Black Magic, by Marjorie Bowen

Chapter 15

Melchoir of Brabant

The last chant of the monks died away.

The Sabbath service was ended and the Court rose from its place in the Emperor’s chapel, but Jacobea remained on her knees and tried to pray.

The Empress, very fair and childishly sweet, drooping under the weight of her jewelled garments even with three pages to lift her train, raised her brows to see her lady remaining and gave her a little smile as she passed.

The Emperor, dark, reserved, devout and plainly habited, followed with his eyes still on his breviary; he was leaning on the arm of Balthasar of Courtrai; the sun falling slantwise through the high coloured windows made the fair locks and golden clothes of the Margrave one glitter in a dazzling brightness.

Jacobea could not bring her thoughts to dwell on holy things; her hands were clasped on her prie-Dieu, her open book was before her, but her eyes wandered from the altar to the crowd passing down the aisle.

Among the faces that went by she could not but mark the beautiful countenance of Theirry the secretary to the Queen’s Chamberlain; she noticed him, as she always did, for his obvious calm handsomeness, today she noticed further that he looked grieved, distraught and pale. Wondering at this she observed him so intently that his long hazel eyes glanced aside and met hers in an intense gaze, grave and sad.

She thought there was a question or an appeal — some meaning in his look, and she turned her slender neck and stared after him, so that two ladies following smiled at each other.

Theirry kept his eyes fixed on her until he left the C chapel, and a slow colour crept into his cheek.

When the last courtier had glittered away out of the low arched door, Jacobea bent her head and rested her cheek against the top of the high prie-Dieu; her yellow hair, falling from under her close linen cap, hung in a shimmering line over her tight blue velvet gown, her hands were interlaced beside her cheek, and her long skirt rippled over her feet on to the stone pavement.

Could her prayers have been shaped into words they would have been such as these —

“Oh Mary, Empress of Heaven, oh saints and angels, defend me from the Devil and my own wicked heart, shelter me in my weakness and arm me to victory!”

Incense still lingered in the air; it stole pleasantly to her nostrils; she raised her eyes timidly to the red light on the altar, then rose from her knees clasping her breviary to her bosom, and turning she saw Theirry standing inside the door watching her.

She knew that he was waiting to speak to her, and, she knew not why, it gave her a sense of comfort and pleasure.

Slowly she came down the aisle towards him, and as she approached, smiled. He took a step into the church; there was no answering smile on his face.

“Teach me to pray, I beseech you,” he said ardently. “Let me kneel beside you —” She looked at him in a troubled way.

“I? — alas!” she answered. “You do not know me.”

“I know that if any one could lead a soul upwards it would be you.”

Jacobea shook her head sadly.

“Scarcely can I pray for myself,” she answered. “I am weak, unhappy and alone. Sir, whatever your trouble you must not come to me for aid.”

His dark eyes flashed softly.

“You — unhappy? I have ever thought of you as gay and careless as the roses.”

She gazed on him wistfully.

“Once I was. That day I saw you first — do you remember, sir? I often recall it because it seemed — that after that I changed —” She shuddered, and her grey eyes grew wet and mournful. “It was your friend.”

Theirry’s face hardened.

“My friend?”

She leant against the chapel wall and gazed passionately at the Chamberlain’s secretary. “Who is he? Surely you must know somewhat of him.”

“My friend —” repeated Theirry.

“The young scholar,” she said quickly and fearfully, “he — he is in Frankfort now.” “You have seen him?”

She bowed her head. “What does he want with me? He will not let me be in peace — he pursues me with horrible thoughts — he hates me, he will undo my soul —”

She stopped, catching close to her the ivory-covered book and shivering.

“I think,” she said after a second, “he is an evil thing.”

“When did you meet him?” asked Theirry in a low fearful voice.

Jacobea told him of the encounter in the forest; he marked that it was the day of the great tourney, the day when he had last seen Dirk; he remembered certain matters he had uttered concerning Jacobea.

“If he has been tampering with you,” he cried wrathfully, “if he dares —”

“Then you know somewhat of him?” she interrupted in a half horror.

“Ay, to my shame I do,” he answered. “I know him for what he is; if you value your peace, your soul — do not heed him.”

She drew away.

“But you — you — Are you in league with him?”

Theirry groaned and set his teeth.

“He holds me in a mesh of temptation — he lures me into great wickedness.”

Jacobea moved still further back; shrinking from him into the gloom of the chapel. “Oh!” she said. “Who — who is he?”

Theirry lowered his eyes and frowned.

“You must not ask me.” He fingered the base of the pilaster against the door.

“But he troubles me,” she answered intensely. “The thought of him is like some on clinging to my garments to drag me down.”

Theirry lifted his head sharply to gaze at her tall slender figure; but lifted his eyes no higher than her clasped hands that lay over the breviary below her heart.

“How can he or such as he disturb you? What temptation can you be beguiled with?”

And as he saw the delicate fingers tremble on the ivory cover, his soul was hot and sore against Dirk.

“I will not speak of what might beguile me,” said Jacobea in a low Voice. “I dare not speak of it — let it go — it is great sin.”

“There is sin for me also,” murmured Theirry, “but the prize seems almost worth it.”

He bit his finger and stared on the ground; he felt that she shuddered and heard the shiver of her silks against the chapel wall.

“Worth it, you say?” she whispered, “worth it?”

Her tone made him wince; he could fancy Dirk at her shoulder prompting her, and he lifted his head and answered strongly —

“You cannot care to know, and I dare not tell, what has put me in the power of this young scholar, nor what are the temptations with which he enmeshes me — but this you must hear”— his hand was outspread on his bosom, pressing on his heart, his hazel eyes were dilated and intense —“this — I should be his, utterly, wholly his, one with him in evil, if it were not for you and the thought of you.”

She leant her whole weight against the stone wall and stared at him; a shaft of dusty sunlight played on the smooth ivory book and her long fingers; fell, too, glowingly across the blue velvet bosom of her dress; but her throat and face were in shadow.

“You are the chatelaine of Martzburg,” continued Theirry in a less steady voice, “and you do not know me — it is not fit that you should — but twice you have been gentle with me, and if — and if you could so care, for your sake I would shake the clinging devils off — I would live good and humble, and scorn the tempting youth.”

“What must I do to help you?” answered Jacobea. “Alas! why do you rate me so high?” Theirry came a step nearer; he touched the border of her long sleeve.

“Be what you are — that is all. Be noble, pure — ah, sweet I— that seeing you I can still believe in heaven and strive for it.”

She looked at him earnestly.

“Why — you are the only one to care, that I should be noble and sweet. And it would make a difference to you?” Her questioning voice fell wistfully. “Ah, sir — were you to hear a wicked thing of me and know it true — did I become a vile, a hideous creature — would it make a difference?”

“It would — for me — make the difference between hell and paradise.”

She flushed and trembled.

“Certes, you have heartened me — nay, you must not set me in a shrine — but, but —— Oh, sir, honour me and I will be worthy of it.”

She raised an appealing face.

“On my knees,” answered Theirry earnestly, “I will do you worship. I am no knight to wear your colours boldly — but you shall win a fairer triumph than ever graced the jousts, for I will come back to God through you and live my days a repentant man — because of you.”

“Nay — each through the other,” said Jacobea. “I think I too — had . . . ah, Jesu! fallen — if some one had not cared.”

He paled with pain.

“What did he — that youth — tempt you with?”

“No matter,” she said faintly. “It is over now — I will be equal to your thoughts of me, sir. I have no knight, nor have wished for one — but I will often think of you who have encouraged me in this my loneliness.”

“Please God,” he said. “We both are free of devilry — will you make that a pact with me? that I may think of you as far above it all as is the moon above the mire — will you give me leave to think you always as innocent as I would have my Saint?”

“Your worship, sir, shall make me so,” she answered gravely. “Think no ill of me and I will do no ill.”

He went on his knee and kissed the hem of her soft gown.

“You have saved me,” he whispered, “from everlasting doom.”

As he rose, Jacobea held out her hand and touched him gently on the sleeve.

“God be thanked,” she said.

He bent his head and left her; she drew from her bosom the crucifix that had been her companion in the forest and kissed it reverently, her heart more at ease than since the day when first she met Dirk Renswoude.

Returning to the great hall of the palace with quick resolve to return to Martzburg or to send for Sybilla forming in her mind, she encountered the Empress walking up and down the long chamber discontentedly.

Ysabeau, who affected a fondness for Jacobea, smiled on her indolently, but Jacobea, always a little overawed by her great loveliness, and, in her soul, disliking her, would have passed on. The Empress raised her hand.

“Nay, stay and talk to your poor deserted lady,” she said in her babyish voice. “The Emperor is in his chamber writing Latin prayers — on a day like this!” She kissed her hand to tile sunshine and the flowers seen through the window. “My dames are all abroad with their gallants — and I Hazard what I have been doing?”

She held her left hand behind her and laughed in Jacobea’s face; seen thus in her over-gorgeous clothes, her childlike appearance and beauty giving her an air of fresh innocence, She was not unlike the little image of the Virgin often set above her altars.

“Guess!” she cried again; then, without waiting for an answer — “Catching butterflies in the garden.”

She showed her hand now, and held delicately before Jacobea’s eyes a white net drawn tightly together full of van-coloured butterflies.

“What is the use of them, poor souls?” asked Jacobea.

The Empress looked at her prisoners.

“Their wings are very lovely,” she said greedily. “If I pulled them off would they last? Sewn on silk how they would shimmer!”

“Nay, they would fade,” answered Jacobea hastily.

“Ye have tried it?” demanded the Empress.

“Nay, I could not be so cruel . . . I love such little gay creatures.”

Reflection darkened Ysabeau’s gorgeous eyes.

“Well, I will take the wings off and see if they lose their brightness.” She surveyed the fluttering victims. “Some are purple . . . a rare shade!”

Jacobea’s smooth brow gathered in a frown of distress.

“They are alive,” she said, “and it is agreeable to them to live; will you not let them free?” Ysabeau laughed; not at all babyishly now.

“You need not watch me, dame.”

“Your Grace does not consider how gentle and helpless they are, indeed”— Jacobea flushed in her eagerness —“they have faces and little velvet jackets on their bodies.”

Ysabeau frowned and turned away.

“It amuses you to thwart my pleasures,” she answered. She suddenly flung the net at Jacobea. “Take them and begone.”

The chatelaine of Martzburg, knowing something of the Empress, was surprised at this sudden yielding; looking round, however, she learnt the cause of it. The Margrave of East Flanders had entered the hall.

She caught up the rescued butterflies and left the chamber, while the Empress sank into the window-seat among the crimson cushions patterned with sprawling lions, pulled a white rose out of her belt and set her teeth in the stem of it.

“Where is Melchoir?” asked the Margrave, coming towards her; his immense size augmented by his full rich clothes gave him the air of a golden giant.

“Writing Latin prayers,” she mocked. “Were you Emperor of the West, Lord Balthasar, would you do that?”

He frowned.

“I am not such a holy man as Melchoir.” Ysabeau laughed.

“Were you my husband would you do that?” His fresh fair face flushed rose colour. “This is among the things I may not even fancy.”

She looked out of the window; her dress was low and loosened about the shoulders, by cause of the heat, she said, but she loved to make a pageant of her beauty; red, bronze and purple silks clung about her fastened with a thick belt; her pale gold hair was woven into a great diadem of curls above her brow, and round her throat was a string of emeralds, a gift from Byzantium, her home.

Purposely she was silent, hoping Balthasar would speak; but he stood, without a word, leaning against the tapestry.

“Oh God!” she said at last, without turning her head, “I loathe Frankfort!”

His eyes glittered, but he made no answer.

“Were I a man I would not be so tame.”

Now he spoke.

“Princess, you know that I am sick for Rome, but what may we do when the Emperor makes delays?”

“Melchoir should be a monk,” his wife returned bitterly, “since a German township serves him when he might rule half the world.” Now she gave Balthasar her lovely face, and fixed on him her violet eyes. “We of the East do not understand this diffidence. My father was an Aegean groom who took the throne by strangling the life out of his master — he ruled strongly in Ravenna, I was born in the purple, nursed in the gold — I do not fathom your northern tardiness.

“The Emperor will go to Rome,” said the Margrave in a troubled voice. “He will cross the Alps this year, I think.”

Her white lids drooped.

“You love Melchoir — therefore you bear with him.”

He lifted his head.

“You, too, must bear with him, since he is your lord, Princess,” he answered.

And the Empress repressed the words she longed to utter, and forced a smile.

“How stern you are, Margrave; if I but turn a breath against Melchoir — and, sometimes, you wrong me, forgetting that I also am your friend.”

Her eyes were quick to flash over him, to mark how stiffly and awkwardly he stood and could not look at her.

“My duty to the Emperor,” she said softly, “and my love, cannot blind me to his weakness now; come, Lord Balthasar, to you also it is weakness — even your loyalty must admit we lose the time. The Pope says — Come — the King of the Lombards will acknowledge my lord his suzerain — and here we stay in Frankfort waiting for the winter to cut off the Alps.”

“Certes he is wrong,” frowned the Margrave. “Wrong . . . if I were he — I would be Emperor in good sooth and all the world should know that I ruled in Rome . . . ”

She drew a long breath.

“Strange that we, his friend and his wife, cannot persuade him; the nobles are on our side also.” “Save Hugh of Rooselaare, who is ever at his ear,” answered Balthasar. “He brings him to stay in Germany.”

“The Lord of Rooselaare!” echoed the Empress. “His daughter was your wife?”

“I never saw her,” he interrupted quickly. “And she died. Her father seems, therefore, to hate me.”

“And me also, I think, though why I do not know,” she smiled. “His daughter’s dead, dead . . . oh, we are very sure that she is dead.”

“Certes, she was as good as another;” the Margrave spoke gloomily. “Now I must wed again.” The Empress stared at him.

“I did not think you considered that.”

“I must. I am the Margrave now.”

Ysabeau turned her head and fixed her eyes on the palace garden.

“There is no lady worthy of your rank and at the same time free,” she said.

“You have an heiress in your train, Princess —— Jacobea of Martzburg — I have thought of her.” The rich colours in the Empress’s gown shimmered together with her hidden trembling.

“Can you think of her? She is near as tall as you, Margrave, and not fair — oh, a gentle fool enough — but — but”— she looked over her shoulder —“am I not your lady?”

“Ay, and ever will be,” he answered, lifting his bright blue eyes. “I wear your favour, I do battle for you, in the jousts you are my Queen of Love —— I make my prayers in your name and am your servant, Princess.”

“Well — you need not a wife.” She bit her lips to keep them still.

“Certes,” answered Balthasar wonderingly. “A knight must have a wife besides a lady — since his lady is ofttimes the spouse of another, and his highest thought is to touch her gown — but a wife is to keep his castle and do his service.”

The Empress twisted her fingers in and out her girdle.

“I had rather,” she cried passionately, “be wife than lady.”

“Ye are both,” he answered, flushing. “The Emperor’s wife and my lady.”

She gave him a curious glance.

“Sometimes I think you are a fool, yet maybe it is only that I am not used to the North. How you would show in Byzantium, my cold Margrave!” And she leant across the gold and red cushions towards him. “Certes, you shall have your long straight maiden. I think her heart is as chill as yours.”

He moved away from her.

“Ye shall not mock me, Princess,” he said fiercely. “My heart is hot enough, let me be.” She laughed at him.

“Are you afraid of me? Why do you move away? Come back, and I will recount you the praises of Jacobea of Martzburg.”

He gave her a sullen look.

“No more of her.”

“And yet your heart is hot enough —”

“Not with the thought of her — God knows.”

But the Empress pressed her hands together and slowly rose, looking past Balthasar at the door.

“Melchoir, we speak of you,” she said.

The Margrave turned; the Emperor, velvet shod, was softly entering; he glanced gravely at his wife and smilingly at Balthasar.

“We speak of you,” repeated Ysabeau, dark-eyed and flushed, “of you . . . and Rome.”

Melchoir of Brabant, third of his name, austere, reserved, proud and cold, looked more like a knight h of the Church than King of Germany and Emperor of the West; he was plainly habited, his dark hair cut close, his handsome, slightly haughty face composed and stern; too earnest was he to be showily attractive yet many men adored him, among them Balthasar of Courtrai, for in himself the Emperor was both brave and lovable.

“Cannot you have done with Rome?” he asked sadly, while his large intelligent eyes rested affectionately on the Margrave. “Is Frankfort grown so distasteful?”

“Certes, no, Lord Melchoir — it is the chance! the chance!”

The Emperor sank in a weary manner on to a seat.

“Hugh of Rooselaare and I have spoken together and we have agreed, Balthasar, not to go to Rome.”

The Empress stiffened and drooped her lids; the Margrave turned swiftly to face his master, and all the colour was dashed out of his fresh face.

Melchoir smiled gently.

“My friend, ye are an adventurer, and think of the glory to be gained — but I must think of my people who need me here — the land is not fit to leave. It will need many men to hold Rome; we must drain the land of knights, wring money from the poor, tax the churches — leave Germany defenceless, a prey to the Franks, and this for the empty title of Emperor.”

Balthasar’s breast heaved.

“Is this your decision?”

The Emperor answered gravely —

“I do not think it God His wish that I should go to Rome.”

The Margrave bent his head and was silent, but Ysabeau flung her clear voice into the pause.

“In Constantinople a man such as you would not long fill a throne; ere now you had been a blinded monk and I free to choose another husband!”

The Emperor rose from his seat.

“The woman raves,” he said to the pale Margrave. “Begone, Balthasar.”

The German left them; when his heavy footfall had died into silence, Melchoir looked at his wife and his eyes flashed.

“God forgive my father,” he said bitterly, “for tying me to this Eastern she-cat!”

The Empress crouched in the window-seat and clutched the cushions.

“I was meant for a man’s mate,” she cried fiercely, “for a Cæsar’s wife. I would they had flung me to a foot-boy sooner than given me to thee — thou trembling woman’s soul!”

“Thou hast repaid the injury,” answered the Emperor sternly, “by the great unhappiness I have in thee. My life is not sweet with thee nor easy. I would thou hadst less beauty and more gentleness.”

“I am gentle enough when I choose,” she mocked. “Balthasar and the Court think me a loving wife.”

He took a step towards her; his cheek showed pale.

“It is most true none save I know you for the thing you are — heartless, cruel, fierce and hard —”

“Leave that!” she cried passionately. “You drive me mad. I hate you, yea, you thwart me every turn —”

She came swiftly across the floor to him.

“Have you any courage — any blood in you — will you go to Rome?”

“To please your wanton ambition I will do nothing, nor will I for any reason go to Rome.” Ysabeau quivered like an infuriated animal.

“I will talk no more of it,” said Melchoir coldly and wearily. “Too often do we waste ourselves in such words as these.”

The Greek could scarcely speak for passion; her nostrils were dilated, her lips pale and compressed.

“I am ashamed to call you lord,” she said hoarsely; “humbled before every woman in the kingdom who sees her husband brave at least — while I— know you coward —”

Melchoir clenched his hands to keep them off her.

“Hark to me, my wife. I am your master and the master of this land — I will not be insulted, nay, nor flouted, by your stinging tongue. Hold me in what contempt ye will, you shall not voice it — by St. George, no! — not if I have to take the whip to hold you dumb!”

“Ho! a Christian knight!” she jeered. “I loathe your Church as I loathe you. I am not Ysabeau, but still Marozia Porphyrogentris.”

“Do not remind me thy father was a stableman and a murderer,” said Melchoir. “Nor that I caused thee to change a name the women of thy line had made accursed. Would I could send thee back to Ravenna! — for thou hast brought to me nought but bitterness!”

“Be careful,” breathed Ysabeau. “Be careful.”

“Stand out of my way,” he commanded.

For answer she loosened the heavy girdle round her waist; he saw her purpose and caught her hands.

“You shall not strike me.” The links of gold hung from her helpless fingers while she gazed at him with brilliant eyes. “Would you have struck me?”

“Yea — across your mouth,” she answered. “Now were you a man, you would kill me.”

He took the belt from her arm, releasing her. “That you should trouble me!” he said wearily.

At this she stood aside to let him pass; he turned to the door, and as he lifted the tapestry flung down her belt.

The Empress crept along the floor, snatched it up and stood still, panting.

Before the passion had left her face the hangings were stirred again.

One of her Chamberlains.

“Princess, there is a young doctor below desires to see you. Constantine, his name, of Frankfort College.”

“Oh!” said Ysabeau; a guilty colour touched her whitened cheek. “I know nothing of him,” she added quickly.

“Pardon, Princess, he says ’tis to decipher an old writing you have sent to him; his words are, when you see him you will remember.”

The blood burnt more brightly still under the exquisite skin.

“Bring him here,” she said.

But even as the Chamberlain moved aside, the slender figure of Dirk appeared in the doorway. He looked at her, smiling calmly, his scholar’s cap in his hand.

“You do remember me?” he asked.

The Empress moved her head in assent.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32