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Essays on Paula Rego

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Maria Manuel Lisboa

Appendix A A Dama Pé de Cabra (The Lady with a Cloven Hoof)1

Alexandre Herculano
Traduction de Maria Manuel Lisboa

Texte intégral

First Canticle

  • 1 The Lady with a Cloven Hoof: A Minstrel’s Romance (eleventh century). Also available at https://www (...)

1You who do not believe in witches or in damned souls or in the mischievousness of Satan, sit you here close by me at the hearth and I shall tell you the tale of Don Diogo Lopes, Lord of Biscay.

2And do not tell me when I finish: ‘that cannot be so’. Think you that I would fabricate such a tale? If I tell it, it is because I read it in an ancient book, as old as Portugal itself. And that ancient book’s author read it somewhere, or heard it from the lips of a minstrel as he sang of it.

3It is a revered tradition; and he who has no faith in traditions will surely go to that place where such doubts are punished.

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4I vouch to you that if you deny this most true of all true stories you are tenfold as faithless as that Doubting Thomas before he became a great saint. And I know not if I might forgive you, even as Christ forgave him.

5Be now most profoundly silent for I begin.

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6Don Diogo Lopes was a tireless huntsman: snows in the mountain in winter, burning suns in high summer, night time or break of day, he heeded them not. The early morning on a tranquil day found Don Diogo and his army on a wild and craggy hill, awaiting a wild boar which, flushed by hunting hounds, would surely be felled.

7Hark, at that moment a faraway melody: a lovely, lovely tune. He raised his eyes to an overhanging boulder upon which sat a beautiful lady: it was she who sang. This time the boar goes free and unaccountable; because Don Diogo runs, or better flies towards the cliff.

8‘Who are you my lady, so pleasing to behold; who are you who so swiftly enchanted me?’

9‘My lineage matches yours; because I am of royal breeding, like you, Lord of Biscay’.

10‘If you know who I am, I offer you my hand and with it my lands, chattels and vassals’.

11‘Keep your lands, Don Diogo Lopes, because they hardly suffice for your sport; for the sport and pleasure of the good knight that you are. Keep your vassals, Lord of Biscay, because they are too few to beat your prey’.

12‘What dowry, then, lovely lady, might I offer you, worthy us both: since your beauty is heavenly and in Spain there is no man wealthier than I’.

13‘Rich man, rich man, the pledge I would take from you has no value, but even so I doubt you would grant it to me; for it is the legacy of your mother, the lofty Lady of Biscay’.

14‘And what if I loved you more than I love my mother, why then would I not grant any of her gifts to you?’

15‘If so, and if you want to keep me by your side forever, do not swear to do what you say, give me your word’.

16‘By my honour as knight, I shall give you not one but a thousand words’.

17‘Know then that in order that I might be yours you must forget one thing that your good lady mother taught you as a child, and of which, on her deathbed she reminded you’.

18‘What is that, damsel?’ retorted the knight with flaming eyes. ‘Is it the vow to give no quarter to the Moorish rabble, nor ever to forgive the Mohammedan? I am a good Christian. Woe to thee and me if you are of that damned race!’

19‘That I am not, good knight’, laughed the damsel. ‘What I ask you to forget is how to make the sign of the cross: what I want you to promise me is that you will never again bless yourself’.

20‘That is another matter’, replied Don Diogo, who in his pleasures and dissipations had long ago lost his path to Heaven. And he pondered the matter. And in pondering it he mused to himself: ‘What is the use of blessings? I shall simply kill two hundred more Moors and offer a farm to St. Tiago. It all works out. A gift to the Apostle and the heads of two hundred Mohammedan hell hounds are the correct pay for a grave sin’.

21And raising his eyes to the lady who was beaming tenderly at him, he exclaimed:

22‘So be it: it is agreed. Let us do it and let the Devil take the hindmost’.

23And it was only when that evening in his castle he was able to examine in detail the naked form of the ravishing lady, he noticed that her feet were cloven like a goat’s.

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24Someone might now say: ‘That was for certain the Devil who entered the home of Don Diogo Lopes’. As well he might. Well, know this now; that was not the case.

25For many years the lady and the knight lived in harmony and tranquillity. And two living proofs there were of this: Inigo Guerra and Dona Sol, both the apple of their father’s eye.

26One afternoon, Don Diogo return from the hunt: he brought a large wild boar, very large. The table was laid. He ordered the beast to be brought to the chamber where he took his meals, to feast his eyes on the excellent catch he had snared. His son sat beside him; beside her mother sat Dona Sol; and they began their dinner with much merriment.

27‘It was a good ride you had, Don Diogo’, said his wife. ‘A good, clean hunt’.

28‘In the name of Judas’ entrails! ’ replied the nobleman. ‘It has been at least five years since I caught a bear or wild pig to match this one’.

29Then, filling with wine a pitcher of silver, richly engraved, he up-ended it to the health of all the woodsmen and hunters.

30And wining and dining, the meal continued late into the night.

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31Now you need to know that the Lord of Biscay had a hunting dog whom he highly esteemed, ferocious in his handling of wild beasts but gentle with his master and even with the servants.

32Don Diogo’s noble lady had a small bitch, dark as ebony, clever and lively in the utmost, and by her no less valued.

33The hound was seated portentously at the feet of Don Diogo, its large ears drooping and the eyes half-shut as if sleeping.

34The black bitch, now, she ran across the chamber, frisky and restless, jumpy like a little demon: her soft sleek fur shone with a red tinge.

35The baron, having made an all-encompassing toast to the assembly, was working through a long roll of individual toasts, to each name downing a goblet of wine.

36He acted as befitted a nobleman with nothing to do in the world other than sleep, drink, eat and hunt.

37And the hound nodded like an old monk in the choir, and the bitch hopped around.

38Then the Lord of Biscay picked up a bone rich with meat and marrow and threw it to the hound, shouting: ‘take it, Silvano, you are a working beast: the Devil take the bitch, which does nothing but jump and thrash about’.

39The gigantic dog opened its eyes, growled, placed its paw on the bone, bared teeth sharp as daggers, like a pale smile.

40But suddenly it let off a howl and fell, limbs thrashing, half dead: the bitch had leapt at its throat, and the hound lay dying.

41‘By the beard of Don From, my great-grandsire! ’ exclaimed Don Diogo standing upright, shaking with rage and wine. ‘The fiendish bitch killed the best hound in my pack; but she will pay for it’.

42And turning over the bleeding dog with his foot, he gazed at the fearful wounds of the noble beast that lay dying.

43‘By my soul, I never saw such a thing! Holy Mother of God. This is the work of Beelzebub’. And cursing and gesticulating, he blessed and crossed himself.

44‘Ouch!’ cried his wife as if burnt. The baron looked at her: he saw her glittering eyes, her face charcoal-black, the mouth twisted and her hair standing on end.

45And she revolved higher and higher in the air, poor Dona Sol clutched under her left arm: the right arm she was stretching across the table towards her son, Don Inigo of Biscay.

46And the arm stretched and stretched, reaching out for the small boy, who, from fear, sat speechless and motionless.

47The lady’s hand was black and glossy like the bitch’s fur, and her nails had grown a good handspan in length, and curved like claws.

48‘Jesus Christ, holy name of God! ’ cried Don Diogo, whom terror had sobered up. And grabbing his son with his left hand, he made the sign of the cross in the air, again and again.

49His wife gave a loud moan and released Inigo Guerra’s arm, which she had seized, and rising ever higher she flew off through a crack in the wall, taking her weeping daughter with her.

50From that day forward, nothing more was heard either of the mother or the daughter. The black bitch disappeared, thanks to what black arts no one knows, and no one in the castle ever cast eyes on her again.

51Don Diogo Lopes lived for a long time sad and bored, since he no longer dared hunt. One day, however, it occurred to him, in order to cheer himself up, to go hunting not deer, bears or zebras, but instead Moors.

52He ordered his banner to be raised, his cauldron to be cleaned and polished, and his armour to be assembled. He handed on to Don Inigo, now a young man and knight, the command of his castles, and rode off with a glittering army to join the ranks of King Ramiro who was embarking upon a crusade against the Moorish rabble of Spain.

53And for a long time there came from him to Biscay no news or messengers.

Second Canticle

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54It was at nightfall: Don Inigo sat at table but his appetite failed him, his heart grew faint. A page boy, charming and discreet, who, standing before him awaited his orders, said to him: ‘My Lord, why do you not eat?’

55‘How should I eat, Brearte, when, if his letters are to be believed, my lord Don Diogo is a prisoner of the Moors?

56‘But his rescue is in your hands: you have ten thousand foot soldiers and one thousand horsemen in your demesne of Biscay: let us overrun Moorish lands; the prisoners we take will be your father’s ransom’.

57‘That hell hound, the King of Leon has made peace with the dirty dog Moors of Toledo, they who hold my father captive. The noblemen and powers-that-be of that vile and treacherous monarch would not grant passage to the good armies of Biscay’.

58‘Do you wish, my Lord, for a piece of advice that will cost you not a cent?’

59‘Speak on, Brearte’.

60‘Why go you not to the mountain and seek your mother? The elders say that she is a great fairy’.

61‘What say you, Brearte? Do you know who my mother is, and what breed of fairy?’

62‘Many tales have I heard of what took place on a certain night in this castle: you were but a little boy and I was yet unborn. But the whys and wherefores of such tales, only God knows’.

63‘Then I shall tell you. Come closer, Brearte’.

64The page looked around almost unwillingly, and drew close to his master: obedience but also a certain fearful shiver moved him.

65‘Look you here, Brearte, at that boarded-up crack in the wall. It was through there that my mother escaped. How and why I’ll wager you have been told’.

66‘My Lord, yes, and she took your sister with her’.

67‘Reply only to what I ask you. I know that, so hold your tongue’.

68The page looked down, ashamed, seeing as he was humble and well mannered.

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69And the knight began his tale:

70‘After that accursed day, my father fell to wondering: and his thoughts diminished him, leading him to enquire of all elderly huntsmen whether by chance they recollected having met on those hills, in their youth, any evil doings or sorceresses. Upon which there flowed an endless stream of tales of witches and damned souls.

71‘For many years before that, my father had not attended confession: for some years, too, he had become a widower without being widowed.

72‘One Sunday the day broke merrily as though it were Easter; and my Lord Don Diogo awoke, surly and sad as was his wont.

73‘The bells of the monastery in yonder valley pealed as beautifully as if heaven had opened wide its gates. He listened to them with a longing that made him weep.

74‘ “I shall go to the abbot”, he mused to himself, “I wish to confess. Who knows whether this sadness is Satan’s temptation”.

75‘The abbot was a very old man, holy like no other.

76‘It was to him that my father made confession. After making his mea culpa he told him in detail the story of his betrothal.

77‘ “Ouch, my son”, yelped the monk, “you wedded a lost soul!”

78‘ “As for lost souls I know nothing of them”, retorted Don Diogo; “but truly it was a hellish thing”.

79‘ “It was a damned soul: so I tell you, my son”, replied the abbot. “I know the story of that woman from the hills. It was written down more than one hundred years ago on the last page of a Gothic saints’ calendar in our monastery. Your faintheartedness does not surprise me. Worse anxieties and fainting spells have been known to gnaw at the insides of the excommunicated”.

80‘ “Am I then excommunicated?”

81‘ “From top to toe, inside out; there is nothing more to say”.

82‘And my father wept through his beard for the first time in his life.

83‘The good monk soothed him as one would a girl child; he consoled him as one would the unfortunate. Then he began the tale of the hillside lady who, God help me, is my mother.

84‘And as penance, he ordered him to go make war against the Saracens for as long as he had lived in sin, killing as many of them as the number of days that those years encompassed. Fridays did not count for the reckoning, since they are the day of Christ’s Passion, which would make it profane to afflict the foul riff-raff of Mohammedans, the most shameless and pointless beings on Earth.

85‘Now the legend of the lovely lady from the hills, de verbo ad verbum, as spelled out on the blank page of the calendar, ran thus, according to the abbot’s recollection’:

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86‘In the days of the Visigothic kings, good times that they were! there lived in Biscay an earl, lord of a castle perched on a craggy mountain, surrounded by the slopes and pitfalls of a vast domain. Those lands boasted all manner of prey, and Argimiro the Dark (such was the name of the nobleman), like all the barons of Spain, enjoyed first and foremost three good pleasures of the flesh: war, wine and women; but even more than those three things, he enjoyed hunting. A woman he possessed and beautiful, such was the countess; wine, none better than his, in his cellars; and prey that was abundant on his terrains. His father, in his day also a hunter and mountain man, on his deathbed summoned his son and said:

87‘ “Swear to me something that will cost you nothing”. Argimiro swore to obey any command of his lord father.

88‘ “It is that you will never kill a breeding female, be she bear, boar or deer. If you do so, Argimiro, you will never lack in your wildernesses and hunting grounds game upon which to practice the noblest of a nobleman’s pursuits. Moreover, if you knew what befell me one day… Hear me for it was a dreadful case…”

89‘The old man did not finish his story because at that very moment death grabbed him with its claws. He murmured a few halting words, rolled his eyes and expired. May God keep his soul.

90‘Years went by: one day there arrived at the castle a young nobleman, an emissary of King Wamba. His Majesty summoned him to Toledo, to accompany him, with his men, in an assault upon the rebel Paul. Other nobles from that region had been summoned like him.

91‘Before they set off, however, they gathered in Argimiro’s castle for a great hunt, with more than one hundred hunting hounds, mongrels and greyhounds, fifty horsemen and numberless mounted men. It was a striking gathering.

92‘They set off as dawn broke: they stormed through valleys and hills: they hunted through forests and woods. By midday, however, they had yet to raise boar, bear or deer. They cursed heavily, swore and pulled their beards.

93‘Argimiro, who, from long years of practice, knew the deepest parts of the thickets, felt stirring inside him a devilish temptation.

94‘ “My guests”, he thought to himself, “will not depart without drinking a few goblets of wine over some pieces of game. I swear it on my father’s soul”.

95‘And followed by some of the horsemen with their packs of hounds, he abandoned the assembled company and rode and rode until he came upon a steep valley. The valley was dark and gloomy: through it ran a cold and haunted stream. The banks of the stream were rugged and steep.

96‘Argimiro came to the first bend in the river; he halted, looked around and found what he was seeking. A cave opened up on the side of a rocky hill that sloped down to the narrow path on which he rode. Argimiro entered the mouth of the cave, and signalled the noisy huntsmen, mounted boys, hunting hounds, mongrels and greyhounds to follow him.

97‘It was the lair of an onager: the beast sighed and lowered its head as if in supplication.

98‘ “Go to it”, shouted Argimiro, but he turned his face as he did so.

99‘The pack fell upon the poor animal which sighed again and fell in a pool of blood.

100‘A voice rang in the nobleman’s ears, and said: “the onagers’s cubs have been orphaned and at the hand of an onager you will be dishonoured”.

101‘ “Who amongst you dares to cast a curse on me?” shouted the nobleman, looking wrathfully at the huntsmen. They all remained silent; but they were all pale.

102‘Argimiro pondered matters for one moment: then walking out of the cave he muttered: “be gone, or a thousand demons take you”.

103‘With merry blows of the horns and barking by the dogs, he led had the dead beast carried to the castle.

104‘And taking his falcon upon his wrist he ordered the huntsmen to tell the noblemen that two hours thence they would find in his palace well seasoned meat.

105‘Then, followed by his falconers, he headed towards his manor, releasing hawks and falcons and gathering the spoils of the birds of prey, abundant in those whereabouts’.

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106‘The bells of the keep in Argimiro’s castle tolled for the lovely countess whom her husband had killed. Grief-stricken mourners take her to her burial in the neighbouring monastery: the friars follow the mourners, singing funeral psalms: following them comes the nobleman dressed in sackcloth tied with a rope, and injuring his naked feet upon splinters and stones.

107‘Why had he killed his wife, and why did he walk barefoot?

108‘That is precisely what is disclosed in the tale written upon the blank page of the saints’ calendar’.

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109‘Two years was how long lasted King Wamba’s wars; and lots of tales attach to them. And in them fought the noblemen and his bucelarii, as such were called at that time rearguard men and foot soldiers. He performed tremendous deeds and riding triumphs; but he returned covered in scars, and leaving behind on the battle fields his legions, weakened and worn out.

110‘And upon returning from Toledo to Biscay he was accompanied by a single page. Elderly, grey-haired and wrinkled, he, himself was, not from age but from sorrow and weariness.

111‘He travelled heavy-hearted and angry in aspect; because from his castle news had arrived that had saddened and enraged him.

112‘And riding day and night over hills and heaths, woods and gardens, he pondered how to ascertain the truth or falsehood of such sinful rumours’.

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113‘In Argimiro’s manor, even one year after his departure everything exhibited signs of the countess’ anguish and heartache: the rooms were draped in black; black was her attire; in the inner courtyards of the palaces weeds had grown so tall that they might have been scythed: the iron grids and shutters on the windows remained closed: the melodies of the servants and maids, the sound of psalteries and harps, had grown silent.

114‘But in the second year of his absence, all appeared to have changed:

115‘The drapes were now a silver hue; white and red the gowns of the lovely countess; from the palace windows rang the sound of music and balls; and Argimiro’s manor was restored inside and out. An old overseer it was who had warned him of these changes. Such merriment and happiness pained him; as did his master’s honour, by reason of what he saw and what was rumoured.

116‘And here is what had befallen’:

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117‘Far from the illustrious Baron Argimiro the Dark’s county, in the region of Galicia, there lived a noble warrior — that is to say a lesser aristocrat — a handsome gentleman-in-waiting and youthful man called Astrigildo the Blond.

118‘He was twenty-five years old; the dreams that populated his nights were of beautiful damsels; they involved love and pleasure: but at daybreak they all vanished, because when he went out to the fields all he could see were shepherdesses burnt by the sun and the snow, and the rustic maids of his manor.

119‘Of these he had had enough. He had deceived at least five with his words; he had bought the favours of at least ten with gold; another ten he had raped brutally, as was his right as nobleman and lord.

120‘Aged twenty-five, the book of divine justice had already inscribed twenty-five instances of wrongdoing under his name.

121‘One night Astrigildo dreamed that he was running along mountains and valleys at the speed of the wind, riding on the back of a wild onager which, after much running arrived late at night at a manor in which he begged for shelter.

122‘And that a beautiful lady welcomed him, and that they promptly fell in love.

123‘He woke with a start and all day long he thought of nothing other than the lovely lady whom he had met in that dawn-time dream.

124‘Three nights the dream returned; three days the young man pondered it. Leaning against a balcony on a terrace, on the afternoon of the third day he contemplated melancholically the mountains to the North, which he glimpsed on the horizon like grey clouds.

125‘The sun went down in the West but he remained absorbed in his sombre thoughts.

126‘As chance would have it, at that moment he turned and looked down to the terrace beneath; there a forest onager lay, resembling a docile donkey; it was identical in all respects to the animal in his dream.

127‘Dreams entertained three nights in succession cannot lie; Astrigildo hastened down to the terrace. The onager allowed himself to be saddled; and the young man mounted him and hurtled down the hill, towards God and happiness. All went just right: the onager flew rather than galloped. But the sky grew stormy as night fell: darkness deepened and turned into wind, thunder, rain and lightening. The young man lost his bearings, and the onager doubled its speed, snorting violently. At long last it halted, in the dead hours of the night. Knowing not how, Astrigildo found himself at the gates of a castle.

128‘He blew his horn, which released a long, tremulous sound, because he was trembling from fear and cold. As he ceased blowing, the drawbridge was lowered, many pages bearing torches appeared to welcome him and the rooms of the palace were lit up. The countess, too, had dreamed the same as he for three nights’.

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129‘The clepsydra signals late-night vigil time, but in the castle of the Lord of Biscay the ball continues; because the noble countess and the handsome Astrigildo watch the dancing and the games of serfs and freed men, who, to entertain them, labour away in the weaponry room. In a chamber lower down, however, a man stands, dagger in hand, with an enraged mien and tangled hair, seemingly listening to a remote tune.

130‘Another man stands before him and says:

131‘ “My Lord, the time has not yet come to punish this great sin. When they retire, yonder light will be extinguished. Go up then and you will find unobstructed the secret way into the chamber, the same one where your nuptials were spent”.

132‘He who spoke departed, and soon after the light was extinguished, and the man with grizzly hair and staring eyes ascended a steep and dingy stairwell’.

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133‘When, early in the morning, from his balcony, Count Argimiro ordered the body of the countess to be taken to a women’s monastery that he had founded so that in it he and those of his house might have their sepulchre, and ordered his men-at-arms to drag away Astrigildo’s corpse and hurl it over the underlying abyss, he saw a wild onager reclining in a corner of the courtyard.

134‘ “A tame onager is something I never saw”, he said to his steward; “how came he to be here?”

135‘The steward was preparing to answer when a voice was heard: it was as though the air was speaking.

136‘ “It was he that brought Astrigildo: it was he that will carry him off. At your hand the onager’s young were orphaned, and by his actions, oh Lord, you have been dishonoured. You were cruel to the poor beasts: God has avenged them”.

137‘ “Mercy!” cried Argimiro, for at that moment he remembered the ill-fated hunt.

138‘In the meanwhile the count’s men were departing with the bloodied corpse of the young man: when the onager saw this, he leapt like a lion into the mob which he caused to disperse, and gripping the dead man with his teeth he dragged him outside the castle, and, as if born by a legion of demons, hurtled down the cliff.

139‘It was for that reason that the count, robe tied with a string and barefoot, was now following the cortege of monks and coffin. He wished to do penance at the monastery for having broken the vow made to his father.

140‘The souls of the countess and the young knight fell headlong into hell, for having departed this life as adulterers, which is a mortal sin.

141‘From that moment the two wretched souls have appeared to many people in remote areas of Biscay: she dressed in red and white, sitting on rocks, singing melodious songs: he gamboling around in the shape of an onager.

142‘This was the story the old abbot told my father, and which he told me, before going to serve his penance in that war against the Moors that proved fatal to him’.

143Thus Don Inigo ended his tale. Brearte, the young page, felt his hair stand on end. He remained motionless for a long while before his master: both silent. The young knight choked on his food. At last he withdrew from his pouch Don Diogo’s letter and read it again. The trials and tribulations there told were such that Don Inigo felt tears streaming down his face. He rose from the table to retire. Neither he nor the page slept a wink all night; the latter from fear, the former from sorrow.

144And in Don Inigo’s ears there rang non-stop Brearte’s words: ‘Why not go to the mountain to seek your mother?’ It was true that only a magic spell could release the wretched Lord of Biscay from the clutches of the Moors.

145At long last dawn broke.

Third Canticle

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146Messenger after messenger, missive after missive arrived for Don Inigo from Toledo. The King of Leon exchanged Moorish knights for his own every day, but he held no wali or kayid of a rank to equal that of the Lord of Biscay.

147Many of those ransomed were natives of the mountains; and these, upon their return, carried those messages, and told of tears even more copious, were that possible, than those described in the letters.

148‘At the eagle gate, in Toledo’ — they told him — ‘the Moorish rabble has a very well appointed field. There they hold feasts, dances and bull fights on the name days of their dirty-dog saints, as they are told and taught by khatibs and ul-máis.

149‘There they keep cages of ferocious beasts, sights to behold and disbelieve: if tigers and lions cannot break out, the notion of human hands doing so is foolish.

150‘In one of these cells, almost naked, with chains on his hands and feet is the illustrious nobleman who formerly led large and distinguished armies.

151‘The Moors are mostly courteous to their aristocratic prisoners. They treat Don Diogo like this because three years have now gone by with no sign of a ransom’.

152The returning pilgrims, freed from captivity, well fed and clothed in the castle, told such stories and the following day left with provisions, travelling in the peace of God.

153Don Inigo, however, was not left with peace of mind: ‘why not go to the mountain?’ a voice whispered in his ear. ‘Why not go seek your mother?’ repeated Brearte, the page.

154What could he do?

155He spent a sleepless night thinking about it.

156In the morning, trusting to God and good fortune, behold him at long last embarking, albeit unwillingly, upon this adventure,

157In order to avoid crossing himself he blessed himself twenty times. He prayed a Pater, an Ave and a Credo; seeing as he did not know whether shortly he would remember such prayers.

158Then, followed by his favourite hound, on foot and with a javelin in hand, he went through thickets, up a path towards dismal, lonely summits where, tradition had it, the lovely lady had appeared to his father.

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159The nightingales twitter in the brook; the water of the streams murmurs in the distance; the leaves rustle in the early morning breeze: it is a beautiful dawn.

160And Don Inigo Guerra climbs, softly, softly, the steep slopes, leaps over sunken hollows, and despite all efforts feels his heart beat with unaccustomed anxiety.

161Where the woods opened into a clearing or the hillocks levelled out, Don Inigo would pause, catching his breath and listening.

162He had been deep in the woods for a long time: the sun was high in the sky, the day warm: the nightingale’s song had been replaced by the screeching of the crickets.

163And he came upon a fountain that erupted from a black rock and, flowing from crag to crag, came to a rustic pool upon which the sunlight seemed to dance to the rhythm of the wavelets caused by the waterfall.

164Don Inigo sat in the shade of the rock and, removing his hunting cap, quenched his severe thirst and washed his face and hair, covered as they had been in dust and sweat.

165His hound, having also drunk, lay beside him, tongue lolling, panting with tiredness.

166Suddenly the dog stood and hurled itself forward barking loudly. Don Inigo moved his eyes: a wild donkey was grazing at the edge of the clearing, under a leafy oak tree.

167‘Tarik!’ cried the young man. ‘Tarik!’ But Tarik kept on heedless.

168‘Let him go, my son! Your dog will not get the better of that onager’.

169The words came from a voice on top of the promontory. He looked: a beautiful woman was perched there, and leaned towards him with a loving gesture and an angel smile.

170‘Mother! Mother!’ cried Inigo Guerra rising to his feet, whilst inwardly saying: ‘Vade retro! Saint Hermenegildo help me! ’ and his hair being wet, he felt it standing on end.

171‘My son, on your lips sweet words; in your heart, curses. But it matters not, for you are my son. Tell me what you want from me and it will be done as you wish and require’.

172The young knight was speechless with fear. Tarik, meanwhile, sighed and howled at the feet of the onager.

173‘My father, Don Diogo Lopes, has been a prisoner of the Moors for many years’ he stammered at last. ‘Would that you would show me, Lady, how to rescue him’.

174‘His troubles I know as well as you. If I could I would have helped him, had you asked me or not: but the old tyrant up in Heaven wishes him to suffer for as many years as he lived with the… godless creature they call the Lady with Cloven Hoofs’.

175‘Do not blaspheme against God, mother, it is a fearful sin’, interjected the youth, ever more appalled.

176‘Sin?! For me there is no such thing as either sin or virtue’, said the lady with howls of laughter.

177It was a languid laughter, sad and awful. If Satan laughs, surely it is thus that he laughs.

178The knight could say naught else. ‘Inigo! ’ she proceeded, ‘one year is yet left of the penance of the noble Lord of Biscay. A year soon passes: but I will make it pass more speedily even. See you that brave onager? When, upon waking one night you see him standing by you, gentle as a lamb, mount him and ride off unafraid, and he will take you to Toledo from whence you will release your father’. And she added with vehemence, ‘Is this to your liking, Sparrow?’ The onager wiggled its ears in agreement and began braying; he began where sometimes the learned finish.

179Then the Lady started singing a sorcerous song, accompanying herself with a psaltery from which she drew the strangest chords:

‘In the name of the broomstick,
In the name of the hanging pulley,
In the name of serpents present,
Of the Surah and the Torah;
‘In the name of the magic wand,
In the name of the sieve’s chambray,
In the name of the old witch,
Of him killed by human hand;
‘In the name of the goat, king of revels,
In the name of the frog dead and stiff,
In the name of the bloodless infant
Whose blood witches sucked as he napped.
‘In the name of pale, glossy skulls,
From which blood was imbibed,
In the name of fratricide,
And the pain that it exacted;
‘In the name of the secret,
Whose name must not be uttered,
Hither come hell-bound creature,
Come to listen to my psaltery!
‘And let you dance, here on Earth,
The most frenzied of dances,
And let him grow dizzy,
My own son Inigo Guerra.
‘Let him sleep for one whole year,
As though merely for one hour,
By the fountain that gently bubbles,
Upon the lawn of this hill’.

Whilst the Lady sang these melodies, the young man was overcome by a languor of the limbs that grew and forced him to sit down.

180And at that very moment a dull sound was heard, as of lightening and wind-storms blowing through caves: and the sky grew dark and ever more downcast, until lit only as at twilight.

181And the water in the peaceful tank now churned, and the boulders cracked, and the trees twisted, and the air hissed.

182And from the water bubbles in the tank, and the cracks in the rocks, and the immensity of the trees and the vastness of the air one could see sinking and rising, breaking and leaping… what? Something very astonishing indeed.

183It was thousands and thousands of disembodied limbs, charcoal black, on each stump a wing, and in each hand a torch of sorts.

184Like the straw that the typhoon blows off the turf, that multitude of lights intercrossed, twirled, mingled and parted, twisted, but always rhythmically, in step. Don Inigo’s head revolved: the lights seemed to him to be blue, green and red: but his limbs succumbed to such a gentle languor that he could not summon up the strength to make the sign of the cross to drive off that band of demons.

185And he felt himself slowly growing faint, began to slumber, and soon he snored. Meanwhile, back at the castle, his absence had been noticed. They waited for him until nightfall; they waited for him for a week, a month, a year, but he did not return.

186Poor Brearte searched the mountain a long time, but the place where the knight lay was unreachable.

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187Don Inigo awoke in the dead of night: he had slept for some hours: or at least, so he thought. He gazed at the sky, saw stars: he felt his surroundings, touched the ground: he listened, heard the rustle of the trees.

188Bit by bit he recalled what had happened with his unfortunate mother; because to begin, he remembered nothing.

189He thought he heard breathing: he looked more closely: it was Sparrow, the onager.

190‘I am bewitched’, thought he: ‘let us follow this adventure to the end and see if I can save my father’.

191And standing up straight, he approached the animal, who was already saddled up and harnessed. What manner of harness, only the Devil knew.

192He hesitated briefly, overcome by scruples — none too soon — about riding that infernal sprinter.

193Presently he heard a voice stirring the air and singing very clearly. It was the voice of the fearful Lady with cloven hoofs:

‘Ride, my knight,
Down that promising path;
Go rescue your good lord;
Go and end his captivity.
‘Sparrow, you will eat
Neither barley nor oats,
You will neither dine nor sup,
Strong and nimble you’ll return.
  ‘Neither whip nor spur,
Are needed, oh knight!
He runs fast and easily,
Night and day, any time.
‘Remove neither rein nor saddle,
Do not speak, do not spike him,
As he gallops do not panic,
Look back you never must.
‘Onwards and upwards, forward, forward!
Quick, quick, at a fast run!
Not a minute to be lost,
Though the cockerel is yet mute’.

‘Go! ’ shouted Don Inigo Guerra, in a kind of frenzy, occasioned by that melody; and with one leap he mounted the motionless onager.

194And as he settled in the saddle, behold! off he gallops!

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195Though at peace with the Christians, Toledo’s Moors keep sentries and watchmen on the towers, sentry posts and ramparts, and on the hills that overlook the borders of Leon, torches and torch guards.

196But if the King of Leon only knew how undefended Toledo is now; how, come nightfall, the watchmen doze off, fail to light torches, he would break his oath and mount an assault against it.

197Would do so, were it not that he would then need to make confession, saying to his priest Confiteor Deo and pecavi; since the breaking an oath, even to godless dogs, is believed to be a most ugly sin.

198It was twilight: at sundown those over there in Toledo, gazing towards the North, glimpsed, far, far away, a fast-moving black cloud, undulating and twisting in the sky, as the road did on Earth, winding between the hills, as if drunk.

199At first it was but a dot; then it grew ever larger: when night fell, it had moved near and covered a large stretch of land.

200The muezzin, climbing the tower of the mosque, called Mohammed’s faithful to afternoon prayer.

201The clap of thunder mingled with his high voice, like a soprano and a bass.

202And a tornado blowing by, twirled and got entangled in the long, white beard of the muezzin, lashing his face with it.

203It then began to rain cats and dogs, such as neither young nor old recollected ever having seen anywhere. On that occasion one might see the scouts sheltering in the keeps; the pulley men running down the ramparts; the torch carriers vanishing into the torch holds; the hajibs, drenched to the skin, taking refuge in the mosques; the old women who had come out at the sound of the muezzin’s voice, dragged by the flowing water down narrow, winding streets, calling out to Mohammed and Allah. And down came the rain, ever heavier!

204The inhabitants of Toledo either run or kneel. And down comes the rain, ever heavier!

205Fear breaks their spirit: the cassiks exorcise the storm: penitent fakhirs shout that it is the end of the world, and urge those wanting to be saved to bestow upon them all their worldly goods. And down came the rain, ever heavier!

206What saved Toledo was the failure to close the city gates: had that happened, all the Moors would have drowned within the city precinct.

207Don Diogo lay in his dungeon, leaning against the iron bars. The poor old man passed the time listening to that tremendous deluge; for the night was long, and he had nothing to do.

208But as the ground on which sat his wild-beast cage was fenced in by walls the rain could not drain out in full and rose, so that he could feel his feet growing damp.

209And thus, regardless of his torments, he grew afraid of dying, because well he knew that death is worst of all; seeing as the Lord of Biscay was no atheist, or philosopher or idiot.

210But behold, he now glimpses a pale shape that jumped over the raised dais, and hears, in the middle of the grounds — plash — and he heard a voice saying ‘Noble Lord Don Diogo, where are you?’

211‘What is it I see and hear?!’ clamoured the old man. ‘A garment that is not white is not worn by an Ishmaelite; a voice that utters not gobbledegook does not belong to an Infidel; a leap from such height, comes not from a human rider. By all you believe tell me, are you an angel or are you St. Tiago?’

212‘My father, my father!’ said the knight, ‘know you not Inigo’s voice? It is I, come to rescue you’.

213And Don Inigo dismounted and, pulling the heavy reins, sought to loosen them: the water already came up to his toes, yet he took no notice.

214Greatly distressed, the young man sought to invoke Jesus’ name; but he remembered how he came to be where he was, and the holy name died on his lips.

215Sparrow, however, seemed to guess his innermost thoughts and let out a sudden, piercing sigh, as though burnt by a red-hot iron.

216And, pushing Don Inigo with his head, he leaned his hip against the iron bars.

217A crash was heard. A single kick and the trellis broke into a thousand splinters. Whether you believe me or not, history so records it: I stand to gain nothing from telling it.

218As for Don Diogo, he believed it: because a wooden sliver knocked his last two remaining teeth down his throat. The pain rendered him speechless.

219His son had him ride ahead of him, and galloping behind him shouted: ‘Father, you are free! ’

220And Sparrow climbed onto the dais again with a single leap, seeing as he measured fifteen hands.

221In the morning it did not rain; the air was calm and clear, and when the Moors went to check up on Don Diogo Lopes, they found no trace of him.

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222Don Inigo and his father, the old Lord of Biscay, go through the city gates of Toledo with the speed of an arrow: in the blink of an eye they leave behind towers, sentry posts and ramparts. The downpour diminishes: the clouds break, and some stars can be seen, like so many eyes with which heaven spies through the darkness upon the affairs down below.

223The road, weaving up and down the slopes, turned into a cascading river, and on level ground into lakes.

224But whether through lakes or torrents, the brave onager stampeded, snorting like the Devil.

225No sooner than they had climbed a hill than they descended another slope; no sooner had they reached a clearing than they felt drops dripping down from the swaying branches of trees in the deepest forest.

226It is soon after midnight, and the snowy summits of Vindio outline stretches of clear sky, akin to the crags of a gigantic mountain range capable of sundering in half the austral and boreal hemispheres.

227And Sparrow charges the amorphous mountains with a loose gallop, climbs the fearful valleys, and, ever more adroitly, as his name suggests, he resembles less a four-legged animal than a bird.

228But what sound is that which drowns out the wind? What is that, far away, which now gleams, now glitters in the pitch dark, like a pack of wolves wrapped in white shrouds, only their eyes uncovered, spreading out like a thread at the bottom of the valley?

229It is a fast-flowing river, foaming, with protruding crags like a spine whose hair stands on end, and upon which the reflexes and rays of the stars refract a thousandfold.

230A bridge looms dark over the river, and in the centre of it a slender shape. ‘Is it a mile post, a statue?’ wonder the riders. It cannot be a conifer; they are not known to grow on bridges.

231Sparrow sneers at the rivers, makes as little of them as of a bale of hay. Even though he could have jumped twenty such streams, he headed straight for the bridge; he wasn’t the kind of animal that wastes time on pointless pursuits.

232The onager lunged into the narrow mountain pass like a flash of lightning… but behold, he paused abruptly.

233He trembled like a leaf and breathed stertorously: the two riders looked on.

234The slim shape was a stone cross raised half-way along the bridge and it was the cause of Sparrow’s reluctance.

235Then, from amidst some tall poplars that swayed on the farthermost bank, a little closer, a weary, tremulous voice was heard:

‘Back, back at a gallop.
Now!
Round and round, come
Hither!
Nothing stands in your way.
Shush,
Not a word, you two. Avoid that
Cross’.

‘Holy name of God! ’ roared Don Diogo, blessing himself at the sound of that voice he well knew but thought not to hear in those thereabouts, his son having not revealed how he had come to rescue him.

236The moment the old man’s words were heard, he and Don Inigo too, were hurled against the base of the crucifix and lay prone, covered in sludge. The onager, having thrown them off, howled like a wild beast. And they smelled the intolerable aroma of sulphur and charcoal, which they immediately understood to be linked to Satan.

237And they heard a peal of thunder underground; and the bridge swayed, as though the Earth’s innards broke apart.

238His great fear notwithstanding, and even though he called upon the Holy Virgin, Don Inigo peeped out of the corner of his eye to see how matters fared.

239We men often say women are curious. We are the curious ones. We lie like damned souls.

240What could it be that the knight could see? A gaping pitfall, close by, over the bridge and erupting from the water.

241And along the riverbed; and down into the entrails of the Earth; and over Hell’s ceiling (there was nothing else it could be), a scarlet fire reverberated in those depths.

242So much so that he glimpsed a demon with a twisted spit in his hand, a Jew impaled upon it.

243And Sparrow spiralled down that chasm, like a feather falling from a tower on a windless day.

244The sight caused Don Inigo to faint, refraining from calling upon Jesus’ sacred name. Both the old man and the youth lay there senseless.

245When they came to, at the dawn of a sunny day, they knew where they were. It was the bridge by the village of Nustúrio, above which stood the castle built by Don From, the Saxon grandsire of Don Diogo Lopes, and first Lord of Biscay.

246There were no traces of the night’s events; the two men, worn out and covered in sludge and bruises, dragged themselves as best they could until they came upon some serfs to whom they made themselves known, and who took them home.

247Many banquets were held in Nustúrio in honour of their return, and more that I cannot tell you; seeing as soon it will be time to eat, pray and sleep.

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248Don Diogo lived but a short time longer: every day he went to mass, and every week he made confession. Don Inigo, however, never set feet in church again, never prayed again, and did naught but hunt in the mountains.

249Whenever he was obliged to go to war for Leon, he was seen climbing the mountain armed to the teeth and thence return mounted on a gigantic onager.

250And his name rang throughout Spain; for there was no battle in which he fought and which was lost, and no conflict in which he was wounded or toppled.

251It was whispered in Nustúrio that the illustrious Baron had signed a pact with the Devil. How surprising!

252He was already half demon on his mother’s side; all that remained was for him to sell the other half of his soul.

253For an eighty percent profit on receipt of defection, any pawnbroker gives a soul to Satan in its entirety and considers it a good transaction.

254Be that as it may, Don Inigo died of old age: what history does not record is what then happened in the castle. As I do not wish to fabricate lies, I shall say nothing.

255But God’s mercy is bounteous. As a precaution, say a Pater and an Ave for him. If it profit him not, may it help me instead. Amen.

Notes

1 The Lady with a Cloven Hoof: A Minstrel’s Romance (eleventh century). Also available at https://www.academia.edu/26151863/Translation_of_Alexandre_Herculanos_A_Dama_P%C3%A9_de_Cabra

Auteur

Maria Manuel Lisboa (Traducteur)

(2016)