THE North Wind had a tale to tell, oh, such a tale.
The tale of King Codra's daughter—a tragic tale, a cruel tale, a tale of love, war and bloodshed, ah! and of crime too—yes, of crime, for King Codra was a terrible man.
"He might almost have been my brother," declared the North Wind; "many and many a time has he tried to outrun me, for fleet indeed was the huge charger he rode, fleet and dark as night! And his voice, oh! yes, King Codra's voice had in it something which resembled mine. He was as ruthless as I, and as restless—cruel was Codra, cruel as death, he had no heart, no heart.
"And yet"—here the North Wind began to whisper—"and yet he had two loves in his life, two loves—oh! I know quite well that he had two loves...."
The North Wind had a provoking way of telling his tales; in between times he always rushed off on some mischief, leaving you all palpitating with curiosity for the rest of the story. I have never known anyone so restless and less to be depended upon than the North Wind, but I tried to curb my impatience because this story of King Codra's daughter filled me with passionate interest. There was something dark and mysterious about it, and it was only that troublesome, noisy, ever-roaming fellow who knew all the details, for he knew all the ins and outs of King Codra's castle; being invisible, he could watch King Codra without the King knowing it, because it seems that King Codra hated to be watched—all those who have a bad conscience hate it.... But let the Wind tell his tale....
"Hoo, hoo!" screeched the Wind. "Yes, Codra was of lordly aspect, the tallest man in the land. His voice when he spoke was like distant thunder, and his eyes were as lightning seen at night, and devastating was his hate as a forest fire....
"Hoo, hoo! Yes, yes! His sword was longer than any other King's sword, and when he swung it above his head, it was as though all the fight of the skies flashed in its blade. Grim with the grimness of those who have never yet been beaten, rather would he have died than bow his head. A man of few words, mostly silent and taciturn, he laughed but seldom, but when he did, the rocks upon which his castle was built laughed with him to their very foundations, and oh, oh! what a laugh!" and the North Wind made an uncanny noise, so as to show me how King Codra laughed—indeed, it was not good to hear.
"And King Codra had a Queen," continued the Wind; "fair as a dream was she, but pale, oh, so pale!—no white rose in winter could have been paler than Codra's Queen—I saw her but seldom, she was like a ghost haunting the King's castle, and her voice was never heard. There had been something fearfully tragic about the pale Queen's wooing, no one knew anything about it except I and another... only we two!"
"Who was that other?" I asked breathlessly.
"Old Ioana!" cried the Wind.
"Old Ioana, and who was she?"
"Old Ioana was the Queen's old nurse; of the people was she, a peasant woman, but wise, wise with the wisdom of those who live close to Nature. Her speech was as picturesque as the costume she wore. Age had deadened none of her faculties—wise, wise was Ioana, and she knew all about herbs and secret potions, and about how one calls up the dead; she knew also how to throw spells. She had a hoarse voice and a cast in one eye, had Ioana! But she loved the young Queen and she could be silent as the grave. Hoo, hoo! Yes, Ioana, the old witch, oh, she knew how to hold her tongue.
"But Codra did not like her, oh no, not he!" and the North Wind laughed.
"Why did not Codra like old Ioana?"
"Well, who likes a witch slinking through their passages, especially when their conscience is not clear as crystal; who likes a witch?" and again the North Wind laughed.
"Go on!" I implored, "go on! I do want to know more about Codra and about his Queen and about..."
"About his daughter!" shrieked the Wind. "Oh, yes, about his daughter, that is the crux of the tale; no wonder you want to know all about King Codra's daughter, for, indeed, she was a maid as no other in the land."
"Was she like her mother?"
"Indeed she was, like as two drops of water; the same face, the same slight figure, the same strange grey eyes, and yet what a difference! It was King Codra who best knew the difference—oh! indeed he did, he did!"
"What was the difference?"
"Ha, ha!" laughed the North Wind, "forsooth, so strange is my tale that it cannot be told all at once, for 'tis too tragic, too uncanny, takes one's breath away. 'Tis a tale I have carried about like a sob in my heart for many a day," and hoohoo—hoohoo, off the wild Wind rushed, leaving me quite dazed and wondering and more eager than ever to know.
After a time the Wind came rushing back again. "Surrounded by seven walls was King Codra's castle!" he cried. "It stood on the very edge of a rock, frowning down over the plain. Flanked by seven towers it rose grimly against a background of fir trees—like some grey monster that a magician has sent to sleep. I and my three brothers had singled it out as our meeting-place, but I was always strongest, desiring to remain in sole possession; I would soon chase the others away. A wild song would I sing whilst rushing through its courtyards, howling down its chimneys, roaring round its corners, till all the window-panes sang with me, and the ravens had to take wing before my fury; yea, even the falcons flew away!
"King Codra's castle was no place for women, nor did his Queen live long in its shade, 'twas too deadly; so delicate a flower could not bloom in such a place."
"But King Codra's daughter?" My question was but a whisper, I felt my heart beating as I asked.
"Voica was her name"—the Wind's voice became hushed and mysterious as he told me this—"Voica; and she had her mother's face, her mother's voice, her mother's eyes. Her hair was as golden as the Seven Gates of Paradise, and when she moved, 'twas noiselessly. Her feet were tiny, her hands like carved ivory, and her voice when she spoke was quite, quite low—but at times when she sang..." again the Wind broke off.
Oh! why each time, when I thought I could tear his secret from him, would the Wind break off? It was as though he were leading King Codra's daughter towards me through a dark passage, but each time, before she stepped out into the light—bang! he would shut a door, and still I had not seen her face.
"On the night when the young Queen died, she whispered something to Ioana her nurse"—thus did the wild Wind pursue his tale. "I was just howling down the chimney, filling the chamber with smoke, and I quite well saw how the old woman was on her knees at her mistress's bedside, her grey head near the Queen's pale lips. Tears were rolling down Ioana's wrinkled cheeks. The Queen looked like a lily which the storm has mown down—quite white was she, and, oh, so lovely 'neath the wealth of her pale-golden hair! And when she was dead, old Ioana fit three tall candles, one on each side of her, and one at her feet....
"I tried hard to blow them out, but they only laid their heads very low, so that I could not get properly at them, but I made the wax drip-drip, and then, when I had spent some of my fury, up they raised their heads again, pointing their small flames like three crowns of light.
"Beside the Queen's bed there was a cradle, a cradle of dark wood, richly carved as is seemly for the daughters of Kings. The babe slumbering therein was almost as pale as its mother—but when the Queen died, there was a smile, such a strange smile on the infant's lips....
"Oh, yes, I saw the smile! and I saw also how old Ioana laid something beneath the child's pillow, something which she had taken from the dead woman's neck. And the three candles stood very stiffly giving all their light. But three candles are unlucky, and when old Ioana knelt down to pray for the soul that had passed away, I managed to blow one out.
"Hoo—hoo—hoo," howled the wind, "indeed, indeed 'twas a lonely, stormy night!"
"And King Codra, what about King Codra on the night when the pale Queen died?"
"Oh, King Codra!" sang the Wind, "King Codra was feasting downstairs, surrounded by his knights. There was much jesting, and heavy fumes of wine had made dizzy many a head—and yet King Codra loved his wife; oh! I know that he loved his wife. But there was some mystery about her wooing—some tragedy—and King Codra was hiding some secret from all his knights. So as not to ponder upon that which darkened his conscience, King Codra drank heavily, desiring song and laughter to sound through his halls, but he himself seldom laughed."
"Had King Codra any favourites amongst his followers?" I asked, for meseemed that I saw a vision of his grim halls, filled with followers, one and all men of arms—and yet the lord of all was surely a lonely man!... yes, I felt that he must be a lonely man!
"Yes, there was one who, like a dark shadow, was ever at the great King's side—a man of sinister aspect, a man almost as tall as the King himself. His name was Stefan Fulgeru."
"Did the King love him?"
"I have said once before," howled the Wind, "that King Codra had had two loves in his life. One was his pale, pale Queen—but the other was not Stefan Fulgeru—nay, nay! not Stefan Fulgeru...."
"And yet he was always as a shadow at his side?"
"Need one love one's shadow?" cried the North Wind. "Like his King and Master, Stefan was a mighty warrior—but it was not love that bound them together—nay, nay, not love!"
"What was it, then?" I enquired, and I felt as if cold water were trickling down my back. "It could not have been hate?"
"There is yet another emotion which binds men together," whispered the North Wind.
"Which one is it?" I cried breathlessly.
"Fear!" howled the Wind; "fear, fear!" and then he tore off again madly, only to rush back whirling everything before him and screeching into my ears:
"Battle was the very reason of King Codra's being, and the men who gathered about him were those who best knew how to handle a sword. Feared by all, loved by few, nevertheless he was a good one to follow, for ever did victory walk in his wake.
"Rowdy beyond words were the meetings held in his halls, wine flowed in plenty, and the jokes let loose at his table would have made a heathen blush.
"Fulgeru was ever the central figure amongst King Codra's guests—the King listened to his whispering, and when he lifted his glass, 'twas always Fulgeru's health that the King drank first—but the man Codra had loved had another name."
"What was his name?" I asked.
The wild Wind hushed his voice till it became but a whisper: "Miron Mindru was the name of the King's second love, Miron Mindru, the friend of his heart—Miron Mindru; but Miron Mindru was dead...."
"How did he die?" My voice was now as hushed as that of the North Wind.
"Hoo, hoo!" cried the Wind, loudly swelling again to a mighty din. "Hoo-hoo, how did he die? Ask the pale Queen—no! ask Ioana, old peasant Ioana—for the Queen, the pale Queen is dead. Hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo!
"And on that night when the Queen died, the King was feasting, when all of a sudden he heard a bell ringing—ding... ding... ding... oh! what a sinister sound it was! The King was just raising his glass to his lips when he heard it, and immediately he knew that it was a death-knell, and his hand trembled, and all the light went out of his eyes....
"For a moment he sat quite still listening, the glass still raised in his hand; then he put it down and slowly got up from his chair, crossed himself, and asked in a voice which sounded hollow: 'For whom is that death-knell ringing?' and someone answered, I do not know who it was: 'For a pure soul that has just passed away.' Still, for awhile, the King stood listening, then casting a hunted look around him, hastily he strode from the hall.
"I was chasing down the dark stone passage, and there I met him, and took hold of his cloak, spreading it out behind him like dark wings. I followed him up the steep flight of stairs, towards the silent tower where his wife's room was. At the top of the stairs he paused for a moment, and took a torch from a sconce in the wall, holding it high up over his head.
"The torch seemed to consume the night about him, and for a moment I stared him straight in the face.
"Almost a giant in size, indeed he was a stately man. But his face—oh! how sinister it was, how weatherbeaten, scarred and grim! Hair and beard were dark as sin, his features were those of an eagle that lives by killing; hard as a rock was King Codra, as a rock rising out of a desert place.
"He still seemed to be listening, and strong man as he was, I think he was afraid of opening the door of the young Queen's room. At last he did so, and with him I rushed into the chamber of death.
"Outside the bell was still ringing—ding... ding... ding... it was like a great heart pulsing somewhere in the dark.
"Ioana was on her knees beside the Queen's bed. The beads of her rosary clicked as she let them slip through her trembling fingers. The three candles flickered, and the wax dripped heavily to the ground. The one I had extinguished had been relit—once more with a sudden gust I put it out.
"When the King approached the bed, old Ioana rose from her knees. She stood glaring at him—there was actually a look of hate in her eyes. Almost stealthily she moved over to the baby's cradle and remained there, as one who watches over a treasure for which he fears.
"But the King paid no attention to her. For a long while he stood looking down upon the face of the one who had preferred to die rather than face each day anew a will which crushed all joy from her heart. Too dark had been the shadow he had cast over her, she had wilted beneath it as a flower which never sees the sun.
"Suddenly Codra fell to his knees, hiding his face upon the cold small hands Ioana had crossed over the dead woman's heart. There was no sound in the room except my moaning and the far-off din of the bell—ding... ding... ding.
"When he rose from his knees again, Ioana stood staring at him, and, indeed, she could have been taken for a witch.
"'Thou didst kill her like a frost falling in spring-time,' hissed the old woman; 'may God curse the bed thou liest on, the ground thou walkest over, the water thou puttest to thy lips. May the rest of the wind be thine and the cuckoo lay his eggs in thy nest.'
"'Hold thy peace, foul tongue!' spoke the King, frowning down upon her—'or thou shalt not be sure of thy life!'
"'Is anyone sure of their life 'neath King Codra's roof?' whispered the old woman; 'or anywhere where his shadow falleth? What hast thou done to those who loved thee and to those whom thou didst love?'
"'Hold thy tongue,' repeated the King; but he did not dare, in presence of the dead, raise his voice overmuch.
"'No son has she borne thee,' continued Ioana, unabashed by the royal man's anger; 'the fear was in her to put into the world another such as thee. But may thy daughter Voica live to revenge her mother's and another's death.
"'Be still!' cried the King, and this time in his anger, in spite of the dead, loudly did he raise his voice.
"'May Voica one day look thee in the face and not tremble, may her voice be raised against thee till others join in with it giving thee the only name which thou dost deserve!'
"Then the King raised his hand to strike the old creature who defied him—hoo, hoo!—but I did not wish to see the great King lift his hand against a woman, nay! not even against one whose face was that of a witch, so with a sudden gust I blew out the other two candles, so that night came down suddenly upon them like death....
"And out of the darkness rose the cry of a child frightened out of its sleep...."
After telling me this, off rushed the Wind again, howling and screaming, making the dry leaves dance before him in mad circles as though possessed. At last, having spent some of his frenzy, he came back to where I sat, and when I could make myself heard I asked:
"And was old Ioana turned out of the castle, now that the Queen was dead?"
"Nay, nay! she remained to bring up King Codra's daughter, for no other woman could bear living under the tyrant's roof!"
"A strange couple they must have been, small Voica and Ioana the witch!"
"Aye, aye! that they were indeed, and secretly Ioana taught Voica all her black arts, and taught her to sing, oh, such uncanny songs and ballads, and other things did she teach her also...."
"What other things?"
The wind hushed his voice to a whisper:
"How to overcome fear—how to keep a steady eye in the face of danger, how to harden her heart against sudden emotion, how to be patient and silent, how to sit still and wait...
"But how could a very young maiden learn all this?"
"Aye, rightly you ask: how, how? Maybe Ioana found in Codra's daughter the soil she needed for sowing her seeds!"
"Explain!" I implored, "oh, explain, explain!"
"Pale was Voica, pale as the gentle mother who had given her birth; as small, as frail, as grey-eyed was she as the woman who had died of grief. But..."
"But?" I asked breathlessly.
"But in Voica's small body King Codra's spirit lived again."
"What do you mean?" I cried.
"What do I mean, hoo, hoo!" and there were like devils laughing in the North Wind's voice.
"Yes, her mother's face had she, her mother's voice, her mother's hands, her mother's feet; but within her small body lived Codra's own strength.
"Steady were her eyes as two white flames. Never had her father's voice made her tremble, nor had his terrible eyes made hers waver—always did she stand up before him—his equal, blood of his blood, spirit of his spirit—a fearful, small maiden, built up out of fire and steel...
"A curious picture indeed!" I murmured; "one which could rise up before me at the dead of night."
"And yet," laughed the North Wind, "had you seen fair Voica seated at her tower window, bending over her embroidery, for sure you would have likened her unto a novice, ready to take her vows, a novice whose songs could be naught but holy hymns, whose thoughts but thoughts of God."
"And what sort of songs did she sing?"
"The songs old Ioana had taught her, and one day her father heard her singing, and I can tell you that his heart stood still."
"Can you sing any of those songs?"
"Yes, yes, I carried the words away with me from her very lips, and they have lived in my heart ever since."
"Will you sing them to me?"
"Why not!" cried the Wind; "listen to this one!" and the wild Wind sang a strange song indeed:
"Was that the song which King Codra heard her sing?"
"Nay, nay, 'twas another song, a song in which my name is mentioned. 'Tis a song far wilder than that."
"Have you the words?"
"Yes, these were the words:
"And songs of love? did she never sing songs of love?"
"Love in those days had not yet entered her heart, Ioana was bringing her up in hate."
"And yet, surely, like all maidens, she must have been born for love!"
"Aye, aye!" admitted the North Wind, "and here's a little scene for you, which is of a softer kind, more to your liking, no doubt, than all these hard things I have had to tell; but first I must do a little hunting, then I'll come back," and off rushed the restless story-teller, hoo, hoo—till I felt quite cold; what an impetuous fellow he was! But I was thoroughly interested in Voica's story, and knew that the North Wind alone could tell me all about it, so I curbed my impatience and sat quite still till he came back. And here he was again with a swoop!
"One day I had discovered," he related mysteriously, "a sinister-looking tower, right in the middle of the forest. Whoo! that was the right sort of place for me; how I loved whistling round its corners, trying to steal through its windows to see who was inside."
"Did you see who was inside?" I cried.
"Patience, patience," laughed the Wind, "let me tell my tale in my own way."
"Voica was then just twenty. Fair as a flower, she nevertheless had something about her unlike other maids. She was so still, so pale—she moved so deliberately—and then her eyes..."
"What about her eyes?"
"Well, there is only one word which really describes them, and that is: uncanny. Shaded by straight dark brows and wonderful lashes, they were quite light and curiously steady, they could only be compared to a flame which is white-hot. Voica was small, quite small, and as I said before, she had her mother's face, her mother's figure, her mother's pale skin—but there the likeness ended, and because of this, old Ioana rejoiced.
"Voica was quite fearless. She loved the deep, dark forest and the steep mountain path. She even loved the sound of my howling through lonely places. Seldom did she laugh out loud like other maidens, but had a way of tightening her lips, whilst her eyes danced with excitement, an expression which with her meant joy.
"Nor did she fear her father's rough companions, but she avoided their company, because of Stefan Fulgeru."
"Why because of Stefan Fulgeru?"
"Ah! maidens have a seventh sense where men are concerned. Voica felt that Stefan meant to woo her, and what is more, she was afraid that her father would accept his wooing, and Voica hated Stefan Fulgeru....
"Voica had a horse she dearly loved. Sure-footed as a goat, Soare would carry her over any rough ground, and no mountain pass was too steep for his nimble feet. King Codra cared not for her roamings, but Voica asked permission neither of God nor of man.... One day"—here the Wind hushed his voice—"one day I led the venturesome maiden to the spot where the sinister-looking tower stood.
"Hoo, hoo! I swept round it, stirring up the dead leaves under the trees. Soare came ambling along, his fair young mistress astride his back—a goodly couple they made, hoo, hoo! How I made the dead leaves dance about them, like hundreds and thousands of elves gone mad. Soare's mane and tail were tossed hither and thither like a red-gold tide; he neighed and pranced, but Voica curbed his impatience, for the grey tower attracted her strangely. Right up at the top was a tiny square window, and from out that window sounded a voice—such a wonderful but, oh! such a sad, sad voice, singing a song.
"I must confess that I have forgotten the words of that song, but it was about the sadness of captivity—about the longing for love and freedom, for the spring-time and for voices heard in childhood. The refrain was like a sob; it rang out on the air most startlingly, something like this:
"Voica rose in her stirrups, and suddenly broke into song, spontaneously as a nightingale, but there was a wild, weird ring in her voice.
"How that song came to her I know not, for she knew naught about this tower, but then Voica was Ioana's pupil, and Ioana knew more things than can be seen with the naked eye. Hoo-hoo!" and the North Wind seemed to laugh horribly. "You see, Ioana was in touch with things on the earth, and under the earth, and not of this earth, and God knows whence her power came.
"As Voica sang, a face suddenly appeared at the narrow window, the beautiful face of a quite young man. Voica and the stranger stared fascinated into each other's eyes. Soare stamped about and fidgeted, but for once Voica felt her heart stir deliciously within her, so she curbed her horse's impatience.
"'Why art thou up there in that tower?' she cried.
'"I am a captive,' answered the stranger; 'I have been a captive ever since I was a child!'
"'Who is thy gaoler?' asked the maiden.
"'A man who comes here once a day towards evening. A man with evil eyes, who limps, who is deaf and dumb.'
"'Art thou his prisoner, did he shut thee up?'
"''Tis he who turned the key, but the one whose prisoner I am wears a crown on his head!'
"'His name!' she cried; 'quickly, his name!'
"'King Codra is his name!'
"'Ah!' Voica had expected to hear that name, and the stranger saw how the girl's eyes flashed, and how she clenched her hand.
"'And thy name?' she cried.
"'Ah!'tis many a year since anyone called me by my name,' said sadly the stranger. 'I've all but forgotten its sound, but once, long ago, someone used to call me Dobré; in those days I used to be loved....'
"'And to-day also thou shalt be loved!' Voica said the words to herself, but I heard them quite distinctly," declared the North Wind, "and never had I seen so gentle an expression on Voica's face.
"'Where is the man who keeps the key?' was what she asked aloud.
"'Ah! he comes each day when the sun is sinking, and that will be soon. He must not find thee here. He is deaf and dumb, but there is something fearful in his eyes—he can see like a lynx. Thou wilt have to hasten from here, but come again! Oh! I pray thee, come again, for never have I seen face such as thine, and if thou forsake me now that I have looked upon thee, surely I shall die of grief!' and as he said this, he took a ring from his finger and threw it down to the girl who was gazing up to him with a strangely tender light in her eyes.
"Voica, catching the gift in her hand, gave the stranger a last lingering look: 'I shall come again!' she cried, 'I shall come, and maybe it will be with a sword in my hand!' and off galloped King Codra's daughter, with a quite unaccustomed emotion stirring her cold little heart.
"Soon after I saw how the deaf and dumb guardian came limping along. The sun was sinking, there were patches of flame on the old tower walls. Hoo! hoo! Indeed the limping man's eyes were not good to see! And when he perceived how the dead leaves had been stamped up by a horse, 'neath the captive's window, a dreadful look stole into them, the look of a beast of prey scenting an enemy! Hoo, hoo! Dobré, poor Dobré, poor, poor captive in thy tower, indeed thou art to be pitied with such a one as keeper of the key.
"But King Codra's daughter has discovered thee, Dobré! And Voica is not as other maidens. Her grey eyes burn with a white, white flame, and 'tis her small body only, her hands, her face of ivory, her pale golden hair which resemble the sad Queen who is dead—but there the resemblance ends..." and oh! how the North Wind laughed, how he laughed!
* * * * * *
"That night," said the North Wind, "I tried to blow out Voica's candle as she sat by her window gazing with rapt attention at the ring on her finger. But when I saw that old Ioana had stolen into the chamber, then I let the light live, for I wanted to watch both their faces as well as to listen to their voices, and I guessed that some secret was to be told to-night—I meant to hear that secret, ha, ha! Ah! yes, for indeed Ioana's secrets were well worth hearing!
"Like a shadow escaped from the underworld stole Ioana into Voica's chamber; she had a white cloth wrapped round her head, and with the gesture of those of her caste, she held her hand over her mouth.
"When she saw what Voica was looking at, she started. In a flash she was at her side, and bending her head close to the maiden's, she whispered something into her ear. Now it was Voica's turn to start, and hurriedly she drew the ring from her finger. Her face was even paler than usual and there was a question in her curiously light eyes.
"Then Ioana drew from her bosom another ring, and laid it beside Voica's, and both rings were exaftly alike! Both had the same crest engraved on the gold. A sun with an arrow thrust through its centre, and around it these words:
"'What I hit, I hold.'
"A strange scene, that scene in the tower chamber between mistress and maid, and oh! what hate I saw flaming in the peasant woman's eyes each time King Codra's name was pronounced—and Voica had a dagger in her belt which she fondled as though it had been a thing alive, which she loved....
"'Twas but scraps of their talk that I could catch, for they spoke in whispers, and woman-wise they kept their heads close together.
"'And he killed him?' asked Voica, with lips which hardly opened to let the words past.
"'Yes, and he was his closest friend, the friend of his heart.'
"'On her wedding morning, sayest thou, Ioana, on her wedding morning?'
"'Yes, and therefore were thy mother's slippers red with blood when she entered this castle as bride. With the blood of the man both she and Codra had loved!'
"'And his name was Mindru? And this was his ring?'
"'Yes, yes,' nodded Ioana, 'and secretly did thy mother wear it hidden against her heart.'
"'And she saw Mindru die?'
"'Yes, yes, on her wedding morning King Codra did the deed, and the blood of his friend stained his hands and the feet of the bride he stole!'
"'Oh, oh!' cried Voica; anger, sorrow, and horror mingled in that cry.
"'And she never revealed her secret?' was the maiden's next enquiry.
"'Nay, nay, for above all, above love and hatred, was her terror of Codra, of the man whose hands were red!'
"'And he is my father!'
"'Aye, aye! and he has, thank God, filled that small body of thine with his own terrible spirit, so that thou canst strike back!'
"'Strike back! How?'
"Ioana turned to steal a look all around the dark chamber, as though afraid that someone might be listening; I felt so curious that I held my breath, and the flame of the candle stood quite still.
"'I shall teach thee a song,' whispered Ioana, 'and one day when the King, as is his wont, calls thee to the great hall during one of his revels, thou shalt sing him that song.'
"'What good will that be?' asked Voica.
"'A man whose conscience is so deeply scarred will not be able to bear that song—but when thou raisest thy voice begin with another song, that one must be the last; but they must all be songs that will make men's hearts beat.... Not with hope and courage, though—nay, nay, but with fear and dread.... And then, when they are beginning to feel anxious, then thou shalt sing that last song.... When the hour will be ripe....'
"'When shall I know when the hour will be ripe?'
"Ioana laughed. 'Need I teach King Codra's daughter how to strike when the hour has come? For what have I been thy guardian, thy teacher? Wherefore have I implanted hate in thy heart instead of love? Wherefore have I been patient, biding my time, living in the dark like a thing of evil, I, who could have gone to the convent, there to end my days in peace and prayer? Nay, indeed, I need not teach King Codra's daughter when to strike!'
"'And yet since sunset I feel love stirring in my heart!' whispered the maiden, pressing her lips to Dobré's ring.
"'Aye, aye, but not for King Codra!'
"'No, not for King Codra! But who is Dobré of the beautiful face? And why is his ring the same as Miron's ring?'
"'Ah! that was the link that as yet had been missing in my tale o f woe! Dobré is Mindru's brother, who since Mindru's death no one ever saw more. To-day, with that ring, hast thou unravelled the mystery I've been trying to pierce for years.'
"Voica's eyes began to glisten like the eyes of a cat. The pupils narrowed horribly; at that hour she was verily old Ioana's disciple, a being capable of any deed.
"'So... Dobré is Mindru's brother! And 'tis my... father who holds him captive... has held him captive for many years... rotting his youth, blanching his cheek... breaking his heart, his life, his spirit... shutting him away from God's blue sky?'
"'Aye, aye!' hissed the old woman, but so low that I could hardly catch her voice. She seemed almost strangled by emotion; her face was ghastly, her hands trembled, and her fingers curved inwards like claws.
"'And no one knows?'
"'Nay, no one knows. But thy father's vassals guess that some crime darkens their King's conscience, and they are lying in wait for the hour when they shall know.'
"'His vassals love him not?' There was wonder and doubt in Voica's voice. 'Yet I have seen them bow before him and hang on his words as if he were God!'
"'A tyrant is feared,' hissed Ioana, 'feared! Therefore does he see humble attitudes and hear his own words repeated, as though honey sweetened their tongues. But what think ye lies beneath their grins and acquiescent grimaces?' and the terrible old creature came quite near to her pupil—thrusting her face close to Voica's lovely cheek: 'Hate! I tell thee, child, hate! One and all are waiting the day when they shall dethrone him to take his place!'
"'Ah! but they shall not take his place!' cried Voica. 'There is only one to whom his place can belong, and that is to me!' And up rose the pale maiden like a flame; a fearful, small figure in white—or was it a sword that she most resembled, a sword of hard, cold steel, straight, threatening, a thing to be feared?
"With a gust I swept round the chamber—these two women suited me! Here was spirit, will, passion, alive, which could be used for any end. But I hushed my voice again, for Ioana was speaking, and I wished to hear what she said.
"'Aha!' she cried. ''Tis thus I would see thee, a living flame! Thy father's own daughter, a naked blade ready to strike! Now God be thanked!' and the uncanny being crossed herself. 'I am near the hour for which I have always been waiting since thy mother's death.'
"'Dobré shall be mine!' Voica had both hands clenched. 'Mine! and I will sing the song that thou shalt teach me, and sing it at the hour we shall deem best.'
"Hoo! hoo!" howled the North Wind; "indeed Voica was her father's own daughter, for all that she had her mother's face!"
After that, away stormed the North Wind. I know not where his fancy led him, but it was several days before he came back to tell me the end of the tale—and the end is... but ye shall hear....
"Some time passed," related my stormy story-teller; "besides I was obliged to share my favourite haunts with my three brothers, for it was summer, and in that season I am generally fussing elsewhere. But King Codra's castle is so agreeable to my tastes that I never could remain away long; summer too is out of place within its bleak walls—and certainly my song is more suited to King Codra's ears than those of my tamer brothers.
"I kept thinking of Voica and her ring, not wanting to miss the day when she would sing Ioana's song in her father's banqueting hall. I also kept an eye upon Dobré's tower—but, although I swept round it many a time, I never more saw his face at the small square window, and wondered if he had succumbed to grief and ill-treatment.
"But Voica, the fearful, small maiden with the ivory face, attracted me most of all; in fact, almost had I fallen in love with her myself. Rarely does one meet a maid with body so frailly beautiful housing such a spirit!"
Again the North Wind broke off, and rushed about as one too excited to keep in place; he had a dramatic way of telling a story, but he tried my patience sore.
"Well!" he whispered as he came back. "One night King Codra was feasting, aye! feasting, and what a feast! Wine ran in rivers and all the beasts of the forest seemed to have been carried into the castle hall: stags, bears, boars, not to count the smaller game, and each had been served up whole. The entire stronghold reeked with the fumes of food.
"All King Codra's vassals were present, a goodly, if somewhat gruesome assembly of armed men of all ages and sorts. On a high seat in their midst sat the mighty tyrant himself, every inch a warrior, except that to-night he wore his crown instead of his helmet; almost gigantic it made him, a fantastic figure of strength, pride, and ruthlessness, admirable in his way, but alarming also, like a night of storm.
"Dark as a lurking shadow, Fulgeru stood behind him—somehow I had never seen Fulgeru seated. It was as though he were continually on the alert, hovering behind his master, evil-eyed, with sinister lips, watchful, ready to spring....
"I played havoc with the lighted torches, making them flare suddenly, or just as suddenly almost go out. I kept the great chamber quivering between light and shade, as though even the old walls trembled before the terrible ruler, whose home they were. I with my voice of doom was just the touch needed to make of this banquet a nightmare feast.
"Hoo! hoo! how I enjoyed myself! With devilish glee I worried also the fire, which in spite of the summer season was burning on the hearth. Often I filled the great hall with clouds of smoke, so that Codra's guests, with the back of their hands, had to brush the tears out of their eyes.
"Codra was drinking out of a golden goblet; heavy and large, it shone like a dull light each time he lifted it—and he lifted it often, for Codra liked wine, and could drink deeply, though no one had ever seen the King drunk. Yet if you watched him closely you would have perceived an uncanny red flame fight in his eyes. He was uncommunicative always, even at a feast, but when he lifted his voice all others became silent; beside his, no other voice had a chance. There was a quality in King Codra's voice I had never heard in any other. Like all appertaining to him, it was a terrible voice. In truth, a more complete and perfect type of tyrant had I never seen in all my days.
"But hark! what was Fulgeru whispering to his master? that sneaking, sallow-faced man? I came quite near, making the folds of King Codra's cloak move about as though in torment; I hated Fulgeru, but I did not wish to lose a word of what the stealthy vassal was saying:
"'Thy feast is a feast for the gods, great Master, but the goddess is missing! Men after battle crave for woman's company. We all know that Voica, thy daughter, is the fairest maiden in the land. Yet we see her but seldom, though our eyes long for the sight of her beauty. Send for her, O King, and let her sing us a song, for her voice is wondrous and strange as are her pale grey eyes—' and something that was supposed to resemble a smile twisted black Stefan's lips.
"King Codra started ever so slightly, and the flame in his eyes seemed to glow angrily, but he kept them turned away from Fulgeru. I had, nevertheless, the distinct impression that Fulgeru knew that the King was not pleased with his demand.
"Hoo, hoo! they were a gruesome pair, this King and his vassal—two sinister, colossal figures that my wild spirit was thoroughly in sympathy with, for I care not for tame tales, nor for men who know not how to love, hate, or kill. I made a mad circle round the great hall, and flung to one of the windows with such a bang, that it echoed like thunder round the stone walls, making more than one armed man start. But listen now well, because my tale is becoming exciting—aye, aye! for King Codra's daughter will soon be here!—and I want you to see her just as I saw her that night, and never more, if I paint the picture well enough, will you forget the sight.
"Voica was seated near the open casement in the tower chamber that had once been her mother's, when her father's summons reached her, for the King had listened to Fulgeru's whispering, and his daughter was to appear at the feast....
"Voica was embroidering a cloth in many colours; a single candle trembled beside her on the sill, lighting up one side of her face. At her feet like a wizened monkey sat Ioana, telling her tales from out of the past. The old woman's voice rose and fell with soothing monotony—meseemed, though, that Voica was not listening very attentively. From time to time she paused in her work to throw back from her forehead the heavy weight of her hair; she seemed to be listening. But for what?
"Anyhow, when the King's summons came, she was on her feet immediately.
"'I shall not keep the King waiting,' was all she said to the retainer who had brought the message.
"'It is also our Lord's desire that the princess be robed in her costliest apparel, and wear the late Queen's crown on her head.'
"'It shall be done as the King desireth,' answered his daughter, and the retainer left the room.
"Ioana had clasped her hands together. Her old limbs were trembling with excitement. She seized one of Voica's hands, pressed it to her lips: 'Our hour, our hour!' she exclaimed, but immediately stifled the cry behind bony fingers, for an awful emotion was shaking her from head to foot.
"'Thou art not afraid, Voica?' she whispered. Voica shrugged her shoulders. 'Fetch me my heaviest robe,' was all she said; 'let its stiff folds enclose me like an armour, make me resemble some idol before which men bend, but dare not touch.'
"'Remember,' persisted Ioana, 'that thy father's guests will have been drinking, and men, when full of wine, are ugly brutes.'
"'Fasten this clasp,' said Voica; no other answer did she deign to give. 'Haste thee, haste thee! A King must not be kept waiting, even though his hands be stained with blood.'
"So with trembling fingers Ioana clothed her mistress in a straight robe all stiff with gold. Upon her head she placed the high crown, and round about her slim waist she wound a heavy girdle clasped with a clasp set with many gems.
"'Give me a rose in my hand,' ordered the maiden, and from a blue jar in the window the peasant obediently fetched a rose, pale as the moon.
"'Indeed, thou art all that eye could desire,' marvelled her nurse; 'thou couldst be likened unto a Virgin enchased in burnished gold, but one could really wonder if a heart can beat beneath so much splendour.'
"An enigmatic smile came to Voica's lips, and instead of answering she held up Dobré's ring, and slowly pronounced the words: 'What I hit, I hold,' and then bending her crowned head lightly, she touched the old woman's forehead with her lips.
"Two slow tears oozed suddenly from under Ioana's faded lids: 'May honour be thine!' she murmured, 'and all the honey of the earth. May thy tongue be as an arrow that pierceth, and thy eyes twin flames that can light men's hearts, or burn up the strength out of their bones. May all the saints in Heaven call thee sister and the sun in his glory turn towards thee a face full of light....'
"But I cannot say if Voica heard her nurse's strange blessings, for she had already stepped from the room.
* * * * * *
"I was down in the hall," said the North Wind, "when pale Voica stepped into her father's presence, hoo-hoo! like Ioana, this was the hour I had been waiting for; now for certain something would come to pass, for the King and his daughter were like two strong swords sure to clash.
"Though small of stature, such was Voica's dignity that it was as though an Empress were advancing out of immeasurable distance towards her vassals. So heavy was the crown she wore that she held herself tremendously upright, not deigning to show how painful a burden it was to her brow.
"Without looking either to the right or to the left, she went straight up to her father, kissed his hand, touching it lightly with her forehead in sign of obeisance, then drawing herself up to her full height, stood motionless and erect before him like a precious little image chiselled in gold.
"Her curiously light eyes were steady as two grey rocks, her lids never quivered. Disquieting was her gaze, a white flame encircled by shade. No one in King Codra's country possessed eyes such as hers. I swept round her stiff little person and kissed somewhat roughly those eyes of mystery, which obliged her for a moment to close her lids.
"Every man's gaze was upon her, but this seemed in no wise to disconcert the princess, and when the King asked her for a song, she raised the pale rose to her still paler face, and looking him well in the eyes: 'I know but very few songs,' she said, 'and maybe they will not be to the liking of thy guests.'
"'And why not, I pray?' laughed her father, who was trying, I saw, to ignore his daughter's cutting aloofness. He was never at his ease in her presence, this I had noticed often before. Besides both the King and his daughter were disagreeably conscious of Stefan Fulgeru's presence, close behind the King's chair. The King could not see him, but he knew that Voica could, and he well realized with what eyes the man of shadow must be contemplating the maiden's face.—Hoo! hoo! yes, I was enjoying myself, this was an assembly entirely to my taste.
"'A song, a song!' clamoured the warriors; 'a woman's voice and words which stir heart and pulse!'
"'We know that the Princess can sing,' spoke Stefan from behind the King's chair; 'more than one of us has stood on moonlit nights under her window listening to her voice. A rare treat for all of us to have her here in our midst. So seldom is she seen in this castle, that sometimes one wonders if her existence is but a myth!'
"Voica paid no attention to his words, nor to all appearances was she even aware of Stefan's presence; her aloofness, indeed, was superb.
"'A song, a song!' clamoured the warriors again; 'let the fair lady satisfy our impatience and give us a song.'
"'Sing, my child,' bade the King; 'we are waiting, and I for one care not to wait.' Voica's self-possession sorely irritated her father; each time she was in his presence he felt a mighty temptation to crush her will with his own. He was unaccustomed to meet resistance in any form whatsoever. Why should he tolerate it in his own daughter, that pale, delicate wisp of a thing?
"'Well, here's a song,' said Voica, and she raised her crystal-clear voice that rang like a challenge through the hall.
"'I do not understand that song,' said King Codra; 'sing another more to my liking.'
"Voica smiled. 'I sing the songs I know,' said she; 'Ioana's songs, for has she not been my sole instructress?'
"The King scowled, but he said nothing, only tapped impatiently with his fingers on the table.
"'Perhaps this song will please thee better,' said his daughter, and again she lifted her voice:
"There was just a moment's pause, then with a voice into which he tried to introduce a lighter note, King Codra cried: 'That suits us better, though somewhat uncanny; there is spirit in that song. Sing us another—I am keen to know what other songs Ioana has taught the King's daughter!' but Codra's eyes had in them a flash which boded no good.
"'I doubt if this ballad will please thee better,' said Voica. 'It is one of Ioana's favourites, but the best of all I am keeping for the last!
"'That is a very old song,' declared Voica demurely; 'Ioana likes it, and the North Wind likes it too—hark how he is rejoicing over it with dreadful voice!' and Voica raised her hand, whilst all the guests listened as I tore through the stone hall; for, indeed, the pale maiden's song filled me with a fearful pleasure I could not keep to myself. Hoo-hoo! I did behave myself unseemingly, and I noticed how my wild antics augmented the painful impression of Voica's last song.
"It was Fulgeru who broke the brooding silence, covering my voice with his own. Codra had said nothing, and his daughter was fixing him with her cold, steady eyes, like a small snake ready to strike.
"'May I be allowed a question?' said Stefan:
"'Why, pray why does not the King's daughter sing songs of love?'
"'Love?' said Voica, turning her pale eyes full upon him; 'why should I sing of love?' The dark man towered above her, but so incredibly dignified was her attitude, that she might almost have seemed his equal in height.
"'I thought that maidens sung mostly of love,' laughed Stefan; 'but the Princess's songs were all about swords and blood and death!'
"'Are those not fit themes for King Codra's daughter?' demanded the small figure in gold.
"'Blood and battle must be left to men,' declared the King. There was a deep line between his brows; he was angry.
"'And love is the theme fair Voica should weave into song,' pursued Stefan Fulgeru; 'love instead of winding sheets for the dead.'
"'No doubt, songs of love are sung by those who have love in their hearts,' declared Voica.
"'And why is there no love in thy heart?' demanded her father, bending forward, the scowl deepening on his brow.
"'One learns not to love in King Codra's castle!' answered his daughter.
"'A false statement, indeed!' cried angrily the tyrant. 'If I were to say to these brave armsmen round me, here is my daughter, which of you is burning with love for her? thinkest thou not, O pale maiden, that my halls would ring again and again with cries of passion from many a throat? Shall I say that word, Voica, proud pale daughter mine?'
"'Thou wouldst not dare thus to insult me!' answered the small being with never a quiver of an eyelid. Her lips were pressed firmly together, forming a straight fine which looked as though it could never be broken by a smile, and hardly more hurried than usual was the rise and fall of her bosom.
"The King had the uncanny sensation that he stood over against his own will become flesh, and to make it more awesome, that which was opposing him had the face of the one who had always trembled before him, of the one whom he had laid low with his love, jealousy, and hate!
"Unbearable! a situation not to be tolerated! and being what he was, wrath began to rise in him like a tide that could not be stayed, and with it an overpowering, instincttive, unreasoning desire to crush this small creature, who defied him, here, before all his vassals, and all the more because she was blood of his own blood. Here only one will could be master, his, his alone, so long as the crown was on his head.
"'How old art thou?' he demanded, leaning forward, trying to daunt her with his savage eyes.
"'Twenty this season,' answered his daughter, and her voice trembled not at all.
"'A good season, indeed, for mating,' declared her father with a crude laugh.
"'Two are needed for that game,' said Voica, and her tiny sharp teeth bit through a petal of the rose she was holding.
"'It is thoughtful of thee, my daughter, to remind me of the fad, or I might have forgotten that I have a bridegroom all ready for thee.'
"'Indeed!' sneered Voica; 'this is news to me!'
"'And desirest not to know his name?' enquired her father.
"Voica's eyes narrowed, but she did not answer.
"'Stefan Fulgeru,' commanded the King, 'wilt thou step forward and ask for the hand of King Codra's daughter?'
"Lithe as a panther the dark knight slid from behind the King's chair.
"''Twas ever the King's pleasure to overwhelm his servant with his bounties,' declared he with a bow; 'but to-night the gift he offers me is so precious that I feel dazed, as though looking into the sun,' and with a gesture, not lacking in grace, Fulgeru sank on one knee before the princess.
"Voica stood rigid, a small graven image, to all appearance without life, without feeling, only the rose in her hand trembled ever so slightly.
"'If this be a jest,' said she, ''tis little to my liking, so with the King's leave, I shall quit his presence and return to my room.'
"'Indeed, 'tis no jest!' cried the tyrant. 'Woman is made for man's pleasure—'tis time that thou shouldst be wed. I have chosen for thee wisely the bravest of the brave. Give him thy hand, my daughter, and all you, my guests, let us drink to the fair bride's health!'
"Hoo-hoo! if ye had only seen them, the father and daughter, facing each other, two wills clashing like two strong blades, neither yielding an inch, each trying to outstare the other—'twas a sight one sees but once! He, almost a giant, clad in dark raiment, both hands clasped on the hilt of his sword, his eyes flashing, wine and passion coursing through his blood. She, a tiny little wisp of a thing, pale as death, clad in a straight golden dress with the great crown on her head. She might have just stepped from a church fresco, so immaterial did she look. All the light of the torches seemed to be reflected in her robe, which glittered and flickered as though in flame.
"The King's fury was mounting higher and higher, and all the time he was tortured with the fearful feeling that his dead wife had risen from her grave to defy him, because why? oh! why did Voica have so exactly her dead mother's face? Was the wine he had drunk confusing his mind? or was he dreaming? was it Voica, or was it that other woman, who, in days now buried, had always trembled before him like an aspen-leaf? Oh! God, what a torture, what a deadly torture it was!
"In a dense circle the King's guests had assembled around father and daughter, and I, to make the scene more sinister, was filling out their dark cloaks, till they resembled devils' wings flapping about.
"Hoo! hoo! but had you only seen black Stefan's face as he stood glowering over the proud little maiden like a monstrous vulture ready to swoop!
"'Father!'—'twas Voica's steady small voice—'I still have a song to sing to thee, and after I have sung it, let us decide of my fate.'
"'I've had enough of thy songs,' growled Codra, 'they were certainly not to my taste.'
"'Ah! but let us hear this one,' cried his vassals. 'Fair Voica's songs are certainly not songs that one hears every day.'
"'Well, in God's name, let us hear this one,' agreed the King ungraciously, and shutting his mouth tight, he rested his chin upon the hand which clasped his sword hilt and stared at his daughter from 'neath lowering brows. All the guests held their breath.
"Drawing herself up to her full height, Voica threw her head back, and her voice rose through the stillness like a threat.
"As she sang the last words, Voica drew Dobré's ring from her finger, and holding it high up above her head, so that it shone, she advanced towards her father like a small figure of Fate.
"Hoo! hoo! oh, had ye but seen King Codra's face, the face, the dread face of the man who had killed—had killed the friend of his youth....
"Rising from his seat, he stood like a ghost; all the blood had gone from his visage, a mask was King Codra's face, a mask of one who had suddenly died."
* * * * * *
The North Wind paused in his tale, as though to take breath, and meseemed that I saw terrible small Voica, rising up like a flame, holding the ring over her head.
"Even I," said the North Wind, resuming his tale, "can scarcely describe the scene, the wild scene that now took place!
"The moment King Codra showed signs of fear, 'twas as though his castle were crashing down about his ears. All those whom he had mastered with the iron strength of his will suddenly closed in upon him like a pack of hungry wolves, demanding an explanation, clamouring, cursing, threatening with closed fists. And in their midst shone Voica, swayed to and fro like a light on an angry sea.
"And I!... hoo! hoo! taking advantage of the general uproar, became like a fury! No one would have thought that the season was summer. I tortured the fire on the hearth, dashing up the chimney, in and out of the open windows, howling, screeching, as only I, when let loose, in King Codra's castle, can howl and screech. Indeed, in my frantic excitement I all but lost my head and forgot to listen, too great was my pleasure at stirring up passions, blowing out torches, adding my frenzy to the human frenzy which had broken all bounds.
"But suddenly I remembered that there must be a last chapter to the tragedy, or call it farce, if you dare! so quite suddenly I became hushed, allowing the still burning torches to lift their flames again steadily towards the ceiling, and in their light I saw King Codra standing at bay, like a great wounded beast of the forest, and his face was still the mask of one who had died a sudden death....
"His vassals had ceased clamouring and fearful small Voica, resembling a white flame more than ever, was standing before her father with the ring in her hand:
"'Canst thou tell thy vassals where Miron Mindru is! once the bravest and most beloved amongst thy knights, canst thou tell where he fell, and by whose sword? Canst thou explain what became of Dobré, his innocent brother, then but a child? and canst thou tell us to whom belonged these two rings?' and taking from her bosom the second ring, the one her mother had always worn next to her heart, Voica lifted both her hands straight above her head. The moon-pale rose she had been holding lay now a poor trampled thing on the ground under her feet.
"'"What I hit, I hold!"' continued Voica; 'dost recognize that motto? the motto of one who in thy youth was dear as a brother to thee! Where is he now? Where is he? where is he?' And like a horrible refrain all the armed men who encircled the King and his daughter repeated: 'Where is he? where is he?'
"Codra seemed to be gasping for breath, I saw how the sweat streamed in large cold drops from his ashen brow.
"Coming a step nearer, so that her cruel small face was close under her father's: 'And what colour were the soles of my mother's slippers?' she asked—'on the day thou didst carry her home to this castle, as bride?—and thy hands, thy two royal hands, what colour were they? And when at night those same hands caressed the pale woman thou hadst stolen from the arms of love, why did it seem to her that they left crimson stains on her body, which shrank away from thine!
"'Rise up, O you men who call yourselves warriors, and ask your sovereign what became of Miron Mindru, once the friend of his heart—ask him, O faithful vassals, of what his pale Queen died, ask him if it was not of a broken heart!'
"Mindru, Mindru! Miron Mindru!' shouted the warriors; ' and show us, show the colour of thy hands.'
"Suddenly Codra straightened his shoulders and, rising to a formidable height above everyone there, towering, a fearful figure of strength, over his daughter, he raised his sword as though to strike the defiant small creature to the ground.
"Hoo! hoo! this was even more than I had counted upon, and for a moment with all those present I held my breath, so that a grave-like silence suddenly filled the hall. All eyes were centred upon father and daughter, facing each other, with hate almost a visible presence standing up between them.
"Indeed, she was superb at that moment, that tiny royal offspring; with never an eyelid quivering, she stood beneath the naked blade of her father's sword, not deigning even to bow her head—a smile of defiance upon her tight-shut lips.
"A shout, rising irresistibly from a hundred throats, rang round the room; verily this maiden was of precious metal, one in a thousand, a rare, proud thing, one well worthy of the crown on her head.
"'Tear the sword from his hand! ' cried a voice; 'beat him down!' cried another; 'we have had enough of his tyranny!' howled a third.
"'His hands are red, are red, are red!' vociferated many in chorus, 'let Voica take his place—let Voica rule over us, let Voica be our Queen!' And suddenly, like a beast of prey, Fulgeru was upon him—hurling his whole strength against the man he had pretended to serve so faithfully, and as though this were a sign which all had waited for, like a pack of hungry wolves Codra's vassals rushed in upon him, bearing him with their weight to the ground.
"As a grand tree falls, felled by a storm it cannot withstand, thus fell Codra, Codra the cruel, Codra of the crimson hands.
"And I howled and howled, for suddenly I felt that I could not endure such a fall."
* * * * * *
It was some days before the North Wind told me the rest of this cruel tale; he left me, then, with the picture of Codra falling, like a great tree felled to the ground. Almost it was to me as though I heard the crash, and I too felt a sudden violent emotion—was it pity? I think not, for Codra of the crimson hands, Codra the tyrant, could scarcely inspire such a feeling. I think it was a sort of awe—-a sort of instinctive regret to see such strength overcome, for each man has in him a grudging admiration for the strong, and to see the strong destroyed seems to shake at the very foundation of things.
At last the North Wind came back to me, and then he told me the end of the tale. It certainly fits in well with all the rest, but let me tell it you in his own words—for he was in sympathy with the wild, cruel men of those days....
"Yes, Codra fell," pursued the Wind, "fell as a great tree falls, went down as a wounded wolf goes down, overcome by his own pack, which unconsciously has always waited for his first sign of weakness to tear him asunder, for such is the rule amongst wild beasts.
"And Codra fell by the will of his daughter—it might almost be said, by his own will become flesh in other form, for, indeed, no other would have been strong enough. He met his equal in her, small and pale as she was.
"I ask ye not to love Voica—hoo! hoo!—but she was the kind of bride for me; a sort of mad ecstasy takes hold of me each time I think of that small proud maiden with the terrible light grey eyes. All too well had she imbibed Ioana's teaching, till she had become a sword of vengeance, a scorching flame, with one thought only: requital—tooth for tooth, eye for eye—according to the code of those days—wild days, grand days... days of yore....
"Now ye have all become tamer," and the North Wind sighed. "King Codra's castle is a ruin, for I am very old, and all this that I am relating happened long, long ago.
"Perhaps it is a good thing that such mighty figures as Codra exist no more—but I regret them; nowadays none of ye understand how to love and hate grandly, terribly, even unto crime."
"But did they kill King Codra?" all the time I had been longing to ask this question.
"Nay! they came near to doing so, but it was Voica who prevented it—that did not fit in with her plans—though what she did was perhaps more cruel for one of Codra's stamp."
"What did she do?"
"She banished him to a monastery, she made of him a monk!"
"And he submitted?"
"Nothing else could he do, she had all the men with her enforcing her will.
"When Codra fell, and a mighty struggle he put up before they brought him to his knees, that I can tell ye, whilst Voica looked on, hands clenched, her lip between her teeth, I know not what emotion sweeping through her, Fulgeru suddenly raised his sword as though to end the great tyrant's life—but like a flash Voica was there, between Stefan's blade and her fallen father, preventing that fatal stroke.
"Fulgeru fumed, cursed, but in his turn he was seized upon, and had to submit. Voica's will alone counted from now onwards in those halls!"
"And she was able to hold the power she had usurped?"
"Yes, indeed! There was mesmerism in fair Voica's eyes: once she had cast her spell upon all those men, there was no more breaking it; one and all submitted, and she ruled over them much in the same way as Codra had done—ruthless and strong.
"But all the same there was a soft spot in Voica...."
"Was there?" I confess that doubt sounded through my words.
"Yea, yea, it was Dobré! Voica immediately returned to the forsaken tower and freed Dobré, and Dobré fell at her feet thanking her, but Voica made him rise from the ground and kissed him on the lips, for Voica was rapid and decisive in her wooing as she was in all things....
"The head of the deaf-and-dumb, evil-eyed gaoler fell in that same hour, and rolled like a ball cast aside; Voica took it up by the hair and looked into the ugly face: 'Pah!' she exclaimed and cast it from her, wiping the blood from her hands. Hoo-hoo! Voica indeed did not do things by halves, but then Voica was Codra's daughter, and that explains most things.
"Dobré became King at Voica's side, though she, ye can imagine, did most of the ruling, and no one said her nay, for Voica's decisions were seldom discussed; besides all found it fair that Codra's daughter should wipe out Codra's crime.
"On the night when Voica became Queen, old Ioana lighted many candles on the dead Queen's grave.
"I howled round about her, blowing out one light after another, but with the true resigned patience of her class, she lit them again and again, and at last, touched by her humble fidelity, I left her to her prayers, and in the morning, when I came in search of her, there she was, still mumbling and crossing herself; she had been at it all through the night! The tapers had all burnt down to the ground.
* * * * * *
"But now listen well, hoo! hoo! I want to lead you to a place where you have never yet been; follow me well and try to hear how I howled round the white walls of a solitary monastery—hidden in the very heart of a dark and dense forest, where shadows are at home.
"I came here seldom; the hushed atmosphere of the place was little in keeping with my tastes, my voice suited it less than that of the bells which called the holy Brothers to prayer at least twice a day, and more often on days of great saints.
"It was winter: the snow lay thickly on all things, deadening every sound, even the tread of the monks as they left their cells, one by one, like shadows, crossing the wide court to go to the church. Oh! what a place of white silence it was! Only the bell called, deep and insistent, vibrating through the stillness, like the voice of God. I moaned through the trees that shut in the sanctuary, by a rampart dark as night—my complaint shuddered through them, adding a dismal wail to the already dismal place. Black and white it all was, excepting here and there where the setting sun threw sudden splashes of burning light. Hoo! how dark were the monks, and what a lot of them! more and more, slipping out of their cells, a whole host of tall men, moving with bent heads, hands hidden in the wide sleeves of their cassocks, black veils hanging from their heads.
"Last of all came one who, unlike the others, walked proudly upright, and although he wore the same head-dress as the others, it was exactly as though a King's crown lay on his brow.
"In church, when all the monks prostrated themselves before the altar, he never moved. Rigid, as one frozen, he stood in the place of honour, and his face was as the face of Lucifer after his fall....
"A ray of light passing through the stained-glass window fell all crimson upon his hands, which were folded before him! hoo! hoo! they looked as though they had been dipped in blood.
"That evening I followed him into his cell; it was as white, as bare, as any other cell, but on the window-sill sat an old, old eagle, and the two monarchs were staring at each other, like two equals—both were dumb, but they seemed to be companions, and if their tongues had been untied, I think they would have understood each other well.
"I tore through the fallen monarch's tiny abode, and once he lifted his head as though listening. He was thinking, I am sure, of the wild songs I used to sing in his castle—a dull flame lit up his eyes, and as though throttling something, he violently clenched both his hands.
"Hoo-hoo! Hoo-hoo! O King Codra, how likest thou a poor monk's cell! What is the colour of thy thoughts, proud King Codra? are they black, black as night, or red, red, red as the blood of thy friend?"
"And did King Codra and his daughter never more meet?" I asked breathlessly, for above all this was what I wanted to know.
"Yes, they did! in the early spring of next year," said the North Wind. "I was just engaged in a tremendous struggle with my youngest brother, who had declared that it was his turn to have some fun; but the moment I found out that Voica was riding through the forest I was dead set upon going with her, for I knew whither she was bound.
"Forsooth, her followers would have preferred my brother's company, my cold breath made them fold their mantles more closely about them, but Voica did not mind my blustering, and as in the days of her girlhood, I kissed red roses into her pale cheeks.
"Voica was wearing a crimson mantle and a golden circlet kept her red and sable cap in place. Soare had been replaced by a fiery grey, with wide-open nostrils and a wicked eye. Only Voica could master so restive a creature, which resembled the great chargers kings ride to victory. Voica sat astride and spurs sharp and long were fastened to her heels.
"In the forest monastery there was a miracle-working icon of the Virgin and Child, and Voica had come to pray before it and implore the Holy One's blessing for that which was to continue the race.
"Dobré was not with his young wife, for Voica knew that he and the one who had blighted his youth had better never meet.
"All the bells rang for the Queen's coming, and proudly the grey charger carried her through the belfry portal, right up to the steps of the church.
"In a long, dark procession the monks came from their cells to greet the great little lady who was ruler of the land, the abbot himself helping her to dismount, the while I made sport of his grey beard and veil.
"Innumerable candles had been lighted in the dusky sanctuary, more especially before the miraculous image, which shone like seven suns.
"I know that Voica was searching for a face amongst the dark-robed men there, but she did not let it so appear; for that, she was too proud. So she went straight up to the Virgin's picture and, kneeling before it, bowed her head to the ground. It was the first time I had seen proud Voica thus bow her head.
"As she got up from her knees to kiss the image, a shadow rose suddenly from behind it, huge, dark, and awesome, like a bad dream.
"Voica's heart was beating, I saw how her cloak trembled over her bosom, but no one save I noticed it, for superb was her self-possession, and steadily she raised her uncanny light eyes to meet those of her father looking down upon her, dark as death.
"Then turning, as though no emotion moved her, to the monk standing at her back, she took from his hand a taper, and lighting it at one of the candles before the image, she again faced the one she had mastered with that terrible will she had inherited from himself.
"'I light this candle to the peace of thy soul,' she said, 'so that when thy hour soundeth, God may forgive thee thy sins.' Then taking a step forward, she suddenly lifted the hand which had killed, and lightly touched it with her lips.
"A heavy silence filled the church—the many tapers alone gave out a faint crackling sound, as though whispering amongst themselves about those hidden things which they knew.
"Codra stood still as a pillar of salt, his shadow-filled eyes following his daughter till she had left the church; then with a rapid movement he bent down and blew out the taper his daughter had lighted for the peace of his soul.
"Hoo-oo—hoo-oo—! all the black monks had followed Voica in long procession. King Codra stood alone in the empty sanctuary in company with the image of the miraculous Virgin, whose over-large eyes had the haunted look of those who have gazed too long upon the sins of men.
"I howled in and out of the church windows, extinguished the tapers one by one.... Then night closed in upon King Codra, dense, dark, silent night.
* * * * * *
"And here is one last picture of Voica," said the North Wind.
"She was seated at her open window, and at her feet sat Dobré, his head against her knees. Voica was drawing a bright thread in and out of her many-coloured embroidery, and whilst she worked she sang. In the background old Ioana was gently rocking the richly-carved cradle, which once had stood by the dying Queen's bed.
"From time to time Dobré would seize one of Voica's hands, and press it to his lips—but Voica was gazing out of the window and this was the song she was singing—and this time it was not old Ioana who had taught her the words:
"'Dobré,' said Voica, when she had ceased singing, 'I desire that our son should be called Codra, for, indeed, Codra was a mighty King!'
"'It shall be as thou decidest,' assented Dobré—and hoo-oo! as I blew in with a rush through the window, I saw that Voica had a strange, strange smile on her lips."
* * * * * *
And this is the dread tale of King Codra's daughter, word for word as it was related to me by the wild North Wind.
Printed in Great Britain by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld.,