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2. Sunshine


Azhrarn gave the youth a name. It was Sivesh, which in the demon tongue meant the Fair, or perhaps the Blessed. He made Sivesh his companion and lavished on him many incredible gifts, as he had promised. He made him able to shoot with an arrow farther and more cleverly than any other, man or demon, and to fight with a sword as if he had had ten sword arms inside his one. Touching his forehead with a ring of jade he made him able to read and speak each of the seven languages of Underearth, and with a ring of pearl each of the seventy languages of men. And, with a spell more ancient than the world itself he made him proof against any weapon, steel or stone, wood or iron, snake venom, plant poison or fire. Only water he could not protect him from, for the seas were of another kingdom than the earth and had their own rulers. However. Azhrarn planned one day to take the youth to the cold blue lands of Upperearth, and trick the Guardians of the Sacred Well into giving Sivesh a draught of immortality.

Meanwhile, there was much for the young man to see and do, for now not only did he roam Druhim Vanashta with the Prince, and share in all its miraculous delights, but he rode beside him through the wild wastes of Underearth. Azhrarn had given him, along with all the other gifts, a demon horse to ride, a mare with a mane and tail like blue smoke and the remarkable quality that she could run over water. Azhrarn and Sivesh would gallop together across the lakes of the Underearth, beneath trees made of silver wire or bone, or go hunting with blood-red hounds on the shores of the great river of Sleep, where white flax grew like rushes. Azhrarn did not hunt deer or hare or even lion on those shores, for the little cruelties of man were as nothing compared to the huge cruelty of demon-kind. The Vazdru hunted the souls of men asleep, which ran shrieking before the hounds; though it was only the souls of the insane or those near death which the dogs were able to catch and rend, and even these always escaped in the endit was merely a sport to the demons. And Sivesh, who had no memory of what he was, and knew no other laws than the laws of Darkness, hunted merrily and thoughtlessly with his lord.

Eventually Azhrarn began to hanker after the earth above. Then he took Sivesh with him also. They journeyed, of course, by night, for no demon loved the worlds day. Azhrarn rose from the volcanic shaft like an eagle, but he had changed Sivesh to a feather on his breast. Up into the sky they flew, and the feather trembled against him. There below blazed the craters of the fire mountains, there above blazed the face of the moon, framed by her mantle of sky, the stars flung like diamonds across it. I have never seen such radiance at this, Sivesh thought. The fountain in the garden gives neither light nor heat. He was, though he had forgotten, a child of earth. His mortal soul reached out for her blindly.

So, seeing that Sivesh enjoyed the world, Azhrarn came to spend much time in it.

Sometimes, in the garb of travellers, they would visit the nighttime cities of men, and enter by stealth the treasure houses of kings, and all the gems and metals they found there Azhrarn would transform to heaps of dust or drifts of withered leaves, for such was his pleasure. And often they might lead astray some caravan in the desert or some ship to founder on the teeth of an unfriendly coast. Yet all these things were childish games to Azhrarn; his wickedness was of a far larger and far more subtle order. Nevertheless, it pleased him to see how Sivesh obeyed him gladly and unthinkingly in everything, and how adept the youth was. Azhrarn humored him like a beloved child.

Then one night, as they came from the hills of some earthly kingdom, where they had left fire and murder behind them, riding on the demon horses of Underearth with their smoking manes, they came on an old shriveled witch woman by the roadside. The moment she set eyes on the riders and their strange mounts she called out: Blessed be the name of the Dark Lord, and let him do me no harm.

To which Azhrarn, smiling, replied: Time has harmed you enough with his claws.

So indeed he has, cried the witch, her eyes glittering greedily. May the Dark Lord grant me my youth again?

At that Azhrarn laughed coldly: I do not often grant favors, hag. But though I will not give you your youth, I will see to it you grow no older, and a lightning slipped from his hand and struck the witch down. It was never wise to ask a boon from a demon.

Yet the witch did not die at once, and as she lay there she stared up at Sivesh. Marking the handsome face, and guessing him to be mortal, she said: Scorn me while you are able. You, too, are a fool, earthborn, to trust in demon-kind and to ride on a mare of smoke and night. What demons love they slay in the end, and the gifts of demons are snares. Go nowhere on a horse that fades, for your dreams will betray you. Then she lay back and said no more.

It was by now near dawn, and Azhrarn was impatient to return to the center of the earth. But Sivesh, who was oddly troubled by the witchs words, dismounted and bent over her body. As he was kneeling there a curious pallor in the sky made him look up once more, and on the rim of the hills he saw a glow like a burning rose.

What light is that? he asked Azhrarn, wondering and in awe.

That is the light of dawn, which I abhor, the Prince replied. Come, mount your horse and let us ride swiftly, for I would not see the sun.

But Sivesh kneeled on the ground as if in a trance.

Either come now, or I must leave you here, Azhrarn told him.

Am I then born of earth, as the woman said?

You are. The sun to you, perhaps, looks fair, but to the Lords of Darkness it is a thing of ghastly ugliness.

My lord, Sivesh cried, let me remain here for one day. Let me see the sun. I cannot rest until I have done so. And yet, he added, if you command me to return with you, I must, for you are dearer to me than anything.

This softened Azhrarns mood. He did not wish to let the young man remain, but he foresaw unease if a sight of daytime earth were denied him.

Stay then, said Azhrarn, for one day. Then, throwing him a little piece of silver shaped like the head of a serpent, he said: Sound that at dusk, and it will draw me to you wherever you are. For now, farewell. Then he dug spurs into his beast, and galloped away faster than thought, and even Siveshs mare, which had been stamping and whinnying nervously at the lightening sky, fled too.

Sivesh felt a sudden fear at being left in the world of men, alone on the hills beside the witchs body, with the terrible glare of dawn filling the east. But then there began in him a swelling happiness, that grew like a melody in his heart. So he had felt when first Azhrarn had spoken to him at Druhim Vanashta, but this time he could find no cause, except for the light over the hills.

First came jade, next ruby, then a disc of gold which shot out rays like arrows of flame, and set the whole world ablaze. Then such color filled the land as the mortal, who had lived in the Underearth, had never seen, such greens, such saffrons, such redshis whole body seemed to catch alight with them as the world seemed to catch fire from the sun. Never in Azhrarns midnight halls or the shadowy bright streets of the demon city had he seen a comparable splendor. He stood and wept at it like a lost child which suddenly finds its home.

All day long Sivesh wandered about the valleys and the slopes, and what he did there no one knows. Perhaps he charmed the wild foxes to follow him or the birds of the air to his hands; perhaps he stopped at some shepherds hut and found there a pretty girl who brought him a drink of milk in an earthenware bowl, and a deeper drink, perhaps, from that other bowl the gods had entrusted to women. Whatever he did, when the sun sank like a fiery tide into the sea, he lay exhausted on the hill and fell asleep, and did not remember to sound the pipe Azhrarn had given him.

Presently Azhrarn came, passing like an inky wind across the land, and searching. Sivesh had not strayed far; the Prince found him easily. Azhrarn was angry, yet seeing him asleep, his beautiful eyes fast shut with weariness, he let his anger rest, and woke the youth with a gentle touch. Sivesh sat up and looked about, and soon made out Azhrarn in the wind.

You neglected to call me, said Azhrarn, so I must come looking like your slave or your dog. Nevertheless he spoke quietly and with some amusement.

My lord, forgive me, but I have seen so much

Tell me nothing of it, Azhrarn said sharply. I hate the things of day. Now get up and I will take you to Druhim Vanashta.

So they returned, the youth with his talk locked in his mouth and sadness in his face, for he wished to share with Azhrarn, since he loved him, all the joy he had felt at the world.

And how cold the city seemed, and how dismal, all its jewels and its glamor faded by the brightness of the sun. While the eternal cool light of Underearth was like a breath of ice upon his soul.

Azhrarn saw all this in the eyes of Sivesh, but he set aside his anger, as before. He sought to divert the young mans mind.

Azhrarn summoned the Drin, the canny dwarfish smiths of the Underearth, and had them construct for him, in a single night, a vast palace on a high place in Druhim Vanashta. It was built of gold, a metal not generally favored by demons, lit by a thousand many-colored lamps, and girded by a moat of volcanic magma. Such a house had no rival, even among the diverse glories of the city. Sivesh marveled at it, but he could not hide his thoughts from Azhrarn, for the gold was not like the gold of the sun and the magma in the moat did not warm him.

Next Azhrarn gathered his people to a feast, and guiding Sivesh lightly by the arm, he walked with him among the glittering guests. It is time you sampled women, my dear. You must take a bride, he said. See, here among the Vazdru and the Eshva are the most magical beauties of my kingdom. Choose, and any one of them shall be yours. Sivesh looked about him, but the lovely faces of the demon women were like masks of paper, their black hair sullen, their eyes like stagnant pools, the movement of their limbs like snakes. He grew paler still with anguish and could not answer. Azhrarn merely stroked his hair, and smiled.

He went alone by night to the hill where he had found Sivesh asleep, and there, adopting the shape of a black wolf, he dug in the earth with his claws. After a while he found a little seed which was sprouting. Quickly he grasped the seed, and in his swiftest form, that of a lightning flash, he sped back to the Underearth. There in the dark garden, beside the fountain of fire, he planted the seed in the ground and spoke over it certain words and sprinkled on it certain dusts. . . . Soon he sent for Sivesh.

Sivesh stood beside the Prince of Demons, and at first he saw nothing, only the bed of freshly turned soil. Then from the center of the bed there spread a crack like a wriggling worm, and after the first, six more. Shortly, there came an opening, and out of it the tip of some growing thing thrust like the snout of a mole.

Oh, my lord, what is this? Sivesh asked, halfway between horror and fascination.

I have grown a rare flower for you, Azhrarn replied, and slipping his arm about the young man s shoulders, bade him wait and see.

The shoot of the mysterious plant now came springing up. As soon as it had shaken itself free of soil it began to put forth leaves and buds, though mostly they withered as quickly as they formed. One bud, however, swelled like a bubble on the stem, swelled until it was of unusual size and then split open. Inside stood a full-grown flower, shaped rather like the closed cup of a magnolia, the palest violet in color, but veined with rose.

This was wonderful enough; the young man caught his breath. But what came after was more wonderful still. The tight-shut petals of the flower stole open one by one, each revealing behind itself another of a deeper and more ravishing blue, until at last the entire blossom was spread wide like a fan. And at the heart of the flower lay a sleeping maiden, naked among the flames of her own hair.

Since the women of my country were not fair enough to please you, remarked Azhrarn, I have grown you a woman from a flower of earth. See. Her hair is the yellow of wheat, her breasts white pomegranates, her loins honeydew. Leading Sivesh to the flower, he leaned forward and lifted the maiden out, and as her white feet left the flowers heart there came a little snapping sound like the breaking of the stalk of a plant. At once the maiden opened her eyes; they were as blue as the worlds sky.

Azhrarn the Prince of Demons gave her hand into the hand of Sivesh with a secret smile, and as if to echo him, the maiden smiled also, looking into Siveshs bemused face. And so sweet was that smile and that loveliness that Sivesh forgot the sun.

***

Her name was Ferazhin, Flower-Born. Sivesh lived with her in harmony in his palace at Druhim Vanashta for one mortal year.

Azhrarn had taught him many of the ways of love. Demons did not adhere only to a single road, a solitary room in the vast treasure store. The delightful door of one chamber led into another. Ferazhin, with the honeycomb of her loins, her apple sweetness, her wheat-field hair able to couch both her lover and herself upon a resilient carpet of fragrant gold, was as ripe for the pleasure of Sivesh as was the earth.

Certain it is that for that time he loved her, and maybe that she loved him. She was not of demon-kind, though made by demons. Neither was she human. She was a creature grown of earth-seed in supernatural soil. She bore the stamp of both.

So for a year, Sivesh lived much as before, hunting the wilds of Underearth, feasting in the subterranean city, going sometimes by night with Azhrarn over the earth, and at last returning to his flower-wife across the magma moat. And if he adored her, still he worshipped the Prince of Demons before everything, all the more because of this last gift which he had given him. Maybe there was too some spell cast over him when be took her hand, for otherwise it is strange that he forgot so long and so completely the daytime world that he could visit it contentedly by night, and could even hunt the souls of men on the margins of Sleep River.

But the Prince of Demons could not foresee everything, and it was Ferazhin herself who caused the breaking of the spell. She had come from the world, though demons made her, and her heart was still the kernel of the seed that obeys the natural laws, and yearns for air and light.

Suddenly, on the last day of the year, rising from their bed, she murmured to her husband Sivesh: I dreamed a curious dream when I slept. I dreamed I lay in a cavern and I heard a bronze horn sound in the sky and I knew it called me. So I rose, and I went up the steep stairs of the cavern towards it. The way was very hard, but at last I reached a door, and thrusting it open, I came out on to a lawn, and above was an enchanted bowl, all blue, with set in it one little disk of gold, and though it was so little the disk gave off a light that filled the land from end to end.

When Sivesh heard her, his heart seemed to leap and catch fire inside him, and he recalled at once the dawn when he had seen the sun. It was as if a shadow had fallen all around him, except in his breast and brain, which flamed. He looked at beautiful Ferazhin, and she was like a figure of mist. The palace about them both was dull as yellow lead. He ran out into the city; its splendor had grown cold, it was a tomb. Then, as he walked dazedly into the streets of the tomb, he met Azhrarn.

I see you have remembered the world of clay, said the Prince of Demons in a voice of iron. What now?

Oh, my lord, my lord, what can I do? cried Sivesh, weeping. The flesh of my mother calls me from its grave in the earth above. I must go back to the land of men, for I can remain in the Underearth no longer.

So you deny you owe me any love, said Azhrarn in a voice of steel.

My lord, I love you more than my soul. If I leave you, it will be to me as if I left half of myself behind in your kingdom. But I am in torment here. I cannot stay. The city is a shadow and I am like a blind worm crawling in it. Therefore pity me, and let me go.

This is the third time you have angered me, said Azhrarn in a voice of winter. Consider well whether you wish to leave me, for I shall not any more set my anger aside.

I have no choice, said Sivesh, none, my lord of all lords.

Then go, said Azhrarn in a voice of death. And remember after, what you have cast away and why, and who it is that tells you this.

Then Sivesh went with leaden steps to the outskirts of Druhim Vanashta, and all the way the demons shrank back from him. The great gates opened. A whirlwind snatched him up and tossed him through the maw of the volcano and out upon the earth for which he ached.

In this way Sivesh returned to the world of men, and walked with sorrow under the sun.

***



1. A Mortal in Underearth | Night's Master | 3. The Night Mare