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THE PROPHECY OF ATENE
On the day following this strange experience of the iron that was turned
to gold some great service was held in the Sanctuary, as we understood,
"to consecrate the war." We did not attend it, but that night we ate
together as usual. Ayesha was moody at the meal, that is, she varied
from sullenness to laughter.
"Know you," she said, "that to-day I was an Oracle, and those fools of
the Mountain sent their medicine-men to ask of the Hesea how the battle
would go and which of them would be slain, and which gain honour. And
I--I could not tell them, but juggled with my words, so that they might
take them as they would. How the battle will go I know well, for I
shall direct it, but the future--ah! that I cannot read better than thou
canst, my Holly, and that is ill indeed. For me the past and all the
present lie bathed in light reflected from that black wall--the future."
Then she fell to brooding, and looking up at length with an air of
entreaty, said to Leo--"Wilt thou not hear my prayer and bide where thou
art for some few days, or even go a-hunting? Do so, and I will stay with
thee, and send Holly and Oros to command the Tribes in this petty fray."
"I will not," answered Leo, trembling with indignation, for this plan
of hers that I should be sent out to war, while he bided in safety in a
temple, moved him, a man brave to rashness, who, although he disapproved
of it in theory, loved fighting for its own sake also, to absolute rage.
"I say, Ayesha, that I will not," he repeated; "moreover, that if thou
leavest me here I will find my way down the mountain alone, and join the
"Then come," she answered, "and on thine own head be it. Nay, not on
thine beloved, on mine, on mine."
After this, by some strange reaction, she became like a merry girl,
laughing more than I have ever seen her do, and telling us many tales of
the far, far past, but none that were sad or tragic. It was very strange
to sit and listen to her while she spoke of people, one or two of them
known as names in history and many others who never have been heard
of, that had trod this earth and with whom she was familiar over two
thousand years ago. Yet she told us anecdotes of their loves and hates,
their strength or weaknesses, all of them touched with some tinge of
humorous satire, or illustrating the comic vanity of human aims and
At length her talk took a deeper and more personal note. She spoke of
her searchings after truth; of how, aching for wisdom, she had explored
the religions of her day and refused them one by one; of how she had
preached in Jerusalem and been stoned by the Doctors of the Law. Of
how also she had wandered back to Arabia and, being rejected by her own
people as a reformer, had travelled on to Egypt, and at the court of the
Pharaoh of that time met a famous magician, half charlatan and half
seer who, because she was far-seeing, 'clairvoyante' we should call it,
instructed her in his art so well that soon she became his master and
forced him to obey her.
Then, as though she were unwilling to reveal too much, suddenly Ayesha's
history passed from Egypt to Kor. She spoke to Leo of his arrival there,
a wanderer who was named Kallikrates, hunted by savages and accompanied
by the Egyptian Amenartas, whom she appeared to have known and hated in
her own country, and of how she entertained them. Yes, she even told of
a supper that the three of them had eaten together on the evening before
they started to discover the Place of Life, and of an evil prophecy that
this royal Amenartas had made as to the issue of their journey.
"Aye," Ayesha said, "it was such a silent night as this and such a
meal as this we ate, and Leo, not so greatly changed, save that he was
beardless then and younger, was at my side. Where thou sittest, Holly,
sat the royal Amenartas, a very fair woman; yes, even more beautiful
than I before I dipped me in the Essence, fore-sighted also, though not
so learned as I had grown. From the first we hated each other, and more
than ever now, when she guessed how I had learned to look upon thee, her
lover, Leo; for her husband thou never wast, who didst flee too fast for
marriage. She knew also that the struggle between us which had begun of
old and afar was for centuries and generations, and that until the end
should declare itself neither of us could harm the other, who both had
sinned to win thee, that wast appointed by fate to be the lodestone
of our souls. Then Amenartas spoke and said--"'Lo! to my sight,
Kallikrates, the wine in thy cup is turned to blood, and that knife in
thy hand, O daughter of Yarab'--for so she named me--'drips red blood.
Aye, and this place is a sepulchre, and thou, O Kallikrates, sleepest
here, nor can she, thy murderess, kiss back the breath of life into
those cold lips of thine.'
"So indeed it came about as was ordained," added Ayesha reflectively,
"for I slew thee in yonder Place of Life, yes, in my madness I slew thee
because thou wouldst not or couldst not understand the change that had
come over me, and shrankest from my loveliness like a blind bat from
the splendour of flame, hiding thy face in the tresses of her dusky
hair--Why, what is it now, thou Oros? Can I never be rid of thee for an
"O Hes, a writing from the Khania Atene," the priest said with his
"Break the seal and read," she answered carelessly. "Perchance she has
repented of her folly and makes submission."
So he read--
"To the Hesea of the College on the Mountain, known as Ayesha upon
earth, and in the household of the Over-world whence she has been
permitted to wander, as 'Star-that-hath-fallen--'"
"A pretty sounding name, forsooth," broke in Ayesha; "ah! but, Atene,
set stars rise again--even from the Under-world. Read on, thou Oros."
"Greetings, O Ayesha. Thou who art very old, hast gathered much wisdom
in the passing of the centuries, and with other powers, that of making
thyself seem fair in the eyes of men blinded by thine arts. Yet one
thing thou lackest that I have--vision of those happenings which are not
yet. Know, O Ayesha, that I and my uncle, the great seer, have searched
the heavenly books to learn what is written there of the issue of this
"This is written:--For me, death, whereat I rejoice. For thee a spear
cast by thine own hand. For the land of Kaloon blood and ruin bred of
"Khania of Kaloon."
Ayesha listened in silence, but her lips did not tremble, nor her cheek
pale. To Oros she said proudly--"Say to the messenger of Atene that I
have received her message, and ere long will answer it, face to face
with her in her palace of Kaloon. Go, priest, and disturb me no more."
When Oros had departed she turned to us and said--"That tale of mine of
long ago was well fitted to this hour, for as Amenartas prophesied of
ill, so does Atene prophesy of ill, and Amenartas and Atene are one.
Well, let the spear fall, if fall it must, and I will not flinch from
it who know that I shall surely triumph at the last. Perhaps the Khania
does but think to frighten me with a cunning lie, but if she has read
aright, then be sure, beloved, that it is still well with us, since none
can escape their destiny, nor can our bond of union which was fashioned
with the universe that bears us, ever be undone."
She paused awhile then went on with a sudden outburst of poetic thought
"I tell thee, Leo, that out of the confusions of our lives and deaths
order shall yet be born. Behind the mask of cruelty shine Mercy's
tender eyes; and the wrongs of this rough and twisted world are but
hot, blinding sparks which stream from the all-righting sword of pure,
eternal Justice. The heavy lives we see and know are only links in a
golden chain that shall draw us safe to the haven of our rest; steep
and painful steps are they whereby we climb to the alloted palace of
our joy. Henceforth I fear no more, and fight no more against that which
must befall. For I say we are but winged seeds blown down the gales of
fate and change to the appointed garden where we shall grow, filling its
blest air with the immortal fragrance of our bloom.
"Leave me now, Leo, and sleep awhile, for we ride at dawn."
It was midday on the morrow when we moved down the mountain-side with
the army of the Tribes, fierce and savage-looking men. The scouts were
out before us, then came the great body of their cavalry mounted on wiry
horses, while to right and left and behind, the foot soldiers marched in
regiments, each under the command of its own chief.
Ayesha, veiled now--for she would not show her beauty to these wild
folk--rode in the midst of the horse-men on a white mare of matchless
speed and shape. With her went Leo and myself, Leo on the Khan's black
horse, and I on another not unlike it, though thicker built. About us
were a bodyguard of armed priests and a regiment of chosen soldiers,
among them those hunters that Leo had saved from Ayesha's wrath, and who
were now attached to his person.
We were merry, all of us, for in the crisp air of late autumn flooded
with sunlight, the fears and forebodings that had haunted us in those
gloomy, firelit caves were forgotten. Moreover, the tramp of thousands
of armed men and the excitement of coming battle thrilled our nerves.
Not for many a day had I seen Leo look so vigorous and happy. Of late
he had grown somewhat thin and pale, probably from causes that I have
suggested, but now his cheeks were red and his eyes shone bright again.
Ayesha also seemed joyous, for the moods of this strange woman were as
fickle as those of Nature's self, and varied as a landscape varies under
the sunshine or the shadow. Now she was noon and now dark night; now
dawn, now evening, and now thoughts came and went in the blue depths of
her eyes like vapours wafted across the summer sky, and in the press
of them her sweet face changed and shimmered as broken water shimmers
beneath the beaming stars.
"Too long," she said, with a little thrilling laugh, "have I been shut
in the bowels of sombre mountains, accompanied only by mutes and savages
or by melancholy, chanting priests, and now I am glad to look upon the
world again. How beautiful are the snows above, and the brown slopes
below, and the broad plains beyond that roll away to those bordering
hills! How glorious is the sun, eternal as myself; how sweet the keen
air of heaven.
"Believe me, Leo, more than twenty centuries have gone by since I was
seated on a steed, and yet thou seest I have not forgot my horsemanship,
though this beast cannot match those Arabs that I rode in the wide
deserts of Arabia. Oh! I remember how at my father's side I galloped
down to war against the marauding Bedouins, and how with my own hand I
speared their chieftain and made him cry for mercy. One day I will tell
thee of that father of mine, for I was his darling, and though we have
been long apart, I hold his memory dear and look forward to our meeting.
"See, yonder is the mouth of that gorge where lived the cat-worshipping
sorcerer, who would have murdered both of you because thou, Leo, didst
throw his familiar to the fire. It is strange, but several of the tribes
of this Mountain and of the lands behind it make cats their gods or
divine by means of them. I think that the first Rassen, the general
of Alexander, must have brought the practice here from Egypt. Of
this Macedonian Alexander I could tell thee much, for he was almost a
contemporary of mine, and when I last was born the world still rang with
the fame of his great deeds.
"It was Rassen who on the Mountain supplanted the primeval fire-worship
whereof the flaming pillars which light its Sanctuary remain as
monuments, by that of Hes, or Isis, or rather blended the two in one.
Doubtless among the priests in his army were some of Pasht or Sekket the
Cat-headed, and these brought with them their secret cult, that to-day
has dwindled down to the vulgar divinations of savage sorcerers. Indeed
I remember dimly that it was so, for I was the first Hesea of this
Temple, and journeyed hither with that same general Rassen, a relative
Now both Leo and I looked at her wonderingly, and I could see that she
was watching us through her veil. As usual, however, it was I whom she
reproved, since Leo might think and do what he willed and still escape
"Thou, Holly," she said quickly, "who art ever of a cavilling and
suspicious mind, remembering what I said but now, believest that I lie
I protested that I was only reflecting upon an apparent variation
between two statements.
"Play not with words," she answered; "in thy heart thou didst write me
down a liar, and I take that ill. Know, foolish man, that when I said
that the Macedonian Alexander lived before me, I meant before this
present life of mine. In the existence that preceded it, though I
outlasted him by thirty years, we were born in the same summer, and
I knew him well, for I was the Oracle whom he consulted most upon his
wars, and to my wisdom he owed his victories. Afterwards we quarrelled,
and I left him and pushed forward with Rassen. From that day the
bright star of Alexander began to wane." At this Leo made a sound that
resembled a whistle. In a very agony of apprehension, beating back the
criticisms and certain recollections of the strange tale of the old
abbot, Kou-en, which would rise within me, I asked quickly--"And dost
thou, Ayesha, remember well all that befell thee in this former life?"
"Nay, not well," she answered, meditatively, "only the greater facts,
and those I have for the most part recovered by that study of secret
things which thou callest vision or magic. For instance, my Holly, I
recall that thou wast living in that life. Indeed I seem to see an
ugly philosopher clad in a dirty robe and filled both with wine and the
learning of others, who disputed with Alexander till he grew wroth with
him and caused him to be banished, or drowned: I forget which."
"I suppose that I was not called Diogenes?" I asked tartly, suspecting,
perhaps not without cause, that Ayesha was amusing herself by fooling
"No," she replied gravely, "I do not think that was thy name. The
Diogenes thou speakest of was a much more famous man, one of real if
crabbed wisdom; moreover, he did not indulge in wine. I am mindful of
very little of that life, however, not of more indeed than are many of
the followers of the prophet Buddha, whose doctrines I have studied and
of whom thou, Holly, hast spoken to me so much. Maybe we did not meet
while it endured. Still I recollect that the Valley of Bones, where
I found thee, my Leo, was the place where a great battle was fought
between the Fire-priests with their vassals, the Tribes of the Mountain
and the army of Rassen aided by the people of Kaloon. For between these
and the Mountain, in old days as now, there was enmity, since in this
present war history does but rewrite itself."
"So thou thyself wast our guide," said Leo, looking at her sharply.
"Aye, Leo, who else? though it is not wonderful that thou didst not know
me beneath those deathly wrappings. I was minded to wait and receive
thee in the Sanctuary, yet when I learned that at length both of you had
escaped Atene and drew near, I could restrain myself no more, but came
forth thus hideously disguised. Yes, I was with you even at the river's
bank, and though you saw me not, there sheltered you from harm.
"Leo, I yearned to look upon thee and to be certain that thy heart had
not changed, although until the alloted time thou mightest not hear my
voice or see my face who wert doomed to undergo that sore trial of thy
faith. Of Holly also I desired to learn whether his wisdom could pierce
through my disguise, and how near he stood to truth. It was for this
reason that I suffered him to see me draw the lock from the satchel on
thy breast and to hear me wail over thee yonder in the Rest-house.
Well he did not guess so ill, but thou, thou knewest me--in thy
sleep--knewest me as I am, and not as I seemed to be, yes," she added
softly, "and didst say certain sweet words which I remember well."
"Then beneath that shroud was thine own face," asked Leo again, for he
was very curious on this point, "the same lovely face I see to-day?"
"Mayhap--as thou wilt," she answered coldly; "also it is the spirit that
matters, not the outward seeming, though men in their blindness think
otherwise. Perchance my face is but as thy heart fashions it, or as my
will presents it to the sight and fancy of its beholders. But hark! The
scouts have touched."
As Ayesha spoke a sound of distant shouting was borne upon the wind,
and presently we saw a fringe of horsemen falling back slowly upon our
foremost line. It was only to report, however, that the skirmishers of
Atene were in full retreat. Indeed, a prisoner whom they brought with
them, on being questioned by the priests, confessed at once that the
Khania had no mind to meet us upon the holy Mountain. She proposed to
give battle on the river's farther bank, having for a defence its waters
which we must ford, a decision that showed good military judgment.
So it happened that on this day there was no fighting.
All that afternoon we descended the slopes of the Mountain, more swiftly
by far than we had climbed them after our long flight from the city of
Kaloon. Before sunset we came to our prepared camping ground, a wide and
sloping plain that ended at the crest of the Valley of Dead Bones, where
in past days we had met our mysterious guide. This, however, we did not
reach through the secret mountain tunnel along which she had led us, the
shortest way by miles, as Ayesha told us now, since it was unsuited to
the passage of an army.
Bending to the left, we circled round a number of unclimbable koppies,
beneath which that tunnel passed, and so at length arrived upon the brow
of the dark ravine where we could sleep safe from attack by night.
Here a tent was pitched for Ayesha, but as it was the only one, Leo
and I with our guard bivouacked among some rocks at a distance of a
few hundred yards. When she found that this must be so, Ayesha was very
angry and spoke bitter words to the chief who had charge of the food and
baggage, although, he, poor man, knew nothing of tents.
Also she blamed Oros, who replied meekly that he had thought us captains
accustomed to war and its hardships. But most of all she was angry with
herself, who had forgotten this detail, and until Leo stopped her with a
laugh of vexation, went on to suggest that we should sleep in the tent,
since she had no fear of the rigours of the mountain cold.
The end of it was that we supped together outside, or rather Leo and I
supped, for as there were guards around us Ayesha did not even lift her
That evening Ayesha was disturbed and ill at ease, as though new fears
which she could not overcome assailed her. At length she seemed to
conquer them by some effort of her will and announced that she was
minded to sleep and thus refresh her soul; the only part of her, I
think, which ever needed rest. Her last words to us were--"Sleep you
also, sleep sound, but be not astonished, my Leo, if I send to summon
both of you during the night, since in my slumbers I may find new
counsels and need to speak of them to thee ere we break camp at dawn."
Thus we parted, but ah! little did we guess how and where the three of
us would meet again.
We were weary and soon fell fast asleep beside our camp-fire, for,
knowing that the whole army guarded us, we had no fear. I remember
watching the bright stars which shone in the immense vault above me
until they paled in the pure light of the risen moon, now somewhat past
her full, and hearing Leo mutter drowsily from beneath his fur rug that
Ayesha was quite right, and that it was pleasant to be in the open air
again, as he was tired of caves.
After that I knew no more until I was awakened by the challenge of a
sentry in the distance; then after a pause, a second challenge from
the officer of our own guard. Another pause, and a priest stood bowing
before us, the flickering light from the fire playing upon his shaven
head and face, which I seemed to recognize.
"I"--and he gave a name that was familiar to me, but which I forget--"am
sent, my lords, by Oros, who commands me to say that the Hesea would
speak with you both and at once."
Now Leo sat up yawning and asked what was the matter. I told him,
whereon he said he wished that Ayesha could have waited till daylight,
then added--"Well, there is no help for it. Come on, Horace," and he
rose to follow the messenger.
The priest bowed again and said--"The commands of the Hesea are that my
lords should bring their weapons and their guard."
"What," grumbled Leo, "to protect us for a walk of a hundred yards
through the heart of an army?"
"The Hesea," explained the man, "has left her tent; she is in the gorge
yonder, studying the line of advance."
"How do you know that?" I asked.
"I do not know it," he replied. "Oros told me so, that is all, and
therefore the Hesea bade my lords bring their guard, for she is alone."
"Is she mad," ejaculated Leo, "to wander about in such a place at
midnight? Well, it is like her."
I too thought it was like her, who did nothing that others would have
done, and yet I hesitated. Then I remembered that Ayesha had said she
might send for us; also I was sure that if any trick had been intended
we should not have been warned to bring an escort. So we called the
guard--there were twelve of them--took our spears and swords and
We were challenged by both the first and second lines of sentries, and I
noticed that as we gave them the password the last picket, who of course
recognized us, looked astonished. Still, if they had doubts they did not
dare to express them. So we went on.
Now we began to descend the sides of the ravine by a very steep path,
with which the priest, our guide, seemed to be curiously familiar, for
he went down it as though it were the stairway of his own house.
"A strange place to take us to at night," said Leo doubtfully, when
we were near the bottom and the chief of the bodyguard, that great
red-bearded hunter who had been mixed up in the matter of the
snow-leopard also muttered some words of remonstrance. Whilst I was
trying to catch what he said, of a sudden something white walked into
the patch of moonlight at the foot of the ravine, and we saw that it
was the veiled figure of Ayesha herself. The chief saw her also and said
"Look at her," grumbled Leo, "strolling about in that haunted hole as
though it were Hyde Park;" and on he went at a run.
The figure turned and beckoned to us to follow her as she glided
forward, picking her way through the skeletons which were scattered
about upon the lava bed of the cleft. Thus she went on into the shadow
of the opposing cliff that the moonlight did not reach. Here in the wet
season a stream trickled down a path which it had cut through the rock
in the course of centuries, and the grit that it had brought with it
was spread about the lava floor of the ravine, so that many of the bones
were almost completely buried in the sand.
These, I noticed, as we stepped into the shadow, were more numerous than
usual just here, for on all sides I saw the white crowns of skulls, or
the projecting ends of ribs and thigh bones. Doubtless, I thought to
myself, that streamway made a road to the plain above, and in some past
battle, the fighting around it was very fierce and the slaughter great.
Here Ayesha had halted and was engaged in the contemplation of this
boulder-strewn path, as though she meditated making use of it that day.
Now we drew near to her, and the priest who guided us fell back with our
guard, leaving us to go forward alone, since they dared not approach the
Hesea unbidden. Leo was somewhat in advance of me, seven or eight yards
perhaps, and I heard him say--"Why dost thou venture into such places at
night, Ayesha, unless indeed it is not possible for any harm to come to
She made no answer, only turned and opened her arms wide, then let them
fall to her side again. Whilst I wondered what this signal of hers might
mean, from the shadows about us came a strange, rustling sound.
I looked, and lo! everywhere the skeletons were rising from their sandy
beds. I saw their white skulls, their gleaming arm and leg bones, their
hollow ribs. The long-slain army had come to life again, and look! in
their hands were the ghosts of spears.
Of course I knew at once that this was but another manifestation of
Ayesha's magic powers, which some whim of hers had drawn us from our
beds to witness. Yet I confess that I felt frightened. Even the boldest
of men, however free from superstition, might be excused should their
nerve fail them if, when standing in a churchyard at midnight, suddenly
on every side they saw the dead arising from their graves. Also our
surroundings were wilder and more eerie than those of any civilized
"What new devilment of thine is this?" cried Leo in a scared and angry
voice. But Ayesha made no answer. I heard a noise behind me and looked
round. The skeletons were springing upon our body-guard, who for their
part, poor men, paralysed with terror, had thrown down their weapons and
fallen, some of them, to their knees. Now the ghosts began to stab at
them with their phantom spears, and I saw that beneath the blows they
rolled over. The veiled figure above me pointed with her hand at Leo and
said--"Seize him, but I charge you, harm him not."
I knew the voice; _it was that of Atene!_
Then too late I understood the trap into which we had fallen.
"Treachery!" I began to cry, and before the word was out of my lips, a
particularly able-bodied skeleton silenced me with a violent blow upon
the head. But though I could not speak, my senses still stayed with
me for a little. I saw Leo fighting furiously with a number of men who
strove to pull him down, so furiously, indeed that his frightful efforts
caused the blood to gush out of his mouth from some burst vessel in the
Then sight and hearing failed me, and thinking that this was death, I
fell and remembered no more.
Why I was not killed outright I do not know, unless in their hurry the
disguised soldiers thought me already dead, or perhaps that my life was
to be spared also. At least, beyond the knock upon the head I received
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