THE heroes of chivalry, from Roland the noble paladin to Spenser's Red-Cross Knight, have many virtues to uphold, and their characteristics are as varied as are the races which adopted chivalry and embodied it in their hero-myths. It is a far cry from the loyalty of Roland, in which love for his emperor is the predominant characteristic, to the tender and graceful reverence of Sir Calidore; but mediæval Wales, which has preserved the Arthurian legend most free from alien admixture, had a knight of courtesy quite equal to Sir Calidore. Courage was one quality on the possession of which these mediæval knights never prided themselves, because they could not imagine life without courage, but gentle courtesy was, unhappily, rare, and many a heroic legend is spoilt by the insolence of the hero to people of lower rank. Again, the legends often look lightly on the ill-treatment of maidens; yet the true hero is one who is never tempted to injure a defenceless woman. Similarly, a broken oath to a heathen or mere churl is excused as a trifling matter, but the ideal hero sweareth and breaketh not, though it be to his own hindrance.
The true Knight of Courtesy is Sir Gawayne, King Arthur's nephew, who in many ways overshadows his more illustrious uncle. It is remarkable that the King Arthur of the mediæval romances is either a mere ordinary conqueror or a secondary figure set in the background to heighten the achievements of his more warlike followers. The latter is the conception of
[paragraph continues] Arthur which we find in this legend of the gentle and courteous Sir Gawayne.
One year the noble King Arthur was keeping his Christmas at Carlisle with great pomp and state. By his side sat his lovely Queen Guenever, the brightest and most beauteous bride that a king ever wedded, and about him were gathered the Knights of the Round Table. Never had a king assembled so goodly a company of valiant warriors as now sat in due order at the Round Table in the great hall of Carlisle Castle, and King Arthur's heart was filled with pride as he looked on his heroes. There sat Sir Lancelot, not yet the betrayer of his lord's honour and happiness, with Sir Bors and Sir Banier, there Sir Bedivere, loyal to King Arthur till death, there surly Sir Kay, the churlish steward of the king's household, and King Arthur's nephews, the young and gallant Sir Gareth, the gentle and courteous Sir Gawayne, and the false, gloomy Sir Mordred, who wrought King Arthur's overthrow. The knights and ladies were ranged in their fitting degrees and ranks, the servants and pages waited and carved and filled the golden goblets, and the minstrels sang to their harps lays of heroes of the olden time.
Yet in the midst of all this splendour the king was ill at ease, for he was a warlike knight and longed for some new adventure, and of late none had been known. Arthur sat moodily among his knights and drained the wine-cup in silence, and Queen Guenever, gazing at her husband, durst not interrupt his gloomy thoughts. At last the king raised his head, and, striking the table with his hand, exclaimed fiercely: "Are all my knights
sluggards or cowards, that none of them goes forth to seek adventures? You are better fitted to feast well in hall than fight well in field. Is my fame so greatly decayed that no man cares to ask for my help or my support against evildoers? I vow here, by the boar's head and by Our Lady, that I will not rise from this table till some adventure be undertaken." "Sire, your loyal knights have gathered round you to keep the holy Yuletide in your court," replied Sir Lancelot; and Sir Gawayne said: "Fair uncle, we are not cowards, but few evildoers dare to show themselves under your rule; hence it is that we seem idle. But see yonder! By my faith, now cometh an adventure."
Even as Sir Gawayne spoke a fair damsel rode into the hall, with flying hair and disordered dress, and, dismounting from her steed, knelt down sobbing at Arthur's feet. She cried aloud, so that all heard her: "A boon, a boon, King Arthur! I beg a boon of you!" "What is your request?" said the king, for the maiden was in great distress, and her tears filled his heart with pity. "What would you have of me?" "I cry for vengeance on a churlish knight, who has separated my love from me." "Tell your story quickly," said King Arthur; and all the knights listened while the lady spoke.
"I was betrothed to a gallant knight," she said, "whom I loved dearly, and we were entirely happy until yesterday. Then as we rode out together planning our marriage we came, through the moorland ways, unnoticing, to a fair lake, Tarn Wathelan, where stood a great castle, with streamers flying, and banners waving in the wind. It seemed a strong and goodly place, but alas! it stood on magic ground, and within
the enchanted circle of its shadow an evil spell fell on every knight who set foot therein. As my love and I looked idly at the mighty keep a horrible and churlish warrior, twice the size of mortal man, rushed forth in complete armour; grim and fierce-looking he was, armed with a huge club, and sternly he bade my knight leave me to him and go his way alone. Then my love drew his sword to defend me, but the evil spell had robbed him of all strength, and he could do nought against the giant's club; his sword fell from his feeble hand, and the churlish knight, seizing him, caused him to be flung into a dungeon. He then returned and sorely ill-treated me, though I prayed for mercy in the name of chivalry and of Mary Mother. At last, when he set me free and bade me go, I said I would come to King Arthur's court and beg a champion of might to avenge me, perhaps even the king himself. But the giant only laughed aloud. 'Tell the foolish king,' quoth he, 'that here I stay his coming, and that no fear of him shall stop my working my will on all who come. Many knights have I in prison, some of them King Arthur's own true men; wherefore bid him fight with me, if he will win them back.' Thus, laughing and jeering loudly at you, King Arthur, the churlish knight returned to his castle, and I rode to Carlisle as fast as I could."
When the lady had ended her sorrowful tale all present were greatly moved with indignation and pity, but King Arthur felt the insult most deeply. He sprang to his feet in great wrath, and cried aloud: "I vow by my knighthood, and by the Holy Rood, that I will go forth to find that proud giant, and will never leave him till I have overcome him." The knights
applauded their lord's vow, but Queen Guenever looked doubtfully at the king, for she had noticed the damsel's mention of magic, and she feared some evil adventure for her husband. The damsel stayed in Carlisle that night, and in the morning, after he had heard Mass, and bidden farewell to his wife, King Arthur rode away. It was a lonely journey to Tarn Wathelan, but the country was very beautiful, though wild and rugged, and the king soon saw the little lake gleaming clear and cold below him, while the enchanted castle towered up above the water, with banners flaunting defiantly in the wind.
The king drew his sword Excalibur and blew a loud note on his bugle. Thrice his challenge note resounded, but brought no reply, and then he cried aloud: "Come forth, proud knight! King Arthur is here to punish you for your misdeeds! Come forth and fight bravely. If you are afraid, then come forth and yield yourself my thrall."
The churlish giant darted out at the summons, brandishing his massive club, and rushed straight at King Arthur. The spell of the enchanted ground seized the king at that moment, and his hand sank down. Down fell his good sword Excalibur, down fell his shield, and he found himself ignominiously helpless in the presence of his enemy.
Now the giant cried aloud: "Yield or fight, King Arthur; which will you do? If you fight I shall conquer you, for you have no power to resist me; you will be my prisoner, with no hope of ransom, will lose your land and spend your life in my dungeon with many other brave knights. If you yield I will hold you to
ransom, but you must swear to accept the terms I shall offer."
"What are they," asked King Arthur. The giant replied: "You must swear solemnly, by the Holy Rood, that you will return here on New Year's Day and bring me a true answer to the question, 'What thing is it that all women most desire?' If you fail to bring the right answer your ransom is not paid, and you are yet my prisoner. Do you accept my terms?" The king had no alternative: so long as he stood on the enchanted ground his courage was overborne by the spell and he could only hold up his hand and swear by the Sacred Cross and by Our Lady that he would return, with such answers as he could obtain, on New Year's Day.
Ashamed and humiliated, the king rode away, but not back to Carlisle--he would not return home till he had fulfilled his task; so he rode east and west and north and south, and asked every woman and maid he met the question the churlish knight had put to him. "What is it all women most desire?" he asked, and all gave him different replies: some said riches, some splendour, some pomp and state; others declared that fine attire was women's chief delight, yet others voted for mirth or flattery; some declared that a handsome lover was the cherished wish of every woman's heart; and among them all the king grew quite bewildered. He wrote down all the answers he received, and sealed them with his own seal, to give to the churlish knight when he returned to the Castle of Tarn Wathelan; but in his own heart King Arthur felt that the true answer had not yet been given to him. He was sad as he turned and rode towards the giant's home on New Year's Day, for he feared to lose his liberty and lands,
and the lonely journey seemed much more dreary than it had before, when he rode out from Carlisle so full of hope and courage and self-confidence.
Arthur was riding mournfully through a lonely forest when he heard a woman's voice greeting him: "God save you, King Arthur! God save and keep you!" and he turned at once to see the person who thus addressed him. He saw no one at all on his right hand, but as he turned to the other side he perceived a woman's form clothed in brilliant scarlet; the figure was seated between a holly-tree and an oak, and the berries of the former were not more vivid than her dress, and the brown leaves of the latter not more brown and wrinkled than her cheeks. At first sight King Arthur thought he must be bewitched--no such night-mare of a human face had ever seemed to him possible. Her nose was crooked and bent hideously to one side, while her chin seemed to bend to the opposite side of her face; her one eye was set deep under her beetling brow, and her mouth was nought but a gaping slit. Round this awful countenance hung snaky locks of ragged grey hair, and she was deadly pale, with a bleared and dimmed blue eye. The king nearly swooned when he saw this hideous sight, and was so amazed that he did not answer her salutation. The loathly lady seemed angered by the insult: "Now Christ save you, King Arthur! Who are you to refuse to answer my greeting and take no heed of me? Little of courtesy have you and your knights in your fine court in Carlisle if you cannot return a lady's greeting. Yet, Sir King, proud as you are, it may be that I can help you, loathly though be; but I will do nought for one who will not be courteous to me."
King Arthur was ashamed of his lack of courtesy, and tempted by the hint that here was a woman who could help him. "Forgive me, lady," said he; "I was sorely troubled in mind, and thus, and not for want of courtesy, did I miss your greeting. You say that you can perhaps help me; if you would do this, lady, and teach me how to pay my ransom, I will grant anything you ask as a reward." The deformed lady said: "Swear to me, by Holy Rood, and by Mary Mother, that you will grant me whatever boon I ask, and I will help you to the secret. Yes, Sir King, I know by secret means that you seek the answer to the question, 'What is it all women most desire?' Many women have given you many replies, but I alone, by my magic power, can give you the right answer. This secret I will tell you, and in truth it will pay your ransom, when you have sworn to keep faith with me." "Indeed, O grim lady, the oath I will take gladly," said King Arthur; and when he had sworn it, with uplifted hand, the lady told him the secret, and he vowed with great bursts of laughter that this was indeed the right answer.
When the king had thoroughly realized the wisdom of the answer he rode on to the Castle of Tarn Wathelan, and blew his bugle three times. As it was New Year's Day, the churlish knight was ready for him, and rushed forth, club in hand, ready to do battle. "Sir Knight," said the king, "I bring here writings containing answers to your question; they are replies that many women have given, and should be right; these I bring in ransom for my life and lands." The
churlish knight took the writings and read them one by one, and each one he flung aside, till all had been read; then he said to the king "You must yield yourself and your lands to me, King Arthur, and rest my prisoner; for though these answers be many and wise, not one is the true reply to my question; your ransom is not paid, and your life and all you have is forfeit to me." "Alas! Sir Knight," quoth the king, "stay your hand, and let me speak once more before I yield to you; it is not much to grant to one who risks life and kingdom and all. Give me leave to try one more reply." To this the giant assented, and King Arthur continued: "This morning as I rode through the forest I beheld a lady sitting, clad in scarlet, between an oak and a holly-tree; she says, 'All women will have their own way, and this is their chief desire.' Now confess that I have brought the true answer to your question, and that I am free, and have paid the ransom for my life and lands."
The giant waxed furious with rage, and shouted: "A curse upon that lady who told you this! It must have been my sister, for none but she knew the answer. Tell me, was she ugly and deformed?" When King Arthur replied that she was a loathly lady, the giant broke out: "I vow to heaven that if I can once catch her I will burn her alive; for she has cheated me of being King of Britain. Go your ways, Arthur; you have not ransomed yourself, but the ransom is paid and you are free.'
Gladly the king rode back to the forest where the loathly lady awaited him, and stopped to greet her. "I am free now, lady, thanks to you! What boon do you ask in reward for your help? I have promised to
grant it you, whatever it may be." "This is my boon, King Arthur, that you will bring some young and courteous knight from your court in Carlisle to marry me, and he must be brave and handsome too. You have sworn to fulfil my request, and you cannot break your word." These last words were spoken as the king shook his head and seemed on the point of refusing a request so unreasonable; but at this reminder he only hung his head and rode slowly away, while the unlovely lady watched him with a look of mingled pain and glee.
On the second day of the new year King Arthur came home to Carlisle. Wearily he rode along and dismounted at the castle, and wearily he went into his hall, where sat Queen Guenever. She had been very anxious during her husband's absence, for she dreaded magic arts, but she greeted him gladly and said: "Welcome, my dear lord and king, welcome home again! What anxiety I have endured for you! But now you are here all is well. What news do you bring, my liege? Is the churlish knight conquered? Where have you had him hanged, and where is his head? Placed on a spike above some town-gate? Tell me your tidings, and we will rejoice together." King Arthur only sighed heavily as he replied: "Alas! I have boasted too much; the churlish knight was a giant who has conquered me, and set me free on conditions." "My lord, tell me how this has chanced." "His castle is an enchanted one, standing on enchanted ground, and surrounded with a circle of magic spells which sap the bravery from a warrior's mind and the strength from his arm. When I came on his land and felt the power of his mighty charms, I was unable to
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''He hung his head and rode slowly away''
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''Lady, I will be a true and loyal husband''
resist him, but fell into his power, and had to yield myself to him. He released me on condition that I would fulfil one thing which he bade me accomplish, and this I was enabled to do by the help of a loathly lady; but that help was dearly bought, and I cannot pay the price myself."
By this time Sir Gawayne, the king's favourite nephew, had entered the hall, and greeted his uncle warmly; then, with a few rapid questions, he learnt the king's news, and saw that he was in some distress. "What have you paid the loathly lady for her secret, uncle?" he asked. "Alas! I have paid her nothing; but I promised to grant her any boon she asked, and she has asked a thing impossible." "What is it?" asked Sir Gawayne. "Since you have promised it, the promise must needs be kept. Can I help you to perform your vow?" "Yes, you can, fair nephew Gawayne, but I will never ask you to do a thing so terrible," said King Arthur. "I am ready to do it, uncle, were it to wed the loathly lady herself." "That is what she asks, that a fair young knight should marry her. But she is too hideous and deformed; no man could make her his wife." "If that is all your grief," replied Sir Gawayne, "things shall soon be settled; I will wed this ill-favoured dame, and will be your ransom." "You know not what you offer," answered the king. "I never saw so deformed a being. Her speech is well enough, but her face is terrible, with crooked nose and chin, and she has only one eye." "She must be an ill-favoured maiden; but I heed it not," said Sir Gawayne gallantly, "so that I can save you from trouble and care." "Thanks, dear Gawayne, thanks a thousand times! Now through your devotion
[paragraph continues] I can keep my word. To-morrow we must fetch your bride from her lonely lodging in the greenwood; but we will feign some pretext for the journey. I will summon a hunting party, with horse and hound and gallant riders, and none shall know that we go to bring home so ugly a bride." "Gramercy, uncle," said Sir Gawayne. "Till to-morrow I am a free man."
The next day King Arthur summoned all the court to go hunting in the greenwood close to Tarn Wathelan; but he did not lead the chase near the castle: the remembrance of his defeat and shame was too strong for him to wish to see the place again. They roused a noble stag and chased him far into the forest, where they lost him amid close thickets of holly and yew interspersed with oak copses and hazel bushes--bare were the hazels, and brown and withered the clinging oak leaves, but the holly looked cheery, with its fresh green leaves and scarlet berries. Though the chase had been fruitless, the train of knights laughed and talked gaily as they rode back through the forest, and the gayest of all was Sir Gawayne; he rode wildly down the forest drives, so recklessly that he drew level with Sir Kay, the churlish steward, who always preferred to ride alone. Sir Lancelot, Sir Stephen, Sir Banier, and Sir Bors all looked wonderingly at the reckless youth; but his younger brother, Gareth, was troubled, for he knew all was not well with Gawayne, and Sir Tristram, buried in his love for Isolde, noticed nothing, but rode heedlessly, wrapped in sad musings.
Suddenly Sir Kay reined up his steed, amazed; his eye had caught the gleam of scarlet under the trees, and
as he looked he became aware of a woman, clad in a dress of finest scarlet, sitting between a holly-tree and an oak. "Good greeting to you, Sir Kay," said the lady, but the steward was too much amazed to answer. Such a face as that of the lady he had never even imagined, and he took no notice of her salutation. By this time the rest of the knights had joined him, and they all halted, looking in astonishment on the misshapen face of the poor creature before them. It seemed terrible that a woman's figure should be surmounted by such hideous features, and most of the knights were silent for pity's sake; but the steward soon recovered from his amazement, and his rude nature began to show itself. The king had not yet appeared, and Sir Kay began to jeer aloud. "Now which of you would fain woo yon fair lady?" he asked. "It takes a brave man, for methinks he will stand in fear of any kiss he may get, it must needs be such an awesome thing. But yet I know not; any man who would kiss this beauteous damsel may well miss the way to her mouth, and his fate is not quite so dreadful after all. Come, who will win a lovely bride! "Just then King Arthur rode up, and at sight of him Sir Kay was silent; but the loathly lady hid her face in her hands, and wept that he should pour such scorn upon her.
Sir Gawayne was touched with compassion for this uncomely woman alone among these gallant and handsome knights, a woman so helpless and ill-favoured, and he said: "Peace, churl Kay, the lady cannot help herself; and you are not so noble and courteous that you have the right to jeer at any maiden; such deeds do not become a knight of Arthur's Round Table. Besides, one of us knights here must wed this unfortunate
lady." "Wed her?" shouted Kay. "Gawayne, you are mad!" "It is true, is it not, my liege?" asked Sir Gawayne, turning to the king; and Arthur reluctantly gave token of assent, saying, "I promised her not long since, for the help she gave me in a great distress, that I would grant her any boon she craved, and she asked for a young and noble knight to be her husband. My royal word is given, and I will keep it; therefore have I brought you here to meet her." Sir Kay burst out with, "What? Ask me perchance to wed this foul quean? I'll none of her. Where’er I get my wife from, were it from the fiend, himself, this hideous hag shall never be mine." "Peace, Sir Kay," sternly said the king; "you shall not abuse this poor lady as well as refuse her. Mend your speech, or you shall be knight of mine no longer." Then he turned to the others and said: "Who will wed this lady and help me to keep my royal pledge? You must not all refuse, for my promise is given, and for a little ugliness and deformity you shall not make me break my plighted word of honour." As he spoke he watched them keenly, to see who would prove sufficiently devoted, but the knights all began to excuse themselves and to depart. They called their hounds, spurred their steeds, and pretended to search for the track of the lost stag again; but before they went Sir Gawayne cried aloud: "Friends, cease your strife and debate, for I will wed this lady myself Lady, will you have me for your husband?" Thus saying, he dismounted and knelt before her.
The poor lady had at first no words to tell her gratitude to Sir Gawayne, but when she had recovered a little she spoke: "Alas! Sir Gawayne, I fear you do
but jest. Will you wed with one so ugly and deformed as I? What sort of wife should I be for a knight so gay and gallant, so fair and comely as the king's own nephew? What will Queen Guenever and the ladies of the Court say when you return to Carlisle bringing with you such a bride? You will be shamed, and all through me." Then she wept bitterly, and her weeping made her seem even more hideous; but King Arthur, who was watching the scene, said: "Lady, I would fain see that knight or dame who dares mock at my nephew's bride. I will take order that no such unknightly discourtesy is shown in my court," and he glared angrily at Sir Kay and the others who had stayed, seeing that Sir Gawayne was prepared to sacrifice himself and therefore they were safe. The lady raised her head and looked keenly at Sir Gawayne, who took her hand, saying: "Lady, I will be a true and loyal husband to you it you will have me; and I shall know how to guard my wife from insult. Come, lady, and my uncle will announce the betrothal." Now the lady seemed to believe that Sir Gawayne was in earnest, and she sprang to her feet, saying: "Thanks to you! A thousand thanks, Sir Gawayne, and blessings on your head! You shall never rue this wedding, and the courtesy you have shown. Wend we now to Carlisle."
A horse with a side-saddle had been brought for Sir Gawayne's bride, but when the lady moved it became evident that she was lame and halted in her walk, and there was a slight hunch on her shoulders. Both of these deformities showed little when she was seated, but as she moved the knights looked at one another, shrugged their shoulders and pitied Sir Gawayne, whose courtesy had bound him for life to so deformed
a wife. Then the whole train rode away together, the bride between King Arthur and her betrothed, and all the knights whispering and sneering behind them. Great was the excitement in Carlisle to see that ugly dame, and greater still the bewilderment in the court when they were told that this loathly lady was Sir Gawayne's bride.
Only Queen Guenever understood, and she showed all courtesy to the deformed bride, and stood by her as her lady-of-honour when the wedding took place that evening, while King Arthur was groomsman to his nephew. When the long banquet was over, and bride and bridegroom no longer need sit side by side, the tables were cleared and the hall was prepared for a dance, and then men thought that Sir Gawayne would be free for a time to talk with his friends; but he refused. "Bride and bridegroom must tread the first dance together, if she wishes it," quoth he, and offered his lady his hand for the dance. "I thank you, sweet husband," said the grim lady as she took it and moved forward to open the dance with him; and through the long and stately measure that followed, so perfect was his dignity, and the courtesy and grace with which he danced, that no man dreamt of smiling as the deformed lady moved clumsily through the figures of the dance.
At last the long evening was over, the last measure danced, the last wine-cup drained, the bride escorted to her chamber, the lights out, the guests separated in their rooms, and Gawayne was free to think of what he had done, and to consider how he had ruined his whole hope of happiness. He thought of his uncle's favour,
of the poor lady's gratitude, of the blessing she had invoked upon him, and he determined to be gentle with her, though he could never love her as his wife. He entered the bride-chamber with the feeling of a man who has made up his mind to endure, and did not even look towards his bride, who sat awaiting him beside the fire. Choosing a chair, he sat down and looked sadly into the glowing embers and spoke no word.
"Have you no word for me, husband? Can you not even give me a glance?" asked the lady, and Sir Gawayne turned his eyes to her where she sat; and then he sprang up in amazement, for there sat no loathly lady, no ugly and deformed being, but a maiden young and lovely, with black eyes and long curls of dark hair, with beautiful face and tall and graceful figure. "Who are you, maiden?" asked Sir Gawayne; and the fair one replied: "I am your wife, whom you found between the oak and the holly-tree, and whom you wedded this night."
"But how has this marvel come to pass?" asked he, wondering, for the fair maiden was so lovely that he marvelled that he had not known her beauty even under that hideous disguise. "It is an enchantment to which I am in bondage," said she. "I am not yet entirely free from it, but now for a time I may appear to you as I really am. Is my lord content with his loving bride?" asked she, with a little smile, as she rose and stood before him. "Content!" he said, as he clasped her in his arms. "I would not change my dear lady for the fairest dame in Arthur's court, not though she were Queen Guenever herself. I am the happiest knight that lives, for I thought to save my uncle and help a hapless lady, and I have won my
own happiness thereby. Truly I shall never rue the day when I wedded you, dear heart." Long they sat and talked together, and then Sir Gawayne grew weary, and would fain have slept, but his lady said: "Husband, now a heavy choice awaits you. I am under the spell of an evil witch, who has given me my own face and form for half the day, and the hideous appearance in which you first saw me for the other half. Choose now whether you will have me fair by day and ugly by night, or hideous by day and beauteous by night. The choice is your own."
Sir Gawayne was no longer oppressed with sleep; the choice before him was too difficult. If the lady remained hideous by day he would have to endure the taunts of his fellows; if by night, he would be unhappy himself. If the lady were fair by day other men might woo her, and he himself would have no love for her; if she were fair to him alone, his love would make her look ridiculous before the court and the king. Nevertheless, acting on the spur of the moment, he spoke: "Oh, be fair to me only--be your old self by day, and let me have my beauteous wife to myself alone." "Alas! is that your choice?" she asked. "I only must be ugly when all are beautiful, I must be despised when all other ladies are admired; I am as fair as they, but I must seem foul to all men. Is this your love, Sir Gawayne?" and she turned from him and wept. Sir Gawayne was filled with pity and remorse when he heard her lament, and began to realize that he was studying his own pleasure rather than his lady's feelings, and his courtesy and gentleness again won the upper hand. "Dear love, if you would rather that men should see you
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Now you have released me from the spell completely
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Queen Godhild prays ever for her son Horn
fair, I will choose that, though to me you will be always as you are now. Be fair before others and deformed to me alone, and men shall never know that the enchantment is not wholly removed."
Now the lady looked pleased for a moment, and then said gravely: "Have you thought of the danger to which a young and lovely lady is exposed in the court? There are many false knights who would woo a fair dame, though her husband were the king's favourite nephew; and who can tell?--one of them might please me more than you. Sure I am that many will be sorry they refused to wed me when they see me to-morrow morn. You must risk my beauty under the guard of my virtue and wisdom, if you have me young and fair." She looked merrily at Sir Gawayne as she spoke; but he considered seriously for a time, and then said: "Nay, dear love, I will leave the matter to you and your own wisdom, for you are wiser in this matter than I. I remit this wholly unto you, to decide according to your will. I will rest content with whatsoever you resolve."
Now the fair lady clapped her hands lightly, and said: "Blessings on you, dear Gawayne, my own dear lord and husband! Now you have released me from the spell completely, and I shall always be as I am now, fair and young, till old age shall change my beauty as he doth that of all mortals. My father was a great duke of high renown who had but one son and one daughter, both of us dearly beloved, and both of goodly appearance. When I had come to an age to be married my father determined to take a new wife, and he wedded
a witch-lady. She resolved to rid herself of his two children, and cast a spell upon us both, whereby I was transformed from a fair lady into the hideous monster whom you wedded, and my gallant young brother into the churlish giant who dwells at Tarn Wathelan. She condemned me to keep that awful shape until I married a young and courtly knight who would grant me all my will. You have done all this for me, and I shall be always your fond and faithful wife. My brother too is set free from the spell, and he will become again one of the truest and most gentle knights alive, though none can excel my own true knight, Sir Gawayne."
The next morning the knight and his bride descended to the great hall, where many knights and ladies awaited them, the former thinking scornfully of the hideous hag whom Gawayne had wedded, the latter pitying so young and gallant a knight, tied to a lady so ugly. But both scorn and pity vanished when all saw the bride. "Who is this fair dame?" asked Sir Kay. "Where have you left your ancient bride?" asked another, and all awaited the answer in great bewilderment. "This is the lady to whom I was wedded yester evening," replied Sir Gawayne. "She was under an evil enchantment, which has vanished now that she has come under the power of a husband, and henceforth my fair wife will be one of the most beauteous ladies of King Arthur's court. Further, my lord King Arthur, this fair lady has assured me that the churlish knight of Tarn Wathelan, her brother, was also under a spell, which is now broken, and he will be once more a courteous and gallant knight, and the ground on which his fortress stands will have hence-forth no magic power to quell the courage of any knight alive. Dear liege and uncle, when I wedded yesterday
the loathly lady I thought only of your happiness, and in that way I have won my own lifelong bliss."
King Arthur's joy at his nephew's fair hap was great, for he had grieved sorely over Gawayne's miserable fate, and Queen Guenever welcomed the fair maiden as warmly as she had the loathly lady, and the wedding feast was renewed with greater magnificence, as a fitting end to the Christmas festivities.