Whilst I wondered the door opened, and the sardonic, inscrutable-old-faced man, whom this Khania had called Magician, and who called the Khania, niece, entered and stood before me.
THE FIRST ORDEAL
The shaman advanced to my side and asked me courteously how I fared.
I answered, “Better. Far better, oh, my host—but how are you named?”
“Simbri,” he answered, “and, as I told you by the water, my title is Hereditary Guardian of the Gate. By profession I am the royal Physician in this land.”
“Did you say physician or magician?” I asked carelessly, as though I had not caught the word. He gave me a curious look.
“I said physician, and it is well for you and your companion that I have some skill in my art. Otherwise I think, perhaps, you would not have been alive to-day, O my guest—but how are you named?”
“Holly,” I said.
“O my guest, Holly.”
“Had it not been for the foresight that brought you and the lady Khania to the edge of yonder darksome river, certainly we should not have been alive, venerable Simbri, a foresight that seems to me to savour of magic in such a lonely place. That is why I thought you might have described yourself as a magician, though it is true that you may have been but fishing in those waters.”
“Certainly I was fishing, stranger Holly—for men, and I caught two.”
“Fishing by chance, host Simbri?”
“Nay, by design, guest Holly. My trade of physician includes the study of future events, for I am the chief of the Shamans or Seers of this land, and, having been warned of your coming quite recently, I awaited your arrival.”
“Indeed, that is strange, most courteous also. So here physician and magician mean the same.”
“You say it,” he answered with a grave bow; “but tell me, if you will, how did you find your way to a land whither visitors do not wander?”
“Oh!” I answered, “perhaps we are but travellers, or perhaps we also have studied—medicine.”
“I think that you must have studied it deeply, since otherwise you would not have lived to cross those mountains in search of—now, what did you seek? Your companion, I think, spoke of a queen—yonder, on the banks of the torrent.”
“Did he? Did he, indeed? Well, that is strange since he seems to have found one, for surely that royal-looking lady, named Khania, who sprang into the stream and saved us, must be a queen.”
“A queen she is, and a great one, for in our land Khania means queen, though how, friend Holly, a man who has lain senseless can have learned this, I do not know. Nor do I know how you come to speak our language.”
“That is simple, for the tongue you talk is very ancient, and as it chances in my own country it has been my lot to study and to teach it. It is Greek, but although it is still spoken in the world, how it reached these mountains I cannot say.”