The third volume of a great historical fiction series
There are few who have heard of H. Rider Haggard's novels who do not know his principal character—Allan Quatermain—the archetypal white man in Africa. Here was a hero who would take on a Zulu Impi, a charging rhinoceros, a giant gorilla God, a lost tribe, slavers, a magical eternal queen, malign spirits and still come back for more—bringing a host of readers with him. In short, Haggard knew what it took to write a good adventure which is why some of his books have been among the most popular in modern times. Haggard was a prolific author: aside from the Quatermain stories, he produced a sequence of novels concerning the ancient world, four featuring his other great character, Ayesha—'She who must be obeyed’—and a collection of adventure novels taking Africa as their stage but without the presence of Quatermain. All are excellent. In Haggard’s lifetime his public eagerly awaited his next book, but today, while many are aware of his reputation, that knowledge often applies to but a small proportion of the reading enjoyment his books have to offer. Fortunately Leonaur now publish most of these works in matching sets at great value by combining two or more novels in each volume. Now Leonaur is pleased to offer Haggard's historical adventure series. Predictably Haggard's inventive pen was able to create several more lead characters of the stamp of Quatermain and they populate many of the ages of history with gripping adventures set against momentous events in many lands.
Haggard fans are sure to be pleased with the first novel—the fifth in the series—in this the penultimate volume in this special Leonaur collection of his historical fiction. Once again he has deftly combined fact with his fertile imagination and created a story of high adventure in which its hero—hunting the Spanish murderer of his mother—is drawn towards Mexico in the early sixteenth century to join the ranks of the exotic Empire of the Aztecs. There he will meet his destiny and assist them in their battles against the Spanish invaders. In The Lady of Blossholme, the second tale in this volume, England is a troubled land. It is the time of Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the dissolution of the monasteries. This adventure is set against the events of 'The Pilgrimage of Grace' a gently named term for an armed rebellion against the Crown which ended for many upon the executioner's scaffold. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket.
I awoke at dawn much refreshed with sleep, and having washed and clothed myself in the linen robes that were provided for me, I came into the large room, where food was given me. Scarcely had I finished my meal when my captor, the cacique, entered, accompanied by two men whose appearance struck terror to my heart. In countenance they were fierce and horrible; they wore black robes embroidered with mystic characters in red, and their long and tangled hair was matted together with some strange substance. These men, whom all present, including the chief or cacique, seemed to look on with the utmost reverence, glared at me with a fierce glee that made my blood run cold. One of them, indeed, tore open my white robe and placed his filthy hand upon my heart, which beat quickly enough, counting its throbs aloud while the other nodded at his words. Afterwards I learned that he was saying that I was very strong. <br>
Glancing round to find the interpretation of this act upon the faces of those about me, my eyes caught those of the girl Marina, and there was that in them which left me in little doubt. Horror and pity were written there, and I knew that some dreadful death overshadowed me. Before I could do anything, before I could even think, I was seized by the priests, or pabas as the Indians name them, and dragged from the room, all the household following us except Marina and the cacique. Now I found myself in a great square or market place bordered by many fine houses of stone and lime, and some of mud, which was filling rapidly with a vast number of people, men women and children, who all stared at me as I went towards the pyramid on the top of which the fire burned. At the foot of this pyramid I was led into a little chamber hollowed in its thickness, and here my dress was torn from me by more priests, leaving me naked except for a cloth about my loins and a chaplet of bright flowers which was set upon my head. In this chamber were three other men, Indians, who from the horror on their faces I judged to be also doomed to death.<br>
Presently a drum began to beat high above us, and we were taken from the chamber and placed in a procession of many priests, I being the first among the victims. Then the priests set up a chant and we began the ascent of the pyramid, following a road that wound round and round its bulk till it ended on a platform at its summit, which may have measured forty paces in the square. Hence the view of the surrounding country was very fine, but in that hour I scarcely noticed it, having no care for prospects, however pleasing. On the further side of the platform were two wooden towers fifty feet or so in height. These were the temples of the gods, Huitzel God of War and Quetzal God of the Air, whose hideous effigies carved in stone grinned at us through the open doorways. In the chambers of these temples stood small altars, and on the altars were large dishes of gold, containing the hearts of those who had been sacrificed on the yesterday. These chambers, moreover, were encrusted with every sort of filth. In front of the temples stood the altar whereon the fire burned eternally, and before it were a hog-backed block of black marble of the size of an inn drinking table, and a great carven stone shaped like a wheel, measuring some ten feet across with a copper ring in its centre.<br>
All these things I remembered afterwards, though at the time I scarcely seemed to see them, for hardly were we arrived on the platform when I was seized and dragged to the wheel-shaped stone. Here a hide girdle was put round my waist and secured to the ring by a rope long enough to enable me to run to the edge of the stone and no further. Then a flint-pointed spear was given to me and spears were given also to the two captives who accompanied me, and it was made clear to me by signs that I must fight with them, it being their part to leap upon the stone and mine to defend it. Now I thought that if I could kill these two poor creatures, perhaps I myself should be allowed to go free, and so to save my life I prepared to take theirs if I could. Presently the head priest gave a signal commanding the two men to attack me, but they were so lost in fear that they did not even stir. Then the priests began to flog them with leather girdles till at length crying out with pain, they ran at me. One reached the stone and leapt upon it a little before the other, and I struck the spear through his arm. Instantly he dropped his weapon and fled, and the other man fled also, for there was no fight in them, nor would any flogging bring them to face me again.<br>
Seeing that they could not make them brave, the priests determined to have done with them. Amidst a great noise of music and chanting, he whom I had smitten was seized and dragged to the hog-backed block of marble, which in truth was a stone of sacrifice. On this he was cast down, breast upwards, and held so by five priests, two gripping his hands, two his legs, and one his head. Then, having donned a scarlet cloak, the head priest, that same who had felt my heart, uttered some kind of prayer, and, raising a curved knife of the flint-like glass or itztli, struck open the poor wretch’s breast at a single blow, and made the ancient offering to the sun.<br>
As he did this all the multitude in the place below, in full view of whom this bloody game was played, prostrated themselves, remaining on their knees till the offering had been thrown into the golden censer before the statue of the god Huitzel. Thereon the horrible priests, casting themselves on the body, carried it with shouts to the edge of the pyramid or teocalli, and rolled it down the steep sides. At the foot of the slope it was lifted and borne away by certain men who were waiting, for what purpose I did not know at that time.<br>
Scarcely was the first victim dead when the second was seized and treated in a like fashion, the multitude prostrating themselves as before. And then last of all came my turn. I felt myself seized and my senses swam, nor did I recover them till I found myself lying on the accursed stone, the priests dragging at my limbs and head, my breast strained upwards till the skin was stretched tight as that of a drum, while over me stood the human devil in his red mantle, the glass knife in his hand. Never shall I forget his wicked face maddened with the lust for blood, or the glare in his eyes as he tossed back his matted locks. But he did not strike at once, he gloated over me, pricking me with the point of the knife. It seemed to me that I lay there for years while the paba aimed and pointed with the knife, but at last through a mist that gathered before my eyes, I saw it flash upward. Then when I thought that my hour had come, a hand caught his arm in mid-air and held it and I heard a voice whispering.