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The Ghost Kings by H. Rider Haggard

Part 7 out of 7

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In an instant the spear that Rachel held was at Eddo's throat.

"Dwarf," she cried, "this is my man, and I am no Mother of Trees and no
pale ghost, but a living woman. Let but one of these monkeys of thine lay
a hand upon him, and thou diest, by the Red Death, Eddo, aye, by the Red
Death. Stir a single inch, and this spear goes through thy heart, and thy
spirit shall be spilled with thy blood."

The little priest sank to his knees trembling, glancing about him for a
means of escape.

"If thou killest me, thou diest also," he hissed.

"What do I care if I die?" she answered. "If my man dies, I wish to die,"
then added in English: "Richard, take hold of him by one arm, and Noie,
take the other. If he tries to escape kill him at once, or if you are
afraid, I will."

So they seized him by his arms.

"Now," said Rachel, "let us go back to the Sanctuary, for there they dare
not touch, us. We cannot try the desert without water; also they would
follow and kill us with their poisoned arrows. Tell them, Noie, that if
they do not attempt to harm us, we will set this priest of theirs free
within the Wall. But if a hand is lifted against us, then he dies at
once--by the Red Death,"

"Touch them not, touch them not," piped Eddo, "lest my ghost should be
spilt with my blood. Touch them not, I command you."

The company of dwarfs chattered together like parrots at the dawn, and the
march began. First went Eddo, dragged along between Richard and Noie, and
after them, the raised spear in her hand, followed Rachel, while on either
side, hiding themselves behind the boles of the trees, scrambled the
people of the dwarfs. Back they went thus through the forest, Rachel
telling them the road till at length the huge grey wall loomed up before
them. They came to the slit in it, and Noie asked:

"What shall we do now? Kill this priest, take him in with us as a hostage,
or let him go?"

"I said that he should be set free," answered Rachel, "and he would do us
more harm dead than living; also his blood would be on our hands. Take him
through the Wall, and loose him there."

So once more they passed the slopes and passages, while the mutes above
watched them from their stones with marvelling eyes, till they reached the
open space beyond, and there they loosed Eddo. The priest sprang back out
of reach of the dreaded spears, and in a voice thick with rage, cried to

"Fools! You should have killed me while you could, for now you are in a
trap, not I. You are strong and great, but you cannot live without food.
We may not enter here to hurt you, but you shall starve, you shall starve
until you creep out and beg my mercy."

Then making signs to the dwarfs who sat about above, he vanished between
the stones.

"You should have killed him, Zoola," said Noie, "for now he will live to
kill us."

"I think not, Sister," answered Rachel. "Nya said that I should follow my
heart, and my heart bid me let him go. Our hands are clean of his blood,
but if he had died, who can tell? Blood is a bad seed to sow."

Then, forgetting Eddo, she turned to Richard and began to ply him with

But he seemed to be dazed and could answer little. It was as though some
unnatural, supporting strength had been withdrawn, and now all the
fatigues of his fearful journey were taking effect upon him. He could
scarcely stand, but reeled to and fro like a man in drink, so that the two
women were obliged to support him across the burial ground towards the
cave. Advancing thus they entered into the shadow of the Holy Tree, and
there at the edge of it met another procession descending from the mound.
Eight mutes bore a litter of boughs, and on it lay Nya, dead, her long
white hair hanging down on either side of the litter. With bowed heads
they stood aside to let her pass to the grave made ready for her in a
place of honour near the Wall where for a thousand years only the Mothers
of the Trees had been laid to rest.

Then they went on, and entered the cave where the lamps burned before the
great stalactite and the heap of offerings that were piled about it. Here
sat the two women priests gazing into their bowls as they had left them.
The death of Nya had not moved them, the advent of this white man did not
seem to move them. Perhaps they expected him; at any rate food was made
ready, and a bed of rugs prepared on which he could lie.

Richard ate some of the food, staring at Rachel all the while with vacant
eyes as though she were still but a vision, the figment of a dream. Then
he muttered something about being very tired, and sinking back upon the
rugs fell into a deep sleep.

In that sleep he remained scarcely stirring for full four-and-twenty
hours, while Rachel watched by his side, till at length her weariness
overcame her, and she slept also. When she opened her eyes again they saw
no other light than that which crept in from the mouth of the cave. The
lamps which always burned there were out. Noie, who was seated near by,
heard her stir, and spoke.

"If thou art rested, Zoola," she said, "I think that we had better carry
the white lord from this place, for the two witch-women have gone, and I
can find no more oil to fill the lamps."

So they felt their way to Richard, purposing to lift him between them, but
at Rachel's touch he awoke, and with their help walked out of the cave. In
the open space beyond they saw a strange sight, for across it were
streaming all the dwarf-mutes carrying their aged and sick and infants,
and bearing on their backs or piled up in litters their mats and cooking
utensils. Evidently they were deserting the Sanctuary.

"Why are they going?" asked Rachel.

"I do not know," answered Noie, "but I think it is because no food has
been brought to them as usual, and they are hungry. You remember that Eddo
said we should starve. Only fear of death by hunger would make them leave
a place where they and their forefathers have lived for generations."

Presently they were all gone. Not a living creature was left within the
Wall except these three, nor were any more dwarfs brought in to die
beneath the Holy Tree. Now, at length Richard seemed to awake, and taking
Rachel by the hand began to ask questions of her in a low stammering
voice, since words did not seem to come readily to him who had not spoken
his own language for so long.

"Before you begin to talk, Sister," broke in Noie, "let us go and see if
we can close the cleft in the Wall, for otherwise how shall we sleep in
peace? Eddo and the dwarfs might creep in by night and murder us."

"I do not think they dare shed blood in their Holy Place," answered
Rachel. "Still, let us see what we can do; it may be best."

So they went to the cleft, and as the stone door was open and they could
not shut it, at one very narrow spot they rolled down rocks from the loose
sides of the ancient wall above in such a fashion that it would be
difficult to pass through or over them from without. This hard task took
them many hours, moreover, it was labour wasted, since, as Rachel had
thought probable, the dwarfs never tried to pass the Wall, but waited till
hunger forced them to surrender.

Towards evening they returned to the cave and collected what food they
could find. It was but little, enough for two spare meals, no more; nor
could they discover any in the town of the dwarfs behind the Tree. Only of
water they had plenty from the stream that ran out of the cave.

They ate a few mouthfuls, then took their mats and cloaks and went to camp
by the opening in the wall, so that they might guard against surprise. Now
for the first time they found leisure to talk, and Rachel and Richard told
each other a little of their wonderful stories. But they did not tell them
all, for their minds seemed to be bewildered, and there was much that they
were not able to explain. It was enough for them to know that they had
been brought together again thus marvellously, by what power they knew
not, and that still living, they who for long weeks had deemed the other
dead, were able to hold each other's hands and gaze into each other's
eyes. Moreover, now that this had been brought about they were tired, so
tired that they could scarcely speak above a whisper. The end of it was
that they fell asleep, all of them, and so slept till morning, when they
awoke somewhat refreshed, and ate what remained of the food.

The second day was like the first, only hotter and more sultry. Noie
climbed to the top of the wall to watch, while Richard and Rachel wandered
about among the little, antheap-like graves, and through the dwarf
village, talking and wondering, happy even in their wretchedness. But
before the day was gone hunger began to get a hold of them; also the
terrible, stifling heat oppressed them so that their words seemed to die
between their lips, and they could only sit against the wall, looking at
one another.

Towards evening Noie descended from the Wall and reported that large
numbers of the dwarfs were keeping watch without, flitting to and fro
between the trunks of the trees like shadows. The stifling night went by,
and another day dawned. Having no food they went to the stream and drank
water. Then they sat down in the shadow and waited through the long hot
hours. Towards evening, when it grew a little cooler, they gathered up
their strength and tried to find some way of escape before it was too
late. Richard suggested that as flight was impossible they should give
themselves up to the dwarfs, but Rachel answered No, for then Eddo would
certainly kill him and Noie, and take her to fill the place of Mother of
the Trees until she became useless to him, when she would be murdered

"Then there is nothing left for us but to die," said Richard.

"Nothing but to die," she answered, "to die together; and, dear, that
should not be so hard, seeing that for so long we have thought each other
dead apart."

"Yet it is hard," answered Richard, "after living through so much and
being led so far to die at last and go whither we know not, before our

Rachel looked at Noie, who sat opposite to them, her head rested on her

"Have you anything to say, Sister?" she asked.

"Yes, Zoola. Here is a little moss that I have found upon the stones," and
she produced a small bundle. "Let us boil it and eat, it will keep us
alive for another day."

"What is the use?" asked Rachel, "unless there is more."

"There is no more," said Noie, "for the leaves of yonder tree are deadly
poison, and here grows no other living thing. Still, eat and live on, for
I wait a message."

"A message from whom?" asked Rachel.

"A message from the dead, Sister. It was promised to me by Nya before she
passed, and if it does not come, then it will be time to die."

So they made fire and boiled the moss till it was a horrible, sticky
substance, which they swallowed as best they could, washing it down with
gulps of water. Still it was food of a kind, and for a while stayed the
gnawing, empty pains within them; only Noie ate but little, so that there
might be more for the others.

That night was even hotter than those that had gone before, and during the
day which followed the place became like a hell. They crept into the cave
and lay there gasping, while from without came loud cracking sounds,
caused, as they thought, by the trees of the forest splitting in the heat.
About midday the sky suddenly became densely overcast, although no breath
stirred; the air was thicker than ever, to breathe it was like breathing
hot cream. In their restless despair they wandered out of the cave, and to
their surprise saw a dwarf standing upon the top of the wall. It was Eddo,
who called to them to come out and give themselves up.

"What are the terms?" asked Noie.

"That thou and the Wanderer shall die by the White Death, and that the
Inkosazana shall be installed Mother of the Trees," was the answer.

"We refuse them," said Noie. "Let us go now and give us food and escort,
and thou shall be spared. Refuse, and it is thou and thy people who will
die by that Red Death which Nya promised thee."

"That we shall learn before to-morrow," said Eddo with a mocking laugh,
and vanished down the wall.

As he went a hot gust of wind burst upon them, causing the forest without
to rock and groan. Noie turned her face towards it and seemed to listen.

"What is it?" asked Rachel.

"I heard a voice in the wind, Sister," she answered. "The message I
awaited has come to me."

"What message?" asked Richard listlessly.

"That I will tell you by and by, Chief," she answered. "Come to the cave,
it is no longer safe here, the hurricane breaks."

So supporting each other they crept back to the cave, and there Noie made
fire, feeding it with the idols and precious woods that had been brought
thither as offerings. Richard and Rachel watched her wondering, for it
seemed strange that she should make a fire in that heat where there was
nothing to cook. Meanwhile gust succeeded gust, until a tempest of
screaming wind swept over them, though no rain fell. Soon it was so fierce
that the deep-rooted Tree of the Tribe rocked above them, and loose stones
were blown from the crest of the great wall.

Then of a sudden Noie sprang up, and seized a flaming brand from the fire;
it was the limb of a fetish, made of some resinous wood. She ran from the
cave swiftly, before they could stop her, and vanished in the gathering
gloom, to return again in a few moments weak and breathless. "Come out,
now," she said, "and see a sight such as you shall never behold again,"
and there was something so strange in her voice that, notwithstanding
their weakness, they rose and followed her.

Outside the cave they could not stand because of the might of the
hurricane, but cast themselves upon the ground, and following Noie's
outstretched arm, looked up towards the top of the mound. Then they saw
that the Tree of the Tribe was _on fire_. Already its vast trunk and
boughs were wrapped in flame, which burnt furiously because of the resin
within them, while long flakes of blazing moss were being swept away to
leeward, to fall among the forest that lay beyond the wall.

"Did you do this?" cried Rachel to Noie.

"Aye, Zoola, who else? That was the message which came to me. Now my
office is fulfilled, but you two will live though I must die, I who have
destroyed the People of the Dwarfs; I who was born that I should destroy

"Destroyed them!" exclaimed Rachel. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that when their Tree dies, they die, the whole race of them. Oh!
Nya told me, Nya told me--they die as their Tree dies, by fire. To the
Wall, to the Wall now, and look. Follow me."

Forgetting their hunger-bred weakness in the wild excitement of that
moment, Rachel and Richard struggled hand in hand, after Noie's thin,
ethereal form. Across the open space they struggled, through the furious
bufferings of the gale, sometimes on their feet, sometimes on their hands
and knees, till they came to the great wall where a stairway ran up it to
an outlook tower. Up this stair they climbed slowly since at times the
weight of the wind pinned them against the blocks of stone, till at length
they reached its crest and crept into the shelter of the hollow tower.
Hence, looking through the loopholes in the ancient masonry, they saw a
fearful sight. The flakes of burning moss from the Tree of the Tribe had
fallen among the tops of the forest, parched almost to tinder with drought
and heat, and fired them here and there. Fanned by the screaming gale the
flames spread rapidly, leaping from tree to tree, now in one direction,
now in another, as the hurricane veered, which it did continually, till
the whole green forest became a sheet of fire, an ever-widening sheet
which spread east and west and north and south for miles and miles and
tens of miles.

Earth and sky were one blaze of light given out by the torch-like resinous
trees as they burned from the top downwards. By that intense light the
three watchers could see hundreds of the People of the Dwarfs flitting
about between the trunks. Waving their arms and gibbering, they rushed
this way and that, to the north to be met by fire, to the south to be met
by fire, till at length the blazing boughs and boles fell upon them and
they disappeared in showers of red sparks, or, more fortunate, fled away,
never to return, before the flame that leapt after them. One company of
them ran towards the Sanctuary; they could see them threading their path
between the trees, and growing ever fewer as the burning branches fell
among them from above. They leapt, they ran, they battled, springing this
way and that, but ever the great flaring boughs crashed down among them,
crushing them, shrivelling them up, till at length of all their number but
a single man staggered into the open belt between the edge of the forest
and the wall. His white hair and his garments seemed to be smouldering. He
gripped at them with his hands, then coming to a little bush--it was the
top of Nya's tree which she had thrust into the ground to grow
there--dragged it up and began to beat himself with it as though to
extinguish the flames. In an instant it took fire also, burning him
horribly, so that with a yell he threw it to the ground, and ran on
towards the wall. As he came they saw his face. It was that of Eddo.

At this moment, seized by some sudden weakness, Noie sank down upon the
stones. Richard bent over her to lift her to her feet again, but she
thrust him away, saying slowly and in gasps:

"Let me be, the doom has hold of me, I am dying. I passed within the Fence
to fire the Tree, and its poison is at work within me, and the curse of
all my people has fallen on my head. Yet I have saved thee, my sister, I
have saved thee and thy lover, for the Dwarfs are no more, the Grey People
are grey ashes. For my love's sake I did the sin; let my love atone the
sin if it may, or at the least think kindly of me through the long, happy
years that are to come, and at the end of them then seek for lost Noie in
the World of Ghosts if she may be found there."

As she spoke they heard a sound of something scrambling among the stones,
and at one of the four entrances of the turret there appeared a hideous,
fire-twisted face, and a little form about which hung charred and
smouldering strips of raiment. It was Eddo, who had climbed the wall and
found them out. There he sat glowering at them, or rather at Noie, who was
crouched upon the floor.

"Come hither, daughter of Seyapi," he screamed in his hissing, snake-like
voice, "come hither, and see thy work, thou who hast made an end of the
ancient People of the Ghosts. Come hither and tell me why thou didst this
thing, for I would learn the truth before I die, that I may make report of
it to the Fathers of our race."

Noie heard, and crept towards him; to Rachel and Richard it seemed as
though she could not disobey that summons. Now they sat face to face
outside the turret, clinging to the stones, and her long hair flowed
outwards on the gale.

"I did it, Eddo," she said, "to save one whom I love, and him whom she
loves. I did it to avenge the death of Nya upon you all, as she bade me to
do. I did it because the cup of thy wickedness is full, and because I was
appointed to bring thy doom upon thee. Thus ends the greatness thou hast
plotted so many years to win, Eddo."

"Aye," he answered, "thus it ends, for the magic of the White One there
has overcome me, and thus with it ends the reign of the Ghost Kings, and
the forest wherein they reigned, and thus too, thou endest, traitress, who
hast murdered them and whose soul shall be spilt with their souls."

As the words left his lips suddenly Eddo sprang upon Noie and gripped her
about the middle. Richard and Rachel leapt forward, but before ever they
could lay a hand upon her to save her, the dwarf in his rage and agony had
dragged her to the edge of the wall. For a moment they struggled there in
the vivid light of the flaming forest. Then Eddo screamed aloud, one wild
savage shriek, and still holding Noie in his arms hurled himself from the
wall, to fall crushed upon its foundation stones sixty feet beneath.

Thus perished Noie, who, for love's sake, gave her life to save Rachel, as
once Rachel had saved her.

* * * * *

It was morning, and after the tempest the sky was clear and cool, for
heavy rain had fallen when the wind dropped, although far away the dense
clouds of rolling smoke showed where the great fire still ate into the
heart of the forest. Rachel and Richard, seated hand in hand in the little
tower on the wall, looked at one another in that pure light, and saw signs
in each other's face that could not be mistaken.

"What shall we do?" asked Richard. "Death is very near to us."

Rachel thought awhile, then answered:

"The dwarfs are gone, we have nothing more to fear from them. Yonder where
the fire did not burn, dwell their slaves, whose villages are full of
food, and beyond them live the Umkulu, who know and would befriend me. Let
us go and seek food who desire to live on together, if we may."

So they climbed down the wall, and with difficulty, for they were very
feeble, crawled over the stones which they had piled up in the passage to
keep out the dwarfs, and thus passed to the open belt beyond. A strange
scene met their eyes, all the wide lands that had been covered with giant
trees were now piled over with white ashes amongst which, here and there,
stood a black and smouldering trunk. The journey was terrible, but
following a ridge of rock whereon no great trees had grown, hand in hand
they passed through the outer edge of the burnt forest in safety, until
they came to one of the towns of the slaves upon the fertile plain beyond,
which led up to the desert. No human being could they see, since all had
fled, but the kraal was full of sheep and cattle that had been penned
there before the fire began, and in the huts were milk and food in plenty.
They drank of the milk and, after a while, ate a little, then rested and
drank more milk, till their strength began to return to them. Towards
evening they went out of the town, and standing on a mound looked at the
fire-wasted plain behind, and the green, grassy slopes in front.

They seemed quite alone in the world, those two, and yet their hearts were
full of joy and thankfulness, for while they were left to each other they
knew that they could never be alone.

"See, Rachel," said Richard, pointing to the smouldering wreck of the
forest, "there lies our past, and here in front of us spreads the future
clothed with flowers."

"Yes, Richard," she answered, "but Noie and all whom I love save you are
buried in that past, and in front of us the desert is not far away."

"Life is ours, Rachel, and love is ours, and that which saved us through
many a danger and brought me back to you, will surely keep us safe. Do you
fear to pass the desert at my side?"

She looked at him with shining eyes, and answered:

"No, Richard, I fear no more, for now I seem to hear the voice of Noie
speaking in my heart, telling me that trouble is behind us, and that we
shall live out our lives together, as my mother foresaw that we should

And there on the mound, standing between that dead sea of ashes and the
green slopes of flowering plain, Rachel stretched out her arms to the man
to whom she was decreed.

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