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The Chaucer Story Book by  Eva March Tappan

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THE KNIGHT'S TALE


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[20]

I
N the morning, when day began to break, Harry Bailey awoke the pilgrims, and they all set out at a comfortable gait. When they had gone about two miles and had come to a place called the Watering of Saint Thomas, he stopped his horse and said, "Sirs, you remember what we planned last night. If you have not changed your minds, let us draw lots to see who shall tell the first story; and may I never again drink a cup of wine or of ale if the one that refuses does not have to pay all that we spend on the road. Now draw before [20] we go any farther. The one that draws the shortest is to begin. Sir Knight," said he, "now draw your lot. Come my lady prioress. Mr. Clerk, don't be so modest; come forward, every man."

Each one drew, and whether it was by chance or whether the wily landlord had so arranged it, the fact is that the lot fell to the knight. Of course he would not break his agreement, and he said, "So I am to begin the game and tell the first story, am I? Let us ride on, then; and see to it that you listen well to every word."

So the pilgrims started up their horses, and the knight began his story. This is the tale that he told.


PALAMON AND ARCITE

I

O
NCE upon a time there was a duke named Theseus who was lord of Athens. He was a great warrior, and one land after another had yielded to his sway. At length Scythia, too, fell into his hands; and there he found a wife as well as a kingdom, for he married Hippolita, the queen of the country. There was a great wedding, as you may imagine; and there [21] was such pleasure at Athens that as the Duke and his beautiful bride drew near to the city walls, they could hear the shouts of rejoicing.

Just there the road made a turn, and behold, full in the way of the bridal procession was a company of ladies, all robed in sombre black and kneeling two by two. Not a word did they say, but they wept and wailed and caught hold of the Duke's bridle rein with such lamenting as was never heard in the world before.

"Who are you that disturb my feast with your crying? Are you so envious of my happiness? Speak out, and if anyone has done you a wrong, tell me what I shall do to avenge you." So said the Duke.

Then spoke the oldest of the ladies, her face as white as death. "Have mercy upon us," she pleaded. "Pity us and help us. For fourteen long days we have awaited your coming to beg for your aid; for we are naught but beggars now, though once every one of us was either a queen or a duchess."

Then Duke Theseus and the Queen Hippolita and the men-at-arms and all the long procession stopped and listened to the sorrowful tale of the ladies in black. It seemed that at the siege of Thebes their husbands had all been slain, and Creon, lord of [22] Thebes, had declared that the bodies should be given to the dogs and should receive none of the honors of burial.

Duke Theseus was so sorry for the poor ladies that he felt as if his own heart would break. He leaped down from his horse and raised them from the dust, and comforted them as best be could. "I swear to you," he said, "as I am a faithful knight, that your wrongs shall be avenged. Not one half day will I tarry even to celebrate my wedding; and before long it shall be told from end to end of Greece how Theseus put to death the wicked Creon. Do you keep watch and ward over my bride," he bade his chamberlains, "and lead her safely into Athens." There was not time for another word; the Duke had already flung out his great white war banner, whereon was a blood-red figure of Mars with glittering spear and shield. Beside the banner waved a pennon of richest gold, into which was beaten the image of the Minotaur that once he slew in Crete.

So it was that Duke Theseus and the noblest of his army rode onto the walls of Thebes and called the king forth to battle. The Duke slew the wicked Creon and put his men to flight. He even took the city by assault and tore down the wall, beam and rafter. To [23] the mourning women he gave the bodies of their husbands, that the rites of burial might be bestowed. Then he pitched his tent on the battlefield for the night and made himself ready to return on the following morning to Athens and his bride Hippolita.

All that night the pillagers did their work on the field of battle, and stripped the dead bodies of mail, weapons, and garments. And it chanced that, lying in a heap of the slain, they came upon two young knights on whose tabards the same device was richly embroidered. By this device the heralds knew well that the young men were the sons of two sisters of the blood royal of Thebes. "It may be that the Duke will take ransom for them," thought the pillagers, and they carried them gently to the tent of Theseus, for the life was not yet fully gone from them. Theseus would accept no ransom. He sent the two knights straightway to Athens to be flung into prison. Then he and his army rode homeward, and he wore a crown of laurel as a victor. In his castle he dwelt in joy and honor; but closely guarded in a tower of stone abode Palamon and Arcite, for those were the names of the two young men, and they dwelt in suffering and misery.

Now when Hippolita came to Athens, she brought [24] in her train her young sister Emily, who was fairer than the lily upon its stalk of green and fresher than the May time with its new-blown flowers, for truly her bloom was like that of the rose. It came to pass one bright May morning that she arose from her sleep and went out into the garden. Her dress was dainty and pretty, and adown her back fell her braid of golden hair a full yard long. Up and down the paths she strolled, picking here and there a flower of white or red to make herself a wreath. She was singing softly; and, truly, her voice was like that of an angel.

Now the dungeon tower of the castle rose hard by the garden wall, and Palamon was pacing to and fro in a chamber high up from the ground. There was a little window, closely grated with heavy bars of iron, and through it he could see the city, or, if he looked downward, the castle garden. As the Fates would have it, he caught a glimpse of Emily. Thereupon he turned pale and cried "Ah!" as if he were pierced to the heart. At that Arcite started up and called, "Cousin, cousin, what troubles you? You are white as death. Why did you cry out? For God's sake, be patient, for we can do naught else. Our evil stars have given us this fate and we must endure it."

[25] "O cousin," replied Palamon, "it was not of our prison that I cried out, but because of the beautiful maiden in the garden down below. The love of her has pierced my heart, and it will surely be my death. I know not whether she be woman or goddess. Perchance it is Venus herself." And down upon his knees he fell, and prayed aloud, "O Venus, if it be indeed yourself, help us out of this dungeon. Have pity upon us!"

Then Arcite looked through the iron-barred window and caught a glimpse of the maiden; and he, too, was grievously wounded by her beauty. "Alas," he moaned, "if I may not have her favor, if I may not at the least see her close at hand, I shall surely die."

"What?" demanded Palamon. "Do you say this in jest or in earnest?"

"In earnest," replied Arcite. "May God help me. I am in no mood for jesting."

Then Palamon knit his brows angrily. "I am your cousin and your brother-in-arms," said he; "and we have sworn solemnly never to hinder each other in love or in any other case, but to help each other as most we may. And now, like a false traitor, you dare to love my lady whom I shall love and serve so [26] long as my heart shall beat. I loved her first and told my love to you, and you are in honor bound to help me, or else you are but a false traitor and a treacherous knight."

"You are more likely to prove a false knight than I," Arcite replied proudly, "and, indeed, you are already false. You do not know even now whether she is a woman or a goddess. You love her as one might love a saint, but I love her as a woman, and I told you so as my sworn brother. Even if you had loved her first, don't you know the old saying, 'Who shall give law to a lover?' A man cannot help his love if he die for it. But, my brother, we are prisoners for life; no ransom will set us free. There is small chance that the fair maiden will ever look with favor upon either of us. Love her if you will; but so shall I, and that is the end of it, dear brother. We must stay here in prison, and each of us must bear his fate."

Now it came to pass that a certain noble duke named Perotheus, a childhood's friend of Theseus, came to Athens to visit him; they had known each other in Thebes for many a year, and loved each other most tenderly. Duke Perotheus begged for his freedom, and finally, to give his friend a pleasure, Duke [27] Theseus set the prisoner free. "But beware," he charged "for if ever you are found in any part of my realm, you will lose your head by the sword."

Then was Arcite free, and he went to his own home; but he wept and wailed and groaned and aloud and even sought to take his life. "Alas, that ever I knew Perotheus!" he lamented. "But for him I might have dwelt forever in the prison of Theseus. How blissful should I have been to see her whom I love and serve, even though I might never win her favor. O dear cousin Palamon," he groaned, "the victory is yours. You are in prison, indeed, but it is a paradise, for you may sometimes cast your eyes upon my lady. You are a knight, worthy and skillful, and by some change of fortune you may some day win your heart's desire; but neither earth, air, fire, water, nor any creature made of them can help me or give me comfort. Alas, we know not what we pray for. I thought that if I could only get out of prison, I should be happy indeed; but since I cannot see you, Emily, I might as well be dead."

On the other hand, Palamon, when he knew that Arcite was gone, made the tower echo with his groans and cries. "O my cousin Arcite," he wailed, "little [28] care now for my suffering. You are free and in our own Thebes. It will be easy for you to get our kinsfolk together and make so fierce a war upon this town that by treaty you may have Emily for your wife, while I weep and wail here in this prison tower, and my heart is pierced unto death with the love of her."

["Now tell me," said the knight, "all you who be lovers, which one was in the worse case, Palamon or Arcite? Palamon could see his lady every day, but he could never be free from his prison. Arcite was at liberty to wander whither he would, but never again could he set his eyes upon the love of his heart."]


II

NOW when Arcite had come to Thebes, he sighed, and groaned full many a day and thought no one ever had such trouble as he. He grew pale and thin, his eyes were hollow, he cared naught for meat or drink, and when the time for sleep had come, he lay on his bed and moaned and groaned all the night long. After a year or two of this suffering, he dreamed one night that the god Mercury stood before him and said, "Cheer up, Arcite. You are soon to journey to Athens, and there your woe shall have an end."

[29] Then Arcite started up from his sleep. "Whatever comes," he declared, "I will go to Athens. Life or death, I will see my lady." He caught sight of his face in a mirror, and it was so changed that he said to himself, "If I but take some lowly place, I can live in Athens all my life unknown, and see my lady every day." Straightway he dressed himself as a poor laborer, and with a squire in like disguise he went to Athens the next morning, and to the very gate of the palace. Fortune favored him, for when the chamberlain of the fair Emily saw the young man at the gate so stout and big of bone, he hired him at once to hew wood for the fires and to carry water.

For a year or two, Philostrate, as he now called himself, did the work of a servant; but he was so courteous and so kindly that the whole court loved him and begged Duke Theseus to put him in some higher position. So Theseus made him squire of his chamber, and gave him gold to maintain his rank, never guessing that each year the squire's revenue from his own estates was brought him privily. For three years Arcite lived in this happiness, and so won the heart of the Duke that there was no man dearer to him.

[30] All these seven years poor Palamon was pining away in his prison, but in the seventh year, on the third night of May, it came about that by the help of a good friend he got free. He fled as fast as ever he could to a grove where he meant to hide all day, and then, when the night had come, to make his way to Thebes. There he intended to beg his friends to help him make war upon Athens; and thus he would either lose his life or win Emily as his bride.

Now the busy lark, day's messenger, was greeting the gray dawning with her song, the fiery sun was rising, and all the east was laughing with the light, and the warm beams were drying in the groves the silver drops that hung upon the leaves. It chanced that on that very morning Arcite arose early and rode out to the fields to pay his homage to the month of May. He galloped onward a mile or two, and then, as Fortune would have it, he rode into the very grove where Palamon was hidden. He was in search of hawthorn leaves for a wreath; and as he rode, he sang for joy,—

"Welcome, welcome, lovely May,

Trees and flowers are fresh and gay;

Grant me hawthorn leaves, I pray."

[31] After he had roamed about as he would and had sung all his merry roundelay, he suddenly turned grave, as lovers are wont to do; for in their moods they are first up, then down, like a bucket in a well. He sat him down under a tree and sighed. "Alas," he said, "for the day that I was born. Here am I of the blood royal of Thebes, and I serve my mortal enemy humbly as his squire. I dare not avow my own name. I am no longer Arcite, but Philostrate. O cruel Mars and Juno, it is you who have destroyed all our race save wretched me and Palamon, whom Theseus keeps in prison. And besides all this, my heart is pierced through and through with the fiery darts of love. Emily, Emily, it is for you that I am dying"; and down he fell in a trance.

Palamon had heard every word, and he felt as if a sword had been run through his heart. He shook with anger, and with face deadly pale he started out from the thick bushes and cried, "Arcite, false and wicked traitor as you are that you dare to love my lady for whom I bear all this woe, you are of my blood and have sworn to be true to me. You have cheated Duke Theseus, and you bear a false name. I am Palamon, your deadly enemy; and now, even though I am barely [32] escaped from prison, and though I have no kind of weapon, yet one or the other of us shall die, for you shall not love my lady Emily."

Arcite drew his sword, fierce as a lion. "If you had a weapon and if you were not beside yourself with love, you should never leave this place alive," he said. "Love is free, and I will love her in spite of all that you can do. To-night I will bring you meat and drink and bed, and tomorrow I will come here secretly with two suits of armor. You shall choose the better and I will take the worse. Then if it should chance that you are victor, you may have your lady for all me"; and so they parted for the night.

It came to pass as Arcite had said, and in the morning, without any word of salutation, each helped the other to arm; and then they fought with their sharp spears as savagely as if Palamon were a lion and Arcite a tiger; and soon they were up to their ankles in blood.

Now Duke Theseus was a famous hunter, and as luck would have it, he set forth this very morning in pursuit of a great deer that he had heard was in this grove. With him rode his Queen Hippolita and her fair sister Emily, dressed all in hunter's green. Behold, when they came to the grove, there were Palamon and Arcite [33] fighting as fiercely as two wild boars. The Duke spurred on his courser, and in a moment he stood between them. "Stop!" he cried, and drew his sword. "Who strikes another blow shall die. Who are you that dare to fight here as if you were in the royal lists?"

Then said Palamon, "What need is there of words? We both deserve death, and we both are weary of our lives. Slay me and slay my fellow as well; for know that he is Arcite, your mortal enemy, who is banished from your realm on pain of death. He called his name Philostrate, and for many a year he has deceived you; because he loved Emily and could not live away from her. I am the wretched Palamon. I have broken out of your prison, and I, as well as he, am your mortal foe. I, too, love the fair Emily, and so fervently that I would die in her sight."

The Duke responded, "Your own mouth has condemned you, and you shall surely die."

At this the Queen and Emily and all the ladies of their company began to weep. They fell down at the feet of the Duke and begged for mercy upon the prisoners, whose only fault was their love. At first the Duke had been exceedingly angry, but pity rises soon in a noble heart, and he said to the cousins, "At the [34] request of the Queen and my dear sister Emily I forgive you; but you must swear never to do harm to my country, but to be my friends and help me in every way that you can." The knights took a solemn oath that they would be true to him, and then he continued, "So far as lineage goes, either of you might wed a princess or a queen; but you know well enough that even if you should fight forever, Emily could not marry both of you. Now go freely where you will, and fifty weeks from to-day return, each with one hundred knights, armed and ready to fight. I give you my word as a knight that he whom fortune favors shall have Emily for his wife."

Down upon their knees fell Palamon and Arcite and every other person present, and thanked the Duke with all their hearts. Then joyfully the two young men set out for their home city of Thebes.


III

WHEN the appointed day had come, the cousins appeared in Athens, each with his hundred knights well armed for battle. Never was there so noble a company before, for every man who would win honor for his name had pleaded to be one of the number. Each one [35] was armed to suit himself. Some wore coats of mail, some breastplates and short tunics; some wore plate armor, and some carried Prussian shields. Some were well guarded on their legs and carried axes, and others bore war-maces of steel. With Palamon came Lycurgus, King of Thrace, a tall, broad-shouldered man with heavy black beard. Under his shaggy eyebrows he glared about him like an angry hawk. His long hair, black as a raven's wing, hung down his back, and a massive wreath of gold rested on his head, sparkling with rubies and diamonds. Over his shoulders a coal-black bearskin was thrown. He did not ride on horseback, but, according to the custom of his country, in a golden chariot drawn by four white bulls. A score or more of white boar hounds as big as steers leaped about him, and in his train there came one hundred lords with brave, fierce hearts.

With Arcite was the renowned Emetreus, king of India. He rode upon a bay horse with steel trappings and a covering of cloth of gold. His tabard was of silk, thickly embroidered with great white pearls. His saddle was of burnished gold. Over his shoulders was no rough bearskin, but a mantle embroidered with sparkling rubies. His curly hair was as golden as the sun- [36] shine. His nose was high, his eyes were bright, his lips were full, and his color fresh, and if Lycurgus looked about him like a hawk, Emetreus's glare was like that of a lion, and his voice was like a trumpet. On his head he wore a wreath of laurel, and on his wrist he carried a tame eagle white as a lily. Tame lions and leopards ran about him as he rode. With him were one hundred lords in all their armor save their helmets. They were richly dressed, for in this company were dukes and earls and even kings. So it was that early Sunday morning the rival parties came up to the city. Duke Theseus led them within the walls and made a bounteous feast to do them honor, with viands rich and gifts to great and small and noble minstrelsy.

On Monday morning, two hours before the dawn, Palamon went to the temple of Venus and prayed for her help. Naught cared he for glory or the renown of victory he said; all he asked was to have Emily for his wife; and if he could not have her, he begged that he might die in the contest. The statue of Venus trembled and made a sign to him. "My prayer is granted," he cried, and went home joyfully.

Three hours after Palamon had gone to the temple, Emily, too, set out to offer sacrifice and ask for the favor [37] of Diana. She and her maidens went to the temple of the goddess, bearing with them incense, handsome robes, horns of mead, and coals of fire. Emily's golden hair was all unbound, and on her head lay a wreath of green oak leaves. She kindled two fires upon the altar, and thus she prayed to pure Diana, "O goddess, thou dost know well that I would ever have my freedom and die like thee unwed. I pray thee that the ardent love of Palamon and Arcite may be turned from me to some other maiden; or, if my fate decrees that I must become the wife of one of the two, grant that I may fall to him who loves me most." Then there came to pass a marvel indeed, for one of the fires went out, then blazed again; and straightway the other fire, too, went out; but as it paled and died away, there was a strange whistling sound like that which a wet log makes when it is laid upon a fire, and at the end of the firebrand there trickled out full many a drop of blood of scarlet-red. It was small wonder that Emily wept with fear, for who could tell what this might portend? Then there came to pass an even greater marvel, for before the terrified maiden stood the goddess herself, dressed as a huntress and bearing bow and quiver. She spoke to Emily gently and said, [38] "My daughter, do not grieve. It is decreed of the gods that you shall become the bride of one of those two who for your sake have borne such suffering; but to which of them the Fates forbid that I should disclose. Read well my altar, for the fires will reveal your fate"; and in a moment she was gone. "'The fires will reveal your fate,'" Emily said over and over to herself, but what the prediction meant she could not understand. "O kind goddess," she cried, "I give myself to you. I put myself under your care and protection"; and then she left the temple and went quickly to her home.

Arcite, too, sought the favor of the gods, and at the fourth hour of the morning he went to the temple of Mars to make sacrifice to the god of war; and thus he prayed, "O powerful god, in every land the fate of battle is determined by thy word. I beg thee to look kindly upon my sacrifice. Pity my suffering, and think upon the days when thou, too, didst burn with love for Venus and didst grieve and sorrow when not to thee but to Vulcan she was given. I am young, as thou wast then, and I have experienced little of life, and yet I know right well that my suffering is greater than men ever endured before, for she who has so pierced my heart cares not whether I live or die. By force of arms [39] I must win her ere she will show me favor. Help me in my battle on the morrow, and the glory of the victory shall be thine. I promise to hang up my banner and my arms in thy temple and to do it reverence so long as I shall live. My beard and hair, which never yet have felt the touch of razor or of shears, I will sacrifice to thee, and I will be thy true and faithful servant to the last day of my life." To Arcite, too, was shown a marvel. The doors of the temple shook, the fires blazed up so bright on the altar that the whole building was aglow, and the ground gave out a fragrant smell. Arcite stood still in wonder. Then he cast more incense upon the fire. And as he gazed, he heard a gentle ringing come from the god's coat of mail, and a low voice that murmured, "Victory"; and Arcite went back to his inn as happy as a bird in the sunshine.

Now there was trouble on Olympus, for Venus had agreed to help Palamon, and Mars had promised the victory to Arcite. Jupiter was at his wit's end, and at last he called upon Saturn and asked that from his long experience he would devise some way to bring about peace. Then said Saturn to Venus, "Weep no more, my child. Thy Palamon shall have his lady as [40] thou hast promised; and yet in due time there shall be harmony again between you and Mars."


IV

ALL that Monday there was feasting and jousting and dancing; but on Tuesday at the dawn of day there was heard from every inn the stamping of horses, the clashing of arms, and then the tramping of hoofs, as party after party of lords on steeds and palfreys rode up to the palace gates. The suits of mail were quaint and rich with finest work of steel, embroidery, and goldsmithing. Bright were shields and testers and trappings, helmets of beaten gold, and hauberks. Lords sat upon their coursers in gorgeous array, knights formed in long lines of retinue, squires were busy nailing heads upon spears, buckling helmets, fitting straps to shields, and lacing armor with leathern thongs; no one was idle. The foaming steeds champed their golden bits, the armorers ran to and fro with files and hammers. There were yeomen on foot and crowds of the common sort with their short staves. There were pipes and trumpets and drums and clarions. The palace was full of people roaming about or gathered in little groups to discuss the champions. [41] "That man with the black beard will win," said one. "No, rather he with the bald head," declared another. One stood by a certain knight because he had a grim and savage look, and another upheld his favorite because his battle-axe weighed full twenty pounds.

Duke Theseus did not leave his chamber till both the Theban knights had come to the palace. Then he seated himself at a window in most handsome array. The crowds pressed closer and closer about him. Near at hand was a high platform, and on this stood a herald. "Ho! Ho!" he cried; and when the people had become quiet, he told them the will of the Duke.

"Our gracious lord hath considered in his wisdom that it is a foolish waste of noble blood to fight this tournament as if it were a mortal battle. This, then, is what he decrees: On pain of death let no man bring to the lists any kind of dart or pole-axe or short knife or short sword with biting point. No one shall ride more than one course against his fellow with a sharp-ground spear; though he may defend himself on foot if he will. He that is overcome shall not be slain, but brought to the stake that shall be set on either side; and there he shall remain. And if it chance that the [42] leader on either side be captured or slay his adversary, then shall the tourney come straightway to an end. God speed you. Go forth to the contest. Fight your fill with long sword and with battle hammer. Now go your way. This is our lord's decree."

The people shouted till the heavens rang. "God bless our gentle lord," they cried, "who forbids the useless shedding of blood." The trumpets sounded, and up through the streets all draped with cloth of gold rode the brilliant troop. First came the noble Duke Theseus with Palamon on his right and Arcite on his left, and after them rode the queen and her sweet sister Emily. Then followed the long, rich procession; and before it was fully nine in the morning, they were at the lists. Never were there such lists in the world before. The ground was a mile about. There were walls of stone, and beyond them a moat. Seats rose above seats to the height of sixty paces. To the east there was a gate of white marble, and to the west there was its fellow. It might well be a splendid theatre, for whenever Duke Theseus had heard of a man who was skilled in building or in carving, he had offered him food and goodly wages if he would come to him and do his best. That pious rites and sacrifices [43] might be paid to the gods, an oratory with an altar was built above the eastern gate in honor of Venus; and above the western gate stood another in honor of Mars. To the north, in a turret on the wall, was a third oratory, rich with white alabaster and red coral. These were the temples to which the two young knights and Emily had resorted to make their respective appeals. Such was the place where the tournament was to be held.

Now when Duke Theseus and the Queen Hippolita and the fair Emily and the ladies-in-waiting were seated and the whole company had found places, then through the western gateway, under the chapel of Mars, came Arcite and the hundred men of his party with a banner of scarlet-red. At the same instant Palamon passed with his followers through the eastern gate under the chapel of Venus. His banner gleamed white and his face was brave and hardy. Never were there two such companies, for the wisest man in the world could not have seen that either was less worthy than the other in wealth or age or bearing. They drew up opposite each other in two fair lines. The herald read the names from his list that everyone might see that there was no treachery or deceit. Then [44] the two gates were closed, and he cried in a loud voice, "Do your devoir, you proud young knights!"

The trumpets and the clarions reechoed. The spears on either side went firmly into rest, and the sharp spurs pierced the flanks of the horses. The arrows splintered on the heavy shields; one felt a sharp stab go through his breast; spears sprang up twenty feet on high; swords flashed out like silver; helmets were split and shattered; blood burst out in fierce red streams; bones were crushed by the mighty blows of the battle hammers. The war horse stumbled and fell, and his rider rolled under his feet like a ball. One man thrust with the butt of his broken spear, and another on horseback trampled him down. One was so badly hurt that he was taken prisoner and brought to the stake; another was dragged to the stake on the opposing side. And then Duke Theseus bade them rest and drink if so they would.

Many a time had the two cousins met. Each of them had unhorsed the other twice. No tiger whose whelp had been stolen was ever so savage as Arcite; no lion was ever so mad with hunger for the blood of his prey as was Palamon for Arcite's life. The strokes fell heavy upon their helmets, and the red blood flowed from both.

[45] All things, however, have an end. Before the sun had come to its setting, while Palamon was fighting fiercely with Arcite, King Emetreus struck him a terrible blow with the sword. Palamon, striving with Arcite as he was, turned upon his foe and bore him a sword's length out of his saddle. It was all in vain, and Palamon, struggling against them every step of the way, was seized, and by the strength of twenty was dragged to the stake. King Lycurgus had gone to his rescue, and he, too, was struck down.

Then, indeed, was Palamon in sorrow, for not another blow might he strike. And as soon as Duke Theseus saw what had happened, he cried, "Hold! The fight is done, and Emily belongs to Arcite of Thebes." Then arose such shouts rejoicing that it seemed as if the very walls would crumble.

Venus, up above, wept till her tears dropped down into the lists, and cried, "Verily, I am disgraced forever; but Saturn replied, "Peace, daughter, peace. Mars has his wish, his knight has all that he asked; and soon you, too, shall have your will."

And now while the heralds were shouting and the trumpets blowing and the people crying aloud for joy, behold, a wonder came to pass. Arcite had doffed his [46] helmet and was galloping along the lists. He looked up to his Emily, and in return she gave him a friendly glance; but Saturn had gone for aid to Pluto, king of the lower world, and from the ground, full in the face of Arcite's steed, there flashed out a flame of the infernal fire. The frightened charger leaped aside, foundered, and flung his rider upon the hard earth, his breast crushed with the saddlebow and bleeding sorely. Sadly they lifted him up and carried him to the palace. They freed him tenderly from his armor and laid him in a bed; and all the while he called for Emily.

Duke Theseus came home with all his retinue. There was great rejoicing, for it was said not only that Arcite would not die, but, strange to tell, that not one man of the whole company had been slain. To be sure, the breastbone of one had been pierced with a spear, and there was many a broken bone and many a wound; but some had salves, and some had charms, or drinks of healing herbs. All that night there was revelry and feasting in honor of the stranger lords. The noble Duke did his best to honor every man and give him comfort; though, truth to tell, small comfort was needed, or there is no disgrace in making a slip or fall- [47] ing nor is it a shame for one man to be dragged to the stake by the might of twenty.

That there should be no envy or jealousy between the two parties, the good Duke Theseus had the fame of both sides cried abroad. For three full days he entertained the whole company with royal feasting; and when the time came for them to go to their homes, he gave them noble escort a long day's journey on their way.

But now it came to pass that the wound of Arcite would not heal, and soon it was spread through the city that he must die. When Arcite knew this, he sent for Emily and also for Palamon. "O my lady, whom I most dearly love!" he said, "alas for the pains that I have borne for you! Queen of my heart, farewell. For the love of God, raise me gently in your arms and listen well to what I would say. For love of you I have had strife and anger with my cousin; but now I tell you frankly that in all this world there is no other man so worthy of your love as Palamon." Hardly had he thus spoken before the chill of death came over him, his sight grew dim, and his breath began to fail; but still he kept his eyes upon his lady, and his last word was "Emily."

[48] Then Palamon cried out with grief, and Emily wept both night and day; and in the town young and old grieved for the death of Arcite. No man sorrowed more than Theseus; and the good Duke sought how he could pay most of honor and respect to his friend. At last he concluded that the funeral pyre should be built in that same grove where the cousins had fought their fight for love. He sent for a bier and draped it all with cloth of gold, the richest that he had. With cloth of gold he robed Arcite. White gloves were drawn upon the dead knight's hands, and upon his head was laid a laurel crown, while in is right hand was placed a sword of keen, bright edge. The Duke gazed upon the face of his friend and wept so that it was sad to hear him. Then, that the people might one and all look upon the knight whom they loved, the Duke had the body carried to the hall, and that soon reechoed with their cries of mourning.

Hither came Palamon with unkempt beard and hair rough with ashes. His clothes were black and well bedewed with tears. Hither, too, came Emily, the saddest of the company. Then Duke Theseus bade three noble white steeds be led forth all trapped [49] with glittering steel and distinguished by the arms of Arcite. On the first steed sat a rider who bore the dead man's shield; on the second was one who held his spear; and on the third a man who carried his Turkish bow with its case of beaten gold. The noblest of the Greeks took up the bier, and then, their eyes red with tears, they passed slowly through the main street of the city, where all was draped with mourning. On the left walked Duke Theseus, and on the right his aged father Egeus, carrying in their hands golden vessels well filled with honey and blood and milk and wine. After them came Palamon with a noble train, and sorrowing Emily, bearing a brand of fire.

In the grove a mighty pyre had been reared. First, many loads of straw were spread upon the ground. Upon that was laid dry wood well split, then green wood of fir and birch and elm and ash and oak and many other kinds. Spices rich and rare were sprinkled upon the heap, and it was draped with cloth of gold and jeweled broidery. Garlands were hung upon it bright with flowers, and over it all handfuls of myrrh and sweet-smelling incense were cast. So lofty was the pyre that the green branches reached upward to [50] the skies; and so broad was it that it stretched out full twenty fathoms.

When the sorrowing company had come to the little grove, then Emily herself must kindle the funeral fire, for such was the custom of the land. She touched the dry wood with the torch; the fire blazed up, and at the sight she fell fainting to the ground. As the fire burned, men threw into it their jewels, their raiment, their spears and shields, with cups of wine and milk and blood. Three times the Greeks rode all about the pyre with piercing cries; three times with clashing spears; three times the women called aloud. When the pyre had burned to ashes, they went sadly back to the city, and Palamon returned to Thebes.

Now after several years had passed, Athens planned to form an alliance with certain countries. A parliament was to be held in that city, and Duke Theseus asked Palamon to be present. Sorrowful and still in mourning garments, Palamon bowed before the Duke and stood in silence, waiting to learn his will. Then Theseus sent for Emily, and when the place was hushed, he spoke. "The Creator of this world has decreed," he said, "that all things shall have an end. The oak lives long, but at the last it falls. Even the stone on which [51] we tread wastes away as it lies by the roadside. Every one must die, page and king alike. Therefore ought we to make a virtue of necessity and not rebel against Him who guides the course of all. Now without doubt a man is most sure of honorable fame who dies in the very flower of his excellence, and his truest friends should rejoice at his death in the midst of his honors rather than when old age has made his deeds forgotten and his service is no longer remembered. Why do we longer mourn that our beloved Arcite has left this life in the glory of his knighthood? Why do his cousin and his bride, who loved him so well, murmur at his well-being? They only fret his soul and their own hearts. Therefore I urge that we no longer grieve, but that, even before we leave this place, we make of two sorrows one perfect joy to last forevermore. Sister," said he, "this is my edict, given forth with full agreement of my councilors, that noble Palamon, your own true knight, who loves you with all his heart and has so done since the first day that he saw your face, shall feel your tender mercy and shall become your lord and husband. Give me your hand in token of your womanly pity."

Then said he to Palamon, "I believe that little [52] arguing is needed to win your assent to this. Come near and take your lady by the hand."

So came it to pass that with all joy and song Palamon became the husband of his chosen lady. Emily loved him so tenderly, and he served her so devotedly, that never was there a word of jealousy or any other trouble between them; and to the end of their days they lived in health and wealth and happiness.


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