How Britomart Walked through Fire
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Britomart and Sir Satyrane had not long left the Castle of the churl Malbecco when they saw in front of them a huge Giant chasing a young man. Filled with anger, Britomart immediately galloped to the rescue, and Sir Satyrane followed close behind.
Seeing them approach, the Giant quickly resigned his prey, and fled to save himself. He ran so fast that neither of them could overtake him, and presently he came to a great forest, where he hid himself. It was not Sir Satyrane he feared so much as Britomart, for some instinct told him that his evil nature would be powerless to fight against any one so good.
Britomart and Sir Satyrane entered the wood and searched everywhere for the Giant, and, each going a different way, they soon got separated. Britomart went deep into the forest, and at last came to a fountain by which lay a Knight. He had tossed aside his coat and mail, his helmet, his spear, and his shield, and had flung himself face downwards on the grass. At first, Britomart would not disturb him for she thought him asleep, but, while she stood still looking at him, she presently heard him sob and sigh as if his heart would break.
Filled with pity, Britomart begged him to say what was the matter, as perhaps she might be able to help him. The Knight, whose name was Scudamour, did not think this at all likely and would scarcely speak but, after some further gentle words from Britomart, he told her that he was in such deep sorrow because the lady he loved had been seized by a wicked enchanter called Busirane and shut up in a horrible dungeon, from which no living power could release her. The enchanter had done this because he wanted to marry her himself, and when she refused and declared she would never forsake her own true Knight, he had taken this cruel revenge.
Then Britomart bade him take courage, for she would either deliver the Lady Amoretta from her dungeon, or she would die with her.
"Ah, gentlest Knight alive," cried Scudamour, "how brave and good you are! But keep your happy days and use them to better purpose. Let me die that ought. One is enough to die."
"Life is not lost by which is bought endless renown," said Britomart.
Thus she persuaded Sir Scudamour to rise and go with her to see what success would befall him in this fresh attempt. She gathered up his armour, which he had flung away in despair, and helped him to put it on, and she fetched his steed, which had wandered to some distance.
Then they went forth together and soon arrived at the place where their venture was to be made. There they dismounted, drew their weapons, and boldly marched up to the Castle. Here they found no gate to bar their passage, nor any warder, but in the porch, which greatly terrified them, was a huge flaming fire, mixed with smoke and sulphur, which choked all the entrance and forced them to go back.
Britomart was dismayed at this and did not know what to do, for it seemed useless danger to attempt to brave the fire, which prevented any one going near. Turning back to Scudamour, she asked what course he thought it would be safest to take and how they should get at their foe to fight him.
"This is the reason why I said to you at first the quest was hopeless," replied Scudamour, "for this fire cannot be quenched either by strength or cunning, nor can it be moved away, so mighty are the enchantments that keep it here. What else is to be done but to stop this useless labour, and leave me to my former despair? The Lady Amoretta must stay in her wicked chains, and Scudamour die here with sorrowing."
"No, indeed," said Britomart, "for it would be a shameful thing to abandon a noble enterprise at the mere sight of peril, without even venturing. Rather let us try the last chance than give up our purpose out of fear."
So saying, resolved to try her utmost, she threw her shield in front of her face and, holding the point of her sword straight in front of her, she advanced to the fire. The flames immediately gave way and parted on either side, so that she walked through without hindrance.
When Scudamour saw Britomart safe and untouched on the other side of the fire, he also tried to pass and bade the flames make way for him, but the fire would not obey his threatening command and only raged the more fiercely, forcing him to retire all scorched and painfully burnt. Furious at his failure, more even than at the pain of his burns, he flung himself impatiently down on the grass, but Britomart had now passed the first door and entered the Castle.
The first room she came to was splendid to see, for it was all hung round with rich tapestry, woven with gold and silk. Beautiful pictures, representing well-known fables and stories, were worked in the tapestry, and at the upper end of the room was a great Image which the people of the house were accustomed to worship. This image was made of massive gold, and had wings that shone with all the colours of the rainbow. It was blindfolded and held in its hand a bow and arrows, which it seemed to shoot at random; some of the arrows were tipped with lead, some with pure gold. A wounded dragon lay under its feet.
Britomart was so amazed at this wonderful figure that she kept gazing at it again and again, though its brightness quite dazzled her. But, casting her eyes round the room, to discover every secret of the place, she saw written over the door these words:
She read this over and over but could not think to what it could refer, but, whatever it might mean, it did not in the least discourage her from following out her first intention, so she went forward with bold steps into the next room.
This second room was even fairer and richer than the first one, for it was not hung round with tapestry, but was all overlaid with pure gold carved into the most curious and grotesque figures.
Britomart marvelled much to see all this wealth and luxury but, still more, that there was no trace of living person — nothing but wasteful emptiness and solemn silence over all the place; it seemed strange that there was no one to possess such rich belongings, nor to keep them carefully.
And as she looked about she saw how over that door, too, was written "Be bold, be bold," and everywhere, "Be bold." She meditated much over this but could not understand it. At last, at the upper end of the room, she saw another iron door, on which was written:
"Be not too bold,"
but, though she bent all her wise mind to the subject, she could not tell what it might mean.
Thus she waited there until evening, yet saw no living creature appear. And now gloomy shadows began to hide the world from mortal view and wrap it in darkness. Britomart did not dare to take off her tiring armour nor to go to sleep, for fear of secret danger, but she held herself in readiness, and saw that all her weapons were in good order.
Next: The Enchanted Chamber