The book of wonder, p.1
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       The Book of Wonder, p.1

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The Book of Wonder

  Produced by Suzanne Shell, Charles Bidwell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team.




  Preface The Bride of the Man-Horse Distressing Tale of Thangobrind The Jeweller The House of the Sphinx Probable Adventure of the Three Literary Men The Injudicious Prayers of Pombo the Idolater The Loot of Bombasharna Miss Cubbidge and the Dragon Of Romance The Quest of the Queen's Tears The Hoard of the Gibbelins How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon the Gnoles How One Came, As Was Foretold, to the City Of Never The Coronation of Mr. Thomas Shap Chu-Bu and Sheemish The Wonderful Window Epilogue


  Come with me, ladies and gentlemen who are in any wise weary ofLondon: come with me: and those that tire at all of the world we know:for we have new worlds here.


  In the morning of his two hundred and fiftieth year Shepperalk thecentaur went to the golden coffer, wherein the treasure of thecentaurs was, and taking from it the hoarded amulet that his father,Jyshak, in the years of his prime, had hammered from mountain gold andset with opals bartered from the gnomes, he put it upon his wrist, andsaid no word, but walked from his mother's cavern. And he took withhim too that clarion of the centaurs, that famous silver horn, that inits time had summoned to surrender seventeen cities of Man, and fortwenty years had brayed at star-girt walls in the Siege ofTholdenblarna, the citadel of the gods, what time the centaurs wagedtheir fabulous war and were not broken by any force of arms, butretreated slowly in a cloud of dust before the final miracle of thegods that They brought in Their desperate need from Their ultimatearmoury. He took it and strode away, and his mother only sighed andlet him go.

  She knew that today he would not drink at the stream coming down fromthe terraces of Varpa Niger, the inner land of the mountains, thattoday he would not wonder awhile at the sunset and afterwards trotback to the cavern again to sleep on rushes pulled by rivers that knownot Man. She knew that it was with him as it had been of old with hisfather, and with Goom the father of Jyshak, and long ago with thegods. Therefore she only sighed and let him go.

  But he, coming out from the cavern that was his home, went for thefirst time over the little stream, and going round the corner of thecrags saw glittering beneath him the mundane plain. And the wind ofthe autumn that was gilding the world, rushing up the slopes of themountain, beat cold on his naked flanks. He raised his head andsnorted.

  "I am a man-horse now!" he shouted aloud; and leaping from crag tocrag he galloped by valley and chasm, by torrent-bed and scar ofavalanche, until he came to the wandering leagues of the plain, andleft behind him for ever the Athraminaurian mountains.

  His goal was Zretazoola, the city of Sombelene. What legend ofSombelene's inhuman beauty or of the wonder of her mystery had everfloated over the mundane plain to the fabulous cradle of the centaurs'race, the Athraminaurian mountains, I do not know. Yet in the blood ofman there is a tide, an old sea-current rather, that is somehow akinto the twilight, which brings him rumours of beauty from however faraway, as driftwood is found at sea from islands not yet discovered:and this spring-tide of current that visits the blood of man comes fromthe fabulous quarter of his lineage, from the legendary, the old; ittakes him out to the woodlands, out to the hills; he listens toancient song. So it may be that Shepperalk's fabulous blood stirred inthose lonely mountains away at the edge of the world to rumours thatonly the airy twilight knew and only confided secretly to the bat, forShepperalk was more legendary even than man. Certain it was that heheaded from the first for the city of Zretazoola, where Sombelene in hertemple dwelt; though all the mundane plain, its rivers and mountains,lay between Shepperalk's home and the city he sought.

  When first the feet of the centaur touched the grass of that softalluvial earth he blew for joy upon the silver horn, he pranced andcaracoled, he gambolled over the leagues; pace came to him like amaiden with a lamp, a new and beautiful wonder; the wind laughed as itpassed him. He put his head down low to the scent of the flowers, helifted it up to be nearer the unseen stars, he revelled throughkingdoms, took rivers in his stride; how shall I tell you, ye thatdwell in cities, how shall I tell you what he felt as he galloped? Hefelt for strength like the towers of Bel-Narana; for lightness likethose gossamer palaces that the fairy-spider builds 'twixt heaven andsea along the coasts of Zith; for swiftness like some bird racing upfrom the morning to sing in some city's spires before daylight comes.He was the sworn companion of the wind. For joy he was as a song; thelightnings of his legendary sires, the earlier gods, began to mix withhis blood; his hooves thundered. He came to the cities of men, and allmen trembled, for they remembered the ancient mythical wars, and nowthey dreaded new battles and feared for the race of man. Not by Clioare these wars recorded; history does not know them, but what of that?Not all of us have sat at historians' feet, but all have learned fableand myth at their mothers' knees. And there were none that did notfear strange wars when they saw Shepperalk swerve and leap along thepublic ways. So he passed from city to city.

  By night he lay down unpanting in the reeds of some marsh or a forest;before dawn he rose triumphant, and hugely drank of some river in thedark, and splashing out of it would trot to some high place to findthe sunrise, and to send echoing eastwards the exultant greetings ofhis jubilant horn. And lo! the sunrise coming up from the echoes, andthe plains new-lit by the day, and the leagues spinning by like waterflung from a top, and that gay companion, the loudly laughing wind,and men and the fears of men and their little cities; and, after that,great rivers and waste spaces and huge new hills, and then new landsbeyond them, and more cities of men, and always the old companion, theglorious wind. Kingdom by kingdom slipt by, and still his breath waseven. "It is a golden thing to gallop on good turf in one's youth,"said the young man-horse, the centaur. "Ha, ha," said the wind of thehills, and the winds of the plain answered.

  Bells pealed in frantic towers, wise men consulted parchments,astrologers sought of the portent from the stars, the aged made subtleprophecies. "Is he not swift?" said the young. "How glad he is," saidchildren.

  Night after night brought him sleep, and day after day lit his gallop,till he came to the lands of the Athalonian men who live by the edgesof the mundane plain, and from them he came to the lands of legendagain such as those in which he was cradled on the other side of theworld, and which fringe the marge of the world and mix with thetwilight. And there a mighty thought came into his untired heart, forhe knew that he neared Zretazoola now, the city of Sombelene.

  It was late in the day when he neared it, and clouds coloured withevening rolled low on the plain before him; he galloped on into theirgolden mist, and when it hid from his eyes the sight of things, thedreams in his heart awoke and romantically he pondered all thoserumours that used to come to him from Sombelene, because of thefellowship of fabulous things. She dwelt (said evening secretly to thebat) in a little temple by a lone lakeshore. A grove of cypressesscreened her from the city, from Zretazoola of the climbing ways. Andopposite her temple stood her tomb, her sad lake-sepulchre with opendoor, lest her amazing beauty and the centuries of her youth shouldever give rise to the heresy among men that lovely Sombelene wasimmortal: for only her beauty and her lineage were divine.

  Her father had been half centaur and half god; her mother was thechild of a desert lion and that sphinx that watches the pyramids;--shewas more mystical than Woman.

  Her beauty was as a dream, was as a song; the one dream of a lifetimedreamed on enchanted dews, the one song sung to some city by adeathless bird blown far from his native coasts by storm in Paradise.Dawn after dawn on mountains of romance or twilight after twilightcould never equal her beauty; all the glow-worms had not the
secretamong them nor all the stars of night; poets had never sung it norevening guessed its meaning; the morning envied it, it was hidden fromlovers.

  She was unwed, unwooed.

  The lions came not to woo her because they feared her strength, andthe gods dared not love her because they knew she must die.

  This was what evening had whispered to the bat, this was the dream inthe heart of Shepperalk as he cantered blind through the mist. Andsuddenly there at his hooves in the dark of the plain appeared thecleft in the legendary lands, and Zretazoola sheltering in the cleft,and sunning herself in the evening.

  Swiftly and craftily he bounded down by the upper end of the cleft,and entering Zretazoola by the outer gate which looks out sheer on thestars, he galloped suddenly down the narrow streets. Many that rushedout on to balconies as he went clattering by, many that put theirheads from glittering windows, are told of in olden song. Shepperalkdid not tarry to give greetings or to answer challenges from martialtowers, he was down through the earthward gateway like the thunderboltof his sires, and, like Leviathan who has leapt at an eagle, he surgedinto the water between temple and tomb.

  He galloped with half-shut eyes up the temple-steps, and, only seeingdimly through his lashes, seized Sombelene by the hair, undazzled asyet by her beauty, and so haled her away; and, leaping with her overthe floorless chasm where the waters of the lake fall unrememberedaway into a hole in the world, took her we know not where, to be herslave for all centuries that are allowed to his race.

  Three blasts he gave as he went upon that silver horn that is theworld-old treasure of the centaurs. These were his wedding bells.

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