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The Conqueror
by [?]

When the ancient gods were turned out of Olympus, and the groan of dying Pan shook the world like an earthquake, none of the fallen deities was so disconsolate as Proserpine. She wandered across the world, assuming now this shape and now that, but nowhere could she find a resting-place or a home. In the Southern country which she regarded as her own, whatever shape or disguise she assumed, whether that of a gleaner or of an old woman begging for alms, the country people would scent something uncanny about her and chase her from the place. Thus it was that she left the Southern country, which she loved; she said farewell to the azure skies, the hills covered with corn and fringed everywhere with rose bushes, the white oxen, the cypress, the olive, the vine, the croaking frogs, and the million fireflies; and she sought the green pastures and the woods of a Northern country.

One evening, not long after her arrival (it was Midsummer Eve), as she was wandering in a thick wood, she noticed that the trees and the under-growth were twinkling with a myriad soft flames which reminded her of the fireflies of her own country, and presently she perceived that these flames were stars which, soft as dew and bright as moonbeams, formed the diadems crowning the hair of unearthly shapes. These shapes were like those of men and maidens, transfigured and rendered strange and delicate, as light as foam, and radiant as dragonflies hovering over a pool. They were rimmed with rainbow-coloured films, and sometimes they flew and sometimes they danced, but they rarely seemed to touch the ground. And as Proserpine approached them, in the sad majesty of her fallen divinity, they gathered round her in a circle and bowed down before her. And one of them, taller than the rest, advanced towards her and said:–

“We are the Fairies, and for a long time we have been mournful, for we have lost our Queen, our beautiful Queen. She loved a mortal, and on this account she was banished from Fairyland, nor may she ever revisit the haunt and the kingdom that were hers. But Merlin, the oldest and the wisest of the wizards, told us we should find another Queen, and that we should know her by the poppies in her hair, the whiteness of her brow, and the stillness of her eyes, and with or without such tokens we should know, as soon as we set eyes on her, that it was she and no other who was to be our Queen. And now we know that it was you and no other. Therefore shall you be our Queen and rule over us until he comes who, Merlin said, shall conquer your kingdom and deliver its secrets to the mortal world. Then shall you abandon the kingdom of the Fairies–the everlasting Limbo shall receive you.”

* * * * *

It was one summer’s day a long time ago, many and many years after Proserpine had become Queen of the Fairies, that a butcher’s apprentice called William was enjoying a holiday, and strolling in the woods with no other purpose than to stroll and enjoy the fresh air and the cool leaves and the song of the birds. William loved the sights and sounds of the country; unlike many boys of his age, he was not deeply versed in the habits of birds and beasts, but devoted his spare time to reading such books as he could borrow from the village schoolmaster whose school he had lately left to go into trade, or to taking part in the games of his companions, for he loved human fellowship and the talk and laughter of his fellow-creatures.

The day was hot–it was Midsummer Day–and William, having stumbled on a convenient mound, fell asleep. And he dreamt a curious dream. He thought he saw a beautiful maiden walking towards him. She was tall, and clothed in dark draperies, and her hair was bound with a coronal of scarlet flowers, her face was pale and lustrous, and he could not see her eyes because they were veiled. She approached him and said:–