How Britomart Looked into the Magic Mirror
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As Britomart and the Knight journeyed away from Castle Joyous, it came into the Knight's mind to ask the Princess what had brought her into that part of the country and why she disguised herself thus, for she seemed a beautiful lady when she was dressed as one, but the handsomest knight alive when she was clad in armour.
"Fair sir," replied Britomart, "I would have you know that from the hour when I left my nurse's arms, I have been trained up in warlike ways to toss spear and shield and to meet and overthrow warrior knights. I loathe to lead the lazy life of pleasure that most ladies do, fingering fine needle and fancy thread; I would rather die at the point of the foeman's spear. All my delight is set on deeds of arms, to hunt out perils and adventures wherever they may be met by sea or land, not for riches nor for reward, but only for glory and honour. For this reason, I came into these parts, far from my native country, without map or compass, to seek for praise and fame.
"For report has blazed forth that here, in the land of the Faerie Queene, many famous knights and ladies dwell, and many strange adventures can be found, out of which much glory may be won, and to prove this, I have begun this voyage. But may I ask of you, courteous Knight, tidings of one who has behaved very badly to me, and con whom I am seeking to revenge myself; he is called Artegall."
Britomart did not mean what she said of Artegall; she only spoke like this to conceal her real feelings. As soon as the words were uttered she repented and would have recalled them, but her companion answered almost before she had finished speaking.
He said she was very wrong to upbraid so scornfully a gentle Knight, for of all who ever rode at tilt or tourney, the noble Artegall was the most renowned. It would be very strange, therefore, if any shameful thought ever entered his mind, or if he did any deed deserving of blame, for noble courage does nothing unworthy of itself.
Britomart grew wonderfully glad to hear her love thus highly praised, and rejoiced that she had given her heart to one so gallant, but in order to lead the Knight to speak further in the same style, she still pretended to find fault with Artegall and asked where he might be found because she wanted to fight with him.
"Ah, if only reason could persuade you to soften your anger!" said the Knight. "It is a bold thing to imagine you can bind a man like this down to hard conditions or to hope to match in equal fight one whose prowess has no living rival. Besides, it is not at all easy to tell where or how he can be found, for he never dwells in any settled spot but roams all over the world, always doing noble deeds and defending the rightful cause of women and orphans whenever he hears they are oppressed by might or tyranny. Thus he wins the highest honour."
These words sank into Britomart's heart and filled her with rapture, but still she would not let her companion see it.
"Since it is so difficult to find Sir Artegall," she said, "tell me some marks by which he may be known, in case I happen to meet him by chance. What is he like? What is his shield — his arms — his steed — and anything else that may distinguish him?"
The Knight set himself to point out all these and described Sir Artegall in every particular. But Britomart knew already exactly what Sir Artegall was like, and this is how she came to know it.
Long ago in Britain she had seen his image plainly revealed in a magic mirror and ever since then she had loved no one else. For in the days when her father, King Ryence, reigned over South Wales, Merlin, the great magician, had by his spells devised a wonderful looking-glass, the fame of which soon went through all the world.
For this mirror had the power of showing perfectly whatever thing the world contained, between heaven and earth, provided it had to do with the person who looked into it. Whatever a foe had done, or a friend had feigned, was revealed in this mirror, and it was impossible to keep anything secret from it.
The mirror was round and hollow, and seemed like a great globe of glass. Merlin gave it to King Ryence as a safeguard so that if foes ever invaded his kingdom, he would always know it at home before he heard tidings and thus be able to prevent them. A present which could thus detect treason and overthrow enemies was a famous one for a prince.
One day Britomart happened to go into her father's private room. Nothing was kept hidden from her, for she was his only daughter and his heir. When she spied the mirror, she first looked in to see herself, but in vain. Then, remembering the strange power it was said to possess, she tried to think of some interesting thing that concerned herself, and thus she wondered what husband fortune would allot to her.
Immediately there was presented to her eyes the picture of a gallant Knight, clad in complete armour. His face, under the uplifted visor of the helmet, showed forth like the sun to terrify his foes and make glad his friends. His heroic grace and noble bearing added to the grandeur of his figure.
His crest was a crouching hound, and all his armour seemed of an antique fashion but was wonderfully massive and stout, and fretted all round with gold; written on it in ancient lettering were the words —
"Achilles' arms, which Artegall did win."
On his shield he bore the device of a little crowned ermine on an azure field.
Britomart looked well at the figure of this Knight and liked it well, and then went on her way, never dreaming that her future fate lay hidden at the bottom of this globe of glass.