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Domnei by James Branch Cabell et al

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gloriously one honest act would show in you who have betrayed each
overlord you ever served."

He said:

"I am suspicious of strange paths, I shrink from practising unfamiliar
virtues. My plan is fixed. I think I shall not alter it."

"Ah, no, Ahasuerus! think instead how beautiful I am. There is no
comelier animal in all this big lewd world. Indeed I cannot count how
many men have died because I am a comely animal--" She smiled as one
who is too tired to weep. "That, too, is an old tale. Now I abate in
value, it appears, very lamentably. For I am purchasable now just by
one honest deed, and there is none who will barter with me."

He returned:

"You forget that a freed Perion would always have a sonorous word or
two to say in regard to your bargainings. Demetrios bargained, you may
remember. Demetrios was a dread lord. It cost him daily warfare to
retain you. Now I lack swords and castles--I who dare love you much as
Demetrios did--and I would be able to retain neither Melicent nor
tranquil existence for an unconscionable while. Ah, no! I bear my
former general no grudge. I merely recognise that while Perion lives he
will not ever leave pursuit of you. I would readily concede the potency
of his spurs, even were there need to look on you a second time--It
happens that there is no need! Meanwhile I am a quiet man, and I abhor
dissension. For the rest, I do not think that you will kill yourself,
and so I think I shall not alter my fixed plan."

He left her, and Melicent prayed no more. To what end, she reflected,
need she pray, when there was no hope for Perion?


_How Melicent Conquered_

Into Melicent's bedroom, about two o'clock in the morning, came
Ahasuerus the Jew. She sat erect in bed and saw him cowering over a
lamp which his long glistening fingers shielded, so that the lean face
of the man floated upon a little golden pool in the darkness. She
marvelled that this detestable countenance had not aged at all since
her first sight of it.

He smoothly said:

"Now let us talk. I have loved you for some while, fair Melicent."

"You have desired me," she replied.

"Faith, I am but as all men, whatever their age. Why, what the devil!
man may have Javeh's breath in him, but even Scripture proves that man
was made of clay." The Jew now puffed out his jaws as if in
recollection. "_You are a handsome piece of flesh_, I thought when I
came to you at Bellegarde, telling of Perion's captivity. I thought no
more than this, because in my time I have seen a greater number of
handsome women than you would suppose. Thereafter, on account of an odd
reason which I had, I served Demetrios willingly enough. This son of
Miramon Lluagor was able to pay me well, in a curious coinage. So I
arranged the bungling snare Demetrios proposed--too gross, I thought
it, to trap any woman living. Oh, and why should I not lay an open and
frank springe for you? Who else was a king's bride-to-be, young,
beautiful, and blessed with wealth and honour and every other comfort
which the world affords?" Now the Jew made as if to fling away a robe
from his gaunt person. "And you cast this, all this, aside as nothing.
I saw it done."

"Ah, but I did it to save Perion," she wisely said.

"Unfathomable liar," he returned, "you boldly and unscrupulously bought
of life the thing which you most earnestly desired. Nor Solomon nor
Periander has won more. And thus I saw that which no other man has
seen. I saw the shrewd and dauntless soul of Melicent. And so I loved
you, and I laid my plan--"

She said, "You do not know of love--"

"Yet I have builded him a temple," the Jew considered. He continued,
with that old abhorrent acquiescence, "Now, a temple is admirable, but
it is not builded until many labourers have dug and toiled waist-deep
in dirt. Here, too, such spatterment seemed necessary. So I played, in
fine, I played a cunning music. The pride of Demetrios, the jealousy of
Callistion, and the greed of Orestes--these were as so many stops of
that flute on which I played a cunning deadly music. Who forbids it?"

She motioned him, "Go on." Now she was not afraid.

"Come then to the last note of my music! You offer to bargain, saying,
_Save Perion and have my body as your chattel_. I answer _Click_! The
turning of a key solves all. Accordingly I have betrayed the castle of
Nacumera, I have this night admitted Perion and his broad-shouldered
men. They are killing Orestes yonder in the Court of Stars even while I
talk with you." Ahasuerus laughed noiselessly. "Such vanity does not
become a Jew, but I needs must do the thing with some magnificence.
Therefore I do not give Sire Perion only his life. I give him also
victory and much throat-cutting and an impregnable rich castle. Have I
not paid the price, fair Melicent? Have I not won God's masterpiece
through a small wire, a purse, and a big key?"

She answered, "You have paid."

He said:

"You will hold to your bargain? Ah, you have but to cry aloud, and you
are rid of me. For this is Perion's castle."

She said, "Christ help me! You have paid my price."

Now the Jew raised his two hands in very horrible mirth. Said he:

"Oh, I am almost tempted to praise Javeh, who created the invincible
soul of Melicent. For you have conquered: you have gained, as always,
and at whatever price, exactly that which you most desired, and you do
not greatly care about anything else. So, because of a word said you
would arise and follow me on my dark ways if I commanded it. You will
not weight the dice, not even at this pinch, when it would be so easy!
For Perion is safe; and nothing matters in comparison with that, and
you will not break faith, not even with me. You are inexplicable, you
are stupid, and you are resistless. Again I see my Melicent, who is not
just a pair of purple eyes and so much lovely flesh."

His face was as she had not ever known it now, and very tender.
Ahasuerus said:

"My way to victory is plain enough. And yet there is an obstacle. For
my fancy is taken by the soul of Melicent, and not by that handsome
piece of flesh which all men--even Perion, madame!--have loved so long
with remarkable infatuation. Accordingly I had not ever designed that
the edifice on which I laboured should be the stable of my lusts.
Accordingly I played my cunning music--and accordingly I give you
Perion. I that am Ahasuerus win for you all which righteousness and
honour could not win. At the last it is I who give you Perion, and it
is I who bring you to his embrace. He must still be about his
magnanimous butchery, I think, in the Court of Stars."

Ahasuerus knelt, kissing her hand.

"Fair Melicent, such abominable persons as Demetrios and I are fatally
alike. We may deny, deride, deplore, or even hate, the sanctity of any
noble lady accordingly as we elect; but there is for us no possible
escape from worshipping it. Your wind-fed Ferions, who will not ever
acknowledge what sort of world we live in, are less quick to recognise
the soul of Melicent. Such is our sorry consolation. Oh, you do not
believe me yet. You will believe in the oncoming years. Meanwhile, O
all-enduring and all-conquering! go now to your last labour; and--if
my Brother dare concede as much--do you now conquer Perion."

Then he vanished. She never saw him any more.

She lifted the Jew's lamp. She bore it through the Women's Garden,
wherein were many discomfortable shadows and no living being. She came
to its outer entrance. Men were fighting there. She skirted a hideous
conflict, and descended the Queen's Stairway, which led (as you have
heard) toward the balcony about the Court of Stars. She found this
balcony vacant.

Below her men were fighting. To the farther end of the court Orestes
sprawled upon the red and yellow slabs--which now for the most part
were red--and above him towered Perion of the Forest. The conqueror had
paused to cleanse his sword upon the same divan Demetrios had occupied
when Melicent first saw the proconsul; and as Perion turned, in the act
of sheathing his sword, he perceived the dear familiar denizen of all
his dreams. A tiny lamp glowed in her hand quite steadily.

"O Melicent," said Perion, with a great voice, "my task is done. Come
now to me."

She instantly obeyed whose only joy was to please Perion. Descending
the enclosed stairway, she thought how like its gloom was to the
temporal unhappiness she had passed through in serving Perion.

He stood a dripping statue, for he had fought horribly. She came to
him, picking her way among the slain. He trembled who was fresh from
slaying. A flood of torchlight surged and swirled about them, and
within a stone's cast Perion's men were despatching the wounded.

These two stood face to face and did not speak at all.

I think that he knew disappointment first. He looked to find the girl
whom he had left on Fomor Beach.

He found a woman, the possessor still of a compelling beauty. Oh, yes,
past doubt: but this woman was a stranger to him, as he now knew with
an odd sense of sickness. Thus, then, had ended the quest of Melicent.
Their love had flouted Time and Fate. These had revenged this
insolence, it seemed to Perion, by an ironical conversion of each rebel
into another person. For this was not the girl whom Perion had loved in
far red-roofed Poictesme; this was not the girl for whom Perion had
fought ten minutes since: and he--as Perion for the first time
perceived--was not and never could be any more the Perion that girl had
bidden return to her. It were as easy to evoke the Perion who had loved

Then Perion perceived that love may be a power so august as to bedwarf
consideration of the man and woman whom it sways. He saw that this is
reasonable. I cannot justify this knowledge. I cannot even tell you
just what great secret it was of which Perion became aware. Many men
have seen the sunrise, but the serenity and awe and sweetness of this
daily miracle, the huge assurance which it emanates that the beholder
is both impotent and greatly beloved, is not entirely an affair of the
sky's tincture. And thus it was with Perion. He knew what he could not
explain. He knew such joy and terror as none has ever worded. A curtain
had lifted briefly; and the familiar world which Perion knew, for the
brief instant, had appeared to be a painting upon that curtain.

Now, dazzled, he saw Melicent for the first time....

I think he saw the lines already forming in her face, and knew that,
but for him, this woman, naked now of gear and friends, had been
to-night a queen among her own acclaiming people. I think he worshipped
where he did not dare to love, as every man cannot but do when starkly
fronted by the divine and stupendous unreason of a woman's choice,
among so many other men, of him. And yet, I think that Perion recalled
what Ayrart de Montors had said of women and their love, so long ago:--
"They are more wise than we; and always they make us better by
indomitably believing we are better than in reality a man can ever be."

I think that Perion knew, now, de Montors had been in the right. The
pity and mystery and beauty of that world wherein High God had--
scornfully?--placed a smug Perion, seemed to the Comte de la Fort, I
think, unbearable. I think a new and finer love smote Perion as a sword

I think he did not speak because there was no scope for words. I know
that he knelt (incurious for once of victory) before this stranger who
was not the Melicent whom he had sought so long, and that all
consideration of a lost young Melicent departed from him, as mists
leave our world when the sun rises.

I think that this was her high hour of triumph.



_These lives made out of loves that long since were
Lives wrought as ours of earth and burning air,
Was such not theirs, the twain I take, and give
Out of my life to make their dead life live
Some days of mine, and blow my living breath
Between dead lips forgotten even of death?
So many and many of old have given my twain
Love and live song and honey-hearted pain._

Thus, rather suddenly, ends our knowledge of the love-business between
Perion and Melicent. For at this point, as abruptly as it began, the
one existing chronicle of their adventures makes conclusion, like a bit
of interrupted music, and thereby affords conjecture no inconsiderable
bounds wherein to exercise itself. Yet, in view of the fact that
deductions as to what befell these lovers afterward can at best result
in free-handed theorising, it seems more profitable in this place to
speak very briefly of the fragmentary _Roman de Lusignan_, since the
history of Melicent and Perion as set forth in this book makes no
pretensions to be more than a rendering into English of this
manuscript, with slight additions from the earliest known printed
version of 1546.


M. Verville, in his monograph on Nicolas de

Caen,[1: Paul Verville, _Notice sur la vie de Nicolas de Caen_, p. 112
(Rouen, 1911)] considers it probable that the _Roman de Lusignan_ was
printed in Bruges by Colard Mansion at about the same time Mansion
published the _Dizain des Reines_. This is possible; but until a copy
of the book is discovered, our sole authority for the romance must
continue to be the fragmentary MS. No. 503 in the Allonbian Collection.

Among the innumerable manuscripts in the British Museum there is
perhaps none which opens a wider field for guesswork. In its entirety
the _Roman de Lusignan_ was, if appearances are to be trusted, a
leisured and ambitious handling of the Melusina legend; but in the
preserved portion Melusina figures hardly at all. We have merely the
final chapters of what would seem to have been the first half, or
perhaps the first third, of the complete narrative; so that this
manuscript account of Melusina's beguilements breaks off,
fantastically, at a period by many years anterior to a date which those
better known versions of Jean d'Arras and Thuring von Ringoltingen
select as the only appropriate starting-point.

By means of a few elisions, however, the episodic story of Melicent
and of the men who loved Melicent has been disembedded from what
survives of the main narrative. This episode may reasonably be
considered as complete in itself, in spite of its precipitous
commencement; we are not told anything very definite concerning
Perion's earlier relations with Melusina, it is true, but then they are
hardly of any especial importance. And speculations as to the tale's
perplexing chronology, or as to the curious treatment of the Ahasuerus
legend, wherein Nicolas so strikingly differs from his precursors,
Matthew Paris and Philippe Mouskes, or as to the probable course of
latter incidents in the romance (which must almost inevitably have
reached its climax in the foundation of the house of Lusignan by
Perion's son Raymondin and Melusina) are more profitably left to M.
Verville's ingenuity.


One feature, though, of this romance demands particular comment. The
happenings of the Melicent-episode pivot remarkably upon _domnei_--upon
chivalric love, upon the _Frowendienst_ of the minnesingers, or upon
"woman-worship," as we might bunglingly translate a word for which in
English there is no precisely equivalent synonym. Therefore this
English version of the Melicent-episode has been called _Domnei_, at
whatever price of unintelligibility.

For there is really no other word or combination of words which seems
quite to sum up, or even indicate this precise attitude toward life.
_Domnei_ was less a preference for one especial woman than a code of
philosophy. "The complication of opinions and ideas, of affections and
habits," writes Charles Claude Fauriel,[1: _Histoire de la littrature
provenale_, p. 330 (Adler's translation, New York, 1860)] "which
prompted the chevalier to devote himself to the service of a lady, and
by which he strove to prove to her his love and to merit hers in
return, was expressed by the single word _domnei_."

And this, of course, is true enough. Yet _domnei_ was even more than a
complication of opinions and affections and habits: it was also a
malady and a religion quite incommunicably blended.

Thus you will find that Dante--to cite only the most readily accessible
of mediaeval amorists--enlarges as to _domnei_ in both these last-named
aspects impartially. _Domnei_ suspends all his senses save that of
sight, makes him turn pale, causes tremors in his left side, and sends
him to bed "like a little beaten child, in tears"; throughout you have
the manifestations of _domnei_ described in terms befitting the
symptoms of a physical disease: but as concerns the other aspect, Dante
never wearies of reiterating that it is domnei which has turned his
thoughts toward God; and with terrible sincerity he beholds in Beatrice
de'Bardi the highest illumination which Divine Grace may permit to
humankind. "This is no woman; rather it is one of heaven's most radiant
angels," he says with terrible sincerity.

With terrible sincerity, let it be repeated: for the service of domnei
was never, as some would affect to interpret it, a modish and ordered
affectation; the histories of Peire de Manzac, of Guillaume de
Caibestaing, of Geoffrey Rudel, of Ulrich von Liechtenstein, of the
Monk of Pucibot, of Pons de Capdueilh, and even of Peire Vidal and
Guillaume de Balaun, survive to prove it was a serious thing, a stark
and life-disposing reality. En cor gentil domnei per mort no passa, as
Nicolas himself declares. The service of domnei involved, it in fact
invited, anguish; it was a martyrdom whereby the lover was uplifted to
saintship and the lady to little less than, if anything less than,
godhead. For it was a canon of domnei, it was the very essence of
domnei, that the woman one loves is providentially set between her
lover's apprehension, and God, as the mobile and vital image and
corporeal reminder of heaven, as a quick symbol of beauty and holiness,
of purity and perfection. In her the lover views--embodied, apparent to
human sense, and even accessible to human enterprise--all qualities of
God which can be comprehended by merely human faculties. It is
precisely as such an intermediary that Melicent figures toward Perion,
and, in a somewhat different degree, toward Ahasuerus--since Ahasuerus
is of necessity apart in all things from the run of humanity.

Yet instances were not lacking in the service of _domnei_ where worship
of the symbol developed into a religion sufficing in itself, and became
competitor with worship of what the symbol primarily represented--such
instances as have their analogues in the legend of Ritter Tannhuser,
or in Aucassin's resolve in the romance to go down into hell with "his
sweet mistress whom he so much loves," or (here perhaps most perfectly
exampled) in Arnaud de Merveil's nave declaration that whatever
portion of his heart belongs to God heaven holds in vassalage to
Adelaide de Beziers. It is upon this darker and rebellious side of
_domnei_, of a religion pathetically dragged dustward by the luxuriance
and efflorescence of over-passionate service, that Nicolas has touched
in depicting Demetrios.


Nicolas de Caen, himself the servitor _par amours_ of Isabella of
Burgundy, has elsewhere written of _domne_i (in his _Le Roi Amaury_) in
terms such as it may not be entirely out of place to transcribe here.
Baalzebub, as you may remember, has been discomfited in his endeavours
to ensnare King Amaury and is withdrawing in disgust.

"A pest upon this _domnei_!"[1: Quoted with minor alterations from
Watson's version] the fiend growls. "Nay, the match is at an end, and I
may speak in perfect candour now. I swear to you that, given a man
clear-eyed enough to see that a woman by ordinary is nourished much as
he is nourished, and is subjected to every bodily infirmity which he
endures and frets beneath, I do not often bungle matters. But when a
fool begins to flounder about the world, dead-drunk with adoration of
an immaculate woman--a monster which, as even the man's own judgment
assures him, does not exist and never will exist--why, he becomes as
unmanageable as any other maniac when a frenzy is upon him. For then
the idiot hungers after a life so high-pitched that his gross faculties
may not so much as glimpse it; he is so rapt with impossible dreams
that he becomes oblivious to the nudgings of his most petted vice; and
he abhors his own innate and perfectly natural inclination to
cowardice, and filth, and self-deception. He, in fine, affords me and
all other rational people no available handle; and, in consequence, he
very often flounders beyond the reach of my whisperings. There may be
other persons who can inform you why such blatant folly should thus be
the master-word of evil, but for my own part, I confess to ignorance."

"Nay, that folly, as you term it, and as hell will always term it, is
alike the riddle and the masterword of the universe," the old king

And Nicolas whole-heartedly believed that this was true. We do not
believe this, quite, but it may be that we are none the happier for our




I. LES AMANTS DE MELICENT, Traduction moderne, annote et procede d'un
notice historique sur Nicolas de Caen, par l'Abb. * * * A Paris. Pour
Iaques Keruer aux deux Cochetz, Rue S. Iaques, M. D. XLVI. Avec
Privilge du Roy. The somewhat abridged reprint of 1788 was believed to
be the first version printed in French, until the discovery of this
unique volume in 1917.

II. ARMAGEDDON; or the Great Day of the Lord's Judgement: a Parcenesis
to Prince Henry--MELICENT; an heroicke poeme intended, drawne from
French bookes, the First Booke, by Sir William Allonby. London. Printed
for Nathaniel Butler, dwelling at the _Pied Bull_, at Saint Austen's
Gate. 1626.

III. PERION UNO MELICENT, zum erstenmale aus dem Franzsischen ins
Deutsche ubersetzt, von J. H. G. Lowe. Stuttgart und Tbingen, 1823.

IV. Los NEGOCIANTES DO DON PERION, publicado por Plancher-Seignot. Rio
de Janiero, 1827. The translator's name is not given. The preface is
signed R. L.

V. LA DONNA DI DEMETRIO, Historia piacevole e morale, da Antonio
Checino. Milan, 1833.

VI. PRINDSESSES MELICENT, oversat af Le Roman de Lusignan, og udgivna
paa Dansk vid R. Kns. Copenhagen, 1840.

VII. ANTIQUAe FABULAe ET COMEDIAe, edid. G. Rask. Gttingen, 1852. Vol.
II, p. 61 _et seq_. "DE FIDE MELICENTIS"--an abridged version of the

VIII. PERION EN MELICENT, voor de Nederlandsche Jeugduiitgegeven door
J. M. L. Wolters. Groningen, 1862.

anciens, dits et annots par MM. Armin et Moland. Lyons, 1880. Vol.
IV, p. 89 et seq., "LE ROMAN DE LA BELLE MELICENT"--a much condensed
form of the story.

X. THE SOUL OF MELICENT, by James Branch Cabell. Illustrated in colour
by Howard Pyle. New York, 1913. This rendering was made, of course,
before the discovery of the 1546 version, and so had not the benefit of
that volume's interesting variants from the abridgment of 1788.

XI. CINQ BALLADES DE NICOLAS DE CAEN, traduites en verse du Roman de
Lusignan, par Mme. Adolpe Galland, et mises en musique par Raoul
Bidoche. Paris, 1898.

XII. LE LIURE DE MLUSINE en fracoys, par Jean d'Arras. Geneva, 1478.


warachtich kout te syne ende autentick sprekende van eenre vrouwen
gheheeten Mlusine. Tantwerpen, 1500.

Augsburg, 1547.

XVI. L'HISTOIRE DE MLUSINE, fille du roy d'Albanie et de dame
Pressine, revue et mise en meilleur langage que par cy devant. Lyons,

XVII. LE ROMAN DE MLUSINE, princesse de Lusignan, avec l'histoire de
Geoffry, surnomm la Grand Dent, par Nodot. Paris, 1700.

XVIII. KRONYKE KRATOCHWILNE, o ctn a slech netn Panne Meluzijne.
Prag, 1760.

eine Tochter des Knig Helmus und ein Meerwunder gewesen ist. Nurnberg,
without date: reprinted in Marbach's VOLKS BCHER, Leipzig, 1838.




DOMNEI (_The Soul of Melicent_)















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