In the house where I live, I serve an old grey-bearded man. I am not allowed to speak. Only the old man can speak, and his grandmother, whose snoring can be heard throughout the countryside. Not even the oxen can bellow as they pull the plow. Perhaps in the world above us, birds sing and streams gurgle but I have never heard those sounds.
I make the old man’s meals in silence, and when he is finished eating, I am given the scraps. Tonight he has arrived with a young man who is very handsome. We eat the scraps together and he looks at me from across the table with eyes that soft and sad. Like me, he is not allowed to speak.
He has come to serve the old man, but I know what he will be made to do. Tomorrow he will be told to cut enough grass to feed the old woman’s horse. It will seem easy to him because he doesn’t know the horse is always hungry. It takes twenty men constantly mowing to keep the horse fed for one day, and it takes another twenty men to clean the stall.
I must speak to the luckless fellow. This time, I hope my whispers will be heard.
Maiden in the Underworld in The Grateful Prince, Violet Fairy Book. Picture by Odilon Redon.