King Arthur’s Court; or, The Feasts of Camelot: with the Tales That Were Told There

[1]           A style of Ottoman blade, short and slightly curved.

[2]           “The action or an act of riding on horseback. Also: a period of riding; a journey on horseback, a ride. Obs.” (OED “rood” 1.a.).

[3]           The only substantial change between the 1863 and 1877 editions occurs here. The 1877 edition replaces “His course lay alone for some length” with “For some time he saw no one.”
 
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King Arthur’s Court; or, The Feasts of Camelot: with the Tales That Were Told There

by: Mrs. T. K. Hervey (Author), Renee Ward (Editor)
from: The Camelot Project  2013

This edition of The Feasts of Camelot is based on the text originally published as King Arthur’s Court; or, The Feasts of Camelot: with the Tales That Were Told There (London: Bell and Daldy, 6, York Street, Covent Garden, and 186m Fleet Street, [1863]).
Contents
 
Part I
Whitsuntide
 
Chapter
I.        The Whitsuntide Feast
II.       Merlin’s Tale of a King and a King’s Son
III.      Sir Tristram’s Tale of Mad King Mark
IV.      Of a Strange Damsel and of Three Questions
V.       Sir Urien’s Tale of a Wild Wood-Ranger
VI.      Eliot the Harper’s Lay of Gwenelda of Wales
VII.     Sir Percival’s Tale of Bruno the Pitiless
VIII.    The Pilgrim’s Tale of the Mountain Voices
IX.      Sir Dragonet the Fool’s Tale of a Purfled Mantle
X.       The Lady Angelides’ Tale of the Terrible Horn
 
Part II
Christmas
 
I.        The Christmas Feast
II.       Sir Gareth’s Tale of the Moorland Mystery
III.      The Lady Lynetta’s Tale of a Pleasant Masque
IV.      The Danish Knight’s Tale of the Heathen Priest
V.       The Tale of Sir Gawain’s Bride: The Slave-Queen
VI.      Sir Gawain’s Tale of a Danish Princess
VII.     The Old Knight’s Tale: The Lady’s Secret
VIII.    The Roman Minstrel’s Ballad of Gabrielle of Gaul
IX.      The Christian Convert’s Tale of the Iron King
X.       Sir Baldwin’s Tale of a Wonderful Vision
XI.      Queen Isond’s Tale of the One Good Deed
XII.     The Boy Alisaunder’s Tale of the Forgiving Heart

Part I
Whitsuntide
 
Chapter I
The Whitsuntide Feast
 
It was the Feast of Whitsuntide, at Camelot, in the court of Arthur the good king.
       Custom was in those days, that ever as the time of that feast came about, King Arthur would desire to hear some adventures, and chiefly those of his goodly and chivalrous Knights of the Round Table.
       Mostly, there was no lack of strange encounters and romantic passages; for at that time brave knights went forth to seek the oppressed, and those who asked aid of others stronger than themselves; and, especially, damsels that were any way distressed, found ready help in the stout swords and courteous bearing of the knights of King Arthur’s court.
       At this special feast of Whitsuntide, there were present all of King Arthur’s chosen knights, save one; and that one was his own nephew, Sir Gawain, called the Courteous. Those of greatest renown were Sir Launcelot of the Lake, Sir Tristram, and Sir Gawain. But Sir Gawain, by reason of some dispute, had departed from Camelot.
       Sir Launcelot of the Lake had beside him his young bride, pale Elaine. And next to Sir Tristram was his wife, the gracious Isond. As King Arthur looked on the happy faces of these his chosen knights, the thought came to him that he would gladly have seen also his favourite nephew Sir Gawain there in place, and happily wedded too: for Sir Gawain was to him as a son.
       When all were met together, and the dial showed the hour after which none were looked for to arrive, unless it might be strangers and pilgrims from afar, who, together with foreign minstrels, were admitted at all hours, the harpers strung their harps to good tune, and the hall rang with many a merry peal.
       As no knight seemed ready with fitting tale of adventure, and no stranger guest had yet appeared to satisfy the custom of the time, King Arthur turned him to his old friend and ever-wise counsellor, Merlin, and begged of him a history.
       “For,” said King Arthur, “never had king better friend than thou art, or wiser counsellor in peace or war, and it would glad me much to hear the story of thy youth.”
       “My lord King Arthur,” answered Merlin, “it shall be as you wish. I will tell the story of my young days as best I may, and as it is already written down in the books of my uncle Bleise. Only, I pray you that no man may stop me till my tale is said out.”
       Thereupon he began, as you shall hear.


Chapter II
Merlin’s Tale of a King and a King’s Son
 
I was an orphan, that never knew father or mother. But my uncle Bleise took me into his care, and taught me early and late; so, in time, I became a great help to him, for his labours were heavy. Many a year it had been his custom to write down all the chief events, such as battles, tournaments, and jousts, that anywhere came about in this kingdom of Britain,—or Logris, as it is called on the Welsh border. A great king in those days ruled the land. But this king had some vices that mightily marred his greatness. None knew this better than my uncle Bleise, though he loved him well; and, like an honest and true friend as he was, alike to high and low, he ever counselled him for good, even at some risk of his displeasure.
       About the time that I had reached manhood, it fell out that this king set his liking on a fair and virtuous lady. Her name was Igerna. But the lady loved Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall; and suddenly came news to the king that they were wedded. Then the king bethought him how he might make excuse for war against the duke, Gorlois; “for,” thought the king to himself, “if he should be slain in the battle, I might wed the beauteous Igerna.”
       The king kept his own counsel closely; and, in order to hatch a cause of quarrel, he made a show of friendship, and caused a great feast to be proclaimed, to which the Duke of Cornwall and his wife should come.
       Now the lady Igerna was as wise as she was fair; and because she knew well that the king’s love had been set on her of old, she prayed her lord to stay away from the feast. But he was strongly minded to go, and would in no wise hear of her staying behind.
       So, to the royal board went Igerna and Gorlois. But Igerna was right. Some words spoken by the king roused her lord to anger; and, forgetting he was all unarmed, he made action as if he would lay hand on his sword. The light touch of his wife restrained him so well in time, that no man saw his hasty movement, save only the king. When the guests left the table, Igerna drew her husband aside, and spoke entreatingly to him.
       “I fear much,” she said, “that we were brought hither for some unworthy cause. Wherefore, husband, I counsel you that we depart hence secretly, so that no man shall know of it, and ride all night, never stopping till we reach our castle of Tintagel; for if we abide here, you will surely be slain.”
       This time Gorlois listened to the words of his wife; and the two departed privily.
       When the king knew that they were gone, he was mightily wroth. He called his council, and told of the sudden departing of the duke and his wife, and of Gorlois having made action as though he would have laid hand on his sword, at some words the king had spoken. The council advised the king to send again for them to come to court by his command; and, if then they came not, it was ruled that there was good cause to make war upon the duke.
       A messenger was forthwith sent. But he brought short answer back, that neither the duke nor his wife would come.
       Then was the king more wroth than before. He sent again another message, bidding the duke make him ready for battle, for that he would fetch him out of the strongest castle that he had.
       When the duke had this warning, he furnished his strong castle of Tintagel for a siege. Thither went the king with a great host, and pitched many pavilions beneath the walls, and laid siege to the castle. And there was a great war, and much fighting on both sides, and many people were slain. Among many more was slain Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall.
       Thus far the king had his evil will. But it seemed that it served him but little. For a long, long while the lady Igerna shut herself up for pure sorrow, and would not be comforted. The king knew not what to do. He turned him to a noble knight of his court, Sir Hector by name, and prayed of him advice.
       “My lord,” said Sir Hector, “indeed I know not how you should win the lady, since you have slain her lord. I will seek the old man Bleise; it may be that he shall be able to tell you what to do.”
       My uncle knew well all that had befallen, for he had seen the battle with his own eyes from a hill-top some way off, and had already written it down in the chronicles of the realm. He guessed well the sore strait the king was in, for he knew that he truly loved the virtuous Igerna, and had done all this wrong in the hope to have her for his wife. But my uncle Bleise was sick at this time, and could not travel so far to speak counsel to the king; for he lived in Northumberland, by Humber Bank, and the king held court at Caerleon on Usk.
       “But go you, Merlin,” he said, “unto the king, and say to him as I shall tell you; and it may be that he shall yet have his will, and repair in some sort the ill he has done.”
       Thereupon, without more delay, I rode towards Caerleon, and met Sir Hector on the way, seeking my uncle Bleise.
       “Go no further, sir knight,” said I; “I know well whom you seek. I am Merlin, the nephew of the old man Bleise, whom he sends in his stead. When the king shall know through me what he has to say, if he consents to the will of my uncle, it shall be to his honour and profit, and he shall have the desire of his heart. Therefore, sir knight, ride you back the way you came, and I shall not be long behind.”
       When Sir Hector got back to the king, and told him whom he had met, then was the king well pleased. He vowed, if all should fall out as he desired, that he would keep me in his court, and hold me dearly in his favour.
       As I reached the door of the king’s privy chamber, I heard him say to Sir Hector in his impatience,—”Why tarries he so long?” Thereupon Sir Hector came out to see if I were on the road, and found me there where I waited outside. He brought me to the king, who welcomed me and spoke me very fair, and asked me kindly of the health and of my good uncle Bleise. Then he stuttered, and knew not how to speak what was on his mind.
       “My lord king,” said I, “I know all your heart right well; and so that you will be sworn to fulfil the desire of my uncle Bleise, you shall have your will.”
       The king gave me his royal word thereto.
       “This, then,” said I, “is my uncle’s desire. If by all fair and honourable means he can bring the lady Igerna to cease from her mourning, and to listen to your suit, and thereafter to consent to become your wedded wife, he desires of you a boon in return. What he asks is this: that the first child that is born to you, if it be a son, shall be delivered over to him, to be nourished and brought up as he shall see fit and wise, to the great weal and good of this land, over which he shall some time be king.”
       The king answered that it was a great thing to ask: but that he would keep the word he had vowed full kingly and knightly, and all should be as my uncle would have it.
       Then I took leave of the king and Sir Hector, and journeyed into Cornwall, to the castle of Tintagel, where was the lady Igerna in her sorrow.
       To get speech with this gentle lady was no trouble to me, for she ever held my uncle Bleise in much honour, and revered his grey hairs as a child does a father’s.
       “Lady Igerna,” said I, “my uncle Bleise greets you well by me, and would have me treat with you of a great matter, touching the good of this great realm of Britain, so long troubled by wars.”
       “Merlin,” answered Igerna, “next to my dear lord, I love the land he loved, where he lived and did battle like a good knight and true. Tell me, what says your uncle Bleise?”
       “He bids me say, lady,” said I, “that he has been sorely pressed by sickness; and more, by heavy dreams that came upon him as he lay. He dreamed two dreams, the one after the other; and one was sorrowful, and one was glad. In the sorrowful dream he saw the king that rules this land of Britain crazed for your love, and, through his sore need of your tender womanly love and pity to bless and guide him, committing outrages that are not of his nature, and making a dry desert of this once smiling land. He lived unloved, and died unmourned; and, after him, strangers from other lands seized on his heritage, for he left no son to come after him. In the other and glad dream, he saw you with a crown on your head, and with a young king’s son by your side. He knew that you were wedded to the king, for all the king’s face was changed. He smiled on his people, and his people smiled on him; and his young son after him was the best and wisest prince of this or any other time, and a great champion of Christendom.”
       The lady Igerna bowed down her head awhile in deep thought. When she raised it again, it was still sorrowful, but queenly.
       “Go, Merlin,” she said, “back to Humber Bank at this time. But come hither again when the leaves fall.”
       When the leaves fell it needed not that I should go. The king himself went in humble guise to that castle of Tintagel, where two winters before he had come in proud array with a great force of arms. He made the lady Igerna believe that he had never meant any treachery towards her lord Gorlois, but had met him in open battle in fair and knightly manner; so that the duke’s death lay not on his conscience. He was so handsome and so courteous, and so frank in his bearing, and so truly loved Igerna, that it was not long before he won her for his bride; for the words of my uncle Bleise had already sunk deep into her heart.
       So there was great rejoicing in the land; and the bridals of the king with Igerna were held with great state; and a tournament was proclaimed, whereto many knights, kings, and princes came from afar to contend for the mastery. The greatest of all was King Ban, of Benoic, a tributary prince of Gaul, the father of our own Sir Launcelot of the Lake, one of the best knights of my lord King Arthur’s Round Table.
 
       Now, Sir Launcelot of the Lake, when Merlin came to this point, could not help interrupting him.
       “Surely,” said he, “you speak of the bridals of the great Uther Pendragon? Often, when I was a child, did I hear my father, King Ban, tell of his deeds, and how he was sire to our good King Arthur.”
       “I pray you, Sir Launcelot, interrupt not my story,” said Merlin, “nor any knight present, or I shall never reach to the end.”
       “Go on,” said King Arthur.
 
       After the marriage days of rejoicing were over I left the king’s court and returned to Humber Bank, and helped my uncle Bleise to note down every event of the kingdom as it befell. But I came back to Caerleon from time to time, that I might see things with my own eyes, as the keeper of the records of a great kingdom should do.
       So passed the time till the leaves fell once more. At that time a son was born to the king and Igerna. Then I departed out of Northumberland, and went to Caerleon to ask for the child to be given up to my uncle Bleise, as had been agreed. The king was sorely troubled, and so was the child’s mother. But my uncle held the king to his pledged word; for he did all for the good of this kingdom, that the young prince might be brought up far away from the court, and grow to manhood where he should know nothing of those vices that marred his father’s greatness. All that the king could do was to demand that the child should be well and carefully nourished, and dealt with as best might befit a king’s son.
       “Sir,” said I, “my uncle has well cared for his welfare. The good knight Sir Hector has a castle north of Humber, near to my uncle Belise [sic]. He has a wife and a young son but newly born; the two children shall be bred up together, and trained so that in time they shall become good and valiant knights.”
       Then the child was wrapped in cloth of gold and given up to me. I took it, and left the court. Outside, not far off, waited the lady of Sir Hector, on a white palfrey, and a damsel on another palfrey. But Sir Hector’s lady would not have me give the babe to the damsel’s keeping; she took it, and folded it closely to her own bosom, as a mother might do; and the babe smiled up to her, as though she had been his own.
       Years passed away. Wars broke out in the realm of Britain; and at St. Alban’s there met the king a great host from the North. But the chivalry of Britain, with the help of King Ban and his Gaulish knights, put the northern host to flight. When peace was come again, the king was minded to visit the land of his friend King Ban, who had helped him in his wars. So he took ship, and passed the waves to Benoic.
       As the king was parting from these shores, I stood on the bank to watch how gallantly he bore him on the good ship’s deck, playing with his huge sword; now tossing it high in air, now clutching it again as it fell glimmering down. All at once, a sudden wind stirred the shoreward waves, and the ship heaved and reeled over the surges. Unmoved stood the giant figure of the king; but the sword never reached his hand. With a plunge, the huge blade fell over the ship’s side. The waters closed over it; and the famous sword of Britain’s kings, Excalibur, was lost for ever to the mighty Uther Pendragon.
 
       “How can that be?” broke in Sir Tristram.
       “Methinks the sword Excalibur hangs even now above the seat of my lord King Arthur.”       
       “I pray you silence, Sir Tristram,” said Merlin. “Be patient, and hear me to the end.”
 
       As I have said, the famous sword Excalibur was for ever lost to the father of King Arthur, the renowned Pendragon.
       While I stood on the sea banks, watching to catch the last sight of the ship that bore my mighty master from his own land of Logris, I saw how the sword fell into the wild waters. There seemed little hope that ever eyes should look on it again. But I did what I could. I bethought me that the waves of the sea ever go as the wind goes. The wind blew from the west; and, slantwise, curved the waves from west to east. Through all the day I walked the shore with my face turned eastward, to see if by chance the waters would cast up the drowned blade. And so it was. Towards evenfall a huge wave rolled over at my feet, and as the waters were sucked back again into old ocean, there, sure enough, on the bright sands lay the lost Excalibur.
       I dried the shining blade, and covering it from all eyes, bore it home to my uncle Bleise, meaning, when King Uther should come back to Logris, to surprise and gladden his eyes with it once more. But Heaven would not have it so.
       Home came the ship, and home came the great Pendragon; but he came with a heavy sickness on him. All the chief lords were summoned to receive his last wishes, and to hear whom he would have to come after him to rule the land. But before they could be got together, the king was speechless.
       “What now shall we do?” cried all the barons. Some said “Ask Merlin.” Then they questioned me.
       “There is no remedy,” said I; “Heaven will have its way. Yet, look well that all ye, the barons of this realm, stay by him. Please God, he may yet speak his mind to you.”
       What made me say this was, that I saw a strange light in the king’s eye; and I thought that as he drew near his end he would find both his mind and his voice. When I saw this this was so, I spoke to him.
       “Sir,” said I, “do you will that your son Arthur shall be king of this realm after you?”
       Thereat, the king raised him up where he lay; and he cried out so that all might hear his words:—
       “I give him God’s blessing and mine, and bid him righteously and truly claim the crown of this realm!” Therewith he died, smiling.
       But now a great trouble came upon the land. By reason that the young Arthur had been bred up away from his father’s court, and no man knew his face, those rebellious lords who would have served their own ends at their country’s cost, sent about a story that they could not be sure he was King Uther’s son, but might be any other man’s son for what they knew. Upon this, my uncle Bleise made me seek the Archbishop of Canterbury, to consult with him what was best to do. The archbishop, first of all, made me swear upon the holy Evangelists, that the boy Arthur, then fifteen years old, was truly the son of Pendragon. This I did with a safe conscience.
       “Then,” said the archbishop, “we must devise some means, even though it should seem a miracle, to overcome the scruples of these rebel lords and the people they are leading by the ears.”
       “My lord archbishop,” said I, as a bright thought came into my head, “if you shall see fit to leave this matter in my hands, I think I can contrive it so that it may be as we and justice would have it, and no man the worse, without bringing scandal on the Church. Do you but call together all the best men of the land. Let a tournament be proclaimed, with jousts and games of all sorts; and let it be given out publicly that on the same day a king shall be chosen, and that he only shall reign who may bring good proof that he is the true heir of Britain.”
       To this the archbishop was well agreed, and left the rest to me.
       The day of the great tourney, which was New Year’s Day, came duly round. All the land came flocking to see the sports; and, above all, eager for some proof or sign by which they might know their own true king.
       That day, there rode with the rest the good knight Sir Hector, with his son, Sir Kay—the youngest that ever was made knight,—and young Arthur, Sir Kay’s foster-brother.
       Now, as they rode towards the jousts, all at once Sir Kay found out that he had no sword in his scabbard. He must have left it—so he thought—at his father’s lodging. But, sooth to say, I had privily taken it from him for a reason that I had. As I guessed would happen, Sir Kay prayed young Arthur to ride back for his sword.
       “That shall I, with a good will,” said young Arthur. And he rode, as fast as horse could go, after the sword. But when he reached home, Sir Hector’s lady and the chief of the household were all gone to the jousting; and no one knew anything about the sword.
       Very sorrowful was young Arthur to go back without a sword for his brother, Sir Kay. As he went on his way again to the tourney his road lay through the churchyard of St. Stephen’s; and as he drew nigh to the graves, he heard a low moaning, as of one in much pain. He followed the sound, but could see no living thing. This grieved him; for he was ever ready to find out and to comfort the oppressed, young though he was.
       While he was yet searching about, here and there, behind the tombstones, all at once his eyes lighted on a mighty big sword sticking upright in the cleft of a time-broken stone. His eyes glistened with surprise and delight.
       “Here,” said he, “is what I crave above all things. Heaven be praised! my dear brother shall not be without a sword this day!”
       Thereupon, he drew the sword out of the stone, and starting off like the wind, was soon out of sight.
       Now came I out from my hiding-place, some way off, and followed after, to see what should come of it. I had ever a power of throwing my voice out of me, so that it seemed to come from another place than that I was in. By this means I had led the young Arthur far from my hiding-place towards the rent tomb where I had stuck the sword—which sword was in truth his father’s sword Excalibur, which all men deemed to be fathoms down in the bed of the great ocean.
       When the young Arthur came to where stood his foster-brother, Sir Kay, he put the sword in his hand, with a right glad face. Sir Hector was close by; and no sooner did he see the sword in his son’s hand than his surprise was so great that he cried out with so loud a voice that all the chief lords who stood by turned to hear.
       “Here surely is a miracle!” he exclaimed. “This is no other than the sword Excalibur!”
       “Then,” said his son, Sir Kay, “shall I be king of this land?”
       “How came you by the sword?” asked his father, Sir Hector; for he had not seen that it was given to him by Arthur.
       “Truly,” said Sir Kay, “my brother Arthur brought the sword and gave it to me.”
       “Arthur,” then asked Sir Hector, “where found you the sword?” And when he heard that it had been found in a cleft of the rent tomb he asked again, “Found you any knights about the sword?”
       “No,” replied Arthur; “no man was near.”
       “Now,” said Sir Hector, “all is well, and as it should be. Yours, Arthur, is the sword by right, since you found it, as yours in the kingdom by right. Understand, therefore, that you shall be king of this land, and no man shall dare gainsay you.”
       “I be king!” cried young Arthur, in great amazement; “and for what cause?”
       “Sir,” said Sir Hector, “because Heaven will have it so; and it was your father’s before you.”
       Then Sir Hector kneeled down on the earth before him, as did Sir Kay also, and took their oath of fealty to him as their rightful king.
       “Alas!” said Arthur, “my own dear father and brother, why kneel you me?”
       “Nay, my lord Arthur,” said Sir Hector, “it is not so. I am not your father, nor is Sir Kay your born brother. Your father was the great Uther Pendragon, king and ruler over all Britain. It is the sword of Pendragon, which by miracle you have found this day, that was lost fathoms down in the deep sea when your father crossed the waves to the land of King Ban.”
       When Arthur heard this, he bowed down his head and wept.
       “Alas!” said he, “then am I not in truth your son? You are the man in all the world that I owe the most to; and as much do I owe to your wife, my good mother, that like her own son has fostered and kept me. If ever I be king, as you say, you shall desire of me what I may do, and I shall not fail you. God forbid that I should fail you!”
       “Sir,” said Sir Hector, “I will desire no more of you but that you will make my son, your foster-brother Sir Kay, your seneschal.”
       “That shall be done,” said Arthur, “and, more than that, no man shall ever have that office but he, while he and I live.”
 
       Here Merlin’s story was again broken in upon; and this time by Sir Kay, the seneschal, who, like Sir Launcelot and Sir Tristram and the rest, was a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table.
       “And faithfully he kept his word,” said Sir Kay; “seneschal have I been from that day to this; and good friend and good brother has my lord King Arthur been to me, though I be not of his blood.”
       Then turned the good king to Merlin.
       “Old friend,” said he, “it seems to me it is the story of my own youth, rather than thine, that thou hast been telling.”
       “The life of a good subject is bound up in the life of his king,” answered Merlin. “But my story is wellnigh done.”
 
       When it was told to the archbishop how and by whom the sword had been found, he asked no questions; but he caused Arthur to be proclaimed king.
       No man dared to oppose himself to this, since the finding of Excalibur was held to be a miracle. One only, a hot-brained knight, Sir Ulfius by name, raised his voice against the king’s mother, the lady Igerna. My lord Arthur had sent for Igerna, King Uther’s wife, for his heart yearned to his true mother. Then Sir Ulfius spake openly, so that the king and all that were present might hear.
       “The lady Igerna is much to blame,” he said, “as traitorous to the king’s person.”
       “Beware, Ulfius,” said the young Arthur; “beware what thou sayest against the lady Igerna, my mother.”
       “I speak but the truth,” returned the hot-blooded knight. “This lady has been the cause of all our trouble, so that we have run the risk of a great war because we knew not our rightful king. Had she brought up her son in her own and his father’s court, openly before all men, this mischief could not have come about. Wherefore I accuse her as false to motherhood, to God, and to you; and I cast down my glove in token that I will do wager of battle to prove it against any living.”
       Then spoke the lady Igerna.
       “I am a woman,” she said, “and may not defend myself. But, if it be needful, I doubt not some good knight will take my quarrel on himself, and do battle in my cause. Merlin knows well, and you also Sir Hector, how my lord Uther prevailed over all my tears and entreaties, and removed my dear young son away from the court; and that I could do no more, but only obey my good lord, and pray kind Heaven to watch over my son.”
       At this Sir Ulfius was moved, and he turned to me.
       “Merlin,” he said, “you were more to blame than Queen Igerna; for you bound King Uther by a promise, which as a loyal man and a true knight he might not break. I repent me that I have spoken discourteously to the right good and virtuous lady Queen Igerna, who acted but wifely and well; and I am ready now to do battle in her cause whenever and wherever she shall call upon me.”
       King Arthur thereupon withheld some words he was about to say to Sir Ulfius, since the hot knight had repented of his hasty speech; but he took his mother Igerna in both his arms, and kissed her tenderly; and either wept over the other.
 
       “Thanks, old friend, for they tale. But now enough,” said King Arthur; for he saw that his lady mother, who sat there beside him in her fair old age, was much moved; and he would not have her put to pain. “By the laws of our Whitsuntide feast, thou, Merlin, hast a right to choose whose tale of adventure shall next be told. Speak, that the tale may go round.”
       “Truly,” answered Merlin, “an old man’s history is best followed by a young man’s tale. Therefore I call on Sir Tristram.”
       “With right good will,” said Sir Tristram; for he had ever a good faculty of reciting histories and making ballads of all that befell. “With King Arthur’s good pleasure, I will tell the tale of him whom Sir Launcelot calls ‘King Fox;’ but I call him my uncle, mad King Mark.”


Chapter III
Sir Tristram’s Tale of Mad King Mark
 
Never in all the world, I think, was there knight or king so mad as my uncle King Mark. While I was yet but a young squire I was sent into Cornwall to receive knighthood from my uncle; and sorry am I that I received it not rather from any man living; for there was neither honour nor courtesy to be learned from him. Though he calls himself King Mark he is really no king at all, save only by the sufferance of my lord King Arthur, who has forborne him these many years only for my sake, and because of his being kin also to dead Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. Because of the mystery of King Arthur’s early fostering, and the rebellion that came out of it, he seized that corner of land to himself, with all the estates thereto belonging, and would have all men call him king. And there he reigns and raves; and what he cannot do by the strong hand he will do by sleight and cunning; and for that cause has Sir Launcelot of the Lake ever called him “King Fox.”
       While I was yet but a new-made knight, my uncle’s right of kingship was called in question by one Sir Maurice of Ireland, brother to the queen of that country. To end the dispute it was agreed that the matter should be decided by single combat, between Sir Maurice of Ireland and that knight of King Mark’s court who should be of the best lineage. Thereupon, my uncle called me to him, and broke the affair to me.
       “Fair nephew,” said he, “this encounter falls to you by right of birth, and you must have to do with this knight of Ireland whether you be so minded or no.”
       “With your leave, Sir Mark,” said I, for I never would call him king, “I must forbear to do battle in this cause.”
       Then my uncle looked at me askance from under his brows, and, said he, “Fair nephew, why so?”
       “Because,” I answered, “no true knight will fight but in a just cause; and well you know there is no king in all Logris but only my lord King Arthur.”
       “Say you so?” said King Mark; “we shall see!”
       He said no more at that time; and I thought I was well out of the risk of shedding innocent blood in a wrong cause. But I was young then; and King Mark was more than a match for me.
       It was soon spread abroad that I was afraid of Sir Maurice, who was a noble and approved knight; and that I had refused to meet him in single combat. For this cause Sir Maurice took occasion to taunt me as recreant from my vows of knighthood, perjured, and false. My blood was hot; and I threw down my glove, and dared him to meet me in mortal fight. So here were we two come to be deadly foes for no cause save an evil mind and a lying tongue.
       We met full savagely. Twice I broke spear on Sir Maurice’s hauberk, and twice he hurled at me, so that I had all but been unhorsed. But to make a long story short, I overcame him in the end; and though he never cried me mercy, yet I gave him his life; as Heaven forbid I should not, both because of the just cause he had come to do battle for, and because I began to see that I had been slandered to the knight. He now confessed me to be a worthy foe; and we embraced as friends and brothers, though we were both sorely wounded, and might not bear harness for many a day to come.
       From that time my uncle seemed to grow all at once very kind to me. He gave it out that I had fought for his right of kingship; and made it be understood of all men that henceforward none should question it. It was in vain that I denied the tale; I was in the mesh, and I could not get out of it.
       Disgusted and sick at heart, I resolved to leave Cornwall, and to set out, in company with Sir Maurice, for the court of King Anguish, of Ireland. My uncle did not oppose me; but as I was on the point of setting foot on shipboard, who should ride up to me, as I stood on the shore with Sir Maurice, but my uncle, mad King Mark!
       “Fair nephew,” said he, for so was ever his way of speech when he had some end of his own to serve, “I would that you should take this packet, bound with silken cord, to my brother-king, Anguish, of Ireland, and greet him well from me.”
       I took the packet, bound with silken cord, and making, as may be guessed, light leave-taking, went on shipboard with Sir Maurice. As I mounted to the deck I heard a low chuckle behind me, and, looking back, saw cunning King Mark go smiling away.
       We made good voyage, and soon reached the domains of King Anguish. There I first saw the beautiful Isond. But little did I think what sorrow was in store for me through the crooked dealings of sly King Mark.
       At first I was courteously received by all; and was especially happy in the kindness and favour of the beautiful Isond, to whom, the first day of my coming, I began to teach the music of the harp, in which from my earliest youth I had delighted, even more than in hunting. But full soon I saw and felt a change. King Anguish looked askance at me; even Sir Maurice began to slacken in his friendship; and it became clear that the letter I had borne from King Mark was at the root of it all.
       Still, though all others looked coldly and suspiciously upon me, Isond remained kind and gentle as ever. So one day I thought I would take courage and ask her the cause of why I had grown in such disfavour. Then she told me how King Mark had written to her father to bid him keep me closely watched that I should never return into his country of Cornwall, for that I had plotted to usurp from him his lawful lands; and that when I had pretended to do battle in his cause it was only done to prove his right to possess them, in order that I might, as his nephew, claim them in turn, as he had no sons to come after him. But this was not all. He had the cunning to give some colour to his falsehood by saying that my object in seeking the court of King Anguish was to ask the aid of that king to dispossess him at once of his crown.
       For all this I cared little; the worst was to come. King Mark had asked for the hand of the beautiful Isond in marriage, and her father had consented to give her to the ruthless man. This was the greatest misfortune that could have happened to me, as I thought then,—for I was beginning to love, with all the devotion of knighthood, that gentle lady.
       Sorrowfully did the beautiful Isond weep as she told me of her father’s mistaken pledge to King Mark. But she was dutiful as she was fair; and I, as a good and true knight, was bound in honour henceforth to regard her as the promised wife of my uncle.
       Bitterly grieving over her probable fate, I at once determined to depart from that court. By the advice of Isond I arranged to steal secretly from Ireland, lest, in any attempt to detain me, I might be forced to come to open war with her father; and this, with many tears, she earnestly entreated me by all means to avoid.
       Just then it so happened that the distress I endured at hearing of my uncle’s new treachery against me, together with the sorrow of losing Isond, caused an old wound to break out afresh. What gentle and good thoughts for my happiness were then in her mind I knew not at that time, though I did later; but the kind Isond, though skilled in surgery beyond most of her degree, yet said she was quite unable to attempt my cure.
       “Sir Tristram,” she said, “your wound has been made with a poisoned arrow; it can only be cured in that country where you received it. The shaft that struck you flew from the bow of one of the band of heathen marauders among the mountains of Wales; so at least a minstrel sang the tale to me. I pray you go now into that country, to the court of the good King Howell, who is my kinsman. His daughter, my cousin and name-sake, the gracious Isond, is well skilled in leech-craft. Greet her well from me, and say I would that she would set herself to cure you of your wound. We two are so closely likened to each other, save that my cousin Isond is the fairer, that it may be you shall think the fair hands of Isond of Wales are the hands of the poor Isond which you have taught so well to draw forth the sweet music of the harp. Go now, Sir Tristram,” she added, as I would fain have lingered over that sad leave-taking, “and God speed you for a good knight and true!”
       Whether our secret talk had been overheard, I know not but that very night I was seized while asleep, and hurried, bound, to a dungeon below the castle keep. There, for some days, I lay without hope of release; but the gentle Isond was busy devising means for my escape.
       The first thing she did was to desire her damsels to spread abroad a report that I was greatly learned in magic arts, so as to put my gaolers in bodily fear of me. Next, she ordered that her harp should be wrapped in cloth of cloth [sic], and borne with great care into my dungeon to while away the hours of my captivity.
       There were at that time in Ireland, as there still are in this land, man people curiously fond of keeping dwarfs, who were brought over from the East. One of these frightful creatures, the smallest and most hideous of his kind, Isond procured. She caused him to coil himself up within the framework of the harp, for which purpose she took care to have the strings removed; that done, the harp, carefully swathed and bound, was brought into my cell, and there left; the dwarf having his orders what to do.
       When next the gaoler brought me food and water for the night, I hid myself behind the harp; while the hideous dwarf rushed forward, and soundly rated the gaoler for coming so late with my supper, howling out in his ears, “If you do not go to the foul fiend for this, my name’s not Sir Tristram!”
       Horror-struck at what he conceived to be my abominable transforming of myself into an imp of Satan, the gaoler rushed out, at his wits’ end, leaving the cell door open. Through it I slipped like lightning; and, aided by the dwarf who held the key of the postern gate, where my horse and good sword awaited me, I soon found myself in perfect safety.
       Glad enough was I to reach the shores of Wales. There all fell out as I truly believe the virtuous Isond intended that it should. In the court of King Howell my happiest days were passed. His daughter, the gracious Isond, as she was called to distinguish her from her cousin and namesake of Ireland, was the sweetest lady in all the world. Under her loving care all my wounds, both of body and mind, were indeed cured; and here at my side she sits, King Howell’s daughter, and the good wife of a poor knight, by name Sir Tristram.
 
 
       “And now, Merlin,” said Sir Tristram, when he had ended his tale, “I want to know why you smiled when I told of the poisoned arrow? I verily believe you put faith in nothing but God and knighthood.”
       “Truly,” answered Merlin; “I am not so simple as to believe the story of a poisoned wound being only to be cured in the country where the wound was dealt; though there is a sort of truth at the bottom of that foolish saying, doubtless. Perhaps he might be nearer the mark who should say, that it would be most likely of cure in the land the poison came from; since it has been said that the wise men among the Saracens, which people make much use of such unknightly weapons, ceased not in their search till they had found out an antidote to the poison with which they tipped their arrows. Be that as it may; as to your bodily wound, Sir Tristram, depend on it there was no poison at all in the case, let the foolish minstrels sing what they may. Mischief take the bards! They will leave nothing as they find it; but are for ever stringing of rhymes and twanging of strings, to the utter confusion of all true history. It matters little that they have set me down for a wizard; but they have ever dared to call our gracious lady Morgana, the ‘Fay-lady.’”
       “Nay, Merlin,” said Queen Guenever, who was wife to King Arthur, “blame not the bards so greatly; you yourself are half the cause that my lord King Arthur’s sister is accounted more than mortal wise. You found her apt, and taught her so many learned things that women seldom know of, that rumour has fixed upon her the blame of dealing with unlawful magic.”
       “Right, honoured lady,” replied Merlin; “but that all men may know truly in the end, I keep the books of my uncle Bleise, as well as all that I have written down myself, fast locked in the great pyx in the church of St. Stephen. Heaven grant they never be lost; or a sorry history will be given of us all in the ages to come!”
       Before any one could reply, suddenly a stir was heard at the lower end of the hall, and a cry of surprise broke upon the ear. In a moment every eye was turned in the direction of the tumult.


Chapter IV
Of A Strangle Damsel and of Three Questions

The noise and stir at the end of the great hall was caused by the sudden entrance of a strange damsel. As she approached, every eye turned towards her; for the damsel was of graceful bearing and stately presence. Though simply robed, every movement and gesture betrayed that she was come of gentle blood. At her side she wore a sword, richly jewelled at the hilt, but sheathed in a plain scabbard. Other ornament she had none, save her long glossy hair, that rolled over her shoulders in many a waving link.
       Having saluted King Arthur and Queen Guenever, and being desired to tell on what manner of errand she had come, she glanced round the hall for a moment, as if in search of something which she missed and would gladly have found, before she answered, in a voice passing sweet.
       “I come,” she said, “from my sister, the lady of the West Moorlands. She dwells in a strong castle, bordering a goodly river; but her right to hold the same, with the lands thereto belonging has been called in dispute by a neighbouring baron. He is the lord of the sterile region adjoining my sister’s lands, and covets for himself her fairer domain. On account of the many islands he has won and held for his own, he is named Sir Brian of the Isles; but in our country, because of the blood he has spilled, he is called the ‘Red Reaper.’
       “This is the cause of my [q]uest. My sister, finding that Sir Brian has become so powerful that she can no longer hope to oppose him without help from the chivalry of Logris, has sent me to this court to desire of some good knight that he will come to her help and rescue, according to his vows. She bade me be the bearer of this sword, and to say that if, as is likely, the Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table should dispute among themselves as to who should have the honour of the adventure, she desires that the choice shall fall on him who can best answer three questions touching the sword.”
       “And prithee, fair damsel,” asked King Arthur, “what may these three questions be? For I see that my knights, and even yon silent young squire, whose name is here unknown, are all alike eager to do battle in the lady’s cause.”
       “The three questions,” replied the damsel, “are these:—first, How should the sword be borne? second, Where did the sword come from? third, What is the best quality of the sword?—He who shall answer these questions better than any other, to him shall the adventure be adjudged.”
       The first question of “How should the sword be borne?” seemed so simple and easy to answer, that the knights laughed among themselves, and thought it a very poor matter indeed. One answered, “Across the left thigh;” another said, “Hanging from the baldric;” and all made such guesses at random as left no one answer better or worse than another. At last spoke out the silent young squire.
       “The sword,” he said, “should be borne valiantly, yet humbly: aloft in the press of battle; but lowly at the altar’s foot.”
       All were at once agreed that this was far the best answer of all. But the damsel looked haughtily at the young squire, and seemed much displeased that he should have outdone all the knights present.
       When it came to the next questions of “Where did the sword come from?” some said from Damascus, some guessed from Toledo, and others said from different places noted for such things. But none could answer truly save again the silent young squire.
       “The sword,” he said, “came from the anvil of the armourer who forged it; for it was no sword at all till it came out of the hands of the smith.”
       At this answer, much was the mirth of Queen Guenever and all the ladies present, save only the strange damsel. This time she regarded the young squire still more haughtily than before. But she said not a word.
       To the next question of “What is the best quality of the sword?” the answers were just as bad as ever. No one could think of anything but its sharpness, its toughness, and such plain meanings. As before, the silent young squire bore off the palm.
       “The best quality of the sword,” he said, “is its honesty; for it never takes life without giving death in exchange.”
       Then the damsel looked much disquieted.
       “Never,” said she, “shall my sister’s cause be taken in hand by an unknown squire, who has never yet proved himself worthy of knighthood; and who, it may be, is of ignoble birth and breeding, since he is nameless in King Arthur’s court.”
       “Nay, fair damsel,” said King Arthur, “you must confess that the peril of the adventure is his by right of answer. As to your objections, pardon me if I say I see no force in them. This young squire has worthily passed his noviciate, and is ready to receive knighthood at whose hands soever he may choose. With regard to his birth and lineage, methinks I could well answer for the same, although for reasons of his own he may choose at present to remain nameless. Since, however, you have such scruples, let him now declare at whose hands he desires to receive the most noble order of knighthood, and if he be willing to confide to his knightly sponsor what blood he is come of. Say, sir squire,” added the king, “from whom do you desire to receive the accolade; and are you willing to confide to the same the secret of your lineage until such time as you shall see fit to declare it openly before all this court?”
       “My liege lord, King Arthur,” answered the unknown squire, “right willing am I to do all that is required of me. But I am loath to choose, for this one cause:—many a time have I been heard to say that I would only be knighted by the best of your Knights of the Round Table; and who is the best, where all are mirrors of valour and courtesy, is a question far more difficult to answer than any which yonder fair damsel has put to me. When I prayed knighthood of Sir Gawain the Courteous, he referred me to Sir Tristram as a better knight than he; and when I begged the same boon of Sir Tristram the Just, he made me over to Sir Launcelot as the best of all. Sir Launcelot the Wise said, ‘On no account can I take upon myself to perform that duty, since you seek it of the best knight in Christendom; for the best of all for valour, justice, mercy, and courtesy, is that knight who is the head and crown of all that dwell in this land or any other, and he is no other than our liege lord, King Arthur.’”
       “Nay,” said the damsel; “if only, sir squire, you can prevail on King Arthur himself to give you your knighthood, there is an end of the matter. Yet I would that one of some renown had taken my sister’s cause in hand, rather than an untried youth like thee.”
       “Despise him not,” said King Arthur; a goodly champion will he prove, or I am much mistaken. Come hither, sir squire, and reach me down Excalibur. And now whisper truly to my ear alone what blood you come of; and say what is the name that I am to give you.”
       The young squire did as he was commanded. As he spoke low to King Arthur, a bright, glad smile shone on the calm face of the goodly king. He then lightly struck the kneeling youth with the flat of the sword.
       “Arise, Sir Gareth,” said he; “thou hast received the first and last blow that must be dealt thee with impunity: I will be thy bond that thou never wilt take another. Damsel, I approve him of noble blood, the noblest that may be. Will you accept him for your champion?”
       “My lord, King Arthur, since better may not be, I will,” was the scarce gracious answer of the haughty damsel.
       “So be it,” said the good King; “and with tomorrow’s dawn, Sir Gareth, our new-made knight, shall set forward on the enterprise. We doubt not it will be well achieved before the next Christmas-tide, when we shall hope to hear him recount how he has fared. And now, fair damsel, it rests with you to call on some knight present for a tale of adventure.”
       “Then,” said the damsel, turning to one of the two old knights between whom she had seated herself, and to whom she seemed to be known, “I would, Sir Urien, you should relate the tale of the Wild Wood-Ranger.”


Chapter V
Sir Urien’s Tale of a Wild Wood-Ranger
 
In my young days, Sir Segramore was my fast friend and brother-in-arms. His home was in the east fen country; mine lay westward, towards the Welsh border. As we both grew in years, and wedded, and brought up sons and daughters of our own, the old tie of brotherhood held us still; and though of necessity we lived parted lives, seeing how wide away stretched our lands each from the other’s, yet ever and again news reached us of our several fortunes. No joy was ours which we did not share, and no stroke of ill fortune befell Sir Segramore that did not strike me with as keen a thrust as if it had been dealt at myself.
       One heavy time, after a long season of swamping rains, the marsh lands about the fens where Sir Segramore’s lands were, became a scene of ill-hap from a slow fever that was bred there. My brother, as I ever called him, and all his house fell sick. News reached me of the mischief, and sorrowful and fearful enough it made me. But in a short while brisk winds began to blow, for it was the March tide of equal day and night, and gale-weather; and the storms that threatened the poor mariners at sea, blest the livers on land with free air and freshening breezes. The swampy fens dried up, the overflowed rivers shrank within their own banks, and the spongy soil crusted hard. Then men rose up again from sick beds and set their armour anew on their backs.
       When this better news reached me, the fear in my heart was past and gone; and the passing trouble faded out of mind.
       Some moons after these good tidings, it so happened that I was deep in some worldly cares. A clerk, learned in the laws of the land, had come to join counsel with me, touching some danger I was in of losing my vast possessions through the villainy of another.
       We were both tugging hard at the fast-knit knots of the law, when a servitor appeared before me to say that a strange man had come to offer me service as forest-ranger.
       I was chafed at being broken in upon, and answered testily: “Not now,—not now; I am busied. Who is he?—whence does he come?”
       “From Sir Segramore,” answered my man; “who begs you to take him on, for he has lost all in the fen-fever, and is stricken by the sight of the place.”
       “Let him abide, then,” said I; “but trouble me no more just now. I will see him to-morrow.”
       With that, I dismissed the whole thing from my mind, and stuck to the hard work before me.
       Soon after, we were called to meat. The learned clerk I made to be placed beside me; and the meat cooled while still we two chewed the hard cud of quip and crank, double and turn, worry and wile, of the law.
       The scarce-tasted meal over, we sat apart,—and at it again.
       At last, having come to some sort of conclusion, late at night the clerk took his leave to ride back to his monastery; and I, thankfully enough, betook me to my bed, casting myself down wearied and worn with hours of such brain-work as I was little used to, for a night’s sleep.
       Sleep I did, with a vengeance; but never do I hope to pass such another time of darkness. Night-mares and night-demons I had heard tell of; but I had ever laughed at such idle bugbears. However, that night I knew what it was to be ridden by the night-hag.
       I dreamed that I was wandering one long, dreary, never-ending night through the densest and gloomiest forest that ever haunted the sleeping sense. I was beaten by the boughs of it; I was lost in the mazes of it. My breath came short and catching, for I could not breathe for the thickness of the leaves. My horse stumbled at every second step over the bared roots that stretched like knotted chords across the uneven paths. With every footfall he scattered and sent whirling into the air the fine pine-fronds, whose splinters strewed over all the way; they came down upon me in a shower, tickling, piercing, and plaguing me, till I shook and shivered like a steed stung by the horse-fly.
       But there was another and a fiercer trouble than all these in that wild dream-wood.
       As I strained my eyes to catch sight of some opening which I hoped to find from out the endless linking and twining of boughs, I was suddenly startled by seeing the figure of a man dodging behind the tree-boles. A strange and grimly figure of a man it was,—as ugly and ill-looking a varlet as ever I beheld. His head was like a new-budded pollard, and stood up upon his neck like a mop on a mop-stick. He was bleared, too, of one eye; and, as if the other half of his face wanted to be even with the blind-side for ugliness, a great crooked scar crossed the high cheek-bone on the left side of his face, and, slanting down to his upper lip, left its dent there too.
       Had this grimly man-form stood still, I might have borne his company, and passed on out of sight of him. But, hang the fellow! if he didn’t keep dodging behind the tree-boles, slipping and darting from one to the another [sic], still ever in advance of me as I moved forward. To add to my terror and disquiet, ever now and again he kept flourishing high over his head a sharp woodman’s axe, that seemed to glance and shine with its own brightness, like a diamond in the mine, among those dusky alleys where no sun ever shone. At every flourish he seemed threatening to cleave my skull in twain.
       Again and again I pressed my horse forward to get past the ruffian; but, each time I did so, the beast reared with affright at the sight of him, and fell back on his haunches. Seeing my horse he would not go forward, I wheeled him round, and rode him back the way we had come. It was in vain. There was the grimly axe-man all the same, dodging from bole to bole along the backward way, with the uplifted weapon glimmering in his hand.
       This was not to be borne. I shouted to him; but there was no answer. I lashed at him with my sword; but my sword was only blunted against the axe. Still I hacked and hewed, and hewed and hacked; but all to no end.
       At last, just as I felt my sword-arm losing all power further to battle with the strange phantom, suddenly he sprang out upon me, and clove my arm in two. As my sword dropped, still clenched in my severed hand, the fiendish axe-bearer shouted an exulting shout.
       “Aha!” cried he, “it was for this I came. Aha! simple Sir Urien, have I caught you in a trap? How like you your new forest-ranger?”
       As he shrieked out these words in a voice like the roar of a wild beast, he once more flourished the axe above his head. By the rush of cold air that it caused as it came cleaving down, I felt it was descending on my neck. Another moment and I looked to feel the quick, keen, biting stroke. At that instant, what was my horror to behold my daughter Feloly slide down from the top of a tall pine-tree to the place where I stood, and glide between me and the axe. The agonized cry that burst from my lips at once awakened me.
       That such a dream as this should impress me vividly, may well be believed. My first thought—and it shot through my mind like a lightning bolt—was of the strange man who had come so oddly to offer himself for my wood-ranger. Not much was I given to fancies, for my life had been one of hard buffets in many wars, and the only thing I had ever been taught the fear of, even from my mother’s knee, was sin. Yet, for once, I conceived a sort of dread of my strange woodman. The dream brought the thought into my mind that the whole story of the man’s having lost all in the fens, and of his having been sent to me by my friend Sir Segramore, was a pure fiction; and that the axe-bearer’s intent was a secret design against my life.
       Thus, moved by a night-fancy, I judged and condemned the man.
       “Now,” thought I, “here am I saved by a dream. But I will give this strange comer one chance before I set my fellows to bind him hand and foot. I will see this grimly woodman. I have never yet looked on the fellow’s face. If it bears no likeness to the scarred and blear-eyed visage of my ugly dream, why I will let him off quit of blame, and turn him into the wood-shaw, and see what he is made of. But if, when I set eyes on him, I find the shadow of a resemblance to my axe-flourishing friend, why then, to the dungeon he goes.”
       Satisfied with my strict justice—as at the moment I thought it—I ordered the man to be sent into my presence.
       Never shall I forget the shock I endured when I looked on the caitiff rascal! There stood the creature of my hideous dream, to the life. There was the bleared eye,—there the ugly gash from cheek-bone to lip. To complete the picture, he came right up and stood straight before me, not only with the axe in his mischevious hand, but actually flourishing it aloft, as if in impudent defiance, before my very face!
       “Hither, my men!” cried I; “bind this fellow forthwith;—away with him to the dungeon. Hold him well; he is stalwart, and bent on evil.”
       The astounded woodman never stirred or moved a muscle, so aghast was he. My men bound him as easily as a lamb led to the slaughter. They were already hurrying him away, when my daughter Feloly, who had seen all that went on, came softly up to me, and bade me think what I was doing.
       “Father, you do wrong,” she said; “I pray you bid them unbind the man.”
       “By the mass! but you are bold, child,” said I. “What know you of this churl?”
       “All that is good, father,” she answered me, “and nothing that is evil.”
       While she said this, seeing my men pause at a sign from Feloly, I looked on the man anew. By all that was horrible, he had wrenched one arm from the men-at-arms who held him, and was once more flourishing the axe high in the air!
       Now my child Feloly had a will of her own, and a way with her that I defy any man to gainsay. She saw the axe go aloft as well as I. But instead of opening her eyes as I did—like a great fool that I was—she went direct up to the fellow, and without more ado took the axe from his hand.
       I must own I thought the girl was bewitched. But she soon made all clear to me, for she ever went as straight to her mark as a shaft from a bow.
       “Here, father,” she said, “is a letter from our good Sir Segramore. It is writ to me rather than to you, because this man Gurth has need of woman’s tender and piteous dealing. He was a cherished servant to Sir Segramore, who is loath to part with him. But he has sent him hither for his own good, to take him out of the sight of his old home in the fens, which made him sad even unto death. Poor Gurth! he lost his wife and child in the weary fen-fever. He nursed them both like a woman. Then he himself took the fever he strove so hard to lift from those he loved. You see him; he is so shaken even now in the fine nerves that his right arm works restlessly every now and then again with the strong convulsion. Pity and unbind him, father!”
       Of course, I had the man unbound instantly; and sorely ashamed of myself I felt.
       But now, how was I to accou[n]t for having dreamt of a man I had never seen; and who proved, when I did at last set eyes on him, the very living image of my ugly phantom of dreamland?
       This seeming mystery was cleared up, too, by my Feloly.
 
       As Sir Urien paused a moment, partly to take a breath, and partly to enjoy the looks of amazement and curiosity on the faces of his listeners, there was a very slight interruption.
       The stoppage was caused by only two words, and those two words were not intended to be heard. They were softly whispered to himself by the young Sir Lavaine, and would not have been heard at all but for Sir Urien’s sudden pause in his tale.
       The words were—“Sweet Feloly!”
       Sir Launcelot looked at Elaine and smiled; and Elaine looked at Sir Launcelot and smiled. Perhaps they were both thinking that their young brother Lavaine’s merry heart was caught by the sweet, kind daughter of Sir Urien. Sir Urien went on as if nothing had happened.
 
       “Father,” said my child Feloly, “do you remember how deep you were in talk last eve with that learned clerk when you were called to meat?”
       “Ay, child,” said I, “that do I truly; and a more weary business it was never my ill fortune to have to do with. But what has that to do with your man Gurth?”
       “Everything, father,” says the young malapert. “I scarce could take my eyes off your face, so rapt and lost to all the world you seemed. All the while you talked with the clerk, you fixed your eyes,—seeing nothing, or only half-seeing,—on the lower end of the hall. Thither Gurth had come with the rest of our people that feed below the salt. He took his chance that you should see and speak to him before the meal was done; for he was anxious and heavy of heart, and had half a mind, as you did not care to see him when he first arrived, to depart again the way he came, rather than to be a trouble to you. All the time he stood there, and after, when I rose up and whispered to him to sit down to meat, he kept many times raising his arm with the axe in it, and flourishing it over his head. Poor Gurth! we much comfort him, and make him forget his sorrows if he may.”
       Then, with a flash, it all burst upon my mind. Just as we hear and hear not, when a voice breaks in upon our mood in waking-dreams, and only makes itself heard when we have gathered up our scattered wits and forced them back to the world before us; just so the woodman’s face, at which I stared and stared while my thoughts were elsewhere, had forced itself upon me afterwards in my sleep.
       And now I recalled, too, clearly enough, that I had seen Feloly rise up and steal down the hall, as was her wont, speaking to this one and to that, in her own gentle, loving way; now kindly asking after the sick, now filling the cup with her own hand for the old and palsied. And out of this, too, came the dream-fancy of her sliding down the pine-bole between me and the axe.
       So to Feloly I owe it that I did not do a great and miserable wrong in binding a sick and sorrowing creature like a malefactor. And never from that hour have I had other answer to a dream-ex-pounder than—pshaw!
 
       So ended the tale of Sir Urien.   
       “You made indeed a cruel blunder, old brother-in-arms,” cried the other old knight, Sir Segramore; but all came right in the end. Some wrongs are done in hot blood, and some are done in cold. Doubtless the minstrels can furnish us with ballads setting forth other examples?”
       Then rose up the old minstrel, grey-bearded Eliot, who had been in his younger days the most renowned harper in the court of Uther Pendragon. Though the frosts of age were on him, he struck the chords with no feeble hand.
       “There is one old, forgotten song,” said he, “which I made in my youth, when my blood beat warm and strong, and my heart throbbed at a tale of wrong. Does any one here recall the lay of Gwenelda of Wales?”
       “I do,” answered Merlin. “Well do I remember the piteous tale of how Sir Bruno of the Tower tested the love and endurance of his gentle lady, because he had wagered to prove her more loving and obedient than any other dame of Uther’s court; even taking her young children one after the other, to be given up to death to save their father’s life, at the supposed command of King Uther.
       “Th[i]s much is known,” said Eliot; “and the wager, with its cruel carrying out, together with the restoring of the children to their mother, has been sung to the music of the harp in more countries than one. But few know what was the issue of it. It was of this that I sang in my young and strong days; for I was present in King Uther’s court when Gwenelda was summoned in proof that Sir Bruno had reported truly of her.”
       Therewith Eliot touched the strings and sang.


Chapter VI
Eliot the Harper’s Lay of Gwenelda of Wales
 
All games that knighthood’s soul delight,
   Let knighthood’s soul approve;
But woe befall the luckless wight
   That wagers on his love!
 
None ever in Uther’s royal court,
   None ever in hall or bower,
Made gracious womanhood his sport,
   Like Bruno of the Tower.
 
Uther, the King, he gave sign;—
   “A test—a test!” he cried:
Brim in the goblets stood the wine,
   And down the harpings died.
 
Save Bruno’s voice, no sound awoke
   That silent banquet hall;
Between the cruel words he spoke,
   You heard the rose-leaves fall.
 
“Ho!—summon, by the herald’s breath,
   Her who, for love of me,
Gave up to swift and bloody death
   The babes upon her knee!”
 
Low murmurs;—then a silence deep;
   Tongues dumb for wonder’s sake:
You gaze like those who walk in sleep,—
   You hear the harp-strings break.
 
“Though deaf to yonder herald’s call,
   Methinks she’ll hear another;
Stand forth! speak ye, my children all,
   And summon quick your mother.”
 
Apart, a warrior-bard did kneel,
   His thrilling harp held high:
His sword was sheathed, but the true steel
   Was flashing from his eye.
 
And amidst the minstrel throng,—
   He was a youth in years,
’Gan touch a low, unequal song,
   Like droppings of the tears.
 
She heard each voice whose life she gave,
   Drowning the herald’s call;
And, like a spirit from a grave,
   She stood amidst them all.
 
“Mark where she stands, with weeping blind,
   The woman of my choice!—
A woman of steady mind,
   And of a lowly voice.
 
“Speak out, Gwenelda! Never fear
   Thy tale of woe to tell:
King Uther he is fain to hear,—
   Say, have I judged you well?”
 
Fair forms around her knees arise,—
   Soft looks, of them that died;
But, not to meet her children’s eyes,
   Her own are turned aside.
 
And slowly, with a solemn peal,
   Her voice to music rose:—
“How deeply I have sinned, I feel;
   How much repent, God knows!
 
“Sinned ’gainst the holy right of home,
   Whose threshold I have trod;
’Gainst earth, and ’gainst the heaven to come,—
   ’Gainst motherhood and God!”
 
“Peace, peace, good wife!—the trial o’er,
   The peril and the pain,
Come to this beating heart once more,
   Back to these arms again.”
 
But with a look—half fear, half pride,
   She slipped from his embrace;
Nor dared upon his bosom hide
   The blush upon her face.
 
“Alas! for me!—to those dear arms
   Full lovingly I came:
Alas, alas; from those dear arms
   That I should shrink with shame!
 
“God knew my heart, and gave me grace
   A holier state to fill:
I dare not stand before His face
   The bond-slave to your will.
 
“True wifehood hath a soul;—’t is gone!
   You knew it;—you forgot.
The love I gave you once is flown:—
   Alas! you loved me not!”
 
An old man, bowed with age and pain,
   Drew slowly to her side.
“Good father, take me back again
   To the old home,” she cried.
 
“And when full soon an angry God
   Claims back this barren life,
Grave deep these words above my sod:—
   False mother, and no wife.
 
 
       “A woeful issue of a cruel test, truly,” said King Arthur. “I call to mind now that Sir Bruno was ever afterwards called ‘The Pitiless.’ All true hearts were turned against him; and there went a report that he departed from this land a sorrowful man, and journeyed into distant countries to do battle against the Saracens in defence of the Holy Sepulchre.”
       “That may have been,” said Merlin; “but my uncle Bleise knew something of his after-history, and that of his sorely-tired wife Gwenelda; and, if I mistake not, their lives are written down in the chronicles. Since Eliot’s lay stops short so soon, and as I see the fate of Gwenelda has deeply moved many here, I will take good heed to search the records, and we shall see, when the Christmas Feast of Camelot comes round, how the tale really ended.”
       “Pity we should wait so long,” said Queen Guenever. “Is there present no knight or minstrel who can tell us of the after-days of Bruno the Pitiless and Gwenelda of Wales? Sir Percival, you first breathed the air among the mountains of Wales, so I have heard; what tale of Sir Bruno is told on the border?”
       “Gracious lady,” replied Sir Percival, “well I know the tale you speak of; and glad am I to give the close to old Eliot’s touching history. Eliot the harper was indeed ‘a youth in years’ at the time that cruel scene was played before King Uther’s court; but there were younger than he; and it was from one of these—the children of Gwenelda—when grown to manhood, that I heard the tale. The end was this.”


Chapter VII
Sir Percival’s Tale of Bruno the Pitiless
 
When Gwenelda of Wales turned to leave the hall of that castle of Uther Pendragon, at Caerleon-on-Usk, homeless, loveless, and withal bitterly reproaching herself with having set up in her heart such a poor clay-idol as Bruno of the Tower, who could for his sport and pastime so wring her mother-heart, fortune played no worse with her than to give her children back to her arms. As she leant on the aged monk, and looked her last on the court of Pendragon, quick light steps sounded behind her, soft fingers caught her robe, tears fell warm on her hand, and climbing loving forms twined about her waist.
       Sir Bruno had started up in his lordly might. Perchance he would have called the children back, but that, ruthless as he had been, heedless as a wild savage that robs the forest bear of her cubs, a touch of nature and manhood struck home to his heart. Moreover, at that moment, he caught the amazed and angered glance of the great Uther Pendragon, who had known nothing of the cruel masque he had been playing, till he boasted before all the court of his submissive lady, and called her before them in proof that he had counted truly on her obedience. Something in that glance of King Uther’s eye he liked not: he felt sure it boded him no good. When the kingly blood was up no man could meet that glance and not rue it. There was a pause; a silence none dared to break. Then the pent-up scorn in great Uther’s breast found words.
       “Sir Bruno, Knight of the Tower,” he cried, “our court and banquet-board methinks are somewhat too full; your place is wanted.—Hence! and, ere you go, break in twain your forfeit sword; you are unworthy to bear it. Go; and go unchallenged: no knight of Uther’s court shall stain his brand by crossing it with yours!”
       Well may it be guessed that Sir Bruno of the Tower was seen no more at the court of Pendragon. When Gwenelda heard of the king’s scorn, and how her lord was a banished man, and that so the greatest penance was laid on him that he could know, for his unknightly sin of cruelty to her, then her true woman’s heart melted within her for very pity. She remembered only how he had wooed and won her, in her orphan home, when she had but newly left the convent where she was brought up; and her old love pleaded for him till she could find no rest for her great sorrow. Up and down, by wood and fell, by sward and by river, she sought him; but no one knew whither he had gone. Her thoughts turned to Eliot the Harper. When she had departed from the court, with her young children clinging about her, with none to support her but the aged monk, the boy-minstrel had risen from the banquet-board, and flinging down his harp, had followed, sword in hand, to guard from danger a wronged lady and her helpless children. But now she learned that after he had put her in safety he had wandered away into other lands to try his skill in music-matches with foreign minstrels, and she knew not who else might aid her in her search. At last she bethought her of the good lady abbess of the convent where she had passed her young days, and where she had been taught and cared for. To her she went; thinking to herself, “If she may not help me to find my lord, yet ghostly comfort will she give me.”
       But comfort she got little, ghostly or other. The lady abbess, though she had never known children’s love, had a warm heart and a quick judgment, and both alike condemned Gwenelda. When she heard what had happened she questioned her rigidly.
       “You gave your children to death for the love of Sir Bruno?”
       “Alas! yes,” was the answer.
       “But first, when you were told your lord’s life lay in the danger of the king, you threw yourself at great Uther’s feet and pleaded for your lord?”
       “Alas! no,” replied Gwenelda, “my lord said his life were surely forfeit, and no prayers would King Uther hear.”
       “But you essayed it, none the less?” persisted the abbess.
       “Alas! and again, no,” said Gwenelda; “my lord forbade me: he showed me that I had vowed him obedience, and held me to my bond. Only could he be saved, so he said, by giving up the heir to his lands.”
       “And you gave the boy?”
       “Spare me!—I did—I did!”
       “And Uther, not yet appeased, desired the next son, so you were told? And him, too, you delivered up?”
       “Mercy! mercy! lady abbess,” cried Gwenelda; “I shall go mad again with the thought!”
       “Child, cease they sobbing,” said the abbess; “I do but probe the wound to bring thee heal the sooner. The blame is mine. Thou wert ill taught indeed to render up thy soul to this man when thou didst give they heart into his careless keeping. Was he a god, that thou shouldst offer up thine Isaac twice over, without a word, at his bidding? Child, thou hast sinned; yet art thou less blameful than I. My penance shall be heavy for my heedless guardianship of the orphan given to my care. And for thee, thou must shrive thyself. A holy man shall confess thee forthwith.”
       When next Gwenelda sought the abbess, she was asked what penance had been accorded her.
       “Ah,” she answered, “a penance all too light for sin like mine. I am but bidden to go on foot, bareheaded, to yonder forest, and there to tend night and day a sick knight who dies a slow death in a lazar-house, being possessed by an evil spirit; and who is forced ever to keep his visor closed to cover his face, so loathly is he to look upon; and who speaks never human word, but only howls piteously like a wild beast.”
       “Thou may’st find thy penance harder than thou deemest,” was the grave answer of the abbess; and her words proved true in the end.
       Gwenelda took her way to the forest. It blew a fierce gale, and wild to the winds of heaven her fair hair was blown, like rays of the golden sun when he dies in the west. The thorny ways wounded her tender feet; yet on she went, looking neither to right nor to left, but thinking only of the dear ones in the old desolate hall of her dead father, who would need her circling arms and miss her again who was so newly found. It was true that the lady abbess had promised they should be well cared for; but her mother-heart was sore for them, and she wondered more and more when she thought of that madness of love for their lost father which had once made her yield them up to death for his sake. She welcomed her hard penance, for she thought that by wearing out heavy days and nights in a work of mercy and healing, she might become more worthy of her rescued treasures.
       As she entered the lazar-house, the possessed knight, who lay stretched on the bare ground, turned his barred visor towards her, and a dismal groan burst from his lips. From under the closed helm it rang with an unearthly sound. But void of all fear for herself, Gwenelda set about such offices as are needful of the sick. That done, she sank humbly on her bended knees and prayed for the lost soul that had wandered from its earthly dwelling.
       At midnight, when she deemed the knight slept, so still and powerless he lay, he slowly rose up to his feet, and, looking at her long through the bars of his visor and grinding his teeth as sick men do in troubled dreams, he took her by the arm and led her forth from the lazar-house to where the forest was thickest and most sombre.
       He was clad in a leather doublet, without other armour than his helm; but from his baldric hung a sword, and a dagger was thrust beneath the belt. Still no fear for her life troubled Gwenelda, for she thought not of herself. Yet the wood was wild and the hour dreary; and, by degrees, dreadful thoughts of unknown horror began to mingle with the calm of her penance-trial. She recalled the words of the abbess, “Perchance thou may’st find thy penance harder than thou deemest.” But to take her life at once seemed no purpose of the possessed knight; he paused often, and glared at her long with fixed and fiery eyes, as if doubtful what manner of agony to inflict upon her.
       Now the wood-path opened, and glimpses of a watery moon, with a ring as of blood around it, showed the path more clearly; and the winds of heaven, released from the hold of the clasping boughs, once more blew freely upon the wandering golden hair and floating robe of the penitent Gwenelda.
       But whither was the evil knight leading her? Before her lay her father’s castle, with its many towers rising above the chestnut-trees; that tower, from whose narrow loop-hole window her lord had leaped to save her favourite hound that was being worried to the death; and this with the wider casements, where safe in their warm nest her children were lying,—the darlings of her love and sorrow. A strange quiver ran through her frame. She dared not think what new trial might await her.
       The possessed knight, still leading her on with no gentle hand, paused before a low door which led down to the vaults below the castle chapel, which by some means he contrived to unfasten, though it was ever kept securely barred. Here descending the dark stone steps, green and slimy with long disuse, he had led, half dragged her after him, till they came to the wide and lofty vault which contained the dead of all her race. A dim lamp that burned at the far end of the vault showed her where the last coffin—her father’s—was set. Here a sudden fury came over the possessed knight. Still grasping her with one hand, with the other, as if all at once endued with more than human strength, he began to hack and hew the coffin with his sword, till the splinters flew far and wide, and rattled on wall, roof, and floor.
       Horrified at the fearful sacrilege, and powerless beneath this sudden show of malice, for a moment Gwenelda had no power to act. But now a new terror lent her force and courage. An overmastering dread seized her lest the knight’s next attack should be on the children sleeping above in the old tower-chamber, which stood next to the chapel, and in the direction of which was a door leading upward from the vault. With a sudden spring, she tore herself from the grasp that held her, flew wildly through the door, firmly barred it on the outside, and, with the speed of life and death, gained the turret-chamber.
       She gathered the sleeping innocents in her arms, and [fled] down to the great portal, and out into the night, never staying her steps till she stood, all pale, panting, and with bleeding feet, by the bedside of the lady abbess. Terror and flight had left her breathless; but sinking on her knees, and still clasping beneath either arm a rescued little one, she appealed with craving looks to the good mother.
       “It is well,” said the abbess; “they shall be cared for.”
       Gwenelda stayed but to print one thankful kiss on the hand that was stretched out to comfort her, and hurried back to the fearful scene of her penance. As she neared the vault once more, all seemed still as death. She entered cautiously;—but what a sight was there! Her dead father’s coffin lay bare, and white and cold lay the dead within it; while the flickering light from the distant lamp seemed to give motion and life to the senseless clay. The possessed knight stood motionless, fronting the body. A piercing shriek from Gwenelda woke him once more into fury. Again he lifted his sword as if to hack at the lifeless form before him. With another piercing shriek, which made the vault ring, Gwenelda seized his sword-arm and strove to stay the horrible sacrilege, which made her very blood freeze. But this served only to turn his fury on herself.
       Nerved with unnatural strength, he wound his arm about her. She felt powerless as a child in his arms. In vain she struggled and writhed in his grasp. Maddened and possessed indeed, as it seemed, with the passions of a fiend, there was now no escape from his fury. What new horror was he about to inflict? Her senses almost forsook her. She could not think; she could not cry for mercy where mercy there was none. Out of that dreary vault no shriek of hers could reach her sleeping household.
       She had struggled against his might till faint and sick, when an old toothless hound she well knew bounded in at the open door of the vault and threw his whole weight on the uplifted arm of the knight. Though the hound made no show of tearing him, the creature’s presence gave her new strength. It was Bruno’s hound. Oh that her lord could hear her! Filled with the forlorn hope that he might be near, she cried in her agony, “Oh, Bruno, lord and love, help me! Beloved of my soul,—dearer than life,—precious as heaven,—come to my rescue! Kill me,—let me die upon your breast,—but save, oh save me from this monster!”
       The knight suddenly loosed his hold and started back. The hound dropped to his feet, and fawned and licked them in dumb devotion. The knight raised his visor, and the stern mad passion in his eyes grew calm. It was Bruno himself.
       One glance at his face, and Gwenelda sank down before him on trembling knees. She threw wide her arms, and bared her true breast to the stroke she looked to meet, as she cried, with lips that smiled in their deep joy, “O my lord,—my love, my love,—strike,—strike, and give me rest! Sweet will death be at thy hand, sweeter than life where thou art not! Strike, my Bruno,—strike!”
       But the dagger with which his hand had played dropped from his hold. He took his sword and flung it from him; and he stood and gazed till his soul was satisfied.
       It was enough: Gwenelda sprang up and flung her arms around his neck. So ended her sorrow and trial. Sir Bruno took her from Uther’s lands, and their children with them. Doubtless she fell to her old idol again.
 
       “It was better so,” said a knight-pilgrim, who, having laid aside scrip and staff, had found a welcome at the court of Camelot. “It is likely the lady Gwenelda loved more wisely for the fiery trial she had gone through. In my journey towards the far East, I recall having heard of a pilgrim of the name of Sir Bruno, who had once been a man of a stern life, but had afterwards become noted for sundry acts of grace, and was the founder of the pious [O]rder of the Carthusians. It may have been the same.”
       “Methinks, sir pilgrim,” said King Arthur, “those journeyings Eastward must have furnished you well with adventures. Have you no tale of the lands you passed through in your way towards the holy city of the Sepulchre?”
       “One adventure,” replied the pilgrim, “and of a strange kind, I encountered, which impressed me much at the time, and I am not likely to forget it. It happened among the Black Mountains, a wild and dreary region, as I shall show.”


Chapter VIII
The Pilgrim’s Tale of the Mountain Voices
 
In journeying towards the land of the Holy Sepulchre, pilgrims from many countries wind their way across a chain of mountains of giant height, known in those parts by the name of the Black Mountains. The people who dwell at their feet, among the low-lying valleys set between the lofty hills, are a strange wild race. When well governed, they are capable of deeds of much nobleness and generosity; but tyranny they cannot endure; and under a hard rule they become fierce and revengeful.
       Some while ago, when I was yet young, and went on my first pilgrimage to the Syrian land, I found the dwellers among the Black Mountains suffering under a state of bondage to the will of one man. His name was Talmor. For many years, in wars against the neighbouring hordes, this man had fought bravely for his country. But, after a time, elated by the favours and honours that were showered on him, his ambition knew no bounds; and not only did he crave the supreme rule for himself, but he grew reckless what means he took to compass his ends, or what misery he inflicted on the country of his birth, which he had once so gallantly defended.
       This fierce mountain-chief had one day been called to a feast given by the sovereign king of that country. He entered the hall in gorgeous apparel. No man saw that beneath his richly furred mantle he carried weapons more than one. A number of those who were asked to the feast had fought side by side with him in many a gallant battle for their native land. They loved the man and would have followed him in any enterprise he undertook. They followed his lead now like blind men led by the blind.
       When the feast was at its highest, and the cup was passed, and no man dreamed of ill, at a covert sign from the mountain-chief agreed on beforehand,—which was the dashing down of the cup at the moment lifted to his lips,—those of his band who knew the game that was afoot, leaped quickly from their seats, and, rushing towards the royal throne, struck down their king.
       In an instant every guest sprang to arms. During the wild slaughter that followed, Talmor, the chief, made his way into an inner chamber where the queen had taken refuge with her son, then little more than a child in years. Her he harmed not; but he fell on the heir to the throne, and left him for dead.
       But the boy, though wounded, lived. His mother, the queen, fearful that this should be known, lest the boy’s life should be again in peril, gave him over secretly to the care of a faithful vassal. This devoted servant she charged to bear the child beyond the mountains, and there keep safe watch over him for the few years that remained till he would reach the age of early manhood. To the boy himself she spoke with a firm voice and tearless eye; and, holding up before his eyes his father’s blood-stained mantle, bade him remember well the deed of massacre, and whose work it was, that he might one day be its avenger. Fain would she herself have fled away with the boy; but such a course she rightly judged would but have served to expose him to new danger.
       No sooner was he safely withdrawn from the palace, than the queen hastened to prepare a solemn burial for the dead king, and, as it appeared, also for his heir; and her bitter weeping over her beloved lord seemed indeed as the weeping of one who had lost all that was most precious in the world.
       The grim chief, Talmor, had seized all the strongholds of the capital, where he had placed his devoted followers in such force that none dared to set themselves against him. But the people, though they feared to act openly, muttered between their teeth, and lived in the hope of some chance which might enable them to thrust the king-slayer from his place. As time wore on, these stealthy whispers grew to open words and threats against the usurper. Henceforth, Talmor, who feared neither sword nor spear in open field, began to look furtively around him, like one who sees a secret foe in every branch stirred by the wind. His life became one long and weary watch for the enemy that sits at feasts with the dagger under the furred mantle.
       At last he hit on a scheme to quiet the mutterings of the angry people. To the queen, who lived apart in a retired portion of the palace, from which he had never ventured to drive her, and of which, for reasons of her own, she resolved to hold possession, he had ever shown a great respect. One day he appeared before her in all the state that befits a king; and a king, indeed, he called himself,—King Talmor of the Mount. Never deeming that his will could be questioned, he told her he had determined to make her his wife, and that the bridals should take place without delay. He did not tell her that he had come to resolve to still the tumult among the vassals of the late king, her murdered lord; but her woman’s wit glanced the truth at once.
       “Robber!” cried the queen, “dare you offer me a hand red with my son’s and my husband’s blood?”
       “Beware, proud queen,” answered Talmor; “beware, lest I add your name to the roll of the dead!” He saw that he had taken a wrong step, and now strove to gain by terror what he had failed to win by soft words. But he little knew with whom he had to deal.
        “Take my life if you will,” said the brave queen; “but only touch one hair of my head, and your last of battles has been fought. My people love me. One word from my lips would raise the whole land against you. But the lives of my loyal vassals are dearer to me than revenge. Yet, I warn you, insult me no more. Leave me to mourn my dead.”
       He took her at her word, for he could do no other; and the queen bided her time.
       Things were in this state when I passed on that pilgrimage of which I spoke. The snow lay thick on the Black Mountains. High up in the haunts of the white eagle stretched shelf above shelf of barren rock, as if a sea of giant waves had flowed and frozen there. My way lay along a narrow rocky ledge. The steep hill-side was on one hand; on the other, deep down, roared the restless flood of a mountain torrent, which the ice-king had never chained. Clear as the crystal water was the sharp wintry air, and silent as footsteps on the snow.
       As I turned an angle of the rock, full in my path stood a woman. She was of majestic bearing, but no longer young. Her dress was a long white robe, bordered with red, and richly embroidered with golden threads; the long loose sleeves, bordered and worked in like manner, descending to her knees. On her head she wore the red and gold-embroidered cap of the country, with its matron band of black above the brows, making their pale hue show paler still. Across her breast was a baldric befitting a king; and thrust within a girdle thickly studded with rich red stones was seen the death-dealing yagatan,1 a sure and ready friend in time of need. Such was the vision that broke upon my astonished sight, and brought to mind the tales of old Rome and its Amazons.
       “Sir pilgrim,” she demanded, “whither are you bound?”
       “To the Holy Sepulchre itself,” was my answer.
       “Are your sins so heavy they brook no delay, sir pilgrim?” she asked; “or may you turn aside for a brief space to win a smile from heaven for a good deed done?”
       “Whither, lady, would you that I should journey?” said I; “the way shall be long and the peril sore that holds me back from doing your bidding.” For she looked queenly, and her brows were knit with a long life-sorrow.
       “Well said, sir pilgrim,” were her words. “Journey, then, whither I shall direct you. When your travel is ended, and you have found whom you seek, give this baldric—it was once a king’s—unto the youth, and bid him be worthy of his country and his race.” She then gave me all needful direction for my guidance; and, passing me on the narrow rocky ledge with the sure step of one used to the mountain way, crossed like a shadow over the snow.
       As I journeyed on, the air continued motionless. Not a breath of heaven’s wind stirred the smallest snowflake that lay poised on jutting crag, or fringed the narrow track I trod with slow and cautious step. Yet something around me—so strange, so viewless-caused me to stop and listen. Yes! There it was; a whispered sound, a murmur as of a human voice on the air. At first I could gather no meaning from the sounds. They seemed to come faint and fitful, as the soft rushing of summer breeze-notes among the shaken aspen-boughs; but, as my ear became accustomed to the tones, gradually they shaped themselves into words—the words of that mountain-land. I knew enough of its language to catch up the shreds of meaning, and to piece the whole, till I became lost in wonder.
       “Irwan, shepherd of the hills,” murmered the mountain tones, “send thy voice across the waste, towards the thrice-rifted rock by the shattered pine, to the hut of Stanisha, keeper of mules. Wake the cry for Vlademir—Vlademir the Avenger!”
       All was still again. My blood crept with a mysterious horror. Yet on I went. I listened—it came again; the same cry, the same words. Again and again were the sounds repeated; now dying away, now ringing on the air like far-borne echoes of some hunter’s call. But this was no chase of the dumb mountain prey:—the cry was for human blood.
       How far I had gone I know not. All the dreary way the voice pursued me. Now for a more lengthened time all was hushed. Then again a new voice sent the murmered message on.
       “Stanisha, keeper of mules, turn thy face south to the three-circle above the valley of stones. Hail there Juro, the sledge-driver. Bid him pass on the cry for Vlademir—Vlademir the Avenger!”
       Verily it seemed a demon-land, where even the mountains cried aloud for blood! As I held on my way, still pursued by the sounds, once more the fitful murmurs changed their tone, till it seemed as if each succeeding cry was more hellish than the last.
       “Juro, driver of sledges, muffle the bells of thy deer, that thou mayest be heard. Shout, and cease not; shout far across the level mountain for Vlademir—Vlademir the Avenger!”
       Lost in amaze, I continued my journey. I reached the far village I was bound for, beyond the mountains. I found the ancient vassal. I too, like the mountain-voices, whispered, but only into the old man’s ear, the name of Vlademir.
       “He is already on his way,” said the old man. “The voice of his mother and queen has sent the cry from mountain to mountain. Like a young roe he leaped to the call. He is gone—gone to avenge the blood of his sire. Woe, woe to Talmor!”
       “How can that be?” said I; “one only path lies across these desert wastes. No foot save mine has left its track on the snow.”
       “There are two paths,” was the answer, “from the point where the descent towards this village begins. You, sir pilgrim, must have taken the one, and Prince Vlademir the other.”
       “And the voices?” I cried, still scarcely able to comprehend the mystery of the mountains.
       “The mountain-voices,” replied the old vassal, “are known only to these wilds. By deepening the tone of the human voice in a peculiar way, messages may be sent from point to point across the hills. As one dweller in the huts above hears the call, he repeats it to the next, in the same deep tone through the still, unmoved air. When the winds are lulled, and especially when snow and frost set in, the sound has a power to traverse long distances. It is repeated by each hill-dweller for a length of time, to ensure its reaching the point intended; thus you whole journey has doubtless rung with the cry for Vlademir. He is indeed the Avenger. By the laws of our people the blood of those who die by assassin must be revenged by him who is nearest of kin to the murdered man. Vlademir is son to our slain king.”
       “’Tis a pity he is already gone,” said I. “Behold this baldric. I bring it for the youth; his mother bade me bear it, praying him to be worthy of his country and race. I will return and follow in his track. Some meaning, perchance, more secret than could be borne by the mountain-voices, lies beneath the gift.”
       “No,” said the old man; “rest content. Your errand was but to make the message more sure. It happens sometimes that the dwellers in those far-scattered huts are removed by death or accident; and, in that case, the transfer of the message is doubtful. Tarry with me. You are weary and travel-worn. Here is a bed of rushes for needful rest, and bread and goat’s milk to appease your hunger. Be refreshed; and await with me the issue. They will not fail to send the old vassal news how the Avenger has fared.”
       And so it was. Ere very long the mountain-voices spoke again.
       “Irwan, faithful shepherd, lift the cry;—Talmor has fallen: hail Vlademir your king!”
       “Stanisha, loyal muleteer, send on the welcome news: Talmor is no more; our Vlademir is king!”
       “Juro, happy guider of the deer-drawn sledge, shout!—then set they bells atune: Talmor has fallen for ever;—hail, hail King Vlademir!”
       Each after each, the voices stirred that silent mountain-land. The last only reached our ears, dwelling as we did in the far valley. It was enough. The aged vassal clasped his withered hands, and, looking up to heaven, cried, “Now have I lived long enough; the blood of the king, my master, is avenged!”
      
       The pilgrim ceased. Many said they liked this tale more than most, it was all so new and strange. But King Arthur was of another mind.
       “It is a sorrowful think,” said he, “that a people who, as you say can bear witness, sir pilgrim, are capable of more noble and generous emotions, should cherish for years a thirst for vengeance such as you describe. A chivalrous race would have rallied round their sovereign lady on the instant, and put down the usurper. The wrong was a great wrong, doubtless; but such hoarded and unsleeping hate was a wrong too,—a sin against the justice of God,—unknightly and unchristian.”
       To fill up the pause that followed King Arthur’s words, Sir Dragonet, who ever made the hall ring with his merry moods, offered to relate a queer adventure that had befallen him at the court of Orkney, before he was known to King Arthur. This queer adventure had to do with a Purfled Mantle.


Chapter IX
Sir Dragonet the Fool’s Tale of a Purfled Mantle
 
At the telling of tales a fool is as good as another; for if he telleth a touching tale, and he that hears it wastes tears upon the tale, then I say that the hearer is a greater fool than the teller thereof; whereas, if the fool telleth a merry tale, and the listener’s ear be tickled till he rends his sides with laughter, then it follows that the merry tale-teller is no fool at all.
       When I was in Orkney at the court of King Lot, playing the fool in good enough earnest by falling in love with an armourer’s daughter, there went a tale that the king of Arran Isle had sent a villainous message to the court of Orkney, by way of defiance. A herald brought this missive to King Lot of Orkney, greeting:
       “Forasmuch as I, king and lord of Arran Isle, have caused to be made a full fair mantle of the white fox fur, and forasmuch as it has pleased me to tuft and purfle the same with kings’ beards after the manner of ermine-tails; and whereas I have conquered by the might of my arms sundry and several kings of known repute, and have taken their beards to purfle my mantle withal, I, king and lord of Arran Isle, do send this message to King Lot of Orkney, greeting. Forasmuch as one place in my mantle of the white fox fur is wanting of a beard, it is my will and pleasure to receive or take, by fair means or foul, the beard of King Lot of Orkney to purfle the same. And if in the space of ten days I receive not the beard from King Lot’s chin, I purpose and pledge myself to call together my arms and following, and to come and take the beard from his chin perforce, if I pluck it thence with mine own right hand.”
       When I heard of this message, I forthwith quitted the side of the armourer’s daughter, and betook me to King Lot; and, without more ado, I besought him to dub me knight.
       King Lot said, “Fellow, how may that be? ’Twere a shame to give knighthood to such as thee.”
       “Your pardon, kingly sir,” said I, “if I be but a poor fool, yet am I come of good and brave blood by my father’s side; though, I grant you, my mother was but a cowherd’s daughter.”
       “Then,” said he, “on your knee I bid you stand. Now arise sir knight of Tom Fool’s Land!” And, added King Lot, “There, Sir Dragonet, if ye be not made knight be reason, ye are by rhyme. Heaven grant you a sharp wit that shall serve you as well as a sword, and, may be, better.”
       “Amen!” said I, for I was as good a clerk as I was a Christian. “And now I have two more boons to ask of your grace.”
       “What may they be?” asked King Lot.
       “Only this,” answered I; “since I am a dubbed knight, I would beg leave, firstly, to have a hand in the wording of the message that is to be borne back to this villainous king; and, secondly, to be made the bearer thereof.”
       “With all my heart,” said King Lot; “a fool’s answer to a fool’s defiance. All I desire is that it may be done out of hand, before this beard of mine shall have grown a day older. But what message wouldst thou send, sir fool?”
       “This,” said I, “is the answer I would send:—’I, Sir Dragonet, fool at King Lot’s court, to my brother-in-wit, to wit, the lord and king of Arran Isle, greeting: Whereas I, having and holding sole right and mastery over all beards at this the court of Orkney, by reason of my causing the same at all times and seasons to wag with sundry and divers pleasantries and broaches of wit, do answer for my liege lord King Lot, that his beard may not be well spared at this time. But I, his born fool, do hereby pledge myself that this my own proper beard, now merrily wagging to the sound and tinkle of the cap and bells of his foolship of Arran Isle, shall be held duly forfeit by me to my liege lord King Lot, if, before the ten days of grace be run out, my wit contrive not to prove a match for that of my brother-in-motley, even though it should come to the pulling of beards.”
       “Well said and well writ,” said King Lot. “Now take thy way, and good speed be with thee.”
       All things being got ready and fitting, I took sail for Arran Isle. About my body I bore all such gear and blazonry as heralds use, which would ensure me a safe pass, and so leave me at large to do my will as occasion might serve.
       When I reached his kingship’s lands, as fortune would have it, his graceless was sick-a-bed. “Well,” thought I, “this chance may serve my turn as well as another.” So, having given it out that I had come with greeting from King Lot, and could in nowise deliver what I had to say save and except only to his high mightiness the King of Arran in person present, I was told I might keep my missive till the king could rise to give me hearing. I asked no better than this; for now I saw my way to shame the boastful sinner.
       No sooner was I told to bide my time, than, affecting great concern for the king’s malady, I gave it out that I had on board ship a renowned leech who could cure the king of his humours without pain or risk to life or limb. The leeches of Arran were notably bad; for, like the blood-suckers they are called after, they had a trick of draining a man’s body of its life-juice for each and every disorder, and so doing death’s work for him at first hand. It came about, therefore, readily enough, that the offer of service from a wise man who knew how to let nature have her way, and only helped her with a crutch when she limped and stumbled, was thought worth a king’s ransom at the court of Arran.
       Disguising myself now in a learned gown, and putting on a face as dismal as need be, I made my way to court, and was led to the king’s own bedchamber. King as he was, a fever had got hold of him,—that was plain to see. Here was an unlucky turn. I had not thought things were so bad as that. How was I to work my merry will on a man who, for anything I knew, might be at death’s door—knocking hard to get in? “Well, now,” thought I, “what is to be done? If I leave him to the leeches of Arran, he will never need to knock twice at that door.” So I even made up my mind to do the best I could for him, and save him in very spite.
       The first words the king spoke were, “Sir leech, you may do what you will, if you do but keep from letting my blood.”
       “I shall take none,” said I; “the blood of kings is good blood, and not to be poured like water.”
       “You are a man after my mind,” said the king; “do your worst, then.”
       My worst was better than some people’s best. The first thing I ordered was the shaving of his head. That I knew was a safe remedy and a good. Truth to tell, I did little more. I gave him water from the well; and as I perceived that those about him looked that I should put into it some rare balsamic mixture, I bowed myself over he cup. Then raising my hand above it, as if to drop some costly tincture therein, I thought no harm to bless the cup, and pray heaven heartily that it might bring the sick man comfort and heal,—though I had no priest’s office to do it, but only a poor fool’s will. What the tall, stoled priest who stood there solemn and helpless would have said to the measure was another matter, and no business of mine. I kept my own counsel;—the first fool that ever did.
       Much to the surprise of all, the fever came soon to an end. The skill of the leech of Orkney was lauded on all lands. The king knew not how to be grateful enough, and would have me loaded with gold and honours. But I would have none of either, for I could not but recall that, though I had perhaps been the means, under heaven, of saving the king’s life, yet I had come but to work sport and mischief; and so many men are paid for such things, I liked not to eat other folks’ bread, especially since I had not yet earned mischief-money. But soon my turn came round.
       Seeing the king was growing well, I made it seem that, unless great caution were used, some mischief might even yet ensue. Though I had shaved his head, I had not yet touched the sacred beard of his kingship. As good luck would have it, he asked me to what purpose I had shaved his head. It was true that I had ordered that to be done chiefly to keep his head cool when the fever ran high; but I answered vaguely and mysteriously, as doctors do; and it ended in his taking it into his head that the hair thereon was the prime cause of all the mischief. Then he took panic about his beard, which I took care to hint ought to have been shorn off long ago, as such things hold infection; and I added, as was true enough, that fevers sometimes set in anew, and the last state is worse than the first. Greatly troubled, he appealed to me to know what he was to do. I told him that it was not yet too late. Then he mused, and pondered, and stroked the beard, and could not make up his mind to so awful a sacrifice; for that beard of his was the grandest beard that ever was seen, and he prized it above all things. To comfort him, I told him I knew of a way, after it should be shaved off and well purified by fire and by drugs, of setting it upon his chin anew, with the help of a skin the gold-beaters use, and a choice Arabian gum, in such a sort that no man should know it had ever been severed.
       “By Calidon the woody!” cried the king, “thou art a treasure of treasures. Half my kingdom would I give for such a leech as thou art.”
       With that I took his beard. As the matter to be a great secret from all, I undertook to do the barber’s office myself; and very hard I found it to keep my grave looks, with the poor fool’s beard a-dangling in my hand, and his chin as clean and smooth as the day he was born!
       Now at last had I got what I came for. But alas! I was little the better. At the moment when I most rejoiced at having played the fool’s game of reprisals to the full of my bent, it came into my mind that I had pledged myself to restore the beard to the chin whence I took it. It was true I could easily have stolen away in the night, and taken the beard with me, and hung it up as a fool’s trophy in the palace of the king my master at Orkney. But then, was I not dubbed knight? And, though I was given that honour but in quaint sport, yet it was my right earnest intent to deserve it, and to be worthy of my father’s name,—who was a good knight and a valiant,—by true and honourable dealing; and by the practice of all that belongs to knightly arms, to win my spurs yet in noble earnest. And how could I ever dare to betake me to King Arthur’s court, and bed the grace of knighthood anew, if I held not my plighted word true and unbroken?
       So I forewent any further malice, content with the mischief I had already done; and determined on the morrow to render back the beard to its master. But, as it fell out, the beard was yet to put to shame its boastful owner, as shall be seen in the end.
       The next day, my promise having been kept, and the beard restored to its place by means of the gold-beaters’ skin and the Arabian gum, I forthwith took my leave; leaving the king well refreshed and pleased, and feeling strong enough to receive the herald sent to his court from King Lot, of Orkney.
       Disguised once more, and arrayed in the sacred garments of a herald, I appeared before the court. When the king had caused the answer to his defiance to be read openly in presence of all the grey-beards of his counsel, and other great men of note, well may his wrath be conceived. Forgetful of all else than his anger, he started up from his seat in a mighty fuss and fury.
       “Haste,—prepare,—gather my forces!” he cried, quite beyond himself. “Away! this insolence shall be punished. Back, sir herald! and thank your sacred office that ye bear your head with ye. Tell your king I will make good my words. Tell him I come with all speed. By Calidon! shall I bear this rebuff?—Tell him that as sure as my foot presses his soil of Orkney, so sure will I bring ruin on the city where he abides: not one stone shall be left upon another. By this beard I swear it!”
       So saying, he laid hand on his beard, and plucked at it manfully. But so great was his wrath, that he pulled it too sore. Off came the beard in his hand, before all beholders!
       The amaze and shame of the king, may well be guessed. I had got my dismissal, and I turned to go. Well was it for the honour of the crest-fallen king, that I made good my way to ship-board before he well knew where he was; or he might have forgot what was due to my office, and brought worse shame on himself than the losing of his beard—or of his head either.
       As it turned out, there was no war for that time. Whether he surmised that some sly trick lay under the apt coming of so wise a leech, and was thankful to have come off no worse at my hands; or whether he came to see that he had done a folly too great for even the stomach of a fool, is not to be known. But he got his life; King Lot got his revenge; and I got fooling enough to last me for the rest of my days.
 
       As Sir Dragonet ended his tale of queer adventure, amidst much laughter and merriment, now again there was heard a stir and tumult lower down in the hall, where the great entrance was, and every eye was turned that way to find out what new adventure was come about.


Chapter X
The Lady Angelides’ Tale of the Terrible Horn
 
Suspense was soon ended. A lady with pale cheek and trembling steps, but with a firm and trustful gaze fixed on the royal seat which held the Most Christian King, advanced up the hall. She led a young boy by the hand; and on the other side she was supported by a stranger knight of a most noble aspect.
       No sooner was the lady recognized as Angelides, wife to King Mark’s brother, Sir Baldwin of Britain, than all present saw well that some new calamity must have brought her for refuge, thus almost alone and unattended, to the court of King Arthur in the height of the Whitsuntide feast.
       With courtly ceremony, mingled with a kindly interest ever ready to sympathize with distress, the new guests were at once placed near Queen Guenever. But the young boy was softly stolen to the sheltering bosom of Sir Launcelot’s bride, Elaine.
       When the Lady Angelides was sufficiently refreshed and composed, all looked eagerly for an account of the cause of her sudden appearance there in such unwonted guise.
       “If it shall please you, gentle lady,” said King Arthur, “gladly would we hear the tale of your wrongs, in order that I and my good knights may do what we may to redress them. I fear much our old enemy King Mark has to answer for the distress which is but too visible on the face of the lady Angelides.”
       “Most spotless knight of Christendom,” answered the lady, “it is indeed from the cruelty of King Mark that I and my young son have sought refuge and protection at your court of Camelot—the abode of honour and of truth. If, then, you will graciously listen to my tale, I will narrate in as few words as may be all that has befallen us at the hands of a ruthless king.”
 
       It is well known that my lord, Sir Baldwin of Britain, held under his brother, King Mark, full command of all the forces pertaining to that small kingdom of Cornwall of which King Mark still persists in keeping possession. Not long since a report was spread abroad that certain ships from Saracen lands, under the pretence of dealing in merchandise, approached the Cornish coast, heavily laden with men and arms for the conquest of that country. My lord, Sir Baldwin, as in duty bound both to his brother and to his native land, lost no time in getting at the truth of this rumour; and, finding that all was just as it had been told to him, he gave orders at once for the rout of the enemy while it was yet dark night. He caused wild-fire to be put into two ships, which were then driven into the very midst of the Saracen fleet. He caused also the ports to be well garrisoned with men-at-arms. At break of day, when the whole armed Saracen host hastened to land, but half-armed, and in wild disorder from the burning fleet, the men-at-arms fell upon them and destroyed them.
       When King Mark heard of this, instead of being well pleased that the threatened invasion was so quickly put an end to, he was wondrous wroth that his brother should have won such renown; and, because Sir Baldwin was better loved than he in all that country, and because my lord had ever esteemed and befriended Sir Tristram, he thought to slay him.
       Full of this evil design, he sent a messenger to him, bidding him repair without loss of time to the castle of Tintagel, there to give an account of what he had done. No sooner did he arrive than King Mark questioned him angrily:
       “Brother,” said he, “what is this that I hear? How dared you to act in so weighty a matter without making me of your counsel? Your part was to have sent word to me in order that I might have been present, so that the honour had been mine, which you have stolen for yourself.”
       “Sir,” answered my lord, Sir Baldwin, “indeed there was no time. If I had waited till I sent to you, these miscreants would have set food in the country.”
       But this just defence was of no avail against the envy and treachery of King Mark. He made at that time a fair show of being persuaded of his brother’s truth and honour; but soon you shall hear what befell.
       In the court of King Mark there is a strange custom. A certain man amongst the King’s retainers has given into his keeping a trumpet of brass, which of itself has a fearful sound, and which, from the use it is put to, fills the hearts of those that hear it with terror. About the country of King Mark it is called the Trumpet of Death.
       When any lord or knight is held deserving of death, it is the duty of the man who holds the trumpet in keeping, to go and stand before his door, and to blow long and shrill blasts. Then it is known that judgement has been given, and that there is no hope of pardon. Moreover, the horn continues to blow, and never stops till the condemned man comes forth. It is in vain to hold the gates against this fearful plague. No one ever yet could hold out against it; for either he yields in despair, tortured by the ceaseless din of the terrible horn, or his senses give way before it; for it stops neither day or night.
       Three days had scarce gone by since my lord was called to account by King Mark, when one morning at dawn we both were suddenly startled out of our sleep by the clanging of the dreadful trumpet. Then, too surely, Sir Baldwin kew that he was condemned by his brother, and all hope was over.
       All the day, and all the long, long night, the terrible horn rang in our ears. Sir Baldwin made his last will and testament; and, bidding us array ourselves in deep mourning as for a burial, me and our young son, he, too, clothed himself in deep black. Then, at the dreadful, never-resting summons, we departed out of our happy home, and shut behind us for ever the gates of peace and joy.
       So we went forth together; my beloved lord to his death, I to my forlorn and wretched widowhood, and our young son to his orphan days. So, at least, we thought at that time. But there is yet a hope,—and we cling to it,—a hope that some gentle knight will raise his sword in behalf of Sir Baldwin, for the love of God.
      
       “That task be mine,” said Sir Launcelot, warmly.
       “Nay, rather mine, Sir Launcelot, with your leave,” cried Sir Tristram. “He is my ancient enemy; it is but meet that I should deal with him.”
       “Hold!” interposed King Arthur. “For once I must claim my right of battle, even before that of the best of my knights. This cause of Sir Baldwin’s is sacred to me; the young and the hot blood shall find other fields for the display of its prowess. To you especially, Sir Tristram, the combat is forbidden, not only as near kinsman to King Mark, but because your anger is moved against him for other causes. Tell me, gentle lady, where is your lord, and how fares he?”
 
       Wounded nigh unto death, Sir Baldwin lies hidden in a little grotto hard by a hermit’s cell. There he awaits that succour which I have not sought in vain. Meanwhile the good hermit tends his wounds.
       It happened thus: when we reached the castle of Tintagel, I threw myself at the feet of King Mark, and pleaded hard and long for my dear lord’s life. Sir Baldwin, too, himself once more assured his brother of his duty and loyalty towards his person and power, telling him most truly that all he had acted had been done for the honour of his brother, King Mark, and for the safety and welfare of the land. But it was all of no avail. King Mark broke out fiercely against him.
       “Thou liest, false traitor!” he cried. “Thou art ever seeking to win renown from me, and to put me to dishonour; and thou cherishest all those that I hate,—ay! even Sir Tristram.”
       With that, he struck him with his dagger; and my lord fell heavily to the ground, without life, as it seemed. Then his evil work done, King Mark fled from the sight of my anguish and from the bitter sobbing of our child Alisaunder.
       While I yet searched for any sign of life in my wounded lord, there entered Queen Isond. Her heart was filled with pity and horror. By her means Sir Baldwin was conveyed secretly from the castle, and placed under the hermit’s care, where he showed signs of recovery; for his wound, though deep, was not mortal.
       As soon as Sir Baldwin was in safety, and all had been arranged as it best could for his comfort and healing, Queen Isond warned me to flee away privily, before King Mark should return. Loath was I to go; but when she showed me that the life of my young son might be in danger from King Mark, as she guessed from some words he had let fall; and when she told me that my presence there would surely lead to the discovery of my lord’s retreat, I at last consented, and with my young son set out on our journey to this court.
       But a short way had we passed in safety, when, resting for a moment beside a forest well to drink, I perceived a horseman, whom I at once recognized for a noble Danish knight, coming swiftly towards us as if in pursuit.
       “Lady Angelides,” said he, as he rode up to where we stood, “I am sent by King Mark to bid you turn again, both you and your young son, and to place you under his good keeping.”
       “Alas! sir knight,” said I, “what shall you win by my young son’s death and mine? Have I not had over-much harm and loss already?”
       “Lady,” returned the Danish knight, “be at rest for me. I were no true knight if I did not protect the weak and the guiltless. From Queen Isond I learned the route you had taken in your flight; and though it is true that I am the bearer of King Mark’s message of woe to you, heaven forbid that I should betray you into his hands!”
       No time was to be lost. The Danish knight assisted me to remount, and placing my boy in my arms, sprang again on his own steed. Thus we pursued our way hither. While journeying on, Sir Humbert (for that is the name of the Danish knight whom you here behold) told me how fierce had been King Mark’s wrath when he found that I had fled away with my son; how he had, when we were first missed, sought us himself, sword in hand, from chamber to chamber; and how at last he bade the terrible horn be sounded once more, and hurried to and fro like one possessed, dispatching messengers in quest of us. By good fortune we fell into knightly hands; and sorrow and care seemed to wing the moment we entered the gates of Camelot.
 
       Here, as the Lady Angelides ended her tale of wrong, the young boy, her son Alisaunder, who had been looking impatiently towards the Danish knight, Sir Humbert, broke forth:
       “O prithee, gentle Sir Humbert,” said the boy, “tell us now the tale you promised me as we journeyed hither; the wild tale of the strange northern land,—of the heathen priest and the wolverene.”
       “I will not fail you, young sir, at the fitting time,” answered Sir Humbert; “but I must away, with the gracious leave of King Arthur. Thy father is in peril, young boy, and hath need of me.”
       “Truly the hours wane,” said King Arthur. “Our Whitsuntide feast draws to a close. With the earliest dawn it were fitting every foot were in the stirrup, and every sword ready at the service of the oppressed. My guests, farewell!” added the king, now rising to leave the hall. “Merlin, to council. Gentle ladies and noble knights, God’s benison on each and all! And may our high Christmas feast, this year to be held at Camelot, find ye all once more in presence. Come, my Queen.”
       So saying, King Arthur led forth Queen Guenever. And all the guests, save those who by desire of the king had their abode in the palace, departed from Camelot.


Part II
Christmas
 
Chapter I
The Christmas Feast
 
Six moons had waxed and waned. It was the Christmas Feast of Camelot. Over and above the many who had been present at King Arthur’s feast of Whitsuntide, all of whom were here in place, many more, ladies, knights, and minstrels, came now to this the greatest, pleasantest, as well as the most solemn feast of all the year.
       Among those of King Arthur’s own kin there and then assembled, the nearest to him in blood, after his mother Igerna, were his two sisters Morgana and Maud, the twin daughters of Igerna, born to her in the days when she wept for her first lord, Gorlois. Morgana was unwedded, and was she whom Sir Launcelot ever loved to call his fostering mother, since she saved him from the waters, and gave him the name of Launcelot of the Lake. Maud was wife to King Lot of Lothian and Orkney. This last was mother to Sir Gawain, who is renowned through all lands as the Knight of Courtesy.
       Sir Gawain, much to the surprise and gladness of King Arthur, had returned to Camelot; bringing with him a young bride, lovelier than Elaine, and more gracious than Isond.
       Now, when the king’s sister, Maud, wife to King Lot, took her place at the feast, whereto so many knights had come full of adventure, she was in no way surprised to see there her son Sir Gawain. But, looking towards a young knight who sat near him, she cried on a sudden,—”My son Gareth! can it be he?”
       “Ay, mother;—your pardon!” returned the young knight, who was no other than our silent young squire of the Whitsuntide feast.
       “The holy time be your pardon, my son!” said his mother. “Since you live, and I see you once again, all is well. But I pray you tell me are you wedded; or who may be the lady that sits beside you?”
       “All in good time, dear mother,” replied Sir Gareth. “Every guest here has a tale to tell, and mine shall not be wanting at the fitting time. But first, all are eager to know of the quest of my uncle King Arthur, from whom I received my knighthood at the feast of Whitsuntide last past. To none of his knights would he yield the task of chastising King Mark. He went forth alone; and none know the issue.”
       All eyes were turned towards King Arthur. But a deep silence fell upon the king. Many thought he must have slain King Mark, and that he felt ruth for the deed. The secret depths of that great soul few could fathom. To Merlin only was it known whether the true king or the false had been the conqueror; or what weapons Arthur of Britain had brought against the wrong-doer. The sage caught the calm glance of his master’s eye; and, reading its meaning, answered for him.
       “It is not the custom of knights,” he said, “to speak much of their own deeds; nor do great kings boast of their conquests. When our lord King Arthur sees fit, the fate of King Mark will speak for itself.”
       “So be it,” said Sir Baldwin of Britain, who, as we know, was brother to King Mark, and who was now fully recovered from the wounds the mad king had dealt him; and was seated, happy and forgiving, between his wife, Angelides, and their son, the boy Alisaunder.
       “My nephew Sir Gareth,” said King Arthur, now first breaking silence, “let your history open our Christmas feast. I was your pledge that you would bring no stain on your knightly order. But you have played truant; and your mother has the first claim to know the secret of your wanderings.”
       It was a question who was most eager to hear the tale, as Sir Gareth now gave it, of the silent young squire, and of the proud damsel with the jewelled sword, and of her whom she called her sister, the Lady of West Moorlands.


Chapter II
Sir Gareth’s Tale of the Moorland Mystery
 
It is already known how, at the coming of the damsel Linet, bearing the jewelled sword from her sister the Lady of the West Moorlands, I received knighthood at the hands of King Arthur.
       On the morrow, when I set out on my quest, thinking that the damsel would bear me company, I was grieved to find that her displeasure at being granted no better champion still kept her aloof from me; and it was only after proceeding some way that I found the damsel had mounted her palfrey while I was yet arming, and was already some roods2 on before.
       When I rode up my horse beside her, scarce a fair word would she give me; but praised ever the prowess of the Knights of the Round Table, and almost wept with vexation to think that she could bring to her sister’s succour none but a new, untried knight, who could not hope to match with the strength and skill of that terrible scourge of the Moorlands, Sir Brian of the Isles, known as the “Red Reaper.”
       It was in vain I spoke to her of comfort; bidding her be of good cheer, for that if I failed, it was but my worthless life that would be the forfeit—doubly worthless since she despised me,—and while would be willingly lost in her cause. Moreover, I assured her that, if I fell, better champions would arise eager to do battle for a lady distressed. Still she upbraided me for undertaking what was beyond my powers, and coldly bade me return again whence I had come.
       Full sadly I followed on my quest; not that my heart misgave me lest I should suffer defeat, but because of the scorn of the beautiful damsel, from whom one kind word would have given me strength to meet a host. But so we journeyed on, side by side; and never kind word or gentle glance she gave me from sunrise to sundown.
       Soon, however, other thoughts began to stir within me.
       Nearer and nearer we drew towards the goal to which I looked with kindling fire; for I burned to discomfit the scornful damsel, and to prove before her face that in my young veins ran the blood of worthy sires.
       Not long had I to wait. As our journey drew to a close we came near to a certain bridge, spanning the Eden water. This bridge, as we learned, was held against all comers by a knight who laid claim to all the country round about. On inquiring further, it turned out as we had surmised. He who held the bridge was no other than Sir Brian of the Isles, who challenged to single combat any who should dispute the passage.
       Just beyond the bridge, on the verge of the moors, embowered and hidden by towering woods, stood the castle of the Lady of the Lands.
       “Now,” said the damsel Linet, “yonder is my sister’s castle. Win, if thou canst, to the walls where she lies besieged; from within, thou mayest help her, by putting thyself at the head of such forces as she can command, so as to make a sally against the besieging party. But the passage of the bridge is the trial of thy strength. If thou canst fight thy way towards yonder postern, succour may reach thee there;—if not, farewell, poor youth! for I will not stay to see thee slaughtered before my eyes.”
       “By God’s grace, fair damsel, that you shall not!” returned I; “for—though Heaven forbid that I should boast, whose spurs are so newly buckled!—it is my hope to win yonder bridge, and to free your sister and her lands. But turn thou aside out of harm’s way, lest evil befall thee. Yet, before thou goest, deign to bestow on me some slight pledge that if I chance to win the day, as truly I hope to do, I may earn from thee better grace and gentler favour than thou has ever yet dealt to me.”
       “Take this jewelled sword in pledge,” said the damsel; “and give me thine in exchange. If thou winnest this battle, keep the sword; it is thine. If the victory be with Sir Brian, then return it to me if thou art able.”
       With that, gravely and with downcast eyes, she turned away, and I saw her no more; for now Sir Brian himself was seen advancing towards me, daring me to the encounter.
       It becomes not a young knight to make much of his own deeds. It is enough that I so prevailed over Sir Brian that he sank to the ground, disabled and at my mercy. I granted him his life, for he was a valiant foe, on condition that he surrendered forthwith all claim to the domains of the Lady of the Lands. To this he could do no other than agree. Therewith I left him, well pleased to have seen the good end of that adventure with the “Red Reaper.” Calling to my side the dwarf Saladin, who had accompanied me, and who had remained seated on the parapet of the bridge, rubbing his yellow hands with frantic glee at every stroke I had dealt, I bade him care for my horse while I approached, not for succour, but as a conqueror, the postern gate towards which the damsel had directed me.
       What was my surprise to find the postern closed, and doubly barred! All was still around the castle. Not a human face was to be seen; not a single man-at-arms upon rampart or wall. So silent and deserted seemed the place, and so mysteriously had the damsel disappeared, after giving me the sword, that I began to think that, either I must be made the sport of the mocking maiden, or the fabled enchanter was indeed a truth, and that a spell was on all things around and about me.
       Not choosing to give credence to an idle superstition, and caring still less to yield myself the butt of a mocking jest, I turned proudly away to where my horse was browsing under the charge of the dwarf Saladin. My steed neighed a welcome as I sprang into the saddle; and I was soon deep in the shades of a neighbouring wood. Somewhat sad at the abrupt ending of my adventure, and wearied with the hard buffets dealt me by Sir Brian, I once more dismounted; and, laying me down at the root of a spreading beech, sleep soon overcame me.
       I was awoke by the sound of crashing boughs, and by the unearthly yells of my dwarf. The first object that met my eyes was a mounted horseman bearing off my dwarfish servitor, who was struggling to free himself from the strong grasp that held him. In hot haste I mounted, and fell to the pursuit. But my foot was scarcely in the stirrup when the retreating figures, from which I had never for a moment turned my gaze, suddenly disappeared. Spurring my steed up the rising ground before me, I again caught sight of the horse, that had been for a moment hidden from my view.—But saddle and stirrup were empty; neither horseman nor dwarf was visible!
       Bewildered by this new wonder, and doubtful if I were not lost in the maze of some wild dream, I followed the riderless steed, turning my reign once more towards the seemingly deserted castle; impelled by a conviction that there, and there only, was to be sought the unravelling of all this mystery.
       Approaching once more the same postern gate, I found my course was no longer impeded. The gate stood wide open. Beating loudly with the hilt of my sword, and receiving no answer to my summons, I entered without further ceremony.
       For any sign there was of life to greet me on my entrance, I might have walked among the tombs! Passing through a large hall hung round with trophies of the chase, I wandered from chamber to chamber; but found all alike deserted. Here and there, however, were signs where fair hands had been, even now perchance not far distant. A lute lay, newly strung, in the deep recess of an oriel window. On the rush-strewn floor lay the rich bud of a Damascus rose, in half-blown beauty. I stooped to possess myself of the rose, and found it bound to a silken string, so long as to traverse the room. Pondering a moment, I carelessly swept my hand across the strings of the lute, awaking a few opening chords. Instantly another lute answered the music of that which I touched, completing the imperfect air. The rosebud I held stirred visibly in my hand, the silken string attached to it drawing me gently onward in the direction of that mysterious harmony. Dreamy hopes and tender memories played about my heart, as, glancing at my jewelled sword, I thought of the scornful giver, who, in blessing me with the first gentle words I had ever won from her, had exchanged it for my own; and, eagerly looking to the end, I followed the silken clue.
       After groping my way along a vaulted passage, which seemed to lead towards some tower adjoining the main building, and turning at last at an angle with the arched gallery through which I had advanced, a sudden and brilliant blaze of light dazzled and almost blinded my gaze; so that it was a moment or two before I could fully realize the fairy scene before me.
       At the far end of the noble hall, on a raised daïs, arrayed in a robe of white samite bordered with miniver, her hair descending in a shower of gold over brow and bosom, her face half hidden beneath the folds of a bridal veil, sat the Lady of the Lands. Around her, on every side, stood groups of fair damsels, all robed, like their lady, in garments of purest white, but of less costly stuff. On either hand sat a grey-haired knight; while squires and pages stood near, ready to obey the slightest wish of their youthful mistress.
       As I paused on the threshold, more daunted than by the presence of a hundred Sir Brians, a sweet voice, that thrilled to my heart, so much did it resemble that of the damsel Linet, broke the bewildering silence.
       “Welcome, Sir Gareth of Orkney!”
       Surprised to find my name and lineage known, so carefully had I guarded the secret, and disturbed by the voice that addressed me, which sounded from the raised daïs, I stammered forth some strange reply, scarce knowing what I said.
       “Speak for me, Sir Segramore,” said the Lady of the Lands, turning to one of the old knights; “Sir Gareth is amazed, as well he may be. Speak, and let him know the heavy conditions my father’s will has imposed on me.”
       Then spoke Sir Segramore. “Be it known then to the noble knight Sir Gareth of Orkney, son to King Lot, the ruler of the northern kingdom, that an old friendship between that king and the father of this our gracious Lady of the Lands, led the latter to make a strange will. He willed that his daughter, the heir to his wealth, should be wedded to King Lot’s youngest son. All other suitors were forbidden to seek her in marriage till the day when King Lot’s son should attain to twenty-one years. If then the youth, Gareth, should prove unwilling to fulfil the contract made for him, he further willed that his daughter should wed that knight, and no other, who should render her the greatest service in her sorest need. Failing these conditions, both lady and lands were to pass to the convent. Sir Gareth, what say you? Though her veil conceals her, believe me, the lady is fair. Your fathers fought side by side in many a sharp contest. Shall the old bond of kindness descend to their children?”
       In amazed silence I heard. Now, clearly I saw that I stood, indeed, in the renowned castle of Pendragon, once King Uther’s own, and bestowed by him on the famous West Moorland knight, Sir Thorold of Kendal-mere. In the dread that seized me, lest I should be considered bound in honour and courtesy to wed where I loved not, I quickly found true words.
       “Sir knight,” I answered, “however discourteous I must seem to this gentle lady, I should shame my knighthood and do her foul wrong if I spoke not out from my heart. Pardon, gentlest lady,” I added, turning to the Lady of the Lands, “too late I took upon your beauty and grace; already my secret vows are given to another. Would I could say she were not scornful, but gracious as thou art! Win her I never may; yet, for her sake, I must be wifeless.—Pardon, oh, pardon!”
       “Gramercy!” cried the older knight, Sir Urien, who had not hitherto spoken; “then must the lady be mateless too. Her father left her but one other choice; and, by ill fortune, thou art that other! The conquest of Sir Brian of the Isles has done her the greatest service in her sorest need; and, unless thou shalt espouse her, it seemeth to me she must even change her while veil for a black one at the shrine of Our Lady, in the convent hard by. Beshrew me! but it is a pity such beauty should fade in a cloister.”
       At this pass I was more than ever distressed. While I in vain sought for words, my confusion was increased by a new difficulty. The lady, from beneath her veil, cast her eyes on the jewelled sword I wore.
       “At least, Sir Gareth,” she said softly, but in the tone of one who is wronged, “restore me yonder sword; I prize it above all things, for it was the gift of my father, Sir Thorold, who had it of thy sire, King Lot of Orkney!”
       “Unhappy that I am!” cried I, “why must I still seem so uncourteous? Lady, pardon me yet again. This sword was the gift of one I hold far dearer than my life: in death only can I part with it.”
       “A gift, Sir Gareth,” she returned, “can only rightly be bestowed by the owner of the thing given. Sir Urien,—Sir Segramore, is not the knight bound to restore the sword?”
       “Without doubt,” cried both the old knights at once.
       “Lady,” I admitted, “it is but just. Take then the rich and jewel-hilted sword; but leave me, I pray you, the scabbard, which is plain and unadourned. Let me, at least, bear with me to the last the most precious part of the gift,—that which has been touched by the fairest fingers in the world.”
       “Be it so,” was the soft answer; “and here is a sword in place of the one surrendered. I pray you take it; methinks it will well fit the coveted scabbard.”
       So saying, she drew from amidst the folds of her robe, a blade which too well I knew; it was the same I had but lately borne, and which the damsel Linet had accepted at my hands.
       “Farewell, then,” I cried; “farewell my youthful dream! She who could so lightly part with my gift to bestow it on another, is cold and cruel to the last.—Farewell, lady. One only boon I ask. If ever again thou shouldst need succour, grant me that I may do battle in thy cause for thy sister’s sake.”
       “My sister!” cried the Lady of the Lands in a tone of surprise; “I never had a sister.”
       “Alas, lady!” I exclaimed, “more and more am I bewildered. Pardon me that I hasten from this castle and from the strange magic that hangs over it.”
       Without more words I strode down the hall. Before, however, I could reach to the further end, a low voice called softly, “Sir Gareth, will you indeed depart without one word of farewell to the poor Linet?”
       With a start, I turned. No form of all those round the daïs resembled the one my eyes so eagerly sought. But, descending from her place and drawing aside her veil of silver tissue, spoke the Lady of the Lands; now, for the first time, in a voice unmasked and unrestrained,—the true voice of the damsel Linet!
       “It is my turn to crave pardon, Sir Gareth,” she cried, as I knelt at her feet and received once more the jewelled sword she tendered. “Take again the gift I gave; and leave me still the sword of the unknown squire. My masque is played out. Why for a time I seemed to trifle with a true heart, you shall one day know. Say, is there pardon and peace between us?
       What words followed, I see by the blush on my lady’s cheek, are not to be the subject of an idle tale.
 
       As Sir Gareth ended, the face of the boy Alisaunder suddenly wore a look of deep disappointment.
       “But the magic,—the mystery of the castle,—the horseman and the dwarf that vanished in the forest,—oh, Sir Gareth, tell us, what did it all mean?” cried the boy.
       “Nay, child, you must ask my lady wife,—the best mistress of magic,—the sweetest, wildest witch that ever took captive the senses of errant knight.” So answered Sir Gareth.
       “Indeed,” said Queen Guenever; “we must ask to have the tale complete; for as it stands it is but a fragment.”
       “The magic was simple enough,” said the Lady Lynetta; for that, and not Linet, was her real name. “And since my lord, Sir Gareth, looks to me to make clear the riddle, I will do so in a few words.”


Chapter III
The Lady Lynetta’s Tale of a Pleasant Masque
 
As my lord, Sir Gareth, began his tale with a scornful damsel, so must I begin mine with an unruly squire.
       No sooner did King Lot acquaint his son with the fate that awaited him through the strange will of Sir Thorold of Castle Pendragon, than he suddenly disappeared from the court of Orkney, and wandered away no one knew whither. It will be remembered how about the same time, the Whitsuntide before last, there appeared at the court of King Arthur an unknown and nameless squire, who sought to improve himself in arms and all knightly training at that fountain-head of chivalry. It is well known, too, how a certain knight, high in favour at that court, delighted ever to taunt and deride the young squire because he was nameless, saying that he must doubtless be basely born or he would never conceal his name and lineage so carefully.
 
       Here King Arthur interrupted the tale to say: “Blame not my foster-brother, Sir Kay. If sometimes his mood seems bitter and caustic, the fault lies in his nurture and is bred of no malice. Let it never be forgotten how nature was wronged at his birth.” The good king, as all knew, meant by this that the lady of Sir Hector, when she took the young Arthur to nourish, had soon been forced to yield her own son to the fostering of a stranger. To this gentle rebuke the Lady Lynetta could make but one reply.
       “Sir Kay will forgive me, I trust,” she said; “and surely mine is the last voice in the world to tax him with harshness towards the young squire, since my own waywardness caused him more pain than any random words of Sir Kay’s. But now I will return to my story.”
 
       It need not be said that the runaway youth from Orkney and the unknown squire at King Arthur’s court were one and the same.
       Now it happened that when we two were but children, and called each other “Gareth” and “Lynetta,” we had met and made sweet sport together. Gareth forgot Lynetta; but in her heart she ever bore him in dear remembrance.
       So it fell out that when I came to woman’s years, and needed a champion to fight for the broad lands my father left me, and prevent them from becoming the spoil of Sir Brian, I called to mind that I had heard the boy, Gareth, say that if ever he grew to be a man, he would go and abide at King Arthur’s court. “There then,” thought I, “I will seek a champion; for who knows but what my old playmate, Gareth, may be one of knights?” for gladly would I have owed my lands to his sword rather than to that of another.
       To this court then I came at the height of the Whitsuntide feast, when all the chief knights would be sure to be met together. I hit on the device of the sword and the questions concerning it, because I remembered that my playmate, Gareth, had ever a ready wit; and I thought to find out which was he by the answers that were made. His guesses, together with an old familiar trick of his voice, told me that I had found the champion I desired in the nameless squire, even before King Arthur, in making him a knight, cried, “Arise, Sir Gareth.”
       For the ungracious part I played in the treatment which my chosen champion received at my hands, I hope my hearers will hold me excused. Truth to say, I have already made confession to my lord, Sir Gareth, and have been mercifully absolved. The real cause of my seeming waywardness was that I found myself in an awkward position, and was really less wilful than abashed. No sooner did I make the discovery I wished, than I became more than ever fearful of betraying too soon my innocent plot. I dreaded its being found out, lest Sir Gareth should think lightly of me; for I would have died rather than give him cause to despise me.
       Little more remains to be said. After the encounter with Sir Brian, during which I contrived to steal unperceived, by a private way, into my own castle, a new difficulty awaited me. My father’s old friends, and my guardians, Sir Urien and Sir Segramore, could not be brought to believe that my Gareth was the right Gareth, King Lot’s son, of Orkney. So, there was nothing for it but to get at the proof by strategem. To this end a man-at-arms was dispatched to watch the knight’s movements; and, if possible, to entrap the dwarf who accompanied him, and who could alone inform us of the fact, since Sir Gareth himself so cautiously guarded his secret, lest he should be drawn into a loveless marriage with the lady of Castle Pendragon.
       The strange disappearance of the horseman and dwarf, which must indeed have seemed the work of magic, is very simply accounted for. Just at the point where they were for a few moments lost sight of, there is a sudden descent in the ground. Before Sir Gareth could spur his horse up the rising hillock which shut them from his view, the man-at-arms had time to dismount; and, bearing the dwarf with him, to take advantage of a secret, underground way, known only to those of my father’s following. That Sir Gareth would once more seek the castle for the recovery of his faithful servitor, we rightly divined; as the riderless steed, which naturally sought its well-known stall, would give him the clue as to where he was to look for the workers of the seeming outrage. The rest, my lord, Sir Gareth, has told better than I could hope to tell it.
 
       As the Lady Lynetta ceased, all present, save one, thought how pleasant a masque she had played. Young Alisaunder alone had craved a more exciting history; for he was just of those years when no tale can be too wild or wonderful to the ear. He kept his eyes steadily fixed on his friend Sir Humbert, the Danish knight, and awaited with impatience till that knight’s turn should come; for he was mindful of the promise made to him at Whitsuntide, in journeying from Cornwall towards King Arthur’s court, when his mother, Angelides, fled from the pursuit of his uncle, King Mark.
       The Lady Lynetta marked the boy’s eager face; and, feeling that she had somewhat disappointed him in the history she had given, in which all that savoured of magic was made clear and plain, she now addressed him, asking him what manner of tale he most desired.
       “Sir Humbert promised me a wild tale of the Norwegian land,” said Alisaunder. “It was to be a tale of a wolverene and a heathen priest, and I know not what besides. At King Arthur’s feast, at Whitsuntide, they told me that the teller of the last story might choose who should tell the next. Oh, dear Lady Lynetta, how glad I should be if you would call on Sir Humbert now for that tale; I do so long to hear it!”
       “Gladly, child,” she answered; “the Northern land is a great land for strange and wild adventures; and the Danish knights are renowned for high and noble deeds. Sir Humbert, may it please you to tell the tale!”
       Sir Humbert was willing to keep his word with the boy; and hastened to pour forth the following history into his thirsting ears. Before doing so, however, it was noted that he turned aside to whisper some words to an unknown knight whom he had brought with him to the Christmas Feast, by the permission of King Arthur. The unknown knight gently inclined his head in grave and humble wise; and Sir Humbert, without further pause, began his tale.


Chapter IV
The Danish Knight’s Tale of the Heathen Priest
 
In my own land of Denmark, I held a chief place among the councillors of my king; for my father was of earl-kind, of noble race.
       It happened oftentimes, that secrets of state, of great weight and moment to the kingdom, were entrusted to me; and, as no man is so well served as he who serves himself, I understood many a hazardous expedition, rather than commit the matter confided to me to any other hand.
       Thus it will be understood that there were sometimes journeys needful to be taken, beyond the kingdom, into other territories, often across the great Scandinavian mountain-chain; where dreary and barren districts had to be traversed; ignorance, enmity, and bigotry to be met and combated, with speech or with the sword; and risks and perils to be encountered, from which manhood in the boldest breast might well be pardoned from shrinking.
       It matters not to relate—nor could the tale be told without some breach of trust—on what journey I was bent, when one wild night, having taken ship across the Skager Rack, I found myself traversing, alone with my horse, a desolate tract along the great cost-line that stretches northward to the pole.
       The rocky, broken up ridge along which my path lay, had caused my good steed to stumble so often, that I thought it best for his sake, who was my surest friend and companion at such a time and in such a trackless waste, to descend a little slope down to the sea-level. There I resolved to pursue my way till the upper road should show a smoother line; keeping to the even beach, from which the tide had but just receded.
       As I did so, there opened to my view a series of wide and lofty caverns, extending their vaulted roofs far away beneath the rocky upper road from which I had made my descent, and with their yawning mouths opening towards the sea. Dark and dreary enough they looked, and were dripping with moisture.
       Believing that if I were to enter one of these natural caves, I might be like enough to find some opening from the sea-coast towards the inland country, I took no second thought, but turned my willing horse towards the largest and loftiest of these chasms in the rock.
       As I advanced further and further into the cavern, it seemed to me that I had guessed aright; for, in the distance I discerned a stream of light, towards which I approached. The colour of the light, however, struck me as singular; it was too red for twilight, and had the flickering glare of a watch-fire.
       It now became needful to advance with caution. Already my horse was beginning to show signs of alarm. The appearance of a fire in such a place might be owing to one of two causes: either to the presence of the wild and lawless tribes who are known to infest those mountain districts, and who are wont to entrap the feet of the unwary traveller with hidden pitfalls, who might have kindled the fire to scare away wild beasts;—or, to some pagan shrine with its flame of sacrifice, frequently met with in such regions, where human blood is offered up, the yet living victim of the priestly knife being stretched bound on the altar.
            The nearer I approached the light, the more certain did I feel that this last surmise was the true one. Before me, right in my horse’s path, rose a rude altar of unhewn stone. A blazing fire of pine-faggots flickered and flared thereon, luminous and threatening amidst the darkness around. As the dripping waters from the roof fell from time to time into the flames, the sound was as if many serpents hissed their welcome to the coming victim, thus quietly advancing to his doom.
       All else was silent. No priest stood by the altar; no knife glanced in the firelight. One only sound slowly broke on the stillness, and sent the quick blood bounding from vein to vein. This was a low shuffle, like the stealthy tread of a panther in the brake, or the crawling trail of a serpent through dried leaves. As it smote on my ear, my horse started. My own heart, that would have beat no pulse the quicker in the moral combat with fair foe, or in the mixed battled of a whole Saracen host, now throbbed with an abhorrent feeling of loathing and horror. He scarce dies, who dies knightly on the field; but the living victim of a cruel creed—it all seemed a hideous dream!
       Strange to say, though the rustling sound still continued to break through the silence, I and my horse passed on in safety. Once, for a brief moment, I had been almost persuaded that I caught sight of an abject figure, clothed in the garb of the heathen priesthood, stealthily dragging its crouching limbs in the shadow of the cavern wall. But with the glare of the firelight full in my eyes, I felt doubtful if my senses had informed me aright.
       An opening in the rocky wall now showed a glimpse of the real day, not yet fully settled into night; and the hideous terrors which had haunted the cave, were half dispelled by that one ray of God’s blessed light.
       Somewhat athirst with travel, as I passed out at the rocky portal, which had showed wider and wider as I neared it, my eyes sought, and not in vain, for a refreshing draught. Where water dripped from the roof, there stood on a ledge of the rock a rude earthen cup, into which the sparkling drops dashed with a pleasant, reviving sound. I stooped and drank, unwisely heedless that my horse had already refused the draught offered to him. For a moment I felt refreshed—enlivened; yet I could not but note that the welcome drink had a strong and pungent flavour.
       Scarce had I emerged fully into the open air, when I was seized with a feeling of drowsiness insupportable. Then first I kew that the cup must have been drugged; doubtless, with a view to ensure the capture of an armed man, whose life it would have been difficult to ensnare by other means.
       What now to do I knew not. A tangled brake lay before me. Far off, I heard the unmistakable howl of the hungry mountain wolf. Nearer at hand, I knew by the sound of the crackling boughs that the hideous wolverene was rocking and swaying himself to and fro in the leafy covert, ready to drop upon his prey. Sleep, the heavy sleep of the poisoned drinker, was the last boon to be desired in such a place and at such a time. Yet I could scarcely sit my horse; and my senses so failed me, that thought and resolution seemed alike impossible.
       Soon, no choice was left me. Powerless to resist, I dropped out of the saddle; and, with the bridle still over my arm, sank helplessly on the turf. How long I lay thus, I had no means of knowing. I was aroused to consciousness, fully and at once, by the wildest assemblage of cries ear ever heard.
       As I started to my feet, the first sight that met my eyes was the flash of steel, revealed by a momentary unveiling of the moon’s orb.
       Before me writhed, rather than stood, a grimly form, with uplifted knife, as if in the act to plunge it in my heart. But the face that met mine was one wild with terror and distorted by pain. It was the face of the craven priest, whose crouching figure I had truly caught sight of in that cavern of unhallowed rites. Ay, even a heathen worshipper of a false and cruel deity, thirsting for a human victim for his reeking altar.
       Blessed be the All-Father, by whom my unuttered prayers had been heard! Strange and unlooked for rescue was mine. Even as the stealthy steps of the heathen priest had dogged his helpless victim, even so had the famished wolverene, dropping from its lair overhead, noiselessly stolen on my pursuer.
       I looked; the savage beast had sprung to the shoulder of the shrinking heathen. Its wild, fierce eyes glared red as the altar-fire on its cowering prey. Already were its fangs met in the quivering flesh.
       In a moment, with one quick bound, I was on the beast. My two hands compressed his throat, till he loosed his hold, dropped, and rolled gasping on the ground.
 
       “And the priest?” interrupted the boy Alisaunder. “Oh, Sir Humbert! the priest,—the priest!”
       “Fear not, boy,” said Sir Humbert, “the priest was spared. I, his intended victim, knew a God who asked no sacrifice of even guilty blood. He was spared, young boy. I will tell you how he requited me.”
      
       As I bent over the dying beast to see surely that he was powerless, and would tear no human creature no more, once yet again the rescued heathen crawled furtively behind me. True to his traditions, to him the God of his fathers seemed to call aloud for a blood-offering. Once more the worshipper’s hand, faithful to its hideous office, was raising the sacrificial knife in the act to slay. But, by a sudden movement, I arrested the nerveless arm before the knife had done its work.
 
       “And you slew him, then, sir knight,—at last you slew him?” again broke in his young questioner, now more and more excited by the tale.
       “Hear what befell,” answered the Danish knight.
 
       It was plain to see that, in spite of the priest’s attempt on my life, he was sick and faint with his own wounds, dealt by the fangs of the wolverene. I laid him on the turf and bound his wounds. He looked at me with bewildered eyes, and asked me why I did not leave him to his fate. He was answered. I taught him the hallowed truths of my creed—the Christian law of love and forgiveness. Then, kneeling by his side, with fervent voice I implied the All-Father to change his heathen heart. That done, I passed on my way.
       The hours sped on. Meanwhile, the enemies of my country, whose designs it had been my object to overthrow in the journey I had undertaken, became aware of my movements and of their intent. They armed in hot haste; and, aided by the bloodhounds, set forward in pursuit.
       Already they gained fast on my track. They traced the print of my horse-hoofs to the dark cavern. They entered; but they passed through its horrors unharmed. The altar stood deserted; the altar-fires had burned down. No priest stood there with arm bared for the sacrifice; no crouching, treacherous step dogged their warrior path.
       As the pursuers passed out into the open, wooded land beyond the cave, there, standing with folded arms, deep in thought, they found the heathen priest. Fiercely and fast they questioned him: “Had he seen the warrior with the raven plume?—Had he seen Humbert, the Dane?”
       “Seek ye him as friend or as foe?” questioned the heathen.
       “As foe, unto the death!” was the answer.
       “Then,” said the priest, “in yonder cavern seek his bones. This arm was uplifted to slay him. See! the altar smoulders yet; its fires have been slacked with warrior blood.”
       Horror-struck, the armed band withdrew in wild haste, leaving the lonely convert muttering to himself,—”Seek, and find him if ye can; not by me shall ye speed in your quest. Your ways are not his ways, nor your God his God.”
       Thus to my spared and forgiven foe I owe it that I sit here now to tell my rude tale of adventure.
       Little more need be said. Returned in safety from the goal of my hazardous mission, we met once more. I approached the ancient cavern in the rock; but what a change there was! The altar stood as of old; but where the fires of sacrifice had once burned, there stood a rude cross, and before it kneeled the prostrate convert to Christianity.
       And here, beside me, in the unknown knight, Sir Biorn, behold the saviour of my life, the once heathen priest;—heathen now no more, but duly baptized into the church of Christ, and an ornament to knighthood.
 
       This tale fully pleased Alisaunder. King Arthur himself seemed to listen to it with more than common interest. At its close, he turned to the Christian convert, whose place was next to that of Sir Humbert.
       “Doubly welcome to my land and court,” said the king, “is the knight who knows how to renounce error with a noble mind! A tale so full of wild terror should best be followed by one of more gentle touch and tone. But, before our feast closes, we would gladly hear from Sir Biorn another tale of his native land, so wonderful and wild.—Who next shall give us a true history of woman’s devotion and constancy?”
       He was answered by the bride of Sir Gawain. “In lands,” said she, “further south than this land of Logris, there is a tale of a slave-maid, which has ever touched me deeply. The minstrels of Spain sing it to the music of the cithern; and they say, that the ‘Island-maid,’ as they call her, was born on the shores of Logris, my dear adopted land.”
       “A fitting tale for King Arthur’s ear, sweet wife,” said Sir Gawain. “It is a tale of a burnt-offering, too, as well as that of Sir Humbert, though of a different sort. But mind you well, when it is told, I too have a tale you know worth the hearing, and I will that you call on me for it next;” and he smiled a pleasant smile.
       The bride of Sir Gawain, casting down her eyes, said, “As my lord wills;” and began as follows.


Chapter V
The Tale of Sir Gawain’s Bride: The Slave-Queen
      
In the country of Iberia, nigh unto Gaul, there ruled a king who had for the high steward of his realm a good and noble lord named Hispanol, married to a lady of gentle blood and breeding, to whom he was most tenderly attached.
       This lady grew grievously sick—so much so, that she scarcely ever saw the light of day; but, enclosed within a shaded bower, passed her hours in meek quiet, sadly, but not bowed down with sorrow; for she was well and lovingly cared for, not only by her good and true lord, but by a young maid of island birth, who watched over her untiringly by day and by night. The maid Berthalda, who had none else to love, loved her dearly, and clove to her even as Ruth clove to Naomi.
       Berthalda, while yet a child, had been snatched from her island home, and sold into slavery. By good fortune her sweet and open face had won the kind Hispanol to buy her from her fierce captors. And so she grew up in beauty and in humble ways in the fair palace of one who was himself little less than a king; and became the trusted friend and companion, rather than the slave, of her sick mistress, the high steward’s wife.
       When the young slave-maid had bloomed into womanhood,—very fair, with soft, downward eyes, and voice low and sweet,—her cares for the sick came to an end. Her kind mistress died, to the sorrow of all the household; but most to that of her careful lord, and of her loving friend the slave-maid.
       But time cured her lord’s grief; and, lonely and comfortless, he sought a new wife.
       Now Hispanol saw many noble ladies who would gladly have shared his high estate, for his power in the land grew greater every day. But he saw not one amongst them all who was at once so fair, so good, and so wise, as the bondmaid Berthalda.
       Thus it fell, that one day while she stood at his side, filling his cup with Xeres wine, he told her his will,—that she should no more hand him the cup with the amber drink, but rest with him evermore, his trusted and honoured wife.
       In the surprise of the moment, Berthalda found no words to answer him. But she cast down her eyes, while a soft flush stole over her cheek. Then turning, she went her way silently down the long hall, and out into the night.
       In her inmost heart Berthalda had prized her dead mistress. And she said to herself, “I cannot take her place whom I loved so well. I will go from the palace of my master, Hispanol. In a little while I shall be forgotten, and all will be well.”
       So she turned not again to the palace, but wandered away; and none knew what had become of her.
       The calm hush of the summer night, holy as her own true thoughts, filled the soul of Berthalda with peace. She went her way untroubled. No fears had she that she should be hunted as a runaway slave; for she had in reality long ceased to be a bondwoman. As the starlight fell on her glistening robe, heavy with its woof of golden threads, she recalled the dear mistress whose gift it had been; and who had prayed her to wear it in memory of her when she should be no more. Tears filled her eyes for all the love that was gone from her. Scarcely could she tear herself from her true home, so full of happy memories. But as she thought of the words of the good Hispanol, which sounded so strangely like a command, she quickened her steps, and was soon beyond the city’s bounds.
       Lifting her eyes towards the near sea, her glance rested on a little bay, on whose shore the quiet waters rolled softly, with scarce a curved wave. Some way out in the offing a dusky ship lay at anchor. There was something in the look of the ship that took her thoughts sadly back to the day when she was suddenly caught up, hurried on board the pirate-bark, and brought to those very shores to be sold for a slave. Though she had been an orphan, with no home-love to deepen her regrets, the terror of that old time was ever strong upon her. The ship she looked on was clearly a pirate-ship. She could trace the black pirate-flag, with its ghastly device of the skull and crossed bones, so well known and dreaded, floating heavily from the topmast.
       As she continued to fix her gaze on the object of her loathing, unable to turn away, suddenly from the ship’s side, a long narrow boat shot out into the moonlight that was now added to the starry sheen. On came the boat, making direct for the shore, steadily rowed down the golden moon-wake that spanned the sea with light.
       The spot where she stood was a crest of chalky cliff, from which a gradual sloping path led downwards to the shore. Towards this point the boat, with its pirate-crew, was rapidly making head. As it neared the beach, Berthalda discerend seated in it, besides the men at the oars, two figures, which seemed to be those of women.
       The boat now came swiftly on, and soon slid with a soft rush on to the smooth beach. The men dropped their oars, and sprang to land, dragging the women after them. They then bent their way along the sands in the direction of the upward path.
       As the figures mounted to where she stood, Berthalda withdrew aside under the shadow of a low wall. While they passed her hiding-place she noted them well.
       Foremost came a man, whom she was right in judging to be the captain of the pirate band. He held by the arm a fair-haired captive. Close behind him followed a second of the lawless crew, also supporting a woman older than the first, who indeed was scarcely more than a child. She who came last walked lamely, and was bitterly weeping.
       The pirates and their terrified prey had moved but a few steps along the crest of the hill, when it became clear that the elder captive was unable to go further. She faltered from time to time, and at last sank helplessly by the way.
       With many a cruel curse, the robbers told her they would be cumbered with her no more, and she might tarry where she lay.
       The mother’s shrieks now rent the air. This parting she had not dreamed of. In vain she implored help to rise; and, failing to be heard, strove to drag her fainting limbs along the hard ground, in the forlorn hope of following her child to the last. The ruffians took no heed. Deaf to her tears and prayers, they passed on with their fairer golden-haired captive, and left her to her agony.
       No sooner were they out of hearing than Berthalda left her place of hiding, and drew towards the forsaken mother. Kneeling at her side, she spoke words of tender comfort.
       “Be at rest,” she said; “I will follow these child-robbers. See, here is gold; more than enough to bribe those sordid souls, and to purchase freedom for thy beloved one. Be comforted. Trust me; I, too, have been a slave.”
       “Haste! oh, haste!” cried the agonized mother. “Bring, bring me back my bright-haired darling, and I will serve thee as a slave to my dying day!”
       “Do you know whither they are bound?” asked Berthalda.
       “To the nearest market,” was the answer. “Tarry not. You will know my darling by her long golden hair and by her angel-face. Haste, lest I die of her going, and hear her sweet voice no more!”
       Finding that the poor mother was in need of rest only, Berthalda, having fixed where to meet her when she should have good tidings to bring, at once set out to follow in the pirates’ path.
       Having nearly overtaken them, and noted their course, so as to feel sure they were about to carry out their first intent of exposing the child for sale in the public market of the next town, Berthalda turned aside towards an abbey of nuns that lay shrouded by embowering trees. She knocked, and begged a shelter for the night; and was at once admitted.
       With the first dawn of day Berthalda rose. She robed herself in her precious gift, the heavy gold-wrought robe of her dear dead mistress; and taking care to replace on her arms two massive bracelets, given to her by Hispanol, she took her way to the near market.
       There stood the golden-haired captive. The sight of her tear-stained cheek and bowed-down head pierced the tender heart of Berthalda like a sword. Going up to her, she laid her hand lightly on her shoulder, as if about to examine her face closely before offering to purchase her for a slave. In doing so, she contrived to whisper in her ear.
       “Fear nothing,” said Berthalda; “trust to me. I come to restore you to your mother. Hush! not a word!”
       But her comforting words, while they cheered the heart of the captive, had an effect which Berthalda had not thought of. Till now the young captive maid had been passed by; no one caring to possess one so little striking in beauty or strength. But no sooner had the forlorn child caught the meaning of Berthalda’s words, and looked in her true face, than a change came over her. New beauty shone in her hopeful eyes, a soft flush stole to her white cheek, and smiles chased each other over her sweet face, like sunbeams over clouded grass-ways. All at once many were led to bid largely for the gold-haired captive. It was in vain that Berthalda took off one by one her massive gold armlets, and laid them before the pirate slave-dealers. Still, though by only a little, she had not gold enough to outbid the rest.
       All that could now be done, was to beg a little time to pay the remainder of the sum wanted. This was granted. But where to seek the coveted gold, Berthalda knew not.
       At last a thought struck her. She inquired her way to one of those smelting houses where precious metals are got by burning the substances which are found mixed with them when in the mines. With a promised reward, in the shape of some pure gold, she bribed the men, whom she found at their work, to let her have the furnace to herself for a brief space. They agreed; and she stood along by the furnace fire.
       Berthalda’s first act was to take off her outer robe, the robe of gold tissue, her prized and beloved gift. She next set herself to fold it in as small a compass as its heavy texture would allow. For a moment she held it to her lips; then, carefully casting it into the fierce white heat of the furnace, she watched it rapidly consume.
       Not without a pang Berthalda saw her precious memorial vanish before her eyes. All that remained of it was a small lump of bright pure metal. For this, the coveted gold that was to purchase freedome for a suffering human soul, she had parted with her treasure.
       It was a burnt-offering of love. As she stood gazing on all that remained of that slight memorial of great affection, Berthalda crossed her arms meekly and resignedly on her breast; and, lifting up her calm eyes to heaven, prayed that so through life she might ever offer up her own will and her heart’s best longings for the sake of God’s suffering creatures here on earth.
       The gold being cooled, and the men that worked in the smelting-house having been paid with a few scattered grains of the precious metal, Berthalda took up the larger portion, and hastened back to the market-place.
       The sum was enough. The pure ore was weighed; the slave-dealer grasped the solid gold; and the captive maid, captive now no more, was given over to Berthalda.
       The joy of the poor mother when she once more embraced her lost child need not be told. Earnestly she prayed her benefactress to tell her by what service she could repay her for her merciful deed.
       “In one thing,” said Berthalda, “you may indeed serve me. You already know that I was once a slave. But, though a bondwoman, I was fortunate and happy; and I owe a life-long duty to him who rescued me from the pirates by whom I was brought to these shores. The needs of my soul,—which I cannot explain to you,—took me for a time away from my benefactor. His name is Hispanol, and he is high steward to the king of this realm. Go into the city, from time to time, and learn if there is any talk of the marriage of the high steward. It if should chance that you hear of his being wedded, then seek me at the abbey of nuns, where I mean to abide.”
       The mother of the captive maid joyfully undertook the mission. The two were about to depart, when Berthalda, turning to the recovered child, and laying her hand softly on her fair head, asked of her also a service.
       “Give me,” she asked, “one lock of your golden hair; I need a memorial in place of one that I have lost. It will serve to remind me of the dead, who is more precious to me than all the living.”
       The shining, golden lock was quickly severed. Berthalda folded it closely within her bosom. She felt as she did so that the old gift was not lost, but only changed: it lived indeed again, more lifelike than before.
       The three then parted: the mother and her child to work their way together gladly through the world; Berthalda to seek again the safe shelter of the abbey walls.
       One swiftly-rolling year swept by. Berthalda, busied with works of love and mercy, drew sweet peace to her soul. She went by the name of “The Poor Sister;” and, in that place, none, save only the lady abbess, knew her by any other name.
       Meanwhile, how fared the world with Hispanol? As Berthalda had half divined, so it fell out. The kind-hearted steward, now doubly alone and deserted, looked round him once more for comfort and solace, and found at last a fair wife, and was wedded.
       When the bridal feast was held, there was much pomp and state. Even the king himself did not disdain to sit at the board, and make merry with the best of his subjects.
       While the mirth was at its loudest, and there was a call to refill the great beakers that shone and sparkled with silver and gems, what was the surprise of the bridegroom, Hispanol, to behold opposite him, standing at the king’s side and filling his cup, his fair and true slave-maid!
       Yes; there stood Berthalda, lovely in her soul-beauty as of old. She who had silently fled away when tempted by wealth and honours, returned now a slave again, to requite with faithful service the good master who had saved her from the fierce pirate hordes.
       The king, as he turned to take the offered cup from her hand, gave a sudden start of surprise at the sight of the beautiful slave, with truth and honour and lowliness written on her face. With his starting he dropped the cup. Silence fell on all the guests at that great feast. But through the king’s heart there ran sweet music. Never before had he known what true, pure love might mean.
       After that day, many marvelled how it came to pass that the king was so constant a guest at the table of his high steward. The wine-cup, too, seemed to have a charm for his lips that it never had before. Though the cup never again slipped from his hold as he took it from the hand of Berthalda, yet he grew to have a habit of bowing his head gently and humbly over the Xeres wine, as Berthalda softly cast down her eyes, abashed by his earnest gaze.
       Before long, the king told her his honest love. He called her his Berthalda, queen of Iberia. This time the maid found a voice to answer.
       “My lord and king,” she said, with open truth, “you love me, I see well, with no common love. Be it then as you say. And, help me, heaven! as I shall prove a true wife to you, and a good queen over these lands.”
       Now, besides that Berthalda felt that she could give a true affection to the great and brave king, she had a wise and noble object on which she was bent. The one dearest hope of her life was to rid the land of that curse of slavery from which she had suffered when forcibly torn from her island home. Earnestly, as a slave, had she vowed to do all she could towards this great end; and royally, as a queen, did she keep her plighted word. Her power was steadily used to put an end to slave-dealing; and, at the close of her reign, it became a thing almost unknown.
       In all things else Berthalda was wise and full of charity. When famine spread among her people, she tore off her jewelled robes and gave them to the poor. And when her loving lord and king was called from her, she gave up state and throne, and took the holy cross of Christ. So, she lived and died; giving her riches to her people, and her soul to God.
 
       “A right sweet tale!” said King Arthur, when he had heard to the end. “The good deeds of woman are ever pleasant to hear. They shame us knights, who do overmuch by blows, and too little in the Christ-spirit.—But now, Gawain, my sister’s son, let your tale be told. I warn you it will not please half so well as your wife’s, for that can scarcely be.”
       “We shall see,” said Sir Gawain.


Chapter VI
Sir Gawain’s Tale of a Danish Princess
 
There was a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, who, once on a time, betook himself to the Danish court. King Arthur loved him well, for he was of his kin. It befits not me to speak of what manner of knight he was; his best praise is that King Arthur loved him. To the Danish court he went for very spite. Every knight of his own land of Logris gibed at him, because he wore no lady’s colours on his helm, nor ever entered the lists to boast of his lady’s beauty, and to hold against all comers that she was fairer than any other lady that ever was born. This custom of knights he held to be a sorry and a vain custom, and, of a certain, most discourteous. Moreover, as it seemed to him, since each thought his own chosen lady fairest in the world, the palm of beauty, for which they did battle, was nothing in itself, but only as the eye looked at it.
       Now, when the knight set forth, many were the gibes that followed him. “Oh!” said one, “behold the knight who protests there is no such thing as beauty in the world!” “Be sure,” cried another, “he will return wedded to some hideous sorceress.” “Heaven speed him!” added a third; “he is like to go mateless to the grave; for what lady will wed one who will not uphold her beauty above all the rest?”
       The knight passed on his way unheeding. He mused with himself. “Surely,” thought he, “when I wed I shall please mine eye; but something there shall be in the lady of my love that shall be more than outward loveliness, and shall fill my soul with more deep delight.”
       When he came to the Danish court, it happened that there was just then a great festival held there. A tournament had been proclaimed, and all the king’s daughters were to be present, the eldest being appointed to adjudge the prizes to the most worthy. But much was the vexation of all the knights and princes from foreign lands, when it was found that Princess Hilda, the daughter of King Regnar, who was to bestow the rewards of valour, appeared in the balcony over against the lists completely shrouded by a long, flowing veil, of so costly a dazzling a stuff that it entirely hid the face of the princess.
       At the jousts every knight wore lady’s favour, save only one; and that was the knight of Logris, whom I shall call Sir Gaheris, though that was not his true name. Yet he took part in all the knightly games, and did what he might to uphold the fame of the noble court of the great King Arthur before all lands and princes of power. So it befell that he won the chief prizes; not by reason of any greater prowess in that knight than shone full brightly in many other, but only because the battle-cries of “Arthur” and of “Logris” bore down all before them.
       When it fell to Sir Gaheris, the Logrian knight, to kneel before the Danish princess to receive the prizes at her hands, full fain would he have had that dazzling veil put back; for the voice of the princess sounded so sweet and gentle, that the eye longed to share the joy that stole on the ear. But it was not to be.
       The prizes were borne away. The days of the great tourney had come to an end; and Sir Gaheris turned him again to his lodging. It was only when sitting solitary and musing that night, that he found how, by some mischance as it seemed, he had borne away with him one of the princess’s gloves.
       His first thought was to restore the glove to its owner. But, while yet gazing on the fairy mimic of the young hand it had covered, he perceived within it a little scroll, on which some lines had been hurriedly traces. They rang something to this tune:—
            “He that would do service high,
            Must owe nothing to the eye.
            All, like this glove without a spot,
            Is empty where true hand is not.
            Who would worthy champion be,
            Must do all for courtesy.”
Much marvelled Sir Gaheris what these rhymes might mean. It seemed likely that the princess, for some unknown cause, had need of knightly service, and took this way of showing that he who was chosen for the enterprise must look for no favour at her hands. While yet he pondered how he might discover what manner of service was looked for, a damsel stood before the door and asked if he were the Logrian knight who had borne off the chief prizes in the list.
       “I am he,” said Sir Gaheris.
       “Then,” cried the damsel, “my lady hath need of your service. Mount forthwith, sir knight, and bring with you a stout heart; for before morning it may chance that you shall have an encounter, not in sport, but in deadly wager of battle.”
       “Right gladly,” said Sir Gaheris; “for if you come, as I deem, from the worthiest in the land, the cause must be a good cause, and must win in the end. But whither would you have me go?”
       “Follow me,” said the damsel.
       With that, and waiting but while Sir Gaheris armed him and threw the saddle across his horse, which he led by the bridle, the damsel conducted him towards the outer wall of the palace. There stood a jet-black palfrey, scarce to be discerned through the shade of night. Seated thereon was a light and graceful form robed in garments of sombre hue, and completely covered with a long and flowing veil.
       “Welcome, Sir Gaheris, good knight and true!” whispered a sweet low voice, which was no other than that of the Danish princess. Few words passed between them. At a sign from her youthful mistress, the damsel retired through a secret door; and, following the guidance of the princess, Sir Gaheris rode silently by her side. It was only when some distance from the palace had been reached, that the Danish lady ventured to address her companion, still in a low and subdued voice.
       “I knew,” she said, “I might trust a knight of King Arthur’s court, before all others, for aid in a matter that calls for much caution and secresy.”
       Sir Gaheris assured her of his entire devotion to her cause in whatever service he could render her, being bound thereto not only by his vow of knighthood, but by a true desire to serve a daughter of that land, renowned as the abode of the highest honour and of the noblest qualities of any land in Christendom.
       “It is like enough,” continued the princess, “that the object I have before me may be attained without bloodshed; indeed, I look for no encounter that shall need the best blood of Logris to be shed in my cause. But the errand on which I am bound I dare trust to no hand save my own; and though I believe my heart is no fainter than that of other maidens, I shrank from a long night-journey alone and unattended. There are reasons,” she added, “which I cannot now explain, which forbade me to ask aid of any knight of my own land. From the king, my father, especially, I would keep secret the adventure I have undertaken.”
       What reply the knight made, matters little. In pleasant converse passed the lonely hours; and before very long it seemed as if the two had known each other from childhood, so open and frank, so gentle and confiding, was the young Danish maid in all things save the object of her enterprise, on which alone she held a singular and guarded silence.
       After riding it may be a league or more—for the knight took no heed of distance or of time, so happily the moments had sped—they reached the massive walls of a goodly castle. As they approached it, the Danish lady relapsed into silence, or only spoke in low murmurs, looking cautiously about her from time to time. At length she guided her palfrey in a circle round a clump of giant trees, stooping low at the same time to pierce the darkness at her feet, as if in search of some hidden object. Here a low growl met the ear of Sir Gaheris, and caused him to lay hand on his sword, while he drew closer to the side of the princess. To her, however, the sound seemed welcome, as if it were that of the guide she needed in her search.
       “Down, Leuthold, down!” she whispered, as a large stag-hound leaped up and set his fore-paws on her knee, striving to reach her face with his eager tongue. Without claiming or needing help, she now dropped lightly from her palfrey; and, following the hound a few paces onward, bent down before the hollow trunk of a gnarled and twisted oak. In a moment she had lifted some object found there, and, folding it closely against her bosom, prepared to re-mount. But she could not now do so without help; for though the burthen she held in her arms seemed not heavy, the princess held it with such tender and guarded care, that she needed to be lifted to her palfrey without any help at all from herself. With respectful touch the knight raised her to her seat, and flinging the palfrey’s rein over his own arm, pursued, at a gesture from the princess, the path back towards the palace. All was done in silence:—not a word was spoken. Only a low whine from the stag-hound told the brute’s sorrow at not being allowed to follow, as with a backward wave of the hand in the direction of the castle, the princess signified her wish to the faithful beast.
       During that silent journey homeward,—for the princess spoke no more, but seemed fearful lest even the movement of the animal she rode should disturb the hidden treasure she bore in her arms,—many and strange were the thoughts that strove in the mind of Sir Gaheris. Here was a mystery he could not fathom. If, for a moment, he could doubt what manner of thing it was that the lady pressed so tenderly and lovingly to her breast, his doubts lasted not long. A huge block of white stone, shown by a fitful glimpse of the moon, caused the palfrey to start aside; a little wailing cry followed from the burthen the lady carried, and the truth was betrayed, that a babe lay there. It was soon hushed into slumber once more with loving words, and woke not again through the rest of the journey.
       Silently now they reached the palace walls, and silently the princess turned her veiled face towards Sir Gaheris. He thought he understood her to wish that he should depart without a word; and, seeing the same damsel appear at the secret portal, he assisted the princess to dismount, still speaking nothing; and having watched to see all safe till the Danish lady and her attendant must have reached the interior of the castle, he slowly wended his way back to his lodging.
       Much as the Logrian knight marvelled at the mystery that hung about the Danish lady, and, scarce knowing why, felt troubled thereat in his heart, he never for a moment doubted that she was as good and true a lady, as he knew she was gentle and believed she was fair. The adventure, strange as it was, had come to an end, as he thought, and he should be likely to see and hear of her no more. But Sir Gaheris was in error.
       The following night, at the same hour, the damsel sought him anew.
       “Sir Knight,” said she, “are you ready?”
       Surprised and delighted, but concealing how deeply he was moved, he followed the damsel’s leading to the same spot. There sat the Princess Hilda, as before, on her sombre palfrey, carefully veiled. Having set out, without a word exchanged, they had proceeded some short way when the princess spoke.
       “Before we draw near,” she said, “towards yonder castle to which we last night took our way, we have to turn aside a little towards the priory that lies to the left. The road is rough and broken. Take my palfrey’s reins, Sir Gaheris; the creature is of tender southern breed, and the weak feel stronger in the kind leading of a strong hand.”
       Sir Gaheris did so; and could not help feeling from the tone in which the words were uttered that the young Danish maid herself felt more confidence and comfort than she chose otherwise to express, in his companionship and protection. After a pause, she addressed him again.
       “It may be,” she added, “that to-night you will be called on to use your sword in self-defence; but, if possible, forbear to shed the blood of him who may beset you. It may be difficult to avoid this; but I earnestly entreat you to use every means in your power to spare your assailant.”
       The Logrian knight assured her that he would far more readily rush on death himself than cause her one moment’s sorrow.
       They had now reached the priory. Sir Gaheris having knocked on the great bell that swung by the wall, a friar appeared, to whom the princess spoke, saying,—
       “Give me without delay the censer with the drowsy herbs, for the sleepless sick.”
       Thereupon the friar brought forth a censer such as is used at high mass, which the princess acknowledged with a slight bend of the head; and, bidding the knight bear it for her, they again went on their way, Sir Gaheris marvelling more and more on what errand they might now be bound.
       As they neared the castle, a low whine from the watchful hound told that he greeted a friend. This time he guarded a less helpless master than the sleeping babe in the hollow of the gnarled oak.
       Tossing in a restless slumber, stretched full-length on the sward, lay a knight of mighty bulk and stature. His thick fair northern hair swept the turf in a disordered mass, and beside him lay his sword, free of the scabbard. As soon as the princess perceived where he lay, she quietly laid her hand on the mailed glove of Sir Gaheris. He seemed instinctively to know her wishes; and, dismounting and assisting her to alight, would fain have followed her steps. But she mutely pointed to a clump of trees that stood close by; and, twining her palfrey’s rein about his arm, as if binding him to the spot, stepped lightly forward, and ben cautiously over the sleeping knight.
       She soon returned to where stood Sir Gaheris; and, taking the censer from his hand and casting into it the powdered herbs received from the friar, once more advanced towards the slumbering knight, and gently swung it to and fro above his head.
       By degrees his restless movements grew less frequent; till at last he lay quiet as a nursling in its mother’s arms. Finding him thus fast bound in a sound, trance-like rest, the princess kneeled down at his head, and softly parted the hair that seemed matted about his forehead. She divided it with gentle hand, for beneath was a grimly wound; and, signing to the stag-hound to draw near, she pointed to the scarred spot. The ready hound approached, and began meekly to lick the wound. With many a soft and caressing touch the young Danish princess encouraged him in his singular ministry. Next she took a balsam which she had brought with her, and carefully applied it to the wounded part. Then, her work of helpfulness and mercy done, still kneeling, she raised her clasped hands to heaven, murmuring softly, “Heal him sweet Father of Heaven!”
       At that moment, as her lifted hands rose up in supplication, the veil of the young princess fell partially aside. A slight movement on the part of Sir Gaheris would have made him that he could see her face. His desire to do so was strong. Yet the knight of Logris never stirred; but strove rather, by looking in a contrary direction, to obey her in the same true spirit in which she had trusted him. As she rose up, half-conscious that she had carelessly unveiled before the stranger knight, her hand quickly replaced the folds that had shrouded her from view. She then as quickly glanced round. There stood Sir Gaheris with folded arms, and with his head turned aside.
       They now mounted silently, and were once more on their way back to the palace.
       It were long to tell the sweet but tormenting thoughts that beset Sir Gaheris that night. Already he loved the Danish lady whose face was hidden from him. Her sweet voice and gentle deeds had stolen like rich music into his soul. Woe for the Logrian knight! woe, woe for Sir Gaheris! Was she not already the wife of the giant sleeper, for whom she had ventured so much? Verily, he feared she must be. So, battling with every fond thought, he awaited the issue.
       The end came more quickly than he had deemed. Some days had passed, when it became known far and wide that a great boar-hunt was to come about.
       For the same night a feast was proclaimed, to which many knights and barons were summoned, Sir Gaheris, the Logrian knight, among the rest.
       Now, with hunting of boars, Sir Gaheris cared not to have to do; and as for the feast, he made up his mind not to go to that, lest, perchance, the princess might again have need of his service. But when all else had set out for the wild, fierce chase, what was his surprise to see ride up to his door a lady followed only by a page. His heart stood still. Who could she be save the lady of his dream? Yet, though her face was very fair, it was not the face that, all unseen, was mirrored on his heart. It was in vain that he said within himself, “What matters it to me? she can never be mine.” In spite of such reasoning, his mood was ruffled.
       In a few moments the lady entered, leaving her page without. When she spoke, how like was her voice to the voice of the lady of his thought! But he felt rather than heard that it was not the same.
       “Sir Gaheris,” she said, “I come thus alone since it is still needful to observe some caution. I come to speak my thanks for the true knightly service you have rendered my sister as well as myself,—a service of none the less worth because no blood has been shed,—and to beg still once more some assistance at your hands.”
       Seeing the knight disturbed and bewildered, but awaiting her pleasure, she continued,—”My lord, Sir Huon, is bound for the boar-hunt, in spite of all my prayers; for he is but newly and suddenly recovered from a fearful and grievous malady. Should you chance to encounter him on his return, I entreat you to avoid betraying by the smallest sign that you have ever looked on him till that hour. The life of Sir Huon, and the safety of all he holds dear, will depend on the state he may be in when he returns from the exciting sport in which he is even now engaged. If he can bear it, doubtless his recovery is as complete as it is sudden; if not, a new outbreak may prove fatal.”
       As Sir Gaheris, still doubtful what this might mean, could answer but in broken words, the lady of Sir Huon went on:—”All this mystery doubtless surprises you, sir knight, as well it may. You shall know all.
       “It is now some moons since my lord, Sir Huon, received, in an encounter with a deadly foe of his race, a fearful wound in the head. Finding his senses deserting him, he prayed me to remove myself out of his way, lest, as will sometimes chance with those whose wits are gone, his hate should fall where he loved most truly, and that he should seek my life. He prayed me, further, to keep secret from all, and especially from my father the king, the frightful malady that was closing fast upon him. I could not desert him. But, finding at last that as he grew furious my presence excited him ever to a more violent outbreak, I withdrew from his side for awhile; but, unknown to him, remained near at hand to serve him if I might. He next sought to slay our infant child. But I hid the babe as well as I could, every fearing its cries would betray its place of hiding. Just then my father, knowing nothing of this, proclaimed a tourney. With wild eyes, eager for more than mimic battle, Sir Huon rushed into the lists. Madly he encountered; and what worse mischief might have ensued no one can say, had he not received a slight wound on nearly the same spot as that of the sword-cut which had caused his malady. The wound bled freely; and he grew quiet, and retired from the lists. That night my sister, the Princess Hilda, as you already know, took our infant child to her dear care. The following day I contrived to let her know the new danger that befell. Sir Huon, when he returned wounded, had refused all help, and, after a night and day of fearful suffering, flinging himself down outside the castle walls, lay there to die. With the next night came my sister; and my lord, Sir Huon, was healed and saved.
       All that is needful now is to keep from him, if possible, all knowledge of his past state; for he woke up from that sleep that restored him, in all things like his old self, and seemed unconscious of what had befallen him. This, sir knight, is the whole mystery. When the great boar-hunt is over and Sir Huon returns, if all goes well, I pray you, good knight of the Logris land, that you will come to my father’s feast, and receive the thanks of my sister, the Princess Hilda.” Thus ended the lady of Sir Huon.
       You may be sure that Sir Gaheris,—or Sir Gawain, if you will, for I was the Logrian knight,—stood in the sun and looked oft at the dial that day, and thought the wild boars were long a-killing! But the fierce chase was over at last. Back the wild hunters came trooping. Among the rest, towering above them all, and with a right sane look in his large blue eyes, back, too, came Sir Huon.
       At that feast of blessed memory, no envious veil hid the bright face of my Danish princess. It shone in her father King Regnar’s court as it shines now in the court of King Arthur.—Behold her, my lady and my love!
 
       As Sir Gawain the Courteous ended his tale, not a knight or lady was there in Camelot but looked with wonder on the surpassing beauty of the young Hilda, as she turned a look of tender love and happiness on her lord,—her own true knight of Logris.
       “Well wooed and well won!” cried the grave Merlin, with a warmth in his tone that was rare with the sage. But he ever felt more affection for those of King Arthur’s race than for any other living; and the high, pure chivalry of Sir Gawain pleased him best of all.
       An old knight who, while Sir Gawain had been narrating his adventure, had closely regarded the fair Danish Princess Hilda, Sir Gawain’s wife, spoke next.
       “I have ever noted,” said he, “that the gentlest and tenderest of damsels have the greatest courage and force of will to face peril for themselves and to work good towards others. Often in my long life this has been a marvel to me. A woman’s secret is always most closely kept, where the need for silence is great or touches her noblest affections. Very forcibly, while listening to Sir Gawain’s history, was I reminded of a strange thing that happened once, touching a noble lady of Gaul. The mystery I speak of was a lady’s secret, and was a secret well kept. To me it is dark to this day. I have questioned many from the land of Rome, where it befell, but none could ever give a clue to it. It is but the fragment of a tale I tell; but that cannot be helped.


Chapter VII
The Old Knight’s Tale: The Lady’s Secret
 
The Lady Gabrielle was of noble race, and born in the land of Gaul. The strange event that happened to her—whatever it might be—which changed her all at once, as with a lightning stroke, to a crushed and wrecked creature, befell in a land distant from her own, the old Roman land.
       While yet in her own country, the Lady Gabrielle was seized with a heavy fever. She had great wealth, for she was the sole child of her father, and when he died he left her a princely endowment. Therefore, it may well be seen that all the help that learned men could bring to bear against the malady was tried for her cure. But, in spite of all, she waxed worse, wasting under the fever day by day. And even at last, when that sickness abated, it left her so wan and feeble, that it seemed as if a breath would waft her to heaven.
       Seeing that there was no more to be done by drugs and simples, the learned leeches, who had done their best, bethought them that without surer help than theirs the noble heir to so many wide lands must soon waste away of a slower but not less fatal malady, and be borne where all gold, as well as all flesh, is dust.
       One hope remained. The going to a softer clime, southward, might yet bring back the rosy bloom to the cheek, and the bright light of life and strength to the sick and suffering lady. They spoke to her of the chance, and she eagerly seized the bright hope. The very thought of seeing the ancient Roman land brought a smile of promise to her young face.
       By careful and easy journeying, and the watchful tending of devoted adherents,—for she took a great following with her,—the Lady Gabrielle reached safely the great and delightful land of the Caesars. By the time she looked on the Roman land the bloom of health had already come back; her light foot was soon able to explore the wonders of palace and ampitheatre, pillar and dome. A little while again, and she was her own old self; and her great beauty became the wonder of the time, and the theme of song to the Roman minstrels.
       It was then that she was sought, wooed, and won by a young Roman, of noble race like her own. Lorenzo was his name, of the great house of Esté.
       All went well. The Lady Gabrielle was happy as mortal might be, in her youth, health, and strength, and in her glad young love, so sweet and true. Even the marriage day was already fixed for the bridals of Lorenzo of Esté and Gabrielle of Gaul.
       One evenfall, as was her wont, she took her way to the cathedral shrine to offer up thanksgivings for the blessings of new life and happy love; and devout prayers that she might be found worthy of so many precious gifts of a good Father.
       It was a lovely moon-lit eve; and it was noted at the time that the beauty of the hour caused her to linger on her way, offering up the silent worship of the eye, as she gazed on the beauty of the glorious God-given world. Thus it fell out that by the time she entered the cathedral the last of those who wandered in to offer up prayers at the different shrines had dropped out one by one, and left the old domed church silent and solitary.
       The Lady Gabrielle came back from her orisons. But when she did come back, none would have known her for the same who went out with a bright smile and a springing tread. Those of her household, when they first looked on her, would have rushed for help; but, with a shaking hand, she waved them off. With steps that reeled, as if with sudden giddiness, she gained her chamber. Once there, she barred and bolted herself fast in, and would neither undo the door nor answer to any beseeching voice.
       A horror fell upon the household. None could dream what ailed their lady, or why she kept so close. Some thought she had lost her senses on a sudden. It could not be sickness solely; for though she looked now again just as she had looked before she departed out of her own land of Gaul, yet she had ever been under sickness patient, gentle, and confiding.
       Weary of wondering, her favourite damsel bethought her if anything could be done. She was seized with an eager desire to know the truth; or at least to see how her lady might fare in the silence of her own chamber, since she refused all service at her hands, and remained shut from all eyes, desolate and alone.
       At last it came into her mind that on the other side of the gallery that ran by her lady’s chamber there was another door, leading to a plant-house. This door had in the upper part of it a small lattice, so that even when the door was closed the flowers might float their sweet perfume into the inner chamber. She went round to the plant-house, and, climbing without noise on to a high settle that held some flower-vases, she peered cautiously into the room.  
       Scarcely could the damsel withhold the scream that was ready to burst from her lips as she looked on her lady.
       There knelt the once joyous Gabrielle. Down on her bended knees before a crucifix, she lifted up her shaking hands, wringing them in an agony of maddened misery. There were no tears on her face, but it looked death-like and drawn. Her eyes were wild; her tresses unbound. Her voice gave no sound—her very prayers seemed to have died upon her lips. There she knelt, rigid and motionless, save for the wringing of the clasped hands—lifted and wrung, wrung and lifted again, in dumb, hopeless supplication.
       But the agony—whatever might be its cause—that so overmastered her at the moment, died partly away, or seemed to do, after that night. With the morning’s light the Lady Gabrielle came forth from her chamber, and the world looked on her once more. But she was no longer what she had been. Some struggle, which no mortal might know, was going on within her. She never set foot beyond the threshold of her palace-home. She ceased even to seek the confessional. When asked by her priest and confessor how she could hope for her sins to be forgiven her in such a stubborn mood, she excused herself, saying that she spent all her days on bended knees, praying for the strength of repentance and for the absolving of a great sin; and bade him leave her to heaven alone, for all her trust lay there.
       And now, for one excuse or other, she put off her marriage from time to time. Some said that she was changed in heart, and that even her love was no longer the joy it had once been to her. Some even told that a visible shudder thrilled through her frame when Lorenzo of Esté touched her hand; and that, whenever her eyes met his, her face wore a scared look, like that of one who fancies he sees a spectre.
       Of her story I know no more. My stay in that land was but a passing sojourn. Before the day, still put off, but still looked for, which was to dawn on the bridals of Gabrielle and her lover, I had departed out of that country.
 
       Now spoke a minstrel from the Roman land. “To your fragment, sir knight,” said he, “I can add the close. Three years the secret was kept; nor then was it disclosed by the lips of Gabrielle. But I can give it best to the ring of the harp, for my words ever come broken and halting without the help of the strings. With King Arthur’s good will, I will sing a ballad I made of the broken bridals of Lorenzo of Esté and Gabrielle of Gaul. If it were but a legend of old time, it might sound the better. The tale wants the mellowing touch of time. Yet, for that very cause, just now it thrills the Roman heart; and those who walk by the banks of the Roman waters look wistfully into its sands for the words traced there with the poniard’s point,—words for ever washed away, as we would were the guilty act they brought before the wrong-doer.


Chapter VIII
The Roman Minstrel’s Ballad of Gabrielle of Gaul
 
Part I
 
The altar is set,
   The bride-guests are met,
But in vain for the bride they stay;
Whose faltering feet,
Where the slow waves beat,
   Pace the sands of a golden bay.
 
The folds of her veil
Shade a cheek more pale;
   And the wandering eyes they cover,
Filled full with a woe
That no tears may know,
   Are silently turned from her lover.
 
“The torches are burning,
The grey priest is turning
   Once more to his silent cell:
I appeal—I reprove thee,
Yet words cannot move thee:
   What aileth thee, Gabrielle!”
 
“I have laid me to dream
In the cold moonbeam,
   And my bride-wreath has faded away:
The madness that clings
To all earthly things
   Hath stricken my soul this day.”
 
“Could I deem that you grieve,—
Could I dare to believe
   That a rival’s heart held thine,
Since I seek not a slave,
Thou wert free as yon wave,
   I would die ere I called thee mine.”
 
“Where the blindworm crawls
On the charnel walls,
   Grim the bridegroom that waiteth for me:
I shall stand with him
By an altar dim,
   And none shall our troth-plight see.”
 
“Though my hopes twined about thee,
I grievously doubt thee.—
   Hast thou fallen from thy maiden pride,
And dar’st not to claim
With a sullied fame
   The title of Esté’s bride?”
 
Standing firm in her place,
Looking calm in his face,
   From his baldric the dagger she drew;
And she traced on the sand
Of that lonely strand
   A word and a sign that he knew.
 
With a sudden light, blind,
He has fled like the wind,
   While mute grows each bridal bell;
And alone on the shore,
And alone evermore,
   Stands the lady Gabrielle.
 
Part II
 
The clouds sweep fast
O’er the dreams of the past,
   And the earth and the heavens seem new:
That sign on the strand
It razed out from the sand,
   And only the sea rolls true.
 
By the marge where it laves,
A proud banner waves
   With a welcome to Esté’s lord;
But one pale flower
Lies faint in her bower,
   And thrills like a wind-swept chord.
 
Though her sick brain reels,
To the casement she steals
   As the stately train sweeps by,
But to meet the light shed
From a love that is dead,—
   But to gaze on him once more, and die.
 
Mid the cymbal’s clang,
Through the throng there sang
   A maniac wild and worn;
And shrill and loud
O’er the dumb, stilled crowd
   Was his tale of horror borne.
 
“Three years have fled
Since my steps were led
   To a dim cathedral aisle,
Where pillar and rail
Cast a shadowy trail,
   Half touched by the moonbeam’s smile.
 
“On the steps where he prayed,
At the altar waylaid,
   A priest fell, dabbled in gore;
And the guilty brand
In his red right hand,
   Yonder lord of Esté bore!
 
“I am wearied and weak,—
For the truth that I speak
   One other can answer well;
For the witness of blood,
From the shrine where she stood,
   Was the lady Gabrielle.”
 
A fierce fire burned
In eyes that were turned
   Towards a pale, dead face of sorrow:
And the headsman stood by
With a grim, cold eye,
   As he dreamed of work on the morrow.
 
“Heaven shield him!” the prayer
Of her life’s despair,
   Was borne on an angel’s breath.
That charge comes too late,
For at heaven’s gate
   Stands the witness of Sin and Death!
 
       “Though the story I have set to the strings,” said the Roman minstrel as he concluded, “ends with the life of Gabrielle, I learned more at an after time. Some years later, Lorenzo of Esté made dying confession of his crime, to which he had been tempted in order to avenge a wrong done him by the priest. He made a good end, and died in his bed; for none believed the charge made by a maniac. The most noteworthy part of his confession was, that he had been led to bewail his misdeed by the truth and firmness of Gabrielle. His last words are recorded to have been these:—
       “I felt sure that the God who gave her the strength of silence, whereby alone I was saved for this hour of contrition, would give me the strength to repent truly.”
       The minstrel then turned to Sir Biorn, the Christian convert, and reminded him of King Arthur’s wish to hear a tale of wild Norway. “It is fitting,” said he, “that the manners of the icy North should contrast with those of the passionate, impulsive South.”
       “My memory serves me not well,” answered Sir Biorn. “In my ill-taught youth, few tales moved me, save those which touched on passions, not indeed evil in themselves, but turned to evil ends. Of such, this is no place to speak. Yet the rude old tale of King Sweno may serve, sir minstrel, to show that the cold North is not wanting in the quick, strong, fiery impulse of the South, whether for good or ill. King Sweno has passed to dust; but the land he ruled knows him yet as the Iron King.”


Chapter IX
The Christian Convert’s Tale of the Iron King
 
In the far north of the wild land of Scandinavia ruled one who was known by the name of the Iron King; and for this cause, that he was rigid and strong in all things, both for good and for evil. The signs of his might and power were around him on every hand. On either side of his throne stood a fierce beast, a lion on one side and a tameless bull on the other; not alive, but made to look as if they lived. How the beasts were become so famous as to stand where they stood, was in this wise.
       Once on a time, to celebrate a great land-battle, fought and won against the sea-marauders who had sprung to shore in a great force, with floating banners and with golden torques about their brows, a beast-fight was sounded through the land. A lion and a bull were thrust into the arena to struggle for mastery,—hoof to claw, muzzle to muzzle, tossing horn to rending fang. The king and court looked on: women trembled, but gazed on in strange fascination; children shrank, but could not look away.
       On a sudden the bull was borne down by the lion; and, as it seemed, his end was near. Then cried King Sweno to those about him,—
       “Which of you dares to part these beasts?”
       No voice answered the challenge. Little pause made the Iron King. He dashed headlong into the arena; and, raising his two-edged sword above his head, he clove the over-mastering beast to the chine. Down rolled the lordly lion in the dust, and on came the maddened bull upon his rescuer. Quickly leaped the king aside, and stood at bay by the further end of the arena, close to the barriers. There he awaited the onset of the bull. As the enraged brute came on, head down, ready to hurl his friendly foe in the air, the Iron King, lithe and bold in his great strength, set his food on the beast’s front, between the curved horns. Thence with one spring he gained the rail that severed the crowding on-lookers from the arena. For one short moment he staggered, as, with one foot of the rail, he towered in the air. But his balance was good, and came down King Sweno with a plunge within the barrier.
       The maddened bull raged on. He tossed up the earth beneath his feet, and filled the air with his horrible bellowing. His wounds drove him so wild, that he could not be tamed or brought to bay; and, perforce, he got his death-wound from the hands of his keepers.—It was so that the dead lion and the dead bull came to stand on either side of the throne of Sweno, the Iron King.
       On a time it came to pass that the queen gave three young princes to the land, all born at one birth. This mightily troubled King Sweno. He desired a son to take his kingdom after him, and to rule it when his own iron hand could no more hold the laws in its grasp. But what was he to do with the three that were of one age, and grew to be so like, each to each, that no man might know them apart?
       This was what he did. When the princes were grown up to manhood, pondered the king, and raised his right hand, and said, “Call hither the three sons of my blood;” and they were called, and came.
       “Now,” said King Sweno, “here be three of ye. I can give my kingdom but to one of ye all. Tell me, each one, of what mind ye be, that I may judge which is the fittest to rule the old Norse land.”
       “For me,” said Baldo the Bold, “I care not, so you leave me forest and fell: a spear for my hand, and a hound at my heels—”
       “Bah!” interrupted King Sweno. “Go and hunt bears!”
       “I,” said Esbiorn the Mild, “would rather a crown of wild-wood flowers than a circlet of red gold. Give me a lute for my hand, and a wife at my side.”
       “Enough,” cried King Sweno; “go, and weave sunbeams into pearl-strings, and leave kingdoms to men!”
       “As to me,” said Hardral the Saintly, “a cave in a rock, a cord to lash my body, a skull and a crucifix, are all my wants: earth can give nothing better.”
       “Begone!” cried the Iron King, “and find your heaven where you will; Valhalla is good enough for me.—By the great Odin! ye shall none of ye come after me to rule this land. My people shall not be hunted like beasts, nor sung into bondage, nor preached into bigotry. Away with ye all!”
       After this, King Sweno let each go his own way. He took a strange youth, the son of a churl, and he brought him up to deeds of arms, and taught him state-craft and king-rule. The youth throve under his mighty master, and came to be a man of note. But the base-born was corrupt at heart. And when the three sons of Sweno were scattered abroad here and there, the churl’s son took the Iron King in his grand old age, and thrust him from his lands, and seized his crown.
       Shut from the light of day, deep down in the great donjon-keep of his own palace of the Norse kings, the Iron King rusted away. Who should help him if not those of his own blood?
       Wild rumour followed the brothers, and drew them homeward. Mild Esbiorn came disguised, lute in hand, and charmed the jailor to let him in. Saintly Hardral, cowled over his shaven crown, drew unopposed to the side of the dying, captive king—iron to the last. Bold Baldo came next. He strode straight up to the throne: the bear-spear he carried went as straight to the heart of him who sat there. The churl’s son rolled down in a bath of his own blood, and made a foot-rest for the next comer.
       The three took dead Sweno, their father, and set him where he should be, on the old Norse throne; with the churl’s son under his feet, and with the lion and the bull standing, as of old, in grimly state on either hand.
       Three days the Iron King sat in state, that all the land might look upon him and know him for their king. Then the brothers put it to the people to choose who should reign after him. With one voice, the people cried, “Baldo the Bold!”
       So Baldo buried his father, King Sweno, with all honour, and reigned king after him, as should have been ruled from the first.
       The three were never parted. Baldo took on him state-craft and care; Esbiorn smoothed his mood with lute and song; and Hardral opened heaven to the wisest king that ever sat on the old Norse throne.
 
       “This tale is much to my liking,” said Merlin; “it has bone and muscle in it. There is that in it which brings to mind Sir Humbert’s tale of—”
       “Ay!” interrupted Sir Biorn, “in my lost heathen days I was no better than that mad beast that turned against his rescuer. Thanks to the great God! those days are done, and I like not to think of them. Let us speak of other things.—Tell me, venerable sage, goes there not a prophecy, as I have been told, that your great King Arthur, here in place, shall arise ages hence from his sleep of death, and live again a king in Logris; which land shall show in those days even a greater glory than now?”
       “The greatness of King Arthur can never die,” was all the answer of Merlin.
       “And the head of Bran?” still questioned Sir Biorn; “goes not the legend that the freedom and power of this land is owed to the buried head of Bran the Blest, and shall never be trod by conqueror’s foot while Bran’s head rests under the White Hill?”
       “Such once was the tale in Britain,” answered Merlin; “but King Arthur ruled, and wisely, that the land of his love should owe nothing to the childish dreams of the past. The head of Bran has long since been disinterred; it lies beneath the White Hill no more. Yet Briton is unconquered, and the sea girds it with a belt of freedom as of old. No! this land of Logris must show great and glorious in her living heroes, and not in her dead alone. When some prince of Britain’s soil, pure in chivalry, mated, it may be, with a princess of high northern race,—such a pair as is Sir Gawain and his bride, Hilda of Denmark,—then, though the grave shall have closed over all that is mortal of our great Arthur, yet in the spirit shall he live again.”
       “So only would I live a charmed and immortal life, even here, in Logris.” Thus spoke King Arthur.
       Looking to the face of the good king, with its divine light of truth and mercy, that ever seemed to compass it round as with a glory from above, the thought would again recur to most of those present, “What can have been the issue of his encounter with the erring King Mark?” It seemed as if this fact was doomed to remain shrouded in mystery for ever. None ventured to open the subject anew. But now, after some pause, during which, as the child Alisaunder said, “the angels were winging overhead,” King Arthur asked a history of the boy’s father, Sir Baldwin, who thus began.


Chapter X
Sir Baldwin’s Tale of a Wonderful Vision
 
When my good wife, Angelides, leaving me in the care of the holy hermit, departed with my young son to seek the court of King Arthur, and claim redress from the chivalry of the land for the wrong done me at the hands of my misguided brother, King Mark, I lay for some time, though not in danger, yet somewhat helpless in body, and much troubled in mind. I felt it hard to be accused of disloyalty, when I would willingly have shed my heart’s blood in my brother’s cause. Being much alone, the only living soul near me being the hermit who ministered to my wants, it may be that my mind became weakened by solitude; especially since the loss of blood from my wound was greater than even a strong man may well bear. In no other way can I account for the wonderful vision that appeared to me.
       My wounds were healed. To all outward seeming this bodily frame was vigorous as ever. Taking, therefore, such care as was rational and needful to avoid a meeting with my brother, till I could be sure that his mind was rid of all lurking suspicion of my loyalty,—and this far more for his sake than my own, for I would have spared him the remorse which would follow any evil design against me on his part,—I prepared to quit the care of my good friend the hermit, and pass out once more into the world of the living.
       Mounting a good horse, with which Queen Isond had secretly provided me, and taking my way in somewhat serious mood, I traversed the coast-line along a range of lofty cliffs, with the design of making my journey straight to this court.
       I had not gone far when I was aware of another horseman pursuing the same route as myself, and quickly gaining ground on me, as I gave my horse the rein, and slowly moved towards Camelot.
       The knight, for such he was, at length rode up his horse abreast of mine, slackening his pace as he did so, as if desirous of bearing me company. As I turned my head to survey him, and to judge in some sort what manner of man he was, to my surprise he quickly turned his head aside, and lowered his visor. He was armed from head to heel in black armour, and neither on helm nor shield bore his crest or device by which I might judge of his name and lineage. We both, the Black Knight and I, rode on in silence: he, as it appeared to me, watching me covertly through the closed helm; I not caring to be the first to draw him from that reserve, which the sudden movement he had made to hide his visage from me seemed to betoken that he wished to preserve.
       The haze of a sultry noon was growing thicker and thicker. Masses of floating mist, borne landward from the sea, came sweeping past, leaving beads of moisture on my good steed’s mane, and showing every object strangely and mysteriously shrouded beneath its vapoury veil. While the fog was thus at its worst, and the sun, which had grown more lurid and red as the haze deepened around, was now almost shut from view, my ear caught the footfalls of a third horse, following in the same track, and, as it seemed to me, no great distance behind.
       Knowing the road of old, I was aware that we were nearing a spot made dangerous by a portion of the cliff having broken away from the mainland; and leaving, as a trap to unwary feet, a rift large enough to swallow up both man and horse. Thinking to give timely warning, I turned towards the Black Knight, and asked if any stranger knight of his company, unfamiliar with the path, might be behind, whose horse-hoofs I had heard. He answered, and, as it seemed to me, in a strained and false voice, that he rode alone.
       At this, I turned my horse around, and faced the backward route. As I stopped, the Black Knight stopped also. Our horses’ hoofs no longer sounding, the sounds I had conceived I heard were silent too. Could it be fancy, or was it a trick of echo? Thinking no further of it, I again moved on. The Black Knight did the same. Had I been in quarrelsome mood, or suspicious of an ambuscade, I might have put sharp question to my silent companion, which would have ended at the sword’s point. But my thoughts were on other things.
       We had passed the dangerous rift. But a short distance, however, had we left it behind, when the same unmistakable footfalls broke on my ear, and woke me at last to needful caution. This time, without stopping my horse, or turning on my route, I swung round in the saddle, and peered through the mist.
       If ever in dream of night or fevered trance I had fancied I beheld a glorified vision, I fancied I beheld that vision now. From where I rode I could dimly discern the fearful chasm, whose yawning mouth we had just passed scatheless by. On its very verge moved the figure of a knight, of—as it seemed—more than mortal stature; and, as far as I could discern through the mist, armed at all points. At full bridle-length he led his horse, a milk-white charger, interposing his own body between the curvetting steed and threatening gulf. His bearing was calm and dignified; and round his helmet of brightest steel played rays of fitful shine that sparkled and seemed to light the misty way far round his glorious path.
       While I looked, the half-obscured sun shrank away in the heavens, his red orb masked by the thick ether; and an almost Egyptian darkness shut the vision from my eyes.
       I rode on, marvelling much. In brief space the sultry fog swept off the land, but only to be replaced by a long train of lurid thunder-clouds. As the threatening aspect of the skies deepened in force, my mute companion, the Black Knight, looked up and around in all directions with uneasy gestures. Soon the storm came bursting over the land in all its fury. The sharp lightning clove the air; a threatening roll of distant thunder was coming up with the wind. The spirit of the storm was gathering his arms for the battle.
       Suddenly the Black Knight cried,—“Sir Baldwin of Britain, your hand!”
       As I had no just cause to show discourtesy to the knight, though I felt the greeting somewhat ill-timed and singular, I freely gave him my mailed hand in brotherhood. He wrung it like one whose mind is disburthened of a weary weight, while a deep sigh of relief escaped him.
       By a cross road which opened into that along which we journeyed, who should now come up but Sir Launcelot of the Lake. Turning my horse aside for a few paces to greet him, for some moments I forgot my strange comrade, the Black Knight.—When I looked round again, he was gone!
       With Sir Launcelot I joined company, glad, if truth must be told, to find myself companioned by a Christian knight of unblemished shield, for the Black Knight’s bearing had more of mystery than was altogether to my liking. His strange silence and abrupt greeting, in connection with the wonderful and gracious vision I had looked on, had so stirred my fancy, that I felt like one who stood betwixt the opposing powers of evil and of good, and knew not how a sinful soul should fare in the strife that might ensue.
 
       As Sir Baldwin ceased, Merlin glanced at King Arthur with an inquiring eye. The king slightly bent his head, and Merlin felt he had permission to speak.
       “The strife, I trust, is already ended,” he said. “The Black Knight was King Mark. As for your vision, Sir Baldwin, part was fancy and part reality. The form you looked on, and which seemed to you more than human through the magnifying mist, and about whose steel casque doubtless the hovering lightning already played, though the heavier storm broke later, was in truth no more than a mortal knight,—yet the best in all Christendom. The strife was, indeed, between the powers of good and evil; but to you, Sir Baldwin, it boded weal and not woe.”
       “Since King Mark’s name has been spoken,” said King Arthur, “let there be an end of the mystery. We have met, but in no deadly encounter. He has heard me patiently. If he made no nearer advance toward brotherly accord than that hurried grasp of the hand, when, purposely tarrying some way behind, I urged him to ride forward, and take you, Sir Baldwin, into his love, I believe in my soul it was but shame for the past which withheld him. I would we could pierce more surely the depths of his nature. Something of good must be there, which we pass over, seeing only the evil. Among all our pleasant tales tonight, can no one tell one kindly trait of him, that shall speak of the inner man as he is, and plead for a fallen king?”
       Then said King Mark’s wife, Queen Isond, “I will tell a tale of a tomb that was raised by my lord, King Mark, in memory of true nobleness: it is, at least, one good deed.”


Chapter XI
Queen Isond’s Tale of the One Good Deed
      
       In a castle, built on a strong rock looking over the broad waters that wash the Cornish shores, there lived an old knight who had two sons. When these two youths were yet but unbearded squires, not yet admitted into knighthood, there came to dwell there a young maiden passing fair, the orphan child of the old knight’s brother, who had just then been newly slain in the wars. The old knight loved her as if she had been a child of his own; and secretly determined that he would in due time wed her to one or other of his two sons, if it should turn out that either of them grew into the young maid’s liking.
       The two youths were as different in all things as light is from dark. Bertrand, the elder, was bold and strong of limb, impatient of control, passionate and revengeful. Walter, the younger, was of a softer nature, reserved and quiet, but of deep affections; and he was, to the full, as brave as his brother, though few gave him credit for the force that was in him.
       As time drew on, it happened that the liking of the young maid, Lenora, fell on the elder, Bertrand. And, as soon as the old knight noted that his elder son grew to be marvellously fond of the orphan child, he settled it all as he would have it, and the two were betrothed.
       But when the two young squires had passed their noviciate, and came to receive knighthood at their father’s hands, nothing would stay Bertrand, the elder, but he would away to the wars, where a neighbouring country was struggling to free itself from a foreign yoke. He could not rest, he said, in the old hall of his fathers, while the world’s work was doing outside; but he would go forth and win for himself renown; and then he should come back more worthy of his betrothed lady, Lenora, and they would be wedded with great joy in the old castle of the rock.
       With many tears Lenora parted with her lover; and, folding across his shoulders a scarf of blue samite, richly embroidered by her own hands, saw him mount and ride away.
       Time went on. The wars were over. A year had passed by with lagging foot; and yet the bridegroom came not. When the autumn leaves began to fall, the old knight died. With his last breath he committed the young Lenora to the care of his son, Walter, till Bertrand, the elder, should return to claim his bride; appointing him guardian over her person and lands, and bidding him be a gentle and loving brother to one so forlorn. For, by this time, there had crept a misgiving into the knight’s mind that all was not well with his son Bertrand, who came not home to the fulfilling of his pledge.
       So the old knight died, and was buried by torchlight. And now, save for the ancient servitors and men-at-arms who had belonged to his following, there remained in the rock-castle only the youth, Walter, and Lenora, the maiden betrothed.
       As a miser guards his hoarded treasure, so did Walter guard the promised bride of his brother Bertrand. His task was a hard one. He loved the maid with a better love than his light-minded brother had done; and as time wore away, and he saw her deserted and drooping, his heart bled within him, and was sore for her sorrow. Yet he never spoke of his love to her; but held her in all honour, and kept his knightly faith unbroken.
       At length, over the seas came Bertrand once more. But he came not alone. He brought with him a bride from a strange land, one light-minded like himself, who, in after days, brough a just retribution on his head; for she forsook him as he had forsaken his once love, Lenora, and broke her wedded vows to flee away in shameful flight with a knight of her own land.
       Now, when Bertrand brought home his light lady, and set her in the home of his fathers, the just wrath of the good Walter was roused against him for Lenora’s sake; and, mindless for the moment that he was of his own blood and kin, he challenged him to the combat as recreant and false, perjured lover and faithless knight.
       The hot blood of Bertrand was up. He fell savagely on his brother; and, as he was the stronger and hardier of the two, it might have ended ill for the true Walter, but that the maid, Lenora, looking down from the rampart, saw the unnatural encounter, and came swiftly down to part the brothers. She rushed between the uplifted swords, and fell, wounded to death, beneath the stroke of Bertrand.
       The sight of her innocent blood recalled them to themselves. Bertrand, aghast and bewildered at the issue of the foul wrong he had done, stood by, pale and leaning on his sword; but Walter, all whose true soul was with the lost Lenora, knelt at her side, and strove in vain to sta[u]nch the wound dealt by the betrayer.
       Her life was passing. To Bertrand she only said, “Be happy with your chosen bride.” But to Walter she turned now with tender trust, crying, “Oh, true heart! well hast thou loved in silent love; and noble life hast thou lived. Live still, and remember me to the grave, where we two shall meet and go wedded souls to heaven. Bear with thy brother, for the sake of the old love that was between him and me. Never again, I charge you, cross sword with Bertrand, your brother. His I was once: yours am I now for ever.” So saying, and yielding, for the first and last time, her dying lips to the pure kiss of Walter, Lenora quietly breathed away her life.
       The brothers, mindful of her words, fell to battle no more. But the unruly spirit of Bertrand was hard to bear. He seemed now to hate his brother, whose virtues were a silent reproach to him. So Walter sorrowfully departed out of his old father’s castle, and went forth to seek adventures wherein he might forget the tragic ending of his love. Many years he wandered, and many good deeds are recorded of him, in helping the oppressed, even to the shedding of his blood for them in numerous perilous encounters.
       In one of his wanderings, it happened that he reached the skirts of a wood, near which many knights were gathered together, as if about to set out on some new quest. He turned his horse’s head and joined them company, questioning them of their intent. They told him of a fierce combat which had just then come about, in which one knight had slain another unjustly, and against all fair and honourable laws of chivalry. By the account they gave of the slain knight and of the bearings on his shield, Sir Walter knew that it must be his brother Bertrand, who had fallen thus ingloriously; and he vowed to avenge his fall with the best might that he could. But when he came to put question as to the false knight he sought, it was told him that in those parts he was known as the Invisible Knight, because he ever wore his visor closed, so that no man knew his face. Out of this, strange tales had arisen of many having got hard blows at his hand, while none could see who dealt them. Sir Walter could sift the true from the false; and he well divined that he should not have far to seek.
       Having parted company with the rest, he chose such a path through the wood as showed, by some broken branches strewed in the way, that a mounted knight had but newly cleft his way through the thick-grown trees. His course lay alone for some length;3 but at a clearing in the wood, he espied, resting beside a fountain, his arms soiled and stained with newly shed blood, a knight of good stature, whose face he could not see. He doubted not that this was the Invisible Knight, since he answered in all points to the description that was given of him.
       As the knight Walter looked on the supposed slayer of his brother Bertrand, the playmate of his youth, and the once-beloved of his own loved and lost Lenora, something of the fierce passion of his brother for a moment stirred his blood; and, hurling a bold defiance at the Invisible Knight, he challenged him to combat. Nothing loath, the latter mounted, and met his challenger in full career. Furious were the blows that hailed thick and fast on either helm. The Invisible Knight, especially seemed moved by more than human hate, and fell upon Sir Walter like one possessed by a fiend.
       Long and doubtful was the strife. And now, as both paused for one brief moment to gather breath to renew the fight, the Invisible Knight, forgetful of all disguise, raised his barred visor, and gazed fiercely on his foe.
       Suddenly the sword dropped from Sir Walter’s grasp. “Oh, Bertrand, my brother!” he cried, “stay thy hand. Pardon, oh pardon! I knew thee not. Oh my brother, how nearly had I slain thee, or thou me; and then would all the wide world have been a blank to one of us two for evermore!” But the frantic Bertrand fell on him once again. And, as Sir Walter would no more lift his sword against his brother’s life, he fell, wounded, to the earth.
       Then, first, a touch of remorse struck to the heart of the guilty Bertrand; and he repented him of the fatal disguise he had put on, in exchanging arms with the knight he had waylaid and slain in the wood.
       Walter, seeing what was working in his brother’s mind, gave him what comfort he could, saying, “Bertrand, my brother, if you were to know for a surety that I died by your own sword-stroke, you would find peace on this earth never more. See, then, I will wound myself with a stroke that shall go deeper than thine, that my blood may not be upon they head.” So speaking, he took his own sword and fell upon it; and spoke word never more.
       Sir Bertrand, deserted by his evil wife, whose paramour he had set upon and slain in the wood, and now despoiled of his noble brother and sole of his kin, went mad, and lived but a short while after.
       And now I come to the good deed of my lord King Mark. He caused the body of Sir Walter to be borne back to his own castle of the rock, and there to be buried in the chapel, beside the lady Lenora, in one grave with her. And he caused prayers and blessings and spousal rites to be read over them, that these two noble and true souls might go, as Lenora had said, “wedded souls to heaven.” And my lord King Mark caused also to be raised over the sleeping dead a costly tomb of pure white marble, and on it were written these words:—

“HERE LYETH THE NOBLE KNIGHT,
WALTER OF THE ROCK:
AND BESIDE HIM
HIS SWEETEST LADY, LENORA;
CRUELLY SLAIN ON EARTH,
BUT WEDDED TO HIM IN HEAVEN.”
 
       When the tale was ended, King Arthur said, “Truly, fairest queen, your tale is a lovely tale; and though sad, yet full of such true nobleness as touches finer chords in the heart than tales of mirth and pleasantry, and leaves a sweeter ring in the soul. As for the good deed of your lord King Mark, it was well done, and showed indeed some ruth and pity, and a feeling for what is truly great; yet it could be wished that the living rather than the dead had been so humanely dealt with. But let us take the deed for what it is worth. Perhaps it may be yet further shown that some of his blood and race have done acts of nobleness and generosity, whence we may infer that nature is not all in fault, but that circumstance has wrought in him some of the ill that he has done. I would some innocent child, unmoved by passion, could speak for him. Young Alisaunder,” continued the king, “among all the tales which children devour so eagerly, heard you ever a tale of one of King Mark’s line, which might plead for your worst foe? King Mark has been your enemy more than any, for he forgot against your father Sir Baldwin the brother-ties and virtues which yet he honoured with Sir Walter of the Rock. Speak one good word for him child, if thou canst.”
       “Gladly would I, my good lord King Arthur,” answered the boy; “but indeed I never heard any tale that I remember about the false king’s line.—Yet, stay, one strange tale I do remember; but that was not very long ago. Shall I tell it, King Arthur?”
       “Do so, child,” said the king. And Alisaunder began.


Chapter XII
The Boy Alisaunder’s Tale of the Forgiving Heart
      
I can’t tell where it happened, nor what was the name of the king; but I remember that he had married a sister of King Mark’s; and he had a little son who was born in a forest, and who grew up to be a great hunter of beasts, and a minstrel besides. People said it was because he had been born in a forest among wild deer, and that the first music he ever heard was the loud wind playing amongst the branches of the huge forest trees. Do you think that was so, King Arthur? Ah! you smile: and I see Merlin lifts up his eyebrows and looks at Sir Tristram. But Sir Tristram looks grave, and does not laugh at me; so I will go on.
       I don’t know what was the name of the little son of the sister of King Mark; but I know his mother died, and his father took a new wife; and she was not like King Mark’s sister, not by much so good and so true a lady. She treated her little stepson cruelly, and did him all the harm that she could. She had children of her own; and she hated him because his father loved him best, and often told her that his little son would inherit all his lands, and King Mark’s besides; for the boy’s uncle, King Mark, had no sons of his own.
       One day she sent him out in a wild, wild storm, to gather herbs a long way off. When he came back he was weary and athirst; but she would let him have no drink; for she said he was hot, and he must wait till night, for it was better for him, and more wholesome, to drink the last thing before he lay down to sleep, as the cattle do.
       Well, all that day she was brewing and brewing the herbs.—O, now I remember, the name of the king was Meliodus; yes, that was it, King Meliodus.
       His little son, when night came, went into the sleeping-room where all the children lay. All were in bed and asleep but he. Before he lay down he bethought him of the drink he had been promised, for he was now more athirst than ever. He saw a cup standing on a settle beside his bed; but he could not believe it was put there for him, for his stepmother was not used to be so careful of him, or so thoughtful of what he might want. So he said to himself,—”Perhaps it is not meant for me. I will go to bed and lie awake awhile, and see if my stepmother will come and give it me, as I know my own mother would have done if she had been living.” With that he laid him down, and soon forgot all about the drink, and fell fast asleep,—he was so very, very weary.
       Next day, one of the queen’s own children, a little girl, fell sick; and do what the queen could, she might give her no ease. At last a sudden fear came into her mind, and she asked quickly,—”Child, did you take any drink last night?”
       “Yes,” said the little girl; “I woke up all hot and dry, and I got up and drank some of my brother’s drink that stood by his bedside.”
       Then the queen fell down in a swoon; and before she could be got round again, her little girl was dead.
       King Meliodus was away at this time. When he came home, he was sorely troubled at what had fallen out. Yet, whatever he might think, he said nothing. But one day, when again some drink was set near his little son, which he had seen the queen set there with her own hands, though she saw not that he was watching her, he went into the room where it stood, when the queen and his own little son were there, and none besides; and he took up the cup, and made believe as if he were going to drink; and he watched the queen’s face all the while. Very white she grew, and whiter and whiter every moment, as he slowly raised the cup to drink from it. At last, just as it reached his mouth, she suddenly started forward with a great cry, and struck the cup out of his hand, so that it fell on the floor.
       Then the king, without a word, took her by the hand and led her away. Across the great hall he led her, and right away to the castle-keep, where all the dungeons were. His little son followed, trembling and afraid, though he knew not what it meant; and begged the king to bring back his stepmother; or only to speak, and not look so fearful and stern. But his father heeded nothing. Only, when he had gone down the great stone steps to the horrible prison beneath, dragging the queen after him,—and when he had thrust her into a stone cell, and locked and barred the door fast upon her,—then he came back and took his little son by the hand, just as he had taken the queen, speaking no word all the time, and so led him back into the castle, and left him alone.
       After that King Meliodus summoned his men-at-arms, and all those that belonged to his following,—for he would do all openly; and he bade a great fire to be kindled with huge logs and hurdles in the middle of the courtyard for the burning of a wicked witch; for he told them how he had by chance found out that his little girl had died through evil practices, and that justice should be done at once, before the sun was two days older.
       But the sun was only one day older when his little son came and knelt at his feet, and prayed of his father that he would give him the dungeon key; and let him go and take his stepmother out of the cold, damp stone cell, and bring her back into the hall to the warm log-fire. But his father would not hear him. Three times that day he prayed his father’s mercy for the queen, though he knew not as yet the worse fate that was in store for her. But it was all no use.
       The next day, when he came with the same pleading, that he might be let go and bring his stepmother indoors to the warm log-fire, his father, King Meliodus, answered him frightfully.
       “She shall have logs enough and fire enough, child, be sure,” said he. And as he said it the red blood mounted up into his face with fierce anger; and he looked again just as he had looked when the queen grew whiter and whiter, and struck the drinking-cup out of his hand.
       Seeing the boy all amazed, he drew him to the window, and showed him where the men were busy piling up great dry tree-branches, all in a wide circle round one long, stiff, upright stake that was set up in the midst, with a great iron ring in it, and a chain of iron fastened to the ring.
       “See, boy!” said the stern king, “yonder is the fire to be kindled, and there stand the logs ready; think you there will be fire enough there to warm a cold heart—a heart cold and desperately wicked?”
       The boy wrung his hands, for he had heard of such things, and he knew what was meant.
       “Oh, father!” he cried, “dear father! you never will be so cruel. Forgive her—pray forgive her! What has she done?”
       “I will tell you,” said his father. “She made a hellish drink, and poisoned her own child with it.”
       “Oh! never,” cried the boy; “never, never—it cannot be!”
       “I tell thee, boy, it is so,” said his father; “would you save her now?”
       “Surely, father,” he answered; “if she had killed me, too, she should not be burnt.”
       “Now, listen to me,” said his fierce father; “it was you, boy, yourself that she meant to kill. She put the poison-cup at your own bedside; but my little girl drank of it, and she died.”
       The boy well remembered about the cup, and he was obliged to believe it now. But it made no difference to him. Still he said, “Spare her, dear father; she must be sorry!”
       “Shall I tell you how she showed her sorrow?” said the king. “When her little girl was dead she brewed another hellish cup, and put it in your way. You saw me lift it to my lips; you saw the white witch strike it from my hand: would you spare her now?”
       “She shall not suffer—indeed, indeed, she must not!” persisted the boy. “Why, dear, dear, father, she saved your life—think how she loves you! Only spare her this once, and I will answer for it she will do this horrid thing never again.”
       While he spoke, a fearful shriek burst on their ears. Looking out, they saw the queen being led between two men, who were bringing her to the stake, to which they were just going to fasten her with the iron chain.
       The boy said no more. He burst through the hall, and out into the courtyard; and, clasping his arms round her, began to drag his stepmother away from the logs.
       The king could resist no longer. He made a sign to the men, and they loosened their hold of her; and the boy, still clasping her closely round, dragged her safely away.
       The king’s little son was right. His stepmother never did him harm any more, but loved him tenderly ever after; and scourged herself and work sackcloth for her sin.
 
       “That is all I know of the story,” said Alisaunder. “The king’s little son was right to do as he did,—was he not, King Arthur? I know I would have done the same, whatever had come of it. Would not you, Sir Tristram? I am sure you would.—Why, your eyes look as if there were tears in them! Oh, Sir Tristram, you are the nephew to King Mark! Ah! I know now; it must be your story I have been telling.”
       King Arthur looked on the boy with a kindly smile. “Child,” he said, “thou reprovest me. This story thou hast told so well is indeed the story of thy cousin’s, Sir Tristram’s, youth, though thou knewest it not. Methinks we have not far to seek for traits of nobleness and self-denial in the blood of King Mark’s line, while we have before us this very Sir Tristram, and thy father, Sir Baldwin, that unhappy king’s brother. Even in thee, too, my boy, young as thou art, I perceive a strain of true nobleness that will one day make the world ring with thy renown. Be the sins of King Mark, then, freely forgiven, for the virtues’ sake of these that are of his kin. In good time, doubtless, we shall know how he has been beguiled to his undoing.”
       “I believe,” said Merlin, “I hold the clue to some of his misdeeds. There went a rumour long ago that I, who—heaven only knows why!—am accounted a prophet, had foretold that one near akin to him should usurp his power, and hold him captive till his death-day. Thus, ever in dread, and knowing not from which hand his doom is to come, he wages an unnatural war with all his race.”
       “Merlin is ever wise and right,” added Queen Isond. “No wonder that his study of the stars and planets has made people account him gifted beyond common men—as indeed he is, though neither wizard nor prophet. My lord King Mark has ever been kind and tender to me; and I think none can lay to his charge any act of cruelty or injustice where he has not been led to suspect treachery through a foolish rumour. When I protected and aided Angelides to withdraw he son from his pursuit, his anger against me was but for a time; and he told me afterwards that he thought it was womanly and well done.”
       “It is enough,” said King Arthur. “When a good wife pleads for her erring lord, who shall deny her? Indeed, it seems to me that all are for him and none against him. Is there yet another voice to plead for King Mark?”
       Then spoke the mother of King Arthur, the aged Igerna.
       “There is mine, my son,” she said. “King Mark is of kin to my first lord, Gorlois, the lover and wedded husband of my youth, before I was wife to Uther Pendragon, thy sire.”
       Thereupon, King Arthur said no more. But he rose up from his place, and slowly departed out of the hall.
       After but a little delay, caused doubtless by a dislike to meet the many eyes that would be bent on him, at the lower end of the hall appeared King Mark: not as a captive, bound by chains; but led forward by no other hand than that of Arthur, the Most Christian King.
       As soon as King Mark was seated in the place of greatest honour, next to Igerna, King Arthur spoke.
       “In honour of our new guest,” said he, “let the tale and the song go round.”
       Then the great beakers were filled anew: guest pledged guest as if a great conquest had been won in the land; and many a pleasant tale and touching song wiled away the last trace of care from the softened heart of King Mark.
       But enough for the present hour. The chronicler of these will—God willing—at a fitting time record other tales of other Feasts of Camelot.
 
THE END.