GREAT anger filled the breast of the very ugly Don Teobaldo de Miguelturra as he rode his horse at full gallop after a cunning hare. Lance at rest he pursued it, blind with fury, for the wicked animal from time to time stopped, sat down on its hind paws, and made amusing grimaces at its pursuer.
The latter, filled with wrath, did not leave off using his spurs, and followed after the animal, loudly calling it a coward, rogue, and thief.
"Wait, wait!" he shouted; "you will have to pay for all this! What a fine stew I shall make with you this evening!"
And he rode on like a madman, leaping streams, rocks, and pits. But it seemed as if wings had grown on the hare’s feet, such were its leaps, while fleeing from the proposed stew. And at each instant it turned round and jocularly made signs with its ears and fore-paws, and smiled in that amusing way which disturbed the knight so much.
"Even if you hide yourself in the very middle of the earth, I shall reach you," he roared.
And he again spurred on his horse, which was nearly frantic, excited by pain and the shouting of its rider.
A moment arrived in which the knight almost had it within lance thrust, but once more it commenced to gain ground.
"One effort more, my horse," shouted Don Teobaldo, but in vain. In going up a very steep slope the poor animal fell dead from fatigue, and the rider also was quite dazed.
As soon as he could he disengaged himself from the stirrups, and throwing down his useless lance beside the dead horse, Don Teobaldo unsheathed his sword, victorious in a hundred fights, in order to pursue to the very end that hare which had stopped very tranquilly on a rock from which it made fun of the knight at its ease.
This raised the hunter’s indignation to its highest, and in a moment of anger he exclaimed:
"I would give a year of my life to run my sword through you."
The hare, on hearing this, gave a jump and fell at Don Teobaldo’s feet, who cut it into two pieces. The spitted hare said to him before dying: "It will cost you a year of your life; don’t forget it."
The man shuddered and would have liked to undo the mischief, but now it was too late.
"And to think that such a little beast should make me lose three hundred and sixty-five days of my life!" he cried. And, full of rage, he trampled on the hare until he was quite tired.
But on raising his eyes once more he saw another exactly the same as that he had killed, and which made the same gestures as the first.
Then he could not any longer contain himself, and started to run after the second hare, entangling his spurs in the under-growth and stumbling and falling at every step.
Like one who took no interest the hare went slowly to its lair, and after it our enraged Don Teobaldo, resolved to make a terrible hash of the jesting animal.
"This seems to be a thing of the devil," he said. "All the hares have agreed to make fun of me."
At length, after a good while, Don Teobaldo, with his tongue hanging out, arrived at a kind of cave, in the black depths of which he lost sight of the hare.
"Well, now, I have to find you even if you are the devil himself in person."
"Your servant," said a voice of rare quality; and a man with a strange face and eyes of fire presented himself before Don Teobaldo, saluting him with burlesque courtesy.
"Caramba!" exclaimed Don Teobaldo, without being frightened, because he was a very valorous man. "If I must tell the truth, I wished to know you personally."
"And do you not feel afraid?"
"Not at all. And since you are so familiar with me, I shall treat you in the same way. I want to make an arrangement with you."
"First answer me: are you the hare that I pursued?"
"The same. I knew that you were engaged in an affair and wished to speak to me, and brought you to my house so that we could talk comfortably."
And the devil started laughing, flames shooting out of his mouth. It was a sign that he was happy.
"Well, you shall see. You must know that to-morrow the tournament in which the hand of the king’s daughter is to be disputed will take place. The victor will become hereditary prince, and I, frankly, wish to occupy the post. It is therefore necessary that you make me conquer in the fray."
"And what will you give me in exchange?"
"Whatever you ask me."
"That you make the princess forget her faith in God. I already have you, and I want the princess."
And the devil and Don Teobaldo shook hands. The latter drew his back, saying:
"How you burn."
The devil said to him:
"To-morrow, at the hour of the fight, a squire in black armour will come and see you. I will give you a cuirass made in such a way that it cannot be pierced through; a shield which will dazzle and stupefy your adversaries if only looked at; a charmed sword, a touch with which will produce death; and a horse as black as ebony which has the advantage of requiring neither curb nor spurs: you will only wear them as ornaments.... In a word, the horse—will be me."
"Oh, thanks, but I am sorry to trouble you."
"Don’t let us say a word about this affair. I have resolved to carry away the soul of this princess, who wearies me with her prayers and psalms, and I have not been able to make her sin, even in thought."
And the devil caught up Don Teobaldo with his cape and left him at the door of his house, after passing through the air at a prodigious speed. On disappearing, he said in his ear: "Good-bye till to-morrow."
On the following day the city was decorated with pennons and banners. The entire population flocked to the place where the hand of the beautiful princess, whose virtues everybody praised highly, was to be won in open contest.
Thirty knights took part in the struggle, and as they were the bravest in the kingdom the spectacle promised to be interesting, though barbarous; but such were the customs of those times.
The king and the court occupied the grand stand, the princess being in the front row. The public took the rest of the seats, and the heralds announced that the jousts were about to commence.
Don Teobaldo appeared in the foreground upon a beautiful black horse, large black plumes waved over the crest of his helmet, and the armour which he wore was also black.
On seeing his proud countenance one could not doubt his certainty of obtaining the victory.
The signal was given, and another valiant knight came into the arena and rushed upon horrible Don Teobaldo at his horse’s full gallop.
When he was near, the devil’s friend oscillated his shield, and his adversary, without being able to prevail, fell to the ground unconscious.
Another and another and another, and twenty more, went forth to fight and suffered the same fate. Whoever resisted the mysterious action of the shield, fell dead from a blow of the sword, even when only touched with the flat of it.
The people gave shouts of despair on account of the horror which that man inspired in them. The princess was on the point of losing consciousness from terror on seeing that terrible spouse who was offering her his disgrace.
"Heaven!" she exclaimed, "death before being the wife of that wicked man."
And now, the last champion having suffered the same defeat as the others, they were about to proclaim Don Teobaldo conqueror, and therefore the husband of the princess, when the trumpet sounded, announcing that a noble knight asked permission to take part in the struggle.
The king looked at his daughter and, on seeing her so sorrow-stricken, gave the desired permission, with the remote hope that the new-comer, whoever he might be, would vanquish the terrible champion.
They requested him to tell his name and surname, but the knight said:
"My name is Miguel; my surname I reserve until after the fight, if I emerge victorious, but rest assured that there is no one more noble on earth."
And he rode into the lists, arousing a murmur of admiration; his armour was all white as ermine, and the plumes of his helmet were also white.
White, of a dazzling white, was the beautiful horse he rode.
Don Teobaldo was greatly impressed by the sight, and more so the devil, who with a neigh said: "I am glad you have come to fight, Miguel; we have an old account to settle."
And turning his head to Don Teobaldo, he added:
"Pull out one of the hairs of my mane and keep it in your pocket, with this you will have as much power as I. Try to defend yourself to the last, for our adversary is terrible."
No sooner said than done. Don Teobaldo pulled out one of the hairs of the devil’s mane and kept it, and immediately felt strong and powerful. Blinded by all the pride of the Infernal One, he assailed the knight of the white armour, trying to fascinate him with his shield. Useless task!
The knight raised the visor of his helmet and showed the handsomest countenance that ever was seen. That lovely face sent out celestial rays.
"Ah, Luzbel!" cried he. "Do you rebel against me?"
And, throwing aside his spear, he drew his sword, whose brilliance eclipsed that of the sun itself, and threw himself upon Don Teobaldo. The black horse snorted, roared, bounded, evading the blows with superhuman skill. Don Teobaldo’s sword fell upon Miguel’s white shield two hundred times, but in vain, until dazed and vanquished horse and rider fell at the feet of the handsome knight.
"Get you hence!" he said in a voice of infinite pity. "Know that you are my slave until the completion of the centuries, and that you have no power against God our Lord."
"Princess," he added, "you are saved. Your prayer reached the Most High, and I, who am the Archangel Miguel, came to set you free from the snares of the demon. Continue virtuous and you will receive your reward."
And so saying he disappeared.
Meanwhile the devil wished to vanish, but Don Teobaldo remembered his deceit, and as he had power over the demon, thanks to the hair that he had pulled out, began to belabour him with spurs and sword, making him bounce as high as the highest houses. Don Teobaldo did not move from the saddle and finished by giving the devil such a superb thrashing as nearly finished him.
"Let me be, and I will not trouble you again," cried Luzbel.
"Will you ask for my soul?"
"Neither your soul nor your body, but let me alone now."
Then Don Teobaldo, whose heart had been touched by the glance of the angel and moved to repentance, dismounted from the horse and left it free to disappear.
And so ended those famous jousts, which were never eradicated from the memory of the public.
The princess, the following year, married a prince as virtuous as herself, and Don Teobaldo did penance and became a good Christian who had a just satisfaction in having administered a sound thrashing to the devil.