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Author: Fernán Caballero - 1877

Translated into English

Original title (Spanish):
Los caballeros del pez

Country of origin: Spain

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The Knights of the Fish

Fernán Caballero

Once upon a time there was a poor cobbler, who, being unable to live by mending shoes, determined to buy a net and turn fisherman. He went a-fishing for several days, but could draw up nothing in his net but old boots and shoes, though few enough of them could he get hold of when he was a cobbler. At last he thought:

"This is the very last day I will go fishing. If I catch nothing I will go and hang myself."

He cast his net, and this time he found a fine fish in it. When he had taken the fish in his hand, it opened its mouth and said to him:

"Take me home to your house; cut me in six pieces and stew me with salt and pepper, cinnamon and cloves, laurel leaves and mint. Give two of the pieces to your wife, two to your mare, and the other two to the plant in the garden."

The cobbler did exactly what the fish had told him to do, such was the faith he had in its words. And he was duly rewarded, for several months afterward his wife presented him with two fine boys, and his mare with two colts, whilst the plant in his garden grew two lances which, instead of flowers, bore two shields, on which were to be seen a silver fish on an azure ground.

Everything went on so prosperously that in course of time, one fine day, might be seen two gallant youths issuing from the cobbler's house, mounted upon two superb chargers, and bearing slender lances and brilliant shields.

These two brothers were so much alike that they were known as The Double Knight; and each of them wishing, as was just, to preserve his own individuality, they determined to separate and each seek his own fortune. After embracing affectionately, the one took his way toward the West, and the other toward the East.

After travelling for some days the first arrived at Madrid, and found the royal city pouring bitter tears into the pure, sweet waters of her cherished river, the Manzanares. Everybody was weeping when our gallant youth arrived at the Spanish capital; he inquired the cause of this universal lamentation, and was informed that every year a fiery dragon came and carried off a beautiful maiden, and that this luckless year the lot had fallen upon their princess, the king's good and peerless daughter.

The knight at once inquired where the princess was to be found, and was informed, at about a quarter of a league's distance, where she was expecting the fiery one to appear and carry her off to his den. Then the knight started off at once to the place indicated, and found the princess bathed in tears, and trembling from head to foot.

"Fly away!" cried the princess, when she saw the Knight of the Fish approach; "fly away, rash one! the monster is coming here, and if he sees you, heaven help you!"

"I shall not go away," responded the gallant youth, "because I have come to save you."

"To save me! Is that possible?"

"I am going to see," responded the valiant champion. "Are there any German merchants in the city?"

"Yes," answered the princess in astonishment; "but why do you ask?"

"You will see," said the knight, and galloped off to the city of mourning.

He speedily returned with an immense mirror which he had purchased from a German dealer. This he rested against the trunk of a tree, and covered it with the princess's veil, placing her in front of it, and instructing her that when the dragon was near to her she was to pull off the veil and slip behind the glass. So saying, the knight retired behind an adjacent wall.

In a little while the fiery dragon appeared, and gradually drew near to the fair one, eying her with all the insolence and effrontery possible. When he was quite close, the princess, as she had been instructed by her champion, withdrew the veil, and slipping behind the mirror, disappeared from before the eyes of the fiery dragon, which remained stupefied at finding his amorous glances directed at a dragon similar to himself. He made a movement; his resemblance did the same. His eyes sparkled red and brilliant as two rubies; whilst those of his opponent gleamed like two carbuncles. This increased his fury; he erected his scales as a porcupine would its quills, and those of his rival likewise stood up. He opened his tremendous mouth, which would have been without parallel but for that of his opponent, who, far from being intimidated, opened an identical one. The dragon dashed furiously against his intrepid adversary, giving such an awful blow with his head against the mirror that he was completely stunned; and as he had broken the glass, and in every piece saw a piece of his own body, he fancied that with one blow he had dashed his rival to atoms.

The knight availed himself of this moment of confusion and stupefaction, and dashing forth impetuously from his retreat, with his good lance deprived the dragon of its life, and would have been ready to deprive it of a hundred lives had it possessed so many.

The delight and jubilation of the Madrid people may be imagined when they beheld the Knight of the Fish bearing on his saddle the beautiful princess, quite uninjured and as lively as a cricket, and the dragon, fastened by its neck to his sturdy charger, hanging dead and bloodless behind. It may, also, be readily guessed that after such an achievement they were unable to reward the gallant knight with anything but the princess's fair hand; and that they had wedding festivities, and banquets, and bull fights, and tilting matches, and all sorts of good things.

Some days after the marriage the Knight of the Fish said to his wife that he would like to look over the palace, which was so extensive that it covered a league of ground. They inspected the place together, and the task occupied them four days. On the fourth day they ascended the roof, and the knight was struck with amazement at the prospect. Never had he seen anything like it, nor ever could he have seen its equal, even if he had visited all Spain and the Empire of Morocco as well.

"What castle is that?" inquired the Knight of the Fish, "which I see standing in the distance, so solitary and sombre."

"That," responded the princess, "is the castle of Albastretch; it is enchanted, and no one is able to undo the enchantment; and no one of all those who have gone to it has ever been known to return."

The knight listened intently to this, and as he was valiant and adventurous, on the following morning he mounted his horse, seized his lance, and set out for the castle.

The castle was enough to set one's hair on end with fright to look at it; it was darker than a thunder-cloud, and as silent as death. But the Knight of the Fish knew nothing of fear, save by hearsay, and never turned his back on foe until he had conquered; so he took his cornet and blew it lustily. The sound startled all the slumbering echoes of the castle, so that they repeated it by heart, now nearer and now farther, sometimes softer and then louder; but no one stirred in the castle.

"Ah! what a castle!" shouted the knight. "Is there no one to see to a knight who craves shelter? Is there no governor, nor squire nor even a groom, to take my horse away?"

"Away! away! away!" clamoured the echoes.

"Why should I go away?" said the Knight of the Fish. "I shall not go back, no matter how much you sigh!"

"Ay! ay! ay! (_Alas! alas! alas!_)" groaned the echoes.

The knight grasped his spear and struck a loud blow on the door.

Then the portcullis was raised, and in the opening appeared the tip of an enormous nose, located between the sunken eyes and fallen-in mouth of an old woman uglier than sin.

"What do you want, impudent disturber?" she inquired, with a cracked voice.

"To enter," replied the knight. "Are you not able to afford me the enjoyment of some rest at this hour of the night? Yes or no?"

"No! no! no!" said the echoes.

Here the knight lifted his vizier, because he was warm; and the old woman, seeing how handsome he was, said to him:

"Come in, handsome youth; you shall be cared for and well looked after."

"After! after!" warned the echoes; but the knight was fear-less and entered, the old woman promising that he should fare well.

"Farewell, farewell!" sighed the echoes.

"Go on, old lady," said the knight.

"I am called Lady Berberisca," interposed the old woman, very crossly; "and I am the mistress of Albastretch."

"Wretch! wretch!" groaned the echoes.

"Won't you be silent, cursed chatterers?" exclaimed Lady Berberisca. "I am your humble servant," she continued, making a deep curtsey to the knight, "and if you like I will be your wife, and you shall live with me here as grand as a Pacha."

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the echoes.

"Would you have me marry you? You must be a hundred. You are foolish, and mad as well."

"Well, well," said the echoes.

"What I want," said the knight, "is the registry of the castle, to examine and amend."

"Amen! amen!" sighed the echoes.

Lady Berberisca's pride was deeply wounded; she gave a hasty glance at the Knight of the Fish, and intimating to him that he should follow her, she showed him over the castle, where he beheld many strange things, but she did not afford him any opportunity of referring to them. The wicked old woman took him through an obscure corridor, where there was a trap-door, into which he fell and disappeared into an abyss, where his voice was added to the echoes, which were the voices of many other gallant and accomplished knights, whom the shameless old Berberisca had punished in the same manner for having despised her venerable charms.

* * * * *

Let us now turn to the other Knight of the Fish, who, after long travels, arrived at Madrid. As he entered the city gates the sentinels presented arms, the drums beat the royal march and several of the palace servitors surrounded him, saying that the princess was in constant tears through his prolonged absence, fearing that some misfortune had happened to him in the enchanted castle of Albastretch.

"It is necessary that I should pass for my brother," thought the knight, "to whom, it would appear, some good fortune has occurred. I must be quiet, and we shall see what will come to pass."

They carried him almost in triumph to the palace, where he found it easy to accept all the caresses and congratulations bestowed upon him by the king and the princess. They were eager to learn about his adventures, and what he had seen at the castle; but to the princess's inquiries he answered:

"I am not permitted to say a word about that until after I have been there once more."

"Are you thinking of revisiting that accursed castle? You are the only one who has yet returned from it."

"It is unavoidable; I am obliged to go there."

When they retired to rest, the knight placed his sword in the bed.

"Why do you do that?" inquired the princess.

"Because I have sworn not to sleep in a bed until after I have revisited Albastretch."

And on the following day he mounted his steed and took his way to the enchanted castle, much fearing that some misfortune had happened to his brother there. He arrived at the castle, and quickly saw the old woman's fiery nose appear at the portcullis.

No sooner did she see the knight than she became livid with fright, for she thought he was the dead knight come to life again. She began to invoke the object of her devotions, Beelzebub, most devoutly, and promised him all kinds of gifts if he would take from her view that vision of flesh and blood, drawn up from the abode of the dead.

"Ancient lady!" cried the recent arrival, "I have come to ask where a knight is who has been here?"

"Here! here! here!" responded the echoes.

"And what have you done with this knight, so accomplished in all things, and so skilled?"

"Killed! killed!" groaned the echoes.

On hearing this, and seeing the old hag running off, the Knight of the Fish, beside himself with rage, ran after her, and pierced her through with his sword, which remained fast in her body, so that she jumped about at the point of it like a parched pea in a frying-pan.

"Where is my brother, ugly old traitress?" demanded the knight.

"I can tell you," responded the witch, "but as I am at death's door, I will not let you know until you have resuscitated me."

"But how can I do this, perfidious witch?"

"Go to the garden," responded the old woman, "cut some evergreens, everlastings, and dragon's blood; with these plants make a decoction in a caldron, and then sprinkle some of it over me."

After saying this the old woman died, without uttering a prayer. The knight did all that the witch instructed him to do, and effectually resuscitated her, but uglier than ever, for her nose remained deadly white, and looked like an elephant's tusk. Then she was forced to tell the knight where his brother was; and down in the abyss he not only found him, but many other victims of the wicked Berberisca. He sprinkled them all with the decoction in the caldron, and they were all brought to life again, and to each person came an echo which had been his voice; and the first words they all uttered were:

"Accursed witch, merciless Berberisca!"

Then all those gallant knights, and many beautiful ladies whom the fiery old dragon--who was the witch's son--had carried there, gave thanks to the Knight of the Fish; and one of the most beautiful of the ladies gave him her hand; on seeing which, the wicked Berberisca died again with envy and spite.