Lakla had taken no part in the talk since we had reached her bower. She had seated herself close to the O’Keefe. Glancing at her I had seen steal over her face that brooding, listening look that was hers whenever in that mysterious communion with the Three. It vanished; swiftly she arose; interrupted the Irishman without ceremony.
“Larry darlin’,” said the handmaiden. “The Silent Ones summon us!”
“When do we go?” I asked; Larry’s face grew bright with interest.
“The time is now,” she said — and hesitated. “Larry dear, put your arms about me,” she faltered, “for there is something cold that catches at my heart — and I am afraid.”
At his exclamation she gathered herself together; gave a shaky little laugh.
“It’s because I love you so that fear has power to plague me,” she told him.
Without another word he bent and kissed her; in silence we passed on, his arm still about her girdled waist, golden head and black close together. Soon we stood before the crimson slab that was the door to the sanctuary of the Silent Ones. She poised uncertainly before it; then with a defiant arching of the proud little head that sent all the bronze-flecked curls flying, she pressed. It slipped aside and once more the opalescence gushed out, flooding all about us.
Dazzled as before, I followed through the lambent cascades pouring from the high, carved walls; paused, and my eyes clearing, looked up — straight into the faces of the Three. The angled orbs centred upon the handmaiden; softened as I had seen them do when first we had faced them. She smiled up; seemed to listen.
“Come closer,” she commanded, “close to the feet of the Silent Ones.”
We moved, pausing at the very base of the dais. The sparkling mists thinned; the great heads bent slightly over us; through the veils I caught a glimpse of huge columnar necks, enormous shoulders covered with draperies as of pale-blue fire.
I came back to attention with a start, for Lakla was answering a question only heard by her, and, answering it aloud, I perceived for our benefit; for whatever was the mode of communication between those whose handmaiden she was, and her, it was clearly independent of speech.
“He has been told,” she said, “even as you commanded.”
Did I see a shadow of pain flit across the flickering eyes? Wondering, I glanced at Lakla’s face and there was a dawn of foreboding and bewilderment. For a little she held her listening attitude; then the gaze of the Three left her; focused upon the O’Keefe.
“Thus speak the Silent Ones — through Lakla, their handmaiden,” the golden voice was like low trumpet notes. “At the threshold of doom is that world of yours above. Yea, even the doom, Goodwin, that ye dreamed and the shadow of which, looking into your mind they see, say the Three. For not upon earth and never upon earth can man find means to destroy the Shining One.”
She listened again — and the foreboding deepened to an amazed fear.
“They say, the Silent Ones,” she went on, “that they know not whether even they have power to destroy. Energies we know nothing of entered into its shaping and are part of it; and still other energies it has gathered to itself”— she paused; a shadow of puzzlement crept into her voice “and other energies still, forces that ye DO know and symbolize by certain names — hatred and pride and lust and many others which are forces real as that hidden in the Keth; and among them — fear, which weakens all those others —” Again she paused.
“But within it is nothing of that greatest of all, that which can make powerless all the evil others, that which we call — love,” she ended softly.
“I’d like to be the one to put a little more FEAR in the beast,” whispered Larry to me, grimly in our own English. The three weird heads bent, ever so slightly — and I gasped, and Larry grew a little white as Lakla nodded —
“They say, Larry,” she said, “that there you touch one side of the heart of the matter — for it is through the way of fear the Silent Ones hope to strike at the very life of the Shining One!”
The visage Larry turned to me was eloquent of wonder; and mine reflected it — for what REALLY were this Three to whom our minds were but open pages, so easily read? Not long could we conjecture; Lakla broke the little silence.
“This, they say, is what is to happen. First will come upon us Lugur and Yolara with all their host. Because of fear the Shining One will lurk behind within its lair; for despite all, the Dweller DOES dread the Three, and only them. With this host the Voice and the priestess will strive to conquer. And if they do, then will they be strong enough, too, to destroy us all. For if they take the abode they banish from the Dweller all fear and sound the end of the Three.
“Then will the Shining One be all free indeed; free to go out into the world, free to do there as it wills!
“But if they do not conquer — and the Shining One comes not to their aid, abandoning them even as it abandoned its own Taithu — then will the Three be loosed from a part of their doom, and they will go through the Portal, seek the Shining One beyond the Veil, and, piercing it through fear’s opening, destroy it.”
“That’s quite clear,” murmured the O’Keefe in my ear. “Weaken the morale — then smash. I’ve seen it happen a dozen times in Europe. While they’ve got their nerve there’s not a thing you can do; get their nerve — and not a thing can they do. And yet in both cases they’re the same men.”
Lakla had been listening again. She turned, thrust out hands to Larry, a wild hope in her eyes — and yet a hope half shamed.
“They say,” she cried, “that they give us choice. Remembering that your world doom hangs in the balance, we have choice — choice to stay and help fight Yolara’s armies — and they say they look not lightly on that help. Or choice to go — and if so be you choose the latter, then will they show another way that leads into your world!”
A flush had crept over the O’Keefe’s face as she was speaking. He took her hands and looked long into the golden eyes; glancing up I saw the Trinity were watching them intently — imperturbably.
“What do you say, mavourneen?” asked Larry gently. The handmaiden hung her head; trembled.
“Your words shall be mine, O one I love,” she whispered. “So going or staying, I am beside you.”
“And you, Goodwin?” he turned to me. I shrugged my shoulders — after all I had no one to care.
“It’s up to you, Larry,” I remarked, deliberately choosing his own phraseology.
The O’Keefe straightened, squared his shoulders, gazed straight into the flame-flickering eyes.
“We stick!” he said briefly.
Shamefacedly I recall now that at the time I thought this colloquialism not only irreverent, but in somewhat bad taste. I am glad to say I was alone in that bit of weakness. The face that Lakla turned to Larry was radiant with love, and although the shamed hope had vanished from the sweet eyes, they were shining with adoring pride. And the marble visages of the Three softened, and the little flames died down.
“Wait,” said Lakla, “there is one other thing they say we must answer before they will hold us to that promise — wait —”
She listened, and then her face grew white — white as those of the Three themselves; the glorious eyes widened, stark terror filling them; the whole lithe body of her shook like a reed in the wind.
“Not that!” she cried out to the Three. “Oh, not that! Not Larry — let me go even as you will — but not him!” She threw up frantic hands to the woman-being of the Trinity. “Let ME bear it alone,” she wailed. “Alone — mother! Mother!”
The Three bent their heads toward her, their faces pitiful, and from the eyes of the woman One rolled — tears! Larry leaped to Lakla’s side.
”Mavourneen!“ he cried. “Sweetheart, what have they said to you?”
He glared up at the Silent Ones, his hand twitching toward the high-hung pistol holster.
The handmaiden swung to him; threw white arms around his neck; held her head upon his heart until her sobbing ceased.
“This they — say — the Silent Ones,” she gasped and then all the courage of her came back. “O heart of mine!” she whispered to Larry, gazing deep into his eyes, his anxious face cupped between her white palms. “This they say — that should the Shining One come to succour Yolara and Lugur, should it conquer its fear — and — do this — then is there but one way left to destroy it — and to save your world.”
She swayed; he gripped her tightly.
“But one way — you and I must go — together — into its embrace! Yea, we must pass within it — loving each other, loving the world, realizing to the full all that we sacrifice and sacrificing all, our love, our lives, perhaps even that you call soul, O loved one; must give ourselves ALL to the Shining One — gladly, freely, our love for each other flaming high within us — that this curse shall pass away! For if we do this, pledge the Three, then shall that power of love we carry into it weaken for a time all that evil which the Shining One has become — and in that time the Three can strike and slay!”
The blood rushed from my heart; scientist that I am, essentially, my reason rejected any such solution as this of the activities of the Dweller. Was it not, the thought flashed, a propitiation by the Three out of their own weakness — and as it flashed I looked up to see their eyes, full of sorrow, on mine — and knew they read the thought. Then into the whirling vortex of my mind came steadying reflections — of history changed by the power of hate, of passion, of ambition, and most of all, by love. Was there not actual dynamic energy in these things — was there not a Son of Man who hung upon a cross on Calvary?
“Dear love o’ mine,” said the O’Keefe quietly, “is it in your heart to say YES to this?”
“Larry,” she spoke low, “what is in your heart is in mine; but I did so want to go with you, to live with you — to — to bear you children, Larry — and to see the sun.”
My eyes were wet; dimly through them I saw his gaze on me.
“If the world IS at stake,” he whispered, “why of course there’s only one thing to do. God knows I never was afraid when I was fighting up there — and many a better man than me has gone West with shell and bullet for the same idea; but these things aren’t shell and bullet — but I hadn’t Lakla then — and it’s the damned DOUBT I have behind it all.”
He turned to the Three — and did I in their poise sense a rigidity, an anxiety that sat upon them as alienly as would divinity upon men?
“Tell me this, Silent Ones,” he cried. “If we do this, Lakla and I, is it SURE you are that you can slay the — Thing, and save my world? Is it SURE you are?”
For the first and the last time, I heard the voice of the Silent Ones. It was the man-being at the right who spoke.
“We are sure,” the tones rolled out like deepest organ notes, shaking, vibrating, assailing the ears as strangely as their appearance struck the eyes. Another moment the O’Keefe stared at them. Once more he squared his shoulders; lifted Lakla’s chin and smiled into her eyes.
“We stick!” he said again, nodding to the Three.
Over the visages of the Trinity fell benignity that was — awesome; the tiny flames in the jet orbs vanished, leaving them wells in which brimmed serenity, hope — an extraordinary joyfulness. The woman sat upright, tender gaze fixed upon the man and girl. Her great shoulders raised as though she had lifted her arms and had drawn to her those others. The three faces pressed together for a fleeting moment; raised again. The woman bent forward — and as she did so, Lakla and Larry, as though drawn by some outer force, were swept upon the dais.
Out from the sparkling mist stretched two hands, enormously long, six-fingered, thumbless, a faint tracery of golden scales upon their white backs, utterly unhuman and still in some strange way beautiful, radiating power and — all womanly!
They stretched forth; they touched the bent heads of Lakla and the O’Keefe; caressed them, drew them together, softly stroked them — lovingly, with more than a touch of benediction. And withdrew!
The sparkling mists rolled up once more, hiding the Silent Ones. As silently as once before we had gone we passed out of the place of light, beyond the crimson stone, back to the handmaiden’s chamber.
Only once on our way did Larry speak.
“Cheer up, darlin’,” he said to her, “it’s a long way yet before the finish. An’ are you thinking that Lugur and Yolara are going to pull this thing off? Are you?”
The handmaiden only looked at him, eyes love and sorrow filled.
“They are!” said Larry. “They are! Like HELL they are!”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53