Gilbert's King Arthur's Knights

VII. HOW SIR OWEN WON THE EARLDOM OF THE FOUNTAIN

   Now the young page Owen, who had saved King Arthur from midnight murder at the hand of the evil Sir Turquine, whom Lancelot slew, had tarried at the court of the king, and in prowess and knightly achievements was among the most famous of the knights of the Round Table. And always was he wishful to go on strange adventures, however far might be the country, or dangerous the ways thereto, or cruel and crafty the foes.
   One day King Arthur was at Caerleon-upon-Usk, and sat conversing with a few of his knights in the presence-chamber. With him was Sir Owen and Sir Kay, and there was also Sir Conan and Sir Bedevere. The queen sat near them, while her handmaidens stood by the window at needlework.
   In a little while Arthur said he would sleep until the horns sounded for dinner. For he had come from London late the night before, and had not had his full rest.
   "But," said he, "do you, my knights, continue your talk, and tell each other tales as before, and if you are hungry, Kay will give you collops of meat and horns of mead."
   So the king slept on his broad seat of green rushes, over which was spread a splendid covering of flame-coloured satin. And cushions of red satin were under his head.
   Kay ordered a page to bring meat and bread and mead, and when the four had eaten, Sir Conan was called upon to tell how he became possessed of a dark bay palfrey, as to which all envied him for its beauty, but concerning which he always put off telling the tale of how he had obtained it.
   "You must know," began Sir Conan, "that I was the only son of my parents, and the confines of my father's barony in Lothian were too small for my aspiring and my daring. I thought there was no adventure in the world too great for my doing, and I equipped myself in my best armour and set forth to seek greater adventures in deserts and wild regions. And I fared south for many weeks, over desolate mountains and wild and terrible fastnesses of rock and moor, where only the robber seemed to Eve, and the wild, magic people of the green mounds, and where there was no sound but the growl of the brown bear from the rock, and the howl of the wolf at night.
   "And I fared through all these terrors unscathed, and one day I came to a high ridge, and saw stretching below me the fairest valley I had ever seen. The grass was green and smooth, the trees were soft and of an equal growth; and a river ran gently through the dale, with a path beside it.
   "I followed the path all day until the evening, but met no one, until, as the afternoon was waning, I came suddenly upon a large and massive castle, which shone in the westering sun. And I approached the green before the gateway, and saw two youths with curling auburn hair, clad richly in garments of yellow satin, with front-lets of gold upon their forehead. And they had daggers with jewelled hilts, and these they were shooting at a mark.
   "And on a bench a little way from them was a handsome man in the prime of life, of a proud look, clad in a rich mantle.
   "I went forward and saluted him, and he returned my greeting with great courtesy. And, rising, he led me into the hall, which, however, was but poorly furnished. And I wondered that the knight and the youths should be so richly clothed, while the hall was scanty.
   "Six maidens came forward, and while three took my horse, the others unarmed me, and gave me water wherein to wash, and a dining-robe to put on. And the six maidens were fairer than any I had ever seen. Then we sat down when the meat was ready, and though is the food was good, it was simple, and the vessels and flagons upon the table were of silver, but very old and dented, as if they had been long in use.
   "And no word was spoken until the meal was ended, and then the knight asked me my name and whither I was going.
   "I told him my name, and he told me his. And he was, he said, Sir Dewin of Castle Cower. And I told that I was faring south seeking any great adventure.
   "At that he looked upon me and smiled.
   "'If I did not fear to distress you too much,' he said, 'I would show you what you seek!'
   "'Tell me' I said, 'for I am eager to obtain this adventure.'
   "'Sleep here to-night,' said Sir Dewin, 'and in the morning rise early, and take the road to the wood behind fountain the castle. Follow the path till you come to a in a glade. There you will see a large cup, with a chain. Strike the cup with your lance, and you will have the adventure ye desire.'
   Before dawn I arose and equipped myself, and mounted my horse, and took my way to the wood, as Sir Dewin had told me. And the road was long and difficult; but at length I came to the glade and found the fountain. On a stone pillar beside it a chain was fastened, and at the end of the chain was a large cup.
   "With my lance I struck the cup, and instantly there was a great peal of thunder, so that I trembled for fear. And instantly there came a great storm of rain and of hail. The hailstones were so large and so hard that neither man nor beast could live through that storm, for they would have slain them, so fiercely did they beat. And the way that I escaped was this. I placed the beak of my shield over the head and neck of my horse, while I held the upper part over my own head. Thus did we withstand the storm, though the flanks of my horse were sore wounded.
   "Then the sky cleared, the sun came out, and a flock of birds began to sing on a tree beside the fountain. And surely no one has heard such entrancing music before or since. So charmed was I with listening, that I noticed not at first a low rumbling which seemed to come nearer and nearer.
   "And suddenly I heard a voice approaching me, and I looked round just as a big knight in sky-blue armour rode swiftly up the valley.
   "He came at me furiously. I put my lance in rest and spurred towards him, and we came together with so great an onset that I was carried far beyond the crupper of my horse.
   "Then the knight, taking no further notice of me, passed the shaft of his lance through the bridle of my horse, and so rode swiftly away. And it moved me to anger to think he despised me so much as not even to despoil me of my sword.
   "Very depressed of spirit was I as I took my way back to the castle of Sir Dewin.
   "I reached the castle, and well entertained was I, and rested for the remainder of that day. And full of courtesy was Sir Dewin and his household, for none of them referred to my encounter, and to the fact that I had come back without a horse. And when I rose next day, there was a dark bay palfrey, ready saddled, waiting in the courtyard for me. That horse I still possess, though the sight of him ever brings back the memory of my defeat.
   "Verily it seems strange to me that neither before nor since have I ever heard of any person besides myself who knew of this adventure, and that the subject of it should exist within the bounds of the lands of King Arthur, without any other person lighting upon it."
   "It would be well indeed," said Sir Owen, "to go to try to discover that valley and that fountain."
   "Well, indeed," said Sir Kay sourly, for he had ever been jealous of Sir Owen, even when he had been but a page, "if thy mouth were not more ready to say more than thou ever carest to do."
   "Thou art worthy of punishment, Sir Kay," said Gwenevere sharply, "in that thou speakest thus of a man so tried in prowess and brave deeds as Owen."
   "Fair lady," said Sir Owen, laughing, "we take no heed of Kay's raw words. He ever growls like a surly dog."
   At that the king awoke, and asked whether it was not time for meat. And the horn was sounded, and men came in from the tilting-ground and the play-field, and washed, and the king and all his household sat down to dinner.
   On the morrow, before dawn, Sir Owen rose privily, and put on his armour and took his horse, and rode out of the town, and for many days rode over mountains, until he saw the sea like a sheet of burnished lead lying on his left hand.
   Then he turned his horse's head away, and rode far through wild and distant places, into the heart of the land. And at length he arrived at the valley which Conan had described to him, whereat he rejoiced greatly.
   He descended to the path beside the river and journeyed along it till he came to the castle of Sir Dewin, as Conan had described. And the two youths were on the green before the gate wrestling together, and the tall knight of proud mien was standing by. To Owen it seemed that he was fiercer and prouder-looking than Conan had described. Nevertheless, he returned the salute of Sir Owen courteously and led him into the castle.
   Sir Owen was entertained as well as Conan had been, though the hall seemed poorer, the food coarser, and the maidens seemed careworn, and not so fair as his friend had described. After the meal Sir Dewin asked Sir Owen who he was and whither he wended, and Sir Owen replied:
   "I have heard of the Knight of the Fountain, and I would fight him and overcome him, if I may."
   Whereat Sir Dewin looked at him with keen fierce eyes, and observed narrowly the build of Sir Owen's body.
   "Knowest thou aught of the prize if thou slayest the Knight of the Fountain?" asked Sir Dewin.
   "Naught know I of that," answered Sir Owen; "but I would seek the adventure, and whatever it will bring."
   At this the knight was silent, and seemed to brood for some moments, with dark and frowning brows. Then he laughed and said:
   "Take thou the path thou seest through the wood behind the castle. Follow that till thou comest to a glade wherein is a great mound. There ye will see a stone slab. Knock on that three times, and the troll-man that dwells therein will tell thee thy further way."
   Sir Owen marked how evil was the smile with which Sir Dewin said these words; but Sir Owen thanked him, and then he was shown to his pallet and all retired to rest.
   When he arose in the morning Sir Owen found his horse already prepared, and, having put on his armour, he rode the way which the knight had indicated to him. And he came at last to the glade wherein he saw the great mound, with grass growing all over it, as if it were a little hill. In the side he saw a stone slab as if it were a door, and he struck upon it with the butt of his lance.
   Three times he struck, and at the third blow he heard a voice, rough and loud, from somewhere above his head.
   "Get thee gone," cried the voice; "darken not the door of my house, or 'twill be worse for thee."
   Sir Owen could not see who was speaking, for no one was visible.
   "I would ask thee the way to the fountain," he replied. "Tell me, and I will not trouble thee further, thou surly troll."
   "The fountain?" cried the voice. "I will save thee thy journey, thou overbearing knight, as I have saved it for others as proud and as would-be valiant, whom my master hath sent to me!"
   With that Sir Owen received so hard and fierce a blow upon his headpiece that he was hard put to it to keep his wits and his seat; and looking round he saw the troll, a fierce dark little man, on the very top of the mound, wielding a long thick bar of iron, as thick as a weaver's beam.
   Sir Owen thrust at the troll with his lance; but the moundman seized it below the point of steel, and so strong was he, that though Sir Owen drew him down from the top of the hillock, he could not loose it from the little man's hold.
   Meanwhile the troll was beating at Sir Owen with the staff of iron, which, for all its weight and size, he wielded as if it was no more than a stout cudgel. And hard bestead was Sir Owen to shield himself from the smashing blows which rained upon him. At the seventh blow his shield was cracked across and his shield arm was numbed.
   Suddenly he dashed his horse forward, and the little man, still holding the lance, was thrown backward upon the grassy slope of his own mound. SwiftIy Sir Owen leaped from his horse and drew his sword, and while the troll was rising he dashed at him and wounded him.
   But next moment the troll was up, his dark narrow face terrible with rage, for the blood ran down the deer-skin tunic which half-covered him. And then the blows of his iron rod came thicker and faster, while he moved so swiftly round about the knight that Sir Owen, though he thrust quickly and fiercely, could not strike him again.
   Sir Owen was becoming dizzy and weak, and felt that not for long now could he bear up his dented and broken shield against the blows that must at length smash his arm.
   Suddenly the quick movements of the little troll ceased, and he staggered. Then he dropped the iron bar and swayed like a drunken man towards the knight. He fell on his knees before Sir Owen, put his head upon the ground, and clutched the knight's steel-clad foot as if to put it upon his neck. But he could do no more, and so lay panting and spent with exhaustion.
   And Sir Owen could not find it in himself to pierce him through with his sword, for the troll's subjection made pity come into his heart.
   "Ah, sir troll!" said the knight, panting also, and very fain to rest. "A brave troll thou art, seeing thou hast used no magic, but hath fought me like a very man."
   "Chieftain," gasped the troll, "my heart is like to break, for thou hast tried me sore. Never yet hath a knight that sought the fountain withstood my rod as valiantly as thou hast, and thou hast put my strength all to naught."
   "But I know not why thou didst try to slay me," said Sir Owen, "seeing that I did but ask thee to show me my way to the fountain."
   "I am the slave of him that overcometh me," answered the troll, "and I must do his bidding. Sir Dewin did conquer me by evil wizardry, and he sent thee to me with the three knocks on my door, whereby I knew he commanded me to slay thee."
   "Well, and what wilt thou do now, valiant troll?"
   "I must hide me from the wrath of Sir Dewin," said the troll, "until my sore wound is healed. Then will I be thy slave, sir knight, and help thee in whatever adventure thou mayst wish!"
   "Get thee gone, then, good troll," said Sir Owen, with a smile. "But first tell me my way to the fountain."
   Whereupon the troll showed him the way and gave him certain directions, and then said:
   "Chieftain, thou wilt conquer in all thy fighting, and great honour and reward shall be thine. But beware thee of leaving the side of her that shall love thee, for more than a night and a day, or long woe shall find thee. And do thou take this, for it may find thee friends."
   And the troll, whose name was Decet, held towards him a blue stone upon a silver string. The stone burned with the dazzling blue of the lightning flash, when the light caught it.
   Sir Owen thanked him, put the string about his neck, and stood watching the troll as he limped, faint and wounded, into the mound that was his home.
   Then, picking up his lance, Sir Owen mounted his horse, and rode forward through the wood, thinking of this strange adventure.
   When he reached the fountain, where a silver cup hung by a silver chain, he filled the cup with water, as the troll had bidden him, and threw it over a pillar of stone that was set beside the fountain. And instantly there came a clap of thunder as if the earth would dash asunder, and after the thunder came the shower, and so fierce and heavy were the hailstones that they would surely have slain horse and rider, but that Sir Owen, as the troll had bidden him, had put his horse's forefeet in the fountain, and kept his own hand therein, whereby the hail-stones became thin rain before they touched him.
   Then the sky became bright, and the flock of birds descended on the tree and began to sing. But Sir Owen heeded them not, but mounted his horse, dressed his shield and lance, and prepared for the combat.
   There came a mourning cry through the wood, and a sky-blue knight on a high-stepping destrier dashed through the trees towards Sir Owen, and came against him, lance in rest. Whereupon Sir Owen put spurs to his horse, and furiously rode against the knight. At the first onset each broke his lance; whereat they drew their swords and lashed at each other most fiercely.
   Sir Owen feinted, and then, quickly recovering, he smote the other so hard and stern a blow that the blade bit through headpiece, skin and bone, until it wounded the brain itself.
   Then, with a great cry, the blue knight wheeled his horse and fled, with Sir Owen in pursuit. But the other knight's horse was fleeter, and Sir Owen could not over-take him, though he kept within a few yards.
   In a little while a great castle, resplendent with new stone, shone before them. The wounded knight thundered across the drawbridge, with Owen close behind him; but when the blue knight gained the street beyond, the portcullis was let fall with a rush. Sir Owen fell from his horse, and looking round he found that the horse had been cut in twain by the gate.
   So that Sir Owen found himself, with the forepart of the dead horse, in a prison between the two gates, while the hinder part of the horse was outside. And Sir Owen saw that his death must be very near, for already he saw one of the soldiers who were guarding the gate ran after the knight to the castle, as if for orders to slay him.
   Looking through the inner gate, he saw a narrow street facing him, with booths and little houses an each side; and coming towards him he beheld a maiden, small but beautiful, with black curling hair and a circlet of gold upon her forehead; and she was of high rank, for she wore a dress of yellow satin, and on her feet were shoes of speckled leather.
   She stopped when but a few steps from the gate where the soldiers stood watching Sir Owen; and he saw that her eyes were bent fixedly upon the blue stone which lay on the knight's breast. And he saw that, in the darkness of his prison, it shone with a fierce blue flame.
   He looked up and saw the maiden's eyes bent on his, and he seemed to hear the voice of the maiden speaking to him, as clearly as if she stood beside him. In these words she spoke:
   "Take that stone which is on thy breast, and hold it tightly in the palm of one hand. And as thou concealest it so will it conceal thee. Thus wilt thou be able to pass unseen between the bars of the portcullis. And I will wait for thee on the horse-block yonder, and thou wilt be able to see me, though I cannot see thee. Therefore, come and place thy hand on my shoulder, and I shall know that thou art come. And then thou must accompany me to the place where I shall hide thee."
   He saw the maiden turn away and go up the street, and Sir Owen did as the voice had bidden him. And looking down he saw nothing of himself, although he could see the soldiers looking in, and he saw the surprise and then the horror on their faces, as they realized that they had seen him spirited away before their eyes.
   Sir Owen passed between them and rejoined the maiden, as she had bidden him. He went with her, still invisible, and she led him to a small house, and in it was a large and beautiful chamber, all painted with gorgeous colours, and well furnished. And there she gave him food, and he rested securely until late in the afternoon.
   Then, as he looked out of the window upon the wall of the castle, which towered dark and high above him, he heard a clamour and sounds of a mourning coming from it. He asked the maiden the cause of it.
   "They are administering extreme unction to the Lord Cadoc who owns the castle, for he hath been wounded."
   "And who art thou, that thou shouldst save me who am a stranger?" he asked of the maiden.
   "My name is Elined," said the maiden, "and since thou bearest the Blue Stone of the Little Folk, I must aid thee all I can."
   At that time she would tell him no more, but shortly left him to his rest, saying she would come to attend upon him again at the dawning.
   In the silence and darkness of the night Sir Owen awoke by reason of a woeful outcry and lamenting; and then he knew that Earl Cadoc, the Knight of the Fountain, was dead from the wound he had given him.
   Soon after dawn he arose and clothed himself; and looking out of the window he saw the streets filled with a great host of people in black, and the weeping and the mourning weie pitiful to hear. Knights, with their armour craped, rode in great companies before; then came the men-at-arms with weapons reversed; then the ladies of the household, and after these the priests came, and in their midst was the bier.
   Last of all there came a lady walking behind the bier. And though her face was stained with the many tears she had shed, and was pale with sorrow, Sir Owen thought be had never seen so beautiful a lady, or one so gentle and kind of mien.
   Deeply he sorrowed because he had caused the death of her lord, inasmuch as it had given her such grief.
   Her hair, yellow and long and curled, hung dishevelled about her shoulders, and her dress of rich yellow satin was torn, and across it was a wide sash of black velvet. And it was a marvel that she could see how to walk, for the tears filled her eyes.
   Sir Owen could not take his gaze from her, and love and pity for her filled his mind.
   When the procession had passed out of the town the maiden Elined came into the room, and Sir Owen asked her eagerly who was the lady he had seen.
   "Heaven is my witness," replied Elined, "but she is the fairest and the sweetest and the most noble of women. She is my beloved mistress, and her name is Carol, and she is Countess of the Fountain, the widow of him thou didst slay yesterday.
   "I sorrow for that," said Owen, "for I have seen her grief. But, verily, she is the woman that I love best. And if my hand hath wounded her grievously, my arm would more willingly protect her."
   "Indeed, thou art brave and bold, sir knight," said the maiden, "and much may you win, if you are as faithful in your service and devotion to her as you have been in the service of your king, the great Arthur."
   And when it had passed midday, Elined said to Sir Owen:
   "You must keep this chamber while I go and woo for thee. Stir not out into the city lest ill befall thee."
   Elined went to the castle and found all was in confusion, with mourning and lamentation. Her mistress she found sitting listlessly looking from the window with pale sorrow on her face; and to Elined's greeting she would respond not.
   "It astounds me," said Elined at length, "to find you giving yourself up to unavailing sorrow in this way."
   "It astounds me also," said the countess reproachfully, "that in my time of trouble and affliction you, whom I have enriched and favoured beyond all my hand-maidens, should desert me. If I did not love thee, I should order thee to be executed."
   "It was for thy advantage that I was absent," said Elined. "I reproached not thy grief when thy lord lay dying, but now you have yourself to think of. Yet you seem more willing to live with the dead than to take heed what may happen to yourself in a few hours. I would have thee remember that a live dog is better than a dead lion."
   "Hence from my sight, unfeeling girl!" cried the countess in anger. "There is no one in the world to compare with in dead lord in beauty, in strength, and in prowess. Get thee gone!"
   Without a word Elined turned and went from the room. But she not gone far before she heard the countess coughing behind her, and on looking back her mistress beckoned to her.
   "You are indeed hard-hearted, Elined," said she, "to think to leave me in my grief, and in my need of good counsel. I will overlook thy cruelty if, as you say, you have been absent for my advantage. What mean you by that?"
   "This is my meaning," said Elined. "Thou knowest that without a man of knightly prowess and bravery, thou canst not hope to guard the fountain and keep these wide dominions in the power of thyself. Thou art the prey and booty of any bold bandit lord that chooses to make war upon thee, and to capture and wed thee. And dost thou forget the wiles and treachery of thy old lover whom thou hast flouted, Sir Dewin of Castle Cower? Hath he not sworn to take thee and thy kingdom, sooner or later, by fair means or by foul? Therefore it behoves thee at once to find a noble and generous knight, courtly and worshipful, who will guard thee and love thee, and hold down the turbulent lords, thy vassals and thy neighbours."
   "Hard will such a task be," sighed the countess, "for the Earl Cadoc was a man among men."
   "Yet I will wager to find thee such another, even excelling him in knightly prowess, in beauty of person, and for love and devotion to thee more than his equal," replied Elined, who remembered that the dead earl had not been over tender to his gentle countess on many occasions.
   "And where couldst thou find this paragon?" said the countess, flushing a little at the reminder of her late lord's neglect.
   "At the court of King Arthur," replied Elined; "for there are to be found the peerless knights of the world, men of their knightly words, and devoted to love and war."
   "If it be that I must think of wedding again so soon," sighed the countess, "go then to King Arthur, and find me such a knight. But let him be gentle as well as brave, with fine and courtly manners - a man, indeed, whom I can really love."
   Elined went and kissed the flushing cheek of her mistress.
   "Trust me for that," said she gently. "I would do that as much for myself as for thee, my dear Carol. For did it not often go to my heart to see thee pine for gentle speech and affection, and sorrow at the harsh words thou didst suffer? I will set forth at once to Caerleon, and him that I bring shall be worthy of thee. And all others that may come and woo thee, do thou keep at arm's length until I return."
   Elined departed from the castle, but she did not go beyond the town. It was in her mind to lie hidden for as long a time as it would take her to go to Caerleon and return therefrom. Meanwhile, going about disguised, she would be able to see what the many lords were doing who would essay to woo the countess, seeing that, lovely and rich as she was, she would be a splendid prize.
   And things happened as she had foreseen. Every day there came inio the town one cavalcade or more, with some baron or earl in flashing armour at the head of his vassals, come to try his fortune and to win the lovely Countess of the Fountain, and to possess her wide dominions.
   Daily the countess was compelled to receive fresh comers in audience, and while with deft excuses she kept each at arm's length, they crowded her audience-chamber, proud and insolent, humble or crafty, eyeing each other with high looks, each prepared to slay his rival if the need arose.
   At last there came an earl who, as he came up the street at the head of a large company of knights, seemed to shine like the sun. For his armour was all of gold, and jewels were about his neck, and on his girdle and his wrists. Every toss of his destrier's head dazzled the eyes with the fountain of flashing lights given off by the jewels which adorned the cloth of gold about its head.
   This knight called himself the Earl of Drood, but Elined was in the crowd of gaping townspeople that saw him enter, and she knew him for the old insolent lover of her mistress, whom the countess had ever despised, Sir Dewin of Castle Cower.
   Sir Dewin disguised himself so that the countess did not know him. She received him in audience, and though she was startled by the magnificence of his dress, and a little moved by the gentleness of his manner, she felt that she feared and distrusted him.
   The next day he craved to see her again, and then said:
   "Fair and noble lady, so deeply doth thy beauty move me, that I am eager to put to the test swiftly the question whether I or some other happier knight among these noble gentlemen shall obtain thy hand. Therefore I crave permission of thee to proclaim a joust between all these knights that sue for thee, and the winner among them all shall be he that thou shalt wed."
   "Sir," said the countess with great dignity, "it is not for thee to order here, but for me. I wish nothing to be done for the space of nine days, and then will I make my choice."
   At which Sir Dewin, though full of rage, must needs seem content. And the countess hoped that, in the space she had named, Elined would have returned with the knight of her choice, and she herself could choose him for her lord, if she thought he was the man whom she could most trust and love.
   But Sir Dewin wrought upon many of the suitors who were of his mind, and they resolved that, will she, nill she, the countess must needs abide by a contest between all her wooers to be holden on the tenth day.
   And on the tenth day all the knights, barons , and earls met together in full armour in a broad green jousting-place beneath the windows of the countess, and having made the rules of contest, and committed them to the seneschal of the countess, they prepared to prove which among them all was the knight of most prowess.
   Then there was fierce hurtling to and fro of knight against knight, and lances splintered, horses reared, knights fell wounded or dead, and were dragged away. And for long, among the ninety-nine knights that there jousted, none of the crowds who looked on could see which we they who were gaining the day.
   From her window the countess watched with a sorrowing and dreading heart; for Elined had not yet returned, and therefore the countess must be the prize of one of these suitors who had pestered her, and none of whom she cared for.
   Then, when the dust of the jousting had a little cleared, and the knights had withdrawn to the sides of the lists, to breathe and rest awhile, it was seen that twelve remained of the ninety-nine.
   Then the knights hurtled together again, and as one after the other was unhorsed by stronger opponents and went from the field, she went pale with fear and anxiety.
   At last there were but two, and these were Sir Dewin, whom she knew as the Earl of Drood, and the other was a knight in blue armour, with a shield on which was painted a hillock or mound. And she knew him to be a man named Sir Daunt, or the Knight of the Mount, a man of fierce temper, quarrelsome and cruel.
   The countess could have swooned with terror, for she knew that now she was doomed to an unhappy life, whichever of these knights prevailed. For though the Earl of Drood was soft and gentle in speech and manner, she feared that this but covered a wicked heart.
   She could hardly bear to look as she heard these two, the last of all the ninety-nine, crash together in the midst of the jousting-ground. And she heard the cries of the onlookers.
   "The blue knight's the better man! How he heaves with his sword! Ah, the golden knight is down!"
   And looking from her window the countess saw the earl was lying wounded, and the Knight of the Mount stood over him. Then the earl surrendered and was carried the field.
   The great shouts that saluted the victor made the countess turn faint and sick with dread, so that she fell back among her handmaidens in a swoon. But, quickly recovering, she stood up, resolved to meet her fate with proud dignity.
   In a few moments the door opened and the arras was pushed aside, and the groom of the chambers announced with a shout:
   "The Knight of the Mound, victorious in the joust, craves leave to greet our lady the countess."
   The lady bowed assent, trembling in every limb. Then the groom stepped aside, and into the chamber came a comely gentleman, clad in purple tunic, rich with chains and jewelled belt.
   But it was not the knight whom the countess had expected, but a stranger, with a courtly and gentle manner and a winning smile.
   Then from behind him came Elined, full of smiles, with a look of triumph in her eyes.
   "My lady," she said, bowing low, "this is the knight, Sir Owen of Wales, from the court of King Arthur, whom I have brought to protect you and wed you. He hath just proved himself the doughtiest among hundred."
   The terror of the countess was changed instantly into joy, and she put forth her hand, and Sir Owen bent and kissed it, and she led him to the window seat, and commanded Elined to sit with them. And they spoke full joyously together, for the countess was much taken with the noble and gentle bearing of Sir Owen, and admired him because he had proved himself the best man of all her wooers.
   In a few days she sent for the bishops and priests, and her nuptials with Sir Owen were celebrated with such feasting that all the country was full of merriment and joy. And the men of the earldom came and did homage to Owen, and he became the Earl of the Fountain.
   In a little while thereafter Sir Owen told his lady that it was he who had chased the soul from the body of her former lord. But the countess was not vexed by the knowledge, for Sir Owen loved her greatly, and with all tenderness and honour, and never had the countess been so happy with Earl Cadoc as she was with Owen.
   Thereafter Earl Owen defended the fountain with lance and sword against all who ventured to challenge him in his earldom. And the knights who were thus conquered he held to ransom, and the money he thus obtained he divided equally among his barons and knights. Never had they had so generous a lord, nor one of such prowess and knightly worth. And all his subjects loved Earl Owen passing well.
   Thus for three years in all happiness and quiet did Owen and the countess dwell. Sir Dewin of Castle Cower had not power to hurt them, nor did any other evil light upon them.
   But at the end of this space, towards the close of a summer's day, Sir Owen, by the magic whereby it was made known to him, knew that there was a knight who challenged him at the fountain. So, putting on his sky-blue armour, he went forth and found the knight.
   They rushed together, and the strange knight was overthrown. But others who were with him took him away, and Sir Owen waited. But none other challenge was made, and in the twilight he retired, resolved to attend next day in case any others desired to challenge him.
   In the morning the same knight came forth from the company of knights which was among the trees about the fountain. And so fiercely did Sir Owen assault him that the head of his lance broke the helmet of the stranger and pierced the flesh to the bone. Again his companions carried him off.
   Then other knights came forth and had to do with Sir Owen, but all were overthrown. At length came one having over himself and his horse a rich satin robe of honour, and Sir Owen knew that he must be a man of prowess.
   They fought together that evening and half through the next day, but neither could obtain the mastery. And about noon they took still stronger lances and fought more stubbornly. At length they came so furiously together that the girths of their horses were broken and both were borne to the ground.
   They rose up speedily and drew their swords and resumed the combat; and all those that witnessed it felt that they had never seen such a battle of heroes before. And suddenly with a blow fiercely strong and swiftly keen, Sir Owen cut the fastenings of the strange knight's helrn, so that the headpiece came off.
   With a cry Sir Owen dropped his weapon, for he knew that this was Sir Gawaine, his cousin.
   "My Lord Gawaine," he said, "the robe of honour that covered thee prevented my knowing it was thee with whom I fought. Take my sword and my arms, for I yield me to thee."
   "Nay, Sir Owen," said Gawaine, "take thou mine, for I am at thy mercy."
   Then came forward King Arthur, and Sir Owen knew him and kneeled before him and kissed his hand, and then embraced him. And there was much joy between all the knights and Owen, for all had feared that he had been slain, and the king in despair had come upon this adventure to learn tidings of him.
   Then they all proceeded to the castle of the countess, and a great banquet was prepared, with joustings and hawking parties and games. They stayed three months in great happiness and diversion.
   At last, when King Arthur prepared to depart, he went to the countess and besought her to permit Owen to go with him for the space of three months, that he might renew his friendships at the court at Caerleon. And though it made the countess sorrowful to lose the man she loved best in all the world, she consented, and Owen promised to return even before the time appointed.
   So King Arthur returned to Caerleon with Sir Owen, and there was much feasting and diversion to welcome him. And his kindred and friends tried to make Owen forget the countess and his earldom, but they could not. For she was the lady he loved best in the world, and he would liefer be with her, to guard and cherish her, than in any other place on the surface of the earth.
   One night, as the court sat after dinner over the mead cups, a juggler came into the hall and performed many tricks, and there was much laughter and gaiety at his merry quips and jests. And he craved that he might search the hands of each lord and lady present, so that he could tell them if they would be happy in love.
   He began with Sir Kay, and so along the board, uttering merry thoughts on all, but speaking with serious and solemn looks, until he came to Sir Owen.
   And he looked long and earnestly at the marks in that knight's palm, and then said, in a croaking voice:
   "A night and a day, a night and a day!
   Thou'lt grieve for thy love for ever and aye."
   None knew what this might mean, and they marvelled to see how pale went the face of Sir Owen.
   For he had suddenly remembered the words of Decet the troll-man, who had said, "Beware thee of leaving the side of her that shall love thee for more than a night and a day, or long woe shall find thee."
   Instantly Sir Owen rose from the board and went out. Going to his own abode he made preparations, and at dawn he arose and mounted his horse, and set forth swiftly to go to the dominions of the countess. Great was his fear that some evil had befallen her in consequence of his leaving her unprotected from the evil powers of Sir Dewin.
   He rode hard and fast northwards through the wild and desolate mountains, until he saw the sea like burnished lead lying on his left hand.
   Then he turned his horse's head away and rode far into the deep heart of the land. But though he knew the way passing well, he could not find the road now, and wandered up and down the lonely moorlands and the dark forest rides, baffled and wearied, heartsick and full of dread.
   Thus he wandered, for ever seeking the way, and trying this one and that, until all his apparel was worn out, and his body was wasted away and his hair was grown long. And at length, from misery and hopelessness, he grew so weak that he thought that he must die.
   Then he descended slowly from the mountains, and thought to find a hermit, to whom he might tell all his misery before he died. But he could not find any harbourage, and so he crawled to a brook in a park, and sat there wondering why this evil fate had been visited upon him, and grieving that now his beloved countess must be in wretchedness and sorrow by reason of his forgetting, and that never more could he hope to see her and tell her how grieved he had been to cause her such pain.
   Then in a little while he swooned under the heat of the sun, from hunger and weakness, and lay half in and half out of the brook.
   It befell that a widowed lady, to whom the brook and the land belonged, came walking in the fields with her maids. And one of them saw the figure of Sir Owen, and, half fearful, she went up to him and found him faintly breathing.
   The widow lady had him taken into the farmstead of one of her tenants, and there he was tended carefully until he came again to his senses. And with the good care, meat, drink, and medicaments, he soon began to thrive again.
   He asked the man of the house who it was that had brought him there.
   "It was our Lady of the Moors," said the man sadly.
   And though she is herself in sore straits and narrowly bestead by a cruel and oppressive earl, who would rob her of these last few acres, yet she hath ever a tender heart for those in greater distress than herself."
   "It grieves me," said Sir Owen, "that the lady is oppressed by that felon earl. He should be hindered, and that sternly."
   "Ay," said the man, "he would cease his wrongful dealing if she would wed him, but she cannot abide the evil face of him."
   Ever and anon the Lady of the Moors sent one of her maidens to learn how the stranger was progressing, and the maiden came one day when Sir Owen was quite recovered, and she was greatly astounded to see how comely a man he was, and how straight and tall and knightly was his mien.
   As they sat talking, there came the jingle and clatter arms, and, looking forth, Sir Owen saw a large company of knights and men-at-arms pass down the road. And he inquired of the maiden who these were.
   "That is the Earl Arfog and his company," she said sadly. "And he goeth, as is his wont, to visit my mistress, and to insult her, and to treat her unmannerly, and to threaten that he will drive her from the one remaining roof-tree she possesses. And so will he and his knights sit eating and drinking till night, and great will be my lady's sorrow that she hath no one to protect her."
   They talked of other things for a while, and then said Sir Owen:
   "Hath thy mistress a suit of armour, and a destrier in her possession?"
   "She hath indeed, the best in the world," said the maiden, "for they belonged to her late husband, the Lord of the Moors."
   "Wilt thou go and get them for me for a loan?" he asked.
   "I will," said the maiden, and wondered what he would do with them.
   Before the day was passed there came a beautiful black steed, upon which was a beechen saddle, and a suit of armour, both for man and horse. And Owen armed himself, and when it was dark he went forth and stationed himself under a great oak, where none could see him.
   When the earl, elated with insolence and wine, came back that way, shouting and rolling in his saddle, Owen marked him as he rode. He dashed out at him, and so fiercely swift was he, and so heavy were his blows, that he had beaten to the earth those who were beside the earl, and the earl he had dragged from the saddle and laid him across his crupper, before the earl's companions were aware of what was done.
   As the countess sat in hall, sadly thinking how soon the craven earl would thrust her out of her home, there came the beat of hoofs, the great door of the manor swung open, and a tall knight in black armour strode in, thrusting another knight before him.
   "I am the stranger whom ye rescued from death, my lady," said Sir Owen, bowing, "and this is thy rascally enemy, the Earl Arfog. Look you, churl in armour," said Owen, shaking the other till every piece of steel upon him rattled, "if you do not instantly crave pardon humbly of this lady, and restore unto her everything you have robbed her of, I swear to you, by the name of the great Arthur, I will shear your head from your shoulders."
   In great terror the earl, who, since he oppressed women, was an abject coward, sank upon his knees and promised to restore all he had ever taken from the lady, as a ransom for his life; and for his freedom he would give her many rich farms and manors, and hostages as surety.
   Two more days Sir Owen stayed at the manor to see that these things were duly performed, and then he took his departure.
   "I would that you could stay with us," said the lady, who was sweet and gentle, with kindly eyes and a soft voice.
   "Lady, I may not," said Sir Owen. "I seek my dear wife and her dominions, and have been seeking them these many months. But I fear me some evil necromancy hath been reared against me, so that I may not find her again, and she must be in much sorrow and misery in my absence. And if I never see my lady in life again, yet must I seek for her until I die."
   "What is the name of your lady and of her dominions?" asked the lady.
   "She is the Lady Carol, Countess of the Fountain." answered Owen. "Do you know aught of her, and in which direction her lands lie?"
   The lady caused inquiries to be made, and her foresters said that the lady's lands of the Fountain lay fifteen leagues beyond the mountains, and that his way lay through the Wisht Wood, the Dead Valley, and the Hill of the Tower of Stone, and only a knight of great valour could hope to win through these places, which were the haunt of warlocks, wizards, and trolls, and full of magic, both black and white.
   Joyously Sir Owen mounted his horse, glad to learn that now he might hope to find his countess again, and the Lady of the Moors wished him God-speed, and looked after him long and earnestly till he disappeared into a forest.
   He journeyed three days through the Wisht Wood, and many were the dreadful things he saw and heard there, and great eyes, green and black and yellow, peered at him from the bushes as he sat over his fire at night. But he clasped the blue stone which the troll Decet had given him, and naught could hurt him.
   On the fourth day he descended into the Dead Valley. And here he was like to die, for the air was so thick, and filled with the poison of witches who haunted there at night, that if he had not ridden fiercely and fast through its deathly vapours, he could not have reached the slopes of the Hill of the Tower of Stone, where the air was pure and blew out of the clean sky.
   Long and toilsome and exceedingly steep was the way up the side of the mountain, and many times Sir Owen thought he would have to sink down for sheer weariness. And it was dark night before he reached level ground, and he could not see where he was or what place he was in.
   But having said his prayers, fed his horse, and eaten from the scrip which the Lady of the Moors had made up for him, he lay down beside a thick bush and slept soundly.
   Many were the terrible sounds that came from far below, where fierce witches and warlocks battled and tore each other in the Dead Valley; but Sir Owen was so overcome that he awoke not. And just as the morning broke, a great serpent issued from a rock near where he lay and crept towards him to slay him.
   Sir Owen still lay asleep, and the huge creature reared his head to strike. But at that moment a great brown bear, that had sat near Sir Owen through the night, leaped forward with a fierce growl, and gripped the serpent by the head. And the serpent hissed and writhed.
   With the noise of the struggle Sir Owen awoke, and marvelled to see the two animals closed in deadly combat. He drew his sword and slew the serpent, and having wiped his weapon, he went to his horse and led it forward.
   But the bear followed him and played about him, as if it was a greyhound that he had reared. And Sir Owen stopped and said:
   "This is a marvel, sir bear, that you would follow me gambolling, because I slew the serpent. Are ye so grateful, then, or is it that ye have been captive unto men, and are fain to see one in this desolate waste?"
   The bear gambolled as if pleased to hear him speak, and went on a little way and looked back as if to see that the knight was following. And when Sir Owen would go another way, the bear stamped his foot, so that at length, with a laugh, Sir Owen said he would follow the way he wished.
   Wild was that place and rocky, full of great boulders and with deep pits obscured by bushes. Full irksome was it to pass through, for besides the slipperiness of the way, the sun shone pitilessly down, and its heat was returned by the hard rocks. And there was no water.
   If the bear had not led him, Sir Owen would have missed his footing many times, and been hurled down one of the many chasms that yawned everywhere.
   At length Sir Owen became faint with hunger, and he dismounted and tethered his horse to a leafless thorn. Then he went and lay in the shadow of an enormous rock that reared up like a huge tower. And the bear looked at him for a little while and then disappeared.
   Sir Owen wondered sadly whether he should ever win through the perils that encompassed him and see again the lady whom he loved best in all the world. And weak with famine, he doubted whether he should not leave his bones to bleach beside the great rock.
   Then he looked, and saw the bear coming towards him, and it carried a roebuck, freshly slain, which it brought and laid at Sir Owen's feet. The knight sprang up with a glad cry, and struck fire with his flint, and the bear brought dried sticks, and soon a fire was blazing, and juicy collops were spluttering on skewers before the fire.
   When Sir Owen had finished eating, the bear seemed to wish him to follow him, and the bear led him to a brook in a little green patch, and there the knight quenched his thirst.
   By now it was twilight again, and Sir Owen made up the fire and prepared himself to slumber; and the bear lay down beside him and blinked at the fire like a great dog.
   The knight saw the sun far in the west dip beneath a cloud, and a cold wind blew across the waste. And then he heard a sigh from somewhere behind him, and then another and again a third. And the sound seemed to come from within the towering stone.
   He cried out, "If thou art a mortal, speak to me! But if thou art some evil thing of this waste, avaunt thee!"
   A voice, soft and sad, replied, "A mortal I am indeed, but soon shall I be dead, and as cold as the stone in which I am imprisoned, unless one man help me."
   The stone was so thick that the voices of both were muffled, so that neither recognized the other. Sir Owen asked who it was who spoke to him.
   "I am Elined, handmaiden to the Lady of the Fountain," was the reply.
   "Alas! Alas!" cried Sir Owen. "Then if thou art in so sore a pass, thou who wouldst guard my lady till thy death, surely my dear lady is in a worse pass? I am Owen, who won her in the jousts, and by evil fortune left her for more than a night and a day, and never have I been able to find my way back to my beloved lady. Tell me, damsel, what evil hath befallen her, and how I may avenge it instantly?"
   "Glad I am, Sir Owen," cried the maiden joyfully, "to hear thou art still in life, and that thou wert not faithless, as the evil Sir Dewin said thou wert. 'Twas his evil magic that changed the landscape as thou didst ride, and so hid the way from thee. Naught evil hath my lady suffered yet, nor never will now if thou canst save me this night. But he hath changed my brother, Decet of the Mound, into some monstrous shape, and me he hath chained within this stone. Yet for seventy-seven days my magic kept him from doing further ill to my lady and me; and that space ends this midnight. Therefore am I glad that the good fate hath led thee here. Now go thee and hide, until Sir Dewin and his two evil sons come. And when they would make a fire wbereon to burn me, do thou cut them down and burn them, for so shall all their evil power be stayed."
   Much as Sir Owen wished to ask how his countess had fared through the time of his absence, he stole away, after he had stamped out his fire.
   Towards midnight there came a great roaring wind, and a shower of hailstones, and thunder and lightning, and he saw three great black shapes descend from the sky. And he knew that these were the evil wizard knights, Sir Dewin and his two sons. They alighted upon the hill near the Tower of Stone, and took the shapes of men.
   Instantly they began to gather wood and to make a huge heap. And Sir Dewin made witchfire, and began to light the pile.
   Then Sir Owen crept up in the dark, and the bear went with him. And as the wizard bent to light the fire, Sir Owen raised his sword and chopped off the wizard's head, so that it hopped into the fire.
   The bear had gone behind the two sons and now he clawed them together, and though they struggled fiercely to get loose, the bear hugged them so tightly that they could not move. And Sir Owen slew them both with his sword.
   Then together they heaped the three evil warlocks on the fire and saw them burn. And when the last of them was consumed in the fierce heat of the fire, Sir Owen felt a hand seize his, and, turning, he marvelled to see Decet the Moundman smiling into his face.
   "Good luck hath been thy guide, sir knight," said the troll, "and thou hast released me from the evil dumb shape into which this wizard did change me. But all the happiness that hath been thine and shall be thine again, thou owest to thy constancy and thy devotion to the lady thou lovest best."
   "Glad am I, good troll, to see thee again," said Sir Owen, "and glad shall I be to see my dear lady again. Now let us release her faithful handmaiden, thy sister." With the master words which move the living rock, the troll caused the stone to open, and Elined stepped forth, exceeding glad to see Sir Owen and her brother again, and to feel the free air upon her cheeks.
   When it was morning they went on their way with great gladness. And when they reached the City of the Fountain, the countess could not speak for joy, and all her sadness fled, and in an hour her happiness was greater than her misery had been for all the months of her sorrow.
   The bells throughout the city were set ringing, and there was public rejoicing through the length and breadth of the land, for all were glad exceedingly that their dear lady was happy, and that their lord was come to his own again.
   Never again did Sir Owen leave his lady while she lived. Elined was advanced to the place of Chief Lady of the Household, while Decet was made Head Huntsman, because he loved the forest, and knew the ways of every bird and beast that lived therein.