home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



3. The Night Mare


This was the tragedy of Sivesh: while he could no longer endure to live in the city below, he knew no other life, and while he yearned for the sun of the world, having left him, he yearned as much for the dark sun of Druhim VanashtaAzhrarn.

He had been a prince in a palace, with horses and hounds and a fair wife. Now he worked for the herdsmen on the hills and in the valleys, driving the rough goats all day in the heat, sleeping in a tent of hide or a little wayside house of stones at night. His pay was a slice of coarse bread, a handful of figs; he drank from streams as the goats did. All this was nothing to him. The sun was his motive. He watched for its rising, he watched it go by like a fiery bird, he watched it fall beyond the world and the ravens of darkness gather. The sun was his joy, his happiness. The herdsmen, as they drove their flocks across the land, wondered at the strange and handsome youth who spent so much of his time staring upward. He made no friends among them, though he was gentle and modest. They thought he might be some rich mans son who had fallen on hard times. He said no word of his past, though sometimes in his sleep they heard him call out a name which some of them knew, and it struck their spirits with fear. For in sleep, the soul of Sivesh, wandering by Sleep River, stared across the wild lands of its dreams, looking for the Dark Lord and his hunting dogs.

He discounted all Azhrarn had told him. Sivesh did not believe the Prince could ever bring him to harm. He loved wholly and with his open mortal heart, bearing the pain of his loss like a heavy burden he never wished to set down. Azhrarn, who had loved him also, would bear his loss similarly, and as Sivesh could never hurt what he loved, therefore neither could Azhrarn. For all his years in the Underearth, Siveshs generous melancholy nature had learned little of the demon-kind.

One day the herders reached a city, where they planned to sell their goats in the market place. It was a city of earth and, to Sivesh, very ugly and terrible. There had been no poverty or diseases, hovels or beggars in Druhim Vanashta, only rare gardens and slim minarets of metal, while the demon-race were very good to look on. After a time, Sivesh grew sick. He left the herders to their bargaining, and walked out of the gates and away to the seashore. Here he sat upon a rock in the profoundest grief, and presently the sun swam beneath the water and the night came blowing down from the land.

For a long time he had avoided the night, covering his head with goat skins and falling swiftly asleep. It was pain to him to recall how he and Azhrarn had ridden over the earth by night and played their devil-tricks on humanity. Partly too, he had come to understand the evil they had done in the world under the cold moon. Confusion and a sense of awful loss beset him. Yet now he remained on the shore, for it seemed that tonight his heart would crack in any case. He was almost glad of it.

So there he sat. And the stars grinned like naked daggers. Perhaps Sleep, the fisher, came to him once or twice then drifted away again, trailing her filmy net, cheated.

At midnight a wind whispered in his ear. It spoke of a strange music.

Sivesh listened, and roused himself. He heard a curious halting melody, sad and dreaming; it matched his mood. He looked out toward the sea. He saw a wonder. The moon had fallen from the sky, and floated there. But then he shut his eyes, and looked again, and through the pale radiance that surrounded it he saw an incredible ship. It was formed like a great flower of beaten silver, but at its center there rose a slender silver tower pointing up into the night, its roof shaped to resemble a diadem. And in the tower, just beneath the diadem, there burned a single ruby window. The ship had neither oar nor sail. There was a movement before it, a glistening of starlight on wet ancient skin, a creaming of foam: huge beasts were drawing the vessel through the waves as a team of horses would draw a chariot. What they wereenormous whales, dragons evenSivesh could not tell. He stood staring, and as he did so, the ship turned and came nearer to the land.

All around him the lovely sorrowful music seemed to play. The vast beasts toiled, the ship went gliding after. Sivesh walked into the sea some distance, until the breakers burst against his knees. As he watched, the window in the tower opened wide. Out looked a face.

The weakness of Sivesh was his love for beauty. As others loved riches or pleasure or power, so he loved this. And so he worshipped Azhrarn, and for a while Ferazhin the Flower-Born, and so he worshipped the light of fire and at last the lord of all fires, the sun. Thus he looked up at the face of the maiden leaning from the tower, and she became the sum of everything.

Having told of so much beauty, how is it possible to tell of her? There are no words left on the earth in any tongue that will do. Such words vanished from the world when it shook itself free from the ocean of chaos, in a cataclysm that reshaped it like one of the balls small children throw in the air at play.

Yet there was something of Ferazhin in her, and something of Azhrarn also, and she shone from her window like the sun, and presently, like the sun, slowly unveiled herself of her draperies, and let her silver nakedness dazzle inch by inch on Sivesh, till he trembled and fire filled his loins.

Then the great ship turned once more, and began to move away over the sea, leaving behind it on the water a reflection like a path. Sivesh called aloud after the vesselhe gazed at the path and struggled out through the waves. But the heavy sea thrust him mercilessly back, and its cold brought him to his senses.

He stood on the shore like a man in a trance all through the hours of darkness, his eyes fixed on the far horizon where the ship had vanished like a setting star. When at last the sun rose, he had no eyes for it. He lay in the rocks shadow and fell into blind slumber.

He woke at sunset and watched all night. The ship passed, far out, two hours before dawn. He called to her, but she did not turn for land.

The next day too he slept. The herders were looking for him on the beach at noon, but he did not stir and they did not find him. They had made a profit in the city and had money to spend. Besides, the youth was strange, perhaps half-witted. Shortly they went away. When night fell, Sivesh stood on the shore and waited with wild and hungry eyes. This time he did not see the ship, though she passed, for he heard the music. He trembled for joy at the sound, and waded out into the sea until again it pushed him angrily off. Then he wept with anger at the angry sea. He was quite mad with longing.

He was also bewitched. He, who had seen such spells worked out on others, had no judgment left to free himself from the enchantment when it fell on him. And he, who had lived in the City of Demons for seventeen years, still had no guard against their sorceries.

***

It was Azhrarns doing. Who but Azhrarn?

The Prince of Demons had spoken truly from the first. What a demon desired and lost, he would destroy. It was as natural to him as it was to a mortal to burn the sheets of the sick man after fever, or to bury the dead.

At first, he had been perplexed, this Lord of Darkness, as to how it should be done. In the days of their companionship he had made the young man proof against all the weapons and perils of earth. Then Azhrarn remembered the one thing he had not been able to do.

Presently, the youth went to the shore, and Azhrarn fashioned from smokes and dreams the magic flower-tower ship. It was a ghost-thing, but like the mirage men glimpse in the desert which seems as real as the sand all around. Azhrarn was very pleased with the toy. For a long while he admired his handiwork, and he looked longest at the phantom woman he had created to ride in it and capture Siveshs heart and mind. Even he, the Prince, felt a half amused wonder at the beauty he had made. He sent her out upon the sea. He himself, in the appearance of a black gull, circled high above the shore, and watched the spell take hold of Sivesh.

Three nights and three days he let the youth suffer his despair and yearning. On the fourth night, about an hour after the sinking of the sun, Azhrarn modelled for himself the form of a fisherman, and leaning over Sivesh, who lay asleep, he sang softly in his ear, in the way of demons.

Sivesh started up. It seemed a coaxing melodious voice had woken himhe thought the silver ship had come. But getting to his feet he neither saw nor heard the ship; only an old grizzled fisherman sat mending his net on the shore.

Did you call me? asked Sivesh, for there was something about the fisherman which strangely attracted him and urged him to speak.

Not I, answered the man, there would be no profit in that.

But his voice was odd, did not seem to belong to him. It had a unique quality, like the brilliant and marvelously intelligent eyes with which he now regarded Sivesh. The young man felt comforted by this presence, he did not know why. He had an impulse to unburden his trouble to the fisherman. Yet he was shy too; he had never grown used to human men and women.

A good catch today? he therefore murmured.

No, a bad, said the man. The fish are anxious and will not rise. I will tell you a wonder, if you will listen. There is a great silver ship which haunts the sea by night. I have seen her pass with my own eyes. A maiden sits in a tower at the center of the ship. She waits for a lover she heard of in a prophecy, and her foot may not touch land until he claims her. The prophecy says that his hair will be red as amber and that he will know certain magics of the Underearth, taught him by a Lord of Darkness.

The young man turned very pale, and stared at the empty waves.

Tel1 me then, he whispered, if you know the prophecy, how will this lover reach the maiden in the ship?

Why, said the fisherman, the story goes that he will have a demon mare which can run across water, and will therefore ride to her over the sea.

Sivesh covered his face with his hands. The fisherman, rising, put an arm about his shoulders and inquired kindly what ailed him. And at the old mans touch, which seemed as amazingly thrilling as the voice and eyes had done, Sivesh felt once more the irresistible impulse to confide his misery.

I am the one the prophecy spoke of, he stammered, destined to love the maiden on the ship. Already I have seen her, and love her more than my life. I have, too, lived in the Underearth and there learned some magic, and owned such a horse as you mention, which can run on water. But I renounced that world to live on the earth, and now can ask nothing of my Lord Azhrarn.

Do not speak that fearful name aloud, implored the fisherman in apparent fright, making a sign against evil, his eyes glinting as eyes only glint with extreme terror, or laughter. But I will ask you this. Did the Demon ever give you anything by which you might summon him? For there are mystic tokens that will call such creatures whether they wish to come or not.

At once Sivesh gave a cry and fumbled in his coat. Presently he drew out the little pipe shaped like a serpents head which Azhrarn had thrown to him when first he stayed on earth to see the sun rise.

This he gave me, said Sivesh, and said that it would draw him to me wherever I might be.

Well and good then, said the fisherman. But do you not tremble at the thought of his anger? Or do you think he may be gentle with you after all?

I do not fear him. I can think only of the maiden.

At this the fishermans face seemed to melt for a moment, to reveal behind it another face, all iron. But Sivesh did not see; indeed, he could see nothing but his dreams. He set the pipe to his lips.

Wait! shouted the fisherman, in evident horror, let me be gone before you sound. I have no wish to stand here when he comes.

So Sivesh waited, and the fisherman ran down the shore.

Perhaps, after all, it had been a sort of test which Azhrarn had set for Sivesh. If Sivesh had been able to resist the enchantment of the magic ship, and recalled for a moment his love of Azhrarn, and also the power which Azhrarn possessed which made him so fearful in mens eyes (since the demons were vain of their beauty and their power) is it possible that the Prince might have turned from his vengeance? But the sorcery Azhrarn himself had made had proved too great. Sivesh remembered only his longing for the maiden and for those moments set the Prince of Demons at nought. He could, after that, except no mercy.

Once the old man was out of sightand did he not run fast for one so old?Sivesh again put the pipe to his lips, and blew.

There was no sound, at least no sound that could be heard on the earth. Then suddenly the air was full of a noise like beating wings, and on the shore there whirled up a pillar of smoke. There was no form to the smoke. Azhrarn would never more deign to appear to Sivesh in the fair mortal shape which demons generally put on and which caused them to be adored and magnified by humans.

From the smoke came a voice which asked coolly:

Why have you called me here? Have you forgotten we are parted?

My lord, forgive me, I ask one thing only and then I will ask nothing further.

Be sure of that. You shall not dare sound that pipe a second time. What then do you require?

Loan me, for one night merely, the horse of Underearth which once you gave me. The mare with the mane like blue steam, who can run across water.

Never say I am not generous, said the voice of Azhrarn out of the smoke. For this one night you shall ride her. See, here she comes.

And abruptly some of the dunes of the beach burst open, and out flashed the demon mare, shaking the sand and soil from her back. Sivesh called to her joyfully, and recognizing his voice, she trotted to him and let him mount. When he looked back the pillar of smoke had blown away into the night and the shore was empty. Sivesh felt then a pang of guilt and sorrow; he had not even given Azhrarn his thanks. But soon he forgot, and sat patiently at the edge of the sea, the mare, eager to run over the waves, fretting under him, while the moon rose and sank and the stars glittered like drawn steel.

***

It was late when the ship came. She stood far out near the line of the horizon and, having appeared, she did not move.

Sivesh heard the music in the wind. He thought: My beloved stays the ship, she waits for me to ride to her. So he set spurs to the mare which were hardly needed for she was glad to be off.

Her hooves darted like cymbals through the foam, over the silver path that was reflected shorewards from the flower-tower ship.

Sivesh called to the mare, to the night, to the maiden in the tower. He was alight with the sort of extraordinary unreasoning happiness that only the victim of a spell could know. A happiness like the flame of a candle, burning down even as it glows, at its brightest in the instant before it gutters out.

When he was about a quarter of a mile from it, the ship began to move leisurely away from him. This did not seem ominous or even curious to him. It was like a kind of delightful playfulness, a game devised by the girl in the tower just to see if he would follow. Besides, the ship moved only very slowly, though somehow just fast enough that he could not quite catch up with it, no matter how he might try.

Then, through the moan of the sea, the enchanted music, the jingle of the harness, through everything, there came to Sivesh as he rode a voice made of the wind itself. He did not know what brought it, he did not remember to whom it had belonged, but the words it spoke repeated themselves over and over in his ears: 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. All at once. he saw himself as if he had been a gull circling round in the sky abovea man on a horse riding impudently across the sea, over the path of light cast by a ship which forever ran away from him. A cold serpent twisted in Siveshs vitals. He drew rein and looked behind him. How far the shore was, only a line like lavender chalk dividing water and air. He saw too, in looking back, another thing, a thing which until now had always filled his heart with gladness. The east was paling, soft as the breast of a dove. Soon the sun of day would rise.

The wind, fresh with dawn, blew more strongly.

Your dreams will betray you, sang the voice of the wind. Go nowhere on a horse that fades.

Sivesh gave a groan of horror and of anguish. He turned the demon mare about, leaving the fleeing ship behind him. The moment she faced the lightening east, however, the horse whinnied and reared with terror.

Sivesh held her firm. He cajoled her with endearments, or cursed her. He forced her to make toward the distant shore, over the rolling sea which now was turning luminous as nacre. She ran finally like the whirlwind; her mane lashed his face. She snorted and stared with fear.

Sivesh glanced back. The silver ship had grown transparent in the brightening sky, it flickered like shadow before light. now it was gone. And now the sun rose.

It rose like the phoenix, the whole of the east opened like a flower. The rays of its vast light struck out across the sea, so that now a path of gold, not silver, lay emblazoned there, and as the arrows of fire struck the demon mare she gave a scream more dreadful than any legitimate sound of the earth; the burning shafts seemed to pass right through her.

Immediately Sivesh felt the reins dissolve in his hands, the stirrups run like wax. Next, the firm body of the horse collapsed and crumpled like a thing of paper. Sivesh stared down at her. She was only a wisp of night fog beneath him, fading in the sun.

He fell. The sea received him, opening its jaws greedily. He was not proof against the sea. Even the Prince of Demons had not been able to protect him against it, for it was not of the kingdom of earth, and had its own rulers. In the second before the waters drank him down, Sivesh cried one name aloud. It was the name of Azhrarn, and in that name was all the pain and loneliness and despair and accusation that any mortal throat could utter. Then the waves swallowed and the morning was filled with silence.

If Azhrarn heard that last cry, who knows. Perhaps he was watching in some magic glass for the end of the youth, and saw him drown; perhaps for a moment some of that awful pain hurt in his own throat, and in his mouth, which spoke so wondrously and with such charm, perhaps there came, for the moment of a moment, a taste of green salt water.

***

It is said that a great fire was made in Druhim Vanashta, and that in the fire was burned the palace which Azhrarn had built for Sivesh. When its roof of jewels fell in, a huge glare thrust up, and seared the eyes of all who watched, a light too fierce to be welcome in the Underearth, for it resembled the sun.



2. Sunshine | Night's Master | 4. Seven Tears