Thomas Bulfinch (17961867). Age of Fable: Vol. IV: Legends of Charlemagne. 1913.
IX. Astolpho and the Enchantress
IN the long flight which Rogero took on the back of the Hippogriff he was carried over land and sea, unknowing whither. As soon as he had gained some control over the animal he made him alight on the nearest land. When he came near enough to earth Rogero leapt lightly from his back, and tied the animal to a myrtle-tree. Near the spot flowed the pure waters of a fountain, surrounded by cedars and palm-trees. Rogero laid aside his shield, and, removing his helmet, breathed with delight the fresh air, and cooled his lips with the waters of the fountain. For we cannot wonder that he was excessively fatigued, considering the ride he had taken. He was preparing to taste the sweets of repose when he perceived that the Hippogriff, which he had tied by the bridle to a myrtle-tree, frightened at something, was making violent efforts to disengage himself. His struggle shook the myrtle-tree so that many of its beautiful leaves were torn off, and strewed the ground.
A sound like that which issues from burning wood seemed to come from the myrtle-tree, at first faint and indistinct, but growing stronger by degrees, and at length was audible as a voice which spoke in this manner: O knight, if the tenderness of your heart corresponds to the beauty of your person, relieve me, I pray you, from this tormenting animal. I suffer enough inwardly without having outward evils added to my lot.
Rogero, at the first accents of this voice, turned his eyes promptly on the myrtle, hastened to it, and stood fixed in astonishment when he perceived that the voice issued from the tree itself. He immediately untied his horse, and, flushed with surprise and regret, exclaimed, Whoever thou art, whether mortal or the goddess of these woods, forgive me, I beseech you, my involuntary fault. Had I imagined that this hard bark covered a being possessed of feeling, could I have exposed such a beautiful myrtle to the insults of this steed? May the sweet influences of the sky and air speedily repair the injury I have done! For my part, I promise by the sovereign lady of my heart to do everything you wish in order to merit your forgiveness.
At these words the myrtle seemed to tremble from root to stem, and Rogero remarked that a moisture as of tears trickled down its bark, like that which exudes from a log placed on the fire. It then spoke:
The kindness which inspires your words compels me to disclose to you who I once was, and by what fatality I have been changed into this shape. My name was Astolpho, cousin of Orlando and Rinaldo, whose fame has filled the earth. I was myself reckoned among the bravest paladins of France, and was by birth entitled to reign over England, after Otho, my father. Returning from the distant East, with Rinaldo and many other brave knights, called home to aid with our arms the great Emperor of France, we reached a spot where the powerful enchantress Alcina possessed a castle on the borders of the sea. She had gone to the water-side to amuse herself with fishing, and we paused to see how, by her art, without hook or line, she drew from the water whatever she would.
Not far from the shore an enormous whale showed a back so broad and motionless that it looked like an island. Alcina had fixed her eyes on me, and planned to get me into her power. Addressing us, she said: This is the hour when the prettiest mermaid in the sea comes regularly every day to the shore of yonder island. She sings so sweetly that the very waves flow smoother at the sound. If you wish to hear her come with me to her resort. So saying, Alcina pointed to the fish, which we all supposed to be an island. I, who was rash, did not hesitate to follow her; but swam my horse over, and mounted on the back of the fish. In vain Rinaldo and Dudon made signs to me to beware; Alcina, smiling, took me in charge, and led the way. No sooner were we mounted upon him than the whale moved off, spreading his great fins, and cleft rapidly the waters. I then saw my folly, but it was too late to repent. Alcina soothed my anger, and professed that what she had done was for love of me. Ere long we arrived at this island, where at first everything was done to reconcile me to my lot, and to make my days pass happily away. But soon Alcina, sated with her conquest, grew indifferent, then weary of me, and at last, to get rid of me, changed me into this form, as she had done to many lovers before me, making some of them olives, some palms, some cedars, changing others into fountains, rocks, or even into wild beasts. And thou, courteous knight, whom accident has brought to this enchanted isle, beware that she get not the power over thee, or thou shalt haply be made like us, a tree, a fountain, or a rock.
Rogero expressed his astonishment at this recital. Astolpho added that the island was in great part subject to the sway of Alcina. By the aid of her sister Morgana, she had succeeded in dispossessing a third sister, Logestilla, of nearly the whole of her patrimony, for the whole isle was hers originally by her fathers bequest. But Logestilla was temperate and sage, while the other sisters were false and voluptuous. Her empire was divided from theirs by a gulf and chain of mountains, which alone had thus far prevented her sister from usurping it.
Astolpho here ended his tale, and Rogero, who knew that he was the cousin of Bradamante, would gladly have devised some way for his relief; but, as that was out of his power, he consoled him as well as he could, and then begged to be told the way to the palace of Logestilla, and how to avoid that of Alcina. Astolpho directed him to take the road to the left, though rough and full of rocks. He warned him that this road would present serious obstacles; that troops of monsters would oppose his passage, employed by the art of Alcina to prevent her subjects from escaping from her dominion. Rogero thanked the myrtle, and prepared to set out on his way.
He at first thought he would mount the winged horse, and scale the mountain on his back; but he was too uncertain of his power to control him to wish to encounter the hazard of another flight through the air, besides that he was almost famished for the want of food. So he led the horse after him, and took the road on foot, which for some distance led equally to the dominions of both the sisters.
He had not advanced more than two miles when he saw before him the superb city of Alcina. It was surrounded with a wall of gold, which seemed to reach the skies. I know that some think that this wall was not of real gold, but only the work of alchemy; it matters not; I prefer to think it gold, for it certainly shone like gold.
A broad and level road led to the gates of the city, and from this another branched off, narrow and rough, which led to the mountain region. Rogero took without hesitation the narrow road; but he had no sooner entered upon it than he was assailed by a numerous troop which opposed his passage.
You never have seen anything so ridiculous, so extraordinary, as this host of hobgoblins were. Some of them bore the human form from the neck to the feet, but had the head of a monkey or a cat; others had the legs and the ears of a horse; old men and women, bald and hideous, ran hither and thither as if out of their senses, half clad in the shaggy skins of beasts; one rode full speed on a horse without a bridle, another jogged along mounted on an ass or a cow; others, full of agility, skipped about, and clung to the tails and manes of the animals which their companions rode. Some blew horns, others brandished drinking-cups; some were armed with spits, and some with pitchforks. One, who appeared to be the captain, had an enormous belly and a gross fat head; he was mounted on a tortoise, that waddled, now this way, now that, without keeping any one direction.
One of these monsters, who had something approaching the human form, though he had the neck, ears, and muzzle of a dog, set himself to bark furiously at Rogero, to make him turn off to the right, and reënter upon the road to the gay city; but the brave chevalier exclaimed, That will I not, so long as I can use this sword,and he thrust the point directly at his face. The monster tried to strike him with a lance, but Rogero was too quick for him, and thrust his sword through his body, so that it appeared a hands breadth behind his back. The paladin, now giving full vent to his rage, laid about him vigorously among the rabble, cleaving one to the teeth, another to the girdle; but the troop were so numerous, and in spite of his blows pressed around him so close, that, to clear his way, he must have had as many arms as Briareus.
If Rogero had uncovered the shield of the enchanter, which hung at his saddle-bow, he might easily have vanquished this monstrous rout; but perhaps he did not think of it, and perhaps he preferred to seek his defence nowhere but in his good sword. At that moment, when his perplexity was at its height, he saw issue from the city gate two young beauties, whose air and dress proclaimed their rank and gentle nurture. Each of them was mounted on a unicorn, whose whiteness surpassed that of ermine. They advanced to the meadow where Rogero was contending so valiantly against the hobgoblins, who all retired at their approach. They drew near, they extended their hands to the young warrior, whose cheeks glowed with the flush of exercise and modesty. Grateful for their assistance, he expressed his thanks, and, having no heart to refuse them, followed their guidance to the gate of the city.
This grand and beautiful entrance was adorned by a portico of four vast columns, all of diamond. Whether they were real diamond or artificial I cannot say. What matter is it, so long as they appeared to the eye like diamond, and nothing could be more gay and splendid.
On the threshold, and between the columns, was seen a bevy of charming young women, who played and frolicked together. They all ran to receive Rogero, and conducted him into the palace, which appeared like a paradise.
We might well call by that name this abode, where the hours flew by, without account, in ever-new delights. The bare idea of satiety, want, and, above all, of age, never entered the minds of the inhabitants. They experienced no sensations except those of luxury and gayety; the cup of happiness seemed for them everflowing and exhaustless. The two young damsels to whom Rogero owed his deliverance from the hobgoblins conducted him to the apartment of their mistress. The beautiful Alcina advanced, and greeted him with an air at once dignified and courteous. All her court surrounded the paladin, and rendered him the most flattering attentions. The castle was less admirable for its magnificence than for the charms of those who inhabited it. They were of either sex, well matched in beauty, youth, and grace; but among this charming group the brilliant Alcina shone, as the sun outshines the stars. The young warrior was fascinated. All that he had heard from the myrtle-tree appeared to him but a vile calumny. How could he suspect that falsehood and treason veiled themselves under smiles and the ingenuous air of truth? He doubted not that Astolpho had deserved his fate, and perhaps a punishment more severe; he regarded all his stories as dictated by a disappointed spirit, and a thirst for revenge. But we must not condemn Rogero too harshly, for he was the victim of magic power.
They seated themselves at table, and immediately harmonious lyres and harps waked the air with the most ravishing notes. The charms of poetry were added in entertaining recitals; the magnificence of the feast would have done credit to a royal board. The traitress forgot nothing which might charm the paladin, and attach him to the spot, meaning, when she should grow tired of him, to metamorphose him as she had done others. In the same manner passed each succeeding day. Games of pleasant exercise, the chase, the dance, or rural sports, made the hours pass quickly; while they gave zest to the refreshment of the bath, or sleep.
Thus Rogero led a life of ease and luxury, while Charlemagne and Agramant were struggling for empire. But I cannot linger with him while the amiable and courageous Bradamante is night and day directing her uncertain steps to every spot where the slightest chance invites her, in the hope of recovering Rogero.
I will therefore say that, having sought him in vain in fields and in cities, she knew not whither next to direct her steps. She did not apprehend the death of Rogero. The fall of such a hero would have reechoed from the Hydaspes to the farthest river of the West; but, not knowing whether he was on the earth or in the air, she concluded, as a last resource, to return to the cavern which contained the tomb of Merlin, to ask of him some sure direction to the object of her search.
While this thought occupied her mind, Melissa, the sage enchantress, suddenly appeared before her. This virtuous and beneficent magician had discovered by her spells that Rogero was passing his time in pleasure and idleness, forgetful of his honor and his sovereign. Not able to endure the thought that one who was born to be a hero should waste his years in base repose, and leave a sullied reputation in the memory of survivors, she saw that vigorous measures must be employed to draw him forth into the paths of virtue. Melissa was not blinded by her affection for the amiable paladin, like Atlantes, who, intent only on preserving Rogeros life, cared nothing for his fame. It was that old enchanter whose arts had guided the Hippogriff to the isle of the too charming Alcina, where he hoped his favorite would learn to forget honor, and lose the love of glory.
At the sight of Melissa joy lighted up the countenance of Bradamante, and hope animated her breast. Melissa concealed nothing from her, but told her how Rogero was in the toils of Alcina. Bradamante was plunged in grief and terror; but the kind enchantress calmed her, dispelled her fears, and promised that before many days she would lead back the paladin to her feet.
My daughter, she said, give me the ring which you wear, and which possesses the power to overcome enchantments. By means of it I doubt not but that I may enter the stronghold where the false Alcina holds Rogero in durance, and may succeed in vanquishing her and liberating him. Bradamante unhesitatingly delivered her the ring, recommending Rogero to her best efforts. Melissa then summoned by her art a huge palfrey, black as jet, excepting one foot, which was bay. Mounted upon this animal, she rode with such speed that by the next morning she had reached the abode of Alcina.
She here transformed herself into the perfect resemblance of the old magician Atlantes, adding a palm-breadth to her height, and enlarging her whole figure. Her chin she covered with a long beard, and seamed her whole visage well with wrinkles. She assumed also his voice and manner, and watched her chance to find Rogero alone. At last she found him, dressed in a rich tunic of silk and gold, a collar of precious stones about his neck, and his arms, once so rough with exercise, decorated with bracelets. His air and his every motion indicated effeminacy, and he seemed to retain nothing of Rogero but the name; such power had the enchantress obtained over him.
Melissa, under the form of his old instructor, presented herself before him, wearing a stern and serious visage. Is this, then, she said, the fruit of all my labors? Is it for this that I fed you on the marrow of bears and lions, that I taught you to subdue dragons, and, like Hercules, strangle serpents in your youthful grasp, only to make you, by all my cares, a feeble Adonis? My nightly watchings of the stars, of the yet warm fibres of animals, the lots I have cast, the points of nativity that I have calculated, have they all falsely indicated that you were born for greatness? Who could have believed that you would become the slave of a base enchantress? O Rogero, learn to know this Alcina, learn to understand her arts and to countervail them. Take this ring, place it on your finger, return to her presence, and see for yourself what are her real charms.
At these words, Rogero, confused, abashed, cast his eyes upon the ground, and knew not what to answer. Melissa seized the moment, slipped the ring on his finger, and the paladin was himself again. What a thunderclap to him! Overcome by shame, he dared not to encounter the looks of his instructor. When at last he raised his eyes he beheld not that venerable form, but the priestess Melissa, who in virtue of the ring now appeared in her true person. She told him of the motives which had led her to come to his rescue, of the griefs and regrets of Bradamante, and of her unwearied search for him. That charming Amazon, she said, sends you this ring, which is a sovereign antidote to all enchantments. She would have sent you her heart in my hands, if it would have had greater power to serve you.
It was needless for Melissa to say more. Rogeros love for Alcina, being but the work of enchantment, vanished as soon as the enchantment was withdrawn, and he now hated her with an equal intensity, seeing no longer anything in her but her vices, and feeling only resentment for the shame that she had put upon him.
His surprise when he again beheld Alcina was no less than his indignation. Fortified by his ring from her enchantments, he saw her as she was, a monster of ugliness. All her charms were artificial, and, truly viewed, were rather deformities. She was, in fact, older than Hecuba or the Sibyl of Cumæ; but an art, which it is to be regretted our times have lost, enabled her to appear charming, and to clothe herself in all the attractions of youth. Rogero now saw all this, but, governed by the counsels of Melissa, he concealed his surprise, assumed under some pretext his armor, long neglected, and bound to his side Belisarda, his trusty sword, taking also the buckler of Atlantes, covered with its veil.
He then selected a horse from the stables of Alcina, without exciting her suspicions; but he left the Hippogriff, by the advice of Melissa, who promised to take him in charge, and train him to a more manageable state. The horse he took was Rabican, which belonged to Astolpho. He restored the ring to Melissa.
Rogero had not ridden far when he met one of the huntsmen of Alcina, bearing a falcon on his wrist, and followed by a dog. The huntsman was mounted on a powerful horse, and came boldly up to the paladin, demanding, in a somewhat imperious manner, whither he was going so rapidly. Rogero disdained to stop or to reply; whereupon the huntsman, not doubting that he was about making his escape, said, What if I, with my falcon, stop your ride? So saying, he threw off the bird, which even Rabican could not equal in speed. The huntsman then leapt from his horse, and the animal, open-mouthed, darted after Rogero with the swiftness of an arrow. The huntsman also ran as if the wind or fire bore him, and the dog was equal to Rabican in swiftness. Rogero, finding flight impossible, stopped and faced his pursuers; but his sword was useless against such foes. The insolent huntsman assailed him with words, and struck him with his whip, the only weapon he had; the dog bit his feet, and the horse drove at him with his hoofs. At the same time the falcon flew over his head and over Rabicans and attacked them with claws and wings, so that the horse in his fright began to be unmanageable. At that moment the sound of trumpets and cymbals was heard in the valley, and it was evident that Alcina had ordered out all her array to go in pursuit. Rogero felt that there was no time to be lost, and luckily remembered the shield of Atlantes, which he bore suspended from his neck. He unveiled it, and the charm worked wonderfully. The huntsman, the dog, the horse, fell flat; the trembling wings of the falcon could no longer sustain her, and she fell senseless to the ground. Rogero, rid of their annoyances, left them in their trance, and rode away.
Meanwhile Alcina, with all the force she could muster, sallied forth from her palace in pursuit. Melissa, left behind, took advantage of the opportunity to ransack all the rooms, protected by the ring. She undid one by one all the talismans and spells which she found, broke the seals, burned the images, and untied the hagknots. Thence, hurrying through the fields, she disenchanted the victims changed into trees, fountains, stones, or brutes; all of whom recovered their liberty, and vowed eternal gratitude to their deliverer. They made their escape, with all possible despatch, to the realms of the good Logestilla, whence they departed to their several homes.
Astolpho was the first whom Melissa liberated, for Rogero had particularly recommended him to her care. She aided him to recover his arms, and particularly that precious golden-headed lance which once was Argalias. The enchantress mounted with him upon the winged horse, and in a short time arrived through the air at the castle of Logestilla, where Rogero joined them soon after.
In this abode the friends passed a short period of delightful and improving intercourse with the sage Logestilla and her virtuous court; and then each departed, Rogero with the Hippogriff, ring, and buckler; Astolpho with his golden lance, and mounted on Rabican, the fleetest of steeds. To Rogero Logestilla gave a bit and bridle suited to govern the Hippogriff; and to Astolpho a horn of marvellous powers, to be sounded only when all other weapons were unavailing.