From Canto XX
Not long after that, I, who had alert eyes and attentive ears, felt from time to time that noises were issuing from the dead bodies, always finishing with a sustained, sad sigh, and returned to feel it seeming to pass from body to body. The night was so gloomy and dark that I could not make anything out. And so to see one end of this adventure (though I need more information to complete the account) there it came to me: as I was camped out on the ground, at the point the noise had come from, I saw a black form, wandering on all fours among the dead. I was disturbed at that sight; I felt fear which I will not deny to this day, sword in hand and shield to breast, calling to God in that terrible place. But the figure then stood erect, and in a fearful voice, made a humble request:
“I beg your mercy sir, for I am a woman and have never offended you. If my sorrow, my extraordinary distress do not move you to pity and piety, if your bloody sword and wild cruelty go beyond their proper bounds, what glory will you gain from such a deed – when the just heavens proclaim that you used your sword on a woman – a widow, wretched, sad and struck down. Then I beg you, sir, if by chance you have misfortune, as I have. I will love you tenderly, in pure faith, any day. Grant me leave to give burial to a body which lies in the company of the dead –remember that whoever denies justice, approves of evil – and does an injustice to himself. You do not want to impede such a holy work which is always allowed, even in the midst of a barbarous war. Such an obstruction would be a blatant sign of tyranny. For the sake of my soul, I must go in search of his body, then proceed with rigour and fury; for my grief has driven me to such extremity that I now fear life more than death.
“I know full well how much you can harm me; but it would be no greater than what I have suffered already. So since my dear mate has died, finish what you left off doing. Although the cruel heavens forbid my body to be reunited with his, they cannot stop my afflicted spirit from following him.”
With these words, she almost asked me to put her out of her misery. But I, who was in doubt and confusion, and in the grip of a fear which deceived me, did not trust in the true sign until I felt more sure of it, suspecting she might be a spy who had come to gather information about us. But although I had my doubts (and the night covered her face), from her calm and lack of fear, what she said rang true to me. That perfidious love, blind and ungrateful, took her in search of her husband who, wanting to distinguish himself, gave his life in the first attack. Then I, moved to compassion by seeing her in her chaste and loving intent, having gone forth, turned with her to my distinguished seat, to find out what was her quandary – since principles must prevail, and letting out ones feelings finally protects them.
She replied: “You get no relief until death. My terrible passion has no remedy, and my suffering is stronger than anything. But even though it is something insufferable for me, talking about it gives me a bitter taste, perhaps my pain is so grave that it will finally destroy me.
“I am Tegualda, hapless daughter of the ill-fated chief Brancol – a beautiful woman loved in vain by many, free for a time from love and care – but very soon Fortune, angry with me for my liberty and happiness, wrecked my happiness by making him die of an illness which he neither knew nor feared. I had many proposals of marriage, and turned them all down. My good father, upset by my refusal, said that he would accept anyone who asked me. But I, with a free and open mind, refused his request – going along with it would drive me mad, hammer me fruitlessly into cold steel. Those tenacious suitors did not relent in the face of my self-willed, bitter refusals. They persisted in their vain demands with new protestations, dances games and displays – tried to weaken my firm stand. But no skill or artifice was enough to unhinge me.
“But then there came the last day of my freedom and dominion. Oh that my life were gone! But it could not be, what was truly my birthright; in a place where people assembled, where the clear Gualebo, gentle river, after irrigating the luxuriant fields, took its name and its waters into the broad Itata. There, to punish my deceit, they asked me to to attend their parties, and as they had been arranged for my harm, they rapidly finished with me. Then, with extraordinary skill and artifice, they decked the paths in foliage so that the good road appeared bad, and that I was unworthy to be touched by the sun. ”There came through various arches a well-attired and distinguished company, organised in such a way as to enhance the ornaments of nature. The clear water murmured; the trees, moved by the wind, made movements and sound – which delighted eye and ear. Scarcely had they put me there than they made a solemn edict, which displeased the restive crowd. When each person had retired to his place, the customary contest commenced – in such dead silence that all those present looked more like pictures than people. There were also many bright youths, looking like competitors of different sorts, in assorted outfits, aspiring to distinction. None of them had been conquerors or conquered; they were looking here and there for entertainment, with daring, free thoughts.’
“I who, in the course of this, did not stop desiring the end of the contest, looked up at the high trees, contemplating the works of nature, looking at the water which crossed the field, counting the various pebbles, seemingly secure – free from care, love and misadventure. Then a great clamour (obviously coming from a similar game) arose among that company; this disrupted my calm. Wanting to know what it was, I asked around as to what had occasioned the noise – of which it would have been better for me to know nothing.
“Someone said ‘lady, have you not admired how robust young Mareguano has struggled with so many competitors and has thrown them to the ground on their backs. And then I vainly hoped that he beautiful grace of your hand and your noble brow was the prize for the most valiant. That gallant youth, well put together in a red and green outfit was easily placed, bearing the prize which he had won, and the fickle, shallow crowd, delighted by that as if it were a novelty, raised a confused uproar, extolling the young man’s strength. And also Mareguano, who tried to turn the struggle, claimed that it was an ominous case and a misjudgment, and that the opponent did not match him in strength and skill. But the condition and posturing of the contest denied this claim, although the young man, with a valiant soul, proclaimed that he was happy with it, and consented to it???
“But the judges, rightly, did not accept the request of one or the other, nor did they in any way desire innovation in this contest, preferring the two to abandon their contest if both agreed. When first appearing before you, they did not meet with your overt approval. A great crowd of people came pouring into my area. When they reached me, they went silent; the winning man raised his voice in humble courtesy and said ‘Lady, I beg one favour of you, though I do not deserve it: if I am a stranger, unworthy of that which it is in your power to grant me, I offer myself to live and die as your humble servant. Although you have not acknowledged the insult I have suffered, I would ask your approval for another contest with Mareguano. And another and more again, until everybody is satisfied. I agree to be put under a handicap at the beginning; with this done in your presence, I hope to emerge from this trial with greater glory. Give us license to do this: break the Statutes with your absolute, limitless power.
“This I say, with humble reverence, in expectation of your reply. I, without caution, looked at him, listening attentively. Not only did I give him licence, I desired him to win, and so I replied: ‘If I can do it, I will freely and graciously allow it. Then, with a gallant demeanour, both of them took leave of me, and to the people’s great delight put themselves in the closed square. Then their seconds separated them on the field and, left them alone in their positions. They moved rapidly against each other. Gripping at one point and struggling, they covered a great distance in the field, now turning and rolling over, now going across, now to the right, jumping up and bowing down, now gathered breast to breast; so tightly did they hold each other that neither of them could draw breath.
“They turned to wrestle (a very strange sight), making a noise bizarre to the ears. But the young foreigner, already handicapped by lack of strength and skill, jumped up from the ground, at his opponent, and with a whimper, flexing his shoulders, threw Mareguano to the ground with such force that he felt he had not a bone left intact. Then, accompanied by a big crowd, the adjudicators escorted them to my throne, where they knelt at my feet, saying that I should award the prize. I do not know whether it was his star, my destiny or the causes for which they struggled, but I started trembling; a raging fire surged through my bones. I found myself so confused and changed by this new occurrence that for a while I was stunned, and panicked in the midst of the crowd and all this danger. But at that moment I lowered my eyes, cast down by honest shame, and the young man, with a generous gesture, opened my ears to his reasons. Finally, he radiated happiness and left me feeling disturbed. Then it came to love and grief combined, from the first step to the final point.
“I felt a sense of novelty which compelled me, a free strength and rebellious verve to which reason, liberty and willpower submitted. I, when in accord, found my cold breast burning, and raised my timid, swollen eyes which shame had held down. With the halters of shame and restraint broken, I followed him with eyes of desire, the sore and venom swelling even more. To look only at him was not good for me; I loved it as he passed before me; the very sight of him elevated my soul. I saw at that time that he was preparing to run to the customary canopy, which was a mile or more away. At the end of this furious course, there was promised to the lithe winner a well-burnished ring, and a huge emerald, finely cut, given by this my wretched hand.
“More than 40 young men came forward to contest for the prize; they all put themselves in a line, all promptly at the ready; as soon as they heard the signal, they shot off at such great speed that they hardly left any marks on the grass and plants in the arena. But Crepino, the young foreigner who called himself by his own name, rushed to the front with such fury that the fast wind lagged behind him. The first one to complete the long run finally touched the red canopy, and he was applauded by the enthusiastic crowd. Surrounding the full, broad plaza, in solemn triumph, they carried him off. But then, turning in my direction, they asked me to give him the ring. I, feigning a trembling dear (keenly observed by the crowd), having passed the point of indignation and fear, gave him my ring and my liberty.
“He said to me: ‘Lady, I beg you to accept this gift from me; although it seems poor and small, I assure you that the devotion with which it is offered is great. By bestowing this favour I will remain rich. My soul and strength will be enhanced – and no mighty enterprise will be too difficult for me’.
“In the spirit of courtesy (that quality which is perfected by women) I told him that he would receive the ring and the good will of such a person. In the midst of all that company, I made a turn of my heavy crown, descended from my pleasant seat and proceeded to my father’s house. With no feeble resistance, for the sake of the people, I covered up my grief, the pain and ardent fire ever growing. Making a show of obedience to my father, I skillfully used signs and decoys to give him the impression and that I wanted to comply with his request – saying that he had persuaded my to take a marriage partner, and that I had chosen to obey him. The intended was Crepino, who had courage, good fortune and recognised lineage – together with being of an honest, affable and laudable disposition. My father, with a stern and solemn gesture, listened out my words and then, kissing me on the forehead, said ‘in this and everything, I respect your free will, since with your discretion and honest intent you will choose what is right , and show that Crepino, in his breeding, is worthy of respect and optimism. Since my humour and desire are satisfied, and the vain struggles and foundations of those young men resolved, the tragic wedding was announced. I only had one month’s grace. Oh hard fate, where misadventure is so near to happiness!
“Hitherto I had lived contented with my lot, without fear of probing or mistrust. Now bloody, savage death has dashed everything to the ground. What is your advice in such dire straits? What recompense can heaven give me, when no remedy works, when there is no good to match this great evil? That, then, is the process; that is the story of the certain end of my sweet light; here my liberty and brief glory are transformed into eternal bitterness. And since my wounding memory has got more painful because of you, I beg you to relieve my agony, and leave me to bury my husband. It is not good that birds of prey tear the wretched body to pieces, nor that the brutal wild beasts sate their insatiable stomachs. But if you refuse to do such a just and reasonable thing, let us both, with this sword and hard hands, go to death and the sepulchre!‘
There she ended her story, and started a plaint which felt eternal – with an angst and pain that riveted me to her grief. It was not enough to assure her that I could promise all this; she only asked for death and sacrifice as the ultimate remedy and blessing.
Don Simon Pereira, who was standing guard on the other side, saw me in great grief and confusion; he did not come to tell me that the time was up. Frightened by what he had heard, he helped me to console her, reinforcing my offers. The fast-moving sky pulled the stars into the sea; the Southern Cross, signalling the hours, went down between the South and the South West, in the midst of the nocturnal silence when, seeing how much our offer pleased Tegualda, assuaging her lament, we took her to our lodgings. There we left her, honestly guarded by married women, as the expected day cast off the bleak mantle of the night.
Alonso de Ercilla y Zuniga
Trans. Dave Russell