MANY tales of Spain are full of memories of Charlemagne. It is strange that history says comparatively little of his doings there; but his was a character such as the Spanish Romancers were sure to seize, and, with their habit of heaping all perfections on their heroes, ascribe to him all manner of fabulous achievements. Here is one of the exploits they tell of him:--
One of the Moorish kings, who sought his alliance in the internecine turmoils in which the chiefs of their race were at the time engaged, had an only and beautiful daughter, the apple of his eye, who was guarded with jealous care, indulged in every wish, waited on by the most beautiful maidens in a fairy-like palace, and suffered to know nothing of her father's wars and dangers. Life seemed all smoothness and pleasure to her; and every one, who at any time met her eye, made it their delight to obey her faintest sign.
But life passed even amid continual sunshine, flowers, and harmony may become monotonous. When the Moorish princess had had fifteen years of it, she began to seek some pleasure newer and more exciting. Her fond father, only glad to hear her express a wish, that he might have the satisfaction of gratifying it, promised to give her a fresh diversion such as she had never before seen.
For this purpose he ordered a great fête, and chose out all the mightiest men of his forces, to perform feats of arms and mock combats before her.
The princess, who had never witnessed any combat more serious than that of her pet doves, was delighted beyond measure with the new sensation, and thought she could never tire of seeing the brave horsemen contend; dealing each other such heavy blows, and all the while seeming so indifferent to danger. Nevertheless the time came when the sameness of these shows struck her too, and she began to crave for something newer yet.
The king then ordered that valiant men out of other countries should be invited to come and contend before her, each after the fashion of their own country; and many warriors of renown were content to come and display their prowess; the Moslem in the hope of winning the bright smile of the king's daughter; Christians, to have the opportunity of displaying their might before the infidel horde.
Among the strangers, but belonging to neither of these categories, came one day a powerful giant, five cubits high, who rode on a horse as tall as a house. All the mighty men of the king's army turned pale when they saw him; and the king regretted that his invitations to all comers had been so unlimited that he could find no courteous excuse for excluding him; to prefer an unfair one would have been dangerous, as his ire would have been terrible if provoked. So he received him as smilingly as his trepidation would permit; and the giant seemed a very good-natured person, too full of his own consequence to think of any thing else, even of picking a quarrel with any one.
He challenged every one to fight with him, but no one would venture; and this testimony to his might put him in still better humour. Then he showed off all his feats of strength, to the great delight of the court, and of none more than the princess, who was so astonished at the prodigies he rehearsed, that she leant out from her balcony, and suffered the veil to blow away from her face.
The giant happened to be looking towards her at the moment, and that moment sufficed to make him fall in love with her. For the rest of the day he exhibited his surprising strength with renewed energy; but the evening was no sooner come, than he stole up to her window, which, though it was in a very high tower of the alcázar , was just at a convenient height for his head to reach as he stood upon the ground. Putting his face against the lattice, he whispered very softly that he must speak to her. The poor little princess was dreadfully frightened, and could not guess what he wanted, but thought it would not be dignified to show any fear; so she went near enough to the window to be heard by him, and asked him his pleasure. The giant told her that he loved her, and she must marry him. The princess was dreadfully terrified when she heard this, for she knew she had no possible means of resisting him if he chose to carry her off by force; and she reflected, too, that her father himself would have very little chance if he attempted to fight him: and what a dreadful thing it would be if he should kill her father--her dear father, who was so fond of her! Yet in the fright she was in, she could think of no better stratagem than to stammer forth that he must give her time to think about it.
The giant was not very dissatisfied with this reply, and promised he would leave her quite to herself till the next day. All that night, and all the next day, the little princess thought and thought of what excuse she could make; but she could think of nothing but to ask him to give her another day; and then again she sat and thought, and no invention would come: and she durst not tell, her father, lest he should in his indignation challenge the giant to fight, and be killed by him. But when he came the third time, and she could still think of no stratagem for getting rid of him, she was obliged to tell him plainly that she could not make up her mind to marry him.
At first the giant tried all sorts of clumsy persuasions and entreaties; but the maiden held firm; and at last, finding she would not yield, he grew fiercely angry, seized the alcázar by the roof, and made it rock backwards and forwards, tore up the trees, and threw them on the ground, and stamped upon the soil with a noise like peals of thunder. The poor little princess was so terrified she hardly knew what was happening, only she heard him swear that he would come back and take her by a way she could not escape him; and after repeating that threat several times at length disappeared.
It was a long time before the princess came to her senses again, for she had fainted with the dire terror, and when she did, she began to wonder what the terrible trouble was which had so shattered her; by degrees the memory of the stormy scenes lately passed came back to her, but all was now so calm and still, she could hardly realize the truth of what she had gone through. It was a great relief to find the giant was quite gone--far away; and she learnt that he lived a long, long way off, in a valley as far below the level of the plain as the height on which her father's alcázar stood was above it. She remembered, indeed, his threat that he would come back, but it seemed that it would have been so easy for him to have taken her then had he been so minded, that she could not think he was serious in the intention to carry her off at all. Why should he come back to do what he might just as well have done at once?
Time passed on, and she heard no more of the giant; people left off talking of his feats of strength, and she began to forget all about him. A matter happened, too, which gave another direction to her thoughts. A neighbouring king made war upon her father, and with such overwhelming preparations, that this time he could not conceal the fact from her. Every one was full of apprehensions, and the king, distracted with the fear of losing his kingdom, had no time even to think of the fancies of his beloved daughter. The princess heard from one and another of the attendants that things were going very wrong, that the enemy were getting the upper hand, and advancing nearer and nearer; but she learnt more from their anxious looks than from their lips, for every one was afraid to distress her by giving her details of the truth.
We must now go back to the giant, whom we left marching off in no good humour. The truth about him was, that with all his strength he was not very courageous--he was more of a bully than a warrior. He had heard a great deal of the bravery and more particularly of the excellent arms of the Moors, and as he knew they would rise as one man to defend their princess if he carried her off, he did not like the idea of their making pincushions of his legs with their fine sharp swords, even if they could not reach to do him further damage. So he resolved to carry out his plan in a way which would be less fraught with danger to himself.
Coming down from the alcázar, he went on to the neighbouring sovereign, and treacherously gave him a description of all he had seen at the court where he had just been staying; told him the number and situation of the army, and the condition of the defences, and pointed out the least protected points of the country by which an incursion could be made. Having received a rich guerdon for this information, he continued his way homewards, and then set all his people to work to cut a long cave, which he made them extend further and further in a sloping direction till it should come out opposite the alcázar where the Moorish princess dwelt, by means of which he could reach her unperceived, and carry her off without danger to his own skin, while the city was in the midst of the tumult which he thought would be brought about by the inroad of the inimical power he had perfidiously invoked.
Various underground rumblings had been observed for some time past by the country people, but as they held little communication with each other it did not strike them that the sounds continually advanced in the direction of the capital. Indeed, all minds were too much filled with apprehensions of the destruction the advancing foe above ground was likely to reek upon their property, to have time to give way to fears of a chimerical foe in the regions below the soil.
Thus the giant worked on steadily and without hindrance, while the poor little princess was far from thinking of her tormentor otherwise than as at a safe distance; much less did she dream of his continually nearing approach! Enough she had to excite her anxiety without this. And she sat crying over her father's danger till her face became quite pale and her eyes worn with tears.
At last a day came when every one seemed bright with fresh hope; and they ran hastily enough to tell her the good news. The youthful conqueror, Carlo Magno, had been appealed to by the king to help him. His advent had entirely turned the tide of affairs: the enemy had been completely repulsed, and the victorious army was returning in triumph to the city.
The news spread like wildfire; every one hasted to deck their houses festively, and put on their best attire, to do honour to the conquerors; and when they appeared, shouted their thanks in loud acclamations. The little princess was very desirous to see the young hero who had saved her father's life; and, though it is not the custom for Moorish women to appear in public, she contrived to see him as he passed by, and thought in the silence of her heart how nice it would have been if it had been the handsome Christian who had wanted to marry her instead of the monstrous giant. Having once seen him, she was so desirous to see him again that she sent to ask him to come, that she might thank him for having saved her father's kingdom; but it was not entirely for her father's sake that she contrived the interview.
When he came, however, though he was very courteous towards her, he was also very reserved, and stayed a very short time; assured her that what he had done was nothing at all; that his sword was ever ready to defend the right, whoever it might be invoked his aid; and with that took his leave without paying her any compliments. The Moorish princess was sad when she saw him go out so; and sadder still when she learnt that no Christian prince cared to know a Moorish maid. Carlo Magno himself, however, was sorry for the poor child, as he had seen that she wanted to be better acquainted with him; but he could hold no intimacy with the unbeliever.
The giant, meantime, had gone on boring away; and, though he had now got quite under the alcázar, every one was so full of festivity and rejoicing that nobody heeded the sound of his pickaxe. On his part, he had not been altogether unmindful to listen for the sounds which might keep him informed of what was going on in the upper world, he had been very well satisfied with what he heard. There had been unmistakable clashings of battle, and he never doubted that the princess's father must be getting the worst of it; and now, when he heard the sounds of busy running to and fro in the festive palace, he made sure it was his allies pillaging the place.
At last the tunnel was complete; he crept out in the first fall of the darkness of night, threaded the familiar way up to the princess's window, rested his foot on the cornice of the first story for a stepping-stone, and with one grasp of his hand had swept her off her couch before she had time to open her eyes. Then closing her mouth, so that she might not cry and raise an alarm, walked quietly back with her to his subterranean passage, down the sloping path of which he carried her in exultation.
Quickly and silently as the feat had been performed, the keen bright eyes of a little black slave had followed the whole affair, as she lay at the foot of her mistress's couch. She had seen the huge hand spread over the room,--the nail of its little finger had indeed sadly grazed her forehead. She recognized it at once as belonging to the giant, her mistress's dread of whom she had so often shared. And no sooner was her helplessness to rescue her apparent, than she rushed madly into the banqueting-hall, tearing her clothes and plucking out her hair, and crying out in wailing accents what had befallen. It was not easy to gain credence to so strange a story; and when at last her earnestness induced belief in her sincerity, the princess's room had to be searched to afford the necessary proof that she was gone. When this was found to be indeed but too true, the wail was taken up by all the people. The banquet was broken up, and every one went hither and thither, not knowing what to do; for, withal that the giant was so big, none had seen him pass to tell which way he had gone.
But Carlo Magno, brave and self-possessed in the midst of all, saw an occasion to be of service to the poor Moorish princess, and make up for the disappointment he had caused her in the morning. It was plain to him that if the giant had stood under the window, as the little black slave had said, he must have left his foot-prints there; and that he could thence be tracked whithersoever he had gone. So he raised a loud voice, and bid all the people be still: and that if they would all remain without stirring, he would deliver their princess; for he wanted them not to stir up the soil any more, lest they should destroy the track.
The voice of Carlo Magno, after what he had already done for them, possessed great authority with the people; and so all stood quite still, while he bade the little black slave guide him to the window; and there, under it, sure enough he found the giant's footprints, two great holes in the sand, like dry tanks for water. Allowing due space for his prodigious stride, the prince readily found another and another, till they brought him to the mouth of the tunnel, where he had indeed passed. When all the people saw the great gaping hole which had never appeared there before that night, and gazed down its descending gullet, no wonder they thought it was the mouth of hell opened to vomit forth its monster.
But Carlo Magno said he would deliver the princess though his enterprise should indeed lead him into the realms of Hades. And all the people applauded his courage, but he went down the black path alone.
Though he travelled at all speed, the giant had now good start, and the length of his step was equal to several of the Christian prince's charger; but Carlo Magno made such good haste that he had not got above a hundred miles before he heard the giant's laugh, exulting over his prize, resounding through the gloomy passage, though still at some considerable distance. This roused the Christian prince's indignation, and made him urge his steed yet faster, till at last he came within sight of him. And then, when he saw his monstrous arms bearing the little helpless princess, his compassion made him use yet greater speed, till at length just as he reached the mouth of the cave, Carlo Magno managed to overstep him by one bound of his horse, and then wheeling round confronted him with fearless eye.
The giant I have already said was more of a bully than a warrior. When he saw the Christian knight so brave and firm, and withal encased in such strong armour, and brandishing his trenchant sword, he felt his best defence lay in hectoring and boasting, and thereby frightening the Christian hero from attempting to fight him.
With a terrible voice, therefore, which made the rocks resound, he asked his opponent, on whom he lavished every startling epithet, what he meant by venturing to appear before him; following up the question by such a volley of imprecations and threats as he fancied would suffice to make him wish to escape with a whole skin.
Carlo Magno, however, who knew that the dogs who bark most bite least, waited unmoved till he had exhausted his whole repertory of violent language, and then quite undismayed summoned him to surrender the maiden.
Another loud and angry volley followed upon this demand, with further threats of the terrible vengeance he intended to take on the intruder.
"Then," said Carlo Magno, "if you will not give her up quietly, I must even take her by force." And with that he dismounted and drew his sword. The giant saw now that he must defend his life, or he would lose it; and so, forced to fight, he drew his clumsy sword and began laying about him in right-determined fashion; but all his blows alighted far and wide of the Christian prince. Furious at finding his awkward efforts ineffectual, while the highly trained agility of the prince saved him from all his strokes, he began laying about him with such untempered violence that at last his weapon dropped from his hand. Fully expecting that Carlo Magno would try to possess himself of it, he hastily bent down to regain it. But Carlo Magno had other thoughts. Waiting calmly till the monster had bent him sufficiently low, he swung his fine sharp blade and buried it deep in his heart with the unerring dexterity with which the matador lays low his bull--at one thrust.
Of course he severed the giant's head afterwards to bear away as his trophy; and raising the princess in his arms, who had swooned away at sight of the horrid combat, bore her swiftly upwards through the subterranean path and delivered her, yet unconscious, to her father.