[How Queen Briolanja arrived at Firm Island, and the wonders she saw there, and how she tested the forbidden chamber.]
Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination at the British Library.]
At this time one of Queen Briolanja’s damsels arrived with orders to tell Oriana what had happened at Firm Island, which pleased everyone because the Queen was well loved by all. She said to Oriana:
“My lady, I have come to you on behalf of Briolanja to tell you about the wonders she found at Firm Island, for I saw it all and ye can know it from me.”
“May God give her a long life,” Oriana said, “and good fortune to you for the effort ye have undertaken.”
Then everyone came to listen to her story, and the damsel said:
“My lady, know that after Briolanja left here, she arrived with all her company at the Island, where she spent five days. She was immediately asked if she wished to try the test of the chamber or the arch of love, and she said that she wished to leave those two tests for the end. Instead they took her to some beautiful houses a league from the castle, which were abundantly provisioned and which had been some of the famous principal residences of Apolidon.
“When it came time to eat, they brought us to a beautiful great hall, marvelously decorated, and at one end of it was a very deep, large, dark cave, so frightening to look into that none of us dared to go near. At the other end of the grand hall was a splendid tower, and from the windows one could see everything that happened in the hall. They had all us women go up into it, where we found tables and estrados placed next to the windows. There the Queen and ourselves were very well served with many kinds of delicacies by very attentive ladies and damsels.
“Below in the hall, as ye have heard, the knights and our other people ate, and they were served by knights of that land, and after they had put the second course in front of them, they heard loud hissing from the cave and hot smoke came out. Soon a great serpent emerged and stood in the middle of the hall, brave and terrifying, and no one dared look at it. Smoke came from its nostrils and it whipped its tail so hard that the entire hall shook.
“And then behind it two enormous lions came out of the cavern, and they all began to fight so bravely and so fiercely that no man’s heart was not terrified. The knights and other people abandoned their tables and left the hall as fast as they could. Although the windows from which we watched with Briolanja were very high, even still we could not help but be very afraid and terrified.
“The battle lasted a half-hour, and at its end the lions were so tired that they lay on the ground as if they were dead, and the serpent so tired and weary it hardly breathe. But after it had rested a while, it took one of the lions in its mouth and put it in the cave, returned for the other one, threw it inside, and then leapt in after them.
“They did not reappear for the rest of the day, and the men of the island laughed heartily at our terror. When we were sure they would not come back that day, we returned to the tables and finished our meal.
“And so we passed the day, and that night in a good lodging, and the next day they took us to an even more wonderful site, where we passed the day in great pleasure and were provided with all the things we needed. When it was time to sleep, they took us to a fine and beautiful chamber that was amazing to behold, where there was a bed of rich, costly fabric for Briolanja and other beds exceedingly fine for us.
“We were tired and sleepy, but after we had lain down and midnight had passed, the doors opened so loudly that we were all awakened and frightened. We saw a stag enter with lit candles on its horns, and the entire chamber was illuminated as if it were day. Half of it was white as snow, and the neck and head as black as tar, and one horn seemed gilt and the other vermillion.
“Behind it came four dogs of similar appearance, and all of them were harassing it, so it was sorely afflicted. And behind it came a gold and ivory horn that was playing itself and floating in the air as if someone were holding it in their hand. It sounded a hunting call that drove on the dogs.
“They would not let the stag rest, and it ran from one side of the chamber to the other, jumping over our beds, which made them shake, and at times it tripped on the beds and fell. We got up in our nightshirts and with our hair loose, fleeing from the stag, and some of us hid under our beds. But the dogs did not stop pursuing it as hard as they could, and when the stag saw that it had no place to hide in the chamber, it jumped out of the window as fast as it could and the dogs leapt out after it, and so we were very relieved.
“We picked up the bedding, which had been made disorderly, and covered ourselves, and we gave Briolanja, who was very worried, a robe to wear. When we ceased to be afraid, we laughed a lot at the disarray in which we found ourselves. As we were remaking the beds, a lady and two damsels came through the door, with a little girl carrying candles ahead of them, and the lady said to Briolanja:
“ ‘My lady, what happened to you that ye are awake?’
“She told her:
“ ‘My friend, such a commotion that it would be hard to recount.’
The lady laughed a lot, and said:
“ ‘Well, my lady, lay down and sleep, for tonight nothing more will happen for you to fear.’
“With that assurance we straightened our beds and slept the rest of the night. The next day, early in the morning, we left and went to a forest where there were many tall pine trees and beautiful gardens, and we rested in tents alongside a river. There we found a round house of twelve marble pillars and a strangely constructed roof. Between the pillars were glass panels locked in place and made in such a subtle way that everyone outside could see what was inside. It had two doors worked with sheets of gold and silver that were amazingly valuable.
“On top of each post inside the house was a copper statue made to resemble a giant that held a powerful bow whose arrows had red-hot iron tips as bright as if they had just come out of a fire. They said that nothing can enter there without being immediately turned into ashes by the fire on those arrows, because the statues instantly shoot their bows and never miss their target.
“As we watched with Briolanja, they put two fallow deer and a buck inside, and immediately arrows were shot into them, then the arrows flew back to the archers and the animals were reduced to ashes. On the doors of the palace, an inscription said:
“ ‘Let no man or woman dare to enter this house if they do not love each other as much and as loyally as Grimanesa and Apolidon, who made this enchantment, and they must enter together the first time, for if each one were to do it alone, they would suffer the most cruel death ever seen. This enchantment will last until a man and woman come who due to their great loyalty in love and the great skill at arms of the knight, shall enter in the beautiful enchanted chamber and lie together as one. And when they are wed, then all the enchantments of Firm Island shall be undone.’
“We stayed there that day, and Briolanja sent for Isanjo and Enil and told them that we no longer wished to see anything more besides the arch of love and the forbidden chamber. She asked Isanjo about the serpent and lions, and the stag and dogs.
“ ‘My lady,’ he said, ‘we know only that the serpent and lions come out each day at the time that ye saw them and fight that way, and of the buck and dogs I tell you they come to that chamber every night at the hour in which ye saw them, and they turn to leave by the window, with the dogs behind the buck, and they all enter a lake nearby that we think leads to the sea. I do not know what more to tell you, my lady, except that it would take you more than a year to see all the great marvels that are on this island.’
“The next morning, we mounted our palfreys and returned to the castle. Immediately Briolanja went to the arch of the loyal lovers and entered through its forbidden pillars as she who had never erred in her love for even a moment. The statue played a very sweet song with its trumpet, so sweet that it made us faint. And when Briolanja entered inside, where the images of Apolidon and Grimanesa were, the song stopped with sweet final notes that were wonderful to hear. There she saw the statues as beautiful and new as if they were alive, so that although she was alone, she felt as if they were with her. Immediately she saw freshly carved letters in the jasper that said:
“ ‘This is the name of Briolanja, daughter of Tagadan, King of Sobradisa. This is the third damsel who has entered here.’
“Immediately she thought to leave, for she was very afraid to be alone, since no one in her company could enter. She left and went to her lodging. On the fifth day she went to test the forbidden chamber, and she was dressed so richly it was astonishing. She wore nothing on her hair besides a beautiful golden headband set with precious gems, and all those who saw her said that if she did not enter the chamber, then no one in the world could, and that when she did, all the enchantments would end.
“She commended herself to God and entered the forbidden site and passed the copper pillar and reached the marble one, and read the words that were written on it. When she was three steps away from the door of the chamber, three hands grabbed her by her beautiful, precious hair and tossed her away without pity. And like the rest, they threw her outside of the protected site, and she was left so battered that we could not revive her.”
Oriana, whose heart had felt faint and sad as she listened, became very happy. She looked at Mabilia and the Damsel of Denmark, and they at her, and they were all pleased.
The damsel said:
“We spent the rest of the day there, and the next day Briolanja left for her kingdom.”
After the news had been told, the damsel left to go to her lady, and she carried messages from Queen Brisena and Oriana and the other ladies and damsels for her.