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Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 192

Hereward Released from Prison

To the young Saxon’s surprise, the released princess appeared to be as grieved and as revengeful as any follower of the Pictish giant, and she not only advocated prison and death the next day, but herself superintended the tying of the thongs that bound the two strangers. When they were left to their lonely confinement Hereward began to blame the princess for hypocrisy, and to protest the impossibility of a man’s ever knowing what a woman wants. “Who would have thought,” he cried, “that that beautiful maiden loved a giant so hideous as this Pict? Had I known, I would never have fought [Pg 344] him, but her eyes said to me, ‘Kill him,’ and I have done so; this is how she rewards me!” “No,” replied Martin, “this is how”; and he cut Hereward’s bonds, laughing silently to himself. “Master, you were so indignant with the lady that you could not make allowances for her. I knew that she must pretend to grieve, for her father’s sake, and when she came to test our bonds I was sure of it, for as she fingered a knot she slipped a knife into my hands, and bade me use it. Now we are free from our bonds, and must try to escape from our prison.”

The Princess Visits the Captives

In vain, however, the master and man ranged round the room in which they were confined; it was a tiny chapel, with walls and doors of great thickness, and violently as Hereward exerted himself, he could make no impression on either walls or door, and, sitting sullenly down on the altar steps, he asked Martin what good was freedom from bonds in a secure prison. “Much, every way,” replied the servant; “at least we die with free hands; and I, for my part, am content to trust that the princess has some good plan, if we will only be ready.” While he was speaking they heard footsteps just outside the door, and the sound of a key being inserted into the lock. Hereward beckoned silently to Martin, and the two stood ready, one at each side of the door, to make a dash for freedom, and Martin was prepared to slay any who should hinder. To their great surprise, the princess entered, accompanied by an old priest bearing a lantern, which he set down on the altar step, and then the princess turned to Hereward, crying, “Pardon me, my deliverer!” The Saxon was still aggrieved and bewildered, and replied: “Do you now say ‘deliverer’? This afternoon [Pg 345] it was ‘murderer, villain, cut-throat.’ How shall I know which is your real mind?” The princess almost laughed as she said: “How stupid men are! What could I do but pretend to hate you, since otherwise the Picts would have slain you then and us all afterwards, but I claimed you as my victims, and you have been given to me. How else could I have come here to-night? Now tell me, if I set you free will you swear to carry a message for me?”


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