The Surprise of the Knights
The next morning the knight and his bride descended to the great hall, where many knights and ladies awaited them, the former thinking scornfully of the hideous hag whom Gawayne had wedded, the latter pitying so young and gallant a knight, tied to a lady so ugly. But both scorn and pity vanished when all saw the bride. “Who is this fair dame?” asked Sir Kay. “Where have you left your ancient bride?” asked another, and all awaited the answer in great bewilderment. “This is the lady to whom I was wedded yester evening,” replied Sir Gawayne. “She was under an evil enchantment, which has vanished now that she has come under the power of a husband, and henceforth my fair wife will be one of the most beauteous ladies of King Arthur’s court. Further, my lord King Arthur, this fair lady has assured me that the churlish knight of Tarn Wathelan, her brother, was also under a spell, which is now broken, and he will be once more a courteous and gallant knight, and the ground on which his fortress stands will have henceforth no magic power to quell the courage of any knight alive. Dear liege and uncle, when I wedded yesterday [Pg 285] the loathly lady I thought only of your happiness, and in that way I have won my own lifelong bliss.”
King Arthur’s joy at his nephew’s fair hap was great for he had grieved sorely over Gawayne’s miserable fate, and Queen Guenever welcomed the fair maiden as warmly as she had the loathly lady, and the wedding feast was renewed with greater magnificence, as a fitting end to the Christmas festivities.
CHAPTER XIV: KING HORN
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.