Domnei, A Comedy of Woman-Worship by James Branch Cabell
PART ONE. PERION
1. How Perion Was Unmasked
2. How the Vicomte Was Very Gay
3. How Melicent Wooed
4. How the Bishop Aided Perion
5. How Melicent Wedded
PART TWO. MELICENT
6. How Melicent Sought Oversea
7. How Perion Was Freed
8. How Demetrios Was Amused
9. How Time Sped in Heathenry
10. How Demetrios Wooed
PART THREE. DEMETRIOS
11. How Time Sped with Perion
12 How Demetrios Was Taken
13. How They Praised Melicent
14. How Perion Braved Theodoret
15. How Perion Fought
16. How Demetrios Meditated
17. How a Minstrel Came
18. How They Cried Quits
19. How Flamberge Was Lost
20. How Perion Got Aid
PART FOUR. AHASUERUS
21. How Demetrios Held His Chattel
22. How Misery Held Nacumera
23. How Demetrios Cried Farewell
24. How Orestes Ruled
25. How Women Talked Together
26. How Men Ordered Matters
27. How Ahasuerus Was Candid
28. How Perion Saw Melicent
29. How a Bargain Was Cried
30. How Melicent Conquered
Sarah Read McAdams
In Gratitude and Affection
PART ONE. PERION
How Perion, that stalwart was and gay,
Treadeth with sorrow on a holiday,
Since Melicent anon must wed a king:
How in his heart he hath vain love-longing,
For which he putteth life in forfeiture,
And would no longer in such wise endure;
For writhing Perion in Venus' fire
So burneth he that dieth for desire.
1. How Perion Was Unmasked
PERION afterward remembered the two week spent at Bellegarde as in
recovery from illness a person might remember some long fever-dream
which was all of an intolerable elvish brightness and of incessant
laughter everywhere. They made a deal of him in Count Emmerick's
pleasant home: day by day the outlaw was thrust into relations of mirth
with noblemen, proud ladies, and even with a king; and was all the
while half lightheaded through his singular knowledge as to how
precariously the self-styled Vicomte de Puysange now balanced himself,
as it were, upon a gilded stepping-stone from infamy to oblivion.
Now that King Theodoret had withdrawn his sinister presence, young
Perion spent some seven hours of every day alone, to all intent, with
Dame Melicent. There might be merry people within a stone's throw,
about this recreation or another, but these two seemed to watch
aloofly, as royal persons do the antics of their hired comedians,
without any condescension into open interest. They were together; and
the jostle of earthly happenings might hope, at most, to afford them
matter for incurious comment.
They sat, as Perion thought, for the last time together, part of an
audience before which the Confraternity of St. Médard was enacting a
masque of The Birth of Hercules. The Bishop of Montors had
returned to Bellegarde that evening with his brother, Count Gui, and
the pleasure-loving prelate had brought these mirth-makers in his
train. Clad in scarlet, he rode before them playing upon a
lute—unclerical conduct which shocked his preciser brother and
In such circumstances Perion began to speak with an odd purpose,
because his reason was bedrugged by the beauty and purity of Melicent,
and perhaps a little by the slow and clutching music to whose progress
the chorus of Theban virgins was dancing. When he had made an end of
harsh whispering, Melicent sat for a while in scrupulous appraisement
of the rushes. The music was so sweet it seemed to Perion he must go
mad unless she spoke within the moment.
Then Melicent said:
"You tell me you are not the Vicomte de Puysange. You tell me you
are, instead, the late King Helmas' servitor, suspected of his murder.
You are the fellow that stole the royal jewels—the outlaw for whom
half Christendom is searching——"
Thus Melicent began to speak at last; and still he could not
intercept those huge and tender eyes whose purple made the thought of
The man replied:
"I am that widely hounded Perion of the Forest. The true vicomte
is the wounded rascal over whose delirium we marveled only last
Tuesday. Yes, at the door of your home I attacked him, fought
him—hah, but fairly, madame!—and stole his brilliant garments and
with them his papers. Then in my desperate necessity I dared to
masquerade. For I know enough about dancing to estimate that to dance
upon air must necessarily prove to everybody a disgusting performance,
but pre-eminently unpleasing to the main actor. Two weeks of safety
till the Tranchemer sailed I therefore valued at a perhaps
preposterous rate. To-night, as I have said, the ship lies at anchor
Melicent said an odd thing, asking, "Oh, can it be you are a less
despicable person than you are striving to appear?"
"Rather, I am a more unmitigated fool than even I suspected, since
when affairs were in a promising train I have elected to blurt out, of
all things, the naked and distasteful truth. Proclaim it now; and see
the late Vicomte de Puysange lugged out of this hall and after
appropriate torture hanged within the month." And with that Perion
Thereafter he was silent. As the masque went, Amphitryon had newly
returned from warfare, and was singing under Alcmena's window in the
terms of an aubade, a waking-song. "Rei glorios, verais lums e
clardatz——" Amphitryon had begun. Dame Melicent heard him
And after many ages, as it seemed to Perion, the soft and brilliant
and exquisite mouth was pricked to motion.
"You have affronted, by an incredible imposture and beyond the
reach of mercy, every listener in this hall. You have injured me most
deeply of all persons here. Yet it is to me alone that you confess."
Perion leaned forward. You are to understand that, through the
incurrent necessities of every circumstance, each of them spoke in
whispers, even now. It was curious to note the candid mirth on either
side. Mercury was making his adieux to Alcmena's waiting-woman in the
middle of a jig.
"But you," sneered Perion, "are merciful in all things. Rogue that
I am, I dare to build on this notorious fact. I am snared in a hard
golden trap. I cannot get a guide to Manneville, I cannot even procure
a horse from Count Emmerick's stables without arousing fatal
suspicions; and I must be at Manneville by dawn or else be hanged.
Therefore I dare stake all upon one throw; and you must either save or
hang me with unwashed hands. As surely as God reigns, my future rests
with you. And as I am perfectly aware, you could not live comfortably
with a gnat's death upon your conscience. Eh, am I not a seasoned
"Do not remind me now that you are vile," said Melicent. "Ah, no,
"Lackey, impostor, and thief!" he sternly answered. "There you
have the catalogue of all my rightful titles. And besides, it pleases
me, for a reason I cannot entirely fathom, to be unpardonably candid
and to fling my destiny into your lap. To-night, as I have said, the Tranchemer lies off Manneville; keep counsel, get me a horse if you
will, and to-morrow I am embarked for desperate service under the
harried Kaiser of the Greeks, and for throat-cuttings from which I am
not likely ever to return. Speak, and I hang before the month is up."
Dame Melicent looked at him now, and within the moment Perion was
repaid, and bountifully, for every folly and misdeed of his entire
"What harm have I ever done you, Messire de la Forêt, that you
should shame me in this fashion? Until to-night I was not unhappy in
the belief I was loved by you. I may say that now without paltering,
since you are not the man I thought some day to love. You are but the
rind of him. And you would force me to cheat justice, to become a
hunted thief's accomplice, or else to murder you!"
"It comes to that, madame."
"Then I must help you preserve your life by any sorry stratagems
you may devise. I shall not hinder you. I will procure you a guide to
Manneville. I will even forgive you all save one offence, since
doubtless heaven made you the foul thing you are." The girl was in a
hot and splendid rage. "For you love me. Women know. You love me.
"Look into my face! and say what horrid writ of infamy you fancied
was apparent there, that my nails may destroy it."
"I am all base," he answered, "and yet not so profoundly base as
you suppose. Nay, believe me, I had never hoped to win even such
scornful kindness as you might accord your lapdog. I have but dared to
peep at heaven while I might, and only as lost Dives peeped. Ignoble
as I am, I never dreamed to squire an angel down toward the mire and
filth which is henceforward my inevitable kennel."
"The masque is done," said Melicent, "and yet you talk, and talk,
and talk, and mimic truth so cunningly—— Well, I will send some
trusty person to you. And now, for God's sake!—nay, for the fiend's
love who is your patron!—let me not ever see you again, Messire de la
2. How the Vicomte Was Very Gay
THERE WAS dancing afterward and a sumptuous supper. The Vicomte de
Puysange was generally accounted that evening the most excellent of
company. He mingled affably with the revelers and found a prosperous
answer for every jest they broke upon the projected marriage of Dame
Melicent and King Theodoret; and meanwhile hugged the reflection that
half the realm was hunting Perion de la Forêt in the more customary
haunts of rascality. The springs of Perion's turbulent mirth were that
to-morrow every person in the room would discover how impudently every
person had been tricked, and that Melicent deliberated even now, and
could not but admire, the hunted outlaw's insolence, however much she
loathed its perpetrator; and over this thought in particular Perion
laughed like a madman.
"You are very gay to-night, Messire de Puysange," said the Bishop
This remarkable young man, it is necessary to repeat, had reached
Bellegarde that evening, coming from Brunbelois. It was he (as you
have heard) who had arranged the match with Theodoret. The bishop
himself loved his cousin Melicent; but, now that he was in holy orders
and possession of her had become impossible, he had cannily resolved to
utilize her beauty, as he did everything else, toward his own
"Oh, sir," replied Perion, "you who are so fine a poet must surely
know that gay rhymes with to-day as patly as sorrow
goes with to-morrow."
"Yet your gay laughter, Messire de Puysange, is after all but
breath: and breath also"—the bishop's sharp eyes fixed
Perion's—"has a hackneyed rhyme."
"Indeed, it is the grim rhyme that rounds off and silences all our
rhyming," Perion assented. "I must laugh, then, without rhyme or
Still the young prelate talked rather oddly. "But," said he, "you
have an excellent reason, now that you sup so near to heaven." And his
glance at Melicent did not lack pith.
"No, no, I have quite another reason," Perion answered; "it is that
to-morrow I breakfast in hell."
"Well, they tell me the landlord of that place is used to cater to
each according to his merits," the bishop, shrugging, returned.
And Perion through how true this was when, at the evening's end, he
was alone in his own room. His life was tolerably secure. He trusted
Ahasuerus the Jew to see to it that, about dawn, one of the ship's
boats would touch at Fomor Beach near Manneville, according to their
old agreement. Aboard the Tranchemer the Free Companions
awaited their captain; and the savage land they were bound for was a
thought beyond the reach of a kingdom's lamentable curiosity concerning
the whereabouts of King Helmas' treasure. The worthless life of Perion
For worthless, and far less than worthless, life seemed to Perion
as he thought of Melicent and waited for her messenger. He thought of
her beauty and purity and illimitable loving-kindness toward every
person in the world save only Perion of the Forest. He thought of how
clean she was in every thought and deed; of that, above all, he
thought, and he knew that he would never see her any more.
"Oh, but past any doubting," said Perion, "the devil caters to each
according to his merits."
3. How Melicent Wooed
THEN PERION knew that vain regret had turned his brain, very
certainly, for it seemed the door had opened and Dame Melicent herself
had come, warily, into the panelled gloomy room. It seemed that
Melicent paused in the convulsive brilliancy of the firelight, and
stayed thus with vaguely troubled eyes like those of a child newly
wakened from sleep.
And it seemed a long while before she told Perion very quietly that
she had confessed all to Ayrart de Montors, and had, by reason of de
Montors' love for her, so goaded and allured the outcome of their
talk—"ignobly," as she said,—that a clean-handed gentleman would come
at three o'clock for Perion de la Forêt, and guide a thief toward
unmerited impunity. All this she spoke quite levelly, as one reads
aloud from a book; and then, with a signal change of voice, Melicent
said: "Yes, that is true enough. Yet why, in reality, do you think I
have in my own person come to tell you of it?"
"Madame, I may not guess. Hah, indeed, indeed," Perion cried,
because he knew the truth and was unspeakably afraid, "I dare not
"You sail to-morrow for the fighting oversea——" she began, but
her sweet voice trailed and died into silence. He heard the
crepitations of the fire, and even the hurried beatings of his own
heart, as against a terrible and lovely hush of all created life.
"Then take me with you."
Perion had never any recollection of what he answered. Indeed, he
uttered no communicative words, but only foolish babblements.
"Oh, I do not understand," said Melicent. "It is as though some
spell were laid upon me. Look you, I have been cleanly reared, I have
never wronged any person that I know of, and throughout my quiet,
sheltered life I have loved truth and honour most of all. My judgment
grants you to be what you are confessedly. And there is that in me
more masterful and surer than my judgment, that which seems omniscient
and lightly puts aside your confessings as unimportant."
"Lackey, impostor, and thief!" young Perion answered. "There you
have the catalogue of all my rightful titles fairly earned."
"And even if I believed you, I think I would not care! Is that not
strange? For then I should despise you. And even then, I think, I
would fling my honour at your feet, as I do now, and but in part with
loathing, I would still entreat you to make of me your wife, your
servant, anything that pleased you. . . . Oh, I had thought that when
love came it would be sweet!"
Strangely quiet, in every sense, he answered:
"It is very sweet. I have known no happier moment in my life. For
you stand within arm's reach, mine to touch, mine to possess and do
with as I elect. And I dare not lift a finger. I am as a man that has
lain for a long while in a dungeon vainly hungering for the glad light
of day—who, being freed at last, must hide his eyes from the dear
sunlight he dare not look upon as yet. Ho, I am past speech unworthy
of your notice! and I pray you now speak harshly with me, madame, for
when your pure eyes regard me kindly, and your bright and delicate lips
have come thus near to mine, I am so greatly tempted and so happy that
I fear lest heaven grow jealous!"
"Be not too much afraid——" she murmured.
"Nay, should I then be bold? and within the moment wake Count
Emmerick to say to him, very boldly, 'Beau sire, the thief half
Christendom is hunting has the honour to request your sister's hand in
"You sail to-morrow for the fighting oversea. Take me with you."
"Indeed the feat would be worthy of me. For you are a lady
tenderly nurtured and used to every luxury the age affords. There
comes to woo you presently an excellent and potent monarch, not all
unworthy of your love, who will presently share with you many happy and
honourable years. Yonder is a lawless naked wilderness where I and my
fellow desperadoes hope to cheat offended justice and to preserve
thrice-forfeited lives in savagery. You bid to aid you to go into this
country, never to return! Madame, if I obeyed you, Satan would protest
against pollution of his ageless fires by any soul so filthy."
"You talk of little things, whereas I think of great things. Love
is not sustained by palatable food alone, and is not served only by
those persons who go about the world in satin."
"Then take the shameful truth. It is undeniable I swore I loved
you, and with appropriate gestures, too. But dompnedex, madame! I am
past master in these specious ecstasies, for somehow I have rarely seen
the woman who had not some charm or other to catch my heart with. I
confess now that you alone have never quickened it. My only purpose
was through hyperbole to wheedle you out of a horse, and meanwhile to
have my recreation, you handsome jade!—and that is all you ever meant
to me. I swear to you that is all, all, all!" sobbed Perion, for it
appeared that he must die. "I have bemused myself with you, I have
abominably tricked you——"
Melicent only waited with untroubled eyes which seemed to plumb his
heart and to appraise all which Perion had ever thought or longed for
since the day Perion was born; and she was as beautiful, it seemed to
him, as the untroubled, gracious angels are, and more compassionate.
"Yes," Perion said, "I am trying to lie to you. And even at lying
She said, with a wonderful smile:
"Assuredly there were never any other persons so mad as we. For I
must do the wooing, as though you were the maid, and all the while you
rebuff me and suffer so that I fear to look on you. Men say you are no
better than a highwayman; you confess yourself to be a thief: and I
believe none of your accusers. Perion de la Forêt," said Melicent, and
ballad-makers have never shaped a phrase wherewith to tell you of her
voice, "I know that you have dabbled in dishonour no more often than an
archangel has pilfered drying linen from a hedgerow. I do not guess,
for my hour is upon me, and inevitably I know! and there is nothing
dares to come between us now."
"Nay,—ho, and even were matters as you suppose them, without any
warrant,—there is at least one silly stumbling knave that dares as
much. Saith he: 'What is the most precious thing in the world?—Why,
assuredly, Dame Melicent's welfare. Let me get the keeping of it,
then. For I have been entrusted with a host of common priceless
things—with youth and vigour and honour, with a clean conscience and a
child's faith, and so on—and no person alive has squandered them more
gallantly. So heartward ho! and trust me now, my timorous yoke-fellow,
to win and squander also the chiefest jewel of the world.' Eh, thus he
chuckles and nudges me, with wicked whisperings. Indeed, madame, this
rascal that shares equally in my least faculty is a most pitiful,
ignoble rogue! and he has aforetime eked out our common livelihood by
such practices as your unsullied imagination could scarcely depicture.
Until I knew you I had endured him. But you have made of him a
horror. A horror, a horror! a thing too pitiful for hell!"
Perion turned away from her, groaning. He flung himself into a
chair. He screened his eyes as if before some physical abomination.
The girl kneeled close to him, touching him.
"My dear, my dear! then slay for me this other Perion of the
And Perion laughed, not very mirthfully.
"It is the common usage of women to ask of men this little labour,
which is a harder task than ever Hercules, that mighty-muscled king of
heathenry, achieved. Nay, I, for all my sinews, am an attested
weakling. The craft of other men I do not fear, for I have encountered
no formidable enemy save myself; but that same midnight stabber
unhorsed me long ago. I had wallowed in the mire contentedly enough
until you came. . . . Ah, child, child! why needed you to trouble me!
for to-night I want to be clean as you are clean, and that I may not
ever be. I am garrisoned with devils, I am the battered plaything of
every vice, and I lack the strength, and it may be, even the will, to
leave my mire. Always I have betrayed the stewardship of man and god
alike that my body might escape a momentary discomfort! And loving you
as I do, I cannot swear that in the outcome I would not betray you too,
to this same end! I cannot swear—— Oh, now let Satan laugh, yet not
unpitifully, since he and I, alone, know all the reasons why I may not
swear! Hah, Madame Melicent!" cried Perion, in his great agony, "you
offer me that gift an emperor might not accept save in awed gratitude;
and I refuse it." Gently he raised her to her feet. "And now, in
God's name, go, madame, and leave the prodigal among his husks."
"You are a very brave and foolish gentleman," she said, "who
chooses to face his own achievements without any paltering. To every
man, I think, that must be bitter work; to the woman who loves him it
Perion could not see her face, because he lay prone at the feet of
Melicent, sobbing, but without any tears, and tasting very deeply of
such grief and vain regret as, he had thought, they know in hell alone;
and even after she had gone, in silence, he lay in this same posture
for an exceedingly long while.
And after he knew not how long a while, Perion propped his chin
between his hands and, still sprawling upon the rushes, stared hard
into the little, crackling fire. He was thinking of a Perion de la
Forêt that once had been. In him might have been found a fit mate for
Melicent had this boy not died very long ago.
It is no more cheerful than any other mortuary employment, this
disinterment of the person you have been, and are not any longer; and
so did Perion find his cataloguing of irrevocable old follies and
Then Perion arose and looked for pen and ink. It was the first
letter he ever wrote to Melicent, and, as you will presently learn, she
never saw it.
In such terms Perion wrote:
"MADAME—It may please you to remember that when Dame
Mélusine and I were interrogated, I freely confessed to the murder of
King Helmas and the theft of my dead master's jewels. In that I lied.
For it was my manifest duty to save the woman whom, as I thought, I
loved, and it was apparent that the guilty person was either she or I.
"She is now at Brunbelois, where, as I have heard, the
splendour of her estate is tolerably notorious. I have not ever heard
she gave a thought to me, her cat's-paw. Madame, when I think of you
and then of that sleek, smiling woman, I am appalled by my own folly.
I am aghast by my long blindness as I write the words which no one
will believe. To what avail do I deny a crime which every circumstance
imputed to me and my own confession has publicly acknowledged?
"But you, I think, will believe me. Look you, madame, I
have nothing to gain of you. I shall not ever see you any more. I go
into a perilous and an eternal banishment; and in the immediate
neighbourhood of death a man finds little sustenance for romance. Take
the worse of me: a gentleman I was born, and as a wastrel I have lived,
and always very foolishly; but without dishonour. I have never to my
knowledge—and God judge me as I speak the truth!—wronged any man or
woman save myself. My dear, believe me! believe me, in spite of
reason! and understand that my adoration and misery and unworthiness
when I think of you are such as I cannot measure, and afford me no
judicious moment wherein to fashion lies. For I shall not see you any
"I thank you, madame, for your all-unmerited kindnesses,
and, oh, I pray you to believe!"
4. How the Bishop Aided Perion
THEN AT THREE o'clock, as Perion supposed, someone tapped upon the
door. Perion went out into the corridor, which was now unlighted, so
that he had to hold to the cloak of Ayrart de Montors as the young
prelate guided Perion through the complexities of unfamiliar halls and
stairways into an inhospitable night. There were ready two horses, and
presently the men were mounted and away.
Once only Perion shifted in the saddle to glance back at
Bellegarde, black and formless against an empty sky; and he dared not
look again, for the thought of her that lay awake in the Marshal's
Tower, so near at hand as yet, was like a dagger. With set teeth he
followed in the wake of his taciturn companion. The bishop never spoke
save to growl out some direction.
Thus they came to Manneville, and, skirting the town, came to Fomor
Beach, a narrow sandy coast. It was dark in this place and very still
save for the encroachment of the tide. Yonder were four little lights,
lazily heaving with the water's motion, to show them where the Tranchemer lay at anchor. It did not seem to Perion that anything
"It will be nearing dawn by this," he said.
"Ay," Ayrart de Montors said, very briefly; and his tone evinced
his willingness to dispense with further conversation. Perion of the
Forest was an unclean thing which the bishop must touch in his
necessity, but could touch with loathing only, as a thirsty man takes a
fly out of his drink. Perion conceded it, because nothing would ever
matter any more; and so, the horses tethered, they sat upon the sand in
utter silence for the space of a half hour.
A bird cried somewhere, just once, and with a start Perion knew the
night was not quite so murky as it had been, for he could now see a
broken line of white, where the tide crept up and shattered and ebbed.
Then in a while a light sank tipsily to the water's level and
presently was bobbing in the darkness, apart from those other lights
and it was growing in size and brilliancy.
Said Perion, "They have sent out the boat."
"Ay," the bishop answered, as before.
A sort of madness came upon Perion, and it seemed that he must
weep, because everything fell out so very ill in this world.
"Messire de Montors, you have aided me. I would be grateful if you
De Montors spoke at last, saying crisply:
"Gratitude, I take it, forms no part of the bargain. I am the
kindsman of Dame Melicent. It makes for my interest and for the honour
of our house that the man whose rooms she visits at night be got out of
Said Perion, "You speak in this fashion of the most lovely lady God
has made—of her whom the world adores!"
"Adores!" the bishop answered, with a laugh; "and what poor gull am
I to adore an attested wanton?" Then, with a sneer, he spoke of
Melicent, and in such terms as are not bettered by repetition.
"I am the most unhappy man alive, as surely as you are the most
generous. For, look you, in my presence you have spoken infamy of Dame
Melicent, though knowing I am in your debt so deeply that I have not
the right to resent anything you may elect to say. You have just given
me my life; and armoured by the fire-new obligation, you blaspheme an
angel, you condescend to buffet a fettered man——"
But with that his sluggish wits had spied an honest way out of the
Perion said then, "Draw, messier! for, as God lives, I may yet
repurchase, at this eleventh hour the privilege of destroying you."
"Heyday! but here is an odd evincement of gratitude!" de Montors
retorted: "and though I am not particularly squeamish, let me tell you,
my fine fellow, I do not ordinarily fight with lackeys."
"Nor are you fit to do so, messier. Believe me, there is not a
lackey in this realm—no, not a cutpurse, nor any pander—who would not
in meeting you upon equal footing degrade himself. For you have
slandered that which is most perfect in the world; yet lies, Messire de
Montors, have short legs; and I design within the hour to insure the
calumny against an echo."
"Rogue, I have given you your very life within the hour——"
"The fact is undeniable. Thus I must fling the bounty back to you,
so that we sorry scoundrels may meet as equals." Perion wheeled toward
the boat, which was now within the reach of wading. "Who is among you?
Gaucelm, Roger, Jean Britaus——" He found the man he sought.
"Ahasuerus, the captain that was to have accompanied the Free
Companions oversea is of another mind. I cede my leadership to Landry
de Bonnay. You will have the kindness to inform him of the
unlooked-for change, and to tender your new captain every appropriate
regret and the dying felicitations of Perion de la Forêt."
He bowed toward the landward twilight, where the sand hillocks were
"Messire de Montors, we may now resume our vigil. When yonder
vessel sails there will be no conceivable happening that can keep
breath within my body two weeks longer. I shall be quit of every debt
to you. You will then fight with a man already dead if you so elect;
but otherwise—if you attempt to flee this place, if you decline to
cross swords with a lackey, with a convicted thief, with a suspected
murderer, I swear upon my mother's honour! I will demolish you without
compunction, as I would any other vermin."
"Oh, brave, brave!" sneered the bishop, "to fling away your life,
and perhaps mine too, for an idle word——" But at that he fetched a
sob. "How foolish of you! and how like you!" he said, and Perion
wondered at this prelate's voice.
"Hey, gentlemen!" cried Ayrart de Montors, "a moment if you
please!" He splashed kneedeep into the icy water, wading to the boat,
where he snatched the lantern from the Jew's hands and fetched this
light ashore. He held it aloft, so that Perion might see his face, and
Perion perceived that, by some wonder-working, this person in man's
attire who held this light aloft was Melicent. It was odd that Perion
always remembered afterward most clearly all the loosened wisp of hair
the wind tossed about her forehead.
"Look well upon me, Perion," said Melicent. "Look well, ruined
gentleman! look well, poor hunted vagabond! and note how proud I am.
Oh, in all things I am very proud! A little I exult in my high
station in my wealth, and, yes, even in my beauty, for I know that I am
beautiful, but it is the chief of all my honours that you love me—and
"You do not understand——!" cried Perion.
"Rather I understand at last that you are in sober verity a lackey,
an impostor, and a thief, even as you said. Ay, a lackey to your
honour! an imposter that would endeavour—and, oh, so very vainly!—to
impersonate another's baseness! and a thief that has stolen another
person's punishment! I ask no questions; loving means trusting; but I
would like to kill that other person very, very slowly. I ask no
questions, but I dare to trust the man I know of, even in defiance of
that man's own voice. I dare protest the man no thief, but in all
things a madly honourable gentleman. My poor bruised, puzzled boy,"
said Melicent, with an odd mirthful tenderness, "how came you to be
blundering about this miry world of ours! Only be very good for my
sake and forget the bitterness; what does it matter when there is
He answered nothing, but it was not because of misery.
"Come, come, will you not even help me into the boat?" said
Melicent. She, too, was glad.
5. How Melicent Wedded
"THAT MAY not be, my cousin."
It was the real Bishop of Montors who was speaking. His company,
some fifteen men in all, had ridden up while Melicent and Perion looked
seaward. The bishop was clothed, in his habitual fashion, as a
cavalier, showing in nothing as a churchman. He sat a-horseback for a
considerable while, looking down at them, smiling and stroking the
pommel of his saddle with a gold-fringed glove. It was now dawn.
"I have been eavesdropping," the bishop said. His voice was
tender, for the young man loved his kinswoman with an affection second
only to that which he reserved for Ayrart de Montors. "Yes, I have
been eavesdropping for an instant, and through that instant I seemed to
see the heart of every woman that ever lived; and they differed only as
stars differ on a fair night in August. No woman ever loved a man
except, at bottom, as a mother loves her child: let him elect to build
a nation or to write imperishable verses or to take purses upon the
highway, and she will only smile to note how breathlessly the boy goes
about his playing; and when he comes back to her with grimier hands she
is a little sorry, and, if she think it salutary, will pretend to be
angry. Meanwhile she sets about the quickest way to cleanse him and to
heal his bruises. They are more wise than we, and at the bottom of
their hearts they pity us more stalwart folk whose grosser wits
require, to be quite sure of anything, a mere crass proof of it; and
always they make us better by indomitably believing we are better than
in reality a man can ever be."
Now Ayrart de Montors dismounted.
"So much for my sermon. For the rest, Messire de la Forêt, I
perfectly recognized you on the day you came to Bellegarde. But I said
nothing. For that you had not murdered King Helmas, as is popularly
reported, I was certain, inasmuch as I happen to know he is now at
Brunbelois, where Dame Mélusine holds his person and his treasury. A
terrible, delicious woman! begotten on a water-demon people say. I ask
no questions. She is a close and useful friend to me, and through her
aid I hope to go far. You see that I am frank. It is my nature." The
bishop shrugged. "In a phrase, I accepted the Vicomte de Puysange,
although it was necessary, of course, to keep an eye upon your comings
in and your goings out, as you now see. And until this the imposture
amused me. But this"—his hand waved toward the Tranchemer
—"this, my fair friends, is past a jest."
"You talk and talk," cried Perion, "while I reflect that I love the
fairest lady who at any time has had life upon earth."
"The proof of your affection," the bishop returned, "is, if you
will permit the observation, somewhat extraordinary. For you propose,
I gather, to make of her a camp-follower, a soldier's drab. Come,
come, messire! you and I are conversant with warfare as it is. Armies
do not conduct encounters by throwing sugar-candy at one another. What
home have you, a landless man, to offer Melicent? What place is there
for Melicent among your Free Companions?"
"Oh, do I not know that!" said Perion. He turned to Melicent, and
long and long they gazed upon each other.
"Ignoble as I am," said Perion, "I never dreamed to squire an angel
down toward the mire and filth which for a while as yet must be my
kennel. I go. I go alone. Do you bid me return?"
The girl was perfectly calm. She took a ring of diamonds from her
hand, and placed it on his little finger, because the others were too
"While life endures I pledge you faith and service, Perion. There
is no need to speak of love."
"There is no need," he answered. "Oh, does God think that I will
live without you!"
"I suppose they will give me to King Theodoret. The terrible old
man has set my body as the only price that will buy him off from
ravaging Poictesme, and he is stronger in the field than Emmerick.
Emmerick is afraid of him, and Ayrart here has need of the King's
friendship in order to become a cardinal. So my kinsmen must make
traffic of my eyes and lips and hair. But first I wed you, Perion,
here in the sight of God, and I bid you return to me, who am your wife
and servitor for ever now, whatever lesser men may do."
"I will return," he said.
Then in a little while she withdrew her lips from his lips.
"Cover my face, Ayrart. It may be I shall weep presently. Men
must not see the wife of Perion weep. Cover my face, for he is going
now, and I cannot watch his going."
PART TWO. MELICENT
Of how through love is Melicent upcast
Under a heathen castle at the last:
And how a wicked lord of proud degree,
Demetrios, dwelleth in this country,
Where humbled under him are all mankind:
How to this wretched woman he hath mind,
That fallen is in pagan lands alone,
In point to die, as presently is shown.
6. How Melicent Sought Oversea
IT IS a tale which they narrate in Poictesme, telling how love
began between Perion of the Forest, who was a captain of mercenaries,
and young Melicent, who was a daughter to the great Dom Manuel, and
sister to Count Emmerick of Poictesme. They tell also how Melicent and
Perion were parted, because there was no remedy, and policy demanded
she should wed King Theodoret.
And the tale tells how Perion sailed with his retainers to seek
desperate service under the harried Kaiser of the Greeks.
This venture was ill-fated, since, as the Free Companions were
passing not far from Masillia, their vessel being at the time becalmed,
they were attacked by three pagan galleys under the admiralty of the
proconsul Demetrios. Perion's men, who fought so hardily on land, were
novices at sea. They were powerless against an adversary who, from a
great distance, showered liquid fire upon their vessel.
Then Demetrios sent little boats and took some thirty prisoners
from the blazing ship, and made slaves of all save Ahasuerus the Jew,
whom he relased on being informed of the lean man's religion. It was a
customary boast of this Demetrios that he made war on Christians only.
And presently, as perion had commanded, Ahasuerus came to Melicent.
The princess sat in a high chair, the back of which was capped with
a big lion's head in brass. It gleamed above her head, but was less
glorious than her bright hair.
Ahasuerus made dispassionate report. "Thus painfully I have
delivered, as my task was, these fine messages concerning Faith and
Love and Death and so on. Touching their rationality I may reserve my
own opinion. I am merely Perion's echo. Do I echo madness? This
madman was my loved and honoured master once, a lord without any peer
in the fields where men contend in battle. To-day those sinews which
preserved a throne are dedicated to the transportation of luggage.
Grant it is laughable. I do not laugh."
"And I lack time to weep," said Melicent.
So, when the Jew had told his tale and gone, young Melicent arose
and went into a chamber painted with the histories of Jason and Medea,
where her brother Count Emmerick hid such jewels as had not many equals
She did not hesitate. She took no thought for her brother, she did
not remember her loved sisters: Ettarre and Dorothy were their names,
and they also suffered for their beauty, and for the desire it
quickened in the hearts of men. Melicent knew only that Perion was in
captivity and might not look for aid from any person living save
She gathered in a blue napkin such emeralds as would ransom a pope.
She cut short her marvelous hair and disguised herself in all things
as a man, and under cover of the ensuing night slipped from the castle.
At Manneville she found a Venetian ship bound homeward with a cargo of
swords and armour.
She hired herself to the captain of this vessel as a servant,
calling herself Jocelin Gaignars. She found no time wherein to be
afraid or to grieve for the estate she was relinquishing, so long as
Perion lay in danger.
Thus the young Jocelin, though not without hardship and odd by-ends
of adventure here irrelevant, came with time's course into a land of
sunlight and much wickedness where Perion was.
There the boy found in what fashion Perion was living and won the
dearly purchased misery of seeing him, from afar, in his deplorable
condition, as Perion went through the outer yard of Nacumera laden with
chains and carrying great logs toward the kitchen. This befell when
Jocelin had come into the hill country, where the eyrie of Demetrios
blocked a crag-hung valley as snugly as a stone chokes a gutter-pipe.
Young Jocelin had begged an audience of this heathen lord and had
obtained it—thoiugh Jocelin did not know as much—with ominous
7. How Perion Was Freed
DEMETRIOS LAY on a divan within the Court of Stars, through which
you passed from the fortress into the Women's Garden and the luxurious
prison where he kept his wives. This court was circular in form and
was paved with red and yellow slabs, laid alternately, like a
chess-board. In the center was a fountain, which cast up a tall thin
jet of water. A gallery extended around the place, supported by
columns that had been painted scarlet and were gilded with fantastic
designs. The walls were of the colour of claret and were adorned with
golden cinquefoils regularly placed. From a distance they resembled
stars, and so gave the enclosure its name.
Demetrios lay upon a long divan which was covered with crimson, and
which encircled the court entirely, save for the apertures of the two
entrances. Demetrios was of burly person, which he by ordinary, as
to-day, adorned resplendently; of a stature little above the common
size, and disproportionately broad as to his chest and shoulders. It
was rumoured that he could bore an apple through with his forefinger
and had once killed a refractory horse with a blow of his naked fist;
nor looking on the man, did you presume to question the report. His
eyes were large and insolent, coloured like onyxes; for the rest, he
had a handsome surly face which was disfigured by pimples.
He did not speak at all while Jocelin explained that his errand was
to ransom Perion. Then, "At what price?" Demetrios said, without any
sign of interest; and Jocelin, with many encomiums, displayed his
"Ay, they are well enough," Demetrios agreed. "But then I have a
superfluity of jewels."
He raised himself a little among the cushions, and in this moving
the figured golden stuff in which he was clothed heaved and glittered
like the scales of a splendid monster. He leisurely unfastened the
great chrysoberyl, big as a hen's egg, which adorned his fillet.
"Look you, this is of a far more beautiful green than any of your
trinkets. I think it is as valuable also, because of its huge size.
Moreover, it turns red by lamplight—red as blood. That is an
admirable colour. And yet I do not value it. I think I do not value
anything. So I will make you a gift of this big coloured pebble, if
you desire it, because your ignorance amuses me. Most people know
Demetrios is not a merchant. He does not buy and sell. That which he
has he keeps, and that which he desires he takes."
The boy was all despair. He did not speak. He was very handsome
as he stood in that still place where everything excepting him was red
"You do not value my poor chrysoberyl? You value your friend more?
It is a page out of Theocritos—'when there were golden men of old,
when friends gave love for love.' And yet I could have sword—— Come
now, a wager," purred Demetrios. "Show your contempt of this bauble to
be as great as mine by throwing this shiny pebble, say, into the
gallery, for the next passer-by to pick up, and I will credit your
sincerity. Do that and I will even name my price for Perion."
The boy obeyed him without hesitation. Turning, he saw the horrid
change in the intent eyes of Demetrios, and quailed before it. But
instantly that flare of passion flickered out.
Demetrios gently said:
"A bargain is a bargain. My wives are beautiful, but their
caresses annoy me as much as formerly they pleased me. I have long
thought it would perhaps amuse me if I possessed a Christian wife who
had eyes like violets and hair like gold, and a plump white body. A
man tires very soon of ebony and amber. . . . Procure me such a wife
and I will willingly release this Perion and all his fellows who are
"But, seignior,"—and the boy was shaken now,—"you demand of me an
"I am so hardy as to think not. And my reason is that a man throws
from the elbow only, but a woman with her whole arm."
There fell a silence now.
"Why, look you, I deal fairly, though. Were such a woman
here—Demetrios of Anatolia's guest—I verily believe I would not
hinder her departure, as I might easily do. For there is not a person
within many miles of this place who considers it wholesome to withstand
me. Yet were this woman purchasable, I would purchase. And—if she
refused—I would not hinder her departure; but very certainly I would
put Perion to the Torment of the Waterdrops. It is so droll to see a
man go mad before your eyes, I think that I would laugh and quite
forget the woman."
She said, "Oh God, I cry to You for justice!"
"My good girl, in Nacumera the wishes of Demetrios are justice.
But we waste time. You desire to purchase one of my belongings? So
be it. I will hear your offer."
Just once her hands had gripped each other. Her arms fell now as
if they had been drained of life. She spoke in a dull voice.
"Seignior, I offer Melicent who was a princess. I cry a price,
seignior, for red lips and bright eyes and a fair woman's tender body
without any blemish. I cry a price for youth and happiness and honour.
These you may have for playthings, seignior, with everything which I
possess, except my heart, for that is dead."
Demetrios asked, "Is this true speech?"
It is as sure as Love and Death. I know that nothing is more sure
than these, and I praise God for my sure knowledge."
He chuckled, saying, "Platitudes break no bones."
So on the next day the chains were filed from Perion de la Forêt
and all his fellows, save the nine unfortunates whom Demetrios had
appointed to fight with lions a month before this, when he had
entertained the Soldan of Bacharia. These men were bathed and perfumed
and richly clad.
A galley of the proconsul's fleet conveyed them toward Christendom
and set the twoscore slaves of yesterday ashore not far from Megaris.
The captain of the galley on departure left with Perion a blue napkin,
wherein were wrapped large emeralds and a bit of parchment.
Upon this parchment was written:
"Not these, but the body of Melicent, who was once a
princess, purchased your bodies. Yet these will buy you ships and men
and swords with which to storm my house where Melicent now is. Come if
you will and fight with Demetrios oif Anatolia for that brave girl who
loved a porter as all loyal men should love their Maker and customarily
do not. I think it would amuse us."
Then Perion stood by the languid sea which severed him from
Melicent and cried:
"O God, that hast permitted this hard bargain, trade now with me!
now barter with me, O Father of us all! That which a man has I will
Thus he waited in the clear sunlight, with no more wavering in his
face than you may find in the next statue's face. Both hands strained
toward the blue sky, as though he made a vow. If so, he did not break
And now no more of Perion.
At the same hour young Melicent, wrapped all about with a
flame-coloured veil and crowned with marjoram, was led by a spruce boy
toward a threshold, over which Demetrios lifted her, while many people
sang in a strange tongue. And then she paid her ransom.
"Hymen, O Hymen!" they sang. "Do thou of many names and many
temples, golden Aphrodite, be propitious to this bridal! Now let him
first compute the glittering stars of midnight and the grasshoppers of
a summer day who would count the joys this bridal shall bring about!
Hymen, O Hymen, rejoice thou in this bridal!"
8. How Demetrios Was Amused
NOW MELICENT abode in the house of Demetrios, whom she had not seen
since the morning after he had wedded her. A month had passed. As yet
she could not understand the language of her fellow prisoners, but
Halaon, a eunuch who had once served a cardinal in Tuscany, informed
her the proconsul was in the West Provinces, where an invading force
had landed under Ranulph de Meschines.
A month had passed. She woke one night from dreams of Perion—what
else should women dream of?—and found the same Ahasuerus that had
brought her news of Perion's captivity, so long ago, attendant at her
He seemed a prey to some half-scornful mirth. In speech, at least,
the man was of entire discretion. "The Splendour of the World desires
your presence, madame." Thus the Jew blandly spoke.
She cried, aghast at so much treachery, "You had planned this!"
"I plan always. Oh, certainly, I must weave always as the spider
does. . . . Meanwhile time passes. I, like you, am now the servitor
of Demetrios. I am his factor now at Calonak. I buy and sell. I
estimate ounces. I earn my wages. Who forbids it?" Here the Jew
shrugged. "And to conclude, the Splendour of the World desires your
He seemed to get much joy of this mouth-filling periphrasis as
sneeringly he spoke of their common master.
Now Melicent, in a loose robe of green Coan stuff shot through and
through with a radiancy like that of copper, followed the thin, smiling
Jew Ahasuerus. She came thus with bare feet into the Court of Stars,
where the proconsul lay on the divan as though he had not ever moved
from there. To-night he was clothed in scarlet, and barbaric ornaments
dangled from his pierced ears. These glittered now that his head moved
a little as he silently dismissed Ahasuerus from the Count of Stars.
Real stars were overhead, so brilliant and (it seemed) so near they
turned the fountain's jet into a spurt of melting silver. The moon was
set, but there was a flaring lamp of iron, high as a man's shoulder,
yonder where Demetrios lay.
"Stand close to it, my wife," said the proconsul, "in order that I
may see my newest purchase very clearly."
She obeyed him; and she esteemed the sacrifice, however
unendurable, which bought for Perion the chance to serve God and his
love for her by valorous and commendable actions to be no cause for
"I think with those old men who sat upon the walls of Troy,"
Demetrios said, and he laughed because his voice had shaken a little.
"Meanwhile I have returned from crucifying a hundred of your fellow
worshippers," Demetrios continued. His speech had an odd sweetness.
"Ey, yes, I conquered at Yroga. It was a good fight. My horse's
hoofs were red at its conclusion. My surviving opponents I consider to
have been deplorable fools when they surrendered, for people die less
painfully in battle. There was one fellow, a Franciscan monk, who hung
six hours upon a palm tree, always turning his head from one side to
the other. It was amusing."
She answered nothing.
"And I was wondering always how I would feel were you nailed in his
place. It was curious I should have thought of you. . . . But your
white flesh is like the petals of a flower. I suppose it is as readily
destructible. I think you would not long endure."
"I pray God hourly that I may not!" said tense Melicent.
He was pleased to have wrung one cry of anguish from this lovely
effigy. He motioned her to him and laid one hand upon her naked
breast. He gave a gesture of distaste.
"No, you are not afraid. However, you are very beautiful. I
thought that you would please me more when your gold hair had grown a
trifle longer. There is nothing in the world so beautiful as golden
hair. Its beauty weathers even the commendation of poets."
No power of motion seemed to be in this white girl, but certainly
you could detect no fear. Her clinging robe shone like an opal in the
lamplight, her body, only partly veiled, was enticing, and her visage
was very lovely. Her wide-open eyes implored you, but only as those of
a trapped animal beseech the mercy for which it does not really hope.
Thus Melicent waited in the clear lamplight, with no more wavering in
her face than you may find in the next statue's face.
In the man's heart woke now some comprehension of the nature of her
love for Perion, of that high and alien madness which dared to make of
Demetrios of Anatolia's will and unavoidable discomfort, and no more.
The prospect was alluring. The proconsul began to chuckle as water
pours from a jar, and the gold in his ears twinkled.
"Decidedly I shall get much mirth of you. Go back to your own
rooms. I had thought the world afforded no adversary and no game
worthy of Demetrios. I have found both. Therefore, go back to your
rooms," he gently said.
9. How Time Sped in Heathenry
ON THE NEXT day Melicent was removed to more magnificent
apartments, and she was lodged in a lofty and spacious pavilion, which
had three porticoes builded of marble and carved teakwood and
Andalusian copper. Her rooms were spread with gold-worked carpets and
hung with tapestries and brocaded silks figured with all manner of
beasts and birds in their proper colours. Such was the girl's home
now, where only happiness was denied to her. Many slaves attended
Melicent, and she lacked for nothing in luxury and riches and things of
price; and thereafter she abode at Nacumera, to all appearances, as the
favourite among the proconsul's wives.
It must be recorded of Demetrios that henceforth he scrupulously
demurred even to touch her. "I have purchased your body," he proudly
said, "and I have taken seizin. I find I don not care for anything
which can be purchased."
It may be that the man was never sane; it is indisputable that the
mainspring of his least action was an inordinate pride. Here he had
stumbled upon something which made of Demetrios of Anatolia a temporary
discomfort, and which bedwarfed the utmost reach of his ill-doing into
equality with the molestations of a house-fly; and perception of this
fact worked in Demetrios like a poisonous ferment. To beg or once
again to pillage he thought equally unworthy of himself. "Let us have
patience!" It was not easily said so long as this fair Frankish woman
dared to entertain a passion which Demetrios could not comprehend, and
of which Demetrios was, and knew himself to be, incapable.
A connoisseur of passions, he resented such belittlement
tempestuously; and he heaped every luxury upon Melicent, because, as he
assured himself, the heart of every woman is alike.
He had his theories, his cunning, and, chief of all, an
appreciation of her beauty, as his abettors. She had her memories and
her clean heart. They duelled thus accoutred.
Meanwhile his other wives peered from screened alcoves at these two
and duly hated Melicent. Upon no less than three occasions did
Callistion—the first wife of the proconsul and the mother of his elder
son—attempt the life of Melicent; and thrice Demetrios spared the
woman at Melicent's entreaty. For Melicent (since she loved Perion)
could understand that it was love of Demetrios, rather than hate of
her, which drove the Dacian virago to extremities.
Then one day about noon Demetrios came unheralded into Melicent's
resplendent prison. Through an aisle of painted pillars he came to
her, striding with unwonted quickness, glittering as he moved. His
robe this day was scarlet, the colour he chiefly affected. Gold glowed
upon his forehead, gold dangled from his ears, and about his throat was
a broad collar of gold and rubies. At his side was a cross-handled
sword, in a scabbard of blue leather, curiously ornamented.
"Give thanks, my wife," Demetrios said, "that you are beautiful.
For beauty was ever the spur of valour." Then quickly, joyously, he
told her of how a fleet equipped by the King of Cyprus had been
dispatched against the province of Demetrios, and of how among the
invaders were Perion of the Forest and his Free Companions. "Ey, yes,
my porter has returned. I ride instantly for the coast to greet him
with appropriate welcome. I pray heaven it is no sluggard or weakling
that is come out against me."
Proudly Melicent replied:
"There comes against you a champion of noted deeds, a courteous and
hardy gentleman, pre-eminent at swordplay. There was never any man
more ready than Perion to break a lance or shatter a shield, or more
eager to succour the helpless and put to shame all cowards and
Demetrios dryly said:
"I do not question that the virtues of my porter are innumerable.
Therefore we will not attempt to catalogue them. Now Ahasuerus
reports that even before you came to tempt me with your paltry emeralds
you once held the life of Perion in your hands?" Demetrios unfastened
his sword. He grasped the hand of Melicent, and laid it upon the
scabbard. "And what do you hold now, my wife? You hold the death of
Perion. I take the antithesis to be neat."
She answered nothing. Her seeming indifference angered him.
Demetrios wrenched the sword from its scabbard, with a hard violence
that made Melicent recoil. He showed the blade all covered with graved
symbols of which she could make nothing.
"This is Flamberge," said the proconsul; "the weapon which was the
pride and bane of my father, famed Miramon Lluagor, because it was the
sword which Galas made, in the old time's heyday, for unconquerable
Charlemagne. Clerks declare it is a magic weapon and that the man who
wields it is always unconquerable. I do not know. I think it is as
difficult to believe in sorcery as it is to be entirely sure that all
we know is not the sorcery of a drunken wizard. I very potently
believe, however, that with this sword I shall kill Perion."
Melicent had plenty of patience, but astonishingly little, it
seemed, for this sort of speech. "I think that you talk foolishly,
seignior. And, other matters apart, it is manifest that you yourself
concede Perion to be the better swordsman, since you require to be
abetted by sorcery before you dare to face him."
"So, so!" Demetrios said, in a sort of grinding whisper, "you think
that I am not the equal of this long-legged fellow! You would think
otherwise if I had him here. You will think otherwise when I have
killed him with my naked hands. Oh, very soon you will think
He snarled, rage choking him, flung the sword at her feet and
quitted her without any leave-taking. He had ridden three miles from
Nacumera before he began to laugh. He perceived that Melicent at least
respected sorcery, and had tricked him out of Flamberge by playing upon
his tetchy vanity. Her adroitness pleased him.
Demetrios did not laugh when he found the Christian fleet had been
ingloriously repulsed at sea by the Emir of Arsuf, and had never
effected a landing. Demetrios picked a quarrel with the victorious
admiral and killed the marplot in a public duel, but that was
"However," the proconsul reassured himself, "if my wife reports at
all truthfully as to this Perion's nature it is certain that this
Perion will come again." Then Demetrios went into the sacred grove
upon the the hillsides south of Quesiton and made an offering of
myrtle-branches, rose-leaves and incense to Aphrodite of Colias.
10. How Demetrios Wooed
AHASUERUS CAME and went at will. Nothing was known concerning this
soft-treading furtive man except by the proconsul, who had no
confidants. By his decree Ahasuerus was an honoured guest at Nacumera.
And always the Jew's eyes when Melicent was near him were as
expressionless as the eyes of a snake, which do not ever change.
Once she told Demetrios that she feared Ahasuerus.
"But I do not fear him, Melicent, though I have larger reason. For
I alone of all men living know the truth concerning this same Jew.
Therefore, it amuses me to think that he, who served my wizard father
in a very different fashion, is to-day my factor and ciphers over my
Demetrios laughed, and had the Jew summoned. This was in the
Women's Garden, where the proconsul sat with Melicent in a little domed
pavilion of stone-work which was gilded with red gold and crowned with
a cupola of alabaster. Its pavement was of transparent glass, under
which were clear running waters wherein swam red and yellow fish.
"It appears that you are a formidable person, Ahasuerus. My wife
here fears you."
"Splendour of the Age," returned Ahasuerus, quietly, "it is
notorious that women have long hair and short wits. There is no need
to fear a Jew. The Jew, I take it, was created in order that children
might evince their playfulness by stoning him, the honest show their
common-sense by robbing him, and the religious display their piety by
burning him. Who forbids it?"
"Ey, but my wife is a Christian and in consequence worships a Jew."
Demetrios reflected. His dark eyes twinkled. "What is your opinion
concerning this other Jew, Ahasuerus?"
"I know that He was the Messiah, Lord."
"And yet you do not worship him."
The Jew said:
"It was not altogether worship He desired. He asked that men
should love Him. He does not ask love of me."
"I find that an obscure saying," Demetrios considered.
"It is a true saying, King of Kings. In time it will be made
plain. That time is not yet come. I used to pray it would come soon.
Now I do not pray any longer. I only wait."
Demetrios tugged at his chin, his eyes narrowed meditating. He
"It is no affair of mine. What am I that I am called upon to have
prejudices concerning the universe? It is highly probable there are
gods of some sort or another, but I do not so far flatter myself as to
consider that any possible god would be at all interested in my opinion
of him. In any event, I am Demetrios. Let the worst come, and in
whatever baleful underworld I find myself imprisoned I shall maintain
myself there in a manner not unworthy of Demetrios." The proconsul
shrugged at this point. "I do not find you amusing, Ahasuerus. You
"I hear, and I obey," the Jew replied. He went away patiently.
Then Demetrios turned toward Melicent, rejoicing that his chattel
had golden hair and was comely beyond comparison with all other women
he had ever seen.
"I love you, Melicent, and you do not love me. Do not be offended
because my speech is harsh, for even though I know my candour is
distasteful I must speak the truth. You have been obdurate too long,
denying Kypris what is due to her. I think that your brain is giddy
because of too much exulting in the magnificence of your body and in
the number of men who have desired it to their own hurt. I concede
your beauty, yet what will it matter a hundred years from now?
"I admit that my refrain is old. But it will presently take on a
more poignant meaning, because a hundred years from now you—even you,
dear Melicent!—and all the loveliness which now causes me to estimate
life as a light matter in comparison with your love, will be only a
bone or two. Your lustrous eyes, which are now more beautiful than it
is possible to express, will be unsavoury holes and a worm will crawl
through them; and what will it matter a hundred years from now?
"A hundred years from now should anyone break open your gilded
tomb, he will find Melicent to be no more admirable than Demetrios.
One skull is like another, and is as lightly split with a mattock.
You will be as ugly as I, and nobody will be thinking of your eyes and
hair. Hail, rain and dew will drench us both impartially when I lie at
your side, as I intend to do, for a hundred years and yet another
hundred years. You need not frown, for what will it matter a hundred
years from now?
"Melicent, I offer love and a life that derides the folly of all
other manners of living; and even if you deny me, what will it matter a
hundred years from now?"
His face was contorted, his speech had fervent bitterness, for even
while he wooed this woman the man internally was raging over his own
And Melicent answered:
"There can be no question of love between us, seignior. You
purchased my body. My body is at your disposal under God's will."
Demetrios sneered, his ardours cooled. He said, "I have already
told you, my girl, I do not care for that which can be purchased."
In such fashion Melicent abode among these odious persons as a lily
which is rooted in mire. She was a prisoner always, and when Demetrios
came to Nacumera—which fell about irregularly, for now arose much
fighting between the Christians and the pagans—a gem which he uncased,
admired, curtly exulted in, and then, jeering at those hot wishes in
his heart, locked up untouched when he went back to warfare.
To her the man was uniformly kind, if with a sort of sneer she
could not understand; and he pillaged an infinity of Genoese and
Venetian ships—which were notoriously the richliest laden—of jewels,
veils, silks, furs, embroideries and figured stuffs, wherewith to
enhance the comeliness of Melicent. It seemed an all-engulfing madness
with this despot daily to aggravate his fierce desire of her, to
nurture his obsession, so that he might glory in the consciousness of
treading down no puny adversary.
Pride spurred him on as witches ride their dupes to a foreknown
destruction. "Let us have patience," he would say.
Meanwhile his other wives peered from screened alcoves at these two
and duly hated Melicent. "Let us have patience!" they said, also, but
with a meaning that was more sinister.
PART THREE. DEMETRIOS
Of how Dame Melicent's fond lovers go
As comrades, working each his fellow's woe:
Each hath unhorsed the other of the twain,
And knoweth that nowhither 'twixt Ukraine
And Ormuz roameth any lion's son
More eager in the hunt than Perion,
Nor any viper's sire more venomous
Through jealous hurt than is Demetrios.
11. How Time Sped with Perion
IT IS A TALE which they narrate in Poictesme, telling of what
befell Perion de la Forêt after he had been ransomed out of heathenry.
They tell how he took service with the King of Cyprus. And the tale
tells how the King of Cyprus was defeated at sea by the Emir of Arsuf;
and how Perion came unhurt from that battle, and by land relieved the
garrison at Japhe, and was ennobled therefore; and was afterward called
the Comte de la Forêt.
Then the King of Cyprus made peace with heathendom, and Perion left
him. Now Perion's skill in warfare was leased to whatsoever lord would
dare contend against Demetrios and the proconsul's magic sword
Flamberge: and Perion of the Forest did not inordinately concern
himself as to the merits of any quarrel because of which battalions
died, so long as he fought toward Melicent. Demetrios was pleased, and
thrilled with the heroic joy of an athlete who finds that he
unwittingly has grappled with his equal.
So the duel between these two dragged on with varying fortunes, and
the years passed, and neither duelist had conquered as yet. Then King
Theodoret, third of that name to rule, and once (as you have heard) a
wooer of Dame Melicent, declared a crusade; and Perion went to him at
Lacre Kai. It was in making this journey, they say, that Perion passed
through Pseudopolis, and had speech there with Queen Helen, the delight
of gods and men: and Perion conceded this Queen was well-enough to look
"She reminds me, indeed, of that Dame Melicent whom I serve in this
world, and trust to serve in Paradise," said Perion. "But Dame
Melicent has a mole on her left cheek."
"That is a pity," said an attendant lord. "A mole disfigures a
"I was speaking, messier, of Dame Melicent."
"Even so," the lord replied, "a mole is a blemish."
"I cannot permit these observations," said Perion. So they fought,
and Perion killed his opponent, and left Pseudopolis that afternoon.
Such was Perion's way.
He came unhurt to King Theodoret, who at once recognized in the
famous Comte de la Forêt the former Vicomte de Puysange, but gave no
sign of such recognition.
"Heaven chooses its own instruments," the pious King reflected:
"and this swaggering Comte de la Forêt, who affects so many names, has
also the name of being a warrior without any peer in Christendom. Let
us first conquer this infamous proconsul, this adversary of our
Redeemer, and then we shall see. It may be that heaven will then
permit me to detect this Comte de la Forêt in some particularly
abominable heresy. For this long-legged ruffian looks like a
schismatic, and would singularly grace a rack."
So King Theodoret kissed Perion upon both cheeks, and created him
generalissimo of King Theodoret's forces. It was upon St. George's day
that Perion set sail with thirty-four ships of great dimensions and
"Do you bring me back Demetrios in chains," said the King, fondling
Perion at parting, "and all that I have is yours."
"I mean to bring back my stolen wife, Dame Melicent," was Perion's
reply: "and if I can manage it I shall also bring you this Demetrios,
in return for lending me these ships and soldiers."
"Do you think," the King asked, peevishly, "that monarchs nowadays
fit out armaments to replevin a woman who is no longer young, and who
was always stupid?"
"I cannot permit these observations——" said Perion.
Theodoret hastily explained that his was merely a general
observation, without any personal bearing.
12 How Demetrios Was Taken
THUS IT WAS that war awoke and raged about the province of
Demetrios as tirelessly as waves lapped at its shores.
Then, after many ups and downs of carnage,  Perion surprised the
galley of Demetrios while the proconsul slept at anchor in his own
harbour of Quesiton. Demetrios fought nakedly against accoutred
soldiers and killed two of them with his hands before he could be
quieted by an admiring Perion.
Demetrios by Perion's order was furnished with a sword of ordinary
attributes, and Perion ridded himself of all defensive armour. The two
met like an encounter of tempests, and in the outcome Demetrios was
wounded so that he lay insensible. Demetrios was taken as a prisoner
toward the domains of King Theodoret.
"Only you are my private capture," said Perion; "conquered by my
own hand and in fair fight. Now I am unwilling to insult the most
valiant warrior whom I have known by valuing him too cheaply, and I
accordingly fix your ransom as the person of Dame Melicent."
Demetrios bit his nails.
"Needs must," he said at last. "It is unnecessary to inform you
that when my property is taken from me I shall endeavour to regain it.
I shall, before the year is out, lay waste to whatever kingdom it is
that harbours you. Meanwhile I warn you it is necessary to be speedy
in this ransoming. My other wives abhor the Frankish woman who has
supplanted them in my esteem. My son Orestes, who succeeds me, will be
guided by his mother. Callistion has thrice endeavoured to kill
Melicent. If any harm befalls me, Callistion to all intent will reign
in Nacumera, and she will not be satisfied with mere assassination. I
cannot guess what torment Callistion will devise, but it will be no
"Hah, infamy!" cried Perion. He had learned long ago how cunning
the heathen were in such cruelties, and so he shuddered.
Demetrios was silent. He, too, was frightened, because this despot
knew—and none knew better—that in his lordly house far oversea
Callistion would find equipment for a hundred curious tortures.
"It has been difficult for me to tell you this," Demetrios then
said, "because it savours of an appeal to spare me. I think you will
have gleaned, however, from our former encounters, that I am not
unreasonably afraid of death. Also I think that you love Melicent.
For the rest, there is no person in Nacumera so untutored as to cross
my least desire until my death is triply proven. Accordingly, I who am
Demetrios am willing to entreat an oath that you will not permit
Theodoret to kill me."
"I swear by God and all the laws of Rome——" cried Perion.
"Ey, but I am not very popular in Rome," Demetrios interrupted. "I
would prefer that you swore by your love for Melicent. I would prefer
an oath which both of us may understand, and I know of none other."
So Perion swore as Demetrios requestded, and set about the
conveyance of Demetrios into King Theodoret's realm.
13. How They Praised Melicent
THE CONQUEROR and the conquered sat together upon the prow of
Perion's ship. It was a warm, clear night, so brilliant that the stars
were invisible. Perion sighed. Demetrios inquired the reason.
"It is the memory of a fair and noble lady, Messire Demetrios, that
causes me to heave a sigh from my inmost heart. I cannot forget that
loveliness which had no parallel. Pardieu, her eyes were amethysts,
her lips were read as the berries of a holly-tree. Her hair blazed in
the light, bright as the sunflower glows; her skin was whiter than
milk; the down of a fledgling bird was not more grateful to the touch
than were her hands. There was never any person more delightful to
gaze upon, and whosoever beheld her forthwith desired to render love
and service to Dame Melicent."
Demetrios gave his customary lazy shrug. Demetrios said:
"She is still a brightly-coloured creature, moves gracefully, has a
sweet, drowsy voice, and is as soft to the touch as rabbit's fur.
Therefore, it is imperative that one of us must cut the other's
throat. The deduction is perfectly logical. Yet I do not know that my
love for her is any greater than my hatred. I rage against her patient
tolerance of me, and I am often tempted to disfigure, mutilate, even to
destroy this colourful, stupid woman, who makes me woefully ridiculous
in my own eyes. I shall be happier when death has taken the woman who
ventures to deal in this fashion with Demetrios."
"When I first saw Dame Melicent the sea was languid, as if outworn
by vain endeavours to rival the purple of her eyes. Sea-birds were
adrift in the air, very close to her, and their movements were less
graceful than hers. She was attired in a robe of white silk, and about
her wrists were heavy bands of silver. A tiny wind played truant in
order to caress her unplaited hair, because the wind was more hardy
than I, and dared to love her. I did not think of love, I thought only
of the noble deeds I might have done and had not done. I thought of my
unworthiness, and it seemed to me that my soul writhed like an eel in
sunlight, a naked, despicable thing, that was unworthy to render any
love and service to Dame Melicent."
"When I first saw the girl she knew herself entrapped, her body
mine, her life dependent on my whims. She waved aside such petty
inconveniences, bade them await an hour when she had leisure to
consider them, because nothing else was of any importance so long as my
porter went in chains. I was an obstacle to her plans and nothing
more; a pebble in her shoe would have perturbed her about as much as I
did. Here at last, I thought, is genuine common-sense—a clear-headed
decision as to your actual desire, apart from man-taught ethics, and
fearless purchase of your desire at any cost. There is something not
unakin to me, I reflected, in the girl who ventures to deal in this
fashion with Demetrios."
"Since she permits me to serve her, I may not serve unworthily.
To-morrow I shall set new armies afield. To-morrow it will delight me
to see their tents rise in your meadows, Messire Demetrios, and to see
our followers meet in clashing combat, by hundreds and thousands, so
mightily that men will sing of it when we are gone. To-morrow one of
us must kill the other. To-night we drink our wine in amity. I have
not time to hate your, I have not time to like or dislike any living
person, I must devote all faculties that heaven gave me to the love and
service of Dame Melicent."
"To-night we babble to the stars and dream vain dreams as other
fools have done before us. To-morrow rests—perhaps—with heaven; but,
depend upon it, Messire de la Forêt, whatever we may do to-morrow will
be foolishly performed, because we are both besotted by bright eyes and
lips and hair. I trust to find our antics laughable. Yet there is
that in me which is murderous when I reflect that you and she do not
dislike me. It is the distasteful truth that neither of you considers
me to be worth the trouble. I find such conduct irritating, because no
other persons have ever ventured to deal in this fashion with
"Demetrios, already your antics are laughable, for you pass blindly
by the revelation of heaven's splendour in heaven's masterwork; you
ignore the miracle; and so do you find only the stings of the flesh
where I find joy in rendering love and service to Dame Melicent."
"Perion, it is you that play the fool,, in not recongising that
heaven is inaccessible and doubtful. But clearer eyes perceive the not
at all doubtful dullness of wit, and the gratifying accessibility of
every woman when properly handled,—yes, even of her who dares to deal
in this fashion with Demetrios."
Thus they would sit together, nightly, upon the prow of Perion's
ship and speak against each other in the manner of a Tenson, as these
two rhapsodied of Melicent until the stars grew lusterless before the
14. How Perion Braved Theodoret
THE CITY of Megaris (then Theodoret's capital) was ablaze with
bonfires on the night that the Comte de la Forêt entered it at the head
of his forces. Demetrios, meanly clothed, his hands tied behind him,
trudged sullenly beside his conqueror's horse. Yet of the two the
gloomier face showed below the count's coronet, for Perion did not
relish the impendent interview with King Theodoret. They came thus
amid much shouting to the Hôtel d'Ebelin, their assigned quarters, and
Next morning, about the hour of prime, two men-at-arms accompanied
a fettered Demetrios into the presence of King Theodoret. Perion of
the Forest preceded them. He pardonably swaggered, in spite of his
underlying uneasiness, for this last feat, as he could not ignore, was
a performance which Christendom united to applaud.
They came thus into a spacious chamber, very inadequately lighted.
The walls were unhewn stone. There was but one window, of uncoloured
glass; and it was guarded by iron bars. The floor was bare of rushes.
On one side was a bed with tattered hangings of green, which were
adorned with rampant lions worked in silver thread much tarnished; to
the right hand stood a prie-dieu. Between these isolated
articles of furniture, and behind an unpainted table sat, in a
high-backed chair, a wizen and shabbily-clad old man. This was
Theodoret, most pious and penurious of monarchs. In attendance upon
him were Fra Battista, prior of the Grey Monks, and Melicent's near
kinsman, once the Bishop, now the Cardinal, de Montors, who, as was
widely known, was the actual monarch of this realm. The latter was
smartly habited as a cavalier and showed in nothing like a churchman.
The infirm King arose and came to meet the champion who had
performed what many generals of Christendom had vainly striven to
achieve. He embraced the conqueror of Demetrios as one does an equal.
"Hail, my dear friend! you who have lopped the right arm of
heathenry! To-day, I know, the saints hold festival in heaven. Ii
cannot recompense you, since God alone is omnipotent. Yet ask now what
you will, short of my crown, and it is yours." Tdhe old man kissed the
chief of all his treasures, a bit of the True Cross, which hung upon
his breast supported by a chain of gold.
"The King has spoken," Perion returned. "I ask the life of
Theodoret recoiled, like a small flame which is fluttered by its
kindler's breath. He cackled thinly, saying:
"A jest or so is privileged in this high hour. Yet we ought not to
make a jest of matters which concern the Church. Am I not right,
Ayrart? Oh, no, this merciless Demetrios is assuredly that very
Antichrist whose coming was foretold. I must relinquish him to Mother
Church, in order that he may be equitably tried, and be baptised—since
even he may have a soul—and afterward be burned in the market-place."
"The King has spoken," Perion replied. "I too have spoken."
There was a pause of horror upon the part of King Theodoret. He
was at first in a mere whirl. Theodoret said:
"You ask, in earnest, for the life of this Demetrios, this arch-foe
of our Redeemer, this spawn of Satan, who has sacked more of my towns
than I ihave fingers on this wasted hand! Now, now that God has
singularly favoured me——!" Theodoret snarled and gibbered like a
frenzied ape, and had no longer the ability to articulate.
"Beau sire, I fought the man because in infamously held Dame
Melicent, whom I serve in this world without any reservation, and trust
to serve in Paradise. His person, and this alone, will ransom
"You plan to loose this fiend!" the old King cried. "To stir up
all this butchery again!"
"Sire, pray recall how long I have loved Melicent. Reflect that if
you slay Demetrios, Dame Melicent will be left destitute in heathenry.
Remember that she will be murdered through the hatred of this man's
other wives whom her inestimable beauty has supplanted." Thus Perion
All this while the cardinal and the proconsul had been appraising
each other. It was as though they two had been the only persons in the
dimly-lit apartment. They had not met before. "Here is my match,"
thought each of these two; "here, if the world affords it, is my peer
in cunning and bravery." And each lusted for a contest, and with
something of mutual comprehension.
In consequence they stinted pity for Theodoret, who unfeignedly
believed that whether he kept or broke his recent oath damnation was
inevitable. "Your have been ill-advised——" he stammered. "I do not
dare release Demetrios—— My soul would answer that enormity—— But
it was sworn upon the Cross—— Oh, ruin either way! Come now, my
gallant captain," the King barked. "I have gold, lands, and
"Beau sire, I have loved this my dearest lady since the time when
both of us were little more than children, and each day of the year my
love for her has been doubled. What would it avail me to live in
however lofty estate when I cannot daily see the treasure of my life?"
Now the Cardinal de Montors interrupted, and his voice was to the
ear as silk is to the fingers.
"Beau sire," said Ayrart de Montors, "I speak in all appropriate
respect. But you have sworn an oath which no man living may presume to
"Oh, true, Ayrart!" the fluttered King assented. "This blusterer
holds me as in a vise." He turned to Perion again, fierce, tense and
fragile, like an angered cat. "Choose now! I will make you the
wealthiest person in my realm—— My son, I warn you that since Adam's
time women have been the devil's peculiar bait. See now, I am not
angry. Heh, I remember, too, how beautiful she was. I was once
tempted much as you are tempted. So I pardon you. I will give you my
daughter Ermengarde in marriage, I will make you my heir, I will give
you half my kingdom——" His voice rose, quavering; and it died now,
for he foreread the damnation of Theodoret's soul while he fawned
before this impassive Perion.
"Since Love has taken up his abode within my heart," said Perion,
"there has not ever been a vacancy therein for any other thought. How
may I help it if Love recompenses my hospitality by afflicting me with
a desire which can neither subdue the world nor be subdued by it?"
Theodoret continued like the rustle of dead leaves:
"——Else I must keep my oath. In that event you may depart with
this unbeliever. I will accord you twenty-four hours wherein to
accomplish this. But, oh, if I lay hands upon either of you within the
twenty-fifth hour I will not kill my prisoner at once. For first I
must devise unheard-of torments——" The King's faced was not
agreeable to look upon.
Yet Perion encountered it with an untroubled gaze until Battista
"I promise worse. The Book will be cast down, the bells be tolled,
and all the candles snuffed—ah, very soon!" Battista licked his lips,
gingerly, just as a cat does.
Then Perion was moved, since excommunication is more terrible than
death to any of the Church's loyal children, and he was now more
frightened than the King. And so Perion thought of Melicent a while
before he spoke.
"I choose. I choose hell fire in place of riches and honour, and I
demand the freedom of Demetrios."
"Go!" the King said. "Go hence, blasphemer. Hah, you will weep
for this in hell. I pray that I may hear you then, and laugh as I do
He went away, and was followed by Battista, who whispered of a
makeshift. The cardinal remained and saw to it that the chains were
taken from Demetrios.
"In consequence of Messire de la Forêt's—as I must term it—most
unchristian decision," said the cardinal, "it is not impossible,
Messire the Proconsul, that I may head the next assault upon your
Demetrios laughed. He said:
"I dare to promise your Eminence that reception you would most
"I had hoped for as much," the cardinal returned, and he too
laughed. To do him justice, he did not know of Battista's makeshift.
The cardinal remained when they had gone. Seated in a king's
chair, Ayrart de Montors meditated rather wistfully upon that old time
when he, also, had loved Melicent whole-heartedly. It seemed a great
while ago, made him aware of his maturity.
He had put love out of his life, in common with all other
weaknesses which might conceivably hinder the advancement of Ayrart de
Montors. In consequence, he had climbed far. He was not dissatisfied.
It was a man's business to make his way in the world, and he had done
"My cousin is a brave girl, though," he said aloud, "I must
certainly do what I can to effect her rescue as soon as it is
convenient to sent another expedition against Demetrios."
Then the cardinal set about concoction of a moving sonnet in praise
of Monna Vittoria de' Pazzi. Desperation loaned him extraordinary
eloquence (as he complacently reflected) in addressing this obdurate
woman, who had held out against his love-making for six weeks now.
15. How Perion Fought
DEMETRIOS AND PERION, by the quick turn of fortune previously
recorded, were allied against all Christendom. They got arms at the
Hôtel d'Ebelin, and they rode out of the city of Megaris, where the
bonfires lighted over-night in Perion's honour were still smouldering,
amid loud execrations. Fra Battista had not delayed to spread the news
of King Theodoret's dilemma. The burghers yelled menaces; but, knowing
that an endeavour to constrain the passage of these champions would
prove unwholesome for at least a dozen of the arrestors, they cannily
confined their malice to a vocal demonstration.
Demetrios rose unhelmeted, intending that these snarling little
people of Megaris should plainly see the man whom they most feared and
It was Perion who spoke first. They had passed the city walls, and
had mounted the hill which leads toward the Forest of Sannazaro. Their
road lay through a rocky pass above which the leaves of spring were
like sparse traceries on a blue cupola, for April had not come as yet.
"I meant," said Perion, "to hold you as the ransom of Dame
Melicent. I fear that is impossible. I, who am a landless man, have
neither servitors nor any castle wherein to retain you as a prisoner.
I earnestly desire to kill you, forthwith, in single combat; but when
your son Orestes knows that you are dead he will, so you report, kill
Melicent. And yet it may be that you are lying."
Perion was of a tall imperious person, and accustomed to command.
He had black hair, grey eyes which challenged you, and a thin pleasant
face which was not pleasant now.
"You know that I am not a coward——" Demetrios began.
"Indeed," said Perion, "I believe you to be the hardiest warrior in
"Therefore I may without dishonour repeat to you that my death
involves the death of Melicent. Orestes hates her for his mother's
sake. I think, now we have fought so often, that each of us knows I do
not fear death. I grant I had Flamberge to wield, a magic weapon——"
Demetrios shook himself, like a dog coming from the water, for to
consider an extraneous invincibility was nauseous. "However! I who am
Demetrios protest I will not fight with you, that I will accept any
insult rather than risk my life in any quarrel extant, because I know
the moment that Orestes had made certain I am no longer to be feared he
will take vengeance on Dame Melicent."
"Prove this!" said Perion, and with deliberation he struck
Demetrios. Full in the face he struck the swart proconsul, and in the
ensuing silence you could hear a feeble breeze that strayed about the
tree-tops, but you could hear nothing else. And Perion, strong man,
the willing scourge of heathendom, had half a mind to weep.
Demetrios had not moved a finger. It was appalling. The
proconsul's countenance had throughout the hue of wood-ashes, but his
fixed eyes were like blown embers.
"I believe that it is proved," said Demetrios, "since both of us
are still alive." He whispered this.
"In fact the thing is settled," Perion agreed. "I know that
nothing save your love for Melicent could possibly induce you to
decline a proffered battle. When Demetrios enacts the poltroon I am
the most hasty of all men living to assert that the excellency of his
reason is indisputable. Let us get on! I have only five hundred
sequins, but this will be enough to buy your passage back to Quesiton.
And inasmuch as we are near the coast——"
"I think some others mean to have a spoon in that broth," Demetrios
returned. "For look, messier!"
Perion saw that far beneath them a company of retainers in white
and purple were spurring up the hill. "It is Duke Sigurd's livery,"
Demetrios forthwith interpreted and was amused by their common
ruin. He said, grinning:
"Pious Theodoret has sworn a truce of twenty-four hours, and in
consequence might not send any of his own lackeys after us. But there
was nothing to prevent the dropping of a hint into the ear of his
brother-in-law, because you servitors of Christ excel in these
"This is hardly an opportunity for theological debate," Perion
considered. "And for the rest, time presses. It is your instant
business to escape." He gave his tiny bag of gold to his chief enemy.
"Make for Narenta. It is a free city and unfriendly to Theodoret. If
I survive I will come presently and fight with you for Melicent."
"I shall do nothing of the sort," Demetrios equably returned. "Am
I the person to permit the man whom I most hate—you who have struck me
and yet live!—to fight alone against some twenty adversaries! Oh, no,
I shall remain, since after all, there are only twenty."
"I was mistaken in you," Perion replied, "for I had thought you
loved Dame Melicent as I do. I find too late that you would estimate
your private honour as set against her welfare."
The two men looked upon each other. Long and long they looked, and
the heart of each was elated. "I comprehend," Demetrios said. He
clapped spurs to his horse and fled as a coward would have fled. This
was one occasion in his "life when he overcame his pride, and should in
consequence be noted.
The heart of Perion was glad.
"Oh, but at times," said Perion, "I wish that I might honourably
love this infamous and lustful pagan."
Afterward Perion wheeled and meet Duke Sigurd's men. Then like a
reaper cutting a field of wheat Sire Perion showed the sun his sword
and went about his work, not without harvesting.
In that narrow way nothing could be heard but the striking of blows
on armour and the clash of swords which bit at one another. The Comte
de la Forêt, for once, allowed himself the privilege of fighting in
anger. He went without a word toward this hopeless encounter, as a
drunkard to his bottle. First Perion killed Ruggiero of the Lamberti
and after that Perion raged as a wolf harrying sheep. Six other
stalwart men he cut down, like a dumb maniac among tapestries. His
horse was slain and lay blocking the road, making a barrier behind
which Perion fought. Then Perion encountered Giacomo di Forio, and
while the two contended Gulio the Red very warily cast his sword like a
spear so that it penetrated Perion's left shoulder and drew much blood.
This hampered the lone champion. Marzio threw a stone which struck on
Perion's crest and broke the fastenings of Perion's helmet. Instantly
Giacomo gave him three wounds, and Perion stumbled, the sunlight
glossing his hair. He fell and they took him. They robbed the corpses
of their surcoats, which they tore in strips. They made ropes of this
bloodied finery, and with these ropes they bound Perion of the Forest,
whom twenty men had conquered at last.
He laughed feebly, like a person bedrugged; but in the midst of
this superfluous defiance Perion swooned because of his many injuries.
He knew that with fair luck Demetrios had a sufficient start. The
heart of Perion exulted, thinking that Melicent was saved.
It was happier for him he was not ever destined to comprehend the
standards of Demetrios.
16. How Demetrios Meditated
DEMETRIOS CAME without any hindrance into Narenta, a free city. He
believed his Emperor must have sent galleys toward Christendom to get
tidings of his generalissimo, but in this city of merchants Demetrios
heard no report of them. Yet in the harbour he found a trading-ship
prepared for traffic in the country of the pagans; the sail was naked
to the wind, the anchor-chain was already shortened at the bow.
Demetrios bargained with the captain of this vessel, and in the
outcome paid him four hundred sequins. In exchanged the man agreed to
touch at the Needle of Ansignano that afternoon and take Demetrios
aboard. Since the proconsul had no passport, he could not with safety
endeavour to elude those officers of the Tribunal who must endorse the
ship's passage at Piaja.
Thus about sunset Demetrios waited the ship's coming, alone upon
the Needle. This promontory is like a Titan's finger of black rock
thrust out into the water. The day was perishing, and the querulous
sea before Demetrios was an unresting welter of gold and blood.
He thought of how he had won safely through a horde of dangers, and
the gross man chuckled. He considered that unquestioned rulership of
every person near Demetrios which awaited him oversea, and chiefly he
thought of Melicent whom he loved even better than he did the power to
sneer at everything the world contained. And the proconsul chuckled.
He said, aloud:
"I owe very much to Messire de la Forêt. I owe far more than I can
estimate. For, by this, those lackeys will have slain Messire de la
Fort or else they will have taken Messire de la Forêt to King
Theodoret, who will piously make an end of this handsome idiot. Either
way, I shall enjoy tranquillity and shall possess my Melicent until I
die. Decidedly, I owe a deal to this self-satisfied tall fool."
Thus he contended with his irritation. It may be that the man was
never sane; it is certain that the mainspring of his least action was
an inordinate pride. Now hatred quickened, spreading from a flicker of
distaste; and his faculties were stupefied, as though he faced a
girdling conflagration. It was not possible to hate adequately this
Perion who had struck Demetrios of Anatolia and perhaps was not yet
dead; nor could Demetrios think of any sufficing requital for this
Perion who dared to be so tall and handsome and young-looking when
Demetrios was none of these things, for this Perion whom Melicent had
loved and loved to-day. And Demetrios of Anatolia had fought with a
charmed sword against a person such as this, safe as an angler matched
against a minnow; Demetrios of Anatolia, now at the last, accepted alms
from what had been until to-day a pernicious gnat. Demetrios was
physically shaken by disgust at the situation, and in the sunset's
glare his swarthy countenance showed like that of Belial among the
"The life of Melicent hangs on my safe return to Nacumera. . . .
Ey, what is that to me!" the proconsul cried aloud. "The thought of
Melicent is sweeter than the thought of any god. It is not sweet
enough to bribe me into living as this Perion's debtor."
So when the ship touched at the Needle, a half-hour later, that
spur of rock was vacant. Demetrios had untethered his horse, had
thrown away his sword and other armour, and had torn his garments;
afterward he rolled in the first puddle he discovered. Thus he set out
afoot, in grimy rags—for no one marks a beggar upon the highway—and
thus he came again into the realm of King Theodoret, where certainly
nobody looked for Demetrios to come unarmed.
With the advantage of a quiet advent, as was quickly proven, he
found no check for a notorious leave-taking.
17. How a Minstrel Came
DEMETRIOS CAME to Megaris where Perion lay fettered in the Castle
of San' Alessandro, then a new building. Perion's trial, condemnation,
and so on, had consumed the better part of an hour, on account of the
drunkenness of one of the Inquisitors, who had vexatiously impeded
these formalities by singing love-songs; but in the end it had been
salutarily arranged that the Comte de la Forêt be torn apart by four
horses upon the St. Richard's day ensuing.
Demetrios, having gleaned this knowledge in a pothouse, purchased a
stout file, a scarlet cap and a lute. Ambrogio Bracciolini,
head-gaoler at the fortress—so the gossips told Demetrios—had been a
jongleur in youth, and minstrels were always welcome guests at San'
The gaoler was a very fat man with icy little eyes. Demetrios took
his measure to a hair's breadth as this Bracciolini straddled in the
Demetrios had assumed an admirable air of simplicity.
"God give you joy, messire," he said, with a simpler; "I come
bringing a precious balsam which cures all sorts of ills, and heals the
troubles both of body and mind. For what is better than to have a
pleasant companion to sing and tell merry tales, songs and facetious
"You appear to be something of a fool," Bracciolini considered,
"but all do not sleep who snore. Come, tell me what are your
"I can play the lute, the violin, the flageolet, the harp, the
syrinx and the regals," the other replied; "also the Spanish penola
that is struck with a quill, the organistdrum that a wheel turns round,
the wait so delightful, the rebeck so enchanting, the little gigue that
chirps up on high, and the great horn that booms like thunder."
"That is something. But can you throw knives into the air and
catch them without cutting your fingers? Can you balance chairs and do
tricks with string? or imitate the cries of birds? or throw a
somersault and walk on your head? Ha, I thought not. The Gay Science
is dying out, and young practitioners neglect these subtle points. It
was not so in my day. However, you may come in."
So when night fell Demetrios and Bracciolini sat snug and sang of
love, of joy, and arms. The fire burned bright, and the floor was well
covered with gaily tinted mats. White wines and red were on the table.
Presently they turned to canzons of a more indecorous nature.
Demetrios sang the loves of Douzi and Ishtar, which the gaoler found
remarkable. He said so and crossed himself. "Man, man, you must have
been afishing in the mid-pit of hell to net such filth."
"I learned that song in Nacumera," said Demetrios, "when I was a
prisoner there with Messire de la Forêt. It was a favourite song with
"Ay?" said Bracciolini. He looked at Demetrios very hard, and
Bracciolini pursed his lips as if to whistle. The gaoler scented from
afar a bribe, but the face of Demetrios was all vacant cheerfulness.
Bracciolini said, idly:
"So you served under him? I remember that he was taken by the
heathen. A woman ransomed him, they say."
Demetrios, able to tell a tale against any man, told now the tale
of Melicent's immolation, speaking with vivacity and truthfulness in
all points save that he represented himself to have been one of the
ransomed Free Companions.
Bracciolini's careful epilogue was that the proconsul had acted
foolishly in not keeping the emeralds.
"He gave his enemy a weapon against him," Bracciolini said, and
"Oh, but that weapon was never used. Sire Perion found service at
once under King Bernart, you will remember. Therefore Sire Perion hid
away these emeralds against future need—under an oak in Sannazaro, he
told me. I suppose they lie there yet."
"Humph!" said Bracciolini. He for a while was silent. Demetrios
sat adjusting the strings of the lute, not looking at him.
Bracciolini said, "There were eighteen of them, you tell me? and
all fine stones?"
"Ey?—oh, the emeralds? Yes, they were flawless, messier. The
smallest was larger than a robin's egg. But I recall another song we
learned at Nacumera——"
Demetrios sang the loves of Lucius and Fotis. Bracciolini grunted,
"Admirable" in an abstracted fashion, muttered something about the
duties of his office, and left the room. Demetrios heard him lock the
door outside and waited stolidly.
Presently Bracciolini returned in full armour, a naked sword in his
"My man,"—and his voice rasped—"I believe you to be a rogue. I
believe that you are contriving the escape of this infamous Comte de la
Forêt. I believe you are attempting to bribe me into conniving at his
escape. I shall do nothing of the sort, because, in the first place,
it would be an abominable violation of my oath of office, and in the
second place, it would result in my being hanged."
"Messire, I swear to you——!" Demetrios cried, in excellently
"And in addition, I believe you have lied to me throughout. I do
not believe you ever saw this Comte de la Forêt. I very certainly do
not believe you are a friend of this Comte de la Forêt's, because in
that event you would never have been made enough to admit it. The
statement is enough to hang you twice over. In short, the only thing I
can be certain of is that you are out of your wits."
"They say that I am moonstruck," Demetrios answered; "but I will
tell you a secret. There is a wisdom lies beyond the moon, and it is
because of this that the stars are glad and admirable."
"That appears to me to be nonsense," the gaoler commented; and he
went on: "Now I am going to confront you with Messire de la Forêt. If
your story prove to be false, it will be the worse for you."
"It is a true tale. But sensible men close the door to him who
always speaks the truth."
"These reflections are not to the purpose," Bracciolini submitted,
and continued his argument: "In that event Messire de la Forêt will
undoubtedly be moved by your fidelity in having sought out him whom all
the rest of the world has forsaken. You will remember that this same
fidelity has touched me to such an extent that I am granting you an
interview with your former master. Messire de la Forêt will naturally
reflect that a man once torn in four pieces has no particular use for
emeralds. He will, I repeat, be moved. In his emotion, in his
gratitude, in mere decency, he will reveal to you the location of those
eighteen stones, all flawless. If he should not evince a sufficiency
of such appropriate and laudable feeling, I tell you candidly, it will
be the worse for you. And now get on!"
Bracciolini pointed the way and Demetrios cringed through the door.
Bracciolini followed with drawn sword. The corridors were deserted.
The head-gaoler had seen to that.
His position was simple. Armed, he was certainly not afraid of any
combination between a weaponless man and a fettered one. If this
jongleur had lied, Bracciolini meant to kill him for his insolence.
Bracciolini's own haphazard youth had taught him that a jongleur had
no civil rights, was a creature to be beaten, robbed, or stabbed with
Upon the other hand, if the vagabond's tale were true, one of two
things would happen. Either Perion would not be brought to tell where
the emeralds were hidden, in which even Bracciolini would kill the
jongleur for his bungling; or else the prisoner would tell everything
necessary, in which event Bracciolini would kill the jongleur for
knowing more than was convenient. This Bracciolini had an honest
respect for gems and considered them to be equally misplaced when under
an oak or in a vagabond's wallet.
Consideration of such avarice may well have heartened Demetrios
when the well-armoured gaoler knelt in order to unlock the door of
Perion's cell. As an asp leaps, the big and supple hands of the
proconsul gripped Bracciolini's neck from behind, and silenced speech.
Demetrios, who was not tall, lifted the gaoler as high as possible,
lest the beating of armoured feet upon the slabs disturb any of the
other keepers, and Demetrios strangled his dupe painstakingly. The
keys, as Demetrios reflected, were luckily attached to the belt of this
writhing thing, and in consequence had not jangled on the floor. It
was an inaudible affair and consumed in all some ten minutes. Then
with the sword of Bracciolini Demetrios cut Bracciolini's throat. In
such matters Demetrios was thorough.
18. How They Cried Quits
DEMETRIOS WENT into Perion's cell and filed away the chains of
Perion of the Forest. Demetrios thrust the gaoler's corpse under the
bed, and washed away all stains before the door of the cell, so that no
awkward traces might remain. Demetrios locked the door of an
unoccupied apartment and grinned as Old Legion must have done when
More thanks to Bracciolini's precautions, these two got safely from
the confines of San' Alessandro, and afterward from the city of
Megaris. They trudged on a familiar road. Perion would have spoken,
but Demetrios growled, "Not now, messire." They came by night to that
pass in Sannazaro which Perion had held against a score of men-at-arms.
Demetrios turned. Moonlight illuminated the warriors' faces and
showed the face of Demetrios as sly and leering. It was less the
countenance of a proud lord than a carved head on some old waterspout.
"Messire de la Forêt," Demetrios said, "now we cry quits. Here our
ways part till one of us has killed the other, as one of us must surely
You saw that Perion was tremulous with fury. "You knave," he said,
"because of your pride you have imperiled your accursed life—your life
on which the life of Melicent depends! You must need delay and rescue
me, while your spawn inflicted hideous infamies on Melicent! Oh, I had
never hated you until to-night!"
Demetrios was pleased.
"Behold the increment," he said, "of the turned cheek and of the
contriving of good for him that had despitefully used me! Be
satisfied, O young and zealous servitor of Love and Christ. I am
alone, unarmed and penniless, among a people whom I have never been at
pains even to despise. Presently I shall be taken by this vermin, and
afterward I shall be burned alive. Theodoret is quite resolved to make
of me a candle which will light his way to heaven."
"That is true," said Perion; "and I cannot permit that you be
killed by anyone save me, as soon as I can afford to kill you."
The two men talked together, leagued against entire Christendom.
Demetrios had thirty sequins and Perion no money at all. Then Perion
showed the ring which Melicent had given him, as a love-token, long
ago, when she was young and ignorant of misery. He valued it as he did
"Oh, very dear to me is this dear ring which once touched a finger
of that dear young Melicent whom you know nothing of! Its gold is my
lost youth, the gems of it are the tears she has shed because of me.
Kiss it, Messire Demetrios, as I do now for the last time. It is a
favour you have earned."
Then these two went as mendicants—for no one marks a beggar upon
the highway—into Narenta, and they sold this ring, in order that
Demetrios might be conveyed oversea, and that the life of Melicent
might be preserved. They found another vessel which was about to
venture into heathendom. Their gold was given to the captain; and, in
exchange, the bargain ran, his ship would touch at Assignano, a little
after the ensuing dawn, and take Demetrios aboard.
Thus the two lovers of Melicent foreplanned the future, and did not
admit into their accounting vagarious Dame Chance.
19. How Flamberge Was Lost
THESE HUNTED MEN spent the following night upon the Needle, since
there it was not possible for an adversary to surprise them. Perion's
was the earlier watch, until midnight, and during this time Demetrios
slept. Then the proconsul took his equitable turn. When Perion
awakened the hour was after dawn.
What Perion noted first, and within thirty feet of him, was a tall
galley with blue and yellow sails. He perceived that the promontory
was thronged with heathen sailors, who were unlading the ship of
various bales and chests. Demetrios, now in the costume of his native
country, stood among them giving orders. And it seemed, too, to
Perion, in the moment of waking, that Dame Mélusine, whom Perion had
loved so long ago, also stood among them; yet, now that Perion rose and
faced Demetrios, she was not visible anywhere, and Perion wondered
dimly over his wild dream that she had been there at all. But more
importunate matters were in hand.
The proconsul grinned malevolently.
"This is a ship that once was mine," he said. "Do you not find it
droll that Euthyclos here should have loved me sufficiently to hazard
his life in order to come in search of me? Personally, I consider it
preposterous. For the rest, you slept so soundly, Messire de la Forêt,
that I was unwilling to waken you. Then, too, such was the advice of a
person who has some influence with the water-folk, people say, and who
was perhaps the means of bringing this ship hither so opportunely. I
do not know. She is gone now, you see, intent as always on her own
ends. Well, well! her ways are not our ways, and it is wiser not to
meddle with them."
But Perion, unarmed and thus surrounded, understood only that he
"Messire Demetrios," said Perion, "I never thought to ask a favour
of you. I ask it now. For the ring's sake, give me at least a knife,
Messire Demetrios. Let me die fighting."
"Why, but who spoke of fighting? For the ring's sake, I have
caused the ship to be rifled of what valuables they had aboard. It is
not much, but it is all I have. And you are to accept my apologies for
the somewhat miscellaneous nature of the cargo, Messire de la
Forêt—consisting, as it does, of armours and gems, camphor and
ambergris, carpets of raw silk, teakwood and precious metals, rugs of
Yemen leather, enamels, and I hardly know what else besides. For
Euthyclos, as you will readily understand, was compelled to masquerade
as a merchant-trader."
Perion shook his head, and declared:
"You offer enough to make me a wealthy man. But I would prefer a
At that Demetrios grimaced, saying, "I had hoped to get off more
cheaply." He unbuckled the cross-handled sword which he now wore and
handed it to Perion. "This is Flamberge," Demetrios continued—"that
magic blade which Galas made, in the old time's heyday, for
Charlemagne. It was with this sword that I slew my father, and this
sword is as dear to me as your ring was to you. The man who wields it
is reputed to be unconquerable. I do not know about that, but in any
event I yield Flamberge to you as a free gift. I might have known it
was the only gift you would accept." His swart face lighted. "Come
presently and fight with me for Melicent. Perhaps it will amuse me to
ride out to battle and know I shall not live to see the sunset.
Already it seems laughable that you will probably kill me with this
very sword which I am touching now."
The champions faced each other, Demetrios in a half-wistful mirth,
and Perion in a half-grudging pity. Long and long they looked.
Demetrios shrugged. Demetrios said:
"For such as I am, to love is dangerous. For such as I am, nor
fire nor meteor hurls a mightier bolt than Aphrodite's shaft, or marks
its passage by more direful ruin. But you do not know Euripides?—a
fidgety-footed liar, Messire the Comte, who occasionally blunders into
the clumsiest truths. Yes, he is perfectly right; all things this
goddess laughingly demolishes while she essays haphazard flights about
the world as unforeseeably as travels a bee. And, like the bee, she
wilfully dispenses honey, and at other times a wound."
Said Perion, who was no scholar:
"I glory in our difference. For such as I am, love is sufficient
proof that man was fashioned in God's image."
"Ey, there is no accounting for taste in aphorisms," Demetrios
replied. He said, "Now I embark." Yet he delayed, and spoke with
unaccustomed awkwardness. "Come, you who have been generous till this!
will you compel me to desert you here—quite penniless?"
"I may accept a sword from you. I do accept it gladly. But I may
not accept anything else."
"That would have been my answer. I am a lucky man," Demetrios
said, "to have provoked an enemy so worthy of my opposition. We two
have fought an honest and notable duel, wherein our weapons were not
made of steel. I pray you harry me as quickly as you may; and then we
will fight with swords till I am rid of you or you of me."
"Assuredly, I shall not fail you," answered Perion.
These two embraced and kissed each other. Afterward Demetrios went
into his own country, and Perion remained, girt with the magic sword
Flamberge. It was not all at once Perion recollected that the wearer
of Flamberge is unconquerable, if ancient histories are to be believed,
for in deduction Perion was leisurely.
Now on a sudden he perceived that Demetrios had flung control of
the future to Perion, as one give money to a sot, entirely prescient of
how it will be used. Perion had his moment of bleak rage.
"I will not cog the dice to my advantage any more than you!" said
Perion. He drew the sword of Charlemagne and brandished it and cast it
as far as even strong Perion could cast, and the sea swallowed it.
"Now God alone is arbiter!" cried Perion, "and I am not afraid."
He stood a pauper and a friendless man. Beside his thigh hung a
sorcerer's scabbard of blue leather, curiously ornamented, but it was
emptied of power. Yet Perion laughed exultingly, because he was elate
with dreams of the future. And for the rest, he was aware it is less
grateful to remember plaudits than to recall the exercise of that in us
which is not merely human.
20. How Perion Got Aid
THEN PERION turned from the Needle of Assignano, and went westward
into the Forest of Columbiers. He had no plan. He wandered in the
high woods that had never yet been felled or ordered, as a beast does
in watchful care of hunters.
He came presently to a glade which the sunlight flooded without
obstruction. There was in this place a fountain, which oozed from
under an iron-coloured boulder incrusted with grey lichens and green
moss. Upon the rock a woman sat, her chin propped by one hand, and she
appeared to consider remote and pleasant happenings. She was clothed
throughout in white, with metal bands about her neck and arms; and her
loosened hair, which was coloured like straw, and was as pale as the
hair of children, glittered about her, and shone frostily where it lay
outspread upon the rock behind her.
She turned toward Perion without any haste or surprise, and Perion
saw that this woman was Dame Mélusine, whom he had loved to his own
hurt (as you have heard) when Perion served King Helmas. She did not
speak for a long while, but she lazily considered Perion's honest face
in a sort of whimsical regret for the adoration she no longer found
"Then it was really you," he said, in wonder, "whom I saw talking
with Demetrios when I awakened to-day."
"You may be sure," she answered, "that my talking was in no way
injurious to you. Ah, no, had I been elsewhere, Perion, I think you
would by this have been in Paradise." Then Mélusine fell again to
meditation. "And so you do not any longer either love or hate me,
Perion?" Here was an odd echo of the complaint Demetrios had made.
"That I once loved you is a truth which neither of us, I think, may
ever quite forget," said Perion, very quiet. "I alone know how utterly
I loved you—no, it was not I who loved you, but a boy that is dead
now. King's daughter, all of stone, O cruel woman and hateful, O
sleek, smiling traitress! to-day no man remembers how utterly I loved
you, for the years are as a mist between the heart of the dead boy and
me, so that I may not longer see the boy's heart clearly. Yes, I have
forgotten much. . . . Yet even to-day there is that in me which is
faithful to you, and I cannot give you the hatred which your treachery
Mélusine spoke shrewdly. She had a sweet, shrill voice.
"But I loved you, Perion—oh, yes, in part I loved you, just as one
cannot help but love a large and faithful mastiff. But you were
tedious, you annoyed me by your egotism. Yes, my friend, you think too
much of what you owe to Perion's honour; you are perpetually squaring
accounts with heaven, and you are too intent on keeping the balance in
your favour to make a satisfactory lover." You saw that Mélusine was
smiling in the shadow of her pale hair. "And yet you are very droll
when you are unhappy," she stated ambiguously.
"I am, as heaven made me, a being of mingled nature. So I remember
without distaste old happenings which now seem scarcely credible. I
cannot quite believe that it was you and I who were so happy when youth
was common to us. . . . O Mélusine, I have almost forgotten that if
the world were searched between the sunrise and the sunsetting the
Mélusine I loved would not be found. I only know that a woman has
usurped the voice of Mélusine, and that this woman's eyes also are
blue, and that this woman smiles as Mélusine was used to smile when I
was young. I walk with ghosts, ing's daughter, and I am none the
"Ay, Perion," she wisely answered, "for the spring is at hand,
intent upon an ageless magic. I am no less comely than I was, and my
heart, I think, is tenderer. You are yet young, and you are very
beautiful, my brave mastiff. . . . And neither of us is moved at all!
For us the spring is only a dotard sorcerer who has forgotten the
spells of yesterday. I think that it is pitiable, although I would not
have it otherwise." She waited, fairy-like and wanton, seeming to
premeditate a delicate mischief.
He declared, sighing, "No, I would not have it otherwise."
Then presently Mélusine arose. She said:
"You are a hunted man, unarmed—oh, yes, I know. Demetrios talked
freely, because the son of Miramon Lluagor has good and ancient reasons
to trust me. Besides, it was not for nothing that Pressina was my
mother, and I know many things, pilfering light from the past to shed
it upon the future. Come now with me to Brunbelois. I am too deeply
in your debt, my Perion. For the sake of that boy who is dead—as you
tell me—you may honourably accept of me a horse, arms, and a purse,
because I loved that boy after my fashion."
"I take your bounty gladly," he replied; and he added
conscientiously: "I consider that I am not at liberty to refuse of
anybody any honest means of serving my lady Melicent."
Mélusine parted her lips as if about to speak, and then seemed to
think better of it. It is probable she was already informed concerning
Melicent; she certainly asked no questions. Mélusine only shrugged,
and laughed afterward, and the man and the woman turned toward
Brunbelois. At times a shaft of sunlight would fall on her pale hair
and convert it into silver, as these two went through the high woods
that had never yet been felled or ordered.
PART FOUR. AHASUERUS
Of how a knave hath late compassion
On Melicent's forlorn condition;
For which he saith as ye shall after hear:
"Dame, since that game we play costeth too dear,
My truth I plight, I shall you no more grieve
By my behest, and here I take my leave
As of the fairest, truest and best wife
That ever yet I knew in all my life."
21. How Demetrios Held His Chattel
IT IS A TALE which they narrate in Poictesme, telling how Demetrios
returned into the country of the pagans and found all matters there as
he had left them. They relate how Melicent was summoned.
And the tale tells how upon the stairway by which you descended
from the Women's Garden to the citadel—people called I the Queen's
Stairway, because it was builded by Queen Rubadeh very long ago when
the Emperor Zal held Nacumera—Demetrios waited with a naked sword.
Below were four of his soldiers, picked warriors. This stairway was
of white marble, and a sphinx carved in green porphyry guarded each
"Now that we have our audience," Demetrios said, "come, let the
One of the soldiers spoke. It was that Euthyclos who (as you have
heard) had ventured into Christendom at the hazard of his life to
rescue the proconsul. Euthyclos was a man of the West Provinces and
had followed the fortunes of Demetrios since boyhood.
"King of the Age," cried Euthyclos, "it is grim hearing that we
must fight with you. But since your will is our will, we must endure
this testing, although we find it bitter as aloes and hot as coals.
Dear lord and master, none has put food to his lips for whose sake we
would harm you willingly, and we shall weep to-night when your ghost
passes over and through us."
"Rise up and leave this idleness! It is I that will clip the ends
of my hair to-night for the love of you, my stalwart knaves. Such
weeping as is done your wounds will perform."
At that they addressed themselves to battle, and Melicent perceived
she was witnessing no child's play. The soldiers attacked in unison,
and before the onslaught Demetrios stepped lightly back. But his sword
flashed as he moved, and with a grunt Demetrios, leaning far forward,
dug deep into the throat of his foremost assailant. The sword
penetrated and caught in a link of the gold chair about the fellow's
neck, so that Demetrios was forced to wrench the weapon free, twisting
it, as the dying man stumbled backward. Prostrate, the soldier did not
cry out, but only writhed and gave a curious bubbling noise as his soul
"Come," Demetrios said, "come now, you others, and see what you can
win of me. I warn you it will be dearly purchased."
And Melicent turned away, hiding her eyes. She was obscurely
conscious that a wanton butchery went on, hearing its blows and groans
as if from a great distance, while she entreated the Virgin for
deliverance from this foul place.
Then a hand fell upon Melicent's shoulder, rousing her. It was
Demetrios. He breathed quickly, but his voice was gentle.
"It is enough," he said. "I shall not greatly need Flamberge when
I encounter that ruddy innocent who is so dear to you."
He broke off. Then he spoke again, half jeering, half wistful.
"I had hoped that you would look on and admire my cunning at
swordplay. I was anxious to seem admirable somehow in your eyes. . . .
I failed. I know very well that Ii shall always fail. I know that
Nacumera will fall, that some day in your native land people will say,
'That aged woman yonder was once the wife of Demetrios of Anatolia, who
was pre-eminent among the heathen.' Then they will tell of how I cleft
the head of an Emperor who had likened me to Priapos, and how I dragged
his successor from behind an arras where he hid from me, to set him
upon the throne I did not care to take; and they will tell how for a
while great fortune went with me, and I ruled over much land, and was
dreaded upon the wide sea, and raised the battlecry in cities that were
not my own, fearing nobody. But you will not think of these matters,
you will think only of your children's ailments, of baking and sewing
and weaving tapestries, and of directing little household tasks. And
tdhe spider will spin her web in my helmet, which will hang as a trophy
in the hall of Messire de la Forêt."
Then he walked beside her into the Women's Garden, keeping silence
for a while. He seemed to deliberate, to reach a decision. All at
once Demetrios began to tell of that magnanimous contest which he had
fought out in Theodoret's country with Perion of the Forest.
"To do the long-legged fellow simple justice," said the proconsul,
as epilogue, "there is no hardier knight alive. I shall always wonder
whether or no I would have spared him had the water-demon's daughter
not intervened in his behalf. Yes, I have had some previous dealings
with her. Perhaps the less said concerning them, the better."
Demetrios reflected for a while, rather sadly; then his swart face
cleared. "Give thanks, my wife, that Ii have found an enemy who is not
unworthy of me. He will come soon, I think, and then we will fight to
t he death. I hunger for that day."
All praise of Perion, however worded, was as wine to Melicent.
Demetrios saw as much, noted how the colour in her cheeks augmented
delicately, how her eyes grew kindlier. It was his cue. Thereafter
Demetrios very often spoke of Perion in that locked palace where no
echo of the outer world might penetrate except at the proconsul's will.
He told Melicent, in an unfeigned admiration, of Perion's courage and
activity, declaring that no other captain since the days of those
famous generals, Hannibal and Joshua, could lay claim to such
pre-eminence in general estimation; and Demetrios narrated how the Free
Companions had ridden through many kingdoms at adventure, serving many
lords with valour and always fighting applaudably. To talk of Perion
delighted Melicent: it was with such bribes that Demetrios purchased
where his riches did not avail; and Melicent no longer avoided him.
There is scope here for compassion. The man's love, if it be
possible so to call that force which mastered him, had come to be an
incessant malady. It poisoned everything, caused him to find his
statecraft tedious, his power profitless, and his vices gloomy. But
chief of all he fretted over the standards by which the lives of
Melicent and Perion were guided. Demetrios thought these criteria
comely, he had discovered them to be unshakable, and he despairingly
knew that as long as he trusted in the judgment heaven gave him they
must always appear to him supremely idiotic. To bring Melicent to his
own level or to bring himself to hers was equally impossible. There
were moment when he hated her.
Thus the months passed, and the happenings of another year were
chronicled; and as yet neither Perion nor Ayrart de Montors came to
Nacumera, and the long plain before the citadel stayed tenantless save
for the jackals crying there at night.
"I wonder that my enemies do not come," Demetrios said. "It cannot
be they have forgotten you and me. That is impossible." He frowned
and sent spies into Christendom.
22. How Misery Held Nacumera
THEN ONE DAY Demetrios came to Melicent, and he was in a surly
"Rogues all!" he grumbled. "Oh, I am wasted in this paltry age.
Where are the giants and tyrants, and stalwart single-hearted
champions of yesterday? Why, they are dead, and have become rotten
bones. I will fight no longer. I will read legends instead, for life
nowadays is no longer worthy of love or hatred."
Melicent questioned him, and he told how his spies reported that
the Cardinal de Montors could now not ever head an expedition against
Demetrios' territories. The Pope had diced suddenly in the course of
the preceding October, and it was necessary to name his successor. The
College of Cardinals had reached no decision after three days'
balloting. Then, as is notorious, Dame Mélusine, as always hand in
glove with Ayrart de Montors, held conference with the bishop who
inspected the cardinals' dinner before it was carried into the
apartments where these prelates were imprisoned together until, in
edifying seclusion from all worldly influences, they should have
prayerfully selected the next Pope.
The Cardinal of Genoa received on the fourth day a chicken stuffed
with a deed to the palaces of Monticello and Soriano; the Cardinal of
Parma a similarly dressed fowl which made him master of the bishop's
residence at Porto with its furniture and wine-cellar; while the
Cardinals Orsino, Savelli, St. Angelo and Colonna were served with food
of the same ingratiating sort. Such nourishment cured them of
indecision, and Ayrart de Montors had presently ascended the papal
throne under the title of Adrian VII, servant to the servants of God.
His days of military captaincy were over.
Demetrios deplored the loss of a formidable adversary, and jeered
at the fact that the vicarship of heaven had been settled by six hens.
But he particularly fretted over other news his spies had brought,
which was the information that Perion had wedded Dame Mélusine, and had
begotten two lusty children—Bertram and a daughter called
Blaniferte—and now enjoyed the opulence and sovereignty of Brunbelois.
Demetrios told this unwillingly. He turned away his eyes in
speaking, and doggedly affected to rearrange a cushion, so that he
might not see the face of Melicent. She noted the action and was
Demetrios said, bitterly:
"It is an old and tawdry history. He has forgotten you, Melicent,
as a wise man will always put aside the dreams of his youth. To Cynara
the Fates accord but a few years; a wanton Lyce laughs, cheats her
adorers, and outlives the crow. There is an unintended moral here——"
Demetrios said, "Yet you do not forget."
"I know nothing as to this Perion you tell me of. I only know the
Perion I loved has not forgotten," answered Melicent.
And Demetrios, evincing a twinge like that of gout, demanded her
reasons. It was a May morning, very hot and still, and Demetrios sat
with his Christian wife in the Court of Stars.
"It is not unlikely that the Perion men know to-day has forgotten
me and the service which I joyed to render Perion. Let him who would
understdand the mystery of the Crucifixion first become a lover! I
pray for old sake's sake that Perion and his lady may taste of every
prosperity. Indeed, I do not envy her. Rather I pity her, because
last night I wandered through a certain forest hand-in-hand with a
young Perion, whose excellencies she will never know as I know them in
our own woods."
Said Demetrios, "Do you console yourself with dreams?" The swart
"Now it is always twilight in these woods, and the light there is
neither green nor gold, but both colours intermingled. It is like a
friendly cloak for all who have been unhappy, even very long ago.
Iseult is there, and Thisbe, too, and many others, and they are not
severed from their lovers now. . . . Sometimes Dame Venus passes,
riding upon a panther, and low-hanging leaves clutch at her tender
flesh. Then Perion and I peep from a coppice, and are very glad and a
little frightened in the heart of our own woods."
Said Demetrios, "Do you console yourself with madness?" He showed
no sign of mirth.
"Ah, no, the Perion whom Mélusine possesses is but a man—a very
happy man, I pray of God and all His saints. I am the luckeri, who may
not ever lose the Perion that to-day is mine alone. And though I may
not ever touch this younger Perion's hands—and their palms were as
hard as leather in that dear time now overpast—or see again his honest
and courageous face, the most beautiful among all the faces of men and
women I have ever seen, I do not grieve immeasurably, for nightly we
walk hand-in-hand in our own woods."
Demetrios said, "Ay; and then night passes, and dawn comes to light
my face, which is the most hideous to you among all the faces of men
But Melicent said only:
"Seignior, although the severing daylight endures for a long while,
I must be brave and worthy of Perion's love—nay, rather, of the love
he gave me once. I may not grieve so long as no one else dares enter
into our own woods."
"Now go," cried the proconsul, when she had done, and he had noted
her soft, deep, devoted gaze at one who was not there; "now go before I
slay you!" And this new Demetrios whom she then saw was featured like
a devil in sore torment.
Wonderingly Melicent obeyed him.
Thought Melicent, who was too proud to show her anguish:
"I could have borne aught else, but this I am too cowardly to bear
without complaint. I am a very contemptible person. I ought to love
this Mélusine, who no doubt loves her husband quite as much as I love
him—how could a woman do less?—and yet I cannot love her. I can only
weep that I, robbed of all joy, and with no children to bewail me, must
travel very tediously toward death, a friendless person cursed by fate,
while this Mélusine laughs with her children. She has two children, as
Demetrios reports. I think the boy must be the more like Perion. I
think she must be very happy when she lifts that boy into her lap."
Thus Melicent; and her full-blooded husband was not much more
light-hearted. He went away from Nacumera shortly, in a shaking rage
which robbed him of his hands' control, intent to kill and pillage,
and, in time, to make all other persons share his misery.
23. How Demetrios Cried Farewell
AND THEN one day, when the proconsul had been absent some six
weeks, Ahasuerus fetched Dame Melicent into the Court of Stars.
Demetrios lay upon the divan supported by many pillows, as though he
had not ever stirred since that first day when an unfettered Melicent,
who was a princess then, exulted in her youth and comeliness.
"Stand there," he said, and did not move at all, "that I may see
And presently he smiled, though wryly. Demetrios said next:
"Of my own will I purchased misery. Yea, and death also. It is
amusing. . . . Two days ago, in a brief skirmish, a league north of
Calonak, the Frankish leader met me hand to hand. He has endeavoured
to do this for a long while. I also wished it. Nothing could be
sweeter than to feel the horse beneath me wading in his blood, I
thought. . . . Ey, well, he dismounted me at the first encounter,
though I am no weakling. I cannot understand quite how it happened.
Pious people will say some deity was offended, but, for my part, I
think my horse stumbled. It does not seem to matter now. What really
matters, more or less, is that it would appear the man broke my
backbone as one snaps a straw, since I cannot move a limb of me."
"Seignior," said Melicent, "you mean that you are dying?"
He answered, "Yes; but it is a trivial discomfort, now I see that
it grieves you a little."
She spoke his name some three times, sobbing. It was in her mind
even then how strange the happening was that she should grieve for
"O Melicent," he harshly said, "let us have done with lies! That
Frankish captain who has brought about my death is Perion de la Forêt.
He has not even faltered in the duel between us since your paltry
emeralds paid for his first armament.—Why, yes, I lied. I always
hoped the man would do as in his place I would have done. I hoped in
vain. For many long and hard-fought years this handsome maniac has
been assailing Nacumera, tirelessly. Then the water-demon's daughter,
that strange and wayward woman of Brunbelois, attempted to ensnare him.
And that too was in vain. She failed, my spies reported—even Dame
Mélusine, who had not ever failed before in such endeavours."
"But certainly the foul witch failed!" cried Melicent. A glorious
change had come into her face, and she continued, quite untruthfully,
"Nor did I ever believe that this vile woman had made Perion prove
"No, the fool's lunacy is rock, like yours. En cor gentil
domnei per mort no passa, as they sing in your native country. . .
. Ey, how indomitably I lied, what pains I took, lest you should ever
know of this! And now it does not seem to matter any more. . . . The
love this man bears for you," snarled Demetrios, "is sprung of the High
God whom we diversely worship. The love I bear you is human, since I,
too, am only human." And Demetrios chuckled. "Talk, and talk, and
talk! There is no bird in any last year's nest."
She laid her hand upon his unmoved hand, and found it cold and
swollen. She wept to see the broken tyrant, who to her at least had
been not all unkind.
He said, with a great hunger in his eyes:
"So likewise ends the duel which was fought between us two. I
would salute the victor if I could. . . . Ey, Melicent, I still
consider you and Perion are fools. We have a not intolerable world to
live in, and common-sense demands we make the most of every tidbit this
world affords. Yet you can find in it only an exercising-ground for
infatuation, and in all its contents—pleasures and pains alike—only
so many obstacles for rapt insanity to override. I do not understand
this manbia; I would I might have known it, none the less. Always I
envied you more than I loved you. Always my desire was less to win the
love of Melicent than to love Melicent as Melicent loved Perion. I was
incapable of this. Yet I have loved you. That was the reason, I
believe, I put aside my purchased toy." It seemed to puzzle him.
"Fair friend, it is the most honourable of reasons. You have done
chivalrously. In this, at least, you have done that which would be not
unworthy of Perion de la Forêt." A woman never avid for strained
subtleties, it may be that she never understood, quite, why Demetrios
"I mean to serve you now, as I had always meant to serve you some
day. Ey, yes, I think I always meant to give you back to Perion as a
free gift. Meanwhile to see, and to writhe in seeing your perfection,
has meant so much to me that daily I have delayed such a
transfiguration of myself until to-morrow." The man grimaced. "My son
Orestes, who will presently succeed me, has been summoned. I will
order that he conduct you at once into Perion's camp—yonder by
Quesiton. I think I shall not live three days."
"I would not leave you, friend, until——"
His grin was commentary and completion equally. Demetrios
"A dead dog has no teeth wherewith to serve even virtue. Oh, no,
my women hate you far too greatly. You must go straightway to this
Perion, while Demetrios of Anatolia is alive, or else not ever go."
She had no words. She wept, and less for joy of winning home to
Perion at last than for her grief that Demetrios was dying.
Woman-like, she could remember only that the man had loved her in his
fashion. And, woman-like, she could but wonder at the strength of
Then Demetrios said:
"I must depart into a doubtful exile. I have been powerful and
valiant, I have laughed loud, I have drunk deep, but heaven no longer
wishes Demetrios to exist. I am unable to support my sadness, so near
am I to my departure from all I I have loved. I cry farewell to all
diversions and sports, to well-fought battles, to furred robes of vair
and of silk, to noisy merriment, to music, to vain-gloriously coloured
gems, and to brave deeds in open sunlight; for I desire—and I entreat
of every person—only compassion and pardon.
"Chiefly Ii grieve because I must leave Melicent behind me,
unfriended in a perilous land, and abandoned, it may be, to the malice
of those who wish her ill. I was a noted warrior, I was mighty of
muscle, and I could have defended her stoutly. But I lie broken in the
hand of Destiny. It is necessary I depart into the place where
sinners, whether crowned or ragged, must seek for eternal mercy. I cry
farewell to all that I have loved, to all that I have injured; and so
in chief to you, dear Melicent, I cry farewell, and of you in chief I
crave compassion and pardon.
"O eyes and hair and lips of Melicent, that I have loved so long, I
do not hunger for you now. Yet, as a dying man, I cry to the clean
soul of Melicent—the only adversary that in all my lifetime I who was
once Demetrios could never conquer. A ravening beast was I, and as a
beast I raged to see you so unlike me. And now, a dying beast, I cry
to you, but not for love, since that is overpast. I cry for pity that
I have not earned, for pardon which I have not merited. Conquered and
impotent, I cry to you, O soul of Melicent, for compassion and pardon.
"Melicent, it may be that when I am dead, when nothing remains of
Demetrios except his tomb, you will comprehend I loved, even while I
hated, what is divine in you. Then since you are a woman, you will
lift your lover's face between your hands, as you have never lifted my
face, Melicent, and you will tell him of my folly merrily; yet since
you are a woman, you will sigh afterward, and you will not deny me
compassion and pardon."
She gave him both—she who was prodigal of charity. Orestes came,
with Ahasuerus at his heels, and Demetrios sent Melicent into the
Women's garden, so that father and son might talk together. She waited
in this place for a half-hour, just as the proconsul had commanded her,
obeying him for the last time. It was strange to think of that.
It was not gladness which Melicent knew for a brief while. Rather,
it was a strange new comprehension of the world. To Melicent the world
seemed very lonely.
Indeed, the Women's Garden on this morning lacked nothing to
delight each sense. Its hedges were of flowering jessamine; its
walkways were spread with new sawdust tinged with crocus and vermilion
and with mica beaten into a powder; and the place was rich in
fruit-bearing trees and welling waters. The sun shone, and birds
chaunted merrily to the right hand and to the left. Dog-headed apes,
sacred to the moon, were chattering in the trees. There was a statue
in this place, carved out of black stone, in the likeness of a woman,
having enamelled eyes and three rows of breasts, with the lower part of
her body confined in a sheath; and upon the glistening pedestal of this
statue chameleons sunned themselves with distended throats. Round
about Melicent were nodding armaments of roses and gillyflowers and
narcissi and amaranths, and many violets and white lilies, and other
flowers of all kinds and colours.
To Melicent the world seemed very lovely. Here was a world created
by Eternal Love that people might serve love in it not all unworthily.
Here were anguishes to be endured, and time and human frailty and
temporal hardship—all for love to mock at; a sea or two for love to
sever, a man-made law or so for love to override, a shallow wisdom for
love to deny, in exultance that these ills at most were only corporal
hindrances. This done, you have earned the right to come—come
hand-in-hand—to heaven whose liege-lord was Eternal Love.
Thus Melicent, who knew that Perion loved her.
She sat on a stone bench. She combed her golden hair, not heeding
the more coarse gray hairs which here and there were apparent nowadays.
A peacock came and watched her with bright, hard, small eyes; and he
craned his glistening neck this way and that way, as though he were
wondering at this other shining and gaily coloured creature, who seemed
She did not dare to think of seeing Perion again. Instead, she
made because of him a little song, which had not any words, so that it
is not possible here to retail this song.
Thus Melicent, who knew that Perion loved her.
24. How Orestes Ruled
MELICENT RETURNED into the Court of Stars; and as she entered,
Orestes lifted one of the red cushions from Demetrios' face. The eyes
of Ahasuerus, who stood by negligently, were as expressionless as tdhe
eyes of a snake.
"The great proconsul laid an inconvenient mandate upon me," said
Orestes. "The great proconsul has been removed from us in order that
his splendour may enhance the glories of Elysium."
She saw that the young man had smothered his own father in the
flesh as Demetrios lay helpless; and knew thereby that Orestes was
indeed the son of Demetrios.
"Go," this Orestes said thereafter; "go, and remember I am master
Said Melicent, "And by which door?" A little hope there was as
But he, as half in shame, had pointed to the entrance of the
Women's Garden. "I have no enmity against you, outlander. Yet my
mother desires to talk with you. Also there is some bargaining to be
completed with Ahasuerus here."
Then Melicent knew what had prompted the proconsul's murder. It
seemed unfair Callistion should hated her with such bitterness; yet
Melicent remembered certain thoughts concerning Dame Mélusine, and did
not wonder at Callistion's mania half so much as did Callistion's son.
I must endire discomfort and, it may be, torture for a little
longer," said Melicent, and laughed whole-heartedly. "Oh, but to-day I
find a cure for every ill," said Melicent; and thereupon she left
Orestes as a princess should.
But first she knelt by that which yesterday had been her master.
"I have no word of praise or blame to give you in farewell. You
were not admirable, Demetrios. But you depart on a fearful journey,
and in my heart there is just memory of the long years wherein
according to your fashion you were kind to me. A bargain is a bargain.
I sold with open eyes that which you purchased. I may not reproach
Then Melicent lifted the dead face between her hands, as mothers
caress their boys in questioning them.
"I would I had done this when you were living," said Melicent,
"because I understand now that you loved me in your fashion. And I
pray that you may know I am the happiest woman in the world, because I
think this knowledge would now gladden you. I go to slavery,
Demetrios, where I was queen, I go to hardship, and it may be that I go
to death. But I have learned this assuredly—that love endures, that
the strong knot which unites my heart and Perion's heart can never be
untied. Oh, living is a higher thing than you or I had dreamed! And I
have in my heart just pity, poor Demetrios, for you who never found the
love of which I must endeavour to be worthy. A curse was I to you
unwillingly, as you—I now believe—have been to me against your will.
So at the last I turn anew to bargaining, and cry—in your deaf ears—
Pardon for pardon, O Demetrios!"
Then Melicent kissed pitiable lips which would not ever sneer
again, and, rising, passed into the Women's Garden, proudly and
Ahasuerus shrugged so patiently that she was half afraid. Then, as
a cloud passes, she saw that all further buffetings would of necessity
be trivial. For Perion, as she new knew, was very near to her—single
of purpose, clean of hands, and filled with such a love as thrilled her
with delicious fears of her own poor unworthiness.
25. How Women Talked Together
DAME MELICENT walked proudly through the Women's Garden, and
presently entered a grove of orange trees, the most of which were at
this season about their flowering. In this place was an artificial
pool by which the trees were nourished. On its embankment sprawled the
body of young Diophantus, a child of some ten years of age, Demetrios'
son by Tryphera. Orestes had strangled Diophantus in order that there
might be no rival to Orestes' claims. The lad lay on his back, and his
left arm hung elbow-deep in the water, which swayed it gently.
Callistion sat beside the corpse and stroked the limp right hand.
He had hated the boy throughout his brief and merry life. She thought
now of his likeness to Demetrios.
She raised toward Melicent the dilated eyes of one who has just
come from a dark place. Callistion said:
"And so Demetrios is dead. I thought I would be glad when I said
that. Hah, it is strange I am not glad."
She rose, as though with hard effort, as a decrepit person might
have done. You saw that she was dressed in a long gown of black,
pleated to the knees, having no clasp or girdle, and bare of any
ornamentation except a gold star on each breast.
"Now, through my son, I reign in Nacumera. There is no person who
dares disobey me. Therefore, come close to me that I may see the
beauty which besotted this Demetrios, whom, I think now, I must have
"Oh, gaze your fill," said Melicent, "and know that had you
possessed a tithe of my beauty you might have held the heart of
Demetrios." For it was in Melicent's mind to provoke the woman into
killing her before worse befell.
But Callistion only studied the proud face for a long while, and
knew there was no lovelier person between two seas. For time here had
pillaged very sparingly; and if Dame Melicent had not any longer the
first beauty of her girlhood, Callistion had nowhere seen a woman more
handsome than this hated Frankish thief.
"No, I was not ever so beautiful as you. Yet this Demetrios loved
me when I, too, was lovely. You never saw the man in battle. I saw
him, single-handed, fight with Abradas and three other knaves who stole
me from my mother's home—oh, very long ago! He killed all four of
them. He was like a horrible unconquerable god when he turned from
that finished fight to me. He kissed me then—blood-smeared, just as
he was. . . . I like to think of how he laughed and of how strong her
The woman turned and crouched by the dead boy, and seemed
painstakingly to appraise her own reflection on the water's surface.
"It is gone now, the comeliness Demetrios was pleased to like. I
would have waded Acheron—singing—rather han let his little finger
ache. He knew as much. Only it seemed a trifle, because yoiur eyes
were bright and yoiur fair skin was unwrinkled. In consequence the man
is dead. Oh, Melicent, I wonder why I am so sad!"
Callistion's meditative eyes were dry, but those of Melicent were
not. And Melicent came to the Dacian woman, and put one arm about her
in that dim, sweet-scented place, saying, "I never meant to wrong you."
Callistion did not seem to heed. Then Callistion said:
"See now! Do you not see the difference between us!" These two
were kneeling side by side, and each looked into the water.
"I do not wonder that Demetrios loved you. He loved at odd times
many women. He loved the mother of this carrion here. But afterward
he woulod come back to me, and lie asprawl at my feet with his big
crafty head between my knees; and I would stroke his hair, and we would
talk of the old days when we were young. He never spoke of you. I
cannot pardon that."
"I know," said Melicent. Their cheeks touched now.
"There is only one master who could teach you that drear
"There is but one, Callistion."
"The man would be tall, I think. He would, I know, have thick,
brown, curling hair——"
"He has black hair, Callistion. It glistens like a raven's wing."
"His face would be all pink and white, like yours——"
"No, tanned like yours, Callistion. Oh, he is like an eagle, very
resolute. His glance bedwarfs you. I used to be afraid to look at
him, even when I saw how foolishly he loved me——"
"I know," Callistion said. "All women know. Ah, we know many
She reached with her free arm across the body of Diophantus and
presently dropped a stone into the pool. She said:
"See how the water ripples. There is now not any reflection of my
poor face or of your beauty. All is as wavering as a man's heart. . .
. And now your beauty is regathering like coloured mists. Yet I have
"Oh, and the will to use them!" said Dame Melicent.
"For this bright thieving beauty is not any longer yours. It is
mine now, to do with as I may elect—as yesterday it was the plaything
of Demetrios. . . . Why, no! I think I shall not kill you. I have at
hand three very cunning Cheylas—the men who carve and reshape children
into such droll monsters. They cannot change your eyes, they tell me.
That is a pity, but I can have one plucked out. Then I shall watch my
Cheylas as they widen your mouth from ear to ear, take out the
cartilage from your nose, wither your hair till it will always be like
rotted hay, and turn your skin—which is like velvet now—the colour of
baked mud. They will as deftly strip you of that beauty which has
robbed me as I pluck up this blade of grass. . . . Oh, they will make
you the most hideous of living things, they assure me. Otherwise, as
they agree, I shall kill them. This done, you may go freely to your
lover. I fear, though, lest you may not love him as I loved Demetrios.
And Melicent said nothing.
"For all we women know, my sister, our appointed curse. To love
the man, and to know the man loves just the lips and eyes Youth lends
to us—oho, for such a little while! Yes, it is cruel. And therefore
we are cruel—always in thought and, when occasion offers, in the
And Melicent said nothing. For of that mutual love she shared with
Perion, so high and splendid that it made of grief a music, and wrung a
new sustainment out of every cross, as men get cordials of bitter
herbs, she knew there was no comprehension here.
26. How Men Ordered Matters
ORESTES CAME into the garden with Ahasuerus and nine other
attendants. The master of Nacumera did not speak a syllable while his
retainers seized Callistion, gagged her, and tied her hands with cords.
They silently removed her. One among them bore on his shoulders the
slim corpse of Diophantus, which was interred the same afternoon (with
every appropriate ceremony) in company with that of his father.
Orestes had the nicest sense of etiquette.
This series of swift deeds was performed with such a glib
precipitancy that it was as though the action had been rehearsed a
score of times. The garden was all drowsy peace now that Orestes
spread his palms in a gesture of deprecation. A little distance from
him, Ahasuerus with his forefinger drew upon the water's surface
designs which appeared to amuse the Jew.
"She would have killed you, Melicent," Orestes said, "though all
Olympos had marshalled an interdiction. That would have been
irreligious. Moreover, by Hercules! I have not time to choose sides
between snarling women. He who hunts with cats will catch mice. I aim
more highly. And besides, by an incredible forced march, this Comte de
la Forêt and all his Free Companions are battering at the gates of
Hope blazed. "You know that were I harmed he would spare no one.
Your troops are all at Calonak. Oh, God is very good!" said Melicent.
"I do not asperse the deities of any nation. It is unlucky. None
the less, your desires outpace your reason. Grant that I had not more
than fifty men to defend the garrison, yet Nacumera is impregnable
except by starvation. We can sit snug a month. Meanwhile our main
force is at Calonak, undoubtedly. Yet my infatuated father had already
recalled these troops, in order that they might escort you into Messire
de la Forêt's camp. Now I shall use these knaves quite otherwise.
They will arrive within two days, and to the rear of Messire de la
Forêt, who is encamped before an impregnable fortress. To the front
unscalable walls, and behind him, at a moderate computation, three
swords to his one. All this in a valley from which Dædalos might
possibly escape, but certainly no other man. I count this Perion of
the Forest as already dead."
It was a lumbering Orestes who proclaimed each step in his
enchained deductions by the descent of a blunt forefinger upon the palm
of his left hand. Demetrios had left a son but not an heir.
Yet the chain held. Melicent tested every link and found each
obdurate. She foresaw it all. Perion would be surrounded and
overpowered. "And these troops come from Calonak because of me!"
"Things fall about with an odd patness, as you say. It should
teach you not to talk about divinities lightly. Also, by this Jew's
advice, I mean to further the gods' indisputable work. You will appear
upon the walls of Nacumera at dawn to-morrow, in such a garb as you
wore in your native country when the Comte de la Forêt first saw you.
Ahasuerus estimates this Perion will not readily leave pursuit of you
in that event, whatever his lieutenants urge, for you are very
Melicent cried aloud, "A bitter curse this beauty has been to me,
and to all men who have desired it."
"But I do not desire it," said Orestes. "Else I would not have
sold it to Ahasuerus. I desire only the governorship of some province
on the frontier where I may fight daily with stalwart adversaries, and
ride past the homes of conquered persons who hate me. Ahasuerus here
assures me that the Emperor will not deny me such employment when I
bring him the head of Messire de la Forêt. The raids of Messire de la
Forêt have irreligiously annoyed our Emperor for a long while."
She muttered, "Thou that once word a woman's body——!"
"——And I take Ahasuerus to be shrewd in all respects save one.
For he desires trivialities. A wise man knows that women are the
sauce and not the meat of life; Ahasuerus, therefore, is not wise. And
in consequence I do not lack a handsome bribe for the Bathyllos whom
our good Emperor—misguided man!—is weak enough to love; my mother
goes in chains; and I shall get my province."
Here Orestes laughed. And then the master of Nacumera left Dame
Melicent alone with Ahasuerus.
27. How Ahasuerus Was Candid
WHEN ORESTES had gone, the Jew remained unmoved. He continued to
dabble his finger-tips in the water as one who meditates. Presently he
dried them on either sleeve so that he seemed to embrace himself.
Said he, "What instruments we use at need!"
She said, "So you have purchased me, Ahasuerus?"
"Yes, for a hundred and two minæ. That is a great sum. You are
not as the run of women, though. I think you are worth it."
She did not speak. The sun shone, and birds chaunted merrily to
the right hand and to the left. She was considering the beauty of
these gardens which seemed to sleep under a dome of hard, polished
blue—the beauty of this cloistered Nacumera, wherein so many infamies
writhed and contended like a nest of little serpents.
"Do you remember, Melicent, that night at Fomor Beach when you
snatched a lantern from my hand? Your hand touched my hand, Melicent."
She answered, "I remember."
"I first of all saw that it was a woman who was aiding Perion to
escape. I considered Perion a lucky man, for I had seen the woman's
She remained silent.
"I thought of this woman very often. I thought of her even more
frequently after I had talked with her at Bellegarde, telling of
Perion's captivity. . . . Melicent," the Jew said, "I make no songs,
no protestations, no phrases. My deeds must speak for me. Concede
that I have laboured tirelessly." He paused, his gaze lifted, and his
lips smiled. His eyes stayed mirthless. "This mad Callistion's hate
of you, and of the Demetrios who had abandoned her, was my first
stepping-stone. By my advice a tiny wire was fastened very tightly
around the fetlock of a certain horse, between the foot and the heel,
and the hair was smoothed over this wire. Demetrios rode that horse in
his last battle. It stumbled, and our terrible proconsul was thus
brought to death. Callistion managed it. Thus I betrayed Demetrios."
Melicent said, "You are too foul for hell to swallow." And
Ahasuerus manifested indifference to this imputed fault.
"Thus far I had gone hand-in-hand with an insane Callistion. Now
our ways parted. She desired only to be avenged on you, and very
crudely. That did not accord with my plan. I fell to bargaining. I
purchased you—O rarity of rarities!"—a little rational advice and
much gold as well. Thus in due season I betrayed Callistion. Well,
who forbids it?"
"God is asleep. Therefore you live, and I—alas!—must live for a
"Yes, you must live for a while longer—oh, and I, too, must live
for a while longer!" the Jew returned. His voice had risen in a
curious quavering wail. It was the first time Melicent ever knew him
to display any emotion.
But the mood passed, and he said only:
"Who forbids it? In any event, there is a venerable adage
concerning the buttering of parsnips. So I content myself with asking
you to remember that Ii have not ever faltered. I shall not falter now.
You loathe me. Who forbids it? I have known from the first that you
detested me, and I have always considered your verdict to err upon the
side of charity. Believe me, you will never loathe Ahasuerus as I do.
And yet I coddle this poor knave sometimes—oh, as I do to-day!" he
And thus they parted.
28. How Perion Saw Melicent
THE MANNER of the torment of Melicent was this: A little before
dawn she was conducted by Ahasuerus and Orestes to the outermost
turrets of Nacumera, which were now beginning to take form and colour.
Very suddenly a flash of light had flooded the valley, the big crimson
sun was instantaneously apparent as though he had leaped over the
bleeding night-mists. Darkness and all night's adherents were
annihilated. Pelicans and geese and curlews were in uproar, as at a
concerted signal. A buzzard yelped thrice like a dog, and rose in a
long spiral from the cliff to Melicent's right hand. He hung
motionless, a speck in the clear zenith, uncannily anticipative.
Warmth flooded the valley.
Now Melicent could see the long and narrow plain beneath her. It
was overgrown with a tall coarse grass which, rippling in the
dawn-wind, resembled moving waters from this distance, save where
clumps of palm trees showed like islands. Farther off, the tents of
the Free Companions were as the white, sharp teeth of a lion. Also she
could see—and did not recognize—the helmet-covered head of Perion
catch and reflect the sunrays dazzlingly, where he knelt in the
shimmering grass just out of bowshot.
Now Perion could see a woman standing, in the new-born sunlight,
under many gaily coloured banners. The maiden was attired in a robe of
white silk, and about her wrists were heavy bands of silver. Her hair
blazed in the light, bright as the sunflower glows; her skin was whiter
than milk; the down of a fledgling bird was not more grateful to the
touch than were her hands. There was never anywhere a person more
delightful to gaze upon, and whosoever beheld her forthwith desired to
render love and service to Dame Melicent. This much could Perion know,
whose fond eyes did not really see the woman on the battlements but,
instead, young Melicent as young Perion had first beheld her walking by
the sea at Bellegarde.
Thus Perion, who knelt in adoration of that listless girl, all
white and silver, and gold, too, where her blown hair showed like a
halo. Desirable and lovelier than words may express seemed Melicent to
Perion as he stood thus in lonely exaltation, and behind her, glorious
banners fluttered, and the blue sky took on a deeper colour. What
Perion saw was like a church window when the sun shines through it.
Ahasuerus perfectly understood the baiting of a trap.
Perion came into the open plain before the castle and called on her
dear name three times. Then Perion, naked to his enemies, and at the
disposal of the first pagan archer that chose to shoot him down, sang
cheerily the waking-song which Melicent had heard a mimic Amphitryon
make in the Dame Alcmena's honour, very long ago, when people laughed
and Melicent was young and ignorant of misery.
Sang Perion, "Rei glorios, verais lums e clardatz—: or, in
"Thou King of glory, veritable light, all-powerful deity! be
pleased to succour faithfully my fair, sweet friend. The night that
severed us has been long and bitter, the darkness has been shaken by
bleak winds, but now the dawn is near at hand.
"My fair sweet friend, be of good heart! We have been tormented
long enough by evil dreams. Be of good heart, for the dawn is
approaching! The east is astir. I have seen the orient star which
heralds day. I discern it clearly, for now the dawn is near at hand."
The song was no great matter; but the splendid futility of its
performance amid such touch-and-go surroundings Melicent considered to
be august. And consciousness of his words' poverty, as Perion thus
lightly played with death in order to accord due honour to the lady he
served, was to Dame Melicent in her high martyrdom as is the twist of a
dagger in an already fatal wound; and made her love augment.
"My fair sweet friend, it is I, your servitor, who cry to you, Be of good heart! Regard the sky and the stars now growing dim, and
you will see that I have been an untiring sentinel. It will presently
fare the worse for those who do not recognize that the dawn is near at
"My fair sweet friend, since you were taken from me I have not ever
been of a divided mind. I have kept faith, I have not failed you.
Hourly I have entreated God and the Son of Mary to have compassion
upon our evil dreams. And now the dawn is near at hand."
"My poor, bruised, puzzled boy," thought Melicent, as she had done
so long ago, "how came you to be blundering about this miry world of
ours? And how may I be worthy?"
Orestes spoke. His voice disturbed the woman's rapture thinly,
like the speech of a ghost, and she remembered now that a bustling
world was her antagonist.
"Assuredly," Orestes said, "this man is insane. I will forthwith
command my archers to dispatch him in the middle of his caterwauling.
For at this distance they cannot miss him."
But Ahasuerus said:
"No, seignior, not by my advice. If you slay this Perion of the
Forest, his retainers will speedily abandon a desperate siege and
retreat to the coast. But they will never retreat so long as the man
lives and sways them, and we hold Melicent, for, as you plainly see,
this abominable reprobate is quite besotted with love of her. His
death would win you praise; but the destruction of his armament will
purchase you your province. Now in two days at most our troops will
come, and then we will slay all the Free Companions."
"That is true," said Orestes, "and it is remarkable how you think
of these things so quickly."
So Orestes was ruled by Ahasuerus, and Perion, through no merit of
his own, departed unharmed.
Then Melicent was conducted to her own apartments; and eunuchs
guarded her, while the battle was, and men she had not ever seen died
by the score because her beauty was so great.
29. How a Bargain Was Cried
NOW ABOUT sunset Melicent knelt in her oratory and laid all her
grief before the Virgin, imploring counsel.
This place was in reality a chapel, which Demetrios had builded for
Melicent in exquisite enjoyment. To furnish it he had sacked towns she
never heard of, and had rifled two cathedrals, because the notion that
the wife of Demetrios should own a Christian chapel appeared to him
amusing. The Virgin, a masterpiece of Pietro di Vicenza, Demetrios had
purchased by the interception of a free city's navy. It was a painted
statue, very handsome.
The sunlight shone on Melicent through a richly coloured window
wherein were shown the sufferings of Christ and the two thieves. This
siftage made about her a welter of glowing and intermingling colours,
above which her head shone with a clear halo.
This much Ahasuerus noted. He said:
"You offer tears to Miram of Nazara. Yonder they are sacrificing a
bull to Mithras. But I do not make either offering or prayer to any
god. Yet of all persons in Nacumera I alone am sure of this day's
outcome." Thus spoke the Jew Ahasuerus.
The woman stood erect now. She asked, "What of the day,
"It has been much like other days that I have seen. The sun rose
without any perturbation. And now it sinks as usual. Oh, true, there
has been fighting. The sky has been clouded with arrows, and horses,
nicer than their masters, have screamed because these soulless beasts
were appalled by so much blood. Many women have become widows, and
divers children are made orphans, because of two huge eyes they never
saw. Puf! it is an old tale."
She said, "Is Perion hurt?"
"Is the dog hurt that has driven a cat into a tree? Such I
estimate to be the position of Orestes and Perion. Ah, no, this Perion
who was my captain once is yet a lord without any peer in the fields
where men contend in battle. But love has thrust him into a bag's end,
and his fate is certain."
She spoke her steadfast resolution. "And my fate, too. For when
Perion is trapped and slain I mean to kill myself."
"I am aware of that," he said. "Oh, women have these notions! Yet
when the hour came, I think, you would not dare. For I know your
beliefs concerning hell's geography, and which particular gulf of hell
is reserved for all self-murderers."
Then Melicent waited for a while. She spoke later without any
apparent emotion. "And how should I fear hell who crave a bitterer
fate! Listen, Ahasuerus! I know that you desire me as a plaything
very greatly. The infamy in which you wade attests as much. Yet you
have schemed to no purpose if Perion dies, because the ways of death
are always open. I would die many times rather than endure the touch
of your finger. Ahasuerus, I have not any words wherewith to tell you
of my loathing——"
"Turn then to bargaining," he said, and seemed aware of all her
"Oh, to a hideous bargain. Let Perion be warned of those troops
that will to-morrow outflank him. Let him escape. There is yet time.
Do this, dark hungry man, and I will live." She shuddered here.
"Yes, I will live and be obedient in all things to you, my purchaser,
until you shall have wearied of me, or, at the least, until God has
His careful eyes were narrowed. "You would bribe me as you once
bribed Demetrios? And to the same purpose? I think that fate excels
less in invention than in cruelty."
She bitterly said, "Heaven help me, and what other wares have I to
"None. No woman has in this black age; and therefore comfort you,
She hurried on. "Therefore anew I offer Melicent, who was a
princess once. I cry a price for red lips and bright eyes and a fair
woman's tender body without any blemish. I have no longer youth and
happiness and honour to afford you as your toys. These three have long
been strangers to me. Oh, very long! Yet all I have I offer for one
charitable deed. See now how near you are to victory. Think now how
gloriously one honest act would show in you who have betrayed each
overlord you ever served."
"I am suspicious of strange paths. I shrink from practicing
unfamiliar virtues. My plan is fixed. I think I shall not alter it."
"Ah, no, Ahasuerus! think instead how beautiful I am. There is no
comelier animal in all this big lewd world. Indeed I cannot count how
many men have died because I am a comely animal——" She smiled as one
who is too tired to weep. "That, too, is an old tale. Now I abate in
value, it appears, very lamentably. For I am purchasable now just by
one honest deed, and there is none who will barter with me."
"You forget that a freed Perion would always have a sonorous word
or two to say in regard to your bargainings. Demetrios bargained, you
may remember. Demetrios was a dread lord. It cost him daily warfare
to retain you. Now I lack swords and castles—I who dare love you as
much as Demetrios did—and I would be able to retain neither Melicent
nor tranquil existence for an unconscionable while. Ah, no! I bear my
former general no grudge. I merely recognize that while Perion lives
he will not ever leave pursuit of you. I would readily concede the
potency of his spurs, even were there need to look on you a second
time—— It happens that there is no need! Meanwhile I am a quiet
man, and I abhor dissension. For the rest, I do not think that you
will kill yourself, and so I think I shall not alter my fixed plan."
He left her, and Melicent prayed no more. To what end, she
reflected, need she pray, when there was no hope for Perion?
30. How Melicent Conquered
INTO MELICENT'S bedroom, about two o'clock in the morning, came
Ahasuerus the Jew. KShe sat erect in bed and saw him cowering over a
lamp which his long glistening fingers shielded, so that the lean face
of the man floated upon a little golden pool in the darkness. She
marveled that this detestable countenance had not aged at all since her
first sight of it.
He smoothly said:
"Now let us talk. I have loved you for some while, fair Melicent."
"You have desired me," she replied.
"Faith, I am but as all men, whatever their age. Why, what the
devil! man may have Javeh's breath in him, but even Scripture proves
that man was made of clay." The Jew now puffed out his jaws as if in
recollection. "You are a handsome piece of flesh, I thought
when I came to you at Bellegarde, telling of Perion's captivity. I
thought no more than this, because in time I have seen a greater number
of handsome women than you would suppose. Thereafter, on account of an
odd reason which I had, I served Demetrios willingly enough. This son
of Miramon Lluagor was able to pay me well, in a curious coinage. So I
arranged the bungling snare Demetrios proposed—too gross, I thought
it, to trap any woman living. Ohé, and why should I not lay an open
and frank springe for you? Who else was a king's bride-to-be, young,
beautiful, and blessed with wealth and honour and every other comfort
which the world affords?" Now the Jew made as if to fling away a robe
from his gaunt person. "And you cast this, all this, aside as nothing.
I saw it done."
"Ah, but I did it to save Perion," she wisely said.
"Unfathomable liar," he returned, "you boldly and unscrupulously
bought of life the thing which you most earnestly desired. Nor Solomon
nor Periander has won more. And thus I saw that which no other man has
seen. I saw the shrewd and dauntless soul of Melicent. And so I loved
you, and I laid my plan——"
She said, "You do not know of love——"
"Yet I have builded him a temple," the Jew considered. He
continued, with that old abhorrent acquiescence: "Now, a temple is
admirable, but it is not builded until many labourers have dug and
toiled waist-deep in dirt. Here, too, such spatterment seemed
necessary. So I played, in fine, I played a cunning music. The pride
of Demetrios, the jealousy of Callistion, and the greed of
Orestes—these were as so many stops of that flute on which I played a
cunning deadly music. Who forbids it?"
She motioned him, "Go on." Now she was not afraid.
"Come then to the last note of my music! You offer to bargain,
saying, Save Perion and have my body as your chattel. I answer Click! The turning of a key solves all. Accordingly I have
betrayed the castle of Nacumera, I have this night admitted Perion and
his broad-shouldered men. They are killing Orestes yonder in the Court
of Stars even while I talk with you." Ahasuerus laughed noiselessly.
"Such vanity does not become a Jew, but I needs must do the thing with
some magnificence. Therefore I do not give Sire Perion only his live.
I give him also victory and much throat-cutting and an impregnable
rich castle. Have I not paid the price, fair Melicent? Have I not won
God's masterpiece through a small wire, a purse, and a big key?"
She answered: "You have paid."
"You will hold to your bargain? Ah, you have but to cry aloud, and
you are rid of me. For this is Perion's castle.
She said, "Christ help me! You have paid my price!"
Now the Jew raised his two hands in very horrible mirth. Said he:
"Oh, I am almost tempted to praise Javeh, who created the
invincible sould of Melicent. For you have conquered: you have gained,
as always, and at whatever price, exactly that which you most desired,
and you do not greatly care about anything else. So, because of a word
said you would arise and follow me on my dark ways if I commanded it.
You will not weight the dice, not even at this pinch, when it would be
so easy! For Perion is safe; and nothing matters in comparison with
that, and you will not break faith, not even with me. You are
inexplicable, you are stupid, and you are resistless. Again I see my
Melicent, who is not just a pair of purple eyes and so much lovely
His face was as she had not ever known it now, and very tender.
"My way to victory is plain enough. And yet there is an obstacle.
For my fancy is taken by the soul of Melicent, and not by that
handsome piece of flesh which all men—even Perion, madame!—have loved
so long with remarkable infatuation. Accordingly I had not ever
designed that he edifice on which I laboured should be the stable of my
lusts. Accordingly I played my cunning music—and accordingly I give
you Perion. I that am Ahasuerus win for you all which righteousness
and honour could not win. At the last it is I who give you Perion, and
it is I who bring you to his embrace. He must still be about his
magnanimous butchery, I think, in the Court of Stars."
Ahasuerus knelt, kissing her hand.
"Fair Melicent, such abominable persons as Demetrios and I are
fatally alike. We may deny, deride, deplore, or even hate, the
sanctity of any noble lady accordingly as we elect; but there is for us
no possible escape from worshipping it. Your wind-fed Perion, who will
not ever acknowledge what sort of world we live in, are less quick to
recognize the soul of Melicent. Such is our sorry consolation. Oh,
you do not believe me yet. You will believe in the oncoming years.
Meanwhile, O all-enduring and all-conquering! go now to your last
labour; and—if my Brother dare concede as much—do you now conquer
Then he vanished. She never saw him any more.
She lifted the Jew's lamp. She bore it through the Women's Garden,
wherein were many discomfortable shadows and no living being. She came
tol its outer entrance. Men were fighting there. She skirted a
hideous conflict, and descended the Queen's Stairway, which led (as you
have heard) toward the balcony about the Court of Stars. She found
this balcony vacant.
Below her men were fighting. To the farther end of the court
Orestes sprawled upon the red and yellow slabs—which now for the most
part were red—and above him towered Perion of the Forest. The
conqueror had paused to cleanse his sword upon the same divan Demetrios
had occupied when Melicent first saw the proconsul; and as Perion
turned, in the act of sheathing his sword, he perceived the dear
familiar denizen of all his dreams. A tiny lamp glowed in her hand
"O Melicent," said Perion, with a great voice, "my task is done.
Come now to me."
She instantly obeyed whose only joy was to please Perion.
Descending the enclosed stairway, she thought how like its gloom was
to the temporal unhappiness she had passed through in serving Perion.
He stood s dripping statue, for he had fought horribly. She came
to him, picking her way among the slain. He trembled who was fresh
from slaying. A flood of torchlight surged and swirled about them, and
within a stone's cast Perion's men were dispatching the wounded.
These two stood face to face and did not speak at all.
I think that he knew disappointment first. He looked to find the
girl whom he had left on Fomor Beach.
He found a woman, the possessor still of a compelling beauty. Oh,
yes, past doubt: but this woman was a stranger to him, as he now knew
with an odd sense of sickness. Thus, then, had ended the quest of
Melicent. Their love had flouted Time and Fate. These had revenged
his insolence, it seemed to Perion, by an ironical conversion of each
rebel into another person. For this was not the girl whom Perion had
loved in far red-roofed Poictesme; this was not the girl for whom
Perion had fought ten minutes since: and he—as Perion for the first
time perceived—was not and never could be any more the Perion that
girl had bidden return to her. It were as easy to evoke the Perion who
had loved Mélusine. . . .
Then Perion perceived that love may be a power so august as to
bedwarf consideration of the man and woman whom it sways. He saw that
this is reasonable. I cannot justify this knowledge. I cannot even
tell you just what great secret it was of which Perion became aware.
Many men have seen the sunrise, but the serenity and awe and sweetness
of this daily miracle, the huge assurance which it emanates that the
beholder is both impotent and greatly beloved, is not entirely an
affair of the sky's tincture. And thus it was with Perion. He knew
what he could not explain. He knew such joy and terror as none has
ever worded. A curtain had lifted briefly; and the familiar world
which Perion knew about had appeared, for that brief instant, to be a
painting upon that curtain.
Now, dazzled, he saw Melicent for the first time. . . .
I think he saw the lines already forming in her face, and knew
that, but for him, this woman, naked now of gear and friends, had been
to-night a queen among her own acclaiming people. I think he
worshipped where he did not dare to love, as every man cannot but do
when starkly confronted by the divine and stupendous unreason of a
woman's choice, among so many other men, of him. And yet, I think that
Perion recalled what Ayrart de Montors had said of women and their
love, so long ago:—"They are more wise than we; and always they make
us better by indomitably believing we are better than in reality a man
can ever be."
I think that Perion knew, now, de Montors had been in the right.
The pity and mystery and beauty of that world wherein High God
had—scornfully?—placed a smug Perion, seemed to the Comte de la
Forêt, I think, unbearable. I think a new and finer love smote Perion
as a sword strikes.
I think he did not speak because there was no scope for words. I
know that he knelt (incurious for once of victory) before this stranger
who was not the Melicent whom he had sought so long, and that all
consideration of a lost young Melicent departed from him, as mists
leave our world when the sun rises.
I think that this was her high hour of triumph.
These lives made out of loves that long since were
Lives wrought as ours of earth and burning air,
Was such not theirs, the twain I take, and give
Out of my life to make their dead life live
Some days of mine, and blow my living breath
Between dead lips forgotten even of death?
So many and many of old have given my twain
Love and live song and honey-hearted pain.
THUS, rather suddenly, ends out knowledge of the love-business
between Perion and Melicent. For at this point, as abruptly as it
began, the one existing chronicle of their adventures makes conclusion,
like a bit of interrupted music, and thereby affords conjecture no
inconsiderable bounds wherein to exercise itself. Yet, in view of the
fact that deductions as to what befell these lovers afterward can at
best result in free-handed theorising, it seems more profitable in this
place to speak very briefly of the fragmentary Roman de Lusignan,
since the history of Melicent and Perion as set forth in this book
makes no pretensions to be more than a rendering into English of this
manuscript, with slight additions from the earliest known printed
version of 1546.
M. Verville, in his monograph on Nicolas de Caen,  considers it
probable that the Roman de Lusignan was printed in Bruges by
Colard Mansion at about eh same time Mansion published the Dizain
des Reines. This is possible; but until a copy of the book is
discovered, our sole authority for the romance must continue to be the
fragmentary MS. No. 503 in the Allonbian Collection.
Among the innumerable manuscripts in the British Museum there is
perhaps none which opens a wider field for guesswork. In its entirety
the Roman de Lusignan was, if appearances are to be trusted, a
leisured and ambitious handling of the Melusina legend; but in the
preserved portion Melusina figures hardly at all. We have merely the
final chapters of what would seem to have been the first half, or
perhaps the first third, of the complete narrative; so that this
manuscript account of Melusina's beguilements breaks off,
fantastically, at a period many years anterior to a date which those
better know versions of Jean d'Arras and Thuring von Ringoltingen
select as the only appropriate starting-point.
By means of a few elisions, however, the episodic story of Melicent
and of the men who loved Melicent have been disembedded from what
survives of the main narrative. This episode may reasonably be
considered as complete in itself, in spite of its precipitous
commencement; we are not told anything very definite concerning
Perion's earlier relations with Melusina, it is true, but then they are
hardly of any especial importance. And speculations as to the tale's
perplexing chronology, or as to the curious treatment of the Ahasuerus
legend, wherein Nicolas so strikingly differs from his precursors,
Matthew Paris and Philippe Mouskes, or as to the probable course of
latter incidents in the romance (which must almost inevitably have
reached its climax in the foundation of the house of Lusignan by
Perion's son Raymondin and Melusina) are more profitably left to M.
One feature, though, of this romance demands particular comment.
The happenings of the Melicent-episode pivot remarkably upon domnei
—upon chivalric love, upon the Frowendienst of the
minnesingers, or upon "woman-worship," as we might bunglingly translate
a word for which in English there is no precisely equivalent synonym.
Therefore this English version of the Melicent-episode has been called Domnei, at whatever price of unintelligibility.
For there is really no other word or combination of words which
seems quite to sum up, or even indicate this precise attitude toward
life. Domnei was less a preference for one especial woman than
a code of philosophy. "The complications of opinions and ideas, of
affections and habits," writes Charles Claude Fauriel,  "which
prompted the chevalier to devote himself to the service of a lady, and
by which he strove to prove to her his love and to merit hers in
return, was expressed by the single word domnei."
And this, of course, is true enough. Yet domnei was even
more than a complication of opinions and affections and habits: it was
also a malady and a religion quite incommunicably blended.
Thus you will find that Dante—to cite only the most readily
accessible of mediæval amorists—enlarges as to domnei in both
these last-named aspects impartially. Domnei suspends all his
senses save that of sight, makes him turn pale, causes tremors in his
left side, and sends him to bed "like a little beaten child, in tears";
throughout you have the manifestations of domnei described in
terms befitting the symptoms of a physical disease: but as concerns the
other aspect, Dante never wearies of reiterating that it is domnei
which has turned his thoughts toward God; and with terrible sincerity
he beholds in Beatric de' Bardi the highest illumination which Divine
Grace may permit to humankind. "This is no woman; rather it is one of
heaven's most radiant angels," he says with terrible sincerity.
With terrible sincerity, let it be repeated: for the service of domnei was never, as some would affect to interpret it, a modish
and ordered affectation; the histories of Peire de Maënzac, of
Guillaume de Calbestaing, of Geoffrey Rudel, of Ulrich von
Liechtenstein, of the Monk of Pucibot, of Pons de Capdueilh, and even
of Peire Vidal and Guillaume de Balaun, survive to prove it was a
serious thing, a stark and life-disposing reality. En cor gentil
domnei per mort no passa, as Nicolas himself declares. The service
of domnei involved, it in fact invited, anguish; it was a
martyrdom whereby the lover was uplifted to saintship and the lady to
little less than, if anything less than, godhead.
For it was a canon of domnei, it was the very essence of domnei, that the woman one loves is providentially set between her
lover's apprehension and God, as the mobile and vital image and
corporeal reminder of heaven, as a quick symbol of beauty and holiness,
of purity and perfection. In her the lover views—embodied, apparent
to human sense, and even accessible to human enterprise—all qualities
of God which can be comprehended by merely human faculties. It is
precisely as such an intermediary that Melicent figures toward Perion,
and, in a somewhat different degree, towardAhasuerus—since Ahasuerus
is of necessity apart in all things from the run of humanity.
Yet instances were not lacking in the service of domnei
where worship of the symbol developed into a religion sufficing in
itself, and became competitor with worship of what the symbol primarily
represented—such instances as have their analogues in the legend of
Ritter Tannhäuser, or in Aucassin's resolve in the romance to go down
into hell with "his sweet mistress whom he so much loves," or (here
perhaps most perfectly exampled) in Arnaud de Merveil's naïve
declaration that whatever portion of his heart belongs to God heaven
holds in vassalage to Adelaide de Beziers. It is upon this darker and
rebellious side of domnei, of a religion pathetically dragged
dustward by the luxuriance and efflorescence of over-passionate
service, that Nicolas has douched in depicting Demetrios.
Nicolas de Caen, himself the servitor par amours of Isabella
of Burgundy, has elsewhere written of domnei (in his Le Roi
Amaury) in terms such as it may not be entirely out of place to
transcribe here. Baalzebub, as you may remember, has been discomfited
in his endeavours to ensnare King Amaury and is withdrawing in disgust.
"A pest upon this domnei!"  the fiend growls. "Nay, the
match is at an end, and I may speak in perfect candour now. I swear to
you that, given a man clear-eyed enough to see that a woman by ordinary
is nourished much as he is nourished, and is subjected to every bodily
infirmity which he endures and frets beneath, I do not often bungle
matters. But when a fool begins to flounder about the world,
dead-drunk with adoration of an immaculate woman—a monster which, as
even the man's own judgment assures him, does not exist and never will
exist—why, he becomes as unmanageable as any other maniac when a
frenzy is upon him. For then the idiot hungers after a life so
high-pitched that his gross faculties may not so much as glimpse it;
he is so rapt with impossible dreams that he becomes oblivious to the
nudgings of his most petted vice; and he abhors his own innate and
perfectly natural inclination to cowardice, and filth, and
self-deception. He, in fine, affords me and all other rational people
no available handle; and, in consequence, he very often flounders
beyond the reach of my whisperings. There may be other persons who can
inform you why such blatant folly should thus be the master-word of
evil, but for my own part, I confess to ignorance."
"Nay, that folly, as you term it, and as hell will always term it,
is alike the riddle and the master-word of the universe," the old king
replies. . . .
And Nicolas whole-heartedly believed that this was true. We do not
believe this, quite, but it may be that we are none the happier for our
 Paul Verville, Notice sur la vie de Nicolas de Caen, p.
112 (Rouen, 1911).
 Histoire de la littérature provençale, p. 330 (Adler's
translation, New York, 1860).
 Quoted with minor alterations from Watson's version.
"On commença à fair plusieurs livres en gros et rude
langage et en rithme mal taillée et mesurée pour le passŽ-temps des
princes et aucune fois par flatterie, pour collauder oultre mesure les
faits d'armes d'aucuns chevaliers, à ce qu'on donnast courage aux
jeunes gens de bien faire et de se hardier, comme ledict roman de
Melicent, les romans de Manuel de Poictesme, Lancelot du Lac, Artus de
Bretagne, Iurgen l'Aventurier, Ogier le Danois, et autres."
" — JEHAN
I. LES AMANTS DE MELICENT, Traduction moderne, annotée et procedé
d'un notice historique sur Nicolas de Caen, par l'Abbé* * * A Paris.
Pour Iaques Keruer aux deux Cochetz, Rue S. Iaques, M. D. XLVI. Avec
Privilege du Roy. The somewhat abridged reprint of 1788 was believed
to be the first version printed in French, until the discovery of this
unique volume in 1917.
II. ARMAGEDDON; or the Great Day of the Lord's Judgement: a
Paroenesis to Prince Henry—MELICENT; an heroicke poeme intended,
drawne from French bookes, the First Booke, by Sir William Allonby.
London. Printed for Nathaniel Butler, dwelling at the Pied Bull,
at Saint Austen's Gate. 1626.
III. PERION UND MELICENT, zum erstenmale aus dem Französischen ins
Deutsche übersetzt, von J. H. G. Löwe. Stuttgart und Tübingen, 1823.
IV. LOS NEGOCIANTES DO DON PERION, publicado por Plancher-Seignot.
Rio de Janiero, 1827. The translator's name is not given. The
preface is signed R. L.
V. LA DONNA DI DEMETRIO, Historia placevole e morale, da Antonio
Checino. Milan, 1833.
VI. PRINDSESSES MELICENT, oversat af Le Roman de Lusignan, og
udgivna paa Dansk vid R. Knös. Copenhagen, 1840.
VII. ANTIQUÆ FABULÆ ET COMEDIÆ, edid. G. Rask. Göttingen, 1852.
Vol. II, p. 61 et seq. "DE FIDE MELICENTIS"—an abridged
version of the Romance.
VIII. PERION EN MELICENT, voor de Nederlandsche Jeugduiitgegeven
door J. M. L. Wolters. Groningen, 1862.
IX. NOUVELLES FRANÇOISES EN PROSE DU XIVe ET DE XVe SIÈCLE, Les
texts anciens, edités et annotés par MM. Armin et Moland. Lyons, 1880.
Vol. IV, p. 89 et seq., "LE ROMAN DE LA BELLE MELICENT"—a much
condensed form of the story.
X. THE SOUL OF MELICENT, by James Branch Cabell. Illustrated in
colour by Howard Pyle. New York, 1913. This rendering was made, of
course, before the discovery of the 1546 version, and so had not the
benefit of that volume's interesting variants from the abridgment of
XI. CINQ BALLADES DE NICOLAS DE CAEN, traduites en verse du Roman
de Lusignan, par Mme. Adolphe Galland, et mises en musique par Raoul
Bidoche. Paris, 1898.
XII. LE LIURE DE MÉLUSINE en fracoys, par Jean d'Arras. Geneva,
XIII. HISTORIA DE LA LINDA MELOSYNA. Tolosa, 1489.
XIV. EEN SAN SONDERLINGKE SCHONE ENDE WONDERLIKE HISTORIE, die men
warachtich kout te syne ende autentick sprekende van eenre vrowen
gheheeten Melusine. Tantwerpen, 1500.
XV. DIE HSTORI ODER GESCHICHT VON DER EDLE UND SCHÖNEN MELUSINA.
XVI. L'HISTOIRE DE MÉLUSINE, fille du roy d'Albanie et de dame
Pressine, revue et mise en meilleur langage que par cy devant. Lyons,
XVII. LE ROMAN DE MÉLUSINE, princesse de Lusignan, avec l'histoire
de Geoffry, surnommé à la Grand Dent, par Nodot. Paris, 1700.
XVIII. KRONYKE KRATOCHWILNE, o ctné a slech netné Panne Meluzijne.
XIX. WUNDERBARE GESCHICHTE VON DER EDELN UND SCHÖNEN MELUSINA,
welche eine Tochter des König Helmus und ein Meerwunder gewesen ist.
Nürnberg, without date: reprinted in Marbach's VOLKSBÜCHER, Leipzig,
XX. MELLUSINE, poème relatif à cette fé poitevine, composé dans le
XIVe siècle par Couldrette, publicé pour la première fois d'après les
manuscripts de la bibliothèque impériale par Francisque Michel. Niort,
Robin et L. Favre, 1854. This is the first, and I believe the only,
printed version of the older Roman de Lusignan, which was
completed in 1401, and exists in a number of variant manuscripts.