Figures of Earth PART FOUR James Branch Cabell

PART FOUR

THE BOOK OF SURCHARGE

TO
HUGH WALPOLE

Soe Manuel made all the Goddes that we call mamettes and ydolles, that were sett ouer the Subiection of his lyfe tyme: and euery of the goddes that Manuel wolde carue toilesomelie hadde in hys Bodie a Blemmishe; and in the mydle of the godes made he one god of the Philistines.



XXV

Affairs in Poictesme

They of Poictesme narrate how Manuel and Niafer traveled east a little way and then turned toward the warm South; and how they found a priest to marry them, and how Manuel confiscated two horses. They tell also how Manuel victoriously encountered a rather terrible dragon at La Flèche, and near Orthez had trouble with a Groach, whom he conquered and imprisoned in a leather bottle, but they say that otherwise the journey was uneventful.

"And now that every obligation is lifted, and we are reunited, my dear Niafer," says Manuel, as they sat resting after his fight with the dragon, "we will, I repeat, be traveling every whither, so that we may see the ends of this world and may judge them."

"Dearest," replied Niafer, "I have been thinking about that, and I am sure it would be delightful, if only people were not so perfectly horrid."

"What do you mean, dear snip?"

"You see, Manuel, now that you have fetched me back from paradise, people will be saying you ought to give me, in exchange for the abodes of bliss from which I have been summoned, at least a fairly comfortable and permanent terrestrial residence. Yes, dearest, you know what people are, and the evil-minded will be only too delighted to be saying everywhere that you are neglecting an obvious duty if you go wandering off to see and judge the ends of this world, with which, after all, you have really no especial concern."

"Oh, well, and if they do?" says Manuel, shrugging lordily. "There is no hurt in talking."

"Yes, Manuel, but such shiftless wandering, into uncomfortable places that nobody ever heard of, would have that appearance. Now there is nothing I would more thoroughly enjoy then to go traveling about at adventure with you, and to be a countess means nothing whatever to me. I am sure I do not in the least care to live in a palace of my own, and be bothered with fine clothes and the responsibility of looking after my rubies, and with servants and parties every day. But you see, darling, I simply could not bear to have people thinking ill of my dear husband, and so, rather than have that happen, I am willing to put up with these things."

"Oh, oh!" says Manuel, and he began pulling vexedly at his little gray beard, "and does one obligation beget another as fast as this! Now whatever would you have me do?"

"Obviously, you must get troops from King Ferdinand, and drive that awful Asmund out of Poictesme."

"Dear me!" says Manuel, "but what a simple matter you make of it! Shall I attend to it this afternoon?"

"Now, Manuel, you speak without thinking, for you could not possibly re-conquer all Poictesme this afternoon—."

"Oh!" says Manuel.

"No, not single-handed, my darling. You would first have to get troops to help you, both horse and foot."

"My dearest, I only meant—"

"—Even then, it will probably take quite a while to kill off all the Northmen."

"Niafer, will you let me explain—"

"—Besides, you are miles away from Poictesme. You could not even manage to get there this afternoon."

Manuel put his hand over her mouth. "Niafer, when I spoke of subjugating Poictesme this afternoon I was attempting a mild joke. I will never any more attempt light irony in your presence, for I perceive that you do not appreciate my humor. Meanwhile I repeat to you, No, no, a thousand times, no! To be called Count of Poictesme sounds well, it strokes the hearing: but I will not be set to root and vegetate in a few hundred spadefuls of dirt. No, for I have but one lifetime here, and in that lifetime I mean to see this world and all the ends of this world, that I may judge them. And I," he concluded, decisively, "am Manuel, who follow after my own thinking and my own desire."

Niafer began to weep. "I simply cannot bear to think of what people will say of you."

"Come, come, my dear," says Manuel, "this is preposterous."

Niafer wept.

"You will only end by making yourself ill!" says Manuel.

Niafer continued to weep.

"My mind is quite made up," says Manuel, "so what, in God's name, is the good of this?"

Niafer now wept more and more broken-heartedly. And the big champion sat looking at her, and his broad shoulders relaxed. He viciously kicked at the heavy glistening green head of the dragon, still bleeding uglily there at his feet, but that did no good whatever. The dragon-queller was beaten. He could do nothing against such moisture, his resolution was dampened and his independence was washed away by this salt flood. And they say too that, now his youth was gone, Dom Manuel began to think of quietness and of soft living more resignedly than he acknowledged.

"Very well, then," Manuel says, by and by, "let us cross the Loir, and ride south to look for our infernal coronet with the rubies in it, and for your servants, and for some of your palaces."

So in the Christmas holidays they bring a tall burly squinting gray-haired warrior to King Ferdinand, in a lemon grove behind the royal palace. Here the sainted King, duly equipped with his halo and his goose-feather, was used to perform the lesser miracles on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The King was delighted by the change in Manuel's looks, and said that experience and maturity were fine things to be suggested by the appearance of a nobleman in Manuel's position. But, a pest! as for giving him any troops with which to conquer Poictesme, that was quite another matter. The King needed his own soldiers for his own ends, which necessitated the immediate capture of Cordova. Meanwhile here were the Prince de Gâtinais and the Marquess di Paz, who also had come with this insane request, the one for soldiers to help him against the Philistines, and the other against the Catalans.

"Everybody to whom I ever granted a fief seems to need troops nowadays," the King grumbled, "and if any one of you had any judgment whatever you would have retained your lands once they were given you."

"Our deficiencies, sire," says the young Prince de Gâtinais, with considerable spirit, "have not been altogether in judgment, but rather in the support afforded us by our liege-lord."

This was perfectly true; but inasmuch as such blunt truths are not usually flung at a king and a saint, now Ferdinand's thin brows went up.

"Do you think so?" said the King. "We must see about it. What is that, for example?"

He pointed to the pool by which the lemon-trees were watered, and the Prince glanced at the yellow object afloat in this pool. "Sire," said de Gâtinais, "it is a lemon which has fallen from one of the trees."

"So you judge it to be a lemon. And what do you make of it, di Paz?" the King inquired.

The Marquess was a statesman who took few chances. He walked to the edge of the pool, and looked at the thing before committing himself: and he came back smiling. "Ah, sire, you have indeed contrived a cunning sermon against hasty judgment, for, while the tree is a lemon-tree, the thing that floats beneath it is an orange."

"So you, Marquess, judge it to be an orange. And what do you make of it, Count of Poictesme?" the King asks now.

If di Paz took few chances, Manuel took none at all. He waded into the pool, and fetched out the thing which floated there. "King," says big Dom Manuel, sagely blinking his bright pale eyes, "it is the half of an orange."

Said the King: "Here is a man who is not lightly deceived by the vain shows of this world, and who values truth more than dry shoes. Count Manuel, you shall have your troops, and you others must wait until you have acquired Count Manuel's powers of judgment, which, let me tell you, are more valuable than any fief I have to give."

So when the spring had opened, Manuel went into Poictesme at the head of a very creditable army, and Dom Manuel summoned Duke Asmund to surrender all that country. Asmund, who was habitually peevish under the puckerel curse, refused with opprobrious epithets, and the fighting began.

Manuel had, of course, no knowledge of generalship, but King Ferdinand sent the Conde de Tohil Vaca as Manuel's lieutenant. Manuel now figured imposingly in jeweled armor, and the sight of his shield bearing the rampant stallion and the motto Mundus vult decipi became in battle a signal for the more prudent among his adversaries to distinguish themselves in some other part of the conflict. It was whispered by backbiters that in counsel and in public discourse Dom Manuel sonorously repeated the orders and opinions provided by Tohil Vaca: either way, the official utterances of the Count of Poictesme roused everywhere the kindly feeling which one reserves for old friends, so that no harm was done.

To the contrary, Dom Manuel now developed an invaluable gift for public speaking, and in every place which he conquered and occupied he made powerful addresses to the surviving inhabitants before he had them hanged, exhorting all right-thinking persons to crush the military autocracy of Asmund. Besides, as Manuel pointed out, this was a struggle such as the world had never known, in that it was a war to end war forever, and to ensure eternal peace for everybody's children. Never, as he put it forcefully, had men fought for a more glorious cause. And so on and go on, said he, and these uplifting thoughts had a fine effect upon everyone.

"How wonderfully you speak!" Dame Niafer would say admiringly.

And Manuel would look at her queerly, and reply: "I am earning your home, my dear, and your servants' wages, and some day these verbal jewels will be perpetuated in a real coronet. For I perceive that a former acquaintance of mine was right in pointing out the difference between men and the other animals."

"Ah, yes, indeed!" said Niafer, very gravely, and not attaching any particular meaning to it, but generally gathering that she and Manuel were talking about something edifying and pious. For Niafer was now a devout Christian, as became a Countess of Poictesme, and nobody anywhere entertained a more sincere reverence for solemn noises.

"For instance," Dame Niafer continued, "they tell me that these lovely speeches of yours have produced such an effect upon the Philistines yonder that their Queen Stultitia has proffered an alliance, and has promised to send you light cavalry and battering-rams."

"It is true she has promised to send them, but she has not done so."

"None the less, Manuel, you will find that the moral effect of her approbation will be invaluable; and, as I so often think, that is the main thing after all—"

"Yes, yes," says Manuel, impatiently, "we have plenty of moral approbation and fine speaking here, and in the South we have a saint to work miracles for us, but it is Asmund who has that army of splendid reprobates, and they do not value morality and rhetoric the worth of an old finger-nail."

So the fighting continued throughout that spring, and in Poictesme it all seemed very important and unexampled, just as wars usually appear to the people that are engaged in them. Thousands of men were slain, to the regret of their mothers and sweethearts, and very often of their wives. And there was the ordinary amount of unparalleled military atrocities and perfidies and ravishments and burnings and so on, and the endurers took their agonies so seriously that it is droll to think of how unimportant it all was in the outcome.

For this especial carnage was of supreme and world-wide significance so long ago that it is now not worth the pains involved to rephrase for inattentive hearing the combat of the knights at Perdigon—out of which came alive only Guivric and Coth and Anavalt and Gonfal,—or to speak of the once famous battle of the tinkers, or to retell how the inflexible syndics of Montors were imprisoned in a cage and slain by mistake. It no longer really matters to any living person how the Northmen burned the bridge of boats at Manneville; nor how Asmund trod upon a burned-through beam at the disastrous siege of Évre, and so fell thirty feet into the midst of his enemies and broke his leg, but dealt so valorously that he got safe away; nor how at Lisuarte unarmored peasants beat off Manuel's followers with scythes and pitchforks and clubs.

Time has washed out the significance of these old heroisms as the color is washed from flimsy cloths; so that chroniclers act wisely when they wave aside, with undipped pens, the episode of the brave Siennese and their green poison at Bellegarde, and the doings of the Anti-Pope there, and grudge the paper needful to record the remarkable method by which gaunt Tohil Vaca levied a tax of a livre on every chimney in Poictesme.

It is not even possible, nowadays, to put warm interest in those once notable pots of blazing sulphur and fat and quicklime that were emptied over the walls of Storisende, to the discomfort of Manuel's men. For although this was a very heroic war, with a parade of every sort of high moral principle, and with the most sonorous language employed upon both sides, it somehow failed to bring about either the reformation or the ruin, of humankind: and after the conclusion of the murdering and general breakage, the world went on pretty much as it has done after all other wars, with a vague notion that a deal of time and effort had been unprofitably invested, and a conviction that it would be inglorious to say so.

Therefore it suffices to report that there was much killing and misery everywhere, and that in June, upon Corpus Christi day, the Conde de Tohil Vaca was taken, and murdered, with rather horrible jocosity which used unusually a heated poker, and Manuel's forces were defeated and scattered.





XXVI

Deals with the Stork

Now Manuel, driven out of Poictesme, went with his wife to Novogath, which had been for some seven years the capital of Philistia. Queen Stultitia, the sixtieth of that name to rule, received them friendlily. She talked alone with Manuel for a lengthy while, in a room that was walled with glazed tiles of faience and had its ceiling incrusted with moral axioms, everywhere affixed thereto in a light lettering of tin, so as to permit of these axioms being readily changed. Stultitia sat at a bronze reading-desk: she wore rose-colored spectacles, and at her feet dozed, for the while, her favorite plaything, a blind, small, very fat white bitch called Luck.

The Queen still thought that an alliance could be arranged against Duke Asmund as soon as public sentiment could be fomented in Philistia, but this would take time. "Have patience, my friend!" she said, and that was easy saying for a prosperous great lady sitting comfortably crowned and spectacled in her own palace, under her own chimneys and skylights and campaniles and domes and towers and battlements.

But in the mean while Manuel and Niafer had not so much as a cowshed wherein to exercise this recommended virtue. So Manuel made inquiries, and learned that Queen Freydis had taken up her abode on Sargyll, most remote of the Red Islands.

"We will go to Freydis," he told Niafer.

"But, surely, not after the way that minx probably believes you treated her?" said Niafer.

Manuel smiled the sleepy smile that was Manuel. "I know Freydis better than you know her, my dear."

"Yes, but can you depend upon her?"

"I can depend upon myself, and that is more important."

"But, Manuel, you have another dear friend in England; and in England, although the Lord knows I never want to lay eyes on her, we might at least be comfortable—"

Manuel shook his head: "I am very fond of Alianora, because she resembles me as closely as it is possible for a woman to resemble a man. That makes two excellent reasons—one for each of us, snip,—why we had better not go into England."

So, in their homeless condition, they resolved to set out for Sargyll,—"to visit that other dear friend of yours," as Niafer put it, in tones more eloquent than Manuel seemed quite to relish.

Dame Niafer, though, now began to complain that Manuel was neglecting her for all this statecraft and fighting and speech-making and private conference with fine ladies; and she began to talk again about what a pity it was that she and Manuel would probably never have any children to be company for Niafer. Niafer complained rather often nowadays, about details which are here irrelevant: and she was used to lament with every appearance of sincerity that, in making the clay figure for Niafer to live in, Manuel should have been so largely guided by the elsewhere estimable qualities of innocence and imagination. It frequently put her, she said, to great inconvenience.

Now Manuel had been inquiring about this and that and the other since his arrival in Novogath, and so Manuel to-day replied with lordly assurance. "Yes, yes, a baby or two!" says Manuel. "I think myself that would be an excellent idea, while we are waiting for Queen Stultitia to make up her subjects' minds, and have nothing else in particular to do—"

"But, Manuel, you know perfectly well—"

"—And I am sufficiently versed in the magic of the Apsarasas to be able to summon the stork, who by rare good luck is already indebted to me—"

"What has the stork to do with this?"

"Why, it is he who must bring the babies to be company for you."

"But, Manuel," said Niafer, dubiously, "I do not believe that the people of Rathgor, or of Poictesme either, get their babies from the stork."

"Doubtless, like every country, they have their quaint local customs. We have no concern, however with these provincialities just now, for we are in Philistia. Besides, as you cannot well have forgotten, our main dependence is upon the half-promised alliance with Queen Stultitia, who is, as far as I can foresee, my darling, the only monarch anywhere likely to support us."

"But what has Queen Stultitia to do with my having a baby?"

"Everything, dear snip. You must surely understand it is most important for one in my position to avoid in any way offending the sensibilities of the Philistines."

"Still, Manuel, the Philistines themselves have babies, and I do not see how they could have conceivably objected to my having at any rate a very small one if only you had made me right—"

"Not at all! nobody objects to the baby in itself, now that you are a married woman. The point is that the babies of the Philistines are brought to them by the stork; and that even an allusion to the possibility of misguided persons obtaining a baby in any other way these Philistines consider to be offensive and lewd and lascivious and obscene."

"Why, how droll of them! But are you sure of that, Manuel!"

"All their best-thought-of and most popular writers, my dear, are unanimous upon the point; and their Seranim have passed any number of laws, their oil-merchants have founded a guild, especially to prosecute such references. No, there is, to be sure, a dwindling sect which favors putting up with what babies you may find in the cabbage patch, but all really self-respecting people when in need of offspring arrange to be visited by the stork."

"It is certainly a remarkable custom, but it sounds convenient if you can manage it," said Niafer. "What I want is the baby, though, and of course we must try to get the baby in the manner of the Philistines, if you know that manner, for I am sure I have no wish to offend anybody."

So Manuel prepared to get a baby in the manner preferred by the Philistines. He performed the suitable incantation, putting this and that together in the manner formerly employed by the Thessalian witches and sorcerers, and he cried aloud a very ancient if indecent charm from the old Latin, saying, as Queen Stultitia had told him to say, without any mock-modest mincing of words:

Dictum est antiqua sandalio mulier habitavit,

Quae multos pueros habuit tum ut potuit nullum

Quod faciundum erat cognoscere. Sic Domina Anser.

Then Manuel took from his breast-pocket a piece of blue chalk and five curious objects something like small black stars. With the chalk he drew upon the floor two parallel straight lines. Manuel walked on one of these chalk lines very carefully, then beckoned Niafer to him. Standing there, he put his arms about her and kissed her. Then he placed the five black stars in a row,—

*  *  *  *  *

—and went over to the next line.

The stork having been thus properly summoned, Manuel recalled to the bird the three wishes which had been promised when Manuel saved the stork's life: and Manuel said that for each wish he would take a son fetched to him by the stork in the manner of the Philistines.

The stork thought it could be arranged. "Not this morning, though, as you suggest, for, indebted as I am to you, Dom Manuel, I am also a very busy bird. No, I have any number of orders that were put in months before yours, and I must follow system in my business, for you have no notion what elaborate and exact accounts are frequently required by the married men that receive invoices from me."

"Come now," says Manuel, "do you be accommodating, remembering how I once saved your life from the eagle, and my wife and I will order all our babies now, and spare you the trouble of keeping any accounts whatever, so far as we are concerned."

"Oh, if you care to deal with such wholesale irregularity, and have no more consideration than to keep casting old debts in my bill, I might stretch a point in order to be rid of you," the stork said, sighing.

"Now, but surely," Manuel considered, "you might be a little more cheerful about this matter."

"And why should I, of all the birds that go about the heavens, be cheerful?"

"Well, somehow one expects a reasonable gaiety in you who bring hilarity and teething-rings into so many households—"

The stork answered:

"I bring the children, stainless and dear and helpless, and therewith I, they say, bring joy. Now of the joy I bring to the mother let none speak, for miracles are not neatly to be caged in sentences, nor is truth always expedient. To the father I bring the sight of his own life, by him so insecurely held, renewed and strengthened in a tenement not yet impaired by time and folly: he is no more disposed to belittle himself here than elsewhere; and it is himself that he cuddles in this small, soft, incomprehensible and unsoiled incarnation. For, as I bring the children, they have no evil in them and no cowardice and no guile.

"I bring the children, stainless and dear and helpless, when later I return, to those that yesterday were children. And in all ways time has marred, and living has defaced, and prudence has maimed, until I grieve to entrust that which I bring to what remains of that which yesterday I brought. In the old days children were sacrificed to a brazen burning god, but time affects more subtile hecatombs: for Moloch slew outright. Yes, Moloch, being divine, killed as the dog kills, furiously, but time is that transfigured cat, an ironist. So living mars and defaces and maims, and living appears wantonly to soil and to degrade its prey before destroying it.

"I bring the children, stainless and dear and helpless, and I leave them to endure that which is fated. Daily I bring into this world the beauty and innocence and high-heartedness and faith of children: but life has no employment, or else life has no sustenance, for these fine things which I bring daily, for always I, returning, find the human usages of living have extinguished these excellences in those who yesterday were children, and that these virtues exist in no aged person. And I would that Jahveh had created me an eagle or a vulture or some other hateful bird of prey that furthers a less grievous slaying and a more intelligible wasting than I further."

SUMMONS THE STORK

To this, Dom Manuel replied, in that grave and matter-of-fact way of his: "Now certainly I can see how your vocation may seem, in a manner of speaking, a poor investment; but, after all, your business is none of my business, so I shall not presume to criticize it. Instead, let us avoid these lofty generalities, and to you tell me when I may look for those three sons of mine."

Then they talked over this matter of getting babies, Manuel walking on the chalk line all the while, and Manuel found he could have, if he preferred it so, three girls in place of one of the boys, since the demand for sons was thrice that for daughters. To Niafer it was at once apparent that to obtain five babies in place of three was a clear bargain. Manuel said he did not want any daughters, they were too much of a responsibility, and he did not intend to be bothered with them. He was very firm and lordly about it. Then Niafer spoke again, and when she had ended, Manuel wished for two boys and three girls. Thereafter the stork subscribed five promissory notes, and they executed all the other requisite formalities.

The stork said that by a little management he could let them have one of the children within a day or so. "But how long have you two been married?" he asked.

"Oh, ever so long," said Manuel, with a faint sigh.

"Why, no, my dearest," said Niafer, "we have been married only seven months."

"In that event," declared the stork, "you had better wait until month after next, for it is not the fashion among my patrons to have me visiting them quite so early."

"Well," said Manuel, "we wish to do everything in conformance to the preferences of Philistia, even to the extent of following such incomprehensible fashions." So he arranged to have the promised baby delivered at Sargyll, which, he told the stork, would be their address for the remainder of the summer.





XXVII

They Come to Sargyll

Then Manuel and Niafer put out to sea, and after two days' voyaging they came to Sargyll and to the hospitality of Queen Freydis. Freydis was much talked about at that time on account of the way in which King Thibaut had come to his ruin through her, and on account of her equally fatal dealings with the Duke of Istria and the Prince of Camwy and three or four other lords. So the ship-captains whom Dom Manuel first approached preferred not to venture among the Red Islands. Then the Jewish master of a trading vessel—a lean man called Ahasuerus—said, "Who forbids it?" and carried them uneventfully from Novogath to Sargyll. They narrate how Oriander the Swimmer followed after the yellow ship, but he attempted no hurt against Manuel, at least not for that turn.

Thus Manuel came again to Freydis. He had his first private talk with her in a room that was hung with black and gold brocade. White mats lay upon the ground, and placed irregularly about the room were large brass vases filled with lotus blossoms. Here Freydis sat on a three-legged stool, in conference with a panther. From the ceiling hung rigid blue and orange and reddish-brown serpents, all dead and embalmed; and in the middle of the ceiling was painted a face which was not quite human, looking downward, with evil eyes half closed, and with its mouth half open in discomfortable laughter.

Freydis was clad in scarlet completely, and, as has been said, a golden panther was talking to her when Dom Manuel came in. She at once dismissed the beast, which smiled amicably at Dom Manuel, and then arched high its back in the manner of all the cat tribe, and so flattened out into a thin transparent goldness, and, flickering, vanished upward as a flame leaves a lampwick.

"Well, well, you bade me come to you, dear friend, when I had need of you," says Manuel, very cordially shaking hands, "and nobody's need could be more great than mine."

"Different people have different needs," Freydis replied, rather gravely, "but all passes in this world."

"Friendship, however, does not pass, I hope."

She answered slowly: "It is we who pass, so that the young Manuel whom I loved in a summer that is gone, is nowadays as perished as that summer's gay leaves. What, grizzled fighting-man, have you to do with that young Manuel who had comeliness and youth and courage, but no human pity and no constant love? and why should I be harboring his lighthearted mischiefs against you? Ah, no, gray Manuel, you are quite certain no woman would do that; and people say you are shrewd. So I bid you very welcome to Sargyll, where my will is the only law."

"You at least have not changed," Dom Manuel replied, with utter truth, "for you appear today, if anything, more fair and young than you were that first night upon Morven when I evoked you from tall flames to lend life to the image I had made. Well, that seems now a lengthy while ago, and I make no more images."

"Your wife would be considering it a waste of time," Queen Freydis estimated.

"No, that is not quite the way it is. For Niafer is the dearest and most dutiful of women, and she never crosses my wishes in anything."

Freydis now smiled a little, for she saw that Manuel believed he was speaking veraciously. "At all events," said Freydis, "it is a queer thing surely that in the month which is to come the stork will be fetching your second child to a woman resting under my roof and in my golden bed. Yes, Thurinel has just been telling me of your plan, and it is a queer thing. Yet it is a far queerer thing that your first child, whom no stork fetched nor had any say in shaping, but whom you made of clay to the will of your proud youth and in your proud youth's likeness, should be limping about the world somewhere in the appearance of a strapping tall young fellow, and that you should know nothing about his doings."

"Ah! what have you heard? and what do you know about him, Freydis?"

"I suspicion many things, gray Manuel, by virtue of my dabblings in that gray art which makes neither for good nor evil."

"Yes," said Manuel, practically, "but what do you know?"

She took his hand again. "I know that in Sargyll, where my will is the only law, you are welcome, false friend and very faithless lover."

He could get no more out of her, as they stood there under the painted face which looked down upon them with discomfortable laughter.

So Manuel and Niafer remained at Sargyll until the baby should be delivered. King Ferdinand, then in the midst of another campaign against the Moors, could do nothing for his vassal just now. But glittering messengers came from Raymond Bérenger, and from King Helmas, and from Queen Stultitia, each to discuss this and that possible alliance and aid by and by. Everybody was very friendly if rather vague. But Manuel for the present considered only Niafer and the baby that was to come, and he let statecraft bide.

Then two other ships, that were laden with Duke Asmund's men, came also, in an attempt to capture Manuel: so Freydis despatched a sending which caused these soldiers to run about the decks howling like wolves, and to fling away their swords and winged helmets, and to fight one against the other with hands and teeth until all were slain.

The month passed thus uneventfully. And Niafer and Freydis became the best and most intimate of friends, and their cordiality to each other could not but have appeared to the discerning rather ominous.

"She seems to be a very good-hearted sort of a person," Niafer conceded, in matrimonial privacy, "though certainly she is rather queer. Why, Manuel, she showed me this afternoon ten of the drollest figures to which—but, no, you would never guess it in the world,—to which she is going to give life some day, just as you did to me when you got my looks and legs and pretty much everything else all wrong."

"When does she mean to quicken them?" Dom Manuel asked: and he added, "Not that I did, dear snip, but I shall not argue about it."

"Why, that is the droll part of it, and I can quite understand your unwillingness to admit how little you had remembered about me. When the man who made them has been properly rewarded, she said, with, Manuel, the most appalling expression you ever saw."

"What were these images like?" asked Dom Manuel.

Niafer described them: she described them unsympathetically, but there was no doubt they were the images which Manuel had left unquickened upon Upper Morven.

Manuel nodded, smiled, and said: "So the man who made these images is to be properly rewarded! Well, that is encouraging, for true merit should always be rewarded."

"But, Manuel, if you had seen her look! and seen what horrible misshapen creatures they were—!"

"Nonsense!" said Manuel, stoutly: "you are a dear snip, but that does not make you a competent critic of either physiognomy or sculpture."

So he laughed the matter aside; and this, as it happened, was the last that Dom Manuel heard of the ten images which he had made upon Upper Morven. But they of Poictesme declared that Queen Freydis did give life to these figures, each at a certain hour, and that her wizardry set them to live as men among mankind, with no very happy results, because these images differed from naturally begotten persons by having inside them a spark of the life of Audela.

Thus Manuel and his wife came uneventfully to August; all the while there was never a more decorous or more thoughtful hostess than Queen Freydis; and nobody would have suspected that sorcery underlay the running of her household. It was only through Dom Manuel's happening to arise very early one morning, at the call of nature, that he chanced to be passing through the hall when, at the moment of sunrise, the night-porter turned into an orange-colored rat, and crept into the wainscoting: and Manuel of course said nothing about this to anybody, because it was none of his affair.





XXVIII

How Melicent Was Welcomed

So the month passed prosperously and uneventfully, while the servitors of Queen Freydis behaved in every respect as if they were human beings: and at the end of the month the stork came.

Manuel and Niafer, it happened, were fishing on the river bank rather late that evening, when they saw the great bird approaching, high overhead, all glistening white in the sunset, except for his thin scarlet legs and the blue shadowings in the hollows of his wings. From his beak depended a largish bundle, in pale blue wrappings, so that at a glance they knew the stork was bringing a girl.

Statelily the bird lighted on the window sill, as though he were quite familiar with this way of entering Manuel's bedroom, and the bird went in, carrying the child. This was a high and happy moment for the fond parents as they watched him, and they kissed each other rather solemnly.

Then Niafer left Manuel to get together the fishing tackle, and she hastened into the house to return to the stork the first of his promissory notes in exchange for the baby. And as Manuel was winding up the lines, Queen Freydis came to him, for she too had seen the stork's approach; and was, she said, with a grave smile, well pleased that the affair was settled.

"For now the stork has come, yet others may come," says Freydis, "and we shall celebrate the happy event with a gay feast this night in honor of your child."

"That is very kind and characteristic of you," said Manuel, "but I suppose you will be wanting me to make a speech, and I am quite unprepared."

"No, we will have none of your high-minded and devastating speeches at our banquet. No, for your place is with your wife. No, Manuel, you are not bidden to this feast, for all that it is to do honor to your child. No, no, gray Manuel, you must remain upstairs this evening and throughout the night, because this feast is for them that serve me: and you do not serve me any longer, and the ways of them that serve me are not your ways."

"Ah!" says Manuel, "so there is sorcery afoot! Yes, Freydis, I have quite given over that sort of thing. And while not for a moment would I seem to be criticizing anybody, I hope before long to see you settling down, with some fine solid fellow, and forsaking these empty frivolities for the higher and real pleasures of life."

"And what are these delights, gray Manuel?"

"The joy that is in the sight of your children playing happily about your hearth, and developing into honorable men and gracious women, and bringing their children in turn to cluster about your tired old knees, as the winter evenings draw in, and in the cosy fire-light you smile across the curly heads of these children's children at the dear wrinkled white-haired face of your beloved and time-tested helpmate, and are satisfied, all in all, with your life, and know that, by and large, Heaven has been rather undeservedly kind to you," says Manuel, sighing. "Yes, Freydis, yes, you may believe me that such are the real joys of life; and that such pleasures are more profitably pursued than are the idle gaieties of sorcery and witchcraft, which indeed at our age, if you will permit me to speak thus frankly, dear friend, are hardly dignified."

Freydis shook her proud dark head. Her smiling was grim.

"Decidedly, I shall not ever understand you. Doddering patriarch, do you not comprehend you are already discoursing about a score or two of grandchildren on the ground of having a five-minute-old daughter, whom you have not yet seen? Nor is that child's future, it may be, yours to settle—But go to your wife, for this is Niafer's man who is talking, and not mine. Go up, Methuselah, and behold the new life which you have created and cannot control!"

Manuel went to Niafer, and found her sewing. "My dear, this will not do at all, for you ought to be in bed with the newborn child, as is the custom with the mothers of Philistia."

"What nonsense!" says Niafer, "when I have to be changing every one of the pink bows on Melicent's caps for blue bows."

"Still, Niafer, it is eminently necessary for us to be placating the Philistines in all respects, in this delicate matter of your having a baby."

Niafer grumbled, but obeyed. She presently lay in the golden bed of Freydis: then Manuel duly looked at the contents of the small heaving bundle at Niafer's side: and whether or no he scaled the conventional peaks of emotion was nobody's concern save Manuel's. He began, in any event, to talk in the vein which fathers ordinarily feel such high occasions to demand. But Niafer, who was never romantic nowadays, merely said that, anyhow, it was a blessing it was all over, and that she hoped, now, they would soon be leaving Sargyll.

"But Freydis is so kind, my dear," said Manuel, "and so fond of you!"

"I never in my life," declared Niafer, "knew anybody to go off so terribly in their looks as that two-faced cat has done since the first time I saw her prancing on her tall horse and rolling her snake eyes at you. As for being fond of me, I trust her exactly as far as I can see her."

"Yet, Niafer, I have heard you declare, time and again—"

"But if you did, Manuel, one has to be civil."

Manuel shrugged, discreetly. "You women!" he observed, discreetly.

"—As if it were not as plain as the nose on her face—and I do not suppose that even you, Manuel, will be contending she has a really good nose,—that the woman is simply itching to make a fool of you, and to have everybody laughing at you, again! Manuel, I declare I have no patience with you when you keep arguing about such unarguable facts!"

Manuel, exercising augmented discretion, now said nothing whatever.

"—And you may talk yourself black in the face, Manuel, but nevertheless I am going to name the child Melicent, after my own mother, as soon as a priest can be fetched from the mainland to christen her. No, Manuel, it is all very well for your dear friend to call herself a gray witch, but I do not notice any priests coming to this house unless they are especially sent for, and I draw my own conclusions."

"Well, well, let us not argue about it, my dear."

"Yes, but who started all this arguing and fault-finding, I would like to know!"

"Why, to be sure I did. But I spoke without thinking. I was wrong. I admit it. So do not excite yourself, dear snip."

"—And as if I could help the child's not being a boy!"

"But I never said—"

"No, but you keep thinking it, and sulking is the one thing I cannot stand. No, Manuel, no, I do not complain, but I do think that, after all I have been through with, sleeping around in tents, and running away from Northmen, and never having a moment's comfort, after I had naturally figured on being a real countess—" Niafer whimpered sleepily.

"Yes, yes," says Manuel, stroking her soft crinkly hair.

"—And with that silky hell-cat watching me all the time,—and looking ten years younger than I do, now that you have got my face and legs all wrong,—and planning I do not know what—"

"Yes, to be sure," says Manuel, soothingly: "you are quite right, my dear."

So a silence fell, and presently Niafer slept. Manuel sat with hunched shoulders, watching the wife he had fetched back from paradise at the price of his youth. His face was grave, his lips were puckered and protruded. He smiled by and by, and he shook his head. He sighed, not as one who is grieved, but like a man perplexed and a little weary.

Now some while after Niafer was asleep, and when the night was fairly advanced, you could hear a whizzing and a snorting in the air. Manuel went to the window, and lifted the scarlet curtain figured with ramping gold dragons, and he looked out, to find a vast number of tiny bluish lights skipping about confusedly and agilely in the darkness, like shining fleas. These approached the river bank, and gathered there. Then the assembled lights began to come toward the house. You could now see these lights were carried by dwarfs who had the eyes of owls and the long beaks of storks. These dwarfs were jumping and dancing about Freydis like an insane body-guard.

Freydis walked among them very remarkably attired. Upon her head shone the uraeus crown, and she carried a long rod of cedar-wood topped with an apple carved in bluestone, and at her side came the appearance of a tall young man.

So they all approached the house, and the young man looked up fixedly at the unlighted window, as though he were looking at Manuel. The young man smiled: his teeth gleamed in the blue glare. Then the whole company entered the house, and from Manuel's station at the window you could see no more, but you could hear small prancing hoof-beats downstairs and the clattering of plates and much whinnying laughter. Manuel was plucking irresolutely at his grizzled short beard, for there was no doubt as to the strapping tall young fellow.

Presently you could hear music: it was the ravishing Nis air, which charms the mind into sweet confusion and oblivion, and Manuel did not make any apparent attempt to withstand its wooing. He hastily undressed, knelt for a decorous interval, and climbed vexedly into bed.





XXIX

Sesphra of the Dreams

In the morning Dom Manuel arose early, and left Niafer still sleeping with the baby. Manuel came down through the lower hall, where the table was as the revelers had left it. In the middle of the disordered room stood a huge copper vessel half full of liquor, and beside it was a drinking-horn of gold. Manuel paused here, and drank of the sweet heather-wine as though he had need to hearten himself.

He went out into the bright windy morning, and as he crossed the fields he came up behind a red cow who was sitting upon her haunches, intently reading a largish book bound in green leather, but at sight of Manuel she hastily put aside the volume, and began eating grass. Manuel went on, without comment, toward the river bank, to meet the image which he had made of clay, and to which through unholy arts he had given life.

The thing came up out of the glistening ripples of brown water, and the thing embraced Manuel and kissed him. "I am pagan," the thing said, in a sweet mournful voice, "and therefore I might not come to you until your love was given to the unchristened. For I was not ever christened, and so my true name is not known to anybody. But in the far lands where I am worshipped as a god I am called Sesphra of the Dreams."

"I did not give you any name," said Manuel; and then he said: "Sesphra, you that have the appearance of Alianora and of my youth! Sesphra, how beautiful you are!"

"Is that why you are trembling, Manuel?"

"I tremble because the depths of my being have been shaken. Since youth went out of me, in the high woods of Dun Vlechlan, I have lived through days made up of small frettings and little pleasures and only half earnest desires, which moved about upon the surface of my being like minnows in the shoals of a still lake. But now that I have seen and heard you, Sesphra of the Dreams, and your lips have touched my lips, a passion moves in me that possesses all of me, and I am frightened."

"It is the passion which informs those who make images. It is the master you denied, poor foolish Manuel, and the master who will take no denial."

"Sesphra, what is your will with me?"

"It is my will that you and I go hence on a long journey, into the far lands where I am worshipped as a god. For I love you, my creator, who gave life to me, and you love me more than aught else, and it is not right that we be parted."

"I cannot go on any journey, just now, for I have my lands and castles to regain, and my wife and my newborn child to protect."

Sesphra began to smile adorably: you saw that his teeth were strangely white and very strong. "What are these things to me or you, or to anyone that makes images? We follow after our own thinking and our own desires."

"I lived thus once upon a time," said Manuel, sighing, "but nowadays there is a bond upon me to provide for my wife, and for my child too, and I have not much leisure left for anything else."

Then Sesphra began to speak adorably, as he walked on the river bank, with one arm about Dom Manuel. Always Sesphra limped as he walked. A stiff and obdurate wind was ruffling the broad brown shining water, and as they walked, this wind buffeted them, and tore at their clothing. Manuel clung to his hat with one hand, and with the other held to lame Sesphra of the Dreams. Sesphra talked of matters not to be recorded.

"That is a handsome ring you have there," says Sesphra, by and by.

"It is the ring my wife gave me when we were married," Manuel replied.

"Then you must give it to me, dear Manuel."

"No, no, I cannot part with it."

"But it is beautiful, and I want it," Sesphra said. So Manuel gave him the ring.

Now Sesphra began again to talk of matters not to be recorded.

"Sesphra of the Dreams," says Manuel, presently, "you are bewitching me, for when I listen to you I see that Manuel's imperilled lands make such a part of earth as one grain of sand contributes to the long narrow beach we are treading. I see my fond wife Niafer as a plain-featured and dull woman, not in any way remarkable among the millions of such women as are at this moment preparing breakfast or fretting over other small tasks. I see my newborn child as a mewing lump of flesh. And I see Sesphra whom I made so strong and strange and beautiful, and it is as if in a half daze I hear that obdurate wind commingled with the sweet voice of Sesphra while you are talking of matters which it is not safe to talk about."

"Yes, that is the way it is, Manuel, and the way it should be, and the way it always will be as long as life is spared to you, now. So let us go into the house, and write droll letters to King Helmas and Raymond Bérenger and Queen Stultitia, in reply to the fine offers they have been making you."

They came back into the empty banquet-hall. This place was paved with mother of pearl and copper; six porphyry columns supported the musicians' gallery. To the other end were two alabaster urns upon green pedestals that were covered with golden writing in the old Dirgham.

Here Manuel cleared away the embossed silver plates from one corner of the table. He took pen and ink, and Sesphra told him what to write.

Sesphra sat with arms folded, and as he dictated he looked up at the ceiling. This ceiling was of mosaic work, showing four winged creatures that veiled their faces with crimson and orange-tawny wings; suspended from this ceiling by bronze chains hung ostrich eggs, bronze lamps and globes of crystal.

"But these are very insulting replies," observed Dom Manuel, when he had finished writing, "and they will make their recipients furious. These princes, Sesphra, are my good friends, and they are powerful friends, upon whose favor I am dependent."

"Yes, but how beautiful these replies are worded! See now, dear Manuel, how divertingly you have described King Helmas' hideous nose in your letter to King Helmas, and how trenchant is that paragraph about the scales of his mermaid wife—"

"I admit that passage is rather droll—"

"—And in your letter to the pious Queen Stultitia that which you say about the absurdities of religion, here, and the fun you make of her spectacles, are masterpieces of paradox and of very exquisite prose—"

"Those bits, to be sure, are quite neatly put—"

"—So I must see to it that these replies are sent, to make people admire you everywhere."

"Yet, Sesphra, all these princes are my friends, and their goodwill is necessary to me—"

"No, Manuel. For you and I will not bother about these stupid princes any more, nor will you need any friends except me; for we will go to this and that remote strange place, and our manner of living will be such and such, and we will do so and so, and we will travel everywhither and see the ends of this world and judge them. And we will not ever be parted until you die."

"What will you do then, dear Sesphra?" Manuel asks him fondly.

"I shall survive you, as all gods outlive their creators. And I must depute the building of your monument to men of feeble minds which have been properly impaired by futile studies and senility. That is the way in which all gods are doomed to deal with their creators: but that need not trouble us as yet."

"No," Manuel said, "I cannot go with you. For in my heart is enkindling such love of you as frightens me."

"It is through love men win to happiness, poor lonely Manuel."

Now when Manuel answered Sesphra there was in Manuel's face trouble and bewilderment. And Manuel said:

"Under your dear bewitchments, Sesphra, I confess that through love men win to sick disgust and self-despising, and for that reason I will not love any more. Now breathlessly the tall lads run to clutch at stars, above the brink of a drab quagmire, and presently time trips them—Oh, Sesphra, wicked Sesphra of the Dreams, you have laid upon me a magic so strong that, horrified, I hear the truth come babbling from long-guarded lips which no longer obey me, because of your dear bewitchments.

"Look you, adorable and all-masterful Sesphra, I have followed noble loves. I aspired to the Unattainable Princess, and thereafter to the unattainable Queen of a race that is more fine and potent than our race, and afterward I would have no less a love than an unattainable angel in paradise. Hah, I must be fit mate for that which is above me, was my crying in the old days; and such were the indomitable desires that one by one have made my living wonderful with dear bewitchments.

"The devil of it was that these proud aims did not stay unattained! Instead, I was cursed by getting my will, and always my reward was nothing marvelous and rare, but that quite ordinary figure of earth, a human woman. And always in some dripping dawn I have turned with abhorrence from myself and from the sated folly that had hankered for such prizes, which, when possessed, showed as not wonderful in anything, and which possession left likable enough, but stripped of dear bewitchments.

"No, Sesphra, no: men are so made that they must desire to mate with some woman or another, and they are furthermore so made that to mate with a woman does not content their desire. And in this gaming there is no gain, because the end of loving, for everybody except those lucky persons whose love is not requited, must always be a sick disgust and a self-despising, which the wise will conduct in silence, and not talk about as I am talking now under your dear bewitchments."

Then Sesphra smiled a little, saying, "And yet, poor Manuel, there is, they tell me, no more uxorious husband anywhere."

"I am used to her," Manuel replied, forlornly, "and I suppose that if she were taken away from me again I would again be attempting to fetch her back. And I do not like to hurt the poor foolish heart of her by going against her foolish notions. Besides, I am a little afraid of her, because she is always able to make me uncomfortable. And above all, of course, the hero of a famous love-affair, such as ours has become, with those damned poets everywhere making rhymes about my fidelity and devotion, has to preserve appearances. So I get through each day, somehow, by never listening very attentively to the interminable things she tells me about. But I often wonder, as I am sure all husbands wonder, why Heaven ever made a creature so tedious and so unreasonably dull of wit and so opinionated. And when I think that for the rest of time this creature is to be my companion I usually go out and kill somebody. Then I come back, because she knows the way I like my toast."

"Instead, dear Manuel, you must go away from this woman who does not understand you—"

"Yes," Manuel said, with grave conviction, "that is exactly the trouble."

"—And you must go with me who understand you all through. And we will travel everywhither, so that we may see the ends of this world and judge them."

"You tempt me, Sesphra, with an old undying desire, and you have laid strong enchantments on me, but, no, I cannot go with you."

The hand of Sesphra closed upon the hand of Manuel caressingly.

Manuel said: "I will go with you. But what will become of the woman and the child whom I leave behind me unfriended?"

"That is true. There will be nobody to look out for them, and they will perish miserably. That is not important, but perhaps upon the whole it would be better for you to kill them before we depart from Sargyll."

"Very well, then," says Manuel, "I will do that, but you must come up into the room with me, for I cannot bear to lose sight of you."

Now Sesphra smiled more unrestrainedly, and his teeth gleamed. "I shall not ever leave you now until you die."





XXX

Farewell to Freydis

They went upstairs together, into the room with scarlet hangings, and to the golden bed where, with seven sorts of fruit properly arranged at the bedside, Dom Manuel's wife Niafer lay asleep. Manuel drew his dagger. Niafer turned in her sleep, so that she seemed to offer her round small throat to the raised knife. You saw now that on the other side of the golden bed sat Queen Freydis, making a rich glow of color there, and in her lap was the newborn naked child.

Freydis rose, holding the child to her breast, and smiling. A devil might smile thus upon contriving some new torment for lost souls, but a fair woman's face should not be so cruel. Then this evil joy passed from the face of Freydis. She dipped her fingers into the bowl of water with which she had been bathing the child, and with her finger-tips she made upon the child's forehead the sign of a cross.

Said Freydis, "Melicent, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

Sesphra passed wildly toward the fireplace, crying, "A penny, a penny, twopence, a penny and a half, and a halfpenny!" At his call the fire shot forth tall flames, and Sesphra entered these flames as a man goes between parted curtains, and instantly the fire collapsed and was as it had been. Already the hands of Freydis were moving deftly in the Sleep Charm, so that Niafer did not move. Freydis to-day was resplendently robed in flame-colored silk, and about her dark hair was a circlet of burnished copper.

Manuel had dropped his dagger so that the point of it pierced the floor, and the weapon stood erect and quivering. But Manuel was shaken for a moment more horribly than shook the dagger: you would have said he was convulsed with horror and self-loathing. So for an instant he waited, looking at Dame Niafer, who slept untroubled, and at fiery-colored Freydis, who was smiling rather queerly: and then the old composure came back to Manuel.

"Breaker of all oaths," says Freydis, "I must tell you that this Sesphra is pagan, and cannot thrive except among those whose love is given to the unchristened. Thus he might not come to Sargyll until the arrival of this little heathen whom I have just made Christian. Now we have only Christian terrors here; and again your fate is in my hands."

Dom Manuel looked grave. "Freydis," he said, "you have rescued me from very unbecoming conduct. A moment more and I would have slain my wife and child because of this Sesphra's resistless magic."

Says Freydis, still smiling a queer secret smile: "Indeed, there is no telling into what folly and misery Sesphra would not have led you. For you fashioned his legs unevenly, and he has not ever pardoned you his lameness."

"The thing is a devil," Manuel said. "And this is the figure I desired to make, this is the child of my long dreams and labors! This is the creature I designed to be more admirable and significant than the drab men I found in streets and lanes and palaces! Certainly, I have loosed among mankind a blighting misery which I cannot control at all."

"The thing is you as you were once, gray Manuel. You had comeliness and wit and youth and courage, and these you gave the image, shaping it boldly to your proud youth's will and in your proud youth's likeness. But human pity and any constant love you did not then have to give, either to your fellows or to the fine figure you made, nor, very certainly, to me. So you amused yourself by making Sesphra and by making me that which we are to-day."

Now again showed subtly evil thoughts in the face of this shrewd flaming woman who had so recently brought about the destruction of King Thibaut, and of the Duke of Istria, and of those other enamored lords. And Dom Manuel began to regard her more intently.

In Manuel's sandals the average person would have reflected, long before this, that Manuel and his wife and child were in this sorcerous place at the mercy of the whims and the unwholesome servitors of this not very dependable looking witch-woman. The average person would have recollected distastefully that unusual panther and that discomfortable night-porter and the madness which had smitten Duke Asmund's men, and the clattering vicious little hoofs of the shrill dwarfs; and to the average person this room would have seemed a desirable place to be many leagues away from.

But candid blunt Dom Manuel said, with jovial laughter: "You speak as if you had not grown more adorable every day, dear Freydis, and as though I would not be vastly flattered to think I had any part in the improvement. You should not fish thus unblushingly for compliments."

The sombre glitterings that were her eyes had narrowed, and she was looking at his hands. Then Freydis said: "There are pin-points of sweat upon the back of your hands, gray Manuel, and so alone do I know that you are badly frightened. Yes, you are rather wonderful, even now."

"I am not unduly frightened, but I am naturally upset by what has just happened. Anybody would be. For I do not know what I must anticipate in the future, and I wish that I had never meddled in this mischancy business of creating things I cannot manage."

Queen Freydis moved in shimmering splendor toward the fireplace. She paused there, considerately looking down at the small contention of flames. "Did you not, though, again create much misery when for your pleasure you gave life to this girl child? Certainly you must know that there will be in her life—if life indeed be long spared to her," said Freydis, reflectively,—"far less of joy than of sorrow, for that is the way it is with the life of everybody. But all this likewise is out of your hands. In Sesphra and in the child and in me you have lightly created that which you cannot control. No, it is I who control the outcome."

Now a golden panther came quite noiselessly into the room, and sat to the right of Freydis, and looked at Dom Manuel.

"Why, to be sure," says Manuel, heartily, "and I am sure, too, that nobody is better qualified to handle it. Come now, Freydis, just as you say, this is a serious situation, and something really ought to be done about this situation. Come now, dear friend, in what way can we take back the life we gave this lovely fiend?"

"And would I be wanting to kill my husband?" Queen Freydis asked, and she smiled wonderfully. "Why, but yes, this fair lame child of yours is my husband to-day,—poor, frightened, fidgeting gray Manuel,—and I love him, for Sesphra is all that you were when I loved you, Manuel, and when you condescended to take your pleasure of me."

Now an orange-colored rat came into the room, and sat down upon the hearth to the left hand of Freydis, and looked at Dom Manuel. And the rat was is large as the panther.

Then Freydis said: "No, Manuel, Sesphra must live for a great while, long after you have been turned to graveyard dust: and he will limp about wherever pagans are to be found, and he will always win much love from the high-hearted pagans because of his comeliness and because of his unfading jaunty youth. And whether he will do any good anywhere is doubtful, but it is certain he will do harm, and it is equally certain that already he weighs my happiness as carelessly as you once weighed it."

Now came into the room another creature, such as no madman has ever seen or imagined, and it lay down at the feet of Freydis, and it looked at Dom Manuel. Couched thus, this creature yawned and disclosed unreassuring teeth.

"Well, Freydis," says Dom Manuel, handsomely, "but, to be sure, what you tell me puts a new complexion upon matters, and not for worlds would I be coming between husband and wife—"

Queen Freydis looked up from the flames, toward Dom Manuel, very sadly. Freydis shrugged, flinging out her hands above the heads of the accursed beasts. "And at the last I cannot do that, either. So do you two dreary, unimportant, well-mated people remain undestroyed, now that I go to seek my husband, and now I endeavor to win my pardon for not letting him torment you. Eh, I was tempted, gray Manuel, to let my masterful fine husband have his pleasure of you, and of this lean ugly hobbling creature and her brat, too, as formerly you had your pleasure of me. But women are so queerly fashioned that at the last I cannot, quite, consent to harm this gray, staid, tedious fellow, nor any of his chattels. For all passes in this world save one thing only: and though the young Manuel whom I loved in a summer that is gone, be nowadays as perished as that summer's gay leaves, it is certain a woman's folly does not ever perish."

"Indeed, I did not merit that you should care for me," says Manuel, rather unhappily. "But I have always been, and always shall be sincerely fond of you, Freydis, and for that reason I rejoice to deduce that you are not, now, going to do anything violent and irreparable and such as your better nature would afterward regret."

"I loved you once," she said, "and now I am assured the core of you was always a cold and hard and colorless and very common pebble. But it does not matter now that I am a mortal woman. Either way, you have again made use of me. I have afforded you shelter when you were homeless. And now again you will be getting your desire."

Queen Freydis went to the window, and lifted the scarlet curtain figured with ramping gold dragons; but the couching beasts stayed by the hearth, and they continued to look at Dom Manuel.

"Yes, now again, gray Manuel, you will be getting your desire. That ship which shows at the river bend, with serpents and castles painted on its brown sails, is Miramon Lluagor's ship, which he has sent to fetch you from Sargyll: and the last day of your days of exile is now over. For Miramon is constrained by one who is above us all; therefore Miramon comes gladly and very potently to assist you. And I—who have served your turn!—I may now depart, to look for Sesphra, and for my pardon if I can get it."

"But whither do you go, dear Freydis?" Dom Manuel spoke as though he again felt quite fond of her.

"What does that matter," she answered, looking long and long at him, "now that Count Manuel has no further need of me?" Then Freydis looked at Niafer, lying there in a charmed sleep. "I neither love nor entirely hate you, ugly and lame and lean and fretful Niafer, but assuredly I do not envy you. You are welcome to your fidgeting gray husband. My husband is a ruthless god. My husband does not grow old and tender-hearted and subservient to me, and he never will." Thereafter Freydis bent downward, and Freydis kissed the child she had christened. "Some day you will be a woman, Melicent, and then you will be loving some man or another man. I could hope that you will then love the man who will make you happy, but that sort of man has not yet been found."

Dom Manuel came to her, not heeding the accursed beasts at all, and he took both the hands of Freydis in his hands. "My dear, and do you think I am a happy man?"

She looked up at him: when she answered, her voice trembled. "I made you happy, Manuel. I would have made you happy always."

"I wonder if you would have? Ah, well, at all events, the obligation was upon me. At no time in a man's life, I find, is there lacking some obligation or another: and we must meet each as we best can, not hoping to succeed, just aiming not to fall short too far. No, it is not a merry pursuit. And it is a ruining pursuit!"

She said, "I had not thought ever to be sorry for you—Why should I grieve for you, gray traitor?"

Harshly he answered: "Oho, I am not proud of what I have made of my life, and of your life, and of the life of that woman yonder, but do you think I will be whining about it! No, Freydis: the boy that loved and deserted you is here,"—he beat upon his breast,—"locked in, imprisoned while time lasts, dying very lonelily. Well, I am a shrewd gaoler: he shall not get out. No, even at the last, dear Freydis, there is the bond of silence."

She said, impotently, "I am sorry—Even at the last you contrive for me a new sorrow—"

For a moment they stood looking at each other, and she remembered thereafter his sad and quizzical smiling. These two had nothing more to share in speech or deed.

Then Freydis went away, and the accursed beasts and her castle too went with her, as smoke passes. Manuel was thus left standing out of doors in a reaped field, alone with his wife and child while Miramon's ship came about. Niafer slept. But now the child awoke to regard the world into which she had been summoned willy-nilly, and the child began to whimper.

Dom Manuel patted this intimidating small creature gingerly, with a strong comely hand from which his wedding ring was missing. That would require explanations.

It therefore seems not improbable that he gave over this brief period of waiting, in a reaped field, to wondering just how much about the past he might judiciously tell his wife when she awoke to question him, because in the old days that was a problem which no considerate husband failed to weigh with care.





XXXI

Statecraft

Now from the ship's gangway came seven trumpeters dressed in glistening plaids: each led with a silver chain a grayhound, and each of the seven hounds carried in his mouth an apple of gold. After these followed three harp-players and three clergymen and three jesters, all bearing crested staves and wearing chaplets of roses. Then Miramon Lluagor, lord of the nine sleeps and prince of the seven madnesses, comes ashore. An incredible company followed. But with him came his wife Gisèle and their little child Demetrios, thus named for the old Count of Arnaye: and it was this boy that, they say, when yet in swaddling-bands, was appointed to be the slayer of his own father, wise Miramon Lluagor.

Dame Niafer was wakened, and the two women went apart to compare and discuss their babies. They put the children in one cradle. A great while afterward were these two again to lie together thus, and from this mating was the girl to get long sorrow, and the boy his death.

Meanwhile the snub-nosed lord of the nine sleeps and the squinting Count of Poictesme sat down upon the river bank to talk about more serious matters than croup and teething. The sun was high by this time, so Kan and Muluc and Ix and Cauac came in haste from the corners of the world, and held up a blue canopy to shelter the conferring between their master and Dom Manuel.

"What is this," said Miramon Lluagor to Dom Manuel, first of all, "that I hear of your alliance with Philistia, and of your dickerings with a people who say that my finest designs are nothing but indigestion?"

"I have lost Poictesme," says Manuel, "and the Philistines offer to support me in my pretensions."

"But that will never do! I who design all dreams can never consent to that, and no Philistine must ever enter Poictesme. Why did you not come to me for help at the beginning, instead of wasting time upon kings and queens?" demands the magician, fretfully. "And are you not ashamed to be making any alliance with Philistia, remembering how you used to follow after your own thinking and your own desire?"

"Well," Manuel replies, "I have had as yet nothing save fair words from Philistia, and no alliance is concluded."

"That is more than well. Only, let us be orderly about this. Imprimis, you desire Poictesme—"

"No, not in particular, but appearances have to be preserved, and my wife thinks it would look better for me to redeem this country from the oppression of the heathen Northmen, and so provide her with a suitable home."

"Item, then I must obtain this country for you, because there is no sense in withstanding our wives in such matters."

"I rejoice at your decision—"

"Between ourselves, Manuel, I fancy you now begin to understand the reasons which prompted me to bring you the magic sword Flamberge at the beginning of our acquaintance, and have learned who it is that wears the breeches in most marriages."

"No, that is not the way it is at all, Miramon, for my wife is the dearest and most dutiful of women, and never crosses my wishes in anything."

Miramon nodded his approval. "You are quite right, for somebody might be overhearing us. So, let us get on, and do you stop interrupting me. Item, you must hold Poictesme, and your heirs forever after must hold Poictesme, not in fee but by feudal tenure. Item, you shall hold these lands, not under any saint like Ferdinand, but under a quite different sort of liege-lord."

"I can see no objection to your terms, thus far. But who is to be my overlord?"

"A person whom you may remember," replied Miramon, and he beckoned toward the rainbow throng of his followers.

One of them at this signal came forward. He was a tall lean youngster, with ruddy cheeks, wide-set brown eyes, and a smallish head covered with crisp, tightly-curling dark red hair: and Manuel recognized him at once, because Manuel had every reason to remember the queer talk he had held with this Horvendile just after Niafer had ridden away with Miramon's dreadful half-brother.

"But do you not think that this Horvendile is insane?" Dom Manuel asked the magician, privately.

"I confess he very often has that appearance."

"Then why do you make him my overlord?"

"I have my reasons, you may depend upon it, and if I do not talk about them you may be sure that for this reticence also I have my reasons."

"But is this Horvendile, then, one of the Léshy? Is he the Horvendile whose great-toe is the morning star?"

"I may tell you that it was he who summoned me to help you in distress, of which I had not heard upon Vraidex, but why should I tell you any more, Dom Manuel? Come, is it not enough that am offering you a province and comparatively tranquil terms of living with your wife, that you must have all my old secrets to boot?"

"You are right," says Manuel, "and prospective benefactors must be humored." So he rested content with his ignorance, nor did he ever find out about Horvendile, though later Manuel must have had horrible suspicions.

Meanwhile, Dom Manuel affably shook hands with the red-headed boy, and spoke of their first meeting. "And I believe you were not talking utter foolishness after all, my lad," says Manuel, laughing, "for I have learned that the strange and dangerous thing which you told me is very often true."

"Why, how should I know," quiet Horvendile replied, "when I am talking foolishness and when not?"

Manuel said: "Still, I can understand your talking only in part. Well, but it is not right for us to understand our overlords, and, madman or not, I prefer you to Queen Stultitia and her preposterous rose-colored spectacles. So let us proceed in due form, and draw up the articles of our agreement."

This was done, and they formally subscribed the terms under which Dom Manuel and the descendants of Dom Manuel were to hold Poictesme perpetually in fief to Horvendile. It was the most secret sort of compact, and to divulge its ten stipulations would even now be most disastrous. So the terms of this compact were not ever made public. Thus all men stayed at no larger liberty to criticize its provisos than his circumstances had granted to Dom Manuel, upon whom marrying had put the obligation to provide, in one way or another way, for his wife and child.





XXXII

The Redemption of Poictesme

When then these matters were concluded, and the future of Poictesme had been arranged in every detail, then Miramon Lluagor's wife told him that long words and ink-bottles and red seals were well enough for men to play with, but that it was high time something sensible was done in this matter, unless they expected Niafer to bring up the baby in a ditch.

The magician said, "Yes, my darling, you are quite right, and I will see to it the first thing after dinner."

He then said to Dom Manuel, "Now Horvendile informs me that you were duly born in a cave at about the time of the winter solstice, of a virgin mother and of a father who was not human."

Manuel replied, "Certainly that is true. But why do you now stir up these awkward old stories?"

"You have duly wandered from place to place, bringing wisdom and holiness to men—"

"That also is generally known."

"You have duly performed miracles, such as reviving dead persons and so on—"

"That too is undeniable."

"You have duly sojourned with evil in a desert place, and have there been tempted to despair and blaspheme and to commit other iniquities."

"Yes, something of the sort did occur in Dun Vlechlan."

"And, as I well know, you have by your conduct of affairs upon Vraidex duly disconcerted me, who am the power of darkness—"

"Ah! ah! you, Miramon, are then the power of darkness!"

"I control all dreams and madnesses, Dom Manuel; and these are the main powers of darkness."

Manuel seemed dubious, but he only said: "Well, let us get on! It is true that all these things have happened to me, somehow."

The magician looked at the tall warrior for a while, and in the dark soft eyes of Miramon Lluagor was a queer sort of compassion. Miramon said, "Yes, Manuel, these portents have marked your living thus far, just as they formerly distinguished the beginnings of Mithras and of Huitzilopochtli and of Tammouz and of Heracles—"

"Yes, but what does it matter if these accidents did happen to me, Miramon?"

"—As they happened to Gautama and to Dionysos and to Krishna and to all other reputable Redeemers," Miramon continued.

"Well, well, all this is granted. But what, pray, am I to deduce from all this?"

Miramon told him.

Dom Manuel, at the end of Miramon's speaking, looked peculiarly solemn, and Manuel said: "I had thought the transformation surprising enough when King Ferdinand was turned into a saint, but this tops all! Either way, Miramon, you point out an obligation so tremendous that the less said about it, the wiser; and the sooner this obligation is discharged and the ritual fulfilled, the more comfortable it will be for everybody."

So Manuel went away with Miramon Lluagor into a secret place, and there Dom Manuel submitted to that which was requisite, and what happened is not certainly known. But this much is known, that Manuel suffered, and afterward passed three days in an underground place, and came forth on the third day.

Then Miramon said: "All this being duly performed and well rid of, we do not now violate any messianic etiquette if we forthwith set about the redemption of Poictesme. Now then, would you prefer to redeem with the forces of good or with the forces of evil?"

"Not with the forces of evil," said Manuel, "for I saw many of these in the high woods of Dun Vlechlan, and I do not fancy them as allies. But are good and evil all one to you of the Léshy?"

"Why should we tell you, Manuel?" says the magician.

"That, Miramon, is a musty reply."

"It is not a reply, it is a question. And the question has become musty because it has been handled so often, and no man has ever been able to dispose of it."

Manuel gave it up, and shrugged. "Well, let us conquer as we may, so that God be on our side."

Miramon replied: "Never fear! He shall be, in every shape and attribute."

So Miramon did what was requisite, and from the garrets and dustheaps of Vraidex came strong allies. For, to begin with, Miramon dealt unusually with a little fish, and as a result of these dealings came to them, during the afternoon of the last Thursday in September, as they stood on the seashore north of Manneville, a darkly colored champion clad in yellow. He had four hands, in which he carried a club, a shell, a lotus and a discus; and he rode upon a stallion whose hide glittered like new silver.

Manuel said, "This is a good omen, that the stallion of Poictesme should have aid brought to it by yet another silver stallion."

"Let us not speak of this bright stallion," Miramon hastily replied, "for until this Yuga is over he has no name. But when the minds of all men are made clear as crystal then a christening will be appointed for this stallion, and his name will be Kalki, and by the rider upon this stallion Antan will be redeemed."

"Well," Manuel said, "that seems fair enough. Meanwhile, with this dusky gentleman's assistance, I gather, we are to redeem Poictesme."

"Oh, no, Dom Manuel, he is but the first of our Redeemers, for there is nothing like the decimal system, and you will remember it was in our treaty that in Poictesme all things are to go by tens forever."

Thereafter Miramon did what was requisite with some acorns, and the splutterings were answered by low thunder. So came a second champion to aid them. This was a pleasant looking young fellow with an astonishingly red beard: he had a basket slung over his shoulder, and he carried a bright hammer. He rode in a chariot drawn by four goats.

"Come, this is certainly a fine stalwart fighting-man," says Manuel, "and to-day is a lucky day for me, and for this ruddy gentleman also, I hope."

"To-day is always his day," Miramon replied, "and do you stop interrupting me in my incantations, and hand me that flute."

So Manuel stayed as silent as that brace of monstrous allies while Miramon did yet another curious thing with a flute and a palm-branch. Thereafter came an amber-colored champion clad in dark green, and carrying a club and a noose for the souls of the dead. He rode upon a buffalo, and with him came an owl and a pigeon.

"I think—" said Manuel.

"You do not!" said Miramon. "You only talk and fidget, because you are upset by the appearance of your allies; and such talking and fidgeting is very disturbing to an artist who is striving to reanimate the past."

Thus speaking, Miramon turned indignantly to another evocation. It summoned a champion in a luminous chariot drawn by scarlet mares. He was golden-haired, with ruddy limbs, and was armed with a bow and arrows: he too was silent, but he laughed, and you saw that he had several tongues. After him came a young shining man who rode on a boar with golden bristles and bloodied hoofs: this warrior carried a naked sword, and on his back, folded up like a cloth, was a ship to contain the gods and all living creatures. And the sixth Redeemer was a tall shadow-colored person with two long gray plumes affixed to his shaven head: he carried a sceptre and a thing which, Miramon said, was called an ankh, and the beast he rode on was surprising to observe, for it had the body of a beetle, with human arms, and the head of a ram, and the four feet of a lion.

"Come," Manuel said, "but I have never seen just such a steed as that."

"No," Miramon replied, "nor has anybody else, for this is the Hidden One. But do you stop your eternal talking, and pass me the salt and that young crocodile."

With these two articles Miramon dealt so as to evoke a seventh ally. Serpents were about the throat and arms of this champion, and he wore a necklace of human skulls: his long black hair was plaited remarkably; his throat was blue, his body all a livid white except where it was smeared with ashes. He rode upon the back of a beautiful white bull. Next, riding on a dappled stag, came one appareled in vivid stripes of yellow and red and blue and green: his face was dark as a raincloud, he had one large round eye, white tusks protruded from his lips, and he carried a gaily painted urn. His unspeakable attendants leaped like frogs. The jolliest looking of all the warriors came thereafter, with a dwarfish body and very short legs; he had a huge black-bearded head, a flat nose, and his tongue hung from his mouth and waggled as he moved. He wore a belt and a necklace, and nothing else whatever except the plumes of the hawk arranged as a head-dress: and he rode upon a great sleek tortoise-shell cat.

Now when these unusual appearing allies stood silently aligned before them on the seashore, Dom Manuel said, with a polite bow toward this appalling host, that he hardly thought Duke Asmund would be able to withstand such Redeemers. But Miramon repeated that there was nothing like the decimal system.

"That half-brother of mine, who is lord of the tenth kind of sleeping, would nicely round off this dizain," says Miramon, scratching his chin, "if only he had not such a commonplace, black-and-white appearance, apart from being one of those dreadful Realists, without a scrap of aesthetic feeling—No, I like color, and we will levy now upon the West!"

So Miramon dealt next with a little ball of bright feathers. Then a last helper came to them, riding on a jaguar, and carrying a large drum and a flute from which his music issued in the shape of flames. This champion was quite black, but he was striped with blue paint, and golden feathers grew all over his left leg. He wore a red coronet in the shape of a rose, a short skirt of green paper, and white sandals; and he carried a red shield that had in its centre a white flower with the four petals placed crosswise. Such was he who made up the tenth.

Now when this terrible dizain was completed the lord of the seven madnesses laid fire to a wisp of straw, and he cast it to the winds, saying that thus should the anger of Miramon Lluagor pass over the land. Then he turned to these dreadful ten whom he had revivified from the dustheaps and garrets of Vraidex, and it became apparent that Miramon was deeply moved.

Said Miramon:

"You, whom I made for man's worship when earth was younger and fairer, hearken, and learn why I breathe new life into husks from my scrap-heaps! Gods of old days, discrowned, disjected, and treated as rubbish, hark to the latest way of the folk whose fathers you succored! They have discarded you utterly. Such as remember deride you, saying:

"'The brawling old lords that our grandfathers honored have perished, if they indeed were ever more than some curious notions bred of our grandfathers' questing, that looked to find God in each rainstorm coming to nourish their barley, and God in the heat-bringing sun, and God in the earth which gave life. Even so was each hour of their living touched with odd notions of God and with lunacies as to God's kindness. We are more sensible people, for we understand all about the freaks of the wind and the weather, and find them in no way astounding. As for whatever gods may exist, they are civil, in that they let us alone in our lifetime; and so we return their politeness, knowing that what we are doing on earth is important enough to need undivided attention.'

"Such are the folk that deride you, such are the folk that ignore the gods whom Miramon fashioned, such are the folk whom to-day I permit you freely to deal with after the manner of gods. Do you now make the most of your chance, and devastate all Poictesme in time for an earlyish supper!"

The faces of these ten became angry, and they shouted, "Blaerde Shay Alphenio Kasbue Gorfons Albuifrio!"

All ten went up together from the sea, traveling more swiftly than men travel, and what afterward happened in Poictesme was for a long while a story very fearful to hear and heard everywhere.

Manuel did not witness any of the tale's making as he waited alone on the seashore. But the land was sick, and its nausea heaved under Manuel's wounded feet, and he saw that the pale, gurgling, glistening sea appeared to crawl away from Poictesme slimily. And at Bellegarde and Naimes and Storisende and Lisuarte, and in all the strongly fortified inland places, Asmund's tall fighting-men beheld one or another of the angry faces which came up from the sea, and many died swiftly, as must always happen when anybody revives discarded dreams, nor did any of the Northmen die in a shape recognizable as human.

When the news was brought to Dom Manuel that his redemption of Poictesme was completed, then Dom Manuel unarmed, and made himself presentable in a tunic of white damask and a girdle adorned with garnets and sapphires. He slipped over his left shoulder a baldric set with diamonds and emeralds, to sustain the unbloodied sword with which he had conquered here as upon Vraidex. Over all he put on a crimson mantle. Then the former swineherd concealed his hands, not yet quite healed, with white gloves, of which the one was adorned with a ruby, and the other was a sapphire; and, sighing, Manuel the Redeemer (as he was called thereafter) entered into his kingdom, and they of Poictesme received him far more gladly than he them.

Thus did Dom Manuel enter into the imprisonment of his own castle and into the bonds of high estate, from which he might not easily get free to go a-traveling everywhither, and see the ends of this world and judge them. And they say that in her low red-pillared palace Suskind smiled contentedly and made ready for the future.