How Britomart Rescued a Fair Lady from a Wicked Enchanter
As soon as the strange procession had passed into the inner room, the door shut tight, driven by the same stormy blast with which it had first opened. Then the brave maiden, who all this while had remained hidden in shadow, came forth and went to the door to enter in, but found it fast locked. In vain she thought to open it by strength when charms had closed it and, finding force of no avail, she determined to use art, resolving not to leave that room till the next day when the same figures would again appear.
At last the morning dawned, calling men to their daily work, and Britomart, fresh as the morning, came out from her hiding-place. All that day she spent in wandering and in gazing at the adornment of the chamber till again the second evening spread her black cloak over everything. Then at midnight the brazen door flew open, and in went bold Britomart as she had made up her mind to do, afraid neither of idle shows nor of false charms.
As soon as she entered, she cast her eyes round to see what had become of all the persons she had seen in the outside room the night before but, lo! they had all vanished. She saw no living mortal of that strange company except the same hapless lady, whose two hands were bound fast and who had an iron chain round her small waist, fastened to a brazen pillar by which she stood.
In front of her sat the vile Enchanter, drawing in blood strange characters of his art to try to make her love him. But who could love the cause of all her trouble? He had already tried a thousand charms, but a thousand charms could not alter the lady's steadfast heart.
As soon as the Enchanter saw Britomart, he hastily overthrew his wicked books, not caring to lose his long labour and, drawing a knife out of his pocket, ran fiercely at the lady, thinking, in his villainy, to kill her. But Britomart, leaping lightly to him, withheld his wicked hand and overpowered him.
Then, turning the weapon from the one whom he had first meant it, he struck at Britomart and wounded her. The hurt was slight, but it so enraged the maiden that she drew her sword and smote fiercely at the tyrant. He fell to the ground half dead, and the next stroke would have slain him had not the lady who stood bound called to Britomart not to kill him. If she did so, the prisoner's pain would be without remedy,
for no one but the Enchanter who had put the spell on her could take it off again.
Then Britomart unwillingly stayed her hand, for she grudged him his life and longed to see him punished.
"Thou wicked man," she said to him, "whose huge mischief and villainy merit death or worse than death, be sure that nothing shall save thee, unless thou immediately restore the lady to health and to her former condition. This do and live, or else thou shalt undoubtedly die."
The Enchanter, glad to live, for he had expected nothing but death, yielded willingly and, rising, began at once to look over the wicked book, in order to reverse his charms. He read aloud many dreadful things, so that Britomart's heart was pierced with horror. But all the time he read, she held her sword high over him, in case he tried to do further mischief.
Presently the house began to quake, and all the doors to rattle. Yet this did not dismay her nor make her slacken her threatening hand. But, with steadfast eye and stout courage, she waited to see what would be the end. At last the mighty chain which was wound round the lady's waist fell down, and the great brazen pillar broke into small pieces. Gradually her look of terrible suffering passed, and she became restored to perfect health, as if she had never been ill.
When she felt herself unbound, and quite well and strong, she threw herself at the feet of Britomart.
"Ah, noble Knight!" she said, "what recompense can a wretched lady, freed from her woeful state, yield you for your gracious deed? Your virtue shall bring its own reward, even immortal praise and glory, which I, your vassal, freed by your prowess, shall proclaim throughout the world."
But Britomart, lifting her from the ground, said, "Gentle lady, this I ween is reward enough for many more labours than I have done: that now I see you in safety, and that I have been the means of your deliverance. Henceforth, fair lady, take comfort, and put away remembrance of your late trouble. Know, instead, that your loving husband has endured no less grief for your sake."
Amoret, for that was the lady's name, was much cheered to hear this mention of Sir Scudamour, for she loved him best of all living people.
Then the noble champion laid her strong hand on the Enchanter who had treated Amoret so cruelly and, with the great chain with which he had formerly kept prisoner the hapless lady, she now bound himself and led him away captive.
Returning the way she came, Britomart was dismayed to find that the goodly rooms which she had lately seen so richly and royally adorned had utterly vanished, and all their glory had decayed. Descending to the perilous porch, she found also that the dreadful flames, which had formerly so cruelly scorched all those who tried to enter, were quenched like a burnt-out torch. It was now much easier to pass out than it had been to come in. The Enchanter, who had framed this fraud to compel the love of the fair lady, was deeply vexed to see his work all wasted.
But when Britomart arrived at the place where she had left Sir Scudamour and her own trusty squire (her old nurse, Glaucé), she found neither of them there. At this she was sorely astonished and, above all, Amoret, who had looked forward to seeing her own dear Knight, being deprived of this hope, was filled with fresh alarm.
Sir Scudamour, poor man, had waited long in dread for Britomart's return, but not seeing her nor any sign of her success, his expectation turned to despair, for he felt sure that the flames must have burnt her. Therefore he took counsel with her old squire, who mourned her loss no less deeply, and the two departed in search of further aid.
Next: Strange Meetings