Thus began King Alfonso’s decline in Fortunes, and before his death he saw life’s work undone by the advancing Moors.
It was there at the court of King Alfonso that there came to pass a great Marvel. One starry night a heavenly music stirred Great-Grandfather from a deep sleep. Following these sweet sounds Great-Grandfather roused himself from his bed and climbed the ramparts of the castle wall, bewondered that the night watch was no where to be seen. Indeed, the whole castle seemed cast to sleep as by some spell. He climbed more steps and peered out over the crellises, but nothing stirred on the moonlit fields below, nor on the wooded hills beyond. He continued round the massive stone keep and there, perched upon the highestmost turret, was the one wingéd angel, gazing out across the hills toward the distant mountains. She played an instrument of music, right strange and sweet. One angelic hand turned a small crank while the fingers of the other danced upon small silver keys. Her instrument married the fydell’s soft voice with the droning organum of shepherds pipes, golden threads upon dark velvet.
Lost in these angelic tones and marvelling greatly at this vision, at first did not notice the muffled sounds down in the field below, nor the shadowy figures climbing ropes, climbing the castle walls. The Angel, however, turned Great-Grandfather’s eyes and he saw, at first not comprehending. Then he raised a cry and alarm. By the bones of Saint James! Moors! Infidels! Trechery! To the walls! He looked back at the turret but the angel was gone and of the heavenly music, barely an echoed whisper remained, but for a moment and then too was gone. Great-Grandfather dashed to the Chapel and pulled hard at the ropes, rining the great bells of the tower.
Thus it was that an angel wakened Great-Grandfather and saved the castle from attack though the Saracenshad used sorcery to make the guards and watch fall into a deep slumber.
In the days following, haunted and inspired by this heavenly model, Great-Grandfather built with wood and glue his own wondrous instrument: a mechanical violin in which a rosin coated wheel cunningly replaced the bow and which carressed all the strings at once and without end, so long as the crank was turned. To this he added keys to turn and press, thereby stopping certain of the strings to bring forth melody. And yet it was not so heavenly as that played by the angel. Great-Grandfather built a large one, for two to play together, others he built small for one musician to play. He called this creation the Zamfonia, that is, Symphonie or Chiffonie, as it is called in Aquitaine. The French call it la Vielle, but the English know it as the Hoordy-Goordy.
When the day came that the church bells tolled the news of Alfono’s death, the neighboring Moorish and Christian kings were already dividing among them that once happy kingdom. Great-Grandfather Olivier packed his instruments onto his back, cut a stout staff to ward off dogs and wolves, and journeyed thus from castle to castle. Tramping through the rough highlands and along the coast, through the gree valleys of Esuria and Léon, he offered his music and his sword to whomever needed one or the other, and could pay for it.
After many adventures he arrived at the gates of the great castle at Saragossa, under whose walls Duke William and his knights had their Crusader’s encampment.
It is told that as Great-Grandfather approached the pavillons of the Duke he found there a tight circle of Knights, intently regarding two lords knealt upon a cloth of rich red velvet. They were throwing dice.
One of the two lords threw the dice and seemed right pleased with how they fell and their knights nodded and murmurred. Then the other lord, ( and t’was in truth none other than Duke William himself) said something softly that only those closest could hear, and they found it right drole and thereto gave a right hardy laugh. Then were all suddenly silent and intent as the Duke, in turn, threw the Dice.
The dice clattered and rolled and then came to rest. A moment of drawn breath, a heartbeat, and then a great plosive exhalation from the lips of all: the Duke had lost! But then consternation seemed to turn to delight, with the Duke most delighted of all, which Great-Grandfather found passing strange. How King Alfonso would turn red with sullen rage when he lost a wager at chess! But here was the Duke laughing at his loss!
Then was a small fydell brought to the Duke which he bagan to tune and bow. When all was well accorded he bowed to the knight who had just bested him on the cloth and spoke thus: “My dear Raimond, the dice have smiled upon you, and you have won the wager. Here then is your prize, as we agreed. I shall now sing to you and all here, a new poem.” He bowed upon the fydell and brought forth sounds right sweet. The he sang–
Companions, I will make a poem
Refined and meet
As foolish as sensible
Afine mix of love and joy and youth.
And he is a rough peasant who doesn’t listen
Nor learn it deep in his heart:
T’is hard to leave love and desire…
‘Twas here, to the Duke’s great surprise and annoyance that the fydell’s chantrelle string, with a sharp little ping, snapped. Duke William paused in his bowing, cocked his head to one side and regarded the instrument, now held out at arm’s length before him. “How shall a bowman shoot when Fortune breaks his bowstring in the battle?” he asked. But before any could reply, the Duke and all those around him heard heard the tones of Great-Grandfather’s Hoordy-Goordy. The knights and barons stood back that Duke Ewilliam might see the source of this music. The Duke beheld my Great-Grandfather, nodded to him and then continued his song from where it had been interrupted–
I have two fine and noble mounts,
Lively mares, skilled in the best sort of combat…
Great-Grandfather’s songs and melodies pleased the Duke, a great lover of music and the first poet who knew Trobár, which is the secret art of finding the right words and melodey. Great-grandfather accompanied the Duke on his return home to Aquitaine, a place abounding in riches and beauty of many kinds. Great-Grandfather stayed there and became the Duke’s man and Mynstrell. Thus came my Great-Grandfather to Aquitaine, and I know it is the true tale because it is written in the “Petit Livre Domestique” which lies next to the Holy Bible in William’s Chapel at Poitiers, (and is still there now if John Lackland and his men have not stolen it).
Since it is important for you to have a full understanding of certain things, I think it well at this point to make a slight digression. I will therefore tell you here that my family has long provided music and other courtly distractions for the household of William, Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitiers.
Family tradition has it that Greatgrandfather came over the Pyranees from the Kingdom of Galicia where he had served King Alfonso VI, the Wise, and was greatly honored by this king for his skill in music and poetry, his valour in battle and sensible advice in matters of state.
Together with the bravest of Knights, Rodrigo Campeador, (known to all as el Cid), King Alfonso fought many battles to save Spain from the Almoravides: infidels so burning with the Devil that even the Moorish kings of Iberia thought them fierce barbarians. Faced with these new Infidels from the great Desert of Africa, however, the Moorish and Christian Kings were forced into new alliances: sometimes one king becoming the vassal of the other. Negotiations and maneuverings among the many kingdoms was as twisted as a game of chess. Chess, in fact, was agreat passion of King Alfonso, and because of it he lost his Kingdom and Great-Great-Grand Olivier travelled away from there.
It happened thus that once, riding at the head of a great army, Alfonso approached the kingdom of Seville, then ruled by the Moorish King, al-Mu’tamid. With such an overpowering force at his comand (Great-Grandfather Olivier among them), Alfonso planned to take the Moorish kingdom in fief, or lay waste to it. However the Moorish king, caught between the desert Moors on one side and by Alfonso on the other, still hoped to retain his kingdom and sought an alliance with Alfonso on equal standing, rather than surrender his indepedence to him. To this end he put all his faith in his Vizier, the famous Ibn’Ammar, who indeed saved the day for his monarch with a ruse.
Having heard from his spies of Alfonso’s mania for chess, the Vizier had made by the royal craftsmen, the most beautiful chess board and figures: all of jewel encrusted gold. When the two camps met to negotiate a treaty, the wily Vizier bedazzled Alfonso with the wondrous chess set. The king was bewitched and agreed to play the Vizier a game with it– and wager King Alfonso’s promise to withdraw his army against the possession of the chess set. King Alfonso’s Barons and Knights all warned him against such a foolish wager. Olivier as well beseeched the king the king to refrain from the contest. Alfonso, however, would not listen. While Great-Grandfather played his harp the king played chess and, of course, lost to the Vizier. And to honor the wager he had to withdraw his army.