Within the circle of light at the hall’s end was a raised dais. Upon the dais stood a great square four-poster bed of dark, intricately carved wood beneath a high-heaped bower of fragrant lily flowers. The canopy, curtains, and coverlets of the bed were all of scarlet silk richly worked with thread of bright red-gold. The sheets that lay turned back upon the coverlet were of the purest white satin.
As we approached the dais, we became aware of several objects lying on the floor beside the great bed: a battered helmet with a soiled and torn white sleeve affixed to its crest; a blood-stained and shattered lance; a belt from which hung a great sword in a scabbard laced with bands of white cloth; and a long, pointed white shield emblazoned with a red cross and notched with the blows of many hostile weapons.
When we drew near to the foot of the bed, my friend and I were arrested in our progress by the sudden realization that a figure lay there under the satin sheets: a tall, fair-haired man with prominent cheek bones, a high, serene forehead, a long, straight nose, and a square-set jaw and chin. He lay absolutely motionless, his eyes shut, his head propped high on three white pillows, his large sinewy hands spread out before him over the bedclothes. Bare were his shoulders, and the linen strips that bound his gently rising and falling chest were stained a deep red. Through gaps in the bandages a stream of bright red blood flowed down along his right side. Over the scarlet coverlet and the edge of the bed it poured, collecting at last in a large silver basin whence it trickled into a brook of clear bubbling water that ran out from beneath the foot of the bed.
Lully, lully, lully — again the voices of the children singing somewhere in the wood. At the sound, the man in the bed stirred and sighed deeply. We watched him for a few moments, marking the painful twitchings and workings of his mouth and jaw; then followed with our eyes the flow of the bloodstained stream as it ran across the dais, into the darker, further corners of the hall, and out through a low arch in the wall.
In that instant we became aware of the presence of another figure: a dark-haired maiden in a white gown who, stepping out of the shadows, came and stood by the knight at the side of the great carven bed. In the long tapered fingers of her right hand she held a silver needle threaded with a fine strand of silk. With this thread and needle she began to mend his bleeding wounds.
As she bent to her task, her patient stirred again and opened one eye. Turning in the bed, he fixed that eye upon us and we saw that it was no eye at all, but rather a bright point of light, a star of endlessly flowering unfolding brightness, a window into worlds beyond all worlds, even beyond this place of final wonders and shining dreams. In that light a standing stone appeared, a tall stela of granite, just behind the maiden and within reach of her left hand. Upon the stone we saw two words graven as if with a chisel of iron: