After the defeat of the Sultan and the flight of his wicked wife, Prince Arthur and Sir Artegall wished to hand over the place and all its wealth to Samient to hold for her lady, while they departed on their quest; but the maiden begged them so earnestly to go with her to see Queen Mercilla that at last they consented.
On the way she told them of a strange thing near at hand--to wit, a wicked villain who dwelt in a rock not far off, and who robbed all the country round, and took the pillage home. In this his own wily wit, and also the security of his dwelling-place, both of which were unassailable, were of great assistance. For he was so, crafty both to invent and execute, so light of hand and nimble of foot, so smooth of tongue and subtle in his tale, that any one looking at him might well be taken in. Therefore he was called Deceit.
He was well known for his achievements, and by his tricks had brought many to ruin. The rock, also, where he dwelt was wondrous strong, and hewn a dreadful depth far under ground; within it was full of winding and hidden passages, so that no one could find his way back who once went amiss.
The Knights, hearing this, longed to see the villain where he lurked, and bade Samient guide them to the place. As they came near, they agreed that the best plan would be for the damsel to go on in front, and sit alone near the den, wailing and raising a pitiful uproar. When the wretch issued forth, hoping to find some
spoil, they, lying in wait, would closely ensnare him before he could retreat to his den, and thus they hoped to foil him easily.
Samient immediately did as she was directed, and the noise of her weeping speedily brought forth the villain, as they had intended.
He was as dreadful a creature as ever walked on earth, with hollow, deeply set eyes, and long shaggy locks straggling down his shoulders. He wore strange garments all in rags and tatters, and in his hand he held a huge long staff, the top of which was armed with many iron hooks, to catch hold of everything that came within reach of his clutches, and he kept casting looks around in all directions. At his back he bore a great wide net, with which he seldom fished in the water, but which he used to fish for silly folk on the dry shore, and in fair weather he caught many.
When Samient saw close beside her such an ugly creature she was really frightened, and now in earnest cried aloud for help. But when the villain saw her so afraid, he tried guilefully to persuade her to banish fear; smiling sardonically on her, he diverted her mind by talking pleasantly and showing her some amusing tricks, for he was an adept at jugglery and conjuring feats. Whilst her attention was engaged, he suddenly threw his net over her like a puff of wind, and snatching her up before she was well aware, ran with her to his cave. But when he came near and saw the armed Knights stopping his passage, he flung down his burden and fled fast away.
Sir Artegall pursued him, while Prince Arthur still kept guard at the entrance of the den. Up to the rock
Click to enlarge
Unto the rocke; and there upon the soyle
Gan weepe and wayle, as if great grief had her affected.
The cry whereof entering the hollow cave
Eftsoones brought forth the villaine, as they ment.''
ran Deceit, like a wild goat leaping from hill to hill, and dancing on the very edge of the craggy cliffs. It was useless for the armed Knight to think of following him, but he sent his Iron Man after him, for Talus was swift in chase.
Then wherever Deceit went Talus pursued him, so that he soon forced him to forsake the heights and descend to the low ground. Now Deceit tried a new plan: he suddenly changed his form. First he turned himself into a fox, but Talus still hunted him as a fox; then he transformed himself to a bush, but Talus beat the bush till at last it changed into a bird, and passed from him, flying from tree to tree, and from reed to reed; but Talus threw stones at the bird, so that presently it changed itself into a stone, and dropped to the ground; whereupon Talus took the stone up in his hand and brought it to the Knights, and gave it to Sir Artegall, warning him to hold it fast for fear of tricks. While the Knight seized it in a tight grip, the stone went unawares into a hedgehog, and pricked him, so that he threw it away; then it began to run off quickly, returning to Deceit's own shape; but Talus soon overtook him and brought him back.
But when he would have changed himself into a serpent, Talus drove at him with his iron flail, and thrashed him so that he died. So that was the end of Deceit the self-deceiver.
Leaving his dead body where it fell, the two Knights went on with the maiden to see her Lady, as they had agreed. Presently they beheld a stately palace, mounted high with terraces and towers, and all the tops were glistering
with gold, which seemed to outshine the sky, and with their brightness dazzled the eyes of strangers. There alighting, they were directed in by Samient, and shown all that was to be seen. The magnificent porch stood open wide to all men, day and night; yet it was well guarded by a man of great strength, like a giant, who sat there to keep out guile and malice and spite, which often under a feigned semblance works much mischief in Princes' courts. His name was Awe.
Passing by him they went up the hall, which was a wide large room, filled with people, making a great din. In the thickest of the press the marshal of the hall, whose name was Order, came to them, and commanding peace, guided them through the throng. All ceased their clamour to gaze at the Knights, half terrified at their shining armour, which was a strange sight to them; for they never saw such array there, nor was the name of war ever spoken, but all was joyous peace, and quietness, and just government.
So by degrees they were guided into the presence of the Queen. She sat high up, on a throne of bright and shining gold, adorned with priceless gems. All over her was spread a canopy of state, glittering and gleaming like a cloud of gold and silver, upheld by the rainbow-coloured wings of little cherubs. Thus she sat in sovereign majesty, holding a sceptre in her royal hand, the sacred pledge of peace and clemency. At her feet lay her sword, the bright steel brand rusted from long rest, yet when foes forced it, or friends sought aid, she could draw it sternly to dismay the world. Round about her sat a bevy of fair maidens, clad in white,
whilst underneath her feet lay a great huge lion, like a captive thrall, bound with a strong iron chain and collar.
Now at the instant when the two stranger Knights came into the presence of the Queen, she was holding, as it happened, a great and important trial. Having acknowledged their obeisance with royal courtesy, she gave orders to proceed with the trial; and wishing that the Knights should see and understand all that was going on, she bade them both mount up to her stately throne, and placed one on each side of her.
Then there was brought forward as prisoner a lady of great beauty and high position, but who had blotted all her honour and titles of nobility by her wicked behaviour. This was no other than the false Duessa, who had wrought so much mischief by her malice and cunning. Seeing the piteous plight in which she now stood, Prince Arthur's tender heart was touched with compassion; but when he heard the long roll of her crimes read forth, he could no longer wish that she should escape punishment. Sir Artegall, for the sake of justice, was against her, and she was judged guilty by all. Then they called loudly to the Queen to pronounce sentence. Mercilla was deeply moved at the sight of Duessa's wretched plight, and even then would gladly have pardoned her; but in order to save her land from further evil, which would grow if not checked, she was obliged to keep to the stern law of justice. Melting to tears, she suddenly left her throne, unable to speak the words that doomed the prisoner to death; and she never ceased to lament with bitter remorse the fate which the wretched Duessa had brought on herself.