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Stories of the Magicians by  Alfred J. Church

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THE REFUGE

[293] EVEN as the Rajah departed, Ladurlad felt the curse return with double force. This he could have borne in silence, but he groaned with pain when, looking at his child, he saw her beauty all disfigured and marred with leprosy. But Kailyal's heart never failed her for a moment.

"Ha, Rajah!" she cried, with a disdainful smile, "wise and wicked as thou art, thy vengeance is blind, and acts a friendly part. This deformity is better than thy suit; nay, safe in this, I can walk fearless through the world."

And as she spoke she lifted her face proudly to the heavens. But then she turned it again to the earth, and there was a tear in her eye—the tears of a woman's regret for her lost [294] beauty; and for a moment, it may be, she thought in her heart, "This is a loathsome sight to man; will it be so also to him, to Ereenia, the immortal?" "Not so," she said to herself again; "the powers above behold the soul itself through the wrappings of mortality, and see that it is beautiful, so long as it is free from sin."

But where is the Glendoveer?

He is gone in search of Seeva's throne, to tell before the very seat of supreme power his tale of wrong. How shall he find it? Do not the wise men say that when Brahma and Veshnoo contended for the pre-eminence, Seeva ended their strife, standing before them in his might like a mighty column of which they could not see the height or depth; that for a thousand years Veshnoo explored the depth, and Brahma for as long sought to reach the height, and neither found an end; and that, trembling and adoring, the rivals owned their lord? How shall the Glendoveer accomplish that which Brahma and Veshnoo failed to do? How shall he pass the seven worlds that, each with its own ocean, compass the mighty throne? [295] How shall he pierce the golden firmament that closes all within itself? Yet, he has done it; faith has given him power; space and time are as nothing to him. He journeys on till Seeva's seat appears, till he comes to Mount Calasay.

Seven ladders of silver stood around the mountain. So high they were that no one could see their top, and that worlds would decay with age before any one could climb from ring to ring; but the Glendoveer, his wings nerved with the strong power of faith, has climbed the highest, and reached the plain, the sanctuary above.

Then he lifted up his voice and spoke.

"There is oppression in the world below; earth groans beneath the yoke, and asks whether the avenger's eye is blinded that it cannot see. Holy One, awake! for mercy's sake put on thy terror, and, in justice to mankind, strike the blow!"

As he prayed thus, he felt his faith grow stronger and stronger in his heart. Then he spoke again—

"Let me not seek in vain, great Seeva! Thou art not here—for how should this con- [296] tain thee? Thou art not here—for how could I endure thy presence? But thou art everywhere, and they who seek shall find."

When he had finished his prayer he sprang up, and struck the great silver bell which hung self-suspended above the plain. It gave forth in answer a deep melodious sound, and in a moment Mount Calasay and the table and the bell itself vanished away like a dream. But as he fell through space, the Glendoveer heard a voice from within, which said—

"Go, ye who suffer, go to the throne of Yamen; he bath a remedy for every sorrow; all that is wrong he setteth right."

Returning to earth, the Glendoveer found Ladurlad and Kailyal where the great Rajah had left them.

Stretching out her hand to warn him against nearer approach, the maiden said: "Strange things have befallen us, dear Ereenia, since you left us. The Almighty Man has sued for peace. It is written on my forehead, he says, that he and I, alone of all mortals, must drink the Amreeta cup of immortality. And so he would have had me share his throne in the [297] paradise of Swerga. I need not tell you my answer. You see here in this leprosy his revenge."

The Glendoveer answered: "Be sure, dear maiden—dearer now than ever—be sure that he has not read the book of fate aright. Did he say the A mreeta cup? So far, doubtless, he has been able to discover the secret of the future; for fate reveals some things, and some she hides. To Yamen we must go; this is Seeva's own decree. It is he, the righteous power of death, who will redress our wrongs; and it is Yamen who keeps the Amreeta cup."

So the Glendoveer and Ladurlad and Kailyal went, obedient to Seeva's command, along the dreary road which leads to the dwelling of Yamen. Many days they journeyed, till they came to where the outer ocean encompasses the earth. Not like other seas was this ocean, rather like an abyss on whose brink they stood; for it was hidden in a darkness which the sun could not pierce, and in which neither moon nor stars were to be seen.

In a creek of this strange sea there lay at anchor a ship as strange, to convey these pil- [298] grims across the deep. Its sides were leaky, and let in the waves; its mast was broken, and its one sail tattered. But it was useless to delay upon the .shore. And, indeed, there sounded through the darkness an awful voice, bidding them embark. So, with a prayer for protection, they took their seats. Self-hoisted, the sail spread itself to the wind; hands that they could not see loosed the cable, and so they started on their voyage, leaving the day behind them.

The ship sped swift as an arrow across the sea; and as it sped Ladurlad felt the curse leave his heart and his brain, and Kailyal was free again of the hideous defilement of the leprosy. "The Almighty Man has no dominion here," she cried.

Reaching the other shore, they found the gulf which was the road to the dwelling of Yamen. Round its brink stood the souls of the dead; and ever and anon the Genii who are the ministers of the god rose out of the darkness, and catching those souls whose hour was come that they should be judged, plunged with them into the deep.

[299] "Those Genii," said the Glendoveer to Ladurlad, "wonder to see us here; but they come for the dead and not for us. Fear them not. A little while you must be left alone, while I bear your daughter down to Yamen's seat."

So speaking he took Kailyal in his arms, and saying, "Beloved, be of good courage; it is I!" plunged into the darkness of the gulf.

Padalon, the abode of death, had eight gates, and at each gate a heavenly guard, always at his post. At one of these gates the Glendoveer laid his charge, who, pale and cold with fear, hung an almost lifeless weight about his neck.

"Who art thou," said the guardian, "son of light, that comest at this portentous hour, when Yamen's throne is trembling, and we can scarcely hinder the rebel race from seizing Padalon? Who art thou, and why bringest thou hither this mortal maid, fitter for the Swerga than for this doleful scene?"

"Lord of the gate," said the Glendoveer, "we come in obedience to Seeva's high command. He, to whom the secrets of the future are known, bade us come hither. We should [300] find justice, he said, by Yamen's throne. And now I leave this maiden under thy charge; keep her, while I mount to bring her father down."

Then turning to Kailyal: "Be brave; I shall be here anon," and spreading his wings for flight, sprang up.

For a moment the maiden stood gazing after him, with straining eyes and outstretched arms. She would fain have called him back; but, gathering up all her courage, she checked the cry, and crossing her patient arms, sat at the feet of the guardian of the gate, prepared to meet what the will of the gods might bring.

The guardian's brow relaxed as he looked upon her; and hope, long unfelt in his heart, revived. "Now may the blessing of the Powers of Padalon be on thee!" he cried; "and blessed be the hour which gave thee birth! Thou hast brought hope, too long a stranger, to these drear abodes; for surely Nature cannot have made thee to be aught but an inheritor of heaven."

And he looked at the maiden with a smile, thinking that Seeva had sent her to be the [301] messenger of hope and deliverance from Kehama's unrighteous power.

Meanwhile the Glendoveer had returned, bringing Ladurlad with him. And the three stand before the gate.

"Guardian of the gate," said the Glendoveer, "I come, as I have said, by Seeva's own command; tell me the way to Yamen's throne."

"Bring forth the chariot," said the guardian.

And the chariot was brought, self-moving, poised upon a single wheel. And next two mantles were brought, white and shining as snow. In these father and child were arrayed; for so only could their mortal flesh and blood endure the way.

So the three mounted the chariot, and it rolled through the gate of Padalon, and went on its way till it came to Yamen's palace. The guards who kept the palace gave way before it, till it brought them to the very presence of the god.

On a marble sepulchre he sat, and at his feet the righteous Baly had his judgment-seat. Before him three human figures supported a [302] golden throne, with their hands outspread, and their shoulders bowed beneath the weight. A vacant place was left, which a fourth bearer was yet to fill.

Alighting from the car, the Glendoveer did homage to the god; then, raising his head, said: "We come as suppliants to thy throne. We need not tell thee the wrongs for which we seek redress. Thou knowest them already. We come by Seeva's own command."

"It is well," said Yamen; "the hour is near when fate will reveal its secrets. Not lightly did the Wisest send his suppliants hither, where we, in doubt and fear, attend the awful issue. Wait ye, also, in faith and patience for the End."


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