BULFINCH'S LEGENDS OF CHARLEMAGNE OR ROMANCE OF THE MIDDLE AGES

CHAPTER XI. ASTOLPHO'S ADVENTURES CONTINUED, AND ISABELLA'S BEGUN.

   When Astolpho escaped from the cruel Alcina, after a short abode in the realm of the virtuous Logestilla, he desired to return to his native country. Logestilla lent him the best vessel of her fleet to convey him to the mainland. She gave him at parting a wonderful book, which taught the secret of overcoming all manner of enchantments, and begged him to carry it always with him, out of regard for her. She also gave him another gift, which surpassed everything of the kind that mortal workmanship can frame; yet it was nothing in appearance but a simple horn.
   Astolpho, protected by these gifts, thanked the good fairy, took leave of her, and set out on his return to France. His voyage was prosperous, and on reaching the desired port he took leave of the faithful mariners, and continued his journey by land. As he proceeded over mountains and through valleys, he often met with bands of robbers, wild beasts, and venomous serpents, but he had only to sound his horn to put them all to flight.
   Having landed in France, and traversed many provinces on his way to the army, he one day, in crossing a forest, arrived beside a fountain, and alighted to drink. While he stooped at the fountain, a young rustic sprang from the copse, mounted Rabican, and rode away. It was a new trick of the enchanter Atlantes. Astolpho, hearing the noise, turned his head just in time to see his loss; and, starting up, pursued the thief, who, on his part, did not press the horse to his full speed, but just kept in sight of his pursuer till they both issued from the forest; and then Rabican and his rider took shelter in a castle which stood near. Astolpho followed, and penetrated without difficulty within the court-yard of the castle, where he looked around for the rider and his horse, but could see no trace of either, nor any person of whom he could make inquiry. Suspecting that enchantment was employed to embarrass him, he bethought him of his book, and on consulting it discovered that his suspicions were well founded. He also learned what course to pursue. He was directed to raise the stone which served as a threshold, under which a spirit lay pent, who would willingly escape, and leave the castle free of access.
   Astolpho applied his strength to lift aside the stone. Thereupon the magician put his arts in force. The castle was full of prisoners, and the magician caused that to all of them Astolpho should appear in some false guise,- to some a wild beast, to others a giant, to others a bird of prey. Thus all assailed him, and would quickly have made an end of him, if he had not bethought him of his horn. No sooner had he blown a blast than, at the horrid alarm, fled the cavaliers and the necromancer with them, like a flock of pigeons at the sound of the fowler's gun. Astolpho then renewed his efforts on the stone, and turned it over. The under face was all inscribed with magical characters, which the knight defaced, as directed by his book; and no sooner had he done so, than the castle, with its walls and turrets, vanished into smoke.
   The knights and ladies set at liberty were, besides Rogero and Bradamante, Orlando, Gradasso, Florismart, and many more. At the sound of the horn they fled, one and all, men and steeds, except Rabican, which Astolpho secured, in spite of his terror. As soon as the sound had ceased, Rogero recognized Bradamante, whom he had daily met during their imprisonment, but had been prevented from knowing by the enchanter's arts. No words can tell the delight with which they recognized each other, and recounted mutually all that had happened to each since they were parted. Rogero took advantage of the opportunity to press his suit, and found Bradamante as propitious as he could wish, were it not for a single obstacle, the difference of their faiths. "If he would obtain her in marriage," she said, "he must in due form demand her of her father, Duke Aymon, and must abandon his false prophet, and become a Christian." The latter step was one which Rogero had for some time intended taking, for reasons of his own. He therefore gladly accepted the terms, and proposed that they should at once repair to the abbey of Vallombrosa, whose towers were visible at no great distance. Thither they turned their horses' heads, and we will leave them to find their way without our company.
   I know not if my readers recollect that, at the moment when Rogero had just delivered Angelica from the voracious Orc, that scornful beauty placed her ring in her mouth, and vanished out of sight. At the same time the Hippogriff shook off his bridle, soared, away, and flew to rejoin his former master, very naturally returning to his accustomed stable. Here Astolpho found him, to his very great delight. He knew the animal's powers, having seen Rogero ride him, and he longed to fly abroad over all the earth, and see various nations and peoples from his airy course. He had heard Logestilla's directions how to guide the animal, and saw her fit a bridle to his head. He therefore was able, out of all the bridles he found in the stable, to select one suitable, and, placing Rabican's saddle on the Hippogriff's back, nothing seemed to prevent his immediate departure. Yet before he went, he bethought him of placing Rabican in hands where he would be safe, and whence he might recover him in time of need. While he stood deliberating where he should find a messenger, he saw Bradamante approach. That fair warrior had been parted from Rogero on their way to the abbey of Vallombrosa, by an inopportune adventure which had called the knight away. She was now returning to Montalban, having arranged with Rogero to join her there. To Bradamante, therefore, his fair cousin, Astolpho committed Rabican, and also the lance of gold, which would only be an encumbrance in his aerial excursion. Bradamante took charge of both; and Astolpho, bidding her farewell, soared in air.
   Among those delivered by Astolpho from the magician's castle was Orlando. Following the guide of chance, the paladin found himself at the close of day in a forest, and stopped at the foot of a mountain. Surprised to discern a light which came from a cleft in the rock, he approached, guided by the ray, and discovered a narrow passage in the mountain-side, which led into a deep grotto.
   Orlando fastened his horse, and then, putting aside the bushes that resisted his passage, stepped down from rock to rock till he reached a sort of cavern. Entering it, he perceived a lady, young and handsome, as well as he could discover through the signs of distress which agitated her countenance. Her only companion was an old woman, who seemed to be regarded by her young partner with terror and indignation; The courteous paladin saluted the women respectfully, and begged to know by whose barbarity they had been subjected to such imprisonment.
   The younger lady replied, in a voice often broken with sobs:- "Though I know well that my recital will subject me to worse treatment by the barbarious man who keeps me here, to whom this woman will not fail to report it, yet I will not hide from you the facts. Ah! why should I fear his rage? If he should take my life, I know not what better boon than death I can ask.
   "My name is Isabella. I am the daughter of the king of Galicia, or rather I should say misfortune and grief are my parents. Young, rich, modest, and of tranquil temper, all things appeared to combine to render my lot happy. Alas! I see myself to-day poor, humbled, miserable, and destined perhaps to yet further afflictions. It is a year since, my father having given notice that he would open the lists for a tournament at Bayonne, a great number of chevaliers from all quarters came together at our court. Among these, Zerbino, son of the king of Scotland, victorious in all combats, eclipsed by his beauty and his valor all the rest. Before departing from the court of Galicia he testified the wish to espouse me, and I consented that he should demand my hand of the king, my father. But I was a Mahometan, and Zerbino a Christian, and my father refused his consent.
   The prince, called home by his father to take command of the forces destined to the assistance of the French Emperor, prevailed on me to be married to him secretly, and to follow him to Scotland. He caused a galley to be prepared to receive me, and placed in command of it the chevalier Oderic, a Biscayan, famous for his exploits both by land and sea. On the day appointed, Oderic brought his vessel to a sea-side resort of my father's, where I embarked. Some of my domestics accompanied me, and thus I departed from my native land.
   "Sailing with a fair wind, after some hours we were assailed by a violent tempest. It was to no purpose that we took in all sail; we were driven before the wind directly upon the rocky shore. Seeing no other hopes of safety, Oderic placed me in a boat, followed himself with a few of his men, and made for land. We reached it through infinite peril, and I no sooner felt the firm land beneath my feet, than I knelt down and poured out heart-felt thanks to the Providence that had preserved me.
   "The shore where we landed appeared to be uninhabited. We saw no dwelling to shelter us, no road to lead us to a more hospitable spot. A high mountain rose before us, whose base stretched into the sea. It was here the infamous Oderic, in spite of my tears and entreaties, sold me to a band of pirates, who fancied I might be an acceptable present to their prince, the Sultan of Morocco. This cavern is their den, and here they keep me under the guard of this woman, until it shall suit their convenience to carry me away."
   Isabella had hardly finished her recital, when a troop of armed men began to enter the cavern. Seeing the prince Orlando, one said to the rest, "What bird is this we have caught, without even setting a snare for him?" Then addressing Orlando, "It was truly civil in you, friend, to come hither with that handsome coat of armor and vest, the very things I want." "You shall pay for them, then," said Orlando; and, seizing a half-burnt brand from the fire, he hurled it at him, striking his head, and stretching him lifeless on the floor.
   There was a massy table in the middle of the cavern, used for the pirates' repasts. Orlando lifted it and hurled it at the robbers as they stood clustered in a group towards the entrance. Half the gang were laid prostrate, with broken heads and limbs; the rest got away as nimbly as they could.
   Leaving the den and its inmates to their fate, Orlando, taking Isabella under his protection, pursued his way, for some days, without meeting with any adventure.
   One day they saw a band of men advancing, who seemed to be guarding a prisoner, bound hand and foot, as if being carried to execution. The prisoner was a youthful cavalier, of a noble and ingenuous appearance. The band bore the ensigns of Count Anselm, head of the treacherous house of Maganza. Orlando desired Isabella to wait, while he rode forward to inquire the meaning of this array. Approaching, he demanded of the leader who his prisoner was, and of what crime he had been guilty. The man replied, that the prisoner was a murderer, by whose hand Pinabel, the son of Count Anselm, had been treacherously slain. At these words, the prisoner exclaimed, "I am no murderer, nor have I been in any way the cause of the young man's death." Orlando, knowing the cruel and ferocious character of the chiefs of the house of Maganza, needed no more to satisfy him that the youth was the victim of injustice. He commanded the leader of the troop to release his victim, and, receiving an insolent reply, dashed him to the earth with a stroke of his lance; then, by a few vigorous blows, dispersed the band, leaving deadly marks on those who were slowest to quit the field.
   Orlando then hastened to unbind the prisoner, and to assist him to reclothe himself in his armor, which the false Magencian had dared to assume. He then led him to Isabella, who now approached the scene of action. How can we picture the joy, the astonishment, with which Isabella recognized in him Zerbino, her husband, and the prince discovered her whom he had believed overwhelmed in the waves! They embraced one another, and wept for joy. Orlando, sharing in their happiness, congratulated himself in having been the instrument of it. The princess recounted to Zerbino what the illustrious paladin had done for her, and the prince threw himself at Orlando's feet, and thanked him as having twice preserved his life.
   While these exchanges of congratulation and thankfulness were going on, a sound in the underwood attracted their attention, and caused the two knights to brace their helmets and stand on their guard. What the cause of the interruption was, we shall record in another chapter.