Fire of Beauty by L. Adams Beck
And the nights went by and the days, and the time came that no longer could they hold Chitor, and all hope was dead.
On a certain day the Rana and the Rani stood for the last time in her bower, and looked down into the city; and in the streets were gathered in a very wonderful procession the women of Chitor; and not one was veiled. Flowers that had bloomed in the inner chambers, great ladies jewelled for a festival, young brides, aged mothers, and girl children clinging to the robes of their mothers who held their babes, crowded the ways. Even the low-caste women walked with measured steps and proudly, decked in what they had of best, their eyes lengthened with soorma, and flowers in the darkness of their hair.
The Queen was clothed in a gold robe of rejoicing, her bodice latticed with diamonds and great gems, and upon her bosom the necklace of table emeralds, alight with green fire, which is the jewel of the Queens of Chitor. So she stood radiant as a vision of Shri, and it appeared that rays encircled her person.
And the Rana, unarmed save for his sword, had the saffron dress of a bridegroom and the jeweled cap of the Rajput Kings, and below in the hall were the Princes and Chiefs, clad even as he.
Then, raising her lotus eyes to her lord, the Princess said,-
"Beloved, the time is come, and we have chosen rightly, for this is the way of honour, and it is but another link forged in the chain of existence; for until existence itself is ended and rebirth destroyed, still shall we meet in lives to come and still be husband and wife. What room then for despair?"
And he answered,-
"This is true. Go first, wife, and I follow. Let not the door swing to behind thee. But oh, to see thy beauty once more that is the very speech of Gods with men! Wilt thou surely come again to me and again be fair?"
And for all answer she smiled upon him, and at his feet performed the obeisance of the Rajput wife when she departs upon a journey; and they went out together, the Queen unveiled.
As she passed through the Princes, they lowered their eyes so that none saw her; but when she stood on the steps of the palace, the women all turned eagerly toward her like stars about the moon, and lifting their arms, they began to sing the dirge of the Rajput women.
So they marched, and in great companies they marched, company behind company, young and old, past the Queen, saluting her and drawing courage from the loveliness and kindness of her unveiled face.
In the rocks beneath the palaces of Chitor are very great caves - league long and terrible, with ways of darkness no eyes have seen; and it is believed that in times past spirits have haunted them with strange wailings. In these was prepared great store of wood and oils and fragrant matters for burning. So to these caves they marched and, company by company, disappeared into the darkness; and the voice of their singing grew faint and hollow, and died away, as the men stood watching their women go.
Now, when this was done and the last had gone, the Rani descended the steps, and the Rana, taking a torch dipped in fragrant oils, followed her, and the Princes walked after, clad like bridegrooms but with no faces of bridal joy. At the entrance of the caves, having lit the torch, he gave it into her hand, and she, receiving it and smiling, turned once upon the threshold, and for the first time those Princes beheld the face of the Queen, but they hid their eyes with their hands when they had seen. So she departed within, and the Rana shut to the door and barred and bolted it, and the men with him flung down great rocks before it so that none should know the way, nor indeed is it known to this day; and with their hands on their swords they waited there, not speaking, until a great smoke rose between the crevices of the rocks, but no sound at all.
(Ashes of roses - ashes of roses! . . Ahi! for beauty that is but touched and remitted!)
The sun was high when those men with their horses and on foot marched down the winding causeway beneath the seven gates, and so forth into the plains, and charging unarmed upon the Moslems, they perished every man. After, it was asked of one who had seen the great slaughter,-
"Say how my King bore himself."
And he who had seen told this:-
"Reaper of the harvest of battle, on the bed of honour he has spread a carpet of the slain! He sleeps ringed about by his enemies. How can the world tell of his deeds? The tongue is silent."
When that Accursed, Allah-u-Din, came up the winding height of the hills, he found only a dead city, and his heart was sick within him.
Now this is the Sack of Chitor, and by the Oath of the Sack of Chitor do the Rajputs swear when they bind their honour.
But it is only the ascetic Visravas who by the power of his yoga has heard every word, and with his eyes beheld that Flame of Beauty, who, for a brief space illuminating the world as a Queen, returns to birth in many a shape of sorrowful loveliness until the Blue-throated God shall in his favour destroy her rebirths.
Salutation to Ganesa the Elephant-Headed One, and to Shri the Lady of Beauty!