Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 168

Fikenhild’s False Accusation

Fikenhild had listened to all their conversation with [Pg 300] growing envy and anger, and now he stole away silently, and met King Ailmar returning from the chase.

“‘King Ailmar,’ said the false one, ‘see, I bring
A needed warning, that thou guard thyself,
For Horn will take thy life; I heard him vow
To slay thee, or by sword or fire, this night.
If thou demand what cause of hate he has,
Know that the villain wooes thine only child,
Fair Rymenhild, and hopes to wear thy crown.
E’en now he tarries in the maiden’s bower,
As he has often done, and talks with her
With guileful tongue, and cunning show of love.
Unless thou banish him thou art not safe
In life or honour, for he knows no law.’”

The king at first refused to believe the envious knight’s report, but, going to Rymenhild’s bower, he found apparent confirmation, for Horn was comforting the princess, and promising to wed her when he should have done worthy feats of arms. The king’s wrath knew no bounds, and with words of harsh reproach he banished Horn at once, on pain of death. The young knight armed himself quickly and returned to bid farewell to his betrothed.

Horn’s Banishment

“Dear heart,” said he, “now thy dream has come true, and thy fish must needs break the net and be gone. The enemy whom I foreboded has wrought us woe. Farewell, mine own dear Rymenhild; I may no longer stay, but must wander in alien lands. If I do not return at the end of seven years take thyself a husband and tarry no longer for me. And now take me in your arms and kiss me, dear love, ere I go!” So they kissed each other and bade farewell, and Horn called to him his comrade Athulf, saying, “True and faithful friend, guard well my dear love. Thou hast [Pg 301] never forsaken me; now do thou keep Rymenhild for me.” Then he rode away, and, reaching the haven, hired a good ship and sailed for Ireland, where he took service with King Thurston, under the name of Cuthbert. In Ireland he became sworn brother to the king’s two sons, Harold and Berild, for they loved him from the first moment they saw him, and were in no way jealous of his beauty and valour.

Horn Slays the Giant Emir

When Christmas came, and King Thurston sat at the banquet with all his lords, at noontide a giant strode into the hall, bearing a message of defiance. He came from the Saracens, and challenged any three Irish knights to fight one Saracen champion. If the Irish won the pagans would withdraw from Ireland; if the Irish chiefs were slain the Saracens would hold the land. The combat was to be decided the next day at dawn. King Thurston accepted the challenge, and named Harold, Berild, and Cuthbert (as Horn was called) as the Christian champions, because they were the best warriors in Ireland; but Horn begged permission to speak, and said: “Sir King, it is not right that one man should fight against three, and one heathen hound think to resist three Christian warriors. I will fight and conquer him alone, for I could as easily slay three of them.” At last the king allowed Horn to attempt the combat alone, and spent the night in sorrowful musing on the result of the contest, while Horn slept well and arose and armed himself cheerily. He then aroused the king, and the Irish troop rode out to a fair and level green lawn, where they found the emir with many companions awaiting them. The combat began at once, and Horn gave blows so mighty that the pagan onlookers fell swooning through very fear, till Horn [Pg 302] said: “Now, knights, rest for a time, if it pleases you.” Then the Saracens spoke together, saying aloud that no man had ever so daunted them before except King Murry of Suddene.