Alfred John Church.

Stories of the magicians; Thalaba and the magicians of the Domdaniel, Rustem and the genii, Kehama and his sorceries online

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" See, Oneiza, the dead man has a ring !
Should it be buried with him ? "

" Surely," she answered, " he was a wicked
man, and all that he had was wicked."

" But see how it catches the sunlight and
throws it back again. It is a marvellous stone."

" Why do you take it, Thalaba ? Why do
you look at it so close ? It may have a charm
to blind or poison you. Throw it in the grave,
I would not touch it."

" And round its rim are large letters."


", bury it."

" It is not written as the Koran is written.
Perhaps it is in some other tongue. The
accursed man said he had been a traveller."

Meanwhile Moath came out of the tent, and
asked, " Thalaba, what have you there ? "

" A ring the dead man wore. Perhaps,
father, you can read its meaning."

" No, boy ; the letters are not such as ours.
Heap the sand over it; a wicked man wears
nothing holy."

" Nay, do not bury it. Perhaps some
traveller may come to our tent who can read it.
Or we may find a learned man in some city
who can interpret it."

"It were better hid under the sands of the
desert. It is likely that this wretched man
whom God smote in the very moment of his
crime was a Magician, and that these lines are
of the language which the demons use. There
is, I have heard, a great company of magicians
that have their place of meeting in the Dom-
daniel caverns under the sea."

"And was he who would have killed me one
of these ? "


"That I do not know. It may be that your
name is written in the book of fate as their
Destroyer, and that God saved your life that
you might do this work."

" Think you that the ring has some strange
power ? "

" Every gem, wise men say, has a power of
its own. Some grow pale or dark and warn
the wearer against poison. Some blunt the
edge of the sword. Some discover hidden
treasures ; and others, again, give us power to
see spirits."

" Father, I will w r ear this ring."

" Think, Thalaba, what you are doing."

"In the name of God ! if its power be for
good, well ; if for evil, then God and my faith
in Him shall hallow it."

So he put on the ring of gold with the
strange letters written on it. After this they
laid the body of Abdaldar in the grave, and
levelled the dust of the desert over him.

The next day, at sunrise, when Thalaba
went to make his ablutions, he found the grave
open and the body bare. It was not the wind
that had swept away the sand, for the dew lay


imdried upon the dust about it. Indeed the
night had been so calm and still that not
a ripe date had been shaken down from the

When Moath heard the story he said, " I
have heard that there are places made so holy
by holy men having dwelt in them, that if a
dead body should be laid in them they cast him
out. It may be that this is such a place. Or
can it be that this man is so foul with sorcery
and wickedness that heaven and earth alike
reject him ? We had best forsake the station.
Let us strike our tent. And see there the
vulture ! It has already scented its prey.
And, indeed, that is the best sepulchre for
this accursed one."

Then they purified themselves from the pol-
lution of death. Thalaba drew up the cords
of the tent, and Moath furled it, and Oneiza
led the camels out of the grove of palms to
receive their load. The dew was dried from
the ground when they left the Island of palms;
when they halted at noon they could see them
in the distance, as we see the sails of a fleet
far off at sea. At sunset the Island had


passed out of their sight. Then they pitched
their tent and lay down to sleep.

At midnight Thalaba felt that the ring
moved upon his finger. The magicians of
the cave knew by their art that he had pos-
sessed himself of it, and sent an evil spirit to
steal it from him. He called on the name of
God, and Moath heard him. " What ails you,
Thalaba?" he cried. " Are there robbers in
the tent ? "

" See you not a spirit in the tent ? "
" I see moonlight shining, and I see you
standing in it, and I see your shadow, but I
see no more."

The lad said no more to Moath, but spoke
to the spirit, " Spirit, what brings thee hither ?
In the name of God, I charge thee to tell me."
" I came for the ring."
" Who was he that slew my father ? "
" Okba, the magician, slew him."
" Where does the murderer dwell ? "
"In the Domdaniel cavern under the sea."
" Why was my father slain and his children
with him ? "

" Because we know that the Destroyer was
to come of the race of Hodeirah."


" Bring me my father's sword."

"A fire surrounds it. Neither Spirit nor
Magician can pierce that fire."

" Bring me his bow and arrows."

Moath and Oneiza, who stood watching from
the inner tent, heard Thalaba speak ; but they
could not hear the Spirit, for the sound of his
voice was too fine for their ears. And now, as
they listened, there was a rattle of arrows, and
they saw a full quiver laid at the lad's feet, and
a bow in his hand. He looked at the bow with
joy, and twanged the string. Then he spoke
again to the Spirit, " In the name of God, I
command thee and all thy fellows never to
trouble this tent again."

And from that hour no evil spirit came
again to the tent.



AND now Thalaba lived in peace in Moath's
tent four years or so, till he was grown to a
man's strength and stature. He could bend
his father's bow, nor use his whole strength
to do it. He was tall and shapely. Indeed
there was not a handsomer or stronger youth
in the whole of Arabia. Moath loved him as
a son. He had found him years before alone
in the wilderness, weeping for his mother, and
pitied him. But when he heard his wonderful
tale, and saw how his heart was set on a great
task that he had to do, his pity was changed
into reverence, and he kept the boy with such
care as he would have kept a trust from God.
Moath loved Thalaba as father loves his son,
and Oneiza loved him as a sister loves her
brother, and Thalaba loved them both dearly


in return. The master of the Tent was neither
rich nor poor. God had given him enough
and a contented mind. Camels he had which
Thalaba tended ; and goats which Oneiza
milked. The clothes that they wore were
spun by the maid's nimble fingers. So they
lived happily, wanting nothing from without.

Nevertheless, in his inmost heart Thalaba
was not content, but thought of the work to
which he was called, and was impatient to set
about it. He would often dream that the time
was come, would dream that he had lifted his
hand to strike his father's murderer, and that
he had his hand upon the sword that was
circled with fire.

One day, he and Oneiza were amusing them-
selves with Hodeirah's bow, for now the girl
had strength enough to bend it, and could send
an arrow straight up into the air, so far that
the eye could scarcely follow its flight. As he
looked he said, " When will the hour come for
me to use these arrows in avenging my father ?
Am I not strong enough ? or can the will of
Heaven be changed, and I am not to be
called ? "


" Impatient boy," said Moath, smiling.

"Impatient Thalaba ! " said Oneiza, smiling
also, but somewhat sadly.

Just at that moment there passed over their
heads a cloud of locusts, winging their way
eastward from Syria.

" See," said Moath, " see how all things obey
their doom ! They have done their appointed
work, eating up the fields of men for their sins,
and now they go to their graves. She how the
birds follow them, and soar above them, and
thin them as they fly, rejoicing in their banquet.
Do you think, as some would tell you, that
these birds, which we welcome as the destroyers
of the locusts, are brought hither by the charms
of the priests ? Not so God sends the locusts
to punish man, and He sends also the birds to
rid us of them when the time is come."

Meanwhile Oneiza was looking up to where
one of the birds was flying above her head.
As she looked, he dropped a locust from his
talons, and it fell upon her robe. Beautiful was
the creature, with its grass-green body and
double sets of wings, and its jet-black eyes, and
glossy glistening breastplate, as it seemed.


As she looked, she seemed to see mysterious
lines upon its forehead. " Look, father ! do you
know what is here written ? " she cried ; and to
Thalaba, " Look ! it may be that these lines
' are written in the language of the ring."

Thalaba bent down and looked. In a mo-
ment his cheeks grew red, and he started back,
for these lines could be plainly read, " When
the Sun shall be darkened at noon, depart, Son
of Hodeirah."

Moath and Oneiza were troubled, but Thalaba
rejoiced. Every day at noon he watched the
sky. Meanwhile he made new plumes for his
arrows, and sharpened their points.

" Are you weary, then, of the tent ? " said

" Not so," said Thalaba, "but I would go and
do my work, and return never to leave you any

As Thalaba spoke, Oneiza looked again at
the sun, and saw, or thought she saw, a speck
upon it. It was so small that none who were
watching the sun that day had yet perceived it ;
but Oneiza's eyes were sharpened by love.
Certainly it was there ; and it grew and grew,


and Thalaba put the full quiver on his shoulder,
and took the bow in his hand, and prepared to
depart. And now half the Sun is covered,
and now, again, the day grows dark, and the
birds go to roost, and the owl, the bird of night,
comes forth, and the eyes of the Hyaena are
seen to glare.

" Farewell, my father ! farewell, Oneiza ! "
said Thalaba.

" Will you not wait for a sign to show the
way ? " said Moath.

" God will conduct me," said Thalaba, and
went out into the darkness, and they heard his
steps as he went, and the quiver rattling on his

He had not gone far when he saw a dim
shape in the darkness. As he looked it grew
brighter, and he recognized the form and face of
his mother. " Go," she said, "to Babylon, and
ask the Angels for the talisman."

The spirit came towards him as it spake, as
though to give him a mother's kiss, and Thalaba
ran forward. But all that he felt was the wind
playing on his cheek, and all that he saw was
the darkness. " Mother, mother ! " he cried,
"let me see you again."


" You shall see me," she said, " in the hour
of death."

Then the day dawned again, and the dark-
ness dispersed. Thalaba went on full of hope,
and of the expectation of great deeds, and of
how he should come back some day to Moath's
tent, and of all his thoughts Oneiza was a part.
At sunset he came to a well, over which hung
an Acacia tree. Then he made his ablutions,
and said his prayers, and then brought out his
provision of food. As he ate, came a traveller
on a camel, who greeted him courteously, and
sat down beside him by the well, and kept him
company over his meal. The stranger was an
old man, but vigorous, and one who scarcely
seemed to need the staff which he carried. His
eyes were quick and piercing, and his beard long
and curly. He was courteous in manner, and
his talk ready, and full of knowledge. A
traveller could scarce have a more pleasant
companion on his way.

As they talked, Thalaba asked, " Whither
are you bent ? "

" I go to Bagdad," said the old man.

Thalaba' s eyes kindled with joy to hear the


"And I too," he said. " May I be your
companion ? "

" Willingly," said the other.

Then they talked further together.

" You are young to travel."

" I have never yet come beyond the desert."

" We are bound for a noble city ; you will
see splendid palaces and mosques and rich
bazaars, to which merchants bring all the
wealth of the world."

" Is it not Bagdad near the site of ancient
Babylon ? "

" Even so, a long day's journey."

"And the ruins?"

" There is a mighty mass of them ; enough
to tell us how great were our fathers in compa-
rison of us."

" Do not the angels Haruth and Maruth
atone for their sin at Babylon ? "

" There is a tale that they do. But Igno-
rance believes many falsehoods for truth.
What have you heard of these same angels ? "

" This. Once on a time the angels,
talking in heaven, expressed their wonder at
the obstinacy of man, that though signs and



tokens were given to him, and prophets sent to
exhort him, nevertheless he would not repent.
So stubborn a creature, they said, should have
mercy refused to him for ever. God heard
their unforgiving pride, and commanded two
of those spirits that had not fallen, because
they had not been tempted, to descend to the
earth, and judge men's causes. For a time
they judged righteously, but when an exceed-
ingly beautiful woman came before them, they
were tempted. ' Tell me,' said the woman,
' the name of God.' So they told her ; and in
a moment, by the power of that name, she was
lifted up to heaven, and accused them before
the judgment seat of God. They were called,
but had no defence ; only they entreated that
the punishment of their sin might not endure
for ever, but might at the last restore them
purified to their place in heaven. This is the
tale that I have heard."

" And you have heard also, doubtless, that
the place of their punishment is at Babylon,
and that there magicians seek them, and force
from their unwilling lips the secrets of sor-


" Is not this true ?"

11 Have you never seen some familiar shape
distorted in the twilight into something uncouth
and strange."


" Just so common things viewed through the
mist of error terrify men's minds."

" But is it written in the Book that Haruth
and Maruth were thus condemned ? "

" God often teaches us by fables."

" But is not the place of their punishment at
Babylon ? "

"Yes, at Babylon they are to be found.
But enough for the present. Night is at hand.
I am an old man, and my eyes are heavy. We
shall have time enough to talk to-morrow.
Peace be with you, my son."




THE old traveller wrapped his cloak round him,
and lay down to sleep. Thalaba also laid
himself down. For a while he watched the
moon shining through the leaves of the acacia ;
then fell asleep. As for his companion, he
only seemed to sleep, for indeed he was the
Magician Lobaba, who had come from the
Domdaniel caverns to slay, if it might be
possible, the Destroyer. When he knew from
the youth's long and regular breathing that he
slept, he rose stealthily from his place, and
bending over him looked closely at him.
Deeply in his heart he cursed Abdaldar's
ring that kept him safe. It was to be seen on
Thalaba's finger as he lay with his head on his
arm, and the light of the moon was reflected
from the gem. Lobaba put out his hand,


trying to take it, but could not ; he called the
fiends that served him, and bade them rob the
sleeping youth. But they were powerless, one
and all. And at last the Sorcerer, baffled and
full of rage, lay down again. Force could not
help him, but he might prevail by temptation.

The morning sunshine fell upon Thalaba's
eyes, and woke him. He rose, and folded his
mantle round him, and after ablutions duly
made and prayers duly said, girded his loins
for the day's journey. So did the Magician
also, insulting God with the vain show of
worship. Then they filled their water-skins at
the spring, and gave the camel a full draught,
and went on their way.

"Is it true," said Thalaba, " that magicians
go to learn the secrets of their wicked art from
the angels at Babylon ? "

" It is true and it is false."

" What do you mean ? "

"All things have a double use. The fire
that warms us on the hearth may burn the
house ; the sun ripens the harvest and darts
fever into our veins ; and the iron that the
hunter uses may arm the hand of a murderer."


-What then?"

" Nothing is good or evil in itself, but only
in its use. All men hold the physician in
honour, but there are some who use their skill
to poison the cup which a friend drinks ; but is
his knowledge therefore evil ? "

" It were folly to think so."

" O what a noble creature were man, if he
knew his own powers and gave them room to
grow and spread ! The Horse obeys his will ;
the Camel carries him across the deserts ; the
Pigeon bears his messages. He is content
with these conquests, when he might have
myriads of Spirits obey him."

" But how ? only surely by making that
covenant with Hell which binds the soul to

" Was Solomon then accursed of God ? Did
not the birds make a canopy over him with
their wings when he bade them ? Did not the
Genii build the Temple for him ? "

" God gave him his wisdom as a special
reward for his goodness."

" Aye, and God will always give wisdom as
the reward of study. 'Tis a well of which all


might drink ; but few dig deep enough. What-
ever powers God has made it possible for man
to reach, it is lawful for him to attain, if he can.
The knowledge that it does not befit him to
have, has been placed beyond his reach. Those
who go to Babylon, and learn mysterious
wisdom from the angels, do no wrong."
" Do you know any of their secrets ? "
" Alas ! my son, I know but enough to see
how great is my ignorance. My age has been
given to study, but I can only regret in vain
the careless indolence of my youth. Yet some-
thing I know of the properties of herbs, and
have often brought comfort to the afflicted by
my art, blessed by Him without whose blessing
nothing avails. Also of gems I know some-

" Can you interpret what is written round
this ring ? "

" My sight is weak, let me see it closer."
The unsuspecting Thalaba was about to draw
the ring from his finger, when a wasp settled
on the joint above the ring, and stung it. The
flesh rose hot and purple round the ring ; and
the Magician, baffled again, knew the hand of


Heaven, and blasphemed in his heart. Then
he devised another scheme. At noon there
rose a mist. For a time the Sun guided them
on their way, and it was pleasant to travel
without the heat. But this guidance soon
failed them. An impenetrable mass of cloud
hung over the wilderness.

" Do you know the track ? " said Thalaba,
" or shall we wait till the wind scatters this

" Let us hold on," said the Magician. "If
we go astray, the Sun will set us right to-

So they went deeper and deeper into the
wilderness. That night they lay down to sleep
in the darkness, and the next morning when
Thalaba awoke he did not know which way to
turn for his prayers.

" Shall we go on," said Lobaba, " or shall we
wait? If we go, we may lose ourselves yet
worse ; if we wait, food and drink may fail us."

" Let us go," answered Thalaba; "we may
find, it may be, some tent or grove of palms.
To wait were to wait for death."

And willingly the Magician led the youth


still deeper into the desert. The mist hung
over it still ; it was there at night when they
lay down to sleep ; it was there as thick as ever
when they awoke in the morning. And now
the water-skin was light, though they used its
precious contents with prudence. During the
third night, as Thalaba lay in a broken sleep,
he heard in his dreams the sound of rushing
winds ; but when he awoke, there was still the
same deadly calm. So another day passed, and
now the water-skin was empty.

Then the travellers heard a hopeful sound,
the sound of the wind. In a few minutes the
mist was scattered, and they saw again the face
of heaven. But what a scene it was on which
they opened their eyes ! No well was near, no
palm grove, no tent. The skin lay flat on the
camel, and the poor beast could scarcely drag
his weary feet across the sand.

At the height of their despair there burst
upon their eyes a beautiful sight, a green
meadow spangled with flowers. Surely a
stream must flow through it. The Camel saw
it, and hurried on with fresh spirit. But when
they reached the place, they found that the


flowers were nothing better than the bitter
herbs of gentian and senna. Lobaba said,
" Son, we must slay the camel, or we shall
perish. Your young hand is strong and firm ;
draw forth your knife and pierce him."

No one who saw the old man with suffering
face, dry lips, and feverish eyes, would have
dreamt that in truth he felt no pain or distress,
such was the strength of his magic. Thalaba
paused for a moment ; but when he saw his
companion's distress, and saw the poor beast
lie at his feet worn out with want, he did not
hesitate any more, but taking the knife from
his girdle drew it across the camel's throat.
" Little will your death profit us," he thought,
as he poured into their water-skin the scanty
portion that was hoarded in the camel's stomach.
For a day it lasted them. Then it was ex-
hausted, and still there was no cloud nor hope
of rain.

Lobaba said, " Let me look at the Ring."
So he took the youth's hand and viewed the
writing close. "Joy!" he cried, "whosoever
bears this stone may command the Genii. Call
them, my son ; bid them save us."


"No," said Thalaba, " shall I distrust my
God ? If He will not save us, the Genii
cannot help."

Whilst he was speaking, Lobaba's eyes were
fixed on the distance with such terror in them
that Thalaba looked to see what it might mean.
He saw columns of sand burning red with the
sun upon them, rushing before the wind and
coming towards them. As they looked the
foremost of them burst, scattering the burning-
sand about it.

"Save us!" cried the Magician, "save us by
the Ring ! "

Thalaba made no answer, but gazed wonder-
ing and awestruck on the sight.

"Why do you wait?" cried the old man.
"If God will not save, call on the Powers that

"Ah!" said Thalaba, "now I know you,
accursed sorcerer ; you have led me hither,
hoping that for fear of death I should sell my
soul to sin."

u Fool ! call on him whose name is written
on the Ring or die ! "

" Die thou." And as he spoke he put an


arrow on the bowstring, and drew the bow to
the full, and let fly. The arrow sped true to
its aim, smiting the Sorcerer full upon the
breast, but the astonished Thalaba saw the
point recoil blunted.

Lobaba smiled bitterly. " Try again your
earthly arms. The Power I serve does not
desert his votaries as He does whom you

As he spoke, he called by his magic art a
chariot of the air, that moved of its own power.
On this he climbed, and cried to Thalaba,
" Come hither ; you have been my fellow-
traveller, and I am yet willing to save you.
Mount this chariot and you are safe."

Thalaba did not deign to answer him. But
as he looked, another of the great columns of
sand came eddying across the desert. It struck
Lobaba as he sat in his chariot, and laid him a
corpse upon the ground ; but over Thalaba,
who had thrown himself with his face to the
earth, it passed harmless.



THALABA rose from the earth, and bent his head
in prayer. When he lifted it up, the sky was
overcast with clouds, which before long came
down in rain. He bared his head, and stretched
his hands to the shower, and felt refreshed. As
he did this he heard a loud, quick panting, and
looking up saw a tiger run by, its head hanging
low, its dry tongue lolling out of its mouth.
Thalaba knew that the beast was searching for
water, and following it at a distance saw it
stoop down and drink. A pelican had built its
nest in the wilderness, and had carried thither
a stock of water for its young, which were
swimming and dipping their heads in the bath.
When the tiger approached, they crowded
nestling under their mother's wings ; the beast
drank, but did not harm them. Of the tiger the


mother bird had no fear, for it was a familiar
guest. But when the man came near she
menaced him with her wings and outstretched
neck, emboldened by a mother's terrors.
Thalaba drank and filled his water-skin, yet
left enough for life to the pelican and her
young. Then as he departed he blessed the
carrier-bird, the dweller in the desert, and Him,

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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchStories of the magicians; Thalaba and the magicians of the Domdaniel, Rustem and the genii, Kehama and his sorceries → online text (page 2 of 13)