4. Seven Tears
Far down in the Underearth, yet outside the phosphorescent walls and shimmering steeples of Druhim Vanashta, lay a wide dark mirror-lake between shores of black rock. Here, all through the unchanging day-nights, the Drin worked at their anvils, the red forges smoked and the hammers rang.
The Drin had none of the beauty of the higher echelons of the demons, the Vazdru—who were princes—or the Eshva, their stewards and handmaidens. The Drin were little and grotesque and full of small grotesque jokes. They loved to make mischief, like their lords, but seldom had ideas of their own as to how it might be done. Therefore they served the Vazdru, ran the errands of the Eshva, and when powerful mortal sorcerers set about their brews and conjurations, the Drin would rush up on the earth to aid them, and where possible wreck more woe than the sorcerers had bargained for.
And one other thing the Drin could do; they could be metal-smiths. If they were not beautiful themselves, yet they could fashion beautiful things. They hammered out earrings for demonesses, rings for demon princes, cups and keys, clockwork silver birds to fly round the towers of the palace of Azhrarn, lord of all demon-kind. And once they had built a mansion of gold for a mortal youth Azhrarn favored, though now nothing remained of it but golden ash.
There was a Drin called Vayi; he was given to ambitious thoughts, and sometimes roamed by the lake looking for the precious stones or translucent pebbles that in places littered the gloomy shores, thinking: Presently I shall make the most magnificent ring in Underearth, and Azhrarn will wear it and praise me. Or, Soon I will invent a magic animal of metal that will stop all tongues with wonder. For Vayi wanted above everything to do better than all the other Drin who carelessly strove and hammered, he wanted to be unique and known. Sometimes he dreamed of living in Azhrarn’s palace, the pet of the Prince of Demons. Nothing would be too good for Vayi then. At other times he thought he might go above ground and thrive at the courts of famous kings, renowned and honoured by all, with a special velvet-lined day-box in which to hide from the unpleasant sun.
As he was walking and dreaming and muttering, Vayi suddenly saw a figure moving along by the lake’s edge just ahead of him. He knew at once that it was no Drin, being too tall, slender and, even when seen from the back, somehow too fair. Possibly here was some gorgeous Vazdru or Eshva lady come to ask for a wonderful jewel, and perhaps willing to offer payment in a particular fashion very pleasing to the Drin. Vayi pattered stealthily after her, and soon she seated herself on a rock before the lake. Her veil fell back then, and Vayi knew her at once. Long yellow hair drenched her shoulders and her face was the face of a flower. There was no other like her in all Underearth, and probably none like her on the earth above. For this was Ferazhin Flower-Born, the maiden Azhrarn had grown from a flower to please the mortal, Sivesh, who now lay under the sea.
Ferazhin sat by the lake. She held out her white hands to the cold black water and to the unchanging sky. She bowed her head and wept.
Vayi was fascinated. Did she weep for Sivesh? Or did she weep, as Sivesh had wept, for the cruel blazing sun of earth? Then Vayi saw how the tears of Ferazhin fell down on the rock and gleamed and glittered there. What gems those tears could make, thought Vayi all at once, bright as diamonds, yet softer; more like pearls, yet clearer than pearls, spangled; rather like opals, yet purer than opals; more like pale sapphires, though not spoiled with color. But how, how shall I capture them and harden them?
Vayi fumbled in his belt and drew out a little box and spat in it and sprinkled a spell into it from his woody hands. Then he capered out and took up a tear on the tip of his little finger and dropped it, unbroken, into the magic box. Six more tears he took after it and added to his collection before Ferazhin looked up from her weeping and noticed him. She gave him only one glance of fear and hurt and, gathering her veil round her, rose and went slowly back toward the gates of Druhim Vanashta. Hunt as he would, Vayi could find no further tears shining among the rocks, so he scampered after her, crying: “Pretty Ferazhin, come back and weep some more, and I will give you bangles and brooches, and earrings.” But Ferazhin paid him no heed, and soon he hurried away toward the lake, clutching the precious box, muttering: “Seven is enough. More would be vulgar. Seven is rare.”
Into his own cave Vayi ran, blew up the fire and poked about among his untidy hoard of metals, pebbles, and stones. Shortly he went to a cage where three round spiders were sleeping, and rattled on the bars.
“Wake, wake, daughters of sloth,” cried he. “Wake and spin, and I will bring you cake soaked in wine and the Prince of Demons will stroke you with his wondrous fingers.”
“Oh, lord of liars,” said the spiders, but nevertheless they obeyed him, and soon the twilight cave was festooned with their filigree webs.
Hour after hour Vayi worked in his forge. The fire leaped and smoked, and other fires—magic fires—also glamorized the air. He was inspired, and called to his use every one of the small strange sorceries the Drin had access to. Sometimes other Drin would come to the cave entrance and peer in, curiously. But the cave was full of smoulders, and they could not catch the words of Vayi’s spells, for all the Drin were somewhat deaf from their constant hammering. How long Vayi worked altogether it is not easy to reckon. It was thought a long time in the Underearth, and certainly on earth itself many seasons had given way to each other, and many human years elapsed between the beginning and the ending of his labor.
At last there was silence in the forge.
The other Drin stole up, but now Vayi had magnified one of his spiders to enormous size and stuffed the poor thing in the opening, so nobody could pass either in or out.
“Ho, there, Vayi!” cried the Drin. “Show us what you have been fashioning that has taken you so many ages.”
“Go drown in mud!” shouted back Vayi rudely from within. “Nothing here is for your eyes.”
The Drin went off a little way and mumbled together by the lake. One of them, Bakvi, was very jealous and unsettled in himself, for he remembered Vayi’s ambitions, and how he had hoped to win Azhrarn’s especial favor by making something finer than all the rest for him. All the Drin adored and feared Azhrarn, and Bakvi began to think to himself. Suppose I were to be able to steal Vayi’s trinket, and give it to my lord myself. Then I should be the favored one.
So, when the other Drin had gone off grumbling and chiding, Bakvi hid behind a rock and waited.
After a long while, Vayi thrust the spider out of the way, stuck his long nose round the cave wall and looked nervously about. Assuming himself alone, he emerged from hiding, and running onto the shore performed a wild dance by the lake, squealing to himself joyfully.
Bakvi meanwhile sidled up to the spider.
“Fair lady,” said he, “how you are grown! Your size is matched only by your excellence.”
“Flattery is no use to me,” said the spider. “Be off, or I shall bite you, for I am hungry.”
“Easily remedied,” said Bakvi. And he produced from his pocket a large honey cake baked only that morning. The spider licked her lips. “Luscious madam,” said Bakvi, “pray eat this cake before you swoon from lack of nourishment. Who could expect you to be loyal to such a master as this Vayi, who stuffs you in cave entrances so disrespectfully, and brings you no food.” With this the spider agreed, so Bakvi gave her the cake, and tried to sidle within the cave, but no sooner was the spider done eating than she got in his way again. “Dear me,” said Bakvi, “I wished only to peep at what your wicked unkind master has made. Surely you can be persuaded? Is there not some other service I can render you?” At which he commenced tickling the spider in a certain part of her anatomy. Presently she became excited, and suggested a bargain. Bakvi accordingly mounted her and began to work vigorously on her behalf. She sighed and squealed, but she was a difficult lady to please. Bakvi bucked and heaved away with a will, and fancied himself near ruined if she should not soon be satisfied. Eventually, with a violent hiss, the spider tossed him from her back and declared he might now leave off and enter Vayi’s workroom instead.
Nursing his bruises and rather short of breath, Bakvi hobbled into the cave.
And there on Vayi’s bench lay a collar of white silver, fiery pale as the moon and hung with chains of silver spiderweb made metal, as fine as the finest thread. And in this mesh were caught. like star-birds in a snare, seven wonderful flashing gems, bright as lightning yet soft as milk.
“O most marvelous Vayi,” said Bakvi, much recovered. And snatching the collar, he hid it in his jacket, and ran as fast as he could out of the cave, along the shore, and over the dark slopes toward Druhim Vanashta.
Soon enough Vayi came hopping back. The spider was exquisitely grooming herself with her eight furry limbs, a picture of utter content, but this Vayi did not notice. Straight into his cave he bounded and straight up to his bench, and then what a wailing and screeching was heard, and what a turning over of tables and chairs, and upheaving of braziers and throwing of bellows and gnashing of teeth and thrashing of spiders. Then came silence, and then came Vayi hurtling out of his cave and along the shore and over the slopes toward Druhim Vanashta, screaming for justice and vengeance, and this was how he arrived at the palace of Azhrarn, Prince of Demons, one of the Lords of Darkness.
* * *
Azhrarn was walking in his garden of velure trees, a Vazdru princess at his right hand playing a seven-stringed harp more delicately than an evening breeze playing in a fountain, a Vazdru princess at his left hand singing more sweetly than a nightingale and a skylark, while all about the jeweled wasps visited the crystal flowers.
Into this dark harmony came an Eshva woman who bowed low, and next a little gamboling Drin.
“Well, little one,” said Azhrarn, passing over Bakvi a pair of mesmerizing thoughtful eyes, “what is it you seek?”
Bakvi flushed and stammered, but drawing his courage together at last, he cried: “Oh, Incredible Majesty, I, Bakvi, least of your subjects, bring you a gift. For unknown eras I have toiled in secret, while others have made a great fuss and show of their work. All my skill and all my love have I poured into this unworthy token of my worship. Pray deign to glance at it, O Prince of Night.”
And, producing the silver collar, he held it out to Azhrarn.
Both the Vazdru princesses gave a cry and clapped their hands. Even the jeweled wasps swooped closer. As for the Eshva woman, she shut her eyes in sheer delight.
Azhrarn smiled, and that smile filled Bakvi up like a cup with pride, but before another word could be spoken, into the garden erupted Vayi. At the sight of Bakvi and the collar, Vayi turned the color of blue gas, and let out a most dreadful howl of rage.
“Cursed be all thieves, and cursed be all the furry daughters of gluttony and lust, my eight-legged handmaidens, and cursed be all the Drin but me!”
The Vazdru and the Eshva shrank aside, terrified at Azhrarn’s anger which would surely blast the Drin to ashes. But Azhrarn did nothing, merely stood where he was, and soon Vayi became aware of him, like a tall shadow thrown upward on the air. Slowly then, Vayi’s eyes traveled up until they met those coals that were the Prince’s.
“Mercy, Peerless One,” whimpered Vayi, “I forgot myself in my fury. But this son of a deaf bat and a blind owl has stolen my work. That collar is mine, mine!”
“And did you also intend,” said Azhrarn, smooth as honey and hemlock, “to give the collar to me.”
At this Vayi beat his fists on his head and his feet on the ground.
“What else, O Wondrous One? Is it not fair? Is it not without equal? Who else should possess it but the Lord without equal?”
“Well, well,” said Azhrarn. “And how am I to judge who made this gift for me? Shall I put you both to the test?”
Bakvi and Vayi both cast themselves down on the black lawn and squealed for pity, but presently Vayi gave over chewing the grass and stuck up his head again.
“There is only one way to test us, Prince. If he made the collar, ask him where he came by such rare and lucent jewels.”
Azhrarn smiled once more, a smile unlike the first. He looked musingly at Bakvi, and he said:
“That seems reasonable enough, little hammerer. The jewels are strange and beautiful. Tell me, where did you mine them?”
Bakvi sat up and looked about wildly:
“In a deep cave,” he began, “I found a curious cleft,” but at this Vayi let out a gale of laughter. Bakvi checked and began again. “Strolling by the lake I found a lizard with a brazen skin, and, holding it up by its tail, shook out its eyes.”
“Did it then have seven eyes?” barked Vayi.
“Yes, yes, it did,” gabbled Bakvi, “two on either side of its nose, one in the top of its head—ah—one in its chin, and—um...”
“Pah!” exclaimed Vayi exultantly. “See how the wretch lies. I will tell you, oh Fabulous Lord, where I got my seven jewels.” And coming close, he whispered it.
“That is easily verified,” said Azhrarn, and he took from one of the Vazdru princesses a magic glass, and summoned up in it the image of Ferazhin Flower-Born, and bade her, in his low melodious voice, to weep. So irresistible was his command that all wept who heard him; even the flowers put out dew. Ferazhin’s tears fell like rain, and each resembled one of the seven jewels.
“Cease weeping,” murmured Azhrarn, darkening the glass, and the Vazdru brushed the drops from their damask cheeks though the Eshva woman wore her tears like opals, and the two Drin continued to snivel from fear. “Now,” said Azhrarn, “I know that Vayi made the collar and Bakvi stole it. How shall I punish him?”
Bakvi gibbered, and Vayi cried:
“Boil him in the venom of the snake who is his mistress, boil him for ten human centuries. And then boil him in lava for another ten. And then give him to me.”
“Be still, little greedy one,” said Azhrarn, and Vayi paled. “I alone mete out justice in Druhim Vanashta. I see that, though one is a thief, the other is ambitious, boastful, impetuous, and loud. Bad little Drin. Bakvi must crawl on his belly and be a worm and turn the soil of my garden until I remember him, for thieves cannot be tempted when there is nothing to steal,” and next minute Bakvi had shrunk and thinned and fallen down and slipped away a little black worm into the ground. “As for Vayi; I decline his gift, since its value has been lost in wrangling. Bad little Drin, you are too proud of your cleverness. I will send your collar to the world of men and there great mischief will come of it, which will please you, and who will doubt that a Drin made it, but they will never learn your name and you shall get no credit for your work, no kings will keep you in state, or make you velvet boxes in which to hide by day.”
Then Vayi bowed his head, seeing Azhrarn read all his dreams.
“I am punished,” he said, “and rewarded too. You are just, as ever, Master of the city. Only let me kiss the grass where the sole of your foot has most recently rested, and I will go.”
And this he did, and trotted away, and lay in his cave by the lake, thinking of Azhrarn the beautiful, and of Bakvi the worm tunneling in the garden, and of the silver collar with the seven tears in it lost in the wide world of men.
* * *