Into the North
Window of my chamber glows the Pole Star with uncanny light. All through
the long hellish hours of blackness it shines there. And in the autumn
of the year, when the winds from the north curse and whine, and the red-leaved
trees of the swamp mutter things to one another in the small hours of the
morning under the horned waning moon, I sit by the casement and watch that
star. Down from the heights reels the glittering Cassiopeia as the hours
wear on, while Charles' Wain lumbers up from behind the vapour-soaked swamp
trees that sway in the night wind. Just before dawn Arcturus winks ruddily
from above the cemetary on the low hillock, and Coma Berenices shimmers
weirdly afar off in the mysterious east; but still the Pole Star leers
down from the same place in the black vault, winking hideously like an
insane watching eye which strives to convey some strange message, yet recalls
nothing save that it once had a message to convey. Sometimes, when it is
cloudy, I can sleep.
Well do I remember the night of
the great Aurora, when over the swamp played the shocking corruscations
of the daemon light. After the beam came clouds, and then I slept.
And it was under a horned waning
moon that I saw the city for the first time. Still and somnolent did it
lie, on a strange plateau in a hollow between strange peaks. Of ghastly
marble were its walls and its towers, its columns, domes, and pavements.
In the marble streets were marble pillars, the upper parts of which were
carven into the images of grave bearded men. The air was warm and stirred
not. And overhead, scarce ten degrees from the zenith, glowed that watching
Pole Star. Long did I gaze on the city, but the day came not. When the
red Aldebaran, which blinked low in the sky but never set, had crawled
a quarter of the way around the horizon, I saw light and motion in the
houses and the streets. Forms strangely robed, but at once noble and familiar,
walked abroad and under the horned waning moon men talked wisdom in a tongue
which I understood, though it was unlike any language which I had ever
known. And when the red Aldebaran had crawled more than half-way around
the horizon, there were again darkness and silence.
When I awaked, I was not as I had
been. Upon my memory was graven the vision of the city, and within my soul
had arisen another and vaguer recollection, of whose nature I was not then
certain. Thereafter, on the cloudy nights when I could not sleep, I saw
the city often; sometimes under the hot, yellow rays of a sun which did
not set, but which wheeled low in the horizon. And on the clear nights
the Pole Star leered as never before.
Gradually I came to wonder what
might be my place in that city on the strange plateau betwixt strange peaks.
At first content to view the scene as an all-observant uncorporeal presence,
I now desired to define my relation to it, and to speak my mind amongst
the grave men who conversed each day in the public squares. I said to myself,
"This is no dream, for by what means can I prove the greater reality of
that other life in the house of stone and brick south of the sinister swamp
and the cemetery on the low hillock, where the Pole Star peeps into my
north window each night?"
One night as I listened to the discourses
in the large square containing many statues, I felt a change; and perceived
that I had at last a bodily form. Nor was I a stranger in the streets of
Olathoe, which lies on the plateau of Sarkia, betwixt the peaks of Noton
and Kadiphonek. It was my friend Alos who spoke, and his speech was one
that pleased my soul, for it was the speech of a true man and patriot.
That night had the news come of Daikos' fall, and of the advance of the
Inutos; squat, hellish yellow fiends who five years ago had appeared out
of the unknown west to ravage the confines of our kingdom, and to besiege
many of our towns. Having taken the fortified places at the foot of the
mountains, their way now lay open to the plateau, unless every citizen
could resist with the strength of ten men. For the squat creatures were
mighty in the arts of war, and knew not the scruples of honour which held
back our tall, grey-eyed men of Lomar from ruthless conquest.
Alos, my friend, was commander of
all the forces on the plateau, and in him lay the last hope of our country.
On this occasion he spoke of the perils to be faced and exhorted the men
of Olathoe, bravest of the Lomarians, to sustain the traditions of their
ancestors, who when forced to move southward from Zobna before the advance
of the great ice sheet (even as our descendents must some day flee from
the land of Lomar) valiently and victoriously swept aside the hairly, long-armed,
cannibal Gnophkehs that stood in their way. To me Alos denied the warriors
part, for I was feeble and given to strange faintings when subjected to
stress and hardships. But my eyes were the keenest in the city, despite
the long hours I gave each day to the study of the Pnakotic manuscripts
and the wisdom of the Zobnarian Fathers; so my friend, desiring not to
doom me to inaction, rewarded me with that duty which was second to nothing
in importance. To the watchtower of Thapnen he sent me, there to serve
as the eyes of our army. Should the Inutos attempt to gain the citadel
by the narrow pass behind the peak Noton and thereby surprise the garrison,
I was to give the signal of fire which would warn the waiting soldiers
and save the town from immediate disaster.
Alone I mounted the tower, for every
man of stout body was needed in the passes below. My brain was sore dazed
with excitement and fatigue, for I had not slept in many days; yet was
my purpose firm, for I loved my native land of Lomar, and the marble city
Olathoe that lies betwixt the peaks Noton and Kadiphonek.
But as I stood in the tower's topmost
chamber, I beheld the horned waning moon, red and sinister, quivering through
the vapours that hovered over the distant valley of Banof. And through
an opening in the roof glittered the pale Pole Star, fluttering as if alive,
and leering like a fiend and tempter. Methought its spirit whispered evil
counsel, soothing me to traitorous somnolence with a damnable rhythmical
promise which it repeated over and over:
Slumber, watcher, till the spheres,
Six and twenty thousand years
Have revolv'd, and I return
To the spot where now I burn.
Other stars anon shall rise
To the axis of the skies;
Stars that soothe and stars that
With a sweet forgetfulness:
Only when my round is o'er
Shall the past disturb thy door.
Vainly did I struggle with my drowsiness,
seeking to connect these strange words with some lore of the skies which
I had learnt from the Pnakotic manuscripts. My head, heavy and reeling,
drooped to my breast, and when next I looked up it was in a dream, with
the Pole Star grinning at me through a window from over the horrible and
swaying trees of a dream swamp. And I am still dreaming.
In my shame and despair I sometimes
scream frantically, begging the dream-creatures around me to waken me ere
the Inutos steal up the pass behind the peak Noton and take the citadel
by surprise; but these creatures are daemons, for they laugh at me and
tell me I am not dreaming. They mock me whilst I sleep, and whilst the
squat yellow foe may be creeping silently upon us. I have failed in my
duties and betrayed the marble city of Olathoe; I have proven false to
Alos, my friend and commander. But still these shadows of my dreams deride
me. They say there is no land of Lomar, save in my nocturnal imaginings;
that in these realms where the Pole Star shines high, and red Aldebaran
crawls low around the horizon, there has been naught save ice and snow
for thousands of years of years, and never a man save squat, yellow creatures,
blighted by the cold, called "Esquimaux."
And as I writhe in my guilty agony,
frantic to save the city whose peril every moment grows, and vainly striving
to shake off this unnatural dream of a house of stone and brick south of
a sinister swamp and a cemetery on a low hillock, the Pole Star, evil and
monstrous, leers down from the black vault, winking hideously like an insane
watching eye which strives to convey some
message, yet recalls nothing save
that it once had a message to convey.