Patrañas; or, Spanish Stories, Legendary and Traditional | Annotated Tale

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Fiton’s Cave

DURING the course of the war an exploring party of Spaniards had been sent to bring a report of the chances of success to an expedition for recovering the coast-line of the Araucanian province. Time passed on, and the party failing to return, great anxiety was felt as to their fate by the Christians; at last some of the bravest volunteered to go and look after them in various directions, and as great caution was necessary, it was agreed the volunteers should go out separately, travelling by night, and keeping themselves concealed by day. It was a perilous enterprize, and Don Alonzo de Ercilla, who was always foremost at any brave deed, was the first to offer himself; and he gives us the following account of an adventure that befell him.

               He was making his way through a wild brake, helped by the scanty light of the moon, when he found himself on the edge of a steep descent leading to a vast plain; a narrow path cut the steep, down which a tall, lank native of great age was threading his way. His back was bowed, he was so feeble that he trembled as he walked, and his legs were so fleshless that they looked like dry roots of trees. Don Ercilla advanced to offer his assistance down the rugged descent, and thought at the same time to gather some information of his missing friends, or as to the best means of tracing them. No sooner, however, was the old man conscious of his approach, than, darting into another path at a sharp angle with the first, he turned and fled up the steep side faster than a hunted deer. Don Ercilla spurred his horse, and thought to overtake him easily, but in a moment he was out of sight, neither was it possible for a stranger to find his way so as to proceed with any rapidity over the overgrown crag. Giving up the pursuit, he came at last to the bottom of the declivity, where the stream Rauco flowed turbulently, its course being closed in by sharp rocks on both sides; but a little way down it, on the near bank, was a grove of shady trees, and under them an antelope grazing. The sight reminded him he had once dreamt that this meeting an antelope should be a sign of something important to befall him, so, rejoicing at the incident, he made his way up to the gentle beast.

               The antelope had been feeding undisturbed by the sound of the rushing torrent, but no sooner became conscious of a man's presence than, leaving the verdant pasture, she struck wildly into a steep and narrow path, dashing through briar and jungle and close-grown trees; wherever she led, however, Don Ercilla followed, though he had need to spur his horse hard to keep up with her. At last she brought him in sight of a poor little hut, piled up at the foot of an ancient oak. At the sound of their hasty steps an old man came out, to whom, panting, the antelope approached as for protection. The old man tenderly stroked her reeking sides, and then, addressing Don Ercilla, asked him what fate or misadventure had brought him to his remote retreat, which strangers' steps had never yet found out. "If," he said, "you have had the misfortune to get separated from your company, you will find welcome here, and all that my humble roof can offer to restore strength; and fear nothing from your enemies while you are under my protection."

               Finding him so affable and pleasant, Don Ercilla gave him his confidence, and not only told him his errand, but also opened to him a wish he had long harboured of visiting the cave of Fiton, the great Araucanian Wizard. The kind old man, without waiting so much as to answer him, took his hand, and at once leaving his seat set out to lead him. It was the season of early summer, and, as the sun was by this time well risen, they picked their way through the shadiest paths. As they went along, the old man spoke thus:--

               "My lands were in Araucania. I am called Guaticolo the Unhappy, who, in my robust years, was a valiant fighting man, and in office predecessor to Colócolo. Seven several times have I led our people on to victory on the battle-field, and a thousand times have my now hairless temples been girt with the tokens of success. But as in this life no state is permanent, so fortune was inconstant to me also. After success came defeat; after honour, shame. At Aynavillo I had the misfortune to be loser in a wagered contest, on which my position had been set. Finding myself burdened with a dishonoured life, I could devise no better end to it than to bury myself in this retreat, where, for twenty years, no mortal foot has tracked me; and by strange help it is, I ween, that you have been brought so far; who am I, therefore, to resist the direction you have received from above? How intractable soever Fiton may be, I will urge the claims of relationship, as he is my uncle, and thus induce him to admit you.

               "He dwells in the heart of a bleak mountain where the glad sun never penetrates, and whence the foot of man is shut out. But his wisdom and power are so great that he can by his one word perform any of nature's operations. In the blazing heat and dazzling light of noonday he can cover the heavens with the darkness of night. When the sky is one even blue, without assistance of wind or clouds, he can draw rain from a barren heaven. He can arrest the course of the bounding rivers, and of the birds in the midst of their flight. The burnt-up grasses of August at his word raise their withered blades, and resume their verdant hues; the tides of the sea obey his voice, and forget the commands of the moon. And, much more than all this, he can tell the destinies of men, and foresee the fate of nations. It would be impossible for words of mine to overstate his mighty and irresistible power."

               While he had been speaking they had passed through a long tract of forest, where the trees grew so thickly, and were so encumbered with brushwood, that Don Ercilla was obliged to tie his horse up and proceed on foot. At last they reached a low opening in a rock, through which was a long dark passage, where they could hardly walk upright, and at the end of it a door garnished all round with heads of wild beasts. Guaticolo opened the door, and led Don Ercilla by the hand into a spacious vault, in the centre of which burnt a strange and perpetual light; in the walls of the cave were cut many stone shelves, on which were ranged jars of ointments, essences, and herbs. There were preserved the far-piercing eyes of the lynx and that of the venomous basilisk; red gore of angry men, and foam from the mouth of rabid dogs; parts of the wing of the harpy, the venom of the amphisbena, and the tail of the treacherous asp, which gives death wrapt up in a pleasant dream; mould off a truncated head unworthy of burial, and the tongue of the horrid hemorreo, whose puncture can never be staunched, but whosoever it wounds must bleed to death. In a huge transparent vase was a griffin's heart, pierced through with an arrow, and the ashes of an eastern phoenix. Stings of serpents, and tails of scorpions, and whatsoever is deadly and venomous in nature.

               While Don Ercilla was engaged in examining this strange repertory, a hidden door gave entrance to a lean old man, whom he at once recognized for him who had run away from him with such exceeding rapidity, who said,--

               "It is no little boldness in you, so young, to have dared to come thus unbidden to my presence, and to pursue me in my occult habitation, where it is not permitted to foot of man to tread; nevertheless, as I know all things, I know that in your heart you mean no harm, therefore I allow you to live, and will now listen to your intent."

               Then Guaticolo took upon himself to explain his errand for him in a long speech, in which he commenced by lauding the wizard's influence, then detailed Don Ercilla's fame, and finally told him of his dream, in which he had learnt that he might gain from Fiton supernatural information of the fate of the contest in which his Spanish brethren in arms were at the time engaged with the Turks in Europe.

               Fiton, in great good humour with Guaticolo's dexterously-administered flattery, took Don Ercilla by the hand, and led him through the secret door by which he had himself entered. It opened into a very different apartment from the other. No mortal tongue could describe its beauty and costliness; the floor was paved with crystal tiles all lustrous with cunning radiance, while the roof was studded with brilliant stones, so that the whole place sparkled with dazzling splendour. Supported on pillars of shining gold a hundred statues of heroes were ranged round the room, so life-like in design that a deaf man might have thought they spoke. On the broad medallions behind were pictured forth the valiant deeds of each, displaying the designer's acquaintance with the history of all nations.

               In the midst of the spacious hall, which measured half a mile every way, swung a globe of light, balanced in the air by supernatural power.

               When Don Ercilla had spent some time examining all these wonders, Fiton came to him, and, with his wand pointing to the globe of light, explained to him that it contained an epitome of the world, and had cost him forty years of labour; but contained the representation of all that was happening, or ever would happen, in any part or time of the world. "And," he added, "as it seems you are a poet, whose business it is to chronicle the great deeds of the fighting men of your country, and you have already celebrated their achievements by land, I will now show you what they are doing at sea."

               Then he touched the bright globe with his wand, and Don Ercilla saw it represented the world with all its parts delineated, and all the people on it seen as clearly as he might have seen his own face in a mirror.

               Then Fiton pointed to the Mediterranean sea, and conducted his eyes to that part of it which washes [1] the Ausonian shore, and he saw it was all covered with galleys bearing the devices of the Pope, and Philip II., and the Venetian Republic; and from the port of Lepanto there came out to meet them the galleys of the Crescent. Then with a hoarse and terrible voice, Fiton invoked the infernal powers, crying, "O terrible Can-Cerberus, Charon, weary boatman, yellow Orcus, and irresistible Pluto! O chilly Styx, O lake Avernus, O seething waters of Acheron, Lethe, Cocytus, and ruddy Phlegethon! O Furies who with relentless cruelty torment the souls of the lost, and Gorgons, whose hair of wriggling snakes the shades tremble as they behold! compelled by my all-powerful word, afford to this earth-born youth a clear vision of the work now accomplishing in the waters of Lepanto." As he spoke he frantically waved his wand.

               Then behold, the waters of the sea boiled over, and the sterile north-east wind rounding the white sails, the rival fleets were tossed in sudden motion, the gallant Spanish vessels bearing down proudly on the Pagan galleys. Mighty warriors were there, whose names and deeds of fame were borne in characters of flame around their brows; many, whom he had known as companions of his own in childhood, now bronzed with the hardships of many a bold campaign. Suddenly the signal of the fight resounded, and then the Christian hosts, following the sign of their redemption, poured down with resistless ardour on their Pagan foes. With breathless interest Don Ercilla watched the fortunes of his friends, shouted to them--so present was the scene--to bear them bravely, nor waver in their courage. For hours the fight raged, and many a brave servant of Christ fell deadly wounded into the deep waves, and tinged the blue waters with his generous blood. Don Ercilla wept and exulted by turns, as, one after another, he saw dear friends lost to him for ever in this life, and yet the Christian arms prevailing inch by inch, till at last, successful and triumphant, they swept the encroaching Turk from the face of the sea, inflicting an irreparable wound on his power, and setting a bound to his aggressions which he might not pass.



[1] The Adriatic. 

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Fiton’s Cave
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel
Book Title: Patrañas; or, Spanish Stories, Legendary and Traditional
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel
Publisher: Griffith and Farran
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1870
Country of Origin: Spain
Classification: unclassified

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