Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Mouse and the Infanta

by Sheila

[Note: John made me write this for a competition. His competing story is here. You don't have to read all of it (it's huge on here, isn't it?), but if you do read it, read John's too and vote for your favourite in the comment box.]

This is the story of something that happened a long time ago in Spain. A great many exciting stories happen in Spain—in fact they happen there all the time—but this is one that I don’t think anyone outside of Spain has heard before. You may not believe it happened. But it did, and if you don’t believe me, it is probably because you have read the wrong sort of history. The best things that happened in Spain had nothing to do with Columbus or Franco, but with El Cid and King Alfonso and princes like the prince in this story.

Once upon a time there was a Prince living in Spain. His name was Orlando, and he was the son of the king of Aragon. In those days, there was no King of Spain, but only one in Aragon, and one in Castile, and one in Navarre, and so forth. Prince Orlando was one of the best princes Aragon had ever seen. He had killed nearly as many Saracens as his namesake, the great Roland, and had written poetry nearly as nice as San Juan de la Cruz did, some years after. He could fence and fight and ride and sing and speak Latin and do everything else a prince needs to be able to do.

Our prince had been betrothed when he was six years old to the infanta of Navarre (that is what they call their princess), who was at that time in her cradle, having just been christened with the charming name of Leonora. When she grew up she had dark brown hair and green eyes, and was dazzlingly beautiful, charmingly pretty, and undeniably lovely. Orlando had an oil painting of her in his room. He kept a candelabra burning before it so that, in case he should wake in the night, he had only to open his eyes and see her beautiful face, and it reassured him so that he could go back to dreaming of her. I forgot to mention that he was in love with her. But he was, of course.

He wrote letters to her every time a messenger could be spared, in which he called her amada mía, and mi corazón, and mi paloma, and mi vida, and a great many other romantic things. (I don’t like to translate his names for her, because they might sound silly in English, but in Spanish it is quite all right and no one ever complains that you sound overdone.) Leonora wrote back saying that the world was beautiful, and what the weather was like, and what she spent her time doing, and how much she wanted to come see him. Orlando read them and wondered if she loved him, because she never said so outright. Still, he kept them beneath her portrait and read them over again on rainy days. Meanwhile, Leonora read his letters and wondered why he never mentioned what he was doing all the time, and worried that he might not like her letters because he never mentioned anything she said in them. Still, she kept his letters under her pillow, along with a locket of his black hair, and kissed them fairly often.

All this is very well. But it is high time to get to the story, which starts when Leonora was seventeen and a half years old, and Orlando was twenty-three and a little more which he did not bother to count.

Orlando was sitting in his chamber, reading his ladylove’s last letter. He had read it fourteen times already (the mails were very infrequent, due to Saracens and other inconveniences common in medieval Spain), but he read it again, because he liked to read something of hers before he went out riding, so he would have something to think about. This is what she had written:

Very dear one,

I turned seventeen and a half today. Is that not exciting? I have never been seventeen and a half before. It is only six months before the day Uncle says is the earliest he could think of my being married. I think it makes him anxious, for he frowns when I mention it. I think he does not want to see me go away.

Leonora’s “uncle” was actually her father’s advisor. Leonora’s father and mother were both dead, and so “Uncle” was managing the kingdom until Leonora grew up and married Orlando. Then Orlando would be king of Navarre as well as future king of Aragon. The letter continued,

I have finished nearly all of my education. I am nearly as clever as Padre now.

Padre was Leonora’s tutor, whose full name was something long and Greek. He was a monk of great knowledge and erudition and study, along with a little bit of cleverness.

I know more Greek than Uncle does, but he knows a great many other things that Padre will not teach me about. Uncle reads great books of people named Agrippa and Paracelsus, but Padre says they are not for infantas to read. I am trying to read Aristotle now, but he is hard to understand, and that Moor who tries to explain him only makes him more complicated.

The Moor was Averroës, whom you really ought to have learned about in school.

I feel very accomplished today. One’s half birthday is a good time to look at oneself and see how one has grown. I have grown very old in seventeen and a half years.

I hope they will let me marry you the very day I am eighteen. Do you think that will happen? They never let me travel because they are afraid of Saracens, but I do think you might be able to come in time for that day, if you are not too busy. No one has been making any wedding plans, though. Am I the only one who is excited to be nearly eighteen?

I pray for you to the Virgin every night. She says you are all right. Are you? Tell me how you are if you write to me. I want to hear how you are doing. Meantime I think of you very much.

Your own,
+ Leonora

Orlando folded the letter up again very carefully and put it in the pile of letters before her picture. Then he went outside to go riding.

When he got to the stables, he found that his own horse, whose name was Oöcephalus, had a sore hoof. The groom was giving the horse mash and putting a poultice on the foot. “Too bad you are lame today, my friend,” said Orlando, patting the horse’s neck. “You and I were to go riding in the hills. Take care of that hoof, so you and I can go out next time.” Then he passed on and out into the corral. There was a great big white horse wandering about the yard, not tied up. The prince was not familiar with him, so he spent some time talking to the horse and watching him before he decided to take him out. He decided not to bother the groom—the poultice on that sore hoof was much more important business, and dangerous horses were never allowed in the royal stables. So he saddled up the stallion himself.

“For a stallion, you are unusually friendly,” he commented as he led the horse out of the yard. “What shall I call you?”

“Epophthalmiontes,” replied the horse quietly.

Orlando did not hear, because he was too busy trying out names. “White Wave? Snowflake? Big Puffy White Cloud?” (This does not sound quite so silly in Spanish: nothing does.)

“Epophthalmiontes will do fine,” said the horse again.

Orlando stopped with one foot half into the stirrup. “Did someone say something?” He glanced around and saw no one.

“Yes, I did,” said the horse.

The prince glanced wildly around again. “I’m hearing things,” he said to himself, and swung into the saddle.

“You are hearing things because I am saying things,” said the horse. “This is tiresome!” he added to himself. “I spent so much time trying to avoid detection by not speaking, and now that I do speak no one will listen!”

Orlando started to hear the voice again. “I am listening,” he said. “Who are you?”

“I told you. My name is Epophthalmiontes.” Meeting nothing but silence, he added, “The horse. The one you are sitting on.”

The prince strove to recover his wits from the sudden blow of intense startlement. Fortunately, his training in court etiquette came to his rescue. He dismounted hastily, bowed to the horse, removed his hat, and said, “I am Orlando, Prince of Aragon, at your service.” There are very few to whom a Prince needs to say “at your service,” but faced with a talking horse, it seemed wise to take all precautions.

“I am Epophthalmiontes, Dominican monk,” said the horse grumpily, not adding “at your service.” Which was allowed, because monks are never required to be polite to princes. They only do it if they particularly want to. And this monk did not seem to be in the mood to be polite at all.

“Very pleased to meet you, padre,” said the prince politely. “Might I ask—er—how your—em—regrettable . . . ” He tried again. “Padre, you don’t look quite . . . ah . . . ”

The monk interrupted to help. “You want to know why I’m a horse.”

“If it isn’t too impertinent a question to ask . . . ”

“I was transformed. Magically. Or alchemically, if you prefer. It’s all one to me. I always knew Iago was up to some mischief with all that alchemy he was dabbling in.” He sighed and shook his long mane disconsolately. “It wouldn’t have been so terrible if it hadn’t been such an interruption in what I was doing. I was looking for a student of mine who had gone missing. There was a potion by the bed, but no sign of my student. I traced the potion to Iago, but he caught me going through his papers and potions, and he transmuted me. I suspect Leonora must have been transmuted too, though I can’t guess—”

“Leonora?” the prince exclaimed, trembling and turning pale. This is not a sign of weakness: you would have done it too, had you found out the lady of your dreams might be a horse, or something even less romantic. And that was only a best-case scenario: she might be dead. “Leonora, the infanta of Navarre? Leonora, of the dark brown hair and emerald eyes? Leonora, my betrothed and the one hope of my heart?”

“Yes, Leonora,” said the monk impatiently. “Didn’t I mention that already? I came all this way to find you and tell you she was in danger.”

“You only just now mentioned that part,” said the prince, ceasing to tremble but remaining quite pale. A firmness was coming into his face that would have worried anyone who knew him: it meant he was about to do something desperate.

A half hour later he was hanging saddlebags onto the horse’s, that is, the monk’s, back. “We might get there by tomorrow evening if we ride hard,” he said as he fastened a large sack of provisions onto the saddle.

“If we ride hard?” inquired the monk querulously. “You mean if you ride hard, and I am ridden hard. I assure you, it is much more comfortable to ride than to be ridden. Do you really need that many supplies?” he added as another bag was fastened on, this one containing a short bow, a quiver, several daggers, and a shield.

“Don’t worry, padre, that’s all there is,” the prince answered, swinging into the saddle. “I only brought the bare necessities.”

A muffled “ooph” was the monk’s only reply.

The strength of the prince’s love put a spur to him, and it took him great forebearance not to put a spur to the monk himself. The horse simply could not go fast enough to suit Orlando’s feelings. All the same, a lone horseman can travel quickly, and Navarre and Aragon are not far apart. By sunset on the following evening, Orlando and Epophthalmiontes stood in the valley beneath the royal castle of Navarre.

The swift decision that had brought him to the hill’s foot forsook Orlando for a moment. It occurred to him that he could not storm the front gates of the castle with only a sword (which was strapped on his belt), a shield, a bow and arrows, and three daggers. Even if he could, he wasn’t certain it would do much good for a princess who was turned into the-Good-God-knew-what.

“Father,” said the prince slowly, “more information on the situation might be helpful.”

“If it is so helpful, I find it ironic that you should wait until now to ask for it,” replied the monk. “I told you all I know: Leonora disappeared, I went looking for her, and I got to be a horse for my trouble.” He flicked his tail in irritation.

“What is he like, this man who . . . transmuted you?”

“Iago? He is the late king’s advisor, and Leonora’s regent, for the time being.”

“Ah, that Iago. Strange . . . Leonora never mentioned anything against him.”

“He keeps away from her, mostly. If he doesn’t, I see that he does. Not a good influence for a young girl, I say. Besides, the older she gets, the more difficult he gets. After all, once she marries you, the kingdom won’t be in his hands anymore.”

“Hm,” said Orlando. “Maybe that’s why he wants to get rid of her.”

“But if she dies, the kingdom goes to her cousin, the Duke of Tafalla. Either way, he can’t keep the kingdom.”

Orlando rubbed his chin meditatively. “But if he married her, the kingdom would be his forever.”

The monk recoiled in surprise—a comical gesture in a horse. “But he couldn’t do that, the baseborn . . . ” The following words were muttered in Greek. Epophthalmiontes always tried not to swear, but when he couldn’t help it he had a habit of swearing in Greek, and sometimes even Arabic, although his superior greatly disapproved of that one.

“I thought he was the son of a lord,” objected the prince in surprise.

“But Leonora is a princess! He is far unworthy of her. Besides, the kingdom would never accept it if he broke her betrothal to you while you lived and held to it.”

“Or while she lived,” the prince said thoughtfully. “I think . . . I think he wants her ‘missing,’ so he can give out that she’s dead. He would expect me to forget her and marry the princess of Catalonia. Once I’ve done that, he can ‘find’ the princess and marry her with the people’s approval.”

The monk scraped a hoof in the dusty ground. “You may be right. Those may be his plans. But he will never do it, not while I’m living to say something about it!”

“Or while I draw breath,” said the prince.

In the end it did not turn out to be a problem to get into the castle. Epophthalmiontes knew of a kitchen entrance used by servants, and the only thing needed was to wait for the right moment when the door was open and no one was in the scullery. The right moment turned out to be the next morning.

Orlando stole in alone. The monk remained outside, because a horse walking through the halls of a castle is rarely seen as proper, and might have attracted questions.

The prince spent the better part of the morning exploring the castle. There were a great many hallways and rooms, occurring quite unpredictably, and to make things more difficult, servants and courtiers kept coming through so that he had to keep hiding in alcoves, behind tapestries, and under tables.

Finally he found Leonora’s chamber. It was not hard to tell it was hers: it was very large, and full of feminine decorations. It also sported a large oil painting of himself. Orlando regarded this a moment. He found it slightly disturbing.

He examined the room for any clues of the cause of the princess’s departure. All her things were in order. Her dressing table had combs and brushes on it neatly in rows. A strand of dark brown hair was on one of the brushes, and he extracted this and kissed it reverently before putting it in his pocket. He moved on to see if her bed had been slept in. If it had, it had been made since: the covers were neatly pulled up over the pillow. The pillow bulged up high, and looking underneath the prince found an enormous mound of letters in his own handwriting. That was strange to him; he didn’t want to read what he had written, so he replaced the pillow and pulled the covers over it again. There was a roundish indentation on the coverlet covered with brown cat hair, which Orlando brushed off. “I didn’t know she had a cat,” he murmured to himself.

There was nothing helpful in the princess’s room at all, so he decided to inspect Iago’s chambers. After all, the monk had gone there, and last night, while they were hiding, watching for the kitchen door to open, he had finally thought to mention that he thought some of the papers there might be important. Apparently Iago fancied himself an alchemist, and he took careful notes of all his many experiments, “for posterity.” Perhaps he had written there what he had done with Leonora. Perhaps he had even written down some formula for turning her back!
With these thoughts in mind, he found his way into the regent’s chambers. Unfortunately our prince did not always think so much as he should have when he was excited. This might be why he forgot what had happened to the last person who wandered into the alchemist’s den uninvited.

He was sifting through an enormous stack of papers when the door began to creak open. Orlando glanced around wildly, but there was nowhere to hide. So he drew his sword and prepared to face the foe.

Through the door came the proper owner of the stack of papers and the chamber. He was tallish, darkish, and moderately handsome, and sported a black chin beard. His age was not quite easy to tell, but he had a small amount of grey at his temples which betrayed him as at least middle-aged. Orlando instinctively knew who it was, perhaps because he looked slightly sinister, and perhaps because no one else walks into a room quite like its owner does.

“What are you doing here?” hissed Iago.

Orlando could not answer that question, so he asked one of his own. “Where’s Leonora?”
Iago gave a sinister smile. “Safe—oh, quite safe. You needn’t worry, sir . . . or is it, perhaps, Prince Orlando?” The prince glared, but he had never before pretended not to be a prince and wasn’t going to start now. He stood up very straight, sword still in hand. “I see that you are,” continued the sorcerer. “A pleasure.”

“You must bring her back!” Orlando proclaimed.

“Must I? Why don’t I send you to be with her?” The sorcerer raised his arms and began an incantation in Latin. Orlando rushed at him with his sword, but before he had reached him, the last words of the spell had already been said: “fieri (here Iago smirked to himself) musculus.”
The sword fell from the prince’s hand. Suddenly he felt that he was falling, falling quickly towards the floor. His fall stopped a few inches from the floor. Then the transformation began: his nose stretched out, bringing his face with it into a cone shape; his eyes shifted to the sides of his head; his hands became wrinkled and sprouting tiny claws; white fur grew all over him in place of his fine princely clothes; and a bare tail finished the look. He was, in short, a mouse.

“Go look for your ladylove!” chortled the mage. “And when you have found her—well, I hope you find her as much to your liking as she finds you to hers.” He laughed a long, sinister laugh, and the prince scooted away under the wainscoting, leaving his enormous sword abandoned on the ground.

. . .

Being a mouse wasn’t so bad, really—not in a palace. There were good things to eat in nearly every room. Of course, there were some inconveniences to the situation—Orlando had trouble keeping track of his tail, for instance—but altogether, he didn’t mind the situation, except that it hindered him in his search for the princess. The castle, large before, now seemed a vast open country, impossible to search entirely.

There also was the question of what he would do when he found her. It seemed she had been turned into a mouse as well. But what could a pair of mice do to transform themselves back and be reunited again?

The prince decided to return to Leonora’s chamber, for the present. For one thing, he knew where it was and how to get there, more than could be said for most other places in the castle. For another, he thought he might be able to see something he had missed now that he was small. But his main reason was that it was her room, and therefore both enjoyable to him, and possibly somewhere she would go, if in trouble.

Unfortunately there was no food left out there: it was kept immaculately clean. But the prince had found a crust of bread left in the lady-in-waiting’s room next door, and was not hungry yet. He scurried about the room, looking in awe at the enormous furniture that had seemed on a normal scale that morning.

He had just curled up inside one of Leonora’s dainty shoes for a nice evening nap when his acute mouse ears picked up a stealthy tread. Instantly he knew that it was a cat—one very close. Now he remembered that there had been cat hair on the bed. It was too late now: by the time you hear a cat coming it is already too late, if you are a mouse.

Still, it is automatic for the mouse to try to run anyway, and this is what Orlando did. He scrambled out of the shoe and skittered across the floor, tiny claws scraping on the stone. The cat, a sleek chocolate-coloured animal, darted after him as quick as lightning. A real mouse would have had a hole to escape into, but Orlando hadn’t anywhere to go, so it wasn’t long before he was cornered. The cat crouched down with the prince between her paws. He trembled slightly and closed his eyes, waiting for the feel of sharp teeth on his neck and praying for forgiveness for all his sins—and for some help to come to Leonora without him.

But the bite did not come. Nervously Orlando opened one eye and looked up at the great beast towering over him. He had heard they liked to play with their prey. This was unfortunate, because he would have much preferred to die quickly and get it over with. But a prince must accept misfortune, and this he did.

Still the cat remained motionless. At last she gave a little sigh, and, to the prince’s great wonderment, began to speak.

“Alas!” cried the chocolate-coloured cat, in great distress. “To what great depths have I been brought, I, who would never hurt a fly, who feared the smallest mouse, to be forced to devour this tiny beast to survive! O mala fortuna!” She seemed to be quite a well-educated talking cat. “That a princess such as I could suffer such a harsh fate!”

“Leonora?” asked the prince, greatly startled.

The cat sat back on her haunches and opened her big green eyes wide. She seemed too taken aback to speak for a moment. If she had not been a cat, she might have fainted, but cats cannot faint. Therefore she was forced to recover herself. “That is my name,” she said, in a cautious tone, “or it was, once.”

“Leonora—my angel—” began the prince awkwardly. He had had many dreams of their first meeting, but he had presumed on a great many things, such as a prior introduction or at least a resemblance to his painting for her to recognize him by. But, having none of these, he had to try as best he could. “I was once a prince, once—oh, how blessed was my fortune—destined to marry the loveliest princess in Spain. I heard from her faithful tutor that she was in danger, and I came as swiftly as I could, but I fell into the same danger she did, and have been transformed as you see me. I was not—I was not always a mouse. I was Orlando, and you, my emerald, my Leonora, were my betrothed.”

They both stared at one another a moment. Obviously embracing was called for here, or at the very least a kiss on the lady’s hand, but in their present state neither could manage either one. It was a moment too deep for words, until each gradually realized that nothing but words was available. Leonora was the first to speak. “Orlando, is it really you?”

“Yes, my dove, my orange-blossom. I came as soon as I heard you were in danger. Padre Epophthalmiontes came to me.”

He told her his whole story. When it was finished she sat very straight and curled her tail around her feet. “I could not have believed that Uncle would do such a thing. He is cross, sometimes, but I always thought he had my best interests at heart.”

“You always think the best of everyone, my water-lily. I am sorry not everyone deserves it. It seems to me that anyone who knew you, my star, would try to deserve your good opinion.”
She lowered her whiskers modestly. Then she thought for a moment. “But how did Padre speak to you? I cannot speak to anyone, except to myself. And you.”

Orlando blinked. “I think—I hope—that is a spell he placed on you alone. Your tutor could speak quite easily. And I think I could speak. Let me try it.”

Before she could stop him, the prince scurried out into the hall. A maid was passing by, carrying an armful of linens. “Your pardon, miss,” he began. The maid looked to see where the voice was coming from. When she saw, she let out a tremendous shriek and fled, leaving a cloud of linen slowly settling to the ground behind her.

Orlando slipped back through the door and returned to the feet of his princess. Her whiskers were twitching. “You are very funny, my betrothed,” she said, in a voice full of suppressed laughter. “I did not know that you were funny.”

“Neither did I,” said the prince, laughing. “I didn’t know she would do that. But it was funny, wasn’t it, my little lotus-blossom?” Then he became serious. “So I can speak. I do not know, but I think that means there can be some remedy.”

“Oh, tell me,” she said with excitement, crouching on her haunches and putting her face down close to his.

This posture made him quite nervous, because the mouse part of him could not think of anything but the fact that this was a cat, a real cat, a cat at close quarters, which could devour him in three bites. On the other hand, the prince part of him was saying that this was his beloved, his intended, his dear one, whom he had been longing to be close to most of his life. So he hadn’t the heart to make her stand a little farther away. Instead he just thought slowly and laboriously, trying not to be distracted.

“Alchemy is the work of the devil. I think your tutor told me that. That means that we have only to go to the bishop, ask for a blessing or an exorcism or something, and we will be cured.”
“Do you truly think so?”

“I do, my heart. The only trouble will be reaching the church without danger. You might be hindered by a hound or another beast, and I would be in danger from every creature that passed. Is it not across the courtyard, so that we have to pass across the open to reach it?”

“Yes, it is,” said the infanta reflectively. “But you may be safe . . . if you pass along the top of the wall that separates the chicken yard from the rest of the courtyard. It is attached on one side to the keep and on the other to the chapel.”

“Very good,” said the prince, “but how will I get up there?”

“Padre can lift you up, if we can get him in here.”

“You are all resourcefulness, my honey-cake!” he exclaimed. “And he may be able to come in when the gates open at dawn, if he follows one of the wagons that come in in the daytime.”

After making some more plans, they adjourned their council to sneak into the larder to get some food. Orlando, by making use of both his wits and agility, managed to cut down a smoked fish for the infanta. She ate it eagerly, and the prince watched her with some relief that it wasn’t him. For himself, he had four grains of corn and felt quite satisfied. Then they slipped out of the scullery door to find Epophthalmiontes.

At first Orlando was afraid he had gone. But, after some calling, he emerged from a cluster of pines. Leonora found she could speak to him because he was also enchanted, and he tempered his gruffness slightly to greet her with some affection.

They told him their plan, and he listened attentively. “It’s foolhardy,” he said. “Of course if you could present yourself to the bishop, he would be able to cure you, but there is no way we would all cross the courtyard safely. Even assuming we do reach the church, they’ll never let animals inside. Even assuming we did make it inside, they would not listen to us. And they would never believe that we are who we say we are. Furthermore, Iago might be in the church, and he would convince the bishop that we were a fraud, a trick of a ventriloquist and trained animals. Furthermore—”

“All right, padre,” said the prince. “What would you suggest?”

The monk paused a moment. Then he told them.

“What?” said the princess.

“That seems even more difficult and dangerous, padre,” said the prince.

“But it will work,” said Epophthalmiontes.

The two young people thought a moment. “I suppose . . . ” said Leonora.

“If we’re lucky . . . ” said Orlando.

“It will work,” said the monk. “Rest now, and we will attempt it in the morning.”

. . .

The next morning they all met together in the same place. The monk stood by a tree, which Leonora gracefully scaled and lighted on his back. Orlando had more trouble. In the end, Epophthalmiontes had to crouch down on his knees so that the prince could scoot out on the lowest branch of the tree and carefully drop onto Leonora’s shoulders. Carefully the horse rose to his feet. “Steady now,” he said softly. “No claws, your highness!”

Slowly they made their way to the front of the castle, swaying precariously. Every moment Orlando expected to fall. Finally they reached the main gate. It stood open, and the road passed through it. “This is it,” said the monk. “In we go. No one fall!” Steadily he walked through the gate.

Instantly they had the attention of everyone in the courtyard. There stood a large white stallion, with a chocolate-coloured cat riding on his back, with a small white mouse on her back. This was the moment of trial: fifty yards, and they would be at the church door. All they had to do was prevent the people from interfering, calling the guards, locking the church doors, or anything else they might think of. This is where the monk’s main plan came into play.

“Repent!” he cried in a stentorian tone as he continued his slow, careful walk toward the church doors. “Repent and do penance! This sign has been sent you as a sign of an evil in your midst. The smallest rides on the back of the greatest. The mouse is a sign for the regent, who rules you though without royal blood. The cat is a sign for the people, who are ridden by their ruler without mercy. The horse is a sign of the Church, which serves all of you, but is given no thought and no consideration in your lives!”

The church doors were ten yards away. The people watched anxiously for what would happen next. No one knew what to do, because no one had seen a sign the likes of this before. Suddenly a man cried out, “They’re going into the church!”

The people moved toward the church doors, but hesitated, still uncertain what to do. Epophthalmiontes continued speaking. “We go to the church as a sign for you, that what we do you must also do. Go to church, not only today but often.” The monk’s head was already within the doors.

“Fetch the bishop!” some cried, and others, “Fetch the regent!” By providence, or perhaps because Iago was not a frequent massgoer, the bishop was much closer. He was within the church praying. At the sound of the ruckus from outside, he moved toward the door of the church. The bishop and the animals reached each other in the vestibule.

“Your Grace,” said the monk, “I come on a number of errands. First, because I, Epophthalmiontes, have failed in my duty and let my young charge fall into danger. Second, because I did not celebrate the early Mass last Sunday as Your Grace commanded me to do, due to having been transformed into a horse. Third, because Your Grace ought to know that the current regent is an evil alchemist, and that the infanta yet lives. Fourth, because all three of us are under enchantment, and hoped that Your Grace might free us from it.”

The bishop stared at them, with his eyes wide. He was a very holy bishop, but in all his days of visions and fighting devils he had never seen anything of the sort. Still, he recognized the good monk’s voice. Carefully he lifted Orlando off Leonora’s shoulders and held him in his hand. Then he scooped Leonora off the horse’s back and set her on the floor. Leading the way, he brought them all into the church. The crowd followed, watching with interest.

The bishop made them stand in a row at the foot of the altar while he went and fetched holy water. All it took was a small sprinkling on each of them, and they instantly regained their forms. Leonora and Orlando fell into each other’s arms and said very many nice things to each other which you might find silly, but which I assure you made perfect sense at the time.

When he was again able to pay attention to anything else, Orlando turned to Epophthalmiontes. “Padre—did you only suggest that plan so that you could get in a free sermon?”

The monk reddened. He was a rather plump monk, with a white robe and a white fringe of hair around his tonsure. “Not exactly . . . I also thought it was the best plan . . . and it did work . . .”
“I thought so,” said the prince, and went back to whispering pleasant things in the ear of the radiant infanta.

They all came out of the church to the cheers of the multitude. Iago caught sight of what was going on through the window, but it was too late: the guards were sent to fetch him and lock him in the lowest dungeon, where he reflected on the evil of his ways and received an instructive sermon from Epophthalmiontes every day. Orlando and Leonora were married by the bishop at the earliest possible convenience, and lived happily ever after.


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