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ONE of the best loved knights at the court of the Faerie Queene was Sir Calidore, for even there, where courteous knights and ladies most did throng, not one was more renowned for courtesy than Calidore. Gentleness of spirit and winning manners were natural to him, and added to these, his gallant bearing and gracious speech stole all men's hearts. Moreover, he was strong and tall, and well proved in battle, so that he had won much glory, and his fame had spread afar. Not a knight or lady at the Court but loved him dearly; and he was worthy of their affection, for he hated falsehood and base flattery, and loved simple truth and steadfast honesty.
But like all Queen Gloriana's other knights, Sir Calidore was not allowed to spend his days in slothful ease at the court. He had his task to perform, and the adventure appointed to him was a hard and perilous one.
As he travelled on his way, it happened by chance that he met Sir Artegall, who was returning half sadly from the conquest he had lately made. They knew each other at once, and Sir Calidore was the first to speak.
"Hail, noblest Knight of all that live and breathe!" he cried. "Now tell me, if it please you, of the good success you have had in your late enterprise."
Then Sir Artegall told him the whole story of his exploits from beginning to end.
"Happy man to have worthily achieved so hard a quest!" said Calidore, when he had finished. "It will make you renowned for evermore. But where you have ended I now begin to tread an endless track, without guide or direction how to enter in or issue forth--in untried ways, in strange perils, and in long and weary labour. And even although good fortune may befall me, it will be unseen of any one."
"What is that quest which calls you now into such peril?" asked Sir Artegall.
"I pursue the Blatant Beast," said Sir Calidore, cc and incessantly chase him through the world until I overtake and subdue him. I do not know how or in what place to find him, vet still I fare forward."
"What is that Blatant Beast?" asked Artegall.
"It is a hideous monster of evil race, born and brought up in dark and noisome places, whence he
issues forth to be the plague and scourge of wretched men. He has oftentimes annoyed good knight and true lady, and destroyed many, for with his venomous nature and vile tongue he wounds sorely, and bites, and cruelly torments."
"Then, since I left the savage island, I have seen such a beast," said Artegall. "He seemed to have a thousand tongues, all agreeing in spite and malice, with which he barked and bayed at me, as if he would have devoured me on the spot. He was set on by two hideous old hags, Envy and Detraction. But I, knowing myself safe from peril, paid no regard to his malice nor his power, whereupon he poured forth his wicked poison the more."
"That surely is the beast which I pursue," said Calidore. "I am right glad to have these tidings of him, having had none before in all my weary travels. Now your words give me some hope."
"God speed you!" said Sir Artegall, "and keep you from the dread danger, for you have much to contend against."
So they took a kindly leave of each other, and parted on their several ways.
Sir Calidore had not travelled far when he came upon a comely Squire, bound hand and foot to a tree, who seeing him in the distance called to him for aid. The Knight at once set him free, and then asked him what mishap had brought him into such disgrace. The Squire replied it was occasioned not by his fault, but through his misfortune.
Not far from here, on yonder rocky hill," he
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When as by chaunce a comely Squire he found,
That thorough some more mighty enemies wrong
Both hand and foote unto a tree was bound.''
said, "stands a strong Castle, where a bad and hateful custom is kept up. For whenever any knight or lady comes along that way (and they must needs go by, for it is the pass through the rocks), they shave away the lady's locks and the knight's beard to pay toll for the passage."
"As shameful a custom as ever I heard of, and it shall be put a stop to!" said Sir Calidore. "But for what cause was it first set on foot?"
The lady who owns the castle is called Briana, and no prouder one lives," replied the Squire. "For a long time she has dearly loved a doughty Knight, and sought to win his love by all the means in her power. Crudor, for that is his name, in his scornful and selfish vanity refuses to return her affection until she has made for him a mantle, lined with the beards of knights and the locks of ladies. To provide this, she has prepared this castle, and appointed a Seneschal, called Maleffort, a man of great strength, who executes her wicked will with worse malice.
"As I came along to-day with a fair damsel, my dear love, he set upon us. Unable to withstand him, we both fled, and first capturing me he bound me to this tree till his return, and then went in pursuit of her. Nor do I know whether he has yet found her."
While they were speaking they heard a piteous shriek, and looking in the direction whence the cry came, they saw the churl dragging the maiden along by her yellow hair. When Calidore beheld the shameful sight he immediately went in pursuit, and commanded the villain to release his prey. Hearing his
voice, Maleffort turned, and running towards him. more enraged than terrified, said tauntingly--
"Are you the wretch who defies me? And will you give your beard for this maid, whose part you take? Yet it shall not free her locks from ransom."
With that he flew fiercely at him and laid on the most hideous strokes. But Calidore, who was well skilled in fight, let his adversary exhaust his strength, and then attacked him with such fury that the churl's heart failed him, and he took flight to the Castle, where his hope of refuge remained. But just as the warders on the Castle wall opened the gates to receive him, Calidore overtook him in the porch, and killed him, so that his dead body fell down inside the door. Then Calidore entered in and slew the porter,
The rest of the Castle inmates flocked round him, but he swept them all aside. Passing into the hall he was met by the Lady Briana herself, who bitterly upbraided him for what she termed his unknightly conduct in staying her servants.
"Not unto me the shame, but award it to the shameful doer," replied the Knight. "It is no blame to punish those who deserve it. Those who break the bonds of civility and make wicked customs, those are they who defame both noble arms and gentle courtesy. There is no greater disgrace to man than inhumanity. Then for dread of disgrace forego this evil custom which you here keep up, and show instead kindly courtesy to all who pass. This will gain you more glory than that man's love which you thus seek to obtain."
But the Lady Briana only replied to Sir Calidore with
the most scornful insolence, and despatching a hasty message to Crudor, bade him come to her rescue. While they waited for the return of the messenger, she treated Sir Calidore with every indignity, so that an iron heart could scarcely have borne it; but the Knight wisely controlled his wrath, and bravely and patiently endured her womanish disdain.
In due course the answer came back that Crudor would succour his lady before he tasted bread, and deliver up her foe, dead or alive, into her hand. Then Briana immediately became quite blithe, and spoke more bitterly than ever, yet Calidore was not in the least dismayed, but rather seemed the more cheerful. Putting on his armour, he went out to meet his foe, and soon spied a Knight spurring towards him with all his might.
He guessed at once this was Crudor, and without staying to ask his name couched his spear and ran at him. The Knights met with such fury that both rolled to the ground; but while Calidore at once sprang lightly again to his feet, it was some time before Crudor rose slowly and heavily. Then the battle was renewed on foot, and after a fierce and terrible struggle Calidore at last brought his foe to the ground. He could easily have killed him, but Crudor, seeing the danger in which he was placed, cried out--
"Ah, mercy, Sir! Do not slay me, but spare my life which fate has laid under your foot."
"And is this the boast of that proud lady's threat, which menaced to beat me from the field?" said Calidore quietly. "By this you may now learn not to treat strangers so rudely. But put away proud looks and
stern behaviour, which shall gain for you nothing but dishonour. However strong and fortunate he may be in fight, nothing is more blameful to a Knight, who professes courtesy as well as arms, than the reproach of pride and cruelty. In vain he seeks to suppress others who has not learned first to subdue himself. All flesh is frail and full of fickleness, subject to the chance of ever-changing fortune: what happens to me to-day may happen to you to-morrow. He who will not show mercy to others, how can he ever hope to obtain mercy? To pay each in his own coin is right and just.
"Yet since you now need to crave mercy, I will grant it, and spare your life, on these conditions: First that you shall behave yourself better to all errant knights, wherever they may be; and next, that you aid ladies in every place and in every trouble."
The wretched man, who had remained all this while in dread of death, gladly promised to perform all Sir Calidore's behests, and further swore to marry Briana without any dowry, and to release her from his former shameful conditions. Then Calidore called the Lady, and soothing her terror, told her of the promise he had compelled Crudor to make.
Overcome by his exceeding courtesy, which quite pierced her stubborn heart, Briana threw herself at his feet, and acknowledged herself deeply indebted to him for having restored both life and love to her. Then they all returned to the Castle, and she entertained them joyfully with feast and glee, trying by all the means in her power to show her gratitude and goodwill. To Sir Calidore, for his trouble, she freely gave
the Castle, and professed herself bound to him for ever, so wondrously was she changed from what she had been before.
But Calidore would not keep for himself land or fee as wages for his good deed, but gave them at once as a rightful reward to the Squire whom he had lately freed, and to his damsel, in recompense for all their former wrong. There he remained happily with them till he was well and strong from the wounds he had received, and then he passed forth again on his first quest.