The Threshold by A.S.Byatt continued…

Then passed they before him, each in her turn, each in her own little cage of light, as though, it might be, she were a candle and cast beams of her glory, a little distance, through the walls of a lanthorne. And as they passed, each sang, and to her song unseen instruments twangled and made delicious moan. And the last rays of the bloody sun showed the standing stones grey on a grey heaven.

First came the gold lady, stepping proudly, and on her head a queenly crown of gold, a filigree turret of lambent sunny gleams and glistering wires above crisping gold curls as heavy with riches as the golden fleece itself. She held out her gold box bravely before her and it struck out such rays that his eyes were briefly dazzled with it and he was forced to look down at the grey heather.

And she sang:

Mine the bright earth

Mine the corn

Mine the gold throne

to which you’re born

Lie in my lap

Tumbled with flowers

And reign over

Earth’s tall towers

And he could have stretched out his hands and warmed them, in that cold gloaming, at all the fire and brilliance that shook for her as she passed.And he thought she offered happiness, but said, natheless,

‘I shall see all, before I speak.’

Then came the silver lady, with a white crescent burning palely on her pale brow, and she was all hung about with spangled silver veiling that kept up a perpetual shimmering motion around her, so that she seemed a walking fountain, or an orchard of blossom in moonlight, which might in the day have been ruddy and hot for bee kisses, but at night lies open, all white to the cool, secret light that blesses it without withering or ripening.

Mine the long night

The secret place

Where lovers meet

In long embrace

In purple dark

In silvered kiss

Forget the world

And grasp your bliss

And he thought she knew his secret soul, and would have stretched out his arms to her in longing, for she made him see in his mind’s eye a closed casement in a high turret, and a private curtained bed where he would be most himself. For it was himself, surely, she offered him, as the other offered the sunlit earth. And he turned from the gold lady and would have taken the silver, but caution, or curiosity, restrained him, for he thought he would still see what the dim last might offer, compared to her two sweet sisters.

And she came almost creeping, not dancing nor striding, but moving imperceptibly like a shadow across his vision, in a still pool of soft light. And her garments did not sparkle or glitter but hung in long pale folds, fluted like carved marble, with deep violet shadows, at the heart of which, too, was a soft light. And her face was cast down in shadows, for she looked not at him, but at the dull lead casket, as pale as might be, and seemingly without hinge or keyhole, that lay cradled before her. And around her brow was a coronet of white poppies and on her feet were silent silken slippers like spider webs, and her music was single, a piping not of this earth, not merry, not sad, but calling, calling.

And she sang:

Not in the flesh

Not in the fire

Not in the action

Is heart’s desire

But come away

For last is best

I alone tender

The Herb of Rest

And then the heart of the Childe was wrung indeed, for it was the Herb of Rest which his father so desired him to bring home, to end, as only that might, his long agony. And the Childe’s heart rebelled a little, for he was loth to abandon the rich brightness of the golden dame, or the lovely clarity of the silver one, for the softness and quiet and downcast eyes of this half-invisible third. And you know, and I know, do we not, dear children, that he must always choose this last, and the last sister is always the true choice, is she not? But let us have a moments true sorrow for the silver blisses the Childe would have preferred, and the sunlit flowery earth which is my own secret preference, and then let us decorously follow as we must, as he takes up the soft hand of the third, as his fate and the will of his father’s decree, and says, half musing, ‘I will come with you.’

#3 of 4

To be continued in the final link below…

The Threshold by A.S. Byatt, conclusion