Chapter 6 — The Wizard
Thus have I heard:
AFTER Ruru had walked along the forest paths for nearly an hour, overwhelmed with sadness, ever remembering the powerful spell of poor Patali's fair grace which had drawn him like the irresistible enchantment of a melodious bird's magic minstrelsy, blushing continually with shame at what had occurred and wishing that he was dead, there, in front of him and blocking the way, stood the misshapen black dwarf in a most threatening attitude, his leering eyes glowing like crimson carbuncles with utter fury.
"Ha," he shouted, foaming and dribbling at the mouth with rage, "here comes our blubbering, fretting, whining 'saint' at last. Ho! thou fool, blockhead, dunce and simpleton. Bah! thou purloiner and filcher of immaculate and unblemished innocence. Oh! thou spotless, undefiled and unsullied MONSTER of MODESTY and ghastly chastiness! I could KILL thee, thou unholy idiot, morone and whitling dolt! Is this the reward your holiness—forsooth—presents to me after all my scheming and working the fingers of my inventiveness to the bone for such a buffoon and harlequin as thou art? Is it thus thou showest thy gratitude to me: thy MASTER!!!"
By this time Ruru was so exasperated that he ran up to the dwarf in order to kick him out of the way.
"Ah," yelled the latter, nimbly jumping behind a bush. "This is how you thank me, eh? But wait, my scaramouche, jack-pudding and merry-andrew with the lugubrious melancholy countenance; I'll lay such a trap for you, my soul-sick love-bird, that nothing will save you the next time. I'll make a man of you yet, you measly, milk-livered wretch and timorous poltroon! Ochone, you slobbering slowcoach; you inarticulate, inauspicious, inept and inane, impotent and infecund ASS! Insidious TRIPE, too inert to grasp the lovely fruit when it falls literally in your lap; you pious, inflated and paltry lump of holy piffle!!!"
And with deadly aim he spat Ruru in the face and vanished.
Ruru cried aloud in a frenzy of wrath and would have liked nothing better than to lay his hands on the perverse and noxious sprite and break his twisted neck for him. Red in the face with passion about the undeserved insults he walked on rapidly, muttering angrily to himself.
More disturbing than anything else was the thought of what Vīravara and his new-made friends would think of his sudden flight, without even expressing thanks for the kind hospitality he had received. He was too inexperienced to know that the opinion of others means nothing to one who follows the Road of Destiny, trying to act for the best as well as he knows. All day long he walked as fast as if he were endeavouring to escape from the turbulence of his own thoughts. It seemed to him that the air was full of spirit-cries, mysterious signs and mystic omens. Unpleasant as his experience had been that day, there lurked within his mind a presentiment of further evil to come, and his heart felt heavy in his breast. When evening had fallen he overtook a strange-looking being who had covered the whole of his body with brown-black clay, indicating that his mind was bedaubed with the excrements of the Hell Avīchi. Afflicted with a madness of the Moon, he screamed beneath his lunar whiteness (*see footnote) as he sailed like a mystic eagle in the indigo sky. The apparition made Ruru shiver like the flowers in a meadow when sudden winds spring up and stir the tropic blooms and grass with chilling perturbation. The wanderer looked around with bulging eyes in all directions, as if he were in terror lest some dread demon should overtake and devour him. Thus a secret crime is often revealed by means of the fearful mind of the evil-doer. He was babbling in an incoherent fashion, and like a stream of liquid fire the words poured forth from the coruscating fountain of his tormented soul.
When he saw Ruru, he stood stock-still and stared at him with anxious intensity, and suddenly he whispered in a hoarse voice: "I'm on fire; I'm burning; the whole world is burning up; can't you see the searing flames that are burning up everything? There is in everything an unholy fire, the roaring of Vrika, the fire that burns up all human bodies...you can hear it if you put your fingers in your ears!"
Closing his ears with his index fingers he whispered fearfully: "There! . . . can you hear it now? . . . LISTEN!! . . . It is burning me up!! Oh! . . . for some water to put it out! Help! Help! HELP!!!" And with a sudden spurt he dashed towards a lotus pool that lay like a mirror in the moonlight and plunged headlong into it.
Ruru darted after him to pull him out again, but the search was hopeless, for the poor tormented mind and body of the lunatic had sunk into the mud at once. Helplessly Ruru stood at the edge of the pool until he heard a soft rustling behind him, and, on turning round apprehensively, he beheld the tall, majestic figure of a man who regarded him intently.
"Oh," thought Ruru, "I hope this is not another lunatic!"
"No," replied the stranger to the unspoken words, "I am not a lunatic! I have been trying to overtake the fool who has just choked himself in the mud. He was my assistant and I needed his services very urgently tonight, for I have some important work to do which I cannot perform without assistance from someone."
Although Ruru was repelled by the callousness of the newcomer, he was too polite not to ask if he could be of any service, "for," he explained, "my time is entirely my own and I am in no hurry to get anywhere."
The stranger looked searchingly at Ruru's face, and then said: "Very well, I accept your offer if you are not afraid."
"What is there to be afraid of in this world?" asked Ruru. "The only thing one can lose is one's life; and that is never a great loss," he added bitterly, thinking of his experiences that day.
"Well," replied the stranger, "we shall see; follow me."
He led Ruru right into the centre of the trees, following narrow twisted paths in the darkness, as if he had the eyes of a cat or owl. Ruru was enabled to follow him by the faint gleams of the light of the moon, who was almost hidden by the foliage, when an occasional glimmer was reflected almost imperceptibly upon the white dress of the stranger. After a long walk they came out into the open again, and now Ruru saw that they were entering a cemetery; a burning ground, or burning ghat. The gods with their unwinking eyes looked down from above on the pair who stood still for a few moments in the deep silence, not even broken by the rustle of a leaf.
"What have we come here for?" asked Ruru at last.
"You will see soon enough," said the stranger as he walked up to a pile of wood upon which lay the form of a dead man. At that moment a strange chanting wailed in mournful tones beneath the bronze-black cloak of night. As if this were a sign for evil activity, a sudden chorus of vultures and jackals cried and howled; voices of unseen witches screamed, and the smouldering fires of several funeral piles blazed up and roared and sizzled menacingly, and there was a hissing noise as of the fiery breaths of flaming demons.
Ruru stood still, like one who has been struck by the thunderbolt of astonishment; but the stranger beckoned him, and with faltering steps—in spite of his usual courage—Ruru approached him.
"Help me lift that corpse from this pile," commanded the stranger.
"What," cried Ruru, "defile my hands with the dead? Ask me anything else, but this I cannot do."
"If two are of one mind," replied the stranger in an angry voice, "nothing is impossible to them. Help me to lift down that corpse!" There was such a note of power and command in his voice that Ruru was compelled against his will to obey.
"Now we will carry him to that open spot over there," said the stranger; and Ruru helped him to do so. To Ruru, the possible result of this action resembled a tiger, lying in the jungle and waiting to rush forth and destroy them both at the appointed time. The dusk of night had hid the stars, and there was an ominous feeling of terror in the air, now stirred by a wind which was driving black clouds before it, as if the Prince of Death's fluttering robes of mourning were streaming behind his flying form as he rushed from place to place to enact his fatal decrees.
"Your action will let loose all the demons of the lower worlds," warned Ruru in a voice that trembled in spite of himself.
"Do not bother about a few demons, my young friend," said the stranger nonchalantly. "Just as demons are dazzled by the light of the Sun and only venture abroad during the time of night, so they do not attack virtuous men and chaste women. And you pride yourself upon your purity, do you not?" he asked with a sneer.
"I think I have been defiled by helping you to touch that corpse," said Ruru. "But," he added, "I throw all responsibility on you, for you forced me to do it."
"That's all right," said the stranger, "I have all the demons of the lower worlds under my control, and they fear me as their Master."
As the stranger stood there defiantly, his great eyes alight with power, Ruru could well believe that there was some truth in his asseveration; but he felt very ill-at-ease just the same.
And now the stranger, who was an evil wizard or magician, stood in front of the dead man and began to utter incantations of black magic by means of which he forced his familiar spirit—which fluttered around his head like a lurid light—to enter into that body. Presently the corpse gave forth a hissing sound, and flames issued from its grisly mouth, whereupon the wizard gave it a hard slap with the flat of his hand. The corpse stood up and the wizard jumped upon its back, and at a rapid pace the two proceeded to run out of the cemetery and to a ruined Temple nearby; Ruru following in dire curiosity. When they arrived at the Temple, the wizard descended from the demon-possessed body, which fell at once to the ground.
Then he entered the Temple and knelt down at the remains of a shrine, dedicated to the goddess Durgā, and he prayed for a boon, offering to supply any sacrifice demanded of him if the request were granted. Then a voice spoke to him and commended him on his mastery of the black Arts demanding sacrifice of two new-born babes.
With the uttermost feelings of horror Ruru witnessed the unholy pact, and he decided there and then that he would frustrate it in some way, even if it cost him his life. And mystic torrents of dreadful, mighty music rang in the air, and it seemed as if a storm of terror swept over the woods, reaching even unto the mountain-tops whose distant, snowy caps were visible in the fitful flashes of moonlight whenever there was a break in the clouds.
The wizard left the ruined shrine and strode up to Ruru, his eyes ablaze with exultation. "Wait here for me," he commanded in a harsh voice, "that is to say," he added, "if your wonderful courage and virtue has not already turned into abject fear; I'll be back in half-an-hour."
Ruru nodded assent and said to himself: "Oh, yes; I'll wait for you all right, and I'll see what I can do to stop your devilish work."
He sat down on a fallen pillar amidst the sounds of hell that now rang out on all sides; but soon he felt perfectly calm, having resolved to foil the wizard's impious scheme.
The latter's visit seemed to have let loose demoniac powers, for from where he sat Ruru could see the leaping flames of the various pyres within the cemetery; flames which had all sprung into sudden life. And gibbering, gloating forms danced amid the burning brands, croaking gleefully with throaty sounds and chuckles. They were of all shapes and sizes; there were goblins and fire-sprites, some fat, some lean, some with very long arms, some with tails; there were ugly sprites like dwarfs or giants, some with one eye, others with three, some with projecting, broken teeth, others with crooked thighs, with heads of serpents, asses, horses, tigers, monkeys or elephants. There was one demon of gigantic size, terrible with his long tusks and his hair standing on end. He was brandishing a red-hot sword which he had drawn out of a burning pyre, and with it he cleaved the skulls of the dead, drawing out the boiling brains with his pointed tongue; and when he flung away the skulls, a host of greedy elemental beings fell upon them and fought like furies for any fleshy bits that were left; licking and sucking avidly.
And now there was heard a threshing and crashing within the body of the wood, and there were faint sounds of whimpering. Presently there emerged from it the wizard with two crying little babes under his arms. He bade Ruru place them on the ground while he took off his white coat, underneath which he wore a talismanic belt which gleamed with fiery flashes in the semi-dark; and to the belt were attached a magic sword and a sacrificial knife.
From the cemetery came rushing a new crowd of bestial forms; they were like terrible old hags, shrieking loudly and clawing the air with their curved, filthy talons. The wizard, who now held in his hand a magic wand, strode fearlessly up to them and drove them back with majestic gestures, uttering menacing words. Out of the corner of his eye he was watching Ruru and the two little babes which Ruru had placed on his lap, trying to soothe them in his clumsy way.
The wizard was ever haunted by a veritable swarm of suspicions which buzzed in his misshapen mind like angry bees and wasps, driving him to distraction and forcing him to loathe all those whom he suspected of knowing some of the dire secrets of his dark arcanum, or such as he thought might be ranged against him and his evil designs. When he had cleared sufficient space around himself he began to walk round in a circle, scratching in the earth a narrow double trench, nine feet in diameter. In the space between the two circles he drew twelve magic signs. Inside the inner circle he drew two squares in such a manner that they formed an eight-pointed star; and inside the star another, smaller circle with a square within it, the four corners of which pointed to the four cardinal points. There were many additional magic words inside the inner squares and circles, and when all was ready the wizard called Ruru and told him to join him in the inner circle with the two babes. Thus they stood for a few moments within that protecting magic ring which denotes finality and continuity, as it commands every point of the compass and may be regarded as an inner concentric circle of the horizon. The wizard had a complete knowledge of all the magical spells and ceremonies of the sacred Veds, but used them in a perverted manner, and presently he began to hum an evil incantation. Ruru thought he would make one appeal to the wizard in order to try to save the lives of the poor babes.
"Sir," he cried, "although I know nothing about magic of any sort, I sense that there are terrible dangers connected with the rites that you intend to perform. Is there no other and kinder way to achieve the ends you must have in view, and is it absolutely necessary to sacrifice these two little children?"
"As long as we remain within the circle," said the wizard, "until after the ceremony is over, there is no danger."
"But suppose that there is some unforeseen accident, and the demons you are about to invoke are too strong for you?"
"Then I have my talismanic belt which protects me from every demon above, within or below the earth."
"Are you not afraid that in spite of your magic belt we may all lose our lives if anything should go wrong?" asked Ruru again.
"Who wants to continue living in this vile world?" asked the wizard scathingly. "A world where the evil-doers prosper, virtue is scorned and brought to ruin, and service and devotion are rewarded with sneers and jealousy as well as villainous ingratitude? I have learnt my lesson, and, knowing that goodness, integrity and purity are the attributes of fools, I have turned to hatred, evil and animosity towards all others. I would be as powerful as Vishvamitra, who created a new world when the one he dwelt in became vile to his soul. Away with your whinings and cowardly fear!"
"I am not afraid for myself," said Ruru quietly, "but I would like you to spare these two children, and I think that your road lies not in the direction of power but points to utter destruction."
"That's my business," replied the wizard haughtily, "and now be quiet, for there is nothing you can do to stop me—as I am inviolable—and there is nothing you can say to me to make me change my mind. When one has such mastery and wisdom as I possess one does not listen to an ignoramus."
Ruru sighed, and spoke no more, but he watched and listened with the deepest attention; firmly resolved to checkmate the wizard if there was the slightest chance.
And now the sorcerer began. For his horrible magic he used strange devices, unheard-of rituals, forming a foul Black Mass of sin and weird excesses, calling up visions of twisting paths in darkness, lusts, and agonies of strangling victims in crimson sacrifice; and he proceeded first with incantations and evocations of the nether gods, to be followed in due time by the pronouncement of the secret Sibilant Word of Death. With weird spells and magic passes he drew within the air a mystic black pentacle, in which he would presently incarcerate an evil spirit, to have his dwelling there until released. When this was done he invoked with powerful voice and secret commands the spirits to appear before him, and, calling them by name, he drew them in front and around the circle, until it was surrounded by a throng of diabolical forms. Then came dancing along a terrible Yakshinī, playing on her lute of bones. Fixing the wizard within his circle with her fierce red eyes, she tried to make horns grow on him, in order that his spirit should become bewildered and fall a prey to her magic. She danced and danced around the circle, until with a sudden, harsh command he compelled her to touch the outer part with her foot, whereupon she flew up into the sky like a streak of lightning, shrieking terribly to the great amusement of the wizard.
The rest of the horde drew back in fear and snarled and spat at the sorcerer, who roared with derisive laughter, for they were helpless and could not reach him. Then came a huge demon, like a prehistoric giant, whirling his great club, eyes bulging with malignity, and when he clicked his teeth they sounded like heavy bells or gongs. The wizard pointed at him and yelled a peculiar word, and the giant shrank within himself, bellowing with unanticipated agony; and he joined the grim promenade of fleeing spectres, but kept henceforth at a respectful distance of the magic circle.
And now, at last, came the great Goddess of Evil for whom the wizard had been waiting all that time, calling her by spell-binding names of utter power. Surrounded by flames she came riding along in a golden chariot, drawn by six oxen and six asses; a very Queen of Fiends, like Aggareth of ancient fame; her almond eyes between their cruel, purple lids alight with cunning. Pointing at the great Pentacle in the air, the wizard bade her descend from her coach and take her seat within that occult, airy chamber, so that he could make proper sacrifice of the two babes and receive the promised boon. Her eyes gleaming with fury—for by his device of the pentacle the wizard had been more clever than she had anticipated—she descended slowly and prepared to enter the temporary prison, from which she would be released only after the boon was granted and the sorcerer himself well out of her reach.
But first the great Goddess spoke softly to the necromancer, wooing him with tender smiles in order to lure him out of the circle. She said: "Hail unto thee! I make humble obeisance before the dread names whereby thou hast commanded me to appear before thee. Come to me; for thou art truly great and I would bow before thee and serve thee for ever, oh wonderful mortal that shall be immortal by my side for all eternity if thus thou wilt. The magic of thy whispered word is greater than the tempest and thy mighty will more imperious than the tornado. Reign by my side . . . " But he interrupted her rudely and bade her in stern tones to enter the Pentacle and bide within until released. He was completely blind and deaf to her enchantments, as the adder is to mercy, and his appearance at that moment was more terrible than the dark abode of Eternal Death. A feeling of utter desolation shook Ruru, and it was as if the Pillars of the Universe and all the holy Obelisks lay shattered, and Eternity had lost its power of ever-being and ever-lasting Duration. The Internal Light seemed plunged into the confusion of Chaos, in which the stars had rushed together and were covered for evermore with the clouds of Sin. The glaring Eye of Shīva was wide open, and its Inner Fire ready to rush forth and slay . . . .
There was a deadly hush after the magician had spoken, and only the Voice of Silence wailed ominously—unheard, but discerned deep within the Soul, causing infinite pain. The quality of mercy and of goodness trembled within the Deeps of the heavens; but suddenly it was as if a clamorous command smote Ruru's inner ear, and lordly Eyes of holy Flame shone in the air, scornfully accusing him for his inaction. The current of Destiny broke from its iron prison-bed, rushed forth again in eager spate. Now was the time to smite and strike, and suddenly Ruru jumped up and fell upon the wizard, whose full attention was riveted upon the Goddess, and with a mighty grip Ruru clasped the talismanic belt and tore it from the wizard's waist, giving him at the same time a powerful kick, so that he was thrown violently without the magic circle while Ruru quickly girded himself with the belt and picked up the mystic wand, as well as the sword and knife which the necromancer had dropped within the circle in his fall.
Howling with glee, the whole demon horde made for the sorcerer who was unable without his belt, sword and wand to withstand them or return to the protection of the circle, from within which Ruru faced him with his own weapons, ready to strike if necessary. The wizard jumped up like a frightened cat and ran away as fast as he could, the whole pack at his heels. Before he could reach the wood, those gaunt hounds and monsters of hell overtook his fleeing form, and he dissolved into a smoking, slimy horror beneath their claws and fangs.
Like a fierce lioness the Goddess looked at Ruru and the babes for a few moments, but seeing that he was silent and sat there within that circle motionless with the two sleeping babes in his arms, she smiled grimly, re-ascended her golden chariot and drove away into the night.
The fires within the burning-ghat had died down once more; all the demons had departed, satisfied with their hideous capture, and slowly the now silent scene faded from Ruru's sight as he fell asleep in that arena of death; protected by the Gods of his Destiny.
*In India the Moon is both male and female.
Next: Chapter 7 — The Merchant
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