Yet I questioned him much about what he called the physical parts of philosophy, about the seminal fire, and how soul arises from blood, and the periods of the universe; and also about plants and animals, and the positions, soils, airs, and governments of cities. I wanted hard things now, and to pile up knowledge.
As soon as my wound was well enough I returned very diligently to my fencing lessons with Bardia. I did it even before my left arm could bear a shield, for he said that fighting without shields was also a skill that ought to be learned. He said (and I now know it was true) that I made very good progress.
My aim was to build up more and more that strength, hard and joyless, which had come to me when I heard the god's sentence; by learning, fighting, and labouring, to drive all the woman out of me. Sometimes at night, if the wind howled or the rain fell, there would leap upon me, like water from a bursting dam, a great and anguished wonder - whether Psyche was alive, and where she was on such a night, and whether hard wives of peasants were turning her, cold and famished, from their door. But then, after an hour or so of weeping and writhing and calling out upon the gods, I would set to and rebuild the dam.
Soon Bardia was teaching me to ride on horseback as well as to fence with the sword. He used me, and talked to me, more and more like a man. And this both grieved and pleased me.
So things went on till the Midwinter, which is a great feast in our country. On the day after it the King came home from some revels he had been at in a lord's house, about three hours after noon, and in mounting the steps that go up into the porch he fell. It was so cold that day that the water the houseboys had used for scouring the steps had frozen on them. He fell with his right leg under him across the edge of a step, and when men ran to help him up he roared out with pain and was ready to set his teeth in the hands of anyone who touched him. Next minute he was cursing them for leaving him to lie there and freeze. As soon as I came I nodded to the slaves to lift him up and carry him in, whatever he said or did. We got him to his bed, with great agony, and had the barber to him, who said (as we all guessed) that his thigh was broken. "But I've no skill to set it, Lady, even if the King would let my fingers near it." I sent a messenger over to the house of Ungit to the Second Priest, who had the name of a good surgeon. Before he came the King had filled himself up with enough strong wine to throw a sound man into a fever, and as soon as the Second Priest got his clothes out of the way and began handling the leg, he started screaming like a beast and tried to pluck out his dagger. Then Bardia and I whispered to one another, and we got in six of the guards and held the King down. Between his screams he kept on pointing at me with his eyes (they had his hands fast) and crying out,
"Take her away! Take away that one with the veil. Don't let her torture me. I know who she is. I know."
He had no sleep that night or the day and night after (on top of the pain from his leg, he coughed as if his chest would burst), and whenever our backs were turned Batta would be taking him in more wine. I was not much in the Bedchamber myself, for the sight of me made him frantic. He kept on saying he knew who I was for all my veil.
"Master," said the Fox, "it is only the Princess Orual, your daughter."
"Aye, so she tells you," the King would say. "But I know better. Wasn't she using red hot iron on my leg all night? I know who she is. . . . Aiai! Aiai! Guards! Bardia! Orual! Batta!
Take her away!"
On the third night the Second Priest and Bardia and the Fox and I all stood just outside his door and talked in whispers. The Second Priest's name was Arnom; he was a dark man, no older than I, smooth-cheeked as a eunuch (which he cannot have been, for though Ungit has eunuchs, only a weaponed man can hold the full priesthood).
"It's likely," said Arnom, "that this will end in the King's death."
"So," thought I. "This is how it will begin. There'll be a new world in Glome, and if I get off with my life, I shall be driven out. I too shall be a Psyche."
"I think the same," said the Fox. "And it comes at a ticklish time. There's much business before us."
"More than you think, Lysias," said Arnom (I had never heard the Fox called by his real name before). "The house of Ungit is in the very same plight as the King's house."
"What do you mean, Arnom?" said Bardia.
"The Priest is dying at last. If I have any skill, he'll not last five days."
"And you to succeed him?" said Bardia. The priest bowed his head.
"Unless the King forbids," added the Fox. This was good law in Glome.
"It's very necessary," said Bardia, "that Ungit and the palace should be of one mind at such a moment. There are those who'd see their chance of setting Glome by the ears otherwise."
"Yes, very necessary," said Arnom. "No one will rise against us both."
"It's our good fortune," said Bardia, "that there's no cause of quarrel between the Queen and Ungit."
"The Queen?" said Arnom.
"The Queen," said Bardia and the Fox now both together.
"If only the Princess were married, now!" said Arnom, bowing very courteously. "A woman cannot lead the armies of Glome in war."
"This Queen can," said Bardia; and the way he thrust out his lower jaw made him seem a whole army himself. I saw Arnom looking at me hard, and I think my veil served me better than the boldest countenance in the world, maybe better than beauty would have done.
"There is only one difference between Ungit and the King's house," he said, "and that concerns the Crumbles. But for the King's sickness and the Priest's I would have been here before now to speak of it."
I knew all about this and saw now where we were. The Crumbles was good land on the far side of the river, and it had been a cat-and-dog quarrel ever since I started working for my father as to whether it belonged, or how much of it belonged, to the King or to Ungit. I had always thought (little cause as I had to love Ungit) that it should belong to her house, which was indeed poorly provided for the charge of continual sacrifices. And I thought too that if once Ungit were reasonably furnished with land, the priests could be stopped from wringing
so much out of the common people by way of gifts.
"The King still lives," said I; I had not spoken before, and my voice surprised them all. "But because of his sickness I am now the King's mouth. It is his wish to give the Crumbles to Ungit, free and forever, and the covenant to be cut in stone, upon one condition."
Bardia and the Fox looked at me with wonder. But Arnom said, "What is that, Lady?"
"That Ungit's guards be henceforward under the Captain of the King's guard, and chosen by the King (or his successor), and under his obedience."
"And paid by the King (or his successors) too?" said Arnom quick as lightning.
I had not thought of this stroke, but I judged any resolute answer better than the wisest pondering. "That," said I, "must be according to the hours of duty they spend in Ungit's house and here."
"You drive - that is, the King drives - a hard bargain, Lady," said the priest. But I knew he would take it, for I knew that Ungit had more need of good land than of spears. Also, it would be hard for Arnom to succeed to the Priesthood if the palace was against him. Then my father began roaring out from within and the priest went back to him.
"Well done, daughter," whispered the Fox.
"Long live the Queen," whispered Bardia. Then they both followed Arnom.
I stood outside in the great hall, which was empty, and the fire low. It was as strange a moment as any in my life. To be a queen - that would not sweeten the bitter water against which I had been building the dam in my soul. It might strengthen the dam, though. Then, as a quite different thing, came the thought that my father would be dead. That struck me dizzy. The largeness of a world in which he was not . . . the clear light of a sky in which that cloud would no longer hang . . . freedom. I drew in a long breath, one way, the sweetest I had ever drawn. I came near to forgetting my great central sorrow.
But only for a moment. It was very still, and most of the household was in bed. I thought I heard a sound of weeping - a girl's weeping - the sound for which always, with or without my will, I was listening. It seemed to come from without, from behind the palace. Instantly crowns and policies and my father were a thousand leagues from my mind. In a torture of hope I went swiftly to the other end of the hall and then out by the little door between the dairy and the guard's quarters.