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Chapter XXVI - The Red Ray

PRESENTLY, they mounted the three deep steps leading to this second chancel, which she dimly perceived to be cut longitudinally by two rows of massive pillars showing cavernous recesses on either side. But the light was so faint, and the veil hanging over her eyes so impeded her vision, that Anne could form no definite conception of the place.

Suddenly, she was brought to a standstill upon a circular piece of pavement that showed light upon the dark stone flooring a few feet distant from, and slightly sideways to, the luminous disc. With swift, silent movements the two priestesses divested her of her shrouding mantle and hood, and threw back the veil which had covered her face, and which now hung from her shoulders over the simple robe of white linen in which they had dressed her for the ceremony. She saw that the priestesses had likewise taken off their outer black garments, and wore only the white dress of their order, and the gold tortoise studded with opals which clasped it on the breast.

Now that her veil was lifted, Anne could see more clearly in the milky light, which was like the early radiance of a summer dawn. Lifting her eyes, she was able to trace the moulding and projections in the high vaulted roof of the temple, which, though cut in the solid mountain, was elaborately carved in curious figures and hieroglyphs. A pale shaft of light gleamed down through a deep circular aperture in the ceiling directly over her, and she saw that the little tunnel slanted at such an angle, that the column of light


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issuing from it, struck directly the centre of the disc and accounted for the glimmering radiance which the burnished plate gave out, and which intensified as the dawn lightened. But there was not yet a beam of sunshine to kindle the milky luminosity of the disc. And now Anne saw that these were indeed opal fires, and that the great circular shield was literally a mass of these precious stones closely encrusting it, with one enormous opal of special purity in the exact centre. It seemed to Anne that on this stone the light was focussed.

Full of wonder and admiration, the girl lowered her dazed eyes to the body of the temple. Where, a little while ago, all had been blackness, there now showed a mass of white and colour. The dark coverings were shed, and the whole congregation stood clad in festal array facing the opal disc, and with backs turned to the Death-Stone, the blue light of which grew duller and duller as the dawn-light increased.

The clash and beat of cymbals and drums played in the rear by a band of acolytes, marked the advance up the broad open space of a procession of the Virgins and Elders, who were following Anne from the Triangle of Death to the Disc of Life. Keorah, at its head, walked alone with stately tread, her arms outstretched, bearing no longer the Staff of Death, but the golden Globe of Life, emblem of the Sun. Her russet hair fell over her shoulders upon her gorgeous mantle of office, and the Eye of Viracocha shone upon her forehead.

Very slowly, very solemnly, the procession came, moving to the rhythm of the cymbals and the drum's hollow beat, till, at a distance of three or four yards from the spot where Anne was stationed, Keorah halted. Then drums and cymbals ceased. The Virgins and the Elders stood motionless. The people fell on their knees again in silence. Three times the High Priestess raised and lowered the holy emblem she bore, in salutation to the Lord of Life. Then her shrill, sweet voice rang out in the opening phrases of a chant of which as before, the


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Virgins took up alternate stanzas. This hymn was less monotonous and dismal in character than the one they had sung before the Emblem of Death; but Anne, as she listened, not understanding the words, realized that it was of deep and solemn significance. It was, in fact, the prophecy of which the Priestess and the Elders had already spoken. Roughly translated into rhyme by Hansen later, it ran thus:—

  THE PROPHECY.

When the night of our darkness is over at last,
When the light of the morning shall rise and appear,
When the time of our travail is finished and past,
Then the Daughter of Dawn, our Deliv'rer, draws near.

Viracocha shall send her, and guide her fair feet
Dry shod o'er the plain where the great seas have been;
And the People of Aca her coming shall greet,
Who shall serve as their Priestess, and rule as their Queen.

Fair Strength is her Sceptre, and Beauty her Crown:
By their mystical might, by the Sign that is true,
She shall lead forth the Aca in ancient renown,
From flame and from flood to a land that is new.

Then seek ye her smile; of her frown be afraid,
Lest alone ye are left in bereavement to mourn.
Hail ! Hail to the Priestess, the Wonderful Maid,
To the Chosen of Aak, and the Daughter of Dawn.

Anne listened intently, studying the expression of the chief singer in the hope that she might gain some clue to the meaning of the song.

Keorah's long, oddly attractive face, with its peaked chin and strange eyes, enchained her attention for a time; then her gaze wandered to the shaft of light as it descended in a diagonal course from the opening overhead. Its beams did not touch the Priestess; but as they travelled towards the opal disc, Anne felt that her


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own head fell within their radius, and had the sensation of being bathed in light. It was as though a grey veil had fallen from Heaven upon her, a veil lit up momentarily by a myriad dancing sparks. As the brightness intensified, she became aware that the silvery column had faint flecks of gold, and knew that the sun must have risen, and was travelling in the heavens to a point where it would strike the opening, and pierce to the heart of the great Disc. She watched the column of light as it spread and deepened, with a child-like interest, wondering what it portended, and why it happened that she had been so placed as to directly intercept the blue ray of the Death-Stone and the glorious beam of the Giver of Life.

And now, caught by the phrasing of the chant, she looked again towards the singers, and the scene in the temple becoming gradually more broadly illuminated, she was conscious with a shock of surprise that all eyes were fixed upon her in an interest and anticipation, the sincerity of which was unmistakable. For the first time she realised that she herself was the centre of action and drama, and that upon her, and upon the great irradiated disc with which she was connected by that broad band of silvery light, all the thoughts and desires of the multitude were concentrated. Her mind scarcely took in what it all meant. Hansen had told her of the prophecy, and she had had a vague understanding of important issues at stake, of some ceremony and ordeal upon which her future would depend. But she had not expected that in this barbaric rite, as she had supposed it, there would come to her any deep religious awe, any sense of the working of unseen spiritual agencies. Yet this was what now came over her. The impression of something solemn and super-natural which had for the time overwhelmed her while she knelt before the Death-Stone, and which had passed away during her progress towards the Disc of Life, now returned with double force, and she stood as one in a dream, to whom has been vouch-safed


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a revelation from on high. Again, she was recalled to the scene in the temple by the dying down of the music, as it had been so far rendered in alternate stanzas by the Zuhua Kak and the Virgins of the Flame. The hymn closed with an invocation to the Deity, delivered first in another key by Keorah, and then chorussed by the whole assemblage. It was the Hallelujah to Viracocha, with which later, Anne became fully familiar.

“Uol Viracocha !”  (Hail Viracocha !)
“Oyoya Ku”  (Thou art the Lord)
“Zazil Huaca”  (Thou Breath of Dawn)
“Lahuna Ku”  (Thou Lord of the Universe)
  “Uol Viracocha !”

And with a mighty shout, the congregation thundered once more,

  “Uol Viracocha !”

Following upon the one-throated acclamation came silence—silence profound and all-embracing as that which had come after the Death-Stone chant—silence quick with possibility, a-thrill with long-deferred hope, on the very verge of fulfilment.

Anne's eyes went to the great disc, which now seemed to have become a circle of changing fire. The opal in its middle gleamed with a superb white light, and trembling in its heart was a small deep spark of red. Now she saw that a ray of pure sunlight had been caught and been imprisoned in the opening overhead. Just then the beam flashed down, almost blinding her with its glory. It moved direct to the centre of the disc, and there it kindled into flame the red spark which leaped up to meet it, till that which had been as a drop of rose-red blood became like the heart of a rose. Swiftly, tremulously, as the glow of sunrise spreads in the sky, the effulgence deepened and expanded till the dusky


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head and the pale shining face of Anne was lit up by the heavenly fire. Hushed were the eager people as they gazed, hushed were the Virgins and Elders, while Anne stood motionless amid the roseate light which lingered caressingly about her till the whole of the slender girlish form was bathed in unearthly brilliance. For several seconds did this illumination last, and then the magical rose-red radiance vanished, leaving only the silver light of morning, through which filtered the golden rays of the early sun.

A low murmur broke among the throng, gaining in volume till it seemed to shake the rock out of which the temple was cut. It was no invocation, chant, or acclamation of the gods, but the voicing of a people's emotion.

“Viracocha has spoken. It is the Sign! The prophecy is fulfilled. Behold our Priestess—the heaven-sent one. Daughter of the Dawn! Sister of the Stars. Beloved of the Highest. Server of Aak. Ix Nacan Katuna (May she be exalted). Chaac Zuhua Nakul! (White maiden for ever worshipped!”) they cried, one and another, in many different keys, all stirred completely out of the characteristic apathy of the race. They waved their right arms towards the small erect form of the girl, whose pale face grew paler, and her dark eyes wider, as she realised the meaning of the gesture, and the act of homage which was implied, when simultaneously, each extended right arm was drawn back across the breast to the left shoulder, and everybody was bent in obeisance to her. She felt frightened, and yet an odd thrill of triumph went through her. She was glad that she had so successfully passed the ordeal; glad that she was chosen by the gods and by the people.

The hunter Hotan stepped forward and spoke the High Priestess' name, indicating that she also should do reverence to her newly-elected successor. Keorah's eyes blazed for a moment. She laughed harshly, drawing up her tall form, and rearing her stately head; then


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ignoring Anne, she turned and made a formal act of submission to Naquah, who stood at the group of Elders. The people applauded. There was a shout of “Hu Aca Tehua.” Then Naquah, as spokesman of the Sacred Guardians, addressed Keorah.

“Thou hast seen the Sign, my daughter. Thou hast beheld the Red Ray descend upon the head of this stranger maiden. Thou knowest that the ancient prophecy is now made manifest, and that She for whom we have long waited has come among us. This is by the Will of Him the Unnameable, Who kindled the Eternal Fire, Who set the Wheel of Life revolving, Whose Doer is Viracocha, and His Intercesssor Aak.

“Not in wrath hast thou been set down, my daughter, from thy high place, but perchance in honour, that through thee and thy seed may the nation be blest. Since if thou who art surely Beauty dost mate thee with Fair Strength, from the twain of ye may spring a new race who perchance will give back to the people their ancient renown. I call upon thee, therefore, Keorah, who wast Zuhua Kak, to yield up the Sacred Emblems of thine office to her who has been chosen by the gods to serve in thy stead.”

Again the High Priestess made formal submission.

“I hear thee, Naquah, and most willingly do I obey.”

So saying, she passed out of the half-circle of Virgins and Elders into the vacant space which intervened between it and Anne, but halted half way and turned, facing the crowd with superb disdain.

“Hear me, ye people of the Aca! Did ye think that Our Lord of Dawn, and Aak the Intercessor, have withheld counsel from their servant? Of a surety it was revealed to me before the Flame descended, making known His Will, Who is Ku of the unutterable Name, and Whose vesture is the Sun. Of a surety, I say, was it shown to me that the priestess fore-ordained had come amongst ye. Was it for me to declare before the appointed time that which had been given unto me? Nevertheless, did these eyes behold and this tongue


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bear witness when I said to ye that gladly would I deliver the sacred symbols to her upon whom the sign should rest. For this did I cause the maiden to be placed within the Circle of Life, where, by the decree anciently graved, no woman born of the Aca may set her feet, save the High Priestess only—knowing as I knew full well, that this day should the Red Ray descend, and the Glory of our Lord the Sun be made manifest upon his chosen one. Therefore”—and she turned with outstretched arms towards the Disc of Life, and as she uttered the words of homage, raised and lowered the golden orb she carried as she had done before, in the act of salutation,—“Therefore, I, Keorah, Woman of the Aak, do give thanks to thee, oh! Moulder of Forms, Builder of the Universe, who doest the will of the Supreme, and art for ever to be obeyed by these thy children and thy servants. Worshipping, we beseech thee, Lord Viracocha.”

Now she walked with stately gliding tread across the bare space, and standing before Anne, who was watching her with wondering eyes, she gave into the girl's trembling hands the golden globe, symbol of her own sacerdotal sovereignty. Then, loosening her gorgeous mantle of office, she laid it deftly on Anne's shoulders, whence it fell spreading on the ground, and quite enveloping the slender form. Afterwards, and always with the same quick, rhythmic movements, Keorah took the opal star from her forehead, and fastened it in the linen fillet that bound back Anne's short curls. There, reflecting a fuller ray of sunshine that suddenly struck and flashed back from the central opal of the disc, the Eye of Viracocha, as it was called, gave forth a brilliant beam of ruby fire from Anne's pale brow. Whereat the High Priestess bowed her head, and the Virgins, the Elders, and the congregation prostrated themselves anew, acclaiming yet louder the priestess marked out by the gods.

When the clamour had died down, Keorah, her eyes fixed upon the Disc, continued her prayer:—




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“Oh! Viracocha Zazil, Lord of the Lower Light, thou who wast created in the beginning, and shalt exist unto the end; powerful and pitiful; who preservest our life and strength! Thou who art in the sky and in the earth, in the clouds and in the depths, hear the voice of thy servant, and grant this petition—the last which I shall make in the name of those gathered here.

“We beseech thee, oh Viracocha, on behalf of the maiden whom thou hast sent as thy messenger, to declare thy will to these thy people. Quicken, we pray thee, with thy spirit, the soul of her who is now thy priestess, to whom I have delivered this, the Emblem of thy greatness.” She touched the golden ball as she spoke. “Clothe her in the garment of thy wisdom, even as I, thy server, have covered her with the vestment of my holy office. Lighten her eyes by the flame of thy glory, and kindle in her heart thy heavenly fire, even as thou hast kindled it in this jewel which thou didst fashion in the deeps of the earth, to be while the universe endures as an emblem of That which is unspeakable. Hear us, Viracocha!”

And the Hosanna echoed once more through the temple:—

“Uol Viracocha!
Oyoya Ku;
Zazil Huraca,
Lahuna Ku:
Uol Viracocha!”

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