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How Geirald The Coward Was Punished

from The Brown Fairy Book





Once upon a time there lived a poor knight who had a great many
children, and found it very hard to get enough for them to eat. One
day he sent his eldest son, Rosald, a brave and honest youth, to the
neighbouring town to do some business, and here Rosald met a young man
named Geirald, with whom he made friends.

Now Geirald was the son of a rich man, who was proud of the boy, and had
all his life allowed him to do whatever he fancied, and, luckily for the
father, he was prudent and sensible, and did not waste money, as many
other rich young men might have done. For some time he had set his heart
on travelling into foreign countries, and after he had been talking
for a little while to Rosald, he asked if his new friend would be his
companion on his journey.

'There is nothing I should like better,' answered Rosald, shaking his
head sorrowfully; 'but my father is very poor, and he could never give
me the money.'

'Oh, if that is your only difficulty, it is all right,' cried Geirald.
'My father has more money than he knows what to do with, and he will
give me as much as I want for both of us; only, there is one thing you
must promise me, Rosald, that, supposing we have any adventures, you
will let the honour and glory of them fall to me.'

'Yes, of course, that is only fair,' answered Rosald, who never cared
about putting himself forward. 'But I cannot go without telling my
parents. I am sure they will think me lucky to get such a chance.'

As soon as the business was finished, Rosald hastened home. His parents
were delighted to hear of his good fortune, and his father gave him his
own sword, which was growing rusty for want of use, while his mother saw
that his leather jerkin was in order.

'Be sure you keep the promise you made to Geirald,' said she, as she
bade him good-bye, 'and, come what may, see that you never betray him.'

Full of joy Rosald rode off, and the next day he and Geirald started off
to seek adventures. To their disappointment their own land was so well
governed that nothing out of the common was very likely to happen,
but directly they crossed the border into another kingdom all seemed
lawlessness and confusion.

They had not gone very far, when, riding across a mountain, they caught
a glimpse of several armed men hiding amongst some trees in their path,
and remembered suddenly some talk they had heard of a band of twelve
robbers who lay in wait for rich travellers. The robbers were more like
savage beasts than men, and lived somewhere at the top of the mountain
in caves and holes in the ground. They were all called 'Hankur,' and
were distinguished one from another by the name of a colour--blue, grey,
red, and so on, except their chief, who was known as Hankur the Tall.
All this and more rushed into the minds of the two young men as they saw
the flash of their swords in the moonlight.

'It is impossible to fight them--they are twelve to two,' whispered
Geirald, stopping his horse in the path. 'We had much better ride back
and take the lower road. It would be stupid to throw away our lives like
this.'

'Oh, we can't turn back,' answered Rosald, 'we should be ashamed to look
anyone in the face again! And, besides, it is a grand opportunity to
show what we are made of. Let us tie up our horses here, and climb up
the rocks so that we can roll stones down on them.'

'Well, we might try that, and then we shall always have our horses,'
said Geirald. So they went up the rocks silently and carefully.

The robbers were lying all ready, expecting every moment to see their
victims coming round the corner a few yards away, when a shower of huge
stones fell on their heads, killing half the band. The others sprang up
the rock, but as they reached the top the sword of Rosald swung round,
and one man after another rolled down into the valley. At last the chief
managed to spring up, and, grasping Rosald by the waist, flung away
his sword, and the two fought desperately, their bodies swaying always
nearer the edge. It seemed as if Rosald, being the smaller of the two,
MUST fall over, when, with his left hand, he drew the robber's sword out
of its sheath and plunged it into his heart. Then he took from the
dead man a beautiful ring set with a large stone, and put it on his own
finger.

The fame of this wonderful deed soon spread through the country, and
people would often stop Geirald's horse, and ask leave to see the
robber's ring, which was said to have been stolen from the father of the
reigning king. And Geirald showed them the ring with pride, and listened
to their words of praise, and no one would ever have guessed anyone else
had destroyed the robbers.

In a few days they left the kingdom and rode on to another, where they
thought they would stop through the remainder of the winter, for Geirald
liked to be comfortable, and did not care about travelling through ice
and snow. But the king would only grant them leave to stop on condition
that, before the winter was ended, they should give him some fresh proof
of the courage of which he had heard so much. Rosald's heart was glad at
the king's message, and as for Geirald, he felt that as long as Rosald
was there all would go well. So they both bowed low and replied that it
was the king's place to command and theirs to obey.

'Well, then,' said his Majesty, 'this is what I want you to do: In the
north-east part of my kingdom there dwells a giant, who has an iron
staff twenty yards long, and he is so quick in using it, that even fifty
knights have no chance against him. The bravest and strongest young
men of my court have fallen under the blows of that staff; but, as you
overcame the twelve robbers so easily, I feel that I have reason to hope
that you may be able to conquer the giant. In three days from this you
will set out.'

'We will be ready, your Majesty,' answered Rosald; but Geirald remained
silent.

'How can we possibly fight against a giant that has killed fifty
knights?' cried Geirald, when they were outside the castle. 'The king
only wants to get rid of us! He won't think about us for the next three
days--that is one comfort--so we shall have plenty of time to cross the
borders of the kingdom and be out of reach.'

'We mayn't be able to kill the giant, but we certainly can't run away
till we have tried,' answered Rosald. 'Besides, think how glorious it
will be if we DO manage to kill him! I know what sort of weapon I shall
use. Come with me now, and I will see about it.' And, taking his friend
by the arm, he led him into a shop where he bought a huge lump of solid
iron, so big that they could hardly lift it between them. However, they
just managed to carry it to a blacksmith's where Rosald directed that it
should be beaten into a thick club, with a sharp spike at one end. When
this was done to his liking he took it home under his arm.

Very early on the third morning the two young men started on their
journey, and on the fourth day they reached the giant's cave before he
was out of bed. Hearing the sound of footsteps, the giant got up and
went to the entrance to see who was coming, and Rosald, expecting
something of the sort, struck him such a blow on the forehead that he
fell to the ground. Then, before he could rise to his feet again, Rosald
drew out his sword and cut off his head.

'It was not so difficult after all, you see,' he said, turning to
Geirald. And placing the giant's head in a leathern wallet which was
slung over his back, they began their journey to the castle.

As they drew near the gates, Rosald took the head from the wallet and
handed it to Geirald, whom he followed into the king's presence.

'The giant will trouble you no more,' said Geirald, holding out the
head. And the king fell on his neck and kissed him, and cried joyfully
that he was the 'bravest knight in all the world, and that a feast
should be made for him and Rosald, and that the great deed should be
proclaimed throughout the kingdom.' And Geirald's heart swelled with
pride, and he almost forgot that it was Rosald and not he, who had slain
the giant.

By-and-by a whisper went round that a beautiful lady who lived in the
castle would be present at the feast, with twenty-four lovely maidens,
her attendants. The lady was the queen of her own country, but as her
father and mother had died when she was a little girl, she had been left
in the care of this king who was her uncle.

She was now old enough to govern her own kingdom, but her subjects did
not like being ruled by a woman, and said that she must find a husband
to help her in managing her affairs. Prince after prince had offered
himself, but the young queen would have nothing to say to any of them,
and at last told her ministers that if she was to have a husband at all
she must choose him for herself, as she would certainly not marry any of
those whom they had selected for her. The ministers replied that in that
case she had better manage her kingdom alone, and the queen, who knew
nothing about business, got things into such a confusion that at last
she threw them up altogether, and went off to her uncle.

Now when she heard how the two young men had slain the giant, her heart
was filled with admiration of their courage, and she declared that if a
feast was held she would certainly be present at it.

And so she was; and when the feast was over she asked the king, her
guardian, if he would allow the two heroes who had killed the robbers
and slain the giant to fight a tourney the next day with one of her
pages. The king gladly gave his consent, and ordered the lists to be
made ready, never doubting that two great champions would be eager for
such a chance of adding to their fame. Little did he guess that Geirald
had done all he could to persuade Rosald to steal secretly out of the
castle during the night, 'for,' said he, 'I don't believe they are pages
at all, but well-proved knights, and how can we, so young and untried,
stand up against them?'

'The honour will be all the higher if we gain the day,' answered Rosald;
but Geirald would listen to nothing, and only declared that he did not
care about honour, and would rather be alive than have every honour in
the world heaped upon him. Go he would, and as Rosald had sworn to give
him his company, he must come with him.

Rosald was much grieved when he heard these words, but he knew that it
was useless attempting to persuade Geirald, and turned his thoughts to
forming some plan to prevent this disgraceful flight. Suddenly his
face brightened. 'Let us change clothes,' he said, 'and I will do the
fighting, while you shall get the glory. Nobody will ever know.' And to
this Geirald readily consented.

Whether Geirald was right or not in thinking that the so-called page was
really a well-proved knight, it is certain that Rosald's task was a very
hard one. Three times they came together with a crash which made their
horses reel; once Rosald knocked the helmet off his foe, and received in
return such a blow that he staggered in his saddle. Shouts went up
from the lookers-on, as first one and then the other seemed gaining
the victory; but at length Rosald planted his spear in the armour
which covered his adversary's breast and bore him steadily backward.
'Unhorsed! unhorsed!' cried the people; and Rosald then himself
dismounted and helped his adversary to rise.

In the confusion that followed it was easy for Rosald to slip away and
return Geirald his proper clothes. And in these, torn and dusty with the
fight, Geirald answered the king's summons to come before him.

'You have done what I expected you to do,' said he, 'and now, choose
your reward.'

'Grant me, sire, the hand of the queen, your niece,' replied the
young man, bowing low, 'and I will defend her kingdom against all her
enemies.'

'She could choose no better husband,' said the king, 'and if she
consents I do.' And he turned towards the queen, who had not been
present during the fight, but had just slipped into a seat by his right
hand. Now the queen's eyes were very sharp, and it seemed to her that
the man who stood before her, tall and handsome though he might be, was
different in many slight ways, and in one in particular, from the man
who had fought the tourney. How there could be any trickery she could
not understand, and why the real victor should be willing to give up his
prize to another was still stranger; but something in her heart warned
her to be careful. She answered: 'You may be satisfied, uncle, but I am
not. One more proof I must have; let the two young men now fight against
each other. The man I marry must be the man who killed the robbers and
the giant, and overcame my page.' Geirald's face grew pale as he heard
these words. He knew there was no escape from him now, though he did not
doubt for one moment that Rosald would keep his compact loyally to the
last. But how would it be possible that even Rosald should deceive the
watchful eyes of the king and his court, and still more those of the
young queen whom he felt uneasily had suspected him from the first?

The tourney was fought, and in spite of Geirald's fears Rosald managed
to hang back to make attacks which were never meant to succeed, and to
allow strokes which he could easily have parried to attain their end. At
length, after a great show of resistance, he fell heavily to the ground.
And as he fell he knew that it was not alone the glory that was his
rightfully which he gave up, but the hand of the queen that was more
precious still.

But Geirald did not even wait to see if he was wounded; he went straight
to the wall where the royal banner waved and claimed the reward which
was now his.

The crowd of watchers turned towards the queen, expecting to see her
stoop and give some token to the victor. Instead, to the surprise
of everyone, she merely smiled gracefully, and said that before she
bestowed her hand one more test must be imposed, but this should be the
last. The final tourney should be fought; Geirald and Rosald should meet
singly two knights of the king's court, and he who could unhorse his foe
should be master of herself and of her kingdom. The combat was fixed to
take place at ten o'clock the following day.

All night long Geirald walked about his room, not daring to face
the fight that lay in front of him, and trying with all his might to
discover some means of escaping it. All night long he moved restlessly
from door to window; and when the trumpets sounded, and the combatants
rode into the field, he alone was missing. The king sent messengers
to see what had become of him, and he was found, trembling with fear,
hiding under his bed. After that there was no need of any further proof.
The combat was declared unnecessary, and the queen pronounced herself
quite satisfied, and ready to accept Rosald as her husband.

'You forgot one thing,' she said, when they were alone. 'I recognized
my father's ring which Hankur the Tall had stolen, on the finger of your
right hand, and I knew that it was you and not Geirald who had slain the
robber band. I was the page who fought you, and again I saw the ring on
your finger, though it was absent from his when he stood before me to
claim the prize. That was why I ordered the combat between you, though
your faith to your word prevented my plan being successful, and I had
to try another. The man who keeps his promise at all costs to himself is
the man I can trust, both for myself and for my people.'

So they were married, and returned to their own kingdom, which they
ruled well and happily. And many years after a poor beggar knocked at
the palace gates and asked for money, for the sake of days gone by--and
this was Geirald.





Next: Habogi

Previous: The Turtle And His Bride



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