Fire of Beauty by L. Adams Beck
So the time went by and the beauty of the Queen grew, and her King could see none but hers. Like the moon she obscured the stars, and every day he remembered her wisdom, her valour, and his soul did homage at her feet, and there was great content in Chitor.
It chanced one day that the Queen, looking from her high window that like an eagle's nest overhung the precipice, saw, on the plain beneath, a train of men, walking like ants, and each carried a basket on his back, and behind them was a cloud of dust like a great army. Already the city was astir because of this thing, and the rumours came thick and the spies were sent out.
In the dark they returned, and the Rana entered the bower of Padmini, his eyes burning like coal with hate and wrath, and he flung his arm round his wife like a shield.
"He is returned, and in power. Counsel me again, O wife, for great is thy wisdom!"
But she answered only this,-
"Fight, for this time it is to the death."
Then each day she watched bow the baskets of earth, emptied upon the plain at first, made nothing, an ant heap whereat fools might laugh. But each day as the trains of men came, spilling their baskets, the great earthworks grew and their height mounted. Day after day the Rajputs rode forth and slew; and as they slew it seemed that all the teeming millions of the earth came forth to take the places of the slain. And the Rajputs fell also, and under the pennons the thundering forces returned daily, thinned of their best.
(A hi! that Evil rules the world as God!)
And still the earth grew up to the heights, and the protection of the hills was slowly withdrawn from Chitor, for on the heights they made they set their engines of war.
Then in a red dawn that great saint Narayan came to the Queen, where she watched by her window, and spoke.
"O great lady, I have dreamed a fearful dream. Nay, rather have I seen a vision."
With her face set like a sword, the Queen said,-
"In a light red like blood, I waked, and beside me stood the Mother, - Durga, - awful to see, with a girdle of heads about her middle; and the drops fell thick and slow from That which she held in her hand, and in the other was her sickle of Doom. Nor did she speak, but my soul heard her words."
"She commanded: `Say this to the Rana: "In Chitor is My altar; in Chitor is thy throne. If thou wouldest save either, send forth twelve crowned Kings of Chitor to die.'"
As he said this, the Rana, fore-spent with fighting, entered and heard the Divine word.
Now there were twelve princes of the Rajput blood, and the youngest was the son of Padmini. What choice had these most miserable but to appease the dreadful anger of the Goddess? So on each fourth day a King of Chitor was crowned, and for three days sat upon the throne, and on the fourth day, set in the front, went forth and died fighting. So perished eleven Kings of Chitor, and now there was left but the little Ajeysi, the son of the Queen.
And that day was a great Council called.
Few were there. On the plains many lay dead; holding the gates many watched; but the blood was red in their hearts and flowed like Indus in the melting of the snows. And to them spoke the Rana, his hand clenched on his sword, and the other laid on the small dark head of the Prince Ajeysi, who stood between his knees. And as he spoke his voice gathered strength till it rang through the hall like the voice of Indra when he thunders in the heavens.
"Men of the Rajputs, this child shall not die. Are we become jackals that we fall upon the weak and tear them? When have we put our women and children in the forefront of the war? I - I only am King of Chitor. Narayan shall save this child for the time that will surely come. And for us - what shall we do? I die for Chitor!"
And like the hollow waves of a great sea they answered him,-
"We will die for Chitor."
There was silence and Marwar spoke.
"Do they not know the duty of a Rajputni?" said the King. "My household has demanded that the caves be prepared."
And the men clashed stew joy with their swords, and the council dispersed.
Then that very great saint, the Twice-Born, put off the sacred thread that is the very soul of the Brahman. In his turban he wound it secretly, and he stained his noble Aryan body until it resembled the Pariahs, foul for the pure to see, loathsome for the pure to touch, and he put on him the rags of the lowest of the earth, and taking the Prince, he removed from the body of the child every trace of royal and Rajput birth, and he appeared like a child of the Bhils - the vile forest wanderers that shame not to defile their lips with carrion. And in this guise they stood before the Queen; and when she looked on the saint, the tears fell from her eyes like rain, not for grief for her son, nor for death, but that for their sake the pure should be made impure and the glory of the Brahman-hood be defiled. And she fell at the old man's feet and laid her head on the ground before him.
"Rise, daughter!" he said, "and take comfort! Are not the eyes of the Gods clear that they should distinguish? - and this day we stand before the God of Gods. Have not the Great Ones said, `That which causes life causes also decay and death'? Therefore we who go and you who stay are alike a part of the Divine. Embrace now your child and bless him, for we depart. And it is on account of the sacrifice of the Twelve that he is saved alive."
So, controlling her tears, she rose, and clasping the child to her bosom, she bade him be of good cheer since he went with the Gods. And that great saint took his hand from hers, and for the first time in the life of the Queen he raised his aged eyes to her face, and she gazed at him; but what she read, even the ascetic Visravas, who saw all by the power of his yoga, could not tell, for it was beyond speech. Very certainly the peace thereafter possessed her.
So those two went out by the secret ways of the rocks, and wandering far, were saved by the favour of Durga.