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The Curse of Kehama/The Enchantress

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THE ENCHANTRESS.




When from the sword, by arm angelic driven,
Foul Arvalan fled howling, wild in pain,
His thin essential spirit, rent and riven
With wounds, united soon and heal'd again;
Backward the accursed turn'd his eye in flight,
Remindful of revengeful thoughts even then,
And saw where, gliding through the evening light,
The Ship of Heaven sail'd upward through the sky,
Then, like a meteor, vanish'd from his sight.
Where should he follow? vainly might he try
To trace through trackless air its rapid course;
Nor dar'd he that angelic arm defy,
Still sore and writhing from its dreaded force.

Should he the lust of vengeance lay aside?
Too long had Arvalan in ill been train'd;
Nurst up in power and tyranny and pride,
His soul the ignominious thought disdain'd.
Or to his mighty Father should he go,
Complaining of defeature twice sustain'd,
And ask new powers to meet the immortal foe?. . .
Repulse he fear'd not, but he fear'd rebuke,
And sham'd to tell him of his overthrow.
There dwelt a dread Enchantress in a nook
Obscure; old help-mate she to him had been,
Lending her aid in many a secret sin;
And there, for counsel, now his way he took.

She was a woman whose unlovely youth,
Even like a cankered rose, which none will cull,
Had withered on the stalk; her heart was full
Of passions which had found no natural scope,
Feelings which there had grown but ripened not;
Desires unsatisfied, abortive hope,
Repinings which provoked vindictive thought,
These restless elements for ever wrought,
Fermenting in her with perpetual stir,
And thus her spirit to all evil mov'd;
She hated men because they lov'd not her,
And hated women because they were lov'd.
And thus, in wrath and hatred and despair,
She tempted Hell to tempt her; and resign'd
Her body to the Demons of the Air,
Wicked and wanton fiends who, where they will,
Wander abroad, still seeking to do ill,
And take whatever vacant form they find,
Carcase of man or beast, that life hath left;
Foul instrument for them of fouler mind.
To these the Witch her wretched body gave,
So they would wreak her vengeance on mankind,
She thus at once their mistress and their slave;
And they to do such service nothing loth,
Obeyed her bidding, slaves and masters both.

So from this cursed intercourse she caught
Contagious power of mischief, and was taught
Such secrets as are damnable to guess.
Is there a child whose little lovely ways
Might win all hearts, . . . on whom his parents gaze
Till they shed tears of joy and tenderness?
Oh! hide him from that Witch's withering sight!
Oh! hide him from the eye of Lorrinite!
Her look hath crippling in it, and her curse
All plagues which on mortality can light;
Death is his doom if she behold, . . . or worse, . . .
Diseases loathsome and incurable,
And inward sufferings that no tongue can tell.
Woe was to him, on whom that eye of hate
Was bent; for, certain as the stroke of Fate,
It did its mortal work; nor human arts
Could save the unhappy wretch, her chosen prey;
For gazing, she consum'd his vital parts,
Eating his very core of life away.

The wine which from yon wounded palm on high
Fills yonder gourd, as slowly it distills,
Grows sour at once if Lorrinite pass by.
The deadliest worm, from which all creatures fly,
Fled from the deadlier venom of her eye;
The babe unborn, within its mother's womb,
Started and trembled when the Witch came nigh,
And in the silent chambers of the tomb
Death shuddered her unholy tread to hear.
And, from the dry and mouldering bones, did fear
Force a cold sweat, when Lorrinite was near.

Power made her haughty: by ambition fir'd,
Ere long to mightier mischiefs she aspir'd.
The Calis, who o'er Cities rule unseen,
Each in her own domain a Demon Queen,
And there ador'd with blood and human life,
They knew her, and in their accurst employ
She stirr'd up neighbouring states to mortal strife.
Sani, the dreadful God, who rides abroad
Upon the King of the Ravens, to destroy
The offending sons of men, when his four hands
Were weary with their toil, would let her do
His work of vengeance upon guilty lands;
And Lorrinite, at his commandment, knew
When the ripe earthquake should be loos'd, and where
To point its course. And in the baneful air
The pregnant seeds of death he bade her strew,
All deadly plagues and pestilence to brew.
The Locusts were her army, and their bands,
Where'er she turn'd her skinny finger, flew;
The floods in ruin roll'd at her commands;
And when, in time of drought, the husbandman
Beheld the gathered rain about to fall,
Her breath would drive it to the desert sands.
While in the marshes parch'd and gaping soil,
The rice-foots by the searching Sun were dried;
And in lean groupes, assembled at the side
Of the empty tank, the cattle dropt and died;
And Famine, at her bidding, wasted wide
The wretched land, till, in the public way,
Promiscuous where the dead and dying lay,
Dogs fed on human bones in the open light of day.

Her secret cell the accursed Arvalan,
In quest of vengeance, sought, and thus began.
Mighty mother! mother wise!
Revenge me on my enemies.

Lorrinite.

Com'st thou, son, for aid to me?
Tell me who have injur'd thee,
Where they are, and who they be;
Of the Earth, or of the Sea,
Or of the aerial company?
Earth, nor Sea, nor Air is free
From the powers who wait on me,
And my tremendous witchery.

Arvalan.

She for whom so ill I sped,
Whom my Father deemeth dead,
Lives, for Marriataly's aid
From the water sav'd the maid.
In hatred I desire her still,
And in revenge would have my will.
A Deveta with wings of blue.
And sword whose edge even now I rue,
In a Ship of Heaven on high,
Pilots her along the sky.
Where they voyage thou canst tell,
Mistress of the mighty spell.

At this the Witch, through shrivell'd lips and thin,
Sent forth a sound half-whistle and half-hiss.
Two winged Hands came in,
Armless and bodyless,
Bearing a globe of liquid crystal, set
In frame as diamond bright, yet black as jet.
A thousand eyes were quench'd in endless night,
To form that magic globe; for Lorrinite
Had, from their sockets, drawn the liquid sight,
And kneaded it, with re-creating skill,
Into this organ of her mighty will.
Look in yonder orb, she cried,
Tell me what is there descried.

Arvalan.

A mountain top, in clouds of light
Envclop'd, rises on my sight;
Thence a cataract rushes down,
Hung with many a rainbow crown;
Light and clouds conceal its head,
Below, a silver Lake is spread;
Upon its shores a Bower I see,
Fit home for blessed company.
See they come forward,. . one, two, three,. .
The last a Maiden,. . . it is she!
The foremost shakes his wings of blue, '
'Tis he whose sword even yet I rue;
And in that other one I know
The visage of my deadliest foe.
Mother, let thy magic might
Arm me for the mortal fight;
Helm and shield and mail afford,
Proof against his dreaded sword.
Then will I invade their seat,
Then shall vengeance be compleat.

Lorrinite.

Spirits, who obey my will,
Hear him, and his wish fulfill.

So spake the mighty one, nor farther spell
Needed; anon a sound, like smother'd thunder,
Was heard, slow rolling under;
The solid pavement of the cell
Quak'd, heav'd, and cleft asunder,
And, at the feet of Arvalan display'd,
Helmet and mail, and shield and scymitar, were laid.

The Asuras, often put to flight,
And scattered in the fields of light,
By their foes' celestial might,
Forged this enchanted armour for the fight.
Mid fires intense did they anneal,
In mountain furnaces, the quivering steel,
Till, trembling through each deepening hue,
It settled in a midnight blue;
Last they cast it, to aslake,
In the penal icy lake.
Then, they consign'd it to the Giant brood;
And, while they forged the impenetrable arms,
The Evil Powers, to oversee them, stood,
And there imbued
The work of Giant strength with magic charms.
Foul Arvalan, with joy, survey'd
The crescent sabre's cloudy blade,
With deeper joy the impervious mail,
The shield and helmet of avail.
Soon did he himself array,
And bade her speed him on his way.

Then she led him to the den,
Where her chariot, night and day,
Stood harness'd, ready for the way.
Two Dragons, yok'd in adamant, convey
The magic car; from either collar sprung
An adamantine rib, which met in air,
O'er-arch'd, and crost and bent diverging there,
And firmly in its arc upbore,
Upon their brazen necks, the seat of power.
Arvalan mounts the car, and in his hand
Receives the magic reins from Lorrinite;
The dragons, long obedient to command,
Their ample sails expand;
Like steeds well-broken to fair lady's hand,
They feel the reins of might,
And up the northern sky begin their flight.

Son of the Wicked, doth thy soul delight
To think its hour of vengeance now is nigh?
Lo! where the far-off light
Of Indra's palace flashes on his sight,
And Meru's heavenly summit shines on high,
With clouds of glory bright,
Amid the dark-blue sky.
Already, in his hope, doth he espy
Himself secure in mail of tenfold charms,
Ereenia writhing from the magic blade,
The Father sent to bear his Curse,. . the Maid
Resisting vainly in his impious arms.

Ah, Sinner! whose anticipating soul
Incurs the guilt even when the crime is spar'd!
Joyous toward Meru's summit on he far'd,
While the twin Dragons, rising as he guides,
With steady flight, steer northward for the pole.
Anon, with irresistible controul,
Force mightier far than his arrests their course;
It wrought as though a Power unseen had caught
Their adamantine yokes to drag them on.
Straight on they bend their way, and now, in vain,
Upward doth Arvalan direct the rein;
The rein of magic might avails no more,
Bootless its strength against that unseen Power
That, in their mid career,
Hath seiz'd the Chariot and the Charioteer.
With hands resisting, and down-pressing feet
Upon their hold insisting,
He struggles to maintain his difficult seat.
Seeking in vain with that strange Power to vie,
Their doubled speed the affrighted Dragons try.
Forced in a stream from whence was no retreat,
Strong as they are, behold them whirled along,
Headlong, with useless pennons, through the sky.

What Power was that, which, with resistless might
Foil'd the dread magic thus of Lorrinite?
'Twas all-commanding Nature . . They were here
Within the sphere of the adamantine rocks
Which gird Mount Meru round, as far below
That heavenly height where Ganges hath its birth
Involv'd in clouds and light,
So far above its roots of ice and snow.
On. .on they roll,. . rapt headlong they roll on;. .
The lost canoe, less rapidly than this,
Down the precipitous stream is whirl'd along
To the brink of Niagara's dread abyss.
On. . on. . they roll, and now, with shivering shock,
Are dash'd against the rock that girds the Pole.
Down from his shatter'd mail the unhappy Soul
Is dropt,. . ten thousand thousand fathoms down,. . .
Till in an ice-rift, 'mid the eternal snow,
Foul Arvalan is stopt. There let him howl,
Groan there,. . and there, with unavailing moan,
For aid on his Almighty Father call.
All human sounds are lost
Amid those deserts of perpetual frost,
Old Winter's drear domain,
Beyond the limits of the living World,
Beyond Kehama's reign.
Of utterance and of motion soon bereft,
Frozen to the ice-rock, there behold him lie,
Only the painful sense of Being left,
A Spirit who must feel, and cannot die,
Bleaching and bare beneath the polar sky.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.