AMONG the hero-legends which are considered to be of native English growth and to have come down to us from the times of the Danish invasions is the story of King Horn; but although "King Horn," like "Havelok the Dane," was originally a story of Viking raids, it has been so altered that the Norse element has been nearly obliterated. In all but the bare circumstances of the tale, "King Horn" is a romance of chivalry, permeated with the Crusading spirit, and reflecting the life and customs of the thirteenth century, instead of the more barbarous manners of the eighth or ninth centuries. The hero's desire to obtain knighthood and do some deed worthy of the honour, the readiness to leave his betrothed for long years at the call of honour or duty, the embittered feeling against the Saracens, are all typical of the romance of the Crusades. Another curious point which shows a later than Norse influence is the wooing of the reluctant youth by the princess, of which there are many instances in mediæval literature; it reveals a consciousness of feudal rank which did not exist in early times, and a certain recognition of the privileges of royal birth which Were not granted before the days of romantic chivalry. King Horn himself is a hero of the approved chivalric type, whose chief distinguishing feature is his long indifference to the misfortunes of the sorely-tried princess to whom he was betrothed.
There once lived and ruled in the pleasant land of Suddene a noble king named Murry, whose fair consort, Queen Godhild, was the most sweet and gentle
lady alive, as the king was a pattern of all knightly virtues. This royal pair had but one child, a son, named Horn, now twelve years old, who had been surrounded from his birth with loyal service and true devotion. He had a band of twelve chosen companions with whom he shared sports and tasks, pleasures and griefs, and the little company grew up well trained in chivalrous exercises and qualities. Childe Horn had his favourites among the twelve. Athulf was his dearest friend, a loving and devoted companion; and next to him in Horn's affection stood Fikenhild, whose outward show of love covered his inward envy and hatred. In everything these two were Childe Horn's inseparable comrades, and it seemed that an equal bond of love united the three.
One day as King Murry was riding over the cliffs by the sea with only two knights in attendance he noticed some unwonted commotion in a little creek not far from where he was riding, and he at once turned his horse's head in that direction and galloped down to the shore. On his arrival in the small harbour he saw fifteen great ships of strange build, and their crews, Saracens all armed for war, had already landed, and were drawn up in warlike array. The odds against the king were terrible, but he rode boldly to the invaders and asked: "What brings you strangers here? Why have you sought our land?" A Saracen leader, gigantic of stature, spoke for them all and replied: "We are here to win this land to the law of Mahomet and to drive out the Christian law. We will slay all the inhabitants that believe on Christ. Thou thyself shalt be our first conquest, for thou shalt not leave this place alive." Thereupon the Saracens attacked
the little band, and though the three Christians fought valiantly they were soon slain. The Saracens then spread over the land, slaying, burning, and pillaging, and forcing all who loved their lives to renounce the Christian faith and become followers of Mahomet. When Queen Godhild heard of her husband's death and saw the ruin of her people she fled from her palace and all her friends and betook herself to a solitary cave, where she lived unknown and undiscovered, and continued her Christian worship while the land was overrun with pagans. Ever she prayed that God would protect her dear son, and bring him at last to his father's throne.
Soon after the king's death the Saracens had captured Childe Horn and his twelve comrades, and the boys were brought before the pagan emir. They would all have been slain at once or flayed alive, but for the beauty of Childe Horn, for whose sake their lives were spared. The old emir looked keenly at the lads, and said: "Horn, thou art a bold and valiant youth, of great stature for thine age, and of full strength, yet I know thou hast not yet reached thy full growth. If we release thee with thy companions, in years to come we shall dearly rue it, for ye will become great champions of the Christian law and will slay many of us. Therefore ye must die. But we will not slay you with our own hands, for ye are noble lads, and shall have one feeble chance for your lives. Ye shall be placed in a boat and driven out to sea, and if ye all are drowned we shall not grieve overmuch. Either ye must die or we, for I know we shall dearly abide your king's death if ye youths survive." Thereupon the lads were all taken to the shore, and, weeping and lamenting, were
thrust into a rudderless boat, which was towed out to sea and left helpless.
The other boys sat lamenting and bewailing their fate, but Childe Horn, looking round the boat, found a pair of oars, and as he saw that the boat was in the grasp of some strong current he rowed in the same direction, so that the boat soon drifted out of sight of land. The other lads were a dismal crew, for they thought their death was certain, but Horn toiled hard at his rowing all night, and with the dawn grew so weary that he rested for a little on his oars. When the rising sun made things clear, and he could see over the crests of the waves, he stood up in the boat and uttered a cry of joy. "Comrades," cried he, "dear friends, I see land not far away. I hear the sweet songs of birds and see the soft green grass. We have come to some unknown land and have saved our lives." Then Athulf took up the glad tidings and began to cheer the forlorn little crew, and under Horn's skilful guidance the little boat grounded gently and safely on the sands of Westernesse. The boys sprang on shore, all but Childe Horn having no thought of the past night and the journey; but he stood by the boat, looking sadly at it.
Then sorrowfully he pushed the boat out into the ocean, and the ebbing tide bore it away, while Horn and his companions set their faces resolutely towards the town they could see in the distance.
As the little band were trudging wearily towards the town they saw a knight riding towards them, and when he came nearer they became aware that he must be some noble of high rank. When he halted and began to question them, Childe Horn recognised by his tone and bearing that this must be the king. So indeed it was, for King Ailmar of Westernesse was one of those noble rulers who see for themselves the state of their subjects and make their people happy by free, unrestrained intercourse with them. When the king saw the forlorn little company he said: "Whence are ye, fair youths, so strong and comely of body? Never have I seen so goodly a company of thirteen youths in the realm of Westernesse. Tell me whence ye come, and what ye seek." Childe Horn assumed the office of spokesman, for he was leader by birth, by courage, and by intellect. "We are lads of noble families in Suddene, sons of Christians and of men of lofty station. Pagans have taken the land and slain our parents, and we boys fell into their hands. These heathen have slain and tortured many Christian men, but they had pity upon us, and put us into an old .boat with no sail or rudder. So we drifted all night, until I saw your land at dawn, and our boat came to the shore. Now we are in your power, and you may do with us what
you will, but I pray you to have pity on us and to feed us, that we may not perish utterly."
King Ailmar was touched as greatly by the simple boldness of the spokesman as by the hapless plight of the little troop, and he answered, smiling: "Thou shalt have nought but help and comfort, fair youth. But, I pray thee, tell me thy name." Horn answered readily: "King, may all good betide thee! I am named Horn, and I have come journeying in a boat on the sea--now I am here in thy land." King Ailmar replied: "Horn! That is a good name: mayst thou well enjoy it. Loud may this Horn sound over hill and dale till the blast of so mighty a Horn shall be heard in many lands from king to king, and its beauty and strength be known in many countries. Horn, come thou with me and be mine, for I love thee and will not forsake thee."
The king rode home, and all the band of stranger youths followed him on foot, but for Horn he ordered a horse to be procured, so that the lad rode by his side; and thus they came back to the court. When they entered the hall he summoned his steward, a noble old knight named Athelbrus, and gave the lads in charge to him, saying, "Steward, take these foundlings of mine, and train them well in the duties of pages, and later of squires! Take especial care with the training of Childe Horn, their chief; let him learn all thy knowledge of woodcraft and fishing, of hunting and hawking, of harping and singing; teach him how to carve before me, and to serve the cup solemnly at banquets; make him thy favourite pupil and train him to be a knight as good
as thyself. His companions thou mayst put into other service, but Horn shall be my own page, and afterwards my squire." Athelbrus obeyed the king's command, and the thirteen youths soon found themselves set to learn the duties of court life, and showed themselves apt scholars, especially Childe Horn, who did his best to satisfy the king and his steward on every point.
When Childe Horn had been at court for six years, and was now a squire, he became known to all courtiers, and all men loved him for his gentle courtesy and his willingness to do any service. King Ailmar made no secret of the fact that Horn was his favourite squire, and the Princess Rymenhild, the king's fair daughter, loved him with all her heart. She was the heir to the throne, and no man had ever gainsaid her will, and now it seemed to her unreasonable that she should not be allowed to wed a good and gallant youth whom she loved. It was difficult for her to speak alone with him, for she had six maiden attendants who waited on her continually, and Horn was engaged with his duties either in the hall, among the knights, or waiting on the king. The difficulties only seemed to increase her love, and she grew pale and wan, and looked miserable. It seemed to her that if she waited longer her love would never be happy, and in her impatience she took a bold step.
She kept her chamber, called a messenger, and said to him: "Go quickly to Athelbrus the steward, and bid him come to me at once. Tell him to bring with him the squire Childe Horn, for I am lying ill in my room, and would be amused. Say I expect them quickly, for
[paragraph continues] I am sad in mind, and have need of cheerful converse." The messenger bowed, and, withdrawing, delivered the message exactly as he had received it to Athelbrus, who was much perplexed thereby. He wondered whence came this sudden illness, and what help Childe Horn could give. It was an unusual thing for the squire to be asked into a lady's bower, and still more so into that of a princess, and Athelbrus had already felt some suspicion as to the sentiments of the royal lady towards the gallant young squire. Considering all these things, the cautious steward deemed it safer not to expose young Horn to the risks that might arise from such an interview, and therefore induced Athulf to wait upon the princess and to endeavour to personate his more distinguished companion. The plan succeeded beyond expectation in the dimly lighted room, and the infatuated princess soon startled the unsuspecting squire by a warm and unreserved declaration of her affection. Recovering from his natural amazement, he modestly disclaimed a title to the royal favour and acknowledged his identity.
On discovering her mistake the princess was torn by conflicting emotions, but finally relieved the pressure of self-reproach and the confusion of maiden modesty by overwhelming the faithful steward with denunciation and upbraiding, until at last, in desperation, the poor man promised, against his better judgment, to bring about a meeting between his lovelorn mistress and the favoured squire.
When Rymenhild understood that Athelbrus would fulfil her desire she was very glad and joyous; her sorrow was turned into happy expectation, and she looked kindly upon the old steward as she said: "Go now quickly, and send him to me in the afternoon.
[paragraph continues] The king will go to the wood for sport and pastime, and Horn can easily remain behind; then he can stay with me till my father returns at eve. No one will betray us; and when I have met my beloved I care not what men may say."
Then the steward went down to the banqueting-hall, where he found Childe Horn fulfilling his duties as cup-bearer, pouring out and tasting the red wine in the king's golden goblet. King Ailmar asked many questions about his daughter's health, and when he learnt that her malady was much abated he rose in gladness from the table and summoned his courtiers to go with him into the greenwood. Athelbrus bade Horn tarry, and when the gay throng had passed from the hall the steward said gravely: "Childe Horn, fair and courteous, my beloved pupil, go now to the bower of the Princess Rymenhild, and stay there to fulfil all her commands. It may be thou shalt hear strange things, but keep rash and bold words in thy heart, and let them not be upon thy tongue. Horn, dear lad, be true and loyal now, and thou shalt never repent it."
Horn listened to this unusual speech with great astonishment, but, since Sir Athelbrus spoke so solemnly, he laid all his words to heart, and thus, marvelling greatly, departed to the royal bower. When he had knocked at the door, and had been bidden to come in, entering, he found Rymenhild sitting in a great chair, intently regarding him as he came into the room. He knelt down to make obeisance to her, and kissed her hand, saying, "Sweet be thy life and soft thy slumbers, fair Princess Rymenhild! Well may it be with thy gentle ladies of honour! I am here at thy command, lady, for Sir Athelbrus, the steward, bade me come to
speak with thee. Tell me thy will, and I will fulfil all thy desires." She arose from her seat, and, bending towards him as he knelt, took him by the hand and lifted him up, saying, "Arise and sit beside me, Childe Horn, and we will drink this cup of wine together." In great astonishment the youth did as the princess bade, and sat beside her, and soon, to his utter amazement, Rymenhild avowed her love for him, and offered him her hand. "Have pity on me, Horn, and plight me thy troth, for in very truth I love thee, and have loved thee long, and if thou wilt I will be thy wife."
Now Horn was in evil case, for he saw full well in what danger he would place the princess, Sir Athelbrus, and himself if he accepted the proffer of her love. He knew the reason of the steward's warning, and tried to think what he might say to satisfy the princess and yet not be disloyal to the king. At last he replied: "Christ save and keep thee, my lady Rymenhild, and give thee joy of thy husband, whosoever he may be! I am too lowly born to be worthy of such a wife; I am a mere foundling, living on thy father's bounty. It is not in the course of nature that such as I should wed a king's daughter, for there can be no equal match between a princess and a landless squire."
Rymenhild was so disheartened and ashamed at this reply to her loving appeal that her colour changed, she turned deadly pale, began to sigh, flung her arms out wildly, and fell down in a swoon. Childe Horn lifted her up, full of pity for her deep distress, and began to comfort her and try to revive her. As he held her in his arms he kissed her often, and said:
Now at these words Rymenhild awoke from her swoon, and made him repeat his promise. She said: "Ah! Horn, that shall speedily be done. Ere the week is past thou shalt be Sir Horn, for my father loves thee, and will grant the dignity most willingly to one so dear to him. Go now quickly to Sir Athelbrus, give him as a token of my gratitude this golden goblet and this ring; pray him that he persuade the king to dub thee knight. I will repay him with rich rewards for his gentle courtesy to me. May Christ help him to speed thee in thy desires!" Horn then took leave of Rymenhild with great affection, and found Athelbrus, to whom he delivered the gifts and the princess's message, which the steward received, with due reverence.
This plan seemed to Athelbrus very good, for it raised Horn to be a member of the noble Order of Knights, and would give him other chances of distinguishing himself. Accordingly he went to the king as he sat over the evening meal, and spoke thus: "Sir King, hear my words, for I have counsel for thee. To-morrow is the festival of thy birth, and the whole realm of Westernesse must rejoice in its master's joy. Wear thou thy crown in solemn state, and I think it were nought amiss if thou shouldst knight young Horn, who will become a worthy defender of thy throne." "That were well done," said King Ailmar. "The youth pleases me, and I will knight him with
my own sword. Afterwards he shall knight his twelve comrades the same day."
The next day the ceremony of knighting was performed with all solemnity, and at its close a great banquet was prepared and all men made merry. But Princess Rymenhild was somewhat sad. She could not descend to the hall and take her customary place, for this was a feast for knights alone, and she would not be without her betrothed one moment longer, so she sent a messenger to fetch Sir Horn to her bower.
Now that Horn was a newly dubbed knight he would not allow the slightest shadow of dishonour to cloud his conduct; accordingly, when he obeyed Rymenhild's summons he was accompanied by Athulf. "Welcome, Sir Horn and Sir Athulf," she cried, holding out her hands in greeting. "Love, now that thou hast thy will, keep thy plighted word and make me thy wife; release me from my anxiety and do as thou hast said."
Rymenhild protested no longer, for she saw that where honour was concerned Horn was inflexible.
"My true knight," said she, "I must in sooth believe thee, and I feel that I may. Take this ring engraved with my name, wrought by the most skilled worker of our court, and wear it always, for it has magic virtues. The gems are of such saving power that thou shalt fear no strokes in battle, nor ever be cast down if thou gaze on this ring and think of thy love. Athulf, too, shall have a similar ring. And now, Horn, I commend thee to God, and may Christ give thee good success and bring thee back in safety!"
After taking an affectionate farewell of Rymenhild, Horn went down to the hall, and, seeing all the other new-made knights going in to the banquet, he slipped quietly away and betook himself to the stables. There he armed himself secretly and mounted his white charger, which pranced and reared joyfully as he rode away; and Horn began to sing for joy of heart, for he had won his chief desire, and was happy in the love of the king's daughter. As he rode by the shore he saw a stranger ship drawn up on the beach, and recognised the banner and accoutrements of her Saracen crew, for he had never forgotten the heathens who had slain his father. "What brings you here?" he asked angrily, and as fearlessly as King Murry had done, and received the same answer: "We will conquer this land and slay the inhabitants." Then Horn's anger rose, he gripped his sword, and rushed boldly at the heathens, and slew many of them, striking off a head at each blow. The onslaught was so sudden that the Saracens were taken by surprise at first, but then they rallied and surrounded Horn, so that matters began to look dangerous for him. Then he remembered the betrothal ring, and looked on it, thinking earnestly of Rymenhild, his dear love, and
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Horn kills the Saracen Leader
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''Now, in her misery, she set the dagger to her heart''
such courage came to him that he was able to defeat the pagans and slay their leader. The others, sorely wounded--for none escaped unhurt--hurried on board ship and put to sea, and Horn, bearing the Saracen leader's head on his sword's point, rode back to the royal palace. Here he related to King Ailmar this first exploit of his knighthood, and presented the head of the foe to the king, who rejoiced greatly at Horn's valour and success.
The next day the king and all the court rode out hunting, but Horn made an excuse to stay behind with the princess, and the false and wily Fikenhild was also left at home, and he crept secretly to Rymenhild's bower to spy on her. She was sitting weeping bitterly when Sir Horn entered. He was amazed. "Love, for mercy's sake, why weepest thou so sorely?" he asked; and she replied: "I have had a mournful dream. I dreamt that I was casting a net and had caught a great fish, which began to burst the net. I greatly fear that I shall lose my chosen fish." Then she looked sadly at Horn. But the young knight was in a cheery mood, and replied: "May Christ and St. Stephen turn thy dream to good! If I am thy fish, I will never deceive thee nor do aught to displease thee, and hereto I plight thee my troth. But I would rather interpret thy dream otherwise. This great fish which burst thy net is some one who wishes us ill, and will do us harm soon." Yet in spite of Horn's brave words it was a sad betrothal, for Rymenhild wept bitterly, and her lover could not stop her tears.
Fikenhild had listened to all their conversation with
growing envy and anger, and now he stole away silently, and met King Ailmar returning from the chase.
The king at first refused to believe the envious knight's report, but, going to Rymenhild's bower, he found apparent confirmation, for Horn was comforting the princess, and promising to wed her when he should have done worthy feats of arms. The king's wrath knew no bounds, and with words of harsh reproach he banished Horn at once, on pain of death. The young knight armed himself quickly and returned to bid farewell to his betrothed.
"Dear heart," said he, "now thy dream has come true, and thy fish must needs break the net and be gone. The enemy whom I foreboded has wrought us woe. Farewell, mine own dear Rymenhild; I may no longer stay, but must wander in alien lands. If I do not return at the end of seven years take thyself a husband and tarry no longer for me. And now take me in your arms and kiss me, dear love, ere I go!" So they kissed each other and bade farewell, and Horn called to him his comrade Athulf, saying, "True and faithful friend, guard well my dear love. Thou hast
never forsaken me; now do thou keep Rymenhild for me." Then he rode away, and, reaching the haven, hired a good ship and sailed for Ireland, where he took service with King Thurston, under the name of Cuthbert. In Ireland he became sworn brother to the king's two sons, Harold and Berild, for they loved him from the first moment they saw him, and were in no way jealous of his beauty and valour.
When Christmas came, and King Thurston sat at the banquet with all his lords, at noontide a giant strode into the hall, bearing a message of defiance. He came from the Saracens, and challenged any three Irish knights to fight one Saracen champion. If the Irish won the pagans would withdraw from Ireland; if the Irish chiefs were slain the Saracens would hold the land. The combat was to be decided the next day at dawn. King Thurston accepted the challenge, and named Harold, Berild, and Cuthbert (as Horn was called) as the Christian champions, because they were the best warriors in Ireland; but Horn begged permission to speak, and said: "Sir King, it is not right that one man should fight against three, and one heathen hound think to resist three Christian warriors. I will fight and conquer him alone, for I could as easily slay three of them." At last the king allowed Horn to attempt the combat alone, and spent the night in sorrowful musing on the result of the contest, while Horn slept well and arose and armed himself cheerily. He then aroused the king, and the Irish troop rode out to a fair and level green lawn, where they found the emir with many companions awaiting them. The combat began at once, and Horn gave blows so mighty that the pagan onlookers fell swooning through very fear, till Horn
said: "Now, knights, rest for a time, if it pleases you." Then the Saracens spoke together, saying aloud that no man had ever so daunted them before except King Murry of Suddene.
This mention of his dead father aroused Horn, who now realized that he saw before him his father's murderers. His anger was kindled, he looked at his ring and thought of Rymenhild, and then, drawing his sword again, he rushed at the heathen champion. The giant fell pierced through the heart, and his companions fled to their ships, hotly pursued by Horn and his company. Much fighting there was, and in the hot strife near the ships the king's two sons, Harold and Berild, were both slain.
Sadly they were laid on a bier and brought back to the palace, their sorrowful father lamenting their early death; and when he had wept his fill the mournful king came into the hall where all his knights silently awaited him. Slowly he came up to Horn as he sat a little apart from the rest, and said: "Cuthbert, wilt thou fulfil my desire? My heirs are slain, and thou art the best knight in Ireland for strength and beauty and valour; I implore thee to wed Reynild, my only daughter (now, alas! my only child), and to rule my realm. Wilt thou do so, and lift the burden of my cares from my weary shoulders?" But Horn replied: "O Sir King, it were wrong for me to receive thy fair daughter and heir and rule thy realm, as thou dost offer. I shall do thee yet better service, my liege, before I die; and I know that thy grief will change ere seven years have passed away. When that time is over, Sir King, give me my reward: thou shalt not refuse me thy daughter when I desire her." To this
[paragraph continues] King Thurston agreed, and Horn dwelt in Ireland for seven years, and sent no word or token to Rymenhild all the time.
In the meantime Princess Rymenhild was in great perplexity and trouble, for a powerful ruler, King Modi of Reynes, wooed her for his wife, and her own betrothed sent her no token of his life or love. Her father accepted the new suitor for her hand, and the day of the wedding was fixed, so that Rymenhild could no longer delay her marriage. In her extremity she besought Athulf to write letters to Horn, begging him to return and claim his bride and protect her; and these letters she delivered to several messengers, bidding them search in all lands until they found Sir Horn and gave the letters into his own hand. Horn knew nought of this, till one day in the forest he met a weary youth, all but exhausted, who told how he had sought Horn in vain. When Horn declared himself, the youth broke out into loud lamentations over Rymenhild's unhappy fate, and delivered the letter which explained all her distress. Now it was Horn's turn to weep bitterly for his love's troubles, and he bade the messenger return to his mistress and tell her to cease her tears, for Horn would be there in time to rescue her from her hated bridegroom. The youth returned joyfully, but as his boat neared the shore of Westernesse a storm arose and the messenger was drowned; so that Rymenhild, opening her tower door to look for expected succour, found her messenger lying dead at the foot of the tower, and felt that all hope was gone. She wept and wrung her hands, but nothing that she could do would avert the evil day.
As soon as Horn had read Rymenhild's letter he went to King Thurston and revealed the whole matter to him. He told of his own royal parentage, his exile, his knighthood, his betrothal to the princess, and his banishment; then of the death of the Saracen leader who had slain King Murry, and the vengeance he had taken. Then he ended:
To this the king replied: "Childe Horn, do what thou wilt."
Horn at once invited Irish knights to accompany him to Westernesse to rescue his love from a hateful marriage, and many came eagerly to fight in the cause of the valiant Cuthbert who had defended Ireland for seven years. Thus it was with a goodly company that Horn took ship, and landed in King Ailmar's realm; and he came in a happy hour, for it was the wedding-day of Princess Rymenhild and King Modi of Reynes. The Irish knights landed and encamped in a wood, while Horn went on alone to learn tidings. Meeting a palmer, he asked the news, and the palmer replied: "I have been at the wedding of Princess Rymenhild, and a sad sight it was, for the bride was wedded against her will, vowing she had a husband though he is a banished
man. She would take no ring nor utter any vows; but the service was read, and afterwards King Modi took her to a strong castle, where not even a palmer was given entrance. I came away, for I could not endure the pity of it. The bride sits weeping sorely, and if report be true her heart is like to break with grief."
"Come, palmer," said Horn, "lend me your cloak and scrip. I must see this strange bridal, and it may be I shall make some there repent of the wrong they have done to a helpless maiden. I will essay to enter." The change was soon made, and Horn darkened his face and hands as if bronzed with Eastern suns, bowed his back, and gave his voice an old man's feebleness, so that no man would have known him; which done, he made his way to King Modi's new castle. Here he begged admittance for charity's sake, that he might share the broken bits of the wedding feast; but he was churlishly refused by the porter, who would not be moved by any entreaties. At last Horn lost all patience, and broke open the door, and threw the porter out over the drawbridge into the moat; then, once more assuming his disguise, he made his way into the hall and sat down in the beggars' row.
Rymenhild was weeping still, and her stern husband seemed only angered by her tears. Horn looked about cautiously, but saw no sign of Athulf, his trusted comrade; for he was at this time eagerly looking for his friend's coming from the lofty watch-tower, and lamenting that he could guard the princess no longer. At last, when the banquet was nearly over, Rymenhild rose to pour out wine for the guests, as the custom was
then; and she bore a horn of ale or wine along the benches to each person there. Horn, sitting humbly on the ground, called out: "Come, courteous Queen, turn to me, for we beggars are thirsty folk." Rymenhild smiled sadly, and, setting down the horn, filled a bowl with brown ale, for she thought him a drunkard. "Here, drink this, and more besides, if thou wilt; I never saw so bold a beggar," she said. But Horn refused. He handed the bowl to the other beggars, and said: "Lady, I will drink nought but from a silver cup, for I am not what you think me. I am no beggar, but a fisher, come from afar to fish at thy wedding feast. My net lies near by, and has lain there for seven years, and I am come to see if it has caught any fish. Drink to me, and drink to Horn from thy horn, for far have I journeyed."
When the palmer spoke of fishing, and his seven-year-old net, Rymenhild felt cold at heart; she did not recognise him, but wondered greatly when he bade her drink "to Horn." She filled her cup and gave it to the palmer, saying, "Drink thy fill, and then tell me if thou hast ever seen Horn in thy wanderings." As the palmer drank, he dropped his ring into the cup; then he returned it to Rymenhild, saying, "Queen, seek out what is in thy draught." She said nothing then, but left the hall with her maidens and went to her bower, where she found the well-remembered ring she had given to Horn in token of betrothal. Greatly she feared that Horn was dead, and sent for the palmer, whom she questioned as to whence he had got the ring.
Horn thought he would test her love for him, since she had not recognised him, so he replied: "By St. Giles, lady, I have wandered many a mile, far
into realms of the West, and there I found Sir Horn ready prepared to sail home to your land. He told me that he planned to reach the realm of Westernesse in time to see you before seven years had passed, and I embarked with him. The winds were favourable and we had a quick voyage, but, alas! he fell ill and died. When he lay dying he begged me piteously, 'Take this ring, from which I have never been parted, to my dear lady Rymenhild,' and he kissed it many times and pressed it to his breast. May God give his soul rest in Paradise!"
When Rymenhild heard those terrible tidings she sighed deeply and said: "O heart, burst now, for thou shalt never more have Horn, for love of whom thou hast been tormented so sorely!" Then she fell upon her bed, and grasped the dagger which she had concealed there; for if Horn did not come in time she had planned to slay both her hateful lord and herself that very night. Now, in her misery, she set the dagger to her heart, and would have slain herself at once, had not the palmer interrupted her. Rushing forward, he exclaimed: "Dear Queen and lady, I am Horn, thine own true love. Dost thou not recognise me? I am Childe Horn of Westernesse. Take me in thy arms, dear love, and kiss me welcome home." As Rymenhild stared incredulously at him, letting the dagger fall from her trembling hand, he hurriedly cast away his disguise, brushed off the disfiguring stain he had put on his cheeks, and stood up straight and strong, her own noble knight and lover. What joy they had together! How they told each other of all their adventures and troubles, and how they embraced and kissed each other!
When their joy had become calmer, Horn said to his lady: "Dear Rymenhild, I must leave thee now, and
return to my knights, who are encamped in the forest. Within an hour I will return to the feast and give the king and his guests a stern lesson." Then he flung away the palmer's cloak, and went forth in knightly array; while the princess went up to the watch-tower, where Athulf still scanned the sea for some sign of Horn's coming. Rymenhild said: "Sir Athulf, true friend, go quickly to Horn, for he has arrived, and with him he brings a great army." The knight gladly hastened to the courtyard, mounted his steed, and soon overtook Horn. They were greatly rejoiced to meet again, and had much to tell each other and to plan for that day's work.
In the evening Horn and his army reached the castle, where they found the gates undone for them by their friends within, and in a short but desperate conflict King Modi and all the guests at the banquet were slain, except Rymenhild, her father, and Horn's twelve comrades. Then a new wedding was celebrated, for King Ailmar durst not refuse his daughter to the victor, and the bridal was now one of real rejoicing, though the king was somewhat bitter of mood.
When the hours wore on to midnight, Horn, sitting beside his bride, called for silence in the hall, and addressed the king thus: "Sir King, I pray thee listen to my tale, for I have much to say and much to explain. My name is in sooth Horn, and I am the son of King Murry of Suddene, who was slain by the Saracens. Thou didst cherish me and give me knighthood, and I proved myself a true knight on. the very day when I was dubbed. Thou didst love me then, but evil men accused me to thee and I was banished. For seven years I have lived in a strange land; but now that I
have returned, I have won thy fair daughter as my bride. But I cannot dwell here in idleness while the heathen hold my father's land. I vow by the Holy Rood that I will not rest, and will not claim my wife, until I have purified Suddene from the infidel invaders, and can lay its crown at Rymenhild's feet. Do thou, O King, guard well my wife till my return."
The king consented to this proposal, and, in spite of Rymenhild's grief, Horn immediately bade her farewell, and with his whole army embarked for Suddene, this time accompanied by Athulf, but leaving the rest of his comrades for the protection of his wife.
The wind blew fair for Suddene, and the fleet reached the port. The warriors disembarked, and marched inland, to encamp for the night in a wood, where they could be hidden. Horn and Athulf set out at midnight to endeavour to obtain news of the foe, and soon found a solitary knight sleeping. They awoke him roughly, saying, "Knight, awake! Why sleepest thou here? What dost thou guard?" The knight sprang lightly from the ground, saw their faces and the shining crosses on their shields, and cast down his eyes in shame, saying, "Alas! I have served these pagans against my will. In time gone by I was a Christian, but now I am a coward renegade, who forsook his God for fear of death at the hands of the Saracens! I hate my infidel masters, but I fear them too, and they have forced me to guard this district and keep watch against Horn's return. If he should come to his own again how glad I should be! These infidels slew his father, and drove him into exile, with his twelve comrades, among whom was my own son, Athulf, who loved the prince as his own life. If the prince is yet alive, and my son also, God grant
that I may see them both again! Then would I joyfully die."
Horn answered quickly: "Sir Knight, be glad and rejoice, for here are we, Horn and Athulf, come to avenge my father and retake my realm from the heathen." Athulf's father was overcome with joy and shame; he hardly dared to embrace his son, yet the bliss of meeting was so great that he clasped Athulf in his arms and prayed his forgiveness for the disgrace he had brought upon him. The two young knights said nothing of his past weakness, but told him all their own adventures, and at last he said: "What is your true errand hither? Can you two alone slay the heathen? Dear Childe Horn, what joy this will be to thy mother Godhild, who still lives in a solitary retreat, praying for thee and for the land!" Horn broke in on his speech with "Blessed be the hour when I returned! Thank God that my mother yet lives! We are not alone, but I have an army of valiant Irish warriors, who will help me to regain my realm."
Now the king blew his horn, and his host marched out from the wood and prepared to attack the Saracens. The news soon spread that Childe Horn had returned, and many men who had accepted the faith of Mahomet for fear of death now threw off the hated religion, joined the true king's army, and were rebaptized. The war was not long, for the Saracens had made themselves universally hated, and the inhabitants rose against them; so that in a short time the country was purged of the infidels, who were slain or fled to other lands. Then Horn brought his mother from her retreat, and
together they purified the churches which had been desecrated, and restored the true faith. When the land of Suddene was again a Christian realm King Horn was crowned with solemn rites, and a great coronation feast was held, which lasted too long for Horn's true happiness.
During Horn's absence from Westernesse, his comrades watched carefully over Rymenhild; but her father, who was growing old, had fallen much under the influence of the plausible Fikenhild. From the day when Fikenhild had falsely accused Horn to the king, Ailmar had held him in honour as a loyal servant, and now he had such power over the old ruler that when he demanded Rymenhild's hand in marriage, saying that Horn was dead in Suddene, the king dared not refuse, and the princess was bidden to make ready for a new bridal. For this day Fikenhild had long been prepared; he had built a massive fortress on a promontory, which at high tide was surrounded by the sea, but was easy of access at the ebb; thither he now led the weeping princess, and began a wedding feast which was to last all day, and to end only with the marriage ceremony at night.
That same night, before the feast, King Horn had a terrible dream. He thought he saw his wife taken on board ship; soon the ship began to sink, and Rymenhild held out her hands for rescue, but Fikenhild, standing in safety on shore, beat her back into the waves with his sword. With the agony of the sight Horn awoke, and, calling his comrade Athulf, said: "Friend, we must depart to-day. My wife is in danger
from false Fikenhild, whom I have trusted too much. Let us delay no longer, but go at once. If God will, I hope to release her, and to punish Fikenhild. God grant we come in time!" With some few chosen knights, King Horn and Athulf set out, and the ship drove darkling through the sea, they knew not whither. All the night they drifted on, and in the morning found themselves beneath a newly built castle, which none of them had seen before.
While they were seeking to moor their boat to the shore, one of the castle windows looking out to sea opened, and they saw a knight standing and gazing seaward, whom they speedily recognised; it was Athulf's cousin, Sir Arnoldin, one of the twelve comrades, who had accompanied the princess thither in the hope that he might yet save her from Fikenhild; he was now looking, as a forlorn hope, over the sea, though he believed Horn was dead. His joy was great when he saw the knights, and he came out to them and speedily told them of Rymenhild's distress and the position of affairs in the castle. King Horn was not at a loss for an expedient even in this distress. He quickly disguised himself and a few of his comrades as minstrels, harpers, fiddlers, and jugglers. Then, rowing to the mainland, he waited till low tide, and made his way over the beach to the castle, accompanied by his disguised comrades. Outside the castle walls they began to play and sing, and Rymenhild heard them, and, asking what the sounds were, gave orders that the minstrels should be admitted. They sat on benches low down the hall, tuning their harps and fiddles, and watching the bride, who seemed unhappy and pale. When Horn sang a lay of true love and happiness,
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Horn and his followers disguised as minstrels
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''Little John caught the horse by the bridle''
[paragraph continues] Rymenhild swooned for grief, and the king was touched to the heart with bitter remorse that he had tried her constancy so long, and had allowed her to endure such hardships and misery for his sake.
King Horn now glanced down and saw the ring or betrothal on his finger, where he had worn it ever, except that fateful day when he had given it as a token of recognition to Rymenhild. He thought of his wife's sufferings, and his mind was made up. Springing from the minstrels' bench, he strode boldly up the hall, throwing off his disguise, and, shouting, "I am King Horn! False Fikenhild, thou shalt die!" he slew the villain in the midst of his men. Horn's comrades likewise flung off their disguise, and soon overpowered the few of the household who cared to fight in their dead master's cause. The castle was taken for King Ailmar, who was persuaded to nominate Sir Arnoldin his heir, and the baronage of Westernesse did homage to him as the next king. Horn and his fair wife begged the good old steward Sir Athelbrus to go with them to Suddene, and on the way they touched at Ireland, where Reynild, the king's fair daughter, was induced to look favourably on Sir Athulf and accept him for her husband. The land of King Modi, which had now no ruler, was committed to the care of Sir Athelbrus, and Horn and Rymenhild at last reached Suddene, where the people received their fair queen with great joy, and where they dwelt in happiness till their lives' end