THE MOON POOL by A Merritt
Chapter XVI: Yolara of Muria vs. the O’Keefe
I awakened with all the familiar, homely sensation of a shade having been pulled up in a darkened room. I thrilled with a wonderful sense of deep rest and restored resiliency. The ebon shadow had vanished from above and down into the room was pouring the silvery light. From the fountain pool came a mighty splashing and shouts of laughter. I jumped and drew the curtain. O’Keefe and Rador were swimming a wild race; the dwarf like an otter, out-distancing and playing around the Irishman at will.
Had that overpowering sleep—and now I confess that my struggle against it had been largely inspired by fear that it was the abnormal slumber which Throckmartin had described as having heralded the approach of the Dweller before it had carried away Thora and Stanton—had that sleep been after all nothing but natural reaction of tired nerves and brains?
And that last vision of the golden-eyed girl bending over Larry? Had that also been a delusion of an overstressed mind? Well, it might have been, I could not tell. At any rate, I decided, I would speak about it to O’Keefe once we were alone again—and then giving myself up to the urge of buoyant well-being I shouted like a boy, stripped and joined the two in the pool. The water was warm and I felt the unwonted tingling of life in every vein increase; something from it seemed to pulse through the skin, carrying a clean vigorous vitality that toned every fibre. Tiring at last, we swam to the edge and drew ourselves out. The green dwarf quickly clothed himself and Larry rather carefully donned his uniform.
“The Afyo Maie has summoned us, Doc,” he said. “We’re to—well—I suppose you’d call it breakfast with her. After that, Rador tells me, we’re to have a session with the Council of Nine. I suppose Yolara is as curious as any lady of—the upper world, as you might put it—and just naturally can’t wait,” he added.
He gave himself a last shake, patted the automatic hidden under his left arm, whistled cheerfully.
“After you, my dear Alphonse,” he said to Rador, with a low bow. The dwarf laughed, bent in an absurd imitation of Larry’s mocking courtesy and started ahead of us to the house of the priestess. When he had gone a little way on the orchid-walled path I whispered to O’Keefe:
“Larry, when you were falling off to sleep—did you think you saw anything?”
“See anything!” he grinned. “Doc, sleep hit me like a Hun shell. I thought they were pulling the gas on us. I—I had some intention of bidding you tender farewells,” he continued, half sheepishly. “I think I did start ‘em, didn’t I?”
“But wait a minute—” he hesitated. “I had a queer sort of dream—”
“‘What was it?” I asked eagerly,
“Well,” he answered slowly, “I suppose it was because I’d been thinking of—Golden Eyes. Anyway, I thought she came through the wall and leaned over me—yes, and put one of those long white hands of hers on my head—I couldn’t raise my lids—but in some queer way I could see her. Then it got real dreamish. Why do you ask?”
Rador turned back toward us,
“Later,” I answered, “Not now. When we’re alone.”
But through me went a little glow of reassurance. Whatever the maze through which we were moving; whatever of menacing evil lurking there—the Golden Girl was clearly watching over us; watching with whatever unknown powers she could muster.
We passed the pillared entrance; went through a long bowered corridor and stopped before a door that seemed to be sliced from a monolith of pale jade—high, narrow, set in a wall of opal.
Rador stamped twice and the same supernally sweet, silver bell tones of—yesterday, I must call it, although in that place of eternal day the term is meaningless—bade us enter. The door slipped aside. The chamber was small, the opal walls screening it on three sides, the black opacity covering it, the fourth side opening out into a delicious little walled garden—a mass of the fragrant, luminous blooms and delicately coloured fruit. Facing it was a small table of reddish wood and from the omnipresent cushions heaped around it arose to greet us—Yolara.
Larry drew in his breath with an involuntary gasp of admiration and bowed low. My own admiration was as frank—and the priestess was well pleased with our homage.
She was swathed in the filmy, half-revelant webs, now of palest blue. The corn-silk hair was caught within a wide-meshed golden net in which sparkled tiny brilliants, like blended sapphires and diamonds. Her own azure eyes sparkled as brightly as they, and I noted again in their clear depths the half-eager approval as they rested upon O’Keefe’s lithe, well-knit figure and his keen, clean-cut face. The high-arched, slender feet rested upon soft sandals whose gauzy withes laced the exquisitely formed leg to just below the dimpled knee.
“Some giddy wonder!” exclaimed Larry, looking at me and placing a hand over his heart. “Put her on a New York roof and she’d empty Broadway. Take the cue from me, Doc.”
He turned to Yolara, whose face was somewhat puzzled.
“I said, O lady whose shining hair is a web for hearts, that in our world your beauty would dazzle the sight of men as would a little woman sun!” he said, in the florid imagery to which the tongue lends itself so well.
A flush stole up through the translucent skin. The blue eyes softened and she waved us toward the cushions. Black-haired maids stole in, placing before us the fruits, the little loaves and a steaming drink somewhat the colour and odour of chocolate. I was conscious of outrageous hunger.
“What are you named, strangers?” she asked.
“This man is named Goodwin,” said O’Keefe. “As for me, call me Larry.”
“Nothing like getting acquainted quick,” he said to me—but kept his eyes upon Yolara as though he were voicing another honeyed phrase. And so she took it, for: “You must teach me your tongue,” she murmured.
“Then shall I have two words where now I have one to tell you of your loveliness,” he answered.
“And also that’ll take time,” he spoke to me. “Essential occupation out of which we can’t be drafted to make these fun-loving folk any Roman holiday. Get me!”
“Larree,” mused Yolara. “I like the sound. It is sweet—” and indeed it was as she spoke it.
“And what is your land named, Larree?” she continued. “And Goodwin’s?” She caught the sound perfectly.
“My land, O lady of loveliness, is two—Ireland and America; his but one—America.”
She repeated the two names—slowly, over and over. We seized the opportunity to attack the food; halting half guiltily as she spoke again.
“Oh, but you are hungry!” she cried. “Eat then.” She leaned her chin upon her hands and regarded us, whole fountains of questions brimming up in her eyes.
“How is it, Larree, that you have two countries and Goodwin but one?” she asked, at last unable to keep silent longer.
“I was born in Ireland; he in America. But I have dwelt long in his land and my heart loves each,” he said.
She nodded, understandingly.
“Are all the men of Ireland like you, Larree? As all the men here are like Lugur or Rador? I like to look at you,” she went on, with naive frankness. “I am tired of men like Lugur and Rador. But they are strong,” she added, swiftly. “Lugur can hold up ten in his two arms and raise six with but one hand.”
We could not understand her numerals and she raised white fingers to illustrate.
“That is little, O lady, to the men of Ireland,” replied O’Keefe. “Lo, I have seen one of my race hold up ten times ten of our—what call you that swift thing in which Rador brought us here?”
“Corial,” said she.
“Hold up ten times twenty of our corials with but two fingers—and these corials of ours—”
“Coria,” said she.
“And these coria of ours are each greater in weight than ten of yours. Yes, and I have seen another with but one blow of his hand raise hell!
“And so I have,” he murmured to me. “And both at Forty-second and Fifth Avenue, N. Y.—U. S. A.”
Yolara considered all this with manifest doubt.
“Hell?” she inquired at last. “I know not the word.”
“Well,” answered O’Keefe. “Say Muria then. In many ways they are, I gather, O heart’s delight, one and the same.”
Now the doubt in the blue eyes was strong indeed. She shook her head.
“None of our men can do that!” she answered, at length. “Nor do I think you could, Larree.”
“Oh, no,” said Larry easily. “I never tried to be that strong. I fly,” he added, casually.
The priestess rose to her feet, gazing at him with startled eyes.
“Fly!” she repeated incredulously. “Like a Zitia? A bird?”
Larry nodded—and then seeing the dawning command in her eyes, went on hastily.
“Not with my own wings, Yolara. In a—a corial that moves through—what’s the word for air, Doc—well, through this—” He made a wide gesture up toward the nebulous haze above us. He took a pencil and on a white cloth made a hasty sketch of an airplane. “In a—a corial like this—” She regarded the sketch gravely, thrust a hand down into her girdle and brought forth a keen-bladed poniard; cut Larry’s markings out and placed the fragment carefully aside.
“That I can understand,” she said.
“Remarkably intelligent young woman,” muttered O’Keefe. “Hope I’m not giving anything away—but she had me.”
“But what are your women like, Larree? Are they like me? And how many have loved you?” she whispered.
“In all Ireland and America there is none like you, Yolara,” he answered. “And take that any way you please,” he muttered in English. She took it, it was evident, as it most pleased her.
“Do you have goddesses?” she asked.
“Every woman in Ireland and America, is a goddess”; thus Larry.
“Now that I do not believe.” There was both anger and mockery in her eyes. “I know women, Larree—and if that were so there would be no peace for men.”
“There isn’t!” replied he. The anger died out and she laughed, sweetly, understandingly.
“And which goddess do you worship, Larree?”
“You!” said Larry O’Keefe boldly.
“Larry! Larry!” I whispered. “Be careful. It’s high explosive.”
But the priestess was laughing—little trills of sweet bell notes; and pleasure was in each note.
“You are indeed bold, Larree,” she said, “to offer me your worship. Yet am I pleased by your boldness. Still—Lugur is strong; and you are not of those who—what did you say—have tried. And your wings are not here—Larree!”
Again her laughter rang out. The Irishman flushed; it was touché for Yolara!
“Fear not for me with Lugur,” he said, grimly. “Rather fear for him!”
The laughter died; she looked at him searchingly; a little enigmatic smile about her mouth—so sweet and so cruel.
“Well—we shall see,” she murmured. “You say you battle in your world. With what?”
“Oh, with this and with that,” answered Larry, airily. “We manage—”
“Have you the Keth—I mean that with which I sent Songar into the nothingness?” she asked swiftly.
“See what she’s driving at?” O’Keefe spoke to me, swiftly. “Well I do! But here’s where the O’Keefe lands.
“I said,” he turned to her, “O voice of silver fire, that your spirit is high even as your beauty—and searches out men’s souls as does your loveliness their hearts. And now listen, Yolara, for what I speak is truth”—into his eyes came the far-away gaze; into his voice the Irish softness—”Lo, in my land of Ireland, this many of your life’s length agone—see”—he raised his ten fingers, clenched and unclenched them times twenty—”the mighty men of my race, the Taitha-da-Dainn, could send men out into the nothingness even as do you with the Keth. And this they did by their harpings, and by words spoken—words of power, O Yolara, that have their power still—and by pipings and by slaying sounds.
“There was Cravetheen who played swift flames from his harp, flying flames that ate those they were sent against. And there was Dalua, of Hy Brasil, whose pipes played away from man and beast and all living things their shadows—and at last played them to shadows too, so that wherever Dalua went his shadows that had been men and beast followed like a storm of little rustling leaves; yea, and Bel the Harper, who could make women’s hearts run like wax and men’s hearts flame to ashes and whose harpings could shatter strong cliffs and bow great trees to the sod—”
His eyes were bright, dream-filled; she shrank a little from him, faint pallor under the perfect skin.
“I say to you, Yolara, that these things were and are—in Ireland.” His voice rang strong. “And I have seen men as many as those that are in your great chamber this many times over”—he clenched his hands once more, perhaps a dozen times—”blasted into nothingness before your Keth could even have touched them. Yea—and rocks as mighty as those through which we came lifted up and shattered before the lids could fall over your blue eyes. And this is truth, Yolara—all truth! Stay—have you that little cone of the Keth with which you destroyed Songar?”
She nodded, gazing at him, fascinated, fear and puzzlement contending.
“Then use it.” He took a vase of crystal from the table, placed it on the threshold that led into the garden. “Use it on this—and I will show you.”
“I will use it upon one of the ladala—” she began eagerly.
The exaltation dropped from him; there was a touch of horror in the eyes he turned to her; her own dropped before it.
“It shall be as you say,” she said hurriedly. She drew the shining cone from her breast; levelled it at the vase. The green ray leaped forth, spread over the crystal, but before its action could even be begun, a flash of light shot from O’Keefe’s hand, his automatic spat and the trembling vase flew into fragments. As quickly as he had drawn it, he thrust the pistol back into place and stood there empty handed, looking at her sternly. From the anteroom came shouting, a rush of feet.
Yolara’s face was white, her eyes strained—but her voice was unshaken as she called to the clamouring guards:
“It is nothing—go to your places!”
But when the sound of their return had ceased she stared tensely at the Irishman—then looked again at the shattered vase.
“It is true!” she cried, “but see, the Keth is—alive!”
I followed her pointing finger. Each broken bit of the crystal was vibrating, shaking its particles out into space. Broken it the bullet of Larry’s had—but not released it from the grip of the disintegrating force. The priestess’s face was triumphant.
“But what matters it, O shining urn of beauty—what matters it to the vase that is broken what happens to its fragments?” asked Larry, gravely—and pointedly.
The triumph died from her face and for a space she was silent; brooding.
“Next,” whispered O’Keefe to me. “Lots of surprises in the little box; keep your eye on the opening and see what comes out.”
We had not long to wait. There was a sparkle of anger about Yolara, something too of injured pride. She clapped her hands; whispered to the maid who answered her summons, and then sat back regarding us, maliciously.
“You have answered me as to your strength—but you have not proved it; but the Keth you have answered. Now answer this!” she said.
She pointed out into the garden. I saw a flowering branch bend and snap as though a hand had broken it—but no hand was there! Saw then another and another bend and break, a little tree sway and fall—and closer and closer to us came the trail of snapping boughs while down into the garden poured the silvery light revealing—nothing! Now a great ewer beside a pillar rose swiftly in air and hurled itself crashing at my feet. Cushions close to us swirled about as though in the vortex of a whirlwind.
And unseen hands held my arms in a mighty clutch fast to my sides, another gripped my throat and I felt a needle-sharp poniard point pierce my shirt, touch the skin just over my heart!
“Larry!” I cried, despairingly. I twisted my head; saw that he too was caught in this grip of the invisible. But his face was calm, even amused.
“Keep cool, Doc!” he said. “Remember—she wants to learn the language!”
Now from Yolara burst chime upon chime of mocking laughter. She gave a command—the hands loosened, the poniard withdrew from my heart; suddenly as I had been caught I was free—and unpleasantly weak and shaky.
“Have you that in Ireland, Larree!” cried the priestess—and once more trembled with laughter.
“A good play, Yolara.” His voice was as calm as his face. “But they did that in Ireland even before Dalua piped away his first man’s shadow. And in Goodwin’s land they make ships—coria that go on water—so you can pass by them and see only sea and sky; and those water coria are each of them many times greater than this whole palace of yours.”
But the priestess laughed on.
“It did get me a little,” whispered Larry. “That wasn’t quite up to my mark. But God! If we could find that trick out and take it back with us!”
“Not so, Larree!” Yolara gasped, through her laughter. “Not so! Goodwin’s cry betrayed you!”
Her good humour had entirely returned; she was like a mischievous child pleased over some successful trick; and like a child she cried—”I’ll show you!”—signalled again; whispered to the maid who, quickly returning, laid before her a long metal case. Yolara took from her girdle something that looked like a small pencil, pressed it and shot a thin stream of light for all the world like an electric flash, upon its hasp. The lid flew open. Out of it she drew three flat, oval crystals, faint rose in hue. She handed one to O’Keefe and one to me.
“Look!” she commanded, placing the third before her own eyes. I peered through the stone and instantly there leaped into sight, out of thin air—six grinning dwarfs! Each was covered from top of head to soles of feet in a web so tenuous that through it their bodies were plain. The gauzy stuff seemed to vibrate—its strands to run together like quick-silver. I snatched the crystal from my eyes and—the chamber was empty! Put it back—and there were the grinning six!
Yolara gave another sign and they disappeared, even from the crystals.
“It is what they wear, Larree,” explained Yolara, graciously. “It is something that came to us from—the Ancient Ones. But we have so few”—she sighed.
“Such treasures must be two-edged swords, Yolara,” commented O’Keefe. “For how know you that one within them creeps not to you with hand eager to strike?”
“There is no danger,” she said indifferently. “I am the keeper of them.”
She mused for a space, then abruptly:
“And now no more. You two are to appear before the Council at a certain time—but fear nothing. You, Goodwin, go with Rador about our city and increase your wisdom. But you, Larree, await me here in my garden—” she smiled at him, provocatively—maliciously, too. “For shall not one who has resisted a world of goddesses be given all chance to worship when at last he finds his own?”
She laughed—whole-heartedly and was gone. And at that moment I liked Yolara better than ever I had before and—alas—better than ever I was to in the future.
I noted Rador standing outside the open jade door and started to go, but O’Keefe caught me by the arm.
“Wait a minute,” he urged. “About Golden Eyes—you were going to tell me something—it’s been on my mind all through that little sparring match.”
I told him of the vision that had passed through my closing lids. He listened gravely and then laughed.
“Hell of a lot of privacy in this place!” he grinned. “Ladies who can walk through walls and others with regular invisible cloaks to let ‘em flit wherever they please. Oh, well, don’t let it get on your nerves, Doc. Remember—everything’s natural! That robe stuff is just camouflage of course. But Lord, if we could only get a piece of it!”
“The material simply admits all light-vibrations, or perhaps curves them, just as the opacities cut them off,” I answered. “A man under the X-ray is partly invisible; this makes him wholly so. He doesn’t register, as the people of the motion-picture profession say.”
“Camouflage,” repeated Larry. “And as for the Shining One—Say!” he snorted. “I’d like to set the O’Keefe banshee up against it. I’ll bet that old resourceful Irish body would give it the first three bites and a strangle hold and wallop it before it knew it had ‘em. Oh! Wow! Boy Howdy!”
I heard him still chuckling gleefully over this vision as I passed along the opal wall with the green dwarf.
A shell was awaiting us. I paused before entering it to examine the polished surface of runway and great road. It was obsidian—volcanic glass of pale emerald, unflawed, translucent, with no sign of block or juncture. I examined the shell.
“What makes it go?” I asked Rador. At a word from him the driver touched a concealed spring and an aperture appeared beneath the control-lever, of which I have spoken in a preceding chapter. Within was a small cube of black crystal, through whose sides I saw, dimly, a rapidly revolving, glowing ball, not more than two inches in diameter. Beneath the cube was a curiously shaped, slender cylinder winding down into the lower body of the Nautilus whorl.
“Watch!” said Rador. He motioned me into the vehicle and took a place beside me. The driver touched the lever; a stream of coruscations flew from the ball down into the cylinder. The shell started smoothly, and as the tiny torrent of shining particles increased it gathered speed.
“The corial does not touch the road,” explained Rador. “It is lifted so far”—he held his forefinger and thumb less than a sixteenth of an inch apart—”above it.”
And perhaps here is the best place to explain the activation of the shells or coria. The force utilized was atomic energy. Passing from the whirling ball the ions darted through the cylinder to two bands of a peculiar metal affixed to the base of the vehicles somewhat like skids of a sled. Impinging upon these they produced a partial negation of gravity, lifting the shell slightly, and at the same time creating a powerful repulsive force or thrust that could be directed backward, forward, or sidewise at the will of the driver. The creation of this energy and the mechanism of its utilization were, briefly, as follows:
[Dr. Goodwin’s lucid and exceedingly comprehensive description of this extraordinary mechanism has been deleted by the Executive Council of the International Association of Science as too dangerously suggestive to scientists of the Central European Powers with which we were so recently at war. It is allowable, however, to state that his observations are in the possession of experts in this country, who are, unfortunately, hampered in their research not only by the scarcity of the radioactive elements that we know, but also by the lack of the element or elements unknown to us that entered into the formation of the fiery ball within the cube of black crystal. Nevertheless, as the principle is so clear, it is believed that these difficulties will ultimately be overcome.—J. B. K., President, I. A. of S.]
The wide, glistening road was gay with the coria. They darted in and out of the gardens; within them the fair-haired, extraordinarily beautiful women on their cushions were like princesses of Elfland, caught in gorgeous fairy webs, resting within the hearts of flowers. In some shells were flaxen-haired dwarfish men of Lugur’s type; sometimes black-polled brother officers of Rador; often raven-tressed girls, plainly hand-maidens of the women; and now and then beauties of the lower folk went by with one of the blond dwarfs.
We swept around the turn that made of the jewel-like roadway an enormous horseshoe and, speedily, upon our right the cliffs through which we had come in our journey from the Moon Pool began to march forward beneath their mantles of moss. They formed a gigantic abutment, a titanic salient. It had been from the very front of this salient’s invading angle that we had emerged; on each side of it the precipices, faintly glowing, drew back and vanished into distance.
The slender, graceful bridges under which we skimmed ended at openings in the upflung, far walls of verdure. Each had its little garrison of soldiers. Through some of the openings a rivulet of the green obsidian river passed. These were roadways to the farther country, to the land of the ladala, Rador told me; adding that none of the lesser folk could cross into the pavilioned city unless summoned or with pass.
We turned the bend of the road and flew down that farther emerald ribbon we had seen from the great oval. Before us rose the shining cliffs and the lake. A half-mile, perhaps, from these the last of the bridges flung itself. It was more massive and about it hovered a spirit of ancientness lacking in the other spans; also its garrison was larger and at its base the tangent way was guarded by two massive structures, somewhat like blockhouses, between which it ran. Something about it aroused in me an intense curiosity.
“Where does that road lead, Rador?” I asked.
“To the one place above all of which I may not tell you, Goodwin,” he answered. And again I wondered.
We skimmed slowly out upon the great pier. Far to the left was the prismatic, rainbow curtain between the Cyclopean pillars. On the white waters graceful shells—lacustrian replicas of the Elf chariots—swam, but none was near that distant web of wonder.
“Rador—what is that?” I asked.
“It is the Veil of the Shining One!” he answered slowly.
Was the Shining One that which we named the Dweller?
“What is the Shining One?” I cried, eagerly. Again he was silent. Nor did he speak until we had turned on our homeward way.
And lively as my interest, my scientific curiosity, were—I was conscious suddenly of acute depression. Beautiful, wondrously beautiful this place was—and yet in its wonder dwelt a keen edge of menace, of unease—of inexplicable, inhuman woe; as though in a secret garden of God a soul should sense upon it the gaze of some lurking spirit of evil which some way, somehow, had crept into the sanctuary and only bided its time to spring.
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK