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BRITOMART, the Warrior Princess, having rescued the fair lady Amoret from the wicked Enchanter, then started forth with her to find her husband, the good Knight Scudamour. Riding through a forest, they alighted to rest, and here Britomart, overcome with weariness, lay down to sleep.
Amoret, meanwhile, fearing nothing, roamed at pleasure through the wood. Suddenly from behind, some one rushed out, who snatched her up and bore her away. This was a huge, hideous savage, who killed and ate all the beautiful maidens he could get hold of. He carried Amoret fainting in his arms, right through the forest, till he came to his dwelling, a horrible cave, far from all people's hearing. Into this he flung her, and went off to see if he could secure any other victims.
Amoret was roused by her fall, but when she looked
about and found nothing around her but darkness and horror, she almost fainted again, and did not know whether she were above or under the ground. Then she heard some one close by sighing and sobbing, and found this was another beautiful lady whom the savage had taken prisoner.
Amoret asked her who she was, and the lady told her sad story.
She said her name was Emilia; she was the daughter of a great lord, and everything went joyously with her till she happened to fall in love with a gentle youth, a Squire in her father's household. He was gallant and worthy enough for any lady to love, but he was not of noble birth like herself, and her father refused to let her marry him, and was angry with her for her folly. Nothing, however, would make her alter her mind, and rather than forsake her faithful Amyas she resolved to leave friends and family, and fly with him. A meeting-place in the wood was arranged, to which she came, but there, instead of her gallant Squire, she found the savage monster, who pounced on her like an eagle, and carried her to his cave.
While Emilia and Amoret were talking of their troubles, the hideous villain who was the cause of them came rushing back, rolling away the stone which he used to stop the entrance, in order that no one might go out. Directly he entered, Amoret slipped past him, and escaped from the cave with a loud scream of horror. Fast she fled, but he followed as swiftly. She did not feel the thorns and thickets prick her tender feet; neither hedge, nor ditch, nor hill, nor
dale could stop her; she overleaped them all like a deer, and made her way through the thickest brushwood. And whenever she looked back with anxious eyes and saw the grisly monster approaching, she quickened her pace, spurred on by fear.
Long she fled thus, and long he followed, and it seemed as if there were no living aid for her on earth. But it chanced that the glorious Huntress-Queen, Belphbe, with her companions the wood-nymphs, were that day chasing the leopards and the bears in that wild forest. A gentle squire, who was also one of the party, got separated from the others, and he came in sight of Amoret just as she was overtaken by the savage, who carried her away under his arm, grinning, and yelling with laughter.
The squire immediately attacked the savage, but it was difficult to do him any harm, for the latter held Amoret all the while as a shield, and the squire was afraid of hurting her. But at last he did succeed in wounding the wretch, who then flung Amoret rudely on the ground, and flew at the squire so fiercely that he forced him back.
In the midst of their battle, Belphbe drew near. The robber, seeing her approach with bow in hand and arrows ready bent, would no longer stay to fight, but fled away in ghastly fear, for he knew she was the only one who could kill him. But fast as he flew, Belphbe kept pace with him, and before he reached his den she sent forth an arrow with mighty force which caught him in the very doorway and slew him.
Amoret and Emilia were now safe, and they lived
together in the wood for some time; but both were very ill--Emilia from having been kept so long a prisoner in the cave, where she was nearly starved, and Amoret from the hurts she had received in the rough handling of the savage.
One day it chanced that through this wood rode Prince Arthur, and he came to the place where the two ladies dwelt. He was greatly grieved to see the sad state in which they were, especially Amoret, who looked as if she could not live long. He immediately drew forth some of that precious liquor which he always kept about him, and which had the power of healing all wounds. It was the same wonderful medicine that he had long ago given to the Red Cross Knight, when he rescued him from the dungeon of Giant Pride. Prince Arthur sprinkled a few drops of this on Amoret's wounds, and she soon recovered her strength.
When the ladies were well, Prince Arthur began to ask what evil guide had brought them there, and how their harms befell. They told him all that had happened, and how they had been released from thraldom by the beautiful Belphbe. Then the Prince said he would restore them safely to their friends, and placing them both on his war-horse, he went beside them himself on foot, to shield them from fear.
Thus, when they had passed out of the forest they spied far away a little cottage, to which they came before nightfall. But entering, they found no one dwelling there, except one old woman who sat upon the ground in tattered raiment, her dirty locks scattered all about her, while she gnawed her nails with cruelty
and rage. She was a hideous creature to see, and no less hateful by nature, for she was stuffed full with rancour and spite, which often broke forth in streams of poison, bitterness, and falsehood against all who held to truth or virtue. Men called her name Slander.
It was Slander's nature to abuse all goodness, and continually to invent crimes of which to accuse guiltless people, so that she might steal away their fair name. No knight was ever so bold, nor any lady so good and loyal, but what Slander strove to defame them falsely; never thing was done so well but she would blot it with blame, and deprive it of due praise. Her words were not, as common words are meant, to express the meaning of the mind, but they were sharp and. bitter to pierce the heart and grieve the soul; like the stings of asps that kill with their bite, her spiteful words pricked and wounded inwardly.
Such was the hag, unfit to receive these guests, whom the greatest Prince's court would have been glad to welcome; but their necessity bade them look for no better entertainment. It was, besides, an age which despised luxury. People were accustomed to hardness and homely fare, which trained them to warlike discipline, and to endure carelessly any hard fortunes or luckless mishaps which might befall them.
All that evening, then, welcomed with cold and cheerless hunger, they spent together, and found no fault, except that the hag scolded and railed at them for lodging there without her consent. But they mildly and patiently endured it all, regardless of the unjust blame and bitter reviling of such a worthless creature.
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Bearing a little Dwarfe before his steed,
Whom after did a mightie man pursew,
Ryding upon a Dromedare on hie,
Of stature huge, and horrible of hew.''
Directly it was daylight they prepared again for their journey, and went forth, Amoret and Emilia as before riding on the horse, and the Prince walking beside them. As soon as they departed, wicked old Slander followed, reviling them, and calling them bad names. The more they were vexed at this, the worse she raged and railed; and even when they had passed cut of sight and hearing she did not stop her spiteful speeches, but railed anew against the stones and trees, until she had dulled the sting that grew in the end of her tongue.
As the travellers went slowly on their way, they saw galloping towards them, as if in flight, a Squire who bore before him on his steed a little dwarf, shrieking loudly for help. They were pursued by a mighty man, riding on a dromedary, huge of stature, and horrible to behold. From his terrible eyes came two fiery beams, sharper than needles' points, which had the power of working deadly poison to all who looked on him without good heed, and of secretly slaying his enemies. All the way he raged at the Squire, and hurled threats at him, but the latter fled so fast he could not overtake him. Seeing the Prince in his bright armour, the Squire called to him to pity him and rescue him from his cruel foe.
Then Prince Arthur at once took down the two ladies from his war-horse, and mounting in their place came to the Squire. In another moment the Giant was upon them. He aimed a furious blow at the Squire, which would certainly have killed him, had not the noble Prince defeated the stroke by thrusting
forward, and meeting it on his own shield. It fell with such force that it drove the shield aside, and knocked both the Squire and the dwarf to the ground. Then Prince Arthur, enraged, smote at the Pagan with all his might and main, and killed him.
When the Squire saw his foe dead he was indeed glad, but the dwarf howled aloud to see his lord slain, and tore his hair, and scratched his face for grief.
Then the Prince began to inquire about everything that had happened, and who he was whose eyes flamed with fire. And all this the Squire then told him:--