Thomas Bulfinch (17961867). Age of Fable: Vol. IV: Legends of Charlemagne. 1913.
VIII. Bradamante and Rogero
BRADAMANTE, the knight of the white plume and shield, whose sudden appearance and encounter with Sacripant we have already told, was in quest of Rogero, from whom chance had separated her, almost at the beginning of their acquaintance. After her encounter with Sacripant Bradamante pursued her way through the forest, in hopes of rejoining Rogero, and arrived at last on the brink of a fair fountain.
This fountain flowed through a broad meadow. Ancient trees overshadowed it, and travellers, attracted by the sweet murmur of its waters, stopped there to cool themselves. Bradamante, casting her eyes on all sides to enjoy the beauties of the spot, perceived, under the shade of a tree, a knight reclining, who seemed to be oppressed with the deepest grief.
Bradamante accosted him, and asked to be informed of the cause of his distress. Alas! my lord, said he, I lament a young and charming friend, my affianced wife, who has been torn from me by a villain,let me rather call him a demon,who, on a winged horse, descended from the air, seized her, and bore her screaming to his den. I have pursued them over rocks and through ravines till my horse is no longer able to bear me, and I now wait only for death. He added that already a vain attempt on his behalf had been made by two knights, whom chance had brought to the spot. Their names were Gradasso, king of Sericane, and Rogero, the Moor. Both had been overcome by the wiles of the enchanter, and were added to the number of the captives, whom he held in an impregnable castle, situated on the height of the mountain. At the mention of Rogeros name Bradamante started with delight, which was soon changed to an opposite sentiment when she heard that her lover was a prisoner in the toils of the enchanter. Sir Knight, she said, do not surrender yourself to despair; this day may be more happy for you than you think, if you will only lead me to the castle which enfolds her whom you deplore.
The knight responded, After having lost all that made life dear to me I have no motive to avoid the dangers of the enterprise, and I will do as you request; but I forewarn you of the perils you will have to encounter. If you fall impute it not to me.
Having thus spoken, they took their way to the castle, but were overtaken by a messenger from the camp, who had been sent in quest of Bradamante to summon her back to the army, where her presence was needed to reassure her disheartened forces, and withstand the advance of the Moors.
The mournful knight, whose name was Pinabel, thus became aware that Bradamante was a scion of the house of Clermont, between which and his own of Mayence there existed an ancient feud. From this moment the traitor sought only how he might be rid of the company of Bradamante, from whom he feared no good would come to him, but rather mortal injury, if his name and lineage became known to her. For he judged her by his own base model, and, knowing his ill deserts, he feared to receive his due.
Bradamante, in spite of the summons to return to the army, could not resolve to leave her lover in captivity, and determined first to finish the adventure on which she was engaged. Pinabel leading the way, they at length arrived at a wood, in the centre of which rose a steep, rocky mountain. Pinabel, who now thought of nothing else but how he might escape from Bradamante, proposed to ascend the mountain to extend his view, in order to discover a shelter for the night, if any there might be within sight. Under this pretence he left Bradamante, and advanced up the side of the mountain till he came to a cleft in the rock, down which he looked, and perceived that it widened below into a spacious cavern. Meanwhile Bradamante, fearful of losing her guide, had followed close on his footsteps, and rejoined him at the mouth of the cavern. Then the traitor, seeing the impossibility of escaping her, conceived another design. He told her that before her approach he had seen in the cavern a young and beautiful damsel, whose rich dress announced her high birth, who with tears and lamentations implored assistance; that before he could descend to relieve her a ruffian had seized her, and hurried her away into the recesses of the cavern.
Bradamante, full of truth and courage, readily believed this lie of the Mayencian traitor. Eager to succor the damsel, she looked round for the means of facilitating the descent, and seeing a large elm with spreading branches she lopped off with her sword one of the largest, and thrust it into the opening. She told Pinabel to hold fast to the larger end, while, grasping the branches with her hands, she let herself down into the cavern.
The traitor smiled at seeing her thus suspended, and, asking her in mockery, Are you a good leaper? he let go the branch with perfidious glee, and saw Bradamante precipitated to the bottom of the cave. I wish your whole race were there with you, he muttered, that you might all perish together.
But Pinabels atrocious design was not accomplished. The twigs and foliage of the branch broke its descent, and Bradamante, not seriously injured, though stunned with her fall, was reserved for other adventures.
As soon as she recovered from the shock Bradamante cast her eyes around and perceived a door, through which she passed into a second cavern, larger and loftier than the first. It had the appearance of a subterranean temple. Columns of the purest alabaster adorned it, and supported the roof; a simple altar rose in the middle; a lamp, whose radiance was reflected by the alabaster walls, cast a mild light around.
Bradamante, inspired by a sense of religious awe, approached the altar, and, falling on her knees, poured forth her prayers and thanks to the Preserver of her life, invoking the protection of his power. At that moment a small door opened, and a female issued from it with naked feet, and flowing robe and hair, who called her by her name, and thus addressed her: Brave and generous Bradamante, know that it is a power from above that has brought you hither. The spirit of Merlin, whose last earthly abode was in this place, has warned me of your arrival, and of the fate that awaits you. This famous grotto, she continued, was the work of the enchanter Merlin; here his ashes repose. You have no doubt heard how this sage and virtuous enchanter ceased to be. Victim of the artful fairy of the lake, Merlin, by a fatal compliance with her request, laid himself down living in his tomb, without power to resist the spell laid upon him by that ingrate, who retained him there as long as he lived. His spirit hovers about this spot, and will not leave it, until the last trumpet shall summon the dead to judgment. He answers the questions of those who approach his tomb, where perhaps you may be privileged to hear his voice.
Bradamante, astonished at these words, and the objects which met her view, knew not whether she was awake or asleep. Confused, but modest, she cast down her eyes, and a blush overspread her face. Ah, what am I, said she, that so great a prophet should deign to speak to me! Still, with a secret satisfaction, she followed the priestess, who led her to the tomb of Merlin. This tomb was constructed of a species of stone hard and resplendent like fire. The rays which beamed from the stone sufficed to light up that terrible place, where the suns rays never penetrated; but I know not whether that light was the effect of a certain phosphorescence of the stone itself, or of the many talismans and charms with which it was wrought over.
Bradamante had hardly passed the threshold of this sacred place when the spirit of the enchanter saluted her with a voice firm and distinct: May thy designs be prosperous, O chaste and noble maiden, the future mother of heroes, the glory of Italy, and destined to fill the whole world with their fame. Great captains, renowned knights, shall be numbered among your descendants, who shall defend the Church and restore their country to its ancient splendor. Princes, wise as Augustus and the sage Numa, shall bring back the age of gold.1 To accomplish these grand destinies it is ordained that you shall wed the illustrious Rogero. Fly then to his deliverance, and lay prostrate in the dust the traitor who has snatched him from you, and now holds him in chains!
Merlin ceased with these words, and left to Melissa, the priestess, the charge of more fully instructing the maiden in her future course. To-morrow, said she, I will conduct you to the castle on the rock where Rogero is held captive. I will not leave you till I have guided you through this wild wood, and I will direct you on your way so that you shall be in no danger of mistaking it.
The next morning Melissa conducted Bradamante between rocks and precipices, crossing rapid torrents, and traversing intricate passes, employing the time in imparting to her such information as was necessary to enable her to bring her design to a successful issue.
Not only would the castle, impenetrable by force, and that winged horse of his baffle your efforts, but know that he possesses also a buckler whence flashes a light so brilliant that the eyes of all who look upon it are blinded. Think not to avoid it by shutting your eyes, for how then will you be able to avoid his blows, and make him feel your own? But I will teach you the proper course to pursue.
Agramant, the Moorish prince, possesses a ring stolen from a queen of India, which has power to render of no avail all enchantments. Agramant, knowing that Rogero is of more importance to him than any one of his warriors, is desirous of rescuing him from the power of the enchanter, and has sent for that purpose Brunello, the most crafty and sagacious of his servants, provided with his wonderful ring, and he is even now at hand, bent on this enterprise. But, beautiful Bradamante, as I desire that no one but yourself shall have the glory of delivering from thraldom your future spouse, listen while I disclose the means of success. Following this path which leads by the seashore, you will come ere long to a hostelry, where the Saracen Brunello will arrive shortly after you. You will readily know him by his stature, under four feet, his great disproportioned head, his squint eyes, his livid hue, his thick eyebrows joining his tufted beard. His dress, moreover, that of a courier, will point him out to you.
It will be easy for you to enter into conversation with him, announcing yourself as a knight seeking combat with the enchanter, but let not the knave suspect that you know anything about the ring. I doubt not that he will be your guide to the castle of the enchanter. Accept his offer, but take care to keep behind him till you come in sight of the brilliant dome of the castle. Then hesitate not to strike him dead, for the wretch deserves no pity, and take from him the ring. But let him not suspect your intention, for by putting the ring into his mouth he will instantly become invisible, and disappear from your eyes.
Saying thus, the sage Melissa and the fair Bradamante arrived near the city of Bordeaux, where the rich and wide river Garonne pours the tribute of its waves into the sea. They parted with tender embraces. Bradamante, intent wholly on her purpose, hastened to arrive at the hostelry, where Brunello had preceded her a few moments only. The young heroine knew him without difficulty. She accosted him, and put to him some slight questions, to which he replied with adroit falsehoods. Bradamante, on her part, concealed from him her sex, her religion, her country, and the blood from whence she sprung. While they talk together, sudden cries are heard from all parts of the hostelry. O queen of heaven! exclaimed Bradamante, what can be the cause of this sudden alarm? She soon learned the cause. Host, children, domestics, all, with upturned eyes, as if they saw a comet or a great eclipse, were gazing on a prodigy which seemed to pass the bounds of possibility. She beheld distinctly a winged horse, mounted with a cavalier in rich armor, cleaving the air with rapid flight. The wings of this strange courser were wide extended, and covered with feathers of various colors. The polished armor of the knight made them shine with rainbow tints. In a short time the horse and rider disappeared behind the summits of the mountains.
It is an enchanter, said the host, a magician who often is seen traversing the air in that way. Sometimes he flies aloft as if among the stars, and at others skims along the land. He possesses a wonderful castle on the top of the Pyrenees. Many knights have shown their courage by going to attack him, but none have ever returned, from which it is to be feared they have lost either their life or their liberty.
Bradamante, addressing the host, said, Could you furnish me a guide to conduct me to the castle of this enchanter? By my faith, said Brunello, interrupting, that you shall not seek in vain; I have it all in writing, and I will myself conduct you. Bradamante, with thanks, accepted him for her guide.
The host had a tolerable horse to dispose of, which Bradamante bargained for, and the next day, at the first dawn of morning, she took her route by a narrow valley, taking care to have the Saracen Brunello lead the way.
They reached the summit of the Pyrenees, whence one may look down on France, Spain, and the two seas. From this height they descended again by a fatiguing road into a deep valley. From the middle of this valley an isolated mountain rose, composed of rough and perpendicular rock, on whose summit was the castle, surrounded with a wall of brass. Brunello said, Yonder is the stronghold where the enchanter keeps his prisoners; one must have wings to mount thither; it is easy to see that the aid of a flying horse must be necessary for the master of this castle, which he uses for his prison and for his abode.
Bradamante, sufficiently instructed, saw that the time had now come to possess herself of the ring; but she could not resolve to slay a defenceless man. She seized Brunello before he was aware, bound him to a tree, and took from him the ring which he wore on one of his fingers. The cries and entreaties of the perfidious Saracen moved her not. She advanced to the foot of the rock whereon the castle stood, and, to draw the magician to the combat, sounded her horn, adding to it cries of defiance.
The enchanter delayed not to present himself, mounted on his winged horse. Bradamante was struck with surprise mixed with joy when she saw that this person, described as so formidable, bore no lance nor club, nor any other deadly weapon. He had only on his arm a buckler, covered with a cloth, and in his hand an open book. As to the winged horse, there was no enchantment about him. He was a natural animal, of a species which exists in the Riphæan mountains. Like a griffin, he had the head of an eagle, claws armed with talons, and wings covered with feathers, the rest of his body being that of a horse. This strange animal is called a Hippogriff.
The heroine attacked the enchanter on his approach, striking on this side and on that, with all the energy of a violent combat, but wounding only the wind; and after this pretended attack had lasted some time dismounted from her horse, as if hoping to do battle more effectually on foot. The enchanter now prepares to employ his sole weapon, by uncovering the magic buckler which never failed to subdue an enemy by depriving him of his senses. Bradamante, confiding in her ring, observed all the motions of her adversary, and, at the unveiling of the shield, cast herself on the ground, pretending that the splendor of the shield had overcome her, but in reality to induce the enchanter to dismount and approach her.
It happened according to her wish. When the enchanter saw her prostrate he made his horse alight on the ground, and, dismounting, fixed the shield on the pommel of his saddle, and approached in order to secure the fallen warrior. Bradamante, who watched him intently, as soon as she saw him near at hand, sprang up, seized him vigorously, threw him down, and, with the same chain which the enchanter had prepared for herself, bound him fast, without his being able to make any effectual resistance.
The enchanter, with the accents of despair, exclaimed, Take my life, young man! but Bradamante was far from complying with such a wish. Desirous of knowing the name of the enchanter, and for what purpose he had formed with so much art this impregnable fortress, she commanded him to inform her.
Alas! replied the magician, while tears flowed down his cheeks, it is not to conceal booty, nor for any culpable design that I have built this castle; it was only to guard the life of a young knight, the object of my tenderest affection, my art having taught me that he is destined to become a Christian, and to perish, shortly after, by the blackest of treasons.
This youth, named Rogero, is the most beautiful and most accomplished of knights. It is I, the unhappy Atlantes, who have reared him from his childhood. The call of honor and the desire of glory led him from me to follow Agramant, his prince, in his invasion of France, and I, more devoted to Rogero than the tenderest of parents, have sought the means of bringing him back to this abode, in the hope of saving him from the cruel fate that menaces him.
For this purpose I have got him in my possession by the same means as I attempted to employ against you; and by which I have succeeded in collecting a great many knights and ladies in my castle. My purpose was to render my beloved pupils captivity light, by affording him society to amuse him, and keep his thoughts from running on subjects of war and glory. Alas! my cares have been in vain! Yet, take, I beseech you, whatever else I have, but spare me my beloved pupil. Take this shield, take this winged courser, deliver such of your friends as you may find among my prisoners, deliver them all if you will, but leave me my beloved Rogero; or if you will snatch him too from me, take also my life, which will cease then to be to me worth preserving.
Bradamante replied: Old man, hope not to move me by your vain entreaties. It is precisely the liberty of Rogero that I require. You would keep him here in bondage and in slothful pleasure, to save him from a fate which you foresee. Vain old man! how can you foresee his fate when you could not foresee your own? You desire me to take your life. No, my arm and my soul refuse the request. This said, she required the magician to go before, and guide her to the castle. The prisoners were set at liberty, though some, in their secret hearts, regretted the voluptuous life which was thus brought to an end. Bradamante and Rogero met one another with transports of joy.
They descended from the mountain to the spot where the encounter had taken place. There they found the Hippogriff, with the magic buckler in its wrapper, hanging to his saddle-bow. Bradamante advanced to seize the bridle; the Hippogriff seemed to wait her approach, but before she reached him he spread his wings and flew away to a neighboring hill, and in the same manner, a second time, eluded her efforts. Rogero and the other liberated knights dispersed over the plain and hilltops to secure him, and at last the animal allowed Rogero to seize his rein. The fearless Rogero hesitated not to vault upon his back, and let him feel his spurs, which so roused his mettle that, after galloping a short distance, he suddenly spread his wings, and soared into the air. Bradamante had the grief to see her lover snatched away from her at the very moment of reunion. Rogero, who knew not the art of directing the horse, was unable to control his flight. He found himself carried over the tops of the mountains, so far above them that he could hardly distinguish what was land and what water. The Hippogriff directed his flight to the west, and cleaved the air as swiftly as a new-rigged vessel cuts the waves, impelled by the freshest and most favorable gales.