Don Rodriguez, by Lord Dunsany, , at sacred-texts.com
THE ELEVENTH CHRONICLE
HOW HE TURNED TO GARDENING AND HIS SWORD RESTED
These were the days that Rodriguez always remembered; and, side by side with them, there lodged in his memory, and went down with them into his latter years, the days and nights when he went through the Pyrenees and walked when he would have slept but had to walk or freeze: and by some queer rule that guides us he treasured them both in his memory, these happy days in this garden and the frozen nights on the peaks.
For Serafina showed Rodriguez the garden that behind the house ran narrow and long to the wild. There were rocks with heliotrope pouring over them and flowers peeping behind them, and great azaleas all in triumphant bloom, and ropes of flowering creepers coming down from trees, and oleanders, and a plant named popularly Joy of the South, and small paths went along it edged with shells brought from the far sea.
There was only one street in the village, and you did not go far among the great azaleas before you lost sight of the gables; and you did not go far before the small paths ended with their shells from the distant sea, and there was the mistress of all gardeners facing you, Mother Nature nursing her children, the things of the wild. She too had azaleas and oleanders, but they stood more solitary in their greater garden than those that grew in the garden of Dona Mirana; and she too had little paths, only they were without borders and without end. Yet looking from the long and narrow garden at the back of that house in Lowlight to the wider garden that sweeps round the world, and is fenced by Space from the garden in Venus and by Space from the garden in Mars, you scarce saw any difference or noticed where they met: the solitary azaleas beyond were gathered together by distance, and from Lowlight to the horizon seemed all one garden in bloom. And afterwards, all his years, whenever Rodriguez heard the name of Spain, spoken by loyal men, it was thus that he thought of it, as he saw it now.
And here he used to walk with Serafina when she tended flowers in the cool of the morning or went at evening to water favourite blooms. And Rodriguez would bring with him his mandolin, and sometimes he touched it lightly or even sang, as they rested on some carved seat at the garden's end, looking out towards shadowy shrubs on the shining hill, but mostly he heard her speak of the things she loved, of what moths flew to their garden, and which birds sang, and how the flowers grew. Serafina sat no longer in her balcony but, disguising idleness by other names, they loitered along those paths that the seashells narrowed; yet there was a grace in their loitering such as we have not in our dances now. And evening stealing in from the wild places, from darkening azaleas upon distant hills, still found them in the garden, found Rodriguez singing in idleness undisguised, or anxiously helping in some trivial task, tying up some tendril that had gone awry, helping some magnolia that the wind had wounded. Almost unnoticed by him the sunlight would disappear, and the coloured blaze of the sunset, and then the gloaming; till the colours of all the flowers queerly changed and they shone with that curious glow which they wear in the dusk. They returned then to the house, the garden behind them with its dim hushed air of a secret, before them the candlelight like a different land. And after the evening meal Alderon and Rodriguez would sit late together discussing the future of the world, Rodriguez holding that it was intended that the earth should be ruled by Spain, and Alderon fearing it would all go to the Moors.
Days passed thus.
And then one evening Rodriguez was in the garden with Serafina; the flowers, dim and pale and more mysterious than ever, poured out their scent towards the coming night, luring huge hawk-moths from the far dusk that was gathering about the garden, to hover before each bloom on myriad wingbeats too rapid for human eye: another inch and the fairies had peeped out from behind azaleas, yet both of these late loiterers felt fairies were surely there: it seemed to be Nature's own most secret hour, upon which man trespasses if he venture forth from his house: an owl from his hidden haunt flew nearer the garden and uttered a clear call once to remind Rodriguez of this: and Rodriguez did not heed, but walked in silence.
He had played his mandolin. It had uttered to the solemn hush of the understanding evening all it was able to tell; and after that cry, grown piteous with so many human longings, for it was an old mandolin, Rodriguez felt there was nothing left for his poor words to say. So he went dumb and mournful.
Serafina would have heard him had he spoken, for her thoughts vibrated yet with the voice of the mandolin, which had come to her hearing as an ambassador from Rodriguez, but he found no words to match with the mandolin's high mood. His eyes said, and his sighs told, what the mandolin had uttered; but his tongue was silent.
And then Serafina said, as he walked all heavy with silence past a curving slope of dimly glowing azaleas, "You like flowers, senor?"
"Senorita, I adore them," he replied.
"Indeed?" said Dona Serafina.
"Indeed I do," said Rodriguez.
"And yet," asked Dona Serafina, "was it not a somewhat withered or altogether faded flower that you carried, unless I fancied wrong, when you rode past our balcony?"
"It was indeed faded," said Rodriguez, "for the rose was some weeks old."
"One who loved flowers, I thought," said Serafina, "would perhaps care more for them fresh."
Half-dumb though Rodriguez was his shrewdness did not desert him. To have said that he had the rose from Serafina would have been to claim as though proven what was yet no more than a hope.
"Senorita," he said, "I found the flower on holy ground."
"I did not know," she said, "that you had travelled so far."
"I found it here," he said, "under your balcony."
"Perchance I let it fall," said she. "It was idle of me."
"I guard it still," he said, and drew forth that worn brown rose.
"It was idle of me," said Serafina.
But then in that scented garden among the dim lights of late evening the ghost of that rose introduced their spirits one to the other, so that the listening flowers heard Rodriguez telling the story of his heart, and, bending over the shell-bordered path, heard Serafina's answer; and all they seemed to do was but to watch the evening, with leaves uplifted in the hope of rain.
Film after film of dusk dropped down from where twilight had been, like an army of darkness slowly pitching their tents on ground that had been lost to the children of light. Out of the wild lands all the owls flew nearer: their long, clear cries and the huge hush between them warned all those lands that this was not man's hour. And neither Rodriguez nor Serafina heard them.
In pale blue sky where none had thought to see it one smiling star appeared. It was Venus watching lovers, as men of the crumbled centuries had besought her to do, when they named her so long ago, kneeling upon their hills with bended heads, and arms stretched out to her sweet eternal scrutiny. Beneath her wandering rays as they danced down to bless them Rodriguez and Serafina talked low in the sight of the goddess, and their voices swayed through the flowers with whispers and winds, not troubling the little wild creatures that steal out shy in the dusk, and Nature forgave them for being abroad in that hour; although, so near that a single azalea seemed to hide it, so near seemed to beckon and whisper old Nature's eldest secret.
When flowers glimmered and Venus smiled and all things else were dim, they turned on one of those little paths hand in hand homeward.
Dona Mirana glanced once at her daughter's eyes and said nothing. Don Alderon renewed his talk with Rodriguez, giving reasons for his apprehension of the conquest of the world by the Moors, which he had thought of since last night; and Rodriguez agreed with all that Don Alderon said, but understood little, being full of dreams that seemed to dance on the further, side of the candlelight to a strange, new, unheard tune that his heart was aware of. He gazed much at Serafina and said little.
He drank no wine that night with Don Alderon: what need had he of wine? On wonderful journeys that my pen cannot follow, for all the swiftness of the wing from which it came; on darting journeys outspeeding the lithe swallow or that great wanderer the white- fronted goose, his young thoughts raced by a myriad of golden evenings far down the future years. And what of the days he saw? Did he see them truly? Enough that he saw them in vision. Saw them as some lone shephered on lifted downs sees once go by with music a galleon out of the East, with windy sails, and masts ablaze with pennants, and heroes in strange dress singing new songs; and the galleon goes nameless by till the singing dies away. What ship was it? Whither bound? Why there? Enough that he has seen it. Thus do we glimpse the glory of rare days as we swing round the sun; and youth is like some high headland from which to see.
On the next day he spoke with Dona Mirano. There was little to say but to observe the courtesies appropriate to this occasion, for Dona Mirana and her daughter had spoken long together already; and of one thing he could say little, and indeed was dumb when asked of it, and that was the question of his home. And then he said that he had a castle; and when Dona Mirana asked him where it was he said vaguely it was to the North. He trusted the word of the King of Shadow Valley and so he spoke of his castle as a man speaks the truth. And when she asked him of his castle again, whether on rock or river or in leafy lands, he began to describe how its ten towers stood, being builded of a rock that was slightly pink, and how they glowed across a hundred fields, especially at evening; and suddenly he ceased, perceiving all in a moment he was speaking unwittingly in the words of Don Alvidar and describing to Dona Mirana that rose-pink castle on Ebro. And Dona Mirana knew then that there was some mystery about Rodriguez' home.
She spoke kindly to Rodriguez, yet she neither gave her consent nor yet withheld it, and he knew there was no immediate hope in her words. Graceful as were his bows as he withdrew, he left with scarcely another word to say. All day his castle hung over him like a cloud, not nebulous and evanescent only, but brooding darkly, boding storms, such as the orange blossoms dread. He walked again in the garden with Serafina, but Dona Mirana was never far, and the glamour of the former evening, lit by one star, was driven from the garden by his anxieties about that castle of which he could not speak. Serafina asked him of his home. He would not parry her question, and yet he could not tell her that all their future hung on the promise of a man in an old leathern jacket calling himself a king. So the mystery of his habitation deepened, spoiling the glamour of the evening. He spoke, instead, of the forest, hoping she might know something of that strange monarch to whom they dwelt so near; but she glanced uneasily towards Shadow Valley and told him that none in Lowlight went that way. Sorrow grew heavier round Rodriguez' heart at this: believing in the promise of a man whose eyes he trusted he had asked Serafina to marry him, and Serafina had said Yes; and now he found she knew nothing of such a man, which seemed somehow to Rodriguez to weaken his promise, and, worst of all, she feared the place where he lived. He welcomed the approach of Dona Mirana, and all three returned to the house. For the rest of that evening he spoke little; but he had formed his project.
When the two ladies retired Rodriguez, who had seemed tongue-tied for many hours, turned to Don Alderon. His mother had told Don Alderon nothing yet; for she was troubled by the mystery of Rodriguez' castle, and would give him time to make it clear if he could; for there was something about Rodriguez of which with many pages I have tried to acquaint my reader but which was clear when first she saw him to Dona Mirana. In fact she liked him at once, as I hope that perhaps by now my reader may. He turned to Don Alderon, who was surprised to see the vehemence with which his guest suddenly spoke after those hours of silence, and Rodriguez told him the story of his love and the story of both his castles, that which had vanished from the bank of the Ebro and that which was promised him by the King of Shadow Valley. And often Don Alderon interrupted.
"Oh, Rodriguez," he said, "you are welcome to our ancient, unfortunate house": and later he said, "I have met no man that had a prettier way with the sword."
But Rodriguez held on to the end, telling all he had to tell; and especially that he was landless and penniless but for that one promise; and as for the sword, he said, he was but as a child playing before the sword of Don Alderon. And this Don Alderon said was in no wise so, though there were a few cunning passes that he had learned, hoping that the day might come for him to do God a service thereby by slaying some of the Moors: and heartily he gave his consent and felicitation. But this Rodriguez would not have: "Come with me," he said, "to the forest to the place where I met this man, and if we find him not there we will go to the house in which his bowmen feast and there have news of him, and he shall show us the castle of his promise and, if it be such a castle as you approve, then your consent shall be given, but if not ..."
"Gladly indeed," said Don Alderon. "We will start tomorrow."
And Rodriguez took his words literally, though his host had meant no more than what we should call "one of these days," but Rodriguez was being consumed with a great impatience. And so they arranged it, and Don Alderon went to bed with a feeling, which is favourable to dreams, that on the next day they went upon an adventure; for neither he nor anyone in that village had entered Shadow Valley.
Once more next morning Rodriguez walked with Serafina, with something of the romance of the garden gone, for Dona Mirana walked there too; and romance is like one of those sudden, wonderful colours that flash for a moment out of a drop of dew; a passing shadow obscures them; and ask another to see it, and the colour is not the same: move but a yard and the ray of enchantment is gone. Dona Mirana saw the romance of that garden, but she saw it from thirty years away; it was all different what she saw, all changed from a certain day (for love was love in the old days): and to Rodriguez and Serafina it seemed that she could not see romance at all, and somehow that dimmed it. Almost their eyes seemed to search amongst the azaleas for the romance of that other evening.
And then Rodriguez told Serafina that he was riding away with her brother to see about the affairs of his castle, and that they would return in a few days. Scarcely a hint he gave that those affairs might not prosper, for he trusted the word of the King of Shadow Valley. His confidence had returned: and soon, with swords at side and cloaks floating brilliant on light winds of April, Rodriguez and Alderon rode away together.
Soon in the distance they saw Shadow Valley. And then Rodriguez bethought him of Morano and of the foul wrong he committed against Don Alderon with his frying-pan, and how he was there in the camp to which he was bringing his friend. And so he said: "That vile knave Morano still lives and insists on serving me."
"If he be near," said Don Alderon, "I pray you to disarm him of his frying-pan for the sake of my honour, which does not suffer me to be stricken with culinary weapons, but only with the sword, the lance, or even bolts of cannon or arquebuss ..." He was thinking of yet more weapons when Rodriguez put spurs to his horse. "He is near," he said; "I will ride on and disarm him."
So Rodriguez came cantering into the forest while Don Alderon ambled a mile or so behind him.
And there he found his old camp and saw Morano, sitting upon the ground by a small fire. Morano sprang up at once with joy in his eyes, his face wreathed with questions, which he did not put into words for he did not pry openly into his master's affairs.
"Morano," said Rodriguez, "give me your frying-pan."
"My frying-pan?" said Morano.
"Yes," said Rodriguez. And when he held in his hand that blackened, greasy utensil he told Morano, "That senor you met in Lowlight rides with me."
The cheerfulness faded out of Morano's face as light fades at sunset. "Master," he said, "he will surely slay me now."
"He will not slay you," said Rodriguez.
"Master," Morano said, "he hopes for my fat carcase as much as men hope for the unicorn, when they wear their bright green coats and hunt him with dogs in Spring." I know not what legend Morano stored in his mind, nor how much of it was true. "And when he finds me without my frying-pan he will surely slay me."
"That senor," said Rodriguez emphatically, "must not be hit with the frying-pan."
"That is a hard rule, master," said Morano.
And Rodriguez was indignant, when he heard that, that anyone should thus blaspheme against an obvious law of chivalry: while Morano's only thought was upon the injustice of giving up the sweets of life for the sake of a frying-pan. Thus they were at cross-purposes. And for some while they stood silent, while Rodriguez hung the reins of his horse over the broken branch of a tree. And then Don Alderon rode into the wood. All then that was most pathetic in Morano's sense of injustice looked out of his eyes as he turned them upon his master. But Don Alderon scarcely glanced at all at Morano, even when he handed to him the reins of his horse as he walked on towards Rodriguez.
And there in that leafy place they rested all through the evening, for they had not started so early upon their journey as travellers should. Eight days had gone since Rodriguez had left that small camp to ride to Lowlight, and to the apex of his life towards which all his days had ascended; and in that time Morano had collected good store of wood and, in little ways unthought of by dwellers in cities, had made the place like such homes as wanderers find. Don Alderon was charmed with their roof of towering greenness, and with the choirs of those which inhabited it and which were now all coming home to sing. And at some moment in the twilight, neither Rodriguez nor Alderon noticed when, Morano repossessed himself of his frying-pan, unbidden by Rodriguez, but acting on a certain tacit permission that there seemed to be in the twilight or in the mood of the two young men as they sat by the fire. And soon he was cooking once more, at a fire of his own, with something of the air that you see upon a Field Marshal's face who has lost his baton and found it again. Have you ever noticed it, reader?
And when the meal was ready Morano served it in silence, moving unobtrusively in the gloom of the wood; for he knew that he was forgiven, yet not so openly that he wished to insist on his presence or even to imply his possession of the weapon that fried the bacon. So, like a dryad he moved from tree to tree, and like any fabulous creature was gone again. And the two young men supped well, and sat on and on, watching the sparks go up on innumerable journeys from the fire at which they sat, to be lost to sight in huge wastes of blackness and stars, lost to sight utterly, lost like the spirit of man to the gaze of our wonder when we try to follow its journey beyond the hearths that we know.
All the next day they rode on through the forest, till they came to the black circle of the old fire of their next camp. And here Rodriguez halted on account of the attraction that one of his old camps seems to have for a wanderer. It drew his feet towards it, this blackened circle, this hearth that for one night made one spot in the wilderness home. Don Alderon did not care whether they tarried or hurried; he loved his journey through this leafy land; the cool night-breeze slipping round the tree-trunks was new to him, and new was the comradeship of the abundant stars; the quest itself was a joy to him; with his fancy he built Rodriguez' mysterious castle no less magnificently than did Don Alvidar. Sometimes they talked of the castle, each of the young men picturing it as he saw it; but in the warmth of the camp-fire after Morano slept they talked of more than these chronicles can tell.
In the morning they pressed on as fast as the forest's low boughs would allow them. They passed somewhere near the great cottage in which the bowmen feasted; but they held on, as they had decided after discussion to do, for the last place in which Rodriguez had seen the King of Shadow Valley, which was the place of his promise. And before any dimness came even to the forest, or golden shafts down colonnades which were before all cathedrals, they found the old camp that they sought, which still had a clear flavour of magic for Morano on account of the moth-like coming and going of his three horses after he had tied them to that tree. And here they looked for the King of Shadow Valley; and then Rodriguez called him; and then all three of them called him, shouting "King of Shadow Valley" all together. No answer came: the woods were without echo: nothing stirred but fallen leaves. But before those miles of silence could depress them Rodriguez hit upon a simple plan, which was that he and Alderon should search all round, far from the track, while Morano stayed in the camp and shouted frequently, and they would not go out of hearing of his voice: for Shadow Valley had a reputation of being a bad forest for travellers to find their way there; indeed, few ever attempted to. So they did as he said, he and Alderon searching in different directions, while Morano remained in the camp, lifting a large and melancholy voice. And though rumour said it was hard to find the way when twenty yards from the track in Shadow Valley, it did not say it was hard to find the green bowmen: and Rodriguez, knowing that they guarded the forest as the shadows of trees guard the coolness, was assured he would meet with some of them even though he should miss their master. So he and Alderon searched till the forest darkness came and only birds on high branches still had light; and they never saw the King of Shadow Valley or any trace whatever of any man. And Alderon first returned to the encampment; but Rodriguez searched on into the night, searching and calling through the darkness, and feeling, as every minute went by and every faint call of Morano, that his castle was fading away, slipping past oak-tree and thorn-bush, to take its place among the unpitying stars. And when he returned at last from his useless search he found Morano standing by a good fire, and the sight of it a little cheered Rodriguez, and the sight of the firelight on Morano's face, and the homely comfort of the camp, for everything is comparative.
And over their supper Rodriguez and Alderon agreed that they had come to a part of the forest too remote from the home of the King of Shadow Valley, and decided to go the next day to the house of the green bowmen: and before he slept Rodriguez felt once more that all was well with his castle.
Yet when the next day came they searched again, for Rodriguez remembered how it was to this very place that the King of Shadow Valley had bidden him come in four weeks, and though this period was not yet accomplished, he felt, and Alderon fully agreed, they had waited long enough: so they searched all the morning, and then fulfilled their decision of overnight by riding for the great cottage Rodriguez knew. All the way they met no one. And Rodriguez' gaiety came back as they rode, for he and Don Alderon recognised more and more clearly that the bowmen's great cottage was the place they should have gone at first.
In early evening they were just at their journey's end; but barely had they left the track that they had ridden the day before, barely taken the smaller path that led after a few hundred yards to the cottage when they found themselves stopped by huge chains that hung from tree to tree. High into the trees went the chains above their heads where they sat their horses, and a chain ran every six inches down to the very ground: the road was well blocked.
Rodriguez and Alderon hastily consulted; then, leaving the horses with Morano, they followed the chains through dense forest to find a place where they could get the horses through. Finding the chains go on and on and on, and as evening was drawing in, the two friends divided, Alderon going back and Rodriguez on, agreeing to meet again on the path where Morano was.
It was darkening when they met there, Rodriguez having found nothing but that iron barrier going on from trunk to trunk, and Alderon having found a great gateway of iron; but it was shut. Through the silent shadows stealing abroad at evening the three men crashed their way on foot, leading their horses, towards this gate; but their way was slow and difficult for no path at all led up to it. It was dark when they reached it and they saw the high gate in the night, a black barrier among the trees where no one would wish to come, and in forest that seemed to these three to be nearly impenetrable. And what astonished Rodriguez most of all was that the chains had not been across the path when he had feasted with the green bowmen.
They stood there gazing, all three, at the dark locked gate, and then they saw two shields that met in the midst of it, and Rodriguez mounted his horse and stretched up to feel what device there was on the beaten iron; and both the shields were blank.
There they camped as well as men can when darkness has fallen before they reach their camping-ground; and Morano lit a great fire before the gate, and the smooth blank shields touching shoulders there up above them shone on Rodriguez and Alderon in the firelight. For a while they wondered at that strange gate that stood there dividing the wilderness; and then sleep came.
As soon as they woke they called loudly, but no one guarded that gate, no step but theirs stirred in the forest. Then, leaving Morano in the camp with its great gate that led nowhere, the two young men climbed up by branches and chains, and were soon on the other side of the gate and pressing on through the silence of the forest to find the cottage in which Rodriguez had slept. And almost at once the green bowmen appeared, ten of them with their bows, in front of Rodriguez and Alderon. "Stop," said the ten green bowmen. When the bowmen said that, there was nothing else to do.
"What do you seek?" said the bowmen.
"The King of Shadow Valley," answered Rodriguez.
"He is not here," they said.
"Where is he?" asked Rodriguez.
"He is nowhere," said one, "when he does not wish to be seen."
"Then show me the castle that he promised me," said Rodriguez.
"We know nothing of any castle," said one of the bowmen, and they all shook their heads.
"No castle?" said Rodriguez.
"No," they said.
"Has the King of Shadow Valley no castle?" he asked, beginning now to despair.
"We know of none," they said. "He lives in the forest."
Before Rodriguez quite despaired he asked each one if they knew not of any castle of which their King was possessed; and each of them said that there was no castle in all Shadow Valley. The ten still stood in front of them with their bows: and Rodriguez turned away then indeed in despair, and walked slowly back to the camp, and Alderon walked behind him. In silence they reached their camp by the great gate that led nowhere, and there Rodriguez sat down on a log beside the dwindling fire, gazing at the grey ashes and thinking of his dead hopes. He had not the heart to speak to Alderon, and the silence was unbroken by Morano who, for all his loquacity, knew when his words were not welcome. Don Alderon tried to break that melancholy silence, saying that these ten bowmen did not know the whole world; but he could not cheer Rodriguez. For, sitting there in dejection on his log, thinking of all the assurance with which he had often spoken of his castle, there was one more thing to trouble him than Don Alderon knew. And this was that when the bowmen had appeared he had hung once more round his neck that golden badge that was worked for him by the King of Shadow Valley; and they must have seen it, and they had paid no heed to it whatever: its magic was wholly departed. And one thing troubled him that Rodriguez did not know, a very potent factor in human sorrow: he had left in the morning so eagerly that he had had no breakfast, and this he entirely forgot and knew not how much of his dejection came from this cause, thinking that the loss of his castle was of itself enough.
So with downcast head he sat empty and hopeless, and the little camp was silent.
In this mournful atmosphere while no one spoke, and no one seemed to watch, stood, when at last Rodriguez raised his head, with folded arms before the gate to nowhere, the King of Shadow Valley. His face was surly, as though the face of a ghost, called from important work among asteroids needing his care, by the trivial legerdemain of some foolish novice. Rodriguez, looking into those angry eyes, wholly forgot it was he that had a grievance. The silence continued. And then the King of Shadow Valley spoke.
"When have I broken my word?" he said.
Rodriguez did not know. The man was still looking at him, still standing there with folded arms before the great gate, confronting him, demanding some kind of answer: and Rodriguez had nothing to say.
"I came because you promised me the castle," he said at last.
"I did not bid you come here," the man with the folded arms answered.
"I went where you bade me," said Rodriguez, "and you were not there."
"In four weeks, I said," answered the King angrily.
And then Alderon spoke. "Have you any castle for my friend?" he said.
"No," said the King of Shadow Valley.
"You promised him one," said Don Alderon.
The King of Shadow Valley raised with his left hand a horn that hung below his elbow by a green cord round his body. He made no answer to Don Alderon, but put the horn against his lips and blew. They watched him all three in silence, till the silence was broken by many men moving swiftly through covert, and the green bowmen appeared.
When seven or eight were there he turned and looked at them. "When have I broken my word?" he said to his men.
And they all answered him, "Never!"
More broke into sight through the bushes.
"Ask them" he said. And Rodriguez did not speak.
"Ask them," he said again, "when I have broken my word."
Still Rodriguez and Alderon said nothing. And the bowmen answered them. "He has never broken his word," every bowman said.
"You promised me a castle," said Rodriguez, seeing that man's fierce eyes upon him still.
"Then do as I bid you," answered the King of Shadow Valley; and he turned round and touched the lock of the gates with some key that he had. The gates moved open and the King went through.
Don Alderon ran forward after him, and caught up with him as he strode away, and spoke to him, and the King answered. Rodriguez did not hear what they said, and never afterwards knew. These words he heard only, from the King of Shadow Valley as he and Don Alderon parted: ".... and therefore, senor, it were better for some holy man to do his blessed work before we come." And the King of Shadow Valley passed into the deeps of the wood.
As the great gates were slowly swinging to, Don Alderon came back thoughtfully. The gates clanged, clicked, and were shut again. The King of Shadow Valley and all his bowmen were gone.
Don Alderon went to his horse, and Rodriguez and Morano did the same, drawn by the act of the only man of the three that seemed to have made up his mind. Don Alderon led his horse back toward the path, and Rodriguez followed with his. When they came to the path they mounted in silence; and presently Morano followed them, with his blankets rolled up in front of him on his horse and his frying-pan slung behind him.
"Which way?" said Rodriguez.
"Home," said Don Alderon.
"But I cannot go to your home," said Rodriguez.
"Come," said Don Alderon, as one whose plans were made. Rodriguez without a home, without plans, without hope, went with Don Alderon as thistledown goes with the warm wind. They rode through the forest till it grew all so dim that only a faint tinge of greenness lay on the dark leaves: above were patches of bluish sky like broken pieces of steel. And a star or two were out when they left the forest. And cantering on they came to Lowlight when the Milky Way appeared.
And there were Dona Mirana and Serafina in the hall to greet them as they entered the door.
"What news?" they asked.
But Rodriguez hung back; he had no news to give. It was Don Alderon that went forward, speaking cheerily to Serafina, and afterwards to his mother, with whom he spoke long and anxiously, pointing toward the forest sometimes, almost, as Rodriguez thought, in fear.
And a little later, when the ladies had retired, Don Alderon told Rodriguez over the wine, with which he had tried to cheer his forlorn companion, that it was arranged that he should marry Serafina. And when Rodriguez lamented that this was impossible he replied that the King of Shadow Valley wished it. And when Rodriguez heard this his astonishment equalled his happiness, for he marvelled that Don Alderon should not only believe that strange man's unsupported promise, but that he should even obey him as though he held him in awe.
And on the next day Rodriguez spoke with Dona Mirana as they walked in the glory of the garden. And Dona Mirana gave him her consent as Don Alderon had done: and when Rodriguez spoke humbly of postponement she glanced uneasily towards Shadow Valley, as though she too feared the strange man who ruled over the forest which she had never entered.
And so it was that Rodriguez walked with his lady, with the sweet Serafina in that garden again. And walking there they forgot the need of house or land, forgot Shadow Valley with its hopes and its doubts, and all the anxieties of the thoughts that we take for the morrow: and when evening came and the birds sang in azaleas, and the shadows grew solemn and long, and winds blew cool from the blazing bed of the Sun, into the garden now all strange and still, they forgot our Earth and, beyond the mundane coasts, drifted on dreams of their own into aureate regions of twilight, to wander in lands wherein lovers walk briefly and only once.