How Britomart went to the Cave of the Magician Merlin
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After Britomart had seen the figure of Sir Artegall in the magic mirror, a strange thing happened. She grew pale and ill, and lost all her merry spirits, and she no longer cared to do any of the things in which she had formerly delighted. At night, instead of sleeping, she tossed about, and sighed and wept — or, if she did close her eyes for a few minutes, it was only to dream of dreadful things and to start awake again suddenly, with cries of terror.
Her old nurse, Glaucé, was much distressed to see such a sad change in her dear young mistress, and one night when Britomart had been more restless than usual, she begged her to say what was troubling her and if she were secretly fretting over anything.
Then Britomart told Glaucé of the splendid Knight she had seen in the magic mirror and how she longed to see him again. If it were some living person, there might have been some hope for her, but now there was none, for it was only the shade or semblance of a knight. So grand and noble was the appearance of Artegall that Britomart's heart ached with sorrow to think she should never see him in real life.
Glaucé tried to comfort her and spoke cheerfully, but at first Britomart would not be consoled, for she did not see how things could ever be better for her. It was very foolish of her, she owned, to love only a shadow, but she knew the remembrance of Sir Artegall would never fade as long as life lasted, and she felt that death only could put an end to her grief.
"Well," said the faithful old nurse, "if it is a choice between death and seeing him again, I swear to you by right or wrong to discover that Knight."
Her cheerful words quite soothed Britomart's sad heart, and she lay down again in bed, and actually got a little sleep; as for Glaucé, she turned the lamp low, and sat by the bedside to watch and weep over her dear young lady.
After that, Glaucé tried every way she could think of to cure Britomart's grief, but neither medicine, nor charms, nor good advice did her any good, and the nurse began to fear the King would be very angry with her when he heard what had happened to his dear daughter.
At last she thought that he who made the mirror in which Britomart had seen the strange vision of the Knight would surely be able to tell where the real man could be found. Disguising themselves, therefore, in poor clothes so that no one would know who they were, she and Britomart took their way to the place where the great magician, Merlin, had his dwelling, low underneath the ground, in a deep dell, far from the light of day. It was a hideous, hollow cave, under a rock that lay near a swift river foaming down the woody hills.
Arrived here, Glaucé and Britomart at first loitered about outside, afraid to go into the cave and beginning to doubt whether they had done well to come. The brave maiden, with love to befriend her, was the first to enter, and there she found the magician deep in some work of wonder, busily writing strange characters on the ground.
Merlin was not in the least surprised at their bold visit, for he knew quite well beforehand of their coming, but he bade them unfold their business — as though anything in the world were hidden from him!
Then Glaucé told him that for the last three months some strange malady had taken hold of the young maiden; what it was, or whence it sprang, she knew not, but this she knew: that if a remedy were not found, she would soon see her dead.
Merlin began to smile softly at Glaucé's smooth speeches, for he knew quite well she was not telling him the whole truth, and he said, "By what you say, your young lady has more need of a doctor than of my skill. He who can get help elsewhere seeks in vain wonders from magic."
Glaucé was rather taken aback at hearing these words, and yet she was unwilling to let her purpose appear plainly.
"If any doctor's skill could have cured my dear daughter," she said, "I should certainly not have wished to trouble you, but this sad illness which has seized her is far beyond natural causes."
The wizard could stand no more of this, but burst out laughing, and said, "Glaucé, what need is there for these excuses to cover the cause which has already betrayed itself? And you, fair Britomart, although dressed in these poor clothes, are no more hidden than the sun in a veil of clouds. You have done well to come to me for help, for I can give it you."
Britomart was quite abashed at finding herself discovered, and grew very red, but the old nurse was not in the least discomfited.
"Since you know all our grief — for what is there that you do not know? —" she said to Merlin, "I pray you to pity our trouble and grant us relief."
Merlin reflected for a few minutes; then he spoke to Britomart and told her many things that would happen in the future. He bade her not to be in the least troubled, for all would end well, and it was no misfortune for her to love the most powerful knight that had ever lived.
The man whom she had seen in the magic mirror was Sir Artegall, the champion Knight of Justice, and he dwelt in the land of the Faerie Queene. He was a mighty warrior and would fight many battles for his native country, in which Britomart would aid him. He would win again for himself the crown that was his father's by right, and he would reign with great happiness. His son would succeed him, and after him would come a long race of kings.
When Britomart and her old nurse, Glaucé, had heard all they wanted to know, they both felt very glad and hopeful, and they returned home with much lighter hearts than they had set out.
Next: Britomart's Quest