Flemish Legend Sir Halewyn by Charles de Coster Chapter 7

Of the Prince of the Stones and of the song

One day in the season of plum-picking, having roved over the whole countryside, and even as far as Lille, on the way back to his castle he passed through a wood. Ambling along he saw among the undergrowth, alongside an oak, a stone which was of great length and broad in proportion.

And he said: “That will make me a good seat, comfortable enough to rest on for a little while.” And sitting down on the stone he once again prayed to the devil to let him have health and beauty.

By and by, although it was still daylight, and the small birds, warblers and finches, sang in the woods joyously, and there was a bright sun and a soft wind, Sir Halewyn went off to sleep, for he was very tired.

Having slept until it was night, he was suddenly awakened by a strange sound. And he saw, by the light of the high moon and the clear stars, as it were a little animal, with a coat like a mossy stone, who was scratching up the earth beneath the rock, now and again thrusting his head into the hole he had made, as a dog does hunting moles.

Sir Halewyn, thinking it was some wild thing, hit at it with his sword.

But the sword was broken at its touch, and a little mannikin of stone leapt up on to his shoulders, and smote his cheeks sharply with his hard hands, and said, wheezing and laughing:

“Seek, Siewert Halewyn; seek song and sickle, sickle and song; seek, seek, ill-favoured one!”

And so saying he hopped about like a flea on the back of the Miserable, who bent forward as he was bid, and with a piece of his sword dug in the hole. And the stony cheek of the little mannikin was alongside his own, and his two eyes lit up the hole better than lanterns would have done.

And biting Halewyn’s flesh with his sharp teeth, striking him with his little fists, and with his nails pinching and pulling him, and laughing harshly, the little mannikin said: “I am the Prince of the Stones, I have fine treasures; seek, seek, Miserable!”

And saying this, he pommelled him beyond endurance. “He wants,” he screamed, mocking him, “Siewert Halewyn wants strength and beauty, beauty and strength; seek then, Miserable.”

And he pulled out his hair in handfuls, and tore his dress with his nails until he was all in rags, and kept saying, with great bursts of laughter: “Strength and beauty, beauty and strength; seek, seek, Miserable!” And he hung from his ears with his two hands, and kicked his stone feet in his face, notwithstanding that the Sire cried out with pain.

And the little mannikin said: “To get strength and beauty, seek, Halewyn, a song and a sickle, seek, Sir Miserable!” And the Miserable went on scratching out the earth with his piece of sword.

Suddenly the earth fell away under the stone, leaving a great hole open, and Halewyn, by the light of the mannikin’s eyes, saw a sepulchre, and within the sepulchre a man lying, who was of marvellous beauty and had none of the appearance of death.

This man was clad all in white, and in his hands held a sickle, whereof both handle and blade were of gold.

“Take the sickle,” quoth the little mannikin, thumping his head with his fists.

Sir Halewyn did as he was bid, and straightway the man in the tomb became dust, and from the dust came a white flame, tall and spreading, and from the white flame a wonderfully sweet song.

And suddenly all about the wood was spread a perfume of cinnamon, frankincense, and sweet marjoram.

“Sing,” said the mannikin, and the Miserable repeated the song. While he was singing his harsh voice was changed to a voice sweeter than an angel’s, and he saw coming out of the depths of the wood a virgin of heavenly beauty and wholly naked; and she came and stood before him.

“Ah,” she said, weeping, “master of the golden sickle. I come, for I must obey; do not make me suffer too much in the taking of my heart, master of the golden sickle.”

Then the virgin went away into the depths of the wood; and the mannikin, bursting out into laughter, threw Sir Halewyn down on to the ground, and said:

“Hast song and sickle; so shalt thou have strength and beauty; I am the Prince of the Stones; farewell, cousin.”

And Halewyn, picking himself up, saw no more of either the mannikin or the naked maid; and studying well the golden sickle, and pondering in his mind what could be the meaning of the man in the tomb and the naked virgin, and inquiring within himself in perplexity what use he could make of the sickle and the sweet song, he saw suddenly on the blade a fair inscription, written in letters of fire.

But he could not read the writing, for he was ignorant of all the arts; and, weeping with rage, he threw himself into the bushes, crying out: “Help me, Prince of the Stones. Leave me not to die of despair.”

Thereupon the mannikin reappeared, leapt upon his shoulder, and, giving him a stout rap on the nose, read on one side of the blade of the sickle this inscription which follows:

Song calls,
Sickle reaps.
In the heart of a maid shalt thou find:
Strength, beauty, honour, riches,
From the hands of a dead virgin.

And upon the other side of the blade the mannikin read further:

Whoso thou art shalt do this thing,
Writing read and song sing:
Seek well, hark and go;
No man shall lay thee low.
Song calls,
Sickle reaps.

And having read this the mannikin went away once more.

Suddenly the Miserable heard a sad voice saying:

“Wilt thou seek strength and beauty in death, blood, and tears?”

“Yes,” said he.

“Ambitious heart, heart of stone,” answered the voice. Then he heard nothing more.

And he gazed at the sickle with its flaming letters until such time as My Lord Chanticleer called his hens awake.