The Fox clapped his hands and sang, “Prettier than Andromeda, prettier than Helen, prettier than Aphrodite herself.”
“Speak words of better omen, Grandfather,” I said, though I knew he would scold and mock me for saying it. For at his words, though on that summer day the rocks were too hot to touch, it was as if a soft, cold hand had been laid on my left side, and I shivered.... I knew it is not good to talk that way about Ungit.
Her beauty, which most of them had never seen, worked on them as a terror might work. Then a low murmur, almost a sob, began; swelled, broke into the gasping cry, “A goddess, a goddess.” One woman’s voice rang out clear. “It is Ungit herself in mortal shape.”
And when the Brute is Ungit it lies with the man, and when it is her son it lies with the woman. And either way there is a devouring... many different things are said... many sacred stories... many great mysteries. Some say the loving and the devouring are all the same thing. For in sacred language we say that a woman who lies with a man devours the man.
I, King, have dealt with the gods for three generations of men, and I know that they dazzle our eyes and flow in and out of one another like eddies on a river, and nothing that is said clearly can be said truly about them. Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them.
Since I write this book against the gods, it is just that I should put into it whatever can be said against myself. So let me set this down: as she spoke I felt, amid all my love, a bitterness. Though the things she was saying gave her (that was plain enough) courage and comfort, I grudged her that courage and comfort. It was as if someone or something else had come in between us. If this grudging is the sin for which the gods hate me, it is one I have committed.
While I was in there, one of the other soldiers... came into the passage and said something to Bardia. Bardia replied, I couldn’t hear what. Then he spoke louder: “Why, yes, it’s a pity about her face. But she’s a brave girl and honest. If a man was blind and she weren’t the King’s daughter, she’d make him a good wife.” And that is the nearest thing to a love-speech that was ever made me.
And he took me... and pulled me right out of the iron girdle... and carried me up into the air, far up above the ground, and whirled me away. Of course he was invisible again almost at once. I had seen him only as one sees a lightning flash. But that didn’t matter. Now I knew it was he, not it, I wasn’t in the least afraid of sailing along in the sky, even of turning head over heels in it.
For the world had broken in pieces and Psyche and I were not in the same piece. Seas, mountains, madness, death itself, could not have removed her from me to such a hopeless distance as this. Gods, and again gods, always gods... they had stolen her. They would leave us nothing. A thought pierced up through the crust of my mind like a crocus coming up in the early year. Was she not worthy of the gods? Ought they not to have her? But instantly great, choking, blinding waves of sorrow swept it away....
“Get up, girl,” I said. “Do you hear me? Do as you’re told. Psyche, you’ve never disobeyed me before.”
She looked up (wetter every moment) and said, very tender in voice but hard as stone in her determination, “Dear Maia, I am a wife now. It’s no longer you that I must obey.”
I learned then how one can hate those one loves. My fingers were round her wrist in an instant, my other hand on her upper arm. We were struggling.
I must lie on the steps at the great gate of that house and make my petition. I must ask forgiveness of Psyche as well as of the god. I had dared to scold her (dared, what was worse, to try to comfort her as a child) but all the time she was far above me; herself now hardly mortal.... if what I saw was real. I was in great fear. Perhaps it was not real.... Then as I rose... the whole thing was vanished.
I perceived now that there is a love deeper than theirs who seek only the happiness of their beloved. Would a father see his daughter happy as a whore? Would a woman see her lover happy as a coward? My hand went back to the sword. “She shall not,” I thought.... However things might go, whatever the price, by her death or mine or a thousand deaths... Psyche should not—least of all, contentedly—make sport for a demon.
Then I did a thing which I think few have done. I spoke to the gods myself, alone, in such words as came to me, not in a temple, and without a sacrifice. I stretched myself face downward on the floor and called upon them with my whole heart. I took back every word I had said against them. I promised anything they might ask of me, if only they would send me a sign. They gave me none. When I began there was red firelight in the room and rain on the roof; when I rose up again the fire had sunk a little lower, and the rain drummed on as before.
You are indeed teaching me about kinds of love I did not know. It is like looking into a deep pit. I am not sure whether I like your kind better than hatred. Oh, Orual—to take my love for you, because you know it goes down to my very roots and cannot be diminished by any other newer love, and then to make of it a tool, a weapon, a thing of policy and mastery, an instrument of torture—I begin to think I never knew you. Whatever comes after, something that was between us dies here.
He made it to be as if, from the beginning, I had known that Psyche’s lover was a god, and as if all my doubtings, fears, guessings, debatings, questionings of Bardia, questionings of the Fox, all the rummage and business of it, had been trumped-up foolery, dust blown in my own eyes by myself. You, who read my book, judge. Was it so?
“Fool!” I said to myself. “Have you not yet learned that you are that to no one? What are you to Bardia? ...His heart lies at home with his wife and her brats. If you mattered to him he’d never have let you fight. What are you to the Fox? His heart was always in the Greeklands. You were, maybe, the solace of his captivity. They say a prisoner will tame a rat. He comes to love the rat—after a fashion. But throw the door open, strike off his fetters, and how much’ll he care for the rat then?”
I must now pass quickly over many years... during which the Queen of Glome had more and more a part in me and Orual had less and less. I locked Orual up or laid her asleep as best I could somewhere deep down inside me; she lay curled there. It was like being with child, but reversed; the thing I carried in me grew slowly smaller and less alive.
My second strength lay in my veil.... [A]s years passed and there were fewer in the city... who remembered my face, the wildest stories got about as to what that veil hid.... Some said... that it was frightful beyond endurance; a pig’s, bear’s, cat’s or elephant’s face. The best story was that I had no face at all; if you stripped off my veil you’d find emptiness. But another sort... said that I wore a veil because I was of a beauty so dazzling that if I let it be seen all men in the world would run mad; or else that Ungit was jealous of my beauty and had promised to blast me if I went bareface. The upshot of all this nonsense was that I became something very mysterious and awful.
But the change of my quarters, and later changes (for I tried every side of the house) did no good. I discovered that there was no part of the palace from which the swinging of those chains could not be heard; at night, I mean, when the silence grows deep. It is a thing no one would have found out who was not always afraid of hearing one sound; and at the same time (that was Orual, Orual refusing to die) terribly afraid of not hearing it if for once—if possibly, at last, after ten thousand mockeries—it should be real, if Psyche had come back.
For if the true story had been like their story, no riddle would have been set me; there would have been no guessing and no guessing wrong. More than that, it’s a story belonging to a different world, a world in which the gods show themselves clearly and don’t torment men with glimpses, nor unveil to one what they hide from another, nor ask you to believe what contradicts your eyes and ears and nose and tongue and fingers.
And so take away from him his work, which was his life... and all his glory and his great deeds? Make a child and a dotard of him? Keep him to myself at that cost? Make him so mine that he was no longer his? ...He was to live the life he thought best and fittest for a great man—not that which would most pleasure me.
Oh, Queen Orual, I begin to think you know nothing of love.... Perhaps you who spring from the gods love like the gods. Like the Shadowbrute. They say the loving and the devouring are all one, don’t they? ...You’re full fed. Gorged with other men’s lives, women’s too: Bardia’s, mine, the Fox’s, your sister’s—both your sisters’.
“Do not do it,” said the god. “You cannot escape Ungit by going to the deadlands, for she is there also. Die before you die. There is no chance after.”
“Lord, I am Ungit.”
But there was no answer.
But to steal her love from me! ...Do you think that we mortals will find you gods easier to bear if you’re beautiful? I tell you that if that’s true we’ll find you a thousand times worse. For then (I know what beauty does) you’ll lure and entice. You’ll leave us nothing; nothing that’s worth our keeping or your taking. Those we love best—whoever’s most worth loving—those are the very ones you’ll pick out.... It would be far better for us if you were foul and ravening. We’d rather you drank their blood than stole their hearts. We’d rather they were ours and dead than yours and made immortal.
The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered.... When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?
Each breath I drew let into me new terror, joy, overpowering sweetness. I was pierced through and through with the arrows of it. I was being unmade. I was no one. But that’s little to say; rather, Psyche, herself was, in a manner, no one. I loved her as I would once have thought it impossible to love, would have died any death for her. And yet, it was not, not now, that she really counted. Or if she counted... it was for another’s sake. The earth and stars and sun, all that was or will be, existed for his sake. And he was coming. The most dreadful, the most beautiful, the only dread and beauty there is, was coming.