Badly indeed would it now have fared with the Red Cross Knight had it not been for the Lady Una. Even good people daily fall into sin and temptation, but as often as their own foolish pride or weakness leads them astray, so often will Divine love and care rescue them, if only they repent of their misdoings. Thus we see how Holiness, in the guise of the Red Cross Knight, was for a while cast down and defeated; yet in the end, because he truly repented, help was given him to fight again and conquer.
Prince Arthur and the Lady Una travelled till they came to a castle which was built very strong and high.
"Lo," cried the dwarf, "yonder is the place where my unhappy master is held captive by that cruel tyrant!"
The Prince at once dismounted, and bade Una stay
to see what would happen. He marched with his squire to the castle walls, where he found the gates shut fast. There was no warder to guard them, nor to answer to the call of any who came.
Then the squire took a small bugle which hung at his side with twisted gold and gay tassels. Wonderful stories were told about that bugle; every one trembled with dread at its shrill sound. It could easily be heard three miles off, and whenever it was blown it echoed three times. No false enchantment or deceitful snare could stand before the terror of that blast. No gate was so strong, no lock so firm and fast, but at that piercing noise it flew open or burst.
This was the bugle which Prince Arthur's squire blew before the gate of Giant Pride. Then the whole castle quaked, and every door flew open. The Giant himself, dismayed at the sound, came rushing forth in haste from an inner bower, to see what was the reason of this sudden uproar, and to discover who had dared to brave his power. After him came Duessa, riding on her dragon with the seven heads; every head had a crown on it, and a fiery tongue of flame.
When Prince Arthur saw Giant Pride, he took his mighty shield and flew at him fiercely; the Giant lifted up his club to smite him, but the Prince leaped to one side, and the weapon, missing him, buried itself with such force in the ground, that the Giant could not quickly pull it out again. Then with his sharp sword Prince Arthur struck at the Giant, and wounded him severely.
Duessa, seeing her companion's danger, urged forward her dragon to help him, but the brave squire sprang
in between it and the Prince, and with his drawn sword drove it back. Then the angry Duessa took a golden cup, which she always carried, and which was full of a secret poison. Those who drank of that cup either died, or else felt despair seize them. She lightly sprinkled the squire with the contents of this cup, and immediately his courage faded away, and he was filled with sudden dread. He fell down before the cruel dragon, who seized him with its claws, and nearly crushed the life out of him. He had no power nor will to stir.
When Prince Arthur saw what had happened, he left Giant Pride and turned against the dragon, for he was deeply grieved to see his beloved squire in such peril. He soon drove back the horrible creature, but now once again the Giant rushed at him with his club. This time the blow struck the Prince with such force, that it bore him to the ground. In the fall, his shield, that had been covered, lost by chance its veil, and flew open.
Then through the air flashed such a blazing brightness, that no eye could bear to look upon it. Giant Pride let fall the weapon with which he was just going to slay the Prince, and the dragon was struck blind, and tumbled on the ground.
"Oh, help, Orgoglio, help, or we all perish!" cried Duessa.
Gladly would Giant Pride have helped her, but all was in vain; when that light shone he had no power to hurt others, nor to defend himself; so Prince Arthur soon killed him.
When he was dead, his great body, that had seemed so big and strong, suddenly melted away, and nothing
was left but what looked like the shrivelled skin of a broken balloon; for, after all, there was no real substance in him, but he was simply puffed out with emptiness and conceit, and his grand appearance was nothing but a sham.
So that was the end of Giant Pride.
When false Duessa saw the fall of Giant Pride she flung down her golden cup, and threw aside her crown, and fled away. But the squire followed, and soon took her prisoner. Telling him to keep safe guard on her, Prince Arthur boldly entered the Giant's Castle. Not a living creature could he spy; he called loudly, but no one answered; a solemn silence reigned everywhere, not a voice was to be heard, not a person seen, in bower or hall.
At last an old, old man, with beard as white as snow, came creeping along; he guided his feeble steps with a staff, for long ago his sight had failed. On his arm he bore a bunch of keys, all covered with rust. They were the keys of all the doors inside the castle; they were never used, but he still kept possession of them.
It was curious to see the way in which this old man walked, for always, as he went forward, he kept his wrinkled face turned back, as if he were trying to look behind. He was the keeper of the place, and the father of the dead Giant Pride; his name was Ignorance.
Prince Arthur, as was fitting, honoured his grey hair and gravity, and gently asked him where all the people were who used to live in that stately building. The old man softly answered him that he could not
tell. Again the Prince asked where was the Knight whom the Giant had taken captive?
"I cannot tell," said the old man.
Then the Prince asked which was the way into the castle, and again he got the same answer, "I cannot tell."
At first he thought the man was mocking him, and began to be much displeased. But presently, seeing that the poor old thing could not help his foolishness, he wisely calmed his anger. Going up to him he took the keys from his arm, and made an entrance for himself. He opened each door without the least difficulty; there was no one to challenge him, nor any bars to hinder his passage.
Inside the castle he found the whole place fitted up in the most splendid manner, decked with royal tapestry, and shining with gold, fit for the presence of the greatest prince. But all the floors were dirty, and strewn with ashes, for it was here that the wicked Giant Pride used to slay his unhappy victims.
Prince Arthur sought through every room, but nowhere could he find the Red Cross Knight. At last he came to an iron door, which was fast locked, but he found no key among the bunch to open it. In the, door, however, there was a little grating, and through this the Prince called as loudly as be could, to know if there were any living person shut up there whom he could set free.
Then there came a hollow voice in answer. "Oh, who is that who brings to me the happy choice of death? Here I lie, dying every hour, yet still compelled
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With hasty joy: to see him made her glad,
And sad to view his visage pale and wan.''
to live, bound in horrible darkness. Three months have come and gone since I beheld the light of day. Oh, welcome, you who bring true tidings of death."
When Prince Arthur heard these words his heart was so filled with pity and horror at any noble knight being thus shamefully treated, that, in his strength and indignation, he rent open the iron door. But entering, he found no floor; there was a deep descent, as dark as a pit, from which came up a horrible deadly smell.
Neither darkness, however, nor dirt, nor poisonous smell could turn the Prince from his purpose, and he went forward courageously. With great trouble and difficulty he found means to raise the captive, whose own limbs were too feeble to bear him, and then he carried him out of the castle.
What a mournful picture was now the Red Cross Knight! His dull, sunken eyes could not bear the unaccustomed light of the sun; his cheeks were thin and gaunt; his mighty arms, that had fought so often and so bravely, were nothing now but bones; all his strength was gone, and all his flesh shrunk up like a withered flower.
When Una saw Prince Arthur carrying the Red Cross Knight out of the castle she ran to them joyfully; it made her glad even to see the Knight, but she was full of sorrow at the sight of his pale, wan face, which had formerly been radiant with the glory of youth.
"My dearest lord," she cried, "what evil star has frowned on you and changed you thus? But welcome now, in weal or woe, my dear lord whom I have lost
too long! Fate, who has been our foe so long, will injure us no further, but shall pay penance with threefold good for all these wrongs."
The unhappy man, dazed with misery, had no desire to speak of his troubles; his long-endured famine needed more relief.
"Fair lady," then said the victorious Prince,
things that were grievous to do or to bear it brings no pleasure to recall. The only good that comes from past danger is to make us wiser and more careful for the future. This day's example has deeply written this lesson on my heart-perfect happiness can never be lasting while we still live on earth.
"Henceforth, Sir Knight," he continued, "take to yourself your old strength, and master these mishaps by patience. Look where your foe lies vanquished, and the wicked woman, Duessa, the cause of all your misery, stands in your power, to let her live or die."
"To kill her would be to act unworthily," said Una, "and it would be a shame to avenge one's self on such a weak enemy. But take off her scarlet robe and let her fly!"
So they did as Una bade them. They took from Duessa all her finery--her royal robe, and purple cloak, and all the rich ornaments with which she was decked. And when this disguise was taken from her, they saw her as she really was--old, and ugly, and bad. She would no longer be able to deceive people by her pretended goodness, and youth, and beauty, for every one who saw her shrunk away in horror.
"Such," said Una, "is the face of Falsehood when
its borrowed light is laid aside, and all its deceitfulness is made known."
Thus, having taken from Duessa her power to work evil, they set her free to go where she pleased. She fled to a barren wilderness, where she lurked unseen in rocks and caves, for she always hated the light.
But Prince Arthur, and the Red Cross Knight, and fair Una stayed for awhile in the castle of Giant Pride, to rest themselves and to recover their strength. And here they found a goodly store of all that was dainty and rare.