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  • 1921
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“It is a feather, King, wrapped in a bit of my sister’s best petticoat.”

Then Ferdinand sighed, and he arose from his interesting experiments with what was left of the Marquess de Henestrosa, to whom the King had taken a sudden dislike that morning.

“Tut, tut!” said Ferdinand: “yet, after all, I have had a brave time of it, with my enormities and my iniquities, and it is not as though there were nothing to look back on! So at what price will you sell me that feather?”

“But surely a feather is no use to anybody, King, for does it not seem to you a quite ordinary feather?”

“Come!” says King Ferdinand, as he washed his hands, “do people anywhere wrap ordinary feathers in red silk? You squinting rascal, do not think to swindle me out of eternal bliss by any such foolish talk! I perfectly recognize that feather as the feather which Milcah plucked from the left pinion of the Archangel Oriphiel when the sons of God were on more intricate and scandalous terms with the daughters of men than are permitted nowadays.”

“Well, sir,” replied Manuel, “you may be right in a world wherein nothing is certain. At all events, I have deduced, from one to two things in this torture-chamber, that it is better not to argue with King Ferdinand.”

“How can I help being right, when it was foretold long ago that such a divine emissary as you would bring this very holy relic to turn me from my sins and make a saint of me?” says Ferdinand, peevishly.

“It appears to me a quite ordinary feather, King: but I recall what a madman told me, and I do not dispute that your prophets are wiser than I, for I have been a divine emissary for only a short while.”

“Do you name your price for this feather, then!”

“I think it would be more respectful, sir, to refer you to the prophets, for I find them generous and big-hearted creatures.”

Ferdinand nodded his approval. “That is very piously spoken, because it was prophesied that this relic would be given me for no price at all by a great nobleman. So I must forthwith write out for you a count’s commission, I suppose, and must write out your grants to fertile lands and a stout castle or two, and must date your title to these things from yesterday.”

“Certainly,” said Manuel, “it would not look well for you to be neglecting due respect to such a famous prophecy, with that bottle of ink at your elbow.”

So King Ferdinand sent for the Count of Poictesme, and explained to him as between old friends how the matter stood, and that afternoon the high Count was confessed and decapitated. Poictesme being now a vacant fief, King Ferdinand ennobled Manuel, and made him Count of Poictesme.

It was true that all Poictesme was then held by the Northmen, under Duke Asmund, who denied King Ferdinand’s authority with contempt, and defeated him in battle with annoying persistence: so that Manuel for the present acquired nothing but the sonorous title.

“Some terrible calamity, however,” as King Ferdinand pointed out, “is sure to befall Asmund and his iniquitous followers before very long, so we need not bother about them.”

“But how may I be certain of that, sir?” Manuel asked.

“Count, I am surprised at such scepticism! Is it not very explicitly stated in Holy Writ that though the wicked may flourish for a while they are presently felled like green bay-trees?”

“Yes, to be sure! So there is no doubt that your soldiers will soon conquer Duke Asmund.”

“But I must not send any soldiers to fight against him, now that I am a saint, for that would not look well. It would have an irreligious appearance of prompting Heaven.”

“Still, King, you are sending soldiers against the Moors–“

“Ah, but it is not your lands, Count, but my city of Ubeda, which the Moors are attacking, and to attack a saint, as you must undoubtedly understand, is a dangerous heresy which it is my duty to put down.”

“Yes, to be sure! Well, well!” says Manuel, “at any rate, to be a count is something, and it is better to ward a fine name than a parcel of pigs, though it appears the pigs are the more nourishing.”

In the mean while the King’s heralds rode everywhither in fluted armor, to proclaim the fulfilment of the old prophecy as to the Archangel Oriphiel’s feather. Never before was there such a hubbub in those parts, for the bells of all the churches sounded all day, and all the people ran about praying at the top of their voices, and forgiving their relatives, and kissing the girls, and blowing whistles and ringing cowbells, because the city now harbored a relic so holy that the vilest sinner had but to touch it to be purified of iniquity.

And that day King Ferdinand dismissed the evil companions with whom he had so long rioted in every manner of wickedness, and Ferdinand lived henceforward as became a saint. He builded two churches a year, and fared edifyingly on roots and herbs; he washed the feet of three indigent persons daily, and went in sackcloth; whenever he burned heretics he fetched and piled up the wood himself, so as to inconvenience nobody; and he made prioresses and abbesses of his more intimate and personal associates of yesterday, because he knew that people are made holy by contact with holiness, and that sainthood is retroactive.

Thereafter Count Manuel abode for a month at the court of King Ferdinand, noting whatever to this side and to that side seemed most notable. Manuel was generally liked by the elect, and in the evening when the court assembled for family-prayers nobody was more devout than the Count of Poictesme. He had a quiet way with the abbesses and prioresses, and with the anchorites and bishops a way of simplicity which was vastly admired in a divine emissary. “But the particular favor of Heaven,” as King Ferdinand pointed out, “is always reserved for modest persons.”

The feather from the wing of Helmas’ goose King Ferdinand had caused to be affixed to the unassuming skullcap with a halo of gold wire which Ferdinand now wore in the place of a vainglorious earthly crown; so that perpetual contiguity with this relic might keep him in augmenting sanctity. And now that doubt of himself had gone out of his mind, Ferdinand lived untroubled, and his digestion improved on his light diet of roots and herbs, and his loving-kindness was infinite, because he could not now be angry with the pitiable creatures haled before him, when he considered what lengthy and ingenious torments awaited every one of them, either in hell or purgatory, while Ferdinand would be playing a gold harp in heaven.

So Ferdinand dealt tenderly and generously with all. Half of his subjects said that simply showed you: and the rest of them assented that indeed you might well say that, and they had often thought of it, and had wished that young people would take profit by considering such things more seriously.

And Manuel got clay and modeled a figure which had the features and the holy look of King Ferdinand.

“Yes, this young fellow you have made of mud is something like me,” the King conceded, “although clay of course cannot do justice to the fine red cheeks and nose I used to have in the unregenerate days when I thought about such vanities, and, besides, it is rather more like you. Still, Count, the thing has feeling, it is wholesome, it is refreshingly free from these modern morbid considerations of anatomy, and it does you credit.”

“No, King, I like this figure well enough, now that it is done, but it is not, I somehow know, the figure I desire to make. No, I must follow after my own thinking and my own desires, and I do not need holiness.”

“You artists!” the King said. “But there is more than mud upon your mind.”

“In fact, I am puzzled, King, to see you made a saint of by its being expected of you.”

“But, Count, that ought to grieve nobody, so long as I do not complain, and it is of something graver you are thinking.”

“I think, sir, that it is not right to rob anybody of anything, and I reflect that absolute righteousness is a fine feather in one’s cap.”

Then Manuel went into the chicken-yard behind the red-roofed palace of King Ferdinand, and caught a goose, and plucked from its wing a feather. Thereafter the florid young Count of Poictesme rode east, on a tall dappled horse, and a retinue of six lackeys in silver and black liveries came cantering after him, and the two foremost lackeys carried in knapsacks, marked with a gold coronet, the images which Dom Manuel had made. A third lackey carried Dom Manuel’s shield, upon which were emblazoned the arms of Poictesme. The black shield displayed a silver stallion which was rampant in every member and was bridled with gold, but the ancient arms had been given a new motto.

“What means this Greek?” Dom Manuel had asked.

“_Mundus decipit_, Count,” they told him, “is the old pious motto of Poictesme: it signifies that the affairs of this world are a vain fleeting show, and that terrestrial appearances are nowhere of any particular importance.”

“Then your motto is green inexperience,” said Manuel, “and for me to bear it would be black ingratitude.”

So the writing had been changed in accordance with his instructions, and it now read _Mundus vult decipi_.

[Illustration]

IX

The Feather of Love

In such estate it was that Count Manuel came, on Christmas morning, just two days after Manuel was twenty-one, into Provence. This land, reputed sorcerous, in no way displayed to him any unusual features, though it was noticeable that the King’s marmoreal palace was fenced with silver pikes whereon were set the embalmed heads of young men who had wooed the Princess Alianora unsuccessfully. Manuel’s lackeys did not at first like the looks of these heads, and said they were unsuitable for Christmas decorations: but Dom Manuel explained that at this season of general merriment this palisade also was mirth-provoking because (the weather being such as was virtually unprecedented in these parts) a light snow had fallen during the night, so that each head seemed to wear a nightcap.

They bring Manuel to Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence and King of Aries, who was holding the Christmas feast in his warm hall. Raymond sat on a fine throne of carved white ivory and gold, beneath a purple canopy. And beside him, upon just such another throne, not quite so high, sat Raymond’s daughter, Alianora the Unattainable Princess, in a robe of watered silk which was of seven colors and was lined with the dark fur of barbiolets. In her crown were chrysolites and amethysts: it was a wonder to note how brightly they shone, but they were not so bright as Alianora’s eyes.

She stared as Manuel of the high head came through the hall, wherein the barons were seated according to their degrees. She had, they say, four reasons for remembering the impudent, huge, squinting, yellow-haired young fellow whom she had encountered at the pool of Haranton. She blushed, and spoke with her father in the whistling and hissing language which the Apsarasas use among themselves: and her father laughed long and loud.

Says Raymond Berenger: “Things might have fallen out much worse. Come tell me now, Count of Poictesme, what is that I see in your breast pocket wrapped in red silk?”

“It is a feather, King,” replied Manuel, a little wearily, “wrapped in a bit of my sister’s best petticoat.”

“Ay, ay,” says Raymond Berenger, with a grin that was becoming even more benevolent, “and I need not ask what price you come expecting for that feather. None the less, you are an excellently spoken-of young wizard of noble condition, who have slain no doubt a reasonable number of giants and dragons, and who have certainly turned kings from folly and wickedness. For such fine rumors speed before the man who has fine deeds behind him that you do not come into my realm as a stranger: and, I repeat, things might have fallen out much worse.”

“Now listen, all ye that hold Christmas here!” cried Manuel “A while back I robbed this Princess of a feather, and the thought of it lay in my mind more heavy than a feather, because I had taken what did not belong to me. So a bond was on me, and I set out toward Provence to restore to her a feather. And such happenings befell me by the way that at Michaelmas I brought wisdom into one realm, and at All-Hallows I brought piety into another realm. Now what I may be bringing into this realm of yours at Heaven’s most holy season, Heaven only knows. To the eye it may seem a quite ordinary feather. Yet life in the wide world, I find, is a queerer thing than ever any swineherd dreamed of in his wattled hut, and people everywhere are nourished by their beliefs, in a way that the meat of pigs can nourish nobody.”

Raymond Berenger said, with a wise nod: “I perceive what is in your heart, and I see likewise what is in your pocket. So why do you tell me what everybody knows? Everybody knows that the robe of the Apsarasas, which is the peculiar treasure of Provence, has been ruined by the loss of a feather, so that my daughter can no longer go abroad in the appearance of a swan, because the robe is not able to work any more wonders until that feather in your pocket has been sewed back into the robe with the old incantation.”

“Now, but indeed does everybody know that!” says Manuel.

“–Everybody knows, too, that my daughter has pined away with fretting after her lost ways of outdoor exercise, and the healthful changes of air which she used to be having. And finally, everybody knows that, at my daughter’s very sensible suggestion, I have offered my daughter’s hand in marriage to him who would restore that feather, and death to every impudent young fellow who dared enter here without it, as my palace fence attests.”

“Oh, oh!” says Manuel, smiling, “but seemingly it is no wholesome adventure which has come to me unsought!”

“–So, as you tell me, you came into Provence: and, as there is no need to tell me, I hope, who have still two eyes in my head, you have achieved the adventure. And why do you keep telling me about matters with which I am as well acquainted as you are?”

“But, King of Arles, how do you know that this is not an ordinary feather?”

“Count of Poictesme, do people anywhere–?”

“Oh, spare me that vile bit of worldly logic, sir, and I will concede whatever you desire!”

“Then do you stop talking such nonsense, and do you stop telling me about things that everybody knows, and do you give my daughter her feather!”

Manuel ascends the white throne of Alianora. “Queer things have befallen me,” said Manuel, “but nothing more strange than this can ever happen, than that I should be standing here with you, and holding this small hand in mine. You are not perhaps quite so beautiful nor so clever as Niafer. Nevertheless, you are the Unattainable Princess, whose loveliness recalled me from vain grieving after Niafer, within a half-hour of Niafer’s loss. Yes, you are she whose beauty kindled a dream and a dissatisfaction in the heart of a swineherd, to lead him forth into the wide world, and through the puzzling ways of the wide world, and into its high places: so that at the last the swineherd is standing–a-glitter in satin and gold and in rich furs,–here at the summit of a throne; and at the last the hand of the Unattainable Princess is in his hand, and in his heart is misery.”

The Princess said, “I do not know anything about this Niafer, who was probably no better than she should have been, nor do I know of any conceivable reason for your being miserable.”

“Why, is it not the truth,” asks Manuel of Alianora, speaking not very steadily, “that you are to marry the man who restores the feather of which you were robbed at the pool of Haranton? and can marry none other?”

“It is the truth,” she answered, in a small frightened lovely voice, “and I no longer grieve that it is the truth, and I think it a most impolite reason for your being miserable.”

Manuel laughed without ardor. “See how we live and learn! I recall now the droll credulity of a lad who watched a shining feather burned, while he sat within arm’s reach thinking about cabbage soup, because his grave elders assured him that a feather could never be of any use to anybody. And that, too, after he had seen what uses may be made of an old bridle or of a duck egg or of anything! Well, but all water that is past the dam must go its way, even though it be a flood of tears–“

Here Manuel gently shrugged broad shoulders. He took out of his pocket the feather he had plucked from the wing of Ferdinand’s goose.

He said: “A feather I took from you in the red autumn woods, and a feather I now restore to you, my Princess, in this white palace of yours, not asking any reward, and not claiming to be remembered by you in the gray years to come, but striving to leave no obligation undischarged and no debt unpaid. And whether in this world wherein nothing is certain, one feather is better than another feather, I do not know. It well may come about that I must straightway take a foul doom from fair lips, and that presently my head will be drying on a silver pike. Even so, one never knows: and I have learned that it is well to put all doubt of oneself quite out of mind.”

He gave her the feather he had plucked from the third goose, and the trumpets sounded as a token that the quest of Alianora’s feather had been fulfilled, and all the courtiers shouted in honor of Count Manuel.

Alianora looked at what was in her hand, and saw it was a goose-feather, in nothing resembling the feather which, when she had fled in maidenly embarrassment from Manuel’s over-friendly advances, she had plucked from the robe of the Apsarasas, and had dropped at Manuel’s feet, in order that her father might be forced to proclaim this quest, and the winning of it might be predetermined.

Then Alianora looked at Manuel. Now before her the queer unequal eyes of this big young man were bright and steadfast as altar candles. His chin was well up, and it seemed to her that this fine young fellow expected her to declare the truth, when the truth would be his death-sentence. She had no patience with his nonsense.

Says Alianora, with that lovely tranquil smile of hers: “Count Manuel has fulfilled the quest. He has restored to me the feather from the robe of the Apsarasas. I recognize it perfectly.”

“Why, to be sure,” says Raymond Berenger. “Still, do you get your needle and the recipe for the old incantation, and the robe too, and make it plain to all my barons that the power of the robe is returned to it, by flying about the hall a little in the appearance of a swan. For it is better to conduct these affairs in due order and without any suspicion of irregularity.”

Now matters looked ticklish for Dom Manuel, since he and Alianora knew that the robe had been spoiled, and that the addition of any number of goose-feathers was not going to turn Alianora into a swan. Yet the boy’s handsome and high-colored face stayed courteously attentive to the wishes of his host, and did not change.

But Alianora said indignantly: “My father, I am surprised at you! Have you no sense of decency at all? You ought to know it is not becoming for an engaged girl to be flying about Provence in the appearance of a swan, far less among a parcel of men who have been drinking all morning. It is the sort of thing that leads to a girl’s being talked about.”

“Now, that is true, my dear,” said Raymond Berenger, abashed, “and the sentiment does you credit. So perhaps I had better suggest something else–“

“Indeed, my father, I see exactly what you would be suggesting. And I believe you are right.”

“I am not infallible, my dear: but still–“

“Yes, you are perfectly right: it is not well for any married woman to be known to possess any such robe. There is no telling, just as you say, what people would be whispering about her, nor what disgraceful tricks she would get the credit of playing on her husband.”

“My daughter, I was only about to tell you–“

“Yes, and you put it quite unanswerably. For you, who have the name of being the wisest Count that ever reigned in Provence, and the shrewdest King that Arles has ever had, know perfectly well how people talk, and how eager people are to talk, and to place the very worst construction on everything: and you know, too, that husbands do not like such talk. Certainly I had not thought of these things, my father, but I believe that you are right.”

Raymond Berenger stroked his thick short beard, and said: “Now truly, my daughter, whether or not I be wise and shrewd–though, as you say, of course there have been persons kind enough to consider–and in petitions too–However, be that as it may, and putting aside the fact that everybody likes to be appreciated, I must confess I can imagine no gift which would at this high season be more acceptable to any husband than the ashes of that robe.”

“This is a saying,” Alianora here declares, “well worthy of Raymond Berenger: and I have often wondered at your striking way of putting things.”

“That, too, is a gift,” the King-Count said, with proper modesty, “which to some persons is given, and to others not: so I deserve no credit for it. But, as I was saying when you interrupted me, my dear, it is well for youth to have its fling, because (as I have often thought) we are young only once: and so I have not ever criticized your jauntings in far lands. But a husband is another pair of sandals. A husband does not like to have his wife flying about the tree tops and the tall lonely mountains and the low long marshes, with nobody to keep an eye on her, and that is the truth of it. So, were I in your place, and wise enough to listen to the old father who loves you, and who is wiser than you, my dear–why, now that you are about to marry, I repeat to you with all possible earnestness, my darling, I would destroy this feather and this robe in one red fire, if only Count Manuel will agree to it. For it is he who now has power over all your possessions, and not I.”

“Count Manuel,” says Alianora, with that lovely tranquil smile of hers, “you perceive that my father is insistent, and it is my duty to be guided by him. I do not deny that, upon my father’s advice, I am asking you to let perish a strong magic which many persons would value above a woman’s pleading. But I know now”–her eyes met his, and to any young man anywhere with a heart moving in him, that which Manuel could see in the bright frightened eyes of Alianora could not but be a joy well-nigh intolerable,–“but I know now that you, who are to be my husband, and who have brought wisdom into one kingdom, and piety into another, have brought love into the third kingdom: and I perceive that this third magic is a stronger and a nobler magic than that of the Apsarasas. And it seems to me that you and I would do well to dispense with anything which is second rate.”

“I am of the opinion that you are a singularly intelligent young woman,” says Manuel, “and I am of the belief that it is far too early for me to be crossing my wife’s wishes, in a world wherein all men are nourished by their beliefs.”

All being agreed, the Yule-log was stirred up into a blaze, which was duly fed with the goose-feather and the robe of the Apsarasas. Thereafter the trumpets sounded a fanfare, to proclaim that Raymond Berenger’s collops were cooked and peppered, his wine casks broached, and his puddings steaming. Then the former swineherd went in to share his Christmas dinner with the King-Count’s daughter, Alianora, whom people everywhere had called the Unattainable Princess.

And they relate that while Alianora and Manuel sat cosily in the hood of the fireplace and cracked walnuts, and in the pauses of their talking noted how the snow was drifting by the windows, the ghost of Niafer went restlessly about green fields beneath an ever radiant sky in the paradise of the pagans. When the kindly great-browed warders asked her what it was she was seeking, the troubled spirit could not tell them, for Niafer had tasted Lethe, and had forgotten Dom Manuel. Only her love for him had not been forgotten, because that love had become a part of her, and so lived on as a blind longing and as a desire which did not know its aim. And they relate also that in Suskind’s low red-pillared palace Suskind waited with an old thought for company.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

PART TWO

THE BOOK OF SPENDING

TO

LOUIS UNTERMEYER

Often _tymes herde Manuel tell of the fayrness of this Queene of _Furies _and_ Gobblins _and_ Hydraes, _insomuch that he was enamoured of hyr, though he neuer sawe hyr: then by this Connynge made he a Hole in the fyer, and went ouer to hyr, and when he had spoke with hyr, he shewed hyr his mynde._

X

Alianora

They of Poictesme narrate that after dinner King Raymond sent messengers to his wife, who was spending that Christmas with their daughter, Queen Meregrett of France, to bid Dame Beatrice return as soon as might be convenient, so that they might marry off their daughter Alianora to the famous Count Manuel. They tell also how the holiday season passed with every manner of festivity, and how Dom Manuel got on splendidly with his Princess, and how it appeared to onlookers that for both of them, even for the vaguely condescending boy, love-making proved a very marvelous and dear pursuit.

Dom Manuel confessed, in reply to jealous questionings, that he did not think Alianora quite so beautiful nor so clever as Niafer had been, but this, as Manuel pointed out, was hardly a matter which could be remedied. At all events, the Princess was a fine-looking and intelligent girl, as Dom Manuel freely conceded to her: and the magic of the Apsarasas, in which she was instructing him, Dom Manuel declared to be very interesting if you cared for that sort of thing.

The Princess humbly admitted, in reply, that of course her magic did not compare with his, since hers was powerful only over the bodies of men and beasts, whereas Dom Manuel’s magic had so notably controlled the hearts and minds of kings. Still, as Alianora pointed out, she could blight corn and cattle, and raise tempests very handily, and, given time, could smite an enemy with almost any physical malady you selected. She could not kill outright, to be sure, but even so, these lesser mischiefs were not despicable accomplishments in a young girl. Anyhow, she said in peroration, it was atrocious to discourage her by laughing at the best she could do.

“Ah, but come now, my dear,” says Manuel, “I was only teasing. I really think your work most promising. You have but to continue. Practise, that is the thing, they say, in all the arts.”

“Yes, and with you to help me–“

“No, I have graver matters to attend to than devil-mongering,” says Manuel, “and a bond to lift from myself before I can lay miseries on others.”

For because of the geas that was on him to make a figure in the world, Dom Manuel had unpacked his two images, and after vexedly considering them, he had fallen again to modeling in clay, and had made a third image. This image also was in the likeness of a young man, but it had the fine proud features and the loving look of Alianora.

Manuel confessed to being fairly well pleased with this figure, but even so, he did not quite recognize in it the figure he desired to make, and therefore, he said, he deduced that love was not the thing which was essential to him.

Alianora did not like the image at all.

“To have made an image of me,” she considered, “would have been a very pretty compliment. But when it comes to pulling about my features, as if they did not satisfy you, and mixing them up with your features, until you have made the appearance of a young man that looks like both of us, it is not a compliment. Instead, it is the next thing but one to egotism.”

“Perhaps, now I think of it, I am an egotist. At all events, I am Manuel.”

“Nor, dearest,” says she, “is it quite befitting that you, who are now betrothed to a princess, and who are going to be Lord of Provence and King of Arles, as soon as I can get rid of Father, should be always messing with wet mud.”

“I know that very well,” Manuel replied, “but, none the less, a geas is on me to honor my mother’s wishes, and to make an admirable and significant figure in the world. Apart from that, though, Alianora, I repeat to you, this scheme of yours, about poisoning your father as soon as we are married, appears to me for various reasons ill-advised. I am in no haste to be King of Arles, and, in fact, I am not sure that I wish to be king at all, because my geas is more important.”

“Sweetheart, I love you very much, but my love does not blind me to the fact that, no matter, what your talents at sorcery, you are in everyday matters a hopelessly unpractical person. Do you leave this affair to me, and I will manage it with every regard to appearances.”

“Ah, and does one have to preserve appearances even in such matters as parricide?”

“But certainly it looks much better for Father to be supposed to die of indigestion. People would be suspecting all sorts of evil of the poor dear if it were known that his own daughter could not put up with him. In any event, sweetheart, I am resolved that, since very luckily Father has no sons, you shall be King of Arles before this new year is out.”

“No, I am Manuel: and it means more to me to be Manuel than to be King of Arles, and Count of Provence, and seneschal of Aix and Brignoles and Grasse and Massilia and Draguignan and so on.”

“Oh, you are breaking my heart with this neglect of your true interests! And it is all the doing of these three vile images, which you value more than the old throne of Boson and Rothbold, and oceans more than you do me!”

“Come, I did not say that.”

“Yes, and you think, too, a deal more about that dead heathen servant girl than you do about me, who am a princess and the heir to a kingdom.”

Manuel looked at Alianora for a considerable while, before speaking. “My dear, you are, as I have always told you, an unusually fine looking and intelligent girl. And yes, you are a princess, of course, though you are no longer the Unattainable Princess: that makes a difference certainly–But, over and above all this, there was never anybody like Niafer, and it would be nonsense to pretend otherwise.”

The Princess said: “I wonder at myself. You are schooled in strange sorceries unknown to the Apsarasas, there is no questioning that, after the miracles you wrought with Helmas and Ferdinand: even so, I too have a neat hand at magic, and it is not right for you to be treating me as though I were the dirt under your feet. And I endure it! It is that which puzzles me, it makes me wonder at myself, and my sole comfort is that, at any rate, this wonderful Niafer of yours is dead and done with.”

Manuel sighed. “Yes, Niafer is dead, and these images also are dead things, and both these facts continually trouble me. Nothing can be done about Niafer, I suppose, but if only I could give some animation to these images I think the geas upon me would be satisfied.”

“Such a desire is blasphemous, Manuel, for the Eternal Father did no more than that with His primal sculptures in Eden.”

Dom Manuel blinked his vivid blue eyes as if in consideration. “Well, but,” he said, gravely, “but if I am a child of God it is only natural, I think, that I should inherit the tastes and habits of my Father. No, it is not blasphemous, I think, to desire to make an animated and lively figure, somewhat more admirable and significant than that of the average man. No, I think not. Anyhow, blasphemous or not, that is my need, and I must follow after my own thinking and my own desire.”

“If that desire were satisfied,” asks Alianora, rather queerly, “would you be content to settle down to some such rational method of living as becomes a reputable sorcerer and king?”

“I think so, for a king has no master, and he is at liberty to travel everywhither, and to see the ends of this world and judge them. Yes, I think so, in a world wherein nothing is certain.”

“If I but half way believed that, I would endeavor to obtain Schamir.”

“And what in the devil is this Schamir?”

“A slip of the tongue,” replied Alianora, smiling. “No, I shall have nothing to do with your idiotic mud figures, and I shall tell you nothing further.”

“Come now, pettikins!” says Manuel. And he began coaxing the Princess of Provence with just such cajoleries as the big handsome boy had formerly exercised against the peasant girls of Rathgor.

“Schamir,” said Alianora, at last, “is set in a signet ring which is very well known in the country on the other side of the fire. Schamir has the appearance of a black pebble; and if, after performing the proper ceremonies, you were to touch one of these figures with it the figure would become animated.”

“Well, but,” says Manuel, “the difficulty is that if I attempt to pass through the fire in order to reach the country behind it, I shall be burned to a cinder, and so I have no way of obtaining this talisman.”

“In order to obtain it,” Alianora told him, “one must hard-boil an egg from the falcon’s nest, then replace it in the nest, and secrete oneself near by with a crossbow, under a red and white umbrella, until the mother bird, finding one of her eggs resists all her endeavors to infuse warmth into it, flies off, and plunges into the nearest fire, and returns with this ring in her beak. With Schamir she will touch the boiled egg, and so restore the egg to its former condition. At that moment she must be shot, and the ring must be secured, before the falcon can return the talisman to its owner. I mean, to its dreadful owner, who is”–here Alianora made an incomprehensible sign,–“who is Queen Freydis of Audela.”

“Come,” said Manuel, “what is the good of my knowing this in the dead of winter! It will be months before the falcons are nesting again.”

“Manuel, Manuel, there is no understanding you! Do you not see how badly it looks for a grown man, and far more for a famed champion and a potent sorcerer, to be pouting and scowling and kicking your heels about like that, and having no patience at all?”

“Yes, I suppose it does look badly, but I am Manuel, and I follow–“

“Oh, spare me that,” cried Alianora, “or else, no matter how much I may love you, dearest, I shall box your jaws!”

“None the less, what I was going to say is true,” declared Manuel, “and if only you would believe it, matters would go more smoothly between us.”

[Illustration]

XI

Magic of the Apsarasas

Now the tale tells how, to humor Alianora, Count Manuel applied himself to the magic of the Apsarasas. He went with the Princess to a high secret place, and Alianora, crying sweetly, in the famous old fashion, “Torolix, Ciccabau, Tio, Tio, Torolililix!” performed the proper incantations, and forthwith birds came multitudinously from all quarters of the sky, in a descending flood of color and flapping and whistling and screeching.

The peacock screamed, “With what measure thou judgest others, thou shalt thyself be judged.”

Sang the nightingale, “Contentment is the greatest happiness.”

The turtle-dove called, “It were better for some created things that they had never been created.”

The peewit chirped, “He that hath no mercy for others, shall find none for himself.”

The stork said huskily, “The fashion of this world passeth away.”

And the wail of the eagle was, “Howsoever long life may be, yet its inevitable term is death.”

“Now that is virtually what I said,” declared the stork, “and you are a bold-faced and bald-headed plagiarist.”

“And you,” replied the eagle, clutching the stork’s throat, “are a dead bird that will deliver no more babies.”

But Dom Manuel tugged at the eagle’s wing, and asked him if he really meant that to hold good before this Court of the Birds. And when the infuriated eagle opened his cruel beak, and held up one murderous claw, to make solemn oath that indeed he did mean it, and would show them too, the stork very intelligently flew away.

“I shall not ever forget your kindness, Count Manuel,” cried the stork, “and do you remember that the customary three wishes are always yours for the asking.”

“And I too am grateful,” said the abashed eagle,–“yes, upon the whole, I am grateful, for if I had killed that long-legged pest it would have been in contempt of the court, and they would have set me to hatching red cockatrices. Still, his reproach was not unfounded, and I must think up a new cry.”

So the eagle perched on a rock, and said tentatively, “There is such a thing as being too proud to fight.” He shook his bald head disgustedly, and tried, “The only enduring peace is a peace without victory,” but that did not seem to content him either. Afterward he cried out, “All persons who oppose me have pygmy minds,” and “If everybody does not do exactly as I order, the heart of the world will be broken”: and many other foolish things he repeated, and shook his head over, for none of these axioms pleased the eagle, and he no longer admired the pedagogue who had invented them.

So in his worried quest for a saying sufficiently orotund and meaningless to content his ethics, and to be hailed with convenience as a great moral principle, the eagle forgot all about Count Manuel: but the stork did not forget, because in the eyes of the stork the life of the stork is valuable.

The other birds uttered various such sentiments as have been recorded, and all these, they told Manuel, were accredited sorceries. The big yellow-haired boy did not dispute it, he rarely disputed anything: but the droop to that curious left eye of his was accentuated, and he admitted to Alianora that he wondered if such faint-hearted smug little truths were indeed the height of wisdom, outside of religion and public speaking. Then he asked which was the wisest of the birds, and they told him the Zhar-Ptitza, whom others called the Fire-Bird.

Manuel induced Alianora to summon the Zhar-Ptitza, who is the oldest and the most learned of all living creatures, although he has thus far learned nothing assuredly except that appearances have to be kept up. The Zhar-Ptitza came, crying wearily, “Fine feathers make fine birds.” You heard him from afar.

The Zhar-Ptitza himself had every reason to get comfort out of this axiom, for his plumage was everywhere the most brilliant purple, except that his neck feathers were the color of new gold, and his tail was blue with somewhat longer red feathers intermingled. His throat was wattled gorgeously, and his head was tufted, and he seemed a trifle larger than the eagle. The Fire-Bird brought with him his nest of cassia and sprigs of incense, and this he put down upon the lichened rocks, and he sat in it while he talked with Manuel.

The frivolous question that Manuel raised as to his clay figures, the Zhar-Ptitza considered a very human bit of nonsense: and the wise creature said he felt forced to point out that no intelligent bird would ever dream of making images.

[Illustration: HE WAS DRYING OUT IN THE SUN]

“But, sir,” said Manuel, “I do not wish to burden this world with any more lifeless images. Instead, I wish to make in this world an animated figure, very much as, they say, a god did once upon a time–“

“Come, you should not try to put too much responsibility upon Jahveh,” protested the Zhar-Ptitza, tolerantly, “for Jahveh made only one man, and did not ever do it again. I remember the making of that first man very clearly, for I was created the morning before, with instructions to fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven, so I saw the whole affair. Yes, Jahveh did create the first man on the sixth day. And I voiced no criticism. For of course after working continuously for nearly a whole week, and making so many really important things, no creative artist should be blamed for not being in his happiest vein on the sixth day.”

“And did you happen to notice, sir,” asks Manuel, hopefully, “by what method animation was given to Adam?”

“No, he was drying out in the sun when I first saw him, with Gabriel sitting at his feet, playing on a flageolet: and naturally I did not pay any particular attention to such foolishness.”

“Well, well, I do not assert that the making of men is the highest form of art, yet, none the less, a geas is upon me to make myself a very splendid and admirable young man.”

“But why should you be wasting your small portion of breath and strength? To what permanent use could one put a human being even if the creature were virtuous and handsome to look at? Ah, Manuel, you have not seen them pass, as I have seen them pass in swarms, with their wars and their reforms and their great causes, and leaving nothing but their bones behind them.”

“Yes, yes, to you, at your age, who were old when Nineveh was planned, it must seem strange; and I do not know why my mother desired that I should make myself a splendid and admirable young man. But the geas is upon me.”

The Zhar-Ptitza sighed. “Certainly these feminine whims are not easily explained. Yet your people have some way of making brand-new men and women of all kinds. I am sure of this, for otherwise the race would have been extinct a great while since at the rate they kill one another. And perhaps they do adhere to Jahveh’s method, and make fresh human beings out of earth, for, now I think of it, I have seen the small, recently completed ones, who looked exactly like red clay.”

“It is undeniable that babies do have something of that look,” assented Manuel. “So then, at least, you think I may be working in the proper medium?”

“It seems plausible, because I am certain your people are not intelligent enough to lay eggs, nor could, of course, such an impatient race succeed in getting eggs hatched. At all events, they have undoubtedly contrived some method or other, and you might find out from the least foolish of them about that method.”

“Who, then, is the least foolish of mankind?”

“Probably King Helmas of Albania, for it was prophesied by me a great while ago that he would become the wisest of men if ever he could come by one of my shining white feathers, and I hear it reported he has done so.”

“Sir,” said Manuel, dubiously, “I must tell you in confidence that the feather King Helmas has is not yours, but was plucked from the wing of an ordinary goose.”

“Does that matter?” asked the Zhar-Ptitza. “I never prophesied, of course, that he actually would find one of my shining white feathers, because all my feathers are red and gold and purple.”

“But how can there be any magic in a goose-feather?”

“There is this magic, that, possessing it, King Helmas has faith in, and has stopped bothering about, himself.”

“Is not to bother about yourself the highest wisdom?”

“Oh, no! Oh, dear me, no! I merely said it is the highest of which man is capable.”

“But the sages and philosophers, sir, that had such fame in the old time, and made the maxims for you birds! Why, did King Solomon, for example, rise no higher than that?”

“Yes, yes, to be sure!” said the Zhar-Ptitza, sighing again, “now that was a sad error. The poor fellow was endowed with, just as an experiment, considerable wisdom. And it caused him to perceive that a man attains to actual contentment only when he is drunk or when he is engaged in occupations not very decorously described. So Sulieman-ben-Daoud gave over all the rest of his time to riotous living and to co-educational enterprises. It was logic, but it led to a most expensive seraglio and to a very unbecoming appearance, and virtually wrecked the man’s health. Yes, that was the upshot of one of you being endowed with actual wisdom, just as an experiment, to see what would come of it: so the experiment, of course, has never been repeated. But of living persons, I dare assert that you will find King Helmas appreciably freed from a thousand general delusions by his one delusion about himself.”

“Very well, then,” says Manuel. “I suspect a wilful paradox and a forced cynicism in much of what you have said, but I shall consult with King Helmas about human life and about the figure I have to make in the world.”

So they bid each other farewell, and the Zhar-Ptitza picked up his nest of cassia and sprigs of incense, and flew away with it: and as he rose in the air the Zhar-Ptitza cried, “Fine feathers make fine birds.”

“But that is not the true proverb, sir,” Manuel called up toward the resplendent creature, “and such perversions too, they tell me, are a mark of would-be cleverness.”

“So it may seem to you now, my lad, but time is a very transforming fairy. Therefore do you wait until you are older,” the bird replied, from on high, “and then you will know better than to doubt my cry or to repeat it.”

[Illustration]

XII

Ice and Iron

Then came from oversea the Bishops of Ely and Lincoln, the prior of Hurle, and the Master of the Temple, asking that King Raymond send one of his daughters, with a suitable dowry, to be the King of England’s wife. “Very willingly,” says Raymond Berenger; and told them they could have his third daughter Sancha, with a thousand marks.

“But, Father,” said Alianora, “Sancha is nothing but a child. A fine queen she would make!”

“Still, my dear,” replied King Raymond, “you are already bespoke.”

“I was not thinking about myself. I was thinking about Sancha’s true welfare.”

“Of course you were, my dear, and everybody knows the sisterly love you have for her.”

“The pert little mess is spoilt enough as it is, Heaven knows. And if things came to the pass that I had to stand up whenever Sancha came into the room, and to sit on a footstool while she lolled back in a chair the way Meregrett does, it would be the child’s ruin.”

Raymond Berenger said: “Now certainly it will be hard on you to have two sisters that are queens, and with perhaps little Beatrice also marrying some king or another when her time comes, and you staying only a countess, who are the best-looking of the lot.”

“My father, I see what you would be at!” cried Alianora, aghast. “You think it is my duty to overcome my private inclinations, and to marry the King of England for ruthless and urgent political reasons!”

“I only said, my darling–“

“–For you have seen at once that I owe this great sacrifice to the future welfare of our beloved Provence. You have noted, with that keenness which nothing escapes, that with the aid of your wisdom and advice I would know very well how to manage this high King that is the master of no pocket handkerchief place like Provence but of England and of Ireland too.”

“Also, by rights, of Aquitaine and Anjou and Normandy, my precious. Still, I merely observed–“

“Oh, but believe me, I am not arguing with you, my dear father, for I know that you are much wiser than I,” says Alianora, bravely wiping away big tears from her lovely eyes.

“Have it your own way, then,” replied Raymond Berenger, with outspread hands. “But what is to be done about you and Count Manuel here?”

The King looked toward the tapestry of Jephthah’s sacrifice, beside which Manuel sat, just then re-altering the figure of the young man with the loving look of Alianora that Manuel had made because of the urgency of his geas, and could not seem to get exactly right.

“I am sure, Father, that Manuel also will be self-sacrificing and magnanimous and sensible about it.”

“Ah, yes! but what is to happen afterward? For anyone can see that you and this squinting long-legged lad are fathoms deep in love with each other.”

“I think that after I am married, Father, you or King Ferdinand or King Helmas can send Count Manuel into England on some embassy, and I am sure that he and I will always be true and dear friends without affording any handle to gossip.”

“Oho!” King Raymond said, “I perceive your drift, and it is toward a harbor that is the King of England’s affair, and not mine. My part is to go away now, so that you two may settle the details of that ambassadorship in which Dom Manuel is to be the vicar of so many kings.”

Raymond Berenger took up his sceptre and departed, and the Princess turned to where Manuel was pottering with the three images he had made in the likeness of Helmas and Ferdinand and Alianora. “You see, now, Manuel dearest, I am heart-broken, but for the realm’s sake I must marry the King of England.”

Manuel looked up from his work. “Yes, I heard. I am sorry, and I never understood politics, but I suppose it cannot be helped. So would you mind standing a little more to the left? You are in the light now, and that prevents my seeing clearly what I am doing here to this upper lip.”

“And how can you be messing with that wet mud when my heart is breaking!”

“Because a geas is upon me to make these images. No, I am sure I do not know why my mother desired it. But everything which is fated must be endured, just as we must now endure the obligation that is upon you to marry the high King of England.”

“My being married need not matter very much, after I am Queen, for people declare this King is a poor spindling creature, and, as I was saying, you can come presently into England.”

Manuel looked at her for a moment or two. She colored. He, sitting at the feet of weeping Jephthah, smiled. “Well,” said Manuel, “I will come into England when you send me a goose-feather. So the affair is arranged.”

“Oh, you are all ice and iron!” she said, “and you care for nothing except your wet mud images, and I detest you!”

“My dearest,” Manuel answered placidly, “the trouble is that each of us desires one particular thing over and above other things. Your desire is for power and a great name and for a king who will be at once your mouthpiece, your lackey and your lover. Now, candidly, I cannot spare the time to be any of these things, because my desire is different from your desire, but is equally strong. Also, it seems to me, as I become older, and see more of men and of men’s ways, that most people have no especial desire but only preferences. In a world of such wishy-washy folk you and I cannot hope to escape being aspersed with comparisons to ice and iron, but it does not become us to be flinging these venerable similes in each other’s faces.”

She kept silence a while. She laughed uneasily. “I so often wonder about you, Manuel, as to whether inside the big, high-colored, squinting, solemn husk is living a very wise person or a very unmitigated fool.”

“I perceive there is something else which we have in common, for I, too, often wonder about that.”

“It is settled, then?”

“It is settled that, instead of ruling little Arles, you are to be Queen of England, and Lady of Ireland, and Duchess of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Countess of Anjou; that our token is to be a goose-feather; and that, I diffidently repeat, you are to get out of my light and interfere no longer with the discharge of my geas.”

“And what will you do?”

“I must, as always, follow after my own thinking–“

“If you complete the sentence I shall undoubtedly scream.”

Manuel laughed good-humoredly. “I suppose I do say it rather often, but then it is true, and the great trouble between us, Alianora, is that you do not perceive its truth.”

She said, “And I suppose you will now be stalking off to some woman or another for consolation?”

“No, the consolation I desire is not to be found in petticoats. No, first of all, I shall go to King Helmas. For my images stay obstinately lifeless, and there is something lacking to each of them, and none is the figure I desire to make in this world. Now I do not know what can be done about it, but the Zhar-Ptitza informs me that King Helmas, since all doubt of himself has been put out of mind, can aid me if any man can.”

“Then we must say good-bye, though not for a long while, I hope.”

“Yes,” Manuel said, “this is good-bye, and to a part of my living it is an eternal good-bye.”

Dom Manuel left his images where the old Hebrew captain appeared to regard them with violent dumb anguish, and Manuel took both of the girl’s lovely little hands, and he stood thus for a while looking down at the Princess.

Said Manuel, very sadly:

“I cry the elegy of such notions as are possible to boys alone. ‘Surely,’ I said, ‘the informing and all-perfect soul shines through and is revealed in this beautiful body.’ So my worship began for you, whose violet eyes retain at all times their chill brittle shining, and do not soften, but have been to me always as those eyes which, they say, a goddess turns toward ruined lovers who cry the elegy of hope and contentment, with lips burned bloodless by the searing of passions which she, immortal, may neither feel nor comprehend. Even so do you, dear Alianora, who are not divine, look toward me, quite unmoved by anything except incurious wonder, the while that I cry my elegy.

“I, for love, and for the glamour of bright beguiling dreams that hover and delude and allure all lovers, could never until to-day behold clearly what person I was pestering with my notions. I, being blind, could not perceive your blindness which blindly strove to understand me, and which hungered for understanding, as I for love. Thus our kisses veiled, at most, the foiled endeavorings of flesh that willingly would enter into the soul’s high places, but is not able. Now, the game being over, what is the issue and end of it time must attest. At least we should each sorrow a little for what we have lost in this gaming,–you for a lover, and I for love.

“No, but it is not love which lies here expiring, now we part friendlily at the deathbed of that emotion which yesterday we shared. This emotion also was not divine; and so might not outlive the gainless months wherein, like one fishing for pearls in a millpond, I have toiled to evoke from your heart more than Heaven placed in this heart, wherein lies no love. Now the crying is stilled that was the crying of loneliness to its unfound mate: already dust is gathering light and gray upon the unmoving lips. Therefore let us bury our dead, and having placed the body in the tomb, let us honestly inscribe above this fragile, flower-like perished emotion, ‘Here lieth lust, not love.'”

Now Alianora pouted. “You use such very ugly words, sweetheart: and you are talking unreasonably, too, for I am sure I am just as sorry about it as you are–“

Manuel gave her that slow sleepy smile which was Manuel. “Just,” he said,–“and it is that which humiliates. Yes, you and I are second-rate persons, Alianora, and we have found each other out. It is a pity. But we will always keep our secret from the rest of the world, and our secret will always be a bond between us.”

He kissed the Princess, very tenderly, and so left her.

Then Manuel of the high head departed from Aries, with his lackeys and his images, riding in full estate, and displaying to the spring sunlight the rearing silver stallion upon his shield and the _motto Mundus vult decipi_. Alianora, watching from the castle window, wept copiously, because the poor Princess had the misfortune to be really in love with Dom Manuel. But there was no doing anything with his obstinacy and his incomprehensible notions, Alianora had found, and so she set about disposing of herself and of the future through more plastic means. Her methods were altered perforce, but her aim remained unchanged: and she still intended to get everything she desired (which included Manuel) as soon as she and the King of England had settled down to some sensible way of living.

It worried this young pretty girl to consult her mirror, and to foreknow that the King of England would probably be in love with her for months and months: but then, as she philosophically reflected, all women have to submit to being annoyed by the romanticism of men. So she dried her big bright eyes, and sent for dressmakers.

She ordered two robes each of five ells, the one to be of green and lined with either cendal or sarcenet, and the other to be of brunet stuff. She selected the cloth for a pair of purple sandals, and for four pairs of boots, to be embroidered in circles around the ankles, and she selected also nine very becoming chaplets made of gold filigree and clusters of precious stones. And so she managed to get through the morning, and to put Manuel out of mind, for that while, but not for long.

[Illustration]

XIII

What Helmas Directed

Now the Count of Poictesme departs from Provence, with his lackeys carrying his images, and early in April he comes to Helmas the Deep-Minded. The wise King was then playing with his small daughter Melusine (who later dethroned and imprisoned him), but he sent the child away with a kiss, and he attentively heard Dom Manuel through.

King Helmas looked at the images, prodded them with a shriveled forefinger, and cleared his throat; and then said nothing, because, after all, Dom Manuel was Count of Poictesme.

“What is needed?” said Manuel.

“They are not true to life,” replied Helmas–“particularly this one which has the look of me.”

“Yes, I know that: but who can give life to my images?”

King Helmas pushed back his second best crown, wherein was set the feather from the wing of the miller’s goose, and he scratched his forehead. He said, “There is a power over all figures of earth and a queen whose will is neither to loose nor to bind.” Helmas turned toward a thick book, wherein was magic.

“Yes, _queen_ is the same as _cwen_. Therefore Queen Freydis of Audela might help you.”

“Yes, for it is she that owns Schamir. But the falcons are not nesting now, and how can I go to Freydis, that woman of strange deeds?”

“Oh, people nowadays no longer use falcons; and of course nobody can go to Freydis uninvited. Still, it can be managed that Freydis will come to you when the moon is void and powerless, and when this and that has been arranged.”

Thereafter Helmas the Deep-Minded told Count Manuel what was requisite. “So you will need such and such things,” says King Helmas, “but, above all, do not forget the ointment.”

Count Manuel went alone into Poictesme, which was his fief if only he could get it. He came secretly to Upper Morven, that place of horrible fame. Near the ten-colored stone, whereon men had sacrificed to Vel-Tyno in time’s youth, he builded an enclosure of peeled willow wands, and spread butter upon them, and tied them with knots of yellow ribbons, as Helmas had directed. Manuel arranged all matters within the enclosure as Helmas had directed. There Manuel waited, on the last night in April, regarding the full moon.

In a while you saw the shadowings on the moon’s radiancy begin to waver and move: later they passed from the moon’s face like little clouds, and the moon was naked of markings. This was a token that the Moon-Children had gone to the well from which once a month they fetch water, and that for an hour the moon would be void and powerless. With this and that ceremony Count Manuel kindled such a fire upon the old altar of Vel-Tyno as Helmas had directed.

Manuel cried aloud: “Now be propitious, infernal, terrestrial and celestial Bombo! Lady of highways, patroness of crossroads, thou who bearest the light! Thou who dost labor always in obscurity, thou enemy of the day, thou friend and companion of darkness! Thou rejoicing in the barking of dogs and in shed blood, thus do I honor thee.”

Manuel did as Helmas had directed, and for an instant the screamings were pitiable, but the fire ended these speedily.

Then Manuel cried, again: “O thou who wanderest amid shadows and over tombs, and dost tether even the strong sea! O whimsical sister of the blighting sun, and fickle mistress of old death! O Gorgo, Mormo, lady of a thousand forms and qualities! now view with a propitious eye my sacrifice!”

Thus Manuel spoke, and steadily the fire upon the altar grew larger and brighter as he nourished it repugnantly.

When the fire was the height of a warrior, and queer things were happening to this side and to that side, Count Manuel spoke the ordered words: and of a sudden the flames’ colors were altered, so that green shimmerings showed in the fire, as though salt were burning there. Manuel waited. This greenness shifted and writhed and increased in the heart of the fire, and out of the fire oozed a green serpent, the body of which was well–nigh as thick as a man’s body.

This portent came toward Count Manuel horribly. He, who was familiar with serpents, now grasped this monster’s throat, and to the touch its scales were like very cold glass.

The great snake shifted so resistlessly that Manuel was forced back toward the fire and toward a doom more dreadful than burning: and the firelight was in the snake’s contemptuous wise eyes. Manuel was of stalwart person, but his strength availed him nothing until he began to recite aloud, as Helmas had directed, the multiplication tables: Freydis could not withstand mathematics.

So when Manuel had come to two times eleven the tall fire guttered as though it bended under the passing of a strong wind: then the flames burned high, and Manuel could see that he was grasping the throat of a monstrous pig. He, who was familiar with pigs, could see that this was a black pig, caked with dried curds of the Milky Way; its flesh was chill to the touch, like dead flesh; and it had long tusks, which possessed life of their own, and groped and writhed toward Manuel like fat white worms.

Then Manuel said, as Helmas had directed: “Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty measures of fine flour, and threescore measures of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and a hundred sheep, beside harts, and roebucks, and fallow deer, and fatted fowl. But Elijah the Tishbite was fed by ravens that brought him bread and flesh.”

Again the tall flames guttered. Now Manuel was grasping a thick heatless slab of crystal, like a mirror, wherein he could see himself quite clearly. Just as he really was, he, who was not familiar with such mirrors, could see Count Manuel, housed in a little wet dirt with old inveterate stars adrift about him everywhither; and the spectacle was enough to frighten anybody.

So Manuel said: “The elephant is the largest of all animals, and in intelligence approaches the nearest to man. Its nostril is elongated, and answers to the purpose of a hand. Its toes are undivided, and it lives two hundred years. Africa breeds elephants, but India produces the largest.”

The mirror now had melted into a dark warm fluid which oozed between his fingers, dripping to the ground. But Manuel held tightly to what remained between his palms, and he felt, they say, that in the fluid was struggling something small and soft and living, as though he held a tiny minnow.

Said Manuel, “A straight line is the shortest distance between two points.”

Of a sudden the fire became an ordinary fire, and the witches of Amneran screamed, and Morven was emptied of sorcery, and Count Manuel was grasping the warm soft throat of a woman. Instantly he had her within the enclosure of peeled willow wands that had been spread with butter and tied with knots of yellow ribbon, because into such an enclosure the power and the dominion of Freydis could never enter.

All these things Manuel did precisely as King Helmas had directed.

XIV

They Duel on Morven

So by the light of the seven candles Dom Manuel first saw Queen Freydis in her own shape, and in the appearance which she wore in her own country. What Manuel thought there was never any telling: but every other man who saw Queen Freydis in this appearance declared that instantly all his past life became a drugged prelude to the moment wherein he stood face to face with Freydis, the high Queen of Audela.

Freydis showed now as the most lovely of womankind. She had black plaited hair, and folds of crimson silk were over her white flesh, and over her shoulders was a black cloak embroidered with little gold stars and ink-horns, and she wore sandals of gilded bronze. But in her face was such loveliness as may not be told.

Now Freydis went from one side of the place to the other side, and saw the magics that protected the enclosure. “Certainly, you have me fast,” the high Queen said. “What is it you want of me?”

Manuel showed her the three images which he had made, set there arow. “I need your aid with these.”

Queen Freydis looked at them, and Freydis smiled. “These frozen abortions are painstakingly made. What more can anybody demand?”

Dom Manuel told her that he desired to make an animated and lively figure.

Whereupon she laughed, merrily and sweetly and scornfully, and replied that never would she give such aid.

“Very well, then,” said Manuel, “I have ready the means to compel you.” He showed this lovely woman the instruments of her torture. His handsome young face was very grave, as though already his heart were troubled. He thrust her hand into the cruel vise which was prepared. “Now, sorceress, whom all men dread save me, you shall tell me the Tuyla incantation as the reward of my endeavors, or else a little by a little I shall destroy the hand that has wrought so many mischiefs.”

Freydis in the light of the seven candles showed pale as milk. She said: “I am frail and human in this place, and have no power beyond the power of every woman, and no strength at all. Nevertheless, I will tell you nothing.”

Manuel set his hand to the lever, ready to loose destruction. “To tell me what I desire you to tell me will do you no hurt–“

“No,” replied Freydis: “but I am not going to take orders from you or any man breathing.”

“–And for defying me you will suffer very terribly–“

“Yes,” replied Freydis. “And much you will care!” she said, reproachfully.

“–Therefore I think that you are acting foolishly.”

Freydis said: “You make a human woman of me, and then expect me to act upon reason. It is you who are behaving foolishly.”

Count Manuel meditated, for this beyond doubt sounded sensible. From the look of his handsome young face, his heart was now exceedingly troubled. Queen Freydis breathed more freely, and began to smile, with the wisdom of women, which is not super-human, but is ruthless.

“The hand would be quite ruined, too,” said Manuel, looking at it more carefully. Upon the middle finger was a copper ring, in which was set a largish black stone: this was Schamir. But Manuel looked only at the hand.

He touched it. “Your hand, Queen Freydis, whatever mischief it may have executed, is soft as velvet. It is colored like rose-petals, but it smells more sweet than they. No, certainly, my images are not worth the ruining of such a hand.”

Then Manuel released her, sighing. “My geas must stay upon me, and my images must wait,” says Manuel.

“Why, do you really like my hands?” asked Freydis, regarding them critically.

Manuel said: “Ah, fair sweet enemy, do not mock at me! All is in readiness to compel you to do my will. Had you preserved some ugly shape I would have conquered you. But against the shape which you now wear I cannot contend. Dragons and warlocks and chimaeras and such nameless monsters as I perceive to be crowding about this enclosure of buttered willow wands I do not fear at all, but I cannot fight against the appearance which you now wear.”

“Why, do you really like my natural appearance?” Freydis said, incredibly surprised. “It is a comfort, of course, to slip into it occasionally, but I had never really thought much about it one way or the other–“

She went to the great mirror which had been set ready as Helmas directed, “I never liked my hair in these severe big plaits, either. As for those monsters yonder, they are my people, who are coming out of the fire to rescue me, in some of the forgotten shapes, as spoorns and trows and calcars, and other terrors of antiquity. But they cannot get into this enclosure of buttered willow wands, poor dears, on account of your magickings. How foolish they look–do they not?–leering and capering and gnashing their teeth, with no superstitious persons anywhere to pay attention to them.”

The Queen paused: she coughed delicately. “But you were talking some nonsense or other about my natural appearance not being bad looking. Now most men prefer blondes, and, besides, you are not really listening to me, and that is not polite.”

“It is so difficult to talk collectedly,” said Manuel, “with your appalling servitors leering and capering and gnashing double sets of teeth all over Upper Morven–“

She saw the justice of this. She went now to that doorway through which, unless a man lifted her over the threshold, she might not pass, on account of the tonthecs and the spaks and the horseshoes.

She cried, in a high sweet voice: “A penny, a penny, twopence, a penny and a half, and a half-penny! Now do you go away, all of you, for the wisdom of Helmas is too strong for us. There is no way for you to get into, nor for me to get out of, this place of buttered willow wands, until I have deluded and circumvented this pestiferous, squinting young mortal. Go down into Bellegarde and spill the blood of Northmen, or raise a hailstorm, or amuse yourselves in one way or another way. Anyhow, do you take no thought for me, who am for the while a human woman: for my adversary is a mortal man, and in that duel never yet has the man conquered.”

She turned to Manuel. She said:

“The land of Audela is my kingdom. But you embraced my penalties, you have made a human woman of me. So do I tread with wraiths, for my lost realm alone is real. Here all is but a restless contention of shadows which pass presently; here all that is visible and all the colors known to men are shadows dimming the true colors; here time and death, the darkest shadows known to men, delude you with false seemings: for all such things as men hold incontestable, because they are apparent to sight and sense, are a weariful drifting of fogs that veil the world which is no longer mine. So in this twilit world of yours do we of Audela appear to be but men and women.”

“I would that such women appeared more often,” said Manuel.

“The land of Audela is my kingdom, where I am Queen of all that lies behind this veil of human sight and sense. This veil may not ever be lifted; but very often the veil is pierced, and noting the broken place, men call it fire. Through these torn places men may glimpse the world that is real: and this glimpse dazzles their dimmed eyes and weakling forces, and this glimpse mocks at their lean might Through these rent places, when the opening is made large enough, a few men here and there, not quite so witless as their fellows, know how to summon us of Audela when for an hour the moon is void and powerless: we come for an old reason: and we come as men and women.”

“Ah, but you do not speak with the voices of men and women,” Manuel replied, “for your voice is music.”

“The land of Audela is my kingdom, and very often, just for the sport’s sake, do I and my servitors go secretly among you. As human beings we blunder about your darkened shadow world, bound by the laws of sight and sense, but keeping always in our hearts the secrets of Audela and the secret of our manner of returning thither. Sometimes, too, for the sport’s sake, we imprison in earthen figures a spark of the true life of Audela: and then you little persons, that have no authentic life, but only the flickering of a vexed shadow to sustain you in brief fretfulness, say it is very pretty; and you negligently applaud us as the most trivial of men and women.”

“No; we applaud you as the most beautiful,” says Manuel.

“Come now, Count Manuel, and do you have done with your silly flatterings, which will never wheedle anything out of me! So you have trapped Queen Freydis in mortal flesh. Therefore I must abide in the body of a human woman, and be subject to your whims, and to your beautiful big muscles, you think, until I lend a spark of Audela’s true life to your ridiculous images. But I will show you better, for I will never give in to you nor to any man breathing.”

In silence Count Manuel regarded the delightful shaping and the clear burning colors of this woman’s face. He said, as if in sadness: “The images no longer matter. It is better to leave them as they are.”

“That is very foolish talk,” Queen Freydis answered, promptly, “for they need my aid if ever any images did. Not that, however, I intend to touch them.”

“Indeed, I forbid you to touch them, fair enemy. For were the images made as animated and lively as I wish them to be, I would be looking at them always, and not caring for any woman: and no woman anywhere would have the power to move me as your beauty moves me now, and I would not be valuing you the worth of an old onion.”

“That is not the truth,” says Freydis, angrily, “for the man who is satisfied with the figure he has made is as great a fool about women as any other man. And who are you to be forbidding me anything?”

“I would have you remember,” said Manuel, very masterfully, “that they are my images, to do with as I wish. Also I would have you remember that, whatever you may pretend to be in Audela, here I am stronger than you.”

Now the proud woman laughed. Defiantly she touched the nearest image, with formal ancient gestures, and you could see the black stone Schamir taking on the colors of an opal. Under her touch the clay image which had the look of Alianora shivered, and drew sobbing breath. The image rose, a living creature that was far more beautiful than human kind, and it regarded Manuel scornfully. Then it passed limping from the enclosure: and Manuel sighed.

“That is a strong magic,” said Manuel: “and this is almost exactly the admirable and significant figure that I desired to make in the world. But, as I now perceive too late, I fashioned the legs of this figure unevenly, and the joy I have in its life is less than the shame that I take from its limping.”

“Such magic is a trifle,” Freydis replied, “although it is the only magic I can perform in an enclosure of buttered willow wands. Now, then, you see for yourself that I am not going to take orders from you. So the figure you have made, will you or nil you, must limp about in all men’s sight, for not more than a few centuries, to be sure, but long enough to prove that I am not going to be dictated to.”

“I do not greatly care, O fairest and most shrewd of enemies. A half-hour since, it seemed to me an important matter to wrest from you this secret of giving life to images. Now I have seen the miracle; I know that for the man who has your favor it is possible to become as a god, creating life, and creating lovelier living beings than any god creates, and beings which live longer, too: and even so, it is not of these things that I am really thinking, but only of your eyes.”

“Why, do you like my eyes!” says Freydis,–“you, who if once you could make living images would never be caring about any woman any more?”

But Manuel told her wherein her eyes were different from the eyes of any other person, and more dangerous, and she listened, willingly enough, for Freydis was not a human woman. Thereafter it appeared that a grieving and a great trouble of mind had come upon Manuel because of the loveliness of Freydis, for he made this complaint:

“There is much loss in the world, where men war ceaselessly with sorrow, and time like a strong thief strips all men of all they prize. Yet when the emperor is beaten in battle and his broad lands are lost, he, shrugging, says, ‘In the next battle I may conquer.’ And when the bearded merchant’s ship is lost at sea, he says, ‘The next voyage, belike, will be prosperous.’ Even when the life of an old beggar departs from him in a ditch, he says, ‘I trust to be to-morrow a glad young seraph in paradise.’ Thus hope serves as a cordial for every hurt: but for him who had beheld the loveliness of Freydis there is no hope at all.

“For, in comparison with that alien clear beauty, there is no beauty in this world. He that has beheld the loveliness of Freydis must go henceforward as a hungry person, because of troubling memories: and his fellows deride him enviously. All the world is fretted by his folly, knowing that his faith in the world’s might is no longer firm-set, and that he aspires to what is beyond the world’s giving. In his heart he belittles the strong stupid lords of earth; and they, being strong, plan vengeance, the while that in a corner he makes images to commemorate what is lost: and so for him who has beheld the loveliness of Freydis there is no hope at all.

“He that has willed to look upon Queen Freydis does not dread to consort with serpents nor with swine; he faces the mirror wherein a man beholds himself without self-deceiving; he views the blood that drips from his soiled hands, and knows that this, too, was needed: yet these endurings purchase but one hour. The hour passes, and therewith passes also Freydis, the high Queen. Only the memory of her hour remains, like a cruel gadfly, for which the crazed beholder of Queen Freydis must build a lodging in his images, madly endeavoring to commingle memories with wet mud: and so for him who has beheld the loveliness of Freydis there is no hope at all.”

Freydis heard him through, considerately. “But I wonder to how many other women you have talked such nonsense about beauty and despair and eternity,” said Freydis, “and they very probably liking to hear it, the poor fools! And I wonder how you can expect me to believe you, when you pretend to think me all these fine things, and still keep me penned in this enclosure like an old vicious cow.”

“No, that is not the way it is any longer. For now the figure that I have made in the world, and all else that is in the world, and all that is anywhere without this enclosure of buttered willow wands, mean nothing to me, and there is no meaning in anything save in the loveliness of Freydis.”

Dom Manuel went to the door of the enclosure then to the windows, sweeping away the gilded tonthecs and the shining spaks, and removing from the copper nails the horseshoes that had been cast by Mohammed’s mare and Hrimfaxi and Balaam’s ass and Pegasus. “You were within my power. Now I destroy that power, and therewith myself. Now is the place unguarded, and all your servitors are free to enter, and all your terrors are untrammeled, to be loosed against me, who have no longer anything to dread. For I love you with such mortal love as values nothing else beside its desire, and you care nothing for me.”

After a little while of looking she sighed, and said uneasily: “It is the foolish deed of a true lover. And, really, I do like you, rather. But, Manuel, I do not know what to do next! Never at any time has this thing happened before, so that all my garnered wisdom is of no use whatever. Nobody anywhere has ever dared to snap his fingers at the fell power of Freydis as you are doing, far less has anybody ever dared to be making eyes at her. Besides, I do not wish to consume you with lightnings, and to smite you with insanity appears so unnecessary.”

“I love you,” Manuel said, “and your heart is hard, and your beauty is beyond the thinking of man, and your will is neither to loose nor to bind. In a predicament so unexampled, how can it at all matter to me whatever you may elect to do?”

“Then certainly I shall not waste any of my fine terrors on you!” said Freydis, with a vexed tossing of her head. “Nor have I any more time to waste upon you either, for presently the Moon-Children will be coming back to their places: and before the hour is out wherein the moon stays void and powerless I must return to my own kingdom, whither you may not follow, to provoke me with any more of your nonsense. And then you will be properly sorry, I dare say, for you will De remembering me always, and there will be only human women to divert you, and they are poor creatures.”

Freydis went again to the mirror, and she meditated there. “Yes, you will be remembering me with my hair in these awful plaits, and that is a pity, but still you will remember me always. And when you make images they will be images of me. No, but I cannot have you making any more outrageous parodies like astonished corpses, and people everywhere laughing at Queen Freydis!”

She took up the magical pen, laid ready as Helmas had directed, and she wrote with this gryphon’s feather. “So here is the recipe for the Tuyla incantation with which to give life to your images. It may comfort you a little to perform that silly magic. It, anyhow, will prevent such good-for-nothing minxes as may have no more intelligence than to take you seriously, from putting on too many airs and graces around the images which you will make of me with my hair done so very unbecomingly.”

“Nothing can ever comfort me, fair enemy, when you have gone away,” said Manuel.

But he took the parchment.

XV

Bandages for the Victor

They came out of the enclosure, to the old altar of Vel-Tyno, while the moon was still void and powerless. The servitors of Freydis were thronging swiftly toward Upper Morven, after a pleasant hour of ravening and ramping about Poictesme. As spoorns and trows and calcars and as other long forgotten shapes they came, without any noise, so that Upper Morven was like the disordered mind of a wretch that is dying in fever: and to this side and to that side the witches of Amneran sat nodding in approval of what they saw.

Thus, one by one, the forgotten shapes came to the fire, and cried, “A penny, a penny, twopence, a penny and a half, and a halfpenny!” as each entered into the fire which was the gateway to their home.

“Farewell!” said Freydis: and as she spoke she sighed.

“Not thus must be our parting,” Manuel says. “For do you listen now, Queen Freydis! it was Helmas the Deep-Minded who told me what was requisite. ‘_Queen_ is the same as _cwen_, which means a woman, no more nor less,’ said the wise King. ‘You have but to remember that.'”

She took his meaning. Freydis cried out, angrily: “Then all the foolishness you have been talking about my looks and your love for me was pre-arranged! And you have cheated me out of the old Tuyla mystery by putting on the appearance of loving me, and by pestering me with such nonsense as a plowman trades against the heart of a milkmaid! Now, certainly, I shall reward your candor in a fashion that will be whispered about for a long while.”

With that, Queen Freydis set about a devastating magic.

“All, all was pre-arranged save one thing,” said Manuel, with a yapping laugh, and not even looking at the commencing terrors. He thrust into the fire the parchment which Freydis had given him. “Yes, all was pre-arranged except that Helmas did not purge me of that which will not accept the hire of any lying to you. So the Deep-Minded’s wisdom comes, at the last pinch, to naught.”

Now Freydis for an instant waved back two-thirds of an appalling monster, which was as yet incompletely evoked for Dom Manuel’s destruction, and Freydis cried impatiently, “But have you no sense whatever! for you are burning your hand.”

And indeed the boy had already withdrawn his hand with a grimace, for in the ardor of executing his noble gesture, as Queen Freydis saw, he had not estimated how hot her fires were.

“It is but a little hurt to me who have taken a great hurt,” says Manuel, sullenly. “For I had thought to lie, and in my mouth the lie turned to a truth. At least, I do not profit by my false-dealing, and I wave you farewell with empty hands burned clean of theft.”

Then she who was a human woman said, “But you have burned your hand!”

“It does not matter: I have ointments yonder. Make haste, Queen Freydis, for the hour passes wherein the moon is void and powerless.”

“There is time.” She brought out water from the enclosure, and swiftly bathed Dom Manuel’s hand.

From the fire now came a whispering, “Make haste, Queen Freydis! make haste, dear Fairy mistress!”

“There is time,” said Freydis, “and do you stop flurrying me!” She brought from the enclosure a pot of ointment, and she dressed Manuel’s hand.

“Borram, borram, Leanhaun shee!” the fire crackled. “Now the hour ends.”

Then Freydis sprang from Manuel, toward the flames beyond which she was queen of ancient mysteries, and beyond which her will was neither to loose nor to bind. And she cried hastily, “A penny, a penny, twopence–“

But just for a moment she looked back at Morven, and at the man who waited upon Morven alone and hurt. In his firelit eyes she saw love out of measure and without hope. And in the breast of Freydis moved the heart of a human woman.

“I cannot help it,” she said, as the hour passed. “Somebody has to bandage it, and men have no sense in these matters.”

Whereon the fire roared angrily, and leaped, and fell dead, for the Moon-Children Bil and Hjuki had returned from the well which is called Byrgir, and the moon was no longer void and powerless.

“So, does that feel more comfortable?” said Freydis. She knew that within this moment age and sorrow and death had somewhere laid inevitable ambuscades, from which to assail her by and by, for she was mortal after the sacred fire’s extinction, and she meant to make the best of it.

For a while Count Manuel did not speak. Then he said, in a shaking voice: “O woman dear and lovely and credulous and compassionate, it is you and you alone that I must be loving eternally with such tenderness as is denied to proud and lonely queens on their tall thrones! And it is you that I must be serving always with such a love as may not be given to the figure that any man makes in this world! And though all life may be a dusty waste of endless striving, and though the ways of men may always be the ways of folly, yet are these ways our ways henceforward, and not hopeless ways, for you and I will tread them together.”

“Now certainly there is in Audela no such moonstruck nonsense to be hearing, nor any such quick-footed hour of foolishness to be living through,” Freydis replied, “as here to-night has robbed me of my kingdom.”

“Love will repay,” said Manuel, as is the easy fashion of men.

And Freydis, a human woman now in all things, laughed low and softly in the darkness. “Repay me thus, my dearest: no matter how much I may coax you in the doubtful time to come, do you not ever tell me how you happened to have the bandages and the pot of ointment set ready by the mirror. For it is bad for a human woman ever to be seeing through the devices of wise kings, and far worse for her to be seeing through the heroic antics of her husband.”

Meanwhile in Arles young Alianora had arranged her own match with more circumspection. The English, who at first demanded twenty thousand marks as her jointure, had after interminable bargaining agreed to accept her with three thousand: and she was to be dowered with Plymouth and Exeter and Tiverton and Torquay and Brixham, and with the tin mines of Devonshire and Cornwall. In everything except the husband involved, she was marrying excellently, and so all Arles that night was ornamented with flags and banners and chaplets and bright hangings and flaring lamps and torches, and throughout Provence there was festivity of every sort, and the Princess had great honor and applause.

But in the darkness of Upper Morven they had happiness, no matter for how brief a while.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

PART THREE

THE BOOK OF CAST ACCOUNTS

TO

H.L. MENCKEN

Consider, _faire Miserie, (quoth Manuel) that it lyes not in mans power to place his loue where he list, being the worke of an high Deity._ A Birde was neuer seen in Pontus, _nor true loue in a fleeting mynde: neuer shall remoue the affection of my Hearte, which in nature resembleth the stone_ Abiston.

XVI

Freydis

They of Poictesme narrate how Queen Freydis and Count Manuel lived together amicably upon Upper Morven. They tell also how the iniquitous usurper, Duke Asmund, at this time held Bellegarde close at hand, but that his Northmen kept away from Upper Morven, on account of the supernatural beings you were always apt to encounter thereabouts, so that Manuel and Freydis had, at first, no human company.

“Between now and a while,” said Freydis, “you must be capturing Bellegarde and cutting off Duke Asmund’s ugly head, because by right and by King Ferdinand’s own handwriting all Poictesme belongs to you.”

“Well, we will let that wait a bit,” says Manuel, “for I do not so heartily wish to be tied down with parchments in a count’s gilded seat as I do to travel everywhither and see the ends of this world and judge them. At all events, dear Freydis, I am content enough for the present, in this little home of ours, and public affairs can wait.”

“Still, something ought to be done about it,” said Freydis. And, since Manuel displayed an obstinate prejudice against any lethal plague, she put the puckerel curse upon Asmund, by which he was afflicted with all small bodily ills that can intervene between corns and dandruff.

On Upper Morven Freydis had reared by enchantment a modest home, that was builded of jasper and porphyry and yellow and violet breccia. Inside, the stone walls were everywhere covered with significant traceries in low relief, and were incrusted at intervals with disks and tesserae of turquoise-colored porcelain. The flooring, of course, was of zinc, as a defence against the unfriendly Alfs, who are at perpetual war with Audela, and, moreover, there was a palisade, enclosing all, of peeled willow wands, not buttered but oiled, and fastened with unknotted ribbons.

Everything was very simple and homelike, and here the servitors of Freydis attended them when there was need. The fallen Queen was not a gray witch–not in appearance certainly, but in her endowments, which were not limited as are the powers of black witches and white witches. She instructed Dom Manuel in the magic of Audela, and she and Manuel had great times together that spring and summer, evoking ancient dis-crowned gods and droll monsters and instructive ghosts to entertain them in the pauses between other pleasures.

They heard no more, for that turn, of the clay figure to which they had given life, save for the news brought, by a bogglebo, that as the limping gay young fellow went down from Morven the reputable citizenry everywhere were horrified because he went as he was created, stark-naked, and this was not considered respectable. So a large tumble-bug came from the west, out of the quagmires of Philistia and followed after the animated figure, yelping and spluttering, “Morals, not art!” And for that while, the figure went out of Manuel’s saga, thus malodorously accompanied.

“But we will make a much finer figure,” says Freydis, “so it does not matter.”

“Yes, by and by,” says Manuel, “but we will let that wait a bit.”

“You are always saying that nowadays!”

“Ah, but, my dear, it is so very pleasant to rest here doing nothing serious for a little while, now that my geas is discharged. Presently of course we must be travelling everywhither, and when we have seen the ends of this world, and have judged them, I shall have time, and greater knowledge too, to give to this image making–“

“It is not from any remote strange places, dear Manuel, but from his own land that a man must get the earth for this image making–“

“Well, be that as it may, your kisses are to me far more delicious than your magic.”

“I love to hear you say that, my dearest, but still–“

“No, not at all, for you are really much nicer when you are cuddling so, than when you are running about the world pretending to be pigs and snakes and fireworks, and murdering people with your extravagant sorceries.”

Saying this, he kissed her, and thus stilled her protests, for in these amiable times Queen Freydis also was at bottom less interested in magic than in kisses. Indeed, there was never any sorceress more loving and tender than Freydis, now that she had become a human woman.

If ever she was irritable it was only when Manuel confessed, in reply to jealous questionings, that he did not find her quite so beautiful nor so clever as Niafer had been: but this, as Manuel pointed out, could not be helped. For there had never been anybody like Niafer, and it would be nonsense to say otherwise.

It is possible that Dom Manuel believed this. The rather homely, not intelligent, and in no respect bedazzling servant girl may well have been–in the inexplicable way these things fell out,–the woman whom Manuel’s heart had chosen, and who therefore in his eyes for the rest of time must differ from all other persons. Certainly no unastigmatic judge would have decreed this swarthy Niafer fit, as the phrase is, to hold a candle either to Freydis or Alianora: whereas Manuel did not conceal, even from these royal ladies themselves, his personal if unique evaluations.

To the other side, some say that ladies who are used to hourly admiration cannot endure the passing of a man who seems to admire not quite wholeheartedly. He who does not admire at all is obviously a fool, and not worth bothering about. But to him who admits, “You are well enough,” and makes as though to pass on, there is a mystery attached: and the one way to solve it is to pursue this irritating fellow. Some (reasoning thus) assert that squinting Manuel was aware of this axiom, and that he respected it in all his dealings with Freydis and Alianora. Either way, these theorists did not ever get any verbal buttressing from Dom Manuel. Niafer dead and lost to him, he, without flaunting any unexampled ardors, fell to loving Alianora: and now that Freydis had put off immortality for his kisses, the tall boy had, again, somewhat the air of consenting to accept this woman’s sacrifice, and her loveliness and all her power and wisdom, as being upon the whole the handiest available substitute for Niafer’s sparse charms.

Yet others declare, more simply, that Dom Manuel was so constituted as to value more cheaply every desire after he had attained it. And these say he noted that–again in the inexplicable way these things fall out,–now Manuel possessed the unearthly Queen she had become, precisely as Alianora had become, a not extraordinary person, who in all commerce with her lover dealt as such.

“But do you really love me, O man of all men?” Freydis would say, “and, this damned Niafer apart, do you love me a little more than you love any other woman?”

“Why, are there any other women?” says Manuel, in fine surprise. “Oh, to be sure, I suppose there are, but I had forgotten about them. I have not heard or seen or thought of those petticoated creatures since my dear Freydis came.”

The sorceress purred at this sort of talk, and she rested her head where there seemed a place especially made for it. “I wish I could believe your words, king of my heart. I have to strive so hard, nowadays, to goad you into saying these idiotic suitable dear things: and even when at last you do say them your voice is light and high, and makes them sound as though you were joking.”

He kissed the thick coil of hair which lay fragrant against his lips. “Do you know, in spite of my joking, I do love you a great deal?”

“I would practise saying that over to myself,” observed Freydis critically. “You should let your voice break a little after the first three words.”

“I speak as I feel. I love you, Freydis, and I tell you so.”

“Yes, but you are no longer a perpetual nuisance about it.”

“Alas, my dear, you are no longer the unattainable Queen of the country on the other side of the fire, and that makes a difference, certainly. It is equally certain that I love you over and above all living women.”

“Ah, but, my dearest, who loves you more than any human tongue can tell?”

“A peculiarly obstinate and lovely imbecile,” says Manuel; and he did that which seemed suitable.

Later Freydis sighed luxuriously. “That saves you the trouble of talking, does it not? And you talked so madly and handsomely that first night, when you wanted to get around me on account of the image, but now you do not make me any pretty speeches at all.”