The Lane that had No Turning/Parables of a Province/By that Place called Peradventure
BY THAT PLACE CALLED PERADVENTURE
BY that place called Peradventure in the Voshti Hills dwelt Golgothar the strong man, who, it was said, could break an iron pot with a blow, or pull a tall sapling from the ground.
"If I had a hundred men so strong," said Golgothar, "I would go and conquer Nooni, the city of our foes."
Because he had not the hundred men he did not go; and Nooni still sent insults to the country of Golgothar, and none could travel safe between the capitals. And Golgothar was sorry.
"If I had a hundred men so strong," said Golgothar, "I would build a dyke to keep the floods back from the people crowded on the lowlands."
Because he had not the hundred men, now and again the floods came down, and swept the poor folk out to sea, or laid low their habitations. And Golgothar pitied them.
"If I had a hundred men so strong," said Golgothar, "I would clear the wild boar from the forests, that the children should not fear to play among the trees."
Because he had not the hundred men the graves of children multiplied, and countless mothers sat by empty beds and mourned. And Golgothar put his head between his knees in trouble for them.
"If I had a hundred men so strong," said Golgothar, "I would with great stones mend the broken pier, and the bridge between the islands should not fall."
Because he had not the hundred men, at last the bridge gave way, and a legion of the king’s army were carried to the whirlpool, where they fought in vain. And Golgothar made a feast of remembrance to them, and tears dripped on his beard when he said: "Hail and Farewell!"
"If I had a hundred men so strong," said Golgothar, "I would go against the walls of chains our rebels built, and break them one by one."
Because he had not the hundred men, the chain walls blocked the only pass between the hills, and so cut in two the kingdom: and they who pined for corn went wanting, and they who yearned for fish stayed hungry. And Golgothar, brooding, said his heart bled for his country.
"If I had a hundred men so strong," said Golgothar, "I would go among the thousand brigands of Mirnan, and bring again the beloved daughter of our city."
Because he had not the hundred men the beloved lady languished in her prison, for the brigands asked as ransom the city of Talgone which they hated. And Golgothar carried in his breast a stone image she had given him, and for very grief let no man speak her name before him.
"If I had a hundred men so strong—" said Golgothar, one day, standing on a great point of land and looking down the valley.
As he said it, he heard a laugh, and looking down he saw Sapphire, or Laugh of the Hills, as she was called. A long staff of ironwood was in her hands, with which she jumped the dykes and streams and rocky fissures; in her breast were yellow roses, and there was a tuft of pretty feathers in her hair. She reached up and touched him on the breast with her staff, then she laughed again, and sang a snatch of song in mockery:
"I am a king,
I have no crown,
I have no throne to sit in—"
"Pull me up, boy," she said. She wound a leg about the staff, and, taking hold, he drew her up as if she had been a feather.
"If I had a hundred mouths I would kiss you for that," she said, still mocking; "but having only one, I’ll give it to the cat, and weep for Golgothar."
"Silly jade," he said, and turned towards his tent.
As they passed a slippery and dangerous place, where was one strong solitary tree, she suddenly threw a noose over him, drew it fast and sprang far out over the precipice into the air. Even as she did so, he jumped behind the tree, and clasped it, else on the slippery place he would have gone over with her. The rope came taut, and presently he drew her up again to safety, and while she laughed at him and mocked him, he held her tight under his arm, and carried her to his lodge, where he let her go.
"Why did you do it, devil’s madcap?" he asked.
"Why didn’t you wait for the hundred men so strong?" she laughed. "Why did you jump behind the tree?
"‘If I had a hundred men, heigho,
I would buy my corn for a penny a gill.
If I had a hundred men or so,
I would dig a grave for the maid of the hill, heigho!’"
He did not answer her, but stirred the soup in the pot and tasted it, and hung a great piece of meat over the fire. Then he sat down, and only once did he show anger as she mocked him, and that was when she thrust her hand into his breast, took out the little stone image, and said:
"If a little stone god had a hundred hearts,
Would a little stone goddess trust in one?"
Then she made as if she would throw it into the fire, but he caught her hand and crushed it, so that she cried out for pain and anger, and said:
"Brute of iron, go break the posts in the brigands’ prison-house, but leave a poor girl’s wrist alone. If I had a hundred men—" she added, mocking wildly again, and then, springing at him, put her two thumbs at the corners of his eyes, and cried: "Stir a hand, and out they will come—your eyes for my bones!"
He did not stir till her fury was gone. Then he made her sit down and eat with him, and afterwards she said softly to him, and without a laugh: "Why should the people say, ‘Golgothar is our shame, for he has great strength, and yet he does nothing but throw great stones for sport into the sea’?"
He had the simple mind of a child, and he listened to her patiently, and at last got up and began preparing for a journey, cleaning all his weapons, and gathering them together. She understood him, and she said, with a little laugh like music: "One strong man is better than a hundred—a little key will open a great door easier than a hundred hammers. What is the strength of a hundred bullocks without this?" she added, tapping him on the forehead.
Then they sat down and talked together quietly for a long time; and at sunset she saw him start away upon great errands.
Before two years had gone, Nooni, the city of their foes, was taken; the chain wall of the rebels opened to the fish and corn of the poor; the children wandered in the forest without fear of wild boars; the dyke was built to save the people in the lowlands; and Golgothar carried to the castle the King had given him the daughter of the city, freed from Mirnan.
"If Golgothar had a hundred wives—" said a voice to the strong man as he entered the castle gates.
Looking up he saw Sapphire. He stretched out his hand to her in joy and friendship.
"—I would not be one of them," she added, with a mocking laugh, as she dropped from the wall, leaped the moat by the help of her staff, and danced away laughing. There are those who say, however that tears fell down her cheeks as she laughed.