Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Now, in my heart I grew afraid, but none would tell me more of this Murgh or what was likely to happen to me at his hands. Still, I would not show any fear, and, strong in the faith of Christ, I determined to look upon this idol, for such I expected him to be.

“That night the servants of Timur bore me out of the city in a litter, and by the starlight I saw that we travelled toward a hill through great graveyards, where people were burying their dead. At the foot of the hill they set me down upon a road, and told me to walk up it, and that at dawn I should see the House of Murgh, whereof the gates were always open, and could enter there if I wished. I asked if they would wait for my return, whereon they answered, smiling, that if I so desired they would do so till evening, but that it seemed scarcely needful, since they did not suppose that I should return.

“‘Do yonder pilgrims to the House of Murgh return?’ asked their captain, pointing toward those graveyards which we had passed.

“I made no answer, but walked forward up a broad and easy road, unchallenged of any, till I came to what, even in that dim light, I could see was a great and frowning gateway, whereof the doors appeared to be open. Now, at first I thought I would pass this gateway at once and see what lay beyond. But from this I was held back by some great fear, for which I could find no cause, unless it were bred of what the Emperor and his servants had said to me. So I remembered their words—namely, that I should tarry till dawn to enter the house.

“There, then, I tarried, seated on the ground before the gateway, and feeling as though, yet alive, I had descended among the dead. Indeed, the silence was that of the dead. No voice spoke, no hound barked, no leaf stirred. Only far above me I heard a continual soughing, as though winged souls passed to and fro. Never in my life had I felt so much alone, never so much afraid.

“At length the dawn broke, and oh, glad was I to see its light, for fear lest I should die in darkness! Now I saw that I was on a hilltop where grew great groves of cedar trees, and that set amid them was a black-tiled temple, surrounded by a wall built of black brick.

“It was not a great place, although the gateway, which was surmounted by two black dragons of stone or iron, was very great, so great that a tall ship could have sailed through it and left its arch untouched.

“I kneeled down and prayed to the blessed Saints and the guardian angels to protect me. Then I arose, crossed myself to scare off all evil things by that holy sign, and set forward toward the mighty gateway. Oh, never, never till that hour had I understood how lowly a thing is man! On that broad road, travelling toward the awful, dragon-guarded arch, beyond which lay I knew not what, it seemed to me that I was the only man left in the world, I, whose hour had come to enter the portals of destruction.

“I passed into the cold shadow of the gateway, unchallenged by any watchman, and found myself in a courtyard surrounded by a wall also built of black brick, which had doors in it that seemed to be of dark stone or iron. Whither these doors led I do not know, since the wall cut off the sight of any buildings that may have lain beyond. In the centre of this courtyard was a pool of still, black water, and at the head of the pool a chair of black marble.”

Sir Andrew paused, and Hugh said:

“A plain place for a temple, Father, without adornments or images. But perhaps this was the outer court, and the temple stood within.”

“Ay, son, the plainest temple that ever I saw, who have seen many in all lands, though what was beyond it I do not know. And yet—terrible, terrible, terrible!—I tell you that those black walls and that black water were more fearsome to look on than any churchyard vault grim with bones, or a torture-pit where victims quiver out their souls midst shrieks and groanings. And yet I could see nothing of which to be afraid, and hear nothing save that soughing of invisible wings whereof I have spoken. An empty chair, a pool of water, some walls and doors, and, above, the quiet sky. What was there to fear in such things as these? Still, so greatly did I fear that I sank to my knees and began to pray once more, this time to the blessed Saviour himself, since I was sure that none else could help me.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider