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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Virgin Of The Sun - BOOK II - Chapter XI - THE HOUSE OF DEATH
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The Virgin Of The Sun - BOOK II - Chapter XI - THE HOUSE OF DEATH Post by :kippstips Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :May 2011 Read :3285

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The Virgin Of The Sun - BOOK II - Chapter XI - THE HOUSE OF DEATH

Now at one time during this long war against Urco victory smiled upon
him, though afterwards the scale went down against him. Kari was
defeated in a pitched battle and I who commanded another army was
almost surrounded in a valley. When everything seemed lost, afterwards
I escaped by leading my soldiers round up the slope of a mountain and
surprising Urco in the rear, but as it ended well for us I need not
speak of that matter.

It was while all was at its blackest for us that a certain officer was
brought to me who was captured while striving to desert, or at least
to pass our outposts. As it happened I knew this man again having,
unseen myself, noted him on the previous day talking earnestly to the
high-priest Larico, who, with other priests, accompanied my army,
perhaps to keep a watch on me. I took this captain apart and
questioned him alone, threatening him with death by torment if he did
not reveal his errand to me.

In the end, being very much afraid, he spoke. From him I learned that
he was a messenger from Larico to Urco. Believing that our defeat was
almost certain, Larico had sent him to make his peace with Urco by
betraying all Kari's and my own plans to him and revealing how he
might most easily destroy us. He said also that he, Larico, had only
joined the party of Upanqui, and of Kari after him, under threats of
death and that always in his heart he had been true to Urco, whom he
acknowledged as his Lord and as the rightful Inca whom he would help
to restore to the Throne with all the power of the Priesthood of the
Sun. Further, he sent by this spy a secret message by means of little
cords cunningly knotted, which knots served these people as writing,
since they could read them as we read a book.

Now, being always desirous of knowledge, I had caused myself to be
instructed in the plan of this knot-writing which by this time I could
read well enough. Therefore I was able to spell out this message. It
said shortly but plainly, that knowing he still desired her, he,
Larico, as high-priest would hand over to Urco the lady Quilla,
daughter to the King of the Chancas who unlawfully had been hidden
away among the Virgins of the Sun, also that he would betray me, the
White-God-from-the-Sea who sought to steal her away, into Urco's
hands, that he might kill me if he could.

When I had mastered all this I was filled with rage and bethought me
that I would cause Larico to be taken and suffer the fate of traitors.
Soon, however, I changed this mind of mine and placing the spy in
close keeping where none could come at him, I set a watch on Larico
but said nothing to him or to Kari of all that I had learned.

A few days later our fortunes changed and Urco, defeated, was in full
flight to the shores of Lake Titicaca. After this I knew we had
nothing more to fear from this fox-hearted high-priest who above
everything desired to be on the winning side and to continue in his
place and power. So knowing that I held him fast I bided my time,
because through him alone I could hope to come at Quilla. That time
came after the war was over and we had returned to Cuzco in triumph.
As soon as the rejoicings were over and Kari was firmly seated on his
throne, I sent for Larico, which, as the greatest man in the kingdom
after the Inca, I was able to do.

He appeared in answer to my summons and we bowed to each other, after
which he began to praise me for my generalship, saying that had it not
been for me, Urco would have won the war and that the Inca had done
well to name me his Brother before the people and to say that to me he
owed his throne.

"Yes, that is true," I answered, "and now, since through me, you,
Larico, are the third greatest man in the kingdom and remain High-
Priest of the Sun and Whisperer in the Inca's ear, I would put you in
mind of a certain bargain that we made when I promised you all these
things, Larico."

"What bargain, Lord-of-the-Sea."

"That you would bring me and a Virgin of the Sun, who while she was of
the earth was named Quilla, together, Larico, and enable her to return
from those of the Sun to my arms, Larico."

Now his face grew troubled and he answered:

"Lord, I have thought much of this matter, desiring above all things
to fulfil my word and I grieve to tell you that it is impossible."

"Why, Larico?"

"Because I find that the law of my faith is against it, Lord."

"Is that all, Larico?" I asked with a smile.

"No, Lord. Because I find that the Inca would not suffer it and swears
to kill all who attempt to touch the lady Quilla."

"Is that all, Larico?"

"No, Lord. Because I find that a woman who has been betrothed to one
of the royal blood may never pass to another man."

"Now perhaps we come nearer to it, Larico. You mean that if this
happened and perchance after all Urco should come to the throne, as he
might do if Kari his brother died--as any man may die--he would hold
you to account."

"Yes, Lord, if that chanced, as chance it may, since Urco still lives
and I hear is gathering new armies among the mountains, certainly he
would hold me to account for I have heard as much. Also our father the
Sun would hold me to account and so would the Inca who wields his
sceptre upon earth."

I asked him why he did not think of all these things before when he
had much to gain instead of now when he had gained them through me,
and he answered because he had not considered them enough. Then I
pretended to grow angry and exclaimed:

"You are a rogue, Larico! You promise and take your pay and you do not
perform. Henceforth I am your enemy and one to whom the Inca
hearkens."

"He hearkens still more to this god the Sun and to me who am the voice
of God, White Man," he answered, adding insolently, "You would strike
too late; your power over me and my fortunes is gone, White Man."

"I fear it is so," I replied, pretending to be frightened, "so let us
say no more of the matter. After all, there are other women in Cuzco
besides this fair bride of the Sun. Now before you go, High-Priest,
will you who are so learned help me who am ignorant? I have been
striving to master your method of conveying thoughts by means of
knots. Here I have a bundle of strings which I cannot altogether
understand. Be pleased to interpret them to me, O most holy and
upright High-Priest."

Then from my robe I drew out those knotted fibres that I had taken
from his messenger and held them before Larico's eyes.

He stared at them and turned pale. His hand groped for his dagger till
he saw that mine was on the hilt of Wave-Flame, whereon he let it
fall. Next the thought took him that in truth I could not read the
knots which he began to interpret falsely.

"Have done, Traitor," I laughed, "for I know them all. So Urco may wed
Quilla and I may not. Also cease to fret as to that messenger of yours
for whom you seek far and near, since he is safe in my keeping.
To-morrow I take him to deliver his message not to Urco, but to Kari--
and then, Traitor?"

Now Larico who, notwithstanding his stern face and proud manner, was a
coward at heart, fell upon his knees before me trembling and prayed me
to spare his life which lay in my hand. Well he knew that if once it
came to Kari's ears, even a high priest of the Sun could not hope to
escape the reward of such treachery as his.

"If I pardon you, what will you give me?" I asked.

"The only thing that you will take, Lord--the lady Quilla herself.
Hearken, Lord. Outside the city is the palace of Upanqui whom Urco
slew. There in the great hall the divine Inca sits embalmed and into
that holy presence none dare enter save the Virgins of the Sun whose
office it is to wait upon the mighty dead. To-morrow one hour before
the dawn, when all men sleep, I will lead you to this hall disguised
in the robes of a priest of the Sun, so that on the way thither none
can know you. There you will find but one Virgin of the Sun, the lady
whom you seek. Take her and begone. The rest I leave to you."

"How do I know that you will not set some trap for me, Larico?"

"Thus, Lord, that I shall be with you and share your sacrilege. Also
my life will be in your hand."

"Aye, Larico," I answered grimly, "and if aught of ill befalls me,
remember that this," and I touched the knotted cords, "will find its
way to Kari, and with it the man who was your messenger."

He nodded and answered:

"Be sure that I have but one desire, to know you, Lord, and this woman
whom, being mad, you seek so madly, far from Cuzco and never to look
upon your face again."

Then we made our plans as to when and where we should meet and other
matters, after which he departed, bowing himself away with many
smiles.

I thought to myself that there went as big a rogue as I had ever
known, in London or elsewhere, and fell to wondering what snare he
would set for me, since that he planned some snare I was sure. Why,
then, did I prepare to fall into it? I asked myself. The answer was,
for a double reason. First, although my whole heart was sick with
longing for the sight of her, now, after months of seeking, I was no
nearer to Quilla than when we had parted in the city of the Chancas,
nor ever should be without Larico's aid. Secondly, some voice within
me told me to go forward taking all hazards, since if I did not, our
parting would be for always in this world. Yes, the voice warned me
that unless I saved her soon, Quilla would be no more. As Huaracha had
said, there was more poison in Cuzco, and murderers were not far to
seek. Or despair might do its work with her. Or she might kill herself
as once she had proposed to do. So I would go forward even though the
path I walked should lead me to my doom.

That day I did many things. Now, being so great a general and man--or
god--among these people, I had those about me who were sworn to my
service and whom I could trust. For one of these, a prince of the Inca
blood, of the House of Kari's mother, I sent and gave to him those
knotted cords that were the proof of Larico's treachery, bidding him
if aught of evil overtook me, or if I could not be found, to deliver
them to the Inca on my behalf and with them the prisoned messenger who
was in his keeping, but meanwhile to show them to no man. He bowed and
swore by the Sun to do my bidding, thinking doubtless that, my work
finished in this land, I purposed to return into the sea out of which
I had risen, as doubtless a god could do.

Next I summoned the captains of the Chancas who had fought under me
throughout the civil war, of whom about half remained alive, and bade
them gather their men upon the ridge where I had stood at the
beginning of the battle of the Field of Blood, and wait until I joined
them there. If it chanced, however, that I did not appear within six
days I commanded that they should march back to their own country and
make report to King Huaracha that I had "returned into the sea" for
reasons that he would guess. Also I commanded that eight famous
warriors whom I named, men of my own bodyguard who had fought with me
in all our battles and would have followed me through fire or water or
the gates of Hell themselves, should come to the courtyard of my
palace after nightfall, bringing a litter and disguised as its
bearers, but having their arms hidden beneath their cloaks.

These matters settled, I waited upon the Inca Kari and craved of him
leave to take a journey. I told him that I was weary with so much
fighting and desired to rest amidst my friends the Chancas.

He gazed at me awhile, then stretched out his sceptre to me in token
that my request was granted, and said in a sad voice:

"So you would leave me, my brother, because I cannot give you that
which you desire. Bethink you. You will be no nearer to the Moon (by
which he meant Quilla) at Chanca than you are at Cuzco and here, next
to the Inca, you are the greatest in the Empire who by decree are
named his brother and the general of his armies."

Now, though my gorge rose at it, I lied to him, saying:

"The Moon is set for me, so let her sleep whom I shall see no more.
For the rest, learn, O Kari, that Huaracha has sworn to me that I
shall be, not his brother but his son, and Huaracha is sick--they say
to death."

"You mean that you would choose to be King over the Chancas rather
than stand next to the throne among the Quichuas?" he said, scanning
me sharply.

"Aye, Kari," I replied, still lying. "Since I must dwell in this
strange land, I would do so as a king--no less."

"To that you have a right, Brother, who are far above us all. But when
you are a king, what is your plan? Do you purpose to strive to conquer
me and rule over Tavantinsuyu, as perchance you could do?"

"Nay, I shall never make war upon you, Kari, unless you break your
treaty with the Chancas and strive to subdue them."

"Which I shall never do, Brother."

Then he paused awhile and spoke again with more passion that I had
ever known in him, saying:

"Would that this woman who comes between us were dead. Would that she
had never been born. In truth, I am minded to pray to my father, the
Sun, that he will be pleased to take her to himself, for then
perchance we two might be as we were in the old time yonder in your
England, and when we faced perils side by side upon the ocean and in
the forests. A curse on Woman the Divider, and all the curses of all
the gods upon this woman whom I may not give to you. Had she been of
my Household I would have bidden you to take her, yes, even if she
were my wife, but she is the wife of the god and therefore I may not--
alas! I may not," and he hid his face in his robe and groaned.

Now when I heard these words I grew afraid who knew well that she of
whom the Inca prays the Sun that she may die, does die, and swiftly.

"Do not add to this lady's wrongs by robbing her of life as well as of
sight and liberty, Kari," I said.

"Have no fear, Brother," he answered, "she is safe from me. No word
shall pass my lips though it is true that in my heart I wish that she
would die. Go your ways, Brother and Friend, and when you grow weary
of kingship if it comes to you, as to tell truth already I grow weary,
return to me. Perchance, forgetting that we had been kings, we might
journey hence together over the world's edge."

Then he stood up on his throne and bowed towards me, kissing the air
as though to a god, and taking the royal chain that every Inca wore
from about his neck, set it upon mine. This done, turning, he left me
without another word.

With a heavy heart I returned to my palace where I dwelt. At sundown I
ate according to my custom, and dismissed those who waited upon me to
the servants' quarters. There were but two of them for my private life
was simple. Then I slept till past midnight and rising, went into the
courtyard where I found the eight Chanca captains disguised as litter-
bearers and with them the litter. I led them to an empty guard-house
and bade them stay there in silence. After this I returned to my
chamber and waited.

About two hours before the dawn Larico came, knocking on the side-door
as we had planned. I opened to him and he entered disguised in a
hooded cloak of sheep's wool which covered his robes and his face,
such as priests wear when the weather is cold. He gave to me the
garments of a priest of the Sun which he had brought with him in a
cloth. I clothed myself in them though because of the fashion of them
to do this I must be rid of my armour which would have betrayed me.
Larico desired that I should take off the sword Wave-Flame also, but,
mistrusting him, this I would not do, but made shift to hide it and my
dagger beneath the priest's cloak. The armour I wrapped in a bundle
and took with me.

Presently we went out, having spoken few words since the time for
speech had gone by and peril or some fear of what might befall weighed
upon our tongues. In the guard-house I found the Chancas at whom
Larico looked curiously but said nothing. To them I gave the bundle of
armour to be hidden in the litter and with it my long bow, having
first revealed myself to them by lifting the hood of my cloak. Then I
bade them follow me.

Larico and I walked in front and after us came the eight men, four of
them bearing the empty litter, and the other four marching behind.
This was well planned since if any saw us or if we met guards as once
or twice we did, these thought that we were priests taking one who was
sick or dead to be tended or to be made ready for burial. Once,
however, we were challenged, but Larico spoke some word and we passed
on without question.

At length in the darkness before the dawn we came to the private
palace of dead Upanqui. At its garden gate Larico would have had me
leave the litter with the eight Chanca warriors disguised as bearers.
I refused, saying that they must come to the doors of the palace, and
when he grew urgent, tapped my sword, whispering to him fiercely that
he had best beware lest it should be he who stayed at the gate. Then
he gave way and we advanced all of us across the garden to the door of
the palace. Larico unlocked the door with a key and we entered, he and
I alone, for here I bade the Chancas await my return.

We crept down a short passage that was curtained at its end. Passing
the curtains I found myself in Upanqui's banqueting-hall. This hall
was dimly lit with one hanging golden lamp. By its light I saw
something more wondrous and of its sort more awful than ever I had
seen in that strange land.

There, on a dais, in his chair of gold, sat dead Upanqui arrayed in
all his gorgeous Inca robes and so marvellously preserved that he
might have been a man asleep. With arms crossed and his sceptre at his
side, he sat staring down the hall with fixed and empty eyes, a
dreadful figure of life in death. About him and around the dais were
set all his riches, vases and furniture of gold, and jewels piled in
heaps, there to remain till the roof fell in and buried them, since on
this hallowed wealth the boldest dared not lay a hand. In the centre
of the hall, also, was a table prepared as though for feasters, for
amid jewelled cups and platters stood the meats and wines which day by
day were brought afresh by the Virgins of the Sun. Doubtless there
were more wonders, but these I could not see because the light did not
reach them, or to the doorways of the chambers that opened from the
hall. Moreover, there was something else which caught my eye.

At the foot of the dais crouched a figure which at first I took to be
that of some dead one also embalmed, perhaps a wife or daughter of the
dead Inca who had been set with him in this place. While I stared at
it the figure stirred, having heard our footsteps, rose and turned,
standing so that the light from the hanging lamp fell full upon it. It
was Quilla clad in white and purple with a golden likeness of the Sun
blazoned upon her breast!

So beauteous did she look searching the darkness with great blind eyes
and her rich flowing hair flowing from beneath her jewelled headdress,
a diadem fashioned to resemble the Sun's rays, that my breath failed
me and my heart stood still.

"There stands she whom you seek," muttered Larico in a mocking
whisper, for here even he did not seem to dare to talk aloud. "Go take
her, you whom men call a god, but I call a drunken fool ready to risk
all for a woman's lips. Go take her and ask the blessing upon your
kisses of yonder dead king whose holy rest you break."

"Be silent," I whispered back and passed round the table till I came
face to face with Quilla. Then a strange dumbness fell upon me like a
spell or dead Upanqui's curse, so that I could not speak.

I stood there staring at those beautiful blind eyes and the blind eyes
stared back at me. Presently a look of understanding gathered on the
face and Quilla spoke, or rather murmured to herself.

"Strange--but I could have sworn! Strange, but I seemed to feel! Oh! I
slept in my vigils upon that dead old man who in life was so foolish
and in death appears to have become so wise, and sleeping I dreamed. I
dreamed I heard a step I shall never hear again. I dreamed one was
near me whom I shall never touch again. I will sleep once more, for in
my darkness what are left to me save sleep and--death?"

Then at last I found my tongue and said hoarsely,

"Love is left, Quilla, and--life."

She heard and straightened herself. Her whole body seemed to become
rigid as though with an agony of joy. Her blind eyes flashed, her lips
quivered. She stretched out her hand, feeling at the darkness. Her
fingers touched my forehead, and thence she ran them swiftly over my
face.

"It is--dead or living--it is----" and she opened her arms.

Oh! was there ever anything more beautiful on the earth than this
sight of the blind Quilla thus opening her arms to me there in the
gorgeous house of death?

We clung and kissed. Then I thrust her away, saying:

"Come swiftly from this ill-omened place. All is ready. The Chancas
wait."

She slipped her hand into mine and I turned to lead her away.

Then it was that I heard a low, mocking laugh, Larico's, I thought,
heard also a sound of creeping footsteps around me. I looked. Out of
the darkness that hid the doors of the chamber on the right appeared a
giant form which I knew for that of Urco, and behind him others. I
looked to the left and there were more of them, while in front beyond
the gold-laid board stood the traitor, Larico, laughing.

"You have the first fruits, but it seems that another will reap the
harvest, Lord-from-the-Sea," he jeered.

"Seize her," cried Urco in his guttural voice, pointing to Quilla with
his mace, "and brain that white thief."

I drew Wave-Flame and strove to get at him, but from both sides men
rushed in on me. One I cut down, but the others snatched Quilla away.
I was surrounded, with no room to wield my sword, and already weapons
flashed over me. A thought came to me. The Chancas were at the door. I
must reach them, for perhaps so Quilla might be saved. In front was
the table spread for the death feast. With a bound I leapt on to it,
shouting aloud and scattering its golden furnishings this way and
that. Beyond stood the traitor, Larico, who had trapped me--I sprang
at him and lifting Wave-Flame with both hands I smote with all my
strength. He fell, as it seemed to me, cloven to the middle. Then some
spear cast at me struck the lamp.

It shattered and went out!

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There was tumult in the hall; shoutings, groans from him whom I hadfirst struck down, the sound of vases and vessels overthrown, andabove all those of a woman's shrieks echoing from the walls and roof,so that I could not tell whence they came.Through the gross darkness I went on towards the curtains, or so Ihoped. Presently they were torn open, and by the faint light of thebreaking dawn I saw my eight Chancas rushing towards me."Follow!" I cried, and at the head of them groped my way back up thehall, seeking for Quilla. I stumbled over the dead body of Larico
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The day of the new moon came and with it the great horror that causedall the Empire of Tavantinsuyu to tremble, fearing lest Heaven shouldbe avenged upon it.Since Upanqui had found his elder son again he began to dote upon him,as in such a case the old and weak-minded often do, and would walkabout the gardens and palaces with his arm around his neck babbling tohim of whatever was uppermost in his mind. Moreover, his soul wasoppressed because he had done Kari wrong in the past, and preferredUrco to him under the urging of that prince's mother."The truth is, Son," I
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