FIGURES OF EARTH
A Comedy of Appearances
JAMES BRANCH CABELL
Illustrated by Frank C. Pape
"Cascun se mir el jove Manuel, Qu'era del mom lo plus valens dels pros."
PART ONE: THE BOOK OF CREDIT
I HOW MANUEL LEFT THE MIRE II NIAFER III ASCENT OF VRAIDEX IV IN THE DOUBTFUL PALACE V THE ETERNAL AMBUSCADE VI ECONOMICS OF MATH VII THE CROWN OF WISDOM VIII THE HALO OF HOLINESS IX THE FEATHER OF LOVE
PART TWO: THE BOOK OF SPENDING
X ALIANORA XI MAGIC OF THE APSARASAS XII ICE AND IRON XIII WHAT HELMAS DIRECTED XIV THEY DUEL ON MORVEN XV BANDAGES FOR THE VICTOR
PART THREE: THE BOOK OF CAST ACCOUNTS
XVI FREYDIS XVII MAGIC OF THE IMAGE-MAKERS XVIII MANUEL CHOOSES XIX THE HEAD OF MISERY XX THE MONTH OF YEARS XXI TOUCHING REPAYMENT XXII RETURN OF NIAFER XXIII MANUEL GETS HIS DESIRE XXIV THREE WOMEN
PART FOUR: THE BOOK OF SURCHARGE
XXV AFFAIRS IN POICTESME XXVI DEALS WITH THE STORK XXVII THEY COME TO SARGYLL XXVIII HOW MELICENT WAS WELCOMED XXIX SESPHRA OF THE DREAMS XXX FAREWELL TO FREYDIS XXXI STATECRAFT XXXII THE REDEMPTION OF POICTESME
PART FIVE: THE BOOK OF SETTLEMENT
XXXIII NOW MANUEL PROSPERS XXXIV FAREWELL TO ALIANORA XXXV THE TROUBLING WINDOW XXXVI EXCURSIONS FROM CONTENT XXXVII OPINIONS OF HINZELMANN XXXVIII FAREWELL TO SUSKIND XXXIX THE PASSING OF MANUEL XL COLOPHON: DA CAPO
SIX MOST GALLANT CHAMPIONS
Is dedicated this history of a champion: less to repay than to acknowledge large debts to each of them, collectively at outset, as hereafter seriatim.
Figures of Earth is, with some superficial air of paradox, the one volume in the long Biography of Dom Manuel's life which deals with Dom Manuel himself. Most of the matter strictly appropriate to a Preface you may find, if you so elect, in the Foreword addressed to Sinclair Lewis. And, in fact, after writing two prefaces to this "Figures of Earth"—first, in this epistle to Lewis, and, secondly, in the remarks affixed to the illustrated edition,—I had thought this volume could very well continue to survive as long as its deficiencies permit, without the confection of a third preface, until I began a little more carefully to consider this romance, in the seventh year of its existence.
[Footnote 1: Omitted in this edition since it was not possible to include all of Frank C. Pape's magnificent illustrations.—THE PUBLISHER]
But now, now, the deficiency which I note in chief (like the superior officer of a disastrously wrecked crew) lies in the fact that what I had meant to be the main "point" of "Figures of Earth," while explicitly enough stated in the book, remains for every practical end indiscernible.... For I have written many books during the last quarter of a century. Yet this is the only one of them which began at one plainly recognizable instant with one plainly recognizable imagining. It is the only book by me which ever, virtually, came into being, with its goal set, and with its theme and its contents more or less pre-determined throughout, between two ticks of the clock.
Egotism here becomes rather unavoidable. At Dumbarton Grange the library in which I wrote for some twelve years was lighted by three windows set side by side and opening outward. It was in the instant of unclosing one of these windows, on a fine afternoon in the spring of 1919, to speak with a woman and a child who were then returning to the house (with the day's batch of mail from the post office), that, for no reason at all, I reflected it would be, upon every personal ground, regrettable if, as the moving window unclosed, that especial woman and that particular child proved to be figures in the glass, and the window opened upon nothingness. For that, I believed, was about to happen. There would be, I knew, revealed beyond that moving window, when it had opened all the way, not absolute darkness, but a gray nothingness, rather sweetly scented.... Well! there was not. I once more enjoyed the quite familiar experience of being mistaken. It is gratifying to record that nothing whatever came of that panic surmise, of that second-long nightmare—of that brief but over-tropical flowering, for all I know, of indigestion,—save, ultimately, the 80,000 words or so of this book.
For I was already planning, vaguely, to begin on, later in that year, "the book about Manuel." And now I had the germ of it,—in the instant when Dom Manuel opens the over-familiar window, in his own home, to see his wife and child, his lands, and all the Poictesme of which he was at once the master and the main glory, presented as bright, shallow, very fondly loved illusions in the protective glass of Ageus. I knew that the fantastic thing which had not happened to me,—nor, I hope, to anybody,—was precisely the thing, and the most important thing, which had happened to the gray Count of Poictesme.
So I made that evening a memorandum of that historical circumstance; and for some months this book existed only in the form of that memorandum. Then, through, as it were, this wholly isolated window, I began to grope at "the book about Manuel,"—of whom I had hitherto learned only, from my other romances, who were his children, and who had been the sole witness of Dom Manuel's death, inasmuch as I had read about that also, with some interest, in the fourth chapter of "Jurgen"; and from the unclosing of this window I developed "Figures of Earth," for the most part toward, necessarily, anterior events. For it seemed to me—as it still seems,—that the opening of this particular magic casement, upon an outlook rather more perilous than the bright foam of fairy seas, was alike the climax and the main "point" of my book.
Yet this fact, I am resignedly sure, as I nowadays appraise this seven-year-old romance, could not ever be detected by any reader of "Figures of Earth," In consequence, it has seemed well here to confess at some length the original conception of this volume, without at all going into the value of that conception, nor into, heaven knows, how this conception came so successfully to be obscured.
So I began "the book about Manuel" that summer,—in 1919, upon the back porch of our cottage at the Rockbridge Alum Springs, whence, as I recall it, one could always, just as Manuel did upon Upper Morven, regard the changing green and purple of the mountains and the tall clouds trailing northward, and could observe that the things one viewed were all gigantic and lovely and seemed not to be very greatly bothering about humankind. I suppose, though, that, in point of fact, it occasionally rained. In any case, upon that same porch, as it happened, this book was finished in the summer of 1920.
And the notes made at this time as to "Figures of Earth" show much that nowadays is wholly incomprehensible. There was once an Olrun in the book; and I can recall clearly enough how her part in the story was absorbed by two of the other characters,—by Suskind and by Alianora. Freydis, it appears, was originally called Hlif. Miramon at one stage of the book's being, I find with real surprise, was married en secondes noces to Math. Othmar has lost that prominence which once was his. And it seems, too, there once figured in Manuel's heart affairs a Bel-Imperia, who, so near as I can deduce from my notes, was a lady in a tapestry. Someone unstitched her, to, I imagine, her destruction, although I suspect that a few skeins of this quite forgotten Bel-Imperia endure in the Radegonde of another tale.
Nor can I make anything whatever of my notes about Guivret (who seems to have been in no way connected with Guivric the Sage), nor about Biduz, nor about the Anti-Pope,—even though, to be sure, one mention of this heresiarch yet survives in the present book. I am wholly baffled to read, in my own penciling, such proposed chapter headings as "The Jealousy of Niafer" and "How Sclaug Loosed the Dead,"—which latter is with added incomprehensibility annotated "(?Phorgemon)." And "The Spirit Who Had Half of Everything" seems to have been exorcised pretty thoroughly.... No; I find the most of my old notes as to this book merely bewildering; and I find, too, something of pathos in these embryons of unborn dreams which, for one cause or another, were obliterated and have been utterly forgotten by their creator, very much as in this book vexed Miramon Lluagor twists off the head of a not quite satisfactory, whimpering design, and drops the valueless fragments into his waste-basket.... But I do know that the entire book developed, howsoever helterskelter, and after fumbling in no matter how many blind alleys, from that first memorandum about the troubling window of Ageus. All leads toward—and through—that window.
The book, then, was published in the February of 1921. I need not here deal with its semi-serial appearance in the guise of short stories: these details are recorded elsewhere. But I confess with appropriate humility that the reception of "Figures of Earth" by the public was, as I have written in another place, a depressing business. This romance, at that time, through one extraneous reason and another, disappointed well-nigh everybody, for all that it has since become, so near as I can judge, the best liked of my books, especially among women. It seems, indeed, a fact sufficiently edifying that, in appraising the two legendary heroes of Poictesme, the sex of whom Jurgen esteemed himself a connoisseur, should, almost unanimously, prefer Manuel.
For the rest,—since, as you may remember, this is the third preface which I have written for this book,—I can but repeat more or less what I have conceded elsewhere. This "Figures of Earth" appeared immediately following, and during the temporary sequestration of, "Jurgen." The fact was forthwith, quite unreticently, discovered that in "Figures of Earth" I had not succeeded in my attempt to rewrite its predecessor: and this crass failure, so open, so flagrant, and so undeniable, caused what I can only describe as the instant and overwhelming and universal triumph of "Figures of Earth" to be precisely what did not occur. In 1921 Comstockery still surged, of course, in full cry against the imprisoned pawnbroker and the crimes of his author, both literary and personal; and the, after all, tolerably large portion of the reading public who were not disgusted by Jurgen's lechery were now, so near as I could gather, enraged by Manuel's lack of it.
It followed that—among the futile persons who use serious, long words in talking about mere books,—aggrieved reproof of my auctorial malversations, upon the one ground or the other, became in 1921 biloquial and pandemic. Not many other volumes, I believe, have been burlesqued and cried down in the public prints by their own dedicatees.... But from the cicatrix of that healed wound I turn away. I preserve a forgiving silence, comparable to that of Hermione in the fifth act of "A Winter's Tale": I resolve that whenever I mention the names of Louis Untermeyer and H.L. Mencken it shall be in some connection more pleasant, and that here I will not mention them at all.
Meanwhile the fifteen or so experiments in contrapuntal prose were, in particular, uncharted passages from which I stayed unique in deriving pleasure where others found bewilderment and no tongue-tied irritation: but, in general, and above every misdemeanor else, the book exasperated everybody by not being a more successfully managed re-hashing of the then notorious "Jurgen."
Since 1921, and since the rehabilitation of "Jurgen," the notion has uprisen, gradually, among the more bold and speculative thinkers, that perhaps I was not, after all, in this "Figures of Earth" attempting to rewrite "Jurgen": and Manuel has made his own friend.
James Branch Cabell
30 April 1927
"Amoto quoeramus seria ludo"
MY DEAR LEWIS:
To you (whom I take to be as familiar with the Manuelian cycle of romance as is any person now alive) it has for some while appeared, I know, a not uncurious circumstance that in the Key to the Popular Tales of Poictesme there should have been included so little directly relative to Manuel himself. No reader of the Popular Tales (as I recall your saying at the Alum when we talked over, among so many other matters, this monumental book) can fail to note that always Dom Manuel looms obscurely in the background, somewhat as do King Arthur and white-bearded Charlemagne in their several cycles, dispensing justice and bestowing rewards, and generally arranging the future, for the survivors of the outcome of stories which more intimately concern themselves with Anavalt and Coth and Holden, and with Kerin and Ninzian and Gonfal and Donander, and with Miramon (in his role of Manuel's seneschal), or even with Sclaug and Thragnar, than with the liege-lord of Poictesme. Except in the old sixteenth-century chapbook (unknown to you, I believe, and never reprinted since 1822, and not ever modernized into any cognizable spelling), there seems to have been nowhere an English rendering of the legends in which Dom Manuel is really the main figure.
Well, this book attempts to supply that desideratum, and is, so far as the writer is aware, the one fairly complete epitome in modern English of the Manuelian historiography not included by Lewistam which has yet been prepared.
It is obvious, of course, that in a single volume of this bulk there could not be included more than a selection from the great body of myths which, we may assume, have accumulated gradually round the mighty though shadowy figure of Manuel the Redeemer. Instead, my aim has been to make choice of such stories and traditions as seemed most fit to be cast into the shape of a connected narrative and regular sequence of events; to lend to all that wholesome, edifying and optimistic tone which in reading-matter is so generally preferable to mere intelligence; and meanwhile to preserve as much of the quaint style of the gestes as is consistent with clearness. Then, too, in the original mediaeval romances, both in their prose and metrical form, there are occasional allusions to natural processes which make these stories unfit to be placed in the hands of American readers, who, as a body, attest their respectability by insisting that their parents were guilty of unmentionable conduct; and such passages of course necessitate considerable editing.
No schoolboy (and far less the scholastic chronicler of those last final upshots for whose furtherance "Hannibal invaded Rome and Erasmus wrote in Oxford cloisters") needs nowadays to be told that the Manuel of these legends is to all intents a fictitious person. That in the earlier half of the thirteenth century there was ruling over the Poictoumois a powerful chieftain named Manuel, nobody has of late disputed seriously. But the events of the actual human existence of this Lord of Poictesme—very much as the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa has been identified with the wood-demon Barbatos, and the prophet Elijah, "caught up into the chariot of the Vedic Vayu," has become one with the Slavonic Perun,—have been inextricably blended with the legends of the Dirghic Manu-Elul, Lord of August.
Thus, even the irregularity in Manuel's eyes is taken by Vanderhoffen, in his Tudor Tales, to be a myth connecting Manuel with the Vedic Rudra and the Russian Magarko and the Servian Vii,—"and every beneficent storm-god represented with his eye perpetually winking (like sheet lightning), lest his concentrated look (the thunderbolt) should reduce the universe to ashes.... His watery parentage, and the storm-god's relationship with a swan-maiden of the Apsarasas (typifying the mists and clouds), and with Freydis the fire queen, are equally obvious: whereas Niafer is plainly a variant of Nephthys, Lady of the House, whose personality Dr. Budge sums up as 'the goddess of the death which is not eternal,' or Nerthus, the Subterranean Earth, which the warm rainstorm quickens to life and fertility."
All this seems dull enough to be plausible. Yet no less an authority than Charles Garnier has replied, in rather indignant rebuttal: "Qu'ont ete en realite Manuel et Siegfried, Achille et Rustem? Par quels exploits ont-ils merite l'eternelle admiration que leur ont vouee les hommes de leur race? Nul ne repondra jamais a ces questions.... Mais Poictesme croit a la realite de cette figure que ses romans ont faite si belle, car le pays n'a pas d'autre histoire. Cette figure du Comte Manuel est reelle d'ailleurs, car elle est l'image purifiee de la race qui l'a produite, et, si on peut s'exprimer ainsi, l'incarnation de son genie."
—Which is quite just, and, when you come to think it over, proves Dom Manuel to be nowadays, for practical purposes, at least as real as Dr. Paul Vanderhoffen.
Between the two main epic cycles of Poictesme, as embodied in Les Gestes de Manuel and La Haulte Histoire de Jurgen, more or less comparison is inevitable. And Codman, I believe, has put the gist of the matter succinctly enough.
Says Codman: "The Gestes are mundane stories, the History is a cosmic affair, in that, where Manuel faces the world, Jurgen considers the universe.... Dom Manuel is the Achilles of Poictesme, as Jurgen is its Ulysses."
And, roughly, the distinction serves. Yet minute consideration discovers, I think, in these two sets of legends a more profound, if subtler, difference, in the handling of the protagonist: with Jurgen all of the physical and mental man is rendered as a matter of course; whereas in dealing with Manuel there is, always, I believe, a certain perceptible and strange, if not inexplicable, aloofness. Manuel did thus and thus, Manuel said so and so, these legends recount: yes, but never anywhere have I detected any firm assertion as to Manuel's thoughts and emotions, nor any peep into the workings of this hero's mind. He is "done" from the outside, always at arm's length. It is not merely that Manuel's nature is tinctured with the cool unhumanness of his father the water-demon: rather, these old poets of Poictesme would seem, whether of intention or no, to have dealt with their national hero as a person, howsoever admirable in many of his exploits, whom they have never been able altogether to love, or entirely to sympathize with, or to view quite without distrust.
There are several ways of accounting for this fact,—ranging from the hurtful as well as beneficent aspect of the storm-god, to the natural inability of a poet to understand a man who succeeds in everything: but the fact is, after all, of no present importance save that it may well have prompted Lewistam to scamp his dealings with this always somewhat ambiguous Manuel, and so to omit the hereinafter included legends, as unsuited to the clearer and sunnier atmosphere of the Popular Tales.
For my part, I am quite content, in this Comedy of Appearances, to follow the old romancers' lead. "Such and such things were said and done by our great Manuel," they say to us, in effect: "such and such were the appearances, and do you make what you can of them."
I say that, too, with the addition that in real life, also, such is the fashion in which we are compelled to deal with all happenings and with all our fellows, whether they wear or lack the gaudy name of heroism.
THE BOOK OF CREDIT
Then answered the Magician dredefully: Manuel, Manuel, now I shall shewe unto thee many bokes of Nygromancy, and howe thou shalt cum by it lyghtly and knowe the practyse therein. And, moreouer, I shall shewe and informe you so that thou shall have thy Desyre, whereby my thynke it is a great Gyfte for so lytyll a doynge.
How Manuel Left the Mire
They of Poictesme narrate that in the old days when miracles were as common as fruit pies, young Manuel was a swineherd, living modestly in attendance upon the miller's pigs. They tell also that Manuel was content enough: he knew not of the fate which was reserved for him.
Meanwhile in all the environs of Rathgor, and in the thatched villages of Lower Targamon, he was well liked: and when the young people gathered in the evening to drink brandy and eat nuts and gingerbread, nobody danced more merrily than Squinting Manuel. He had a quiet way with the girls, and with the men a way of solemn, blinking simplicity which caused the more hasty in judgment to consider him a fool. Then, too, young Manuel was very often detected smiling sleepily over nothing, and his gravest care in life appeared to be that figure which Manuel had made out of marsh clay from the pool of Haranton.
This figure he was continually reshaping and realtering. The figure stood upon the margin of the pool; and near by were two stones overgrown with moss, and supporting a cross of old worm-eaten wood, which commemorated what had been done there.
One day, toward autumn, as Manuel was sitting in this place, and looking into the deep still water, a stranger came, and he wore a fierce long sword that interfered deplorably with his walking.
"Now I wonder what it is you find in that dark pool to keep you staring so?" the stranger asked, first of all.
"I do not very certainly know," replied Manuel "but mistily I seem to see drowned there the loves and the desires and the adventures I had when I wore another body than this. For the water of Haranton, I must tell you, is not like the water of other fountains, and curious dreams engender in this pool."
"I speak no ill against oneirologya, although broad noon is hardly the best time for its practise," declared the snub-nosed stranger. "But what is that thing?" he asked, pointing.
"It is the figure of a man, which I have modeled and re-modeled, sir, but cannot seem to get exactly to my liking. So it is necessary that I keep laboring at it until the figure is to my thinking and my desire."
"But, Manuel, what need is there for you to model it at all?"
"Because my mother, sir, was always very anxious for me to make a figure in the world, and when she lay a-dying I promised her that I would do so, and then she put a geas upon me to do it."
"Ah, to be sure! but are you certain it was this kind of figure she meant?"
"Yes, for I have often heard her say that, when I grew up, she wanted me to make myself a splendid and admirable young man in every respect. So it is necessary that I make the figure of a young man, for my mother was not of these parts, but a woman of Ath Cliath, and so she put a geas upon me—"
"Yes, yes, you had mentioned this geas, and I am wondering what sort of a something is this geas."
"It is what you might call a bond or an obligation, sir, only it is of the particularly strong and unreasonable and affirmative and secret sort which the Virbolg use."
The stranger now looked from the figure to Manuel, and the stranger deliberated the question (which later was to puzzle so many people) if any human being could be as simple as Manuel appeared. Manuel at twenty was not yet the burly giant he became. But already he was a gigantic and florid person, so tall that the heads of few men reached to his shoulder; a person of handsome exterior, high featured and blond, having a narrow small head, and vivid light blue eyes, and the chest of a stallion; a person whose left eyebrow had an odd oblique droop, so that the stupendous boy at his simplest appeared to be winking the information that he was in jest.
All in all, the stranger found this young swineherd ambiguous; and there was another curious thing too which the stranger noticed about Manuel.
"Is it on account of this geas," asked the stranger, "that a great lock has been sheared away from your yellow hair?"
In an instant Manuel's face became dark and wary. "No," he said, "that has nothing to do with my geas, and we must not talk about that"
"Now you are a queer lad to be having such an obligation upon your head, and to be having well-nigh half the hair cut away from your head, and to be having inside your head such notions. And while small harm has ever come from humoring one's mother, yet I wonder at you, Manuel, that you should sit here sleeping in the sunlight among your pigs, and be giving your young time to improbable sculpture and stagnant water, when there is such a fine adventure awaiting you, and when the Norns are foretelling such high things about you as they spin the thread of your living."
"Hah, glory be to God, friend, but what is this adventure?"
"The adventure is that the Count of Arnaye's daughter yonder has been carried off by a magician, and that the high Count Demetrios offers much wealth and broad lands, and his daughter's hand in marriage, too, to the lad that will fetch back this lovely girl."
"I have heard talk of this in the kitchen of Arnaye, where I sometimes sell them a pig. But what are such matters to a swineherd?"
"My lad, you are to-day a swineherd drowsing in the sun, as yesterday you were a baby squalling in the cradle, but to-morrow you will be neither of these if there by any truth whatever in the talking of the Norns as they gossip at the foot of their ash-tree beside the door of the Sylan's House."
Manuel appeared to accept the inevitable. He bowed his brightly colored high head, saying gravely: "All honor be to Urdhr and Verdandi and Skuld! If I am decreed to be the champion that is to rescue the Count of Arnaye's daughter, it is ill arguing with the Norns. Come, tell me now, how do you call this doomed magician, and how does one get to him to sever his wicked head from his foul body?"
"Men speak of him as Miramon Lluagor, lord of the nine kinds of sleep and prince of the seven madnesses. He lives in mythic splendor at the top of the gray mountain called Vraidex, where he contrives all manner of illusions, and, in particular, designs the dreams of men."
"Yes, in the kitchen of Arnaye, also, such was the report concerning this Miramon: and not a person in the kitchen denied that this Miramon is an ugly customer."
"He is the most subtle of magicians. None can withstand him, and nobody can pass the terrible serpentine designs which Miramon has set to guard the gray scarps of Vraidex, unless one carries the more terrible sword Flamberge, which I have here in its blue scabbard."
"Why, then, it is you who must rescue the Count's daughter."
"No, that would not do at all: for there is in the life of a champion too much of turmoil and of buffetings and murderings to suit me, who am a peace-loving person. Besides, to the champion who rescues the Lady Gisele will be given her hand in marriage, and as I have a wife, I know that to have two wives would lead to twice too much dissension to suit me, who am a peace-loving person. So I think it is you who had better take the sword and the adventure."
"Well," Manuel said, "much wealth and broad lands and a lovely wife are finer things to ward than a parcel of pigs."
So Manuel girded on the charmed scabbard, and with the charmed sword he sadly demolished the clay figure he could not get quite right. Then Manuel sheathed Flamberge, and Manuel cried farewell to the pigs.
"I shall not ever return to you, my pigs, because, at worst, to die valorously is better than to sleep out one's youth in the sun. A man has but one life. It is his all. Therefore I now depart from you, my pigs, to win me a fine wife and much wealth and leisure wherein to discharge my geas. And when my geas is lifted I shall not come back to you, my pigs, but I shall travel everywhither, and into the last limits of earth, so that I may see the ends of this world and may judge them while my life endures. For after that, they say, I judge not, but am judged: and a man whose life has gone out of him, my pigs, is not even good bacon."
"So much rhetoric for the pigs," says the stranger, "is well enough, and likely to please them. But come, is there not some girl or another to whom you should be saying good-bye with other things than words?"
"No, at first I thought I would also bid farewell to Suskind, who is sometimes friendly with me in the twilight wood, but upon reflection it seems better not to. For Suskind would probably weep, and exact promises of eternal fidelity, and otherwise dampen the ardor with which I look toward to-morrow and the winning of the wealthy Count of Arnaye's lovely daughter."
"Now, to be sure, you are a queer cool candid fellow, you young Manuel, who will go far, whether for good or evil!"
"I do not know about good or evil. But I am Manuel, and I shall follow after my own thinking and my own desires."
"And certainly it is no less queer you should be saying that: for, as everybody knows, that used to be the favorite byword of your namesake the famous Count Manuel who is so newly dead in Poictesme yonder."
At that the young swineherd nodded, gravely. "I must accept the omen, sir. For, as I interpret it, my great namesake has courteously made way for me, in order that I may go far beyond him."
Then Manuel cried farewell and thanks to the mild-mannered, snub-nosed stranger, and Manuel left the miller's pigs to their own devices by the pool of Haranton, and Manuel marched away in his rags to meet a fate that was long talked about.
The first thing of all that Manuel did, was to fill a knapsack with simple and nutritious food, and then he went to the gray mountain called Vraidex, upon the remote and cloud-wrapped summit of which dread Miramon Lluagor dwelt, in a doubtful palace wherein the lord of the nine sleeps contrived illusions and designed the dreams of men. When Manuel had passed under some very old maple-trees, and was beginning the ascent, he found a smallish, flat-faced, dark-haired boy going up before him.
"Hail, snip," says Manuel, "and whatever are you doing in this perilous place?"
"Why, I am going," the dark-haired boy replied, "to find out how the Lady Gisele d'Arnaye is faring on the tall top of this mountain."
"Oho, then we will undertake this adventure together, for that is my errand too. And when the adventure is fulfilled, we will fight together, and the survivor will have the wealth and broad lands and the Count's daughter to sit on his knee. What do they call you, friend?"
"I am called Niafer. But I believe that the Lady Gisele is already married, to Miramon Lluagor. At least, I sincerely hope she is married to this great magician, for otherwise it would not be respectable for her to be living with him at the top of this gray mountain."
"Fluff and puff! what does that matter?" says Manuel. "There is no law against a widow's remarrying forthwith: and widows are quickly made by any champion about whom the wise Norns are already talking. But I must not tell you about that, Niafer, because I do not wish to appear boastful. So I must simply say to you, Niafer, that I am called Manuel, and have no other title as yet, being not yet even a baron."
"Come now," says Niafer, "but you are rather sure of yourself for a young boy!"
"Why, of what may I be sure in this shifting world if not of myself?"
"Our elders, Manuel, declare that such self-conceit is a fault, and our elders, they say, are wiser than we."
"Our elders, Niafer, have long had the management of this world's affairs, and you can see for yourself what they have made of these affairs. What sort of a world is it, I ask you, in which time peculates the gold from hair and the crimson from all lips, and the north wind carries away the glow and glory and contentment of October, and a driveling old magician steals a lovely girl? Why, such maraudings are out of reason, and show plainly that our elders have no notion how to manage things."
"Eh, Manuel, and will you re-model the world?"
"Who knows?" says Manuel, in the high pride of his youth. "At all events, I do not mean to leave it unaltered."
Then Niafer, a more prosaic person, gave him a long look compounded equally of admiration and pity, but Niafer did not dispute the matter. Instead, these two pledged constant fealty until they should have rescued Madame Gisele.
"Then we will fight for her," says Manuel, again.
"First, Manuel, let me see her face, and then let me see her state of mind, and afterward I will see about fighting you. Meanwhile, this is a very tall mountain, and the climbing of it will require all the breath which we are wasting here."
So the two began the ascent of Vraidex, by the winding road upon which the dreams traveled when they were sent down to men by the lord of the seven madnesses. All gray rock was the way at first. But they soon reached the gnawed bones of those who had ascended before them, scattered about a small plain that was overgrown with ironweed: and through and over the tall purple blossoms came to destroy the boys the Serpent of the East, a very dreadful design with which Miramon afflicted the sleep of Lithuanians and Tartars. The snake rode on a black horse, a black falcon perched on his head, and a black hound followed him. The horse stumbled, the falcon clamored, the hound howled.
Then said the snake: "My steed, why do you stumble? my hound, why do you howl? and, my falcon, why do you clamor? For these three doings foresay some ill to me."
"Oh, a great ill!" replies Manuel, with his charmed sword already half out of the scabbard.
But Niafer cried: "An endless ill is foresaid by these doings. For I have been to the Island of the Oaks: and under the twelfth oak was a copper casket, and in the casket was a purple duck, and in the duck was an egg: and in the egg, O Norka, was and is your death."
"It is true that my death is in such an egg," said the Serpent of the East, "but nobody will ever find that egg, and therefore I am resistless and immortal."
"To the contrary, the egg, as you can perceive, is in my hand; and when I break this egg you will die, and it is smaller worms than you that will be thanking me for their supper this night."
The serpent looked at the poised egg, and he trembled and writhed so that his black scales scattered everywhither scintillations of reflected sunlight. He cried, "Give me the egg, and I will permit you two to ascend unmolested, to a more terrible destruction."
Niafer was not eager to do this, but Manuel thought it best, and so at last Niafer consented to the bargain, for the sake of the serpent's children. Then the two lads went upward, while the serpent bandaged the eyes of his horse and of his hound, and hooded his falcon, and crept gingerly away to hide the egg in an unmentionable place.
"But how in the devil," says Manuel, "did you manage to come by that invaluable egg?"
"It is a quite ordinary duck egg, Manuel. But the Serpent of the East has no way of discovering the fact unless he breaks the egg: and that is the one thing the serpent will never do, because he thinks it is the magic egg which contains his death."
"Come, Niafer, you are not handsome to look at, but you are far cleverer than I thought you!"
Now, as Manuel clapped Niafer on the shoulder, the forest beside the roadway was agitated, and the underbrush crackled, and the tall beech-trees crashed and snapped and tumbled helter-skelter. The crust of the earth was thus broken through by the Serpent of the North. Only the head and throat of this design of Miramon's was lifted from the jumbled trees, for it was requisite of course that the serpent's lower coils should never loose their grip upon the foundations of Norroway. All of the design that showed was overgrown with seaweed and barnacles.
"It is the will of Miramon Lluagor that I forthwith demolish you both," says this serpent, yawning with a mouth like a fanged cave.
Once more young Manuel had reached for his charmed sword Flamberge, but it was Niafer who spoke.
"No, for before you can destroy me," says Niafer, "I shall have cast this bridle over your head."
"What sort of bridle is that?" inquired the great snake scornfully.
"And are those goggling flaming eyes not big enough and bright enough to see that this is the soft bridle called Gleipnir, which is made of the breath of fish and of the spittle of birds and of the footfall of a cat?"
"Now, although certainly such a bridle was foretold," the snake conceded, a little uneasily, "how can I make sure that you speak the truth when you say this particular bridle is Gleipnir?"
"Why, in this way: I will cast the bridle over your head, and then you will see for yourself that the old prophecy will be fulfilled, and that all power and all life will go out of you, and that the Northmen will dream no more."
"No, do you keep that thing away from me, you little fool! No, no: we will not test your truthfulness in that way. Instead, do you two continue your ascent, to a more terrible destruction, and to face barbaric dooms coming from the West. And do you give me the bridle to demolish in place of you. And then, if I live forever I shall know that this is indeed Gleipnir, and that you have spoken the truth."
So Niafer consented to this testing of his veracity, rather than permit this snake to die, and the foundations of Norroway (in which kingdom, Niafer confessed, he had an aunt then living) thus to be dissolved by the loosening of the dying serpent's grip upon Middlegarth. The bridle was yielded, and Niafer and Manuel went upward.
Manuel asked, "Snip, was that in truth the bridle called Gleipnir?"
"No, Manuel, it is an ordinary bridle. But this Serpent of the North has no way of discovering this fact except by fitting the bridle over his head: and this one thing the serpent will never do, because he knows that then, if my bridle proved to be Gleipnir, all power and all life would go out of him."
"O subtle, ugly little snip!" says Manuel: and again he patted Niafer on the shoulder. Then Manuel spoke very highly in praise of cleverness, and said that, for one, he had never objected to it in its place.
Ascent of Vraidex
Now it was evening, and the two sought shelter in a queer windmill by the roadside, finding there a small wrinkled old man in a patched coat. He gave them lodgings for the night, and honest bread and cheese, but for his own supper he took frogs out of his bosom, and roasted these in the coals.
Then the two boys sat in the doorway, and watched that night's dreams going down from Vraidex to their allotted work in the world of visionary men, to whom these dreams were passing in the form of incredible white vapors. Sitting thus, the lads fell to talking of this and the other, and Manuel found that Niafer was a pagan of the old faith: and this, said Manuel, was an excellent thing.
"For, when we have achieved our adventure," says Manuel, "and must fight against each other for the Count's daughter, I shall certainly kill you, dear Niafer. Now if you were a Christian, and died thus unholily in trying to murder me, you would have to go thereafter to the unquenchable flames of purgatory or to even hotter flames: but among the pagans all that die valiantly in battle go straight to the pagan paradise. Yes, yes, your abominable religion is a great comfort to me."
"It is a comfort to me also, Manuel. But, as a Christian, you ought not ever to have any kind words for heathenry."
"Ah, but," says Manuel, "while my mother Dorothy of the White Arms was the most zealous sort of Christian, my father, you must know, was not a communicant."
"Who was your father, Manuel?"
"No less a person than the Swimmer, Oriander, who is in turn the son of Mimir."
"Ah, to be sure! and who is Mimir?"
"Well, Niafer, that is a thing not very generally known, but he is famed for his wise head."
"And, Manuel, who, while we speak of it, is Oriander?"
"Oh, out of the void and the darkness that is peopled by Mimir's brood, from the ultimate silent fastness of the desolate deep-sea gloom, and the peace of that ageless gloom, blind Oriander came, from Mimir, to be at war with the sea and to jeer at the sea's desire. When tempests are seething and roaring from the Aesir's inverted bowl all seamen have heard his shouting and the cry that his mirth sends up: when the rim of the sea tilts up, and the world's roof wavers down, his face gleams white where distraught waves smite the Swimmer they may not tire. No eyes were allotted this Swimmer, but in blindness, with ceaseless jeers, he battles till time be done with, and the love-songs of earth be sung, and the very last dirge be sung, and a baffled and outworn sea begrudgingly own Oriander alone may mock at the might of its ire."
"Truly, Manuel, that sounds like a parent to be proud of, and not at all like a church-going parent, and of course his blindness would account for that squint of yours. Yes, certainly it would. So do you tell me about this blind Oriander, and how he came to meet your mother Dorothy of the White Arms, as I suppose he did somewhere or other."
"Oh, no," says Manuel, "for Oriander never leaves off swimming, and so he must stay always in the water. So he never actually met my mother, and she married Emmerick, who was my nominal father. But such and such things happened."
Then Manuel told Niafer all about the circumstances of Manuel's birth in a cave, and about the circumstances of Manuel's upbringing in and near Rathgor and the two boys talked on and on, while the unborn dreams went drifting by outside; and within the small wrinkled old man sat listening with a very doubtful smile, and saying never a word.
"And why is your hair cut so queerly, Manuel?"
"That, Niafer, we need not talk about, in part because it is not going to be cut that way any longer, and in part because it is time for bed."
The next morning Manuel and Niafer paid the ancient price which their host required. They left him cobbling shoes, and, still ascending, encountered no more bones, for nobody else had climbed so high. They presently came to a bridge whereon were eight spears, and the bridge was guarded by the Serpent of the West. This snake was striped with blue and gold, and wore on his head a great cap of humming-birds' feathers.
Manuel half drew his sword to attack this serpentine design, with which Miramon Lluagor made sleeping terrible for the red tribes that hunt and fish behind the Hesperides. But Manuel looked at Niafer.
And Niafer displayed a drolly marked small turtle, saying, "Maskanako, do you not recognize Tulapin, the turtle that never lies?"
The serpent howled, as though a thousand dogs had been kicked simultaneously, and the serpent fled.
"Why, snip, did he do that?" asked Manuel, smiling sleepily and gravely, as for the third time he found that his charmed sword Flamberge was unneeded.
"Truly, Manuel, nobody knows why this serpent dreads the turtle: but our concern is less with the cause than with the effect. Meanwhile, those eight spears are not to be touched on any account."
"Is what you have a quite ordinary turtle?" asked Manuel, meekly.
Niafer said: "Of course it is. Where would I be getting extraordinary turtles?"
"I had not previously considered that problem," replied Manuel, "but the question is certainly unanswerable."
They then sat down to lunch, and found the bread and cheese they had purchased from the little old man that morning was turned to lumps of silver and virgin gold in Manuel's knapsack. "This is very disgusting," said Manuel, "and I do not wonder my back was near breaking." He flung away the treasure, and they lunched frugally on blackberries.
From among the entangled blackberry bushes came the glowing Serpent of the South, who was the smallest and loveliest and most poisonous of Miramon's designs. With this snake Niafer dealt curiously. Niafer employed three articles in the transaction: two of these things are not to be talked about, but the third was a little figure carved in hazel-wood.
"Certainly you are very clever," said Manuel, when they had passed this serpent. "Still, your employment of those first two articles was unprecedented, and your disposal of the carved figure absolutely embarrassed me."
"Before such danger as confronted us, Manuel, it does not pay to be squeamish," replied Niafer, "and my exorcism was good Dirgham."
And many other adventures and perils they encountered, such as if all were told would make a long and most improbable history. But they had clear favorable weather, and they won through each pinch, by one or another fraud which Niafer evolved the instant that gullery was needed. Manuel was loud in his praises of the surprising cleverness of his flat-faced dark comrade, and protested that hourly he loved Niafer more and more: and Manuel said too that he was beginning to think more and more distastefully of the time when Niafer and Manuel would have to fight for the Count of Arnaye's daughter until one of them had killed the other.
Meanwhile the sword Flamberge stayed in its curious blue scabbard.
In the Doubtful Palace
So Manuel and Niafer came unhurt to the top of the gray mountain called Vraidex, and to the doubtful palace of Miramon Lluagor. Gongs, slowly struck, were sounding as if in languid dispute among themselves, when the two lads came across a small level plain where grass was interspersed with white clover. Here and there stood wicked looking dwarf trees with violet and yellow foliage. The doubtful palace before the circumspectly advancing boys appeared to be constructed of black and gold lacquer, and it was decorated with the figures of butterflies and tortoises and swans.
This day being a Thursday, Manuel and Niafer entered unchallenged through gates of horn and ivory; and came into a red corridor in which five gray beasts, like large hairless cats, were casting dice. These animals grinned, and licked their lips, as the boys passed deeper into the doubtful palace.
In the centre of the palace Miramon had set like a tower one of the tusks of Behemoth: the tusk was hollowed out into five large rooms, and in the inmost room, under a canopy with green tassels, they found the magician.
"Come forth, and die now, Miramon Lluagor!" shouts Manuel, brandishing his sword, for which, at last, employment was promised here.
The magician drew closer about him his old threadbare dressing-gown, and he desisted from his enchantments, and he put aside a small unfinished design, which scuttled into the fireplace, whimpering. And Manuel perceived that the dreadful prince of the seven madnesses had the appearance of the mild-mannered stranger who had given Manuel the charmed sword.
"Ah, yes, it was good of you to come so soon," says Miramon Lluagor, rearing back his head, and narrowing his gentle and sombre eyes, as the magician looked at them down the sides of what little nose he had. "Yes, and your young friend, too, is very welcome. But you boys must be quite worn out, after toiling up this mountain, so do you sit down and have a cup of wine before I surrender my dear wife."
Says Manuel, sternly, "But what is the meaning of all this?"
"The meaning and the upshot, clearly," replied the magician, "is that, since you have the charmed sword Flamberge, and since the wearer of Flamberge is irresistible, it would be nonsense for me to oppose you."
"But, Miramon, it was you who gave me the sword!"
Miramon rubbed his droll little nose for a while, before speaking. "And how else was I to get conquered? For, I must tell you, Manuel, it is a law of the Leshy that a magician cannot surrender his prey unless the magician be conquered. I must tell you, too, that when I carried off Gisele I acted, as I by and by discovered, rather injudiciously."
"Now, by holy Paul and Pollux! I do not understand this at all, Miramon."
"Why, Manuel, you must know she was a very charming girl, and in appearance just the type that I had always fancied for a wife. But perhaps it is not wise to be guided entirely by appearances. For I find now that she has a strong will in her white bosom, and a tireless tongue in her glittering head, and I do not equally admire all four of these possessions."
"Still, Miramon, if only a few months back your love was so great as to lead you into abducting her—"
The prince of the seven madnesses said gravely:
"Love, as I think, is an instant's fusing of shadow and substance. They that aspire to possess love utterly, fall into folly. This is forbidden: you cannot. The lover, beholding that fusing move as a golden-hued goddess, accessible, kindly and priceless, wooes and ill-fatedly wins all the substance. The golden-hued shadow dims in the dawn of his married life, dulled with content, and the shadow vanishes. So there remains, for the puzzled husband's embracing, flesh which is fair and dear, no doubt, yet is flesh such as his; and talking and talking and talking; and kisses in all ways desirable. Love, of a sort, too remains, but hardly the love that was yesterday's."
Now the unfinished design came out of the fireplace, and climbed up Miramon's leg, still faintly whimpering. He looked at it meditatively, then twisted off the creature's head and dropped the fragments into his waste-basket.
Miramon sighed. He said:
"This is the cry of all husbands that now are or may be hereafter,—'What has become of the girl that I married? and how should I rightly deal with this woman whom somehow time has involved in my doings? Love, of a sort, now I have for her, but not the love that was yesterday's—'"
While Miramon spoke thus, the two lads were looking at each other blankly: for they were young, and their understanding of this matter was as yet withheld.
Then said Miramon:
"Yes, he is wiser that shelters his longing from any such surfeit. Yes, he is wiser that knows the shadow makes lovely the substance, wisely regarding the ways of that irresponsible shadow which, if you grasp at it, flees, and, when you avoid it, will follow, gilding all life with its glory, and keeping always one woman young and most fair and most wise, and unwon; and keeping you always never contented, but armed with a self-respect that no husband manages quite to retain in the face of being contented. No, for love is an instant's fusing of shadow and substance, fused for that instant only, whereafter the lover may harvest pleasure from either alone, but hardly from these two united."
"Well," Manuel conceded, "all this may be true; but I never quite understood hexameters, and so I could not ever see the good of talking in them."
"I always do that, Manuel, when I am deeply affected. It is, I suppose, the poetry in my nature welling to the surface the moment that inhibitions are removed, for when I think about the impending severance from my dear wife I more or less lose control of myself—You see, she takes an active interest in my work, and that does not do with a creative artist in any line. Oh, dear me, no, not for a moment!" says Miramon, forlornly.
"But how can that be?" Niafer asked him.
"As all persons know, I design the dreams of men. Now Gisele asserts that people have enough trouble in real life, without having to go to sleep to look for it—"
"Certainly that is true," says Niafer.
"So she permits me only to design bright optimistic dreams and edifying dreams and glad dreams. She says you must give tired persons what they most need; and is emphatic about the importance of everybody's sleeping in a wholesome atmosphere. So I have not been permitted to design a fine nightmare or a creditable terror—nothing morbid or blood-freezing, no sea-serpents or krakens or hippogriffs, nor anything that gives me a really free hand,—for months and months: and my art suffers. Then, as for other dreams, of a more roguish nature—"
"What sort of dreams can you be talking about, I wonder, Miramon?"
The magician described what he meant. "Such dreams also she has quite forbidden," he added, with a sigh.
"I see," said Manuel: "and now I think of it, it is true that I have not had a dream of that sort for quite a while."
"No man anywhere is allowed to have that sort of dream in these degenerate nights, no man anywhere in the whole world. And here again my art suffers, for my designs in this line were always especially vivid and effective, and pleased the most rigid. Then, too, Gisele is always doing and telling me things for my own good—In fine, my lads, my wife takes such a flattering interest in all my concerns that the one way out for any peace-loving magician was to contrive her rescue from my clutches," said Miramon, fretfully.
"It is difficult to explain to you, Manuel, just now, but after you have been married to Gisele for a while you will comprehend without any explaining."
"Now, Miramon, I marvel to see a great magician controlled by a woman who is in his power, and who can, after all, do nothing but talk."
Miramon for some while considered Manuel, rather helplessly. "Unmarried men do wonder about that," said Miramon. "At all events, I will summon her, and you can explain how you have conquered me, and then you can take her away and marry her yourself, and Heaven help you!"
"But shall I explain that it was you who gave me the resistless sword?"
"No, Manuel: no, you should be candid within more rational limits. For you are now a famous champion, that has crowned with victory a righteous cause for which many stalwart knights and gallant gentlemen have made the supreme sacrifice, because they knew that in the end the right must conquer. Your success thus represents the working out of a great moral principle, and to explain the practical minutiae of these august processes is not always quite respectable. Besides, if Gisele thought I wished to get rid of her she would most certainly resort to comments of which I prefer not to think."
But now into the room came the magician's wife, Gisele.
"She is, certainly, rather pretty," said Niafer, to Manuel.
Said Manuel, rapturously: "She is the finest and loveliest creature that I have ever seen. Beholding her unequalled beauty, I know that here are all the dreams of yesterday fulfilled. I recollect, too, my songs of yesterday, which I was used to sing to my pigs, about my love for a far princess who was 'white as a lily, more red than roses, and resplendent as rubies of the Orient,' for here I find my old songs to be applicable, if rather inadequate. And by this shabby villain's failure to appreciate the unequalled beauty of his victim I am amazed."
"As to that, I have my suspicions," Niafer replied. "And now she is about to speak I believe she will justify these suspicions, for Madame Gisele is in no placid frame of mind."
"What is this nonsense," says the proud shining lady, to Miramon Lluagor, "that I hear about your having been conquered?"
"Alas, my love, it is perfectly true. This champion has, in some inexplicable way, come by the magic weapon Flamberge which is the one weapon wherewith I can be conquered. So I have yielded to him, and he is about, I think, to sever my head from my body."
The beautiful girl was indignant, because she had recognized that, magician or no, there is small difference in husbands after the first month or two; and with Miramon tolerably well trained, she had no intention of changing him for another husband. Therefore Gisele inquired, "And what about me?" in a tone that foreboded turmoil.
The magician rubbed his hands, uncomfortably. "My dear, I am of course quite powerless before Flamberge. Inasmuch as your rescue appears to have been effected in accordance with every rule in these matters, and the victorious champion is resolute to requite my evil-doing and to restore you to your grieving parents, I am afraid there is nothing I can well do about it."
"Do you look me in the eye, Miramon Lluagor!" says the Lady Gisele. The dreadful prince of the seven madnesses obeyed her, with a placating smile. "Yes, you have been up to something," she said, "And Heaven only knows what, though of course it does not really matter."
Madame Gisele then looked at Manuel "So you are the champion that has come to rescue me!" she said, unhastily, as her big sapphire eyes appraised him over her great fan of gaily colored feathers, and as Manuel somehow began to fidget.
Gisele looked last of all at Niafer. "I must say you have been long enough in coming," observed Gisele.
"It took me two days, madame, to find and catch a turtle," Niafer replied, "and that delayed me."
"Oh, you have always some tale or other, trust you for that, but it is better late than never. Come, Niafer, and do you know anything about this gawky, ragtag, yellow-haired young champion?"
"Yes, madame, he formerly lived in attendance upon the miller's pigs, down Rathgor way, and I have seen him hanging about the kitchen at Arnaye."
Gisele turned now toward the magician, with her thin gold chains and the innumerable brilliancies of her jewels flashing no more brightly than flashed the sapphire of her eyes. "There!" she said, terribly: "and you were going to surrender me to a swineherd, with half the hair chopped from his head, and with the shirt sticking out of both his ragged elbows!"
"My dearest, irrespective of tonsorial tastes, and disregarding all sartorial niceties, and swineherd or not, he holds the magic sword Flamberge, before which all my powers are nothing."
"But that is easily settled. Have men no sense whatever! Boy, do you give me that sword, before you hurt yourself fiddling with it, and let us have an end of this nonsense."
Thus the proud lady spoke, and for a while the victorious champion regarded her with very youthful looking, hurt eyes. But he was not routed.
"Madame Gisele," replied Manuel, "gawky and poorly clad and young as I may be, so long as I retain this sword I am master of you all and of the future too. Yielding it, I yield everything my elders have taught me to prize, for my grave elders have taught me that much wealth and broad lands and a lovely wife are finer things to ward than a parcel of pigs. So, if I yield at all, I must first bargain and get my price for yielding."
He turned now from Gisele to Niafer. "Dear snip," said Manuel, "you too must have your say in my bargaining, because from the first it has been your cleverness that has saved us, and has brought us two so high. For see, at last I have drawn Flamberge, and I stand at last at the doubtful summit of Vraidex, and I am master of the hour and of the future. I have but to sever the wicked head of this doomed magician from his foul body, and that will be the end of him—"
"No, no," says Miramon, soothingly, "I shall merely be turned into something else, which perhaps we had better not discuss. But it will not inconvenience me in the least, so do you not hold back out of mistaken kindness to me, but instead do you smite, and take your well-earned reward."
"Either way," submitted Manuel, "I have but to strike, and I acquire much wealth and sleek farming-lands and a lovely wife, and the swineherd becomes a great nobleman. But it is you, Niafer, who have won all these things for me with your cleverness, and to me it seems that these wonderful rewards are less wonderful than my dear comrade."
"But you too are very wonderful," said Niafer, loyally.
Says Manuel, smiling sadly: "I am not so wonderful but that in the hour of my triumph I am frightened by my own littleness. Look you, Niafer, I had thought I would be changed when I had become a famous champion, but for all that I stand posturing here with this long sword, and am master of the hour and of the future, I remain the boy that last Thursday was tending pigs. I was not afraid of the terrors which beset me on my way to rescue the Count's daughter, but of the Count's daughter herself I am horribly afraid. Not for worlds would I be left alone with her. No, such fine and terrific ladies are not for swineherds, and it is another sort of wife that I desire."
"Whom then do you desire for a wife," says Niafer, "if not the loveliest and the wealthiest lady in all Rathgor and Lower Targamon?"
"Why, I desire the cleverest and dearest and most wonderful creature in all the world," says Manuel,—"whom I recollect seeing some six weeks ago when I was in the kitchen at Arnaye."
"Ah, ah! it might be arranged, then. But who is this marvelous woman?"
Manuel said, "You are that woman, Niafer."
Niafer replied nothing, but Niafer smiled. Niafer raised one shoulder a little, rubbing it against Manuel's broad chest, but Niafer still kept silence. So the two young people regarded each other for a while, not speaking, and to every appearance not valuing Miramon Lluagor and his encompassing enchantments at a straw's worth, nor valuing anything save each other.
"All things are changed for me," says Manuel, presently, in a hushed voice, "and for the rest of time I live in a world wherein Niafer differs from all other persons."
"My dearest," Niafer replied, "there is no sparkling queen nor polished princess anywhere but the woman's heart in her would be jumping with joy to have you looking at her twice, and I am only a servant girl!"
"But certainly," said the rasping voice of Gisele, "Niafer is my suitably disguised heathen waiting-woman, to whom my husband sent a dream some while ago, with instructions to join me here, so that I might have somebody to look after my things. So, Niafer, since you were fetched to wait on me, do you stop pawing at that young pig-tender, and tell me what is this I hear about your remarkable cleverness!"
Instead, it was Manuel who proudly told of the shrewd devices through which Niafer had passed the serpents and the other terrors of sleep. And the while that the tall boy was boasting, Miramon Lluagor smiled, and Gisele looked very hard at Niafer: for Miramon and his wife both knew that the cleverness of Niafer was as far to seek as her good looks, and that the dream which Miramon had sent had carefully instructed Niafer as to these devices.
"Therefore, Madame Gisele," says Manuel, in conclusion, "I will give you Flamberge, and Miramon and Vraidex, and all the rest of earth to boot, in exchange for the most wonderful and clever woman in the world."
And with a flourish, Manuel handed over the charmed sword Flamberge to the Count's lovely daughter, and he took the hand of the swart, flat-faced servant girl.
"Come now," says Miramon, in a sad flurry, "this is an imposing performance. I need not say it arouses in me the most delightful sort of surprise and all other appropriate emotions. But as touches your own interests, Manuel, do you think your behavior is quite sensible?"
Tall Manuel looked down upon him with a sort of scornful pity. "Yes, Miramon: for I am Manuel, and I follow after my own thinking and my own desire. Of course it is very fine of me to be renouncing so much wealth and power for the sake of my wonderful dear Niafer: but she is worth the sacrifice, and, besides, she is witnessing all this magnanimity, and cannot well fail to be impressed."
Niafer was of course reflecting: "This is very foolish and dear of him, and I shall be compelled, in mere decency, to pretend to corresponding lunacies for the first month or so of our marriage. After that, I hope, we will settle down to some more reasonable way of living."
Meanwhile she regarded Manuel fondly, and quite as though she considered him to be displaying unusual intelligence.
But Gisele and Miramon were looking at each other, and wondering: "What can the long-legged boy see in this stupid and plain-featured girl who is years older than he? or she in the young swaggering ragged fool? And how much wiser and happier is our marriage than, in any event, the average marriage!"
And Miramon, for one, was so deeply moved by the staggering thought which holds together so many couples in the teeth of human nature that he patted his wife's hand. Then he sighed. "Love has conquered my designs," said Miramon, oracularly, "and the secret of a contented marriage, after all, is to pay particular attention to the wives of everybody else."
Gisele exhorted him not to be a fool, but she spoke without acerbity, and, speaking, she squeezed his hand. She understood this potent magician better than she intended ever to permit him to suspect.
Whereafter Miramon wiped the heavenly bodies from the firmament, and set a miraculous rainbow there, and under its arch was enacted for the swineherd and the servant girl such a betrothal masque of fantasies and illusions as gave full scope to the art of Miramon, and delighted everybody, but delighted Miramon in particular. The dragon that guards hidden treasure made sport for them, the naiads danced, and cherubim fluttered about singing very sweetly and asking droll conundrums. Then they feasted, with unearthly servitors to attend them, and did all else appropriate to an affiancing of deities. And when these junketings were over, Manuel said that, since it seemed he was not to be a wealthy nobleman after all, he and Niafer must be getting, first to the nearest priest's and then back to the pigs.
"I am not so sure that you can manage it," said Miramon, "for, while the ascent of Vraidex is incommoded by serpents, the quitting of Vraidex is very apt to be hindered by death and fate. For I must tell you I have a rather arbitrary half-brother, who is one of those dreadful Realists, without a scrap of aesthetic feeling, and there is no controlling him."
"Well," Manuel considered, "one cannot live forever among dreams, and death and fate must be encountered by all men. So we can but try."
Now for a while the sombre eyes of Miramon Lluagor appraised them. He, who was lord of the nine sleeps and prince of the seven madnesses, now gave a little sigh; for he knew that these young people were enviable and, in the outcome, were unimportant.
So Miramon said, "Then do you go your way, and if you do not encounter the author and destroyer of us all it will be well for you, and if you do encounter him that too will be well in that it is his wish."
"I neither seek nor avoid him," Manuel replied. "I only know that I must follow after my own thinking, and after a desire which is not to be satisfied with dreams, even though they be"—the boy appeared to search for a comparison, then, smiling, said,—"as resplendent as rubies of the Orient."
Thereafter Manuel bid farewell to Miramon and Miramon's fine wife, and Manuel descended from marvelous Vraidex with his plain-featured Niafer, quite contentedly. For happiness went with them, if for no great way.
The Eternal Ambuscade
Manuel and Niafer came down from Vraidex without hindrance. There was no happier nor more devoted lover anywhere than young Manuel.
"For we will be married out of hand, dear snip," he says, "and you will help me to discharge my geas, and afterward we will travel everywhither and into the last limits of earth, so that we may see the ends of this world and may judge them."
"Perhaps we had better wait until next spring, when the roads will be better, Manuel, but certainly we will be married out of hand."
In earnest of this, Niafer permitted Manuel to kiss her again, and young Manuel said, for the twenty-second time, "There is nowhere any happiness like my happiness, nor any love like my love."
Thus speaking, and thus disporting themselves, they came leisurely to the base of the gray mountain and to the old maple-trees, under which they found two persons waiting. One was a tall man mounted on a white horse, and leading a riderless black horse. His hat was pulled down about his head so that his face could not be clearly seen.
Now the companion that was with him had the appearance of a bare-headed youngster, with dark red hair, and his face too was hidden as he sat by the roadway trimming his long finger-nails with a small green-handled knife.
"Hail, friends," said Manuel, "and for whom are you waiting here?"
"I wait for one to ride on this black horse of mine," replied the mounted stranger. "It was decreed that the first person who passed this way must be his rider, but you two come abreast. So do you choose between you which one rides."
"Well, but it is a fine steed surely," Manuel said, "and a steed fit for Charlemagne or Hector or any of the famous champions of the old time."
"Each one of them has ridden upon this black horse of mine," replied the stranger.
Niafer said, "I am frightened." And above them a furtive wind began to rustle in the torn, discolored maple-leaves.
"—For it is a fine steed and an old steed," the stranger went on, "and a tireless steed that bears all away. It has the fault, some say, that its riders do not return, but there is no pleasing everybody."
"Friend," Manuel said, in a changed voice, "who are you, and what is your name?"
"I am half-brother to Miramon Lluagor, lord of the nine sleeps, but I am lord of another kind of sleeping; and as for my name, it is the name that is in your thoughts and the name which most troubles you, and the name which you think about most often."
There was silence. Manuel worked his lips foolishly. "I wish we had not walked abreast," he said. "I wish we had remained among the bright dreams."
"All persons voice some regret or another at meeting me. And it does not ever matter."
"But if there were no choosing in the affair, I could make shift to endure it, either way. Now one of us, you tell me, must depart with you. If I say, 'Let Niafer be that one,' I must always recall that saying with self-loathing."
"But I too say it!" Niafer was petting him and trembling.
"Besides," observed the rider of the white horse, "you have a choice of sayings."
"The other saying," Manuel replied, "I cannot utter. Yet I wish I were not forced to confess this. It sounds badly. At all events, I love Niafer better than I love any other person, but I do not value Niafer's life more highly than I value my own life, and it would be nonsense to say so. No; my life is very necessary to me, and there is a geas upon me to make a figure in this world before I leave it."
"My dearest," says Niafer, "you have chosen wisely."
The veiled horseman said nothing at all. But he took off his hat, and the beholders shuddered. The kinship to Miramon was apparent, you could see the resemblance, but they had never seen in Miramon Lluagor's face what they saw here.
Then Niafer bade farewell to Manuel with pitiable whispered words. They kissed. For an instant Manuel stood motionless. He queerly moved his mouth, as though it were stiff and he were trying to make it more supple. Thereafter Manuel, very sick and desperate looking, did what was requisite. So Niafer went away with Grandfather Death, in Manuel's stead.
"My heart cracks in me now," says Manuel, forlornly considering his hands, "but better she than I. Still, this is a poor beginning in life, for yesterday great wealth and to-day great love was within my reach, and now I have lost both."
"But you did not go the right way about to win success in anything," says the remaining stranger.
And now this other stranger arose from the trimming of his long fingernails; and you could see this was a tall, lean youngster (though not so tall as Manuel, and nothing like so stalwart), with ruddy cheeks, wide-set brown eyes, and crinkling, rather dark red hair.
Then Manuel rubbed his wet hands as clean as might be, and this boy walked on a little way with Manuel, talking of that which had been and of some things which were to be. And Manuel said, "Now assuredly, Horvendile, since that is your name, such talking is insane talking, and no comfort whatever to me in my grief at losing Niafer."
"This is but the beginning of your losses, Manuel, for I think that a little by a little you will lose everything which is desirable, until you shall have remaining at the last only a satiation, and a weariness, and an uneasy loathing of all that the human wisdom of your elders shall have induced you to procure."
"But, Horvendile, can anybody foretell the future? Or can it be that Miramon spoke seriously in saying that fate also was enleagued to forbid the leaving of this mountain?"
"No, Manuel, I do not say that I am fate nor any of the Leshy, but rather it seems to me that I am insane. So perhaps the less attention you pay to my talking, the better. For I must tell you that this wasted country side, this mountain, this road, and these old maples, and that rock yonder, appear to me to be things I have imagined, and that you, and the Niafer whom you have just disposed of so untidily, and Miramon and his fair shrew, and all of you, appear to me to be persons I have imagined; and all the living in this world appears to me to be only a notion of mine."
"Why, then, certainly I would say, or rather, I would think it unnecessary to say, that you are insane."
"You speak without hesitation, and it is through your ability to settle such whimseys out of hand that you will yet win, it may be, to success."
"Yes, but," asked Manuel, slowly, "what is success?"
"In your deep mind, I think, that question is already answered."
"Undoubtedly I have my notion, but it was about your notion I was asking."
Horvendile looked grave, and yet whimsical too. "Why, I have heard somewhere," says he, "that at its uttermost this success is but the strivings of an ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of Omnipotence in a place that is not home."
Manuel appeared to reserve judgment. "How does the successful ape employ himself, in these not quite friendly places?"
"He strives blunderingly, from mystery to mystery, with pathetic makeshifts, not understanding anything, greedy in all desires, and honeycombed with poltroonery, and yet ready to give all, and to die fighting for the sake of that undemonstrable idea, about his being Heaven's vicar and heir."
Manuel shook his small bright head. "You use too many long words. But so far I can understand you, that is not the sort of success I want. No, I am Manuel, and I must follow after my own thinking and my own desire, without considering other people and their notions of success."
"As for denying yourself consideration for other people, I am of the opinion, after witnessing your recent disposal of your sweetheart, that you are already tolerably expert in that sort of abnegation."
"Hah, but you do not know what is seething here," replied Manuel, smiting his broad chest. "And I shall not tell you of it, Horvendile, since you are not fate nor any of the Leshy, to give me my desire."
"What would be your desire?"
"My wish would be for me always to obtain whatever I may wish for. Yes, Horvendile, I have often wondered why, in the old legends, when three wishes were being offered, nobody ever made that sensible and economical wish the first of all."
"What need is there to trouble the Leshy about that foolish wish when it is always possible, at a paid price, to obtain whatever one desires? You have but to go about it in this way." And Horvendile told Manuel a queer and dangerous thing. Then Horvendile said sadly: "So much knowledge I can deny nobody at Michaelmas. But I must tell you the price also, and it is that with the achieving of each desire you will perceive its worth."
Thus speaking, Horvendile parted the thicket beside the roadway. A beautiful dusk-colored woman waited there, in a green-blue robe, and on her head was a blue coronet surmounted with green feathers: she carried a vase. Horvendile stepped forward, and the thicket closed behind him, concealing Horvendile and this woman.
Manuel, looking puzzled, went on a little way, and when he was assured of being alone he flung himself face downward and wept. The reason of this was, they relate, that young Manuel had loved Niafer as he could love nobody else. Then he arose, and went toward the pool of Haranton, on his way homeward, after having failed in everything.
Economics of Math
What forthwith happened at the pool of Haranton is not nicely adapted to exact description, but it was sufficiently curious to give Manuel's thoughts a new turn, although it did not seem, even so, to make them happy thoughts. Certainly it was not with any appearance of merriment that Manuel returned to his half-sister Math, who was the miller's wife.
"And wherever have you been all this week?" says Math, "with the pigs rooting all over creation, and with that man of mine forever flinging your worthlessness in my face, and with that red-haired Suskind coming out of the twilight a-seeking after you every evening and pestering me with her soft lamentations? And for the matter of that, whatever are you glooming over?"
"I have cause, and cause to spare."
Manuel told her of his adventures upon Vraidex, and Math said that showed what came of neglecting his proper business, which was attendance on her husband's pigs. Manuel then told her of what had just befallen by the pool of Haranton.
Math nodded. "Take shame to yourself, young rascal with your Niafer hardly settled down in paradise, and with your Suskind wailing for you in the twilight! But that would be Alianora the Unattainable Princess. Thus she comes across the Bay of Biscay, traveling from the far land of Provence, in, they say, the appearance of a swan: and thus she bathes in the pool wherein strange dreams engender: and thus she slips into the robe of the Apsarasas when it is high time to be leaving such impudent knaves as you have proved yourself to be."
"Yes, yes! a shift made all of shining white feathers, Sister. Here is a feather that was broken from it as I clutched at her."
Math turned the feather in her hand. "Now to be sure! and did you ever see the like of it! Still, a broken feather is no good to anybody, and, as I have told you any number of times, I cannot have trash littering up my kitchen."
So Math dropped this shining white feather into the fire, on which she was warming over a pot of soup for Manuel's dinner, and they watched this feather burn.
Manuel says, sighing, "Even so my days consume, and my youth goes out of me, in a land wherein Suskind whispers of uncomfortable things, and wherein there are no maids so clever and dear as Niafer, nor so lovely as Alianora."
Math said: "I never held with speaking ill of the dead. So may luck and fair words go with your Niafer in her pagan paradise. Of your Suskind too"—Math crossed herself,—"the less said, the better. But as for your Alianora, no really nice girl would be flying in the face of heaven and showing her ankles to five nations, and bathing, on a Monday too, in places where almost anybody might come along. It is not proper, but I wonder at her parents."
"But, Sister, she is a princess!"
"Just so: therefore I burned the feather, because it is not wholesome for persons of our station in life to be robbing princesses of anything, though it be only of a feather."
"Sister, that is the truth! It is not right to rob anybody of anything, and this would appear to make another bond upon me and another obligation to be discharged, because in taking that feather I have taken what did not belong to me."
"Boy, do not think you are fooling me, for when your face gets that look on it, I know you are considering some nonsense over and above the nonsense you are talking. However, from your description of the affair, I do not doubt that gallivanting, stark-naked princess thought you were for taking what did not belong to you. Therefore I burned the feather, lest it be recognized and bring you to the gallows or to a worse place. So why did you not scrape your feet before coming into my clean kitchen? and how many times do you expect me to speak to you about that?"
Manuel said nothing. But he seemed to meditate over something that puzzled him. In the upshot he went into the miller's chicken-yard, and caught a goose, and plucked from its wing a feather.
Then Manuel put on his Sunday clothes.
"Far too good for you to be traveling in," said Math.
Manuel looked down at his half-sister, and once or twice he blinked those shining strange eyes of his. "Sister, if I had been properly dressed when I was master of the doubtful palace, the Lady Gisele would have taken me quite seriously. I have been thinking about her observations as to my elbows."
"The coat does not make the man," replied Math piously.
"It is your belief in any such saying that has made a miller's wife of you, and will keep you a miller's wife until the end of time. Now I learned better from my misadventures upon Vraidex, and from my talking with that insane Horvendile about the things which have been and some things which are to be."
Math, who was a wise woman, said queerly, "I perceive that you are letting your hair grow."
Manuel said, "Yes."
"Boy, fast and loose is a mischancy game to play."
"And being born, also, is a most hazardous speculation, Sister, yet we perforce risk all upon that cast."
"Now you talk stuff and nonsense—"
"Yes, Sister; but I begin to suspect that the right sort of stuff and nonsense is not unremunerative. I may be wrong, but I shall afford my notion a testing."
"And after what shiftless idiocy will you be chasing now, to neglect your work?"
"Why, as always, Sister, I must follow my own thinking and my own desire," says Manuel, lordlily, "and both of these are for a flight above pigs."
Thereafter Manuel kissed Math, and, again without taking leave of Suskind in the twilight, or of anyone else, he set forth for the far land of Provence.
The Crown of Wisdom
So did it come about that as King Helmas rode a-hunting in Nevet under the Hunter's Moon he came upon a gigantic and florid young fellow, who was very decently clad in black, and had a queer droop to his left eye, and who appeared to be wandering at adventure in the autumn woods: and the King remembered what had been foretold.
Says King Helmas to Manuel the swineherd, "What is that I see in your pocket wrapped in red silk?"
"It is a feather, King, wrapped in a bit of my sister's best petticoat"
"Now, glory be to your dark magics, friend, and at what price will you sell me that feather?"
"But a feather is no use to anybody, King, for, as you see, it is a quite ordinary feather?"
"Come, come!" the King says, shrewdly, "do people anywhere wrap ordinary feathers in red silk? Friend, do not think to deceive King Helmas of Albania, or it will be worse for you. I perfectly recognize that shining white feather as the feather which was moulted in this forest by the Zhar-Ptitza Bird, in the old time before my grandfathers came into this country. For it was foretold that such a young sorcerer as you would bring to me, who have long been the silliest King that ever reigned over the Peohtes, this feather which confers upon its owner perfect wisdom: and for you to dispute the prophecy would be blasphemous."
"I do not dispute your silliness, King Helmas, nor do I dispute anybody's prophecies in a world wherein nothing is certain."
"One thing at least is certain," remarked King Helmas, frowning uglily, "and it is that among the Peohtes all persons who dispute our prophecies are burned at the stake."
Manuel shivered slightly, and said: "It seems to me a quite ordinary feather: but your prophets—most deservedly, no doubt,—are in higher repute for wisdom than I am, and burning is a discomfortable death. So I recall what a madman told me, and, since you are assured that this is the Zhar-Ptitza's feather, I will sell it to you for ten sequins."
King Helmas shook a disapproving face. "That will not do at all, and your price is out of reason, because it was foretold that for this feather you would ask ten thousand sequins."
"Well, I am particularly desirous not to appear irreligious now that I have become a young sorcerer. So you may have the feather at your own price, rather than let the prophecies remain unfulfilled."
Then Manuel rode pillion with a king who was unwilling to let Manuel out of his sight, and they went thus to the castle called Brunbelois. They came to two doors with pointed arches, set side by side, the smaller being for foot passengers, and the other for horsemen. Above was an equestrian statue in a niche, and a great painted window with traceries of hearts and thistles.
They entered the larger door, and that afternoon twelve heralds, in bright red tabards that were embroidered with golden thistles, rode out of this door, to proclaim the fulfilment of the prophecy as to the Zhar-Ptitza's feather, and that afternoon the priests of the Peohtes gave thanks in all their curious underground temples. The common people, who had for the last score of years taken shame to themselves for living under such a foolish king, embraced one another, and danced, and sang patriotic songs at every street-corner: the Lower Council met, and voted that, out of deference of his majesty, All Fools' Day should be stricken from the calendar: and Queen Pressina (one of the water folk) declared there were two ways of looking at everything, the while that she burned a quantity of private papers. Then at night were fireworks, the King made a speech, and to Manuel was delivered in wheel-barrows the sum of ten thousand sequins.
Thereafter Manuel abode for a month at the court of King Helmas, noting whatever to this side and to that side seemed most notable. Manuel was well liked by the nobility, and when the barons and the fine ladies assembled in the evening for pavanes and branles and pazzamenos nobody danced more statelily than Messire Manuel. He had a quiet way with the ladies, and with the barons a way of simplicity which was vastly admired in a sorcerer so potent that his magic had secured the long sought Zhar-Ptitza's feather. "But the most learned," as King Helmas justly said, "are always the most modest."
Helmas now wore the feather from the wing of the miller's goose affixed to the front of Helmas' second best crown, because that was the one he used to give judgments in. And when it was noised abroad that King Helmas had the Zhar-Ptitza's feather, the Peohtes came gladly to be judged, and the neighboring kings began to submit to him their more difficult cases, and all his judgings were received with reverence, because everybody knew that King Helmas' wisdom was now infallible, and that to criticize his verdict as to anything was merely to expose your own stupidity.
And now that doubt of himself had gone out of his mind, Helmas lived untroubled, and his digestion improved, and his loving-kindness was infinite, because he could not be angry with the pitiable creatures haled before him, when he considered how little able they were to distinguish between wisdom and unwisdom where Helmas was omniscient: and all his doings were merciful and just, and his people praised him. Even the Queen conceded that, once you were accustomed to his ways, and exercised some firmness about being made a doormat of, and had it understood once for all that meals could not be kept waiting for him, she supposed there might be women worse off.
And Manuel got clay and modeled the figure of a young man which had the features and the wise look of King Helmas.
"I can see the resemblance," the King said, "but it does not half do me justice, and, besides, why have you made a young whipper-snapper of me, and mixed up my appearance with your appearance?"
"I do not know," said Manuel, "but I suppose it is because of a geas which is upon me to make myself a splendid and admirable young man in every respect, and not an old man."
"And does the sculpture satisfy you?" asks the King, smiling wisely.
"No, I like this figure well enough, now it is done, but it is not, I somehow know, the figure I desire to make. No, I must follow after my own thinking and my own desire, and wisdom is not requisite to me."
"You artists!" said the King, as people always say that "Now I would consider that, for all the might of your sorceries, wisdom is rather clamantly requisite to you, Messire Manuel, who inform me you must soon be riding hence to find elsewhere the needful look for your figure. For thus to be riding about this world of men, in search of a shade of expression, and without even being certain of what look you are looking for, does not appear to me to be good sense."
But young Manuel replied sturdily:
"I ride to encounter what life has in store for me, who am made certain of this at least, that all high harvests which life withholds for me spring from a seed which I sow—and reap. For my geas is potent, and, late or soon, I serve my geas, and take my doom as the pay well-earned that is given as pay to me, for the figure I make in this world of men.
"This figure, foreseen and yet hidden away from me, glimpsed from afar in the light of a dream,—will I love it, once more, or will loathing awake in me after its visage is plainlier seen? No matter: as fate says, so say I, who serve my geas, and gain in time such payment, at worst, as is honestly due to me, for the figure I make in this world of men.
"To its shaping I consecrate youth that is strong in me, ardently yielding youth's last least gift, who know that all grace which the gods have allotted me avails me in naught if it fails me in this. For all that a man has, that must I bring to the image I shape, that my making may live when time unmakes me and death dissevers me from the figure I make in this world of men."
To this the King rather drily replied: "There is something in what you say. But that something is, I can assure you, not wisdom."
So everyone was satisfied in Albania except Manuel, who declared that he was pleased but not contented by the image he had made in the likeness of King Helmas.
"Besides," they told him, "you look as though your mind were troubling you about something."
"In fact, I am puzzled to see a foolish person made wise in all his deeds and speeches by this wisdom being expected of him."
"But that is a cause for rejoicing, and for applauding the might of your sorceries, Messire Manuel, whereas you are plainly thinking of vexatious matters."
Manuel replied, "I think that it is not right to rob anybody of anything, and I reflect that wisdom weighs exactly the weight of a feather."
Then Manuel went into King Helmas' chickenyard, and caught a goose, and plucked from its wing a feather. Manuel went glitteringly now, in brocaded hose, and with gold spurs on his heels: the figure which he had made in the likeness of King Helmas was packed in an expensive knapsack of ornamented leather, and tall shining Manuel rode on a tall dappled horse when he departed southward, for Manuel nowadays had money to spare.
The Halo of Holiness
Now Manuel takes ship across the fretful Bay of Biscay, traveling always toward Provence and Alianora, whom people called the Unattainable Princess. Oriander the Swimmer followed this ship, they say, but he attempted to do Manuel no hurt, at least not for that turn.
So Manuel of the high head comes into the country of wicked King Ferdinand; and, toward All-Hallows, they bring a stupendous florid young man to the King in the torture-chamber. King Ferdinand was not idle at the moment, and he looked up good-temperedly enough from his employment: but almost instantly his merry face was overcast.
"Dear me!" says Ferdinand, as he dropped his white hot pincers sizzlingly into a jar of water, "and I had hoped you would not be bothering me for a good ten years!"
"Now if I bother you at all it is against my will," declared Manuel, very politely, "nor do I willingly intrude upon you here, for, without criticizing anybody's domestic arrangements, there are one or two things that I do not fancy the looks of in this torture-chamber."
"That is as it may be. In the mean time, what is that I see in your pocket wrapped in red silk?"
"It is a feather, King, wrapped in a bit of my sister's best petticoat."
Then Ferdinand sighed, and he arose from his interesting experiments with what was left of the Marquess de Henestrosa, to whom the King had taken a sudden dislike that morning.
"Tut, tut!" said Ferdinand: "yet, after all, I have had a brave time of it, with my enormities and my iniquities, and it is not as though there were nothing to look back on! So at what price will you sell me that feather?"
"But surely a feather is no use to anybody, King, for does it not seem to you a quite ordinary feather?"
"Come!" says King Ferdinand, as he washed his hands, "do people anywhere wrap ordinary feathers in red silk? You squinting rascal, do not think to swindle me out of eternal bliss by any such foolish talk! I perfectly recognize that feather as the feather which Milcah plucked from the left pinion of the Archangel Oriphiel when the sons of God were on more intricate and scandalous terms with the daughters of men than are permitted nowadays."
"Well, sir," replied Manuel, "you may be right in a world wherein nothing is certain. At all events, I have deduced, from one to two things in this torture-chamber, that it is better not to argue with King Ferdinand."
"How can I help being right, when it was foretold long ago that such a divine emissary as you would bring this very holy relic to turn me from my sins and make a saint of me?" says Ferdinand, peevishly.
"It appears to me a quite ordinary feather, King: but I recall what a madman told me, and I do not dispute that your prophets are wiser than I, for I have been a divine emissary for only a short while."
"Do you name your price for this feather, then!"
"I think it would be more respectful, sir, to refer you to the prophets, for I find them generous and big-hearted creatures."
Ferdinand nodded his approval. "That is very piously spoken, because it was prophesied that this relic would be given me for no price at all by a great nobleman. So I must forthwith write out for you a count's commission, I suppose, and must write out your grants to fertile lands and a stout castle or two, and must date your title to these things from yesterday."
"Certainly," said Manuel, "it would not look well for you to be neglecting due respect to such a famous prophecy, with that bottle of ink at your elbow."
So King Ferdinand sent for the Count of Poictesme, and explained to him as between old friends how the matter stood, and that afternoon the high Count was confessed and decapitated. Poictesme being now a vacant fief, King Ferdinand ennobled Manuel, and made him Count of Poictesme.
It was true that all Poictesme was then held by the Northmen, under Duke Asmund, who denied King Ferdinand's authority with contempt, and defeated him in battle with annoying persistence: so that Manuel for the present acquired nothing but the sonorous title.
"Some terrible calamity, however," as King Ferdinand pointed out, "is sure to befall Asmund and his iniquitous followers before very long, so we need not bother about them."
"But how may I be certain of that, sir?" Manuel asked.
"Count, I am surprised at such scepticism! Is it not very explicitly stated in Holy Writ that though the wicked may flourish for a while they are presently felled like green bay-trees?"
"Yes, to be sure! So there is no doubt that your soldiers will soon conquer Duke Asmund."
"But I must not send any soldiers to fight against him, now that I am a saint, for that would not look well. It would have an irreligious appearance of prompting Heaven."
"Still, King, you are sending soldiers against the Moors—"
"Ah, but it is not your lands, Count, but my city of Ubeda, which the Moors are attacking, and to attack a saint, as you must undoubtedly understand, is a dangerous heresy which it is my duty to put down."
"Yes, to be sure! Well, well!" says Manuel, "at any rate, to be a count is something, and it is better to ward a fine name than a parcel of pigs, though it appears the pigs are the more nourishing."
In the mean while the King's heralds rode everywhither in fluted armor, to proclaim the fulfilment of the old prophecy as to the Archangel Oriphiel's feather. Never before was there such a hubbub in those parts, for the bells of all the churches sounded all day, and all the people ran about praying at the top of their voices, and forgiving their relatives, and kissing the girls, and blowing whistles and ringing cowbells, because the city now harbored a relic so holy that the vilest sinner had but to touch it to be purified of iniquity.
And that day King Ferdinand dismissed the evil companions with whom he had so long rioted in every manner of wickedness, and Ferdinand lived henceforward as became a saint. He builded two churches a year, and fared edifyingly on roots and herbs; he washed the feet of three indigent persons daily, and went in sackcloth; whenever he burned heretics he fetched and piled up the wood himself, so as to inconvenience nobody; and he made prioresses and abbesses of his more intimate and personal associates of yesterday, because he knew that people are made holy by contact with holiness, and that sainthood is retroactive.
Thereafter Count Manuel abode for a month at the court of King Ferdinand, noting whatever to this side and to that side seemed most notable. Manuel was generally liked by the elect, and in the evening when the court assembled for family-prayers nobody was more devout than the Count of Poictesme. He had a quiet way with the abbesses and prioresses, and with the anchorites and bishops a way of simplicity which was vastly admired in a divine emissary. "But the particular favor of Heaven," as King Ferdinand pointed out, "is always reserved for modest persons."
The feather from the wing of Helmas' goose King Ferdinand had caused to be affixed to the unassuming skullcap with a halo of gold wire which Ferdinand now wore in the place of a vainglorious earthly crown; so that perpetual contiguity with this relic might keep him in augmenting sanctity. And now that doubt of himself had gone out of his mind, Ferdinand lived untroubled, and his digestion improved on his light diet of roots and herbs, and his loving-kindness was infinite, because he could not now be angry with the pitiable creatures haled before him, when he considered what lengthy and ingenious torments awaited every one of them, either in hell or purgatory, while Ferdinand would be playing a gold harp in heaven.
So Ferdinand dealt tenderly and generously with all. Half of his subjects said that simply showed you: and the rest of them assented that indeed you might well say that, and they had often thought of it, and had wished that young people would take profit by considering such things more seriously.
And Manuel got clay and modeled a figure which had the features and the holy look of King Ferdinand.
"Yes, this young fellow you have made of mud is something like me," the King conceded, "although clay of course cannot do justice to the fine red cheeks and nose I used to have in the unregenerate days when I thought about such vanities, and, besides, it is rather more like you. Still, Count, the thing has feeling, it is wholesome, it is refreshingly free from these modern morbid considerations of anatomy, and it does you credit."