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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe People Of The Mist - Chapter XX - THE COMING OF ACA
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The People Of The Mist - Chapter XX - THE COMING OF ACA Post by :jen0147 Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :March 2011 Read :2811

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The People Of The Mist - Chapter XX - THE COMING OF ACA

Leonard turned and looked at his companions with something like dismay
written on his face.

"What is to be done now?" he said.

"We must wait for them until they come near," answered Juanna, "then
Otter and I are to meet them alone, and I will sing the song which Soa
has taught me. Do not be afraid, I have learned my lesson, and, if
things go right, they will think that we are their lost gods; or, at
least, so Soa says."

"Yes, /if/ things go right. But if they don't?"

"Then good-bye," answered Juanna, with a shrug of her shoulders. "At
any rate, I must get ready for the experiment. Come, Soa, bring the
bundle to those rocks over there--quick! Stop a minute--I forgot, Mr.
Outram, you must lend me that ruby. I have to make use of it."

Leonard handed over the ruby, reflecting that he would probably never
see it again, since it seemed almost certain that one of the Great
People would steal it. However, at the moment he was thinking of that
which was far above rubies, namely, of what chance they had of
escaping with their lives.

So soon as she had possession of the stone, Juanna ran to a little
ring of boulders that were scattered on the plain about fifty paces
from them, followed by Soa, who carried a bundle in her hand.

Ten minutes passed, and Soa appeared from behind the shelter of the
stones and beckoned to them. Advancing in obedience to her summons,
they saw a curious sight. Standing in the ring of rocks was Juanna,
but Juanna transformed. She wore a white robe cut low upon the neck
and shoulders; indeed, it was the Arab dress in which she had escaped
from the slave camp, that Soa had brought with them in preparation for
this moment of trial. Nor was this all; for Juanna had loosened her
dark hair--which was of great length and unusual beauty--so that it
hung about her almost to her knees, and upon her forehead, gleaming
like a red eye, was set the great ruby, ingeniously fastened thereto
by Soa in a band of linen pierced in its centre to the size of the
stone.

"Behold the goddess and do homage," said Juanna with mock solemnity,
although Leonard could see that she was trembling with excitement.

"I do not quite understand what you are going to do, but you look the
part well," he answered shortly. And, indeed, until that moment he had
never known how beautiful she was.

Juanna blushed a little at the evident admiration in his eyes; then,
turning to the dwarf, she said:

"Now, Otter, you must make ready too. And remember what Soa told you.
Whatever you see or hear, you are not to open your mouth. Walk side by
side with me and do as I do, that is all."

Otter grunted in assent, and proceeded to "make ready." The process
was simple, consisting only in the shedding of his coat and trousers--
an old pair of Leonard's, very much cut down--which left him naked,
except for a /moocha/ that he wore beneath them in accordance with
native custom.

"What does all this mean?" asked the headman Peter, who, like his
companions, was trembling with fear.

"It means," said Juanna, "that Otter and I are impersonating the gods
of this people, Peter. If they receive us as gods, it is well; if not,
we are doomed. Be careful, should we be so received, lest any of you
betray the trick. Be wise and silent, I say, and do what we shall tell
you from time to time, if you would live to look upon the sun."

Peter fell back astonished, while Leonard and Francisco turned their
attention to the approaching soldiers of the People of the Mist.

They advanced slowly and in silence, but their measured tread shook
the earth. At last they halted about a hundred and fifty yards away,
presenting a truly terrifying spectacle to the little band among the
rocks. So far as Leonard could see, there was not a man among them who
stood less than six feet in height, and they were broad in proportion
--hugely made. In appearance they were neither handsome nor repulsive,
but solemn-looking, large-eyed, thick-haired--between black and yellow
in hue--and wearing an expression of dreadful calm, like the calm of
an archaic statue. For the rest they seemed to be well disciplined,
each company being under the command of a captain, who, in addition to
his arms, carried a trumpet fashioned from a wild bull's horn.

The regiment stood silent, gazing at the group of strangers, or,
rather, at the boulders behind which they were concealed. In the
centre of their hollow square was a knot of men, one of them young,
and huge even in comparison with his companions. This man Leonard took
to be a chief or king. Behind were orderlies and counsellors, and
before him three aged persons of stately appearance and a cruel cast
of countenance. These men were naked to the waist and unarmed, except
for a knife or hanger fixed at the girdle. On their broad breasts,
covering more than half the skin-surface, the head of a huge snake was
tattooed in vivid blue. Evidently they were medicine-men or priests.

While the adventurers watched and wondered, the king or chief issued
an order to his attendants, who ran to the corners of the square and
called it aloud. Then he raised his great spear, and every captain
blew upon his horn, making a deafening sound.

Now the enemy stood still for a while, staring towards the stones, and
the three medicine-men drew near to the chief in the centre of the
square and talked with him, as though debating what should be done.

"This is our chance," said Juanna excitedly. "If once they attack us
it will be all over; a single volley of arrows would kill every one of
us. Come, Otter."

"No, no!" said Leonard. "I am afraid of your venturing yourself among
those savages. The danger is too great."

"Danger! Can the danger be more than it is here? In a minute we may
all be dead. Nonsense! I /will/ go! I know what to do and have made up
my mind to it. Do not fear for me. Remember that, if the worst comes
to the worst, I have the means to protect myself. You are not afraid
to come, are you, Otter?"

"No, Shepherdess," said the dwarf. "Here all roads are alike."

Leonard thought awhile. Bitterly did he reproach himself in that he
had been the cause of leading his ward into such a position. But now
there was no help for it--she must go. And after all it could make no
difference if she were killed or captured five minutes hence or half
an hour later. But Francisco, who could not take such a philosophical
view of the situation, implored her not to venture herself alone among
those horrible savages.

"Go if you like, Juanna," said Leonard, not heeding the priest's
importunities. "If anything happens I will try to avenge you before I
follow. Go, but forgive me."

"What have I to forgive?" she said, looking at him with shining eyes.
"Did you not once dare a greater danger for me?"

"Yes, go, Shepherdess," said Soa, who till now had been staring with
all her eyes at the three aged men in the centre of the square; "there
is little to fear, if this fool of a dwarf will but keep his tongue
silent. I know my people, and I tell you that if you sing that song,
and say the words which I have taught you, you and the black one here
shall be proclaimed gods of the land. But be swift, for the soldiers
are about to shoot."

As Soa spoke, Leonard saw that the conference in the square had come
to an end. The messengers were calling commands to the captains, which
the captains repeated to the soldiers, and then followed a mighty
rattling of quivers. Another instant and the light shone upon many
hundreds of arrow-heads, every one of which was pointed towards them.

Juanna saw also, and springing forward on to a rock, stood there for a
moment in the full glare of the sun. Instantly a murmur went up from
the host; a great voice called a command; the barbs of steel flickered
like innumerable stars, and sank downwards.

Now Otter, naked except for his /moocha/, sprang on to the rock by
Juanna's side, and the murmur of the soldiers of the Great People grew
into a hoarse roar of astonishment and dismay. Wonder had turned to
fear, though why this multitude of warriors should fear a lovely white
girl and a black dwarf was not apparent.

For a moment the ill-assorted pair stood together on the rock; then
Juanna leapt to the plain, Otter following her. For twenty yards or so
she walked in silence, holding the dwarf by the hand; then suddenly
she burst into singing wild and sweet. This was the refrain of the
sacred song which she sang in the ancient language of the People of
the Mist, the tongue that Soa had taught her as a child:


"I do but sleep.

Have ye wept for me awhile?

Hush! I did but sleep.

I shall awake, my people!

I am not dead, nor can I ever die.

See, I have but slept!

See, I come again, made beautiful!

Have ye not seen me in the faces of the children?

Have ye not heard me in the voices of the children?

Look on me now, the sleeper arisen;

Look on me, who wandered, whose name is the Dawning!

Why have ye mourned me, the sleeper awakened?"


Thus she sang, ever more sweetly and louder, till her voice rang
through the still air like the song of a bird in winter. Hushed were
the companies of the Great Men as she drew towards them with slow
gliding steps--hushed with fear and wonder, as though her presence
awoke a memory or fulfilled a promise.

Now she was in front of their foremost rank, and, halting there, was
silent for a moment. Then she changed her song.


"Will ye not greet me, children of my children?

Have ye forgotten the promise of the dead?

Shall I return to the dream-land whence I wander?

Will ye refuse me, the Mother of the Snake?"


The soldiers looked upon one another and murmured each to each. Now
she saw that they understood her words and were terror-stricken by
them. For another moment there was silence, then suddenly the three
priests or medicine-men, who had drawn near together, passed through
the ranks and stood before her, accompanied by the warrior-chief.

Then one of them, the most aged, a man who must have numbered ninety
years, spoke in the midst of an intense silence. To Juanna's joy, as
they had understood her, so she understood him, for his language was
the same that Soa taught her many years before, and in which, for the
sake of practice, they had always conversed together for the last two
months.

"Art thou woman, or spirit?" asked the ancient priest.

"I am both woman and spirit," she answered.

"And he with thee, he whom we know of"--went on the priest, pointing
tremblingly to Otter--"is he god or man?"

"He is both god and man," she answered.

"And those yonder; who are they?"

"They are our ministers and servants, white for the white, and black
for the black, the companions of our wanderings, men and not spirits."

The three priests consulted together, while the chief looked on
Juanna's beauty with wondering eyes. Then the oldest of them spoke
again:

"Thou tellest us in our own tongue of things that have long been
hidden, though perchance they are remembered. Either, O Beautiful,
thou hast learned these things and liest to us, and then food are ye
all for the Snake against whom thou dost blaspheme, or ye are gods
indeed, and as gods ye shall be worshipped. Tell us now thy name, and
the name of yonder dwarf, of whom we know."

"I am named the Shepherdess of Heaven among men. He is named Otter,
Dweller in the Waters, among men. Once we had other names."

"Tell us the other names, O Shepherdess."

"Once in the far past I was named Brightness, I was named Dawn, I was
named Daylight. Once in the far past he was named Silence, he was
named Terror, he was named Darkness. Yet at the beginning we had other
names. Perchance ye know them, Ministers of the Snake."

"Perchance we know them, O thou who art named Shepherdess of Heaven, O
thou who wert named Brightness, and Dawn, and Daylight; O thou who art
named Dweller in the Waters, and wert named Silence, and Terror, and
Darkness! Perchance we know them, although they be known to few, and
are never spoken, save in utter gloom and with hidden head. But do ye
know them, those names of the beginning? For if ye know them not, O
Beautiful, ye lie and ye blaspheme, and ye are food for the Snake."

"Seldom through all the years have those holy names been spoken save
in utter darkness and with covered heads," Juanna answered boldly;
"but now is the new hour, the hour of the coming, and now they shall
be called aloud in the light of day from open lips and with uplifted
eyes. Hearken, Children of the Snake, these are the names by which we
were known in the beginning: /Aca/ is my name, the Mother of the
Snake. /Jal/ is he named, who is the Snake. Say, do ye know us now?"

As these words rang on her lips a groan of terror burst from every man
who heard them. Then the aged priest cried aloud: "Down upon your
faces, ye Children of the Snake; Worship, all ye People of the Spear,
Dwellers in the Mist! Aca, the Queen immortal, has come home again:
Jal, the god, has put on the flesh of men. Olfan, lay down thy
kingship, it is his: ye priests, throw wide the temples, they are
theirs. Worship the Mother, do honour to the god!"

The multitude heard and prostrated themselves like a single man, every
one of them crying in a shout of thunder:

"Aca, the Queen of life, has come; Jal, the doom-god, has put on
flesh. Worship the Mother, do honour to the god!"

It was as though the army had suddenly been smitten with death, and of
the hundreds there, Juanna and Otter alone were left standing. There
was one exception, however, and that was Olfan, the warrior chief, who
remained upon his feet, not seeming to relish the command to abdicate
his authority thus brusquely in favour of a dwarf, were he god or man.

Otter, who was utterly bewildered, not comprehending a word of what
had been said, and being unable to fathom the meaning of these strange
antics, pointed at the chief with his spear by way of calling Juanna's
attention to the fact that he was still standing. But the great man
interpreted the action otherwise; evidently he thought that the newly
arrived god was invoking destruction on him. His pride yielded to his
superstition, and he sank to his knees also.

When the sound of the worshipping had passed away Juanna spoke again,
addressing the old priest.

"Rise, my child," she said--he might well have been her great-
grandfather--"and rise all ye, soldiers of the Spear and servants of
the Snake, and hear my words. Ye know me now, ye know me by the holy
name, ye know me by the fashion of my face, and by the red stone that
gleams upon my brow. In the beginning my blood fell yonder and was
frozen into such gems as these, which to-day ye offer yearly to him
who is my child, and slew me. Now the fate is accomplished and his
reign is finished. I come with him indeed, and he is still a god, but
he loves me as a son again, and bows the knee to me in service.

"Enough, ye know the ancient tale that is fulfilled this day. Now we
pass on towards our city, there to sojourn with you awhile and to
proclaim the law of the Ending, and we pass alone. There, in our city,
let a place be made ready for us, a place apart, but nigh to the
temple; and let food be brought to the place, that my servants may
eat. At the gates of the city also let men be waiting to bear us to
that dwelling. Let none spy upon us, lest an evil fate attend you all;
and let none be disobedient, lest we pass from you back to the land of
Death and Dreams. Perchance we shall not tarry here for long,
perchance we come to bring a blessing and to depart again. Therefore
hasten to do our bidding, and do it all. For this time farewell, my
servants."

Having spoken thus with much dignity, accompanied by Otter, whose hand
she held as before, Juanna withdrew herself, stepping backwards very
slowly towards the circle of rocks, and singing as she went.

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