Her young ones, including Captain Martin, would ride; but, because of Aruna, she and Vincent must submit to the barouche. So transparent was the girl’s pleasure at being included, that Thea’s heart failed her—knowing what she knew.
Roy and Lance had ridden on ahead; out through the fortified gates into the open desert, strewn with tumbled fragments of the glory that was Rajasthan. There, where courtiers had intrigued and flattered, crows held conference. On the crumbling arch of a doorway, that opened into emptiness, a vulture brooded, heavy with feeding on those who had died for lack of food. Knee-deep in the Man Sagar Lake, grey cranes sought their meat from God; every tint and curve of them repeated in the quiet water. And there, beside a ruined shrine, two dead cactus bushes, with their stiff distorted limbs, made Roy think suddenly of two dead Germans he had come upon once—killed so swiftly that they still retained, in death, the ghastly semblance of life. Why the devil couldn’t a man be rid of them? Dead Germans were not ’in the bond.’...
“Buck up, Lance,” he said abruptly; for Desmond, who saw no ghosts, was keenly interested. “Let’s quit this place of skulls and empty eye-sockets. Amber’s dead; but not utterly decayed.”
He knew. He had ridden out alone one morning, in the light of paling stars, to watch the dawn steal down through the valley and greet the sleeping city that would never wake again—half hoping to recapture the miracle of Chitor. But Amber did not enshrine the soul of his mother’s race. And the dawn had proved merely a dawn. Moonlight, with its eerie enchantment, would be oven more beautiful and fitting; but the pleasure of anticipation was shadowed by his resolve.
He had spoken of it only to Thea; asking her, when tea was over, to give him a chance:—and now he was heartily wishing he had chosen any other place and time than this....
The brisk canter to the foothills was a relief. Thence the road climbed, between low, reddish-grey spurs, to the narrow pass, barred by a formidable gate, that swung open at command, with a screech of rusty hinges, as if in querulous protest against intrusion.
Another gateway,—and yet another: then they were through the triple wall that guards the dead city from the invader who will never come, while both races honour the pact that alone saved desperate, stubborn Rajputana from extinction.
Up on the heights, it was still day; but in the valley it was almost evening. And there—among deepening shadows and tumbled fragments of hills—lay Amber: her palace and temples and broken houses crowding round their sacred Lake, like Queens and their handmaids round the shield of a dead King.