Among the finest of the stand-alone pieces from Dunsany’s The Gods of Pegāna.
⁓The Voice before the Void
“Of How Imbaun Met Zodrak”
from The Gods of Pegāna
The prophet of the gods lay resting by the river to watch the stream run by.
And as he lay he pondered on the Scheme of Things and the works of all the gods. And it seemed to the prophet of the gods as he watched the stream run by that the Scheme was a right scheme and the gods benignant gods; yet there was sorrow in the Worlds. It seemed that Kib was bountiful, that Mung calmed all who suffer, that Sish dealt not too harshly with the hours, and that all the gods were good; yet there was sorrow in the Worlds.
Then said the prophet of the gods as he watched the stream run by: “There is some other god of whom naught is writ.” And suddenly the prophet was aware of an old man who bemoaned beside the river, crying: “Alas! alas!”
His face was marked by the sign and the seal of exceeding many years, and there was yet vigour in his frame. These be the words of the prophet that he wrote in his book: “I said: ‘Who art thou that bemoans beside the river?’ And he answered: ‘I am the fool.’ I said: ‘Upon thy brow are the marks of wisdom such as is stored in books.’ He said: ‘I am Zodrak. Thousands of years ago I tended sheep upon a hill that sloped towards the sea. The gods have many moods. Thousands of years ago They were in a mirthful mood. They said: “Let Us call up a man before Us that We may laugh in Pegana.”
“‘And Their eyes that looked on me saw not me alone but also saw THE BEGINNING and THE END and all the Worlds besides. Then said the gods, speaking as speak the gods: “Go, back to thy sheep.”
“‘But I, who am the fool, had heard it said on earth that whoso seeth the gods upon Pegana becometh as the gods, if so he demand to Their faces, who may not slay him who hath looked them in the eyes.
“‘And I, the fool, said: “I have looked in the eyes of the gods, and I demand what a man may demand of the gods when he hath seen Them in Pegana.” And the gods inclined Their heads and Hoodrazai said: “It is the law of the gods.”
“‘And I, who was only a shepherd, how could I know?
“‘I said: “I will make men rich.” And the gods said: “What is rich?”
“‘And I said: “I will send them love.” And the gods said: “What is love?” And I sent gold into the Worlds, and, alas! I sent with it poverty and strife. And I sent love into the Worlds, and with it grief.
“‘And now I have mixed gold and love most woefully together, and I can never remedy what I have done, for the deeds of the gods are done, and nothing may undo them.
“‘Then I said: “I will give men wisdom that they may be glad.” And those who got my wisdom found that they knew nothing, and from having been happy became glad no more.
“‘And I, who would make men happy, have made them sad, and I have spoiled the beautiful scheme of the gods.
“‘And now my hand is for ever on the handle of Their plough. I was only a shepherd, and how should I have known?
“‘Now I come to thee as thou restest by the river to ask of thee thy forgiveness, for I would fain have the forgiveness of a man.’
“And I answered: ‘O Lord of seven skies, whose children are the storms, shall a man forgive a god?’
“He answered: ‘Men have sinned not against the gods as the gods have sinned against men since I came into Their councils.’
“And I, the prophet, answered: ‘O Lord of seven skies, whose plaything is the thunder, thou art amongst the gods, what need hast thou for words from any man?’
“He said: ‘Indeed I am amongst the gods, who speak to me as they speak to other gods, yet is there always a smile about Their mouths, and a look in Their eyes that saith: “Thou wert a man.”‘
“I said: ‘O Lord of seven skies, about whose feet the Worlds are as drifted sand, because thou biddest me, I, a man, forgive thee.’
“And he answered: ‘I was but a shepherd, and I could not know.’
“Then he was gone.”