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The Story of Roland by  James Baldwin


 

 

HOW REINOLD FARED TO CATHAY

[211] YOU are curious to know how it happened that Reinold of Montalban had been entrapped in the castle of Forgetfulness to be liberated just in time to carry aid to the distressed Albraccans? I will tell you.

When the Princess Angelica returned to her father's dwelling, after that fateful day in the wood of Ardennes, she could not forget the noble form and bearing of the hero of Montalban, as he had appeared to her when she last saw him by the fountain of Merlin. So she ordered that Malagis the wizard should be freed from his dungeon beneath the sea, and brought into her presence. The little old man, very glad to see the light of day once more, bowed reverently to the princess, and humbly waited for her to speak.

"Knowest thou the French knight who is called Reinold of Montalban?" asked she.

"I do, most worthy lady," was the wizard's answer. "He is my cousin and my dearest friend."

"Listen, then," said the princess. "If thou wilt promise to bring this noble knight, by fair means or [212] by foul, to Cathay, thou shalt have thy freedom, thy book, and thy wizard's ring."

The old man bowed low, and promised. He would have hazarded his soul for those things. He took his book and his ring, and without a day's delay hastened to return to France.

"Where hast thou been, wise cousin?" asked Reinold, as the dwarf bowed himself into his chamber.

"Only across the sea," was the answer.

"And what didst thou find across the sea?"

"A very great treasure, but it is guarded by a dragon so fierce and wakeful that I dared not go near it. Men say that this treasure has lain there for ages, waiting the coming of a hero brave enough to face the dragon, and strong enough to slay him. Methought that my cousin, Reinold of Montalban, might be that hero."

Very cunning were the wizard's words, and it was not hard for him to persuade Reinold to go in quest of the treasure. A ship with sails all set, impatient for the wind, awaited the knight as he rode down to the seashore. He stepped aboard, leading the horse Bayard behind him. A light breeze sprang up: the sails filled, and the ship sped gayly on its way across the sea. There was no one on board save Reinold and his steed; but the wizard had assured him that the ship needed neither pilot nor oarsman, and that it would sail straight to the shore where the treasure lay under the watchful eyes of the dragon. Two days the little vessel sped over the waves like a thing of life; nor did Reinold [213] once doubt that the end of the voyage would be as the wizard had said. On the third day he came to a long, low shore and a goodly island, which seemed to be one large garden adorned and beautified with every thing that is pleasant to the sight. Close by the shore was a wondrous castle, the fairest that Reinold had ever seen. It was built of marble so white and clear that the walls seemed like great mirrors in which were painted the garden, the sea, and the sky. As the boat touched the shore, three ladies, handsome as fairies, came out of the castle, and greeted the knight.

"Welcome, brave hero!" said they. "Welcome to Joyous Castle! Welcome in the name of our queen, Angelica of Cathay!"

Reinold heard the name of the fair princess with loathing. He remembered her only as she had seemed to him after he had drunk from the mystic waters of Merlin's fountain. He thought of an old witch, haggard and toothless and crippled, blear-eyed and gray, mumbling her weird spells, and muttering curses. Such to him was Angelica of Cathay. How he hated and loathed her! He turned him about in the ship, and would not look at the fairy palace and the gardens, which were said to be hers. The breeze again filled the sails, and the little bark left the shore, and the marble towers of Joyous Castle were soon out of sight. And a great storm arose on the sea, and the waves ran mountain high, and the ship was at the mercy of the winds. A dark night came on, and Reinold was in fearful peril [214] but he stood calmly at the helm, and cared not at all for the danger. In the morning the vessel ran upon a wild, rock-bound shore, and was dashed in pieces by the waves; but the hero and his horse escaped with great difficulty by swimming to the land.

The country in which Reinold now found himself was covered with a dark forest, where the owls hooted dismally, and the wolves howled, and the goblins of the wood held high carnival. As he made his way through the dense underbrush, and among the dead and decaying trees, he espied a low-built, gloomy castle standing in the middle of a marsh. He rode up to the gate, and called out loudly to the warder to open and let him in. For a time there was no answer; and, indeed, no sign or sound of life did he hear. Then, suddenly, there was a rattling of chains and a ringing of iron bars; and the gate flew open, and four giants rushed out upon the knight. Before he could draw his sword, or in the least defend himself, he was dragged from his horse, and bound with iron chains, and carried into the courtyard.

"Why this rudeness to a stranger and a knight?" he asked as soon as he was given time to speak.

The giants answered him not a word, but left him lying helpless and alone on the stone floor. After a while, an old woman came in to jeer and laugh at his mishaps.

"A fine morsel thou wilt be for the dragon," said she. "It is not often that he has a real Christian knight for [215] his dinner, and thou wilt indeed make him gentle and gladsome."

Reinold asked the woman what she meant, and was told that on the morrow he was to be given to a terrible dragon who had overrun and ravaged all that country, and who could be appeased only by human blood.

"I fear him not," said the knight, "if they will but unbind me, and give me my good Flamberge."

All night long Reinold lay bound in the cold and desolate courtyard, while Bayard galloped hither and thither in the forest, seeking vainly for his master. Early in the morning the four giants came again; and, after unbinding Reinold, they threw him, with his arms and armor, into a deep-walled pit where the dragon was wont to come for his daily meals. The knight, glad to find that his limbs were free, and that his good sword Flamberge was in his hand, waited fearlessly for the coming of the monster. Not long, however, had he to wait. The horrid beast, his teeth gnashing with rage, and his nostrils flaming with poisonous fumes, rushed into the area, expecting to find, as usual, an easy prey. But Reinold attacked him bravely with his good sword, and made him pause in his hasty onset. Fierce and terrible was the fight that followed. The sharp claws of the beast tore off the knight's armor piece by piece. His head was laid bare; his hauberk and breastplate were broken; the strokes of his sword fell harmless on the iron scales which protected the creature's sides. Hard would it have gone with the knight, had not good for- [216] tune favored him. Six feet above his head a beam projected into the pit. He felt his strength failing him; the great jaws of the beast were about to close upon him. He called up all his energy, and with one mighty effort leaped upon the beam. He was safe. The dragon raged and fumed and threatened, but could not reach him. Yet how, after all, would the good knight escape? The walls rose, high and smooth, still many feet above him. There was no way to get out of the pit, save by passing the dread monster below.


[Illustration]

IN THE DRAGON'S DEN.

While the knight sat half-despairing on the friendly beam, he heard a whirring of wings above him; and a fairy, which he at first mistook for a bird, alighted by his side.

"Most worthy knight," said she, "fortune comes always to the help of the brave. Now here are a ball of wax and a strong net, which you may use as your good sense may direct. But you must never forget that this aid has been sent you by the Princess Angelica of Cathay."

With these words the fairy flew away, and was seen no more. But Reinold wondered whether she were not really the princess herself in disguise. It was easy for him to understand what to do with the presents she had brought. He threw the cake of wax to the raging dragon below. Eagerly the beast seized it between his jaws, and, lo! as Reinold had foreseen, his teeth were glued fast together. Then, as the creature madly sought to remove the wax with his claws, it was easy [217] for the knight to cast the net over him, and draw it tightly about his limbs and body. Helpless now, the great beast rolled upon the ground, an easy victim to Reinold's trenchant blade.

It was no hard matter for Reinold to find his way out of the pit, and into the wood again. There the good horse Bayard waited for him, and greeted his coming with a shrill neigh of pleasure. He looked around for the gloomy castle where he had spent so many miserable hours, but it was nowhere to be seen. He rubbed his eyes, and fancied, that, after all, he might have been only dreaming; for his armor was whole as ever, and his good blade Flamberge was clear and bright, and no whit tarnished with foul dragon's blood. He mounted his steed, and rode slowly and thoughtfully out of the forest. But just beyond, he came to the River of Forgetfulness and the bridge which spans it; and there, like Roland, he drank of the cup which the maiden offered him, and was led helplessly away to the care-forgetting castle of Old Oblivion.


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