[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Fairie Queen: Britomart unit. Story source: Stories from the Faerie Queene by Mary Macleod, with drawings by A. G. Walker (1916).
How the Golden Girdle was Awarded to the False Florimell
(see previous page for audio)
Then each Knight in turn began to claim the golden girdle on behalf of his own lady.
First, Cambell brought to their view his fair wife, Cambina, covered with a veil. The veil being withdrawn at once revealed her surpassing loveliness, which stole all wavering hearts.
Next, Sir Triamond uncovered the face of his dear Candace, which shone with such beauty that the eyes of all were dazzled as with a great light.
After her, Paridell produced his false Duessa. With her forged beauty, Duessa entrapped the hearts of some who considered her the fairest — and, after these, a hundred more ladies appeared in turn, each one of whom seemed to excel the others.
At last Britomart openly showed her lovely Amoret, whose face uncovered seemed like the heavenly picture of some bright angel. Then all who saw her thought that Amoret would surely bear away the prize.
But Blandamour, who imagined that he had the real, true Florimell, now displayed the Snowy Lady, and the sight, once seen, dismayed all the rest. For all who had seemed bright and fair before now appeared base and contemptible; compared with her, they were only like stars in comparison with the sun. Every one who saw her was ravished with wonder; they thought she could be no mortal but must be some celestial being. They were all glad to see Florimell, yet thought Florimell was not so fair as this lady. Like some base metal overlaid with gold, which deceives those who see it, was this false image who passed for the true Florimell. Thus do forged things sometimes show the fairest.
Then, by the decision of all, the golden belt was granted to her as to the fairest lady and, bringing it to her, they thought to place it round her waist, as became her best. But this they could by no means do, for every time they fastened the girdle, it grew loose and fell away as if there were some secret fault in her. Again and again she put it round her waist, but again and again it fell apart. All the people wondered at the strange sight, and each one thought according to his own fancy. But the Snowy Lady herself thought it was some spiteful trick, and it filled her with wrath and shame as a thing devised to bring disgrace on her.
Then many other ladies likewise tried to put on the girdle, but it would stay on none of them. As soon as they thought it fast, immediately it was untied again.
Seeing this, a scornful knight began to just and sneer, saying it was a pity that, among so many beautiful ladies, not one was found worthy to wear the girdle. All the knights began to laugh and all the ladies to frown, till at last the gentle Amoret also essayed to prove the girdle's power. She set it round her waist, and immediately it fitted perfectly, with no difficulty whatever.
The others were very envious, and the Snowy Lady was greatly fretted. Snatching the belt angrily from Amoret, she again tied it round her own body, but none the more would it fit her.
Nevertheless, to her, as her due right, was the girdle yielded, for everyone thought she was the true Florimell, to whom it really belonged. And now she had to choose her companion knight. Then she adjudged the prize to the "Knight of the Ebony Spear," who had won it in fight. But Britomart would not assent to this, nor give up her own companion, Amoret, for the sake of that strange lady, whose wondrous beauty she esteemed less than the wisdom and goodness of Amoret.
When the other knights saw Britomart refuse, they were all very glad, for each hoped Florimell would choose himself. But the judges said that, after Britomart, she must next choose the second best, and that was the "Savage Knight." But Sir Artegall had already left in displeasure because he had not won the prize. Then she was offered Triamond, but Triamond loved Candace, and no one else. Then Sir Satyrane was adjudged to Florimell, and he was right glad to gain so goodly an award, but Paridell and Blandamour and many other knights were very angry, and wanted to fight Sir Satyrane. The hideous old woman, Até, with her wicked words, stirred them all up to demand and challenge Florimell as their right, the recompense which they deserved for their peril.
Amongst the rest, with boastful, vain pretence, Braggadochio stepped forward and claimed her as his thrall, having won her in battle long ago. He called the Snowy Lady herself to witness this and, being asked, she confessed that it was the case.
Thereupon all the other knights were more angry than ever, and they were quite ready to prepare anew for battle. But Sir Satyrane hit on a plan to appease them. He suggested that the Lady herself should choose which knight she preferred, and all the others should abide by her choice. This they agreed to. So Florimell was placed in the midst of them all, and every knight hoped she would choose him. Then, having looked a long time at each one, as though she wished to please them all, the Snowy Lady walked up to Braggadochio, and the two went off together.
Britomart took no part in the struggle for Florimell, for as soon as she saw that discord had arisen, she left the place. Taking with her the lovely Amoret, who was still looking for Sir Scudamour, Britomart rode off on her first quest, to seek her beloved Knight, Sir Artegall, whose image she had seen in the magic mirror. Little did she know that he was the "Savage Knight" with whom she had so lately fought and who was even now waiting to be revenged on her. Unlucky maid, to seek her enemy! Unlucky maid to seek far and wide for him whom, when he was nearest, she could not discover because of his disguise!
Next: The House of Care