On consulting an astrologer, Vortigern was directed to anoint the stones with the blood of a boy of five who had no human father. The only child corresponding to this description was Merlin, who saved himself from untimely death by telling the king that, if he dug down and drained the lake he would find, he would discover broad stones beneath which slept two dragons by day, although they fought so fiercely at night that they caused the tremendous earthquakes which shattered his walls. These directions were followed, the dragons were roused, and fought until the red one was slain and the two-headed white one disappeared. Asked to explain the meaning of these two dragons, Merlin—the uncanny child—declared the white dragon with two heads represented the two younger sons of King Constance, who were destined to drive Vortigern away. Having said this, Merlin disappeared, thus escaping the wrath of Vortigern, who wished to slay him.
Soon after, the young princes surprised and burned Vortigern in his palace, and thus recovered possession of their father's throne. Then, one of them dying, the other, assuming both their names, became Uther Pendragon, king of Britain. Such was his bravery that during his reign of seven years he became overlord of all the petty kings who had meantime taken possession of various parts of England. He was aided in this work by his prime-minister, Merlin, whose skill as a clairvoyant, magician, inventor, and artificer of all kinds of things—such as armor which nothing could damage, a magic mirror, round table, ring, and wonderful buildings—was of infinite service to his master and fired the imagination of all the poets.
There are various accounts of Arthur's birth; according to one, Uther fell in love with Gorlois' wife Igerne, who was already mother of three daughters. Thanks to Merlin's magic arts, Uther was able to visit Igerne in the guise of her husband, and thus begot a son, who was entrusted to Merlin's care as soon as born. Another legend declares that, after Gorlois' death, Uther Pendragon married Igerne, and that Arthur was their lawful child. Feeling he was about to die, and fearing lest his infant son should be made away with by the lords he had compelled to obedience, Uther Pendragon bade Merlin hide Arthur until he was old enough to reign over Britain. Merlin therefore secretly bore the babe, as soon as born, to Sir Ector, who brought Arthur up in the belief he was the younger brother of his only son, Sir Kay.
Arthur had just reached eighteen when the Archbishop of Canterbury besought Merlin to select an overlord who would reduce the other kings to obedience, and thus restore peace, law, and order in Britain. Thereupon Merlin promised him a king would soon appear whose rights none would be able to dispute. Shortly after, on coming out of the cathedral one feast-day, the archbishop saw a huge block of stone, in which was imbedded an anvil, through which was thrust a beautiful sword. This weapon, moreover, bore an inscription, stating that he who pulled it out and thrust it back would be the rightful heir to the throne.
Meantime a tournament had been proclaimed, and Sir Kay, having broken his sword while fighting, bade his brother Arthur get him another immediately. Unable to find any weapon in their tent, Arthur ran to the anvil, pulled out the sword, and gave it to Sir Kay. Seeing it in his son's hand, Sir Ector inquired how it had been obtained, and insisted upon Arthur's thrusting it back and taking it out repeatedly, before he would recognize him as his king. As none of the other lords could move the sword, and as Arthur repeatedly proved his claim to it on the great feast-days, he became overlord of all the petty kings. At Sir Ector's request he appointed Sir Kay as steward of his palace, and, thanks to the help of Merlin and of his brave knights, soon subdued the rebels, and became not only master of all England, but, if we are to believe the later romances, a sort of English Alexander, who, after crossing the Alps, became Emperor of the World!
During his reign Arthur fought twelve memorable battles, and, not content with this activity, often rode out like other knights-errant in quest of adventure, challenging any one who wanted to fight, rescuing captives, and aiding damsels in distress. In these encounters Arthur wore the peerless armor made by Merlin, and sometimes carried a shield so brilliant that it blinded all who gazed upon it. It was, therefore, generally covered with a close-fitting case, which, like Arthur's helmet, bore as emblem a two-headed dragon. Having lost his divine sword in one encounter, Arthur was advised by Merlin to apply for another to Nimue, or Nymue, the Lady of the Lake. She immediately pointed out an arm, rising from the middle of the lake, brandishing a magnificent sword. Springing into a skiff near by, Arthur was miraculously ferried to the centre of the lake, where, as soon as he touched the sword, the mystic arm disappeared. Merlin now informed Arthur that, fighting with Excalibure, his wonderful sword, he could never be conquered, and that as long as its scabbard hung by his side he could not be wounded. Later on in the story, Arthur, having incurred the anger of one of his step-sisters, Morgana the Fay, she borrowed Excalibure under pretext of admiring it, and had so exact a copy of it made that no one suspected she had kept the magic sword until Arthur was wounded and defeated. He, however, recovered possession of Excalibure—if not of the scabbard—before he fought his last battle.
Arthur was not only brave, but very romantic, for, Guinevere having bent over him once when he lay half unconscious from a wound, he fell so deeply in love with her that he entered her father's service as garden boy. There Guinevere discovered his identity, and, guessing why he had come, teased him unmercifully. Shortly after, a neighboring, very ill-favored king declared Guinevere's old father would be deprived of his kingdom unless she would consent to marry him, and defied in single combat any one who ventured to object to this arrangement.
Arthur, having secretly provided himself with a white horse and armor, defeated this insolent suitor, and, after a few more thrilling adventures, arranged for his marriage to Guinevere in the fall. By Merlin's advice he also begged his future father-in-law to give him, as wedding present, the Round Table Merlin had made for Uther Pendragon. This was a magic board around which none but virtuous knights could sit. When led to a seat, any worthy candidate beheld his name suddenly appear on its back, in golden letters, which vanished only at his death, or when he became unworthy to occupy a seat at the Round Table. Besides, on one side of Arthur's throne was the Siege Perilous, which none could occupy, under penalty of destruction, save the knight destined to achieve the Holy Grail.
We are informed that Arthur sent his best friend and most accomplished knight, Launcelot, to escort Guinevere to Caerleon on Usk, where the wedding and first session of the Round Table were to take place on the self-same day. It seems that, when this Launcelot was a babe, his parents had to flee from a burning home. Overcome by sorrow and wounds, the poor father soon sank dying beside the road, and, while the mother was closing his eyes, the Lady of the Lake suddenly rose from her watery home, seized the babe, and plunged back with him into its depths. The widowed and bereft woman therefore entered a convent, where she was known as the Lady of Sorrows, for little did she suspect her son was being trained by Pellias—husband of the Lady of the Lake—to become the most famous knight of the Round Table. At eighteen the Lady of the Lake decided it was time Launcelot should be knighted. So, on St. John's eve—when mortals can see fairies—King Arthur and Sir Ector were led, by a mysterious damsel and dwarf, to a place where Pellias and the Lady of the Lake begged them to knight their protege and pupil, who was henceforth to be known as Launcelot of the Lake. Not only did Arthur gladly bestow the accolade upon the young man, but he took him with him to Camelot.
It was as supreme honor and mark of confidence that Arthur sent Launcelot to get Guinevere. Some legends claim these two already loved each other dearly, others that they fell in love during the journey, others still that their guilty passion was due to a love potion, and a few that Guinevere, incensed by the behavior of Arthur,—whom some of the epics do not depict as Tennyson's "blameless king,"—proved faithless in revenge later on. All the versions, however, agree that Launcelot cherished an incurable, guilty passion for Guinevere, and that she proved untrue to her marriage vows. Time and again we hear of stolen meetings, and of Launcelot's deep sorrow at deceiving the noble friend whom he continues to love and admire. This is the only blemish in his character, while Guinevere is coquettish, passionate, unfeeling, and exacting, and has little to recommend her aside from grace, beauty, and personal magnetism. At court she plays her part of queen and lady of the revels with consummate skill, and we have many descriptions of festivities of all kinds. During a maying party the queen was once kidnapped by a bold admirer and kept for a time in durance vile. Launcelot, posting after her, ruthlessly cut down all who attempted to check him, and, his horse falling at last beneath him, continued his pursuit in a wood-chopper's cart, although none but criminals were seen in such a vehicle in the Middle Ages. The Knight of the Cart was, however, only intent upon rescuing the queen, who showed herself very ungrateful, for she often thereafter taunted him with this ride and laughed at the gibes the others lavished upon him. Twice Guinevere drove Launcelot mad with these taunts, and frequently she heartlessly sent him off on dangerous errands.
Launcelot, however, so surpassed all the knights in courage and daring that he won all the prizes in the tournaments. A brilliant series of these entertainments was given by the king, who, having found twelve large diamonds in the crown of a dead king, offered one of them as prize on each occasion. Launcelot, having secured all but the last, decided to attend the last tournament in disguise, after carefully informing king and queen he would not take part in the game.
Pausing at the Castle of Astolat, he borrowed a blank shield, and left his own in the care of Elaine, daughter of his host, who, although he had not shown her any attention, had fallen deeply in love with him. As further disguise, Launcelot also wore the favor Elaine timidly offered, and visited the tournament escorted by her brother. Once more Launcelot bore down all rivals, but he was so sorely wounded in the last encounter that he rode off without taking the prize. Elaine's brother, following him, conveyed him to a hermit's, where some poets claim Elaine nursed him back to health. Although there are two Elaines in Launcelot's life, i.e., the daughter of Pelles (whom he is tricked into marrying and who bears him Galahad) and the "lily maid of Astolat,"—some of the later writers fancied there was only the latter. According to some accounts Launcelot lived happily with the first Elaine in the castle he had conquered,—Joyous Garde,—until Queen Guinevere, consumed by jealousy, summoned them both to court. There she kept them apart, and so persecuted poor Elaine that she crept off to a convent, where she died, after bringing Galahad into the world and after predicting he would achieve the Holy Grail.
The other Elaine,—as Tennyson so beautifully relates, a dying of unrequited love, bade her father and brothers send her corpse down the river in charge of a dumb boatman. Everybody knows of the arrival of the funeral barge at court, of the reading of the letter in Elaine's dead hand, and of Launcelot's sorrow over the suffering he had unwittingly caused.
Launcelot and Guinevere are not the only examples in the Arthurian Cycle of the love of a queen for her husband's friend, and of his overwhelming passion for the wife of his master. Another famous couple, Tristram and Iseult,  also claims our attention.
The legend of Tristram was already known in the sixth century, and from that time until now has been periodically rewritten and embellished. Like most mediaeval legends, it begins with the hero's birth, gives in detail the whole story of his life, and ends only when he is safely dead and buried!
The bare outline of the main events in Tristram's very adventurous career are the elopement of his mother, a sister of King Mark of Cornwall. Then, while mourning for her beloved, this lady dies in giving birth to her son, whom she names Tristram, or the sad one.
Brought up by a faithful servant,—Gouvernail or Kurvenal,—Tristram learns to become a peerless hunter and musician. After describing sundry childish and youthful adventures in different lands, the various legends agree in bringing him to his uncle's court, just as a giant champion arrives from Ireland, claiming tribute in money and men unless some one can defeat him in battle. As neither Mark nor any of his subjects dare venture to face the challenger, Morolt, Tristram volunteers his services. The battle takes place on an island, and, after many blows have been given and received and the end has seemed doubtful, Tristram (who has been wounded by his opponent's poisoned lance) kills him by a blow of his sword, a splinter of which remains embedded in the dead giant's skull. His corpse is then brought back to Ireland to receive sepulchre at the hands of Queen Iseult, who, in preparing the body for the grave finds the fragment of steel, which she treasures, thinking it may some day help her to find her champion's slayer and enable her to avenge his death.
Meanwhile Tristram's wound does not heal, and, realizing Queen Iseult alone will be able to cure him, he sails for Ireland, where he presents himself as the minstrel Tramtris, and rewards the care of the queen and her daughter—both bearing the name of Iseult—by his fine music.
On his return to Cornwall, Tristram, who has evidently been impressed by Princess Iseult's beauty, sings her praises so enthusiastically that King Mark decides to propose for her hand, and—advised by the jealous courtiers, who deem the expedition perilous in the extreme—selects Tristram as his ambassador.
On landing in Ireland, Tristram notices ill-concealed excitement, and discovers that a dragon is causing such damage in the neighborhood that the king has promised his daughter's hand to the warrior who would slay the monster.
Nothing daunted, Tristram sets out alone, and beards the dragon in his den to such good purpose that he kills him and carries off his tongue as a trophy. But, wounded in his encounter, Tristram soon sinks by the roadside unconscious. The king's butler, who has been spying upon him and who deems him dead, now cuts off the dragon's head and lays it at the king's feet, claiming the promised reward.
Princess Iseult and her mother refuse, however, to believe that this man—a notorious coward—has performed any such feat, and hasten out to the battle-field. There they find not only the headless dragon, but the unconscious Tristram, and the tongue which proves him the real victor. To nurse him back to health is no great task for these ladies, who, like many of the heroines of the mediaeval epics and romances, are skilled leeches and surgeons.
One day, while guarding their patient's slumbers, the ladies idly examine his weapons, and make the momentous discovery that the bit of steel found in Morolt's head exactly fits a nick in Tristram's sword.
Although both had sworn vengeance, they decide the service Tristram has just rendered them and their country more than counterbalances the rest, and therefore let him go unscathed.
Fully restored to health, Tristram proves the butler had no right to Iseult's hand, and, instead of enforcing his own claim, makes King Mark's proposals known. Either because such an alliance flatters their pride or because they dare not refuse, Iseult's parents accept in their daughter's name and prepare everything for her speedy departure. The queen, wishing to save her daughter from the curse of a loveless marriage, next brews a love-potion which she bids Brengwain—her daughter's maid and companion—administer to King Mark and Iseult on their wedding night.
During the trip across the Irish Channel, Tristram entertains Princess Iseult with songs and tales, until he becomes so thirsty that he begs for a drink. By mistake the love-potion is brought, and, as Iseult graciously dips her lips in the cup before handing it to her entertainer, it comes to pass both partake of the magic draught, and thus become victims of a passion which naught can cure. Still, as their intentions remain perfectly honorable, they continue the journey to Cornwall, and, in spite of all he suffers, Tristram delivers the reluctant bride into his uncle's hands.
Some legends claim that Iseult made her maid Brengwain take her place by the king's side on their wedding night, and that, although the Irish princess dwelt in the palace at Cornwall, she never proved untrue to her lover Tristram. The romances now give us stolen interviews, temporary elopements, and hair-breadth escapes from all manner of dangers. Once, for instance, Iseult is summoned by her husband to appear before the judges and clear herself from all suspicion of infidelity by taking a public oath in their presence. By Iseult's directions, Tristram, disguised as a mendicant, carries her ashore from the boat, begging for a kiss as reward. This enables the queen to swear truthfully that she has never been embraced by any man save King Mark and the mendicant who carried her ashore!
Tristram—like Launcelot—deeply feels the baseness of his conduct toward his uncle and often tries to tear himself away, but the spell of the magic potion is too powerful to break. Once remorse and shame actually drive him mad, and he roams around the country performing all manner of crazy deeds.
He too, when restored to his senses, visits Arthur's court, is admitted to the Round Table, and joins in the Quest for the Holy Grail, which, of course, he cannot achieve. Then he does marvels in the matter of hunting and fighting, and, having received another dangerous wound, wonders who besides Iseult of Cornwall can cure it? It is then he hears for the first time of Iseult of Brittany (or of the White Hands), whose skill in such matters is proverbial, and, seeking her aid, is soon made whole. But meantime the physician has fallen in love with her patient, and fancies her love is returned because every lay he sings is in praise of Iseult!
Her brother, discovering her innocent passion, reveals it to Tristram, who, through gratitude or to drive the remembrance of his guilty passion out of his mind, finally marries her. But even marriage cannot make him forget Iseult of Cornwall. The time comes when, wounded beyond the power of his wife's skill to cure, Tristram sends for Iseult of Cornwall, who, either owing to treachery or to accident, arrives too late, and dies of grief on her lover's corpse.
Some legends vary greatly in the manner of Tristram's death, for he is sometimes slain by King Stark, who is justly angry to find him in his wife's company. Most of the versions, however, declare that the lovers were buried side by side, and that creepers growing out of their respective graves twined lovingly around each other.
Other beautiful episodes which are taken from old Welsh versions of the Arthurian legends are the stories of Geraint and Enid, of Pelleas and Ettarre, of Gareth and Lynette, which have received their latest and most beautiful setting at the hands of the poet-laureate Tennyson, and the very tragic and pathetic tale of the twin brothers Balin and Balan, who, after baleful happenings galore, failing to recognize each other, fight until one deals the "dolorous stroke" which kills his brother.
Were any one patient enough to count the characters, duels, and hair-breadth escapes in Malory's Morte d'Arthur, the sum might well appall a modern reader. Magic, too, plays a prominent part in the Arthurian cycle, where Merlin, by means of a magic ring given by the Lady of the Lake to her sister Vivien, becomes so infatuated with the latter lady, that she is able to coax from him all his secrets, and even to learn the spell whereby a mortal can be kept alive although hidden from all eyes. Having obtained the magic formula by bringing all her coquettish wiles to bear upon besotted old Merlin, Vivien is said to have decoyed the wizard either to an enchanted castle, where she enclosed him in a stone sepulchre, or into the forest of Broceliande, in Brittany, where she left him, spellbound in a flowering thorn-bush. Another legend, however, claims that, having grown old and forgetful, Merlin absent-mindedly attempted to sit down in the Siege Perilous, only to be swallowed up by the yawning chasm which opened beneath his feet.
It was at the height of Arthur's prosperity and fame that the knights of the Round Table solemnly pledged themselves to undertake the Quest of the Holy Grail, as is described in the chapter on that subject. Their absence, the adultery of the queen, and the king's consciousness of past sins cast such a gloom over the once brilliant reunions of Camelot and Caerleon, as well as over the whole land, that Arthur's foes became bolder, and troubles thickened in an ominous way. Finally, most of the knights returned from the Quest sadder and wiser men, Launcelot was banished by the king to Joyous Garde, and was therefore not at hand when the last great fight occurred. Mordred, the Judas of the Arthurian cycle—whom some poets represent as the illegitimate and incestuous son of Arthur, while others merely make him a nephew of the king—rebels against Arthur, who engages in his last battle, near the Castle of Tintagel, where he was born.
In this encounter all are slain on both sides, and Arthur, having finally killed the traitor Mordred, after receiving from him a grievous wound, finds no one near to help or sustain him save Sir Bedevere. Knowing his wonderful blade Excalibure must return to its donor ere he departs, Arthur thrice orders his henchman to cast it into the mere. Twice Sir Bedevere hides the sword instead of obeying, but the third time, having exactly carried out the royal orders, he reports having seen a hand rise out of the Lake, catch and brandish Excalibure, and vanish beneath the waters with it! Arthur is next carried by Sir Bedevere down to the water's edge, where a mysterious barge receives the almost dying king. In this barge are three black-veiled queens,—the king's step-sisters,—and, when Arthur's head has been tenderly laid in the lap of Morgana the Fay, he announces he is about to sail off to the Isle of Avalon "to be healed of his wound." Although the Isle of Avalon was evidently a poetical mediaeval version of the "bourne whence no man returns," people long watched for Arthur's home-coming, for he was a very real personage to readers of epics and romances in the Middle Ages.
Guinevere—her sin having been discovered by her hitherto fabulously blind husband—took refuge in a nunnery at Almesbury, where she received a farewell visit from Arthur and an assurance of his forgiveness, before he rode into his last fight.
As for Launcelot, he, too, devoted his last days to penance and prayer in a monastery. There he remained until warned in a vision that Guinevere was dead. Leaving his cell, Launcelot hastened to Almesbury, where, finding Guinevere had ceased to breathe, he bore her corpse to Glastonbury—where according to some versions Arthur had been conveyed by the barge and buried—and there laid her to rest at her husband's feet.
Then Launcelot again withdrew to his cell, where he died after six months' abstinence and prayer. It was his heir, Sir Ector, who feelingly pronounced the eulogy of the knight par excellence of the mediaeval legends in the following terms: "'Ah, Sir Lancelot,' he said, 'thou were head of all Christian knights; and now I dare say,' said Sir Ector, 'that, Sir Lancelot, there thou liest, thou were never matched of none earthly knight's hands; and thou were the courtliest knight that ever bare shield; and thou were the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrode horse; and thou were the truest lover of a sinful man that ever loved woman; and thou were the kindest man that ever struck with sword; and thou were the goodliest person that ever came among press of knights; and thou were the meekest man, and the gentlest, that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in rest.'"
[Footnote 23: See, the author's "Stories of the Wagner Operas."]
Among the most popular of the prose epics is the story of Robin Hood, compiled from some twoscore old English ballads, some of which date back at least to 1400. This material has recently been charmingly reworked by Howard Pyle, who has happily illustrated his own book. The bare outline of the tale is as follows:
In the days of Henry II lived in Sherwood Forest the famous outlaw Robin Hood, with his band of sevenscore men. At eighteen years of age Robin left Locksley to attend a shooting-match in a neighboring town. While crossing the forest one of the royal game-keepers tauntingly challenged him to prove his skill as a marksman by killing a deer just darting past them. But, when the unsuspecting youth brought down this quarry, the forester proposed to arrest him for violating the law. Robin, however, deftly escaped, and, when the keeper sent an arrow after him, retaliated by another, which, better aimed, killed one of the king's men!
Although unwittingly guilty of murder, Robin, knowing his life was forfeit, took to the forest, where he became an outlaw. In vain the Sheriff of Nottingham tried to secure him: Robin always evaded capture at his hands. Still he did not remain in hiding, but frequently appeared among his fellow-men, none of whom would betray him, although the sheriff promised a reward of two hundred pounds for his capture.
Once, while in quest of adventures, Robin met on a narrow bridge a stranger who refused to make way for him. Irritated by what he considered the man's insolence, Robin seized his quarter-staff, only to find that his antagonist more than matched him in the skilful use of this weapon. Then a misstep suddenly toppled Robin over into the stream, where he might have perished had not some of his men leaped out of the thicket to his rescue. Vexed at being beaten at quarter-staff, Robin now proposed a shooting-match, and, his good humor entirely restored by winning a victory in this contest, he promptly enrolled the stranger in his band. His merry companions, on learning the huge new-comer was John Little, ironically termed him Little John, by which name he became very famous.
Baffled in his attempts to secure Robin and unable to find any one near there to serve a warrant upon him, the sheriff hired a Lincoln tinker, who, entering an inn, loudly boasted how cleverly he was going to accomplish his task. Among his listeners was the outlaw, who enticed the tinker to drink, and made him so drunk that he had no difficulty in stealing his warrant.
The tinker, on awaking, was furious, and, coming face to face with Robin soon after, attacked him fiercely. Seeing his opponent was getting the better of him, Robin blew his horn, whereupon six of his men appeared to aid him. Awed by the sudden appearance of these men,—who were all clad in Lincoln green,—the tinker laid down his cudgel and humbly begged permission to join the band.
The baffled sheriff now rode off to London to complain, but, when Henry heard one of his officers could not capture an outlaw, he indignantly bade him leave the court and not appear there again until he had secured Robin. Dismayed at having incurred royal displeasure, the sheriff concluded to accomplish by stratagem what he had failed to compass by force. He therefore proclaimed a shooting-match, and, feeling sure Robin would be among the competitors for the prize, posted a number of men to watch for and arrest him. These sleuths recognized all the contestants present, except a dark man, with a patch over one eye, who did not in the least resemble the fair-haired, handsome Robin. Although one-eyed, the stranger easily bore away the prize, and, when the sheriff offered to take him into his service, curtly rejoined no man should ever be his master. But that evening, in a secret glade in Sherwood Forest, Robin gleefully exhibited to his followers the golden arrow he had won, and, doffing his patch, remarked that the walnut stain, which had transformed a fair man into a dark one, would soon wear off.
Still, not satisfied with outwitting the sheriff, Robin, anxious to apprise him of the fact, wrote a message on an arrow, which he boldly shot into the hall where his enemy was seated at a banquet. Enraged by this impudence, the sheriff sent out three hundred men to scour the forest, and Robin and his men were forced to hide.
Weary of inaction, Robin finally bade Will Stutely reconnoiter, report what the sheriff was doing, and see whether it would be safe for him and his men to venture out. Garbed as a monk, Will Stutely sought the nearest inn, where he was quietly seated when some of the sheriff's men came in. The outlaw was listening intently to their plans when a cat, rubbing against him, pushed aside his frock, and thus allowed the constable a glimpse of Lincoln green beneath its folds. To arrest the outlaw was but the matter of a moment, and Will Stutely was led off to prison and execution, while a friendly bar-maid hastened off secretly to the forest to warn Robin of his friend's peril.
Determined to save Will from the gallows at any risk, Robin immediately set out with four of his best men and let them mingle among the people assembled near the gallows. Although disguised, the outlaws were immediately recognized by Will when he arrived with the sheriff. Pressing forward as if to obtain a better view of the execution, the outlaws contrived to annoy their neighbors so sorely that a fight ensued, and, in the midst of the confusion, Little John, slipping close up to the prisoner, cut his bonds, knocked down the sheriff, and escaped with all the band!
Life in the forest sometimes proved too monotonous to suit Robin, who once purchased from a butcher his horse, cart, and meat, and drove off boldly to Nottingham Fair. There he lustily cried his wares, announcing churchmen would have to pay double, aldermen cost price, housewives less, and pretty girls nothing save a kiss! The merry vender's methods of trading soon attracted so many female customers that the other butchers became angry, but, deeming Robin a mere simpleton, invited him to a banquet, where they determined to take advantage of him.
The sheriff—who was present—blandly inquired of the butcher whether he had any cattle for sale, and arranged to meet him in the forest and pay 300 crowns in cash for 500 horned heads. But, when the gullible sheriff reached the trysting-spot, he was borne captive to Robin's camp, where the chief, mockingly pointing out the king's deer, bade him take possession of five hundred horned heads! Then he invited the sheriff to witness games exhibiting the outlaws' strength and skill, and, after relieving him of his money, allowed him to depart unharmed.
More determined than ever to obtain revenge, the sheriff again proclaimed an archery contest, which Robin shunned. Little John, however, put in an appearance, won all the prizes, and even accepted the sheriff's offer to serve him. But, living on the fat of the land in the sheriff's household, Little John grew fat and lazy, quarrelled with the other servants, and finally departed with his master's cook and his silver!
Robin, although delighted to acquire a new follower, hotly reviled his companion for stealing the silver, whereupon Little John declared the sheriff had given it to him and volunteered to produce him to confirm his words. He therefore set out, and waylaid his late employer, who, thinking himself under the protection of one of his own men, innocently followed him to the outlaws' camp. When brought thus suddenly face to face with Robin, the sheriff expected to be robbed or killed, but, after ascertaining the silver was not a free gift, Robin gave it back to him and let him go.
Angry because Robin often twitted him with his stoutness, Little John once wandered off by himself in the forest, and meeting Arthur a Bland challenged him to fight, little suspecting Robin was watching them from a neighboring thicket. From this hiding-place the chief of the outlaws witnessed Little John's defeat, and, popping out as soon as the fight was over, invited Arthur a Bland to join his band. The three men next continued their walk, until they met a "rose-leaf, whipped-cream youth," of whose modish attire and effeminate manners they made unmerciful fun. Boastfully informing his two companions he was going to show them how a quarter-staff should be handled, Robin challenged the stranger, who, suddenly dropping his affected manners, snatched a stake from the hedge and proceeded to outfence Robin. In his turn Little John had a chance to laugh at his leader's discomfiture, and Robin, on learning his antagonist was his nephew (who had taken refuge in the forest because he had accidentally killed a man), invited him to join his merry men.
Soon after Little John was despatched for food, and the outlaws were enjoying a jolly meal "under the greenwood tree," when a miller came trudging along with a heavy bag of flour. Crowding around him the outlaws demanded his money, and, when he exhibited an empty purse, Robin suggested his money was probably hidden in the meal and sternly ordered him to produce it without delay. Grumbling about his loss, the miller opened his sack, began to fumble in the meal, and, when all the outlaws were bending anxiously over it, flung a double handful of flour right into their eyes, thus blinding them temporarily. Had not other outlaws now rushed out of the thicket, the miller would doubtless have effected his escape, but the new arrivals held him fast until Robin, charmed with his ready wit, invited him to become an outlaw too.
Some time after this, Robin, Will Scarlet, and Little John discovered the minstrel Allan a Dale weeping in the forest because his sweetheart, fair Ellen, was compelled by her father to marry a rich old squire. Hearing this tale and sympathizing with the lovers, Robin engaged to unite them, provided he could secure a priest to tie the knot. When told Friar Tuck would surely oblige him, Robin started out in quest of him, and, finding him under a tree, feasting alone and toasting himself, he joined in his merry meal. Then, under the pretext of saving his fine clothes from a wetting, Robin persuaded the friar to carry him pick-a-back across a stream. While doing so, the friar stole Robin's sword, and refused to give it back unless the outlaw carried him back. Following Friar Tuck's example, Robin slyly purloined something from him, and exacted a new ride across the river, during which Friar Tuck tumbled him over into the water. Robin, who had hitherto taken his companion's pleasantries good-naturedly, got angry and began a fight, but soon, feeling he was about to be worsted, he loudly summoned his men. Friar Tuck in return whistled for his dogs, which proved quite formidable enough opponents to induce the outlaws to beg for a truce.
Robin now secured Friar Tuck to celebrate Allan's marriage and laid clever plans to rescue Ellen from an unwelcome bridegroom. So all proceeded secretly or openly to the church where the marriage was to take place. Pretending to be versed in magic, Robin swore to the ecclesiastics present that, if they would only give him the jewels they wore, he would guarantee the bride should love the bridegroom. Just as the reluctant Ellen was about to be united to the rich old squire by these churchmen, Robin interfered, and (the angry bridegroom having flounced out of church), bribed the father to allow Friar Tuck to unite Ellen and Allan a Dale. Because the bride undoubtedly loved her spouse, Robin claimed the jewels promised him, and bestowed them upon the happy couple, who adopted Sherwood Forest for their home.
Weary of the same company, Robin once despatched his men into the forest with orders to arrest any one they met and bring him to their nightly banquet. Robin himself sallied out too, and soon met a dejected knight, who declared he felt too sad to contribute to the outlaw's amusement. When Robin questioned him in regard to his dejection, Sir Richard of the Lee explained that his son, having accidentally wounded his opponent in a tournament, had been obliged to pay a fine of L600 in gold and make a pilgrimage to Palestine. To raise the money for the fine, the father had mortgaged his estates, and was now about to be despoiled of them by the avaricious prior of Emmet, who demanded an immediate payment of L400 or the estate.
Robin, ever ready to help the poor and sorrowful, bade the knight cheer up and promised to discover some way to raise the L400. Meantime Little John and Friar Tuck—who had joined Robin's band—caught the Bishop of Hereford, travelling through the forest with a train of pack horses, one of which was laden with an iron-bound chest. After entertaining these forced guests at dinner, Robin had them witness his archers' skill and listen to Allan a Dale's music, ere he set forth the knight's predicament and appealed to the bishop to lend him the necessary money. When the bishop loudly protested he would do so gladly had he funds, Robin ordered his baggage examined and divided into three equal shares, one for the owner, one for his men, and one for the poor.
Such was the value of the third set aside for the poor that Robin could lend Sir Richard L500. Armed with this money—which he promised to repay within a year—Sir Richard presented himself before the prior of Emmet, who had hired the sheriff and a lawyer to help him despoil the knight with some show of law and justice. It was therefore before an august board of three villains that Sir Richard knelt begging for time wherein to pay his debt. Virtuously protesting he would gladly remit a hundred pounds for prompt payment—so great was his need of money—the prior refused to wait, and his claim was duly upheld by lawyer and sheriff. Relinquishing his humble position, Sir Richard then defiantly produced 300 pounds, which he forced the prior to accept in full payment! Soon after, the happy knight was able to repay Robin's loan, and gratefully bestowed fine bows and arrows on all the outlaws. Little John, garbed as a friar, once set out for a neighboring fair, and, meeting three pretty girls with baskets of eggs, gallantly offered to carry their loads. When merrily challenged to carry all three, Little John cleverly slung one basket around his neck by means of his rosary, and marched merrily along carrying the two others and singing at the top of his lungs, while one of the girls beat time with his staff.
On approaching town, Little John restored the baskets to their owners, and, assuming a sanctimonious bearing, joined two brothers of Fountains Abbey, whom he implored to give him a little money. Because they turned a deaf ear to his request, Little John went with them, acting so strangely that he annoyed them sorely. Seeing this, he declared he would leave them if they would only give him two pennies, whereupon they rejoined they had no more than that for their own needs. Crying he would perform a miracle, Little John plumped down upon his big knees in the middle of the road and loudly intreated St. Dunstan to put money in their purses. Then jumping up, he seized their bags, vowing that anything above a penny was clearly his, since it was obtained through his prayers!
Robin, longing for a little variety, once met a beggar with whom he exchanged garments. Soon after, meeting four other mendicants, Robin joined them, and having gotten into a quarrel with them had the satisfaction of routing all four. A little later he met an usurer, whom he gradually induced to reveal the fact that he had never lost his money because he always carried his fortune in the thick soles of his shoes. Of course Robin immediately compelled the usurer to remove his foot-gear, and sent him home barefoot, while he rejoined his men and amused them with a detailed account of the day's adventures.
Queen Eleanor, having heard endless merry tales about Robin Hood, became very anxious to meet him, and finally sent one of her pages to Sherwood Forest to inform Robin the king had wagered his archers would win all the prizes in the royal shooting-match. Because she had wagered the contrary, she promised Robin a safe-conduct for himself and his men if he would only come to court and display his skill.
Choosing Will Scarlet, Little John, and Allan a Dale as his companions, Robin attended the tournament and won all the prizes, to the great disgust of the king, the sheriff, and the Bishop of Hereford, which latter recognized the hated outlaw. On discovering the king would not respect the safe-conduct she had given Robin, Eleanor sent him word: "The lion growls; beware of thy head." This hint was sufficient to make Robin leave immediately, bidding his companions re-enter the forest by different roads and reserving the most difficult for himself.
Although Robin's men reached the forest safely, he himself was hotly pursued by the sheriff's and bishop's troops. Once, when they were so close on his heels that it seemed impossible for him to escape, Robin exchanged garments with a cobbler, who was promptly arrested in his stead and borne off to prison. Such was Robin's exhaustion by this time that he entered an inn, and, creeping into bed, slept so soundly that only on awaking on the morrow did he discover he had shared his bed with a monk. Slyly substituting the cobbler's garments for those of the sleeping monk, Robin peacefully departed, while the sheriff's men, having discovered their mistake, proceeded to arrest the false cobbler! Meantime the Queen succeeded in softening the king's resentment, so Robin was allowed to rejoin his companions, and his sweetheart, Maid Marian, who could shoot nearly as well as he.
Many years now elapsed, during which King Henry died and King Richard came to the throne. Robin, still pursued by the sheriff, once discovered in the forest a man clad in horse-skin, who, having been an outlaw too, had been promised his pardon if he would slay Robin. Hearing him boast about what he would do, Robin challenged him first to a trial of marksmanship, and then to a bout of sword play, during which the strange outlaw was slain. Then, donning the fallen man's strange apparel, Robin went off to Nottingham in quest of more adventures.
Meantime, Little John had entered a poor hut, where he found a woman weeping because her sons had been seized as poachers and sentenced to be hanged. Touched by her grief, Little John promised to rescue them if she would only supply him with a disguise. Dressed in a suit which had belonged to the woman's husband, he entered Nottingham just as the sheriff was escorting his captives to the gallows. No hangman being available, the sheriff gladly hired the stranger to perform that office. While ostensibly fastening nooses around the three lads' necks, Little John cleverly whispered directions whereby to escape. This part of his duty done, Little John strung his bow, arguing it would be a humane act to shorten their agony by a well-directed shaft. But, as soon as his bow was properly strung, Little John gave the agreed signal, and the three youths scampered off, he covering their retreat by threatening to kill any one who attempted to pursue them.
The angry sheriff, on perceiving Robin, who just then appeared, deeming him the man he sent into the forest, demanded some token that he had done his duty. In reply Robin silently exhibited his own sword, bugle, and bow, and pointed to his blood-stained clothes. The officers having meantime captured Little John, the sheriff allowed Robin—as a reward—to hang his companion. By means of the same stratagem as Little John employed for the rescue of the youths, Robin saved his beloved mate, and, when the sheriff started to pursue them, blew such a blast on his horn that the terrified official galloped away, one of Robin's arrows sticking in his back.
Two months after, there was great excitement in Nottingham, because King Richard was to ride through the town. The gay procession of knights, pages, and soldiers was viewed with delight by all the people, among whom Robin's outlaws were thickly dotted. Riding beside the king, the Sheriff of Nottingham paled on recognizing in the crowd Robin himself, a change of color which did not escape Richard's eagle eye. When the conversation turned upon the famous outlaw at the banquet that evening, and sheriff and bishop bitterly declared Robin could not be captured, Richard exclaimed he would gladly give a hundred pounds for a glimpse of so extraordinary a man! Thereupon one of the guests rejoined he could easily obtain it by entering the forest in a monk's garb, a suggestion which so charmed the Lion-hearted monarch that he started out on the morrow with seven cowled men. They had not ridden far into the forest before they were arrested by a man in Lincoln green—Robin himself—who conducted them to the outlaw's lair.
As usual, the chance guests were entertained with a feast of venison and athletic games, in the course of which Robin declared he would test the skill of his men, and that all who missed the bull's-eye should be punished by a buffet from Little John's mighty fist. Strange to relate, every man failed and was floored by Little John's blow, the rest roaring merrily over his discomfiture. All his men having tried and failed, Robin was asked to display his own skill for the stranger's benefit, and, when he too shot at random, all loudly clamored he must be punished too. Hoping to escape so severe a blow as Little John dealt, Robin declared it was not fitting a chief should be struck by his men, and offered to take his punishment at his guest's hands. Richard, not sorry to take his revenge, now bared a muscular arm, and hit poor Robin so heartily that the outlaw measured his full length on the ground and lay there some time wondering what had occurred.
Just then Sir Richard's son rushed into the outlaw's camp, breathlessly crying the king had left Nottingham and was scouring the forest to arrest them. Throwing back his cowl Richard sternly demanded how one of his nobles dared reveal his plans to his foes, whereupon the young knight, kneeling before his monarch, explained how Robin had saved his father from ruin.
Richard, whose anger was a mere pretence, now informed Robin he should no longer be persecuted, and proposed that he, Little John, Will Scarlet, and Allan a Dale should enter his service. The rest of the outlaws were appointed game-keepers in the royal forests, a life which suited them admirably.
After spending the night in the camp of the outlaws, Richard rode away with his new followers, and we are told Robin Hood served him to such good purpose that he soon earned the title of Earl of Huntington. Shortly after Richard's death, Robin, seized with a longing for the wild free life of his youth, revisited Sherwood Forest, where the first blast of his hunting-horn gathered a score of his old followers about him. Falling at his feet and kissing his hands, they so fervently besought him never to leave them again that Robin promised to remain in the forest, and did so, although King John sent for him sundry times and finally ordered the sheriff to arrest him.
By this time Robin was no longer a young man, so life in the open no longer proved as delightful as of yore. Seized with a fever which he could not shake off, Robin finally dragged himself to the priory of Kirk Lee, where he besought the prioress to bleed him. Either because she was afraid to defy the king or because she owed Robin a personal grudge, this lady opened an artery instead of a vein, and, locking the door of his room, left him there to bleed to death. The unsuspecting Robin patiently awaited her return, and, when he finally realized his plight and tried to summon aid, he was able to blow only the faintest call upon his horn. This proved enough, however, to summon Little John, who was lurking in the forest near by, for he dashed toward the priory, broke open the door, and forced his way into the turret-chamber, where he found poor Robin nearly gone.
At his cries, the prioress hastened to check the bleeding of Robin's wound, but too late! Faintly whispering he would never hunt in the forest again, Robin begged Little John string his bow, and raise him up so he could shoot a last arrow out of the narrow window, adding that he wished to be buried where that arrow fell. Placing the bow in Robin's hand, Little John supported his dying master while he sent his last arrow to the foot of a mighty oak, and "something sped from that body as the winged arrow sped from the bow," for it was only a corpse Little John laid down on the bed!
At dawn on the morrow six outlaws bore their dead leader to a grave they had dug beneath the oak, above which was a stone which bore this inscription:
Here underneath this little stone Lies Robin, Earl of Huntington, None there was as he so good, And people called him Robin Hood. Such outlaws as he and his men Will England never see again.
Died December 24th, 1247.
THE FAERIE QUEENE
Edmund Spenser, who was born in London in 1552 and lived at Dublin as clerk to the court of Chancery, there wrote the Faerie Queene, of which the first part was published in 1589 and dedicated to Elizabeth. In this poem he purposed to depict the twelve moral virtues in twelve successive books, each containing twelve cantos, written in stanzas of eight short lines and one long one. But he completed only six books of his poem in the course of six years.
The Faerie Queene is not only an epic but a double allegory, for many of the characters represent both abstract virtues and the noted people of Spenser's time. For instance, the poem opens with a description of the court of Gloriana,—who impersonates Elizabeth and is the champion of Protestantism. As queen of the fairy realm she holds annual festivals, in one of which the young peasant Georgos enters her hall. He kneels before her so humbly yet so courteously that, notwithstanding his rustic garb, she perceives he must be of noble birth. When he, therefore, craves as a boon the next adventure, Gloriana grants his request, on condition that he will serve her afterward for six years. Shortly after, a beautiful lady, garbed in white but enveloped in a black mantle, rides up to court on a snow-white ass, leading a woolly lamb. She is followed by a dwarf, who conducts a war-steed, on which are piled all the arms of a knight. On approaching Gloriana, Una—the personification of Truth—explains that her royal parents are besieged in their capital by a dragon, which has slain all the warriors who have ventured to attack him.
On hearing Una beg for aid, Georgos eagerly steps forward to claim the task. Ill pleased to be given a peasant instead of the knight she was seeking, Una coldly bids Georgos—the personification of Holiness—try on the armor she has brought, adding that, unless it fits him exactly, he need not expect to triumph. But no sooner has the youth donned the armor which the dwarf produces than all recognize with wonder it must have been made for him, and Gloriana publicly dubs him "Knight of the Red Cross," because the armor Una brought bears that device.
Vaulting on his war-steed, Georgos now rides off with Una and the dwarf, and after crossing a wilderness enters a forest, where before long he descries the mouth of a cave, into which he feels impelled to enter. No sooner has he done so than he encounters a dragon,—the personification of Heresy and Error,—which attacks him with fury. A frightful battle ensues, in the course of which the Red Cross Knight is about to be worsted, when Una's encouragements so stimulate him that he slays the monster.
On seeing the exhaustion of her companion, Una realizes he will require rest before undertaking further adventures, and therefore eagerly accepts an invitation tendered by a venerable old hermit who meets them. He leads them to his cell, where, after entertaining them all evening by pious conversation, he dismisses them to seek rest. His guests have no sooner vanished than the hermit, Archimago,—a personification of Hypocrisy,—casts aside his disguise, and summons two demons, one of whom he despatches to Hades to fetch a dream from the cave of Morpheus. This dream is to whisper to the sleeping Red Cross Knight that Una is not as innocent as she seems, while the other demon, transformed into her very semblance, is to delude the knight on awakening into believing his companion beneath contempt. This plot is duly carried out, and the Red Cross Knight shocked by the behavior of the sham Una departs immediately, bidding the dwarf follow him. Riding along in a state of extreme disgust and irritation, the Red Gross Knight soon encounters Sansfoi,—Faithlessness,—accompanied by a lady clad in red, who is Duessa,—a personification of Mary Queen of Scots, and also of falsehood and popery. The two knights immediately run against each other, and, when Georgos has slain his opponent, the lady beseeches him to spare her life, exclaiming her name is Fidessa and that she is only too glad to be saved from the cruel Sansfoi. Deluded by her words and looks, the Red Cross Knight invites her to accompany him, promising to defend her from her foes.
They are riding along together amicably, when the knight plucks a blossoming twig to weave a garland for his companion, and is dismayed to see blood trickle from the broken stem. Questioning the tree from whence the branch was taken, Georgos learns that a knight and his wife have been transformed into plants by Duessa, who does not wish them to escape from her thraldom. During this explanation, Georgos fails to notice that the lady in red trembles for fear her victims may recognize her, nor does he mark her relief when she perceives her present disguise is so effective that no one suspects she worked this baleful transformation.
Riding on once more, the Red Cross Knight and his companion next draw near to a glittering castle, whose stones seem covered with gold. Fidessa, who is familiar with this place, invites the knight to enter there with her; and Georgos, unaware of the fact that this is the stronghold of Pride, not only consents, but pays respectful homage to the mistress of the castle, Queen Lucifera, whose attendants are Idleness, Gluttony, Lechery, Envy, Avarice, and Wrath. It is while sojourning in this castle that the Red Cross Knight one day sees Sansjoi (Joyless) snatch from his dwarf the shield won from Sansfoi. Angered by this deed of violence, Georgos draws his sword, and he would have decided the question of ownership then and there had not Lucifera decreed he and his opponent should settle their quarrel in the lists on the morrow. During the ensuing night, Duessa secretly informs Sansjoi that the Red Cross Knight is his brother's slayer and promises that, should he defeat his opponent, she will belong to him forever. On the morrow, in the midst of much feudal pomp, the chivalrous duel takes place, and—although Duessa, fancying Sansjoi is about to win, loudly cheers him—the Red Cross Knight finally triumphs. Planting his foot upon his foe, Georgos would have ended Sansjoi's life had not Duessa enveloped her protege in a cloud dense enough to hide him from his conqueror. After vainly seeking some trace of his vanished opponent, the Red Cross Knight is proclaimed victor, and goes back to the castle to nurse the wounds he has received.
Meanwhile Duessa steals into the deserted lists, removes the pall of cloud which envelops Sansjoi, and tenderly confides him to the Queen of Night, who bears him down to Hades, where Aesculapius heals his wounds. His victor, the Red Cross Knight, has not entirely recovered from this duel, when the dwarf rushes into his presence to report that while prowling around the castle he discovered a frightful dungeon, where men and women are imprisoned. When he declares they are sojourning in a wicked place, the Red Cross Knight springs out of bed and, helped by his attendant, hastens away from a spot which now inspires him with unspeakable horror.
They have barely issued from the castle walls before Georgos realizes he has been the victim of some baleful spell, for he now perceives that the building rests on a sand foundation and is tottering to its fall, while the pomp which so dazzled him at first is merely outside show and delusion. He is not aware, however, that Fidessa has beguiled him, since he openly regrets she is not present to escape with him, and he again bewails the fact that Una was not as pure as his fancy painted!
Meanwhile, returning to the castle to rejoin her victim, Duessa finds the Red Cross Knight gone, spurs after him, and on overtaking him gently reproaches him for abandoning her in such a place! Then she entices him to rest by a fountain, whose bewitched waters deprive the drinker of all strength. She herself offers Georgos a draught from this fountain, and, after he has drunk thereof, the giant Orgolio spurs out of the forest and, attacking him with a mighty club, lays him low and bears him off to his dungeon, to torture him the rest of his life. Meantime Duessa humbly follows the giant, promising him her love, while the dwarf, who has watched the encounter from afar, sorrowfully collects his master's armor and, piling it hastily on his steed, rides off in quest of help.
Meanwhile the real Una, on awakening in the hermitage to learn that the Red Cross Knight and the dwarf have gone, rides after them as fast as her little white ass can trot. Of course her attempt to overtake her companions is vain, and after travelling a long distance she dismounts in a forest to rest. Suddenly she is almost paralyzed with fear, for a roaring lion bursts through the thicket to devour her. Still, in fairy-land wild beasts cannot harm kings' daughters, provided they are pure, so the lion—the personification of Courage—not only spares Una, but humbly licks her feet, and accompanies her as watch-dog when she resumes her journey. They two soon reach the house of Superstition, an old woman, whose daughter, Stupidity, loves a robber of churches. When this lover attempts to visit her secretly by night, he is slain by the lion; whereupon the two women angrily banish Una. She is therefore again wandering aimlessly in the forest when Archimago meets her in the guise of the Red Cross Knight, for he wishes her to believe he is her missing champion. On perceiving the lion, however, the magician approaches Una cautiously, but the fair maiden, suspecting no fraud, joyfully runs to meet him, declaring she has missed him terribly.
They two have not proceeded far before they encounter Sansloi,—Lawlessness,—brother of the two knights with whom Georgos recently fought. Anxious to avenge their death, this new-comer boldly charges at the wearer of the Red Cross. Although terrified at the mere thought of an encounter, Archimago is forced to lower his lance in self-defence, but, as he is no expert, he is overthrown at the first blow. Springing down from his steed, Sansloi sets his foot upon his fallen foe and tries to remove his helmet so as to deal him a deadly blow. But no sooner does he behold the crafty lineaments of Archimago in place of those of the Red Cross Knight, than he contemptuously abandons his opponent to recover his senses at leisure, and starts off in pursuit of Una, whose beauty has charmed his lustful eye.
In a vain endeavor to protect his mistress, the lion next loses his life, and Sansloi, plucking the shrieking Una from her ass, flings her across his palfrey and rides off into the forest, followed by the little steed, which is too faithful to forsake its mistress. On arriving in the depths of the forest, Sansloi dismounts, but Una's cries attract a company of fauns and satyrs, whose uncanny faces inspire Sansloi with such terror that he flees, leaving his captive in their power. Notwithstanding their strange appearance, these wild men are essentially chivalrous, for they speedily assure Una no harm shall befall her in their company. In return she instructs them in regard to virtue and truth, until Sir Satyrane appears, who generously volunteers to go with her in search of the Red Cross Knight.
Those two have not ridden far together before they encounter a pilgrim, who reports the Red Cross Knight has just been slain in a combat by a knight who is now quenching his thirst at a neighboring fountain. Following this pilgrim's directions, Sir Satyrane soon overtakes the reported slayer of Georgos, and while they two struggle together, the terrified Una flees into the forest, closely pursued by the pilgrim, Archimago in a new disguise. Meantime the fight continues until Sansloi, severely wounded, beats a retreat, leaving Sir Satyrane too injured to follow Una. She, however, has meantime overtaken her dwarf, and learned from him that the Red Cross Knight is a prisoner of Orgolio. Thereupon she vows' not to rest until she has rescued her companion. She and her dwarf are hastening in the direction in which the giant vanished with his victim, when they meet Prince Arthur,—a personification of Leicester and of Chivalry,—who, although he has never yet seen the Fairy Queen, is so deeply in love with her that he does battle in her name whenever he can. This prince is incased in a magic armor, made by Merlin, and bears a shield fashioned from a single diamond, whose brightness is so dazzling that it has to be kept covered, so as not to blind all beholders.
After courteously greeting Una, the prince, hearing her tale of woe, volunteers to accompany her and free the Red Cross Knight. When they reach the castle of Orgolio,—Spiritual Pride,—Arthur and his squire boldly summon the owner to come out and fight. No answer is at first vouchsafed them, but after a blast from Arthur's magic bugle the gates burst open, and out of the stronghold rushes a seven-headed dragon, bearing on its back the witch Duessa. This monster is closely followed by the giant Orgolio, who engages in fight with Prince Arthur, while the squire, Timias, directs his efforts against the seven-headed beast. Although the prince and his attendant finally overcome these terrible foes, their triumph is due to the fact that in the midst of the fray Prince Arthur's shield is accidentally uncovered and its brightness quells both giant and beast. But no sooner are the fallen pierced with the victors' swords than they shrink to nothing, for they are mere wind-bags, or delusions of Archimago's devising.
On seeing the triumph won by her champions, Una congratulates them, and bids the squire pursue Duessa, who is now trying to escape. Thus enjoined, Timias seizes the witch, and, in obedience to Una's orders, strips her of her fine clothes and sends her forth in her original loathsome shape. Meantime Una and the prince boldly penetrate into the castle, and, passing hurriedly through rooms overflowing with treasures, reach a squalid dungeon, where they discover the Red Cross Knight almost starved to death. Full of compassion they bear him to comfortable quarters, where they proceed to nurse him back to health; and, when he is once more able to ride, he and Una resume their journey. As they proceed, however, Una becoming aware that her champion is not yet strong enough to do battle, conducts him to a house, where the wise old matron Religion, Doctor Patience, and three hand-maidens, Faith, Hope, and Charity, nurse him to such good purpose that Georgos is soon stronger than ever. During his convalescence in this hospitable abode, the Red Cross Knight once wanders to the top of the hill of Contemplation, whence he is vouchsafed a vision of the New Jerusalem, and where he encounters an old man who prophesies that after fulfilling his present quest he will be known as "Saint George of Merry England." Modestly deeming himself unworthy of such distinction, the Red Cross Knight objects that a ploughman's son should not receive such honor, until the aged man informs him he is in reality the son of the British king, stolen from his cradle by a wicked fairy, who, finding him too heavy to carry, dropped him in a field where a farmer discovered and adopted him. Notwithstanding this rustic breeding it was Georgos' noble blood that urged him to seek adventures, and sent him to Gloriana's court, whence he sallied forth on his present quest.
After another brief sojourn in the house of Religion, the Red Cross Knight and Una again set forth, and passing through another wilderness reach a land ravaged and befouled by the dragon which holds Una's parents in durance vile. The lady is just pointing out her distant home to the Red Cross Knight, when she hears the dragon coming, and, bidding her champion fight him bravely, takes refuge in a cave near by. Spurring forward to encounter his opponent, the Red Cross Knight comes face to face with a hideous monster, sheathed in brazen scales and lashing a tail that sweeps over acres at a time. This monster is further provided with redoubtable iron teeth and brazen claws, and breathes forth sulphur and other deadly fumes.
Notwithstanding his opponent's advantages, Georgos boldly attacks him, only to find no weapon can pierce the metal scales. At the end of the first day's fight, the dragon withdraws, confident he will get the better of his foe on the morrow. At the close of the second day, the monster's tail whisks Georgos into a pool, whose waters fortunately prove so healing that this bath washes away every trace of weakness and restores him to health and strength. On the third day's encounter, the Red Cross Knight manages to run his sword into the dragon's mouth, and thus inflicts a deadly wound. Seeing her foe writhing at last in the agonies of death, Una joyfully emerges from her hiding-place, while the watchman on the castle tower loudly proclaims that they are free at last!
The poet vividly describes the relief of Una's parents on being able to emerge from their castle once more, and their joy on embracing the daughter who has effected their rescue. The castle inmates not only load Una with praise, but escort her and her champion back to their abode, where their marriage takes place amid general rejoicings. But, although the Red Cross Knight would fain linger by Una, he remembers his promise to serve Gloriana for six years, and sets out immediately to redress other wrongs.
BOOK II. THE LEGEND OF SIR GUYON, OR OF TEMPERANCE
The next adventure in the Faerie Queene is that of Sir Guyon,—personifying Temperance,—who is escorted everywhere by a black-garbed palmer,—Prudence or Abstinence,—at whose dictation he performs all manner of heroic deeds. Journeying together they soon meet a squire, who reports a lady has just been captured by a wicked knight, who is bearing her away. On hearing of this damsel's peril, Sir Guyon bids her squire lead them in the direction where she vanished, declaring he will save her if possible. He soon encounters a maiden with dishevelled locks and torn garments, who delays him by informing him that she has been illtreated by a knight bearing the device of a red cross. Although loath to believe Georgos can be guilty of an unchivalric deed, Sir Guyon and the palmer promise to call him to account as soon as they overtake him. They no sooner do so, however, than he assures them Archimago in his guise has been ranging through the forest, and that they must have met Duessa. Turning to punish the lying squire who led them astray, Sir Guyon now perceives he has vanished, and humbly begs pardon of the Red Cross Knight. Shortly after, Sir Guyon is startled by loud shrieks, and, hastening in the direction whence they proceed, discovers a wounded lady and a dead knight. Close beside the lady is a young babe, whose innocent hands are dabbling in his parent's blood. On questioning the woman, Sir Guyon learns that her husband has been bewitched by Acrasia,—or Pleasure,—who bore him off to the Bower of Bliss, a place where she detains her captives, feeding them on sweets until their manly courage is gone. On learning her husband had fallen into the power of this enchantress, the lady had sought the Bower of Bliss and by dint of wifely devotion had rescued her spouse. But, even as they left, the witch bestowed upon them a magic cup, in which little suspecting its evil powers, the wife offered water to her husband. No sooner had he drunk than blood gushed from his mouth and he died, whereupon, frantic at having unwittingly slain the man she loved, the lady had dealt herself a mortal wound with his sword.
Scarcely had the sufferer finished this account when she sank back lifeless, so Sir Guyon and the palmer, after burying the parents, vainly tried to remove the blood stains from the infant's hands. Then, unable to care properly for him themselves, they entrusted it to some ladies in a castle near by, bidding them call the babe Ruddy Main, or the Red Handed, and send him to court when he had grown up.
Having thus provided for the orphan, Sir Guyon, whose horse and spear meanwhile have been purloined by Braggadocchio, decides to recover possession of them, and to seek the Bower of Bliss to slay the witch Acrasia, who has caused such grievous harm. On this quest Sir Guyon and the palmer encounter the madman Furor, and then reach a stream which is too deep to ford. While they are seeking some conveyance to bear them across, they perceive a skiff rowed by a fair lady, Phaedria,—or Mirth. At their call she pushes her boat close to them, but no sooner has Sir Guyon sprung aboard than she pushes off, leaving the palmer behind in spite of all entreaties. Although impelled neither by oars nor sails, Phaedria's boat drifts rapidly over the Idle Sea, and Sir Guyon, on questioning its owner, learns they are bound for her magic realm.
They have scarcely touched the sedgy shores of a charming island, when a ruffian, Cymochles,—or Deceit,—bursts out of the thicket to claim the lady. Undaunted by the size of his challenger, Sir Guyon attacks him, and the duel might have proved fatal had not Phaedria cast herself between the champions, begging them not to quarrel in the land of love and delight. Thereupon Sir Guyon hotly informs her he has no desire to slay Deceit or to claim her, and, seeing she cannot make any impression upon him, Phaedria angrily bids him re-enter the boat, which soon bears him to the place which he wished to reach.
Although still mourning the loss of his companion, the palmer, Sir Guyon decides to continue his quest for the Bower of Bliss. While passing through a dense thicket, his attention is attracted by a clank of metal, and peering through the branches he descries an old, dirt-encrusted man, surrounded by mounds of precious stones and coins, which keep dropping through his fingers. This creature is Mammon,—God of Wealth,—who is so busy counting his treasures that at first he pays no heed to Sir Guyon. When questioned, however, he boasts he is more powerful than any potentate in the world, and tries to entice Sir Guyon to enter into his service by promising him much gold. For a moment Sir Guyon wavers, but finally decides not to accept the offer until he has ascertained whether Mammon's riches have been honestly gained. To show whence he draws them, the money-god now conveys Sir Guyon to the bowels of the earth, and there lets him view his minions mining gold, silver, and precious stones, and thus constantly increasing his hoard. But, although sorely tempted, Sir Guyon perceives that Mammon's workmen are oppressed by Care and driven by Force and Fraud, who keep them constantly at work and never allow Sleep to approach them. This discovery makes him decide to have nothing to do with Mammon's treasures, although he is led into a hall where hosts of people are paying homage to the money king's daughter, who, he is told, will be his bride if he will only accept her father's offers. Coldly rejoining that his troth is already plighted, Sir Guyon refuses, only to emerge from this hall into a garden, through whose branches he catches fleeting glimpses of the underworld. In one of its rivers he even beholds Tantalus, undergoing torments from hunger and thirst, in punishment for sins committed while on earth.
After being subjected for three days to all the temptations of the underworld, Sir Guyon is led back to the light of day, where Mammon—who bitterly terms him a fool—abandons him.
The story now returns to the palmer, who, after watching Sir Guyon out of sight, wanders along the stream in quest of a vessel to follow his master. Several days later he manages to cross, only to hear a silvery voice calling for aid. Bursting through the thicket, he discovers Sir Guyon, lying on the ground, watched over by a spirit of such transcendent beauty that the palmer realizes it must be an angel even before he notes its diaphanous wings. This ministering spirit assures the palmer that Sir Guyon will soon recover, adding that although unseen he will continue to watch over him, and will help him to escape from all the dangers along his path. Then the heavenly spirit vanishes, and, while the palmer is bending over the fainting Sir Guyon, he sees two knights draw near, preceded by a page and followed by an old man. These knights are Deceit and his brother, who have been brought hither by the old man Archimago, to slay Sir Guyon whom they hate.
Drawing near, these ruffians thrust the palmer aside, but, while they are stripping the unconscious man of his armor, another knight suddenly draws near and attacks them. One giant, being without a sword, seizes that of Sir Guyon, although Archimago warns him that as it once belonged to his antagonist, it will never harm him.
Prince Arthur, for it is he, now overcomes the ruffians, to whom he generously offers life, provided they will obey him hereafter. But, when they refuse these terms, he ruthlessly slays them, and their spirits flee shrieking "to the land of eternal night."
At this moment Sir Guyon recovers his senses, and is overjoyed to find the palmer beside him and to learn that Prince Arthur, who rescued him from the ruffians, is not far away.
After a brief rest, Prince Arthur and Sir Guyon depart together, the former explaining how anxious he is to do anything in his power for Queen Gloriana, whom he devotedly loves although he has never yet seen her. Conversing together, the two ride on to a castle, where no heed is paid to their request for a night's lodging. They are marvelling at such a discourtesy, when a head is thrust over the battlement and a hoarse voice bids them flee, explaining that the castle has been besieged for seven years past by barbarians lurking in the forest, against whom no knight has ever been able to prevail.
It is while the watchman is thus accounting for his inhospitality, that a rout of hungry barbarians bursts out of the forest and attacks Sir Guyon and Prince Arthur, both of whom fight to such good purpose that they utterly annihilate their assailants. Happy to be delivered from these foes, the inhabitants of the castle then open wide their gates. Our knights spend several days there resting from their labors, and perusing sundry books where they learn the history of all the British kings. Meantime the palmer, who has followed them thither, forges chains and a steel net, with which to capture and hold the witch Acrasia when the right time comes. When he has finished manufacturing these objects, he persuades Sir Guyon to start out once more. Reaching the water again, they board a vessel, which bears them safely past the Magnetic Rock, over the Sea of Gluttony, etc., to an island, whose beauty human imagination cannot conceive.
On landing, the travellers are surprised to encounter strange monsters, and to be enveloped in dense mists, through which they hear the flapping of bat-like wings and catch glimpses of harpy-like creatures. Knowing monsters and mists are mere delusions, Sir Guyon pays little heed to them, and the palmer soon disperses them by a touch from his magic staff. Still bearing the steel net and iron chains, this faithful henchman follows Sir Guyon into the enchanted bower of Acrasia, where he explains to his master that the animals he sees owe their present forms to the enchantress' power, for she always transforms her visitors into beasts!
Through an ivory gate,—on which is carved the story of "The Golden Fleece,"—the adventurers enter a hall, where a porter offers them wine. But Sir Guyon, knowing a drop of it would have a baleful effect upon the drinker, boldly dashes it out of his hand. Then, threading his way through the Bower of Bliss, he reaches its innermost grove, although Phaedria tries to detain him by offering him sundry pleasures. Pressing onward, Sir Guyon finally catches a glimpse of Acrasia herself, reposing upon a bed of flowers, and holding on her lap the head of an innocent youth, who is helpless owing to her spell. Silently signalling to the palmer, Sir Guyon spreads out the steel net, which they fling so deftly over witch and victim that neither can escape. Then Sir Guyon binds Acrasia fast, threatening to kill her unless she removes the spell which she has laid upon her captives. All the beasts on the island are therefore soon restored to their natural forms, and all profess gratitude, save one, whom the palmer grimly bids continue to be a pig, since such is his choice! Having thus happily achieved this quest, Sir Guyon and the palmer leave the island with Acrasia, who is sent under strong guard to the court of the Fairy Queen, where Gloriana is to dispose of her according to her good pleasure.
BOOK III. THE STORY OF BRITOMART,—CHASTITY
Britomart, only child of King Ryenee, had from earliest childhood so longed to be a boy that, instead of devoting her time to womanly occupations, she practised manly sports until she became as expert a warrior as any squire in her father's realm.
One day, while wandering in the palace, she discovered in the treasure-room a magic mirror, fashioned by Merlin for her father, wherein one could behold the secrets of the future. Gazing into its crystal depths while wondering whom she should ultimately marry, Britomart suddenly saw a handsome knight, who bore a motto proclaiming that he was Sir Artegall, the Champion of Justice and proud possessor of Achilles' armor. Scarcely had Britomart perceived this much than the vision faded. But the princess left the room, feeling that henceforth she would know no rest until she had met her destined mate. When she confided this vision to her nurse Glauce, the worthy woman suggested that they go and consult Merlin, wearing the garb of men.
Early the next day, therefore, the two visited the magician, who, piercing their disguise, declared he knew who they were, and bade them ride forth as knight and squire to meet the person they sought. Thus encouraged, Britomart, wearing an Amazon's armor and bearing a magic spear, set out on her quest, and met Prince Arthur and Sir Guyon, just after Acrasia had been dispatched to Gloriana's court and while they were in quest of new adventures.
Seeing a warrior approach, Sir Guyon immediately lowered his lance, but to his surprise was unhorsed by Britomart's invincible spear. She was about to dismount to despatch her fallen foe with her sword, when the palmer loudly bade his master crave mercy, seeing it was useless to contend against magic weapons. Hearing this, Sir Guyon surrendered, and he and Prince Arthur humbly offered to escort Britomart, whom they naturally took for a powerful knight.
They had not gone very far when they beheld at a distance a damsel dashing madly through the bushes, casting fearful glances behind her, for she was closely pursued by a grizzly forester. All their chivalric instincts aroused, Prince Arthur and his companions spurred hotly after the distressed damsel, while Britomart and her nurse calmly rode on, until they came to a castle, at whose gates one knight was desperately fighting against six. Seeing this, Britomart boldly rode to the rescue of the oppressed knight, and fought beside him to such good purpose that they defeated their assailants. Then, entering the castle, Britomart and her nurse proceeded to care for their companion, the Red Cross Knight, who had received serious wounds.
Although he had noticed in the midst of the conflict that a golden curl had escaped from Britomart's helmet and fallen over her breast, and had thus discovered her sex, he courteously ignored it until they were about to ride away together, when he respectfully offered to serve as the lady's protector and escort. Thereupon Britomart explained who she was, adding that she was in quest of Sir Artegall, of whom she spoke rather slightingly, because she did not wish her companion to know how deeply she had fallen in love with a stranger. Judging from her tone that she did not approve of Sir Artegall, the Red Cross Knight hotly protested he was the noblest and most courteous knight that had ever lived, which, of course, pleased Britomart.
Meantime, Prince Arthur and Sir Guyon, with their respective attendants, pursued the distressed damsel, riding through thick and thin until they came to cross-roads. Not knowing which path the fugitive had chosen, our heroes decided to part and ride along separate ways. Thus, it was Prince Arthur who first caught a glimpse of the fugitive, who still kept glancing backward as if afraid; but, although he spurred on as fast as possible, he was not able to overtake her, and had to pause at nightfall to rest. On resuming his quest on the morrow, he soon encountered a dwarf, who reported he was the servant of Lady Florimell, who had fled from court five days ago on hearing a rumor that her lover, Marinell, was slain. The poor damsel, while in quest of her lover, had been seen and pursued by an ill-favored forester, and the dwarf feared some harm might have befallen her. To comfort this faithful henchman, Prince Arthur promised to go with him and rescue the unhappy damsel.
Meantime, undaunted by darkness, Florimell had ridden on until her weary steed paused before a hut deep in the woods. There she dismounted and humbly begged the old witch who lived there to give her some food. Moved by the distress of the stranger, the sorceress bade her dry her garments at her fire, and while the lady was sitting there the witch's son, a lazy worthless fellow, suddenly entered. To see Florimell was to love her, so the uncouth rustic immediately began to court her with fruits and flowers which he sought in the forest. Fearing lest he should molest her finally, Florimell escaped from the hut on her palfrey, which she found in the witch's stable.
On awakening on the morrow to find their fair visitor gone, the witch and her son were in such despair that they let loose a wild beast, which they owned, bidding him track the missing girl. Before long, therefore, poor Florimell heard this monster crashing through the forest. Terrified at the thought of falling into its power, she urged her steed toward the sea-shore, in hopes of finding a boat and getting away. On reaching the water, she sprang off her steed, and, seeing a little skiff near by, stepped into it and pushed off, without securing the permission of the fisherman, who was sleeping at the bottom of the boat while his nets were drying on the sand.
Barely were they out of reach when the beast rushed down to the shore, pounced upon Florimell's horse and devoured it. The monster was still occupied thus when Sir Satyrane came riding along. He rashly concluded the beast had devoured the rider too, a fear confirmed by the sight of Florimell's girdle on the sand. Attacking the monster, Sir Satyrane overcame and bound him fast with the girdle, but he hadn't gone far, leading this reluctant captive, when he spied a giantess bearing off an armed squire. In his haste to overtake her and rescue a fellow-man, Sir Satyrane spurred forward so hastily that the girdle slipped off the neck of the beast, which, finding itself free, plunged back into the forest. To attack the giantess, free her captive, and restore him to his senses proved short work for Sir Satyrane, who learned that the youth he had delivered was known as the Squire of Dames, because he constantly rode through the forest freeing damsels in distress.
Together with this companion, Sir Satyrane journeyed on until they encountered Sir Paridell, who told them he was in quest of Florimell, who was wandering alone in the forest. Thereupon Sir Satyrane informed Sir Paridell that the maiden must be dead, exhibiting as proof her girdle and relating under what circumstances it had been found. Then all present took a solemn oath not to rest until they had avenged the lady's death. Riding together these three knights, overtaken by a storm, sought shelter in a neighboring castle, only to be refused admittance. To escape from the downpour, they therefore took refuge with their steeds in a neighboring shed, and were scarcely ensconced there when another stranger rode up seeking shelter too. As there was no room left, the first-comers forbade the stranger to enter, whereupon he challenged them to come forth and fight. Hearing this, Sir Paridell sallied out and began a duel, which was closely watched by his two companions. They, however, decided that the combatants were so exactly matched that it was useless to continue the fight, and suggested that they four join forces to make their way into the castle.
Before the determined attack of these knights and of their followers, Malbecco, owner of the castle, opened his gates, and the strangers proceeded to remove their armor and make themselves at home. While doing so all present were startled to see that one of their number was a woman, for the last-comer, Britomart, had no sooner removed her helmet than her curls fell down over her shoulders!
The next day all left the castle save Sir Paridell, who had been so sorely wounded by Britomart that he was forced to remain there for a while. Before long Britomart and her squire parted from Sir Satyrane and the Squire of Dames, and rode along until they beheld a shield hanging from a branch in the forest. Surprised by such a sight, they investigated, only to find its owner, Sir Scudamore, weeping beside a stream, because his bride, Amoret, had been stolen from him on his wedding day by the magician Busirane, who was trying to force her to marry him. Having heard this tale of woe, Britomart informed Sir Scudamore that instead of shedding vain tears they ought to devise means to rescue the captive lady. Encouraged by these words, Sir Scudamore donned his discarded armor and volunteered to guide Britomart to the magician's castle, explaining on the way that it was surrounded by a wall of fire through which none had been able to pass.
Undaunted by this information, Britomart pressed onward, and on reaching the castle declared her intention to charge through the flames. Although Sir Scudamore bravely tried to accompany her, he was driven back by the fierce heat, but Britomart passed through scatheless, and, entering the castle, found herself in a large room, whence led a door with the inscription "Be bold." After studying these words for a few moments, Britomart opened this door and passed through it into a second chamber, whose walls were lined with silver and gold, where she saw another door above which the same words were written twice. Opening this door also, Britomart entered into a third apartment, sparkling with precious stones, in the centre of which she saw an altar surmounted by a statue of Love. Further investigation revealed also the fact that it boasted another door above which was the inscription "Be bold, but not too bold."
Pondering on the meaning of this warning, Britomart decided not to open it, but to take up her vigil fully armed beside the altar. As the clock struck midnight, the mysterious door flew open, and through its portals came a strange procession of beasts and queer mortals, leading the doleful Amoret, who had a dagger thrust into her heart and stumbled along in mortal pain. Although Britomart would fain have gone to Amoret's rescue, she was rooted to the soil by a spell too powerful to break, and, therefore, remained inactive while the procession circled around the altar, and again vanished behind the door, which closed with an ominous clang. Then only the spell lost its power, and Britomart, springing toward the door, vainly tried to open it. Not being able to do so, she decided to continue mounting guard on this spot in hopes of catching another glimpse of the suffering lady. But only twenty-four hours later the door reopened and the same procession appeared; it was about to vanish a second time when Britomart, by a violent effort, broke the spell and dashed into the next apartment before the door closed.
There, finding the magician Brusirane on the point of binding Amoret fast to a post, she struck him so powerful a blow that he was obliged to recognize he was in her power. Britomart was about to slay him when Amoret reminded her he alone could heal her wound and free the other inmates of the castle from magic thraldom. At the point of her sword, therefore, Britomart compelled the magician to undo his spells, and, when he had pronounced the necessary words, Amoret stood before her as whole and as well as on her wedding-morn when snatched away from her bridegroom. Seeing this, Britomart bade Amoret follow her out of the castle, assuring her that her husband was waiting without and would be overjoyed to see her once more. But, although the rescued lady now gladly followed her deliverer, she was sorely dismayed on reaching the forest to find that Sir Scudamore and Britomart's nurse and squire had gone away, evidently deeming them both lost. To comfort poor Amoret, Britomart suggested that they ride after their companions, a proposal which Amoret gladly accepted.
BOOK IV. LEGEND OF COMBEL AND TRIAMOND, OR OF FRIENDSHIP
As Britomart conjectured, Sir Scudamore, deeming it impossible she should survive the heat of the flames which had so sorely scorched him, persuaded the nurse to ride on with him, in hopes of encountering knights who would help him rescue his bride.
They two soon met a couple of warriors, who, on hearing their tale, laughingly assured them they need make no further efforts to rescue Amoret, as she had meantime been saved by a handsome young knight, with whom she was gayly riding through the forest. Incensed by this statement, Sir Scudamore offered to fight both informers, who, laughing at him for being jilted, rode contemptuously away. These two mockers hadn't gone very far, however, before they encountered a beautiful damsel, whom they mistook for the long-lost Florimell, but who was merely an image of her conjured up by the witch to comfort her son when he blubbered over the loss of his fair lady. As many knights were in quest of Florimell, some of them soon encountered the scoffers, who declared they were leading the lady back to court. But a little while later the Squire of Dames found them contending for the possession of the false Florimell, and suggested that they settle their difference at the court of Sir Satyrane, where a tournament had been proclaimed and where Florimell's girdle was to be bestowed by the victor upon the fairest lady present. Hearing this, both knights, anxious to win the girdle, set out for the tournament, where many others had assembled to take part in the knightly games.
Here any number of feats of valor were performed before, on the third day, Sir Artegall entered the lists. To his surprise, however, he was unhorsed by a stranger knight, Britomart, who, little suspecting her opponent was the lover she sought, bore off in triumph the girdle her prowess had won. Then, summoning all the maidens present, she picked out the false Florimell as the greatest beauty and handed her the girdle. But, to the surprise of all present, the lady could not keep the girdle clasped about her waist, and, incensed at the mocking remarks of the bystanders, finally challenged the other ladies present to try it on. Thus it was ascertained that none could wear it save Amoret, evidently the only perfectly faithful lady present.
Having thus disposed of her prize, Britomart rode off with her companion, little suspecting she was turning her back on the very man she was seeking. Meantime Sir Scudamore, encountering Sir Artegall and hearing he had been defeated by the knight who had carried off Amoret, invited him to accompany him and seek revenge. They two soon met Britomart, now riding alone through the forest, for, while she was asleep one day, Amoret had strayed away and gotten lost. Spurring forward to attack the stranger, Sir Scudamore was unhorsed at the first touch of her spear, and, when Sir Artegall rushed forward to rescue him, he too was disarmed. But, in the midst of the fight, Britomart's helmet fell off, so both knights perceived they had been defeated by a woman. Humbly kneeling before her, they begged her pardon, Sir Scudamore realizing with joy that, as his wife had been travelling with a woman, his mad jealousy was without cause!
To justify her mistress, the nurse-squire now explained to both men how Britomart had seen Sir Artegall in the magic mirror, and was in quest of him because fate destined him to be her spouse. Happy at securing such a mate, Sir Artegall expressed deep joy, while Sir Scudamore clamored to know what had become of his wife, and grieved to learn she was lost. To comfort him, however, Britomart promised to help him recover his beloved, before she would consent to marry. Then all four proceeded to a neighboring castle, where Sir Artegall was solemnly betrothed to Britomart, and where they agreed their marriage would take place as soon as Amoret was found.