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The Damsel and Her Demon Lover
by Sayujya (Contest Entry) | Published On:

Based on Kubla Khan By Samuel Taylor Coleridge 

Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment. 

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

   Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round;

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

 

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted

Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!

A savage place! as holy and enchanted

As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted

By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,

As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,

A mighty fountain momently was forced:

Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst

Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,

Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:

And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever

It flung up momently the sacred river.

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion

Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,

Then reached the caverns measureless to man,

And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;

And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far

Ancestral voices prophesying war!

   The shadow of the dome of pleasure

   Floated midway on the waves;

   Where was heard the mingled measure

   From the fountain and the caves.

It was a miracle of rare device,

A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

 

   A damsel with a dulcimer

   In a vision once I saw:

   It was an Abyssinian maid

   And on her dulcimer she played,

   Singing of Mount Abora.

   Could I revive within me

   Her symphony and song,

   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,

That with music loud and long,

I would build that dome in air,

That sunny dome! those caves of ice!

And all who heard should see them there,

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Weave a circle round him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread

For he on honey-dew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

He woke up as he heard the hawk’s screech. Cublai’s hunt had begun, he thought. As the night had engulfed him, as he had slept, he had dreamt a dream. An Abyssinian maid. The sweet ecstasy of music. And the drum beats of war. The thrill of sword and blood. Fragments of a vision. He had woken up with the screeching hawk, and the dream melted away with the fumes of sub-consciousness.

Hantum was fair and short, but muscular. He was Cublai’s general. He was the conqueror of lands. He was the fairness of summer, the white blossoms of the orchids in his garden, he was the litheness of the sinuous streams that flowed through his land. He was the sound of redness and death. But, this was a time of peace and he knew he was becoming complacent. He sat on his calves and slowly ran his hand over his face. The glimmering sun dappled through the diaphanous cloth that fluttered over his open bamboo door. His hair drooped till his shoulders. He slowly, but firmly tied his hair into a knot. His moustache was a thin streak. He looked out of his door and prayed to the gods. Today was a day of import. He could feel it in his pulse, in his heart beat. He awaited the summons from his king. And in the meanwhile, he decided to practice with his sword.

He stepped out onto the mellifluous gardens. A stream wove itself past his house, and the lush green land was spotted with purple and white orchid trees. Despite being walled-in, Hantum thought, it felt as though he were in heaven. He let the green carpet caress his feet. He bowed to the river, the trees and the sun, and having brought his sword, he felt its supple weight in his lithe hands and smiled with pleasure.

The sun was setting behind the inter-locked streams that gurgled from the hill-tops. It was a red sunset, with the rivulets pulsing like veins to a human heart. It was a red sunset when the summons came and Hantum was ready. The whispers of war flitted through the air like little birds. He stepped inside and donned his silk, purple robe, his thick leather shoes and his black lamellar and helm. He strapped his sword to his hilt and finally, grabbing his spear, he marched towards the emperor’s pleasure dome.

 

They stood in silence as the troupe walked in. Before the discussions of war, Cublai Khan had demanded a performance. The emperor was resplendent in the yellows and greens which reflected the sunny spots of greenery that was his land. His general, however, stood still but impatient by his majesty’s side. He tired easily of pleasure. He desired war. He desired action. He desired energy and passion. He wearied of standing and watching performers from far off lands sing to varied tunes. But he watched, and he stood silent as the night, still as the earth.

It took him a while to notice her. The troupe had set up. He cared not for the dancers. That was Cublai’s pleasure. He cared not for the laughs and beats of ankleted footsteps. A soft music wafted through the air. But Hantum barely noticed. He watched the door, the massive seats, the enthusiastic audience. Very slowly, the music entered his ears and swirled through his mind; and the music was alchemy. The dull voids in his life filled with the golden threads of music. He searched for the musician and he spotted the damsel with the dulcimer.

She was dusky death. She was brown like the deep barks of the forests; she was brown like the firmness of the earth; she was brown like the muddy depths of the riverbed; she was the scent of musk; she was the essence of melody. She wore an orange blouse and a similar shade of harem pants. Her hair was strewn across her body, swathing her as the river would hide its secrets within it. It trilled down to her thighs. Her forehead was ornamented with a simple circlet of gold. Her ears dangled dewdrops and her nose was studded with a simple stone. She sat amidst her women-folk and as they sung, she played. And her dulcimer was the sound of the gurgling brook, the rustling forest and the silent night.

 

She had seen him before he had spotted her. He had been allowed to remove his helm. His long hair was knotted, as only a soldier would knot it, with a cloth of purple silk, above his head. His jaw was long and firm. He was fair as day, and his eyes swept the hall for even a remote sign of trouble. His eyes, oh, his eyes were small, but sharp! They glistened with acuity. A sharp streak of khol emphasised his eyes. His fist was clenched around his spear. He stood still as silent water. She smiled to herself and there was a ripple in the still ocean of her heart.

 

It had been a harrowing day. She had travelled long and far, but the emperor had acknowledged her troupe above the multitudes of performers, and this had been her chance to portray her talents. She was alone. Her parents had died when she was young and the troupe had adopted her. She had left home and hearth, moving from land to land, singing of Mount Abora. Those blissful mountains of green in a land of desert sands. Those mountains of life and longing. The mountains that were paradise. She thought back to her childhood days when she played there, with her parents standing watch over her traipsing feet. Sometimes, home wrenched her heart as nothing else would. She missed those happy days of carefree joy and it trickled into her music. And she sang a low desert song of camels and the night breeze and the shifting sands of time.

Amara had been named after the mountains she had lived in. Her parents were nomads. They had travelled across the land singing songs and earning through their melodic tunes. Their troupe had always been a close knit family, and with their death, Amara had been taken care of by the others. But now, her troupe so far away from home. They had heard the summons of Cublai, and they knew they would be paid well. But, the dunes and the mountains that had been Amara’s love had been left behind.

She stole a glance at Hantum again. His sharp eyes turned quickly from the nobles seated around her and rested on her eyes. She was no shy maid. She stared back with the glimmer of a smile. In his eyes, there was a feeling of the oceans of sand shifting beneath her feet. She felt at home. Her dulcimer trilled a happier lilt as her smile broadened. This one is for you, her eyes seemed to say.

 

She sang for me, he thought. The troupe had left. They were strategising for war. They were planning the defence against the army from the north. They would be severely outnumbered, but Hantum was sure that they could steal a win. And thus, they plodded on with their plans and stratagems. Cublai, listened patiently, but with an ever-present restlessness that pervaded the room. In the midst of the dome of pleasure were ancient voices prophesying war. And in the midst of war, was Hantum’s paradise. A fragment of a vision. An Abyssinian maid. A song of Mount Abora.

 

Her smile haunted him as nothing had ever before haunted him. He sought her for her music, for her charm, for her magic. He sought her for the wisdom that lay hidden beneath her youth. And he had found her walking through the orchid groves.

They met behind that deep romantic chasm that had known many an illicit visitor. Beside the hills, below the cedar grove, below the ancient skies of black, they met. And their love was pure, like the mingling of sand and sea, of earth and sky, of sweat and musk. Their love was holy. Their love was enchanted. Their love was a ceaseless turmoil that was the panting earth, the gasps of pleasure that were the churning waves of passion. Their love erupted in a fountain of pleasure. And the night was consumed in their desire.

But, as the sun rose, Hantum could hear what his king had heard in the throne-room… ancestral voices prophesying war.

He left as the bloody sun rose along the skyline. He left in search of what he loved most, leaving behind she whom he loved most. Amara. Paradise. Eternity. A fragment of a vision. A damsel with a dulcimer. His love, his ocean, his heart.

He stood on the battlefield, his sword unsheathed. His lamellar dented inwards. His wounds bled redness. His purple robe was stained with congealing blood. The dulcimer in his heart sang the soft tunes of love. But through the distances of space, their sacred river ran, tinkling a song that was holy and pure. He closed his eyes, and hummed…

A damsel with a dulcimer

In a vision once I saw:

   It was an Abyssinian maid

   And on her dulcimer she played,

   Singing of Mount Abora.

   Could I revive within me

   Her symphony and song?

I would build that dome in air,

That sunny dome! those caves of ice!

And all who heard should see them there,

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Weave a circle round him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread

For he on honey-dew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

The news of death. The news of silence. The news of nothingness. Sorrow engulfed the air. And she stood in their deep romantic chasm. A chasm of love, of passion, now black and deserted. A savage land of lifelessness. She stood there beneath the waning moon, and howled of pain and passion- of pure love. Of a sacred river melting away into a sunless sea. Of despair. Of hate. She howled. As the walls and towers that circled the fertile lands of green crumbled to the ground, she envisioned him with his long hair loose, his kohl-darkened eyes filled with the madness of love and life, his song thundering in the beat of the drums.

And she wailed for her demon-lover.

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Author
Sayujya

Sayujya

Written: 1 Stories

Member Since: 08-Dec-2014

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