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.