The Golden Beam and the Tar Beam
One night we- Goriño, Bastián de Paradela, Rosa, Rafael, the lord of the castle and myself- were in the mill of Uncle Xan de Barca, of Cibrao de Penapetado, when Bastián de Paradela asked him:
-Ah, Señor Cibrao, you have been to the Couto de Lourido many times. Is it true there is a Moorish princess there, who guards a treasure? And that she comes out to comb her hair with a golden comb? And that she has to give the treasure to anyone who picks up the comb from the ground when it falls from her hands?
-It’s true- replied Señor Cibrao- Quite true.
-And have you seen her?
-I saw her early one morning at daybreak. I was coming down from the hills and I saw her. She was as close to me as that little shed over there. But I ran right away without daring even to turn back and have a look… These unchristian things…
And Señor Cibrao shook his head.
-Well, if I see her- said Bastian- I’ll go up to her and, when the comb falls from her hands, I won’t be afraid to pick it up so that she gives me her treasure.
-Better go blind than do that!
-Why so, Señor Cibrao?
-Better for you to drop dead right now! Hidden in the earth at Lourido is a very great treasure. There is a golden beam and another of tar. If you get to the golden beam, you will be rich, but if you get to the tar beam then a fire will start that will burn everything for a hundred leagues around. Look: she will take you underground where there will be two separate paths; depending on which one you take, you will get to the golden beam or the tar beam. But if you pick up the golden comb, then it is certain that you will come to the tar beam and there everything will be burnt.
-What should I do then?
-Well, you carry an ivory comb in your pocket and, when the Moor girl drops the golden comb, give her the ivory one so that she can comb her hair with it. And don’t even glance at the other one or else you will be lost…
-Well, the Moor girl appears on Friday early in the morning before dawn. Just when it looks like the sun is coming up she disappears and won’t come back. She has also been seen on other days, but the most certain is Friday, which is their holy day just as ours is Sunday.
When the two young men were coming back to Paradela, each one with his ass loaded up with flour, Bastián said to Goriño:
-Boy! The day after tomorrow is Friday. Shall we go, you and I, early in the morning to Couto de Lourido?
And they went. The night before they went out as if to go partying and Bastián put an ivory comb in his pocket and at midnight they walked the three leagues to Couto de Lourido, shivering with anticipation and fear- Bastián with more anticipation than fear and Goriño with more fear than anticipation. Trembling with the cold and soaked through with the mist, they waited in an oak grove for dawn and, just as day was breaking, set off stepping on chestnut cases as they headed up the hill.
Suddenly they saw the Moorish girl sat on a rocky outcrop, dressed in gold and silk, and combing her dark hair with a golden comb. It was so long that it spread out two or three feet along the ground in bluish waves like the waves of a river. She had eyes like fireflies , dark colouring like boxwood, lips like red cherries, cheeks lit up like roses and small white teeth like silver.
The two young men were stunned for a while, as they had never seen or imagined they would see anything like her in all their lives, but in the end Bastián went forward and when the Moorish girl noticed them she dropped the golden comb which tumbled down her dress and fell to the ground, losing itself amongst the chestnut cases.
Then Bastián went up to her and offered her the ivory comb.
Whilst the Moorish girl was talking to Bastián, Goriño who had seen the golden comb fall stood looking at it eaten up with greed. It called out to him, shining like a sun amongst the chestnuts, ingeniously worked like the base of a chalice, and whilst the others were busy talking, Goriño bent casually down, picked up the golden comb and put it safe in his trouser pocket.
The Moorish girl came down from the outcrop and took each one by the hand and led them to some high rocks at the top of the hill. There she knocked with her foot on a stone and a door opened. The Moorish girl bade them go in and they carried on walking as if in a mine. Goriño held the girl’s hand as fine and soft as silk and with his other hand he caressed the golden comb which he had tucked away.
They came to the point where the path divided in two: one branch went to the right and the other to the left. The girl let go of their hands and left them there.
Bastián went to the right and kept going along the mine shaft as the path got darker and darker with every step. He wanted to see if the others were coming and realised that he was on his own. He turned around and went back to the place where the paths diverged and did not see anyone. Where could Goriño and the girl have gone? Dawn was breaking and in the end he thought it was better to take his chances, so he went back down the shaft on the right.
He went stumbling on and on into the darkness for I don’t know how long until he came up against an iron door. He knocked and it seemed to him that he could hear voices inside. He knocked again and now he clearly made out people there. On the third knock they began to slide back the door bolts and in the end the door opened.
A man dressed in a full-length green tunic opened the door. He greeted him, saying:
-Welcome. We have been waiting for you for a long time.
Bastián was stupefied. There were twelve or fourteen men there with long beards as white as snow, all dressed in the same full-length tunics with cloaks over their heads, some pure white, others blue and others green.
It was a great hall, carved right out of the rock, and lit by a three-armed lamp hanging from the ceiling. Along the walls were horned helmets, cuirasses and mail coats, defensive shields, many of which had a swan painted on them, lances, steel swords with no guard which were finished off at the end of the pommel with a twisted rope, bronze daggers in the same style, axes, helmets, bows and arrows.
These gentelemen were all seated and the ones in blue had golden harps in their hands, whilst the oldest of those in white, who was sat in the middle of them all, wore a great golden torque around his neck and a crown of oak leaves on his head.
The one who had opened the door for Bastián took him by the hand and, presenting the Assembly to him, said:
-Behold, son of Brigo and of Gael, do you not recognise the Ancients?
Bastián did not dare to speak.
And the oldest of those dressed in white got up to give him a kiss on the forehead, saying:
-Welcome to he who brings Peace and Good!
And they made him sit amongst them and then the elder said:
-Relax, my son, and listen to our story, because it will show you why you came here and what you have to do.
Then one of those dressed in blue started to speak in this manner:
-These, my son, are the Progenitors, the Men of Ancient Times and Ages. These are the ones who have survived from the age of heroes, the Glorious Grandfathers of your race. These are the priests and wise men of the Sacred Wood. We were consulted by kings and heroes died happy knowing that their deeds would be remembered by these men. The arms of the heroes are now found here hanging from these walls and the golden harps have fallen silent.
-There was a time that all of this land was pagan, but we had the Knowledge of the Ages so that, although they wandered blindly, we were here to be their guides. However, neither they nor we knew the true God.
-Then, when the last heroes died fighting against the Roman legions, around about that time the true God was born in the East. And when he died he sent one of his relatives to this land to lead the pagans out of their blindness. He arrived and washed men in pure and new water which made them reborn to the Eternal Life. As time went by all the men of this land were baptised, but we were far off, removed from the world, hidden in the wrinkles of the mountain ranges. That was the end of the Heroic Age and we were the last ones of our belief and rite. Then the people were already following other gods before they got to know the True God. And already they had forgotten us. Then we were the Ancients… And no one came to where we were to give us the life-giving waters of baptism.
-As time went by the Moors came to this land. And as we were not strengthened by baptism we could not shake them off and one of them, of great power, put the enchantment on us, the spell of the half moon. He bewitched us and here we are enchanted in this mountain until a Christian should come along to break the spell by giving us baptism and introducing us to the True God.
-But since they discovered the tomb of the man who brought the knowledge of the True God to our people, all the Moors that were in this land are also bewitched with all their treasures, and we have them right here, with a wall separating us, waiting to see if they can spoil the moment when our enchantment is broken. And that is why they send out one of their women, of untold beauty, to trick those who arrive in this place and make them lose their way.
-And here we are awaiting, as the centuries go by, the one who is to save us, sometimes singing to the sound of the harp the deeds of the ancient heroes, other times reciting the sayings of Wisdom and Tradition, other times listening to readings from the old prophecies. The years and the centuries went by and we were shut up in the inside of the mountain lit only by the perpetual lamp…
At this Bastián looked up and saw something that he had not noticed at first.
The lamp was not suspended from the ceiling as he had thought before. The vault was traversed from one side to the other by a broad beam of pure gold and from this beam the lamp was hanging. The golden beam was covered with scratches, points and lines, like tiny compressed writing.
Then the one who was talking to him said:
-That is the treasure of the cave: the beam of solid gold. But what is most valuable about this beam are the scratches that cover it. All is written in our old characters, invented by the sage Ogma, our forefather, many thousands of years ago. Here we have written in three thousand three hundred and thirty three triads all our ancient wisdom, the laws of our people and our masters’ prophecies. This golden beam will make the one who owns it not only immensely rich but also hugely powerful because it is the key to the Past, Present and Future.
-And the lamp that is hanging from it and that is shining on us represents the same burning knowledge continuing in us, because you should know that this lamp of twisted asbestos burns without consuming itself and without ever dying out.
-Everything I have said to you, my child, is no more than a small part of our secrets, which we have kept through the dark night of time. And I will tell you why you were the one the true God chose to bring his doctrine and the life-giving waters of baptism to us, and how you will know how to get out of this adventure well and break the spell over us. Not only will you be rich and powerful but, with the knowledge rescued from oblivion, you will see the glorious renaissance of your people and your land.
Now Bastián dared to speak:
-Well then, sir, what must I do?
-Take the spring water and sprinkle it over our heads saying the words of the rite of baptism.
And they all got up and stretched out their venerable heads.
Just then, suddenly, a tremendous thunderclap sounded echoing through the mountain. The earth shook with a tremor like the end of the world, the golden beam shook and the eternal flame went out.
When Bastián disappeared down the mineshaft on the right the Moorish girl said to Goriño:
-Now, come with me.
And she took him by the hand and they both set off down the mineshaft on the left. They walked a stretch in the deepest dark and came to a place where the girl opened a door and Goriño found himself surrounded by five completely naked slave girls who took him and led him to a hall made of coloured marble, put him in a bath of hot water, and washed and scrubbed him until they left him shining like silver. Then they anointed him with perfumes and oils, curled his hair with irons, painted his cheeks and eyes and coloured his fingernails pink, then polished them. And when they had him fresh and shining like a blooming flower, they dressed him in a tunic of long strips of cloth, tied with a band of red silk and over that a white goatskin caftan.
Then they took him to a fairy-tale chamber. It was like a huge tent all made up of different materials, with green, orange, purple, yellow, red and blue bands embroidered with flowers, birds and dragons in gold. There were five golden lamps, each with five lights which were set in pink glass cups, and besides five gold burners which gave off smoke of incense and myrrh. His feet sank into the thick carpet that covered the floor over which many cushions of rich silk, embroidered with gold and pearls and tiger and leopard skins were spread.
At the end, held up by jasper columns with bronze capitals, there was a marble and ebony veranda with a bronze banister and on it a bed with rich cushions and gold-embroidered textiles. Here there was a bed covered by a baldachin like a cupola, made of silk and silver cloths, supported by four beautifully-carved columns and on the top an ornament of ostrich feathers.
The girl who was there took Goriño by the hand and led him to that bed. There were some stairs to go up to it and she sat down with him under the baldachin.
Then a whistle blew and well-dressed moors with big turbans started to come in and as they arrived they bowed low three times before the podium and went to sit on the pillows. Finally many slaves came in bringing bowls of tea, sweets, caramels, grapes, dates, bananas, sweet wine and hookahs loaded with perfumed tobacco. Behind them came musicians with guitars, drums, bagpipes and flutes.
They played, ate and drank and as they finished the food the musicians started to play a soporific tune. Two girls came in carrying a basket full of rose petals and danced in the middle of the chamber.
The girl took a little green jam in a golden spoon and offered it to Goriño, who tasted it. Then the girl went down from the podium, took a tambourine and went to the middle of the chamber, treading on the rose-petals.
And she began to dance.
Goriño’s eyes clouded over quickly and he beheld it all as though through a mist. Then he noticed that the lights were shining brighter, that everything filled up with light and life: the golden birds and dragons on the curtains glittered, grew bigger, moved their beaks, their wings, their twisted bodies; the smoke from the burners burned more and mixed with the fresh smell of the rose petals crushed by the moor’s feet; the sad, soporific music caressed his ears and Goriño felt himself bewitched and happy in that magical place.
The moor danced and twisted like a serpent; her eyes were like burning fires in the night; her clothes started to fall from her limbs and the enchanted perfections of her body were revealed, the most tempting witcheries, of the kind that turn you on and make you impulsive. She ended up completely naked…
She stopped for a while and then began to turn around and around like a bobbin, accompanied only by the drum a negro was playing with his hands, and in the end fell twisting and turning on the carpet amongst the crushed roses.
The moors started to shout:
-Allah! Allah! She is seeing Allah!
Goriño was a little dizzy: his heart was pumping, his temples were pulsing, he was half deaf… but then a new bewitchment began.
They picked up the girl and carried her back to the bed where he was, rigid and so hot she was burning, smelling of rose perfumes that maddened the senses, and an old moor who had helped to bring her said to Goriño:
-Christian, you are going to see the Paradise our Prophet Muhammed promised his believers!
And the girl fell groaning on his neck and put her two arms around him.
At this another moor burst in.
He was very old, weighed down with years, all wrinkly with a beard that came down below his belly. He was naked and you could count his ribs. He wore no more than a loincloth and a green turban.
As soon as they saw him all the other moors fell to the ground saying:
-The Hadji, the Hadji!
The old man, without taking the least notice of these things, shouted angrily:
-Now is the time. Bring the Christian!
The moors launched themselves like wild things at the podium, grabbed Goriño and pushed him towards the old man, who let him pass.
They put him in a big cave and the old man went behind them. The cave was lit by resin torches and was immense. There were enormous bats nailed to the walls and great lizards and beasts were hanging from the ceiling. There was a lectern with a very big book all full of writing, an oven with alembics, retorts and vials and another pot in which they had a donkey’s head that rolled its eyes and gritted its teeth.
Goriño was frightened to death.
There was a circle composed of right-angle triangles on the floor. The old man stood in the middle of the circle and made Goriño go too, along with a black cat with eyes like burning coals. From the circle, and without leaving it, the old man leafed through the book and sang, looking at the donkey’s head, but Goriño did not understand very well. The donkey’s head opened and closed its mouth and eyes and gestured with its ears.
In the end the old man stood face-to-face with Goriño and said:
-Christian, now is the time for you to receive the wages you have earned. You are going to lift the spell from us and half of our treasure will be for you. See that you have no fear and do what I tell you. You have more treasure here than all the kings in the world. With your part you will be able to buy more than a hundred provinces. For this reason, with the help of the true God and his prophet Muhammad, you have to get the golden beam. So take this torch and go there fearlessly. Go! And may the prophet go with you…
Goriño took the resin torch the old man gave him and, as he indicated, went underneath the ovens. It was a tight stretch and he had to go on hands and knees. It took a while for him to be able to stand up. At last he could straighten up, but then he had not gone more than three steps when he tripped and fell and the torch he had in his hand rolled away downhill…
A great flame shot up from there to the sky and a tremendous thunderclap rolled out echoing over the shaking mountain…
The terrible things that happened that morning! God forbid!
The whole mountain of Lourido was burnt for four leagues around so that no grass remained. In Chas, the land of Fortunato burned, with all the bread he had there along with other neighbours and aunt Chinta’s house and Mouco’s two barns. The house of the priest of Ortiz burned, which was nearly five leagues from Lourido, the sacristy was all but destroyed and all the trees in the orchard were burned along with some old chestnut trees a neighbour had there. Also two houses in San Miguel burned, and all the houses in Fontela in the parish of Ourande, which is well out of the way, and a shed and a load of firewood on the Monte Largo… It was as though the end of the world had come. All the neighbours were running away not knowing where to go and women were weeping with old men and children going ahead of them. But the explosion was so sudden there was no time to react so many people died- poor people- and many children in Fontela and San Miguel. It was as though a great fire had come and burnt everything without leaving a breath, like something otherworldly.
No. God forbid something like that should happen again. Nothing like it has been heard of even by the oldest of the old.
For many days all that land was smoking. The smell of burning was in the air for ten leagues around.
Bastián crawled out of a tunnel in the peaks. Around him the mountain was burnt and covered in ashes, here and there the charcoal of the broom and bracken was smoking. But Bastián could not see it. He was blind.
He went completely blind when the great flame went up. Now he could not see the burnt mountain but the smell of burning reached his nose.
He set out walking as well as he could until he met someone to guide him and thus he got to Paradela. As Paradela was on the far side of another peak facing north the flame did not reach it.
Bastián never said anything to anyone. He was poor and couldn’t work so he had to start begging. As time went by, as best he could, he learnt to scrape a violin and sing simple songs. And he went singing to fairs and parties and through the towns. He, who had seen those treasures.
What’s more he resigned himself to it. He married and had children. When he was an old man his children could work and although he did not need to he continued to go to the fairs and fiestas singing songs.
He never referred to that story even to his neighbours, his wife and his children. People knew that Bastián had left home one night at vespers and came home the next morning blind, the same day of the great fire of the Couto de Lourido. But when they asked him, or when he heard people talking of Goriño, of whom nothing more was heard, the blind man went quiet. And no one could make him talk.
Once, Bastián was returning to Paradela from a fiesta with his youngest son leading him by the hand. They sat on a wall to take a rest and then Bastián said to the child:
We are close to the Couto de Lourido. Once there was a very great treasure there and an enchanted Moorish girl who would come out very early in the morning to comb her hair with a golden comb. There was a beam of gold and another of tar. The man who refused her golden comb, which she dropped on purpose to deceive men, but gave her another one of ivory to replace it, came to be master of the golden beam…
Once, more than thirty years ago, I went with another friend to the Couto de Lourido one early morning. I saw the golden beam and the men who were protecting it, but my companion took the golden comb that the girl dropped and came upon the beam of tar and for that reason the whole mountain burned and many houses in many parishes all around and many fields were burned also. My companion died and I went blind.
Now there is no treasure in the Couto de Lourido. Everything burnt when the tar beam went up in flames. The moors all burned as well and the deceitful girl who came out early in the mornings to comb her hair with the golden comb. The moors all died because they did not have the grace of God; but there are some men who are awaiting someone with the courage to reach them and give them the life-giving waters of baptism and they will give him something more valuable than all the treasures in the world.
If when you are a man you have heart for it, run along there, head for the eastward side and from there where there is a cleft in the rocks, twelve palms to the right and three steps further…