The City In The Clouds

: The Great White Queen

"THERE is a strange story connected with this place known to us as

Zomara's Wrath," Omar said, when together we turned away and mounted our

horses to ride back to the camp.

"Relate it to me," I urged eagerly.

"To-night. After we have eaten at sundown I will tell you about it," he

answered, and spurring our horses we galloped quickly forward.

When we had eaten that evening and w
re seated aside together, I reminded

him of his promise.

"It is a story of my ancestors, and it occurred more than a thousand

years ago," he said. "Ruler of the great kingdom of Mo, King Lobenba had

no children. The three queens observed fasts, kept vows, made offerings

to the fetish, all to no effect. By a lucky chance a great hermit made

his appearance in our capital. The King and queens received the visitor

at the palace, and treated him with the most generous and sincere

hospitality. The guest was very pleased; by a prompting of the fetish he

knew what they wanted, and gave them three peppercorns, one for each

queen. In due time three sons were born, Karmos, Matrugna, and Fausalya,

who when they reached a suitable age married by the ceremony of 'choice,'

daughters of a branch of the royal family. When the brides arrived at

their husbands' family and were disciplined in their wifely duties, King

Lobenba, who was growing old, thought the time had arrived for him to

make over the royal burden to younger shoulders, and to adopt a hermit's

life preliminary to death. So in consultation with the royal fetish-man,

a day was appointed for the coronation of Prince Karmos, who had married

a beautiful girl named Naya. But the fates had willed it otherwise. Long

before the children were born, when King Lobenba, in his younger days,

was subduing a revolt in this region where we now are he once fell from

his chariot while aiming an arrow, and got his arm crushed under the

wheel. The three queens had accompanied their royal husband to the

battlefield to soften for him the hardships of his camp life, and during

the long illness that followed the wound, Queen Zulnam, who afterwards

became mother of Fausalya, nursed him with all the devotion of a wife's

first young love. 'Ask me anything and thou shalt have it,' said the

monarch during his convalescence. 'I have to ask only two favours, my

lord,' she answered. 'I grant them beforehand. Name them,' he cried. But

she said she wished for nothing at that time, but would make her request

in due course. She waited twenty years. Then she repaired to her husband

on the morning of Karmos' coronation and boldly requested that the prince

should absent himself for fourteen years, and that her son Fausalya

should be crowned instead."

"She was artful," I observed, laughing.

"Yes," he went on. "The words fell like a thunder-bolt upon the king, the

light faded from his eyes and he fainted. Nevertheless, Zulnam's wish was

granted, and Karmos' departure was heartrending. To soften the

austerities of forest life, Prince Matrugna tore himself from his

newly-married bride to accompany Karmos. But the hardest was to be the

latter's wrench from his devoted Naya. The change from a most exuberant

girlish gaiety to quivering grief, and the offer of the

delicately-nurtured wife to share with her lord the severities of an

exile's life are often told by every wise man in Mo. Fourteen long years

Karmos spent in exile with his beautiful wife as companion, until at last

they were free to return. The home-coming was one long triumph. The

people were mad with delight to welcome their hero Karmos and their

beloved Naya. Karmos was crowned, and then began that government whose

morality and justice and love and purity have passed into the proverbs of

my race. There was, however, one blemish upon it. Poor Naya's evil genius

had not yet exhausted his malevolence. A rumour was spread by evil

tongues that she was plotting to possess the crown, and Karmos,

sacrificing the husband's love, the father's joy, to his kingly duty,

while standing on that spot we have visited to-day--then his summer

palace surrounded by lovely gardens--pronounced sentence of exile upon

her. But in an instant, swift as the lightning from above, the terrible

curse of Zomara fell upon him, striking him dead, his magnificent palace

was swept away and swallowed up by a mighty earthquake, and from the

barren hole, once the fairest spot in the land, there have ever since

belched forth fumes that poison every living thing. It is Zomara's


"And what became of Naya, the queen?" I asked, struck with the remarkable

story that seemed more than a mere legend.

"She reigned in his stead," he answered. "Whenever we speak of the Nayas

we sum up all that is noble and mighty and queenly in government, its

tact, its talent, its love and its beneficence, for every queen who has

since sat on the Great Emerald Throne of Mo has been named after her,

and I am her lineal descendant, the last of her line."

That night we rested on soft cushions spread for us in our tent, and

marching again early next morning, spent the two following days in

crossing a great swamp, which, rather than a miasmatic death-hole, was a

naturalist's paradise. As our horses trod the soft, spongy ground, a

majestic canopy of stately cypress, mangrove and maple trees protected us

from the burning sun, and the sweet-scented flowers of the magnolias,

azaleas and wild grapes added fragrance and beauty to the scene. Flies,

snakes and frogs were very numerous, but gave us little trouble,

nevertheless, I was not sorry when at dawn on the third day after passing

the strange natural phenomenon we saw across the level pasture-like

plain, high up, spectral and half hidden in the grey haze, the gigantic

walls and high embattlements of the mysterious city.

"Lo!" cried Omar, who was riding at my side. "See! At last we are within

sight of the goal towards which we have so long striven. Yonder is Mo,

sometimes called the City in the Clouds!"

"But for your courage we must have failed long ago," I observed, my eyes

turned to where the horizon closed the long perspective of the sky. Away

there was the sweetest light. Elsewhere colour marred the simplicity of

light; but there colour was effaced, not as men efface it, by a blur or

darkness, but by mere light. And against it rose, high and faintly

outlined, the defences of the great unknown city standing on the summit

of what appeared to be a gigantic rock. "Magnificent!" I exclaimed,

entranced by the view. "Superb!"

"It is, as you see, built high upon the rock known as the Throne of the

Naya," Omar explained. "Although founded a thousand years ago by the

good queen about whom I told you, no stranger has ever yet set foot

within its gates. From time to time our monarchs have sent their trusty

agents among civilized nations, gathered from them their inventions, and

introduced to us the results of their progress. Isolated as we are from

the world, we are nevertheless enlightened, as you will shortly see."

I was prompted to make some observation regarding his paganism, but held

my peace, knowing that any reference to it wounded his susceptibilities.

In everything except his belief in the fetish and his trust in the

justice of the Crocodile-god, he was my equal; and I knew that, on more

than one occasion, he had been ashamed to practise his savage rites in my

presence. Therefore I hesitated, and, as we rode along, the outline of

the great city, perched high upon the rock, growing every moment more

formidable and distinct, I listened to the many interesting facts he


Kona, who followed us, listened with strained ears, and our Dagombas were

one and all laughing and keeping up a Babel-like chatter that showed the

intense excitement caused among them by the sight of the mysterious

capital of the Great White Queen.

We had struck a broad well-made road, and now, as with hastening steps we

approached it, we could distinguish quite plainly the inaccessible

character of the high rock that rose abruptly a thousand feet above the

plain crowned by the frowning walls of immense thickness that enclosed

the place. Beyond, rose many lofty towers and several gilded domes which,

Omar told me, were the audience-halls of the great palace, and

immediately before us we could see in the walls, flanked on either side

by great strong watch-towers, a closed gate.

From where we stood we could distinguish no means of approach to the

impregnable fortress, but on coming at last to the base of the rock we

found a long flight of narrow steps mounting zig-zag up its dark,

moss-grown face. When the cavalcade halted before them our trumpeters

blew thrice shrill blasts upon their big ivory horns, and like magic the

ponderous iron gate far above instantly swung open, and the walls

literally swarmed with men, whose bright arms glittered in the sun.

Above, where all had been silent a moment before, everything was now

bustle and excitement as Babila sprang from his horse and commenced to

mount the long flight of steps, followed by myself and my companion.

So steep were these stairs cut in the rock that an iron chain had been

placed beside them by which to steady one's-self.

"Are there again a thousand steps?" I asked Omar.

"Yes," he said. "Naya, wife of Karmos, had them cut under her personal

supervision. There are exactly a thousand--the number of generations

which, she declared, should flourish and die ere Mo be conquered."

Then without further words we eagerly continued our upward climb to the

mystic City in the Clouds.