So I returned with my answer, whereat Barung smiled and said nothing. Only, taking from his neck a gold chain which he wore, he proffered it to Quick, who, as he said, had induced the prince Joshua to show his horsemanship if not his courage. Then he bowed to us, one by one, and before the Abati could make up their mind whether to follow him or not, galloped off swiftly with his companions toward Harmac.
Such was our introduction to Barung, Sultan of the Fung, a barbarian with many good points, among them courage, generosity, and appreciation of those qualities even in a foe, characteristics that may have been intensified by the blood of his mother, who, I am told, was an Arab of high lineage captured by the Fung in war and given as a wife to the father of Barung.
THE SHADOW OF FATE
Our ride from the plains up the pass that led to the high tableland of Mur was long and, in its way, wonderful enough. I doubt whether in the whole world there exists another home of men more marvellously defended by nature. Apparently the road by which we climbed was cut in the first instance, not by human hands, but by the action of primaeval floods, pouring, perhaps, from the huge lake which doubtless once covered the whole area within the circle of the mountains, although to-day it is but a moderate-sized sheet of water, about twenty miles long by ten in breadth. However this may be, the old inhabitants had worked on it, the marks of their tools may still be seen upon the rock.
For the first mile or two the road is broad and the ascent so gentle that my horse was able to gallop up it on that dreadful night when, after seeing my son’s face, accident, or rather Providence, enabled me to escape the Fung. But from the spot where the lions pulled the poor beast down, its character changes. In places it is so narrow that travellers must advance in single file between walls of rock hundreds of feet high, where the sky above looks like a blue ribbon, and even at midday the path below is plunged in gloom. At other spots the slope is so precipitous that beasts of burden can scarcely keep their foothold; indeed, we were soon obliged to transfer ourselves from the camels to horses accustomed to the rocks. At others, again, it follows the brink of a yawning precipice, an ugly place to ride or turn rectangular corners, which half-a-dozen men could hold against an army, and twice it passes through tunnels, though whether these are natural I do not know.
Besides all these obstacles to an invader there were strong gates at intervals, with towers near by where guards were stationed night and day, and fosses or dry moats in front of them which could only be crossed by means of drawbridges. So the reader will easily understand how it came about that, whatever the cowardice of the Abati, though they strove for generations, the Fung had as yet never been able to recapture the ancient stronghold, which, or so it is said, in the beginning these Abati won from them by means of an Oriental trick.