One day, when Sir Calidore was away hunting in the woods, a lawless tribe of brigands invaded the country where the shepherds dwelt, ravaged their houses; murdered the shepherds, and drove away their flocks. Old Melibee and all his household were led away captive, and with them also was taken Coridon. In the dead of night, so that no one might see or rescue them, the robbers carried their prey to their dwelling. This was on a little island, so covered with dense brushwood that there seemed no way for people to pass in or out, or to find footing in the overgrown grass; for the way was made underground, through hollow caves that no man could discover, because of the thick shrubs which hid them from sight. Through all the inner parts of their dwelling the darkness of night daily hovered; they were not lighted by any window or opening in the roof, but with continual candle-light, which made a dim and uncertain gloom.
Hither the brigands brought their prisoners, and kept them under constant watch and ward, meaning, as soon as they conveniently could, to sell them as slaves to merchants, who would either keep them in bondage or sell them again. But the Captain of the brigands was enchanted with the loveliness of Pastorella, and determined to keep her for himself. When, therefore, the other prisoners were brought forward to be sold, so that the money received for them might be divided equally among the band, he held back Pastorella, saying
that she was his prize alone, with whom no one else had anything to do. Besides, he added, she was now so weak and wan through illness that she was worth nothing as merchandise; and then he showed her to them, to prove how pale and ill she was.
The sight of her wondrous beauty, though now worn and faded, and only to be dimly seen by candlelight, so amazed the eyes of the merchants that they utterly refused to buy any of the other prisoners without her, and offered to pay large sums of gold. Then the Captain bade them be silent. He refused to sell the maiden; they could take the rest if they would--this one he would keep for himself.
Some of the other chief robbers boldly forbade him to do this injury, for the maiden, much as it grieved him, should be sold with the rest of the captives, in order to increase their price. The Captain again refused angrily, and, drawing his sword, declared that if any one dared to lay a hand on her, he should dearly rue it, and his death should pay the price.
From words they rapidly fell to blows, and, the candle being soon quenched in the conflict, the fight raged furiously in the dark. But, first of all, they killed the captives, lest they should join against the weaker side or rise against the remnant. Old Melibee and his aged wife were slain, and many others with them; but Coridon, escaping craftily, crept out of doors, hidden in the darkness, and fled away as fast as he could. Unhappy Pastorella was defended all the time by the Captain of the brigands, who, more careful of her safety than of his own, kept his target always
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And in his armes the dreary, dying mayd.''
stretched over her. At length he was slain, yet, even in his fall, continued with his extended arms to shelter Pastorella, who, wounded with the same stroke, fell to the ground with him.
With the death of the Captain the fray ceased, and the brigands, lighting fresh candles, made search to see who was slain, friends and foes. There they found their Captain cruelly killed, and, in his arms, the dying maiden; but, seeing that life still lingered, they busily applied all their skill to call her soul back to its home, and so well did they work that at last they restored her to life. This done, they placed her in charge of one of the brigands, who kept her in harsh and wretched thraldom, scarcely allowing her food or rest, or suffering her wounds to be properly tended.
Sir Calidore, meanwhile, having returned from the wood, and found the cottage despoiled and his love reft away, waxed almost mad with grief and rage. To add to his anguish, there was not a soul of whom he could inquire anything. He sought the woods, but could see no man; he sought the plains, but could hear no tidings. The woods only repeated vain echoes; the plains were waste and empty. Where once the shepherds played their pipes and fed a hundred flocks, there now he found not one.
At last, as he roamed up and down, he saw a man coming towards him, who seemed to he some wretched peasant in ragged clothes, with hair standing on end, as if he fled from some recent danger, which still followed close behind. As he came near, the Knight saw it was Coridon. Running up
to him, Sir Calidore asked where were the rest--where was Pastorella?
Bursting into tears, Coridon told how they had been seized by the brigands, and carried to their den. He described how they were to have been sold as slaves, and the quarrel that had arisen over Pastorella. He told how the Captain had tried to defend her. "But what could he do alone against them all?" he added. "He could not save her; in the end she must surely die. I only escaped in the uproar and confusion, and it were better to be dead with them than to see all this place, where we dwelt together in joy, desolate and waste."
Calidore was at first almost distracted at hearing this dreadful news; but presently, recovering himself, he began to cast about in his mind how he might rescue Pastorella if she were still alive, or how he should revenge her death; or, if he were too weak to avenge her, then at least he could die with her.
Therefore, he prayed Coridon, since he knew well the readiest way into the thieves' den, that he would conduct him there. Coridon was still so frightened that at first he refused; but at last he was persuaded by Sir Calidore's entreaties and promises of reward.
So forth they went together, both clad in shepherd's dress and carrying their crooks; but Calidore had secretly armed himself underneath. Then, as they approached the place, they saw upon a hill, not far away, some flocks of sheep and some shepherds, to whom they both agreed to take their way, hoping to learn some news.
There they found, which they did not expect, the
self-same flocks which the brigands had stolen away, with several of the thieves left to look after them. Coridon knew quite well his own sheep, and, seeing them, began to weep for pity; but, when he saw the thieves, his heart failed him, although they were all asleep. He wanted Calidore to kill them as they slept and drive away the sheep, but the Knight had another purpose in view. Waking the brigands, he sat down beside them, and began to chat of different things, hoping to find out from them whether Pastorella were alive or slain. The thieves, in their turn, began to question Sir Calidore and Coridon, asking what sort of men they were and whence they came; to which they replied that they were poor herdsmen who had fled from their masters, and now sought hire elsewhere.
The thieves, delighted to hear this, offered to pay them well if they would tend their flocks, for they themselves were bad herdsmen, they said, not accustomed to watch cattle or pasture sheep, but to foray the land or scour the sea. Sir Calidore and Coridon agreed to keep the flocks; so there they stayed all day, as long as the light lasted.
When it grew towards night the robbers took them to their dens, which they soon got to know quite well, and where they sought out all the secret passages. There they found, to their joy and surprise, that Pastorella still lived. Watching their opportunity, one dead of night, when all the thieves were sound asleep after a recent foray, Sir Calidore made his way to the Captain's den. When he came to the cave he found it fast, but he assailed the door with irresistible might and burst
the lock. One of the robbers, awaking at the noise, ran to the entrance, but the bold Knight easily slew him. Pastorella, in the meanwhile, was almost dead with fright, believing it to be another uproar such as she had lately seen. But when Sir Calidore came in, and began to call for her, knowing his voice, she suddenly revived, and her soul was filled with rapture No less rejoiced Calidore when he found her, and like one distracted he caught her in his arms and kissed her a thousand times.
By this time the hue and cry was raised, and all the brigands came crowding to the cave; but Calidore stood in the entry, and slew each man as he advanced, so that the passage was lined with dead bodies. Then, when no more could get near him, he rested till the morning, when he made his way into the open light. Here all the rest of the brigands were ready waiting for him, and, fiercely assailing him, fell on him with all their might. But Calidore, with his raging brand, divided their thickest troops and scattered them wide. Like a lion among a herd of deer, so did he fly among them, hewing and slaying all that came near, so that none dared face the danger, but fled from his wrath to hide from death in their caves.
Then, returning to his dear lady, he brought her forth into the joyous light, and did everything he could to make her forget the troubles through which she had passed. From the thieves' den he took all the spoils and treasures of which they had robbed other people, and all the flocks which they had stolen from Melibee he restored to Coridon.