(Copyright 1972 by Fantasy Publishing Company, Inc. for Witchcraft & Sorcery; reprinted by permission of the author.)

Illustration by Mark Fults

posed by Mary Ann van Hartesveldt
                   
 

To the ruins of Isphatam came Edros, wanderer and adventurer, searching the world for he knew not what. And Isphatam, once capital of the world, lay in ruins and heaped stone piles of rubble on a vast tract of desert. Here, where two walls still stood near what was once the famed Court of Mer, Edros made camp.

But in the night he was awakened by soft music and, looking round, he saw a girl dancing softly in the moonlight.

Now legend told of the dancing girls of Isphatam and said they were the most beautiful women in all the world. Most beautiful and most graceful of them all was Shalamar, who legend said had danced for emperors and kings, generals and sorcerers in the Court of Mer. And so beautiful was the one he saw dancing, so lithe, so graceful Edros knew that, though the day of Shalamar was ended past a thousand years ago, he was watching her and no other.

Though he could see her, Edros was hidden from her view by a low, broken wall. He watched, entranced. Rhythmic and graceful her dancing, fluid the movement of her languid body. As one hypnotized, Edros moved from behind the wall; and as she saw him, though still she danced, she favored him with a lonely, distant smile. Her grey-blue eyes were filled with longing and need. She moved like a supple tree that swayed with the wind and her hair rose out and around her head like a reddish mist. Her shapely arm beckoned him. “Come to me, Edros,” said Shalamar. “Come with me, come with me.”

So moved was Edros by her beauty that his feet carried him toward her before he knew what they were up to. Yet Shalamar backed away from him and beckoned with her hands, her moves timed perfectly to the music. “Follow me,” she said.

Edros stopped suddenly, confused and cautious. “Where shall I follow you?” he asked. “Where do you lead me?”

“To a place where we will be together.”

“What manner of place? How can I trust you? It may be some trap.”

“It is no trap,” she said.

Then she reached the shadows and they gathered around her, covering her like ardent kisses, until palpable darkness hid all but the music and her beckoning arm, and finally even that. And in the silence Edros stood and was afraid and would not follow her.

Day came and he left the ruins.

In a village he heard a legend. It told of Shalamar and how she comes beckoning to those who know it not to offer paradise to he who will take it without suspicion. Fear and suspicion have kept many from paradise.

So Edros thought of the grace of Shalamar, of her voice, of her green-blue eyes, of the languid swaying of her body. He left the village and rode back to Isphatam.

But the legend was right. Edros waited in the ruins for her and perhaps he waits there yet. But Shalamar comes once and once only to any man and must be followed then …