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Stories of the Magicians by  Alfred J. Church

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THE ANCIENT TOMBS

[281] THE time came—all too soon—when Kehama's sacrifice was duly completed, and the Almighty Rajah became Lord of the Paradise of Swerga. Casyapa and the other gods retreated to the second sphere, and Ladurlad and his daughter were compelled to return to the earth. For some time they lived unmolested, choosing for their home an ancient banyan-tree, whose fifty trunks, self-planted in the ground, made a welcome shade both from sun and storm. At last some ill-chance brought to the place a band of the devotees of juggernaut, who, seeing the wonderful beauty of Kailyal, seized her, and carried her off to be the bride of their god.

There, in the temple, on the feast day when the great car is dragged by the frantic crowds, [282] Arvalan, who had summoned to his aid a powerful sorceress named Lorrinite, would have seized her. The Glendoveer, indeed, hearing her cry for help, appeared on the instant, and catching the foul creature raised him to the temple, and dashed him howling to the floor. But when the earth was in Kehama's power, it was not the time for good spirits to prevail, and Lorrinite summoned a host of demons to her help, and commanded them to seize and bind him. In vain did he ply his sword of heavenly temper; their numbers overpowered him, and now there were no gods to help.

"Carry him," cried Lorrinite the sorceress, "to the ancient tombs beneath the sea. The gods cannot help him now, and for man there is no way thither."

So the demons carried the Glendoveer away to the tombs.

Meanwhile the sorceress restored the shattered form of Arvalan. But when he turned again to seize the maiden Kailyal, she in her despair caught up a torch, and set fire to the hangings of the temple. In a moment the whole shrine was wrapped in flames. [283] Confounded with the blaze, Lorrinite and Arvalan fled from the place; but, when Kailyal was about to throw herself in the fire, Ladurlad,. plunging unharmed through the flames, caught her in his arms, and carried her safely away. And so again the power of the curse preserved the innocent, whom it had been intended to destroy.

"Ereenia!" cried Kailyal, when she began to breathe again.

"My child," said Ladurlad, "do not reproach him. Evil now rules the world, and no good spirit can venture here."

"Nay," answered Kailyal, "but he did venture, and the demons beat him down, and carried him off to the tombs beneath the sea. So said their hideous mistress, and she boasted that there are now no gods to help, and that there is no way for man to that place."

"See again," said Ladurlad, "how short-sighted is wickedness! Truly there is no way for man to the tombs beneath the sea, for the waves surround and cover them; but I am not as other men."

"Let us go," cried Kailyal, "to set him free."

[284] For many days they journeyed, and as they went Ladurlad told his daughter the story of Baly, the great Rajah—how he had conquered the earth and seized the heavens ; and how he fell. The story was this:—


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CAMDEO

When the conqueror had seated himself on the throne of the Swerga, Veshnoo came and stood before him in the shape of a dwarfish Brahmin. "Give me, great Rajah," said the god, "three steps, and no more, of thy great kingdom;" and Baly, who never refused a suppliant's prayer, answered: "Take thy boon, and measure it where thou wilt." Then Veshnoo with one step measured the earth, and with a second measured the heavens. "Where shall I take the third?" said the god; and the Rajah knew him, and prostrating himself before him, begged for pardon. And pardon was granted him. He was cast down indeed to Padalon, the abode of the dead; but, because he had always loved the right, and done justice, he was permitted to sit at the steps of the throne of Yamen—Yamen who is the Lord of Padalon—and there to judge the dead; and it was also granted him that once in the year he should [285] ascend to the upper air, and hear his name still honoured by mankind, and rejoice in the fame of his good deeds.

At last they came in their journey to where the towers of Baly's city rose up in the sea. Still splendid with gold, they shone out of the dark-blue waves; but the city itself was covered with the waters.

"Wait here for me," said Ladurlad; "this is a vast region which I must explore, and my search cannot be finished in one or two days. These caverns in the rock will shelter you, and the sea will cast up day by day food for you to eat."

The sea closed above Ladurlad's head and arched him over, as he walked with steady step down the sloping shore, till he came to the gates of the ancient city. Wide open they stood, as they had been left on the day when the people had fled from the rising sea. Through solitary streets and squares he made his way, till he came to the palace itself, in which the great Rajah had held his court. Before the palace door stood a great image, with crown and sceptre laid at its feet, and in one hand [286] a scroll, to which the other hand pointed. On this scroll were written these words: My name is Death, in mercy the Gods appointed me. Beneath the image were two brazen gates wide open, and between the gates a staircase hewn in the living stone, which led to the ancient tombs. This hall of death was a low-roofed chamber, wide and long; and on either side, each in his own alcove, each on his own throne, each holding his sceptre, sat the kings of old. So well had the embalmers done their work, that every corpse had still the look of life; but the royal robes with which they had been once arrayed had mouldered into nothingness, and they sat naked upon their thrones, statues of actual flesh, staring before them with fixed and meaningless eyes.

At the further end of the chamber, in the place where the great Rajah himself would have sat, had he not been exempted from the common lot of men, Ereenia lay, bound with strong fetters to the rock. Before him lay crouched a monster of the deep which the sorcerers had set there to keep guard over him; a hideous shape, of which the upper [287] part was human, only that the skin was compact with scale on scale, and that the mouth, Teaching from ear to ear, showed a triple row of teeth, with tusks on either side. The lower part was a double snake, aiding in heavy coils.

With red and kindling eye the monster saw a living man approach, and rose in fury with half-open mouth to seize its prey. Then springing forward, flung its scaly arms about Ladurlad's heels, and sought to suck the life-blood from his veins. And, indeed, but for the curse the creature would have rent him to pieces as easily as a child crops a flower in the meadows; but again the evil was turned to good, and the man stood fearless and unharmed.

Then Ladurlad addressed himself to the conflict, and seized with both hands the monster's throat. In vain he pressed with a throttling grasp those impenetrable scales; and in vain, on the other hand, the beast wreathed round his adversary his snaky folds. The tiger's strength, the mail of the rhinoceros, had availed nothing against that strength, but the man, protected by the curse, felt nothing.

[288] Meanwhile the Glendoveer, raising himself from his bed of stone, strove again with desperate effort to pluck away his fetters. It was in vain—even his heavenly sinews failed in the effort, so mightily had the chain been strengthened by Lorrinite's deadly arts.

For six days and six nights the monster and the man struggled together; but on the seventh, worn out by this strange struggle with a strength that had been charmed against all weariness, the Guardian of the Tombs began to give way. Sleep and fatigue over-powered him; at last he sought to fly, but Ladurlad followed him with unceasing hostility till he lay at last lifeless underneath his feet.

"The work is done!" he cried, "but another labour yet remains." And he eyed the fetters that bound the Glendoveer. Then, looking round, he spied in a seat above, the scymitar wielded of old by the King whose lifeless form there sat enthroned. The brightness of its blade was dim with time; but the spells with which it had been welded had not lost their power, and its temper was as keen as [289] ever. Once again he struck, but to little purpose, for the water deadened the descending blow. Then Ladurlad dealt a further stroke—the baser metal yielded to the blow, and the Glendoveer stood again free.

In the meanwhile Kailyal had waited for her father; six days and nights she waited, and her hopes grew fainter and fainter as he delayed his return. The night of the seventh day chanced to be that on which, year by year, Baly, the judge of the dead, walks forth on earth to hear his praises from the lips of men. And as he wandered on his way, he saw the maiden stand weeping by the shore and looking anxiously over the sea. He was about to issue forth from his invisibility to find out the cause of her trouble, when he espied in the air beside her the two evil powers that were in alliance to harm her, the witch Lorrinite and Arvalan. He spied them, but him they could not see, as they watched their prey.

And now she saw floating towards the shore the lifeless form of the monster which Ladurlad had destroyed. The waves left their hideous burden at her feet, and when she saw that it [290] was indeed dead, she was assured that her father was indeed victorious.

"Come, my father; come, Ereenia," she cried, and stretched out her hands to the sea; and as she spoke the two rose from the deep, and the daughter threw herself into her father's arms. But as she turned from him to greet the Glendoveer, the hideous form of Arvalan burst upon her sight, and with Arvalan was Lorrinite and a host of the demons which attended her. Vain was all resistance; they seized Ladurlad and Ereenia and the maiden, when the voice which all the guilty dread was heard through the air: "Hold your accursed hands," it cried; and the same instant Baly was seen putting forth on every side his hundred arms. The sorceress and her ministers and the dead Arvalan he seized. He did not tarry for an instant to meet the Almighty Rajah, but stamped his feet upon the earth, which opened wide and gave him way to his own judgment-seat.

Kehama saw it from the height of the Swerga, and came flying down swift as a thunderbolt. Fiercely he smote the ground, and cleft it asunder, and hurled his fiery spear [291] into the abyss. He hurled it, but it came back to him, driven with equal force; and with it came a voice: "Not yet, O Rajah, hast thou won the realm of death. The earth and the heaven are thine; but so long as Yamen holds the throne of hell, thy son shall lie in torments there."

"Let him lie," cried the Rajah, "but, Yamen, hear me; prepare the cup of immortality against the dad , hen I shall put my feet upon thy neck."

Then he turned to Ladurlad.

"Ladurlad," he said, "you and I have done alike the work of fate, not knowing what we did. But now that my power over heaven and earth is established, our enmity is ended. I take away the curse."

And at the instant the fire departed from Ladurlad's heart and brain.

"Maiden," cried the Rajah, turning to Kailyal, "fairer and better and destined to higher things than all the daughters of earth, listen to me. Fate has chosen thee to be Kehama's bride. I see that decree written on your forehead. You and I, alone of all [292] human kind, are destined to drink the Amreeta cup of immortality. Come, then, ascend my throne, and share my kingdom with me."

"It cannot be," cried Kailyal; "my heart and conscience rebel against such a lot, whether fate will it or no."

Kehama's brow grew dark with anger. Still, suppressing his wrath, he said to Ladurlad: "Counsel your daughter; bid her bow to the kindly decrees of fate; and tell her that the curse must burn till she obeys."

"Rajah," said the dauntless man, "she needs, no counsel of mine. And now listen to me. Though all else in heaven and earth bow to thee, yet man's will is free. So the gods ordered it for man, and so it is. Do your worst!"

"Obstinate fools!" cried Kehama, in his rage; "in vain do you resist my will and the will of fate. But till we meet again, suffer your deserts."

And he cursed them, and vanished through the sky.


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