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  The Empire's Flaming Ebon Chair  

 
 

by Ali Tal

  1

Wishing the repose of death, in the bowels of a featherless crow, the swain to the far-off Empress of Earth came. Seven and ten hours the force of the cosmic winds the metal bird bore, soaring over black nebulas: flashing and booming with storms. Upward, Heaven overflowed with lambent stars tossed aloft palpable desolation, obliterating the Darkness Ocean’s expanse in an emptiness of gloom. Downward, the vanished pendulous realm of man was but a silent echo of a ruined globe adrift in the hub of an unknown universe.

It was a flight unwilled, I spent in deepest desperation, constantly trembling from head to toe of the roaring noise and the shock waves. Million explosions of suppositions rocked my brain, pounding like drill bits, drop hammers and punch presses against my skull; they were mere thoughts at other times. Within, the Voice was belling fierce, red anguish, ‘Will I find the strength to outstare elMnat? Her habit is to fleece the work of Reason, making Joy Past!’

On a suddenty the crow dived. The vaporous clouds adumbrated and the sight cleared. There, through gauzes of hellish mist, a diaphanous show of red tinted land appeared, rising from wild, desert waters - dark and deep. An entire terrible landscape tumbled through my porthole. Stern, my light roved a mournful terrain. I beheld flames sweeping near the coastline, shadows toppling over the Atlas Yam, rousing from far beneath the surface foams, ceaselessly lashing laval shores.

Slow, I made out more and more of what was concealed behind the gauzy brume that had been clogging the air. There loured what seemed fiery monstrous ranges to sky-scraping heights upright bolted. Approaching closer, bit by bit, tall edifices I saw, spreading out rashly betwixt indefinite fissures wreathed with infernal magma flows. Twines of lava rushes round and round looped. Soon my scornful gaze traversed the whole hellish nightmare that had been in the shadowy horror shielded.

I made out what seemed to be clusters of volcanic cones, in a permanent state of eruptions, out stood north and south, ending in the infinite void of Space. The saturnine image they presented was a belt of scoria, crooking between high erections; all ferociously burning. In the centre of that enormous, burning dominion there yawned very deep descending precipices the structure of which was hard ebon of glass and steel.

Evermore its viscera shut against the sun, the woeful topography wound some fifty miles around. I had never seen such sanguine clefts before. My eyes, clouded over with tears, were drawn lower: I discerned the streaky slime stood mean at the rock face, straight and still. The sight of this Igneous Beast coming straight towards me brought my spirit so low it doubled the fear that had seized me.

2

Stirred from my deep abstraction I heard a fellow passenger asserting whilst his eyes over my shoulders through my porthole poring - 'Look down, Yusuf, and you'll be pleased. It makes the labours of the journey easier to bear, seeing these lights shining beneath our feet. That is the Imperial City lying ahead, sitting upon her holy bower. A great metropolis of palaces, noise and the uproar of Life pressed full.'

Though all I could feed my lachrymose eyes upon were tombs in the face of glowing rocky steeps cut, indulgently I quizzed him: 'How many engineers it took to bind this Brute?' In In puzzlement, into my face for a while he stared then proclaimed’ Because you’re trying to probe this amazing vista from such enormous heights, you’re confusing the truth with your imagination. You'll clearly see, when we alight, how much the eye by distance may be deceived. And so, just wait a little more. But now, before we go down, I tell you, these, which are hiding the ground underneath, aren't cliffs they are giant buildings. There they rise around the River from bank to bank.'

Rapt, my fellow-passenger harangued some stalwart tales that were meant to beguile my mind with regard: How the Empire's grim legions of Doom, with headlong force in the fields of feuds and fights in some far puny skies the cussed rebels routed, as soundly as they wished, with smart missiles! How the Kshatriya’ triumphant motorcade, with pomp and ceremony slow progressed, filling the city with revel and brawl! I ached to those volcanic apices, exciting enmity and hate, with the whet longing of a corpse. I did try to follow with my eyes, but I could only see flames, jostling the smoke, rising high. The crabbiness, souring my soul, was as the infernal ranges spreading all over the land down.

3

‘My dear, dear son! Just as Jehinm’s boiling fluids of Woes are lined up with needle-sharp crags go up to bleary heights adorned in terror eternally benighted with scalding plumes of miasmas, so it was on the banks of Mot Nahar. Bulwarks of curving ramparts ran all around the spires, reddening the sky with fires. That furnace of afflictions, which man's art and craft for his comfort designed and adorned in terror, was the Lords of iniquitous weaponries most visible proof of Temporal power.

Thither, downward in the intestinal depths of those chasms, winding along host of shafts that strewed the darkness of the high edifices, I discerned glowing linear flows - endless miles of them - fastened end to end. Some were incandescent and hurried, most slow coruscated in an ever-shifting crimson display. These petroleum-fires that did the Environment great pains and harms, were conveyed in little soldered copper pipes by Electricity which combusted in many brilliant colours. Alas! None of the powers of Darkness it ever lightened.

My eyes grew small, sated with that bitter sight, and all of a sudden my confusion cleared and my fear took on a horrid shape. Keeping my narrow gape still turned that way down, drifting over the raging fathomless abyss expanding beneath me, my anguish-ridden soul augured: 'Yusuf, there is a crevice in that boundless Below made dolorous by the screams of the untormented griefs of shades numberless, meant for me. Woe! Erelong, I’ll also join the burning mortals, dwelling inside that Abode of Torment. Allah! For how long will your wretch be chained to this Negation of Your Goodness? Dungeoned in this Blight walled in brimstone, where shall I learn to get my peace again? Hail Infernal Worlds of the profoundest Hell receive your newest recruit'

3

For quite awhile above that vast, unbottomed Pain of the senses, the metal crow hovered before reaching the port of landing. As far as I could take in with my eyes, sitting there inside the featherless machine, Jehinm was in full view with livid declivities, offering the shades no means to climb. At the root of the rising yaws were networks of flaming decussations of straight chasms, cinderous as the pits of Jaheem. Later, after I had joined the suffering inmates cramming the depths of that boosted cruelty, I learned the effluvium, flowing with metallic ores and nitres, were called streets and avenues. Marked by yellow lines, they criss-crossed and slithered, encircling the tall buildings that walled them just like a grand-plan of a bewildering labyrinth.

It was fixed so on one side a press of hurtling shiny metal automobiles, whose combustible entrails exhaled harmful obnoxious fumes, in the same direction must roll. Driven in billows of their own contamination, along the macadamised chasms of the horrid canyons, shades of black smoke with fetid smoke palled. The probates, each known by his mark, were led in crowds and had to come and go across loess-strewn, grubby walks, brimful with filth. The damned living skipped and lifted their heels as if whipped by visible Jinn. All bound together, pacing at an incredibly distorted haste no one it seemed could spare a moment to stare. They just passed one another rued with vain regrets, drawing in the capital’s villainous breath. Unbelievably, amongst such hubbub there were no recognisable faces to glance at: even with a faint smile.

Nader! Passed by those hastening crowds your father still whines: 'Here, in the remotest regions of gloom beset with gusts of woe-hurricanes, lies a nook beyond the confines of Life made for my soul to wander in trance and squander my existence. Merciful Allah! What kinds of damned shades, with bodies that breathe, wander this penumbra restless?’ Ever in dispute and self-recrimination, the mute, afflicted animus, inhabiting the candescent volcanoes, spoke their presence in silent, strident sounds. Within rents gouged in the steel face buried griefs abounded and shrieks of pain never heard, only wordless mourns. In mausoleums of stones the rich stowed wealth far greater than Qarun’s - yet none ever felt well and calm. No newborn despair anywhere that does not trace its existence to this proper adumbration, home of every ill, where pale grows the tree of Zaqqum.’

Mot Nahar embraced the necropolis on all sides, squelching its concrete banks, slithering as if the Serpent coiling and ringing the dark limbs of Tartarus. There, at the harbour’s portal, where the putrid flow of Death merged into the rolling Atlas Yam, on an islet stood an umbra of Hel, enormous above the flames. From within the abyss a clay colossus rose: its feet drowned in goo of Ymir. Wrapped a turban of spikes around its huge head, skyward the idol drew its torch, blazing fiercely. Nemesis of Freedom of Self, Hel devoured Liberty and corrupted the life of the world with promises of debaucheries.

Unwilling I walked the umbral chasms of bedlam where Mot lived and Pity was dead. As winter's silence hanged icily upon the woof of Desolation, furnishing a bleaker scene, my neck learned wherefrom the bitter winds of the north would stab. Gnawed by the incisors of Old Time, the bags of vagrancy grew too heavy for my week arms: adrift stray on the streets of no return. A cold, degraded tramp, your father was cursed to roam without home, to creep along unseen in Cimmerian lonesomeness; a noisome shadow, endlessly searching the sodden waysides for some cheerless hovel to curl up in.’

When the captain from his cockpit in voice of terror hailed: 'Get out, here is the exit', My skin tightened and shivered. My heart plunged deeper into despair where it remained. The dread I had first felt was many folds; my jaws and fingertips they still tremble. I kept looking backward searching for a place to hide, but there was none to be found. Selfsame anxious trooper roused from his silent fears by war-cries ‘sally forth’ to confront the war tools in gloom arrayed against him, unprepared I was hurled into the horrific world of wheels: to endure the battle of my life in this unpitying darkness, alone.

6

Nader! With much confusion, your georgic father to the Empire's Flaming, Ebon Chair came. At your ambitious grandsire's command, I shook its Freemen by the hand, one by one. The overbearing fanatical priests of State to me a great many facts made known. Those wealth devouring clergy of Empire seemed happy and without fear: but their days were with stress strewn, and failure meant hunger for success lest Life's needs oppressed them with care.

Crowned with their ilk's dainty cheers, thence the unctuous crew grew superciliously bold, perverting Sweet Democracy with judgements false, slaying the Scared Ideas as offerings to Avarice. Favouring their own by the might of their lordly Nation States, in flowing scientific terms they argued into me the many differences between the Developed and the Underdeveloped countries - to them humankind were types. The words of the men blind in sensibilities were nothing to me and I raged in pain. Grave-faced the mischief hypocrites affirmed, at tiresome lengths, the Third-World's life was grim - mere collateral damage in wars.

Provoked, it took all my innate fellaheen strength to go on being restrained. At last the Voice inside rebelled, 'Fools, don't boast. You can't touch the sovereignty of my soul with all your larcenous charms', and on no uncertain terms I refuted their extreme claims. Hence, contrary to your grandfather’s commands I mutinied, demanding to return home. The proud man, shamed on hearing that his favoured son had turned to a worm, forbade me to show my face in his sheikhship. ‘Grief consumed my soul, I am here the simplest vice.’ I wrote back to the old man. My appeals went to waste: his breast in wrath and of love weary.

Damned into the bosom of Satan’s corroding hell, I beheld science in His control. Thus I turned my back to the raven-waste of Moral Law and burrowed in contumacy and tunnelled deep and hid myself therein. Exiled from the face of Light and morning shine, within my mind recrudesced to Ur’s florid fields far, drinking the comfort of their warm sun.

7

The prosperous demagogues of ranks were well-born and from Allah’s Righteous Law away had turned. Swollen with arrogance they attended White’s Capitol, a shrine of war: by destructions and by cruel murder bullied everyone. The temple of the worldly things god had six gates. The seventh was guarded by White, a graven image seated on stone.

In penumbra, the elite Brahmans wove forth a most disdainful paradise of Lucre: believers were led in crowds enthralled with vain discourse, mistaking propaganda for truth. They knew not nor understood the poor man's cause and scorned and mocked when I exalted the ease, fruits, drinks, milk, blossoms and bees of blithesome Ur. Boastfully the cruel fanatics ranted: 'We're the Empire's highly favoured greats through the choice of our ilk rose. Coshly on the dais of might we repose. Without dread, strong is our grip on power nor the danger of its loss we need to fear. Revenues in abundance we receive to have and squander.’

Woe upon them, the malevolent men of Nation States whom I deprecate! Blind and unthinking and their inner vision diseased, they lived sheltered lives and flourished in little barbed groves of their Albion agnates. Howling through the murk domain, they roused their brethren to deadly hate, and made Mammon their fond hearts venerate.

My son! At the realm of Hatred's most merciless portal I was placed, none but the cup of misery all I tasted. Immured in graves anywhere I went, there were no more gay fields to tempt my wandering feet to stray, but a dismal scene before me each morn started; a strange forest of wild beasts and enemies brimful. Along the vast, bleak expanse of levelled streets, where soil refused the roots of any plant: shade or shelter couldn’t be found - plumes of fire smoke everywhere.

Mot Nahar engirded this blazing wasteland thick with towers of glass and steel, but there were no water to drink in pond or pool; not a even a spoonful for a sparrow to quench its minute thirst. A never-ending scurry, without a moment's rest, the still-discordant hum went on, neither living nor dead.

In rusting metal tubes, smitten with germs and disease, the dwellers of the cliffs commuted to town each morn. Bursting with furious madness, day after day, the Vaishya wrought in vain, dreaming of sunny breaks to dissipate the shadows of their hell: forever Dari was their core. To me, a fellah, it was enough to work to fill a life, to lay in honour and dignity under cool shades; enough to pillow the night and dream about dreams.

8

Nader! So perfect was Misery in the Capital that naught did it permit to endure and naught did it leave alone. Lo the misbegotten rabble of all rabbles who crowded such realms inscribed with woe dissected by streets so dark that had sunk so low! They, in whom the workers have placed their trust, alleged that none had power over them. Clasping at things that pulled them away from humility, not once the Brahmins perceived their foul disfigurement, but toasted themselves to be more comely than all natives: to sway and rule with pleasure in sensual sties. Their souls' nugatory pretension had risen so high they created false belief in the men whom they ruled, that amongst the nations like them were no others - balancing the weight of Civilisation’s corbels upon their vacant skulls.

This unreality gave the Vaishya real anguish and few seemed to think that their avarice for power was only weakness, urging them to commit more evil. Through their tears these visionary foretold, 'This can't go on. All's knavery', and were most eager to advance towards the Green and again make bloom that wild wasteland of theirs. O vainglory of all human power! Soon it fades and becomes as venal as an old whore?

Living in the face of these towering awkward cliffs, where they had with some difficulty constructed a zone of security, the burghers would wait, as if on tenterhooks, for their ‘slice of the cake.’ From time to time, out of tedium, they would put on a tragic look and contemplate death.

At night, with odious fumes wafting around, the cliffs' residents packed the bacchanalian halls of Valhalla in orgiastic worship, swooning on the savage beat of drums. Thenceforth, a heightened sense of surviving, a heightened sexual appetite would imbue the infernal pits and grip the crush. On their permitted day of rest from their cramped nooks at the side of the tall cliffs, restless, they would come out and fancy anything foolish, then meekly pay their fare from here to there. Nothing out of the ordinary would matter; like infants who can only can trust what gets done to them is right, they never worried when winter came and when the leaves fell.

To them it seemed wars would always rage on somebody else’s land. Their dailiness never disturbed in anger and protest, they would return at the end of the night to live inside the towers; anonymous, sighing, rolling their tired eyes.

Compelled by the dazzling charms of the ambitious Priestly Cast, whose fine art and soft words had the power to seduce and deceive the wandering minds, the good citizens hearkened good. Their own complacency followed so they might reap well circumventing God's Reign. 'If you give us your vote' - concealed under their kindly cowls, confident and bold, foaming with hunger in the flames of mendacity, the disciple of autocracy belched- 'assuredly, the president will let you say what you believe in is right: even say it with your own voice. Answer to none, he will decree how you can express your choice. No one anywhere has it so good.' Insensibly resistant to the Fount whence sweet Nature sprang, and though their hearts' desire had possibly been expressed, alone, bare of laurel, the ghostly Vaishya lived and died.

9

Cast off amid the thick of such huge anonymous crowds in a strange, scorched and dry forest of towers - not a vestige of green anywhere - I declined. Within woes like this and such like awes, too huge for me to comprehend, my solitary days like my desolate nights stretched on and strewed me across this concretion. The shortest flash of memory prompted the unbidden tears to swell.

Forlorn in this faraway land beyond the perilous roar of the Atlas Sea, drunk with fear and grief, I soughed my days out: wild with all sadness. Nightly, my hole I made a kind of a grave and sobbed inside my head aloud for Ur’s dulcet sounds. I yearned and yearned for that spellbound swain whose eyes once had rested upon rolling plains, passionately aglow with steady earthbound beams. Whence I began to conjure up the glimmering scene of the humming amorous beaux, gathering by the love shrine, ambling all the way to where the fig tree and grape vine entwined. In the long sundown shade, along the tree-lined rill, with glancing eyes and harkening ears and low words of cheers upon panting lips, Ur’s young lovers gathered together in the gold, dappled shades of the low drooping boughs. The love-crazed hearts huddled, clinging to branches to steal chaste glimpses of the bashful damsels advance, uplifting earthenware water jars with dainty hands.

Under gossamer veils with demure charms and half shut eyes, headlong the village gazelles darted like bright beams. Down the pathway they came: their flapping hearts had the wish to leap and dash to tease and tantalise the marvelling boys. Among the virgin-pure silence reigned and all stood glowing like flames. First she came and Fawzeah was her name. With slightest move of eyelash she waved to the one paralysed with admiration for a trice. Scarcely finding breath enough to sigh, our bashful eyes conversed of intimate holding in arms: rubicund lips caressed shy smiles 'Allah! Bless that which is mine!’

With misery sore, like old women at the bier, in a voice as from a tomb, though peals my cries were, I threw my plaint in wail: 'Everything is now hidden in darkness beyond the tears. There are thunderlike voices keening in my head, but for the oppression of my spirit, I do not hear.'

10

Pressed by thirst and hunger, vexed and perplexed, drowning in a deep place of glare and clatter, alone onward I marched wide over the cinderous streets, with addle faces lined. The oleaginous polis was worldly, forlorn of every Spark Divine. A barren nefariousness devoid of Justice and any Kindly Traits. A starless gloom overflowed with voiceless shrieks and eerie wails of the debased Shudras: around them plaintive ruins of interminable wastes spread.

Bordered and barbed with lies and watchtowers rose the city: no joy to all kinds - a monster stretching its villainous sceptre to bruise meek Nature in the womb. The bipedal fanatical crew, tracing their ancestors back to apes, reigned over the Empire. Power did to them what the Forbidden Fruit to Adam did. This drive to Fundamentals was so foully done it had Eden to a slave on Her naked knees broken. Her renunciatory beauty became past. The Capitol enjoyed Her rabid pleasures feverishly and without covering itself with veils of modesty, luring the world's Puny Nations to poor supplicants and ate them, at will, like worms.

But understanding was not the same as believing, and being at places at once desisted as part of everyday jargon; whether a speck of dust could chose where to be in the Universe! Business stood at a pretty price, and the profit margin was always on the rise; no one would surrender a morsel without a fee, or had time to gaze whither flowers were at his feet, nor to ponder what sweet scent hanged on the boughs.

To banish thoughts of that most beloved land, from hour to hour my illimitable walks went on, circumnavigating Time. Still in the midst of streets clogged with the press of traffic, with the clouds of smog, black above. The Broadway's livid the lambency: the stalls with blazoned names, shop after shop with dazzling window wares, the quick dance of furious flames, the violent fights, the flash of guns, the din of sirens, the endless stream of women, men, and hurtling machines, the dead bodies, the scavengers who begged with their plastic teacups, struck me numb.

Wherever my tired feet might tread, it seemed all hope had resigned! Irksome motorcars, their polluted wind afflicted mankind, moved at such remorseless speed: young drivers struck right across the crowds, veering round with timely skill.

Whither I stood a huge procession passed me. How many people? How many faces? Still more came that none had a space to breathe. A weary mass of comers and goers, face to face, face after face, each spent so much of his time inside himself. Here, it seemed only dogs sniffed each other; everyone else lived alone. Alas! Never a trace of Kindness was descried, even to remove a whit of mote from rheumed eyes. With black lasers beam, glowering straight out from the inmost of my oppressed soul, I struck down those who never pitied my estrangement in that Jaheem.

Lost in that place of ambush, with longing sighs I measured each painful step I took: at every turn fixed the faraway Ur. Amidst sorrows and such fears too huge to bear, with a vast horror I struggled to escape to the stars without names. Doomed among these desert wilds to languish exiled, in bitter anguish I sobbed: 'O Allah! This world is dim amid the blaze of noon! Allah! I am beset with foes more fierce than the most accursed fiends of Eblis bereft of any face that smiles! By the end of day, I could no longer endure the bustle and I locked myself in. Like a rudderless boat in a sea of sorrow my life was adrift. Still I couldn’t dispense with love and my heart remained unhampered by its ordeal. My head tidily packed with hopes, like a blind man is unhindered by the gloom, I leaned forward out of the wind and hurried my reminiscences eastward and pictured the moon, the dreamy face of Wadd, drooping above, showering through the grape vines and olive trees His delicate beams. In the warm breath of night, forth I marched with the young swains, dreaming in one another's eye.

Nader, my dear boy, sometimes I looked up and saw the smiling morn, parting the lucid mist whilst all around me unstirred, before their daily scramble resumed. Hungry and homeless, each day near a thousand doors your vagrant father stood and pined for food. Once with mirthful songs of the dawn, my youthful days with bliss were adorned; then I became this old voyager, whom sorrow he named his friend. Though I knew that what I sought I could not find, with heartfelt chilliness in my veins my restless footsteps rambled far, treading the unbottomed pits, wasting Time. Walking ghostly in the fog where gales tore, a trance would come over me and so deeply I’d recall old Earth's faraway youth when my days in transport rolled with thoughtless joy; a loss which the rolling sun would never again restore. Even as my mind labours with the taste of joy that memory may evoke, no second spring is for me, but pain till Death's releases sets me free.

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