Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 164

Athelbrus obeyed the king’s command, and the thirteen youths soon found themselves set to learn the duties of court life, and showed themselves apt scholars, especially Childe Horn, who did his best to satisfy the king and his steward on every point.

The Princess Rymenhild

When Childe Horn had been at court for six years, and was now a squire, he became known to all courtiers, and all men loved him for his gentle courtesy and his willingness to do any service. King Ailmar made no secret of the fact that Horn was his favourite squire, and the Princess Rymenhild, the king’s fair daughter, loved him with all her heart. She was the heir to the throne, and no man had ever gainsaid her will, and now it seemed to her unreasonable that she should not be allowed to wed a good and gallant youth whom she loved. It was difficult for her to speak alone with him, for she had six maiden attendants who waited on her continually, and Horn was engaged with his duties either in the hall, among the knights, or waiting on the king. The difficulties only seemed to increase her love, and she grew pale and wan, and looked miserable. It seemed to her that if she waited longer her love would never be happy, and in her impatience she took a bold step.

Athelbrus Deceives the Princess

She kept her chamber, called a messenger, and said to him: “Go quickly to Athelbrus the steward, and bid him come to me at once. Tell him to bring with him the squire Childe Horn, for I am lying ill in my room, and would be amused. Say I expect them quickly, for [Pg 293] I am sad in mind, and have need of cheerful converse.” The messenger bowed, and, withdrawing, delivered the message exactly as he had received it to Athelbrus, who was much perplexed thereby. He wondered whence came this sudden illness, and what help Childe Horn could give. It was an unusual thing for the squire to be asked into a lady’s bower, and still more so into that of a princess, and Athelbrus had already felt some suspicion as to the sentiments of the royal lady towards the gallant young squire. Considering all these things, the cautious steward deemed it safer not to expose young Horn to the risks that might arise from such an interview, and therefore induced Athulf to wait upon the princess and to endeavour to personate his more distinguished companion. The plan succeeded beyond expectation in the dimly lighted room, and the infatuated princess soon startled the unsuspecting squire by a warm and unreserved declaration of her affection. Recovering from his natural amazement, he modestly disclaimed a title to the royal favour and acknowledged his identity.

On discovering her mistake the princess was torn by conflicting emotions, but finally relieved the pressure of self-reproach and the confusion of maiden modesty by overwhelming the faithful steward with denunciation and upbraiding, until at last, in desperation, the poor man promised, against his better judgment, to bring about a meeting between his love-lorn mistress and the favoured squire.

Athelbrus Summons Horn

When Rymenhild understood that Athelbrus would fulfil her desire she was very glad and joyous; her sorrow was turned into happy expectation, and she looked kindly upon the old steward as she said: “Go now quickly, and send him to me in the afternoon. [Pg 294] The king will go to the wood for sport and pastime, and Horn can easily remain behind; then he can stay with me till my father returns at eve. No one will betray us; and when I have met my beloved I care not what men may say.”

Then the steward went down to the banqueting-hall, where he found Childe Horn fulfilling his duties as cup-bearer, pouring out and tasting the red wine in the king’s golden goblet. King Ailmar asked many questions about his daughter’s health, and when he learnt that her malady was much abated he rose in gladness from the table and summoned his courtiers to go with him into the greenwood. Athelbrus bade Horn tarry, and when the gay throng had passed from the hall the steward said gravely: “Childe Horn, fair and courteous, my beloved pupil, go now to the bower of the Princess Rymenhild, and stay there to fulfil all her commands. It may be thou shalt hear strange things, but keep rash and bold words in thy heart, and let them not be upon thy tongue. Horn, dear lad, be true and loyal now, and thou shalt never repent it.”