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Causa Pulchritudinis

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Introduction: The first meeting of Maygis and Lior

The young man walked out, as was his wont, wending his way in solitary thought, and the late stars were still fading from the softly brightening skies, the fields full of flowers bejeweled by morning dew. Hard by the fields there stood a forest both long and deep, and as he passed by the wild wood’s side he heard a bird singing both blythe and sweet. Following that joyous tune, he wandered through that wilderness, where paths were none and no man went.

And there among the hawthorn trees, in the ashen pre-dawn light, he saw a sight mostly seemly to see, for the morning star came down from her accustomed sphere to stand before him. She was as white and fair as the lilies in May, white as the winter snow is white, and her soft grey robes were strung with stars.

He broke her a spray of early flowers all from the hawthorn trees: ‘Take these flowers, O flower of flowers,’ he said to her. ‘O long-desired! Often and often have I sought you out, not knowing who you were or where you might be found, but restless with desire for something I could not name. Now you are before me, the all-beautiful, and my eyes are long-starved of your sight. My tongue cannot speak, nor my mouth express the joy of my heart now I have beheld you: if you have mercy as you have beauty, take me for what I am and lend me grace; be to me a house where the rain does not enter, and a path through the wilderness; and a sword against destruction. Be all things to me, by the grace of Love.’

So he spoke to her, and she made answer to him, praising his courtesy, and bidding him be for her sake always all a faithful lover should be: he should be amiable and gracious to all; honest; courteous; and filled with dashing ardour. He should go, she told him, always in the strength of his youth, unburdened by regrets.

Maygis and His Cousins

The forest was thick and dark, and the four fugitives exhausted, for they had travelled fast, with little opportunity for sleep, and they had been beset several times by those who would drag them back to face the King’s wrath, or merely kill them as they stood. They were brothers, all four, and knights of great valour, whose exploits had aroused envy at Court, envy that led to slights, and challenges, until at last in one such challenge the youngest of the brothers had killed the King’s nephew, for which reason they now found themselves forced to flee, with every man’s hand against them. Indeed, there looked to be no hope for them, for they had nowhere to go (their father remaining loyal to the king), and no one who would offer them assistance or protection.

They were much dispirited, therefore, and the forest seemed dank and threatening to them, the more so in that it was said to be under the control of a powerful magician, the Knight of the Hawthorn, but where else was there to go? The forest pathways seemed to turn and twist under their feet, so they had no idea which way they were going, or even if they were progressing in circles.

Only after many weary hours did the path suddenly straighten, and become broad and fine, leading straight to a castle, which shone as though it were made of glass, and seemed to them fairer than any other in the whole world. Around the castle were laid out gardens, and its highest tower was an observatory, where one could take counsel from the stars themselves. There were no barriers or fortifications anywhere, but a sign above the door read Herein you will not fear the spear-point nor the sword; neither sorrow nor tears may enter uninvited.

With what joy they entered in, and discovered it to be the castle of their cousin Maygis! Again and again they embraced their cousin, who welcomed them and bid them rest, offering them his protection, for he was a powerful sorcerer, who had sought knowledge wherever it was to be found.

They had been some weeks his guest, and were quite recovered from their hardships, when a messenger arrived from the king. Maygis bid him enter and together they read the letter he brought.

Wherever you may be, drink wine in gladness, because for us, now that you have gone, wine has lost its savor and become sour. May your days be joyful, because we no longer have the joy of your company, and the days are grey and sad. We are appeased of our anger by bitter sorrow at your absence, and pray for your safe return.

The brothers were greatly relieved by this, and invited the messenger to eat with them that evening. But treachery was in his heart, and he slipped a drug into the wine; while they were sleeping, he went to the door, and remembering the words Maygis had used to permit his entry, he let in a party of men sent by the king to ensure the brothers’ capture. They came upon the four men sleeping and bound them, meaning to carry them off to be executed at the King’s command, but they turned to find their way blocked by Maygis.

They were large men, and strong, much accustomed to fighting, and they ordered Maygis to step aside if he wished to preserve his life, but Maygis was both courtly and dangerous, and he dismissed their threats.

‘If you can kill me, I shall die, but you shall not go from this place, but die yourselves.’ So saying he drew his sword and fought with them all, easily overcoming them and striking their heads from their bodies.

Nonetheless his cousins, when they awoke, consulted with each other and agreed to leave, planning to return home and seek pardon from the King, even though they deplored his treachery and base dealing. Maygis begged of them to stay, for in his castle he had gathered all that was beautiful, and lived there in monastic seclusion, seeing in every example of earthly beauty a trace of the transcendental beauty that is the true spring of all creation. The brothers, however, had been moved by the King’s letter, even though it was false, and desired to see again their friends and partake of human society: they had, they felt, duties to their lord and to their families, and wished to gain renown for themselves and victory for their country, which could not be done in solitude.

So Maygis bid them farewell, and though he loved them well he bitterly regretted inviting human care and sorrow to make their home with him.

Epilogue: The last meeting of Maygis and Lior

Now the sun is setting beneath the woods, and the bright day has sped. The colours fade from field and flower, and age creeps up on every side. In the balmy days of summer, the meadows were sweetly scented, and the birds sang, but now Winter has come, leaching the rose’s red and the lily’s white away, and the trees stand bare.

As the moon, which waxes and wanes away, and will not stay the same; as the flowers which bloom and drop into the dirt; as the great kings and bright ladies who pass from gilded court to narrow grave; so have been all other loves and cares: ‘I have passed,’ said the man, ‘through this life as a wayfarer, as a guest who stays one night and then is gone, following his master’s orders. Only my one, true, incorruptible star has remained fixed in my heavens, and I tremble before her. If she would come once more before my eyes, I should consent to death without regret, content with her presence. The sun sets and the evening star arises, and I am at last called home.’