Authors: Tanith Lee
“In the forest, master
“What were you doing
there, my child?”
“Giving back to the earth what the earth had earlier
given me. How changed was the wine I returned her!”
“Well, it will soon be daylight,” said Lak Hezoor, and
he began to fondle the hair and body of his companion.
“I wonder,” said
Oloru, “how my kindred do at home. I wonder how it is with them.” And then he
said, “Imagine I am prostrate on the road at your feet. Imagine I say: She,
and she, are my sisters. One is fifteen and one thirteen years of age. Both are
“And is that true?” said Lak Hezoor with lazy
“Quite true. And the house is an hour’s journey from
“And do they resemble
you, your sisters?”
“We are mirrors
to each other. Except, I think the younger girl is palest and fairest of the
“Why tell me of it?”
“To give you a moment’s
“You have done so.”
The brass rattle, set
aside, went rolling across the gorgeous tent, and it made an uncanny,
unpleasing noise as it did so, as if it were full of the crumbs of smashed
Oloru’s mother and sisters may also partly have
believed they had suffered some communal dream. The emanations of the forest
might facilitate such things. Nevertheless, in haste and some fear, they
prepared as best they could for the influx of unwanted guests.
The sun was halfway
toward the zenith when, as Oloru had warned them would happen, the trees
spilled over in a great cavalcade. A few minutes more, and the hunting party of
Lak Hezoor was hammering on the gate.
The mother and her two
daughters kneeled in the courtyard as Lak Hezoor looked down at them from the
height of his horse and his omniscience.
“He speaks well of you,”
said the prince to Oloru’s sisters. “He says you are virtuous and have never
known a man. Are the men in these parts eyeless, or eunuchs?” This was his
supreme courtesy to them, since Oloru was his favored one.
They went into the
house, and the women trembled so they could hardly walk.
“My lord,” whispered
Oloru, “if it were possible to leave your attendants, and the rest,
outside . . . You see how my sisters shake.”
“I thought that was for
“No, my lord. They are
distracted by their terror of your slaves. Remove this distraction, then they
will palpitate in terror of you alone.”
Lak Hezoor was much
amused by this, in the stone house with only an old servant, an old widow, two
maidens, and maidenly Oloru who swooned at the sight of a sword, what need for
devilish guards? So he packed his servitors out again, and his distempered
court, which had wanted to come in and work havoc. The doors of the house were
shut upon the intimate party of six.
For some reason,
probably its novelty, it had come to the prince that it joyed him to be civil.
So he sprawled on a couch and made idle chat with the widow and her daughters.
(He treated with them as if with a brothel keeper and two of her whores.) Food
there was in plenty, for the hunt had been well provisioned. The splendid wine,
the only wealth of the house, was added, and Lak drained it like water. Oloru too
set himself to please. His jokes were wholesome but most droll, and his verse
sharp as vinegar. Even his anxious sisters found they had an appetite for the
good dinner, and sometimes laughed, though they looked sidelong at their
brother, too, seeing how well he understood his master. As the afternoon
lengthened, and the sun began to turn its face toward the horizon, Oloru took
up his lyre and sang to them. The songs were not ribald, they were all of love.
And once he sang of the blind poet Kazir, of his journey through the River of
Sleep into the Underearth, where he won Ferazhin Born-of-a-Flower, by matching
his heart with the malign intellect of Azhrarn.
“This one is my shining
jewel,” said Lak presently to the mother of Oloru, and he stroked Oloru’s thigh,
so the widow could have no doubt that not only did the jewel shine in mirth and
song, but between the sheets, too.
“How a palace dulls
one,” said Lak Hezoor. “What a delight is this simple life.” And he shouted for
another jar of wine.
Outside, the courtiers
held their own revel, not in any way restrained by the pretense of civility.
They encouraged their horses to foul the courtyard, and so did they. Household
items, when come on, were broken from sheer bad-fellowship. They had pilfered
the yard tree for a fire, and eased nature in the well.
Above it all, even in
decline, the sun went down into the forest, leaving behind it only one rose-red
cloud. The evening star lifted in the east like a frozen silver firework.
“Well, madam,” said Lak
Hezoor to the widow, “I am very weary. Where is my sleeping chamber?”
widow told him meekly.
“I hope,” said the
prince, “I shall not be left lonely there for very long.”
The widow put her hands
to her mouth. Lak removed himself with a flourish; at the sisters he did not
“The passages are
gloomy,” said Oloru. “I will guide you, dear lord.”
So they went up
through the house together, Lak walking, as ever, lighter than dark dust,
and—let it be said—Oloru no more heavily. They reached a door, which Oloru
opened. It was the great bedchamber of the house. The tall-posted bed nearly
touched the ceiling.
“Now,” said Lak
Hezoor, “you know that if your sisters do not come to me inside the hour, I
will go to find them. Or I will work a spell to bring them here, mindless, and
unable to object.”
said Oloru. “But where is the sport in that? Is it not greater fun to force, to
rape, to the accompaniment of screams of agony? Or on the other hand, to have
one who is willing and screams in her delight? Both so loud, their mother hears
in an adjacent room?”
“He knows me,” said Lak.
“My lord, I can
persuade the elder to lascivious compliance, for she is hot under her coldness.
And the younger I can assist you with so no sorcery is needed that will take off
her edge and leave her only a limp doll. She shall struggle and wail. You will
have a feast of desire and a feast of terror.”
“And in return,
what do you want? What have you been wanting all along, sweetheart, that you
brought me here and tempted me with such alluring relatives?”
“He knows me,”
said Oloru. “Well, then.” And he told Lak Hezoor what he wanted.
considered. He seemed not to think it any enormous thing, this notion of
Oloru’s, picking over it only as a man does a meat bone, to be sure nothing
tasty is missed.
“And so you sang
of Kazir,” he said. “What put such a stroke in your mind?”
“The demon by
your tent. Talking of demons, as we have done.”
“But you are not
brave, my love. Do you not quake at such an adventure?”
“How should I fear?
I shall have your lordship’s protection.”
“You suppose me a match
Oloru smiled most
may be listening,” he
said. Then he went to Lake Hezoor and whispered in his ear,
The magician was
well pleased. It was his weakness to suppose himself a sort of earthly Azhrarn,
a demon prince as well as a temporal one. Dark of hair and eye and cat-footed,
with abnormal powers, and surrounded on all sides by those who feared them, and
addicted, moreover, to artistic sadisms . . . it seemed to Lak
his credentials were sound. And how frequently he had called this pretty
plaything of his Sivesh or Simmu or by some other name belonging to one of
Azhrarn’s male or ambigendered consorts. Now, full of wine, and of himself, as
ever, and slow and eager both with anticipation, Lak was disposed to try this
perilous scheme. Perhaps he would, one day or night, have thought of it
himself. He might then have rejected it, too. For something in the winsome
whispering of Oloru drove him on. Thus Lak, imagining himself seduced, not
driven, into granting a crazy boon, complied.
“Do as you
promised with the women, and I will undertake your venture. Only I believe you
will faint away with fright and miss all the marvels. Do not reproach me after,
if that is so. Nor must you regret the fate of your sisters. It may be,” and
here he stretched himself and yawned, “a stormy time for them.”
“Oh,” said Oloru, “they
are due for that.”
He left the room
as his lord was reclining himself upon the great bed.
No, Oloru did not
walk heavily. He blew like a blond paper through the house, by the windows from
which he might look out and see—and hear—the drunken wretches of the magician’s
court involved in nasty play about the widow’s yard, and on through a passage
where the widow’s servant sat with a stick grasped in his hand, prepared for
the defense of his mistresses—the whole might of his old worn body and a length
of wood against Lak’s power and sorcery. (He regarded Oloru as the young man
silently passed, and gave a kind of snarl, but did not otherwise move.) And so
Oloru arrived at the doorway of the pillared, spidered hall. It was full night
now, and only three poor candles burned there. It was not therefore surprising
the widow and her daughters did not see him as he stood on the threshold before
them. They sat in their places, white-faced but immobile, with all the dignity
of the condemned who will not remonstrate.
Then Oloru spoke.
It was only a word or two. He had learned them from the magician’s books. These
words took effect instantly.
A composite soft
sighing winged over the hall. Along the passage, there came the clatter of a
scratched on the door of his guest’s bedchamber. “What shall be first, my lord,
to rape or to roister?”
“Bring in all there is,”
Then through the
door, and into the low-lit room, came three shadows, one urging the other two
before him. And there was the glimmer of pale hair and white flesh, and a sable
stirring and a flicker of flame on eyes and teeth, and some sobbing and pleas,
and next some wild screaming that seared through the house, but whether the
outcry of agony or ecstasy there was no telling at all.
The three candles were almost consumed when the sisters
and the mother of Oloru opened their eyes, and looked about them. It seemed
they had sunk deep asleep. That was strange in itself, for they had been in
nervous dread. Stranger still it was that none had come rudely and violently
to waken them. And it was very late. Even the rioters outside had fallen quiet.
At length the
mother said, “What can have happened? Can Oloru have persuaded him to
“I do not suppose
so,” said the elder girl. “Nor do I suppose Oloru would attempt it.”
“Hush,” said the
mother. She got up from her chair and lit three new candles. The meager light
revived and touched fresh pallor into their faces. And then the younger sister
cried in a wild broken voice: “Mother—look there by your feet—and here, by
“Oh, what is it?”
asked the mother, and she looked with her heart in her mouth. But all she saw
on the floor by her feet was her own shadow cast away from the candles. Then,
looking down at the feet of her younger daughter, she saw there was no shadow
there at all, the floor stretched empty.
“Merciful gods protect
you,” gasped the widow.
“Then let them
protect me also,” said the elder girl, “for my shadow too has left me.”
And it was so.
Turn about and about as the two sisters would, however the candles described
them, the light made no shadows for them anywhere.
Now a shadow was
and is only this, a portion cut from the passage of a light by that which
stands between the light and all else it would shine on. In some lands of the
flat earth, it is true, a shadow stood as cipher for the soul, or at least for
the physical soul which resembled, so exactly, the body which had spawned it.
Elsewhere, a shadow was just a shadow. Yet, there is this to be considered.
One who can no longer cast shade has surely lost some part of herself, some
element which makes for opacity and substance—or else how does the light pass
directly through her? To lose one’s shadow, then or now, was and would be cause
for some concern.
The sisters ran
to their mother for solace, and she tended them as best she might.
Eventually it was
the elder sister who drew away, and said, “This is our brother’s doing. Some
new treat he has devised for his lord.” She dried her eyes and put back her
hair. She said, “Sorrow gives way to anger. I will go up and ask them what they
mean by it.”
“Oh no—do not, for all
“Yes but I will.
To damage and debase the flesh is wicked enough. But to meddle with the psychic
parts is beyond enduring. The gods will take note, Mother, of our righteous
distress, and come to my assistance.” In this pious belief she was, of course,
quite mistaken (since in those days the gods cared nothing for mankind). But
the mistake sustained her and she rushed from the hall. Along the passage she
went, where the servant was snoring still, and up through the house to the room
they had allotted the magician. Here she rapped on the door before her valor
should desert her, and called out: “Let me enter at once!” No one replied.