Flemish Legend Sir Halewyn by Charles de Coster Chapter 31

Of the sixteen deaths and of the Prince of the Stones

Suddenly the head spoke, saying: “Go thou to the end of the road, and sound my horn aloud, so that my friends may hear.”

But Magtelt:

“To the end of the road will I not go; thine horn will I not sound; murderer’s counsel will I not follow.”

“Ah,” said the head, “if thou art not the Virgin without pity, join me to my body, and with the heart that is in my breast anoint my red wound.”

But Magtelt:

“I am the Virgin without pity; to thy body will I not join thee, and with the heart that is in thy breast will I not anoint thy red wound.”

“Maid,” said the head, weeping and speaking with great terror, “maid, quickly, quickly, make on my body the sign of the cross, and carry me into my castle, for he is coming.”

While the head was speaking, suddenly came out of the wood the Prince of the Stones, and he came and seated himself on the body of the Miserable, and taking in his hands the head: “Salutation,” he said, “to the Ill-favoured one; art thou now content? What of thy triumphant bearing, my lord the Invincible? She whom thou calledst not came without a song: the virgin without fear, in whose hands is death. But thou must sing once again thy sweet song, the song to call virgins.”

“Ah,” said the head, “make me not sing, Lord Prince of the Stones, for I know well enough that at the end there is great suffering.”

“Sing,” said the Prince of the Stones, “sing, coward that hast never wept to do evil, and now weepest at the time of punishment: sing, Miserable.”

“Ah,” said the head, “have pity, Lord.”

“Sing,” said the Prince of the Stones, “sing, ’tis the hour of God.”

“My lord Prince,” said the head, “be not so hard in my evil hour.”

“Sing, Miserable,” said the Prince of the Stones, “sing, ’tis the hour of the reckoning.”

“Ah,” said the head, weeping, “I will sing, since you are my master.”

And the head sang the faery song.

And suddenly there spread abroad in the air a smell of cinnamon, frankincense, and sweet marjoram.

And the sixteen virgins, hearing the song, came down from the gallows and drew near to the body of Halewyn.

And Magtelt, crossing herself, watched them pass, but felt no fear.

And the first virgin, who was the daughter of the poor simpleton, Claes the Dog-beater, took the golden sickle, and cutting into the breast of the Miserable below the left nipple drew out a great ruby, and put this on her wound, where it melted into rich red blood in her breast.

And the head let a great pitiful cry of pain.

“So,” said the Prince of the Stones, “did the poor virgins cry out when thou madest them pass from life unto death; sixteen times hast thou brought death about, sixteen times shalt thou die, besides the death thou hast suffered already. The cry is the cry of the body when the soul leaves it; sixteen times hast thou drawn this cry from other bodies, sixteen times shall cry out thine own; sing, Miserable, to call the virgins to the reckoning.”

And the head sang again the faery song, while the first virgin walked away silently towards the wood like a living person.

And the second virgin came to the body of the Miserable and did to it as the first had done.

And she also walked away into the wood like a living person.

So did each of the sixteen virgins, and for each of them a ruby was changed into good red blood.

And sixteen times the head sang the faery song, and sixteen times gave the death-cry.

And one by one all the virgins went away into the depth of the wood.

And the last of all, who was Anne-Mie, came to Magtelt, and kissing her right hand wherein she had held the sword: “Blessed be thou,” she said, “who camest without fear, and, delivering us from the spell, leadest us into paradise.”

“Ah,” said Magtelt, “must thou go so far away, Anne-Mie?”

But Anne-Mie, without hearing her, passed like the others into the depth of the wood, walking silently over the snow like a living person.

While the head was weeping and uttering bitter plaints, came out from the forest the child of nine years old, whom the Miserable had killed first of all. Still wearing her shroud she approached and fell at the feet of the mannikin Prince of the Stones.

“Ah,” she said, kissing the head tenderly, stroking it, caressing it, and wiping away its tears, “poor Miserable, I will pray for thee to the very good God, who readily hears the prayers of children.”

And the girl prayed in this wise:

“Dear Lord, see how much he is suffering! Is it not payment enough that he should die sixteen times? Ah, Lord, sweet Lord, and you, Madam Mary, who are so kind, deign to hear me and grant him forgiveness.”

But the mannikin, starting up, pushed the child away and said harshly: “This head is mine, thy prayers avail nothing; be off, little ragamuffin, go back whence thou came.”

And the child went away like the other maids into the depth of the wood.

Then he thrust his hand into the breast of the Miserable and pulled out a heart of stone: then, in his rasping voice, which hissed like a viper and scraped like a thousand pebbles under the iron sole of an armed man, he said: “Ambitious heart, heart of stone, thou wast in thy lifetime cruel and a coward; thou couldst not be content with such ample gifts as God in His bounty had given thee, thou hadst no desire towards goodness, courage, or just dealing, but towards gold, power, and vain honours; thou hadst no love for anything, neither father, mother, brother, nor sister; and so, to get more power and higher jurisdiction, thou killedst the people of the land of Flanders, without shame: and so also thou didst set thyself to hurt the weak, sucking thy life from their life, and thy blood from their blood.

So have done and so shall always do this reptile order of ambitious ugly men. Blessed be God, who, by the hands of this frail and winsome maid, has cut off thine head from thy neck and taken thee from the world.”
As he spoke he had thrown the heart down into the snow, and trampling over it with great despite, kicking it with his toe like a vile thing, and laughing bitterly, he spoke again in his rasping voice:

“Stone thou art, stone shalt thou be a thousand years, but a live stone, a suffering stone. And when men come and carve thee, cleave thee, grind thee to powder, thou shalt endure it all without being able to cry out. Ambitious heart, heart of stone, suffer and bleed, my cousin.

“Thou hast starved poor folk, so shalt thou starve a thousand years; thou hast brought cold into their homes, thou shalt freeze in like manner. Ambitious heart, heart of stone, suffer and bleed, my cousin.

“Thou shalt be a hearth-stone and burn with the heat; paving-stone, and let men walk over thee; stone of a church, and bear upon thee all the weight of the building; and thou shalt suffer every evil, pain, and anguish. Ambitious heart, heart of stone, suffer and endure, my cousin.”

Having said this the Prince of the Stones, driving before him with his foot the Miserable’s heart, disappeared among the trees of the forest.

Then Magtelt looked at the head, and saw that its eyes were open wide. She took it up and washed it with snow, then, carrying it with her, rode away on Schimmel, leaving near the body Halewyn’s horse and hound, the one moaning softly, the other watching it with sorrowful wonderment.

As she took up the head, the hound growled, but did not dare touch her.

And while she rode away, horse and hound stayed by the body, downcast and sad, and covered with the snow which fell without ceasing.

And they seemed to be guarding their master.