Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 149

[Pg 263] though she feared to let him leave her, a distant sound of bagpipes was heard, and the lady remembered that the Baron MacCorquodale would be coming for his wedding, which she had entirely forgotten in her joy. She laughed lightly to herself, and, beckoning a clansman, bade him go and tell the Baron that she would take no new husband, since her old one had come back to her, and that there would be questions to be answered when time served. The Baron MacCorquodale, in his wedding finery, with a great party of henchmen and vassals and pipers blowing a wedding march, had reached the mouth of the river which enters the side of Loch Awe; the party had crossed the river, and were ready to take boat across to the Islet, when they saw a solitary man rowing towards them with all speed. “It is some messenger from my lady,” said the Baron, and he waited eagerly to hear the message. With dreadful consternation he listened to the unexpected words as the clansman delivered them, and then bade the pipers cease their music. “We must return; there will be no wedding to-day, since Black Colin is home again,” quoth he; and the crestfallen party retraced their steps, quickening them more and more as they thought of the vengeance of the long-lost chieftain; but they reached their home in safety.

Castle Kilchurn

In the meantime Colin had much to tell his wife of his adventures, and to ask her of her life all these years. They told each other all, and Colin saw the false letter that had been sent to the Lady of Loch Awe, and guessed who had plotted this deceit. His anger grew against the bad man who had wrought this wrong and had so nearly gained his end, and he vowed that he would make the Baron dearly abide it. His wife calmed his [Pg 264] fury somewhat by telling him how she had waited even beyond the seven years, and what stratagem she had used, and at last he promised not to make war on the Baron, but to punish him in other ways.

“Tell me what you have done with the rents of Glenurchy these seven years,” said he. Then the happy wife replied: “With part I have lived, with part I have guarded the glen, and with part have I made a cairn of stones at the head of Loch Awe. Will you come with me and see it?” And Colin went, deeply puzzled. When they came to the head of Loch Awe, there stood the new castle, on the site of the old house of the MacGregors; and the proud wife laughed as she said: “Do you like my cairn of stones? It has taken long to build.” Black Colin was much pleased with the beautiful castle she had raised for him, and renamed it Kilchurn Castle, which title it still keeps. True to his vow, he took no bloody vengeance on the Baron MacCorquodale, but when a few years after he fell into his power the Knight of Loch Awe forced him to resign a great part of his lands to be united with those of Glenurchy.

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THE heroes of chivalry, from Roland the noble paladin to Spenser’s Red-Cross Knight, have many virtues to uphold, and their characteristics are as varied as are the races which adopted chivalry and embodied it in their hero-myths. It is a far cry from the loyalty of Roland, in which love for his emperor is the predominant characteristic, to the tender and graceful reverence of Sir Calidore; but mediæval Wales, which has preserved the Arthurian legend most free from alien admixture, had a knight of courtesy quite equal to Sir Calidore. Courage was one quality on the possession of which these mediæval knights never prided themselves, because they could not imagine life without courage, but gentle courtesy was, unhappily, rare, and many a heroic legend is spoilt by the insolence of the hero to people of lower rank. Again, the legends often look lightly on the ill-treatment of maidens; yet the true hero is one who is never tempted to injure a defenceless woman. Similarly, a broken oath to a heathen or mere churl is excused as a trifling matter, but the ideal hero sweareth and breaketh not, though it be to his own hindrance.

Sir Gawayne

The true Knight of Courtesy is Sir Gawayne, King Arthur’s nephew, who in many ways overshadows his more illustrious uncle. It is remarkable that the King Arthur of the mediæval romances is either a mere ordinary conqueror or a secondary figure set in the background to heighten the achievements of his more warlike followers. The latter is the conception of [Pg 266] Arthur which we find in this legend of the gentle and courteous Sir Gawayne.

King Arthur Keeps Christmas

One year the noble King Arthur was keeping his Christmas at Carlisle with great pomp and state. By his side sat his lovely Queen Guenever, the brightest and most beauteous bride that a king ever wedded, and about him were gathered the Knights of the Round Table. Never had a king assembled so goodly a company of valiant warriors as now sat in due order at the Round Table in the great hall of Carlisle Castle, and King Arthur’s heart was filled with pride as he looked on his heroes. There sat Sir Lancelot, not yet the betrayer of his lord’s honour and happiness, with Sir Bors and Sir Banier, there Sir Bedivere, loyal to King Arthur till death, there surly Sir Kay, the churlish steward of the king’s household, and King Arthur’s nephews, the young and gallant Sir Gareth, the gentle and courteous Sir Gawayne, and the false, gloomy Sir Mordred, who wrought King Arthur’s overthrow. The knights and ladies were ranged in their fitting degrees and ranks, the servants and pages waited and carved and filled the golden goblets, and the minstrels sang to their harps lays of heroes of the olden time.