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The Wizard’s Castle.

A Leaf From Ariosto (Orlando Furioso), Canto IV.

They struggle through forest of fir and pine1
Till they reach a peak, like that Appenine,2
On the toilsome road to Camaldoli,3
Where below on either hand spreads a sea ;4
So here they look down on France and Spain,5
Ere they seek through a pass, a level plain ;6
Where in the valley some huge rocks spring,7
Crowned with steel walls, ring after ring.8
Lo, there the enchanter’s den,” with eyes9
Half closed with malice, the black dwarf cries :10
See where it laughs at the pride of kings ;11
None can reach it unless they’ve wings.”12
Square and smooth, without path or stair,13
The castle is fit for an eagle’s lair ;14
And then they know it is time to rend15
The magic ring from the wizard’s friend.16
So they bind him fast and they snatch the ring,17
Heeding not tears nor struggling,18
And under the cliff fair Bradamant,19
Who neither release nor aid will grant,20
Seizes a proud and echoing horn,21
And blows a challenge of rage and scorn.22
Before the echo had died away23
The enchanter came, but with no array24
Of helm, of hauberk, or sword, or spear,25
Nothing to strike foes’ hearts with fear ;26
Only a shield to his left arm clung,27
With a crimson veil it was all o’erhung ;28
And in his right hand they all could see29
An open volume of sorcery.30
For when he read it there came a light,31
As of a sword upraised to smite.32
And it seemed as if arrows were flashing past,33
Or a thunderbolt from the cloud was cast,34
Such was the power of his magic lore.35
And the steed that the evil wizard bore36
Was an hippogryph—wings, beak, and crest,37
Like the Griffin, his sire—a mare the rest ;38
Such on Riphezan hills are found39
Beyond the frozen ocean’s bound.40
The wizard had trained the wingëd thing41
To whirl, and gallop, and dart, and spring ;42
Half like a swallow, and half like a horse,43
He could swoop and canter, and wheel and course.44
Strike as she will, that maiden proud,45
Cleaves but the air, and wounds the cloud ;46
She strikes and pierces them o’er and o’er,47
But still the blow is foiled once more.48
Then she descends from her horse at length,49
Of the wizard’s arts to try the strength.50
As a cruel cat with a mouse will play,51
Rejoicing to see the victim stray :52
Till, tired or angry of such a prize,53
She snaps, and the quivering creature dies.54
So the wizard, weary of such a foe,55
Prepares his final and deadly blow.56
The maiden, as he unveils the shield,57
Drops, as if dead on the battle-field,58
Wishing to lure from his steed and spell59
The wizard, whom she has beguiled so well.60
He veils the fatal shield, and now61
It hangs once more on his saddle bow ;62
And nearer with closer and closer wheels63
The wizard upon his victim steals.64
For he alights and seeks the place65
Where she, extended upon her face,66
Waits for his footsteps with watchful care,67
As wolf in the ambush of his lair.68
A chain he held to bind his prey,69
Thinking her vanquished as there she lay ;70
She rose and hurled him to the earth,71
His mighty spells are of little worth.72
She raised her hand, but in mid space73
Stays it ; for lo ! a wrinkled face74
And scant grey hair ; six score and ten,75
The years he’d wandered amongst men.76
Kill me, for love of God !” he cries ;77
But she, with wrathful flashing eyes,78
Answers, “ Now, seek not death from me,79
It shall come quickly, presently.80
No one who craves it, need wait long,81
A soul resolved to die is strong.”82
But first thy prison opening,83
To us thy wretched captives bring.”84
The wizard bound with his own chain85
The damsel leads across the plain86
To where the rock-steps subtly round,87
Up to the castle gateway wound,88
Then he, from the stately threshold sill,89
Removed a square stone carved with skill.90
And from beneath the stone upturned91
Removed some pots of fire that burned ;92
That moment vanished wall and tower,93
Such was the wizard’s subtle power.94
And he, now freed from bond and chain,95
Passed into fire or air again ;96
And lo! the prisoned knights released,97
Found all their grief and anguish ceased.98