Next day he said, "You saw yesterday, Daughter, how little progress I have made. I began to philosophise too late. You are younger and can go further. To love, and to lose what we love, are equally things appointed for our nature. If we cannot bear the second well, that evil is ours. It did not befall Psyche. If we look at it with reason's eye and not with our passions, what good that life offers did she not win? Chastity, temperance, prudence, meekness, clemency, valour - and, though fame is froth, yet, if we should reckon it at all, a name that stands with Iphigenia's and Antigone's."
Of course he had long since told me those stories, so often that I had them by heart, mostly in the very words of the poets. Nevertheless, I asked him to tell me them again, chiefly for his sake; for I was now old enough to know that a man (above all, a Greek man) can find comfort in words coming out of his own mouth. But I was glad to hear them too. These were peaceful, familiar things and would keep at bay the great desolation which now, with my returning health, was beginning to mix itself in every thought.
Next day, being then for the first time risen, I said to him, "Grandfather, I have missed being Iphigenia. I can be Antigone."
"Antigone? How, child?"
"She gave her brother burial. I too - there may be something left. Even the Brute would not eat bones and all. I must go up to the Tree. I will bring it . . . them . . . back if I can and burn them rightly. Or, if there's too much, I'll bury it up there."
"It would be pious," said the Fox. "It would accord with custom, if not with Nature. If you can. It's late in the year now for going up the Mountain."
"That's why it must be done speedily. I think it will be about five and twenty days before the earliest snow."
"If you can, child. You have been very sick."
"It's all I can do," said I.
I was soon able to go about the house and in the gardens again. I did it in some stealth, for the Fox told the King I was still sick. Otherwise he would have had me off to the Pillar Room to work for him. He often asked, "Where's that girl got to? Does she mean to slug abed for the rest of her life? I'll not feed drones in my hive forever." The loss of Psyche had not at all softened him to Redival and me. Rather the opposite. "To hear him talk," said the Fox,
"you'd think no father ever loved a child better than he Psyche." The gods had taken his darling and left him the dross: the young whore (that was Redival) and the hobgoblin (which was I). But I could guess it all without the Fox's reports to help me.
For my own part, I was busily thinking out how I could make my journey to the Tree on the Mountain and gather whatever might remain of Psyche. I had talked lightly enough of doing this and was determined that I would do it, but the difficulties were very great. I had never been taught to ride any beast, so I must go on foot. I knew it would take a man who knew the way about six hours to go from the palace to the Tree. I, a woman, and one who had to find her way, must allow myself eight at the least. And two more for the work I went to do, and, say, six for the journey home. There were sixteen hours in all. It could not be done in one stitch. I must reckon to lie out a night on the Mountain, and must take food (water I should find) and warm clothing. It could not be done till I recovered my full strength.
And in truth (as I now see) I had the wish to put off my journey as long as I could. Not for any peril or labour it might cost; but because I could see nothing in the whole world for me to do once it was accomplished. As long as this act lay before me, there was, as it were, some barrier between me and the dead desert which the rest of my life must be. Once I had gathered Psyche's bones, then, it seemed, all that concerned her would be over and done with. Already, even with the great act still ahead, there was flowing in upon me, from the barren years beyond it, a dejection such as I had never conceived. It was not at all like the agonies I had endured before and have endured since. I did not weep nor wring my hands. I was like water put into a bottle and left in a cellar: utterly motionless, never to be drunk, poured out, spilled or shaken. The days were endless. The very shadows seemed nailed to the ground as if the sun no longer moved.
One day when this deadness was at its worst I came into the house by the little door that leads into a narrow passage between the guards' quarters and the dairy. I sat down on the threshold, less weary of body (for the gods, not out of mercy, have made me strong) than unable to find a reason for going a step further in any direction or for doing anything at all.
A fat fly was crawling up the doorpost. I remember thinking that its sluggish crawling, seemingly without aim, was like my life, or even the life of the whole world.
"Lady," said a voice behind me. I looked up; it was Bardia.
"Lady," he said, "I'll make free with you. I've known sorrow too. I have been as you are now; I have sat and felt the hours drawn out to the length of years. What cured me was the wars. I don't think there's any other cure."
"But I can't go to the wars, Bardia," said I.
"You can, almost," he said. "When you fought me outside the other Princess's door (peace be on her, the Blessed!) I told you you had a good eye and a good reach. You thought I was saying it to cheer you. Well, so perhaps I was. But it was true too. There's no one in the quarters, and there are blunt swords. Come in and let me give you a lesson."
"No," said I dully. "I don't want to. What would be the use?"
"Use? Try it and see. No one can be sad while they're using wrist and hand and eye and every muscle of their body. That's truth, Lady, whether you believe it or not. As well, it would be a hundred shames not to train anyone who has such a gift for the sport as you look like having."
"No," said I. "Leave me alone. Unless we can use sharps and you would kill me."
"That's women's talk, by your favour. You'd never say that again once you'd seen it done.
Come. I'll not leave off till you do."
A big, kindly man, some years older than herself, can usually persuade even a sad and sullen girl. In the end I rose and went in with him.
"That shield is too heavy," he said. "Here's the one for you. Slip it on, thus. And understand from the outset; your shield is a weapon, not a wall. You're fighting with it every bit as much as your sword. Watch me, now. You see the way I twist my shield - make it flicker like a butterfly. There'd be arrows and spears and sword points flying off it in every direction if we were in a hot engagement. Now: here's your sword. No, not like that. You want to grip it firm, but light. It's not a wild animal that's trying to run away from you. That's better. Now, your left foot forward. And don't look at my face, look at my sword. It isn't my face is going to fight you. And now, I'll show you a few guards."
He kept me at it for a full half-hour. It was the hardest work I'd ever done, and, while it lasted, one could think of nothing else. I said not long before that work and weakness are comforters. But sweat is the kindest creature of the three - far better than philosophy, as a cure for ill thoughts.
"That's enough," said Bardia. "You shape very well. I'm sure now I can make a swordsman of you. You'll come again tomorrow? But your dress hampers you. It would be better if you could wear something that came only to your knee."
I was in such a heat that I went across the passage into the dairy and drank a bowl of milk.
It was the first food or drink that I had really relished ever since the bad times began. While I was in there, one of the other soldiers (I suppose he had had a sight of what we were doing) 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.
I had my lesson with Bardia every day after that. And I knew soon that he had been a good doctor to me. My grief remained, but the numbness was gone and time moved at its right pace again.
Soon I told Bardia how I wished to go to the Grey Mountain, and why.
"That's very well thought of, Lady," he said. "I'm ashamed I have not done it myself. We all owe the Blessed Princess that much at the least. But there's no need for you to go. I'll go for you."
I said I would go.
"Then you must go with me," he said. "You'd never find the place by yourself. And you might meet a bear or wolves or a mountainy man, an outlaw, that'd be worse. Can you ride a horse, Lady?"