Then I looked at Ungit herself. She had not, like most sacred stones, fallen from the sky.
The story was that at the very beginning she had pushed her way up out of the earth - a foretaste of, or an ambassador from, whatever things may live and work down there one below the other all the way down under the dark and weight and heat. I have said she had no face; but that meant she had a thousand faces. For she was very uneven, lumpy and furrowed, so that, as when we gaze into a fire, you could always see some face or other. She was now more rugged than ever because of all the blood they had poured over her in the night. In the little clots and chains of it I made out a face; a fancy at one moment, but then, once you had seen it, not to be evaded. A face such as you might see in a loaf, swollen, brooding, infinitely female. It was a little like Batta as I remembered her in certain of her moods. Batta, when we were very small, had her loving moods, even to me. I have run out into the garden to get free - and to get, as it were, freshened and cleansed - from her huge,
hot, strong yet flabby-soft embraces, the smothering, engulfing tenacity of her. "Yes," I thought, "Ungit is very like Batta today."
"Arnom," said I, whispering, "who is Ungit?"
"I think, Queen," said he (his voice strange out of the mask), "she signifies the earth, which is the womb and mother of all living things." This was the new way of talking about the gods which Arnom, and others, had learned from the Fox.
"If she is the mother of all things," said I, "in what way more is she the mother of the god of the Mountain?"
"He is the air and the sky, for we see the clouds coming up from the earth in mists and exhalations."
"Then why do the stories sometimes say he's her husband, too?"
"That means that the sky by its showers makes the earth fruitful."
"If that's all they mean, why do they wrap it up in so strange a fashion?"
"Doubtless," said Arnom (and I could tell that he was yawning inside the mask, being worn out with his vigil), "doubtless to hide it from the vulgar."
I would torment him no more, but I said to myself, "It's very strange that our fathers should first think it worth telling us that rain falls out of the sky, and then, for fear such a notable secret should get out (why not hold their tongues?) wrap it up in a filthy tale so that no one could understand the telling."
The drums went on. My back began to ache. Presently the little door on my right opened and a woman, a peasant, came in. You could see she had not come for the Birth feast, but on some more pressing matter of her own. She had done nothing (as even the poorest contrive for that feast) to make herself gay, and the tears were wet on her cheeks. She looked as if she had cried all night, and in her hands she held a live pigeon. One of the lesser priests came forward at once, took the tiny offering from her, slit it open with his stone knife, splashed the little shower of blood over Ungit (where it became like dribble from the mouth of the face I saw in her) and gave the body to one of the temple slaves. The peasant woman sank down on her face at Ungit's feet. She lay there a very long time, so shaking that anyone could tell how bitterly she wept. But the weeping ceased. She rose up on her knees and put back her hair from her face and took a long breath. Then she rose to go, and as she turned I could look straight into her eyes. She was grave enough; and yet (I was very close to her and could not doubt it) it was as if a sponge had been passed over her. The trouble was soothed.
She was calm, patient, able for whatever she had to do.
"Has Ungit comforted you, child?" I asked.
"Oh yes, Queen," said the woman, her face almost brightening, "Oh yes. Ungit has given me great comfort. There's no goddess like Ungit."
"Do you always pray to that Ungit," said I (nodding toward the shapeless stone), "and not to that?" Here I nodded towards our new image, standing tall and straight in her robes and (whatever the Fox might say of it) the loveliest thing our land has ever seen.
"Oh, always this, Queen," said she. "That other, the Greek Ungit, she wouldn't understand my speech. She's only for nobles and learned men. There's no comfort in her."
Soon after that it was noon and the sham fight at the western door had to be done and we all came out into the daylight, after Arnom. I had seen often enough before what met us there: the great mob, shouting, "He is born! He is born!" and whirling their rattles, and throwing wheat-seed into the air, all sweaty and struggling and climbing on one another's backs to get a sight of Arnom and the rest of us. Today it struck me in a new way. It was the joy of the people that amazed me. There they stood where they had waited for hours, so pressed together they could hardly breathe, each doubtless with a dozen cares and sorrows upon him (who has not?), yet every man and woman and the very children looking as if all the world was well because a man dressed up as a bird had walked out of a door after striking a few blows with a wooden sword. Even those who were knocked down in the press to see us made light of it and indeed laughed louder than the others. I saw two farmers whom I well knew for bitterest enemies (they'd wasted more of my time when I sat in judgement than half the remainder of my people put together) clap hands and cry, "He's born!" brothers for the moment.
I went home and into my own chamber to rest, for now that I am old that sitting on the flat stone wearies me cruelly. I sank into deep thought.
"Get up, girl," said a voice. I opened my eyes. My father stood beside me. And instantly all the long years of my queenship shrank up small like a dream. How could I have believed in them? How could I ever have thought I should escape from the King? I got up from my bed obediently and stood before him. When I made to put on my veil, he said, "None of that folly, do you hear?" and I laid it obediently aside.
"Come with me to the Pillar Room," he said.
I followed him down the stair (the whole palace was empty) and we went into the Pillar Room. He looked all round him, and I became very afraid because I felt sure he was looking for that mirror of his. But I had given it to Redival when she became Queen of Phars; and what would he do to me when he learned that I had stolen his favourite treasure? But he went to one corner of the room and found there (which were strange things to find in such a place) two pickaxes and a crowbar. "To your work, goblin," he said, and made me take one of the picks. He began to break up the paved floor in the center of the room, and I helped him. It was very hard labour because of the pain in my back. When we had lifted four or five of the big stone flags we found a dark hole, like a wide well, beneath them.
"Throw yourself down," said the King, seizing me by the hand. And however I struggled, I could not free myself, and we both jumped together. When we had fallen a long way we alighted on our feet, nothing hurt by our fall. It was warmer down here and the air was hard to breathe, but it was not so dark that I could not see the place we were in. It was another Pillar Room, exactly like the one we had left, except that it was smaller and all made (floor, walls, and pillars) of raw earth. And here also my father looked about him, and once again I was afraid he would ask what I had done with his mirror. But instead, he went into a corner of the earthen room and there found two spades and put one into my hand and said, "Now, work. Do you mean to slug abed all your life?" So then we had to dig a hole in the center of the room. And this time the labour was worse than before, for what we dug was all tough, clinging clay, so that you had rather to cut it out in squares with the spade than to dig it.
And the place was stifling. But at last we had done so much that another black hole opened beneath us. This time I knew what he meant to do to me, so I tried to keep my hand from his. But he caught it and said,
"Do you begin to set your wits against mine? Throw yourself down."
"Oh no, no, no; no further down; mercy!" said I.
"There's no Fox to help you here," said my father. "We're far below any dens that foxes can dig. There's hundreds of tons of earth between you and the deepest of them." Then we leaped down into the hole, and fell further than before, but again alighted unhurt. It was far darker here, yet I could see that we were in yet another Pillar Room; but this was of living rock, and water trickled down the walls of it. Though it was so like the two shallower rooms, this was far the smallest. And as I looked I could see that it was getting smaller still. The roof was closing in on us. I tried to cry out to him, "If you're not quick, we shall be buried,"