Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

Truly he was worth the seeing. Hugh noted his garments first, and particularly the head-dress, which caught his glance and held it, for never had he known such a one before. It was a cap fitting tight to the skull, only running across the crown of it was a stiff raised ridge, of leather perhaps, jagged and pointed something like the comb of a cock. This comb, of a brilliant red, was surmounted at its highest point by a ball of black of the size of a small apple. The cap itself was yellow, except its lowest band, which stood out from it and was also black. In the centre of this band upon the forehead glowed a stone like a ruby.

Such was the head-dress. The broad shoulders beneath were covered with a cape of long and glossy fur blacker than coal, on to either shoulder of which drooped ear-rings made of rings of green stone which afterward Hugh came to know was jade. The cape of fur, which hung down to the knees and was set over a kind of surplice of yellow silk, was open in front, revealing its wearer’s naked bosom that was clothed only with row upon row of round gems of the size of a hazel nut. These like the fur were black, but shone with a strange and lustrous sheen. The man’s thick arms were naked, but on his hands he wore white leather gloves made without division like a sock, as though to match the white sandals on his feet.

This was the Man’s attire. Now for him who wore it. He was tall, but not taller than are many other men; he was broad, but not broader than many other men, and yet he looked stronger than all the men in the world. On his brow, which was prominent, smooth black hair parted in the middle was plastered back as that of women sometimes is, making hard lines against the yellow skin below. He had very thin eyebrows that ran upward on either side of a bow-shaped wrinkle in the centre of his forehead. The eyes beneath were small and pale—paler even than those of Grey Dick—yet their glance was like the points of thrusting swords. With those little eyes alone he seemed to smile, for the rest of his countenance did not move. The nose was long and broad at the end with wide spreading nostrils and a deep furrow on either side. The mouth was thin-lipped and turned downward at the corners, and the chin was like a piece of iron, quite hairless, and lean as that of a man long dead.

There he stood like some wild vision of a dream, smiling with those small unblinking eyes that seemed to take in all present one by one. There he stood in the moonlit silence, for the mob was quiet enough now for a little while, that yet was not silence because of a soughing noise which seemed to proceed from the air about his head.

Then, suddenly the tumult broke out again with its cries of “Kill the devil! Tear the wizard to pieces! Death is behind him! He brings death! Kill, kill, kill!”

A score of knives flashed in the air, only this time Grey Dick set no arrow on his string. Their holders ran forward; then the Man lifted his hand, in which was no weapon, and they stopped.

Now he spoke in a low voice so cold that, to Hugh’s excited fancy, the words seemed to tinkle like falling ice as one by one they came from his lips. He spoke in Italian—perfect Italian of Venice—and young Day, whose teeth were chattering with fear, translated his words.

“Is this your welcome to a stranger,” he said, “the companions of whose voyage have unhappily met with misfortune?” Here with a faint motion of his fingerless glove he indicated the dead who lay all about the decks of that fatal ship. “Would you, men of Venice, kill a poor, unarmed stranger who has travelled to visit you from the farthest East and seen much sorrow on his way?”

“Ay, we would, sorcerer!” shouted one. “Our brothers were in that ship, which we know, and you have murdered them.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider