Fire of Beauty by L. Adams Beck
On a certain day found fortunate by the astrologers - a day of early winter, when the dawns were pure gold and the nights radiant with a cool moon - did a mighty troop of Moslems set their camp on the plain of Chitor. It was as if a city had blossomed in an hour. Those who looked from the walls muttered prayers to the Lord of the Trident; for these men seemed like the swarms of the locust - people, warriors all, fierce fighting-men. And in the ways of Chitor, and up the steep and winding causeway from the plains, were warriors also, the chosen of the Rajputs, thick as blades of corn hedging the path.
(Ahi! that the blossom of beauty should have swords for thorns!)
Then, leaving his camp, attended by many Chiefs, - may the mothers and sires that begot them be accursed! - came Allah-u-Din, riding toward the Lower Gate, and so upward along the causeway, between the two rows of men who neither looked nor spoke, standing like the carvings of war in the Caves of Ajunta. And the moon was rising through the sunset as he came beneath the last and seventh gate. Through the towers and palaces he rode with his following, but no woman, veiled or unveiled, - no, not even an outcast of the city, - was there to see him come; only the men, armed and silent. So he turned to Munim Khan that rode at his bridle, saying,-
"Let not the eye of watchfulness close this night on the pillow of forgetfulness!"
And thus he entered the palace.
Very great was the feast in Chitor, and the wines that those accursed should not drink (since the Outcast whom they call their Prophet forbade them) ran like water, and at the right hand of Allah-u-Din was set the great crystal Cup inlaid with gold by a craft that is now perished; and he filled and refilled it - may his own Prophet curse the swine!
But because the sons of Kings eat not with the outcasts, the Rana entered after, clothed in chain armor of blue steel, and having greeted him, bid him to the sight of that Treasure. And Allah-u-Din, his eyes swimming with wine, and yet not drunken, followed, and the two went alone.
Purdahs [curtains] of great splendour were hung in the great Hall that is called the Raja's Hall, exceeding rich with gold, and in front of the opening was a kneeling-cushion, and an a gold stool before it a polished mirror.
(Ahi! for gold and beauty, the scourges of the world!)
And the Rana was pale to the lips.
Now as the Princes stood by the purdah, a veiled woman, shrouded in white so that no shape could he seen in her, came forth from within, and kneeling upon the cushion, she unveiled her face bending until the mirror, like a pool of water, held it, and that only. And the King motioned his guest to look, and he looked over her veiled shoulder and saw. Very great was the bowed beauty that the mirror held, but Allah-u-Din turned to the Rana.
"By the Bread and the Salt, by the Guest-Right, by the Honour of thy House, I ask - is this the Treasure of Chitor?"
And since the Sun-Descended cannot lie, no, not though they perish, the Rana answered, flushing darkly, - "This is not the Treasure. Wilt thou spare?"
But he would not, and the woman slipped like a shadow behind the purdah and no word said.
Then was heard the tinkling of chooris, and the little noise fell upon the silence like a fear, and, parting the curtains, came a woman veiled like the other. She did not kneel, but took the mirror in her hand, and Allah-u-Din drew up behind her back. From her face she raised the veil of gold Dakka webs, and gazed into the mirror, holding it high, and that Accursed stumbled back, blinded with beauty, saying this only,- "I have seen the Treasure of Chitor."
So the purdah fell about her.
The next day, after the Imaum of the Accursed had called them to prayer, they departed, and Allah-u-Din, paying thanks to the Rana for honours given and taken, and swearing friendship, besought him to ride to his camp, to see the marvels of gold and steel armor brought down from the passes, swearing also safe-conduct. And because the Rajputs trust the word even of a foe, he went.
(A hi! that honour should strike hands with traitors!)