you— Dwayanu—can lift the doom."
I thought how delighted Barr would be to hear that explanation;
how he would crow over Fairchild. I bowed to the old priest, and told
him I was ready. He took from my thumb the ring, lifted the chain and
its pendent jade from his neck, and told me to strip. While I was
doing so, he divested himself of his own robes, and the others
followed suit. A priest carried the things away, quickly returning. I
looked at the shrunken shapes of the old men standing mother-naked
round me, and suddenly lost all desire to laugh. The proceedings were
being touched by the sinister. The lesson began.
It was not a ritual; it was an invocation—rather, it was an
evocation of a Being, Power, Force, named Khalk'ru. It was exceedingly
curious, and so were the gestures that accompanied it. It was dearly
couched in the archaic form of the Uighur. There were many words I
did not understand. Obviously, it had been passed down from high
priest to high priest from remote antiquity. Even an indifferent
churchman would have considered it blasphemous to the point of
damnation. I was too much interested to think much of that phase of
it. I had the same odd sense of familiarity with it that I had felt at
the first naming of Khalk'ru. I felt none of the repulsion, however. I
felt strongly in earnest. How much this was due to the force of the
united wills of the twelve priests who never took their eyes off me,
I do not know.
I won't repeat it, except to give the gist of it. Khalk'ru was the
Beginning-without-Beginning, as he would be the End-without-End. He
was the Lightless Timeless Void. The Destroyer. The Eater-up of Life.
The Annihilator. The Dissolver. He was not Death—Death was only a
part of him. He was alive, very much so, but his quality of living was
the antithesis of Life as we know it. Life was an invader, troubling
Khalk'ru's age- less calm. Gods and man, animals and birds and all
creatures, vegetation and water and air and fire, sun and stars and
moon—all were his to dissolve into Himself, the Living Nothingness, if
he so willed. But let them go on a little longer. Why should Khalk'ru
care when in the end there would be only—Khalk'ru! Let him withdraw
from the barren places so life could enter and cause them to blossom
again ; let him touch only those who were the enemies of his
worshippers, so that his worshippers would be great and powerful,
evidence that Khalk'ru was the All in All. It was only for a breath
in the span of his eternity. Let Khalk'ru make himself manifest in
the form of his symbol and take what was offered him as evidence he
had listened and con- sented.
There was more, much more, but that was the gist of it. A dreadful
prayer, but I felt no dread—then.
Three times, and I was letter-perfect. The high priest gave me one
more rehearsal and nodded to the priest who had taken away the
clothing. He went out and returned with the robes—but not my clothes.
Instead, he produced a long white mantle and a pair of sandals. I
asked for my own clothes and was told by the old priest that I no
longer needed them, that hereafter I would be dressed as befitted me.
I agreed that this was desirable, but said I would like to have them
so I could look at them once in a while. To this he acquiesced.
They took me to another room. Faded, ragged tapestries hung on
its walls. They were threaded with scenes of the hunt and of war.
There were oddly shaped stools and chairs of some metal that might
have been copper but also might have been gold. a wide and low divan,
in one corner spears, a bow and two swords, a shield and a cap-shaped
bronze helmet. Everything, except the rugs spread over the stone
floor, had the appearance of great antiquity. Here I was washed and
carefully shaved and my long hair trimmed—a ceremonial cleansing
accompanied by rites of purification which, at times, were somewhat
These ended, I was given a cotton undergarment which sheathed me
from toes to neck. After this, a pair of long, loose, girdled trousers
that seemed spun of threads of gold reduced by some process to the
softness of silk. I noticed with amusement that they had been
carefully repaired and patched. I wondered how many centuries the man
who had first worn them had been dead. There was a long, blouse-like
coat of the same material, and my feet were slipped into cothurms, or
high buskins, whose elaborate embroidery was a bit ragged.
The old priest placed the ring on my thumb, and stood back,
staring at me raptly. Quite evidently he saw nothing of the ravages of
time upon my garments.
I was to him the splendid figure from the past that he thought me.
"So did you appear when our race was great," he said. "And soon,
when it has recovered a little of its greatness, we shall bring back
those who still dwell in the Shadow-land."
"The Shadow-land?" I asked.
"It is far to the East, over the Great Water," he said. "But we
know they dwell there, those of Khalk'ru who fled at the time of the
great sacrilege which changed fecund Uighuriand into desert. They will
be of the pure blood like yourself, Dwayanu, and you shall find mates
among the women. And in time, we of the thinned blood shall pass
away, and Uighuriand again be peopled by its ancient race."
He walked abruptly away, the lesser priests following. At the door
"Wait here," he said, "until the word comes from me."
CHAPTER IV. TENTACLE OF KHALK'RU
I WAITED for an hour, examining the curious contents of the room,
and amusing myself with shadow-fencing with the two swords. I swung
round to find the Uighur captain watching me from the doorway, pale
"By Zarda!" he said. "Whatever you have forgotten, it is not your
sword play! A warrior you left us, a warrior you have returned!"
He dropped upon a knee, bent his head: "Pardon, Dwayanu! I have
been sent for you. It is time to go."
A heady exaltation began to take me. I dropped the swords, and
clapped him on the shoulder. He took it like an accolade. We passed
through the corridor of the spearsmen and over the threshold of the
great door- way. There was a thunderous shout.
And then a blaring of trumpets, a mighty roll of drums and the
clashing of cymbals.
Drawn up in front of the palace was a hollow square of Uighur
horsemen, a full five hundred of them, spears glinting, pennons flying
from their shafts. Within the square, in ordered ranks, were as many
more. But now I saw that these were both men and women, clothed in
garments as ancient as those I wore, and shimmering in the strong
sunlight like a vast multicoloured rug of metal threads. Banners and
bannerets, torn and tattered and bearing strange symbols, fluttered
from them. At the far edge of the square I recognized the old priest,
his lesser priests flanking him, mounted and clad in the yellow.
Above them streamed a yellow banner, and as the wind whipped it
straight, black upon it appeared the shape of the Kraken. Beyond the
square of horsemen, hundreds of the Uighurs pressed for a glimpse of
me. As I stood there, blinking, another shout mingled with the roll
of the Uighur drums.
"The King returns to his people!" Barr had said. Well, it was like
A soft nose nudged me. Beside me was the black stallion. I mounted
him. The Uighur captain at my heels, we trotted down the open way
between the ordered ranks. I looked at them as I went by. All of them,
men and women, had the pale blue-grey eyes ; each of them was larger
than the run of the race. I thought that these were the nobles, the
pick of the ancient families, those in whom the ancient blood was
strongest. Their tattered banners bore the markings of their clans.
There was exultation in the eyes of the men. Before I had reached the
priests. I had read terror in the eyes of many of the women.
I reached the old priest. The line of horsemen ahead of us parted.
We two rode through the gap, side by side. The lesser priests fell in
behind us. The nobles followed them. A long thin line upon each side
of the cavalcade, the Uighur horsemen trotted—with the Uighur trumpets
blaring, the Uighur kettle-drums and long-drums beat- ing, the Uighur
cymbals crashing, in wild triumphal rhythms.
"The King returns——"
I would to that something had sent me then straight upon the
We trotted through the green of the oasis. We crossed a wide
bridge which had spanned the little stream when it had been a mighty
river. We set our horses' feet upon the ancient road that led straight
to the mountain's doorway a mile or more away. The heady exultation
grew within me. I looked back at my company. And suddenly I
remembered the repairs and patches on my breeches and my blouse. And
my following was touched with the same shabbiness. It made me feel
less a king, but it also made me pitiful. I saw them as men and women
driven by hungry ghosts in their thinned blood, ghosts of strong
ancestors growing weak as the ancient blood weakened, starving at it
weakened, but still strong enough to clamour against extinction, still
strong enough to command their brains and wills and drive them toward
something the ghosts believed would feed their hunger, make them
Yes, I pitied them. It was nonsense to think I could appease the
hunger of their ghosts, but there was one thing I could do for them. I
could give them a damned good show! I went over in my mind the ritual
the old priest had taught me, rehearsed each gesture.
I looked up to find we were at the threshold of the mountain door.
It was wide enough for twenty horse- men to ride through abreast. The
squat columns I had seen, under the touch of the old priest's hands,
lay shattered beside it. I felt no repulsion, no revolt against
entering, as I then had. I was eager to be in and to be done with it.
The spearsmen trotted up, and formed a guard beside the opening. I
dismounted, and handed one of them the stallion's rein. The old priest
beside me, the lesser ones behind us, we passed over the threshold of
the mined doorway, and into the mountain. The passage, or vestibule,
was lighted by wall cressets in which burned the dear, white flame. A
hundred paces from the entrance, another passage opened, piercing
inward at an angle of about fifteen degrees to the wider one. Into
this the old priest turned. I glanced back. The nobles bad not yet
entered; I could see them dismounting at the entrance. We went along
this passage in silence for perhaps a thousand feet. It opened into a
small square chamber, cut in the red sandstone, at whose side was
another door, covered with heavy tapestries. In this chamber was
nothing except a number of stone coffers of various sizes ranged along
The old priest opened one of these. Within it was a wooden box,
grey with age. He lifted its lid, and took from it two yellow
garments. He slipped one of these garments over my head. It was like a
smock, falling to my knees. I glanced down; woven within it, its
tentacles encircling me, was the black octopus.
The other he drew over his own head. It, too, bore the octopus,
but only on the breast, the tentacles did not embrace him. He bent and
took from the coffer a golden staff, across the end of which ran bars.
From these fell loops of small golden bells.
From the other coffers the lesser priests had taken drums, queerly
shaped oval instruments some three feet long, with sides of sullen red
metal. They sat, rolling the drumheads under their thumbs, tightening
them here and there while the old priest gently shook his staff of
bells, testing their chiming. They were for all the world like an
orchestra tuning up. I again felt a desire to laugh;
I did not then know how the commonplace can intensify the
There were sounds outside the tapestried doorway, rustlings. There
were three clangorous strokes like a hammer upon an anvil. Then
silence. The twelve priests walked through the doorway with their
drums in their arms. The high priest beckoned me to follow him, and
we passed through after them.
I looked out upon an immense cavern, cut from the living rock by
the hands of men dust now for thousands of years. It told its
immemorial antiquity as clearly as though the rocks had tongue. It was
more than ancient; it was primeval. It was dimly lighted, so dimly
that hardly could I see the Uighur nobles. They were standing, the
banners of their dans above them, their faces turned up to me, upon
the stone floor, a hundred yards Wso away, and ten feet below me.
Beyond them and behind them the cavern extended, vanishing hi
darkness. I saw that in front of them was a curving trough, wide—like
the trough between two long waves—and "that like a wave it swept
upward from the hither side of the trough, curving, its lip crested,
as though that wave of sculptured stone were a gigantic comber rushing
back upon them. This lip formed the edge of the raised place on which
The high priest touched my arm. I turned my head to him, and
followed his eyes.
'' A hundred feet away from me stood a girl. She was naked. She
had not long entered womanhood and quite plainly was soon to be a
mother. Her eyes were as blue as those of the old priest, her hair
was reddish brown, touched with gold, her skin was palest olive. The
blood of the old fair race was strong within her. For all she held
herself so bravely, there was terror in her eyes, and the rapid rise
and fall of her rounded breasts further revealed that terror.
She stood in a small hollow. Around her waist was a golden ring,
and from that ring dropped three golden chaias fastened to the rock
floor. I recognized their purpose. She could not run, and if she
dropped or fell, she could not writhe away, out of the cup. But run,
or writhe away from what? Certainly not from me! I 'looked at her and
smiled. Her eyes searched mine. The terror suddenly fled from them.
She smiled back at me, trustingly.
God forgive me—I smiled at her and she trusted me! I looked beyond
her, from whence had come a glitter of yellow like a flash from a huge
topaz. Up from the rock a hundred yards behind the girl jutted an
immense fragment of the same yellow translucent stone that formed the
jewel in my ring. It was like the fragment of a gigantic shattered
pane. Its shape was roughly triangular. Black within it was a tentacle
of the Kraken. The tentacle swung down within the yellow stone, broken
from the monstrous body when the stone had been broken. It was all of
fifty feet long. Its inner side was turned toward me, and plain upon
all its length clustered the hideous sucking discs.
Well, it was ugly enough—but nothing to be afraid of, I thought. I
smiled again at the chained girl, and met once more her look of utter
The old priest had been watching me dosely. We walked forward
until we were half-way between the edge and the girl. At the lip
squatted the twelve lesser priests, their drums on their laps.
The old priest and I faced the girl and the broken tentacle. He
raised his staff of golden bells and shook them. From the darkness of
the cavern began a low chanting, a chant upon three minor themes,
repeated and repeated, and intermingled.
It was as primeval as the cavern ; it was the voice of the cavern
The girl never took her eyes from me.
The chanting ended. I raised my hands and made the curious
gestures of salutation I had been taught. I began the ritual to
With the first words, the odd feeling of recognition swept over
me—with something added. The words, the gestures, were automatic. I
did not have to exert any effort of memory ; they remembered
themselves. I no longer saw the chained girl. All I saw was the black
tentacle in the shattered stone.
On swept the ritual and on ... was the yellow stone dissolving
from around the tentacle . . . was the tentacle swaying?
Desperately I tried to halt the words, the gesturing. I could not!
Something stronger than myself possessed me, moving my muscles,
speaking from my throat. I had a sense of inhuman power. On to the
climax of the evil evo- cation—and how I knew how utterly evil it
was—the ritual rushed, while I seemed to stand apart, helpless to
And the tentacle quivered ... it writhed ... it reached outward to
the chained girl. . . .
There was a devil's roll of drums, rushing up fast and ever faster
to a thunderous crescendo. . . .
The girl was still looking at me ... but the trust was gone from
her eyes . . . her face reflected the horror stamped upon my own.
The black tentacle swung up and out!
I had a swift vision of a vast cloudy body from which other cloudy
tentacles writhed. A breath that had in it the cold of outer space
The black tentacle coiled round the girl. . . .
She screamed—inhumanly . . . she faded . . . she dissolved . . .
her screaming faded . . . her screaming became a small shrill agonized
piping ... a sigh.
I heard the dash of metal from where the girl had stood. The
clashing of the golden chains and girdle that had held her, falling
empty on the rock.
The girl was gone!
I stood, nightmare horror such as I had never known in worst of
nightmares paralysing me——
The child had trusted me ... I had smiled at her, and she had
trusted me ... and I had summoned the Kraken to destroy her!
Searing remorse, white hot rage, broke the chains that held me. I
saw the fragment of yellow stone in its place, the black tentacle
inert within it. At my feet lay the old priest, flat on his face, his
withered body shaking; his withered hands clawing at the rock. Beside
their drums lay the lesser priests, and flat upon the floor of the
cavern were the nobles—prostrate, abased, blinds and deaf in stunned
worship of that dread Thing I had summoned.
I ran to the tapestried doorway. I had but one desire—to get out
of the temple of Khalk'ru. Out of the lair of the Kraken. To get far
and far away from it. To get back . . . back to the camp—home. I ran
through the little room, through the passages and, still running,
reached the entrance to the temple. I stood there for an instant,
dazzled by the sunlight.
There was a roaring shout from hundreds of throats— then silence.
My sight cleared. They lay there, in the dust, prostrate before me—the
troops of the Uighur spearsmen.
I looked for the black stallion. He was close beside me. I sprang
upon his back, gave him the reins. He shot forward like a black
thunderbolt through the prostrate ranks, and down the road to the
oasis. We raced through the oasis. I bad vague glimpses of running
crowds, shouting. None tried to stop me. None could have stayed the
rush of that great horse.
And now I was close to the inner gates of the stone fort through
which we had passed on the yesterday. They were open. Their guards
stood gaping at me. Drums began to beat, peremptorily, from the
temple. I looked back. There was a confusion at its entrance, a
chaotic milling. The Uighur spearsmen were streaming down the wide
The gates began to close. I shot the stallion forward, bowling
over the guards, and was inside the fort. I reached the further gates.
They were closed. Louder beat the drums, threatening, commanding.
Something of sanity returned to me. I ordered the guards to open.
They stood, trembling, staring at me. But they did not obey. I leaped
from the stallion and ran to them. I raised my hand. The ring of
Khalk'ru flittered. They threw themselves on the ground before me—but
they did not open the gates.
I saw upon the wall goatskins full of water. I snatched one of
these and a sack of grain. Upon the floor was a huge slab of stone. I
lifted it as though it had been a pebble, and hurled it at the gates
where the two halves met. They burst asunder. I threw the skin of
water and sack of grain over the high saddle, and rode through the
The great horse skimmed through the ravine like a swallow. And now
we were over the crumbling bridge and thundering down the ancient
We came to the end of the far ravine. I knew it by the fall of
rock. I looked back. There was no sign of pursuit But I could hear the
faint throb of the drums.
It was now well past mid-afternoon. We picked our way through the
ravine and came out at the edge of the sandstone range. It was cruel
to force the stallion, but I could not afford to spare him. By
nightfall we had readied semi-arid country. The stallion was reeking
with sweat, and tired. Never once had he slackened or turned surly.
He had a great heart, that horse. I made up my mind that he should
rest, come what might.
I found a sheltered place behind some high boulders. Suddenly I
realized that I was still wearing the yellow ceremonial smock. I tore
it off with sick loathing. I rubbed the horse down with it. I watered
him and gave him some of the grain. I realized, too, that I was
ravenously hungry and had eaten nothing since morning. I chewed some
of the grain and washed it down with the tepid water. As yet, there
were no signs of pursuit, and the drums were silent. I wondered
uneasily whether the Uighurs knew of a shorter road and were
outflanking me. I threw the smock over the stallion and stretched
myself on the ground. I did not intend to sleep. But I did go to
I awakened abruptly. Dawn was breaking. Looking down upon me were
the old priest and the cold-eyed Uighur captain. My hiding place was
ringed with spearsmen. The old priest spoke, gently.
"We mean you no harm, Dwayanu. If it is your will to leave us, we
cannot stay you. He whose call Khalk'ru has answered has nothing to
fear from us. His will is our will."
I did not answer. Looking at him, I saw again—- could only
see—that which I had seen in the cavern. He sighed.
"It is your will to leave us! So shall it be!"
The Uighur captain did not speak.
"We have brought your clothing, Dwayanu, thinking that you might
wish to go from us as you came," said the old priest.
I stripped and dressed in my old clothes. The old priest took my
faded finery. He lifted the octopus robe from the stallion. The
captain spoke :
"Why do you leave us, Dwayanu? You have made our peace with
Khalk'ru. You have unlocked the gates. Soon the desert will blossom as
of old. Why will you not remain and lead us on our march to
I shook my head. The old priest sighed again.
"It is his will! So shall it be! But remember, Dwayanu—he whose
call Khalk'ru has answered must answer when Khalk'ru calls him. And
soon or late— Khalk'ru will call him!"
He touched my hair with his trembling old hands, touched my heart,
and turned. A troop of spearsmen wheeled round him. They rode away.
The Uighur captain said :
"We wait to guard Dwayanu on his journey."
I mounted the stallion. We reached the expedition's new camp. It
was deserted. We rode on, toward the old camp. Late that afternoon we
saw ahead of us a caravan. As we came nearer they halted, made hasty
preparations for defence. It was the expedition—still on the march. I
waved my hands to them and shouted.
I dropped off the black stallion, and handed the reins to the
"Take him," I said. His face lost its sombre sternness,
"He shall be ready for you when you return to us, Dwayanu. He or
his sons," he said. He touched my hand to his forehead, knelt. "So
shall we all be, Dwayanu —ready for you, we or our sons. When you
He mounted his horse. He faced me with his troop. They raised
their spears. There was one crashing shout—
They raced away.
I walked to where Fairchild and the others awaited me.
As soon as I could arrange it, I was on my way back to America. I
wanted only one thing—to put as many miles as possible between myself
and Khalk'ru's temple.
I stopped. Involuntarily my hand sought the buck- skin bag on my
"But now," I said, "it appears that it is not so easy to escape
him. By anvil stroke, by chant and drums— Khalk'ru calls me '"
CHAPTER V. THE MIRAGE
JIM had sat silent, watching me, but now and again I had seen the
Indian stoicism drop from his face. He leaned over and put a hand on
"Leif," he said quietly, "how could I have known? For the first
time, I saw you afraid—it hurt me. I did not know. . . ."
From Tsantawu, the Cherokee, this was much. "It's all right,
Indian. Snap back," I said roughly. He sat for a while not speaking,
throwing little twigs on the fire.
"What did you friend Barr say about it?" he asked abruptly.
"He gave me hell," I said. "He gave me hell with the tears
streaming down his cheeks. He said that never had anyone betrayed
science as I had since Judas kissed Christ. He was keen on mixed
metaphors that got under your skin. That went deep under mine, for it
was pre- cisely what I was thinking of myself—not as to science but
as to the girl. I had given her the kiss of Judas all right. Barr said
that I had been handed the finest opportunity man ever had given him.
I could have solved the whole mystery of the Gobi and its lost civil-
ization. I had run away like a child from a bugaboo. I was not only
atavistic in body, I was atavistic in brain. I was a blond savage
cowering before my mumbo-jumbos. He said that if he had been given my
chance he would have let himself be crucified to have learned the
truth. He would have, too. He was not lying."
"Admirably scientific," said Jim. "But what did he say about what
"That is was nothing but hypnotic suggestion by the old priest. I
had seen what he had willed me to see— just as before, under his will,
I had seen myself riding to the temple. The girl hadn't dissolved. She
had probably been standing in the wings laughing at me. But if
everything that my ignorant mind had accepted as true had been true
then my conduct was even more unforgivable. I should have remained,
studied tht phenomena and brought back the results for science to
examine. What I had told him of the ritual of Khalk'ru was nothing
but the second law of thermo-dynamics expressed in terms of
anthropomorphism. Life was an intrusion upon Chaos, using that word to
describe the unformed, primal state of the universe. An invasion. An
accident. In time all energy would be changed to static heat, impotent
to give birth to any life what- soever. The dead universes would float
lifelessly in the illimitable void. The void was eternal, life was
not. Therefore the void would absorb it. Suns, worlds, gods, men, an
things animate, would return to the void. Go back to Chaos. Back to
Nothingness. Back to Khalk'ru. Or if my atavistic brain preferred the
term—back to the Kraken. He was bitter."
"But the others saw the girl taken, you say. How did he explain
"Oh, easily. That was mass hypnotism—like the Angels of Mons, the
ghostly bowmen of Crecy and other collective hallucinations of the
War. I had been a— catalyzer. My likeness to the traditional ancient
race, my completeness as a throwback, my mastery at Khalk'ru's
ritual, the faith the Uighurs had in me—all this had been the
necessary element in bringing about the collective hallucination of
the tentacle. Obviously the priests had long been trying to make work
in which an essential chemical was lacking. I, for some reason,
was the missing chemical—the catalyzer. That was all." Again he sat
thinking, breaking the little twigs.
"It's a reasonable explanation. But you weren't convinced?"
"No, I wasn't convinced—I saw the girl's face when the tentacle
touched her." "He arose, stood staring toward the north.
"Leif," he asked suddenly, "what did you do with the ring?"
I drew out the little buckskin pouch, opened it and handed the
ring to him. He examined it closely, returned it to me.
"Why did you keep it, Leif?"
"I'don't know." I slipped the ring over my thumb. "I Didn't give
it back to the old priest; he didn't ask for it. Oh, hell—I'll tell
you why I kept it—for the same reason Coleridge's Ancient Mariner had
the alba- tross tied round his neck. So I couldn't forget I'm a
I put the ring back in the buckskin bag, and dropped it down my
neck. Faintly from the north came a roll of drums. It did not seem to
travel with the wind this time. It seemed to travel underground, and
died out deep beneath us.
"Khalk'ru! " I said.
"Well. don't let's keep the old gentleman waiting,"
said Jim cheerfully.
He busied himself with the packs, whistling. Suddenly he turned to
"Listen, Leif. Barr's theories sound good to me. I'm not saying
that if I'd been in your place I would have accepted them. Maybe
you're right. But I'm with
Barr- until events, if-when-and-how they occur, prove him wrong.
"Fine!" I said heartily, and entirely without sarcasm.
"May your optimism endure until we get back to New
We shouldered the packs, and took up our rifles and started
It was not hard going, but it was an almost constant climb. The
country sloped upward, sometimes at a breath-taking pitch. The forest,
unusually thick and high for the latitude, began to thin. It grew
steadily cooler. After we had covered about fifteen miles we entered
a region of sparse and stunted trees. Five miles ahead was a
thousand-feet-high range of bare rocks. Beyond this range was a jumble
of mountains four to five thousand feet higher, treeless, their peaks
covered with snow and ice, and cut by numerous ravines which stood
out glistening white like miniature glaciers. Between us and the
nearer range stretched a plain, all grown over with dwarfed thickets
of wild roses, blueberries and squawbemes, and dressed in the
brilliant reds and blues and greens of the brief Alaskan summer.
"If we camp at the base of those hills, we'll be out of that
wind," said Jim. "It's five o'clock. We ought to make it in an hour."
We set off. Bursts of willow ptarmigans shot up around us from the
berry thickets like brown rockets;
golden plovers and curlews were whistling on all sides;
within rifle shot a small herd of caribou was feeding, and the
little brown cranes were stalking everywhere. No one could starve in
that country, and after we had set up camp we dined very well.
There were no sounds that night—or if there were we slept too
deeply to hear them.
The next morning we debated our trail. The low range stood
directly in our path north. It continued, increasing in height, both
east and west. It presented no great difficulties from where we were,
at least so far
as we could see. We determined to climb it, taking it leisurely.
It was more difficult than it had appeared;
it took us two hours to wind our way to the top.
We tramped across the top toward a line of huge boulders that
stretched like a wall before us. We squeezed between two of these,
and drew hastily back. We were standing at the edge of a precipice
that dropped hundreds of feet sheer to the floor of a singular valley.
The jumble of snow-and-ice-mantled mountains clustered around it. At
its far end, perhaps twenty miles away, was a pyramidal-shaped peak.
Down its centre, from tip to the floor of the valley, ran a
glittering white streak, without question a glacier filling a chasm
which split the mountain as evenly as though it had been made by a
single sword stroke. The valley was not wide, not more than five
miles, I esti- mated, at its widest point. A long and narrow valley,
its far end stoppered by the glacier-cleft giant, its sides the walls
of the other mountains, dropping, except here and there where there
had been falls of rock, as pre- cipitously into it as the cliff under
But it was the floor of the valley itself that riveted our
attention. It seemed nothing but a tremendous level field covered with
rocky rubble. At the far end, the glacier ran through this rubble for
half the length of the valley. There was no trace of vegetation among
the littered rocks. There was no hint of green upon the sur- rounding
mountains; only the bare black cliffs with their ice and snow-filled
gashes. It was a valley of desolation.
"It's cold here, Leif." Jim shivered.
It was cold—a cold of a curious quality, a still and breathless
cold. It seemed to press out upon us from the valley, as though to
force us away.
"It's going to be a job getting down there," I said.
"And hard going when we do," said Jim. "Where
the hell did all those rocks come from, and what spread them out
"Probably dropped by that glacier when it shrunk," I said. "It
looks like a terminal moraine. In fact this whole place looks as
though it had been scooped out by the ice."
"Hold on to my feet, Leif, I'll take a look." He lay on his belly
and wriggled his body over the edge. In a minute or two I heard him
call, and pulled him back.
"There's a slide about a quarter of a mile over there to the
left," he said. "I couldn't tell whether it goes all the way to the
top. We'll go see. Leif, how far down do you think that valley is?"
"Oh, a few hundred feet."
"It's all of a thousand if it's an inch. The cliff goes down and
down. I don't understand what makes the bottom seem so much closer
here. It's a queer place, this."
We picked up the packs and marched off behind the wall-like rim of
boulders. In a little while we came across a big gouge in the top,
running far back. Here frost and ice had bitten out the rock along
some fault. The shattered debris ran down the middle of the gouge
like giant stepping-stones clear to the floor of the valley.
"We'll have to take the packs off to negotiate that," said Jim.
"What shall be do—leave them here while we explore, or drop them along
with us as we go?"
"Take them with us. There must be an outlet off there at the base
of the big mountain."
We began the descent. I was scrambling over one of the rocks about
a third of the way when I heard his sharp exclamation.
Gone was the glacier that had thrust its white tongue in among the
rubble. Gone was the rubble. Toward its .far end, the valley's floor
was covered with scores of pyramidal black stones, each marked down
with a streak of glistening white. They stood in ranks, spaced
regularly, like the dolmens of the Druids. They marched half-down the
valley. Here and there between them arose wisps of white steam, like
smokes of sacrifices.
Between them and us, lapping at the black cliffs, was a blue and
rippling lake! It filled the lower valley from side to side. It
rippled over the edges of the shattered rocks still far below us.
Then something about the marshalled ranks of black stones struck
"Jim! Those pyramid-shaped rocks. Each and every one of them is a
tiny duplicate of the mountain behind them! Even to the white streak!"
As I spoke, the blue lake quivered. It flowed among the black
pyramids, half-submerging them, quenching the sacrificial smokes. It
covered the pyramids. Again it quivered. It was gone. Where the lake
had been was once more the rubble-covered floor of the valley.
There had been an odd touch of legerdemain about the
transformations, like the swift work of a master magician. And it had
been magic—of a kind. But I had watched nature perform that magic
"Hell t" I said. "It's a mirage I"
Jim did not answer. He was staring at the valley with a singular
"What's the matter with you, Tsantawu? Listening to the ancestors
again? It's only a mirage."
"Yes?" he said. "But which one? The lake—or the rocks?"
I studied the valley's floor. It looked real enough. The theory of
a glacial moraine accounted for its oddly level appearance—that and
our height above it. When we reached it we would find that
distribution of boulders uncomfortably uneven enough, I would swear.
"Why, the lake of coarse."
"No," he said, "I think the stones are the mirage."
"Nonsense. There's a layer of warm air down there. The stones
radiate the sun's heat. This cold air presses on it. It's one of the
conditions that produces mirages, and it has just done it for us.
"No," he said, "it isn't all."
He leaned against the rock.
"Leif, the ancestors had a few things more to say last night than
I told you."
"I know damned well they did."
"They spoke of Ataga'hi. Does that mean anything to you."
"Not a thing."
"It didn't to me—then. It does now. Ataga'hi was an enchanted
lake, in the wildest part of the Great Smokies, westward from the
headwaters of the Ocana- luftee. It was the medicine lake of the
animals and birds. All the Cherokee knew it was there, though few had
seen it. If a stray hunter came close, all he saw was a stony flat,
without blade of grass, forbidding. But by prayer and fasting and an
all-night vigil, he could sharpen his spiritual sight. He would then
behold at daybreak a wide shallow sheet of purple water, fed by
springs, spouting from the high cliffs around. And in the water all
kinds of fish and reptiles, flocks of ducks and geese and other birds
flying about, and around the lake the tracks of animals. They came to
Ataga'hi to be cured of wounds or sickness. The Great Spirit had
placed an island in the middle of the lake. The wounded, the sick'
animals and birds swam to it. When they had reached it—the waters of
Ataga'hi had cured them. They came up on its shores—whole once more.
Over Ataga'hi ruled the peace of God. All creatures were friends."
"Listen, Indian, are you trying to tell me this is your medicine
"I didn't say that at all. I said the name of Ataga'hi kept coming
into my mind. It was a place that appeared
to be a stony flat, without blade of grass, forbidding. So does
this place. But under that illusion was—a lake. We saw a lake. It's a
queer coincidence, that's all. Perhaps the stony flat of Ataga'hi was
a mirage—" He hesitated : "Well, if some other things the ancestors
mentioned turn up, I'll shift sides and take your version of that
"That lake was the mirage. I'm telling you."
He shook his head, stubbornly.
"Maybe. But maybe what we see down there now is mirage, too. Maybe
both are mirage. And if so, then, how deep is the real floor, and can
we make our way over it?"
He stood staring silently at the valley. He shivered, and again I
was aware of the curiously intense quality of the cold. I stooped and
caught hold of my pack. My hands were numb.
"Well, whatever it is—let's find out."
A quiver ran through the valley floor. Abruptly it became again
the shimmering blue lake. And as abruptly turned again to nibbled
But not before I had seemed to see within that lake of illusion—if
illusion it were—a gigantic shadowy shape, huge black tentacles
stretching out from a vast and nebulous body ... a body which seemed
to vanish back into immeasurable distances . . . vanishing into the
void ... as the Kraken of the Gobi cavern had seemed to vanish into
the void . . . into that void which was—Khalk'ru!
We crept between, scrambled over and slid down the huge broken
fragments. The further down we went, the more intense became the cold.
It had a still and creep- ing quality that seeped into the marrow.
Sometimes we dropped the packs ahead of us, sometimes dragged them
after us. And ever more savagely the cold bit into our bones.
By the frequent glimpses of the valley floor, I was more and more
assured of its reality. Every mirage I had ever beheld—and in Mongolia
I had seen many—had retreated, changed form, or vanished as I drew
near. The valley floor did none of these things. It was true that the
stones seemed to be squatter as we came closer;
but I attributed that to the different angle of vision.
We were about a hundred feet above the end of the slide when I
began to be less sure. The travelling had become peculiarly difficult.
The slide had narrowed. At our left the rock was clean swept,
stretching down to the valley as smoothly as though it had been
brushed by some titantic broom. Probably an immense frag- ment had
broken loose at this point, shattering into the boulders that lay
heaped at its termination. We veered to the right, where there was a
ridge of rocks, pushed to the side by that same besom of stone. Down
this ridge we picked our way.
Because of my greater strength, I was carrying both our rifles,
swung by a thong over my left shoulder. Also I was handling the
heavier pack. We came upon an extremely awkward place. The stone upon
which I was standing suddenly tipped beneath my weight. It threw me
sideways. The pack slipped from my hands, toppled, and fell over on
the smooth rock. Automatically I threw myself forward, catching at it.
The thong holding the two rifles broke. They went slithering after the
It was one of those combinations of circumstances that makes one
believe in a God of Mischance. The thing might have happened anywhere
else on our journey without any result whatever. And even at that
moment I didn't think it mattered.
"Well," I said, cheerfully, "that saves me carrying them. We can
pick them up when we get to the bottom."
"That is." said Jim, "if there is a bottom."
I cocked my eye down the slide. The rifles had caught up with the
pack and the three were now moving fast.
"There they stop," I said. They were almost on the rubble at the
"The hell they do," said Jim. "There they go!"
I rubbed my eyes, and looked and looked again. The pack and the
pushing rifles should have been checked by that barrier at the slide's
end. But they had not been. They had vanished.
CHAPTER VI. THE SHADOWED-LAND
THERE had been a queer quivering when rifles and pack had touched
the upthrust of rock. Then they had seemed to melt into it.
"I'd say they dropped into the lake," said Jim.
"There's no lake. They dropped into some break in the rock. Come
He gripped my shoulder.
"Wait, Leif. Go slow."
I followed his pointing finger. The barrier of stones had
vanished. Where they had been, the slide ran, a smooth tongue of
stone, far out into the valley.
"Come on," I said.
We went down, testing every step. With each halt, the nibbled
plain became flatter and flatter, the boulders squatted lower and
lower. A cloud drifted over the sun. There were no boulders. The
valley floor stretched below us, a level slate-grey waste!
The slide ended abruptly at the edge of this waste. The rocks
ended as abruptly, about fifty feet ahead. They stood at the edge with
the queer effect of stones set in place when the edge had been
viscous. Nor did the waste appear solid; it, too, gave the impression
of viscosity; through it ran a slight but constant tremor, like waves
of heat over a sun-baked road—yet with every step downward the bitter,
still cold increased until it was scarcely to be borne.
There was a narrow passage between the shattered rocks and the
cliff at our right. We crept through it. We stood upon an immense flat
stone at the very edge
of the strange plain. It was neither water nor rock;
more than anything, it had the appearance of a thin opaque liquid
glass, or a gas that had been turned semi- liquid.
I stretched myself out on the slab, and reached out to touch it. I
did touch it—there was no resistance ;
I felt nothing. I let my hand sink slowly in. I saw my hand for a
moment as though reflected in a distorting mirror, and then I could
not see it at all. But it was pleasantly warm down there where my hand
had dis- appeared. The chilled blood began to tingle in my numbed
fingers. I leaned far over the stone and plunged both arms in almost
to the shoulders. It felt damned good.
Jim dropped beside me and thrust in his arms.
"It's air," he said.
"Feels like it—" I began, and then a sudden realization came to
me—"the rifles and the pack! If we don't get them we're out of luck!"
He said: "If Khalk'ru is—guns aren't going to get us away from
"You think this—" I stopped, memory of the shadowy shape in the
lake of illusion coming back to me.
"Usunhi'yi, the Darkening-land. The Shadowed-land your old priest
called it, didn't he? I'd say this fits either description."
I lay quiet; no matter what the certainty of a coming ordeal a man
may carry in his soul, he can't help a cer- tain shrinking when he
knows his foot is at the threshold of it. And now quite clearly and
certainly I knew just that. All the long trail between Khalk'ru's Gobi
temple and this place of mirage was wiped out. I was stepping from
that focus of Khalk'ru's power into this one— where what had been
begun in the Gobi must be ended. The old haunting horror began to
creep over me. I fought it.
I would take up the challenge. Nothing on earth could stop me now
from going on. And with that determin- ation, I felt the horror
sullenly retreat, leave me. For the first time in years I was wholly
free of it.
"I'm going to see what's down there." Jim drew up his arms. "Hold
on to my feet, Leif, and I'll slip over the edge of the stone. I felt
along its edge and it seems to go on a bit further."
"I'll go first." I said. "After all, it's my party."
"And a fine chance I'd have to pull you up if you fell over, you
human elephant. Here goes—catch hold."
I had just time to grip his ankles as he wriggled over the stone,
and his head and shoulders passed from sight. On he went, slowly
writhing along the slanting rock until my hands and arms were hidden
to the shoulders. He paused—and then from the mysterious opacity in
which he had vanished came a roar of crazy laughter.
I felt him twist and try to jerk his feet away from me. I pulled
him, fighting against me every inch of the way, out upon the stone. He
came out roaring that same mad laughter. His face was red, and his
eyes were shining drunkenly ; he had in fact all the symptoms of a
laughing drunk. But the rapidity of his respiration told me what had
"Breathe slowly," I shouted in his ear. "Breathe slowly, I tell
And then, as his laughter continued and his struggles to tear
loose did not abate, I held him down with one arm and dosed his nose
and mouth with my hand. In a moment or two he relaxed. I released him;
and he sat up groggily.
"Funniest things," he said, thickly. "Saw funniest faces. . . ."
He shook his head, took a deep breath or two, and lay back on the
"What the hell happened to me, Leif?"
"You had an oxygen bun, Indian," I said. "A nice cheap jag on air
loaded with carbon-dioxide. And that explains a lot of things about
this place. You came up breathing three to the second, which is what
carbon- dioxide does to you. Works on the respiratory centres of the
brain and speeds up respiration. You took in more oxygen than you
could use, and you got drunk on it. What did you see before the world
became so funny?"
"I saw you," he said. "And the sky. It was like looking up out of
water. I looked down and around. A little below me was something like
a floor of pale green mist. I couldn't see through it. It's warm in
there, good and plenty warm, and it smells like trees and flowers.
That's all I managed to grasp before I went goofy. Oh, yes, this rock
fall keeps right on going down. Maybe we can get to the bottom of
it—if we don't laugh ourselves off. I'm going right out and sit in
that mirage up to my neck—my God, Leif, I'm freezing!"
I looked at him with concern. His lips were blue, his teeth
chattering. The transition from the warmth to the bitter cold was
having its effect, and a dangerous one.
"All right," I said, rising. "I'll go first. Breathe slowly, take
deep, long breaths as slowly as you can, and breathe out just as
slowly. You'll soon get used to it. Come on."
I slung the remaining pack over my back, craw-fished over the side
of the stone, felt solid rock under my feet, and drew myself down
within the mirage.
It was warm enough ; almost as warm as the steam- room of a
Turkish bath. I looked up and saw the sky above me like a circle of
blue, misty at its edges. Then I saw Jim's legs dropping down toward
me, his body bent back from them at an impossible angle. I was seeing
him, in fact, about as a fish does an angler wading
in its pool. His body seemed to telescope and he was squatting
"God, but this feels good!"
"Don't talk," I told him. "Just sit here and practise that slow
breathing. Watch me."
We sat there, silently, for all of half an hour. No sound broke
the stillness around us. It smelled of the jungle, of fast growing
vigorous green life, and green life falling as swiftly into decay; and
there were elusive, alien fragrances. All I could see was the circle
of blue sky above, and perhaps a hundred feet below us the pale green
mist of which Jim had spoken. It was like a level floor of cloud,
impenetrable to the vision. The rock-fall entered it and was lost to
sight. I felt no discomfort, but both of us were dripping with sweat.
I watched with satisfaction Jim's deep, unhurried breathing.
"Having any trouble?" I asked at last.
"Not much. Now and then I have to put the pedal down. But I think
I'm getting the trick."
"All right," I said. "Soon we'll be moving. I don't believe it
will get any worse as we go down."
"You talk like an old-timer. What's your idea of this place
"Simple enough. Although the combination hasn't a chance in
millions to be duplicated. Here is a wide, deep valley entirely hemmed
in by precipitous clifis. It is, in effect, a pit. The mountains
enclosing it are seamed with glaciers and ice streams and there is a
constant flow of cold air into this pit, even in summer. There is pro-
bably volcanic activity close beneath the valley's floor, boiling
springs and the like. It may be a miniature of the Valley of Ten
Thousand Smokes over to the west All this produces an excess of
carbon-dioxide. There is most probably a lush vegetation which adds to
the pro- duct. What we are going into is likely to be a little
left-over fragment of the Carboniferous Age—about ten
million years out of its time. The warm, heavy air fills the pit
until it reaches the layer of cold air we've just come from. The
mirage is produced where the two meet, by approximately the same
causes which produce every mirage. How long it's been this way. God
alone knows. Parts of Alaska never had a Glacial Age—the ice for some
reason or another didn't cover them. When what is New York was under a
thousand feet of ice, the Yukon Flats were an oasis filled with all
sorts of animal and plant life. If this valley existed then, we're due
to see some strange survivals. If it's comparatively recent, we'll
probably run across some equally interesting adapta- tions. That's
about all, except there must be an outlet of some kind somewhere at
about this level, otherwise the warm air would fill the whole valley
to the top, as gas does a tank. Let's be going."
"I begin to hope we find the guns," said Jim, thought- fully.
"As you pointed out, they'd be no good against Khalk'ru—what, who,
if and where he is," I said. "But they'd be handy against his
attendant devils. Keep an ' eye out for them—I mean the guns."
We started down the rock-fall, toward the floor of green mist. The
going was not very difficult. We reached the mist without having seen
anything of rifles or packs. The mist looked like a heavy fog. We
entered it, and that was precisely what it was. It closed around us,
thick and warm. The rocks were reeking wet and slippery, and we had to
feel for every foot of the way. Twice I thought our numbers were up.
How deep that mist was, I could not tell, perhaps two or three hundred
feet—a condensation brought about by the peculiar atmospheric
conditions that produced the mirage.
The mist began to lighten. It maintained its curious green tint,
but I had the idea that this was due to reflection from below.
Suddenly it thinned to nothing. We came
out of it upon a breast where the falling rocks had met some
obstruction and had piled up into a barrier about thrice my height. We
climbed that barrier.
We looked upon the valley beneath the mirage.
It lay a full thousand feet beneath us. It was filled with pale
green light like that in a deep forest glade. That light was both
lucent and vaporous, lucent where we stood, but hiding the distance
with misty curtains of pallid emerald. To the north and on each side
as far as I could see, and melting into the vaporous emerald cur-
tains, was a vast carpet of trees. Their breath came pulsing up to
me, jungle-strong, laden with the unfamiliar fragrances. At left and
right, the black cliffs fell sheer to the forest edge.
"Listen!" Jim caught my arm.
At first only a faint tapping, then louder and louder, we heard
from far away the beating of drums, scores of drums, in a strange
staccato rhythm—shrill, mocking, jeering! But they were no drums of
Khalk'ru! In them was nothing of that dreadful trampling of racing
feet upon a hollow world.
They ceased. As though in answer, and from an entirely different
direction, there was a fanfarade of trumpets, menacing, warlike. If
brazen notes could
curse, these did. Again the drums broke forth, still mocking,
"Little drums," Jim was whispering. "Drums of——" He dropped down
from the rocks, and I followed. The barrier led to the east, dipping
steadily downward. We followed its base. It stood like a great wall
between us and the valley, barring our vision. We heard the drums no
more. We descended five hundred feet at least before the barrier
ended. At its end was another rock slide like that down which the
rifles and pack had fallen.
We stood studying it. It descended at an angle of about forty-five
degrees, and while not so smooth as the other, it had few enough
The air had steadily grown warmer. I'; was not an uncomfortable
heat; there was a queer tingling life about it, an exhalation of the
crowding forest or of the valley itself, I thought. It gave me a
feeling of rampant, reck- less life, a heady exaltation. The pack had
grown tire- some. If we were to negotiate the slide, and there seemed
nothing else to do, I couldn't very well carry it. I unslung it.
"Letter of introduction" I said, and sent it slithering down the
"Breathe deep and slow, you poor ass," said Jim, and laughed.
His eyes were bright; he looked happy, like a man from whom some
burden of fear and doubt has fallen. He looked, in fact, as I had felt
when I had taken up that challenge of the unknown not so long before.
And I wondered.
The slithering pack gave a little leap, and dropped completely out
of sight. Evidently the slide did not go all the way to the valley
floor, or, if so, it continued at a sharper angle at the point of the
I let myself over cautiously, and began to worm down the slide
flat on my belly, Jim following. We had negotiated about
three-quarters of it when I heard him shout. Then bis falling body
struck me. I caught him with one hand, but it broke my own precarious
hold. We went rolling down the slide and dropped into space. I felt a
jarring shock, and abruptly went completely out.
CHAPTER VII. THE LITTLE PEOPLE
I CAME to myself to find Jim pumping the breath back into me. I
was lying on something soft. I moved my legs gingerly, and sat up. I
looked around. We were on a bank of moss—in it, rather, for the tops
of the moss were a foot or more above my head. It was an exceedingly
overgrown moss, I thought, staring at it stupidly. I had never seen
moss as big as this. Had I shrunk, or was it really so overgrown?
Above me was a hundred feet of almost sheer cliff. Said Jim :
"Well, we're here." "How did we get here?" I asked, dazed. He
to the cliff.
"We fell down that. We struck a ledge. You did, rather. I was on
top. It bumped us right out on this nice big moss mattress. I was
still on top. That's why I've been pumping breath back into you for
the last five minutes. Sorry, Leif, but if it had been the other way
about, you'd certainly have had to proceed on your pilgrimage alone. I
haven't your resilience."
He laughed. I stood up, and looked about us. The bed of giant moss
on which we had landed formed a mound between us and the forest. At
the base of the difi was piled the debris of the fall that had made
the slide. I looked at these rocks and shivered. If we had struck
them we would have been a jumble of broken bones and mangled flesh. I
felt myself over. I was intact.
"Everything, Indian," I said piously, "is always for the best."
"God, Leif! You had me worried for awhile!" He turned abruptly.
"Look at the forest."
The mound of moss was a huge and high oval, hemmed almost to the
base of the cliffs by gigantic trees. They were somewhat like the
sequoias of California, and quite as high. Their crowns towered ;
their enormous boles were columns carved by Titans. Beneath them grew
graceful ferns, tall as palm trees, and curious conifers with trunks
thin as bamboos, scaled red and yellow. Over them, hanging from the
boles and branches of the trees, were vines and dusters of flowers of
every shape and colour; there were cressets of orchids, and chan-
deliers of lilies; strange symmetrical trees, the tips of whose
leafless branches held up flower cups as though they were candelabra;
chimes of flower bells swayed from boughs and there were long ropes
and garlands of small starry flowers, white and crimson and in all the
blues of the tropic seas. Bees dipped into them. There was a constant
flashing of great dragon-fUes all in lac- quered mail of green and
scarlet. And mysterious shadows drifted through the forest, like the
shadows of the wings of hovering unseen guardians.
It was no forest of the Carboniferous Age, at least none such as I
had ever seen reconstructed by science. It was a forest of
enchantment. Out of it came heady fragrances. Nor was it, for all its
strangeness, in the least sinister, or forbidding. It was very
beautiful. . Jim said:
"The woods of the gods! Anything might live in a place like that.
Anything that is lovely——"
Ah, Tsantawu, my brother—had that but been true!
All I said was :
"It's going to be damned hard to get through."
"I was thinking that," he answered. "Maybe the best thing is to
skirt the cliffs. We may run across easier going farther on. Which
way—right or left?"
We tossed a coin. The coin spun right. I saw the pack not far
away, and walked over to retrieve it. The moss was as unsteady as a
double spring-mattress. I wondered how it came to be there ; thought
that prob- ably a few of the giant trees had been felled by the rock
fall and the moss had fed upon their decay. I slung the pack over my
shoulders, and we tramped, waist-deep in the spongy growth, to the
We skirted the cliffs for about a mile. Sometimes the forest
pressed so closely that we had trouble clinging to the rock. Then it
began to change. The giant trees retreated. We entered a brake of the
immense ferns. Except for the bees and the lacquered dragon-flies,
there was no sign of life amid the riotous vegetation. We passed out
of the ferns and into a most singular small meadow. It was almost like
a clearing. At each side were the ferns; the forest formed a palisade
at one end;
at the other was a sheer cliff whose black face was spangled with
large cup-shaped white flowers which hung from short, reddish, rather
repellantly snake-like vines whose roots I supposed were fixed in
crevices in the
No trees or ferns of any kind grew in the meadow. It was carpeted
by a lacy grass upon whose tips were minute blue flowerlets. From the
base of the cliff arose a thin veil of steam which streamed up softly
high in air, bathing the cup-shaped white blossoms.
A boiling spring, we decided. We drew closer to
We heard a wailing—despairing, agonized. . . . Like the wail of a
heart-broken, tortured child, yet neither quite human nor quite
animal. It had come from the cliff, from somewhere behind the veils of
steam. We stopped short, listening. The wailing began again, within
it something that stirred the very depths of pity, and it did not
cease. We ran toward the cliff. The steam
curtain at its base was dense. We skirted it and reached its
At the base of the cliff was a long and narrow pool, like a small
dosed stream. Its water was black and bubbling, and from these bubbles
came the steam. From end to end of the boiling pool, across the face
of the black rock, ran a yard-wide ledge. Above it, spaced at regular
intervals, were niches cut within the cliff, small as cradles.
In two of these niches, half-within them and half- upon the ledge,
lay what at first glance seemed two children. They were . outstretched
upon their backs, their tiny hands and feet fastened to the stone by
staples of bronze. Their hair streamed down their sides ; their
bodies were stark naked.
And now I saw that they were not children. They were mature—a
little man and a little woman. The woman had twisted her head and was
staring at the other pygmy. It was she who was wailing. She did not
see us. Her eyes were intent upon him. He lay rigid, his eyes dosed.
Upon his breast, over his heart, was a black • corrosion, as though
acid had been dropped upon it.
There was a movement on the cliff above him. One of the cup-shaped
white flowers was there. Could it have been that which had moved? It
hung a foot above the little man's breast, and on its scarlet pistils
was a slowly gathering drop which I took for nectar.
It had been the flower whose movement had caught my eye! As I
looked the reddish vine trembled. It writhed like a sluggish worm an
inch down the rock. The flower shook its cup as though it were a mouth
trying to shake loose the gathering drop. And the flower mouth was
directly over the little man's heart and the black corrosion on his
I stepped out upon the narrow path, reached up and grasped the
vine and tore it loose. It squirmed in my
hand like a snake. Its roots dung to my fingers, and like a
snake's head the flower raised itself as though to strike. Its rim was
thick and fleshy, like a round white mouth. The drop of nectar fell
upon my hand and a fiery agony bit into it, running up my arm like a
flame. I hurled the squirming thing into the boiling pool.
Close above the little woman was another of the crawling vines. I
tore it loose as I had the other. It, too, strove to strike me with
its head of flower, but either there was none of that dreadful nectar
in its cup, or it missed me. I threw it after the other.
I bent over the little man. His eyes were open; he was glaring up
at me. Like his skin, his eyes were yellow, tilted, Mongolian. They
seemed to have no pupils, and they were not wholly human ; no more
than had been the wailing of his woman. There was agony in them, and
there was bitter hatred. His gaze wandered to my hair, and I saw
amazement banish the hatred.
The flaming torment of my hand and arm was almost intolerable. By
it, I knew what the pygmy must be suffering. I tore away the staples
that fettered him. I lifted the little man, and passed him over to
Jim. He weighed no more than a baby.
I snapped the staples from the slab on which lay the little woman.
There was no fear nor hatred in her eyes. They were filled with wonder
and unmistakable grati- tude. I carried her over and set her beside
I looked back, up the face of the black cliff. There was movement
all over it; the reddish ropes of the vines writhing, the white
flowers swaying, raising and lowering their cups.
It was rather hideous. ...
The little man lay quietly, yellow eyes turning front me to Jim
and back to me again. The woman spoke, in trilling, bird-like
syllables. She darted away across the meadow, into the forest.
Jim was staring down upon the golden pygmy like a man in a dream.
I heard him whisper :
"The Yunwi Tsundi'! The Little People! It was all true then! All
The little woman came running out of the fern brake. Her hands
were full of thick, heavily veined leaves. She darted a look at me, as
of apology. She bent over her man. She- squeezed some of the leaves
over his breast. A milky sap streamed through her fingers and dropped
upon the black, corroded spot. It spread over the spot like a film.
The little man stiffened and groaned, relaxed and lay still.
The little woman took my hand. Where the nectar had touched, the
skin had turned black. She squeezed the juice of the leaves upon it. A
pang, to which all the torment that had gone before was nothing, ran
through hand and arm. Then, almost instantly, there was no pain.
I looked at the little man's breast. The black cor- rosion had
disappeared. There was a wound like an add burn, red and normal. I
looked at my hand. It was inflamed, but the blackness was no longer
The little woman bowed before me. The little man arose. He looked
at my eyes and ran his gaze along my bulk. I watched suspicion grow,
and the return of bitter hate. He spoke to his woman. She answered at
some length, pointing to the cliff, to my inflamed hand, and to the
ankles and wrists of both of them. The little man "beckoned to me; by
gesture asked me to bend down to him. I did, and he touched my yellow
hair; he ran it through his tiny fingers. He laid his hand on my
heart . . . then laid his head on my heart, listening to its beat.
He struck me with his small hand across my mouth. It was no blow;
I knew it for a caress.
The little man smiled at me, and trilled. I could not understand,
and shook my head helplessly. He looked up at Jim and trilled another
question. Jim tried him in the Cherokee. This time it was the little
man who shook his head. He spoke again to his woman. Clearly I caught
the word ev-ah-lee in the bird-like sounds. She nodded.
Motioning us to follow, they ran across the meadow, toward the
further brake of fern. How little they were— hardly to my thighs. They
were beautifully formed. Their long hair was chestnut brown, fine and
silky. Their hair floated behind them like cobwebs.
They ran like small deer. We were hard put to keep up with them.
They entered the fern brake toward which we had been heading, and here
they slowed their pace. On and on we went through the giant ferns. I
could see no path, but the golden pygmies knew their way.
We came out of the ferns. Before us was a wide sward covered with
the flowerets whose blue carpet ran to the banks of a wide river, to
the banks of a strange river, a river all milky white, over whose
placid surface hovered swirls of opalescent mist. Through the swirls I
caught glimpses of green, level plains upon the white river's further
side, and of green scarps.
The little man halted. He bent his ear to the ground. He leaped
back into the brake, motioning us to follow. In a few minutes we came
across a half-ruined watch tower. Its entrance gaped open. The pygmies
slipped within it, beckoning.
Inside the tower was a crumbling flight of stones leading to its
top. The little man and woman danced up them, with us close behind
them. There was a small chamber at the tower's top through the chinks
of whose stones the green light streamed. I peered through one of the
crevices, down upon the blue sward and the white
river. I heard the faint trampling of horses' feet and the low
chanting of women; closer they drew, and closer.
A woman came riding down the blue sward. She was astride a great
black mare. She wore, like a hood, the head of a white wolf. Its pelt
covered her shoulders and back. Over that silvery pelt her hair fell
in two thick braids of flaming red. Her high, round breasts were bare,
and beneath them the paws of the white wolf were clasped like a
girdle. Her eyes were blue as the corn- flower and set wide apart
under a broad, low forehead. Her skin was milky-white flushed with
soft rose. Her mouth was full-lipped, crimson, and both amorous and
. She was a strong woman, tall almost as I. She was like a
Valkyrie, and like those messengers of Odin she carried on her saddle
before her, held by one arm, a body. But it was no soul of a slain
warrior snatched up for flight to Valhalla. It was a girl. A girl
whose arms were bound to her sides by stout thongs, with head bent
hopelessly on her breast. I could not see her face; it was hidden
under the veil of her hair. But the hair was russet red and her skin
as fair as that of the woman who held her.
Over the Wolf-woman's head flew a snow-white falcon, dipping and
circling and keeping pace with her as she rode.
Behind her rode a half-score other women, young and strong-thewed,
pink-skinned and blue-eyed, their hair of copper-red, rust-red,
bronzy-red, plaited around their heads or hanging in long braids down
their shoulders. They were bare-breasted, kirtled and buskined. They
carried long, slender spears and small round targes. And they, too,
were like Valkyries, each of them a shield- maiden of the Aesir. As
they rode, they sang, softly, muted, a strange chant.
The Wolf-woman and her captive passed around a bend of the sward
and out of sight. The chanting women followed and were hidden.
There was a gleam of silver from the white falcon's wing as it
circled and dropped, circled and dropped. Then it, too, was gone.
CHAPTER VIII. EVALIE
THE golden pygmies hissed; their yellow eyes were molten with
The little man touched my hand, talking in the rapid trilling
syllables, and pointing over the white river. Clearly he was telling
me we must cross it. He stopped, listening. The little woman ran down
the broken stairs. The little man twittered angrily, darted to Jim,
beat at his legs with his fists as though to arouse him, then shot
after the woman.
"Snap out of it, Indian!" I said, impatiently. "They want us to
He shook his head, like a man shaking away the last cobwebs of
We sped down the broken steps. The little man was waiting for us;
or at least he had not run away, for, if waiting for us, he was doing
so, in a most singular manner. He was dancing in a small circle,
waving his arms and hands oddly, and trilling a weird melody upon four
notes, repeated over and over in varying progressions. The woman was
nowhere in sight.
A wolf howled. It was answered by other wolves farther away in the
flowered forest—like a hunting pack whose leader has found the scent.
The little woman came racing through the fem brake ;
the little man stopped dancing. Her hands were filled with small
purplish fruits resembling fox-grapes. The little man pointed toward
the white river, and they set off through the screening brake of
ferns. We followed.
We came out of the brake, crossed the blue sward and stood on the
bank of the river.
The howl of the wolf sounded again, answered by the others, and
The little man leaped upon me, twittering frantically;
he twined his legs about my waist and strove to tear my shirt from
me. The woman was trilling at Jim, waving in her hands the bunches of
"They want us to take off our clothes," said Jim. "They want us to
be quick about it."
We stripped, hastily. There was a crevice in the bank into which I
pushed the pack. Quickly we rolled up our clothes and boots, and threw
a strap around them and slung them over our shoulders.
The little woman threw a handful of the purple fruit to her man.
She motioned Jim to bend, and as he did so she squeezed the berries
over his head and hands, his breasts and thighs and feet. The little
man was doing the same for me. The fruit had an oddly pungent odour
that made my eyes water.
I straightened up and looked out over the-white river.
The head of a serpent broke through its milky surface;
then another and another. Their heads were as large as those of
the anaconda, and were scaled in vivid emerald. They were crested by
brilliant green spines which con- tinued along their backs and were
revealed as they swirled and twisted in the white water. Quite
definitely, I did not like plunging into that water, but now I thought
I knew the purpose of our anointing, and that most cer- tainly the
golden pygmies intended us no harm. And just as certainly, I assumed,
they knew what they were about.
The howling of the wolves came once more, not only much nearer,
but from the direction along which had gone the troop of women.
The little man dived into the water, motioning me to
follow. I obeyed, and heard the small splash of the woman and the
louder one of Jim. The little man glanced back at me, nodded, and
began to swim across like an eel, at a speed that I found difficult to
The crested serpents did not molest us. Once I felt the slither of
scales across my loins; once I shook the water from my eyes to find
one of them swimming beside
me, matching in play my speed, or so it seemed ; racing me.
The water was warm, as warm as the milk it resembled, and
curiously buoyant. The river at this point was about a thousand feet
wide. I had covered half of it when I heard a shrill shriek and felt
the buffeting of wings about my head. I rolled over, beating up with
my hands to drive off whatever it was that had attacked me.
It was the white falcon of the Wolf-woman, hover- ing, dropping,
rising again, threshing me with its pinions!
I heard a cry from the bank, a bell-like contralto, vibrant,
imperious—in archaic Uighur:
"Come back! Come back. Yellow-hair!"
I swung round to see. The falcon ceased its bufferings. Upon the
farther bank was the Wolf-woman upon her great black mare, the captive
girl still clasped in her ann. The Wolf-woman's eyes were like
sapphire stars, her free hand was raised in summons.
And all around her, heads lowered, glaring at me with eyes as
green as hers were blue, was a pack of snow-white wolves!
"Come back!" she cried again.
She was very beautiful—the Wolf-woman. It would not have been hard
to have obeyed. But no—she was not a Wolf-woman! What was she? Into my
mind came a Uighur word, an ancient word that I had not blown I knew.
She was the Salur'da—the Witch- woman. And with it came angry
resentment of her
summons. Who was she—the Salur'da—to command me! Me, Dwayanu, who
in olden time long forgot would have had her whipped with scorpions
for such insolence!
I raised myself high above the white water.
"Back to your den, Salur'da!" I shouted. "Does Dwayanu come to
your call? When I summon you, then see that you obey!"
She stared at me, stark amazement in her eyes; the strong arm that
held the girl relaxed so that the captive almost dropped from the
mare's high pommel. I struck out across the water to the farther
I heard the Witch-woman whistle. The falcon circling round my head
screamed, and flew. I heard the white wolves snarling; I heard the
thud of the black mare's hoofs racing over the blue sward. I reached
the bank and climbed it. Only then did I turn. Witch-woman, falcon
and white wolves—all of them were gone.
Across my wake the emerald-headed, emerald-crested serpents swam
and swirled and dived.
The golden pygmies had climbed upon the bank.
"What did you say to her?"
"The Witch-woman comes to my call—not I to hers," I answered, and
wondered as I did so what it was that compelled the words.
"Still very much—Dwayanu, aren't you, Leif? What touched the
trigger on you this time?"
"I don't know." The inexplicable resentment against the woman was
still strong, and, because I could not understand it, irritating to a
degree. "She ordered me to come back, and a little fire-cracker went
off in my brain. Then I—I seemed to know her for what she is, and
that her command was rank insolence. I told her so. She was no more
surprised by what I said than I am. It was like someone else speaking.
It was like—"
I hesitated—"well, it was like when I started that cursed ritual
and couldn't stop."
He nodded, then began to put on his clothes. I followed suit. They
were soaking wet. The pygmies watched us wriggle into them with frank
amazement. I noticed that the angry red around the wound on the
little man's breast had paled, and that while the wound itself was
raw, it was not deep and had already begun to heal. I looked at my own
hand; the red had almost disappeared, and only a slight tenderness
betrayed where the nectar had touched it.
When we had laced our boots, the golden pygmies trotted off, away
from the river toward a line of cliffs about a mile ahead. The
vaporous green light half hid them, as it had wholly hidden our view
to the north when we had first looked over the valley. For half the
distance the ground was level and covered with the blue flowered
grass. Then ferns began, steadily growing higher. We came upon a
trail little wider than a deer path which threaded into a greater
brake. Into this we turned.
We had eaten nothing since early morning, and I thought
regretfully of the pack I had left behind. How- ever, it is my
training to eat heartily when I can, and philosophically go without
when I must. So I tightened my belt and glanced back at Jim, close
upon my heels.
"Hungry?" I asked.
"No. Too busy thinking."
"Indian—what brought the red-headed beauty back?"
"The wolves. Didn't you hear them howling after her? They found
our track and gave her the signal."
"I thought so—but it's incredible! Hell—then she is a
"Not because of that. You're forgetting your Mowgli and the Grey
Companions. Wolves aren't hard to train. But she's a Witch-woman,
nevertheless. Don't hold back Dwayanu when you deal with her, Leif."
The little drums again began to beat. At first only a few, then
steadily more and more until there were scores of them. This time the
cadences were lilting, gay, tapping out a dancing rhythm that lifted
all weariness. They did not seem far away. But now the ferns were
high over our heads and impenetrable to the sight, and the narrow
path wove in and out among them like a meandering stream
The pygmies hastened their pace. Suddenly the trail came out of
the ferns, and the pair halted. In front of us the ground sloped
sharply upward for three or four hundred feet. The slope, except where
the path ran, was covered from bottom to top with a tangle of thick
green vines studded along all their lengths with wicked three-inch
thorns; a living chaweux-de-frise which no living creature would
penetrate. At the end of the path was a squat tower of stone, and from
this came the glint of spear-heads.
In the tower a shrill-voiced drum chattered an unmis- takable
alarm. Instantly the lilting drums were silent. The same shrill
chatter was taken up and repeated from point to point, diminishing in
the far distance ; and now I saw that the slope was like an immense
circular forti- fication, curving far out toward the unbroken palisade
of the giant ferns, and retreating at our right toward the sheer wall
of black cliff, far away. Everywhere upon it was the thicket of thorn.
The little man twittered to his woman, and walked up the trail
toward the tower. He was met by other pygmies streaming out of it. The
little woman stayed with us, nodding and smiling and patting our knees
Another drum, or a trio of them, began to beat from the tower. I
thought there were three because their burden was on three different
notes, soft, caressing, yet far-carrying. They sang a word, a name,
as plainly as though they had lips, the name I had heard in the
trilling of the pygmies. . . .
Ev-ah-lee. . . Ev-ah-lee . . . Ev-ah-lee . . . Over and over and
over. The drums in the other towers were silent.
The little man beckoned us. We went forward, avoid- ing with
difficulty the thorns. We came to the top of the path beside the small
tower. A score of the little men stepped out and barred our way. None
was taller than the one I had saved from the white flowers. All had
the same golden skin, the same half-animal yellow eyes; like his,
their hair was long and silky, floating almost to their tiny feet,
They wore twisted loin-cloths of what appeared to be cotton ; around
their waists were broad girdles of silver, pierced like lace-work in
intricate designs. Their spears were wicked weapons for all their
apparent frailty, long-handled, hafted in some black wood, and with
foot-deep points of red metal, and barbed like a muskalonge hook from
tip to base. Swung on their backs were black bows with long arrows
barbed in similar manner; and in their metal girdles were slender
sickle-shaped knives of the red metal, like scimitars of gnomes.
They stood staring at us, like small children. They made me feel
as Gulliver must have felt among the Lili- putians. Also, there was
that about them which gave me no desire to tempt them to use their
weapons. They looked at Jim with curiosity and interest and with no
trace of unfriendliness. They looked at me with little faces that
grew hard and fierce. Only when their eyes roved to my yellow hair did
I see wonder and doubt lighten suspicion—but they never dropped the
points of the spears turned toward me.
Ev-ah-lee . . . Ev-ah-lee . . . Ev-ah-lee . . . sang the drums.
There was an answering roll from beyond, and they were silent.
I heard a sweet, low-pitched voice at the other side of the tower
trilling the bird-like syllables of the Little People——
And then—I saw Evalie.
Have you watched a willow bough swaying in spring above some clear
sylvan pool, or a slender birch dancing with the wind in a secret
woodland and covert, or the flitting green shadows in a deep forest
glade which are dryads half-tempted to reveal themselves? I thought of
them as she came toward us.
She was a dark girl, and a tall girl. Her eyes were brown under
long black lashes, the clear brown of the mountain brook in autumn;
her hair was black, the jetty hair that in a certain light has a sheen
of darkest blue. Her face was small, her features certainly neither
classic nor regular—the brows almost meeting in two level lines above
her small, straight nose ; her mouth was large but finely cut, and
sensitive. Over her broad, low forehead the blue-black hair was
braided like a coronal Her skin was clear amber. Like polished fine
amber it shone under the loose, yet clinging, garment that clothed
her, knee-long, silvery, cobweb fine and transparent. Around her hips
was the white loin-cloth of the Little People. Unlike them, her feet
But it was the grace of her that made the breath catch in your
throat as you looked at her, the long flowing line from ankle to
shoulder, delicate and mobile as the curve of water flowing over some
smooth breast of rock, a liquid grace of line that changed with every
It was that—and the life that bumed in her like the green flame of
the virgin forest when the kisses of spring are being changed for the
warmer caresses of summer. I knew now why the old Greeks had believed
in the dryads, the naiads, the nereids—the woman souls of trees, of
brooks and waterfalls and fountains, and of the waves.
I could not tell how old she was—hers was the pagan beauty which
knows no age.
She examined me, my clothes and boots, in manifest perplexity; she
glanced at Jim, nodded, as though to say there was nothing in him to
be disturbed about;
then turned back to me, studying me. The small soldiers ringed
her, their spears ready.
The little man and his woman had stepped forward. They were both
talking at once, pointing to his breast, to my hand, to my yellow
hair. The girl laughed, drew the little woman to her and covered her
lips with a hand. The little man went on trilling and twittering.
Jim had been listening with a puzzled intensity when- ever the
girl had done the talking. He caught my arm.
"It's Cherokee they're speaking! Or something like it— Listen . .
. there was a word ... it sounded like 'Yun'-wini'giski' ... it means
'Man-eaters'. Liter- ally, "They eat people' ... if that's what it was
. . . and look . . . he's showing how the vines crawled down the
cliffs. . . ."
The girl began speaking again. I listened intently. The rapid
enunciation and the trilling made understand- ing difficult, but I
caught sounds that seemed familiar— and now I heard a combination that
I certainly knew.
"It's some kind of Mongolian tongue, Jim. I got a word just then
that means 'serpent-water' in a dozen different dialects."
"I know—she called the snake 'aha'nada' and the Cherokees say
'inadu'—but it's Indian, not Mongolian."
"It might be both. The Indian dialects are Mon- golian. Maybe it's
the ancient mother-tongue. If we could only get her to speak slower,
and tune down on the trills."
"It might be that. The Cherokees called themselves 'the oldest
people' and their language 'the first speech'— wait——"
He stepped forward, hand upraised; he spoke the word which in the
Cherokee means, equally, friend or one who comes with good intentions.
He said it several times. Wonder and comprehension crept into the
girl's eyes. She repeated it as he had spoken it, then turned to the
pygmies, passing the word on to them—and I could distinguish it now
plainly within the trills and pipings. The pygmies came closer,
staring up at Jim.
He said, slowly : "We come from outside. We know nothing of this
place. We know none within it."
Several times he had to repeat this before she caught it. She
looked gravely at him, and at me doubtfully— yet as one who would like
to believe. She answered haltingly.
"But Sri"—she pointed to the little man—"has said that in the
water he spoke the tongue of evil."
"He speaks many tongues," said Jim—then to me:
"Talk to her. Don't stand there like a dummy, admiring her. This
girl can think—and we're in a jam. Your looks make no hit with the
dwarfs, Leif, in spite of what you did."
"Is it any stranger that I should have spoken that tongue than
that I now speak yours, Evalie?" I said. And asked the same question
in two of the oldest dialects of the Mongolian that I knew. She
studied me, thought- fully.
"No," she said at last—"no; for I, too, know some- thing of it,
yet that does not make me evil."
And suddenly she smiled, and trilled some command to the guards.
They lowered their spears, regarding me with something of the friendly
interest they had showed toward Jim. Within the tower, the drums began
to roll a cheerful tattoo. As at a signal, the other unseen drums
which the shrill alarm had silenced, resumed their lilting rhythm.
The girl beckoned us. We walked behind her, the little soldiers
ringing us, between a portcullis of thorn and the tower.
We passed over the threshold of the Land of the Little People and
THE green light that filled the Shadowed-land was darkening. As
the green forest darkens at dusk. The sun must long since have dipped
beneath the peaks circling that illusory floor which was the sky of
the Shadowed-land. Yet here the glow faded slowly, as though it were
not wholly dependent upon the sun, as though the place had some
luminosity of its own.
We sat beside the tent of Evalie. It was pitched on a rounded
knoll not far from the entrance of her lair within the cliff. All
along the base of the cliff were the lairs of the Little People, tiny
openings through which none larger than they could creep into the
caves that were their homes, their laboratories, their workshops,
their storehouses and granaries, their impregnable fortresses.
It had been hours since we had followed her over the plain between
the watch-tower and her tent. The golden pygmies had swarmed from
every side, curious as chil- dren, chattering and trilling,
questioning Evalie, twitter- ing her answers to those on the outskirts
of the crowd. Even now there was a ring of them around the base of
the knoll, dozens of little men and little women, staring up at us
with their yellow eyes, chirping and laughing. In the arms of the
women were babies like tiniest dolls, and like larger dolls were the
older children who clustered at their knees.
Child-like, their curiosity was soon satisfied; they went back to
their occupations and their play. Others, curiosity not yet quenched,
took their places.
I watched them dancing upon the smooth grass. They danced in
circling measures to the lilting rhythm of their drums. There were
other knolls upon the plain, larger
and smaller than that on which we were, and all of them as rounded
and as symmetrical. Around and over them the golden pygmies danced to
the throbbing of the little drums.
They had brought us little loaves of bread, and oddly sweet but
palatable milk and cheese, and unfamiliar delicious fruits and melons.
I was ashamed of the num- ber of platters I had cleaned. The little
people had only watched, and laughed, and urged the women to bring me
more. Jim said, laughingly :
"It's the food of the Yunwi Tsundsi you're eating. Fairy food,
Leif! You can never eat mortal food again."
I looked at Evalie, and at the wine and amber beauty of her. Well,
I could believe Evalie had been brought up on something more than
I studied the plain for the hundredth time. The slope on which
stood the squat towers was an immense semi- circle, the ends of whose
arcs met the black cliffs. It must enclose, I thought, some twenty
square miles. Beyond the tbomed vines were the brakes of the giant
fern; beyond them, on the other side of the river, I could glimpse
the great trees. If there were forests on this side, I could not tell.
Nor what else there might be of living things. There was something to
be guarded against, certainly, else why the fortification, the
Whatever else it might be, this guarded land of the golden pygmies
was a small Paradise, with its stands of grain, its orchards, its
vines and berries and its green fields.
I thought over what Evalie had told us of herself, care- fully and
slowly tuning down the trilling syllables of the little people into
vocables we could understand. It waa an ancient tongue she spoke—one
whose roots struck far deeper down in the soil of Time than any I
knew, unless it were the archaic Uighur itself. Minute by minute I
found myself mastering it with ever greater ease, but not so
rapidly as Jim. He had even essayed a few trills, to the pygmies'
delight. More than that, however, they had understood him. Each of us
could follow Evalie's thought better than she could ours.
Whence had the Little People come into the Shadowed- land? And
where had they learned that ancient tongue? I asked myself that, and
answered that as well ask how it came that the Sumerians, whose great
city the Bible calls Ur of the Chaldees, spoke a Mongolian language.
They, too, were a dwarfish race, masters of strange sorceries,
students of the stars. And no man knows whence they came into
Mesopotamia with their science full-blown. Asia is the Ancient Mother,
and to how many races she has given birth and watched blown away in
dust none can say.
The transformation of the tongue into the bird-like speech of the
Little People, I thought I understood. Obviously, the smaller the
throat, the higher are the sounds produced. Unless by some freak, one
never hears a child with a bass voice. The tallest of the Little
People was no bigger than a six-year-old child. They could not,
perforce, sound the gutturals and deeper tones ; so they had to
substitute other sounds. The natural thing, when you cannot strike a
note in a lower octave, is to strike that same note in a higher. And
so they had, and in time this had developed into the overlying pattern
of trills and pipings, beneath which, however, the essential
She remembered, Evalie had told us, a great stone house. She
thought she remembered a great water. She remembered a land of trees
which had become "white and cold". There had been a man and a woman .
. . then there was only the man ... and it was all like mist. All she
truly remembered was the Little People . . . she had forgotten there
had ever been anything else
. . . until we had come. She remembered when she had been no
bigger than the Little People . . . and how frightened she was when
she began to be bigger than they. The Little People, the Rrrllya—it is
the closest I can come to the trill—loved her ; they did as she told
them to do. They had fed and clothed and taught her, especially the
mother of Sri, whose life I had saved from the Death Flower. Taught
her what? She looked at us oddly, and only repeated—"taught me".
Sometimes she danced with the Little People and sometimes she danced
for them —again the oddly secretive, half-amused glance. That was
all. How long ago had she been as small as the Little People? She did
not know—long and long ago. Who had named her Evalie? She did not
I studied her, covertly. There was not one thing about her to give
a clue to her race. Foundling, I knew, she must have been, the vague
man and woman her father and mother. But what had they been—of what
country? No more than could her lips, did her eyes or hair, colour-
ing or body hint at answer.
She was more changeling than I. A changeling of the mirage!
Nurtured on food from Goblin Market!
I wondered whether she would change back again into everyday woman
if I carried her out of the Shadowed- land——
I felt the ring touch my breast with the touch of ice.
Carry her away! There was Khalk'ru to meet first— and the
The green twilight deepened; great fire-flies began to flash
lanterns of pale topaz through the flowering trees;
a little breeze stole over the fern brakes, laden with the
fragrances of the far forest. Evalie sighed.
"You will not leave me, Tsantawu?"
If he heard her, he did not answer. She turned to me.
"You will not leave me—Leif?"
"No!" I said . . . and seemed to hear the drums of Khalk'ru
beating down the lilting tambours of the Little People like far-away
The green twilight had deepened into darkness, a lumi- nous
darkness, as though a full moon were shining behind a cloud-veiled
sky. The golden pygmies had stilled their lilting drums; they were
passing into their cliff lairs. From the distant towers came the
tap-tap-tap of the drums of the guards, whispering to each other
across the thorn-covered slopes. The fire-flies' lights were like the
lanterns of a goblin watch; great moths floated by on luminous
silvery wings, like elfin planes.
"Evalie," Jim spoke. "The Yunwi Tsundsi—the Little People—how long
have they dwelt here?"
"Always, Tsantawu—or so they say."
"And those others—the red-haired women?"
We had asked her of those women before, and she had not answered,
had tranquilly ignored the matter, but now she replied without
"They are of the Ayjir—it was Lur the Sorceress who wore the
wolfskin. She rules the Ayjir with Yodin the High Priest and
Tibur—Tibur the Laugher, Tibur the Smith. He is not so tall as you,
Leif, but he is broader of shoulder and girth, and he is
strong—strong! I will tell you of the Ayjir. Before it was as though a
hand were clasped over my lips—or was it my heart? But now the hand
"The Little People say the Ayjir came riding here long and long
and long ago. Then the Rrrllya held the land on each side of the
river. There were many of the Ayjir
—and many. Far more than now, many men and women where now are
mainly women and few men. They came as though in haste from far away,
or so the little people say their fathers told them. They were led by
—I have no word! It has a name, but that name I will
not speak—no, not even within me! Yet it has a shape ... I have
seen it on the banners that float from the towers of Karak . . . and
it is on the breasts of Lur and Tibur when they . . ."
She shivered and was silent. A silver-winged moth dropped upon her
hand, lifting and dropping its shining wings ; gently she raised it to
her lips, wafted it away.
"All this the Rrrllya—whom you call the Little People —did not
then know. The Ayjir rested. They began to build Karak, and to cut
within the cliff their temple to— to what had led them here. They
built quickly at first, as though they feared pursuit; but when none
came, they built more slowly. They would have made my little ones
their servants, their slaves. The Rrrllya would not have it so. There
was war. The Little Ones lay in wait around Karak, and when the Ayjir
came forth, they killed them ; for the Little Ones know all the—the
life of the plants, and so they know how to make their spears and
arrows slay at once those whom they only touch. And so, many of the
"At last a truce was made, and not because the Little People were
being beaten, for they were not. But for another reason. The Ayjir
were cunning; they laid traps for the little ones, and caught a
number. Then this they did—they carried them to the temple and
sacrificed them to—to that which had led them here. By sevens they
took them to the temple, and one out of each seven they made watch
that sacrifice, then released him to carry to the Rrrllya the tale of
what he had seen.
"The first they would not believe, so dreadful was bffi story of
that sacrifice—but then came the second and third and fourth with the
same story. And a great dread and loathing and horror fell upon the
Little People. They made a covenant. They would dwell upon this side
of the river ; the Ayjir should have the other. In return the Ayjir
swore by what had led them that never-
more should one of the Little People be given in sacrifice to—it.
If one were caught in Ayjirland, he would be killed—but not by the
Sacrifice. And if any of the Ayjir should flee Karak, seek refuge
among the Rrrllya, they must kill that fugitive. To all of this,
because of that great horror, the Little People agreed. Nansur was
broken, so none could cross—Nansur, that spanned Nanbu, the white
river, was broken. All boats both of the Ayjir and the Rrrllya were
destroyed, and it was agreed no more should be built. Then, as further
guard, the Little People took the dalan'usa and set them in Nanbu, so
none could cross by its waters. And so it has been—for long and long
"Dalan'usa, Evalie—you mean the serpents?"
"Tlanu'se—the leech," said Jim.
"The serpents—-they are harmless. I think you would not have
stopped to talk to Lur had you seen one of the dalan'usa, Leif," said
I filed that enigma for further reference.
"Those two we found beneath the death flowers. They had broken the
"Not broken it. They knew what to expect if found, and were ready
to pay. There are plants that grow on the farther side of white
Nanbu—and other things the Little Ones need, and they are not to be
found on this side. And so they swim Nanbu to get them—the dalan'usa
are their friends—and not often are they caught there. But this day
Lur was hunting a runaway who was trying to make her way to Sirk, and
she crossed their trail and ran them down, and laid them beneath the
"But what had the girl done—she was one of them?"
"She had been set apart for the Sacrifice. Did you not see—she was
taluli . . . with child . . . ripening for ... for ..."
Her voice trailed into silence. A chill touched me.
"But, of course, you know nothing of that," she said. "Nor will I
speak of it—now. If Sri and Sra had found the girl before they,
themselves, had been discovered, they would have guided her past the
dalan'usa—as they guided you; and here she would have dwelt until the
time came that she must pass—out of herself. She would have passed in
sleep, in peace, without pain . . . and when she awakened it would
have been far from here . . . perhaps with no memory of it ... free.
So it is that the Little People who love life send forth those who
She said it tranquilly, with clear eyes, untroubled.
"And are many—sent forth so?"
"Not many, since few may pass the dalan'usa—yet many try."
"Both men and women, Evalie?"
"Can men bear children?"
"What do you mean by that?" I asked, roughly enough ; there had
been something in the question that somehow touched me in the raw.
"Not now," she answered. "Besides, men are few in Karak, as I told
you. Of children born, not one in twenty is a man child. Do not ask me
why, for I do not know."
She arose, stood looking at us dreamily.
"Enough for to-night. You shall sleep in my tent. On the morrow
you shall have one of your own, and the Little People will cut you a
lair in the cliff next mine. And you shall look on Karak, standing on
broken Nansur —and you shall see Tibur the Laugher, since he always
comes to Nansur's other side when I am there. You shall see it all
... on the morrow ... or the morrow after ... or on another morrow.
What does it matter, since every morrow shall be ours, together. Is
it not so?"
And again Jim made no answer.
"It is so, Evalie," I said.
She smiled at us, sleepily. She turned from us and floated toward
the darker shadow on the cliff which was the door to her cave. She
merged into the shadow, and was gone.
CHAPTER X. IF A MAN COULD USE ALL
THE drums of the sentinel dwarfs beat on softly, talking to one
another along the miles of circling scarp. And suddenly I had a
desperate longing for the Gobi. I don't know why, but its barren and
burning, wind-swept and sand-swept body was more desirable than any
woman's. It was like strong homesickness. I found it hard to shake it
off. I spoke at last in sheer desperation. "You've been acting damned
queer, Indian." "Tsi Tsa'lagi—I told you—I'm all Cherokee."
"Tsantawu—It is I, Degata, who speaks to you now." I had dropped into
the Cherokee; he answered:
"What is it my brother desires to know?"
"What it was the voices of the dead whispered that night we slept
beneath the spruces? What it was you knew to be truth by the three
signs they gave you. I did not hear the voices, brother—yet by the
blood rite they are my ancestors as they are yours ; and I have the
right to know their words."
He said : "Is it not better to let the future unroll itself
without giving heed to the thin voices of the dead? Who can tell
whether the voices of ghosts speak truth?"
"Tsantawu points his arrow in one direction while his eyes look
the other. Once he called me dog slinking behind the heels of the
hunter. Since it is plain he still thinks me that . . ."
"No, no, Lief," he broke in, dropping the tribal tongue. "I only
mean I don't know whether it's truth. I know what Barr would call
it—natural apprehensions put subconsciously in terms of racial
superstitions. The voices—we'll call them that, anyway—said great
lay north. The Spirit that was north would destroy them for ever
and for ever if I fell in its hands. They and I would be 'as though we
never had been'. There was some enormous difference between ordinary
death and this peculiar death that I couldn't understand. But the
voices did. I would know by three signs that they spoke truth, by
Ataga'hi, by Usunhi'yi and by the Yunwi Tsundi. I could meet the first
two and still go back. But if I went on to the third—it would be too
late. They begged me not to—this was peculiarly interesting, Leif—
not to let them be—dissolved."
"Dissolved!" I exclaimed. "But—that's the same word I used. And
it was hours after!"
"Yes, that's why I felt creepy when I heard you. You can't blame
me for being a little preoccupied when we came across the stony flat
that was like Ataga'hi, and more so when we struck the coincidence of
the Shadowed-land, which is pretty much the same as Usunhi'yi, the
Darkening-land. It's why I said if we ran across the third, the Yunwi
Tsundi, I'd take your interpretation rather than Barr's. We did strike
it. And if you think all those things aren't a good reason for acting
damned queer, as you put it, well—what would you think a good one?"
Jim in the golden chains . . . Jim with the tentacle of that Dark
Power creeping, creeping toward him . . . my lips were dry and stiff .
"Why didn't you tell me all that! I'd never have let you go on!"
"I know it. But you'd have come back, wouldn't you, old-timer?"
I did not answer; he laughed.
"How could I be sure until I saw all the signs?"
"But they didn't say you would be—dissolved," I clutched at the
straw. "They only said there was the danger."
"And what would I be doing? Jim—I'd kill you with my own hand
before I'd let what I saw happen in the Gobi happen to you."
"If you could," he said, and I saw he was sorry he had said it.
"If I could? What did they say about me—those damned ancestors?"
"Not a damned thing," he answered, cheerfully. "I never said they
did. I simply reasoned that if we went on, and I was in danger, so
would you be. That's all."
"Jim—it isn't all. What are you keeping back?"
He arose, and stood over me.
"All right. They said that even if the Spirit didn't get me, I'd
never get out. Now you have the whole works."
"Well," I said, a burden rolling off me, "that's not so bad. And,
as for getting out—that may be as may be. One thing's sure—if you
stay, so do I."
He nodded, absently. I went on to something else that had been
"The Yunwi Tsundi, Jim, what were they? You never told me anything
about them that I remember. What's the legend?"
"Oh—the Little People," he squatted beside me, chuckling, wide
awake from his abstraction. "They were in Cherokee-land when the
Cherokees got there. They were a pygmy race, like those in Africa and
Aus- tralia to-day. Only they weren't blacks. These small folk fit
their description. Of course, the tribes did some embroidering. They
had them copper-coloured and only two feet high. These are
golden-skinned and average three feet. At that, they may have faded
some here and put on height. Otherwise they square with the accounts—
long hair, perfect shape, drums and all."
He went on to tell of the Little People. They had
lived in caves, mostly in the region now Tennessee and Kentucky.
They were earth-folk, worshippers of life ;
and as such at times outrageously Rabelaisian. They were friendly
toward the Cherokees, but kept rigorously to themselves and seldom
were seen. They frequently aided those who had got lost in the
mountains, especially children. If they helped anyone, and took him
into their caves, they warned him he mustn't tell where the caves
were, or he would die. And, ran the legends, if he told, he did die.
If anyone ate their food he had to be very careful when he returned to
his tribe, and resume his old diet slowly, or he would also die.
The Little People were touchy. If anyone followed them in the
woods, they cast a spell on him so that for days he had no sense of
location. They were expert wood and metal workers, and if a hunter
found in the forest a knife or arrow-head or any kind of trinket,
before he picked it up he had to say: "Little People, I want to take
this". If he didn't ask, he never killed any more game and another
misfortune came upon him. One which distressed his wife.
They were gay, the Little People, and they spent half their time
in dancing and drumming. They had every kind of drum—drums that would
make trees fall, drums that brought sleep, drums that drove to
madness, drums that talked and thunder drums. The thunder drums
sounded just like thunder, and when the Little People beat on them
soon there was a real thunderstorm, because they sounded so much like
the actuality that it woke up the thunderstorms, and one or more storm
was sure to come poking around to gossip with what it supposed a
wandering member of the family . . .
I remembered the roll of thunder that followed the chanting; I
wondered whether that had been the Little People's defiance to
Khalk'ru. . . .
"I've a question or two for you, Leif."
"Go right ahead, Indian."
"Just how much do you remember of—Dwayanu?"
I didn't answer at once; it was the question I had been dreading
ever since I had cried out to the Witch- woman on the white river's
"If you're thinking it over, all right. If you're think- ing of a
way to stall, all wrong. I'm asking for a straight answer."
"Is it your idea that I'm that ancient Uighur, re-bom? If it is,
maybe you have a theory as to where I've been during the thousands of
years between this time and now."
"Oh, so the same idea has been worrying you, has it? No,
reincarnation isn't what I had in mind. Although at that, we know so
damned little I wouldn't rule it out. But there may be a more
reasonable explanation. That's why I ask—what do you remember of
I determined to make a clean breast of it.
"All right, Jim," I said. "That same question has been riding my
mind right behind Khalk'ru for three years. And if I can't find the
answer here, I'll go back to the Gobi for it—if I can get out. When I
was in that room of the oasis waiting the old priest's call, I remem-
bered perfectly well it had been Dwayanu's. I knew the bed, and I
knew the armour and the weapons. I stood looking at one of the metal
caps and I remembered that Dwayanu—or I—had got a terrific clout with
a mace when wearing it. I took it down, and there was a dent in it
precisely where I remembered it had been struck. I remembered the
swords, and recalled that Dwayanu—or I—had the habit of using a
heavier one in the left hand than in the right. Well, one of them was
much heavier than the other. Also, in a fight I use my left hand
better than I do my right. These memories, or whatever they were, came
in flashes. For a moment I would be Dwayanu, plus myself, looking with
interest on old familiar things—and the next moment I would be
only myself and wondering, with no amuse- ment, what it all meant."
"Yes, what else?"
"Well, I wasn't entirely frank about the ritual matter," I said,
miserably. "I told you it was as though another person had taken
charge of my mind and gone on with it. That was true, in a way—but God
help me, I knew all the time that other person was—myself 1 It was
like being two people and one at the same time. It's hard to make
clear . . . you know how you can be saying one thing and thinking
another. Suppose you could be saying one thing and thinking two things
at once. It was like that. One part of me was in revolt,
horror-stricken, terrified. The other part was none of those things;
it knew it had power and was enjoying exercising that power—and it had
control of my will. But both were—I. Unequivocally, unmistakably—I.
Hell, man—if I'd really believed it was somebody, some- thing,
besides myself, do you suppose I'd feel the remorse I do? No, it's
because I knew it was I—the same part of me that knew the helm and the
swords, that I've gone hag-ridden ever since."
He leaned over, and spoke sharply.
"Dreams of battles—dreams of feasts ... a dream of war against
yellow men, and of a battlefield beside a river and of arrows flying
overhead in clouds ... of hand-to-hand fights in which I wield a
weapon like a huge hammer against big yellow-haired men I know are
like myself . . . dreams of towered cities through which '*! pass and
where white, blue-eyed women toss garlands down for my horse to
trample. . . . When I wake the dreams are vague, soon lost. But always
know that while I dreamed them, they were clear, sharp- cut—real
as life. . . ."
"Is that how you knew the Witch-woman was Witch- woman—through
"If so, I don't remember. I only knew that suddenly I recognized
her for what she was—or that other self did."
He sat for a while in silence.
"Leif," he asked, "in those dreams do you ever take any part in
the service of Khalk'ru? Have anything at all to do with his worship?"
"I'm sure I don't. I'd remember that, by God! I don't even dream
of the temple in the Gobi!"
He nodded, as though I had confirmed some thought in his own mind;
then was quiet for so long that I became jumpy.
"Well, Old Medicine Man of the Tsalagi', what's the diagnosis?
Reincarnation, demonic possession, or just crazy?"
"Leif, you never had any of those dreams before the Gobi?"
"I did not."
"Well—I've been trying to think as Barr would, and squaring it
with my own grey matter. Here's the result. I think that everything
you've told me is the doing of your old priest. He had you under his
control when you saw yourself riding to the Temple of Khalk'ru—and
wouldn't go in. You don't know what else he might have suggested at
that time, and have commanded you to forget consciously when you came
to yourself. That's a simple matter of hypnotism. But he had another
chance at you. When you were asleep that night. How do you know he
didn't come in and do some more suggesting? Obviously, he wanted to
believe you were Dwayanu. He. wanted you to 'remember'—but having had
one lesson, he didn't want you to remember what went on
with Khalk'ru. That would explain why you dreamed about the pomp
and glory and the pleasant things, but not the unpleasant. He was a
wise old gentleman—you say that yourself. He knew enough of your
psychology to foresee you would balk at a stage of the ritual. So you
did—but he had tied you well up. Instantly the post-hypnotic command
to the subconscious operated. You couldn't help going on. Although
your conscious self was wide-awake, fully aware, it had no control
over your will. I think that's what Barr would say. And I'd agree
with him. Hell, there are drugs that do all that to you. You don't
have to go into migrations of the soul, or demons, or any medieval
matter to account for it."
"Yes," I said, hopefully but doubtfully. "And how about the
"Somebody like her in your dreams, but forgotten. I think the
explanation is what I've said. If it is, Leif, it worries me."
"I don't follow you there," I said.
"No? Well, think this over. If all these things that puzzle you
come from suggestions the old priest made— what else did he suggest?
Clearly, he knew something of this place. Suppose he foresaw the
possibility of your finding it. What would he want you to do when you
did find it? Whatever it was, you can bet your chances of getting out
that he planted it deep in your subcon- scious. All right—that being a
reasonable deduction, what is it you will do when you come in closer
contact with those red-headed ladies we saw, and with the happy few
gentlemen who share their Paradise? I haven't the slightest idea—nor
have you. And if that isn't some- thing to worry about, tell me what
is. Come on—let's go to bed."
We went into the tent. We had been in it before with Evalie. It
had been empty then except for a pile of soft pelts and silken stuffs
at one side. Now there were two
such piles. We shed our clothes in the pale green dark- ness and
turned in. I looked at my watch.
"Ten o'clock," I said. "How many months since morning?"
"At least six. If you keep me awake I'll murder you. I'm tired."
So was I; but I lay long, thinking. I was not so convinced by
Jim's argument, plausible as it was. Not that I believed I had been
lying dormant in some extra- spatial limbo for centuries. Nor that I
had ever been this ancient Dwayanu. There was a third explanation,
although I didn't like it a bit better than than of reincar- nation ;
and it had just as many unpleasant possibilities as that of Jim's.
Not long ago an eminent American physician and psychologist had
said he bad discovered that the average man used only about one-tenth
of his brain; and scientists generally agreed he was right. The ablest
thinkers, all-round geniuses, such as Leonardo da Vinci and
Michelangelo were, might use a tenth more. Any man who could use all
his brain could rule the world— but probably wouldn't want to. In the
human skull was a world only one-fifth explored at the most.
What was in the terra incognita of the brain—the unexplored
Well, for one thing there might be a storehouse of ancestral
memories, memories reaching back to those of the hairy, ape-like
ancestors who preceded man, reaching beyond them even to those of the
ffippered creatures who crawled out of the ancient seas to begin their
march to men—and further back to their ancestors who had battled and
bred in the steaming oceans when the continents were being bom.
Millions upon millions of years of memories! What a reservoir of
knowledge if man's consciousness could but tap it!
There was nothing more unbelievable in this than that the physical
memory of the race could be contained in the two single cells which
start the cycle of birth. In them are all the complexities of the
human body— brain and nerves, muscles, bone and blood. In them, too,
are those traits we call hereditary—family resem- blances,
resemblances not only of face and body but of thought, habits,
emotions, reactions to environment:
grandfather's nose, great-grandmother's eyes, great-great-
grandfather's irascibility, moodiness or what not. If all this can be
carried in those seven and forty, and eight and forty, microscopic
rods within the birth cells which biolo- gists call the chromosomes,
tiny mysterious gods of birth who determine from the beginning what
blend of ancestors a boy or girl shall be, why could they not carry,
too, the accumulated experiences, the memories of those ancestors?
Somewhere in the human brain might be a section of records, each
neatly graven with lines of memories, wait- ing only for the needle of
consciousness to run over them to make them articulate.
Maybe the consciousness did now and then touch and read them.
Maybe there were a few people who by some freak had a limited power of
tapping their contents.
If that were true, it would explain many mysteries. Jim's ghostly
voices, for example. My own uncanny ability of picking up languages.
Suppose that I had come straight down from this Dwayanu. And that
in this unknown world of my brain, , my consciousness, that which now
was I, could and did reach in and touch those memories that had been
Dway- anu. Or that those memories stirred and reached my
consciousness? When that happened—Dwayanu would awaken and live. And
I would be both Dwayanu and Leif Langdon!
Might it not be that the old priest had known some- thing of this?
By words and rites and by suggestion,
even as Jim had said, had reached into that terra incognita and
wakened these memories that were—Dwayanu?
They were strong—those memories. They had not been wholly asleep;
eke I would not have learned so quickly the Uighur . . . nor
experienced those strange, reluctant flashes of recognition before
ever I met the old priest . . .
Yes, Dwayanu was strong. And in some way I knew he was ruthless. I
was afraid of Dwayanu—of those memories that once had been Dwayanu. I
had no power to arouse them, and I had no power to control them.
Twice they had seized my will, had pushed me aside.
What if they grew stronger?
What if they became—all of me?
CHAPTER XI. DRUMS OF THE LITTLE
SIX times the green light of the Shadowed-land had darkened into
the pale dusk that was its night, and I had heard nothing, seen
nothing of the Witch-woman or of any of those who dwelt on the far
side of the white river. They had been six days and nights of curious
interest. We had gone with Evalie among the golden pygmies over all
their guarded plain; and we had gone at will among them, alone.
We had watched them at their work and at their play, listened to
their drumming and looked on in wonder at their dances—dances so
intricate, so extraordinary, that they were more like complex choral
harmonies than steps and gestures. Sometimes the Little People danced
in small groups of a dozen or so, and then it was like some simple
song. But sometimes they were dancing by the hundreds, interlaced,
over a score of the smooth-turfed dancing greens; and then it was like
symphonies translated into choreographic measures.
They danced always to the music of their drums;
they had no other music, nor did they need any. The drums of the
Little People were of many shapes and sizes, in range covering all of
ten octaves, and producing not only the semitones of our own familiar
scale, but quarter and eighth-tones and even finer gradations that
oddly affect the listener—at least, they did me. They ranged in pitch
from the pipe organ's deepest bass to a high staccato soprano. Some,
the pygmies played with thumbs and fingers, and some with palms of
their hands, and some with sticks. There were drums that whispered,
drums that hummed, drums that laughed, and drums that sang.
Dances and drums, but especially the drums, were evocative of
strange thoughts, strange pictures; the drums beat at the doors of
another world—and now and then opened them wide anough to give a
glimpse of fleeting, weirdly beautiful, weirdly disturbing, images.
There must have been between four and five thousand of the Little
People in the approximately twenty square miles of cultivated, fertile
plain enclosed by their wall;
how many outside of it, I had no means of knowing. There were a
score or more of small colonies, Evalie told us. These were like
hunting or mining posts from which came the pelts, the metals and
other things the horde fashioned to their uses. At Nansur Bridge was a
strong warrior post. Some balance of nature, so far as I could leam
from her, kept them at about the same constant; they grew quickly into
maturity and their lives were not long.
She told us of Sirk, the city of those who had fled from the
Sacrifice. From her description an impreg- nable place, built against
the cliffs; walled; boiling springs welling up at the base of its
battlements and forming an impassable moat. There was constant war-
fare between the people of Sirk and the white wolves of Lur, lurking
in the encompassing forest, keeping watch to intercept those fleeing
to it from Karak. I had the feeling that there was furtive intercourse
between Sirk and the golden pygmies, that perhaps the horror of the
Sacrifice which both shared, and the revolt of those in Sirk against
the worshippers of Khalk'ru was a bond. And that when they could, the
Little People helped them, and would even join hands with them, were
it not for the deep ancient fear of what might follow should they
break the compact their forefathers had made with the Ayjir.
It was a thing Evalie said that made me think that.
"If you had turned the other way, Leif—and if you had escaped the
wolves of Lur—you would have come to Sirk. And a great change might
have grown from that, for Sirk would have welcomed you, and who knows
what might have followed, with you as their leader. Nor would my
Little People then . . ."
She stopped there, nor would she complete the sen- tence, for all
my urging. So I told her there were too many ifs about the matter, and
I was content that the dice had fallen as they had. It pleased her.
I had one experience not shared by Jim. Its signifi- cance I did
not then recognize. The Little People were as I have said—worshippers
of life. That was their whole creed and faith. Here and there about
the plain were small cairns, altars in fact, upon which, cut from wood
or stone or fossil ivory, were the ancient symbols of fertility;
sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs, and some- times in a form
curiously like that same symbol of the old Egyptians—the looped cross,
the crux ansata which Osiris, God of the Resurrection, carried in his
hand and touched, in the Hall of the Dead, those souls which had
passed all tests and had earned immortality.
It happened on the third day. Evalie bade me go with her, and
alone. We walked along the well-kept path that ran along the base of
the cliffs in which the pygmies had their lairs. The tiny golden-eyed
women peeped out at us and trilled to their dolls of children as we
passed. Groups of elders, both men and women, came dancing toward us
and fell in behind us as we went on. Each and all carried drums of a
type I had not yet seen. They did not beat them, nor did they talk;
group by group they dropped in behind us, silently.
After awhile I noticed that there were no more lairs. At the end
of half an hour we turned a bastion of the dins. We were at the edge
of a small meadow carpeted
with moss, fine and soft as the pile of a silken carpet. The
meadow was peihaps five hundred feet wide and about as many feet deep.
Opposite me was another bastion. It was as though a rounded chisel had
been thrust down, cutting out a semicircle in the precipice. At the
far end of the meadow was what, at first glance, I thought a huge
domed building, and then saw was an excrescence from the cliff itself.
In this rounded rock was an oval entrance, not much larger than an
average door. As I stood, wondering, Evalie took my hand and led me
toward it. We went through it.
The domed rock was hollow.
It was a temple of the Little People—I knew that, of course, as
soon as I had crossed the threshold. Its walls of some cool, green
stone curved smoothly up. It was not dark within the temple. The rocky
dome had been pierced as though by the needle of a lace-maker, and
through hundreds of the frets light streamed. The walls caught it,
and dispersed it from thousands of crystalline angles within the
stone. The floor was carpeted with the thick, soft moss, and this was
faintly luminous, adding to the strange pellucid light; it must have
covered at least two acres.
Evalie drew me forward. In the exact centre of the floor was a
depression, like an immense bowl. Between it and me stood one of the
looped-cross symbols, thrice the height of a tall man. It was
polished, and glimmered as though cut from some enormous amethystine
crystal I glanced behind me. The pygmies who had followed us were
pouring through the oval doorway.
They crowded close behind us as Evalie again took my hand and led
me toward the cross. She pointed, and I peered down into the bowl.
I looked upon the Kraken!
There it lay, sprawled out within the bowl, black
tentacles spread fanwise from its bloated body, its huge black
eyes staring inscrutably up into mine!
Resurgence of the old horror swept me. I jumped back with an oath.
The pygmies were crowding around my knees, staring up at me
intently. I knew that my horror was written plain upon my face. They
began an excited trilling, nodding to one another, gesticulating.
Evalie watched them gravely, and then I saw her own face lighten as
though with relief.
She smiled at me, and pointed again to the bowl. I forced myself
to look. And now I saw that the shape within it had been cunningly
carved. The dreadful, inscrutable eyes were of jet-like jewel. Through
the end of each of the fifty-foot-long tentacles had been driven one
of the crux ansatas, pinioning it like a spike ;
and through the monstrous body had been driven a larger one.
I read the meaning: life fettering the enemy of life;
rendering it impotent; prisoning it with the secret, ancient and
holy symbol of that very thing it was bent upon destroying. And the
great looped-cross above— watching and guarding like the god of life.
I heard a rippling and rustling and rushing from the drums. On and
on it went in quickly increasing tempo. There was triumph in it—the
triumph of onrush- ing conquering waves, the triumph of the free
rushing wind; and there was peace and surety of peace in it— like the
rippling song of little waterfalls chanting their faith that "they
will go on and on for ever, the rippling of little waves among the
sedges of the river-bank, and the rustling of the rain bringing life
to all the green things of earth.
Round the amethystine cross Evalie began to dance, circling it
slowly to the rippling, the rustling and the rushing music of the
drums. And she was the spirit of
that song they sang, and the spirit of all those things of which
Three times she circled it. She came dancing to me, took my hand
once more and led me away, out through the portal. From behind us, as
we passed through, there came a sustained rolling of the little drums,
no longer rippling, rustling, rushing—defiant now, triumphal.
But of that ceremony, or of its reasons, or of the temple itself
she would speak no work thereafter, question her as I might.
And we still had to stand upon Nansur Bridge and look on towered
"On the morrow," she would say; and when the morrow came, again
she would say—"on the morrow". When she answered me, she would drop
long lashes over the clear brown eyes and glance at me from beneath
them, strangely; or touch my hair and say that there were many
morrows and what did it matter on which of them we went, since Nansur
would not run away. There was some reluctance I could not fathom. And
day by day her sweetness and her beauty wound a web around my heart
until I began to wonder whether it might become a shield against the
touch of what I carried on my breast.
But the Little People still had their doubts about me. temple
ceremony or none ; that was plain enough. Jim, they had taken to their
hearts ; they twittered and trilled and laughed with him as though he
were one of them. They were polite and friendly enough to me, but
they watched me. Jim could take up the tiny doll-like children and
play with them. The mothers didn't like me to do that and showed it
very clearly. I received direct confirmation of how they felt about me
"I'm going to leave you for two or three days, Leif," he told me
when we had finished breakfasting. Evalie
had floated away on some call from her small folk.
"Going to leave me!" I gaped at him in astonishment. "What do you
mean? Where are you going?"
"Going to look at the tlanusi—what Evalie calls the dalanusa—the
big leeches. The river guards she told us the pygmies put on the job
when the bridge was broken."
She had not spoken about them again, and I had forgotten all about
"What are they, Indian?"
"That's what I'm going to find out. They sound like the great
leech of Tianusi'yi. The tribes said it was red with white stripes and
as big as a house. The Little People don't go that far. They only say
they're as big as you are."
"Listen, Indian—I'm going along."
"Oh, no, you're not."
"I'd like to know why not."
"Because the Little People won't let you. Now listen . to me,
old-timer—the plain fact is that they're not entirely satisfied about
you. They're polite, and they wouldn't hurt Evalie's feelings for the
world, but— they'd much rather be without you."
"You're telling me nothing new," I said.
"No, but here is something new. A party that's been on a hunting
trip down the other end of the valley came in yesterday. One of them
remembered his grandfather had told him that when the Ayjir came
riding into this place they all had yellow hair like yours. Not the
red they have now. It's upset them."
"I thought they'd been watching me pretty damned close the last
twenty-four hours," I said. "So that's the reason, is it?"
"That's the reason, Leif. It's upset them. It's also the reason
for this expedition to the tianusi. They're
going to increase the river guard. It involves some sort of
ceremony, I gather. They want me to go along. I think it better that I
"Does Evalie know all this?"
"Sure she does. And she wouldn't let you go, even if the pygmies
Jim left with a party of about a hundred of the pygmies about
noon. I bade him a cheerful good-bye. If it puzzled Evalie that I took
his departure so calmly, and asked her no questions she did not show
it. But she was very quiet that day, speaking mostly in monosyllables
abstractedly. Once or twice I caught her looking at me with a curious
wonder in her eyes. And once I had taken her hand, and she had
quivered and leaned toward me, and then snatched it away,
half-angrily. And once when she had forgotten her moodiness and had
rested against my shoulder, I had fought hard against taking her in
The worst of it was that I could find no cogent argu- ment why I
shouldn't take her. A voice within my mind was whispering that if I so
desired, why should I not? And there were other things besides that
whisper which sapped my resistance. It had been a queer day even for
this queer place. The air was heavy, as though a storm brooded. The
heady fragrances from the far forest were stronger, clinging
amorously, confusing. The vaporous veils that hid the distances had
at the north they were almost smoke colour, and they marched
slowly but steadily nearer.
We sat, Evalie and I, beside her tent. She broke a long silence.
"You are sorrowful, Leif—and why?"
"Not sorrowful, Evalie—just wondering."
"I, too, am wondering. Is it what you wonder?"
"How do I know—who know nothing of your mind?"
She stood up, abruptly.
"You like to watch the smiths. Let us go to them."
I looked at her, struck by the anger in her voice. She frowned
down upon me, brows drawn to a straight line over bright,
"Why are you angry, Evalie? What have I done?"
"I am not angry. And you have done nothing." She stamped her foot.
"I say you have done—nothing! Let us watch the smiths."
She walked away. I sprang up, and followed her. What was the
matter with her? I had done something to irritate her, that was
certain. But what? Well, I'd know, sooner or later. And I did like to
watch the smiths. They stood beside their small anvils beating out
the sickled knives, the spear and arrowheads, shaping the earrings and
bracelets of gold for their tiny women.
Tink-a-tink, tink-a-clink, cling-clang, clink-atink—went their
They stood beside their anvils like gnomes, except that there was
no deformity about them. Miniature men they were, perfectly shaped,
gleaming golden in the darkening light, long hair coiled about their
heads, yellow eyes intent upon their forgings. I forgot Evalie and
her wrath, watching them as ever, fascinated.
Tink-a-tink I Cling-clang! Clink——
The little hammers hung suspended in air; the little smiths stood
frozen. Speeding from the north came the horn of a great gong, a
brazen stroke that seemed to break overhead. It was followed by
another and another and another. A wind wailed over the plain; the air
grew darker, the vaporous smoky veils quivered and marched closer.
The clangour of the gongs gave way to a strong chant- ing, the
singing of many people ; the chanting advanced and retreated, rose and
waned as the wind rose and fell, rose and fell in rhythmic pulse. From
all the walls the drums of the guards roared warning.
The little smiths dropped their hammers and raced to the lairs.
Over all the plain there was turmoil, move- ment of the golden pygmies
racing to the cliffs and to the circling slope to swell the garrisons
Through the strong chanting came the beat of other drums. I knew
them—the throb of the Uighur kettle- drums, the war drums. And I knew
the chant—it was the war song, the battle song of the Uighurs.
Not the Uighurs, no—not the patched and paltry people I had led
from the oasis!
War song of the ancient race! The great race—the Ayjir!
The old race! My people! , I knew the song—well did I know it!
Often and often had I heard it in the olden days . . . when I had
gone forth to battle . . . By Zarda of the Thirsty" Spears . . . by
Zarda God of Warriors, but it was like drink to a parched throat to
hear it again!
My blood drummed in my ears ... I opened my throat to roar that
song ... "Leif! Leif! What is the matter?" Evalie's hands were on my
shoulders, shaking me| I glared at her, uncomprehending for a moment.
I felt a strange, angry bafflement. Who was this dark girl
that checked me on my way to war? And abruptly the obsession left
me. It left me trembling, shaken at though by some brief wild tempest
of the mind. I put my own hands upon those on my shoulders, drew
reality from the touch. I saw that there was amazement in Evalie's
eyes, and something of fear. And around us was a ring of the Little
People, staring up at me. I shook my head, gasping for breath, "Leif!
What is the matter?" ^| Before I could answer, chanting and drums
were drowned in a bellow of thunder. Peal upon peal of thunder roared
and echoed over the plain, beating back.
beating down the sounds from the north—roaring over them, rolling
over them, sweeping them back.
I stared stupidly around me. All along the cliffs were the golden
pygmies, scores of them, beating upon great drums high as their
waists. From those drums came the pealing of thunder, claps and
shattering strokes of the bolt's swift fall, and the shouting
reverberations that follow it.
The Thunder Drums of the Little People!
On and on roared the drums, yet through their rolling diapason
beat ever the battle chant and those other drums ... like thrusts of
lances. . . like trampling of horses and of marching men . . . by
Zarda, but the old race still was strong. . . .
A ring of the Little People was dancing around me. Another ring
joined them. Beyond them I saw Evalie, watching me with. wide,
astonished eyes. And around her was another ring of the golden
pygmies, arrows at readiness, sickled knives in hand.
Why was she watching me ... why were the arms of the Little People
turned against me ... and why were they dancing? That was a strange
dance . . . it made you sleepy to look at it ... what was this
lethargy creeping over me . . . God, but I was sleepy! So sleepy that
my dull ears could hardly hear the Thunder Drums ... so sleepy I could
hear nothing else . . . so sleepy . . .
I knew, dimly, that I had dropped to my knees, then had fallen
prone upon the soft turf . . . then slept.
I awakened, every sense alert. The drums were throb- bing all
around me. Not the Thunder Drums, but drums that sang, drums that
throbbed and sang to some strange lilting rhythm that set the blood
racing through me in tune and in time with its joyousness. The throb-
bing, singing notes were like tiny, warm, vital blows that whipped
my blood into ecstasy of life.
I leaped to my feet. I stood upon a high knoll, round as a woman's
breast. Over all the plain were lights, small fires burning, ringing
the little altars of the pygmies. And around the fires the Little
People were dancing to the throbbing drums. Around the fires and the
altars they danced and leaped like little golden flames of life made
Circling the knoll on which I stood was a triple ring of the
dwarfs, women and men, weaving, twining, swaying.
They and the burden of the drums were one.
A soft and scented wind was blowing over the knoll. It hummed as
it streamed by—and its humming was akin to dance and drum.
In and out, and round about and out and in and back again, the
golden pygmies danced around the knoll. And round and round and back
again they circled the fire-ringed altars.
I heard a sweet low voice singing—singing to the cadence, singing
the song of the drums, singing the dancing of the Little People.
Close by was another knoll like that on which I was— like a pair
of woman's high breasts they stood above the plain. It, too, was
circled by the dancing dwarfs.
On it sang and danced Evalie.
Her singing was the soul of drum song and dance— her dancing was
the sublimation of both. She danced upon the knoll—cobweb veils and
girdle gone, clothed only in the silken, rippling cloak of her
She beckoned, and she called to me—a high-pitched, sweet call.
The fragrant, rushing wind pushed me toward her as I ran down the
The dancing pygmies parted to let me through. The
throbbing of the drums grew swifter ; their song swept into a
Evalie came dancing down to meet me . . . she was beside me, her
arms round my neck, her lips pressed to mine . . .
The drums beat faster. My pulses matched them.
The two rings of little yellow living flames of life joined. They
became one swirling circle that drove us forward. Round and round and
round us they swirled, driving us on and on to the pulse of the drums.
I ceased to think—drum-throb, drum-song, dance-song were all of me.
Yet still I knew that the fragrant wind thrust us on and on,
caressing, murmuring, laughing.
We were beside an oval doorway. The silken, scented tresses of
Evalie streamed in the wind and kissed me. Beyond and behind us sang
the drums. And ever the wind pressed us on. ...
Drums and wind drove us through the portal of the domed rock.
They drove us into the temple of the Little People. ...
The soft moss glimmered . . . the amethystine cross gleamed. . . .
Evalie's arms were around my neck . . - I held her close . . . the
touch of her lips to mine was like the sweet, secret fire of life. . .
It was silent in the temple of the Little People. Their drums were
silent. The glow of the looped cross above the pit of the Kraken was
Evalie stirred, and cried out in her sleep. I touched her lips and
"What is the matter, Evalie?"
"Leif, beloved—I dreamed a white falcon tried to dip its beak into
"It was but a dream, Evalie."
She shuddered; she raised her head and bent over me so that her
hair covered our faces.
"You drove the falcon away—but then a white wolf came . . . and
leaped upon me."
"It was only a dream, Evalie—bright flame of my heart."
She bent closer to me under the tent of her hair, lips close to
"You drove the wolf away. And I would have kissed you . . . but a
face came between ours ..."
"A face, Evalie?"
"The face of Lur! She laughed at me ... and then you were gone . .
. with her . . . and I was alone. . . ."
"It was a lying dream, that! Sleep, beloved."
She sighed. There was a long silence ; then drowsily:
"What is it you carry round your neck, Leif? Some- thing from some
woman that you treasure?"
"Nothing of woman, Evalie. That is truth."
She kissed me—and slept.
Fool that I was not to have told her then, under the shadow of the
ancient symbol. . . . Fool that I was— I did not!
CHAPTER XII. ON NANSUR BRIDGE
WHEN we went out of the temple into the morning there were half a
hundred of the elders, men and women, patiently awaiting our
appearance. I thought they were the same who had followed into the
domed rock when I had first entered it.
The little women clustered around Evalie. They had brought wraps
and swathed her from head to feet. She walked off among them with
never a glance nor a word for me., There was something quite
ceremonial about it all; she looked for all the world like a bride
being led away by somewhat mature elfin bridesmaids.
The little men clustered around me. Sri was there. I was glad of
that, for, whatever the doubts of the others about me, I knew he had
none. They bade me go with them, and I obeyed without question.
It was raining, and it was both jungle-wet and jungle- warm. The
wind was blowing in the regular, rhythmic gusts of the night before.
The rain seemed less to fall than to condense in great drops from the
air about, except when the wind blew and then the rain drove by in
almost level lines. The air was like fragrant wine. I felt like
singing and dancing. There was thunder all around—not the drums, but
I had been wearing only my shirt and my trousers. I had discarded
my knee-high boots for sandals. It was only a minute or two before I
was soaking wet. We came to a steaming pool. and there we halted. Sri
told me to strip and plunge in.
The pool was hot and invigorating and as I splashed
around in it I kept feeling better and better. I reflected that
whatever had been in the minds of the Little People when they had
driven Evalie and me into the temple, their fear of me had been
exorcised—for the time at any rate. But I thought I knew what had been
in their minds. They suspected that Khalk'ru had some hold on me, as
over the people I resembled. Not much of a hold maybe— but still it
was not to be ignored. Very well—the remedy, since they couldn't kill
me without breaking Evalie's heart, was to spike me down as they had
the Kraken which was Khalk'ru's symbol. So they had spiked me down
I climbed out of the pool, more thoughtful than I had gone into
it. They wrapped a loin cloth around me, in curious folds and knots.
Then they trilled and twittered and laughed, and danced.
Sri had my clothes and belt. I didn't want to lose them, so when
we started off I kept close behind him. Soon we stopped—in front of
After a while there was a great commotion, singing and beating of
drums, and along came Evalie with a crowd of the little women dancing
around her. They led her to where I was waiting. Then all of them
That was all there was to it. The ceremony, if cere- mony it was,
was finished. But, somehow, I felt very much married.
I looked down at Evalie. She looked up at me, demurely. Her hair
was no longer free, but braided cunningly around head and ears and
neck. The swath- ings were gone. She wore the little apron of the
pygmy matrons and the silvery cobweb veils. She laughed, and took my
hand, and we went into the lair.
Next day, late in the afternoon, we heard a fanfare of trumpets
that sounded rather close. They blew long and loudly, as though
summoning someone. We stepped
out into the rain, to listen better. I noted that the wind had
changed from north to west, and was blowing steadily and strongly. By
this time I knew that the acoustics of the land under the mirage were
peculiar and that there was no way of telling just how close the
trumpets were. They were on the far side of the river bank of course,
but how far away the pygmies' guarded slope was from the river, I did
not know. There was some bustling on the wall, but no excitement.
There came a final trumpet blast, raucous and derisive. It was
followed by a roar of laughter more irritatingly mocking because of
its human quality. It brought me out of my indifference with a jump.
It made me see red.
"That," said Evalie, "was Tibur. I suppose he has been hunting
with Lur. I think he was laughing at— you, Leif."
Her delicate nose was turned up disdainfully, but there was a
smile at the corner of her lips as she watched my quick anger flare
"See here, Evalie, just who is this Tibur?"
"I told you. He is Tibur the Smith, and he rules the Ayjir with
Lur. Always does he come when I stand on Nansur. We have talked
together—often. He is very strong—oh, strong."
"Yes?" I said, still more irritated. "And why does Tibur come when
you are there?"
"Why, because he desires me, of course," she said tranquilly.
My dislike for Tilbur the Laugher increased.
"He'll not laugh if I ever get an opening at him," I muttered.
"What did you say?" she asked. I translated, as best t could. She
nodded and began to speak—and then I saw her eyes open wide and stark
terror fill them. I heard a whirring over my head.
Out of the mists had flown a great bird. It hovered fifty feet
over us, glaring down with baleful yellow eyes. A great bird—a white
bird. . . .
The white falcon of the Witch-woman!
I thrust Evalie back into the lair, and watched it. Thrice it
circled over me, and then, screaming, hurtled up into the mists and
I went in to Evalie. She was crouched on the couch of skins. She
had undone her hair and it streamed over her head and shoulders,
hiding her like a cloak. I bent over her, and parted it. She was
crying. She put her arms around my neck, and held me close, close. I
felt her heart beating like a drum against mine.
"Evalie, beloved—there's nothing to be afraid of."
"The—white falcon, Leif!"
"It is only a bird."
"No—Lur sent it."
"Nonsense, dark sweetheart. A bird flies where it wills. It was
hunting—or it had lost its way in the mists."
She shook her head.
"But, Leif, I—dreamed of a white falcon . . ."
I held her tight, and after a while she pushed me away and smiled
at me. But there was little of gaiety the remainder of that day. And
that night her dreams were troubled, and she held me close to her, and
cried and murmured in her sleep.
The next day Jim came back. I had been feeling a bit uncomfortable
about his return. What would he think of me? I needn't have worried.
He showed no surprise at all when I laid the cards before him. And
then I realized that of course the pygmies must have been talking to
one another by their drums, and that they would have gone over matters
"Good enough," said Jim, when I had finished. "If you don't get
out, it's the best thing for both of you.
If you do get out, you'll take Evalie with you—or won't you?"
That stung me.
"Listen, Indian—I don't like the way you're talking! I love her."
"All right. I'll put it another way. Does Dwayanu love her?"
That question was like a slap on my mouth. While I struggled for
an answer, Evalie ran out. She went over to Jim and kissed him. He
patted her shoulder and hugged her like a big brother. She glanced at
me, and came to me, and drew my head down to her and kissed me too,
but not exactly the way she had kissed him.
I glanced over her head at Jim. Suddenly I noticed that he looked
tired and haggard.
"You're, feeling all right, Jim?"
"Sure. Only a bit weary. I've—seen things."
"What do you mean?"
"Well," he hesitated, "well—the tlanusi—the big leeches—for one
thing. I'd never have believed it if I hadn't seen them, and if I had
seen them before we dived into the river, I'd have picked the wolves
as cooing doves in comparison."
He told me they had camped at the far end of the plain that night.
"This place is bigger than we thought, Leif. It must be, because
I've gone more miles than would be possible if it were only as large
as it looked before we went through the mirage. Probably the mirage
foreshortened it—confused us."
The next day they had gone through forest and jungle and
cane-brake and marsh. They had come at last to a steaming swamp. A
raised path ran across it. They had taken that path, and eventually
came to another tran- secting it. Where the two causeways met, there
was a wide, circular and gently rounded mound rising from the
swamp. Here the pygmies had halted. They had made fires of fagots
and leaves. The fires sent up a dense and scented smoke which spread
slowly out from the mound over the swamp. When the fires were going
well, the pygmies began drumming—a queerly syncopated beat. In a few
moments he had seen a movement in the swamp, close by the mound.
"There was a ring of pygmies between me and the edge," he said,
"and when I saw the thing that crawled out I was glad of it. First
there was an upheaval of the mud, and then up came the back of what I
thought was an enormous red slug. The slug raised itself, and crept
out on land. It was a leech all right, and that was all it was—but it
made me more than a bit sick. It was its size that did that. It must
have been seven feet long, and it lay there, blind and palpitating,
its mouth gaping, listening to the drums and luxuriating in that
scented smoke. Then another and another came out. After a awhile
there were a hundred of the things grouped around in a semicircle,
eyeless heads all turned to us—sucking in the smoke, palpitating to
"Some of the pygmies got up, took burning sticks from the fire and
started off on the intersecting causeway, drumming as they went. The
others quenched the fires. The leeches writhed along after the
torch-bearers. The other pygmies fell in behind, herding them. I stuck
in the rear. We went along until we came to the bank of the river.
Those in the lead stopped drumming. They threw their smoking, blazing
sticks into the water, and they cast into it handfuls of crushed
berries—not the ones Sri and Sra rubbed on us. Red berries. The big
leeches went writhing over the bank and into the river, following, I
suppose, the smoke and the scent of the berries. Anyway, they went
in—each and all of them.
"We went back, and out of the marsh. We camped on its edge. All
that night they talked with the drums.
They had talked the night before, and were uneasy ; but I took it
that it was the same worry they had when we started. They must have
known what was going on, but they didn't tell me then. Yesterday
morning, though, they were happy and care-free. I knew something must
have happened—that they must have got good news in the night. They
were so good-natured that they told me why they were. Not just as you
have—but the sense was the same——"
"That morning we herded up a couple of hundred more of the tianusi
and put them where the Little People think they'll do the post good.
Then we started back— and here I am."
"Yes," I asked suspiciously. "And is that all?"
"All for to-night, anyway," he said. "I'm sleepy. I'm going to
turn in. You go with Evalie and leave me strictly alone till
I left him to sleep, determined to find out in the morn- ing what
he was holding back; I didn't think it was entirely the journey and
the leeches that accounted for his haggardness.
But in the morning I forgot all about it.
In the first place, when I awoke, Evalie was missing. I went over
to the tent, looking for Jim. He was not there. The Little People had
long since poured out of the cliffs, and were at work; they always
worked in the morning—afternoons and nights they played and drummed
and danced. They said Evalie and Tsantawu had gone into council with
the elders. I went back to the tent.
In a little while Evalie and Jim came up. Evalie's face was white
and her eyes were haunted. Also they were ntisty with tears. Also, she
was madder than hell. Jim was doing his best to be cheerful.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"You're due for a little trip," said Jim. "You've been wanting to
see Nansur Bridge, haven't you?"
"Yes." I said.
"Well," said Jim. "That's where we're going. Better put on your
travelling clothes and your boots. If the trail is anything like what
I've just gone over, you'll need them. The Little People can slip
through things—but we're built different."
I studied them, puzzled. Of course I'd wanted to see Nansur
Bridge—but why should the fact we were to go there make them behave so
oddly? I went to Evalie, and turned her face up to mine.
"You've been crying, Evalie. What's wrong?"
She shook her head, slipped out of my arms and into the lair. I
followed her. She was bending over a coffer, taking yards and yards of
veils out of it. I swung her away from it and lifted her until her
eyes were level with mine.
"What's wrong, Evalie?"
A thought struck me. I lowered her to her feet.
"Who suggested going to Nansur Bridge?"
"The Little People . . . the elders ... I fought against it ... I
don't want you to go ... they say you must. . . ."
"I must go?" The thought grew clearer. "Then you need not go—nor
Tsantawu. Unless you choose?"
"Let them try to keep me from going with you." She stamped a foot
The thought was crystal clear, and I began to feel a bit irritated
by the Little People. They were thorough to the point of annoyance. I
now understood perfectly why I was to go to Nansur Bridge. The pygmies
were not certain that their magic—including Evalie—had thoroughly
taken. Therefore I was to look upon the home of the enemy—and be
watched for my reactions. Well, that was fair enough, at that. Maybe
woman would be there. Maybe Tibur—Tibur who desired Evalie—Tibur
who had laughed at me—— Suddenly I was keen for going to Nansur
Bridge. I began to put on my old clothes. As I was tying the high
shoes, I glanced over at Evalie. She had coiled her hair and covered
it with a cap ; she had swathed her body from neck to knees in the
veils and she was lacing high sandals that covered her feet and legs
as completely as my boots did mine. She smiled faintly at my look of
"I do not like Tibur to Iook on me—not now!" she said.
I bent over her and took her in my arms. She set her lips to mine
in a kiss that bruised them. . . .
When we came out, Jim and about fifty of the pygmies were waiting.
We struck diagonally across the plain away from the cliffs,
heading north toward the river. We went over the slope, past one of
the towers, and put feet on a narrow path like that which we had trod
when coming into the land of the Little People. It wound through a
precisely similar fern-brake. We went along it single file, and,
perforce, in silence. We came out of it into a forest of
close-growing, coniferous trees, through which the trail wound
tortuously. We went through this for an hour or more, without once
resting, the pygmies trotting along tirelessly. I looked at my watch.
We had been going for four hours and had covered, I calculated, about
twelve miles. There was no sign of bird or animal life.
Evalie seemed deep in thought and Jim had fallen into one of his
fits of Indian taciturnity. I didn't feel much like talking. It was a
silent journey ; not even the golden pygmies chattered, as was their
habit. We came to a sparkling spring, and drank. One of the dwarfs
swung a small cylindrical drum in front of him and began
to tap out some message. It was answered at length from far ahead
by other tappings.
We swung into our way once more. The conifers began to thin. At
our left and far below us I began to catch glimpses of the white river
and of the dense forest on its opposite bank. The conifers ceased and
we came out upon a rocky waste. Just ahead of us was an out- thrust
of cliff along whose base streamed the white river. The out-thrust cut
off our view of what lay beyond. Here the pygmies halted and sent
another drum message. The answer was startlingly close. Then around
the edge of the cliff, half-way up, spear tips glinted. A group of
little warriors stood there, scrutinizing us. They sig- nalled, and
we marched forward, over the waste.
There was a broad road up the side of the cliff, wide enough for
six horses abreast. We climbed it. We came to the top, and I looked on
Nansur Bridge and towered Karak.
Once, thousands or hundreds of thousands of years ago, there had
been a small mountain here, rising from the valley floor. Nanbu, the
white river, had eaten it away—all except a vein of black adamantine
Nanbu had fallen, fallen, steadily gnawing at the softer stone
until at last it was spanned by a bridge that was like a rainbow of
jet. That gigantic bow of black rock winged over the abyss with the
curved flight of an arrow.
Its base, on each side, was a mesa—sculptured as Nansur had been
from the original mount.
The mesa, at whose threshold I stood, was flat-topped. But on the
opposite side of the river, thrusting up from the mesa-top, was a
huge, quadrangular pile of the same black rock as the bow of Nansur.
It looked less built from than cut out of that rock. It covered I
judged about half a square mile. Towers and turrets both square and
round sprang up from it. It was walled.
There was something about that immense ebon citadel that struck me
with the same sense of fore-knowledge that I had felt when I had
ridden into the ruins of the Gobi oasis. Also I thought it looked like
that city of Dis which Dante glimpsed in Hades. And its antiquity
hung over it like a sable garment.
Then I saw that Nansur was broken. Between the arch that winged
from the side on which we stood and the arch that swept up and out
from the side of the black citadel, there was a gap. It was as though
a gigantic hammer had been swung down on the soaring bow, shattering
it at its centre. I thought of Bifrost Bridge over which the Valkyries
rode, bearing the souls of the warriors to Valhalla ; and I thought it
had been as great a blasphemy to have broken Nansur Bridge as it would
have been to have broken Bifrost.
Around the citadel were other buildings, hundreds of them outside
its walls—buildings of grey and brown stone, with gardens ; they
stretched over acres. And on each side of this city were fertile
fields and flowering groves. There was a wide road stretching far, far
away to cliffs shrouded in the green veils. I thought I saw the black
mouth of a cavern at its end.
"Karak!" whispered Evalie. "And Nansur Bridge! And Oh, Leif,
beloved . . . but my heart is heavy . . . so heavy!"
I hardly heard her, looking at Karak. Stealthy memories had begun
to stir. I trod on them, and put my arm around Evalie. We went on, and
now I saw why Karak had been built where it was, for on the far side
the black citadel commanded both ends of the valley, and when Nansur
had been unbroken, it had commanded this approach as well.
Suddenly I felt a feverish eagerness to run out upon Nansur and
look down on Karak from the broken end. I was restive at the slowness
of the pygmies. I started
forward. The garrison came crowding around me, staring up at me,
whispering to one another, studying me with their yellow eyes. Drums
began to beat.
They were answered by trumpets from the citadel.
I walked ever more rapidly toward Nansur. The fever of eagerness
had become consuming. I wanted to run. I pushed the golden pygmies
aside impatiently. Jim's voice came to me, warningly:
I paid no heed. I went out upon Nansur. Vaguely, I realized that
it was wide and that low parapets guarded its edges, and that the
stone was ramped for the tread of horses and the tread of marching
men. And that if the white river had shaped it, the hands of men had
finished its carving.
I reached the broken end. A hundred feet below me the white river
raced smoothly. There were no serpents. A dull red body, slug-like,
monstrous, lifted above the milky current; then another and another,
round mouths gaping—the leeches of the Little People, on guard.
There was a broad plaza between the walls of the dark citadel and
the end of the bridge. It was empty. Set in the walls were massive
gates of bronze. I felt a curious quivering inside me, a choking in my
throat. I forgot Evalie; I forgot Jim; I forgot everything in watching
There was a louder blaring of the trumpets, a clanging of bars,
and the gates swung open. Through them galloped a company, led by two
riders, one on a great black horse, the other upon a white. They raced
across the plaza, dropped from their mounts and came walking over the
bridge. They stood facing me across the fifty- foot gap.
The one who had ridden the black horse was the Witch-woman, and
the other I knew for Tibur the Smith —Tibur the Laugher. I had no eyes
just then for the
Witch-woman or her followers. I had eyes only for Tibur.
He was a head shorter than I, but strength great or greater than
mine spoke from the immense shoulders, the thick body. His red hair
hung sleekly straight to his shoulders. He was red-bearded. His eyes
were violet- blue and lines of laughter crinkled at their comers ; and
the wide, loose mouth was a laughing mouth. But the laughter which
had graven those lines on Tibur's face was not the kind to make the
He wore a coat of mail. At his left side hung a huge war hammer.
He looked me over from head to foot and back again with narrowed,
mocking .eyes. If I had hated Tibur before I had seen him, it was
nothing to what I felt now.
I looked from him to the Witch-woman. Her corn- flower-blue eyes
were drinking me in ; absorbed, wonder- ing—amused. She, too, wore a
coat of mail, over which streamed her red braids. Those who were
clustered behind Tibur and the Witch-woman were only a blur to me.
Tibur leaned forward.
"Welcome—Dwayanu!" he jeered. "What has brought you out of your
skulking place? My challenge?"
"Was it you I heard baying yesterday?" I said. "Hai—you picked a
safe distance ere you began to howl, red dog!"
There was a laugh from the group around the Witch- woman, and I
saw that they were women, fair and red- haired like herself, and that
there were two tall men with Tibur. But the Witch-woman said nothing,
still drinking me in, a curious speculation in her eyes.
Tibur's face grew dark. One of the men leaned, and whispered to
him. Tibur nodded, and swaggered forward. He called out to me :
"Have you grown soft during your wanderings,
Dwayanu? By the ancient custom, by the ancient test, we must learn
that before we acknowledge you—great Dwayanu. Stand fast——"
His hand dropped to the battle-hammer at his side. He hurled it at
The hammer was hurtling through the air at me with the speed of a
bullet—yet it seemed to come slowly. I could even see the thong that
held it to Tibur's arm slowly lengthening as it flew. . . .
Little doors were opening in my brain . . . the ancient test. . .
. Hai! but I knew that play . . . I waited motionless as the ancient
custom prescribed . . . but they should have given me a shield ... no
matter . . . how slowly the great sledge seemed to come . . . and it
seemed to me that the hand I thrust out to catch it moved as slowly. .
I caught it. Its weight was all of twenty pounds, yet I caught it
squarely, effortlessly, by its metal shaft. Hai! but did I not know
the trick of that? ... The little doors were opening faster now . . .
and I knew another. With my other hand I gripped the thong that held
the battle-hammer to Tibur's arm and jerked him toward me.
The laugh was frozen on Tibur's face. He tottered on Nansur's
broken edge. I heard behind me the piping shout of the pygmies. . . .
The Witch-woman sliced down a knife and severed the thong. She
jerked Tibur back from the verge. Rage swept me . . . that was not in
the play ... by the ancient test it was challenger and challenged
alone. . . .
I swung the great hammer around my head and around, and hurled it
back at Tibur; it whistled as it flew and the severed thong streamed
rigid in its wake. He threw himself aside, but not quickly enough. The
sledge struck him on a shoulder. A glancing bow, but it dropped him.
And now I laughed across the gulf.
The Witch-woman leaned forward, incredulity flooding the
speculation in her eyes. She was no longer amused. No! And Tibur
jerked himself up on one knee, glaring at me, his laughter lines
twisted into nothing like mirth of any kind.
Still other doors, tiny doors, opening in my brain. . . . They
wouldn't believe I was Dwayanu . . . Hai! I would show them. I dipped
into the pocket of my belt. Ripped open the buckskin pouch. Drew out
the ring of Khalk'ru. I held it up. .The green light glinted on it.
The yellow stone seemed to expand. The black octopus to grow. . . .
"Am I Dwayanu? Look on this! Am I Dwayanu?"
I heard a woman scream—I knew that voice. And I heard a man
calling, shouting to me—and that voice I knew too. The little doors
clicked shut, the memories that had slipped through them darted back
before they closed. . . .
Why, it was Evalie who was screaming! And Jim who was shouting at
me! What was the matter with them? Evalie was facing me, arms
outstretched. And there was stark unbelief and horror—and loathing—in
the brown eyes fastened on me. And rank upon rank, the Little People
were closing around the pair of them— barring me from them. Their
spears and arrows were levelled at me. They were hissing like a horde
of golden snakes, their faces distorted with hatred, their eyes
fastened on the ring of Khalk'ru still held high above my head.
And now I saw that hatred reflected upon the face of Evalie—and
the loathing deepen in her eyes.
"Evalie!" I cried, and would have leaped toward her. . . . Back
went the hands of the pygmies for the throwing cast; the arrows
trembled in their bows.
"Don't move, Leif! I'm coming!" Jim jumped
forward. Instantly the pygiriies swarmed round and upon him. He
swayed and went down under them.
"Evalie!" I cried again.
I saw the loathing fade, and heart-break come into her face. She
called some command.
A score of pygmies shot by her, on each side, casting down their
bows and spears as they raced toward me. Stupidly, I watched them come
; among them I saw Sri.
They struck me like little living battering rams. I was thrust
backward. My foot struck air——
The pygmies clinging to my legs, harrying me like terriers, I
toppled over the edge of Nansur.
BOOK OF THE WITCH-WOMAN
CHAPTER XIII. KARAK
I HAD sense enough to throw my hands up over my head, and so I
went down feet first. The pygmies hanging to my legs helped that, too.
When I struck the water I sank deep and deep. The old idea is that
when a man drowns his whole past life runs through his mind in a few
seconds, like a reversed cinema reel. I don't know about that, but I
do know that in my progress into Nanbu's depths and up again I thought
faster than ever before in my life.
In the first place I realized that Evalie had ordered me thrown
off the bridge. That made me white-hot mad. Why hadn't she waited and
given me a chance to explain the ring! Then I thought of how many
chances I'd had to explain—and hadn't taken one of them. Also that the
pygmies had been in no mood for waiting, and that Evalie had held
back their spears and arrows and given me a run for my life, even
though it might be a brief one. Then I thought of my utter folly in
flashing the ring at that particular moment, and I couldn't blame the
Little People for thinking me an emissary of Khalk'ru. And I saw again
the heart-break in Evalie's eyes, and my rage vanished in a touch of
heart-break of my own.
After that, quite academically, the idea came to me that Tibur's
hammer-play explained old God Thor of ibs Norse and his hammer
Mjolnir, the Smasher, which always returned to his hand after he had
thrown it— to make it more miraculous the skalds had left out that
practical detail of the thong ; here was still another link between
the Uighur or Ayjir and the Aesar—I'd talk to
Jim about it. And then I knew I couldn't get back to Jim to talk
to him about that or anything else because the pygmies would certainly
be waiting for me, and would quite as certainly drive me back among
the leeches, even if I managed to get as far as their side of Nanbu.
At that thought, if a man entirely immersed in water can break into a
cold sweat I did it. I would much rather pass out by way of the Little
People's spears and darts or even Tibur's smasher than be drained dry
by those sucking mouths.
Just then I broke through the surface of Nanbu, trod water for a
moment, clearing my eyes, and saw the red-slug back of a leech gliding
toward me not twenty feet away. I cast a despairing glance around me.
The current was swift and had borne me several hundred yards below
the bridge. Also it had carried me toward the Karak side, which seemed
about five hundred feet away. I turned to face the leech. It came
slowly, as though sure of me. I planned to dive under it and try to
make for the shore . . . if-only there were no others. ...
I heard a chattering shout. Sri shot past me. He raised an arm and
pointed at Karak. Clearly he was telling me to get there as quickly as
I could. I had forgotten all about him, except for a momentary flash
of wrath that he had joined my assailants. Now I saw what an
injustice I had done him. He swam straight to the big leech and
slapped it alongside its mouth. The creature bent toward him, actually
it nuzzled him. I waited to see no more, but struck out as fast as my
boots would let me for the river bank.
That was no pleasant swim, no! The place was thick with the
gliding red backs. Without question it was only Sri that saved me from
them. He came scuttering back, and he circled round and round me as I
he drove the leeches away.
I touched bottom, and scrambled over rocks to the
safety of the bank. The golden pygmy sent one last call to me.
What he said I could not hear. I stood there, gasping for breath, and
saw him shooting across the white water like a yellow flying fish, a
half-dozen of the red slug-backs gliding in his wake.
I looked up at Nansur Bridge. The Little People's end of it and
the parapets were crowded with pygmies, watching me. The other side
was empty. I looked around me. I was in the shadow of the walls of the
black citadeL They arose, smooth, impregnable, for a hundred feet.
Between me and them was a wide plaza, similar to that over which Tibur
and the Witch-woman had ridden from the bronze gates. It was bordered
with squat, one-storied houses of stone; there were many small
flowering trees. Beyond the bordering houses were others, larger, more
pretentious, set farther apart. Not so far away and covering part of
the plaza was an everyday, open-air market.
From the bordering houses and from the market, scores of people
were pouring down upon me. They came swiftly, but they came silently,
not calling to one another, not signalling nor summoning—intent upon
me. I felt for my automatic and swore, remembering that I had not
worn it for days. Something flashed on my hand. . . .
The ring of Khalk'ru! I must have slipped it on my thumb when the
pygmies had rushed me. Well, the ring had brought me here. Surely its
effect would not be less upon these people, than it had been upon
those who had faced me from the far side of the broken bridge. At any
rate, it was all I had. I turned it so that the stone was hidden in
They were close now, and mostly women and girls and girl children.
They all wore much the same kind of garment, a smock that came down to
their knees and which left the right breast bare. Without exception,
they were. red-haired and blue-eyed, their skins creamy-
white and delicate rose, and they were tall and strong and
beautifully formed. They might have been Viking maids and mothers come
to welcome home some dragon- ship from its sea-faring. The children
were little blue- eyed angels. I took note of the men; there were not
many of them, a dozen perhaps. They, too, had the red polls and blue
eyes. The older wore short beards, the younger were clean-shaven. They
were not so tall by several inches as the run of the women. None, men
nor women, came within half a head of my height. They bore no
They halted a few yards from me, looking at me in silence. Their
eyes ran over me and stopped at my yellow hair, and rested there.
There was a bustle at the edge of the crowd. A dozen women pushed
through and walked toward me. They wore short kirtles; there were
short swords in their girdles and they carried javelins in their
hands; unlike the others, their breasts were covered. They ringed me,
javelins raised, so close that the tips almost touched me.
The leader's bright blue eyes were bold, more soldier's than
"The yellow-haired stranger! Luka has smiled on us this day!"
The woman beside her leaned and whispered, but I caught the words
"Tibur would give us more for him than Lur."
The leader shook her head.
"Too dangerous. We'll enjoy Lur's reward longer."
She looked me over, quite frankly.
"It's a shame to waste him," she said.
"Lur won't," the other answered, cynically.
The leader gave me a prod of her javelin, and motioned toward the
"Onward, Yellow Hair," she said. "It's a pity you
can't understand me. Or I'd tell you something for your own
good—at a price, of course."
She smiled at me, and prodded me again. I felt like grinning back
at her; she was so much like a hard- boiled sergeant I'd known in the
War. I spoke, instead, sternly:
"Summon Lur to me with fitting escort, O! woman whose tongue
rivals the drum stick."
She gaped at me, her javelin dropping from her hand. Quite
evidently, although an alarm had been sounded for me, the fact that I
could speak the Uighur had not been told.
"Summon Lur at once," I said. "Or, by Khalk'ru——"
I did not complete the sentence. I turned the ring and held up my
There was a gasp of terror from the crowd. They went down on their
knees, heads bent low. The soldier- woman's face whitened, and she and
the others dropped before me. And then there was a grating of bars. An
immense block opened in the wall of the citadel not far away.
Out of the opening, as though my words had sum- moned them, rode
the Witch-woman with Tibur beside her, and at their heels the little
troop who had watched me from Nansur Bridge.
They baited, staring at the kneeling crowd. Then Tibur spurred his
horse; the Witch-woman thrust out a hand and stayed-him, and they
spoke together. The soldier touched my foot.
"Let us rise. Lord," she said. I nodded, and she jumped up with a
word to her women. Again they ringed me. I read the fear in the
leader's eyes, and appeal. I smiled at her.
"Don't fear. I heard nothing," I whispered.
"Then you have a friend in Dara," she muttered. "By Luka—they
would boil us for what we said!"
"I heard nothing," I repeated.
"A gift for a gift," she breathed. "Watch Tibur's left hand should
you fight him."
The little troop was in motion; they came riding slowly toward me.
As they drew near I could see that Tibur's face was dark, and that he
was holding in his temper with an effort. He halted his horse at the
edge of the crowd. His rage fell upon them ; for a moment I thought
he was going to ride them down.
"Up, you swine!" he roared. "Since when has Karak knelt to any but
They arose, huddled together with frightened faces as the troop
rode through them. I looked up at the Witch-woman and the Laugher.
Tibur glowered down on me, his hand fumbling at his hammer; the
two big men who had flanked him on the bridge edged close to me, long
swords in hand. The Witch-woman said nothing, studying me intently yet
with a certain cynical impersonality I found disquieting;
evidently she still had not made up her mind about me and was
waiting for some word or move of mine to guide her. I didn't like the
situation very much. If it came to a dog fight I would have little
chance with three mounted men, to say nothing of the women. I had the
feeling that the Witch-woman did not want me killed out-of-hand, but
then she might be a bit late in succour- ing me—and beyond that I had
no slightest wish to be beaten up, trussed up, carried into Karak a
Also I began to feel a hot and unreasoning resentment against
these people who dared bar my way, dared hold me back from whatever
way I chose to go, an awaken- ing arrogance—a stirring of those
mysterious memories that had cursed me ever since I had carried the
ring of Khalk'ru. . . .
Well, those memories had served me on Nansur Bridge when Tibur
cast the hammer at me ... and what
was it Jim had said? ... to let Dwayanu ride when I faced the
Witch-woman . . . well, let him ... it was the only way . . . the bold
way . . . the olden way. . . .
It was as though I heard the words!
I threw my mind wide open to the memories, or to— Dwayanu.
There was a tiny tingling shock in my brain, and then something
like the surging up of a wave toward that consciousness which was Leif
Langton. I managed to thrust it back before it had entirely submerged
that consciousness. It retreated, but sullenly—nor did it retreat
far. No matter, so long as it did not roll over me ... I pushed the
soldiers aside and walked to Tibur. Something of what had occurred
must have stamped itself on my face, changed me. Doubt crept into the
Witch-woman's eyes ' Tibur's hand fell from his hammer, and he backed
his horse away. I spoke, and my wrathful voice fell strangely on my
"Where is my horse? Where are my arms? Where are my standard and
my spearsmen? Why are the drums and the trumpets silent? Is it thus
Dwayanu is greeted when he comes to a city of the Ayjir! By Zarda,
but this is not to be bome!"
Now the Witch-woman spoke, mockery in the clear, deep bell-toned
voice, and I felt that whatever hold I had gained over her had in some
"Hold your hand, Tibur! I will speak to—Dwayanu. And you—if you
are Dwayanu—scarcely can hold us to blame. It has been long and long
since human eyes rested on you—and never in this land. So how could we
know you? And when first we saw you, the little yellow dogs ran you
away from us. And when next we saw you, the little yellow dogs ran you
to us. If we have not received you as Dwayanu has a right to expect
city of the Ayjir, equally is it true that no city of the Ayjir
has ever before been so visited by Dwayanu."
Well, that was true enough, admirable reasoning, lucid and all of
that. The part of me that was Lief Langdon, and engaged in rather
desperate struggle to retain control, recognized it. Yet the
unreasoning anger grew. I held up the ring of Khalk'ru.
"You may not know Dwayanu—but you know this."
"I know you have it," she said, levelly. "But I do not know how
you came by it. In itself it proves nothing."
Tibur leaned forward, grinning.
"Tell us where you did come from. Are you by-blow of Sirk?"
There was a murmur from the crowd. The Witch- woman leaned
forward, frowning. I heard her murmur, half-contemptuously:
"Your strength was never in your head, Tibur!"
Nevertheless, I answered him.
"I come," I said bleakly, "from the Mother-land of the Ayjir. From
the land that vomited your shivering forefathers, red toad!"
I shot a glance at the Witch-woman. That had jolted her all right.
I saw her body stiffen, her corn-flower eyes distend and darken, her
red lips part; and her women bent to each other, whispering, while the
murmur of the crowd swelled.
"You lie!" roared Tibur. "There is no life in the Mother-land.
There is no life elsewhere than here. Khalk'ru has sucked earth dry
of Life. Except here. You lie!"
His hand dropped to his hammer.
And suddenly I saw red; all the world dissolved in a red mist of
red. The horse of the man closest to me was a noble animal. I had been
watching it—a roan stallion, strong as the black stallion that had
carried me from the Gobi oasis. I reached up, caught at its jaw, and
it down to its knees. Taken unaware, its rider toppled forward,
somersaulted over its head and fell at my feet. He was up again like a
cat, sword athrust at me. I caught his arm before he could strike and
swung up my left fist. It cracked on his jaw ; his head snapped back,
and he dropped. I snatched up the sword, and swung myself on the
rising horse's back. Before Tibur could move I had the point of the
sword at his throat.
"Stop! I grant you Dwayanu! Hold your hand!" It was the
Witch-woman's voice, low, almost whispering.
I laughed. I pressed the point of the sword deeper into Tiber's
"Am I Dwayanu? Or by-blow of Sirk?"
"You are—Dwayanu!" he groaned.
I laughed again.
"I am Dwayanu! Then guide me into Karak to make amends for your
I drew the sword away from his throat.
Yes, I drew it back—and by all the mad mixed gods of that mad
mixed mind of mine at that moment I would that I had thrust it through
But I did not', and so that chance passed. I spoke to the
"Ride at my right hand. let Tibur ride before."
The man I had struck down was on his feet, swaying unsteadily. Lur
spoke to one of her women. She slipped from her horse, and with
Tibur's other follower helped him upon it.
We rode across the plaza, and through the walls of the black
CHAPTER XIV. IN THE BLACK CITADEL
THE bars that held the gate crashed down behind us. The passage
through the walls was wide and long and lined with soldiers, most of
them women. They stared at me; their discipline was good, for they
were silent, saluting us with upraised swords.
We came out of the walls into an immense square, bounded by the
towering black stone of the citadel. It was stone-paved and. bare, and
there must have been half a thousand soldiers in it, again mostly
women and one and all of the strong-bodied, blue-eyed, red-haired
type. It was a full quarter-mile to the side—the square. Opposite
where we entered, there was a group of people on horses, of the same
class as those who rode with us, or so I judged. They were clustered
about a portal in the farther walls, and toward these we trotted.
About a third of the way over, we passed a circular pit a hundred
feet wide in which water boiled and bubbled and from which steam
arose. A hot spring, I supposed; I could feel its breath. Around it
were slender stone pillars from each of which an arm jutted like that
of a gallows, and from the ends of them dangled thin chains. It was,
indefinably, an unpleasant and ominous place. I didn't like the look
of it at all. Some- thing of this must have shown on my face, for
Tibur spoke, blandly.
"Our cooking pot."
"No easy one from which to ladle broth," I said. I thought him
"Ah—but the meat we cook there is not the kind we
eat," he answered, still more blandly. And his laughter roared
I felt a little sick as his meaning reached me. It was tortured
human flesh which those chains were designed to hold, lowering it
slowly inch by inch into that devil's cauldron. But I only nodded
indifferently, and rode on.
The Witch-woman had paid no attention to us; her russet head bent,
she went on deep in thought, though now and then I caught her oblique
glance at me. We drew near the portal. She signalled those who awaited
there, a score of the red-haired maids and women and a half-dozen men
; they dismounted. The Witch-woman leaned to me and whispered:
"Turn the ring so its seal will be covered."
I obeyed her, asking no question.
We arrived at the portal. I looked at the group there. The women
wore the breast-revealing upper garment;
their legs were covered with loose baggy trousers tied in at the
ankles; they had wide girdles in which were two swords, one long and
one short. The men were clothed in loose blouses, and the same baggy
in their girdles beside the swords—or rather, hanging from their
girdles—were hammers like that of the Smith, but smaller. The women
who had gathered around me after I had climbed out of Nanbu had been
fair enough, but these were far more attractive, finer, with a stamp
of breeding the others had not had. They stared at me as frankly, as
appraisingly, as had the soldier woman and her lieutenant; their eyes
rested upon my yellow hair and stopped there, as though fascinated. On
all their faces was that suggestion of cruelty latent in the amorous
mouth of Lur.
"We dismount here," said the Witch-woman, "to go where we may
I nodded as before, indifferently. I had been thinking that it was
a foolhardy thing I had done, thus to thrust
myself alone among these people ; but I had been think- ing, too,
that I could have done nothing else except have gone to Sirk, and
where that was I did not know;
and that if I had tried I would have been a hunted outlaw on this
side of white Nanbu, as I would be on the other. The part of me that
was Leif Langdon was thinking that—but the part of me that was Dwayanu
was not thinking like that at all. It was fanning the fire of
recklessness, the arrogance, that had carried me thus far in safety;
whispering that none among the Ayjir had the right to question me or
to bar my way, whisper- ing with increasing insistence that I should
have been met by dipping standards and roll of drums and fanfare of
trumpets. The part that was Leif Langdon answered that there was
nothing else to do but continue as I had been doing, that it was the
game to play, the line to take, the only way. And that other part,
ancient mem- ories, awakening of Dwayanu, post-hypnotic suggestion of
the old Gobi priest, impatiently asked why I should question even
myself, urging that it was no game—but truth! And that it would brook
little more insolence from these degenerate dogs of the Great Race—and
little more cowardice from me!
So I flung myself from my horse, and stood looking arrogantly down
upon the faces turned to me, literally looking down, for I was four
inches or more taller than the tallest of them. Lur touched my arm.
Between her and Tibur I strode through the portal and into the black
It was a vast vestibule through which we passed, and dimly lighted
by slits far up in the polished rock. We went by groups of silently
saluting soldier-women; we went by many transverse passages. We came
at last to a great guarded door, and here Lur and Tibur dismissed
their escorts. The door rolled slowly open ; we entered and it rolled
shut behind us.
The first thing I saw was the Kraken.
It sprawled over one wall of the chamber into which we had come.
My heart leaped as I saw it, and for an instant I had an almost
ungovernable impulse to turn and run. And now I saw that the figure of
the Kraken was a mosaic set in the black stone. Or rather, that the
yellow field in which it lay was a mosaic and that the Black Octopus
had been cut from the stone of the wall itself. Its unfathomable eyes
of jet regarded me with that suggestion of lurking malignity the
yellow pygmies had managed to imitate so perfectly in their fettered
symbol inside the hollow rock.
Something stirred beneath the Kraken. A face looked out on me from
under a hood of black. At first I thought it the old priest of the
Gobi himself, and then I saw that this man was not so old, and that
his eyes were clear deep blue and that his face was unwrinkled, and
cold and white and expressionless as though carved from marble. Then
I remembered what Evalie had told me, and knew this must be Yodin the
High Priest. He sat upon a throne-like chair behind a long low table
on which were rolls like the papyrus rolls of the Egyptians, and
cylinders of red metal which were, I supposed, their containers. On
each side of him was another of the thrones.
He lifted a thin white hand and beckoned me.
"Come to me—you who call yourself Dwayanu."
The voice was cold and passionless as the face, but courteous. I
seemed to hear again the old priest when he had called me to him. I
walked over, more as one who humours another a little less than equal
than as though obeying a summons. And that was precisely the way I
felt. He must have read my thought, for I saw a shadow of anger pass
over his face. His eyes searched me.
"You have a certain ring, I am told."
With the same feeling of humouring one slightly inferior, I turned
the bevel of the Kraken ring and held my hand out toward him. He
looked at the ring, and the white face lost its immobility. He thrust
a hand into his girdle, and drew from it a box, and out of it another
ring, and placed it beside mine. I saw that it was not so large, and
that the setting was not precisely the same. He studied the two rings,
and then with a hissing intake of breath he snatched my hands and
turned them over, scanning the palms. He dropped them and leaned back
in his chair.
"Why do you come to us?" he asked.
A surge of irritation swept me.
"Does Dwayanu stand like a common messenger to be questioned?" I
I walked around the table and dropped into one of the chairs
"Let drink be brought, for I am thirsty. Until my thirst is
quenched, I will not talk."
A faint flush stained the white face; there was a growl from
Tibur. He was glaring at me with reddened face ; the Witch-woman
stood, gaze intent upon me, no mockery in it now; the speculative
interest was intensified. It came to me that the throne I had usurped
was Tibur's. I laughed.
"Beware, Tibur," I said. "This may be an omen!"
The High Priest intervened, smoothly.
"If he be indeed Dwayanu, Tibur, then no honour is too great for
him. See that wine is brought."
The look that the Smith shot at Yodin seemed to me to hold a
question. Perhaps the Witch-woman thought so too. She spoke quickly.
"I will see to it."
She walked to the door, opened it and gave an order to a guard.
She waited ; there was silence among us while she waited. I thought
many things. I thought,
for example, that I did not like the look that had passed between
Yodin and Tibur, and that while I might trust Lur for the
present—still she would drink first when the wine came. And I thought
that I would tell them little of how I came to the Shadowed-land. And
I thought of Jim—and I thought of Evalie. It made my heart ache so
that I felt the loneliness of nightmare ; and then I felt the fierce
contempt of that other part of me, and felt it strain against the
fetters I had put on it. Then the wine came.
The Witch-woman carried ewer and goblet over to the table and set
them before me. She poured yellow wine into the goblet and handed it
to me. I smiled at her.
"The cup-bearer drinks first," I said. "So it was in the olden
days, Lur. And the olden customs are dear to me."
Tibur gnawed his lip and tugged at his beard at that, but Lur took
up the goblet and drained it. I refilled it, and raised it to Tibur. I
had a malicious desire to bait the Smith.
"Would you have done that had you been the cup- bearer, Tibur?" I
asked him and drank.
That was good wine! It tingled through me, and I felt the heady
recklessness leap up under it as though lashed. I filled the goblet
again and tossed it off.
"Come up, Lur, and sit with us," I said. "Tibur, join us."
The Witch-woman quietly took the third throne. Tibur was watching
me, and I saw a new look in his eyes, something of that furtive
speculation I had sur- prised in Lur's. The white-faced priest's gaze
was far away. It occurred to me that the three of them were extremely
busy with their own thoughts, and that Tibur at least, was becoming a
bit uneasy. When he answered me his voice had lost all truculency.
"Well and good—Dwayanu!" he said, and, lifting a bench, carried it
to the table, and set it where he could watch our faces.
"I answer your question," I turned to Yodin. "I came here at the
summons of Khalk'ru."
"It is strange," he said, "that I, who am High Priest of Khalk'ru,
knew nothing of any summons."
"The reasons for that I do not know," I said, casually. "Ask them
of him you serve."
He pondered over that.
"Dwayanu lived long and long and long ago," he said. "Before——"
"Before the Sacrilege. True." I took another drink of the wine.
"Yet—I am here."
For the first time his voice lost its steadiness.
"You—you know of the Sacrilege!" His fingers clutched my wrist.
"Man—whoever you are—from whence do you come?"
"I come," I answered, "from the Mother-land."
His fingers tightened around my wrist. He echoed Tibur.
"The Mother-land is a dead land. Khalk'ru in his anger destroyed
its life. There is no life save here, where Khalk'ru hears his
servants and lets life be."
He did not believe that; I could tell it by the involuntary glance
he had given the Witch-woman and the Smith. Nor did they.
"The Mother-land," I said, "is bleached bones. Its cities lie
covered in shrouds of sand. Its rivers are water- less, and all that
runs within their banks is sand driven by the arid winds. Yet still is
there life in the Mother- land, and although the ancient blood is
thinned—still it runs. And still is Khalk'ru worshipped and feared in
the place from whence I came—and still in other lands the earth
spawns life as always she has done."
I poured some more wine. It was good wine, that.
Under it I felt my recklessness increase . . . under it Dwayanu
was stronger . . . well, this was a tight box I was in, so let him be
"Show me the place from whence you came," the High Priest spoke
swiftly. He gave me a tablet of wax and a stylus. I traced the outline
of Northern Asia upon it and of Alaska. I indicated the Gobi and
approxi- mately the location of the oasis, and also the position of
Tibur got up to look at it; their three heads bent over it. The
priest fumbled among the rolls, picked one, and they compared it with
the tablet. It appeared like a map, but if so the northern coast line
was all wrong. There was a line traced on it that seemed to be a route
of some sort. It was overscored and underscored with symbols. I
wondered whether it might not be the record of the trek those of the
Old Race had made when they had fled from the Gobi.
They looked up at last; there was perturbation in the priest's
eyes, angry apprehension in Tibur's, but the eyes of the Witch,-woman
were clear and untroubled— as though she had made up her mind about
something and knew precisely what she was going to do.
"It is the Mother-land!" the priest said. "Tell me —did the
black-haired stranger who fled with you across the river and who
watched you hurled from Nansur come also from there?"
There was sheer malice in that question. I began to dislike Yodin.
"No," I answered. "He comes from an old land of the Rrrllya."
That brought the priest up standing ; Tibur swore incredulously;
and even the Witch-woman was shaken from her serenity.
"Another land—of the Rrrllya! But that cannot be!" whispered
"Nevertheless it is so," I said.
He sank back, and thought for a while.
"He is your friend?"
"My brother by the ancient blood rite of his people."
"He would join you here?"
"He would if I sent for him. But that I will not do. Not yet. He
is well off where he is."
I was sorry I had said that the moment I had spoken. Why—I did not
know. But I would have given much to have recalled the words.
Again the priest was silent.
"These are strange things you tell us," he said at last. "And you
have come to us strangely for—Dwayanu. You will not mind if for a
little we take counsel?"
I looked in the ewer. It was still half-full. I liked that
wine—most of all because it dulled my sorrow over Evalie.
"Speak as long as you please," I answered, graciously. They went
off to a comer of the room. I poured myself another drink, and
another. I forgot about Evalie. I began to feel I was having a good
time. I wished Jim was with me, but I wished I hadn't said he would
come if I sent for him. And then I took another drink and forgot
about Jim. Yes, I was having a damned good time . . . well, wait till
I let Dwayanu loose a bit more! I'd have a better one ... I was sleepy
. . . I wondered what old Barr would say if he could be here with me.
. . .
I came to myself with a start. The High Priest was standing at my
side, talking. I had a vague idea he had been talking to me for some
time but I couldn't remem- ber what about. I also had the idea that
someone had been fumbling with my thumb. It was clenched stub- bornly
in my palm, so tightly that the stone had bruised the flesh. The
effect of the wine had entirely worn off I looked around the room.
Tibur and the Witch-woman
were gone. Why hadn't I seen them go? Had I been asleep? I studied
Yodin's face. There was a look ol strain about it, of bafflement; and
yet I sensed some deep satisfaction. It was a queer composite of
expression. And I didn't like it.
"The others have gone to prepare a fitting reception for you," he
said. "To make ready a place for you and fitting apparel."
I arose and stood beside him.
"As Dwayanu?" I asked.
"Not as yet," he answered urbanely. "But as an honoured guest.
The other is too serious a matter to decide without further proof."
"And that proof?"
He looked at me a long moment before answering.
"That Khalk'ru will appear at your prayer!"
A little shudder went through me at that. He was watching me so
closely that he must have seen it.
"Curb your impatience," his voice was cold honey. "You will not
have long to wait. Until then I probably shall not see you. In the
meantime—I have a request to make."
"What is it?" I asked.
"That you will not wear the ring of Khalk'ru openly— except, of
course, at such times as may seem necessary to you."
It was the same thing Lur had asked me. Yet scores had seen me
with the ring—more must know I had it. He read my indecision.
"It is a holy thing," he said. "I did not know another existed
until word was brought me that you had shown it on Nansur. It is not
well to cheapen holy things. I do not wear mine except when I think
I wondered under what circumstances he considered it—necessary.
And I wished fervently I knew under what circumstances it would be
helpful to me. His eyes
were searching me, and I hoped he had not read that thought.
"I see no reason to deny that request," I said. I slipped the ring
off my thumb and into my belt pocket.
"I was sure you would not," he murmured.
A gong sounded lightly. He pressed the side of the table, and the
door opened. Three youths clothed in the smocks of the people entered
and stood humbly waiting.
"They are your servants. They will take you to your place," Yodin
said. He bent his head. I went out with the three young Ayjirs. At the
door was a guard of a dozen women with a bold-eyed young captain. They
saluted me smartly. We marched down the corridor and at length turned
into another. I looked back.
I was just in time to see the Witch-woman slipping into the High
We came to another guarded door. It was thrown open and into it I
was ushered, followed by the three youths.
"We are also your servants. Lord," the bold-eyed captain spoke.
"If there is anything you wish, summon me by this. We shall be at the
She handed me a small gong of jade, saluted again and marched out.
The room had an odd aspect of familiarity. Then I realized it was
much like that to which I had been taken in the oasis. There were the
same oddly shaped stools, and chairs of metal, the same wide, low
divan bed, the tapestried walls, the rugs upon the floor. Only here
there were no signs of decay. True, some of the tapestries were
time-faded, but exquisitely so ; there were no rags or tatters in
them. The others were beautifully woven but fresh as though just from
the loom. The ancient hangings were threaded with the same scenes of
the hunt and war as the haggard drapings of the oasis ; the newer
ones bore scenes of the land under the mirage. Nansur Bridge
sprang unbroken over one, on another was a battle with the pygmies, on
another a scene of the fantastically lovely forest—with the white
wolves of Lur slinking through the trees. Something struck me as
wrong. I looked and looked before I knew what it was. The arms of its
olden master had been in the chamber of the oasis, his swords and
spears, helmet and shield; in this one there was not a weapon. I
remembered that I had carried the sword of Tibur's man into the
chamber of the High Priest. I did not have it now.
A disquietude began to creep over me. I turned to the three young
Ayjirs, and began to unbutton my shirt. They came forward silently,
and started to strip me. And suddenly I felt a consuming thirst.
"Bring me water,;' I said to one of the youths. He paid not the
slightest attention to me.
"Bring me water," I said again, thinking he had not heard. "I am
He continued tranquilly taking off a boot. I touched him on the
"Bring me water to drink," I said, emphatically.
He smiled up at me, opened his mouth and pointed. He had no
tongue. He pointed to his ears. I understood that he was telling me he
was both dumb and deaf. I pointed to his two comrades. He nodded.
My disquietude went up a point or two. Was this a general custom
of the rulers of Karak; had this trio been especially adapted not only
for silent service but unhearing service on special guests? Guests
I tapped the gong with a finger. At once the door opened, and the
young captain stood there, saluting.
"I am thirsty," I said. "Bring water."
For answer she crossed the room and pulled aside one of the
hangings. Behind it was a wide, deep alcove.
Within the floor was a shallow pool through which cleat water was
flowing, and close beside it was a basin of porphyry from which sprang
a jet like a tiny fountain, She took a goblet from a niche, filled it
under the jet and handed it to me. It was cold and sparkling.
"Is there anything more. Lord?" she asked. I shook my head, and
she marched out.
I went back to the ministrations of the three deaf- mutes. They
took off the rest of my clothes and began to massage me, with some
light, volatile oil. While they were doing it, my mind began to
function rather actively. In the first place, the sore spot in my palm
kept reminding me of that impression someone had been trying to get
the ring off my thumb. In the second place, the harder I thought the
more I was sure that before I awakened or had come out of my
abstraction or drink or whatever it was, the white-faced priest had
been talking, talking, talking to me, questioning me, probing into my
dulled mind. And in the third place, I had lost almost entirely all
the fine carelessness of consequences that had been so successful in
putting me where I was—in fact, I was far too much Leif Langdon and
too little Dwayanu. What had the priest been at with his talking,
talking, questioning—and what had I said?
I jumped out of the hands of my masseurs, ran over to my trousers
and dived into my belt. The ring was there right enough. I searched
for my old pouch. It was gone. I rang the gong. The captain answered.
I was mother-naked, but I hadn't the slightest sense of her being a
"Hear me," I said. "Bring me wine. And bring with it a safe,
strong case big enough to hold a ring. Bring with that a strong chain
with which I can hang the case around my neck. Do you understand?"
"Done at once. Lord," she said. She was not long in returning. She
set down the ewer she was carrying and
reached into her blouse. She brought out a locket suspended from
a metal chain. She snapped it open.
"Will this do. Lord?"
I turned from her, and put the ring of Khalk'ru into the locket.
It held it admirably.
"Most excellently," I told her, "but I have nothing to give you in
"Reward enough to have beheld you. Lord," she said, not at all
ambiguously, and marched away. I hung the locket round my neck. I
poured a drink and then another. I went back to my masseurs and began
to feel better. I drank while they were bathing me, and I drank while
they were trimming my,hair and shaving me. And the more I drank the
more Dwayanu came up, coldly wrathful and resentful.
My dislike for Yodin grew. It did not lessen while the trio were
dressing me. They put on me a silken under-vest. They covered it with
a gorgeous tunic of yellow shot through with metallic threads of blue
; they covered my long legs with the baggy trousers of the same stuff
; they buckled around my waist a broad, gem- studded girdle, and they
strapped upon my feet sandals of soft golden leather. They had shaved
me, and now they brushed and dressed my hair which they had shorn to
the nape of my neck.
By the time they were through with me, the wine was done. I was a
little drunk, willing to be more so, and in no mood to be played with.
I rang the gong for the captain. I wanted some more wine, and I wanted
to know when, where and how I was going to eat. The door opened, but
it was not the captain who came in.
It was the Witch-woman.
CHAPTER XV. THE LAKE OF THE GHOSTS
LUR paused, red lips parted, regarding me. Plainly she was
startled by the difference the Ayjir trappings and the ministrations
of the mutes had made in the dripping, bedraggled figure that had
scrambled out of the river not long before. Her eyes glowed, and a
deeper rose stained her cheeks. She came. close.
"Dwayanu—you will go with me?"
I looked at her, and laughed.
"Why not, Lur—but also, why?"
"You are in danger—whether you are Dwayanu or whether you are not.
I have persuaded Yodin to let you remain with me until you go to the
temple. With me you shall be safe—until then."
"And why did you do this for me, Lur?"
She made no answer—only set one hand upon my shoulder and looked
at me with blue eyes grown soft;
and though common sense told me there were other reasons for her
solicitude than any quick passion for me, still at that touch and look
the blood raced through my veins, and it was hard to master my voice
"I will go with you, Lur."
She went to the door, opened it.
"Ouarda, the cloak and cap." She came back to me with a black
cloak which she threw over my shoulders and fastened round my neck;
she pulled down over my yellow hair a close-fitting cap shaped like
the Phyrgian and she tucked my hair into it. Except for my height it
made me like any other Ayjir in Karak. ''-
"There is need for haste, Dwayanu."
"I am ready. Wait——"
I went over to where my old clothes lay, and rolled them up around
my boots. After all—I might need them. The Witch-woman made no
comment, opened the door and we went out. The captain and her guard
were in the corridor, also a half-dozen of Lur's women, and handsome
creatures they were. Then I noticed that each of them wore the light
coat of mail and, besides the two swords, carried throwing hammers. So
did Lur. Evidently they were ready for trouble, whether with me or
with someone else; and whichever way it was, I didn't like it.
"Give me your sword," I said abruptly to the captain. She
"Give it to him," said Lur.
I weighed the weapon in my hand; not so heavy as I would have
liked, but still a sword. I thrust it into my girdle, and bunched the
bundle of my old clothes beneath my left arm, under the cloak. We set
off down the corridor, leaving the guard at the door.
We went only a hundred yards, and then into a small bare chamber.
We had met no one. Lur drew a breath of relief, walked over to a side,
and a slab of stone slid open, revealing a passage. We went into that
and the slab closed, leaving us in pitch-darkness. There was a spark,
produced I don't know how, and the place sprang into light from
torches in the hands of two of the women. They burned with a dear,
steady and silvery flame. The torch-bearers marched ahead of us. After
a while we came to the end of that passage, the torches were extin-
guished, another stone slid away and we stepped out. I heard
whispering, and after the glare of the flambeaux had worn away, I saw
that we were at the base of one of the walls of the black citadel, and
that close by were half a dozen more of Lur's women, with horses. One
of them led forward a big grey stallion.
"Mount, and ride beside me," said Lur.
I fixed my bundle on the pommel of the high saddle, and straddled
the grey. We set off silently. It was never wholly dark at night in
the land under the mirage ; there was always a faint green
luminescence, but to-night it was brighter than I had ever seen it. I
wondered whether there was a full moon shining down over the peaks of
the valley. I wondered if we had far to go. I was not as drunk as I
had been when Lur had come in on me, but in a way I was drunker. I had
a queer, light-headed feeling that was decidedly pleasant, a carefree
irre- sponsibility. I wanted to keep on feeling that way. I hoped
that Lur had plenty of wine wherever she was taking me. I wished I had
a drink right now.
We were going through the city beyond the citadel, and we went
fast. The broad street we were on was well paved. There were lights in
the houses and in the gardens and people singing and drums and pipes
playing. Sinister the black citadel might be, but it did not seem to
cast any shadow on the people of Karak. Or so I thought then.
We passed out of the city into a smooth road running between thick
vegetation. The luminous moths like fairy planes were flitting about,
and for a moment I felt a pang of memory, and Evalie's face floated up
before me. It didn't last a second. The grey went sweetly and I began
to sing an old Kirghiz song about a lover who rode in the moonlight to
his maid and what he found when he got there. Lur laughed, and put her
hand over my
"Quiet, Dwayanu! There still is danger." Then I realized that I
hadn't been singing the Kirghiz at all, but the Uighur, which was
probably where the Kirghiz got it from. And then it occurred to me
that I had never heard the song in the Uighur. It started the old
problem going in my mind—and that lasted no longer than the memory of
Now and then I caught a glimpse of the white river. And then we
went over a long stretch where the road narrowed so that we rode
single file between verdure- covered cliffs. When we came out of them,
the road forked. One part of it ran right on, the other turned
sharply to the left. We rode along this for three or four miles,
apparently directly through the heart of the strange forest. The great
trees spread their arms out far overhead ; the candelabras and
cressets and swaying ropes of blooms gleamed like ghosts of flowers in
the pallid light; the scaled trees were like men-at-arms on watch.
And the heady fragrances, the oddly stimulating exhalations were
strong—strong. They throbbed from the forest, rhythmically, as though
they were the pulse of its life-drunken heart.
And as we came to the end of that road and I looked down upon the
Lake of the Ghosts.
Never, I think, in all the world was there such a place of
breath-taking, soul-piercing, unearthly beauty as that lake beneath
the mirage in which Lur the Witch-woman had her home. And had she not
been Witch-woman before she dwelt there, it must have made her so.
It was shaped like an arrow-head, its longer shores not more than
a mile in, length. It was enclosed by low hills whose sides were
covered with the tree-ferns ; their feathery fronds clothed them as
though they were the breasts of gigantic birds of Paradise ; threw
themselves up from them like fountains ; soared over them like vast
virescent wings. The colour of its water was pale emerald, and like
an emerald it gleamed, placid, untroubled. But beneath that untroubled
surface there was movement— luminous circles of silvery green that
spread swiftly and vanished, rays that laced and interlaced in
fantastic yet ordered, geometric forms; luminous spirallings, none of
which ever came quite to the surface to disturb its serenity. And
here and there were clusters of soft lights, like vapor-
ous rubies, misted sapphires and opals and glimmering
pearls—witch-lights. The luminous lilies of the Lake of the Ghosts.
Where the point of the arrow-head touched, there were no ferns. A
broad waterfall spread itself like a veil over the face of the cliff,
whispering as it fell. Mists rose there, mingling with the falling
water, dancing slowly with the falling water, swaying toward it and
reaching up with ghostly hands as though to greet it. And from the
shores of the lake, other wraiths of mist would rise, and glide
swiftly over the emerald floor and join those other dancing, welcoming
wraiths of the waterfall. Thus first I saw the Lake of the Ghosts
under the night of the mirage, and it was no less beautiful in the
The road ran out into the lake like the shaft of an arrow. At its
end was what once, I supposed, had been a small island. It lay
two-thirds of the way across. Over its trees were the turrets of a
We walked our horses down the steep to the narrowing of the road
where it became the shaft of the arrow. Here there were no ferns to
hide the approach; they had been cleared away and the breast of the
hill was covered with the blue flowerets. As we reached the narrow
part, I saw that it was a causeway, built of stone. The place to
which we were going was still an island. We came to the end of the
causeway, and there was a forty-foot gap between it and a pier on the
opposite shore. Lur drew from her girdle a small horn and sounded it.
A draw- bridge began to creak, and to drop down over the gap. We rode
across that and into a garrison of her women. We cantered up a winding
road, and I heard the creak of the lifting bridge as we went. We drew
up before the house of the Witch-woman.
I looked at it with interest, not because it was unfamiliar, for
it was not, but I was thinking I had never seen a castle of its sort
built of that peculiar green stone
nor with so many turrets. Yes, I knew them well. "Lady castles,"
we had called them ; lana'rada, bowers for favourite women, a place to
rest, a place to love after war or when weary of statecraft.
Women came and took the horses. Wide doors of polished wood swung
open. Lur led me over the thres- hold.
Girls came forward with wine. I drank thirstily. The queer
light-headedness, and the sense of detachment were growing. I seemed
to have awakened from a long, long sleep, and was not thoroughly awake
and troubled by memories of dreams. But I was sure that they had not
all been dreams. That old priest who had awakened me in the desert
which once had been fertile Ayjirland— he had been no dream. Yet the
people among whom I had awakened bad not been Ayjirs. This was not
Ayjir- land, yet the people were of the ancient breed! How had I
gotten here? I must have fallen asleep again in the temple
after—after—by Zarda, but I must feel my way a bit! Be cautious. Then
would follow a surge of reck- kssness that swept away all thought of
caution, a roaring relish of life, a wild freedom as of one who, long
in prison, sees suddenly the bars broken and before him the table of
life spread with all he has been denied, to take as he wills. 'And on
its heels a flash of recognition that I was Leif Langdon and knew
perfectly well how I came to be in this place and must some way,
somehow, get back to Evalie and to Jim. Swift as the lightning were
those latter flashes, and as brief.
I became aware that I was no longer in the castle's hall but in a
smaller chamber, octagonal, casemented, tapestried. There was a wide,
low bed. There was a table glistening with gold and crystal; tall
candles burned upon it. My blouse was gone, and in its place a light
silken tunic. The casements were open and the fragrant air sighed
through them. I leaned from one.
Below me were the lesser turrets and the roof of the castle. Far
below was the lake. I looked through another. The waterfall with its
beckoning wraiths whispered and murmured not a thousand feet away.
I felt the touch of a hand on my head ; it slipped down to my
shoulder; I swung round. The Witch-woman was beside me.
For the first time I seemed to be realizing her beauty, seemed for
the first time to be seeing her clearly. Her russet hair was braided
in a thick coronal; it shone like reddest gold, and within it was
twisted a strand of sapphires. Her eyes outshone them. Her scanty robe
of gossamer blue revealed every lovely, sensuous line of her. White
shoulders and one of the exquisite breasts were bare. Her full red
lips promised—anything, and even the subtle cruelty stamped upon them,
There had been a dark girl ... who had she been . . . Ev—Eval—the
name eluded me ... no matter . . . she was like a wraith beside this
woman . . . like one of the mist wraiths swaying at the feet of the
waterfall. . . .
The Witch-woman read what was in my eyes. Her hand slipped from my
shoulder and rested on my heart. She bent closer, blue eyes
languorous—yet strangely intent.
"And are you truly Dwayanu?"
"I am he—none else, Lur."
"Who was Dwayanu—long and long and long ago?"
"I cannot tell you that, Lur—I who have been long asleep and in
sleep forgotten much. Yet—I am he."
"Then look—and remember."
Her hand left my heart and rested on my head; she pointed to the
waterfall. Slowly its whispering changed. It became the beat of drums,
the trample of horses, the tread of marching men. Louder and louder
they grew. The waterfall quivered, and spread across the black cliff
like a gigantic curtain. From every side the mist wraiths
were hurrying, melting into it. Clearer and nearer sounded the
drums. And suddenly the waterfall vanished. In its place was a great
walled city. Two armies were fighting there and I knew that the forces
which were attacking the city were being borne back. I heard the
thunder of the hoofs of hundreds of horses. Down upon the defenders
raced a river of mounted men. Their leader was clothed in shining
mail. He was helmet- less, and his yellow hair streamed behind him as
he rode. He turned his face. And that face was my own! I heard a
roaring shout of . "Dwayanu!" The charge struck like a river in spate,
rolled over the defenders, submerged them.
I saw an army in rout, and smashed by companies with the throwing
I rode with the yellow-haired leader into the conquered city. And
I sat with him on a conquered throne while ruthlessly, mercilessly, he
dealt death to men and women dragged before him, and smiled at the
voices of rapine and pillage rising from without. I rode and sat with
him, I say, for now it was no longer as though I were in the
Witch-woman's chamber but was with this yellow- haired man who was my
twin, seeing as he did, hearing as he did—yes, and thinking as he
Battle upon battle, tourneys and feasts and triumphs, hunts with
the falcons and hunts with great dogs in fair Ayjirland, hammer-play
and anvil-play—I saw them, standing always beside Dwayanu like an
unseen shadow. I went with him to the temples when he served the gods.
I went with him to the Temple of the Dissolver—Black Khalk'ru, the
Greater-than-Gods—and he wore the ring which rested on my breast. But
when he passed within Khalk'ru's temple, I held back. The same deep,
stubborn resistance which had halted me when I had visioned the
portal of the oasis temple halted me now. I listened to two voices.
One urged me to enter with Dwayanu.
The other whispered that I must not. And that voice I could not
And then, abruptly, Ayjirland was no more! I was staring out at
the waterfall and gliding mist wraiths. But—I was Dwayanu!
I was all Dwayanu! Leif Langdon had ceased to exist!
Yet he had left memories—memories which were like half-remembered
dreams, memories whose source I could not fathom but realized that,
even if only dreams, were true ones. They told me the Ayjirland I had
ruled had vanished as utterly as had the phantom Ayjirland of the
waterfall, that dusty century upon century had passed since them,
that other empires had risen and fallen, that here was an alien land
with only a dying fragment of the ancient glory.
Warrior-king and warrior-priest I had been, holding in my hands
empire and the lives and destinies of a race.
And now—no more!
CHAPTER XVI. KISSES OF LUR
BLACK sorrow and the bitter ashes were in my heart when I turned
from the window. I looked at Lur. From long slim feet to shining head
I looked at her, and the black sorrow lightened and the bitter ashes
I put my hands on her shoulders and laughed. Luka had spun her
wheel and sent my empire flying off its rim like dust from the
potter's. But she had left me something. In all old Ayjirland there
had been few women like this.
Praise Luka! A sacrifice to her next morning if this woman proves
what I think her!
My vanished empire! What of it? I would build another. Enough that
I was alive!
Again I laughed. I put my hand under Lur's chin, raised her face
to mine, set my lips against hers. She thrust me from her. There was
anger in her eyes—but there was doubt under the anger.
"You bade me remember. Well, I have remembered. Why did you open
the gates of memory. Witch-woman, unless you had made up your mind to
abide by what came forth? Or did you know less of Dwayanu than you
She took a step back ; she said, furiously :
"I give my kisses. None takes them."
I caught her in my arms, crushed her mouth to mine, then released
"I take them."
I struck down at her right wrist. There was a dagger
in her hand. I was amused, wondering where she had hidden it. I
wrenched it from her grip and slipped it m my girdle.
"And draw the stings from those I kiss. Thus did Dwayanu in the
days of old and thus he does to-day."
She stepped back and back, eyes dilated. Ai! but I could read her!
She had thought me other than I was, thought me hare-brain, imposter,
trickster. And it had been in her mind to trick me, to bend me to her
will. To beguile me. Me—Dwayanu, who knew women as I knew war! And
She was very beautiful . . . and she was all I had in this alien
land to begin the building of my rule. I summed her up as she stood
staring at me. I spoke, and my words were as cold as my thoughts.
"Play no more with daggers—nor with me. Call your servants. I am
hungry and I thirst. When I have eaten and drunk we will talk."
She hesitated, then clapped her hands. Women came in with steaming
dishes, with ewers of wine, with fruits. I ate ravenously. I drank
deeply. I ate and drank, thinking little of Lur—but thinking much of
what her sorcery had made me see, drawing together what I remembered
from desert oasis until now. It was little enough. I ate and drank
silently. I felt her eyes upon me. I looked into them and smiled.
"You thought to make me slave to your will, Lur. Never think it
She dropped her head between her hands and gazed at me across the
"Dwayanu died long and long ago. Can the leaf that has withered
"I am he, Lur."
She did not answer.
"What was in your thought when you brought me here, Lur?"
"I am weary of Tibur, weary of his laughter, weary of his
"I tire of Yodin. You and I—alone—could rule Karak, if——"
"That 'if is the heart of it. Witch-woman. What is it?"
She arose, leaned toward me.
"If you can summon Khalk'ru!"
"And if I cannot?"
She shrugged her white shoulders, dropped back into her chair. I
"In which case Tibur will not be so wearisome, and Yodin may be
tolerated. Now listen to me, Lur. Was it your voice I heard urging me
to enter Khalk'ru's temples? Did you see as I was seeing? You need not
answer. I read you, Lur. You would be rid of Tibur. Well, perhaps I
can kill him. You would be rid of Yodin. Well, no matter who I am, if
I can summon the Greater- than-Gods, there is no need of Yodin. Tibur
and Yodin gone, there would be only you and me. You think you could
rule me. You could not, Lur."
She had listened quietly, and quietly now she answered.
"All that is true——"
She hesitated; her eyes glowed; a rosy flush swept over bosom and
"Yet—there might be another reason why I took you——"
I did not ask her what that other reason might be;
women had tried to snare me with that ruse before. Her gaze
dropped from me, the cruelty on the red mouth stood out for an
"What did you promise Yodin, Witch-woman?"
She arose, held out her arms to me, her voice trembled——
"Are you less than man—that you can speak to me
so! Have I not offered you power, to share with me? Am I not
beautiful—am I not desirable?"
"Very beautiful, very desirable. But always I learned the traps my
city concealed before I took it."
Her eyes shot blue fires at that. She took a swift step toward the
door. I was swifter. I held her, caught the hand she raised to strike
"What did you promise the High-priest, Lur?"
I put the point of the dagger at her throat. Her eyes blazed at
me, unafraid. Luka—turn your wheel so I need not slay this woman!
Her straining body relaxed ; she laughed.
"Put away the dagger, I will tell you."
I released her, and walked back to my chair. She studied me from
her place across the table; she said, half incredulously:
"You would have killed me!"
"Yes," I told her.
"I believe you. Whoever you may be. Yellow-hair— there is no man
like you here."
"Whoever I may be—Witch?"
She stirred impatiently.
"No further need for pretence between us." There was anger in her
voice. "I am done with lies—better for both if you be done with them
too. Whoever you are—you are not Dwayanu. I say again that the
withered leaf cannot turn green nor the dead return."
"If I am not he, then whence came those memories you watched with
me not long ago? Did they pass from your mind to mine. Witch-woman—or
from my mind to yours?"
She shook her head, and again I saw a furtive doubt cloud her
"I saw nothing. I meant you to see—something. You eluded me.
Whatever it was you saw—I had no part in it. Nor could I bend you to
my will. I saw nothing."
"I saw the ancient land, Lur."
She said, sullenly:
"I could go no farther than its portal."
"What was it you sent me into Ayjirland to find for Yodin,
"Khalk'ru," she answered evenly.
"Because then I would have known surely, beyond all doubt, whether
you could summon him. That was what I promised Yodin to discover."
"And if I could summon him?"
"Then you were to be slain before you had opportunity."
"And if I could not?"
"Then you would be offered to him in the temple."
"By Zarda!" I swore. "Dwayanu's welcome is not like what he had of
old when he went visiting—or, if you prefer it, the hospitality you
offer a stranger is no thing to encourage travellers. Now do I see eye
to eye with you in this matter of eliminating Tibur and the priest.
But why should I not begin with you. Witch?"
She leaned back, smiling.
"First—because it would do you no good. Yellow-hair. Look."
She beckoned me to one of the windows. From it I could see the
causeway and the smooth hill upon which we had emerged from the
forest. There were soldiers all along the causeway and the top of the
hill held a com- pany of them. I felt that she was quite right—even I
could not get through them unscathed. The old cold rage began to rise
within me. She watched me, with mockery in her eyes.
"And second—" she said. "And second—well, hear me. Yellow-hair."
I poured wine, raised the goblet to her, and drank. She said:
"Life is pleasant in this land. Pleasant at least for
those of us who role it. I have no desire to change it— except in
the matter of Tibur and Yodin. And another matter of which we can talk
later. I know the world has altered since long and long ago our
ancestors fled from Ayjirland. I know there is life outside this
sheltered place to which Khalk'ru led those ancestors. Yodin and
Tibur know it, and some few more. Others guess it. But none of us
desires to leave this pleasant place—nor do we desire it invaded.
Particularly have we no desire to have our people go from it. And this
many would attempt if they knew there were green fields and woods and
running water and a teeming world of men beyond us. For through the
uncounted years they have been taught that in all the world there is
no life save here. That Khalk'ru, angered by the Great Sacrilege when
Ayjirland rose in revolt and destroyed his temples, then destroyed
all life except here, and that only by Khalk'ru's sufferance does it
here exist—and shall persist only so long as he is offered the ancient
Sacrifice. You follow me. Yellow-hair."
"The prophecy of Dwayanu is an ancient one. He was the greatest of
the Ayjir kings. He lived a hundred years or more before the Ayjirs
began to turn their faces from Khalk'ru, to resist the Sacrifice—and
the desert in punishment began to waste the land. And as the unrest
grew, and the great war which was to destroy the Ayjirs brewed, the
prophecy was born. That he would return to restore the ancient glory.
No new story. Yellow-hair. Others have had their Dwayanus—the
Redeemer, the Liberator, the Loosener of Fate—or so I have read in
those rolls our ancestors carried with them when they fled. I do not
believe these stories ; new Dwayanus may arise, but the old ones do
not return. Yet the people know the prophecy, and the people will
believe anything that promises them freedom from something they do not
like. And it is from the people that the sacrifices to Khalk'ru
are taken—and they do not like the Sacrifice. But because they fear
what might come if there were no more sacrifices—they endure them.
"And now. Yellow-hair—we come to you. When first I saw you, heard
you shouting that you were Dwayanu, I took council with Yodin and
Tibur. I thought you then from Sirk. Soon I knew that could not be.
There was another with you——"
"Another?" I asked, in genuine surprise.
She looked at me, suspiciously.
"You have no memory of him?"
"No. I remember seeing you. You had a white falcon. There were
other women with you. I saw you from the river."
She leaned forward, gaze intent.
"You remember the Rrrllya—the Little People? A dark girl who calls
Little People—a dark girl—Evalie? Yes, I did remember something of
them—but vaguely. They had been in those dreams I had forgotten,
perhaps. No— they had been real ... or had they?
"Faintly, I seem to remember something of them, Lur. Nothing
She stared at me, a curious exultation in her eyes.
"No matter," she said. "Do not try to think of them. You were
not—awake. Later we will speak of them. They are enemies. No
matter—follow me now. If you were from Sirk, posing as Dwayanu, you
might be a rallying point for our discontented. Perhaps even the
leader they needed. If you were from outside—you were still more
dangerous, since you could prove us liars. Not only the people, but
the soldiers might rally to you. And probably would. What was there
for us to do but to kill you?"
"Nothing," I answered. "I wonder now you did not when you had the
"You had complicated matters," she said. "You had shown the ring.
Many had seen it, many had heard you call yourself Dwayanu——"
Ah, yes! I remember now—I had come up from the river. How had I
gotten into the river? The bridge— Nansur—something had happened there
... it was all misty, nothing clear-cut . . . the Little People . . .
yes, I remembered something of them ... they were afraid of me ...
but I had nothing against them . . . vainly I tried to sort the vague
visions into some pattern. Lur's voice recalled my wandering thoughts.
"And so," she was saying, "I made Yodin see that it was not well
to slay you outright. It would have been known, and caused too much
unrest—strengthened Sirk for one thing. Caused unrest among the
soldiers. What —Dwayanu had come and we had slain him!
" 'I will take him,' I told Yodin. 'I do not trust Tibur who, in
his stupidity and arrogance, might easily destroy us all. There is a
better way. Let Khalk'ru eat him and so prove us right and him the
liar and braggart. Then not soon will another come shouting that he is
"So the High-priest does not think me Dwayanu, either?"
"Less even than I do. Yellow-hair," she said, smiling. "Nor Tibur.
But who you are, and whence you came, and how and why—that puzzles
them as it does me. You look like the Ayjir—it means nothing. You have
the ancient marks upon your hands—well, granted you are of the
ancient blood. So has Tibur—and he is no Redeemer," again her laughter
rang like little bells, "You have the ring. Where did you find it.
Yellow- hair? For you know little of its use. Yodin found that out.
When you were in sleep. And Yodin saw you turn
colour and half turn to flee when first you saw Khalk'ru in his
chamber. Deny it not. Yellow-hair. I saw it myself. Ah, no—Yodin has
little fear of a rival with the Dissolver. Yet—he is not wholly
certain. There is the faintest shadow of doubt. I played on that. And
so— you are here."
I looked at her with frankest admiration, again raised the goblet
and drank to her. I clapped my hands, and the serving girls entered.
"Clear the table.' Bring wine."
They came with fresh ewers and goblets. When they had gone out I
went over to the door. There was a heavy bar that closed it. I thrust
it down. I picked up one of the ewers and half emptied it.
"I can summon the Dissolver, Witch-woman."
She drew in her breath, sharply; her body trembled;
the blue fires of her eyes were bright—bright.
"Shall I show you?"
I took the ring from the locket, slipped it on my thumb, raised my
hands in the beginning of the saluta- tion——
A cold breath seemed to breathe through the room. The Witch-woman
sprang to me, dragged down my hand. Her lips were white.
"No!--No! I believe—Dwayanu!"
I laughed. The strange cold withdrew, stealthily.
"And now. Witch, what will you tell the priest?"
The blood was slowly coming back into her lips and face. She
lifted the ewer and drained it. Her hand was steady. An admirable
"I will tell him that you are powerless."
"I will summon the Dissolver. I will kill Tibur. I will kill
Yodin—what else is there?"
She came to me, stood with breast touching mine.
"Destroy Sirk. Sweep the dwarfs away. Then you and I shall
I drank more wine.
"I will summon Khalk'ru ; I will eliminate Tibur and the priest; I
will sack Sirk and I will war against the dwarfs—if——"
She looked into my eyes, long and long; her arm stole round my
shoulder . . .
I thrust out a hand and swept away the candles. The green darkness
of the mirage night seeped through the casements. The whispering of
the waterfall was soft laughter.
"I take my pay in advance," I said. "Such was Dwayanu's way of
old—and am I not Dwayanu?"
"Yes!" whispered the Witch-woman.
She took the strand of sapphires from her hair, she unbraided her
coronal and shook loose its russet-gold. Her arms went round my neck.
Her lips sought mine and clung to them.
There was the beat of horses' hoofs on the causeway. A distant
challenge. A knocking at the door. The Witch-woman awakened, sat
sleepily up under the silken tent of her hair.
"Is it you, Ouarda?"
"Yes, mistress. A messenger from Tibur."
"Tell him you are busy with your gods, Lur."
She bent her head over mine so that the silken tent of it covered
"Tell him I am busy with the gods, Ouarda. He may stay till
morning—or return to Tibur with the message."
She sank back, pressed her lips to mine——
By Zarda! But it was as it was of old—enemies to slay, a city to
sack, a nation to war with and a woman's soft arms around me.
I was well content!
BOOK OF DWAYANU
CHAPTER XVII. ORDEAL BY KHALK'RU
TWICE the green night had filled the bowl of the land beneath the
mirage while I feasted and drank with Lur and her women. Sword-play
there had been, and the hammer-play and wrestling. They were warriors
—these women! Tempered steel under silken skins, they pressed me hard
now and again—strong as I was, quick as I might be. If Sirk were
soldiered by such as these, it would be no easy conquest.
By the looks they gave me and by soft whispered words I knew I
need not be lonely if Lur rode off to Karak. But she did not; she was
ever at my side, and no more messengers came from Tibur; or if they
did I did not know it. She had sent secret word to the High- priest
that he had been right—I had no power to summon the
Greater-than-Gods—that I was either imposter or mad. Or so she told
me. Whether she had lied to him or, lied now to me I did not know and
did not greatly care. I was too busy—living.
Yet no more did she call me Yellow-hair. Always it was Dwayanu.
And every art of love of hers—and she was no novice, the
Witch-woman—she used to bind me tighter to her.
It was early dawn of the third day; I was leaning from the
casement, watching the misty jewel-fires of the luminous lilies fade,
the mist wraiths that were the slaves of the waterfall rise slowly and
more slowly. I thought Lur asleep. I heard her stir, and turned. She
was sitting up, peering at me through the red veils of her hair. She
looked all Witch-woman then. . . .
"A messenger came to me last night from Yodin. To-day you pray to
A thrill went through me ; the blood sang in my ears. Always had I
felt so when I must evoke the Dissolver— a feeling of power that
surpassed even that of victory. Different—a sense of inhuman power and
pride. And with it a deep anger, revolt against this Being which was
Life's enemy. This demon that fed on Ayjirland's flesh and blood—and
soul. She was watching me. "Are you afraid, Dwayanu?" I sat beside
her, parted the veils of her hair. "Was that why your kisses were
doubled last night, Lur? Why they were so—tender? Tenderness, Witch-
woman, becomes you—but it sits strangely on you. Were you afraid? For
me? You soften me, Lur!" Her eyes flashed, her face flushed at my
laughter. "You do not believe I love you, Dwayanu?" "Not so much as
you love power. Witch-woman." "You love me?"
"Not so much as I love power. Witch-woman," I answered, and
She studied me with narrowed eyes. She said :
"There is much talk in Karak of you. It grows menacing. Yodin
regrets that he did not kill you when he could have—but knows full
well the case might be worse if he had. Tibur regrets he did not kill
you when you came up from the river—urges that no more time be lost
in doing so. Yodin has declared you a false prophet and has promised
that the Greater-than-Gods will prove you so. He believes what I have
told you—or perhaps he has a hidden sword. You"—faint mockery crept
into her voice—"you, who can read me so easily, surely can read him
and guard against it! The people murmur;
there are nobles who demand you be brought forth ; and the
soldiers would follow Dwayanu eagerly—if they
believed you truly he. They are restless. Tales spread. You have
grown exceedingly—inconvenient. So you face Khalk'ru to-day."
"If all that be true," I said, "it occurs to me that I may not
have to evoke the Dissolver to gain rule."
"It was not your old cunning which sent that thought. You will be
closely guarded. You would be slain before you could rally a dozen
round you. Why not—since there would then be nothing to lose by
killing you? And perhaps something to be gained. Besides—what of your
promises to me?"
I thrust my arm around her shoulders, lifted and kissed her.
"As for being slain—well, I would have a thing to say to that. But
I was jesting, Lur. I keep my promises."
There was the galloping of horses on the causeway, the jangle of
accoutrement, the rattle of kettle-drums. I went over to the window.
Lur sprang from the bed and stood beside me. Over the causeway was
coming a troop of a hundred or more horsemen. From their spears
floated yellow pennons bearing the black symbol of Khalk'ru. They
paused at the open drawbridge. At their head I recognized Tibur, his
great shoulders covered by a yellow cloak, and on his breast the
"They come to take you to the temple. I must let them pass."
"Why not?" I asked, indifferently. "But I'll go to no temple until
I've broken my fast."
I looked again toward Tibur.
"And if I ride beside the Smith, I would you had a coat of mail to
"You ride beside me," she said. "And as for weapons, you shall
have your pick. Yet there is nothing to fear on the way to the
temple—it is within it that danger dwells."
"You speak too much of fear, Witch-woman," I said, frowning.
"Sound the horn. Tibur may think I am loath to meet him. And that I
would not have him believe."
She sounded the signal to the garrison at the bridge. I heard it
creaking as I bathed. And soon the horses were trampling before the
door of the castle. Lur's tire- woman entered, and with her she
I dressed leisurely. On my way to the great hall I stopped at the
chamber of weapons. There was a sword there I had seen and liked. It
was of the weight to which I was accustomed, and long and curved and
of metal excellent as any I had ever known in Ayjirland. I weighed it
in my left hand and took a lighter one for my right. I recalled that
someone had told me to beware of Tibur's left hand ... ah, yes, the
woman soldier. I laughed—well, let Tibur beware of mine. I took a
hammer, not so heavy as the Smith's . . . that was his vanity . . .
there was more control to the lighter sledges ... I fastened to my
forearm the strong strap that held its thong. Then I went down to meet
There were a dozen of the Ayjir nobles in the hall, mostly men.
Lur was with them. I noticed she had posted her soldiers at various
vantage points, and that they were fully armed. I took that for
evidence of her good faith, although it somewhat belied her assurance
to me that I need fear no danger until I had reached the temple. I
had no fault to find in Tibur's greeting. Nor with those of the
others. Except one. There was a man beside the Smith almost as tall as
myself. He had cold blue eyes and in them the singular expressionless
stare that marks the born killer of men. There was a scar running
from left temple to chin, and his nose had been broken. The kind of
man, I reflected, whom in the olden days I would have set over some
peculiarly rebellious tribe. There was an arrogance about him that
me, but I held it down. It was not in my thoughts to provoke any
conflict at this moment. I desired to raise no suspicions in the mind
of the Smith. My greetings to him and to the others might be said to
have had almost a touch of apprehension, of conciliation.
I maintained that attitude while we broke fast and drank. Once it
was difficult. Tibur leaned toward the scar-face, laughing.
"I told you he was taller than you, Rascha. The grey stallion is
The blue eyes ran over me, and my gorge rose.
"The stallion is yours."
Tibur leaned toward me.
"Rascha the Back-breaker, he is named. Next to me, the strongest
in Karak. Too bad you must meet the Greater-than-Gods so quickly. A
match between you two would be worth the seeing."
Now my rage swelled up at this, and my hand dropped to my sword,
but I managed to check it, and answered with a touch of eagerness.
"True enough—perhaps that meeting may be deferred ..."
Lur frowned and stared at me, but Tibur snapped at the bait, his
eyes gleaming with malice.
"No—there is one that may not be kept waiting. But after—perhaps
His laughter shook the table. The others joined in it. The
scar-face grinned. By Zarda, but this is not to be borne! Careful,
Dwayanu, thus you tricked them in the olden days—and thus you shall
trick them now /
I drained my goblet, and another. I joined them in their
laughter—as though I wondered why they laughed. But I sealed their
faces in my memory.
We rode over the causeway with Lur at my right and a close
half-circle of her picked women covering us.
Ahead of us went Tibur and the Back-breaker with a dozen of
Tibur's strongest. Behind us came .the troop with the yellow pennons,
and behind them another" troop of the Witch-woman's guards.
I rode with just the proper touch of dejection. Now and then the
Smith and his familiars looked 'back at me. And I would hear, their
laughter. The Witch-woman rode as silently as I. She glanced at me
askance, and when that happened I dropped my head a little lower.
The black citadel loomed ahead of us. We entered the city. By that
time the puzzlement in Lur's eyes had changed almost to contempt, the
laughter of the Smith become derisive.
The streets were crowded with the people of Karak. And now I
sighed, and seemed to strive to arouse myself from my dejection, but
still rode listlessly. And Lur bit her lip, and drew close to me,
"Have you tricked me. Yellow-hair? You go like a dog already
I turned my head from her that she might not see my face. By Luka,
but it was hard to stifle my own laughter!
There were whisperings, murmurings, among the crowd. There were no
shouts, no greetings. Everywhere were the soldiers, sworded and armed
with the hammers, spears and pikes ready. There were archers. The
High- priest was taking no chances.
Nor was I.
It was no intention of mine to precipitate a massacre. None to
give Tibur slightest excuse to do away with me, turn spears and arrow
storm upon me. Lur had thought my danger not on my way to the temple,
but when within it. I knew the truth was the exact opposite.
So it was no conquering hero, no redeemer, no splendid warrior
from the past who rode through Karak that day. It was a man not sure
of himself—or better, too sure of
what was in store for him. The people who had waited and watched
for Dwayanu felt that—and murmured, or were silent. That well pleased
the Smith. And it well pleased me, who by now was as eager to meet
Khalk'ru as any bridegroom his bride. And was taking no risks of
being stopped by sword or hammer, spear or arrow before I could.
And ever the' frown on the face of the Witch-woman grew darker,
and stronger the contempt and fury in her eyes.
We skirted the citadel, and took a broad road leading back to the
cliffs. We galloped along this, pennons flying, drums rolling. We came
to a gigantic doorway in the cliff—many times had I gone through such
a door as that! I dismounted, hesitatingly. Half-reluctantly, I let
myself be led through it by Tibur and Lur and into a small rock-hewn
They left me, without a word. I glanced about. Here were the
chests that held the sacrificial garments, the font of purification,
the vessels for the anointing of the evoker of Khalk'ru.
The door opened. I looked into the face of Yodin.
There was vindictive triumph in it, and I knew he had met the
Smith and Witch-woman, and that they had told him how I had ridden. As
a victim to the Sacrifice! Well, Lur could tell him honestly what he
hoped was the truth. If she had the thought to betray me—had betrayed
me—she now believed me liar and braggart with quite as good reason as
Tibur and the others. If she had not betrayed me, I had backed her lie
Twelve lesser priests filed in behind him, dressed in the sacred
robes. The High-priest wore the yellow smock with the tentacles
entwined round him. The ring of Khalk'ru shone on his thumb.
"The Greater-than-Gods awaits your prayer, Dway- anu," he said.
"But first you must undergo purification."
I nodded. They busied themselves with the necessary rites. I
submitted to them awkwardly, like one not familiar with them, but as
one who plainly wished to be thought so. The malice in Yodin;s eyes
The rites were finished. Yodin took a smock like his own from a
chest and draped it on me. I waited.
"Your ring," he reminded me, sardonically. "Have you forgotten you
must wear the ring!"
I fumbled at the chain around my neck, opened the locket and
slipped the ring over my thumb. The lesser priests passed from the
chamber with their drums. I followed, the High-priest beside me. I
heard the clang of a hammer striking a great anvil. And knew it for
the voice of Tubalka, the oldest god, who had taught man to wed fire
and metal. Tubalka's recognition of, his saluta- tion and his homage
The olden exaltation, the ecstasy of dark power, was pouring
through me. Hard it was not to betray it. We came out of the passage
and into the temple.
Hail But they had done well by the Greater-than- Gods in this far
shrine! Vaster temple I had never beheld in Ayjirland. Cut from the
mountain's heart, as all Khalk'ru's abodes must be, the huge pillars
which bordered the amphitheatre struck up to a ceiling lost in
darkness. There were cressets of twisted metal and out of them sprang
smooth spirals of wan yellow flame. They burned steadily and
soundlessly; by their wan light I could see the pillars marching,
marching away as though into the void itself.
Faces were staring up at me from the amphitheatre- hundreds of
them. Women's faces under pennons and bannerets broidered with devices
of clans whose men had fought beside and behind me in many a bloody
battle. Gods—how few the men were here! They stared up at me, these
women faces . . . women-nobles, women- knights, women-soldiers. . . .
They stared up at me by
the hundreds . . . blue eyes ruthless . . . nor was there pity nor
any softness of woman in their faces . . . warriors they were. . . .
Good! Then not as women but as warriors would I treat them.
And now I saw that archers were posted on the borders of the
amphitheatre, bows in readiness, arrows at rest but poised, and the
bow-strings lined toward me.
Tibur's doings? Or the priest's—watchful lest I should attempt
escape? I had no liking for that, but there was no help for it. Luka,
Lovely Goddess—turn your wheel so no arrow flies before I begin the
I turned and looked for the mystic screen which was Khalk'ru's
doorway from the Void. It was a full hundred paces away from me, so
broad and deep was the platform of rock. Here the cavern had been
shaped into a funnel. The mystic screen was a gigantic disk, a score
of times the height of a tall man. Not the square of lucent yellow
through which, in the temples of the Motherland, Khalk'ru had become
corporeal. For the first time I felt a doubt —was this Being the same?
Was there other reason for the High-priest's malignant confidence than
his disbelief in me?
But there in the yellow field floated the symbol of the
Greater-than-Gods; his vast black body lay as though suspended in a
bubble-ocean of yellow space ; his tentacles spread like monstrous
rays of black stars and his dread- ful eyes brooded on the temple as
though, as always, they saw all and saw nothing. The symbol was
unchanged. The tide of conscious, dark power in my mind, checked for
that instant, resumed its upward flow.
And now I saw between me and the screen a semi- circle of women.
Young they were, scarce blossomed out of girlhood—but already in
fruit. Twelve of them I counted, each standing in the shallow hollowed
cup of sacrifice, the golden girdles of the sacrifice around their
waists. Over white shoulders, over young breasts, fell
the veils of their ruddy hair, and through those veils they looked
at me with blue eyes in which horror lurked. Yet though they could not
hide that horror in their eyes from me who was so close, they hid it
from those who watched us from beyond. They stood within the cups,
erect, proudly, defiant. Ai! but they were brave— those women of
Karak! I felt the olden pity for them;
stirring of the olden revolt.
In the centre of the semi-circle of women swung a thirteenth ring,
held by strong golden chains dropping from the temple's roof. It was
empty, the clasps of the heavy girdle open——
The thirteenth ring! The ring of the Warrior's Sacrifice! Open
I looked at the High-priest. He stood beside his priests squatting
at their drums. His gaze was upon me. Tibur stood at the edge of the
platform beside the anvil of Tubalka, in his hands the great sledge,
on his face reflection of the gloating on that of the High-priest. The
Witch-woman I could not see.
The High-priest stepped forward. He spoke into the dark vastness
of the temple where was the congregation of the nobles.
"Here stands one who comes to us calling himself— Dwayanu. If he
be Dwayanu, then will the Greater- than-Gods, mighty Khalk'ru, hear
his prayer and accept the Sacrifices. But if Khalk'ru be deaf to
him—he is proven cheat and liar. And Khalk'ru will not be deaf to me
who have served him faithfully. Then this cheat and liar swings within
the Warrior's Ring for Khalk'ru to punish as he wills. Hear me! Is it
From the depths of the temple came the voices of the witnesses.
"We hear! It is just!"
The High-priest turned to me as if to speak. But if that had been
his mind, he changed it. Thrice he raised
his staff of golden bells and shook them. Thrice Tibur raised the
hammer and smote the anvil of Tubalka.
Out of the depths of the temple came the ancient chant, the
ancient supplication which Khalk'ru had taught our forefathers when he
chose us from all the peoples of earth, forgotten age upon forgotten
age ago. I listened to it as to a nursery song. And Tibur's eyes never
left me, his hand on hammer in readiness to hurl and cripple if I
tried to flee ; nor did Yodin's gaze leave me.
The chant ended.
Swiftly I raised my hands in the ancient sign, and I did with the
ring what the ancient ritual ordered—and through the temple swept that
first breath of cold that was presage of the coming of Khalk'ru!
Hail The faces of Yodin and Tibur when they felt that breath!
Would that I could look on them! Laugh now, Tibur! Hai! but they could
not stop me now! Not even the Smith would dare hurl hammer nor raise
hand to loose arrow storm upon me! Not even Yodin would dare halt
I forgot all that. I forgot Yodin and Tibur. I forgot, as ever I
forgot, the Sacrifices in the dark exultation of the ritual.
The yellow stone wavered, was shot through with tremblings. It
became thin as air. It vanished.
Where it had been, black tentacles quivering, black body hovering,
vanishing into immeasurable space, was Khalk'ru!
Faster, louder, beat the drums.
The black tentacles writhed forward. The women did not see them.
Their eyes clung to me ... as though ... as though I held for them
some hope that flamed through their despair! I ... who had summoned
their destroyer. . . .
The tentacles touched them. I saw the hope fade and die. The
tentacles coiled round their shoulders. They
slid across their breasts. Embraced them. Slipped down their
thighs and touched their feet. The drums began their swift upward
flight into the crescendo of the Sacrifice's culmination.
The wailing of the women was shrill above the drums. Their white
bodies became grey mist. They became shadows. They were gone—gone
before the sound of their wailing had died. The golden girdles fell
clashing to the rock——
What was wrong? The ritual was ended. The Sacrifice accepted. Yet
Khalk'ru still hovered!
And the lifeless cold was creeping round me, was rising round me
A tentacle swayed and writhed forward. Slowly, slowly, it passed
the Warrior's Ring—came closer- closer——
It was reaching for me!
I heard a voice intoning. Intoning words more ancient than I had
ever known. Words? They were not words! They were sounds whose roots
struck back and back into a time before ever man drew breath.
It was Yodin—Yodin speaking in a tongue that might have been
Khalk'ru's own before ever life was!
Drawing Khalk'ru upon me by it! Sending me along the road the
Sacrifices had travelled!
I leaped upon Yodin. I caught him in my arms and thrust him
between me and the questing tentacle. I raised Yodin in my arms as
though he had been a doll and flung him to Khalk'ru. He went through
the tentacle as though it had been cloud. He struck the chains that
held the Warrior's Ring. He swung in them, entangled. He slithered
down upon the golden girdle.
Hands upraised, I heard myself crying to Khalk'ru those same
unhuman syllables. I did not know their meaning then, and do not know
them now—nor from whence knowledge of them came to me. . . .
I know they were sounds the throats and lips of men were never
meant to utter!
But Khalk'ru heard—and heeded! He hesitated. His eyes stared at
me, unfathomably—stared at and through me.
And then the tentacle curled back. It encircled Yodin. A thin
screeching—and Yodin was gone!
The living Khalk'ru was gone. Lucent yellow, the bubble-ocean
gleamed where he had been—the black shape floated inert within it.
I heard a tinkle upon the rock, the ring of Yodin rolling down the
side of the cup. I leaped forward and picked it up.
Tibur, hammer half raised, stood glaring at me beside the anvil. I
snatched the sledge from his hand, gave him a blow that sent him
I raised the hammer and crushed the ring of Yodin on the anvil!
From the temple came a thunderous shout——
CHAPTER XVIII. WOLVES OF LUR
I RODE through the forest with the Witch-woman. The white falcon
perched on her gauntleted wrist and cursed me with unwinking golden
eyes. It did not like me—Lur's falcon. A score of her women rode
behind us. A picked dozen of my own were shield for my back. They
rode close. So it was of old. I liked my back covered. It was my
sensitive part, whether with friends or foes.
The armourers had fashioned me a jacket of the light chain-mail. I
wore it; Lur and our little troop wore them; and each was as fully
armed as I with the two swords, the long dagger and the thonged
hammer. We were on our way to reconnoitre Sirk.
For five days I had sat on the throne of the High- priest, ruling
Karak with the Witch-woman and Tibur. Lur had come to me—penitent in
her own fierce fashion. Tibur, all arrogance and insolence evaporated,
had bent the knee, proffering me allegiance, protesting, reasonably
enough, that his doubts had been but natural. I accepted his
allegiance, with reservations. Sooner or later I would have to kill
Tibur—even if I had not promised Lur his death. But why kill him
before he ceased to be useful? He was a sharp-edged tool? Well, if he
cut me in my handling of him, it would be only my fault. Better a
crooked sharp knife than a straight dull one.
As for Lur—she was sweet woman flesh, and subtle. But did she
greatly matter? Not greatly—just then. There was a lethargy upon me, a
lassitude, as I rode beside her through the fragrant forest.
Yet I had received from Karak homage and acclaim more than enough
to soothe any wounded pride. I was the idol of the soldiers. I rode
through the streets to the shouts of the people, and mothers held
their babes up to look on me. But there were many who were silent when
I passed, averting their heads, or glancing at me askance with eyes
shadowed by furtive hatred and fear.
Dara, the bold-eyed captain who had warned me of Tibur, and Naral,
the swaggering girl who had given me her locket, I had taken for my
own and had made them officers of my personal guard. They were devoted
and amusing. I had spoken to Dara only that morning of those who
looked askance at me, asking why.
"You want straight answer. Lord?"
"Always that, Dara."
She said bluntly:
"They are the ones who looked for a Deliverer. One who would break
chains. Open doors. Bring freedom. They say Dwayanu is only another
feeder of Khalk'ru. His butcher. Like Yodin. No worse, maybe. No
I thought of that strange hope I had seen strangled in the eyes of
the sacrifices. They too had hoped me Deliverer, instead of ...
"What do you think, Dara?"
"I think as you think. Lord," she answered. "Only —it would not
break my heart to see the golden girdles broken."
And I was thinking of that as I rode along with Lur, her falcon
hating me with its unwinking glare. What was—Khalk'ru? Often and
often, long and long and long ago, I had wondered that. Could the
illimitable cast itself into such a shape as that which came to the
call of the wearer of the ring? Or rather—would it? My empire had
been widespread—under sun and moon and stars. Yet it was a mote in the
to the empire of the Spirit of the Void. Would one so great be
content to shrink himself within the mote?
Ai! but there was no doubt that the Enemy of Life was! But was
that which came to the summons of the ring—the Enemy of Life? And if
not—then was this dark worship worth its cost?
A wolf howled. The Witch-woman threw back her head and answered
it. The falcon stretched its wings, screaming. We rode from the forest
into an open glade, moss-carpeted. She halted, sent again from her
throat the wolf cry.
Suddenly around us was a ring of wolves. White wolves whose
glowing green eyes were fixed on Lur. They ringed us, red tongues
lolling, fangs glistening. A patter of pads, and as suddenly the
circle of wolves was doubled. And others slipped through the trees
until the circle was three-fold, four-fold . . . until it was a wide
belt of living white flecked by scarlet flames of wolf- tongues,
studded with glinting emeralds of wolf- eyes. . . .
My horse trembled ; I smelled its sweat.
Lur drove her knees into the sides of her mount and rode forward.
Slowly she paced it round the inner circle of the white wolves. She
raised her hand; something she said. A great dog-wolf arose from its
haunches and came toward her. Like a dog, it put its paws upon her
saddle. She reached down, caught its jowls in her hands. She
whispered to it. The wolf seemed to listen. It slipped back to the
circle and squatted, watching her. I laughed.
"Are you woman—or wolf, Lur?"
"I, too, have my followers, Dwayanu. You could not easily win
these from me."
Something in her tone made me look at her sharply. It was the
first time that she had shown resentment, or
at least chagrin, at my popularity. She did not meet my gaze.
The big dog-wolf lifted its throat and howled. The circles broke.
They spread out, padding swiftly ahead of us like scouts. They melted
into the green shadows.
The forest thinned. Giant ferns took the place of the trees. I
began to hear a curious hissing. Also it grew steadily warmer, and the
air filled with moisture, and mist wreaths floated over the ferns. I
could see no tracks, yet Lur rode steadily as though upon a well-
We came to a huge clump of ferns. Lur dropped from her horse.
"We go on foot here, Dwayanu. It is but a little way."
I joined her. The troop drew up but did not alight. The
Witch-woman and I slipped through the ferns for a score of paces. The
dog-wolf stalked just ahead of her. She parted the fronds. Sirk lay
At right arose a bastion of perpendicular cliff, dripping with
moisture, little of green upon it except small ferns clinging to
precarious root-holds. At left, perhaps four arrow flights away, was a
similar bastion, soaring into the haze. Between these bastions was a
level platform of black rock. Its smooth and glistening foundations
dropped into a moat as wide as two strong throws of a javelin. The
platform curved outward, and from cliff to cliff it was lipped with
one unbroken line of fortress.
Hai! But that was a moat! Out from under the right-hand cliff
gushed a torrent. It hissed and bubbled as it shot forth, and the
steam from it wavered over the cliff face like a great veil and fell
upon us in a fine warm spray. It raced boiling along the rock base of
the fortress, and jets of steam broke through it and immense bubbles
rose and burst, scattering showers of scalding spray.
The fortress itself was not high. It was squat and solidly built,
its front unbroken except for arrow slits close to the top. There was
a parapet across the top. Upon it I could see the glint of spears and
the heads of the guards. In only one part was there anything like
towers. These were close to the centre where the boiling moat
narrowed. Opposite them, on the farther bank, was a pier for a
drawbridge. I could see the bridge, a narrow one, raised and
protruding from between the two towers like a tongue.
Behind the fortress, the cliffs swept inward. They did not touch.
Between them was a gap about a third as wide as the platform of the
fortress. In front of us, on our side of the boiling stream, the
sloping ground had been cleared both of trees and ferns. It gave no
They had picked their spot well, these outlaws of Sirk. No
besiegers could swim that moat with its hissing jets of live steam and
bursting bubbles rising continually from the geysers at its bottom. No
stones nor trees could damn it, making a causeway over which to march
to batter at the fortress's walls. There was no taking of Sirk from
this side. That was clear. Yet there must be more of Sirk than this.
Lur had been following my eyes, reading my thoughts.
"Sirk itself lies beyond those gates," she pointed to the gap
between the cliffs. "It is a valley wherein is the city, the fields,
the herds. And there is no way into it except through those gates."
I nodded, absently. I was studying the cliffs behind the fortress.
I saw that these, unlike the bastions in whose embrace the platform
lay, were not smooth. There had been falls of rock, and these rocks
had formed rough terraces. If one could get to those terraces—unseen .
"Can we get closer to the cliff from which the torrent comes,
She caught my wrist, her eyes bright.
"What do you see, Dwayanu?"
"I do not know as yet. Witch-woman. Perhaps nothing. Can we get
closer to the torrent?"
We slipped out of the ferns, skirted them, the dog-wolf walking
stiff-legged in the lead, eyes and ears alert. The air grew hotter,
vapour-filled, hard to breathe. The hissing became louder. We crept
through the ferns, wet to the skins. Another step and I looked
straight down upon the boiling torrent. I saw now that it did not come
directly from the cliff. It shot up from beneath it, and its heat and
its exhalations made me giddy. I tore a strip from my tunic and
wrapped it around mouth and nose. I studied the cliff above it, foot
by foot. Long I studied it and long—and then I turned.
"We can go back, Lur."
"What have you seen, Dwayanu?"
What I had seen might be the end of Sirk—but I did not tell her
so. The thought was not yet fully born. It had never been my way to
admit others into half-formed plans. It is too dangerous. The bud is
more delicate than the flower and should be left to develop free from
prying hands or treacherous or even well-meant meddling. Mature your
plan and test it; then you can weigh with clear judgment any changes.
Nor was I ever strong for counsel; too many pebbles thrown into the
spring muddy it. That was one reason I was—Dwayanu. I said to Lur:
"I do not know. I have a thought. But I must weigh it."
She said, angrily :
"I am not stupid. I know war—as I know love. I could help-you."-
I said, impatiently :
"Not yet. When I have made my plan I will tell it to you."
She did not speak again until we were within sight of the waiting
women ; then she turned to me. Her voice was low, and very sweet:
"Will you not tell me? Are we not equal, Dwayanu?"
"No," I answered, and left her to decide whether that was answer
to the first question or both.
She mounted her horse, and we rode back through the forest.
I was thinking, thinking over what I had seen, and what it might
mean, when I heard again the howling of the wolves. It was a steady,
insistent howling. Sum- moning. The Witch-woman raised her head,
listened, then spurred her horse forward. I shot my own after her.
The white falcon fluttered, and beat up into the air, screeching.
We raced out of the forest and upon a flower-covered meadow. In
the meadow stood a little man. The wolves surrounded him, weaving
around and around one another in a witch-ring. The instant they caught
sight of Lur, they ceased their cry—squatted on their haunches. Lur
checked her horse and rode slowly toward them. I caught a glimpse of
her face, and it was hard and fierce.
I looked at the little man. Little enough he was, hardly above one
of my knees, yet perfectly formed. A little golden man with hair
streaming down almost to his feet. One of the Rrrllya—I had studied
the woven pictures of them on the tapestries, but this was the first
living one I had seen—or was it? I had a vague idea that once I had
been in closer contact with them than the tapestries.
The white falcon was circling round his head, darting down upon
him, striking at him with claws and beak. The little man held an arm
before his eyes, while the other was trying to beat the bird away. The
Witch-woman sent a shrill call to the falcon. It flew to her, and the
little man dropped his arms. His eyes fell upon me.
He cried out to me, held his arms out to me, like a child.
There was appeal in cry and gesture. Hope, too, and confidence. It
was like a frightened child calling to one whom it knew and trusted.
In his eyes I saw again the hope that I had watched die in the eyes of
the Sacrifices. Well, I would not watch it die in the eyes of the
I thrust my horse past Lur's, and lifted it over the barrier of
the wolves. Leaning from the saddle, I caught the little man up in my
arms. He clung to me, whisper- ing in strange trilling sounds.
I looked back at Lur. 'She had halted her horse beyond the wolves.
"Bring him to me!"
The little man clutched me tight, and broke into a rapid babble of
the strange sounds. Quite evidently he had understood, and quite as
evidently he was imploring me to do anything other than turn him over
to the Witch- woman.
I laughed, and shook my head at her. I saw her eyes blaze with
quick, uncontrollable fury. Let her rage! The little man should go
safe! I put my heels to the horse and leaped the far ring of wolves. I
saw not far away the gleam of the river, and turned my horse toward
The Witch-woman gave one wild, fierce cry. And then there was the
whirr of wings around my head, and the buffeting of wings about my
ears. I threw up a hand. I felt it strike the falcon, and I heard it
shriek with rage and pain. The little man shrank closer to me.
A white body shot up and clung for a moment to the pommel of my
saddle, green eyes glaring into mine, red mouth' slavering. I took a
quick glance back. The wolf pack was rushing down upon me, Lur at
their heels. Again the wolf leaped. But by this time I had drawn
my sword. I thrust it through the white wolf's throat. Another
leaped, tearing a strip from my tunic. I held the little man high up
in one arm and thrust again.
Now the river was close. And now I was on its bank. I lifted the
little man in both hands and hurled him far out into the water.
I turned, both swords in hand, to meet the charge of the wolves.
I heard another cry from Lur. The wolves stopped in their rush, so
suddenly that the foremost of them slid and rolled. I looked over the
river. Far out on it was the head of the little man, long hair
floating behind him, streaking for the opposite shore.
Lur rode up to me. Her face was white, and her eyes were hard as
blue jewels. She said in a strangled voice:
"Why did you save him?"
I considered that, gravely. I said :
"Because not twice would I see hope die in the eyes of one who
She watched me, steadily; and the white-hot anger did not abate.
"You have broken the wings of my falcon, Dwayanu."
"Which do you love best. Witch-woman—its wing or my eyes?"
"You have killed two of my wolves."
"Two wolves—or my throat, Lur?"
She did not answer. She rode slowly back to her women. But I had
seen tears in her eyes before she turned. They might have been of
rage—or they might not. But it was the first time I had ever seen Lur
With never a word to each other we rode back to Karak —she nursing
the wounded falcon, I thinking over what I had seen on the cliffs of
We did not stop at Karak. I had a longing for the quiet and beauty
of the Lake of the Ghosts. I told Lur
that. She assented indifferently, so we went straight on and came
to it just as the twilight was thickening. With the women, we dined
together in the great hall. Lur had shaken off her moodiness. If she
still felt wrath toward me, she hid it well. We were merry and I drank
much wine. The more I drank the clearer became my plan for the taking
of Sirk. It was a good plan. After awhile, I went up with Lur to her
tower and watched the waterfall and the beckoning mist wraiths, and
the plan became clearer still.
Then my mind turned back to that matter of Khalk'ru. And I thought
over that a long while. I looked up and found Lur's gaze intent upon
"What are you thinking, Dwayanu?"
"I am thinking that never again will I summon Khalk'ru."
She said, slowly, incredulously :
"You cannot mean that, Dwayanu!"
"I do mean it."
Her face whitened. She said :
"If Khalk'ru is not offered his Sacrifice, he will with- draw life
from this land. It will become desert, as did the Motherland when the
Sacrifices were ended."
I said :
, "Will it? That is what I have ceased to believe. Nor do I think
you believe it, Lur. In the olden days there was land upon land which
did not acknowledge Khalk'ru, whose people did not sacrifice to
Khalk'ru—yet they were not desert. And I know, even though I do not
know how I know, that there is land upon land to-day where Khalk'ru
is not worshipped—yet life teems in them. Even here—the Rrrllya, the
Little People, do not worship him. They hate him—or so you have told
me—yet the land over Nanbu is no less fertile than here."
She said :
"That was the whisper that went through the Mother-
land, long and long and long ago. It became louder— and the
Motherland became desert."
"There might liave been other reasons than Khalk'ru's wrath for
"What were they?"
"I do not know," I said. "But you have never seen the sun and moon
and stars. I have seen them. And a wise old man once told me that
beyond sun and moon were other suns with other earths circling them,
and upon them—life. The Spirit of the Void in which burn these suns
should be too vast to shrink itself to such littleness as that which,
in a little temple in this little comer of all earth, makes itself
manifest to us."
"Khalk'ru is! Khalk'ru is everywhere. He is in the tree that
withers, the spring that dries. Every heart is open to him. He touches
it—and there comes weariness of life, hatred of life, desire for
eternal death. He touches earth and there is sterile sand where
the flocks grow barren. Khalk'ru is."
I thought over that, and I thought it was true enough. But there
was a flaw in her argument.
"Nor do I deny that, Lur," I answered. "The Enemy of Life is. But
is what comes to the ritual of the ring— Khalk'ru?"
"What else? So it has been taught from ancient days."
"I do not know what else. And many things have been taught from
ancient days which would not stand the test. But I do not believe that
which comes is Khalk'ru, Soul of the Void, He-to-Whom-All-Life-Must-
Return and all the rest of his titles. Nor do I believe that if we
end the Sacrifices life will end here with them."
She said, very quietly :
"Hear me, Dwayanu. Whether that which comes to the Sacrifices be
Khalk'ru or another matters not at all
to me. All that matters is this : I do not want to leave this
land, and I would keep it unchanged. I have been happy here. I have
seen the sun and moon and stars. I have seen the outer earth in my
waterfall yonder. I would not go into it. Where would I find a place
so lovely as this my Lake of»the Ghosts? If the Sacrifices end, they
whom only fear keeps here will go. They will be followed by more and
more. The old life I love ends with the Sacrifices—surely. For if
desolation comes, we shall be forced to go. And if it does not come,
the people will know that they have been taught lies, and will go to
see whether what is beyond be not fairer, happier, than here. So it
has always been. I say to you, Dway- anu—it shall not be here!"
She waited for me to answer. I did not answer.
"If you do not wish to summon Khalk'ru, then why not choose
another in your place?"
I looked at her sharply. I was not ready to go quite that far as
yet. Give up the ring, with all its power!
"There is another reason, Dwayanu, than those you have given me.
What is it?"
I said, bluntly:
"There are many who call me feeder of Khalk'ru. Butcher for him. I
do not like that. Nor do I like to see--what I see—in the eyes of the
women I feed him."
"So that is it," she said, contemptuously. "Sleep has made you
soft, Dwayanu! Better tell me your plan to take Sirk and let me carry
it out! You have grown too tender-hearted for war, I think!"
That stung me, swept all my compunctions away. I jumped up,
knocking away the chair, half-raised my hand to strike her. She faced
me, boldly, no trace of fear in her eyes. I dropped my hand.
"But not so soft that you can mould me to your will, Witch," I
said. "Nor do I go back on my bargains. I have given you Yodin. I
shall give you Sirk, and all
else I have promised. Till then—let this matter of the Sacrifices
rest When shall I give you Tibur?"
She put her hands on my shoulders and smiled into my angry eyes.
She clasped her hands around my neck and brought my lips down to her
warm red ones.
"Now," she whispered, "you are Dwayanu! Now the one I love—ah,
Dwayanu, if you but loved me as I love you!"
Well, as for that, I loved her as much as I could any woman. . . .
After all, there was none like her. I swung her up and held her tight,
and the old recklessness, the old love of life poured through me.
"You shall have Sirk! And Tibur when you will."
She seemed to consider.
"Not yet," she said. "He is strong, and he has his followers. He
will be useful at Sirk, Dwayanu. Not before then—surely."
"It was precisely what I was thinking," I said. "On one thing at
least we agree."
"Let us have wine upon our peace," she said, and called to her
"But there is another thing also upon which we agree." She looked
at me strangely.
"What is it?" I asked.
"You yourself have said it," she answered—and more than that I
could not get her to say. It was long before I knew what she had
meant, and then it was too late. . . .
It was good wine. I drank more than I should have. But clearer and
clearer grew my plan for the taking of Sirk.
It was late next mqrning when I awoke. Lur was gone. I had slept
as though drugged. I had the vaguest memory of what had occurred the
night before, except that Lur and I had violently disagreed about
something. I thought of Khalk'ru not at all. I asked Ouarda where
Lur had gone. She said that word had been brought early that two
women set apart for the next Sacrifice had managed to escape. Lur
thought they were making their way to Sirk. She was hunting them with
the wolves. I felt irritated that she had not roused me and taken me
with her. I thought that I would like to see those white brutes of
hers in action. They were like the great dogs we had used in Ayjirland
to track similar fugitives.
I did not go into Karak. I spent the day at sword- play and
wrestling, and swimming in the Lake of the Ghosts—after my headache
had worn off.
Close toward nightfall Lur returned.
"Did you catch them?" I asked.
"No," she said. "They got to Sirk safely. We were just in time to
see them half-across the drawbridge."
I thought she was rather indifferent about it, but gave the matter
no further thought. And that night she was gay—and most tender toward
me. Sometimes so tender that I seemed to detect another emotion in her
kisses. It seemed to me that they were—regretful. And I gave that no
thought then either.
CHAPTER XIX. THE TAKING OF SIRK
AGAIN I rode through the forest toward Sirk, with Lur at my left
hand and Tibur beside her. At my back were my two captains, Dara and
Naral. Close at our heels came Ouarda, with twelve slim, strong girls,
fair skins stained strangely green and black, and naked except for a
narrow belt around their waists. Behind these rode four score of the
nobles with Tibur's friend Rascha at their head. And behind them
marched silently a full thousand of Karak's finest fighting women.
It was night. It was essential to reach the edge of the forest
before the last third of the stretch between midnight and dawn. The
hoofs of the horses were muffled so that no sharp ears might hear
their distant tread, and the soldiers marched in open formation,
noise- lessly. Five days had passed since I had first looked on the
They had been five days of secret, careful preparation. Only the
Witch-woman and the Smith knew what I had in mind. Secret as we had
been, the rumour had spread that we were preparing for a sortie
against the Rrrllya. I was well content with that. Not until we had
gathered to start did even Rascha, or so I believed, know that we
were headed toward Sirk. This so no word might be carried there to put
them on guard, for I knew well that those we menaced had many friends
in Karak— might have them among the ranks that slipped along behind
us. Surprise was the essence of my plan. There- fore the muffling of
the horses' hoofs. Therefore the march by night. Therefore the silence
as we passed
through the forest. And therefore it was that when we heard the
first howling of Lur's wolves the Witch-woman slipped from her horse
and disappeared in the luminous green darkness.
We halted, awaiting her return. None spoke; the howls were
stilled; she came from the trees and remounted. Like well-trained dogs
the white wolves spread ahead of us, nosing over the ground we still
must travel, ruthless scouts which no spy nor chance wanderer,
whether from or to Sirk, could escape.
I had desired to strike sooner than this, had chafed at the delay,
had been reluctant to lay bare my plan to Tibur. But Lur had pointed
out that if the Smith were to be useful at Sirk's taking he would have
to be trusted, and that he would be less dangerous if informed and
eager than if uninformed and suspicious. Well, that was true. And
Tibur was a first-class fighting man with strong friends.
So I had taken him into my confidence and told him what I had
observed when first I had stood with Lur beside Sirk's boiling
moat—the vigorously growing clumps of ferns which extended in an
almost unbroken, irregular line high up and across the black cliff,
from the forest on the hither side and over the geyser-spring, and
over the parapets. It betrayed, I believed, a slipping or cracking of
the rock which had formed a ledge. Along that ledge, steady-nerved,
sure-footed climbers might creep, and make their way unseen into the
fortress—and there do for us what I had in mind.
Tibur's eyes had sparkled, and he had laughed as I had not heard
him laugh since my ordeal by Khalk'ru. He had made only one comment.
"The first link of your chain is the weakest, Dwayanu."
"True enough. But it is forged where Sirk's chain of defence is
"Nevertheless—I would not care to be the first to test that link."
For all my lack of trust, I had warmed to him for that touch of
"Thank the gods for your weight then, Anvil-smiter," I had said.
"I cannot see those feet of yours competing for toe-holds with ferns.
Otherwise I might have picked you."
I had looked down at the sketch I had drawn to make the matter
"We must strike quickly. How long before we can be in readiness,
I had raised my eyes in time to see a swift glance pass between
the two. Whatever suspicion I may have felt had been fleeting. Lur had
"So far as the soldiers are concerned, we could start to-night.
How long it will take to pick the climbers, I cannot tell. Then I must
test them. All that will take time."
"How long, Lur? We must be swift." "Three days—five days—I will be
swift as may be. Beyond that I will not promise."
With that I had been forced to be content. And now, five nights
later, we marched on Sirk. It was neither dark nor light in the
forest; a strange dim- ness floated over us ; the glimmer of the
flowers was our torch. All the fragrances were of life. But it was
whose errand we were on.
The weapons of the soldiers were covered so that there could be no
betraying glints; spear-heads darkened— no shining of metal upon any
of us. On the tunics of the soldiers was the Wheel of Luka, so that
friend would not be mistaken for foe once we were behind the walls of
Sirk. Lur had wanted the Black Symbol of Khalk'ru.
I would not have it. We reached the spot where we had decided to
the horses. And here in silence our force separated. Under
leadership of Tibur and Rascha, the others crept through wood and
fern-brake to the edge of the clearing opposite the drawbridge.
With the Witch-woman and myself went a scant dozen of the nobles,
Ouarda with the naked girls, a hundred of the soldiers. Each of these
had bow and quiver in well- protected cases on their backs. They
carried the short battleaxe, long sword and dagger. They bore the
long, wide rope ladder I had caused to be made, like those I had used
long and long ago to meet problems similar to this of Sirk—but none
with its peculiarly forbidding aspects. They carried another ladder,
long and flexible and of wood. I was armed only with battleaxe and
long sword, Lur and the nobles with the throwing hammers and swords.
We stole toward the torrent whose hissing became louder with each
Suddenly I halted, drew Lur to me.
"Witch-woman, can you truly talk to your wolves?"
"I am thinking it would be no bad plan to draw eyes and ears from
this end of the parapet. If some of your wolves would fight and howl
and dance a bit there at the far bastion for the amusement of the
guards, it might help us here."
She sent a low call, like the whimper of a she-wolf. Almost
instantly the head of the great dog-wolf which had greeted her on our
first ride lifted beside her. Its hackles bristled as it glared at me.
But it made no sound. The Witch-woman dropped to her knees beside it,
took its head in her arms, whispering. They seemed to whisper
together. And then as suddenly as it had appeared, it was gone. Lur
arose, in her eyes something of the green fire of the wolf's.
"The guards shall have their amusement."
I felt a little shiver along my back, for this was true
witchcraft. But I said nothing and we went on. We came to that place
from which I had scanned the cliff. We parted the ferns and peered out
upon the fortress.
Thus it was. At our right, a score of paces away, soared the sheer
wall of the cliff which, continuing over the boiling torrent, formed
this nearer bastion. The cover in which we lurked ran up to it, was
thrown back like a green wave from its base. Between our cover and
the moat was a space not more than a dozen paces across, made barren
by the hot spray that fell on it. Here, the walls of the fortress were
not more than a javelin cast distant. The wall and the parapet touched
the cliff, but hardly could they be seen through the thick veils of
steam. And this was what I had meant when I had said that our weakest
link would be forged where Sirk's defences were weakest. For no
sentinels stood at this corner. With the heat and steam and
exhalations from the geyser, there was no need—or so they thought.
How, here at its hottest source, could the torrent be crossed? Who
could scale that smooth and dripping cliff? Of all the defences, this
spot was the impregnable one, unneces- sary to guard—or so they
thought. Therefore it was the exact point to attack—if it could be
I studied it. Not for full two hundred paces was there a single
sentinel. From somewhere behind the fortress came the glare of a fire.
It cast nickering shadows on the terraces of fallen rock beyond the
and that was good, since if we gained their shelter, we, too,
would seem but flickering shadows. I beckoned Ouarda, and pointed to
the rocks which were to be the goal of the naked girls. They were
close to the clifi where it curved inward beyond the parapet, and they
were about the height of twenty tall men above where we hid. She drew
the girls to her and instructed them. They nodded, their eyes dropping
swiftly to the cauldron
of the moat, then turning to the glistening precipice. I saw some
of them shudder. Well, I could not hold that against them, no!
We crept back and found the base of the cliff. Here were enough
and to spare of rock holds for the grapnels of the ladder. We unwound
the rope ladder. We set the wooden ladder against the cliff. I pointed
out the ledge that might be the key to Sirk, counselled the climbers
as best I could. I knew that the ledge could not be much wider than
the span of a hand. Yet above it and below it were small crevices,
pockets, where fingers and toes could grip, for clumps of ferns
Hai! But they had courage, those slim girls. We fastened to their
belts long strong cords which would slip through our hands as they
crept along. And they looked at one another's stained faces and bodies
and laughed. The first went up the ladder like a squirrel, got
foothold and handhold and began to edge across. In an instant she had
vanished, the green and black with which her body was stained merging
into the dim green and black of the cliff. Slowly, slowly, the first
cord slipped through my fingers.
Another followed her, and another, until I held six cords. And now
the others climbed up and crept out on the perilous path, their
leashes held in the strong hands of the Witch-woman.
Hai! But that was queer fishing! With will strained toward keeping
these girl-fish out of water! Slowly— Gods, but how slowly—the cords
crept through my fingers! Through the fingers of the Witch-woman . . .
slowly . . . slowly . . . but ever on and on.
Now that first slim girl must be over the cauldron . . . I had
swift vision of her clinging to the streaming rock, the steam of the
cauldron clothing her. . . .
That line slackened in my hand. It slackened, then ran out so
swiftly that it cut the skin . . . slackened
again ... a tug upon it as of a great fish racing away ... I felt
the line snap. The girl had fallen! Was now dissolving flesh in the
The second cord slackened and tugged and snapped . . . and the
third. . . . Three of them gone! I whispered to Lur :
"Three are gone!"
"And two!" she said. I saw that her eyes were tightly closed, but
the hands that clutched the cords were steady.
Five of those slim girls! Only seven left! Luka— spin your wheel!
On and on, slowly, with many a halt, the remaining cords crept
through my fingers. Now the fourth girl must be over the moat . . .
must be over the parapet . . . must be well on her way to the rocks
... my heart beat in my throat, half-strangling me. . . . Gods—the
sixth had fallen! "Another!" I groaned to Lur. "And another!" she
whispered, and cast the end of a cord from her hand.
Five left . . . only five now . . . Luka, a tempk to you in
Karak—all your own, sweet goddess!
What was that? A pull upon a cord, and twice repeated! The signal!
One had crossed! Honour and wealth to you, slim girl. . . .
"All gone but one, Dwayanu!" whispered the Witch- woman.
I groaned again, and glared at her. . . . Again the twitches—upon
my fifth cord! Another safe! "My last is over!" whispered Lur. Three
safe! Three hidden among the rocks. The fishing was done. Sirk had
stolen three-fourths of my bait.
But Sirk was hooked!
Weakness like none I had known melted bones and muscles. Lur's
face was white as chalk, black shadows under staring eyes.
Well, now it was our turn. The slim maids who had fallen might
soon have company!
I took the cord from Lur. Sent the signal. Felt it answered.
We "cut the cords, and knotted their ends to heavier strands. And
when they had run out we knotted to their ends a stronger, slender
It crept away—and away—and away——
And now for the ladder--the bridge over which we must go.
It was light but strong, that ladder. Woven cunningly in a way
thought out long and long ago. It had claws at each end which, once
they had gripped, were not easily opened.
We fastened that ladder's end to the slender rope. It slipped away
from us ... over the fems . . . out into the hot breath of the
cauldron . . . through it.
Invisible within that breath . . . invisible against the green
dusk of the cliff ... on and on it crept. . . .
The three maids had it! They were making it fast. Under my hands
it straightened and stiffened. We drew it taut from our end. We
fastened our grapnels.
The road to Sirk was open!
I turned to the Witch-woman. She stood, her gaze far and far away.
In her eyes was the green fire of her wolves. And suddenly over the
hissing of the torrent, I beard the howling of her wolves—far and far
She relaxed; her head dropped ; she smiled at me— "Yes—truly can I
talk to my wolves, Dwayanu!"
I walked to the ladder, tested it. It was strong, secure.
"I go first, Lur. Let none follow me until I have
crossed. Then do you, Dara and Naral, climb to guard my back."
Lur's eyes blazed.
"I follow you. Your captains come after me."
I considered that. Well—let it be.
"As you say, Lur. But do not follow until I have crossed. Then let
Ouarda send the soldiers. Ouarda— not more than ten may be on the
ladder at a time. Bind cloths over their mouths and nostrils before
they start Count thirty—slowly, like this—before each sets forth
behind the other. Fasten axe and sword between my shoulders, Lur. See
to it that all bear their weapons so. Watch now, how I use my hands
I swung upon the ladder, arms and legs opened wide. I began to
climb it. Like a spider. Slowly, so they could learn. The ladder
swayed but little ; its angle was a
And now I was above the fern-brake. And now I was at the edge of
the torrent. Above it. The stream swirled round me. It hid me. The hot
breath of the geyser shrivelled me. Nor could I see anything of the
ladder except the strands beneath me. . . .
Thank Luka for that! If what was before me was hidden—so was I
hidden from what was before me!
I was through the steam. I had passed the clifi. I was above the
parapet. I dropped from the ladder, among the rocks—unseen. I shook
the ladder. There was a quivering response. There was weight upon it .
. . more weight . . . and more. . . .
I unstrapped axe and sword——
I turned. There were the three maids. I began to praise
them—holding back laughter. Green and black had run and combined under
bath of steam into grotesque pattern.
"Nobles you are, maids! From this moment! Green
and black your colours. What you have done this night will long be
a tale in Karak."
I looked toward the battlements. Between us and them was a smooth
floor of rock and sand, less than half a bow-shot wide. A score of
soldiers stood around the fire. There was a larger group on the
parapet close to the towers of the bridge. There were more at the
farther end of the parapet, looking at the wolves.
The towers of the drawbridge ran straight down to the rocky floor.
The tower at the left was blank wall. The tower at the right had a
wide gate. The gate was open, unguarded, unless the soldiers about the
fire were its guards. Down from between the towers dropped a wide
ramp, the approach to the bridge-head.
There was a touch on my arm. Lur was beside me. And close after
her came my two captains. After them, one by one, the soldiers. I bade
them string bows, set arrows. One by one they melted out of the green
dark- ness, slipped by me. They made ready in the shadow of the
One score—two score ... a shriek cut like an arrow through the
hissing of the torrent! The ladder trembled. It shook—and twisted. . .
. Again the despairing cry ... the ladder fell slack!
"Dwayanu—the ladder is broken? At—Ouarda——"
"Quiet, Lur! They may have heard that shrieking. The ladder could
not break. . . ."
"Draw it in, Dwayanu—draw it in!"
Together we pulled upon it. It was heavy. We drew it in like a
net, and swiftly. And suddenly it was of no weight at all. It rushed
into our hands——
Its ends were severed as though by knife slash or axe blow.
"Treachery!" I said.
"But treachery . . . how . . . with Ouarda on guard."
I crept, crouching, behind the shadow of the rocks.
"Dara—spread out the soldiers. Tell Naral to slip to the farther
end. On the signal, let them loose their arrows. Three flights only.
The first at those around the fire. The second and the thircPat those
on the walls closest to the towers. Then follow me. You understand
"It is understood. Lord."
The word went along the line; I heard the bow- strings whisper.
"We are fewer than I like, Lur—yet nothing for us but to go
through with it. No way out of Sirk now but the way of the sword."
"I know. It is of Ouarda I am thinking. . . ." Her voice trembled.
"She is safe. If treachery had been wide-spread, we would have
heard sounds of fighting. No more talking, Lur. We must move swiftly.
After the third arrow flight, we rush the tower gate."
I gave the signal. Up rose the archers. Straight upon those around
the fire flew their shafts. They left few alive. Instantly upon those
around the towers of the bridge whistled a second arrow storm.
Hai! But that was straight shooting! See them fall! Once more——
Whistle of feathered shaft! Song of the bow-string I Gods—but this
is to live again!
I dropped down the rocks, Lur beside me. The soldier women poured
after us. Straight to the tower door we sped. We were half-way there
before those upon the long parapet awakened.
Shouts rang. Trumpets blared, and the air was filled with the
brazen clangour of a great gong bellowing the alarm to Sirk asleep
behind the gap. We sped on. Jave- lins dropped among us, arrows
whistled. From other
gates along the inner walls guards began to emerge, racing to
We were at the door of the bridge towers—and through it!
But not all. A third had fallen under javelin and arrow. We swung
the stout door shut. We dropped across it the massive bars that
secured it. And not an instant too soon. Upon the door began to beat
the sledges of the tricked guards.
The chamber was of stone, huge and bare. Except for the door
through which we had come, there was no opening. I saw the reason for
that—never had Sirk expected to be attacked from within. There were
arrow slits high up, looking over the moat, and platforms for
archers. At one side were cogs and levers which raised and lowered
All this I took in at one swift glance. I leaped over to the
levers, began to manipulate them. The cogs revolved.
The bridge was falling!
The Witch-woman ran up to the platform of the archers; she peered
out; set horn to lips ; she sent a long call through the arrow
slit—summoning signal for Tibur and his host.
The hammering against the door had ceased. The blows against it
were stronger, more regular—timed. The battering of a ram. The stout
wood trembled under them; the bars groaned, Lur called to me :
"The bridge is down, Dwayanu! Tibur is rushing upon it. It grows
lighter. Dawn is breaking. They have brought their horses!"
"Luka, sent him wit not to pound across that bridge on horse!"
"He is doing it ... he and Rascha and a handful of others only . .
. the rest are dismounting. . . ,
Hai—they are shooting at them from the arrow slits . . . the
javelins rain among them . . . Sirk takes toll. . . ."
There was a thunderous crash against the door. The wood split. . .
A roaring tumult. Shouts and battle cries. Ring of sword upon
sword and the swish of arrows. And over it all the laughter of Tibur.
No longer was the ram battering at the door.
I threw up the bars, raised axe in readiness, opened the great
gate a finger's breadth and peered out.
The soldiers of Karak were pouring down the ramp from the
I opened the door wider. The dead of the fortress lay thick around
tower base and bridge-head.
I stepped through the door. The soldiers saw me.
"Dwayanu!" rang their shout.
From the fortress still came the clamour of the great gong—warning
Sirk—no longer sleeping!
CHAPTER XX. "TSANTAWU—FAREWELL!"
THERE was a humming as of a disturbed gigantic hive beyond Sirk's
gap. Trumpet blasts and the roll of drums. Clang of brazen gongs
answering that lonely one which beat from the secret heart of the
raped fortress. And ever Karak's women-warriors poured over the
bridge until the space behind the fortress filled with them.
The Smith wheeled his steed—faced me. "Gods—Tibur! But that was
well done!" "Never done but for you, Dwayanu! You saw, you knew—you
did. Ours the least part."
Well, that was true. But I was close to liking Tibur then. Life of
my blood! It had been no play to lead that charge against the bridge
end. The Smith was a soldier! Let him be only half loyal to me—and
Khalk'ru take the Witch-woman!
"Sweep the fortress clean, Anvil-smiter. We want no arrows at our
"It is being swept, Dwayanu."
By brooms of sword and spear, by javelin and arrow, the fortress
was swept dean.
The clamour of the brazen gong died on a part stroke.
My stallion rested his nose on my shoulder, blew softly against my
"You did not forget my horse! My hand to you, Tibur!"
"You lead the charge, Dwayanu!" I leaped upon the stallion.
Battleaxe held high I wheeled and galloped toward the gap. Like the
a spear I sped, Tibur at my left, the Witch-woman at my right, the
nobles behind us, the soldiers sweeping after us.
We hurled ourselves through the cliffed portal of Sirk.
A living wave lifted itself to throw us back. Hammers flew, axes
hewed, javelins and spears and feathered shafts sleeted us. My horse
tottered and dropped, screaming, his hinder hocks cut through. I felt
a hand upon my shoulder, dragging me to my feet. The Witch-woman
smiled at me. She sliced with her sword the arm drawing me down among
the dead. With axe and sword we cleared a ring around us. I threw
myself on the back of a grey from which a noble had fallen, bristling
We thrust forward against the living wave. It gave, curling round
On and on! Cut sword and hew axe! Cut and slash and batter
The curling wave that tore at us was beaten down. We were through
the gap. Sirk lay before us.
I reined in my horse. Sirk lay before us—but too invitingly!
The city nestled in a hollow between sheer, unscalable black
walls. The lip of the gap was higher than the roof of the houses. They
began an arrow flight away. It was a fair city. There was no citadel
nor forts ; there were no temples nor palaces. Only houses of stone,
per- haps a thousand of them, flat roofed, set wide apart, gardens
around them, a wide street straying among them, tree-bordered. There
were many lanes. Beyond the city fertile field upon field, and
And no battle ranks arrayed against us. The way open.
I caught the glint of arms on the housetops. There was the noise
of axes above the blaring of trumpets and the roll of the
Hail They were barricading the wide street with their trees,
preparing a hundred ambushes for us, expect- ing us to roll down in
Spreading the net in the sight of Dwayanu!
Yet they were good tactics. The best defence. I had met with it in
many a war against the barbarians. It meant we must fight for every
step, with every house a fort, with arrows searching for us from every
window and roof. They had a leader here in Sirk, to arrange such
reception on such brief notice! I had respect for that leader, whoever
he might be. He had picked the only possible way to victory—unless
those against whom he fought knew the countermove.
And that, hard earned, I did know.
How long could this leader keep Sirk within its thou- sand forts?
There, always, lay the danger in this defence. The overpowering
impulse of a pierced city is to swarm out upon its invaders as ants
and bees do from their hills and nests. Not often is there a leader
strong enough to hold them back. If each house of Sirk could remain
linked to the other, each ever an active part of the whole—then Sirk
might be unconquerable. But how, when they began to be cut off, one
by one? Isolated? The leader's will severed?
Hail Then it is that despair creeps through every chink! They are
drawn out by fury and despair as though by ropes. They pour out—to
kill or to be killed. The cliff crumbles, stone by stone. The cake is
eaten by the attackers, crumb by crumb.
I divided our soldiers, and sent the first part against Sirk in
small squads, with orders to spread and to take advantage of all
cover. They were to take the outer fringe of houses, at all costs,
shooting their arrows up in the high curved flight against the
defenders while others hammered their way into those houses. Still
others were to attack farther on. but never getting too far from
their comrades nor from the broad way running through the city.
I was casting a net over Sirk and did not want its meshes broken.
By now it was broad daylight.
The soldiers moved forward. I saw the arrows stream up and down,
twisting among each other like serpents. ... I heard the axe-blows on
the doors. . . .
By Luka! There floats a banner of Karak from one of the roofs! And
The hum of Sirk shot higher, became louder, in it a note of
madness. Hai! I knew they could not long stand this nibbling! And I
knew that sound! Soon it would rise to frenzy. Drone from that into
Hai! Not long now before they came tumbling out. . . .
Tibur was cursing at my elbow. I looked at Lur, and she was
trembling. The soldiers were murmuring, strain- ing at the leash, mad
to join battle. I looked at their blue eyes, hard and cold ; their
faces beneath the helmet- caps were not those of women but of young
warriors . . . those who sought in them for woman's mercy would have
"By Zarda! But the fight will be done before we can dip blade!" I
"Patience, Tibur! Patience is our strong weapon. Sirk's
strongest—if they but knew it. Let them be first to lose that weapon."
The turmoil grew louder. At the head of the street appeared half a
hundred of Karak's soldiers, struggling against more than equal number
which steadily, swiftly, was swelled by others of Sirk pouring from
side lanes and dropping from roofs and windows of the beleaguered
It was the moment for which I had waited!
I gave the command. I raised the battle-cry. We drove down upon
them. Our skirmishers opened to let us through, melting into the
shouting ranks behind. We ripped into the defenders of Sirk. Down they
went, but as they fell they fought, and many a saddle of the nobles
was empty, and many were the steeds lost before we won to the first
Hai! But how they fought us there from behind the hastily felled
trees—women and men and children hardly big enough to bend the bow or
wield the knife!
Now the soldiers of Karak began to harry them from the sides; the
soldiers of Karak shot into them from the tops of the houses they had
abandoned ; we fought Sirk as it had planned to fight us. And those
who fought against us soon broke and fled, and we were over the
barricade. Battling, we reached the heart of Sirk, a great and lovely
square in which fountains played and flowers blossomed. The spray of
the fountains was crimson and there were no flowers when we left that
We paid heavy toll there. Full half of the nobles were slain. A
spear had struck my helmet and well-nigh dropped me. Bare-headed,
blood-flecked I rode, shouting, sword dripping red. Naral and Dara
both bore wounds, but still guarded my back. The Witch-woman, and the
Smith and his scarred familiar fought on, untouched.
There was a thunder of hoofs. Down upon us swept a wave of
horsemen. We raced toward them. We struck like two combers. Surged up.
Mingled. Flash swords! Hammers smite! Axes cleave! Hai! But now it was
hand-to-hand in the way I knew best and best loved!
We swirled in a mad whirlpool. I glanced at right and saw the
Witch-woman had been separated from me. Tibur, too, was gone. Well,
they were giving good account of themselves no doubt—wherever they
I swung to right and to left with my sword. In the
front of those who fought us, over the caps of Karak which had
swirled between us, was a dark face ... a dark face whose black eyes
looked steadily into mine— steadily . . . steadily. At the shoulder of
that man was a slighter figure whose clear, brown eyes stared at me
... steadily . . . steadily. In the black eyes was understanding and
sorrow. The brown eyes were filled with hate.
Black eyes and brown eyes touched something deep and deep within
me. . . . They were rousing that some- thing . . . calling to it ...
something that had been sleeping.
I heard my own voice shouting command to cease fighting, and at
that shout abruptly all sound of battle close by was stilled. Sirk and
Karak alike stood silent, amazed, staring at me. I thrust my horse
through the press of bodies, looked deep into the black eyes.
And wondered why I had dropped my sword . . . why I stood thus . .
. and why the sorrow in those eyes racked my heart. . . .
The dark-faced man spoke—two words——
"Leif! . . . Degataga!"
. . . Degataga! . . .
That something which had been asleep was wide awake, rushing up
through me . . . rocking my brain . . . tearing at it ... shaking
every nerve. . . .
I heard a cry—the voice of the Witch-woman.
A horse burst through the ring of the soldiers. Upon it was
Rascha, lips drawn back over his teeth, cold eyes glaring into mine.
His arm came up. His dagger gleamed, and was hidden in the back of the
man who had called me—Degataga!
Had called me——
God—but I knew him I
The sleeping thing that had awakened was all awake
... it had my brain ... it was myself . . . Dwayanu forgotten!
I threw my horse forward.
Rascha's arm was up for second stroke—the brown- eyed rider was
swinging at him with sword, and Jim was falling, settling over his
I caught Rascha's arm before the dagger could descend again. I
caught his arm, bent it back, and heard the bone snap. He howled—like
A hammer hummed by my head, missing it by a hair. I saw Tibur
drawing it back by its thong.
I leaned and lifted Rascha from his saddle. His sound arm swept
up, hand clutching at my throat. I caught the wrist and twisted that
arm back. I snapped it as I had the other.
My horse swerved. With one hand at Rascha's throat, the other arm
holding him, I toppled from the saddle bearing him down with me. I
fell upon him. I twisted, and threw him over the bar of my knee. My
hand slipped from his throat to his chest. My right leg locked over
A swift downward thrust—a sound like the breaking of a faggot. The
Back-breaker would break no more backs. His own was broken.
I leaped to my feet. Looked up into the face of the brown-eyed
rider. . . .
.... Evalie! . . .
I cried out to her—"Evalie I"
Abruptly, all about me the battle broke out afresh. Evalie turned
to meet the charge. I saw Tibur's great shoulders rise behind her . .
. saw him snatch her from her horse . . . saw from his left hand a
flash of light. ... It sped toward me. . . .
I was hurled aside. None too soon—not soon enough——
Something caught me a glancing blow upon the side
of my head. I went down upon my knees and hands, blind and dizzy.
I heard Tibur laughing; I strove to conquer blind dizziness and
nausea, felt blood streaming down my face.
And crouching, swaying on knees and hands, heard the tide of
battle sweep around and over and past me.
My head steadied. The blindness was passing. I was still on my
hands and knees. Under me was the body of a man—a man whose black eyes
were fixed on mine with understanding—with love!
I felt a touch on my shoulder ; with difficulty I looked up. It
"A hair between life and death. Lord. Drink this."
She put a phial to my lips. The bitter, fiery liquid coursed
through me, brought steadiness, brought strength. I could see there
was a ring of soldier-women around me, guarding me—beyond them a ring
of others, on horses.
"Can you hear me, Leif? . . . I haven't much time. ..."
I lurched aside and knelt.
"Jim! Jim! Oh, God—why did you come here? Take this sword and kill
He reached for my hand, held it tight.
"Don't be a damned fool, Leif! You couldn't help it ... but you've
got to save Evalie!"
"I've got to save you, Tsantawu—get you out of here——"
"Shut up and listen. I've got mine, Leif, and I know it. That
blade went through the mail right into the lungs . . . I'm trickling
out—inside . . . hell, Leif— don't take it so hard. ... It might have
been in the war. ... It might have been any time. . . . It's not your
fault. . . ."
A sob shook me, tears mingled with the blood upon my face.
"But I killed him, Jim—I killed him!"
"I know, Leif . . . a neat job. . . . I saw you . . . but there's
something I've got to tell you . . ." his voice faltered.
I put the phial to his lips—it brought him back.
"Just now . . . Evalie . . . hates you! You have to save her . . .
Leif . . . whether she does or not. Listen. Word came to us from Sirk
through the Little People that you wanted us to meet you there. You
were pretending to be Dwayanu . . . pretending to remem- ber nothing
but Dwayanu ... to allay suspicion and to gain power. You were going
to slip away . . . come to Sirk, and lead it against Karak. You needed
me to stand beside you . . . needed Evalie to persuade the pygmies
"I sent you no message, Jim 1" I groaned.
"I know you didn't—now. . . , But we believed it. ... You saved
Sri from the wolves and defied the Witch-woman——''
"Jim—how long was it after Sri's escape that the lying message
"Two days. . . . What does it matter? I'd told Evalie what
was—wrong—with you . . . gone over your story again and again. She
didn't understand . . . but she took me on faith. . . . Some more of
that stuff, Leif. . . . I'm going. . . ."
Again the fiery draught revived him.
"We reached Sirk . . . two days ago . . . across the river with
Sri and twenty pygmies ... it was easy . . . too easy . . . not a wolf
howled, although I knew the beasts were watching us ... stalking us .
. . and the others did, too. We waited . . . then came the attack . .
. and then I knew we had been trapped. . . . How did you get over
those geysers . . . Big Fellow . . . never mind . . . but . . . Evalie
believes you sent the message . . . you . . . black treachery . . ."
His eyes closed. Cold, cold were his hands.
"Tsantawu—brother—you do not believe! Tsantawu —come back . . .
speak to me . . ."
His eyes opened, but hardly could I hear him speak——
"You're not Dwayanu—Leif? Not now—or ever again?"
"No, Tsantawu . . . don't leave me!"
"Bend . . . your head . . . closer, Leif . . . keep fighting . . .
Fainter grew his voice :
"Good-bye . . . Degataga . . . not your fault . . ."
A ghost of the old sardonic smile passed over the white face.
"You didn't pick your . . . damned . . . ancestors! . . . Worse
luck. . . . We've had . . . hell of good times . . . together. . . .
Save . . . Evalie . . ."
There was a gush of blood from his mouth.
Jim was dead . . . was dead.
Tsantawu—no more I
BOOK OF LEIF
CHAPTER XXI. RETURN TO KARAK
I LEANED over Jim and kissed his forehead. I arose. I was numb
with sorrow. But under that numbness seethed a tortured rage, a
tortured horror. Deadly rage against the Witch-woman and the
Smith—horror of myself, of what I had been . . . horror of—Dwayanu!
I must find Tibur and the Witch-woman—but first there was
something else to be done. They and Evalie could wait.
"Dara—have them lift him. Carry him into one of the houses."
I followed on foot as they bore Jim away. There was fighting still
going on, but far from us. Here were only the dead. I guessed that
Sirk was making its last stand at the end of the valley.
Dara, Naral and I and half-dozen more passed through the broken
doors of what yesterday had been a pleasant home. In its centre was a
little columned hall. The other soldiers clustered round the broken
doors, guarding entrance. I ordered chairs and beds and whatever else
would burn brought into the little hall and heaped into a pyre. Dara
"Lord, let me bathe your wound."
I dropped upon a stool, sat thinking while she washed the gash
upon my head with stinging wine. Beyond the strange numbness, my mind
was very clear. I was Leif Langdon. Dwayanu was no longer master of my
mind— nor ever again would be. Yet he lived. He lived within as part
of—myself. It was as though the shock of recog- nition of Jim had
dissolved Dwayanu within Leif Langdon.
As though two opposing currents had merged into one ; as though
two drops had melted into each other;
as though two antagonistic metals had fused.
Crystal clear was every memory of what I had heard and seen, said
and done and thought from the time I had been hurled from Nansur
Bridge. And crystal clear, agonizingly clear, was all that had gone
before. Dway- anu was not dead, no! But part of me, and I was by far
the stronger. I could use him, his strength, his wis- dom—but he could
not use mine. I was in control. I was the master.
And I thought, sitting there, that if I were to save Evalie—if I
were to do another thing that now I knew I would do or die in the
doing, I must still outwardly be all Dwayanu. There lay my power. Not
easily could such transmutation as I had undergone be explained to my
soldiers. They believed in me and followed me as Dwayanu. If Evalie,
who had known me as Leif, who had loved me as Leif, who had listened
to Jim, could not understand—how much less could these? No, they must
see no change.
I touched my head. The cut was deep and long;
apparently only the toughness of my skull had saved it from being
"Dara—you saw who made this wound?"
"It was Tibur, Lord."
"He tried to kill me. . . . Why did he not finish?"
"Never yet has Tibur's left hand failed to deal death. He thinks
it cannot fail. He saw you fall—he thought you dead."
"And death missed me by a hair's-breadth. And would not, had not
someone hurled me aside. Was that you, Dara?"
"It was I, Dwayanu. I saw his hand dip into his girdle, knew what
was coming. I threw myself at your knees—so he could not see me."
"Why, because you fear Tibur?"
"No—because I wanted him to believe he did not miss."
"So that you would have better chance to kill Tibur, Lord. Your
strength was ebbing with your friend's life."
I looked sharply at this bold-eyed captain of mine. How much did
she know? Well, time later to find that out. I looked at the pyre. It
was nearly complete.
"What was it he threw, Dara?"
She drew from her girdle a curious weapon, one whose like I had
never seen. Its end was top-shaped, pointed like a dagger and with
four razor-edged ribs on its sides. It had an eight-inch metal haft,
round, like the haft of a diminutive javelin. It weighed about five
pounds. It was of some metal I did not recognize—denser, harder than
the finest of tempered steel. It was, in effect, a casting knife. But
no mail could turn aside that adaman- tine point when hurled with the
strength of one like the Smith. Dara took it from me, and pulled the
short shaft. Instantly the edged ribs flew open, like flanges. The
end of each was shaped like an inverted barb. A devilish tool, if I
ever saw one. Once embedded, there was no way to get it out except
cutting, and any pull would release the flanges, hooking them at the
same time into the flesh. I took it back from Dara, and placed it in
my own girdle. If I had had any doubts about what I was going to do to
Tibur—I had none now.
The pyre was finished. I walked over to Jim, and laid him on it. I
kissed him on the eyes, and put a sword in his dead hand. I stripped
the room of its rich tapestries and draped them over him. I struck
flint and set flame to the pyre. The wood was dry and resinous, and
burned swiftly. I watched the flames creep up and up until smoke and
fire made a canopy over him.
Then dry-eyed, but with death in my heart. I walked out of that
house and among my soldiers.
Sirk had fallen and its sack was on. Smoke was rising everywhere
from the looted homes. A detachment of soldiers marched by, herding
along some two-score prisoners—women, all of them, and little children
; some bore the marks of wounds. And then I saw that among those whom
I had taken for children were a handful of the golden pygmies. At
sight of me the soldiers halted, stood rigid, staring at me
Suddenly one cried out ... "Dwayanu! Dwayanu lives!" . . . They
raised their swords in salute, and from them came a shout . . .
I beckoned their captain.
"Did you think Dwayanu dead then?"
"So ran the tale among us, Lord."
"And did this tale also tell how I was slain?"
"There were some who said it was by the Lord Tibur ... by
'accident . . . that he had made cast at Sirk's leader who was
menacing you . . . and that you were struck instead . . . and that
your body had been borne away by those of Sirk . . . I do not know. .
"Enough, soldier. Go on to Karak with the captives. Do not loiter,
and do not speak of seeing me. It is a command. For a while I let the
They glanced at each other, oddly, saluted, and went on. The
yellow eyes of the pygmies, filled with a veno- mous hatred, never
left me until they had passed out of range. I waited, thinking. So
that was to be the story! Hai! But they had fear at their elbows or
they would not have troubled to spread that tale of accident!
Suddenly I made decision. No use to wander over Sirk searching for
Tibur. Folly to be seen, and have the counter-tale that Dwayanu lived
be borne to the ears of Tibur and Lur! They should come to
There was only one way out of Sirk, and that by the bridge. It was
there I would await them. I turned to Dara.
"We go to the bridge, but not by this road. We take the lanes
until we reach the cliffs."
They wheeled their horses, and for the first time I realized that
all this little troop of mine were mounted. And for the first time I
realized that all were of my own guard, and that many of them had been
foot-soldiers, yet these, too, were riding, and that upon a score of
saddles were the colours of nobles who had followed me and the
Witch-woman and Tibur through the gap of Sirk. It was Naral who,
reading my perplexity, spoke, half- impudently as always :
"These are your most faithful, Dwayanu! The horses were idle—or a
few we made so. For your better shield should Tibur—make mistake
I said nothing to that until we had gone around the burning house
and were under cover of one of the lanes. Then I spoke to them:
"Naral—Dara—let us talk apart for a moment."
And when we had drawn a little away from the others, I said:
"To you two I owe my life—most of all to you, Dara. All that I can
give you is yours for the asking. All I ask of you is—truth."
"Dwayanu—you shall have it."
"Why did Tibur want to kill me?"
Naral said, dryly:
"The Smith was not the only one who wanted you killed, Dwayanu."
I knew that, but I wanted to hear it from them.
"Who else, Naral?"
"Lur—and most of the nobles."
"But why? Had I not opened Sirk for them?"
"You were becoming too strong, Dwayanu. It is not
in Lur or Tibur to take second place—or third . . . or maybe no
"But they had opportunity before——"
"But you had not taken Sirk for them," said Dara.
Naral said, resentfully:
"Dwayanu, you play with us. You know as well as we—better—what the
reason was. You came here with that friend we have just left on his
fire couch. All knew it. If you were to die—so must he die. He must
not live, perhaps to escape and bring others into this place— for I
know, as some others do, that there is life beyond here and that
Khalk'ru does not reign supreme, as the nobles tell us. Well—here
together are you and this friend of yours. And not only you two, but
also the dark girl of the Rrrllya, whose death or capture might break
the spirit of the little folk and put them under Karak's yoke. The
three of you—together! Why, Dwayanu—it was the one place and the one
time to strike! And Lur and Tibur did—and killed your friend, and
think they have killed you, and have taken the dark girl."
"And if I kill Tibur, Naral?"
"Then there will be fighting. And you must guard yourself well,
for the nobles hate you, Dwayanu. They have been told you are against
the old customs—mean to debase them, and raise the people. Intend even
to end the Sacrifices ..."
She glanced at me, slyly.
"And if that were true?"
"You have most of the soldiers with you now, Dwayanu. If it were
true you would also have most of the people. But Tibur has his
friends—even among the soldiers. And Lur is no weakling."
She twitched up her horse's head, viciously.
"Better kill Lur, too, while you're in the mood, Dwayanu!"
I made no answer to that. We trotted through the
lanes, not speaking again. Everywhere were dead, and gutted
houses. We came out of the city, and rode over the narrow plain to the
gap between the cliffs. There happened to be none on the open road
just then ; so we entered the gap unnoticed. We passed through it out
into the square behind the fortress. There were soldiers here, in
plenty, and groups of captives. I rode in the centre of my troop, bent
over the neck of my horse. Dara had roughly bandaged my head. The
bandages and cap-helmet I had picked up hid my yellow hair. There was
much confusion, and I passed through unnoticed. I rode straight to the
door of the tower behind which we had lurked when Karak stormed the
bridge. I slipped in with my horse, half-closed the door. My women
grouped themselves outside. They were not likely to be challenged. I
settled down to wait for Tibur.
It was hard waiting, that! Jim's face over the camp- fire. Jim's
face grinning at me in the trenches. Jim's face above mine when I lay
on the moss bank of the threshold of the mirage—Jim's face under mine
on the street of Sirk. . . .
Tsantawu! Aie—Tsantawul And you thought that only beauty could
come from the forest I
Evalie? I cared nothing for Evalie then, caught in that limbo
which at once was ice and candent core of rage.
"Save . . . Evalie!" Jim had bade. Well, I would save Evalie!
Beyond that she mattered no more than did the Witch-woman . . . yes, a
little more ... I had a score to satisfy with the Witch-woman ... I
had none with Evalie. . . .
The face of Jim . . . always the face of Jim . . . floating before
me. . . .
I heard a whisper——
"Is Lur with him, Dara?"
"No—a group of the nobles. He is laughing. He carries the dark
girl on his saddle-bow."
"How far away is he, Dara?"
"Perhaps a bow-shot. He rides slowly."
"When I ride out, close in behind me. The fight will be between me
and Tibur. I do not think those with him will dare attack me. If they
do . . ."
"If they do, we shall be at their throats, Dwayanu. There are one
or two of Tibur's friends I would like to settle accounts with. We ask
you only this : waste neither words nor time on Tibur. Kill him
quickly. For by the gods, if he kills you, it will be the boiling pot
and the knives of the flayers for all of us he captures."
"I will kill him, Naral."
Slowly I opened the great door. Now I could see Tibur, his horse
pacing toward the bridge-end. Upon the pommel of his saddle was
Evalie. Her body drooped;
the hair of blue-black was loosened and covered her face like a
veil. Her hands were tied behind her back, and gripped in one of
Tibur's. There were a score of his followers around and behind him,
nobles—and the majority of them men. I had noticed that although the
Witch-woman had few men among her guards and garrisons, the Smith
showed a preference for them among his friends and personal escort.
His head was turned toward them, his voice, roaring with triumph, and
his laughter came plainly to me. By now the enclosure was almost
empty of soldiers and captives. There was none between us. I wondered
where the Witch-woman was.
Closer came Tibur, and closer.
I flung open the gate. I raced toward Tibur, head bent low, my
little troop behind me. I swung against him with head uplifted, thrust
my face close to his.
Tibur's whole body grew rigid, his eyes glared into mine, his jaw
dropped. I knew that those who followed him were held in that same
incredulous stupefaction. Before the Smith could recover from his
paralysis, I had snatched Evalie up from his saddle, had passed her to
I lifted my sword to slash at Tibur's throat. I gave him no
warning. It was no time for chivalry. Twice he had tried treacherously
to kill me. I would make quick end.
Swift as had been my stroke, the Smith was swifter. He threw
himself back, slipped off his horse, and landed like a cat at its
heels. I was down from mine before his great sledge was half-raised to
hurl. I thrust my blade forward to pierce his throat. He parried it
with the sledge. Then berserk rage claimed him. The hammer fell
clanging on the rock. He threw himself on me, howling. His arms
circled me, fettering mine to my sides, like living bands of steel.
His legs felt for mine, striving to throw me. His lips were drawn
back like a mad wolf's, and he bored his head into the pit of my
neck, trying to tear my throat with his teeth.
My ribs cracked under the tightening vice of Tibur's arms. My
lungs were labouring, sight dimming. I writhed and twisted in the
effort to escape the muzzling of that hot mouth and the searching
I heard shouting around me, heard and dimly saw milling of the
horses. The clutching fingers of my left hand touched my girdle—closed
on something there— something like the shaft of a javelin——
Tibur's hell-forged dart!
Suddenly I went limp in Tibur's grip. His laughter bellowed,
hoarse with triumph. And for a split-second his grip relaxed.
That split-second was enough. I summoned all my
strength and broke his grip. Before he could clench me again, my
hand had swept down into the girdle and clutched the dart.
I brought it up and drove it into Tibur's throat just beneath his
jaw. I jerked the haft. The opened, razor- edged flanges sliced
through arteries and muscles. The bellowing laughter of Tibur changed
to a hideous gurg- ling. His hands sought the haft, dragged at it—tore
And the blood spurted from Tibur's mangled throat";
Tibur's knees buckled beneath him, and he lurched and fell at my
feet . . . choking ... his hands still feebly groping to clutch me. .
I stood there, dazed, gasping for breath, the pulse roaring in my
"Drink this. Lord!"
I looked up at Dara. She was holding a wine-skin to me. I took it
with trembling hands, and drank deep. The good wine whipped through
me. Suddenly I took it from my lips.
"The dark girl of the Rrrllya—Evalie. She is not with you."
"There she is. I set her on another horse. There was fighting.
I stared into Evalie's face. She looked back at me, brown eyes
"Better use the rest of the wine to wash your face, Lord. You are
no sight for any tender maid."
I passed my hand over my face, drew it away wet with blood.
"Tibur's blood, Dwayanu, thank the gods!"
She brought my horse forward. I felt better when I was in its
saddle. I glanced down at Tibur. His fingers were still faintly
twitching. I looked about me. There was a shattered company of Karak's
archers at the bridge- end. They raised their bows in salute.
"Dwayanu! Live Dwayanu!"
My troop seemed strangely shrunken. I called— "Naral!"
"Dead, Dwayanu. I told you there had been fight- ing."
"Who killed her?"
"Never mind. I slew him. And those left of Tibur's escort have
fled. And now what. Lord?"
"We wait for Lur."
"Not long shall we have to linger then, for here she comes."
There was the blast of a horn. I turned to see the Witch-woman
come galloping over the square. Her red braids were loose, her sword
was red, and she was nigh as battle-stained as I. With her rode a
scant dozen of her women, half as many of her nobles.
I awaited her. She reined up before me, searching me with wild
I should have killed her as I had Tibur. I should have been hating
her. But I found I was not hating her at all. All of hate I had held
seemed to have poured out upon Tibur.' No, I was not hating her.
She smiled faintly:
"You are hard to kill. Yellow-hair!"
She glanced at me, half-contemptuously.
"You are no longer Dwayanu!"
"Try to convince these soldiers of that, Lur.'
"Oh, I know"—she said, and stared down at Tibur— "So you killed
the Smith. Well, at least you are still a- man."
"Killed him for you, Lur!" I jeered. "Did I not promise you?"
She did not answer, only asked, as Dara had before her:
"And now what?"
"We wait here until Sirk is emptied. Then we ride to Karak, you
beside me. I do not like you at my back, Witch-woman."
She spoke quietly to her women, then sat, head bent, thinking,
with never another word for me.
I whispered to Dara :
"Can we trust the archers?"
"Bid them wait and march with us. Let them drag the body of Tibur
into some corner."
For half an hour the soldiers came by, with prisoners, with
horses, with cattle and other booty. Small troops of the nobles and
their supporters galloped up, halted, and spoke, but, at my word and
Lur's nod, passed on over the bridge. Most of the nobles showed
dismayed astonishment at my resurrection ; the soldiers gave me glad
The last skeleton company came through the gap. I had been
watching for Sri, but he was not with them, and I concluded that he
had been taken to Karak with the earliest prisoners or had been
"Come," I said to the Witch-woman. "Let your women go before us."
I rode over to Evalie, lifted her from her saddle and set her on
my pommel. She made no resistance, but I felt her shrink from me. I
knew she was thinking that she had but exchanged Tibur for another
master, that to me she was only spoil of war. If my mind had not been
so weary I suppose that would have hurt. But my mind was too weary to
We passed over the bridge, through the curling mists of steam. We
were halfway to the forest when the Witch-woman threw back her head
and sent forth a long, wailing call. The white wolves burst from the
ferns. I gave command to the archers to set arrows. Lur shook her
"No need to harm them. They go to Sirk. They have earned their
The white wolves coursed over the barren to the bridge- end,
streamed over it, vanished. I heard them howling among the dead.
"I, too, keep my promises," said the Witch-woman.
We rode on, into the forest, back to Karak.
CHAPTER XXII. GATE OF KHALK'RU
WE were close to Karak when the drums of the Little People began
The leaden weariness pressed down upon me increas- ingly. I
struggled to keep awake. Tibur's stroke on my head had something to do
with that, but I had taken other blows and eaten nothing since long
before dawn. I could not think, much less plan what I was going to do
after I had got back to Karak.
The drums of the Little People drove away my lethargy, brought me
up wide-awake. They crashed out at first like a thunderburst across
the white river. After that they settled down into a slow, measured
rhythm filled with implacable menace. It was like Death standing on
hollow graves and stamping on them before he marched.
At the first crash Evalie straightened, then sat listening with
every nerve. I reined up my horse, and saw that the Witch-woman had
also halted and was listening with all of Evalie's intentness. There
was something inex- plicably disturbing in that monotonous drumming.
Something that reached beyond and outside of human experience—or
reached before it. It was like thousands of bared hearts beating in
unison, in one unalterable rhythm, not to be still till the hearts
themselves stopped . . . inexorable . . . and increasing in steadily
widening area . . . spreading, spreading . . . until they beat from
all the land across white Nanbu.
I spoke to Lur.
"I am thinking that here is the last of my promises,
Witch-woman. I killed Yodin, gave you Sirk, I slew Tibur—and here
is your war with the Rrrllya."
I had not thought of how that might sound to Evalie! She turned
and gave me one long level look of scom;
she said to the Witch-woman, coldly, in halting Uighur:
"It is war. Was that not what you expected when you dared to take
me? It will be war until my people have me again. Best be careful how
you use me."
The Witch-woman's control broke at that, all the long pent-up
fires of her wrath bursting forth.
"Good! Now we shall wipe out your yellow dogs for once and all.
And you shall be flayed, or bathed in the cauldron—or given to
Khalk'ru. Win or lose—there will be little of you for your dogs to
fight over. You shall be used as I choose."
"No," I said, "as I choose, Lur."
The blue eyes flamed on me at that. And the brown eyes met mine as
scornfully as before.
"Give me a horse to ride. I do not like the touch of
"Nevertheless, you ride with me, Evalie."
We passed into Karak. The drums beat now loud, now low. But always
with that unchanging, inexorable rhythm. They swelled and fell,
swelled and fell. Like Death still stamping on the hollow graves—now
fiercely —and now lightly.
There were many people in the streets. They stared at Evalie, and
whispered. There were no shouts of welcome, no cheering. They seemed
sullen, frightened. Then I knew they were listening so closely to the
drums that they hardly knew we were passing. The drums were closer. I
could hear them talking from point to point along the far bank of the
river. The tongues of the talking drums rose plain above the others.
And through their talking, repeated and repeated :
We rode over the open square to the gate of the black citadel.
There I stopped.
"A truce, Lur."
She sent a mocking glance at Evalie.
"A truce! What need of a truce between you and me—Dwayanu?"
I said, quietly:
"I am tired of bloodshed. Among the captives are some of the
Rrrllya. Let us bring them where they can talk with Evalie and with us
two. We will then release a part of them, and send them across Nanbu
with the message that no harm is intended Evalie. That we ask the
Rrrllya to send us on the morrow an embassy empowered to arrange a
lasting peace. And that when that peace is arranged they shall take
Evalie back with them unharmed."
She said, smiling:
"So—Dwayanu—fears the dwarfs!"
I repeated :
"I am tired of bloodshed."
"Ah, me," she sighed. "And did I not once hear Dwayanu boast that
he kept his promises—and was thereby persuaded to give him payment for
them in advance! Ah, me—but Dwayanu is changed!"
She stung me there, but I managed to master my anger ; I said :
"If you will not agree to this, Lur, then I myself will give the
orders. But then we shall be a beleagured city which is at its own
throat. And easy prey for the enemy."
She considered this.
"So you want no war with the little yellow dogs? And it is your
thought that if the girl is returned to them, there will be none? Then
why wait? Why not send her back at once with the captives? Take them
up to Nansur, parley with the dwarfs there. Drum talk would settle
the matter in a little while—if you are right. Then
we can sleep this night without the drums disturbing you."
That was true enough, but I read the malice in it. The truth was
that I did not want Evalie sent back just then. If she were, then
never, I knew, might I have a chance to justify myself with her, break
down her distrust— have her again accept me as the Leif whom she had
loved. But given a little time—I might. And the Witch-woman knew
"Not so quickly should it be done, Lur," I said, suavely. "That
would be to make them think we fear them—as the proposal made you
think I feared them. We need more than hasty drum talk to seal such
treaty. No, we hold the girl as hostage until we make our terms."
She bent her head, thinking, then looked at me with clear eyes,
"You are right, Dwayanu. I will send for the captives after I have
rid myself of these stains of Sirk. They will be brought to your
chamber. And in the meantime I will do more. I will order that word be
sent the Rrrllya on Nansur that soon their captured fellows will be
among them with a message. At the least it will give us time. And we
need time, Dwayanu—both of us."
I looked at her sharply. She laughed, and gave her horse the
spurs. I rode behind her through the gate and into the great enclosed
square. It was crowded with soldiers and captives. Here the drumming
was magni- fied. The drums seemed to be within the place itself,
invisible and beaten by invisible drummers. The soldiers were plainly
uneasy, the prisoners excited, and curiously defiant.
Passing into the citadel I called various officers who had not
taken part in the attack on Sirk and gave orders that the garrison on
the walls facing Nansur Bridge be increased. Also that an alarm should
be sounded which would bring in the soldiers and people from the
lying posts and farms. I ordered the guard upon the river walls to
be strengthened, and the people of the city be told that those who
wished to seek shelter in the citadel could come, but must be in by
dusk. It was a scant hour before nightfall. There would be little
trouble in caring for them in that immense place. And all this I did
in event of the message failing. If it failed, I had no desire to be
part of a massacre in Karak, which would stand a siege until I could
convince the Little People of my good faith. Or convince Evalie of it,
and have her bring about a peace.
This done, I took Evalie to my own chambers, not those of the
High-priest where the Black Octopus hovered over the three thrones,
but a chain of comfortable rooms in another part of the citadel. The
little troop, which had stood by me through the sack of Sirk and
after, followed us. There I turned Evalie over to Dara. I was bathed,
my wound dressed and bandaged, and clothed. Here the windows looked
out over the river, and the drums beat through them maddeningly. I
ordered food brought, and wine, and summoned Evalie. Dara brought
her. She had been well cared for, but she would not eat with me. She
said to me :
"I fear my people will have but scant faith in any messages you
"Later we will talk of that other message, Evalie. I did not send
it. And Tsantawu, dying in my arms, believed me when I told him I had
"I heard you say to Lur that you had promised her Sirk. You did
not lie to her, Dwayanu—for Sirk is eaten. How can I believe you?"
I said :
"You shall have proof that I speak truth, Evalie, Now, since you
will not eat with me, go with Dara."
She had no fault to find with Dara. Dara was no lying traitor, but
a soldier, and fighting in Sirk or
elsewhere was part of her trade. She went with her.
I ate sparingly and drank heavily. The wine put new life in me,
drove away what was left of weariness. I put sorrow for Jim resolutely
aside for the moment, thinking of what I intended to do, and how best
to do it. And then there was a challenge at the door, and the
Her red braids crowned her and in them shone the sapphires. She
bore not the slightest mark of the struggles of the day, nor sign of
fatigue. Her eyes were bright and clear, her red lips smiling. Her
low, sweet voice, her touch upon my arm, brought back memories I had
thought gone with Dwayanu.
She called, and through the door came a file of soldiers, and with
them a score of the Little People, unbound, hatred in their yellow
eyes as they saw me, curiosity too. I spoke to them, gently. I sent
for Evalie. She came, and the golden pygmies ran to her, threw
themselves upon her like a crowd of children, twittering and trilling,
stroking her hair, touching her feet and hands.
She laughed, called them one by one by name, then spoke rapidly. I
could get little of what she said; by the shadow on Lur's face I knew
she had understood nothing at all. I repeated to Evalie precisely what
I had told Lur—and which, at least in part, she knew, for she had
betrayed that she understood the Uighur, or the Ayjir, better than she
had admitted. I translated from the tongue of the dwarfs for Lur.
The pact was speedily made. Half of the pygmies were to make their
way at once over Nanbu to the garrison on the far side of the bridge.
By the talking drums they would send our message to the stronghold of
the Little People. If they accepted it, the beating of the war drums
would cease. I said to Evalie :
"When they talk on their drums, let them say that
nothing will be asked of them that was not contained in the old
truce—and that death will no longer lie in wait for them when they
cross the river."
The Witch-woman said:
"Just what does that mean, Dwayanu?"
"Now Sirk is done, there is no longer much need for that penalty,
Lur. Let them gather their herbs and metals as they will; that is
"There is more in your mind than that—" Her eyes narrowed.
"They understood me, Evalie—but do you also tell them."
The Little People trilled among themselves ; then ten of them
stepped forward, those chosen to take the mes- sage. As they were
moving away, I stopped them.
"If Sri escaped, let him come with the embassy. Better still—let
him come before them. Send word through the drums that he may come as
soon as he can. He has my safe-conduct, and shall stay with Evalie
until all is settled."
They chattered over that, assented. The Witch- woman made no
comment. For the first time I saw Evalie's eyes soften as she looked
When the pygmies were gone, Lur walked to the door, and beckoned.
I liked Ouarda. It was good to know she was alive. I went to her
with outstretched hands. She took them.
"It was two of the soldiers. Lord. They had sisters in Sirk. They
cut the ladder before we could stop them. They were slain," she said.
Would to God they had cut it before any could, have followed me I
Before I could speak, one of my captains knocked and entered.
"It is long after dusk and the gates are closed. Lord. All those
who would come are behind them."
"Were there many, soldier?"
"No, Lord—not more than a hundred or so. The others refused."
"And did they say why they refused?"
"Is the question an order. Lord?"
"It is an order."
"They said they were safer where they were. That the Rrrllya had
no quarrel with them, who were but meat for Khalk'ru."
"Enough, soldier!" The Witch-woman's voice was harsh. "Go! Take
the Rrrllya with you."
The captain saluted, turned smartly and was gone with the dwarfs.
"Soldiers cut our ladder for sympathy of those who fled Khalk'ru.
The people fear the enemies of Khalk'ru less than they do their own
kind who are his butchers! We do well to make peace with the Rrrllya,
I watched her face pale, then redden and saw the knuckles of her
hands whiten as she clenched them. She smiled, poured herself wine,
lifted it with a steady hand.
"I drink to your wisdom—Dwayanu!"
A strong soul—the Witch-woman's! A warrior's heart. Somewhat
lacking in feminine softness, it was true. But it was no wonder that
Dwayanu had loved her—in his way and as much as he could love a woman.
A silence dropped upon the chamber, intensified in some odd
fashion by the steady beating of the drums. How long we sat in that
silence I do not know. But suddenly the beat of the drums became
And then all at once the drums ceased entirely. The quiet brought
a sense of unreality. I could feel the tense nerves loosening like
springs long held taut. The abrupt silence made ears ache, slowed
"They have the message. They have accepted it," Evalie spoke.
The Witch-woman arose.
"You keep the girl beside you to-night, Dwayanu?"
"She sleeps in one of these rooms, Lur. She will be under guard.
No one can reach her without passing through my room here," I looked
at her, significantly. "And I sleep lightly. You need have no fear of
"I am glad the drums will not disturb your sleep— Dwayanu."
She gave me a mocking salute, and, with Ouarda, left me.
And suddenly the weariness dropped upon me again. I turned to
Evalie, watching me with eyes in which I thought doubt of her own deep
doubt had crept. Cer- tainly there was no scorn, nor loathing in them.
Well, now I had her where all this manoeuvring had been meant to
bring her. Alone with me. And looking at her I felt that in the face
of all she had seen of me, all she had undergone because of me—words
were useless things. Nor could I muster them as I wanted. No, there
would be plenty of time ... in the morning, perhaps, when I had slept
... or after I had done what I had to do ... then she must believe. .
"Sleep, Evalie. Sleep without fear . . . and believe that all that
has been wrong is now becoming right. Go with Dara. You shall be well
guarded. None can come to you except through this room, and here I
will be. Sleep and fear nothing."
I called Dara, gave her instructions, and Evalie went with her. At
the curtains masking the entrance to the next room she hesitated, half
turned as though to speak, but did not. And not long after Dara
returned. She said :
"She is already asleep, Dwayanu."
"As you should be, friend," I told her. "And all those others who
stood by me this day. I think there is nothing to fear to-night.
Select those whom you can trust and have them guard the corridor and
my door. Where have you put her?"
"In the chamber next this, Lord."
"It would be better if you and the others slept here, Dara. There
are half a dozen rooms for you. Have wine and food brought for
you—plenty of it."
"Do you expect a siege, Dwayanu?"
"One never knows."
"You do not greatly trust Lur, Lord?"
"I trust her not at all, Dara."
She nodded, turned to go. Upon the impulse I said:
"Dara, would it make you sleep better to-night and those with you,
and would it help you in picking your guard if I told you this : there
will be no more sacrifices to Khalk'ru while I live?"
She started ; her face lightened, softened. She thrust out her
hand to me :
"Dwayanu—I had a sister who was given to Khalk'ru. Do you mean
"By the life of my blood! By all the living gods! I mean it!"
"Sleep well. Lord!" Her voice was choked. She walked away, through
the curtain, but not before I had seen the tears on her cheeks.
Well, a woman had a right to weep—even if she was a soldier. I
myself had wept to-day.
I poured myself wine, sat thinking as I drank. Mainly my thoughts
revolved around the enigma of Khalk'ru. And there was a good reason
What was Khalk'ru?
I slipped the chain from round my neck, opened the
locket and studied the ring. I closed it, and threw it on the
table. Somehow I felt that it was better there than over my heart
while I was doing this thinking.
Dwayanu had had his doubts about that dread Thing being any Spirit
of the Void, and I, who now was Leif Langdon and a passive Dwayanu,
had no doubts what- ever that it was not. Yet I could not accept
Barr's theory of mass hypnotism—and trickery was out of the question.
Whatever Khalk'ru might be, Khalk'ru—as the Witch- woman had
said—was. Or at least that Shape which became material through ritual,
ring and screen—was.
I thought that I might have put the experience in the temple of
the oasis down as hallucination if it had not been repeated here in
the Shadowed-land. But there could be no possible doubt about the
reality of the sacrifice I had conducted; no possible doubt as to the
destruction—absorption—dissolvement—of the twelve girls. And none of
Yodin's complete belief in the power of the tentacle to remove me, and
none of his complete effacement. And I thought that if the sacrifices
and Yodin were standing in the wings laughing at me, as Barr had put
it—then it was in the wings of a theatre in some other world than
this. And there was the deep horror of the Little People, the horror
of so many of the Ayjir—and there was the revolt in ancient Ayjirland
born of this same horror, which had destroyed Ayjirland
by civil war.
No, whatever the Thing was, no matter how repugnant to science its
recognition as a reality might be—still it was Atavism,
superstition—call it what Barr would—I knew the Thing was real! Not of
this earth—no, most certainly not of this earth. Not even
supernatural. Or rather, supernatural only insofar as it might come
from another dimension or even another world which our five senses
could not encompass.
And I reflected, now, that science and religion are
really blood brothers, which is largely why they hate each other
so, that scientists and religionists are quite alike in their
dogmatism, their intolerance, and that every bitter battle of religion
over some interpretation of creed or cult has its parallel in battles
of science over a bone or rock.
Yet just as there are men in the churches whose minds have not
become religiously fossilized, so there are men in the laboratories
whose minds have not become scientifi- cally fossilized. . . .
Einstein, who dared challenge all conceptions of space and time with
his four dimensional space in which time itself was a dimension, and
who followed that with proof of five dimensional space instead of the
four which are all our senses can apprehend, and which apprehends one
of them wrongly . . . the possi- bility of a dozen worlds spinning
interlocked with this one ... in the same space . . . the energy which
we call matter of each of them keyed to the different vibra- tion,
and each utterly unaware of the other . . . and utterly overturning
the old axiom that two bodies cannot occupy the same place at the same
And I thought—what if far and far back in time, a scientist of
that day, one of the Ayjir people, had dis- covered all that! Had
discovered the fifth dimension beyond length, breadth, thickness and
time. Or had discovered one of those interlocking worlds whose matter
streams through the interstices of the matter of ours. And
discovering dimension or world, had found the way to make dwellers in
that dimension or that other world both aware of and manifest to those
of this. By sound and gesture, by ring and screen, had made a gateway
through which such dwellers could come—or at least, appear! And then
what a weapon this discoverer had —what a weapon the inevitable
priests of that Thing would have! And did have ages gone, just as they
had here in Karak.
If so, was it one dweller or many who lurked in those gateways for
its drink of life? The memories bequeathed me by Dwayanu told me there
had been other temples in Ayjirland besides that one of the oasis. Was
it the same Being that appeared in each? Was the Shape that came from
the shattered stone of the oasis the same that had fed in the temple
of the mirage? Or were there many of them—dwellers in other dimension
or other world— avidly answering the summons? Nor was it necessarily
true that in their own place these Things had the form of the Kraken.
That might be the shape, through purely natural laws, which entrance
into this world forced upon them.
I thought over that for quite awhile. It seemed to me the best
explanation of Khalk'ru. And if it was, then the way to be rid of
Khalk'ru was to destroy his means of entrance. And that, I reflected,
was precisely how the ancient Ayjirs had argued.
But it did not explain why only those of the old blood could
I heard a low voice at the door. I walked softly over to it,
listened. I opened the door and there was Lur, talking to the guards.
"What is it you are seeking, Lur?"
"To speak with you. I will keep you only a little time, Dwayanu."
I studied the Witch-woman. She stood, very quietly, in her eyes
nothing of defiance nor resentment nor subtle calculation—only appeal.
Her red braids fell over her white shoulders ; she was without weapon
or ornament. She looked younger than ever I had seen her, and some-
what forlorn. I felt no desire to mock her nor to deny her. I felt
instead the stirrings of a deep pity.
"Enter, Lur—and say all that is in your mind."
I closed the door behind her. She walked over to the window,
looked out into the dim greenly glimmering night. I went to her.
"Speak softly, Lur. The girl is asleep there in the next chamber.
Let her rest."
She said, tonelessly:
"I wish you had never come here. Yellow-hair." I thought of Jim,
and I answered :
"I wish that too. Witch-woman. But here I am." She leaned towards
me, put her hand over my heart. "Why do you hate me so greatly?"
"I do not hate you, Lur. I have no hate left in me— except for one
Involuntarily I looked at the table. One candle shone there and
its light fell on the locket that held the ring. Her glance followed
mine. She said :
"What do you mean to do? Throw Karak open to the dwarfs? Mend
Nansur? Rule here over Karak and the Rrrllya with their dark girl at
your side? Is it that . . . and if it is that—what is to become of
Lur? Answer me. I have the right to know. There is a bond between us
... I loved you when you were Dwayanu . . . you know how well . . ."
"And would have killed me while I was still Dwayanu," I said,
"Because I saw Dwayanu dying as you looked into the eyes of the
stranger," she answered. "You whom Dwayanu had mastered was killing
Dwayanu. I loved Dwayanu. Why should I not avenge him?"
"If you believe I am no longer Dwayanu, then I am the man whose
friend you trapped and murdered—the man whose love you trapped and
would have destroyed. And if that be so—what claim have you upon me,
She did not answer for moments ; then she said :
"I have some justice on my side. I tell you I loved Dwayanu.
Something I knew of your case from the first. Yellow-hair. But I saw
Dwayanu awaken within you. And I knew it was truly he! I knew, too,
long as that friend of yours and the dark girl lived there was
danger for Dwayanu. That was why I plotted to bring them into Sirk. I
threw the dice upon the chance of killing them before you had seen
them. Then, I thought, all would be well. There would be none left to
rouse that in you which Dwayanu had mastered. I lost. I knew I had
lost when by whim of Luka she threw you three together. And rage and
sorrow caught me—and I did . . . what I did."
"Lur," I said, "answer me truly. That day you returned to the Lake
of the Ghosts after pursuit of the two women—were they not your spies
who bore that lying message into Sirk? And did you not wait until you
learned my friend and Evalie were in the trap before you gave me word
to march? And was it not in your thought that you would then—if I
opened the way into Sirk—rid yourself not only of those two but of
Dwayanu? For remember—you may have loved Dwayanu, but as he told you,
you loved power better than he. And Dwayanu threatened your power.
Answer me truly."
For the second time I saw tears in the eyes of the Witch-woman.
She said, brokenly :
"I sent the spies, yes. I waited until the two were in the trap.
But I never meant harm to Dwayanu!"
I did not believe her. But still I felt no anger, no hate. The
"Lur, now I will tell you truth. It is not in my mind to rule with
Evalie over Karak and the Rrrllya. I have no more desire for power.
That went with Dwayanu. In the peace I make with the dwarfs, you shall
rule over Karak—if that be your desire. The dark girl shall go back
with them. She will not desire to remain in Karak. Nor do I. . . ."
"You cannot go with her," she interrupted me. "Never would the
yellow dogs trust you. Their arrows would be ever pointed at you."
I nodded—that thought had occurred to me long before.
"All-that must adjust itself," I said. "But there shall be no more
sacrifices. The gate of Khalk'ru shall be closed against him for ever.
And I will close it."
Her eyes dilated.
"I mean that I will shut Khalk'ru for ever from Karak —unless
Khalk'ru proves stronger than I."
She wrung her hands, helplessly.
"What use rule over Karak to me then . . . how could I hold the
"Nevertheless—I will destroy the gate of Khalk'ru."
"Gods—if I had Yodin's ring ..."
I smiled at that.
"Witch-woman, you know as well as I that Khalk'ru comes to no
The witch-lights flickered in her eyes ; a flash of green shone
"There is an ancient prophecy. Yellow-hair, that Dwayanu did not
know—or had forgotten. It says that when Khalk'ru comes to a woman's
call, he—stays! That was the reason no woman in ancient Ayjilrand
might be priestess at the sacrifice."
I laughed at that.
"A fine pet, Lur—to add to your wolves."
She walked toward the door, paused.
"What if I could love you—as I loved Dwayanu? Could make you love
me as Dwayanu loved me? And more! Send the dark girl to join her
people and take the ban of death from them on this side of Nanbu.
Would you let things be as they are—rule with me over Karak?"
I opened the door for her.
"I told you I no longer care for power, Lur."
She walked away.
I went back to the window, drew a chair to it, and sat thinking.
Suddenly from somewhere close to the citadel I heard a wolf cry.
Thrice it howled, then thrice again.
I jumped to my feet. Evalie was beside me. She peered at me
through the veils of her hair ; her clear eyes shone upon me—no longer
doubting, hating, fearing. They were as they were of old.
My arms went round her ; my lips found hers.
"I listened, Leif!"
"You believe, Evalie!"
She kissed me, held me tight.
"But she was right—Leif. You could not go with me again into the
land of the Little People. Never, never would they understand. And I
would not dwell in Karak."
"Will you go with me, Evalie—to my own land? After I have done
what I must do ... and if I am not destroyed in its doing?"
"I will go with you, Leif!"
And she wept awhile, and after another while she fell asleep in my
arms. And I lifted her, and carried her into her chamber and covered
her with the sleep silks. Nor did she awaken.
I returned to my own room. As I passed the table I picked up the
locket, started to put it round my neck. I threw it back. Never would
I wear that chain again, I dropped upon the bed, sword at hand. I
CHAPTER XXIII. IN KHALK'RU'S TEMPLE
TWICE I awakened. The first time it was the howling of the wolves
that aroused me. It was as though they were beneath my window. I
listened drowsily, and sank back to sleep.
The second time I came wide awake from a troubled dream. Some
sound in the chamber had roused me, of that I was sure. My hand
dropped to my sword lying on the floor beside my bed. I had the
feeling that there was someone in the room. I could see nothing in the
green darkness that filled the chamber. I called, softly :
"Evalie! Is that you?"
There was no answer, no sound.
I sat up in the bed, even thrust a leg out to rise. And then I
remembered the guards at my door, and Dara and her soldiers beyond,
and I told myself that it had been only my troubled dream that had
awakened me. Yet for a time I lay awake listening, sword in hand. And
then the silence lulled me back to sleep.
There was a knocking upon my door, and I struggled out of that
sleep. I saw that it was well after dawn. I went to the door softly so
that I might not awaken Evalie. I opened it, and there with the guards
was Sri. The little man had come well armed, with spear and
sickle-sword and between his shoulders one of the small, surprisingly
resonant talking drums. He looked at me in the friendliest fashion. I
patted his hand and pointed to the curtains.
"Evalie is there, Sri. Go waken her."
He trotted past me. I gave greeting to the guards, and turned to
follow Sri. He stood at the curtains, look- ing at me with eyes in
which was now no friendliness at all. He said:
"Evalie is not there."
I stared at him, incredulously, brushed by him and into that
chamber. It was empty. I crossed to the pile of silks and cushions on
which Evalie had slept, touched them. There was no warmth. I went, Sri
at my heels, into the next room. Dara and a half dozen of the women
lay there, asleep. Evalie was not among them. I touched Dara on the
shoulder. She sat up, yawning.
"Dara—the girl is gone!"
"Gone!" she stared at me as incredulously as I had at the golden
pygmy. She leaped to her feet, ran to the empty room, then with me
through the other chambers. There lay the soldier women, alseep, but
I ran back to my own room, and to its door. A bitter rage began to
possess me. Swiftly, harshly, I questioned the guards. They had seen
no one. None had entered;
none had gone forth. The golden pygmy listened, his eyes never
I turned toward Evalie's room. I passed the table on which I had
thrown the locket. My hand fell on it, lifted it; it was curiously
light ... I opened it. ... The ring of Khalk'ru was not there! I
glared at the empty locket—and like a torturing flame realization of
what its emptiness and the vanish- ment of Evalie might signify came
to me. I groaned, leaned against the table to keep from falling.
"Drum, Sri! Call your people! Bid them come quickly! There may yet
The golden pygmy hissed ; his eyes became little pools of yellow
fire. He could not have known all the horror of my thoughts—but he
read enough. He leaped to the
window, swung his drum and sent forth call upon call— peremptory,
raging, vicious. At once he was answered —answered from Nansur, and
then from all the river and beyond it the drums of the Little People
Would Lur hear them? She could not help but hear them . . . but
would she heed . . . would their threat stop her ... it would tell her
that I was awake and that the Little People knew of their betrayal . .
. and Evalie's.
God! If she did hear—was it in time to save Evalie?
"Quick, Lord!" Dara called from the curtains. The dwarf and I ran
through. She pointed to the side of the wall. There, where one of the
carved stones jointed another, hung a strip of silk.
"A door there, Dwayanu! That is how they took her. They went
hurriedly. The cloth caught when the stone closed."
I looked for something to batter at the stone. But Dara was
pressing here and there. The stone swung open. Sri darted past and
into the black passage it had masked. I stumbled after him, Dara at my
heels, the others following. It was a narrow passage, and not long.
Its end was a solid wall of stone. And here Dara pressed again until
that wall opened.
We burst into the chamber of the High-priest. The eyes of the
Kraken stared at me and through me with their inscrutable malignancy.
Yet it seemed to me that in them now was challenge.
All my senseless fury, all blind threshing of my rage, fell from
me. A cold deliberation, an ordered purpose that had in it nothing of
haste took its place. . . . Is it too late to save Evalie? ... It is
not too late to destroy you, my enemy. . . .
"Dara—get horses for us. Gather quickly as many as you can trust.
Take only the strongest. Have them
ready at the gate of the road to the temple. . . . We go to end
Khalk'ru. Tell them that."
I spoke to the golden pygmy.
"I do not know if I can help Evalie. But I go to put an end to
Khalk'ru. Do you wait for your people—or do you go with me?"
"I go with you."
I knew where the Witch-woman dwelt in the black citadel, and it
was not far away. I knew I would not find her there, but I must be
sure. And she might have taken Evalie to the Lake of the Ghosts, I was
thinking as I went on, past groups of silent, uneasy, perplexed and
saluting soldiers. But deep in me I knew she had not. Deep within me
I knew that it had been Lur who had awakened me in the night. Lur, who
had stolen through the curtains to take the ring of Khalk'ru. And
there was only one reason why she should have done that. No, she
would not be at the Lake of the Ghosts.
Yet, if she had come into my room—why had she not slain me? Or had
she meant to do this, and had my awakening and calling out to Evalie
stayed her? Had she feared to go further? Or had she deliberately
I reached her rooms. She was not there. None of her women was
there. The place was empty, not even soldiers on guard.
I broke into a run. The golden pygmy followed me, shrilling,
javelins in left hand, sickle-sword in right. We came to the gate to
the temple road.
There were three or four hundred soldiers awaiting me. Mounted—and
every one a woman. I threw myself on a horse Dara held for me, swung
Sri up on the saddle. We raced toward the temple.
We were half-way there when out from the trees that bordered the
temple road poured the white wolves. They sprang from the sides like a
white torrent, threw
themselves upon the riders. They checked our rush, our horses
stumbled, falling over those the fangs of the wolves had dropped in
that swift, unexpected ambuscade ;
soldiers falling with them, ripped and torn by the wolves before
they could struggle to their feet. We milled among them—horses and men
and wolves in a whirling, crimson-flecked ring.
Straight at my throat leaped the great dog-wolf, leader of Lur's
pack, green eyes naming. I had no time for sword thrust. I caught its
throat in my left hand, lifted it and flung it over my back. Even so,
its fangs had struck and gashed me.
We were through the wolves. What was left of them came coursing
behind us. But they had taken toll of my troop.
I heard the clang of an anvil . . . thrice stricken . . . the
anvil of Tubalka!
God! It was true . . . Lur in the temple . . . and Evalie ... and
We swept up to the door of the temple. I heard voices raised in
the ancient chant. The entrance swarmed. . . . It bristled with swords
of the nobles, women and men.
"Ride through them, Dara! Ride them down!"
We swept through them like a ram. Sword against sword, hammers and
battleaxes beating at them, horses trampling them.
The shrill song of Sri never ceased. His javelin thrust, his
We burst into Khalk'ru's temple. The chanting stopped. The
chanters arose against us; they struck with sword and axe and hammer
at us; they stabbed and hacked our horses ; pulled us down. The amphi-
theatre was a raging cauldron of death. . . .
The lip of the platform was before me. I spurred my horse to it,
stood upon its back and leaped upon the plat- form. Close to my right
was the anvil of Tubalka;
beside it, hammer raised to smite, was Ouarda. I heard the roll of
drums, the drums of Khalk'ru's evocation. The backs of the priests
were bent over them.
In front of the priests, the ring of Khalk'ru raised high, stood
And between her and the bubble ocean of yellow stone that was the
gate of Khalk'ru, fettered dwarfs swung two by two in the golden
girdles. . . .
Within the warrior's ring—Evalie!
The Witch-woman never looked at me; she never looked behind her at
the roaring cauldron of the amphi- theatre where the soldiers and
She launched into the ritual!
Shouting, I rushed on Ouarda. I wrested the great sledge from her
hands. I hurled it straight at the yellow screen . . . straight at the
head of Khalk'ru. With every ounce of my strength I hurled that great
The screen cracked! The hammer was thrown back from it ... fell.
The Witch-woman's voice went on ... and on ... never faltering.
There was a wavering in the cracked screen. The Kraken floating in
the bubble ocean seemed to draw back ... to thrust forward . . .
I ran toward it ... to the hammer.
An instant I halted beside Evalie. I thrust my hands through the
golden girdle, broke it as though it had been wood. I dropped my sword
at her feet.
"Guard yourself, Evalie!"
I picked up the hammer. I raised it. The eyes of Khalk'ru moved .
. . they glared at me, were aware of me . . . the tentacles stirred!
And the paralysing cold began to creep round me. ... I threw all my
will against it.
I smashed the sledge of Tubalka against the yellow stone . . .
again . . . and again——
The tentacles of Khalk'ru stretched toward me!
There was a crystalline crashing, like a lightning bolt striking
close. The yellow stone of the screen shattered. It rained round me
like sleet driven by an icy hurricane. There was an earthquake
trembling. The temple rocked. My arms fell, paralysed. The hammer of
Tubalka dropped from hands that could no longer feel it. The icy cold
swirled about me ... higher . . . higher . . . there was a shrill and
dreadful shrieking. . . .
For an instant the shape of the Kraken hovered where the screen
had been. Then it shrank. It seemed to be sucked away into
immeasurable distances. It vanished.
And life rushed back into me!
There were jagged streamers of the yellow stone upon the rocky
floor . . . black of the Kraken within them ... I beat them into dust.
. . .
Evalie's voice, shrill, agonized. I swung round. Lur was rushing
upon me, sword raised. Before I could move Evalie had darted between
us, flung herself in front of the Witch-woman, struck at her with my
The blade of Lur parried the stroke, swept in ... bit deep . . .
and Evalie fell. . . .
Lur leaped toward me ... I watched her come, not moving, not
caring . . . there was blood upon her sword . . . Evalie's blood. . .
Something like a flash of light touched her breast. She halted as
though a hand had thrust her back. Slowly, she dropped to her knees.
She sank to the rock.
Over the rim of the platform leaped the dog-wolf, howling as it
ran. It hurled itself straight at me. There was another flash of
light. The dog-wolf somersaulted and fell—in mid-leap.
I saw Sri, crouching. One of his javelins was in Lur's breast, the
mate to it in the dog-wolf's throat. ... I saw the golden pygmy
running to Evalie . . . saw her rise, holding a hand to a shoulder
from which streamed blood. . . .
I walked toward Lur, stiffly, like an automaton. The white wolf
tried to stagger to its feet, then crawled to the Witch- woman,
dragging itself on its belly. It reached her before I did. It dropped
its head upon her breast. It turned its head, and lay glaring at me,
The Witch-woman looked up at me. Her eyes were soft and her mouth
had lost all cruelty. It was tender. She smiled at me.
"I wish you had never come here, Yellow-hair!"
"Ai—and—Ai! My Lake of the Ghosts!"
Her hand crept up, and dropped on the head of the dying wolf,
caressingly. She sighed—
The Witch-woman was dead.
I LOOKED into the awed faces of Evalie and Dara. "Evalie—your
"Not deep, Leif. . . . Soon it will heal ... it does not matter. .
"Hail—Dwayanu! It is a great thing you have done this day!"
She dropped on her knees, kissed my hand. And now I saw that those
of mine who had survived the battle in the temple had come up on the
platform, and were kneeling- to me. And that Ouarda lay beside
Tubalka's anvil, and that Sri too was on his knees, staring at me,
eyes filled with worship.
I heard the tumult of the drums of the Little People ... no longer
on Nanbu's far side ... in Karak . . . and closer.
Dara spoke again:
"Let us be going back to Karak, Lord. It is now all yours to
I said to Sri:
"Sound your drum, Sri. Tell them that Evalie lives. That Lur is
dead. That the gate of Khalk'ru is closed forever. Let there be no
"What you have done has wiped out all war between my people and
Karak. Evalie and you we will obey. I will tell them what you have
He swung the little drum, raised his hands to beat it I stopped
"Wait, Sri, I shall not be here to obey."
Dara cried: "Dwayanu—you will not leave us!"
"Yes, Dara. ... I go now to that place whence I came. ... I do not
return to Karak. I am done with the Little People, Sri."
Evalie spoke, breathlessly:
"What of me—Leif?"
I put my hands on her shoulders, looked into her eyes:
"Last night you whispered that you would go with me, Evalie. I
release you from that promise. ... I am thinking you would be happier
here with your small folk. . . ."
She said, steadily:
"I know where happiness lies for me. I hold to my prom- ise ...
unless you do not want me. . . ."
"I do want you—dark girl!"
She turned to Sri: "Carry my love to my people, Sri. I shall not
see them again."
The little man clung to her, cast himself down before her, wailed
and wept while she talked to him. At last he squatted on his haunches,
and stared long at the shattered gate of the Kraken. I saw the secret
knowledge touch him. He came to me, held up his arms for me to lift
him. He raised my lids and looked deep into my eyes. He thrust his
hand in my breast, and placed his head on my breast, and lis- tened
to the beating of my heart. He dropped, bent Evalie's head to his,
Dara said: "Dwayanu's will is our will. Yet it is hard to
understand why he will not stay with us."
"Sri knows . . . more than I do. I cannot, Dara."
Evalie came to me. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears.
"Sri says we must go now, Leif . . . quickly. My people must-not
see me. He will tell them a tale upon his drum . . . there will be no
fighting . . . and henceforth there will be peace."
The golden pygmy began to beat the talking drum. At the first
strokes the hosts of other drums were silent. When he had ended they
began again . . . jubilant, triumphant . . . until in them crept a
note of questioning. Once more he beat a message ... the answer
came—angry, peremptory—in some queer fashion, incredulous.
Sri said to me: "Haste! Haste!"
Dara said: "We stay with you, Dwayanu, until the last."
I nodded, and looked at Lur. Upon her hand the ring of Khalk'ru
sent out a sudden gleam. I went to her, lifted the dead hand and took
from it the ring. I smashed it on the anvil of Tubalka as I had the
ring of Yodin.
Evalie said: "Sri knows a way that will lead us out into your
world, Leif. It lies at the head of Nanbu. He will take us."
"Is the way past the Lake of Ghosts, Evalie?"
"I will ask him .. . yes, it passes there."
"That is good. We go into a country where the clothing I wear
would be hardly fitting. And some provision must be made for you."
We rode from the temple with Sri on my saddle, and Evalie and Dara
on either side. The drums were very close. They were muted when we
emerged from the forest upon the road. We went swiftly. It was
mid-afternoon when we reached
the Lake of the Ghosts. The drawbridge was down. There was no one
in the garrison. The Witch-woman's castle was empty. I searched, and
found my roll of clothes; I stripped the finery of Dwayanu from me. I
took a battle-ax, thrust a short sword in my belt, picked javelins for
Evalie and myself. They would help us win through, would be all we
had to depend upon to get us food later on. We took food with us from
Lur's castle, and skins to clothe Evalie when she passed from the
I did not go up into the chamber of the Witch-woman. I heard the
whispering of the waterfall—and did not dare to look upon it.
All the rest of that afternoon we galloped along the white river's
banks. The drums of the Little People followed us . . . searching . .
. questioning . . . calling . . . "Ev-ah-lee .. . Ev-ah-lee . . .
Ev-ah-lee . .."
By nightfall we had come to the cliffs at the far end of the
valley. Here Nanbu poured forth in a mighty torrent from some
subterranean source. We picked our way across. Sri led us far into a
ravine running steeply upward, and here we camped.
And that night I sat thinking long of what Evalie must meet in
that new world awaiting her beyond the Mirage— the world of sun and
stars and wind and cold. I thought long of what must be done to shield
her until she could adjust herself to that world. And I listened to
the drums of the Little People calling her, and I watched her while
she slept, and wept and smiled in dream.
She must be taught to breathe. I knew that when she emerged from
this atmosphere in which she had lived since babyhood, she would cease
instantly to breathe—deprivation of the accustomed stimulus of the
carbon-dioxide would bring that about at once. She must will herself
to breathe until the reflexes again became automatic and she need give
them no conscious thought. And at night, when she slept, this would
be trebly difficult. I would have to remain awake, watch beside her.
And she must enter this new world with eyes bandaged, blind, until
the nerves accustomed to the green luminosity of the Mirage could
endure the stronger light. Warm cloth- ing we could contrive from the
skins and furs. But the food—what was it Jim had said in the long and
long ago— that those who had eaten the food of the Little People
would die if they ate other. Well, that was true in part. Yet,
only in part—it could be managed.
With dawn came a sudden memory—the pack I had hid- den on Nanbu's
bank when we had plunged into the white river with the wolves at our
heels. If that could be found, it would help solve the problem of
Evalie's clothing at least. I told Dara about it. And she and Sri set
out to find it. And while they were gone the soldier-women foraged for
food and I instructed Evalie upon what she must do to cross in safety
that bridge which lay, perilous, between her world and mine.
Two days they were gone—but they had found the pack. They brought
word of peace between the Ayjir and the Little People. As for me—
Dwayanu the Deliverer had come even as the prophecy had promised .
. . had come and freed them from the ancient doom . . . and had gone
back as was his right to that place from which, answering the
prophecy, he had come . . . and had taken with him Evalie as was also
his right. Sri had spread the tale.
And next morning when the light showed that the sun had risen over
the peaks that girdled the Valley of the Mirage, we set forth—Evalie
like a slim boy beside me.
We climbed until we were within the green mists. And here we bade
farewell, Sri clinging to Evalie, kissing her hands and feet, weeping.
And Dara clasped my shoulders:
"You will come back to us, Dwayanu? We will be wait- ing!"
It was like the echo of the Uighur captain's voice—long and long
ago. . . .
I turned and began to climb, Evalie following. I thought that so
might Euridice have followed her lover up from the Land of Shades in
another long and long ago.
The figures of Sri and the watching women became dim. They were
hidden under the green mists. . . .
I felt the bitter cold touch my face. I caught Evalie up in my
arms—and climbed up and on—and staggered at last out into the sun-lit
warmth of the slopes beyond the pit of the precipices.
THE day dawned when we had won the long, hard fight for Evalie's
life. Not easily was the grip of the Mirage loosed. We turned our
faces to the South and set our feet upon the Southward trail.
And yet . . .
Ai! Lur—Witch-woman! I see you lying there, smiling with lips
grown tender—the -white wolf's head upon your breast! And Dwayanu
still lives within mel