Don Rodriguez, by Lord Dunsany, , at sacred-texts.com
THE SEVENTH CHRONICLE
HOW HE CAME TO SHADOW VALLEY
Rodriguez still believed it to be the duty of any Christian man to kill Morano. Yet, more than comfort, more than dryness, he missed Morano's cheerful chatter, and his philosophy into which all occasions so easily slipped. Upon his first day's journey all was new; the very anemones kept him company; but now he made the discovery that lonely roads are long.
When he had suggested food or rest Morano had fallen in with his wishes; when he had suggested winning a castle in vague wars Morano had agreed with him. Now he had dismissed Morano and had driven him away at the rapier's point. There was no one now either to cook his food or to believe in the schemes his ambition made. There was no one now to speak of the wars as the natural end of the journey. Alone in the rain the wars seemed far away and castles hard to come by. The unromantic rain in which no dreams thrive fell on and on.
The village of Lowlight was some way behind him, as he went with mournful thoughts through the drizzling rain, when he caught the smell of bacon. He looked for a house but the plain was bare except for small bushes. He looked up wind, which was blowing from the west, whence came the unmistakable smell of bacon: and there was a small fire smoking greyly against a bush; and the fat figure crouching beside it, although the face was averted, was clearly none but Morano. And when Rodriguez saw that he was tenderly holding the infamous frying-pan, the very weapon that had done the accursed deed, then he almost felt righteous anger; but that frying-pan held other memories too, and Rodriguez felt less fury than what he thought he felt. As for killing Morano, Rodriguez believed, or thought he believed, that he was too far from the road for it to be possible to overtake him to mete out his just punishment. As for the bacon, Rodriguez scorned it and marched on down the road. Now one side of the frying-pan was very hot, for it was tilted a little and the lard had run sideways. By tilting it back again slowly Morano could make the fat run back bit by bit over the heated metal, and whenever it did so it sizzled. He now picked up the frying-pan and one log that was burning well and walked parallel with Rodriguez. He was up-wind of him, and whenever the bacon-fat sizzled Rodriguez caught the smell of it. A small matter to inspire thoughts; but Rodriguez had eaten nothing since the morning before, and ideas surged through his head; and though they began with moral indignation they adapted themselves more and more to hunger, until there came the idea that since his money had bought the bacon the food was rightfully his, and he had every right to eat it wherever he found it. So much can slaves sometimes control the master, and the body rule the brain.
So Rodriguez suddenly turned and strode up to Morano. "My bacon," he said.
"Master," Morano said, for it was beginning to cool, "let me make another small fire."
"Knave, call me not master," said Rodriguez.
Morano, who knew when speech was good, was silent now, and blew on the smouldering end of the log he carried and gathered a handful of twigs and shook the rain off them; and soon had a small fire again, warming the bacon. He had nothing to say which bacon could not say better. And when Rodriguez had finished up the bacon he carefully reconsidered the case of Morano, and there were points in it which he had not thought of before. He reflected that for the execution of knaves a suitable person was provided. He should perhaps give Morano up to la Garda. His next thought was where to find la Garda. And easily enough another thought followed that one, which was that although on foot and still some way behind four of la Garda were trying to find him. Rodriguez' mind, which was looking at life from the point of view of a judge, changed somewhat at this thought. He reflected next that, for the prevention of crime, to make Morano see the true nature of his enormity so that he should never commit it again might after all be as good as killing him. So what we call his better nature, his calmer judgment, decided him now to talk to Morano and not to kill him: but Morano, looking back upon this merciful change, always attributed it to fried bacon.
"Morano," said Rodriguez' better nature, "to offend the laws of Chivalry is to have against you the swords of all true men."
"Master," Morano said, "that were dreadful odds."
"And rightly," said Rodriguez.
"Master," said Morano, "I will keep those laws henceforth. I may cook bacon for you when you are hungry, I may brush the dust from your cloak, I may see to your comforts. This Chivalry forbids none of that. But when I see anyone trying to kill you, master; why, kill you he must, and welcome."
"Not always," said Rodriguez somewhat curtly, for it struck him that Morano spoke somehow too lightly of sacred things.
"Not always?" asked Morano.
"No," said Rodriguez.
"Master, I implore you tell me," said Morano, "when they may kill you and when they may not, so that I may never offend again."
Rodriguez cast a swift glance at him but found his face so full of puzzled anxiety that he condescended to do what Morano had asked, and began to explain to him the rudiments of the laws of Chivalry.
"In the wars," he said, "you may defend me whoever assails me, or if robbers or any common persons attack me, but if I arrange a meeting with a gentleman, and any knave basely interferes, then is he damned hereafter as well as accursed now; for, the laws of Chivalry being founded on true religion, the penalty for their breach is by no means confined to this world."
"Master," replied Morano thoughtfully, "if I be not damned already I will avoid those fires of Hell; and none shall kill you that you have not chosen to kill you, and those that you choose shall kill you whenever you have a mind."
Rodriguez opened his lips to correct Morano but reflected that, though in his crude and base-born way, he had correctly interpreted the law so far as his mind was able.
So he briefly said "Yes," and rose and returned to the road, giving Morano no order to follow him; and this was the last concession he made to the needs of Chivalry on account of the sin of Morano. Morano gathered up the frying-pan and followed Rodriguez, and when they came to the road he walked behind him in silence.
For three or four miles they walked thus, Morano knowing that he followed on sufferance and calling no attention to himself with his garrulous tongue. But at the end of an hour the rain lifted; and with the coming out of the sun Morano talked again.
"Master," he said, "the next man that you choose to kill you, let him be one too base-born to know the tricks of the rapier, too ignorant to do aught but wish you well, some poor fat fool over forty who shall be too heavy to elude your rapier's point and too elderly for it to matter when you kill him at your Chivalry, the best of life being gone already at forty-five."
"There is timber here," said Rodriguez. "We will have some more bacon while you dry my cloak over a fire."
Thus he acknowledged Morano again for his servant but never acknowledged that in Morano's words he had understood any poor sketch of Morano's self, or that the words went to his heart.
"Timber, Master?" said Morano, though it did not need Rodriguez to point out the great oaks that now began to stand beside their journey, but he saw that the other matter was well and thus he left well alone.
Rodriguez waved an arm towards the great trees. "Yes, indeed," said Morano, and began to polish up the frying-pan as he walked.
Rodriguez, who missed little, caught a glimpse of tears in Morano's eyes, for all that his head was turned downward over the frying-pan; yet he said nothing, for he knew that forgiveness was all that Morano needed, and that he had now given him: and it was much to give, reflected Rodriguez, for so great a crime, and dismissed the matter from his mind.
And now their road dipped downhill, and they passed a huge oak and then another. More and more often now they met these solitary giants, till their view began to be obscured by them. The road dwindled till it was no better than a track, the earth beside it was wild and rocky; Rodriguez wondered to what manner of land he was coming. But continually the branches of some tree obscured his view and the only indication he had of it was from the road he trod, which seemed to tell him that men came here seldom. Beyond every huge tree that they passed as they went downhill Rodriguez hoped to get a better view, but always there stood another to close the vista. It was some while before he realised that he had entered a forest. They were come to Shadow Valley.
The grandeur of this place, penetrated by shafts of sunlight, coloured by flashes of floating butterflies, filled by the chaunt of birds rising over the long hum of insects, lifted the fallen spirits of Rodriguez as he walked on through the morning.
He still would not have exchanged his rose for the whole forest; but in the mighty solemnity of the forest his mourning for the lady that he feared he had lost no longer seemed the only solemn thing: indeed, the sombre forest seemed well attuned to his mood; and what complaint have we against Fate wherever this is so. His mood was one of tragic loss, the defeat of an enterprise that his hopes had undertaken, to seize victory on the apex of the world, to walk all his days only just outside the edge of Paradise, for no less than that his hopes and his first love promised each other; and then he walked despairing in small rain. In this mood Fate had led him to solemn old oaks standing huge among shadows; and the grandeur of their grey grip on the earth that had been theirs for centuries was akin to the grandeur of the high hopes he had had, and his despair was somehow soothed by the shadows. And then the impudent birds seemed to say "Hope again."
They walked for miles into the forest and lit a fire before noon, for Rodriguez had left Lowlight very early. And by it Morano cooked bacon again and dried his master's cloak. They ate the bacon and sat by the fire till all their clothes were dry, and when the flames from the great logs fell and only embers glowed they sat there still, with hands spread to the warmth of the embers; for to those who wander a fire is food and rest and comfort. Only as the embers turned grey did they throw earth over their fire and continue their journey. Their road grew smaller and the forest denser.
They had walked some miles from the place where they lit their fire, when a somewhat unmistakable sound made Rodriguez look ahead of him. An arrow had struck a birch tree on the right side, ten or twelve paces in front of him; and as he looked up another struck it from the opposite side just level with the first; the two were sticking in it ten feet or so from the ground. Rodriguez drew his sword. But when a third arrow went over his head from behind and struck the birch tree, whut! just between the other two, he perceived, as duller minds could have done, that it was a hint, and he returned his sword and stood still. Morano questioned his master with his eyes, which were asking what was to be done next. But Rodriguez shrugged his shoulders: there was no fighting with an invisible foe that could shoot like that. That much Morano knew, but he did not know that there might not be some law of Chivalry that would demand that Rodriguez should wave his sword in the air or thrust at the birch tree until someone shot him. When there seemed to be no such rule Morano was well content. And presently men came quietly on to the road from different parts of the wood. They were dressed in brown leather and wore leaf-green hats, and round each one's neck hung a disk of engraved copper. They came up to the travellers carrying bows, and the leader said to Rodriguez:
"Senor, all travellers here bring tribute to the King of Shadow Valley," at the mention of whom all touched hats and bowed their heads. "What do you bring us?"
Rodriguez thought of no answer; but after a moment he said, for the sake of loyalty: "I know one king only."
"There is only one king in Shadow Valley," said the bowman.
"He brings a tribute of emeralds," said another, looking at Rodriguez' scabbard. And then they searched him and others search Morano. There were eight or nine of them, all in their leaf-green hats, with ribbons round their necks of the same colour to hold the copper disks. They took a gold coin from Morano and grey greasy pieces of silver. One of them took his frying-pan; but he looked so pitifully at them as he said simply, "I starve," that the frying-pan was restored to him.
They unbuckled Rodriguez' belt and took from him sword and scabbard and three gold pieces from his purse. Next they found the gold piece that was hanging round his neck, still stuffed inside his clothes where he had put it when he was riding. Having examined it they put it back inside his clothes, while the leader rebuckled his sword-belt about his waist and returned him his three gold-pieces.
Others returned his money to Morano. "Master," said the leader, bowing to Rodriguez, his green hat in hand, "under our King, the forest is yours."
Morano was pleased to hear this respect paid to his master, but Rodriguez was so surprised that he who was never curt without reason found no more to say than "Why?"
"Because we are your servants," said the other.
"Who are you?" asked Rodriguez.
"We are the green bowmen, master," he said, "who hold this forest against all men for our King."
"And who is he?" said Rodriguez.
And the bowman answered: "The King of Shadow Valley," at which the others all touched hats and bowed heads again. And Rodriguez seeing that the mystery would grow no clearer for any information to be had from them said: "Conduct me to your king."
"That, master, we cannot do," said the chief of the bowmen. "There be many trees in this forest, and behind any one of them he holds his court. When he needs us there is his clear horn. But when men need him who knows which shadow is his of all that lie in the forest?" Whether or not there was anything interesting in the mystery, to Rodriguez it was merely annoying; and finding it grew no clearer he turned his attention to shelter for the night, to which all travellers give a thought at least once, between noon and sunset.
"Is there any house on this road, senor," he said, "in which we could rest the night?"
"Ten miles from here," said he, "and not far from the road you take is the best house we have in the forest. It is yours, master, for as long as you honour it."
"Come then," said Rodriguez, "and I thank you, senor."
So they all started together, Rodriguez with the leader going in front and Morano following with all the bowmen. And soon the bowmen were singing songs of the forest, hunting songs, songs of the winter; and songs of the long summer evenings, songs of love. Cheered by this merriment, the miles slipped by.
And Rodriguez gathered from the songs they sang something of what they were and of how they lived in the forest, living amongst the woodland creatures till these men's ways were almost as their ways; killing what they needed for food but protecting the woodland things against all others; straying out amongst the villages in summer evenings, and always welcome; and owning no allegiance but to the King of the Shadow Valley.
And the leader told Rodriguez that his name was Miguel Threegeese, given him on account of an exploit in his youth when he lay one night with his bow by one of the great pools in the forest, where the geese come in winter. He said the forest was a hundred miles long, lying mostly along a great valley, which they were crossing. And once they had owned allegiance to kings of Spain, but now to none but the King of the Shadow Valley, for the King of Spain's men had once tried to cut some of the forest down, and the forest was sacred.
Behind him the men sang on of woodland things, and of cottage gardens in the villages: with singing and laughter they came to their journey's end. A cottage as though built by peasants with boundless material stood in the forest. It was a thatched cottage built in the peasant's way but of enormous size. The leader entered first and whispered to those within, who rose and bowed to Rodriguez as he entered, twenty more bowmen who had been sitting at a table. One does not speak of the banqueting-hall of a cottage, but such it appeared, for it occupied more than half of the cottage and was as large as the banqueting-hall of any castle. It was made of great beams of oak, and high at either end just under the thatch were windows with their little square panes of bulging bluish glass, which at that time was rare in Spain. A table of oak ran down the length of it, cut from a single tree, polished and dark from the hands of many men that had sat at it. Boar spears hung on the wall, great antlers and boar's tusks and, carved in the oak of the wall and again on a high, dark chair that stood at the end of the long table empty, a crown with oak leaves that Rodriguez recognised. It was the same as the one that was cut on his gold coin, which he had given no further thought to, riding to Lowlight, and which the face of Serafina had driven from his mind altogether. "But," he said, and then was silent, thinking to learn more by watching than by talking. And his companions of the road came in and all sat down on the benches beside the ample table, and a brew was brought, a kind of pale mead, that they called forest water. And all drank; and, sitting at the table, watching them more closely than he could as he walked in the forest, Rodriguez saw by the sunlight that streamed in low through one window that on the copper disks they wore round their necks on green ribbon the design was again the same. It was much smaller than his on the gold coin but the same strange leafy crown. "Wear it as you go through Shadow Valley," he now seemed to remember the man saying to him who put it round his neck. But why? Clearly because it was the badge of this band of men. And this other man was one of them.
His eyes strayed back to the great design on the wall. "The crown of the forest," said Miguel as he saw his eyes wondering at it, "as you doubtless know, senor."
Why should he know? Of course because he bore the design himself. "Who wears it?" said Rodriguez.
"The King of Shadow Valley."
Morano was without curiosity; he did not question good drink; he sat at the table with a cup of horn in his hand, as happy as though he had come to his master's castle, though that had not yet been won.
The sun sank under the oaks, filling the hall with a ruddy glow, turning the boar spears scarlet and reddening the red faces of the merry men of the bow.
A dozen of the men went out; to relieve the guard in the forest, Miguel explained. And Rodriguez learned that he had come through a line of sentries without ever seeing one. Presently a dozen others came in from their posts and unslung their bows and laid them on pegs on the wall and sat down at the table. Whereat there were whispered words and they all rose and bowed to Rodriguez. And Rodriguez had caught the words "A prince of the forest." What did it mean?
Soon the long hall grew dim, and his love for the light drew Rodriguez out to watch the sunset. And there was the sun under indescribable clouds, turning huge and yellow among the trunks of the trees and casting glory munificently down glades. It set, and the western sky became blood-red and lilac: from the other end of the sky the moon peeped out of night. A hush came and a chill, and a glory of colour, and a dying away of light; and in the hush the mystery of the great oaks became magical. A blackbird blew a tune less of this earth than of fairy-land.
Rodriguez wished that he could have had a less ambition than to win a castle in the wars, for in those glades and among those oaks he felt that happiness might be found under roofs of thatch. But having come by his ambition he would not desert it.
Now rushlights were lit in the great cottage and the window of the long room glowed yellow. A fountain fell in the stillness that he had not heard before. An early nightingale tuned a tentative note. "The forest is fair, is it not?" said Miguel.
Rodriguez had no words to say. To turn into words the beauty that was now shining in his thoughts, reflected from the evening there, was no easier than for wood to reflect all that is seen in the mirror.
"You love the forest," he said at last.
"Master," said Miguel, "it is the only land in which we should live our days. There are cities and roads but man is not meant for them. I know not, master, what God intends about us; but in cities we are against the intention at every step, while here, why, we drift along with it."
"I, too, would live here always," said Rodriguez.
"The house is yours," said Miguel. And Rodriguez answered: "I go tomorrow to the wars."
They turned round then and walked slowly back to the cottage, and entered the candlelight and the loud talk of many men out of the hush of the twilight. But they passed from the room at once by a door on the left, and came thus to a large bedroom, the only other room in the cottage.
"Your room, master," said Miguel Threegeese.
It was not so big as the hall where the bowmen sat, but it was a goodly room. The bed was made of carved wood, for there were craftsmen in the forest, and a hunt went all the way round it with dogs and deer. Four great posts held a canopy over it: they were four young birch-trees seemingly still wearing their bright bark, but this had been painted on their bare timber by some woodland artist. The chairs had not the beauty of the great ages of furniture, but they had a dignity that the age of commerce has not dreamed of. Each one was carved out of a single block of wood: there was no join in them anywhere. One of them lasts to this day.
The skins of deer covered the long walls. There were great basins and jugs of earthenware. All was forest-made. The very shadows whispering among themselves in corners spoke of the forest. The room was rude; but being without ornament, except for the work of simple craftsmen, it had nothing there to offend the sense of right of anyone entering its door, by any jarring conflict with the purposes and traditions of the land in which it stood. All the woodland spirits might have entered there, and slept—if spirits sleep—in the great bed, and left at dawn unoffended. In fact that age had not yet learned vulgarity.
When Miguel Threegeese left Morano entered.
"Master," he said, "they are making a banquet for you."
"Good," said Rodriguez. "We will eat it." And he waited to hear what Morano had come to say, for he could see that it was more than this.
"Master," said Morano, "I have been talking with the bowman. And they will give you whatever you ask. They are good people, master, and they will give you all things, whatever you asked of them."
Rodriguez would not show to his servant that it all still puzzled him.
"They are very amiable men," he said.
"Master," said Morano, coming to the point, "that Garda, they will have walked after us. They must be now in Lowlight. They have all to-night to get new shoes on their horses. And to-morrow, master, to-morrow, if we be still on foot..."
Rodriguez was thinking. Morano seemed to him to be talking sense.
"You would like another ride?" he said to Morano.
"Master," he answered, "riding is horrible. But the public garrotter, he is a bad thing too." And he meditatively stroked the bristles under his chin.
"They would give us horses?" said Rodriguez.
"Anything, master, I am sure of it. They are good people."
"They'll have news of the road by which they left Lowlight," said Rodriguez reflectively. "They say la Garda dare not enter the forest," Morano continued, "but thirty miles from here the forest ends. They could ride round while we go through."
"They would give us horses?" said Rodriguez again.
"Surely," said Morano.
And then Rodriguez asked where they cooked the banquet, since he saw that there were only two rooms in the great cottage and his inquiring eye saw no preparations for cooking about the fireplace of either. And Morano pointed through a window at the back of the room to another cottage among the trees, fifty paces away. A red glow streamed from its windows, growing strong in the darkening forest.
"That is their kitchen, master," he said. "The whole house is kitchen." His eyes looked eagerly at it, for, though he loved bacon, he welcomed the many signs of a dinner of boundless variety.
As he and his master returned to the long hall great plates of polished wood were being laid on the table. They gave Rodriguez a place on the right of the great chair that had the crown of the forest carved on the back.
"Whose chair is that?" said Rodriguez.
"The King of Shadow Valley," they said.
"He is not here then," said Rodriguez.
"Who knows?" said a bowman.
"It is his chair," said another; "his place is ready. None knows the ways of the King of Shadow Valley."
"He comes sometimes at this hour," said a third, "as the boar comes to Heather Pool at sunset. But not always. None knows his ways."
"If they caught the King," said another, "the forest would perish. None loves it as he, none knows its ways as he, no other could so defend it."
"Alas," said Miguel, "some day when he be not here they will enter the forest." All knew whom he meant by they. "And the goodly trees will go." He spoke as a man foretelling the end of the world; and, as men to whom no less was announced, the others listened to him. They all loved Shadow Valley.
In this man's time, so they told Rodriguez, none entered the forest to hurt it, no tree was cut except by his command, and venturous men claiming rights from others than him seldom laid axe long to tree before he stood near, stepping noiselessly from among shadows of trees as though he were one of their spirits coming for vengeance on man.
All this they told Rodriguez, but nothing definite they told of their king, where he was yesterday, where he might be now; and any questions he asked of such things seemed to offend a law of the forest.
And then the dishes were carried in, to Morano's great delight: with wide blue eyes he watched the produce of that mighty estate coming in through the doorway cooked. Boars' heads, woodcock, herons, plates full of fishes, all manner of small eggs, a roe- deer and some rabbits, were carried in by procession. And the men set to with their ivory-handled knives, each handle being the whole tusk of a boar. And with their eating came merriment and tales of past huntings and talk of the forest and stories of the King of Shadow Valley.
And always they spoke of him not only with respect but also with the discretion, Rodriguez thought, of men that spoke of one who might be behind them at that moment, and one who tolerated no trifling with his authority. Then they sang songs again, such as Rodriguez had heard on the road, and their merry lives passed clearly before his mind again, for we live in our songs as no men live in histories. And again Rodriguez lamented his hard ambition and his long, vague journey, turning away twice from happiness; once in the village of Lowlight where happiness deserted him, and here in the goodly forest where he jilted happiness. How well could he and Morano live as two of this band, he thought; leaving all cares in cities: for there dwelt cares in cities even then. Then he put the thought away. And as the evening wore away with merry talk and with song, Rodriguez turned to Miguel and told him how it was with la Garda and broached the matter of horses. And while the others sang Miguel spoke sadly to him. "Master," he said, "la Garda shall never take you in Shadow Valley, yet if you must leave us to make your fortune in the wars, though your fortune waits you here, there be many horses in the forest, and you and your servant shall have the best."
"Tomorrow morning, senor?" said Rodriguez.
"Even so," said Miguel.
"And how shall I send them to you again?" said Rodriguez.
"Master, they are yours," said Miguel.
But this Rodriguez would not have, for as yet he only guessed what claim at all he had upon Shadow Valley, his speculations being far more concerned with the identity of the hidalgo that he had fought the night before, how he concerned Serafina, who had owned the rose that he carried: in fact his mind was busy with such studies as were proper to his age. And at last they decided between them on the house of a lowland smith, who was the furthest man that the bowmen knew who was secretly true to their king. At his house Rodriguez and Morano should leave the horses. He dwelt sixty miles from the northern edge of the forest, and would surely give Rodriguez fresh horses if he possessed them, for he was a true man to the bowman. His name was Gonzalez and he dwelt in a queer green house.
They turned then to listen a moment to a hunting song that all the bowmen were singing about the death of a boar. Its sheer merriment constrained them. Then Miguel spoke again. "You should not leave the forest," he said sadly.
Rodriguez sighed: it was decided. Then Miguel told him of his road, which ran north-eastward and would one day bring him out of Spain. He told him how towns on the way, and the river Ebro, and with awe and reverence he spoke of the mighty Pyrenees. And then Rodriguez rose, for the start was to be at dawn, and walked quietly through the singing out of the hall to the room where the great bed was. And soon he slept, and his dreams joined in the endless hunt through Shadow Valley that was carved all round the timbers of his bed.
All too soon he heard voices, voices far off at first, to which he drew nearer and nearer; thus he woke grudgingly out of the deeps of sleep. It was Miguel and Morano calling him.
When at length he reached the hall all the merriment of the evening was gone from it but the sober beauty of the forest flooded in through both windows with early sunlight and bird-song; so that it had not the sad appearance of places in which we have rejoiced, when we revisit them next day or next generation and find them all deserted by dance and song.
Rodriguez ate his breakfast while the bowmen waited with their bows all strung by the door. When he was ready they all set off in the early light through the forest.
Rodriguez did not criticise his ambition; it sailed too high above his logic for that; but he regretted it, as he went through the beauty of the forest among these happy men. But we must all have an ambition, and Rodriguez stuck to the one he had. He had another, but it was an ambition with weak wings that could not come to hope. It depended upon the first. If he could win a castle in the wars he felt that he might even yet hope towards Lowlight.
Little was said, and Rodriguez was all alone with his thoughts. In two hours they met a bowman holding two horses. They had gone eight miles.
"Farewell to the forest," said Miguel to Rodriguez. There was almost a query in his voice. Would Rodriguez really leave them? it seemed to say.
"Farewell," he answered.
Morano too had looked sideways towards his master, seeming almost to wonder what his answer would be: when it came he accepted it and walked to the horses. Rodriguez mounted: willing hands helped up Morano. "Farewell," said Miguel once more. And all the bowmen shouted "Farewell."
"Make my farewell," said Rodriguez, "to the King of Shadow Valley."
A twig cracked in the forest.
"Hark," said Miguel. "Maybe that was a boar."
"I cannot wait to hunt," said Rodriguez, "for I have far to go."
"Maybe," said Miguel, "it was the King's farewell to you."
Rodriguez looked into the forest and saw nothing.
"Farewell," he said again. The horses were fresh and he let his go. Morano lumbered behind him. In two miles they came to the edge of the forest and up a rocky hill, and so to the plains again, and one more adventure lay behind them. Rodriguez turned round once on the high ground and took a long look back on the green undulations of peace. The forest slept there as though empty of men.
Then they rode. In the first hour, easily cantering, they did ten miles. Then they settled down to what those of our age and country and occupation know as a hound-jog, which is seven miles an hour. And after two hours they let the horses rest. It was the hour of the frying-pan. Morano, having dismounted, stretched himself dolefully; then he brought out all manner of meats. Rodriguez looked wonderingly at them.
"For the wars, master," said Morano. To whatever wars they went, the green bowmen seemed to have supplied an ample commissariat.
They ate. And Rodriguez thought of the wars, for the thought of Serafina made him sad, and his rejection of the life of the forest saddened him too; so he sought to draw from the future the comfort that he could not get from the past.
They mounted again and rode again for three hours, till they saw very far off on a hill a village that Miguel had told them was fifty miles from the forest.
"We rest the night there," said Rodriguez pointing, though it was yet seven or eight miles away.
"All the Saints be praised," said Morano.
They dismounted then and went on foot, for the horses were weary. At evening they rode slowly into the village. At an inn whose hospitable looks were as cheerfully unlike the Inn of the Dragon and Knight as possible, they demanded lodging for all four. They went first to the stable, and when the horses had been handed over to the care of a groom they returned to the inn, and mine host and Rodriguez had to help Morano up the three steps to the door, for he had walked nine miles that day and ridden fifty and he was too weary to climb the steps.
And later Rodriguez sat down alone to his supper at a table well and variously laden, for the doors of mine hosts' larder were opened wide in his honour; but Rodriguez ate sparingly, as do weary men.
And soon he sought his bed. And on the old echoing stairs as he and mine host ascended they met Morano leaning against the wall. What shall I say of Morano? Reader, your sympathy is all ready to go out to the poor, weary man. He does not entirely deserve it, and shall not cheat you of it. Reader, Morano was drunk. I tell you this sorry truth rather than that the knave should have falsely come by your pity. And yet he is dead now over three hundred years, having had his good time to the full. Does he deserve your pity on that account? Or your envy? And to whom or what would you give it? Well, anyhow, he deserved no pity for being drunk. And yet he was thirsty, and too tired to eat, and sore in need of refreshment, and had had no more cause to learn to shun good wine than he had had to shun the smiles of princesses; and there the good wine had been, sparkling beside him merrily.
And now, why now, fatigued as he had been an hour or so ago (but time had lost its tiresome, restless meaning), now he stood firm while all things and all men staggered.
"Morano," said Rodriguez as he passed that foolish figure, "we go sixty miles to-morrow."
"Sixty, master?" said Morano. "A hundred: two hundred."
"It is best to rest now," said his master.
"Two hundred, master, two hundred," Morano replied.
And then Rodriguez left him, and heard him muttering his challenge to distance still, "Two hundred, two hundred," till the old stairway echoed with it.
And so he came to his chamber, of which he remembered little, for sleep lurked there and he was soon with dreams, faring further with them than my pen can follow.