The Garden of the King

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The Garden of the King  (1907) 
by Amélie Rives

Extracted from Harper's magazine, V.114 1907, pp. 49–57. Accompanying illustrations may be omitted.

The Garden of the King

(Princess Troubetskoy)

QUEEN ALIZONDE leaned head on hand against her casement: so long she leaned that her ring-jewels grew warm with her cheek.

That morn the burgeoning May had taken her state, the turquoise sky her baudekin; her sceptre a flower-de-luce. All the sward was prankt with little flowers, white and gold, and the fair pool in the Queen's garden shivered, as with love. But Alizonde bent heavy eyes upon them. "Once on a time," thought she, "I was wont to love sweet flowers as they had been children, and so to keep them near me and fondle them, even till they withered in my girdle, and now what are they to me? All one as they were things broidered on my kirtle. And thou, too, thou fair heaven," mused she, "for me thou art but a painted screen—thou dost but shut me out from my desire, like to a loftier roof—I am a-weary, a-weary," said Queen Alizonde. "I am a-weary of doing the thing that is right."

And she thought of her father's kingdom and her dead maidenhood, till her heart wept within her like an ailing babe. "Oh, since thus I was to fare, loveless and lonely, a gemmed image, a Queen sans Queenhood, for what did they learn me of the seven arts? For whom shall I show forth my astronomy and sophistry, my rhetoric and music? They but make me the more forlorn, there being none to pleasure by my learning. Oh, would I were a little maid whose all was her virtue and one white smock, to run forth across the world par amour, and find my love!" Thus moaned Alizonde at her window, all amort, for she had sent forth her maidens a-maying, choosing rather solitude than their light chatter. And one by one the slow tears fell, bright and bitter, and mixed with the gems upon her breast. "I am a-weary," said she again. "Oh, I am sore weary of doing the thing that is right."

'Twas then there floated up to her, clear and gay and soft, as it had been an answer to her sighing, the notes of a bugle very near at hand. Magic sounds they seemed, for as she hearkened she fell a-trembling.

"What is this?" said she. "What is this music that I seem to remember and yet not to remember? Am I to be witless, too?" saith poor Alizonde. Again they sounded and again she trembled. Lovely, loving sounds were they, clear as water, pure as air, gentle as the May, and though gay, there was a sadness in them, as of one who smiles through tears, a sadness that seemed to pluck at the sadness in Alizonde's own heart, crying: "Love me. We are akin." "A spell hath me," whispered she. "Now I almost remember where and when I did first hear that music, long and long ago." But she folded her hands about her face and would not look forth of her window. Then a third time sounded that sweet sound, and like as if one stronger had moved them, her hands lifted apart, and she looked forth and saw one riding towards her through her garden close. All in white was he that made a fair shining in the sun, and white was his horse beneath him, and white its housings that swept the little flower-faces earthward. The knight's crest bore flames, his white shield a rose and a lily, with a flame between. His sword-hilt was of fair gold sewn with pearls, and pearled gold was his horse's bridle. But what fixed the eyes of Alizonde was that which hung about his neck—a lyre of gold and ivory.

"This is no troubadour only," thought she, "but a great knight also, and yet he bears a lyre about his neck. How can this be? Nay, I am fast abed," said Alizonde. "And the gold cage o'erhead, where burn the long peppers and the frankincense, hath given me this mad dream."

And thus gazing down, she met the knight's eyes gazing up. "Now never was there one not beautiful so beautiful," thought Alizonde, and she left her eyes in his. Then suddenly he smiled upon her, and she, forgetting who she was and where she was, made a joyous opening of her arms, and cried out, "Now do I remember where and when!" But even as she spoke twilight gathered in her brain, and all was gone, only they two stayed smiling each upon the other.

Then on a sudden did Alizonde bethink her of her estate, and how she, the Queen, leaned at her window, smiling and being smiled upon by a strange man, so that her blood ran backward, leaving her white as samite, and she said, "Fair Sir and Knight, thou hast missed thy way and art in the Queen's garden."

Whereat he, still smiling, made answer: "Nay, most Gentle and Fairest, I am in the Queen's garden, but I have not missed my way."

Alizonde, as beseemed her, set a frown upon her brow at this, but her heart sang. "Since thou knowest so well the Queen's garden, thou shouldst know the Queen," said she.

"Queen Alizonde," saith he, "I am Mervais, fils du Dovon, and come from thy father, King Hazyl."

Then cried out Alizonde with a great cry, and she put forth her locked hands toward him at full stretch, and saith she: "Oh, what of my father? Is he ill? Is he dead? Hath his kingdom fallen? Come you to take me back to him?" saith she. "Oh, come you to take me back?" And she thrilled from crown to foot, like a smitten lute-cord, that it was pity to look upon her.

"Be comforted!" saith Mervais. "All is well with thy father till this day, yet have I come to thee for his succor."

"To take me back to him?" saith she.

But even as she was speaking, came a blithe clamor of maidens' voices, and the sound of running feet along the garden walks.

"Ride to the left into the Palace Court," saith Alizonde. "'Tis my maids back from their maying. Thou shalt be received as my father's messenger should be received."

"Nay, dear Queen," saith he, "but only as the knight errant and troubadour, Mervais of Noland. So must it be."

And looking down upon him, she knew that even so it must be. And she said:

"I will do as thou sayest, though 'tis both strange and hard to do."

"My Queen and dearest Alizonde," saith he, "thou hast trusted me. Now am I doubly thine, who was all thine before."

And he unhelmed him of his light helmet, and bowing low, rode from her presence barehead, while she doffed her hood of vair and in like fashion watched him go.

Now King Guillonet le Noir was a black man indeed, both within and without, for he was given to dark moods and glooms, even like King Saul, and, like that monarch also, he greatly loved sweet music. None wondered, therefore, that he gave fair welcome to Mervais, so-called the Trouvère, but all wondered with an exceeding wonder that he made no more ado or questioning as to the strangeness of one who seemed both great knight and simple troubadour in one, but as for his knighthood:—

"I am come to sing before King Guillonet the Dark, and his Queen Alizonde the Fair, and for nought else," quoth he.

"And," said the King, "sing thou shalt, and nought else, by my crown and the crown of my Queen."

So they had him to the Great Hall, and the King, being seated on his throne with the courtiers assembled, sent word unto the Queen.

Softly stepping came Alizonde, with her pearl face set clear between the dark gold of her hair and the pale gold of her gown, and, for all her seven years of wedded Queenhood, her eyes were as the eyes of a little maid who has but just glimpsed love. Behind her came her maidens two and two, clad all in green and white, broidered in apple flowers as became the month, while her dwarf damoiseau carried the Queen's train. A strange and elf-struck thing was he, brought as a meet gift to Alizonde by the Sieur Jauffroy de Gilsère, mighty knight and traveller, from the land where grow such wights, a witched folk subsisting only upon the perfume of divers fruits. Anon followed another damoiseau, bearing upon a gold platter apples gilt o' one side, wherewith the Queen was wont to regale the shy mannikin and lure him to her side when hungered.

Sounded the silver trumpets, the Queen took her state, and the Trouvere stood forth.

He had refreshed him with a pleasant bath, from the which his locks clung damply, and had donned a fair surcoat of silver cloth rimmed with miniver. Young was he, slender, strong and keen of allure, with that smile remembered of the Queen, that struck light across his dark visage.

Matheline, first maid-in-waiting, nudged another.

"My faith!" whispered she, "'tis the troubadour's own god o' love in person. Mark you his swarthy skin, and high nose, and the teeth like burnished silver—tho' that is but an ill comparison. Did any note his charger? Was one side black and t'other white? One ear yellow, t'other dappled?"

Here the Queen turned flickering eyes upon her, and the maid ceased.

Then 'gan Mervais to sing, and for them that listened the walls melted and they fared forth to other lands on that singing. Of warrior kings, and mighty knights of faery chanted he, and of love and the lovely wounds of love, and of valiant deeds of all countries and ail times, till the King swayed upon his throne, and the courtiers bent their bodies to his singing like corn to wind, and dames and demoiselles went red and pale on incaught breaths but Alizonde sat straight and clear of face upon her throne, and her eyes were still the eyes of a little maid who has but just glimpsed love.

And anon did Mervais cease singing for six heart-beats, but there came no other sound upon his silence. Then turned he toward the Queen, and made her lowly reverence, and he saith:

"Most gracious Queen and Lady, there is a lay that I may sing but once, and it is called 'The Queen's Lay,' therefore if it like your gracious Queenliness, I will now sing it unto you."

Alizonde kept sweet and steady eyes on his, and saith she:

"I pray you, sing it, fair Lord."

Then saith Mervais:

"This lay is called the 'Garden of the King,' but for a Queen was it set forth." And having thus said, he sang this lay:

In the garden of the King
Blow the lilies sown in tears,
Flow the lilied streams of peace
Thro' the meadows of release,
None shall tell the tale of years,
In the garden of the King.

In the garden of the King
Burn the roses sown in pain,
Flame on flame of sacred fire
Glows the rose of pure desire;
None shall see them fade again
In the garden of the King

In the garden of the King
Stately golden, row on row,
Bends the fruit of love foregone
That another might not mourn;
None shall weep remembered woe
In the garden of the King.

In the garden of the King
Mystery walks with eyes unveiled,
Twilight in her hood of stars
Every palace gate unbars;
Love shall enter unassailed
In the garden of the King.

Now while he was singing, Alizonde kept steadfast eyes upon him, but her soul withdrew from them, leaving them empty. And she seemed to herself, at one and the same time, to be there where he was singing, and yet not to be there; to be with him there, and yet in some other place, to be more wholly with him. And she remembered, as it were, a myriad of lives, all separate and yet all together, as it were the glittering motes in one single sunbeam. And now she recalled events, and now she recalled them not. Now all was clear, and lovely bright, and now came eclipse, and some sad hue of the mind wiped out all recollection. But above and beyond and through all beat, as it were, the very heart of love, and its beatings thrilled in music, and a song was woven through her being, and she seemed to see love like a great white flame, through which shone stars, beat upward from her own heart as it were a banner of living light, and through its folds, shaken by her heart, she saw court and courtier, and the King her husband, like images in wrinkled water, but Mervais she saw like her own face in a glass, and yet not her own, but fairer and more familiar, and more surely hers than was her own. And within herself she cried out:

"Now do I remember! For it was from the beginning, and will have no ending, and it must be cherished with tears and with the heart's blood, which is fire. Nor can it be slain by any, nor made alive by any, but from time immemorial it is, even as we are. Oh, fair and dear is the Lord God," cried, Alizonde in her heart, "who hath shown me what is love!"

And a gladness shook her so that she thought the earth itself was shaking.

"Oh, now," cried she within her breast—"now am I no longer a-weary of doing the thing that is right. Be it fire and tears, be it long listless life or short sweet death, I am ready. I am no longer a-weary. Pain will be sweet as honey now," cried Alizonde. But on a sudden, swift and sharp, another chord, and these words, like falling stars, within her brain:

I sing the jewel in the rose,
The star by day.
Then only may it be possessed
When given away!

"Oh, very soon hath it come upon me!" thought Alizonde, and she went stark from crown to shoe, that it seemed her she was in her strait gold gown like a sword in its sheath. And she knew not how she left the hall, nor when,—nor when or how Mervais got him from her presence, for the dread of those words was upon her, and the great rubis stone, carved like a rose, that lay hidden in her breast, bit deep through bone and flesh into the heart within her heart, like as it had been the rose of pure desire, in the King's garden in the lay.

Now this is the secret of the dread of Alizonde and the last singing of Mervais.

When, for reasons of state, and for the weal of two kingdoms, King Hazyl, her father, had given her in marriage to Guillonet, he had also given into her keeping his chiefest treasure, the great rubis stone hight "Rose of Light," than which in all Christendom and Heathenesse is no mightier talisman. For her protection in her dark and dreary fate had King Hazyl given this unto his daughter, and now, in some great peril, he would have it back again.

"And sith so bitter hath my life been with it, what without it will be my life?" thought Alizonde, for she knew that the last song was a summons to resign it from her keeping, and that to receive it from her hands had Mervais come unto her husband's court.

Moreover, there was danger to them both in this his quest, for none, not even King Guillonet, knew of the talisman, since to work potently none must know of its whereabouts save the giver, him to whom it was given, and the messenger, if needs were such, that went between these twain. And in secret must it be rendered up, at night-tide and beneath the open sky.

Now much it beset Alizonde to think how she might convey to Mervais her right understanding of his words, and her consent, together with the means by which they twain might meet befittingly. But having made an earnest prayer thereon, a good thought spoke to her and she said, "I will do even as this my thought bids me do."

And that night as they sat at meat, when the King sent Mervais his platter of spices to partake of, and his own goblet of vermeil from which to drink, did Queen Alizonde likewise send her damoiseau with a fair pomander from her own salver, having peeled it deftly with her own hands, so that its coat was still upon it as if whole. "For," said she in her heart, "he hath a great wit, and will see that in this manner of paring the pomander there is a reason." And so it was, for he read her meaning as though her breast had been crystal, and her thought writ there in gold for him to read. And saith he:

"If the Queen pleaseth, I will not eat this fair fruit, but keep it by me to remember that Alizonde the Fair once pared an apple for me with her own hands."

And Alizonde saith:

"It pleaseth me indeed, fair sir," for betwixt its coat and the pomander she had set a scrip bearing these words: "At midnight by the pool in my pleasaunce."

But also had she perforce to trust Matheline, her first maid-in-waiting, with part of her secret, for Matheline slept ever in her chamber, and moreover they loved each the other, and Alizonde trusted her saucy maid. Of the talisman she might say nought, but she told her of the secret message from her father, King Hazyl, which she must hear alone.

"Watch thou, dear Matheline," she made end, "as o'er thine own honor: I will not tarry long."

But no sooner had Matheline heard her all, than she fell a-weeping, and sorely she wept, and she said:

"Great fear have I for thee, Queen and Lady, for last night I dreamt of a great bird with one wing sable and the other white, and he bore thy little crown of emeraudes in his beak, and tears fell from his eyes. Who, pardie," quoth Matheline, "e'er dreamed of a weeping bird that ill did not befall?"

Then Alizonde kissed and cosseted her, saying:

"What are dreams? There is no dream like the heavy dream of a Queen's life. Be comforted, sweet child," and casting about her a black wimple, she went by her own stairway out into her pleasaunce.

The night was languid and the sky thick crusted with stars. Alizonde saw them as they were little clusters of magic flowers set among the leaves of the long Allée; and when she was come to the pool, looking down, she saw them again, so that she seemed standing in a wizard's globe of crystal set with gems.

"Oh, that I were fast asleep in my cool grave-bed," thought Alizonde. "And so safe at last, having done the thing that is right."

And as she was so thinking a voice said, "Alizonde!" and she looked up from the pool and saw Mervais before her. And her heart went straight to him like a homing bird to its nest, and she stayed silent, looking at him through tears.

"For he too must needs do the thing that is right, else is our love no love," thought Alizonde. But he spake answering her thought, and he said:

"Alizonde, and dearest of all, this is the Queen's garden, but there is the garden of the King."

"Oh, my fair lord and dearer than dearest!" said Alizonde. "Shall we twain fare together in the King's garden?"

"Even as of old we have fared, often and often, past the counting," said Mervais.

And now her tears fell bright and bitter, as they had fallen that morning and wet the gems upon her breast.

"Oh!" saith she, "have I found thee but to lose thee? I am but mortal, and thou seemest to me more than mortal, and I would kiss thee once, and yet must I do the thing that is right."

"Oh, Alizonde!" cried he, "in the garden of the King thou shalt lie upon my heart and I will kiss thee with the kiss of love, and set the rose of pure desire in thy breast. Mortal with thy mortality am I, and immortal with thy immortality. And I would fain kiss thee, too, Alizonde!"

Presently the Queen said:

"This is a sweet pain. I am glad to bear it. Hast thou also pain, and is it sweet to thee?"

"Great is my pain," said Mervais, "and glad am I to bear it."

"Fair and dear is God, who hath shown me what love may be," said Alizonde, "and now thou must take the jewel."

Thereat he stepped toward her, and her cheek grew dusk in the starlight, for from her bosom where it was hidden he must take it, and hide it in his own. And suddenly sobs shook her, and she bent down her face into the cup of her two hands.

"Woe, woe is me!" sobbed Alizonde the Queen, "for thou, my love, art Virgin Knight, else couldst thou not touch this jewel while I am seven years wedded to my loathing."

"Oh, loveliest and purest," said Mervais, "thy spirit hath been ever virgin—what is the rest to me? Think on the King's garden wherein there is no weeping, nor pain of any kind, and where thou shalt be a little maid again."

"I will ever spend the years between thinking on how I may tell thee of my love," made answer Alizonde, and she let fall her hands, and drew aside the wimple from her breast, that he might take the Rose of Light and hide it in his own. And so featly did he take it that he touched not her body, but only the rubis stone that he withdrew.

Now, even as he placed it in his breast, hands came forth from the darkness and seized him and her, and a great laugh, thick as with blood and full of evil, shook the air.

"Have I you, my pretty minstrel? Have I you, my coy Queen?" cried the King, and his teeth shone in the gloom like foam on a wave's lip in black storm. "Thy Matheline is but a sleepy watcher, Queen and harlot," quoth the King.

On the next day Guillonet the Black assembled his knights and barons, and the high clergy, and to them in public hall he related the matter, for he recked not of his shame in telling the shame that he deemed his, only of revenge recked he, and that he named justice. So was it decreed that the Knight and Troubadour Mervais should be had to the King's Chapel and there degraded from his knighthood. And great was the gathering there of lords and ladies, of vassals and of serfs. Came also the Lord Bishop, all booted and spurred, as was his wont, even to the holy place, with sword at side and hawk on fist, a grim black-avised seigneur, that matched the King as flame does fire.

"I would have you in person see to't, my Lord Bishop," quoth the King, "that your henchmen do well their work," and he bared his teeth at the high stage that had been raised in the chapel overnight, and his eye swam red upon it. And he thought how it stood in fair view of the stone lattice in the loft, for behind this lattice was Alizonde, bound fast in place, and spikes set about her head that she might turn it neither right nor left. And a scarf was thrust into her small and piteous mouth, and another bound above it, so that she could make no outcry.

"For thou shalt see how thy Knight is honored by thy King, Queen Harlot," the King had said.

Then anon did they bring Mervais into the chapel, escorted by twelve knights all in full panoply, and him they had armed again with his fair arms, that he shone forth resplendent, but his cheek had no white streak on it, and his eyes were staid and cold. A great scorn had Mervais in his bearing, and a great tranquillity. Him placed they upon the high dais, and forthwith, there being silence, the thirty priests began to chant the funeral psalms, as it had been the funeral of one of high degree. And at the ending of the first psalm they put off from Mervais his helmet, saying:

"We take from thee this defence of disloyal eyes."

And at the ending of the second psalm they put off his cuirass on the right side, saying:

"Thus do we take from thee the protection of a corrupt heart."

And with the third psalm, even so did they with the cuirass on his left side, as from a member consenting. And as each piece of armor was cast to earth, the King of Arms and the heralds called aloud, "Behold the harness of a disloyal and recreant knight!"

Then, when he was all disarmed, came one with a basin of gold, filled with water, and a herald holding it aloft demanded to be told his name. And the pursuivants answered, "He is hight Mervais de Noland."

Then answered the Chief King of Arms, saying:

"Not so, for a recreant is he and false traitor, and hath transgressed the laws of knighthood."

Then answered the chaplains together, in a solemn drone:

"Let us give him his rightful name."

Blared forth the trumpets then, as though demanding "What shall be done with him?" And rose up King Guillonet from off his throne, and so horrid was his voice that even the Lord Bishop's fierce cheek jumped beneath the skin with the locking of his teeth.

"Let him be baptized aright in Satan's name, and afterward let him be drawn and quartered living, and a quarter sent north, south, east and west to the four corners of my kingdom, in warning and in justice!" And as he ended he put up his hand over his mouth, for against his will he was about to laugh mightily, and he cast a bleak eye up at the stone lattice, where was the Queen. Thereupon the heralds advanced to cast the water in the face of Mervais, but something in his look held them and they did but sprinkle it instead with their fingers, saying the while, "Henceforth thou shalt be called by thy right name,—Traitor."

Next donned the King and the twelve knights sable garments, in sign of mourning, and thrust Mervais from the dais; but he was not buffeted to the altar by the assembled serfs, as was the custom, and therefore the King raged mightily within, for both gentles and varlets drew aside in silence and let Mervais pass between them, until he reached the coffin, wherein he was to lay him down as one who was dead to honor, while the burial service was chanted above him. And when he reached the coffin, he paused, and looked up to the stone lattice, and cried with a clear voice:

"In the garden of the King!" then lay him down as on his bed, and so stayed quietly smiling, with closed eyes, through all that gruesome and solemn office. But the King, unable longer to contain his fury, went cat-foot up a secret stairway to where Alizonde leaned forward starkly against the lattice, and crying,

"Thou, too, art dead!" smote her deep in the neck, from behind, with his dagger, that the hilt clicked on her slender neck-bone. Nor knew that she was dead already when he smote her. And lo! on the morrow, when they came to hale Mervais to the headsman, the place was empty of him, and of his armor, and his horse also was gone from the King's stables, and that, too, despite a double guard. But none, not even the King, wotted of the Rose of Light.

Now when Alizonde awoke it seemed her that she awoke within a dream, for the pale light of dreams was about her, and she lay couched on warm grass that gave forth a lovely smell, and a little wind sweet with flowers played over her, and there was a great joy all through her, both soul and body, so that she said, "I shall surely fall a-weeping because of this joy of mine, for it is too dear for laughter, and then will I awaken and my sorrow will lay hold of me again." So she held the tears in her nether lids, looking upward, and lo! the heaven above her seemed fairer than any heaven that she had e'er beheld, in star-time or moon-time, or even in the time of dawn, even as the grass whereon she lay seemed sweeter than all other grass, and softer to her limbs, so that she said:

"Yea, there ye be, dear stars, but lovelier and more loving than I e'er beheld ye, so that I must needs think that ye are but just born of God, and that I, too, am newly born again into this glad body, and upon a world new-born."

Then after little space, still looking skyward, she reached out one hand timorously, as though fearful of awakening, and brought it back sweet with violets.

"Oh, dear flowers," said Alizonde, "are ye, too, but part of this fair dream? Oh, very real ye seem, to be but dream-stuff," said Alizonde, and with that she sat her up and gazed about her, still timorous for fear of awakening. And now she saw through the blue twilight what seemed her maidens all in white, swaying softly in a dance, and rising she went toward them, but when she was come nearer, lo! they were lilies very tall and gracious, and between their stems, as they bent back and forth in their light dance, she glimpsed the shine of mildly flowing water, and her heart sounded a sharp note within her, and she remembered the lilied streams of peace in the lay of the King's Garden. And turning swiftly, her face came against the face of a sweet rose, so that it seemed to be giving her the kiss of welcome, and she saw many other roses all about her, and high above the rest one burning like a soft-petalled flame, and again her heart panged sharp and sweet within her, and she remembered where burned the Rose of pure desire. And anon, looking upward, she saw as it were apples of gold set in emerald leaves, and she cried aloud, "The Fruit of Love foregone!" And therewith, no longer affrayed for awakening, she turned her about once more, to look for the palace wherein Love should enter unassailed, and behold! there it was, fair as moonstone, and a soft light shining from within it like the light in her own heart, and she began to move toward it.

And as she went, she saw one coming from the palace gates as though to meet her, and while he was yet coming but far off, she knew it was Mervais, and she would have run to meet him, but it seemed her that all her body grew soft like water, and she had no strength to move.

But when he was come near her, very beautiful in glittering apparel with armor laid aside, she reached forth her clasped hands to him, and said:

"Oh, my fair lord and love, is this the King's Garden?"

Then took he her clasped hands between his own, and stayed smiling down upon her.

"I am the King, dear Alizonde," said he, "and this is my garden."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1945, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 77 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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