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Stories of the Magicians by  Alfred J. Church

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LEILA

[90] IN another moment the two found themselves again in the cave among the hills; and Maimuna felt the burden of her years fall upon her, for she had prolonged her life far beyond the span appointed to men by the magic of her spells. So she died in faith and peace, and Thalaba buried her in the snow, and taking his bow and arrows from the hearth, where they had lain since the witches had carried him away bound, went on his way. The wind blew keenly from the East, and drifted the snow in his face, and froze the breath upon his lips, till he was almost spent with cold and hunger. At last he saw a light in the darkness, and though he feared another snare from the magic arts of his enemies, he had no choice but to make for it.

It was a little cottage in the middle of a [91] garden; and, strange to say, the air of the garden was as mild as a summer wind, for a fountain of fire sprang up in the centre of it, sending rivulets of warmth streaming over it every way. Thalaba saw a door open, and went in. A girl lay asleep upon a couch, but woke at the sound of his steps. She rose, and took his hand, with gladness dancing in her eyes. But when she felt it cold, the smile died from her face, and she said, "I thought it would be warm like mine, but you are like the rest."

Thalaba stood surprised and silent. At last he answered—"Cold? Lady, what wonder! I have been travelling in this icy wilderness till the life is nearly frozen in me."

"You are a man then?"

"Surely; I did not think that grief and labour could have so changed me."

"And you can be warm sometimes, life-warm as I am?"

"Surely, Lady; I am subject as other men to heat and cold. You see a traveller who is bound upon hard adventures, and asks shelter for the night, meaning to pursue his journey to-morrow."

[92] "No; not to-morrow. You must not go so soon. And whither? All the country round is ice and snow and deserts of endless snow over which no man can pass."

"He that has led me so far will support me still through cold and hunger."

"Hunger!" said the girl, and clapped her hands.

In a moment the table was spread with food, but whence and how it came no one could see.

"Why do you look, Mortal?" said the girl; "I made it come."

"But whence?"

"What matter? My father sent it. But I see you are no man; if you were, your hunger would not let you ask such questions."

"I will not eat. It is the work of magic. Deceit and danger surround me. I was a fool to think I could escape them."

"Begone, insolent creature! Do you fancy that I am plotting harm against you? One day you will be sorry for having so wronged me.

"Hear, Lady; I have many enemies, and my [93] way is beset with dangers. Thus I have learnt to be suspicious. But if I have wronged you, pray pardon me. In the name of God, I will eat of your food."

"Just now you were afraid of sorcery, and yet you have said a charm."

"A charm?"

"Yes, or what meant your words? I have heard many spells and many names that rule the Genii and the Elements, but that which you said I have never heard."

"What! never heard the name of God?"

"Never; but you are a strange man. Why this wonder and trouble? You must not suspect me twice. If you are afraid, depart."

"Do you not know the God who made you?

"Who made me? My father made me, and this house, and garden, and the fountain of fire; and he makes men and women out of the snow every morning. They can move and talk, but they are always cold as ice, and in the evening they melt away into nothing and I am alone. How glad I am when my dear father comes! Were it not for him; I would gladly melt away like them."

[94] "And have you always lived here?"

"Ever since I can remember."

"And you do not know your father's art?"

"No; I asked him once to give me some share of his power, but he shook his head and said that it was too dearly bought."

"Why did he put you here in the wilderness?"

"For fear and love. He said that the stars threatened a danger to my life, and he put me here amidst everlasting snow where no foot could ever come. And if indeed the enemy should come, I have a Guardian."

"A Guardian?"

"Yes; would you see him?"

So the girl led Thalaba through the garden. As they went, she said, "I do not think you are the enemy. But if you have any evil thought in your heart, depart in peace. I will not lead you to your death."

"Let him kill me," cried the youth, "if I have a single thought of harming you!"

And now they came to the place where the Guardian stood. It was an image of iron, with every vein and limb and muscle true to [95] life. The knee was bent forward; the other stood firm and upright. The right hand was lifted ready to throw the thunder-bolt. When Thalaba approached, the Image knew the Destroyer, and hurled the thunder-bolt. But again the Ring, which Mohareb had restored to him, saved him. So blindly do the wicked work the will of Heaven! The lightning was turned back harmless. He started and looked round on the girl. He leant pale, and breathless against a tree; the next moment she started with a scream of joy, "Save me, save me, Okba; the Enemy is here!"

"Okba!" said the youth, for he had never forgotten the name of his father's murderer since the Spirit had told it to him at midnight in Moath's tent. "Okba!" and he seized an arrow in his hand, and rushed at him.

"Son of Hodeirah!" said the old man, "my hour is not yet come. But my Leila, my innocent daughter, you may slay; this vengeance God allows."

Leila stood with her hands clasped round her father's neck, her eyes wide open with terror.

[96] "It is not upon her that the blood of Hodeirah cries for vengeance." And again he threatened the Sorcerer, and again he felt his hand held by some mysterious power.

"You do not aim the blow more eagerly," said Okba, "than I would rush to meet it. But that would be but a poor revenge. No, I must suffer in my innocent child. Strike her, why do you delay? God permits, nay, commands, the deed."

"Liar!" cried Thalaba, and Leila looked up wondering in her father's face.

"Nay!" said he, "'tis the truth. Long ago I saw this danger. I saw it in the stars at her birth, and when I called up a Spirit, and asked him, he said, 'One must die, Leila or Thalaba.' Yes; and I mounted to the seventh heaven, and read the death table in which are written all the names of them that are for death, and her name was among them. Be merciful, young man; and do not keep her any longer in her agony."

Then the rush of wings was heard, and Azrael, the Angel of Death, stood before them.

[97] "Son of Hodeirah," said he, "the Magician speaks truth. I am come to receive the maiden's life at your hands."

"Hear me, angel," said Thalaba. "I have dared every danger, I have lost all that my soul holds dear. I have cut off every tie of life to avenge my father's death, and to root out of the earth the accursed sorcerer here. And I am willing to endure whatever still remains. But this innocent girl I will not slay. No, angel, I dare not do it!"

"Remember," said the angel, "every word of thine is written down, and thou must be judged for all."

"Be it so. He that reads the secrets of the hearts will judge me; I will not harm the innocent."

Then a voice came out of the darkness. "Think again, son of Hodeirah! One must die, Leila or Thalaba. She dies for thee, or thou for her. Think again, and weigh it well."

He did not hesitate a moment; but reaching out his hand cried, "Oneiza, receive thy Thalaba unstained by crime."

"Thou hast disobeyed. The hour is mine," [98] cried Okba, and shaking his daughter off, drew the dagger from his side, and aimed a deadly blow.

He aimed it, but Leila rushed between to save the youth, and sank into Thalaba's arms, and Azrael from his hands received her parting soul.


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