Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Bond of Friendship”

We’ve recently made a little journey, and already we want to make a longer one. Where? To Sparta, or Mycenae, or Delphi? There are hundreds of places whose names make the heart pound with the love of travel. On horseback we climb mountain paths, through shrubs and brush. A single traveler looks like a whole caravan. He rides in front with his guide; a pack horse carries luggage, tent, and provisions; a couple of soldiers guard the rear for his protection. No inn with soft beds awaits him at the end of a tiring day’s journey; often the tent is his roof in nature’s great wilderness, and the guide cooks him his supper-a pilau of rice, fowl, and curry. Thousands of gnats swarm around the little tent. It is a miserable night, and tomorrow the route will head across swollen streams. Sit tight on your horse lest you are washed away!

What reward is there for these hardships? The greatest! The richest! Nature reveals herself here in all her glory; every spot is history; eye and mind alike are delighted. The poet can sing of it, the painter portray it in splendid pictures; but neither can reproduce the air of reality that sinks deep into the soul of the spectator, and remains there.

The lonely herdsman up on the hills could, perhaps, by the simple story of an event in his life, open your eyes, and with a few words let you behold the land of the Hellenes better than any travel book could do. Let him speak, then! About a custom, a beautiful, peculiar custom. The shepherd in the mountains will tell about it. He calls it the bond of friendship, and relates:

Our house was built of clay, but the doorposts were fluted marble pillars found on the spot where the house was built. The roof almost reached the ground. Now it was black-brown and ugly; but when it was new it was covered with blooming oleander and fresh laurel branches fetched from beyond the mountains. The walks around our house were narrow. Walls of rock rose steeply up, bare and black in color. On top of them, clouds often hung like white living beings. I never heard a bird sing here, and never did the men dance here to the sound of the bagpipe; but the place was sacred from olden times. Its very name reminded of that, for it was called Delphi. The dark, solemn mountains were all covered with snow. The brightest, which gleamed in the red evening sun the longest, was Parnassus. The brook close by our house rushed down from it, and was also sacred, long ago. Now the donkey makes it muddy with its feet, but the current rolls on and becomes clear again.

How well I remember every spot and its deep sacred solitude!

In the middle of the hut a fire was lit, and when the hot ashes lay high and glowing, the bread was baked in it. If the snow was piled up high round our hut and almost covered it, then my mother seemed to be her brightest. She would hold my head between her hands, kiss my forehead, and sing the songs she never sang at other times, for our masters, the Turks, did not like them. And she sang: “On the summit of Olympus, in the fir tree forest lived an old stag; its eyes were heavy with tears. It wept red, yes, and even green and light-blue tears. Then a roebuck came by and said, ‘What ails you, that you cry so, that you weep red, green, yes, even light-blue, tears?’ The stag replied, ‘The Turk has entered our city. He has fierce dogs for the hunt, a goodly pack.’ I will drive them away across the islands,’ said the young roebuck. ‘I will drive them away across the islands into the deep sea!’ But before evening the roebuck was slain, and before nightfall the stag was hunted and killed.”

When my mother sang this her eyes became moist, and a tear hung on the long lashes. But she concealed it, and turned our black bread in the ashes. Then I would clench my fists and say, “We’ll kill the Turks!”

But she repeated the words of the song, ” ‘I will drive them across the islands into the deep sea!’ But before evening the roebuck was slain, and before nightfall the stag was hunted and killed.”

For several days and nights we had been alone in our hut, and then my father came home. I knew he would bring me sea shells from the Gulf of Lepanto, or maybe even a sharp gleaming knife. But this time he brought us a child, a naked little girl whom he had carried under his sheepskin coat. She was wrapped in a fur, but when this was taken off and she lay in my mother’s lap all that she possessed was three silver coins fastened in her dark hair. And father explained to us that the Turks had killed her parents, and told us so much about it that I dreamed about it all night. Father himself had been wounded, and my mother dressed his arm. His wound was deep, and the thick sheepskin was stiff with blood.

The little girl was to be my sister! She was so beautiful, with clear, shining eyes; even my mother’s eyes were not gentler than hers. Yes, Anastasia, as they called her, was to be my sister, for her father was united to mine, united in accordance with an old custom we still keep. They had sworn brotherhood in their youth, and had chosen the most beautiful and virtuous girl in the whole country to consecrate their bond of friendship. I had often heard of the queer and beautiful custom.

So now the little girl was my sister. She sat in my lap; I brought her flowers and feathers of the field birds. We drank together of the waters of Parnassus and slept head to head beneath the laurel roof of the hut, while many a winter my mother sang of the red, the green, and the light-blue tears. But still I didn’t understand it was my own countrymen whose thousandfold sorrows were reflected in those tears.

One day, three Frankish men came, dressed differently than we were. They had their tents and beds packed on horses; and more than twenty Turks, armed with swords and muskets, accompanied them, for they were friends of the pasha, and carried letters from him. They only came to view our mountains, to climb Parnassus through snow and clouds, and to see the strange, steep black rocks surrounding our hut. There was no room for them inside our home, nor could they stand the smoke rolling along the ceiling and out at the low door; so they pitched their tents in the narrow clearing outside our house, roasted lambs and birds, and drank strong, sweet wine, which the Turks did not dare to drink.

When they left, I went with them for some distance, and my little sister hung in a goatskin on my back. One of the Frankish gentlemen had me stand before a rock, and sketched me and her, so lifelike as we stood there, so that we looked like one being-I had never thought of it before, but Anastasia and I were really one person. She was always sitting in my lap or hanging on my back in the goatskin, and when I dreamed she appeared in my dreams.

Two nights later other men came to our hut, armed with knives and muskets. They were Albanians, brave men, said my mother. They stayed only a short while, wrapping tobacco in strips of paper and smoking it. My sister Anastasia sat on the knees of one of them, and when he was gone she had only two silver coins in her hair instead of three. The oldest of the men talked about which route they should take; he was not sure.

“If I spit upward,” he said, “it will fall in my face; if I spit downward, it will fall in my beard!”

But they had to make a choice, so they went, and my father followed them. And soon afterwards we heard the sound of shots! The firing increased; then soldiers rushed into our hut and took my mother, myself, and Anastasia prisoners. The robbers, they said, had stayed with us, and my father had gone with them; therefore we had to be taken away. Soon I saw the robbers’ corpses, and I saw my father’s corpse too, and I cried myself to sleep. When I awoke we were in prison, but the cell was no worse than the room in our hut. And they gave me onions to eat and musty wine poured from a tarred sack, but ours at home was no better.

I don’t know how long we were held prisoners, but many days and nights went by. It was our holy Eastertime when we were released. I carried Anastasia on my back, for my mother was ill and could only walk slowly, and it was a long way down to the sea, to the Gulf of Lepanto. We entered a church magnificent with pictures on a golden background. They were pictures of angels, oh, so beautiful! but I thought our little Anastasia was just as beautiful. In the center of the floor was a coffin filled with roses. “The Lord Christ is symbolized there as a beautiful rose,” said my mother; and then the priest chanted, “Christ is risen!” Everybody kissed each other. All the people had lighted tapers in their hands; I received one, and so did little Anastasia. The bagpipes played, men danced hand in hand from the church, and the women outside were roasting the Easter lamb. We were invited to share it, and when I sat by the fire a boy older than I put his arms around my neck, kissed me, and cried, “Christ is risen!” Thus we met for the first time, Aphtanides and I.

My mother could make fishing nets, which gave her a good income here in the bay, so for a long time we lived beside the sea-the beautiful sea that tasted like tears, and whose colors reminded me of the song of the weeping stag, for its waters were sometimes red, sometimes green, and then again light-blue.

Aphtanides knew how to guide a boat, and I often sat in it with Anastasia while it glided through the water, like a cloud over the sky. Then, as the sun set and the mountains turned a deeper and deeper blue, one range seemed to rise behind the other, and behind all of them was Parnassus, covered with snow. Its summit gleamed in the evening rays like glowing iron, and it seemed as though the light shone from within it; for long after the sun had set the mountaintop still glittered in the clear, blue shimmering air. The white sea birds touched the water’s surface with their wings, and indeed everything here was as calm as among the black rocks at Delphi.

I was lying on my back in the boat while Anastasia leaned against my chest, and the stars above shone more brightly than our church lamps. They were the same stars, and they were in exactly the same position above me, as when I had sat outside our hut at Delphi, and at last I imagined I was still there. Then there was a splash in the water, and the boat rocked violently! I cried out loud, for Anastasia had fallen overboard, but just as quickly Aphtanides had leaped in after her, and soon he lifted her up to me. We undressed her, wrung the water out of her clothes; and then dressed her again. Aphtanides did the same for himself. We remained on the water until their clothes were dry; and no one knew about our fright over the little adopted sister in whose life Aphtanides also now had a part.

Then it was summer! The sun blazed so fiercely that the leaves on the trees withered. I thought of our cool mountains and their fresh-water streams, and my mother longed for them too; so one evening we journeyed home. How quiet it was and how peaceful! We walked on through the high thyme, still fragrant though the sun had dried its leaves. Not a shepherd did we meet; not a single hut did we pass. Everything was quiet and deserted; only a shooting star told us that in heaven there still was life. I do not know if the clear blue air glowed with its own light, or if the rays came from the stars, but we could plainly make out the outlines of the mountains. My mother lit a fire and roasted the onions she had brought with her; then my sister and I slept among the thyme, with no fear of the wolf or the jackal, not to mention fear of the ugly, fire-breathing smidraki, for my mother sat beside us, and this I believed was enough.

When we reached our old home we found the hut a heap of ruins, and had to build a new one. A couple of women helped my mother, and in a few days the walls were raised and covered with a new roof of oleander. My mother braided many bottle holsters of bark and skins; I tended the priests’ little flock, and Anastasia and the little tortoises were my playmates.

One day we had a visit from our dear Aphtanides, who said how much he had longed to see us; he stayed with us for two whole days.

A month later he came again, to tell us he was taking a ship for Corfu and Patras but had to bid us good-by first; he had brought our mother a large fish. He talked a great deal, not only about the fishermen out in the Gulf of Lepanto, but also of the kings and heroes who had once ruled Greece, just as the Turks rule it now.

I have seen a bud on a rosebush develop through the days and weeks into a full, blooming flower before I was even aware how large, beautiful, and blushing it had become; and now I saw the same thing in Anastasia. She was now a beautiful, fullgrown girl, and I was a strong youth. I myself had taken from the wolves that fell before my musket the skins that covered my mother’s and Anastasia’s beds. Years had passed.

Then one evening Aphtanides returned, strong, brown, and slender as a reed. He kissed us all, and had many stories to tell of the great ocean, the fortifications of Malta, and the strange tombs of Egypt. It all sounded wonderful, like a priestly legend, and I looked at him with a kind of awe.

“How much you know!” I said. “How well you can tell about it!”

“But after all, you once told me about the most wonderful thing,” he said. “You told me something that has never been out of my thoughts-the grand old custom of the bond of friendship, a custom I want very much to follow. Brother, let us go to church, as your and Anastasia’s fathers did before us. Your sister is the most beautiful and innocent of girls; she shall consecrate us! No nation has such beautiful old customs as we Greeks.”

Anastasia blushed like a fresh rose, and my mother kissed Aphtanides.

An hour’s walk from our house, where loose earth lies on the rocks, and a few scattered trees give shade, stood the little church, a silver lamp hanging before its altar.

I wore my best clothes. The white fustanella fell in rich folds over my hips, the red jacket fitted tight and snug, the tassel on my fez was silver, and in my girdle gleamed my knife and pistols. Aphtanides wore the blue costume of the Greek sailors; on his chest hung a silver medallion with a figure of the Virgin Mary, and his scarf was as costly as those worn by rich men. Everyone could see that we two were going to some ceremony.

We entered the little empty church, where the evening sunlight, streaming through the door, gleamed on the burning lamp and the colored pictures on the golden background. We knelt on the altar steps, and Anastasia stood before us. A long white garment hung loosely and lightly over her graceful figure; on her white neck and bosom a chain of old and new coins formed a large collar. Her black hair was fastened in a single knot and held together by a small cap fashioned of gold and silver coins that had been found in the old temples. No Greek girl had more beautiful ornaments than she. Her face beamed, and her eyes were bright as two stars.

The three of us prayed silently, and then she asked us, “Will you be friends in life and in death?”

“Yes”, we replied.

“Will each of you, whatever may happen, remember: my brother is a part of me! My secrets are his secrets; my happiness is his happiness! Self-sacrifice, patience, every virtue in me, belongs to him as well as to me!”

Then she placed our hands together and kissed each of us on the forehead, and again we prayed silently. Then the priest came through the door behind the altar and blessed the three of us; the singing voices of other holy men sounded from behind the altar screen. The bond of eternal friendship was completed. When we arose I saw that my mother standing by the church door was weeping tenderly.

How cheerful it was now in our little hut by the springs of Delphi! The evening before his departure Aphtanides sat with me on the mountainside, his arm around my waist, mine around his neck. We spoke of the suffering of Greece, and of the men the country could trust. Every thought of our souls was clear to each of us, and I took his hand. “One thing more you must know, one thing that till this moment only God and I have known! My whole soul is filled with a love-a love stronger than the love I feel for my mother and for you!”

“And whom do you love?” asked Aphtanides, his face and neck turning red.

“I love Anastasia,” I said-and then his hand trembled in mine, and he turned pale as a corpse. I saw it and understood, and I also believe my hand trembled. I bent toward him, kissed his brow, and whispered, “I have never told her this. Maybe she doesn’t love me. Consider this, brother. I’ve seen her daily; she has grown up by my side, grown into my soul!”

“And she shall be yours!” he said. “Yours! I cannot lie to you, nor will I. I love her too, but tomorrow I go. In a year we shall meet again, and then you will be married, won’t you? I have some money of my own; it is yours. You must, and shall, take it!”

Silently we wandered across the mountain. It was late in the evening when we stood at my mother’s door. She was not there, but as we entered Anastasia held the lamp up, gazing at Aphtanides with a sad and beautiful look. “Tomorrow you’re leaving us,” she said. “How it saddens me!”

“Saddens you?” he said, and I thought that in his voice there was a grief as great as my own. I couldn’t speak, but he took her hand and said, “Our brother there loves you; is he dear to you? His silence is the best proof of his love.”

Anastasia trembled and burst into tears. Then I could see no one but her, think of no one but her; I threw my arms around her and said, “Yes, I love you!” She pressed her lips to mine, and her arms slipped around my neck; the lamp had fallen to the ground, and all about us was dark-dark as in the heart of poor dear Aphtenides.

Before daybreak he got up, kissed us all good-by, and departed. He had given my mother all his money for us. Anastasia was my betrothed, and a few days later she became my wife.

 

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Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s “The Rabbit’s Bride”

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There was once a woman who lived with her daughter in a beautiful cabbage-garden; and there came a rabbit and ate up all the cabbages. At last said the woman to her daughter, “Go into the garden, and drive out the rabbit.” – “Shoo! shoo!” said the maiden; “don’t eat up all our cabbages, little rabbit!” – “Come, maiden,” said the rabbit, “sit on my tail and go with me to my rabbit-hutch.” But the maiden would not. Another day, back came the rabbit, and ate away at the cabbages, until the woman said to her daughter, “Go into the garden, and drive away the rabbit.” – “Shoo! shoo!” said the maiden; “don’t eat up all our cabbages, little rabbit!” – “Come, maiden,” said the rabbit, “sit on my tail and go with me to my rabbit-hutch.” But the maiden would not. Again, a third time back came the rabbit, and ate away at the cabbages, until the woman said to her daughter, “Go into the garden, and drive away the rabbit.” – “Shoo! shoo!” said the maiden; “don’t eat up all our cabbages, little rabbit!” – “Come, maiden,” said the rabbit, “sit on my tail and go with me to my rabbit-hutch.” And then the girl seated herself on the rabbit’s tail, and the rabbit took her to his hutch. “Now,” said he, “set to work and cook some bran and cabbage; I am going to bid the wedding guests.” And soon they were all collected. Would you like to know who they were? Well, I can only tell you what was told to me; all the hares came, and the crow who was to be the parson to marry them, and the fox for the clerk, and the altar was under the rainbow.

But the maiden was sad, because she was so lonely. “Get up! get up!” said the rabbit, “the wedding folk are all merry.” But the bride wept and said nothing, and the rabbit went away, but very soon came back again. “Get up! get up!” said he, “the wedding folk are waiting.” But the bride said nothing, and the rabbit went away. Then she made a figure of straw, and dressed it in her own clothes, and gave it a red mouth, and set it to watch the kettle of bran, and then she went home to her mother. Back again came the rabbit, saying, “Get up! get up!” and he went up and hit the straw figure on the head, so that it tumbled down.

And the rabbit thought that he had killed his bride, and he went away and was very sad.

 

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Rudyard Kipling’s “A Song of Kabir”

Oh, light was the world that he weighed in his hands!
Oh, heavy the tale of his fiefs and his lands!
He has gone from the guddee and put on the shroud,
And departed in guise of bairagi avowed!

Now the white road to Delhi is mat for his feet.
The sal and the kikar must guard him from heat.
His home is the camp, and waste, and the crowd —
He is seeking the Way as bairagi avowed!

He has looked upon Man, and his eyeballs are clear —
(There was One; there is One, and but One, saith Kabir);
The Red Mist of Doing has thinned to a cloud —
He has taken the Path for bairagi avowed!

To learn and discern of his brother the clod,
Of his brother the brute, and his brother the God,
He has gone from the council and put on the shroud
(“Can ye hear?” saith Kabir), a bairagi avowed!

 

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Lewis Carroll’s “The Lady of the Ladle”

The Youth at Eve had drunk his fill,

Where stands the “Royal” on the Hill,

And long his mid-day stroll had made,

On the so-called “Marine Parade”–

(Meant, I presume, for Seamen brave,

Whose “march is on the Mountain wave”

‘Twere just the bathing-place for him

Who stays on land till he can swim)

And he had strayed into the Town,

And paced each alley up and down,

Where still, so narrow grew the way,

The very houses seemed to say,

Nodding to friends across the Street,

“One struggle more and we shall meet.”

And he had scaled that wondrous stair

That soars from earth to upper air,

Where rich and poor alike must climb,

And walk the treadmill for a time.

That morning he had dressed with care,

And put Pomatum on his hair;

He was, the loungers all agreed,

A very heavy swell indeed:

Men thought him, as he swaggered by,

Some scion of nobility,

And never dreamed, so cold his look,

That he had loved–and loved a Cook.

Upon the beach he stood and sighed

Unheedful of the treacherous tide;

Thus sang he to the listening main,

And soothed his sorrow with the strain!

 

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Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Metal Pig”

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IN the city of Florence, not far from the Piazza del Granduca, runs a little street called Porta Rosa. In this street, just in front of the market-place where vegetables are sold, stands a pig, made of brass and curiously formed. The bright color has been changed by age to dark green; but clear, fresh water pours from the snout, which shines as if it had been polished, and so indeed it has, for hundreds of poor people and children seize it in their hands as they place their mouths close to the mouth of the animal, to drink. It is quite a picture to see a half-naked boy clasping the well-formed creature by the head, as he presses his rosy lips against its jaws. Every one who visits Florence can very quickly find the place; he has only to ask the first beggar he meets for the Metal Pig, and he will be told where it is.

It was late on a winter evening; the mountains were covered with snow, but the moon shone brightly, and moonlight in Italy is like a dull winter’s day in the north; indeed it is better, for clear air seems to raise us above the earth, while in the north a cold, gray, leaden sky appears to press us down to earth, even as the cold damp earth shall one day press on us in the grave. In the garden of the grand duke’s palace, under the roof of one of the wings, where a thousand roses bloom in winter, a little ragged boy had been sitting the whole day long; a boy, who might serve as a type of Italy, lovely and smiling, and yet still suffering. He was hungry and thirsty, yet no one gave him anything; and when it became dark, and they were about to close the gardens, the porter turned him out. He stood a long time musing on the bridge which crosses the Arno, and looking at the glittering stars, reflected in the water which flowed between him and the elegant marble bridge Della Trinità. He then walked away towards the Metal Pig, half knelt down, clasped it with his arms, and then put his mouth to the shining snout and drank deep draughts of the fresh water. Close by, lay a few salad-leaves and two chestnuts, which were to serve for his supper. No one was in the street but himself; it belonged only to him, so he boldly seated himself on the pig’s back, leaned forward so that his curly head could rest on the head of the animal, and, before he was aware, he fell asleep.

It was midnight. The Metal Pig raised himself gently, and the boy heard him say quite distinctly, “Hold tight, little boy, for I am going to run;” and away he started for a most wonderful ride. First, they arrived at the Piazza del Granduca, and the metal horse which bears the duke’s statue, neighed aloud. The painted coats-of-arms on the old council-house shone like transparent pictures, and Michael Angelo’s David tossed his sling; it was as if everything had life. The metallic groups of figures, among which were Perseus and the Rape of the Sabines, looked like living persons, and cries of terror sounded from them all across the noble square. By the Palazzo degli Uffizi, in the arcade, where the nobility assemble for the carnival, the Metal Pig stopped. “Hold fast,” said the animal; “hold fast, for I am going up stairs.”

The little boy said not a word; he was half pleased and half afraid. They entered a long gallery, where the boy had been before. The walls were resplendent with paintings; here stood statues and busts, all in a clear light as if it were day. But the grandest appeared when the door of a side room opened; the little boy could remember what beautiful things he had seen there, but to-night everything shone in its brightest colors. Here stood the figure of a beautiful woman, as beautifully sculptured as possible by one of the great masters. Her graceful limbs appeared to move; dolphins sprang at her feet, and immortality shone from her eyes. The world called her the Venus de’ Medici. By her side were statues, in which the spirit of life breathed in stone; figures of men, one of whom whetted his sword, and was named the Grinder; wrestling gladiators formed another group, the sword had been sharpened for them, and they strove for the goddess of beauty. The boy was dazzled by so much glitter; for the walls were gleaming with bright colors, all appeared living reality.

As they passed from hall to hall, beauty everywhere showed itself; and as the Metal Pig went step by step from one picture to the other, the little boy could see it all plainly. One glory eclipsed another; yet there was one picture that fixed itself on the little boy’s memory, more especially because of the happy children it represented, for these the little boy had seen in daylight. Many pass this picture by with indifference, and yet it contains a treasure of poetic feeling; it represents Christ descending into Hades. They are not the lost whom the spectator sees, but the heathen of olden times. The Florentine, Angiolo Bronzino, painted this picture; most beautiful is the expression on the face of the two children, who appear to have full confidence that they shall reach heaven at last. They are embracing each other, and one little one stretches out his hand towards another who stands below him, and points to himself, as if he were saying, “I am going to heaven.” The older people stand as if uncertain, yet hopeful, and they bow in humble adoration to the Lord Jesus. On this picture the boy’s eyes rested longer than on any other: the Metal Pig stood still before it. A low sigh was heard. Did it come from the picture or from the animal? The boy raised his hands towards the smiling children, and then the Pig ran off with him through the open vestibule.

“Thank you, thank you, you beautiful animal,” said the little boy, caressing the Metal Pig as it ran down the steps.

“Thanks to yourself also,” replied the Metal Pig; “I have helped you and you have helped me, for it is only when I have an innocent child on my back that I receive the power to run. Yes; as you see, I can even venture under the rays of the lamp, in front of the picture of the Madonna, but I may not enter the church; still from without, and while you are upon my back, I may look in through the open door. Do not get down yet, for if you do, then I shall be lifeless, as you have seen me in the Porta Rosa.”

“I will stay with you, my dear creature,” said the little boy. So then they went on at a rapid pace through the streets of Florence, till they came to the square before the church of Santa Croce. The folding-doors flew open, and light streamed from the altar through the church into the deserted square. A wonderful blaze of light streamed from one of the monuments in the left-side aisle, and a thousand moving stars seemed to form a glory round it; even the coat-of-arms on the tomb-stone shone, and a red ladder on a blue field gleamed like fire. It was the grave of Galileo. The monument is unadorned, but the red ladder is an emblem of art, signifying that the way to glory leads up a shining ladder, on which the prophets of mind rise to heaven, like Elias of old. In the right aisle of the church every statue on the richly carved sarcophagi seemed endowed with life. Here stood Michael Angelo; there Dante, with the laurel wreath round his brow; Alfieri and Machiavelli; for here side by side rest the great men—the pride of Italy. The church itself is very beautiful, even more beautiful than the marble cathedral at Florence, though not so large. It seemed as if the carved vestments stirred, and as if the marble figures they covered raised their heads higher, to gaze upon the brightly colored glowing altar where the white-robed boys swung the golden censers, amid music and song, while the strong fragrance of incense filled the church, and streamed forth into the square. The boy stretched forth his hands towards the light, and at the same moment the Metal Pig started again so rapidly that he was obliged to cling tightly to him. The wind whistled in his ears, he heard the church door creak on its hinges as it closed, and it seemed to him as if he had lost his senses— then a cold shudder passed over him, and he awoke.

It was morning; the Metal Pig stood in its old place on the Porta Rosa, and the boy found he had slipped nearly off its back. Fear and trembling came upon him as he thought of his mother; she had sent him out the day before to get some money, he had not done so, and now he was hungry and thirsty. Once more he clasped the neck of his metal horse, kissed its nose, and nodded farewell to it. Then he wandered away into one of the narrowest streets, where there was scarcely room for a loaded donkey to pass. A great iron-bound door stood ajar; he passed through, and climbed up a brick staircase, with dirty walls and a rope for a balustrade, till he came to an open gallery hung with rags. From here a flight of steps led down to a court, where from a well water was drawn up by iron rollers to the different stories of the house, and where the water-buckets hung side by side. Sometimes the roller and the bucket danced in the air, splashing the water all over the court. Another broken-down staircase led from the gallery, and two Russian sailors running down it almost upset the poor boy. They were coming from their nightly carousal. A woman not very young, with an unpleasant face and a quantity of black hair, followed them. “What have you brought home?” she asked. when she saw the boy.

“Don’t be angry,” he pleaded; “I received nothing, I have nothing at all;” and he seized his mother’s dress and would have kissed it. Then they went into a little room. I need not describe it, but only say that there stood in it an earthen pot with handles, made for holding fire, which in Italy is called a marito. This pot she took in her lap, warmed her fingers, and pushed the boy with her elbow.

“Certainly you must have some money,” she said. The boy began to cry, and then she struck him with her foot till he cried out louder.

“Will you be quiet? or I’ll break your screaming head;” and she swung about the fire-pot which she held in her hand, while the boy crouched to the earth and screamed.

Then a neighbor came in, and she had also a marito under her arm. “Felicita,” she said, “what are you doing to the child?”

“The child is mine,” she answered; “I can murder him if I like, and you too, Giannina.” And then she swung about the fire-pot. The other woman lifted up hers to defend herself, and the two pots clashed together so violently that they were dashed to pieces, and fire and ashes flew about the room. The boy rushed out at the sight, sped across the courtyard, and fled from the house. The poor child ran till he was quite out of breath; at last he stopped at the church, the doors of which were opened to him the night before, and went in. Here everything was bright, and the boy knelt down by the first tomb on his right, the grave of Michael Angelo, and sobbed as if his heart would break. People came and went, mass was performed, but no one noticed the boy, excepting an elderly citizen, who stood still and looked at him for a moment, and then went away like the rest. Hunger and thirst overpowered the child, and he became quite faint and ill. At last he crept into a corner behind the marble monuments, and went to sleep. Towards evening he was awakened by a pull at his sleeve; he started up, and the same old citizen stood before him.

“Are you ill? where do you live? have you been here all day?” were some of the questions asked by the old man. After hearing his answers, the old man took him home to a small house close by, in a back street. They entered a glovemaker’s shop, where a woman sat sewing busily. A little white poodle, so closely shaven that his pink skin could plainly be seen, frisked about the room, and gambolled upon the boy.

“Innocent souls are soon intimate,” said the woman, as she caressed both the boy and the dog. These good people gave the child food and drink, and said he should stay with them all night, and that the next day the old man, who was called Giuseppe, would go and speak to his mother. A little homely bed was prepared for him, but to him who had so often slept on the hard stones it was a royal couch, and he slept sweetly and dreamed of the splendid pictures and of the Metal Pig. Giuseppe went out the next morning, and the poor child was not glad to see him go, for he knew that the old man was gone to his mother, and that, perhaps, he would have to go back. He wept at the thought, and then he played with the little, lively dog, and kissed it, while the old woman looked kindly at him to encourage him. And what news did Giuseppe bring back? At first the boy could not hear, for he talked a great deal to his wife, and she nodded and stroked the boy’s cheek.

Then she said, “He is a good lad, he shall stay with us, he may become a clever glovemaker, like you. Look what delicate fingers he has got; Madonna intended him for a glovemaker.” So the boy stayed with them, and the woman herself taught him to sew; and he ate well, and slept well, and became very merry. But at last he began to tease Bellissima, as the little dog was called. This made the woman angry, and she scolded him and threatened him, which made him very unhappy, and he went and sat in his own room full of sad thoughts. This chamber looked upon the street, in which hung skins to dry, and there were thick iron bars across his window. That night he lay awake, thinking of the Metal Pig; indeed, it was always in his thoughts. Suddenly he fancied he heard feet outside going pit-a-pat. He sprung out of bed and went to the window. Could it be the Metal Pig? But there was nothing to be seen; whatever he had heard had passed already. Next morning, their neighbor, the artist, passed by, carrying a paint-box and a large roll of canvas.

“Help the gentleman to carry his box of colors,” said the woman to the boy; and he obeyed instantly, took the box, and followed the painter. They walked on till they reached the picture gallery, and mounted the same staircase up which he had ridden that night on the Metal Pig. He remembered all the statues and pictures, the beautiful marble Venus, and again he looked at the Madonna with the Saviour and St. John. They stopped before the picture by Bronzino, in which Christ is represented as standing in the lower world, with the children smiling before Him, in the sweet expectation of entering heaven; and the poor boy smiled, too, for here was his heaven.

“You may go home now,” said the painter, while the boy stood watching him, till he had set up his easel.

“May I see you paint?” asked the boy; “may I see you put the picture on this white canvas?”

“I am not going to paint yet,” replied the artist; then he brought out a piece of chalk. His hand moved quickly, and his eye measured the great picture; and though nothing appeared but a faint line, the figure of the Saviour was as clearly visible as in the colored picture.

“Why don’t you go?” said the painter. Then the boy wandered home silently, and seated himself on the table, and learned to sew gloves. But all day long his thoughts were in the picture gallery; and so he pricked his fingers and was awkward. But he did not tease Bellissima. When evening came, and the house door stood open, he slipped out. It was a bright, beautiful, starlight evening, but rather cold. Away he went through the already-deserted streets, and soon came to the Metal Pig; he stooped down and kissed its shining nose, and then seated himself on its back.

“You happy creature,” he said; “how I have longed for you! we must take a ride to-night.”

But the Metal Pig lay motionless, while the fresh stream gushed forth from its mouth. The little boy still sat astride on its back, when he felt something pulling at his clothes. He looked down, and there was Bellissima, little smooth-shaven Bellissima, barking as if she would have said, “Here I am too; why are you sitting there?”

A fiery dragon could not have frightened the little boy so much as did the little dog in this place. “Bellissima in the street, and not dressed!” as the old lady called it; “what would be the end of this?”

The dog never went out in winter, unless she was attired in a little lambskin coat which had been made for her; it was fastened round the little dog’s neck and body with red ribbons, and was decorated with rosettes and little bells. The dog looked almost like a little kid when she was allowed to go out in winter, and trot after her mistress. And now here she was in the cold, and not dressed. Oh, how would it end? All his fancies were quickly put to flight; yet he kissed the Metal Pig once more, and then took Bellissima in his arms. The poor little thing trembled so with cold, that the boy ran homeward as fast as he could.

“What are you running away with there?” asked two of the police whom he met, and at whom the dog barked. “Where have you stolen that pretty dog?” they asked; and they took it away from him.

“Oh, I have not stolen it; do give it to me back again,” cried the boy, despairingly.

“If you have not stolen it, you may say at home that they can send to the watch-house for the dog.” Then they told him where the watch-house was, and went away with Bellissima.

Here was a dreadful trouble. The boy did not know whether he had better jump into the Arno, or go home and confess everything. They would certainly kill him, he thought.

“Well, I would gladly be killed,” he reasoned; “for then I shall die, and go to heaven:” and so he went home, almost hoping for death.

The door was locked, and he could not reach the knocker. No one was in the street; so he took up a stone, and with it made a tremendous noise at the door.

“Who is there?” asked somebody from within.

“It is I,” said he. “Bellissima is gone. Open the door, and then kill me.”

Then indeed there was a great panic. Madame was so very fond of Bellissima. She immediately looked at the wall where the dog’s dress usually hung; and there was the little lambskin.

“Bellissima in the watch-house!” she cried. “You bad boy! how did you entice her out? Poor little delicate thing, with those rough policemen! and she’ll be frozen with cold.”

Giuseppe went off at once, while his wife lamented, and the boy wept. Several of the neighbors came in, and amongst them the painter. He took the boy between his knees, and questioned him; and, in broken sentences, he soon heard the whole story, and also about the Metal Pig, and the wonderful ride to the picture-gallery, which was certainly rather incomprehensible. The painter, however, consoled the little fellow, and tried to soften the lady’s anger; but she would not be pacified till her husband returned with Bellissima, who had been with the police. Then there was great rejoicing, and the painter caressed the boy, and gave him a number of pictures. Oh, what beautiful pictures these were!—figures with funny heads; and, above all, the Metal Pig was there too. Oh, nothing could be more delightful. By means of a few strokes, it was made to appear on the paper; and even the house that stood behind it had been sketched in. Oh, if he could only draw and paint! He who could do this could conjure all the world before him. The first leisure moment during the next day, the boy got a pencil, and on the back of one of the other drawings he attempted to copy the drawing of the Metal Pig, and he succeeded. Certainly it was rather crooked, rather up and down, one leg thick, and another thin; still it was like the copy, and he was overjoyed at what he had done. The pencil would not go quite as it ought,—he had found that out; but the next day he tried again. A second pig was drawn by the side of the first, and this looked a hundred times better; and the third attempt was so good, that everybody might know what it was meant to represent.

And now the glovemaking went on but slowly. The orders given by the shops in the town were not finished quickly; for the Metal Pig had taught the boy that all objects may be drawn upon paper; and Florence is a picture-book in itself for any one who chooses to turn over its pages. On the Piazza dell Trinita stands a slender pillar, and upon it is the goddess of Justice, blindfolded, with her scales in her hand. She was soon represented on paper, and it was the glovemaker’s boy who placed her there. His collection of pictures increased; but as yet they were only copies of lifeless objects, when one day Bellissima came gambolling before him: “Stand still,” cried he, “and I will draw you beautifully, to put amongst my collection.”

But Bellissima would not stand still, so she must be bound fast in one position. He tied her head and tail; but she barked and jumped, and so pulled and tightened the string, that she was nearly strangled; and just then her mistress walked in.

“You wicked boy! the poor little creature!” was all she could utter.

She pushed the boy from her, thrust him away with her foot, called him a most ungrateful, good-for-nothing, wicked boy, and forbade him to enter the house again. Then she wept, and kissed her little half-strangled Bellissima. At this moment the painter entered the room. In the year 1834 there was an exhibition in the Academy of Arts at Florence. Two pictures, placed side by side, attracted a large number of spectators. The smaller of the two represented a little boy sitting at a table, drawing; before him was a little white poodle, curiously shaven; but as the animal would not stand still, it had been fastened with a string to its head and tail, to keep it in one position. The truthfulness and life in this picture interested every one. The painter was said to be a young Florentine, who had been found in the streets, when a child, by an old glovemaker, who had brought him up. The boy had taught himself to draw: it was also said that a young artist, now famous, had discovered talent in the child just as he was about to be sent away for having tied up madame’s favorite little dog, and using it as a model. The glovemaker’s boy had also become a great painter, as the picture proved; but the larger picture by its side was a still greater proof of his talent. It represented a handsome boy, clothed in rags, lying asleep, and leaning against the Metal Pig in the street of the Porta Rosa. All the spectators knew the spot well. The child’s arms were round the neck of the Pig, and he was in a deep sleep. The lamp before the picture of the Madonna threw a strong, effective light on the pale, delicate face of the child. It was a beautiful picture. A large gilt frame surrounded it, and on one corner of the frame a laurel wreath had been hung; but a black band, twined unseen among the green leaves, and a streamer of crape, hung down from it; for within the last few days the young artist had—died.

 

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Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s “The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean”

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In a village dwelt a poor old woman, who had gathered together a dish of beans and wanted to cook them. So she made a fire on her hearth, and that it might burn the quicker, she lighted it with a handful of straw. When she was emptying the beans into the pan, one dropped without her observing it, and lay on the ground beside a straw, and soon afterwards a burning coal from the fire leapt down to the two. Then the straw began and said: “Dear friends, from whence do you come here?” The coal replied: “I fortunately sprang out of the fire, and if I had not escaped by sheer force, my death would have been certain,–I should have been burnt to ashes.” The bean said: “I too have escaped with a whole skin, but if the old woman had got me into the pan, I should have been made into broth without any mercy, like my comrades.” “And would a better fate have fallen to my lot?” said the straw. “The old woman has destroyed all my brethren in fire and smoke; she seized sixty of them at once, and took their lives. I luckily slipped through her fingers.”

“But what are we to do now?” said the coal.

“I think,” answered the bean, “that as we have so fortunately escaped death, we should keep together like good companions, and lest a new mischance should overtake us here, we should go away together, and repair to a foreign country.”

The proposition pleased the two others, and they set out on their way together. Soon, however, they came to a little brook, and as there was no bridge or foot-plank, they did not know how they were to get over it. The straw hit on a good idea, and said: “I will lay myself straight across, and then you can walk over on me as on a bridge.” The straw therefore stretched itself from one bank to the other, and the coal, who was of an impetuous disposition, tripped quite boldly on to the newly-built bridge. But when she had reached the middle, and heard the water rushing beneath her, she was after all, afraid, and stood still, and ventured no farther. The straw, however, began to burn, broke in two pieces, and fell into the stream. The coal slipped after her, hissed when she got into the water, and breathed her last. The bean, who had prudently stayed behind on the shore, could not but laugh at the event, was unable to stop, and laughed so heartily that she burst. It would have been all over with her, likewise, if, by good fortune, a tailor who was travelling in search of work, had not sat down to rest by the brook. As he had a compassionate heart he pulled out his needle and thread, and sewed her together. The bean thanked him most prettily, but as the tailor used black thread, all beans since then have a black seam.

 

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Here’s chapter 5 of that sci-fi novel! This one’s gonna be rough…

Okay! Here is chapter five of that novel I haven’t named yet–that’s got to change soon… Anyway, if you haven’t read the prologue, chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, and chapter 4, go read those first or you will be very, very confused. I know for a fact that this chapter is going to be much more typo-ridden than the last since none of my beta readers have read this far yet. Still, I hope you guys enjoy it all the same!

 

Disclaimer: these chapters have not yet been professionally edited so there will most definitely be mistakes that I did not catch. Also this series contains violence, moderately strong language, and a touch of gore. Reader discretion is advised.

Chapter 5

Out of the Frying Pan

 

“The uniforms look superb, Mr. Cain,” Noire said as he examined Kira and Artemis in front of the entrance hatch. “Your contact certainly has an eye for detail.”

“My tailor droids made them,” Cain said, his voice low, and growling as it usually was. Kira had gotten used to his naturally severe tone. “I believe Tora Corps employees will find everything to be in order.”

Kira glanced toward Artemis noting that he looked quite dashing with his face clean-shaven and his usually unruly chestnut-brown hair brushed back out of his face. The white uniform fitted his tall, toned form perfectly, accentuating his muscles. The edges of his long, high collared coat was lined with smooth black trim, and the rank stripes on the left side of his chest pulsed orange and black in time with his heart—a staple of the Tora Corp solider uniforms. Those stripes monitored pulse-rate, body temperature, and a multitude of other physical functions. It was like having a personal diagnostics droid. Traditionally the information the stripes gathered were sent to one’s data chip, but since Kira and Artemis lacked that tech, Kira programmed the stripes to send the data to their holowatches instead.

Kira wore an outfit almost identical to Artemis’s, except hers was tailor-made for her curvier physique. The tight black pants that went with uniform were not nearly as uncomfortable as she thought they’d be, and Artemis didn’t seem to mind them either. Tight was good—tight meant loose material wouldn’t get in the way in case they had to fight. The material had some stretch to it as well which would allow for flexibility. Overall, Kira approved of their uniforms.

Artemis scratched at his neck, his serious solider act falling to pieces in that instant. “This coat’s kinda hot—and not in the good way.”

“You can adjust the coat’s temperature with your watch,” Cain said. “Ms. Chevalier, you added those settings, didn’t you.”

“Of course,” Kira said, gabbing Artemis’s wrists and pointing and speaking to the watch. “Archimedes, make Artemis’s coat 70 degrees Fahrenheit.”

“Yes, Ms. Chevalier,” Archimedes replied in his smooth inflectionless voice.

Artemis’s upper lip twitched in disgust. “You gave mine a voice too?”

“Our watches share an operating system. Deal with it,” she replied coolly, letting go of his wrist and letting it fall back down to his side.

Noire’s dark, well-maintained brows furrowed—the only sign he ever showed of discomfort. “Is there nothing I can say to make you reconsider?”

There was plenty Noire could say to make Kira reconsider, but when Artemis set his mind on something… “Nope,” Artemis said, making a popping sound at the ‘p’. He placed his hands on his hips, looking like a super hero out of one of his stupid comic books. “We’re doing this, Addy. Once we steal some MCTA and sell it, we’re gonna be rolling in the dough and you’re gonna be back on top again! We’re gonna have all the new tech we need to steal anything we want. This is our only ticket out of this slump.”

Noire’s lips pressed into a thin, white slash. “We’re not in a slump. We’re fine—we’re surviving.”

“But we could be thriving,” Artemis said pointedly. “We used to and we will again. You don’t have to worry about me and K—we’re gonna be alright. With her brains and my moves, there’s no way those science nerds can stop us.”

“Assuming you work together,” Noire said, loosely crossing his arms over his chest. “That’s the only way you’re going to be successful. You must learn to operate as one unit, not as two individuals with separate plans.”

Kira could tell by Noire’s wary tone that he didn’t think they were ready for a heist like this. In truth, Kira didn’t think they were ready either, but she couldn’t let Artemis do this alone. He was too brash to execute a successful lift. He needed her steady hand, and she was certain he knew that too.

Artemis set his hand on Noire’s shoulder and grinned so confidently, Kira was tempted to believe his next words. “We’re gonna be fine, Pops. Me and K learned from the best, after all.”

Cain’s dark eyes flickered to Noire who still looked as if he was fighting the urge to knock her and Artemis unconscious to prevent them from leaving. “Departures end in less than an hour now. It’s time to go.”

Noire clenched his jaw so tightly that Kira thought he might break his teeth as Cain typed in a code on the touch keypad and opened the entrance hatch. Kira lowered her eyes and turned her back to her mentor, her and Artemis following Cain out of Noire’s base.

Noire made a sound as if he was going to speak and Kira looked back at him. His mouth hung open for a moment as if he couldn’t decide what to say before giving up and waving her forward without another word.

The hatch shut and its three steel bolts locked into place. The metallic thud of the bolts was more severe and final than it had ever been before, and the sound echoed through her. She felt a cold sort of emptiness envelop her as she watched Cain and Artemis climb up the ladder that would lead them to the surface. It was a familiar feeling that settled uncomfortably at the pit of her stomach.

This wasn’t a good idea. Something inside of her was screaming for her to turn back now. After a moment of indulging the panicked thoughts, she took a deep breath and attempted to release all of her worries upon exhale.

That was just her pessimism talking. Everything would be fine. Despite trying to convince herself of this, that terrible feeling in the pit of her stomach did not dissipate.

 

Cain programmed the coordinates into his hovercraft’s navigation system and they flew off toward Tora Corp’s teleportation center. It was a lush hovercraft complete with real leather cushions and a minibar full of drinks neither Kira nor Artemis had ever tasted or even heard of. Cain didn’t allow them to partake in any of the luxurious drinks as he feared it would impair their judgment.

The Tora Corporation Teleportation Center was a massive domed building that floated in the sky above Imperial city. Like most other building, the teleportation center was made of thick anti-shatter glass that had been tinted white, making it difficult to see what was on the inside unless you were very close—nose-pressed-to-the-glass close.

Cain dropped them off at the building’s entrance not saying so much as ‘good luck’ before speeding away. Kira didn’t mind the abrupt exit—there was nothing he could have said to ease her fretful mind anyway.

Artemis’s eyes darted down to her chest. She was just about to slap him when she too looked down to see that her stripes were blinking quite rapidly in time with her heart. Artemis placed his hand on her shoulder, his features softening into something less excited and more sympathetic. He knew that he was the only reason she had come along. He knew he’d dragged her into this against her better judgment. He knew and maybe deep down he also knew that it was unfair for him to have manipulated her in such a way.

He gently squeezed her shoulder. “Hey.” Kira eyes flickered up to meet his. “It’s gonna be alright.”

She nodded slowly, averting her eyes once more. “I hope so…”

He patted her arm roughly. “It will! Me and you are always gonna be ‘A o’ K’! Get it? Cause my name starts with and A and your name—”

“I get it,” she said quickly, grabbing his wrist and pulling him towards the entrance where other people dressed in uniforms like there’s were strolling into the building. “Let’s just get inside. If we loiter out here for too long, people might get suspicious.”

When they entered the teleportation center, they paused to take in the sight. They stood in a large, open room with white, tile floors, and harsh fluorescent lighting—even with technological advancements lightbulbs where still the best way to light a room. People didn’t bustle about here, they marched and waited in orderly lines once they got to where they were headed. And it was quiet. Not so quiet that one could hear a pin drop, but much too quiet for a public space with so much foot traffic. Scanning droids hovered about overhead, soundlessly scanning each person in sight. Noting this, Kira could not help but shrink where she stood.

Who where they kidding? There was no way they were going fool anyone even with their weeks’ worth of solider training and Tora Corp uniforms. This was a mistake, and they needed to get out of there before they were caught and thrown into prison for their lousy attempts at impersonation.

“Tora Corp doesn’t image-ray their employee’s skulls. I checked,” Artemis said to lowly, more to herself than to Artemis.

Artemis shrugged. “Yeah, I know. We went over this before we left. Come on, let’s get to the scan dock.”

Kira swallowed heavily and straightened up, feeling her hands trembling against her will. “Right. Let’s just try to avoid the droids. If there’s even the tiniest inconsistency with our data files, they’ll pick it up.”

“What about the scanning dock itself?”

She shook her head. “The docks aren’t intelligent bots. They just read the information and cross-reference it with the employee data Tora Corp has on file. As long as there aren’t more than a few discrepancies, we should be able to pass the scan with no problem.”

“And Tora Corp has us on file?”

“Yes. Cain used his connections to put our alias information into Tora’s employee database. We should be fine,” she said, once more trying to convince herself more so than her already confident partner.

“Sure we will,” Artemis said, pushing back his shoulders and putting on a more serious face. “Now let’s go be the best damn soldiers Tora Corp’s ever had.”

Kira sighed. “I’m pretty sure ‘the best damn soldiers Tora Corp ever had’ wouldn’t be planning on stealing from them.”

Artemis smirked. “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s go steal some shit, K.”

His smirk must have been infectious for she found herself smirking too. “Now you’re speaking my language.”

They strolled through the crowd of men and women in solider uniforms, lab coats, and expensive suits, as they made their way towards the scanning docks—a line of large circular platforms with rectangular archways for people to pass beneath—at the back of the large domed space. Once they passed the scan they would be authorized to teleport to N.E.S. Bengal—Tora Corporation’s Research and Development space station. Kira just hoped they would make it to the docks. At least five scanner droids stood between them and their ultimate goal and there were another two scanning people behind them.

She pushed on Artemis’s back, urging him to go faster, trying her best not to look as anxious as she felt. Her palms were already saturated with perspiration despite the cool air circulating throughout the teleportation center lobby. She knew Noire had done an excellent job on their alias files, but that terrible feeling at the pit of her stomach had yet to go away. Was this intuition telling her to run, or was it merely nerves? She couldn’t tell, but she prayed to whatever omniscient being that was listening that it was the latter of the two.

They were forced to bring their quick strides to a halt when they reached the rather long line of people and AIBs waiting to be scanned. Kira cursed beneath her breath, noting that there was still one more scanner droid up ahead along with one hovering a few people behind them in line. There was no way they could avoid the droids now. She just hoped that Noire had double and triple checked their data files for flaws. Of course he would have checked them multiple times, Kira thought, breathing in deeply through her nose as one of the droids moved on to the third person in front of them. There’s nothing wrong with our data files. There’s nothing wrong with our data files. There’s nothing wrong with our—

Data files forged. Intruder alert. Data files forged,” said a monotonous droid voice from behind her.

Kira spun around and saw that Artemis had gone pale and his eyes were wide. A scanner droid was hovering behind him, blinking red. The droid’s voice sounded over the loud speakers now. “Data files forged. Intruder alert.”

Soldiers in black uniforms wearing smooth helmets that covered their entire face had surrounded their section of the line before Kira even had a chance to blink. They raised their sleek-looking phaser-guns—if she wasn’t so frightened, she knew she’d be drooling over the weapons. A slow grin built upon Artemis’s face, his eyes alight with mischief—she knew what that look meant. He was about to do something stupid again.

Fine, she thought glumly to herself. I’m sure whatever he’s planning on doing won’t get us in any more trouble than we’re already in. She was just about to step back and let Artemis beat them up, when she noticed something: the soldier’s weren’t looking at Artemis—they were looking at the man directly behind Artemis. The droid hovered above the middle-aged man, still flashing red.

Artemis raised his arms, clenching his hands into fist, but Kira grabbed his wrists and yanked his arms back down to his sides, giving him a discreet shake of her head. Their cover wasn’t blown yet, but it would be if Artemis started kicking and punching the soldiers.

“I know what you do!” shouted the man behind Artemis. “You’re killers and I’m going expose you one way or another! Reid Zarlock murdered my daughter and buried the evidence underneath mountains of red tape!” the man cried, his voice breaking beneath the weight of his words. “His damned organization is killing innocent beings, and us, the common people, are going to be the ones to pay the price for his greed! They’re coming … it won’t be long now. We’re all going to die…”

“Take him down,” one of the soldiers commanded coolly.

The other soldiers rushed the man and rendered him unconscious with a stun shot—she knew because stun shots were blue—to the temple. They dragged the limp man off, not towards the buildings exit, but past the scanning docks to the teleporting chambers beyond. What were they doing? Why didn’t the soldiers just throw him outside?

Once Tora security had gone, Artemis relaxed, his shoulders slumping forward as he exhaled softly. “I think I might need a new pair of pants, K.”

Kira laughed despite herself. Great job, Noire. If only that other guy had one of your pristine file sets, huh? she though as she faced forward once more.

“Do you think all that crap that hippie just spouted was true?” Artemis asked lowly as the line shuffled forward.

“What? About that Zarlock guy being some murderous mastermind? Doubtful,” Kira said. “He looks and acts like a bum Tora picked up off the skyway to be their figure-head. He’s just some idiot that got lucky with a couple good ideas, that’s it.”

Artemis hummed thoughtfully. “If you say so, K. You’re the genius—I’m just here to be eye-candy.”

“And half the time you can’t even do that right.”

“But half the time I do,” he said, playfully nudging her in the small of her back.

She rolled her eyes. “I was being generous.”

“Ouch! Way to hurt a guy’s pride.”

Despite the mild jokes, the air between them was still tense. They stopped talking and Kira was glad for it. All she wanted to do was focus on getting past the scanning docks—if they did, they would have little else to worry about. She breathed in and out as steady and slow as she could manage, trying to keep the stripes on her coat from blinking too quickly.

After what seemed like hours—when in actuality it only took a few minutes—it was Kira’s turn the step up onto one of the scanning platforms. Her eyes darted to the armed guards on either side of the scanning platform. They were looking straight ahead, unmoving, and their faces were shielded by smooth black helmets just like the soldiers who dragged the hysterical man away. She stood there for a moment waiting for something to happen, and startled when an even female voice sounded from above her. “Please face forward and lift your arms so that scanning may begin.”

Kira did as the scanner instructed, lifting her arms up horizontally to shoulder height. There was a soft buzzing sound that droned on for a few seconds before the scanner beeped loudly. “Unauthorized technology detected.”

She breathed in deeply, swallowing hard as the soldiers beside the scanning dock left their posts to hop up onto the platform with her. One guard took a flat, metallic wand from his belt and waved it down her torso, while the other guard inspected her clothes, soon pulling up her sleeve to reveal her holowatch. “Found it,” the second solider said to his friend with the wand. “What’s with the old timekeeping tech, Sergeant? Is your data chip defunct or something?”

Kira shook her head, her gaze flickering to Artemis, who gave her a thumbs up. She could do this. She was smart, she could make up a lie. She cleared her throat. “I like vintage tech. I restore old watches as a hobby.”

“What’s a watch?” the solider with the wand asked with a tilt of his helmeted head.

She pointed to her wrist. “This. I was told we were allowed to bring a few personal effects on board. This doesn’t violate protocol, does it?”

“That depends on what it does,” the first guard said. “Show us.”

Kira was tempted to smirk, but she knew that wouldn’t be in her best interest at the moment. These soldiers didn’t know a thing about old tech. She tapped the screen of her hollow watch and the time was projected above the watch face. She shrugged. “Not so impressive is it? But what can I say—I’m a sucker for antique things like this.”

The guards stared at the watched for a moment before turning their heads to look at each other. “Let her keep it,” the second solider said, slipping his wand back into his belt. “It’s just some crappy old tech.”

Kira scowled but stopped herself from saying or doing anything that might jeopardize the task at hand. She pulled down her sleeve. “Is that all?”

“Not yet,” said the first guard. “Scanning dock three, state Tora employee status.”

“Employee status confirmed,” the dock replied. “Kira Leonid—Chief Master Sergeant. Science and engineer level ten downloaded to data chip. Employee on teleportation roster.”

The second guard nodded. “A scientist, huh? You better get going. They need up there, Sergeant Leonid.” The two soldiers saluted her and she saluted them back just as Cain had taught her.

She strolled off the platform, smiling minutely to herself. That wasn’t so terrible, she thought as she watched Artemis step up onto the platform after her. The dock beeped, just like it had with her, alerting the guards of unauthorized tech once more. They found Artemis’s watch without any trouble.

“You’ve got one too, Sergeant?” the first guards asked incredulously. “Hobby of yours?”

“Nah. I’m too dumb to mess with tech,” Artemis said with an unwavering smile. Kira wished she had half the confidence he exuded. “Sergeant Leonid refurbed an extra and it looked so cool I just had to have it.”

The second guard crossed his arms over his chest. “Alright, he’s clean. Scanning dock three, state Tora employee status.”

“Employee status confirmed. Artemis Hartford—Chief Master Sergeant. Combative Martial Arts chip level ten downloaded to data chip. Employee on teleportation roster.”

“Looks like you’re all set, Sergeant Hartford,” said the first solider. “Have I nice trip.”

They saluted each other and Artemis marched off the platform with his head held high to meet Kira. He nudged her once he was close enough. “Easy peasy,” he said with a wink.

She shook her head and ran a hand through her short, brown hair. “Whatever. Let’s just get to the teleporters.”

They followed the long hall behind the scanner docks and eventually reached a much smaller domed room than they had been in before. Upon arrival, Kira and Artemis were instructed by a woman in a white lab suit, to get in to one of the many glass capsules that lined the concaved wall at far end of the chamber.

Kira and Artemis exchanged slightly wary looks. They both had never teleported before, and Kira could tell that the idea of their shattered particles being shot up into space faster than the speed of light unsettled him as much as it did her. But they had both come this far—they were going to finish what they started. Thus, after the moment of hesitation passed, Kira stepped up into a capsule, and Artemis did the same.

Kira only had the chance to take one deep breath before the sensation of being pinched all over her body set in. The next thing she knew, the scene around her capsule was gone in the blink of an eye and she was on her way to the N.E.S. Bengal.

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Rudyard Kipling’s “the Miracle of Purun Bhagat”

The night we felt the earth would move
We stole and plucked him by the hand,
Because we loved him with the love
That knows but cannot understand.

And when the roaring hillside broke,
And all our world fell down in rain,
We saved him, we the Little Folk;
But lo! he does not come again!

Mourn now, we saved him for the sake
Of such poor love as wild ones may.
Mourn ye! Our brother will not wake,
And his own kind drive us away!

Dirge of the Langurs

 

There was once a man in India who was Prime Minister of one of the semi-independent native States in the north-western part of the country. He was a Brahmin, so high-caste that caste ceased to have any particular meaning for him; and his father had been an important official in the gay-coloured tag-rag and bobtail of an old-fashioned Hindu Court. But as Purun Dass grew up he felt that the old order of things was changing, and that if any one wished to get on in the world he must stand well with the English, and imitate all that the English believed to be good. At the same time a native official must keep his own master’s favour. This was a difficult game, but the quiet, close-mouthed young Brahmin, helped by a good English education at a Bombay University, played it coolly, and rose, step by step, to be Prime Minister of the kingdom. That is to say, he held more real power than his master the Maharajah.

When the old king — who was suspicious of the English, their railways and telegraphs –died, Purun Dass stood high with his young successor, who had been tutored by an Englishman; and between them, though he always took care that his master should have the credit, they established schools for little girls, made roads, and started State dispensaries and shows of agricultural implements, and published a yearly blue-book on the “Moral and Material Progress of the State,” and the Foreign Office and the Government of India were delighted. Very few native States take up English progress altogether, for they will not believe, as Purun Dass showed he did, that what was good for the Englishman must be twice as good for the Asiatic. The Prime Minister became the honoured friend of Viceroys, and Governors, and Lieutenant-Governors, and medical missionaries, and common missionaries, and hard-riding English officers who came to shoot in the State preserves, as well as of whole hosts of tourists who travelled up and down India in the cold weather, showing how things ought to be managed. In his spare time he would endow scholarships for the study of medicine and manufactures on strictly English lines, and write letters to the “Pioneer”, the greatest Indian daily paper, explaining his master’s aims and objects.

At last he went to England on a visit, and had to pay enormous sums to the priests when he came back; for even so high-caste a Brahmin as Purun Dass lost caste by crossing the black sea. In London he met and talked with every one worth knowing –men whose names go all over the world — and saw a great deal more than he said. He was given honorary degrees by learned universities, and he made speeches and talked of Hindu social reform to English ladies in evening dress, till all London cried, “This is the most fascinating man we have ever met at dinner since cloths were first laid.”

When he returned to India there was a blaze of glory, for the Viceroy himself made a special visit to confer upon the Maharajah the Grand Cross of the Star of India — all diamonds and ribbons and enamel; and at the same ceremony, while the cannon boomed, Purun Dass was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire; so that his name stood Sir Purun Dass, K.C.I.E.

That evening, at dinner in the big Viceregal tent, he stood up with the badge and the collar of the Order on his breast, and replying to the toast of his master’s health, made a speech few Englishmen could have bettered.

Next month, when the city had returned to its sun-baked quiet, he did a thing no Englishman would have dreamed of doing; for, so far as the world’s affairs went, he died. The jewelled order of his knighthood went back to the Indian Government, and a new Prime Minister was appointed to the charge of affairs, and a great game of General Post began in all the subordinate appointments. The priests knew what had happened, and the people guessed; but India is the one place in the world where a man can do as he pleases and nobody asks why; and the fact that Dewan Sir Purun Dass, K.C.I.E., had resigned position, palace, and power, and taken up the begging-bowl and ochre-coloured dress of a Sunnyasi, or holy man, was considered nothing extraordinary. He had been, as the Old Law recommends, twenty years a youth, twenty years a fighter, — though he had never carried a weapon in his life, — and twenty years head of a household. He had used his wealth and his power for what he knew both to be worth; he had taken honour when it came his way; he had seen men and cities far and near, and men and cities had stood up and honoured him. Now he would let those things go, as a man drops the cloak he no longer needs.

Behind him, as he walked through the city gates, an antelope skin and brass-handled crutch under his arm, and a begging-bowl of polished brown coco-de-mer in his hand, barefoot, alone, with eyes cast on the ground — behind him they were firing salutes from the bastions in honour of his happy successor. Purun Dass nodded. All that life was ended; and he bore it no more ill-will or good-will than a man bears to a colourless dream of the night. He was a Sunnyasi — a houseless, wandering mendicant, depending on his neighbours for his daily bread; and so long as there is a morsel to divide in India, neither priest nor beggar starves. He had never in his life tasted meat, and very seldom eaten even fish. A five-pound note would have covered his personal expenses for food through any one of the many years in which he had been absolute master of millions of money. Even when he was being lionised in London he had held before him his dream of peace and quiet — the long, white, dusty Indian road, printed all over with bare feet, the incessant, slow-moving traffic, and the sharp-smelling wood smoke curling up under the fig-trees in the twilight, where the wayfarers sit at their evening meal.

When the time came to make that dream true the Prime Minister took the proper steps, and in three days you might more easily have found a bubble in the trough of the long Atlantic seas, than Purun Dass among the roving, gathering, separating millions of India.

At night his antelope skin was spread where the darkness overtook him — sometimes in a Sunnyasi monastery by the roadside; sometimes by a mud-pillar shrine of Kala Pir, where the Jogis, who are another misty division of holy men, would receive him as they do those who know what castes and divisions are worth; sometimes on the outskirts of a little Hindu village, where the children would steal up with the food their parents had prepared; and sometimes on the pitch of the bare grazing-grounds, where the flame of his stick fire waked the drowsy camels. It was all one to Purun Dass — or Purun Bhagat, as he called himself now. Earth, people, and food were all one. But unconsciously his feet drew him away northward and eastward; from the south to Rohtak; from Rohtak to Kurnool; from Kurnool to ruined Samanah, and then up-stream along the dried bed of the Gugger river that fills only when the rain falls in the hills, till one day he saw the far line of the great Himalayas.

Then Purun Bhagat smiled, for he remembered that his mother was of Rajput Brahmin birth, from Kulu way — a Hill-woman, always home-sick for the snows — and that the least touch of Hill blood draws a man in the end back to where he belongs.

“Yonder,” said Purun Bhagat, breasting the lower slopes of the Sewaliks, where the cacti stand up like seven-branched candlesticks, “yonder I shall sit down and get knowledge;” and the cool wind of the Himalayas whistled about his ears as he trod the road that led to Simla.

The last time he had come that way it had been in state, with a clattering cavalry escort, to visit the gentlest and most affable of Viceroys; and the two had talked for an hour together about mutual friends in London, and what the Indian common folk really thought of things. This time Purun Bhagat paid no calls, but leaned on the rail of the Mall, watching that glorious view of the Plains spread out forty miles below, till a native Mohammedan policeman told him he was obstructing traffic; and Purun Bhagat salaamed reverently to the Law, because he knew the value of it, and was seeking for a Law of his own. Then he moved on, and slept that night in an empty hut at Chota Simla, which looks like the very last end of the earth, but it was only the beginning of his journey.

He followed the Himalaya-Thibet road, the little ten-foot track that is blasted out of solid rock, or strutted out on timbers over gulfs a thousand feet deep; that dips into warm, wet, shut-in valleys, and climbs out across bare, grassy hill-shoulders where the sun strikes like a burning-glass; or turns through dripping, dark forests where the tree-ferns dress the trunks from head to heel, and the pheasant calls to his mate. And he met Thibetan herdsmen with their dogs and flocks of sheep, each sheep with a little bag of borax on his back, and wandering wood-cutters, and cloaked and blanketed Lamas from Thibet, coming into India on pilgrimage, and envoys of little solitary Hill-states, posting furiously on ring-streaked and piebald ponies, or the cavalcade of a Rajah paying a visit; or else for a long, clear day he would see nothing more than a black bear grunting and rooting below in the valley. When he first started, the roar of the world he had left still rang in his ears, as the roar of a tunnel rings long after the train has passed through; but when he had put the Mutteeanee Pass behind him that was all done, and Purun Bhagat was alone with himself, walking, wondering, and thinking, his eyes on the ground, and his thoughts with the clouds.

One evening he crossed the highest pass he had met till then — it had been a two-day’s climb — and came out on a line of snow-peaks that banded all the horizon — mountains from fifteen to twenty thousand feet high, looking almost near enough to hit with a stone, though they were fifty or sixty miles away. The pass was crowned with dense, dark forest — deodar, walnut, wild cherry, wild olive, and wild pear, but mostly deodar, which is the Himalayan cedar; and under the shadow of the deodars stood a deserted shrine to Kali– who is Durga, who is Sitala, who is sometimes worshipped against the smallpox.

Purun Dass swept the stone floor clean, smiled at the grinning statue, made himself a little mud fireplace at the back of the shrine, spread his antelope skin on a bed of fresh pine-needles, tucked his bairagi — his brass-handled crutch — under his armpit, and sat down to rest.

Immediately below him the hillside fell away, clean and cleared for fifteen hundred feet, where a little village of stone-walled houses, with roofs of beaten earth, clung to the steep tilt. All round it the tiny terraced fields lay out like aprons of patchwork on the knees of the mountain, and cows no bigger than beetles grazed between the smooth stone circles of the threshing-floors. Looking across the valley, the eye was deceived by the size of things, and could not at first realise that what seemed to be low scrub, on the opposite mountain-flank, was in truth a forest of hundred-foot pines. Purun Bhagat saw an eagle swoop across the gigantic hollow, but the great bird dwindled to a dot ere it was half-way over. A few bands of scattered clouds strung up and down the valley, catching on a shoulder of the hills, or rising up and dying out when they were level with the head of the pass. And “Here shall I find peace,” said Purun Bhagat.

Now, a Hill-man makes nothing of a few hundred feet up or down, and as soon as the villagers saw the smoke in the deserted shrine, the village priest climbed up the terraced hillside to welcome the stranger.

When he met Purun Bhagat’s eyes — the eyes of a man used to control thousands — he bowed to the earth, took the begging-bowl without a word, and returned to the village, saying, “We have at last a holy man. Never have I seen such a man. He is of the Plains — but pale-coloured — a Brahmin of the Brahmins.” Then all the housewives of the village said, “Think you he will stay with us?” and each did her best to cook the most savoury meal for the Bhagat. Hill-food is very simple, but with buckwheat and Indian corn, and rice and red pepper, and little fish out of the stream in the valley, and honey from the flue-like hives built in the stone walls, and dried apricots, and turmeric, and wild ginger, and bannocks of flour, a devout woman can make good things, and it was a full bowl that the priest carried to the Bhagat. Was he going to stay? asked the priest. Would he need a chela — a disciple — to beg for him? Had he a blanket against the cold weather? Was the food good?

Purun Bhagat ate, and thanked the giver. It was in his mind to stay. That was sufficient, said the priest. Let the begging-bowl be placed outside the shrine, in the hollow made by those two twisted roots, and daily should the Bhagat be fed; for the village felt honoured that such a man — he looked timidly into the Bhagat’s face –should tarry among them.

That day saw the end of Purun Bhagat’s wanderings. He had come to the place appointed for him — the silence and the space. After this, time stopped, and he, sitting at the mouth of the shrine, could not tell whether he were alive or dead; a man with control of his limbs, or a part of the hills, and the clouds, and the shifting rain and sunlight. He would repeat a Name softly to himself a hundred hundred times, till, at each repetition, he seemed to move more and more out of his body, sweeping up to the doors of some tremendous discovery; but, just as the door was opening, his body would drag him back, and, with grief, he felt he was locked up again in the flesh and bones of Purun Bhagat.

Every morning the filled begging-bowl was laid silently in the crutch of the roots outside the shrine. Sometimes the priest brought it; sometimes a Ladakhi trader, lodging in the village, and anxious to get merit, trudged up the path; but, more often, it was the woman who had cooked the meal overnight; and she would murmur, hardly above her breath. “Speak for me before the gods, Bhagat. Speak for such a one, the wife of so-and-so!” Now and then some bold child would be allowed the honour, and Purun Bhagat would hear him drop the bowl and run as fast as his little legs could carry him, but the Bhagat never came down to the village. It was laid out like a map at his feet. He could see the evening gatherings, held on the circle of the threshing-floors, because that was the only level ground; could see the wonderful unnamed green of the young rice, the indigo blues of the Indian corn, the dock-like patches of buckwheat, and, in its season, the red bloom of the amaranth, whose tiny seeds, being neither grain nor pulse, make a food that can be lawfully eaten by Hindus in time of fasts.

When the year turned, the roofs of the huts were all little squares of purest gold, for it was on the roofs that they laid out their cobs of the corn to dry. Hiving and harvest, rice-sowing and husking, passed before his eyes, all embroidered down there on the many-sided plots of fields, and he thought of them all, and wondered what they all led to at the long last.

Even in populated India a man cannot a day sit still before the wild things run over him as though he were a rock; and in that wilderness very soon the wild things, who knew Kali’s Shrine well, came back to look at the intruder. The langurs, the big gray-whiskered monkeys of the Himalayas, were, naturally, the first, for they are alive with curiosity; and when they had upset the begging-bowl, and rolled it round the floor, and tried their teeth on the brass-handled crutch, and made faces at the antelope skin, they decided that the human being who sat so still was harmless. At evening, they would leap down from the pines, and beg with their hands for things to eat, and then swing off in graceful curves. They liked the warmth of the fire, too, and huddled round it till Purun Bhagat had to push them aside to throw on more fuel; and in the morning, as often as not, he would find a furry ape sharing his blanket. All day long, one or other of the tribe would sit by his side, staring out at the snows, crooning and looking unspeakably wise and sorrowful.

After the monkeys came the barasingh, that big deer which is like our red deer, but stronger. He wished to rub off the velvet of his horns against the cold stones of Kali’s statue, and stamped his feet when he saw the man at the shrine. But Purun Bhagat never moved, and, little by little, the royal stag edged up and nuzzled his shoulder. Purun Bhagat slid one cool hand along the hot antlers, and the touch soothed the fretted beast, who bowed his head, and Purun Bhagat very softly rubbed and ravelled off the velvet. Afterward, the barasingh brought his doe and fawn — gentle things that mumbled on the holy man’s blanket — or would come alone at night, his eyes green in the fire-flicker, to take his share of fresh walnuts. At last, the musk-deer, the shyest and almost the smallest of the deerlets, came, too, her big rabbity ears erect; even brindled, silentmushick-nabha must needs find out what the light in the shrine meant, and drop out her moose-like nose into Purun Bhagat’s lap, coming and going with the shadows of the fire. Purun Bhagat called them all “my brothers,” and his low call of “Bhai! Bhai!” would draw them from the forest at noon if they were within ear shot. The Himalayan black bear, moody and suspicious–Sona, who has the V-shaped white mark under his chin–passed that way more than once; and since the Bhagat showed no fear, Sona showed no anger, but watched him, and came closer, and begged a share of the caresses, and a dole of bread or wild berries. Often, in the still dawns, when the Bhagat would climb to the very crest of the pass to watch the red day walking along the peaks of the snows, he would find Sona shuffling and grunting at his heels, thrusting, a curious fore-paw under fallen trunks, and bringing it away with a whoof of impatience; or his early steps would wake Sona where he lay curled up, and the great brute, rising erect, would think to fight, till he heard the Bhagat’s voice and knew his best friend.

Nearly all hermits and holy men who live apart from the big cities have the reputation of being able to work miracles with the wild things, but all the miracle lies in keeping still, in never making a hasty movement, and, for a long time, at least, in never looking directly at a visitor. The villagers saw the outline of the barasingh stalking like a shadow through the dark forest behind the shrine; saw the minaul, the Himalayan pheasant, blazing in her best colours before Kali’s statue; and the langurs on their haunches, inside, playing with the walnut shells. Some of the children, too, had heard Sona singing to himself, bear-fashion, behind the fallen rocks, and the Bhagat’s reputation as miracle-worker stood firm.

Yet nothing was farther from his mind than miracles. He believed that all things were one big Miracle, and when a man knows that much he knows something to go upon. He knew for a certainty that there was nothing great and nothing little in this world: and day and night he strove to think out his way into the heart of things, back to the place whence his soul had come.

So thinking, his untrimmed hair fell down about his shoulders, the stone slab at the side of the antelope skin was dented into a little hole by the foot of his brass-handled crutch, and the place between the tree-trunks, where the begging-bowl rested day after day, sunk and wore into a hollow almost as smooth as the brown shell itself; and each beast knew his exact place at the fire. The fields changed their colours with the seasons; the threshing-floors filled and emptied, and filled again and again; and again and again, when winter came, the langurs frisked among the branches feathered with light snow, till the mother-monkeys brought their sad-eyed little babies up from the warmer valleys with the spring. There were few changes in the village. The priest was older, and many of the little children who used to come with the begging-dish sent their own children now; and when you asked of the villagers how long their holy man had lived in Kali’s Shrine at the head of the pass, they answered, “Always.”

Then came such summer rains as had not been known in the Hills for many seasons. Through three good months the valley was wrapped in cloud and soaking mist — steady, unrelenting downfall, breaking off into thunder-shower after thunder-shower. Kali’s Shrine stood above the clouds, for the most part, and there was a whole month in which the Bhagat never caught a glimpse of his village. It was packed away under a white floor of cloud that swayed and shifted and rolled on itself and bulged upward, but never broke from its piers — the streaming flanks of the valley.

All that time he heard nothing but the sound of a million little waters, overhead from the trees, and underfoot along the ground, soaking through the pine-needles, dripping from the tongues of draggled fern, and spouting in newly-torn muddy channels down the slopes. Then the sun came out, and drew forth the good incense of the deodars and the rhododendrons, and that far-off, clean smell which the Hill people call “the smell of the snows.” The hot sunshine lasted for a week, and then the rains gathered together for their last downpour, and the water fell in sheets that flayed off the skin of the ground and leaped back in mud. Purun Bhagat heaped his fire high that night, for he was sure his brothers would need warmth; but never a beast came to the shrine, though he called and called till he dropped asleep, wondering what had happened in the woods.

It was in the black heart of the night, the rain drumming like a thousand drums, that he was roused by a plucking at his blanket, and, stretching out, felt the little hand of alangur. “It is better here than in the trees,” he said sleepily, loosening a fold of blanket; “take it and be warm.” The monkey caught his hand and pulled hard. “Is it food, then?” said Purun Bhagat. “Wait awhile, and I will prepare some.” As he kneeled to throw fuel on the fire the langur ran to the door of the shrine, crooned and ran back again, plucking at the man’s knee.

“What is it? What is thy trouble, Brother?” said Purun Bhagat, for the langur‘s eyes were full of things that he could not tell. “Unless one of thy caste be in a trap — and none set traps here — I will not go into that weather. Look, Brother, even the barasingh comes for shelter!”

The deer’s antlers clashed as he strode into the shrine, clashed against the grinning statue of Kali. He lowered them in Purun Bhagat’s direction and stamped uneasily, hissing through his half-shut nostrils. “Hai! Hai! Hai!” said the Bhagat, snapping his fingers, “Is this payment for a night’s lodging?” But the deer pushed him toward the door, and as he did so Purun Bhagat heard the sound of something opening with a sigh, and saw two slabs of the floor draw away from each other, while the sticky earth below smacked its lips.

“Now I see,” said Purun Bhagat. “No blame to my brothers that they did not sit by the fire to-night. The mountain is falling. And yet — why should I go?” His eye fell on the empty begging-bowl, and his face changed. “They have given me good food daily since — since I came, and, if I am not swift, to-morrow there will not be one mouth in the valley. Indeed, I must go and warn them below. Back there, Brother! Let me get to the fire.”

The barasingh backed unwillingly as Purun Bhagat drove a pine torch deep into the flame, twirling it till it was well lit. “Ah! ye came to warn me,” he said, rising. “Better than that we shall do; better than that. Out, now, and lend me thy neck, Brother, for I have but two feet.”

He clutched the bristling withers of the barasingh with his right hand, held the torch away with his left, and stepped out of the shrine into the desperate night. There was no breath of wind, but the rain nearly drowned the flare as the great deer hurried down the slope, sliding on his haunches. As soon as they were clear of the forest more of the Bhagat’s brothers joined them. He heard, though he could not see, the langurs pressing about him, and behind them the uhh! uhh! of Sona. The rain matted his long white hair into ropes; the water splashed beneath his bare feet, and his yellow robe clung to his frail old body, but he stepped down steadily, leaning against the barasingh. He was no longer a holy man, but Sir Purun Dass, K.C.I.E., Prime Minister of no small State, a man accustomed to command, going out to save life. Down the steep, plashy path they poured all together, the Bhagat and his brothers, down and down till the deer’s feet clicked and stumbled on the wall of a threshing-floor, and he snorted because he smelt Man. Now they were at the head of the one crooked village street, and the Bhagat beat with his crutch on the barred windows of the blacksmith’s house, as his torch blazed up in the shelter of the eaves. “Up and out!” cried Purun Bhagat; and he did not know his own voice, for it was years since he had spoken aloud to a man. “The hill falls! The hill is falling! Up and out, oh, you within!”

“It is our Bhagat,” said the blacksmith’s wife. “He stands among his beasts. Gather the little ones and give the call.”

It ran from house to house, while the beasts, cramped in the narrow way, surged and huddled round the Bhagat, and Sona puffed impatiently. The people hurried into the street — they were no more than seventy souls all told — and in the glare of the torches they saw their Bhagat holding back the terrified barasingh, while the monkeys plucked piteously at his skirts, and Sona sat on his haunches and roared.

“Across the valley and up the next hill!” shouted Purun Bhagat. “Leave none behind! We follow!”

Then the people ran as only Hill folk can run, for they knew that in a landslip you must climb for the highest ground across the valley. They fled, splashing through the little river at the bottom, and panted up the terraced fields on the far side, while the Bhagat and his brethren followed. Up and up the opposite mountain they climbed, calling to each other by name — the roll-call of the village — and at their heels toiled the big barasingh, weighted by the failing strength of Purun Bhagat. At last the deer stopped in the shadow of a deep pinewood, five hundred feet up the hillside. His instinct, that had warned him of the coming slide, told him he would he safe here.

Purun Bhagat dropped fainting by his side, for the chill of the rain and that fierce climb were killing him; but first he called to the scattered torches ahead, “Stay and count your numbers;” then, whispering to the deer as he saw the lights gather in a cluster: “Stay with me, Brother. Stay — till — I — go!”

There was a sigh in the air that grew to a mutter, and a mutter that grew to a roar, and a roar that passed all sense of hearing, and the hillside on which the villagers stood was hit in the darkness, and rocked to the blow. Then a note as steady, deep, and true as the deep C of the organ drowned everything for perhaps five minutes, while the very roots of the pines quivered to it. It died away, and the sound of the rain falling on miles of hard ground and grass changed to the muffled drum of water on soft earth. That told its own tale.

Never a villager — not even the priest — was bold enough to speak to the Bhagat who had saved their lives. They crouched under the pines and waited till the day. When it came they looked across the valley and saw that what had been forest, and terraced field, and track-threaded grazing-ground was one raw, red, fan-shaped smear, with a few trees flung head-down on the scarp. That red ran high up the hill of their refuge, damming back the little river, which had begun to spread into a brick-coloured lake. Of the village, of the road to the shrine, of the shrine itself, and the forest behind, there was no trace. For one mile in width and two thousand feet in sheer depth the mountain-side had come away bodily, planed clean from head to heel.

And the villagers, one by one, crept through the wood to pray before their Bhagat. They saw the barasingh standing over him, who fled when they came near, and they heard thelangurs wailing in the branches, and Sona moaning up the hill; but their Bhagat was dead, sitting cross-legged, his back against a tree, his crutch under his armpit, and his face turned to the north-east.

The priest said: “Behold a miracle after a miracle, for in this very attitude must all Sunnyasis be buried! Therefore where he now is we will build the temple to our holy man.”

They built the temple before a year was ended — a little stone-and-earth shrine — and they called the hill the Bhagat’s hill, and they worship there with lights and flowers and offerings to this day. But they do not know that the saint of their worship is the late Sir Purun Dass, K.C.I.E., D.C.L., Ph.D., etc., once Prime Minister of the progressive and enlightened State of Mohiniwala, and honorary or corresponding member of more learned and scientific societies than will ever do any good in this world or the next.

 

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Writer’s Corner: Illustration Breakdown – DESTAN

Hello again everyone! We have finally come to the last Illustration Breakdown for The Prince of Prophecy Vol. II: Cursed! For those of you who haven’t seen the previous Illustration Breakdowns I encourage you to check out Scarlet and Nicholas’s. This time around I’ll show you the main character of The Prince of Prophecy series, Prince Destan Von Diederich. Again, all the beautiful artworks below were done by my Illustrator Enrica Angiolini.

As you can probably imagine, I wanted Destan to be perfect (you know, since he is my main character and all). Early on in the process, Destan went through some major character design adjustments and in the end I got almost exactly what I picture in my head when I think of him. As with the other characters, Enrica was nice enough to show me step by step how Destan was turning out. Below is a visual example of the process.

NOTE: You can click on any picture to make it larger.

 

First, Enrica drew the initial sketches based on the information I provided her with:

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After I approve the sketch Enrica begins to shade the character:

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Now it’s time to start coloring–this is when the picture really start coming together:

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And Finally we have our finished Destan:

Destan (2)

I absolutely LOVE how he turned out–his eyes are gorgeous!

If you’d like to learn more about Nicholas (and see more of his illustrations), purchase copies of The Prince of Prophecy Vol. I: Destined  and The Prince of Prophecy Vol. II: Cursed. Both books have excellent ratings on Amazon and B&N.com, and they’re great reads for anyone who likes fantasy, adventure, and fairy tales!

For new fairy tale, Prince of Prophecy, and Writer’s Corner updates every Wednesday and Saturday, follow this blog!