What Strange Meetings Befell on the Way
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Leaving the Enchanter's Castle behind them, Britomart and Amoret started in search of Sir Scudamour and Glaucé.
As they went, Amoret told Britomart the story of how she came into the power of the wicked Busirane. On the very day of her marriage to Sir Scudamour, at the wedding feast, while all the guests were making merry, Busirane found means to introduce the strange procession which had so amazed Britomart in the enchanted chamber. Amoret was persuaded in sport to join it and was carried away quite unknown to any one.
Seven months she had been kept in cruel imprisonment because she would not consent to give up her own dear husband and become the wife of the wicked Enchanter. Now, at last, she was free, and when she discovered that her deliverer was not after all a knight, but in reality a beautiful maiden like herself, her heart overflowed with love and gratitude, and she and Britomart speedily became the best and dearest friends.
In the course of their journey , they presently saw two knights in armour coming to meet them, each with what seemed at that distance a fair lady riding beside him. But ladies they were not, although in face and outward show they seemed so. Under a mask of beauty and graciousness , they hid vile treachery and falsehood, which were not apparent to any but the wise and cautious.
One was the false Duessa. She had changed her usual appearance, for she could put on as many different shapes as a chameleon can new colours.
Her companion was, if possible, worse than herself. Her name was Até, Mother of Strife, cause of all dissension both among private men and in public affairs of state. False Duessa, knowing that she was just the most fitting person to aid her in mischief, had summoned her from her dwelling under the earth, where she wasted her wretched days and nights in darkness. Her abode was close to the Kingdom of Evil, where plagues and harms abound to punish those who do wrong. It was a gloomy dell, far under ground, surrounded with thorns and briars, so that no one could easily get out; there were many ways to enter but none by which to leave when one was once in , for it is harder to end discord than to begin it.
All the broken walls inside were hung with the ragged memorials of past times, which showed the sad effects of strife. There were rent robes and broken sceptres, sacred things ruined, shivered spears, and shields torn in twain, great cities ransacked, and strong castles beaten down, nations led into captivity, and huge armies slain — relics of all these ruins remained in the house of Até. All the famous wars in history found a record here, as well as the feuds and quarrels of private persons too many to mention.
Such was the house inside. Outside, the barren ground was full of poisonous weeds, which Strife herself had sown; they had grown great from small seeds — the seeds of evil words and wrangling deeds, which, when they come to ripeness, bring forth an infinite increase of trouble and contention, often ending in bloodshed and war. These horrible seeds also served Até for bread, and she had been fed upon them from childhood, for she got her life from that which killed other people. She was born of a race of demons and brought up by the Furies.
Strife was as ugly as she was wicked; she could speak nothing but falsehood, and she never heard aright. She could not even walk straight but stumbled backwards and forwards; what one hand reached out to take, the other pushed away, or what one hand made, the other destroyed. Great riches, which had taken many a day to collect, she often squandered rapidly, dismaying their possessors, for all her study and thought was how she might overthrow the things done by Concord. So far did her malice surpass her might that she tried to bring all the world's fair peace and harmony into confusion. Such was the odious creature that rode with Duessa.
The two knights who escorted them, Blandamour and Paridell, were young and handsome, but both equally foolish, fickle, and false. When they saw Britomart and the lovely Lady Amoret approaching, Blandamour jestingly tried to make his companion attack Britomart so that he might win Amoret for himself. But Paridell remembered how he had already fought with a knight bearing those arms and that shield outside the castle of the churl Malbecco, and he had no desire to provoke a new fight.
"Very well," said Blandamour, "I will challenge him myself," and he rode straight at Britomart.
But he had soon cause to repent his rashness, for Britomart received his advance with so rude a welcome that he speedily left his saddle. Then she passed quietly on, leaving him on the ground much hurt, an example of his own folly and as sad now as he had formerly been merry, well warned to beware in future with whom he dared to interfere.
Paridell ran to his aid and helped him to mount again, and they marched on their way, Blandamour trying as well as he could to hide the evil plight he was in. Before long, they saw two other knights coming quickly to meet them, and Blandamour was enraged to see that one was Sir Scudamour, whom he hated mortally, both because of his worth which made all men love him, and because he had won by right the Lady Amoret.
Blandamour was greatly vexed that his bruises prevented his wreaking his old spite, and he immediately spoke thus to Paridell: "Fair sir, let me beg of you in the name of friendship that, as I lately ventured for you and got these wounds which now keep me from battle, you will now repay me with a like good turn and justify my cause on yonder Knight."
Paridell willingly agreed and sped at the stranger like a shaft from a bow, but Sir Scudamour was on his guard and prepared himself to give him a fitting welcome. So furiously they met that each hurled the other from his horse, like two billows driven by contrary tides, which meet together and rebound back with roaring rage, dashing on all sides and filling the sea with foam. So fell these two, in spite of all their pride.
But Scudamour soon raised himself and upbraided his foe for lying there so long.
Blandamour, seeing the fall of Paridell, taunted Sir Scudamour as a traitor and heaped abuse on him, saying that he only attacked knights who were too weak to defend themselves.
Scudamour gave no answer to this, trying to restrain his indignation, but then Duessa and Até both chimed in, wickedly doing all they could to rouse his passion.
They spoke jeering words and said they wondered Sir Scudamour should care to fight for any lady, for Amoret was faithless and had forgotten him and gone off with another Knight.
This Knight, we know, was in reality the Princess Britomart, but Sir Scudamour did not know this. He swore, in a fearful rage, to be revenged; he even threatened to kill the squire, Glaucé, who was still with him, since she could not get hold of his master. In vain the poor old nurse tried to appease him, for she dared not disclose Britomart's secret. Three times Sir Scudamour lifted his hand to kill Glaucé, and three times he drew back, before at last he became a little pacified.
Next: The Golden Girdle