And some time after this Lludd caused the island to be measured in its length and breadth. And in Oxford he found the central point, and in that place he caused the earth to be dug, and in that pit a cauldron to be set, full of the best mead that could be made, and a covering of satin over the face of it. And he himself watched that night. And while he was there, he beheld the dragons fighting. And when they were weary they fell, and came down upon the top of the satin, and drew it with them to the bottom of the cauldron. And when they had drunk the mead, they slept. And in their sleep, Lludd folded the covering around them, and in the securest place he had in Snowdon, he hid them in a kistvaen. Now after that this spot was called Dinas Emreis, but before that, Dinas Ffaraon. And thus the fierce outcry ceased in his dominions.
And when this was ended, King Lludd caused an exceeding great banquet to be prepared. And when it was ready, he placed a vessel of cold water by his side and he in his own proper person watched it. And as he abode thus clad with arms, about the third watch of the night, lo! he heard many surpassing fascinations and various songs. And drowsiness urged him to sleep. Upon this, lest he should be hindered from his purpose and be overcome by sleep, he went often into the water. And at last, behold! a man of vast size, clad in strong, heavy armour, came in, bearing a hamper. And, as he was wont, he put all the food and provisions of meat and drink into the hamper and proceeded to go with it forth. And nothing was ever more wonderful to Lludd than that the hamper should hold so much.
And thereupon King Lludd went after him and spoke unto him thus: "Stop, stop," said he; "though thou hast done many insults and much spoil erewhile, thou shalt not do so any more unless thy skill in arms and thy prowess be greater than mine."
Then he instantly put down the hamper on the floor, and awaited him. And a fierce encounter was between them, so that the glittering fire flew out from their arms. And at the last Lludd grappled with him, and fate bestowed the victory on Lludd. And he threw the plague to the earth. And after he had overcome him by strength and might, he besought his mercy. "How can I grant thee mercy," said the king, "after all the many injuries and wrongs thou hast done me?" "All the losses that ever I have caused thee," said he, "I will make thee atonement for, equal to what I have taken. And I will never do the like from this time forth. But thy faithful vassal will I be." And the king accepted this from him.
And thus Lludd freed the island of Britain from the three plagues. And from thenceforth until the end of his life, in prosperous peace did Lludd the son of Beli rule the island of Britain. And this tale is called the Story of Lludd and Llevelys. And thus it ends.
TALES FROM EARLY ENGLISH CHRONICLES
King Horn, in the version here given, is a fine old English story, evidently very popular with the common people. Earlier versions were probably familiar to the Norse in the tenth century, at which time Dublin was the capital of a Norse kingdom. Suddenne was possibly the Isle of Man.
There seems to be some historical basis for the story of Havelok, since the seal of the city of Grimsby today represents Grim with "Habloc," or Havelok, on his right hand, and Goldborough on his left.
The Fair Unknown is one of the King Arthur stories that is not included in Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur.
THE ADVENTURES OF KING HORN
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
Murray was King of Suddenne in the west country, a wise king whom all his subjects honoured. Godhild was his queen, and no woman of that day was lovelier than she. Their son was named Horn; and when Horn was fifteen years old, the sun shone and the rain fell on no fairer boy.
Twelve squires, each one the son of a man of noble birth, were chosen to be Horn's companions. Athulf was the best and truest of them, and dearest to Horn's heart; and one Fikenhild was the basest among them.
It pleased King Murry, on a certain summer's day, to ride, as was his wont, by the seashore, with only two comrades. Suddenly, as they rode, they came upon a strange sight. There before them on the edge of the waves lay fifteen ships beached, full of fierce Saracens; and many other Saracens went busily to and fro upon the shore. "What seek you here, pagan men?" cried Murry at that sight. "What wares do you bring to this my land of Suddenne?" For he thought them to be merchants from a far land,
"We are come to slay all your folk who believe in Christ," answered one of them; "and that we do right soon. As for you, you go not hence alive. "Thereat Murry was sorely troubled in heart. Nevertheless, he made no sign of fear. He and his two companions, with bold mien, leapt down from their horses, to fight more readily, and drew their swords, and fell upon the pagans. Many a stout blow they dealt; many a Saracen felt the strength of their arms: but for all their might and valour, they were but three against a host. From every side the enemy fell upon them unceasingly, and in a little time they lay there dead upon the sand. Then the Saracens left their ships and spread over the whole of Suddenne, slaying and burning and laying waste wheresoever they came. None might live, were he stranger or friend or native of the land, unless he forswore the Christian faith and became a pagan.
Of all women in those days Godhild the queen was saddest. Her kingdom was lost, her husband cruelly slain, and all her days were filled with grief. But worse befell her, for on a certain day the Saracens came suddenly and took Horn prisoner and carried him away. Godhild escaped, and in her dire distress fled alone to a distant cave, and there lay hid, worshipping her God in secret, and praying that He would save her son from harm.
Horn and his companions—for all his twelve squires had been captured with him—seemed in sorry case. The savage pagans were for killing all Christians. But their chief Emir wished to have no innocent blood on his hands, and spoke out boldly. "We might well slay you, Horn," he said; "you are young and fair and strong, and will grow yet stronger. Perchance, if we spare you now, you will some day return and be avenged upon us, when you have come to your full power. Yet we ourselves will not put you to death; the guilt shall not be on us, but on the sea. To the sea will we give you and your comrades; the sea shall be your judge, to save or drown you as it will."
Weeping and wringing their hands, Horn and his comrades were led down to the seashore. There a boat was made ready for them, with oars, but no rudder or sail.
All their tears were vain: the Saracens forced them aboard, and turned the little craft adrift into the wide ocean.
The boat drove fast and far through the water, and fear came down upon those in it. Soon they were tossing haphazard upon the rushing waves, now resting forlornly, now praying for help, now rowing wildly, as if for their lives, if ever the violence of the sea abated for a moment. All that afternoon, and through the long, dark night, they voyaged in cold and terror, till in the morning, as the day dawned, Horn looked up and saw land at a little distance. "Friends," said he, "I have good tidings. Yonder I spy land; I hear the song of birds, and see grass growing. Be merry once more; our ship has come into safety."
They took their oars and rowed lustily. Soon the keel touched the shore, and they sprang out eagerly on to dry land, leaving the boat empty. The waves drew the little craft gently back to themselves, and it began to glide away into the great sea. "Go now from us, dear boat," cried Horn lovingly to it, as he saw it drawn away; "farewell, sail softly, and may no wave do you harm."
The boat floated slowly away, and Horn wept sorely at parting from it. Then they all turned their faces inland, and left the sea behind them, and set forth to seek whatsoever fortune might bring them.
HORN IS DUBBED KNIGHT
Retold by F.J.H. Darton
The country to which Horn and his comrades had come was called Westerness: Aylmer the Good was king of it. But of that the wanderers knew nought as yet.
They journeyed far over hill and dale, ignorant of the way, and seeing no living man, until, as the day drew to an end? there met them Aylmer the king himself. "Whence do you come, friends?" asked he. "Who are you that are so fair and straight of body?"
Horn spoke up for them all, for he was wisest and most skilled in the use of courteous words. "We are from Suddenne, sire, of good lineage and Christian faith. The pagans came to our land, and slew my father and many others, and drove us from our homes. We thirteen whom you see were set adrift in a boat, to be the sport of the sea; a day and a night have we travelled without sail or rudder, and our boat brought us to this land. We are in your hands, sire: slay us, or keep us bound as prisoners; do with us as you will."
The good king was no ungentle boor: he spoke them fair and graciously. "Tell me, child," he said, "what is your name? No harm shall come to you at my hands, whosoever you he."
"Horn am I called, sire."
"Horn, child, you are well and truly named: your fame shall ring like a horn over dale and hill. Now, Horn, come with me. You and your comrades shall abide at my court."
They set out for the king's palace. When they were come thither, Aylmer entrusted them to his steward, Athelbrus, whom he charged to bring them up in knightly ways. They were added to Aylmer's household, and taught all that squires of kings should know. But Horn was to come to greater things than this. He learnt quickly, and became beloved by every one; and most of all, Rimenhild, the king's daughter, loved him from the day when she first set eyes on him. Her love for him grew daily stronger and stronger, though she dared speak no word of it to him, for she was a princess, and he only a squire rescued by chance from the sea.
At length Rimenhild could hide her love no longer.
She sent for Athelbrus the steward, and bade him bring Horn to her bower. But he, guessing her secret from her wild looks, was unwilling to send Horn to her, fearing the king's displeasure; and he bade Athulf, Horn's dearest companion, go to the princess instead, hoping either that the princess would not know him from Horn (for she had as yet spoken to neither of them, and they were much alike in face and mien), or that by this plan she would see the folly of her desire.
Athulf came to Rimenhild's bower, and she did not know that he was not Horn, and received him lovingly. But soon the trick was made plain, for Athulf, as beseems a loyal heart, could not hear himself praised above all other squires at Aylmer's court, and vowed that Horn was far fairer and better than he. Then Rimenhild in a rage sent him from her, and bade Athelbrus bring Horn to her without more ado. And thus at last Horn came before the princess.
"King's daughter," said he with reverence and courtesy, "Athelbrus, the steward, bade me come to you here. Say what you would have me do."
Rimenhild rose, answering nothing till she had taken him by the hand, and made him sit by her, and embraced him lovingly. "Welcome, Horn," she said; "you are so fair that I cannot but love you. Take me to wife; have pity on my love."
Horn knew not what to say. "Princess," he began at last, "I am too lowly for such a wife as you. I am but a thrall [Footnote: A slave or bondsman.] and a foundling, and owe all that I have to the king your sire. There is no meet wedding between a thrall and the king's daughter." At those words Rimenhild fell into a swoon; and Horn was filled with pity and love at the sight, and took her in his arms, and kissed her.
"Dear lady," he said, "be brave. Help me to win knighthood at the hands of my lord the king; if I be dubbed knight my thraldom is ended, and I am free to love you, as I do in my heart already." For Horn had long loved the princess secretly, but dared not hope that she would give him her love in turn.
Rimenhild came to her senses as he spoke. "Horn," she said, "it shall be as you wish. Ere fourteen days have passed you shall be made a knight."
Thereupon she sent for Athelbrus again, and bade him pray the king Aylmer to dub Horn a knight; and, to be brief, Horn was speedily knighted, and, asking the king's leave, himself knighted in turn his twelve companions.
As soon as he was knighted, Rimenhild called him to her; and Athulf, his dear comrade, went with him into her presence. "Sir Horn, my knight," she said, "sit by me here. See, it is time to fulfil your word. Take me for your wife."
"Nay, Rimenhild," answered Horn; "that may not be yet. It is not enough that I am knighted. I must prove my knighthood, as all men do, in combat with some other knight. I must do a deed of prowess in the field for love of you: then if I win through with my life, I will return and take you to wife."
"Be it so, Horn. Now take from me this carven ring of gold. On it is wrought: 'Be true to Rimenhild.' Wear it always on your finger, for my love's sake. The stone in it has such grace that never need you fear any wound nor shrink from any combat, if you do but wear this ring, and look steadfastly upon it, and think of me. And you, Athulf, you too, when you have proven your knighthood, shall have such another ring also. Sir Horn, may Heaven bless and keep you, and bring you safe to me again."
With that Horn kissed her, and received her blessing, and went away to prove his knighthood in brave feats of arms.
HORN THE KNIGHT ERRANT
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
When Horn had saddled his great black horse, and put on his armour, he rode forth to adventure, singing gaily. Scarce had he gone a mile when he spied by the seashore a ship, beached, and filled with heathen Saracens. "What do you bring hither?" asked Horn. "Whence do you come?" The pagans saw that he was but one man, and they were many, and answered boldly, "We are come to win this land, and slay all its folk."
At that Horn gripped his sword, and his blood ran hot. He sprang upon the Saracen chief and smote him with all his strength, so that he cleft the man's head from off his shoulders. Then he looked at the ring which Rimenhild had given him; and immediately such might came upon him that in a trice he slew full five score of the pagans. They fled in terror before him, and few of those whom he did not slay at the first onset escaped.
Horn set the head of the Saracen leader on the point of his sword, and rode back to Aylmer's court. When he had come to the king's palace, he went into the great hall, where the king and all his knights sat. "King Aylmer," he cried, "and you, his knights, hear me. To-day, after I was dubbed knight, I rode forth and found a ship by the shore, filled with outlandish knaves, fierce Saracens, who were for slaying you all. I set upon them; my sword failed not, and I smote them to the ground. Lo, here is the head of their chief."
Men marvelled at Horn's prowess, and the king gave him words of praise. But not yet did Horn dare speak of his love for Rimenhild. On the morrow, at dawn, King Aylmer went a-hunting in the forest, and Horn's twelve companions rode with him. But Horn himself did not go to the chase; he sought instead to tell his lady Rimenhild of his deeds, and went to her bower secretly, thinking to hear her joy in the feats he had done. But he found her weeping bitterly. "Dear love," he said, "why do you weep?"
"Alas, Horn, I have had an evil dream," she answered. "I dreamed that I went fishing, and saw my net burst. A great fish was taken in it, and I thought to have drawn him out safely; but he broke from my hands, and rent the meshes of the net. It is in my mind that this dream is of ill omen for us, Horn, and that the great fish signifies you yourself, whereby I know that I am to lose you."
"Heaven keep this ill hap from us, dear princess," said Horn. "Nought shall harm you, I vow; I take you for my own for ever, and plight my troth to you here and now." But though he seemed to be of good cheer, he too was stirred by this strange dream, and had evil forebodings.
Meanwhile Fikenhild, riding with King Aylmer by the river Stour, was filled with envy of Horn's great deeds against the Saracens; and at last he said to the king, "King Aylmer, hear me. This Horn, whom you knighted yesterday for his valour in slaying the Saracens, would fain undo you. I have heard him plotting to kill you and take Rimenhild to wife. Even now, as we ride here by the river, he is in her bower—he, Horn, the foundling, is with your daughter, the Princess Rimenhild. Go now, and take him, and drive him out of your land for his presumption." For Fikenhild had set a watch on Horn, and found out the secret of his love for Rimenhild.
Thereupon King Aylmer turned his horse, and rode home again, and found Horn with Rimenhild, even as Fikenhild had said. "Get you hence, Horn," he cried in anger, "you base foundling; forth out of my daughter's bower, away with you altogether! See that you leave this land of Westerness right speedily; here is no place nor work for you. If you flee not soon, your life is forfeit."
Horn, flushed with rage, went to the stable, and set saddle on his steed, and took his arms; so fierce was his mien that none dared withstand him. When all was ready for his going, he sought out Rimenhild. "Your dream was true, dear love," he said. "The fish has torn your net, and I go from you. But I will put a new ending to the dream; fear not. Now fare you well; the king your father has cast me out of his realm, and I must needs seek adventure in other lands. Seven years will I wander, and it may be that I shall win such fortune as shall bring me back to sue honourably for you. But if at the end of seven years I have not come again to Westerness, nor sent word to you, then do you, if you so will, take another man for husband in my stead, and put me out of your heart. Now for the last time hold me in your arms and kiss me good-bye."
So Horn took his leave. But before he went away from Aylmer's court, he charged Athulf his friend to watch over Rimenhild and guard her from harm. Then he set forth on his horse, and rode down to the sea, and took ship to sail away alone from Westerness.
HORN IN EXILE
Retold by F. J. H. Barton
Ere Horn had sailed long, the wind rose, and the ship drove blindly before it for many leagues, till at length it was cast up on land. Horn stepped out on to the beach, and there before him saw two princes, whose names (for they greeted him kindly) were Harild and Berild.
"Whence are you?" they asked, when they had told him who they were. "What are you called?"
Horn thought it wise to hide his real name from them, lest it should come to Aylmer's ears, and his anger reach Horn even in this distant land. "I am called Cuthbert," he answered, "and I am come far from the west in this little ship, seeking adventure and honour."
"Well met, sir knight," said Harild. "Come now to our father the king: you shall do knightly deeds in his service." They led him to King Thurston their father; and when Thurston saw that Horn was a man of might, skilled in arms, and a true knight, he took him into his service readily. So Horn—or Cuthbert, as they knew him—abode at Thurston's court, and served the king in battle. But no great and notable thing befell him until the coming of Christmas.
It was King Thurston's custom to make each Christmas a great feast, lasting many days. To this feast Horn was bidden, with all the other knights of the court. Great mirth and joy was there that Yule-tide; all men feasted with light hearts. Suddenly, about noon-day, the great doors of the king's hall were flung open, and a monstrous giant strode in. He was fully armed, in pagan raiment, and his mien was proud and terrible.
"Sit still, sir king," he roared, as Thurston turned to him. "Hearken to my tidings. I am come hither with a Saracen host, and my comrades are close at hand. From them I bring a challenge; and this is the challenge. One of us alone will fight any three of your knights, in a certain place. If your three slay our one, then we will depart and leave you and your land unscathed. But if our one champion slays your three, then will we take your land for our own, and deal with it and you as it pleases us. To-morrow at dawn we will make ready for the combat; and if you take not up this challenge, and send your appointed knights to battle, then will we burn and lay waste and slay all over this realm." Thereupon he turned, and stalked out of the hall, saying never another word. "This is a sorry hap," said King Thurston, when the Saracen had gone and left them all aghast. "Yet must we take up this challenge. Cuthbert," he said, turning to Horn, "you have heard this pagan boast; will you be one of our three champions? Harild and Berild, my sons, shall be the other two, and may God prosper all three! But alas! it is of little avail. We are all dead men!"
But Horn felt no fear. He started up from the board when he heard the king's sorrowful words. "Sir king," he cried, "this is all amiss. It is not to our honour that three Christian knights should fight this one pagan. I alone will lay the giant low, with my own sword, unaided."
Thurston hoped little of this plan, but none the less he agreed to it; and when the next day came, he arose betimes, and with his own hands helped to arm Horn; and having made ready, he rode down to the field of battle with him. There, in a great open space, stood the Saracen giant awaiting them, his friends standing by him to abide the issue of the combat. They made little tarrying, but fell to right soon. Horn dealt mightily with the giant; he attacked him at once, and showered blows upon him, so that the pagan was hard pressed, and begged for a breathing space.
"Let us rest awhile, sir knight," he said. "Never suffered I such blows from any man's hand yet, except from King Murry, whom I slew in Suddenne."
At that dear name Horn's blood ran hot within him: before him he saw the man who had slain his father and had driven himself from his kingdom. He fell to more furiously than ever, and drove hard at the giant beneath the shield; and as he smote he cast his eye upon the ring Rimenhild had given him.
Therewith his strength was redoubled; so straight and strong was the blow, so true his arm, that he pierced the giant to the heart, and he fell dead upon the ground.
When they saw their champion slain, the Saracens were stricken with panic. They turned and fled headlong to their ships, Thurston and his knights pursuing. A great battle was fought by the ships: Harild and Berild were slain, but Horn did such deeds of prowess that every pagan was killed.
There was great lamentation over the two princes. Their bodies were brought to the king's palace and laid in state, and lastly buried in a great church built for them.
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
There was now no heir to Thurston's kingdom, since Harild and Berild were slain; and in a little time, when the king's grief abated, he bethought him of what should befall his people when his time came to die.
"Cuthbert," he said to Horn one day, when he had pondered long over these things, "there is no heir to my kingdom. There is but my daughter Reynild to come after me. Will you wed her, and he king and rule this land after my death?"
Horn was sorely tempted. But he looked on his ring, and remembered Rimenhild. "Sir king," he answered, "you do me great honour, and I give you thanks. But I am under a vow, and cannot wed the lady Reynild." He would say no more, but was firm in his purpose; and King Thurston had to be content with his loyal service only. For seven years Horn abode at Thurston's court, serving in arms under him and winning great fame by his knightly deeds. No word did he send to Rimenhild, nor received tidings of any kind from Westerness.
About the end of the seventh year Horn chanced to be riding in the forest, when he met a page journeying as if towards Thurston's palace. "What do you here?" he said. "Whither do you go?"
"Sir," answered the page, "I have a message for one Sir Horn from Sir Athulf in Westerness, where Aylmer is king. The Lady Rimenhild is to be wedded on Sunday to King Modi of Reynes, and I am sent to bring tidings thereof to Sir Horn. But I can find him nowhere, nor hear even so much as his name, though I have wandered far and wide."
At this heavy news Horn hid his name no longer. He told the page who he was, and bade him go back with all speed, and say to Rimenhild that she need no longer mourn: her lover would save her ere Sunday came.
The page returned blithely with this message. But he never delivered it, for as he went back he was by chance drowned; and Rimenhild, hearing no word of Horn, despaired. Athulf, too, watching long for Horn each day on a tower of Aylmer's palace, gave up hope.
But Horn was not idle or forgetful. When he had despatched the page, as he thought, safely back to Athulf and Rimenhild, he went straight to King Thurston, and without more pretence told him his true name and all the story of the adventures.
"Sire," he said, at the end, "I have served you well. Grant me reward for my service, and help me to win Rimenhild. See, you offered me the hand of your daughter Reynild; that I might not accept, for I was pledged already; but perchance my comrade Athulf might be deemed an honourable suitor. If you will but help me, Athulf shall be Reynild's husband; that I vow. Sire, give me your aid."
"Be it so," said Thurston, loath to lose Horn, but glad to hear of a knight waiting to wed the lady Reynild. Straightway a levy of knights was made, and Horn set forth in a ship with a brave body of fighting men. The wind blew favourably, and ere long they came to Westerness. Even as they touched the shore, the bells ceased ringing for the marriage of Rimenhild to King Modi.
Horn saw how late they had arrived, and that he must needs act warily, if he would save Rimenhild in the midst of the rejoicings over her wedding. He left his men on board ship, and landed alone, setting out to walk to the palace, where the wedding-feast was about to be held. As he walked thus, he met a palmer [Footnote: A pilgrim], clad in pilgrim's weeds. "Whither go you, sir palmer?" he asked.
"I have just come from a wedding," he answered, "from the wedding of Rimenhild, the king's daughter; and sad and sorrowful she seemed to be, in truth, on this wedding day."
"Now Heaven help me, palmer, but I will change clothes with you. Take you my robe, and give me your long cloak. To-day I will drink at that wedding feast, and some shall rue the hour that I sit at the board with them."
Without more ado he changed clothes with the palmer, taking also his staff and scrip, and staining his face till it was like that of a toil-worn traveller. Then he set out for the palace once more.
He came soon to the gates, where a porter strove to bar his entrance. But Horn broke in the wicket-gate, and entered, and threw the man over the drawbridge, so that his ribs were broken. None other stood in Horn's way, and he went into the great hall, and took his place in a lowly seat among the beggars and poor men.
As he looked about him, he saw, at a little distance, Rimenhild, weeping and lamenting sorely. Athulf he did not see, for he was still keeping watch in the tower for Horn's return. Before long Rimenhild rose from her seat and began to minister to the guests, according to custom, pouring them out wine and ale in horn beakers. When she came low down among the guests, Horn spoke to her.
"Fair queen," he said, "serve us also; we beggars are athirst."
She laid down the vessel she bore, and took a great gallon cup, and filled it with brown ale, and offered it him, thinking him a glutton. "Take this cup," she said, "and drink your fill. Never saw I so forward a beggar."
"I will not drink your ale, lady," answered Horn, for he was minded to let her know who he was, and yet to hide himself from all others at the feast. "Give me wine; I am no beggar. I am a fisherman, come hither to search my nets, and see what I have caught. Pledge me now yourself and drink to Horn of horn."
Thus by his strange words he thought to recall to her that dream she had formerly dreamed, of a great fish that escaped from her net.
Rimenhild looked on him, and hope and fear sprang up in her heart together. She knew not what his saying about his nets and "Horn of horn" might mean. With a steadfast look, she took her drinking-horn, and filled it with wine, and gave it to Horn.
"Drink your fill, friend," she said, "and tell me if you have seen aught of this Horn of whom you seem to speak."
Horn drained the beaker, and as he put it down dropped into it the ring that Rimenhild had given him so long ago. When Rimenhild saw the ring she knew it at once. She made an excuse, and left the feast, and went to her bower. In a little time she sent for the palmer secretly, and asked him where he got the ring.
"Queen," said Horn, "in my travels I met one named Horn. He gave me this ring to bring to you; it was on shipboard I met him, and he lay dying."
He said this to prove if her love were still constant to him. But Rimenhild believed him, and when she heard him say that Horn was dead, became as one mad with grief. Then Horn, seeing how strong was her love, threw off his palmer's cloak, and showed her the false stain on his face, and told her that he was in very truth Horn, her lover.
When their first joy at meeting again was over, Horn told the princess of the men he had brought with him in his ship. Secretly they sent for Athulf, and when he too had learnt all Horn's tidings, a message was sent to the men in the ship, who came to the palace speedily, and were admitted by a private door. Then all the company of them broke suddenly into the banquet-hall, and fell upon those there, and slew many; but Modi and Fikenhild escaped and fled from Westerness.
THE KING OF SUDDENNE
Retold by F. J. H. Barton
When they had made an end of slaying, Horn revealed himself to Aylmer, and reproached him for giving his daughter in marriage to Modi, whom she did not love; and Aylmer, when he heard of Horn's deeds—for the fame which Horn had won under the name of Cuthbert had gone into many lands—could not but feel sorrow that he had sent Horn away in anger seven years ago; and he begged Horn to stay at his court and wed Rimenhild, for the marriage with Modi was not fully complete when Horn and his men broke up the feast.
"Nay, I am of royal blood," answered Horn. "You thought me a foundling and despised me. For that insult you formerly put upon me, I vow I will not take Rimenhild for my wife until I have won my kingdom of Suddenne back from the Saracens, and avenged my father King Murry, whom they slew. I am a king's son; I will be a king before my wife shall come to me."
Aylmer could not gainsay Horn in his purpose, and once more Horn set out on his wanderings. With him went Sir Athulf and a band of brave knights. They took ship and for five days sailed the sea with a favouring wind, till at last, late at night on the fifth day, they came to the shores of Suddenne.
Horn and Athulf landed, to spy out the country. A little way inland they came upon an old knight sleeping by the wayside; on his shield was the device of a cross. Horn woke him gently. "Tell me, sir knight, who are you?" he asked. "Your shield shows that you are a Christian; but this land is ruled by pagans."
"I am a Christian, truly," said the old knight. "But I serve the pagans perforce. They hold the power, and I must needs fight for them, against my will. This land is in a sorry case. If King Murry's son, Horn, were here, perchance we might drive the pagans out. But I know not where to find him, nor where my own son is; for Athulf, my son, was Horn's dearest companion."
Such changes had the long absence wrought in Horn and Athulf and the old knight that they did not recognise one another. But at these words Horn and Athulf knew for certain that they were indeed in Suddenne. They told the old knight who they were, and learnt that Horn's mother, the Queen Godhild, was still alive, and many knights in the land besides, desirous of driving the Saracens out, but unable to fulfil their desire through lack of a leader and of men.
Horn forthwith summoned his men from the ships, and blew his trumpet for battle, and attacked the Saracens. There was a great fight, but before long the heathen were defeated, and those who were not slain were driven altogether out of the land.
Thus Horn came into his kingdom again; but he had yet to punish Fikenhild the traitor, who first separated him from Rimenhild (for this Aylmer had told him), and King Modi, who had sought to wed her against her will.
Fikenhild, when Horn came back to Westerness in time to save Rimenhild from Modi, had fled; but he still plotted deep treachery in his heart. By bribes and favours he won many knights to follow him; and he built himself a great castle of stone, set on a rock, surrounded on all sides with water, so that none could come at it easily. Then by stealth one night he carried off Rimenhild, and married her in this castle, holding a great feast at sunrise to celebrate the marriage.
Horn knew nought of this by word of mouth or letter. But in a dream he beheld Rimenhild: she seemed to him as though shipwrecked, calling upon his name; but when she tried to swim to him, Fikenhild appeared and prevented her.
When he awoke, Horn told Athulf this vision; and when they had thought upon the lore of dreams, they agreed that it meant that Rimenhild was in Fikenhild's sea-girt castle, the fame of which was known to all men. Straightway they took a ship and sailed to the land hard by where the castle lay.
There a certain knight named Arnoldin, cousin of Athulf, met them, and told them that Fikenhild had just wedded Rimenhild, arid the wedding-feast was now beginning.
They could not come nigh the castle openly as enemies, for none could approach it across the water unless those within were willing to let him enter. But Horn and some of his knights disguised themselves as harpers, hiding their swords under long cloaks.
They took a boat and rowed under the walls of the banqueting-hall, and there they played and sang merrily, till Fikenhild heard them, and called them in to the feast.
When they had come into the hall, they began to sing again, at Fikenhild's bidding. But soon Horn looked once more upon his ring, and then, with a shout, he and his companions fell upon Fikenhild and his men and slew every one of them.
The tale is soon told. Horn made Arnoldin king in Fikenhild's castle. Athulf he sent to Thurston's court, where in a little time he married the princess Reynild; and Horn went back to his kingdom of Suddenne, and there made Rimenhild his queen. Long and happily they reigned in true love and in fear of God.
HAVELOK HID FROM THE TRAITOR
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
In former days there was a King of England called Athelwold; the very flower of England was he, and he ruled justly and well. All things in his realm he ordered strictly, and maintained truth and right throughout the land. Under his rule robbers and traitors were put down; men bought and sold freely, without fear, and wrongdoers were so hard pressed that they could but lurk and creep in secret corners. Athelwold set up justice in his kingdom. There was mercy for the fatherless in his day; his judgments could not be turned aside by bribes of silver and gold. If any man did evil, the king's arm reached him to punish him, were he never so wary and strong.
This Athelwold had no heir, save only one daughter, very fair to look upon, named Goldborough. But ere she grew up, the king fell ill of a dire sickness. He knew well that his time was come, and that death was nigh him. "What shall I do now?" he said in his heart. "How shall my daughter fare when I am dead? My heart is troubled for her: I think nought of myself. She cannot yet speak or walk: if she were of age to ride, she could rule England, and I would care nothing about dying."
But it was idle to lament. The king was sure in his mind that he must die, and he sent messengers to all his vassals, to his earls, and his barons, rich and poor, from Roxburgh to Dover, bidding them come to him speedily where he lay sick.
All those who heard his message were sad at the tidings, and prayed that he might be delivered from death. They came with all speed to the king at Winchester.
"Welcome," said he, when they entered the hall of his dwelling. "Full glad am I that you are come. You see in what sorry case I lie. I have bidden you here that you may know that my daughter shall be your lady when I, your lord, am dead. But she is yet a child, and I am fain to make some true man her guardian till she be a woman grown: I will that Godrich, Earl of Cornwall, do guard her and bring her up. He is a true man, wise in counsel and wise in deed, and men have him in awe."
They brought a holy book to the king. On it he made Earl Godrich swear a solemn oath to keep Goldborough well and truly, till she was of age to rule and to order the realm of England wisely. Then the little maid was given to the earl, her new guardian. Athelwold thanked the earl, and bade him to be true to his charge; and in a little while death took the good king.
When King Athelwold was dead, Godrich ruled England. In every castle he set some knight of his own, whom he could trust: all the English folk he caused to take an oath to be faithful to him; and in a little while Athelwold's realm was altogether in his power.
In the meantime Goldborough was kept at Winchester, and brought up as befitted a king's daughter. Every day she seemed to grow in wisdom and fairness, till when she was twenty years old there was none like her in the land. But Godrich, when he saw how good and how fair she was, grew jealous of her. "Shall she be queen over me?" he thought. "Must I give up my kingdom and my power to her? She has waxed all too proud; I have treated her with too great gentleness. She shall not be queen. I will rule, and after me my son shall be king."
As that treason crept into his mind, he forgot his oath to Athelwold, caring not a straw for it. Without more ado he sent for Goldborough from Winchester and took her to Dover. There he set her in a strong castle, and clad her meanly, and guarded her so strictly that no man could see her or come at her without his leave.
Now it chanced that about this time the same thing came to pass in Denmark as in England. Birkabeyn, King of Denmark, died, and at his death gave to one Earl Godard the charge of his kingdom and of his son Havelok and his two daughters, Swanborough and Elfled. Godard stood by his oath no better than Godrich, but cast all three children into prison, and well-nigh starved them to death. But when they had lain in prison for a little time, and were nearly dead of hunger, he went to see them.
"How do you fare?" he asked, for Havelok ran to him, and crept upon his knees when he sat down, and looked up joyfully into his face. "I hear that you moan and cry: why is this?"
"We hunger sore," answered Havelok. "We have nought to eat, and no man has brought us meat or drink. We are nigh dead of hunger."
Godard heard his words, but felt no pity; he cared not a straw for their misery. He took Swanborough and Elfled by the hand, and slew them then and there. Then he turned to Havelok and would have slain him also. But the boy in terror cried for mercy. "Have pity," he said. "Spare me and I will give you all Denmark, and will vow never to take up arms against you. Let me live, and I will flee from Denmark this very day, and never more come back; I will take oath that Birkabeyn was not my father."
At that some touch of doubt came into Godard's mind. He put up his knife, and looked at Havelok. "If I let him go alive," he thought, "he might work me much woe. He shall die, but not now; I will cast him in the sea and drown him."
He went thence, and sent for a fisherman named Grim. "Grim," he said, "you are my thrall; do my will and to-morrow I will give you your freedom. Take the boy Havelok at night to the sea and cast him therein."
Grim took the boy, and bound him with strong cords, and bore him on his back to his cottage, and showed him to his wife Leve. "You see this boy, wife," said he. "I am to drown him in the sea; when I have done it, I shall be made a free man, and much gold will be ours; so has our Lord Godard promised."
When Dame Leve heard that, she started up, and threw Havelok down so roughly that he hurt his head on a great stone that lay on the ground. "Alas that ever I was a king's son!" he moaned in his pain; and he lay there where he fell till night-time.
When night fell Grim made ready for his task. "Rise up, wife, blow the fire," said he. "Light a candle. I must keep my word to my lord."
Leve rose to tend the fire. Her eyes fell on Havelok, who still lay on the ground. Round him, she marvelled to see, shone a bright light, and out of his mouth proceeded light as it were a sunbeam.
"What is that light?" quoth Dame Leve. "Grim, look what it means; what is this light?"
Grim went to Havelok, and unbound him. He rolled back the shirt from the boy's shoulder. There he saw, bright and clear, a king's birthmark.
"Heaven help us," said Grim, "this is the heir to Denmark, who should be king and lord of us all. He will work Godard great harm." Then he fell on his knees before Havelok. "Lord king," he said, "have mercy on me and on Leve here. We are both yours, lord, both your servants. We will keep you and nurture you till you can ride and bear shield and spear; Godard shall know nought of it. Some day I will take my freedom at your hands, not at his."
Then was Havelok blithe and glad. He sat up and asked for bread. "I am well-nigh dead," he said, "with hunger and hardship."
They fed him and cared for him, and lastly put him to bed; and he slept soundly. On the morrow Grim went to the traitor Godard. "I have done your will on the boy, lord," he said. "He is drowned in the sea. Now I pray you give me gold for a reward, and grant me my freedom, as you vowed."
Godard looked at him, fierce and cruel of mien. "Will you not rather be made an earl, proud knave?" he asked. "Go home, fool; go, and be evermore a thrall and churl, [Footnote: An Ignorant laborer of the lowest rank.] as you have ever been; no other reward shall be yours. For very little I would lead you to the gallows for your wicked deed."
Grim went away. "What shall I do?" he thought as he hurried home. "He will assuredly hang me on the gallows-tree. It were better to flee out of the land altogether."
He came home and told Leve all; and they took counsel together. Soon Grim sold all his possessions. Only his boat he kept; and that he made ready for a voyage, till there was not so much as a nail wanting to make it better. Then he took on board his wife and his three sons, Robert the Red, William Wendat, and Hugh Raven, and his two fair daughters, Gunnild and Levive, and Havelok; and they set sail.
The wind blew fair behind them, and drove them out to sea. Long did they sail, and came at last to England, to Lindsey at the mouth of the Humber. They landed safely; and before long Grim began to make a little house of clay and turf for them to dwell in. He named the place after himself, Grimsby; and so men call it now, and shall call it forever, from now even to doomsday.
HAVELOK MARRIED AGAINST HIS WILL
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
Grim was a skilful fisherman, and caught many good fish. Great baskets did he make, and others his sons made; and they carried the fish inland in these baskets, and sold them. All over the country did Grim go with his fish, and came home always with store of bread, or corn, or beans, against their need. Much he sold in the fair town of Lincoln, and counted many a coin after his sales there.
Thus Grim fared for many winters; and Havelok worked with the rest, thinking it no shame to toil like any thrall, though he was a king's son born.
There came at last a year of great dearth. Corn was so scarce that all men were in poverty, and Grim did not know how to feed all his family. For Havelok he had great dread, for he was strong and lusty, and would eat more than he could earn. And soon the fish in the sea also began to fail them, so that they were in sore straits. But Grim cared more for Havelok than for all his own family; all his thoughts ran on Havelok.
"Dear son Havelok," he said at last, "we shall die of hunger anon; all our food is gone. It is better for you to go hence, and strive for yourself only, and not try to help us here. You are stout and strong; go to Lincoln; there is many a man of substance there, who might take you in service. It were better for you to serve there than to see us starve here and to starve along with us. Would that I could clothe you fitly! Alas I am too poor. Yet for your sake I will cut up the sail of my boat and make you a cloak of it to cover your rags."
He took the sail from his boat, and cut it up rudely into a cloak for Havelok. Then Havelok bade him God-speed, and set out, and came in time to the city of Lincoln.
He had no friend in Lincoln, and knew no man. For two days he went to and fro, fasting; no man had work or food for him. But on the third day he heard a cry, "Porters, porters, hither quickly!" He sprang forward like a spark from coal, and thrust aside all who stood in his path; sixteen stout lads did he knock down, and came to where fish was being laden into carts for Earl Godrich of Cornwall. There stood the earl's cook, calling for men to load the carts; and Havelok fell to work with a will at his bidding.
When all was done, "Will you take service with me?" said the cook to Havelok. "I will pay you good hire and feed you well."
"Give me enough to eat, good sir," answered Havelok, "and I care not what you pay me. I will blow your fire, and fetch wood and water; I can wash dishes, and cleave faggots, and clean eels, and do all that you need."
"You shall be my man," answered the cook.
So Havelok took service in Earl Godrich's household, and drew water and cut wood. Strong and large was he of body, and fair to look on.
Earl Godrich was lord of all England; it lay as it were in his hand. Many men were wont to come to him at Lincoln to talk of great things; and they held a parliament there, and came thither with a great train of men-at-arms and followers, so that the town was always full of folk coming and going.
It chanced one day that eight or ten young men began to play together near where Havelok was at work; they fell to throwing a great stone, huge and heavy. He must needs be a stout man who could so much as lift it to his knee. But those who threw it now were champions, and could cast it many a foot.
Havelok looked on and longed to throw against them; and his master, seeing his looks, bade him go and try what he could do. He took the stone and poised it well; and at the first effort he threw it twelve feet or more farther than any other man.
"We have been here too long," said the rest. "This lad is mightier than any of us; it is time for us to go hence."
They went away, and spread the news that there was at Lincoln a lad mightier than any man of that day; and Havelok's fame grew and was known far and wide. It came at last to Earl Godrich's ears.
"This is a stout knave," thought the earl, when he heard of Havelok's strength. "I would that he were wedded to Goldborough; he is the fairest and strongest man in England, and if I gave Goldborough to him, I should keep my word to Athelwold in some sort, for there is none like Havelok: no better man could she desire. And if she were wedded to him, she would be out of my way, and I should be secure in my rule, and my son should reign in England after me."
Thus he thought and planned secretly. Anon he sent for Goldborough, and brought her to Lincoln. At her coming he caused bells to be rung, and there was great rejoicing; but he was nevertheless full of craft. "You shall have the fairest man alive for husband," he said to Goldborough; "therefore have I sent for you."
"I will wed no man but a king or a king's son, be he ever so fair," she answered boldly.
"Would you gainsay me as if you were queen and lady over me?" cried Godrich in great wrath. "You shall have a churl for husband, and no other. My cook's knave shall wed you; he shall be your lord. To-morrow shall you be wedded to him."
Goldborough wept and prayed his mercy, but it was of no avail. On the morrow the church-bell was rung, and Godrich sent for Havelok. "Master, are you minded to marry?" he asked.
"Nay, by my life," quoth Havelok. "What should I do with a wife? I cannot feed her or clothe her; I have no house and no possessions. The very clothes I wear are the cook's, and I am his servant."
"If you do not take to wife her whom I will give you," said Godrich, "I will hang you high aloft, or thrust out your eyes."
At that Havelok was sore afraid, and granted all that Godrich bade. Then Godrich sent for Goldborough. "You will take this man for husband," he said, "or you go to the gallows, unless rather I burn you at the stake."
She was afraid at his threats, and dared not refuse, though she liked it ill. So they two were wedded perforce, and neither took joy in it.
HAVELOK WINS BACK HIS KINGDOM
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
When they were married, Havelok knew not what to do. He had no home whereto he might take Goldborough. Godrich had such hatred for Athelwold's daughter that he would do nought to aid them; and Havelok was in sore straits till he bethought himself of Grimsby.
Straightway he took Goldborough to Grimsby. But Grim himself was dead. Nevertheless his sons welcomed Havelok gladly.
"Welcome, dear lord, and welcome to your fair lady," they said. "We have here horses and nets and ships, gold and silver, and much else that Grim our father bequeathed. But he bade us give them to you; take them, dear lord; they are all yours. You shall be our lord, and we will be your servants in all things."
So Havelok came back to Grimsby. But on the night of his coming Goldborough was sad and sorrowful as she lay beside him, and she could not sleep. Her wakeful eyes fell on Havelok, and she was aware suddenly of a wondrous sight. A bright light, clear and flaming, issued from his mouth, and lit up all the chamber. "What may this mean?" she said to herself in sore dread. "Does it show me that some high fortune shall come upon Havelok?"
She looked again, and saw a new wonder. On Havelok's shoulder a king's mark shone, a noble cross of red gold; and as she looked, an angel's voice spoke to her:
"Goldborough, let your sorrow be; Havelok, your husband, is a king's son and a king's heir. The golden cross signifies that he shall possess all Denmark and England, and shall be king of both realms."
When she heard the angel's voice Goldborough could not contain her joy, but turned and kissed Havelok as he slept. Havelok had not heard the angel, but he started out of his sleep at Goldborough's kiss.
"Dear lady, are you awake?" he said. "A strange dream have I just dreamed. I thought I was in Denmark, on the highest hill that ever I came to; it was so high that I could see, it seemed, all the world spread out. As I sat there, I began to possess Denmark, with all its towns and strong castles; and my arms were so long that I surrounded in one grasp all Denmark, and drew it towards me till every man therein cleaved to me. Another dream I dreamed also, that I flew over the salt sea to England, and with me went all the folk of Denmark. When I came to England, I took it all into my hand, and, Goldborough, I gave it to you. Dear wife, what may this be?"
"May these dreams turn to joy, Havelok, as I deem they will," answered Goldborough. "I say to you that you shall wear the crown of England in time to come, and Denmark shall kneel at your feet. Within a year this shall come to pass. Let us two go to Denmark speedily; and do you pray Grim's sons that they go with you, all three."
On the morrow Havelok went to church and besought aid of God. Then he betook himself to Grim's three sons, Robert, and William, and Hugh. "Listen now to me," he said, "and I will tell you a thing concerning myself. My father was king of the Danish land, and I should have been his heir; but a wicked man seized the kingdom when my father died, and slew my two sisters, and gave me to Grim to drown, but Grim spared me and brought me hither, as you know. Now I am come to an age when I can wield weapons and deal stout blows; and never will I take comfort till I see Denmark again. I pray you come thither with me; I will reward you well and will give each of you ten castles, with the land and towns and woods that belong thereto."
"We will follow you whithersoever you bid us, Havelok," they answered, "and we will, if it please God, win back your kingdom for you."
Havelok gave them due thanks, and began straightway to prepare all things for his going to Denmark. Soon he had made ready, and they set sail.
Their voyage prospered, and they landed safely in Denmark, in the dominions of one Ubbe, a rich earl, who had been a friend of King Birkabeyn, Havelok's father.
When Havelok heard who was lord of that part of Denmark, he was glad, and set out to go to Ubbe's castle in good hope. He dared not say yet that he was Birkabeyn's son, for if Earl Godard heard of it, he would come against him and slay him before he could win any followers. But he went to Ubbe and spoke him fair and courteously, and gave him a gold ring, and asked leave to settle in that land to be a merchant; and Ubbe, seeing how strong and comely Havelok was, gladly gave him leave, and thereafter bade him to a great feast. Havelok went to the feast, and Goldborough with him, and Grim's sons also; and Ubbe grew to love him so well that when the feast was ended, he sent him with ten knights and sixty men-at-arms to the magistrate of those parts, Bernard Brun, a man of might and substance.
Bernard was a trusty man, and entertained Havelok and Goldborough and all their company well.
But as they sat at meat, there came tidings that a band of sixty thieves, well armed and fierce, was at the gate, demanding entrance.
At that news Bernard started up and took a good axe in his hand, and went to the gate; and Havelok followed him.
"What do you here, rascals?" cried Bernard, "If I open the door to you, some of you will rue it."
"What say you?" answered one of the thieves. "Think you that we are afraid of you? We shall enter by this gate for all that you can do." Thereupon he seized a great boulder, and cast it mightily against the gate, and broke it.
Havelok saw what befell, and went to the gate. He drew therefrom the great cross-bar, and threw the gate wide open. "I abide here," he cried. "Flee, you dogs."
"Nay," quoth one, "you shall pay for waiting;" and he came running at Havelok, and the two others close behind with him. But Havelok lifted up the door-beam, and at one blow slew all three. Then he turned upon others, and in a moment overthrew four more. But a host of them beset him with swords, and all his skill could not prevent them from wounding him: full twenty wounds had he, from crown to toe. But he began so to mow with the beam that the robbers soon felt how hard he could smite. There was none who could escape him, and in a little while he had felled twenty of them.
Then a great din began to arise, for the rest of the thieves set upon Havelok and Bernard with all their might. But Hugh and his brothers heard the noise, and came running with many other men; and before long there was not one of the thieves left alive.
On the morrow tidings came to Ubbe that Havelok had slain with a club more than a score of stout rogues. He went down to Bernard and asked him what had come to pass; and Bernard, sore wounded from the fight, showed him his wounds, and told him how sixty robbers had attacked his house, and how Havelok had slain great plenty of them; but Havelok also, he said, was grievously wounded.
Others also of Bernard's men told the like true tale; and Ubbe sent for Havelok, and when he had seen his wounds, called for a skilful leech, and took Havelok into his house and cared for him.
The first night that Havelok lay in Ubbe's house, Ubbe slept nigh him in a great chamber, with places boarded off for each man. About midnight he awoke, and saw a great light in the place where Havelok lay, as bright as if it were day. "What may this be?" he thought. "I will go myself and see. Perchance Havelok secretly holds revel with his friends, and has lit many lights. I vow he shall do no such sottishness in my castle."
He stood up, and peeped in between the boards that shut Havelok from him. He saw him sleeping fast, as still as any stone; and he was aware of a great light coming as it were from Havelok's mouth.
He was aghast at that sight, and called secretly to his knights and sergeants and men-at-arms, more than five score of them, and bade them come and see the strange light; and the light continued to issue from Havelok's mouth, and to grow in strength till it was as bright as two hundred wax-candles.
Havelok's right shoulder was towards Ubbe and his men.
Suddenly, as they looked at the light, they saw the king's mark on the shoulder, a bright cross, brighter than gold, sparkling like a carbuncle stone. Then Ubbe knew that Havelok was a king's son, and he guessed that he must be Birkaheyn's son, the rightful king.
When Havelok awoke, he fell at his feet and did obeisance, he and all his men. "Dear lord," he said, "I know you to be Birkabeyn's son. You shall be King of Denmark; right soon shall every lord and baron come and do you homage." Then was Havelok glad and blithe, and gave thanks to God for His goodness.
Before long Ubbe dubbed Havelok knight; and as soon as he was knighted all the barons and lords of those parts came to him and swore fealty; and anon they crowned him King of Denmark, and set themselves in array to attack the false Earl Godard.
But Godard's knights, being weary of his rule, had all gone over to Havelok; and Grim's son, Robert, sufficed to meet him in combat. Robert wounded him in the right arm, and they bound him and brought him before Havelok.
Sorry now was Godard's lot; all his greatness was gone from him. He came before Havelok and his nobles, and they gave sentence upon him, that he should be flayed alive, and then hanged. And so he came to his end in great misery and torment.
When Godrich in England heard that Havelok was king of all Denmark, and purposed (for Havelok had given out that this was his intent) to come to England and set Goldborough on her throne, he set to work to gather a great host to meet Havelok when he should come; and he spread lying tales to make the English hate and fear Havelok, saying that he would burn and destroy, and oppress them; and by these means he got together many and led them to Grimsby.
Afron came Havelok and his men, and landed at Grimsby; and they fought a great battle. All that day Havelok's men fought with Godrich's men; and on the morrow they fought again, and Godrich came face to face with Havelok himself.
"Godrich," Havelok cried, "you have taken Athelwold's kingdom for yourself; I claim it for his daughter Goldborough. Yield it up, and I will forgive you, for you are a doughty knight."
"Never will I yield," answered Godrich: "I will slay you here."
He gripped his sword, and smote at Havelok, and clove his shield in twain. But Havelok drew his own good sword, and with one blow felled him to the earth. Yet Godrich started up again, and dealt him such a stroke on the shoulder that his armour was broken, and the blade bit into the flesh. Then Havelok heaved up his sword in turn, and struck fiercely, and shore off Godrich's hand, so that he could smite no more, but yielded as best he might.
They seized Godrich and fettered him; and all the English took the oath of fealty to Goldborough, and swore to be her men. Then they passed judgment on Godrich, and sentenced him to be burnt to death.
So Havelok and Goldborough came again into their kingdoms; and Havelok rewarded Grim's sons and made them barons. Havelok was crowned King of England as well as of Denmark; and full sixty winters did he reign with Goldborough in great joy and prosperity.
THE FAIR UNKNOWN
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
Sir Gawain had a son, and he was fair to look on, bright of face and well-favoured in body. He was named Geynleyn. But for love of his fair face his mother called him Beau-fys, and no other name; and he never asked her what he was truly called, for Sir Gawain had wedded this lady secretly, and none knew that he was Geynleyn's father. On a certain day Geynleyn went to the woods to hunt the deer, and there he found a knight in gay armour, lying slain. Geynleyn wondered thereat; but in a little time he took off the knight's garments, and clad himself in the rich armour; and when he had done this, he went to Glastonbury, where King Arthur lay at that time. He came into the hall before the knights and greeted them.
"King Arthur, my lord," he said, "grant that I may speak a word, I pray you. I would fain be made a knight."
"Tell me your name," answered King Arthur, "for since I was born I never saw before me one so fair to look on."
"I know not what is my true name," answered the lad. "While I was at home, my mother, jesting, called me Beau-fys, and nought else."
Then said Arthur the king, "This is a wondrous thing, that the boy should know not his name when he would become a knight; and yet he is full fair of face. Now will I give him a name before you all. Let him be called Le Beau Disconus, which is to say, 'The fair unknown': so is he to be named." Thereupon King Arthur made him a knight, and gave him bright arms, and girt him with a sword, and hung round him a shield wrought with the design of a griffin. Sir Gawain took charge of him to teach him knightly ways.
When Le Beau Disconus had been made a knight, he asked yet another boon of the king. "My lord," he said, "I should be right glad in heart if I might have the first fight that is asked of you."
"I grant your asking," answered Arthur the king, "whatsoever the combat be. But you seem too young to do well in a great fight."
Then they sat down to feast. Not long had they feasted ere there came a maiden riding, and a dwarf beside her, in a great heat as though with haste. This maid was called Elene the bright and gentle; no countess or queen could be her equal in loveliness. She was richly clad, and the saddle and bridle of her milk-white steed were full of diamonds. Her dwarf wore silk of India; a stout and bold man was he, and his beard, yellow as wax, hanged down to his girdle. His shoes were decked with gold, and truly seemed a knight that felt no poverty. His name was Teondelayn; he was skilled in playing all musical instruments.
The dwarf spoke to the maiden, and bade her tell her errand, and lose no time. She knelt in the hall before all the knights, and greeted them with honour, and said, "Never was sadder tidings than I bring. My lady of Synadown is brought into a strong prison; she prays King Arthur to send her a knight of stout courage, to win her out of prison."
Up started the young knight Le Beau Disconus; his courage was stout and high. "Arthur, my lord," he said, "I shall take up this combat, and win the lady bright, if you are true to your word."
"Certain it is that I have promised even so," said King Arthur. "God grant you grace and might."
Then Elene began to complain, and said, "Alas that I was ever sent hither! Now will the word go forth that Arthur's manhood is lost, if you send a witless and wild child to deal doughty blows, when there are here knights of proved valour, Launcelot, Percevale, and Gawain." Le Beau Disconus answered, "Never yet was I afraid of any man; I have learned to fight with spear and sword. I will take the battle, and never forsake it, as is Arthur's law."
Then said Arthur, "Maiden, you get no other knight of me. If you think him not man enough, go get another of greater might where you can." The maid said no more; but for wrath she would neither drink nor eat at their feast, but sat down with her dwarf till the tables were taken away.
King Arthur bade four of the best knights of the Round Table arm Le Beau Disconus straightway in arms true and perfect. "Through the help of Christ, he shall hold to his word, and be a good champion to the lady of Synadown, and uphold all her rights," he said.
When he was armed Sir Le Beau Disconus sprang on his horse and received the king's blessing, and set forth a-riding with the maiden and the dwarf. Till the third day she railed at the young knight continually; and on the third day, when they came to a certain place, she said, "Caitiff, now is your pride undone. This vale before us is kept by a knight who will fight every man that comes; and his fame is gone far abroad. William Selebranche is he named, and he is a mighty warrior. Through heart or thigh of all those who come against him he thrusts his spear."
"Does he fight so mightily then?" asked Le Beau Disconus. "Has he never been hit? Whatsoever betides me, against him will I ride and prove how he fights."
On they rode all three till they came to a castle in a vale. There they saw a knight in bright armour. He bore a shield of green, with a device of three lions: and he was that William Selebranche of whom maid Elene had spoken. When the knight had sight of them he rode towards them, and said, "Welcome, fair brother. He that rides here, day or night, must fight with me, or leave his arms here shamefully."
"Now let us pass," said Sir Le Beau Disconus, "We have far to go to our friends, I and this maid; we must needs speed on our way."
"You shall not escape so," answered William. "Ere you go we will fight."
Then said Le Beau Disconus, "Now I see that it must be so. Make ready quickly and do your best. Take a course with the spear, if you are a knight of skill, for I am in haste."
No longer did they wait, but rode together in arms. Le Beau Disconus smote William in the side with his spear; but William sat firm in his saddle. Nevertheless so mightily was he struck that his stirrup leathers were broken, and he swayed over the horse's crupper and fell to the ground. His steed galloped away, but William started up speedily. "By my faith, never met I so stout a man," he said. "Now that my steed is gone, let us fight on foot." They fell to on foot with falchions. [Footnote: Broad, short swords.] So hard they struck that sparks flew from their helmets. But William drove his sword through Le Beau Disconus's shield, and a piece of it fell to the ground; and thereat Le Beau Disconus was wroth. He smote with his sword downwards from the crest of William's helmet even to his hawberk, and shaved off with the point of his blade the knight's beard, and well-nigh cut the flesh also. Then William smote back so great a blow that his sword brake in two.
"Let me go alive," cried William at that, seeing himself reft of his arms. "It were great villainy to do to death an unarmed knight."
"I will spare you," said Le Beau Disconus, "if you swear a vow ere we go from one another. Kneel down, and swear on my sword to go to King Arthur, and say to him, 'Lord of renown, a knight sent me hither, defeated and a prisoner: his name is Le Beau Disconus, of unknown kith and kin.'"
William went upon his knees and took a vow as Le Beau Disconus bade him, and thus they departed each on his way. William took the road to Arthur's court; and it chanced that as he went, he met, on that self-same day, three proud knights, his own sister's sons. "William our uncle," said they when they saw his wounds and his sorry array, "who has done you this shame?"
"The man is not to blame," answered William. "He was a knight stout and stern. One thing only grieves me sorely, that I must at his bidding go to King Arthur's court." And he told them of his vow.
"You shall be full well avenged," said they. "He alone against us three is not worth a straw. Go your way, uncle, and fulfil your vow; and we will assail the traitor ere he be out of this forest." Then William went on his way to the court of King Arthur.
But the three knights his nephews armed themselves, and leapt on their steeds, and without more tarrying went after Le Beau Disconus.
Le Beau Disconus knew nought of this, but rode on with the fair maid, and made great mirth with her, for she had seen that he was a true and doughty knight. She asked pardon for the ill things she had said against him at the king's court, and he forgave her this trespass; and the dwarf was their squire, and served them in all their needs.
At morning when it was day, as they rode on towards Synadown, they saw three knights in bright mail. They cried to him straightway, "Thief, turn again and fight."
"I am ready to ride against you all," quoth Le Beau Disconus. He pricked his horse towards them. The eldest brother (Sir Gower was his name) ran against him with a spear; but Le Beau Disconus smote him such a blow that he broke his thigh, and ever thereafter was lame. The knight groaned for pain, but Le Beau Disconus with might and main felled him altogether.
The next brother came riding fierce as a lion, as if to cast Le Beau Disconus down. Like a warrior out of his wits he smote Le Beau Disconus on his helmet with his sword; he struck so hard that the blade drove through the helmet and touched the young knight's head.
Then Le Beau Disconus, when he felt the sword touch him, swung his sword as a madman, and all that he struck he clove through. Though two were against him—for the third brother also came riding to the fray—they saw that they had no might to withstand him in his fury. They yielded up their spears and shields to Le Beau Disconus, and cried mercy.
"Nay," answered Le Beau Disconus, "you escape not, unless you plight me your faith to go to King Arthur, and tell him that I overcame you and sent you to him. If you do not so, I will slay you all three." The knights swore to go to King Arthur, and plighted their troth upon it. Then they departed, and Le Beau Disconus and the fair maid rode on towards Synadown. All that day they rode, and at night they made their lodges in the wood out of green leaves and boughs, for they came nigh no town or castle; and thus for three days they pricked ever westwards.
THE FIGHT WITH THE TWO GIANTS
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
As they slept at night the dwarf woke, fearing that thieves might steal their horses. Suddenly his heart began to quake, for less than half a mile away he saw a great fire. "Arise, young knight," he cried. "Arm yourself, and to horse! I doubt there is danger here: I hear a great sound, and smell burning afar off."
Le Beau Disconus leapt on his war-horse and took his arms, and rode towards the fire. When he drew nigh he saw there two giants, one red and loathly to look upon, the other swarthy as pitch. The black giant held in his arms a maiden as bright as a flower, while the red giant was burning a wild boar on a spit before the flaming fire.
The maiden cried aloud for help. "Alas," she said, "that ever I saw this day!"
Then said Le Beau Disconus, "It were a fair venture to save this maiden from shame. To fight with giants so grim is no child's game."
He rode against them with his spear, and at the first course smote the black giant clean through the body and overthrew him, so that never could he rise again. The maiden his prisoner fled from his grasp, and betook herself to maid Elene; and they went to the lodge of leaves in the wood, and prayed for victory for Le Beau Disconus.
But the red giant, seeing his brother fall, smote at Le Beau Disconus with the half-roasted boar, like a madman; and he laid on so sore that Le Beau Disconus's horse was slain. But Le Beau Disconus leapt out of the saddle, like a spark from a torch, and drove at him with his falchion, fierce as a lion. The giant fought with his spit till it broke in two; then he caught up a tree by the roots, and smote Le Beau Disconus so mightily that his shield was broken into three pieces. But before the giant could heave up the tree again, Le Beau Disconus struck off his right arm; and at that sore wound he fell to the ground, and Le Beau Disconus cut off his head.
Then Le Beau Disconus turned to the two maidens; and he learned that she whom he had saved was called Violette, and her father was Sir Autore, an earl in that country. Long had the two giants sought to take her; and the day before at eventide they had sprung out upon her suddenly and carried her off.
Le Beau Disconus took the giants' heads, and when he had escorted the maidens to the castle of Sir Autore, he sent the heads to King Arthur. Sir Autore wished to give him Violette to wife; but Le Beau Disconus refused, saying that he was upon a quest with fair Elene. And with that they set forth once more on their journey.
Presently they came to the fair city of Kardevyle, and saw there in a park a castle stout and stark, royally built: never such a castle had they seen. "Oh," said Le Beau Disconus, "here were a worthy thing for a man to win."
Then laughed maid Elene. "The best knight in all the country round owns that castle, one Giffroun," she said. "He that will fight with him, be it day or night, is bowed down and laid low. For love of his lady, who is wondrous fair, he has proclaimed that he will bestow a gerfalcon, white as a swan, on him who brings a fairer lady. But if she be not so bright and fair as his lady, he must fight this knight Giffroun, who is a mighty warrior. Giffroun slays him, and sets his head on a spear, that it may be seen afar abroad; and you may see on the castle walls a head or two set thus."
"I will fight this Giffroun," said Sir Le Beau Disconus, "and try for the gerfalcon; I will say that I have in this town a lady fairer than his; and if he would see her I will show him you."
"That were a great peril," said the dwarf. "Sir Giffroun beguiles many a knight in combat."
"Heed not that," answered Le Beau Disconus. "I will see his face ere I go westward from this city."
Without more ado they went to the town, and dwelt there in the inn for the night. In the morn Le Beau Disconus rose and armed himself, and rode with the dwarf towards Giffroun's palace.
Sir Giffroun, when he came out of his house, saw Le Beau Disconus advancing as proudly as a prince. He rode out to him, and cried in a loud voice, "Come you for good or for ill?"
"I should have a great delight in fighting you," answered Le Beau Disconus, "for you say a grievous thing, that there is no woman so fair as your lady. I have in this town one fairer, and therefore I shall take your gerfalcon and give it to Arthur the king."
"Gentle knight," said Giffroun, "how shall we prove which of the two be fairer?"
"Here in Kardevyle city," said Le Beau Disconus, "they shall both be set in the market-place where all men may look on them. If my lady be not esteemed so fair as yours, I will fight with you to win the gerfalcon."
"All this I grant," said Sir Giffroun. "This day shall it be done." And he held up his glove for a proof.
Sir Le Beau Disconus rode to his lodging, and bade maid Elene put on her seemliest robes. Then he set her on a dappled palfrey, and they rode forth to the market-place. Presently came also Sir Giffroun riding, with his lady and two squires. And the lady was so lovely that no man could describe her. All, young and old, judged that she was fairer than Elene; she was as sweet as a rose in an arbour, and Elene seemed but a laundry-maid beside her.
Then said Sir Giffroun, "Sir Le Beau Disconus, you have lost the gerfalcon."
"Nay," said Le Beau Disconus, "we will joust for it. If you bear me down, take my head and the falcon; and if I bear you down, the falcon shall go with me."
They rode to the lists, and many people with them. At the first course each smote the other on the shield, so that their lances were broken; and the sound of their onset was as thunder. Sir Giffroun called for a lance that would not break. "This young knight is as firm in his saddle as a stone in the castle wall," quoth he. "But were he as bold a warrior as Alexander or Arthur, Launcelot or Percevale, I will shake him out over his horse's crupper."
Together they charged again. Le Beau Disconus smote Giffroun's shield from his arm at the shock: never yet had man been seen to joust so stoutly. Giffroun, like a madman, struck furiously back at him, but Le Beau Disconus sat so firm that Giffroun was thrown, horse and all, and broke his leg.
All men said that Giffroun had lost the white gerfalcon; and they bore him into the town upon his shield. But Le Beau Disconus sent the white gerfalcon to King Arthur for a gift, and the king sent him a hundred pounds' weight of florins. And thereafter he feasted forty days in Kardevyle.
At the end of this feasting, Le Beau Disconus and maid Elene took their leave of Kardevyle, and rode towards Synadown. As they were riding, they heard horns blowing hard under a hill, and the noise of hounds giving tongue in the vale. "To tell truth," said the dwarf Teondelayn, "I know that horn well. One Sir Otes de Lyle blows it; he served my lady some while, but in great peril fled into Wirral."
As they rode talking, a little hound came running across their way; never man saw hound so gay; it was of all colours of flowers that bloom between May and midsummer.
"Never saw I jewel," said maid Elene, "that so pleased me. Would I had him!"
Le Beau Disconus caught the hound, and gave him to her. And they went on their way. They had scarce ridden a mile before they saw a hind fleeing, and two greyhounds close upon it. They stopped and waited under a linden tree to watch; and they saw riding behind the hounds a knight clad in silk of India, upon a bay horse. He began to blow his bugle, so that his men should know where he was. But when he saw Le Beau Disconus, and the dog in maid Elene's arms, he drew rein and said. "Sir, that hound is mine; I have had him these seven years past. Friends, let him go."
"That shall never be," said Le Beau Disconus, "for with my two hands I gave him to this maiden."
Straightway answered Sir Otes de Lyle (for it was he), "Then you are in peril."
"Churl," said Le Beau Disconus, "I care not for whatever you say."
"Those are evil words, sir," said Sir Otes. "Churl was never my name. My father was an earl and the Countess of Karlyle my mother. Were I armed now, even as you are, we would fight. If you give me not the hound, you shall play a strange game ere evening."
"Whatsoever you do," answered Le Beau Disconus, "this hound shall go with me."
Then they took their way westward once more. But Sir Otes rode home to his castle, and sent for his friends, and told them that one of Arthur's knights had used him shamefully and taken his little hound. They armed themselves, and when all was ready, rode out after Le Beau Disconus. Upon a high hill they saw him riding slowly. "Traitor, you shall die for your trespass," they cried to him, when they came a little distance from him.
Sir Le Beau Disconus beheld how full of knights the vale was. "Maid Elene," he said, "we are come into a sorry case for the sake of this little hound. It were best that you go into the greenshaws and hide your heads. For though I be slain, yet will I abide combat with these knights."
Into the woods they rode; but Le Beau Disconus stayed without, as beseems an adventurous knight. They shot at him with bows and arbalists, [Footnote: A crossbow] but he charged with his horse, and bore down horse and man and spared none; whosoever Le Beau Disconus struck, after the first blow that man slept for evermore.
But soon Le Beau Disconus was beset as in a net. Twelve knights came riding through the forest, in arms clear and bright: all day they had rested, and thought thereby to slay Le Beau Disconus. One of them was Sir Otes himself and they smote at Le Beau Disconus all at once, and thought to fell him.
Fierce was the fight; sword rang on steel, sparks sprang from shield and helmet. Le Beau Disconus slew three, and four flew. But Sir Otes and his four sons stayed to sell their lives there.
Le Beau Disconus against those five fought like a madman. His sword brake, and he took a great blow on his helmet that bore him down. Then the foeman thought to slay him outright; but Le Beau Disconus was minded suddenly of his axe that was at his hinder saddle-bow. He quitted himself like a true knight: three steeds he hewed down in three strokes.
Sir Otes saw that sight, and turned his horse and fled. Le Beau Disconus stood no longer on defence, but pursued him, and caught him under a chestnut tree and made him yield.
Le Beau Disconus sent this knight also to King Arthur for a sign of his powers; and himself and maid Elene went to Sir Otes's castle, and there rested and were refreshed.
IN THE CASTLE OF THE SORCERERS
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
When they had tarried at this castle a certain time, they rode forth again. It was the month of June, when the days are long and birds' songs are merry. Sir Le Beau Disconus and maid Elene and the dwarf Teondelayn came riding by a river-side, and saw a great and proud city, with high strong castles and many gates. Le Beau Disconus asked the name of this city.
"They call it Golden Isle," answered maid Elene. "Here hath been more fighting than in any country, for a lady of price, fair as a rose, has put this land in peril. A giant named Maugis, whose like is nowhere on earth, has laid siege to her. He is as black as pitch, stern and stout indeed. He that would pass the bridge into her castle must lay down his arms and do a reverence to the giant."
Then said Le Beau Disconus, "I shall not turn aside for him. If God give me grace, ere this day's end I will overthrow him."
They rode all three towards the fair city. On a wooden bridge they saw Maugis, as bold as a wild boar. His shield was black, and all his armour black also. When he saw Le Beau Disconus, he cried, "Tell me, fellow in white, what are you? Turn home again for your own profit."
"Arthur made me a knight," said Le Beau Disconus, "and to him I made a vow that I would never turn back. Therefore, friend in black, make ready."
They rode forthright at one another. Their lances brake at the first blows. But they drew swords in a fury and rushed at one another. Le Beau Disconus smote the giant's shield so that it fell from him; but Maugis in turn slew Le Beau Disconus's steed with a great blow on its head. Le Beau Disconus said nought, but started up from his dead charger and took his axe: a great blow he struck, that shore the head of Maugis's horse clean from its body.
Then they fell to on foot, and no man can tell of the blows that passed from one to the other; and they fought till evening drew nigh.
Sir Le Beau Disconus thirsted sore, and said, "Maugis, let me go to drink. I will grant you what boon you ask of me in like case. Great shame would it be to slay a knight by thirst."
Maugis granted it, but when Le Beau Disconus went to the river and drank, Maugis struck him unawares such a blow that he fell into the river. "Now am I truly refreshed," cried Le Beau Disconus, as he climbed out. "I will repay you for this."
Then a new fight was begun, and they continued till darkness grew apace. At length Le Beau Disconus struck such a blow that the giant's right arm was shorn off. Thereupon Maugis fled, but Le Beau Disconus ran swiftly after him and with three stern strokes clove his backbone. Then Le Beau Disconus smote off the giant's head, and went into the town; and all the folk welcomed him.
A fair lady came down to meet him, called Le Dame d'Amour; and she thanked him for his aid against the giant, and led him to her palace. There he was clad in clean raiment, and feasted, and the lady would have had him be lord of her city and castle.
Le Beau Disconus granted her prayer, and gave her his love, for she was indeed fair and bright. Alas that he did not refrain! Twelve months and more he dwelt there; and fair Elene was afraid lest he might never go thence, for the lady of the castle knew much of sorcery, and put a charm upon Le Beau Disconus so that he wished never to leave her.
But it fell on a day that Le Beau Disconus met maid Elene by chance within the castle. "Sir knight," she said, "you are false of faith to King Arthur. For love of a sorceress you do great dishonour. The lady of Synadown lies in prison yet!"
At her words Le Beau Disconus thought his heart would break for sorrow and shame. By a postern-gate he crept away from the lady of the castle, and took with him his horse and his armour and rode forth with maid Elene and the dwarf and a squire named Gyfflet. Fast they rode without ceasing till on the third day they came in sight of the strong city of Synadown.
But Le Beau Disconus wondered at a custom he saw as he descried the town. For all the waste and refuse that was cast outside the town was gathered again by the folk and kept.
"What means this?" asked Sir Le Beau Disconus.
"This it is," said maid Elene. "No knight may abide here without leave of a steward called Sir Lambard. Ride to that eastern gate yonder, and ask his leave to enter fairly and well; ere he grants it, he will joust with you. And if he bears you down, he will blow his trumpets, and all through Synadown, at the sound thereof, the maidens and boys will throw on you this filth and mud that they have gathered; and so to your life's end will you be known as a coward, and King Arthur shall lose his honour through you."
"That were great shame for any man living," said Sir Le Beau Disconus. "I will meet this man. Gyfflet, make me ready." Then they made ready and rode to the castle gate, and asked where knights might find lodging. The porter let them in and asked, "Who is your overlord?"
"King Arthur, the well of courtesy and flower of chivalry, is my lord," answered Le Beau Disconus.
The porter went and told Sir Lambard of the knight, and Sir Lambard was glad, and vowed to joust with him. Thereupon the porter came again to Le Beau Disconus, and said, "Adventurous knight, ride to the field without the castle gate, and arm you speedily, for my lord would joust with you."
Sir Le Beau Disconus rode to the field and made ready. Presently there came the steward all armed for the fight, and they fell to. Long and fierce was the fray, but at the last Le Beau Disconus struck Sir Lambard so fiercely that he was borne clean out of his saddle backwards.
"Will you have more?" asked Sir Le Beau Disconus.
"Nay," answered Sir Lambard. "Never since I was born came I against such a knight. If you will fight for my lady, you are welcome, sir knight."
"Nay," said Sir Le Beau Disconus, "but I fight for a lady even now." Then they went into Sir Lambard's castle and feasted and were right merry. Sir Lambard and Sir Le Beau Disconus spoke much of adventures, and at last Sir Le Beau Disconus asked him concerning his quest. "What is the knight's name who holds in prison the gentle lady of Synadown?"
"Nay, sir, knight is he none. Two magicians are her foes, false in flesh and bone: Mabon and Irayn are their names, and they have made this town a place of strange magic arts. They hold this noble lady in prison, and often we hear her cry, but have no power to come to her. They have sworn to slay her if she will not do their will, and give up to them all her rights in this fair dukedom which is hers."
They took their rest. On the morrow Le Beau Disconus clad himself in his best armour, and rode forth to the gate of the great palace of Synadown; and with him for escort came Lambard and his knights.
They found the gate open, but no further durst any man go save Le Beau Disconus and his squire Gyfflet; and Le Beau Disconus made Gyfflet also turn back with the rest.
Then he rode alone into the palace, and alighted at the great hall. He saw minstrels before the dais, and a fire burning brightly, but no lord of the palace was there. Le Beau Disconus paced through all the chambers, and saw no one but minstrels who made merry. Le Beau Disconus went further, seeking those whom he should fight. He peered into all the corners, and looked on wondrous pillars of jasper and fine crystal; but never a foe did he see.
At last he sat him down at the dais in the great hall. As he sat, the minstrels ceased their music and vanished, and the torches were extinguished; doors and windows shook like thunder, and the very stones of the walls fell round him. The dais began to quake, and the roof above opened.
As he sat thus dismayed, believing that he was betrayed by magic, he heard horses neigh. "Yet may I hope to joust," he said, better pleased. He looked out into a field, and there he saw two knights come riding with spear and shield; their armour was of rich purple, with golden garlands. One of the knights rode into the hall. "Sir knight," he cried, "proud though you be, you must fight with us."
"I am ready to fight," answered Le Beau Disconus, and he leapt into his saddle, and rode against the knight. His might bore Mabon (for it was he) over his horse's tail: the hinder saddle-bow broke, and he fell. With that rode in Irayn fully armed, fresh for the fight, and meaning with main and might to assail Sir Le Beau Disconus. But Le Beau Disconus was aware of him, and bore down on him with his spear, leaving Mabon where he had fallen. They broke their lances at the first stroke, and fell to with swords. As they fought, Mabon rose up from the ground, and ran to aid Irayn. But Le Beau Disconus fought both, and kept himself back warily.
When Irayn saw Mabon, he smote fiercely at Le Beau Disconus and struck his steed. But Sir Le Beau Disconus returned his blow, and shore off his thigh, skin and bone and all: of no avail were his arms or his enchantments then!
Then Le Beau Disconus turned swiftly again to Mabon; and Mabon with a great blow broke the knight's sword. But Le Beau Disconus ran to Irayn, where he lay dying, and drew from him his sword, and rushed fiercely upon Mabon once more, and smote off his left arm with the shield.
"Hold, gentle knight," said Mabon, "and I will yield that to your will, and will take you to the fair lady. Through the wound from that sword I am undone, for I poisoned both it and mine, to make certain of slaying you."
"I will have none of your gifts, were I to win all this world by them," said Le Beau Disconus. "Lay on. One of us shall die."
Then they fell to again, and so fiercely did Le Beau Disconus fight that in a little while he cleft Mabon's head and helmet in twain.
When Mabon was slain, he ran to where he had left Irayn, meaning to cleave his head also. But Irayn was not there; he had been borne away, whither Le Beau Disconus did not know. He sought him everywhere, and when he found him not, he believed that he was caught in a snare, and fell on his knees and prayed. As he prayed a marvel came to pass. In the stone wall a window opened, and a great dragon issued therefrom. It had the face of a woman, fair and young, her body and wings shone like gold; her tail was loathly, and her paws grim and great.
Le Beau Disconus's heart sank within him, and he trembled. Ere he could think, the dragon clasped him by the neck and kissed him; and lo! as it kissed him, the tail and wings fell from it, and he saw before him the fairest lady that ever he looked upon.
"Gentle knight," she said, "you have slain the two magicians, my foes. They changed me into a dragon, and bade me keep that shape till I had kissed Sir Gawain or some other knight of kin to Sir Gawain. You have saved my life: I will give you fifteen castles and myself for wife, if it be King Arthur's will."
Then was Le Beau Disconus glad and blithe, and leapt on his horse and rode back to Sir Lambard to bring him these good tidings; and presently there came to him from the palace the lady herself, richly clad, and all the people of the town made a fair procession in her train. Every knight in Synadown did her homage and fealty as was due to her. Seven nights did they abide in the castle with Lambard, and then Sir Le Beau Disconus returned with the fair lady to King Arthur, and at his court gave thanks to God for their adventures. King Arthur gave the lady to Le Beau Disconus for wife; and the joy of that bridal can be told in no tale or song.
TALES TOLD BY CHAUCER'S CANTERBURY PILGRIMS
Geoffrey Chaucer, born about 1340, was the first great English poet. The immense popularity of the Canterbury Tales is shown by the number of manuscript copies still in existence. It was one of the first books printed in England.
The vividness with which the author describes scenes and events and people, as if he had them before his eyes, is one of his greatest charms as a writer. Those who know him best place him second only to Shakespeare as a writer of delightful English.
The spelling of Chaucer's time differs so much from ours that the difficulty of reading it discourages a great many people. The few stories here given are retold in the language of to-day.
THE OLD WOMAN AND THE KNIGHT
Retold by F. J. H. Darton
In the old days of King Arthur all the land was filled with fairies, and the elf queen and her merry company held many a dance in the green meadows where now you will see never one of them. But that was many hundred years ago.
It happened that there was at King Arthur's court a young knight, in the full vigour and pride of his strength, who one day, as he was riding out, came upon a maiden walking all alone. She was very beautiful, and the sight of her made him forget his knighthood.
He went up to her, and tried to carry her off with him by force; but before he could succeed help came, and he was seized and taken before the king.
The king sentenced him to die, according to the law at that time, and he would surely have been put to death if the queen and her ladies had not long and earnestly prayed for mercy. The king at last relented and granted him his life, and left it to the queen to say what punishment should be given him.
When the queen had thanked King Arthur she sent for the knight. She did not wish to let him go wholly free.
"You are still in danger of losing your life," she said to him; "but I will give you your freedom on one condition: you must find me the answer to the question—'What is it that women most desire?' If you cannot now give me the answer that I have in my mind you shall have a year and a day in which to learn it. Do your best, and take great care, for if at the end of that time you still cannot answer, you must die."
The knight pondered awhile, but he could not guess the answer at once.
So he pledged himself to return to the court at the end of a year and a day, and went away very sorrowfully.
How was he to find the answer to the riddle? He thought for a long time by himself, and then asked every one he met what it was that women loved best. But nowhere could he discover two people who agreed in saying the same thing. Some told him the answer was honour; some, riches; others, fine clothing; others, again, flattery. But none of these replies pleased the knight, and he could not guess anyhow what it was that the queen had in her mind as the right answer.
He wandered far and wide in his mournful search for some one wise enough to help him. At length the time came when he had to turn homewards again, in order to return to the queen by the appointed day. His way lay through a forest, and he was riding along sadly enough when suddenly he saw a strange sight. In a little glade just in front of him was a ring of fair ladies dancing, four-and-twenty or more of them; but as he drew nigh eagerly to look at them more closely, and see if by chance lie might gain an answer from them, they all vanished.
In the place where they had been not a living thing remained except an old woman sitting on the grass. When he came near to her he saw that she was withered and ugly, and as horrible a sight as could be imagined,
"Sir knight," she said to him, standing up, "this road leads to no place. Whither are you going? Tell me your errand, and perchance I can help you. We old folk have knowledge of many things."
"Old mother," he said, "my trouble is this: I am as good as dead if I cannot discover what it is that women love best. If you could help me I would reward you well." And he told her the conditions on which his life was spared.
"Give me your word here and now that you will do the next thing that I ask of you, whatever it is, if it is in your power," said the hag when she heard the story, "and I will tell you the answer."
"I give my word," the knight replied.
"Then your life is safe. I promise you that my answer will be that which the queen wishes to have, and the proudest lady of all her court will not dare gainsay it. Let us go on our journey without any more talking."
She whispered a word or two in his ear, and bade him pluck up heart; and together they rode to the court.
The knight came before the queen, and said that he was ready to give his answer, and a great company of noble ladies gathered to hear what he would reply to the riddle. Silence was proclaimed, and he was called upon to speak.
"I have kept my word faithfully," he said in a manly voice that was heard all over the hall, "and I am here on the day appointed, prepared to answer the queen's question. The answer she desired was that women love power best, whether it be over husband or lover. If that is not the right answer do with me as you wish. I am here ready to die if you so will it."
They all agreed that he had saved his life by his reply. But when their verdict was made known up started the old hag who had told the knight the answer.
"Give me justice, lady queen, before your court departs," she cried. "I told the knight that answer, and he gave me his word that he would do the first thing that I asked of him if it lay in his power. Now, before all this court, I ask you, sir knight, to take me to be your wife; and remember it is I who have saved your life."
"Alas!" said the knight; "truly I gave my word, but will you not ask some other thing of me? Take all my riches, and let me go."
"No," insisted the old woman. "Though I be old and poor and ugly I would not let you go for all the gold on earth. I will be your wife and your love."