Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race
Page: 154The Price of the Ransom
The giant waxed furious with rage, and shouted: “A curse upon that lady who told you this! It must have been my sister, for none but she knew the answer. Tell me, was she ugly and deformed?” When King Arthur replied that she was a loathly lady, the giant broke out: “I vow to heaven that if I can once catch her I will burn her alive; for she has cheated me of being King of Britain. Go your ways, Arthur; you have not ransomed yourself, but the ransom is paid and you are free.”
Gladly the king rode back to the forest where the loathly lady awaited him, and stopped to greet her. “I am free now, lady, thanks to you! What boon do you ask in reward for your help? I have promised to [Pg 274] grant it you, whatever it may be.” “This is my boon King Arthur, that you will bring some young and courteous knight from your court in Carlisle to marry me, and he must be brave and handsome too. You have sworn to fulfil my request, and you cannot break your word.” These last words were spoken as the king shook his head and seemed on the point of refusing a request so unreasonable; but at this reminder he only hung his head and rode slowly away, while the unlovely lady watched him with a look of mingled pain and glee.
King Arthur’s Return
On the second day of the new year King Arthur came home to Carlisle. Wearily he rode along and dismounted at the castle, and wearily he went into his hall, where sat Queen Guenever. She had been very anxious during her husband’s absence, for she dreaded magic arts, but she greeted him gladly and said: “Welcome, my dear lord and king, welcome home again! What anxiety I have endured for you! But now you are here all is well. What news do you bring, my liege? Is the churlish knight conquered? Where have you had him hanged, and where is his head? Placed on a spike above some town-gate? Tell me your tidings, and we will rejoice together.” King Arthur only sighed heavily as he replied: “Alas! I have boasted too much; the churlish knight was a giant who has conquered me, and set me free on conditions.” “My lord, tell me how this has chanced.” “His castle is an enchanted one, standing on enchanted ground, and surrounded with a circle of magic spells which sap the bravery from a warrior’s mind and the strength from his arm. When I came on his land and felt the power of his mighty charms, I was unable to [Pg 275] resist him, but fell into his power, and had to yield myself to him. He released me on condition that I would fulfil one thing which he bade me accomplish, and this I was enabled to do by the help of a loathly lady; but that help was dearly bought, and I cannot pay the price myself.”