Don Rodriguez, by Lord Dunsany, , at sacred-texts.com
THE NINTH CHRONICLE
HOW HE WON A CASTLE IN SPAIN
The woman that came to the door had on her face a look that pleased Morano.
"Are you soldiers?" she said. And her scared look portended war.
"My master is a traveller looking for the wars," said Morano. "Are the wars near?"
"Oh, no, not near," said the woman; "not near."
And something in the anxious way she said "not near" pleased Morano also.
"We shall find those wars, master," he said.
And then they both questioned her. It seemed the wars were but twenty miles away. "But they will move northward," she said. "Surely they will move farther off?"
Before the next night was passed Rodriguez' dream might come true!
And then the man came to the door anxious at hearing strange voices; and Morano questioned him too, but he understood never a word. He was a French farmer that had married a Spanish girl, out of the wonderful land beyond the mountains: but whether he understood her or not he never understood Spanish. But both Rodriguez and the farmer's wife knew the two languages, and he had no difficulty in asking for lodging for the night; and she looked wistfully at him going to the wars, for in those days wars were small and not every man went. The night went by with dreams that were all on the verge of waking, which passed like ghosts along the edge of night almost touched by the light of day. It was Rodriguez whom these dreams visited. The farmer and his wife wondered awhile and then slept; Morano slept with all his wonted lethargy; but Rodriguez with his long quest now on the eve of fulfilment slept a tumultuous sleep. Sometimes his dreams raced over the Pyrenees, running south as far as Lowlight; and sometimes they rushed forward and clung like bats to the towers of the great castle that he should win in the war. And always he lay so near the edge of sleep that he never distinguished quite between thought and dream.
Dawn came and he put by all the dreams but the one that guided him always, and went and woke Morano. They ate hurriedly and left the house, and again the farmer's wife looked curiously at Rodriguez, as though there were something strange in a man that went to wars: for those days were not as these days. They followed the direction that had been given them, and never had the two men walked so fast. By the end of four hours they had done sixteen miles. They halted then, and Morano drew out his frying-pan with a haughty flourish, and cooked in the grand manner, every movement he made was a triumphant gesture; for they had passed refugees! War was now obviously close: they had but to take the way that the refugees were not taking. The dream was true: Morano saw himself walking slowly in splendid dress along the tapestried corridors of his master's castle. He would have slept after eating and would have dreamed more of this, but Rodriguez commanded him to put the things together: so what remained of the food disappeared again in a sack, the frying-pan was slung over his shoulders, and Morano stood ready again for the road.
They passed more refugees: their haste was unmistakable, and told more than their lips could have told had they tarried to speak: the wars were near now, and the wanderers went leisurely.
As they strolled through the twilight they came over the brow of a hill, a little fold of the earth disturbed eras ago by the awful rushing up of the Pyrenees; and they saw the evening darkening over the fields below them and a white mist rising only just clear of the grass, and two level rows of tents greyish-white like the mist, with a few more tents scattered near them. The tents had come up that evening with the mist, for there were men still hammering pegs. They were lighting fires now as evening settled in. Two hundred paces or so separated each row. It was two armies facing each other.
The gloaming faded: mist and the tents grew greyer: camp-fires blinked out of the dimness and grew redder and redder, and candles began to be lit beside the tents till all were glowing pale golden: Rodriguez and Morano stood there wondering awhile as they looked on the beautiful aura that surrounds the horrors of war.
They came by starlight to that tented field, by twinkling starlight to the place of Rodriguez' dream.
"For which side will you fight, master?" said Morano in his ear.
"For the right," said Rodriguez and strode on towards the nearest tents, never doubting that he would be guided, though not trying to comprehend how this could be.
They met with an officer going among his tents. "Where do you go?" he shouted.
"Senor," Rodriguez said, "I come with my mandolin to sing songs to you."
And at this the officer called out and others came from their tents; and Rodriguez repeated his offer to them not without confidence, for he knew that he had a way with the mandolin. And they said that they fought a battle on the morrow and could not listen to song: they heaped scorn on singing for they said they must needs prepare for the fight: and all of them looked with scorn on the mandolin. So Rodriguez bowed low to them with doffed hat and left them; and Morano bowed also, seeing his master bow; and the men of that camp returned to their preparations. A short walk brought Rodriguez and his servant to the other camp, over a flat field convenient for battle. He went up to a large tent well lit, the door being open towards him; and, having explained his errand to a sentry that stood outside, he entered and saw three persons of quality that were sitting at a table. To them he bowed low in the tent door, saying: "Senors, I am come to sing songs to you, playing the while upon my mandolin."
And they welcomed him gladly, saying: "We fight tomorrow and will gladly cheer our hearts with the sound of song and strengthen our men thereby."
And so Rodriguez sang among the tents, standing by a great fire to which they led him; and men came from the tents and into the circle of light, and in the darkness outside it were more than Rodriguez saw. And he sang to the circle of men and the vague glimmer of faces. Songs of their homes he sang them, not in their language, but songs that were made by old poets about the homes of their infancy, in valleys under far mountains remote from the Pyrenees. And in the song the yearnings of dead poets lived again, all streaming homeward like swallows when the last of the storms is gone: and those yearnings echoed in the hearts that beat in the night around the campfire, and they saw their own homes. And then he began to touch his mandolin; and he played them the tunes that draw men from their homes and that march them away to war. The tunes flowed up from the firelight: the mandolin knew. And the men heard the mandolin saying what they would say.
In the late night he ended, and a hush came down on the camp while the music floated away, going up from the dark ring of men and the fire-lit faces, touching perhaps the knees of the Pyrenees and drifting thence wherever echoes go. And the sparks of the camp- fire went straight upwards as they had done for hours, and the men that sat around it saw them go: for long they had not seen the sparks stream upwards, for their thoughts were far away with the mandolin. And all at once they cheered. And Rodriguez bowed to the one whose tent he had entered, and sought permission to fight for them in the morning.
With good grace this was accorded him, and while he bowed and well expressed his thanks he felt Morano touching his elbow. And as soon as he had gone aside with Morano that fat man's words bubbled over and were said.
"Master, fight not for these men," he exclaimed, "for they listen to song till midnight while the others prepare for battle. The others will win the fight, master, and where will your castle be?"
"Morano," said Rodriguez, "there seems to be truth in that. Yet must we fight for the right. For how would it be if those that have denied song should win and thrive? The arm of every good man must be against them. They have denied song, Morano! We must fight against them, you and I, while we can lay sword to head."
"Yes, indeed, master," said Morano. "But how shall you come by your castle?"
"As for that," said Rodriguez, "it must some day be won, yet not by denying song. These have given a welcome to song, and the others have driven it forth. And what would life be if those that deny song are to be permitted to thrive unmolested by all good men?"
"I know not, master," said Morano, "but I would have that castle."
"Enough," said Rodriguez. "We must fight for the right."
And so Rodriguez remained true to those that had heard him sing. And they gave him a casque and breast-plate, proof, they said, against any sword, and offered a sword that they said would surely cleave any breast-plate. For they fought not in battle with the nimble rapier. But Rodriguez did not forsake that famous exultant sword whose deeds he knew from many an ancient song; which he had brought so far to give it its old rich drink of blood. He believed it the bright key of the castle he was to win.
And they gave Rodriguez a good bed on the ground in the tent of the three leaders, the tent to which he first came; for they honoured him for the gift of song that he had, and because he was a stranger, and because he had asked permission to fight for them in their battle. And Rodriguez took one look by the light of a lantern at the rose he had carried from Lowlight, then slept a sleep through whose dreams loomed up the towers of castles.
Dawn came and he slept on still; but by seven all the camp was loudly astir, for they had promised the enemy to begin the battle at eight. Rodriguez breakfasted lightly; for, now that the day of his dreams was come at last and all his hopes depended on the day, an anxiety for many things oppressed him. It was as though his castle, rosy and fair in dreams, chilled with its huge cold rocks all the air near it: it was as though Rodriguez touched it at last with his hands and felt a dankness of which he had never dreamed.
Then it came to the hour of eight and his anxieties passed.
The army was now drawn up before its tents in line, but the enemy was not yet ready and so they had to wait.
When the signal at length was given and the cannoniers fired their pieces, and the musketoons were shot off, many men fell. Now Rodriguez, with Morano, was placed on the right, and either through a slight difference in numbers or because of an unevenness in the array of battle they a little overlapped the enemy's left. When a few men fell wounded there by the discharge of the musketoons this overlapping was even more pronounced.
Now the leaders of that fair army scorned all unknightly devices, and would never have descended to any vile ruse de querre. The reproach can therefore never be made against them that they ever intended to outflank their enemy. Yet, when both armies advanced after the discharge of the musketoons and the merry noise of the cannon, this occurred as the result of chance, which no leader can be held accountable for; so that those that speak of treachery in this battle, and deliberate outflanking, lie.
Now Rodriguez as he advanced with his sword, when the musketoons were empty, had already chosen his adversary. For he had carefully watched those opposite to him, before any smoke should obscure them, and had selected the one who from the splendour of his dress might be expected to possess the finest castle. Certainly this adversary outshone those amongst whom he stood, and gave fair promise of owning goodly possessions, for he wore a fine green cloak over a dress of lilac, and his helm and cuirass had a look of crafty workmanship. Towards him Rodriguez marched.
Then began fighting foot to foot, and there was a pretty laying on of swords. And had there been a poet there that day then the story of their fight had come down to you, my reader, all that way from the Pyrenees, down all those hundreds of years, and this tale of mine had been useless, the lame repetition in prose of songs that your nurses had sung to you. But they fought unseen by those that see for the Muses.
Rodriguez advanced upon his chosen adversary and, having briefly bowed, they engaged at once. And Rodriguez belaboured his helm till dints appeared, and beat it with swift strokes yet till the dints were cracks, and beat the cracks till hair began to appear: and all the while his adversary's strokes grew weaker and wilder, until he tottered to earth and Rodriguez had won. Swift then as cats, while Morano kept off others, Rodriguez leaped to his throat, and, holding up the stiletto that he had long ago taken as his legacy from the host of the Dragon and Knight, he demanded the fallen man's castle as ransom for his life.
"My castle, senor?" said his prisoner weakly.
"Yes," said Rodriguez impatiently.
"Yes, senor," said his adversary and closed his eyes for awhile.
"Does he surrender his castle, master?" asked Morano.
"Yes, indeed," said Rodriguez. They looked at each other: all at last was well.
The battle was rolling away from them and was now well within the enemy's tents.
History says of that day that the good men won. And, sitting, a Muse upon her mythical mountain, her decision must needs be one from which we may not appeal: and yet I wonder if she is ever bribed. Certainly the shrewd sense of Morano erred for once; for those for whom he had predicted victory, because they prepared so ostentatiously upon the field, were defeated; while the others, having made their preparations long before, were able to cheer themselves with song before the battle and to win it when it came.
And so Rodriguez was left undisturbed in possession of his prisoner and with the promise of his castle as a ransom. The battle was swiftly over, as must needs be where little armies meet so close. The enemy's camp was occupied, his army routed, and within an hour of beginning the battle the last of the fighting ceased.
The army returned to its tents to rejoice and to make a banquet, bringing with them captives and horses and other spoils of war. And Rodriguez had honour among them because he had fought on the right and so was one of those that had broken the enemy's left, from which direction victory had come. And they would have feasted him and done him honour, both for his work with the sword and for his songs to the mandolin; and they would have marched away soon to their own country and would have taken him with them and advanced him to honour there. But Rodriguez would not stay with them for he had his castle at last, and must needs march off at once with his captive and Morano to see the fulfilment of his dream. And therefore he thanked the leaders of that host with many a courtesy and many a well-bent bow, and explained to them how it was about his castle, and felicitated them on the victory of their good cause, and so wished them farewell. And they said farewell sorrowfully: but when they saw he would go, they gave him horses for himself and Morano, and another for his captive; and they heaped them with sacks of provender and blankets and all things that could give him comfort upon a journey: all this they brought him out of their spoils of war, and they would give him no less that the most that the horses could carry. And then Rodriguez turned to his captive again, who now stood on his feet.
"Senor," he said, "pray tell us all of your castle wherewith you ransom your life."
"Senor," he answered, "I have a castle in Spain."
"Master," broke in Morano, his eyes lighting up with delight, "there are no castles like the Spanish ones."
They got to horse then, all three; the captive on a horse of far poorer build than the other two and well-laden with sacks, for Rodriguez took no chance of his castle cantering, as it were, away from him on four hooves through the dust.
And when they heard that his journey was by way of the Pyrenees four knights of that army swore they would ride with him as far as the frontier of Spain, to bear him company and bring him fuel in the lonely cold of the mountains. They all set off and the merry army cheered. He left them making ready for their banquet, and never knew the cause for which he had fought.
They came by evening again to the house to which Rodriguez had come two nights before, when he had slept there with his castle yet to win. They all halted before it, and the man and the woman came to the door terrified. "The wars!" they said.
"The wars," said one of the riders, "are over, and the just cause has won."
"The Saints be praised!" said the woman. "But will there be no more fighting?"
"Never again," said the horseman, "for men are sick of gunpowder."
"The Saints be thanked," she said.
"Say not that," said the horseman, "for Satan invented gunpowder."
And she was silent; but, had none been there, she had secretly thanked Satan.
They demanded the food and shelter that armed men have the right to demand.
In the morning they were gone. They became a memory, which lingered like a vision, made partly of sunset and partly of the splendour of their cloaks, and so went down the years that those two folk had, a thing of romance, magnificence and fear. And now the slope of the mountain began to lift against them, and they rode slowly towards those unearthly peaks that had deserted the level fields before ever man came to them, and that sat there now familiar with stars and dawn with the air of never having known of man. And as they rode they talked. And Rodriguez talked with the four knights that rode with him, and they told tales of war and told of the ways of fighting of many men: and Morano rode behind them beside the captive and questioned him all the morning about his castle in Spain. And at first the captive answered his questions slowly, as if he were weary, or as though he were long from home and remembered its features dimly; but memory soon returned and he answered clearly, telling of such a castle as Morano had not dreamed; and the eyes of the fat man bulged as he rode beside him, growing rounder and rounder as they rode.
They came by sunset to that wood of firs in which Rodriguez had rested. In the midst of the wood they halted and tethered their horses to trees; they tied blankets to branches and made an encampment; and in the midst of it they made a fire, at first, with pine-needles and the dead lower twigs and then with great logs. And there they feasted together, all seven, around the fire. And when the feast was over and the great logs burning well, and red sparks went up slowly towards the silver stars, Morano turned to the prisoner seated beside him and "Tell the senors," he said, "of my master's castle."
And in the silence, that was rather lulled than broken by the whispering wind from the snow that sighed through the wood, the captive slowly lifted up his head and spoke in his queer accent.
"Senors, in Aragon, across the Ebro, are many goodly towers." And as he spoke they all leaned forward to listen, dark faces bright with firelight. "On the Ebro's southern bank stands," he went on, "my home."
He told of strange rocks rising from the Ebro; of buttresses built among them in unremembered times; of the great towers lifting up in multitudes from the buttresses; and of the mighty wall, windowless until it came to incredible heights, where the windows shone all safe from any ladder of war.
At first they felt in his story his pride in his lost home, and wondered, when he told of the height of his towers, how much he added in pride. And then the force of that story gripped them all and they doubted never a battlement, but each man's fancy saw between firelight and starlight every tower clear in the air. And at great height upon those marvellous towers the turrets of arches were; queer carvings grinned down from above inaccessible windows; and the towers gathered in light from the lonely air where nothing stood but they, and flashed it far over Aragon; and the Ebro floated by them always new, always amazed by their beauty.
He spoke to the six listeners on the lonely mountain, slowly, remembering mournfully; and never a story that Romance has known and told of castles in Spain has held men more than he held his listeners, while the sparks flew up toward the peaks of the Pyrenees and did not reach to them but failed in the night, giving place to the white stars.
And when he faltered through sorrow, or memory weakening, Morano always, watching with glittering eyes, would touch his arm, sitting beside him, and ask some question, and the captive would answer the question and so talk sadly on.
He told of the upper terraces, where heliotrope and aloe and oleander took sunlight far above their native earth: and though but rare winds carried the butterflies there, such as came to those fragrant terraces lingered for ever.
And after a while he spoke on carelessly, and Morano's questions ended, and none of the men in the firelight said a word; but he spoke on uninterrupted, holding them as by a spell, with his eyes fixed far away on black crags of the Pyrenees, telling of his great towers: almost it might have seemed he was speaking of mountains. And when the fire was only a deep red glow and white ash showed all round it, and he ceased speaking, having told of a castle marvellous even amongst the towers of Spain: all sitting round the embers felt sad with his sadness, for his sad voice drifted into their very spirits as white mists enter houses, and all were glad when Rodriguez said to him that one of his ten tall towers the captive should keep and should live in it for ever. And the sad man thanked him sadly and showed no joy.
When the tale of the castle and those great towers was done, the wind that blew from the snow touched all the hearers; they had seemed to be away by the bank of the Ebro in the heat and light of Spain, and now the vast night stripped them and the peaks seemed to close round on them. They wrapped themselves in blankets and lay down in their shelters. For a while they heard the wind waving branches and the thump of a horse's hoof restless at night; then they all slept except one that guarded the captive, and the captive himself who long lay thinking and thinking.
Dawn stole through the wood and waked none of the sleepers; the birds all shouted at them, still they slept on; and then the captive's guard wakened Morano and he stirred up the sparks of the fire and cooked, and they breakfasted late. And soon they left the wood and faced the bleak slope, all of them going on foot and leading their horses.
And the track crawled on till it came to the scorn of the peaks, winding over a shoulder of the Pyrenees, where the peaks gaze cold and contemptuous away from the things of man.
In the presence of those that bore them company Rodriguez and Morano felt none of the deadly majesty of those peaks that regard so awfully over the solitudes. They passed through them telling cheerfully of wars the four knights had known: and descended and came by sunset to the lower edge of the snow. They pushed on a little farther and then camped; and with branches from the last camp that they had heaped on their horses they made another great fire and, huddling round it in the blankets that they had brought, found warmth even there so far from the hearths of men.
And dawn and the cold woke them all on that treeless slope by barely warm embers. Morano cooked again and they ate in silence. And then the four knights rose sadly and one bowed and told Rodriguez how they must now go back to their own country. And grief seized on Rodriguez at his words, seeing that he was to lose four old friends at once and perhaps for ever, for when men have fought under the same banner in war they become old friends on that morning.
"Senors," said Rodriguez, "we may never meet again!"
And the other looked back to the peaks beyond which the far lands lay, and made a gesture with his hands.
"Senor, at least," said Rodriguez, "let us camp once more together."
And even Morano babbled a supplication.
"Methinks, senor," he answered, "we are already across the frontier, and when we men of the sword cross frontiers misunderstandings arise, so that it is our custom never to pass across them save when we push the frontier with us, adding the lands over which we march to those of our liege lord."
"Senors," said Rodriguez, "the whole mountain is the frontier. Come with us one day further." But they would not stay.
All the good things that could be carried they loaded on to the three horses whose heads were turned towards Spain; then turned, all four, and said farewell to the three. And long looked each in the face of Rodriguez as he took his hand in fare well, for they had fought under the same banner and, as wayfaring was in those days, it was not likely that they would ever meet again. They turned and went with their horses back towards the land they had fought for.
Rodriguez and his captive and Morano went sadly down the mountain. They came to the fir woods, and rested, and Morano cooked their dinner. And after a while they were able to ride their horses.
They came to the foot of the mountains, and rode on past the Inn of the World's End. They camped in the open; and all night long Rodriguez or Morano guarded the captive.
For two days and part of the third they followed their old course, catching sight again and again of the river Segre; and then they turned further west ward to come to Aragon further up the Ebro. All the way they avoided houses and camped in the open, for they kept their captive to themselves: and they slept warm with their ample store of blankets. And all the while the captive seemed morose or ill at ease, speaking seldom and, when he did, in nervous jerks.
Morano, as they rode, or by the camp fire at evening, still questioned him now and then about his castle; and sometimes he almost seemed to contradict himself, but in so vast a castle may have been many styles of architecture, and it was difficult to trace a contradiction among all those towers and turrets. His name was Don Alvidar-of-the-Rose-pink-Castle on-Ebro.
One night while all three sat and gazed at the camp-fire as men will, when the chilly stars are still and the merry flames are leaping, Rodriguez, seeking to cheer his captive's mood, told him some of his strange adventures. The captive listened with his sombre air. But when Rodriguez told how they woke on the mountain after their journey to the sun; and the sun was shining on their faces in the open, but the magician and his whole house were gone; then there came another look into Alvidar's eyes. And Rodriguez ended his tale and silence fell, broken only by Morano saying across the fire, "It is true," and the captive's thoughtful eyes gazed into the darkness. And then he also spoke.
"Senor," he said, "near to my rose-pink castle which looks into the Ebro dwells a magician also."
"Is it so?" said Rodriguez.
"Indeed so, senor," said Don Alvidar. "He is my enemy but dwells in awe of me, and so durst never molest me except by minor wonders."
"How know you that he is a magician?" said Rodriguez.
"By those wonders," answered his captive. "He afflicts small dogs and my poultry. And he wears a thin, high hat: his beard is also extraordinary."
"Long?" said Morano.
"Green," answered Don Alvidar.
"Is he very near the castle?" said Rodriguez and Morano together.
"Too near," said Don Alvidar.
"Is his house wonderful?" Rodriguez asked.
"It is a common house," was the answer. "A mean, long house of one story. The walls are white and it is well thatched. The windows are painted green; there are two doors in it and by one of them grows a rose tree."
"A rose tree?" exclaimed Rodriguez.
"It seemed a rose tree," said Don Alvidar.
"A captive lady chained to the wall perhaps, changed by magic," suggested Morano.
"Perhaps," said Don Alvidar.
"A strange house for a magician," said Rodriguez, for it sounded like any small farmhouse in Spain.
"He much affects mortal ways," replied Don Alvidar.
Little more was then said, the fire being low: and Rodriguez lay down to sleep while Morano guarded the captive.
And the day after that they came to Aragon, and in one day more they were across the Ebro; and then they rode west for a day along its southern bank looking all the while as they rode for Rodriguez' castle. And more and more silent and aloof, as they rode, grew Don Alvidar-of-the-Rose-pink-Castle-on-Ebro.
And just before sunset a cry broke from the captive. "He has taken it!" he said. And he pointed to just such a house as he had described, a jolly Spanish farmhouse with white walls and thatch and green shutters, and a rose tree by one of the doors just as he had told.
"The magician's house. But the castle is gone," he said.
Rodriguez looked at his face and saw real alarm in it. He said nothing but rode on in haste, a dim hope in his mind that explanations at the white cottage might do something for his lost castle.
And when the hooves were heard a woman came out of the cottage door by the rose tree leading a small child by the hand. And the captive called to the woman, "Maria, we are lost. And I gave my great castle with rose-pink towers that stood just here as ransom to this senor for my life. But now, alas, I see that that magician who dwelt in the house where you are now has taken it whither we know not."
"Yes, Pedro," said the woman, "he took it yesterday." And she turned blue eyes upon Rodriguez.
And then Morano would be silent no longer. He had thought vaguely for some days and intensely for the last few hundreds yards, and now he blurted out the thoughts that boiled in him.
"Master," he shouted, "he has sold his cattle and bought this raiment of his, and that helmet that you opened up for him, and never had any castle on the Ebro with any towers to it, and never knew any magician, but lived in this house himself, and now your castle is gone, master, and as for his life ..."
"Be silent a moment, Morano," said Rodriguez, and he turned to the woman whose eyes were on him still.
"Was there a castle in this place?" he said.
"Yes, senor. I swear it," she said. "And my husband, though a poor man, always spoke the truth."
"She lies," said Morano, and Rodriguez silenced him with a gesture.
"I will get neighbours who will swear it too," she said.
"A lousy neighbourhood," said Morano.
Again Rodriguez silenced him. And then the child spoke in a frightened voice, holding up a small cross that it had been taught to revere. "I swear it too," it said.
Rodriguez heaved a sigh and turned away. "Master," Morano cried in pained astonishment, "you will not believe their swearings."
"The child swore by the cross," he answered.
"But, master!" Morano exclaimed.
But Rodriguez would say no more. And they rode away aimless in silence.
Galloping hooves were heard and Pedro was there. He had come to give up his horse. He gave its reins to the scowling Morano but Rodriguez said never a word. Then he ran round and kissed Rodriguez' hand, who still was silent, for his hopes were lost with the castle; but he nodded his head and so parted for ever from the man whom his wife called Pedro, who called himself Don Alvidar-of-the-Rose-pink-Castle-on-Ebro.