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Chapter 9


CHAPTER 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 struggles 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. Erelong 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 father's 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 sisters
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 re-enter
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 hand's 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 was 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 ever-flowing 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 re-echoed 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 memories 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 Rogero's 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 thunder-clap 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. Rogero's 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 Cumae; 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 Balisardo, 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
Rabican's, 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 hag-knots. 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 Argalia's. 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.

Thomas Bulfinch

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