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said Manuel, "and my mature opinion about this matter must be expressed
later."

But while his thoughts were on the affair his fingers made him droll
small images of ten of the image-makers, which he set aside unquickened.
Freydis smiled at these caricatures, and asked when Manuel would give
them life.

"Oh, in due time," he said, "and then their antics may be diverting. But
I perceive that this old Tuyla magic is practised at great price and
danger, so that I am in no hurry to practise any more of it. I prefer to
enjoy that which is dearer and better."

"And what can be dearer and better?"

"Youth," Manuel answered, "and you."

Queen Freydis was now a human woman in all things, so this reply
delighted her hearing if not her reason. "Do these two possessions
content you, king of my heart?" she asked him very fondly.

"No," Manuel said, gazing out across Morven at the cloud-dappled ridges
of the Taunenfels, "nor do I look ever to be contented in this world of
men."

"Indeed the run of men are poor thin-minded creatures, Manuel - "

He answered, moodily:

"But I cannot put aside the thought that these men ought to be my
fellows and my intimates. Instead, I who am a famed champion go daily in
distrust, almost in fear, of these incomprehensible and shatter-pated
beings. To every side there is a feeble madness over-busy about
long-faced nonsense from which I recoil, who must conceal this shrinking
always. There is no hour in my life but I go armored in reserve and in
small lies, and in my armor I am lonely. Freydis, you protest deep love
for this well-armored Manuel, but what wisdom will reveal to you, or to
me either, just what is Manuel? Oh, but I am puzzled by the impermanence
and the loneliness and the impotence of this Manuel! Dear Freydis, do
not love my body nor my manner of speaking, nor any of the ways that I
have in the flesh, for all these transiencies are mortgaged to the
worms. And that thought also is a grief - "

"Let us not speak of these things! Let us not think of anything that is
horrid, but only of each other!"

"But I cannot put aside the thought that I, who for the while exist in
this mortgaged body, cannot ever get out to you. Freydis, there is no
way in which two persons may meet in this world of men: we can but
exchange, from afar, despairing friendly signals, in the sure knowledge
they will be misinterpreted. So do we pass, each coming out of a strange
woman's womb, each parodied by the flesh of his parents, each passing
futilely, with incommunicative gestures, toward the womb of a strange
grave: and in this jostling we find no comradeship. No soul may travel
upon a bridge of words. Indeed there is no word for my foiled huge
desire to love and to be loved, just as there is no word for the big,
the not quite comprehended thought which is moving in me at this moment.
But that thought also is a grief - "

Manuel was still looking at the changing green and purple of the
mountains and at the tall clouds trailing northward. The things that he
viewed yonder were all gigantic and lovely, and they seemed not to be
very greatly bothering about humankind.

Then Freydis said: "Let us not think too much, dear, in our youth. It is
such a waste of the glad time, and of the youth that will not ever be
returning - "

"But I cannot put aside the thought that it will never be the true
Manuel whom you will love or even know of, nor can I dismiss the
knowledge that these human senses, through which alone we may obtain any
knowledge of each other, are lying messengers. What can I ever be to you
except flesh and a voice? Nor is this the root of my sorrowing, dear
Freydis. For I know that my distrust of all living creatures - oh, even
of you, dear Freydis, when I draw you closest, - must always be as a wall
between us, a low, lasting, firm-set wall which we can never pull down.
And I know that I am not really a famed champion, but only a forlorn and
lonely inmate of the doubtful castle of my body; and that I, who know
not truly what I am, must die in this same doubt and loneliness, behind
the strong defences of posturing and bluntness and jovial laughter which
I have raised for my protecting. And that thought also is a grief."

Now Manuel was as Freydis had not ever seen him. She wondered at him,
she was perturbed by this fine lad's incomprehensible dreariness, with
soft red willing lips so near: and her dark eyes were bent upon him with
a beautiful and tender yearning which may not be told.

"I do not understand you, my dearest," said she, who was no longer the
high Queen of Audela, but a mortal woman. "It is true that all the world
about us is a false seeming, but you and I are real and utterly united,
for we have no concealments from each other. I am sure that no two
people could be happier than we are, nor better suited. And certainly
such morbid notions are not like you, who, as you said yourself, only
the other day, are naturally so frank and downright."

Now Manuel's thoughts came back from the clouds and the green and purple
of the mountains. He looked at her very gravely for an instant or two.
He laughed morosely. He said, "There!"

"But, dearest, you are strange and not yourself -

"Yes, yes!" says Manuel, kissing her, "for the moment I had forgotten to
be frank and downright, and all else which you expect of me. Now I am my
old candid, jovial, blunt self again, and I shall not worry you with
such silly notions any more. No, I am Manuel: I follow after my own
thinking and my own desire; and if to do that begets loneliness I must
endure it"

[Illustration]




XVIII


Manuel Chooses


"But I cannot understand," said Freydis, on a fine day in September,
"how it is that, now the power of Schamir is in your control, and you
have the secret of giving life to your images, you do not care to use
either the secret or the talisman. For you make no more images, you are
always saying, 'No, we will let that wait a bit,' and you do not even
quicken the ten caricatures of the image-makers which you have already
modeled."

"Life will be given to these in due time," said Manuel, "but that time
is not yet come. Meanwhile, I avoid practise of the old Tuyla mystery
for the sufficing reason that I have seen the result it has on the
practitioner. A geas was upon me to make a figure in the world, and so I
modeled and loaned life to such a splendid gay young champion as was to
my thinking and my desire. Thus my geas, I take it, is discharged, and a
thing done has an end. Heaven may now excel me by creating a larger
number of living figures than I, but pre-eminence in this matter is not
a question of arithmetic - "

"Ah, yes, my squinting boy has all the virtues, including that of
modesty!"

"Well, but I have seen my notion embodied, seen it take breath, seen it
depart from Morven in all respects, except for a little limping - which,
do you know, I thought rather graceful? - in well-nigh all respects, I
repeat, quite indistinguishable from the embodied notions of that master
craftsman whom some call Ptha, and others Jahveh, and others Abraxas,
and yet others Koshchei the Deathless. In fine, I have made a figure
more admirable and significant than is the run of men, and I rest upon
my laurels."

"You have created a living being somewhat above the average, that is
true: but then every woman who has a fine baby does just as much - "

"The principle is not the same," said Manuel, with dignity.

"And why not, please, big boy?"

"For one thing, my image was an original and unaided production, whereas
a baby, I am told, is the result of more or less hasty collaboration.
Then, too a baby is largely chance work, in that its nature cannot be
exactly foreplanned and pre-determined by its makers, who, in the glow
of artistic creation, must, I imagine, very often fail to follow the
best aesthetic canons."

"As for that, nobody who makes new and unexampled things can make them
exactly to the maker's will. Even your image limped, you remember - "

"Ah, but so gracefully!"

" - No, Manuel, it is only those necromancers who evoke the dead, and bid
the dead return to the warm flesh, that can be certain as to the results
of their sorcery. For these alone of magic-workers know in advance what
they are making."

"Ah, this is news! So you think it is possible to evoke the dead in some
more tangible form than that of an instructive ghost? You think it
possible for a dead girl - or, as to that matter, for a dead boy, or a
defunct archbishop, or a deceased ragpicker, - to be fetched back to live
again in the warm flesh?"

"All things are possible, Manuel, at a price."

Said Manuel:

"What price would be sufficient to re-purchase the rich spoils of Death?
and whence might any bribe be fetched? For all the glowing wealth and
beauty of this big round world must show as a new-minted farthing beside
his treasure chests, as one slight shining unimportant coin which - even
this also! - belongs to earth, but has been overlooked by him as yet.
Presently this hour, and whatever is strutting through this hour, is
added to the heaped crypts wherein lie all that was worthiest in the old
time.

"Now there is garnered such might and loveliness and wisdom as human
thinking cannot conceive of. An emperor is made much of here when he has
conquered some part of the world, but Death makes nothing of a world of
emperors: and in Death's crowded store-rooms nobody bothers to estimate
within a thousand thousand of how many emperors, and tzars and popes and
pharaohs and sultans, that in their day were adored as omnipotent, are
there assembled pellmell, along with all that was worthiest in the old
time.

"As touches loveliness, not even Helen's beauty is distinguishable among
those multitudinous millions of resplendent queens whom one finds
yonder. Here are many pretty women, here above all is Freydis, so I do
not complain. But yonder is deep-bosomed Semiramis, and fair-tressed
Guenevere, and Magdalene that loved Christ, and Europa, the bull's
laughing bride, and Lilith, whose hot kiss made Satan ardent, and a many
other ladies by whose dear beauty's might were shaped the songs which
cause us to remember all that was worthiest in the old time.

"As wisdom goes, here we have prudent men of business able to add two
and two together, and justice may be out of hand distinguished from
injustice by an impanelment of the nearest twelve fools. Here we have
many Helmases a-cackling wisely under a goose-feather. But yonder are
Cato and Nestor and Merlin and Socrates, Abelard sits with Aristotle
there, and the seven sages confer with the major prophets, and yonder is
all that was worthiest in the old time.

"All, all, are put away in Death's heaped store-rooms, so safely put
away that opulent Death may well grin scornfully at Life: for everything
belongs to Death, and Life is only a mendicant scratching at his sores
so long as Death permits it. No, Freydis, there can be no bribing Death!
For what bribe anywhere has Life to offer which Death has not already
lying disregarded in a thousand dusty coffers along with all that was
worthiest in the old time?"

Freydis replied: "One thing alone. Yes, Manuel, there is one thing only
which all Death's ravishings have never taken from Life, and which has
not ever entered into Death's keeping. It is through weighing this fact,
and through doing what else is requisite, that the very bold may bring
back the dead to live again in the warm flesh."

"Well, but I have heard the histories of presumptuous men who attempted
to perform such miracles, and all these persons sooner or later came to
misery."

"Why, to be sure! to whom else would you have them coming?" said
Freydis. And she explained the way it was.

Manuel put many questions. All that evening he was thoughtful, and he
was unusually tender with Freydis. And that night, when Freydis slept,
Dom Manuel kissed her very lightly, then blinked his eyes, and for a
moment covered them with his hand. Standing thus, the tall boy queerly
moving his mouth, as though it were stiff and he were trying to make it
more supple.

Then he armed himself. He took up the black shield upon which was
painted a silver stallion. He crept out of their modest magic home and
went down into Bellegarde, where he stole him a horse, from the stables
of Duke Asmund.

And that night, and all the next day, Dom Manuel rode beyond Aigremont
and Naimes, journeying away from Morven, and away from the house of
jasper and porphyry and violet and yellow breccia, and away from
Freydis, who had put off immortality for his kisses. He travelled
northward, toward the high woods of Dun Vlechlan, where the leaves were
aglow with the funereal flames of autumn: for the summer wherein Dom
Manuel and Freydis had been happy together was now as dead as that
estranged queer time which he had shared with Alianora.

[Illustration]




XIX


The Head of Misery


When Manuel had reached the outskirts of the forest he encountered there
a knight in vermilion armor, with a woman's sleeve wreathed about his
helmet: and, first of all, this knight demanded who was Manuel's lady
love.

"I have no living love," said Manuel, "except the woman whom I am
leaving without ceremony, because it seems the only way to avoiding
argument."

"But that is unchivalrous, and does not look well."

"Very probably you are right, but I am not chivalrous. I am Manuel. I
follow after my own thinking, and an obligation is upon me pointing
toward prompt employment of the knowledge I have gained from this
woman."

"You are a rascally betrayer of women, then, and an unmanly scoundrel."

"Yes, I suppose so, for I betrayed another woman, in that I permitted
and indeed assisted her to die in my stead; and so brought yet another
bond upon myself, and an obligation which is drawing me from a homelike
place and from soft arms wherein I was content enough," says Manuel,
sighing.

But the chivalrous adventurer in red armor was disgusted. "Oh, you tall
squinting villain knight of the silver stallion, I wonder from whose
court you can be coming, where they teach no better behavior than
woman-killing, and I wonder what foul new knavery you can be planning
here."

"Why, I was last in residence at Raymond Bérenger's court," says Manuel:
"and since you are bent on knowing about my private affairs, I come to
this forest in search of Béda, or Kruchina, or whatever you call the
Misery of earth in these parts."

"Aha, and are you one of Raymond Bérenger's friends?"

"Yes, I suppose so," says Manuel, blinking, - "yes, I suppose so, since I
have prevented his being poisoned."

"This is good hearing, for I have always been one of Raymond Bérenger's
enemies, and all such of his friends as I have encountered I have
slain."

"Doubtless you have your reasons", said Manuel, and would have ridden
by.

But the other cried furiously, "Turn, you tall fool! Turn, cowardly
betrayer of women!"

He came upon Manuel like a whirlwind, and Manuel had no choice in the
matter. So they fought, and presently Manuel brought the vermilion
knight to the ground, and, dismounting, killed him. It was noticeable
that from the death-wound came no blood, but only a flowing of very fine
black sand, out of which scrambled and hastily scampered away a small
vermilion-colored mouse.

Then Manuel said, "I think that this must be the peculiarly irrational
part of the forest, to which I was directed, and I wonder what may have
been this scarlet squabbler's grievance against King Raymond Bérenger?"

Nobody answered, so Manuel remounted, and rode on.

Count Manuel skirted the Wolflake, and came to a hut, painted gray, that
stood clear of the ground, upon the bones of four great birds' feet.
Upon the four corners of the hunt were carved severally the figures of a
lion, a dragon, a cockatrice and an adder, to proclaim the miseries of
carnal and intellectual sin, and of pride, and of death.

Here Manuel tethered his horse to a holm-oak. He raised both arms,
facing the East.

"Do you now speed me!" cried Manuel, "ye thirty Barami! O all ye powers
of accumulated merit, O most high masters of Almsgiving, of Morality, of
Relinquishment, of Wisdom, of Fortitude, of Patience, of Truth, of
Determination, of Charity, and of Equanimity! do all you aid me in my
encounter with the Misery of earth!"

He piously crossed himself, and went into the hut. Inside, the walls
were adorned with very old-looking frescoes that were equally innocent
of perspective and reticence: the floor was of tessellated bronze. In
each corner Manuel found, set upright, a many-storied umbrella of the
kind used for sacred purposes in the East: each of these had a silver
handle, and was worked in nine colors. But most important of all, so
Manuel had been told, was the pumpkin which stood opposite to the
doorway.

Manuel kindled a fire, and prepared the proper kind of soup: and at
sunset he went to the window of the hut, and cried out three times that
supper was ready.

One answered him, "I am coming."

Manuel waited. There was now no sound in the forest: even the few birds
not yet gone south, that had been chirping of the day's adventures, were
hushed on a sudden, and the breeze died in the tree-tops. Inside the hut
Manuel lighted his four candles, and he disposed of one under each
umbrella in the prescribed manner. His footsteps on the bronze flooring,
and the rustling of his garments as he went about the hut doing what was
requisite, were surprisingly sharp and distinct noises in a vast silence
and in an illimitable loneliness.

Then said a thin little voice, "Manuel, open the door!"

Manuel obeyed, and you could see nobody anywhere in the forest's dusk.
The twilit brown and yellow trees were still as paintings. His horse
stood tethered and quite motionless, except that it was shivering.

One spoke at his feet. "Manuel, lift me over the threshold!"

Dom Manuel, recoiling, looked downward, and in the patch of candlelight
between the shadows of his legs you could see a human head. He raised
the head, and carried it into the hut. He could now perceive that the
head was made of white clay, and could deduce that the Misery of earth,
whom some call Béda, and others Kruchina, had come to him.

"Now, Manuel," says Misery, "do you give me my supper."

So Manuel set the head upon the table, and put a platter of soup before
the head, and fed the soup to Misery with a gold spoon.

When the head had supped, it bade Manuel place it in the little bamboo
cradle, and told Manuel to put out the lights. Many persons would not
have fancied being alone in the dark with Misery, but Manuel obeyed. He
knelt to begin his nightly prayer, but at once that happened which
induced him to desist. So without his usual divine invocation, Dom
Manuel lay down upon the bronze floor of the hut, beneath one of the
tall umbrellas, and he rolled up his russet cloak for a pillow.
Presently the head was snoring, and then Manuel too went to sleep. He
said, later, that he dreamed of Niafer.

[Illustration]




XX


The Month of Years


In the morning, after doing the head's extraordinary bidding, Manuel
went to feed his horse, and found tethered to the holm-oak the steed's
skeleton picked clean. "I grieve at this," said Manuel, "but I consider
it wiser to make no complaint." Indeed, there was nobody to complain to,
for Misery, after having been again lifted over the threshold, had
departed to put in a day's labor with the plague in the north.

Thereafter Manuel abode in this peculiarly irrational part of the
forest, serving Misery for, as men in cheerier places were estimating
the time, a month and a day. Of these services it is better not to
speak. But the head was pleased by Manuel's services, because Misery
loves company: and the two used to have long friendly talks together
when Manuel's services and Misery's work for that day were over.

"And how came you, sir, to be thus housed in a trunkless head?" asked
Manuel, one time.

"Why, when Jahveh created man on the morning of the sixth day, he set
about fashioning me that afternoon from the clay which was left over.
But he was interrupted by the coming of the Sabbath, for Jahveh was in
those days, of course, a very orthodox Jew. So I was left incomplete,
and must remain so always."

"I deduce that you, then, sir, are Heaven's last crowning work, and the
final finishing touch to creation."

"So the pessimists tell me," the clay head assented, with a yawn. "But I
have had a hard day of it, what with the pestilence in Glathion, and
wars between the Emperor and the Milanese, and all those October colds,
so we will talk no more philosophy."

Thus Manuel served the head of Misery, for a month of days and a day. It
was a noticeable peculiarity of this part of the forest - a peculiarity
well known to everybody, though not quite unanimously explained by the
learned, - that each day which one spent therein passed as a year, so
that Dom Manuel in appearance now aged rapidly. This was unfortunate,
especially when his teeth began to fail him, because there were no
dentists handy, but his interest in the other Plagues which visited this
forest left Manuel little time wherein to think about private worries.
For Béda was visited by many of his kindred, such as Mitlan and Kali and
Thragnar and Pwyll and Apepi and other evil principles, who were
perpetually coming to the gray hut for family reunions, and to rehearse
all but one of the two hundred and forty thousand spells of the Capuas.
And it was at this time that Manuel got his first glimpse of Sclaug,
with whom he had such famous troubles later.

So sped the month of days that passed as years. Little is known as to
what happened in the gray hut, but that perhaps is a good thing. Dom
Manuel never talked about it. This much is known, that all day the clay
head would be roving about the world, carrying envious reports, and
devouring kingdoms, and stirring up patriotism and reform, and
whispering malefic counsel, and bringing hurt and sorrow and despair and
evil of every kind to men; and that in the evening, when at sunset
Phobetor took over this lamentable work, Béda would return contentedly
to Dun Vlechlan, for Manuel's services and a well-earned night's rest.
On most evenings there was unspeakable company, but none of these stayed
overnight. And after each night passed alone with Misery, the morning
would find Manuel older looking.

"I wonder, sir, at your callousness, and at the cheery way in which you
go about your dreadful business," said Manuel, once, after he had just
cleansed the dripping jaws.

"Ah, but since I am all head and no heart, therefore I cannot well pity
the human beings whom I pursue as a matter of allotted duty."

"That seems plausible," says Manuel, "and I perceive that if appearances
are to be trusted you are not personally to blame. Still, I cannot but
wonder why the world of men should thus be given over to Misery if
Koshchei the Deathless, who made all things as they are, has any care
for men."

"As to what goes on overhead, Manuel, you must inquire of others. There
are persons in charge, I know, but they have never yet permitted Misery
to enter into their high places, for I am not popular with them, and
that is the truth."

"I can understand that, but nevertheless I wonder why Misery should have
been created to feed upon mankind."

"Probably the cows and sheep and chickens in your barnyards, and the
partridges and rabbits in your snares, and even the gasping fish upon
your hook, find time to wonder in the same way about you, Dom Manuel."

"Ah, but man is the higher form of life - "

"Granting that remarkable assumption, and is any man above Misery? So
you see it is logical I should feed on you."

"Still, I believe that the Misery of earth was devised as a trial and a
testing to fit us for some nobler and eternal life hereafter."

"Why in this world should you think that?" the head inquired, with real
interest.

"Because I have an immortal spirit, sir, and - "

"Dear me, but all this is very remarkable. Where is it, Manuel?"

"It is inside me somewhere, sir."

"Come, then, let us have it out, for I am curious to see it."

"No, it cannot get out exactly, sir, until I am dead."

"But what use will it be to you then?" said Misery: "and how can you,
who have not ever been dead, be certain as to what happens when one is
dead?"

"Well, I have always heard so, sir."

The head shook itself dubiously. "Now from whom of the Léshy, I wonder,
can you have been hearing such fantastic stories? I am afraid somebody
has been making fun of you, Manuel."


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