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WHEN Morton Reed, unaided except for a leather-faced, white-bearded Arab servant, began to dig in an unpromising spot half a dozen miles from Koyunjik, his fellow archeologists devoted their spare moments to helpful mockery; but they remained to marvel when Reed uncovered a buried city where every tradition claimed there should be nothing of the kind.

And inevitably the big American universities chiseled in on the discovery; which perhaps was no great imposition, as Reed's only resources were his lean, bronzed hands, and enthusiasm that gleamed from his deep-set, dark eyes to relieve the grimness of his gaunt, angular face. One man can't excavate an entire city.

STANDING on the crest of a mound near the now crowded excavations, Reed watched a hundred sweating natives dragging a monstrous winged and human-headed bull from the oblivion of forty centuries. He smiled ironically, nestled in the crook of his arm a small parcel wrapped in a grimy turban cloth, spat contemptuously, and turned his back on the diggers.

"Let them have that rubbish," he muttered, striding toward his shabby tent at the further crest of the mound. "I've got mine."

A necromancer is one whose magic art makes the dead speak. An archeologist is one whose spade uncovers forgotten centuries. Sometimes the distinction between the two becomes dismayingly thin.

Once in his tent, Reed examined his prize. It was a green basalt image of a woman standing on the back of a lion. She wore a tall tiara, and her delicately aquiline Semitic features were sweetened by the shadow of a smile that lurked at the corners of her sensuous mouth. That vague, disquieting smile made Reed feel as though he had exhumed some living thing.

Her body was a suave succession of curves, and about her waist was a broad girdle from which trailed carved pendants reaching well past her hips.

On the foot of the pedestal was a cuneiform inscription; but a wrathful muttering from the rear distracted Reed's pondering on the text.

"I betake me to Allah for refuge against Satan," growled old Habeeb, Reed's Arab servant. He fingered the blue amulet that he had worn suspended about his neck ever since they had begun excavating.

Reed recognized the symptoms of superstitious terror.

"What's the trouble now?" he brusquely demanded.

"Throw the accursed thing away, sahib," muttered the Arab. "That is the image of Bint el Hareth."

That meant, literally, Daughter of Satan—El Hareth was the name by which the angels called their renegade brother.

"Cousin of a jackass," retorted Reed in Arabic, "that is only the lady they used to call Anaitis, a couple of thousand years before Mohammad made the world safe for the one true God."

But old Habeeb muttered and cursed as he, collected dry camel dung for the evening's fire.

Master and servant ate in silence.

Habeeb was thinking of Bint el Hareth, the queen of demons, who rode by moonlight attended by myriads of seductive, night-prowling lilin, whose whisperings lure solitary travelers into the trackless desert to their doom. Reed was equally perturbed, but for another reason: he would have to guard his treasure day and night, lest the otherwise faithful and devoted Arab destroy it.

AS SOON as he had swallowed the last savory morsel of pilau, Reed stretched his weary length on the thick-napped Mosul rug spread on the dirt floor of his tent. He watched Habeeb descending the slope toward the campfires of the archeologists' native workmen. From afar came the mutter of a drum, and the monotonous reiteration of the old song about what happens to the wandering dervish when he met the sultan's forty daughters...

But that, reflected Reed as he again regarded his green basalt treasure, would be nothing to a meeting with the model who centuries ago had posed for this image of Bint el Hareth—

Then he cursed that chanting in the distance. They had changed to a new song. One that Reed had never before heard in all his wanderings. A sensuous, seductive rhythm, for all the crudity of the hoarse voices that blended to produce it. Reed caught himself nodding to that disturbing cadence. It reminded him of silk and white flesh and all that an archeologist abandons—

It seemed finally as though something age-old and evil and alluring had begun to whisper to him in the undertones of that barbarous melody.

Then, suddenly, he realized that he was listening to music that could come from no group of Arab laborers. He sensed that he was no longer alone.

The full moon was rising over the low-lying knolls beyond the Tigris. Something was advancing through the moon glamor toward the entrance of his tent. A woman wearing a tall, glistening tiara. Her shapely body was a succession of fluent, rippling curves that smiled through a gown that left him wondering whether its fragile fabric could endure even a breath of evening breeze.

A native girl. Her flesh was a warm, rosy amber, and he caught the glint of moonlight in her incredibly large, dark eyes. They were dark and sombre, and the fascinating sweetness of her face was subdued by the wistful, almost melancholy mouth.

Reed's eyes strayed down the gracious lines of her throat, and the firm, full blossoming breasts and inward sweep of her waist. He caught his breath, and for an instant cold thrills overwhelmed the warmth that had surged through his veins.

Beneath the gossamer that rippled with the sway of her hips was a broad silver girdle agleam with uncounted sapphires that glittered frostily in the moonlight. He heard the soft tinkle of the jeweled pendants that reached half way to her knees. For an instant it seemed that the basalt image had come to life!

Then Reed assured himself that she must have been prowling in the excavations by moonlight and had discovered a tiara and a jeweled girdle worn uncounted centuries ago by some perfumed favorite of a Babylonian king. She had found the treasure, and was displaying it to the best advantage in order to strike a bargain.

If she removed that silver girdle...

And then fresh wonder again subdued the desire that her shapely smiling curves had aroused. Her lovely face was a duplicate of the green basalt features of Bint el Hareth!

Utterly impossible—but there she was, standing in the doorway, silhouetted against the moon.

"I knew I could finally find you," she was saying in Arabic, "if I waited until the moon rose."

THE night had become a witch glamour that chilled and at the same time inflamed Reed's blood; then he told himself that it was after all not so strange that a village girl should strikingly resemble the green basalt statuette in face and figure. She was substantial, and the moonlight did not sift through her body, but only through the tenuous gauze that enveloped her.

"I have been waiting for you, Malika," Reed replied. "For a long time."

Digging for long buried ruins is lonely work, and even scholars have their human moments. This girl was one for whom any man might have waited. She was glamor that walked by night.

Her slender fingers loosened the tent's lashings; and as the flap slid down into place, she deftly knotted the cord again.

Reed struck light to the gasoline lantern hanging on the tent pole. As he turned back toward his rug, the girl was at his side. He felt the warmth of her body, and the soft promising pressure of her gracious curves. The scent of her dark hair dizzied him, and the glow in her eyes told him that she had not come to trade in stolen antiques.

"Gorgeous," muttered Reed, seating himself on the rug and, catching her hand, he pulled her down beside him.

She shook her head, and her smile was a sweetness in the desert as she murmured, "No... I am Bint el Hareth."

The Daughter of Satan—a perturbing play on words. But her presence was warm and dizzying, and by the glow of the gasoline lantern none of her loveliness was hidden except by the broad jeweled silver girdle and its tinkling pendants. Even her feet were bare—tiny feet, nails tinted with henna.

Her arms moved like amber serpents as she set aside her tall silver tiara. Her hair cascaded in shimmering ripples down about her shoulders hiding her breasts, and reaching toward her silver girdle...

THE far-off mutter of Arab drums was now drowned by the pounding of Reed's heart. He caught her in his arms, and as he found her lips, his fingers slipped between the scented strands of her streaming hair, and caressed the veiled amber curves of her yielding body.

Lovely as her shapely form had been to the eye, it was incredibly more wondrous to the touch... Satin smooth, firm, yet yielding. A succession of soft mysteries that sent fire rushing through his veins.

Her arms twined about him as her lips surrendered to his caress, at first tentative and quivering, then maddeningly possessive.

A strange, endless kiss such is the Arab story tellers in the bazaars of Cairo described. More than contact. It was a mutual enlacement and union of nether lip and tongue.

Her ecstatic shudder, and the sighing exhalation of breath as she finally drew away goaded Reed to flaming frenzy. But somehow, without ever wholly breaking from his embrace, her lithe body evaded complete surrender. She was eager and glowing, yet evasive...

"Not now," she whispered as his hands vainly clawed the heavy silver girdle about her waist. "Later. This is only a meeting and a promise. Don't try. That girdle is locked on. You can't remove it. Not tonight."...

Reed had heard of jealous husbands and of fathers who applied such devices to keep feminine frailty from going too far in unguarded moments.

She sensed his next thought even before he could speak it.

"Neither a file nor a locksmith could help us," she whispered. Then, shaking her lovely head and smiling sadly, she added, "A jealous king was once in love with me. He was old and grizzled and knew that I would outlive him—"

"Who?" Reed wrathfully cut in.

"Naram Sin of Agade," she whispered, pillowing her head on his shoulder.

Naram Sin had been dead for more centuries than Reed had years!

Then she continued, "If you want me, we will meet in Kurdistan. I am here on stolen time. But later—when the signs of heaven permit—it will be otherwise.

"Study the inscription on the base of that statuette. Learn the ritual to chant when the planets rise to their appointed places. Then I will materialize from moon glamor and star dust.

"But think well, Morton Reed... before you summon me in Kurdistan, first look at what remains of my long forgotten lovers... see what Naram Sin, King of Agade, paid for my kisses..."

Her voice subsided to a sighing murmur. She was kissing Reed's throat. The maddening touch of her lips suddenly became an excruciating pain. He gasped and thrust her aside.

Blood trickled down his chest. Her thirsty lips were redder now.

Bint el Hareth was more than a play on words. She was a night-wandering female demon!

His color receded, but before he could break from her embrace, she caught his hand.

"That is the law. And if you are ever to meet me in my house in Kurdistan—if you are ever to unlock the silver girdle—"

Her finger tips indicated the soft curve just below her collar bone.

Reed knew what she meant, but he hesitated. "It won't hurt," she whispered. "And the smallest drop will be enough..."

The evening was already a madness. Reed bent down and brushed aside the heavy blue- black veil of hair. His teeth sank into the flesh he had so fiercely kissed. He felt the moisture of blood; but as it touched his tongue, there was a savage roaring in his ears, and his entire body seemed enveloped in a shroud of consuming flame. His knees sagged, and intolerable dizziness sent him plunging headlong through a paradoxical blend of incredible brightness and impenetrable gloom. He was falling... falling... dropping everlastingly through space...

When his descent finally ended, he was still conscious, yet immeasurably dazed...

HIS fingers were digging into the nap of a Persian rug. Bit by bit the blacknesses faded. He was in his tent, under the white glare of a gasoline lamp.

He was alone. His lips tingled, and there was a stinging at the base of his throat. Then he remembered, and tentatively touched the bite.

His hand came back unstained; but clinging to his finger was a long, wavy strand of blue-black hair.

And that seemed to prove that she had been more than moon glamor and desert wizardry.

He seized the lantern and bounded to the door of the tent. And when old Habeeb returned from the camp of the Arab laborers, Reed was still circling the tent, seeking footprints that would indicate the direction she had taken.

The search was vain. The old Arab muttered under his breath as he watched. He seemed to realize that his master was seeking something that would not have left any trace.

For a long time Habeeb eyed the green basalt statue of a woman standing on a lion. He sniffed the lingering fragrance in the tent.

"Bint el Hareth was walking by moonlight! I betake me to Allah for refuge against—"

"Shut up!" snapped Reed. "Or you'll be taking refuge from my boot! Tell me about this Bint el Hareth."

"She is a peril that walks by night," Habeeb explained. "She sends fools—begging your honor's pardon—out into the desert to find the key to her silver girdle. And they do not come back."

"Nevertheless, I'm going to find her."

"Don't worry, sahib," was the old Arab's ominous answer. "She will find you. But it is possible that you may yet escape."

"Dammit! I don't want to escape. I want to find her."

"Patience, sahib." The old man smiled thinly and stroked his white beard. "They always do. What I meant was there is a way to avoid destruction. Only, no Arab has ever been able to use that method."

"And what's that?"

"It's really very simple." An ironic light burned in Habeeb's narrowed eyes. "She is insanely jealous. Therefore avoid all other women, and she will not destroy you with her deadly kisses."

He sighed, shook his head, and repeated, "But that, of course, is utterly impossible for any Arab..."

Reed nodded. Simple enough, after all. Keep your mind on archeology. A tough contract sometimes, but it could be done.

"And now, sahib," resumed the old Arab, after an interminable silence, "I am going my way. You are the forgotten of Allah."

Before Reed could detain him, Habeeb was stalking out into the night.

And for the remainder of the night, Reed studied the cuneiform text on the pedestal of the statuette. As Bint el Hareth had said, it described a fortress in northern Kurdistan. And the ritual to be chanted when the certain stars rose to the slits that cleft the dome of the turret was simple to an archeologist...

REED finally set out for Kurdistan. His few belongings were packed on a donkey. Into that perilous, bandit-infested region no white man dared venture openly: so he went as a wandering native.

The news of his mission seemed somehow to precede him. But that helped rather than hindered. The superstitious natives regarded him as a madman, and thus an object of reverence. One whose wits were in paradise must be a saint...

Weeks later, he reached his destination: a gray ruin perched on a foreboding crag that commanded the valley in which nestled a Kurdish village.

What he found in the ruins was dismaying confirmation of what that strange girl who called herself Bint el Hareth had said. In a circular vault in the foundation were arched crypts. In each lay the body of a man. There were bearded, hawk- nosed captains, nomads in sheep skin jackets, dignitaries in silks now crumbled to dust.

Their bodies were skin stretched over bone. They were as hollow as insects baked dry in the sun. Reed had heard of mummies made by nature; but on the forehead of each was the red imprint of a woman's lips. This was a promise—and a warning.

The last kiss of Bint el Hareth?

But as his first wave of horror subsided, he resolved to stay. In this desolate waste there were only the women of the savage mountaineers— certainly no temptation!

Then he searched the age-old ruin. Only a single turret was intact. In its uppermost stage he found the vaulted dome pierced by slits. Its circular wall was buttressed by monstrous winged bulls with human heads, bearded and mitred. Placid, sinister guardians of the cabalistical circle outlined in mosaic on the floor beneath the crown of the dome.

The madness of his quest no longer troubled Reed. He had dug too many buried marvels from the earth to doubt that Bint el Hareth would make good her promise. And that single strand of black hair told him that she had been more than illusion.

He had long since traded his donkey for provisions. Now he had but a pair of empty saddle bags. And as the sun dipped toward the western hills, Reed descended into the valley to buy food.

He strode down among the mud huts of the village. The chattering of the crowd subsided. His story had gone before him. And awed, furtive whispers of the natives told him that since the ruins were haunted by demons, he must indeed be a saint to survive such peril.

He shouldered his haversack, now stood with grain, cheese, and mutton. But before he could turn to ascend the slope, he saw that the Kurds were not as fanatic as he had expected. His supposed madness was an unneeded protection. At the further extremity of the village a white man sat cross-legged at the door of a mud hut. In front of him was an array of bottles and bandages.

Filing toward him was a line of natives, men, women, and children. A missionary doctor, dispensing iodine, pills and religion. At his side, handing him instruments and antiseptics was a girl with copper-colored hair, and skin like Jersey cream.

REED, despite his better judgment, joined the throng of ailing natives. The red-haired girl's young, heart-stirring loveliness reminded him of the years since he had seen a white woman. She must be the ruddy faced, grey-bearded doctor's daughter. He crowded closer, trying to catch her voice above the guttural Kurdish chatter and babbling.

The simple severity of her unadorned, faded blouse and sturdy tweed skirt could not mask the gracious loveliness of her figure. Her mouth was sweet and generous, and her slender arms were made to close about a lover's neck.

And despite his recollections of Bint el Hareth, Reed's hungry glance strayed toward the shadowed hollow between her pert breasts as she stooped to unwind a bandage from a grimy ankle. Then, straightening up to get a roll of fresh lint, she caught Reed's trenchant gaze.

She returned his steadfast regard. The ghost of a smile for an instant brightened lips shaped to murmur endearments between kisses exchanged by moonlight; then she remembered that that bronzed, bearded man with the haversack on his shoulder was another tribesman. She hastily turned toward the tray of instruments, but not before Reed noted the flush that crept from her cheeks down the whiteness of her throat.

Warm and human and sweetly curved— Reed's teeth gritted, and he resolutely turned. Bint el Hareth was a night-wandering witchery guarded by a silver girdle; and this red-haired girl was only a woman. Yet he was trembling from head to foot, and his brain was a reeling confusion as he pictured those warm, roundnesses that could be cupped in his hands. That is, if he went back and revealed himself as a scholar and a white man.

As Reed reached the fringe of the village he caught a glint of steel in the shadows of a ravine that opened into the valley. There was a yell, abruptly checked. A file of horsemen came charging from cover. A bandit raid!

It was none of Reed's business. He had paid for his supplies. He could reach the ruins during the confusion of the attack; but he knew what would happen to the red-haired girl. Flinging aside his haversack, he ran down the street shouting a warning. The trailers bounded from their booths. Muzzle-loading rifles, repeaters, and curved swords blossomed from every mud hut; but before the defense could be organized, the raiders had closed in. A second detachment followed, and a third.

The warning had only postponed the end. A man dropped at Reed's side. He snatched his rifle and poured lead into the wave of advancing horsemen. The gun jammed. Clubbing it, Reed beat his way through the milling throng. The red- haired girl was somewhere at its further edge.

A bearded tribesman, charging on horse through a huddle of screeching women, wheeled as he saw Reed. His dripping blade rose. Reed parried the scimitar cut, felt the glancing steel rake his shoulder, but he carried through, smashing home with his clubbed gun. The enemy ducked, but the rifle butt, driving through, crashed across the horse's head. The beast reared, unseating its rider. And before the raider could regain his feet, Reed closed in. Kicking, jabbing and grappling, they wallowed in the red street. Horse and foot charged over them, but Reed kept his hold of that corded throat; and as the enemy's dagger hacked and slashed him, he smashed the raider's head against a boulder.

Reed regained his feet. He had won a sword.

THE village was now a howling butchery. Crackling flames were gutting the woodwork of the traders' booths. The shouts of the raiders and the shrieks of the surviving villagers drowned the voice that Reed still hoped to hear.

He plunged headlong into the tangle, hacking right and left with his curved blade. He saw the red-haired girl huddled in a narrow passageway between two houses. Her garments had been torn to shreds, and her flesh was raked and bruised. She was scrambling to her feet, still clutching the short dagger that had cut down a bandit. But before she could kick clear of her dead captor, another raider saw her and closed in.

Reed ploughed into the nightmare of murder. His reckless wrath and the confusion gave him his chance. He was hacked and battered and bleeding, but he made it—and in time to catch the bandit before he could whirl. The raider pitched forward in a gory huddle, shorn from shoulder to hip. Reed jerked the girl to her feet.

"Head for the ruin on the cliff," he shouted. He paused to pick up an abandoned rifle and a bandolier of cartridges.

Once their path was blocked by a pair of looters; but before they could recognize Reed as an enemy, they dropped in a vengeful mill of steel.

The archeologist and his companion were now in the clear; but before they were beyond the red glow of the burning market stalls, half a dozen bandits saw the girl's red hair and almost bare body, and took up the pursuit.

Reed knelt, snapped the rifle into line. Three shots—wild, hasty shots, but two of them pitched to the ground like bags of grain. The survivors broke for cover.

Reed followed the red head.

Not a word as they clambered up the precipitous ascent. They needed their breath for escape. Finally, as Reed half dragged his exhausted companion into the deepening blackness of the ruin he said, "The moon will soon rise. And I can pick them off as they come up the slope."

He struck light, and dipped some water from a green scummed, rain red cistern. But before he could wash the smoke and grime and blood from his slashed body, the red-haired girl interposed.

"Let me help you—thanks, I'm all right— only a few scratches. But who are you? I couldn't believe it, when I heard you speak English."

He ignored the question.

"Sorry about your father," he commiserated as she bandaged his superficial wounds. "But when this riot quiets down, I'll get you a native escort to Kirkuk. Or somewhere."

Her dark eyes widened. Then she said, "That was my uncle. I'm an orphan, and when he came to Kurdistan, I accompanied him. So—well, I've really no place to go."

SHE rearranged the tattered remnants of her dress, but there was no concealing the tempting roundness of her breasts and the fine gracious curves that swelled upward to meet the scraps of a skirt that now only reached half way to her knees. She was lovelier than Reed had realized, down in the village; and the glow of the fire coaxed alluring lights from her eyes as she sat crouched there, knees drawn up and clasped with her long, slender hands.

Despite the terror of the earlier evening, she was smiling as though the languorous warmth of the fire had blotted out all but the present moment.

She wasted no word on gratitude. None was needed. But the silence and her white presence were an eloquent torture.

Reed leaped to his feet and stalked into the further darknesses. He had to get rid of that tantalizing loveliness. The stars were marching to their ordained positions. Bint el Hareth would soon appear; but that time was too far off for him to endure that red-haired stranger's presence.

Even as he pondered, nature conspired to defeat him. The penetrating chill of the mountains pierced his, heavy woolen cloak. The girl was clad only in a few ragged threads.

He stalked back into the courtyard, slipped out of his cape, and flung it about her shoulders. She caught his hand, and murmured, "You'll be terribly chilly. You needn't keep such a close watch. If the bandits knew we were here, they'd have been up here before now."

The touch of her fingers was seductive as a kiss. Reed seated himself on the rug beside her. He tried to ignore the warmth of her body as she drew closer and flung part of the heavy cape about his shoulders.

"There's plenty for both of us."

Her face was now a white vagueness in the gloom. Her bare legs had become seductive witcheries that tapered invitingly from slender ankles to the scanty refuge of fragments of a skirt.

The firm pressure of her breasts against his side was maddening. She was infinitely more real than any night-walking demon. Reed's resolution melted as her warm breath fanned his cheek, and her red curls brushed against his throat The gloom had become a whirlpool of long imprisoned desire.

He caught her in his arms. Instead of drawing away, she pulled together the edges of the voluminous cape to imprison the warmth of their bodies. But it was her contented sigh that was ruinous.

Peril and the night had brought them together, but it was not until Reed's hand touched a firm, bare breast that they realized how far apart they were. She shivered, and not from the evening chill. Her half-hearted protest was a languorous murmur, and her arms closed about him as his free hand slid down the inward carve of her waist, and crept caressingly down the tattered wisp that still clung to her hips.

"Our chances of getting back to civilization are zero," she murmured. "I ought to make you stop... I would, too... but we shouldn't waste the hour we've gained... I'd hate to die before I ever lived..."

The bandits could return. He owed them a blood debt for those he had cut down during the raid. He would die—without ever finding Bint el Hareth.

Her voice was now an inarticulate murmur, and her breath was coming in short, quick gasps. Their lips met, and Reed knew that the red-haired girl had drunk as deeply of loneliness as he had during all his wandering...

AND when, a long time thereafter, Reed noticed that the rising moon was invading their corner of the court, the witchery in her dark eyes convinced him of the exceeding folly of persisting in his pursuit of a phantom of the night. They would leave in the morning; turn their backs on that sinister ruin and let Bint el Hareth walk alone by moonlight...

The red-haired girl seemed to sense his unspoken thoughts.

"We've both been awfully lonely," she whispered. "Oh, how I hated that village—but that's all over, and maybe you'll forget—whatever it was that made you look at me that way when you left the fire."

But before Reed found words, he heard a faint stirring somewhere beyond the gate. Instinct warned him. He snatched the loaded rifle and crept to the gateway.

The raiders had returned. They were creeping up the slope, dark blots in the moonlight. Something had conquered their overwhelming fear of that devil-haunted ruin.

Reed's rifle snapped into line. A crackling blast. The savage whine of the bullet that ricocheted from a rock down the slope. Moonlight was deceptive. He had wasted a precious cartridge.

"Run for the tower," he shouted as he slammed the bolt home. "I'll hold 'em!"

There was no answering fire. No sound. Only those dark, creeping blotches that relentlessly advanced, slipping from cover to cover, tempting him to waste his ammunition until they could close in.

He fired in desperation, but the derisive whine of wild bullets mocked him. His rifle was now empty. The bandolier of cartridges was by the fire. As he turned to retreat, a dozen gaunt Kurds popped up from concealment to charge up the slope.

Reed bounded toward the baggage lying near the embers; but before he could seize the bandolier, he heard the red-haired girl's voice. She was vainly struggling with the massive door that led to the turret.

"I can't open it!"

Three long leaps brought him to her side. The massive iron grille work screeched as Reed savagely wrenched it open. But the raiders were now in the court. A savage, triumphant yell; but, strangely enough, not a shot was fired.

It was a close race, but Reed won by a hair. He thrust the girl across the threshold, then jerked the gate shut, and slammed the massive bars into place. The Kurds could not break in without siege engines.

They were safe, but unarmed and without food.

"You fools!" Reed ventured a bluff. "This ruin is haunted. The demons will tear you to pieces."

"The peace upon you," the leader respectfully countered. "But we know that you are a saint. Your holy presence will protect us. We do not intend to harm you. We only want the red-haired girl. Our chief ordered us to get her. We will wait until hunger and thirst drive you forth with the girl."

The Kurd salaamed and turned his back.

As Reed followed his companion up the lordly staircase, he fully realized the irony of fate.

He had mocked Bint el Hareth in her own home, almost within arm's reach of her. And the girl whose loveliness had made him waver was with him. But he could carry on by surrendering the red-haired girl. Even though Bint el Hareth blasted him for his weakness.

Surrender her now. In the end, they would be starved out anyway.

"I'll go back," his companion said. "That'll give you your chance. They'll get me anyway."

But hearing it from her lips seemed to alter things.

"Stay here!" he snapped. "I'm going to the top story to think it out. There must be some way."

But Reed knew that there was no escape. The turret overlooked a precipitous drop of hundreds of feet. The bandits guarded every exit.

AS HE entered the upper chamber of the turret, the emptiness and desolation seemed vibrant with life. He glanced through the slits in the vaulted ceiling. The stars were rising to their appointed positions.

Reed frowned perplexedly. Some calculation had been in error. The stars that governed the return of Bint el Hareth would soon be at the marks sculptured by some forgotten astrologer.

Bitterness now corroded Reed's heart. Bint el Hareth would appear, and her jealousy would destroy him.

He raised his arms, lifted his eyes to the slits in the ceiling, and cursed the stars as they relentlessly marched toward their culmination; but they did not hear.

Reed was not afraid; but the iron was biting deeply into his soul. He seated himself on a block of granite, and for a long time stared at the vague, mitred and bearded gods whose faces loomed monstrously in the shimmering gloom. They were remorseless as fate, but less malignant.

Reed's skin began to twitch. The gloom was becoming a live and vibrant creature. He wondered who would carry his body down to the nethermost vault to place him with those others who had been blasted by Bint el Hareth's wrath.

How could a man's body become like the shell of a sun-dried insect?

Let her appear. Let it be over with. She might smile before she blasted him. He rose, and taking his position at the circle, he began reciting the ritual.

Scarcely a dozen syllables had thundered from his dry lips when he felt eyes probing the darkness behind him. He whirled.

The red-haired girl was at the threshold. Her body was a vague white glamor, and her face was a heart-shaped blot.

"Get out!" barked Reed. "I'm trying to think! Don't disturb me."

Instead of retreating, she advanced. Reed's hand flashed out to detain her. She eluded him and stepped toward the circle at the center.

That was the ultimate sacrilege!

But before his wrath could find voice, the red- haired girl spoke.

"Your fate is still in your hands, Morton Reed. Your choice is still yours."

How could she have called him by name?

But that was swallowed by a greater wonder: she went on to speak of his search for Bint el Hareth!

"But how—how can you know—" he finally gasped.

"Because—" She paused. He could just distinguish the whiteness of her hands against the waist band of what remained of her skirt. It slipped down in a heap about her ankles. "Because I am Bint el Hareth."

Her words burned into his brain as his eyes saw what gleamed at her waist: a broad silver girdle, flashing with uncounted sapphires. This was some monstrous trickery! Down there in the court, by the dying embers of their fire—


"Raise your eyes, Morton Reed," she softly murmured, "I have other features as well..."

HER voice had in some inexpressible way changed. It was low and vibrant and heart- stirring, and strangely modulated. Despite the alluring vagueness of her body, he was certain that its contours had unaccountably altered. Some strange change was going on before his very eyes. And as Reed looked her in the face, he could no longer be sure that her hair was red, or that it was not the deceptive play of brightening starlight that seemed to make her cheek bones ever so slightly more prominent, and give her features a faintly aquiline cast.

"I am indeed Bint el Hareth," she continued. "It was written on the books of fate that that red- haired girl be killed in the raid. What difference if I borrowed her body, or shaped one for myself of moon glamor and star dust? I have already reshaped her to the form you desired."

"Then—down there—in the court—"

Bint el Hareth smiled.

"That was still her body, and some of her lingering personality."

"Then you're not jealous?"

She shook her head. "Old Habeeb gave you a garbled tradition. Not my wrath, but my more than human kisses left my lovers as you saw them. They accepted their doom, and were glad.

"The choice is yours, Morton Reed. Those bandits down there cannot touch what little is now left of that red-haired girl's flesh.

"Deny and disown me, open the gateway, and go in peace. Your life will be long—but you will never forget the silver girdle that you could not remove."

She paused, and ran slender fingers through her hair, and withdrew a small key.

"And this," she continued, handing it to Reed, "is the key of doom. If you still have the courage and the will."

The night had become a maze of wonders. Reed saw that Bint el Hareth had blossomed in the light of stars risen to their culmination. Then for a moment he pictured those desiccated bodies ranged in the crypts below.

"It would be worse to wander with only the memories of a girdle without a key," he finally said.

Key in hand he stepped into the circle; and the splendor of her eyes foreshadowed the consuming fire of her uncounted strange kisses...

AND all the while, the leader of the Kurdish bandits watched his men heaping wood in front of the iron grille.

"That should be enough," he at last decided. It had taken a long time to find enough fuel in that barren waste. It took almost as long again before the massive bars reached a red heat. Then sword strokes bit into the glowing metal, and the bandits poured through the breach.

Sunlight was filtering through the slitted dome of the upper chamber when they reached its threshold.

"Wallah," muttered the bandits, "where is that red-haired feringhi wench? Not even a cat could have leaped through those small slits."

Then they saw Reed lying in an alcove between a pair of winged bulls. They recoiled, then paused to wonder what dream could leave such ecstasy on any man's face.

"The saint is sleeping," whispered the leader. "But see the print of her lips on his forehead. Doubtless—though Allah is the knower—he utterly destroyed her for trying to seduce him."

"Ay wallah," echoed another in an awed whisper, "let us leave, before this pious man likewise destroys us for disturbing his sleep."