The wide steps to the temple had been carved from the igneous rock. Worn down by thousands of years of foot traffic, they now more closely resembled a ramp than a stairway, moving upward in curves. The laborious climb took half an hour.
A monk stood at the open gateway to the grounds. He drew back in consternation at sight of Romelle, then saw the medallion.
Other lamas were gathered in the garden. They gasped when she appeared, but again the medallion cast its spell. Their reaction to Rebel was less respectful, but a glower from the tall lama kept them in place.
On the far side of the garden, several doorways led into the escarpment itself, where numerous chambers served as cells for the monks. To the right began a long colonnade of vermilion pillars supporting the gilt-tiled roof she had seen from the top of the escarpment to the west. It ran along the edge of the promontory, protected from a sheer drop of several hundred meters by a balustrade. At its end lay the temple complex, fronting a black obsidian terrace. At the center stood a tall statue of a female figure.
To the left was a single building abutting the escarpment wall. Its wide door was guarded by a pair of fierce golden dragons inset with semi-precious stones.
"That is the Marco Polo Library," Bart told them. "It appears to be from there the High Lama was abducted."
A step inside comprised a journey across religious cultures and time. Entered from one end, the library's vaulted ceiling covered a room ten meters wide by thirty meters long.
It was lined with a double tier of shelves along the escarpment side. The upper tier was reached by a staircase at the opposite end, that led to a balcony running the full length of the room. In its middle, standing between the rows of shelves, an ancient, man-size, weight-driven clock ticked loudly, its face marked with Arabic numerals. Along the balcony's edge, a legend was written in five languages. In English, it proclaimed, Read ten thousand books and travel ten thousand miles, but only to glorify God.
Tall bookcases stood on the valley side, interspersed among interlocking slabs of alabaster so thinly sliced as to admit bright, but softly diffused, light from outside. There were no windows in the room.
Seven panels of the ceiling depicted the seven sacraments of Christianity. Another grouping pictured seven aspects of thousand-headed Brahman, the Hindu source of universal life. A third series featured seven Islamic names for Allah, the calligraphy exquisitely worked in ivory and gold. Across the middle of the ceiling, a red ray of light appeared to be streaming from a large eye to a lotus blossom, symbolic of Lamaism.
On a shelf above the staircase to the balcony stood a golden menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum of Judaism. To the left of the staircase was painted the Wheel of Life, clutched by a fearsome demon of impermanence. This holy circle, or mandala, portrayed the vicissitudes through which Buddha's wisdom led to spiritual enlightenment. To the right of the staircase was a life-size wood-carving of Sakyamuni, traditionally the first human whom pagan mankind elevated to divinity.
Once inside the library, Bart was the first to speak. "What is to be done?"
"The first step," began Romelle, "is to bring me an article of clothing worn by the High Lama, such as sandals, or a garment not washed since its last use."
Resting on a chair at a large reading table in the center of the room was a heavily embroidered mantle.
"The High Lama and I have spent many hours in here together," Bart said, taking up the cape. "He throws this about his shoulders against the cold. He doubtless wore it last night."
Romelle knelt with the garment, placing it under the dog's nose. "You are the most famous hunter in Europe, Rebel. You out-tracked and out-distanced the best of the Cheverny pack. It won you Eleanor of Aquitaine. Now you can win the devotion of a nation. Find the High Lama of Dragon's Heart."
Rebel sniffed the garment from one end to the other, as if he understood her request. He stood back, looked around, returned, and sniffed again. He backed away, following the trail to the chair where the robe had lain. He proceeded to another chair, and stood up with his paws on the seat. He barked.
"That is the chair always used by the High Lama," whispered Bart, a tremor of excitement in his voice.
The others, too, were caught up in a sense of anticipation.
Rebel moved rapidly in a series of direct lines back and forth from the bookshelves to the chair, pausing from time to time to shake his head and clear his nostrils as if other scents interfered. After several minutes of adhering to this pattern, he suddenly broke it, followed a fresher scent to the far end of the room, and dashed up the stairs. He ran along the balcony to a point midway. There, he made several leaps for a shelf of books above his height. Failing to attain it, he pushed his head through the bannister railings and looked down plaintively, with a whine, at Romelle.
"I'm coming, love," she cried, and rushed to join him upstairs.
He began to leap again. She moved her fingers along the shelves immediately above his head. He crouched and growled.
"Ah! I understand." She picked him up and moved him from shelf to shelf, book to book.
At last, he barked. She set him down and pulled a massive tome off the shelf. He licked her hand.
"This must be the one he wants," she said, then looked at the wall behind the book.
"Come up here, Father!"
All the men bounded up the stairs. Chavadzy got there first.
He saw a hand-crank projecting from the wall. He twisted it, and the clock began slowly to move backward.
"The High Lama must have touched this book and handle," he said. "It's a quaint mechanism, used in old Russian palaces for concealing secret rooms. This handle cranks the clock back and forth by means of a cable running in the track on the floor. It can doubtless be opened and closed from the other side. Weapons at the ready, my friends."
Romelle noticed then that even the lamas were armed with guns concealed beneath their robes. Her father had withdrawn a pistol from the holster at his belt. Damba passed a small revolver to Brad.
There was quite a large chamber behind the clock. Unlighted flambeaux sat in sconces on the wall. Damba lit them and set out into a dark passage.
"There is a faint light beyond," he said. "Madame, your dog is running on ahead."
Wide enough for two to walk abreast and high enough for a tall man to walk without stooping, it ran straight to a pinpoint of light at what seemed a great distance. They had gone half the way when Rebel returned.
The dog could be heard panting, but made no other sound. This time, he preceded them at a slow gait as if leading a war patrol through enemy territory. His ears were perky and his tail high. His whole body signaled caution.
Romelle's thoughts raced backward to the day she had encountered the caravan of condemned men.
Rebel was standing there when the Manchu dragoons surrounded me. He was tense. He smelled the menace in them. Still, he waited for a human resolution, keeping himself in reserve for an extremity. It's as the Master of Hounds at Cheverny said. Rebel uses judgment! That's what he's done now! He has sniffed out the Manchus ahead and found them dangerous. Instead of attacking them, he's come back to warn us and to insure we proceed with caution.
She hurried ahead a few steps and stopped Chavadzy. She whispered her thoughts on Rebel's discovery in his ear. The Russian gently lifted her hand and kissed it in gratitude. He signaled that she should tell the others.
At a certain point, they began to hear talking. The passage had widened to become the far end of a vast cavern supported by rough-hewn pillars irregularly spaced.
Although there was no more than the suggestion of light, Romelle's eyes adjusted quickly to its improvement over the dim corridor they were leaving behind.
Dare I call this filtering of sunshine black light? Yes! We are beneath the obsidian terrace. What is obsidian but volcanic glass?
Following Rebel's lead, Chavadzy crept along the wall toward a small group of people standing in a cluster a hundred meters ahead. Their faces were lighted by a flambeau stuck in a sconce on a nearby pillar. Its brightness would render them blind to the danger creeping up on them in the dark.
They seemed to be standing beneath a dome. One of their number descended from it into their midst and struck a central figure to the floor with a cry of rage. Equal fury rippled through the approaching party when they saw the victim's red and gold garments. It was the High Lama who had been socked. With another shout, the man who had dropped from above kicked the priest and then settled on to his chest, pommeling him violently in the face.
This was more than Chavadzy could bear. Taking off like a bird, the Okhrana chief sprinted across the chamber brandishing his pistol.
"You...are...all...dead...men!" he roared.
So startled they could not comprehend the meaning of his approach, they fell one by one under surprise fire from the best sharpshooter in the Tsar's secret police. Each bullet brought instant death - until the Russian came to the one straddling the High Lama on the floor.
As Chavadzy descended, his weapon jammed. He saw the Manchu whip out a gun and aim at the High Lama's head. With a blood-curdling yell of such ferocity it momentarily distracted the gunman, the Russian literally flew through the air, landed on the near side of the High Lama, and rolled over him in time to catch the bullet in his own chest as the Manchu sprang aside.
In that instant, Rebel leapt for the gunman's wrist and bit down so hard the gun clattered to the floor in a spray of blood. Damba and Brad collided over the Manchu and dropped on him together, but the wiry little man wriggled out from under and made a dash for the passage.
He ran blindly into the tall lama who snatched him up and flung him against a pillar with such force that his neck broke with a crack that echoed like thunder across the cavern.
As if he had no more than swatted a fly, the tall lama rushed forward and fell to his knees at the High Lama's side.
"Father, speak to me!" he cried. "Father, it's Dayan!"
The figure, bloodied and torn from the vicious beating he had received at the hands of the Manchu, waved his hand weakly, trying to point to Chavadzy.
"Your friend took the shot meant for me, son," he whispered, "not I."
Stunned, Dayan turned to the Russian. He had not realized the shot had gone awry.
"Doctor Bart, help him," pled Dayan. "Chavadzy must not die. He has saved my father's life."
Bart knelt beside the Russian to examine the wound. The bullet remained in his body. It had to be dislodged.
"Damba, do you know the location of the infirmary here at the temple?" he asked.
The lama nodded. "Yes, Doctor, if you mean the white building outside the Room of Taming Demons."
"Yes, that's it! Hurry there and bring me the leather saddlebag embroidered with a red cross. I cannot move Doctor Chavadzy. The bullet is too close to his heart. I must perform emergency surgery here."
Damba dashed away.
"Brad," Bart commanded, "one flambeau does not give enough light. There was another one in a wall sconce at the entry to the passageway. Bring it quickly."
As Brad followed Damba into the corridor, Bart spoke to Romelle. "Darling, take the stone from your cape and present yourself to the High Lama - that is, to Doctor Dash - just as you did to me in the garden."
She nodded, her head awhirl with the astonishing events and revelations of the past few minutes. She groped for the gusset pocket of the fox cape and pulled out the gem. The blaze reflected from the flambeau nourished the ruby's inner fire.
She took the stone in her palms and turned toward Dash. His closed eyes had begun to puff with dark bruises.
She approached him slowly, the ruby aglow, the golden medallion of the Living Buddha glimmering on her breast. The sunlight filtering through the obsidian terrace shimmered on her hair.
Enraptured by the vision she presented, Dayan lifted Dash's head and whispered, "Father, open your eyes."
Dash responded to his son's command.
Faintly delirious from the beating he had received, Dash perceived Romelle as a celestial being.
"Lady Tara!" he cried, struggling to stand. "Blessing of God!"
Then, he saw the ruby. "The Seventh Eye...you have brought the Seventh Eye."
He fell back in Dayan's arms.
"The time has come," he murmured. "Salvation is at hand."
He lost consciousness.
Romelle looked down at Dayan. "What does he mean?"
Dayan stared back, but made no reply. A current flowed from him that was even stronger than the one she had felt on the escarpment the night before.
Returning with the second flambeau, Brad saw the look, too. His heart leapt. It was no different from the expression he tried to repress every time he gazed at Romelle.
It was the look of a man who had lost his soul to love.