Now there was a long silence, and I confess that fear got hold of me, for it seemed to me as though spirits were moving in the air and through the darkness behind us—yes, as though I could hear their whisperings and the rustle of their wings. Suddenly, at the end of this silence, the golden image in front of us began to glow as though it were molten, and the emerald eyes that were set in its head to sparkle terribly, which frightened me so much that had it not been for shame's sake I would have run away, but because of this stood still and prayed to St. Hubert to protect me from the devil and his works. Presently I prayed still harder, for the image began to speak—yes, in a horrid, whistling voice it spoke, although no one was near to it. These were the words it said:
"Who is this clad in silver whose skin is white and whose hair is yellow? Such an one I have not seen for a thousand years, and such as he it is that shall possess themselves of the Land of Tavantinsuyu, shall steal its wealth, shall slay its people, and shall cast down its gods. But not yet, not yet! Therefore this is the command of Pachacamac, uttered by the voice of Rimac the Speaker, that none do harm to or cross the will of this mighty seaborn lord, since he shall be as a strong wall to many and his sword shall be red with the blood of the wicked."
The whistling voice ceased while the priests and all there stared at me, for they seemed to think its words fateful. Then suddenly it began again:
"And who is this that came out of the sea with the Shining One, having wandered further than any of his ancient blood? I know. I know, yet I may not say, since the Spirit of spirits whose image he wears upon his heart bids me be silent. Be bold! Be bold! Prosper and grow great, Child of Pachacamac, for thy wanderings are not yet done. Still there is a mountain to be climbed, and on the crest of it hangs a fringe of Heaven's gold."
Again the voice ceased, while this time all stared at Kari, who shook his head humbly as though bewildered by what he could not understand. Once more the image spoke:
"Who is this daughter of the Sun, in whose veins play moonbeams and who is fairer than the evening star? One, I think, whom men shall desire and because of whom shall flow the blood of the great. One whose thought is swift as the lightning and subtle as the snake, one in whom passion burns like fire in the womb of the mountain, but who is filled with spirit that dances above the fire and who longs for things that are afar. Daughter of the Sun in whose blood run the moonbeams, thou shalt slip from the hated arms and the Sun shall be thy shelter, and in the beloved arms thou shalt sleep at last. Yet from the vengeance of the god betrayed fly fast and far!"
Again the voice ceased, and I thought that all was over. But it was not so, for after a little space the golden figure of the oracle glowed more fiercely than before and the emerald eyes shone more terribly, and in a kind of scream it spoke, saying:
"The snows of Tavantinsuyu shall be red with blood, the waters of her rivers shall be full of blood. Yes, ye three shall wade through blood, and in a rain of blood shall pluck the fruit of your desires. Still for a while the gods of Tavantinsuyu shall endure and its kings shall reign and its children shall be free. But in the end death for the gods and death for the kings and death for the people. Still, not yet—not yet! None who live shall see it, nor their children, nor their children's children. Rimac the Voice has spoken; treasure ye his words and interpret them as ye will."
The whistling voice died away like the thin cry of some starving child in a desert, and there was a great silence. Then in a moment the figure of gold ceased to glow and the eyes of emerald to burn, leaving the thing but a dead lump of metal. The priests prostrated themselves, and rising, led us from the place without a word, but in the light of the lamps I saw that their faces were full of terror—so full that I doubted whether it could be feigned.
As we had come, so we went, and at last found ourselves outside the glittering temple doors where the litters awaited us.
"What did it mean?" I whispered to Quilla, who was by my side.
"For you and the other I know not," she answered hurriedly; "but for me I think that it means death. Yet, not until—not until——" And she ceased.
At that moment the moon appeared from behind the rain-clouds and shone upon her upturned face, and in her eyes there was a glory.
Now, as I learned afterwards, these words of its most famous oracle went all through the land and caused great talk and wonder mixed with fear, for none of such import had been spoken by it for generations. More, they shaped my own fortunes, for, as I came to know, Quismancu and his people had determined that I should not be allowed to go from among them. Not every day did a white god rise from the sea, and they desired that having come to them, there he should bide to be their defence and boast, and with him that hermit named Zapana, to whom, as they believed, he had appeared upon the desert isle. But after Rimac had spoken all this was changed, and when I said it was my will to depart and accompany Quilla upon her journey home to her father, Huaracha, King of the Chancas, as by swift messenger this King invited me to do, Quismancu answered that if I so desired I must be obeyed as the god Rimac had commanded, but that nevertheless he was sure that we should meet again.
Now, thinking these things over, I wondered much whether that oracle came out of the golden Rimac or perchance from the heart of Quilla, or of Kari, or of both of them, who desired that I should leave the Yuncas and travel to the Chancas and further. I did not know, nor was I ever to learn, since about matters to do with their gods these people are as secret as the grave. I asked Kari and I asked Quilla, but both of them stared at me with innocent eyes, and replied who were they to inspire the golden tongue of Rimac? Nor, indeed, did I ever learn whether Rimac the Speaker was a spirit or but a lump of metal through which some priest talked. All I know is that from one end of Tavantinsuyu to the other he was believed to be a spirit who spoke the very will of God to those who could understand his words, though this as a Christian man I could not credit.
So it came about that some days later, with Quilla and Kari and certain old men who, I took it, were priests or ambassadors, or both, I departed on our journey. As we went the people wept around my litter for sorrow, real or feigned, for we travelled in litters guarded by some two hundred soldiers armed with axes of copper and bows, and cast flowers before the feet of the bearers. But I did not weep, for though I had been very kindly treated there and, indeed, worshipped, glad was I to see the last of that city and its people who wearied me.
Moreover, I felt that there I was in the midst of plots, though of what these were I knew nothing, save that Quilla, who to the outward eye was but a lovely, innocent maiden, had a hand in them. Plots there were indeed, for, as I came to understand in time, they were nothing less than the preparing of a great war which the Chancas and the Yuncas were to wage against their over-lord, the Inca, the king of the mighty nation of the Quichuas, who had his home at a city called Cuzco far inland. Indeed, there and then this alliance was arranged, and by Quilla—Quilla, who proposed to sacrifice herself and by the gift of her person to his heir, to throw dust in the eyes of the Inca, whose dominion her father planned to take and with it the imperial crown of Tavantinsuyu.
Leaving the coastland, we were borne forward through the passes of great mountains, upon a wonderful road so finely made that never had I seen its like in England. At times we crossed rivers, but over these were thrown bridges of stone. Or mayhap we came to swamps, yet there the road still ran, built upon deep foundations in the mud. Never did it turn aside; always it went on, conquering every hindrance, for this was one of the Inca's roads that pierced Tavantinsuyu from end to end. We came to many towns, for this land was thickly populated, and for the most part slept in one of them each night. But always my fame had gone before me, and the Curacas, or chiefs of the towns, waited upon me with offerings as though I were indeed divine.
For the first five days of that journey I saw little of Quilla, but at length one night we were forced to camp at a kind of rest-house upon the top of a high mountain pass, where it was very cold, for the deep snow lay all about. At this place, as here were no Curacas to trouble me, I went out alone when Kari was elsewhere, and climbed a certain peak which was not far from the rest-house, that thence I might see the sunset and think in quiet.
Very glorious was the scene from that high point. All round me stood the cold crests of snow-clad mountains towering to the very skies, while between them lay deep valleys where rivers ran like veins of silver. So immense was the landscape that it seemed to have no end, and so grand that it crushed the spirit, while above arched the perfect sky in whose rich blue the gorgeous lights of evening began to gather as the great sun sank behind the snowy peaks.
Far up in the heavens floated one wide-winged bird, the eagle of the mountains, which is larger than any other fowl that I have ever seen, and the red light playing on it turned it to a thing of fire. I watched that bird and wished that I too had pinions which could bear me far away to the sea and over it.
And yet did I wish to go who had no home left on all the earth and no kind heart that would welcome me? Awhile ago I should have answered, "Yes, anywhere out of this loneliness," but now I was not so sure. Here at least Kari was my friend if a jealous one, though of late, as I could see, he was thinking of other things than friendship—dark plottings and high ambitions of which as yet he said little to me.
Then there was that strange and beautiful woman, Quilla, to whom my heart went out and not only because she was beautiful, and who, as I thought, at times looked kindly on me. But if so, what did it avail; seeing that she was promised in marriage to some high-placed native man who would be a king? Surely I had known enough of women who were promised in marriage to other men, and should do well to let her be.
Thinking thus, desolation took hold of me and I sat myself down on a rock and covered my face with my hands that I might not see the tears, which I knew were gathering in my eyes, as they fell from them. Yes, there in the midst of that awful solitude, I, Hubert of Hastings, whose soul it filled, sat down like a lost child and wept.
Presently I felt a touch upon my shoulder and let fall my hands, thinking that Kari had found me out, to hear a soft voice, the voice of Quilla, say:
"So it seems that the gods can weep. Why do you weep, O God-from-the-Waves who here are named Hurachi?"
"I weep," I answered, "because I am a stranger in a strange land; I weep because I have not wings whereon I can fly away like that great bird above us."
She looked at me awhile, then said, most gently:
"And whither would you fly, O God-from-the-Sea? Back into the sea?"
"Cease to call me a god," I answered, "who, as you know well, am but a man though of another race than yours."
"I thought it but I did not know. But whither would you fly, O Lord Hurachi?"
"To the land where I was born, Lady Quilla; the land that I shall never see again."
"Ah! doubtless there you have wives and children for whom your heart is hungry."
"Nay, now I have neither wife nor child."
"Then once you had a wife. Tell me of that wife. Was she fair?"
"Why should I tell you a sad story? She is dead."
"Dead or living, you still love her, and where there is love there is no death."
"Nay, I only love what I thought she was."
"Was she false, then?"
"Yes, false and yet true. So true that she died because she was false."
"How can a woman be both false and true?"
"Woman can be all things. Ask the question of your own heart. Can you not perchance be both false and true?"
She thought awhile and, leaving this matter, said:
"So, having once loved, you can never love again."
"Why not? Perchance I can love too much. But what would be the use when more love would but mean more loss and pain?"
"Whom should you love, my lord Hurachi, seeing that the women of your own folk are far away?"
"I think one who is very near, if she would pay back love for love."
Quilla made no answer, and I thought that she was angry and would go away. But she did not; indeed, she sat herself down upon the stone at my side and covered her face with her hands as I had done and began to weep as I had done. Now in my turn I asked her:
"Why do you weep?"
"Because I, too, must know loneliness, and with it shame, Lord Hurachi."
At these words my heart beat and passion flamed up in me. Stretching out my hand I drew hers away and in the dying light gazed at the face beneath. Lo! on its loveliness there was a look which could not be misread.
"Do you, then, also love?" I whispered.
"Aye, more, I think, than ever woman loved before. From the moment when first I saw you sleeping in the moonbeams on the desert isle, I knew my fate had found me, and that I loved. I fought against it because I must, but that love has grown and grown, till now I am all love, and, having given everything, have no more left to give."
When I heard this, making no answer, I swept her into my arms and kissed her, and there she lay upon my breast and kissed me back.
"Let me go, and hear me," she murmured presently, "for you are strong and I am weak."
I obeyed, and she sank back upon the stone.
"My lord," she said, "our case is very sad, or at least my case is sad, since though you being a man may love often, I can love but once, and, my lord, it may not be."
"Why not?" I asked hoarsely. "Your people think me a god; cannot a god take whom he wills to wife?"
"Not when she is vowed to another god, he who will be Inca; not when on her, mayhap, hangs the fate of nations."
"We might fly, Quilla."
"Whither could the God-from-the-Sea fly and whither could fly the daughter of the Moon, who is vowed to the son of the Sun in marriage, save to death?"
"There are worse things than death, Quilla."
"Aye, but my life is in pawn. I must live that my people may not die. Myself I offered it to this cause and now, being royal, I cannot take it back again for my own joy. It is better to be shamed with honour than to be loved in the lap of shame."
"What then?" I asked hopelessly.
"Only this, that above us are the gods, and—heard you not the oracle of Rimac that declared to me that I should slip from the hated arms, that the Sun should be my shelter, and in the beloved arms I should sleep at last, though from the vengeance of the god betrayed I must fly fast and far? I think that this means death, but also it means life in death and—O arms beloved, you shall fold me yet. I know not how, but have faith—for you shall fold me yet. Meanwhile, tempt me not from the path of honour, since this I know, that it alone can lead me to my home. Yet who is the god betrayed from whom I must fly? Who, who?"
Thus she spoke and was silent, and I, too, was silent. Yes, there we sat, both silent in the darkness, searching the heavens for a guiding star. And as we sat, presently I heard the voice of Kari saying:
"Have I found you, Lord, and you also, Lady Quilla? Return, I pray you, for all search and are frightened."
"Why?" I answered. "The lady Quilla and I study this wondrous scene."
"Yes, Lord, though to those who are not god-born it would be difficult in this darkness. Suffer, now that I show you the path."
As it chanced during the remaining days of that journey, Quilla and I were not again alone together (that is to say, except once for a few minutes), for we were never out of eyeshot of someone in our company. Thus Kari clung to me very closely, indeed, and when I asked him why, told me bluntly that it was for my safety's sake. A god to remain a god, he said, should live alone in a temple. When he began to mix with others of the earth and to do those things they did, to eat and to drink, to laugh and to frown; even to slip in the mud or to stumble over the stones in the common path, those others would come to think that there was small difference between god and man. Especially would they think so if he were observed to love the company of women or to melt beneath their soft glances.
Now I grew sore at the sting of these arrows which of late he had loved to shoot at me, and without pretending to misunderstand him, said outright:
"The truth is, Kari, that you are jealous of the lady Quilla as once you were jealous of another."
He considered the matter in his grave fashion, and answered:
"Yes, Master, that is the truth, or part of it. You saved my life, and sheltered me when I was alone in a strange land, and for this and for yourself I came to love you very greatly, and love, if it be true, is always jealous and always hates a rival."
"There are different sorts of loves," I said; "that of a man for man is one, that of man for woman is another."
"Yes, Master, and that of woman for man is a third; moreover, there is this about it—it is the acid which turns all other loves sour. Where are a man's friends when a woman has him by the heart?—although perchance they love him better than ever will the woman who at bottom loves herself best of all. Still, let that be, for so Nature works, and who can fight against Nature? What Quilla takes, Kari loses, and Kari must be content to lose."
"Have you done?" I asked angrily, who wearied of his homilies.
"No, Master. The matter of jealousy is small and private; so is the matter of love. But, Master, you have not told me outright whether you love the lady Quilla, and, what is more important, whether she loves you."
"Then I will tell you now. I do and she does."
"You love the lady Quilla and she says that she loves you, which may or may not be true, or if true to-day may be false to-morrow. For your sake I hope that it is not true."
"Why?" I said in a rage.
"Because, Master, in this land there are many sorts of poison, as I have learned to my cost. Also there are knives, if not of steel, and many who might wish to discover whether a god who courts women like a man can be harmed by poisons or pierced by knives. Oh!" he added, in another tone, ceasing from his bitter jests, "believe me that I would shield, not mock you. This Lady Quilla is a queen in a great game of pieces such as you taught me to play far away in England, and without her perchance that game cannot be won, or so those who play it think. Now you would steal that queen and thereby, as they also think, bring death and destruction on a country. It is not safe, Master. There are plenty of fair women in this land; take your pick of them, but leave that one queen alone."
"Kari," I answered, "if there be such a game, are you not perchance one of the players on this side or on that?"
"It may be so, Master, and if you have not guessed it, perhaps one day I will tell you upon which side I play. It may even be that for my own sake I should be glad to see you lift this queen from off the board, and that what I tell you is for love of you and not of myself, also of the lady Quilla, who, if you fall, falls with you down through the black night into the arms of the Moon, her mother. But I have said enough, and indeed it is foolish to waste breath in such talk, since Fate will have its way with both of you, and the end of the game in which we play is already written in Pachacamac's book for every one of us. Did not Rimac speak of it the other night? So play on, play on, and let Destiny fulfil itself. If I dared to give counsel it was only because he who watches the battle with a general's eye sees more of it than he who fights."
Then he bowed in his stately fashion and left me, and it was long ere he spoke to me again of this matter of Quilla and our love for one another.
When he was gone my anger against him passed, since I saw that he was warning me of more than he dared to say, not for himself, but because he loved me. Moreover, I was afraid, for I felt that I was moving in the web of a great plot that I did not understand, of which Quilla and those cold-eyed lordlings of her company and the chief whose guest I had been, and Kari himself, and many others as yet unknown to me, spun the invisible threads. One day these might choke me. Well, if they did, what then? Only I feared for Quilla—greatly I feared for Quilla.
On the day following my talk with Kari at length we reached the great city of the Chancas, which, after them, was called Chanca—at least I always knew it by that name. From the dawn we had been passing through rich valleys where dwelt thousands of these Chancas who, I could see, were a mighty people that bore themselves proudly and like soldiers. In multitudes they gathered themselves together upon either side of the road, chiefly to catch a sight of me, the white god who had risen from the ocean, but also to greet their princess, the lady Quilla.
Indeed, now I learned for the first time how high a princess she was, since when her litter passed, these folk prostrated themselves, kissing the air and the dust. Moreover, as soon as she came among them Quilla's bearing changed, for her carriage grew more haughty and her words fewer. Now she seldom spoke save to issue a command, not even to myself, although I noted that she studied me with her eyes when she thought that I was not observing her.
During our midday halt I looked up and saw that an army was approaching us, five thousand men or more, and asked Kari its meaning.
"These," he answered, "are some of the troops of Huaracha, King of the Chancas, whom he sends out to greet his daughter and only child, also his guest, the White God."
"Some of the troops! Has he more, then?"
"Aye, Master, ten times as many, as I think. This is a great people; almost as great as that of the Incas who live at Cuzco. Come now into the tent and put on your armour, that you may be ready to meet them."
I did so, and, stepping forth clad in the shining steel, took my stand where Kari showed me, upon a rise of ground. On my right at a little distance stood Quilla, more splendidly arrayed than I had ever seen her, and behind her her maidens and the captains and counsellors of her following.
The army drew nearer, marshalled in regiments and halted on the plain some two hundred yards away. Presently from it advanced generals and old men, clad in white, whom I took to be priests and elders. They approached to the number of twenty or more and bowed deeply, first to Quilla, who bent her head in acknowledgment and then to myself. After this they went to speak with Quilla and her following, but what they said I did not know. All the while, however, their eyes were fixed on me. Then Quilla brought them to me and one by one they bowed before me, saying something in a language which I did not understand well, for it was somewhat different from that which Kari had taught me.
After this we entered the litters, and, escorted by that great army, were borne forward down valleys and over ridges till about sunset we came to a large cup-like plain in the centre of which stood the city called Chanca. Of this city I did not see much except that it was very great as the darkness was falling when we entered, and afterwards I could not go out because of the crowds that pressed about me. I was borne down a wide street to a house that stood in a large garden which was walled about. Here in this fine house I found food prepared for me, and drink, all of it served in dishes and cups of gold and silver; also there were women who waited upon me, as did Kari who now was called Zapana and seemed to be my slave.
When I had eaten I went out alone into the garden, for on this plain the air was very warm and pleasant. It was a beautiful garden, and I wandered about among its avenues and flowering bushes, glad to be solitary and to have time to think. Amongst other things I wondered where Quilla might be, for of her I had seen nothing from the time that we entered the town. I hated to be parted from her, because in this vast strange land into which I had wandered she was the only one for whom I had come to care and without whom I felt I should die of loneliness.
There was Kari, it is true, who I knew loved me in his fashion, but between him and me there was a great gulf fixed, not only of race and faith, but of something now which I did not wholly understand. In London he had been my servant and his ends were my ends; on our wandering he had been my companion in great adventures. But now I knew that other interests and desires had taken a hold of him, and that he trod a road of which I could not see the goal; and no longer thought much of me save when what I did or desired to do came between him and that goal.
Therefore Quilla alone was left to me, and Quilla was about to be taken away. Oh! I wearied of this strange land with its snowclad mountains and rich valleys, its hordes of dark-skinned people with large eyes, smiling faces, and secret hearts; its great cities, temples, and palaces filled with useless gold and silver; its brilliant sunshine and rushing rivers, its gods, kings, and policies. They were alien to me, every one of them, and if Quilla were taken away and I were left quite alone, then I thought that it would be well to die.
Something moved behind a palm trunk of the avenue in which I walked, and not knowing whether it were beast or man, I laid my hand upon my sword which I still wore, although I had taken off the armour. Before I could draw it my wrist was grasped and a soft voice whispered in my ear:
"Fear nothing; it is I—Quilla."
Quilla it was, wrapped in a long hooded cloak such as the peasant women wear in the cold country, for she threw back the hood and a beam of starlight fell upon her face.
"Hearken!" she said. "It is dangerous to both of us, but I have come to bid you farewell."
"Farewell! I feared it would be thus, but why so soon, Quilla?"
"For this reason, Love and Lord. I have seen my father the King, and made my report to him of the matter with which I was sent to deal among the Yuncas. It pleased him, and since his mood was gracious, I opened my heart to him and told him that no longer did I wish to be given in marriage to Urco, who will soon put on the Inca fringe, for, as you know, it is to him that I am promised!"
"What did he answer, Quilla?"
"He answered: 'This means, Daughter, that you have met some other man to whom you do wish to be given in marriage. I will not ask his name, since if I knew it it would be my duty to kill him, however high and noble he might be.'"
"Then he guesses, Quilla?"
"I think he guesses; I think that already some have whispered in his ear, but he does not wish to listen who desires to remain deaf and blind."
"Did he say no more, Quilla?"
"He said much more; he said this—now I tell you secrets, Lord, and place my honour in your keeping, for having given you all the rest, why should I not give you that also? He said: 'Daughter, you who have been my ambassador, you, my only child, who know all my counsel, know also that there is about to be the greatest war that the land of Tavantinsuyu has ever known, war between the two mighty nations of the Quichuas of Cuzco whereof the old Upanqui is king and god, and the Chancas whereof I am king and you, if you live, in a day to come will be the queen. No longer can these two lions dwell in the same forest; one of them must devour the other; nor shall I fight alone, since on our side are all the Yuncas of the coast who, as you report to me, are ripe for rebellion. But, as you also report, and as I have learned from others, they are not yet ready. Moons must go by before their armies are joined to mine and I throw off the mask. Is it not so?'
"I answered that it was so, and my father went on:
"'Then during that time, Daughter, a dust must be raised that will hide the shining of my spears, and, Daughter, you are that dust. To-morrow the old Inca Upanqui visits me here with a small army. I read your thought. It is—Why do you not kill him and his army? Daughter, for this reason. He is very aged and about to lay down his sceptre, who grows feeble of mind and body. If I killed him what would it serve me, seeing that he has left his son, Urco, who will be Inca, ruling at Cuzco, and that of his soldiers not one in fifty will be with him here? Moreover, he is my guest, and the gods frown on those who slay their guests, nor will men ever trust them more.'
"Now I answered: 'You spoke of me as a cloud of dust, Father; how, then, can this poor dust serve your ends and those of the Chanca people?'
"'Thus Daughter,' he answered. 'With your own consent you are promised in marriage to Urco. Upanqui the Inca has heard rumours that the Chancas prepare for war. Therefore, he who travels on his last journey through certain of his dominions comes to lead you away, to be Urco's bride, saying to himself, "If those rumours are true, King Huaracha will withhold his only child and heiress, since never will he make war upon Cuzco if she rules there as its queen." Therefore, if I refuse you to him, he will withdraw and begin the war, rolling down his thousands upon us before we are ready, and bringing the Chancas to destruction and enslavement. Therefore also not only my fate, but the fate of all your country lies in your hand.'
"'Father,' I said, 'tell me, who was ever dear to you that lack sons, is there no escape? Must I eat this bitter bread? Before you answer, learn that you have guessed aright, and that I who, when I made that promise, cared for no man, have come to feel the burning of love's fire!'
"Now he looked at me awhile, then said: 'Child of the Moon, there is but one escape, and it must be sought—in the moon. The dead cannot be given in marriage. If your strait is so sore, though it would cut me to the heart, perchance it is better that you should die and go whither doubtless he whom you love will soon follow you. Depart now and counsel with Heaven in your sleep. To-morrow, before Upanqui comes, we will talk again.'
"So I knelt and kissed the hand of the King, my father, and left him, wondering at his nobleness who could show such a road to his only child, though its treading would mean woe to him and mayhap the ruin of his hopes. Still that road is an old one among the women of my people, and why should I not walk it, as thousands have done before me?"
"How came you here?" I asked hoarsely.
"Lord, I guessed that you would be walking in this garden which joins on to that of the palace, and—none were about, and—the door in the wall was open. Indeed, it was almost as though I were left alone and unwatched of set purpose. So I came and sought—and found, having a question to put to you."
"What question, Quilla?"
"This: Shall I live or shall I die? Speak the word and I obey. Yet ere you speak, remember that if I live we meet for the last time, since very soon I go hence to become the wife of Urco and play the part that is prepared for me?"
Now when I, Hubert, heard these words, I felt as though my heart would burst within my breast and knew not what to say. So to gain time I asked her:
"Which do you desire—to live or to die?"
She laughed a little as she answered:
"That is a strange question, Lord. Have I not told you that if I live I must do so befouled as one of Urco's women, whereas, if I die, I die clean and take my love with me to where Urco cannot come, but where, mayhap, another may follow at the appointed time."
"Which time would be very soon, I think, Quilla, seeing that he who had spoiled all this pretty plot would scarcely be left long upon the earth, even if he wished to stay there. Yet I say: Do not die—live on."
"To become Urco's woman! That is strange counsel from a lover's lips, Lord; such as would scarcely have been given by any of our nobles."
"Aye, Quilla, and it is given because I am not of your people and do not think as they think, who reject their customs. You are not yet Urco's wife, and may be rid of him by other paths than that of death, but from the grave there is no escape."
"And in the grave there is no more fear, Lord. Thither Urco cannot come; there are neither wars nor plottings; there honour does not beckon and love hold back. I say that I will die and make an end, as for like causes many of my blood have done, though not here and now. When I am about to be delivered to Urco then I will die, and perchance not alone. Perchance he will accompany me," she added slowly.
"And if this happens, what shall I do?"
"Live on, Lord, and find other women to love you, as a god should. There are many in this land fairer and wiser than I, and, save myself, you may take whom you will."
"Listen, Quilla. I have a story to tell you."
Then, as briefly as I could, I set out the tale of Blanche and of her end, while she hung upon my every word.
"Oh! I grieve for you," she said, when I had finished.
"You grieve for me, and yet, what she did for my sake you would do also, so that, as it were, both my hands must be dyed with blood. This first terror I have borne, but if a second falls upon me then I know that I shall go mad and perish in this way or in that, and you, Quilla, will be my murderess."
"No, no, not that!" she murmured.
"Then swear to me by your god and by your spirit, that you will do yourself no harm, whatever chances, and that if die you must, it shall be with me for company."
"Is your love so great that you would dare this for my sake, Lord?"
"I think so, though not till all else had failed. I think that if you were taken from me, Quilla, I could not live on here in loneliness and exile—however great the sin. But do you swear?"
"Aye, Love and Lord, I swear, for your sake. Moreover, I add to the oath. If perhaps we should escape these perils and come together, I will be such a wife to you as never man has had. I will wrap you round with love and lift you up to be a king, that you may live in glory forgetting your home across the sea, and all the sorrows that befell you there. Children you shall have also of whom you need not be ashamed, though my dark blood runs in them, and armies at command and palaces filled with gold, and all royal joys. And if perchance the gods declare against us, and we pass from the world together, then I think, oh! then I think that I shall give you finer gifts than these, though what they are I know not yet, since to the power of love there is no end—here on earth or yonder in the skies."
I stared at her face in the starlight, and oh! it had grown splendid. No longer was it that of a woman, since through it, like light through pearl, shone a soul divine. It might have been a goddess who stood beside me, for those eyes were holy and her embrace that wrapped me close was not that of the flesh alone.
"I must be gone," she whispered, "but now I go without fear. Perchance we may not speak again for long, but trust me always. Play your part and I will play mine. Follow me wherever I am taken and keep near to me, if you may, as ever my spirit shall be near to you. Then what matters anything, even if we are slain? Farewell, beloved, kiss me and farewell."
Another moment and she had glided away and was lost in the shadows.
She was gone, and I stood amazed and overcome. Oh! what a love it was that this alien woman had given to me and how could I be worthy of it? Now I forgot my griefs; now I no longer mourned because I was an outcast who nevermore might look upon the land where I was born, nor see the face of one my own race or blood. All my loss was paid back to me again and yet again, in the coin of the glory of this woman whom I had won. Dangers rose about us, but I feared them no more, because I knew that her love's conquering feet would stamp them flat and lead me safe to a joyful treasure-house of splendour of spirit and of body where we should dwell side by side, triumphant and unafraid.
Whilst I thought thus, lost in a rapture such as I had not felt since Blanche kissed me at the mouth of the Hastings cave after I had killed the three Frenchmen with as many arrows from my black bow, I heard a sound and looked up to see a man standing before me.
"Who is it?" I asked, grasping my sword, for his face was hidden in the shadows.
"I," answered a voice which I knew to be that of Kari.
"Then how did you come here? I saw no one pass the open ground."
"Master, you are not the only one who loves to walk in gardens in the quiet of the night. I was here before yourself, behind yonder tree," and he pointed to a palm not three paces distant.
"Then, Kari, you must have seen——"
"Yes, Master, I saw and heard, not everything, because there came a point at which I shut my eyes and stopped my ears, but still much."
"I am minded to kill you, Kari," I said between my teeth, "who play the spy upon me."
"I guessed it would be so, Master," he replied in his gentlest voice, "and for that reason, as you will notice, I am standing out of reach of your sword. You wonder why I am here. I will tell you. It is not from any desire to watch your love-makings which weary me, who have seen such before, but rather that I might find secrets, of which love is always the loser, and those secrets I have learned. How could I have come by them otherwise, Master?"
"Surely you deserve to die," I exclaimed furiously.
"I think not, Master. But listen and judge for yourself. I have told you something of my story, now you shall hear more, after which we will talk of what I do or do not deserve. I am the eldest son of the Inca Upanqui, and Urco, of whom you have been talking is my younger brother. But Upanqui, our father, loved Urco's mother while mine he did not love, and swore to her before she died that against right and law, Urco, her son, should be Inca after him. Therefore he hated me because I stood in Urco's path; therefore too many troubles befell me, and I was given over into Urco's hand, so that he took my wife and tried to poison me, and the rest you know. Now it was needful to me to learn how things went, and for this reason I listened to the talk between you and a certain lady. It told me that Upanqui, my father, comes here to-morrow, which indeed I knew already, and much else that I had not heard. This being so I must vanish away, since doubtless Upanqui or his councillors would know me again, and as they are all of them friends of Urco, perhaps I should taste more poison and of a stronger sort."
"Whither will you vanish, Kari?"
"I know not, Master, or if I know, I will not say, who have but just been taught afresh how secrets can pass from ear to ear. I must lie hid, that is enough. Yet do not think that therefore I shall desert you—I, while I live, will watch over you, a stranger in my country, as you watched over me when I was a stranger in your England."
"I thank you," I answered, "and certainly you watch well—too well, sometimes, as I have found to-night."
"You think it pleases me to spy upon you and a certain lady," went on Kari with an unruffled voice, "but it is not so. What I do is for good reasons, amongst others that I may protect you both, and if I can, bring about what you desire. That lady has a great heart, as I learned but now, and after all you did well to love her, as she does well to love you. Therefore, although the dangers are so many, if I am able, I will help you in your love and bring you together, yes, and save her from the arms of Urco. Nay, ask me not how, for I do not know, and the case seems desperate."
"But if you go, what shall I do alone?" I asked, alarmed.
"Bide here, I think, Lord, giving it out that your servant Zapana has deserted you. Indeed it seems that this you must do, since the king of this country will scarcely suffer you to be the companion of his daughter upon her marriage journey to Cuzco, even if Upanqui so desires. Nor would it be wise, for if he did, misfortune might befall you on the road. There are some women, Lord, who cannot keep their love out of their eyes, and henceforward there will be plenty to watch the eyes and hearken to the most secret sighings of one of the greatest of them. Now farewell until I come to you again or send others on my behalf. Trust me, I pray you, since to whomever else I may seem false, to you I am true; yes, to you and to another because she has become a part of you."
Then before I could answer, Kari took my hand and touched it with his lips. Another moment and I had lost sight of him in the shadows.
That night I slept but ill who was overwhelmed with all that had befallen me of good and evil. I had gained a wondrous love, but she who gave it was, it seemed, about to be lost to me, aye, and to be thrown to another whom she hated, to forward the dark policies of a great and warlike people. I had spoken to her with high words of hope, but of it in my heart there was little. She would follow what she held to be her duty to the end, and that end, if she kept her promise and did not die as she desired to do—was—the arms of Urco. From these I could see no escape for her, and the thought maddened me. Moreover, Kari was gone leaving me utterly alone among these strangers, and whether he would return again I did not know. Oh! almost I wished that I were dead.
The morning broke at last and I arose and called for Zapana. Then came others who said that my servant, Zapana, could not be found, whereat I affected surprise and anger. Still these others waited on me well enough, and I rose and ate in pomp and luxury. Scarcely had I finished my meal than there appeared heralds who summoned me to the presence of the king Huaracha.
I went, borne in a litter, although an arrow from my black bow would have flown from door to door. At the portal of the palace, which was like others I had seen, only finer, I was met by soldiers and gaily dressed servants and led across a courtyard within, which I could see was prepared for some ceremony, to a small chamber on the further side. Here, when my eyes grew accustomed to the half-darkness, I perceived a man of some sixty years of age, and behind him two soldiers. At once I noted that everything about this man was plain and simple; the chamber, which was little more than four whitewashed walls with a floor of stone, the stool he sat on, even his apparel. Here were no gold or silver or broidered cloths, or gems, or other rich and costly things such as these people love, but rather those that are suited to a soldier. A soldier he looked indeed, being burly and broad and scarred upon his homely face, in which gleamed eyes that were steady and piercing.
As I entered, the king Huaracha, for it was he, rose from his stool and bowed to me, and I bowed back to him. Then he motioned to one of the soldiers to give me another stool, upon which I sat myself, and speaking in a strong, low voice, using that tongue which Kari had taught me, said:
"Greeting, White-God-from-the-Sea, or golden-bearded man named the lord Hurachi, I know not which, of whom I have heard so much and whom I am glad to behold in my poor city. Say, can you understand my talk?"
Thus he spoke, searching me with his eyes, though all the while I perceived that they rested rather on my armour and the great sword, Wave-Flame, than on my face.
I gave him back his greeting and answered that I understood the tongue he used though not so very well, whereon he began to speak about the armour and the sword, which puzzled him who had never seen steel.
"Make me some like them," he said, "and I will give you ten times their weight in gold, which, after all, is of no use since with it one cannot kill enemies."
"In my country with it one can corrupt them," I answered, "or buy them to be friends."
"So you have a country," he interrupted shrewdly. "I thought that the gods had none."
"Even the gods live somewhere," I replied.
He laughed, and turning to the two soldiers, who also were staring at my mail and sword, bade them go. When the heavy door had shut behind them and we were quite alone, he said:
"My lord Hurachi, I have heard from my daughter how she found you in the sea, a story indeed. I have also heard, or guessed, it matters not which, that her heart has turned towards you, as is not strange, seeing the manner of man you are, if indeed you be not more than man, and that women are ever prone to love those whom they think they have saved. Is this true, my lord Hurachi?"
"Ask of the Lady Quilla, O King."
"Mayhap I have asked and at last it seems that you make no denial. Now hearken, my lord Hurachi. You are my honoured guest and save one thing, all I have is yours, but you must talk no more alone with the lady Quilla in gardens at night."
Now, making no attempt to deny or explain which I saw would be useless, since he knew it all, I asked boldly:
"I thought that perchance my daughter had told you, Lord Hurachi, but if you desire to hear it from my own lips also, for this reason. The lady Quilla is promised in marriage and if she lives that promise must be fulfilled, since on it hangs the fate of nations. Therefore, it is, although to grieve to part such a pair, that you and she must meet no more in gardens or elsewhere. Know that if you do, you will bring about her death and your own, if gods can die."
Now I thought awhile and answered:
"These are heavy words, King Huaracha, seeing that I will not hide from you that I love your daughter well and that she, who is great-hearted, loves me well and desires me for her husband."
"I know it and I grieve for both of you," he said courteously.
"King Huaracha," I went on, "I see that you are a soldier and the lord of armies, and it has come into my mind that perchance you dream of war."
"The gods see far, White Lord."
"Now god or man, I also am a soldier, King, and I know arts of battle which perhaps are hidden from you and your people; also I cannot be harmed by weapons because of magic armour that I wear, and none can stand before me in fight because of this magic sword I carry, and I can direct battles with a general's mind. In a great war, King, I might be useful to you were I the husband of your daughter and therefore your son and friend, and perchance by my skill make the difference to you and your nation between victory and defeat."
"Doubtless this is so, O Son-of-the-Sea."
"In the same fashion, King, were I upon the side of your enemies, to them I might bring victory and to you defeat. Whom do you desire that I should serve, you or them?"
"I desire that you should serve me," he replied with eagerness. "Do so and all the wealth of this land shall be yours, with the rule of my armies under me. You shall have palaces and fields and gold and silver, and the fairest of its daughters for wives, and be worshipped as a god, and for aught I know, be king after me, not only of my country but mayhap of another that is even greater."
"It is a good offer, King, but not enough. Give me your daughter, Quilla, and you may keep all the rest."
"White Lord, I cannot, since to do so I must break my word."
"Then, King, I cannot serve you, and unless you kill me first—if you are able—I will be, not your friend, but your enemy."
"Can a god be killed, and if so can a guest be killed? Lord, you know that he cannot. Yet he can remain a guest. To my country you have come, Lord, and in my country you shall stay, unless you have wings beneath that silver coat. Quilla goes hence but here you bide, my lord Hurachi."
"Perchance I shall find the wings," I answered.
"Aye, Lord, for it is said that the dead fly, and if I may not kill you, others may. Therefore my counsel to you is to stay here, taking such things as my poor country can give you, and not to try to follow the moon (by this he meant Quilla) to the golden city of Cuzco, which henceforth must be her home."
Now having no more to say, since war had been declared between us, as it were, I rose to bid this king farewell. He also rose, then, as though struck by a sudden thought, said that he desired to speak with my servant, Zapana, he whom the lady Quilla had found with me in the island of the sea. I replied that he could not since Zapana had vanished, I knew not where.
At this intelligence he appeared to be disturbed and was beginning to question me somewhat sternly as to who Zapana might be and how I had first come into his company, when the door of the room opened and through it Quilla entered even more gorgeously robed and looking lovelier than ever I had seen her. She bowed, first to the King and then to me, saying:
"Lord and Father, I come to tell you that the Inca Upanqui draws near with his princes and captains."
"Is it so, Daughter?" he answered. "Then make your farewell here and now to this White-Son-of-the-Sea, since it is my will that you depart with Upanqui who comes to escort you to Cuzco, the City of the Sun, there to be given as wife to the prince Urco, son of the Sun, who will sit on the Inca's throne."
"I make my farewell to the lord Hurachi as you command," she answered, curtseying, and in a very quiet voice, "but know, my father, that I love this White Lord as he loves me, and that therefore, although I may be given to the Prince Urco, as a gold cup is given, never shall he drink from the cup and never will I be his wife."
"You have courage, Daughter, and I like courage," said Huaracha. "For the rest, settle the matter as you will and if you can slip from the coils of this snake of an Urco unpoisoned, do so, since my bargain is fulfilled and my honour satisfied. Only hither you shall not return to the lord Hurachi, nor shall the lord Hurachi go to you at Cuzco."
"That shall be as the gods decree, my father, and meanwhile I play my part as you decree. Lord Hurachi, fare you well till in life or death we meet again."
Then she bowed to me, and went, and presently without more words we followed after her.
In front of the palace there was a great square of open ground surrounded by houses, except towards the east, and on this square was marshalled an army of men all splendidly arrayed and carrying copper-headed spears. In front of these was pitched a great pavilion made of cloths of various colours. Here King Huaracha, simply dressed in a robe of white cotton but wearing a little crown of gold and carrying a large spear, took his seat upon a throne, while to his right, on a smaller throne, sat Quilla, and on his left stood yet another throne ornamented with gold, that was empty. Between the throne of Huaracha and that which was empty stood a chair covered with silver on which I was bidden to take my seat, so placed that all could see me, while behind and around were lords and generals.
Scarcely were we arranged when from the dip beyond the open space appeared heralds who carried spears and were fantastically dressed. These shouted that the Inca Upanqui, the Child of the Sun, the god who ruled the earth, drew near.
"Let him approach!" said Huaracha briefly, and they departed.
Awhile later there arose a sound of barbarous music and of chanting and from the dip below emerged a glittering litter borne upon the shoulders of richly clothed men all of whom, I was told afterwards, were princes by blood, and surrounded by beautiful women who carried jewelled fans, and by councillors. It was the litter of the Inca Upanqui, and after it marched a guard of picked warriors, perhaps there were a hundred of them, not more.
The litter was set down in front of the throne; gilded curtains were drawn and out of it came a man whose attire dazzled the eyes. It seemed to consist of gold and precious stones sewn on to a mantle of crimson wool. He wore a head-dress also of as many colours as Joseph's coat, surmounted by two feathers, which he alone might bear, from which head-dress a scarlet fringe that was made of tasselled wool hung down upon his forehead. This was the Inca's crown, even to touch which was death, and its name was Lautu. He was a very old man for his white locks and beard hung down upon his splendid garments and he supported himself upon his royal staff that was headed by a great emerald. His fine-cut face also, though still kingly, was weak with age and his eyes were blear. At the sight of him all rose and Huaracha descended from his throne, saying in a loud voice:
"Welcome to the land of the Chancas, O Upanqui, Inca of the Quichuas."
The old monarch eyed him for a moment, then answered in a thin voice:
"Greeting to Huaracha, Curaca of the Chancas."
Huaracha bowed and said:
"I thank you, but here among my own people my title is not Curaca, but King, O Inca."
Upanqui drew himself up to his full height and replied:
"The Incas know no kings throughout the land of Tavantinsuyu save themselves, O Huaracha."
"Be it so, O Inca; yet the Chancas, who are unconquered, know a king, and I am he. I pray you be seated, O Inca."
Upanqui stood still for a moment frowning, and, as I thought, was about to make some short answer, when suddenly his glance fell upon me and changed the current of his mind.
"Is that the White-god-from-the-Sea?" he asked, with an almost childish curiosity. "I heard that he was here, and to tell the truth that is why I came, just to look at him, not to bandy words with you, O Huaracha, who they say can only be talked to with a spear point. What a red beard he has and how his coat shines. Let him come and worship me."
"He will come, but I do not think that he will worship. They say he is a god himself, O Inca."
"Do they? Well, now I remember there are strange prophecies about a white god who should rise out of the sea, as did the forefather of the Incas. They say, too, that this god shall do much mischief to the land when he comes. So perhaps he had better not draw too near to me, for I like not the look of that great big sword of his. By the Sun, my father, he is tall and big and strong" (I had risen from my chair) "and his beard is like a fire; it will set the hearts of all the women burning, though perhaps if he is a god he does not care for women. I must consult my magicians about it, and the head priest of the Temple of the Sun. Tell the White God to make ready to return with me to Cuzco."
"The lord Hurachi is my guest, O Inca, and here he bides with me," said Huaracha.
"Nonsense, nonsense! When the Inca invites any one to his court, he must come. But enough of him for the present. I came here to talk of other matters. What were they? Let me sit down and think."
So he was conducted to his throne upon which he sat trying to collect his mind, which I saw was weak with age. The end of it was that he called to his aid a stern-faced, shifty-eyed, middle-aged minister, whom after I came to know as the High-priest Larico, the private Councillor of himself and of his son, Urco, and one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. This noble, I noted, was one who had the rank of an Earman, that is, he wore in his ear, which like that of Kari was stretched out to receive it, a golden disc of the size of an apple, whereon was embossed the image of the sun.
At a sign and a word from his dotard master this Larico began to speak for him as though he were the Inca himself, saying:
"Hearken, O Huaracha. I have undertaken this toilsome journey, the last I shall make as Inca, for be it known to you that I purpose to divest myself of the royal Fringe in favour of the prince, Urco, begotten to me in the body and of the Sun in spirit, and to retire to end my days in peace at my palace of Yucay, waiting there patiently until it pleases my father, the Sun, to take me to his bosom."
Here Larico paused to allow this great news to sink into the minds of his hearers, and I thought to myself that when I died I would choose to be gathered to any bosom rather than to that of the Sun, which put me in mind of hell. Then he went on:
"Rumours have reached me, the Inca, that you, Huaracha, Chief of the Chancas, are making ready to wage war upon my empire. It was to test these rumours, although I did not believe them, that awhile ago I sent an embassy to ask your only child, the lady Quilla, in marriage to the prince Urco, promising, since he has no sister whom he may wed and since on the mother's side she, your daughter, has the holy Inca blood in her veins, that she should become his Coya, or Queen, and the mother of him who shall succeed to the throne."
"The embassy came, and received my answer, O Inca," said Huaracha.
"Yes, and the answer was that the lady Quilla should be given in marriage to the Prince Urco, but as she was absent on a visit, this could not happen until she returned. But since then, O Huaracha, more rumours have reached me that you still prepare for war and seek to make alliances among my subjects, tempting them to rebel against me. Therefore I am here myself to lead away the lady Quilla and to deliver her to the Prince Urco."
"Why did not the Prince Urco come in person, O Inca?"
"For this reason, Huaracha, from whom I desire to hide nothing. If the Prince had come, you might have set a trap for him and killed him, who is the hope of the Empire."
"So I might for you, his father, O Inca."
"Aye, I know it, but what would that avail you while the Prince sits safe at Cuzco ready to assume the Fringe? Also I am old and care not when or how I die, whose work is done. Moreover, few would desire to anger the gods by the murder of an aged guest, and therefore I visit you sitting here in the midst of your armies with but a handful of followers, trusting to your honour and to my father the Sun to protect me. Now answer me—will you give the hand of your daughter to my son and thereby make alliance with me, or will you wage war upon my empire and be destroyed, you and your people together?"
Here Upanqui, who hitherto had been listening in silence to the words of Larico, spoken on his behalf, broke in, saying:
"Yes, yes, that is right, only make him understand that the Inca will be his over-lord, since the Inca can have no rivals in all the land."
"My answer is," said Huaracha, "that I will give my daughter in marriage as I have promised, but that the Chancas are a free people and accept no over-lord."
"Foolishness, foolishness!" said Upanqui. "As well might the tree say that it would not bend before the wind. However, you can settle that matter afterwards with Urco, and indeed with your daughter, who will be his queen and is your heiress, for I understand you have no other lawful child. Why talk of war and other troubles when thus your kingdom falls to us by marriage? Now let me see this lady Quilla who is to become my daughter."
Huaracha, who had listened to all this babble with a stern set face, turned to Quilla and made a sign. She descended from her chair and advancing, stood before the Inca, a vision of splendour and of beauty, and bowed to him. He stared at her awhile, as did all his company, then said:
"So you are the lady Quilla. A fair woman, a very fair woman, and a proud, one who ought to be able to lead Urco aright if any one can. Well named, too, after the moon, for the moonlight seems to shine in your eyes, Lady Quilla. Indeed and indeed were I but a score of years younger I should tell Urco to seek another queen and keep you for myself."
Then Quilla spoke for the first time, saying:
"Be it as you will, O Inca. I am promised in marriage to the Child of the Sun and which child is nothing to me."
"Well said, Lady Quilla, and why should I wonder? Though I grow old they tell me that I am still handsome, a great deal better looking than Urco, in fact, who is a rough man and of a coarser type. You ask my wives when you come to Cuzco; one of them told me the other day that there was no one so handsome in the whole city, and earned a beautiful present for her pretty speech. What is it you say, Larico? Why are you always interfering with me? Well, perhaps you are right, and, Lady Quilla, if you are ready, it is time to start. No, no, I thank you, Curaca, but I will not stop for any feasting who desire to be back at my camp before dark, since who knows what may happen to one in the dark in a strange country?"
Then at last Huaracha grew angry.
"Be it as you will, O Inca," he said, "but know that you offer me a threefold insult. First you refuse the feast that has been made ready for you whereat you were to meet all the notables of my kingdom. Secondly, you give me, who am a king, the title of a petty chief who owns your rule. Thirdly, you throw doubts upon my honour, hinting that I may cause you to be murdered in the dark. Now I am minded to say to you, 'Begone from my poor country, Lord Inca, in safety, but leave my daughter behind you.'"
Now at these words, I, Hubert, saw the fires of hope burn up in the large eyes of Quilla, as they did in my own heart, for might they not mean that she would escape from Urco after all? But, alas, they were extinguished like a brand that is dipped in water.
"Tush, tush!" said the old dotard, "what a fire-eater are you, friend Huaracha. Know that I never care to eat, except at night; also that the chill of the air after my father the Sun has set makes my bones ache, and as for titles—take any one you like, except that of Inca."
"Mayhap that is the one I shall take before all is done," broke in the furious Huaracha, who would not be quieted by the councillors whispering in his ears.
It was at this moment that the minister and high-priest, Larico, who had been noting all that passed with an impassive face, said coldly:
"Be not wroth, O King Huaracha, and lay not too much weight upon the idle words of the glorious Inca, since even the gods will doze at times when they are weighed down by the cares of empire. No affront was meant to you and least of all does the Inca or any one of us, dream that you would tarnish your honour by offering violence to your guests by day or by night. Yet know this, that if, after all that has been sworn, you withhold your daughter, the lady Quilla, from the house of Urco who is her lord to be, it will breed instant war, since as soon as word of it comes to Cuzco, which will be within twenty hours, for messengers wait all along the road, the great armies of the Inca that are gathered there will begin to move. Judge, then, if you have the strength to withstand them, and choose whether you will live on in glory and honour, or bring yourself to death and your people to slavery. Now, King Huaracha, speaking on behalf of Urco, who within some few moons will be Inca, I ask you—will you suffer the lady Quilla to journey with us to Cuzco and thereby proclaim peace between our peoples or will you keep her here against your oath and hers, and thereby declare war?"
Huaracha sat silent, lost in thought, and the old Inca Upanqui began to babble again, saying:
"Very well put, I could not have said it better myself; indeed, I did say it, for this coxcomb of a Larico, who thinks himself so clever just because I made him high-priest of the Sun under me and he is of my blood, is after all nothing but the tongue in my mouth. You don't really want to die, Huaracha, do you, after seeing most of your people killed and your country wasted? For you know that is what must happen. If you do not send your daughter as you promised, within a few hours a hundred thousand men will be marching on you and another hundred thousand gathering behind them. Anyhow, please make up your mind one way or another, as I wish to leave this place."
Huaracha thought on awhile. Then he descended from his throne and beckoned to Quilla. She came and he led her towards the back part of the pavilion behind and a little to the left of the chair on which I sat where none could hear their talk save me, of whom he seemed to take no note, perhaps because he had forgotten me, or perhaps because he desired that I should know all.
"Daughter," he said in a low voice, "what word? Before you answer remember that if I refuse to send you, now for the first time I break my oath."
"Of such oaths I think little," answered Quilla. "Yet of another thing I think much. Tell me, my father, if the Inca declares war and attacks us, can we withstand his armies?"
"No, Daughter, not until the Yuncas join us for we lack sufficient men. Moreover, we are not ready, nor shall be for another two moons, or more."
"Then it stands thus, Father. If I do not go the war will begin, and if I do go it seems that it will be staved off until you are ready, or perhaps for always, because I shall be the peace-offering and it will be thought that I, your heiress, take your kingdom as my marriage portion to be joined to that of the Incas at your death. Is it thus?"
"It is, Quilla. Only then you will work to bring it about that the Land of the Incas shall be joined to the Land of the Chancas, and not that of the Chancas to that of the Incas, so that in a day to come as Queen of the Chancas you shall reign over both of them and your children after you."
Now I, Hubert, watching Quilla out of the corners of my eyes, saw her turn pale and tremble.
"Speak not to me of children," she said, "for I think that there will be none, and talk not of future glories, since for these I care nothing. It is for our people that I care. You swear to me that if I do not go your armies will be defeated and that those who escape the spear will be enslaved?"
"Aye, I swear it by the Moon your mother, also that I will die with my soldiers."
"Yet if I go I leave behind me that which I love," here she glanced towards me, "and give myself to shame, which is worse than death. Is that your desire, my father?"
"That is not my desire. Remember, Daughter, that you were party to this plan, aye, that it sprang from your far-seeing mind. Still, now that your heart has changed, I would not hold you to your bargain, who desire most of all things to see you happy at my side. Choose, therefore, and I obey. On your head be it."
"What shall I say, O Lord, whom I saved from the sea?" asked Quilla in a piercing whisper, but without turning her head towards me.
Now an agony took hold of me for I knew that what I bade her, that she would say, and that perchance upon my answer hung the fate of all this great Chanca people. If she went they would be saved, if she remained perchance she would be my wife if only for a while. For the Chancas I cared nothing and for the Quichuas I cared nothing, but Quilla was all that remained to me in the world and if she went, it was to another man. I would bid her bide. And yet—and yet if her case were mine and the fate of England hung upon my breath, what then?
"Be swift," she whispered again.
Then I spoke, or something spoke through me, saying:
"Do what honour bids you, O Daughter of the Moon, for what is love without honour? Perchance both shall still be yours at last."
"I thank you, Lord, whose heart speaks as my heart," she whispered for the third time, then lifting her head and looking Huaracha in the eyes, said:
"Father, I go, but that I will wed this Urco I do not promise."
THE RETURN OF KARI
So Quilla, seated in a golden litter and accompanied by maidens as became her rank, soon was borne away in the train of the Inca Upanqui, leaving me desolate. Before she went, under pretence of bidding me farewell, none denying her, she gained private speech with me for a little while.
"Lord and Lover," she said, "I go to what fate I know not, leaving you to what fate I know not, and as your lips have said, it is right that I should go. Now I have something to ask of you—that you will not follow me as it is in your heart to do. But last night I prayed of you to dog my steps and wherever I might go to keep close to me, that the knowledge of your presence might be my comfort. Now my mind is different. If I must be married to this Urco, I would not have you see me in my shame. And if I escape marriage you cannot help me, since I may only do so by death or by taking refuge where you cannot come. Also I have another reason."
"What reason, Quilla?" I asked.
"This: I ask that you will stop with my father and give him your help in the war that must come. I would see this Urco crushed, but without that help I am sure that the Chancas and the Yuncas are too weak to overthrow the Inca might. Remember that if I escape marriage thus only can you hope to win me, namely, by the defeat and death of Urco. Say, then, that you will stay here and help to lead the Chanca armies, and say it swiftly, since that dotard, Upanqui, frets to be gone. Hark! his messengers call and search; my women can hold them back no more."
"I will stay," I answered hoarsely.
"I thank you, and now farewell, till in life or death we meet again. Thoughts come to my mind which I have no time to utter."
"To mine also, Quilla, and here is one of them. You know the man who was with me on the island. Well, he is more than he seems."
"So I guessed, but where is he now?"
"In hiding, Quilla. If you should chance to find him, bear in mind that he is an enemy of Urco and one not friendless; also that he loves me after his fashion. Trust him, I pray you. Urco is not the only one of the Inca blood, Quilla."
She glanced at me quickly and nodded her head. Then without more words, for officers were pressing towards us, she drew a ring off her finger, a thick and ancient golden ring on which were cut what looked like flowers, or images of the sun, and gave it to me.
"Wear this for my sake. It is very old and has a story of true love that I have no time to tell," she said.
I took it and in exchange passed to her that ancient ring which my mother had given to me, the ring that had come down to her with the sword Wave-Flame, saying:
"This, too, is old and has a story; wear it in memory of me."
Then we parted and presently she was gone.
I stood watching her litter till it vanished in the evening haze. Then I turned to go to find myself face to face with Huaracha.
"Lord-from-the-Sea," he said, "you have played a man's—or a god's—part to-day. Had you bidden my daughter bide here, she would have done so for love of you and the Chanca people must have been destroyed, for as that old Inca or his spokesman told us, the breaking of my oath would have been taken as a declaration of instant war. Now we have breathing time, and in the end things may go otherwise."
"Yes," I answered, "but what of Quilla and what of me?"
"I know not your creed or what with you is honour, White Lord, but among us whom perhaps you think of small account, it is thought and held that there are times when a man or a woman, especially if they be highly placed, must do sacrifice for the good of the many who cling to them for guidance and for safety. This you and my daughter have done and therefore I honour both of you."
"To what end is the sacrifice made?" I asked bitterly. "That one people may struggle for dominion over another people, no more."
"You are mistaken, Lord. Not for victory or to increase my dominions do I desire to war upon the Incas, but because unless I strike I shall presently be struck, though for a little while this marriage might hold back the blow. Alone in the midst of the vast territories over which the Incas rule, the Chancas stem their tide of conquest and remain free amongst many nations of slaved. Therefore for ages these Incas, like those who ruled before them at Cuzco, have sworn to destroy us, and Urco has sworn it above all."
"Urco might die or be deposed, Huaracha."
"If so another would put on the Fringe and be vowed to the ancient policy that does not change from generation to generation. Therefore I must fight or perish with my people. Hearken, Lord-from-the-Sea! Stay here with me and become as my brother and a general of my armies, for where will they not follow when you lead, who are held to be a god? Then if we conquer, in reward, from a brother you shall become a son, and to you after me I swear shall pass the Chanca crown. Moreover, to you, if she can be saved, I will give in marriage her whom you love. Think before you refuse. I know not whence you come, but this I know: that you can return thither no more, unless, indeed, you are a spirit. Here your lot is cast till death. Therefore make it glorious. Perchance you might fly to the Inca and there become a marvel and a show, furnished with gold and palaces and lands, but always you would be a servant, while I offer to you a crown and the rule of a people great and free."
"I care nothing for crowns," I answered, sighing. "Still, such was Quilla's prayer, perchance the last that ever she will make to me. Therefore I accept and will serve you and your cause, that seems noble, faithfully to the end, O Huaracha."
Then I stretched out my hand to him and so our compact was sealed.
On the very next day my work began. Huaracha made me known to his captains, commanding them to obey me in all things, which, looking on me as half divine, they did readily enough.
Now, of soldiering I knew little who was a seaman bred, yet as I had learned, a man of the English race in however strange a country he finds himself can make a path there to his ends.
Moreover, in London I had heard much talk of armies and their ordering and often watched troops at their exercise; also I know how to handle bow and sword, and was accustomed to the management of men. So putting all these memories together, I set myself to the task of turning a mob of half-savage fellows with arms into an ordered host. I created regiments and officered them with the best captains that I could find, collecting in each regiment so far as possible the people of a certain town or district. These companies I drilled and exercised, teaching them to use such weapons as they had to the best purpose.
Also I caused them to shape stronger bows on the model of my own with which I had shot the three Frenchmen far away at Hastings that, as it was said, once had been the battle-bow of Thorgrimmer the Norseman my ancestor, as the sword Wave-Flame was his battle-sword. When these Chancas saw how far and with what a good aim I could shoot with this bow, they strove day and night to learn to equal me, though it is true they never did. Also I bettered their body-armour of quilting by settings sheets of leather (since in that country there is no iron) taken from the hides of wild animals and of their long-haired native sheep, between the layers of cotton. Other things I did also, too many and long to record.
The end of it was that within three months Huaracha had an army of some fifty thousand men who, if not well trained, still kept discipline, and could move in regiments; who knew also how to shoot with their bows and to use their copper-headed spears and axes of that metal, or of hard stone, to the best purpose.
Then at length came the Yuncas to join us, thirty or forty thousand of them, wild fellows and brave enough, but undisciplined. With these I could do little since time was lacking, save send some of the officers whom I had trained to teach their chiefs and captains what they were able.
Thus I was employed from dawn till dark and often after it, in talk with Huaracha and his generals, or in drawing plans with ink that I found a means to make, upon parchment of sheepskin and noting down numbers and other things, a sight at which these people who knew nothing of writing marvelled very much. Great were my labours, yet in them I found more happiness than I had known since that fatal day when I, the rich London merchant, Hubert of Hastings, had stood before the altar of St. Margaret's church with Blanche Aleys. Indeed, every cranny of my time and mind being thus filled with things finished or attempted, I forgot my great loneliness as an alien in a strange land, and once more became as I had been when I trafficked in the Cheap.
But toil as I would, I could not forget Quilla. During the day I might mask her memory in its urgent business, but when I lay down to rest she seemed to come to me as a ghost might do and to stand by my bed, looking at me with sad and longing eyes. So real was her presence that sometimes I began to believe that she must have died to the world and was in truth a ghost, or else that she had found the power to throw her soul afar, as it is said certain of these Indian folk, if so they should be called, can do. At least there she seemed to be while I remained awake and afterwards when I slept, and I know not whether her strange company joyed or pained me more. For alas! she could not talk to me, or tell me how it fared with her, and, to speak truth, now that she was the wife of another man, as I supposed, I desired to forget her if I could.
For of Quilla no word reached us. We heard that she had come safely to Cuzco and after that nothing more. Of her marriage there was no tidings; indeed she seemed to have vanished away. Certain of Huaracha's spies reported to him, however, that the great army which Urco had gathered to attack him had been partly disbanded, which seemed to show that the Inca no longer prepared for immediate war. Only then what had happened to Quilla, whose person was the price of peace? Perhaps she was hidden away during the preparations for her nuptials; at least I could think of nothing else, unless indeed she had chosen to kill herself or died naturally.
Soon, however, all news ceased, for Huaracha shut his frontiers, hoping that thus Urco might not learn that he was gathering armies.
At length, when our forces were almost ready to march, Kari came, Kari whom I thought lost.
One night when I was seated at my work by lamplight, writing down numbers upon a parchment, a shadow fell across it, and looking up I saw Kari standing before me, travel-worn and weary, but Kari without doubt, unless I dreamed.
"Have you food, Lord?" he asked while I stared at him. "I need it and would eat before I speak."
I found meat and native beer and brought them to him, for it was late and my servants were asleep, waiting till he had filled himself, for by this time I had learned something of the patience of these people. At length he spoke, saying:
"Huaracha's watch is good, and to pass it I must journey far into the mountains and sleep three nights without food amid their snows."
"Whence come you?" I asked.
"From Cuzco, Lord."
"Then what of the lady Quilla? Does she still live? Is she wed to Urco?"
"She lives, or lived fourteen days ago, and she is not wed. But where she is no man may ever come. You have looked your last upon the lady Quilla, Lord."
"If she lives and is unwed, why?" I asked, trembling.
"Because she is numbered among the Virgins of the Sun our Father, and therefore inviolate to man. Were I the Inca, though I love you and know all, should you attempt to take her, yes, even you, I would kill you if I could, and with my own sword. In our land, Lord, there is one crime which has no forgiveness, and that is to lay hands upon a Virgin of the Sun. We believe, Lord, that if this is done, great curses will fall upon our country, while as for the man who works the crime, before he passes to eternal vengeance he and all his house and the town whence he came must perish utterly, and that false virgin who has betrayed our father, the Sun, must die slowly and by fire."
"Has this ever chanced?" I asked.
"History does not tell it, Lord, since none have been so wicked, but such is the law."
I thought to myself that it was a very evil law, and cruel; also that I would break it if I found opportunity, but made no answer, knowing when to be silent and that I might as well strive to move a mountain from its base as to turn Kari from the blindness of his folly bred of false faith. After all, could I blame him, seeing that we held the same of the sacredness of nuns and, it was said, killed them if they broke their vows?
"What news, Kari?" I asked.
"Much, Lord. Hearken. Disguised as a peasant who had come into this country to barter wool from a village near to Cuzco, I joined myself to the train of the Inca Upanqui, among whose lords I found a friend who had loved me in past years and kept my secret as he was bound to do, having passed into the brotherhood of knights with me while we were lads. Through him, in place of a man who was sick, I became one of the bearers of the lady Quilla's litter and thus was always about her and at times had speech with her in secret, for she knew me again notwithstanding my disguise and uniform. So I became one of those who waited on her when she ate and noted all that passed.
"After the first day the Inca Upanqui, he who is my father and whose lawful heir I am, although he discarded me for Urco and believes me dead, made it a habit to take his food in the same tent or rest-house chamber as the lady Quilla. Lord, being very clever, she set herself to charm him, so that soon he began to dote upon her, as old, worn-out men sometimes do upon young and beautiful women. She, too, pretended to grow fond of him and at last told him in so many words that she grieved it was not he that she was to marry whose wisdom she hung upon, in place of a prince who, she heard, was not wise. This, she said, because she knew well that the Inca would never marry any more and indeed had lived alone for years. Still, being flattered, he told her it was hard that she should be forced to wed one to whom she had no mind, whereon she prayed him, even with tears, to save her from such a fate. At last he vowed that he would do so by setting her among the Virgins of the Sun on whom no man may look. She thanked him and said that she would consider the matter, since, for reasons that you may guess, Lord, she did not desire to become a Virgin of the Sun and to pass the rest of her days in prayer and the weaving of the Inca's garments.
"So it went on until when we were a day's march from Cuzco, Urco, my brother, came to meet his promised bride. Now, Urco is a huge man and hideous, one whom none would believe to have been born of the Inca blood. Coarse he is, and dissolute, given to drink also, though a great fighter and brave in battle, and quick-brained when he is sober. I was present when they met and I saw the lady Quilla shiver and turn pale at the sight of him, while he on his part devoured her beauty with his eyes. They spoke but few words together, yet before these were done, he told her it was his will that they should be wed at once on the day after she came to Cuzco, nor would he listen to the Inca Upanqui who said, being cunning and wishing to gain time, that due preparation must be made for so great a business.
"Thereupon Urco grew angry with his father, who both fears and loves him, and answered that, being almost Inca, this matter was one which he would settle for himself. So fierce was he that Upanqui became afraid and went away. When they were alone Urco strove to embrace Quilla, but she fled from him and hid with her maidens in a private place. After this, at the feast Urco took too much drink according to his custom and was led away to sleep by his lords. Then Quilla waited upon the Inca and said:
"'O Inca, I have seen the Prince and I claim your promise to save me from him. O Inca, abandoning all thought of marriage, I will become the bride of our Father the Sun.'
"Upanqui, who was wroth with Urco because he had crossed his will, swore by the Sun itself that he would not fail her, come what might, since Urco should learn that he was not yet Inca."
"What happened then?" I asked, staring him in the eyes.
"After this, Lord, when we were halted before making the state entry into Cuzco, for a moment the lady Quilla found opportunity for private speech with me. This is what she said:
"'Tell my father, King Huaracha, that I have fulfilled his oath, but that I cannot marry Urco. Therefore I seek refuge in the arms of the Sun, as the oracle Rimac foretold that I should do, having to choose between this fate and that of death. Tell my Lord-from-the-Sea what has befallen me and bid him farewell to me. Still say that he must keep a good heart, since I do not believe that all is ended between us.'
"Then we were parted and I saw her no more."
"And did you hear no more, Kari?"
"I heard much, Lord. I heard that when Urco learned that the lady Quilla had vanished away into the House of Virgins, whither he might not come, and that he was robbed of the bride whom he desired, he grew mad with rage. Indeed, of this I saw something myself. Two days later, with thousands of others I was in the great square in front of the Temple of the Sun, where the Inca Upanqui sat in state upon a golden throne to receive the praise of his people upon his safe return after his long and hard journey, and as some reported, to lay down his lordship in favour of Urco; also to tell the people that the danger of war with the Chancas had passed away. Scarcely had the ceremony begun when Urco appeared at the head of a number of lords and princes of the Inca blood, who are of his clan, and I noticed that he was drunk and furious. He advanced to the foot of the throne, almost without obeisance, and shouted:
"'Where is the lady Quilla, daughter of Huaracha, who is promised to me in marriage, Inca? Why have you hidden her away, Inca?'