On leaving my farm home that morning, I had told my mother all that had transpired, and said that she should have an escort to the palace, whither, after my recent change of fortune, I expected her to go and live, in accordance with the instructions of Menax.
What an anomalous position was this. Here was I, son by adoption of one of the Imperial Princes, and by virtue of being recognized brother of his daughter, Anzimee, I was a nephew of my sister's uncle, Rai Gwauxln. Yet my mother. was not related to any of these royalties, and had seen none of them, except the Rai, often enough to enable her to be sure of recognition should she meet them again. But I rejoiced when I thought of the opportunities she would presently have of more intimate acquaintanceship.
Having sent the promised excort for her, what was my surprise on returning to the palace, at learning from my father that instead of coming she had sent a message in writing. I hastily broke the seal and read, in her fine Poseidic chirography, the simple command:
"Zailm, come to me.
I went. Somehow an icy feeling of apprehension was about my heart, a presentiment of something harrowing. When I arrived at the house, my mother, looking, as I thought, rather pale, said:
"My son, I cannot go to the palace. I have no desire to do so. I am overjoyed at thy success in life; live then, in thy high place. I may not go with thee. Thou art easy in the midst of noble society, I could never be so. Perhaps thou wilt say that for me thou wilt give it up and remain with me. Do not do so. Lest thou feel thus, it is best that thou shouldst endure the pain of knowledge now rather than hereafter. Listen: I have cared for thee during the years of infancy and boyhood, and seen thee arrive at man's estate. Thou needest not this care now. I will go back to the home of the mountains."
"Mother, talk not so!" I interrupted.
"Hear me through, Zailm! I will go back to the mountains with my husband, he whom thou knowest not, a good man, a lover ere I married thy father, and whom, having wedded this morning, the notice of it hath doubtless by this time been published abroad. An Incala who came past very opportunely, performed the simple ceremony. My other husband, thy father, I loved not, but did detest, for it was a marriage arranged by my parents against my will, but alas! with my consent, fool that I was to give it! Thou art the fruit of that union, and to me came unwished. For thy father was disliked, abhorred, but dying, left you heritor, not of my dislike, that were too unjust, but, must I say it?--an object of indifference. I have not been a lacking mother, for, as a matter of pride, I concealed my feelings. In a way I even love thee; I love my friends; 'tis nothing deeper. I have now to bid thee good-bye, having said which it is necessary to--"
I heard no more, for I had fallen unconscious upon the floor. Was this the mother I had idolized? For whom I had striven so hard in the earlier years and later, in Caiphul, ere a new object to work for arose and led me thenceforth with greater
determination in the form of a double ideal, love of mother and love of Anzimee" O Incal! My God! O my God!
At last I came out of the horrid dream into which, without regaining consciousness after my swoon, I had passed, a heated nightmare of brain fever.
As I uttered the loved word, Astika Menax, who sat by my bedside, turned away, his eyes brimming with tears.
"Nay, Zailm, be not troubled! Thou hast been ill near unto death with brain fever these two weeks. I will tell thee all, to-morrow, perhaps. Thou camest very close to going to await me in the Shadowy Land; but not long wouldst thou have had to wait, my light, for it would have been but a little while ere I rejoined thee, lad!"
The story is not long. My mother, being told that good care should aid her in nursing me, said that she would not remain at all, as she doubted not that the skilled care of Menax's private physician could do as well, or better, for me than she. Wherefore she had gone with her husband to their mountain home. From the hour in which Menax told me this, at the cost of much pain to himself, the subject was dropped, and never again referred to by any one.
Once, when I went near to the place of my birth, and sent a messenger to ask if I was welcome, he came back to my vailx and said that a man met him at the door. To him the message was given, and he said: "Say to thy master that my wife bids him come." I went, but could see that she would rather I had not come. She gave me her hand, but did not offer to kiss me, as a mother is wont to do. Her manner--but spare me details of this last meeting and last time I ever saw my Poseid mother. She acted wisely in not going to the palace, constituted as she was; it is a painful subject; let it be dropped.
As soon as my health permitted me to go on my mission to Suernis, which was not until the new year had begun at the Xioquithlon, from attendance at which the Xiorain forbade
me until the next year, Prince Menax took me to his private office.
"The Xiorain has ordered wisely," said Menax. "Oh! these younger minds, they are full of promise for the future! No scheme was ever better than this in which the students govern themselves, and on all questions concerning educational matters, even to the distribution and use of the educational funds provided by the government and the selection of tutors, their word is law."
On the table in Menax's office stood a lovely vase of malleable glass, into which, while fused, powder of gold, silver and other colored metals were mixed, together with certain chemicals which rendered the whole of various degrees of translucency, from nearly opaque to perfect transparency, the various range affecting the metals as well as the glass, and appearing in different parts of the same object. The beauty was not second to the value of the costly product. Menax pointed to the tall vase, and I read upon it this inscription, formed with rubies:
"To Ernon, Rai of Suern, I, Gwauxln, Rai of Poseid, return this in token of thy appreciation of the Poseidi."
If any reader desires to see a facsimile of the original legend in Poseid chirography, the desire is here granted:
Turning from the vase, I asked:
"When shall I go upon this mission, my father?"
"As early as health and convenience permit, Zailm."
"Then be it the day after the morrow."
"'Tis well. Take any company thou mayst choose. There are none who cannot get leave of absence from the Xiorain, I think, shouldst thou wish fellow students for companions; at least they can probably obtain a vacation of a month, and thou wilt scarcely care to stay longer than thirty-three days. Take also this signet ring, whereby I delegate
thee my deputy, being confident of thy discretion in its use; its powers are those of Minister of Foreign Business. And take escort of courtiers, also."
To this I replied that I would not take a retinue, such as a staff of officers, since from the story of Astiku Lolix, I judged Rai Ernon to be one who would look with scorn upon such a useless appanage. This pleased Menax greatly, and he proudly said:
"Zailm, thy language pleases me! I see thou art wisely politic, and dost consider well the probable idiosyncrasies of those with whom thou hast dealings."
During my illness Anzimee had shown much solicitude, and as I learned from the regular nurses, all the while I was outside the realm of consciousness, she had permitted no one else to care for me except when she was utterly fatigued, and not long then. As I convalesced, her presence was not bestowed upon me except at intervals. I took advantage of one of these visits to let her know that I was aware of her kindness during my delirium. She flushed, then said:
"Thou knowest that I am studying the science of therapy; what better chance to experiment could an eager student have than thou didst furnish me?"
"Yea, verily," I answered, but felt that there was a deeper reason than the experimental proclivity, and that the indulgence in the latter was extremely, lovingly cautious!
To Anzimee I outlined a plan for getting the greatest possible amount of pleasure from my trip, after the state business at Ganje, the capital city of Suernis, should have been attended to. It was three years since I had been away from Caiphul to any greater distance than going to Marzeus involved. I showed her the route I purposed to take; together we scanned the map, and I pointed out that from Caiphul on the extreme western cape of Poseid, my course would be east by north across the continent, the intervening ocean beyond it and between that point and further land. Then still on east across the country of Necropan, which country, now called Egypt, Abyssinia, etc., then embraced the entire continent of Africa,
one government similar to that of Suern, and was inhabited by a people of kindred powers, but not nearly so far advanced.
Africa was then not more than half its present size, while Suernis, which also embraced all of Asia, was much different from what it is to-day, but was a name more distinctive of the peninsula of Hindustan. Leaving Necropan, the route would be across the sea to India, or, as we knew the names, across the "Waters of Light" (in reference to their phosphorescence) to Suernis. From Ganje, capital of Suernis, our course was still eastward across the Pacific ocean, as it is now named, to our colonies in America, called "Incalia" by us, because in that far antipodal land, the Sun, Incal, was fabled as making his bed by that epic heretofore mentioned as the basis of Atlan folklore.
From Southern Incalia, (modern Sonora) I intended to go northwards and skim hastily over the desolate ice-fields of the arctic regions. What is now Idaho and Montana, Dakota, Minnesota, and the Dominion of Canada were then covered with vast glaciers, the rear-guard of the glacial epoch, which was slowly retreating, very slowly, even in so late a day, geologically speaking, as the days of Atl, reluctant to end its frigid reign. The trip could thus be made to afford novel and pleasing contrasts-tropical, semi-tropical, temperate and frigid.
"Would our father object to my going also, Zailm?" asked Anzimee, wistfully. "I have not been away from Caiphul in five years.
"Indeed, no, little girl. He bade me invite whomsoever should please me, and I know of no person who doth please me more than thou. I have already asked a goodly company of our common friends."
So Anzimee went also. When everything was arranged, our party consisted of nearly a score of young people congenial to, each other, a couple of officers of the staff of Menax, with
the necessary servitors and conveniences for a month's absence. Our vailx was of the middle traffic-size, these vessels being made in four standard lengths: number one, about twenty-five feet; number two, eighty feet; number three, something like one hundred and fifty-five feet, while the largest was yet two hundred feet longer than the third size. These long spindles were in fact round, hollow needles of aluminum, formed of an outer and an inner shell between which were many thousands of double T braces, an arrangement productive of intense rigidity and strength. All the partitions made other braces of additional resistant force. From amidships the vessels tapered toward either end to sharp points. Most vailxi were provided with an arrangement allowing, when desired, an open promenade deck at one end. Windows of crystal, of enormous resistant strength, were in rows like portholes along the sides, a few on top, and others set in the floor, thus affording a view in all directions. I might mention that the vailx which I had selected for our vacation trip was fifteen feet and seven inches in its greatest diameter.
At the appointed time (the first hour of the third day, as agreed with Menax) my invited guests assembled at the palace, from the roof of which we were to take our departure. How careful I was of my lovely sister, and how proud of her beauty.
The princess Lolix, whom we had ever treated as a guest at Menaxithlon, came up to the platform where the ship lay, curious to see our preparations for departure. It seemed ever new to her to behold an aerial vessel leave terra firma. Not that anything of her wonder was expressed; she made it a point of pride to appear surprised at nothing, however novel or marvelous it might really be to her experience. Indeed, hers was a calm, even temperament, not easily aroused. I had not, in the five or six weeks since hearing her story, again seen her exhibit so much of any sort of emotion as she had that evening when I had observed that my attentions to Anzimee disturbed the Saldu, and I knew that the effect must be deep because of her inability to keep its appearance wholly secret.
Considering that we were bound for Suernis, Lolix was not invited to go, as she otherwise might have been. But I did not forget to bid her a cordial and respectful farewell.
The current keys were set, and, just as the vailx trembled slightly ere leaving the roof, Menax sprang upon the deck, thereby considerably astonishing me, for I had no idea that he intended accompanying us. In reality he did not, but to. all questions he preserved a smiling silence.
Long as was our silver-white spindle, we had soon risen so high as to make us seem a mere speck to people on the earth beneath. Then for half an hour we flew at moderate speed through the high abyss, when a young lady called attention to an approaching vailx, following in our wake. Prince Menax, seated in a deck chair by my side, looked over the rail at the surface, more than two miles beneath, then he drew his heavy fur cape more closely about his shoulders, looked back over the hundred miles, more or less, of our course already covered in the half hour, and remarked that the other vailx was rapidly gaming on us.
"Shall I give orders to the vailx-man to increase speed, that we may enjoy a race?" I asked of the company, which clad in arctic clothing, was occupying the passing time in sightseeing round about us on the open deck.
"Nay, not so, my son," said Menax.
I said no more, for it at that moment dawned upon me that the pursuer followed us by the prince's order.
Menax now arose, bade the company good-bye and a pleasant trip, and then, Anzimee having arisen also, he put his arm about her and came back to me. As I stood up he passed his disengaged arm around me and thus we stood for some moments. Then releasing us, he ordered the two deckmen to throw grapples across to the other vessel, which at that moment grated alongside. The next instant he stepped on board the other vailx and signed to loose grapples. Thus we parted, high above the green earth, two miles beneath, he to return, we to go onwards.