Fire of Beauty by L. Adams Beck
The hours went by, heavy-footed like mourners. Padmini the Rani knelt by the window in her tower that overlooks the plains. Motionless she knelt there, as the Goddess Uma lost in her penances, and she saw her Lord ride forth, and the sparkle of steel where the sun shone on them, and the Standard of the Cold Disk on its black ground. So the camp of the Moslem swallowed them up, and they returned no more. Still she knelt and none dared speak with her; and as the first shade of evening fell across the hills of Rajasthan, she saw a horseman spurting over the flat; and he rode like the wind, and, seeing, she implored the Gods.
Then entered the Twice-Born, that saint of clear eyes, and he bore a scroll; and she rose and seated herself, and he stood by her, as her ladies cowered like frightened doves before the woe in his face as he read.
"To the Rose of Beauty, The Pearl among Women, the Chosen of the Palace. Who, having seen thy loveliness, can look on another? Who, having tasted the wine of the Houris, but thirsts forever? Behold, I have thy King as hostage. Come thou and deliver him. I have sworn that he shall return in thy place."
And from a smaller scroll, the Brahman read this:-
"I am fallen in the snare. Act thou as becomes a Rajputni."
Then that Daughter of the Sun lifted her head, for the thronging of armed feet was heard in the Council Hall below. From the floor she caught her veil and veiled herself in haste, and the Brahman with bowed head followed, while her women mourned aloud. And, descending, between the folds of the purdah she appeared white and veiled, and the Brahman beside her, and the eyes of all the Princes were lowered to her shrouded feet, while the voice they had not heard fell silvery upon the air, and the echoes of the high roof repeated it.
"Chief of the Rajputs, what is your counsel?" And he of Marwar stepped forward, and not rais- ing his eyes above her feet, answered,-
"Queen, what is thine?"
For the Rajputs have ever heard the voice of their women.
And she said,-
"I counsel that I die and my head be sent to him, that my blood may quench his desire."
And each talked eagerly with the other, but amid the tumult the Twice-Born said,-
"This is not good talk. In his rage he will slay the King. By my yoga, I have seen it. Seek another way."
So they sought, but could determine nothing, and they feared to ride against the dog, for he held the life of the King; and the tumult was great, but all were for the King's safety.
Then once more she spoke.
"Seeing it is determined that the King's life is more than my honour, I go this night. In your hand I leave my little son, the Prince Ajeysi. Prepare my litters, seven hundred of the best, for all my women go with me. Depart now, for I have a thought from the Gods."
Then, returning to her bower, she spoke this letter to the saint, and he wrote it, and it was sent to the camp.
After salutations - "Wisdom and strength have attained their end. Have ready for release the Rana of Chitor, for this night I come with my ladies, the prize of the conqueror."
When the sun sank, a great procession with torches descended the steep way of Chitor - seven hundred litters, and in the first was borne the Queen, and all her women followed.
All the streets were thronged with women, weeping and beating their breasts. Very greatly they wept, and no men were seen, for their livers were black within them for shame as the Treasure of Chitor departed, nor would they look upon the sight. And across the plains went that procession; as if the stars had fallen upon the earth, so glittered the sorrowful lights of the Queen.
But in the camp was great rejoicing, for the Barbarians knew that many fair women attended on her.
Now, before the entrance to the camp they had made a great shamiana [tent] ready, hung with shawls of Kashmir and the plunder of Delhi; and there was set a silk divan for the Rani, and beside it stood the Loser and the Gainer, Allah-u-Din and the King, awaiting the Treasure.
Veiled she entered, stepping proudly, and taking no heed of the Moslem, she stood before her husband, and even through the veil he could feel the eyes he knew.
And that Accursed spoke, laughing.
"I have won-I have won, O King! Bid farewell to the Chosen of the Palace - the Beloved of the Viceregent of Kings!"
Then she spoke softly, delicately, in her own tongue, that the outcast should not guess the matter of her speech.
"Stand by me. Stir not. And when I raise my arm, cry the cry of the Rajputs. NOW!"
And she flung her arm above her head, and instantly, like a lion roaring, he shouted, drawing his sword, and from every litter sprang an armed man, glittering in steel, and the bearers, humble of mien, were Rajput knights, every one.
And Allah-u-Din thrust at the breast of the Queen; but around them surged the war, and she was hedged with swords like a rose in the thickets.
Very full of wine, dull with feasting and lust and surprised, the Moslems fled across the plains, streaming in a broken rabble, cursing and shouting like low-caste women; and the Rajputs, wiping their swords, returned from the pursuit and laughed upon each other.
But what shall be said of the joy of the King and of her who had imagined this thing, in- structed of the Goddess who is the other half of her Lord?
So the procession returned, singing, to Chitor with those Two in the midst; but among the dogs that fled was Allah-u-Din, his face blackened with shame and wrath, the curses choking in his foul throat.
(Aid! that the evil still walk the ways of the world!)