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Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

HOW HUON, HAVING SLAIN A GIANT, CAME TO BABYLON

[349]

A
FTER these things it was told Huon that there was a certain tower not far from the city of Tormont, a very marvellous place where there dwelt a giant, Angolafer by name. The gate of this tower, for so the story ran, was kept by two men of brass, each of whom held in his hand an iron flail. These two beat with their flails without ceasing for one single moment, the one striking while the other ceased; and this they did so quickly that not even a swallow could fly between them without taking harm. But if a man could by any means pass into the tower, and overcome the giant, then he would find treasures without end.

When Huon heard of these things, he thought in himself, "This is an adventure [350] after my own heart." So he made his way to the tower. When he saw the men of brass striking with their flails, he wondered much how he might win by them. After a while he spied a bason of gold, tied with a chain to a marble pillar; on this he struck three great strokes with his sword, for he said to himself, "If I may come to speech with some human creature 'twere better than dealing with these men of brass." And so it fell out. There was a certain damsel in the tower, Sybil by name, whom the giant kept prisoner, and she, hearing the sound, ran to a window and looked out. When she saw Huon, she said, "Who is this? He is a fair knight. I judge him to be of France, for I see on his shoulder three crosses, gules; 'twere a pity that he should come to harm; yet what could fifty knights do against this giant? Yet if he is come for some good end, I would fain help him."

Now there was a handle which, being turned, stayed the beating of the flails. The Lady Sybil thought within herself, "Dare I do this thing? Yet it were better to die than to remain in this bondage." Also she heard the breathing of the giant, as of one in deep sleep. Thereupon she turned the handle, and Huon entered the palace. But when he passed from [351] the gates to the hall, and from the hall to a chamber, and from this to other chambers, and saw no one, only dead men lying here and there, he was not a little astonished. After he had so wandered awhile, he heard the voice of a damsel that wept, which sound he followed till he came to the place where she sat. "Why weep you?" he said. "I weep," she answered, "because you are in great peril. Know that I am a Christian woman, though I have not talked with a Christian these seven years. My father, making pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, was shipwrecked in this place. Him, with all his train, the giant slew, but me he kept alive." "Tell me, lady," said Huon, "who you are?" "I am daughter," she answered, "to Guynemer, that was Earl of St. Omer, and married to a sister of Duke Sevyn of Bordeaux." "Then," said he, "you are my kinswoman, for I am the elder son of the same Duke Sevyn;" and he greeted her full courteously. "And now I am on the way to the Admiral of Babylon, having been sent on an errand by Charlemagne. But tell me of this giant." "Nay," said she, "you would do well to depart while he sleeps." But Huon would have none of this counsel. "I should take to myself shame," said he, "if I should [352] fear this villain." "If you are so minded," answered Sybil, "you will find him in the fourth chamber from this." When Huon was come to the fourth chamber, he saw the giant, a most monstrous creature to behold, asleep on a bed, and cried aloud, "Rise up, thou heathen dog, or I will strike off thy head!" The giant answered, "Not a hundred such as you would prevail over me were I armed; even now I fear you not." "Gird on your armour," said Huon, "I would not fight with a naked man." "That is bravely and courteously said," quoth the giant. "Tell me your name and country." Huon answered, "I am a poor knight of France, whom Charlemagne has sent on an errand to the Admiral of Babylon." "From that same Admiral," said the giant, "I have taken not one town only, but many. This tower I took from Oberon, who is a great Prince in these parts, and with it a suit of armour which no one may wear save he be without guilt. Now, for your courtesy, you shall try it, if you will."

Then Huon took the armour, and put it on him, and lo! he bare it easily. "I see," said the giant, "that you are a worthy knight; now that you have proved the armour, deliver it to me again." "That will not I," answered [353] Huon, "not for twelve of the fairest cities that are between this place and Paris." "Friend," said the giant again, "if you will but deliver to me the armour, I will let you depart hence without harm; also I will give you a ring of gold which I had of this same Admiral of Babylon. Whoso has this ring can pass where he will."

"I owe you no thanks for the gift," said Huon, "for the ring I can take at my pleasure, when you shall have been slain." Thereat the giant, in great wrath, made at him with a falchion that he carried in his hand, but missing his stroke, he smote a pillar that stood hard by so sharply that the steel fixed itself in the stone. When Huon saw what had befallen, he smote the giant and struck off both his hands. The giant turned to flee, but the Lady Sybil, for she had come desiring to save the Christian knight, threw a staff between his legs so that he fell headlong to the earth: when Huon saw him lie thus, he smote off his head with one stroke of his sword.

This done, Huon looked forth from a window of the tower, and cried to his comrades, where they stood in no little fear, "Come up hither, I have slain the giant."

[354] Then the Lady Sybil turned the handle as before, so that the flails were stayed and they entered the tower. The day being now far spent, they sat down to supper, and made good cheer.

On the morrow, Huon said to his companions, "Tarry you here in the tower with the Lady Sybil, for I will go to Babylon alone. If I come not again in fifteen days, then take ship, and depart to the land of France." But Gerames said, "Not so, my lord; we will tarry for you the space of a whole year." And to this they all agreed.

Huon, therefore, journeyed to Babylon. When he came near to the city, he perceived that the woods were crowded with wayfarers, some that went a-hawking and some that came back from their sport, and merchants, and travellers, with horses and carriages. He marvelled to see them, for they were strange of aspect to him; and they also marvelled at him, for the fashion of his armour was not the fashion of their country. So much was he occupied with the sight, that the giant's ring passed wholly from his mind, from which forgetting there came to him, as will be seen, much trouble.

When he came to the Admiral's palace, he [355] cried to the porter that he should open the gate. The porter would know whether he was a Saracen. "That am I," answered Huon, thinking that otherwise he would not be suffered to enter. So the porter opened to him. Then Huon straightway remembered the ring, and said to himself, "I have sinned in lying to this fellow, and this to no purpose, having the ring."

After this he came to a second gate, and a porter thereat, who opened to him at the sight of the ring; and after the second, a third, and after the third, a fourth, which he passed in the same way.

Being now in the very middle of the palace, he bethought him, "There are doubtless many Saracens in this place, and I only a Christian. 'Tis time to blow the horn and I may have help from King Oberon." Thereupon he blew a great blast.

King Oberon heard the blast where he sat in his palace. But he said to himself, "There has been a lie upon the lips that blew this horn, for the note is false. Though he burst his throat with blowing, I will not go to help him."

When the Admiral heard it, he said to his lords that sat with him, "There is a magician [356] in the palace. Go bring him to me before he do us any mischief."

Huon was not a little troubled when he found that no one came to his blowing of the horn. "I am in an evil case," he said, "nor shall I see my people or my country any more. Nevertheless it becomes a man to keep a good courage." And when the Admiral's lords came to him, he took no heed of them, but walked straight forward, and they feared to lay hands on him.

When he came to where the Admiral sat, he made no obeisance, but drew his sword, and said, "I come from the great King Charles." Before he could say more, the Admiral cried aloud, "Seize me this villain!" And the lords made as if they would seize him. Then Huon took the ring from his finger, and showed it to the Admiral, saying not a word.

When the Admiral saw the ring, he said, "Leave this man alone; he is here of right." Then Huon said, "I am a Christian man, and I come from the great King of the Christians. Hear, therefore, the message that he sends: 'Turn from your false gods; confess the faith of Christ; acknowledge that you hold your kingdom of me; and send me for token your royal sceptre. If you will not do these things, [357] I will come with an army, and utterly destroy both you and your people.' This is the King's message, and I counsel you to take heed thereto."

When the Admiral heard these words, his anger passed all bounds. "Know," he cried, "that before you fifteen messengers have come to me making this same demand, and these fifteen have been hanged by the neck in the very same place; and you shall be the sixteenth." And he said to his men, "Seize me this fellow." Then Huon, setting his back to the wall, and drawing his sword, fought with all his might. Many he slew; but when he had fought for an hour or more, and the number of the enemy was increased rather than diminished, and he had grown faint with heat and toil, then he was constrained to yield. So the Saracens bound him, and set him before the Admiral.

The Admiral said to his lords, "What shall we do with this fellow?" and the lords answered with one voice, "Let him be slain forthwith." Nevertheless there was one lord, an old man, and held in great repute for his wisdom, who did not consent to this counsel. "Sir," said he to the Admiral, "our law forbids that any man should be put to death this day. I advise, [358] therefore, that he be kept in custody for a year; after that we will take counsel about him again. Also there is another matter that I fain would know. How came this man hither? Ask him, my lord."

So the Admiral said, "Fellow, declare to me by what means you passed the gates." Then Huon said to himself, "I will speak no more falsehoods, though I perish for it." And he held up the ring, saying, "I passed the gates by virtue of this ring." And he told how he came by the ring, and how he had slain the giant in the tower.

When the old councillor heard these things, he said to the Admiral, "Sir, we ought to thank this man rather than harm him, seeing that he has slain the giant that was wont to do us so much mischief." The Admiral answered, "I know not how to thank the man who brought me a message so insolent. But as to the keeping of him alive, it shall be done as you say. I will not depart from the customs of my forefathers. Let him be kept in prison for a space." So the Admiral's yeomen took Huon, and cast him into a dungeon that was under the palace.

Now it so chanced that when Huon was brought before the Admiral, the Admiral's fair [359] daughter, Esclairmonde by name, was standing behind a curtain, where she could hear all the words that were said and could also see what was done, being herself unseen. This maiden, beholding Huon, and seeing how fair a knight he was, and how boldly he bare himself both in the fight and when he was brought before her father, conceived for him in her heart no small love. When, therefore, she heard that he was to be slain, she had much ado to refrain herself from crying out. But when she knew that he was to be put in prison for a space, she thought within herself how she might help him.

When it was now midnight, and every one in the palace slept, she issued from her chamber, carrying a torch of wax in her hand. When she came to the door of the dungeon, by good luck she found the jailor asleep, and taking his keys, opened the door of the dungeon.

She said to Huon, "Fair sir, I am Esclairmonde, and am daughter to the Admiral, and I saw you when you were brought before my father, and also when you fought against his men, and knew you to be a fair knight and a gallant. Now, therefore, I desire greatly to help you; nor is there anything which I would not do for your sake," speaking more boldly [360] because the dungeon was a darksome place, and neither could she see the knight's face nor could the knight see hers.

When Huon heard the maiden thus speak, he said to himself, "Now must I be true as becomes a Christian man. I must tell this maiden that I, being a Christian man, may not have friendship with a Saracen; but of love I will not speak, lest it should shame her." So he said, "Fair lady, for fair you must be, seeing that you are so gracious, I thank you much for your kindness, nor will I refuse such service as you may find it in your heart to render me. Only you must know that I, being a Christian man, can have no friendship with a Saracen."

The Lady Esclairmonde, hearing him thus speak, was filled with anger against him. "If you will not have me for a friend," she said, "verily you shall have me for an enemy, and will find that you have chosen the worst part." Then she went out from the dungeon, and said to the jailor, "See that this fellow have neither meat nor drink for three days." And the jailor said, "Lady, it shall be done as you command."

Before the three days were passed, Esclairmonde repented in her heart that she had [361] done this thing. She went, therefore, to the jailor, and said to him, "Open the door, for I would speak with this prisoner." And when he had opened the door, she said to Huon, "Sir Knight, I do greatly admire your constancy, in that you hold out against hunger and thirst, which to many, I doubt not, are harder to be borne than any perils or hurts of battle. Hear me, therefore: I do promise that if I can escape from this land, I will be christened as soon as I come to any land where this may be done." Huon answered her, "You make me right glad, fair lady; I do thank you with all my heart."

Esclairmonde said to the jailor, "Now set before the prisoner meat and drink, and take such care of him as you best can. Only tell the Admiral that the man is dead of hunger." The jailor answered, "It shall be done as you desire."


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