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Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 191

“The cowards!” cried Hereward. “And they think themselves worthy of knighthood when they will save their own lives and leave a child in danger! They must be taught a lesson. Martin, come hither and aid me.” When Martin came, the two, with infinite trouble, raised the carcase of the monstrous beast, and placed [Pg 342] it just where the bower door, opening, would show it at once. Then Hereward bade Alftruda call to the knights in the bower that all was safe and they could come out, for the bear would not hurt them. He and Martin, listening, heard with great glee the bitter debate within the bower as to who should risk his life to open the door, the many excuses given for refusal, the mischievous fun in Alftruda’s voice as she begged some one to open to her, and, best of all, the cry of horror with which the knight who had ventured to draw the bolt shut the door again on seeing the Fairy Bear waiting to enter. Hereward even carried his trick so far as to thrust the bear heavily against the bower door, making all the people within shriek and implore the protection of the saints. Finally, when he was tired of the jest, he convinced the valiant knights that they might emerge safely from their retirement, and showed how he, a stripling of seventeen, had slain the monster at one blow. From that time Hereward was the darling of the whole castle, petted, praised, beloved by all its inmates, except his jealous rivals.

Hereward Leaves Northumbria

The foreign knights grew so jealous of the Saxon youth, and so restive under his shafts of sarcastic ridicule, that they planned several times to kill him, and once or twice nearly succeeded. This insecurity, and a feeling that perhaps Earl Siward had some kinship with the Fairy Bear, and would wish to avenge his death, made Hereward decide to quit Gilbert’s castle. The spirit of adventure was strong upon him, the sea seemed to call him; now that he had been acknowledged superior to the other noble youths in Gilbert’s household, the castle no longer afforded a field for his ambition. Accordingly he took a sad leave of Alftruda, an [Pg 343] affectionate one of Sir Gilbert, who wished to knight him for his brave deed, and a mocking one of his angry and unsuccessful foes.

Hereward in Cornwall

Entering into a merchant-ship, he sailed for Cornwall, and there was taken to the court of King Alef, a petty British chief, who, on true patriarchal lines, disposed of his children as he would, and had betrothed his fair daughter to a terrible Pictish giant, breaking off, in order to do it, her troth-plight with Prince Sigtryg of Waterford, son of a Danish king in Ireland. Hereward was ever chivalrous, and little Alftruda had made him feel pitiful to all maidens. Seeing speedily how the princess loathed her new betrothed, a hideous, misshapen wretch, nearly eight feet high, he determined to slay him. With great deliberation he picked a quarrel with the giant, and killed him the next day in fair fight; but King Alef was driven by the threats of the vengeful Pictish tribe to throw Hereward and his man Martin into prison, promising trial and punishment on the morrow.


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