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XV

IN THE annals of Abulghazi it is written how, in the year of the lion, came the doom of Alamut. The Refik folk were cornered in the cellars of the citadel, and taken by surprise. The swords of the Kallmark Tatars flashed in the passages, and their sharp arrows sped through the corridors. And, as the prophecy said, the waters of the Shadrud were red.

Yet in the book of Abulghazi and the annals of the Persian dynasties there is nothing said of the fate of Halen ibn Shaddah who was the last leader of the Refik. The followers of Kiragai Khan sought through Alamut from the wine chambers to the gardens among the ruins on the summit, and they did not find Halen ibn Shaddah.

The battle was not over for many hours. Separate bands of mounted Tatars had surrounded the height on which Alamut stood, and when throngs of slaves, and the eunuchs with the houris of the gardens swept out from hidden tunnels and were lowered over the wall, they were cut down. They were not spared, for that was the word of Kiragai Khan. The fedavie, cornered, and led by their Dais, rallied and attacked the columns of invaders which were penetrating to the heart of Alamut.

The Tatars without their horses and fighting in the gloom of the caverns were at a disadvantage, which was offset by greater numbers and the leadership of Kiragai Khan. For the fedavie had no leader. Messengers who sought through the tapestried apartments of the Shadna for Halen ibn Shaddah found none but panic-struck Daikebirs. The tide of battle flung the fedavie back to the banquet-place, and to the treasure-house beyond. If there had been a leader they might have held the dark passages until the Tatars were sickened by the slaughter of their men.

Such was the doom of Alamut. Torches flaring through chambers hung with gold cloth and littered with jeweled statuary from Trebizond, with silk rugs of Ispahan. Swords flashing in dark tunnels, where naught was heard but the gasping of men bitten by steel and the sound of bodies falling to the earth. Wailing and lamentation in the gardens under the date trees which were the evil paradise of Halen ibn Shaddah, and the splash of stricken women in the canals. Dark-faced, squat men in mail and fur cloaks trampling through treasure-rooms where the riches of a thousand caravans and a hundred cities stood.

Never had the followers of Kiragai Khan taken spoil so rich. Pearls from Damascus, golden fish from Che-ting, emeralds and sapphires from Tabriz, urns of gold shekels from the merchants of Samarkand and ornaments from the califate of Bagdad that would grace the court of a Mongol emperor. Slant eyes of the Kallmark horsemen widened, and they urged their dogs into the rivers of wine in the gardens, ripping into shreds rugs and hangings, splintering porcelain kiosks with rocks, and trampling on the bodies of the dead. Few lived.

And still the Master of Alamut was not found. Once Iba Kabash, who had attached himself to the winning side, and was spared because he brought Berca safe to Kiragai Khan, paused beside the body of a very large man, cloaked and jeweled. But he spurned it with his foot when he turned it over, for the giant face was that of a black eunuch.

Yet there was one who said he had found Halen ibn Shaddah. Iba Kabash, who was eager to find favor with his new lord, offered, trembling, to take him to the circular chamber of Rashideddin. Berca came with them, for she was not one to leave the side of Kiragai Khan in battle, being the daughter of a hill sheik and not a Tatar woman.

They climbed the winding stairs escorted by the renegade with torch-bearers and armed Kallmarks. In the circular chamber of the astrologer they saw a strange sight. The room had been dark. By the flare of their torches they made out three men, two dead, and the third sitting on the floor. Kiragai Khan paused for a moment by the body of Toctamish, burned and bloody, for the man had been one of his lieutenants, and very brave.

"He died under torture, lord and Celestial Master," gibbered Iba Kabash, pointing. "For he would not tell of the queenly Berca, or the coming of the noble Tatars."

Kiragai Khan said nothing, passing to the next body, and pressing the hand of Berca when the girl cried out. This one was Rashideddin, his gray robe stained with red, and his lean face convulsed. His arms flung wide, and sightless, leering eyes staring upward through the opening to the stars, the astrologer had died in the grip of anger. Berca, leaning over him, watched vainly for a breath to stir the gray cloak. Seated beside Rashideddin she saw Khlit, wiping his sword calmly with a corner of the dead man's cloak.

"Have you seen Halen ibn Shaddah?" demanded Iba Kabash officiously. "The noble Kiragai Khan has missed you, since he came into the entrance of Alamut. Was it you that killed Rashideddin?"

"Aye," answered Khlit, looking up indifferently. "Have the Kallmarks or the Refik the upper hand? I have seen Halen ibn Shaddah."

"The battle is over, Khlit," exclaimed Berca pressing forward, but keeping the hand of the Tatar leader. Her eyes were shining, and she held her head proudly. "The doom of Alamut has come, as I swore it would. It was my will that it should, mine and my lord's. For I came to him without a gift and was ashamed. Yet did he marry me in spite of that. And I swore to him that if he would avenge my father such a gift should be his as no other bride could bring. Alamut would be his, with the treasure of the Refik. And now he has seen that the gift is rich. All that Halen ibn Shaddah had."

Khlit's glance sought that of the Tatar leader, and they measured each other silently.

"The way is long from Tatary," went on Berca, tossing her head, "but I am very beautiful in the sight of my lord, and he consented to my plan—to come to open the gate to him—saying only that Toctamish should come. I picked you, Cossack, as my father of battles.. Yet I am grieved. You swore that you would slay for me Halen ibn Shaddah——"

"Have you seen," broke in Kiragai Khan gruffly, "the one who is called Master of Alamut?"

"Aye, he was here."

"Which way did he go? Speak."

"He did not go."

The khan looked around the chamber. It was empty except for the two bodies. A sudden blast of air from the opening overhead made the flame of the torches whirl, and cast a gleam on the face of Rashideddin as if the dead man had moved. Berca drew back with a smothered cry.

"The man who was called Halen ibn Shaddah," said Khlit, "was a eunuch of great size. The real Master of Alamut was another. He concealed his identity to avoid the daggers of those who would slay him. Yet is he slain. And I have kept my oath, Berca, princess."

The eyes of the others strayed to the body of Rashideddin, and rested on the red stains that garnished the gray cloak with the red ribbons of death. The blind eyes of Halen ibn Shaddah were fixed on the stars visible through the opening in the ceiling. And Khlit, seeing this, knew that he would be very glad to turn his horse again toward the steppe and away from Alamut.