The Further Adventures of Marfisa and Astolfo

By Monica Ann Pedone (Columbia University)

After a battle is over what strikes one most is the silence. There was tumult and cacophony before. There was movement and purpose. Striving was paramount and the outcome was important. Now that has changed. Marfisa looked around and saw all the trappings of a valiant battle had come to a close. She looked to her fellow knight, Astolfo, and saw in his listless gaze the same ennui that she felt. It was like looking down a deep well and not seeing any bottom. Is this all that is left?


She had resigned herself to walking this liminal wasteland. A world inhabited by stillness. Remnants of living things, now sterile and lifeless. Broken walls, reduced to ruins, their very purposes now muted and forgotten, inhabited the barren landscape. This stasis weighed heavily on Marfisa and also seemed to have infected Astolfo.


These immersive thoughts were abruptly shattered as if a thunderbolt had occurred. The distant clopping of hooves was punctuated with the shrill horn of an approaching mounted messenger. As Marfisa was startled into awareness, she saw the messenger draw near to her and Astolfo. Elbowing Astolfo and rising to her feet, she wiped away her dreary thoughts as the shining armor of the messenger and the emblazoned insignia of Charlemagne came into view.


The messenger rode up to them, his mount pawing at the dirt as he addressed them both:

You have been summoned to the presence of our great king
For he seeks to speak with you both as is his desire
Tis to you that Charlemagne’s request I do bring
Gather yourselves and report at once, now I must return to my sire

The messenger looked for assent in their eyes and, having satisfied himself, pulled sharply upwards on the reins of his horse and turned, the horse kicking up dust onto both Marfisa and Astolfo. The duo wiped the dust away, pulled themselves together and proceeded a short way down the road to Charlemagne’s quarters. The emperor had encamped his forces there, having been habituated to being in the field.
While these quarters were nothing like Charlemagne’s sumptuous residence in his castle, they were nonetheless spacious and even luxurious. They were guarded by two knights who recognized Marfisa and Astolfo by sight and quickly moved aside to allow their entry. As the valiant pair entered the tent, they saw Charlemagne seated on a large wooden chair with his initials inscribed on it. The emperor beckoned them to come forward.

Greetings, great knights, it is to you that I owe much
Brave paladins both, I must now ask a great favor
A faraway kingdom has fallen due to an evil sorceresses’ touch
And to this king my obligation must not waver
I trust you both to go and find the cause of her evil craft
And right the wrong that she to this land has wrought
Because it is by her dark arts and her dread witchcraft
That all the King’s acts and deeds she has brought to naught


With this the two looked at each other and then at Charlemagne. They could see the distress in his eyes and the way his chest heaved as he asked. King Adalard of Phelia was a cousin, fellow grandson of The Hammer. These ties of blood joined Charlemagne to the beleaguered king and they both knew of the importance and urgency of the matter. Like all men, having seen the better but having chosen the worst, Adalard had allowed a beautiful sorceress, Iseldis, to charm him. Once in control, Iseldis was able to use the treasure and army of the land to further her aims.


The two knights silently assented to Charlemagne’s request. Dropping to their knees, they looked the weary king in the eyes and pledged their support.

It is by your command and solemn request that this pledge we do make
That we shall free king Adalard from this enchantment of the evil Iseldis
We pledge our lives to this task and your request we will not forsake
We’ll cleanse the land once and for all of her influence and viciousness
To Phelia we shall journey though it is a far and perilous trip
Over many a valley low and mountain high we shall wander
And use what means that we may have to make her loosen her grip
This we do swear to you and will fulfill our sacred honor


Having sworn their fealty to Charlemagne, they set upon hatching a plan. Since battling sorcery is always a challenge, they decided to seek counsel on the best course of action. After some deliberation between them, the pair withdrew to speak with the one most learned about such things, the wise monk Onell.
Such was Iseldis’s power that common weapons and even some magical ones would not have any effect on her. But Onell was schooled in these matters, and Marfisa and Astolfo trusted he’d be able to help them best the evil sorceress. The monk welcomed the two into his chambers. As they looked around, they saw rows upon rows of scrolls and tomes. Odd objects were suspended from the ceiling and there was a candle on the desk before Onell which burned with a green flame. As the knights entered, Onell looked up and beckoned them to come forth. With a gesture he extinguished the flame from a distance as a small demonstration of his magical abilities.



Welcome brave knights, your presence does me honor unhalted
Aware I am of your task and surely it is filled with dread and peril
But fear not, I have discovered how you may the sorceress befuddle
For not by arms or spells may she be felled but only by an object exalted
The object you seek for the sorceress’s demise is called the Frozen Song
It is guarded by a terrible dragon, whose name is Faifnar and ancient he be
A guardian of many a rare thing, he has vanquished countless knights brave and strong
To attain this prized jewel you must defeat a foe who is both wise and beastly
The Frozen Song has great power, and to the good it belongs, for its strength lies within
A song can lift the heaviest heart and turn evil into that which is good
And for those hearts that will not turn, its power to destroy will the battle surely win

With this Onell pulled out a small box encrusted in enameled scenes of primordial forests. As he opened the box, a light seemed to emanate from with it. Marfisa thought that she heard music and Astolfo seemed to hear a sweet voice come from within. Inside was a scroll that had a drawing of the Frozen Song and told of its lore. They must obtain this object since without it, they would not be able to defeat the sorceress’s diabolical magic.



Astolfo and Marfisa looked at each other and took a mental step back. This quest was not like any ordinary one but was steeped in grave danger. Onell pulled a map out of the box showing the last known location of the artifact. It will be difficult to reach this place and the journey is fraught with peril.  Onell took a deep breath, seeming to gaze at someplace far off, then closed his eyes and proclaimed:

Many leagues to the north does this enchanted fortress sit
The way is filled with peril and many a monster does guard the path
Be sure to be on guard as you traverse these roads and use all your wit
For surely by going there you will incur the full fury of evil’s wrath
Then the count from England lent his voice and stated it aloud
For my trusty hippogriff awaits, its wings spread open and wide
Not by mere horse shall we ride but we shall travel in a cloud
And from the monsters down below, we will thus not need to hide

The monk said in a trembling voice, though under cover of the clouds you intend to be
When travelling, always expect the worst, cautioned the monk old and wise
On your passage to this far off land some fierce battles do I foresee
And unforeseen events may cause you both to plummet from the skies


With this the wise monk wished them well, urged them to get a good night’s rest, bestowed his blessing, and withdrew to his quarters.


Early the next morning, Marfisa and Astolfo, clad in their finest armor and with weapons in hand, mounted the hippogriff and flew north following the directions on the map. Quickly the hippogriff responded to Astolfo’s commands and soon they were among the clouds. Time passed quickly as they saw glimpses of hills, trees, lakes, and mountains below. The hippogriff made its way through the cold winds that blew from the north when the sun was near to completing its course. Night was sure to fall, and the journey was but half made. They scouted a clearing below where they planned to rest before continuing the journey early the next day. Having landed, they made an encampment and made sure the hippogriff was well tended. They took turns keeping watch during the night and soon settled into a night’s rest.

All was quiet in the crisp cold morning, and they could see by the frost formed by their breath that they were far from the warmer parts to the south. As they stoked the embers of the fire and added wood to warm themselves, they heard sounds coming from the brush to the east. Then they heard sounds coming from the west. They quickly gathered their armor and their weapons but did not see anything. Then, as they looked at each other with trepidation, three gigantic beasts appeared from the woods, huge hairy brutes whose gaping maws slobbered with what seemed the entrails of prey just consumed. Their shrill howls roused Marfisa and Astolfo to action. These creatures had chosen poorly as these were no mere forest dwelling animals, or even ordinary knights. These were two heroes of Charlemagne.

Marfisa’s sword found its mark first, cleaving the terrible monster in two from its head to its shoulder. A terrible ichor poured forth from its wound and was accompanied by a horrible stench.

Astolfo was no slower to battle and used his sword to separate the head of the second monster from its body. The head fell with a thump and Astolfo swore that he saw it mouthing curses at him as it fell face first into the muddy soil below.


This left but one monster, who now had the undivided attention of both knights. This monster fared no better and was soon without arms or legs, bleeding profusely from its trunk. Marfisa dealt the final blow, jamming her sword deep into its chest until blood gurgled like a spring stream from the beast’s mouth. Having thus dispatched the monsters, the knights quickly decamped and approached the hippogriff that had gone unscathed. One they were both atop, Asolfo urged it to the clouds and they continued their northern course.

Unbeknownst to our brave adventurers, those monsters had been sent by Iseldis as she had scryed their trip. She had sent the monsters to kill or capture the two knights. Iseldis was undeterred by this failure and soon devised a new plan to thwart Astolfo and especially Marfisa.

There was one who had stymied Marfisa but had recently come to his demise. Iseldis decided to use her fell powers to bring him back to life to confront and possibly best the maiden. This was none other than the dwarf Brunello. In order to resurrect him, Iseldis appealed to her dark patrons and proposed an evil pact.

Bowing over a wooden stump, she prayed to her dark lord:

Though in the nether world you have been sent and, on this planet, no longer be
For shades may with the darkest magic be recalled walking this earthly plane
Tis I, Iseldis, that do summon you to appear and, in this world, serve me
And on this earth until dispatched you must therefore remain



With that a dark mist formed and one could see the body of the misshaped dwarf appear. It opened its eyes and coughed till it sat up. It looked at Isledis with fear and wonder, but such was the enchantment that it swore its fealty to her.

Arise and walk this plane once more, your stint below you must now forego
For I am now the one you must obey and fear, and my bidding do
For I have brought you back to life and now you’ll live a life anew
I pronounce for all your hoary name, the dwarf that was called Brunello

With this the dwarf sprang up and briefly stood and then prostrated himself at her feet. He was totally hers now and would her bidding do.
In the meantime, our heroes soon spied the fortress where they hoped to find the Frozen Song. It looked as if it was an ice-covered mountain, and yet they could make out its castle-like features. They swept in closer and landed by the massive steps atop which a giant door, seemingly made of ice, framed the entrance.


Marfisa and Astolfo made their way up the stairs and opened the massive door. As they entered a grand hall, lined in stone and ice, they noticed another door at the far end. Approaching this door, encrusted with jewels and far larger than any human could open, they found a riddle inscribed above it: “I speak without a mouth and hear without ears. I have no body, but I come alive with the wind.” Marfisa and Astolfo were perplexed and looked at each other. They wracked their brains and could not find an answer. The door did not budge. Finally, Marfisa cried out in desperation and the sound reverberated off the walls of the grand gallery. Astolfo’s head perked up at once and said, “It’s an echo.” With that, he shouted it loudly and heard the sound bounce back at him. The door creaked open, and they were able to enter a long passage, at the end of which came a sparkling light. Was it to be this easy? Had the old monk made it sound harder than it really was?

As they walked along the passage, it suddenly opened into a grand room, heaped with treasure. They saw many magic objects but did not see anything that resembled the Frozen Song. As they continued to search, they were interrupted by a deep but cultured voice.

“What are you doing here, why do you trespass into my lair?” They looked up and saw a huge ancient gold dragon, leonine in his appearance, staring at them. “Do you come here to rob me? Surely that will not go well for you.” The Dragon pointed to the remains of others who had sought to plunder his hoard. The Dragon casually blew a few smoke rings that formed various shapes and seemed to have lives of their own. He then smiled at the two and said, “Well, give an account of yourselves before you join the others,” motioning with his giant claw to the remains of past intruders.



We come here not to ourselves enrich, but we are on a sacred quest
And come for the fabled song that can release a nation under a sorceress’ hold
Until we have this object, the Frozen Song, we must not ever rest
And for this reason, we have come to your lair, not for jewels or gold
The evil witch, Iseldis, has dear Phelia and King Adalard bewitched
And turned his thoughts into her own and plunged the land into night
We have not come to this place to ourselves or our lords enrich
But against such evil we must strive and for this reason we do fight
The dragon puffed into a shape that seemed to be a sphere
And stroked his chin and then declared, so that is why you are here
I know of this evil queen, this Iseldis of which you say
For in her path I was once thrust and my scales she did try to flay
So, I shall help you noble knights and give to you that which you desire
All I ask of you both is that please not stop until you’ve vanquished the insidious fay
Only the Frozen Song will defeat her spells and condemn her to the fire
And only then shall the land Phelia turn from eternal night into splendid day


With this the Dragon, whose name was Fraindar, did them the Frozen Song give. They thanked him for the previous stone and made great haste to the entrance of the palace where the hippogriff awaited. Wasting no time, they hopped on its broad back and Astolfo urged him southeast to Phelia.

Marfisa and Astolfo landed some distance from the Phelia boarder and thought it best to use some form of subterfuge. They decided to disguise themselves as a priest and a nun, on a pilgrimage to Phelia. Under their voluminous robes, their armor could easily he hidden. They secured the hippogriff in an adjacent cave. A nearby church served as a convenient place to gather their disguises and they set off to the palace in Phelia on foot.

As they neared the border of Phelia, midday turned to night, the warm spring breezes turn into biting winds and the landscape changed from verdant trees and hills into a wasteland. The skies were covered in dark rumbling clouds out of which there was no rain but occasional flashes of lightning, briefly illuminating dread landscape, before it was pitched back into darkness.


Marfisa and Astolfo walked in this desolate landscape, girding their loins for what might be their hardest battle. Neither flinched at the thought of a difficult battle ahead, but they were sobered by the thought of facing one so powerful in magic. They made their way to the castle and requested entrance. They said they were on a pilgrimage and asked to see the ancestral chapel of Phelia. Since Iseldis’ appearance, there had been no pilgrims and certainly the chapel and all other forms of divine worship had fallen out of use. Such was the right of pilgrims to gain access, however, and Iseldis though little of two inconsequential clerics. She waved them off with a gesture of her hand and then beckoned for her lackey, Brunello, to escort them to the chapel and then send them on their way.

The two clerics bowed respectfully to the members of the court and were then escorted by Brunello to the chapel two levels below. Marfisa’s face was hidden by her wimple, but as they passed a torch on the way down, Brunello caught sight of something familiar. He was puzzled for a second and Marfisa, ever vigilant, saw the expression on his otherwise emotionless face and knew that he was suspicious of her. He stopped the nun to see her better under the light, and with moment of recollection, recognized her. It was Marfisa!


Quickly he went to draw his ever-present dagger, but the warrior Marfisa was too fast for him. She plunged her sword into his chest and commended him back to the tomb from which he had been conjured. As Marfisa’s magic sword pierced his heart and he fell, his body, not being natural but infernal, turned into swarming insects before finally decaying into dust.


She and Astolfo, their disguises being discovered, doffed their clerical garb and ran up the stairs to the main throne room. There Adalard sat motionless, while Iseldis held court.

As the pair advanced, Astolfo took his horn that had served him so well before and blew it, hoping to use its powers to break the sorceress’s enchantment. Despite the monk and the dragon’s warning, he held it up and blew it mightily. While a sound did come forth, the power of the horn was no longer and Iseldis laughed haughtily, her attention now on the pair.


Seeing this, Marfisa stood in front of Astolfo and donned the necklace that held the precious stone. It glowed as she put it on, and the red and blue mist joined into purple and surrounded her throat. Without thinking she began to sing.



Nella notte quando il vento tace,
Marfisa canta con voce pura,
Con la Canzone Gelata in suo solace;

Ogni magia sotto il cielo oscuro,
Dal suo canto potente viene infranta,
L’alba sorgerà chiara e santa,
Spezzando incanti, libera l’aurora.
Her song resounded off the walls, the echo adding to its strength with every line. Marfisa’s voice grew purer and louder, blending into itself. Everywhere the sound touched, evil magic and incantations were dispelled.

Iseldis herself had never come across such a thing. The magic of her evil patrons was overpowered by this song. For that is how the world itself came into being, not just by the Word, but by the Song. This song had no words that men could understand but meaning and force. It was powered by Love and fortified by Hope and enlightened with Charity. These three qualities, emanating directly from the divine, had been encased into this object by the Divine power itself and could not be overcome by any evil.

Astolfo and Marfisa, having weakened Iseldis, drew their weapons. Marfisa separated Iseldis’ head from her body with a strong blow of her sword and, as her corpse hit the ground, a fiery portal opened and swallowed it, consigning it to the inferno of eternal fire. With the Frozen Song having completed its task, the necklace levitated from Marfisa’s neck and vanished, in a northward direction, towards the Dragon lair.

The evil Iseldis having been dispatched, King Adalard was roused from his slumber. The darkness over the land lifted, the air once again became mild with warm breezes and the hills and fields were verdant. The king profusely thanked Marfisa and Adalard and threw a banquet in their honor, but they insisted on reporting back to Charlemagne at once. With a whistle that he had devised, Astolfo called forth his hippogriff and the duo flew back to their King in haste as he would be eager to hear the good news.


Images made with Chat GPT-4




Nella stanza, tra carte e pensieri sparsi,
lotta un guerriero di saggezza piena,
spera nel frutto che la mente ordina.
La notte cade, e il tempo non si ferma,
mentre la luna la finestra illumina,
la sua tesi, un’opera che inverna,
con un sospiro, la missione culmina.
Quest’ultima stanza chiude la sua storia,
una lotta di passione e di gloria.


Copyright Monica Ann Pedone
May 4, 2024