The Rise of the Last Rebellion (The Poison Lotus Book 2)
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Yet no sooner had I entered the natural once more and begun to revel in my return to it, than suddenly and unawares I was taken out of it. There are no adequate words in the languages of the world to describe any real thing which lies outside the circle that is called natural. Surely I stood with my own feet upon the green grass—surely I had not departed from the spot whereon I stood? Surely Seboua stood by me? I pressed his hand. Yes, it was there. Yet I knew by my sensations that the natural had yielded me up, and that again I was within the world of feeling—sight—sound which I dreaded.
I saw nothing—I heard nothing—yet I stood in horror, trembling as the leaves tremble before a storm. What was I about to see? What was near me! What was it that drew a cloud across my eyes? I closed them. I dared not look. I dared not face the dimness of the realities around me. I opened them, dreading to behold the awful face which had filled me with fear in the darkness of the night. But no—for a moment I saw nothing—and I sighed with relief, for I always expected to see that face uplifted close to mine, with a grin of anger upon it.
But in another second my frame thrilled with delight. Seboua had brought me, without my perceiving it, close beside the lotus tank; and I saw, stooping as before, to drink the clear flowing water, the fair woman whose long golden hair half hid her face from me. Oh, speak to her! Not in this generation has she spoken with her priests—speak to her, for indeed we need her help!
Seboua had fallen on his knees by my side, as yesterday he had done. His face was full of earnestness and glow—his eyes full of a prayer. Looking into them I sank back overcome, I could not tell by what, but it seemed as though the golden-haired woman called me to her, and as though Seboua pushed me towards her, yet in my body I was no nearer to her; but in my consciousness I appeared to rise and move towards the lily tank, until, leaning upon its ledge, I touched her garment where it fell upon the surface of the water. I looked up into her face, but I could not see it. Light radiated from it, and I could only look at it as I might look upon the sun.
Yet I felt the touch of her hand upon my head, and words crept into my mind which emanated from her, though I was scarcely conscious that I heard them. But keep thou near to me who am full of light, and I will show thee the way to plant thy feet. I scarce dared frame my question more plainly. It seemed that if I spoke of that terrible face it would appear in anger before me. I felt a thrill pass through me from her hands as I uttered the words.
I fancied that it must be anger which was about to descend on me, but her voice passed into my consciousness as sweetly and softly as raindrops, and imparted to me the same sense of divine sending that we dwellers in a thirsty land associate with the advent of the sweet moisture. My son, there is darkness in that innermost sanctuary of the temple, because the worshippers therein cannot bear the light. The light of your world is excluded from it, that it may be illumined with the light of the spirit.
But the blind priests, hid in their own conceit, comfort themselves with the brood of darkness. They mock my name by using it; tell them, my son that their queen holds no sway in the realms of darkness. They have no queen; they have no guide but their blind desires.
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This is the first message you are charged with—did they not ask for one? At this moment I seemed drawn back from her. I clung to her garment hem, but my hands were powerless; as I lost my hold upon her I seemed also to lose the sense of her presence. I was conscious only of an intolerable feeling of physical irritation. My eyes had closed, helplessly, as I drew from her; I opened them with an effort.
I saw before me only the lotus tank, filled with blossoms of the queen of flowers—filled with blossoms which floated royally upon the surface of the water. The sunshine lay upon their golden hearts, and I saw in them the color of golden hair. But a voice, full of wrath, though speaking slowly and with deliberate intonation aroused me from dwelling upon the fringe of my dream.
I turned my head and beheld, to my amazement, Seboua standing between two novices; his head bowed, his hands crossed. Near to me stood the high priests Agmahd and Kamen; Agmahd was speaking to Seboua. I soon gathered that he was in disgrace on account of me, but I could not discover what he had done. Agmahd and Kamen placed themselves on either side of me. And I understood that I was to walk between them. We advanced in silence towards the temple, and entered again its gloomy gates.
I was led into the hall where the priests had been taking their morning meal. The room was almost deserted now; but Agmahd and Kamen remained talking, in their low subdued tones, by one of the windows, while two novices led me to a place by the table, and brought me oiled cakes, fruit, and milk. It was strange to me to be waited on by these youths, who did not speak to me, and whom I regarded with awe as being more experienced than myself in the terrible mysteries of the temple. I wondered, as I ate my cakes, why they had not spoken to me, any of the novices whom I had seen; but looking back over the brief time which I had spent in the temple, I recollected that I had never been left alone with one of them.
Even now, Agmahd and Kamen remained in the room, so that, as I saw the silence of fear was upon the faces of the youths who served me. And I fancied it to be a fear, not as of a schoolmaster who uses his eyes like ordinary mortals, but as of some many-sighted and magical observer who is not to be deceived. I saw no gleam of expression on the countenance of either of the youths. They acted like automata.
The exhaustion which had again taken possession of my frame was lessened by the food, and when I had eaten I rose eagerly to look from the high window, to see if Seboua were in the garden. But Agmahd advanced, stepped between me and the window, and gazed upon me with the immovable look which made me dread him so deeply.
He turned and moved away; I followed him with drooping head, and all my new energy and hope departed; why, I knew not; I could not tell why I gazed upon the embroidered hem of the white garment—which seemed to glide so smoothly over the ground in front of me—with a sense that I was following my doom. My doom! Agmahd the typical priest of the temple, the real leader among the high priests. My doom. We passed down the corridors till we entered upon the wide one which led from the gate of the temple to the holy of holies.
A horror filled me at the sight of it, even with the sunlight streaming through the gateway, and making mock of its unutterable shadows. Yet so deep was my dread of Agmahd, that, left thus alone with him, I followed him in perfect obedience and silence. We passed down the corridor—with each reluctant step of mine I drew nearer to that terrible door whence, in the darkness of the night, I had seen the hideous form emerge.
I was scanning the wall with the kind of terror with which a tormented soul might gaze upon the awful instruments of spiritual inquisition. It is impossible, once looking upon some impending doom with open eyes, not to remain gazing thereon with object yet riveted attention. Such did I in my blind fear bestow upon the walls of the long corridor, which, to my fancy, as we moved down it, seemed to close upon us and to shut us from all the bright, beautiful world which I had lived in until now.
Scanning thus intently these smooth and terrible walls, I perceived, as we approached it, a little door, which stood at right angles with the door of the sanctuary. It would have escaped any observation but one unnaturally tense; for the darkness at this far end of the corridor was deep indeed, by contrast with the glowing sunlight we had left at the other.
We approached this door. As I have said, it stood at right angles with the wall of the sanctuary. It was close to the door of it, but it was in the wall of the corridor. My steps seemed to be taken without my own volition now; certainly my will would have carried me back to the sunshine which made the world, beautiful with flowers—which made life seem a glorious reality, and not a hideous and unimaginable dream!
Yet there it was—the door—and Agmahd stood, his hand upon it. He turned and looked at me. I passed through the same experience as when first Agmahd encouraged me by his voice in the garden. I raised my eyes, with an effort, to his, that I might discover whether there was the same encouragement in his beautiful countenance.
But all that I saw was the intolerable calm of those blue eyes; they were pitiless, immovable: my soul, aghast, beheld in them at that moment fully the cruelty of the beast of prey. He turned from me and opened the door; and, passing through it, held it open that I might follow him. I followed him—yes, though my steps seemed to recoil upon myself and lead me to the deeps. We entered a low-roofed room, lighted by one broad window, high in the wall. It was curtained and draped with rich material; a low couch stood at one side of the room.
When my glance fell on the couch I started; why, I know not; but I at once thought it to be the couch which I had slept on in the last night. I could look at nothing else, though there were many beautiful things to look at, for the room was adorned luxuriously. I only wondered, with a shrinking heart, why that couch had been removed from the room in which I had slept. While I looked on it, lost in conjecture, I suddenly became conscious of silence—complete silence—and of loneliness.
I was alone. He was gone—the dread priest Agmahd—he had gone without another word, and let me in this room. What could it mean? I crossed to the door and tried it. It was fast closed and barred. I was a prisoner. But what could it mean? I looked around the massive stone walls—I glanced up at the high window—I thought of the near neighborhood of the sanctuary—and I flung myself upon the couch and hid my face.
I imagine that I must have lain there for hours. I did not dare to arise and make any disturbance. I had nothing to appeal to but the blue, pitiless eyes of the priest Agmahd. I lay upon my couch with fast-closed eyes, not daring to face the aspect of my prison and praying that the night might never come. It was yet the early part of the day, that I felt sure of, although I knew not how long a time I had passed in the garden with Seboua. The sun was high, and streamed in at my window. I saw this as, after a long time had passed, I turned and looked around, my room with a sudden and alarmed glance.
I had the idea that some one was in it—but, unless hidden behind the curtains, no visible form was in the room. No, I was alone. And as I gathered courage to look up to the sunlight that made my window a thing glorious for the eyes, I began to realize that it still veritably was in existence; and that, notwithstanding my recent hideous experiences, I was nothing but a boy who loved sunshine. The attraction grew very strong, and at last fanned itself into the wish to climb up to the high window and look.
At all events I rose from my couch—casting all terror of my surroundings to the winds, now that I had a purpose sufficiently childish to absorb me. The wall was perfectly smooth; but I fancied that, by standing on a table that was beneath the window, I could reach the sill with my hands, and so raise myself up to see out.
I soon climbed the table, but I could barely reach the sill with upstretched arms. I jumped a little, and just catching hold of the sill managed to draw myself upwards. I suppose that part of the enterprise must have been the delight to me; for I certainly did not anticipate seeing anything but the temple gardens. What I saw, though there was nothing perhaps very startling, sobered my enjoyment. The gardens were not there. My window looked out upon a small square piece of ground, which was surrounded by high blank walls.
I soon saw that these were evidently walls of the temple, not outer walls. The piece of ground was enclosed in the very heart of the great building, for I could see its columns and roofs rising beyond each side, and the walls were blank. Mine was the only window I could perceive any trace of. At that moment I heard a faint sound in the room, and, quickly letting myself drop, I stood upon the table, looking round in consternation.
The sound seemed to proceed, from behind a heavy curtain that half covered one wall. I stood breathless, and, even in this broad daylight and gleaming sunshine, somewhat in terror of what I might see. For I had no idea that there was any mode of entrance but that door by which I had come, so that I scarce dared to hope for a wholesome human presence!
These fears soon vanished, however, for the curtain was drawn a little back, and a black-robed novice—whom I had not seen before—crept from out its shelter. I wondered at his stealthy manner; but I had no fears, for he held in his hand a glorious blossom of the royal white lotus flower. I sprang from the table and advanced towards him, my eyes upon the flower.
When quite close he spoke, very low and quickly. Cherish it, but let none of the priests see it. Cherish it, and it will help you in hours when you will need help; and Seboua urges that you remember all the words he has said to you, and that you trust, above all, to your love for the truly beautiful and to your natural likes and dislikes. Be careful that you never come near this door, or show that you know it exists; it opens into the private room of the high priest Agmahd, into which none dare enter save on peril of intolerable punishment.
He hastily passed through the door and closed it behind him. I found myself half smothered by the heavy curtain and, as soon as I could recover from my amazement at this sudden appearance and disappearance, I moved it aside and stepped out, the lily in my hand. My first thought, even before I would let myself think over the words which I was to remember—was to place my precious flower in some safe place. I held it tenderly, as though it were the breathing form of one I loved.
I looked around anxiously, wondering where it would be both unseen and yet preserved. I saw, after a few moments spent in hasty inspection that just behind the head of my couch there was a corner which the curtain fell a little away from. Here, at least, I might place it for a while; it would have room to breathe, and would not be seen unless the curtain were moved away—and behind my couch seemed a less likely place for it to be discovered in than any other. I hastily placed it here, afraid to keep it in my hand lest the ceremonies should be over and Agmahd enter my room.
So I hid it, and then looked around for some vessel of water in which I might place it, for it occurred to me that, if I did not supply it with some of that element which it so dearly loved, it would not live long to be my friend. I found a little earthen jar of water and placed it in it, wondering the while what I should do if the priests, discovering its absence, should ask me for it.
I could not tell what to do in such an emergency; but, if the flower were discovered, I could only hope that some inspiration would be given me by which I might avoid throwing further blame upon Seboua; for, though I could not understand why or how, it was very evident that he had been blamed for something in connection with me. I went and sat on the couch, to be near my beloved flower.
How I desired that I might place it in the sunshine and revel in its beauties! In this way the day passed. No one came near me. I watched the sun pass away from my window. I watched the shadows of evening descend upon it. I was still alone. I do not think I grew more terrified. I do not remember that the coming night brought with it any agony of fear. I was filled with a deep calmness, which either the long undisturbed hours of the day had produced, or else it was wrought by the beautiful though unseen flower; for that was ever before my eyes in all its radiant and delicate beauty.
I had none of the intolerable visions which I had been unable to drive from me in the former night. It was quite dark when the door which communicated with the corridor opened, and Agmahd entered, followed by a young priest, who brought me food and a cup of some strange sweet-smelling syrup. I should not have stirred from my couch had it not been that I longed for food. I had not thought of it before, but I was indeed faint and fasting.
I rose eagerly, therefore, and, when the young priest brought the food to my side, I drank first of the syrup—which indeed he offered me first—for my exhaustion suddenly became plain to me. Agmahd looked on me as I drank. When I had put down the cup, I raised my eyes to his with a new defiance. I have never been left alone so long in all my life. I spoke under a sudden impulse. When I had been passing the long hours in solitude they had not seemed so terrible; but now, with a quick apprehension of the evil of this solitariness, I spoke out my feeling.
He departed on his errand, Agmahd said nothing to me; and I—having said my say, and not having, as I rather expected, been annihilated for it—took up an oiled cake from the platter, and cheerfully went on with my meal. Five years after I could not have faced Agmahd in this way.
IDYLL OF THE WHITE LOTUS.
I could not have eaten my all having just defied him. But now I was elated by the supreme ignorance and indifference of youth. How should I have? I was ignorant. And, moreover, I had no clue to the mode of his cruelty—the purpose, the intention of it. I was in the dark altogether.
But I was well aware that my life in the temple was not what I had looked for if it was to be like this, and I already cherished boyish notions of escaping from it even down the terrible corridor if I were to exist after such an unhappy fashion. I little knew when I thought of this how well I was guarded. Agmahd said no word while I ate and drank, and presently the young priest opened the door and entered, bearing in his hands a large black book. He placed it on a table which Agmahd told him to draw near to my couch. A lamp was then brought by him from a corner of the room and placed on the table.
He lighted it, and this done, Agmahd spoke:. So saying, he turned and left the room, followed by the young priest. I opened it at once. It seems, looking back on that time, that I was to the full as inquisitive as most boys; at all events, any new object riveted my attention for the time being.
I opened the black covers of the volume and gazed on the first page. It was beautifully colored, and I looked in pleasure at the colors a little while before I began to spell out the letters. They stood out from a gray background in letters of so brilliant a hue that they seemed like fire.
It was nonsense to me. I was a comparatively uneducated boy, and I wondered what companionship Agmahd supposed such a book could afford me. I turned idly over its pages. They were all unintelligible to me, by very reason even of the words used, apart from the matter. The thing was ridiculous, to have sent me this book to read. I yawned widely over it, and closing the book was about to lie down again upon my couch, when I was startled to observe that I was not alone.
On the other side of the little table whereon my book and lamp were, stood a man in a black dress. He was looking earnestly upon me, but when I returned his gaze he seemed to retreat from me a little. I wondered how he could have entered so noiselessly and approached so near me without sound.
I looked at him in surprise. He was a novice, it seemed, by his dress; yet he spoke as though he could gratify my wish—and that, too, without the tone of a mere servant. Follow me. I stared in astonishment. Dare be thus defy him? And as he spoke he raised one hand commandingly. As in physical pain I cried aloud; why, I could not realize. Yet my sense seemed to be that I was held as by a vice—that some intolerable power grasped my frame and shook it. A second after I stood beside my mysterious visitor, my hand tight clasped in his.
And I followed him. Yet, at the door I desired to turn my head to look; and by what seemed a great effort, I did so. Little marvel that he bade me not look back! Little marvel that he strove to hurry me from the room, for when my eyes had once turned I remained spellbound, gazing—resisting his iron grasp. I saw myself—or rather my unconscious form—and then for the first time, I understood that my companion was no denizen of earth—that I had again entered the land of shadows. But this wonder was wholly swallowed up in a larger one—one sufficient to make me strong against the effort of my companion to draw me from the room.
Leaning over the couch—standing behind it and bending forward, in that delicious drooping attitude in which I had first seen her when she stooped to drink the water—I saw the Lily Queen. And I heard her speak. Her voice came to me like the dropping of water—like the spray of a fountain. I was but dimly conscious—yet I knew that, in obedience to the wish of the beautiful queen I was endeavoring to return to my natural state.
I succeeded by degrees, and opened my eyes wearily and heavily, to behold a desolate empty room. The novice had left me—of that I was glad—but, alas! The room seemed empty indeed, and my heart was heavy as I looked around me. I felt the sweet Lady of the Flower more as a beautiful mother in my childish heart, than as a queen.
I yearned for her soft presence. But it was not there. I knew only too well that she was not in the room hidden from me. I felt her absence with my soul as well as perceived it with my eyes. I raised myself languidly enough, for, indeed, this last struggle had out-wearied me, and went to the corner behind my couch where my dear flower was hid. I drew back the curtain a little way, to look at my treasure. I sprang forward to assure myself that I had indeed given it water.
Yes, its stem was deeply plunged in its lower element. Yet the flower drooped like a dead thing, and the stem bent inertly over the edge of the vessel. I took the languid flower-form from the vessel and placed it upon my breast, within my robe. And then wholly disconsolate for the moment, I flung myself again upon my couch and closed my eyes, endeavoring to make them dark and visionless.
I did not, then at all events. The night had descended on the earth, when I aroused myself from my long and silent rest. It was moonlight without, and a silvery streak of light entered at the high window and streamed into my room. Within that streak of light came the hem of a white garment; a hem gold-embroidered. I knew the embroidery—I raised my eyes slowly, for I expected to recognize Agmahd, as indeed I did.
He stood just within the dim shadow; but his bearing was not easily confused with that of another man even if his face were unseen. I lay perfectly still; yet he seemed immediately to know that I was awake. I rose, and stood beside my couch, with wide eyes of fear fixed upon him. I looked and saw a cup full of red liquid. I drank it, blindly hoping it might give me strength to bear whatever ordeal the silent hours of this night might be destined to bring upon me.
I half unconsciously cast a glance up to the window, in the thought that perchance fresh air and freedom lay before me. Suddenly I felt myself blinded—quickly I put my hand to my eyes; a soft substance was bound over them. I was silent with the silence of wonder and of fear; I felt myself supported and led onward carefully. I shuddered as I thought that it must be the arm of Agmahd which upheld me, but I submitted to the contact, knowing that I was powerless to resist it.
We moved onwards slowly; I was conscious of leaving my own room and of traversing some distance beyond it, but how far or in what direction I was unable to guess, bewildered as I was by my blindfold state. We paused in utter silence; the arm around me was removed, and I felt the bandage taken from my eyes. They opened upon a darkness so complete that I raised my hand to assure myself that the kerchief was not still upon them.
No—they were free—they were open—yet they gazed upon nothing but a blank wall of deep and total darkness. My head was full of pain and dizziness—the fumes of the strong syrup that I had drunk seemed to have filled it with confusion. I remained motionless, hoping to recover myself and realize my position. While I waited, I suddenly became conscious of a new presence close beside me.
I did not shrink from it. I seemed to know it to be beautiful, to be friendly and glorious. I was thrilled with a yearning, an indescribable sense of leaning in spirit towards the unknown presence. One priest alone may enter the holy of holies, and no more. I recognized the liquid water-like voice of the Lily Queen. Agmahd being here the law is disobeyed. I repeated her words. There was no answer, but I heard a movement—footsteps—and a door closed softly. Immediately a soft hand touched me. I was simultaneously conscious of the touch, and of a faint light upon my chest.
I felt in a second that the hand was put within my dress to draw forth the withered lily which I had hid there. But I did not attempt to hinder this, for, looking up as a light attracted my eyes, I beheld standing before me the Lily Queen. My queen as in my boyish heart I had begun to call her, I saw dimly and as enveloped in a shadowy mist, but yet plainly enough to make me rejoice in her near presence.
And as I looked I saw that she held close to her bosom the withered flower which she had taken from mine. And I saw, wonderingly, that it faded yet more, grew dimmer, and wholly vanished. Yet I did not regret it, for, as it died away, she grew more bright and distinct to my sight. When the flower had wholly disappeared she stood beside me, clear and distinct, illuminated by her own radiance. And though they have placed thee in the very dungeon of vice and falsehood, have no fear, but observe all things, and remember what thine eyes perceive.
The darkness appeared to become illumined by her confident and gracious words. I grew bold, and full of strength. She held out her hand and touched me gently. The touch filled me with a fire that excelled any warmth I had ever experienced. I am the spirit of the flower; I am sustained upon the waters of truth, and my life is formed of the breath of the heavens, which is love. But the degradation of my earthly resting-place, over which my wings of love yet brood, is driving from it the light of heaven which is wisdom. Not long can the spirit of the royal lotus live in darkness; the flower droops and dies if the sun be withdrawn from it.
Remember these words, child, grave them upon your heart, for as your mind becomes capable of grasping them, they will enlighten you in many things. Now it is night, and I am tired; may I not sleep at your feet, and to-morrow be with you in the garden? Rest here in my arms, for thou art to be my seer, and the enlightener of my loved land. Strength and health must dwell upon thy brow like jewels. I will guard thee; sleep, child. I lay down at her bidding, and though I knew that I was upon a cold, hard floor, I felt that my head rested upon an arm soft and full of magnetic soothing; and I fell into deep, dreamless, undisturbed slumber.
A white flower was in my hand when I awoke. I did not wonder at first how I had obtained it, I only looked upon its beauty and was happy, for it made me know that my queen, my one friend, did indeed guard me. Suddenly I saw some one enter the room, yet she did not so much enter it, as seem to come out of the shadow. I lay, as now I saw, on the couch in the room to which Agmahd had brought me. I was scarcely aware of how, or in what place, I had spent the dark hours of the night, but I felt that it was in his arms I had been carried back to my couch.
I was glad to be there again and I was glad to see this child that approached me. She was younger than myself, and bright as the sunshine. She came near to me, and then paused; I put out my hand to her. I hesitated, for the possession of the flower made me happy, but I could not refuse her, for she smiled, and none within the temple had smiled on me till now. I gave her my blossom. I started from my couch in angry haste to rescue my treasure. Instantly the child snatched it up again and fled from me with a cry of laughter.
I followed her at my utmost speed. I was only a boy, and like a boy I chased her, for I was angry, and determined she should not win. We sped through great rooms wherein we saw no one, the child darting through the great curtains, and I following with the swiftness of a lad of the country.
But suddenly I came against what seemed to me a wall of solid stone. How was it she could have eluded me? I turned back in a passion of rage that made me blind, but I was silenced and stricken into quiet, for the priest Agmahd stood before me. Had I done wrong? It could not be, for he was smiling. He opened a door, and I saw before my eyes a garden full of flowers, a square garden enclosed in hedges, thickly covered too with flowers, and this garden was full of children all running hither and thither as swiftly as possible, in the intricacies of some game I did not understand.
There were so many, and they moved so swiftly, that at first I was bewildered, but suddenly I saw the child among them who had taken my flower. She wore it on her dress, and she smiled in mockery as she saw me. I plunged into the crowd immediately, and seemed, though I knew not how, at once to obey the laws of the game or dance. I scarce knew which it was, for though I moved rightly among them, I could not tell what object they had in pursuit. I followed, and chased the figure of the girl. Although I did not succeed in approaching her, so swift was she, yet I grew quickly to enjoy the motion, the excitement, the merry faces, and laughing voices.
The scent of the innumerable flowers filled me with delight, and I became passionately desirous to possess myself of some of them. I forgot the lotus blossom in thinking of these others, and yet I hurried on in the maze of the dance, promising myself a great cluster of flowers when the dance ceased; at that moment I did not fear Agmahd or his displeasure, even if this garden were his.
It was a ball, a golden ball, and light, so light, that I could throw it far, far up in the sky; yet it always return to my uplifted hands. I had found it at my feet when I heard the others shout, and immediately I knew the ball was mine. Now, I saw there was no one near me but the child, who had taken my lotus flower. It was not on her dress now, and I had forgotten it.
But she was smiling, and I laughed to see her. I threw her the ball, and she threw it back to me, from one end of the garden to the other. Suddenly a bell rang out clear and loud in the air. I looked longingly after it. We ran away, hand in hand, through another garden into a great room which I had not seen before. The children with whom I had played were here and a great many more. The air was heavy and sweet in this room. I was not tired, for I had but just risen from my long sleep and the morning was yet fresh, but now that I entered this room I felt weary and my head burned.
When I awoke it was to hear a shout like that in the garden. He has won it! I stood upon a kind of throne—a lofty seat of marble. And I could hear my own voice in the air. I had been speaking. The children were round me, but they were clustered upon and about the marble seat. I remembered that the child who brought me here had said the teacher stood upon this throne.
Why then were we, the children here? I looked, and lo, I saw that the room was full of priests! They stood in the place of the taught. They stood silent, immovable. As I stood upon the ground I looked and saw that the children were gone. I could not see any one of them but the child who had brought me here. She was standing on the throne, and she laughed and clapped her hands with glee. I wondered what it was that pleased her, and looking down I saw that I stood in a circle of white robed priests who had prostrated themselves until their foreheads touched the ground.
What did this mean? My wonder at her words was not greater than another wonder which fell on me. For I understood that I alone heard her voice. I was taken back to my own room, and there the young priests brought me food. I was hungry, for I had not broken my fast, and I found the food exquisite. The young priests who brought it to me fell on one knee when they offered it; I looked wonderingly at them, for I could not guess why they should do so. Many of them came with fruits and rich syrup and delicate sweetmeats, such as I had never seen, and with flowers.
Great clusters of flowers were brought and placed near me, and bushes covered with blossoms were put against the wall. I cried out with pleasure to see them, and as I cried out I saw Agmahd standing within the shadow of the curtain. His eyes were on me, cold odd smiles. Yet I did not fear him now; I was full of a new spirit of pleasure, which made me bold. I went from flower to flower, kissing the blossoms. Their scent filled all the room with its richness. I was glad and proud, for I felt as if I need no longer be afraid of this cold priest, who stood motionless as though cut in marble.
This sensation of fearlessness lifted a weight of agony from my childish soul. He turned and vanished, and as he passed under the curtain I saw the child at my side. And these are strong and sweet; they grow in the earth. Are you tired, or shall we go out and play? Do you know that garden is our own and the ball is there?
Some one took it back for you. But we saw you had won a great prize. You will win all the prizes. I sat down upon my couch, and held my head with my hands and looked at her in wonder. If you are quiet and happy you will be worshipped by all these priests, even the most splendid. But it is all true. Now come and play with me.
And indeed I felt my head was hot and heavy, and my heart filled with wonder I could not understand her words. For you told them how to perform some strange ceremony where you would be in the midst. I watched her with passionate interest. Oh, there were many things. But of the ceremony I cannot remember. But you will soon see, for it is to be to-night. That makes me glad, for I belong to the temple, yet have I never been admitted to one of the sacred ceremonies. But they cannot hear your voice!
But I cannot talk to him. I like you because I can talk to you. Come, let us go out and play. The flowers in the garden are as sweet as these, and the ball is there. She took my hand and went quietly away. I let her lead me, for I was lost in thought. But outside the air was so rich and sweet, the flowers so bright, the sun so warm, that soon I forgot my thoughts in happiness.
It was night. I was sleepy and content, for I had been happy and amused, running hither and thither in the sweet-scented air. All the evening I had slept on my couch among the flowers that made my room fragrant, and I dreamed strange dreams in which each flower became a laughing face, and my ears were full of the sound of magic voices. I awoke suddenly and fancied I must be still dreaming, for the moonlight came into my room and fell upon the beautiful blossoms. And I thought with wonder of the simple home I had been reared in.
How have I ever endured it? For now it I seemed to me that beauty was life. As I lay dreamily looking at the moonlight, the door in the corridor was suddenly opened from without. The corridor was full of light, such brilliant light that the moonlight seemed like darkness, and I was blinded. Then a number of neophytes entered my room, bringing with them some things that I could not see, because of the strong light. Then they went away and closed the door, leaving me alone in the moonlight, with two tall, white-robed, motionless forms.
I knew who was with me though I dared not look—it was Agmahd and Kamen Baka. At first I trembled, but suddenly I saw the child glide forth from the shadow, her finger on her lips and a smile on her face. I rose from my couch and looked at the priests. I was no longer afraid. Agmahd stood motionless, his eyes fixed on me. The other approached me, holding in his hands a white robe. It was of fine linen and covered with rich gold embroidery, which I saw formed characters I could not understood. I was pleased, and held out my hand for the robe. Kamen came close to me, and when I flung aside the one I wore, put this upon me with his own hands.
It was steeped with a subtle perfume, which I inhaled with delight. This seemed to me a royal robe! Kamen advanced to the door and opened it. The brilliant light streamed in full upon me. Agmahd remained standing motionless, his eyes fixed on me. The child looked upon me with admiration and clapped her hands in delight.
Then she held out one hand and took mine. I yielded, and together we went into the corridor, Agmahd close behind us. The scene we entered startled me, and I paused. The great corridor was full of priests, save just where I stood, close to the door of the holy of holies. Here a large space was left, and in this space stood a couch covered with silken drapery, embroidered with gold, in characters resembling those upon my dress.
About the couch was a bank or hedge of sweet smelling flowers, and all around the ground was strewn with plucked blossoms. I shrank from the great crowd of motionless white-robed priests, whose eyes were fixed on me, but the beautiful colors pleased me. No one else spoke or moved, and I obeyed her. We advanced, and upon the couch found our golden ball with which we had played in the garden. I looked in a sudden wonder to see if Agmahd watched us. He stood by the door of the holy of holies; his eyes were on me. Kamen stood nearer to us, and he was gazing at the closed door of the sanctuary, and his lips were moving as if he were repeating words.
No one seemed angry with us, so I looked back at the child. She snatched up the ball and sprang to one end of the great couch; I could not resist her gaiety; I sprang to the other end of the couch, and laughed too. She flung me the ball; I caught it in my hands, but before I could throw it back to her, the corridor was plunged into complete profound darkness. For a moment my breath died away in the sudden agony of fear, but suddenly I found that I could see the child, and that she was laughing.
I flung her the ball, and she caught it, and laughed again. I looked around, and saw that all else was black darkness. I thought of the awful figure I had seen before in the darkness, and I must have cried aloud with fear but for the child. She came to me and put her hand in mine. And you need not fear. They would not harm you, for they worship you!
While she spoke, I heard music—gay, wonderful music—that made my heart beat fast and my feet long to dance. A moment later and I saw the light come round the sanctuary door, and the door open. Was that awful figure coming forth? My limbs shook at the thought, but yet I did not lose all courage as before. The child rose, holding my hand in hers. We approached the sanctuary door. I was unwilling, yet I could not resist the guidance which led me on. We entered the door, and as we did so the music ceased. All was still again. But there was a faint light within the sanctuary which seemed to come from the far end of the chamber.
The child led me towards this light. She was with me, and I was not afraid. At the end of the chamber was a small inner room, or recess, cut, as I could see, in the rock. I could see this, for there was enough light here. A woman sat on a low seat, her head bent over a great book, which she held open on her knee. My eyes were riveted to her instantly, and I could not remove them. I knew her, and the heart within me shuddered at the thought that she would raise her head, and I should see her face.
Suddenly I knew my companion the child, was gone. I did not look to see, for my eyes were held by a supreme fascination, but I felt my hand had no answering clasp. I knew her presence was gone. I waited, standing still as one of those figures carved in the avenue of the temple. At last she lifted her head and looked at me. My blood shivered and grew cold. It seemed to myself that I froze, for those eyes cut like steel, yet I could not resist or turn away, or even hide my eyes from that awful sight.
You will be a great artist if you live for beauty alone, but you must be more than that. She laughed, and the sound was musical; I suppose my face pleased her.
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She put her arm round me and drew me close to her side. Suddenly I saw that the dark robe she wore was no garment of linen or cloth—it was alive—it was a drapery of coiling snake, who clung about her and made folds that had seemed to me like soft hanging draperies when I stood a little away from her.
Now terror overcame me; I tried to scream but could not, I tried to fly from her but could not. She laughed again but this time her laugh was harsh. But while I looked all was changed, and her robe was dark—dark still but not alive. I stood breathless, wondering in cold with fear—her arm was still about me! She raised her other hand and placed it on my forehead. Then fear left me altogether; I seemed happy and quiet. My eyes were shut, although I saw; I was conscious, yet I did not desire to move. She rose, and lifting me in her arms, placed me on the low stone seat where she had herself been sitting.
My head fell back against the wall of rock behind me. I was dumb and still, but I could see. She rose up to her full height and stretched her arms aloft above her head, and again I saw the serpents. They were vigorous and full of life. They were not only her dress but they were about her head. I could not tell if they were her hair or if they were in it. She clasped her hands high above her head, and the terrible creatures hung wreathing from her arms.
But I was not afraid. Fear seemed to have left me forever. Suddenly I became aware that there was another presence in the sanctuary. Agmahd was there, standing at the door of the inner cavern. I looked in wonder at his face, it was so still; the eyes were unseeing. Then I knew suddenly that they were in very fact unseeing; that this figure, this light, I myself, were all invisible to him. She turned to me, or leaned towards me, so that I saw her face, and her eyes were on mine; otherwise she did not move. Those eyes that cut like steel no longer filled me with terror, but they held me with a grasp as of some iron instrument.
While I watched her, suddenly I saw the serpents change and vanish; they became long sinuous folds of some soft gray gleaming garment, and their hands and terrible eyes changed into starry groups of roses. And a rich strong scent of roses filled the sanctuary. Then I saw Agmahd smile. But I demand power. Until now her eyes fixed on mine had told me what to speak; but now I heard her voice again. And I repeated her words, unconscious that I did so till I caught the echo of my voice. I demand the power to do this. It was promised to me; that promise has not been fulfilled.
He stood still for some moments, and his face grew colder and more stony than any carven form.
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You must bring me others ready like yourself to brave all and know all. I must have twelve sworn servants. Get me these, and you shall have your desire. Agmahd paused a moment. But I must be aided in so difficult a task. How shall I tempt them? At these words she flung out her arms, opening and shutting her hands with a strange gesture, which I could not understand. Her eyes gleamed like hot coals, and then grew cold and dull.
Only obey me and you shall succeed. You have every element within this temple. There are ten priests ready to our hand. They are full of hunger. I will satisfy them. You I will satisfy when your courage and steadfastness is proved—not until then for you demand much more than these others. I will teach him: and through him I will teach you. Agmahd bowed his head and turned away. He silently left the sanctuary.
I was again alone with her. It's rather difficult to care about the novel's prickly heroine who seems to see everything in betrayal-coloured glasses and to whom; relationships are just another road leading to heartbreak. But as the story progresses and Kristoff lets you into Yukiko's head little by little, you come to realize her pain and why she is so devoid of affection and emotion, even towards her own father.
If you aren't sure about steampunk, or Japan for that matter and you're wondering whether to read this, then my advice to you is hurry up! It's a fascinating tale, rather slow to begin and with less action but a great build up for the next two books in the series which are on my top ten to-buy list. I especially loved the epic proportions of the climax, a brilliantly played out battle scene reminiscent of Disney's Mulan - which is one of my favourite cartoons, growing up. Jay Kristoff has started down a new path in fantasy, and here's hoping that many more will follow giving us a whole new aspect of the possibilities and worlds in fantasy fiction for YA.
Dash Cooray, 8. Griffins are supposed to be extinct. Everyone knows what happens to those who fail him. But the mission proves less impossible and more deadly than anyone expects. Yet trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu form a surprising and powerful bond. Meanwhile, the country verges on collapse. In Stormdancer, debut author Jay Kristoff presents a world ravaged by pollution and corruption, where the ruthless greed of men and one man in particular, destroys the world around them.
This first instalment in The Lotus War trilogy is very much her story, with the supporting characters doing no more than that. Something of an Asian steam punk Dr. Doolittle, Yukiko is blessed or cursed depending on how you see it with the ability to connect and communicate with other beings through her mind. Though the story subsequently picks up pace, the intensity with which it follows Yukiko and the lack of exploration into additional characters ultimately leaves it feeling a little shallow.
Overall however Stormdancer is a fun and entertaining debut that presents an imaginative, dystopian setting and which promises many more exciting adventures for Yukiko and Buruu. Alice Wybrew, 7. Stormdancer The Lotus War: Book 1 8. Arashitoras are supposed to be extinct. We've found that while readers like to know what we think of a book they find additional reader reviews a massive help in deciding if it is the right book for them. So if you have a spare moment, please tell us your thoughts by writing a reader's review.
Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to write a review on this book, it really makes a difference and helps readers to find their perfect book. Mortal Engines Quartet Philip Reeve 9. Long before the days of Mortal Engines, London is poised on the brink of apocalypse. Huge armoured fortresses are advancing across the wastelands - a new and terrifying kin The troubl The young Verne and his best friend Andre Nemo stow away on a ship bound for the high seas, but Jules' father catches Jules and forces him to come home in total disgrac In Dark Service Stephen Hunt 9.
Jacob Carnehan has settled down.