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The Reign Of Otho Ii
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The Enchanted Palace
Near the city of Toledo, the capital of Spain when that country was a
kingdom of the Goths, was a great palace of the olden time, or, as some
say, a vast cave, which had been deepened and widened and made into many
rooms. Still others say that it was a mighty tower, built by Hercules.
Whatever it was,--palace, tower, or cavern,--a spell lay upon it from far
past days, which none had dared to break. There was an ancient prophecy
that Spain would in time be invaded by barbarians from Africa, and to
prevent this a wise king, who knew the arts of magic, had placed a secret
talisman in one of the rooms. While this remained undisturbed the country
was safe from invasion. If once the secret of the talisman should be
divulged, swift ruin would descend upon the kingdom of the Goths. It must
be guarded strongly and well, for in it lay the destinies of Spain.
A huge iron gate closed the entrance to the enchanted palace, and upon
this each king of the Goths, on coming to the throne, placed a strong
lock, so that in time huge padlocks covered much of its front and its
secrecy seemed amply assured. When Roderic, the last king of the Goths,
came to the throne, twenty-seven of such locks hung upon the gate. As for
the keys, some writers tell us that they remained in the locks, others say
that they had been hidden and lost; but it is certain that no one had
dared to open a single one of the locks; prudence and fear guarded the
secret better than gates and locks.
At length the time came when the cherished secret was to be divulged. Don
Roderic, who had seized the throne by violence, and bore in his heart the
fatal bane of curiosity, determined to learn what had lain for centuries
behind those locks. The whole affair, he declared, was the jest of an
ancient king, which did very well when superstition ruled the world, but
which was far behind the age in which he lived. Two things moved the
epoch-breaking king,--curiosity, that vice which has led thousands to ruin,
and avarice, which has brought destruction upon thousands more. "It is a
treasure-house, not a talisman," he told himself. "Gold, silver, and
jewels lie hidden in its mouldy depths. My treasury is empty, and I should
be a fool to let a cluster of rusty locks keep me from filling it from
this ancient store."
When it became known what Roderic proposed a shudder of horror ran through
the land. Nobles and bishops hastened to the audience chamber and sought
to hinder the fateful purpose of the rash monarch. Their hearts were
filled with dread of the perils that would follow any meddling with the
magic spell, and they earnestly implored him not to bring the foretold
disaster upon the land.
"The kings who reigned before you have religiously obeyed the injunction,"
they said. "Each of them has fixed his lock to the gate. It will be wise
and prudent in you to follow their example. If it is gold and jewels you
look for, tell us how much you think the cavern holds, even all your fancy
hopes to find, and so much we will give you. Even if it beggars us, we
will collect and bring you this sum without fail. We pray and implore you,
then, do not break a custom which our old kings have all held sacred. They
knew well what they did when they commanded that none after them should
seek to disclose the fatal secret of the hidden chamber."
Earnest as was their appeal, it was wasted upon Roderic. Their offer of
gold did not reach his deepest motive; curiosity with him was stronger
than greed, and he laughed in his beard at the fears and tremblings of his
"It shall not be said that Don Roderic, the king of the Goths, fears the
devil or his agents," he loudly declared, and orders were given that the
locks should be forced.
One by one the rusty safeguards yielded to key or sledge, and the gates
shrieked disapproval when at length they reluctantly turned on their stiff
hinges, that had not moved for centuries. Into the cavern strode the king,
followed by his fearful but curious train. The rooms, as tradition had
said, were many, and from room to room he hurried with rapid feet. He
sought in vain. No gold appeared, no jewels glittered on his sight. The
rooms were drear and empty, their hollow floors mocking his footsteps with
long-silent echoes. One treasure only he found, the jewelled table of
Solomon, a famous ancient work of art which had long remained hidden from
human sight. Of this wonderful relic we shall say no more here, for it has
a history of its own, to be told in a future tale.
On and on went the disappointed king, with nothing to satisfy his avarice
or his curiosity. At length he entered the chamber of the spell, the magic
room which had so long been locked from human vision, and looked with eyes
of wonder on the secret which had been so carefully preserved.
What he saw was simple but threatening. On the wall of the room was a rude
painting, which represented a group of strangely dressed horsemen, some
wearing turbans, some bareheaded, with locks of coarse black hair hanging
over their foreheads. The skins of animals covered their limbs; they
carried scimitars and lances and bore fluttering pennons; their horses
were small, but of purest breed.
Turning in doubt and dread from this enigmatical drawing, the daring
intruder saw in the centre of the apartment a pedestal bearing a marble
urn, in which lay a scroll of parchment. From this one of his scribes read
the following words:
"Whenever this asylum is violated and the spell contained in this urn
broken, the people shown in the picture shall invade the land and overturn
the throne of its kings. The rule of the Goths shall end and the whole
country fall into the hands of heathen strangers."
King Roderic looked again with eyes of alarm on the pictured forms. Well
he knew their meaning. The turban-wearers were Arabians, their horses the
famous steeds of the desert; the bare-headed barbarians were Berbers or
Moors. Already they threatened the land from Africa's shores; he had
broken the spell which held them back; the time for the fulfilment of the
prophecy was at hand.
Filled with sudden terror, the rash invader hurried from the chamber of
the talisman, his courtiers flying with wild haste to the open air. The
brazen gates were closed with a clang which rang dismally through the
empty rooms, and the lock of the king was fixed upon them. But it was too
late. The voice of destiny had spoken and the fate of the kingdom been
revealed, and all the people looked upon Don Roderic as a doomed man.
We have given this legend in its mildest form. Some Arab writers surround
it with magical incidents until it becomes a tale worthy of the "Arabian
Nights' Entertainments." They speak of two ancient men with snowy beards
who kept the keys of the gate and opened the locks only at Roderic's stern
command. When the locks were removed no one could stir the gates until the
hand of the king touched them, when they sprang open of themselves. Inside
stood a huge bronze giant with a club of steel, with which he dealt
resounding blows on the floor to right and left. He desisted at the king's
command, and the train entered unharmed. In the magic chamber they found a
golden casket containing a linen cloth between tablets of brass. On this
were painted figures of Arabs in armor. As they gazed these began to move,
sounds of war were heard, and the vision of a battle between Arab and
Christian warriors passed before the affrighted eyes of the intruders. The
Christian army was defeated, and Roderic saw the image of himself in
flight, and finally of his horse without a rider. As he rushed in terror
from the fatal room the bronze giant was no longer to be seen and the
ancient guardians of the gate lay dead upon their posts. In the end the
tower was burned by magic fire, and its very ashes were scattered by the
wings of an innumerable flight of birds.
Next: The Battle Of The Guadalete
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