Don Rodriguez, by Lord Dunsany, , at sacred-texts.com
THE TENTH CHRONICLE
HOW HE CAME BACK TO LOWLIGHT
"Master," Morano said. But Rodriguez rode ahead and would not speak.
They were riding vaguely southward. They had ample provisions on the horse that Morano led, as well as blankets, which gave them comfort at night. That night they both got the sleep they needed, now that there was no captive to guard. All the next day they rode slowly in the April weather by roads that wandered among tended fields; but a little way off from the fields there shone low hills in the sunlight, so wild, so free of man, that Rodriguez remembering them in later years, wondered if their wild shrubs just hid the frontiers of fairyland.
For two days they rode by the edge of unguessable regions. Had Pan piped there no one had marvelled, nor though fauns had scurried past sheltering clumps of azaleas. In the twilight no tiny queens had court within rings of toadstools: yet almost, almost they appeared.
And on the third day all at once they came to a road they knew. It was the road by which they had ridden when Rodriguez still had his dream, the way from Shadow Valley to the Ebro. And so they turned into the road they knew, as wanderers always will; and, still without aim or plan, they faced towards Shadow Valley. And in the evening of the day that followed that, as they looked about for a camping-ground, there came in sight the village on the hill which Rodriguez knew to be fifty miles from the forest: it was the village in which they had rested the first night after leaving Shadow Valley. They did not camp but went on to the village and knocked at the door of the inn. Habit guides us all at times, even kings are the slaves of it (though in their presence it takes the prouder name of precedent); and here were two wanderers without any plans at all; they were therefore defenceless in the grip of habit and, seeing an inn they knew, they loitered up to it. Mine host came again to the door. He cheerfully asked Rodriguez how he had fared on his journey, but Rodriguez would say nothing. He asked for lodging for himself and Morano and stabling for the horses: he ate and slept and paid his due, and in the morning was gone.
Whatever impulses guided Rodriguez as he rode and Morano followed, he knew not what they were or even that there could be any. He followed the road without hope and only travelled to change his camping-grounds. And that night he was half-way between the village and Shadow Valley.
Morano never spoke, for he saw that his master's disappointment was still raw; but it pleased him to notice, as he had done all day, that they were heading for the great forest. He cooked their evening meal in their camp by the wayside and they both ate it in silence. For awhile Rodriguez sat and gazed at the might-have- beens in the camp-fire: and when these began to be hidden by white ash he went to his blankets and slept. And Morano went quietly about the little camp, doing all that needed to be done, with never a word. When the horses were seen to and fed, when the knives were cleaned, when everything was ready for the start next morning, Morano went to his blankets and slept too. And in the morning again they wandered on.
That evening they saw the low gold rays of the sun enchanting the tops of a forest. It almost surprised Rodriguez, travelling without an aim, to recognise Shadow Valley. They quickened their slow pace and, before twilight faded, they were under the great oaks; but the last of the twilight could not pierce the dimness of Shadow Valley, and it seemed as if night had entered the forest with them.
They chose a camping-ground as well as they could in the darkness and Morano tied the horses to trees a little way off from the camp. Then he returned to Rodriguez and tied a blanket to the windward side of two trees to make a kind of bedroom for his master, for they had all the blankets they needed. And when this was done he set the emblem and banner of camps, anywhere all over the world in any time, for he gathered sticks and branches and lit a camp-fire. The first red flames went up and waved and proclaimed a camp: the light made a little circle, shadows ran away to the forest, and the circle of light on the ground and on the trees that stood round it became for that one night home.
They heard the horses stamp as they always did in the early part of the night; and then Morano went to give them their fodder. Rodriguez sat and gazed into the fire, his mind as full of thoughts as the fire was full of pictures: one by one the pictures in the fire fell in; and all his thoughts led nowhere.
He heard Morano running back the thirty or forty yards he had gone from the camp-fire "Master," Morano said, "the three horses are gone."
"Gone?" said Rodriguez. There was little more to say; it was too dark to track them and he knew that to find three horses in Shadow Valley was a task that might take years. And after more thought than might seem to have been needed he said; "We must go on foot."
"Have we far to go, master?" said Morano, for the first time daring to question him since they left the cottage in Spain.
"I have nowhere to go," said Rodriguez. His head was downcast as he sat by the fire: Morano stood and looked at him unhappily, full of a sympathy that he found no words to express. A light wind slipped through the branches and everything else was still. It was some while before he lifted his head; and then he saw before him on the other side of the fire, standing with folded arms, the man in the brown leather jacket.
"Nowhere to go!" said he. "Who needs go anywhere from Shadow Valley?"
Rodriguez stared at him. "But I can't stay here!" he said.
"There is no fairer forest known to man," said the other. "I know many songs that prove it."
Rodriguez made no answer but dropped his eyes, gazing with listless glance once more at the ground. "Come, senor," said the man in the leather jacket. "None are unhappy in Shadow Valley."
"Who are you?" said Rodriguez. Both he and Morano were gazing curiously at the man whom they had saved three weeks ago from the noose.
"Your friend," answered the stranger.
"No friend can help me," said Rodriguez.
"Senor," said the stranger across the fire, still standing with folded arms, "I remain under an obligation to no man. If you have an enemy or love a lady, and if they dwell within a hundred miles, either shall be before you within a week."
Rodriguez shook his head, and silence fell by the camp-fire. And after awhile Rodriguez, who was accustomed to dismiss a subject when it was ended, saw the stranger's eyes on him yet, still waiting for him to say more. And those clear blue eyes seemed to do more than wait, seemed almost to command, till they overcame Rodriguez' will and he obeyed and said, although he could feel each word struggling to stay unuttered, "Senor, I went to the wars to win a castle and a piece of land thereby; and might perchance have wed and ended my wanderings, with those of my servant here; but the wars are over and no castle is won."
And the stranger saw by his face in the firelight, and knew from the tones of his voice in the still night, the trouble that his words had not expressed.
"I remain under an obligation to no man," said the stranger. "Be at this place in four weeks' time, and you shall have a castle as large as any that men win by war, and a goodly park thereby."
"Your castle, master!" said Morano delighted, whose only thought up to then was as to who had got his horses. But Rodriguez only stared: and the stranger said no more but turned on his heel. And then Rodriguez awoke out of his silence and wonder. "But where?" he said. "What castle?"
"That you will see," said the stranger.
"But, but how ..." said Rodriguez. What he meant was, "How can I believe you?" but he did not put it in words.
"My word was never broken," said the other. And that is a good boast to make, for those of us who can make it; if we need boast at all.
"Whose word?" said Rodriguez, looking him in the eyes.
The smoke from the fire between them was thickening greyly as though something had been cast on it. "The word," he said, "of the King of Shadow Valley."
Rodriguez gazing through the increasing smoke saw not to the other side. He rose and walked round the fire, but the strange man was gone.
Rodriguez came back to his place by the fire and sat long there in silence. Morano was bubbling over to speak, but respected his master's silence: for Rodriguez was gazing into the deeps of the fire seeing pictures there that were brighter than any that he had known. They were so clear now that they seemed almost true. He saw Serafina's face there looking full at him. He watched it long until other pictures hid it, visions that had no meaning for Rodriguez. And not till then he spoke. And when he spoke his face was almost smiling.
"Well, Morano," he said, "have we come by that castle at last?"
"That man does not lie, master," he answered: and his eyes were glittering with shrewd conviction.
"What shall we do then?" said Rodriguez.
"Let us go to some village, master," said Morano, "until the time he said."
"What village?" Rodriguez asked.
"I know not, master," answered Morano, his face a puzzle of innocence and wonder; and Rodriguez fell back into thought again. And the dancing flames calmed down to a deep, quiet glow; and soon Rodriguez stepped back a yard or two from the fire to where Morano had prepared his bed; and, watching the fire still, and turning over thoughts that flashed and changed as fast as the embers, he went to wonderful dreams that were no more strange or elusive than that valley's wonderful king.
When he spoke in the morning the camp-fire was newly lit and there was a smell of bacon; and Morano, out of breath and puzzled, was calling to him.
"Master," he said, "I was mistaken about those horses."
"Mistaken?" said Rodriguez.
"They were just as I left them, master, all tied to the tree with my knots."
Rodriguez left it at that. Morano could make mistakes and the forest was full of wonders: anything might happen. "We will ride," he said.
Morano's breakfast was as good as ever; and, when he had packed up those few belongings that make a dwelling-place of any chance spot in the wilderness, they mounted the horses, which were surely there, and rode away through sunlight and green leaves. They rode slow, for the branches were low over the path, and whoever canters in a forest and closes his eyes against a branch has to consider whether he will open them to be whipped by the next branch or close them till he bumps his head into a tree. And it suited Rodriguez to loiter, for he thought thus to meet the King of Shadow Valley again or his green bowmen and learn the answers to innumerable questions about his castle which were wandering through his mind.
They ate and slept at noon in the forest's glittering greenness.
They passed afterwards by the old house in the wood, in which the bowmen feasted, for they followed the track that they had taken before. They knocked loud on the door as they passed but the house was empty. They heard the sound of a multitude felling trees, but whenever they approached the sound of chopping ceased. Again and again they left the track and rode towards the sound of chopping, and every time the chopping died away just as they drew close. They saw many a tree half felled, but never a green bowman. And at last they left it as one of the wonders of the forest and returned to the track lest they lose it, for the track was more important to them than curiosity, and evening had come and was filling the forest with dimness, and shadows stealing across the track were beginning to hide it away. In the distance they heard the invisible woodmen chopping.
And then they camped again and lit their fire; and night came down and the two wanderers slept.
The nightingale sang until he woke the cuckoo: and the cuckoo filled the leafy air so full of his two limpid notes that the dreams of Rodriguez heard them and went away, back over their border to dreamland. Rodriguez awoke Morano, who lit his fire: and soon they had struck their camp and were riding on.
By noon they saw that if they hurried on they could come to Lowlight by nightfall. But this was not Rodriguez' plan, for he had planned to ride into Lowlight, as he had done once before, at the hour when Serafina sat in her balcony in the cool of the evening, as Spanish ladies in those days sometimes did. So they tarried long by their resting-place at noon and then rode slowly on. And when they camped that night they were still in the forest.
"Morano," said Rodriguez over the camp-fire, "tomorrow brings me to Lowlight."
"Aye, master," said Morano, "we shall be there tomorrow."
"That senor with whom I had a meeting there," said Rodriguez, "he ..."
"He loves me not," said Morano.
"He would surely kill you," replied Rodriguez.
Morano looked sideways at his frying-pan.
"It would therefore be better," continued Rodriguez, "that you should stay in this camp while I give such greetings of ceremony in Lowlight as courtesy demands."
"I will stay, master," said Morano.
Rodriguez was glad that this was settled, for he felt that to follow his dreams of so many nights to that balconied house in Lowlight with Morano would be no better than visiting a house accompanied by a dog that had bitten one of the family.
"I will stay," repeated Morano. "But, master ..." The fat man's eyes were all supplication.
"Yes?" said Rodriguez.
"Leave me your mandolin," implored Morano.
"My mandolin?" said Rodriguez.
"Master," said Morano, "that senor who likes my fat body so ill he would kill me, he ..."
"Well?" said Rodriguez, for Morano was hesitating.
"He likes your mandolin no better, master."
Rodriguez resented a slight to his mandolin as much as a slight to his sword, but he smiled as he looked at Morano's anxious face.
"He would kill you for your mandolin," Morano went on eagerly, "as he would kill me for my frying-pan."
And at the mention of that frying-pan Rodriguez frowned, although it had given him many a good meal since the night it offended in Lowlight. And he would sooner have gone to the wars without a sword than under the balcony of his heart's desire without a mandolin.
So Rodriguez would hear no more of Morano's request; and soon he left the fire and went to lie down; but Morano sighed and sat gazing on into the embers unhappily; while thoughts plodded slow through his mind, leading to nothing. Late that night he threw fresh logs on the camp-fire, so that when they awoke there was still fire in the embers And when they had eaten their breakfast Rodriguez said farewell to Morano, saying that he had business in Lowlight that might keep him a few days. But Morano said not farewell then, for he would follow his master as far as the midday halt to cook his next meal. And when noon came they were beyond the forest.
Once more Morano cooked bacon. Then while Rodriguez slept Morano took his cloak and did all that could be done by brushing and smoothing to give back to it that air that it some time had, before it had flapped upon so many winds and wrapped Rodriguez on such various beds, and met the vicissitudes that make this story.
For the plume he could do little.
And his master awoke, late in the afternoon, and went to his horse and gave Morano his orders. He was to go back with two of the horses to their last camp in the forest and take with him all their kit except one blanket and make himself comfortable there and wait till Rodriguez came.
And then Rodriguez rode slowly away, and Morano stood gazing mournfully and warningly at the mandolin; and the warnings were not lost upon Rodriguez, though he would never admit that he saw in Morano's staring eyes any wise hint that he heeded.
And Morano sighed, and went and untethered his horses; and soon he was riding lonely back to the forest. And Rodriguez taking the other way saw at once the towers of Lowlight.
Does my reader think that he then set spurs to his horse, galloping towards that house about whose balcony his dreams flew every night? No, it was far from evening; far yet from the colour and calm in which the light with never a whisper says farewell to Earth, but with a gesture that the horizon hides takes silent leave of the fields on which she has danced with joy; far yet from the hour that shone for Serafina like a great halo round her and round her mother's house.
We cannot believe that one hour more than another shone upon Serafina, or that the dim end of the evening was only hers: but these are the Chronicles of Rodriguez, who of all the things that befell him treasured most his memory of Serafina in the twilight, and who held that this hour was hers as much as her raiment and her balcony: such therefore it is in these chronicles.
And so he loitered, waiting for the slow sun to set: and when at last a tint on the walls of Lowlight came with the magic of Earth's most faery hour he rode in slowly not perhaps wholly unwitting, for all his anxious thoughts of Serafina, that a little air of romance from the Spring and the evening followed this lonely rider.
From some way off he saw that balcony that had drawn him back from the other side of the far Pyrenees. Sometimes he knew that it drew him and mostly he knew it not; yet always that curved balcony brought him nearer, ever since he turned from the field of the false Don Alvidar: the balcony held him with invisible threads, such as those with which Earth draws in the birds at evening. And there was Serafina in her balcony.
When Rodriguez saw Serafina sitting there in the twilight, just as he had often dreamed, he looked no more but lowered his head to the withered rose that he carried now in his hand, the rose that he had found by that very balcony under another moon. And, gazing still at the rose, he rode on under the balcony, and passed it, until his hoof-beats were heard no more in Lowlight and he and his horse were one dim shape between the night and the twilight. And still he held on.
He knew not yet, but only guessed, who had thrown that rose from the balcony on the night when he slept on the dust: he knew not who it was that he fought on the same night, and dared not guess what that unknown hidalgo might be to Serafina. He had no claim to more from that house, which once gave him so cold a welcome, than thus to ride by it in silence. And he knew as he rode that the cloak and the plume that he wore scarce seemed the same as those that had floated by when more than a month ago he had ridden past that balcony; and the withered rose that he carried added one more note of autumn. And yet he hoped.
And so he rode into twilight and was hid from the sight of the village, a worn, pathetic figure, trusting vaguely to vague powers of good fortune that govern all men, but that favour youth.
And, sure enough, it was not yet wholly moonlight when cantering hooves came down the road behind him. It was once more that young hidalgo. And as soon as he drew rein beside Rodriguez both reached out merry hands as though their former meeting had been some errand of joy. And as Rodriguez looked him in the eyes, while the two men leaned over clasping hands, in light still clear though faded, he could not doubt Serafina was his sister.
"Senor," said his old enemy, "will you tarry with us, in our house a few days, if your journey is not urgent?"
Rodriguez gasped for joy; for the messenger from Lowlight, the certainty that here was no rival, the summons to the house of his dreams' pilgrimage, came all together: his hand still clasped the stranger's. Yet he answered with the due ceremony that that age and land demanded: then they turned and rode together towards Lowlight. And first the young men told each other their names; and the stranger told how he dwelt with his mother and sister in the house that Rodriguez knew, and his name was Don Alderon of the Valley of Dawnlight. His house had dwelt in that valley since times out of knowledge; but then the Moors had come and his forbears had fled to Lowlight: the Moors were gone now, for which Saint Michael and all fighting Saints be praised; but there were certain difficulties about his right to the Valley of Dawnlight. So they dwelt in Lowlight still.
And Rodriguez told of the war that there was beyond the Pyrenees and how the just cause had won, but little more than that he was able to tell, for he knew scarce more of the cause for which he had fought than History knows of it, who chooses her incidents and seems to forget so much. And as they talked they came to the house with the balcony. A waning moon cast light over it that was now no longer twilight; but was the light of wild things of the woods, and birds of prey, and men in mountains outlawed by the King, and magic, and mystery, and the quests of love. Serafina had left her place: lights gleamed now in the windows. And when the door was opened the hall seemed to Rodriguez so much less hugely hollow, so much less full of ominous whispered echoes, that his courage rose high as he went through it with Alderon, and they entered the room together that they had entered together before. In the long room beyond many candles he saw Dona Serafina and her mother rising up to greet him. Neither the ceremonies of that age nor Rodriguez' natural calm would have entirely concealed his emotion had not his face been hidden as he bowed. They spoke to him; they asked him of his travels; Rodriguez answered with effort. He saw by their manner that Don Alderon must have explained much in his favour. He had this time, to cheer him, a very different greeting; and yet he felt little more at ease than when he had stood there late at night before, with one eye bandaged and wearing only one shoe, suspected of he knew not what brawling and violence.
It was not until Dona Mirana, the mother of Serafina, asked him to play to them on his mandolin that Rodriguez' ease returned. He bowed then and brought round his mandolin, which had been slung behind him; and knew a triumphant champion was by him now, one old in the ways of love and wise in the sorrows of man, a slender but potent voice, well-skilled to tell what there were not words to say; a voice unhindered by language, unlimited even by thought, whose universal meaning was heard and understood, sometimes perhaps by wandering spirits of light, beaten far by some evil thought for their heavenly courses and passing close along the coasts of Earth.
And Rodriguez played no tune he had ever known, nor any airs that he had heard men play in lanes in Andalusia; but he told of things that he knew not, of sadnesses that he had scarcely felt and undreamed exaltations. It was the hour of need, and the mandolin knew.
And when all was told that the mandolin can tell of whatever is wistfulest in the spirit of man, a mood of merriment entered its old curved sides and there came from its hollows a measure such as they dance to when laughter goes over the greens in Spain. Never a song sang Rodriguez; the mandolin said all.
And what message did Serafina receive from those notes that were strange even to Rodriguez? Were they not stranger to her? I have said that spirits blown far out of their course and nearing the mundane coasts hear mortal music sometimes, and hearing understand. And if they cannot understand those snatches of song, all about mortal things and human needs, that are wafted rarely to them by chance passions, how much more surely a young mortal heart, so near Rodriguez, heard what he would say and understood the message however strange.
When Dona Mirana and her daughter rose, exchanging their little curtsies for the low bows of Rodriguez, and so retired for the night, the long room seemed to Rodriguez now empty of threatening omens. The great portraits that the moon had lit, and that had frowned at him in the moonlight when he came here before, frowned at him now no longer. The anger that he had known to lurk in the darkness on pictured faces of dead generations had gone with the gloom that it haunted: they were all passionless now in the quiet light of the candles. He looked again at the portraits eye to eye, remembering looks they had given him in the moonlight, and all looked back at him with ages of apathy; and he knew that whatever glimmer of former selves there lurks about portraits of the dead and gone was thinking only of their own past days in years remote from Rodriguez. Whether their anger had flashed for a moment over the ages on that night a month from now, or whether it was only the moonlight, he never knew. Their spirits were back now surely amongst their own days, whence they deigned not to look on the days that make these chronicles.
Not till then did Rodriguez admit, or even know, that he had not eaten since his noonday meal. But now he admitted this to Don Alderon's questions; and Don Alderon led him to another chamber and there regaled him with all the hospitality for which that time was famous. And when Rodriguez had eaten, Don Alderon sent for wine, and the butler brought it in an olden flagon, dark wine of a precious vintage: and soon the two young men were drinking together and talking of the wickedness of the Moors. And while they talked the night grew late and chilly and still, and the hour came when moths are fewer and young men think of bed. Then Don Alderon showed his guest to an upper room, a long room dim with red hangings, and carvings in walnut and oak, which the one candle he carried barely lit but only set queer shadows scampering. And here he left Rodriguez, who was soon in bed, with the great red hangings round him. And awhile he wondered at the huge silence of the house all round him, with never a murmur, never an echo, never a sigh; for he missed the passing of winds, branches waving, the stirring of small beasts, birds of prey calling, and the hundred sounds of the night; but soon through the silence came sleep.
He did not need to dream, for here in the home of Serafina he had come to his dreams' end.
Another day shone on another scene; for the sunlight that went in a narrow stream of gold and silver between the huge red curtains had sent away the shadows that had stalked overnight through the room, and had scattered the eeriness that had lurked on the far side of furniture, and all the dimness was gone that the long red room had harboured. And for a while Rodriguez did not know where he was; and for a while, when he remembered, he could not believe it true. He dressed with care, almost with fear, and preened his small moustachios, which at last had grown again just when he would have despaired. Then he descended, and found that he had slept late, though the three of that ancient house were seated yet at the table, and Serafina all dressed in white seemed to Rodriguez to be shining in rivalry with the morning. Ah dreams and fancies of youth!