Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chapter 35

How Amadis and Galaor learned about the betrayal, and how they decided to free the King and Oriana if they could.

[Peñalara Natural Park in the Guadarrama Mountains northwest of Madrid, Spain. Photo by Sue Burke.]


Amadis and Galaor had also been brought close to death while they were prisoners of the lady of Gantasi Castle, and now they were on the road to London. When they were two leagues from the city, they saw Ardian the dwarf coming as fast as his horse could go. Amadis recognized him and said:

"There is my dwarf, and I do not doubt that he is concerned about someone and is looking for us."

The dwarf arrived and told them all the news about how Oriana had been taken away.

"Oh, Holy Mary, help us!" Amadis said. "Which way did they take her?"

"Next to the town is the fastest road," the dwarf said.

Amadis spurred the horse and began to ride in that direction as rapidly as he could, so furious that he could not even speak to his brother, who followed him. Together, they passed the city of London as fast as their horses could carry them, and they stopped for nothing, except when Amadis asked those whom he saw where Oriana had been taken, and they pointed the way.

His squire Gandalin passed below the windows where the Queen and many other women were, and the Queen called him and threw him the King's sword, which was one of the best that any knight ever wore on his belt, and told him:

"Give this sword to thy lord, and may God help him with it, and tell him and Galaor that the King left this morning with a damsel and has not returned, and we do not know where she took him."

Gandalin took the sword and left as fast as he could. Amadis, who paid no attention to where he was going due to his great worry and grief, missed the ford through a stream and tried to jump to the other side further on. His horse, which was tired, could not do it and fell into the mud. Amadis got off and pulled it by the reins.

There Gandalin caught up, gave him the King's sword, and said how the Queen had given it to him. Amadis took Gandalin's horse and returned to the road, with Galaor behind him. He rode until he found some tracks where it seemed some knights had gone, and waited for his brother. They left the road and followed the trail, and soon they found some loggers. The peasants had seen the King and Oriana in trouble, but they had not known who they were nor had they dared to come near them. Instead they had hidden in some thick brush. One of them said:

"Knights, do ye come from London?"

"Why do ye ask?" Galaor said.

"Because there they might be missing a knight or damsel," he said, "for here we saw something fateful."

Then they told how they had seen Oriana and the King, and the brothers learned then that the King and been taken prisoner by treachery.

Amadis said:

"Do ye know who they were and who attacked the King?"

"No," one of them said, "but I heard the damsel who brought him here shout to one Arcalaus."

"Oh, my lord God!" Amadis said. "May it please You to bring me to that traitor!"

The peasants showed them which way the ten knights had taken the King and the five Oriana. And one of them said:

"One of the five was the best knight I have ever seen."

"Why, that was the traitor Arcalaus," Amadis said. And he said to Galaor, "My lord brother, go ye after the King, and may God guide you and me."

He spurred his horse and went one way, and Galaor went as fast as he could the way the King had been taken.

Amadis left his brother and rode so hard that at sunset, he could not make his horse go faster than a walk. Full of worry, he saw to his right next to the road a dead knight with a squire at his side who held the reins of a grand horse. Amadis came to him and said:

"My friend, who killed this knight?"

The squire said, "He was killed by a traitor, who passed here and was carrying away by force the most beautiful damsels in the world. He killed my lord for no reason, only because he asked who they were, and I cannot find anyone to help me take him from here."

Amadis told him:

"I shall leave my squire here to help thee, and give me this horse, and I promise to give thee two better horses for it."

The squire agreed. Amadis got on the horse, which was very handsome, and told Gandalin:

"Help this squire, and when thou hast left the knight in some town, return to this road and come after me."

Then he left and began to ride down the road as fast as he could, and close to dawn found himself in a valley where he saw a hermitage, and he went to it to see if anyone lived there. He found a hermit and asked him if five knights carrying two damsels had passed there.

"My lord," the good man said, "they did not, as far as I saw, but did ye see that castle over there?"

"No," Amadis said. "Why do ye ask?"

"Because," he said, "a young man just left there, my nephew, and he told me that Arcalaus the Sorcerer is staying there, and he brought with him some beautiful damsels by force."

"By God!" Amadis said. "That is the traitor that I seek!"

"Truly," the hermit said, "he has done much evil on this earth, and may God take such a vile man from the world or correct him. But do ye not bring anyone to help you?"

"No," Amadis said, "only the help of God."

"My lord," the hermit said, "did ye not say that there were five knights, and that Arcalaus is the best knight in the world, and he is fearless?"

"Be he as he may," Amadis said, "he is an arrogant traitor, as those with him surely are as well, so I shall not fear them."

Then the hermit asked who the damsel was, and Amadis told him. The hermit said:

"Oh, may Holy Mary help you! Such a good lady ought not be in the power of such a vile man."

"Do ye have some barley for this horse?" Amadis said.

"Yes," he said, "and I shall gladly give you it."

While the horse ate, Amadis asked him to whom the castle belonged. The good man said:

"It belongs to a knight called Gruman, the first cousin of Dardan, the one who was killed at the court of King Lisuarte, and I believe that this is why those who despise King Lisuarte are staying there."

"Now may God be with you," Amadis said, "and I ask you to keep me in your prayers, and to show me the road that leads to this castle."

The good man showed it to him, and Amadis rode until he arrived there and saw that it had high walls and thick towers. He came close to it but did not hear anyone speaking inside, which pleased him, for he realized that Arcalaus had not yet left. He rode around the castle and saw that it had only one gate. Then he withdrew among some rocks, got off the horse, took its reins, and was still, always keeping his eyes on the gate, as one who had no desire for sleep.

When dawn broke, he mounted this horse and moved further back into a valley, for he feared that if he were seen, they would not leave the castle, suspecting that even more men awaited outside. He went up on a knoll covered with tall, thick brush. Then he saw a knight leave the gate of the castle and go up an even higher hill and survey the land all around. After that, he returned to the castle, and soon he saw Arcalaus leave with his four companions, all well armed. With them the very beautiful Oriana.

He said:

"Oh, God! Now and always help me and guide me to protect her."

Then, Arcalaus and the others passed very close to Amadis, and Oriana was saying:

"My beloved lord, now I shall never see you, because soon my death shall come to me."

Tears came to Amadis's eyes. He rode down the knoll as fast as he could and came upon them as they entered a wide field. He said:

"Oh, Arcalaus, traitor, thou art not fit to carry off such a fine lady!"

Oriana, who recognized the voice of her beloved, trembled all over. Arcalaus and the others charged at him, and he at them. His lance hit Arcalaus, who rode ahead, so hard that he knocked him to the earth over the haunches of his horse. Some of the others hit Amadis but the rest failed. He rode past them, turned his horse fast, and struck Grumen, the lord of the castle, who was one of the knights, and the iron tip and the shaft of the lance came out of his back. He fell dead, and the lance was broken.

Then Amadis put his hand on the King's sword and charged at the others. He fought them with such courage and wrath that the blows he gave them were amazing. Strength and burning courage rose in him, and he rode so bravely and nimbly that it seemed that if the field had been full of knights, they would not have been able to endure and defend themselves against his good sword.

As he did such wonders as ye hear, the Damsel of Denmark said to Oriana:

"My lady, ye are saved, for here is our heaven-sent knight. Look at the amazing things he is doing."

Then Oriana said:

"Oh, my beloved! God help you and keep you, for no one else in the world shall help us nor is more worthy."

The squire who had her on his horse said:

"Truly, I shall not have the blows that those helmets and suits of mail cannot resist nor stop fall on my head." He put her on the ground and fled as fast as he could.

Amadis, who rode among the knights at his will, gave one such a blow on the arm that it fell to the earth, and that knight began to flee, shouting with the ravings of death. He attacked another whose helmet he had already knocked from his head, and his sword cut through to his neck. When the remaining knight saw the destruction of his companions, he began to flee as fast as he could.

Amadis, who was chasing after him, heard his lady shout. He turned quickly and saw that Arcalaus had mounted again. He took Oriana by the arm and put her ahead of him on the saddle, and left with her as fast as he could. Amadis immediately went after him and overtook them while still in the wide field, but hesitated to strike, for the sword was such that he feared he would kill both Arcalaus and his lady. He struck him on the shoulders, but not with all his force. Still, he knocked off a piece of his chain mail and leather from his shoulder. Then Arcalaus, so he could leave faster, let Oriana fall to the earth, for he feared death.

Amadis told him:

"Why, Arcalaus, turn back and see if I am dead as thou didst say."

But the sorcerer did not want to believe it and threw his shield from his neck. Amadis leaned out and gave him a blow that cut the belt of his sword and his chain mail and his flesh, and the point of the sword reached the horse on its flank and cut deep, so the horse, in fear, began to gallop, and that soon it had gotten far away.

Amadis, despite how much he despised Arcalaus and wanted to kill him, did not go after him because he did not wish to abandon his lady. He returned to her, got off his horse, knelt before her, and kissed her hands. He said:

"Now may God do with me what He will, for my lady, I feared I would never see you again."

She was so frightened that she could not speak, and held him close, for she was terrified by the dead knights who were all around her. The Damsel of Denmark went to get Amadis's horse and saw Arcalaus's sword on the ground, picked it up, brought it to Amadis, and she said:

"Look, my lord, what a beautiful sword!"

He looked at it and saw it to be the one with which he had been cast into the sea and which Arcalaus had taken from him when he defeated Amadis by magic. And thus, as ye hear, while Amadis was seated next to his lady, who did not have the strength to stand up, Gandalin arrived, who had spent the entire night traveling, having left the dead knight in a hermitage.

They were very glad to see him, but he was just has happy to see that the danger had been resolved. Then Amadis ordered him to put the Damsel of Denmark on one of the horses that was loose, and he put Oriana on the Damsel's palfrey, and they could not have been more happy as they left. Amadis led his lady's horse by the reins, and she told him how she was so frightened of the dead knights that she could not turn around, but he said:

"Much more frightening and cruel is the death that I would suffer for you. And my lady, feel sorrow for me and remember what ye have promised me. If that has sustained me to this point, it is only because I believed it was not in your hands or your power to give me more than ye had given me. But here and now, my lady, finding yourself in such freedom, if ye do not help me, now nothing would be enough to keep me alive, and I would be brought down by the most hungry hope that ever killed anyone."

Oriana said:

"In good faith, my beloved, never because of me, if I can help it, would you be put in this danger. I shall do what ye wish. Do it, and although it may seem here like an error and sin, it shall not be thus before God."

So they rode three leagues until they entered a thick forest of trees that was a league away from a village. Oriana felt very tired, as someone who had not slept at all the night before, and she said:

"My dear, I am so sleepy that I cannot go on."

"My lady," he said, "let us go to that valley, and ye shall sleep."

And they left the road and went to a valley, where they found a small stream and very fresh green grass. There Amadis helped his lady from her horse and said:

"My lady, the afternoon is becoming very warm. Sleep here until it becomes cooler. Meanwhile, I shall send Gandalin to the village to bring us something to refresh us."

"If he goes," Oriana said, "who will give him anything?"

Amadis said:

"They will give him something in exchange for the horse, and he shall return on foot."

"Not like that," she said. "Instead, take this ring, for it will never be worth as much to us as it is now." She took it from her finger and gave it to Gandalin.

As he was leaving, he said quietly to Amadis, "My lord, he who has a chance and loses it, shall regret it later." And having said this, he left, and Amadis understood well why he had said it.

Oriana lay on the cloak of the Damsel, while Amadis removed his armor and the Damsel helped him, which he needed. After he was disarmed, she went to sleep in some thick brush.

Amadis turned to his lady, and when he saw her so beautiful and in his possession, having given herself to his will, he was so struck by joy and shyness that he did not dare even to gaze at her. So it could well be said that in that green grass, on that cloak, more by the quiet grace of Oriana rather than the bold courage of Amadis, did the most beautiful maiden in the world become a woman.

And though they thought that with it, the flames of their passion would be cooled, instead they grew even bigger, brighter, and stronger, as will happen with healthy and true love. Thus they were together in loving acts, which he and she whose hearts have been wounded by similar arrows of love can understand and share, until Gandalin's return made Amadis arise.

He called to the Damsel and asked them to prepare something to eat, which they all needed. There, though they had no staff of servants nor grand gold and silver dinnerware, nothing could diminish the sweet delight that that meal gave them in the green grass. And so, as ye hear, the two lovers enjoyed such pleasure than neither the one nor the other would have left that forest for the rest of their lives if need and shame would have permitted.

We shall leave them there to rest and be happy, while we tell what happened to Sir Galaor as he sought the King.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Permanent good weather

The real world has seasons.

My husband and I at the city walls of Ávila, Spain. Photo by a friendly fellow tourist.


In Amadis of Gaul, it never rains and the weather is always warm. It's always perfect for adventures and jousts.

Real life is different. Here in the central plateau of Spain where I live, the winters are damp and frigid, and the summers are dry and baking hot. In the summer, Madrid takes a break and lets tourists take over.

I'll be taking a break, too, after next week's post on July 20. It will be Chapter 35, which begins with heart-stopping suspense and ends with one of the most beautiful and joyous passages of the novel.

Amadis of Gaul will resume on September 7.

If you're new to this blog, I'd like recommend a few exceptional posts that you may enjoy during the break. If you want to catch up on the story from the beginning, remember that it begins with Chapter 0.

Chapter 9
Amadis, known then as Childe of the Sea, fights the King of Ireland to defend the Kingdom of Gaul. This is the archetypical medieval hero in action.

I also read a section of that chapter as part of the Broad Universe July Broadpod podcast, starting at minute 22.

Chapter 17, 18, and 19
These chapters tell how Amadis sets out to find his brother, Galaor, and instead has a series of adventures central to the novel.

Chapter 25
Galaor engages in medieval comic violence and sex. Six hundred years ago, this would have had the audience laughing out loud. Sensibilities were different then.

Yesterday was five centuries ago, by José Miguel Pallarés

My friend, a Spanish novelist, tells how he discovered Amadis of Gaul. As a boy, he found a dusty copy in his family home in a medieval mountain town in Spain, and it changed his life.

California, according to Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo
How the imaginary land of warrior women became the real land of Tinseltown.

Remember that this blog is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0, so feel free to use your summer vacation to copy, distribute, display, share, or perform all or any part of it, or to create derivative works — for non-commercial use. Just say where you got it. If you want to do something commercial, I can be very reasonable.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Chapter 34 [final half]

[How King Lisuarte fell to the treachery of Arcalaus the Sorcerer and became his prisoner.]

[Detail of San Martín Church, Segovia, Spain, built in the 11th century. Photo by Sue Burke.]


But now we shall tell you what happened to the King. He was traveling with twenty knights and was about to enter the forest, as ye have heard, having driven back all the other knights who had come there, when he saw the damsel approaching to whom he had promised a boon to prove himself and make known the courage in his heart. She came on a fast palfrey, and she bore around her neck a well-embellished sword and a lance with a beautiful iron tip and a painted shaft.

When she had approached the King, she said:

"My lord, may God keep you and give you happiness and courage, and may you abide by what you promised me in Windsor in front of your knights."

"Damsel," the King said, "I need more happiness than I have now, but however that may be, I well remember what I promised you, and I shall fulfill it."

"My lord," she said, "with that hope I come to you, the most faithful king in the world. Now give me vengeance on a knight who is in this forest. He killed my father in the worst mutiny in the world, and forced himself on me, then enchanted himself so that he cannot die unless the most honorable man in the kingdom of London strikes him with this lance and again with this sword. He gave the sword to his girlfriend to keep, thinking that she loved him dearly, but she did not. She hated him mortally, and she gave it and the lance to me so that I may take vengeance. I know that if not by your hand, for you are most honorable, then by none could he be killed. If ye dare to take vengeance, ye must go alone, because I promised him to bring one knight to fight today. This is why he has gone there, thinking that I could not have this sword and lance. The agreement between us is that if he wins, I shall forgive him, but if he is defeated, I shall do my will with him."

"In the name of God," the King said, "I will go with you."

He ordered his armor brought, and he put it on at once, and mounted his horse, which he esteemed greatly. The damsel told him to wear the sword that she brought, so he left his behind, which was the best in the world. The damsel carried his helmet and the painted lance, and he went with her, ordering everyone not to dare to follow him.

So they rode a while down the road, but the damsel had him leave it and guided him a different way close to some trees where those who had carried off Oriana were waiting. There the King saw a fully-armed knight on a black horse with a green shield at his neck and a matching helmet.

The damsel said:

"My lord, take your helmet, for ye see there the knight about whom I told you."

He laced it on immediately, took the lance, and said:

"Arrogant and ill-willed knight, now protect yourself."

He lowered his lance and the knight lowered his. They charged at each other as fast as their horses could go and struck each other's shields with their lances, which broke. But the King's broke so easily that he did not even feel it in his hand and thought his blow had missed. He put his hand on his sword, and the knight on his, and they struck each other on their helmets. The knight's sword entered fully halfway into the King's helmet, but the King's sword broke immediately above the hilt and the blade fell to the ground.

Thus he realized that he had been betrayed. The knight began to strike him and his horse on all sides, and when the King saw that his horse was being killed, he grabbed at the knight, and he at him, and they fell to the ground, the knight below him. The King took the sword that had fallen from the other's hand and began to give him the fiercest blows he could.

The damsel saw this and shouted:

"Oh, Arcalaus, help, for ye delay and will let your cousin die!"

As the King was about to kill the knight, he heard a great thunder, turned his head, and saw ten knights charging at him, and one rode ahead shouting:

"King Lisuarte, ye are dead, and not one day more shall ye reign nor wear a crown on your head!"

When the King heard this, he feared death, but he said with the great courage he had always had and still possessed:

"It may well be that I die, since ye have such an advantage over me, but ye shall all die by me as the traitors and liars that ye are!"

The knight came as fast as his horse could gallop, struck his lance on the King's shield with all his strength, and immediately knocked him hands on the ground. But the King got up right away as one who wished to fight until death, which was close to him. He gave such a cruel blow with the sword to the horse's leg that he cut it through, and the knight fell along with his horse.

Then all the knights attacked the King, and he defended himself bravely, but it did him no good. He was struck by the chests of the horses. The two knights on foot grabbed him and took the sword from his hands. Then they pulled his shield from his neck and his helmet from his head, and wrapped a thick chain around his neck which had two leads. They made him mount a palfrey, and two knights each took a lead, and they began to take him away.

When they arrived at the trees in the valley, they found Arcalaus, who had Oriana and the Damsel of Denmark. The knight that rode before the King said:

"Cousin, ye see here King Lisuarte!"

"Indeed," Arcalaus said, "and it is good to see him, for I shall make it so that I shall never fear him nor his house again."

"Oh, traitor!" said the King, "well I know that thou wouldst do any treachery. I would make thee understand it, although I am injured, if thou wouldst fight me now."

"Truly," Arcalaus said, "defeating such a knight as yourself would not bring me more esteem."

Then they all rode back to the road, where they split into two groups. Arcalaus called one of his pages and said:

"Go thou to London as fast as thou canst and tell Barsinan to seek to become king, and I shall do what I told him, for it is all ready now."

The page left right away, and Arcalaus told his company:

"Go to Danagel with ten of these knights and take Lisuarte and put him in my prison, and I shall take Oriana with these four, for I must bring her to where I have my books and possessions at Mount Aldin."

This was one of the strongest castles in the world.

Then the group was split apart. Ten knights went with the King, and five went with Oriana, including Arcalaus, showing that he could fight as well as five knights.

And hat shall we say here to you, emperors, kings, and grandees in high estates? On the same day that King Lisuarte thought to reign grandly over the world, he lost his daughter, who was the successor to his kingdom, and he became a disgraced prisoner in chains under the control of a cruel and evil sorcerer, with no hope.

Take care, take care, be aware of God, for although He grants great and high stations, He wishes your wills and hearts to be humble and low. Ye shall not remain in place by forgetting to give Him the thanks and services that He deserves. Ye who think ye can keep your stations despite your great arrogance and overweening greed, and by doing the opposite of what He wishes, ye shall lose everything with equal disgrace.

Above all, consider His mighty and secret judgments, for if this King Lisuarte, who was so just and frank and gracious, was allowed to come to such a cruel reversal, what shall be done to those who are have all the contrary against them? Do ye know? In consideration of that King's good works, He willed him to be rescued from this cruel danger. But those who do not do good works nor place limits on their evil shall suffer in their flesh in this world and shall lose their spirits in the next.

Thus the most powerful Lord, content to have given such a hard lash to the King and to have shown him how His power could bring low the mighty or raise them up, sent the help that ye shall now hear about.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The authentic Segovia Castle

The tourist guides are wrong, because what you see is what it really looked like centuries ago.

Modern Segovia Castle. Photo by Katheline Vernati-Finn.


"Although there has been a fortress on this site since the Middle Ages, the present castle is mostly a fanciful reconstruction following a fire in 1862." That's what the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guide to Spain says. Most tourist guides say the same thing. They're wrong.

The present-day alcázar (a castle or palace used as a royal residence) is as authentic as it gets. Here's the real story, which I've learned from Spanish history books and repeated, attentive visits:

The Romans, in addition to building Segovia's magnificent aqueduct, apparently had a fortress at the west end of Segovia, but nothing really remains of that. The site is on the rocky outcrop over two rivers that stands like the stony prow of a ship. The defensive advantages of the spot are obvious. The Moors probably had something there, too.

The first mention of the alcázar comes in 1122, after the reconquest of Segovia by King Alfonso VI, and it appears to have involved a wooden stockade. During the reign of Alfonso VIII (1155-1214), some of the oldest stone parts of the castle were built, such as the Old Castle Hall, along with the western tower and its Arms Hall.

King Alfonso X (1252-1284) rebuilt part of the castle when it collapsed; castle maintenance is always an issue, as any chatelain will tell you. In 1412, Queen Catherine of Lancaster had more rooms constructed on the north side, including the Galley Chamber. Additions and alterations continued during the 1400s, notably the construction of the impressive gothic Tower of Juan II on the east side, built over an existing tower.

This was the castle where Isabel I was staying when she was declared Queen in 1474.

King Felipe II (1556-1598) married his fourth wife, Anna of Austria, in the Chapel. He ordered the last of the major renovations, including the Renaissance-style Arms Courtyard and slate-shingled spires just like those of Central European castles — lovely, but so unlike typical Spanish castles that modern tourist guidebook writers can't make sense of them.

Felipe II, of course, moved the royal court permanently to Madrid. The castle eventually found use a prison, hosting various notable inmates. In 1762 it became the Royal Artillery School. Then a three-day fire started on March 6, 1862, in the Queen's Chamber, next to the Cord Room, and destroyed many roofs and damaged the structure.

The Artillery School, which has a museum in the castle, describes the fire in an exhibit. A couple of students set the fire, hoping to get out of exams. They were executed. But the pre-conflagration photos show a building almost identical to the tourist attraction we now know and love.

Architect Antonio Bermejo y Arteaga directed a reconstruction from 1882 to 1896. Felipe II's fancy plaster-work, including the king-by-king frieze in the Hall of the Monarchs, was reproduced. Some original elements were saved or rebuilt. Others, such as the gilt mudejar ceiling in the Throne Room, were taken from medieval buildings and houses in the area and match the originals.

How authentic is it? Quite authentic. It's really what it looked like 400 years ago. Like any old building, it's had its maintenance problems and disasters over the centuries, but it's remained a working building. The conveniences of plumbing, glass windows, and electric lights have been added, along with historically harmonious works of art and antiques to delight visitors.

And that's as good as it gets. Enjoy.

The official website: