The tale tells how Count Emmerick planned a notable marriage-feast for his sister La Beale Ettare and Sir Guiron des Rocques. The tale relates that, in honor of this wedding, came from Nacumera, far overseas, Count Emmerick's elder sister Dame Melicent a nd her husband the Comte de la Foret, with an outlandish retinue of pagan slaves that caused great wonder. All Poictesme took holiday. The tale narrates how from Naimes to Lisuarte, and in the wild hill-country back of Perdigon, knights made ready for t he tournament, travelling toward Storisend in gay silken garments such as were suited to these new times of peace. The highways in these parts shone with warriors, riding in companies of six or eight, wearing mantles worked in gold, and mounted upon hors es that glittered with new bits and housings. And the tale tells, also, how they came with horns sounding before them.

Ettarre watched from the turrets of Storisende, pensively. Yet she was happy in these days. "Indeed, there is now very little left this side of heaven for you to desire, madame," said Horvendile the clerk, who stood beside her at his service.

"No, there is nothing now which troubles me, Horvendile, save the thought of Maugris d'Aigremont. I cannot ever be sure of happiness so long as that man lives."

"So, so!" says Horvendile-- "ah, yes, a master-villain, that! He is foiled for the present, and in hiding, nobody knows where; but I, too, would not wonder should he be contriving some new knavery. Say what you may, madame, I cannot but commend his per sistency, however base his motives; and in the forest of Bovion, where I rescued you from his clutches, the miscreant spoke with a hellish gusto that I could have found it in my heart to admire."

Ettare had never any liking for this half-scoffing kind of talk, to which the clerk was deplorably prone. "You speak very strangely at times, Horvendile. Wickedness cannot ever be admirable; and to praise it, even in jest, cannot but be displeasing to the Author of us all."

Eh, madame, I am not so sure of that. Certainly, the Author of those folks who have figured thus far in your history has not devoted His talents to creating perfect people."

She wondered at such foolish speaking, and she showed him as much in the big blue eyes which had troubled so many men's sleep. "Since time began, there has lived no nobler person or more constant lover than my lord Guiron."

"Oh, yes, Sir Guiron, I grant you, is very nearly immaculate," said Horvendile; and he yawned.

To that Ettarre replied: "My friend, you have always served him faithfully. We two cannot ever forget how much we have owed in the past to your quick wits and shrewd devices. Yet now your manner troubles me."

Dame Ettarre spoke the truth, for, knowing the man to be unhappy-- and suspecting the reason of his unhappiness, too --she would have comforted him; but Horvendile was not in a confiding mood. Whimsicaly he says:

Rather, it is I who am troubled, madame. For envy possesses me, and a faint teasing weariness also possesses me, because I am not as Sir Guiron, and never can be. Look you, they prepare your wedding-feast now, your former sorrows are stingless; and to me, who has served you through hard seasons of adversity, it is as if I had been reading some romance, and had come to the last page. Already you two grow shadowy; and already I incline to rank Sir Guiron and you, madame, with Arnaud and Fregonde, with Palmerin and Polinarda, with Gui and Floripas-- with that fair throng of noted lovers whose innocuous mishaps we follow with pleasant agitation, and whom we dismiss to eternal happiness, with smiling incredulity, as we trun back to a wrokaday world. For it is necessary now that I return to my own country, and there I shall not ever see you any more."

Ettarre, in common with the countryside, knew the man hopelessly loved her; and she pitied him today beyond wording. Happiness is a famed breeder of magnanimity. "My poor friend, we must get you a wife. Are there no women in your country?"

Ah, but there is never any woman in one's own country whom one can love, madame," replies Horvendile shrewdly. "For love, I take it, must look toward something not quite accessible, something not quite understood. Now, I have been so unfortunate as to f ind the women of my country lacking in reticence. I know their opinions concerning everything-- touching God and God's private intentions, and touching me, and the people across the road-- and how there women's clothes are adjusted, and what they eat for breakfast, and what men have kissed them: there is no room for illusion anywhere. Nay, more: I am familiar with the mothers of these women, and in them I see plainly what these women will be some twenty years from this morning; there is not even room for hope. Ah, no, madame; the women of my country are the pleasantest of comrades, and the helpfullest of wives: but I cannot conceal it from myself that, after all, they are only human beings; and therefore it has never ben possible for me to love t hem any one of them."

And am I not, then, a human being, poor Horvendile?"

There was a tinge of mischief in the query; but beauty very often makes for lightheadedness, both in her that has and in him that views it; nor between Ind and Thule was there any lovlier maid than Ettarre. Smiling she awaited his answer; the sunlight glorified each delicate clarity of color in her fair face, and upo n her breast gleamed the broken sigil of Scoteia, that famed talisman which never left her person.

"And am I not, then, a human being?" says she.

Gravely Horvendile answered: "Not in my eyes, madame. For you embody all that I was ever able to concieve of beauty and fearlessness and strange purity. Therefore it is evident I do not see in you merely Count Emmerick's third sister, but, instead, tha t ageless lovable and loving woman long worshipped and sought everywhere in vain by all poets."

But I had thought poets were famous for their inconstancy. It is remarkable hearing that, to the contrary, they have loved steadfastly the same woman; and, in any case, I question how, without suspecting it, I could have been that woman."

Horvendile meditated for a while. "Assuredly, it was you of whom blind Homer dreamed, comforting endless nights with visions of your beauty, as you sat in a bright fragrant vaulted chamber weaving at a mighty loom, and embroidering on a tapestry the batt les men were waging about Troy because of your beauty; and very certainly it was you that Hermes came over fields of violets and parsley, where you sang magic rhymes, sheltered by an island cavern, in which cedar and citron-wood were burning-- and, calli ng you Calypso, bade you to release Odysseus from the spell of your beauty. Sophocles, too, saw you bearing an ewer of bronze, and treading gingerly among gashed lamentable corpses, lest your loved one be dishonored; and Sophocles called you Antigone, p raising your valor and your beauty. And when men named you Bombyca, Theocritus also sang of your grave drowsy voice and your feet carven of ivory, and of your tender heart and all your honey-pale sweet beauty."

I do not remember any of these troubadours you speak of, my poor Horvendile; but I am very certain that if they were great poets they, also, must in their time have talked a great deal of nonsense."

"And as Mark's Queen," says Horvendile, intent on his conceit, "you strayed with Tristan in the sunlit glades of Morois, that high forest, where many birds sang full-throated in the new light of spring; as Medeia you fled from Colchis; and as Esclairmon de you delivered Huon from the sardonic close wiles of heathenry, which to you seemed childish. All poets have had these fitful glances of you, Ettarre, and of that perfect beauty which is full of troubling reticences, and so, is somehow touched with som ething sinister. Now all these things I likewise see in you, Ettarre; and therefore, for my own sanity's sake, I dare not concede that you are a human being."

The clerk was very much in earnest. Ettarre granted that, insane as his talk seemed to her; and the patient yearning in his eyes was not displeasing to Ettarre. Her hand touched his cheek, quickly and lightly, like the brush of a bird's wing.

My poor Horvendile, you are in love with fantasies. There was never any lady such as you dream of."

Then she left him.

But Horvendile remained at the parapet, peering out over broad rolling uplands.

Chapter Three