Stories of the Magicians - Alfred J. Church
The song of the lark awoke Oneiza, and she wished, as she watched the bird twinkling in the morning light, that she had wings and liberty like him. Her cheek flushed and grew pale again, but Thalaba was calm and ready for his work. But first he considered how he should arm himself, remembering that his arrow had fallen with a blunted point from Lobaba's breast. It might well be, he thought, that Aloaddin might be protected by a spell of equal power. Thus thinking he caught sight of a young poplar that stood by the brink of the river, with its leaves shivering in the wind, and turned to Oneiza and said, "I remember how in the old days you would bring down the clusters of dates from the palms, cutting the stalks with the arrow, so true was your aim. Take the bow again, dear maid; I must have different arms."
So speaking he grasped the poplar with both hands, and wrenched it from the earth, roots and all. From these he shook off the clotted earth, and broke away the head, and boughs, and lesser roots, till he had fashioned a mighty club. "Now I am ready for this child of sin. He shall exchange, maybe to-day, his paradise for a far different dwelling."
So the youth and the maid went to the centre of the garden. It so chanced that Aloaddin had that day assembled all the inhabitants, and the two mingled unnoticed with the throng, or if any one noticed them it was to say, "See a daughter of the Homerites who remembers yet the tents of the tribes, for their women know how to wield the bow and the spear." Nay," his neighbour would answer, "it is a love pageant. He with that fierce eye and massy club mimics some lion-tamer, and she plays the heroine with her arrows and her bow."
Aloaddin sat on a throne of gold, his crown and robe shining with jewels. Over his head hovered a huge bird, so huge that an eagle would have been but like a sparrow in his clasp. His breast was iron and his feathers burnished gold, and he waved his wings, at once a canopy and a fan. The crowd bent their knees to the sorcerer, and shouted, "Hail, great Giver of Joy, Lord of Paradise!" Then he rose to speak, and they stood silent.
"Children of Earth, the Infidel Sultan, whose lands are bordered by my mountains, threatens me. He has strong armies and many guards; yet a dagger may find him. I do not tempt you with vain stories of a heaven from which no one has returned. You have tasted of happiness here. Who will earn it for ever for himself by a deed of danger?"
"I wiIl," cried Thalaba, and leaping forward dashed his mighty club on the Sorcerer's head. The wretch fell, for his skull was shattered, but some charm still kept his life imprisoned in his body. The crowd stood astonished, waiting to see the vengeance of Heaven fall on Thalaba. And indeed the Monster Bird pounced down to seize him. But before he could strike with his beak, Oneiza let fly an arrow from the mighty bow with so true an aim that it pierced the creature to the heart. With that the Talisman was broken; and while the earth shook and the heavens thundered, the Paradise of Sin vanished away. Now too the mountains that had by magic enclosed the place were rent, and Thalaba and Oneiza, left alone in the midst of desolation and death, went down the rocky glen into the valley below.
In the valley the Sultan had pitched his camp. As he sat in his tent in council with his chiefs, Thalaba and the maid were brought before him by a captain who thus told his tale.
"As we passed towards the mountains in obedience to your command, suddenly the earth shook, and the air became dark as midnight, and the lightnings flashed, and the thunders rolled round us. It seemed as if the very judgment-day had come. When we ventured to proceed there met us this youth and maid who told us that they were come from Aloaddin's halls, that the judgment-stroke had fallen upon him, and that he and his Paradise of Sin were destroyed. We brought them here that they might repeat the tale in your presence."
"If thou hast lied," said the Sultan to the youth, "thou shalt die. If thou speakest truth, thou shalt stand next to myself."
"Be it done to me," answered Thalaba, "as the truth shall prove."
While he was speaking, a great cry was heard, and a messenger flew breathless and panting into the tent. "O King, live for ever!" he said. "May all thy foes be as Aloaddin, for God has smitten him."
The Sultan cried, "Put the robe of honour on the Arabian, and put a chain of gold around his neck, and my crown on his head, and set him on my horse of state, and lead him through the camp, and let the heralds go before him and cry, 'Thus shall it be done to the man whom the King honours.'"
So they put the robe of honour on Thalaba, and a chain of gold about his neck, and the King's crown on his head, and led him through the camp on the King's own horse, and the heralds cried before him as the King had commanded.
When Thalaba had come from the presence of the King, he sought Oneiza and said, "The King has done as he said. I am next to himself in this land. But why so sad? When I heard of these honours, my thought was at once of you, that you also would be happy."
"But, Thalaba, am not I an orphan and among strangers?"
"But with me."
"But think, Thalaba—my father!"
"Nay, take comfort. Remember in what danger we were this morning, and now we have safety and honour and wealth. The Sultan asked me about you but just now. I told him that we had been plighted from childhood. Was I wrong, Oneiza? He said that he would heap our marriage with gifts. But why these tears?"
"Remember Destiny hath marked thee from mankind."
"Perhaps the mission ceased when Aloaddin perished, or if not, why should I not abide in peace till I am called?
"Take me to the desert."
"Moath is not there. Would you dwell in a stranger's tent?"
"Take me to Mecca. Let me be a servant of the Temple. Bind my veil with your own hand. It shall never be lifted again, and I will pray for your success."
"Nay, Oneiza, think of better things. Report will soon spread about the fame of these events, and your father will hear, and join us. Only consent to be my wife."
THALABA AND ONEIZA
So Oneiza, overborne by his entreaties, and following her own heart, consented.
With song and music and dance the bridal procession went carrying Oneiza to her husband's house. Behind the bride went fifty women in robes woven with thread of gold; and behind them again came a hundred slaves bearing vessels of gold and silver and splendid apparel, the Sultan's marriage gifts. On either hand the pages carried the torches glowing in the darkness; and the trumpets and timbrels made music, and the multitudes shouted, till they came to the palace of Thalaba, where the marriage feast was spread.
But when the feast was finished and the guests had departed,—who is this that comes from the bridal chamber? It is Azrael, the Angel of Death—