Dunsany’s fantastical mythologizing swells into as much profundity as any holy book.
⁓The Voice before the Void
The Gods of Pegāna
OF HOW IMBAUN BECAME HIGH PROPHET IN ARADEC OF ALL THE GODS SAVE ONE
Imbaun was to be made High Prophet in Aradec, of All the Gods save One.
From Ardra, Rhoodra, and the lands beyond came all High Prophets of the Earth to the Temple in Aradec of All the gods save One.
And then they told Imbaun how The Secret of Things was upon the summit of the dome of the Hall of Night, but faintly writ, and in an unknown tongue.
Midway in the night, between the setting and the rising sun, they led Imbaun into the Hall of Night, and said to him, chaunting altogether: “Imbaun, Imbaun, Imbaun, look up to the roof, where is writ The Secret of Things, but faintly, and in an unknown tongue.”
And Imbaun looked up, but darkness was so deep within the Hall of Night that Imbaun was not even the High Prophets who came from Ardra, Rhoodra, and the lands beyond, nor saw he aught in the Hall of Night at all.
Then called the High Prophets: “What seest thou, Imbaun?”
And Imbaun said: “I see naught.”
Then called the High Prophets: “What knowest thou Imbaun?”
And Imbaun said: “I know naught.”
Then spake the High Prophet of Eld of All the gods save One, who is first on Earth of prophets: “O Imbaun! we have all looked upwards in the Hall of Night towards the secret of Things, and ever it was dark, and the Secret faint and in an unknown tongue. And now thou knowest what all High Prophets know.”
And Imbaun answered: “I know.”
So Imbaun became High Prophet in Aradec of All the gods save One, and prayed for all the people, who knew not that there was darkness in the Hall of Night or that the secret was writ faint and in an unknown tongue.
These are the words of Imbaun that he wrote in a book that all the people might know:
“In the twentieth night of the nine hundredth moon, as night came up the valley, I performed the mystic rites of each of the gods in the temple as is my wont, lest any of the gods should grow angry in the night and whelm us while we slept.
“And as I uttered the last of certain secret words I fell asleep in the temple, for I was weary, with my head against the altar of Dorozhand. Then in the stillness, as I slept, there entered Dorozhand by the temple door in the guise of a man, and touched me on the shoulder, and I awoke.
“But when I saw that his eyes shone blue and lit the whole of the temple I knew that he was a god though he came in mortal guise. And Dorozhand said: ‘Prophet of Dorozhand, behold that the people may know.’ And he showed me the paths of Sish stretching far down into the future time. Then he bade me arise and follow whither he pointed, speaking no words but commanding with his eyes.
“Therefore upon the twentieth night of the nine hundredth moon I walked with Dorozhand adown the paths of Sish into the future time.
“And ever beside the way did men slay men. And the sum of their slaying was greater than the slaying of the pestilence of any of the evils of the gods.
“And cities arose and shed their houses in dust, and ever the desert returned again to its own, and covered over and hid the last of all that had troubled its repose.
“And still men slew men.
“And I came at last to a time when men set their yoke no longer upon beasts but made them beasts of iron.
“And after that did men slay men with mists.
“Then, because the slaying exceeded their desire, there came peace upon the world that was brought by the hand of the slayer, and men slew men no more.
“And cities multiplied, and overthrew the desert and conquered its repose.
“And suddenly I beheld that THE END was near, for there was a stirring above Pegana as of One who grows weary of resting, and I saw the hound Time crouch to spring, with his eyes upon the throats of the gods, shifting from throat to throat, and the drumming of Skarl grew faint.
“And if a god may fear, it seemed that there was fear upon the face of Dorozhand, and he seized me by the hand and led me back along the paths of Time that I might not see THE END.
“Then I saw cities rise out of the dust again and fall back into the desert whence they had arisen; and again I slept in the Temple of All the gods save One, with my head against the altar of Dorozhand.
“Then again the Temple was alight, but not with light from the eyes of Dorozhand; only dawn came all blue out of the East and shone through the arches of the Temple. Then I awoke and performed the morning rites and mysteries of All the gods save One, lest any of the gods be angry in the day and take away the Sun.
“And I knew that because I who had been so near to it had not beheld THE END that a man should never behold it or know the doom of the gods. This They have hidden.”
OF HOW IMBAUN MET ZODRAK
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.”
The prophet of the gods cried out to the gods: “O! All the gods save One” for none may pray to MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI, “where shall the life of a man abide when Mung hath made against his body the sign of Mung?—for the people with whom ye play have sought to know.”
But the gods answered, speaking through the mist:
“Though thou shouldst tell thy secrets to the beasts, even that the beasts should understand, yet will not the gods divulge the secret of the gods to thee, that gods and beasts and men shall be all the same, all knowing the same things.”
That night Yoharneth-Lahai came to Aradec, and said unto Imbaun: “Wherefore wouldst thou know the secret of the gods that not the gods may tell thee?
“When the wind blows not, where, then, is the wind?
“Or when thou art not living, where art thou?
“What should the wind care for the hours of calm or thou for death?
“Thy life is long, Eternity is short.
“So short that, shouldst thou die and Eternity should pass, and after the passing of Eternity thou shouldst live again, thou wouldst say: ‘I closed mine eyes but for an instant.’
“There is an eternity behind thee as well as one before. Hast thou bewailed the aeons that passed without thee, who art so much afraid of the aeons that shall pass?”
Then said the prophet: “How shall I tell the people that the gods have not spoken and their prophet doth not know? For then should I be prophet no longer, and another would take the people’s gifts instead of me.”
Then said Imbaun to the people: “The gods have spoken, saying: ‘O Imbaun, Our prophet, it is as the people believe whose wisdom hath discovered the secret of the gods, and the people when they die shall come to Pegana, and there live with the gods, and there have pleasure without toil. And Pegana is a place all white with the peaks of mountains, on each of them a god, and the people shall lie upon the slopes of the mountains each under the god that he hath worshipped most when his lot was in the Worlds. And there shall music beyond thy dreaming come drifting through the scent of all the orchards in the Worlds, with somewhere someone singing an old song that shall be as a half-remembered thing. And there shall be gardens that have always sunlight, and streams that are lost in no sea beneath skies for ever blue. And there shall be no rain nor no regrets. Only the roses that in highest Pegana have achieved their prime shall shed their petals in showers at thy feet, and only far away on the forgotten earth shall voices drift up to thee that cheered thee in thy childhood about the gardens of thy youth. And if thou sighest for any memory of earth because thou hearest unforgotten voices, then will the gods send messengers on wings to soothe thee in Pegana, saying to them: “There one sigheth who hath remembered Earth.” And they shall make Pegana more seductive for thee still, and they shall take thee by the hand and whisper in thine ear till the old voices are forgot.
“‘And besides the flowers of Pegana there shall have climbed by then until it hath reached to Pegana the rose that clambered about the house where thou wast born. Thither shall also come the wandering echoes of all such music as charmed thee long ago.
“‘Moreover, as thou sittest on the orchard lawns that clothe Pegana’s mountains, and as thou hearkenest to melody that sways the souls of the gods, there shall stretch away far down beneath thee the great unhappy Earth, till gazing from rapture upon sorrows thou shalt be glad that thou wert dead.
“‘And from the three great mountains that stand aloof and over all the others—Grimbol, Zeebol, and Trehagobol—shall blow the wind of the morning and the wind of all the day, borne upon the wings of all the butterflies that have died upon the Worlds, to cool the gods and Pegana.
“‘Far through Pegana a silvery fountain, lured upward by the gods from the Central Sea, shall fling its waters aloft, and over the highest of Pegana’s peaks, above Trehagobol, shall burst into gleaming mists, to cover Highest Pegana, and make a curtain about the resting-place of MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI.
“‘Alone, still and remote below the base of one of the inner mountains, lieth a great blue pool.
“‘Whoever looketh down into its waters may behold all his life that was upon the Worlds and all the deeds that he hath done.
“‘None walk by the pool and none regard its depths, for all in Pegana have suffered and all have sinned some sin, and it lieth in the pool.
“‘And there is no darkness in Pegana, for when night hath conquered the sun and stilled the Worlds and turned the white peaks of Pegana into grey then shine the blue eyes of the gods like sunlight on the sea, where each god sits upon his mountain.
“‘And at the Last, upon some afternoon, perhaps in summer, shall the gods say, speaking to the gods: “What is the likeness of MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI and what THE END?”
“‘And then shall MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI draw back with his hand the mists that cover his resting, saying: “This is the Face of MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI and this THE END.”‘”
Then said the people to the prophet: “Shall not black hills draw round in some forsaken land, to make a vale-wide cauldron wherein the molten rock shall seethe and roar, and where the crags of mountains shall be hurled upward to the surface and bubble and go down again, that there our enemies may boil for ever?”
And the prophet answered: “It is writ large about the bases of Pegana’s mountains, upon which sit the gods: ‘Thine Enemies Are Forgiven.'”
Continued in part 6.