[How the King arrived at Mongaza and how Oriana gave birth, and the astonishing fate of her son.]
[Detail from a scene in the Smithfield Decretals, early 1300s, illustrating a popular legend about a human child suckling from a lion. From the British Library Medieval Manuscripts Blog.]
They enjoyed that day there, and the next day, having heard Mass, they all mounted to return to town. The King told Sir Galaor and Grumedan to go with the Queen, and he took Sir Galaor aside and give him permission to tell Oriana the secret that Norandel was her brother, and that she should also keep it secret. Then he left to ride with his hunters and went to the Queen, who had already mounted.
Sir Galaor came to Oriana and took her horse by the reins and spoke with her. She was very pleased by this both because of the great love her father the King had for him and because, being her beloved Amadis’s brother, he resembled him, so his presence was a great relief.
As they were speaking of many things, they came to speak of Norandel, and Oriana said:
“Do ye know something of the circumstances of this knight? I saw him traveling in your company, and now ye have taken him as a companion. Given your great worth, this would not happen unless ye knew something about him, since everyone who knows you cannot think of an equal to you besides your brother Amadis.”
“My lady,” Sir Galaor said, “there is as much distance between my courage and that of Amadis as there is between the earth and sky, and so it would be great madness for anyone to think I am his equal, because God placed him so much higher than all others in the world in strength and everything else good that a knight should have.”
Oriana, when she heard this, began to think, and she said to herself:
“Oh, Oriana, what if such a day were to come in which thou findest thyself without the love of someone like Amadis, who for thee is so famous both for his skill at arms as for his handsomeness!”
And because this would never happen, she felt very happy and satisfied to have such a beloved that no one else could resemble.
“And regarding what ye said, my lady, about taking Norandel as a companion, I fully believe that he is a nobleman, given his disposition and the honorable way he has behaved. But I knew something else about him, and if it were known, it would surprise everyone, and it was the reason for what I did.”
“So I thought,” Oriana said. “Being as ye are, ye would not have been moved to take him as your companion without a good reason, and if ye can tell it without damaging your honor in any way, I would be pleased to know it.”
“It would be very dear to me, my lady, if ye were to have the pleasure to know what I have kept quiet,” he said. “I know it and shall tell you, but it is essential that no one else may know by any means.”
“Since ye are certain and sure,” she said, “so it shall be done.”
“Then know, my lady,” Galaor said, “that Norandel is the son of your father.”
And he told her how he had seen the letter from Princess Celinda and the ring, and everything that her father the King had said.
“Galaor,” she said, “ye have made me happy to tell me this, and I thank you for it, because I could not have known otherwise, and I am happy for the great honor ye have done to this knight with whom I have such a great debt. Surely he ought to be good, and by a great degree that shall be due to you, otherwise, your great goodness shall make him so.”
“I consider the honor ye give me a great favor, my lady,” he said, “although it may be to the contrary, but in any case, my honor shall always be at your service, and of your father the King and your mother.”
“I believe so, too, Sir Galaor,” she said, “and may God’s favor be pleased that they and I may reward you.”
And so they arrived at the town, where Oriana stayed with her mother the Queen and Galaor went to his lodging, bringing his companion Norandel with him.
The next day, immediately after the King heard Mass, he ordered food be taken to the ships, for all the people who would be traveling with him were already on board with their arms and horses. He brought King Cildadan and Galaor and Norandel with him, said farewell to the Queen and his daughter and the ladies and damsels, leaving them all weeping, and went to the port of Jafoque, where his armada was.
Once he was on board, it departed for the Island of Mongaza, where at times with good weather and at times with bad, it arrived after five days at the port of the town from which the island got its name. He found a fortified camp there with King Arban of North Wales and the men ye have already heard about, and he learned how there had been a great battle with the knights in the town and how his men had been driven from the field and all would have been lost if King Arban of North Wales had not taken advantage of some tall, steep peaks where they were protected from their enemies.
He learned how the very courageous Gasquilan, King of Suesa, was badly injured by Sir Florestan, and Gasquilan’s men had taken him away by sea to recover. He also heard how Brian of Monjaste had been taken prisoner when he tried to attack King Arban of North Wales among the enemy troops. And after this fight they had not dared to leave the peaks where King Lisuarte found them, because no matter how many times the knights of the Island of Mongaza had tried to attack, they could never do any harm because the site was so well protected.
After the King had learned this, he felt great anger toward the island’s knights, and he ordered all his men, tents, and other necessities be unloaded from the ships, and settled into the camp to learn more about the enemy.
Oriana was very pleased when her father the King left because the time was coming when she would give birth. She called Mabilia and told her that her fainting and other things she felt had to mean that she was about to give birth, and she ordered all the other damsels to leave her, and went to her chamber with Mabilia and the Damsel of Denmark, who had earlier gotten everything ready for childbirth.
Oriana suffered some pains until nightfall, which left her tired, but then they became more frequent, and so she suffered great worry and anxiety, since this was something she had never needed to know about. But her great fear in being discovered in the trouble she was in gave her such strength that she endured without complaint.
At midnight it pleased the Lord on High, who remedies all things, that a son was born, a very fine child, leaving her free. He was wrapped in rich clothes, and Oriana asked that he be brought to her bed, and taking him in her arms, she kissed him many times.
The Damsel of Denmark said to Mabilia:
“Did ye see what this boy has on his body?”
“No,” she said. “I have been busy with so much to do to help him and his mother to give birth that I have not looked at anything else.”
“Well, indeed,” the Damsel said, “he has something on his chest that other children do not have.”
Then they lit a candle, unwrapped him, and saw beneath his right nipple some letters white as snow, and under the left nipple seven letters so red they were like living coals. But they could not read either one or know what they said because the white ones were in a very obscure Latin and the red ones in difficult Greek. After they had seen this, they wrapped him up again and laid him next to his mother, and agreed that he would be immediately taken to where he would be raised, as they had planned.
To do that, the Damsel of Denmark secretly left the palace and, on horseback with her brother Durin, circled outside to the window of the chamber she had left. Meanwhile Mabilia had put the boy in a basket and tied a cloth over it, hung it from a cord and lowered it into the hands of the Damsel. She took it and left on the way to Miraflores, where she would have the boy raised secretly, claiming he was her own child.
But soon, they left the road and took a path that Durin knew about and guided her through a very thick forest where they could travel more secretly. Durin rode in front and she followed, and soon they arrived at a spring in an open field. But beyond that was a valley with thick trees and so frightening that hardly anyone would enter because of the wild and forested mountains on either side where lions and other fierce animals raised their young.
At the head of this valley there was a small old hermitage where the hermit Nasciano dwelled, considered by all to be a very holy and devote man, and because of this the people of the area believed that he was sometimes provided with manna from Heaven. When he needed food, he would go to search for it in those lands, and no lion or other animal would do him harm, although as he rode on his donkey, he continuously encountered them. Instead, they would bow before him.
Near this hermitage was a cave among the rocks where a lioness was raising her little cubs, and often the good man would visit them. If he had food, he would feed them without fear of the lioness. Instead, when she saw him coming, she would go away until he left. After having said his hours of prayers, he would pass his time with those lion cubs and enjoy watching them play in the cave.
When the Damsel of Denmark and her brother arrived at the spring, she was very thirsty from her night spent working and traveling, and she said to her brother:
“Let us dismount, and take this child, for I wish to drink.”
He dismounted, took the boy wrapped in its rich clothes, put him on the trunk of a tree that was there, and was about to help his sister dismount when they heard the great roar of a lion in that valley. Their palfreys were so frightened that they began to flee too fast for the Damsel to stop her horse. She thought she might be killed amid the trees and called out to God for help, and Durin raced behind her to try to grab the reins and stop the palfrey. He ran so fast that he pulled ahead and stopped it, and found his sister so shaken and beside herself that she could hardly speak.
He helped her dismount and said:
“Sister, wait here, and I will go on this palfrey to get mine.”
“Get the child,” she said, “and bring him to me, so nothing happens to him.”
“I shall do that,” he said, “and hold this palfrey by the reins, for I am afraid that if I were to ride it, I could not make it go to the spring.”
So he left on foot. But before he arrived, an amazing thing happened. The lioness who was raising her cubs as ye heard and who had roared, was accustomed to going to the spring every day to search for tracks of deer that came there to drink. When she arrived there, she walked around the spring looking for tracks from one side to the other, and as she was walking, she heard the boy cry in the trunk of the tree. She went for him and took his clothes in her mouth using those very sharp teeth without touching his body, for such was God’s will. Thinking he was food for her cubs, she left with him.
It was sunrise, and the Lord of the world, merciful toward those who asked for His pity and with the innocents too young or unaware to ask for it, helped him this way: the blessed Nasciano had sung Mass at sunrise and went to the spring to rest there, for the night had been very warm, and saw how the lion carried the child in her mouth. The child was crying weakly, since he had been born that night. The hermit realized it was a baby, and he was very frightened about how she had gotten it. He immediately raised his hand and blessed it, and said to the lioness:
“Go, vile beast, and leave behind the child of God, who was not made for you to reign over.”
The lioness twitched her ears as if she were happy, came to him very tamely, put the boy at his feet, and then she left. Nasciano made the sign of the true cross over him, then took him in his arms and brought him to the hermitage. As he passed the cave where the lioness was raising her cubs, he saw that she was letting them suckle, and he told her:
“I order you in the name of God, in Whose power all things are, to take those teats from your cubs and give them to this child, and like them, protect him from all harm.”
The lioness lay down at his feet, and the good man placed the child at the teats and put milk in his mouth and had him take the teat, and he suckled. And from then on she came very tamely to suckle him as often as was necessary.
But the hermit immediately sent the boy who helped him with Mass, who was his nephew, to hurry and call on his mother and father, and have them come right away alone with him, because they were urgently needed. The boy hurried to the place where they dwelled, which was at the edge of the forest, but the father was not there, so they did not return until ten days later, during which time the child was well fed with milk from the lioness and a goat and a sheep who had just given birth to a lamb. These animals fed him when the lioness went to hunt for her cubs.
When Durin left his sister, as ye have heard, he went on foot as fast as he could to the spring where the child had been left. When he did not find him, he was very frightened, and he found the trail of the lioness, so he truly believed she had eaten him, so with great sorrow and sadness he returned to his sister.
When he told her, she struck her face with her palms and wailed, cursing her fate and the hour of her birth, and having lost everything, she did not know how she could come before her lady. Duran consoled her, weeping, but she would not be consoled because her emotions and sadness were too great, and for more than two hours she was as if senseless.
Durin told her:
“My good lady and sister, what you are doing is of no use, and it could result in great harm to your lady and her beloved if others were to know something of what happened.”
She saw that he was telling the truth and said:
“Then what shall we do? I am not able to know.”
“It seems to me,” he said, “that since my palfrey is lost, we should go to Miraflores and spend three or four days there to make it understood that some reason had brought us there, and when we go back to Oriana, to say only that the child is in a safe place until she is well. And then ye can ask Mabilia’s advice about what to do.”
She said she thought that was wise, and they rode together on their palfrey to Miraflores, and three days later they returned to Oriana. The Damsel wore a happy face and told her everything had been done as planned.
At the hermitage where the child was being raised, know that after ten days the hermit’s sister and her husband came, and the hermit told them how by fate he had found the child, and God loved the boy so much that He protected him. He begged them to raise him in their home until he could speak, and then bring him to him to be taught. They said they would do as he asked.
“Then I wish to baptize him,” the good man said.
And so he did, but when the lady unwrapped him next to the fount, she saw the white and red letters on his chest, and showed them to the good man, and he was very amazed. He read the white ones in Latin, which said “Esplandian,” and thought that should be his name, but although he tried hard, he could not read the red ones or understand what they said.
And then the baby was baptized with the name of Esplandian, by which he would be known in many faraway lands for the great deeds he would do there, as shall be told farther on.
When this was done, the stepmother happily took him to her home with the hope that not only her home but all her family would be protected, and with diligence she raised him, having great expectations for him. And when the time came, as the hermit had asked, they brought him back, very handsome and well raised, and everyone who saw him enjoyed looking at him.