ONCE upon a time there was a very rich merchant who had an only son. He had the boy educated as if he had been the king’s son; had him instructed in all things suitable for one who had to command, and had him made proficient in all knightly exercises, so that the lad became a youth of parts, unequalled for elegance and dexterity.
One day he said to his father that the place was too small for him, and that he should like to go away.
“And where do you want to go?” asked his father.
“To see the world,” replied the son.
“You are like the grasshoppers,” said his father, “which leap they know not whither. How will you fare abroad without experience?”
“Father, ‘he who knows the arts, can travel in parts,’” responded the youth. And as the father had already taught his son too much to keep him quiet at home, he was obliged to let him go. He took his arms and a splendid horse, and went forth into the world.
At the end of three days’ journey he overtook a man bearing on his shoulders a load twice as heavy as a two-ton waggon could carry.
“Why, my man,” said the knight to him, “you carry more than a strong mule could. What is your name?”
“I am known as Carguin the Carrier,” replied the man.
“Would you like to go with me?”
“If you would like to have me, sir,” said Carguin.
So he took him as his follower, and they pursued their way together.
In about two hours they found a man who was sighing like Vulcan’s bellows.
“What are you doing there?” asked the knight.
“Please be quiet, sir,” responded the man, “that I may be able to sigh; because with my sighs I am making the wind which turns one hundred and fifty mills.”
“What is your name?”
“Soplin the Sigher,” replied the man.
“Would you like to go with me?”
“I should be only too glad,” said Soplin.
On going a little further they met a man who was in ambush.
“What are you doing there?” inquired the knight.
“I am waiting here to hear when a troop of mosquitoes comes out of the sea.”
“Why, man, the sea is a hundred leagues away!”
“What is that, if I hear them?”
“And what is your name?”
“Oidin the Hearer.”
“Would you like to go with me?”
“That I should, sir, if it please you.”
Then the four journeyed on in company, until they arrived in sight of a castle so gloomy and solitary that it looked more like a sepulchre of the dead than a dwelling of the living.
As they approached it the heavens became overcast, and when they arrived a tempest of thunder and lightning commenced, with a storm of rain, each drop of which made a noise like the sound of a drum.
“If you will just allow me, sir,” said Soplin, “I will soon see what can be done with this tempest;” and beginning to sigh, he made the clouds fly away, and the thunder and lightning look so foolish, that the sun fairly blinked at them and the moon stood with her mouth wide open with amazement.
But worse had to come, for when they arrived at the castle, they found that it had neither gate, nor entrance, nor even a bell.
“Surely,” said Oidin, “this ill-visaged castle is only a nest for magpies and a refuge for owls.”
“But I am tired, and I want to rest,” said the knight
“Permit me, sir,” said Carguin, as he seized a huge rock and flung it against the castle wall, and made a hole large enough for them all to enter by.
In the hall they found tables spread with the best victuals, with wines, goblets of water, oils, and a loaf as large as a table. After they had eaten as much as they could, the knight wished to inspect the castle.
“Sir,” said Oidin, who had more fear than shame, “in order to trust oneself about such castles as these it is necessary to have some knowledge of them. So that one should not have to say, ‘Where does that staircase lead?’”
“What!” exclaimed Carguin, “we have no bad object in view; and who shall make him go backwards who goes right?”
“He who comes here, my friend,” said Oidin, “does not know whether.he will have a shirt left to his back; this castle is not in Heaven’s care, and beneath the earth I hear noises which sound like lamentations.”
But the knight did not stay to listen to Oidin, but, followed by his attendants, began to examine the apartments, corridors, and passages, which were all as intricate as if they had been drawn by a conveyancer, until they came upon a courtyard as large as an arena for bull-fights. Scarcely had they entered this place than there sallied forth to meet them a serpent with seven fiery heads, seven tongues like lances, and fourteen eyes that gleamed like fiery darts. Carguin, Soplin, and Oidin took to their heels; but our hero, who was as valiant as the Cid and as strong as a Bernardo, drew his sword, and with four strokes on one side and four on the other, cut off the seven heads in a trice; the chief of the seven, after glaring at its conqueror with fiery eyes that darted forth flames and blood, bounded into the centre of the courtyard, where a gap opened, into which it descended and disappeared.
The three men who had fled now returned at the knight’s call, and were astonished at the gallantry of their master. After he had inspected the gap where the serpent’s head had gone down, and of which he could not see the bottom, he said:—
“We will go into the fields for palm leaves and strong feather-grass in order to make a rope long enough to reach the end of this well.”
They did so, and it took the four of them four years making a rope long enough. At the end of this time the rope touched the bottom, and the knight told Oidin to slip down it and let them know what there was below. But Oidin planted himself firmly on his pins, like a braggart whom nobody threatens, and answered that he would not break his neck by going down. Then the knight told Soplin to descend, so he fastened the rope to his body, and he descended night and day until he arrived below. There he found a most magnificent palace, and in a chamber of it the Princess of Naples, weeping tears as large as peas. She informed him that Lucifer was in love with her, and that he had taken and imprisoned her there until such time as some one should present himself, and wish to rescue her; but that that person would have to fight with Lucifer and conquer him. “Then I see that this enterprise will fall upon me,” said Soplin, taking breath; and scarcely had he said so, when Lucifer appeared in person. On seeing him, such was Soplin’s horror, that he ran away and climbed upon a gate. In a great rage Lucifer gave the gate such a blow that it smashed and fell to the ground with Soplin, breaking one of his legs.
We must leave Soplin with his misfortune, and return to the knight, who, seeing that his man did not return, asked Oidin what had happened down in the bowels of the earth; and Oidin listened and heard all that took place, so he told his master that Soplin had had one of his legs broken. Then the knight sent down Carguin, who assured him that he would engage with Lucifer, and carry him off although he should weigh more than all the lead in Sierra Almagrera; but exactly the same thing happened to Garguin as had occurred to Soplin, only that in falling it was his arm that was broken.
“Then I must go myself,” said the knight, when Oidin related to him what he had heard; and on arriving at the palace and seeing the Princess of Naples, he became so deeply enamoured of her that he prepared with redoubled ardour for the combat with Lucifer.
N ever before was such a duel seen in this world as that between that good knight and his dreadful opponent. But the knight crossed himself; and, as every one who puts his trust in Heaven conquers Lucifer, he gained the victory and cut off his antagonist’s ear.
The state that Lucifer was in at seeing his ear in the hands of a Christian must be left to your imagination. The shouts which he gave, and the jumps which he made, let Oidin know what had happened.
“Give me my ear!” shouted Lucifer with a voice like a clap of thunder.
“Certainly, if you want it,” said his victor; “but you will have to give me a good ransom for it. Powerful as you are, friend Lucifer, I have gained it in fair fight, and will only return it to you upon the performance of three conditions.”
“You insolent rascal!” said Lucifer.
“You may talk in that way if you please,” responded the knight; “but I warn you that I shall put your ear in pickle and exhibit it for money.”
Lucifer stamped his foot with rage. “Well then, what do you want, badly-born, badly-bred, and badly-grown one?” he demanded.
“That you should place this princess in her father’s kingdom and in her palace at once,” responded the knight.
Lucifer had no help for it, so he placed her in her royal palace, and then said to his victor:—
“Give me my ear.”
“Now it is necessary,” was the response, “for you to transport me to the royal court of Naples with my three followers, and that you provide me with a residence there, and a stately retinue, as befits your conqueror.”
“You won’t readily,” said Lucifer, “triumph at my expense, you braggart.”
“Then, with the sound of a trumpet I will go and proclaim that you have lost an ear,” said the hero; “and we shall see then how you will conceal the truth from all the lawyers, notaries, usurers, agents, and lovers who know you.”
“Give me my ear!” shouted the quaking Lucifer, after he had performed what his conqueror desired, by placing him in Naples, attended by a large retinue, and provided with plenty of money.
“Here it is,” he responded, “I do not wish to keep it; but it is requisite that the last of the three conditions I imposed on you should be performed.”
“And what is that, you great boaster?”
“I don’t care to say, just now. Have patience!”
Lucifer flew into a passion. “You are seven times worse than I am,” he said to his conqueror; “but you shall give it to me, I swear by my tail and horns!”
To return to the Princess of Naples. When she beheld her rescuer so well provided with retinue and possessions, she recognised him, and informed her father that he was her preserver, and that she should like to marry him. And they were married. But when the honeymoon was over the Princess and her husband led a dog-and-cat sort of life, because the woman had been so long in the power of Lucifer that she had acquired a bad temper, and grew so vicious that only a demon could bear with her. So it came to pass that when, at the end of a certain space of time, Lucifer again presented himself to demand his ear, the knight said to him:—
“Well, I will give it to you, but you know that the third condition remains to be performed before you can reclaim it.”
“Rascally juggler,” said Lucifer, “what is this condition?”
“That you should take my wife with you,” replied the knight, “then we shall be tit for tat, Roland for an Oliver!”