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Allan Quatermain by H. Rider Haggard

Part 5 out of 6

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and he held up the axe and gazed at it in sorrow.

'Ah,' I said, 'that is thy complaint, is it? Thou hast the
blood-sickness, hast thou? And the Woodpecker wants a tree.
And at thy age, too. Shame on thee! Umslopogaas.'

'Ay, Macumazahn, mine is a red trade, yet is it better and more
honest than some. Better is it to slay a man in fair fight than
to suck out his heart's blood in buying and selling and usury
after your white fashion. Many a man have I slain, yet is there
never a one that I should fear to look in the face again, ay,
many are there who once were friends, and whom I should be right
glad to snuff with. But there! there! thou hast thy ways, and
I mine: each to his own people and his own place. The high-veldt
ox will die in the fat bush country, and so is it with me, Macumazahn.
I am rough, I know it, and when my blood is warm I know not
what to do, but yet wilt thou be sorry when the night swallows
me and I am utterly lost in blackness, for in thy heart thou
lovest me, my father, Macumazahn the fox, though I be nought
but a broken-down Zulu war-dog -- a chief for whom there is no
room in his own kraal, an outcast and a wanderer in strange places:
ay, I love thee, Macumazahn, for we have grown grey together,
and there is that between us that cannot be seen, and yet is
too strong for breaking;' and he took his snuff-box, which was
made of an old brass cartridge, from the slit in his ear where
he always carried it, and handed it to me for me to help myself.

I took the pinch of snuff with some emotion. It was quite true,
I was much attached to the bloodthirsty old ruffian. I do not
know what was the charm of his character, but it had a charm;
perhaps it was its fierce honesty and directness; perhaps one
admired his almost superhuman skill and strength, or it may have
been simply that he was so absolutely unique. Frankly, with
all my experience of savages, I never knew a man quite like him,
he was so wise and yet such a child with it all; and though it
seems laughable to say so, like the hero of the Yankee parody,
he 'had a tender heart'. Anyway, I was very fond of him, though
I should never have thought of telling him so.

'Ay, old wolf,' I said, 'thine is a strange love. Thou wouldst
split me to the chin if I stood in thy path tomorrow.'

'Thou speakest truth, Macumazahn, that would I if it came in
the way of duty, but I should love thee all the same when the
blow had gone fairy home. Is there any chance of some fighting
here, Macumazahn?' he went on in an insinuating voice. 'Methought
that what I saw last night did show that the two great Queens
were vexed one with another. Else had the "Lady of the Night"
not brought that dagger with her.'

I agreed with him that it showed that more or less pique and
irritation existed between the ladies, and told him how things
stood, and that they were quarrelling over Incubu.

'Ah, is it so?' he exclaimed, springing up in delight; 'then
will there be war as surely as the rivers rise in the rains --
war to the end. Women love the last blow as well as the last
word, and when they fight for love they are pitiless as a wounded
buffalo. See thou, Macumazahn, a woman will swim through blood
to her desire, and think nought of it. With these eyes have
I seen it once, and twice also. Ah, Macumazahn, we shall see
this fine place of houses burning yet, and hear the battle cries
come ringing up the street. After all, I have not wandered for
nothing. Can this folk fight, think ye?'

Just then Sir Henry joined us, and Good arrived, too, from another
direction, looking very pale and hollow-eyed. The moment Umslopogaas
saw the latter he stopped his bloodthirsty talk and greeted him.

'Ah, Bougwan,' he cried, 'greeting to thee, Inkoos! Thou art
surely weary. Didst thou hunt too much yesterday?' Then, without
waiting for an answer, he went on --

'Listen, Bougwan, and I will tell thee a story; it is about a
woman, therefore wilt thou hear it, is it not so?

'There was a man and he had a brother, and there was a woman
who loved the man's brother and was beloved of the man. But
the man's brother had a favourite wife and loved not the woman,
and he made a mock of her. Then the woman, being very cunning
and fierce-hearted for revenge, took counsel with herself and
said to the man, "I love thee, and if thou wilt make war upon
thy brother I will marry thee." And he knew it was a lie, yet
because of his great love of the woman, who was very fair, did
he listen to her words and made war. And when many people had
been killed his brother sent to him, saying, "Why slayest thou
me? What hurt have I done unto thee? From my youth up have
I not loved thee? When thou wast little did I not nurture thee,
and have we not gone down to war together and divided the cattle,
girl by girl, ox by ox, and cow by cow? Why slayest thou me,
my brother, son of my own mother?"

'Then the man's heart was heavy, and he knew that his path was
evil, and he put aside the tempting of the woman and ceased to
make war on his brother, and lived at peace in the same kraal
with him. And after a time the woman came to him and said, "I
have lost the past, I will be thy wife." And in his heart he
knew that it was a lie and that she thought the evil thing,
yet because of his love did he take her to wife.

'And the very night that they were wed, when the man was plunged
into a deep sleep, did the woman arise and take his axe from
his hand and creep into the hut of his brother and slay him in
his rest. Then did she slink back like a gorged lioness and
place the thong of the red axe back upon his wrist and go her ways.

'And at the dawning the people came shouting, "Lousta is slain
in the night," and they came unto the hut of the man, and there
he lay asleep and by him was the red axe. Then did they remember
the war and say, "Lo! he hath of a surety slain his brother,"
and they would have taken and killed him, but he rose and fled
swiftly, and as he fleeted by he slew the woman.

'But death could not wipe out the evil she had done, and on him
rested the weight of all her sin. Therefore is he an outcast
and his name a scorn among his own people; for on him, and him
only, resteth the burden of her who betrayed. And, therefore,
does he wander afar, without a kraal and without an ox or a wife,
and therefore will he die afar like a stricken buck and his name
be accursed from generation to generation, in that the people
say that he slew his brother, Lousta, by treachery in the night-time.'

The old Zulu paused, and I saw that he was deeply agitated by
his own story. Presently he lifted his head, which he had bowed
to his breast, and went on:

'I was the man, Bougwan. Ou! I was that man, and now hark
thou! Even as I am so wilt thou be -- a tool, a plaything, an
ox of burden to carry the evil deeds of another. Listen! When
thou didst creep after the "Lady of the Night" I was hard upon
thy track. When she struck thee with the knife in the sleeping
place of the White Queen I was there also; when thou didst
let her slip away like a snake in the stones I saw thee, and
I knew that she had bewitched thee and that a true man had abandoned
the truth, and he who aforetime loved a straight path had taken
a crooked way. Forgive me, my father, if my words are sharp,
but out of a full heart are they spoken. See her no more, so
shalt thou go down with honour to the grave. Else because of
the beauty of a woman that weareth as a garment of fur shalt
thou be even as I am, and perchance with more cause. I have
said.'

Throughout this long and eloquent address Good had been perfectly
silent, but when the tale began to shape itself so aptly to his
own case, he coloured up, and when he learnt that what had passed
between him and Sorais had been overseen he was evidently much
distressed. And now, when at last he spoke, it was in a tone
of humility quite foreign to him.

'I must say,' he said, with a bitter little laugh, 'that I scarcely
thought that I should live to be taught my duty by a Zulu; but
it just shows what we can come to. I wonder if you fellows can
understand how humiliated I feel, and the bitterest part of it
is that I deserve it all. Of course I should have handed Sorais
over to the guard, but I could not, and that is a fact. I let
her go and I promised to say nothing, more is the shame to me.
She told me that if I would side with her she would marry me
and make me king of this country, but thank goodness I did find
the heart to say that even to marry her I could not desert my
friends. And now you can do what you like, I deserve it all.
All I have to say is that I hope that you may never love a woman
with all your heart and then be so sorely tempted of her,' and
he turned to go.

'Look here, old fellow,' said Sir Henry, 'just stop a minute.
I have a little tale to tell you too.' And he went on to narrate
what had taken place on the previous day between Sorais and himself.

This was a finishing stroke to poor Good. It is not pleasant
to any man to learn that he has been made a tool of, but when
the circumstances are as peculiarly atrocious as in the present
case, it is about as bitter a pill as anybody can be called on
to swallow.

'Do you know,' he said, 'I think that between you, you fellows
have about worked a cure,' and he turned and walked away, and
I for one felt very sorry for him. Ah, if the moths would always
carefully avoid the candle, how few burnt wings there would be!

That day was a Court day, when the Queens sat in the great hall
and received petitions, discussed laws, money grants, and so
forth, and thither we adjourned shortly afterwards. On our way
we were joined by Good, who was looking exceedingly depressed.

When we got into the hall Nyleptha was already on her throne
and proceeding with business as usual, surrounded by councillors,
courtiers, lawyers, priests, and an unusually strong guard.
It was, however, easy to see from the air of excitement and expectation
on the faces of everybody present that nobody was paying much
attention to ordinary affairs, the fact being that the knowledge
that civil war was imminent had now got abroad. We saluted Nyleptha
and took our accustomed places, and for a little while things
went on as usual, when suddenly the trumpets began to call outside
the palace, and from the great crowd that was gathered there
in anticipation of some unusual event there rose a roar of
'_Sorais! Sorais!_'

Then came the roll of many chariot wheels, and presently the
great curtains at the end of the hall were drawn wide and through
them entered the 'Lady of the Night' herself. Nor did she come
alone. Preceding her was Agon, the High Priest, arrayed in his
most gorgeous vestments, and on either side were other priests.
The reason for their presence was obvious -- coming with them
it would have been sacrilege to attempt to detain her. Behind
her were a number of the great lords, and behind them a small
body of picked guards. A glance at Sorais herself was enough
to show that her mission was of no peaceful kind, for in place
of her gold embroidered 'kaf' she wore a shining tunic formed
of golden scales, and on her head a little golden helmet. In
her hand, too, she bore a toy spear, beautifully made and fashioned
of solid silver. Up the hall she came, looking like a lioness
in her conscious pride and beauty, and as she came the spectators
fell back bowing and made a path for her. By the sacred stone
she halted, and laying her hand on it, she cried out with a loud
voice to Nyleptha on the throne, 'Hail, oh Queen!'

'All hail, my royal sister!' answered Nyleptha. 'Draw thou near.
Fear not, I give thee safe conduct.'

Sorais answered with a haughty look, and swept on up the hall
till she stood right before the thrones.

'A boon, oh Queen!' she cried again.

'Speak on, my sister; what is there that I can give thee who
hath half our kingdom?'

'Thou canst tell me a true word -- me and the people of Zu-Vendis.
Art thou, or art thou not, about to take this foreign wolf,'
and she pointed to Sir Henry with her toy spear, 'to be a husband
to thee, and share thy bed and throne?'

Curtis winced at this, and turning towards Sorais, said to her
in a low voice, 'Methinks that yesterday thou hadst other names
than wolf to call me by, oh Queen!' and I saw her bite her lips
as, like a danger flag, the blood flamed red upon her face.
As for Nyleptha, who is nothing if not original, she, seeing
that the thing was out, and that there was nothing further to
be gained by concealment, answered the question in a novel and
effectual manner, inspired thereto, as I firmly believe, by coquetry
and a desire to triumph over her rival.

Up she rose and, descending from the throne, swept in all the
glory of her royal grace on to where her lover stood. There
she stopped and untwined the golden snake that was wound around
her arm. Then she bade him kneel, and he dropped on one knee
on the marble before her, and next, taking the golden snake with
both her hands, she bent the pure soft metal round his neck,
and when it was fast, deliberately kissed him on the brow and
called him her 'dear lord'.

'Thou seest,' she said, when the excited murmur of the spectators
had died away, addressing her sister as Sir Henry rose to his
feet, 'I have put my collar round the "wolf's" neck, and behold!
he shall be my watchdog, and that is my answer to thee, Queen
Sorais, my sister, and to those with thee. Fear not,' she went
on, smiling sweetly on her lover, and pointing to the golden
snake she had twined round his massive throat, 'if my yoke be
heavy, yet is it of pure gold, and it shall not gall thee.'

Then, turning to the audience, she continued in a clear proud
tone, 'Ay, Lady of the Night, Lords, Priests, and People here
gathered together, by this sign do I take the foreigner to husband,
even here in the face of you all. What, am I a Queen, and yet
not free to choose the man whom I will love? Then should I be
lower than the meanest girl in all my provinces. Nay, he hath
won my heart, and with it goes my hand, and throne, and all I
have -- ay, had he been a beggar instead of a great lord fairer
and stronger than any here, and having more wisdom and knowledge
of strange things, I had given him all, how much more so being
what he is!' And she took his hand and gazed proudly on him,
and holding it, stood there boldly facing the people. And such
was her sweetness and the power and dignity of her person, and
so beautiful she looked standing hand in hand there at her lover's
side, so sure of him and of herself, and so ready to risk all
things and endure all things for him, that most of those who
saw the sight, which I am sure no one of them will ever forget,
caught the fire from her eyes and the happy colour from her blushing
face, and cheered her like wild things. It was a bold stroke
for her to make, and it appealed to the imagination; but human
nature in Zu-Vendis, as elsewhere, loves that which is bold and
not afraid to break a rule, and is moreover peculiarly susceptible
to appeals to its poetical side.

And so the people cheered till the roof rang; but Sorais of the
Night stood there with downcast eyes, for she could not bear
to see her sister's triumph, which robbed her of the man whom
she had hoped to win, and in the awfulness of her jealous anger
she trembled and turned white like an aspen in the wind. I think
I have said somewhere of her that she reminded me of the sea
on a calm day, having the same aspect of sleeping power about
her. Well, it was all awake now, and like the face of the furious
ocean it awed and yet fascinated me. A really handsome woman
in a royal rage is always a beautiful sight, but such beauty
and such a rage I never saw combined before, and I can only say
that the effect produced was well worthy of the two.

She lifted her white face, the teeth set, and there were purple
rings beneath her glowing eyes. Thrice she tried to speak and
thrice she failed, but at last her voice came. Raising her silver
spear, she shook it, and the light gleamed from it and from the
golden scales of her cuirass.

'And thinkest thou, Nyleptha,' she said in notes which pealed
through the great hall like a clarion, 'thinkest thou that I,
Sorais, a Queen of the Zu-Vendi, will brook that this base outlander
shall sit upon my father's throne and rear up half-breeds to
fill the place of the great House of the Stairway? Never! never!
while there is life in my bosom and a man to follow me and a
spear to strike with. Who is on my side? Who?

'Now hand thou over this foreign wolf and those who came hither
to prey with him to the doom of fire, for have they not committed
the deadly sin against the sun? or, Nyleptha, I give thee War
-- red War! Ay, I say to thee that the path of thy passion shall
be marked out by the blazing of thy towns and watered with the
blood of those who cleave to thee. On thy head rest the burden
of the deed, and in thy ears ring the groans of the dying and
the cries of the widows and those who are left fatherless for
ever and for ever.

'I tell thee I will tear thee, Nyleptha, the White Queen, from
thy throne, and that thou shalt be hurled -- ay, hurled even
from the topmost stair of the great way to the foot thereof,
in that thou hast covered the name of the House of him who built
it with black shame. And I tell ye strangers -- all save Bougwan,
whom because thou didst do me a service I will save alive if
thou wilt leave these men and follow me' (here poor Good shook
his head vigorously and ejaculated 'Can't be done' in English)
-- 'that I will wrap you in sheets of gold and hang you yet alive
in chains from the four golden trumpets of the four angels that
fly east and west and north and south from the giddiest pinnacles
of the Temple, so that ye may be a token and a warning to the
land. And as for thee, Incubu, thou shalt die in yet another
fashion that I will not tell thee now.'

She ceased, panting for breath, for her passion shook her like
a storm, and a murmur, partly of horror and partly of admiration,
ran through the hall. Then Nyleptha answered calmly and with
dignity:

'Ill would it become my place and dignity, oh sister, so to speak
as thou hast spoken and so to threat as thou hast threatened.
Yet if thou wilt make war, then will I strive to bear up against
thee, for if my hand seem soft, yet shalt thou find it of iron
when it grips thine armies by the throat. Sorais, I fear thee
not. I weep for that which thou wilt bring upon our people and
on thyself, but for myself I say -- I fear thee not. Yet thou,
who but yesterday didst strive to win my lover and my lord from
me, whom today thou dost call a "foreign wolf", to be _thy_ lover
and _thy_ lord' (here there was an immense sensation in the hall),
'thou who but last night, as I have learnt but since thou didst
enter here, didst creep like a snake into my sleeping-place --
ay, even by a secret way, and wouldst have foully murdered me,
thy sister, as I lay asleep --'

'It is false, it is false!' rang out Agon's and a score of other voices.

'It is _not_ false,' said I, producing the broken point of the
dagger and holding it up. 'Where is the haft from which
this flew, oh Sorais?'

'It is not false,' cried Good, determined at last to act like
a loyal man. 'I took the Lady of the Night by the White Queen's
bed, and on my breast the dagger broke.'

'Who is on my side?' cried Sorais, shaking her silver spear,
for she saw that public sympathy was turning against her. 'What,
Bougwan, thou comest not?' she said, addressing Good, who was
standing close to her, in a low, concentrated voice. 'Thou pale-souled
fool, for a reward thou shalt eat out thy heart with love of
me and not be satisfied, and thou mightest have been my husband
and a king! At least I hold _thee_ in chains that cannot be
broken.

'_War! War! War!_' she cried. 'Here, with my hand upon the
sacred stone that shall endure, so runs the prophecy, till the
Zu-Vendi set their necks beneath an alien yoke, I declare war
to the end. Who follows Sorais of the Night to victory and honour?'

Instantly the whole concourse began to break up in indescribable
confusion. Many present hastened to throw in their lot with
the 'Lady of the Night', but some came from her following to
us. Amongst the former was an under officer of Nyleptha's own
guard, who suddenly turned and made a run for the doorway through
which Sorais' people were already passing. Umslopogaas, who
was present and had taken the whole scene in, seeing with admirable
presence of mind that if this soldier got away others would follow
his example, seized the man, who drew his sword and struck at
him. Thereon the Zulu sprang back with a wild shout, and, avoiding
the sword cuts, began to peck at his foe with his terrible axe,
till in a few seconds the man's fate overtook him and he fell
with a clash heavily and quite dead upon the marble floor.

This was the first blood spilt in the war.

'Shut the gates,' I shouted, thinking that we might perhaps catch
Sorais so, and not being troubled with the idea of committing
sacrilege. But the order came too late, her guards were already
passing through them, and in another minute the streets echoed
with the furious galloping of horses and the rolling of her chariots.

So, drawing half the people after her, Sorais was soon passing
like a whirlwind through the Frowning City on her road to her
headquarters at M'Arstuna, a fortress situated a hundred and
thirty miles to the north of Milosis.

And after that the city was alive with the endless tramp of regiments
and preparations for the gathering war, and old Umslopogaas once
more began to sit in the sunshine and go through a show of sharpening
Inkosi-kaas's razor edge.

CHAPTER XIX
A STRANGE WEDDING

One person, however, did not succeed in getting out in time before
the gates were shut, and that was the High Priest Agon, who,
as we had every reason to believe, was Sorais' great ally, and
the heart and soul of her party. This cunning and ferocious
old man had not forgiven us for those hippopotami, or rather
that was what he said. What he meant was that he would never
brook the introduction of our wider ways of thought and foreign
learning and influence while there was a possibility of stamping
us out. Also he knew that we possessed a different system of
religion, and no doubt was in daily terror of our attempting
to introduce it into Zu-Vendis. One day he asked me if we had
any religion in our country, and I told him that so far as I
could remember we had ninety-five different ones. You might
have knocked him down with a feather, and really it is difficult
not to pity a high priest of a well-established cult who is haunted
by the possible approach of one or all of ninety-five new religions.

When we knew that Agon was caught, Nyleptha, Sir Henry, and I
discussed what was to be done with him. I was for closely incarcerating
him, but Nyleptha shook her head, saying that it would produce
a disastrous effect throughout the country. 'Ah!' she added,
with a stamp of her foot, 'if I win and am once really Queen,
I will break the power of those priests, with their rites and
revels and dark secret ways.' I only wished that old Agon could
have heard her, it would have frightened him.

'Well,' said Sir Henry, 'if we are not to imprison him, I suppose
that we may as well let him go. He is of no use here.'

Nyleptha looked at him in a curious sort of way, and said in
a dry little voice, 'Thinkest thou so, my lord?'

'Eh?' said Curtis. 'No, I do not see what is the use of keeping him.'

She said nothing, but continued looking at him in a way that
was as shy as it was sweet.

Then at last he understood.

'Forgive me, Nyleptha,' he said, rather tremulously. 'Dost thou
mean that thou wilt marry me, even now?'

'Nay, I know not; let my lord say,' was her rapid answer; 'but
if my lord wills, the priest is there and the altar is there'
-- pointing to the entrance to a private chapel -- 'and am I
not ready to do the will of my lord? Listen, oh my lord! In
eight days or less thou must leave me and go down to war, for
thou shalt lead my armies, and in war -- men sometimes fall,
and so I would for a little space have had thee all my own, if
only for memory's sake;' and the tears overflowed her lovely
eyes and rolled down her face like heavy drops of dew down the
red heart of a rose.

'Mayhap, too,' she went on, 'I shall lose my crown, and with
my crown my life and thine also. Sorais is very strong and very
bitter, and if she prevails she will not spare. Who can read
the future? Happiness is the world's White Bird, that alights
seldom, and flies fast and far till one day he is lost in the
clouds. Therefore should we hold him fast if by any chance he
rests for a little space upon our hand. It is not wise to neglect
the present for the future, for who knows what the future will
be, Incubu? Let us pluck our flowers while the dew is on them,
for when the sun is up they wither and on the morrow will others
bloom that we shall never see.' And she lifted her sweet face
to him and smiled into his eyes, and once more I felt a curious
pang of jealousy and turned and went away. They never took much
notice of whether I was there or not, thinking, I suppose, that
I was an old fool, and that it did not matter one way or the
other, and really I believe that they were right.

So I went back to our quarters and ruminated over things in general,
and watched old Umslopogaas whetting his axe outside the window
as a vulture whets his beak beside a dying ox.

And in about an hour's time Sir Henry came tearing over, looking
very radiant and wildly excited, and found Good and myself and
even Umslopogaas, and asked us if we should like to assist at
a real wedding. Of course we said yes, and off we went to the
chapel, where we found Agon looking as sulky as any High Priest
possibly could, and no wonder. It appeared that he and Nyleptha
had a slight difference of opinion about the coming ceremony.
He had flatly refused to celebrate it, or to allow any of his
priests to do so, whereupon Nyleptha became very angry and told
him that she, as Queen, was head of the Church, and meant to
be obeyed. Indeed, she played the part of a Zu-Vendi Henry the
Eighth to perfection, and insisted that, if she wanted to be
married, she would be married, and that he should marry her.
{Endnote 18}

He still refused to go through the ceremony, so she clinched
her argument thus --

'Well, I cannot execute a High Priest, because there is an absurd
prejudice against it, and I cannot imprison him because all his
subordinates would raise a crying that would bring the stars
down on Zu-Vendis and crush it; but I _can_ leave him to contemplate
the altar of the Sun without anything to eat, because that is
his natural vocation, and if thou wilt not marry me, O Agon!
thou shalt be placed before the altar yonder with nought but
a little water till such time as thou hast reconsidered the matter.'

Now, as it happened, Agon had been hurried away that morning
without his breakfast, and was already exceedingly hungry, so
he presently modified his views and consented to marry them,
saying at the same time that he washed his hands of all responsibility
in the matter.

So it chanced that presently, attended only by two of her favourite
maidens, came the Queen Nyleptha, with happy blushing face and
downcast eyes, dressed in pure white, without embroidery of any
sort, as seems to be the fashion on these occasions in most countries
of the world. She did not wear a single ornament, even her gold
circlets were removed, and I thought that if possible she looked
more lovely than ever without them, as really superbly beautiful
women do.

She came, curtseyed low to Sir Henry, and then took his hand
and led him up before the altar, and after a little pause, in
a slow, clear voice uttered the following words, which are customary
in Zu-Vendis if the bride desires and the man consents: --

'Thou dost swear by the Sun that thou wilt take no other woman
to wife unless I lay my hand upon her and bid her come?'

'I swear it,' answered Sir Henry; adding in English, 'One is
quite enough for me.'

Then Agon, who had been sulking in a corner near the altar, came
forward and gabbled off something into his beard at such a rate
that I could not follow it, but it appeared to be an invocation
to the Sun to bless the union and make it fruitful. I observed
that Nyleptha listened very closely to every word, and afterwards
discovered that she was afraid lest Agon should play her a trick,
and by going through the invocations backwards divorce them instead
of marry them. At the end of the invocations they were asked,
as in our service, if they took each other for husband and wife,
and on their assenting they kissed each other before the altar,
and the service was over, so far as their rites were concerned.
But it seemed to me that there was yet something wanting, and
so I produced a Prayer-Book, which has, together which the 'Ingoldsby
Legends', that I often read when I lie awake at night, accompanied
me in all my later wanderings. I gave it to my poor boy Harry
years ago, and after his death I found it among his things and
took it back again.

'Curtis,' I said, 'I am not a clergyman, and I do not know if
what I am going to propose is allowable -- I know it is not legal
-- but if you and the Queen have no objection I should like to read
the English marriage service over you. It is a solemn step which
you are taking, and I think that you ought, so far as circumstances
will allow, to give it the sanction of your own religion.'

'I have thought of that,' he said, 'and I wish you would.
I do not feel half married yet.'

Nyleptha raised no objection, fully understanding that her husband
wished to celebrate the marriage according to the rites prevailing
in his own country, and so I set to work and read the service,
from 'Dearly beloved' to 'amazement', as well as I could; and
when I came to 'I, Henry, take thee, Nyleptha,' I translated,
and also 'I, Nyleptha, take thee, Henry,' which she repeated
after me very well. Then Sir Henry took a plain gold ring from
his little finger and placed it on hers, and so on to the end.
The ring had been Curtis' mother's wedding-ring, and I could
not help thinking how astonished the dear old Yorkshire lady
would have been if she could have foreseen that her wedding-ring
was to serve a similar purpose for Nyleptha, a Queen of the Zu-Vendi.

As for Agon, he was with difficulty kept calm while this second
ceremony was going on, for he at once understood that it was
religious in its nature, and doubtless bethought him of the ninety-five
new faiths which loomed so ominously in his eyes. Indeed, he
at once set me down as a rival High Priest, and hated me accordingly.
However, in the end off he went, positively bristling with indignation,
and I knew that we might look out for danger from his direction.

And off went Good and I, and old Umslopogaas also, leaving the
happy pair to themselves, and very low we all felt. Marriages
are supposed to be cheerful things, but my experience is that
they are very much the reverse to everybody, except perhaps the
two people chiefly interested. They mean the breaking-up of
so many old ties as well as the undertaking of so many new ones,
and there is always something sad about the passing away of the
old order. Now to take this case for instance: Sir Henry Curtis
is the best and kindest fellow and friend in the world, but he
has never been quite the same since that little scene in the
chapel. It is always Nyleptha this and Nyleptha that -- Nyleptha,
in short, from morning till night in one way or another, either
expressed or understood. And as for the old friends -- well,
of course they have taken the place that old friends ought to
take, and which ladies are as a rule very careful to see they
do take when a man marries, and that is, the second place. Yes,
he would be angry if anybody said so, but it is a fact for all
that. He is not quite the same, and Nyleptha is very sweet and
very charming, but I think that she likes him to understand that
she has married _him_, and not Quatermain, Good, and Co. But
there! what is the use of grumbling? It is all very right and
proper, as any married lady would have no difficulty in explaining,
and I am a selfish, jealous old man, though I hope I never show
it.

So Good and I went and ate in silence and then indulged in an
extra fine flagon of old Zu-Vendian to keep our spirits up, and
presently one of our attendants came and told a story that gave
us something to think about.

It may, perhaps, be remembered that, after his quarrel with
Umslopogaas, Alphonse had gone off in an exceedingly ill temper
to sulk over his scratches. Well, it appears that he walked
right past the Temple to the Sun, down the wide road on the further
side of the slope it crowns, and thence on into the beautiful
park, or pleasure gardens, which are laid out just beyond the
outer wall. After wandering about there for a little he started
to return, but was met near the outer gate by Sorais' train of
chariots, which were galloping furiously along the great northern
road. When she caught sight of Alphonse, Sorais halted her train
and called to him. On approaching he was instantly seized and
dragged into one of the chariots and carried off, 'crying out
loudly', as our informant said, and as from my general knowledge
of him I can well believe.

At first I was much puzzled to know what object Sorais could
have had in carrying off the poor little Frenchman. She could
hardly stoop so low as to try to wreak her fury on one whom she
knew was only a servant. At last, however, an idea occurred
to me. We three were, as I think I have said, much revered by
the people of Zu-Vendis at large, both because we were the first
strangers they had ever seen, and because we were supposed to
be the possessors of almost supernatural wisdom. Indeed, though
Sorais' cry against the 'foreign wolves' -- or, to translate
it more accurately, 'foreign hyenas' -- was sure to go down very
well with the nobles and the priests, it was not as we learnt,
likely to be particularly effectual amongst the bulk of the population.
The Zu-Vendi people, like the Athenians of old, are ever seeking
for some new thing, and just because we were so new our presence
was on the whole acceptable to them. Again, Sir Henry's magnificent
personal appearance made a deep impression upon a race who possess
a greater love of beauty than any other I have ever been acquainted
with. Beauty may be prized in other countries, but in Zu-Vendis
it is almost worshipped, as indeed the national love of statuary
shows. The people said openly in the market-places that there
was not a man in the country to touch Curtis in personal appearance,
as with the exception of Sorais there was no woman who could
compete with Nyleptha, and that therefore it was meet that they
should marry; and that he had been sent by the Sun as a husband
for their Queen. Now, from all this it will be seen that the
outcry against us was to a considerable extent fictitious, and
nobody knew it better than Sorais herself. Consequently it struck
me that it might have occurred to her that down in the country
and among the country people, it would be better to place the
reason of her conflict with her sister upon other and more general
grounds than Nyleptha's marriage with the stranger. It would
be easy in a land where there had been so many civil wars to
rake out some old cry that would stir up the recollection of
buried feuds, and, indeed, she soon found an effectual one.
This being so, it was of great importance to her to have one
of the strangers with her whom she could show to the common people
as a great Outlander, who had been so struck by the justice of
her cause that he had elected to leave his companions and follow
her standard.

This, no doubt, was the cause of her anxiety to get a hold of
Good, whom she would have used till he ceased to be of service
and then cast off. But Good having drawn back she grasped at
the opportunity of securing Alphonse, who was not unlike him
in personal appearance though smaller, no doubt with the object
of showing him off in the cities and country as the great Bougwan
himself. I told Good that I thought that that was her plan,
and his face was a sight to see -- he was so horrified at the
idea.

'What,' he said, 'dress up that little wretch to represent me?
Why, I shall have to get out of the country! My reputation
will be ruined for ever.'

I consoled him as well as I could, but it is not pleasant to
be personated all over a strange country by an arrant little
coward, and I can quite sympathize with his vexation.

Well, that night Good and I messed as I have said in solitary
grandeur, feeling very much as though we had just returned from
burying a friend instead of marrying one, and next morning the
work began in good earnest. The messages and orders which had
been despatched by Nyleptha two days before now began to take
effect, and multitudes of armed men came pouring into the city.
We saw, as may be imagined, but very little of Nyleptha and
not too much of Curtis during those next few days, but Good and
I sat daily with the council of generals and loyal lords, drawing
up plans of action, arranging commissariat matters, the distribution
of commands, and a hundred and one other things. Men came in
freely, and all the day long the great roads leading to Milosis
were spotted with the banners of lords arriving from their distant
places to rally round Nyleptha.

After the first few days it became clear that we should be able
to take the field with about forty thousand infantry and twenty
thousand cavalry, a very respectable force considering how short
was the time we had to collect it, and that about half the regular
army had elected to follow Sorais.

But if our force was large, Sorais' was, according to the reports
brought in day by day by our spies, much larger. She had taken
up her headquarters at a very strong town called M'Arstuna, situated,
as I have said, to the north of Milosis, and all the countryside
was flocking to her standard. Nasta had poured down from his
highlands and was on his way to join her with no less than twenty-five
thousand of his mountaineers, the most terrible soldiers to face
in all Zu-Vendis. Another mighty lord, named Belusha, who lived
in the great horse-breeding district, had come in with twelve
thousand cavalry, and so on. Indeed, what between one thing
and another, it seemed certain that she would gather a fully
armed host of nearly one hundred thousand men.

And then came news that Sorais was proposing to break up her
camp and march on the Frowning City itself, desolating the country
as she came. Thereon arose the question whether it would be
best to meet her at Milosis or to go out and give her battle.
When our opinion was asked upon the subject, Good and I unhesitatingly
gave it in favour of an advance. If we were to shut ourselves
up in the city and wait to be attacked, it seemed to us that
our inaction would be set down to fear. It is so important,
especially on an occasion of this sort, when a very little will
suffice to turn men's opinions one way or the other, to be up
and doing something. Ardour for a cause will soon evaporate
if the cause does not move but sits down to conquer. Therefore
we cast our vote for moving out and giving battle in the open,
instead of waiting till we were drawn from our walls like a badger
from a hole.

Sir Henry's opinion coincided with ours, and so, needless to
say, did that of Nyleptha, who, like a flint, was always ready
to flash out fire. A great map of the country was brought and
spread out before her. About thirty miles this side of M'Arstuna,
where Sorais lay, and ninety odd miles from Milosis, the road
ran over a neck of land some two and a half miles in width, and
flanked on either side by forest-clad hills which, without being
lofty, would, if the road were blocked, be quite impracticable
for a great baggage-laden army to cross. She looked earnestly
at the map, and then, with a quickness of perception that in
some women amounts almost to an instinct, she laid her finger
upon this neck of rising ground, and turning to her husband,
said, with a proud air of confidence and a toss of the golden
head --

'Here shalt thou meet Sorais' armies. I know the spot, here
shalt thou meet them, and drive them before thee like dust before
the storm.'

But Curtis looked grave and said nothing.

CHAPTER XX
THE BATTLE OF THE PASS

It was on the third morning after this incident of the map that
Sir Henry and I started. With the exception of a small guard,
all the great host had moved on the night before, leaving the
Frowning City very silent and empty. Indeed, it was found impossible
to leave any garrison with the exception of a personal guard
for Nyleptha, and about a thousand men who from sickness or one
cause or another were unable to proceed with the army; but as
Milosis was practically impregnable, and as our enemy was in
front of and not behind us, this did not so much matter.

Good and Umslopogaas had gone on with the army, but Nyleptha
accompanied Sir Henry and myself to the city gates, riding a
magnificent white horse called Daylight, which was supposed to
be the fleetest and most enduring animal in Zu-Vendis. Her face
bore traces of recent weeping, but there were no tears in her
eyes now, indeed she was bearing up bravely against what must
have been a bitter trail to her. At the gate she reined in her
horse and bade us farewell. On the previous day she had reviewed
and addressed the officers of the great army, speaking to them
such high, eloquent words, and expressing so complete a confidence
in their valour and in their ultimate victory, that she quite
carried their hearts away, and as she rode from rank to rank
they cheered her till the ground shook. And now today the same
mood seemed to be on her.

'Fare thee well, Macumazahn!' she said. 'Remember, I trust to
thy wits, which are as a needle to a spear-handle compared to
those of my people, to save us from Sorais. I know that thou
wilt do thy duty.'

I bowed and explained to her my horror of fighting, and my fear
lest I should lose my head, at which she laughed gently and turned
to Curtis.

'Fare thee well, my lord!' she said. 'Come back with victory,
and as a king, or on thy soldiers' spears.' {Endnote 19}

Sir Henry said nothing, but turned his horse to go; perhaps he
had a bit of a lump in his throat. One gets over it afterwards,
but these sort of partings are trying when one has only been
married a week.

'Here,' added Nyleptha, 'will I greet thee when ye return in
triumph. And now, my lords, once more, farewell!'

Then we rode on, but when we had gone a hundred and fifty yards
or so, we turned and perceived her still sitting on her horse
at the same spot, and looking out after us beneath her hand,
and that was the last we saw of her. About a mile farther on,
however, we heard galloping behind us, and looking round, saw
a mounted soldier coming towards us, leading Nyleptha's matchless
steed -- Daylight.

'The Queen sends the white stallion as a farewell gift to her
Lord Incubu, and bids me tell my lord that he is the fleetest
and most enduring horse in all the land,' said the soldier, bending
to his saddle-bow before us.

At first Sir Henry did not want to take the horse, saying that
he was too good for such rough work, but I persuaded him to do
so, thinking that Nyleptha would be hurt if he did not. Little
did I guess at the time what service that noble horse would render
in our sorest need. It is curious to look back and realize upon
what trivial and apparently coincidental circumstances great
events frequently turn as easily and naturally as a door on its
hinges.

Well, we took the horse, and a beauty he was, it was a perfect
pleasure to see him move, and Curtis having sent back his greetings
and thanks, we proceeded on our journey.

By midday we overtook the rear-guard of the great army of which
Sir Henry then formally took over the command. It was a heavy
responsibility, and it oppressed him very much, but the Queen's
injunctions on the point were such as did not admit of being
trifled with. He was beginning to find out that greatness has
its responsibilities as well as its glories.

Then we marched on without meeting with any opposition, almost
indeed without seeing anybody, for the populations of the towns
and villages along our route had for the most part fled, fearing
lest they should be caught between the two rival armies and ground
to powder like grain between the upper and the nether stones.

On the evening of the fourth day, for the progress of so great
a multitude was necessarily slow, we camped two miles this side
of the neck or ridge I have spoken of, and our outposts brought
us word that Sorais with all her power was rolling down upon
us, and had pitched her camp that night ten miles the farther
side of the neck.

Accordingly before dawn we sent forward fifteen hundred cavalry
to seize the position. Scarcely had they occupied it, however,
before they were attacked by about as many of Sorais' horsemen,
and a very smart little cavalry fight ensued, with a loss to
us of about thirty men killed. On the advance of our supports,
however, Sorais' force drew off, carrying their dead and wounded
with them.

The main body of the army reached the neck about dinner-time,
and I must say that Nyleptha's judgment had not failed her, it
was an admirable place to give battle in, especially to a superior
force.

The road ran down a mile or more, through ground too broken to
admit of the handling of any considerable force, till it reached
the crest of a great green wave of land, that rolled down a gentle
slope to the banks of a little stream, and then rolled away again
up a still gentler slope to the plain beyond, the distance from
the crest of the land-wave down to the stream being a little
over half a mile, and from the stream up to the plain beyond
a trifle less. The length of this wave of land at its highest
point, which corresponded exactly with the width of the neck
of the land between the wooded hills, was about two miles and
a quarter, and it was protected on either side by dense, rocky,
bush-clad ground, that afforded a most valuable cover to the
flanks of the army and rendered it almost impossible for them
to be turned.

It was on the hither slope of this neck of land that Curtis encamped
his army in the same formation that he had, after consultation
with the various generals, Good, and myself, determined that
they should occupy in the great pitched battle which now appeared
to be imminent.

Our force of sixty thousand men was, roughly speaking, divided
as follows. In the centre was a dense body of twenty thousand
foot-soldiers, armed with spears, swords, and hippopotamus-hide
shields, breast and back plates. {Endnote 20} These formed the
chest of the army, and were supported by five thousand foot,
and three thousand horse in reserve. On either side of this
chest were stationed seven thousand horse arranged in deep, majestic
squadrons; and beyond and on either side but slightly in front
of them again were two bodies, each numbering about seven thousand
five hundred spearmen, forming the right and left wings of the
army, and each supported by a contingent of some fifteen hundred
cavalry. This makes in all sixty thousand men.

Curtis commanded in chief, I was in command of the seven thousand
horse between the chest and right wing, which was commanded by
Good, and the other battalions and squadrons were entrusted to
Zu-Vendis generals.

Scarcely had we taken up our positions before Sorais' vast army
began to swarm on the opposite slope about a mile in front of
us, till the whole place seemed alive with the multitude of her
spearpoints, and the ground shook with the tramp of her battalions.
It was evident that the spies had not exaggerated; we were outnumbered
by at least a third. At first we expected that Sorais was going
to attack us at once, as the clouds of cavalry which hung upon
her flanks executed some threatening demonstrations, but she
thought better of it, and there was no fight that day. As for
the formation of her great forces I cannot now describe it with
accuracy, and it would only serve to bewilder if I did, but I
may say, generally, that in its leading features it resembled
our own, only her reserve was much greater.

Opposite our right wing, and forming Sorais' left wing, was a
great army of dark, wild-looking men, armed with sword and shield
only, which, I was informed, was composed of Nasta's twenty-five
thousand savage hillsmen.

'My word, Good,' said I, when I saw them, 'you will catch it
tomorrow when those gentlemen charge!' whereat Good not unnaturally
looked rather anxious.

All day we watched and waited, but nothing happened, and at last
night fell, and a thousand watch-fires twinkled brightly on the
slopes, to wane and die one by one like the stars they resembled.
As the hours wore on, the silence gradually gathered more deeply
over the opposing hosts.

It was a very wearying night, for in addition to the endless
things that had to be attended to, there was our gnawing suspense
to reckon with. The fray which tomorrow would witness would
be so vast, and the slaughter so awful, that stout indeed must
the heart have been that was not overwhelmed at the prospect.
And when I thought of all that hung upon it, I own I felt ill,
and it made me very sad to reflect that these mighty forces were
gathered for destruction, simply to gratify the jealous anger
of a woman. This was the hidden power which was to send those
dense masses of cavalry, flashing like human thunderbolts across
the plain, and to roll together the fierce battalions as clouds
when hurricane meets hurricane. It was a dreadful thought, and
set one wondering about the responsibilities of the great ones
of the earth. Deep into the night we sat, with pale faces and
heavy hearts, and took counsel, whilst the sentries tramped up
and down, down and up, and the armed and plumed generals came
and went, grim and shadow-like.

And so the time wore away, till everything was ready for the
coming slaughter; and I lay down and thought, and tried to get
a little rest, but could not sleep for fear of the morrow --
for who could say what the morrow would bring forth? Misery
and death, this was certain; beyond that we knew not, and I confess
I was very much afraid. But as I realized then, it is useless
to question that eternal Sphinx, the future. From day to day
she reads aloud the riddles of the yesterday, of which the puzzled
wordlings of all ages have not answered one, nor ever will, guess
they never so wildly or cry they never so loud.

And so at length I gave up wondering, being forced humbly to
leave the issue in the balancing hands of Providence and the
morrow.

And at last up came the red sun, and the huge camps awoke with
a clash, and a roar, and gathered themselves together for battle.
It was a beautiful and awe-inspiring scene, and old Umslopogaas,
leaning on his axe, contemplated it with grim delight.

'Never have I seen the like, Macumazahn, never,' he said. 'The
battles of my people are as the play of children to what this
will be. Thinkest thou that they will fight it out?'

'Ay,' I answered sadly, 'to the death. Content thyself, "Woodpecker",
for once shalt thou peck thy fill.'

Time went on, and still there was no sign of an attack. A force
of cavalry crossed the brook, indeed, and rode slowly along our
front, evidently taking stock of our position and numbers. With
this we did not attempt to interfere, as our decision was to
stand strictly on the defensive, and not to waste a single man.
The men breakfasted and stood to their arms, and the hours wore
on. About midday, when the men were eating their dinner, for
we thought they would fight better on full stomachs, a shout
of '_Sorais, Sorais_' arose like thunder from the enemy's extreme
right, and taking the glass, I was able to clearly distinguish
the 'Lady of the Night' herself, surrounded by a glittering staff,
and riding slowly down the lines of her battalions. And as she
went, that mighty, thundering shout rolled along before her like
the rolling of ten thousand chariots, or the roaring of the ocean
when the gale turns suddenly and carries the noise of it to the
listener's ears, till the earth shook, and the air was full of
the majesty of sound.

Guessing that this was a prelude to the beginning of the battle,
we remained still and made ready.

We had not long to wait. Suddenly, like flame from a cannon's
mouth, out shot two great tongue-like forces of cavalry, and
came charging down the slope towards the little stream, slowly
at first, but gathering speed as they came. Before they got
to the stream, orders reached me from Sir Henry, who evidently
feared that the shock of such a charge, if allowed to fall unbroken
upon our infantry, would be too much for them, to send five thousand
sabres to meet the force opposite to me, at the moment when it
began to mount the stiffest of the rise about four hundred yards
from our lines. This I did, remaining behind myself with the
rest of my men.

Off went the five thousand horsemen, drawn up in a wedge-like
form, and I must say that the general in command handled them
very ably. Starting at a hand gallop, for the first three hundred
yards he rode straight at the tip of the tongue-shaped mass of
cavalry which, numbering, so far as I could judge, about eight
thousand sabres, was advancing to charge us. Then he suddenly
swerved to the right and put on the pace, and I saw the great
wedge curl round, and before the foe could check himself and
turn to meet it, strike him about halfway down his length, with
a crashing rending sound, like that of the breaking-up of vast
sheets of ice. In sank the great wedge, into his heart, and
as it cut its way hundreds of horsemen were thrown up on either
side of it, just as the earth is thrown up by a ploughshare,
or more like still, as the foaming water curls over beneath the
bows of a rushing ship. In, yet in, vainly does the tongue twist
its ends round in agony, like an injured snake, and strive to
protect its centre; still farther in, by Heaven! right through,
and so, amid cheer after cheer from our watching thousands, back
again upon the severed ends, beating them down, driving them
as a gale drives spray, till at last, amidst the rushing of hundreds
of riderless horses, the flashing of swords, and the victorious
clamour of their pursuers, the great force crumples up like an
empty glove, then turns and gallops pell-mell for safety back
to its own lines.

I do not think it reached them more than two-thirds as strong
as it went out ten minutes before. The lines which were now
advancing to the attack, opened and swallowed them up, and my
force returned, having only suffered a loss of about five hundred
men -- not much, I thought, considering the fierceness of the
struggle. I could also see that the opposing bodies of cavalry
on our left wing were drawing back, but how the fight went with
them I do not quite know. It is as much as I can do to describe
what took place immediately around me.

By this time the dense masses of the enemy's left, composed almost
entirely of Nasta's swordsmen, were across the little stream,
and with alternate yells of 'Nasta' and 'Sorais', with dancing
banners and gleaming swords, were swarming up towards us like
ants.

Again I received orders to try and check this movement, and also
the main advance against the chest of our army, by means of cavalry
charges, and this I did to the best of my ability, by continually
sending squadrons of about a thousand sabres out against them.
These squadrons did the enemy much damage, and it was a glorious
sight to see them flash down the hillside, and bury themselves
like a living knife in the heart of the foe. But, also, we lost
many men, for after the experience of a couple of these charges,
which had drawn a sort of bloody St Andrew's cross of dead and
dying through the centre of Nasta's host, our foes no longer
attempted to offer an unyielding front to their irresistible
weight, but opened out to let the rush go through, throwing themselves
on the ground and hamstringing hundreds of horses as they passed.

And so, notwithstanding all that we could do, the enemy drew
nearer, till at last he hurled himself upon Good's force of seven
thousand five hundred regulars, who were drawn up to receive
them in three strong squares. About the same time, too, an awful
and heartshaking roar told me that the main battle had closed
in on the centre and extreme left. I raised myself in my stirrups
and looked down to my left; so far as the eye could see there
was a long dazzling shimmer of steel as the sun glanced upon
falling sword and thrusting spear.

To and fro swung the contending lines in that dread struggle,
now giving way, now gaining a little in the mad yet ordered confusion
of attack and defence. But it was as much as I could do to keep
count of what was happening to our own wing; and, as for the
moment the cavalry had fallen back under cover of Good's three
squares, I had a fair view of this.

Nasta's wild swordsmen were now breaking in red waves against
the sullen rock-like squares. Time after time did they yell
out their war-cries, and hurl themselves furiously against the
long triple ridges of spear points, only to be rolled back as
billows are when they meet the cliff.

And so for four long hours the battle raged almost without a
pause, and at the end of that time, if we had gained nothing
we had lost nothing. Two attempts to turn our left flank by
forcing a way through the wood by which it was protected had
been defeated; and as yet Nasta's swordsmen had, notwithstanding
their desperate efforts, entirely failed to break Good's three
squares, though they had thinned their numbers by quite a third.

As for the chest of the army where Sir Henry was with his staff
and Umslopogaas, it had suffered dreadfully, but it had held
its own with honour, and the same may be said of our left battle.

At last the attacks slackened, and Sorais' army drew back, having,
I began to think, had enough of it. On this point, however,
I was soon undeceived, for splitting up her cavalry into comparatively
small squadrons, she charged us furiously with them, all along
the line, and then once more sullenly rolled her tens of thousands
of sword and spearmen down upon our weakened squares and squadrons;
Sorais herself directing the movement, as fearless as a lioness
heading the main attack. On they came like an avalanche -- I saw
her golden helm gleaming in the van -- our counter charges of cavalry
entirely failing to check their forward sweep. Now they had
struck us, and our centre bent in like a bow beneath the weight
of their rush -- it parted, and had not the ten thousand men
in reserve charged down to its support it must have been utterly
destroyed. As for Good's three squares, they were swept backwards
like boats upon an incoming tide, and the foremost one was burst
into and lost half its remaining men. But the effort was too
fierce and terrible to last. Suddenly the battle came, as it
were, to a turning-point, and for a minute or two stood still.

Then it began to move towards Sorais' camp. Just then, too,
Nasta's fierce and almost invincible highlanders, either because
they were disheartened by their losses or by way of a ruse, fell
back, and the remains of Good's gallant squares, leaving the
positions they had held for so many hours, cheered wildly, and
rashly followed them down the slope, whereon the swarms of swordsmen
turned to envelop them, and once more flung themselves upon them
with a yell. Taken thus on every side, what remained of the
first square was quickly destroyed, and I perceived that the
second, in which I could see Good himself mounted on a large
horse, was on the point of annihilation. A few more minutes
and it was broken, its streaming colours sank, and I lost sight
of Good in the confused and hideous slaughter that ensued.

Presently, however, a cream-coloured horse with a snow-white
mane and tail burst from the ruins of the square and came rushing
past me riderless and with wide streaming reins, and in it I
recognized the charger that Good had been riding. Then I hesitated
no longer, but taking with me half my effective cavalry force,
which now amounted to between four and five thousand men, I commended
myself to God, and, without waiting for orders, I charged straight
down upon Nasta's swordsmen. Seeing me coming, and being warned
by the thunder of my horses' hoofs, the majority of them faced
round, and gave us a right warm welcome. Not an inch would they
yield; in vain did we hack and trample them down as we ploughed
a broad red furrow through their thousands; they seemed to re-arise
by hundreds, driving their terrible sharp swords into our horses,
or severing their hamstrings, and then hacking the troopers who
came to the ground with them almost into pieces. My horse was
speedily killed under me, but luckily I had a fresh one, my own
favourite, a coal-black mare Nyleptha had given me, being held
in reserve behind, and on this I afterwards mounted. Meanwhile
I had to get along as best I could, for I was pretty well lost
sight of by my men in the mad confusion of the moment. My voice,
of course, could not be heard in the midst of the clanging of
steel and the shrieks of rage and agony. Presently I found myself
mixed up with the remnants of the square, which had formed round
its leader Good, and was fighting desperately for existence.
I stumbled against somebody, and glancing down, caught sight
of Good's eyeglass. He had been beaten to his knee. Over him
was a great fellow swinging a heavy sword. Somehow I managed
to run the man through with the sime I had taken from the Masai
whose hand I had cut off; but as I did so, he dealt me a frightful
blow on the left side and breast with the sword, and though my
chain shirt saved my life, I felt that I was badly hurt. For
a minute I fell on to my hands and knees among the dead and dying,
and turned sick and faint. When I came to again I saw that Nasta's
spearmen, or rather those of them who remained, were retreating
back across the stream, and that Good was there by me smiling sweetly.

'Near go that,' he shouted; 'but all's well that ends well.'

I assented, but I could not help feeling that it had not ended
well for me. I was sorely hurt.

Just then we saw the smaller bodies of cavalry stationed on our
extreme right and left, and which were now reinforced by the
three thousand sabres which we had held in reserve, flash out
like arrows from their posts and fall upon the disordered flanks
of Sorais' forces, and that charge decided the issue of the battle.
In another minute or two the enemy was in slow and sullen retreat
across the little stream, where they once more re-formed. Then
came another lull, during which I managed to get a second horse,
and received my orders to advance from Sir Henry, and then with
one fierce deep-throated roar, with a waving of banners and a
wide flashing of steel, the remains of our army took the offensive
and began to sweep down, slowly indeed, but irresistibly from
the positions they had so gallantly held all day.

At last it was our turn to attack.

On we moved, over the piled-up masses of dead and dying, and
were approaching the stream, when suddenly I perceived an extraordinary
sight. Galloping wildly towards us, his arms tightly clasped
around his horse's neck, against which his blanched cheek was
tightly pressed, was a man arrayed in the full costume of a Zu-Vendi
general, but in whom, as he came nearer, I recognized none other
than our lost Alphonse. It was impossible even then to mistake
those curling mustachios. In a minute he was tearing through
our ranks and narrowly escaped being cut down, till at last somebody
caught his horse's bridle, and he was brought to me just as a
momentary halt occurred in our advance to allow what remained
of our shattered squares to form into line.

'Ah, monsieur,' he gasped out in a voice that was nearly inarticulate
with fright, 'grace to the sky, it is you! Ah, what I have endured!
But you win, monsieur, you win; they fly, the laches. But listen,
monsieur -- I forget, it is no good; the Queen is to be murdered
tomorrow at the first light in the palace of Milosis; her guards
will leave their posts, and the priests are going to kill her.
Ah yes! they little thought it, but I was ensconced beneath
a banner, and I heard it all.'

'What?' I said, horror-struck; 'what do you mean?'

'What I say, monsieur; that devil of a Nasta he went last night
to settle the affair with the Archbishop [Agon]. The guard will
leave open the little gate leading from the great stair and go
away, and Nasta and Agon's priests will come in and kill her.
Themselves they would not kill her.'

'Come with me,' I said, and, shouting to the staff-officer next
to me to take over the command, I snatched his bridle and galloped
as hard as I could for the spot, between a quarter and half a
mile off, where I saw the royal pennon flying, and where I knew
that I should find Curtis if he were still alive. On we tore,
our horses clearing heaps of dead and dying men, and splashing
through pools of blood, on past the long broken lines of spearmen
to where, mounted on the white stallion Nasta had sent to him
as a parting gift, I saw Sir Henry's form towering above the
generals who surrounded him.

Just as we reached him the advance began again. A bloody cloth
was bound around his head, but I saw that his eye was as bright
and keen as ever. Beside him was old Umslopogaas, his axe red
with blood, but looking quite fresh and uninjured.

'What's wrong, Quatermain?' he shouted.

'Everything. There is a plot to murder the Queen tomorrow at
dawn. Alphonse here, who has just escaped from Sorais, has overheard
it all,' and I rapidly repeated to him what the Frenchman had
told me.

Curtis' face turned deadly pale and his jaw dropped.

'At dawn,' he gasped, 'and it is now sunset; it dawns before
four and we are nearly a hundred miles off -- nine hours at the
outside. What is to be done?'

An idea entered into my head. 'Is that horse of yours fresh?'
I said.

'Yes, I have only just got on to him -- when my last was killed,
and he has been fed.'

'So is mine. Get off him, and let Umslopogaas mount; he can
ride well. We will be at Milosis before dawn, or if we are not
-- well, we cannot help it. No, no; it is impossible for you
to leave now. You would be seen, and it would turn the fate
of the battle. It is not half won yet. The soldiers would think
you were making a bolt of it. Quick now.'

In a moment he was down, and at my bidding Umslopogaas sprang
into the empty saddle.

'Now farewell,' I said. 'Send a thousand horsemen with remounts
after us in an hour if possible. Stay, despatch a general to
the left wing to take over the command and explain my absence.'

'You will do your best to save her, Quatermain?' he said in a
broken voice.

'Ay, that I will. Go on; you are being left behind.'

He cast one glance at us, and accompanied by his staff galloped
off to join the advance, which by this time was fording the little
brook that now ran red with the blood of the fallen.

As for Umslopogaas and myself, we left that dreadful field as
arrows leave a bow, and in a few minutes had passed right out
of the sight of slaughter, the smell of blood, and the turmoil
and shouting, which only came to our ears as a faint, far-off
roaring like the sound of distant breakers.

CHAPTER XXI
AWAY! AWAY!

At the top of the rise we halted for a second to breathe our
horses; and, turning, glanced at the battle beneath us, which,
illumined as it was by the fierce rays of the sinking sun staining
the whole scene red, looked from where we were more like some
wild titanic picture than an actual hand-to-hand combat. The
distinguishing scenic effect from that distance was the countless
distinct flashes of light reflected from the swords and spears,
otherwise the panorama was not so grand as might have been expected.
The great green lap of sward in which the struggle was being
fought out, the bold round outline of the hills behind, and the
wide sweep of the plain beyond, seemed to dwarf it; and what
was tremendous enough when one was in it, grew insignificant
when viewed from the distance. But is it not thus with all the
affairs and doings of our race about which we blow the loud trumpet
and make such a fuss and worry? How utterly antlike, and morally
and physically insignificant, must they seem to the calm eyes
that watch them from the arching depths above!

'We win the day, Macumazahn,' said old Umslopogaas, taking in
the whole situation with a glance of his practised eye. 'Look,
the Lady of the Night's forces give on every side, there is no
stiffness left in them, they bend like hot iron, they are fighting
with but half a heart. But alas! the battle will in a manner
be drawn, for the darkness gathers, and the regiments will not
be able to follow and slay!' -- and he shook his head sadly.
'But,' he added, 'I do not think that they will fight again.
We have fed them with too strong a meat. Ah! it is well to
have lived! At last I have seen a fight worth seeing.'

By this time we were on our way again, and as we went side by
side I told him what our mission was, and how that, if it failed,
all the lives that had been lost that day would have been lost
in vain.

'Ah!' he said, 'nigh on a hundred miles and no horses but these,
and to be there before the dawn! Well -- away! away! man can
but try, Macumazahn; and mayhap we shall be there in time to
split that old "witch-finder's" [Agon's] skull for him. Once
he wanted to burn us, the old "rain-maker", did he? And now
he would set a snare for my mother [Nyleptha], would he? Good!
So sure as my name is the name of the Woodpecker, so surely,
be my mother alive or dead, will I split him to the beard. Ay,
by T'Chaka's head I swear it!' and he shook Inkosi-kaas as he
galloped. By now the darkness was closing in, but fortunately
there would be a moon later, and the road was good.

On we sped through the twilight, the two splendid horses we bestrode
had got their wind by this, and were sweeping along with a wide
steady stride that neither failed nor varied for mile upon mile.
Down the side of slopes we galloped, across wide vales that
stretched to the foot of far-off hills. Nearer and nearer grew
the blue hills; now we were travelling up their steeps, and now
we were over and passing towards others that sprang up like visions
in the far, faint distance beyond.

On, never pausing or drawing rein, through the perfect quiet
of the night, that was set like a song to the falling music of
our horses' hoofs; on, past deserted villages, where only some
forgotten starving dog howled a melancholy welcome; on, past
lonely moated dwellings; on, through the white patchy moonlight,
that lay coldly upon the wide bosom of the earth, as though there
was no warmth in it; on, knee to knee, for hour after hour!

We spake not, but bent us forward on the necks of those two glorious
horses, and listened to their deep, long-drawn breaths as they
filled their great lungs, and to the regular unfaltering ring
of their round hoofs. Grim and black indeed did old Umslopogaas
look beside me, mounted upon the great white horse, like Death
in the Revelation of St John, as now and again lifting his fierce
set face he gazed out along the road, and pointed with his axe
towards some distant rise or house.

And so on, still on, without break or pause for hour after hour.

At last I felt that even the splendid animal that I rode was
beginning to give out. I looked at my watch; it was nearly midnight,
and we were considerably more than half way. On the top of a
rise was a little spring, which I remembered because I had slept
by it a few nights before, and here I motioned to Umslopogaas
to pull up, having determined to give the horses and ourselves
ten minutes to breathe in. He did so, and we dismounted -- that
is to say, Umslopogaas did, and then helped me off, for what
with fatigue, stiffness, and the pain of my wound, I could not
do so for myself; and then the gallant horses stood panting there,
resting first one leg and then another, while the sweat fell
drip, drip, from them, and the steam rose and hung in pale clouds
in the still night air.

Leaving Umslopogaas to hold the horses, I hobbled to the spring
and drank deep of its sweet waters. I had had nothing but a
single mouthful of wine since midday, when the battle began,
and I was parched up, though my fatigue was too great to allow
me to feel hungry. Then, having laved my fevered head and hands,
I returned, and the Zulu went and drank. Next we allowed the
horses to take a couple of mouthfuls each -- no more; and oh,
what a struggle we had to get the poor beasts away from the water!
There were yet two minutes, and I employed it in hobbling up
and down to try and relieve my stiffness, and in inspecting the
condition of the horses. My mare, gallant animal though she
was, was evidently much distressed; she hung her head, and her
eye looked sick and dull; but Daylight, Nyleptha's glorious horse
-- who, if he is served aright, should, like the steeds who saved
great Rameses in his need, feed for the rest of his days out
of a golden manger -- was still comparatively speaking fresh,
notwithstanding the fact that he had had by far the heavier weight
to carry. He was 'tucked up', indeed, and his legs were weary,
but his eye was bright and clear, and he held his shapely head up
and gazed out into the darkness round him in a way that seemed to
say that whoever failed _he_ was good for those five-and-forty miles
that yet lay between us and Milosis. Then Umslopogaas helped me
into the saddle and -- vigorous old savage that he was! -- vaulted
into his own without touching a stirrup, and we were off once more,
slowly at first, till the horses got into their stride, and then
more swiftly. So we passed over another ten miles, and then came
a long, weary rise of some six or seven miles, and three times
did my poor black mare nearly come to the ground with me. But on
the top she seemed to gather herself together, and rattled down
the slope with long, convulsive strides, breathing in gasps.
We did that three or four miles more swiftly than any since we
had started on our wild ride, but I felt it to be a last effort,
and I was right. Suddenly my poor horse took the bit between her
teeth and bolted furiously along a stretch of level ground for
some three or four hundred yards, and then, with two or three
jerky strides, pulled herself up and fell with a crash right on
to her head, I rolling myself free as she did so. As I struggled
to my feet the brave beast raised her head and looked at me with
piteous bloodshot eyes, and then her head dropped with a groan
and she was dead. Her heart was broken.

Umslopogaas pulled up beside the carcase, and I looked at him
in dismay. There were still more than twenty miles to do by
dawn, and how were we to do it with one horse? It seemed hopeless,
but I had forgotten the old Zulu's extraordinary running powers.

Without a single word he sprang from the saddle and began to
hoist me into it.

'What wilt thou do?' I asked.

'Run,' he answered, seizing my stirrup-leather.

Then off we went again, almost as fast as before; and oh, the
relief it was to me to get that change of horses! Anybody who
has ever ridden against time will know what it meant.

Daylight sped along at a long stretching hand-gallop, giving
the gaunt Zulu a lift at every stride. It was a wonderful thing
to see old Umslopogaas run mile after mile, his lips slightly
parted and his nostrils agape like the horse's. Every five miles
or so we stopped for a few minutes to let him get his breath,
and then flew on again.

'Canst thou go farther,' I said at the third of these stoppages,
'or shall I leave thee to follow me?'

He pointed with his axe to a dim mass before us. It was the
Temple of the Sun, now not more than five miles away.

'I reach it or I die,' he gasped.

Oh, that last five miles! The skin was rubbed from the inside
of my legs, and every movement of my horse gave me anguish.
Nor was that all. I was exhausted with toil, want of food and
sleep, and also suffering very much from the blow I had received
on my left side; it seemed as though a piece of bone or something
was slowly piercing into my lung. Poor Daylight, too, was pretty
nearly finished, and no wonder. But there was a smell of dawn
in the air, and we might not stay; better that all three of us
should die upon the road than that we should linger while there
was life in us. The air was thick and heavy, as it sometimes
is before the dawn breaks, and -- another infallible sign in
certain parts of Zu-Vendis that sunrise is at hand -- hundreds
of little spiders pendant on the end of long tough webs were
floating about in it. These early-rising creatures, or rather
their webs, caught upon the horse's and our own forms by scores,
and, as we had neither the time nor the energy to brush them
off, we rushed along covered with hundreds of long grey threads
that streamed out a yard or more behind us -- and a very strange
appearance they must have given us.

And now before us are the huge brazen gates of the outer wall
of the Frowning City, and a new and horrible doubt strikes me:
What if they will not let us in?

'_Open! open!_' I shout imperiously, at the same time giving
the royal password. '_Open! open!_ a messenger, a messenger
with tidings of the war!'

'What news?' cried the guard. 'And who art thou that ridest
so madly, and who is that whose tongue lolls out' -- and it actually
did -- 'and who runs by thee like a dog by a chariot?'

'It is the Lord Macumazahn, and with him is his dog, his black dog.
_Open! open!_ I bring tidings.'

The great gates ran back on their rollers, and the drawbridge
fell with a rattling crash, and we dashed on through the one
and over the other.

'What news, my lord, what news?' cried the guard.

'Incubu rolls Sorais back, as the wind a cloud,' I answered,
and was gone.

One more effort, gallant horse, and yet more gallant man!

So, fall not now, Daylight, and hold thy life in thee for fifteen
short minutes more, old Zulu war-dog, and ye shall both live
for ever in the annals of the land.

On, clattering through the sleeping streets. We are passing
the Flower Temple now -- one mile more, only one little mile
-- hold on, keep your life in thee, see the houses run past of
themselves. Up, good horse, up, there -- but fifty yards now.
Ah! you see your stables and stagger on gallantly.

'Thank God, the palace at last!' and see, the first arrows of
the dawn are striking on the Temple's golden dome. {Endnote 21}
But shall I get in here, or is the deed done and the way barred?

Once more I give the password and shout '_Open! open!_'

No answer, and my heart grows very faint.

Again I call, and this time a single voice replies, and to my
joy I recognize it as belonging to Kara, a fellow-officer of
Nyleptha's guards, a man I know to be as honest as the light
-- indeed, the same whom Nyleptha had sent to arrest Sorais on
the day she fled to the temple.

'Is it thou, Kara?' I cry; 'I am Macumazahn. Bid the guard let
down the bridge and throw wide the gate. Quick, quick!'

Then followed a space that seemed to me endless, but at length
the bridge fell and one half of the gate opened and we got into
the courtyard, where at last poor Daylight fell down beneath
me, as I thought, dead. Except Kara, there was nobody to be
seen, and his look was wild, and his garments were all torn.
He had opened the gate and let down the bridge alone, and was
now getting them up and shut again (as, owing to a very ingenious
arrangement of cranks and levers, one man could easily do, and
indeed generally did do).

'Where are the guard?' I gasped, fearing his answer as I never
feared anything before.

'I know not,' he answered; 'two hours ago, as I slept, was I
seized and bound by the watch under me, and but now, this very
moment, have I freed myself with my teeth. I fear, I greatly
fear, that we are betrayed.

His words gave me fresh energy. Catching him by the arm, I staggered,
followed by Umslopogaas, who reeled after us like a drunken man,
through the courtyards, up the great hall, which was silent as
the grave, towards the Queen's sleeping-place.

We reached the first ante-room -- no guards; the second, still
no guards. Oh, surely the thing was done! we were too late after
all, too late! The silence and solitude of those great chambers
was dreadful, and weighed me down like an evil dream. On, right
into Nyleptha's chamber we rushed and staggered, sick at heart,
fearing the very worst; we saw there was a light in it, ay, and
a figure bearing the light. Oh, thank God, it is the White Queen
herself, the Queen unharmed! There she stands in her night gear,
roused, by the clatter of our coming, from her bed, the heaviness
of sleep yet in her eyes, and a red blush of fear and shame mantling
her lovely breast and cheek.

'Who is it?' she cries. 'What means this? Oh, Macumazahn, is
it thou? Why lookest thou so wildly? Thou comest as one bearing
evil tidings -- and my lord -- oh, tell me not my lord is dead
-- not dead!' she wailed, wringing her white hands.

'I left Incubu wounded, but leading the advance against Sorais
last night at sundown; therefore let thy heart have rest.
Sorais is beaten back all along her lines, and thy arms prevail.'

'I knew it,' she cried in triumph. 'I knew that he would win;
and they called him Outlander, and shook their wise heads when
I gave him the command! Last night at sundown, sayest thou,
and it is not yet dawn? Surely --'

'Throw a cloak around thee, Nyleptha,' I broke in, 'and give
us wine to drink; ay, and call thy maidens quick if thou wouldst
save thyself alive. Nay, stay not.'

Thus adjured she ran and called through the curtains towards
some room beyond, and then hastily put on her sandals and a thick
cloak, by which time a dozen or so of half-dressed women were
pouring into the room.

'Follow us and be silent,' I said to them as they gazed with
wondering eyes, clinging one to another. So we went into the
first ante-room.

'Now,' I said, 'give us wine to drink and food, if ye have it,
for we are near to death.'

The room was used as a mess-room for the officers of the guards,
and from a cupboard some flagons of wine and some cold flesh
were brought forth, and Umslopogaas and I drank, and felt life
flow back into our veins as the good red wine went down.

'Hark to me, Nyleptha,' I said, as I put down the empty tankard.
'Hast thou here among these thy waiting-ladies any two of discretion?'

'Ay,' she said, 'surely.'

'Then bid them go out by the side entrance to any citizens whom
thou canst bethink thee of as men loyal to thee, and pray them
come armed, with all honest folk that they can gather, to rescue
thee from death. Nay, question not; do as I say, and quickly.
Kara here will let out the maids.'

She turned, and selecting two of the crowd of damsels, repeated
the words I had uttered, giving them besides a list of the names
of the men to whom each should run.

'Go swiftly and secretly; go for your very lives,' I added.

In another moment they had left with Kara, whom I told to rejoin
us at the door leading from the great courtyard on to the stairway
as soon as he had made fast behind the girls. Thither, too,
Umslopogaas and I made our way, followed by the Queen and her
women. As we went we tore off mouthfuls of food, and between
them I told her what I knew of the danger which encompassed her,
and how we found Kara, and how all the guards and men-servants
were gone, and she was alone with her women in that great place;
and she told me, too, that a rumour had spread through the town
that our army had been utterly destroyed, and that Sorais was
marching in triumph on Milosis, and how in consequence thereof
all men had fallen away from her.

Though all this takes some time to tell, we had not been but
six or seven minutes in the palace; and notwithstanding that
the golden roof of the temple being very lofty was ablaze with
the rays of the rising sun, it was not yet dawn, nor would be
for another ten minutes. We were in the courtyard now, and here
my wound pained me so that I had to take Nyleptha's arm, while
Umslopogaas rolled along after us, eating as he went.

Now we were across it, and had reached the narrow doorway through
the palace wall that opened on to the mighty stair.

I looked through and stood aghast, as well I might. The door
was gone, and so were the outer gates of bronze -- entirely gone.
They had been taken from their hinges, and as we afterwards
found, hurled from the stairway to the ground two hundred feet
beneath. There in front of us was the semicircular standing-space,
about twice the size of a large oval dining-table, and the ten
curved black marble steps leading on to the main stair --
and that was all.

CHAPTER XXII
HOW UMSLOPOGAAS HELD THE STAIR

We looked at one another.

'Thou seest,' I said, 'they have taken away the door. Is there
aught with which we may fill the place? Speak quickly for they
will be on us ere the daylight.' I spoke thus, because I knew
that we must hold this place or none, as there were no inner
doors in the palace, the rooms being separated one from another
by curtains. I also knew that if we could by any means defend
this doorway the murderers could get in nowhere else; for the
palace is absolutely impregnable, that is, since the secret door
by which Sorais had entered on that memorable night of attempted
murder had, by Nyleptha's order, been closed up with masonry.

'I have it,' said Nyleptha, who, as usual with her, rose to the
emergency in a wonderful way. 'On the farther side of the courtyard
are blocks of cut marble -- the workmen brought them there for
the bed of the new statue of Incubu, my lord; let us block the
door with them.'

I jumped at the idea; and having despatched one of the remaining
maidens down the great stair to see if she could obtain assistance
from the docks below, where her father, who was a great merchant
employing many men, had his dwelling-place, and set another to
watch through the doorway, we made our way back across the courtyard
to where the hewn marble lay; and here we met Kara returning
from despatching the first two messengers. There were the marble
blocks, sure enough, broad, massive lumps, some six inches thick,
and weighing about eighty pounds each, and there, too, were a
couple of implements like small stretchers, that the workmen
used to carry them on. Without delay we got some of the blocks
on to the stretchers, and four of the girls carried them to the
doorway.

'Listen, Macumazahn,' said Umslopogaas, 'if those low fellows
come, it is I who will hold the stair against them till the door
is built up. Nay, nay, it will be a man's death: gainsay me
not, old friend. It has been a good day, let it now be good
night. See, I throw myself down to rest on the marble there;
when their footsteps are nigh, wake thou me, not before, for
I need my strength,' and without a word he went outside and flung
himself down on the marble, and was instantly asleep.

At this time, I too was overcome, and was forced to sit down
by the doorway, and content myself with directing operations.
The girls brought the block, while Kara and Nyleptha built them
up across the six-foot-wide doorway, a triple row of them, for
less would be useless. But the marble had to be brought forty
yards and then there were forty yards to run back, and though
the girls laboured gloriously, even staggering along alone, each
with a block in her arms, it was slow work, dreadfully slow.

The light was growing now, and presently, in the silence, we
heard a commotion at the far-bottom of the stair, and the faint
clinking of armed men. As yet the wall was only two feet high,
and we had been eight minutes at the building of it. So they
had come. Alphonse had heard aright.

The clanking sound came nearer, and in the ghostly grey of the
dawning we could make out long files of men, some fifty or so
in all, slowly creeping up the stair. They were now at the half-way
standing place that rested on the great flying arch; and here,
perceiving that something was going on above, they, to our great
gain, halted for three or four minutes and consulted, then slowly
and cautiously advanced again.

We had been nearly a quarter of an hour at the work now, and
it was almost three feet high.

Then I woke Umslopogaas. The great man rose, stretched himself,
and swung Inkosi-kaas round his head.

'It is well,' he said. 'I feel as a young man once more. My
strength has come back to me, ay, even as a lamp flares up before
it dies. Fear not, I shall fight a good fight; the wine and
the sleep have put a new heart into me.'

'Macumazahn, I have dreamed a dream. I dreamed that thou and
I stood together on a star, and looked down on the world, and
thou wast as a spirit, Macumazahn, for light flamed through thy
flesh, but I could not see what was the fashion of mine own face.
The hour has come for us, old hunter. So be it: we have had
our time, but I would that in it I had seen some more such fights
as yesterday's.

'Let them bury me after the fashion of my people, Macumazahn,
and set my eyes towards Zululand;' and he took my hand and shook it,
and then turned to face the advancing foe.

Just then, to my astonishment, the Zu-Vendi officer Kara clambered
over our improvised wall in his quiet, determined sort of way,
and took his stand by the Zulu, unsheathing his sword as he did
so.

'What, comest thou too?' laughed out the old warrior. 'Welcome
-- a welcome to thee, brave heart! Ow! for the man who can die
like a man; ow! for the death grip and the ringing of steel.
Ow! we are ready. We wet our beaks like eagles, our spears
flash in the sun; we shake our assegais, and are hungry to fight.
Who comes to give greeting to the Chieftainess [Inkosi-kaas]?
Who would taste her kiss, whereof the fruit is death? I, the
Woodpecker, I, the Slaughterer, I the Swiftfooted! I, Umslopogaas,
of the tribe of the Maquilisini, of the people of Amazulu, a
captain of the regiment of the Nkomabakosi: I, Umslopogaas, the
son of Indabazimbi, the son of Arpi the son of Mosilikaatze,
I of the royal blood of T'Chaka, I of the King's House, I the
Ringed Man, I the Induna, I call to them as a buck calls, I challenge
them, I await them. Ow! it is thou, it is thou!'

As he spake, or rather chanted, his wild war-song, the armed
men, among whom in the growing light I recognized both Nasta
and Agon, came streaming up the stair with a rush, and one big
fellow, armed with a heavy spear, dashed up the ten semicircular
steps ahead of his comrades and struck at the great Zulu with
the spear. Umslopogaas moved his body but not his legs, so that
the blow missed him, and next instant Inkosi-kaas crashed through
headpiece, hair and skull, and the man's corpse was rattling
down the steps. As he dropped, his round hippopotamus-hide shield
fell from his hand on to the marble, and the Zulu stooped down
and seized it, still chanting as he did so.

In another second the sturdy Kara had also slain a man, and then
began a scene the like of which has not been known to me.

Up rushed the assailants, one, two, three at a time, and as fast
as they came, the axe crashed and the sword swung, and down they
rolled again, dead or dying. And ever as the fight thickened,
the old Zulu's eye seemed to get quicker and his arm stronger.
He shouted out his war-cries and the names of chiefs whom he
had slain, and the blows of his awful axe rained straight and
true, shearing through everything they fell on. There was none
of the scientific method he was so fond of about this last immortal
fight of his; he had no time for it, but struck with his full
strength, and at every stroke a man sank in his tracks, and went
rattling down the marble steps.

They hacked and hewed at him with swords and spears, wounding
him in a dozen places till he streamed red with blood; but the
shield protected his head and the chain-shirt his vitals, and
for minute after minute, aided by the gallant Zu-Vendi, he still
held the stair.

At last Kara's sword broke, and he grappled with a foe, and they
rolled down together, and he was cut to pieces, dying like the
brave man that he was.

Umslopogaas was alone now, but he never blenched or turned.
Shouting out some wild Zulu battle-cry, he beat down a foe, ay,
and another, and another, till at last they drew back from the
slippery blood-stained steps, and stared at him with amazement,
thinking that he was no mortal man.

The wall of marble block was four feet six high now, and hope
rose in my teeth as I leaned there against it a miserable helpless
log, and ground my teeth, and watched that glorious struggle.
I could do no more for I had lost my revolver in the battle.

And old Umslopogaas, he leaned too on his good axe, and, faint
as he was with wounds, he mocked them, he called them 'women'
-- the grand old warrior, standing there one against so many!
And for a breathing space none would come against him, notwithstanding
Nasta's exhortations, till at last old Agon, who, to do him justice,
was a brave man, made with baffled rage, and seeing that the
wall would soon be built and his plans defeated, shook the great
spear he held, and rushed up the dripping steps.

'Ah, ah!' shouted the Zulu, as he recognized the priest's flowing
white beard, 'it is thou, old "witch-finder"! Come on! I await
thee, white "medicine man"; come on! come on! I have sworn to
slay thee, and I ever keep my faith.'

On he came, taking him at his word, and drave the big spear with
such force at Umslopogaas that it sunk right through the tough
shield and pierced him in the neck. The Zulu cast down the transfixed
shield, and that moment was Agon's last, for before he could
free his spear and strike again, with a shout of '_There's for
thee, Rain-maker!_' Umslopogaas gripped Inkosi-kaas with both
hands and whirled on high and drave her right on to his venerable
head, so that Agon rolled down dead among the corpses of his
fellow-murderers, and there was an end to him and his plots altogether.
And even as he fell, a great cry rose from the foot of the stair,
and looking out through the portion of the doorway that was yet
unclosed, we saw armed men rushing up to the rescue, and called
an answer to their shouts. Then the would-be murderers who yet
remained on the stairway, and amongst whom I saw several priests,
turned to fly, but, having nowhere to go, were butchered as they
fled. Only one man stayed, and he was the great lord Nasta,
Nyleptha's suitor, and the father of the plot. For a moment
the black-bearded Nasta stood with bowed face leaning on his
long sword as though in despair, and then, with a dreadful shout,
he too rushed up at the Zulu, and, swinging the glittering sword
around his head, dealt him such a mighty blow beneath his guard,
that the keen steel of the heavy blade bit right through the
chain armour and deep into Umslopogaas' side, for a moment
paralysing him and causing him to drop his axe.

Raising the sword again, Nasta sprang forward to make an end
of him, but little he knew his foe. With a shake and a yell
of fury, the Zulu gathered himself together and sprang straight
at Nasta's throat, as I have sometimes seen a wounded lion spring.
He struck him full as his foot was on the topmost stair, and
his long arms closing round him like iron bands, down they rolled
together struggling furiously. Nasta was a strong man and a
desperate, but he could not match the strongest man in Zululand,
sore wounded though he was, whose strength was as the strength
of a bull. In a minute the end came. I saw old Umslopogaas
stagger to his feet -- ay, and saw him by a single gigantic effort
swing up the struggling Nasta and with a shout of triumph hurl
him straight over the parapet of the bridge, to be crushed to
powder on the rocks two hundred feet below.

The succour which had been summoned by the girl who had passed
down the stair before the assassins passed up was at hand, and
the loud shouts which reached us from the outer gates told us
that the town was also aroused, and the men awakened by the women
were calling to be admitted. Some of Nyleptha's brave ladies,
who in their night-shifts and with their long hair streaming
down their backs, just as they had been aroused from rest, went
off to admit them at the side entrance, whilst others, assisted
by the rescuing party outside, pushed and pulled down the marble
blocks they had placed there with so much labour.

Soon the wall was down again, and through the doorway, followed
by a crowd of rescuers, staggered old Umslopogaas, an awful and,
in a way, a glorious figure. The man was a mass of wounds, and
a glance at his wild eye told me that he was dying. The 'keshla'
gum-ring upon his head was severed in two places by sword-cuts,
one just over the curious hold in his skull, and the blood poured
down his face from the gashes. Also on the right side of his
neck was a stab from a spear, inflicted by Agon; there was a
deep cut on his left arm just below where the mail shirt-sleeve
stopped, and on the right side of his body the armour was severed
by a gash six inches long, where Nasta's mighty sword had bitten
through it and deep into its wearer's vitals.

On, axe in hand, he staggered, that dreadful-looking, splendid
savage, and the ladies forgot to turn faint at the scene of blood,
and cheered him, as well they might, but he never stayed or heeded.
With outstretched arms and tottering gait he pursued his way,
followed by us all along the broad shell-strewn walk that ran
through the courtyard, past the spot where the blocks of marble
lay, through the round arched doorway and the thick curtains
that hung within it, down the short passage and into the great
hall, which was now filling with hastily-armed men, who poured
through the side entrance. Straight up the hall he went, leaving
behind him a track of blood on the marble pavement, till at last
he reached the sacred stone, which stood in the centre of it,
and here his strength seemed to fail him, for he stopped and
leaned upon his axe. Then suddenly he lifted up his voice and
cried aloud --

'I die, I die -- but it was a kingly fray. Where are they who
came up the great stair? I see them not. Art thou there, Macumazahn,
or art thou gone before to wait for me in the dark whither I
go? The blood blinds me -- the place turns round -- I hear the
voice of waters.'

Next, as though a new thought had struck him, he lifted the red
axe and kissed the blade.

'Farewell, Inkosi-kaas,' he cried. 'Nay, nay, we will go together;
we cannot part, thou and I. We have lived too long one with
another, thou and I.

'One more stroke, only one! A good stroke! a straight stroke!
a strong stroke!' and, drawing himself to his full height, with
a wild heart-shaking shout, he with both hands began to whirl
the axe round his head till it looked like a circle of flaming steel.
Then, suddenly, with awful force he brought it down straight
on to the crown of the mass of sacred stone. A shower of sparks
flew up, and such was the almost superhuman strength of the blow,
that the massive marble split with a rending sound into a score
of pieces, whilst of Inkosi-kaas there remained but some fragments
of steel and a fibrous rope of shattered horn that had been the
handle. Down with a crash on to the pavement fell the fragments
of the holy stone, and down with a crash on to them, still grasping
the knob of Inkosi-kaas, fell the brave old Zulu -- _dead_.

And thus the hero died.

A gasp of wonder and astonishment rose from all those who witnessed
the extraordinary sight, and then somebody cried, '_The prophecy!
the prophecy!_ He has shattered the sacred stone!' and at once
a murmuring arose.

'Ay,' said Nyleptha, with that quick wit which distinguishes
her. 'Ay, my people, he has shattered the stone, and behold
the prophecy is fulfilled, for a stranger king rules in Zu-Vendis.
Incubu, my lord, hath beat Sorais back, and I fear her no more,
and to him who hath saved the Crown it shall surely be. And
this man,' she said, turning to me and laying her hand upon my
shoulder, 'wot ye that, though wounded in the fight of yesterday,
he rode with that old warrior who lies there, one hundred miles
'twixt sun set and rise to save me from the plots of cruel men.
Ay, and he has saved me, by a very little, and therefore because
of the deeds that they have done -- deeds of glory such as our
history cannot shot the like -- therefore I say that the name
of Macumazahn and the name of dead Umslopogaas, ay, and the name
of Kara, my servant, who aided him to hold the stair, shall be
blazoned in letters of gold above my throne, and shall be glorious
for ever while the land endures. I, the Queen, have said it.'

This spirited speech was met with loud cheering, and I said that
after all we had only done our duty, as it is the fashion of
both Englishmen and Zulus to do, and there was nothing to make
an outcry about; at which they cheered still more, and then I
was supported across the outer courtyard to my old quarters,
in order that I might be put to bed. As I went, my eyes lit
upon the brave horse Daylight that lay there, his white head
outstretched on the pavement, exactly as he had fallen on entering
the yard; and I bade those who supported me take me near him,
that I might look on the good beast once more before he was dragged
away. And as I looked, to my astonishment he opened his eyes
and, lifting his head a little, whinnied faintly. I could have
shouted for joy to find that he was not dead, only unfortunately
I had not a shout left in me; but as it was, grooms were sent
for and he was lifted up and wine poured down his throat, and
in a fortnight he was as well and strong as ever, and is the
pride and joy of all the people of Milosis, who, whenever they
see him, point him out to the little children as the 'horse which
saved the White Queen's life'.

Then I went on and got off to bed, and was washed and had my
mail shirt removed. They hurt me a great deal in getting it
off, and no wonder, for on my left breast and side was a black
bruise the size of a saucer.

The next thing that I remember was the tramp of horsemen outside
the palace wall, some ten hours later. I raised myself and asked
what was the news, and they told me that a large body of cavalry

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