The Shaving of Shagpat, by George Meredith

The Veiled Figure

Verily there was lightning in Aklis as Shibli Bagarag flashed the Sword over the clamouring beasts: the shape of the great palace stood forth vividly, and a wide illumination struck up the streams, and gilded the large hanging leaves, and drew the hills glimmeringly together, and scattered fires on the flat faces of the rocks. Then the seven youths said quickly, ‘Away! out of Aklis, O Master of the Event! from city to city of earth this light is visible, and men will know that Fate is in travail, and an Event preparing for them, and Shagpat will be warned by the portent; wherefore lose not the happy point of time on which thy star is manifest.’ And they cried again, ‘Away! out of Aklis!’ with gestures of impatience, urging his departure.

Then said he, ‘O youths, Sons of Aklis, it is written that gratitude is the poor man’s mine of wealth, and the rich man’s flower of beauty; and I have but that to give ye for all this aid and friendliness of yours.’

But they exclaimed, ‘No aid or friendliness in Aklis! By the gall of the Roc! it is well for thee thou camest armed with potent spells, and hadst one to advise and inspirit thee, or thou wouldst have stayed here to people Aklis, and grazed in a strange shape.’

Now, the seven waxed in impatience, and he laid their hands upon his head and moved from them with Abarak, to where in the dusk the elephant that had brought them stood. Then the elephant kneeled and took the twain upon his back, and bore them across the dark land to that reach of the river where the boat was moored in readiness. They entered the boat silently among its drapery of lotuses, and the Veiled Figure ferried them over the stream that rippled not with their motion. As they were crossing, desire to know that Veiled Figure counselled Shibli Bagarag evilly to draw the Sword again, and flash it, so that the veil became transparent. Then, when Abarak turned to him for the reason of the flashing of the Sword, he beheld the eyes of the youth fixed in horror, glaring as at sights beyond the tomb. He said nought, but as the boat’s-head whispered among the reeds and long flowers of the opposite marge, he took Shibli Bagarag by the shoulders and pushed him out of the boat, and leaped out likewise, leading him from the marge forcibly, hurrying him forward from it, he at the heels of the youth propelling him; and crying in out-of-breath voice at intervals, ‘What sight? what sight?’ But the youth was powerless of speech, and when at last he opened his lips, the little man shrank from him, for he laughed as do the insane, a peal of laughter ended by gasps; then a louder peal, presently softer; then a peal that started all the echoes in Aklis. After awhile, as Abarak still cried in his ear, ‘What sight?’ he looked at him with a large eye, saying querulously, ‘Is it written I shall be pushed by the shoulder through life? And is it in the pursuit of further thwackings?’

Abarak heeded him not, crying still, ‘What sight?’ and Shibli Bagarag lowered his tone, and jerked his body, pronouncing the name ‘Rabesqurat!’ Then Abarak exclaimed, ”Tis as I weened. Oh, fool! to flash the Sword and peer through the veil! Truly, there be few wits will bear that sight!’ On a sudden he cried, ‘No cure but one, and that a sleep in the bosom of the betrothed!’

Thereupon he hurried the youth yet faster across the dark lawns of Aklis toward the passage of the Seventh Pillar, by which the twain had entered that kingdom. And Shibli Bagarag saw as in a dream the shattered door, shattered by the bar, remembering dimly as a thing distant in years the netting of the Queen, and Noorna chained upon the pillar; he remembered Shagpat even vacantly in his mind, as one sheaf of barley amid other sheaves of the bearded field, so was he overcome by the awfulness of that sight behind the veil of the Veiled Figure!

As they advanced to the passage, he was aware of an impediment to its entrance, as it had been a wall of stone there; and seeing Abarak enter the passage without let, he kicked hard in front at the invisible obstruction, but there was no coming by. Abarak returned to him, and took his right arm, and raised the sleeve from his wrist, and lo, the two remaining hairs of Garraveen twisted round it in sapphire winds. Cried he, ‘Oh, the generosity of Gulrevaz! she has left these two hairs that he may accomplish swiftly the destiny marked for him! but now, since his gazing through that veil, he must part with them to get out of Aklis.’ And he muttered, ‘His star is a strange one! one that leadeth him to fortune by the path of frowns! to greatness by the aid of thwackings! Truly the ways of Allah are wonderful!’ Shibli Bagarag resisted him in nothing, and Abarak loosed the two bright hairs from his wrist, and those two hairs swelled and took glittering scales, and were sapphire snakes with wings of intense emerald; and they rose in the air spirally together, each over each, so that to see them one would fancy in the darkness a fountain of sapphire waters flashed with the sheen of emerald. When they had reached a height loftier than the topmost palace-towers of Aklis, they descended like javelins into the earth, and in a moment reappeared, in the shape of Genii when they are charitably disposed to them they visit; not much above the mortal size, nor overbright, save for a certain fire in their eyes when they turned them; and they were clothed each from head to foot in an armour of sapphire plates shot with steely emerald. Surely the dragon-fly that darteth all day in the blaze over pools is like what they were. Abarak bit his forefinger and said, ‘Who be ye, O sons of brilliance?’

They answered, ‘Karavejis and Veejravoosh, slaves of the Sword.’

Then he said, ‘Come with us now, O slaves of the Sword, and help us to the mountain of outer Aklis.’

They answered, ‘O thou, there be but two means for us of quitting Aklis: on the wrist of the Master, or down the blade of the Sword! and from the wrist of the Master we have been loosed, and no one of thy race can tie us to it again.’

Abarak said, ‘How then shall the Master leave Aklis?’

They answered, ‘By Allah in Aklis! he can carve a way whither he will with the Sword.’

But Abarak cried, ‘O Karavejis and Veejravoosh! he bath peered through the veil of the Ferrying Figure.’

Now, when they heard his words, the visages of the Genii darkened, and they exclaimed sorrowfully, ‘Serve we such a one?’

And they looked at Shibli Bagarag a look of anger, so that he, whose wits were in past occurrences, imagined them his enemy and the foe of Noorna split in two, crying, ‘How? Is Karaz a couple? and do I multiply him with strokes of the Sword?’

Thereupon he drew the Sword from his girdle in wrath, flourishing it; and Karavejis and Veejravoosh felt the might of the Sword, and prostrated themselves to the ground at his feet. And Abarak said, ‘Arise, and bring us swiftly to the mountain of outer Aklis.’

Then said they, ‘Seek a passage down yonder brook in the moonbeams; and it is the sole passage for him now.’

Abarak went with them to the brook that was making watery music to itself between banks of splintered rock and over broad slabs of marble, bubbling here and there about the roots of large-leaved water-flowers, and catching the mirrored moon of Aklis in whirls, breaking it in lances. Then they waded into the water knee-deep, and the two Genii seized hold of a great slab of marble in the middle of the water, and under was a hollow brimmed with the brook, that the brook partly filled and flowed over. Then the Genii said to Abarak, ‘Plunge!’ and they said the same to Shibli Bagarag. The swayer of the Sword replied, as it had been a simple occasion, a common matter, and a thing for the exercise of civility, ‘With pleasure and all willingness!’ Thereupon he tightened his girth, and arrowing his two hands, flung up his heels and disappeared in the depths, Abarak following. Surely, those two went diving downward till it seemed to each there was no bottom in the depth, and they would not cease to feel the rushing of the water in their ears till the time anticipated by mortals.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09