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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe People Of The Mist - Chapter XXV - THE SACRIFICE AFTER THE NEW ORDER
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The People Of The Mist - Chapter XXV - THE SACRIFICE AFTER THE NEW ORDER Post by :agreement Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :March 2011 Read :1099

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The People Of The Mist - Chapter XXV - THE SACRIFICE AFTER THE NEW ORDER

The third day came, the day of sacrifice after the new order. Nothing
particular had happened in the interval: Leonard and Francisco took
some walks through the city, guarded by Peter and the Settlement men;
that was all.

They did not see much there, except the exteriors of the houses built
of stone and roofed with turves, and the cold stare of curiosity with
which they were followed by hundreds of eyes gave them a sense of
unrest that effectually checked their efforts at closer examination.
Once indeed they halted in the market-place, which was thronged;
whereon all business ceased, and seller, buyer, herdsmen, and
presiding priests flocked around staring at them, half in fear and
half in curiosity, for they had never seen white men before. This they
could not bear, so they returned to the palace.

Of course Otter and Juanna, being divine, were not allowed to indulge
in such recreations. They were gods and must live up to their
reputation. For one day Otter endured it; on the second, in spite of
Leonard's warnings, he sought refuge in the society of the bridge
Saga. This was the beginning of evil, for if no man is a hero to his
/valet de chambre/, much less can he remain a god for long in the eyes
of a curious woman. Here, as in other matters, familiarity breeds
contempt.

Leonard saw these dangers and spoke seriously to the dwarf on the
subject. Still he could not conceal from himself that, putting aside
the question of his /ennui/, which made his conduct natural, at any
rate in a savage, Otter's position was a difficult one. So Leonard
shrugged his shoulders and consoled himself as best he could with the
reflection that, at least, his wife would teach the dwarf something of
her language, which, by the way, he himself was practising assiduously
under the tuition of Juanna and Soa.

At noon the party adjourned to the temple, escorted by a bevy of
priests and soldiers, for in obedience to Juanna's commands the feast
was to be celebrated in the daytime and not at night. As before, the
vast amphitheatre was crowded with thousands of human beings, but
there was a difference in the arrangements.

Juanna and Otter had declined to occupy their lofty thrones, and sat
in chairs at the feet of the huge and hideous stone idol, almost on
the edge of the pool, Nam alone standing before them, while Leonard,
Francisco, and the Settlement men ranged themselves on either side.
The day was cold and miserable, and snow fell from time to time in
large flakes from an ashen sky.

Presently Nam addressed the multitude.

"People of the Mist," he cried, "ye are gathered here to celebrate the
feast of Jal, according to ancient custom, but the gods have come back
to you, as ye know, and the gods in their wisdom have changed the
custom. Fifty women were prepared for the sacrifice; this morning they
rose rejoicing, deeming that they were destined to the Snake, but now
their joy is turned to sorrow, since the gods will not accept them,
having chosen a new offering for themselves. Let it be brought
forward."

At his word lads appeared from behind the idol, driving two lean
bulls, and with them a pair of he-goats.

Whether by accident or design, they drove them so unskilfully that the
animals blundered hither and thither over the rocky platform till they
were finally despatched with blows from clubs and axes--that is,
except one goat, which, escaping its pursuers, rushed down the
amphitheatre and scrambled from seat to seat among the audience,
uttering a succession of terrified "baa's." Indeed the scene was so
comic that even that sombre and silent people began to laugh,
accustomed as they were on these occasions to the hideous and
impressive ceremonial of the midnight sacrifice of so many human
beings.

The ancient feast was a fiasco; this was a fact which could not be
concealed.

"Begone, ye People of the Mist," said Nam presently, pointing to the
dead animals. "The sacrifice is sacrificed, the festival of Jal is
done. May the Mother plead with the Snake that the sun may shine and
fruitfulness bless the land!"

Now scarcely ten minutes had elapsed since the beginning of the
ceremony, which in the ordinary course of events lasted through the
greater part of the night, for it was the custom to slaughter each
victim singly and with appropriate solemnities. A murmur of
disapprobation arose from the far end of the amphitheatre, that
swelled gradually to a roar. The people had been thankful to accept
Juanna's message of peace, but, brutalised as they were by the
continual sight of bloodshed, they were not willing to dispense with
their carnivals of human sacrifice. A Roman audience gathered to
witness a gladiatorial show, to find themselves treated instead to a
donkey-race and a cock-fight, could scarcely have shown more fury.

"Bring out the women! Let the victims be offered up to Jal as of old,"
the multitude yelled in their rage, and ten minutes or more elapsed
before they could be quieted.

Then Nam addressed them cunningly.

"People of the Mist," he said, "the gods have given us a new law, a
law of the sacrifice of oxen and goats in the place of men and maids,
and ye yourselves have welcomed that law. No longer shall the blood of
victims flow to Jal beneath the white rays of the moon while the chant
of his servants goes up to heaven. Nay, henceforth this holy place
must be a shambles for the kine. So be it, my children; in my old age
I hear the gods speaking in an altered voice and I obey them. It is
nothing to me who am about to die, yet I tell you that rather would I
myself be stretched upon the ancient stone than see the worship of our
forefathers thus turned into a mockery. The sacrifice is sacrificed:
now may the Maid intercede with the Snake that plenty may bless the
land." And he smiled satirically and turned away.

Those of the audience who were near enough to hear his words cried
them out to the ranks behind them, and when all understood there
followed a scene of most indescribable tumult.

"Blood, give us blood!" roared the populace, their fierce faces alight
with rage. "Shall we be mocked with the sacrifice of goats? Offer up
the servants of the false gods. Give us blood! Lead forth the
victims!"

In the midst of this uproar Juanna, clad in her white robes and with
the red stone bound upon her brow, rose from her seat to speak.

"Silence!" cried Nam, "hear the voice of Aca;" and by degrees the
shouting died away, and she spoke.

"Do ye dare thus to offer outrages to the gods?" she cried. "Be warned
lest we bring death and famine upon you all. Men shall be offered up
to us no more. I have spoken."

For a while there was silence, then the clamour broke out with
redoubled violence, and a portion of the multitude made a rush round
the edge of the pool towards the rock platform, which was repelled by
the soldiers in a very half-hearted way.

"Now," said Olfan, "I think that these will do well to be going," and
he pointed to Leonard, Francisco, and the Settlement men. "Doubtless
the gods can defend themselves, but if the others do not fly this is
sure, that presently they will be torn to pieces."

"Let us all go," said Juanna, whose nerve began to fail her; and
suiting the action to the word she led the way towards the rock
tunnel, followed by the others.

They were not allowed to reach it unmolested, however, for a number of
the crowd, headed, as Leonard noticed, by two priests, forced their
way through the cordon of guards and became mixed with the rear of
their little party, the members of which they threatened and struck at
savagely. This happened just as they were entering the mouth of the
tunnel, behind the statue where the gloom was great.

This tunnel was protected by a door, which, so soon as they thought
that all had passed, Olfan and Leonard made haste to close, leaving
the mob howling without. Then they pressed on to the palace, which
they reached in safety, Olfan remaining behind, however, to watch the
movements of the mob.

"Oh! why would not you suffer them to sacrifice according to their
wicked custom, Shepherdess?" said Otter. "What does it matter if they
kill each other? So shall there be fewer of them. Now the end of it
must be that the devils will find us out and murder us."

"No, no," said Francisco, "the senora was right. Let us trust in
Providence and keep ourselves clean from such iniquity."

As he spoke the roars of wrath in the distance changed to a shout of
triumph followed by silence.

"What is that?" said Juanna faintly. At this moment Olfan pushed the
curtains aside and entered, and his face was heavy.

"Speak, Olfan," she said.

"The people sacrifice as of old, Queen," he answered. "All of us did
not pass the gate; two of your black servants were mixed up with the
crowd and left, and now they offer them to Jal, and others with them."

Leonard ran to the yard and counted the Settlement men, who were
huddled together in their fear, staring towards the temple through the
bars of the gate. Two were missing.

As he returned he met Olfan coming out.

"Where is he going?" he asked of Juanna.

"To guard the gates. He says that he cannot be sure of the soldiers.
Is it true about the Settlement men?"

"Alas! yes. Two are gone."

She hid her face in her hands and shuddered.

"Poor creatures!" she said presently in a hoarse voice. "Why did we
ever bring them here? Oh! Leonard, is there no escape from this land
of demons?"

"I hope so," he answered; then added, "Come, Juanna, do not give way.
Things look so bad that they are sure to mend."

"There is need of it," she sobbed.

All that evening and night they watched, hourly expecting to be
attacked and dragged forth to sacrifice, but no attack was made.
Indeed, on the morrow they learnt from Olfan that the people had
dispersed after sacrificing about a score of human beings, and that
quiet reigned in the city.

Now began the most dreadful of their trials, and the longest, for it
endured five whole weeks. As has been said, the climate of these vast
upland plains, backed by snow-clad mountains, that are the dwelling-
place of the People of the Mist, is cold during the winter months to
the verge of severity. But at a certain period of a year, almost
invariably within a day or two of the celebration of the feast of Jal,
the mists and frost vanish and warm weather sets in with bright
sunshine.

This is the season of the sowing of crops, and upon the climatic
conditions of the few following weeks depends the yield of the
harvest. Should the spring be delayed even a week or two, a short crop
would certainly result, but if its arrival is postponed for a month,
it means something like a famine during the following winter. For
although this people dwell on high lands they cultivate the same sorts
of grain which are common in these latitudes, namely maize and sundry
varieties of Kaffir corn, having no knowledge of wheat and the other
hardy cereals. Therefore, it is all important to them that the corn
should have a fair start, for if the autumn frosts catch it before it
is fit to harvest the great proportion of the crop turns black and is
rendered useless.

These agricultural details had no small bearing upon the fate of our
adventurers. The feast of Jal was celebrated in order to secure a good
seed-bed and springing time for the grain. Juanna and Otter had
abolished the hideous ceremonies of that feast, and the People of the
Mist watched for the results with a gloomy and superstitious eye. If
the season proved more than ordinarily good, all might go well, but if
it chanced to be bad----!

And, as was to be expected, seeing how much depended upon it, this
spring proved the very worst which any living man could remember in
that country. Day after day the face of the sun was hidden with mists
that only yielded to the bitter winds which blew from the mountains at
night, so that when the spring should have been a month old, the
temperature was still that of mid-winter and the corn would not start
at all.

Leonard and Juanna soon discovered what this meant for them, and never
was the aspect of weather more anxiously scanned than by these two
from day to day. In vain; every morning the blanket of cold mist fell
like a cloud, blotting out the background of the mountains, and every
night the biting wind swept down upon them from the fields of snow,
chilling them to the marrow.

This state of things--wretched enough it itself--was only one of many
miseries which afflicted them. Otter and Juanna were still treated as
gods indeed, and considerable respect was shown to Leonard and
Francisco, that is, within the walls of the palace. But if, wearied
with the monotony of their life, they went out, which they did twice
only during these five dreadful weeks, matters were different. Then
they found themselves followed by a mob of men, women, and children,
who glared at them ferociously and cursed them aloud, asking what they
had their gods had done with the sunshine.

On the second occasion indeed they were forced to fly for their lives,
and after this they gave up making the attempt to walk abroad, and sat
in the palace with Juanna and Otter, who of course never dared to
leave it.

It was a terrible life; there was nothing to do, nothing to read, and
only anxieties to think on. The greater part of the day Leonard and
Juanna occupied in talking, for practice, in the language of the
People of the Mist. When their conversation was exhausted they told
each other tales of their adventures in past years, or even invented
stories like children and prisoners; indeed they were prisoners--
prisoners, as they feared, under sentence of death.

They grew to know each other very well during those five weeks, so
well indeed that each could almost guess the other's thoughts. But no
tender word ever passed their lips. On this subject, whatever their
hearts might feel, their tongues were sealed, and in their curious
perversity the chief object of each was to disguise the truth from the
other. Moreover, Leonard never for one moment forgot that Juanna was
his ward, a fact that in itself would have sufficed to cause him to
conceal any tender emotions he might have felt towards her.

So they lived side by side, lovers at heart, yet talking and acting as
brother and sister might, and through it all were still happy after a
fashion because they were together.

But Soa was not happy. She felt that her mistress no longer trusted
her, and was at no loss to guess the cause. Day by day she stood
behind them like a mummy at an Egyptian feast, and watched Leonard
with ever-growing jealousy.

Francisco for his part did not attempt to conceal his fears. He was
certain that they were about to perish and sought consolation in the
constant practice of religion, which was edifying but scarcely
improved him as a companion. As for Otter, he also believed that the
hour of death was nigh, but being a fatalist this did not trouble him
much. On the contrary, in spite of Leonard's remonstrances he began to
live hard, betaking himself freely to the beer-pot. When Leonard
remonstrated with him he turned somewhat sulky.

"To-day I am a god, Baas," he answered, "to-morrow I may be carrion.
While I am a god, let me drink and be merry. All my days also women
have cursed me because I am ugly, but now my wife holds me great and
beautiful. What is the good of thinking and looking sad? The end will
come soon enough. Already Nam sharpens the knife for our hearts. Come
and be merry with me, Baas, if the Shepherdess will let you."

"Do you take me for a pig like yourself?" said Leonard angrily. "Well,
go your own way, foolish that you are, but beware of the beer and the
spirits. Now you are beginning to know this language, and when you are
drunk you talk, and do you think that there are no spies here? That
girl, Saga, is great-niece to Nam, and you are besotted with her. Be
careful lest you bring us all to death."

"Thither we shall come any way, so let us laugh before we weep, Baas,"
Otter replied sullenly. "Must I then sit here and do nothing till I
die?"

Leonard shrugged his shoulders and went. He could not blame the dwarf,
who after all was a savage and looked at things as a savage would,
notwithstanding Francisco's earnest efforts to convert him. He
sometimes wished, so deep was his depression, that he also was a
savage and could do likewise.

But the worst of their trials is still to be told. For the first week
the Settlement men stayed in the palace, their fears and the rumours
that had reached them of the terrible fate of their two lost
companions keeping them quiet. By degrees, however, this dread wore
off, and one afternoon, wearied with the sameness of their life, they
yielded to the solicitations of some men who spoke to them through the
bars of the great gate, and went out in a body without obtaining
Leonard's permission. That night they returned drunk--at least ten of
them dead; the other two were missing. When they were sober again,
Leonard questioned them as to the whereabouts of their companions, but
they could give him no satisfactory information. They had been into
various houses in the city, they said, where the people had plied them
with beer, and they remembered nothing more.

These two men never reappeared, but the rest of them, now thoroughly
frightened, obeyed Leonard's orders and stayed in the palace, although
the decoy men still came frequently to the gates and called them. They
passed the days in wandering about and drinking to drown their fears,
and the nights huddled together for protection from an unseen foe,
more terrible and craftier than the leopard of their native rocks. But
these precautions were all in vain.

One morning, hearing a tumult among them, Leonard went to see what was
the matter. Three more of the Settlement men were missing; they had
vanished in the night, none could say how, vanished though the doors
were barred and guarded. There where they had slept lay their guns and
little possessions, but the men were gone, leaving no trace. When he
was consulted Olfan looked very grave, but could throw no light upon
the mystery beyond suggesting that there were many secret passages in
the palace, of which the openings were known only to the priests, and
that possibly the men had been let down them--terrible information
enough for people in their position.

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It was at this juncture that Francisco recovered his senses. "Oh!" hegasped, opening his eyes and sitting up, "is it done, and am I dead?""No, no, you are alive and safe," answered Leonard. "Stay where youare and don't look over the edge, or you will faint again. Here, takemy hand. Now, you brute," and he made energetic motions to thesurviving priest, indicating that he must lead them back along thepath by which they had come, at the same time tapping his riflesignificantly.The man understood and started down the darksome tunnel as though hewere glad to go, Leonard holding his robe with
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