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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Only consent to be my wife."

So Oneiza, overborne by his entreaties, and
following her own heart, consented.

With song and music and dance the bridal
procession went carrying Oneiza to her hus-
band's house. Behind the bride went fifty
women in robes woven with thread of gold ;
and behind them again came a hundred slaves
bearing vessels of gold and silver and splendid
apparel, the Sultan's marriage gifts. On either
hand the pages carried the torches glowing in
the darkness ; and the trumpets and timbrels
made music, and the multitudes shouted, till
they came to the palace of Thalaba, where the
marriage feast was spread.

But when the feast was finished and the
guests had departed, who is this that comes
from the bridal chamber? It is Azrael, the
Angel of Death



CHAPTER IX.

THE DELIVERANCE OF THALABA.

MEANWHILE Moath, searching for his daughter,
had come to the Sultan's city, and wandering
outside the walls found the burial ground. A
woman met him and said, " Old man, go not
among the tombs. There is a madman there."

" Will he harm me, think you ? "

" Not he, poor wretch. But 'tis a most
miserable thing to see his grief. All day and
all night long he lies upon a grave ; he never
weeps or groans ; never open^his lips even to
pray. I have taken him food for charity's
sake, but he never thanked me. I say, go
not among the tombs, old man."

" But say, why has God so smitten him ? "

" He came to this country a stranger, and
did some great service to the Sultan, who
therefore named him next to himself, and gave



72 THE STORY OF THALABA.

him a palace, and dowered his bride with
houses and lands. But on his wedding day the
Angel of Death came for his bride. He never
leaves her grave. When the Sultan heard the
tale, he said that doubtless Heaven had smitten
him for some secret wickedness, and prayed
forgiveness that he had shown him any favour,
and so left him to perish.''

" Did you say that he was a stranger ? "

" Yes, an Arab like you. But I say, go not
among the tombs ; you will see such a sight as
you will never forget."

" Nay, I have never shunned a countryman
in distress, and the sound of his native tongue,
maybe, will calm him as the voice of a friend."

Then the woman pointed the way to the
sepulchre, and Moath, going as she bid him,
found Thalaba lying on the grave. His raven
black hair was rusted with sun and rain, and
his cheeks had fallen. As he lay, his fingers
played unwittingly with the grass upon the
grave. Moath did not know him, so much
changed was he, but drawing near said, " Peace
be with you." The sound of his native tongue
roused Thalaba, but when he looked up and



THE DELIVERANCE OF THALABA. 73

saw the good old man, he rose and fell upon
his neck, and groaned. Then Moath knew him,
and a dreadful fear came over him that he
was childless. He said nothing, but pointed to
the tomb. " Yes," said Thalaba, as if he had
spoken " yes, your search is ended here."

The father's cheeks grew pale, and his lips
quivered with grief. Still he could say, " God
is good ! His will be done ! "

It softened Thalaba to see such grief and
such resignation. " Ah," said he, " you have a
comforter in your trouble. But in me, Moath,
you see a wretch whom God has abandoned ; "
and then, when the old man looked at him
incredulous " nightly," he went on, " Oneiza
comes to drive me to despair. You think me
mad. But dare you come and see her when
the crier proclaims midnight from the minaret-
top?"

And now the sun was about to set, and
Moath, as he saw the white flag waving on
the mosque, said, " Thalaba, do you not
pray?"

" I must not pray," said he, with such a
groan as went to the old man's heart and made



74 THE STORY OF THALABA.

him bow down and in a fervent agony pray to
God.

It was a wet and stormy night, and Thalaba
led the old man into the chamber of the Tomb
to shelter him from the rain. They heard the
storm beat on the monument above ; and there
on Oneiza's grave, the two sat, her father and
her husband. The crier proclaimed midnight
from the minaret-top.

" Now, now ! " cried Thalaba, and as he
spoke, there spread a lurid light over the tomb,
and Oneiza stood before them, a corpse, and
yet with a brightness in her eye more terrible
than death.

"What! art thou still living, wretch?" she
cried. " Must I leave my couch every night,
to tell thee that God has abandoned thee ? "

" This is not Oneiza," cried the old man ; " it
is a fiend, a manifest fiend," and he held his
lance to the youth. " Strike her ! strike her ! "

" What ? strike her? said Thalaba, and stood
paralysed, gazing on the dreadful form.

" Yes, strike her," cried another voice ; and
while Thalaba turned round to see whence it
came, Moath performed its bidding, and thrust



THE DELIVERANCE OF THALABA. 75

his lance. The fiend fled howling with the
wound ; and in a moment, clad in a golden
light, the true Oneiza stood before them.

" Oh, Thalaba ! " she cried, " abandon not
thyself go on, finish thy work, that in Paradise
I may not wait for thee long." Then she
turned to Moath, " Thy way is short to
Paradise, dear father. Return to the Desert.
Azrael the Deliverer will soon come for you."

Then the Spirit vanished from their sight,
and the darkness closed round them again.
Thalaba took his bow and quiver from the
ground.

" Thank God," he said, " that in my madness
I did not forget these. To-morrow I will
brace it afresh in the sun. And I, like the
bow, will brace myself for the work that lies
before me. And now, dear father, we part, not
to meet again till we meet in Paradise."

Moath made no answer, but followed him to
the door of the Tomb chamber. The rain had
ceased, and the clouds were carried wildly by
the wind across the sky ; and it chanced that in
one of the rifts before them a star shot east-
ward, leaving a path of light behind it.



76 THE STORY OF THALABA.

" See, my guide," said Thalaba ; and the old
man blessed him. So they parted, and Thalaba
went his way.

That evening a Dervish, sitting in the sun at
the door of his cell, invited the youth to stay
with him for the night, and spread before him
his simple meal, rice and fresh grapes and water
from the brook. As they sat and talked, a
wedding procession went by with singing and
music and dancing. The Dervish gave them
his blessing as they went by, but Thalaba hid
his face in his hands and groaned. Now the
old man had himself known sorrow, and he felt
pity for the youth, and Thalaba, comforted by
his words, told him all his trouble.

" My son," said he, " it is God that has
chastened you. See this vine. When I found
it, it was wasting its strength in luxuriant
growth and gave no fruit ; but I pruned it, and
see what beautiful clusters it has supplied. It
is thus Heaven deals with us ; but say, whither
are you going ? "

" I go straight on," said Thalaba, " sure that
destiny will lead my feet aright."

" Thy faith is right," answered the old man,



THE DELIVERANCE OF THALABA. 77

" and I would not shake it for a moment.
Still if knowledge may be gained, it would be
well for you to seek it. And gained it may be.
In Kaf the Simorg, the Bird of Ages, has his
abode. There is nothing that he does not
know. He has seen the children of men thrice
destroyed. The .path is long and dangerous,
but the Bird could direct your way to a
certainty."

Thalaba gave ready heed to his word, and on
the morrow pursued his journey.



78 THE STORY OF THALABA.



CHAPTER X.

THE MAGIC THREAD.

THALABA travelled on day after day. He
crossed rivers, and climbed mountains, and
plodded wearily across measureless plains, but
saw neither man, nor the trace of man. It was
a cold country which he now reached, and such
slender provision of food as he had carried was
exhausted. The sun was not to be seen in the
sky ; but there was one dull cloud over all, and
now the snow began to fall. How he wished
for his native deserts and the warm winds of
Arabia ! And now the night came on, and
there was neither moon nor star to be seen ;
only a dim light reflected from the snow. At
last he spied a fire burning in a cave of the hill,
and to that, with courage and strength renewed,
he moved on.

He found a woman in the cave, a solitary



THE MAGIC THREAD. 79

woman, who sat spinning by the fire and
singing as she span. She had grey hair, but
her face was smooth like a girl's. She smiled
a welcome to him ; but still went on with her
spinning and singing. He laid his bow before
the fire, for its string was frozen stiff, and his
quiver also, for the feathers on the arrows were
covered with ice. Then he asked for food.
She answered him in song.

" The She-bear, she dwells near to me,
And she hath cubs, one, two, three ;
She hunts the deer, and brings him here,
And then with her I make good cheer.
And now to the chase the She-bear is gone,
And she with her prey will be here anon."

When she had said this she began her spinning
again. The thread gleamed like gold in the
blaze of the pine-log, but it was so marvellously
fine, that except when the light fell on it you
might look for it in vain. Thalaba looked on
with wonder, and she observing him, spoke
again, this time also in song.

" Now twine it round thy hands I say,
Now wind it round thy hands I pray,
But he must be
O stronger than thee,
Who can break this thread of mine ! "



8o THE STORY OF THALABA.

Thalaba, thinking no harm, so sweetly did she
smile on him, took the thread, and wound it
round and round his right hand, and round and
round his left. Then the woman spoke again

" Now thy strength, O stranger, strain,
Strain and break the slender chain."

Thalaba strained his strength, but to no
purpose, till he was flushed with shame and
fear. Then the witch, for the woman was the
witch Maimuna, smiled at him again, but this
time fiercely, and she sang a fourth time

" I thank thee,' I thank thee, Hodeirah's son,
For binding thyself in the chain I have spun."

With this she wrenched a lock of hair from his
head, and sang again

" Sister ! Sister ! hear my voice,
The thread is spun,
The prize is won,
The work is done,
For I have made captive Hodeirah's son."

And in a moment Khawla, the fiercest of the
sorcerers, was there in her magic chariot.
And when she saw the youth she laughed aloud



THE MAGIC THREAD. 81

in scorn, and clapped her hands for joy. That
moment the She-bear came in from the chase,
bearing the deer that it had caught in its mouth.
This she laid down at Maimuna's feet, and
looked up wistfully as if to ask for her share.

" There ! there ! " said Maimuna, and pointing
to Thalaba, spurned him with her foot.
" There ! make thy meal of him."

And the two sisters laughed aloud, but the
She-bear fawned upon the youth and licked
his hand. Thereupon Maimuna stamped on
the ground, and called a spirit up.

" Shall we bear the Enemy to the dungeon
of the Domdaniel Cavern ? "

" Woe to our Empire if he ever tread the
Domdaniel Cavern."

" Shall we leave him fettered here to die of
hunger now ?"

" Fly from your dwelling, I see danger at
hand, danger that he should live and thou
shouldst fall."

" Whither then shall we carry him ? "

" To Mohareb's Island."

So they threw Thalaba -chained into the
magic chariot. Drawn by no mortal steed, it



82 THE STORY OF THALABA.

passed over land and sea, till it came to the
island and to the chief city in which Mohareb
reigned. The Sultan himself came out to meet
them in his royal robes, and Thalaba knew him
at once as the one whom he had cast down into
the pit amidst the ruins of Babylon.

The two sisters and Mohareb held council.

" Go up, and read the stars," said Khawla.

Maimuna went up to the terrace of the top-
most tower, and stood there, her white hair
streaming like the Aurora in the polar sky.
When she descended, they asked, " What have
you read ? "

" Death danger judgment," said she.

" Is that what the stars say ? " cried Khawla ;
"they are the creatures of Him who made
them, and would terrify us with their lying
threats. I never liked this lore of the Heavens.
Better much the sacrifice of Divination, and I
will be my own oracle. Command the victims,
Mohareb. You know what are wanted, that
they must be male and female."

While the Sultan went to fetch them, Khawla
made the place ready for the dreadful rite.
She faced about to each point of the compass,



THE MAGIC THREAD. 83

and at each she laid her hand on the wall, and
smote the air, and smote the floor, and said, " To
Eblis and his slaves I consecrate this place.
Let no one enter but he and they."

And now all was prepared. Mohareb re-
turned, and the circle was drawn, and the victims
were slain, and Khawla stood, holding a human
head by the hair in either hand.

" Go out, ye lights ! " she cried, and began the
spell. She spread out her arms, and whirled
round, calling, " Eblis, Eblis," without ceasing,
till she reeled with dizziness. Her hair stood
up, and gave out sparks of light, and her eyes
gleamed like the moon through a mist. Then
she spoke -

" Ye may hope, and ye may fear,
The danger of his stars is near.
Sultan ! if he perish, woe !
Fate hath written one death blow
For Mohareb and the foe !
Triumph ! Triumph ! only she
That knit his bonds can set him free ! "

Then she fell senseless on the ground.
Mohareb and Maimuna knelt beside her, and
wetted the palms of her hands with water, and
her nostrils with blood till she revived.



84 THE STORY OF THALABA,

" What did I say ? " she asked. When she
heard the words, her face grew dark. All that
she said was, "Well, let him rot in prison."

But Mohareb read her purpose better. Her
lips lied, but her face told the truth. They were
pledged to him by oath ; but his death would
keep them safe ; and he knew they would not
spare him. Nor did the ring protect him, for
they could strike at his life through Thalaba.
It was needful, then, that he must take counsel
for himself. Accordingly he went to the
dungeon where the prisoner lay. It was early
dawn, and Thalaba was so busy with his
prayers, that the grating of the hinges did not
rouse him. Mohareb stood still, and enviously
watched the peace which piety can give.

When the youth had ended his prayer, and
looked to see who his visitor might be, the
Sultan said " Arab, unknowingly you more
than paid me for my guiding through that
dangerous cave. The Hand that caught the
Ring received me, and carried me whither I
wished. See, I am not ungrateful. Take
again the amulet."

It was but a show of gratitude. In truth he



THE MAGIC THREAD. 85



gave the Ring that Thalaba's life might be
safe, and with Thalaba's, as Khawla's oracle
had warned him, his own. The youth took
the Ring, and put it on his finger with the same
words that he had used at first. "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."

Mohareb said, " You are brave, and I would
willingly be your friend, aye, and buy your
friendship for a royal price. Now hear me
There are two Powers in the world, two hostile
Gods, equal in all things. Nay, hear me
patiently I say, equal. Look about you. The
same earth bears fruit and poison. The
Elements now are the servants of Man, and
now his masters. If there is joy in one house,
there is sorrow in the next. You say that sin
entered into the world, and that God permits it
to remain for a time. Nay, but if a serpent
creep into your tent you crush it. Be sure that
God had crushed His enemy if He could. No,
Thalaba ; good and evil are but words. In
Heaven as in earth it is the weak who are
guilty. Think not that the dead are sent to



THE STORY OF THALABA.



abodes of bliss and evil. Not so, they join the
great armies that fight the great fight. Woe to
the vanquished ! You, Thalaba, have chosen
your part ill. The Power you serve is a hard
taskmaster, and where are His wages ? Who
has ever seen them ? But look at ours, the
power and riches and pleasures of the world.
Do you remember how we met at Babylon,
each zealous for His Lord, adventurers both of
us ? Now think what I am, and what you are
you a prisoner, I the Sultan of this land."

Thalaba answered, " And this is your faith !
monstrous falsehood which even the sun and
moon and stars in their courses disprove. No ;
the true Master of the world is the Power of
Good, and He will triumph in the end. You
have me here in chains, but I am not deserted.
And against you are leagued the Just and Wise
of all time ; yes, and your own crimes, and
truth, and God in Heaven."

" Slave!" cried Mohareb, in his rage. " Slave,
I leave you here ; and in this prison you shall
rot limb from limb," and he rushed out of the
prison.

Meanwhile Khawla the witch was working



THE MAGIC THREAD. 87

her spells against the life of Thalaba. She
made an image of wax, compounding it of the
wax of the machineal tree and the poison of the
mandrake. This image she moulded to the
shape of Thalaba, and muttered spells over it,
by which it became instinct with a portion of
the young man's life. Then she built up a
pile of poisonous woods, and set the image of
wax in the full blaze of the heat. She might
as well have tried the eternal ice which is piled
about the pole. " Waste away ! " she cried,
" and with thee waste Hodeirah's son ! " But
the flames harmed it no more than the moon-
beam thaws a field of snow. " Curse thee ! "
cried the witch, " hast thou still a spell of
safety ? " and she threw the image into the
fire itself, and in the fire itself it lay unharmed.
Then she stamped thrice on the floor of the
cave crying " Maimuna," and in a moment her
sister was there.

When Maimuna saw the fire and the image
she said, " Nay, sister, Mohareb's life is bound
up with Thalaba's, and to Mohareb we are
pledged by oath."

"Fool!" answered Khawla, "one must die



88 THE STORY OF THALABA.

or all. To keep faith with Mohareb were to
commit treason against all the rest of our
company. But tell me what it is that protects
the son of Hodeirah ? "

For still the wax lay unmelted. So hot was
the fire that the bat clinging to the roof of the
cave loosed its hold sickening to death with the
heat, and the toad, having crawled to the
darkest corner, panted with fever, while the
viper came out with her brood, and sported
with them in the rays. But the image lay cold
as marble.

At length Maimuna raised her thoughtful
eyes. " Where, sister, did you find the wax ?
Was it the work of the bee, or of the worm ?
If so, your labour is lost. It is only the wax
from a dead man's grave that can avail."

" Excellent witch," said Khawla. " Go and
fetch it, for you know the place and the way."

And Maimuna went to fetch it. By her
spells she opened a grave. What she there
saw were too horrible to tell. But the terror
of it so wrought upon her that she cast herself
upon the earth in the agony of despair. And she
had died the utter death but that it was that



THE MAGIC THREAD. 89

mysterious night on which all created things
adore their Maker ; yes, all things, beasts and
birds and fishes of the sea, and even trees and
stones, all things but man only. And now, by
the mercy of God, all the gracious influences of
the time were poured out upon her, till she
wept ; and at the sight of her tears her good
angel came down again and took again his
charge.

Maimuna thought to herself, " I will undo as
far as I may the evil that I have done," and in
a moment she was in the prison cell of Thalaba.
One more spell, and only one will she work.
She sang as she had sung when she had bound
the silken threads about the prisoner's hands,
and when she had finished he was free. But
the prison walls are thick. She calls the Genii,
but they do not hear ; her power was gone ;
then she cried, " Rebel Spirits, in the name of
God, hear me ! " and in a moment the prison
walls were burst open, and the two, Maimuna
and Thalaba, were carried forth in the chariot
of the winds.



90 THE STORY OF THALABA.



CHAPTER XL

LEILA.

IN another moment the two found themselves
again in the cave among the hills ; and Maimuna
felt the burden of her years fall upon her, for
she had prolonged her life far beyond the span
appointed to men by the magic of her spells.
So she died in faith and peace, and Thalaba
buried her in the snow, and taking his bow and
arrows from the hearth, where they had lain
since the witches had carried him away bound,
went on his way. The wind blew keenly from
the East, and drifted the snow in his face, and
froze the breath upon his lips, till he was
almost spent with cold and hunger. At last
he saw a light in the darkness, and though he
feared another snare from the magic arts of his
enemies, he had no choice but to make for it.
It was a little cottage in the middle of a



LEILA. 91

garden ; and, strange to say, the air of the
garden was as mild as a summer wind, for a
fountain of fire sprang up in the centre of it,
sending rivulets of warmth streaming over it
every way. Thalaba saw a door open, and
went in. A girl lay asleep upon a couch, but
woke at the sound of his steps. She rose, and
took his hand, with gladness dancing in her
eyes. But when she felt it cold, the smile died
from her face, and she said, " I thought it would
be warm like mine, but you are like the rest."

Thalaba stood surprised and silent. At last
he answered " Cold ? Lady, what wonder !
I have been travelling in this icy wilderness till
the life is nearly frozen in me."

" You are a man then ? "

" Surely ; I did not think that grief and
labour could have so changed me."

"And you can be warm sometimes, life-
warm as I am ? "

" Surely, Lady ; I am subject as other men
to heat and cold. You see a traveller who is
bound upon hard adventures, and asks shelter
for the night, meaning to pursue his journey
to-morrow."



92 THE STORY OF THALABA.



11 No ; not to-morrow. You must not go so
soon. And whither ? All the country round
is ice and snow and deserts of endless snow
over which no man can pass."

" He that has led me so far will support me
still through cold and hunger."

" Hunger ! " said the girl, and clapped her
hands.

In a moment the table was spread with
food, but whence and how it came no one
could see.

" Why do you look, Mortal ? " said the girl ;
" I made it come."

" But whence ? "

"What matter? My father sent it. But I
see you are no man ; if you were, your hunger
would not let you ask such questions."

" I will not eat. It is the work of magic.
Deceit and danger surround me. I was a fool
to think I could escape them."

" Begone, insolent creature ! Do you fancy
that I am plotting harm against you ? One
day you will be sorry for having so wronged
me."

" Hear, Lady ; I have many enemies, and my



LEILA. 93



way is beset with dangers. Thus I have learnt
to be suspicious. But if I have wronged you,
pray pardon me. In the name of God, I will
eat of your food."

" Just now you were afraid of sorcery, and
yet you have said a charm."

" A charm ? "

"Yes, or what meant your words? I have
heard many spells and many names that rule
the Genii and the Elements, but that which
you said I have never heard."

" What ! never heard the name of God ? "

" Never ; but you are a strange man. Why
this wonder and trouble ? You must not
suspect me twice. If you are afraid, depart."

" Do you not know the God who made
you ? "

" Who made me ? My father made me, and
this house, and garden, and the fountain of fire ;
and he makes men and women out of the snow
every morning. They can move and talk, but
they are always cold as ice, and in the evening
they melt away into nothing and I am alone.
How glad I am when my dear father comes !
Were it not for him, I would gladly melt away
like them."



94 THE STORY OF THALABA.

" And have you always lived here ? "

" Ever since I can remember."

" And you do not know your father's art ? "

' No ; I asked him once to give me some
share of his power, but he shook his head and
said that it was too dearly bought."

" Why did he put you here in the wilder-
ness ? "

11 For fear and love. He said that the stars
threatened a danger to my life, and he put me
here amidst everlasting snow where no foot
could ever come. And if indeed the enemy
should come, I have a Guardian."

" A Guardian ? "

" Yes ; would you see him ? "

So the girl led Thalaba through the garden.
As they went, she said, " I do not think you
are the enemy. But if you have any evil
thought in your heart, depart in peace. I will
not lead you to your death."

" Let him kill me," cried the youth, "if I


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