In the Gardens of Falerina
HAVING defeated the Tartars before Albracca, and driven them, as they supposed, forever from Cathay, the French knights began to bethink them again of their own country, and of the duties which they owed to their liege lord, King Charlemagne. Reinold, burning with anger and shame because of the deception which had brought him hither, turned away at once, and, deaf to every entreaty of the grateful Cathayans, hastened his journey back to France. But Roland was not yet willing to give up the adventure which he had undertaken; and he resolved to make one further trial to find the gardens of Falerina, and to win the arms of the godlike Hector of Troy. So he bade farewell to Angelica and to her father, King Galafron, and set out on his quest for the land of the fairies; and the grateful people of Albracca showered blessings upon his head as he passed out of their gates. And many of the noblest lords and ladies of the realm rode with him to the utmost bounds of their kingdom, where they parted from him with many heartfelt thanks and many a tearful godspeed.
"He is a Christian," said they as they rode back to their homes, "and yet he is the noblest of men."
And Roland rode alone through many strange lands inhabited by strange Pagan people, who looked upon him with wonderment as he passed. And so noble was his countenance, so proud was his form, and so brilliant was the armor in which he was clad, that the ignorant folk often mistook him for a god; but he pitied their lack of knowledge and their error, and told them what little he knew of Christ and of the holy saints. And when he asked them to show him the way to Fairyland, they could only shake their heads, and point toward the setting sun.
One day, after having crossed a barren hill country, where not any thing was to be seen save huge bowlders and lava beds and yawning chasms, he came into a wood so dark and dank and lonesome, that he felt that this indeed must be the borderland between the world of reality and the world of the fairies. Owls hooted in the dead treetops; gray wolves howled in the thickets; bats and vampires flew through the air; hideous creatures skulked among the trees. Had such a thing as fear known lodgement in Roland's breast, he would have turned back, and given up forever his quest for Fairyland. But by and by the wood became less dense, the trees and grass grew as in a park, and the sun, which had been hidden behind a cloud, now shone brightly through the leaves. Birds flitted and sang among the branches; and the lonesomeness and horrors of the deeper forest gave place to light and hope.
As Roland rode leisurely along through this wood, he was suddenly aroused by hearing cries, as of some one in distress. Looking around, he saw that they were uttered by a fair lady, bound hand and foot to a tree, and guarded by an armed knight.
"How, now!" cried Roland, riding nearer. "What is the meaning of this? How dare you, who seem to be a knight, thus maltreat the helpless and the beautiful?"
The knight explained that the lady whom he held as his prisoner was dishonest, untruthful, and treacherous to her best friends, and that she was only being punished for her misdemeanors as she deserved.
"Her very name is Deceit," he said; "and, if she were once liberated, there would be no end to the mischief she would cause."
But the lady, tears streaming from her eyes, denied these charges, and begged Roland to set her free. And our hero, whose ears were always open to the pleadings of those in distress, without further parley placed his lance in rest, and challenged the knight to a trial of arms.
"If after what I have told you," said the knight, "you wish to befriend such a creature as she, I have not a word further to say." And, with a motion of disgust, he turned, and rode quickly away.
Roland very gallantly released the lady from the cords which bound her; and, as it was still a long way out of the wood, he helped her to a seat behind him, and together the two rode onward toward the west. The lady told him that they were now entering the enchanted regions of Fairyland, and that he must be very cautious in whatever he undertook to do. As she was talking they reached the edge of the wood, where they met another young lady, a beautiful damsel, riding on a white palfrey gayly attired in trappings of crimson velvet, with silver bells hanging from the reins.
"Ah, sir knight!" said she, courtesying very humbly, "it is indeed lucky that I met you on this spot. Had you gone ten yards farther, you would have been in plain sight of the gardens of Falerina, and you would have been slain by the watchful dragon who sits before the gate. If you would succeed in your venture, listen to me. Stay where you are until morning: stir not a foot farther, or you will be lost. Just at sunrise every day, the gates are thrown wide open for a time; and then, and only then, if you are wise, you can enter the fairy gardens. But beware of the dragon!"
Then she gave him a little book in which was a map of the enchanted garden and a picture of Falerina's palace, and directions how to reach it, and how to enter it. And she told Roland that the fairy queen had been a long time shut up in one of the chambers of her palace, trying to forge a magic sword that should be proof against all kinds of witchery, and sharp enough to slay even those whose lives were protected by the unseen powers.
"For," said the damsel, "she has read in the book of Fate that a hero will come out of the West, and that he will trample down her fair garden, and take from her all her witch power."
"And is the sword yet finished?" asked Roland.
"I think it is," answered the damsel. "And, if you can once seize upon it, you will be safe from all the magic snares that are set for you. Yet many men have tried to enter these wonderful gardens, and everyone has failed."
While they were yet talking, the sun had gone down; and Roland, thinking it better to take the advice of the damsel, and not attempt to go farther that night, dismounted from Brigliadoro, and lay down under the friendly shelter of a cedar tree to rest. He had no sooner fallen asleep than the woman whom he had rescued in the forest, and who was really as false-hearted and base as the strange knight had represented her to be, mounted his war steed, and rode away, carrying the sword Durandal with her.
When Roland awoke in the morning, and saw how he had been deceived and robbed, he was both angered and disheartened. He felt that the dangerous adventure which he had undertaken might, after all, prove to be a failure. Yet his knightly vows would not allow him to give up a quest which he had once begun, and he resolved to go forward as he had at first intended. The sky began to redden in the east: the sun would soon rise, and the gates of the garden would be thrown open. If he would enter those enchanted grounds, if he would prove himself worthy to wear the armor of the godlike Hector, he must be ready to act without delay. He tore off the stout branch of an elm to serve him instead of a sword, and went boldly onward in the way which the damsel on the palfrey had pointed out. A very few steps brought him to the top of the hill whence he could look down into the valley beyond. There a wonderful sight met his view. Not half a league away was the entrance to the long-sought-for gardens, closed now by strong iron gates hanging between columns of brass. In front of the gates the sleepless dragon paced to and fro, while high above them soared a mountain eagle. The wall was built of white marble, and was very high; but Roland, from his place on the hill, could see the trees and the fountains and the silvery lake beyond, and farther away he could discern the glass towers and turrets of Falerina's castle, shining like silver in the early morning light.
Roland held the green elm branch before him so as to hide himself from the ever-watchful eyes of the dragon, and went slowly forward toward the gates. The sun, now beginning to rise, gilded the treetops and the far-off mountain crags and the tall turrets of the fairy castle, with a golden light. The watchman on the tower blew a long, silvery call upon his bugle-horn, which was echoed and re-echoed from hill to valley, and from river to lake, until it was heard all over that Fairyland.
"Awake, awake!" he cried. "The daystar comes; the king of life blesses us again. Open wide the gates, and let floods of light pour in upon us!"
The great iron gates swung round on their hinges: a passage-way was opened, wide enough for a score of knights to ride through abreast; and from the fairy gardens within there came the sound of music sweeter than any Roland had ever before heard. But he had no time to listen to these enchanting sounds; for he knew that the gates would soon close, and that the present golden opportunity would never return. The dragon stood now directly in the gateway, its eyes flashing fire, its nostrils smoking with sulphur fumes, its hooked claws digging into the soft earth, its clammy wings beating the air. To a man of less heroic mettle than Roland the sight of the beast would have caused unspeakable terror. But Roland faltered not. He strode straight onward, holding his shield before his face, that he might not breathe the poisonous breath of the monster. In his right hand he held the gnarly elm branch, which he had hastily stripped of its green leaves. Very near he drew to the hideous beast; he felt its hot breath; its fangs were almost upon him. He leaped forward. With a quick movement he thrust the branching boughs between the gaping jaws of the creature with such force that they stuck fast. The dragon stopped. Its mouth was propped wide open by the ugly elm branch. In vain it clutched at it with its crooked claws, and sought to free itself. Roland paused not a moment. He leaped clear over the back of the monster. Swiftly he ran toward the gates. He reached them, and passed through, just as they creaked on their hinges and closed with a mighty crash behind him. His foe, the dragon, had gotten free from the elm branch, but too late to do him any harm; for the massive gates were between them.
Roland looked around him. On his right was a fair fountain, pouring water by a hundred silver jets into a little lake whose surface was dotted with water-lilies, among which swam dozens of noble white swans. Out of the lake a little river flowed, meandering through meadows bright with roses and violets, and flowers of every name and hue. In the middle of the stream stood a marble image,—an image of a river nymph, such as in the golden days haunted fountain and waterfall and every flowing stream. Above the brows of the image an inscription was written in Greek: "SEEKEST THOU THE ENCHANTED PALACE? FOLLOW THE RIVER." The knight, never doubting, did as the inscription directed. The stream flowed through scenes more delightful than any he had ever dreamed of. So sweet was the music with which the air was filled, so pleasant were the perfumes, so beautiful were the birds, the flowers, the waterfalls, the grottos, and the garden-walks, that, if Roland had not borne well in mind his knightly vows, he would have been sorely tempted to live amid these joys forever.
After a long walk, which, however, seemed to him only too short, he reached the fairy palace of Falerina. It was a gorgeous and most beautiful structure, built within and without of glass and precious stones, and adorned with every thing that is pleasing to the senses. The doors were wide open, and bevies of fairies were passing in and out, singing gayly, and making the palace resound with the music of their sweet voices. They cast inquiring glances at the strange knight as they passed; but, as they had never known an enemy in Fairyland, they thought him only some stranger whom the queen had invited to her court. Seeing that every one moved freely from one chamber to another in that vast palace, without hinderance and without ceremony, Roland walked boldly in. For some time he strolled carelessly about, listening to the music, and watching the nimble dancers in the great halls, or admiring the many wonderful things with which the palace was stored. At last, in a lower chamber which opened into the garden, he found Falerina, the fairy queen. She was sitting alone, as was her wont in the earlier hours of the day, while her attendants amused themselves in the garden. Before her, leaning against the wall, was the magic sword, the blade which had cost her so many weeks of anxious labor. She had but lately finished it and tested it, and now she was quietly admiring her own good looks as they were reflected from its bright silvery sides. And very beautiful indeed was she,—so beautiful, that Roland paused in reverent admiration. She was dressed in rich white robes from every fold of which rare jewels gleamed; and upon her head was a golden crown, flashing with diamonds. She seemed something more divine than a mere fairy, and akin to the Peris of whom Roland had heard the Saracens speak.
The hero paused but a moment. Before the fairy could hinder, or call for help, he seized the magic sword, and raised it threateningly above her head.
"Yield, and I will spare thee!" he cried.
The queen, never having known such thing as fear, sat still, and said not a word.
"Show me the Trojan Hector's arms," said he, "and thou shalt live."
"Surely," then answered the queen, "thou art a brave warrior thus to threaten me in my own dwelling. Methinks thou art Knight Roland from the West."
"Roland is my name," said he. "And I have come in quest of Hector's arms. Tell me where I shall find them."
"I shall tell thee nothing," answered the fairy, folding her arms.
When Roland found that neither threats nor prayers would persuade her to tell him the secret, he carried her gently into the garden, and, with cords which Malagis the wizard had given him, he bound her, hand and foot, to a beech tree, so that no fairy could ever unbind her. Then he went out of the palace to follow his quest as best he might, well knowing now that no witchery of the fairy queen could harm him. As he was again following the course of the winding river through meadows and groves and many a scene of delight, he bethought him of the book which the damsel on the white palfrey had given him.
He opened it, and looked at the map. There was nothing said about the place where Hector's arms were hidden. But he saw that on the south there was a gate which was always open. Between the gate and the palace was a large lake; and in the lake, the book said, there was a siren, whose song charmed all passers-by, and had caused the death of many a brave knight.
As he was now not very far from the lake, Roland resolved that he would rid himself of another danger by seeking the siren, and silencing her voice. As he strolled across the meadows, he gathered great numbers of daisies and violets, blue-bells and buttercups, and filled his helmet and his ears with them. Then he stopped, and listened if he could hear the birds sing. He could see their mouths open, their throats swell, and their plumage ruffle; but he could not hear the slightest sound. He felt now that he was proof against the enchanting song of the siren, for music never lured a deaf man to his destruction. He went boldly forward to the lake, and wandered leisurely along the shore, admiring its mirror-like surface and the clearness and great depth of the water. Suddenly, near the centre of the pool a ripple appeared; and then a strange creature, somewhat like a bird, and somewhat like a fish, arose above the surface, and began to sing. The siren was not at all beautiful; but her song was so sweet, that all the birds were silenced, and came flying down in great flocks by the shore to listen. The cattle and the wood-beasts hastened in troops and crowds to the waterside, where they stood fixed and entranced by the soft, melodious strains. The leaves of the trees quivered in sympathy with the sounds, and even the rocks seemed to hearken and to smile. Roland alone was unmoved, because he heard nothing. Yet as the siren still sat in the water, and kept on singing, he made a pretence of yielding to the charms of her bewitching song. He fell down among the flowers by the lakeside, and closed his eyes as if in a trance. The siren ended her song. The birds and the beasts went slowly back to their places, and all was quiet about the lake. Roland lay very still. The siren swam close to the shore, thinking to seize him, as she had seized many another brave knight, and drag him down into her dismal den at the bottom of the lake; but Roland arose suddenly, and grasped her long neck. Fearful were the struggles of the creature, and loud were the songs that she sung; for she hoped even yet to bewitch the knight with the strange power of music. But the hero raised the magic sword of Falerina above her, and with one stroke severed her hideous head.
Freed now from this last source of danger, Roland started out again in search of the arms of Hector. He followed every garden walk to its end; he sought in every grove and every grotto: yet he could nowhere find the wished-for prize. He asked the fairies whom he sometimes met; but they seemed downhearted and sad, and shook their heads, saying that they had never heard of Hector, nor of his arms. But an old man, who had lived in Fairyland for a great many years, told him that the object of his search had long ago been carried into another garden, and that he could not hope to find it without undergoing many hardships and meeting many dangers of which he now knew nothing.
Toward evening Roland found his way back again to the enchanted palace of the queen, but all was changed. The fairies whom he had seen there in the earlier part of the day had fled, leaving the splendid mansion silent and desolate. The music had ceased; shadows had taken the place of sunshine; the flowers had closed their petals; the birds had flown away. As the knight walked across the deserted courtyard, the only sound that he heard was the echo of his own footsteps on the hard pavement. The silence was more dreadful to him than any danger that had ever threatened him. The hapless fairy queen was still bound fast to the beech tree where he had left her, but she was no longer happy and defiant. Bitterly she wept, and earnestly did she beg him to set her free. He asked her again where the arms of the Trojan hero were hidden.
"By my troth," said she, "I know not. They were long ago given into the keeping of my sister, Morgan the Fay. If you would win them, you must make your way to her castle, and prove by your prowess that you are worthy of the prize. Then, when Fortune is ready to award her gifts, be sure that you let not the golden opportunity slip by unimproved."
The hero loosed the fairy queen from the magic cords which bound her. He called around her the frightened attendants, and assured them that he had no wish to harm either them or their queen. Then he bade the fair Falerina good-by, and went forth from her gardens in search of the far-famed dwelling of Morgan the Fay.