Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 25

How the thirty-two persons at the ball fought.

The two companies having taken their stations, the music struck up, and with a martial sound, which had something of horrid in it, like a point of war, roused and alarmed both parties, who now began to shiver, and then soon were warmed with warlike rage; and having got in readiness to fight desperately, impatient of delay stood waiting for the charge.

Then the music of the silvered band ceased playing, and the instruments of the golden side alone were heard, which denoted that the golden party attacked. Accordingly, a new movement was played for the onset, and we saw the nymph who stood before the queen turn to the left towards her king, as it were to ask leave to fight; and thus saluting her company at the same time, she moved two squares forwards, and saluted the adverse party.

Now the music of the golden brigade ceased playing, and their antagonists began again. I ought to have told you that the nymph who began by saluting her company, had by that formality also given them to understand that they were to fall on. She was saluted by them in the same manner, with a full turn to the left, except the queen, who went aside towards her king to the right; and the same manner of salutation was observed on both sides during the whole ball.

The silvered nymph that stood before her queen likewise moved as soon as the music of her party sounded a charge; her salutations, and those of her side, were to the right, and her queen’s to the left. She moved in the second square forwards, and saluted her antagonists, facing the first golden nymph; so that there was not any distance between them, and you would have thought they two had been going to fight; but they only strike sideways.

Their comrades, whether silvered or golden, followed ‘em in an intercalary figure, and seemed to skirmish a while, till the golden nymph who had first entered the lists, striking a silvered nymph in the hand on the right, put her out of the field, and set herself in her place. But soon the music playing a new measure, she was struck by a silvered archer, who after that was obliged himself to retire. A silvered knight then sallied out, and the golden queen posted herself before her king.

Then the silvered king, dreading the golden queen’s fury, removed to the right, to the place where his warden stood, which seemed to him strong and well guarded.

The two knights on the left, whether golden or silvered, marched up, and on either side took up many nymphs who could not retreat; principally the golden knight, who made this his whole business; but the silvered knight had greater designs, dissembling all along, and even sometimes not taking a nymph when he could have done it, still moving on till he was come up to the main body of the enemies in such a manner that he saluted their king with a God save you, sir!

The whole golden brigade quaked for fear and anger, those words giving notice of their king’s danger; not but that they could soon relieve him, but because their king being thus saluted they were to lose their warden on the right wing without any hopes of a recovery. Then the golden king retired to the left, and the silvered knight took the golden warden, which was a mighty loss to that party. However, they resolved to be revenged, and surrounded the knight that he might not escape. He tried to get off, behaving himself with a great deal of gallantry, and his friends did what they could to save him; but at last he fell into the golden queen’s hands, and was carried off.

Her forces, not yet satisfied, having lost one of her best men, with more fury than conduct moved about, and did much mischief among their enemies. The silvered party warily dissembled, watching their opportunity to be even with them, and presented one of their nymphs to the golden queen, having laid an ambuscado; so that the nymph being taken, a golden archer had like to have seized the silvered queen. Then the golden knight undertakes to take the silvered king and queen, and says, Good-morrow! Then the silvered archer salutes them, and was taken by a golden nymph, and she herself by a silvered one.

The fight was obstinate and sharp. The wardens left their posts, and advanced to relieve their friends. The battle was doubtful, and victory hovered over both armies. Now the silvered host charge and break through their enemy’s ranks as far as the golden king’s tent, and now they are beaten back. The golden queen distinguishes herself from the rest by her mighty achievements still more than by her garb and dignity; for at once she takes an archer, and, going sideways, seizes a silvered warden. Which thing the silvered queen perceiving, she came forwards, and, rushing on with equal bravery, takes the last golden warden and some nymphs. The two queens fought a long while hand to hand; now striving to take each other by surprise, then to save themselves, and sometimes to guard their kings. Finally, the golden queen took the silvered queen; but presently after she herself was taken by the silvered archer.

Then the silvered king had only three nymphs, an archer, and a warden left, and the golden only three nymphs and the right knight, which made them fight more slowly and warily than before. The two kings seemed to mourn for the loss of their loving queens, and only studied and endeavoured to get new ones out of all their nymphs to be raised to that dignity, and thus be married to them. This made them excite those brave nymphs to strive to reach the farthest rank, where stood the king of the contrary party, promising them certainly to have them crowned if they could do this. The golden nymphs were beforehand with the others, and out of their number was created a queen, who was dressed in royal robes, and had a crown set on her head. You need not doubt the silvered nymphs made also what haste they could to be queens. One of them was within a step of the coronation place, but there the golden knight lay ready to intercept her, so that she could go no further.

The new golden queen, resolved to show herself valiant and worthy of her advancement to the crown, achieved great feats of arms. But in the meantime the silvered knight takes the golden warden who guarded the camp; and thus there was a new silvered queen, who, like the other, strove to excel in heroic deeds at the beginning of her reign. Thus the fight grew hotter than before. A thousand stratagems, charges, rallyings, retreats, and attacks were tried on both sides; till at last the silvered queen, having by stealth advanced as far as the golden king’s tent, cried, God save you, sir! Now none but his new queen could relieve him; so she bravely came and exposed herself to the utmost extremity to deliver him out of it. Then the silvered warden with his queen reduced the golden king to such a stress that, to save himself, he was forced to lose his queen; but the golden king took him at last. However, the rest of the golden party were soon taken; and that king being left alone, the silvered party made him a low bow, crying, Good morrow, sir! which denoted that the silvered king had got the day.

This being heard, the music of both parties loudly proclaimed the victory. And thus the first battle ended to the unspeakable joy of all the spectators.

After this the two brigades took their former stations, and began to tilt a second time, much as they had done before, only the music played somewhat faster than at the first battle, and the motions were altogether different. I saw the golden queen sally out one of the first, with an archer and a knight, as it were angry at the former defeat, and she had like to have fallen upon the silvered king in his tent among his officers; but having been baulked in her attempt, she skirmished briskly, and overthrew so many silvered nymphs and officers that it was a most amazing sight. You would have sworn she had been another Penthesilea; for she behaved herself with as much bravery as that Amazonian queen did at Troy.

But this havoc did not last long; for the silvered party, exasperated by their loss, resolved to perish or stop her progress; and having posted an archer in ambuscado on a distant angle, together with a knight-errant, her highness fell into their hands and was carried out of the field. The rest were soon routed after the taking of their queen, who, without doubt, from that time resolved to be more wary and keep near her king, without venturing so far amidst her enemies unless with more force to defend her. Thus the silvered brigade once more got the victory.

This did not dishearten or deject the golden party; far from it. They soon appeared again in the field to face their enemies; and being posted as before, both the armies seemed more resolute and cheerful than ever. Now the martial concert began, and the music was above a hemiole the quicker, according to the warlike Phrygian mode, such as was invented by Marsyas.

Then our combatants began to wheel about, and charge with such a swiftness that in an instant they made four moves, besides the usual salutations. So that they were continually in action, flying, hovering, jumping, vaulting, curvetting, with petauristical turns and motions, and often intermingled.

Seeing them then turn about on one foot after they had made their honours, we compared them to your tops or gigs, such as boys use to whip about, making them turn round so swiftly that they sleep, as they call it, and motion cannot be perceived, but resembles rest, its contrary; so that if you make a point or mark on some part of one of those gigs, ’twill be perceived not as a point, but a continual line, in a most divine manner, as Cusanus has wisely observed.

While they were thus warmly engaged, we heard continually the claps and episemapsies which those of the two bands reiterated at the taking of their enemies; and this, joined to the variety of their motions and music, would have forced smiles out of the most severe Cato, the never-laughing Crassus, the Athenian man-hater, Timon; nay, even whining Heraclitus, though he abhorred laughing, the action that is most peculiar to man. For who could have forborne? seeing those young warriors, with their nymphs and queens, so briskly and gracefully advance, retire, jump, leap, skip, spring, fly, vault, caper, move to the right, to the left, every way still in time, so swiftly, and yet so dexterously, that they never touched one another but methodically.

As the number of the combatants lessened, the pleasure of the spectators increased; for the stratagems and motions of the remaining forces were more singular. I shall only add that this pleasing entertainment charmed us to such a degree that our minds were ravished with admiration and delight, and the martial harmony moved our souls so powerfully that we easily believed what is said of Ismenias’s having excited Alexander to rise from table and run to his arms, with such a warlike melody. At last the golden king remained master of the field; and while we were minding those dances, Queen Whims vanished, so that we saw her no more from that day to this.

Then Geber’s michelots conducted us, and we were set down among her abstractors, as her queenship had commanded. After that we returned to the port of Mateotechny, and thence straight aboard our ships; for the wind was fair, and had we not hoisted out of hand, we could hardly have got off in three quarters of a moon in the wane.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33