A Dreamer's Talesby Lord Dunsany / Fantasy
Produced by Clay Massei, Suzanne L. Shell, Charles Franksand the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
A DREAMER'S TALES
Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean
The Madness of Andelsprutz
Where the Tides Ebb and Flow
Idle Days on the Yann
The Sword and the Idol
The Idle City
The Hashish Man
Poor Old Bill
The Day of the Poll
The Unhappy Body
I hope for this book that it may come into the hands of those that werekind to my others and that it may not disappoint them.
POLTARNEES, BEHOLDER OF OCEAN
Toldees, Mondath, Arizim, these are the Inner Lands, the lands whosesentinels upon their borders do not behold the sea. Beyond them to theeast there lies a desert, for ever untroubled by man: all yellow it is,and spotted with shadows of stones, and Death is in it, like a leopardlying in the sun. To the south they are bounded by magic, to the west by amountain, and to the north by the voice and anger of the Polar wind. Likea great wall is the mountain to the west. It comes up out of the distanceand goes down into the distance again, and it is named Poltarnees,Beholder of Ocean. To the northward red rocks, smooth and bare of soil,and without any speck of moss or herbage, slope up to the very lips of thePolar wind, and there is nothing else there by the noise of his anger.Very peaceful are the Inner Lands, and very fair are their cities, andthere is no war among them, but quiet and ease. And they have no enemy butage, for thirst and fever lie sunning themselves out in the mid-desert,and never prowl into the Inner Lands. And the ghouls and ghosts, whosehighway is the night, are kept in the south by the boundary of magic. Andvery small are all their pleasant cities, and all men are known to oneanother therein, and bless one another by name as they meet in thestreets. And they have a broad, green way in every city that comes in outof some vale or wood or downland, and wanders in and out about the citybetween the houses and across the streets, and the people walk along itnever at all, but every year at her appointed time Spring walks along itfrom the flowery lands, causing the anemone to bloom on the green way andall the early joys of hidden woods, or deep, secluded vales, or triumphantdownlands, whose heads lift up so proudly, far up aloof from cities.
Sometimes waggoners or shepherds walk along this way, they that have comeinto the city from over cloudy ridges, and the townsmen hinder them not,for there is a tread that troubleth the grass and a tread that troublethit not, and each man in his own heart knoweth which tread he hath. And inthe sunlit spaces of the weald and in the wold's dark places, afar fromthe music of cities and from the dance of the cities afar, they make therethe music of the country places and dance the country dance. Amiable, nearand friendly appears to these men the sun, and as he is genial to them andtends their younger vines, so they are kind to the little woodland thingsand any rumour of the fairies or old legend. And when the light of somelittle distant city makes a slight flush upon the edge of the sky, and thehappy golden windows of the homesteads stare gleaming into the dark, thenthe old and holy figure of Romance, cloaked even to the face, comes downout of hilly woodlands and bids dark shadows to rise and dance, and sendsthe forest creatures forth to prowl, and lights in a moment in her bowerof grass the little glowworm's lamp, and brings a hush down over the greylands, and out of it rises faintly on far-off hills the voice of a lute.There are not in the world lands more prosperous and happy than Toldees,Mondath, Arizim.
From these three little kingdoms that are named the Inner Lands the youngmen stole constantly away. One by one they went, and no one knew why theywent save that they had a longing to behold the Sea. Of this longing theyspoke little, but a young man would become silent for a few days, andthen, one morning very early, he would slip away and slowly climbPoltarnee's difficult slope, and having attained the top pass over andnever return. A few stayed behind in the Inner Lands and became the oldmen, but none that had ever climbed Poltarnees from the very earliesttimes had ever come back again. Many had gone up Poltarnees sworn toreturn. Once a king sent all his courtiers, one by one, to report themystery to him, and then went himself; none ever returned.
Now, it was the wont of the folk of the Inner Lands to worship rumours andlegends of the Sea, and all that their prophets discovered of the Sea waswrit in a sacred book, and with deep devotion on days of festival ormourning read in the temples by the priests. Now, all their temples layopen to the west, resting upon pillars, that the breeze from the Sea mightenter them, and they lay open on pillars to the east that the breezes ofthe Sea might not be hindered by pass onward wherever the Sea list. Andthis is the legend that they had of the Sea, whom none in the Inner Landshad ever beholden. They say that the Sea is a river heading towardsHercules, and they say that he touches against the edge of the world, andthat Poltarnees looks upon him. They say that all the worlds of heaven gobobbing on this river and are swept down with the stream, and thatInfinity is thick and furry with forests through which the river in hiscourse sweeps on with all the worlds of heaven. Among the colossal trunksof those dark trees, the smallest fronds of whose branches are man nights,there walk the gods. And whenever its thirst, glowing in space like agreat sun, comes upon the beast, the tiger of the gods creeps down to theriver to drink. And the tiger of the gods drinks his fill loudly, whelmingworlds the while, and the level of the river sinks between its banks erethe beast's thirst is quenched and ceases to glow like a sun. And manyworlds thereby are heaped up dry and stranded, and the gods walk not amongthem evermore, because they are hard to their feet. These are the worldsthat have no destiny, whose people know no god. And the river sweepsonwards ever. And the name of the River is Oriathon, but men call itOcean. This is the Lower Faith of the Inner Lands. And there is a HigherFaith which is not told to all. Oriathon sweeps on through the forests ofInfinity and all at once falls roaring over an Edge, whence Time has longago recalled his hours to fight in his war with the gods; and falls unlitby the flash of nights and days, with his flood unmeasured by miles, intothe deeps of nothing.
Now as the centuries went by and the one way by which a man could climbPoltarnees became worn with feet, more and more men surmounted it, not toreturn. And still they knew not in the Inner Lands upon what mysteryPoltarnees looked. For on a still day and windless, while men walkedhappily about their beautiful streets or tended flocks in the country,suddenly the west wind would bestir himself and come in from the Sea. Andhe would come cloaked and grey and mournful and carry to someone thehungry cry of the Sea calling out for bones of men. And he that heard itwould move restlessly for some hours, and at last would rise suddenly,irresistibly up, setting his face to Poltarnees, and would say, as is thecustom of those lands when men part briefly, Till a man's heartremembereth, which means Farewell for a while; but those that lovedhim, seeing his eyes on Poltarnees, would answer sadly, Till the godsforget, which means Farewell.
Now the king of Arizim had a daughter who played with the wild woodflowers, and with the fountains in her father's court, and with the littleblue heaven-birds that came to her doorway in the winter to shelter fromthe snow. And she was more beautiful than the wild wood flowers, or thanall the fountains in her father's court, or than the blue heaven-birds intheir full winter plumage when they shelter from the snow. The old wisekings of Mondath and of Toldees saw her once as she went lightly down thelittle paths of her garden, and turning their gaze into the mists ofthought, pondered the destiny of their Inner Lands. And they watched herclosely by the stately flowers, and standing alone in the sunlight, andpassing and repassing the strutting purple birds that the king's fowlershad brought from Asagehon. When she was of the age of fifteen years theKing of Mondath called a council of kings. And there met with him thekings of Toldees and Arizim. And the King of Mondath in his Council said:
The call of the unappeased and hungry Sea (and at the word 'Sea' thethree kings bowed their heads) lures every year out of our happy kingdomsmore and more of our men, and still we know not the mystery of the Sea,and no devised oath has brought one man back. Now thy daughter, Arizim, islovelier than the sunlight, and lovelier than those stately flowers ofthine that stand so tall in her garden, and hath more grace and beautythan those strange birds that the venturous fowlers bring in creakingwagons out of Asagehon, whose feathers are alternate purple and white.Now, he that shall love thy daughter, Hilnaric, whoever he shall be, isthe man to climb Poltarnees and return, as none hath ever before, and tellus upon what Poltarnees looks; for it may be that they daughter is morebeautiful than the Sea.
Then from his Seat of Council arose the King of Arizim. He said: I fearthat thou hast spoken blasphemy against the Sea, and I have a dread thatill will come of it. Indeed I had not thought she was so fair. It is sucha short while ago that she was quite a small child with her hair stillunkempt and not yet attired in the manner of princesses, and she would goup into the wild woods unattended and come back with her robes unseemlyand all torn, and would not take reproof with a humble spirit, but madegrimaces even in my marble court all set about with fountains.
Then said the King of Toldees:
Let us watch more closely and let us see the Princess Hilnaric in theseason of the orchard-bloom when the great birds go by that know the Sea,to rest in our inland places; and if she be more beautiful than thesunrise over our folded kingdoms when all the orchards bloom, it may bethat she is more beautiful than the Sea.
And the King of Arizim said:
I fear this is terrible blasphemy, yet will I do as you have decided incouncil.
And the season of the orchard-bloom appeared. One night the King of Arizimcalled his daughter forth on his outer balcony of marble. And the moon wasrising huge and round and holy over dark woods, and all the fountains weresinging to the night. And the moon touched the marble palace gables, andthey glowed in the land. And the moon touched the heads of all thefountains, and the grey columns broke into fairy lights. And the moon leftthe dark ways of the forest and lit the whole white palace and itsfountains and shone on the forehead of the Princess, and the palace ofArizim glowed afar, and the fountains became columns of gleaming jewelsand song. And the moon made a music at its rising, but it fell a littleshort of mortal ears. And Hilnaric stood there wondering, clad in white,with the moonlight shining on her forehead; and watching her from theshadows on the terrace stood the kings of Mondath and Toldees. They said.
She is more beautiful than the moonrise. And the season of theorchard-bloom appeared. One night the King of Arizim called his daughterforth on his outer balcony of marble. And the moon was rising huge andround and holy over dark woods, and all the fountains were singing to thenight. And the moon touched the marble palace gables, and they glowed inthe land. And the moon touched the heads of all the fountains, and thegrey columns broke into fairy lights. And the moon left the dark ways ofthe forest and lit the whole white palace and its fountains and shone onthe forehead of the Princess, and the palace of Arizim glowed afar, andthe fountains became columns of gleaming jewels and song. And the moonmade a music at its rising, but it fell a little short of mortal ears. AndHilnaric stood there wondering, clad in white, with the moonlight shiningon her forehead; and watching her from the shadows on the terrace stoodthe kings of Mondath and Toldees. They said:
She is more beautiful than the moonrise. And on another day the King ofArizim bade his daughter forth at dawn, and they stood again upon thebalcony. And the sun came up over a world of orchards, and the sea-mistswent back over Poltarnees to the Sea; little wild voices arose in all thethickets, the voices of the fountains began to die, and the song arose, inall the marble temples, of the birds that are sacred to the Sea. AndHilnaric stood there, still glowing with dreams of heaven.
She is more beautiful, said the kings, than morning.
Yet one more trial they made of Hilnaric's beauty, for they watched her onthe terraces at sunset ere yet the petals of the orchards had fallen, andall along the edge of neighbouring woods the rhododendron was bloomingwith the azalea. And the sun went down under craggy Poltarnees, and thesea-mist poured over his summit inland. And the marble temples stood upclear in the evening, but films of twilight were drawn between themountain and the city. Then from the Temple ledges and eaves of palacesthe bats fell headlong downwards, then spread their wings and floated upand down through darkening ways; lights came blinking out in goldenwindows, men cloaked themselves against the grey sea-mist, the sound ofsmall songs arose, and the face of Hilnaric became a resting-place formysteries and dreams.
Than all these things, said the kings, she is more lovely: but who cansay whether she is lovelier than the Sea?
Prone in a rhododendron thicket at the edge of the palace lawns a hunterhad waited since the sun went down. Near to him was a deep pool where thehyacinths grew and strange flowers floated upon it with broad leaves; andthere the great bull gariachs came down to drink by starlight; and,waiting there for the gariachs to come, he saw the white form of thePrincess leaning on her balcony. Before the stars shone out or the bullscame down to drink he left his lurking-place and moved closer to thepalace to see more nearly the Princess. The palace lawns were full ofuntrodden dew, and everything was still when he came across them, holdinghis great spear. In the farthest corner of the terraces the three oldkings were discussing the beauty of Hilnaric and the destiny of the InnerLands. Moving lightly, with a hunter's tread, the watcher by the pool camevery near, even in the still evening, before the Princess saw him. When hesaw her closely he exclaimed suddenly:
She must be more beautiful than the Sea.
When the Princess turned and saw his garb and his great spear she knewthat he was a hunter of gariachs.
When the three kings heard the young man exclaim they said softly to oneanother:
This must be the man.
Then they revealed themselves to him, and spoke to him to try him. Theysaid:
Sir, you have spoken blasphemy against the Sea.
And the young man muttered:
She is more beautiful than the Sea.
And the kings said:
We are older than you and wiser, and know that nothing is more beautifulthan the Sea.
And the young man took off the gear of his head, and became downcast, andhe knew that he spake with kings, yet he answered:
By this spear, she is more beautiful than the Sea.
And all the while the Princess stared at him, knowing him to be a hunterof gariachs.
Then the king of Arizim said to the watcher by the pool:
If thou wilt go up Poltarnees and come back, as none have come, andreport to us what lure or magic is in the Sea, we will pardon thyblasphemy, and thou shalt have the Princess to wife and sit among theCouncil of Kings.
And gladly thereunto the young man consented. And the Princess spoke tohim, and asked him his name. And he told her that his name was Athelvok,and great joy arose in him at the sound of her voice. And to the threekings he promised to set out on the third day to scale the slope ofPoltarnees and to return again, and this was the oath by which they boundhim to return:
I swear by the Sea that bears the worlds away, by the river of Oriathon,which men call Ocean, and by the gods and their tiger, and by the doom ofthe worlds, that I will return again to the Inner Lands, having beheld theSea.
And that oath he swore with solemnity that very night in one of thetemples of the Sea, but the three kings trusted more to the beauty ofHilnaric even than to the power of the oath.
The next day Athelvok came to the palace of Arizim with the morning, overthe fields to the East and out of the country of Toldees, and Hilnariccame out along her balcony and met him on the terraces. And she asked himif he had ever slain a gariach, and he said that he had slain three, andthen he told her how he had killed his first down by the pool in the wood.For he had taken his father's spear and gone down to the edge of the pool,and had lain under the azaleas there waiting for the stars to shine, bywhose first light the gariachs go to the pools to drink; and he had gonetoo early and had had long to wait, and the passing hours seemed longerthan they were. And all the birds came in that home at night, and the batwas abroad, and the hour of the duck went by, and still no gariach camedown to the pool; and Athelvok felt sure that none would come. And just asthis grew to a certainty in his mind the thicket parted noiselessly and ahuge bull gariach stood facing him on the edge of the water, and his greathorns swept out sideways from his head, and at the ends curved upwards,and were four strides in width from tip to tip. And he had not seenAthelvok, for the great bull was on the far side of the little pool, andAthelvok could not creep round to him for fear of meeting the wind (forthe gariachs, who can see little in the dark forests, rely on hearing andsmell). But he devised swiftly in his mind while the bull stood there withhead erect just twenty strides from him across the water. And the bullsniffed the wind cautiously and listened, then lowered his great head downto the pool and drank. At that instant Athelvok leapt into the water andshot forward through its weedy depths among the stems of the strangeflowers that floated upon broad leaves on the surface. And Athelvok kepthis spear out straight before him, and the fingers of his left hand heheld rigid and straight, not pointing upwards, and so did not come to thesurface, but was carried onward by the strength of his spring and passedunentangled through the stems of the flowers. When Athelvok jumped intothe water the bull must have thrown his head up, startled at the splash,then he would have listened and have sniffed the air, and neither hearingnor scenting any danger he must have remained rigid for some moments, forit was in that attitude that Athelvok found him as he emerged breathlessat his feet. And, striking at once, Athelvok drove the spear into histhroat before the head and the terrible horns came down. But Athelvok hadclung to one of the great horns, and had been carried at terrible speedthrough the rhododendron bushes until the gariach fell, but rose at onceagain, and died standing up, still struggling, drowned in its own blood.
But to Hilnaric listening it was as though one of the heroes of old timehad come back again in the full glory of his legendary youth.
And long time they went up and down the terraces, saying those thingswhich were said before and since, and which lips shall yet be made to sayagain. And above them stood Poltarnees beholding the Sea.
And the day came when Athelvok should go. And Hilnaric said to him:
Will you not indeed most surely come back again, having just looked overthe summit of Poltarnees?
Athelvok answered: I will indeed come back, for thy voice is morebeautiful than the hymn of the priests when they chant and praise the Sea,and though many tributary seas ran down into Oriathon and he and all theothers poured their beauty into one pool below me, yet would I returnswearing that thou were fairer than they.
And Hilnaric answered:
The wisdom of my heart tells me, or old knowledge or prophecy, or somestrange lore, that I shall never hear thy voice again. And for this I givethee my forgiveness.
But he, repeating the oath that he had sworn, set out, looking oftenbackwards until the slope became to step and his face was set to the rock.It was in the morning that he started, and he climbed all the day withlittle rest, where every foot-hole was smooth with many feet. Before hereached the top the sun disappeared from him, and darker and darker grewthe Inner Lands. Then he pushed on so as to see before dark whatever thingPoltarnees had to show. The dusk was deep over the Inner Lands, and thelights of cities twinkled through the sea-mist when he came toPoltarnees's summit, and the sun before him was not yet gone from the sky.
And there below him was the old wrinkled Sea, smiling and murmuring song.And he nursed little ships with gleaming sails, and in his hands were oldregretted wrecks, and mast all studded over with golden nails that he hadrent in anger out of beautiful galleons. And the glory of the sun wasamong the surges as they brought driftwood out of isles of spice, tossingtheir golden heads. And the grey currents crept away to the south likecompanionless serpents that love something afar with a restless, deadlylove. And the whole plain of water glittering with late sunlight, and thesurges and the currents and the white sails of ships were all togetherlike the face of a strange new god that has looked at a man for the firsttime in the eyes at the moment of his death; and Athelvok, looking on thewonderful Sea, knew why it was that the dead never return, for there issomething that the dead feel and know, and the living would neverunderstand even though the dead should come and speak to them about it.And there was the Sea smiling at him, glad with the glory of the sun. Andthere was a haven there for homing ships, and a sunlit city stood upon itsmarge, and people walked about the streets of it clad in the unimaginedmerchandise of far sea-bordering lands.
An easy slope of loose rock went from the top of Poltarnees to the shoreof the Sea.
For a long while Athelvok stood there regretfully, knowing that there hadcome something into his soul that no one in the Inner Lands couldunderstand, where the thoughts of their minds had gone no farther than thethree little kingdoms. Then, looking long upon the wandering ships, andthe marvelous merchandise from alien lands, and the unknown colour thatwreathed the brows of the Sea, he turned his face to the darkness and theInner Lands.
At that moment the Sea sang a dirge at sunset for all the harm that he haddone in anger and all the ruin wrought on adventurous ships; and therewere tears in the voice of the tyrannous Sea, for he had loved thegalleons that he had overwhelmed, and he called all men to him and allliving things that he might make amends, because he had loved the bonesthat he had strewn afar. And Athelvok turned and set one foot upon thecrumbled slope, and then another, and walked a little way to be nearer tothe Sea, and then a dream came upon him and he felt that men had wrongedthe lovely Sea because he had been angry a little, because he had beensometimes cruel; he felt that there was trouble among the tides of the Seabecause he had loved the galleons who were dead. Still he walked on andthe crumbled stones rolled with him, and just as the twilight faded and astar appeared he came to the golden shore, and walked on till the surgeswere about his knees, and he heard the prayer-like blessings of the Sea.Long he stood thus, while the stars came out above him and shone again inthe surges; more stars came wheeling in their courses up from the Sea,lights twinkled out through all the haven city, lanterns were slung fromthe ships, the purple night burned on; and Earth, to the eyes of the godsas they sat afar, glowed as with one flame. Then Athelvok went into thehaven city; there he met many who had left the Inner Lands before him;none of them wished to return to the people who had not seen the Sea; manyof them had forgotten the three little kingdoms, and it was rumoured thatone man, who had once tried to return, had found the shifting, crumbledslope impossible to climb.
Hilnaric never married. But her dowry was set aside to build a templewherein men curse the ocean.
Once every year, with solemn rite and ceremony, they curse the tides ofthe Sea; and the moon looks in and hates them.