"Not it; him. The god of the wind; West-wind himself."
"Were you awake, Psyche?"
"Oh, it was no dream. One can't dream things like that, because one's never seen things like that. He was in human shape. But you couldn't mistake him for a man. Oh, Sister, you'd understand if you'd seen. How can I make you understand? You've seen lepers?"
"Well, of course."
"And you know how healthy people look beside a leper?"
"You mean - healthier, ruddier than ever?"
"Yes. Now we, beside the gods, are like lepers beside us."
"Do you mean this god was so red?"
She laughed and clapped her hands. "Oh, it's no use," she said. "I see I've not given you the idea at all. Never mind. You shall see gods for yourself, Orual. It must be so; I'll make it so.
Somehow. There must be a way. Look, this may help you. When I saw West-wind I was neither glad nor afraid (at first). I felt ashamed."
"But what of? Psyche, they hadn't stripped you naked or anything?"
"No, no, Maia. Ashamed of looking like a mortal - ashamed of being a mortal."
"But how could you help that?"
"Don't you think the things people are most ashamed of are the things they can't help?"
I thought of my ugliness and said nothing.
"And he took me," said Psyche, "in his beautiful arms which seemed to burn me (though the burning didn't hurt) and pulled me right out of the iron girdle - and that didn't hurt either and I don't know how he did it - 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."
"Psyche, are you sure this happened? You must have been dreaming!"
"And if it was a dream, Sister, how do you think I came here? It's more likely everything that had happened to me before this was a dream. Why, Glome and the King and old Batta seem to me very like dreams now. But you hinder my tale, Maia. So he carried me through the air and set me down softly. At first I was all out of breath and too bewildered to see where I was; for West-wind is a merry, rough god. (Sister, do you think young gods have to be taught how to handle us? A hasty touch from hands like theirs and we'd fall to pieces.) But when I came to myself - ah, can you think what a moment that was! - and saw the House before me; I lying at the threshold. And it wasn't, you see, just the gold and amber house I used to imagine. If it had been just that, I might indeed have thought I was dreaming. But I saw it wasn't. And not quite like any house in this land, nor quite like those Greek houses the Fox describes to us. Something new, never conceived of - but, there, you can see for yourself - and I'll show you over every bit of it in a moment. Why need I try to show it in words?
"You could see it was a god's house at once. I don't mean a temple where a god is
worshipped. A god's House, where he lives. I would not for any wealth have gone into it. But I had to, Orual. For there came a voice - sweet? oh, sweeter than any music, yet my hair rose at it too - and do you know, Orual, what it said? It said, 'Enter your House' (yes, it called it my House), 'Psyche, the bride of the god.'
"I was ashamed again, ashamed of my mortality, and terribly afraid. But it would have been worse shame and worse fear to disobey. I went, cold, small, and shaking, up the steps and through the porch and into the courtyard. There was no one to be seen. But then the voices came. All round me, bidding me welcome."
"What kind of voices?"
"Like women's voices - at least, as like women's voices as the wind-god was like a man. And they said, 'Enter, Lady, enter, Mistress. Do not be afraid.' And they were moving as the speakers moved, though I could see no one, and leading me by their movements. And so they brought me into a cool parlour with an arched roof, where there was a table set out with fruit and wine. Such fruits as never - but you shall see. They said, 'Refresh yourself, Lady, before the bath; after it comes the feast.' Oh, Orual, how can I tell you what it felt like?
I knew they were all spirits and I wanted to fall at their feet. But I daren't; if they made me mistress of that house, mistress I should have to be. Yet all the time I was afraid there might be some bitter mockery in it and that at any moment terrible laughter might break out and - "
"Ah!" said I, with a long breath. How well I understood.
"Oh, but I was wrong, Sister. Utterly wrong. That's part of the mortal shame. They gave me fruit, they gave me wine - "
"The voices gave you?"
"The spirits gave them to me. I couldn't see their hands. Yet, you know, it never looked as if the plates or the cup were moving of themselves. You could see that hands were doing it.
And, Orual" (her voice grew very low), "when I took the cup, I - I - felt the other hands, touching my own. Again, that burning, though without pain. That was terrible." She blushed suddenly and (I wondered why) laughed. "It wouldn't be terrible now," she said. "Then they had me to the bath. You shall see it. It is in the most delicate pillared court open to the sky, and the water is like crystal and smells as sweet as . . . as sweet as this whole valley. I was terribly shy when it came to taking off my clothes, but - "
"You said they were all she-spirits."
"Oh, Maia, you still don't understand. This shame has nothing to do with He or She. It's the being mortal - being, how shall I say it? . . . insufficient. Don't you think a dream would feel shy if it were seen walking about in the waking world? And then" (she was speaking more and more quickly now) "they dressed me again - in the most beautiful things - and then came the banquet - and the music - and then they had me to bed - and the night came - and then - he."
"The Bridegroom . . . the god himself. Don't look at me like that, Sister. I'm your own true Psyche still. Nothing will change that."
"Psyche," said I, leaping up, "I can't bear this any longer. You have told me so many wonders. If this is all true, I've been wrong all my life. Everything has to be begun over again. Psyche, it is true? You're not playing a game with me? Show me. Show me your palace."
"Of course I will," she said, rising. "Let us go in. And don't be afraid whatever you see or hear."
"Is it far?" said I.
She gave me a quick, astonished look. "Far to where?" she said.
"To the palace, to this god's House."
You have seen a lost child in a crowd run up to a woman whom it takes for its mother, and how the woman turns round and shows the face of a stranger, and then the look in the child's eyes, silent a moment before it begins to cry. Psyche's face was like that; checked, blank; happiest assurance suddenly dashed all to pieces.
"Orual," she said, beginning to tremble, "what do you mean?"
I too became frightened, though I had yet no notion of the truth. "Mean?" said I. "Where is the palace? How far have we to go to reach it?"
She gave one loud cry. Then, with white face, staring hard into my eyes, she said, "But this is it, Orual! It is here! You are standing on the stairs of the great gate."
If anyone could have seen us at that moment I believe he would have thought we were two enemies met for a battle to the death. I know we stood like that, a few feet apart, every nerve taut, each with eyes fixed on the other in a terrible watchfulness.
And now we are coming to that part of my history on which my charge against the gods chiefly rests; and therefore I must try at any cost to write what is wholly true. Yet it is hard to know perfectly what I was thinking while those huge, silent moments went past. By remembering it too often I have blurred the memory itself.
I suppose my first thought must have been, "She's mad." Anyway, my whole heart leaped to shut the door against something monstrously amiss - not to be endured. And to keep it shut. Perhaps I was fighting not to be mad myself.
But what I said when I got my breath (and I know my voice came out in a whisper) was simply, "We must go away at once. This is a terrible place."
Was I believing in her invisible palace? A Greek will laugh at the thought. But it's different in Glome. There the gods are too close to us. Up in the Mountain, in the very heart of the Mountain, where Bardia had been afraid and even the priests don't go, anything was possible. No door could be kept shut. Yes, that was it; not plain belief, but infinite misgiving