Внезапно – сказка

J'aime qui m'aime, autrement non ©
Внезапно захотелось выложить здесь мой старый-старый рождественский оридж на английском. Пусть просто полежит. Если не любите длинные литературные сказки или не читаете на английском, заглядывать бессмысленно.

The Birthday Wishes
A fairy tale

Before sunset, a chaffinch flew over Pontefract castle. Making a wide semi-circle over the inner bailey, it swept in a breathtaking curve past two windows in a tower, before disappearing in the dusky sky to the north. Its visit remained unobserved by the inhabitants of Pontefract, all but one, who turned away from the window and sighed as the bird swept past him. He was a young man, pale for lack of exercise, with dark birdlike eyes in an unhappy face.

'I wish I could,' he said aloud, turning away from the window, though there was no one beside him in the room. 'I wish I could.'

He was not certain at all that the bird’s visit had been for his sake, but he enjoyed the fantasy of being free to follow it to the world beyond.

Inside, it was getting dark far too quickly. This was the young man's least favourite time of the day, because in the evenings he was expected to keep company to Sir Robert Waterton, his keeper, Lady Waterton, Sir Robert's wife, and an assortment of their friends and retainers, in the hall of the castle. Or rather, they were expected to keep him company, since the young man was hopelessly above them in birth and status. He was Charles, Duke of Orleans, nephew to the mad king of France and the most valuable prisoner of war that King Henry V had at his disposal. Charles had been living at Pontefract for two years. Before that, he had stayed in the Tower of London, after the English had found him, frozen and starving, under one of the heaps of splendidly armoured bodies piled up to a man's height in the field near Agincourt.

On a lectern by the window, Charles's Book of Hours lay open at a page illuminated with a wintry landscape, not unlike the November hills and moors of Yorkshire that stretched to the horizon before his eyes. Now, with some annoyance, he noticed that a bird's feather was lying across the picture in the book – a tiny thing, with two white stripes cutting across a dark background with heraldic precision. The sound of footsteps on the stairs told him his servant was coming to light the candles – and about time, too. With two fingers, Charles lifted the little feather from the book. That very moment, the window opened of its own accord with a bang, letting in a gust of icy wind. The footsteps became louder, then, with a squeaky sound, the heavy door was pushed ajar. The servant screwed his eyes against the dark, attempting to make out the place where his master was, but with no success. The room was empty.

Empty, empty and cold, the vast fields of wintry air, and colder still, the icy blanket of snow into which he seemed to drop from unfathomable heights. He had been falling for so long that surely not a bone could remain unbroken in his whole body. Yet he felt intact. Charles rose to his feet, shivering in his doublet. Where was he? The hills around him were covered with snow, while not a spot of white could be seen from his window but a moment ago. An unfamiliar forest rose on a long ridge to the north. The western sky was glowing with the light of the setting sun.

Almost at once, he heard the bells. Hundreds or maybe thousands of little bells filled the cold air with their music, as a cavalcade of men and women decked out in blue and green appeared at the top of a small hill. They were riding towards him, and something in their look made his heart ache with foreboding. As they drew closer, he realised that they were fair beyond words, creatures of extraordinary grace, all but one of them, astride the finest horses he had ever seen. The women's hair, the colours of old gold and shined copper, was plaited in strange patterns above their pale faces. The men's hair, long and raven-black, flowed in the wind. At the end of the cavalcade, one misshapen-looking fellow, with a gloomy face wrought with secret misgivings, rode a lame black horse – yet he never seemed to lag behind.

The lady riding first pulled at her reins when only a few steps separated her from Charles. She was, without doubt, the fairest of all, with cold grey eyes like the evening sky above her. He had seen queens before – his late wife, Isabelle, to whom he had been married at thirteen, had been a queen, widowed after the death of her husband, Richard II, murdered within the very walls of Pontefract. But this unknown lady looked fairer by far than any queen in Christendom, and her mantle was embroidered with silver flowers the likes of which grow in the fields of Ultima Thule.

'Good day, sir!' the lady said in a voice which sounded rather as if she were addressing an old acquaintance. 'I nearly feared that you would not make it. Oh, but you must be cold!' she exclaimed, observing how he tried not to shiver.

At a sign from her, the unpleasant-looking man climbed from his lame horse and put a fur-lined cape on Charles's shoulders. The duke was still too perplexed for words. Just as he made to thank the lady, she interrupted him.

'That's much better,' she noted curtly. 'Here is your horse.'

She looked over her shoulder, and the misshapen-looking fellow led forward a grey mare with a green harness. Without arguing with the lady (she seemed to be in a hurry), Charles bowed to her and climbed into the saddle.

'Where are we going, madam?' he asked, hoping that he was at least allowed to know where this strange company intended to take him.

'Why, to the banquet, of course,' the lady said casually. 'It is your birthday today, is it not? And you wished to be away from Pontefract, did you not?’

With surprise, Charles remembered that it was, indeed, his birthday. At Pontefract castle, every month seemed like the next one. Days added to days, and a year ran its course far too slowly, but when it was over, there was little to remember it for. How old was he actually? He had been nearly twenty-one when they took him prisoner. That meant he was turning twenty-five.

The cavalcade hastened across the snowy fields. They rode with vertiginous speed. The dusky landscape flew by, until they were in a forest, and cold drops of melting snow fell from the branches around them.

As they rode deeper into the woods, snow disappeared. The grass was still green under the trees covered in yellow leaves. In the gathering darkness, melancholy air hung about the place like a cloud, yet to Charles, the forest seemed the most beautiful place that he had seen this side of the Channel. In the midst of the trees, there was a well. There the cavalcade stopped, and the lady sent her strange servant to fetch some water for her. The others watched her with faint smiles on their lips, talking politely among themselves in hushed voices. When the man returned with a cup full of icy water, the lady turned to her guest.

'Are you thirsty, sir?' she asked in the same strangely familiar manner, making a sign for the man to offer him the cup.

With some surprise, Charles realised that although he had not thought of it a moment ago, he was, in fact, dying of thirst.

The water was better than any wine he had ever tasted, but his heart gave a jolt when it first touched his lips. He thanked the lady, although the moment he ceased to drink he knew he would be longing all his life for the water of that particular well.

Looking around him, he saw that they were no longer in a wood, but in a wide field, with a pavilion of blue silk rising from the grass. The riders dismounted, and the lady with pearls in her hair gave Charles her hand. It was a most exquisite hand, soft and white, yet cold to the touch. In silence, she allowed him to escort her towards the pavilion. A long table was set for a banquet, and the entire company followed them in. Charles's head was spinning, and he did not say a word, but watched the lady's companions with increasing wonder.

'Why are you so silent?' the lady asked, sounding all at once very bored. 'Will it please you tell me some story.'

She is whimsical, he thought to himself. But then, was this not exactly what he had to expect from a queen?

'I live a secluded life, madam,' he said, 'and I fear there is nothing new or interesting I can tell these days. Perhaps you will care for a poem instead.'

'A poem?' the lady asked, her eyes widening with expectation. 'Will it be addressed to me?'

Oh, but she is vain, Charles thought with some relief. He searched his mind quickly for a poem that would be fitting for the occasion. That was not difficult, because most of his poems so far had been in praise of a lady, though no lady in particular. They were also inevitably about the sufferings of his life, and since the sufferings, unlike the lady, were real and intimately known to him, the poems sounded sad. With a painful smile, he began:

Madam in truth I know not what to say,
Nor by what end that I should first beginne,
The wofulle life unto you to biwray,
Which shirteth me more near than doth my skin.*

The lady smiled. She liked to make people miserable, and this man seemed to be made for misery. She clapped her hands, and the entire company expressed their admiration of the duke's poetic skill.

‘I have presents for you, since it is your birthday,’ the lady said sweetly. Ask for whatever your heart desires. Have you any wishes?'

Charles had read enough books of romance in his time to be aware that whenever one was offered to obtain some desire too lightly, a terrible danger lay in wait. ‘But what could change my life for the worse?’ he thought. ‘I am a prisoner already, and not likely to be released.’ He looked around him. The revellers at the table drank from their crystal cups and smiled. No care tainted their features. The petals of spring flowers, blown into the pavilion by a gentle wind, covered the tables. It was obvious that the lady was a powerful sorceress, who could turn autumn into winter and winter into spring. Perhaps she could also have some influence over the English, he thought.

'My strongest desire is to be free to return to France', he said, 'before the leaves have fallen from the trees in the woods we passed today.'

'Before all the leaves have fallen from them,' the lady said, 'you will return home. Have you more wishes?'

'Since you are so kind, madam,' Charles continued, 'may I be so bold as to ask for more water from that well in the midst of the forest?'

The lady smiled again, and there was something in her smile that made one’s heart feel cold.

'Of course,' she said. 'My servant, Danger, will bring you water every day from that well.'

She pointed towards the same man who had ridden the lame horse before, and who was now standing behind her chair. What a strange name he has, thought Charles.

'And what is your last wish?' the lady asked sweetly.

Charles thought of his true wishes, of which he still had many. He wished that after paying his ransom to King Henry there would be still something left of his lands and possessions, and he wished he would never have to live through a nightmare like Agincourt again. No, this would not do, he thought. He could not voice those wishes aloud in such company. He had to make a token wish, to please the lady.

'I would be delighted if you allowed me to write poems in your praise, madam,' he said, 'for as long as I remain your servant.'

This time, the lady did not smile.

'That is very kind indeed,' she said. 'Of course I will grant you that wish.'

A gust of wind blew through the pavilion, extinguishing all lamps and torches at once, and suddenly the table and the revellers disappeared. Charles was standing in the midst of a dark forest and the only person remaining with him was the lady's ugly servant on his lame mare. He had a torch in his hand that threw some light on his disfigured face. In his other hand, the man held the reins of Charles’s horse.

'It is time to return,' he said.

What a lack of manners, Charles thought ruefully. The fellow did not even think of dismounting and helping him to his horse. Clearly, he was not fit to serve anyone, and it was a wonder the lady chose him to accompany her guest. But then, he thought, she may have read too many romances of chivalry, and perhaps she imagined that a few ordeals would not go amiss before he received his reward. So he mounted his horse without complaining and rode after the man into the dark forest. Soon, they were once again in the place where dreamy trees were slowly shedding their yellow leaves. Now, for the first time, Charles noticed that the trees looked strange. He had never seen such leaves and such gnarled, twisted branches before.

'Where are we?' he asked the lady's servant. 'What is this place?'

'This is the Forest of Long Expectation,' the fellow replied without turning. 'The leaves on these trees are always yellow, and they never shed them completely, for as long as my lady lives.'

'I see,' Charles murmured, feeling forlorn. 'And the well?'

'That is the Well of Melancholy,' the man muttered, giving spurs to his lame horse. The mare flew like the wind along the narrow forest path, and the duke's horse followed her at the same pace. Soon they were out of the forest and in the wide fields, under the falling snow. The breath of the North burned Charles's face.

'Shall I ever see your lady again?' he shouted into the whirl of snowy wind, but there was no trace of the man on the lame horse. The wind was laughing in the empty skies above him. The next moment, the duke was standing in his room at Pontefract, feeling every bit as lonely as he did in the snowy field. His servant was lighting the candles. Charles shrugged, wondering how he managed to fall asleep on his feet, without even noticing it happen. From his shoulder, a flake of snow dropped to the floor and melted instantly into a drop of icy water.

That night, he stayed up late and wrote a poem in praise of the lady. He was not certain why he was doing it, but the lines seemed to form themselves naturally in his mind, and he wrote them down and left them by his bedside before falling asleep. Long before dawn, he fancied that he saw the lady's tiresome retainer, Danger, standing by his bed. Then he fell asleep again, and in the morning, the poem was gone, and a cup of water stood by his bed. He tasted it. It was better than any wine he had had in his life.

He remained at Pontefract for another year and a half, then they moved him to Fotheringay, and the year after that, to Bolingbroke. There, they kept him for a while, till it was time to return to London, and thence to move to Canterbury, and later to Peterborough. His keepers changed, and so did the view from his window, but on certain nights in November he could always see from it the snowy fields and the wooded hills of a land more desolate than the Kingdom of England was to his eyes.
He wrote poems by day and by night, since there was in any case not much else he could do. In his dreams, he often saw the lady with pearls in her hair reading them with great attention and becoming more beautiful with every extravagant praise that she extracted from him. She looked at him with cold grey eyes like the winter sky, and her gaze caused heartache. Behind her back, the trees of her forest stood as before in their attire of golden leaves. And every morning, he found some water from the forest well by his bedside. He was addicted to its taste, but it made him older, and more bitter at the world.

In Peterborough, Charles turned thirty-five. He was getting desperate, and he wished he could make the lady see how unjustly she treated him, holding him imprisoned all those years while she had promised to let him go. He wished he could protect himself from her gaze at night. But when he tried to put his desires in verse, what resulted were a few harmless courtly phrases. 'Will it please you imprison your eyes,' he wrote. The poem had none of the sting he had wished to put in it.

Disappointed, he cast it away into a dark corner before going to bed. In his dream, he saw the lady sitting in a chamber hung with tapestries that depicted autumn woods. A wind was blowing from an open window, dishevelling her artfully arranged golden tresses. The lady's eyes were covered by strands of falling hair, and though she seemed to struggle with remarkable determination, her hair kept falling down. Try as she might, she could not free her face from the net of gold that obscured her sight. 'How remarkable', Charles thought. 'I can no longer see that painful stare of hers.' Before dawn, he thought he saw Danger lurking in his room, searching for something on the desk. The expression of his ugly face boded ill for the duke.

'I have really caused them some annoyance with that poem,' he thought to himself. 'But that does not make my situation any better. Perhaps I should try to plead with her more often for my release.'

But that did not help at all.

Sometimes he thought that perhaps it was the mishappen intermediary, Danger, who distorted the sincerity of his pleas in the lady's ears. Perhaps she was still tractable, and would let him go, if only it were not for that disgusting fellow. He tried to complain about him in his poems – 'Such is Daungere my crewel adversayre', he wrote, but to no avail. Once, he even stooped so low as to flatter the very messenger he deplored, and went to great length to curry his favour:

'Welcome, and yet more welcome by this light,
O freshe tidings unto mine heart are you.
Say thou, hast thou had of my lady sight?'

Even then, however, nothing changed. The next year, they moved him again, and so it went, from castle to castle, with occasional stays in the Tower of London, which was becoming something of a home to him. Sometimes he refused to write of the lady for months on end, so bitter he was at the way she treated him. And still, she haunted his dreams, and her stare was every bit as painful as before.

On his forty-fourth birthday, looking at the curtain of rain over the Thames, Charles saw a single yellow leaf brought by the wind and left forgotten on his windowsill. ‘How cruel,’ he thought to himself. ‘Now she is mocking me, too. Had not her servant said, the trees in her forest shall never shed their leaves completely, as long as she lives?’ Then a new thought occurred to him, and he wondered how he never arrived at such a simple conclusion before.

Feeling something like excitement for the first time in many years, he sat down, took a quill in his hand and wrote a poem about the lady's death. Outside, the rain grew heavier, and the wind began to beat violently against the window-panes. More leaves of the same sickly yellow colour clang to the misty glass. In a distant forest in the land of Faerie, the trees began to shed their golden leaves, and the lady with pearls in her hair looked up from her cup, feeling ill. She raised her pale hand to her throat, and suddenly her eyes showed fear. Something was choking her. The water in her cup tasted of tears. Whoever dared to poison her drink with water from that well?

By now, the duke had worked himself into a rage, and poem by poem covered the empty pages on his desk. He wrote French poems and English poems, poems full of grief and poems tinged with sublime sadness. All of them deplored the death of the lady in most vehement terms. Now that he hoped she was done away with, he was particularly lavish in his praises:

...Farewell, the hope of my joy and gladness,
Nor may I speak for payne and heaviness,
And your departing is the cause of all.

On the next day, the negotiations concerning the duke's release moved forward suddenly, and within half of a year, the English let him go. His friends and allies helped to pay his ransom, and he even retained some of his lands and possessions. He never rode to battle again. Indeed, he never did much else except write poetry – for, as everyone knew by then, Charles was an accomplished poet. He wrote a great deal about the Forest of Long Expectation, and some lines about the Well of Melancholy. But he never again mentioned the lady of his earlier poems. Five hundred years later, some scholars argued that the reason for that was that the lady had been left behind in England, while others proposed that she was simply dead by then. As it happens, they all were right.

* All poems quoted in the text are by the protagonist.

@темы: Medieval, беспредметное, оридж

2012-01-02 в 12:11 

И кофе черен, как мысли. Как мрак ночной за окном.(с) Тенхъе
Стильно! Мне очень понравилось)))

2012-01-02 в 13:57 

J'aime qui m'aime, autrement non ©
EstiCrouchJunior, Спасибо, если хватило терпения осилить – ты упорный читатель)))

2012-01-02 в 17:20 

Der Kanzler
Назад тому сто тысяч лет, не знаю, много или мало, Вам кто-то дельный дал совет...
It's wonderful...

2012-01-05 в 17:28 

Потрясающе. А почему вы ее не выложите на русском? Это же маленькое чудо. Поэты и фэйри. Легенду о Томасе (-рифмаче) Лермонте отдаленно напоминает...не по мотивам ли писано ?

2012-01-05 в 19:12 

J'aime qui m'aime, autrement non ©
Дочь Хаос, Спасибо!

Trixel, Благодарю за похвалу... на перевод меня никогда не хватает. Если что на английском написано – оно само по себе, на русском – само по себе.

Легенду о Томасе (-рифмаче) Лермонте отдаленно напоминает...не по мотивам ли писано ?

Историй про фей очень много, меня вдохновляет глaвным образом их интерпретация в творчестве Сюзанны Кларк))). А в данном случае сильным толчком для вдохновения была поэзия главного героя.

2012-01-05 в 19:26 

Историй про фей очень много, меня вдохновляет глaвным образом их интерпретация в творчестве Сюзанны Кларк))).

Я у нее только про Стрэнджа и Норрелла читала. В переводе на рус. яз., если правильно помню ))) Да, у нее феи достаточно зловещие создания получились. Впрочем, Легенда о Томасе-Рифмаче в преложении Кашнер тоже страшновато звучит. Ее интерпретация близка к С. Кларк и тоже довольно осовременена.

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