Part 2 out of 3
"Perion, it is you that play the fool, in not recognising that heaven
is inaccessible and doubtful. But clearer eyes perceive the not at all
doubtful dullness of wit, and the gratifying accessibility of every
woman when properly handled,--yes, even of her who dares to deal in
this fashion with Demetrios."
Thus they would sit together, nightly, upon the prow of Perion's ship
and speak against each other in the manner of a Tenson, as these two
rhapsodised of Melicent until the stars grew lustreless before the sun.
_How Perion Braved Theodoret_
The city of Megaris (then Theodoret's capital) was ablaze with bonfires
on the night that the Comte de la Forêt entered it at the head of his
forces. Demetrios, meanly clothed, his hands tied behind him, trudged
sullenly beside his conqueror's horse. Yet of the two the gloomier face
showed below the count's coronet, for Perion did not relish the
impendent interview with King Theodoret. They came thus amid much
shouting to the Hôtel d'Ebelin, their assigned quarters, and slept
Next morning, about the hour of prime, two men-at-arms accompanied a
fettered Demetrios into the presence of King Theodoret. Perion of the
Forest preceded them. He pardonably swaggered, in spite of his
underlying uneasiness, for this last feat, as he could not ignore, was
a performance which Christendom united to applaud.
They came thus into a spacious chamber, very inadequately lighted. The
walls were unhewn stone. There was but one window, of uncoloured glass;
and it was guarded by iron bars. The floor was bare of rushes. On one
side was a bed with tattered hangings of green, which were adorned with
rampant lions worked in silver thread much tarnished; to the right hand
stood a _prie-dieu_. Between these isolated articles of furniture, and
behind an unpainted table sat, in a high-backed chair, a wizen and
shabbily-clad old man. This was Theodoret, most pious and penurious of
monarchs. In attendance upon him were Fra Battista, prior of the Grey
Monks, and Melicent's near kinsman, once the Bishop, now the Cardinal,
de Montors, who, as was widely known, was the actual monarch of this
realm. The latter was smartly habited as a cavalier and showed in
nothing like a churchman.
The infirm King arose and came to meet the champion who had performed
what many generals of Christendom had vainly striven to achieve. He
embraced the conqueror of Demetrios as one does an equal.
"Hail, my fair friend! you who have lopped the right arm of heathenry!
To-day, I know, the saints hold festival in heaven. I cannot recompense
you, since God alone is omnipotent. Yet ask now what you will, short of
my crown, and it is yours." The old man kissed the chief of all his
treasures, a bit of the True Cross, which hung upon his breast
supported by a chain of gold.
"The King has spoken," Perion returned. "I ask the life of Demetrios."
Theodoret recoiled, like a small flame which is fluttered by its
kindler's breath. He cackled thinly, saying:
"A jest or so is privileged in this high hour. Yet we ought not to make
a jest of matters which concern the Church. Am I not right, Ayrart? Oh,
no, this merciless Demetrios is assuredly that very Antichrist whose
coming was foretold. I must relinquish him to Mother Church, in order
that he may be equitably tried, and be baptised--since even he may have
a soul--and afterward be burned in the market-place."
"The King has spoken," Perion replied. "I too have spoken."
There was a pause of horror upon the part of King Theodoret. He was at
first in a mere whirl. Theodoret said:
"You ask, in earnest, for the life of this Demetrios, this arch-foe of
our Redeemer, this spawn of Satan, who has sacked more of my towns than
I have fingers on this wasted hand! Now, now that God has singularly
favoured me--!" Theodoret snarled and gibbered like a frenzied ape, and
had no longer the ability to articulate.
"Beau sire, I fought the man because he infamously held Dame Melicent,
whom I serve in this world without any reservation, and trust to serve
in Paradise. His person, and this alone, will ransom Melicent."
"You plan to loose this fiend!" the old King cried. "To stir up all
this butchery again!"
"Sire, pray recall how long I have loved Melicent. Reflect that if you
slay Demetrios, Dame Melicent will be left destitute in heathenry.
Remember that she will be murdered through the hatred of this man's
other wives whom her inestimable beauty has supplanted." Thus Perion
All this while the cardinal and the proconsul had been appraising each
other. It was as though they two had been the only persons in the
dimly-lit apartment. They had not met before. "Here is my match,"
thought each of these two; "here, if the world affords it, is my peer
in cunning and bravery."
And each lusted for a contest, and with something of mutual
In consequence they stinted pity for Theodoret, who unfeignedly
believed that whether he kept or broke his recent oath damnation was
inevitable. "You have been ill-advised--" he stammered. "I do not dare
release Demetrios--My soul would answer that enormity--But it was sworn
upon the Cross--Oh, ruin either way! Come now, my gallant captain," the
King barked. "I have gold, lands, and jewels--"
"Beau sire, I have loved this my dearest lady since the time when both
of us were little more than children, and each day of the year my love
for her has been doubled. What would it avail me to live in however
lofty estate when I cannot daily see the treasure of my life?"
Now the Cardinal de Montors interrupted, and his voice was to the ear
as silk is to the fingers.
"Beau sire," said Ayrart de Montors, "I speak in all appropriate
respect. But you have sworn an oath which no man living may presume to
"Oh, true, Ayrart!" the fluttered King assented. "This blusterer holds
me as in a vise." He turned to Perion again, fierce, tense and fragile,
like an angered cat. "Choose now! I will make you the wealthiest person
in my realm--My son, I warn you that since Adam's time women have been
the devil's peculiar bait. See now, I am not angry. Heh, I remember,
too, how beautiful she was. I was once tempted much as you are tempted.
So I pardon you. I will give you my daughter Ermengarde in marriage, I
will make you my heir, I will give you half my kingdom--" His voice
rose, quavering; and it died now, for he foreread the damnation of
Theodoret's soul while he fawned before this impassive Perion.
"Since Love has taken up his abode within my heart," said Perion,
"there has not ever been a vacancy therein for any other thought. How
may I help it if Love recompenses my hospitality by afflicting me with
a desire which can neither subdue the world nor be subdued by it?"
Theodoret continued like the rustle of dead leaves:
"--Else I must keep my oath. In that event you may depart with this
unbeliever. I will accord you twenty-four hours wherein to accomplish
this. But, oh, if I lay hands upon either of you within the
twenty-fifth hour I will not kill my prisoner at once. For first I must
devise unheard-of torments--"
The King's face was not agreeable to look upon.
Yet Perion encountered it with an untroubled gaze until Battista spoke,
"I promise worse. The Book will be cast down, the bells be tolled, and
all the candles snuffed--ah, very soon!" Battista licked his lips,
gingerly, just as a cat does.
Then Perion was moved, since excommunication is more terrible than
death to any of the Church's loyal children, and he was now more
frightened than the King. And so Perion thought of Melicent a while
before he spoke.
"I choose. I choose hell fire in place of riches and honour, and I
demand the freedom of Demetrios."
"Go!" the King said. "Go hence, blasphemer. Hah, you will weep for this
in hell. I pray that I may hear you then, and laugh as I do now--"
He went away, and was followed by Battista, who whispered of a
makeshift. The cardinal remained and saw to it that the chains were
taken from Demetrios.
"In consequence of Messire de la Forêt's--as I must term it--most
unchristian decision," said the cardinal, "it is not impossible,
Messire the Proconsul, that I may head the next assault upon your
Demetrios laughed. He said:
"I dare to promise your Eminence that reception you would most enjoy."
"I had hoped for as much," the cardinal returned; and he too laughed.
To do him justice, he did not know of Battista's makeshift.
The cardinal remained when they had gone. Seated in a king's chair,
Ayrart de Montors meditated rather wistfully upon that old time when
he, also, had loved Melicent whole-heartedly. It seemed a great while
ago, made him aware of his maturity.
He had put love out of his life, in common with all other weaknesses
which might conceivably hinder the advancement of Ayrart de Montors. In
consequence, he had climbed far. He was not dissatisfied. It was a
man's business to make his way in the world, and he had done this.
"My cousin is a brave girl, though," he said aloud, "I must certainly
do what I can to effect her rescue as soon as it is convenient to send
another expedition against Demetrios."
Then the cardinal set about concoction of a moving sonnet in praise of
Monna Vittoria de' Pazzi. Desperation loaned him extraordinary
eloquence (as he complacently reflected) in addressing this obdurate
woman, who had held out against his love-making for six weeks now.
_How Perion Fought_
Demetrios and Perion, by the quick turn of fortune previously recorded,
were allied against all Christendom. They got arms at the Hôtel
d'Ebelin, and they rode out of the city of Megaris, where the bonfires
lighted over-night in Perion's honour were still smouldering, amid loud
execrations. Fra Battista had not delayed to spread the news of King
Theodoret's dilemma. The burghers yelled menaces; but, knowing that an
endeavour to constrain the passage of these champions would prove
unwholesome for at least a dozen of the arrestors, they cannily
confined their malice to a vocal demonstration.
Demetrios rode unhelmeted, intending that these snarling little people
of Megaris should plainly see the man whom they most feared and hated.
It was Perion who spoke first. They had passed the city walls, and had
mounted the hill which leads toward the Forest of Sannazaro. Their road
lay through a rocky pass above which the leaves of spring were like
sparse traceries on a blue cupola, for April had not come as yet.
"I meant," said Perion, "to hold you as the ransom of Dame Melicent. I
fear that is impossible. I, who am a landless man, have neither
servitors nor any castle wherein to retain you as a prisoner. I
earnestly desire to kill you, forthwith, in single combat; but when
your son Orestes knows that you are dead he will, so you report, kill
Melicent. And yet it may be you are lying."
Perion was of a tall imperious person, and accustomed to command. He
had black hair, grey eyes which challenged you, and a thin pleasant
face which was not pleasant now.
"You know that I am not a coward--." Demetrios began.
"Indeed," said Perion, "I believe you to be the hardiest warrior in the
"Therefore I may without dishonour repeat to you that my death involves
the death of Melicent. Orestes hates her for his mother's sake. I
think, now we have fought so often, that each of us knows I do not fear
death. I grant I had Flamberge to wield, a magic weapon--" Demetrios
shook himself, like a dog coming from the water, for to consider an
extraneous invincibility was nauseous. "However! I who am Demetrios
protest I will not fight with you, that I will accept any insult rather
than risk my life in any quarrel extant, because I know the moment that
Orestes has made certain I am no longer to be feared he will take
vengeance on Dame Melicent."
"Prove this!" said Perion, and with deliberation he struck Demetrios.
Full in the face he struck the swart proconsul, and in the ensuing
silence you could hear a feeble breeze that strayed about the
tree-tops, but you could hear nothing else. And Perion, strong man, the
willing scourge of heathendom, had half a mind to weep.
Demetrios had not moved a finger. It was appalling. The proconsul's
countenance had throughout the hue of wood-ashes, but his fixed eyes
were like blown embers.
"I believe that it is proved," said Demetrios, "since both of us are
still alive." He whispered this.
"In fact the thing is settled," Perion agreed. "I know that nothing
save your love for Melicent could possibly induce you to decline a
proffered battle. When Demetrios enacts the poltroon I am the most
hasty of all men living to assert that the excellency of his reason is
indisputable. Let us get on! I have only five hundred sequins, but this
will be enough to buy your passage back to Quesiton. And inasmuch as we
are near the coast--"
"I think some others mean to have a spoon in that broth," Demetrios
returned. "For look, messire!" Perion saw that far beneath them a
company of retainers in white and purple were spurring up the hill. "It
is Duke Sigurd's livery," said Perion.
Demetrios forthwith interpreted and was amused by their common ruin. He
"Pious Theodoret has sworn a truce of twenty-four hours, and in
consequence might not send any of his own lackeys after us. But there
was nothing to prevent the dropping of a hint into the ear of his
brother in-law, because you servitors of Christ excel in these
"This is hardly an opportunity for theological debate," Perion
considered. "And for the rest, time presses. It is your instant
business to escape." He gave his tiny bag of gold to his chief enemy.
"Make for Narenta. It is a free city and unfriendly to Theodoret. If I
survive I will come presently and fight with you for Melicent."
"I shall do nothing of the sort," Demetrios equably returned. "Am I the
person to permit the man whom I most hate--you who have struck me and
yet live!--to fight alone against some twenty adversaries! Oh, no, I
shall remain, since after all, there are only twenty."
"I was mistaken in you," Perion replied, "for I had thought you loved
Dame Melicent as I do. I find too late that you would estimate your
private honour as set against her welfare."
The two men looked upon each other. Long and long they looked, and the
heart of each was elated. "I comprehend," Demetrios said. He clapped
spurs to his horse and fled as a coward would have fled. This was one
occasion in his life when he overcame his pride, and should in
consequence be noted.
The heart of Perion was glad.
"Oh, but at times," said Perion, "I wish that I might honourably love
this infamous and lustful pagan."
Afterward Perion wheeled and met Duke Sigurd's men. Then like a reaper
cutting a field of wheat Sire Perion showed the sun his sword and went
about his work, not without harvesting.
In that narrow way nothing could be heard but the striking of blows on
armour and the clash of swords which bit at one another. The Comte de
la Forêt, for once, allowed himself the privilege of fighting in anger.
He went without a word toward this hopeless encounter, as a drunkard to
his bottle. First Perion killed Ruggiero of the Lamberti and after that
Perion raged as a wolf harrying sheep. Six other stalwart men he cut
down, like a dumb maniac among tapestries. His horse was slain and lay
blocking the road, making a barrier behind which Perion fought. Then
Perion encountered Giacomo di Forio, and while the two contended Gulio
the Red very warily cast his sword like a spear so that it penetrated
Perion's left shoulder and drew much blood. This hampered the lone
champion. Marzio threw a stone which struck on Perion's crest and broke
the fastenings of Perion's helmet. Instantly Giacomo gave him three
wounds, and Perion stumbled, the sunlight glossing his hair. He fell
and they took him. They robbed the corpses of their surcoats, which
they tore in strips. They made ropes of this bloodied finery, and with
these ropes they bound Perion of the Forest, whom twenty men had
conquered at last.
He laughed feebly, like a person bedrugged; but in the midst of this
superfluous defiance Perion swooned because of many injuries. He knew
that with fair luck Demetrios had a sufficient start. The heart of
Perion exulted, thinking that Melicent was saved.
It was the happier for him he was not ever destined to comprehend the
standards of Demetrios.
_How Demetrios Meditated_
Demetrios came without any hindrance into Narenta, a free city. He
believed his Emperor must have sent galleys toward Christendom to get
tidings of his generalissimo, but in this city of merchants Demetrios
heard no report of them. Yet in the harbour he found a trading-ship
prepared for traffic in the country of the pagans; the sail was naked
to the wind, the anchor chain was already shortened at the bow.
Demetrios bargained with the captain of this vessel, and in the outcome
paid him four hundred sequins. In exchange the man agreed to touch at
the Needle of Ansignano that afternoon and take Demetrios aboard. Since
the proconsul had no passport, he could not with safety endeavour to
elude those officers of the Tribunal who must endorse the ship's
passage at Piaja.
Thus about sunset Demetrios waited the ship's coming, alone upon the
Needle. This promontory is like a Titan's finger of black rock thrust
out into the water. The day was perishing, and the querulous sea before
Demetrios was an unresting welter of gold and blood.
He thought of how he had won safely through a horde of dangers, and the
gross man chuckled. He considered that unquestioned rulership of every
person near Demetrios which awaited him oversea, and chiefly he thought
of Melicent whom he loved even better than he did the power to sneer at
everything the world contained. And the proconsul chuckled.
He said, aloud:
"I owe very much to Messire de la Forêt. I owe far more than I can
estimate. For, by this, those lackeys will have slain Messire de la
Forêt or else they will have taken Messire de la Forêt to King
Theodoret, who will piously make an end of this handsome idiot. Either
way, I shall enjoy tranquillity and shall possess my Melicent until I
die. Decidedly, I owe a deal to this self-satisfied tall fool."
Thus he contended with his irritation. It may be that the man was never
sane; it is certain that the mainspring of his least action was an
inordinate pride. Now hatred quickened, spreading from a flicker of
distaste; and his faculties were stupefied, as though he faced a
girdling conflagration. It was not possible to hate adequately this
Perion who had struck Demetrios of Anatolia and perhaps was not yet
dead; nor could Demetrios think of any sufficing requital for this
Perion who dared to be so tall and handsome and young-looking when
Demetrios was none of these things, for this Perion whom Melicent had
loved and loved to-day. And Demetrios of Anatolia had fought with a
charmed sword against a person such as this, safe as an angler matched
against a minnow; Demetrios of Anatolia, now at the last, accepted alms
from what had been until to-day a pertinacious gnat. Demetrios was
physically shaken by disgust at the situation, and in the sunset's
glare his swarthy countenance showed like that of Belial among the
"The life of Melicent hangs on my safe return to Nacumera.... Ey, what
is that to me!" the proconsul cried aloud. "The thought of Melicent is
sweeter than the thought of any god. It is not sweet enough to bribe me
into living as this Perion's debtor."
So when the ship touched at the Needle, a half-hour later, that spur of
rock was vacant. Demetrios had untethered his horse, had thrown away
his sword and other armour, and had torn his garments; afterward he
rolled in the first puddle he discovered. Thus he set out afoot, in
grimy rags--for no one marks a beggar upon the highway--and thus he
came again into the realm of King Theodoret, where certainly nobody
looked for Demetrios to come unarmed.
With the advantage of a quiet advent, as was quickly proven, he found
no check for a notorious leave-taking.
_How a Minstrel Came_
Demetrios came to Megaris where Perion lay fettered in the Castle of
San' Alessandro, then a new building. Perion's trial, condemnation, and
so on, had consumed the better part of an hour, on account of the
drunkenness of one of the Inquisitors, who had vexatiously impeded
these formalities by singing love-songs; but in the end it had been
salutarily arranged that the Comte de la Forêt be torn apart by four
horses upon the St. Richard's day ensuing.
Demetrios, having gleaned this knowledge in a pothouse, purchased a
stout file, a scarlet cap and a lute. Ambrogio Bracciolini, head-gaoler
at the fortress--so the gossips told Demetrios--had been a jongleur in
youth, and minstrels were always welcome guests at San' Alessandro.
The gaoler was a very fat man with icy little eyes. Demetrios took his
measure to a hair's breadth as this Bracciolini straddled in the
Demetrios had assumed an admirable air of simplicity.
"God give you joy, messire," he said, with a simper; "I come bringing a
precious balsam which cures all sorts of ills, and heals the troubles
both of body and mind. For what is better than to have a pleasant
companion to sing and tell merry tales, songs and facetious histories?"
"You appear to be something of a fool," Bracciolini considered, "but
all do not sleep who snore. Come, tell me what are your
"I can play the lute, the violin, the flageolet, the harp, the syrinx
and the regals," the other replied; "also the Spanish penola that is
struck with a quill, the organistrum that a wheel turns round, the wait
so delightful, the rebeck so enchanting, the little gigue that chirps
up on high, and the great horn that booms like thunder."
"That is something. But can you throw knives into the air and catch
them without cutting your fingers? Can you balance chairs and do tricks
with string? or imitate the cries of birds? or throw a somersault and
walk on your head? Ha, I thought not. The Gay Science is dying out, and
young practitioners neglect these subtile points. It was not so in my
day. However, you may come in."
So when night fell Demetrios and Bracciolini sat snug and sang of love,
of joy, and arms. The fire burned bright, and the floor was well
covered with gaily tinted mats. White wines and red were on the table.
Presently they turned to canzons of a more indecorous nature. Demetrios
sang the loves of Douzi and Ishtar, which the gaoler found remarkable.
He said so and crossed himself. "Man, man, you must have been afishing
in the mid-pit of hell to net such filth."
"I learned that song in Nacumera," said Demetrios, "when I was a
prisoner there with Messire de la Forêt. It was a favourite song with
"Ay?" said Bracciolini. He looked at Demetrios very hard, and
Bracciolini pursed his lips as if to whistle. The gaoler scented from
afar a bribe, but the face of Demetrios was all vacant cheerfulness.
Bracciolini said, idly:
"So you served under him? I remember that he was taken by the heathen.
A woman ransomed him, they say."
Demetrios, able to tell a tale against any man, told now the tale of
Melicent's immolation, speaking with vivacity and truthfulness in all
points save that he represented himself to have been one of the
ransomed Free Companions.
Bracciolini's careful epilogue was that the proconsul had acted
foolishly in not keeping the emeralds.
"He gave his enemy a weapon against him," Bracciolini said, and waited.
"Oh, but that weapon was never used. Sire Perion found service at once,
under King Bernart, you will remember. Therefore Sire Perion hid away
these emeralds against future need--under an oak in Sannazaro, he told
me. I suppose they lie there yet."
"Humph!" said Bracciolini. He for a while was silent. Demetrios sat
adjusting the strings of the lute, not looking at him.
Bracciolini said, "There were eighteen of them, you tell me? and all
"Ey?--oh, the emeralds? Yes, they were flawless, messire. The smallest
was larger than a robin's egg. But I recall another song we learned at
Demetrios sang the loves of Lucius and Fotis. Bracciolini grunted,
"Admirable" in an abstracted fashion, muttered something about the
duties of his office, and left the room. Demetrios heard him lock the
door outside and waited stolidly.
Presently Bracciolini returned in full armour, a naked sword in his
"My man,"--and his voice rasped--"I believe you to be a rogue. I
believe that you are contriving the escape of this infamous Comte de la
Forêt. I believe you are attempting to bribe me into conniving at
his escape. I shall do nothing of the sort, because, in the first
place, it would be an abominable violation of my oath of office, and in
the second place, it would result in my being hanged."
"Messire, I swear to you--!" Demetrios cried, in excellently feigned
"And in addition, I believe you have lied to me throughout. I do not
believe you ever saw this Comte de la Forêt. I very certainly do not
believe you are a friend of this Comte de la Forêt's, because in
that event you would never have been mad enough to admit it. The
statement is enough to hang you twice over. In short, the only thing I
can be certain of is that you are out of your wits."
"They say that I am moonstruck," Demetrios answered; "but I will tell
you a secret. There is a wisdom lies beyond the moon, and it is because
of this that the stars are glad and admirable."
"That appears to me to be nonsense," the gaoler commented; and he went
on: "Now I am going to confront you with Messire de la Forêt. If your
story prove to be false, it will be the worse for you."
"It is a true tale. But sensible men close the door to him who always
speaks the truth."
"These reflections are not to the purpose," Bracciolini submitted, and
continued his argument: "In that event Messire de la Forêt will
undoubtedly be moved by your fidelity in having sought out him whom all
the rest of the world has forsaken. You will remember that this same
fidelity has touched me to such an extent that I am granting you an
interview with your former master. Messire de la Forêt will naturally
reflect that a man once torn in four pieces has no particular use for
emeralds. He will, I repeat, be moved. In his emotion, in his
gratitude, in mere decency, he will reveal to you the location of those
eighteen stones, all flawless. If he should not evince a sufficiency of
such appropriate and laudable feeling, I tell you candidly, it will be
the worse for you. And now get on!"
Bracciolini pointed the way and Demetrios cringed through the door.
Bracciolini followed with drawn sword. The corridors were deserted. The
head-gaoler had seen to that.
His position was simple. Armed, he was certainly not afraid of any
combination between a weaponless man and a fettered one. If this
jongleur had lied, Bracciolini meant to kill him for his insolence.
Bracciolini's own haphazard youth had taught him that a jongleur had no
civil rights, was a creature to be beaten, robbed, or stabbed with
Upon the other hand, if the vagabond's tale were true, one of two
things would happen. Either Perion would not be brought to tell where
the emeralds were hidden, in which event Bracciolini would kill the
jongleur for his bungling; or else the prisoner would tell everything
necessary, in which event Bracciolini would kill the jongleur for
knowing more than was convenient. This Bracciolini had an honest
respect for gems and considered them to be equally misplaced when under
an oak or in a vagabond's wallet.
Consideration of such avarice may well have heartened Demetrios when
the well-armoured gaoler knelt in order to unlock the door of Perion's
cell. As an asp leaps, the big and supple hands of the proconsul
gripped Bracciolini's neck from behind, and silenced speech.
Demetrios, who was not tall, lifted the gaoler as high as possible,
lest the beating of armoured feet upon the slabs disturb any of the
other keepers, and Demetrios strangled his dupe painstakingly. The
keys, as Demetrios reflected, were luckily attached to the belt of this
writhing thing, and in consequence had not jangled on the floor. It was
an inaudible affair and consumed in all some ten minutes. Then with the
sword of Bracciolini Demetrios cut Bracciolini's throat. In such
matters Demetrios was thorough.
_How They Cried Quits_
Demetrios went into Perion's cell and filed away the chains of Perion
of the Forest. Demetrios thrust the gaoler's corpse under the bed, and
washed away all stains before the door of the cell, so that no awkward
traces might remain. Demetrios locked the door of an unoccupied
apartment and grinned as Old Legion must have done when Judas fell.
More thanks to Bracciolini's precautions, these two got safely from the
confines of San' Alessandro, and afterward from the city of Megaris.
They trudged on a familiar road. Perion would have spoken, but
Demetrios growled, "Not now, messire." They came by night to that pass
in Sannazaro which Perion had held against a score of men-at-arms.
Demetrios turned. Moonlight illuminated the warriors' faces and showed
the face of Demetrios as sly and leering. It was less the countenance
of a proud lord than a carved head on some old waterspout.
"Messire de la Forêt," Demetrios said, "now we cry quits. Here our ways
part till one of us has killed the other, as one of us must surely do."
You saw that Perion was tremulous with fury. "You knave," he said,
"because of your pride you have imperilled your accursed life--your
life on which the life of Melicent depends! You must need delay and
rescue me, while your spawn inflicted hideous infamies on Melicent! Oh,
I had never hated you until to-night!"
Demetrios was pleased.
"Behold the increment," he said, "of the turned cheek and of the
contriving of good for him that had despitefully used me! Be satisfied,
O young and zealous servitor of Love and Christ. I am alone, unarmed
and penniless, among a people whom I have never been at pains even to
despise. Presently I shall be taken by this vermin, and afterward I
shall be burned alive. Theodoret is quite resolved to make of me a
candle which will light his way to heaven."
"That is true," said Perion; "and I cannot permit that you be killed by
anyone save me, as soon as I can afford to kill you."
The two men talked together, leagued against entire Christendom.
Demetrios had thirty sequins and Perion no money at all. Then Perion
showed the ring which Melicent had given him, as a love-token, long
ago, when she was young and ignorant of misery. He valued it as he did
"Oh, very dear to me is this dear ring which once touched a finger of
that dear young Melicent whom you know nothing of! Its gold is my lost
youth, the gems of it are the tears she has shed because of me. Kiss
it, Messire Demetrios, as I do now for the last time. It is a favour
you have earned."
Then these two went as mendicants--for no one marks a beggar upon the
highway--into Narenta, and they sold this ring, in order that Demetrios
might be conveyed oversea, and that the life of Melicent might be
preserved. They found another vessel which was about to venture into
heathendom. Their gold was given to the captain; and, in exchange, the
bargain ran, his ship would touch at Assignano, a little after the
ensuing dawn, and take Demetrios aboard.
Thus the two lovers of Melicent foreplanned the future, and did not
admit into their accounting vagarious Dame Chance.
_How Flamberge Was Lost_
These hunted men spent the following night upon the Needle, since there
it was not possible for an adversary to surprise them. Perion's was the
earlier watch, until midnight, and during this time Demetrios slept.
Then the proconsul took his equitable turn. When Perion awakened the
hour was after dawn.
What Perion noted first, and within thirty feet of him, was a tall
galley with blue and yellow sails. He perceived that the promontory was
thronged with heathen sailors, who were unlading the ship of various
bales and chests. Demetrios, now in the costume of his native country,
stood among them giving orders. And it seemed, too, to Perion, in the
moment of waking, that Dame Mélusine, whom Perion had loved so long
ago, also stood among them; yet, now that Perion rose and faced
Demetrios, she was not visible anywhere, and Perion wondered dimly over
his wild dream that she had been there at all. But more importunate
matters were in hand.
The proconsul grinned malevolently.
"This is a ship that once was mine," he said. "Do you not find it droll
that Euthyclos here should have loved me sufficiently to hazard his
life in order to come in search of me? Personally, I consider it
preposterous. For the rest, you slept so soundly, Messire de la Forêt,
that I was unwilling to waken you. Then, too, such was the advice of a
person who has some influence with the waterfolk, people say, and who
was perhaps the means of bringing this ship hither so opportunely. I do
not know. She is gone now, you see, intent as always on her own ends.
Well, well! her ways are not our ways, and it is wiser not to meddle
But Perion, unarmed and thus surrounded, understood only that he was
"Messire Demetrios," said Perion, "I never thought to ask a favour of
you. I ask it now. For the ring's sake, give me at least a knife,
Messire Demetrios. Let me die fighting."
"Why, but who spoke of fighting? For the ring's sake, I have caused the
ship to be rifled of what valuables they had aboard. It is not much,
but it is all I have. And you are to accept my apologies for the
somewhat miscellaneous nature of the cargo, Messire de la
Forêt--consisting, as it does, of armours and gems, camphor and
ambergris, carpets of raw silk, teakwood and precious metals, rugs of
Yemen leather, enamels, and I hardly know what else besides. For
Euthyclos, as you will readily understand, was compelled to masquerade
as a merchant-trader."
Perion shook his head, and declared: "You offer enough to make me a
wealthy man. But I would prefer a sword."
At that Demetrios grimaced, saying, "I had hoped to get off more
cheaply." He unbuckled the crosshandled sword which he now wore and
handed it to Perion. "This is Flamberge," Demetrios continued--"that
magic blade which Galas made, in the old time's heyday, for
Charlemaigne. It was with this sword that I slew my father, and this
sword is as dear to me as your ring was to you. The man who wields it
is reputed to be unconquerable. I do not know about that, but in any
event I yield Flamberge to you as a free gift. I might have known it
was the only gift you would accept." His swart face lighted. "Come
presently and fight with me for Melicent. Perhaps it will amuse me to
ride out to battle and know I shall not live to see the sunset. Already
it seems laughable that you will probably kill me with this very sword
which I am touching now."
The champions faced each other, Demetrios in a half-wistful mirth, and
Perion in half-grudging pity. Long and long they looked.
Demetrios shrugged. Demetrios said:
"For such as I am, to love is dangerous. For such as I am, nor fire nor
meteor hurls a mightier bolt than Aphrodite's shaft, or marks its
passage by more direful ruin. But you do not know Euripides?--a
fidgety-footed liar, Messire the Comte, who occasionally blunders into
the clumsiest truths. Yes, he is perfectly right; all things this
goddess laughingly demolishes while she essays haphazard flights about
the world as unforeseeably as travels a bee. And, like the bee, she
wilfully dispenses honey, and at other times a wound."
Said Perion, who was no scholar:
"I glory in our difference. For such as I am, love is sufficient proof
that man was fashioned in God's image."
"Ey, there is no accounting for a taste in aphorisms," Demetrios
replied. He said, "Now I embark." Yet he delayed, and spoke with
unaccustomed awkwardness. "Come, you who have been generous till this!
will you compel me to desert you here--quite penniless?"
"I may accept a sword from you. I do accept it gladly. But I may not
accept anything else."
"That would have been my answer. I am a lucky man," Demetrios said, "to
have provoked an enemy so worthy of my opposition. We two have fought
an honest and notable duel, wherein our weapons were not made of steel.
I pray you harry me as quickly as you may; and then we will fight with
swords till I am rid of you or you of me."
"Assuredly, I shall not fail you," answered Perion.
These two embraced and kissed each other. Afterward Demetrios went into
his own country, and Perion remained, girt with the magic sword
Flamberge. It was not all at once Perion recollected that the wearer of
Flamberge is unconquerable, if ancient histories are to be believed,
for in deduction Perion was leisurely.
Now on a sudden he perceived that Demetrios had flung control of the
future to Perion, as one gives money to a sot, entirely prescient of
how it will be used. Perion had his moment of bleak rage.
"I will not cog the dice to my advantage any more than you!" said
Perion. He drew the sword of Charlemaigne and brandished it and cast it
as far as even strong Perion could cast, and the sea swallowed it. "Now
God alone is arbiter!" cried Perion, "and I am not afraid."
He stood a pauper and a friendless man. Beside his thigh hung a
sorcerer's scabbard of blue leather, curiously ornamented, but it was
emptied of power. Yet Perion laughed exultingly, because he was elate
with dreams of the future. And for the rest, he was aware it is less
grateful to remember plaudits than to recall the exercise of that in us
which is not merely human.
_How Perion Got Aid_
Then Perion turned from the Needle of Assignano, and went westward into
the Forest of Columbiers. He had no plan. He wandered in the high woods
that had never yet been felled or ordered, as a beast does in watchful
care of hunters.
He came presently to a glade which the sunlight flooded without
obstruction. There was in this place a fountain, which oozed from under
an iron-coloured boulder incrusted with grey lichens and green moss.
Upon the rock a woman sat, her chin propped by one hand, and she
appeared to consider remote and pleasant happenings. She was clothed
throughout in white, with metal bands about her neck and arms; and her
loosened hair, which was coloured like straw, and was as pale as the
hair of children, glittered about her, and shone frostily where it lay
outspread upon the rock behind her.
She turned toward Perion without any haste or surprise, and Perion saw
that this woman was Dame Mélusine, whom he had loved to his own hurt
(as you have heard) when Perion served King Helmas. She did not speak
for a long while, but she lazily considered Perion's honest face in a
sort of whimsical regret for the adoration she no longer found there.
"Then it was really you," he said, in wonder, "whom I saw talking with
Demetrios when I awakened to-day."
"You may be sure," she answered, "that my talking was in no way
injurious to you. Ah, no, had I been elsewhere, Perion, I think you
would by this have been in Paradise." Then Mélusine fell again to
meditation. "And so you do not any longer either love or hate me,
Perion?" Here was an odd echo of the complaint Demetrios had made.
"That I once loved you is a truth which neither of us, I think, may
ever quite forget," said Perion, very quiet. "I alone know how utterly
I loved you--no, it was not I who loved you, but a boy that is dead
now. King's daughter, all of stone, O cruel woman and hateful, O sleek,
smiling traitress! to-day no man remembers how utterly I loved you, for
the years are as a mist between the heart of the dead boy and me, so
that I may no longer see the boy's heart clearly. Yes, I have forgotten
much. ...Yet even to-day there is that in me which is faithful to you,
and I cannot give you the hatred which your treachery has earned."
Mélusine spoke shrewdly. She had a sweet, shrill voice.
"But I loved you, Perion--oh, yes, in part I loved you, just as one
cannot help but love a large and faithful mastiff. But you were
tedious, you annoyed me by your egotism. Yes, my friend, you think too
much of what you owe to Perion's honour; you are perpetually squaring
accounts with heaven, and you are too intent on keeping the balance in
your favour to make a satisfactory lover." You saw that Mélusine was
smiling in the shadow of her pale hair. "And yet you are very droll
when you are unhappy," she said, as of two minds.
"I am, as heaven made me, a being of mingled nature. So I remember
without distaste old happenings which now seem scarcely credible. I
cannot quite believe that it was you and I who were so happy when youth
was common to us... O Mélusine, I have almost forgotten that if the
world were searched between the sunrise and the sunsetting the Mélusine
I loved would not be found. I only know that a woman has usurped the
voice of Mélusine, and that this woman's eyes also are blue, and that
this woman smiles as Mélusine was used to smile when I was young. I
walk with ghosts, king's daughter, and I am none the happier."
"Ay, Periori," she wisely answered, "for the spring is at hand, intent
upon an ageless magic. I am no less comely than I was, and my heart, I
think, is tenderer. You are yet young, and you are very beautiful, my
brave mastiff... And neither of us is moved at all! For us the spring
is only a dotard sorcerer who has forgotten the spells of yesterday. I
think that it is pitiable, although I would not have it otherwise." She
waited, fairy-like and wanton, seeming to premeditate a delicate
He declared, sighing, "No, I would not have it otherwise."
Then presently Mélusine arose. She said:
"You are a hunted man, unarmed--oh, yes, I know. Demetrios talked
freely, because the son of Miramon Lluagor has good and ancient reasons
to trust me. Besides, it was not for nothing that Pressina was my
mother, and I know many things, pilfering light from the past to shed
it upon the future. Come now with me to Brunbelois. I am too deeply in
your debt, my Perion. For the sake of that boy who is dead--as you tell
me--you may honourably accept of me a horse, arms, and a purse, because
I loved that boy after my fashion."
"I take your bounty gladly," he replied; and he added conscientiously:
"I consider that I am not at liberty to refuse of anybody any honest
means of serving my lady Melicent."
Mélusine parted her lips as if about to speak, and then seemed to think
better of it. It is probable she was already informed concerning
Melicent; she certainly asked no questions. Mélusine only shrugged,
and laughed afterward, and the man and the woman turned toward
Brunbelois. At times a shaft of sunlight would fall on her pale hair
and convert it into silver, as these two went through the high woods
that had never yet been felled or ordered.
_Of how a knave hath late compassion
On Melicent's forlorn condition;
For which he saith as ye shall after hear:
"Dame, since that game we play costeth too dear,
My truth I plight, I shall you no more grieve
By my behest, and here I take my leave
As of the fairest, truest and best wife
That ever yet I knew in all my life."_
_How Demetrios Held His Chattel_
It is a tale which they narrate in Poictesme, telling how Demetrios
returned into the country of the pagans and found all matters there as
he had left them. They relate how Melicent was summoned.
And the tale tells how upon the stairway by which you descended from
the Women's Garden to the citadel--people called it the Queen's
Stairway, because it was builded by Queen Rudabeh very long ago when
the Emperor Zal held Nacumera--Demetrios waited with a naked sword.
Below were four of his soldiers, picked warriors. This stairway was of
white marble, and a sphinx carved in green porphyry guarded each
"Now that we have our audience," Demetrios said, "come, let the games
One of the soldiers spoke. It was that Euthyclos who (as you have
heard) had ventured into Christendom at the hazard of his life to
rescue the proconsul. Euthyclos was a man of the West Provinces and had
followed the fortunes of Demetrios since boyhood.
"King of the Age," cried Euthyclos, "it is grim hearing that we must
fight with you. But since your will is our will, we must endure this
testing, although we find it bitter as aloes and hot as coals. Dear
lord and master, none has put food to his lips for whose sake we would
harm you willingly, and we shall weep to-night when your ghost passes
over and through us."
"Rise up and leave this idleness! It is I that will clip the ends of my
hair to-night for the love of you, my stalwart knaves. Such weeping as
is done your wounds will perform."
At that they addressed themselves to battle, and Melicent perceived she
was witnessing no child's play. The soldiers had attacked in unison,
and before the onslaught Demetrios stepped lightly back. But his sword
flashed as he moved, and with a grunt Demetrios, leaning far forward,
dug deep into the throat of his foremost assailant. The sword
penetrated and caught in a link of the gold chain about the fellow's
neck, so that Demetrios was forced to wrench the weapon free, twisting
it, as the dying man stumbled backward. Prostrate, the soldier did not
cry out, but only writhed and gave a curious bubbling noise as his soul
"Come," Demetrios said, "come now, you others, and see what you can win
of me. I warn you it will be dearly purchased."
And Melicent turned away, hiding her eyes. She was obscurely conscious
that a wanton butchery went on, hearing its blows and groans as if from
a great distance, while she entreated the Virgin for deliverance from
this foul place.
Then a hand fell upon Melicent's shoulder, rousing her. It was
Demetrios. He breathed quickly, but his voice was gentle.
"It is enough," he said. "I shall not greatly need Flamberge when I
encounter that ruddy innocent who is so dear to you."
He broke off. Then he spoke again, half jeering, half wistful. Said
"I had hoped that you would look on and admire my cunning at swordplay.
I was anxious to seem admirable somehow in your eyes ... I failed. I
know very well that I shall always fail. I know that Nacumera will
fall, that some day in your native land people will say, 'That aged
woman yonder was once the wife of Demetrios of Anatolia, who was
pre-eminent among the heathen.' Then they will tell of how I cleft the
head of an Emperor who had likened me to Priapos, and how I dragged his
successor from behind an arras where he hid from me, to set him upon
the throne I did not care to take; and they will tell how for a while
great fortune went with me, and I ruled over much land, and was dreaded
upon the wide sea, and raised the battlecry in cities that were not my
own, fearing nobody. But you will not think of these matters, you will
think only of your children's ailments, of baking and sewing and
weaving tapestries, and of directing little household tasks. And the
spider will spin her web in my helmet, which will hang as a trophy in
the hall of Messire de la Forêt."
Then he walked beside her into the Women's Garden, keeping silence for
a while. He seemed to deliberate, to reach a decision. All at once
Demetrios began to tell of that magnanimous contest which he had fought
out in Theodoret's country with Perion of the Forest.
"To do the long-legged fellow simple justice," said the proconsul, as
epilogue, "there is no hardier knight alive. I shall always wonder
whether or no I would have spared him had the water-demon's daughter
not intervened in his behalf. Yes, I have had some previous dealings
with her. Perhaps the less said concerning them, the better." Demetrios
reflected for a while, rather sadly; then his swart face cleared. "Give
thanks, my wife, that I have found an enemy who is not unworthy of me.
He will come soon, I think, and then we will fight to the death. I
hunger for that day."
All praise of Perion, however worded, was as wine to Melicent.
Demetrios saw as much, noted how the colour in her cheeks augmented
delicately, how her eyes grew kindlier. It was his cue. Thereafter
Demetrios very often spoke of Perion in that locked palace where no
echo of the outer world might penetrate except at the proconsul's will.
He told Melicent, in an unfeigned admiration, of Perion's courage and
activity, declaring that no other captain since the days of those
famous generals, Hannibal and Joshua, could lay claim to such
preeminence in general estimation; and Demetrios narrated how the Free
Companions had ridden through many kingdoms at adventure, serving many
lords with valour and always fighting applaudably. To talk of Perion
delighted Melicent: it was with such bribes that Demetrios purchased
where his riches did not avail; and Melicent no longer avoided him.
There is scope here for compassion. The man's love, if it be possible
so to call that force which mastered him, had come to be an incessant
malady. It poisoned everything, caused him to find his statecraft
tedious, his power profitless, and his vices gloomy. But chief of all
he fretted over the standards by which the lives of Melicent and Perion
were guided. Demetrios thought these criteria comely, he had discovered
them to be unshakable, and he despairingly knew that as long as he
trusted in the judgment heaven gave him they must always appear to him
supremely idiotic. To bring Melicent to his own level or to bring
himself to hers was equally impossible. There were moments when he
Thus the months passed, and the happenings of another year were
chronicled; and as yet neither Perion nor Ayrart de Montors came to
Nacumera, and the long plain before the citadel stayed tenantless save
for the jackals crying there at night.
"I wonder that my enemies do not come," Demetrios said. "It cannot be
they have forgotten you and me. That is impossible." He frowned and
sent spies into Christendom.
_How Misery Held Nacumera_
Then one day Demetrios came to Melicent, and he was in a surly rage.
"Rogues all!" he grumbled. "Oh, I am wasted in this paltry age. Where
are the giants and tyrants, and stalwart single-hearted champions of
yesterday? Why, they are dead, and have become rotten bones. I will
fight no longer. I will read legends instead, for life nowadays is no
longer worthy of love or hatred."
Melicent questioned him, and he told how his spies reported that the
Cardinal de Montors could now not ever head an expedition against
Demetrios' territories. The Pope had died suddenly in the course of the
preceding October, and it was necessary to name his successor. The
College of Cardinals had reached no decision after three days'
balloting. Then, as is notorious, Dame Mélusine, as always hand in
glove with Ayrart de Montors, held conference with the bishop who
inspected the cardinals' dinner before it was carried into the
apartments where these prelates were imprisoned together until, in
edifying seclusion from all worldly influences, they should have
prayerfully selected the next Pope.
The Cardinal of Genoa received on the fourth day a chicken stuffed with
a deed to the palaces of Monticello and Soriano; the Cardinal of Parma
a similarly dressed fowl which made him master of the bishop's
residence at Porto with its furniture and wine-cellar; while the
Cardinals Orsino, Savelli, St. Angelo and Colonna were served with food
of the same ingratiating sort. Such nourishment cured them of
indecision, and Ayrart de Montors had presently ascended the papal
throne under the title of Adrian VII, servant to the servants of God.
His days of military captaincy were over. Demetrios deplored the loss
of a formidable adversary, and jeered at the fact that the vicarship of
heaven had been settled by six hens. But he particularly fretted over
other news his spies had brought, which was the information that Perion
had wedded Dame Mélusine, and had begotten two lusty children--Bertram
and a daughter called Blaniferte--and now enjoyed the opulence and
sovereignty of Brunbelois.
Demetrios told this unwillingly. He turned away his eyes in speaking,
and doggedly affected to rearrange a cushion, so that he might not see
the face of Melicent. She noted his action and was grateful.
Demetrios said, bitterly, "It is an old and tawdry history. He has
forgotten you, Melicent, as a wise man will always put aside the dreams
of his youth. To Cynara the Fates accord but a few years; a wanton Lyce
laughs, cheats her adorers, and outlives the crow. There is an
unintended moral here--" Demetrios said, "Yet you do not forget."
"I know nothing as to this Perion you tell me of. I only know the
Perion I loved has not forgotten," answered Melicent.
And Demetrios, evincing a twinge like that of gout, demanded her
reasons. It was a May morning, very hot and still, and Demetrios sat
with his Christian wife in the Court of Stars.
Said Melicent, "It is not unlikely that the Perion men know to-day has
forgotten me and the service which I joyed to render Perion. Let him
who would understand the mystery of the Crucifixion first become a
lover! I pray for old sake's sake that Perion and his lady may taste of
every prosperity. Indeed, I do not envy her. Rather I pity her, because
last night I wandered through a certain forest hand-in-hand with a
young Perion, whose excellencies she will never know as I know them in
our own woods."
Said Demetrios, "Do you console yourself with dreams?" The swart man
"Now it is always twilight in these woods, and the light there is
neither green nor gold, but both colours intermingled. It is like a
friendly cloak for all who have been unhappy, even very long ago.
Iseult is there, and Thisbe, too, and many others, and they are not
severed from their lovers now.. Sometimes Dame Venus passes, riding
upon a panther, and low-hanging leaves clutch at her tender flesh. Then
Perion and I peep from a coppice, and are very glad and a little
frightened in the heart of our own woods."
Said Demetrios, "Do you console yourself with madness?" He showed no
sign of mirth.
"Ah, no, the Perion whom Mélusine possesses is but a man--a very happy
man, I pray of God and all His saints. I am the luckier, who may not
ever lose the Perion that to-day is mine alone. And though I may not
ever touch this younger Perion's hands--and their palms were as hard as
leather in that dear time now overpast--or see again his honest and
courageous face, the most beautiful among all the faces of men and
women I have ever seen, I do not grieve immeasurably, for nightly we
walk hand-in-hand in our own woods."
Demetrios said, "Ay; and then night passes, and dawn comes to light my
face, which is the most hideous to you among all the faces of men and
But Melicent said only:
"Seignior, although the severing daylight endures for a long while, I
must be brave and worthy of Perion's love--nay, rather, of the love he
gave me once. I may not grieve so long as no one else dares enter into
our own woods."
"Now go," cried the proconsul, when she had done, and he had noted her
soft, deep, devoted gaze at one who was not there; "now go before I
slay you!" And this new Demetrios whom she then saw was featured like a
devil in sore torment.
Wonderingly Melicent obeyed him.
Thought Melicent, who was too proud to show her anguish: "I could have
borne aught else, but this I am too cowardly to bear without complaint.
I am a very contemptible person. I ought to love this Mélusine, who no
doubt loves her husband quite as much as I love him--how could a woman
do less?--and yet I cannot love her. I can only weep that I, robbed of
all joy, and with no children to bewail me, must travel very tediously
toward death, a friendless person cursed by fate, while this Mélusine
laughs with her children. She has two children, as Demetrios reports. I
think the boy must be the more like Perion. I think she must be very
happy when she lifts that boy into her lap."
Thus Melicent; and her full-blooded husband was not much more
light-hearted. He went away from Nacumera shortly, in a shaking rage
which robbed him of his hands' control, intent to kill and pillage,
and, in fine, to make all other persons share his misery.
_How Demetrios Cried Farewell_
And then one day, when the proconsul had been absent some six weeks,
Ahasuerus fetched Dame Melicent into the Court of Stars. Demetrios lay
upon the divan supported by many pillows, as though he had not ever
stirred since that first day when an unfettered Melicent, who was a
princess then, exulted in her youth and comeliness.
"Stand there," he said, and did not move at all, "that I may see my
And presently he smiled, though wryly. Demetrios said next:
"Of my own will I purchased misery. Yea, and death also. It is
amusing.... Two days ago, in a brief skirmish, a league north of Calonak,
the Prankish leader met me hand to hand. He has endeavoured to do this
for a long while. I also wished it. Nothing could be sweeter than to
feel the horse beneath me wading in his blood, I thought.. Ey, well, he
dismounted me at the first encounter, though I am no weakling. I cannot
understand quite how it happened. Pious people will say some deity was
offended, but, for my part, I think my horse stumbled. It does not seem
to matter now. What really matters, more or less, is that it would
appear the man broke my backbone as one snaps a straw, since I cannot
move a limb of me."
"Seignior," said Melicent, "you mean that you are dying!"
He answered, "Yes; but it is a trivial discomfort, now I see that it
grieves you a little."
She spoke his name some three times, sobbing. It was in her mind even
then how strange the happening was that she should grieve for
"O Melicent," he harshly said, "let us have done with lies! That
Frankish captain who has brought about my death is Perion de la Forêt.
He has not ever faltered in the duel between us since your paltry
emeralds paid for his first armament.--Why, yes, I lied. I always hoped
the man would do as in his place I would have done. I hoped in vain.
For many long and hard-fought years this handsome maniac has been
assailing Nacumera, tirelessly. Then the water-demon's daughter, that
strange and wayward woman of Brunbelois, attempted to ensnare him. And
that too was in vain. She failed, my spies reported--even Dame
Mélusine, who had not ever failed before in such endeavours."
"But certainly the foul witch failed!" cried Melicent. A glorious
change had come into her face, and she continued, quite untruthfully,
"Nor did I ever believe that this vile woman had made Perion prove
"No, the fool's lunacy is rock, like yours. _En cor gentil domnei per
mort no passa_, as they sing in your native country.... Ey, how
indomitably I lied, what pains I took, lest you should ever know of
this! And now it does not seem to matter any more.... The love this man
bears for you," snarled Demetrios, "is sprung of the High God whom we
diversely worship. The love I bear you is human, since I, too, am only
human." And Demetrios chuckled. "Talk, and talk, and talk! There is no
bird in any last year's nest."
She laid her hand upon his unmoved hand, and found it cold and swollen.
She wept to see the broken tyrant, who to her at least had been not all
He said, with a great hunger in his eyes:
"So likewise ends the duel which was fought between us two. I would
salute the victor if I could. ... Ey, Melicent, I still consider you
and Perion are fools. We have a not intolerable world to live in, and
common-sense demands we make the most of every tidbit this world
affords. Yet you can find in it only an exercising-ground for
infatuation, and in all its contents--pleasures and pains alike--only
so many obstacles for rapt insanity to override. I do not understand
this mania; I would I might have known it, none the less. Always I
envied you more than I loved you. Always my desire was less to win the
love of Melicent than to love Melicent as Melicent loved Perion. I was
incapable of this. Yet I have loved you. That was the reason, I
believe, I put aside my purchased toy." It seemed to puzzle him.
"Fair friend, it is the most honourable of reasons. You have done
chivalrously. In this, at least, you have done that which would be not
unworthy of Perion de la Forêt." A woman never avid for strained
subtleties, it may be that she never understood, quite, why Demetrios
"I mean to serve you now, as I had always meant to serve you some day.
Ey, yes, I think I always meant to give you back to Perion as a free
gift. Meanwhile to see, and to writhe in seeing your perfection, has
meant so much to me that daily I have delayed such a transfiguration of
myself until to-morrow." The man grimaced. "My son Orestes, who will
presently succeed me, has been summoned. I will order that he conduct
you at once into Perion's camp--yonder by Quesiton. I think I shall not
live three days."
"I would not leave you, friend, until--"
His grin was commentary and completion equally. Demetrios observed:
"A dead dog has no teeth wherewith to serve even virtue. Oh, no, my
women hate you far too greatly. You must go straightway to this Perion,
while Demetrios of Anatolia is alive, or else not ever go."
She had no words. She wept, and less for joy of winning home to Perion
at last than for her grief that Demetrios was dying. Woman-like, she
could remember only that the man had loved her in his fashion. And,
woman-like, she could but wonder at the strength of Perion.
Then Demetrios said:
"I must depart into a doubtful exile. I have been powerful and valiant,
I have laughed loud, I have drunk deep, but heaven no longer wishes
Demetrios to exist. I am unable to support my sadness, so near am I to
my departure from all I have loved. I cry farewell to all diversions
and sports, to well-fought battles, to furred robes of vair and of
silk, to noisy merriment, to music, to vain-gloriously coloured gems,
and to brave deeds in open sunlight; for I desire--and I entreat of
every person--only compassion and pardon.
"Chiefly I grieve because I must leave Melicent behind me, unfriended
in a perilous land, and abandoned, it may be, to the malice of those
who wish her ill. I was a noted warrior, I was mighty of muscle, and I
could have defended her stoutly. But I lie broken in the hand of
Destiny. It is necessary I depart into the place where sinners, whether
crowned or ragged, must seek for unearned mercy. I cry farewell to all
that I have loved, to all that I have injured; and so in chief to you,
dear Melicent, I cry farewell, and of you in chief I crave compassion
"O eyes and hair and lips of Melicent, that I have loved so long, I do
not hunger for you now. Yet, as a dying man, I cry to the clean soul of
Melicent--the only adversary that in all my lifetime I who was once
Demetrios could never conquer. A ravening beast was I, and as a beast I
raged to see you so unlike me. And now, a dying beast, I cry to you,
but not for love, since that is overpast. I cry for pity that I have
not earned, for pardon which I have not merited. Conquered and
impotent, I cry to you, O soul of Melicent, for compassion and pardon.
"Melicent, it may be that when I am dead, when nothing remains of
Demetrios except his tomb, you will comprehend I loved, even while I
hated, what is divine in you. Then since you are a woman, you will lift
your lover's face between your hands, as you have never lifted my face,
Melicent, and you will tell him of my folly merrily; yet since you are
a woman, you will sigh afterward, and you will not deny me compassion
She gave him both--she who was prodigal of charity. Orestes came, with
Ahasuerus at his heels, and Demetrios sent Melicent into the Women's
Garden, so that father and son might talk together. She waited in this
place for a half-hour, just as the proconsul had commanded her, obeying
him for the last time. It was strange to think of that.
* * * * *
It was not gladness which Melicent knew for a brief while. Rather, it
was a strange new comprehension of the world. To Melicent the world
seemed very lovely.
Indeed, the Women's Garden on this morning lacked nothing to delight
each sense. Its hedges were of flowering jessamine; its walkways were
spread with new sawdust tinged with crocus and vermilion and with mica
beaten into a powder; and the place was rich in fruit-bearing trees and
welling waters. The sun shone, and birds chaunted merrily to the right
hand and to the left. Dog-headed apes, sacred to the moon, were
chattering in the trees. There was a statue in this place, carved out
of black stone, in the likeness of a woman, having enamelled eyes and
three rows of breasts, with the lower part of her body confined in a
sheath; and upon the glistening pedestal of this statue chameleons
sunned themselves with distended throats. Round about Melicent were
nodding armaments of roses and gillyflowers and narcissi and amaranths,
and many violets and white lilies, and other flowers of all kinds and
To Melicent the world seemed very lovely. Here was a world created by
Eternal Love that people might serve love in it not all unworthily.
Here were anguishes to be endured, and time and human frailty and
temporal hardship--all for love to mock at; a sea or two for love to
sever, a man-made law or so for love to override, a shallow wisdom for
love to deny, in exultance that these ills at most were only corporal
hindrances. This done, you have earned the right to come--come
hand-in-hand--to heaven whose liege-lord was Eternal Love.
Thus Melicent, who knew that Perion loved her.
She sat on a stone bench. She combed her golden hair, not heeding the
more coarse gray hairs which here and there were apparent nowadays. A
peacock came and watched her with bright, hard, small eyes; and he
craned his glistening neck this way and that way, as though he were
wondering at this other shining and gaily coloured creature, who seemed
She did not dare to think of seeing Perion again. Instead, she made
because of him a little song, which had not any words, so that it is
not possible here to retail this song.
Thus Melicent, who knew that Perion loved her.
_How Orestes Ruled_
Melicent returned into the Court of Stars; and as she entered, Orestes
lifted one of the red cushions from Demetrios' face. The eyes of
Ahasuerus, who stood by negligently, were as expressionless as the eyes
of a snake.
"The great proconsul laid an inconvenient mandate upon me," said
Orestes. "The great proconsul has been removed from us in order that
his splendour may enhance the glories of Elysium."
She saw that the young man had smothered his own father in the flesh as
Demetrios lay helpless; and knew thereby that Orestes was indeed the
son of Demetrios.
"Go," this Orestes said thereafter; "go, and remember I am master
Said Melicent, "And by which door?" A little hope there was as yet.
But he, as half in shame, had pointed to the entrance of the Women's
Garden. "I have no enmity against you, outlander. Yet my mother desires
to talk with you. Also there is some bargaining to be completed with
Then Melicent knew what had prompted the proconsul's murder. It seemed
unfair Callistion should hate her with such bitterness; yet Melicent
remembered certain thoughts concerning Dame Mélusine, and did not
wonder at Callistion's mania half so much as did Callistion's son.
"I must endure discomfort and, it may be, torture for a little longer,"
said Melicent, and laughed whole-heartedly. "Oh, but to-day I find a
cure for every ill," said Melicent; and thereupon she left Orestes as a
But first she knelt by that which yesterday had been her master.
"I have no word of praise or blame to give you in farewell. You were
not admirable, Demetrios. But you depart upon a fearful journey, and in
my heart there is just memory of the long years wherein according to
your fashion you were kind to me. A bargain is a bargain. I sold with
open eyes that which you purchased. I may not reproach you."
Then Melicent lifted the dead face between her hands, as mothers caress
their boys in questioning them.
"I would I had done this when you were living," said Melicent, "because
I understand now that you loved me in your fashion. And I pray that you
may know I am the happiest woman in the world, because I think this
knowledge would now gladden you. I go to slavery, Demetrios, where I
was queen, I go to hardship, and it may be that I go to death. But I
have learned this assuredly--that love endures, that the strong knot
which unites my heart and Perion's heart can never be untied. Oh,
living is a higher thing than you or I had dreamed! And I have in my
heart just pity, poor Demetrios, for you who never found the love of
which I must endeavour to be worthy. A curse was I to you unwillingly,
as you--I now believe--have been to me against your will. So at the
last I turn anew to bargaining, and cry--in your deaf ears--_Pardon for
pardon, O Demetrios!_"
Then Melicent kissed pitiable lips which would not ever sneer again,
and, rising, passed into the Women's Garden, proudly and unafraid.
Ahasuerus shrugged so patiently that she was half afraid. Then, as a
cloud passes, she saw that all further buffetings would of necessity be
For Perion, as she now knew, was very near to her--single of purpose,
clean of hands, and filled with such a love as thrilled her with
delicious fears of her own poor unworthiness.
_How Women Talked Together_
Dame Melicent walked proudly through the Women's Garden, and presently
entered a grove of orange trees, the most of which were at this season
about their flowering. In this place was an artificial pool by which
the trees were nourished. On its embankment sprawled the body of young
Diophantus, a child of some ten years of age, Demetrios' son by
Tryphera. Orestes had strangled Diophantus in order that there might be
no rival to Orestes' claims. The lad lay on his back, and his left arm
hung elbow-deep in the water, which swayed it gently.
Callistion sat beside the corpse and stroked its limp right hand. She
had hated the boy throughout his brief and merry life. She thought now
of his likeness to Demetrios.
She raised toward Melicent the dilated eyes of one who has just come
from a dark place. Callistion said:
"And so Demetrios is dead. I thought I would be glad when I said that.
Hah, it is strange I am not glad."
She rose, as though with hard effort, as a decrepit person might have
done. You saw that she was dressed in a long gown of black, pleated to
the knees, having no clasp or girdle, and bare of any ornamentation
except a gold star on each breast.
"Now, through my son, I reign in Nacumera. There is no person who dares
disobey me. Therefore, come close to me that I may see the beauty which
besotted this Demetrios, whom, I think now, I must have loved."
"Oh, gaze your fill," said Melicent, "and know that had you possessed a
tithe of my beauty you might have held the heart of Demetrios." For it
was in Melicent's mind to provoke the woman into killing her before
But Callistion only studied the proud face for a long while, and knew
there was no lovelier person between two seas. For time here had
pillaged very sparingly; and if Dame Melicent had not any longer the
first beauty of her girlhood, Callistion had nowhere seen a woman more
handsome than this hated Frankish thief.
"No, I was not ever so beautiful as you. Yet this Demetrios loved me
when I, too, was lovely. You never saw the man in battle. I saw him,
single-handed, fight with Abradas and three other knaves who stole me
from my mother's home--oh, very long ago! He killed all four of them.
He was like a horrible unconquerable god when he turned from that
finished fight to me. He kissed me then--blood-smeared, just as he
was.... I like to think of how he laughed and of how strong he was."
The woman turned and crouched by the dead boy, and seemed painstakingly
to appraise her own reflection on the water's surface.
"It is gone now, the comeliness Demetrios was pleased to like. I would
have waded Acheron--singing--rather than let his little finger ache. He
knew as much. Only it seemed a trifle, because your eyes were bright
and your fair skin was unwrinkled. In consequence the man is dead. Oh,
Melicent, I wonder why I am so sad!"
Callistion's meditative eyes were dry, but those of Melicent were not.
And Melicent came to the Dacian woman, and put one arm about her in that
dim, sweet-scented place, saying, "I never meant to wrong you."
Callistion did not seem to heed. Then Callistion said:
"See now! Do you not see the difference between us!" These two were
kneeling side by side, and each looked into the water.
"I do not wonder that Demetrios loved you. He loved at odd times many
women. He loved the mother of this carrion here. But afterward he would
come back to me, and lie asprawl at my feet with his big crafty head
between my knees; and I would stroke his hair, and we would talk of the
old days when we were young. He never spoke of you. I cannot pardon
"I know," said Melicent. Their cheeks touched now.
"There is only one master who could teach you that drear knowledge--"
"There is but one, Callistion."
"The man would be tall, I think. He would, I know, have thick, brown,
"He has black hair, Callistion. It glistens like a raven's wing."
"His face would be all pink and white, like yours--"
"No, tanned like yours, Callistion. Oh, he is like an eagle, very
resolute. His glance bedwarfs you. I used to be afraid to look at him,
even when I saw how foolishly he loved me--"
"I know," Callistion said. "All women know. Ah, we know many things--"
She reached with her free arm across the body of Diophantus and
presently dropped a stone into the pool. She said:
"See how the water ripples. There is now not any reflection of my poor
face or of your beauty. All is as wavering as a man's heart.... And now
your beauty is regathering like coloured mists. Yet I have other
"Oh, and the will to use them!" said Dame Melicent.
"For this bright thieving beauty is not any longer yours. It is mine
now, to do with as I may elect--as yesterday it was the plaything of
Demetrios.... Why, no! I think I shall not kill you. I have at hand
three very cunning Cheylas--the men who carve and reshape children into
such droll monsters. They cannot change your eyes, they tell me. That
is a pity, but I can have one plucked out. Then I shall watch my
Cheylas as they widen your mouth from ear to ear, take out the
cartilage from your nose, wither your hair till it will always be like
rotted hay, and turn your skin--which is like velvet now--the colour of
baked mud. They will as deftly strip you of that beauty which has
robbed me as I pluck up this blade of grass.... Oh, they will make you
the most hideous of living things, they assure me. Otherwise, as they
agree, I shall kill them. This done, you may go freely to your lover. I
fear, though, lest you may not love him as I loved Demetrios."
And Melicent said nothing.
"For all we women know, my sister, our appointed curse. To love the
man, and to know the man loves just the lips and eyes Youth lends to
us--oho, for such a little while! Yes, it is cruel. And therefore we
are cruel--always in thought and, when occasion offers, in the deed."
And Melicent said nothing. For of that mutual love she shared with
Perion, so high and splendid that it made of grief a music, and wrung a
new sustainment out of every cross, as men get cordials of bitter
herbs, she knew there was no comprehension here.
_How Men Ordered Matters_
Orestes came into the garden with Ahasuerus and nine other attendants.
The master of Nacumera did not speak a syllable while his retainers
seized Callistion, gagged her, and tied her hands with cords. They
silently removed her. One among them bore on his shoulders the slim
corpse of Diophantus, which was interred the same afternoon (with every
appropriate ceremony) in company with that of his father. Orestes had
the nicest sense of etiquette.
This series of swift deeds was performed with such a glib precipitancy
that if was as though the action had been rehearsed a score of times.
The garden was all drowsy peace now that Orestes spread his palms in a
gesture of deprecation. A little distance from him, Ahasuerus with his
forefinger drew upon the water's surface designs which appeared to
amuse the Jew.
"She would have killed you, Melicent," Orestes said, "though all
Olympos had marshalled in interdiction. That would have been
irreligious. Moreover, by Hercules! I have not time to choose sides
between snarling women. He who hunts with cats will catch mice. I aim
more highly. And besides, by an incredible forced march, this Comte de
la Forêt and all his Free Companions are battering at the gates of
Hope blazed. "You know that were I harmed he would spare no one. Your
troops are all at Calonak. Oh, God is very good!" said Melicent.
"I do not asperse the deities of any nation. It is unlucky. None the
less, your desires outpace your reason. Grant that I had not more than
fifty men to defend the garrison, yet Nacumera is impregnable except by
starvation. We can sit snug a month. Meanwhile our main force is at
Calonak, undoubtedly. Yet my infatuated father had already recalled
these troops, in order that they might escort you into Messire de la
Forêt's camp. Now I shall use these knaves quite otherwise. They will
arrive within two days, and to the rear of Messire de la Forêt, who is
encamped before an impregnable fortress. To the front unscalable walls,
and behind him, at a moderate computation, three swords to his one. All
this in a valley from which Daedalos might possibly escape, but
certainly no other man. I count this Perion of the Forest as already
It was a lumbering Orestes who proclaimed each step in his enchained
deductions by the descent of a blunt forefinger upon the palm of his
left hand. Demetrios had left a son but not an heir.
Yet the chain held. Melicent tested every link and found each obdurate.
She foresaw it all. Perion would be surrounded and overpowered. "And
these troops come from Calonak because of me!"
"Things fall about with an odd patness, as you say. It should teach you
not to talk about divinities lightly. Also, by this Jew's advice, I
mean to further the gods' indisputable work. You will appear upon the
walls of Nacumera at dawn to-morrow, in such a garb as you wore in your
native country when the Comte de la Forêt first saw you. Ahasuerus
estimates this Perion will not readily leave pursuit of you in that
event, whatever his lieutenants urge, for you are very beautiful."
Melicent cried aloud, "A bitter curse this beauty has been to me, and
to all men who have desired it."
"But I do not desire it," said Orestes. "Else I would not have sold it
to Ahasuerus. I desire only the governorship of some province on the
frontier where I may fight daily with stalwart adversaries, and ride
past the homes of conquered persons who hate me. Ahasuerus here assures
me that the Emperor will not deny me such employment when I bring him
the head of Messire de la Forêt. The raids of Messire de la Forêt have
irreligiously annoyed our Emperor for a long while."
She muttered, "Thou that once wore a woman's body--!"
"--And I take Ahasuerus to be shrewd in all respects save one. For he
desires trivialities. A wise man knows that woman are the sauce and not
the meat of life; Ahasuerus, therefore, is not wise. And in consequence
I do not lack a handsome bribe for this Bathyllos whom our good
Emperor--misguided man!--is weak enough to love; my mother goes in
chains; and I shall get my province."
Here Orestes laughed. And then the master of Nacumera left Dame
Melicent alone with Ahasuerus.
_How Ahasuerus Was Candid_
When Orestes had gone, the Jew remained unmoved. He continued to dabble
his finger-tips in the water as one who meditates. Presently he dried
them on either sleeve so that he seemed to embrace himself.
Said he, "What instruments we use at need!"
She said, "So you have purchased me, Ahasuerus?"
"Yes, for a hundred and two minae. That is a great sum. You are not as
the run of women, though. I think you are worth it."
She did not speak. The sun shone, and birds chaunted merrily to the
right hand and to the left. She was considering the beauty of these
gardens which seemed to sleep under a dome of hard, polished blue--the
beauty of this cloistered Nacumera, wherein so many infamies writhed
and contended like a nest of little serpents.
"Do you remember, Melicent, that night at Fomor Beach when you snatched
a lantern from my hand? Your hand touched my hand, Melicent."
She answered, "I remember."
"I first of all saw that it was a woman who was aiding Perion to
escape. I considered Perion a lucky man, for I had seen the woman's
She remained silent.
"I thought of this woman very often. I thought of her even more
frequently after I had talked with her at Bellegarde, telling of
Perion's captivity.... Melicent," the Jew said, "I make no songs, no
protestations, no phrases. My deeds must speak for me. Concede that I
have laboured tirelessly." He paused, his gaze lifted, and his lips
smiled. His eyes stayed mirthless. "This mad Callistion's hate of you,
and of the Demetrios who had abandoned her, was my first
stepping-stone. By my advice a tiny wire was fastened very tightly
around the fetlock of a certain horse, between the foot and the heel,
and the hair was smoothed over this wire. Demetrios rode that horse in
his last battle. It stumbled, and our terrible proconsul was thus
brought to death. Callistion managed it. Thus I betrayed Demetrios."
Melicent said, "You are too foul for hell to swallow." And Ahasuerus
manifested indifference to this imputed fault.
"Thus far I had gone hand-in-hand with an insane Callistion. Now our
ways parted. She desired only to be avenged on you, and very crudely.
That did not accord with my plan. I fell to bargaining. I purchased
with--O rarity of rarities!--a little rational advice and much gold as
well. Thus in due season I betrayed Callistion. Well, who forbids it?"
"God is asleep. Therefore you live, and I--alas!--must live for a
"Yes, you must live for a while longer--oh, and I, too, must live for a
while longer!" the Jew returned. His voice had risen in a curious
quavering wail. It was the first time Melicent ever knew him to display
But the mood passed, and he said only:
"Who forbids it? In any event, there is a venerable adage concerning
the buttering of parsnips. So I content myself with asking you to
remember that I have not ever faltered. I shall not falter now. You
loathe me. Who forbids it? I have known from the first that you
detested me, and I have always considered your verdict to err upon the
side of charity. Believe me, you will never loathe Ahasuerus as I do.
And yet I coddle this poor knave sometimes--oh, as I do to-day!" he
And thus they parted.
_How Perion Saw Melicent_
The manner of the torment of Melicent was this: A little before dawn
she was conducted by Ahasuerus and Orestes to the outermost turrets of
Nacumera, which were now beginning to take form and colour. Very
suddenly a flash of light had flooded the valley, the big crimson sun
was instantaneously apparent as though he had leaped over the bleeding
night-mists. Darkness and all night's adherents were annihilated.
Pelicans and geese and curlews were in uproar, as at a concerted
signal. A buzzard yelped thrice like a dog, and rose in a long spiral
from the cliff to Melicent's right hand. He hung motionless, a speck in
the clear zenith, uncannily anticipative. Warmth flooded the valley.
Now Melicent could see the long and narrow plain beneath her. It was
overgrown with a tall coarse grass which, rippling in the dawn-wind,
resembled moving waters from this distance, save where clumps of palm
trees showed like islands. Farther off, the tents of the Free
Companions were as the white, sharp teeth of a lion. Also she could
see--and did not recognise--the helmet-covered head of Perion catch and
reflect the sunrays dazzlingly, where he knelt in the shimmering grass
just out of bowshot.
Now Perion could see a woman standing, in the new-born sunlight, under
many gaily coloured banners. The maiden was attired in a robe of white
silk, and about her wrists were heavy bands of silver. Her hair blazed
in the light, bright as the sunflower glows; her skin was whiter than
milk; the down of a fledgling bird was not more grateful to the touch
than were her hands. There was never anywhere a person more delightful
to gaze upon, and whosoever beheld her forthwith desired to render love
and service to Dame Melicent. This much could Perion know, whose fond
eyes did not really see the woman upon the battlements but, instead,
young Melicent as young Perion had first beheld her walking by the sea
Thus Perion, who knelt in adoration of that listless girl, all white
and silver, and gold, too, where her blown hair showed like a halo.
Desirable and lovelier than words may express seemed Melicent to Perion
as she stood thus in lonely exaltation, and behind her, glorious
banners fluttered, and the blue sky took on a deeper colour. What
Perion saw was like a church window when the sun shines through it.
Ahasuerus perfectly understood the baiting of a trap.
Perion came into the open plain before the castle and called on her
dear name three times. Then Perion, naked to his enemies, and at the
disposal of the first pagan archer that chose to shoot him down, sang
cheerily the waking-song which Melicent had heard a mimic Amphitryon
make in Dame Alcmena's honour, very long ago, when people laughed and
Melicent was young and ignorant of misery.
Sang Perion, "_Rei glorios, verais lums e clardatz--_" or, in other
"Thou King of glory, veritable light, all-powerful deity! be pleased to
succour faithfully my fair, sweet friend. The night that severed us has
been long and bitter, the darkness has been shaken by bleak winds, but
now the dawn is near at hand.
"My fair sweet friend, be of good heart! We have been tormented long
enough by evil dreams. Be of good heart, for the dawn is approaching!
The east is astir. I have seen the orient star which heralds day. I
discern it clearly, for now the dawn is near at hand."
The song was no great matter; but the splendid futility of its
performance amid such touch-and-go surroundings Melicent considered to
be august. And consciousness of his words' poverty, as Perion thus
lightly played with death in order to accord due honour to the lady he
served, was to Dame Melicent in her high martyrdom as is the twist of a
dagger in an already fatal wound; and made her love augment.
"My fair sweet friend, it is I, your servitor, who cry to you, _Be of
good heart!_ Regard the sky and the stars now growing dim, and you will
see that I have been an untiring sentinel. It will presently fare the
worse for those who do not recognise that the dawn is near at hand.
"My fair sweet friend, since you were taken from me I have not ever
been of a divided mind. I have kept faith, I have not failed you.
Hourly I have entreated God and the Son of Mary to have compassion upon
our evil dreams. And now the dawn is near at hand."
"My poor, bruised, puzzled boy," thought Melicent, as she had done so
long ago, "how came you to be blundering about this miry world of ours?
And how may I be worthy?"
Orestes spoke. His voice disturbed the woman's rapture thinly, like the
speech of a ghost, and she remembered now that a bustling world was her
"Assuredly," Orestes said, "this man is insane. I will forthwith
command my archers to despatch him in the middle of his caterwauling.
For at this distance they cannot miss him."
But Ahasuerus said:
"No, seignior, not by my advice. If you slay this Perion of the Forest,
his retainers will speedily abandon a desperate siege and retreat to
the coast. But they will never retreat so long as the man lives and
sways them, and we hold Melicent, for, as you plainly see, this
abominable reprobate is quite besotted with love of her. His death
would win you praise; but the destruction of his armament will purchase
you your province. Now in two days at most our troops will come, and
then we will slay all the Free Companions."
"That is true," said Orestes, "and it is remarkable how you think of
these things so quickly."
So Orestes was ruled by Ahasuerus, and Perion, through no merit of his
own, departed unharmed.
Then Melicent was conducted to her own apartments; and eunuchs guarded
her, while the battle was, and men she had not ever seen died by the
score because her beauty was so great.
_How a Bargain Was Cried_
Now about sunset Melicent knelt in her oratory and laid all her grief
before the Virgin, imploring counsel.
This place was in reality a chapel, which Demetrios had builded for
Melicent in exquisite enjoyment. To furnish it he had sacked towns she
never heard of, and had rifled two cathedrals, because the notion that
the wife of Demetrios should own a Christian chapel appeared to him
amusing. The Virgin, a masterpiece of Pietro di Vicenza, Demetrios had
purchased by the interception of a free city's navy. It was a painted
statue, very handsome.
The sunlight shone on Melicent through a richly coloured window wherein
were shown the sufferings of Christ and the two thieves. This siftage
made about her a welter of glowing and intermingling colours, above
which her head shone with a clear halo.
This much Ahasuerus noted. He said, "You offer tears to Miriam of
Nazara. Yonder they are sacrificing a bull to Mithras. But I do not
make either offering or prayer to any god. Yet of all persons in
Nacumera I alone am sure of this day's outcome." Thus spoke the Jew
The woman stood erect now. She asked, "What of the day, Ahasuerus?"
"It has been much like other days that I have seen. The sun rose
without any perturbation. And now it sinks as usual. Oh, true, there
has been fighting. The sky has been clouded with arrows, and horses,
nicer than their masters, have screamed because these soulless beasts
were appalled by so much blood. Many women have become widows, and
divers children are made orphans, because of two huge eyes they never
saw. Puf! it is an old tale."
She said, "Is Perion hurt?"
"Is the dog hurt that has driven a cat into a tree? Such I estimate to
be the position of Orestes and Perion. Ah, no, this Perion who was my
captain once is as yet a lord without any peer in the fields where men
contend in battle. But love has thrust him into a bag's end, and his
fate is certain."
She spoke her steadfast resolution. "And my fate, too. For when Perion
is trapped and slain I mean to kill myself."
"I am aware of that," he said. "Oh, women have these notions! Yet when
the hour came, I think, you would not dare. For I know your beliefs
concerning hell's geography, and which particular gulf of hell is
reserved for all self-murderers."
Then Melicent waited for a while. She spoke later without any apparent
emotion. "And how should I fear hell who crave a bitterer fate! Listen,
Ahasuerus! I know that you desire me as a plaything very greatly. The
infamy in which you wade attests as much. Yet you have schemed to no
purpose if Perion dies, because the ways of death are always open. I
would die many times rather than endure the touch of your finger.
Ahasuerus, I have not any words wherewith to tell you of my loathing--"
"Turn then to bargaining," he said, and seemed aware of all her
thoughts. "Oh, to a hideous bargain. Let Perion be warned of those
troops that will to-morrow outflank him. Let him escape. There is yet
time. Do this, dark hungry man, and I will live." She shuddered here.
"Yes, I will live and be obedient in all things to you, my purchaser,
until you shall have wearied of me, or, at the least, until God has
His careful eyes were narrowed. "You would bribe me as you once bribed
Demetrios? And to the same purpose? I think that fate excels less in
invention than in cruelty."
She bitterly said, "Heaven help me, and what other wares have I to
"None. No woman has in this black age; and therefore comfort you, my
She hurried on. "Therefore anew I offer Melicent, who was a princess
once. I cry a price for red lips and bright eyes and a fair woman's
tender body without any blemish. I have no longer youth and happiness
and honour to afford you as your toys. These three have long been
strangers to me. Oh, very long! Yet all I have I offer for one
charitable deed. See now how near you are to victory. Think now how