Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair Home lay northward, beyond Palestine and the Great Sea
. Colgan rode his faithful bay steadily towards the green fields of Ireland. This worthy knight had fought great battles in the Crusades, with many a friend at his side. Those who had journeyed with him to war against the infidels had died. Now he rode alone, tattered and torn. Yet, solitary as he was, the knight felt that he did not ride alone but that some shadow or spirit rode with him. This in itself was strange to think, for Colgan was not a superstitious man and worshiped our Lord greatly. The thoughts that refute or affirm a man’s fancy are his alone, and none can truly say why a man believes the things he believes; but, these were Colgan’s reasons for suspecting an invisible companion: no matter how dark the night, or how dense the forest, a strange light surrounded him. It shone even in the brightest daylight, and at night when he camped, it warmed him and gave him light. This too: it often seemed to him that as he rode homeward, the merry peasants and their richly-dressed princes, the poor bruised and bent serfs and their armor-clad lords, would begin to approach him. Whether to ask tribute or to threaten harm, he did not know. For always it happened that as they neared him, they would halt suddenly, as if some force turned them aside or impelled them backward. Yes, even those little hamlets where returning crusaders were greeted with honor and laurel, even in these little towns the inhabitants would turn their eyes away from him as he passed by. All this the good knight wondered at. Therefore thought he, “Surely, a spirit rides with me.” The land from which this good knight came and to which he looked with such steadfast longing was a region where clover and heath bloom always, making the land a patchwork of emerald greens. From the heights of his castle, in that verdant land, this noble knight with his black-haired wife had looked down upon sand, sea and sky. Her tears had not prevented him from journeying afar. He knew that, even now, she watched the green sea waiting for him to return. Notwithstanding all this, nor the grievous wound to his side which had not healed, the knight was of a joyful spirit and at night did comfort himself, singing hymns and ditties as he camped in the woods. He tried to forget about his lost youth and dead friends, and yearned always for his wife’s face and her joyous songs. One night as Colgan’s campfire blazed brightly, he sat playing on his lute under a goldenleafed tree whose branches supported many a singing bird. This brave knight had a wondrous gift of song and could sing any tune, holy or profane, whether lay, rondele, ballad or hymn. This he had done many a time during the holy wars of Palestine. Oftentimes, his well-tuned voice was so full of God’s spirit that his fellow crusaders would seek him out, begging of him a song to free them from their sorrows and the many grievous spirits that beset those involved in great wars. This, then, did Colgan do to comfort himself on that night. As he played, it seemed to him that he heard music not his own. Such music he had never heard before – no never in his life, even at those times when his dear wife played flute and citre to accompany him. Nor could he tell what manner of instrument was being played upon. Sometimes the music seemed to emanate from cymbals. At other times, it sounded as if a flute accompanied his lute. The tune, dainty and joyful, rose from a spot twenty feet to Colgan’s right where two ash trees stood, and where the self-same eerie light shone. Now, as it is often the chief joy of musicians to study and learn all manner of music, Colgan soon fell to playing and harmonizing with the unseen musician. Soon his spirit companion and he were making merry music together until the knight fell asleep where in a dream, he saw a dark woman, with skin black as the
Ethiopians. She held a flute in her right hand and cymbals in her left. She said nothing, only smiled. As she smiled, the light around her shone brighter. Whether the spirit was good or evil, human soul or demon, Colgan did not know. Neither did he care. He had seen and heard much in the Holy Land and had grown tired of discernment, and of the examination of spirits. The spirit had asked of him nothing and had threatened nothing, reason enough for not wasting his energy on interpreting spiritual matters. Moreover, the unhealed wound to his hip ached continually, and his mind was so weary with all the dying he had seen that thought itself seemed an oppressive thing. So he woke the next morning and continued on his way. After that, he and the spirit continued to play their music together. But never again did she show herself to him in dreams. The knight journeyed on for ten more days. On the tenth evening as the sun began to set, while Colgan searched a forest for green glade or meadow to lie on, the spirit spoke to him. “Brave Knight,” said she, “sleep not in these woods. For yonder is a castle whose greedy lord has neither love of man nor God, loving only money. His gold is buried in these parts –and I know the very place, if gold you desire. Often at night, he roams these forests keeping his treasure chests sure and safe. If he finds you here, he will believe that you have found out his hiding places and he will surely slay you.” “Good spirit,” the knight said, and his voice showed neither surprise nor fear, although as far as he knew this was the first time a spirit had ever spoken to him. “All that the lord of this place loves is his to keep. If he chances upon my camp, I shall tell him so. I have no doubt, since you and I are such good friends and you see more than I do, that should you say a word in his ear for my safety, he would be much inclined to leave me alone.” The spirit sighed and moaned in the way that only spirits do, with deep breathings that echoed on the cold autumn wind, and said, “Brave knight, you have spoken well. I will watch over you as I have always done and no harm shall befall you.” Colgan wondered what the spirit meant by “always” and whether she was elf, angel, tree sprite, or the soul of dead humankind. So, after questioning within himself whether she had joined him only on his homeward journey, or during his battles, or since his birth, he at last put away all thought and went to sleep. True to the spirit’s word, the gold-hoarding lord of that forest arrived soon enough and, when he saw Colgan, raised his sword to strike off the head of the sleeping crusader. But the spirit spoke to him. “Greedy lord,” she said, “away with you! For this good knight has fought for God’s holy, heavenly kingdom in God’s holy, earthly land. Should you harm him, as you have harmed others, the deed will be known in heaven. True it is that you fear not heaven, but know this: if you kill this knight, I shall come in dreams to the men of all the surrounding towns. I will speak of your gold and the harm you have done to their missing kinsmen and I will uncover all that is hidden or buried. So leave Colgan at peace or his death will be your downfall. Return home, and your gold will be safe and all your secret crimes hidden until judgment day when all that is hidden will be known and punished.” So fearful was the lord that his gold would be found and so affrighted that his many murders would be uncovered that he raced away from the spot and in the morning had all his buried gold unearthed and hidden in his castle. Colgan awoke with no knowledge of these events. Neither did the spirit speak of them. Thus they continued their way towards Ireland. They journeyed on for another ten days, making music and speaking to each other of musical things and of the trees and herbs of the countryside.
Once, the spirit asked Colgan of his dead comrades and if he had a beloved and he told her of his dear wife at home whose sweet singing he so longed to hear. But nothing did the spirit say of herself. At last they came to a forest on the edge of a city where stood a small tavern from which merry music and joyful songs could be heard. A small lake was nearby whose clear waters, warm in winter and cool in summer, mirrored the clear blue sky. But Colgan, liking more sober company, reined his horse and bathed in the lake; then prepared he to bed down by the lake for the night. But the spirit spoke. “Brave Knight,” said she, “bathe not in these woods. For in yonder town is a burgomaster who has neither love of man nor God, loving only his daughter, with a most protective immoderate love. His daughter is wont to visit this lake –and I know the very woman. Beautiful is she to look upon and knowledgeable in all manner of writing and commerce, the apple of her father’s jealous eye. She is a right good prize for any man, should you desire her. Often at night, she roams these forests seeking some good man to free her from her father’s hands. She is her father’s treasure and he so profoundly fears her loss that he has set two ravens to follow her. Should you dare to speak with her –yes, even to speak one word-- her father will surely kill you.” “Good spirit,” the knight said –and his voice showed neither desire nor fear. “All that the burgomaster of this place loves is his to keep. If his daughter chances upon our camp, however wise and beautiful she may be, I will not desire her. I shall tell her this, ‘My black-haired wife is the love of my life. It is her red lips that I long to kiss. With the sole exception of the Good King of Heaven, she is all my purpose for living and all my purpose for dying.’ So, good spirit, I have no doubt, since you and I are such good friends and you see more than I do, that should either this man or his daughter approach, you will say a word in their ears for my safety, and they will be much inclined to leave me alone.” The spirit sighed and moaned in the way that only spirits do, with deep breathings that echoed on the cold autumn wind, and said, “Brave knight, you have spoken well. I will watch over you as I have always done and no harm shall befall you.” True to the spirit’s word, the daughter of the burgomaster arrived soon enough and when she saw Colgan, declared her hope that he was her savior. “Good knight,” she said, hastily rousing him from his sleep. “I see you have been in the foreign wars, for the marks of a crusader are on your shield. I know, then, that you are brave and strong. I beg you to take me for your wife and free me from my evil father who is so jealous of my freedom that he has refused to let me marry and leave our house.” As she spoke, two black birds flying overhead, turned toward the city, racing in the direction of her father’s house. “Good daughter,” Colgan answered, “I am an old man of forty years and I am married. Go your ways and wait for a younger man to avenge your freedom. I have had my fill of wars and will not fight for a woman, however beautiful she may be, for the most beautiful woman in the world awaits me patiently.” “Sir Knight,” the burgomaster’s daughter answered, “how do you know that your lady has remained faithful to you? For even the most loyal of wives will suffer loneliness when her husband is away in battles and will seek the hearth of another. Consider this also: even if your wife is faithful, many false rumors have sprung up since these wars began. Many a wife has heard that her husband is dead and has married second love only to suddenly one day see her first love standing at her door. Take me with you then; and, if your wife has been faithful and has married no one else, then at least I will be free. I will be a servant in your household or you can
dispose of me to whom you wish. But if your wife has betrayed you or has married another, then –however old you may be, I will be a blessing to you all your life for my freedom’s sake. For hard it is for loving wives to return to old husbands’ love when new love is still green.” While she was yet speaking, who should arrive with such speed and such rage to kill, but her father and seven elders of his city? Seeing Colgan, they raised their bows and aimed at the head of the crusader. But the spirit spoke to them all, telling them to desist in their attack of God’s brave knight. Some thought the spirit’s voice was merely the night wind blowing through the trees. But others heard her voice plainly. So affrighted were they –almost out of their wits– that they hasted away from the spot. But the father of the girl, his face marked with the results of many a sin and vice, showed no fear. So seared was his conscience and so hardened his soul against God. Wielding his club, he berated Colgan, saying, “Evil knight. I know you have come to take what is mine. But you cannot steal my treasures from me.” “Nothing here, living or dead, is yours,” Colgan answered. “No, not even your life.” So enraged was the burgomaster at this answer that he rushed towards the knight, his arms aloft, ready to strike. Wearied and in pain from the grave wound to his hip, Colgan lifted neither his shield nor sword, but even as the burgomaster raised his arms, the life he claimed as his own rebelled against him. For he fell to the ground, suddenly dead at his daughter’s feet, his life returned to the One who gave it. Seeing this, the girl wept sorely, at once grieving for her father and rejoicing at having gained her freedom. In the morning there was no other talk in the town but of the burgomaster, his daughter, the strange knight, and the spirit who protected him. The knight and the spirit traveled together another ten days and soon came upon a group of forty travelers who were making pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Martyrs. Seeing them, Colgan’s heart rose up within him. “Such good souls,” he said to himself (for he never spoke to the spirit except to answer her). “These holy people will refresh my soul. We will sit together and encourage each other, sharing talk about our journey through this barren world of men. Holy communication has ever been known to free the mind and body from all their ills.” “Brave Knight,” said she, “tarry not with these pilgrims. For although there be some whose minds are set on the Lord their God, there be others who walk this pilgrimage for earthly reasons: the selling of wares, the love of company, the need for holiday. They are not true sojourners. Moreover, amongst them are lovers of souvenirs who might set upon you and steal the little that you carry. Look carefully with your eyes, good Colgan, and see that all the classes of society are here present among these pilgrims: slave, serf, merchant, lawyers, clergy and knight. You, who have warred so long, have forgotten the form and fashion of this world. It is possible the lords and ladies will not accept you into their company. The clergy out of jealousy will seek to belittle your holy deeds. Thus you will find yourself alone without true brother or sister of any kind.” “Good spirit,” the knight said –and his voice showed neither concern nor fear. “All that the pilgrims of this place honor are theirs to honor. If their treasures lie in earthly things, what is that to me? My earthly treasure is my black-haired wife. If I am to be robbed, let me be robbed of anything but her. And, Spirit, since we have become good friends, I know that you will not leave me friendless.” Again, the spirit gave Colgan many warning words but the knight replied, “I do beg you, for peace sake, to resist any urge to speak to these good people whatever they may say or do. For surely they will think your voice either the voice of a saint or a demon, and that would make me
an object of particular interest. As I am a humble man with only two things on my mind: my Holy Lord and my sweet wife, I would be grateful for that kindness.” The spirit sighed and moaned in the way that only spirits do, with deep breathings that echoed on the cold autumn wind, and said, “Brave knight, you have spoken well. I promise to be silent. But even so, I will watch over you as I have always done and no harm shall befall you.” True to the spirit’s word, the pilgrims were a motley crew, their religion as spotty and as tattered as the knight’s clothes. When the merchants saw the knight, they studied his horse, clothing and belongings. The clergy, in their turn, set their faces against him, while the lords and ladies found Colgan too dirty and haggard to concern themselves with. Only the slaves and servants treated the crusader as a brother, feeding him with what was left from their master’s meat and asking him to tell them of his journeys in Palestine. After the knight had gone to sleep, two of the merchants, seeing his shield, spoke to each other. “Brother Merchant,” said one, “did you see the battered shield this knight carries? Let us kill him and take it for ourselves, hiding it in our wagons.” “Brother,” the other replied, “a right good souvenir it is, which will fetch a good price among many a lord and lady. But what shall we do, Brother? Have you not noticed an eerie light which shines about him wherever he goes? He sleeps soundly, and strange it is that he does so. Is this not a sign of God’s mark on the man? Shall we harm one whom God has marked as his own?” “Brother,” the former replied, “speak not of God’s protection. Have we not lived long enough to see the poor trampled by the rich, and holy ones destroyed by the wicked? If we harm this man, God will not see it. And even if He sees it, what will He do? Nothing. The God of the universe is asleep until judgment day and only the god of this world, Mammon, is wide awake.” “Well said, Brother,” the other merchant replied. “And yet I fear too well said. Although I have made my living through deceit and fraud, yet do I fear God. You may have no fear, but my own bones tremble at the thought of touching one of God’s own, a man so clearly marked.” “Why fear God?” the other asked. “Is not God eternally loving and forgiving? So whatever evil we do, Mammon will help us now. And when, dying upon our beds, we repent through the laws of Holy Church, we will be ushered into Heaven into God’s loving arms.” “But,” said the other, “should this good knight have survived wars and battles only to return home to Christendom to be murdered? Should we not simply ask him for the shield and pay the price for it? It is a businesslike thing to do, am I not right?” The other argued long that profit should be made where profit could be made and to pay the worth of the shield would be absurd, seeing the shield itself was obviously of great price, its crest that of a great Lord and the bruisings and dents on the armor only making it more valuable. But the other, having something like a heart and whose conscience was not so seared as his friend walked over to the sleeping knight. “Good knight,” he said, rousing him from his sleep, “I see you have been in the wars in foreign lands, for the marks of a crusader are on your shield. I know then, that you are brave and strong and I beg you to sell us your shield. We will pay you handsomely for it. And you, if you have a wife at home awaiting you, will want to bring her gifts of silk and jewelry. For those things we have, plus gold coins. These earthly treasures we will give to you if you but consent to give us your so worthy shield.” All this while, the spirit had been listening to their conversation; but, because of her promise to the knight, kept silent. “Good merchant,” Colgan answered, “I am an old man and true it is I have done many
brave deeds. No coin nor gold have I, for I have lost all in my passage homeward. All I have is my shield. This shield –and the lingering pain in my side– are the proof of my suffering and of my love towards our Lord. I truly know you could kill me and steal this shield from me, and grateful I am that this thought has not entered your minds. But go your ways without my shield. Although I have had my fill of wars and battles, I will not sell for earthly coin this shield that is the proof of all I have earned for heaven. My wife, good woman that she is, will love the beauty of my suffering more than she will love silken gowns or jewels. So, I am honored and grateful indeed for my life, but let the matter rest.” “Sir Knight,” the other merchant answered. “How do you know that your lady has retained her faithfulness to spiritual beauties? For even the most spiritual of wives will turn their eyes from heaven and suffering and long for the pretty things of earth. Even if your good wife remains yet a lover of heavenly things, will she not weep with joy if she hears that you sold all this spiritual goodness for a pretty dress to adorn her body? Sell us the shield then, at good price. Because if you do not, be sure that we will take the shield from you and kill you for it. It is night and dark. We have many poisons and charms that can destroy you and nothing in your death will point your murder to us. Therefore, the shield or your life!” While he was yet speaking, who should arrive but the serfs who had called the good knight their brother. With cooking pots and hammers, they set upon the merchants and beat them soundly. Then they raced to their masters and told them what had transpired. Their masters, however, being more aligned with the merchants than with the good knight, in turn beat the servants harshly. The clergy, being evil men who knew on what side their earthly bread was buttered, bade the knight leave, for –said they– God had prepared a world of authority and order and the knight had turned the world upside down by allowing the serfs to speak with him as their equal. The next morning Colgan went on his way and continued towards Ireland, his heart heavy. “Good spirit,” he said, speaking to the spirit although she had not spoken, “I have journeyed far and wide in heathen lands to fight my Lord’s battles. Yet, here in Christendom is evil I never suspected. Surely gold is God in this place. Those who claim to love our Lord treat their brothers harshly and even in Christendom, good women are not free.” The spirit sighed but said nothing and together they journeyed on for another ten days. Soon forty days of his travels were accomplished. He arrived in the region of Brittany, a place where the townsfolk had burned many a supposed witch. Even now the smell of burnt human martyrs still lingered in the air. He stood on the shores, his grievous wound sore and aching, hoping to see the land of Ireland. He spoke half to the spirit and half to himself. “How can I cross these waters? To swim to Ireland I cannot. I have no money in my purse to pay the fare. Think you that my shield and my history will be honored and that I shall be permitted to travel, my horse and I, across the waves on human kindness and appreciation alone?” “There are still some with good hearts,” the spirit answered. Then she added warily, “But I have a thing to tell you.” “Pray, spirit, tell it.” “Not today,” she said. “Tomorrow I will tell it to you.” “Today is as good a day to hear it as any other,” Colgan answered. “But today is not a day to tell it,” the spirit answered him. So Colgan sat by the dock all day, waiting for a ship to take him over the seas, but none helped him.
The next day, Colgan opened his eyes to see a tall and beautiful woman standing before him. Of skin color darker than the Moors, she stood smiling down upon him, her black hair flowing in the wind. Yes, beautiful was she to look upon, with eyes of black and skin the color of the rich, rich earth. She stared at Colgan as if they were old friends. He knew her to be the spirit woman he had seen in his dream and the self-same spirit who had traveled with him. “Good morrow, good spirit,” he said to her, and her great beauty made him smile. Even so, he longed only for his wife, she who held all his heart and mind. “Have you made yourself visible to tell me your secret?” But she had no time to answer. It happened that as she stood beside him, one man saw her, then another. Soon a crowd surrounded her, all wondering what manner of creature this dark-skinned thing might be. Some called her a demon. Some called her a saint. At last one man said, “She speaks with the knight. Perhaps he has brought her home from his travels, as a concubine or slave. Be silent, all, and let us hear his story.” For it was obvious to all that a heathen woman could not speak for herself. Colgan thought quickly. He could not betray his friend. For how could he say that she was a spirit who had followed him for her own unspoken reasons? Nor could he say she was both spirit and woman, for he knew not what she was. The spirit now had a form of mere flesh and was, for all the world to see, a woman. Fearful was Colgan that they would take her as a witch. While Colgan stood speechless, one person ran to get a priest and another to call a lord, and each man called his neighbor to the shore. For such a sight had never been seen in that region. While many townspeople ran hither and yon, those remaining questioned the knight. “Tell us, Sir Knight,” they asked, “why you brought this heathen woman to us. We see by your clothing that you have come from fighting in Palestine. We know you are as holy a man as any of us. Therefore tell us, is this woman a slave of yours, a prize earned in your many battles? Or is she some princess? For dark though she be, she is beautiful to look upon. Was she given to you by some great king?” The knight knew that lie he should not. But the spirit woman did not open her mouth. She only stood there, looking at Colgan as if she too wondered what he would say about her presence in his company. “She is,” the knight began, “a musician who has followed me these many miles from her home.” “Followed you?” one of the old men of the town asked. “Surely if she had followed you such a long distance, we would have heard of it, for news travels far and fast in this country. Why did we not hear of this dark woman until you arrived here?” “We travel by night,” the knight answered and truly it did hurt his heart to lie. “During the days we sleep in the woods. Therefore we ride unseen.” “I have heard,” an old woman said, “of a knight who played foully with the daughter of a burgomaster not far from here. The whole town was roused because of it. Did they not say the knight was a crusader and that a woman spirit walked with him?” “Touch the woman,” the knight answered. “See that she has flesh and blood as we have. Can she be a spirit who has flesh and blood?” The people eyed each other warily. But a priest, a man of about twenty years who wore the flounces and cap of a scholar, strode towards Colgan. “Flesh and blood she has,” the priest said. “I know spirits when I see them and this woman is of human flesh, although not flesh like
ours. For we are God’s children and this woman is a dark heathen, without knowledge of God and with no power to understand spiritual matters were they explained to her, for far be those heathenish people from salvation or even good sense. It is obvious to me that no true friendship can ever grow between such a great lord and such a woman. Therefore, there can be no good in them traveling together. The knight has obviously fallen into temptation or is under a spell. Has he not carried her to Christendom for his own lust’s sake and will he not –when he arrives at his home– use her for his own fleshly pleasure? As good people, we cannot allow them to continue together. The woman must be either burned or sent on the sea to her own lands so that our land be not polluted with her evil and the soul of the Knight be freed from any taint of her.” But another priest, a man of about fifty years, objected. “You judge matters too harshly, Brother Priest,” he said. “Who knows what attachment lies between them, whether affection, friendship, love, lust or loyalty? Since we do not know, we should not judge. Therefore, I say let them pass and go to the man’s own country. We none of us are perfect. Although none of us have –I do not think it– a dark lady to fetch and serve for us, we all have our own sins and peculiarities. Therefore break up this crowd and let God’s people live their lives without man’s judgment.” Nevertheless, the priest who had spoken first would not hear it, insisting that no good friendship could come from unequals and that the matter between the knight and the dark lady would, of necessity, be evil, and because this priest was younger and less feeble than the older one, the people hearkened to his voice and demanded that the knight set his dark lady on a boat out to sea into God’s hands. This, they said, would prove the holiness of the knight because he had listened to God’s priest. But the knight, remembering the spirit’s kindness to him, and knowing the inscrutability of God, would not leave her to such an uncertain fate. Soon, he heard the spirit speak to his mind. “If I were to change into my spirit-form, they would consider you a wizard and burn you on the spot. I must stay as I am. But you, you have a dark-haired lady at home who awaits you. She loves you with all her heart and pines for you daily. As for me, I know not what I am. If I am spirit and dead already, I cannot die again the second time. If I am of mortal flesh, the good Lord will receive my soul into his loving kingdom. Therefore, leave me here to die by water or flame and go on your way. ” The knight answered her without speaking, and spoke his words to her mind. “I know not whether you are truly spirit or truly woman. Whether you be witch, spirit, or mortal woman, you have protected me and never played me false. Shall I then allow the seas to bear you away? No! Come what may, and even if it means the loss of my life, I will not leave you to die alone on land or in the sea or without those good rites that would save your immortal soul.” He raised his shield to protect her. The young priest seeing this said, “See here. What have I told you?” He pointed to Colgan’s shield. “Has this good lord not fought many battles for our lord? See how marked with glory his shield is! But has she not tainted this man’s soul, so much so that he has forgotten his Lord and now means to do us violence in order to protect her?” Groans rose up among the townspeople. “Good knight,” the priest said, “Give me your shield and fight not against your people, children of God like yourself.” But Colgan struggled to keep his shield. “How this dark woman has darkened his soul!” the priest shouted and called to three young woodsmen, carpenters and hewers of wood well known for their prowess and power. Soon they succeeded in pushing the knight to the ground and Colgan’s shield was ripped from his
hand. The townsfolk then took rosemary and mint and bound the wrists of both knight and lady, for such herbs are powerful to break the power of all dark spells. And the scholar-priest ordered that a fire be built. Although the older cleric decried the burning-- the townspeople journeyed to the nearby forest and set to chopping down an oak of sturdy wood. Meanwhile the younger priest took up Colgan’s shield and blessed both it and Colgan, with many a pious prayer for the knight’s soul, then placed the shield in his room at the church. By nightfall, two large poles arose in the middle of the square and the knight and the woman were tied upon them. The fire raged hot near their feet. And sore fearful was Colgan that the flames would turn his heart from his integrity. “These flames,” he said to the Dark Lady, “will burn like the fires of hell.” “True enough,” the spirit answered. “But they usher us to the golden streets of heaven. But you knight, can choose to live. These good people will free you from these flames and release you if you denounce me.” “I fear I will denounce you,” the knight said. “Many things have I suffered in Palestine for my Lord’s name and I did not denounce Him. But who knows if I will retain my integrity once the fire eats at my flesh. Whatever you are --lost human spirit, elf or djinn-- you have been my friend and as surely as you were created by my Lord, our common Father, you are my sister and I will try not to betray you.” “But I am a woman, and dark of hue,” she answered him. “You have no allegiance to me.” “I have allegiance to all my Father’s children, whether enemy or friend, woman or man, fair-skinned or dark-hued. I will not betray someone who has been more Christian to me than many a Christian I have known.” As he said this, the smoke of the fire rose to his nostrils and the kindled fire began to wrap itself around his ankles. Then the spirit spoke to him, “Good husband,” she said. “There is no Dark Woman, only myself. It was I and no other who walked with you.” As the fire rose and licked at his feet and although the smoke darkened his eyes, Colgan saw clearly that the woman beside him was no longer the dark lady but the dear wife whom he had left behind. His joy at seeing his wife was unspeakable. Yet, he knew not what to make of it, or how she came to be at his side. “War often deadens the spirit and shrinks the heart,” he said. “Yet as we rode together, I found my soul waking to new life. Such life only my good wife could give. But how is it that that good love who sorrowed after me when I went off to war so many years ago should now be a spirit beside me?” The words hardly escaped his mouth before his spirit fled his fire-wracked body. The knight now felt a cool breeze blowing about him. The air smelt of clover and of the heath; seeing with what seemed like new eyes, Colgan saw that he was standing at a castle, very like his home in Ireland. All pain had fled his body and soul. Even his grievous hip wound was healed. Studying the landscape beyond the white gate before him, he saw colors he had never seen or imagined before. A hand touched him and turning to look, he saw that his wife was with him. “Tell me, wife,” he said, “how is it possible that the soul of a living wife could follow me across the seas? And why and how did you choose your disguise?” His good wife bowed her head. “I am no living wife, husband,” she answered. “Nor have I lived this long time. So grieved was I at being separated from you, that heeding those seducing
spirits which so often attack grieving hearts, despite our Good Lord’s decree against selfslaughter, I began to believe that you had died and so I laid dagger to heart and took that which was not mine to take: my life.” Tears stung the knight’s eyes. “My Love,” he said. “Could you not have waited a little longer? It grieves my heart that my human search for glory should make my wife consign herself to hellfire. What is all my glory if you cannot share it with me?” “We are one,” she answered. “I share your glory, husband, and you share mine. The heart of Our Lord is merciful and kind. Although barred from heaven until this sin be purged, I was allowed by our good Lord to see your trials. In warfare or in rest from turmoil, I was ever at your side. Thus, my sin was purged by all your grief and travails.” “Why hide yourself in such disguise?” the knight asked. “My love, how well I knew your holiness and your love of righteousness! Such righteousness indeed that I was unsure of your forgiveness. But daily as I watched you, I saw that you were a man whose loving spirit was unharmed by war, that your ability to love was not diminished by the evils you had seen. I reasoned that perhaps you could still love such a one who had committed such a great crime. So I set out, with our Lord’s permission, to woo you again. If you will accept me now, forgiving and loving me as you love all people regardless of their station and sin, I shall be the most blessed of women.” He smiled at her and pointed to the castle’s gate. “And this place? What is it? Is it not our own dear home? And should not a dear wife and husband live within it?” “The dearest of home,” his wife answered. “The dearest and the best, it is nothing less than the gate of Heaven.” Colgan held his wife tight. Then taking her hand, he walked towards the gate. “Come then, good and beloved wife! Let us enter.”