Sullenbode’s naked skin glowed softly through the darkness, but the clothed part of her person was invisible. Maskull watched her senseless, smiling face, and shivered. Strange feelings ran through his body.
Corpang spoke out of the night. “She looks like an evil spirit filled with deadliness.”
“It was like deliberately kissing lightning.”
“Haunte was insane with passion.”
“So am I,” said Maskull quietly. “My body seems full of rocks, all grinding against one another.”
“This is what I was afraid of.”
“It appears I shall have to kiss her too.”
Corpang pulled his arm. “Have you lost all manliness?”
But Maskull impatiently shook himself free. He plucked nervously at his beard, and stared at Sullenbode. His lips kept twitching. After this had gone on for a few minutes, he stepped forward, bent over the woman, and lifted her bodily in his arms. Setting her upright against the rugged tree trunk, he kissed her.
A cold, knifelike shock passed down his frame. He thought that it was death, and lost consciousness.
When his sense returned, Sullenbode was holding him by the shoulder with one hand at arm’s length, searching his face with gloomy eyes. At first he failed to recognise her; it was not the woman he had kissed, but another. Then he gradually realised that her face was identical with that which Haunte’s action had called into existence. A great calmness came upon him; his bad sensations had disappeared.
Sullenbode was transformed into a living soul. Her skin was firm, her features were strong, her eyes gleamed with the consciousness of power. She was tall and slight, but slow in all her gestures and movements. Her face was not beautiful. It was long, and palely lighted, while the mouth crossed the lower half like a gash of fire. The lips were as voluptuous as before. Her brows were heavy. There was nothing vulgar in her — she looked the kingliest of all women. She appeared not more than twenty-five.
Growing tired, apparently, of his scrutiny, she pushed him a little way and allowed her arm to drop, at the same time curving her mouth into a long, bowlike smile. “Whom have I to thank for this gift of life?”
Her voice was rich, slow, and odd. Maskull felt himself in a dream.
“My name is Maskull.”
She motioned to him to come a step nearer. “Listen, Maskull. Man after man has drawn me into the world, but they could not keep me there, for I did not wish it. But now you have drawn me into it for all time, for good or evil.”
Maskull stretched a hand toward the now invisible corpse, and said quietly, “What have you to say about him?”
“Who was it?”
“So that was Haunte. The news will travel far and wide. He was a famous man.”
“It’s a horrible affair. I can’t think that you killed him deliberately.”
“We women are endowed with terrible power, but it is our only protection. We do not want these visits; we loathe them.”
“I might have died, too.”
“You came together?”
“There were three of us. Corpang still stands over there.”
“I see a faintly glimmering form. What do you want of me, Corpang?”
“Then go away, and leave me with Maskull.”
“No need, Corpang. I am coming with you.”
“This is not that pleasure, then?” demanded the low, earnest voice, out of the darkness.
“No, that pleasure has not returned.”
Sullenbode gripped his arm hard. “What pleasure are you speaking of?”
“A presentiment of love, which I felt not long ago.”
“But what do you feel now?”
“Calm and free.”
Sullenbode’s face seemed like a pallid mask, hiding a slow, swelling sea of elemental passions. “I do not know how it will end, Maskull, but we will still keep together a little. Where are you going?”
“To Adage,” said Corpang, stepping forward.
“We are following the steps of Lodd, who went there years ago, to find Muspel-light.”
“It’s the light of another world.”
“The quest is grand. But cannot women see that light?”
“On one condition,” said Corpang. “They must forget their sex. Womanhood and love belong to life, while Muspel is above life.”
“I give you all other men,” said Sullenbode. “Maskull is mine.”
“No. I am not here to help Maskull to a lover but to remind him of the existence of nobler things.”
“You are a good man. But you two alone will never strike the road to Adage.”
“Are you acquainted with it?”
Again the woman gripped Maskull’s arm. “What is love — which Corpang despises?”
Maskull looked at her attentively. Sullenbode went on, “Love is that which is perfectly willing to disappear and become nothing, for the sake of the beloved.”
Corpang wrinkled his forehead. “A magnanimous female lover is new in my experience.”
Maskull put him aside with his hand, and said to Sullenbode, “Are you contemplating a sacrifice?”
She gazed at her feet, and smiled. “What does it matter what my thoughts are? Tell me, are you starting at once, or do you mean to rest first? It’s a rough road to Adage.”
“What’s in your mind?” demanded Maskull.
“I will guide you a little. When we reach the ridge between Sarclash and Adage, perhaps I shall turn back.”
“Then if the moon shines perhaps you will arrive before daybreak, but if it is dark it’s hardly likely.”
“That’s not what I meant. What will become of you after we have parted company?”
“I shall return somewhere — perhaps here.”
Maskull went close up to her, in order to study her face better. “Shall you sink back into — the old state?”
“No, Maskull, thank heaven.”
“Then how will you live?”
Sullenbode calmly removed the hand which he had placed on her arm. There was a sort of swirling flame in her eyes. “And who said I would go on living?”
Maskull blinked at her in bewilderment. A few moments passed before he spoke again. “You women are a sacrificing lot. You know I can’t leave you like this.”
Their eyes met. Neither withdrew them, and neither felt embarrassed.
“You will always be the most generous of men, Maskull. Now let us go. . . . Corpang is a single-minded personage, and the least we others — who aren’t so single-minded — can do is to help him to his destination. We mustn’t inquire whether the destination of single-minded men is as a rule worth arriving at.”
“If it is good for Maskull, it will be good for me.”
“Well, no vessel can hold more than its appointed measure.”
Corpang gave a wry smile. “During your long sleep you appear to have picked up wisdom.”
“Yes, Corpang, I have met many men, and explored many minds.”
As they moved off, Maskull remembered Haunte.
“Can we not bury that poor fellow?”
“By this time tomorrow we shall need burial ourselves. But I do not include Corpang.”
“We have no tools, so you must have your way. You killed him, but I am the real murderer. I stole his protecting light.”
“Surely that death is balanced by the life you have given me.” They left the spot in the direction opposite to that by which the three men had arrived. After a few steps, they came to green snow again. At the same time the flat ground ended, and they started to traverse a steep, pathless mountain slope. The snow and rocks glimmered, their own bodies shone; otherwise everything was dark. The mists swirled around them, but Maskull had no more nightmares. The breeze was cold, pure, and steady. They walked in file, Sullenbode leading; her movements were slow and fascinating. Corpang came last. His stern eyes saw nothing ahead but an alluring girl and a half-infatuated man.
For a long time they continued crossing the rough and rocky slope, maintaining a slightly upward course. The angle was so steep that a false step would have been fatal. The high ground was on their right. After a while, the hillside on the left hand changed to level ground, and they seemed to have joined another spur of the mountain. The ascending slope on the right hand persisted for a few hundred yards more. Then Sullenbode bore sharply to the left, and they found level ground all around them.
“We are on the ridge,” announced the woman, halting.
The others came up to her, and at the same instant the moon burst through the clouds, illuminating the whole scene.
Maskull uttered a cry. The wild, noble, lonely beauty of the view was quite unexpected. Teargeld was high in the sky to their left, shining down on them from behind. Straight in front, like an enormously wide, smoothly descending road, lay the great ridge which went on to Adage, though Adage itself was out of sight. It was never less than two hundred yards wide. It was covered with green snow, in some places entirely, but in other places the naked rocks showed through like black teeth. From where they stood they were unable to see the sides of the ridge, or what lay underneath. On the right hand, which was north, the landscape was blurred and indistinct. There were no peaks there; it was the distant, low-lying land of Barey. But on the left hand appeared a whole forest of mighty pinnacles, near and far, as far as the eye could see in moonlight. All glittered green, and all possessed the extraordinary hanging caps that characterised the Lichstorm range. These caps were of fantastic shapes, and each one was different. The valley directly opposite them was filled with rolling mist.
Sarclash was a mighty mountain mass in the shape of a horseshoe. Its two ends pointed west, and were separated from each other by a mile or more of empty space. The northern end became the ridge on which they stood. The southern end was the long line of cliffs on that part of the mountain where Haunte’s cave was situated. The connecting curve was the steep slope they had just traversed. One peak of Sarclash was invisible.
In the south-west many mountains raised their heads. In addition, a few summits, which must have been of extraordinary height, appeared over the south side of the horseshoe.
Maskull turned round to put a question to Sullenbode, but when he saw her for the first time in moonlight the words he had framed died on his lips. The gashlike mouth no longer dominated her other features, and the face, pale as ivory and most femininely shaped, suddenly became almost beautiful. The lips were a long, womanish curve of rose-red. Her hair was a dark maroon. Maskull was greatly disturbed; he thought that she resembled a spirit, rather than a woman.
“What puzzles you?” she asked, smiling.
“Nothing. But I would like to see you by sunlight.”
“Perhaps you never will.”
“Your life must be most solitary.”
She explored his features with her black, slow-gleaming eyes. “Why do you fear to speak your feelings, Maskull?”
“Things seem to open up before me like a sunrise, but what it means I can’t say.”
Sullenbode laughed outright. “It assuredly does not mean the approach of night.”
Corpang, who had been staring steadily along the ridge, here abruptly broke in. “The road is plain now, Maskull. If you wish it, I’ll go on alone.”
“No, we’ll go on together. Sullenbode will accompany us.”
“A little way,” said the woman, “but not to Adage, to pit my strength against unseen powers. That light is not for me. I know how to renounce love, but I will never be a traitor to it.”
“Who knows what we shall find on Adage, or what will happen? Corpang is as ignorant as myself.”
Corpang looked him full in the face. “Maskull, you are quite well aware that you never dare approach that awful fire in the society of a beautiful woman.”
Maskull gave an uneasy laugh. “What Corpang doesn’t tell you, Sullenbode, is that I am far better acquainted with Muspel-light than he, and that, but for a chance meeting with me, he would still be saying his prayers in Threal.”
“Still, what he says must be true,” she replied, looking from one to the other.
“And so I am not to be allowed to — ”
“So long as I am with you, I shall urge you onward, and not backward, Maskull.”
“We need not quarrel yet,” he remarked, with a forced smile. “No doubt things will straighten themselves out.”
Sullenbode began kicking the snow about with her foot. “I picked up another piece of wisdom in my sleep, Corpang.”
“Tell it to me, then.”
“Men who live by laws and rules are parasites. Others shed their strength to bring these laws out of nothing into the light of day, but the law-abiders live at their ease — they have conquered nothing for themselves.”
“It is given to some to discover, and to others to preserve and perfect. You cannot condemn me for wishing Maskull well.”
“No, but a child cannot lead a thunderstorm.”
They started walking again along the centre of the ridge. All three were abreast, Sullenbode in the middle.
The road descended by an easy gradient, and was for a long distance comparatively smooth. The freezing point seemed higher than on Earth, for the few inches of snow through which they trudged felt almost warm to their naked feet. Maskull’s soles were by now like tough hides. The moonlit snow was green and dazzling. Their slanting, abbreviated shadows were sharply defined, and red-black in colour. Maskull, who walked on Sullenbode’s right hand, looked constantly to the left, toward the galaxy of glorious distant peaks.
“You cannot belong to this world,” said the woman. “Men of your stamp are not to be looked for here.”
“No, I have come here from Earth.”
“Is that larger than our world?”
“Smaller, I think. Small, and overcrowded with men and women. With all those people, confusion would result but for orderly laws, and therefore the laws are of iron. As adventure would be impossible without encroaching on these laws, there is no longer any spirit of adventure among the Earthmen. Everything is safe, vulgar, and completed.”
“Do men hate women there, and women men?”
“No, the meeting of the sexes is sweet, though shameful. So poignant is the sweetness that the accompanying shame is ignored, with open eyes. There is no hatred, or only among a few eccentric persons.”
“That shame surely must be the rudiment of our Lichstorm passion. But now say — why did you come here?”
“To meet with new experiences, perhaps. The old ones no longer interested me.”
“How long have you been in this world?”
“This is the end of my fourth day.”
“Then tell me what you have seen and done during those four days. You cannot have been inactive.”
“Great misfortunes have happened to me.”
He proceeded briefly to relate everything that had taken place from the moment of his first awakening in the scarlet desert. Sullenbode listened, with half-closed eyes, nodding her head from time to time. only twice did she interrupt him. After his description of Tydomin’s death, she said, speaking in a low voice — “None of us women ought by right of nature to fall short of Tydomin in sacrifice. For that one act of hers, I almost love her, although she brought evil to your door.” Again, speaking of Gleameil, she remarked, “That grand-souled girl I admire the most of all. She listened to her inner voice, and to nothing else besides. Which of us others is strong enough for that?”
When his tale was quite over, Sullenbode said, “Does it not strike you, Maskull, that these women you have met have been far nobler than the men?”
“I recognise that. We men often sacrifice ourselves, but only for a substantial cause. For you women almost any cause will serve. You love the sacrifice for its own sake, and that is because you are naturally noble.”
Turning her head a little, she threw him a smile so proud, yet so sweet, that he was struck into silence.
They tramped on quietly for some distance, and then he said, “Now you understand the sort of man I am. Much brutality, more weakness, scant pity for anyone — Oh, it has been a bloody journey!”
She laid her hand on his arm. “I, for one, would not have it less rugged.”
“Nothing good can be said of my crimes.”
“To me you seem like a lonely giant, searching for you know not what. . . . The grandest that life holds. . . . You at least have no cause to look up to women.”
“Thanks, Sullenbode!” he responded, with a troubled smile.
“When Maskull passes, let people watch. Everyone is thrown out of your road. You go on, looking neither to right nor left.”
“Take care that you are not thrown as well,” said Corpang gravely.
“Maskull shall do with me whatever he pleases, old skull! And for whatever he does, I will thank him. . . . In place of a heart you have a bag of loose dust. Someone has described love to you. You have had it described to you. You have heard that it is a small, fearful, selfish joy. It is not that — it is wild, and scornful, and sportive, and bloody. . . . How should you know.”
“Selfishness has far too many disguises.”
“If a woman wills to give up all, what can there be selfish in that?”
“Only do not deceive yourself. Act decisively, or fate will be too swift for you both.”
Sullenbode studied him through her lashes. “Do you mean death — his death as well as mine?”
“You go too far, Corpang,” said Maskull, turning a shade darker. “I don’t accept you as the arbiter of our fortunes.”
“If honest counsel is disagreeable to you, let me go on ahead.”
The woman detained him with her slow, light fingers. “I wish you to stay with us.”
“I think you may know what you are talking about. I don’t wish to bring harm to Maskull. Presently I’ll leave you.”
“That will be best,” said Corpang.
Maskull looked angry. “I shall decide — Sullenbode, whether you go on, or back, I stay with you. My mind is made up.”
An expression of joyousness overspread her face, in spite of her efforts to conceal it. “Why do you scowl at me, Maskull?”
He returned no answer, but continued walking onward with puckered brows. After a dozen paces or so, he halted abruptly. “Wait, Sullenbode!”
The others came to a standstill. Corpang looked puzzled, but the woman smiled. Maskull, without a word, bent over and kissed her lips. Then he relinquished her body, and turned around to Corpang.
“How do you, in your great wisdom, interpret that kiss?”
“It requires no great wisdom to interpret kisses, Maskull.”
“Hereafter, never dare to come between us. Sullenbode belongs to me.”
“Then I say no more; but you are a fated man.”
From that time forward he spoke not another word to either of the others.
A heavy gleam appeared in the woman’s eyes. “Now things are changed, Maskull. Where are you taking me?”
“The man I love must complete his journey. I won’t have it otherwise. You shall not stand lower than Corpang.”
“Where you go, I will go.”
“And I— as long as your love endures, I will accompany you even to Adage.”
“Do you doubt its lasting?”
“I wish not to. . . . Now I will tell you what I refused to tell you before. The term of your love is the term of my life. When you love me no longer, I must die.”
“And why?” asked Maskull slowly.
“Yes, that’s the responsibility you incurred when you kissed me for the first time. I never meant to tell you.”
“Do you mean that if I had gone on alone, you would have died?”
“I have no other life but what you give me.”
He gazed at her mournfully, without attempting to reply, and then slowly placed his arms around her body. During this embrace he turned very pale, but Sullenbode grew as white as chalk.
A few minutes later the journey toward Adage was resumed.
They had been walking for two hours. Teargeld was higher in the sky and nearer the south. They had descended many hundred feet, and the character of the ridge began to alter for the worse. The thin snow disappeared, and gave way to moist, boggy ground. It was all little grassy hillocks and marshes. They began to slip about and become draggled with mud. Conversation ceased; Sullenbode led the way, and the men followed in her tracks. The southern half of the landscape grew grander. The greenish light of the brilliant moon, shining on the multitude of snow-green peaks, caused it to appear like a spectral world. Their nearest neighbour towered high above them on the other side of the valley, due south, some five miles distant. It was a slender, inaccessible, dizzy spire of black rock, the angles of which were too steep to retain snow. A great upward-curving horn of rock sprang out from its topmost pinnacle. For a long time it constituted their clues landmark.
The whole ridge gradually became saturated with moisture. The surface soil was spongy, and rested on impermeable rock; it breathed in the damp mists by night, and breathed them out again by day, under Branchspell’s rays. The walking grew first unpleasant, then difficult, and finally dangerous. None of the party could distinguish firm ground from bog. Sullenbode sank up to her waist in a pit of slime; Maskull rescued her, but after this incident took the lead himself. Corpang was the next to meet with trouble. Exploring a new path for himself, he tumbled into liquid mud up to his shoulders, and narrowly escaped a filthy death. After Maskull had got him out, at great personal risk, they proceeded once more; but now the scramble changed from bad to worse. Each step had to be thoroughly tested before weight was put upon it, and even so the test frequently failed. All of them went in so often, that in the end they no longer resembled human beings, but walking pillars plastered from top to toe with black filth. The hardest work fell to Maskull. He not only had the exhausting task of beating the way, but was continually called upon to help his companions out of their difficulties. Without him they could not have got through.
After a peculiarly evil patch, they paused to recruit their strength. Corpang’s breathing was difficult, Sullenbode was quiet, listless, and depressed.
Maskull gazed at them doubtfully. “Does this continue?” he inquired.
“No. I think,” replied the woman, “we can’t be far from the Mornstab Pass. After that we shall begin to climb again, and then the road will improve perhaps.”
“Can you have been here before?”
“Once I have been to the Pass, but it was not so bad then.”
“You are tired out, Sullenbode.”
“What of it?” she replied, smiling faintly. “When one has a terrible lover, one must pay the price.”
“We cannot get there tonight, so let us stop at the first shelter we come too.”
“I leave it to you.”
He paced up and down, while the others sat. “Do you regret anything?” he demanded suddenly.
“No, Maskull, nothing. I regret nothing.”
“Your feelings are unchanged?”
“Love can’t go back — it can only go on.”
“Yes, eternally on. It is so.”
“No, I don’t mean that. There is a climax, but when the climax has been reached, love if it still wants to ascend must turn to sacrifice.”
“That’s a dreadful creed,” he said in a low voice, turning pale beneath his coating of mud.
“Perhaps my nature is discordant. . . . I am tired. I don’t know what I feel.”
In a few minutes they were on their feet again, and the journey recommenced. Within half an hour they had reached the Mornstab Pass.
The ground here was drier; the broken land to the north served to drain off the moisture of the soil. Sullenbode led them to the northern edge of the ridge, to show them the nature of the country. The pass was nothing but a gigantic landslip on both sides of the ridge, where it was the lowest above the underlying land. A series of huge broken terraces of earth and rock descended toward Barey. They were overgrown with stunted vegetation. It was quite possible to get down to the lowlands that way, but rather difficult. On either side of the landslip, to cast and west, the ridge came down in a long line of sheer, terrific cliffs. A low haze concealed Barey from view. Complete stillness was in the air, broken only by the distant thundering of an invisible waterfall.
Maskull and Sullenbode sat down on a boulder, facing the open country. The moon was directly behind them, high up. It was almost as light as an Earth day.
“Tonight is like life,” said Sullenbode.
“So lovely above and around us, so foul underfoot.”
Maskull sighed. “Poor girl, you are unhappy.”
“And you — are you happy?”
He thought a while, and then replied — “No. No, I’m not happy. Love is not happiness.”
“What is it, Maskull?”
“Restlessness — unshed tears — thoughts too grand for our soul to think . . . ”
“Yes,” said Sullenbode.
After a time she asked, “Why were we created, just to live for a few years and then disappear?”
“We are told that we shall live again.”
“Perhaps in Muspel,” he added thoughtfully.
“What kind of life will that be?”
“Surely we shall meet again. Love is too wonderful and mysterious a thing to remain uncompleted.”
She gave a slight shiver, and turned away from him. “This dream is untrue. Love is completed here.”
“How can that be, when sooner or later it is brutally interrupted by Fate?”
“It is completed by anguish. . . . Oh, why must it always be enjoyment for us? Can’t we suffer — can’t we go on suffering, forever and ever? Maskull, until love crushes our spirit, finally and without remedy, we don’t begin to feel ourselves.”
Maskull gazed at her with a troubled expression. “Can the memory of love be worth more than its presence and reality?”
“You don’t understand. Those pangs are more precious than all the rest beside.” She caught at him. “Oh, if you could only see inside my mind, Maskull! You would see strange things. . . . I can’t explain. It is all confused, even to myself. . . . This love is quite different from what I thought.”
He sighed again. “Love is a strong drink. Perhaps it is too strong for human beings. And I think that it overtures our reason in different ways.”
They remained sitting side by side, staring straight before them with unseeing eyes.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Sullenbode at last, with a smile, getting up. “Soon it will be ended, one way or another. Come, let us be off!”
Maskull too got up.
“Where’s Corpang?” he asked listlessly.
They both looked across the ridge in the direction of Adage. At the point where they stood it was nearly a mile wide. It sloped perceptibly toward the southern edge, giving all the earth the appearance of a heavy list. Toward the west the ground continued level for a thousand yards, but then a high, sloping, grassy hill went right across the ridge from side to side, like a vast billow on the verge of breaking. It shut out all further view beyond. The whole crest of this hill, from one end to the other, was crowned by a long row of enormous stone posts, shining brightly in the moonlight against a background of dark sky. There were about thirty in all, and they were placed at such regular intervals that there was little doubt that they had been set there by human hands. Some were perpendicular, but others dipped so much that an aspect of extreme antiquity was given to the entire colonnade. Corpang was seen climbing the hill, not far from the top.
“He wishes to arrive,” said Maskull, watching the energetic ascent with a rather cynical smile.
“The heavens won’t open for Corpang,” returned Sullenbode. “He need not be in such a hurry. . . . What do these pillars seem like to you?”
“They might be the entrance to some mighty temple. Who can have planted them there?”
She did not answer. They watched Corpang gain the summit of the hill, and disappear through the line of posts.
Maskull turned again to Sullenbode. “Now we two are alone in a lonely world.”
She regarded him steadily. “Our last night on this earth must be a grand one. I am ready to go on.”
“I don’t think you are fit to go on. It will be better to go down the pass a little, and find shelter.”
She half smiled. “We won’t study our poor bodies tonight. I mean you to go to Adage, Maskull.”
“Then at all events let us rest first, for it must be a long, terrible climb, and who knows what hardships we shall meet?”
She walked a step or two forward, half turned, and held out her hand to him. “Come, Maskull!”
When they had covered half the distance that separated them from the foot of the hill, Maskull heard the drum taps. They came from behind the hill, and were loud, sharp, almost explosive. He glanced at Sullenbode, but she appeared to hear nothing. A minute later the whole sky behind and above the long chain of stone posts on the crest of the hill began to be illuminated by a strange radiance. The moonlight in that quarter faded; the posts stood out black on a background of fire. It was the light of Muspel. As the moments passed, it grew more and more vivid, peculiar, and awful. It was of no colour, and resembled nothing — it was supernatural and indescribable. Maskull’s spirit swelled. He stood fast, with expanded nostrils and terrible eyes.
Sullenbode touched him lightly.
“What do you see, Maskull?”
“I see nothing.”
The light shot up, until Maskull scarcely knew where he stood. It burned with a fiercer and stranger glare than ever before. He forgot the existence of Sullenbode. The drum beats grew deafeningly loud. Each beat was like a rip of startling thunder, crashing through the sky and making the air tremble. Presently the crashes coalesced, and one continuous roar of thunder rocked the world. But the rhythm persisted — the four beats, with the third accented, still came pulsing through the atmosphere, only now against a background of thunder, and not of silence.
Maskull’s heart beat wildly. His body was like a prison. He longed to throw it off, to spring up and become incorporated with the sublime universe which was beginning to unveil itself.
Sullenbode suddenly enfolded him in her arms, and kissed him — passionately, again and again. He made no response; he was unaware of what she was doing. She unclasped him and, with bent head and streaming eyes, went noiselessly away. She started to go back toward the Mornstab Pass.
A few minutes afterward the radiance began to fade. The thunder died down. The moonlight reappeared, the stone posts and the hillside were again bright. In a short time the supernatural light had entirely vanished, but the drum taps still sounded faintly, a muffled rhythm, from behind the hill. Maskull started violently, and stared around him like a suddenly awakened sleeper.
He saw Sullenbode walking slowly away from him, a few hundred yards off. At that sight, death entered his heart. He ran after her, calling out. . . . She did not look around. When he had lessened the distance between them by a half, he saw her suddenly stumble and fall. She did not get up again, but lay motionless where she fell.
He flew toward her, and bent over her body. His worst fears were realised. Life had departed.
Beneath its coating of mud, her face bore the vulgar, ghastly Crystalman grin, but Maskull saw nothing of it. She had never appeared so beautiful to him as at that moment.
He remained beside her for a long time, on his knees. He wept — but, between his fits of weeping, he raised his head from time to time, and listened to the distant drum beats.
An hour passed — two hours. Teargeld was now in the south-west. Maskull lifted Sullenbode’s dead body on to his shoulders, and started to walk toward the Pass. He cared no more for Muspel. He intended to look for water in which to wash the corpse of his beloved, and earth in which to bury her.
When he had reached the boulder overlooking the landslip, on which they had sat together, he lowered his burden, and, placing the dead girl on the stone, seated himself beside her for a time, gazing over toward Barey.
After that, he commenced his descent of the Mornstab Pass.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52