Till We Have Faces

Page 23


"But the palace?"
"Her old fantasy, raised up by her madness and taken by her for reality. And whatever she tells the rascal about her fine house, he echoes it all. Perhaps adds more of his own. And so the delusion is built up stronger and stronger."
For the second time that day I was utterly aghast. The Fox's explanation seemed too plain and evident to allow me any hope of doubt. While Bardia was speaking, his had seemed the same.
"It looks, Grandfather," said I dully, "as if you had read the riddle right."
"It needed no Oedipus. But the real riddle's still to guess. What must we do? Oh, I'm barren, barren. I think your father has addled my brains with beating me about the ears. There must be some way . . . yet we've so little time."
"And so little freedom. I can't pretend to be on my sickbed much longer. And once the King knows I'm whole, how shall I ever get to the Mountain again?"
"Oh, for that - but I'd forgotten. There's been news today. The lions have been seen again."
"What?" I cried in terror. "On the Mountain?"
"No, no, not so bad as that. Indeed, rather good than bad. Somewhere down south, and west of Ringal. The King will have a great lion hunt."
"The lions back . . . so Ungit has played us false after all. Perhaps he'll sacrifice Redival this time. Is the King in a great rage?"
"Rage? No. Why, you'd think the loss of a herdsman and (what he values far more) some of the best dogs, and I don't know how many bullocks, was the best news he'd ever heard! I never saw him in better spirits. There's been nothing in his mouth all day but dogs and beaters and weather . . . and such rummage and bustle - messages to this lord and that lord - deep talks with the Huntsman - inspecting of kennels - shoeing of horses - beer flowing like water - even I have been slapped on the back in pure good fellowship till my ribs ache with it. But what concerns us is that he'll be out at the hunting the next two days at least. With luck it might be five or six."
"Then that's the time we have to work in."
"No more than that. He goes at daybreak tomorrow. And anyway, we'd have little longer.
She'll die if winter catches her on the Mountain. Living without a roof. And she'll be with child, no doubt, before we've time to look about us."
It was as if I'd been hit about the heart. "Leprosy and scabs on the man!" I gasped. "Curse him, curse him! Psyche to carry a beggar's brat? We'll have him impaled if ever we catch him. He shall die for days. Oh, I could tear his body with my bare teeth."
"You darken our counsels - and your own soul - with these passions," said the Fox. "If there were anywhere she could lie hidden (if we could get her)!"
"I had thought," said I, "we could hide her in Bardia's house."
"Bardia! He'd never take one who's been sacrificed into his house. He's afraid of his own shadow where gods and old wives' tales are concerned. He's a fool."
"That he is not," said I, sharply enough, for the Fox often nettled me with his contempt for very brave and honest people if they had no tincture of his Greek wisdom.
"And if Bardia would," the Fox added, "that wife of his wouldn't let him. And everyone knows that Bardia's tied to his wife's apron-strings."
"Bardia! And such a man. I couldn't have believed - "
"Pah! He's as amorous as Alcibiades. Why, the fellow married her undowered - for her beauty, if you please. The whole town knows of it. And she rules him like her slave."
"She must be a very vile woman, Grandfather."
"What does it matter to us whether she is or no? But you needn't think to find refuge for our darling in that house. I'll go further, daughter. There's nothing for it but to send her right out of Glome. If anyone in Glome knew that she had not died, they would seek her out and sacrifice her again. If we could get her to her mother's family . . . but I see no way of doing it.
Oh Zeus, Zeus, Zeus, if I had ten hoplites and a sane man to command them!"
"I can't see," said I, "even how to get her to leave the Mountain. She was obstinate, Grandfather. She obeys me no more. I think we must use force."
"And we have no force. I am a slave and you are a woman. We can't lead a dozen spears up the Mountain. And if we could, the secret would never be kept."
After that we sat silent for a long time, the fire flickering, Poobi sitting cross-legged by the hearth, feeding the logs into it, and playing a strange game of her own people's with beads (she once tried to teach it to me, but I could never learn). The Fox made as if to speak a dozen times but always checked himself. He was quick to devise plans, but no less quick to see the faults in them.
At last I said, "It all comes to this, Grandfather. I must go back to Psyche. I must overrule her somehow. Once she is on our side, once she knows her shame and danger, then the three of us must devise as best we can. It may be that she and I must go out into the wide world together - wander like Oedipus."
"And I with you," said the Fox. "You once bade me run away. This time I'll do it"
"One thing's certain," said I. "She shall not be left to the felon who has abused her. I will choose any way - any way - rather than that. It rests on me. Her mother's dead. (What mother but me has she ever known?) Her father's nothing, nothing for a father, and nothing for a king either. The honour of our house - the very being of Psyche - only I am left to care for them. She shall not be left. I'll - I'll"
"What, child? You are pale! Are you fainting?"
"If there is no other way, I will kill her."
"Babai!" said the Fox, so loud that Poobi stopped her game and stared at him. "Daughter, daughter. You are transported beyond all reason and nature. Do you know what it is?
There's one part love in your heart, and five parts anger, and seven parts pride. The gods know I love Psyche, too. And you know it; you know I love her as well as you do. It's a bitter grief that our child - our very Artemis and Aphrodite all in one - should live a beggar's life and lie in a beggar's arms. Yet even this . . . it is not to be named beside such detested impieties as you speak of. Why, look at it squarely, as reason and nature have made it, not as passion would paint it. To be poor and in hardship, to be a poor man's wife - "
"Wife! You mean his trull, his drab, his whore, his slut."
"Nature knows nothing of these names. What you call marriage is by law and custom not nature. Nature's marriage is but the union of the man who persuades with the woman who consents. And so - "
"The man who persuades - or, more likely, forces or deceives - being some murderer, alien, traitor, runaway slave or other filth?"
"Filth? Perhaps I do not see it as you do. I am an alien and a slave myself; and ready to be a runaway - to risk the flogging and impaling - for your love and hers."
"You are ten times my father," said I, raising his hand to my lips. "I meant no such thing.
But, Grandfather, there are matters you don't understand. Psyche said so herself."
"Sweet Psyche," he said. "I have often told her so. I am glad she has mastered the lesson.
She was ever a good pupil."
"You don't believe in the divine blood of our house," I said.
"Oh yes. Of all houses. All men are of divine blood, for there is the god in every man. We are all one. Even the man who has taken Psyche. I have called him rascal and villain. Too likely he is. But it may not be. A good man might be an outlaw and a runaway."
I was silent. All this meant nothing to me.
"Daughter," said the Fox suddenly (I think no woman, at least no woman who loved you, would have done it). "Sleep comes early to old men. I can hardly keep my eyes open. Let me go. Perhaps we shall see more clearly in the morning."
What could I do but send him away? This is where men, even the trustiest, fail us. Their heart is never so wholly given to any matter but that some trifle of a meal, or a drink, or a sleep, or a joke, or a girl, may come in between them and it, and then (even if you are a queen) you'll get no more good out of them till they've had their way. In those days I had not yet understood this. Great desolation came over me.
"Everyone goes from me," I said. "None of them cares for Psyche. She lives at the very outskirts of their thoughts. She is less to them, far less, than Poobi is to me. They think of her a little and then get tired and go to something else, the Fox to his sleep, and Bardia to his doll or scold of a wife. You are alone, Orual. Whatever is to be done, you must devise and do it. No help will come. All gods and mortals have drawn away from you. You must guess the riddle. Not a word will come to you until you have guessed wrong and they all come crowding back to accuse and mock and punish you for it."