Bulfinch's Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch
Legends of Charlemagne
Huon of Bordeaux (Continued)
Huon, having traversed the Apennines and Italy, arrived at the environs of Rome, where, laying aside his armor, he assumed the dress of a pilgrim. In this attire he presented himself before the Pope, and not till after he had made a full confession of his sins did he announce himself as his nephew. "Ah! my dear nephew," exclaimed the Holy Father, "what harder penance could I impose than the Emperor has already done? Go in peace, my son," he added, absolving him, "I go to intercede for you with the Most High." Then he led his nephew into his palace, and introduced him to all the Cardinals and Princes of Rome as the Duke of Guienne, son of the Duchess Alice, his sister.
Huon, at setting out, had made a vow not to stop more than three days in a place. The Holy Father took advantage of this time to inspire him with zeal for the glory of Christianity, and with confidence in the protection of the Most High. He advised him to embark for Palestine, to visit the Holy Sepulchre, and to depart thence for the interior of Asia.
Loaded with the blessings of the Holy Father, Huon, obeying his counsels, embarked for Palestine, arrived, and visited with the greatest reverence the holy places. He then departed, and took his way toward the east.
But, ignorant of the country and of the language, he lost himself in a forest, and remained three days without seeing a human creature, living on honey and wild fruits which he found on the trees. The third day, seeking a passage through a rocky defile, he beheld a man in tattered clothing, whose beard and hair covered his breast and shoulders. This man stopped on seeing him, observed him, and recognized the arms and bearing of a French knight. He immediately approached, and exclaimed, in the language of the South of France, "God be praised! Do I indeed behold a chevalier of my own country, after fifteen years passed in this desert without seeing the face of a fellow-countryman?"
Huon, to gratify him still more, unlaced his helmet, and came towards him with a smiling countenance. The other regarded him with more surprise than at first. "Good Heaven!" he exclaimed, "was there ever such a resemblance? Ah, noble sir," he added, "tell me, I beseech you, of what country and race you come?" "I require," replied Huon, "before telling you mine, that you first reveal your own; let it suffice you at present to know that I am a Christian, and that in Guienne I was born." "Ah! Heaven grant that my eyes and my heart do not deceive me," exclaimed the unknown; "my name is Sherasmin; I am brother to Guire, the Mayor of Bordeaux. I was taken prisoner in the battle where my dear and illustrious master, Sevinus, lost his life. For three years I endured the miseries of slavery; at length I broke my chains and escaped to this desert, where I have sustained myself in solitude ever since. Your features recall to me my beloved sovereign, in whose service I was from my infancy till his death." Huon made no reply but by embracing the old man, with tears in his eyes. Then Sherasmin learned that his arms enfolded the son of the Duke Sevinus. He led him to his cabin, and spread before him the dry fruits and honey which formed his only aliment.
Huon recounted his adventures to Sherasmin, who was moved to tears at the recital. He then consulted him on means of conducting his enterprise. Sherasmin hesitated not to confess that success seemed impossible; nevertheless he swore a solemn oath never to abandon him. The Saracen language, which he was master of, would be serviceable to them when they should leave the desert, and mingle with men.
They took the route of the Red Sea, and entered Arabia. Their way lay through a region which Sherasmin described as full of terrors. It was inhabited by Oberon, King of the Fairies, who made captive such knights as were rash enough to penetrate into it, and transformed them into Hobgoblins. It was possible to avoid this district at the expense of somewhat lengthening their route; but no dangers could deter Huon of Bordeaux; and the brave Sherasmin, who had now resumed the armor of a knight, reluctantly consented to share with him the dangers of the shorter route.
They entered a wood, and arrived at a spot whence alleys branched off in various directions. One of them seemed to be terminated by a superb palace, whose gilded roofs were adorned with brilliant weathercocks covered with diamonds. A superb chariot issued from the gate of the palace, and drove toward Huon and his companion, as if to meet them half-way. The prince saw no one in the chariot but a child apparently about five years old, very beautiful, and clad in a robe which glittered with precious stones. At the sight of him, Sherasmin's terror was extreme. He seized the reins of Huon's horse, and turned him about, hurrying the prince away, and assuring him that they were lost if they stopped to parley with the mischievous dwarf, who, though he appeared a child, was full of years and of treachery. Huon was sorry to lose sight of the beautiful dwarf, whose aspect had nothing in it to alarm; yet he followed his friend, who urged on his horse with all possible speed. Presently a storm began to roar through the forest, the daylight grew dim, and they found their way with difficulty. From time to time they seemed to hear an infantine voice, which said, "Stop, Duke Huon; listen to me: it is in vain you fly me!"
Sherasmin only fled the faster, and stopped not until he had reached the gate of a monastery of monks and nuns, the two communities of which were assembled at that time in a religious procession. Sherasmin, feeling safe from the malice of the dwarf in the presence of so many holy persons and the sacred banners, stopped to ask an asylum, and made Huon dismount also. But at that moment they were joined by the dwarf, who blew a blast upon an ivory horn which hung from his neck. Immediately the good Sherasmin, in spite of himself, began to dance like a young collegian, and seizing the hand of an aged nun, who felt as if it would be her death, they footed it briskly over the grass, and were imitated by all the other monks and nuns, mingled together, forming the strangest dancing-party ever beheld. Huron alone felt no disposition to dance; but he came near dying of laughter at seeing the ridiculous postures and leaps of the others.
The dwarf, approaching Huon, said, in a sweet voice, and in Huon's own language, "Duke of Guienne, why do you shun me? I conjure you, in Heaven's name, speak to me." Huon, hearing himself addressed in this serious manner, and knowing that no evil spirit would dare to use the holy name in aid of his schemes, replied, "Sir, whoever you are, I am ready to hear and answer you." "Huon, my friend," continued the dwarf, "I always loved your race, and you have been dear to me ever since your birth. The gracious state of conscience in which you were when you entered my wood has protected you from all enchantments, even if I had intended to practise any upon you. If these monks, these nuns, and even your friend Sherasmin, had had a conscience as pure as yours, my horn would not have set them dancing; but where is the monk or the nun who can always be deaf to the voice of the tempter, and Sherasmin in the desert has often doubted the power of Providence."
At these words Huon saw the dancers overcome with exertion. He begged mercy for them, the dwarf granted it, and the effect of the horn ceased at once; the nuns got rid of their partners, smoothed their dresses, and hastened to resume their places in the procession. Sherasmin, overcome with heat, panting, and unable to stand on his legs, threw himself upon the grass, and began, "Did not I tell you"--He was going on in an angry tone, but the dwarf, approaching, said, "Sherasmin, why have you murmured against Providence? Why have you thought evil of me? You deserved this light punishment; but I know you to be good and loyal; I mean to show myself your friend, as you shall soon see." At these words he presented him a rich goblet. "Make the sign of the cross on this cup," said he, "and then believe that I hold my power from the God you adore, whose faithful servant I am, as well as you." Sherasmin obeyed, and on the instant the cup was filled with delicious wine, a draught of which restored vigor to his limbs, and made him feel young again. Overcome with gratitude, he threw himself on his knees, but the dwarf raised him, and bade him sit beside him, and thus commenced his history:
"Julius Caesar, going by sea to join his army, was driven by a storm to take shelter in the island of Celea, where dwelt the fairy Glorianda. From this renowned pair I draw my birth. I am the inheritor of that which was most admirable in each of my parents: my father's heroic qualities, and my mother's beauty and magic art. But a malicious sister of my mother's, in revenge for some slight offence, touched me with her wand when I was only five years old, and forbade me to grow any bigger; and my mother, with all her power, was unable to annul the sentence. I have thus continued infantile in appearance, though full of years and experience. The power which I derive from my mother I use sometimes for my own diversion, but always to promote justice and to reward virtue. I am able and willing to assist you, Duke of Guienne, for I know the errand on which you come hither. I presage for you, if you follow my counsels, complete success; and the beautiful Clarimunda for a wife."
When he had thus spoken he presented to Huon the precious and useful cup, which had the faculty of filling itself when a good man took it in his hand. He gave him also his beautiful horn of ivory, saying to him, "Huon, when you sound this gently, you will make the hearers dance, as you have seen; but if you sound it forcibly, fear not that I shall hear it, though at a hundred leagues' distance, and will fly to your relief; but be careful not to sound it in that way, unless upon the most urgent occasion."
Oberon directed Huon what course he should take to reach the country of the Sultan Gaudisso. "You will encounter great perils," said he, "before arriving there, and I fear me," he added, with tears in his eyes, "that you will not in everything obey my directions, and in that case you will suffer much calamity." Then he embraced Huon and Sherasmin, and left them.
Huon and his follower travelled many days through the desert before they reached any inhabited place, and all this while the wonderful cup sustained them, furnishing them not only wine, but food also. At last they came to a great city. As day was declining, they entered its suburbs, and Sherasmin, who spoke the Saracen language perfectly, inquired for an inn where they could pass the night. A person who appeared to be one of the principal inhabitants, seeing two strangers of respectable appearance making this inquiry, stepped forward and begged them to accept the shelter of his mansion. They entered, and their host did the honors of his abode with a politeness which they were astonished to see in a Saracen. He had them served with coffee and sherbet, and all was conducted with great decorum, till one of the servants awkwardly overturned a cup of hot coffee on the host's legs, when he started up, exclaiming in very good Gascon, "Blood and thunder! you blockhead, you deserve to be thrown over the mosque!"
Huon could not help laughing to see the vivacity and the language of his country thus break out unawares. The host, who had no idea that his guests understood his words, was astonished when Huon addressed him in the dialect of his country. Immediately confidence was established between them; especially when the domestics had retired. The host, seeing that he was discovered, and that the two pretended Saracens were from the borders of the Garonne, embraced them, and disclosed that he was a Christian. Huon, who had learned prudence from the advice of Oberon, to test his host's sincerity, drew from his robe the cup which the Fairy- king had given him, and presented it empty to the host. "A fair cup," said he, "but I should like it better if it was full." Immediately it was so. The host, astonished, dared not put it to his lips. "Drink boldly, my dear fellow-countryman," said Huon; "your truth is proved by this cup, which only fills itself in the hands of an honest man." The host did not hesitate longer; the cup passed freely from hand to hand; their mutual cordiality increased as it passed, and each recounted his adventures. Those of Huon redoubled his host's respect; for he recognized in him his legitimate sovereign: while the host's narrative was in these words:
"My name is Floriac; this great and strong city, you will hear with surprise and grief, is governed by a brother of Duke Sevinus, and your uncle. You have no doubt heard that a young brother of the Duke of Guienne was stolen away from the sea-shore, with his companions, by some corsairs. I was then his page, and we were carried by those corsairs to Barbary, where we were sold for slaves. The Barbary prince sent us as part of the tribute which he yearly paid to his sovereign, the Sultan Gaudisso. Your uncle, who had been somewhat puffed up by the flattery of his attendants, thought to increase his importance with his new master by telling him his rank. The Sultan, who, like a true Mussulman, detested all Christian princes, exerted himself from that moment to bring him over to the Saracen faith. He succeeded but too well. Your uncle, seduced by the arts of the Santons, and by the pleasures and indulgences which the Sultan allowed him, committed the horrid crime of apostasy; he renounced his baptism, and embraced Mahometanism. Gaudisso then loaded him with honors, made him espouse one of his nieces, and sent him to reign over this city and adjoining country. Your uncle preserved for me the same friendship which he had had when a boy; but all his caresses and efforts could not make me renounce my faith. Perhaps he respected me in his heart for my resistance to his persuasions, perhaps he had hopes of inducing me in time to imitate him. He made me accompany him to this city, of which he was master, he gave me his confidence, and permits me to keep in my service some Christians, whom I protect for the sake of their faith."
"Ah!" exclaimed Huon, "take me to this guilty uncle. A prince of the house of Guienne, must he not blush at the cowardly abandonment of the faith of his fathers?"
"Alas!" replied Floriac, "I fear he will neither be sensible of shame at your reproaches, nor of pleasure at the sight of a nephew so worthy of his lineage. Brutified by sensuality, jealous of his power, which he often exercises with cruelty, he will more probably restrain you by force or put you to death."
"Be it so," said the brave and fervent Huon, "I could not die in a better cause; and I demand of you to conduct me to him to-morrow, after having told him of my arrival and my birth." Floriac still objected, but Huon would take no denial, and he promised obedience.
Next morning Floriac waited upon the Governor and told him of the arrival of his nephew, Huon of Bordeaux; and of the intention of the prince to present himself at his court that very day. The Governor, surprised, did not immediately answer; though he at once made up his mind what to do. He knew that Floriac loved Christians and the princes of his native land too well to aid in any treason to one of them; he therefore feigned great pleasure at hearing of the arrival of the eldest born of his family at his court. He immediately sent Floriac to find him; he caused his palace to be put in festal array, his divan to be assembled, and after giving some secret orders, went himself to meet his nephew, whom he introduced under his proper name and title to all the great officers of his court.
Huon burned with indignation at seeing his uncle with forehead encircled with a rich turban, surmounted with a crescent of precious stones. His natural candor made him receive with pain the embraces which the treacherous Governor lavished upon him. Meanwhile the hope of finding a suitable moment to reproach him for his apostasy made him submit to those honors which his uncle caused to be rendered to him. The Governor evaded with address the chance of being alone with Huon and spent all the morning in taking him through his gardens and palace. At last, when the hour of dinner approached, and the Governor took him by the hand to lead him into the dining-hall, Huon seized the opportunity and said to him in a low voice, "O my uncle! O Prince, brother of the Duke Sevinus! in what condition have I the grief and shame of seeing you!" The Governor pretended to be moved, pressed his hand, and whispered in his ear, "Silence! my dear nephew; to-morrow morning I will hear you fully."
Huon, comforted a little by these words, took his seat at the table by the side of the Governor. The Mufti, some Cadis, Agas, and Santons, filled the other places. Sherasmin sat down with them; but Floriac, who would not lose sight of his guests, remained standing, and passed in and out to observe what was going on within the palace. He soon perceived a number of armed men gliding through the passages and antechambers connected with the dining-hall. He was about to enter to give his guests notice of what he had seen when he heard a violent noise and commotion in the hall. The cause was this.
Huon and Sherasmin were well enough suited with the first course and ate with good appetite; but the people of their country not being accustomed to drink only water at their meals, Huon and Sherasmin looked at one another, not very well pleased at such a regimen. Huon laughed outright at the impatience of Sherasmin, but soon, experiencing the same want himself, he drew forth Oberon's cup and made the sign of the cross. The cup filled and he drank it off, and handed it to Sherasmin, who followed his example. The Governor and his officers, seeing this abhorred sign, contracted their brows and sat in silent consternation. Huon pretended not to observe it, and having filled the cup again handed it to his uncle, saying, "Pray, join us, dear uncle; it is excellent Bordeaux wine, the drink that will be to you like mother's milk." The Governor, who often drank in secret with his own favorite Sultanas the wines of Greece and Shiraz, never in public drank anything but water. He had not for a long time tasted the excellent wines of his native land; he was sorely tempted to drink what was now handed to him, it looked so bright in the cup, outshining the gold itself. He stretched forth his hand, took the brimming goblet, and raised it to his lips, when immediately it dried up and disappeared. Huon and Sherasmin, like Gascons as they were, laughed at his astonishment. "Christian dogs!" he exclaimed, "do you dare to insult me at my own table? But I will soon be revenged." At these words he threw the cup at the head of his nephew, who caught it with his left hand, while with the other he snatched the turban, with its crescent, from the Governor's head and threw it on the floor. All the Saracens started up from table, with loud outcries, and prepared to avenge the insult. Huon and Sherasmin put themselves on their defence, and met with their swords the scimitars directed against them. At this moment the doors of the hall opened and a crowd of soldiers and armed eunuchs rushed in, who joined in the attack upon Huon and Sherasmin. The Prince and his followers took refuge on a broad shelf or side- board, where they kept at bay the crowd of assailants, making the most forward of them smart for their audacity. But more troops came pressing in and the brave Huon, inspired by the wine of Bordeaux, and not angry enough to lose his relish for a joke, blew a gentle note on his horn, and no sooner was it heard than it quelled the rage of the combatants and set them to dancing. Huon and Sherasmin, no longer attacked, looked down from their elevated position on a scene the most singular and amusing. Very soon the Sultanas, hearing the sound of the dance and finding their guards withdrawn, came into the hall and mixed with the dancers. The favorite Sultana seized upon a young Santon, who performed jumps two feet high; but soon the long dresses of this couple got intermingled and threw them down. The Santon's beard was caught in the Sultana's necklace, and they could not disentangle them. The Governor by no means approved this familiarity, and took two steps forward to get at the Santon, but he stumbled over a prostrate Dervise and measured his length on the floor. The dancing continued till the strength of the performers was exhausted, and they fell, one after the other, and lay helpless. The Governor at length made signs to Huon that he would yield everything if he would but allow him to rest. The bargain was ratified; the Governor allowed Huon and Sherasmin to depart on their way, and even gave them a ring which would procure them safe passage through his country and access to the Sultan Gaudisso. The two friends hastened to avail themselves of this favorable turn, and taking leave of Floriac, pursued their journey.