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The Conquest of the Moon Pool/Chapter 7



OUR way led along the winding path between banked masses of feathery ferns whose plumes were starred with fragrant white and blue flowerettes, slender creepers swinging from the branches of the strangely trunked trees bearing along their threads orchidlike blossoms both delicately frail and gorgeously flamboyant. Like the giant mosses which I later saw in the caverned road, to the Sea of Crimson, in our flight to the Silent Ones, I could not identify them.

A smaller pavilion arose before us, single-storied, front wide open. Upon its threshold Rador paused, bowed deeply, and motioned us within. The chamber we entered was large, closed on two sides by screens of gray; at the back gay, concealing curtains. The low table of blue stone, dressed with fine white cloths, stretched at one side flanked by the cushioned divans.

At the left was a high tripod bearing one of the rosy globes we had seen in the house of Yolara; at the head of the table a smaller globe similar to the whispering one. Rador pressed upon its base, and two other screens slid into place across the entrance, shutting in the room.

He clapped his hands; the curtains parted, and two girls came through them. Tall and willow lithe, their bluish-black hair falling in ringlets just below their white shoulders, their clear eyes of forget- me-not blue, and skins of extraordinary fineness and purity—they were singularly attractive. Each was clad in an extremely scanty bodice of silken blue, girdled above a kirtle that came barely to their very pretty knees.

The maidens returned our stares with interest, and now I noted that the uncanny deviltry written so large upon the faces of the dwarfs, limned so delicately upon that of Yolara, was here but a shadow. Present it certainly was, but tinctured, underlaid, with a settled wistfulness almost melancholy.

They gave me, I must admit, only a slight share of their attention; Larry the most of it. I lack nearly a foot of his height, my eyes are spectacled.

Their wistfulness fled; they laughed with little gleams of milky teeth—the laughter of careless youth—and Larry laughed with them. The green dwarf regarded all with his malice-tipped smile.

"Food and drink," he ordered.

They dropped back through the curtains.

"Do you like them?" he asked us.

"Some cuties!" said Larry. "They delight the heart," he translated for Rador.

The green dwarf's next remark made me gasp. "They are yours," he said.

The pair re-entered, bearing a great platter on which were small loaves, strange fruits, and three immense flagons of rock crystal—two filled with a slightly sparkling yellow liquid and the third with a purplish drink, I became acutely sensible that it had been hours since I had either eaten or drunk. The yellow flagons were set before Larry and me, the purple at Rador's hand.

The girls, at his signal, again withdrew. I raised my glass to my lips and took a deep draft. The taste was unfamiliar but delightful.

Almost at once my fatigue disappeared. I realized a clarity of mind, ah interesting exhilaration and sense of irresponsibility, of freedom from care, that were oddly enjoyable. Larry became immediately his old gay self.

Still there did not seem to be any of the characteristics of alcohol in the drink. The bread was excellent, tasting like fine wheat. The fruits were as unfamiliar as the wine, and seemed to have the quality of making one forget any desire for either flesh or vegetables. The green dwarf regarded us whimsically sipping from his great flagon of rock crystal.

"Much do I desire to know of that world you came from," he said at last—"through the rocks," he added mischievously.

"And much do we desire to know of this world of yours, O Rador," I answered.

Should I ask him of the Dweller; seek from him a clue to Throckmartin? Again, clearly as a spoken command, came the warning to forbear, to wait. And once more I obeyed.

LET us learn, then, from each other." The dwarf was laughing. "And first, are they all like you—drawn out?" He made an expressive gesture. "And are there many of you?"

"There are—" I hesitated, and at last spoke the Polynesian that means tens upon tens multiplied indefinitely—"there are as many as the drops of water in the lake we saw from the ledge where you found us," I continued; "many as the leaves on the trees without. And they are all like us, but varyingly."

He considered skeptically, I could see, my remark upon our numbers.

"In Muria," he said at last, "the men are like me or like Lugur. Our women are as you see them. Like Yolara or like those black-haired two who served you." He hesitated. "And there is a third; but only one."

Larry leaned forward eagerly.

"Brown-haired with glints of ruddy bronze, golden eyed, and lovely as a dream, with slender, beautiful hands?" he cried.

"Where saw you her?" interrupted the dwarf, starting to his feet.

"Saw her?" Larry recovered himself. "Nay, Rador, perhaps I only dreamed that there was such a woman."

"See to it, then, that you tell not your dream to Yolara," said the dwarf grimly. "For her I meant and her you have pictured is Lakla, the handmaiden to the Silent Ones, and neither Yolara or Lugur, nay, nor the Shining One, love her overmuch, stranger!"

"Does she dwell here?" Larry's face was alight.

The dwarf hesitated, glanced about him anxiously,

"If she does, Doc, we're going to beat it her way quick." Larry shot the words to me quickly,

"Nay," Rador was answering. "Ask me no more of her."

He was silent for. a space.

"How great is this world of yours, Rador?" I spoke.

He considered me gravely.

"How great indeed I do not know," he said frankly at last. "The land where we dwell with the Shining One stretches along the white waters for—" He used a phrase of which I could make nothing. "Beyond this city of the Shining One and on the hither shores of the white waters dwell the mayia ladala, the common ones," He took a deep draft from his flagon, "There are, first, the fair-haired ones, the children of the ancient rulers," he continued. "There are, second, we the soldiers; and last the mayia ladala, who dig and till and weave and toil and give our rulers and us their daughters, and dance with the Shining One!" he added.

"Who rules?" I asked.

"The fair haired, under the Council of Nine, who are under Yolara, the Priestess and Lugur, the Voice," he answered, "who are in turn beneath the Shining One!" There was a ring of bitter satire in the last.

"And those three who were judged?"—this from Larry.

"They were of the mayia ladala," he replied, "like those two I gave you. But they grow restless. They do not like to dance with the Shining One, the blasphemers!" He raised his voice in a sudden great shout of mocking laughter.

In his words I caught a fleeting picture of the race. An ancient, luxurious, close-bred oligarchy clustered about some mysterious deity; a soldier class that sup- ported them; and underneath all the toiling, oppressed hordes.

"And is that all?" asked Larry.

"No," he answered. "Beyond the Lower Waters, over the Black Precipices of Doul are the forests where lie the feathered serpents and the secrets they guard. The Black Precipices of Doul are hard to pass, but none can pass through the feathered serpents. And there is the Sea of Crimson where—" he stopped abruptly, drank and set down his flagon empty. Whatever the purple drink might be, it was loosening the green dwarf's tongue and' neither of us cared to interrupt him.

"It is strange, strange indeed to be sitting with two who have newly come from that land that we were forced from so many sais of laya agone," he began again, half musingly, gone upon another tangent. "For we too came from your world, but how long, long ago! I have heard that the waters swept over us slowly, but dragging, ever dragging our land beneath them. And we sought refuge in the secret heart of our land, refusing to leave her. And at the last we made our way here, where was the Shining One and where had been others before us who had left behind them greater knowledge than we brought—and that was no little, strangers. And now the laya turn upon themselves. The tail of the serpent coils close to his fangs." He took a great drink of the yellow liquid; his eyes flashed.

And without warning the globe beside us sent out an almost vicious note. Rador turned toward it, his face paling. Its surface crawled with whisperings—angry, peremptory!

"I hear!" he croaked, gripping the table. "I obey!"

He turned to us a face devoid for once of its malice.

"I spoke too quickly," he whispered. "Whether it is because the Afyo Maie fears their tongues— or—" he laughed at Larry. "The maids are not yours!" Still laughing he vanished through the curtains of the room of the fountain before I could ask him the meaning of his curious gift, its withdrawal and his most enigmatic closing remarks.

SOME stuff, that green ray of Yolara's," said O'Keefe, deepest admiration in his voice. "Can you imagine what it would be like in a war—seeing the enemy all at once beginning to shake themselves to pieces? Wow!"

All at once I was aware of an intense drowsiness. O'Keefe, yawning, reached down to unfasten his puttees.

"Lord, I'm sleepy!" he exclaimed. "What made Reddy take such a shine to the you?" he asked drowsily.

"Thanaroa," I answered, fighting to keep my eyes open. "When Lugur spoke that name I saw Von Hetzdorp signal him. Thanaroa is, I suspect, the original form of the name of Tangaroa, the greatest god of the Polynesians. There's a secret cult to him in the islands. Von Hetzdorp may belong to it. He knows it anyway. Lugur recognized the signal and despite his surprise answered it."

"Lakla!" I heard O'Keefe's murmur "Lakla of the golden eyes—no, Eilidh—the fair!

"Good luck, old boy, wherever you're going." His hand waved feebly. "Glad— knew—you. Hope—that I see—you—'gain—"

His voice trailed into silence. Fighting, fighting with every fiber of brain and nerve against the sleep, I felt myself being steadily overcome. But before oblivion rushed down upon me I seemed to see upon the gray screened wall nearest the Irishman an oval of rosy light begin to glow, watched, as my falling lids inexorably fell, a flame-tipped shadow waver on it; thicken, condense. And there looking down upon Larry, her eyes great golden stars in which intensest curiosity and shy tenderness struggled, sweet mouth half smiling, was the girl of the Moon Pool's Chamber, the girl whom the green dwarf had named—Lakla. The vision Larry had invoked before the sleep which I could no longer deny had claimed him.

And did I see about and behind her a cloud of other eyes—not those phosphorescent saucers of the frog woman's enormous eyes—triangular—pools of shining jet flecked with little rushing, flickering ruby flames?

Closer she came—closer—the eyes were over us.

Then oblivion indeed!

When I awakened, it was with all the familiar homely sensation of a shade having been pulled up suddenly in a darkened room.

"The Afyo Maie has summoned us, Doc," Larry said. "We're to—well, I suppose you'd call it breakfast with her. After that, Rador tells me, we're to have a session with the Council of Nine. I suppose Yolara is as curious as any lady of—the upper world, as you might put it—and just naturally can't wait," he added.

We went out past the pillared entrance. In the great hall were the same green dwarfs, this time introduced to us by a variety of names.

Each of them saluted us, throwing the right hand high above the head. We went through a long, bowered corridor and stopped before a door that seemed to be sliced from a monolith of pale jade—high, narrow, set in a wall of opal.

Rador stamped twice and with those supernally sweet, silver bell tones, the door swung open.