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Figures of Earth
Figures of Earth James Branch Cabell A Comedy of Appearances 1921 Illustrated by Frank C. Papé
Figures of Earth is, with some superficial air of paradox, the one volume in the long Biography of Dom Manuel's life which deals with Dom Manuel himself. Most of the matter strictly appropriate to a Preface you may find, if you so elect, in the Foreword addressed to Sinclair Lewis. And, in fact, after writing two prefaces to this "Figures of Earth"—first, in this epistle to Lewis, and, secondly, in the remarks1 affixed to the illustrated edition,—I had thought this volume could very well continue to survive as long as its deficiencies permit, without the confection of a third preface, until I began a little more carefully to consider this romance, in the seventh year of its existence.
But now, now, the deficiency which I note in chief (like the superior officer of a disastrously wrecked crew) lies in the fact that what I had meant to be the main "point" of "Figures of Earth," while explicitly enough stated in the book, remains for every practical end indiscernible.... For I have written many books during the last quarter of a century. Yet this is the only one of them which began at one plainly recognizable instant with one plainly recognizable imagining. It is the only book by me which ever, virtually, came into being, with its goal set, and with its theme and its contents more or less pre-determined throughout, between two ticks of the clock.
Egotism here becomes rather unavoidable. At Dumbarton Grange the library in which I wrote for some twelve years was lighted by three windows set side by side and opening outward. It was in the instant of unclosing one of these windows, on a fine afternoon in the spring of 1919, to speak with a woman and a child who were then returning to the house (with the day's batch of mail from the post office), that, for no reason at all, I reflected it would be, upon every personal ground, regrettable if, as the moving window unclosed, that especial woman and that particular child proved to be figures in the glass, and the window opened upon nothingness. For that, I believed, was about to happen. There would be, I knew, revealed beyond that moving window, when it had opened all the way, not absolute darkness, but a gray nothingness, rather sweetly scented.... Well! there was not. I once more enjoyed the quite familiar experience of being mistaken. It is gratifying to record that nothing whatever came of that panic surmise, of that second-long nightmare—of that brief but over-tropical flowering, for all I know, of indigestion,—save, ultimately, the 80,000 words or so of this book.
For I was already planning, vaguely, to begin on, later in that year, "the book about Manuel." And now I had the germ of it,—in the instant when Dom Manuel opens the over-familiar window, in his own home, to see his wife and child, his lands, and all the Poictesme of which he was at once the master and the main glory, presented as bright, shallow, very fondly loved illusions in the protective glass of Ageus. I knew that the fantastic thing which had not happened to me,—nor, I hope, to anybody,—was precisely the thing, and the most important thing, which had happened to the gray Count of Poictesme.
So I made that evening a memorandum of that historical circumstance; and for some months this book existed only in the form of that memorandum. Then, through, as it were, this wholly isolated window, I began to grope at "the book about Manuel,"—of whom I had hitherto learned only, from my other romances, who were his children, and who had been the sole witness of Dom Manuel's death, inasmuch as I had read about that also, with some interest, in the fourth chapter of "Jurgen"; and from the unclosing of this window I developed "Figures of Earth," for the most part toward, necessarily, anterior events. For it seemed to me—as it still seems,—that the opening of this particular magic casement, upon an outlook rather more perilous than the bright foam of fairy seas, was alike the climax and the main "point" of my book.
Yet this fact, I am resignedly sure, as I nowadays appraise this seven-year-old romance, could not ever be detected by any reader of "Figures of Earth," In consequence, it has seemed well here to confess at some length the original conception of this volume, without at all going into the value of that conception, nor into, heaven knows, how this conception came so successfully to be obscured.
So I began "the book about Manuel" that summer,—in 1919, upon the back porch of our cottage at the Rockbridge Alum Springs, whence, as I recall it, one could always, just as Manuel did upon Upper Morven, regard the changing green and purple of the mountains and the tall clouds trailing northward, and could observe that the things one viewed were all gigantic and lovely and seemed not to be very greatly bothering about humankind. I suppose, though, that, in point of fact, it occasionally rained. In any case, upon that same porch, as it happened, this book was finished in the summer of 1920.
And the notes made at this time as to "Figures of Earth" show much that nowadays is wholly incomprehensible. There was once an Olrun in the book; and I can recall clearly enough how her part in the story was absorbed by two of the other characters,—by Suskind and by Alianora. Freydis, it appears, was originally called Hlif. Miramon at one stage of the book's being, I find with real surprise, was married en secondes noces to Math. Othmar has lost that prominence which once was his. And it seems, too, there once figured in Manuel's heart affairs a Bel-Imperia, who, so near as I can deduce from my notes, was a lady in a tapestry. Someone unstitched her, to, I imagine, her destruction, although I suspect that a few skeins of this quite forgotten Bel-Imperia endure in the Radegonde of another tale.
Nor can I make anything whatever of my notes about Guivret (who seems to have been in no way connected with Guivric the Sage), nor about Biduz, nor about the Anti-Pope,—even though, to be sure, one mention of this heresiarch yet survives in the present book. I am wholly baffled to read, in my own penciling, such proposed chapter headings as "The Jealousy of Niafer" and "How Sclaug Loosed the Dead,"—which latter is with added incomprehensibility annotated "(?Phorgemon)." And "The Spirit Who Had Half of Everything" seems to have been exorcised pretty thoroughly.... No; I find the most of my old notes as to this book merely bewildering; and I find, too, something of pathos in these embryons of unborn dreams which, for one cause or another, were obliterated and have been utterly forgotten by their creator, very much as in this book vexed Miramon Lluagor twists off the head of a not quite satisfactory, whimpering design, and drops the valueless fragments into his waste-basket.... But I do know that the entire book developed, howsoever helterskelter, and after fumbling in no matter how many blind alleys, from that first memorandum about the troubling window of Ageus. All leads toward—and through—that window.
The book, then, was published in the February of 1921. I need not here deal with its semi-serial appearance in the guise of short stories: these details are recorded elsewhere. But I confess with appropriate humility that the reception of "Figures of Earth" by the public was, as I have written in another place, a depressing business. This romance, at that time, through one extraneous reason and another, disappointed well-nigh everybody, for all that it has since become, so near as I can judge, the best liked of my books, especially among women. It seems, indeed, a fact sufficiently edifying that, in appraising the two legendary heroes of Poictesme, the sex of whom Jurgen esteemed himself a connoisseur, should, almost unanimously, prefer Manuel.
For the rest,—since, as you may remember, this is the third preface which I have written for this book,—I can but repeat more or less what I have conceded elsewhere. This "Figures of Earth" appeared immediately following, and during the temporary sequestration of, "Jurgen." The fact was forthwith, quite unreticently, discovered that in "Figures of Earth" I had not succeeded in my attempt to rewrite its predecessor: and this crass failure, so open, so flagrant, and so undeniable, caused what I can only describe as the instant and overwhelming and universal triumph of "Figures of Earth" to be precisely what did not occur. In 1921 Comstockery still surged, of course, in full cry against the imprisoned pawnbroker and the crimes of his author, both literary and personal; and the, after all, tolerably large portion of the reading public who were not disgusted by Jurgen's lechery were now, so near as I could gather, enraged by Manuel's lack of it.
It followed that—among the futile persons who use serious, long words in talking about mere books,—aggrieved reproof of my auctorial malversations, upon the one ground or the other, became in 1921 biloquial and pandemic. Not many other volumes, I believe, have been burlesqued and cried down in the public prints by their own dedicatees.... But from the cicatrix of that healed wound I turn away. I preserve a forgiving silence, comparable to that of Hermione in the fifth act of "A Winter's Tale": I resolve that whenever I mention the names of Louis Untermeyer and H.L. Mencken it shall be in some connection more pleasant, and that here I will not mention them at all.
Meanwhile the fifteen or so experiments in contrapuntal prose were, in particular, uncharted passages from which I stayed unique in deriving pleasure where others found bewilderment and no tongue-tied irritation: but, in general, and above every misdemeanor else, the book exasperated everybody by not being a more successfully managed re-hashing of the then notorious "Jurgen."
Since 1921, and since the rehabilitation of "Jurgen," the notion has uprisen, gradually, among the more bold and speculative thinkers, that perhaps I was not, after all, in this "Figures of Earth" attempting to rewrite "Jurgen": and Manuel has made his own friend.
James Branch Cabell
30 April 1927
MY DEAR LEWIS:
To you (whom I take to be as familiar with the Manuelian cycle of romance as is any person now alive) it has for some while appeared, I know, a not uncurious circumstance that in the Key to the Popular Tales of Poictesme there should have been included so little directly relative to Manuel himself. No reader of the Popular Tales (as I recall your saying at the Alum when we talked over, among so many other matters, this monumental book) can fail to note that always Dom Manuel looms obscurely in the background, somewhat as do King Arthur and white-bearded Charlemagne in their several cycles, dispensing justice and bestowing rewards, and generally arranging the future, for the survivors of the outcome of stories which more intimately concern themselves with Anavalt and Coth and Holden, and with Kerin and Ninzian and Gonfal and Donander, and with Miramon (in his rôle of Manuel's seneschal), or even with Sclaug and Thragnar, than with the liege-lord of Poictesme. Except in the old sixteenth-century chapbook (unknown to you, I believe, and never reprinted since 1822, and not ever modernized into any cognizable spelling), there seems to have been nowhere an English rendering of the legends in which Dom Manuel is really the main figure.
Well, this book attempts to supply that desideratum, and is, so far as the writer is aware, the one fairly complete epitome in modern English of the Manuelian historiography not included by Lewistam which has yet been prepared.
It is obvious, of course, that in a single volume of this bulk there could not be included more than a selection from the great body of myths which, we may assume, have accumulated gradually round the mighty though shadowy figure of Manuel the Redeemer. Instead, my aim has been to make choice of such stories and traditions as seemed most fit to be cast into the shape of a connected narrative and regular sequence of events; to lend to all that wholesome, edifying and optimistic tone which in reading-matter is so generally preferable to mere intelligence; and meanwhile to preserve as much of the quaint style of the gestes as is consistent with clearness. Then, too, in the original mediaeval romances, both in their prose and metrical form, there are occasional allusions to natural processes which make these stories unfit to be placed in the hands of American readers, who, as a body, attest their respectability by insisting that their parents were guilty of unmentionable conduct; and such passages of course necessitate considerable editing.
No schoolboy (and far less the scholastic chronicler of those last final upshots for whose furtherance "Hannibal invaded Rome and Erasmus wrote in Oxford cloisters") needs nowadays to be told that the Manuel of these legends is to all intents a fictitious person. That in the earlier half of the thirteenth century there was ruling over the Poictoumois a powerful chieftain named Manuel, nobody has of late disputed seriously. But the events of the actual human existence of this Lord of Poictesme—very much as the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa has been identified with the wood-demon Barbatos, and the prophet Elijah, "caught up into the chariot of the Vedic Vayu," has become one with the Slavonic Perun,—have been inextricably blended with the legends of the Dirghic Manu-Elul, Lord of August.
Thus, even the irregularity in Manuel's eyes is taken by Vanderhoffen, in his Tudor Tales, to be a myth connecting Manuel with the Vedic Rudra and the Russian Magarko and the Servian Vii,—"and every beneficent storm-god represented with his eye perpetually winking (like sheet lightning), lest his concentrated look (the thunderbolt) should reduce the universe to ashes.... His watery parentage, and the storm-god's relationship with a swan-maiden of the Apsarasas (typifying the mists and clouds), and with Freydis the fire queen, are equally obvious: whereas Niafer is plainly a variant of Nephthys, Lady of the House, whose personality Dr. Budge sums up as 'the goddess of the death which is not eternal,' or Nerthus, the Subterranean Earth, which the warm rainstorm quickens to life and fertility."
All this seems dull enough to be plausible. Yet no less an authority than Charles Garnier has replied, in rather indignant rebuttal: "Qu'ont étè en réalité Manuel et Siegfried, Achille et Rustem? Par quels exploits ont-ils mérité l'éternelle admiration que leur ont vouée les hommes de leur race? Nul ne répondra jamais à ces questions.... Mais Poictesme croit à la réalité de cette figure que ses romans ont faite si belle, car le pays n'a pas d'autre histoire. Cette figure du Comte Manuel est réelle d'ailleurs, car elle est l'image purifiée de la race qui l'a produite, et, si on peut s'exprimer ainsi, l'incarnation de son génie."
—Which is quite just, and, when you come to think it over, proves Dom Manuel to be nowadays, for practical purposes, at least as real as Dr. Paul Vanderhoffen.
Between the two main epic cycles of Poictesme, as embodied in Les Gestes de Manuel and La Haulte Histoire de Jurgen, more or less comparison is inevitable. And Codman, I believe, has put the gist of the matter succinctly enough.
Says Codman: "The Gestes are mundane stories, the History is a cosmic affair, in that, where Manuel faces the world, Jurgen considers the universe.... Dom Manuel is the Achilles of Poictesme, as Jurgen is its Ulysses."
And, roughly, the distinction serves. Yet minute consideration discovers, I think, in these two sets of legends a more profound, if subtler, difference, in the handling of the protagonist: with Jurgen all of the physical and mental man is rendered as a matter of course; whereas in dealing with Manuel there is, always, I believe, a certain perceptible and strange, if not inexplicable, aloofness. Manuel did thus and thus, Manuel said so and so, these legends recount: yes, but never anywhere have I detected any firm assertion as to Manuel's thoughts and emotions, nor any peep into the workings of this hero's mind. He is "done" from the outside, always at arm's length. It is not merely that Manuel's nature is tinctured with the cool unhumanness of his father the water-demon: rather, these old poets of Poictesme would seem, whether of intention or no, to have dealt with their national hero as a person, howsoever admirable in many of his exploits, whom they have never been able altogether to love, or entirely to sympathize with, or to view quite without distrust.
There are several ways of accounting for this fact,—ranging from the hurtful as well as beneficent aspect of the storm-god, to the natural inability of a poet to understand a man who succeeds in everything: but the fact is, after all, of no present importance save that it may well have prompted Lewistam to scamp his dealings with this always somewhat ambiguous Manuel, and so to omit the hereinafter included legends, as unsuited to the clearer and sunnier atmosphere of the Popular Tales.
For my part, I am quite content, in this Comedy of Appearances, to follow the old romancers' lead. "Such and such things were said and done by our great Manuel," they say to us, in effect: "such and such were the appearances, and do you make what you can of them."
I say that, too, with the addition that in real life, also, such is the fashion in which we are compelled to deal with all happenings and with all our fellows, whether they wear or lack the gaudy name of heroism.
They of Poictesme narrate that in the old days when miracles were as common as fruit pies, young Manuel was a swineherd, living modestly in attendance upon the miller's pigs. They tell also that Manuel was content enough: he knew not of the fate which was reserved for him.
Meanwhile in all the environs of Rathgor, and in the thatched villages of Lower Targamon, he was well liked: and when the young people gathered in the evening to drink brandy and eat nuts and gingerbread, nobody danced more merrily than Squinting Manuel. He had a quiet way with the girls, and with the men a way of solemn, blinking simplicity which caused the more hasty in judgment to consider him a fool. Then, too, young Manuel was very often detected smiling sleepily over nothing, and his gravest care in life appeared to be that figure which Manuel had made out of marsh clay from the pool of Haranton.
This figure he was continually reshaping and realtering. The figure stood upon the margin of the pool; and near by were two stones overgrown with moss, and supporting a cross of old worm-eaten wood, which commemorated what had been done there.
One day, toward autumn, as Manuel was sitting in this place, and looking into the deep still water, a stranger came, and he wore a fierce long sword that interfered deplorably with his walking.
"Now I wonder what it is you find in that dark pool to keep you staring so?" the stranger asked, first of all.
"I do not very certainly know," replied Manuel "but mistily I seem to see drowned there the loves and the desires and the adventures I had when I wore another body than this. For the water of Haranton, I must tell you, is not like the water of other fountains, and curious dreams engender in this pool."
"I speak no ill against oneirologya, although broad noon is hardly the best time for its practise," declared the snub-nosed stranger. "But what is that thing?" he asked, pointing.
"It is the figure of a man, which I have modeled and re-modeled, sir, but cannot seem to get exactly to my liking. So it is necessary that I keep laboring at it until the figure is to my thinking and my desire."
"But, Manuel, what need is there for you to model it at all?"
"Because my mother, sir, was always very anxious for me to make a figure in the world, and when she lay a-dying I promised her that I would do so, and then she put a geas upon me to do it."
"Ah, to be sure! but are you certain it was this kind of figure she meant?"
"Yes, for I have often heard her say that, when I grew up, she wanted me to make myself a splendid and admirable young man in every respect. So it is necessary that I make the figure of a young man, for my mother was not of these parts, but a woman of Ath Cliath, and so she put a geas upon me—"
"Yes, yes, you had mentioned this geas, and I am wondering what sort of a something is this geas."
"It is what you might call a bond or an obligation, sir, only it is of the particularly strong and unreasonable and affirmative and secret sort which the Virbolg use."
The stranger now looked from the figure to Manuel, and the stranger deliberated the question (which later was to puzzle so many people) if any human being could be as simple as Manuel appeared. Manuel at twenty was not yet the burly giant he became. But already he was a gigantic and florid person, so tall that the heads of few men reached to his shoulder; a person of handsome exterior, high featured and blond, having a narrow small head, and vivid light blue eyes, and the chest of a stallion; a person whose left eyebrow had an odd oblique droop, so that the stupendous boy at his simplest appeared to be winking the information that he was in jest.
All in all, the stranger found this young swineherd ambiguous; and there was another curious thing too which the stranger noticed about Manuel.
"Is it on account of this geas," asked the stranger, "that a great lock has been sheared away from your yellow hair?"
In an instant Manuel's face became dark and wary. "No," he said, "that has nothing to do with my geas, and we must not talk about that"
"Now you are a queer lad to be having such an obligation upon your head, and to be having well-nigh half the hair cut away from your head, and to be having inside your head such notions. And while small harm has ever come from humoring one's mother, yet I wonder at you, Manuel, that you should sit here sleeping in the sunlight among your pigs, and be giving your young time to improbable sculpture and stagnant water, when there is such a fine adventure awaiting you, and when the Norns are foretelling such high things about you as they spin the thread of your living."
"Hah, glory be to God, friend, but what is this adventure?"
"The adventure is that the Count of Arnaye's daughter yonder has been carried off by a magician, and that the high Count Demetrios offers much wealth and broad lands, and his daughter's hand in marriage, too, to the lad that will fetch back this lovely girl."
"I have heard talk of this in the kitchen of Arnaye, where I sometimes sell them a pig. But what are such matters to a swineherd?"
"My lad, you are to-day a swineherd drowsing in the sun, as yesterday you were a baby squalling in the cradle, but to-morrow you will be neither of these if there by any truth whatever in the talking of the Norns as they gossip at the foot of their ash-tree beside the door of the Sylan's House."
Manuel appeared to accept the inevitable. He bowed his brightly colored high head, saying gravely: "All honor be to Urdhr and Verdandi and Skuld! If I am decreed to be the champion that is to rescue the Count of Arnaye's daughter, it is ill arguing with the Norns. Come, tell me now, how do you call this doomed magician, and how does one get to him to sever his wicked head from his foul body?"
"Men speak of him as Miramon Lluagor, lord of the nine kinds of sleep and prince of the seven madnesses. He lives in mythic splendor at the top of the gray mountain called Vraidex, where he contrives all manner of illusions, and, in particular, designs the dreams of men."
"Yes, in the kitchen of Arnaye, also, such was the report concerning this Miramon: and not a person in the kitchen denied that this Miramon is an ugly customer."
"He is the most subtle of magicians. None can withstand him, and nobody can pass the terrible serpentine designs which Miramon has set to guard the gray scarps of Vraidex, unless one carries the more terrible sword Flamberge, which I have here in its blue scabbard."
"Why, then, it is you who must rescue the Count's daughter."
"No, that would not do at all: for there is in the life of a champion too much of turmoil and of buffetings and murderings to suit me, who am a peace-loving person. Besides, to the champion who rescues the Lady Gisèle will be given her hand in marriage, and as I have a wife, I know that to have two wives would lead to twice too much dissension to suit me, who am a peace-loving person. So I think it is you who had better take the sword and the adventure."
"Well," Manuel said, "much wealth and broad lands and a lovely wife are finer things to ward than a parcel of pigs."
So Manuel girded on the charmed scabbard, and with the charmed sword he sadly demolished the clay figure he could not get quite right. Then Manuel sheathed Flamberge, and Manuel cried farewell to the pigs.
"I shall not ever return to you, my pigs, because, at worst, to die valorously is better than to sleep out one's youth in the sun. A man has but one life. It is his all. Therefore I now depart from you, my pigs, to win me a fine wife and much wealth and leisure wherein to discharge my geas. And when my geas is lifted I shall not come back to you, my pigs, but I shall travel everywhither, and into the last limits of earth, so that I may see the ends of this world and may judge them while my life endures. For after that, they say, I judge not, but am judged: and a man whose life has gone out of him, my pigs, is not even good bacon."
"So much rhetoric for the pigs," says the stranger, "is well enough, and likely to please them. But come, is there not some girl or another to whom you should be saying good-bye with other things than words?"
"No, at first I thought I would also bid farewell to Suskind, who is sometimes friendly with me in the twilight wood, but upon reflection it seems better not to. For Suskind would probably weep, and exact promises of eternal fidelity, and otherwise dampen the ardor with which I look toward to-morrow and the winning of the wealthy Count of Arnaye's lovely daughter."
"Now, to be sure, you are a queer cool candid fellow, you young Manuel, who will go far, whether for good or evil!"
"I do not know about good or evil. But I am Manuel, and I shall follow after my own thinking and my own desires."
"And certainly it is no less queer you should be saying that: for, as everybody knows, that used to be the favorite byword of your namesake the famous Count Manuel who is so newly dead in Poictesme yonder."
At that the young swineherd nodded, gravely. "I must accept the omen, sir. For, as I interpret it, my great namesake has courteously made way for me, in order that I may go far beyond him."
Then Manuel cried farewell and thanks to the mild-mannered, snub-nosed stranger, and Manuel left the miller's pigs to their own devices by the pool of Haranton, and Manuel marched away in his rags to meet a fate that was long talked about.
The first thing of all that Manuel did, was to fill a knapsack with simple and nutritious food, and then he went to the gray mountain called Vraidex, upon the remote and cloud-wrapped summit of which dread Miramon Lluagor dwelt, in a doubtful palace wherein the lord of the nine sleeps contrived illusions and designed the dreams of men. When Manuel had passed under some very old maple-trees, and was beginning the ascent, he found a smallish, flat-faced, dark-haired boy going up before him.
"Hail, snip," says Manuel, "and whatever are you doing in this perilous place?"
"Why, I am going," the dark-haired boy replied, "to find out how the Lady Gisèle d'Arnaye is faring on the tall top of this mountain."
"Oho, then we will undertake this adventure together, for that is my errand too. And when the adventure is fulfilled, we will fight together, and the survivor will have the wealth and broad lands and the Count's daughter to sit on his knee. What do they call you, friend?"
"I am called Niafer. But I believe that the Lady Gisèle is already married, to Miramon Lluagor. At least, I sincerely hope she is married to this great magician, for otherwise it would not be respectable for her to be living with him at the top of this gray mountain."
"Fluff and puff! what does that matter?" says Manuel. "There is no law against a widow's remarrying forthwith: and widows are quickly made by any champion about whom the wise Norns are already talking. But I must not tell you about that, Niafer, because I do not wish to appear boastful. So I must simply say to you, Niafer, that I am called Manuel, and have no other title as yet, being not yet even a baron."
"Come now," says Niafer, "but you are rather sure of yourself for a young boy!"
"Why, of what may I be sure in this shifting world if not of myself?"
"Our elders, Manuel, declare that such self-conceit is a fault, and our elders, they say, are wiser than we."
"Our elders, Niafer, have long had the management of this world's affairs, and you can see for yourself what they have made of these affairs. What sort of a world is it, I ask you, in which time peculates the gold from hair and the crimson from all lips, and the north wind carries away the glow and glory and contentment of October, and a driveling old magician steals a lovely girl? Why, such maraudings are out of reason, and show plainly that our elders have no notion how to manage things."
"Eh, Manuel, and will you re-model the world?"
"Who knows?" says Manuel, in the high pride of his youth. "At all events, I do not mean to leave it unaltered."
Then Niafer, a more prosaic person, gave him a long look compounded equally of admiration and pity, but Niafer did not dispute the matter. Instead, these two pledged constant fealty until they should have rescued Madame Gisèle.
"Then we will fight for her," says Manuel, again.
"First, Manuel, let me see her face, and then let me see her state of mind, and afterward I will see about fighting you. Meanwhile, this is a very tall mountain, and the climbing of it will require all the breath which we are wasting here."
So the two began the ascent of Vraidex, by the winding road upon which the dreams traveled when they were sent down to men by the lord of the seven madnesses. All gray rock was the way at first. But they soon reached the gnawed bones of those who had ascended before them, scattered about a small plain that was overgrown with ironweed: and through and over the tall purple blossoms came to destroy the boys the Serpent of the East, a very dreadful design with which Miramon afflicted the sleep of Lithuanians and Tartars. The snake rode on a black horse, a black falcon perched on his head, and a black hound followed him. The horse stumbled, the falcon clamored, the hound howled.
Then said the snake: "My steed, why do you stumble? my hound, why do you howl? and, my falcon, why do you clamor? For these three doings foresay some ill to me."
"Oh, a great ill!" replies Manuel, with his charmed sword already half out of the scabbard.
But Niafer cried: "An endless ill is foresaid by these doings. For I have been to the Island of the Oaks: and under the twelfth oak was a copper casket, and in the casket was a purple duck, and in the duck was an egg: and in the egg, O Norka, was and is your death."
"It is true that my death is in such an egg," said the Serpent of the East, "but nobody will ever find that egg, and therefore I am resistless and immortal."
"To the contrary, the egg, as you can perceive, is in my hand; and when I break this egg you will die, and it is smaller worms than you that will be thanking me for their supper this night."
The serpent looked at the poised egg, and he trembled and writhed so that his black scales scattered everywhither scintillations of reflected sunlight. He cried, "Give me the egg, and I will permit you two to ascend unmolested, to a more terrible destruction."
Niafer was not eager to do this, but Manuel thought it best, and so at last Niafer consented to the bargain, for the sake of the serpent's children. Then the two lads went upward, while the serpent bandaged the eyes of his horse and of his hound, and hooded his falcon, and crept gingerly away to hide the egg in an unmentionable place.
"But how in the devil," says Manuel, "did you manage to come by that invaluable egg?"
"It is a quite ordinary duck egg, Manuel. But the Serpent of the East has no way of discovering the fact unless he breaks the egg: and that is the one thing the serpent will never do, because he thinks it is the magic egg which contains his death."
"Come, Niafer, you are not handsome to look at, but you are far cleverer than I thought you!"
Now, as Manuel clapped Niafer on the shoulder, the forest beside the roadway was agitated, and the underbrush crackled, and the tall beech-trees crashed and snapped and tumbled helter-skelter. The crust of the earth was thus broken through by the Serpent of the North. Only the head and throat of this design of Miramon's was lifted from the jumbled trees, for it was requisite of course that the serpent's lower coils should never loose their grip upon the foundations of Norroway. All of the design that showed was overgrown with seaweed and barnacles.
"It is the will of Miramon Lluagor that I forthwith demolish you both," says this serpent, yawning with a mouth like a fanged cave.
Once more young Manuel had reached for his charmed sword Flamberge, but it was Niafer who spoke.
"No, for before you can destroy me," says Niafer, "I shall have cast this bridle over your head."
"What sort of bridle is that?" inquired the great snake scornfully.
"And are those goggling flaming eyes not big enough and bright enough to see that this is the soft bridle called Gleipnir, which is made of the breath of fish and of the spittle of birds and of the footfall of a cat?"
"Now, although certainly such a bridle was foretold," the snake conceded, a little uneasily, "how can I make sure that you speak the truth when you say this particular bridle is Gleipnir?"
"Why, in this way: I will cast the bridle over your head, and then you will see for yourself that the old prophecy will be fulfilled, and that all power and all life will go out of you, and that the Northmen will dream no more."
"No, do you keep that thing away from me, you little fool! No, no: we will not test your truthfulness in that way. Instead, do you two continue your ascent, to a more terrible destruction, and to face barbaric dooms coming from the West. And do you give me the bridle to demolish in place of you. And then, if I live forever I shall know that this is indeed Gleipnir, and that you have spoken the truth."
So Niafer consented to this testing of his veracity, rather than permit this snake to die, and the foundations of Norroway (in which kingdom, Niafer confessed, he had an aunt then living) thus to be dissolved by the loosening of the dying serpent's grip upon Middlegarth. The bridle was yielded, and Niafer and Manuel went upward.
Manuel asked, "Snip, was that in truth the bridle called Gleipnir?"
"No, Manuel, it is an ordinary bridle. But this Serpent of the North has no way of discovering this fact except by fitting the bridle over his head: and this one thing the serpent will never do, because he knows that then, if my bridle proved to be Gleipnir, all power and all life would go out of him."
"O subtle, ugly little snip!" says Manuel: and again he patted Niafer on the shoulder. Then Manuel spoke very highly in praise of cleverness, and said that, for one, he had never objected to it in its place.
Now it was evening, and the two sought shelter in a queer windmill by the roadside, finding there a small wrinkled old man in a patched coat. He gave them lodgings for the night, and honest bread and cheese, but for his own supper he took frogs out of his bosom, and roasted these in the coals.
Then the two boys sat in the doorway, and watched that night's dreams going down from Vraidex to their allotted work in the world of visionary men, to whom these dreams were passing in the form of incredible white vapors. Sitting thus, the lads fell to talking of this and the other, and Manuel found that Niafer was a pagan of the old faith: and this, said Manuel, was an excellent thing.
"For, when we have achieved our adventure," says Manuel, "and must fight against each other for the Count's daughter, I shall certainly kill you, dear Niafer. Now if you were a Christian, and died thus unholily in trying to murder me, you would have to go thereafter to the unquenchable flames of purgatory or to even hotter flames: but among the pagans all that die valiantly in battle go straight to the pagan paradise. Yes, yes, your abominable religion is a great comfort to me."
"It is a comfort to me also, Manuel. But, as a Christian, you ought not ever to have any kind words for heathenry."
"Ah, but," says Manuel, "while my mother Dorothy of the White Arms was the most zealous sort of Christian, my father, you must know, was not a communicant."
"Who was your father, Manuel?"
"No less a person than the Swimmer, Oriander, who is in turn the son of Mimir."
"Ah, to be sure! and who is Mimir?"
"Well, Niafer, that is a thing not very generally known, but he is famed for his wise head."
"And, Manuel, who, while we speak of it, is Oriander?"
"Oh, out of the void and the darkness that is peopled by Mimir's brood, from the ultimate silent fastness of the desolate deep-sea gloom, and the peace of that ageless gloom, blind Oriander came, from Mimir, to be at war with the sea and to jeer at the sea's desire. When tempests are seething and roaring from the Aesir's inverted bowl all seamen have heard his shouting and the cry that his mirth sends up: when the rim of the sea tilts up, and the world's roof wavers down, his face gleams white where distraught waves smite the Swimmer they may not tire. No eyes were allotted this Swimmer, but in blindness, with ceaseless jeers, he battles till time be done with, and the love-songs of earth be sung, and the very last dirge be sung, and a baffled and outworn sea begrudgingly own Oriander alone may mock at the might of its ire."
"Truly, Manuel, that sounds like a parent to be proud of, and not at all like a church-going parent, and of course his blindness would account for that squint of yours. Yes, certainly it would. So do you tell me about this blind Oriander, and how he came to meet your mother Dorothy of the White Arms, as I suppose he did somewhere or other."
"Oh, no," says Manuel, "for Oriander never leaves off swimming, and so he must stay always in the water. So he never actually met my mother, and she married Emmerick, who was my nominal father. But such and such things happened."
Then Manuel told Niafer all about the circumstances of Manuel's birth in a cave, and about the circumstances of Manuel's upbringing in and near Rathgor and the two boys talked on and on, while the unborn dreams went drifting by outside; and within the small wrinkled old man sat listening with a very doubtful smile, and saying never a word.
"And why is your hair cut so queerly, Manuel?"
"That, Niafer, we need not talk about, in part because it is not going to be cut that way any longer, and in part because it is time for bed."
The next morning Manuel and Niafer paid the ancient price which their host required. They left him cobbling shoes, and, still ascending, encountered no more bones, for nobody else had climbed so high. They presently came to a bridge whereon were eight spears, and the bridge was guarded by the Serpent of the West. This snake was striped with blue and gold, and wore on his head a great cap of humming-birds' feathers.
Manuel half drew his sword to attack this serpentine design, with which Miramon Lluagor made sleeping terrible for the red tribes that hunt and fish behind the Hesperides. But Manuel looked at Niafer.
And Niafer displayed a drolly marked small turtle, saying, "Maskanako, do you not recognize Tulapin, the turtle that never lies?"
The serpent howled, as though a thousand dogs had been kicked simultaneously, and the serpent fled.
"Why, snip, did he do that?" asked Manuel, smiling sleepily and gravely, as for the third time he found that his charmed sword Flamberge was unneeded.
"Truly, Manuel, nobody knows why this serpent dreads the turtle: but our concern is less with the cause than with the effect. Meanwhile, those eight spears are not to be touched on any account."
"Is what you have a quite ordinary turtle?" asked Manuel, meekly.
Niafer said: "Of course it is. Where would I be getting extraordinary turtles?"
"I had not previously considered that problem," replied Manuel, "but the question is certainly unanswerable."
They then sat down to lunch, and found the bread and cheese they had purchased from the little old man that morning was turned to lumps of silver and virgin gold in Manuel's knapsack. "This is very disgusting," said Manuel, "and I do not wonder my back was near breaking." He flung away the treasure, and they lunched frugally on blackberries.
From among the entangled blackberry bushes came the glowing Serpent of the South, who was the smallest and loveliest and most poisonous of Miramon's designs. With this snake Niafer dealt curiously. Niafer employed three articles in the transaction: two of these things are not to be talked about, but the third was a little figure carved in hazel-wood.
"Certainly you are very clever," said Manuel, when they had passed this serpent. "Still, your employment of those first two articles was unprecedented, and your disposal of the carved figure absolutely embarrassed me."
"Before such danger as confronted us, Manuel, it does not pay to be squeamish," replied Niafer, "and my exorcism was good Dirgham."
And many other adventures and perils they encountered, such as if all were told would make a long and most improbable history. But they had clear favorable weather, and they won through each pinch, by one or another fraud which Niafer evolved the instant that gullery was needed. Manuel was loud in his praises of the surprising cleverness of his flat-faced dark comrade, and protested that hourly he loved Niafer more and more: and Manuel said too that he was beginning to think more and more distastefully of the time when Niafer and Manuel would have to fight for the Count of Arnaye's daughter until one of them had killed the other.
Meanwhile the sword Flamberge stayed in its curious blue scabbard.
So Manuel and Niafer came unhurt to the top of the gray mountain called Vraidex, and to the doubtful palace of Miramon Lluagor. Gongs, slowly struck, were sounding as if in languid dispute among themselves, when the two lads came across a small level plain where grass was interspersed with white clover. Here and there stood wicked looking dwarf trees with violet and yellow foliage. The doubtful palace before the circumspectly advancing boys appeared to be constructed of black and gold lacquer, and it was decorated with the figures of butterflies and tortoises and swans.
This day being a Thursday, Manuel and Niafer entered unchallenged through gates of horn and ivory; and came into a red corridor in which five gray beasts, like large hairless cats, were casting dice. These animals grinned, and licked their lips, as the boys passed deeper into the doubtful palace.
In the centre of the palace Miramon had set like a tower one of the tusks of Behemoth: the tusk was hollowed out into five large rooms, and in the inmost room, under a canopy with green tassels, they found the magician.
"Come forth, and die now, Miramon Lluagor!" shouts Manuel, brandishing his sword, for which, at last, employment was promised here.
The magician drew closer about him his old threadbare dressing-gown, and he desisted from his enchantments, and he put aside a small unfinished design, which scuttled into the fireplace, whimpering. And Manuel perceived that the dreadful prince of the seven madnesses had the appearance of the mild-mannered stranger who had given Manuel the charmed sword.
"Ah, yes, it was good of you to come so soon," says Miramon Lluagor, rearing back his head, and narrowing his gentle and sombre eyes, as the magician looked at them down the sides of what little nose he had. "Yes, and your young friend, too, is very welcome. But you boys must be quite worn out, after toiling up this mountain, so do you sit down and have a cup of wine before I surrender my dear wife."
Says Manuel, sternly, "But what is the meaning of all this?"
"The meaning and the upshot, clearly," replied the magician, "is that, since you have the charmed sword Flamberge, and since the wearer of Flamberge is irresistible, it would be nonsense for me to oppose you."
"But, Miramon, it was you who gave me the sword!"
Miramon rubbed his droll little nose for a while, before speaking. "And how else was I to get conquered? For, I must tell you, Manuel, it is a law of the Léshy that a magician cannot surrender his prey unless the magician be conquered. I must tell you, too, that when I carried off Gisèle I acted, as I by and by discovered, rather injudiciously."
"Now, by holy Paul and Pollux! I do not understand this at all, Miramon."
"Why, Manuel, you must know she was a very charming girl, and in appearance just the type that I had always fancied for a wife. But perhaps it is not wise to be guided entirely by appearances. For I find now that she has a strong will in her white bosom, and a tireless tongue in her glittering head, and I do not equally admire all four of these possessions."
"Still, Miramon, if only a few months back your love was so great as to lead you into abducting her—"
The prince of the seven madnesses said gravely:
"Love, as I think, is an instant's fusing of shadow and substance. They that aspire to possess love utterly, fall into folly. This is forbidden: you cannot. The lover, beholding that fusing move as a golden-hued goddess, accessible, kindly and priceless, wooes and ill-fatedly wins all the substance. The golden-hued shadow dims in the dawn of his married life, dulled with content, and the shadow vanishes. So there remains, for the puzzled husband's embracing, flesh which is fair and dear, no doubt, yet is flesh such as his; and talking and talking and talking; and kisses in all ways desirable. Love, of a sort, too remains, but hardly the love that was yesterday's."
Now the unfinished design came out of the fireplace, and climbed up Miramon's leg, still faintly whimpering. He looked at it meditatively, then twisted off the creature's head and dropped the fragments into his waste-basket.
Miramon sighed. He said:
"This is the cry of all husbands that now are or may be hereafter,—'What has become of the girl that I married? and how should I rightly deal with this woman whom somehow time has involved in my doings? Love, of a sort, now I have for her, but not the love that was yesterday's—'"
While Miramon spoke thus, the two lads were looking at each other blankly: for they were young, and their understanding of this matter was as yet withheld.
Then said Miramon:
"Yes, he is wiser that shelters his longing from any such surfeit. Yes, he is wiser that knows the shadow makes lovely the substance, wisely regarding the ways of that irresponsible shadow which, if you grasp at it, flees, and, when you avoid it, will follow, gilding all life with its glory, and keeping always one woman young and most fair and most wise, and unwon; and keeping you always never contented, but armed with a self-respect that no husband manages quite to retain in the face of being contented. No, for love is an instant's fusing of shadow and substance, fused for that instant only, whereafter the lover may harvest pleasure from either alone, but hardly from these two united."
"Well," Manuel conceded, "all this may be true; but I never quite understood hexameters, and so I could not ever see the good of talking in them."
"I always do that, Manuel, when I am deeply affected. It is, I suppose, the poetry in my nature welling to the surface the moment that inhibitions are removed, for when I think about the impending severance from my dear wife I more or less lose control of myself—You see, she takes an active interest in my work, and that does not do with a creative artist in any line. Oh, dear me, no, not for a moment!" says Miramon, forlornly.
"But how can that be?" Niafer asked him.
"As all persons know, I design the dreams of men. Now Gisèle asserts that people have enough trouble in real life, without having to go to sleep to look for it—"
"Certainly that is true," says Niafer.
"So she permits me only to design bright optimistic dreams and edifying dreams and glad dreams. She says you must give tired persons what they most need; and is emphatic about the importance of everybody's sleeping in a wholesome atmosphere. So I have not been permitted to design a fine nightmare or a creditable terror—nothing morbid or blood-freezing, no sea-serpents or krakens or hippogriffs, nor anything that gives me a really free hand,—for months and months: and my art suffers. Then, as for other dreams, of a more roguish nature—"
"What sort of dreams can you be talking about, I wonder, Miramon?"
The magician described what he meant. "Such dreams also she has quite forbidden," he added, with a sigh.
"I see," said Manuel: "and now I think of it, it is true that I have not had a dream of that sort for quite a while."
"No man anywhere is allowed to have that sort of dream in these degenerate nights, no man anywhere in the whole world. And here again my art suffers, for my designs in this line were always especially vivid and effective, and pleased the most rigid. Then, too, Gisèle is always doing and telling me things for my own good—In fine, my lads, my wife takes such a flattering interest in all my concerns that the one way out for any peace-loving magician was to contrive her rescue from my clutches," said Miramon, fretfully.
"It is difficult to explain to you, Manuel, just now, but after you have been married to Gisèle for a while you will comprehend without any explaining."
"Now, Miramon, I marvel to see a great magician controlled by a woman who is in his power, and who can, after all, do nothing but talk."
Miramon for some while considered Manuel, rather helplessly. "Unmarried men do wonder about that," said Miramon. "At all events, I will summon her, and you can explain how you have conquered me, and then you can take her away and marry her yourself, and Heaven help you!"
"But shall I explain that it was you who gave me the resistless sword?"
"No, Manuel: no, you should be candid within more rational limits. For you are now a famous champion, that has crowned with victory a righteous cause for which many stalwart knights and gallant gentlemen have made the supreme sacrifice, because they knew that in the end the right must conquer. Your success thus represents the working out of a great moral principle, and to explain the practical minutiae of these august processes is not always quite respectable. Besides, if Gisèle thought I wished to get rid of her she would most certainly resort to comments of which I prefer not to think."
But now into the room came the magician's wife, Gisèle.
"She is, certainly, rather pretty," said Niafer, to Manuel.
Said Manuel, rapturously: "She is the finest and loveliest creature that I have ever seen. Beholding her unequalled beauty, I know that here are all the dreams of yesterday fulfilled. I recollect, too, my songs of yesterday, which I was used to sing to my pigs, about my love for a far princess who was 'white as a lily, more red than roses, and resplendent as rubies of the Orient,' for here I find my old songs to be applicable, if rather inadequate. And by this shabby villain's failure to appreciate the unequalled beauty of his victim I am amazed."
"As to that, I have my suspicions," Niafer replied. "And now she is about to speak I believe she will justify these suspicions, for Madame Gisèle is in no placid frame of mind."
"What is this nonsense," says the proud shining lady, to Miramon Lluagor, "that I hear about your having been conquered?"
"Alas, my love, it is perfectly true. This champion has, in some inexplicable way, come by the magic weapon Flamberge which is the one weapon wherewith I can be conquered. So I have yielded to him, and he is about, I think, to sever my head from my body."
The beautiful girl was indignant, because she had recognized that, magician or no, there is small difference in husbands after the first month or two; and with Miramon tolerably well trained, she had no intention of changing him for another husband. Therefore Gisèle inquired, "And what about me?" in a tone that foreboded turmoil.
The magician rubbed his hands, uncomfortably. "My dear, I am of course quite powerless before Flamberge. Inasmuch as your rescue appears to have been effected in accordance with every rule in these matters, and the victorious champion is resolute to requite my evil-doing and to restore you to your grieving parents, I am afraid there is nothing I can well do about it."
"Do you look me in the eye, Miramon Lluagor!" says the Lady Gisèle. The dreadful prince of the seven madnesses obeyed her, with a placating smile. "Yes, you have been up to something," she said, "And Heaven only knows what, though of course it does not really matter."
Madame Gisèle then looked at Manuel "So you are the champion that has come to rescue me!" she said, unhastily, as her big sapphire eyes appraised him over her great fan of gaily colored feathers, and as Manuel somehow began to fidget.
Gisèle looked last of all at Niafer. "I must say you have been long enough in coming," observed Gisèle.
"It took me two days, madame, to find and catch a turtle," Niafer replied, "and that delayed me."
"Oh, you have always some tale or other, trust you for that, but it is better late than never. Come, Niafer, and do you know anything about this gawky, ragtag, yellow-haired young champion?"
"Yes, madame, he formerly lived in attendance upon the miller's pigs, down Rathgor way, and I have seen him hanging about the kitchen at Arnaye."
Gisèle turned now toward the magician, with her thin gold chains and the innumerable brilliancies of her jewels flashing no more brightly than flashed the sapphire of her eyes. "There!" she said, terribly: "and you were going to surrender me to a swineherd, with half the hair chopped from his head, and with the shirt sticking out of both his ragged elbows!"
"My dearest, irrespective of tonsorial tastes, and disregarding all sartorial niceties, and swineherd or not, he holds the magic sword Flamberge, before which all my powers are nothing."
"But that is easily settled. Have men no sense whatever! Boy, do you give me that sword, before you hurt yourself fiddling with it, and let us have an end of this nonsense."
Thus the proud lady spoke, and for a while the victorious champion regarded her with very youthful looking, hurt eyes. But he was not routed.
"Madame Gisèle," replied Manuel, "gawky and poorly clad and young as I may be, so long as I retain this sword I am master of you all and of the future too. Yielding it, I yield everything my elders have taught me to prize, for my grave elders have taught me that much wealth and broad lands and a lovely wife are finer things to ward than a parcel of pigs. So, if I yield at all, I must first bargain and get my price for yielding."
He turned now from Gisèle to Niafer. "Dear snip," said Manuel, "you too must have your say in my bargaining, because from the first it has been your cleverness that has saved us, and has brought us two so high. For see, at last I have drawn Flamberge, and I stand at last at the doubtful summit of Vraidex, and I am master of the hour and of the future. I have but to sever the wicked head of this doomed magician from his foul body, and that will be the end of him—"
"No, no," says Miramon, soothingly, "I shall merely be turned into something else, which perhaps we had better not discuss. But it will not inconvenience me in the least, so do you not hold back out of mistaken kindness to me, but instead do you smite, and take your well-earned reward."
"Either way," submitted Manuel, "I have but to strike, and I acquire much wealth and sleek farming-lands and a lovely wife, and the swineherd becomes a great nobleman. But it is you, Niafer, who have won all these things for me with your cleverness, and to me it seems that these wonderful rewards are less wonderful than my dear comrade."
"But you too are very wonderful," said Niafer, loyally.
Says Manuel, smiling sadly: "I am not so wonderful but that in the hour of my triumph I am frightened by my own littleness. Look you, Niafer, I had thought I would be changed when I had become a famous champion, but for all that I stand posturing here with this long sword, and am master of the hour and of the future, I remain the boy that last Thursday was tending pigs. I was not afraid of the terrors which beset me on my way to rescue the Count's daughter, but of the Count's daughter herself I am horribly afraid. Not for worlds would I be left alone with her. No, such fine and terrific ladies are not for swineherds, and it is another sort of wife that I desire."
"Whom then do you desire for a wife," says Niafer, "if not the loveliest and the wealthiest lady in all Rathgor and Lower Targamon?"
"Why, I desire the cleverest and dearest and most wonderful creature in all the world," says Manuel,—"whom I recollect seeing some six weeks ago when I was in the kitchen at Arnaye."
"Ah, ah! it might be arranged, then. But who is this marvelous woman?"
Manuel said, "You are that woman, Niafer."
Niafer replied nothing, but Niafer smiled. Niafer raised one shoulder a little, rubbing it against Manuel's broad chest, but Niafer still kept silence. So the two young people regarded each other for a while, not speaking, and to every appearance not valuing Miramon Lluagor and his encompassing enchantments at a straw's worth, nor valuing anything save each other.
"All things are changed for me," says Manuel, presently, in a hushed voice, "and for the rest of time I live in a world wherein Niafer differs from all other persons."
"My dearest," Niafer replied, "there is no sparkling queen nor polished princess anywhere but the woman's heart in her would be jumping with joy to have you looking at her twice, and I am only a servant girl!"
"But certainly," said the rasping voice of Gisèle, "Niafer is my suitably disguised heathen waiting-woman, to whom my husband sent a dream some while ago, with instructions to join me here, so that I might have somebody to look after my things. So, Niafer, since you were fetched to wait on me, do you stop pawing at that young pig-tender, and tell me what is this I hear about your remarkable cleverness!"
Instead, it was Manuel who proudly told of the shrewd devices through which Niafer had passed the serpents and the other terrors of sleep. And the while that the tall boy was boasting, Miramon Lluagor smiled, and Gisèle looked very hard at Niafer: for Miramon and his wife both knew that the cleverness of Niafer was as far to seek as her good looks, and that the dream which Miramon had sent had carefully instructed Niafer as to these devices.
"Therefore, Madame Gisèle," says Manuel, in conclusion, "I will give you Flamberge, and Miramon and Vraidex, and all the rest of earth to boot, in exchange for the most wonderful and clever woman in the world."
And with a flourish, Manuel handed over the charmed sword Flamberge to the Count's lovely daughter, and he took the hand of the swart, flat-faced servant girl.
"Come now," says Miramon, in a sad flurry, "this is an imposing performance. I need not say it arouses in me the most delightful sort of surprise and all other appropriate emotions. But as touches your own interests, Manuel, do you think your behavior is quite sensible?"
Tall Manuel looked down upon him with a sort of scornful pity. "Yes, Miramon: for I am Manuel, and I follow after my own thinking and my own desire. Of course it is very fine of me to be renouncing so much wealth and power for the sake of my wonderful dear Niafer: but she is worth the sacrifice, and, besides, she is witnessing all this magnanimity, and cannot well fail to be impressed."
Niafer was of course reflecting: "This is very foolish and dear of him, and I shall be compelled, in mere decency, to pretend to corresponding lunacies for the first month or so of our marriage. After that, I hope, we will settle down to some more reasonable way of living."
Meanwhile she regarded Manuel fondly, and quite as though she considered him to be displaying unusual intelligence.
But Gisèle and Miramon were looking at each other, and wondering: "What can the long-legged boy see in this stupid and plain-featured girl who is years older than he? or she in the young swaggering ragged fool? And how much wiser and happier is our marriage than, in any event, the average marriage!"
And Miramon, for one, was so deeply moved by the staggering thought which holds together so many couples in the teeth of human nature that he patted his wife's hand. Then he sighed. "Love has conquered my designs," said Miramon, oracularly, "and the secret of a contented marriage, after all, is to pay particular attention to the wives of everybody else."
Gisèle exhorted him not to be a fool, but she spoke without acerbity, and, speaking, she squeezed his hand. She understood this potent magician better than she intended ever to permit him to suspect.
Whereafter Miramon wiped the heavenly bodies from the firmament, and set a miraculous rainbow there, and under its arch was enacted for the swineherd and the servant girl such a betrothal masque of fantasies and illusions as gave full scope to the art of Miramon, and delighted everybody, but delighted Miramon in particular. The dragon that guards hidden treasure made sport for them, the naiads danced, and cherubim fluttered about singing very sweetly and asking droll conundrums. Then they feasted, with unearthly servitors to attend them, and did all else appropriate to an affiancing of deities. And when these junketings were over, Manuel said that, since it seemed he was not to be a wealthy nobleman after all, he and Niafer must be getting, first to the nearest priest's and then back to the pigs.
"I am not so sure that you can manage it," said Miramon, "for, while the ascent of Vraidex is incommoded by serpents, the quitting of Vraidex is very apt to be hindered by death and fate. For I must tell you I have a rather arbitrary half-brother, who is one of those dreadful Realists, without a scrap of aesthetic feeling, and there is no controlling him."
"Well," Manuel considered, "one cannot live forever among dreams, and death and fate must be encountered by all men. So we can but try."
Now for a while the sombre eyes of Miramon Lluagor appraised them. He, who was lord of the nine sleeps and prince of the seven madnesses, now gave a little sigh; for he knew that these young people were enviable and, in the outcome, were unimportant.
So Miramon said, "Then do you go your way, and if you do not encounter the author and destroyer of us all it will be well for you, and if you do encounter him that too will be well in that it is his wish."
"I neither seek nor avoid him," Manuel replied. "I only know that I must follow after my own thinking, and after a desire which is not to be satisfied with dreams, even though they be"—the boy appeared to search for a comparison, then, smiling, said,—"as resplendent as rubies of the Orient."
Thereafter Manuel bid farewell to Miramon and Miramon's fine wife, and Manuel descended from marvelous Vraidex with his plain-featured Niafer, quite contentedly. For happiness went with them, if for no great way.
Manuel and Niafer came down from Vraidex without hindrance. There was no happier nor more devoted lover anywhere than young Manuel.
"For we will be married out of hand, dear snip," he says, "and you will help me to discharge my geas, and afterward we will travel everywhither and into the last limits of earth, so that we may see the ends of this world and may judge them."
"Perhaps we had better wait until next spring, when the roads will be better, Manuel, but certainly we will be married out of hand."
In earnest of this, Niafer permitted Manuel to kiss her again, and young Manuel said, for the twenty-second time, "There is nowhere any happiness like my happiness, nor any love like my love."
Thus speaking, and thus disporting themselves, they came leisurely to the base of the gray mountain and to the old maple-trees, under which they found two persons waiting. One was a tall man mounted on a white horse, and leading a riderless black horse. His hat was pulled down about his head so that his face could not be clearly seen.
Now the companion that was with him had the appearance of a bare-headed youngster, with dark red hair, and his face too was hidden as he sat by the roadway trimming his long finger-nails with a small green-handled knife.
"Hail, friends," said Manuel, "and for whom are you waiting here?"
"I wait for one to ride on this black horse of mine," replied the mounted stranger. "It was decreed that the first person who passed this way must be his rider, but you two come abreast. So do you choose between you which one rides."
"Well, but it is a fine steed surely," Manuel said, "and a steed fit for Charlemagne or Hector or any of the famous champions of the old time."
"Each one of them has ridden upon this black horse of mine," replied the stranger.
Niafer said, "I am frightened." And above them a furtive wind began to rustle in the torn, discolored maple-leaves.
"—For it is a fine steed and an old steed," the stranger went on, "and a tireless steed that bears all away. It has the fault, some say, that its riders do not return, but there is no pleasing everybody."
"Friend," Manuel said, in a changed voice, "who are you, and what is your name?"
"I am half-brother to Miramon Lluagor, lord of the nine sleeps, but I am lord of another kind of sleeping; and as for my name, it is the name that is in your thoughts and the name which most troubles you, and the name which you think about most often."
There was silence. Manuel worked his lips foolishly. "I wish we had not walked abreast," he said. "I wish we had remained among the bright dreams."
"All persons voice some regret or another at meeting me. And it does not ever matter."
"But if there were no choosing in the affair, I could make shift to endure it, either way. Now one of us, you tell me, must depart with you. If I say, 'Let Niafer be that one,' I must always recall that saying with self-loathing."
"But I too say it!" Niafer was petting him and trembling.
"Besides," observed the rider of the white horse, "you have a choice of sayings."
"The other saying," Manuel replied, "I cannot utter. Yet I wish I were not forced to confess this. It sounds badly. At all events, I love Niafer better than I love any other person, but I do not value Niafer's life more highly than I value my own life, and it would be nonsense to say so. No; my life is very necessary to me, and there is a geas upon me to make a figure in this world before I leave it."
"My dearest," says Niafer, "you have chosen wisely."
The veiled horseman said nothing at all. But he took off his hat, and the beholders shuddered. The kinship to Miramon was apparent, you could see the resemblance, but they had never seen in Miramon Lluagor's face what they saw here.
Then Niafer bade farewell to Manuel with pitiable whispered words. They kissed. For an instant Manuel stood motionless. He queerly moved his mouth, as though it were stiff and he were trying to make it more supple. Thereafter Manuel, very sick and desperate looking, did what was requisite. So Niafer went away with Grandfather Death, in Manuel's stead.
"My heart cracks in me now," says Manuel, forlornly considering his hands, "but better she than I. Still, this is a poor beginning in life, for yesterday great wealth and to-day great love was within my reach, and now I have lost both."
"But you did not go the right way about to win success in anything," says the remaining stranger.
And now this other stranger arose from the trimming of his long fingernails; and you could see this was a tall, lean youngster (though not so tall as Manuel, and nothing like so stalwart), with ruddy cheeks, wide-set brown eyes, and crinkling, rather dark red hair.
Then Manuel rubbed his wet hands as clean as might be, and this boy walked on a little way with Manuel, talking of that which had been and of some things which were to be. And Manuel said, "Now assuredly, Horvendile, since that is your name, such talking is insane talking, and no comfort whatever to me in my grief at losing Niafer."
"This is but the beginning of your losses, Manuel, for I think that a little by a little you will lose everything which is desirable, until you shall have remaining at the last only a satiation, and a weariness, and an uneasy loathing of all that the human wisdom of your elders shall have induced you to procure."
"But, Horvendile, can anybody foretell the future? Or can it be that Miramon spoke seriously in saying that fate also was enleagued to forbid the leaving of this mountain?"
"No, Manuel, I do not say that I am fate nor any of the Léshy, but rather it seems to me that I am insane. So perhaps the less attention you pay to my talking, the better. For I must tell you that this wasted country side, this mountain, this road, and these old maples, and that rock yonder, appear to me to be things I have imagined, and that you, and the Niafer whom you have just disposed of so untidily, and Miramon and his fair shrew, and all of you, appear to me to be persons I have imagined; and all the living in this world appears to me to be only a notion of mine."
"Why, then, certainly I would say, or rather, I would think it unnecessary to say, that you are insane."
"You speak without hesitation, and it is through your ability to settle such whimseys out of hand that you will yet win, it may be, to success."
"Yes, but," asked Manuel, slowly, "what is success?"
"In your deep mind, I think, that question is already answered."
"Undoubtedly I have my notion, but it was about your notion I was asking."
Horvendile looked grave, and yet whimsical too. "Why, I have heard somewhere," says he, "that at its uttermost this success is but the strivings of an ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of Omnipotence in a place that is not home."
Manuel appeared to reserve judgment. "How does the successful ape employ himself, in these not quite friendly places?"
"He strives blunderingly, from mystery to mystery, with pathetic makeshifts, not understanding anything, greedy in all desires, and honeycombed with poltroonery, and yet ready to give all, and to die fighting for the sake of that undemonstrable idea, about his being Heaven's vicar and heir."
Manuel shook his small bright head. "You use too many long words. But so far I can understand you, that is not the sort of success I want. No, I am Manuel, and I must follow after my own thinking and my own desire, without considering other people and their notions of success."
"As for denying yourself consideration for other people, I am of the opinion, after witnessing your recent disposal of your sweetheart, that you are already tolerably expert in that sort of abnegation."
"Hah, but you do not know what is seething here," replied Manuel, smiting his broad chest. "And I shall not tell you of it, Horvendile, since you are not fate nor any of the Léshy, to give me my desire."
"What would be your desire?"
"My wish would be for me always to obtain whatever I may wish for. Yes, Horvendile, I have often wondered why, in the old legends, when three wishes were being offered, nobody ever made that sensible and economical wish the first of all."
"What need is there to trouble the Léshy about that foolish wish when it is always possible, at a paid price, to obtain whatever one desires? You have but to go about it in this way." And Horvendile told Manuel a queer and dangerous thing. Then Horvendile said sadly: "So much knowledge I can deny nobody at Michaelmas. But I must tell you the price also, and it is that with the achieving of each desire you will perceive its worth."
Thus speaking, Horvendile parted the thicket beside the roadway. A beautiful dusk-colored woman waited there, in a green-blue robe, and on her head was a blue coronet surmounted with green feathers: she carried a vase. Horvendile stepped forward, and the thicket closed behind him, concealing Horvendile and this woman.
Manuel, looking puzzled, went on a little way, and when he was assured of being alone he flung himself face downward and wept. The reason of this was, they relate, that young Manuel had loved Niafer as he could love nobody else. Then he arose, and went toward the pool of Haranton, on his way homeward, after having failed in everything.
What forthwith happened at the pool of Haranton is not nicely adapted to exact description, but it was sufficiently curious to give Manuel's thoughts a new turn, although it did not seem, even so, to make them happy thoughts. Certainly it was not with any appearance of merriment that Manuel returned to his half-sister Math, who was the miller's wife.
"And wherever have you been all this week?" says Math, "with the pigs rooting all over creation, and with that man of mine forever flinging your worthlessness in my face, and with that red-haired Suskind coming out of the twilight a-seeking after you every evening and pestering me with her soft lamentations? And for the matter of that, whatever are you glooming over?"
"I have cause, and cause to spare."
Manuel told her of his adventures upon Vraidex, and Math said that showed what came of neglecting his proper business, which was attendance on her husband's pigs. Manuel then told her of what had just befallen by the pool of Haranton.
Math nodded. "Take shame to yourself, young rascal with your Niafer hardly settled down in paradise, and with your Suskind wailing for you in the twilight! But that would be Alianora the Unattainable Princess. Thus she comes across the Bay of Biscay, traveling from the far land of Provence, in, they say, the appearance of a swan: and thus she bathes in the pool wherein strange dreams engender: and thus she slips into the robe of the Apsarasas when it is high time to be leaving such impudent knaves as you have proved yourself to be."
"Yes, yes! a shift made all of shining white feathers, Sister. Here is a feather that was broken from it as I clutched at her."
Math turned the feather in her hand. "Now to be sure! and did you ever see the like of it! Still, a broken feather is no good to anybody, and, as I have told you any number of times, I cannot have trash littering up my kitchen."
So Math dropped this shining white feather into the fire, on which she was warming over a pot of soup for Manuel's dinner, and they watched this feather burn.
Manuel says, sighing, "Even so my days consume, and my youth goes out of me, in a land wherein Suskind whispers of uncomfortable things, and wherein there are no maids so clever and dear as Niafer, nor so lovely as Alianora."
Math said: "I never held with speaking ill of the dead. So may luck and fair words go with your Niafer in her pagan paradise. Of your Suskind too"—Math crossed herself,—"the less said, the better. But as for your Alianora, no really nice girl would be flying in the face of heaven and showing her ankles to five nations, and bathing, on a Monday too, in places where almost anybody might come along. It is not proper, but I wonder at her parents."
"But, Sister, she is a princess!"
"Just so: therefore I burned the feather, because it is not wholesome for persons of our station in life to be robbing princesses of anything, though it be only of a feather."
"Sister, that is the truth! It is not right to rob anybody of anything, and this would appear to make another bond upon me and another obligation to be discharged, because in taking that feather I have taken what did not belong to me."
"Boy, do not think you are fooling me, for when your face gets that look on it, I know you are considering some nonsense over and above the nonsense you are talking. However, from your description of the affair, I do not doubt that gallivanting, stark-naked princess thought you were for taking what did not belong to you. Therefore I burned the feather, lest it be recognized and bring you to the gallows or to a worse place. So why did you not scrape your feet before coming into my clean kitchen? and how many times do you expect me to speak to you about that?"
Manuel said nothing. But he seemed to meditate over something that puzzled him. In the upshot he went into the miller's chicken-yard, and caught a goose, and plucked from its wing a feather.
Then Manuel put on his Sunday clothes.
"Far too good for you to be traveling in," said Math.
Manuel looked down at his half-sister, and once or twice he blinked those shining strange eyes of his. "Sister, if I had been properly dressed when I was master of the doubtful palace, the Lady Gisèle would have taken me quite seriously. I have been thinking about her observations as to my elbows."
"The coat does not make the man," replied Math piously.
"It is your belief in any such saying that has made a miller's wife of you, and will keep you a miller's wife until the end of time. Now I learned better from my misadventures upon Vraidex, and from my talking with that insane Horvendile about the things which have been and some things which are to be."
Math, who was a wise woman, said queerly, "I perceive that you are letting your hair grow."
Manuel said, "Yes."
"Boy, fast and loose is a mischancy game to play."
"And being born, also, is a most hazardous speculation, Sister, yet we perforce risk all upon that cast."
"Now you talk stuff and nonsense—"
"Yes, Sister; but I begin to suspect that the right sort of stuff and nonsense is not unremunerative. I may be wrong, but I shall afford my notion a testing."
"And after what shiftless idiocy will you be chasing now, to neglect your work?"
"Why, as always, Sister, I must follow my own thinking and my own desire," says Manuel, lordlily, "and both of these are for a flight above pigs."
Thereafter Manuel kissed Math, and, again without taking leave of Suskind in the twilight, or of anyone else, he set forth for the far land of Provence.
So did it come about that as King Helmas rode a-hunting in Nevet under the Hunter's Moon he came upon a gigantic and florid young fellow, who was very decently clad in black, and had a queer droop to his left eye, and who appeared to be wandering at adventure in the autumn woods: and the King remembered what had been foretold.
Says King Helmas to Manuel the swineherd, "What is that I see in your pocket wrapped in red silk?"
"It is a feather, King, wrapped in a bit of my sister's best petticoat"
"Now, glory be to your dark magics, friend, and at what price will you sell me that feather?"
"But a feather is no use to anybody, King, for, as you see, it is a quite ordinary feather?"
"Come, come!" the King says, shrewdly, "do people anywhere wrap ordinary feathers in red silk? Friend, do not think to deceive King Helmas of Albania, or it will be worse for you. I perfectly recognize that shining white feather as the feather which was moulted in this forest by the Zhar-Ptitza Bird, in the old time before my grandfathers came into this country. For it was foretold that such a young sorcerer as you would bring to me, who have long been the silliest King that ever reigned over the Peohtes, this feather which confers upon its owner perfect wisdom: and for you to dispute the prophecy would be blasphemous."
"I do not dispute your silliness, King Helmas, nor do I dispute anybody's prophecies in a world wherein nothing is certain."
"One thing at least is certain," remarked King Helmas, frowning uglily, "and it is that among the Peohtes all persons who dispute our prophecies are burned at the stake."
Manuel shivered slightly, and said: "It seems to me a quite ordinary feather: but your prophets—most deservedly, no doubt,—are in higher repute for wisdom than I am, and burning is a discomfortable death. So I recall what a madman told me, and, since you are assured that this is the Zhar-Ptitza's feather, I will sell it to you for ten sequins."
King Helmas shook a disapproving face. "That will not do at all, and your price is out of reason, because it was foretold that for this feather you would ask ten thousand sequins."
"Well, I am particularly desirous not to appear irreligious now that I have become a young sorcerer. So you may have the feather at your own price, rather than let the prophecies remain unfulfilled."
Then Manuel rode pillion with a king who was unwilling to let Manuel out of his sight, and they went thus to the castle called Brunbelois. They came to two doors with pointed arches, set side by side, the smaller being for foot passengers, and the other for horsemen. Above was an equestrian statue in a niche, and a great painted window with traceries of hearts and thistles.
They entered the larger door, and that afternoon twelve heralds, in bright red tabards that were embroidered with golden thistles, rode out of this door, to proclaim the fulfilment of the prophecy as to the Zhar-Ptitza's feather, and that afternoon the priests of the Peohtes gave thanks in all their curious underground temples. The common people, who had for the last score of years taken shame to themselves for living under such a foolish king, embraced one another, and danced, and sang patriotic songs at every street-corner: the Lower Council met, and voted that, out of deference of his majesty, All Fools' Day should be stricken from the calendar: and Queen Pressina (one of the water folk) declared there were two ways of looking at everything, the while that she burned a quantity of private papers. Then at night were fireworks, the King made a speech, and to Manuel was delivered in wheel-barrows the sum of ten thousand sequins.
Thereafter Manuel abode for a month at the court of King Helmas, noting whatever to this side and to that side seemed most notable. Manuel was well liked by the nobility, and when the barons and the fine ladies assembled in the evening for pavanes and branles and pazzamenos nobody danced more statelily than Messire Manuel. He had a quiet way with the ladies, and with the barons a way of simplicity which was vastly admired in a sorcerer so potent that his magic had secured the long sought Zhar-Ptitza's feather. "But the most learned," as King Helmas justly said, "are always the most modest."
Helmas now wore the feather from the wing of the miller's goose affixed to the front of Helmas' second best crown, because that was the one he used to give judgments in. And when it was noised abroad that King Helmas had the Zhar-Ptitza's feather, the Peohtes came gladly to be judged, and the neighboring kings began to submit to him their more difficult cases, and all his judgings were received with reverence, because everybody knew that King Helmas' wisdom was now infallible, and that to criticize his verdict as to anything was merely to expose your own stupidity.
And now that doubt of himself had gone out of his mind, Helmas lived untroubled, and his digestion improved, and his loving-kindness was infinite, because he could not be angry with the pitiable creatures haled before him, when he considered how little able they were to distinguish between wisdom and unwisdom where Helmas was omniscient: and all his doings were merciful and just, and his people praised him. Even the Queen conceded that, once you were accustomed to his ways, and exercised some firmness about being made a doormat of, and had it understood once for all that meals could not be kept waiting for him, she supposed there might be women worse off.
And Manuel got clay and modeled the figure of a young man which had the features and the wise look of King Helmas.
"I can see the resemblance," the King said, "but it does not half do me justice, and, besides, why have you made a young whipper-snapper of me, and mixed up my appearance with your appearance?"
"I do not know," said Manuel, "but I suppose it is because of a geas which is upon me to make myself a splendid and admirable young man in every respect, and not an old man."
"And does the sculpture satisfy you?" asks the King, smiling wisely.
"No, I like this figure well enough, now it is done, but it is not, I somehow know, the figure I desire to make. No, I must follow after my own thinking and my own desire, and wisdom is not requisite to me."
"You artists!" said the King, as people always say that "Now I would consider that, for all the might of your sorceries, wisdom is rather clamantly requisite to you, Messire Manuel, who inform me you must soon be riding hence to find elsewhere the needful look for your figure. For thus to be riding about this world of men, in search of a shade of expression, and without even being certain of what look you are looking for, does not appear to me to be good sense."
But young Manuel replied sturdily:
"I ride to encounter what life has in store for me, who am made certain of this at least, that all high harvests which life withholds for me spring from a seed which I sow—and reap. For my geas is potent, and, late or soon, I serve my geas, and take my doom as the pay well-earned that is given as pay to me, for the figure I make in this world of men.
"This figure, foreseen and yet hidden away from me, glimpsed from afar in the light of a dream,—will I love it, once more, or will loathing awake in me after its visage is plainlier seen? No matter: as fate says, so say I, who serve my geas, and gain in time such payment, at worst, as is honestly due to me, for the figure I make in this world of men.
"To its shaping I consecrate youth that is strong in me, ardently yielding youth's last least gift, who know that all grace which the gods have allotted me avails me in naught if it fails me in this. For all that a man has, that must I bring to the image I shape, that my making may live when time unmakes me and death dissevers me from the figure I make in this world of men."
To this the King rather drily replied: "There is something in what you say. But that something is, I can assure you, not wisdom."
So everyone was satisfied in Albania except Manuel, who declared that he was pleased but not contented by the image he had made in the likeness of King Helmas.
"Besides," they told him, "you look as though your mind were troubling you about something."
"In fact, I am puzzled to see a foolish person made wise in all his deeds and speeches by this wisdom being expected of him."
"But that is a cause for rejoicing, and for applauding the might of your sorceries, Messire Manuel, whereas you are plainly thinking of vexatious matters."
Manuel replied, "I think that it is not right to rob anybody of anything, and I reflect that wisdom weighs exactly the weight of a feather."
Then Manuel went into King Helmas' chickenyard, and caught a goose, and plucked from its wing a feather. Manuel went glitteringly now, in brocaded hose, and with gold spurs on his heels: the figure which he had made in the likeness of King Helmas was packed in an expensive knapsack of ornamented leather, and tall shining Manuel rode on a tall dappled horse when he departed southward, for Manuel nowadays had money to spare.
Now Manuel takes ship across the fretful Bay of Biscay, traveling always toward Provence and Alianora, whom people called the Unattainable Princess. Oriander the Swimmer followed this ship, they say, but he attempted to do Manuel no hurt, at least not for that turn.
So Manuel of the high head comes into the country of wicked King Ferdinand; and, toward All-Hallows, they bring a stupendous florid young man to the King in the torture-chamber. King Ferdinand was not idle at the moment, and he looked up good-temperedly enough from his employment: but almost instantly his merry face was overcast.
"Dear me!" says Ferdinand, as he dropped his white hot pincers sizzlingly into a jar of water, "and I had hoped you would not be bothering me for a good ten years!"
"Now if I bother you at all it is against my will," declared Manuel, very politely, "nor do I willingly intrude upon you here, for, without criticizing anybody's domestic arrangements, there are one or two things that I do not fancy the looks of in this torture-chamber."
"That is as it may be. In the mean time, what is that I see in your pocket wrapped in red silk?"
"It is a feather, King, wrapped in a bit of my sister's best petticoat."
Then Ferdinand sighed, and he arose from his interesting experiments with what was left of the Marquess de Henestrosa, to whom the King had taken a sudden dislike that morning.
"Tut, tut!" said Ferdinand: "yet, after all, I have had a brave time of it, with my enormities and my iniquities, and it is not as though there were nothing to look back on! So at what price will you sell me that feather?"
"But surely a feather is no use to anybody, King, for does it not seem to you a quite ordinary feather?"
"Come!" says King Ferdinand, as he washed his hands, "do people anywhere wrap ordinary feathers in red silk? You squinting rascal, do not think to swindle me out of eternal bliss by any such foolish talk! I perfectly recognize that feather as the feather which Milcah plucked from the left pinion of the Archangel Oriphiel when the sons of God were on more intricate and scandalous terms with the daughters of men than are permitted nowadays."
"Well, sir," replied Manuel, "you may be right in a world wherein nothing is certain. At all events, I have deduced, from one to two things in this torture-chamber, that it is better not to argue with King Ferdinand."
"How can I help being right, when it was foretold long ago that such a divine emissary as you would bring this very holy relic to turn me from my sins and make a saint of me?" says Ferdinand, peevishly.
"It appears to me a quite ordinary feather, King: but I recall what a madman told me, and I do not dispute that your prophets are wiser than I, for I have been a divine emissary for only a short while."
"Do you name your price for this feather, then!"
"I think it would be more respectful, sir, to refer you to the prophets, for I find them generous and big-hearted creatures."
Ferdinand nodded his approval. "That is very piously spoken, because it was prophesied that this relic would be given me for no price at all by a great nobleman. So I must forthwith write out for you a count's commission, I suppose, and must write out your grants to fertile lands and a stout castle or two, and must date your title to these things from yesterday."
"Certainly," said Manuel, "it would not look well for you to be neglecting due respect to such a famous prophecy, with that bottle of ink at your elbow."
So King Ferdinand sent for the Count of Poictesme, and explained to him as between old friends how the matter stood, and that afternoon the high Count was confessed and decapitated. Poictesme being now a vacant fief, King Ferdinand ennobled Manuel, and made him Count of Poictesme.
It was true that all Poictesme was then held by the Northmen, under Duke Asmund, who denied King Ferdinand's authority with contempt, and defeated him in battle with annoying persistence: so that Manuel for the present acquired nothing but the sonorous title.
"Some terrible calamity, however," as King Ferdinand pointed out, "is sure to befall Asmund and his iniquitous followers before very long, so we need not bother about them."
"But how may I be certain of that, sir?" Manuel asked.
"Count, I am surprised at such scepticism! Is it not very explicitly stated in Holy Writ that though the wicked may flourish for a while they are presently felled like green bay-trees?"
"Yes, to be sure! So there is no doubt that your soldiers will soon conquer Duke Asmund."
"But I must not send any soldiers to fight against him, now that I am a saint, for that would not look well. It would have an irreligious appearance of prompting Heaven."
"Still, King, you are sending soldiers against the Moors—"
"Ah, but it is not your lands, Count, but my city of Ubeda, which the Moors are attacking, and to attack a saint, as you must undoubtedly understand, is a dangerous heresy which it is my duty to put down."
"Yes, to be sure! Well, well!" says Manuel, "at any rate, to be a count is something, and it is better to ward a fine name than a parcel of pigs, though it appears the pigs are the more nourishing."
In the mean while the King's heralds rode everywhither in fluted armor, to proclaim the fulfilment of the old prophecy as to the Archangel Oriphiel's feather. Never before was there such a hubbub in those parts, for the bells of all the churches sounded all day, and all the people ran about praying at the top of their voices, and forgiving their relatives, and kissing the girls, and blowing whistles and ringing cowbells, because the city now harbored a relic so holy that the vilest sinner had but to touch it to be purified of iniquity.
And that day King Ferdinand dismissed the evil companions with whom he had so long rioted in every manner of wickedness, and Ferdinand lived henceforward as became a saint. He builded two churches a year, and fared edifyingly on roots and herbs; he washed the feet of three indigent persons daily, and went in sackcloth; whenever he burned heretics he fetched and piled up the wood himself, so as to inconvenience nobody; and he made prioresses and abbesses of his more intimate and personal associates of yesterday, because he knew that people are made holy by contact with holiness, and that sainthood is retroactive.
Thereafter Count Manuel abode for a month at the court of King Ferdinand, noting whatever to this side and to that side seemed most notable. Manuel was generally liked by the elect, and in the evening when the court assembled for family-prayers nobody was more devout than the Count of Poictesme. He had a quiet way with the abbesses and prioresses, and with the anchorites and bishops a way of simplicity which was vastly admired in a divine emissary. "But the particular favor of Heaven," as King Ferdinand pointed out, "is always reserved for modest persons."
The feather from the wing of Helmas' goose King Ferdinand had caused to be affixed to the unassuming skullcap with a halo of gold wire which Ferdinand now wore in the place of a vainglorious earthly crown; so that perpetual contiguity with this relic might keep him in augmenting sanctity. And now that doubt of himself had gone out of his mind, Ferdinand lived untroubled, and his digestion improved on his light diet of roots and herbs, and his loving-kindness was infinite, because he could not now be angry with the pitiable creatures haled before him, when he considered what lengthy and ingenious torments awaited every one of them, either in hell or purgatory, while Ferdinand would be playing a gold harp in heaven.
So Ferdinand dealt tenderly and generously with all. Half of his subjects said that simply showed you: and the rest of them assented that indeed you might well say that, and they had often thought of it, and had wished that young people would take profit by considering such things more seriously.
And Manuel got clay and modeled a figure which had the features and the holy look of King Ferdinand.
"Yes, this young fellow you have made of mud is something like me," the King conceded, "although clay of course cannot do justice to the fine red cheeks and nose I used to have in the unregenerate days when I thought about such vanities, and, besides, it is rather more like you. Still, Count, the thing has feeling, it is wholesome, it is refreshingly free from these modern morbid considerations of anatomy, and it does you credit."
"No, King, I like this figure well enough, now that it is done, but it is not, I somehow know, the figure I desire to make. No, I must follow after my own thinking and my own desires, and I do not need holiness."
"You artists!" the King said. "But there is more than mud upon your mind."
"In fact, I am puzzled, King, to see you made a saint of by its being expected of you."
"But, Count, that ought to grieve nobody, so long as I do not complain, and it is of something graver you are thinking."
"I think, sir, that it is not right to rob anybody of anything, and I reflect that absolute righteousness is a fine feather in one's cap."
Then Manuel went into the chicken-yard behind the red-roofed palace of King Ferdinand, and caught a goose, and plucked from its wing a feather. Thereafter the florid young Count of Poictesme rode east, on a tall dappled horse, and a retinue of six lackeys in silver and black liveries came cantering after him, and the two foremost lackeys carried in knapsacks, marked with a gold coronet, the images which Dom Manuel had made. A third lackey carried Dom Manuel's shield, upon which were emblazoned the arms of Poictesme. The black shield displayed a silver stallion which was rampant in every member and was bridled with gold, but the ancient arms had been given a new motto.
"What means this Greek?" Dom Manuel had asked.
"Mundus decipit, Count," they told him, "is the old pious motto of Poictesme: it signifies that the affairs of this world are a vain fleeting show, and that terrestrial appearances are nowhere of any particular importance."
"Then your motto is green inexperience," said Manuel, "and for me to bear it would be black ingratitude."
So the writing had been changed in accordance with his instructions, and it now read Mundus vult decipi.
In such estate it was that Count Manuel came, on Christmas morning, just two days after Manuel was twenty-one, into Provence. This land, reputed sorcerous, in no way displayed to him any unusual features, though it was noticeable that the King's marmoreal palace was fenced with silver pikes whereon were set the embalmed heads of young men who had wooed the Princess Alianora unsuccessfully. Manuel's lackeys did not at first like the looks of these heads, and said they were unsuitable for Christmas decorations: but Dom Manuel explained that at this season of general merriment this palisade also was mirth-provoking because (the weather being such as was virtually unprecedented in these parts) a light snow had fallen during the night, so that each head seemed to wear a nightcap.
They bring Manuel to Raymond Bérenger, Count of Provence and King of Aries, who was holding the Christmas feast in his warm hall. Raymond sat on a fine throne of carved white ivory and gold, beneath a purple canopy. And beside him, upon just such another throne, not quite so high, sat Raymond's daughter, Alianora the Unattainable Princess, in a robe of watered silk which was of seven colors and was lined with the dark fur of barbiolets. In her crown were chrysolites and amethysts: it was a wonder to note how brightly they shone, but they were not so bright as Alianora's eyes.
She stared as Manuel of the high head came through the hall, wherein the barons were seated according to their degrees. She had, they say, four reasons for remembering the impudent, huge, squinting, yellow-haired young fellow whom she had encountered at the pool of Haranton. She blushed, and spoke with her father in the whistling and hissing language which the Apsarasas use among themselves: and her father laughed long and loud.
Says Raymond Bérenger: "Things might have fallen out much worse. Come tell me now, Count of Poictesme, what is that I see in your breast pocket wrapped in red silk?"
"It is a feather, King," replied Manuel, a little wearily, "wrapped in a bit of my sister's best petticoat."
"Ay, ay," says Raymond Bérenger, with a grin that was becoming even more benevolent, "and I need not ask what price you come expecting for that feather. None the less, you are an excellently spoken-of young wizard of noble condition, who have slain no doubt a reasonable number of giants and dragons, and who have certainly turned kings from folly and wickedness. For such fine rumors speed before the man who has fine deeds behind him that you do not come into my realm as a stranger: and, I repeat, things might have fallen out much worse."
"Now listen, all ye that hold Christmas here!" cried Manuel "A while back I robbed this Princess of a feather, and the thought of it lay in my mind more heavy than a feather, because I had taken what did not belong to me. So a bond was on me, and I set out toward Provence to restore to her a feather. And such happenings befell me by the way that at Michaelmas I brought wisdom into one realm, and at All-Hallows I brought piety into another realm. Now what I may be bringing into this realm of yours at Heaven's most holy season, Heaven only knows. To the eye it may seem a quite ordinary feather. Yet life in the wide world, I find, is a queerer thing than ever any swineherd dreamed of in his wattled hut, and people everywhere are nourished by their beliefs, in a way that the meat of pigs can nourish nobody."
Raymond Bérenger said, with a wise nod: "I perceive what is in your heart, and I see likewise what is in your pocket. So why do you tell me what everybody knows? Everybody knows that the robe of the Apsarasas, which is the peculiar treasure of Provence, has been ruined by the loss of a feather, so that my daughter can no longer go abroad in the appearance of a swan, because the robe is not able to work any more wonders until that feather in your pocket has been sewed back into the robe with the old incantation."
"Now, but indeed does everybody know that!" says Manuel.
"—Everybody knows, too, that my daughter has pined away with fretting after her lost ways of outdoor exercise, and the healthful changes of air which she used to be having. And finally, everybody knows that, at my daughter's very sensible suggestion, I have offered my daughter's hand in marriage to him who would restore that feather, and death to every impudent young fellow who dared enter here without it, as my palace fence attests."
"Oh, oh!" says Manuel, smiling, "but seemingly it is no wholesome adventure which has come to me unsought!"
"—So, as you tell me, you came into Provence: and, as there is no need to tell me, I hope, who have still two eyes in my head, you have achieved the adventure. And why do you keep telling me about matters with which I am as well acquainted as you are?"
"But, King of Arles, how do you know that this is not an ordinary feather?"
"Count of Poictesme, do people anywhere—?"
"Oh, spare me that vile bit of worldly logic, sir, and I will concede whatever you desire!"
"Then do you stop talking such nonsense, and do you stop telling me about things that everybody knows, and do you give my daughter her feather!"
Manuel ascends the white throne of Alianora. "Queer things have befallen me," said Manuel, "but nothing more strange than this can ever happen, than that I should be standing here with you, and holding this small hand in mine. You are not perhaps quite so beautiful nor so clever as Niafer. Nevertheless, you are the Unattainable Princess, whose loveliness recalled me from vain grieving after Niafer, within a half-hour of Niafer's loss. Yes, you are she whose beauty kindled a dream and a dissatisfaction in the heart of a swineherd, to lead him forth into the wide world, and through the puzzling ways of the wide world, and into its high places: so that at the last the swineherd is standing—a-glitter in satin and gold and in rich furs,—here at the summit of a throne; and at the last the hand of the Unattainable Princess is in his hand, and in his heart is misery."
The Princess said, "I do not know anything about this Niafer, who was probably no better than she should have been, nor do I know of any conceivable reason for your being miserable."
"Why, is it not the truth," asks Manuel of Alianora, speaking not very steadily, "that you are to marry the man who restores the feather of which you were robbed at the pool of Haranton? and can marry none other?"
"It is the truth," she answered, in a small frightened lovely voice, "and I no longer grieve that it is the truth, and I think it a most impolite reason for your being miserable."
Manuel laughed without ardor. "See how we live and learn! I recall now the droll credulity of a lad who watched a shining feather burned, while he sat within arm's reach thinking about cabbage soup, because his grave elders assured him that a feather could never be of any use to anybody. And that, too, after he had seen what uses may be made of an old bridle or of a duck egg or of anything! Well, but all water that is past the dam must go its way, even though it be a flood of tears—"
Here Manuel gently shrugged broad shoulders. He took out of his pocket the feather he had plucked from the wing of Ferdinand's goose.
He said: "A feather I took from you in the red autumn woods, and a feather I now restore to you, my Princess, in this white palace of yours, not asking any reward, and not claiming to be remembered by you in the gray years to come, but striving to leave no obligation undischarged and no debt unpaid. And whether in this world wherein nothing is certain, one feather is better than another feather, I do not know. It well may come about that I must straightway take a foul doom from fair lips, and that presently my head will be drying on a silver pike. Even so, one never knows: and I have learned that it is well to put all doubt of oneself quite out of mind."
He gave her the feather he had plucked from the third goose, and the trumpets sounded as a token that the quest of Alianora's feather had been fulfilled, and all the courtiers shouted in honor of Count Manuel.
Alianora looked at what was in her hand, and saw it was a goose-feather, in nothing resembling the feather which, when she had fled in maidenly embarrassment from Manuel's over-friendly advances, she had plucked from the robe of the Apsarasas, and had dropped at Manuel's feet, in order that her father might be forced to proclaim this quest, and the winning of it might be predetermined.
Then Alianora looked at Manuel. Now before her the queer unequal eyes of this big young man were bright and steadfast as altar candles. His chin was well up, and it seemed to her that this fine young fellow expected her to declare the truth, when the truth would be his death-sentence. She had no patience with his nonsense.
Says Alianora, with that lovely tranquil smile of hers: "Count Manuel has fulfilled the quest. He has restored to me the feather from the robe of the Apsarasas. I recognize it perfectly."
"Why, to be sure," says Raymond Bérenger. "Still, do you get your needle and the recipe for the old incantation, and the robe too, and make it plain to all my barons that the power of the robe is returned to it, by flying about the hall a little in the appearance of a swan. For it is better to conduct these affairs in due order and without any suspicion of irregularity."
Now matters looked ticklish for Dom Manuel, since he and Alianora knew that the robe had been spoiled, and that the addition of any number of goose-feathers was not going to turn Alianora into a swan. Yet the boy's handsome and high-colored face stayed courteously attentive to the wishes of his host, and did not change.
But Alianora said indignantly: "My father, I am surprised at you! Have you no sense of decency at all? You ought to know it is not becoming for an engaged girl to be flying about Provence in the appearance of a swan, far less among a parcel of men who have been drinking all morning. It is the sort of thing that leads to a girl's being talked about."
"Now, that is true, my dear," said Raymond Bérenger, abashed, "and the sentiment does you credit. So perhaps I had better suggest something else—"
"Indeed, my father, I see exactly what you would be suggesting. And I believe you are right."
"I am not infallible, my dear: but still—"
"Yes, you are perfectly right: it is not well for any married woman to be known to possess any such robe. There is no telling, just as you say, what people would be whispering about her, nor what disgraceful tricks she would get the credit of playing on her husband."
"My daughter, I was only about to tell you—"
"Yes, and you put it quite unanswerably. For you, who have the name of being the wisest Count that ever reigned in Provence, and the shrewdest King that Arles has ever had, know perfectly well how people talk, and how eager people are to talk, and to place the very worst construction on everything: and you know, too, that husbands do not like such talk. Certainly I had not thought of these things, my father, but I believe that you are right."
Raymond Bérenger stroked his thick short beard, and said: "Now truly, my daughter, whether or not I be wise and shrewd—though, as you say, of course there have been persons kind enough to consider—and in petitions too—However, be that as it may, and putting aside the fact that everybody likes to be appreciated, I must confess I can imagine no gift which would at this high season be more acceptable to any husband than the ashes of that robe."
"This is a saying," Alianora here declares, "well worthy of Raymond Bérenger: and I have often wondered at your striking way of putting things."
"That, too, is a gift," the King-Count said, with proper modesty, "which to some persons is given, and to others not: so I deserve no credit for it. But, as I was saying when you interrupted me, my dear, it is well for youth to have its fling, because (as I have often thought) we are young only once: and so I have not ever criticized your jauntings in far lands. But a husband is another pair of sandals. A husband does not like to have his wife flying about the tree tops and the tall lonely mountains and the low long marshes, with nobody to keep an eye on her, and that is the truth of it. So, were I in your place, and wise enough to listen to the old father who loves you, and who is wiser than you, my dear—why, now that you are about to marry, I repeat to you with all possible earnestness, my darling, I would destroy this feather and this robe in one red fire, if only Count Manuel will agree to it. For it is he who now has power over all your possessions, and not I."
"Count Manuel," says Alianora, with that lovely tranquil smile of hers, "you perceive that my father is insistent, and it is my duty to be guided by him. I do not deny that, upon my father's advice, I am asking you to let perish a strong magic which many persons would value above a woman's pleading. But I know now"—her eyes met his, and to any young man anywhere with a heart moving in him, that which Manuel could see in the bright frightened eyes of Alianora could not but be a joy well-nigh intolerable,—"but I know now that you, who are to be my husband, and who have brought wisdom into one kingdom, and piety into another, have brought love into the third kingdom: and I perceive that this third magic is a stronger and a nobler magic than that of the Apsarasas. And it seems to me that you and I would do well to dispense with anything which is second rate."
"I am of the opinion that you are a singularly intelligent young woman," says Manuel, "and I am of the belief that it is far too early for me to be crossing my wife's wishes, in a world wherein all men are nourished by their beliefs."
All being agreed, the Yule-log was stirred up into a blaze, which was duly fed with the goose-feather and the robe of the Apsarasas. Thereafter the trumpets sounded a fanfare, to proclaim that Raymond Bérenger's collops were cooked and peppered, his wine casks broached, and his puddings steaming. Then the former swineherd went in to share his Christmas dinner with the King-Count's daughter, Alianora, whom people everywhere had called the Unattainable Princess.
And they relate that while Alianora and Manuel sat cosily in the hood of the fireplace and cracked walnuts, and in the pauses of their talking noted how the snow was drifting by the windows, the ghost of Niafer went restlessly about green fields beneath an ever radiant sky in the paradise of the pagans. When the kindly great-browed warders asked her what it was she was seeking, the troubled spirit could not tell them, for Niafer had tasted Lethe, and had forgotten Dom Manuel. Only her love for him had not been forgotten, because that love had become a part of her, and so lived on as a blind longing and as a desire which did not know its aim. And they relate also that in Suskind's low red-pillared palace Suskind waited with an old thought for company.
They of Poictesme narrate that after dinner King Raymond sent messengers to his wife, who was spending that Christmas with their daughter, Queen Meregrett of France, to bid Dame Beatrice return as soon as might be convenient, so that they might marry off their daughter Alianora to the famous Count Manuel. They tell also how the holiday season passed with every manner of festivity, and how Dom Manuel got on splendidly with his Princess, and how it appeared to onlookers that for both of them, even for the vaguely condescending boy, love-making proved a very marvelous and dear pursuit.
Dom Manuel confessed, in reply to jealous questionings, that he did not think Alianora quite so beautiful nor so clever as Niafer had been, but this, as Manuel pointed out, was hardly a matter which could be remedied. At all events, the Princess was a fine-looking and intelligent girl, as Dom Manuel freely conceded to her: and the magic of the Apsarasas, in which she was instructing him, Dom Manuel declared to be very interesting if you cared for that sort of thing.
The Princess humbly admitted, in reply, that of course her magic did not compare with his, since hers was powerful only over the bodies of men and beasts, whereas Dom Manuel's magic had so notably controlled the hearts and minds of kings. Still, as Alianora pointed out, she could blight corn and cattle, and raise tempests very handily, and, given time, could smite an enemy with almost any physical malady you selected. She could not kill outright, to be sure, but even so, these lesser mischiefs were not despicable accomplishments in a young girl. Anyhow, she said in peroration, it was atrocious to discourage her by laughing at the best she could do.
"Ah, but come now, my dear," says Manuel, "I was only teasing. I really think your work most promising. You have but to continue. Practise, that is the thing, they say, in all the arts."
"Yes, and with you to help me—"
"No, I have graver matters to attend to than devil-mongering," says Manuel, "and a bond to lift from myself before I can lay miseries on others."
For because of the geas that was on him to make a figure in the world, Dom Manuel had unpacked his two images, and after vexedly considering them, he had fallen again to modeling in clay, and had made a third image. This image also was in the likeness of a young man, but it had the fine proud features and the loving look of Alianora.
Manuel confessed to being fairly well pleased with this figure, but even so, he did not quite recognize in it the figure he desired to make, and therefore, he said, he deduced that love was not the thing which was essential to him.
Alianora did not like the image at all.
"To have made an image of me," she considered, "would have been a very pretty compliment. But when it comes to pulling about my features, as if they did not satisfy you, and mixing them up with your features, until you have made the appearance of a young man that looks like both of us, it is not a compliment. Instead, it is the next thing but one to egotism."
"Perhaps, now I think of it, I am an egotist. At all events, I am Manuel."
"Nor, dearest," says she, "is it quite befitting that you, who are now betrothed to a princess, and who are going to be Lord of Provence and King of Arles, as soon as I can get rid of Father, should be always messing with wet mud."
"I know that very well," Manuel replied, "but, none the less, a geas is on me to honor my mother's wishes, and to make an admirable and significant figure in the world. Apart from that, though, Alianora, I repeat to you, this scheme of yours, about poisoning your father as soon as we are married, appears to me for various reasons ill-advised. I am in no haste to be King of Arles, and, in fact, I am not sure that I wish to be king at all, because my geas is more important."
"Sweetheart, I love you very much, but my love does not blind me to the fact that, no matter, what your talents at sorcery, you are in everyday matters a hopelessly unpractical person. Do you leave this affair to me, and I will manage it with every regard to appearances."
"Ah, and does one have to preserve appearances even in such matters as parricide?"
"But certainly it looks much better for Father to be supposed to die of indigestion. People would be suspecting all sorts of evil of the poor dear if it were known that his own daughter could not put up with him. In any event, sweetheart, I am resolved that, since very luckily Father has no sons, you shall be King of Arles before this new year is out."
"No, I am Manuel: and it means more to me to be Manuel than to be King of Arles, and Count of Provence, and seneschal of Aix and Brignoles and Grasse and Massilia and Draguignan and so on."
"Oh, you are breaking my heart with this neglect of your true interests! And it is all the doing of these three vile images, which you value more than the old throne of Boson and Rothbold, and oceans more than you do me!"
"Come, I did not say that."
"Yes, and you think, too, a deal more about that dead heathen servant girl than you do about me, who am a princess and the heir to a kingdom."
Manuel looked at Alianora for a considerable while, before speaking. "My dear, you are, as I have always told you, an unusually fine looking and intelligent girl. And yes, you are a princess, of course, though you are no longer the Unattainable Princess: that makes a difference certainly—But, over and above all this, there was never anybody like Niafer, and it would be nonsense to pretend otherwise."
The Princess said: "I wonder at myself. You are schooled in strange sorceries unknown to the Apsarasas, there is no questioning that, after the miracles you wrought with Helmas and Ferdinand: even so, I too have a neat hand at magic, and it is not right for you to be treating me as though I were the dirt under your feet. And I endure it! It is that which puzzles me, it makes me wonder at myself, and my sole comfort is that, at any rate, this wonderful Niafer of yours is dead and done with."
Manuel sighed. "Yes, Niafer is dead, and these images also are dead things, and both these facts continually trouble me. Nothing can be done about Niafer, I suppose, but if only I could give some animation to these images I think the geas upon me would be satisfied."
"Such a desire is blasphemous, Manuel, for the Eternal Father did no more than that with His primal sculptures in Eden."
Dom Manuel blinked his vivid blue eyes as if in consideration. "Well, but," he said, gravely, "but if I am a child of God it is only natural, I think, that I should inherit the tastes and habits of my Father. No, it is not blasphemous, I think, to desire to make an animated and lively figure, somewhat more admirable and significant than that of the average man. No, I think not. Anyhow, blasphemous or not, that is my need, and I must follow after my own thinking and my own desire."
"If that desire were satisfied," asks Alianora, rather queerly, "would you be content to settle down to some such rational method of living as becomes a reputable sorcerer and king?"
"I think so, for a king has no master, and he is at liberty to travel everywhither, and to see the ends of this world and judge them. Yes, I think so, in a world wherein nothing is certain."
"If I but half way believed that, I would endeavor to obtain Schamir."
"And what in the devil is this Schamir?"
"A slip of the tongue," replied Alianora, smiling. "No, I shall have nothing to do with your idiotic mud figures, and I shall tell you nothing further."
"Come now, pettikins!" says Manuel. And he began coaxing the Princess of Provence with just such cajoleries as the big handsome boy had formerly exercised against the peasant girls of Rathgor.
"Schamir," said Alianora, at last, "is set in a signet ring which is very well known in the country on the other side of the fire. Schamir has the appearance of a black pebble; and if, after performing the proper ceremonies, you were to touch one of these figures with it the figure would become animated."
"Well, but," says Manuel, "the difficulty is that if I attempt to pass through the fire in order to reach the country behind it, I shall be burned to a cinder, and so I have no way of obtaining this talisman."
"In order to obtain it," Alianora told him, "one must hard-boil an egg from the falcon's nest, then replace it in the nest, and secrete oneself near by with a crossbow, under a red and white umbrella, until the mother bird, finding one of her eggs resists all her endeavors to infuse warmth into it, flies off, and plunges into the nearest fire, and returns with this ring in her beak. With Schamir she will touch the boiled egg, and so restore the egg to its former condition. At that moment she must be shot, and the ring must be secured, before the falcon can return the talisman to its owner. I mean, to its dreadful owner, who is"—here Alianora made an incomprehensible sign,—"who is Queen Freydis of Audela."
"Come," said Manuel, "what is the good of my knowing this in the dead of winter! It will be months before the falcons are nesting again."
"Manuel, Manuel, there is no understanding you! Do you not see how badly it looks for a grown man, and far more for a famed champion and a potent sorcerer, to be pouting and scowling and kicking your heels about like that, and having no patience at all?"
"Yes, I suppose it does look badly, but I am Manuel, and I follow—"
"Oh, spare me that," cried Alianora, "or else, no matter how much I may love you, dearest, I shall box your jaws!"
"None the less, what I was going to say is true," declared Manuel, "and if only you would believe it, matters would go more smoothly between us."
Now the tale tells how, to humor Alianora, Count Manuel applied himself to the magic of the Apsarasas. He went with the Princess to a high secret place, and Alianora, crying sweetly, in the famous old fashion, "Torolix, Ciccabau, Tio, Tio, Torolililix!" performed the proper incantations, and forthwith birds came multitudinously from all quarters of the sky, in a descending flood of color and flapping and whistling and screeching.
The peacock screamed, "With what measure thou judgest others, thou shalt thyself be judged."
Sang the nightingale, "Contentment is the greatest happiness."
The turtle-dove called, "It were better for some created things that they had never been created."
The peewit chirped, "He that hath no mercy for others, shall find none for himself."
The stork said huskily, "The fashion of this world passeth away."
And the wail of the eagle was, "Howsoever long life may be, yet its inevitable term is death."
"Now that is virtually what I said," declared the stork, "and you are a bold-faced and bald-headed plagiarist."
"And you," replied the eagle, clutching the stork's throat, "are a dead bird that will deliver no more babies."
But Dom Manuel tugged at the eagle's wing, and asked him if he really meant that to hold good before this Court of the Birds. And when the infuriated eagle opened his cruel beak, and held up one murderous claw, to make solemn oath that indeed he did mean it, and would show them too, the stork very intelligently flew away.
"I shall not ever forget your kindness, Count Manuel," cried the stork, "and do you remember that the customary three wishes are always yours for the asking."
"And I too am grateful," said the abashed eagle,—"yes, upon the whole, I am grateful, for if I had killed that long-legged pest it would have been in contempt of the court, and they would have set me to hatching red cockatrices. Still, his reproach was not unfounded, and I must think up a new cry."
So the eagle perched on a rock, and said tentatively, "There is such a thing as being too proud to fight." He shook his bald head disgustedly, and tried, "The only enduring peace is a peace without victory," but that did not seem to content him either. Afterward he cried out, "All persons who oppose me have pygmy minds," and "If everybody does not do exactly as I order, the heart of the world will be broken": and many other foolish things he repeated, and shook his head over, for none of these axioms pleased the eagle, and he no longer admired the pedagogue who had invented them.
So in his worried quest for a saying sufficiently orotund and meaningless to content his ethics, and to be hailed with convenience as a great moral principle, the eagle forgot all about Count Manuel: but the stork did not forget, because in the eyes of the stork the life of the stork is valuable.
The other birds uttered various such sentiments as have been recorded, and all these, they told Manuel, were accredited sorceries. The big yellow-haired boy did not dispute it, he rarely disputed anything: but the droop to that curious left eye of his was accentuated, and he admitted to Alianora that he wondered if such faint-hearted smug little truths were indeed the height of wisdom, outside of religion and public speaking. Then he asked which was the wisest of the birds, and they told him the Zhar-Ptitza, whom others called the Fire-Bird.
Manuel induced Alianora to summon the Zhar-Ptitza, who is the oldest and the most learned of all living creatures, although he has thus far learned nothing assuredly except that appearances have to be kept up. The Zhar-Ptitza came, crying wearily, "Fine feathers make fine birds." You heard him from afar.
The Zhar-Ptitza himself had every reason to get comfort out of this axiom, for his plumage was everywhere the most brilliant purple, except that his neck feathers were the color of new gold, and his tail was blue with somewhat longer red feathers intermingled. His throat was wattled gorgeously, and his head was tufted, and he seemed a trifle larger than the eagle. The Fire-Bird brought with him his nest of cassia and sprigs of incense, and this he put down upon the lichened rocks, and he sat in it while he talked with Manuel.
The frivolous question that Manuel raised as to his clay figures, the Zhar-Ptitza considered a very human bit of nonsense: and the wise creature said he felt forced to point out that no intelligent bird would ever dream of making images.
"But, sir," said Manuel, "I do not wish to burden this world with any more lifeless images. Instead, I wish to make in this world an animated figure, very much as, they say, a god did once upon a time—"
"Come, you should not try to put too much responsibility upon Jahveh," protested the Zhar-Ptitza, tolerantly, "for Jahveh made only one man, and did not ever do it again. I remember the making of that first man very clearly, for I was created the morning before, with instructions to fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven, so I saw the whole affair. Yes, Jahveh did create the first man on the sixth day. And I voiced no criticism. For of course after working continuously for nearly a whole week, and making so many really important things, no creative artist should be blamed for not being in his happiest vein on the sixth day."
"And did you happen to notice, sir," asks Manuel, hopefully, "by what method animation was given to Adam?"
"No, he was drying out in the sun when I first saw him, with Gabriel sitting at his feet, playing on a flageolet: and naturally I did not pay any particular attention to such foolishness."
"Well, well, I do not assert that the making of men is the highest form of art, yet, none the less, a geas is upon me to make myself a very splendid and admirable young man."
"But why should you be wasting your small portion of breath and strength? To what permanent use could one put a human being even if the creature were virtuous and handsome to look at? Ah, Manuel, you have not seen them pass, as I have seen them pass in swarms, with their wars and their reforms and their great causes, and leaving nothing but their bones behind them."
"Yes, yes, to you, at your age, who were old when Nineveh was planned, it must seem strange; and I do not know why my mother desired that I should make myself a splendid and admirable young man. But the geas is upon me."
The Zhar-Ptitza sighed. "Certainly these feminine whims are not easily explained. Yet your people have some way of making brand-new men and women of all kinds. I am sure of this, for otherwise the race would have been extinct a great while since at the rate they kill one another. And perhaps they do adhere to Jahveh's method, and make fresh human beings out of earth, for, now I think of it, I have seen the small, recently completed ones, who looked exactly like red clay."
"It is undeniable that babies do have something of that look," assented Manuel. "So then, at least, you think I may be working in the proper medium?"
"It seems plausible, because I am certain your people are not intelligent enough to lay eggs, nor could, of course, such an impatient race succeed in getting eggs hatched. At all events, they have undoubtedly contrived some method or other, and you might find out from the least foolish of them about that method."
"Who, then, is the least foolish of mankind?"
"Probably King Helmas of Albania, for it was prophesied by me a great while ago that he would become the wisest of men if ever he could come by one of my shining white feathers, and I hear it reported he has done so."
"Sir," said Manuel, dubiously, "I must tell you in confidence that the feather King Helmas has is not yours, but was plucked from the wing of an ordinary goose."
"Does that matter?" asked the Zhar-Ptitza. "I never prophesied, of course, that he actually would find one of my shining white feathers, because all my feathers are red and gold and purple."
"But how can there be any magic in a goose-feather?"
"There is this magic, that, possessing it, King Helmas has faith in, and has stopped bothering about, himself."
"Is not to bother about yourself the highest wisdom?"
"Oh, no! Oh, dear me, no! I merely said it is the highest of which man is capable."
"But the sages and philosophers, sir, that had such fame in the old time, and made the maxims for you birds! Why, did King Solomon, for example, rise no higher than that?"
"Yes, yes, to be sure!" said the Zhar-Ptitza, sighing again, "now that was a sad error. The poor fellow was endowed with, just as an experiment, considerable wisdom. And it caused him to perceive that a man attains to actual contentment only when he is drunk or when he is engaged in occupations not very decorously described. So Sulieman-ben-Daoud gave over all the rest of his time to riotous living and to co-educational enterprises. It was logic, but it led to a most expensive seraglio and to a very unbecoming appearance, and virtually wrecked the man's health. Yes, that was the upshot of one of you being endowed with actual wisdom, just as an experiment, to see what would come of it: so the experiment, of course, has never been repeated. But of living persons, I dare assert that you will find King Helmas appreciably freed from a thousand general delusions by his one delusion about himself."
"Very well, then," says Manuel. "I suspect a wilful paradox and a forced cynicism in much of what you have said, but I shall consult with King Helmas about human life and about the figure I have to make in the world."
So they bid each other farewell, and the Zhar-Ptitza picked up his nest of cassia and sprigs of incense, and flew away with it: and as he rose in the air the Zhar-Ptitza cried, "Fine feathers make fine birds."
"But that is not the true proverb, sir," Manuel called up toward the resplendent creature, "and such perversions too, they tell me, are a mark of would-be cleverness."
"So it may seem to you now, my lad, but time is a very transforming fairy. Therefore do you wait until you are older," the bird replied, from on high, "and then you will know better than to doubt my cry or to repeat it."
Then came from oversea the Bishops of Ely and Lincoln, the prior of Hurle, and the Master of the Temple, asking that King Raymond send one of his daughters, with a suitable dowry, to be the King of England's wife. "Very willingly," says Raymond Bérenger; and told them they could have his third daughter Sancha, with a thousand marks.
"But, Father," said Alianora, "Sancha is nothing but a child. A fine queen she would make!"
"Still, my dear," replied King Raymond, "you are already bespoke."
"I was not thinking about myself. I was thinking about Sancha's true welfare."
"Of course you were, my dear, and everybody knows the sisterly love you have for her."
"The pert little mess is spoilt enough as it is, Heaven knows. And if things came to the pass that I had to stand up whenever Sancha came into the room, and to sit on a footstool while she lolled back in a chair the way Meregrett does, it would be the child's ruin."
Raymond Bérenger said: "Now certainly it will be hard on you to have two sisters that are queens, and with perhaps little Beatrice also marrying some king or another when her time comes, and you staying only a countess, who are the best-looking of the lot."
"My father, I see what you would be at!" cried Alianora, aghast. "You think it is my duty to overcome my private inclinations, and to marry the King of England for ruthless and urgent political reasons!"
"I only said, my darling—"
"—For you have seen at once that I owe this great sacrifice to the future welfare of our beloved Provence. You have noted, with that keenness which nothing escapes, that with the aid of your wisdom and advice I would know very well how to manage this high King that is the master of no pocket handkerchief place like Provence but of England and of Ireland too."
"Also, by rights, of Aquitaine and Anjou and Normandy, my precious. Still, I merely observed—"
"Oh, but believe me, I am not arguing with you, my dear father, for I know that you are much wiser than I," says Alianora, bravely wiping away big tears from her lovely eyes.
"Have it your own way, then," replied Raymond Bérenger, with outspread hands. "But what is to be done about you and Count Manuel here?"
The King looked toward the tapestry of Jephthah's sacrifice, beside which Manuel sat, just then re-altering the figure of the young man with the loving look of Alianora that Manuel had made because of the urgency of his geas, and could not seem to get exactly right.
"I am sure, Father, that Manuel also will be self-sacrificing and magnanimous and sensible about it."
"Ah, yes! but what is to happen afterward? For anyone can see that you and this squinting long-legged lad are fathoms deep in love with each other."
"I think that after I am married, Father, you or King Ferdinand or King Helmas can send Count Manuel into England on some embassy, and I am sure that he and I will always be true and dear friends without affording any handle to gossip."
"Oho!" King Raymond said, "I perceive your drift, and it is toward a harbor that is the King of England's affair, and not mine. My part is to go away now, so that you two may settle the details of that ambassadorship in which Dom Manuel is to be the vicar of so many kings."
Raymond Bérenger took up his sceptre and departed, and the Princess turned to where Manuel was pottering with the three images he had made in the likeness of Helmas and Ferdinand and Alianora. "You see, now, Manuel dearest, I am heart-broken, but for the realm's sake I must marry the King of England."
Manuel looked up from his work. "Yes, I heard. I am sorry, and I never understood politics, but I suppose it cannot be helped. So would you mind standing a little more to the left? You are in the light now, and that prevents my seeing clearly what I am doing here to this upper lip."
"And how can you be messing with that wet mud when my heart is breaking!"
"Because a geas is upon me to make these images. No, I am sure I do not know why my mother desired it. But everything which is fated must be endured, just as we must now endure the obligation that is upon you to marry the high King of England."
"My being married need not matter very much, after I am Queen, for people declare this King is a poor spindling creature, and, as I was saying, you can come presently into England."
Manuel looked at her for a moment or two. She colored. He, sitting at the feet of weeping Jephthah, smiled. "Well," said Manuel, "I will come into England when you send me a goose-feather. So the affair is arranged."
"Oh, you are all ice and iron!" she said, "and you care for nothing except your wet mud images, and I detest you!"
"My dearest," Manuel answered placidly, "the trouble is that each of us desires one particular thing over and above other things. Your desire is for power and a great name and for a king who will be at once your mouthpiece, your lackey and your lover. Now, candidly, I cannot spare the time to be any of these things, because my desire is different from your desire, but is equally strong. Also, it seems to me, as I become older, and see more of men and of men's ways, that most people have no especial desire but only preferences. In a world of such wishy-washy folk you and I cannot hope to escape being aspersed with comparisons to ice and iron, but it does not become us to be flinging these venerable similes in each other's faces."
She kept silence a while. She laughed uneasily. "I so often wonder about you, Manuel, as to whether inside the big, high-colored, squinting, solemn husk is living a very wise person or a very unmitigated fool."
"I perceive there is something else which we have in common, for I, too, often wonder about that."
"It is settled, then?"
"It is settled that, instead of ruling little Arles, you are to be Queen of England, and Lady of Ireland, and Duchess of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Countess of Anjou; that our token is to be a goose-feather; and that, I diffidently repeat, you are to get out of my light and interfere no longer with the discharge of my geas."
"And what will you do?"
"I must, as always, follow after my own thinking—"
"If you complete the sentence I shall undoubtedly scream."
Manuel laughed good-humoredly. "I suppose I do say it rather often, but then it is true, and the great trouble between us, Alianora, is that you do not perceive its truth."
She said, "And I suppose you will now be stalking off to some woman or another for consolation?"
"No, the consolation I desire is not to be found in petticoats. No, first of all, I shall go to King Helmas. For my images stay obstinately lifeless, and there is something lacking to each of them, and none is the figure I desire to make in this world. Now I do not know what can be done about it, but the Zhar-Ptitza informs me that King Helmas, since all doubt of himself has been put out of mind, can aid me if any man can."
"Then we must say good-bye, though not for a long while, I hope."
"Yes," Manuel said, "this is good-bye, and to a part of my living it is an eternal good-bye."
Dom Manuel left his images where the old Hebrew captain appeared to regard them with violent dumb anguish, and Manuel took both of the girl's lovely little hands, and he stood thus for a while looking down at the Princess.
Said Manuel, very sadly:
"I cry the elegy of such notions as are possible to boys alone. 'Surely,' I said, 'the informing and all-perfect soul shines through and is revealed in this beautiful body.' So my worship began for you, whose violet eyes retain at all times their chill brittle shining, and do not soften, but have been to me always as those eyes which, they say, a goddess turns toward ruined lovers who cry the elegy of hope and contentment, with lips burned bloodless by the searing of passions which she, immortal, may neither feel nor comprehend. Even so do you, dear Alianora, who are not divine, look toward me, quite unmoved by anything except incurious wonder, the while that I cry my elegy.
"I, for love, and for the glamour of bright beguiling dreams that hover and delude and allure all lovers, could never until to-day behold clearly what person I was pestering with my notions. I, being blind, could not perceive your blindness which blindly strove to understand me, and which hungered for understanding, as I for love. Thus our kisses veiled, at most, the foiled endeavorings of flesh that willingly would enter into the soul's high places, but is not able. Now, the game being over, what is the issue and end of it time must attest. At least we should each sorrow a little for what we have lost in this gaming,—you for a lover, and I for love.
"No, but it is not love which lies here expiring, now we part friendlily at the deathbed of that emotion which yesterday we shared. This emotion also was not divine; and so might not outlive the gainless months wherein, like one fishing for pearls in a millpond, I have toiled to evoke from your heart more than Heaven placed in this heart, wherein lies no love. Now the crying is stilled that was the crying of loneliness to its unfound mate: already dust is gathering light and gray upon the unmoving lips. Therefore let us bury our dead, and having placed the body in the tomb, let us honestly inscribe above this fragile, flower-like perished emotion, 'Here lieth lust, not love.'"
Now Alianora pouted. "You use such very ugly words, sweetheart: and you are talking unreasonably, too, for I am sure I am just as sorry about it as you are—"
Manuel gave her that slow sleepy smile which was Manuel. "Just," he said,—"and it is that which humiliates. Yes, you and I are second-rate persons, Alianora, and we have found each other out. It is a pity. But we will always keep our secret from the rest of the world, and our secret will always be a bond between us."
He kissed the Princess, very tenderly, and so left her.
Then Manuel of the high head departed from Aries, with his lackeys and his images, riding in full estate, and displaying to the spring sunlight the rearing silver stallion upon his shield and the motto Mundus vult decipi. Alianora, watching from the castle window, wept copiously, because the poor Princess had the misfortune to be really in love with Dom Manuel. But there was no doing anything with his obstinacy and his incomprehensible notions, Alianora had found, and so she set about disposing of herself and of the future through more plastic means. Her methods were altered perforce, but her aim remained unchanged: and she still intended to get everything she desired (which included Manuel) as soon as she and the King of England had settled down to some sensible way of living.
It worried this young pretty girl to consult her mirror, and to foreknow that the King of England would probably be in love with her for months and months: but then, as she philosophically reflected, all women have to submit to being annoyed by the romanticism of men. So she dried her big bright eyes, and sent for dressmakers.
She ordered two robes each of five ells, the one to be of green and lined with either cendal or sarcenet, and the other to be of brunet stuff. She selected the cloth for a pair of purple sandals, and for four pairs of boots, to be embroidered in circles around the ankles, and she selected also nine very becoming chaplets made of gold filigree and clusters of precious stones. And so she managed to get through the morning, and to put Manuel out of mind, for that while, but not for long.
Now the Count of Poictesme departs from Provence, with his lackeys carrying his images, and early in April he comes to Helmas the Deep-Minded. The wise King was then playing with his small daughter Mélusine (who later dethroned and imprisoned him), but he sent the child away with a kiss, and he attentively heard Dom Manuel through.
King Helmas looked at the images, prodded them with a shriveled forefinger, and cleared his throat; and then said nothing, because, after all, Dom Manuel was Count of Poictesme.
"What is needed?" said Manuel.
"They are not true to life," replied Helmas—"particularly this one which has the look of me."
"Yes, I know that: but who can give life to my images?"
King Helmas pushed back his second best crown, wherein was set the feather from the wing of the miller's goose, and he scratched his forehead. He said, "There is a power over all figures of earth and a queen whose will is neither to loose nor to bind." Helmas turned toward a thick book, wherein was magic.
"Yes, queen is the same as cwen. Therefore Queen Freydis of Audela might help you."
"Yes, for it is she that owns Schamir. But the falcons are not nesting now, and how can I go to Freydis, that woman of strange deeds?"
"Oh, people nowadays no longer use falcons; and of course nobody can go to Freydis uninvited. Still, it can be managed that Freydis will come to you when the moon is void and powerless, and when this and that has been arranged."
Thereafter Helmas the Deep-Minded told Count Manuel what was requisite. "So you will need such and such things," says King Helmas, "but, above all, do not forget the ointment."
Count Manuel went alone into Poictesme, which was his fief if only he could get it. He came secretly to Upper Morven, that place of horrible fame. Near the ten-colored stone, whereon men had sacrificed to Vel-Tyno in time's youth, he builded an enclosure of peeled willow wands, and spread butter upon them, and tied them with knots of yellow ribbons, as Helmas had directed. Manuel arranged all matters within the enclosure as Helmas had directed. There Manuel waited, on the last night in April, regarding the full moon.
In a while you saw the shadowings on the moon's radiancy begin to waver and move: later they passed from the moon's face like little clouds, and the moon was naked of markings. This was a token that the Moon-Children had gone to the well from which once a month they fetch water, and that for an hour the moon would be void and powerless. With this and that ceremony Count Manuel kindled such a fire upon the old altar of Vel-Tyno as Helmas had directed.
Manuel cried aloud: "Now be propitious, infernal, terrestrial and celestial Bombo! Lady of highways, patroness of crossroads, thou who bearest the light! Thou who dost labor always in obscurity, thou enemy of the day, thou friend and companion of darkness! Thou rejoicing in the barking of dogs and in shed blood, thus do I honor thee."
Manuel did as Helmas had directed, and for an instant the screamings were pitiable, but the fire ended these speedily.
Then Manuel cried, again: "O thou who wanderest amid shadows and over tombs, and dost tether even the strong sea! O whimsical sister of the blighting sun, and fickle mistress of old death! O Gorgo, Mormo, lady of a thousand forms and qualities! now view with a propitious eye my sacrifice!"
Thus Manuel spoke, and steadily the fire upon the altar grew larger and brighter as he nourished it repugnantly.
When the fire was the height of a warrior, and queer things were happening to this side and to that side, Count Manuel spoke the ordered words: and of a sudden the flames' colors were altered, so that green shimmerings showed in the fire, as though salt were burning there. Manuel waited. This greenness shifted and writhed and increased in the heart of the fire, and out of the fire oozed a green serpent, the body of which was well—nigh as thick as a man's body.
This portent came toward Count Manuel horribly. He, who was familiar with serpents, now grasped this monster's throat, and to the touch its scales were like very cold glass.
The great snake shifted so resistlessly that Manuel was forced back toward the fire and toward a doom more dreadful than burning: and the firelight was in the snake's contemptuous wise eyes. Manuel was of stalwart person, but his strength availed him nothing until he began to recite aloud, as Helmas had directed, the multiplication tables: Freydis could not withstand mathematics.
So when Manuel had come to two times eleven the tall fire guttered as though it bended under the passing of a strong wind: then the flames burned high, and Manuel could see that he was grasping the throat of a monstrous pig. He, who was familiar with pigs, could see that this was a black pig, caked with dried curds of the Milky Way; its flesh was chill to the touch, like dead flesh; and it had long tusks, which possessed life of their own, and groped and writhed toward Manuel like fat white worms.
Then Manuel said, as Helmas had directed: "Solomon's provision for one day was thirty measures of fine flour, and threescore measures of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and a hundred sheep, beside harts, and roebucks, and fallow deer, and fatted fowl. But Elijah the Tishbite was fed by ravens that brought him bread and flesh."
Again the tall flames guttered. Now Manuel was grasping a thick heatless slab of crystal, like a mirror, wherein he could see himself quite clearly. Just as he really was, he, who was not familiar with such mirrors, could see Count Manuel, housed in a little wet dirt with old inveterate stars adrift about him everywhither; and the spectacle was enough to frighten anybody.
So Manuel said: "The elephant is the largest of all animals, and in intelligence approaches the nearest to man. Its nostril is elongated, and answers to the purpose of a hand. Its toes are undivided, and it lives two hundred years. Africa breeds elephants, but India produces the largest."
The mirror now had melted into a dark warm fluid which oozed between his fingers, dripping to the ground. But Manuel held tightly to what remained between his palms, and he felt, they say, that in the fluid was struggling something small and soft and living, as though he held a tiny minnow.
Said Manuel, "A straight line is the shortest distance between two points."
Of a sudden the fire became an ordinary fire, and the witches of Amneran screamed, and Morven was emptied of sorcery, and Count Manuel was grasping the warm soft throat of a woman. Instantly he had her within the enclosure of peeled willow wands that had been spread with butter and tied with knots of yellow ribbon, because into such an enclosure the power and the dominion of Freydis could never enter.
All these things Manuel did precisely as King Helmas had directed.
So by the light of the seven candles Dom Manuel first saw Queen Freydis in her own shape, and in the appearance which she wore in her own country. What Manuel thought there was never any telling: but every other man who saw Queen Freydis in this appearance declared that instantly all his past life became a drugged prelude to the moment wherein he stood face to face with Freydis, the high Queen of Audela.
Freydis showed now as the most lovely of womankind. She had black plaited hair, and folds of crimson silk were over her white flesh, and over her shoulders was a black cloak embroidered with little gold stars and ink-horns, and she wore sandals of gilded bronze. But in her face was such loveliness as may not be told.
Now Freydis went from one side of the place to the other side, and saw the magics that protected the enclosure. "Certainly, you have me fast," the high Queen said. "What is it you want of me?"
Manuel showed her the three images which he had made, set there arow. "I need your aid with these."
Queen Freydis looked at them, and Freydis smiled. "These frozen abortions are painstakingly made. What more can anybody demand?"
Dom Manuel told her that he desired to make an animated and lively figure.
Whereupon she laughed, merrily and sweetly and scornfully, and replied that never would she give such aid.
"Very well, then," said Manuel, "I have ready the means to compel you." He showed this lovely woman the instruments of her torture. His handsome young face was very grave, as though already his heart were troubled. He thrust her hand into the cruel vise which was prepared. "Now, sorceress, whom all men dread save me, you shall tell me the Tuyla incantation as the reward of my endeavors, or else a little by a little I shall destroy the hand that has wrought so many mischiefs."
Freydis in the light of the seven candles showed pale as milk. She said: "I am frail and human in this place, and have no power beyond the power of every woman, and no strength at all. Nevertheless, I will tell you nothing."
Manuel set his hand to the lever, ready to loose destruction. "To tell me what I desire you to tell me will do you no hurt—"
"No," replied Freydis: "but I am not going to take orders from you or any man breathing."
"—And for defying me you will suffer very terribly—"
"Yes," replied Freydis. "And much you will care!" she said, reproachfully.
"—Therefore I think that you are acting foolishly."
Freydis said: "You make a human woman of me, and then expect me to act upon reason. It is you who are behaving foolishly."
Count Manuel meditated, for this beyond doubt sounded sensible. From the look of his handsome young face, his heart was now exceedingly troubled. Queen Freydis breathed more freely, and began to smile, with the wisdom of women, which is not super-human, but is ruthless.
"The hand would be quite ruined, too," said Manuel, looking at it more carefully. Upon the middle finger was a copper ring, in which was set a largish black stone: this was Schamir. But Manuel looked only at the hand.
He touched it. "Your hand, Queen Freydis, whatever mischief it may have executed, is soft as velvet. It is colored like rose-petals, but it smells more sweet than they. No, certainly, my images are not worth the ruining of such a hand."
Then Manuel released her, sighing. "My geas must stay upon me, and my images must wait," says Manuel.
"Why, do you really like my hands?" asked Freydis, regarding them critically.
Manuel said: "Ah, fair sweet enemy, do not mock at me! All is in readiness to compel you to do my will. Had you preserved some ugly shape I would have conquered you. But against the shape which you now wear I cannot contend. Dragons and warlocks and chimaeras and such nameless monsters as I perceive to be crowding about this enclosure of buttered willow wands I do not fear at all, but I cannot fight against the appearance which you now wear."
"Why, do you really like my natural appearance?" Freydis said, incredibly surprised. "It is a comfort, of course, to slip into it occasionally, but I had never really thought much about it one way or the other—"
She went to the great mirror which had been set ready as Helmas directed, "I never liked my hair in these severe big plaits, either. As for those monsters yonder, they are my people, who are coming out of the fire to rescue me, in some of the forgotten shapes, as spoorns and trows and calcars, and other terrors of antiquity. But they cannot get into this enclosure of buttered willow wands, poor dears, on account of your magickings. How foolish they look—do they not?—leering and capering and gnashing their teeth, with no superstitious persons anywhere to pay attention to them."
The Queen paused: she coughed delicately. "But you were talking some nonsense or other about my natural appearance not being bad looking. Now most men prefer blondes, and, besides, you are not really listening to me, and that is not polite."
"It is so difficult to talk collectedly," said Manuel, "with your appalling servitors leering and capering and gnashing double sets of teeth all over Upper Morven—"
She saw the justice of this. She went now to that doorway through which, unless a man lifted her over the threshold, she might not pass, on account of the tonthecs and the spaks and the horseshoes.
She cried, in a high sweet voice: "A penny, a penny, twopence, a penny and a half, and a half-penny! Now do you go away, all of you, for the wisdom of Helmas is too strong for us. There is no way for you to get into, nor for me to get out of, this place of buttered willow wands, until I have deluded and circumvented this pestiferous, squinting young mortal. Go down into Bellegarde and spill the blood of Northmen, or raise a hailstorm, or amuse yourselves in one way or another way. Anyhow, do you take no thought for me, who am for the while a human woman: for my adversary is a mortal man, and in that duel never yet has the man conquered."
She turned to Manuel. She said:
"The land of Audela is my kingdom. But you embraced my penalties, you have made a human woman of me. So do I tread with wraiths, for my lost realm alone is real. Here all is but a restless contention of shadows which pass presently; here all that is visible and all the colors known to men are shadows dimming the true colors; here time and death, the darkest shadows known to men, delude you with false seemings: for all such things as men hold incontestable, because they are apparent to sight and sense, are a weariful drifting of fogs that veil the world which is no longer mine. So in this twilit world of yours do we of Audela appear to be but men and women."
"I would that such women appeared more often," said Manuel.
"The land of Audela is my kingdom, where I am Queen of all that lies behind this veil of human sight and sense. This veil may not ever be lifted; but very often the veil is pierced, and noting the broken place, men call it fire. Through these torn places men may glimpse the world that is real: and this glimpse dazzles their dimmed eyes and weakling forces, and this glimpse mocks at their lean might Through these rent places, when the opening is made large enough, a few men here and there, not quite so witless as their fellows, know how to summon us of Audela when for an hour the moon is void and powerless: we come for an old reason: and we come as men and women."
"Ah, but you do not speak with the voices of men and women," Manuel replied, "for your voice is music."
"The land of Audela is my kingdom, and very often, just for the sport's sake, do I and my servitors go secretly among you. As human beings we blunder about your darkened shadow world, bound by the laws of sight and sense, but keeping always in our hearts the secrets of Audela and the secret of our manner of returning thither. Sometimes, too, for the sport's sake, we imprison in earthen figures a spark of the true life of Audela: and then you little persons, that have no authentic life, but only the flickering of a vexed shadow to sustain you in brief fretfulness, say it is very pretty; and you negligently applaud us as the most trivial of men and women."
"No; we applaud you as the most beautiful," says Manuel.
"Come now, Count Manuel, and do you have done with your silly flatterings, which will never wheedle anything out of me! So you have trapped Queen Freydis in mortal flesh. Therefore I must abide in the body of a human woman, and be subject to your whims, and to your beautiful big muscles, you think, until I lend a spark of Audela's true life to your ridiculous images. But I will show you better, for I will never give in to you nor to any man breathing."
In silence Count Manuel regarded the delightful shaping and the clear burning colors of this woman's face. He said, as if in sadness: "The images no longer matter. It is better to leave them as they are."
"That is very foolish talk," Queen Freydis answered, promptly, "for they need my aid if ever any images did. Not that, however, I intend to touch them."
"Indeed, I forbid you to touch them, fair enemy. For were the images made as animated and lively as I wish them to be, I would be looking at them always, and not caring for any woman: and no woman anywhere would have the power to move me as your beauty moves me now, and I would not be valuing you the worth of an old onion."
"That is not the truth," says Freydis, angrily, "for the man who is satisfied with the figure he has made is as great a fool about women as any other man. And who are you to be forbidding me anything?"
"I would have you remember," said Manuel, very masterfully, "that they are my images, to do with as I wish. Also I would have you remember that, whatever you may pretend to be in Audela, here I am stronger than you."
Now the proud woman laughed. Defiantly she touched the nearest image, with formal ancient gestures, and you could see the black stone Schamir taking on the colors of an opal. Under her touch the clay image which had the look of Alianora shivered, and drew sobbing breath. The image rose, a living creature that was far more beautiful than human kind, and it regarded Manuel scornfully. Then it passed limping from the enclosure: and Manuel sighed.
"That is a strong magic," said Manuel: "and this is almost exactly the admirable and significant figure that I desired to make in the world. But, as I now perceive too late, I fashioned the legs of this figure unevenly, and the joy I have in its life is less than the shame that I take from its limping."
"Such magic is a trifle," Freydis replied, "although it is the only magic I can perform in an enclosure of buttered willow wands. Now, then, you see for yourself that I am not going to take orders from you. So the figure you have made, will you or nil you, must limp about in all men's sight, for not more than a few centuries, to be sure, but long enough to prove that I am not going to be dictated to."
"I do not greatly care, O fairest and most shrewd of enemies. A half-hour since, it seemed to me an important matter to wrest from you this secret of giving life to images. Now I have seen the miracle; I know that for the man who has your favor it is possible to become as a god, creating life, and creating lovelier living beings than any god creates, and beings which live longer, too: and even so, it is not of these things that I am really thinking, but only of your eyes."
"Why, do you like my eyes!" says Freydis,—"you, who if once you could make living images would never be caring about any woman any more?"
But Manuel told her wherein her eyes were different from the eyes of any other person, and more dangerous, and she listened, willingly enough, for Freydis was not a human woman. Thereafter it appeared that a grieving and a great trouble of mind had come upon Manuel because of the loveliness of Freydis, for he made this complaint:
"There is much loss in the world, where men war ceaselessly with sorrow, and time like a strong thief strips all men of all they prize. Yet when the emperor is beaten in battle and his broad lands are lost, he, shrugging, says, 'In the next battle I may conquer.' And when the bearded merchant's ship is lost at sea, he says, 'The next voyage, belike, will be prosperous.' Even when the life of an old beggar departs from him in a ditch, he says, 'I trust to be to-morrow a glad young seraph in paradise.' Thus hope serves as a cordial for every hurt: but for him who had beheld the loveliness of Freydis there is no hope at all.
"For, in comparison with that alien clear beauty, there is no beauty in this world. He that has beheld the loveliness of Freydis must go henceforward as a hungry person, because of troubling memories: and his fellows deride him enviously. All the world is fretted by his folly, knowing that his faith in the world's might is no longer firm-set, and that he aspires to what is beyond the world's giving. In his heart he belittles the strong stupid lords of earth; and they, being strong, plan vengeance, the while that in a corner he makes images to commemorate what is lost: and so for him who has beheld the loveliness of Freydis there is no hope at all.
"He that has willed to look upon Queen Freydis does not dread to consort with serpents nor with swine; he faces the mirror wherein a man beholds himself without self-deceiving; he views the blood that drips from his soiled hands, and knows that this, too, was needed: yet these endurings purchase but one hour. The hour passes, and therewith passes also Freydis, the high Queen. Only the memory of her hour remains, like a cruel gadfly, for which the crazed beholder of Queen Freydis must build a lodging in his images, madly endeavoring to commingle memories with wet mud: and so for him who has beheld the loveliness of Freydis there is no hope at all."
Freydis heard him through, considerately. "But I wonder to how many other women you have talked such nonsense about beauty and despair and eternity," said Freydis, "and they very probably liking to hear it, the poor fools! And I wonder how you can expect me to believe you, when you pretend to think me all these fine things, and still keep me penned in this enclosure like an old vicious cow."
"No, that is not the way it is any longer. For now the figure that I have made in the world, and all else that is in the world, and all that is anywhere without this enclosure of buttered willow wands, mean nothing to me, and there is no meaning in anything save in the loveliness of Freydis."
Dom Manuel went to the door of the enclosure then to the windows, sweeping away the gilded tonthecs and the shining spaks, and removing from the copper nails the horseshoes that had been cast by Mohammed's mare and Hrimfaxi and Balaam's ass and Pegasus. "You were within my power. Now I destroy that power, and therewith myself. Now is the place unguarded, and all your servitors are free to enter, and all your terrors are untrammeled, to be loosed against me, who have no longer anything to dread. For I love you with such mortal love as values nothing else beside its desire, and you care nothing for me."
After a little while of looking she sighed, and said uneasily: "It is the foolish deed of a true lover. And, really, I do like you, rather. But, Manuel, I do not know what to do next! Never at any time has this thing happened before, so that all my garnered wisdom is of no use whatever. Nobody anywhere has ever dared to snap his fingers at the fell power of Freydis as you are doing, far less has anybody ever dared to be making eyes at her. Besides, I do not wish to consume you with lightnings, and to smite you with insanity appears so unnecessary."
"I love you," Manuel said, "and your heart is hard, and your beauty is beyond the thinking of man, and your will is neither to loose nor to bind. In a predicament so unexampled, how can it at all matter to me whatever you may elect to do?"
"Then certainly I shall not waste any of my fine terrors on you!" said Freydis, with a vexed tossing of her head. "Nor have I any more time to waste upon you either, for presently the Moon-Children will be coming back to their places: and before the hour is out wherein the moon stays void and powerless I must return to my own kingdom, whither you may not follow, to provoke me with any more of your nonsense. And then you will be properly sorry, I dare say, for you will De remembering me always, and there will be only human women to divert you, and they are poor creatures."
Freydis went again to the mirror, and she meditated there. "Yes, you will be remembering me with my hair in these awful plaits, and that is a pity, but still you will remember me always. And when you make images they will be images of me. No, but I cannot have you making any more outrageous parodies like astonished corpses, and people everywhere laughing at Queen Freydis!"
She took up the magical pen, laid ready as Helmas had directed, and she wrote with this gryphon's feather. "So here is the recipe for the Tuyla incantation with which to give life to your images. It may comfort you a little to perform that silly magic. It, anyhow, will prevent such good-for-nothing minxes as may have no more intelligence than to take you seriously, from putting on too many airs and graces around the images which you will make of me with my hair done so very unbecomingly."
"Nothing can ever comfort me, fair enemy, when you have gone away," said Manuel.
But he took the parchment.
They came out of the enclosure, to the old altar of Vel-Tyno, while the moon was still void and powerless. The servitors of Freydis were thronging swiftly toward Upper Morven, after a pleasant hour of ravening and ramping about Poictesme. As spoorns and trows and calcars and as other long forgotten shapes they came, without any noise, so that Upper Morven was like the disordered mind of a wretch that is dying in fever: and to this side and to that side the witches of Amneran sat nodding in approval of what they saw.
Thus, one by one, the forgotten shapes came to the fire, and cried, "A penny, a penny, twopence, a penny and a half, and a halfpenny!" as each entered into the fire which was the gateway to their home.
"Farewell!" said Freydis: and as she spoke she sighed.
"Not thus must be our parting," Manuel says. "For do you listen now, Queen Freydis! it was Helmas the Deep-Minded who told me what was requisite. 'Queen is the same as cwen, which means a woman, no more nor less,' said the wise King. 'You have but to remember that.'"
She took his meaning. Freydis cried out, angrily: "Then all the foolishness you have been talking about my looks and your love for me was pre-arranged! And you have cheated me out of the old Tuyla mystery by putting on the appearance of loving me, and by pestering me with such nonsense as a plowman trades against the heart of a milkmaid! Now, certainly, I shall reward your candor in a fashion that will be whispered about for a long while."
With that, Queen Freydis set about a devastating magic.
"All, all was pre-arranged save one thing," said Manuel, with a yapping laugh, and not even looking at the commencing terrors. He thrust into the fire the parchment which Freydis had given him. "Yes, all was pre-arranged except that Helmas did not purge me of that which will not accept the hire of any lying to you. So the Deep-Minded's wisdom comes, at the last pinch, to naught."
Now Freydis for an instant waved back two-thirds of an appalling monster, which was as yet incompletely evoked for Dom Manuel's destruction, and Freydis cried impatiently, "But have you no sense whatever! for you are burning your hand."
And indeed the boy had already withdrawn his hand with a grimace, for in the ardor of executing his noble gesture, as Queen Freydis saw, he had not estimated how hot her fires were.
"It is but a little hurt to me who have taken a great hurt," says Manuel, sullenly. "For I had thought to lie, and in my mouth the lie turned to a truth. At least, I do not profit by my false-dealing, and I wave you farewell with empty hands burned clean of theft."
Then she who was a human woman said, "But you have burned your hand!"
"It does not matter: I have ointments yonder. Make haste, Queen Freydis, for the hour passes wherein the moon is void and powerless."
"There is time." She brought out water from the enclosure, and swiftly bathed Dom Manuel's hand.
From the fire now came a whispering, "Make haste, Queen Freydis! make haste, dear Fairy mistress!"
"There is time," said Freydis, "and do you stop flurrying me!" She brought from the enclosure a pot of ointment, and she dressed Manuel's hand.
"Borram, borram, Leanhaun shee!" the fire crackled. "Now the hour ends."
Then Freydis sprang from Manuel, toward the flames beyond which she was queen of ancient mysteries, and beyond which her will was neither to loose nor to bind. And she cried hastily, "A penny, a penny, twopence—"
But just for a moment she looked back at Morven, and at the man who waited upon Morven alone and hurt. In his firelit eyes she saw love out of measure and without hope. And in the breast of Freydis moved the heart of a human woman.
"I cannot help it," she said, as the hour passed. "Somebody has to bandage it, and men have no sense in these matters."
Whereon the fire roared angrily, and leaped, and fell dead, for the Moon-Children Bil and Hjuki had returned from the well which is called Byrgir, and the moon was no longer void and powerless.
"So, does that feel more comfortable?" said Freydis. She knew that within this moment age and sorrow and death had somewhere laid inevitable ambuscades, from which to assail her by and by, for she was mortal after the sacred fire's extinction, and she meant to make the best of it.
For a while Count Manuel did not speak. Then he said, in a shaking voice: "O woman dear and lovely and credulous and compassionate, it is you and you alone that I must be loving eternally with such tenderness as is denied to proud and lonely queens on their tall thrones! And it is you that I must be serving always with such a love as may not be given to the figure that any man makes in this world! And though all life may be a dusty waste of endless striving, and though the ways of men may always be the ways of folly, yet are these ways our ways henceforward, and not hopeless ways, for you and I will tread them together."
"Now certainly there is in Audela no such moonstruck nonsense to be hearing, nor any such quick-footed hour of foolishness to be living through," Freydis replied, "as here to-night has robbed me of my kingdom."
"Love will repay," said Manuel, as is the easy fashion of men.
And Freydis, a human woman now in all things, laughed low and softly in the darkness. "Repay me thus, my dearest: no matter how much I may coax you in the doubtful time to come, do you not ever tell me how you happened to have the bandages and the pot of ointment set ready by the mirror. For it is bad for a human woman ever to be seeing through the devices of wise kings, and far worse for her to be seeing through the heroic antics of her husband."
Meanwhile in Arles young Alianora had arranged her own match with more circumspection. The English, who at first demanded twenty thousand marks as her jointure, had after interminable bargaining agreed to accept her with three thousand: and she was to be dowered with Plymouth and Exeter and Tiverton and Torquay and Brixham, and with the tin mines of Devonshire and Cornwall. In everything except the husband involved, she was marrying excellently, and so all Arles that night was ornamented with flags and banners and chaplets and bright hangings and flaring lamps and torches, and throughout Provence there was festivity of every sort, and the Princess had great honor and applause.
But in the darkness of Upper Morven they had happiness, no matter for how brief a while.
They of Poictesme narrate how Queen Freydis and Count Manuel lived together amicably upon Upper Morven. They tell also how the iniquitous usurper, Duke Asmund, at this time held Bellegarde close at hand, but that his Northmen kept away from Upper Morven, on account of the supernatural beings you were always apt to encounter thereabouts, so that Manuel and Freydis had, at first, no human company.
"Between now and a while," said Freydis, "you must be capturing Bellegarde and cutting off Duke Asmund's ugly head, because by right and by King Ferdinand's own handwriting all Poictesme belongs to you."
"Well, we will let that wait a bit," says Manuel, "for I do not so heartily wish to be tied down with parchments in a count's gilded seat as I do to travel everywhither and see the ends of this world and judge them. At all events, dear Freydis, I am content enough for the present, in this little home of ours, and public affairs can wait."
"Still, something ought to be done about it," said Freydis. And, since Manuel displayed an obstinate prejudice against any lethal plague, she put the puckerel curse upon Asmund, by which he was afflicted with all small bodily ills that can intervene between corns and dandruff.
On Upper Morven Freydis had reared by enchantment a modest home, that was builded of jasper and porphyry and yellow and violet breccia. Inside, the stone walls were everywhere covered with significant traceries in low relief, and were incrusted at intervals with disks and tesserae of turquoise-colored porcelain. The flooring, of course, was of zinc, as a defence against the unfriendly Alfs, who are at perpetual war with Audela, and, moreover, there was a palisade, enclosing all, of peeled willow wands, not buttered but oiled, and fastened with unknotted ribbons.
Everything was very simple and homelike, and here the servitors of Freydis attended them when there was need. The fallen Queen was not a gray witch—not in appearance certainly, but in her endowments, which were not limited as are the powers of black witches and white witches. She instructed Dom Manuel in the magic of Audela, and she and Manuel had great times together that spring and summer, evoking ancient dis-crowned gods and droll monsters and instructive ghosts to entertain them in the pauses between other pleasures.
They heard no more, for that turn, of the clay figure to which they had given life, save for the news brought, by a bogglebo, that as the limping gay young fellow went down from Morven the reputable citizenry everywhere were horrified because he went as he was created, stark-naked, and this was not considered respectable. So a large tumble-bug came from the west, out of the quagmires of Philistia and followed after the animated figure, yelping and spluttering, "Morals, not art!" And for that while, the figure went out of Manuel's saga, thus malodorously accompanied.
"But we will make a much finer figure," says Freydis, "so it does not matter."
"Yes, by and by," says Manuel, "but we will let that wait a bit."
"You are always saying that nowadays!"
"Ah, but, my dear, it is so very pleasant to rest here doing nothing serious for a little while, now that my geas is discharged. Presently of course we must be travelling everywhither, and when we have seen the ends of this world, and have judged them, I shall have time, and greater knowledge too, to give to this image making—"
"It is not from any remote strange places, dear Manuel, but from his own land that a man must get the earth for this image making—"
"Well, be that as it may, your kisses are to me far more delicious than your magic."
"I love to hear you say that, my dearest, but still—"
"No, not at all, for you are really much nicer when you are cuddling so, than when you are running about the world pretending to be pigs and snakes and fireworks, and murdering people with your extravagant sorceries."
Saying this, he kissed her, and thus stilled her protests, for in these amiable times Queen Freydis also was at bottom less interested in magic than in kisses. Indeed, there was never any sorceress more loving and tender than Freydis, now that she had become a human woman.
If ever she was irritable it was only when Manuel confessed, in reply to jealous questionings, that he did not find her quite so beautiful nor so clever as Niafer had been: but this, as Manuel pointed out, could not be helped. For there had never been anybody like Niafer, and it would be nonsense to say otherwise.
It is possible that Dom Manuel believed this. The rather homely, not intelligent, and in no respect bedazzling servant girl may well have been—in the inexplicable way these things fell out,—the woman whom Manuel's heart had chosen, and who therefore in his eyes for the rest of time must differ from all other persons. Certainly no unastigmatic judge would have decreed this swarthy Niafer fit, as the phrase is, to hold a candle either to Freydis or Alianora: whereas Manuel did not conceal, even from these royal ladies themselves, his personal if unique evaluations.
To the other side, some say that ladies who are used to hourly admiration cannot endure the passing of a man who seems to admire not quite wholeheartedly. He who does not admire at all is obviously a fool, and not worth bothering about. But to him who admits, "You are well enough," and makes as though to pass on, there is a mystery attached: and the one way to solve it is to pursue this irritating fellow. Some (reasoning thus) assert that squinting Manuel was aware of this axiom, and that he respected it in all his dealings with Freydis and Alianora. Either way, these theorists did not ever get any verbal buttressing from Dom Manuel. Niafer dead and lost to him, he, without flaunting any unexampled ardors, fell to loving Alianora: and now that Freydis had put off immortality for his kisses, the tall boy had, again, somewhat the air of consenting to accept this woman's sacrifice, and her loveliness and all her power and wisdom, as being upon the whole the handiest available substitute for Niafer's sparse charms.
Yet others declare, more simply, that Dom Manuel was so constituted as to value more cheaply every desire after he had attained it. And these say he noted that—again in the inexplicable way these things fall out,—now Manuel possessed the unearthly Queen she had become, precisely as Alianora had become, a not extraordinary person, who in all commerce with her lover dealt as such.
"But do you really love me, O man of all men?" Freydis would say, "and, this damned Niafer apart, do you love me a little more than you love any other woman?"
"Why, are there any other women?" says Manuel, in fine surprise. "Oh, to be sure, I suppose there are, but I had forgotten about them. I have not heard or seen or thought of those petticoated creatures since my dear Freydis came."
The sorceress purred at this sort of talk, and she rested her head where there seemed a place especially made for it. "I wish I could believe your words, king of my heart. I have to strive so hard, nowadays, to goad you into saying these idiotic suitable dear things: and even when at last you do say them your voice is light and high, and makes them sound as though you were joking."
He kissed the thick coil of hair which lay fragrant against his lips. "Do you know, in spite of my joking, I do love you a great deal?"
"I would practise saying that over to myself," observed Freydis critically. "You should let your voice break a little after the first three words."
"I speak as I feel. I love you, Freydis, and I tell you so."
"Yes, but you are no longer a perpetual nuisance about it."
"Alas, my dear, you are no longer the unattainable Queen of the country on the other side of the fire, and that makes a difference, certainly. It is equally certain that I love you over and above all living women."
"Ah, but, my dearest, who loves you more than any human tongue can tell?"
"A peculiarly obstinate and lovely imbecile," says Manuel; and he did that which seemed suitable.
Later Freydis sighed luxuriously. "That saves you the trouble of talking, does it not? And you talked so madly and handsomely that first night, when you wanted to get around me on account of the image, but now you do not make me any pretty speeches at all."
"Oh, heavens!" said Manuel, "but I am embracing a monomaniac. Dear Freydis, whatever I might say would be perforce the same old words that have been whispered by millions of men to many more millions of women, and my love for you is a quite unparalleled thing which ought not to be travestied by any such shopworn apparel."
"Now again you must be putting me off with solemn joking in that light high voice, and there is no faithfulness in that voice, and its talking troubles me."
"I speak as I feel. I love you, Freydis, and I tell you so, but I cannot be telling it over and over again every quarter of the hour."
"Oh, but very certainly this big squinting boy is the most unloquacious and the most stubborn brute that ever lived!"
"And would you have me otherwise?"
"No, that is the queer part of it. But it is a grief to me to wonder if you foresaw as much."
"I!" says Manuel, jovially. "But what would I be doing with any such finespun policies? My dear, until you comprehend I am the most frank and downright creature that ever lived you do not begin to appreciate me."
"I know you are, big boy. But still, I wonder," Freydis said, "and the wondering is a thin little far-off grief."
It was presently noised abroad that Queen Freydis of Audela had become a human woman; and thereafter certain enchanters came to Upper Morven, to seek her counsel and her favor and the aid of Schamir. These were the enchanters, Manuel was told, who made images, to which they now and then contrived—nobody seemed to know quite how, and least of all did the thaumaturgists themselves,—to impart life.
Once Manuel went with Freydis into a dark place where some of these magic-workers were at labor. By the light of a charcoal fire, clay images were ruddily discernible; before these the enchanters moved unhumanly clad, and doing things which, mercifully perhaps, were veiled from Manuel by the peculiarly perfumed obscurity.
As Manuel entered the gallery one of the magic-workers was chaunting shrilly in the darkness below. "It is the unfinished Rune of the Blackbirds," says Freydis, in a whisper.
Below them the troubled wailing continued:
"—Crammed and squeezed, so entombed (on some wager I hazard), in spite of scared squawking and mutter, after the fashion that lean-faced Rajah dealt with trapped heroes, once, in Calcutta. Dared you break the crust and bullyrag 'em—hot, fierce and angry, what wide beaks buzz plain Saxon as ever spoke Witenagemot! Yet, singing, they sing as no white bird does (where none rears phoenix) as near perfection as nature gets, or, if scowls bar platitude, notes for which there is no rejection in banks whose coinage—oh, neat!—is gratitude."
Said, in the darkness, another enchanter:
"But far from their choiring the high King sat, in a gold-faced vest and a gold-laced hat, counting heaped monies, and dreaming of more francs and sequins and Louis d'or. Meanwhile the Queen on that fateful night, though avowing her lack of all appetite, was still at table, where, rumor said, she was smearing her seventh slice of bread (thus each turgescible rumor thrives at court) with gold from the royal hives. Through the slumberous pare, under arching trees, to her labors went singing the maid Dénise—"
A third broke in here, saying:
"And she sang of how subtle and bitter and bright was a beast brought forth, that was clad with the splendor and light of the cold fair ends of the north, like a fleshly blossom more white than augmenting tempests that go, with thunder for weapon, to ravage the strait waste fastness of snow. She sang how that all men on earth said, whether its mistress at morn went forth or waited till night,—whether she strove through the foam and wreckage of shallow and firth, or couched in glad fields of corn, or fled from all human delight,—that thither it likewise would roam."
Now a fourth began:
"Thus sang Dénise, what while the siccant sheets and coverlets that pillowed kingly dreams, with curious undergarbs of royalty, she neatly ranged: and dreamed not of that doom which waited, yet unborn, to strike men dumb with perfect awe. As when the seventh wave poises, and sunlight cleaves it through and through with gold, as though to gild oncoming death for him that sees foredoomed—and, gasping, sees death high and splendid!—while the tall wave bears down, and its shattering makes an end of him: thus poised the sable bird while one might count one, two, and three, and four, and five, and six, but hardly seven—"
So they continued; but Manuel listened to no more. "What is the meaning of all this?" he asked, of Freydis.
"It is an experimental incantation," she replied, "in that it is a bit of unfinished magic for which the proper words have not yet been found: but between now and a while they will be stumbled on, and then this rune will live perpetually, surviving all those rhymes that are infected with thought and intelligent meanings such as are repugnant to human nature."
"Are words, then, so important and enduring?"
"Why, Manuel, I am surprised at you! In what else, pray, does man differ from the other animals except in that he is used by words?"
"Now I would have said that words are used by men."
"There is give and take, of course, but in the main man is more subservient to words than they are to him. Why, do you but think of such terrible words as religion and duty and love, and patriotism and art, and honor and common-sense, and of what these tyrannizing words do to and make of people!"
"No, that is chop-logic: for words are only transitory noises, whereas man is the child of God, and has an immortal spirit."
"Yes, yes, my dearest, I know you believe that, and I think it is delightfully quaint and sweet of you. But, as I was saying, a man has only the body of an animal to get experiences in, and the brain of an animal to think them over with, so that the thoughts and opinions of the poor dear must remain always those of a more or less intelligent animal. But his words are very often magic, as you will comprehend by and by when I have made you the greatest of image-makers."
"Well, well, but we can let that wait a bit," said Manuel.
And thereafter Manuel talked with Freydis, confessing that the appearance of these magic-workers troubled Manuel. He had thought it, he said, an admirable thing to make images that lived, until he saw and considered the appearance of these habitual makers of images. They were an ugly and rickety, short-tempered tribe, said Manuel: they were shiftless, spiteful, untruthful, and in everyday affairs not far from imbecile: they plainly despised all persons who could not make images, and they apparently detested all those who could. With Manuel they were particularly high and mighty, assuring him that he was only a prosperous and affected pseudo-magician, and that the harm done by the self-styled thaumaturgist was apt to be very great indeed. What sort of models, then, were these insane, mud-moulding solitary wasps for a tall lad to follow after? And if Manuel acquired their arts (he asked in conclusion), would he acquire their traits?
"The answer is perhaps no, and not impossibly yes," replied Freydis. "For by the ancient Tuyla mystery they extract that which is best in them to inform their images, and this is apt to leave them empty of virtue. But I would have you consider that their best endures, whereas that which is best in other persons is obliterated on some battle-field or mattress or gallows That is why I have been thinking that this afternoon—"
"No, we will let that wait a bit, for I must turn this over in my mind," said Manuel, "and my mature opinion about this matter must be expressed later."
But while his thoughts were on the affair his fingers made him droll small images of ten of the image-makers, which he set aside unquickened. Freydis smiled at these caricatures, and asked when Manuel would give them life.
"Oh, in due time," he said, "and then their antics may be diverting. But I perceive that this old Tuyla magic is practised at great price and danger, so that I am in no hurry to practise any more of it. I prefer to enjoy that which is dearer and better."
"And what can be dearer and better?"
"Youth," Manuel answered, "and you."
Queen Freydis was now a human woman in all things, so this reply delighted her hearing if not her reason. "Do these two possessions content you, king of my heart?" she asked him very fondly.
"No," Manuel said, gazing out across Morven at the cloud-dappled ridges of the Taunenfels, "nor do I look ever to be contented in this world of men."
"Indeed the run of men are poor thin-minded creatures, Manuel—"
He answered, moodily:
"But I cannot put aside the thought that these men ought to be my fellows and my intimates. Instead, I who am a famed champion go daily in distrust, almost in fear, of these incomprehensible and shatter-pated beings. To every side there is a feeble madness over-busy about long-faced nonsense from which I recoil, who must conceal this shrinking always. There is no hour in my life but I go armored in reserve and in small lies, and in my armor I am lonely. Freydis, you protest deep love for this well-armored Manuel, but what wisdom will reveal to you, or to me either, just what is Manuel? Oh, but I am puzzled by the impermanence and the loneliness and the impotence of this Manuel! Dear Freydis, do not love my body nor my manner of speaking, nor any of the ways that I have in the flesh, for all these transiencies are mortgaged to the worms. And that thought also is a grief—"
"Let us not speak of these things! Let us not think of anything that is horrid, but only of each other!"
"But I cannot put aside the thought that I, who for the while exist in this mortgaged body, cannot ever get out to you. Freydis, there is no way in which two persons may meet in this world of men: we can but exchange, from afar, despairing friendly signals, in the sure knowledge they will be misinterpreted. So do we pass, each coming out of a strange woman's womb, each parodied by the flesh of his parents, each passing futilely, with incommunicative gestures, toward the womb of a strange grave: and in this jostling we find no comradeship. No soul may travel upon a bridge of words. Indeed there is no word for my foiled huge desire to love and to be loved, just as there is no word for the big, the not quite comprehended thought which is moving in me at this moment. But that thought also is a grief—"
Manuel was still looking at the changing green and purple of the mountains and at the tall clouds trailing northward. The things that he viewed yonder were all gigantic and lovely, and they seemed not to be very greatly bothering about humankind.
Then Freydis said: "Let us not think too much, dear, in our youth. It is such a waste of the glad time, and of the youth that will not ever be returning—"
"But I cannot put aside the thought that it will never be the true Manuel whom you will love or even know of, nor can I dismiss the knowledge that these human senses, through which alone we may obtain any knowledge of each other, are lying messengers. What can I ever be to you except flesh and a voice? Nor is this the root of my sorrowing, dear Freydis. For I know that my distrust of all living creatures—oh, even of you, dear Freydis, when I draw you closest,—must always be as a wall between us, a low, lasting, firm-set wall which we can never pull down. And I know that I am not really a famed champion, but only a forlorn and lonely inmate of the doubtful castle of my body; and that I, who know not truly what I am, must die in this same doubt and loneliness, behind the strong defences of posturing and bluntness and jovial laughter which I have raised for my protecting. And that thought also is a grief."
Now Manuel was as Freydis had not ever seen him. She wondered at him, she was perturbed by this fine lad's incomprehensible dreariness, with soft red willing lips so near: and her dark eyes were bent upon him with a beautiful and tender yearning which may not be told.
"I do not understand you, my dearest," said she, who was no longer the high Queen of Audela, but a mortal woman. "It is true that all the world about us is a false seeming, but you and I are real and utterly united, for we have no concealments from each other. I am sure that no two people could be happier than we are, nor better suited. And certainly such morbid notions are not like you, who, as you said yourself, only the other day, are naturally so frank and downright."
Now Manuel's thoughts came back from the clouds and the green and purple of the mountains. He looked at her very gravely for an instant or two. He laughed morosely. He said, "There!"
"But, dearest, you are strange and not yourself—
"Yes, yes!" says Manuel, kissing her, "for the moment I had forgotten to be frank and downright, and all else which you expect of me. Now I am my old candid, jovial, blunt self again, and I shall not worry you with such silly notions any more. No, I am Manuel: I follow after my own thinking and my own desire; and if to do that begets loneliness I must endure it"
"But I cannot understand," said Freydis, on a fine day in September, "how it is that, now the power of Schamir is in your control, and you have the secret of giving life to your images, you do not care to use either the secret or the talisman. For you make no more images, you are always saying, 'No, we will let that wait a bit,' and you do not even quicken the ten caricatures of the image-makers which you have already modeled."
"Life will be given to these in due time," said Manuel, "but that time is not yet come. Meanwhile, I avoid practise of the old Tuyla mystery for the sufficing reason that I have seen the result it has on the practitioner. A geas was upon me to make a figure in the world, and so I modeled and loaned life to such a splendid gay young champion as was to my thinking and my desire. Thus my geas, I take it, is discharged, and a thing done has an end. Heaven may now excel me by creating a larger number of living figures than I, but pre-eminence in this matter is not a question of arithmetic—"
"Ah, yes, my squinting boy has all the virtues, including that of modesty!"
"Well, but I have seen my notion embodied, seen it take breath, seen it depart from Morven in all respects, except for a little limping—which, do you know, I thought rather graceful?—in well-nigh all respects, I repeat, quite indistinguishable from the embodied notions of that master craftsman whom some call Ptha, and others Jahveh, and others Abraxas, and yet others Koshchei the Deathless. In fine, I have made a figure more admirable and significant than is the run of men, and I rest upon my laurels."
"You have created a living being somewhat above the average, that is true: but then every woman who has a fine baby does just as much—"
"The principle is not the same," said Manuel, with dignity.
"And why not, please, big boy?"
"For one thing, my image was an original and unaided production, whereas a baby, I am told, is the result of more or less hasty collaboration. Then, too a baby is largely chance work, in that its nature cannot be exactly foreplanned and pre-determined by its makers, who, in the glow of artistic creation, must, I imagine, very often fail to follow the best aesthetic canons."
"As for that, nobody who makes new and unexampled things can make them exactly to the maker's will. Even your image limped, you remember—"
"Ah, but so gracefully!"
"—No, Manuel, it is only those necromancers who evoke the dead, and bid the dead return to the warm flesh, that can be certain as to the results of their sorcery. For these alone of magic-workers know in advance what they are making."
"Ah, this is news! So you think it is possible to evoke the dead in some more tangible form than that of an instructive ghost? You think it possible for a dead girl—or, as to that matter, for a dead boy, or a defunct archbishop, or a deceased ragpicker,—to be fetched back to live again in the warm flesh?"
"All things are possible, Manuel, at a price."
"What price would be sufficient to re-purchase the rich spoils of Death? and whence might any bribe be fetched? For all the glowing wealth and beauty of this big round world must show as a new-minted farthing beside his treasure chests, as one slight shining unimportant coin which—even this also!—belongs to earth, but has been overlooked by him as yet. Presently this hour, and whatever is strutting through this hour, is added to the heaped crypts wherein lie all that was worthiest in the old time.
"Now there is garnered such might and loveliness and wisdom as human thinking cannot conceive of. An emperor is made much of here when he has conquered some part of the world, but Death makes nothing of a world of emperors: and in Death's crowded store-rooms nobody bothers to estimate within a thousand thousand of how many emperors, and tzars and popes and pharaohs and sultans, that in their day were adored as omnipotent, are there assembled pellmell, along with all that was worthiest in the old time.
"As touches loveliness, not even Helen's beauty is distinguishable among those multitudinous millions of resplendent queens whom one finds yonder. Here are many pretty women, here above all is Freydis, so I do not complain. But yonder is deep-bosomed Semiramis, and fair-tressed Guenevere, and Magdalene that loved Christ, and Europa, the bull's laughing bride, and Lilith, whose hot kiss made Satan ardent, and a many other ladies by whose dear beauty's might were shaped the songs which cause us to remember all that was worthiest in the old time.
"As wisdom goes, here we have prudent men of business able to add two and two together, and justice may be out of hand distinguished from injustice by an impanelment of the nearest twelve fools. Here we have many Helmases a-cackling wisely under a goose-feather. But yonder are Cato and Nestor and Merlin and Socrates, Abelard sits with Aristotle there, and the seven sages confer with the major prophets, and yonder is all that was worthiest in the old time.
"All, all, are put away in Death's heaped store-rooms, so safely put away that opulent Death may well grin scornfully at Life: for everything belongs to Death, and Life is only a mendicant scratching at his sores so long as Death permits it. No, Freydis, there can be no bribing Death! For what bribe anywhere has Life to offer which Death has not already lying disregarded in a thousand dusty coffers along with all that was worthiest in the old time?"
Freydis replied: "One thing alone. Yes, Manuel, there is one thing only which all Death's ravishings have never taken from Life, and which has not ever entered into Death's keeping. It is through weighing this fact, and through doing what else is requisite, that the very bold may bring back the dead to live again in the warm flesh."
"Well, but I have heard the histories of presumptuous men who attempted to perform such miracles, and all these persons sooner or later came to misery."
"Why, to be sure! to whom else would you have them coming?" said Freydis. And she explained the way it was.
Manuel put many questions. All that evening he was thoughtful, and he was unusually tender with Freydis. And that night, when Freydis slept, Dom Manuel kissed her very lightly, then blinked his eyes, and for a moment covered them with his hand. Standing thus, the tall boy queerly moving his mouth, as though it were stiff and he were trying to make it more supple.
Then he armed himself. He took up the black shield upon which was painted a silver stallion. He crept out of their modest magic home and went down into Bellegarde, where he stole him a horse, from the stables of Duke Asmund.
And that night, and all the next day, Dom Manuel rode beyond Aigremont and Naimes, journeying away from Morven, and away from the house of jasper and porphyry and violet and yellow breccia, and away from Freydis, who had put off immortality for his kisses. He travelled northward, toward the high woods of Dun Vlechlan, where the leaves were aglow with the funereal flames of autumn: for the summer wherein Dom Manuel and Freydis had been happy together was now as dead as that estranged queer time which he had shared with Alianora.\