Till We Have Faces Page 25

He said, as always, "Yes, Lady," and looked as if he liked this adventure very little.

I went to the ford - about a long bow-shot from Gram. My heart was still as ice, heavy as lead, cold as earth, but I was free now from all doubting and deliberating. I set my foot on the first stone of the crossing and called Psyche's name. She must have been very close, for almost at once I saw her coming down to the bank. We might have been two images of love, the happy and the stern - she so young, so brightface, joy in her eye and limbs - I, burdened and resolute, bringing pain in my hand.

"So I spoke truly, Maia," she said as soon as I had crossed the water and we had embraced.

"The King has been no hindrance to you, has he? Salute me for a prophetess!"

This startled me a moment, for I had forgotten her foretelling. But I put it aside to be thought of later.

Now, I had my work to do; I must not, now of all times, begin doubting and pondering again.

She brought me a little way from the water - I don't know into what part of her phantom palace - and we sat down. I threw back my hood and put off my veil and set down the urn beside me.

"Oh, Orual," said Psyche, "what a storm-cloud in your face! That's how you looked when you were most angry with me as a child."

"Was I ever angry? Ah, Psyche, do you think I ever scolded or denied you without grieving my heart ten times more than yours?"

"Sister, I meant to find no fault with you."

"Then find no fault with me today either. For indeed we must talk very gravely. Now listen, Psyche. Our father is no father. Your mother (peace upon her!) is dead, and you have never seen her kindred. I have been - I have tried to be and still I must be - all the father and mother and kin you have. And all the King too."

"Maia, you have been all this and more since the day I was born. You and the dear Fox are all I ever had."

"Yes, the Fox. I'll have something to say of him, too. And so, Psyche, if anyone is to care for you or counsel you or shield you, or if anyone is to tell you what belongs to the honour of our blood, it can be only I."

"But why are you saying all this, Orual? You do not think I have left off loving you because I now have a husband to love as well? If you would understand it, that makes me love you  - why, it makes me love everyone and everything - more."

This made me shudder but I hid it and went on. "I know you love me, Psyche," said I. "And I think I should not live if you didn't. But you must trust me too." She said nothing. And now I was right on top of the terrible thing, and it almost struck me dumb. I cast about for ways to begin it.

"You spoke last time," I said, "of the day we got the thorn out of your hand. We hurt you that time, Psyche. But we did right. Those who love must hurt. I must hurt you again today.

And, Psyche, you are still little more than a child. You cannot go your own way. You will let me rule and guide you."

"Orual, I have a husband to guide me now." It was difficult not to be angered or terrified by her harping on it. I bit my lip, then said, "Alas, child, it is about that very husband (as you call him) that I must grieve you." I looked straight at her eyes and said sharply, "Who is he?

What is he?"

"A god," she said, low and quivering. "And, I think, the god of the Mountain."

"Alas, Psyche, you are deceived. If you knew the truth, you would die rather than lie in his bed."

"The truth?"

"We must face it, child. Be very brave. Let me pull out this thorn. What sort of god would he be who dares not show his face?"

"Dares not! You come near to making me angry, Orual."

"But think, Psyche. Nothing that's beautiful hides its face. Nothing that's honest hides its name. No, no, listen. In your heart you must see the truth, however you try to brazen it out with words. Think. Whose bride were you called? The Brute's. And think again. If it's not the Brute, who else dwells in these mountains? Thieves and murderers, men worse than brutes, and lecherous as goats we may be sure. Are you a prize they'd let pass if you fell in their way? There's your lover, child. Either a monster - shadow and monster in one, maybe, a ghostly, un-dead thing - or a salt villain whose lips, even on your feet or the hem of your robe, would be a stain to our blood."

She was silent a long time, her eyes on her lap. "And so, Psyche," I began at last, tenderly as I could - but she tossed away the hand that I had laid on hers. "You mistake me, Orual. If I am pale, it is with anger. There, Sister, I have conquered it. I'll forgive you. You mean - I'll believe you mean - nothing but good. Yet how - or why - you can have blackened and tormented your soul with such thoughts . . . but no more of that, if ever you loved me, put them away now."

"Blackened my thoughts. They're not only mine. Tell me, Psyche, who are the two wisest men we know?"

"Why, the Fox for one. For the second - I know so few. I suppose Bardia is wise, in his own way."

"You said yourself, that night in the five-walled room, that he was a prudent man. Now, Psyche, these two - so wise and so different - are both agreed with each other and with me concerning this lover of yours. Agreed without doubt. All three of us are certain. Either Shadowbrute or felon."

"You have told them my story, Orual? It was ill done. I gave you no leave. My lord gave no leave. Oh, Orual! It was more like Batta than you."

I could not help it if my face reddened with anger, but I would not be turned aside.

"Doubtless," I said. "There is no end to the secrecy of this - this husband as you call him.

Child, has his vile love so turned your brain that you can't see the plainest thing? A god? Yet on your own showing he hides and slinks and whispers, 'Mum,' and 'Keep counsel,' and

'Don't betray me,' like a runaway slave."

I am not certain that she had listened to this. What she said was: "The Fox too! That is very strange. I never thought he would have believed in the Brute at all."

I had not said he did. But if that was what she took out of my words, I thought it no part of my duty to set her right. It was an error helping her towards the main truth. I had need of all help to drive her thither.

"Neither he nor I nor Bardia," said I, "believes for one moment in your fancy that it is the god; no more than that this wild heath is a palace. And be sure, Psyche, that if we could ask every man and woman in Glome, all would say the same. The truth is too clear."

"But what is all this to me? How should they know? I am his wife. I know."

"How can you know if you have never seen him?"

"Orual, how can you be so simple? I - how could I not know?"

"But how, Psyche?"

"What am I to answer to such a question? It's not fitting . . . it is . . . and especially to you, Sister, who are a virgin."

That matronly primness, from the child she was, went near to ending my patience. It was almost (but I think now she did not mean it so) as if she taunted me. Yet I ruled myself.

"Well, if you are so sure, Psyche, you will not refuse to put it to the test."

"What test? Though I need none myself."

"I have brought a lamp, and oil. See. Here they are." (I set them down beside her.) "Wait till he - or it - sleeps. Then look."

"I cannot do that."

"Ah! . . . You see! You will abide no test. And why? Because you are not sure yourself. If you were, you'd be eager to do it. If he is, as you say, a god, one glimpse will set all our doubts at rest. What you call our dark thoughts will be put to flight. But you daren't."

"Oh, Orual, what evil you think! The reason I cannot look at him - least of all by such trickery as you'd have me do - is that he has forbidden me."

"I can think - Bardia and the Fox can think - of one reason only for such a forbidding. And of one only for your obeying it."

"Then you know little of love."

"You fling my virginity in my face again, do you? Better it than the sty you're in. So be it. Of what you now call love, I do know nothing. You can whisper about it to Redival better than to me - or to Ungit's girls, maybe, or the King's doxies. I know another sort of love. You shall find what it's like. You shall not - "

"Orual, Orual, you are raving," said Psyche; herself unangered, gazing at me large-eyed, sorrowful, but nothing humble about her sorrow. You would have thought she was my mother, not I (almost) hers. I had known this long time that the old meek, biddable Psyche was gone forever; yet it shocked me afresh.

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