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    Chapter 21

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    Chapter 21
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    * Amongst all the characters of early British history none is more
    interesting or occupies a more conspicuous place, than the hero of
    this tale. Urien, his father, was prince of Rheged, a district
    comprising the present Cumberland and part of the adjacent country.
    His valor and the consideration in which he was held are a frequent
    theme of Bardic song, and form the subject of several very spirited
    odes by Taliesin. Among the Triads there is one relating to him; it is
    thus translated:-
    "Three Knights of Battle were in the court of Arthur: Cadwr the Earl
    of Cornwall, Launcelot du Lac, and Owain the son of Urien. And this
    was their characteristic,- that they would not retreat from battle,
    neither for spear, nor for arrow, nor for sword. And Arthur never
    had shame in battle the day he saw their faces there. And they were
    called the Knights of Battle."

    "Now," quoth Owain, "would it not be well to go and endeavor to
    discover that place?"
    "By the hand of my friend," said Kay, "often dost thou utter that
    with thy tongue which thou wouldest not make good with thy deeds."
    "In very truth," said Guenever, "it were better thou wert hanged,
    Kay, than to use such uncourteous speech towards a man like Owain."
    "By the hand of my friend, good lady," said Kay; "thy praise of
    Owain is not greater than mine."
    With that Arthur awoke, and asked if he had not been sleeping a
    "Yes, lord," answered Owain, "thou hast slept awhile."
    "Is it time for us to go to meat?"
    "It is, lord," said Owain.
    Then the horn for washing was sounded, and the king and all his
    household sat down to eat. And when the meal was ended, Owain withdrew
    to his lodging, and made ready his horse and his arms.
    On the morrow with the dawn of day he put on his armor, and
    mounted his charger, and travelled through distant lands, and over
    desert mountains. And at length he arrived at the valley which Kynon
    had described to him, and he was certain that it was the same that
    he sought. And journeying along the valley, by the side of the
    river, he followed its course till he came to the plain, and within
    sight of the castle. When he approached the castle, he saw the
    youths shooting with their bows, in the place where Kynon had seen
    them, and the yellow man, to whom the castle belonged, standing hard
    by. And no sooner had Owain saluted the yellow man, than he was
    saluted by him in return.
    And he went forward towards the castle, and there he saw the
    chamber; and when he had entered the chamber, he beheld the maidens
    working at satin embroidery, in chains of gold. And their beauty and
    their comeliness seemed to Owain far greater than Kynon had
    represented to him. And they arose to wait upon Owain, as they had
    done to Kynon. And the meal which they set before him gave even more
    satisfaction to Owain than it had done to Kynon.
    About the middle of the repast the yellow man asked Owain the object
    of his journey. And Owain made it known to him, and said, "I am in
    quest of the knight who guards the fountain." Upon this the yellow man
    smiled, and said that he was as loath to point out that adventure to
    him as he had been to Kynon. However, he described the whole to Owain,
    and they retired to rest.
    The next morning Owain found his horse made ready for him by the
    damsels, and he set forward and came to the glade where the black
    man was. And the stature of the black man seemed more wonderful to
    Owain than it had done to Kynon; and Owain asked of him his road,
    and he showed it to him. And Owain followed the road till he came to
    the green tree; and he beheld the fountain, and the slab beside the
    fountain, and the bowl upon it. And Owain took the bowl and threw a
    bowlful of water upon the slab. And, lo! the thunder was heard, and
    after the thunder came the shower, more violent than Kynon had
    described, and after the shower the sky became bright. And immediately
    the birds came and settled upon the tree and sang. And when their song
    was most pleasing to Owain, he beheld a knight coming towards him
    through the valley; and he prepared to receive him, and encountered
    him violently. Having broken both their lances, they drew their swords
    and fought blade to blade. Then Owain struck the knight a blow through
    his helmet, head-piece, and visor, and through the skin, and the
    flesh, and the bone, until it wounded the very brain. Then the black
    knight felt that he had received a mortal wound, upon which he
    turned his horse's head and fled. And Owain pursued him, and
    followed close upon him, although he was not near enough to strike him
    with his sword. Then Owain descried a vast and resplendent castle; and
    they came to the castle gate. And the black knight was allowed to
    enter, and the portcullis was let fall upon Owain; and it struck his
    horse behind the saddle, and cut him in two, and carried away the
    rowels of the spurs that were upon Owain's heels. And the portcullis
    descended to the floor. And the rowels of the spurs and part of the
    horse were without, and Owain with the other part of the horse
    remained between the two gates, and the inner gate was closed, so that
    Owain could not go thence; and Owain was in a perplexing situation.
    And while he was in this state, he could see through an aperture in
    the gate a street facing him, with a row of houses on each side. And
    he beheld a maiden, with yellow, curling hair, and a frontlet of
    gold upon her head; and she was clad in a dress of yellow satin, and
    on her feet were shoes of variegated leather. And she approached the
    gate, and desired that it should be opened. "Heaven knows, lady," said
    Owain, "it is no more possible for me to open to thee from hence, than
    it is for thee to set me free." And he told her his name, and who he
    was. "Truly," said the damsel, "it is very sad that thou canst not
    be released; and every woman ought to succor thee, for I know there is
    no one more faithful in the service of ladies than thou. Therefore,"
    quoth she, "whatever is in my power to do for thy release, I will do
    it. Take this ring, and put it on thy finger, with the stone inside
    thy hand, and close thy hand upon the stone. And as long as thou
    concealest it, it will conceal thee. When they come forth to fetch
    thee, they will be much grieved that they cannot find thee. And I will
    await thee on the horseblock yonder, and thou wilt be able to see
    me, though I cannot see thee. Therefore come and place thy hand upon
    my shoulder, that I may know that thou art near me. And by the way
    that I go hence, do thou accompany me."
    Then the maiden went away from Owain, and he did all that she had
    told him. And the people of the castle came to seek Owain to put him
    to death; and when they found nothing but the half of his horse,
    they were sorely grieved.
    And Owain vanished from among them, and went to the maiden, and
    placed his hand upon her shoulder; whereupon she set off, and Owain
    followed her, until they came to the door of a large and beautiful
    chamber, and the maiden opened it, and they went in. And Owain
    looked around the chamber, and behold there was not a single nail in
    it that was not painted with gorgeous colors, and there was not a
    single panel that had not sundry images in gold portrayed upon it.
    The maiden kindled a fire, and took water in a silver bowl, and gave
    Owain water to wash. Then she placed before him a silver table, inlaid
    with gold; upon which was a cloth of yellow linen, and she brought him
    food. And, of a truth, Owain never saw any kind of meat that was not
    there in abundance, but it was better cooked there than he had ever
    found it in any other place. And there was not one vessel from which
    he was served that was not of gold or of silver. And Owain ate and
    drank until late in the afternoon, when, lo! they heard a mighty
    clamor in the castle, and Owain asked the maiden what it was. "They
    are administering extreme unction," said she, "to the nobleman who
    owns the castle." And she prepared a couch for Owain which was meet
    for Arthur himself, and Owain went to sleep.
    And a little after daybreak he heard an exceeding loud clamor and
    wailing, and asked the maiden what was the cause of it. "They are
    bearing to the church the body of the nobleman who owned the castle."
    And Owain rose up, and clothed himself, and opened a window of the
    chamber, and looked towards the castle; and he could see neither the
    bounds nor the extent of the hosts that filled the streets. And they
    were fully armed; and a vast number of women were with them, both on
    horseback and on foot, and all the ecclesiastics in the city
    singing. In the midst of the throng he beheld the bier, over which was
    a veil of white linen; and wax tapers were burning beside and around
    it; and none that supported the bier was lower in rank than a powerful
    Never did Owain see an assemblage so gorgeous with silk* and
    satin. And, following the train, he beheld a lady with yellow hair
    falling over her shoulders, and stained with blood; and about her a
    dress of yellow satin, which was torn. Upon her feet were shoes of
    variegated leather. And it was a marvel that the ends of her fingers
    were not bruised from the violence with which she smote her hands
    together. Truly she would have been the fairest lady Owain ever saw
    had she been in her usual guise. And her cry was louder than the shout
    of the men or the clamor of the trumpets. No sooner had he beheld
    the lady than he became inflamed with her love, so that it took entire
    possession of him.

    * Before the sixth century all the silk used by Europeans had been
    brought to them by the Seres, the ancestors of the present
    Boukharians, whence it derived its Latin name of Serica. In 551 the
    silkworm was brought by two monks to Constantinople; but the
    manufacture of silk was confined to the Greek empire till the year
    1130, when Roger, king of Sicily, returning from a crusade,
    collected some manufacturers from Athens and Corinth, and
    established them at Palermo, whence the trade was gradually
    disseminated over Italy. The varieties of silk stuffs known at this
    time were velvet, satin (which was called samite), and taffety (called
    cendal or sendall), all of which were occasionally stitched with
    gold and silver.

    Then he inquired of the maiden who the lady was. "Heaven knows,"
    replied the maiden, "she is the fairest, and the most chaste, and
    the most liberal, and the most noble of women. She is my mistress, and
    she is called the Countess of the Fountain, the wife of him whom
    thou didst slay yesterday." "Verily," said Owain, "she is the woman
    that I love best." "Verily," said the maiden, "she shall also love
    thee, not a little."
    Then the maiden prepared a repast for Owain, and truly he thought he
    had never before so good a meal, nor was he ever so well served.
    Then she left him, and went towards the castle. When she came there
    she found nothing but mourning and sorrow; and the Countess in her
    chamber could not bear the sight of any one through grief. Luned,
    for that was the name of the maiden, saluted her, but the Countess
    answered her not. And the maiden bent down towards her, and said,
    "What aileth thee that thou answerest no one to-day?" "Luned," said
    the Countess, "what change hath befallen thee that thou hast not
    come to visit me in my grief? It was wrong in thee, and I so sorely
    afflicted." "Truly," said Luned, "I thought thy good sense was greater
    than I find it to be. Is it well for thee to mourn after that good
    man, or for anything else that thou canst not have?" "I declare to
    Heaven," said the Countess, "that in the whole world there is not a
    man equal to him." "Not so," said Luned, "for an ugly man would be
    as good as, or better than he." "I declare to Heaven," said the
    Countess, "that were it not repugnant to me to put to death one whom I
    have brought up I would have thee executed for making such
    comparison to me. As it is, I will banish thee." "I am glad," said
    Luned, "that thou hast no other cause to do so than that I would
    have been of service to thee, where thou didst not know what was to
    thine advantage. Henceforth evil betide whichever of us shall make the
    first advance towards reconciliation to the other, whether I should
    seek an invitation from thee, or thou of thine own accord shouldst
    send to invite me."
    With that Luned went forth; and the Countess arose and followed
    her to the door of the chamber, and began coughing loudly. And when
    Luned looked back the Countess beckoned to her, and she returned to
    the Countess. "In truth," said the Countess, "evil is thy disposition;
    but if thou knowest what is to my advantage, declare it to me." "I
    will do so," said she.
    "Thou knowest that, except by warfare and arms, it is impossible for
    thee to preserve thy possessions; delay not, therefore, to seek some
    one who can defend them." "And how can I do that?" said the
    Countess. "I will tell thee," said Luned; "unless thou canst defend
    the fountain thou canst not maintain thy dominions; and no one can
    defend the fountain except it be a knight of Arthur's household. I
    will go to Arthur's court, and ill betide me if I return not thence
    with a warrior who can guard the fountain as well as, or even
    better, than he who defended it formerly." "That will be hard to
    perform," said the Countess. "Go, however, and make proof of that
    which thou hast promised."
    Luned set out under the pretence of going to Arthur's court; but she
    went back to the mansion where she had left Owain, and she tarried
    there as long as it might have taken her to travel to the court of
    King Arthur and back. And at the end of that time she apparelled
    herself, and went to visit the Countess. And the Countess was much
    rejoiced when she saw her, and inquired what news she brought from the
    court. "I bring thee the best of news," said Luned, "for I have
    compassed the object of my mission. When wilt thou that I should
    present to thee the chieftain who has come with me thither?" "Bring
    him here to visit me to-morrow," said the Countess, "and I will
    cause the town to be assembled by that time."
    And Luned returned home. And the next day, at noon, Owain arrayed
    himself in a coat and a surcoat, and a mantle of yellow satin, upon
    which was a broad band of gold lace; and on his feet were high shoes
    of variegated leather, which were fastened by golden clasps, in the
    form of lions. And they proceeded to the chamber of the Countess.
    Right glad was the Countess of their coming. And she gazed
    steadfastly upon Owain, and said, "Luned, this knight has not the look
    of a traveller." "What harm is there in that, lady?" said Luned. "I am
    certain," said the Countess, "that no other man than this chased the
    soul from the body of my lord." "So much the better for thee, lady,"
    said Luned, "for had he not been stronger than thy lord, he could
    not have deprived him of life. There is no remedy for that which is
    past, be it as it may." "Go back to thine abode," said the Countess,
    "and I will take counsel."
    The next day the Countess caused all her subjects to assemble, and
    showed them that her earldom was left defenceless, and that it could
    not be protected but with horse and arms, and military skill.
    "Therefore," said she, "this is what I offer for your choice: either
    let one of you take me, or give your consent for me to take a
    husband from elsewhere, to defend my dominions."
    So they came to the determination that it was better that she should
    have permission to marry some one from elsewhere; and thereupon she
    sent for the bishops and archbishops, to celebrate her nuptials with
    Owain. And the men of the earldom did Owain homage.
    And Owain defended the fountain with lance and sword. And this is
    the manner in which he defended it. Whensoever a knight came there, he
    overthrew him, and sold him for his full worth. And what he thus
    gained he divided among his barons and his knights, and no man in
    the whole world could be more beloved than he was by his subjects. And
    it was thus for the space of three years.*

    * There exists an ancient poem, printed among those of Taliesin,
    called the Elegy of Owain ap Urien, and containing several very
    beautiful and spirited passages. It commences:

    "The soul of Owain ap Urien,
    May its Lord consider its exigencies!
    Reged's chief the green turf covers."

    In the course of this Elegy, the bard, alluding to the incessant
    welfare with which this chieftain harassed his Saxon foes, exclaims:

    "Could England sleep with the light upon her eyes!"

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