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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

But lined after Martial fashion


Presently,

as gradually as in Northern climates the night passes into morning twilight, the darkness became less absolute. Whence the light came it was impossible to perceive. Diffused all around and slowly broadening, it just enabled me to discern a few paces before us the verge of a gulf. This might have been too shallow for inconvenience, it might have been deep enough for danger. I waited till my eyes should be able to penetrate its interior; but before the light entered it I perceived, apparently growing across it, really coming gradually into view under the brightening gleam, a species of bridge which--when the twilight ceased to increase, and remained as dim as that cast by the crescent moon--assumed the outline of a slender trunk supported by wings, dark for the most part but defined along the edge by a narrow band of brightest green, visible in a gleam too faint to show any object of a deeper shade. Somewhat impatient of the obvious symbolism, I hurried Eveena forward. Immediately on the other side of the bridge the path turned almost at right angles; and here a gleam of light ahead afforded a distinct guidance to our steps. Approaching it, we were challenged, and I gave the answer with which I had been previously furnished; an answer which may not be, as it never has been, written down. A door parted and admitted us into a small vestibule, at the other end of which a full and bright light streamed through a portal of translucent crystal. A sentinel, armed only with the antiquated
spear which may have been held by his first predecessor in office ten thousand Martial years ago, now demanded our names. Mine he simply repeated, but as I gave that of Eveena, daughter of Esmo, he lowered his weapon in the salute still traditional among Martial sentries; and bending his head, touched with his lips the long sleeve of the cloak of _therne_-down in which she was on this occasion again enveloped. This homage appeared to surprise her almost as much as myself, but we had no leisure for observation or inquiry. From behind the crystal door another challenge was uttered. To this it was the sentry's part to reply, and as he answered the door parted; that at the other end of the vestibule having, I observed, closed as we entered, and so closed that its position was undiscoverable. Before us opened a hall of considerable size, consisting of three distinct vaults, defined by two rows of pillars, slender shafts resembling tall branchless trees, the capital of each being formed by a branching head like that of the palm. The trunks were covered with golden scales; the fern-like foliage at the summit was of a bright sparkling emerald. It was evident to my observation that the entire hall had been excavated from solid rock, and the pillars left in their places. Each of the side aisles, if I may so call them, was occupied by four rows of seats similarly carved in the natural stone; but lined after Martial fashion, with cushions embroidered in feathers and metals, and covered by woven fabrics finer than any known to the looms of Lyons or Cashmere. About two-thirds of the seats were occupied; those to the right as we entered (that is, on the left of the dais at the end of the hall) by men, those opposite by women. All, I observed, rose for a moment as Eveena's name was announced, from the further end of the hall, by the foremost of three or four persons vested in silver, with belts of the crimson metal which plays the part of our best-tempered steel, and bearing in their hands wands of a rose-coloured jewel resembling a clouded onyx in all but the hue. Each of them wore over his dress a band or sash of gold, fastened on the left shoulder and descending to the belt on the right, much resembling the ribbons of European knighthood. These supported on the left breast a silver star, or heraldic mullet, of six points. Throughout the rest of the assembly a similar but smaller star glimmered on every breast, supported, however, by green or silver bands, the former worn by the body of the assembly, the latter by a few persons gathered together for the most part at the upper end of the chamber.... The chief who had first addressed us bade us pass on, and we left the Hall of the Novitiate as accepted members of the Order.... That into which we next entered was so dark that its form and dimensions were scarcely defined to my eyes. I supposed it, however, to be circular, surmounted by a dome resembling in colour the olive green Martial sky and spangled by stars, among which I discerned one or two familiar constellations, but most distinctly, brightened far beyond its natural brilliancy, the arch of the _Via Lactea_. Presently, not on any apparent sheet or screen but as in the air before us, appeared a narrow band of light crossing the entire visible space. It resembled a rope twisted of three strands, two of a deep dull hue, the one apparently orange, the other brown or crimson, contrasting the far more brilliant emerald strand that formed the third portion of the threefold cord. I had learnt by this time that metallic cords so twined serve in Mars most of the uses for which chains are employed on Earth, and I assumed that this symbol possessed the significance which poetry or ritual might attach to the latter.


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