Chavadzy returned to the valley on the eve of the last day in April. After a night of rest at the caravansary, he called at Bart's compound.
Romelle met him on the porch of the cottage with Bart and Brad.
"Welcome back, Doctor," she greeted. "Was your trip a success?"
"Absolutely!" the Russian answered. "All arrangements have been made for the transfer of munitions to the Mongols. I discovered that the Tsar has already begun an extension of the railroad south from Ulan-Ude to the Mongolian frontier, and your highway will continue from there. The Tsar and his family send their loving wishes to you."
Romelle asked, "Did you meet the Phantom General?"
Chavadzy smiled. "I did, and he is quite anxious to reveal himself to you."
She was flattered. "He knows of me?"
The Russian bowed. "Everyone in this country knows of you by now, Madame. Prince Dayan spoke of you everywhere."
She hesitated, her heart quivering at the thought of Dayan. Will I see him soon?
"Where is he now...Prince Dayan?" she asked.
"Oh, he'll be along shortly, I think," Chavadzy's words cheered her, "but he and Damba stayed at the top of the escarpment last night for some unexplained reason. There was light enough for me to scurry down before dark as I wished to see you early today. There's something going on, my friends. I don't know what it is. I never saw so much traffic on the trail to Dragon's Heart. Whole caravans of pilgrims are on their way into the valley. The road is choked with them. Have you noticed the flowers?"
Romelle looked at him questioningly.
Chavadzy flung his arms wide. "Those scarlet ones we call Dragon's Heart. They are everywhere."
"We came down to the valley several days ago and have spent all our time in the compound," Bart told him. "I guess it's happened since then. Every year, at this time....."
He took Romelle by the hand. "Come, darling....."
He led them away from the cottage to his lab. A staircase on the outside of the building took them to the roof.
"Here is where I observe the stars," he explained.
Situated on a rise in the compound, the lab gave a view from its roof that encompassed the length and breadth of the valley.
The steep gray walls of the escarpment were blanketed with uncountable millions of the crimson flowers.
Brad distracted them with a shout. "Look! What is that on the road coming down from the top of the escarpment? It shines like the sun! I can't make it out."
Bart hurried to a canvas-covered object at the middle of the roof. He pulled aside the tarp to reveal a sturdy telescope mounted on a fixed tripod. "As I told you, this is where I observe the stars!"
Swiveling the instrument on its base, he looked through the eyepiece and turned the focusing knob. "Ah! Take a look at this."
Romelle peered first. "Why, it's like being there! He's in a golden palanquin, and wearing cloth-of-gold. So is she. That's why they scintillate in the sunlight!"
"Who is it?" asked Brad with some impatience.
She stepped aside. "See for yourself."
Brad bent to the eyepiece. "It's the Living Buddha and his wife! I wonder what they are doing in the valley?"
A voice called to them in Mongolian from below. It was a lama from the temple.
"Dash has sent for us," explained Bart. "He wants us up at the lamasery right away. He asks that you bring the ruby, Romelle. He also invites Rebel."
The High Lama was waiting for them at the gateway on the promontory.
"Welcome!" he smiled. "This is a great day!"
A lama ran past them and knelt before Dash. He spoke quickly before entering the temple grounds.
"My runner tells me the Living Buddha is crossing the valley now," Dash continued.
"His bearers will have to run awfully fast, sir," said Brad. "We saw him through the telescope. He's riding on a litter!"
Dash laughed. "I sent a husky white stallion to wait for him at the bottom of the trail. Although it takes four lamas to lift him into the saddle, he rides very well. The only impediment will be the crowds of pilgrims. Everyone wants his blessing. Come with me to the Marco Polo Library, please. I have some things to tell you before he arrives."
They seated themselves around the large central table.
"This is a holy day," Dash began, "so there will be many women visiting here. This cliff has been sacred since before the dawn of time. For uncounted thousands of years, worshipers have come. In the beginning, human sacrifices were made by tossing unfortunates from the edge of the cliff to the valley below. Fortunately, the gods who required such pointless cruelty have long since been pushed over the brink themselves!
"It is said that the Nestorian, Prester John, who Christianized Mongolia, ordered the construction of these buildings, except for the library, five or six centuries after Christ."
Romelle could not resist interrupting. "Yes! The Tsar's family told us the legend!"
"It is no legend," corrected Dash. "We have several of his letters in this library. He is also responsible for the large female figure on our Grand Terrace. There was an outcropping there which was impossible to remove, so Prester John sent to Ethiopia, his first Christian kingdom, for a solution. Artisans came who claimed to descend from those who created the formidable monuments of ancient Egypt.
"As they cut into the outcropping, which, like the terrace, was volcanic glass, a shape gradually emerged that thrilled the Christians. The Ethiopians had produced a statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in their own image. The polished glass was as glossy black as their own flesh. Thus, they christened it the Black Madonna."
""That's what our Annie was," Bart interposed. "She was a truly Christian woman who interpreted everything
spiritually. I once asked her, who had been a slave
before the world exalted her to a star, why people are
different colors. Her reply has stayed with me ever
since. 'Despite what it says in the first chapter
of the Bible, most people picture God as the physical
image of themselves,' she said, "but I believe we are
the spiritual image of Him, seen through the finite
physical senses as an infinite diversity called mankind.
His divine consciousness embodies every color and
state of man. Therefore, skin color is a spiritual
attribute, not merely a physical one.'"
Another runner charged into the library, whispered a message to Dash, then went away.
"The Living Buddha is ascending the stairs on foot with his wife and entourage," Dash apprised them. "That will take at least an hour as he is a heavy man requiring rest stops along the way. He has refused to be borne in a litter because the crowd assembled below demands the blessing of watching his holy person figuratively ascend the path to Heaven."
"So that's why the roads are jammed!" asserted Romelle. "They've come to see him."
"No, my dear, they are here to witness something else," Dash averred. "For this reason, I sent for you. You brought the ruby?"
"Yes, sir," she replied, reaching for her purse.
He lifted his hand. "Not yet, Madame, but may I ask you to stand?"
As she stood, a small lama wearing a hood stepped out of a corner of the library, carrying a large package. The lama approached slowly and knelt before Romelle.
Dash spoke in Mongolian. The lama set down the package, arose, and pushed back the hood. It was a wizened old female, her wrinkled face revealing a bedazzled expression as she looked up at Romelle.
"I have heard there were female lamas, but this is the first one I have met," said Romelle. "The Living Buddha spoke of them. Even they are allowed in temples only on holy days."
"This is a day declared in the name of the goddess Tara, of whom you are the present embodiment, Madame," said Dash.
Romelle shook her head. "I am not worthy, sir. This has gone too far."
"Not so!" declared Dash. "You have risked your life to bring the ruby here. The truth is, you have not yet gone far enough. Today, you will take the final steps that officially culminate your journey from Europe to Dragon's Heart. After that, I pray you may be your own woman again. Until then, you belong to us, the Mongolian people."
Romelle started to protest, but courtesy held her tongue. It would be an unthinkable insult for me to refuse such an honor. I have committed myself to this by my own actions. I owe it to my father, and to Mongolia. Therefore, I shall do whatever is required of me. As the High Lama says, I can hopefully take back the privilege of a private life very soon.
The female lama had unwrapped the package. It contained exotically beautiful garments.
"We gentlemen shall retire to the courtyard," Dash decreed. "The nun will help you dress. When she brings you forth, may I ask that you carry only the ruby with you. She will look after your clothes and your purse."
He bowed and led the men outside.