“Indeed. And does he like that bed-chamber?”
“The Mungana likes what I like, not what he likes,” she replied haughtily. “Where I send him to sleep, there he sleeps. But come, Vernoon, and I will show you the Holy Water where Big Bonsa dwells; also the house in which I have my home, where you shall visit me when you please.”
“Who built this place?” asked Alan as she led him through more dark and tortuous passages. “It is very great.”
“My spirit does not remember when it was built, Vernoon, so old is it, but I think that the Asiki were once a big and famous people who traded to the water upon the west, and even to the water on the east, and that was how those white men became their slaves and the Munganas of their queens. Now they are small and live only by the might and fame of Big and Little Bonsa, not half filling the rich land which is theirs. But,” she added reflectively and looking at him, “I think also that this is because in the past fools have been thrust upon my spirit as Munganas. What it needs is the wisdom of the white man, such wisdom as yours, Vernoon. If that were added to my magic, then the Asiki would grow great again, seeing that they have in such plenty the gold which you have shown me the white man loves. Yes, they would grow great and from coast to coast the people should bow at the name of Bonsa and send him their sons for sacrifice. Perhaps you will live to see that day, Vernoon. Slave,” she added, addressing Jeekie, “set the mask upon your lord’s head, for we come where women are.”
Alan objected, but she stamped her foot and said it must be so, having once worn Little Bonsa, as her people told her he had done, his naked face might not be seen. So Alan submitted to the hideous head-dress and they entered the Asika’s house by some back entrance.
It was a place with many rooms in it, but they were all remarkable for extreme simplicity. With a single exception no gilding or gold was to be seen, although the food vessels were made of this material here as everywhere. The chambers, including those in which the Asika lived and slept, were panelled, or rather boarded with cedar wood that was almost black with age, and their scanty furniture was mostly made of ebony. They were very insufficiently lighted, like his own room, by means of barred openings set high in the wall. Indeed gloom and mystery were the keynotes of this place, amongst the shadows of which handsome, half-naked servants or priestesses flitted to and fro at their tasks, or peered at them out of dark corners. The atmosphere seemed heavy with secret sin; Alan felt that in those rooms unnameable crimes and cruelties had been committed for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, and that the place was yet haunted by the ghosts of them. At any rate it struck a chill to his healthy blood, more even than had that Hall of the Dead and of heaped-up golden treasure.
“Does my house please you?” the Asika asked of him.