Helen said, tartly: "If you drink much more of that wine, you're going to remember a swell headache, darling."
The Demoiselle Dahut murmured: "What do you remember, Alain de Carnac?"
I sang the old Breton song--to the English words:
Fisher! Fisher! Have you seen
White Dahut the Shadows' Queen?
Riding on her stallion black,
At her heels her shadow pack--
Have you seen Dahut ride by,
Swift as cloudy shadows fly
O'er the moon in stormy sky,
On her stallion black as night--
Shadows' Queen--Dahut the White?
There was a queer silence. Then I noticed that de Keradel was sitting up oddly rigid and looking at me with that same expression he had worn when I had spoken of the Alkar-Az--and the Gatherer in the Cairn. Also that Bill's face had bleached. I looked at the Demoiselle and there were little dancing orchid sparks in her eyes. I hadn't the slightest idea why the old song should have had such an effect.
Helen said: "That's a weird melody, Alan. Who was Dahut the White?"
"A witch, angel," I told her. "A wicked, beautiful witch. Not a torched-tressed witch like you, but a blonde one. She lived twenty centuries or more ago in a city named Ys. Nobody knows quite where Ys was, but probably its towers rose where now the sea flows between Quiberon and Belle Isle. Certainly, it was once land there. Ys was a wicked city, filled with witches and sorcerers, but wickedest of all was Dahut the White, the daughter of the King. She picked her lovers where she would. They pleased her for a night, two nights--seldom three. Then she cast them from her ... into the sea, some say. Or, say others, she gave them to her shadows--"
Bill interrupted: "What do you mean by that?"
His face was whiter than before. De Keradel was looking sharply at him. I said:
"I mean--shadows. Didn't I sing to you that she was Queen of Shadows? She was a witch--and could make shadows do her bidding. All sorts of shadows--shadows of the lovers she'd killed, demon shadows, Incubi and Succubi nightmares--a specialist in shadows was the White Dahut, according to the legend.
"At last the Gods determined to take a hand. Don't ask me what Gods. Pagan, if all this was before the introduction of Christianity--Christian if after. Whichever they were, they must have believed that who lives by the sword must die by the sword and all of that, because they sent to Ys a youthful hero with whom Dahut fell instantly, completely, and madly in love.
"He was the first man she had ever loved, despite her former affairs. But he was coy--aloof. He could forgive her previous philandering, but before he would accept her favors he must be convinced she truly loved him. How could she convince him? Quite easily. Ys, it appears was below sea-level and protected by walls which kept out the tides. There was one gate which would let in the sea. Why was there such a gate? I don't know. Probably for use in case of invasion, revolution, or something of the sort. At any rate, the legend says, there was such a gate. The key to it hung always about the neck of the King of Ys, Dahut's father.
"'Bring me that key--and I'll know you love me,' said the hero. Dahut stole down to her sleeping father, and stole the key from his neck. She gave it to her lover. He opened the sea-gates. The sea poured in. Finish--for wicked Ys. Finish--for wicked Dahut the White."
"She was drowned?" asked Helen.
"That's the curious detail of the legend. The story is that Dahut had a rush of filial devotion to the heart, rushed away, awakened the father she had betrayed, took her big black stallion, mounted it, drew the King up behind her and tried to beat the waves to higher ground. There must have been something good in her after all. But--another extraordinary detail--her shadows rebelled, got behind the waves and pushed them on higher and faster. So the waves overtook the stallion and Dahut and her papa--and that was indeed their finish. But still they ride along the shores of Quiberon 'on her stallion black, at her heels her shadow pack-'" I stopped, abruptly.
My left arm had been raised, the glass of wine within it. By a freak of the light, the candles threw its shadow sharply upon the white tablecloth, directly in front of the Demoiselle.
And the Demoiselle's white hands were busy with the shadow of my wrist, as though measuring it, as though passing something under and around it.
I dropped my hand and caught hers. Swiftly she slipped them under the edge of the table. As swiftly I dropped my right hand and took from her fingers what they held. It was a long hair, and as I raised it, I saw that it was one of her own.
I thrust it into the candle flame and held it there while it writhed and shriveled.
The Demoiselle laughed--sweet, mocking laughter. I heard de Keradel's chuckle echo hers. The disconcerting thing was that his amusement seemed not only frank but friendly. The Demoiselle said:
"First he compares me to the sea--the treacherous sea. Then darkly, by inference, to wicked Dahut, the Shadow Queen. And then he thinks me a witch--and burns my hair. And yet--he says he is not credulous--that he does not believe!"
Again she laughed--and again De Keradel echoed her.