Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Now think with your mind and shoot with your heart,” he said in his cold voice, and, so saying, drew and loosed as though at a hazard.

Out toward Venice leaped the shaft with a rushing sound like to that of wings and, as it seemed to the watchers, light went with it, for it travelled like a beam of light. Far over the city it travelled, describing a mighty are such as no arrow ever flew before, then sank down and vanished behind some palace tower.

“A very good bow,” said the shooter, as he handed it back to Dick. “Never have I known a better, who have used thousands made of many a substance. Indeed, I think that I remember it. Did you chance to find it years ago by the seashore? Yes? Well, it was a gift of mine to a famous archer who died upon a ship. Nay, it is not strained; I can judge of the breaking strength of a bow. Whether or no I can judge of the flight of an arrow you will learn hereafter. But that this one flew fast and far cannot be doubted since—did you watchers note it?—its speed made it shine like fire. This is caused by the rubbing of the air when aught travels through it very quickly. This night you have seen a meteor glow in the same fashion, only because the air fretted it in its passage. In the East, whence I come, we produce fire just so. And now let us be going, for I have much to do to-night, and would look upon this fair Venice ere I sleep. I’ll lead the way, having seen a map of the town which a traveller brought to the East. I studied it, and now it comes back to my mind. Stay, let that youth give me his garment,” and he pointed to David Day, who wore a silk cloak like the others, “since my foreign dress might excite remark, as it did but now.”

In a moment Day had stripped himself of his light silk-hooded gown, and in another moment it was on the person of Murgh, though how it got there, when they came to think of it afterward, none could remember. Still, the yellow and red head-dress, the coal-black silky furs, the yellow skirt, the gleaming pearls, all vanished beneath it. Nothing remained visible except the white fingerless gloves—why were they fingerless, and what lay beneath them? Hugh wondered—and the white shoes.

Forward they went across the Place of Arms, past the timber stand ornamented with banners, which Murgh stayed to contemplate for an instant, until they came to the mouth of the street up which men had followed them, apparently with evil intent.

“Sir Murgh,” said Hugh, stepping forward, “you had best let me and my companion Grey Dick walk first down this place, lest you should come to harm. When we passed it a while ago we thought that we heard robbers behind us, and in Venice, as we are told, such men use knives.”

“Thank you for your warning, Sir Hugh,” and even beneath the shadow of the silk hood Hugh thought that he saw his eyes smile, and seeing, remembered all the folly of such talk.

“Yet I’ll risk these robbers. Do you two and the lad keep behind me,” he added in a sterner voice.

So they advanced down the narrow street, the man called Murgh going first, Hugh, Grey Dick and the lad following meekly behind him. As they entered its shadows a low whistle sounded, but nothing happened for a while. When they had traversed about half its length, however, men, five or six of them in all, darted out of the gloom of a gateway and rushed at them. The faint light showed that they were masked and gleamed upon the blue steel of the daggers in their hands. Two of these men struck at Murgh with their knives, while the others tried to pass him, doubtless to attack his companions, but failed. Why they failed Hugh and Dick never knew. All they saw was that Murgh stretched out his white-gloved hands, and they fell back.

The men who had struck at him fell back also, their daggers dropping to the ground, and fled away, followed by their companions, all except one whom Murgh had seized. Hugh noted that he was a tall, thin fellow, and that, unlike the rest, he had drawn no weapon, although it was at his signal that the other bravoes had rushed on. This man Murgh seemed to hold with one hand while with the other he ripped the mask off his face, turning him so that the light shone on him.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider