The Pool Above Nraqlommbeth

Simon Whitechapel

Of the great city of Nraqlommbeth few tales speak in these latter days, and these briefly, referring to it only as the setting of a transient stop for some benighted viator too desperate or weary to heed the air of uncleanly eld that hovers above its ruins. Of the city in its prime, no tales at all speak, or at least none till I, Zhavl Yiqquan, greatest of scholars, came to conduct research in the library of the great temple of Ibblothuua and here, in the sternuatory recesses of the farthest wing of the deepest level of the subterranean scrolleries, discovered a singular manuscript written with almost faded ink upon an irregular fragment of tanned mammoth-hide.

Had my patience or my candle of hyrax fat - the last of the three-and-twenty with which I had entered the scolleries earlier in the day - given out a moment sooner the manuscript should certainly have been lost for ever: no other scholar, I am sure, had penetrated half so far into the library for a century or more, and no other scholar but I, presented with the manuscript in full light of day upon a dish of beaten iron, with a bellyful of eyebright and a gold-rimmed scrying-glass of sculpted quartz to aid his examinations, could have recognized a fraction of its significance or even been able to date it within a half-millennium or two.

I did both - and more - in the same instant as that in which my eye fell upon the thing, despite the exiguent light of my moribund candle, the quantity and inspissitude of the dust that my previous explorations among the shelves had raised, and the bone-gnawing hebetude consequent to the month of almost insomnious research I had already undertaken. My excitement was such that I dropped my candle into the basket of woven jiokkh-flax in which I had deposited my previous finds, and had it not, as I have already stated, been already flickering to extinction, I doubt not but that it should have ignited one or another, which, bursting into flame with the celerity by no means praeternatural in century-aged papyrus or parchment, would have engendered an instant conflagration of the remainder that, by sympathetic reaction among the equally Ogygian manuscripts crowding the recesses that surrounded me, should have become general in much less time than it takes me to delineate the putative sequence.

By the grace of Ibblothuua, however, the candle had arrived at that state of decrepitude sufficient for the passage of air over its wick during its fall to extinguish it almost entirely, and a moistened fingertip was sufficient to consign the rufous spark that remained to an oblivion as total as the tenebrosity that now enclosed me. Yet presence of mind had fortunately not deserted me even in my surprise and sudden - if momentary - dread of self-initiated holocausty, and I retained sufficient memory of the distance and disposition of the mammoth-hide fragment to reach out unerringly and take hold of it to place it in my basket preparatory to my egress. Even as I did so, however, and despite the care and lustra-honed skill with which I handled it, I felt the fragment crack and begin to crumble, and I breathed a silent prayer to Ibblothuua that no essential piece should have fallen irretrievably to the floor of the scrolleries, so deep with dust and pulverized papyrus and parchment is this in even the most frequented and well-illumed portions of the subterranean portions of the great library.

To reach that particular spot, indeed, I had almost had to wade where I was not clambering over massy fragments of fallen ceiling, and though my progress on the return journey was a little eased by reason of the path had I already trodden through the sundry debris cloaking the floor, I held the basket above my head, fearful otherwise that a stumble might see me measure my length atop it, crushing to indefrangible ruin the precious cargo it contained.

Yet even as I made my way to the steps that would carry me to the level of the scrolleries above (and that, unvisited, I had been assured by the priests, since the earliest days of King Jhomvusl), the fingers of the hand with which I had handled the fragment of mammoth-hide were beginning to urticate and swell in such fashion as to bring me well-nigh to swooning with pain. Indeed, had it not been for a distracting dermatalgia that shortly commenced upon the rims and within the sinuses of my nostrils (originating no doubt, I subsequently deduced, in the dust I had breathed in during retrieval of the fragment) I should have been unable to find my way out of that lowest level of the scrolleries at all; but by balancing one pain against the other in the fashion I had learnt amongst the gymnosophic fakir's of far Nivralch I managed to eke out my dwindling will with muttered cantrips of orientation and make the steps in a little under an hour.

The level above, though equally lightless so far as my brine-stung eyes (the pain in my hand and nose by now having reached an almost insupportable pitch) could discern, was slightly less cluttered with biblic dust and ceiling fragments, enabling me to make slightly faster progress to the steps leading to the level above, where at last the first faint glimmerings of daylight were visible. I rested here briefly, binding my wounded hand in strips of my leggings soaked in the last drops of sour wine from the flask I had carried with me and comforting myself with the reflection that I should make the upper levels in perhaps an hour or two and be breathing the open air shortly thereafter. Alas, it was not to be: despite my ministrations the pain in my hand continued to mount and soon no cantrips or gymnosophic wisdom could have availed me to retain a hold on consciousness. In short, I swooned, and it was not for many hours that I re-awoke, lying stiff against the floor of the scrolleries, with my mouth full of dust and fragments and a faint odor of incipient putrefaction troubling my nostrils.

I recked not of this last for the while, however, for the pain in my hand had mercifully ceased, and though I had lost all other sensation and indeed all movement in that member my other faculties remained mostly intact and I was able to resume my outward journey in such wise as to make the outside air in well under the hour I had previsioned. It was night, and I would later discover that I had spent seven-and-thirty hours underground. My second thought was of the master herbalist attached to the temple (my first, of course, being the safe stowing away of my prizes in my triple-locked trunk of nigh-on adamantine nlaphekkwa--wood); and I repaired to his cell with all possible despatch, having by now ascertained the source of the no-longer faint but waxing odor of no-longer incipient but actual putrefaction that troubled my nostrils. The source was, with seeming paradox, my nostrils themselves, and the numbed hand with which I had handled the precious manuscript of tanned mammoth-hide: some as yet unknown contagion in that object had possessed properties of extreme veneniferousness.

Indeed, had not the master-herbalist of the temple of Ibblothuua been of unique skill and learning I fear I should rapidly have succumbed to the malady already busily consuming the flesh of my hand and nose. As it was I was forced to yield both members to the knives and cauterizing rod of the herbalist, and spent a fortnight upon a pallet in the temple hospitalry, hovering on the brink of the great flight of inascendible basalt steps that lead to the netherworld, gnawed fiercely, in my brief periods of consciousness and lucidity, by the fear that I had neglected the re-fastening of my nlaphekkwa--wood trunk and should rise from my pallet to discover my prizes - and the manuscript for whose retrieval I had already paid so dearly - had been stolen or dispatched to oblivion by some over-zealous apprentice assigned to the cleaning of my cell and affronted by their strong odor of musty eld.

My fear was unfounded: I rose from my pallet, trembling and skeletal, monocheiric and enasute, to make a slow and groping progress to my cell and discover the trunk still securely triple-locked. Even in my weakened state - the herbalist had warned me that it would be some years, if ever, before I regained much, if any, of my former strength and vigor - I was anxious to commence my study of the manuscript at once. Having deduced only too well, however, that it had been the cause of my perithanatic sejourn in the hospitalry (though I had told the master-herbalist the fictive tale of an encounter with some infected flittermouse in the lower levels of the scrolleries), I first prepared the means of drawing its deadly sting: a thick hooded suit of quilted fabric for my body (originally intended for a stay in the peak-hugging monastery of Mount Athommbos); asbestos boots (originally intended for a visit to the vulcanic shrine of Zhauull-Dhrolth); a silk-swathed asbestos glove (ditto) for the hand that remained to me; and a shallow bowl of chipped enamel heaped with fragments of wax and set atop a small brazier (borrowed on a carefully prepared pretext from the temple kitchens). These prepared, I undid one by one the locks of the trunk, removed from the basket of woven jiokkh-flax the precious fragment, and set it without delay into the bowl of chipped enamel, now filled with clear, molten wax. In this wise I both sealed the fragment and its venom from the outer air and preserved it for the most punctilious inspection, for the wax was of a nigh-on perfect transparency. It has taken me half my life and the entirety of my wisdom and learning to decipher the script and language of the fragment, and I believe I make no idle boast in saying that had I failed none could have succeeded after me. Here, then, is the tale I found preserved there. Some words and phrases remained, as will be seen, indecipherable even to me, and I have reconstructed them as best I might consonant with sense and good reading.


I, Lord Hwepkath, heir of all that remains of the city and people of the city of Nraqlommbeth, being in the last hour of my mortal existence, am decided to compose a veridic narrative of my life and that of my br[ide the] Lady Myopphwë, who lies dead but a short distance from me and upon a fragment of the hem of whose travelling cloak I, with a sharpened tlequua-reed for pen, write this in my own blood.

Of the origins of the enmity that has long existed between the families of my late beloved and myself I have not time to write at length and shall say only that its antiquity is matched only by its present strength - or, I should say rather, the strength it had till the breaking of this day, when it, like all else in the city of our births, went down to oblivion at my and my bride's hands. My thoughts grow confused. I beg the pardon of whatever scholar - if any - will read this narrative in later days and shall strive herefrom to speak directly and with pertinence of how it is that my bride and I find ourselves in such melancholy wise, one dead, the other dying, on the m[arge of] the pool above Nraqlommbeth.

I was of the Horkatsi, she of the Zemphla, two of the noblest families in the great city of Nraqlommbeth - it is no boast to speak the [pl]ain truth now, nor ever was, for, alas, our nobility was not of the soul but was a mere inherited show of evanescent vanities and splendors, like all things in this sublunary sphere. The mutual hatred and contempt of our once-families had from ancient times been a byword in the city and had more than once threatened to ruin the state. On the last occasion, when my father refused to serve the king in a subordinate position to that of her father, and the great battle of Queph-Daaqlorhh came nigh to being lost for want of our archers and cav[alry], the king at last determined to cut out this chancre that had long lain nigh the heart of the kingdom, distilling there a poisonous liquor. Under pain of death our fathers were forced to swear that the next-born son of the one and daughter of the other should, on their coming of age, be wed and become heir to their conjoined fortunes. Where two families had formerly lived in antagonism, henceforth one should live in harmony.

I was born in that same year, in the high summer to which nineteen more have succeeded; my bride in the spring of the following year. As children we were presented jointly to the king in a ceremony at which our fathers re-sealed the oaths they had made, and thereafter we saw each other no more till the day of our wedding.

I was raised in what to another might seem a most unusual - and foreboding - isolation; to me it seemed no more than the normal run of things. After all, was I not [heir of the] Horkatsi, the greatest of the families of Nraqlommbeth, and was it not right that I should live in a style suited to my exalted station, without contact with lower mortality and its quo[tidi]an concerns? I had servants, of course, but never saw their faces, for they went perpetually cloaked, hooded, and veiled in my presence, and though I saw my parents once a week face-to-face, I never, after my earliest years, was able to approach them closely, for our meetings began to take place in chambers bisected by thin screens of transparent crystal or grilles of pierced porphyry or gneiss, of which I occupied one side and they the other.

Again, I thought nothing of this, nor the peculiar swathing of my servants, which only increased as my childhood advanced, nor of the fact that I never left the house of my parents to travel in the city beyond. Indeed, I never left my chambers in the uppermost storey of our house, and knew of the outside world only through reading and glances through the cracks in the sealed casements of my chambers. I realize now that my reading was carefully controlled, and that many of the scrolls I possessed must have been specially composed for me by family scribes, for they omitted all mention of life as it is commonly lived, lest, I now realize, I should have come to compare my situation with that of the scions of other great families in the city, let alone with that of the offspring of the common folk.

Indeed, news of the wider city was something I never had until the year of my majority, which would end in the hymeneal conjoining of my family with that of my long-destined bride. As part of the preparation for this (or so I was given to believe) I received lessons in the history and geography of Nraqlommbeth, committing to memory simultaneously with the names and etymologies of its districts and suburbs, temples and streets, the names and genealogies of the nobles and hierarchs who had ruled over them. It was at this time, as the months dwindled to the day of my nuptials, that I received the second intimation of my own true nature and of the end to which the ingenious malice of my family had foresworn me.

For there to be a second intimation there has of course to be a first. This had taken place some three [yea]rs before as a result of my cultivating, without the knowledge of my parents or servants (I had rather now say, without the knowledge of my warders), the friendship of the only visitors I ever received outside the circle of that cursed household: the mice that dwelt in the walls and wainscot[ing] of my chambers. Though I had learnt by long experience that these creatures, however famished, would never partake of my food, they would - and this eagerly, in the inaqueous clime of Nraqlommbeth - accept the water that I would leave out for them in a small bowl, hidden, lest it excite the notice of a servant, in the shadows of a far corner of my dining-chamber. One evening in high summer, having dismissed the servants who had served me a meal by candlelight, I made ready as usual to pour a little water into this bowl from the crystal jug in which water was supplied to me. Mistaking my grip in the uncertain light, however, I dropped the jug and saw it shatter to glittering shards in a puddle of water that swiftly dwindled through gaps in the matting of qlashshto-reed that covered the floor.

I managed to scoop a little into the bowl with a cupped hand but cut myself in doing so upon a shard, with the consequence that the water was tinged pink with my blood as I laid it to its accustomed place in the far corner. Within the half-hour two mice had crept to the place from the holes they and their fellows (with my secret connivance) had made in the wainscoting of the chamber. They lapped eagerly at the water, long accustomed to fear [no] interference from me, yet with ears alert for the returning tread of my [serv]ants.

Both mice died before my eyes, passing from active, bright-eyed life to stony immobility in the span of three heartbeats. My surprise was extreme, unti[nctu]red as yet by any trace of suspicion as I hurried to return the tiny cadavers to one of the holes in the wainscoting, noting as I did so a splot of purple foam upon the muzzle and whiskers of each. Later, however, in my sleeping-chamber, I brooded upon the deaths, and was forced to the conclusion that my blood had carried some muricidal taint. Had I not, after all, seen such mice drink water from that self-same bowl upon scores of previous occasions without taking the slightest visible harm? Yet on the first occasion two had drunk water tinged with a few drops of my blood death had supervened within moments.

My reasoning did not end with the sealing of this syllogism, however, for when I sought reassurance in the belief that there was some element in my human composition naturally antagonistic to creatures of a different order, I recalled the manner in which I was treated by my parents and servants. As will readily be recalled, my parents had never approached me closely since my infancy, always now separated from me at our hebdomadal meetings by stone or crystal screens; and my servants, though approaching me closely, had always done so wearing wearing what I now realized was prophylactic vesture. Not merely m[y blood], then, was venefic, but my whole person, and not merely to mice, but to all manner of life.

Save, I at once parenthesized, the flowers that habitually decorated my chambers. These were of many kinds, though dominated by the purple, quinquefloral nrakkwa whose languishing scent accompanies my memories of life so far as I am able to extend them. And the nrakkwa, indeed, was the only flower that grew in my chambers; all others were brought to me cut and in vases, doubtless having bloomed in the open air. The nrakkwa, in contrast, flourished where it stood in my chambers, seemingly unaffected by the unventilated gloom of its surroundings and taking no harm from my proximity and the frequent caresses I bestowed upon its leaves and petals - indeed, the specimens in my chamber bore in high summer sweet white berries that I avidly and quickly consumed.

The nature of this plant will be, I doubt not, plainly apparent to whosoever shall have read so far in this narrative in later years; to me, however, it was veiled for some time to come, for I had not yet discerned the [wef]t of the tapestry whose woof I had laid bare by my brooding upon the [deaths of] the mice. My body [and b]lood were venefic: of that I was now convinced; but why this should be so I was not able to discern until, three years after the deaths of the mice, news began to reach me of a plague current among the human inhabitants of the city beyond my parents' house.

One feature of this news struck me at once as worthy of remark: namely, that it should have come to my ears at all, after the former ignorance in which I was kept of happenings in the wider world. My parents touched briefly upon the subject at one of our meetings and I was tantalized by my servants with further hints in the week before I saw my parents again. Already sensing some hidden motive in these actions, I questioned my parents more closely at this second meeting, and my curiosity evidently harmonized exactly with their desires, for they told me all I wished to know. The plague, they revealed, struck with great suddenness and violence, leaving a purple or purplish foam upon the lips of its victims, whom it selected with a paradoxical caprice: at seeming random, yet only from youthful members of the aristocracy of my natal city.

My parents then went on to tell me that they had long known that the plague would strike the city, for the astrologer who had cast my genethliac horoscope had warned them of a maleficent influence from a conjunction of planets in the constellation of Hrummaqqthwa, the Water-Bearer, which would threaten me with death by infection at all times, but most particularly in the year of my majority. This, indeed, was why they had secluded me so sedulously from all outside contamination, fearing lest I should not live to celebrate the wedding intended to unite the families of the Horkatsi and Zemphla.

Had I never seen the mice die I feel sure I should have believed their lies, but by then I knew the truth of my situation: that I was secluded not for my own protection, but for the protection of others; that my servants were hooded, cloaked, and veiled not lest they should convey contagion to me but lest I should convey contagion to them. So it was that, supersensitized to the manner in which my parents spoke, I noted not only their inflexions of mendacity but also an unmistakeable accent of hatred when they spoke of [the Zemph]la, and on a sudden the whole plot was as plain to my mind's-eye as though, in actuality, it had been laid before me freshly rubricked upon a niveous papyrus of beaten qlashshto-reed.

My parents had acquiesced with their lips to the will of the king, but not in their hearts, and it had never been their intention that the marriage should unite our two families. Instead, I had been raised as an unconscious assassin, my body steeped from infancy in poisons till it assumed a letiferousness guaranteeing the death of my bride upon the intimate contacts that, despite my ignorance, I knew were concomitant on matrimony. I did not expect that she should succumb with the celerity of the two mice, but I doubted not that from playing the part of bridegroom I should swiftly pass to play that of widower, becoming sole heir of the two families, yet without the faintest suspicion of foul play falling upon me. I, of course, was intended to be wholly ignorant of the plot and would, with the rest of the city, believe that my bride had fallen the latest victim to the plague [that had alread]y been at work for many weeks.

For this "plague" was, of course, a factitious thing, engineered by my parents with secret doses of the same poison that predominated in my make-up and that I now realized must be derived from the nrakkwa that crowded my chambers. I do not know how I managed to disguise the disgust and loathing that overcame me as the interview with my parents preceded. Their cunning seemed surpassed only by their pitilessness, and I vowed that I should never lay fingertip or lip to the innocent maid they had intended to sacrifice on the altar of their familial pride, ambition, and malice.

The day of my wedding approached swiftly, and I found my disgust and loathing for my parents heightening to an almost insupportable pitch, for I had by now seen a portrait of my intended bride. For one such as me, isolated from all normal human intercourse, I doubt not that a maid of quite mundane aspect might have seemed possessed of a nigh-on divine beauty, but I sincerely believe that this mere painted simulcrum of Myopphwë - tears start afresh to my eyes as I write her name - would have struck thunderously upon the senses of the most hardened and debauched sensuate. My parents, I judged, also believed her beautiful, yet abated nothing of their desire to do her an ultimate ill in fulfilment of an age-[hal]lowed enmity. So it was that my disgust and loathing for them increased, and it may have been that in time they should have come to reck of it, and guess even at its cause.

Happily, this was not to be, for I doubt not that they might have found some other means to encompass Myopphwë's destruction had they learnt that I would have no part in it. The day of my wedding arrived and for the first time I set foot outside the walls of my parents' house, upon the streets of Nraqlommbeth, as I travelled in the retinue of my family to the palace of the king. I was guarded close by family guards in quilted armor, ostensibly against assassination, though in reality this was only half the truth, for the guards went hooded and veiled also, and I knew that I was being separated by them from contact with any of the court or common folk, lest my nature become apparent in a general sickness.

I remember little of the day that leads up to my first sight of my bride, for I was too excited at the thought that I should shortly see her in the flesh; and I remember little of the day after my first sight of my bride, for I was too excited at the fact that I had done so. Indeed, I came near to fainting from the excess of her beauty as, clad in the hymeneal green of Nraqlommbethian tradition, she was formally presented to me by the arch-hierarch upon the threshold of the Temple of Angra-Vokklwa. To recall her beauty even now plays within the core of my brain like fire, and at the time I knew the sight of her had sundered me from my family and people for ever: henceforth I lived only for her and the hope that she might come to live only for me. Alas that it was not to be so.

The ceremonials, by turns ear-bruising and stomach-wrenching with the drums and sacrifices of the barbarous priests of more barbarous Angra-Vokklwa, lasted out the sun, but I missed its fire not at all, for a fever had hold of my senses and the world seemed a misty unreality beside the pale face and dark hair of Myopphwë. At length, at last, the notes of the epithalamia had died away upon the night air and we paced forth alone into the scented nuptial chamber. We were alone and I must tell her that I, who loved her better than I loved my eyes, had been intended from before my birth to be her death. There was a couch at the foot of the hym[en]eal divan and I motioned her here, searching in my heart for words with which I might begin.

"Lady Myopphwë," I said.

"I hear you, my husband," she replied, and I quivered as though with ague at the beauty and purity of her voice in the silence of the chamber.

"Lady Myopphwë, I have a great thing to tell you. A great and terrible thing. It is this: I am death to thee."

A look of wonder crossed her face and she said, "As I am to thee, my husband."

"I do not understand thee, Lady Myopphwë."

"You tell me that thou art death to me, my husband. I mirror thy words and say: I am death to thee. My flesh bears a lethal taint. I have been fed from my earliest childhood on the poison nrakkwa and other hateful herbs and n-"

"Lady Myopphwë, forgive me, but I must ask thee: am I dreaming? This that thou sayest to me is purely what I purposed to say to thee. That I had been fed from my earliest childhood on the poison nrakkwa and other hateful herbs so that now it is death for any uninured being - such as I [thoug]ht thee - to touch me. It was a scheme of my parents to kill thee and so ensure the fortune of the [Hork]atsi."

"As it was a scheme of mine - that the Zemphla alone should be heir to the conjoined fortune of our families."

"Lady Myopphwë, I have no family. I abjure my inheritance and swear that from this day forth my parents are nothing to me."

"Nor mine to me, my husband. Henceforth, I have only thee."

"As I have only thee, Lady Myopphwë. And wait" - a great joy had taken hold of me - "think on what we have said. In this whole city it is death for me to touch anyone. Save only one. Thee."

"I have thought on it, my husband. I have thought that in this whole city it is death for me to touch anyone. Save only one. Thee. So come to me."

And trembling again as though with ague I went to her and we embraced and kissed and watered each other's hands and faces with tears of joy that would have blackened and corrupted the flesh of any of the many thousand others in the city. Thereafter we told each other the tale of how it was we had both come to uncover the secret of our natures, I by the deaths of the two mice, and she by chancing upon a scroll in her parents' house that told a legend of King Azhvva-Mbolk during his conquests to the south, when an enemy had sent to him in pretended tribute a girl of bewitching beauty who had been fed from her earliest days on poisons until her very kiss was letiferous. This legend, she believed, was the inspiration of her parents in their scheming, and I could not doubt but that it was the inspiration of mine too.

"But in my once-parents' house, my Lady," I told her, "I read only what it was purposed that I should read, and though I read many of the legends of King Azhvva-Mbolk in the scrolls supplied to me this one of the poison-maid was not amongst them."

"It was never thought necessary to keep me from any of the scrolls in my once-parents' house, for I had never been taught to read."

"Then how…?"

"I taught myself, my husband."

"Then thy beauty is matched only by thy wit, my Lady, and I curse my once-parents again for the end they sought to bring thee to."

"As I curse mine again, my husband. As I curse the whole city of Nraqlommbeth, for what I have seen today in the ceremonials tells me that the malice and cruelty of our once-families reflect truly the hearts of its citizens."

"You speak sooth, my Lady. Their hearts are more poison than our flesh and it is good that we are eternally sundered from them."

As we spoke a great disgust of all our kind overcame us and we vowed between renewed kisses to find some means of avenging ourselves on the great but evil city of Nraqlommbeth. It was then I remembered the training I had received in the closing months of my incarceration in the house of my once-parents. A map of the city lay again before my mind's eye and I knew I had the means of the vengeance ready at hand.

Above the city, the source of all its potable water and the thrice-yearly scene (I recalled with disgust, now knowing their true nature) of propitiatory rites to savage Angra-Vokklwa, was a pool fed by a never-failing spring. Should some powerful contagion enter this pool I doubted not that the whole city might be destroyed, for those who drank would die of the contagion and those who did not drink would soon die of thirst at this season of high summer.

I spoke these thoughts aloud to my bride and she, sighing with commingled sorrow and pleasure at the thought of the consummated vengeance, agreed that she would come with me and introduce the powerful contagion into the pool above Nraqlommbeth; namely, that we should bathe there and allow our flesh to fill the water with death. We crept forth from our nuptial chamber through the palace of the king; and thence onto the streets of the sleeping city. Dawn found us beyond the farthest suburb, climbing the final slope to the pool, where we stripped and, laughing at the odd beauty of each other's nakedness, walked into the pool to bathe.

For an hour or more we swam and splashed in the cool water as the sun blasted his way into the heavens, till at last, crawling forth to dry ourselves on the marge, we caught a faint clamor rising from the city beneath [us].

I turned smiling to Myopphwë and said, "My Lady, I fear they have discovered our escape."

"My husband, I do not fear it: I know it."

And then she looked beyond me, laughed, and said, "Look, my husband, look what grows here."

I followed her pointing hand and saw, amongst the plants and trees that crowded the slopes around [the pool], a small clump of nrakkwa in full glory of summer growth, its purple blooms shading many white berries. We ran to kneel beside it and began to feed each other with the berries, licking at the juice upon each other's fingers and blowing the pips playfully at each other's faces.

"It is a good omen, my Lady," I said to her.

"Yes, my husband. This will feed us for a day or more, and that" - she pointed to a ripely fruiting tree growing a little further off - "for a week. And those" - she pointed a little further off to other fruiting trees - "for a month beyond that."

For we had seen the fruit of these trees eaten by our guests at the ceremonials of our wedding the previous day and doubted not in our ignorance that it would nourish us no worse than it had nourished them. Yet now the eyelids of Myopphwë drooped and she sighed a little, saying to me, "But I am weary, my husband, and wish to sleep a little before" - and my heart twisted as she blushed - "we complete what should have been completed below, in our nuptial chamber."

"As you please, my Lady."

And as she laid herself in the shade of the nrakkwa to sleep I wandered off to the tree she had pointed out, plucking one of its ripe fruits and biting into the sun-warmed pulp. Sweet it was, very sweet, but I savored its sweetness only for an instant, for my tongue grew swiftly numb and my lips that had touched the skin of the fruit began to smart dully. I spat the mouthful out, a terrible understanding beginning to dawn and a great despair to overwhelm me.

We two, reared on poisons from our earliest childhood till poisons were no poison to us, could eat our fill of nrakkwa berries and suffer no ill, but the [fruit of] these trees, tasty and nourishing to the common run of humanity, was, by virtue of its very ordinariness, deadly poison to us. A killing paradox. Once we had stripped the nrakkwa of berries we would starve in the midst of what to a hundred thousand others would have been plenty.

I tested my reasoning at the other tr[ees pointed out to m]e by my now sleeping bride, and found their fruit too stung my lips and numbed my tongue. By now the cl[amor in th]e city below had died away, only to be succeeded by faint cries of swiftly stilled pain and surprise, and I knew the taint our flesh had given to the water of the pool was beginning its [work amon]g our abjured people. We two were now the heirs of the en[tire city of] Nraqlommbeth, yet I knew we could never live [to enter] into our inheritance.

W[eeping, I ret]urned to my [sleeping br]ide. [With a whis]pered plea for forgive[ness, I placed] my hands upon her neck, paused briefly to gather my courage and resolve, [and then] tightened them [with such gr]eat force and sudden[ness that her ver]tebra cracked in an instant and she passed [from sleep to de]ath without knowing that she died. Myself I would kill shortly, but first I wished to record our sad tale, deeming it [uns]eemly that the f[all of the] great city of Nraqlommbeth should go [for ever unex]plained.

[The writing here breaks off and then re-commences in more legible script]

At this point the supply of ink from my own veins has become singularly thickened and inutible, and I have been forced to resort to the untapped body of my bride, in whose blood I will bring my narrative to a close. A thought has struck me as I wrote, that our bodies are too well-seasoned with poisons to rot before many years have passed. I shall plant berries of the nrakkwa in the soil around us, that a thicket of the plant might spring up and shield us from view until we shall have returned finally to the earth from which even such a pair as we have come. (I think particularly of the temptation the beauty of my bride might off[er eve]n in death to the lust of any man who found her, swiftly punished though his violation would surely be.) A great weariness has overcome me and I am ready to join the Lady Myopphwë in death, hoping that, should certain legends prove true and she does indeed await me in the gloomy halls of Angra-Vokklwa, she will forgive me for what I have done to her out of very great pity and love.


I, Zhavl Yiqquan, greatest of scholars, have travelled to the ruins of Nraqlommbeth since I completed my translation and there I searched many days for the pool of which the lord Hwepkath wrote. At length I found it, rising high upon a slope that overlooked the city. Upon the western marge there was a flourishing bank of what from Hwepkath's description I recognized as early blooming flowers of nrakkwa. The manner in which the nrakkwa grew left me in little doubt that should some well-mithridatized antiquary choose to delve beneath them he would find, entwined in death as in life, the imputrefible bodies of the youth of Nraqlommbeth and his bride.

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