When Bradamante had freed Roger and his companions from the enchanted castle, she thought that henceforth they would never more be parted. But she forgot that she had to deal with a wizard, and that wizards are not easily outwitted.
On a little plain beneath the mountain the winged horse was grazing, and when the knights and ladies came gaily down the path Bradamante left the rest and went up to take it by the bridle. Atlantes, however, had laid other plans, and had thrown a spell over the horse, so that directly Bradamante was close to it the creature moved away to a little distance. At this the knights, thinking to help her, gave chase, but the horse led them up and down the mountain, over rocks and through streams, till one by one they dropped behind, and in front there remained only Roger.
As it had been taught by Atlantes, the horse stood still, while Roger, with a cry of delight, seized the bridle and jumped upon its back. With a bound it sprang into the air, and, though Roger tried to guide it downwards to the earth, it was all in vain, for so the enchanter had willed it. Below stood Bradamante gazing up; her joy turned quickly to despair, and when the traces of Roger had vanished she rode sadly away, taking with her the horse Roger had left behind.
Meanwhile Roger was flying through the air swifter than an arrow or the lightning. Since he could not make the horse swerve an hair’s breadth to the right or left, he ceased his useless efforts, and let himself be carried this way or that. Suddenly he felt that, instead of going forward they were gradually dropping down, down, down; and soon the horse stopped on a lovely island.
Where the island might be Roger did not know, nor could he tell how long he had been on his journey thither. In truth, he was content to feel himself on solid ground once more, and to smell sweet flowers and eat delicious fruits, for how could he guess that this also was devised by Atlantes — that these sights and sounds might lull his senses, and keep him safe from war? Atlantes was a great wizard and wise beyond most, but he had never learned that it was a better thing to die in battle than to live only for pleasure.
On reaching the ground Roger was careful to hold fast the bridle, having no mind that the horse should fly up into the air and leave him helpless on the island. Then, looking round, he saw a strong myrtle, and he tied the reins tightly to it, so that he himself could roam about as he would.
At length he grew tired of wandering and returned to the place where he had left his horse, which he found champing and struggling to shake itself free. As he drew near a voice cried in melancholy tones:
‘If, as I think, you are a knight, and bound by the rules of chivalry, release me, I pray you, from this monster, who only adds to the pains which I myself endure.’
Startled at the sound, Roger looked around, but nought could he see save the myrtle to which the horse was fastened.
‘I crave your pardon,’ answered he, ‘for having unwittingly done you wrong; but tell me who you are, and what has caused your present plight?’
‘I am Astolfo, peer of France,’ replied the tree, ‘and I was enchanted by the fairy Alcina, who thus rids herself of her friends and her servants when they have ceased to please her. Even this island is not hers by right, but was stolen from her sister Logistilla, who is as wise and kind as Alcina is wicked. But so beautiful is Alcina, that none can withstand her if once she looks on them, therefore fly while you may and ask counsel of Logistilla if there is aught that you would know.’
‘Oh, tell me, good tree, how I can escape without crossing the path of the cruel Alcina?’ cried Roger.
‘There is a way,’ answered the tree, ‘but it is rough to the feet, and beset by fierce and ill-tongued men, placed there by the fairy. He who would quit Alcina’s isle needs open eyes and deaf ears.’
‘I will have both,’ said Roger.
But, alas! he boasted overmuch, as young men are wont to do. He was indeed in no wise affrighted at the strange shapes that met him and sought to bar his progress. Some had heads of apes and feet of goats; some rode eagles or bestrode cranes; while the captain of all was mounted on a tortoise. They swarmed on him like a crowd of flies, and Roger was so sore bested that he gave no thought to his magic shield, which perchance might have saved him.
For into the mêlée came two maidens of such wondrous beauty that Roger dropped his lance and stood without defence to gaze his fill. Two snow-white unicorns bore them from the city gates, and, at their coming, the noisy rabble vanished as if they had never been. Then the ladies stretched out their hands, and prayed the knight to follow them into the city.
‘We have need of your brave heart and mighty arm,’ they said, ‘to vanquish a giantess who guards a bridge which none can pass’; and well they knew that, if Roger was to be ensnared by them, it must be by slow degrees, for not all at once would he drop into the idle life of the dwellers on the island.
So, nothing loth, Roger gladly did their behest, and went forth to meet the giantess.
The fight did not last long, and soon the monstrous creature lay stretched on the ground at Roger’s feet; but her life was spared at the request of the damsels, and at their bidding he followed them over the bridge and up a hill. On the top was a large meadow full of flowers, in which maidens were playing at ball or singing sweet songs on the lute, while others were dancing.
In their midst was a damsel so fair that the rest, even the guides of Roger, looked swarthy beside her, and she came forth from among them, and held out her hand for him to kiss.
Vain it were to seek to tell Alcina’s charms, but even as his eyes fell on her Roger felt that everything said by Astolfo in her despite was false. Even Bradamante was forgotten, as if she had never lived at all; yet for this Roger was hardly to blame, for how should he stand against Alcina’s magic!
It was here that Melissa, clad in the form of Atlantes, found him after many months had gone by, during which Bradamante had sought him vainly. At last fate brought Melissa again across her path, and from her the forsaken damsel learnt who it was that kept him from her.
‘Be comforted,’ said Melissa, when she beheld Bradamante’s tears. ‘You yourself have the ring which can free him from those evil spells, and bring him back to your side. So lend it me, I pray, and by to-morrow’s dawn I will be with him.’
Roger was lying on a bed of soft moss, when Atlantes, for so he took her to be, stood before him.
He lifted his head lazily, and smiled, but the face of his old master was grave as he said sternly:
‘And is it you, Roger, whom I find thus, your hair curled and scented, your neck circled with jewelled chains? Was it for this you passed your boyhood in waging war against fierce beasts, fearing neither hunger nor thirst as you tracked them to their lair? But, as I loved you once, I will give you a chance to shake off this shameful life, and to become once more worthy of Bradamante. Take this ring, and when next Alcina comes this way mark well the change that is wrought in the queen of this fair land.’
With shame and repentance burning at his heart, Roger slowly drew the ring upon his finger; and by its virtue he beheld not Atlantes but Melissa.
‘Yes, it is I,’ she said, ‘and it is Bradamante who sent me hither, to save you by means of the ring which she took from the hand of Brunello. It will break the strongest spells that wizard ever wove, and open wide the eyes that have been longest blinded.’
With that she vanished, and Roger rose and followed the path which led to the palace.
On the marble steps he saw, as he went, a troop of ladies standing. Their clothes were rich and made of shining stuffs, and well became their golden hair or curly raven locks; but who was she in their midst whose form was unknown to him? Her back was bowed with age, and scarce a hair remained upon her head, while all her skin was shrivelled and yellow. Roger gazed in horror, expecting, as he looked, the lean body to crumble into dust before him. Yet something, what he knew not, seemed not wholly strange in that pale and shrunken figure — something that, in spite of all, spoke to him of Alcina. A thrill of horror ran through him, but he remembered in time the counsel of Melissa, and, trembling though he was, he greeted her with fair words.
Dreading lest he should again fall under the fairy’s enchantments, Roger never parted from the ring, and kept guard over himself, lest perchance Alcina should guess what was passing within him. To gain possession of his armour, long laid aside, he feigned a wish to prove if his life of idleness had unfitted him to bear the weight of it, or if his chest had grown too broad for the clasps of his breast-plate to meet. Then, laughing still, he strolled carelessly to the stables, calling back as he went that perhaps his horse might have become as fat and lazy as himself. But when he reached the stables he passed by the winged steed which had borne him to the island, for he bethought himself once more of Melissa’s words: ‘Beware of the hippogryph,’ she had said, ‘you will never wed Bradamante if you mount that.’ So he left the great creature flapping its wings with longing to soar once more into the sky, and led out a strong black horse. Vaulting on his back, he touched him with his spurs, and dashed through the guards at the gate before Alcina knew that her captive had won his freedom.
When the fairy found that the knight did not return, she sent a messenger for tidings of him, and so great was her wrath when she learned that he had passed the gate, and was far on the road to her sister, the good Logistilla, that she ordered all the guards to be put to death. Then she commanded her ships to be got ready, and put to sea herself, thinking by that means she might bring him back. But all was vain, and at last she was forced to believe that Roger had shaken off her yoke for ever.
[From Orlando Furioso.]
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52