The Shaving of Shagpat (1909)/The Horse Garraveen

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The Shaving of Shagpat  (1909)  by George Meredith
The Horse Garraveen


Now, they descended leisurely the slopes of the mountain, and when they were again in the green of its base, Noorna called to the Ass, 'Ho! Karaz! sniff now the breezes, for the end of our journey by night is the meadows of Melistan. Forward in thy might, and bray not when we are in them, for thy comfort's sake!'

The Ass sniffed, turning to the four quarters, and chose a certain direction, and bore them swiftly over hills and streams eddying in silver; over huge mounds of sand, where the tents of Bedouins stood in white clusters; over lakes smooth as the cheeks of sleeping loveliness; by walls of cities, mosques, and palaces; under towers that rose as an armed man with the steel on his brows and the frown of battle; by shores of the pale foaming sea it bore them, going at a pace that the Arab on his steed outstrippeth not. So when the sun was red and the dews were blushing with new light, they struggled from a wilderness of barren broken ground, and saw beneath them, in the warm beams, green, peaceful, deep, the meadows of Melistan. They were meadows dancing with flowers, as it had been fresh damsels of the mountain, fair with variety of colours that were so many gleams of changing light as the breezes of the morn swept over them; lavish of hues, of sweetness, of pleasantness, fit garden for the souls of the blest.

Then, after they had gazed awhile, Noorna bin Noorka said, 'In these meadows the Horse Garraveen roameth at will. Heroes of bliss bestride him on great days. He is black to look on; speed quivers in his flanks like the lightning; his nostrils are wide with flame; there is that in his eye which is settled fire, and that in his hoofs which is ready thunder; when he paws the earth kingdoms quake: no animal liveth with blood like the Horse Garraveen. He is under a curse, for that he bore on his back one who defied the Prophet. Now, to make him come to thee thou must blow the call of battle, and to catch him thou must contrive to strike him on the fetlock as he runs with this musk-ball which I give thee; and to tame him thou must trace between his eyes a figure of the crescent with thy forenail. When that is done, bring him to me here, where I await thee, and I will advise thee further.'

So she said, 'Go!' and Shibli Bagarag showed her the breadth of his shoulders, and stepped briskly toward the meadows, and was soon brushing among the flowers and soft mosses of the meadows, lifting his nostrils to the joyful smells, looking about him with the broad eye of one that hungereth for a coming thing. The birds went up above him, and the trees shook and sparkled, and the waters of brooks and broad rivers flashed like waving mirrors waved by the slave-girls in sport when the beauties of the harem riot and dip their gleaming shoulders in the bath. He wandered on, lost in the gladness that lived, till the loud neigh of a steed startled him, and by the banks of a river before him he beheld the Horse Garraveen stooping to drink of the river; glorious was the look of the creature,—silver-hoofed, fashioned in the curves of beauty and swiftness. So Shibli Bagarag put up his two hands and blew the call of battle, and the Horse Garraveen arched his neck at the call, and swung upon his haunches, and sought the call, answering it, and tossing his mane as he advanced swiftly. Then, as he neared, Shibli Bagarag held the musk-ball in his fingers, and aimed at the fetlock of the Horse Garraveen, and flung it, and struck him so that he stumbled and fell. He snorted fiercely as he bent to the grass, but Shibli Bagarag ran to him, and grasped strongly the tuft of hair hanging forward between his ears, and traced between his fine eyes a figure of the crescent with his forenail, and the Horse ceased plunging, and was gentle as a colt by its mother's side, and suffered Shibli Bagarag to bestride him, and spurn him with his heel to speed, and bore him fleetly across the fair length of the golden meadows to where Noorna bin Noorka sat awaiting him. She uttered a cry of welcome, saying, 'This is achieved with diligence and skill, O my betrothed! and on thy right wrist I mark strength like a sleeping leopard, and the children of Aklis will not resist thee.'

So she bade him alight from the Horse, but he said, 'Nay.' And she called to him again to alight, but he cried, 'I will not alight from him! By Allah! such a bounding wave of bliss have I never yet had beneath me, and I will give him rein once again; as the poet says:

"Divinely rings the rushing air
When I am on my mettled mare:
When fast along the plains we fly,
A creature of the heavens am I."'

Then she levelled her brows at him, and said gravely, 'This is the temptation thou art falling into, as have thousands before thy time. Give him the rein a second time, and he will bear thee to the red pit, and halt upon the brink, and pitch thee into it among bleeding masses and skeletons of thy kind, where they lie who were men like to thee, and were borne away by the Horse Garraveen.'

He gave no heed to her words, taunting her, and making the animal prance up and prove its spirit.

And she cried reproachfully, 'O fool! is it thus our great aim will be defeated by thy silly conceit? Lo, now, the greatness and the happiness thou art losing for this idle vanity is to be as a dunghill cock matched with an ostrich; and think not to escape the calamities thou bringest on thyself, for as is said,

No runner can outstrip his fate;

and it will overtake thee, though thou part like an arrow from the bow.'

He still made a jest of her remonstrance, trying the temper of the animal, and rejoicing in its dark flushes of ireful vigour.

And she cried out furiously, 'How! art thou past counsel? then will we match strength with strength ere 'tis too late, though it weaken both.'

Upon that, she turned quickly to the Ass and stroked it from one extremity to the other, crying, 'Karaz! Karaz!' shouting, 'Come forth in thy power!' And the Ass vanished, and the Genie stood in his place, tall, dark, terrible as a pillar of storm to travellers ranging the desert. He exclaimed, 'What is it, O woman? Charge me with thy command!'

And she said, 'Wrestle with him thou seest on the Horse Garraveen, and fling him from his seat.'

Then he yelled a glad yell, and stooped to Shibli Bagarag on the horse and enveloped him, and seized him, and plucked him from the Horse, and whirled him round, and flung him off. The youth went circling in the air, high in it, and descended, circling, at a distance in the deep meadow-waters. When he crept up the banks he saw the Genie astride the Horse Garraveen, with a black flame round his head; and the Genie urged him to speed and put him to the gallop, and was soon lost to sight, as he had been a thunderbeam passing over a still lake at midnight. And Shibli Bagarag was smitten with the wrong and the folly of his act, and sought to hide his sight from Noorna; but she called to him, 'Look up, O youth! and face the calamity. Lo, we have now lost the service of Karaz! for though I utter ten spells and one spell in a breath, the Horse Garraveen will ere that have stretched beyond the circle of my magic, and the Genie will be free to do his ill deeds and plot against us. Sad is it! but profit thou by a knowledge of thy weakness.'

Then said she, 'See, I have not failed to possess myself of the three hairs of Garraveen, and there is that to rejoice in.'

She displayed them, and they were sapphire hairs, and had a flickering light; and they seemed to live, wriggling their lengths, and were as snakes with sapphire skins. Then she said, 'Thy right wrist, O my betrothed!'

He gave her his right wrist, and she tied round it the three hairs of Garraveen, exclaiming, 'Thus do skilful carpenters make stronger what has broken and indicated disaster. Surely, I confide in thy star? I have faith in my foresight?'

And she cried, 'Eyes of mine, what sayest thou to me? Lo, we must part awhile: it is written.'

Said he, 'Leave me not, my betrothed: what am I without thy counsel? And go not from me, or this adventure will come to miserable issue.'

So she said, 'Thou beginnest to feel my worth?'

He answered, 'O Noorna! was woman like thee before in this world? Surely 'tis a mask I mark thee under; yet art thou perforce of sheer wisdom and sweet manners lovely in my sight; and I have a thirst to hear thee and look on thee.'

While he spake, a beam of struggling splendour burst from her, and she said, 'O thou dear youth, yes! I must even go. But I go glad of heart, knowing thee prepared to love me. I must go to counteract the machinations of Karaz, for he's at once busy, vindictive, and cunning, and there's no time for us to lose; so farewell, my betrothed, and make thy wits keen to know me when we next meet.'

So he said, 'And I—whither go I?'

She answered, 'To the City of Oolb straightway.'

Then he, 'But I know not its bearing from this spot: how reach it?'

She answered, 'What! thou with the phial of Paravid in thy vest, that endoweth, a single drop of it, the flowers, the herbage, the very stones and desert sands, with a tongue to articulate intelligible talk?'

Said he, 'Is it so?'

She answered, 'Even so.'

Ere Shibli Bagarag could question her further she embraced him, and blew upon his eyes, and he was blinded by her breath, and saw not her departure, groping for a seat on the rocks, and thinking her still by him. Sight returned not to him till long after weariness had brought the balm of sleep upon his eyelids.