Don Rodriguez, by Lord Dunsany, , at sacred-texts.com
THE TWELFTH CHRONICLE
THE BUILDING OF CASTLE RODRIGUEZ AND THE ENDING OF THESE CHRONICLES
When the King of Shadow Valley met Rodriguez, for the first time in the forest, and gave him his promise and left him by his camp- fire, he went back some way towards the bowmen's cottage and blew his horn; and his hundred bowmen were about him almost at once. To these he gave their orders and they went back, whence they had come, into the forest's darkness. But he went to the bowmen's cottage and paced before it, a dark and lonely figure of the night; and wherever he paced the ground he marked it with small sticks. And next morning the hundred bowmen came with axes as soon as the earliest light had entered the forest, and each of them chose out one of the giant trees that stood before the cottage, and attacked it. All day they swung their axes against the forest's elders, of which nearly a hundred were fallen when evening came. And the stoutest of these, great trunks that were four feet through, were dragged by horses to the bowmen's cottage and laid by the little sticks that the King of Shadow Valley had put overnight in the ground. The bowmen's cottage and the kitchen that was in the wood behind it, and a few trees that still stood, were now all enclosed by four lines of fallen trees which made a large rectangle on the ground with a small square at each of its corners. And craftsmen came, and smoothed and hollowed the inner sides of the four rows of trees, working far into the night. So was the first day's work accomplished and so was built the first layer of the walls of Castle Rodriguez.
On the next day the bowmen again felled a hundred trees; the top of the first layer was cut flat by carpenters; at evening the second layer was hoisted up after their under sides had been flattened to fit the layer below them; quantities more were cast in to make the floor when they had been gradually smoothed and fitted: at the end of the second day a man could not see over the walls of Castle Rodriguez. And on the third day more craftsmen arrived, men from distant villages at the forest's edge, whence the King of Shadow Valley had summoned them; and they carved the walls as they grew. And a hundred trees fell that day, and the castle was another layer higher. And all the while a park was growing in the forest, as they felled the great trees; but the greatest trees of all the bowmen spared, oaks that had stood there for ages and ages of men; they left them to grip the earth for a while longer, for a few more human generations.
On the fourth day the two windows at the back of the bowmen's cottage began to darken, and that evening Castle Rodriguez was fifteen feet high. And still the hundred bowmen hewed at the forest, bringing sunlight bright on to grass that was shadowed by oaks for ages. And at the end of the fifth day they began to roof the lower rooms and make their second floor: and still the castle grew a layer a day, though the second storey they built with thinner trees that were only three feet through, which were more easily carried to their place by the pulleys. And now they began to heap up rocks in a mass of mortar against the wall on the outside, till a steep slope guarded the whole of the lower part of the castle against fire from any attacker if war should come that way, in any of the centuries that were yet to be: and the deep windows they guarded with bars of iron.
The shape of the castle showed itself clearly now, rising on each side of the bowmen's cottage and behind it, with a tower at each of its corners. To the left of the old cottage the main doorway opened to the great hall, in which a pile of a few huge oaks was being transformed into a massive stair. Three figures of strange men held up this ceiling with their heads and uplifted hands, when the castle was finished; but as yet the carvers had only begun their work, so that only here and there an eye peeped out, or a smile flickered, to give any expression to the curious faces of these fabulous creatures of the wood, which were slowly taking their shape out of three trees whose roots were still in the earth below the floor. In an upper storey one of these trees became a tall cupboard; and the shelves and the sides and the back and the top of it were all one piece of oak.
All the interior of the castle was of wood, hollowed into alcoves and polished, or carved into figures leaning out from the walls. So vast were the timbers that the walls, at a glance, seemed almost one piece of wood. And the centuries that were coming to Spain darkened the walls as they came, through autumnal shades until they were all black, as though they all mourned in secret for lost generations; but they have not yet crumbled.
The fireplaces they made with great square red tiles, which they also put in the chimneys amongst rude masses of mortar: and these great dark holes remained always mysterious to those that looked for mystery in the family that whiled away the ages in that castle. And by every fireplace two queer carved creatures stood upholding the mantlepiece, with mystery in their faces and curious limbs, uniting the hearth with fable and with tales told in the wood. Years after the men that carved them were all dust the shadows of these creatures would come out and dance in the room, on wintry nights when all the lamps were gone and flames stole out and flickered above the smouldering logs.
In the second storey one great saloon ran all the length of the castle. In it was a long table with eight legs that had carvings of roses rambling along its edges: the table and its legs were all of one piece with the floor. They would never have hollowed the great trunk in time had they not used fire. The second storey was barely complete on the day that Rodriguez and Don Alderon and Morano came to the chains that guarded the park. And the King of Shadow Valley would not permit his gift to be seen in anything less than its full magnificence, and had commanded that no man in the world might enter to see the work of his bowmen and craftsmen until it should frown at all comers a castle formidable as any in Spain.
And then they heaped up the mortar and rock to the top of the second storey, but above that they let the timbers show, except where they filled in plaster between the curving trunks: and the ages blackened the timber in amongst the white plaster; but not a storm that blew in all the years that came, nor the moss of so many Springs, ever rotted away those beams that the forest had given and on which the bowmen had laboured so long ago. But the castle weathered the ages and reached our days, worn, battered even, by its journey through the long and sometimes troubled years, but splendid with the traffic that it had with history in many gorgeous periods. Here Valdar the Excellent came once in his youth. And Charles the Magnificent stayed a night in this castle when on a pilgrimage to a holy place of the South.
It was here that Peter the Arrogant in his cups gave Africa, one Spring night, to his sister's son. What grandeurs this castle has seen! What chronicles could be writ of it! But not these chronicles, for they draw near their close, and they have yet to tell how the castle was built. Others shall tell what banners flew from all four of its towers, adding a splendour to the wind, and for what cause they flew. I have yet to tell of their building.
The second storey was roofed, and Castle Rodriguez still rose one layer day by day, with a hauling at pulleys and the work of a hundred men: and all the while the park swept farther into the forest.
And the trees that grew up through the building were worked by the craftsmen in every chamber into which they grew: and a great branch of the hugest of them made a little crooked stair in an upper storey. On the floors they laid down skins of beasts that the bowmen slew in the forest; and on the walls there hung all manner of leather, tooled and dyed as they had the art to do in that far-away period in Spain.
When the third storey was finished they roofed the castle over, laying upon the huge rafters red tiles that they made of clay. But the towers were not yet finished.
At this time the King of Shadow Valley sent a runner into Lowlight to shoot a blunt arrow with a message tied to it into Don Alderon's garden, near to the door, at evening.
And they went on building the towers above the height of the roof And near the top of them they made homes for archers, little turrets that leaned like swallows' nests out from each tower, high places where they could see and shoot and not be seen from below. And little narrow passages wound away behind perched battlements of stone, by which archers could slip from place to place, and shoot from here or from there and never be known. So were built in that distant age the towers of Castle Rodriguez.
And one day four weeks from the felling of the first oak, the period of his promise being accomplished, the King of Shadow Valley blew his horn. And standing by what had been the bowmen's cottage, now all shut in by sheer walls of Castle Rodriguez, he gathered his bowmen to him. And when they were all about him he gave them their orders. They were to go by stealth to the village of Lowlight, and were to be by daylight before the house of Don Alderon; and, whether wed or unwed, whether she fled or folk defended the house, to bring Dona Serafina of the Valley of Dawnlight to be the chatelaine of Castle Rodriguez.
For this purpose he bade them take with them a chariot that he thought magnificent, though the mighty timbers that gave grandeur to Castle Rodriguez had a cumbrous look in the heavy vehicle that was to the bowmen's eyes the triumphal car of the forest. So they took their bows and obeyed, leaving the craftsmen at their work in the castle, which was now quite roofed over, towers and all. They went through the forest by little paths that they knew, going swiftly and warily in the bowmen's way: and just before nightfall they were at the forest's edge, though they went no farther from it than its shadows go in the evening. And there they rested under the oak trees for the early part of the night except those whose art it was to gather news for their king; and three of those went into Lowlight and mixed with the villagers there.
When white mists moved over the fields near dawn and wavered ghostly about Lowlight, the green bowman moved with them. And just out of hearing of the village, behind wild shrubs that hid them, the bowmen that were coming from the forest met the three that had spent the night in taverns of Lowlight. And the three told the hundred of the great wedding that there was to be in the Church of the Renunciation that morning in Lowlight: and of the preparations that were made, and how holy men had come from far on mules, and had slept the night in the village, and the Bishop of Toledo himself would bless the bridegroom's sword. The bowmen therefore retired a little way and, moving through the mists, came forward to points whence they could watch the church, well concealed on the wild plain, which here and there gave up a field to man but was mostly the playground of wild creatures whose ways were the bowmen's ways. And here they waited.
This was the wedding of Rodriguez and Serafina, of which gossips often spoke at their doors in summer evenings, old women mumbling of fair weddings that each had seen; and they had been children when they saw this wedding; they were those that threw small handfuls of anemones on the path before the porch. They told the tale of it till they could tell no more. It is the account of the last two or three of them, old, old women, that came at last to these chronicles, so that their tongues may wag as it were a little longer through these pages although they have been for so many centuries dead. And this is all that books are able to do.
First there was bell-ringing and many voices, and then the voices hushed, and there came the procession of eight divines of Murcia, whose vestments were strange to Lowlight. Then there came a priest from the South, near the border of Andalusia, who overnight had sanctified the ring. (It was he who had entertained Rodriguez when he first escaped from la Garda, and Rodriguez had sent for him now.) Each note of the bells came clear through the hush as they entered the church. And then with suitable attendants the bishop strode by and they saw quite close the blessed cope of Toledo. And the bridegroom followed him in, wearing his sword, and Don Alderon went with him. And then the voices rose again in the street: the bells rang on: they all saw Dona Mirana. The little bunches of bright anemones grew sticky in their hands: the bells seemed louder: cheering rose in the street and came all down it nearer. Then Dona Serafina walked past them with all her maids: and that is what the gossips chiefly remembered, telling how she smiled at them, and praising her dress, through those distant summer evenings. Then there was music in the church. And afterwards the forest-people had come. And the people screamed, for none knew what they would do. But they bowed so low to the bride and bridegroom, and showed their great hunting bows so willingly to all who wished to see, that the people lost their alarm and only feared lest the Bishop of Toledo should blast the merry bowmen with one of his curses.
And presently the bride and bridegroom entered the chariot, and the people cheered; and there were farewells and the casting of flowers; and the bishop blessed three of their bows; and a fat man sat beside the driver with folded arms, wearing bright on his face a look of foolish contentment; and the bowmen and bride and bridegroom all went away to the forest.
Four huge white horses drew that bridal chariot, the bowmen ran beside it, and soon it was lost to sight of the girls that watched it from Lowlight; but their memories held it close till their eyes could no longer see to knit and they could only sit by their porches in fine weather and talk of the days that were.
So came Rodriguez and his bride to the forest; he silent, perplexed, wondering always to what home and what future he brought her; she knowing less than he and trusting more. And on the untended road that the bowmen shared with stags and with rare, very venturous travellers, the wheels of the woodland chariot sank so deep in the sandy earth that the escort of bowmen needed seldom to run any more; and he who sat by the driver climbed down and walked silent for once, perhaps awed by the occasion, though he was none other than Morano. Serafina was delighted with the forest, but between Rodriguez and its beautiful grandeur his anxieties crowded thickly. He leaned over once from the chariot and asked one of the bowmen again about that castle; but the bowman only bowed and answered with a proverb of Spain, not easily carried so far from its own soil to thrive in our language, but signifying that the morrow showeth all things. He was silent then, for he knew that there was no way to a direct answer through those proverbs, and after a while perhaps there came to him some of Serafma's trustfulness. By evening they came to a wide avenue leading to great gates.
Rodriguez did not know the avenue, he knew no paths so wide in Shadow Valley; but he knew those gates. They were the gates of iron that led nowhere. But now an avenue went from them upon the other side, and opened widely into a park dotted with clumps of trees. And the two great iron shields, they too had changed with the changes that had bewitched the forest, for their surfaces that had glowed so unmistakably blank, side by side in the firelight, not many nights before, blazoned now the armorial bearings of Rodriguez upon the one and those of the house of Dawnlight upon the other. Through the opened gates they entered the young park that seemed to wonder at its own ancient trees, where wild deer drifted away from them like shadows through the evening: for the bowmen had driven in deer for miles through the forest. They passed a pool where water-lilies lay in languid beauty for hundreds of summers, but as yet no flower peeped into the water, for the pond was all hallowed newly.
A clump of trees stood right ahead of their way; they passed round it; and Castle Rodriguez came all at once into view. Serafina gasped joyously. Rodriguez saw its towers, its turrets for archers, its guarded windows deep in the mass of stone, its solemn row of battlements, but he did not believe what he saw. He did not believe that here at last was his castle, that here was his dream fulfilled and his journey done. He expected to wake suddenly in the cold in some lonely camp, he expected the Ebro to unfold its coils in the North and to come and sweep it away. It was but another strayed hope, he thought, taking the form of dream. But Castle Rodriguez still stood frowning there, and none of its towers vanished, or changed as things change in dreams; but the servants of the King of Shadow Valley opened the great door, and Serafina and Rodriguez entered, and all the hundred bowmen disappeared.
Here we will leave them, and let these Chronicles end. For whoever would tell more of Castle Rodriguez must wield one of those ponderous pens that hangs on the study wall in the house of historians. Great days in the story of Spain shone on those iron- barred windows, and things were said in its banqueting chamber and planned in its inner rooms that sometimes turned that story this way or that, as rocks turn a young river. And as a traveller meets a mighty river at one of its bends, and passes on his path, while the river sweeps on to its estuary and the sea, so I leave the triumphs and troubles of that story which I touched for one moment by the door of Castle Rodriguez.
My concern is but with Rodriguez and Serafina and to tell that they lived here in happiness; and to tell that the humble Morano found his happiness too. For he became the magnificent steward of Castle Rodriguez, the majordomo, and upon august occasions he wore as much red plush as he had ever seen in his dreams, when he saw this very event, sleeping by dying camp-fires. And he slept not upon straw but upon good heaps of wolf-skins. But pining a little in the second year of his somewhat lonely splendour, he married one of the maidens of the forest, the child of a bowman that hunted boars with their king. And all the green bowmen came and built him a house by the gates of the park, whence he walked solemnly on proper occasions to wait upon his master. Morano, good, faithful man, come forward for but a moment out of the Golden Age and bow across all those centuries to the reader: say one farewell to him in your Spanish tongue, though the sound of it be no louder than the sound of shadows moving, and so back to the dim splendour of the past, for the Senor or Senora shall hear your name no more.
For years Rodriguez lived a chieftain of the forest, owning the overlordship of the King of Shadow Valley, whom he and Serafina would entertain with all the magnificence of which their castle was capable on such occasions as he appeared before the iron gates. They seldom saw him. Sometimes they heard his horn as he went by. They heard his bowmen follow. And all would pass and perhaps they would see none. But upon occasions he came. He came to the christening of the eldest son of Rodriguez and Serafina, for whom he was godfather. He came again to see the boy shoot for the first time with a bow. And later he came to give little presents, small treasures of the forest, to Rodriguez' daughters; who treated him always, not as sole lord of that forest that travellers dreaded, but as a friend of their very own that they had found for themselves. He had his favourites among them and none quite knew which they were.
And one day he came in his old age to give Rodriguez a message. And he spoke long and tenderly of the forest as though all its glades were sacred.
And soon after that day he died, and was buried with the mourning of all his men in the deeps of Shadow Valley, where only Rodriguez and the bowmen knew. And Rodriguez became, as the old king had commanded, the ruler of Shadow Valley and all its faithful men. With them he hunted and defended the forest, holding all its ways to be sacred, as the old king had taught. It is told how Rodriguez ruled the forest well.
And later he made a treaty with the Spanish King acknowledging him sole Lord of Spain, including Shadow Valley, saving that certain right should pertain to the foresters and should be theirs for ever. And these rights are written on parchment and sealed with the seal of Spain; and none may harm the forest without the bowmen's leave.
Rodriguez was made Duke of Shadow Valley and a Magnifico of the first degree; though little he went with other hidalgos to Court, but lived with his family in Shadow Valley, travelling seldom beyond the splendour of the forest farther than Lowlight.
Thus he saw the glory of autumn turning the woods to fairyland: and when the stags were roaring and winter coming on he would take a boar-spear down from the wall and go hunting through the forest, whose twigs were black and slender and still against the bright menace of winter. Spring found him viewing the fields that his men had sown, along the forest's edge, and finding in the chaunt of the myriad birds a stirring of memories, a beckoning towards past days. In summer he would see his boys and girls at play, running through shafts of sunlight that made leaves and grass like pale emeralds. He gave his days to the forest and the four seasons. Thus he dwelt amidst splendours such as History has never seen in any visit of hers to the courts of men.
Of him and Serafina it has been written and sung that they lived happily ever after; and though they are now so many centuries dead, may they have in the memories of such of my readers as will let them linger there, that afterglow of life that remembrance gives, which is all that there is on earth for those that walked it once and that walk the paths of their old haunts no more.