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The Wooing Of Lakla







From: The Moon Pool

I had slept soundly and dreamlessly; I wakened quietly in the great
chamber into which Rador had ushered O'Keefe and myself after that
culminating experience of crowded, nerve-racking hours--the facing of
the Three.

Now, lying gazing upward at the high-vaulted ceiling, I heard Larry's
voice:

"They look like birds." Evidently he was thinking of the Three; a
silence--then: "Yes, they look like birds--and they look, and it's
meaning no disrespect to them I am at all, they look like
lizards"--and another silence--"they look like some sort of gods, and,
by the good sword-arm of Brian Boru, they look human, too! And it's
none of them they are either, so what--what the--what the sainted St.
Bridget are they?" Another short silence, and then in a tone of awed
and absolute conviction: "That's it, sure! That's what they are--it
all hangs in--they couldn't be anything else--"

He gave a whoop; a pillow shot over and caught me across the head.

"Wake up!" shouted Larry. "Wake up, ye seething caldron of fossilized
superstitions! Wake up, ye bogy-haunted man of scientific unwisdom!"

Under pillow and insults I bounced to my feet, filled for a moment
with quite real wrath; he lay back, roaring with laughter, and my
anger was swept away.

"Doc," he said, very seriously, after this, "I know who the Three
are!"

"Yes?" I queried, with studied sarcasm.

"Yes?" he mimicked. "Yes! Ye--ye" He paused under the menace of my
look, grinned. "Yes, I know," he continued. "They're of the Tuatha De,
the old ones, the great people of Ireland, that's who they are!"

I knew, of course, of the Tuatha De Danann, the tribes of the god
Danu, the half-legendary, half-historical clan who found their home in
Erin some four thousand years before the Christian era, and who have
left so deep an impress upon the Celtic mind and its myths.

"Yes," said Larry again, "the Tuatha De--the Ancient Ones who had
spells that could compel Mananan, who is the spirit of all the seas,
an' Keithor, who is the god of all green living things, an' even
Hesus, the unseen god, whose pulse is the pulse of all the firmament;
yes, an' Orchil too, who sits within the earth an' weaves with the
shuttle of mystery and her three looms of birth an' life an'
death--even Orchil would weave as they commanded!"

He was silent--then:

"They are of them--the mighty ones--why else would I have bent my knee
to them as I would have to the spirit of my dead mother? Why else
would Lakla, whose gold-brown hair is the hair of Eilidh the Fair,
whose mouth is the sweet mouth of Deirdre, an' whose soul walked with
mine ages agone among the fragrant green myrtle of Erin, serve them?"
he whispered, eyes full of dream.

"Have you any idea how they got here?" I asked, not unreasonably.

"I haven't thought about that," he replied somewhat testily. "But at
once, me excellent man o' wisdom, a number occur to me. One of them is
that this little party of three might have stopped here on their way
to Ireland, an' for good reasons of their own decided to stay a while;
an' another is that they might have come here afterward, havin' got
wind of what those rats out there were contemplatin', and have stayed
on the job till the time was ripe to save Ireland from 'em; the rest
of the world, too, of course," he added magnanimously, "but Ireland in
particular. And do any of those reasons appeal to ye?"

I shook my head.

"Well, what do you think?" he asked wearily.

"I think," I said cautiously, "that we face an evolution of highly
intelligent beings from ancestral sources radically removed from those
through which mankind ascended. These half-human, highly developed
batrachians they call the Akka prove that evolution in these
caverned spaces has certainly pursued one different path than on
earth. The Englishman, Wells, wrote an imaginative and very
entertaining book concerning an invasion of earth by Martians, and he
made his Martians enormously specialized cuttlefish. There was nothing
inherently improbable in Wells' choice. Man is the ruling animal of
earth today solely by reason of a series of accidents; under another
series spiders or ants, or even elephants, could have become the
dominant race.

"I think," I said, even more cautiously, "that the race to which the
Three belong never appeared on earth's surface; that their development
took place here, unhindered through aeons. And if this be true, the
structure of their brains, and therefore all their reactions, must be
different from ours. Hence their knowledge and command of energies
unfamiliar to us--and hence also the question whether they may not
have an entirely different sense of values, of justice--and that is
rather terrifying," I concluded.

Larry shook his head.

"That last sort of knocks your argument, Doc," he said. "They had
sense of justice enough to help me out--and certainly they know
love--for I saw the way they looked at Lakla; and sorrow--for there
was no mistaking that in their faces.

"No," he went on. "I hold to my own idea. They're of the Old People.
The little leprechaun knew his way here, an' I'll bet it was they who
sent the word. An' if the O'Keefe banshee comes here--which save the
mark!--I'll bet she'll drop in on the Silent Ones for a social visit
before she an' her clan get busy. Well, it'll make her feel more at
home, the good old body. No, Doc, no," he concluded, "I'm right; it
all fits in too well to be wrong."

I made a last despairing attempt.

"Is there anything anywhere in Ireland that would indicate that the
Tuatha De ever looked like the Three?" I asked--and again I had
spoken most unfortunately.

"Is there?" he shouted. "Is there? By the kilt of Cormack
MacCormack, I'm glad ye reminded me. It was worryin' me a little
meself. There was Daghda, who could put on the head of a great boar
an' the body of a giant fish and cleave the waves an' tear to pieces
the birlins of any who came against Erin; an' there was Rinn--"

How many more of the metamorphoses of the Old People I might have
heard, I do not know, for the curtains parted and in walked Rador.

"You have rested well," he smiled, "I can see. The handmaiden bade me
call you. You are to eat with her in her garden."

Down long corridors we trod and out upon a gardened terrace as
beautiful as any of those of Yolara's city; bowered, blossoming,
fragrant, set high upon the cliffs beside the domed castle. A table,
as of milky jade, was spread at one corner, but the Golden Girl was
not there. A little path ran on and up, hemmed in by the mass of
verdure. I looked at it longingly; Rador saw the glance, interpreted
it, and led me up the stepped sharp slope into a rock embrasure.

Here I was above the foliage, and everywhere the view was clear.
Below me stretched the incredible bridge, with the frog people
hurrying back and forth upon it. A pinnacle at my side hid the abyss.
My eyes followed the cavern ledge. Above it the rock rose bare, but at
the ends of the semicircular strand a luxuriant vegetation began,
stretching from the crimson shores back into far distances. Of browns
and reds and yellows, like an autumn forest, was the foliage, with
here and there patches of dark-green, as of conifers. Five miles or
more, on each side, the forests swept, and then were lost to sight in
the haze.

I turned and faced an immensity of crimson waters, unbroken, a true
sea, if ever there was one. A breeze blew--the first real wind I had
encountered in the hidden places; under it the surface, that had been
as molten lacquer, rippled and dimpled. Little waves broke with a
spray of rose-pearls and rubies. The giant Medusae drifted--stately,
luminous kaleidoscopic elfin moons.

Far down, peeping around a jutting tower of the cliff, I saw dipping
with the motion of the waves a floating garden. The flowers, too, were
luminous--indeed sparkling--gleaming brilliants of scarlet and
vermilions lighter than the flood on which they lay, mauves and odd
shades of reddish-blue. They gleamed and shone like a little lake of
jewels.

Rador broke in upon my musings.

"Lakla comes! Let us go down."

It was a shy Lakla who came slowly around the end of the path and,
blushing furiously, held her hands out to Larry. And the Irishman took
them, placed them over his heart, kissed them with a tenderness that
had been lacking in the half-mocking, half-fierce caresses he had
given the priestess. She blushed deeper, holding out the tapering
fingers--then pressed them to her own heart.

"I like the touch of your lips, Larry," she whispered. "They warm me
here"--she pressed her heart again--"and they send little sparkles of
light through me." Her brows tilted perplexedly, accenting the nuance
of diablerie, delicate and fascinating, that they cast upon the flower
face.

"Do you?" whispered the O'Keefe fervently. "Do you, Lakla?" He bent
toward her. She caught the amused glance of Rador; drew herself aside
half-haughtily.

"Rador," she said, "is it not time that you and the strong one, Olaf,
were setting forth?"

"Truly it is, handmaiden," he answered respectfully enough--yet with a
current of laughter under his words. "But as you know the strong one,
Olaf, wished to see his friends here before we were gone--and he comes
even now," he added, glancing down the pathway, along which came
striding the Norseman.

As he faced us I saw that a transformation had been wrought in him.
Gone was the pitiful seeking, and gone too the just as pitiful hope.
The set face softened as he looked at the Golden Girl and bowed low to
her. He thrust a hand to O'Keefe and to me.

"There is to be battle," he said. "I go with Rador to call the armies
of these frog people. As for me--Lakla has spoken. There is no hope
for--for mine Helma in life, but there is hope that we destroy the
Shining Devil and give mine Helma peace. And with that I am well
content, ja! Well content!" He gripped our hands again. "We will
fight!" he muttered. "Ja! And I will have vengeance!" The sternness
returned; and with a salute Rador and he were gone.

Two great tears rolled from the golden eyes of Lakla.

"Not even the Silent Ones can heal those the Shining One has taken,"
she said. "He asked me--and it was better that I tell him. It is part
of the Three's--punishment--but of that you will soon learn," she went
on hurriedly. "Ask me no questions now of the Silent Ones. I thought
it better for Olaf to go with Rador, to busy himself, to give his mind
other than sorrow upon which to feed."

Up the path came five of the frog-women, bearing platters and ewers.
Their bracelets and anklets of jewels were tinkling; their middles
covered with short kirtles of woven cloth studded with the sparkling
ornaments.

And here let me say that if I have given the impression that the
Akka are simply magnified frogs, I regret it. Frog-like they are,
and hence my phrase for them--but as unlike the frog, as we know it,
as man is unlike the chimpanzee. Springing, I hazard, from the

stegocephalia, the ancestor of the frogs, these batrachians followed a
different line of evolution and acquired the upright position just as
man did his from the four-footed folk.

The great staring eyes, the shape of the muzzle were frog-like, but
the highly developed brain had set upon the head and shape of it vital
differences. The forehead, for instance, was not low, flat, and
retreating--its frontal arch was well defined. The head was, in a
sense, shapely, and with the females the great horny carapace that
stood over it like a fantastic helmet was much modified, as were the
spurs that were so formidable in the male; colouration was different
also. The torso was upright; the legs a little bent, giving them their
crouching gait--but I wander from my subject.[1]

They set their burdens down. Larry looked at them with interest.

"You surely have those things well trained, Lakla," he said.

"Things!" The handmaiden arose, eyes flashing with indignation. "You
call my Akka things!"

"Well," said Larry, a bit taken aback, "what do you call them?"

"My Akka are a people," she retorted. "As much a people as your race
or mine. They are good and loyal, and they have speech and arts, and
they slay not, save for food or to protect themselves. And I think
them beautiful, Larry, beautiful!" She stamped her foot. "And you call
them--things!"

Beautiful! These? Yet, after all, they were, in their grotesque
fashion. And to Lakla, surrounded by them, from babyhood, they were
not strange, at all. Why shouldn't she think them beautiful? The same
thought must have struck O'Keefe, for he flushed guiltily.

"I think them beautiful, too, Lakla," he said remorsefully. "It's my
not knowing your tongue too well that traps me. Truly, I think them
beautiful--I'd tell them so, if I knew their talk."

Lakla dimpled, laughed--spoke to the attendants in that strange speech
that was unquestionably a language; they bridled, looked at O'Keefe
with fantastic coquetry, cracked and boomed softly among themselves.

"They say they like you better than the men of Muria," laughed Lakla.

"Did I ever think I'd be swapping compliments with lady frogs!" he
murmured to me. "Buck up, Larry--keep your eyes on the captive Irish
princess!" he muttered to himself.

"Rador goes to meet one of the ladala who is slipping through with
news," said the Golden Girl as we addressed ourselves to the food.
"Then, with Nak, he and Olaf go to muster the Akka--for there will
be battle, and we must prepare. Nak," she added, "is he who went
before me when you were dancing with Yolara, Larry." She stole a
swift, mischievous glance at him. "He is headman of all the Akka."

"Just what forces can we muster against them when they come, darlin'?"
said Larry.

"Darlin'?"--the Golden Girl had caught the caress of the word--"what's
that?"

"It's a little word that means Lakla," he answered. "It does--that
is, when I say it; when you say it, then it means Larry."

"I like that word," mused Lakla.

"You can even say Larry darlin'!" suggested O'Keefe.

"Larry darlin'!" said Lakla. "When they come we shall have first of
all my Akka--"

"Can they fight, mavourneen?" interrupted Larry.

"Can they fight! My Akka!" Again her eyes flashed. "They will
fight to the last of them--with the spears that give the swift
rotting, covered, as they are, with the jelly of those Saddu
there--" She pointed through a rift in the foliage across which, on
the surface of the sea, was floating one of the moon globes--and now I
know why Rador had warned Larry against a plunge there. "With spears
and clubs and with teeth and nails and spurs--they are a strong and
brave people, Larry--darlin', and though they hurl the Keth at them,
it is slow to work upon them, and they slay even while they are
passing into the nothingness!"

"And have we none of the Keth?" he asked.

"No"--she shook her head--"none of their weapons have we here,
although it was--it was the Ancient Ones who shaped them."

"But the Three are of the Ancient Ones?" I cried. "Surely they can
tell--"

"No," she said slowly. "No--there is something you must know--and
soon; and then the Silent Ones say you will understand. You,
especially, Goodwin, who worship wisdom."

"Then," said Larry, "we have the Akka; and we have the four men of
us, and among us three guns and about a hundred cartridges--an'--an'
the power of the Three--but what about the Shining One, Fireworks--"

"I do not know." Again the indecision that had been in her eyes when
Yolara had launched her defiance crept back. "The Shining One is
strong--and he has his--slaves!"

"Well, we'd better get busy good and quick!" the O'Keefe's voice rang.
But Lakla, for some reason of her own, would pursue the matter no
further. The trouble fled from her eyes--they danced.

"Larry darlin'?" she murmured. "I like the touch of your lips--"

"You do?" he whispered, all thought flying of anything but the
beautiful, provocative face so close to his. "Then, acushla, you're
goin' to get acquainted with 'em! Turn your head, Doc!" he said.

And I turned it. There was quite a long silence, broken by an
interested, soft outburst of gentle boomings from the serving
frog-maids. I stole a glance behind me. Lakla's head lay on the
Irishman's shoulder, the golden eyes misty sunpools of love and
adoration; and the O'Keefe, a new look of power and strength upon his
clear-cut features, was gazing down into them with that look which
rises only from the heart touched for the first time with that true,
all-powerful love, which is the pulse of the universe itself, the real
music of the spheres of which Plato dreamed, the love that is stronger
than death itself, immortal as the high gods and the true soul of all
that mystery we call life.

Then Lakla raised her hands, pressed down Larry's head, kissed him
between the eyes, drew herself with a trembling little laugh from his
embrace.

"The future Mrs. Larry O'Keefe, Goodwin," said Larry to me a little
unsteadily.

I took their hands--and Lakla kissed me!

She turned to the booming--smiling--frog-maids; gave them some
command, for they filed away down the path. Suddenly I felt, well, a
little superfluous.

"If you don't mind," I said, "I think I'll go up the path there again
and look about."

But they were so engrossed with each other that they did not even hear
me--so I walked away, up to the embrasure where Rador had taken me.
The movement of the batrachians over the bridge had ceased. Dimly at
the far end I could see the cluster of the garrison. My thoughts flew
back to Lakla and to Larry.

What was to be the end?

If we won, if we were able to pass from this place, could she live in
our world? A product of these caverns with their atmosphere and light
that seemed in some subtle way to be both food and drink--how would
she react to the unfamiliar foods and air and light of outer earth?
Further, here so far as I was able to discover, there were no
malignant bacilli--what immunity could Lakla have then to those
microscopic evils without, which only long ages of sickness and death
have bought for us a modicum of protection? I began to be oppressed.
Surely they had been long enough by themselves. I went down the path.

I heard Larry.

"It's a green land, mavourneen. And the sea rocks and dimples
around it--blue as the heavens, green as the isle itself, and foam
horses toss their white manes, and the great clean winds blow over it,
and the sun shines down on it like your eyes, acushla--"

"And are you a king of Ireland, Larry darlin'?" Thus Lakla--

But enough!

At last we turned to go--and around the corner of the path I caught
another glimpse of what I have called the lake of jewels. I pointed to
it.

"Those are lovely flowers, Lakla," I said. "I have never seen
anything like them in the place from whence we come."

She followed my pointing finger--laughed.

"Come," she said, "let me show you them."

She ran down an intersecting way, we following; came out of it upon a
little ledge close to the brink, three feet or more I suppose about
it. The Golden Girl's voice rang out in a high-pitched, tremulous,
throbbing call.

The lake of jewels stirred as though a breeze had passed over it;
stirred, shook, and then began to move swiftly, a shimmering torrent
of shining flowers down upon us! She called again, the movement became
more rapid; the gem blooms streamed closer--closer, wavering,
shifting, winding--at our very feet. Above them hovered a little
radiant mist. The Golden Girl leaned over; called softly, and up from
the sparkling mass shot a green vine whose heads were five flowers of
flaming ruby--shot up, flew into her hand and coiled about the white
arm, its quintette of lambent blossoms--regarding us!

It was the thing Lakla had called the Yekta; that with which she had
threatened the priestess; the thing that carried the dreadful
death--and the Golden Girl was handling it like a rose!

Larry swore--I looked at the thing more closely. It was a hydroid, a
development of that strange animal-vegetable that, sometimes almost
microscopic, waves in the sea depths like a cluster of flowers
paralyzing its prey with the mysterious force that dwells in its
blossom heads![2]

"Put it down, Lakla," the distress in O'Keefe's voice was deep. Lakla
laughed mischievously, caught the real fear for her in his eyes;
opened her hand, gave another faint call--and back it flew to its
fellows.

"Why, it wouldn't hurt me, Larry!" she expostulated. "They know me!"

"Put it down!" he repeated hoarsely.

She sighed, gave another sweet, prolonged call. The lake of
gems--rubies and amethysts, mauves and scarlet-tinged blues--wavered
and shook even as it had before--and swept swiftly back to that place
whence she had drawn them!

Then, with Larry and Lakla walking ahead, white arm about his brown
neck; the O'Keefe still expostulating, the handmaiden laughing
merrily, we passed through her bower to the domed castle.

Glancing through a cleft I caught sight again of the far end of the
bridge; noted among the clustered figures of its garrison of the
frog-men a movement, a flashing of green fire like marshlights on
spear tips; wondered idly what it was, and then, other thoughts
crowding in, followed along, head bent, behind the pair who had found
in what was Olaf's hell, their true paradise.


[1] The Akka are viviparous. The female produces progeny at
five-year intervals, never more than two at a time. They are
monogamous, like certain of our own Ranidae. Pending my monograph
upon what little I had time to learn of their interesting habits and
customs, the curious will find instruction and entertainment in
Brandes and Schvenichen's Brutpfleige der Schwanzlosen Bat rachier,
p. 395; and Lilian V. Sampson's Unusual Modes of Breeding among
Anura, Amer. Nat. xxxiv., 1900.--W. T. G.

[2] The Yekta of the Crimson Sea, are as extraordinary developments
of hydroid forms as the giant Medusae, of which, of course, they are
not too remote cousins. The closest resemblances to them in outer
water forms are among the Gymnoblastic Hydroids, notably Clavetella
prolifera, a most interesting ambulatory form of six tentacles.
Almost every bather in Southern waters, Northern too, knows the pain
that contact with certain "jelly fish" produces. The Yekta's
development was prodigious and, to us, monstrous. It secretes in its
five heads an almost incredibly swiftly acting poison which I suspect,
for I had no chance to verify the theory, destroys the entire nervous
system to the accompaniment of truly infernal agony; carrying at the
same time the illusion that the torment stretches through infinities
of time. Both ether and nitrous oxide gas produce in the majority this
sensation of time extension, without of course the pain symptom. What
Lakla called the Yekta kiss is I imagine about as close to the
orthodox idea of Hell as can be conceived. The secret of her control
over them I had no opportunity of learning in the rush of events that
followed. Knowledge of the appalling effects of their touch came, she
told me, from those few "who had been kissed so lightly" that they
recovered. Certainly nothing, not even the Shining One, was dreaded by
the Murians as these were--W. T. G.





Next: The Coming Of Yolara

Previous: The Three Silent Ones



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